Note: Just borrowing these beloved characters and hoping I did them justice.
A great big thanks to my cheerleader Michelle, who encouraged me for several months while an exciting baseball season, a traumatic World Series, and intermittent writer's block stalled this story. ~ D
His favorite room in the apartment was her bedroom.
Not for the apparent reasons that make men snicker and women titter, such as what recently transpired between them in the bedroom, but because it was the room most like the woman herself: soft and sweet-smelling, feminine but not fussy, comfortable yet full of surprises.
Like the top drawer of the dresser where she kept her undergarments. Early in their relationship he had opened the drawer, his curiosity having gotten the better of him. The jumbled disarray of silk and lace had confounded him, delighted him, and enchanted him. She was an orderly person, meticulous in her habits and precise in the performance of her job, always neatly turned out, coiffure and make-up flawless. She had a place for everything, and everything was in its place, in her home and at the office. The hidden chaos within the dresser drawer afforded him a glimpse at how she managed to be the most perfect person he knew – because she funneled whatever sloppy tendencies she had into the storage of her lingerie.
He had asked her why the drawer was such a mess, and after suffering a moment of roaring silence and an eyebrow raised in perturbed rebuke was almost resigned to never knowing if his hypothesis was correct, she had suddenly shrugged. "It keeps me from going insane," she admitted.
It nearly drove him insane knowing about it.
But the disaster in the drawer had given him a deeper understanding of her, a private knowledge that made him smile at odd moments when it crossed his mind, and because he was a man, the thought crossed his mind a lot. Like now, as he watched her glide across the floor toward the dresser, her elegant arm outstretched to open the drawer, her back to him. He knew without actually being able to see that her hand would easily pluck the exact scraps of silk she sought, her uncluttered mind able to steer the searching hand unerringly. He smiled.
She turned and took a few steps toward the bed, a handful of silk and lace in her hand, and proceeded to carefully fold the undergarments and place them in the suitcase that lay open at the foot of the bed. His smile became a grin.
"Why fold them now?"
She looked up at him with surprise. "That's what you do when you pack," she replied with matter-of-fact efficiency.
"But you're only going to throw them in a drawer again when we get to the lake. Why go to all the effort of folding?"
"Because there will be more room in the suitcase if I fold them." She continued with her task, a slight smile playing on her lips.
He settled back against the headboard contentedly, raising his arms and tucking them behind his head. "In case an event that recently took place in this room wasn't perfectly clear to you, I love you very much, Della Street."
She silently folded the last undergarment, closed the suitcase and pushed it aside, climbed up on the bed and crawled toward him over the bedspread and blanket that were as jumbled as the underwear in her drawer. Snuggling against his muscular body with a huge sigh, Della laid her head on his chest, over his heart. "You haven't said that in a while."
He pulled his arms from behind his head and wrapped them around her slenderness. "Shame on me."
"I'm not complaining," she said hastily, kicking herself for having brought up the fact. "I don't need constant declarations. Actions are eloquent enough for me."
He tilted her head up to his and gently kissed lips that were still swollen from less gentle kisses. "Good. Because I plan to be exceptionally eloquent in the upcoming couple of weeks."
She laughed. "So this was a sneak peak?"
He shook his head. "This was a warm-up, a reminder of what has been and what will be again."
She sat up and regarded him thoughtfully. "As if I could ever forget," she told him softly. "It's only been three weeks."
He gave her a mortified look. "Three weeks? My God, Della, how can you use the word 'only' in conjunction with three weeks? You have every right to be angry with me. I'm angry with me."
"We had other things to think about, other things that needed to be attended to."
He stared at her, at her passion-tousled curls, at the pinkish irritation on her creamy skin caused by his day-old beard, at her honest eyes that were now downcast as she made excuses for him. Again. "Della, we've talked about this. I never want a case, any case to get in the way of …"
"Lust?" She interjected with wicked mischievousness, eyebrows arched.
His eyes fairly glittered as he continued to stare at her. "Yes, I lust for you. I proudly admit it." He pulled her against him once again in a tight embrace. "Despite the fact you are the biggest brat on the face of the earth."
"You should be a poet, not an attorney," she said dryly. "Women all over the world have always longed to be lusted after and called brats."
"If we were in court, my dear, that statement would be referred to as exhibit A."
"If we were still in court, I might be using the word 'only' in conjunction with five weeks. Maybe six."
"Exhibit B," he announced.
She squirmed in his arms, but couldn't extricate herself. "I don't think I should be the one to…to always…I want…oh hell," she finished in complete frustration.
"Della, all you have to do is ask," he chided her gently.
"I don't want to have to ask! And I don't want you to have to ask, either. Why can't it just happen, like it used to? Like it did tonight?"
"Tonight was rather spectacular," he admitted with a touch of wistfulness in his voice.
She relaxed against him. "Yes, it was."
"How did we go from spectacular to this silly argument?"
"Because we are who we are," she replied with a shrug.
He pulled her closer, ran his fingers through her hair. "I thought we'd ironed out the wrinkles in our personal and professional relationships. I thought everything was working smoothly."
"I guess both relationships need constant ironing to remain smooth."
"I've always thought of ironing as drudgery. Has managing our two worlds become drudgery for you, Della?"
"No." Her voice was low and soft. "How about we not speak in metaphors?"
"Agreed. Know what? I think our trip to the lake can't happen soon enough."
They were silent for long, blessedly comfortable moments.
"In case my reaction to the event earlier tonight wasn't completely transparent," Della suddenly spoke, "I love you, too."
Perry eventually roused himself to take a shower while Della finished packing for their annual trip to Harvey Sayers' lake house. They would not be leaving until Friday evening, and it was only Wednesday, but Della rarely left anything until the last moment, and getting her packing out of the way meant she could devote her attention to settling office affairs and unsuccessfully badgering Perry to pack. She would wind up packing for him Thursday night while he protested and got in her way, but she didn't mind, because their little packing skirmishes usually ended in the type of skirmish that had taken place tonight. And after three weeks of concentrating on a lying, scheming minx of a client instead of on each other, she was looking very much forward to packing his bags.
She snapped the incorrectly monogrammed suitcase shut with satisfaction. One more thing to cross off her list. Tomorrow she would tackle the backed-up correspondence, close out the trial case they had just ended, attend to the confidential files, and begin proof-reading the three briefs Mary, the head typist, had placed on her desk the previous week. Then on Friday she would return the briefs to Mary so that she and Joan would have work to do for the one week the office would remain open while she and Perry were on vacation. Of course, this plan of action was predicated on the reality that she could get Perry to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Routine matters bored him easily and he regarded correspondence as the height of wasteful activity. And although he prided himself on succinct legal briefs, he detested writing them, so it was a good thing she actually did most of the connective writing between the legal citings he selected. If she didn't have the specter of two weeks alone with Perry at the lake house in front of her, she didn't know if she could get everything done in two short days. Tonight at dinner she would broach the subject of him willingly submitting to weeding out the correspondence file and working on the briefs while she packed his bags Thursday night, so that they might leave the office on time Friday night and not have to interrupt their vacation time to handle a letter from a senator or an invitation for a lucrative speaking engagement.
Della listened to Perry as he sang snatches of songs in the shower, his deep voice not much more than a rumble behind the closed door. The same comfortable feeling that had descended after their tiff overtook her and she wished fleetingly that it could always be like this, knowing full well that it couldn't, that neither of them was meant to live life according to society's current conventionalities. Despite the past three weeks, and that week three months ago, and oh, those ten days over the Christmas holidays, she was more than content with their togetherness. Her apartment building was small and the neighbors nosey, so he rarely stayed the entire night, but he had a drawer in her dresser, a shelf in her medicine cabinet, and his robe hung on the back of the door alongside hers. She kept extra shirts, a suit, a dinner ensemble, and several ties in her closet as well. His apartment was similarly outfitted with feminine accoutrement, and since his building was enormous and his neighbors stand-offish, she occasionally spent the entire night in his king-size bed.
The shower was turned off and she heard the curtain being flung open violently. She sighed. His habit of grabbing the plastic and roughly flinging it aside had resulted in seven torn curtains in three years. After three ruined curtains he had begun to expense them and even went so far as to buy a spare that was kept in the linen closet. When she pointed out he could simply open the curtain like Clark Kent and not Superman, he merely flashed those irresistible dimples at her. When he grinned like that he won all the battles, and there was nothing she could do about it – except maybe use his razor to shave her legs.
She was just about to heave the second suitcase from the bed when his hand closed over hers. She jumped a bit at his sudden towel-wrapped appearance. "A lady as lovely as you shouldn't have to sling suitcases around," he declared, picking up the suitcase and setting it on the floor near the closet, next to the smaller suitcase that held her neatly folded underwear and pajamas. He eyed the packed suitcases with admiration. "Efficient as always, Miss Street."
"Some would say I over-do it."
"I would never say that. Without your propensity for efficiency, my life would be a tangled mass of conflict and unrest."
"Keep saying romantic things like that and Paul will be dining alone."
He grinned. "Don't think for a moment I haven't considered leaving him to his own devices tonight."
She ran her hands down the warm, damp skin of his chest to his waist, where one corner of the towel had been tucked in to secure it. "Shall we see if you're all talk, Mr. Mason?"
His hand grasped her wrist as he leaned down to kiss her. "I think you'll find that I'm not all talk," he cautioned. "How hungry are you?"
"Now that's a loaded question if I ever heard one. The answer will require quite a bit of analytical thinking, several mathematical equations, and at least one pie chart."
Perry rolled his eyes in response. "Your Honor, Exhibit C."
Della laughed. "Get dressed, darling. I'm starving and we're already running late." She seated herself at the vanity table and adjusted the clips of her garter belt that held up sheer silk stockings.
With a cheeky grin he flicked the towel from around his waist and reached for the clean clothes she had laid out on the bed for him. The suit he had worn all day was already in the basket to go to the dry cleaners, and she would pick up his discarded underwear from the bathroom floor later. As he pulled on boxers and a t-shirt, he watched her calmly apply the finishing touches to her make-up.
"I guess it would be a waste of good make-up and silk stockings not to keep our reservation," he conceded, his eyes feasting on her dance-like movements.
She blotted her lipstick with a folded tissue. "It would at that," she agreed. "Besides, it's tradition to have a celebratory dinner after the conclusion of a trial. We need to faithfully maintain a few traditions, don't you think?"
"Oh absolutely." He sat down on the unmade bed (which surprised him), pulled on socks, shoved his arms into the sleeves of his dress shirt, and quickly buttoned it, grateful she had selected a shirt that didn't require studs. He stood and stepped into his trousers as Della arose from the vanity and passed by him, the decadent scent of expensive perfume trailing behind her. It was moments like this that made life worthwhile. Murder cases and trials were stimulating and exciting in their own fashion, but Della's brand of stimulation and excitement was far more satisfying. If he could only find a better balance of the two, to somehow break the hold his profession had on him, so that these moments occurred with more regularity or at the very least lasted longer. She wouldn't marry him as long as he did what he did how he did it, yet he knew that if he didn't do what he did how he did it, she wouldn't work for him. The impasse established, they continued as they had for years now, he occasionally asking her to marry him and Della routinely refusing his proposals.
Della's sudden sharp cry of 'ouch!' followed by a rather florid curse broke into Perry's thoughts and propelled him across the room to the closet where she stood with a crooked finger in her mouth.
"What's the matter, baby?"
Della blinked furiously. "The dry cleaner used straight pins instead of safety pins to attach my dress to the hanger and one scraped my finger."
Perry gently pulled the injured finger from her mouth and pressed it against his lips. "I'll put on some mercurochrome and wrap a Band-Aid around it."
Della's eyes were huge as she looked up at him with just a bit of anxiety. "You'll blow on the mercurochrome?"
He chuckled softly. "Of course. Let's go into the bathroom so Dr. Mason can take care of you."
"Yes, Doctor. Oh, but the Band-Aids are in the kitchen. Cindy, the little girl from across the hall, came over the other day with a skinned knee. I was making tea at the time and put the tin in the cabinet next to the fridge."
Perry led Della from the bedroom, across the narrow hallway, and into the charming, old-fashioned bathroom. He had just put her hand under warm running water when the doorbell rang.
"I'll bet that's Paul," Perry said with a little frown. "He probably thought he was supposed to meet us here instead of at the restaurant."
Della laughed. "He knows perfectly well we agreed to meet at the restaurant. He just wants to raid my liquor cabinet."
"I'll get the door and send him on his way to hold our table as he should be doing right now. Keep that finger under water until it stops bleeding."
He backed from the bathroom and hurried to the door of Della's apartment. The bell rang again as he twisted the knob and pulled the door open. "Paul, you're a grown man, can't you follow simple directions…" his words halted in shocked surprise as he came face-to-face with his future.
Della, older and slightly shorter, stood in the hallway before him. The woman smiled a familiar smile and in a smooth, low voice eerily similar to the one he loved so much said, "I didn't expect a man to answer the door, but judging by your expression I'd say I'm in the right place."