Della Street flipped the light switch in her living room and snuggled under her new afghan, on her sofa. With hot chocolate by her side, on the coffee table, she smiled and curled her legs under her, resting her head on her arm. It had been a perfectly wonderful Christmas, at Aunt Mae's, surrounded by her visiting family, from Chicago, but she was more than content to sit alone, now, in the quiet, still darkness. It had been a long time since she had been with her parents and two brothers- long enough to forget exactly how chatty and loud the Street clan was, when they were together. Della had taken after her grandfather- quiet and observant. Her brothers were carbon copies of her father- always talking business or sports or both, and their wives could match their gift for gab, and then some. Her mother and Aunt bickered back and forth, like always- two polar opposites disagreeing on everything from whose chocolate chip cookie recipe was the best to whether Della's hair style was agreeable, or not. Della's mother didn't like it, still preferring the long curls she wore almost ten years ago. Mae did her best to be a buffer, but to no avail. Della simply tried to smile, nod, and get through the day. She loved her family dearly, but after being away from them for so long, she remembered why she took up Mae's offer to live with her, in California, after her Uncle had passed.
She hadn't realized she'd been dozing until the abbreviated ring of the telephone, alerting her to a visitor at the building's front door, jarred her from her reverie. She sleepily rubbed her eyes, wondering whoever might be there, at this hour. As she removed her earring, with her left hand, she felt around the end table, for the phone, with her right.
"Oh, for the love..." she muttered, unable to grasp the telephone. She pushed herself up to sit and reached for the light, hoping she'd have better luck finding the switch than the telephone. Once she sat up, she saw the phone not a millimeter from where she must have been swatting around to find it, and pursed her lips. Of course.
"Hello?" she said, more lazily that intended, her weariness evident in her voice.
"Did I wake you?" the man asked, his voice filled with concern.
"No, it's Father Christmas," he laughed. "Sorry to bother you, but-"
"Oh, no! It's no bother," she interrupted, nervously smoothing back any stray curls. "Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. The office is still closed, and it's still Christmas, so..." he hesitated. "I was in the neighborhood and saw your car was home. I thought I'd stop by to wish you a merry Christmas."
"Well, thank you," she smiled, a blush creeping over her face. She was glad he wasn't in the room, to see it. "Would you like to come in?"
"If you'll have me."
She knew her level of alertness had returned to normal, when she found her brain going through a list of possible answers, stopping each one that had any intonation of her more than mild crush on her boss. "Of course!"
Alright, she thought, perhaps that was a bit too enthusiastic.
Hearing the other end of the line go dead, she kicked the afghan off, hastily buzzing Perry Mason in the to the front door. She hoped the apartment wasn't too dingy- it had been weeks since she'd had time to clean- but, she thought, she hadn't really had time to do any living in it, either.
By the time he knocked on the door, she'd had just enough time to run to the bedroom, to check herself in the mirror, back across the apartment to the kitchen to stand, stare, and wonder why she'd gone in there, in the first place, then to the living room, to the door, where the smoothed her hair into place, once more. She knew it was silly- he was just her boss, after all. He'd been to her apartment numerous times, for one reason or another, always a pit stop while driving from one end of the county to the other, on business for a client. This was no big deal. She told herself to calm down, but all the running around had made her breathless. On his second knock, she slowly turned the door knob, trying to breathe normally.
"Did I interrupt something?" he smiled that warm, mischievous smile that always knocked her head over heels.
"No," she grinned, sheepishly, opening the door wider to invite him in.
She watched him step over the threshold, scanning the room as if he was looking for evidence. That was something she'd noticed about him, in the few months she'd worked for him He always took stock of every room he entered. He would have made a fine private detective, if he'd chosen.
"Let me hang your coat,"she said, instantly regretting her words. Perhaps it was presumptuous that he'd be staying that long. His nod reassured her, as he slipped out of the coat. She let out a quick sigh of relief, grabbing it to hang at the rack, by the door. "How was Christmas with the Drakes?"
"Wonderful," he replied, sinking into the sofa. "Paul's mother doesn't know how to accept no for an answer, when the subject is another helping. I'm stuffed."
"She spoils you," Della laughed, "but I suppose that explains why Paul is hungry all the time."
"Oh, you don't know the half of it. You should see Paul, with his mother. He's like a little boy, again."
"I can imagine that," she said, with a nod. "Can I get you a drink? I'm afraid the cabinets are quite bare, but I was just having some hot chocolate-"
"That sounds perfect," he said, pushing himself to his feet, "let me help, though."
"Oh, no need, Counselor; you're the guest."
She shook her head, "You're always welcome, here."
She hurried to the small kitchen, hoping the water was still hot, on the stove. She still had only a vague idea of what time it was, and no idea how long she'd been dozing, on the sofa. She touched her finger to the kettle, lightly, and was pleased to find it still quite hot.
"How was Christmas with the Streets?" she heard him say, from the living room.
"It was loud!" she remarked, mixing his cup, and a second, for herself. "We're quite a lively bunch, when we get together."
She stepped lightly, carefully carrying the two mugs to the sofa. She handed one off to Perry, the scooted her other mug aside to make room for the new one. She noted how precariously close he was sitting to her former spot, on the sofa, and wondered if she should step around to the other side, to make more distance between them. But, he had to know, right? Taking a quickened breath, she sat beside him, her leg lightly brushing against his. Aside from being crammed into Paul's car, this was the closest she'd ever been to him, and certainly closer than she'd ever been to him, while they were alone.
"Delicious, Miss Street," he said, taking a sip. "Coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches- is there anything you don't make better than anyone else?"
"Flattery will get you everywhere, counselor," she giggled. She extended her mug toward his, indicating a cheer. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Della," he said, clinking his mug lightly against hers.
They sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity, until he finally piped up. "I thought you'd be staying with the family, at Mae's."
"Oh, no. I love my family too much to do that. We'd be at each other's throats, by morning. We got close enough, as it was. Mom hated my hairstyle. Mae tried to run interference. My brothers don't understand my work. My sisters in law don't understand why I work."
"What's to understand? You're my private secretary. Surely they've heard that term, before."
"Indeed. They even have some of their own. They're still adjusting to me leaving, though, I think. Mae was the black sheep, when she left Chicago, for this wooly west, you see. And I, well, I just followed in her footsteps."
"Well, if it's any consolation, I couldn't be happier that you did."
She felt a slight blush creeping over her cheeks, and was glad his eyes weren't on her. "You more than expressed that with that extravagant Christmas bonus, chief. You really didn't-"
"No! No more about it, Della," he grinned, holding his hand up. "You deserve it."
"I can't believe you had Paul staple it to my blouse," she laughed, lightly.
"How else was I going to get you to take it? Take you to the bank with it, at gunpoint?"
"Perhaps. It's just..." she began, feeling the lump form in her throat again, the same as the day she opened the envelope with the $300 check inside, "well, no one ever does nice things for me, chief."
He gave her a quizzical look, as if to ponder her words and her actions. "What do you mean?"
"Just that. And it's the same with your clients. For the reputation you have, you're almost generous to a fault, Mr. Mason."
"And what reputation is that, Miss Street?"
"For being tough. For... fighting, tooth and nail."
"You can be and do those things and still be generous to those who mean the most to you."
It was becoming harder and harder for her not to cry. Her emotions, her crush, her silly schoolgirl ideals were getting the best of her. She wished she could tell him how much he meant to her, too, but she imagined he meant that in a completely professional way. Still, it was sweet of him to say. It had been a long time since she felt important, to anyone. Since her grandfather had died, she hadn't been anyone's number one girl, and even if this had to stay in the professional sense, she was elated to have that feeling again.
"Della, I..." he began, interrupting her. She watched as he pursed his lips, his brow furrowed as he turned away for a moment. "No, you go ahead."
"I just wanted to thank you, again."
"Oh. You're welcome, again," he said, flatly, as if he hadn't heard what he wanted. "I wanted it to be more personal, but I've come to realize that all we talk about is work. I'd... Della, I'd like to rectify that."
"You..." she sputtered, raising her eyebrow, "You what?"
He shifted on the sofa, so he was facing her, and his eyes focused directly on hers. "Della Street, what's your middle name?"
"Rose," she grinned. "Why?"
"Just curious," he nodded. "Favorite color?"
"That's not a hobby," he said, tugging lightly on his earlobe. "That's punishment for most people."
"Not for me. It's what I love."
"You're not just trying to impress the boss, are you?" he smiled.
"Of course not. My boss would know I was lying, in an instant."
"You'd better believe it."
Silence filled the room, again, and she waited for the next question, eagerly.
"Della Rose... that's a beautiful name."
"Thank you. I'd like to say I picked it out, myself, but both names belonged to my grandmothers, before me."
"Your parents did well."
"I'll be sure to let them know you said that, chief."
"Well, now, before you tell them that, maybe you should tell them something else about me, so they have no question of my intent."
"Your intent?" she asked, cocking her head to the side as she eyed him, puzzled. Before she knew what was happening, she found her lips meeting his, tenderly, as they slowly realized their feelings for one another. The kiss deepened, and she closed her eyes, trying to remind herself to keep breathing. Slowly, he pulled away, but she kept her eyes closed, relishing the moment. Whens he finally forced them open, a few tears fell out, and he quickly wiped them away.
"I'm sorry," he said, quickly. "I shouldn't have-"
"No," she sniffled, embarrassed by her crying. "Perry Mason... you just gave me the only thing I wanted for Christmas."