It's about presenting birthday present(s). Had he still been with us, he'd been 96 today.

Just a shorty about absolutely nothing new.

But I hope I can make you smile.

Cough links

Denver, 1992, May 21st, 07.15 a.m.

" You'll need these at the deposition." He reaches out over their breakfast table, carefully avoiding the carafe with orange juice, to take the document from her delicate hand. It's a neatly typed out list of the questions they've been composing for this morning's deposition.

" Where will the deposition take place again? " He asks her.

" At the court house. Ken knows where it'll be exactly. "

Perry nods. " Who's the judge ? "

" Let me see … " She searches through her paper work. " Haroldson. "

" At what time? "

" The deposition starts at eight o'clock. You're so lucky Haroldson wants to do it this early today. Otherwise it would have been taken next week or so. "

" What about the rest of the day? Anything exciting? " He sighs.

" You have a meeting with the DU Board Comittee at then thirty, you have a lunch appointment with Walter. There are three briefs to dictate, and … "

He's not listening. He sees her lips moving, and her hands. These movements cause her white silkened peignoir to shift, which offers him a short glance at her cleavage. He shakes his head, he should really stop doing that at this age. He concentrates again and hears her last words. " … and then there's dinner at eight. "

He shakes his head again. " Seven. "

" No, eight. " She checks her schedule.

" No. I changed it. " He says sternly.

" What ? " She looks up at him, incredulous. " You changed my reservation ? "

He shrugs, looks at the list of questions in front of him. " It's my birthday, and it's my celebration dinner. "

" Uh. " She stands up and turns to the counter.

" Seventy-five. " He says it slowly, when she stands next to him with fresh coffee.

" Mmmm-mmm. " She confirms, and pours him and herself another cup of coffee, her free hand resting on his shoulder.

" Maybe I should stop working … " He says it thoughtfully. " Or at least consider stopping. Maybe we should talk about that … "

" Ah. The annual visit of the retirement demon. " Della sets down the coffee pot, and sits down next to him.

He watches her. " It's not a demon. It's a … "

" … an angel? " She looks at him, pursing her lips, her chin on an elegant fist.

" No. It's a secretary. " He tries to joke.

" No way. " She snorts. " I'll never tell you to retire. I'd lose my job and be bored. "

He's silent. She's right, but aren't there all kinds of other things she can do … even at seventy ? He can think of several pleasant activities. He sighs. He should really stop doing this at this age.

She shrugs at his seemingly serious stare. " You do know you are your own sus-pension, Perry. You can stop working whenever you want. Certainly, nobody's stopping you to stop … Except you. "

" Just contemplating... It's what birthdays do to us, hmmm? They make us ponder and wonder. It's why I don't like them. "

" Well. " Her voice is even lower than his this morning, " As I recall, from just the last couple of decades, you at least like one certain part of your birthday. "

" The present part ? " Well aware of the double meaning of his words, he tries to keep his face in check.

" Yesss, the annual present part … I've noticed you're not completely dressed yet. You miss … certain items. "

" Yes. Cuff links. " His eyes are slowly warming and narrowing at her pursed lips, and he stands up. " And you haven't dressed at all yet … So, where did you hide them this time? " He reaches out for her hands and pulls her up to stand with him.

" Come here and find out … " She laughs softly and brings her arms up around his neck, plays with the little hairs above his collar. " Or should I say, come here and find them? " His eyes darken, just a little, as he places his hands on her waist, and caresses the silk of the white gown underneath the peignoir. He smiles, leaning forward, kisses her neck, dwells in the warmth of the soft sweet smelling delicious skin he finds there.

" Oh. " Her hands tighten their grasp on his neck, pull him to her to have more. The moaning sighs are his as his hands perform the annual search for his present. The route of his hands changes and they're suddenly on her waist again, but now, underneath the soft fabric he's been investigating so very fondly before.

" Are they still in their little gift box ? " He asks, mischievously.

" Nooooo … " She laughs that lovely throaty chuckle as he leans forward some more, succesfully trapping her in his embrace, pulling her against him.

" Did you hide them somewhere else this time? " His hands reach the small of her back, and roam downwards.

" No. " She gasps and chuckles, slapping his upper arms. " No, not there, Perry Mason. "

" Oh, up here … " His hands travel back upwards, underneath the gown, over her bare skin.

" Mmm-mmmm, but you could have gone there in … "

" in…? "

" … in a different … " she laughs out loud as his hands tickle her waist and belly " … a different angle …. "

" Oh, but you do know I'm an expert on how to approach you in all different kinds of angles, my dear. " The snicker against her neck makes her laugh out loud again.

" You're close now. " She whispers in his ear, holding his neck again with her elegant fingers.

" Mmmm …" He murmurs. " I am. Very close. "

Finally, his tickling fingers reach the constraining fabric of the laced bra that was not there while she was sleeping next to him, just a few hours ago. She's put it on, especially for this occassion. He can't possibly say what humours him more, the fact that she still wants to play this little game every year … Or the fact that he finds new cuff links in the warm cleavage of his secretary every year on his birthday. Or the fact that he has to think of how he finds them, every time he touches his sleeves and fumbles with his cuff links, in court, in the office, wherever.

He holds the new cuff links in the palm of his hand to watch them closely. He smiles, because they're still warm. As always, she has them engraved with their initials, on the inside. Nobody knows. Nobody's ever noticed.

" Beautiful, aren't they? " She releases a soft sigh.

He narrows his surprised eyes, looking at his present. " Black pearls … "

" Mmm-mmm… Black pearl cuff links. " She nods. " Just to remind you. " She tilts her head.

" To remind me that I still have a trip to organize … "

" A trip in the fall. "

He frowns. " A trip in the fall. "

" That still doesn't sound right, does it? " She contemplates with him.

" No. We better make that … 'an autumn journey'. "

" Noooo, that's something old, retired people do. Let's just call it a short vacation. "

" Mmm-mmm. " He nods.

" Can I ? " She asks, opening her hand to him.

" Yes, you can. " He hands her the cuff links, and holds up his sleeves.

One by one she slids the cuff links through the button holes of his sleeves, and elegantly twists the ends, to attach them there for the day. A day that will end at the moment she'll perform these movements in reversed order.

When she's completed her task, her fingers slip inside the stiff cotton white fabric of his sleeves, caressing the soft hairs on his wrists. She looks up at him. Gently, slowly, he pulls his hands back, to cover hers. He laces his fingers with hers, then bring them up to hold them against his chest.

He knows why it silences him, every year again, when she puts the cuff links on.

It's a ritual.

A ritual that very much reminds them of another ritual, never performed officially, because they still think some things don't need public decorum to be real.

He looks into her eyes, they're gleaming, glinstening. Could it be she's in love with him as much as he is with her ? Still ?

" Tell me again why I never married you? " He asks her softly.

" Oh, well, we wanted some unlawfulness in our lawful life … " She says it, equally softly.

" We did ? " But he knows it's true.

" Mmm - mmm. " She releases her fingers from the embrace on his chest, to be able to stroke his brows, his cheeks, his beard. " And I don't need your signature to confirm that you love me. I know you do. "

" And if you need my signature … "

" … I think it's safe enough to forge it, I've practised that … " She smiles that soft smile.

" And can I kiss you now? "

" Yes, you can. " His hands hold her face, and she places her hands over his. He kisses her, tenderly, gently. They revel in the familiairity of floating into another universe for just a few moments. His hands trail along the same warm path they've taken before. Her hands stroke his cheeks again, his throat, then travel upwards to his hair, his ears, caress his throat again and finally land on his chest, her thumbs underneath the lapels of his suitjacket.

The ticking of the kitchen clock slows down, the sounds deform and gradually start to fade, but the kiss continues.

Time's not standing still. Time simply cannot stand still, but it at least has the courtesy now to not make a sound.

A familiair sound leads her back into the present. It's the deepness and the intensity of his moan she recognizes to be the prelude of a lot more that simply can not be more, not now. Tonight maybe, but not now.

" No. " Della says as she pushes against his chest. " You have to be in the office, I mean in the court house… you're … " She closes her eyes, swallows, clears her throat, smiles. " Ken's picking you up any minute now. "

He kisses her forehead, she feels his lips smiling against her skin when they both hear their front door open. The kitchen clock starts ticking again.

" It's me! " Ken Malansky yells through the hall way, knowing he has to announce his presence that way in the Mason's residence.

" In here, Ken. " Perry turns to the breakfast table and starts stacking his papers. Ken finds his boss and shakes hands with him.

" Congratulations on your seventy-fifth, Perry. "

" Thanks Ken. " He smiles. " I need just five more minutes to go through these questions for the deposition again. I haven't found time yet. I was a little late this morning. "

" Oh, I'll drive us to the court house, so you'll have plenty of time to read in the car. So, you were late, huh? Late on your birthday … "

" Yeah. " The deepening of the dimples is a warning sign for her, but she doesn't register it on time. She's sipping her coffee, when he says " … couldn't find my cuff links. "

Now she nearly chokes, and coughs, elegantly but long, all the while laughing through the gasps of breath she's taking.

" Hey, it's cuff links, not cough links, Della." Ken jokes.

" Haha. " She's not amused. But she is.

" Congratulations on his birthday. " Ken kisses her temple.

" Thank you, dear. " She smiles at him.

" Did you help him find his cuff links? "

" Of course I did. " She turns and starts to clear their breakfast dishes. " I always do. It's part of the job. " She throws a short glance at Perry.

" I love you. " He mouths to her.

" I love you too. Happy birthday. " Her lips form the words without sound.

He nods sweetly, touches his sleeves with both hands and follows Ken to the car.

- TMC T - ( They Might Continue, Tonight )

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Sorry about this, I'll continue writing on the more important stories now.