(So here's the epilogue finale... at least for the moment... Thanks to everyone who read and to everyone who reviewed.)
"I'm going to check the news, Baby." Perry called through the bathroom door, pausing to leer at Della as she stuck a damp bare leg out of the shower. "Breakfast should be here soon. I'll bring you coffee."
"You put on your pajamas," Della frowned, her head appearing around the steam covered door.
Perry's hand flew to the top button of his top as he stepped into the room and moved toward the shower, smoldering blue eyes locked with hazel.
"Oh no..." Della held out her hand to stop him. "I am not providing entertainment for any more bellboys. Besides, you should be exhausted after your exertions last night."
"Are you doubting my stamina, woman?" Perry bellowed jokingly. His face clouded and his bottom lip came out. "Have I EVER failed you?"
"Never... but I'm hungry and I need sustenance... AFTER breakfast... IF you play your cards right..." She offered when his face clouded and his bottom lip came out. A smile quickly lit his face. Della scoffed as she shooed him away, knowing that she had been easily manipulated and not minding at all.
The knock at the door came as if on cue, just as Perry entered the sitting area of the suite. Desperate for a cup of coffee, he tightened his robe as he moved to open it.
To say that Perry was caught off guard was an understatement. Expecting a breakfast cart to be waiting, he threw the door open for the waiter. "Come in."
Laura Robertson flew into the room and threw her arms around Perry's girth. "Darling!" She gushed, "I knew you were there yesterday. I felt your presence. I knew you wouldn't let me down."
Perry stepped back, pulling Laura's arms away as he did so. "What are you doing here, Laura? The trial..."
"You didn't know? The jury came back late last night. Not guilty to manslaughter... Criminal negligent homicide... a misdemeanor... the judge sentenced me to community service. I had to see you. It took me a little while to track you down but..."
"You shouldn't have come here, Laura." The elevator slid open down the hallway, the sound dragging Perry's attention back to the open door. He sighed. "Maybe it is time... Sit down." She thought he was moving to close the door to protect her reputation there but instead he called out into the hallway. "Glen, you should hear this as well."
The suspicious husband, Glen Robertson, tugged at his jacket as he entered the room, his face hardening in the face of his wife's surprise. Laura started to speak but Glen turned away. "I'm not sure that I need to hear anything. I have all the confirmation I need just by following my 'wife' here."
The breakfast cart rattled to the door and Perry bade the young server enter. After a quick chat the hotel waiter scurried away to fetch another large pot of coffee and more cups. Perry had a feeling they were going to be needed. After pouring and passing coffee to Laura and Glen he sighed as he sat heavily in a large wing chair.
"Glen, I did NOT invite Laura here. There is nothing between us except friendship of a sort. That is all there has been for a very long time."
The look on Glen Robertson's face as he folded his arms across his chest told Perry that he didn't believe a word Mason was saying. He glared at Perry as if to say, 'then why is she here?'
Laura looked as if she wanted to speak but before she had mustered her courage, Della appeared in the bedroom door, towel in one hand drying her tousled curls. The short silk robe she wore was tied haphazardly, the gaping top giving evidence that she wore nothing underneath.
"You promised me a cup of coffee, Sexy. What happen..?" Her husky voice trailed off as she realized that they had company and just who that company was. The hand with the towel lowered as she clutched it to her chest and exhaled.
Both Laura and Glen sat silently on the sofa, mouths agape at what they were seeing... confirmation of the rumors after decades of speculation.
"I'll be right back," Della mouthed to Perry, her first priority to don clothes.
Perry nodded as she backed toward the bedroom door just a few steps behind her. "Baby... bring the..." "Expressive eyes finished the thought for him; told her exactly what he wanted.
"Well... that was something of a surprise, although I guess it shouldn't have been. There have been rumors for years, after all..." Laura babbled, clearly trying to cover up her discomfort and embarrassment. "I should have expected that the two of you would... well... that..."
A knock at the door saved Perry from having to respond at that moment. After the waiter finished delivering the new coffee cart Mason poured himself a large cup and took a long drink. He sank back into his chair, eyes closed and sighed.
"Perhaps now it is obvious to you, Glen that I spoke the truth. I didn't invite Laura here at all, much less for an assignation."
"Or was that all staged for my benefit?" Robertson responded sarcastically.
Before Perry could respond Della reentered the room, now wearing a simple jersey lounging gown that provided a lot more coverage. She carried her briefcase which she sat down beside Perry's chair then headed toward the matching seat opposite him.
Perry caught her hand and tugged, pulling her back and down on to his lap. Eyes closed, their foreheads touched as they inhaled and exhaled in tandem.
"Look, if this wasn't planned then why did my wife sneak out of our house this morning and come here? Della's been your secretary for decades. She'd lie for you."
"If you believe that then you don't know Della." Perry reached down, flipped open the brief case and pulled out a manila folder.
"Darling," Laura grabbed Glen's hand. "There is no conspiracy. I came to thank Perry... I came to offer an apology that is forty years overdue."
"You need to apologize to Mason? What the hell for?" Laura's husband was obviously through taking her explanations at face value.
"The apology isn't for Perry. It's for Della." Surprise showed all around. "I did know Perry was there yesterday... I smelled his aftershave... and I noticed the bailiff at the door. He was obviously looking back at someone. Who else would be staying out of sight?"
"Go on." Glen was now ready to listen, it seemed.
"Of course Della would be with Perry. She practically never lets him out of her sight. It is Della that I came to see."
"So you threw yourself into Perry's arms?"
Laura smiled ruefully. "Old habits..."
Perry watched silently but skeptically. Avoiding Laura Robertson completely over the years would have been nigh on impossible. Law conventions and charity events had brought them into each other's orbit perhaps a dozen times since that day at the police station. Not once had Laura made any attempt to even speak to Della beyond the vaguest of acknowledgements demanded by polite society.
"So why now?" Perry hadn't meant to say the words aloud but he didn't regret it. If Laura wanted to apologize... well, Della certainly deserved it.
"I've had a lot of time throughout this ordeal to think about my life... about decisions I'd made, paths I'd taken... I came to realize that if Della had chosen to proceed against me all those years ago, that incident could have been used against me now, perhaps even been the catalyst to see me convicted of a felony. I behaved so badly back then... Thank you, Della, for not being spiteful and vindictive and paying me back for what you believed I did."
Laura paused and stared at the key in her hand for a moment. Did she really want to do this? Slipping the key into the lock and turning it would be so easy, so quick. Perry would be on his way to their scheduled meeting place by now so she wouldn't be in danger of being caught... and she really wanted to know... needed to know. Perry had never been able to resist her before. Why had that changed? She'd almost had him back that weekend at the beach but at the last moment he'd simply... left. Seeing him at the Bar Association Dinner dancing with his secretary, that insipid little mouse... had worried Laura. She'd always counted on Perry Mason being there whenever she wanted him... but now... maybe there was something more between him and Della. A quick search of Perry's apartment should give her the answer... a stray piece of lingerie or an extra toothbrush... then she would know for certain and have the ammunition she needed to combat that woman.
It wasn't really breaking and entering, she decided. Perry had given her the key and he hadn't asked for it back when they'd parted. Decision made, she pushed the key in.
"DAMN!" She swore vehemently. He'd changed the locks. She'd never considered that he might change the locks. The key was stuck halfway in the tumbler and she worked it back and forth desperately trying to free it before anyone saw her there. Then she heard the woman's voice calling out from inside the apartment.
"I'm coming, dear. Just a moment."
Strengthened by a burst of adrenaline, Laura yanked the key free and fled down the hall, walking quickly toward the elevator. Happy when she heard it ding and slide open, she thought she had made a clean escape... until Della Street stepped out of the lift carrying a grocery bag.
All of Laura's fear and animosity came boiling to the surface when she realized that Della intended to ignore her completely. How dare she! Did Della Street really believe that she could keep a man like Perry Mason? Preposterous! Laura was determined to stake her claim immediately. She grabbed the secretary's arms as she passed, nails sinking into flesh as she squeezed tightly and used her entire weight to swing Della into the wall.
But the wall opened... the stairway door swung wide and Della kept going back and back... and then she was falling. Laura heard the sickening thud as Della's body hit the landing, caught a quick glance of her rival laying there, and fled again, leaping into the elevator just as the doors slid closed.
(flash back over)
"You were right, of course. I was there to try and find proof of your interest in Perry. I let my temper get the better of me and I pushed you, but I swear, Della, that I didn't realize the door was right there. Fear overcame me and I ran away. You could have been seriously injured or worse and I... I was a coward. I am so very sorry." Laura's eyes were swimming with tears. "And then when you didn't testify, I still acted horribly... Looking back now, I am so ashamed of my actions."
Della sighed, willing away the bad memories. "I put it behind me long ago, Laura. I accept your apology and I hope that you can too."
Laura seemed sincere, Perry thought, but even after nearly forty years he could still see her that night in his mind's eye... her smirk, her lack of concern for Della... In the grand scheme of things, what did it really matter? Their baby girl had lived. He and Della had found their way to each other and never looked back.
"I remember standing in front of the door to Hamilton Burger's office and looking back down that long hallway at the two of you standing at the elevator. I didn't want to accept it but the way you were with each other... I knew that the two of you would end up together. The boss and his secretary... so cliché... at least way back then..."
Perry turned to look at Della, a contented smile touching his lips. "So cliché, Laura... but so true, at least for us. This beautiful lady has been my secretary for over forty years... but what's more important... what I invited the two of you in to explain to you is for thirty-nine of those years Della Street has been my wife."
Their left hands joined together on Perry's knee, the matching pinky rings they wore obvious when placed side by side, as was the antique diamond ring and gold wedding band that Della had slipped on while changing.
Laura paled, swallowing hard as she fell back into the sofa cushions. Even Glen looked shocked. Hearing about Della's fall and Laura's part in it had caught him off guard but finding out Perry Mason's secret... His mind did a quick calculation but Laura's was even quicker.
"Exactly when did you get married?" Laura's tone was brittle, her jaw tight. "That weekend at the beach..."
Perry had the good grace to look chagrined but he didn't respond. He had apologized to Laura long ago even though she didn't know the underlying reasons for his actions. He pulled the file loose from where he'd tucked it beside the chair cushion.
"Your dress is lovely, Laura." Della interjected, seemingly out of the blue. "Is it a 'Rory'?"
"Yes..." Laura looked at Della as if she'd gone daft. "She's one of my favorite designers."
"Ours, too." Perry pulled a photo loose and leaning forward slid it across the coffee table toward Glen and Laura. "That's Rory and her boyfriend Jase."
Laura picked the picture up and stared, her brain clearly processing. "You... you know her... personally? Her eyes..."
"She has her father's eyes," Della answered softly, surprised that she actually felt some modicum of sympathy at Laura's obvious confusion and pain.
"Her father? No..."
"Rory is our daughter, Laura. Mine and Della's."
Laura moaned. "That day at the police station... I wondered... The way that you reached out and touched her... belly. Della's coat kept getting in the way... I suspected for a moment but I couldn't imagine how a baby could have survived..."
Perry's hand slid over Della's abdomen, a familiar gesture to them both. "She almost didn't... It was touch and go... Almost two months of bed rest."
"How far..?" Laura looked as if she might be sick.
"I was almost five months along when I fell..."
"Five... you certainly didn't waste any time after we parted, did you Perry? You must have gone straight from my bed to Della's. Or were you both lying when you said you weren't involved before our breakup. Your daughter would have been conceived in... July? We were last together in April. How long an engagement did you have?"
"Our private lives aren't..." Perry's irritation was rising but a squeeze from Della's hand on his stopped him.
"Truthfully?" Only her husband could tell how hard Della was fighting to maintain her composure. "The morning at the law symposium when you came to Perry's hotel room... I was still in his bed where we'd spent the night making love. He hurried you out to breakfast so you wouldn't see me. That was when our daughter was conceived, the first night we spent together. The beach weekend? Our honeymoon... Yes, we were less than prudent but by your own admission you and Perry had been apart several months by then." Della's face dared Laura to speak negatively.
"Maybe this isn't the best time..." Glen interrupted. "Laura is tired and emotional..."
"Maybe." Perry agreed. "But Glen, you need to understand that whatever was between Laura and I so many years ago was over then. Reconnecting because of your trial and hers didn't rekindle anything. I am head over heels in love with my wife. Telling the two of you that is the best way I could think of to settle this once and for all."
"I'll concede that you apparently have no hidden agenda, but I'm not convinced about your ex-girlfriend.
"Glen, Darling..." Laura's voice sounded somewhat dazed as she continued to stare at the picture she still held. "I swear that I only came to see Della. I admit that seeing Perry may have stirred up old memories but that is all they are. I've behaved foolishly, I know."
"You are just so damned competitive. You had to see if you could win Mason back! Marriage vows and husband be damned!"
"NO... but I admit that I was curious... downright nosy. Perry told me all those years ago that he was in love with Della. They were at the party together that evening... and then Della told me that she never married. Why did you lie, Della?" Icy blue eyes turned on Perry's wife, mocking his earlier protestation. "You had Perry. You lured him into bed and got pregnant deliberately to get him, but get him you did. So why lie?"
"Now wait just one damn minute, Laura! I was the irresponsible one. I knew full well what could happen but I wanted Della so much I just didn't care. Della didn't have the experience to kn... OUCH!" Perry yelped as Della's foot made contact with his shin.
"You know what that time was like, Laura. I couldn't have been effective as Perry's secretary if my being his wife became public knowledge. We didn't hide our family away but we kept it private. As far as the world was concerned, I remained a single woman. When I'm acting as Perry's secretary I'm Della Street, not Mrs. Perry Mason."
"Even when asked point blank?"
"It wasn't really the time to share our marriage with you. Besides, Perry and I decide together who we tell." Della bit her tongue to keep from blurting out that Laura's obsession was the reason they had perpetuated the ruse in the first place. "Honestly? The details of our private life aren't really anyone else's business."
"So it was Della all along. When you told me that you were in love with her... you were already married? You already had a baby on the way?" This time Laura's words came out in a whisper. "Isn't it strange that something that happened so long ago can still sting so much. You moved on. I moved on. Yet still... it hurts."
"It shouldn't... not really..." Perry offered. "None of this was meant to hurt you, Laura. You've just been through hell and you aren't thinking clearly... but you have the career you wanted and a husband who loves you. You've accomplished so much in your life... fulfilled your ambitions. Now you just need to take some time to recover from this debacle and remember that."
"I do..." Laura seemed like a lost little girl as she turned slowly to look at Glen. "Do I still have you, my love?"
Glen Robertson adored his wife; he had fallen head over heels the very first time the whirling dervish that was Laura Elliot had been introduced to him and determined that he would marry her even if she did believe that she was still in love with Perry Mason. He'd seen her shenanigans, witnessed her plotting and tried to rein her in when she went to far overboard. He loved her so much he had been willing to go to jail rather than have her put on trial. His face softened as he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. "You are damned infuriating... but who else can handle you?"
Laura lifted her hand to Glen's cheek. "I don't know why you put up with me but I'm so thankful that you do."
"We have a lot of work to do on us, I won't lie. But I do love you, Laura."
Della leaned further into Perry as he wrapped his arms around her waist, both of them relieved.
"Just one more question and this time I do have the nerve and the bad manners," Laura turned back to the embracing couple. "Just for my own knowledge... peace of mind, perhaps... Is this... Is Rory your only child?"
Perry pulled another picture from the folder and he and Della stared at it for a moment before he passed it over to Laura.
"That was taken at my birthday last year." The casual photo showed three women and one young man laughing.
Laura swallowed hard. "They're a very attractive bunch. Four..."
Perry stood, taking Della with him, to point out each child. "Lily is our second daughter."
"She looks exactly like you, Della. I would have known her instantly."
"Lily is a grade school teacher. She married Arthur Tragg's son."
Perhaps the most delighted person the day of Lily's wedding to her long-time boyfriend, a newly graduated veterinarian was the groom's father, Lieutenant Arthur Tragg. Perry knew in spite of the policeman's happy marriage Tragg still held a soft spot in his heart for Della and his happiness was genuine as the Tragg family welcomed Della's duplicate into their midst. The two old warhorses still loved to argue back and forth over who the five grandchildren favored the most.
"And that's Gracie..."
Della sensed that Grace Mason was going to be a handful the first time the doctor laid the squalling newborn in her arms and the baby immediately began to root against her chest in search of food. She was born hungry and that hunger for life had never left her. Lily was happily married and Rory had Jase and her career but Gracie refused to settle down in one place or with one man. She roamed the world with a notebook and a camera, sending back beautiful prose and stunning photos from the far corners of the world. A war zone, a major sporting event or Mother Nature at her best or worst, that was where Gracie could be found. Fanatically single and content to remain so, Gracie had no qualms about telling her opinionated father to butt out of her prolific but private love life and look to his other children to carry on his legacy.
"Our youngest, Will."
Rory was an absorbed teenager, Lilly eleven and Gracie nine when the Masons had received perhaps the greatest shock of their marriage – besides the one that led to it – when at nearly forty, Della's stubborn new strain of virus turned into Dr. Cooper's announcement that she was three months pregnant. Their two oldest daughters were mortified, Gracie could have cared less and Perry walked around like a preening peacock for weeks. It seemed that since Della had her tiny duplicate, Perry was due one as well for right on schedule William Drake Mason made his appearance, a perfect doppelganger of his father right down to the indigo eyes. Della laughingly told their friends that she wouldn't have been sure she had anything at all to do with Will's creation if he hadn't made quite an impression in the labor room, weighing in at nearly eleven pounds.
"Will graduated from Stanford Law last year. Right now he's studying in England." Knowing Perry could talk about their children for hours, Della laid a cautioning hand on her husband's arm. Now wasn't the time and she knew if she didn't distract Perry he would start pulling out pictures of the grandchildren soon.
"They are... you have a lovely family." That Laura was struggling was obvious. "They are... your son looks just like you, Perry... very handsome." Her hand trembled slightly as she thrust the photo back at Mason. "Glen, could you please take me home, Darling? All of a sudden I'm very tired."
"I slept for days after..." Della offered softly, remembering her own experience in the defendant's chair. "Go to bed. Get as much rest as you can. You deserve to take some time to recuperate."
"Get her away if you can," Perry murmured to Glen. "It will be good for her and you can use the time to... well... work on things..."
As Glen led Laura toward the exit, Perry and Della followed, his hand on her elbow as usual. Della congratulated Glen again as Perry bent and brushed his lips against Laura's cheek. "You'll get through this. You are one of the strongest people I know." His whispered words brought a hint of a smile to both Laura's lips and Della's.
The couple was through the door when Laura turned back impulsively. "I'm glad... so glad the baby lived. I'm glad the two of you have this wonderful family... and each other. It wasn't something I ever thought I would want but I'm a bit envious in a strange sort of way."
"Take care, Laura." Della bade the couple good-bye and watched them walk down the hall toward the elevator for a few moments. As she closed the door she realized that her husband no longer stood there.
Where..." When she turned around, Perry was standing by the breakfast cart, holding out a steaming cup of coffee.
'That' smile, the smile that always made Perry Mason melt, appeared as Della moved with feline speed and grace. After her first swallow of the aromatic brew the smile grew even brighter. "Elixir of the gods..."
"So... that went better than I expected."
Della simply nodded as she sipped.
"Do you think it was the wrong thing to do?"
"No. It was time. The children are old enough to take care of themselves. Maybe now Laura will finally stop making eyes at you."
Perry barked out a laugh as he gathered his wife into his arms. "Della Mason, are you jealous?"
"Of Laura? Never... never again." Della placed the almost empty coffee cup on the table and lifted her arms around Perry's neck. "You, Mr. Mason, are ALL mine."
"Forever." Perry crushed Della closer and kissed her passionately. Della didn't realize that he'd lifted her feet off of the floor until the kiss ended and they were standing in the bedroom.
"Wait just one minute, big guy. I haven't had breakfast. In point of fact, I noticed something while I was in the shower. You are in big trouble, Mister."
"Oops." Perry's thumb brushed over the mark that he had known that he would be chastised for.
"Yes, I found your little gift. So what are you going to do to make it up to me?"
"How about I kiss it and make it better?" Perry steered Della toward the bed as his hands made quick work of the lounging gown. He pushed her down onto the mattress and followed, his lips moving toward her neck.
Della wound her fingers through Perry's thick gray hair and tugged. "Not that one, Sexy. Try again."
So he did.