First printed: More Red Holt Steele #7
Disclaimer: This Remington Steele story is not for profit. I'm not making any money on this and I do not own the rights to Remington Steele or any of its characters.
“You always do this, Laura” the tall young man yelled.
The woman he was speaking to, small and dark, made an angry sound. “Me? Me! You’re the one who waltzed into my life, full of secrets, wanting only to share my bed and maybe be adored by all of L.A. in the process! I hardly know more about you now than I did four years ago.”
“Laura! You are so stubborn! You were being just as difficult as I was.”
“I suppose you…with your handsome face and your blue eyes…you think you’re irresistible. You think that I couldn’t live without you. Well, you’re wrong! I lived this long without a man in my life, why should the rest of my life be any different?”
“Oh! We’re on that kick again, are we? How many times do I have to tell you, Laura? I’m not your father. I even married you for goodness sake.”
“Married? You call this married? We had a phony marriage, with phony blood tests, a phony license, and a phony captain!”
“Laura!” he yelled, then made an effort to calm down, “Why are we fighting? Can’t we just kiss and make up?”
“That’s your answer for everything, isn’t it, Mr. Steele?”
“Well, whatever works, eh?” Remington Steele made an attempt to smile.
“How did I ever get myself into this? I shouldn’t be living here with you in a phony marriage. I should be in my loft, happy and alone. Sometimes, I think I’d be better off if I had never met you!”
Remington’s face paled, and he looked like he had been slapped. All the anger was gone from him now. “You don’t mean that, Laura.”
Then, she said words she regretted before they finished coming out of her mouth, “Oh, yes I do!”
The stunned look slowly faded from the handsome man’s face. He went over to the couch where he had placed his jacket shortly before they had begun their argument. Remington picked it up and slung it over his arm.
Looking Laura in the face, he said, “If that’s the way you feel…”
Laura was too proud and still too angry to take back the things she had said, so instead she watched him turn his back on her and walk to the door. Without turning to look at Laura again, Steele silently went out and firmly slammed the door.
Laura stood there staring at the door for several moments. Instantly, she regretted her foolish pride and the things that had come from her lips. She had hurt him; she knew that, and that was the last thing she ever wanted to do. Mostly, she wanted to protect that frightened little boy inside of him from the things that he feared most. With a sigh, Laura wearily turned from the door and wandered into the dining room.
The fight never should have happened. The fact of the matter was, it was almost as much her fault as his. She had been waiting for him to say something for weeks that he had just not said. It hurt Laura, and instead of talking to him about it, she had let it build up inside of her. Finally, today, he had made some innocent little remark, one she couldn’t even remember, and it had exploded out of her. Once she had started yelling, she just couldn’t stop. Now that the anger was gone, all that was left was a hollow feeling deep inside.
Laura saw one of his suit jackets hanging on the back of one of their chairs. She went over and picked up the coat, gently bringing it to her face.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered into it, still wishing that he could tell her the words she wanted so much to hear from him.
On impulse, she slipped on the jacket and sat in the chair that it had once occupied. Feeling drained, she laid her head tiredly in her arms on the table…
Things were hazy at first, kind of like being in a fog filled room. Then, the picture sharpened. Laura, now being able to see, looked around. She was in her apartment, the one she shared with him. He was due any moment, and she was looking forward to seeing him.
It had been a month since their phony marriage, their trip to Mexico, London, and Ireland. It had been less than that since he said that he loved her. He had actually said the words. She couldn’t believe it, even now. Pretending to be married to him—she loved it. If it weren’t for the fact that she was living a lie, she’d be completely happy. It was scary—but a good kind of scary. Definitely.
The door clicked as it opened, and Laura turned. Mr. Steele…Remington…smiled a funny smile when he saw her. Puzzled, Laura didn’t say anything, she just leaned back on the couch.
Remington watched her putting his hands in his pockets. For a moment, he stood there, hesitant. He studied Laura reclining there, then gave a short, decisive nod. Quickly, he walked around the sofa and sat beside her. She looked at him curiously.
“Laura…” he said.
Laura noticed the nervousness in his face and in his voice. Her curiosity growing, she gave him her full attention. He looked down and seemed to be searching for something to say.
“Mr…” she stopped and grinned, “Remington?”
He looked up, and there was a frightened look on his face mingled with the nervousness. Remington’s eyes met hers, and he picked up her hand. A shiver went over Laura as she realized that something very important was about to happen.
“Laura…” he cleared his throat, “Laura, I’ve been thinking. What would you say to us making it official, eh? Will you marry me—for real this time?”
Laura sat in a comfortable blue chair. Her hands were clutched nervously in her lap. She hated going to the doctor and had hated it ever since that time her mother had dragged her, kicking and screaming into her pediatrician’s to get a needle. Trying to forget that she was ill, her eyes wandered around the room, inspecting diplomas, gazing at pictures of blond haired children.
“Where’d he go, China?” Laura thought crossly.
Just as she thought that, the door opened and her middle aged doctor came through it. He smiled to Laura, noticing her impatience with a twinkle in his eyes. He walked slowly, taking his time getting to his desk. Laura waited for him to sit down, though she was in a hurry to leave. There were things she’d rather be doing. She wouldn’t even be here if her husband—that still didn’t sound quite natural, but it was nice—hadn’t insisted, saying she looked horrible.
Finally, Dr. Barrett sat, and Laura said, “Well?”
The smile the doctor had grew into a grin, “Well, Laura, my dear, you don’t have the flu.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she started, then stopped. A shocked look went over her face, “You don’t mean…no…You can’t be serious…”
“Yes, Laura. You’re going to have a baby.”
“A baby? Oh, my God, a baby.”
Automatically, Laura’s hand went to her stomach. The shocked look turned to a frightened one. Fear flooded over her, making the hand on her belly start to tremble. The idea of a baby was just so overwhelming. She had begun to think about having children lately, but she hadn’t thought of having them so soon. She had assumed that she and Mr. Steele—Remington—would plan it out before hand. With this thought came a slightly amused thought behind it. It was, Knowing how long it takes us to make a decision, it might have been twenty years before we actually got around to making a baby. Laura wondered how she could be so scared and still have a sense of humor.
Then a picture came to her mind. It was a picture of her holding a baby and singing. My baby. Our baby. Thoughts whirled through her head. She was going to have a baby! Slowly, the scared feeling melted away. It was replaced by happiness. A slight smile graced her face and her dimples appeared.
The doctor watched the different emotions come and go on Laura’s face without speaking. He patiently waited for her to roll the idea around in her head, get used to it, embrace it. Dr. Barrett was just getting ready to speak again when there was a tap on his door. A puzzled look came to his face. He looked at Laura, but she just shrugged.
The doctor got up and went to the door. Laura noticed that he seemed to move a little faster when he wanted to know what was going on. Then again, that perception could have been influenced by the fact that Laura had been impatient the last time the doctor had made the trip between his door and desk.
Dr. Barrett opened his door. “Mr. Steele!”
“Hi, is Laura here?”
The doctor’s eyes began twinkling again. “Yes, come in. I was just leaving.”
Steele looked confused as he watched the doctor sprint out and down the hospital corridor. When the doctor disappeared around a corner, Steele frowned and entered the room.
Laura looked at him, not knowing what to say. She didn’t know whether she should tell him now or wait until later. What would his reaction be? They hadn’t been married long, and they had never really talked about having children. What if he was angry? Even worse, what if he was disappointed?
Remington saw a strange look on Laura’s face. It was a look of uncertainty, of hesitation. Concern went over Steele’s own face, and he crossed the room with quick strides.
“Laura, what’s wrong?”
Laura got up to face him. “There’s nothing wrong.”
Remington captured Laura’s chin in his hand and raised her head to look in her eyes. “What did he say?”
Now, Laura saw that there was no way that she could keep this from her husband. No matter what his reaction, for better or for worse, she had to throw the news out there. He would be a good father. She was sure of that. She clasped a hold of that certainty and held on tightly. Anyone as gentle and as caring as he was, underneath the armor that he had built to face the world, would be able to show his children all the love that they needed.
“Remington,” even now, the world seemed strange to her, but she liked using it, “Remington, I’m going to have a baby.”
Laura thought she had been shocked, but her surprise was nothing compared to the shock that went over Remington Steele’s face. His mouth opened slightly, and his face got slightly paler. Pain went through Laura. He wasn’t ready. Then she noticed tears filling his beautiful blue eyes.
“Laura…” his voice had a slight shake in it.
Then, Remington grabbed Laura’s shoulders in a tight grip. He pulled her to him and threw his arms around her. She felt his lips gently touch her temple. Stunned, she stood there for a moment. Slowly, she wrapped her arms around him. He was warm and firm against her.
“Oh, Laura,” he said, his voice still shaky, “Finally. Finally, I will have the family I always dreamed of.”
Tears came to Laura’s own eyes at his words, and happiness, love, and a protective feeling filled her heart. She loved him, oh, how she loved him, and now, more than ever, she was sure he was hers forever.
Laura lay on the bed, her face and hair soaked with sweat. Her body hurt and she could never remember being this weary before, but those two things were in the back of her mind. Those feelings were overshadowed by a deep and unequaled joy. “I didn’t know it was going to be like this,” she thought. “Frances didn’t say it would be like this.”
Her eyes were focused on the doctor, a small woman with a kind face. In her arms was the most beautiful human being Laura had ever seen.
“Here,” the doctor was saying to Remington, “Why don’t you take her to meet her momma?”
Remington took the little bundle in his arms, and an amazed look went over his face. The joy in Laura seemed to want to bubble out and manifest itself in laughter. However, Laura didn’t laugh, instead she watched her husband bring their daughter toward her. She studied his face fiercely, with the look she got when she was trying to crack a case. This face she would want to remember for the rest of her life.
“Hello,” he said softly, the wonder still written over his features. “I’m your daddy, and I’m going to love you forever.”
Remington reached Laura’s side, and he smiled, bending slightly. “Look at her, Laura. I didn’t think anyone could be this beautiful. Not even Grace Kelly at her best was as beautiful as this.”
Laura smiled and held out her arms for her baby. “Grace Kelly, huh? I always liked the name Grace.”
Then, as Remington gingerly placed their child in her arms, she noticed that his eyes were full of tears. He blinked as he took in the picture of Laura and the baby together, and one of the tears that he was trying to hold back slipped from his control. Laura watched the tear slide down the smoothness of his handsome face, loving him even more than ever at that moment.
“I love you,” she whispered, tears threatening her as well.
Steele bent down and kissed her forehead. His answer was simple but felt down to the very depth of his heart. “And I love you.”
“I haven’t felt this tired since that stay in the sleep hospital,” Remington whispered to Laura as the older woman in front of them fiddled with a key.
“Shhh,” Laura hissed, though her hand reached out to clasp his.
“Really, Laura, this must be the tenth house we’ve looked at.”
The woman, now opening the door, stated reprovingly, “Now, Mr. Steele, choosing the house where you’re going to raise your family is a very serious undertaking.”
“Besides,” Laura echoed, “This will be the first important thing we buy together.”
The two of them followed the woman into the house. At every other house they had been to, Laura had gone in, looked at every room, and then shaken her head firmly at her husband. That’s why Remington was surprised by a gasp from his wife and a squeeze of his hand.
“Laura?” he asked.
Laura never answered. She was too busy looking around the entryway of the house she had been led into. Slowly, she peeked into the doorway closest to her, ignoring the prattling of the real estate agent.
“…and it’s got four bedrooms and a laundry room upstairs. There’s another stairway up from the kitchen…”
“Four bedrooms?” Remington asked with raised eyebrows.
Laura let go of her husband’s hand and wandered into the room she had been peeking into. It was a large room with lots of windows. Somehow, she could see the room filled with furniture, children, pets, and her piano. Looking out of the nearest window she saw a tree—a big tall tree.
She could hear Remington out in the hallway, talking to their agent. Vaguely, she wondered why he wasn’t with her, exploring their new house. This was their new house; she could feel it. People had lived in this house, loved in this house, and now it was opening its arms to her.
She followed a small hallway into a large, modern kitchen. Curling stairs at the back of the room led up and up. Laura hurried over to them and touched their cold wood. She could see her small daughter as she would be in a couple of years sitting there, perched on those stairs.
“Laura?” came Remington’s voice.
“I’m in here,” she called.
He entered the kitchen from a door right next to the one she’d come in. She smiled when she saw him, her pretty face lighting up and dimples appearing in her cheeks.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“This is it.”
“You haven’t even seen the whole house yet.”
“I don’t have to. Can’t you feel it?”
Steele smiled his boyish smile. He couldn’t feel it. To him, it was a nice house and he liked it, but that was it. However, anything that made Laura’s eyes shine like this had to be right. He trusted her, and if she felt sure then that was good enough for him.
“You have to ask? Just look at this place! It’s perfect.”
“Well, then let’s go tell Mrs. Beezenwacker that she’s just made herself a sale.”
Laura and Remington Steele sat on the couch contentedly with their arms about each other. Laura’s head rested on her husband’s shoulder, and Remington’s hand sat lightly on his wife’s very large mid-section.
“I didn’t think you meant it when you said you wanted to fill our house,” he murmured affectionately, actually looking forward to once more changing diapers and cleaning up spit-up.
Laura chuckled softly, watching two little girls playing in front of an unlit fireplace. One, the older one, had long black hair, big blue eyes, and a smile that would one day stop young men dead in their tracks. The other, barely out of babyhood, was toddling around, pulling her sister’s hair and getting into things. She was the more adventurous of the two. Her brown hair was just reaching her shoulders, and the most noticeable aspect of her face was the very prominent freckles that seemed to be splashed on in no particular order.
Grace let out a squeal as her little sister once more pulled her ponytail. “Mommy, make Lettie stop that! It hurts.”
Laura sighed and untangled herself from Remington. “I think it’s about time the two of you went down for a nap.”
“But I’m not tired.”
“Not tired!” Lettie agreed.
“You know that you have to go. It’s time. If you don’t have a nap, you get cranky.”
Grace thought about it. “Well, only if Daddy carries me…and I get ice cream when I wake up.”
Laura smiled. “Deal.”
“Piggy-back?” Remington asked Grace, who nodded.
“Piggy-back!” echoed Lettie.
“Ah, the super-duper daddy special. I may need your assistance, Mrs. Steele.”
“Anytime Mr. Steele.”
Remington knelt down so that Grace could climb on his back. She did, gripping his shoulders tightly and wrapping her legs around him.
“Are you ready?”
Then Remington held out his arms. Laura bent awkwardly and scooped up Lettie. She gave her a little cuddle before placing her in her father’s waiting arms. Lettie wrapped her arms about Remington’s neck and put her legs right over Grace’s. With one hand on each child, Remington started up the stairs. Laura followed right after him, ready to catch all of them if they happened to fall down the stairs.
Together, they trumped up the stairs and into the room that the two girls shared. Remington dropped them onto the bed. Grace and Lettie laughed as they bounced on the mattress.“Crawl in,” Laura instructed.
They did, and their father tucked them in, kissing them. Laura took her turn too, then the two of them walked out, closing the door.
“You know,” Laura commented, taking Steele’s hand, “This is a beautiful cabin. It was very nice of Donald’s brother to lend it to us for our vacation.”
Remington nodded. “A dear little place. It’s a shame he’s selling it.”
“Yes. There’ll be snow here at Christmas.”
Laura opened her mouth to say something else, but all that came out was, “Oh!”
“Laura, what is it?”
Laura’s look of surprise turned into a dimpled smile. “What do you think of June 20 as the birth date of your next child?”
“Here we are, sir,” Fred said, turning around.
In the back of the limo sat three people. Laura was on one side, Remington was on the other, and in the middle of them sat Grace. She was dressed in her best dress, with her black hair caught up and tamed into one long braid down her back. Her little hand was nervously clutching her mother’s.
Both doors of the limo opened. Remington got out of one side, and Laura and Grace got out of the other. The doors clunked shut in unison, and Remington went around the car to join his wife and daughter.
“This is it?” Grace asked, staring at the big building in front of her.
“This is it,” Remington confirmed, and the three of them started up the steps.
Remington and Grace chatted as they entered the building, his rich accent and her childish softness mingling together and sounding almost musical. They talked about several things, but Laura remained strangely silent.
The Steeles walked down several corridors before stopping in front of a forbidding looking door. It was painted a deep navy, and there was a window up too high for Grace to see through. For a moment, her courage faltered.
“I’m going to like it here, right, Mom?” Grace said, not sounding very sure.
Laura let go of the little girl’s hand and knelt before her with a smile on her face. “Of course you will, sweetheart.”
Grace reached out with her now freed hand and touched her mother’s face. “You look sad, Mommy.”
Laura chuckled. “I’m not sad, just proud of my big girl. You be good today…”
“…And don’t use any of your mother’s or Aunt Mildred’s colorful vocabulary,” Remington added with a crooked smile.
Grace giggled. “You mean like: ‘You slimy dirtbag’?”
Laura reached out and tapped the little girl on the end of her nose. “Exactly. And remember to have fun.”
“I will.” Grace hugged her.
Remington opened the big, blue door. Squealing and laughing could be heard as a room full of hyperactive children was revealed behind it.
The only adult in the room turned as she heard the door.
“Mr. and Mrs. Steele. This must be Grace.”
“Come in and join the fun.”
Grace looked at Laura who signaled her to go. The teacher took a hold of Grace’s hand and brought her to be introduced to the rest of the children. Laura watched, sadness and nostalgia racing through her. It seemed like only yesterday that Remington had laid Grace in her arms for the first time Her children were growing up so fast. She wished there was some way that she could hold on to time and remain forever in the happy present.
Her thoughts were broken by her husband’s hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him, seeing sympathy in his eyes. Without speaking, the two of them turned and left the room, closing the door behind them. It was time to go to work.
“Thanks, Fred,” Mr. Steele said as he and Grace stood on the sidewalk.
The limo driver, who had been working for the Steele’s for as long as Remington could remember, nodded and pulled away from the curb. Mr. Steele and his tiny daughter watched it go down the dark street.
“I like Fred, Daddy,” the little black-haired girl announced.
Steele smiled as the two turned and started toward their large white house. “I’m rather fond of him myself.”
Grace’s tiny hand squeezed his. “I’m glad I get to be with you without Mom or the babies around. I like being with you.”
“I like being with you, too.”
“Thank you for taking me to see the movie instead of making me go to Aunt Frances’ with Mom and them. I love movies.”
They reached the door, and Remington let go of Grace’s hand to search through his pockets. After a few moments, a puzzled look went over his face.
“Is something wrong, Daddy?”
Remington searched some more. “I don’t seem to have my key. Your mother and I left together, and I must have forgotten to check to see if I had my key with me.”
The little girl’s face broke into a beaming smile. “Don’t worry.”
Saying this, she took the pin her grandmother had given her for her last birthday off of her coat. Her father watched curiously as she approached the door. Swiftly and expertly, her little fingers inserted the sharp end of the pin into the keyhole. In no time at all, she was turning a now unlocked doorknob.
Steele looked at her in amazement. “When did you learn how to do that?”
“It’s not hard. I saw Mom do it with her set, and it looked easy, so I tried it.”
Suddenly, a laugh burst from Steele. It was joyous and full of love and something the young Grace could not catch. Her father lifted her up in his strong arms and gave her a breathtaking bear hug.
Through his laughter, Grace heard him say, “If there was ever any doubt, there’s none now. You’re certainly my daughter.”
Lettie rolled over, bumping into the back of her older sister. The movement pushed her awake, and her eyes popped open. Excitement tingled all over her body as she realized that this was it. She had been waiting for what seemed like years; finally, it was here! Filled with anticipation, she gave Grace a shove. When this got no reaction, she raised herself on her elbow and started shaking Grace’s shoulder.
The older girl moaned, and Lettie said, “Wake up! Wake up! It’s time.”
Grace opened her eyes and sat up. A crooked grin came to her face as she saw the sun shining through the curtain. Lettie turned around and proceeded to shake the small form on her other side .
“Sam, wake up! Wake up! It’s Christmas!”
The smallest of the Steeles opened her eyes. “Christmas?”
“Yes, Christmas. Get up.”
Lettie gave her a shove, and the little girl tumbled out of the bed. Grace protested, “Be careful, Lettie. You’ll hurt her.”
Lettie just crawled off of the bed through the empty space that had been occupied by Sam seconds before. The little girl got up, and Lettie took her sister’s tiny hand. Grace, suddenly overcome by her sister’s infectious excitement, bounded out of bed, black hair flying. The three of them grinned at each other and entered the hallway.
Filled, almost to bursting it seemed, with impatience, they raced toward their parents’ door. Lettie reached it first, and she threw it open.
“Mom! Dad!” she yelled, echoed by Grace.
Lettie let go of Sam’s hand and ran to the bed. Her father’s eyes were closed, and his left hand hung over the side of the mattress. He was snoring lightly.
One blue eye opened and he looked at her. For a second, his mind whirled. Who was this short, freckled person standing there with her brown hair disheveled and with Laura’s best look of impatience in her deep brown eyes? Then he came fully awake. This was his Lettie, and it was Christmas day. That realization came about one second before a tiny body landed on his back. Little arms wrapped around him, and a kiss was planted on his cheek.
Remington reached behind him with the hand that had been hanging off of the bed. With it, he grabbed a little girl, who laughed as he rolled her over his body to give her a bear hug.
“Good morning, angel.”
Lettie shook his arm, still tightly wrapped around his youngest daughter. “Get up, Dad. It’s Christmas!”
“Christmas?” he asked, raising an eyebrow, “What’s that?”
“You know, Daddy. It’s when families get together and love each other. Oh, and you get presents,” Sam informed him.
“Oh, that sounds vaguely familiar.”
“He knows, Sam,” Lettie said crossly, “He just doesn’t want to get up.”
Grace rolled her eyes and sat at the bottom of the bed, near her father’s feet. “It doesn’t matter. Mom’s not up yet.”
“What’s going on?” came a weak voice, full of sleep.
Grace crawled over her father’s legs and in between him and her mother. “It’s Christmas morning.”
“Christmas morning…al-ready?” Laura asked with a serious face.
She watched Grace, sitting there with impatience coming from her like a tangible substance, yet trying to seem more patient than her sister. Laura couldn’t keep her serious face, and it wasn’t long before a smile burst over it. She reached up and hugged Grace. Remington rolled on his back with Sam still in his arms. He grinned at his wife.
“Doesn’t anybody want to hug me?” Lettie asked.
Remington uncurled his long right arm from around Sam. “Come here.”
Lettie jumped onto the bed and snuggled next to her father. He hugged her tightly and kissed her tanned forehead. A contented sigh escaped from her. To Lettie, there was no one more perfect in the world than her father, and nowhere she’d rather be than by his side.
After a few seconds, Laura said, “Did someone say something about Christmas morning?”
At her words, the bed erupted in an explosion of little bodies. They all started talking at once and tugging at their parents to make them get up. Laura laughed and tried to comply. Sam jumped her way at that moment, and Laura let out a little shriek as the two of them slid out of her side of the bed.
“You all right, dear?” Remington asked.
Laura was still laughing, but she managed a breathless, “Yes,” over Sam’s giggles.
“Will, kids, it seems as though your mother’s up.”
He got out of bed, and Laura got up off of the floor. Together, the five of them made their way down the stairs.
“Look!” Sam cried as soon as the big picture window became visible.
“It’s snowing!” Lettie squealed.
“Snow on Christmas,” Laura said, giving her husband a sideways look. “Imagine that.”
Remington grinned. “This is the way it’s supposed to be, Laura.”
“The tree. Look at the tree!” Grace said then, and the snow was forgotten.
All three girls screamed in delight as they ran down the rest of the stairs and to the tree that was almost dwarfed by the presents surrounding it.
Laura's eyes shone as she saw the look of wonder on her children’s faces. She hooked her arm around Remington’s waist and leaned against him.
“Here, this one’s Sam’s. She gets to open the first one; she’s the littlest,” Grace stated.
The Steeles watched their youngest child open the first present. Her sisters watched too, dying with impatience, but still waiting for her before they started ripping through the presents.
“It’s from me and Lettie,” Grace told her. “We bought it.”
Sam opened her present slowly. She was never one to rush, plus she had trouble with the tape. The other two watched her eagerly, forgetting their own presents for the moment. They wanted Sam to love the present they had picked out for her.
It was a doll, plain, simple. It didn’t cry; it didn’t pee; it didn’t crawl, but it had big blue eyes and pigtails. Sam’s eyes lit up with happiness when she saw it. Quickly, she hugged the doll to her chest.
Grace reached out and grabbed a hold of Lettie’s hand and squeezed it. She whispered, “She likes it.”
Laura noticed that her husband was very still. She snuck a peek at his face to see why. Something gripped her heart as she saw the look. He was gazing at his children, a rapt look on his face. There was something there. Something she had only seen three times before. And there were tears in his eyes.
On impulse, Laura reached up and kissed his cheek. Remington turned to her. Softly, he took her face in his hand and kissed her forehead.
“Shhh,” she said, putting a finger to his lips.
“I’m next! I’m next!” came Lettie’s voice. “This one’s from Santa. I bet it’s that microscope I wanted.”
The outside door banged, and they could hear more voices. Laura wrinkled her nose at Remington, letting him loose.
“They’re in the living room, Abigail. They probably haven’t even opened their presents yet.”
“You can tell they don’t have teenagers,” another woman’s voice added.
“Such a long drive to get here. Why do they do this every year?”
“Gramma!” Sam cried.
As she did, six figures appeared in the living room doorway. One was an older woman, with white hair and a smile. When Sam saw her, she ran to her and wrapped her arms around her waist. The old woman’s smile grew broader.
“Frances,” Laura said, “You’re early.”
“Well,” Frances replied, coming in to hug her, “The kids got finished early, and Mother wanted to come over as soon as possible because of the long drive.”
After a moment of indecision, Lettie and Grace left their presents to run over and hug their grandmother. Everyone started talking at once, an Frances went in to stop an argument between her two older children. Not that they were children anymore. Danny had grown into a very large young man. He was in college and going to graduate in the fall. Mindy was a small woman and very pretty. She was nineteen and even thinking about marriage. Today, they were children; it was Christmas.
Laura rolled her eyes, glancing at Remington. “What a family we’ve got.”
“Yes, it is ours, isn’t it?” there was a strange note in his voice.
Concerned, Laura asked, “Are you all right?”
Remington took Laura’s hand. He squeezed it gently, looking in her eyes. Warmth filled her as he said, “Do you know how happy you’ve made me?”
“Open up! I know you’re in there!” Remington pounded on the door.
“Be civilized,” Laura told him, holding his arm. There was fear in her eyes, but it wasn’t for herself or for her husband.
“Civilized? Really, Laura. This is our niece we’re talking about.” He was barely controlling the rage that surged through his body.
“Who is it?” came a voice. It was a man’s voice.
“Steele. Remington Steele.”
They heard the man swear, and the door clicked as it was opened. In front of them stood a young man. He was very good looking with deep blue eyes and dark hair. Laura wasn’t looking at him though; she was looking past him to a woman who looked very frightened.
“Mindy!” Laura pushed past the man and ran to her niece.
The younger woman, her eye blackened and her lip swelled, threw her arms around Laura. “Aunt Laura! I came to get my things, and he wouldn’t let me leave.”
“Did he hit you again?”
Mindy nodded slightly, casting fearful glances in her boyfriend’s direction. Laura kept one arm around her niece.
“Get your things.”
“She’s not going anywhere,” the man near Remington protested.
“Oh, yes she is. Where are your bags?”
“Listen. This is none of your business. I say she stays.”
Remington barred his teeth, barely stopping himself from lunging at the younger man. Then, the dark haired boyfriend took a step towards Laura and Mindy. Remington reached out and grabbed him by the shirt. Roughly, he bashed him against the wall.
“Now, you listen here, mate.” He pulled back and pushed the smaller man against the wall again for emphasis. “Where I come from, you treat a lady with a little respect.”
The young man curled his lip slightly. “A lady.”
Remington’s hands got tighter, and he pushed his face up closer. “You little maggot, if you ever…ever…lay a hand on my niece again, if you ever so much as walk down the same street, I’ll be after you so fast it will make your head spin. When I catch up to you, I’ll kill you. Not a nice, quick death, but a long agonizing one, making sure that you feel each wound that you inflicted on Mindy ten times worse than she did. Do you understand?”
The young man looked in Remington’s eyes and something there scared him. The blue eyes had turned cold and hard, and suddenly he believed every word that the older man was saying. The realization surprised him so much that he forgot to answer. Remington shook him violently.
“I asked if you understand.”
The man he held nodded, and Remington released him. He turned to Laura and Mindy.
“Come along, ladies. The air in here smells quite foul.”
Mindy went over and picked up her bag. Warily, she watched her former boyfriend as she went cautiously around him and out the door. Remington followed her out, throwing a glance at Laura. She nodded and walked toward the door. Before exiting, she stopped in front of the dark haired man.
“By the way, Robert, what my husband said, that goes double for me.”
He stared at her, a slight mocking look on his face. “Do I look like the kind of man who would be intimidated by a woman?”
Suddenly, all of the anger Laura had felt and suppressed when she had first seen the bruises on Mindy’s face doubled up inside of her. All at once, there was nothing more she wanted in the world than to hurt this man. The rage she felt burst over her face, flooding her body. Quickly, letting the impulse take her, Laura made a fist and lashed out. The feeling of her fist smashing into his face was, for that instant, very satisfying.
The waiting room was full of people. Laura and Remington were there, with their daughters. Frances and Donald were there as well, as were Mindy, her husband Gregg, Danny, and Laurie. It was the whole Holt clan, though no longer Holts because their family ran to girls. For once, the family was surprisingly silent. All of their faces were pale and drawn, and there were bags under their eyes from lack of sleep.
Sam was standing very near her father, leaning against him for comfort. The little girl had been crying, the white trails down her tanned face presented the evidence. Grace’s face had turned cold and stony, allowing not an emotion to touch it. As for Lettie, she looked angry. It shone in the brown fire of her eyes. Frances and Donald were seated in chairs, along with Danny, Gregg, and Mindy. Laurie paced around impatiently, looking as if she would march right into the restricted area to find a doctor. Apart from all of them, her thoughts not in that room, stood Laura. She had isolated herself the moment she had heard, and even her husband could not get near her. Her face was calm, though fear tinged the acceptance in her eyes.
The silent scene was disturbed by a man coming from the direction all of them had been staring. He was a short, curly haired man with a kind face. Everyone held their breath as he came toward them.
“Well?” Laura asked.
A sad look crossed over his face. “It won’t be long now, Mrs. Steele.”
A murmur went through the family. Even Sam understood, and she slipped her arms around her father’s waist. Remington put his arm around her, placing his hand on her brown hair. His eyes were on his wife.
“Is she awake?” Laura continued.
“Yes, and she’s asking for you.”
“Me?” Laura looked surprised. “Are you sure it’s not Frances?”
“You are Laura, Mrs. Steele?”
“We’re not really allowed to let anyone in there, but at this point, I can’t see any harm.”
Laura turned around to look at her sister, who nodded. Taking a deep breath, she turned back to the doctor and spoke. “All right, take me to her.”
The doctor led Laura down white halls filled with a variety of different smells. There were people there too, sick people in bathrobes and hospital gowns. Laura winced as she saw them. It especially hurt her to know that her mother was now one of those sick people-and she wasn’t going to get better.
Finally, after what seemed like a long time to Laura, the doctor stopped in front of a door. “This is it.”
“Thank you,” Laura told him before turning to the door.
Abigail Holt looked so frail lying there. She was a pasty white color, and tubes ran in and out of her abused body. Tears stung Laura’s eyes as she took in the sight of her once strong mother lying there like this. Almost timidly, she made her way to the bed.
She sat in a nearby chair, taking her mother’s hand as she did so. At the pressure of her daughter’s fingers, Abigail’s eyes fluttered open. They focused on Laura.
“Yes, mother. I’m here.”
A faint smile came to the older woman’s face. “Oh, my Laura…I had to tell you something.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait until you’re feeling better.”
Abigail protested, “We both know…I won’t be getting…better.”
She spoke slowly, painfully, her voice weak and barely above a whisper.
“It’s all right, Laura…Please, listen to me.”
“Okay,” Laura agreed, her eyes once more filling up with tears.
“I have to tell you before…before I die…You have to know…”
The older woman stopped, and Laura waited patiently for her to continue. It took a minute; Abigail barely had any strength left. She used a little of it to gently squeeze her daughter’s hand.
“No matter…no matter what I’ve ever said…things that hurt…words of a bitter woman who saw too much of myself in you…” She paused once more. “…I love you so very much…and, Laura, I was always, always, proud of you…”
Then Abigail’s eyes closed, and she took a deep, shuddering breath. It was the last one she ever took. Laura felt her mother’s hand go slack and pain ripped through her. The tears in her eyes began to fall down her cheeks, her body convulsing with sobs. In all this pain, there was only one thing to hold on to, and Laura clung to it for dear life.
“Laura, I was always, always, proud of you…”
The TV wasn’t loud enough to drown out the slamming of the door or the sound of footsteps hurrying up the stairs. Laura and Remington, who were sitting on the couch enjoying their day off, looked at each other. Seeing no answer in each other’s eyes, they got up together and moved out into the entryway of their house. Grace was just coming in, her school bag slung over her shoulder.
“Hi,” she said.
“Was that your sister that just came in here?” Laura asked, concerned.
Grace’s face got serious, and she nodded. “She’s having problems at school again. Listen, is Mindy here yet? She said she’d be here around the same time I got home from school.”
Laura, still preoccupied be the first thing Grace had said, looked puzzled. “Mindy?”
“Mom, I’m supposed to baby-sit Lennie tonight, remember?”
“Yes,” Laura agreed, vaguely remembering. “You’d better go up and get ready.”
When Grace disappeared up the stairs, Laura looked at Remington. He nodded without speaking and followed his daughter. Laura went back into the livingroom and shut off the TV. There, she waited for her husband to come back downstairs.
Remington went up the stairs and past Grace’s door. Pictures smiled at him from the walls, school pictures, wedding pictures, baby pictures. He ignored them and moved on to Lettie’s door. It was unmistakably hers. About a year before, each of the girls had made a sign for their bedroom doors on the computer-something to do while they were bored. Grace’s had roses; Sam’s had teddy bears; Lettie’s had a mixed motif of a gun, a puppy, and a baseball glove. The background was hot pink.
Steele tapped the door and waited for an answer. When there was none, he tapped again.
“Scarlett, love, I want to talk to you.”
“I don’t feel like talking.”
“Just for a minute.”
He heard her sigh through the door. “All right, come in.”
Remington entered the room, done in blue and white. His daughter was sitting on her bed, all curled up with her chin on her knees. She looked miserable, and she looked like she had been crying.
Closing the door behind him, Remington moved toward the bed. “May I sit down?”
Lettie nodded, so he sat down beside her. He paused, waiting to see if she would speak. When she didn’t, he said, “Want to talk about it?”
“What?” she asked.
“Who said anything’s wrong?”
“You’re upset,” he replied softly, “And I’d like to help.”
“Help? You can’t help! Nobody can.” She threw herself backwards on the bed, flinging her arms up over her head.
“Why don’t you try me?”
“You wouldn’t understand, Dad. Not somebody like you.”
“Like me? What am I like?”
She looked away from him. “You know…”
“That Cathy girl’s been picking on you again, hasn’t she?”
“I can handle her,” Lettie answered stubbornly, still not facing him.
“Maybe she’s jealous of you.”
“Jealous of me?” Lettie scoffed. “I doubt it. She’s the prettiest, most popular girl in school. Not to mention the fact that she’s smart, elegant, and everything else I’m not.”
“Is that what this is about?”
“It doesn’t matter. Just leave me alone.”
“Lettie…Lettie, look at me.”
She turned to face him, and there was pain in her eyes. “Dad, why can’t I be more like Grace? She’s perfect. I’m just…I’m just me.”
“Come, sit up here,” Remington said, leaning against her headboard and patting the pillow beside him. Lettie sat up and snuggled next to her father. Then, he continued.
“How about a story, eh?”
“A story?” Lettie sounded incredulous.
“Yes, it’s about a man. His name was…well, he went by many names. Let’s just call him ‘Harry.’”
“Listen to the story, Lettie. Listen to the story. Now this lad, he grew up in a hard way, shuffled around and pretty much unloved and unwanted. He broke away at an early age and became what most people would call a thief. He was very good at it and, thanks to a talented mentor, he managed to move up the ladder several notches. This Harry, he came in contact with many beautiful and sophisticated women. They were elegant, and intelligent, and most of all they were all after something.
“Harry, being an average and virile young man, was very much attracted to these women. He had an eye for the ladies, and he dated so many that he lost track. He liked all of these women, but somehow he could not seem to really fall in love. You see, no matter how beautiful, these women weren’t real. They were all masks with people only out for themselves underneath. Honesty seemed like a figment of some dreamer’s imagination.
“Then, one day, while trying to find a way to steal some extremely rare gems, our man Harry ran into this attractive young woman. She was beautiful, but Harry had seen many beautiful women. Still, there was something intriguing about this woman-intriguing enough for Harry to decide to give up his life of crime just to figure out what made the woman tick. She was different from the rest, he could feel it.
“And so, Harry stuck around, finding out that the young woman was unique. He had never met anyone like her. She loved baseball, and circuses, and excitement, and teddy bears. She was the strongest person he had ever met, and yet he had never met anyone who could be so loving and so tender. Most of all, Harry’s new friend was honest. He had never met a woman without ulterior motives, and, despite himself, Harry fell in love.
“That woman taught Harry more than anyone had ever taught him in his life. As every day went by, all Harry wanted was to be as much like her as he could and to some day be worthy of her. Lettie, you are just like that woman, more like her than anyone else I have ever known.”
Lettie looked skeptical.
“Oh, Lettie.” Remington kissed her right temple. “Don’t ever try to change. I love you because of who you are. I love you because you are different. Do you understand?”
He hugged her tightly.
“I guess so, Daddy. Do you really think I’m special?”
“More special than I’ll ever be able to tell you,” he admitted tenderly.
Lettie looked in his eyes at that moment, and she saw it shining there. Suddenly, she believed him way deep down inside of her. All at once, things didn’t seem so bad. A ghost of a smile graced Lettie’s face. Seeing his job was done, Remington tapped his daughter on the knee and got up.
“Dad, you’re Harry, aren’t you?”
“What do you think?” he replied, opening the door.
“Yes?” he asked, turning back around.
“Who was the woman?”
A funny smile came to her father’s face. “It was your mother.”
Then, Remington turned and went out the door.
Laurie Piper’s eyes were big and bright as she entered the office of Remington Steele Investigations, following close on the heels of her Aunt Laura. She grinned at the two women in the receptionist area. One was an elderly, portly lady close to retirement from both of her duties at the office. The younger was someone they had hired to be her assistant so that she would be free to perform detective duties as well as receptionist duties.
“Hello, Mildred. Hello, Delilah.”
“Morning, Laurie,” Delilah grinned.
Mildred Krebs had a serious look on her face as she said, “Good morning, Miss Piper.”
Laurie’s grin grew bigger. Miss Piper-it sounded so…professional. It was amazing, so amazing that Laurie almost burst with pride. She could hardly believe that yesterday she had been just an ordinary person and today she had an apprenticeship with the best detective agency in LA. She was now a detective. A detective!--well close anyway.
“Where’s Uncle Remington?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” Laura shrugged, leading her towards a door on the far right. “This will be your office. It used to belong to Murphy Michaels. It hasn’t been used in over fifteen years.”
Inwardly, Laurie grimaced. She saw herself cleaning out an office filled with dust and stored stuff. Cleaning was not her favorite thing. She guessed that the next thing she’d have to ask her aunt was the direction of the cleaning supplies.
“It’s your office. Do you want to go first?” Laura asked, moving out of Laurie’s way.
At her words, the smile came back to Laurie’s face. Without replying, she moved forward and put her hand on the doorknob. This is it, she thought. My own office. Life really starts now. She hesitated a moment before turning the knob and opening the door just to preserve the anticipation a little longer.
As Laurie opened the door, a look of astonishment went over her face. The room she had expected to be dusty and filled with old junk was spotless clean. Someone had newly scrubbed each and every inch, putting up new curtains along with everything else. The desk caught Laurie’s attention, and the man sitting behind it threw Laura a grin over the top of Laurie’s head. Sitting on the desk were a new datebook, two pens, and a nameplate proudly displaying, ‘Laurie Piper’.
“Oh, Aunt Laura!”
“Don’t thank me; this was all your uncle’s doing. You should have seen him in here yesterday scrubbing and cleaning. He looked positively domesticated.”
“Anything for my niece, eh?”
“Don’t forget associate,” Laura added.
“This is amazing!” Laurie exclaimed.
“I’m glad you think so,” Remington told her, getting up. “Now, would you like to try out your new chair?”“I’d be delighted.”
Laurie walked around the desk and sat in the chair her uncle had just left. To Laura, she looked as if she were on top of the world. She watched her niece for a few seconds, then got an idea.
“I’ll be right back.”
Remington curiously watched her go out of the room and into her office. He turned to Laurie and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and shook her head, as mystified as he was. Understanding flooded both of their faces as Laura came back in with a gray felt hat in her hands.
“What’s a detective without a hat?” she asked, walking over to the desk and holding the hat out to Laurie.
Laurie’s brown eyes filled with tears. “Thank-you, Aunt Laura…and thank-you for the nameplate and cleaning Uncle Remington.”
Remington wrapped his arm around his wife and said simply, “You’re family.”
Laura nodded her head in agreement, squeezing her husband to show that she approved of his simple sentiment. He had come a long way from the sensitive man who was afraid to love, and she was so proud of him.
“Do you, Edward Warren McKinnon, take Grace Abigail Steele to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“And do you, Grace Abigail Steele take Edward Warren McKinnon to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
Laura faintly heard the words, but she wasn’t really listening. Instead, she was staring at a very beautiful young woman. She was tall and thin, built like a willow tree. Her black hair was neatly tucked up under a white veil that framed her pale and delicate face. Blue eyes shone from that face; Laura could see tears on its eyelashes.
Laura felt near tears herself. Grace looked like an angel. Never had she seen her daughter look more happy, more alive. Grace was so much like her father, and for years Laura had worried that this would prevent her from ever finding real happiness.
It didn’t seem possible to Laura that her Grace could actually be old enough to get married, and it didn’t seem possible that this very poised, very grown-up young woman could be the same Grace. In her mind, Grace was still a child. A million pictures went through Laura’s head as she stared at her daughter. She saw first steps, first words, tears, laughter, a child’s joy, and the pain only a child can feel. Now it was all over. Grace was leaving, moving on to have a family of her own. No longer would her joyful laughter ring through their halls; no longer would they hear her singing when she thought no one was listening. Laura would have been deeply depressed if it weren’t for the fact that Grace was completely happy. She was happy. Laura couldn’t ask for anything more.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
Laura was jolted back to the present as she heard those words. She saw Grace lean forward to kiss the lips of her blond husband, and the tears she felt in her eyes overflowed. Mrs. Grace McKinnon. The tears dripped down her face slowly, but Laura was smiling. She felt an arm go around her shoulder, and she looked up. Remington was smiling down at her, the tears in his eyes mirroring her own. On impulse, Laura gave him a quick kiss. She could only hope that her eldest daughter had found a man who was at least half the man she had found.
“Is this the last bag?” Remington asked, taking the overly stuffed suitcase out of the trunk of the car.
“I think so,” Lettie answered, coming up behind him and peeking around his still slender frame.
“Do you want me to bring it for you?”
“No, I can manage.”
Remington laid it on the pavement at her feet. Laura and Sam came around the car from where they were standing in front. There, Laura had been standing and staring at the big gray building in front of her, quietly contemplating it. Beside her, Sam had been watching the excitement around her. Young people were everywhere-walking, talking, laughing, reading.
“This is it, Laura,” Remington told his wife when she and their youngest daughter joined him and Lettie.
“Are you sure?” Laura asked.
“Pretty sure, Mom,” Lettie answered.
“And you’re going to be all right?”
Lettie rolled her eyes. “I’m going to be fine. It’s a good school, and you saw my room. I’ll call you once a week just to prove it.”
“You’d better,” her father warned.
“And write me once a week too,” Sam put in.
Lettie looked at her younger sister for a couple of seconds before throwing her arms around her and giving her a tight squeeze. “You keep these two in line, eh, squirt?”
Sam smiled softly as Lettie pulled away. “I’ll do my best. You study hard…and have fun.”
Lettie laughed. “I think I can handle that.” Then she turned to her mother, who she hugged as well. “Bye, Mom. Don’t worry about me. I’m your daughter-I’ll be fine.”
Lastly, Lettie turned to her father, who pulled her to him, kissing her forehead. “I love you.”
“I know, Dad.”
Lettie picked up her suitcase and gave each member of her family a beaming smile before turning and walking toward the dorm. She didn’t look back.
“This is it,” Laura told the three people trailing her. “This is the room.”
“A baby,” Lettie commented, “I can’t imagine Grace with a baby.”
“I can’t believe I’m a grandfather.”
Laura opened the door and peeked in. A tall blond man turned. When he saw his in-laws, he smiled.
“Come on in. Look, Grace.”
Grace was lying in the bed, looking pale but as elegant as ever. “Mom, Dad, girls! Come meet Abigail Laura McKinnon.”
Remington, Laura, Lettie, and Sam moved into the room. They hurried over and crowded around the bed. In Grace’s arms was a tiny bundle. The baby had her eyes closed and was sleeping peacefully.
“She’s beautiful, Grace,” Sam said.
Lettie bent and looked at the baby critically. “I think she has Mom’s nose.”
“Do you want to hold her?” Grace asked, looking at Remington.
“Your mother first.”
“Give me my granddaughter.”
As Grace leaned forward, Laura bent and took the tiny person in her arms. A grandchild. She wasn’t really old enough to be a grandmother, was she? A dimpled smile lit up Laura’s face as the little girl yawned and stretched. She bowed her head to gently kiss Abigail’s tiny cheek.
“Welcome to the family, Abigail.”
Remington came up behind her and whispered, “Well, Mrs. Steele. What do you think?”
“Look at her, Remington. Look at her! Isn’t she the most beautiful thing you’ve eve seen?”
He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the temple. He had a way of doing that when he was touched, and Laura had come to love it as another one of his endearing qualities.
“Close, my Laura, but not quite. Not quite,” he replied, and Laura laughed-as much from the joy of being alive and having such a wonderful family as any part of the present situation.
“Well,” Sam said, “I guess it’s time.”
She moved toward the door. Already, she had her jacket and sneakers on, there was nothing left to do. Laura couldn’t help but notice how grown up her baby looked with her brown hair freshly cut to her shoulders and her blue eyes shining in excitement.
“The house will be so empty,” Laura commented as she and Remington moved to the door with Sam.
“I’ll visit, Mom. I promise.”
Laura smiled sadly. “I know you will, sweetheart.”
“Don’t forget your promise,” her father said firmly.
“I won’t,” Sam swore, then threw her arms around him. “I’ll miss you, Daddy.”
“I’ll miss you too. You’re the only one of my women who never yelled at me.”
“Listen to him,” Laura chuckled, “as if he didn’t deserve it.”
“My apartment isn’t very far away,” Sam continued. “The two of you have to come and visit me. Lettie’s coming to help me move in today, and Grace, Eddie, Gail, and Remi are coming over tomorrow to help unpack. You guys will come too, won’t you?”
“You know we never miss a chance to see our grandchildren.”
This time, Sam threw her arms around her mother. “Mom, I’ll call every day.”
When she pulled away from Laura, there was a grin of anticipation on her face. She turned it on both of her parents before picking up her small black purse and putting the strap over her shoulder.
“Bye,” Laura and Remington replied in unison, and then Sam slipped out the door.
Her parents stood at the porch window watching. They saw her go down the two steps to the walkway and from there to the blue car waiting for her in the driveway with her new roommate Tabbie at the wheel. Sam turned once and waved before getting into the passenger side. As soon as she was in, the car took off, leaving Laura and Remington staring out into the darkness.
“Well, there goes the last,” Laura sighed.
Remington put one of his long arms around her slight shoulders. “We made some good ones, didn’t we?”
“So independent. They don’t even need us anymore.”
“Laura, love,” he said, leading her away from the door and into their cozy livingroom, “they’ll always need us-we’re their parents.”
“It doesn’t seem like it. Grace is married and has two children of her own. Lettie’s finished college and has a job…”
“Working for the agency.”
“…and Sam just finished her course at the community college, and she’s moved into an apartment with her best friend. They have their own lives. Who are we? We’re just two old people that they have nothing in common with.”
“We’re Laura and Remington Steele, that’s who we are. We’re detectives; we’re the most trusted private detectives in Los Angeles. And who did Grace call when Gail caught the chicken pox, eh? Even before she called her doctor, she called us. And Lettie, who did she call when she was having problems in ancient history? It surely wasn’t her history professor. And who did Sam ask just a couple of months ago why life is so scary? They will need us forever, Laura. Don’t you see?”
“I suppose your right.” Then Laura’s delighted smile, the smile that Remington loved the most, broke over her face. “We raised some pretty terrific kids, didn’t we?”
“You bet we did-honest, self-reliant, independent, and loved. That most of all. They had everything that we never did-a mother and a father who loved them more than life itself. We did pretty good for a detective and a thief.”
A dreamy, far away look came to Laura’s eyes. “A thief. It’s been so long, I had almost forgotten. Do you remember the first time we saw each other? I was so young, Grace’s age. The moment I saw you, my heart flip-flopped. Murphy and Berniece almost completely disappeared. What did you say your name was?…Pearson. Ben Pearson.”
“And I thought you were a secretary, an ordinary-albeit irresistibly cute-woman. Then, you opened your mouth. I think you had me from that moment, though I didn’t realize it. I never would have believed that a woman like you could change a man like me.”
“Change, dear? I never changed you. I just cared enough to disbelieve the costume you built to show the world, just like you cared enough to keep beating at my defenses until I really understood that you were not my father.”
“Love happens in strange ways. We needed each other so very much. Do you realize that I never really believed in God until I met you?”
She hugged him tightly. “And I never really believed in love until I met you.”
“These are the last two boxes,” Laura said, pointing to two big ones sitting on the desk.
“You’re sure?” Lettie asked, picking one of them up.
Laura looked at Remington and he nodded. When he did so, Laurie picked up the other box, hefting it into her thin arms. Then, both she and Lettie headed for the door. As they reached it, they noticed that the other two weren’t following them.
“Are you coming?” their daughter asked.
“Yes,” Laura replied. “Just give us a minute.”
Lettie nodded in understanding. “All right. We’ll wait in the car.”
The two young women went out, leaving Laura and Remington alone in the big office. As the door clicked shut, Laura sighed.
“Shall we take one last look around, Mrs. Steele?” Remington asked.
Laura nodded, turning, taking everything in. She smiled as she gazed at the pictures of a very young Remington on the wall of the office. “It’s hard to believe we were ever that young.” Her smile widened as her gaze wandered to the window. “Do you remember when Alfred tried to jump from this window? Alfred…Alfred…What was his last name?”
Remington walked around the desk and sat in the chair. “I’ve seen a lot of things from this chair. The great detective Remington Steele…a man who doesn’t exist.”
Laura laughed. “Doesn’t exist? You look pretty real to me. Not only that, you’ve more than measured up to the man I imagined you to be.”
His face broke into a grin, still boyish after all these years. “I’ve rather enjoyed your company myself.”
Then, Remington got out of the chair and came over to take Laura’s hand. Her eyes filled up with tears as she realized that they would never be alone in this office again. With a breaking heart, she led him to the right and through a door.
A cluttered desk and a wall of file cabinets met their eyes. Laura went to the cabinets and ran her index finger down the front. Remington stood in the doorway, watching her.
“We’ve had some pretty good arguments in this room,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed, “But this is also the room where I made up the name ‘Remington Steele.’ I remember Murphy was sitting in the next room.” A far away look came to her eyes. “He was reading the newspaper. I was here, behind the desk, deep in thought. I had just rented the office space and I needed a name-the perfect name-for my office door. Berniece came in, and…What did she say? It was something to do with…” Then Laura’s delighted smile broke over her face, as it often did quite unexpectedly. “Oh, yes. Berniece came in to tell me something to the effect of ‘Laura, when are you going to get me a new typewriter? That one is the pits.’ Typewriters. How annoying that she should come to talk to me about typewriters when I was about to make the greatest decision of my career. Then, it just popped into my head. Typewriters! Of course! Remington, that was a manly name if I’d ever heard one. But, Remington what? It was at that moment that Murphy showed up in the doorway. He was reading the sports section, and something had caught his eye. Seeing that I hadn’t bitten off Berniece’s head, he decided that I was approachable, and so he said something like, ‘Have you read the latest on the Steelers?’ And there it was. It hit me like a double whammy-Steele. Remington Steele! It was strong, it was hard, and most of all it was decidedly masculine. That’s how it started, all here in this office.”
“Ahh, Murphy and Berniece. Good friends, eh?”
The two of them were silent for several moments before Remington suggested, “We’d better go.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Laura agreed sadly.
Together, they wandered into the reception area. Images flitted through their heads as they remembered when Mildred sat at that desk and expertly conducted the business of the office. Of course, she hadn’t manned the desk for quite awhile now, and when the next day came, it would see their sixteen year old great niece Fran answering the phone. Suddenly, Laura became homesick for the old days.
“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”
“Of course we are, Laura,” Remington assured her. “We’re old. It’s time for us to let the kids have a go of it on their own. Besides, Laurie’s been doing most of the leg work for almost five years now.”
Once more, his wife sighed. “I suppose you’re right, but I sure am going to miss this place.”
“So am I, Laura. So am I.”
Saying this, Remington put his arm around Laura’s waist. She leaned against him, silently taking support from the only person she had ever allowed to see her weaknesses. Together, they turned their backs on the place they had called home for over thirty years, and, without looking back, they went through the glass doors, still boldly exclaiming ‘Remington Steele Investigations,’ for the last time.
“Did you forget your key again?” Laura asked, laughing.
Remington patted all of his pockets, looking embarrassed. “It would seem so.”
“Again?” Lettie said, rolling her eyes. “Dad!”
“When you’ve never needed a key, it’s hard to remember to carry one.”
“Never fear,” Laura announced, still grinning and taking a key out of her purse. She dangled it under her husband’s nose.
“Ahh, Laura. My savior as always.” Remington grinned as well.
“So, Lettie,” Laura commented casually, unlocking the door, “What is this you were saying over dinner about there being a new man in your life?”
“All I said was that Sam’s fiancé’s brother is cute, that’s all.”
Laura winked at her, turning the knob. The three of them walked into the house that had been a home to them for so long. As they did, lights came on suddenly and there seemed to be a million bodies all yelling, “Surprise!”
Laura jumped back, startled, and bumped into Remington. Lettie announced, “Happy Anniversary.”
“But,” Laura protested, “It’s not our Anniversary.”
“Now, Laura,” a voice said as a man came through the crowd, “I happen to know for a fact that it was on this date way back in 1982 that a certain young lady met a man by the name of Benjamin Pearson.”
The old man stopped in front of Laura, smiling like crazy. Laura looked at him in disbelief for several seconds before laughing lightheartedly and throwing her arms around him to embrace him.
“In the flesh.”
“I can’t believe you’re here.”
“You think I’d miss your Anniversary party? How’s this old dog been treating you since the last time I saw you?”
“There’s no need for name calling, Murphy,” Remington said with a grin.
“You’d think he was the only person who traveled a couple of miles to see you,” a woman in her sixties commented.
“Berniece?” Laura cried. “You, too?”
Laura hugged her old friend as Remington mused, “It seems like almost everyone is here.”
“Not almost everyone,” Lettie argued, taking his hand and leading him into the livingroom. “Everyone.”
She pointed to the wooden coffee table, full of munchies (now being ravaged by Laurie’s daughter Beverly and Grace’s son Daniel), and with a picture frame in the middle on display.
“You thought of everything, didn’t you?” Remington whispered, wistfully remembering the woman in the picture.
“Well, I knew it wouldn’t be much of a party without Aunt Mildred.”
Remington felt a hand on his shoulder. Laura had left Berniece and Murphy to join her husband in the livingroom. He told her to look on the coffee table.
“Of course she’s here. You didn’t think she wouldn’t be, did you?”
“Grammy!” Daniel said, running over. “Look, it’s a party. I helped.”
Laura knelt so that she could look the little guy in the eye. “You did?”
“I helped Mom put up the decorations.”
“You did a very good job.”
“See that picture?” He pointed to a roughly drawn picture taped over the TV screen. Laura got up and went over to get a better look. The shapes were vaguely people-like, and there were several of them. Daniel continued, “I drew it.”
“I like it!” Laura enthused.
“Do you know what it is? It’s us. See, there, that’s you and Grampy, and Aunt Frances and Uncle Donald, and Mom and Daddy, and Aunt Lettie and Aunt Sam, and Remi and Gail. I was going to draw everybody, but I ran out of room. That thing there is them all together.”
“Oh, Daniel,” Laura bent down to wrap her arms around his tiny body, “it’s beautiful!”
At that moment she turned and saw her friends and family filing into the room. The number of people that she loved seemed to have grown considerably over the years, and here most of them were in person. Her heart filled with the love she had for them. Suddenly, she felt very, very blessed.
The two of them stood outside of the door, looking both miserable and worried. One of them was Grace, the perfect image of her name-tall, elegant. Even in grief, she was beautiful. Beside her stood Sam, eyes red with crying and slightly chubbier than usual. Neither knew what to do.
Once more, Sam timidly tapped on the door. “Daddy?”
Still, there was no answer. Tears welled up in Sam’s eyes and started overflowing once more. Grace remained stony-faced and a slight spark of anger ignited in the blueness of the eyes that mirrored her sister’s.
“Where is Lettie? She should be here.”
“She’s on her way, you know that, Grace,” Sam said softly.
“She was always Dad’s favorite. He’ll listen to her. Would you stop crying?”
Sam looked like she had been slapped. Her face whitened, and her eyes widened. She took a step back from her sister, and more pain washed over her face.
Grace was at once horrified that she had snapped at and hurt her gentle sister. Apologetically, she put her arms around Sam and pulled her close. She realized that she just might be a little jealous of Sam. After all, the younger woman couldn’t stop crying. Grace couldn’t cry. Instead, she had a deep hollow pain somewhere inside her chest. It was a pressure, pushing on her insides, threatening to squash her. She knew that if she could just cry, some of that pressure would cease. But, she couldn’t cry, and the numbness and hollowness stayed there, weighing her down, hurting and hurting.
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
There was a noise on the stairs. It was hurried footsteps coming up. They knew it was Lettie before they saw her, brown hair disheveled and freckled face displaying exactly what the other two were feeling.
“Where is he?” she asked without taking time for a greeting.
“He’s in there,” Grace informed her, “He locked himself in the moment he heard, and he won’t speak to anyone.”
Lettie brushed hair out of her eyes (which fell right back) and tapped on the door. “Daddy, it’s Lettie. Let me in. You have to talk.”
There was no answer, so she spoke again. “We lost her, too. We need you.”
The door remained a silent barrier. Lettie was even more worried than her sisters were. It was not like their father to lock himself away from them. But then, he had never lost his wife before. Laura, the one he had built his entire life around, the mother of his children, the woman who had torn down his wall of playboy-like indifference and allowed the sensitive, loving man beneath to shine through, was now dead. The women understood; that’s why they were worried.
Lettie began searching through her pockets. Her sisters watched her curiously until she hauled something out of the one on the inside of her jacket. Then, their eyes lit up with understanding.“If I thought that was all there was to it, I would have done that long ago,” Grace commented.
Lettie’s face got determined. “If he won’t come out and talk to us, then I’m going in and talk to him.”
“He’ll be angry,” Sam added. “Besides, what right do we have to intrude on his grief?”
“What if he’s decided that he doesn’t want to live without Mom? I’ve lost one parent today. I will not lose the other.”
The other two shrugged and watched Lettie expertly open the locked door. She would go in there alone. Both Sam and Grace were too frightened to go in with her. As soon as the door was open, Lettie threw her sisters a ‘wish me luck’ look before slipping inside and closing the door.
The room was dark. The curtains were drawn, and the lights were off. Lettie barely saw the form of her father sitting on the bed. He did not turn when he heard the door.
“Daddy?” Lettie whispered.
Slowly, the man turned. A piece of light came in through a crack in the curtain and illuminated a small part of his face. Lettie’s first thought was, My God, he looks old! The man who had looked almost twenty years less than his age the last time she saw him, fit and barely wrinkled despite his almost seventy years, now looked way beyond one hundred. The bit of his face that Lettie saw was ashen with lines of sorrow already deeply etched into the skin. It was the eyes that wounded her the most. The one that she could see was filled with an aching longing and misery that she couldn’t hope to understand.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Lettie strode forward. Her father stared through her as if she weren’t even there. As she got closer, his form became clearer, his misery more apparent. Her own pain seemed nothing compared to his.
Lettie sat down on the bed, close to her father but not quite touching him. He continued to gaze at the place she had been, unseeing.
“Daddy?” she repeated, reaching out to touch his hand.
Hesitantly, he turned his head. A ghost of his smile touched his lips. “You know, you look just like she did the first time I saw her.”
Lettie’s hand squeezed his. She didn’t know what to say. Always, her father had been strong-the unconquerable protector. Lettie felt safe with her father, safer than with anyone else. It wasn’t until this moment that she realized that, all of these years, her mother had been his protector. Laura had been the strongest one of all of them.
“She was tiny and dark, cute and vulnerable looking. Eyes that lit up with joy and anger. Beautiful. I didn’t know. I didn’t know…How could she leave me?”
Lettie didn’t know what to say. “It wasn’t her choice, Dad. If it were, she’d never leave.”
“Damn her,” he whispered.
“She used to sit here on the bed and comb her hair… long, soft hair… and she would smile at me, flashing her dimples. All those years, and every time she smiled I still fell under those dimples. Now…Now they’re gone.” His voice began to shake. “I miss them already.”
Lettie moved her hand to his shoulder. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
“How can you say that?” he asked angrily, “Your mother’s gone. Nothing is ever going to be all right again!”
“We’ll manage. We’ll be okay because we have to be. We have to go on, we have the children to think about-Gail, and Remi, and Daniel, and Sam’s new baby. They all need us.”
“Need? Need! I need her, don’t you understand? Go on? You expect me to go on? You tell me, how do I go on without her?”
“It’s hard, Dad. I know it’s hard. It will probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but you’ve got to. We need you.”
“I don’t think I can.”
Lettie silently studied her father, his face ravaged with grief. She felt him begin to shake under her hand and remained quiet, trying to give silent comfort.
“So many memories,” he continued so low that Lettie barely heard him. “I thought she was so serious, so well controlled. Then, in a winery, I caught my first glimpse of her impulsive, fun-loving side. It was my favorite side of her, you know. When, under its influence, her laugh was like none I’ve ever heard. Her laugh. It’s gone, Lettie…It’s gone…”
Then, the tears that had made his eyes sparkle in the dim light began to fall down his face. Remington’s body began to shake even more violently, and a sob convulsed through his frame. Lettie, almost giving in to her own sobs, threw her arms around him. Once the man started to cry, he could not stop. It came from him, pouring out his grief. Lettie, not knowing what else to do, just held him while he cried. She held him for a long time.
It was dawn. The sun came up slowly, spreading a dark pinkness along the ground and through the clouds. Droplets of water sat everywhere, making the world sparkle. Birds were singing, and their trees threw quiet shade on the ground and grayness below.
Stones. Silent and somber. There were many of them there, shaped by careful hands into reminders for the people who would come later. Through the stones, a figure walked, slight and bareheaded. It was Sam, and in her hand was a single red rose.
Quickly, Sam walked; she knew the way well. Each heart, each dove was familiar to her. Closer and closer she got to the large black stone in the shape of two rings intertwined. Her heart saw it before her eyes did in the dim light of the morning.
When her eyes did see it, Sam slowed down. Dark hair fell over her forehead as she lowered her head and approached the stone. It was growing grass now, she noticed. Soon, it would look like the one just to the right. It would grow its own flowers, and the flowers would be more beautiful because they were together again.
Softly, Sam smiled as she whispered, “I always was the romantic one.”
Then, she knelt. Gently, she reached out her fingers, noticing that they were trembling. Her fingers carefully traced their names-first his, then hers. Remington. Laura.
“I wish Laura could know you.”
With that, Sam softly laid the rose down between the fresh mound and the older less noticeable one. Tears came to her eyes and started to fall as she remembered growing up with them. So much love. So much happiness. She believed that if she could give her daughter just half as much, Laura would know that she was tremendously loved.
“I miss you,” she whispered, her voice shaking, “and so do the others. We need your love and guidance. I’m alone. I’ve never been alone before. If it weren’t for Chris and Laura…” She sighed. “I guess that means I’m not alone-not like Lettie. Oh, Daddy, she’s taking this so hard. She won’t let us in. We try, but you know how she is. She even broke up with Jared. Now she’s completely isolated. She pretends it doesn’t hurt and locks away her pain. It’s even worse than when Mom died. I wish you could have stayed, just a little longer.” Sam glanced at her mother’s side of the stone. “He just couldn’t live without you.”
She became silent for a moment before continuing. “I don’t want you to worry about us. You did enough of that while you were here. Just take care of each other up there, and we’ll take care of each other down here. That’s what sisters are for. We’ll be all right, as long as we know that you’re there watching, together. Together is the important part. I’m glad because I know Daddy is happy again.”
Sam lightly kissed the index and pointer fingers of her right hand. Then she softly touched each of their names once more.
“I love you,” she said.
She put her hand on his side of the stone and gently pulled herself to her feet. She turned from the gravesight, remembering the people that she had lost. The tears continued, silently falling down her face.
“Laura…Laura.” The voice came to her from what seemed like far away.
She was being shaken. Someone was calling her from the darkness and the deep sadness she felt for the young woman she was quietly observing. Laura fought it. She wanted to know what was going to happen next.The shaking and voice got more insistent. Slowly, Laura swam from the darkness towards the light.
Her eyes opened. She was staring into another pair of eyes. They were blue and slightly apologetic. They were his eyes. With a cry, Laura threw her arms around him and held him close. She began trembling as sobs started deep in her stomach and painful tears found their way down her cheeks.
Surprised, Remington held her. All of his residual anger, still lurking below the surface, quickly melted away. Concern rushed into the corners that the evaporated anger had occupied like a high tide in the Bay of Fundy. His heart softened and protectiveness grew. Someone had hurt his Laura. His Laura. He suddenly realized that that was all that mattered.
Gradually, Laura’s sobs ceased. When they were under control, Remington pulled from her slightly. He studied her face, reaching up a hand to wipe the remainder of her tears away with a gentle finger.
“Are you all right?” he asked softly.
Laura looked at his face, studying every curve, every feature. There was love in that face. Love for her. Until that moment, Laura hadn’t really let herself believe that his love for her was real and that he wouldn’t be going away.
“I’m fine now.” She smiled up at him, her face dimpling.
The hand that had caressed away tears seconds before now moved up and brushed dark hair from Laura’s forehead.
“What happened?” Laura opened up her mouth to tell him but stopped. A puzzled look came to her face. “I…I don’t know. I think I was dreaming.”
“I’m not sure…I think you were there.” Laura’s face lapsed into its thoughtful look. “I wish I could remember.”
“Nightmares are best forgotten.”
“I don’t think it was a nightmare exactly…”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” his face was still tinged with concern, and he was still holding her.
She broke away completely, saying, “It’s the strangest feeling. It’s like I’ve been through…something…an ordeal maybe, and it was important, something I should never forget.”
“Laura, you said yourself it was only a dream.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” She suddenly realized that, despite the fact that on awakening she had burst into tears, she now felt better than she had for a long time. Everything that had been making her so sad and so confused was now gone. She was sure of herself, sure of him, sure of their love. It was a wonderful feeling, as if she had been set free.
Remington watched her for several seconds, seeing peace and happiness settle on her features. He remembered the way he felt when he had believed that someone had hurt her. At that moment, he had been willing to go out and fight the world. She was so precious to him, and he had not realized until this moment that it had been him who was hurting her. Him. He put his hand on her shoulder, about to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” Laura said before Remington even had a chance to speak. “I didn’t mean to say that I’d be better off without you. It’s not true. I’m sorry I hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you, not ever again.”
She reached up and gently touched his face. A wistful smile came to hers, and he saw complete and total acceptance in her eyes. It was like an electric shock to his heart. Never, never, had anyone looked at him that way. Unconditional love-there it was, just in his reach. All he had to do was take it.
“Oh, Laura,” he whispered without even thinking, “I love you.”
She wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek saying, “I love you, too. Now was that so hard?”
He returned her hug, repeating, “I love you. I love you.”
“I love you and you love me, and you know what I think?” she spoke very softly, with her lips next to his ear.
“What? What do you think, my Laura?”
“I think we’re going to be together forever.”
And they were.