A Box of Memories
Date: Wednesday, December 05, 2007
From: <neneithel @ aol.com>
This was originally posted at Steelewriting for the "Laura's Past"
challenge. Anyone is welcome to archive it, send it to interested friends or
criticise it.

A Box of Memories
Laura struggled out of the elevator with the big box and was about to take
it into her office when Steele took it from her. "Let me." he said, "What have
you got in here?"
She frowned. "Nothing." she said.
"It weighs a lot more than it used to when I had an abundance of it." he
replied, "On your desk?"
"Thanks." she said.
She followed him into the office. When he'd put the box down she went and
put her hands on it. "Thanks." she said again.

"Everything okay?" he asked.
"You wouldn't understand." she said, fearing he would. She didn't feel she
could take his sympathy on top of everything else.
"Hm." he said, "If you need me, you know where I am."
As he headed for the door, she said, "Wait. It's not you, okay?"
He stopped and turned, "Good."
"I just don't want ..." her voice trailed away.
"What?" he said.
"It's easier alone." she said.
"Not in my experience. If it helps, I can pretend I'm not here."
She smiled. He smiled back, a shy, tentative smile.
"What's in the box?" he said.
"Stuff, old stuff. After the ... after what happened, I asked the family for
any spare photos, bits, you know."
"To replace what you lost in the fire?"
"Sentimental, aren't I?"
"The word is human, I suspect."
She looked at the box. "Only, now I can't open it. I can't face it."
"Would it help if I did?" he asked.
She felt a sudden sense of rising fear. There was no convenient box
containing his past and she wasn't sure she wanted him going through hers. He was
watching her eyes and she wondered how clearly he could see what she was
He put his hands in his pockets and looked embarrassed. "Or maybe you'd
rather I left you in peace."
"Open it." she said, "But if I cry, don't ..."
"Never." he said. He went to the box and broke the tape with his keys. He
opened it carefully, almost reverently. He lifted out a framed photo. "Cute
kid." he said.
Laura took it. "I was seven then."
"Still the same look in the eye." he said.
"What look?" she said, looking at the photo.
"The look of someone who doesn't let life make all the rules."
"Maybe that was your reflection in the glass." she said.
"Maybe we are reflections of each other. Imperfect ones, anyway."
Laura still looked at her younger self. "Life was simpler then."
"You were happy?"
"Very." she said. She looked at him in time to see a shadow of old pain
cross his face, "I'm sorry. If this brings back bad memories, you don't need to
"I was happy at seven too. Lost it all a year later, but seven was a good
age." He looked into the box again, "Your mother made a lovely bride."
"Pity Dad didn't hang around."
"His loss." said Steele, handing her the wedding photo.
"And mine." She put both pictures onto the desk. "What else is there?"
"An old lady with a gleam in her eye." he said, giving her an unframed
"My grandmother." she said. Her voice shook and she knew she was going to
cry. "I'm sorry, she ..."
He wrapped his arms around her. "She was a wonderful woman."
"You didn't know her."
"You loved her. You don't care about people who aren't wonderful, though you
generously make an exception for one."
"Not that I can think of." she said.
"She was like you, wasn't she? Same look in the eyes, same spirit."
She looked at him in surprise. "How do you always know what to say?"
"I never know what to say with you. The old lines don't work. I find myself
resorting to the truth out of desperation."
"You're a good friend, Mr Steele."
She was worried he'd take that as a brush off, but he smiled. "How do you
always know what to say?"
They both looked at the box. Laura said, "Go on."
Steele went back to it and took out another unframed picture. "I recognise
one of these fresh-faced teenagers." he said, "But who's the one with his arm
around you?"
She took it from him and smiled at her old school friends. "Marty." she said.
"Marty?" said Steele, "I wonder what prison he ended up in."
"Prison, Mr Steele?"
"His eyes are too close together."
She laughed. "How can you be jealous of a school photograph from a thousand
years ago?"
"I'm jealous of anyone who's ever looked at you like that." he said.
"Note I'm not even looking in his direction." she said, "Marty was not that
"Good. I like him better now." said Steele, "Nice chap. Honest face." He
watched her face for a moment.
"What is it?" she said.
"It's hard to imagine you a teenager, wondering who liked you and agonising
over who to dance with at the prom."
"I didn't do much agonising. I didn't really expect to be asked."
He looked flatteringly surprised at her lack of confidence. "But you were."
he said.
She smiled. "If I say yes, will you be jealous of everyone I danced with,
"Were they better than I am?" he asked.
"I refuse to answer that on the grounds that you're conceited enough." she
She went to the box and took out a pale green scarf. "I wore this at my
birthday party."
"Which one?" he asked.
"Not just that, I trust."
"No. I lost the dress in the fire."
He put his hand on her shoulder.
"I'm fine." she said, "Or I will be fine. It's just seeing my whole life
turn to ash and now this box is reminding me of all the things my family
couldn't replace, all the things they never had copies of."
"Laura, I wish I could give you back your house and everything in it."
She kissed his cheek. "You gave me back the most important part of it."
"A replacement, not the real thing."
"Two people in my life have cared enough to give me a piano. When I play it,
I think of both of you." She lifted a small teddy bear out of the box.
"Sandy." she said.
"Well, at least Sandy escaped the fire."
"He was my second favourite, my favourite was destroyed." She started to
cry. "This is stupid!" she said.
"It's not." said Steele, stroking her hair.
"My life went up in smoke and I'm crying because of a bear. It should be the
photographs I lost, or the letters or the presents people gave me or that
wonderful dress."
"The bear is all of that. It's what you clung to, when things went wrong."
She struggled to overcome the tears and said, "It happened once to me.
You've had to start from nothing a lot more often. What did you cling to?"
"Whatever came in reach." he said.
"Do you have a box somewhere? Or anything?"
"No. In my line of work ... well, former line of work, you don't take
anything from one life to another." He tapped his head, "I keep my memories in
here. It's not an ideal place for them. This box is important. I'm glad you have
it. I'd love a picture from my childhood, or a bear, for that matter."
"Maybe you're the only one who knows what I've lost, because you never had
it." She smiled and wiped her eyes. "That sounds stupid."
"Not to me." he said.
"How did you survive?" said Laura, "How did you keep on rebuilding your
life? It's hard enough to do it once."
"It gets easier." said Steele, "You get used to it."
"Do you?"
"No." he admitted, "But you come to expect it. You learn not to take
anything for granted. You learn not to make future plans."
"And never to get too fond of any one place or person." she said.
He nodded.
"You'd never cry over a lost bear." she said.
"Laura, you'd be surprised what I've cried over."
Mildred knocked on the door. Laura looked at her watch. "Mr Roland!" she
"Lie." said Steele.
"Prevaricate, bend the truth, beguile, deceive, equivocate." He kissed her
forehead, "Lie, Miss Holt. You can't deal with a client now."
"Can't I?" she asked, annoyed that he now thought her incapable of doing her
"Sorry, bad choice of words. You can, but don't. For once in your dutiful,
generous, dedicated life, put Laura Holt before the rest of the world."
"Miss Holt?" said Mildred, "Mr Steele?"
"Is Mr Roland here?" asked Steele, opening the door.
"Should I show him in?"
"No, I'll talk to him." said Steele. He went out with Mildred. Laura
wondered if she should follow, but instead she gave the bear a quick hug. Steele
didn't take long. He came back in and smiled. "He went off smiling. He'll be
back tomorrow."
"What did you tell him?"
"Lies." said Steele, "Pretty good ones, actually. The kind of lies Tiffany's
would sell."

"I should have stopped you."

"Were you ready to give him your full attention?"
"No." she admitted.
"No. So it was best for everyone, including him, to send him off home."
"Shall we look in the box again?"
She nodded. She went to the box and took out a child's red watch. "Oh." she
Steele took it. "It wouldn't fit you now. How old were you when you had it?"
"About eleven. Nearly twelve when it drowned."
"I made a rope bridge across a river. I made a good job of it, too. Only
fixing it on the other side didn't work. When I was about halfway across, I saw
it untying. I fell in. My watch never worked again."
"You must have been terrified."
"For a second, when I was under the water. Mostly, though, I just felt it
was a great adventure. I knew Dad would have heard the splash. I knew he'd come
get me. I took a lot for granted in those days."
"Childhood is supposed to be the time when you can." said Steele.
Laura smiled. "I could, then. Childhood was great. It was later things got
He picked up another photo out of the box. "Is this baby you or Frances?"
Laura looked at it. "That's me."
"Your parents look very happy."
"Of course, Mother never knew then that I was going to become a detective.
That smile is the smile of a woman who is sure her little girl will marry a
doctor or a lawyer."
"Well, there's still time."
"Which would you recommend?"
"The doctor, I think. A lawyer would be in a far better position to wreak
revenge if he caught you having an affair."
"I'm not the type of person who has affairs." said Laura.
"Then don't marry either of them, or I'll cry at the wedding." said Steele.
"So I have to stay eternally single, just so your desires aren't thwarted?"
He smiled. "Put like that, you make it sound quite unreasonable."
He took a notebook from the box. "Ill Met By Moonlight?" He raised a
quizzical eyebrow.
She took the book. "Didn't you ever try writing a novel?"
"I think I lived most of the fictions in my head. What is it, a torrid tale
of passion and ambition?"
"A mystery."
"I'd love to read it."
She held it close to her chest. "I wouldn't let anyone read this. I can't
bear to read it myself. The style is somewhat overblown."
"I understand." he said.
"You do, don't you?" she said softly, "You've been wonderful over this box,
so supportive and thoughtful and so ready to back off."
"I have spread my dreams under your feet, tread softly because you tread on
my dreams."
"That's Yeats!" she said, surprised.
"I know I'm not and can never be as sensitive and wise as the Remington
Steele you have in your head, but what matters to you is important to me."
"These days, that Remington Steele has your face." she said.
Laura looked at the large photo albums in the bottom of the box. She lifted
out the top one. "These were Dad's. I didn't know she still had them."
Steele took the other. He opened it and turned the pages. "Holt women are
gorgeous." he said, "Apparently from birth."
"That's all." she said, "Now I just have to put it all away and get it home."
"I have a proposition." said Steele.
She nodded, "You usually have a proposition."
"It's a heavy box. Let me take you and the box home, then you can arrange
these treasures as you wish while I prepare dinner."
"And then?"
"Then we eat." he said. His eyes held hers for a moment and then he lowered
his gaze. "Then I go home, having made no seduction attempt of any kind."
"You have my word as a gentleman."
"Why?" she asked.
He smiled. "Three reasons. One, I'm an unprincipled swine, but there are
situations of which I will not take advantage."
"I know that." she said.
"Two, when you and I finally unleash all that pent-up passion, it's going to
be intense. We'll both need emotional energy that we don't have tonight. And
three ..." He hesitated.
"Three?" said Laura.
"Today, we shared a different intimacy, no less meaningful. I don't want
what happened between us here to be overshadowed by anything else, however
She tried to speak,but hearing something like that from him was so
unexpected she had nothing to say.
"Tomorrow, of course, all bets are off." he added.
"This meant that much to you?" she said at last.
He nodded.
"Me too." she said.
"We have a deal?"
"I think we have a lot more than that." she said.

The End.

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