AND THEN THEY ATE…
“You know what I’ve always loved most about you?” she said reaching for his hand across the table. “You never judged me. You always just accepted me as I am.”
He accepted her hand, and held it gently but shook his head dubiously.
“No, my dear,” he said flatly. “You are entirely wrong on both accounts, and could not be further from the actual truth.”
She withdrew her hand in surprise, a deepening frown creasing her puzzled brow.
“What do you mean?” she said nervously.
“I mean I judged you constantly,” Steinthal said. “I still do. That is what I do. I watch people. I study people. I come to understand a person, and then I judge them. In a brutally honest fashion. I judge everyone this way, including myself. You are certainly no exception to the rule. As a matter of fact there are no exceptions to the rule.”
“Oh,” she said hollowly.
He looked at her intently, staring relentlessly into her face for a moment, and then continued.
“I am no modern man,” he said, as if reading the barometric pressure on a gauge before a storm. “I do not believe in the ‘man without judgment.’ The man without judgment is simply another term for an absolute fool. I am no fool my dear, and when it comes to judgment I attempt to do something far braver and much more vital than avoid judging people, I seek to judge them accurately and in truth.”
She looked down at her plate as if suddenly uncomfortable, or in shame. There was a long pause while she tried to think of what to say. Not knowing how to respond she whispered out loud and to herself,
“What must you think of me then?”
He nodded slightly, though she did not see it. He waited a moment to see if she would say anything else or look up but she did not.
“Since you asked I will tell you precisely what I think of you and how I have judged you,” Steinthal replied, accepting her unintended cue. “I adjudged you in this way. I never accepted you as ‘you were,’ and I will not in the future. Furthermore I judged you not for what you were, but for what I fully suspected you could be. I did not take you for how you appeared, but for how it appeared to me that you could be, if you ever decided you would. And as far as I can see, you did. And did rather well at it. Does that really surprise you?”
She looked up again and stared at Steinthal, but whether more in shock or gratitude neither was certain.
This time he offered his hand across the table.
“I like to think of myself as a very good judge of character,” he told her. “And of potential. I would not waste my time or effort with or upon anyone who did not demonstrate an aptitude for both. So, do not prove me wrong and I shall not have to judge you otherwise. And that will be more than enough for me, assuming it is enough for you.”
She looked into his eyes and could find no hint of guile, or of misdirection. He seemed perfectly sincere. And it occurred to her, maybe for the very first time, just how perfectly sincere he usually was.
She reached back across the table, took his hand, smiled, and said softly, “I think I love you.”
He gently squeezed her hand in reply.
“I am aware of that,” he said.
She kept smiling but sighed with a deep resignation.
“Though you truly can be something of a real bastard.”
“I am aware of that as well,” he said, smiling in return.
Then he dropped her hand and took up his fork. He pointed it at her.
“But how bout we eat now and save the romance for later? After all we have the entire evening, and this meal is hardly the limit of my current ambitions.”
She laughed and took up her own fork.
And then they ate.
from The Detective Steinthal
Note: this was not the scene I had intended to write tonight, but my router blew out and that delayed me working on the other scene and since this one seemed to flow kinda nicely I just worked it instead.