The year is 1984. Ben Stone has just won his biggest case ever. But there's more going on in his life than just a victory -- even if he doesn't know it yet.
With twelve years as a prosecutor under his belt, Ben Stone was keenly aware that the more convictions he secured, the greater his chance of promotion. And, he was also smart enough to realize that successful high profile cases were even better notches on his belt. His boss, New York county District Attorney Alfred Wentworth, had recently hinted that a promotion to his executive board was imminent. Stone was glad to hear it. A raise was something he would definitely put to good use. Since his divorce eighteen months earlier, he had been hoping for a raise so he could increase his child support payments to his daughter. Now, today, he was satisfied. The jury had just brought in its verdict in a high profile case. A successful conviction, thank-you.
Philip Swann was going to prison.
As the lead prosecutor on the case, Ben leaned back on his heels in satisfaction and nodded his head to his assistant, Eleanor Bailey. Eleanor, whom he called Nora, was standing at his side, watching their cocky little defendant get led away. She turned to him and offered him the brief flash of a smile. He stepped back and let her pass in front of him as they prepared to leave the courtroom. She looked good in her deep green skirt and matching peplum jacket, though her colouring looked a little flushed. Ben guessed that was a combination of the heat and the 'flu bug she'd been fighting during the trial.
As they exited the building into the oppressive heat, Ben realized the woman at his side was looking more than a little flushed; in fact she looked as though she were about to faint. Before he could react, a crowd of reporters closed in on him and they were separated. Microphones were shoved under his nose as he was asked to comment on their recent victory. He quickly glanced her way and saw her engulfed in a sea of reporters as well. She seemed in control and thinking she had revived herself, he turned his attention to the newsmen and gave them his opinion.
The frenzy didn't last long, there were only so many ways to say, 'yes, I was confident and no, I wasn't surprised by the verdict.'
As the reporters slipped away, he turned to wait for her to catch up to him. She was nodding and smiling grimly as her every word was recorded. Then, seeing him still there, she excused herself and made her way down a few steps to join him. As she got closer to him, he saw she now looked pale, rather than flushed and wished she'd just go home for the rest of the day. He said so.
"Go home Nora. Get some sleep. The paperwork will be sent over later, I can finish it myself."
"Thanks, but no. What would people think if you were stuck in the office while your assistant was lounging around at home?" She forced a brighter smile to her face. She felt lousy and his offer to her was tempting but her place was at his side not at home.
"Fine, then join me for lunch. We don't need to eat at a vendor. We could step inside somewhere, where it's cooler." He smiled in return, blue eyes sparkling in the sunshine.
"You mean somewhere air-conditioned?" Nora wet her lips and sighed, she didn't feel like eating, the very thought of food was making her queasy. She shook her head in negative response.
"I'm serious. You look lousy. C'mon." He took her by the elbow and guided her, forcibly, toward the curb so he could flag a cab.
"Benja --!" she started to protest but he ignored her muted protest and gripped her elbow even more securely.
"Fine then, if you won't go home, you will come to lunch. There are a few facts in an upcoming case I want to discuss with you." He lied, almost desperate to get her out of the heat.
Not anxious to make a scene in public, she gave in and allowed herself to be assisted into the first cab that pulled up.
"Thanks," she muttered, after he had seated himself next to her and shut the door.
He looked at her, wondering what on earth was turning her so surly these past few weeks. He never knew, from minute to minute, what sort of mood she'd be in. Under ordinary circumstances, he wouldn't really give a damn what kind of mood his assistant was in as long as he or she got the job done but these weren't ordinary circumstances. Nora was more than simply his assistant; she was also his lover and had been for slightly over a year.
"So, what facts do you need to discuss, that absolutely couldn't wait until after lunch?" Nora leaned back against the stout vinyl of the rear seat and gave her head a shake. She was beginning to develop a headache to go with the creeping nausea.
"Nora." Ben spoke her name softly, barely above a whisper.
She turned slightly toward him, to face him, leaning more toward the door of the cab and pursing her lips. Even in the dimness of the cab's rear seat, Nora could see that Ben's eyes were soft and forgiving. He reached across the seat and tenderly touched the back of her hand. When she didn't flinch or pull away, he was emboldened and closed his hand around hers to tug her closer. She eased herself next to him and let him slip an arm around her shoulders.
"I'm sorry, Benjamin. I'm just so tired." She leaned into him in surrender and let her hand fall lightly to the top of his thigh.
"I thought you saw a doctor. I thought he told you that you were going to be fine." Ben said quietly to her.
She nodded, "He did, he said just give it some time. Don't worry. I'll get over it."
He leaned over and kissed the top of her head, "I hope so."
She leaned gently against him and closed her eyes. He slipped his hand under the one she had resting on his thigh and felt her give his hand a gentle squeeze.
She was so tired now, tired and defeated. A month earlier she had indeed gone to the doctor for some help fighting the 'flu she was surely suffering from. His diagnosis had surprised her. She didn't have the 'flu like she and Ben had suspected. Her 'flu-like' symptoms had turned out to be morning sickness.
Mindful of both her reputation and his, they had been extremely careful not to let anyone in on the secret of their romance. Her pregnancy had devastated her. It threatened to expose them prematurely, yet they were deeply embroiled in the trial against Swann when she had first learned of her 'delicate' condition and she knew that to have told him then would have broken his concentration. So she had held off, determined to wait until the case against Swann was concluded. She reasoned she was only five weeks along, what harm would there be in waiting a couple of weeks? But Swann had been an ass the whole time. His lawyer had filed motion after motion to stall them. Instead of being able to tie it up in a couple of weeks, it had taken more than six.
Now, alone with Ben in the backseat of a cab and feeling absolutely miserable, she wanted nothing more than to tell him. Give him something truly important to celebrate. But she couldn't. Not after the conversation they'd had the night before. She replayed the whole thing in her mind.
"Did you stop to think that with my promotion to the executive board, you'll be in line for a promotion of your own?"
"You're kidding, right?" She had asked.
"No. Everything's laid out as plain as day. If I could see more clearly into the future, I could get a job as a clairvoyant." Ben had smiled smugly.
"Better hours, better pay, maybe you should look into it." She had tried to laugh but it came out sounding a little terse.
"What's wrong with gazing into the future. You've got a great career ahead of you. We're a good team. We've no commitments to tie us down. You and I could accomplish a great deal together. Alfred's closure rate will skyrocket. He's already got Jack McCoy and Diana Hawthorne working in unison..."
"But Benjamin, everyone knows Jack and Diana are, well you know... They're together day and night."
"So are we." Ben had narrowed his eyes and looked at her pointedly, "I'm not saying we have to pin a note to the bulletin board but I think we could start letting people in on our secret."
Taken aback, Nora remembered licking her lips and trying to make sense of what he'd been saying, "So you want us to come right out and be open about our relationship. How? Hand holding in the elevator? Leaving together every night, arriving together, in the same vehicle each morning?"
"Not all at once," Ben had laughed, misunderstanding her sarcasm, "Over time, a few months or so. What do you think?" He prodded her, "When we secure this conviction, Wentworth will confirm my promotion. And yours. I'll be an Executive Assistant; you'll be a full-fledged Assistant. Think of where we could be in five years time! We'd have our pick of cases. We wouldn't have anything tying us down. We could be the greatest prosecutorial team New York County has seen in years!"
"My, you seem to have it all worked out."
He nodded, "Well, more or less. I have exactly what I want now. I've worked hard to get where I am. You've helped me this past year, more than any other intern I ever worked with. We have a good relationship. Why not exploit it a little?"
Nope, after that little pep talk, it was going to be very difficult to inform him of her news. The right words just wouldn't come so she just sat quietly trying not to let the motion of the cab make her even queasier.
After a few moments of what Ben thought was contented silence, he pulled his hand out from under hers and raised it to her cheek. Turning her face toward him he leaned over and kissed her, barely touching her lips with his.
"Oh Benjamin," she murmured in reaction.
"You do realize, Nora, just how important that conviction was, don't you? My appointment's all but confirmed."
"It will be a nice promotion for you." She said honestly, letting his failure to mention her promotion slide.
"You bet. A nice raise in pay, that I won't see mind you, but I'm sure Margaret will put it to good use."
"Your raise goes to Margaret's alimony?" Nora sighed, amazed at the settlements some women were awarded.
"Well, no, not to Margaret's alimony, to child support for Cynthia. I had that written in to the settlement. I can't be a proper father to her, I may as well see she's taken care of."
Nora raised her eyebrows slightly but said nothing. She thought Ben was doing fine as far as his daughter was concerned. The little girl stayed with him every weekend. Ben never seemed to tire of relating his weekend experiences with Cynthia to Nora each and every Sunday night. Nora didn't mind, she thought Ben was a terrific father.
He; obviously had felt differently, as his next statement to her proved.
"I'll tell you one thing, Nora, I'm glad there's only Cynthia for me to worry about. Failing one child is hard enough... " He glanced out the cab window, "There! That's a great place to eat." Ben adroitly changed the subject. He had the cabbie stop and they alighted. Escorting her into the building, Ben slipped an arm around her. Far from the D.A's. office, it was safe to cuddle her. He felt her lean against him and let a smile take over his features.
"I'm really not hungry Benjamin. Soup will do just fine."
"I thought so, they make the best chicken soup in the city here. Have a seat." He held out a chair for her, then walked around the table to seat himself. He handed her a menu and suggested firmly that she try the chicken soup. Nora smiled wanly and agreed, chicken soup it would be. Ben leaned back in his seat to await the server. He was ready to order.
Nora took a sip of her ice water, determined to keep her composure. She could feel tears welling in her eyes; oh yes, Ben wanted her all right but as a professional partner, not as a wife. He was happy with things the way they were. How happy would he be if she were to throw a baby into the mix? She swallowed hard and choked on a small piece of ice. Sputtering she managed to swallow it completely before Ben quite realized what had happened and, conveniently giving herself a reason to let a few tears splash down her cheeks.
"Drink much?" He teased, still oblivious to her hurt.
She laughed at his weak joke. She wished lunch would hurry and arrive. She desperately wanted to go home. To her own apartment. She had dreams too but unfortunately, in order for her to attain them, she needed to distance herself from Ben.
Oh, she knew if she told him she was pregnant, he'd marry her and yes; she wanted to be Mrs. Benjamin Stone, but she wanted his ring given to her willingly, not out of obligation. She didn't want to force him into a marriage he'd grow to resent. Nora hung her head and pretended to study her fingernails. It was killing her to know how he felt. She wanted their child to a welcome part of his life but...
Better to not tell him at all.
Now three months pregnant with Ben's child, she made the toughest decision of her life. She decided it was in their best interests if she just simply quit her job and left Manhattan.
Before they were found out.