02 – A Woman’s Work

In preparation for an evening out with Grissom, Sara seeks out some expert advice from the last person she ever thought she would ask for help – Catherine. 

Second part of the Finally Setting a Date series, follows “A Comedy of Errors,

circa May 2005

*******

A Lady Never Tells

Sara rued the fact that it was one of those inexplicable certainties in life that if you were wanting to accidentally run into someone, you never did, but if you were intentionally trying to avoid someone, you ran into them wherever you went.

She had been trying to bump into Catherine Willows for the better part of three days now and she knew that tonight was her last chance as there was no way in hell she was going to call Catherine at home.

Now that would be an uncomfortable phone conversation, Sara thought playing the scenario out in her head.

Not that it was going to be any easier in person.

What if she asked questions?

What was Sara going to tell her then?

Certainly not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

This… this thing, or whatever the hell it was with Grissom was private and she wanted to keep it that way.

But she sorely needed the advice and there was no one in all the lab more qualified in the field of fashion as Catherine Willows. She may have hung up her dancing shoes a good fifteen years before, but she had never relinquished her sense of style. And Sara had to admit that she had envied Catherine that particular trait a time or too.

Catherine both possessed and projected this inner confidence about herself. She knew men were attracted to her, something that Brass and the other detectives had used to their advantage on more than one occasion. 

Sara, on the other hand, wanted little of that sort of admiration, preferring to appeal more to a man’s intellect than his lust. Or so she tried to tell herself, with only marginal success.

The truth was she didn’t really crave that sort of attention from men in general, just one man in particular.

Grissom.

She mused with a sigh.

Over the last few days he had been the exact same person he always had been, and yet, at least to Sara, he seemed inexplicably changed. She couldn’t put her finger on it exactly. He just seemed…

Happier.

Or maybe she was projecting her own greater sense of contentment onto him.

Although, as she wended her way down the long corridors towards Catherine’s office, contentment was the last thing that she was feeling. Its was more like butterflies — a whole rabble of butterflies.

Damn, Grissom and his bugs were rubbing off on her.

Butterflies or not, she had to just bite the bullet and do it.

Thankfully, as it wasn’t long into swing shift, Catherine was in her office engrossed in every supervisor’s worst nightmare: Paperwork Patrol. Sara only hoped that Catherine was more amenable to being disturbed in the midst of the process than Grissom usually was.

Summoning up the last of her resolve, Sara rapped on the open door. Catherine looked up.

“I’m going to pretend I don’t see you,” she said, quickly returning her gaze to the piles of paper neatly stacked on her desk.

“Why?”

“Because Grave doesn’t start for another seven hours and Grissom would have my hide if he knew that I knew you were here. So I don’t see you.” She gave Sara a furtive grin. “Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t talk,” she said gesturing to a chair.

Sara returned the smile and sat.

“Enjoying the perks of your new position?” She asked, indicating the top file folder marked Requests.

Catherine snorted. “Comes with the territory I guess.”

Sara gave her an I’m glad its you and not me sort of smirk.

“So why are you really here, Sara?” Catherine asked in her usual direct manner. “You don’t strike me as the type who comes into work early merely to pay a social call.”

Damn, caught.

There wasn’t going to be an easy way either around or out of this one. So Sara replied honestly, “I need a little friendly advice.”

Catherine for her part looked as stunned as if Sara had slapped her. 

In all the years the two women had known each other, Sara had never come to Catherine for advice on anything. And she knew for certain by the strange uncertain sort of tone in the younger woman’s voice, that this was not about a case.

In fact, if Catherine read Sara correctly, this was about a man.

And that made her even more curious.

“About?”

“Well,” Sara began still hemming and hawing a little. “You see I need a dress. A nice dress.”

“A dress?” she stammered in shocked reply.

Catherine liked being right, but this was one case where she was still surprised to have been proved so.

“As in court nice or date nice?”

Sara pursed her lips in response.

“Nick finally persuaded you to go out with his friend?”

“No!” Sara answered so swiftly and decisively as to make Catherine start.

Catherine knew Sara better than to press so she switch tactics, “Casual or formal?”

“Formal, I think.”

“Serious?”

“Mmmm,” she answered vaguely.

“Dinner?”

Sara nodded.

“Do you know where?”

She shook her head.

“When is this big mystery date?”

“Day after tomorrow,” Sara admitted sheepishly.

“Kind of last minute don’t you think?” Catherine teased, knowing all too well that Sara typically never procrastinated on anything. When Sara didn’t rise, she merely flipped through the rolodex on her desk. “Well, I’d avoid the stores on the strip. They cater mostly to the tourists or to designer aficionados. But there is this one small boutique off the main drag.” She pulled out a card and picked up her phone. “Know the owner pretty well. She helps me out from time to time when I want something that looks designer but doesn’t cost it. Let me give her a call. She usually only opens for appointments. You think you can manage to get off shift on time tomorrow, or do I need to talk to Grissom?”

“Please don’t do that,” Sara almost pleaded.

The very last she wanted was for Grissom to find out about this little discussion.  

Catherine grinned mischievously, but said, “Fine. I’ll have her call you with a time.”

“Thanks,” Sara replied as she got up to go.

“Oh and Sara –”

She turned.

“Have a good time.”

Sara wasn’t sure if Catherine was referring to her shopping or her date, but was pretty sure she didn’t want to stick around for the inevitable third degree. So she beat a hasty retreat, almost bumping into Nick and Warrick as she left.

“Where’s the fire?” Nick called after her.

Warrick gave Catherine a bewildered stare. “What was that about?”

“And why do you have that goofy grin on your face?” Nick asked.

Catherine continued to smirk knowingly, “You know a lady never tells, boys.”

*******

Dressmaker, Dressmaker, Make Me a Match

True to Catherine’s word, Sara received a call a few hours later from a friendly sounding woman who identified herself simply as Sandra and told Sara she would be delighted to meet with her early the next afternoon.

Sara dutifully took down the time and address as well as the woman’s meticulous directions and then attempted to spend the next several hours trying to keep her mind focused on the evidence she was processing and not her nerves.

She was almost grateful that Grissom had taken Greg with him on the latest 419 in Henderson and left her behind to wrap up an aggravated assault case from the day before. All she had left to do was finish collecting trace from the victim’s clothes and get it to Hodges for processing and then she could head home.

Head home not that far later than her end of shift, she mused with a smile as she glanced down at her watch.

How often did that happen?

Grissom should be pleased at least.

For the first time in a long time, she was pleased by the prospect, too. Most of the time she dreaded heading home, finding more solace in working than in trying to while away the long hours in her apartment.

Not today.

She fully intended to enjoy her day off — all of it.

Even if it meant submitting herself to the misery of attempting to find something, anything, suitable to wear for dinner with Grissom.

Clothes shopping was next to processing expectorant on her list of not so favorite experiences. Hence why she still usually bought her garments via catalogue. She merely ordered what she thought would be best suited for work and if she didn’t like the items when they came, she had no qualms about sending the offending clothing back.

Dress shopping, she feared, would not be so painless.

But Catherine seemed so sure about this woman Sandra and Sara trusted Catherine’s taste.

Catherine knew precisely what to wear in the same way that Sara knew how to dismantle a Ferrari. And although Catherine was unlikely to ever own the labels she could identify on sight and Sara would certainly never purchase a high end sports car, it didn’t make either women less of an expert. So she went with the expert’s expert opinion.

Which still did little to alleviate the queasiness that had begun to plague her since around eight that morning.

She drank a couple of glasses of milk, thinking it wouldn’t do to be sick again, ate some crackers and eventually risked eating something more substantial.

When she went to pull down the spare can of tomato soup Grissom had left in her cupboard, she found a post-it note on the can’s reverse.

In his neat and precise handwriting it read:

Don’t forget to add cream instead of milk.

Check the fridge…

Just follow the instructions on the can for stove top cooking.

Do Not Microwave.

P.S. You’re right. No more secrets.

Sara grinned and did as he instructed, easily finding the unopened pint of cream behind the filtered water dispenser. She shook her head and attempted not to burn the soup as she kept an anxious eye on her watch.

And although not quite as good as she remembered Grissom’s having been, the soup had proven filling and his note had succeeded in making her smile and feel slightly less nervous.

With only an hour before she knew Sandra was expecting her, Sara took a quick shower and dressed carefully.

By the time she reached the address she had written down, however, her nerves had returned in full force.

What the hell was she doing exactly?

Sandra’s boutique wasn’t located in one of those strip mall monstrosities that littered the Las Vegas landscape. Instead, it occupied a stand-alone building with a bright window display. Still, Sara was considering calling up the owner to cancel her appointment, when a short and slightly plump, pretty middle-age woman opened the door.

“You must be Sara,” she said, giving her one of the most genuine and welcoming grins she had ever seen, the sort of smile that wasn’t calculated to put you at ease, but did so nonetheless. It was catching; Sara found the corners of her lips twitching involuntarily as she nodded.

Sandra held the door open for her and she stepped into the shop, which was unlike any clothing store she had ever been in. It was a comfortable looking place, uncluttered by the rows and rows of racks that populated most places. Nor were there in attendance the usual stick thin mannequins revealing way too much pale plaster skin.

In fact, there seemed to be little to indicate that it was a dress shop at all.

Mostly occupied with a pair of cozy chintz arm chairs and a petite side table, the small front room resembled a sitting room more than anything else.

“I keep my stock in the back,” Sandra said, as if she was reading Sara’s mind. “I like to get to know my guests first so I have a better idea of just what will suit them. Why don’t you have a seat?”

Sara took the proffered chair and watched as the older woman poured hot water into a porcelain tea pot.

“Catherine was fairly vague about the details. She said you needed a nice dress, as she called it. I figured you didn’t tell her much except for that as Catherine never uses that word to talk about clothes. Must have been a good reason for all the secrecy,” Sandra said with a suggestive sort of smile as she placed a tray of tea things on the table between them. “And don’t worry. Anything that is said in the store stays in the store. So, why don’t we have some tea and you can tell me all about this date of yours?”

Sandra poured the tea into a pair of cups that were a match to the delicate tea pot and extended one to Sara. “It’s ginger tea. Helps with queazy stomaches and nerves. Its not served with cream or milk, but would you like some sugar?”

“Please,” Sara replied.

Two sugar cubes were carefully deposited into her cup. It had been some time since Sara had seen anyone use sugar cubes. Usually, it was just the ubiquitous white or brown sugar packets that littered tea and coffee shops everywhere.

It was not until Sara had taken several appreciative sips that her hostess posed her first question.

“So what sort of date is this? Dinner? Dancing? Seduction?”

Sara almost snickered at the last possibility. The idea of seduction was not one she readily associated with Gil Grissom.

“I’m not entirely sure,” she answered honestly.

“Ah. So the specialness lies not merely in the event, but more so in the company.”

Sara almost blushed to acknowledge the truth behind Sandra’s deduction.

“Those are the best sort of occasions,” she continued appreciatively. Sandra took a few measured sips before continuing. “You’ve known him a long time and care about him a great deal. Have for a while now and he cares for you and yet, you never really crossed that fine line between friendship and something more until recently, am I right?”

Sara had to concede that she was, surprisingly enough. “How did you…?”

“Women like you don’t look to buy nice dresses for someone who doesn’t matter a great deal to them,” Sandra offered perceptively. Then added, “He thinks you are beautiful, but you don’t share his view.”

This assessment, however astute, made Sara squirm slightly. This seemed to her to be the strangest way to pick out a dress that Sara had ever encountered. She had expected to be handed a few dresses from a rack and shown her way to the dressing room.

This conversation with Sandra seemed more like a psych evaluation than a sales pitch. Besides the fact that this woman’s observations were patently true at face value, Sara knew there were reasons for each every one of her comments.

Just as Sara did when she was investigating a suspect, this woman was very carefully gathering facts and information about the person Sara really was, something Sara wasn’t sure she liked much despite Sandra’s open and welcoming nature.

There was a long pregnant pause, where Sandra merely sat regarding Sara over her tea in an almost clinical fashion. When she appeared to have come to a conclusion, she put down her cup and began, “Something simple. No lace or frills. Elegant and natural. Yet alluring. Revealing just a hint of what lies beneath. Men love a mystery,” she explained. “This man of yours, you work together don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“He’s a scientist, too.”

It was not a question, but Sara answered it with a nod anyway.

“So he relies on evidence to gauge his own actions and reactions,” she continued. “He knows you well. You normally dress in neutral colors and fabric. They suit you. But this time, you want something unexpected and yet still you. Something unique and memorable. 

“But you don’t want something too revealing. You’re not the kind of person who is entirely comfortable in your own skin.”

Sara laughed nervously. “Ever considered becoming a profiler?” she asked, trying to find some way not to feel quite as exposed as she presently did.

 “No.” Sandra shook her head. “I have the upmost respect for what you and Catherine do everyday, but I could never do it. I can’t imagine that it is always easy for you either.”

“You have no idea,” Sara admitted, finishing the last of her tea.

“If I remember correctly, you crime scene investigators typically wear latex gloves when you are on a case.”

“Yes, to keep from contaminating the evidence.”

“Which means you loose some of your sensitivity to touch when you work. And that can cause your sense of touch to become heightened when you aren’t.

“But your other senses — sight and hearing and smell — they are all unaffected, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm. What sort of scientist is your gentleman?”

“He studies insects,” Sara replied, feeling a little guilty about not just saying that Grissom was an entomologist, as surely a woman as astute as Sandra would know exactly what such a scientist studied. “Races cockroaches. Collects beetles. Butterflies.”

Suddenly, Sandra’s eyes lit up and she clambered to her feet in such a hurry that she almost succeeded in upending the tea things.

“You’re a size four, aren’t you?” she asked, not bothering to stop to listen to Sara’s reply.

“Yes.”

“I have just the thing.” Sandra glanced back at a very puzzled Sara. “Are you coming or not?” she said, beckoning for Sara to follow her. She first led her through a door in the rear of the front room and then into a narrow hallway, pausing only for a moment in front of a second door. She ushered Sara inside.

“Now I want you to get undressed — take off everything.”

Sara looked a little doubtful at this.

“You don’t have the right undergarments on for this,” Sandra explained patiently as she closed the door behind her.

Sara stood in the small room, not quite sure what to do next, apart from the obvious.

She quickly discovered, much to her immense satisfaction, that this dressing room lacked the often over-dominating presence of a mirror. Its absence comforted her slightly, as she as a rule, hated to undress in front of a mirror.

“I don’t hear any undressing,” Sandra called loudly. “There’s a robe hanging on the door for when you’re done.”

So Sara reluctantly removed and carefully folded her top and pants and placed them on the small table she assumed had been placed there for that very purpose. Then hesitantly, she removed her underwear, thankful that the shop was not, as many of the places in Vegas were, over-air conditioned. She slipped the simple cotton robe on and secured it with a tug. She stood there for a few moments, glancing down at her watch every few minutes until a firm knock brought her back to the present.

Sara unfastened the door, both equally curious and equally dreading what she knew was to happen next.

Instead of bringing in a selection of dresses all dangling from their respective hangers, Sara discovered that Sandra provided only a single garment bag which she hung from the same hook that recently held the robe.

Sara reached for the zipper, but the woman batted her hands away.

“You’ll need to put these on first,” she said, indicating a small pile of  underthings that did not at all resemble what Sara usually wore beneath her clothes — a short dark slip, a strapless bra and underwear she was sure were way too skimpy to be of any use. Sandra accepted no protest as she left Sara to put them on. “But no peeking,” she cautioned pointing to the garment bag.

Surprisingly, everything she slipped on fit and comfortably, too, though Sara figured she shouldn’t have been. Still feeling a little self-conscious, she pulled the robe back on before opening the door.

Sandra didn’t even bother to ask her about the garments she had provided, instead she said with a slightly mischievous look in her eyes, “Do you trust me?”

Normally, Sara would have baulked at the prospect of trusting anyone, let alone someone she just met, but this woman exuded a reassuring presence one could not help but trust. So Sara nodded.

“Good,” Sandra answered with grin. “Then close your eyes. The perfect dress always requires an element of presentation.”

With her eyes shut, Sara could better hear the rustle of the zipper on the dress bag as Sandra unzipped it, better feel the soft smoothness of the dress as Sandra pulled it over her head. Sandra’s fingers deftly did up the buttons in the back.

“Keep your eyes closed,” she admonished, taking Sara’s elbow and leading her out of the room and back down the hall. They stopped suddenly and Sandra said, “You can open your eyes now.”

Sara stared back at herself from an array of mirrors. She gasped and said, “It’s perfect.”

Sandra beamed.

*******

Later, the dress having been duly picked out, there had been other things to consider — like shoes and stockings and a wrap.

Sara cringed slightly when she pulled out her debit card to pay for the purchases.

It wasn’t like she didn’t have the money. She lived cheaply most of the time, preferring to save rather than spend.

Besides, this was a special occasion.

This was dinner with Grissom after all.

So she patiently waited for the damages to be added up.

There had been no tags on anything Sandra had shown her and Sara knew that even Catherine’s idea of budget clothes ran more towards the expensive end.

When Sandra had presented her with the slip, Sara frowned.

It wasn’t because the number on the receipt was so high, but because it was significantly lower than what she had been anticipating. She was about to point out the error when Sandra handed her a pen and said, “CSI special. You guys took real great care of me when those thugs broke into my place last year. Managed to recover almost everything. Including my grandmother’s wedding dress, which at least to me, was priceless. 

“Too many people around here too often forget all the good you guys do and the horrors you have to face to do it. But I don’t. And I’m grateful.” She handed Sara the dress bag saying, “There’s something else in there for the next time you need a nice dress.”

Sara didn’t know what to say. So she simply smiled and thanked her.

“Oh and, Sara,” Sandra called after her. “Tell Dr. Grissom I said hello.”

*******

Series continued in The Best Laid Plans

*******

Have a question or want to leave a comment or concern and don’t have a wordpress account? Please feel free to email me at kadhmercer@gmail.com

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