33 – Per Chance to Dream

Sometimes comfort from nightmares can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Circa Spring 2008

*******

Gil Grissom bolted upright, wide-eyed, disoriented, and struggling to gasp air past the wall of overpowering breathlessness and into his lungs, only to discover it was just as equally hard to force it out again.

While it felt like someone held his heart in such a vise-like grip that he could swear there was no way it could beat, his own blood continued to thud in his ears like a perverse iteration of a pulse. His stomach churned as if it were possible that he could vomit up all the nightmares and memories that tormented him, as if he could purge himself of the vision of himself yet again on the other side of that door with his hands on the knob unable to open it. As if he could banish the vacant howl of the wind in his ears or the heat of it and the sun that blared onto his face.

All he could do was simply sit there in his darkened bedroom and wait for whatever presence that was currently perched upon his chest to depart; wait for air and clarity and sense to finally return.

Sleep, he knew, was not an option, and lately often proved as vain a hope as peace.

Hank, sensing his master’s disquiet, laid his head in his lap. Grissom stroked him behind the ears absentmindedly for a few minutes before slowly staggering to his feet and into the bathroom where he stood under the spray until Hank’s urgent pawing on the door roused him. He quickly dressed and stumbled, still a little unsteadily, into the kitchen, Hank trotting dutifully behind him.

As he put the teapot on the burner, he noticed his phone on the counter. He glanced over his shoulder at the clock. It was a little past three in the afternoon. Not too early or too late to make a call.

He hit two on his speed dial and listened to it ring several times before a warm, welcoming voice said without preamble or greeting, “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“I was,” Grissom sighed heavily.

Sara’s voice was almost as soft as a caress and full of understanding as she whispered, “Gil –”

His eyes closed and he let out the long deep breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding and confessed, “It’s good to hear your voice.”

“That bad, huh?” she asked knowingly.

Grissom wasn’t as prone to nightmares as Sara usually was, or at least he hadn’t been. That was another one of those things that had changed after Natalie Davis happened.

When he didn’t answer, she told him, “Put your phone on speaker,” before asking, “You got the kettle on?”

“Yes.”

He could hear her running the water on her end of the line and couldn’t help but smile a little at this. Grissom wasn’t quite sure what it was about a cup of tea that made it so soothing, the warmth of the cup in the hands, the fragrance of the herbs or the sweetness of the honey. What he did know, was that it long been a ritual and remedy for many of life’s unpleasant incidences.

“Is Hank with you?” Sara asked.

“Yes.”

He could hear the sad amusement in her voice. “Underfoot I would imagine.”

“Yeah.”

One-word answers seemed to be all he could handle at the moment.

“You have any of those dog bones you used to give him to lure him out of the bedroom?”

He peered into the pantry and pulled down the box, just as the kettle began to whistle. Hank settled down to gnaw energetically at his treat as Grissom poured out the hot water and began to steep the tea.

A few minutes later, he sipped on the steaming beverage while listening to Sara say, “Do you remember the first time?” Although she couldn’t see his puzzled frown, she seemed to sense his confusion, “Not that first time, Gilbert,” she corrected with a bemused laugh.

Grissom nodded wordlessly. He did.

*******

It had been a dreary March afternoon after yet another long shift and another tough case that had left both of them even more exhausted than usual. Despite that fact, they kept to the promise they had made to each other the month before, that even if it were merely tossing and turning and snoring sleeping together, they would make a concerted effort to do so on a more frequent basis, schedules be damned.

So he wasn’t surprised to have been woken by the motion of her stirring beside him or the sounds of Sara murmuring. He knew she occasionally talked in her sleep and could become a little fretful during those times, but the tone was different that day. It wasn’t just absent rambling, but low plaintive muttering rapidly increasing in its desperation. A staunch sort of stiffness had come over her, made all the more pronounced in the way she curled up as tight as she could upon herself. Then the trembling began and the restlessness became more fervent.

He placed a hand on her shoulder and gently shook her, softly calling her name as he did so. This didn’t seem to rouse her. Instead, she seemed to instinctively recoil as if his touch had scalded her.

“Honey, wake up,” he said, with a growing sense of urgency.

When she did wake, her eyes were wide, her breath came in rapid shallow breaths and her face had paled beneath the sweat. For a moment, she stared at him as if she didn’t recall where she was or even who he was; still seemingly caught up in whatever horrors the nightmare had wrought. She flinched slightly when he reached out to stroke her cheek.

“Sara?”

When her eyes finally focused on him, he wordlessly drew her into a concerned hug. There were no tears, but she trembled in his arms and her nails dug through his shirt and into his back. Grissom for his part, merely held her until the shaking lessened and her breathing began to return to normal.

After a while, she withdrew, still wan and looking weary, stammering, “I’m going to… I… I just need a minute.”

He nodded and followed her figure with his eyes as she disappeared into the bathroom.

When several long minutes passed without a sign or sound of her, he gave the door a gentle rap.

“Sara?” he asked and waited for her to tell him to come in before turning the handle and stepping inside. He found her leaning over the sink, splashing water onto her face.

Grissom had seen Sara angry, worried, hurt and even a little scared, but never as terrified as she still looked now.

As she was still trembling, he pulled his robe from off the hook and draped it over her shoulders. She slipped her arms through the sleeves and buried her face into the fabric.

“It smells like you,” she whispered, with the hint of a smile on her face as she snuggled into it and tugged it tight around her.

He rested a hand on her shoulder, his thumb running along the curve of her neck. Her eyes closed at his touch and he slid his free arm around her waist and pulled her to him until her back rested against his chest. She sighed and leaned back into the warmth of the embrace; he watched her face relax a little in the mirror.

They stood like that for a little while, before he took her hand and tugged her into the kitchen. He sat her down at one of the stools and after a few minutes, handed her a mug before taking one himself. She sniffed suspiciously at it before wrinkling up her nose and asking, “What is this?”

“Warm milk.”

Sara gestured to the mug in his hand. “And yours?”

“Tea,” he replied, taking a sip.

“Give me,” she said, reaching for his cup. He smiled softly at her insistence and handed it over. “What is it with you and milk anyway?” she asked, shaking her head in exasperation.

“My mother used to give it to me when I had trouble sleeping,” he explained.

They both sat there sipping at their respective drinks. Grissom wasn’t entirely sure what to do next.

“I’m sorry,” Sara whispered, her gaze focused on her cup.

He put down his mug. “For?”

“Waking you,” she replied. “I suppose it was bound to happen at some point, but still.”

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Don’t worry about it,” he assured her. She returned the pressure, but did not look up at him. “They usually that bad?” he asked several quiet minutes later.

“Worse actually.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Okay.”

At this, she did meet his gaze and gave his a slight appreciatory grin. “Thanks though,” she said.

He nodded thoughtfully, then “How about something to eat?” he suggested. “It’s not too early for breakfast.”

But when she went to reach under the counter for the toaster, Grissom shook his head. “No toast today.”

“Oh?” Sara asked curiously. “So what are you cooking up this time?”

“I’m not cooking anything,” he replied. “We are.”

But instead of elaborating, he merely began pulling items from the pantry and refrigerator.

She took stock of his spoils. “Eggs, butter, milk, flour. Crepes again?”

“No, but close. Pancakes.”

Sara couldn’t help but smile broadly this time. “My favorite breakfast.”

He nodded and then began to lay out all the necessary accoutrements: two large mixing bowls, a metal sieve, a collection of nested measuring cups and spoons, along with one of the spoons’ larger wooden cousins.

She stared at it all spread out. “This is why I don’t cook,” she sighed. “Way too complicated and messy.”

“Complicated and messy isn’t always a bad thing,” Grissom countered. “I believe you once said our relationship was like that.”

“Messy?”

Complicated.”

“Very,” she agreed.

“Still?”

“Like you said, complicated isn’t always a bad thing.”

The smile she gave him only widened when she had noticed he had donned his ubiquitous apron, something Sara always thought made him look charmingly domestic.

Grissom handed her a measuring cup.

“What, you just supervising on this one?” she asked wryly.

“I thought I’d let you do the honors.”

She cocked her head and grinned, pushing up the sleeves to the robe before taking the proffered cup. “How much?”

“A cup and a half of flour,” he replied and they began to work in tandem, adding the rest of the dry ingredients to one of the large mixing bowls.

When Grissom handed her a mesh strainer, she said, “I thought you didn’t have to sift the flour.”

“Better for blending than stirring,” he explained.

“I see.”

Soon the air was punctuated with a faint white cloud.

Grissom made a small well in the center of the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt mound. Sara watched as he expertly cracked an egg and added the milk and melted butter and an uncharacteristically imprecise measure of vanilla.

He handed her a large wooden spoon, saying, “As you are the one with the physics degree. Applied forces and all that,” while he proceeded to pull out a large skillet.

“One last thing,” he said, peering over her shoulder at the now smooth mixture. “Secret ingredient.”

“Cream?” she asked.

“No. Cinnamon,” he answered, producing a long, thin brown stick and a nutmeg grater. “From the bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum. For centuries, thought to be a gift fit for kings. Used in ancient times to cure everything from snakebites to the common cold to freckles.

“Although I am rather partial to freckles myself,” he said, running his hand along her arm as if caressing the freckles beneath the flannel fabric, while his eyes seemed to be taking in first the slight spray that bridged her nose and cheeks before they lowered to the smattering on her chest that the robe and her top beneath didn’t quite conceal. Sara blushed slightly and leaned in to plant a long lingering kiss on his cheek, for which he gave her an appreciatory grin before returning his gaze to the batter.

“Most cinnamon in the U.S. though isn’t true cinnamon,” Grissom continued in his habitual explicatory manner. “But rather an Indonesian variety called cassia. While it is easy to see the difference in the raw form, the only way to tell with powdered forms is to test with iodine. Real cinnamon doesn’t react, but cassia turns blue.”

“And this is?” she asked.

“The real stuff, of course. It has more subtle flavor and is easier to grate. Simply add to taste.”

And after a few quick stirs, he began to ladle the mixture into the skillet.

“I thought you were supposed to pour them so they don’t touch,” she said as he flipped a pancake to brown on the other side.

“Not if you do it on purpose,” he countered. At the perplexed look on her face, Grissom asked, “Tell me, what does it look like to you?”

“Pancake version of a water molecule,” Sara supplied uncertainly.

He tilted the pan so she could get a better view and when she continued to look clueless, he turned the pancake onto a plate and added two blueberries in the center.

“M-I-C-K-E-Y…” he began.

“M-O-U-S-E?” she finished vaguely.

He nodded. “No one has ever made you Mickey Mouse pancakes before?”

“No.”

“Well, then this is as good a time as any.”

*******

“I have to say that the batter-spattered look has always suited you much better than me,” Sara sighed from the other end of the phone line.

“I don’t know,” Grissom replied. “You looked fairly cute with flour on your nose.”

“You’re incorrigible,” she sighed and he could hear her smiling.

He could feel his heart lighten a little as he thought about how people tended to speak about happiness as if it were a permanent state of being. But he had learned that, more often than not, happiness was something to be found in mere minutes and moments. Perhaps that was why it seemed so fleeting and what made it so precious in the end. That afternoon had been like that, happy, in spite of the unpleasantness that had occasioned it.

“You remember what you told me that day about why we dream?” Sara said after a while.

“I remember you being rather surprised at my answer,” he replied.

“I had been expecting more of a detailed scientific explication. Not… Hobbes…”

“Or Calvin for that matter?” Grissom asked.

“Well, at first I couldn’t figure out what social contract or Sixteenth Century theology had to do with sleeping. Apart from having a tendency to put you to sleep.”

“Funny, dear.”

“Remind me again,” she said, “what did Hobbes, the tiger, have to say about dreaming?”

He thought about it for a moment before replying, “That we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long from the people we care about.”

He smiled, remembering what he had been trying to tell her that day and realizing just what she was trying to tell him now.

“If I remember correctly, that comic strip suddenly appeared in my locker at the end of the next shift,” she was saying. “However did you find a copy?”

“Just have to know where to look I guess,” he answered almost coyly.

“Of course, the next cartoon you left there wasn’t quite as conciliatory, although probably deserved,” Sara admitted.

“You mean the one where Calvin tells Hobbes he’s going to be sleeping on the floor after he left Calvin all scratched and bruised after a dream where he was fighting a ferocious weasel?” Grissom asked.

“Oh, come on,” she laughed. “It was just a bloody nose. And you know I didn’t mean to do it.” Then she half-teased, half-asked, “You wouldn’t really have made me sleep on the floor, would you?”

“The floor, no. The couch maybe.”

He could hear her sigh, “I’ll remember that.” But her tone had turned from playfulness to concern when she asked, “You finish your tea?”

“Yeah.”

“Still keep that blanket on the couch?”

“Yeah,” he replied, not entirely sure why she was asking him this.

“Then go lay down. Humor me,” she said, when from his quiet hesitation it became apparent that he hadn’t moved from his seat at the kitchen island. “Please, Gil.”

He did what she asked.

As he tried to get comfortable, she was saying, “You know I never did figure out which one of us was supposed to be which.”

“That’s easy,” Grissom answered.

“So which one are you then?”

He didn’t hesitate. “The tiger, obviously.”

“Really?” Sara asked, sounding incredulous.

“Yeah.”

They settled into a comfortable silence. He listened to the quiet even rhythm of her breathing as he closed his eyes.

“I wish there was more I could do to help,” she said apologetically after a while.

“You are helping, more than you can know,” he whispered, feeling and not just knowing the truth of that particular assertion.

“I’ll stay on the line until you fall back asleep,” Sara said and she and Grissom talked, her more so than him, about nothing and everything, about fond memories and good times, until the raw horror of his dream seemed to fade away and he was left warm and content and sleepy.

Just before he drifted off, he heard Sara murmur, “I’ll see you soon.”

*******

When he got up to get ready for work several hours later, he found a message from her in his inbox headed, I guess you were right (big surprise) and containing the image of another Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin had scribbled in his childlike hand:

Lost: My tiger, “Hobbes.”

And then —

On the quiet side.

Somewhat peculiar.

A good companion,

in a weird sort of way.

Grissom couldn’t help but grin.

*******

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

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: