08 – A Case of the Road Trip Blues

Continued from Amour Interrupted

“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them,”
Mark Twain

*******

It all began ordinarily enough.

Well, as ordinary as any day that began with the two of them waking up in bed together.

It felt good to think of it like that: ordinary.

Perhaps they should have known better. But it was hard to imagine, let alone worry about, anything unpleasant while they were curled up close like a couple of quotation marks beneath the bed covers.

Not too much after eight, Grissom gently nuzzled his wife awake with an imploring, “Sara –”

Prompting a still somnolent, “Hmm,” from her.

“I think we’ve overslept,” he said, although in truth more feigning concern than feeling it.

When she made no response to this he persisted, “Honey, I think we’ve overslept.”

Sara only nestled deeper into the blankets as she murmured, “You said that already.”

He nudged her again, a little more insistent this time.

She took the hint. “Fine, you win. I’m up,” she reluctantly conceded and rolled over to face him. “What time is it?”

“I dunno,” Grissom replied. “But the sun’s out. So I figured we had to be running late.”

“You’re funny. Real funny, Gilbert.”

“You mean we really don’t have to be somewhere at the crack of dawn today?” he openly grinned.

Sara rewarded his cheek with a swat of her pillow.

*******

Unsurprising, they had a rather late start that morning.

They lingered for a while longer in bed, it being as of late too rare a pleasure to squander or surrender so soon.  There hadn’t been a heck of a lot of hot water left when it came time to freshen up, but Sara was used to it after all the showers she’d been having lately back at the lab. Breakfast was pleasantly simple for all its indulgence: large bowls of café crème and freshly baked bread from the local boulangerie generously slathered in last year’s miel de lavande.

Even more eye opening than the strong French coffee was the brisk half-hour hike they took that morning up to the top of Le Roc. But the view from the terrace of Notre Dame du Roc Chapel was well worth it. While they couldn’t quite glimpse the gorges Sara had informed Grissom they’d come to see, the picturesque village of Castellane and the idyllic, untamed countryside beyond splayed spectacularly about their feet, all flushed in that Provençal glow that artists like Cézanne and Van Gogh had come and stayed for. The sun-blessed south was certainly verdant for it and unlike the short and fleeting springs back in Vegas, here the season seemed quite content to dally. It gave them both pause.

And in that moment it was easy to be caught up in it, in the unbridled optimism of a day but begun, in the prospect of adventures to come, travels made, roads taken.

Not that Grissom was adverse to any further hands-on explorations, but by the time they’d finally descended onto the stone streets of Castellane, he’d been more happy than not to be informed that Sara had no intentions for them to actually hike any of the gorge.

Instead, she’d decided they should partake of it through that greatest of American holiday pastimes: the road trip. A nice leisurely drive where they’d be able to take in the sights, the fresh air and the wilderness in ways they’d so infrequently been able to do back in Vegas (ventures outside the city to secure crime scenes and examine dead bodies notwithstanding). Besides, they’d get to take in more of the view from the road anyway.

Well, they would once the mist of the morning finally cleared. And if they survived the trip.

On this particular Sunday, there seemed to be a surfeit of Sunday drivers of a very different sort. Ones who were indifferent to la belle vue — or speed limits or cautions. They took the blind curves and the hairpin bends like homicidal maniacs, or in this case perhaps like the starving in search of their Sunday dinner, that most august of les institutions françaises.

As swarms of motorcycles buzzed by them, it was hard to imagine that this part of France hadn’t really been discovered until the 20th Century. Up until then, the deepest ravines of la gorges du Verdon were believed to be impenetrable, and the only ones lucky enough to take in the view of what would later be known as le Grand Canyon de Verdon were the occasional woodcarver in search of boxwood stumps they could craft into boules. It was a shame really, for while not nearly as vast or encompassing a chasm as the one the Colorado River continues to carve across the millennia, the Verdon Gorge was impressive in its own right.

Just outside the village of Rougon, they pulled off the road and just stood there gaping in wordless wonder. Sara was so awestruck that she almost forgot about the camera in her hands. Eventually, she recovered enough to get in a couple of snaps as there was no way any of them back at the lab would believe any of this if she told them; if she even possessed the words to even begin to tell them in the first place. Maybe her husband did and could; she certainly didn’t. Except even Grissom was struck speechless.

It was as if they stood at the very top of the world. As far as the eye could see, a vast ocean of clouds pooled just beneath their feet; their white wispy seas punctuated by occasional oases of twisted junipers which added their green to sheer shields of weathered blue-grey, orange and yellowed stone.

From among all that immense stillness, two distant inklings resolved themselves upon further squinting eye-shaded inspection into a pair of snowy bald heads and broad brown wings.

Sara turned to Grissom and said, unease beginning to creep into her voice, “Those aren’t what I think they are?”

“Vultures?” he supplied. “Looks like it.”

“You don’t think…”

“Raptors circle for all sorts of reasons,” Grissom countered sensibly. “They’re probably just enjoying the thermals.”

Although he didn’t seem any more keen to think on the alternative than Sara was. Not that it was likely anything ominous. At worst they were probably after the remains of a wild boar or perhaps a rabbit.

But as neither of them were the least bit interested in a replay of the December before, when while on what should have been a harmless weekend tourist jaunt in Paris, the two of them had somehow managed to have the misfortune of stumbling upon a dead body in that strange, surreal sort of way that the protagonists of multitudes of mystery novels always seemed wont to do, when Sara suggested, “Maybe we should…” Grissom readily agreed.

If either of them had been of the superstitious sort, they might have regarded the vultures as rather ominous portends, but they weren’t and didn’t. Of course that didn’t keep everything from ostensibly going down hill after that.

Starting just after le déjeuner. Past experience had long ago taught them that large meals tended to act more as a deterrent than an enhancement to sightseeing, particularly as all one really wanted to do afterwards was curl up in a comfortable chair and pretend to read until you dozed off. So Grissom and Sara decided to forgo the grand ritual of the languid Sunday luncheon in favor of café fare taken and consumed à l’américaine – quick and on the go. Maybe they should have known better, that you just can’t rush French food, not even French fast food.

Although Provençal cooking was not as heavy on the butter and animal products as la cuisine parisienne, it had a richness all its own, one that for some reason didn’t seem to sit well with Grissom, at least not that particular afternoon. Not that it was an uncommon complaint in France for tourists and locals alike: les problèmes digestifs. As there actually was such a thing as too much of a good thing, even gastronomic gourmands as they were, les Français had to retreat to more abstemious grounds from time to time or go off to take the waters. Once free from the unpleasant aftereffects of dyspepsia, however, they soon heartily returned to the pleasures and perils of the table.

Not that the car ride helped much. With the spectacular vistas it afforded, taking the highly scenic route des Crêtes had sounded like a really good idea while they’d been discussing it with the owner of the café, but now that they were winding their way along the narrow one-way road that literally hugged the very edge of the gorge rim, sans guard rails and populated as it was with plenty of twisting, turning switchbacks and sheer 800 meter drops, neither Grissom nor Sara were so sure.

And perhaps it wasn’t such a good thing after all that the cloud cover had finally cleared, burned off by the growing heat of the day, as the emerging panorama was a dizzying prospect on a good day.  Having started out a little green to begin with, for Grissom it was pure torture.

It wasn’t like he was typically prone to vertigo, carsickness, sickness of any sort. Apart from the occasional nausea brought on by his thankfully less and less frequent as of late migraines, he was mostly immune to illness or distress. But the unfamiliar food, the closeness of the car, the vertigo, and serpentine road did more to undo Gil Grissom than a two-month old de-comp in a duffle bag ever had and his typically cast iron stomach failed him.

“Stop the car,” he gasped after a moment.

Sara didn’t even bother to ask why, for in the glimpse she’d had of his face she saw and understood.

Considering how smashed that kid at their door had been the night before, Sara hadn’t envied him the hangover he’d likely had that morning, but she couldn’t imagine him looking any worse than her husband did now.

Thankfully, she lucked out and found a place to pull over that didn’t include a half-mile drop off. In an instant, Grissom was out of the car and down on his knees in the dirt.

She cringed at the sudden sound of retching, but knowing from previous experience that her husband preferred to be sick in private, she instead set about fumbling in her bag for the tin of mints or candied ginger she usually brought along for long journeys. Her search came up empty.  Between all the changes in plans and added overtime just before she’d left, she’d neglected to replenish her stock.

At least there was still plenty of water left over from lunch. It wasn’t much, and a little warm, but right now it would have to do. She retrieved the bottle and the handkerchief she knew Grissom always kept in his inside jacket pocket before going to check on him.

Just in case, she slid her hand under his elbow as he a more than a little unsteadily returned to his feet. As getting right back in the car would likely just make it all worse, she steered him to a couple of boulders out of the sun and away from the noxious fumes and noise of the road. As he sat, she pressed the bottle of water in his hand, but not before liberally dousing the handkerchief so she could drape it over the back of his neck. He accepted both gestures gratefully as he started to slowly sip.

They both waited for some semblance of equilibrium to return. That it seemed to take longer than usual didn’t escape Sara’s notice.

“You okay?” she asked after a while.

He could hear the concern in her voice, feel it in the tender hand she rested on his shoulder, so he nodded and attempted to smile her worry away.

Although she’d been trying hard not to fuss, she couldn’t keep herself from smoothing his hair as she asked, “Headache?”

“No, dear,” he replied taking up her other hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Just Victor Hugo being right.”

When she gave him an understandably bemused look at this he said, “‘L’indigestion a été chargée par Dieu de faire la morale à l’estomac. Indigestion is charged by God with enforcing morality on the stomach.’”

“I see,” she said with a nod and a slight smile of her own before adding, “At least you sound like you’re feeling a little better.”

“I am, thanks.”

They had a few more minutes in the stillness and open air before he indicated he was ready to go. They were on their way back to the car when an unfamiliar smell stopped Sara short, a sweet almost fruity pleasant sort of scent.

“What is it?” Grissom asked.

“You don’t smell that?”

She watched him inhale and recognition pass over his features.

“Of course you know what it is,” Sara said with a sigh and a knowing shake of the head.

“So do you,” he replied tugging her towards a clump of bushes on the other side of the road. He lifted a stalk heavily laden with an effusion of pea-shaped florets aside.

“Acacia,” she supplied. With the thorns revealed it was obvious.

“False acacia actually, but yeah.”

“At least I don’t have to worry about you wanting to climb this one,” Sara laughed. Although Grissom’s tumble out of a far larger Costa Rican species during his first week in the rainforest had been anything but amusing at the time.

“No ants anyway,” came his matter of fact reply. “Just bees.”

And bees there were, several of them busily buzzing about the blossoms.

Sara took a tentative step back. It didn’t matter how much time she’d spent bug hunting with Grissom, she still wasn’t all that keen on bees. And as pleasant as their last encounter had proven on the whole, she wasn’t about to put herself in the position to be stung again. Her husband however wasn’t the least bit shy. He leaned further in, eyes and nose and face up close, too close in her opinion, to have a better look.

Seeming to sense his wife’s reluctance, Grissom said, “It’s okay to look. They won’t bite.”

“Just sting, yeah, I remember.”

He gave her a look that plainly indicated she should come closer. Which reluctant, she did. Far more willingly, she agreed when her husband said, “It wasn’t that bad.” For it hadn’t been. Not really.

In truth, that day had been a bright moment in the darkness of the weeks and months after Natalie, after Sara moved to Swing, after how little time she and Grissom had with each other because of that then.

“It was memorable to say the least,” she conceded.

They shared a smile at the memory.

“And original. Don’t get me wrong, Gil, but whatever possessed you…”

“To ask?” he finished.

Sara nodded. Although ask wasn’t exactly the right word for it, as his quietly murmured, “You know, maybe we should get married,” had sounded far more like a suggestion than an actual query. It wasn’t until she’d made no reply for a while that he, in an uncharacteristically uneasy voice, had come closer to asking a real question when he’d stammered, “So, uh… what do you think, you know, about…”

“I mean it wasn’t like we’d ever talked about it,” she said. “Not really. I didn’t even know you were thinking about it.”

“I don’t know.”

Sara wasn’t sure if it was the honesty or the answer that surprised her most, causing her to echo, “You don’t know?”

Grissom shrugged. “It just felt like the right moment,” he said, grinning in a way that she knew he only ever did with her. Not that sort of smirk that was desirous and wanting, although he did upon occasion wear that one too, but this was more of an endearing smile born from genuine happiness and the ease they’d developed with each other over the years. “So I took a chance.”

Sara beamed in return. “I’m glad you did.”

“Me, too.”

He was about to lean in to kiss her, but in light of his recent intestinal distress quickly reconsidered. Sara had a hard time containing her amusement at his well-intentioned reticence.

“Why don’t you explain what’s going on,” she said motioning to the flowers where several bees were competing for the luxuriant flower heads. “I’m no expert, but they don’t look like they’re covered in pollen.”

With his usual customary ease, Grissom segued into lecture mode. “That’s because with acacias they don’t collect pollen, just the nectar,” he supplied. He gestured to one of the nearest bees, “See the proboscis on the front – looks like a straw. They suck the nectar up into their honey stomachs to take back to the hive where they all get together to regurgitate and then re-consume the contents until…”

It was Sara’s turn to look a little green. “I think I get the picture.”

*******

On the way back to the car, they paused for a few moments to take in la vue, which thankfully wasn’t nearly quite so disorienting when one was standing still.

Far beneath them, the river rushed and wended and in the tighter spaces bubbled and broke into white caps and rapids. Its peculiar milky turquoise-green opaqueness, from which la rivière du Verdon took its name, was the result of the intermixture of the limestone that had slowly dissolved over the eons from the canyon walls and the river’s particular microscopic flora. Back when the dinosaurs reigned, the whole region had been a vast shoal sea and much of the limestone and chalk beds that remained were once great coral reefs now long extinct.

But before long Sara could see that despite all of Grissom’s earlier insect enthusiasms, fatigue was starting to settle back in again and she suggested they resume their journey.

At least it currently being a Sunday afternoon had one markedly perceptible advantage: the post-lunch drivers seemed to prefer more sedate returns home to their earlier near homicidal ventures out.

Not that Grissom much noticed. Though he hadn’t been about to admit it to Sara, he still felt spent after having been sick and reckoned that it wouldn’t hurt to close his eyes just for a few minutes. Before long, he’d begun to doze.

Something Sara hadn’t quite realized. Naturally, she’d noticed his silence and stillness, but he was often like that on car rides, lost in his own thoughts or the scenery. It certainly hadn’t surprised her he’d been that way after being sick. In any case, she’d been far too busy taking the hairpin curves and tight bends in second gear. Then when she’d come up to the unmarked tee in the road there had been an impatiently honking driver behind her so that when she’d asked her husband whether they should go right or left, she didn’t quite register how absent his mumbled reply of “Left,” was.

And while it was fairly easy to lose track of distances on the winding roads, when a further half hour didn’t find them in the charming hamlet of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the famous faïence capital of France, Sara started to get concerned. She honestly couldn’t recall from her mental maps if the route from La Palud put them out north or south of the village. The one thing she certainly did remember was there hadn’t been any lake on the way and there was no mistaking the immense blue body of water on the right hand side of the road for anything but un lac.

Knowing better than to consult her phone while driving, she pulled into a belvedere and hastily put the car into park. The sudden stop jostled Grissom awake. Unfortunately he was still blinking off the drowsiness so that Sara ended up halfway through turning out the contents of her tote before realizing she’d given him her phone that morning to help out with the navigating. This did nothing to relieve her frustration.

Nor did his curious query of “Where are we?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” she rejoined a little testily. When he persevered in looking puzzled at this she prompted, “Phone, Gil.”

Although not quite alert to what precisely was going on, he recognized the tone in his wife’s voice and proceeded to hand it over without question. Sara quickly swiped through the various screens until she found the GPS.

“That’s what I thought,” she said.

“What?”

“You said to go left.”

Realizing how stupid, meaningless and ultimately unhelpful a second What? would have sounded, he asked, “When?” instead.

And all in one barely breathless burst she replied, “Back at the intersection. I asked you which way to go. You said left. I went left.”

“Slow down, Sara. The last thing I remember before I fell asleep–”

She cut in with an impatient, “I thought you were supposed to be navigating not napping.”

“May I?” he asked calmly, although he didn’t wait for her response before taking up the phone to check the electronic map for himself. “So where were we supposed to be going?”

“Moustiers-Sainte-Marie,” she supplied. “Which is there. We’re here.” She indicated the GPS marker, which happened to be significantly further south than where they should have been.

“Well, at least we aren’t lost,” Grissom said reasonably.

Sara shot him an incredulous glare.

“Honey, we know where we are, we just aren’t where we want to be.”

“Funny,” she said, though she didn’t sound the least bit amused.

“Look, we’ve got two choices,” he began. “We can turn around and go back the way we came or we can go forward and follow this road around the lake. See it meets up with D952, which will take us right into Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Do we have to be there at a set time?”

“Just need to check in.”

“So why not?” he asked.

“You mean why not take the long way?”

“Why not wander a little?”

“You feeling much better then?” she queried in reply.

“Wandering is good for you.”

“Oh really?”

“‘Not all those who wander are lost.’”

“Thoreau?”

“Tolkien.”

At this Sara had to laugh. “You did read The Lord of the Rings?”

“Yeah.”

“None of that was what I would call a pleasant trip, Gil.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Sara?”

While it pained her to admit it and she would never own it, her husband did have a point. It wasn’t much past four. With the spring days lengthening the nearer and nearer they got to summer, they still had hours yet before dark. A little detour couldn’t hurt. And the lake was beautiful. So why not?

It wasn’t long before Sara regretted caving in to her husband’s suggestion.

They’d passed through the towns of Les Salles sur Verdon and Bauduen without any mishaps and had finally turned northward once more as they continued their circumnavigation of what the map told them was le Lac de Sainte-Croix, when there was an abrupt thud, followed in quick succession by a rhythmic thump, thump, thump, thump and the sudden lurch of the car to the right. All tell tale signs of one thing: a flat.

That knowing didn’t keep Sara from slamming the driver’s side door in irritation as she got out. Nor did her humor improve at the sight of the long deep gash in the rubber that there was no way they could just patch even if they had means of re-inflating the tire. So Sara set about preparing to change it.

“At least it’s a full-sized spare,” she sighed once the two of them had unearthed it, the jack and the tire iron out from under their bags. “As I have no idea where you’d even go to get one replaced.”

“Garage probably.”

“You have any Provençal mechanics in your list of contact that I don’t know about, Gil?”

As her voice was starting to get that irritable growl to it once more and knowing as he did that Sara was perfectly capable of changing a tire without his assistance, supervision or input, Grissom stepped out of the way to give her plenty of room to work.

Except the VW Golf they’d rented had barely a couple hundred kilometers on it when they’d picked it up in Nice. Which meant apart from still having that new car smell, it being new, was equipped with the cheapest jacks that barely any money spent could buy and with factory tightened bolts that wouldn’t budge. This meant that in the ten minutes it would normally take Sara to swap tires all she had succeeded in doing was bending the jack and getting increasingly more irritated.

Accurately sensing that things weren’t going well, Grissom popped open the glove compartment to retrieve their rental contract, hoping it would have the contact information for roadside assistance service. It did. But when he went to dial he discovered he had no signal on his phone. He checked Sara’s, too. No joy.

It had to be Murphy’s Law, otherwise how else could they have ended up getting a flat on the only stretch of road in the country that didn’t have cell reception.

At this point nothing surprised Sara. Although when Grissom suggested his hiking a little further up the road, she was a little leery. With him having been sick not that many hours before, the looping roads and sometimes even loopier drivers, she wasn’t so sure that was a good idea.

When she said as much to him, he replied, “I’ll be fine,” and soon disappeared from view.

Sara wiped the sweat from her forehead, stripped down to the tank top she wore under her shirt and not about to be bested by a flat tire of all things, set back to task.

When Grissom returned sometime later, he found her sweating and still struggling and now swearing in a spew of Spanish that would have made Ana, their old site director back in Costa Rica, blush.

Ultimately, Sara was more angry with herself than anything. Back in one of the lab’s garages she could have had the car half dismantled by now. If it hadn’t been their only means of transportation, she was almost tempted to take the whole damn thing apart simply out of spite.

Of course that wouldn’t exactly help. And she knew it. So she rose, cursed more loudly, kicked at a large rock on the side of the road in aggravation and only ended up doing more damage to her toes than the stone.

Although the act gave Grissom an idea.

“Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way,” he began.

Sara shrugged and let out a long breath. “As neither of us has a pneumatic drill handy, I’m up for suggestions.”

“Got to go old school.”

She gestured to the iron bar and socket. “Gil, this is old school.”

“Really old school,” he replied, selecting a fairly sizable hunk of limestone from the side of the road. “As in 2.5 million years ago old.”

“And do what with it?” she said as he held the rock out to her.

He proceeded to hammer it upon the unmovable end of the tire iron in demonstration. And it and the stuck lug nuts actually began to budge. Sara gaped at him.

“Sometimes brute force is actually necessary.”

Sara readily took up the rock, soon finding that the barbaric banging had the added benefit of helping release some of her frustration.

Once the nuts were finally loose, it was a simple task to swap tires and tighten them back on again.

Breathless more from the irritation rather than the actual exertion, Sara sank against the car in relief. Grissom handed her the water bottle he’d been nursing earlier with apologies that they had nothing else. Right now, Sara didn’t care. The tepid water felt like heaven in her mouth.

“At least we didn’t run out of gas,” Grissom said as they got back into the car.

While it had been an attempt at levity more than anything, Sara decided to check the fuel gauge just in case. Accustomed as she was to her Prius’ almost endless gas mileage, she hadn’t thought to see how they were doing on fuel. The needle hovered just above the red zone before empty.

Sensing her concern, Grissom leaned in to have a look for himself.

“We’ve got plenty of gas to get us where we’re going, dear,” he reassured her. When she looked doubtful at this, he said, “Even once the low fuel light goes on you’ve got a good gallon of gas left in the tank. Golf’s get what, about 30 miles per gallon,” he paused to do the conversion in his head. “That’s about 50 kilometers.”

“Closer to 48,” Sara corrected.

Grissom ignored this. “Even from Bauduen it was less than 40 kilometers to Moustiers. We’re fine.”

She sighed. “I never knew you liked to live so dangerously.”

“Stop worrying,” he insisted.

“That’s easy for you to say. But as you’re still the one navigating –”

“I thought you fired me.”

“You’re on probation.”

Grissom seemed content with that. “Of course we can’t get anywhere unless you start the car.”

She shot him a dirty look, but turned the key anyway. Secretly, they each breathed a sigh of relief when the engine turned over and they were back on the road once again.

By now the gilt had worn off the day and fatigue already settled in its place. Tired from their misadventures, from traveling, from all the overtime she’d been putting in lately at work, from life in general, Sara let out a long, hard sigh, thinking as she did so about how unexpected chaos so frequently usurped wonder and was wondering why it was like that, easier to be overcome with the difficulties than the joy, when there came a cautionary “Sara,” from beside her.

Sara started, unsure what the warning was for. It wasn’t until her husband added a “Don’t,” to his second more insistent “Sara,” that she realized she’d been absently attacking the bug bites on her right arm as she drove.

The welts, which had seemingly sprung up from nowhere, hadn’t really begun to bother her until she’d started to sweat. That was when they’d really started to itch.

It had been like that when she’d had that cast from when she’d fractured her arm in two places trying to extricate herself from the car Natalie had left her under in the desert. The cast always itched. But when she got hot and sweaty, which as it had been summer then was pretty much a guarantee anytime she ventured outside even for a moment, the itching was murder. The inconvenience, the bulk, or even the immobility from having to wear it for months on end didn’t drive her half as nuts as her inability to be able to scratch that itch.

But back in the here and now, she could, at least the bites she could readily reach. So she scratched and Grissom chided.

“You know that only makes it worse,” he warned.

“It’s already worse.”

While Sara hadn’t remembered there being a lot of mosquitoes when they’d been out on the river the day before, now that she thought back on it, there had to have been to support such a bevy of dragonflies.

Neither of them had worn any bug repellent. It would have defeated the purpose and they’d been nearly completely covered for most of the day, apart from the hour or so when they had taken that break on the bank. They’d both unzipped the lower parts of their convertible khakis and draped them next to their over shirts on a branch to dry while they’d lain in the sun. And dozed. Which had probably been when she’d gotten bitten. Not that the when or where or how really mattered at the moment. Right now, it just itched like hell.

Although Grissom didn’t seem to be having any issues. In fact, he looked as if he hadn’t been bitten at all.

“And how is it that you managed not to get bit once?” she demanded irritably.

“It’s just body chemistry. You know that. Certain species of mosquitoes are attracted to some people more than others. Just like some people react more strongly to the venom of certain mosquitoes than others.”

“I’d rather pass on the whole thing, thank you very much,” she said. “You develop an immunity over the years or have you always just been blessed with it then?”

“Depends on the mosquito,” he replied and it did. He’d been eaten up like crazy when he lived in Minnesota. Had a couple of bad bouts with them when he’d been doing post-grad work in Brazil. Thankfully, he and Sara hadn’t been in Costa Rica during the mosquito season, so there hadn’t been all that many mosquitoes for them to worry about while they were there

“Well, they all seem to like me,” she said sulkily. “And don’t give me any of that it’s one of those mind over matter things bull shit.”

Normally when Sara was curt and cross like this, Grissom tended to leave her to her own devices for a while. It was just better to give her the time and space to cool down a little. But there wasn’t all that much space within the relatively confined quarters of the Golf and he didn’t relish riding for another half hour in aggrieved silence.

“Stop the car,” he said in an authoritative tone she hadn’t heard from him in quite a long while. While it didn’t improve her temper any, she did what he asked without question or word, though she did bang the door again when she got out.

Grissom ignored this. Instead, he set about retrieving his toiletry bag from the back.

His tone was softer, gentler when he next spoke her name, as was his touch when he went to rest his hand on her shoulder. Neither mattered as she hissed in pain and recoiled from the contact. Though she did allow him to ease the shirt from her shoulders to reveal the blistering sunburn beneath.

Ever since her time in the desert, she burned easier and knew it, so she usually made sure to liberally slather on the sunscreen whenever she was out. And she had this morning before they’d left the hotel. Except, as she hadn’t foreseen any reason for her to undress down to her tank top, she hadn’t bothered to put any on her shoulders or upper arms. And she’d been so preoccupied with attempting to fix the flat that the fact she’d been exposed for nearly an hour hadn’t even occurred to her.

“This doesn’t look good,” Grissom murmured in concern as he examined her shoulders, careful not to touch. “But there isn’t much I can do until we get into town. But for the mosquito bites this should help.”

When he’d pulled out the tube of the minty French dentifrice he tended to favor, Sara stammered, “Toothpaste?”

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” he replied and began to rub it into the welts along her arm. “Calves too?” She nodded and tugged up her pants legs.

By the time he asked if he’d missed any, she’d soften enough to repay his patient ministrations with a genuine smile.

Sara had no idea how he did it. She’d been hot despite the spring weather. Frustrated that none of her plans seemed to come to any good. First concerned about her husband when he’d been ill, then irritated at him when the day continued to deteriorate, even if he hadn’t actually done anything wrong. And yet Grissom had barely batted an eye.

“After all of this, how can you be so calm?” she blurted out. “I mean the drive, the drivers, the road, getting lost.”

“Technically we were never lost.”

She ignored this. “The flat. I couldn’t. And then with the bug bites and sunburn and….” Her voice trailed off.

Grissom prompted, “And?”

“And I have to…” she began but didn’t finish.

“Have to what?” he asked.

“Pee,” she finally admitted. “And if you haven’t noticed there hasn’t been a tree or decent bush for miles.”

And she was really starting to understand that first guy’s urgency, when he’d been desperately pounding on their hotel room door the night before.

Grissom proceeded to open both doors on the passenger side the better to create a makeshift stall.

Sara stammered, “You’re joking, right?”

“You have a better suggestion apart from holding it for the next ten kilometers?”

When he put it that way.

“You know this will all be funny tomorrow,” Grissom said as she was zipping her pants back up.

“If we survive until tomorrow,” she countered.

“What else could possibly go wrong?”

Sara groaned. “Thanks, Gil. Just taunt the universe.”

He smiled though didn’t dignify this with a response.

“Why don’t you take a break? Let me drive for a while,” he suggested.

“Concerned?”

“Road rage kills you know.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Sara insisted.

“No,” he easily agreed. “But why shouldn’t you get a chance to enjoy the scenery? And I would like to get wherever we’re going in one piece.”

Recognizing his words for the tease they were, she only pursed her lips and silently shook her head.

“You okay?” he hazarded to ask.

“Yeah.”

And she was. She just needed another minute or two to collect her breath and bearings.

When he asked, “We okay?” Sara only hugged him, perhaps a little too hard in reply. But he didn’t seem to mind it, or the kiss she brushed along his cheek.

C’est la vie,” he said as he helped her into the car. “Such is life.”

“Yeah, I know what it means,” she answered not sure why he was telling her this.

“That’s the answer to your question. Why I can be so calm.

“Besides,” he added utterly nonchalant, though his sentiment was anything but, “Sara, I’d rather be lost, stranded or stuck in the middle of nowhere with you than anywhere else.”

Then held out his hand saying, “Keys, dear.”

Continued in Scents and Sensibilities


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