13 – No Time Like the Present

Continued from No Need for Mistletoe.

“Gil…”

At the sound of his name so softly spoken in that long, low, drawn out way as only Sara ever did, Grissom started to stir, but it wasn’t until the warm press of her mouth against the sensitive spot just beneath his left ear, that he really roused.

While he certainly relished the attention, he groaned at having been woken from a very sound sleep and whispered drowsily, “Go back to sleep, honey. We don’t have to work today. It’s –”

“Christmas,” Sara finished brightly.

“Early,” he countered. After a while, he reluctantly hazarded to open his eyes, blinked and murmured still sleepily, “You know, I’m not sure about this whole you as a morning person thing. You are far too awake for…”

He squinted and lifted his head from the pillow in order to attempt to better judge from the way the sunshine streamed through the edges of the tent flaps the time, but finding himself not quite conscious enough for the task, he decided instead to ask, “What time is it exactly?”

“As they just played the Costa Rican national anthem on the radio a few minutes ago,” Sara replied, “not long after seven. By the way,” she said, and he could hear the amusement in her voice, “I think we owe Bernie new batteries.”

Grissom couldn’t dispute this. “Probably,” he readily agreed. Especially as he had been the one who’d left the radio on for the night and not because he had absentmindedly forgotten to turn it off, but had rather intentionally left it playing in an attempt at some level of discretion.

“Did you say seven?” he asked after a moment’s pause.

“Yeah.”

Normally by seven, camp would be a rush of noise and chaos with everyone preparing to get ready to start work, but apart from the sounds of the radio, there was just stillness. It seemed that the others were still sleeping off the celebration of the night before.

“Then come back to bed,” Grissom said, tugging the sheet tighter around him. “It’s way too early to be awake.”

“I am in bed,” Sara laughed. “Besides, it’s Christmas.”

“You said that already,” he replied, unsure why Sara was so suddenly excited about the whole thing. She seemed as psyched as a kid – well, a kid at Christmas. But she’d certainly never displayed this level of enthusiasm for the holiday before. The previous Christmases they’d shared had passed with little fanfare. Apart from last year, they had worked every one that he could remember.

Perhaps that explained it. This was their first Christmas together that they hadn’t. Although he wasn’t entirely sure that quite excused her exuberance at this hour. For while it wasn’t exactly early in any literal sense of the word, he knew it had to have been closer to three by the time the two of them had finally fallen asleep, which meant it certainly felt early.

However, his musings over Sara’s abrupt change in behavior didn’t last long. As he stopped thinking — and breathing — the moment she swept her closely cropped nails over his bare shoulder and then down his spine before her hand edged beneath the sheet. Instinctively, his body arched into her touch and instantly, Grissom was now very much awake and utterly unconcerned about sleep.

He sighed with more amusement than rue, “You’re insatiable, dear.”

Sara made no reply to this. Instead, she leaned in and breathed into his ear, “I have something for you.”

At this, he did roll over to face her.

She pursed her lips, shook her head at the suggestive way he was peering up at her. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Gilbert,” she chided him. Then said as she laid a small package on his chest, “You aren’t the only one entitled to feel celebratory.”

He sat up, the better to examine the brown paper wrapped box and found that the front bore the address of his apartment back in Vegas.

Sara shrugged. “You’re not the only one guilty of having things never make it into the mail,” she said. “I’m kind of glad though. I have the feeling it just might come in handy.”

The package had a very familiar sort of heft to it as he weighed it in his hands, so Grissom wasn’t all that surprised to find that when he peeled back the paper, it was to reveal a small, thick volume about the size of a large paperback. Not only had he and Sara exchanged quite a few books over the years, choosing just the right one for him turned out to be a particular talent of Sara’s.

Except this book was different from the others.

Grissom ran his palm along the spine. Its leather-like binding enveloped more than just contained the pages. He slipped the twists in the cord tying the book together free and noted that the blank pages inside had an unfamiliar texture and coloring to them.

“It’s banana,” offered Sara. “The paper. Made from what’s left over after they harvest the fruit. Not a trace of tree in the whole thing. Just the stuff that nobody wants and normally gets thrown away. Now it’s turned into something both useful and beautiful.”

His tone more curious than anything Grissom asked, “Is that meant to be symbolic?”

She hadn’t thought about it that way. “No,” Sara finally replied with a slight shake of the head. “I just thought it was cool.”

He returned her lopsided grin before thumbing through the quarto-sized sheets until he reached the frontispiece. Here a single sentence was scrawled in Sara’s ever-untidy hand. He squinted and had to extend his arm. Sara laughed and reached over to hand him his reading glasses.

After he had slipped them on she said, “Better?”

“Now I just have to decipher your handwriting,” he teased.

But his expression turned serious, almost somber as he read:

Always remember it is of possibilities and not absence that blank pages speak.

The words seemed rather apt, all things considered.

Grissom lingered over them for a while, not sure which he appreciated most: the gift itself, that she had intended to send it or the sentiment it contained. Ultimately though, it really didn’t matter.

He kissed her gently, held her close. “Thank you,” he murmured into her ear.

His eyes closed and his grasp tightened when she brushed her lips against his cheek, and he knew it was time. That this was the moment. The right moment.

So he took a deep breath as he pulled away.

“I, uh, actually have something for you, too,” he began. “I saw it in a market in San José while I was waiting for the bus and thought of you.”

Although true, that wasn’t it, not nearly even the half of it.

He leaned over the edge of the cot to pull out his trunk and soon unearth a small cloth-covered bundle from beneath his pile of shirts. When he settled back onto the mattress beside her, Sara was stunned to see him displaying the same sort of nervous mien he had that afternoon when he’d first arrived.

As he handed his own gift to her, he supplied by way of explanation, “They didn’t have any wrapping paper.”

Sara carefully eased the knot holding the colorful cloth together. As she unfolded the fabric, she could see why it had been so carefully wrapped. Obviously, Grissom hadn’t wanted to scuff or damage the wooden box inside.

Although it wasn’t just any box. Sara had seen similar ones during her jaunts to town and recognized it as a Costa Rican puzzle box, the whimsical cousin to the more famous Japanese varieties. The Tico versions were frequently fashioned with various sorts of colored wood into a wide variety of animal shapes.

That morning in San José, Grissom had poured over the display of boxes, thinking that if he could find the right one, it would be just the thing and would provide, too, the perfect excuse for him to stop hemming and hawing and just give her the one valuable thing he had brought along with him.

And then he’d seen it. It wasn’t nearly as large or ornate as most of the rest for sale, but the butterfly-shaped box inlaid with all the richness of rose and ironwood, Jatobá and Caribbean pine was perfect.

Judging from Sara’s appreciation, it appeared that he had made the right choice,. For a long while, she could do nothing more than admire the box as she gently turned it over and over in her hands, her curiosity rising as she did so since she couldn’t make out any hinges or latches or other obvious methods for opening it.

As it was more out of anticipation than impatience that he said, “Want a hint?” she nodded. “First,” he began, “you have to find the key. It’s the part that holds it all together. It won’t open any other way.”

While he watched her examine the pieces, trying them one by one, he thought about telling her that she had been his key. Not just the person who had unlocked the very heart of him, but also the center that helped him hold everything together. That she was the piece that completed him.

But all those words sounded clichéd, conventional, overworked, inelegantly sentimental and despite the fact that Grissom knew he was and had always been a better scholar than a poet, he did not feel like borrowing someone else’s words, not today, not for this. So he only hoped his actions would speak for themselves, that she would understand, like she so often did.

He reached over and tugged on an apparently innocuous looking piece in the center and the box came open in her hands.

Sara sighed at the apparent ease of the solution.

“It’s quite simple, once you know the key,” he said.

“And you worked that out all on your own?” she asked, both looking and sounding impressed.

While he was tempted just to nod, as honesty was usually the best policy, he shook his head and told her, “I had the guy who sold it show me how. Just in case.”

“Ah.”

Slightly ruefully, Grissom replied, “See, explanations always spoil the magic of a thing.”

Sara wasn’t quite sure about that, particularly when she peeked inside and discovered the box wasn’t empty. Her eyes went wide and she let out an involuntary gasp.

Grissom was saying, “While the box is for Christmas, what’s inside…” before his voice trailed off. He took another deep breath before continuing. “It was my grandmother’s,” he said. “I know it’s probably a little old fashioned –”

“It’s beautiful,” Sara interjected, admiring the delicate filigree work on the ring’s narrow band and the pale blue of the single recessed aquamarine stone.

But Grissom didn’t appear to have heard her, for he was saying almost breathlessly now and all in one go, “And I know you can’t really wear it out here, but I wanted you to have it. I meant to give it to you sooner. I mean even before. Ever since that day with the bees really. There just never seemed the moment. I guess I… I was just hoping that it wasn’t too late or too early…”

“Gil,” she said softly, touching his cheek to still him, then added with a watery though wide grin, “And I thought I was the one who had problems over-talking when I was nervous.” She kissed him before he could do anything more than smile sheepishly. “Besides, there’s no reason for you to be nervous.”

He met her eyes at this. Sara beamed.

“The answer’s still yes.”

He returned her kiss wholeheartedly.

As she pulled away, Grissom gave her a steadier, surer smile. “That was a lot more enthusiastic response than I got from Nicole Daly.”

Sara frowned. “Who?”

“The last person I tried to give it to,” he replied evenly, but when her face seemed to darken, Grissom laughed, “It was second grade, Sara. We were nine. And my mother made me get the ring back.”

Still a little nonplussed, Sara said, “You asked a girl to marry you when you were in second grade?”

He nodded. “The first, last and only time. Before you, of course.” As she was still looking incredulous, he added, “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I liked bugs. She liked bugs. Turns out she drew the line at dead things.”

At this, Sara couldn’t help but chuckle; Grissom didn’t seem the least bit bothered by her amusement.

“I never got to ask you,” he said after a while. “There wasn’t an attribution to your inscription. Who’s it from? I know it’s not Wilde or Shakespeare, Emerson or Thoreau.”

“Sidle,” Sara supplied succinctly. “And as for not being able to wear it out here, you just have to think outside the box, Gil,” she quipped and from a small tin from a corner of her own trunk, she drew out a necklace that Grissom recognized as one he had given her a few years before. She slid the pendant from the chain and replaced it with the ring. “Would you –” she said extending the ends to him.

He did up the clasp, lingering for a moment to softly nuzzle her neck once he was done. When she turned back to face him, he could see that the ring had come to rest just above her heart.

The perfect place, they both thought.

He smiled at her. She looked so lovely that morning with her hair mussed as it so often was first thing after waking from lovemaking. He loved it like that, with its hint of messiness that didn’t need to be tempered. That and he knew it was a sight just for him to see.

It was then that he noticed that Sara was still perched on her side of the bed, with one bare leg curled in front of her while the other rested on the floor, dressed only in the shirt he had been wearing the night before. The cuffs on the sleeves, which he had rolled up to his elbows, hung almost down to her wrists and while the two bottom buttons were still fastened as they had been earlier and she had done up the forth one herself, she hadn’t it seemed, bothered with the rest so that ultimately the shirt revealed more than it concealed.

Not that Grissom was about to object. Tease, yes, object, no.

“You back to appropriating my shirts again?” he said, fingering the collar with one hand, while his eyes were occupied a little lower.

Neither oblivious nor immune to his gaze, Sara said with a smirk, “Complaining?”

He shook his head. “No, but then you’ve always looked beautiful in blue,” he replied as his other hand began to inch its way up her bare thigh.

“You keep doing that,” Sara warned, “and I won’t be wearing anything.”

Gil Grissom rather grinned at the possibility.

Sara laughed. “Why do I have the feeling you have no intention of going back to bed?”

“You taken up mind reading lately, my dear?”

She shook her head and replied, “No mind reading necessary in this case.”

“Oh?”

Sara reached up and drew the glasses from his nose. “Don’t you know, Gil,” she murmured. “It’s always your eyes that give you away.”

He seemed to be quietly considering this possibility, before he leaned in, pausing when his lips were mere millimeters from hers to say, “Actually, I am planning on going back to bed. Just not to sleep.”

And it wasn’t long before Sara turned out to be as good as her word when it came to his shirt.

*******

When exactly the two of them finally slipped out from beneath the sheets where they had long been silently snuggled together and dozing, neither of them knew. But they were surprised to find that no matter how late it must have been, they were still the first ones up and about that Christmas morning.

So it was as quietly as they could that they set about showering and getting ready for the day.

They met up in the kitchen. Sara started on the coffee while Grissom searched out something to make to eat that didn’t require too much time spent in front of the stove during the heat of the day before he finally settled on making fruit-filled crepes.

As Sara cut up some of the ripe mangoes that Grissom had brought back the day before, she found she had to fight back a grin for he was absently humming the “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen. There was just something incongruous about what she knew to be the cause of his sudden tunefulness and his apparent choice of song, especially as the tune effectively espoused the dangerously intractable nature of love and was from an opera were love indeed proved to be deadly in the end.

But she seriously doubted if either were a conscious decision on Grissom’s part. He probably didn’t even realize he was doing it. He hadn’t before, when not too long after their relationship had first become physically intimate he’d begun the habit. It hadn’t happened that often, but from time to time, he could thereafter be heard humming to himself around the lab.

The behavior hadn’t exactly gone unnoticed. But Grissom, as everyone knew, was peculiar, or at least prone to sometimes strange and peculiar habits displayed at the strangest of times for seemingly no reason at all. So while their erstwhile colleagues might have been curious, they had long stopped seriously speculating over most of Grissom’s peculiarities. This was Grissom after all, and Grissom sometimes was just Grissom. And as much as they might shake their heads at him from time to time, Sara knew that for the most part, they preferred him that way.

Sara, having been privy to what had been going on, had easily made the connection, but had no reason to — and every reason not to — clue the others in, or Grissom himself, for that matter.

So she knew better than to worry.

If he started singing, now that would be another matter entirely.

*******

It was a little after noon before the others showed up. Ana and Stephen emerged looking well-rested, unfazed and merry in their own way. Bernie, Luis and Bridget looked anything but when they stumble in bleary-eyed and obviously well hungover, proving that youth and alcoholic indiscretions didn’t always go well together.

“Looks like you weren’t joking about the guaro,” Grissom noted with a grin.

*******

It was more out of shock and chagrin at having been caught staring at Sara, that Grissom started when a quiet voice behind him said, “There is nothing more beautiful than a woman in love.”

But upon realizing that it was Stephen who had joined him at the table, Grissom knew he had little cause to feel or fear either.

So he merely nodded wordlessly in agreement. For he honestly hadn’t been able to resist. Sara’s hair was still damp from her earlier shower and the humidity had heightened her curls, but that wasn’t it.

She was, he could find no other way to describe it, aglow in a way he hadn’t seen since that afternoon with the bees all those months ago. Even her eyes flickered brighter and seemed to crinkle at their edges in a sort of perpetual smile.

“It only gets worse,” Stephen was saying. “After all these years, I still find myself stopping to watch Ana do the most ordinary of things.”

As he was just starting to grasp precisely how that went, Grissom smiled.

It felt strange, though not in a bad way, to talk about such things. Different than it had been in Vegas. There having been caught staring at Sara too long would have necessitated explanations and precipitated embarrassment.

It wasn’t that their relationship had been a secret exactly, though the others probably had regarded it as such. He and Sara certainly hadn’t been public about the whole thing. It had just been private. Although after he had come back from Massachusetts it was to discover that it was suddenly a whole lot harder for him to keep his personal life with her separate from his professional one.

But here, the personal and private didn’t have to be separate. Almost couldn’t be.

“How long have you been married?” Grissom asked.

To which Stephen readily replied, “Ten years this coming May.”

Ten years. Grissom thought back on his own life ten years ago. Back then he was still deluding himself into believing that any interest he had in one Sara Sidle was purely professional. It was a lie that had become a whole lot harder to convince himself of once she had come to Vegas and he begun to see her every day.

“I came down to work on my dissertation for a summer,” said Stephen. “Found it hard to go back once the study season was over. It wasn’t more than seven weeks before I was back on a plane to San José.”

Grissom had to shake his head at this, not at Stephen, but at himself. It had taken him seven long years to gather enough courage to do anything when it came to Sara. Those were among the choices and decisions he most regretted in his life — all of his can’ts and couldn’ts and laters. But he was here now and there was their future together to think about and look forward to.

“Never did finish that thesis,” Stephen was saying airily. “It was worth it though.”

As he continued to watch Sara, Grissom had to agree. Yes, it’s more than worth it.

*******

Sara was helping Ana put out the plates for dinner that night. Bernie, with the help of Luis, was attempting to reheat the leftovers from the day before without burning anything. It was beginning to look like a lost cause. But Ana insisted that the young men would never learn otherwise and Sara, having burnt her own share of dinners over the years, understood and agreed in principle if not in actuality. She’d been privileged to have had far too many of Grissom’s home-cooked meals to particularly relish the thought of having to eat carbonized anything.

As she had never had them before, Ana was asking Sara about the crepes Grissom had served for brunch earlier that day. Sara explained they really were simple to make, not too much different than tortillas, just sweet rather than savory, although you could make savory crepes as well. Grissom had made them for her on numerous occasions.

Sara’s explanations done, Ana sighed appreciatively, “He’s certainly handy to have around.”

“He has his moments,” Sara readily concurred.

Then Ana’s eyes went wide. “He…” she began. “You… You two are…” she stammered and Sara wasn’t sure what had so suddenly astonished the normally unflappable Ana until she noticed that the ring she had tucked into her shirt earlier that day had slipped free and into plain sight.

All Sara could do was smile in reply. Ana nodded knowingly. Then after a moment, Sara turned to her and said, “Could you not mention it to the others just yet. It’s uh…”

“Secret?” Ana asked.

But before Sara could answer, Grissom came up behind them and said, “What’s secret?”

Sara gestured to the ring.

“Is it?” he asked. To which, Sara merely gave him an inquisitive look.

Ana, sensing a private conversation might need to be in order, muttered something about checking to see what Stephen had gotten up to and left the two of them at the table.

“Well?” Grissom asked once Ana was gone. “Is it secret?”

Sara thought about it for a moment, considered what it meant for the ring and all the talk about marriage to be public, as she hadn’t told anyone the first time Grissom had asked her to marry him. She doubted Grissom had either. At least not in such a public way. That he didn’t seem to mind now, while it puzzled her, pleased her as well.

“I guess not,” she replied.

He leaned into say, “You’re not my secret either, Sara.” She smiled at this.

“Besides,” he added, “we both know there is no such thing as private here. At some point they will all work it out.”

“True,” Sara conceded. “But you do realize that they are all going to think that you’ve just proposed.”

Grissom shrugged. “Let them think what they want.”

“Are you planning on telling anyone else?” she asked, not merely just curious as to the answer.

“You mean back in Vegas?”

“Yeah.” Although she was thinking, No, Gilbert, back on Mars, but the surety in his next words effectively silenced any further thoughts of sarcasm.

“Of course,” he said.

“And say what exactly?”

Grissom gave her nothing but an enigmatic grin in reply.

*******

“I don’t get it,” Bridget was saying to Ana as the two women finished up the dinner dishes.

Ana followed the young woman’s bewildered gaze. Grissom and Sara were sitting together at the table apparently intent on pouring over a page from one of Stephen’s puzzle books. It was an absolutely ordinary activity and yet not, Ana thought.

To her, the it was obvious, so was the love.

Its presence hadn’t surprised her in the slightest. For while Gil Grissom had been polite, professional and appropriately reserved when he had written to her several weeks before to inquire after Sara, Ana knew there was nothing polite, professional or reserved in any way about Grissom’s feelings for Sara.

But then, she thought, how much had she known, really known and understood about love when she was Bridget’s age? Little really. And in her experience, Ana had found that love was something that only time and circumstance could make fathomable — and even then…

So she turned to Bridget and said, “Don’t get what?”

“How he,” Bridget replied, gesturing to Grissom, “can still be single. There has to be something wrong with him. He’s intelligent, articulate, successful, can cook, cleans, is good looking enough for his age…”

At this, Ana had to bite back a retort. True, she supposed that Grissom was old enough to be Bridget’s father, but Ana wouldn’t have regarded him as old by any means. He wasn’t all that much older than she was really, seven maybe eight years.

But Bridget was sighing, “I just don’t get it.”

Ana for her part only smiled knowingly and said, “I don’t think he’ll be single for too much longer.”

Oh? Bridget’s inquiring expression seemed to say. Obviously, she hadn’t noticed the ring at dinner that night.

“You ever have a man come thousands of miles just to be with you?” Ana asked in return.

Bridget shook her head rather rueful. “No. You?”

“Once.”

“And?”

“I married him of course.”

Continued in Up a Tree.

*******

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