28 – Regaining Perspective

Perspective can come from the most surprising of places. Following the deaths of Cammie Brookston and the other five Green Valley Showgirls, Sara makes an unexpected discovery about life, love and even Gil Grissom.

Takes place post episode 718 “Empty Eyes,” circa late March 2007

*******

 

Sara

Every once in a while, pulling a trash call can actually be a good thing.

Dumpster Duty really isn’t all that bad, no matter what Greg might constantly grumble under his breath when he gets one too many of them in a row.

But then I don’t get them as much as he does. Somehow I have the feeling that he can’t wait for the day when he is no longer the low man on the totem pole around here.

Of course there is nothing particularly interesting, exciting or glamorous about sifting through garbage for six hours. But sometimes, dull tedium can be good thing, too.

Besides, it is a whole lot easier to wash away the remains of the city dump than a grizzly crime scene or a messy decomp.

But as the lab’s showers are not really conducive to accomplishing much of anything in the way of cleansing except knocking the stink off enough that your coworkers don’t give you dirty looks when they pass you in the hall, I was by the end of shift, more than a little keen to get home and have a real shower.

It hadn’t really been a bad day.

In fact, it had turned out better than most had been as of late. Or at least it had been easier to deal with. Nick and Warrick had been out at a burglary at a high-end car dealership. Catherine and Greg pulled a trick roll at the Venetian, much to Greg’s delight. You were stuck in autopsy all night with David collecting insect evidence from a body they had pulled out of Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. Compared to the crush and madness of the Green Valley case, the shift had proved positively serene.

Still, a real shower was in order.

I was in the process of reaching to pull my jacket from the peg when I caught sight of something small and shiny on the top shelf of my locker. As I reached up and gathered it up into my hand, I had a hard time fighting back a smile.

It was on the surface an ordinary brass key.

And yet wasn’t.

Your spare key. Well, one of them.

Ultimately, it was more of a symbolic rather than practical gesture, for I already had one of its twins on my key ring, next to my own house key. But its unexpected presence was reassuring.

While I admit I hadn’t expected to find it there, I was glad to see it.

I sat down to better examine it, carefully turning it over and over in my hand while turning over and over what it meant in my mind. Ever since you returned from Massachusetts, you’ve been… different. In a good way. Less reserved, more…

But that train of thought was interrupted by Hey, Sara, being called from the doorway. I looked up to find Nick lingering there looking concerned. You okay? he asked.

I gave him a nod and a grin and a soft Yeah, I’m good as my fingers closed over the key.

He smiled his own Okay and said something about having to check up on his print results before he could finally head home.

He didn’t have to mention why he was asking. We both knew. Knew about Cammie and the other five dead showgirls. Knew that some cases were worse than others. That some stuck with you, haunted you.

But it is equally true, that it really is funny, well more like strange, the things that we remember and the things we don’t.

When I stop to think back, I don’t really remember the science, the forensics involved in finding out who killed Cammie and the rest of her housemates. I don’t remember the procedures, or much of the investigation.  I do remember the horror when I realized it had been Marlon Frost aka David Marlon who Cammie had been describing. I don’t remember the satisfaction when the evidence nailed him, when he was arrested, when the arrest was made public. I remember Cammie’s eyes – that knowing sort of desperation, the adamancy in the way she gripped my hand. But what I remember most was afterwards.

What I most remember is you.

*******

I suppose I should have known that it was going to be bad when dispatch called me in on my night off instead of you.

Sadly, at this point, I am no longer surprised when our plans for an evening together get put on hold. It is just the way things are. And probably always will be, so there is no point in being disappointed.

Besides, that evening wasn’t one for disappointment, but something else entirely.  Something far worse.

You know, we usually show up too late to meet the victim. Well, the living, breathing, being victim, that is. Most of the time, we only get to know them from what we can piece together second-hand through their papers and photographs, from what other people tell us.

Yes, usually by the time we arrive, all the vestiges of life are long gone. Bodies have cooled. The eyes become vacant. There is no movement. No breath. Nothing but stillness.

Perhaps it is just easier that way, easier than being present to watch the light leave someone’s eyes, hear the breathing slow, feel the stillness come when the struggle stops, while all the while knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do. Nothing.

Six dead showgirls.

All those lives gone. It seems so senseless.

I remember you once telling me murder is always senseless. Which while it is never the least bit reassuring, is far too true to be to able deny.

All of it so senseless. Even after Marlon confessed and the case was over, it didn’t feel any less futile. I thought that nailing that S.O.B. would make me feel… I don’t know – relieved? Accomplished? Revenged? Redeemed?

Instead, I found I felt lost — or at least as having lost.

And honestly, when we stood there in the break room watching the news of his arrest, I expected the reprimand – or the reminder at least – from you that I had to be careful. That this was what happened when I let myself get ahead of the evidence, allowed myself to get too emotionally involved in cases; that when I did that, I inevitably risked losing perspective.

But you didn’t.

You didn’t say anything. Anything at all.

You didn’t need to. Your face spoke volumes.

It said Let’s go home as clearly as if you had spoken the actual words.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

For there had been no recriminations that afternoon when I got pulled over for that DUI. Nor had there been when I had blown up at both Catherine and Ecklie in very quick succession.

What I hadn’t realized back then, was that it was Grissom the man and not Grissom the supervisor who had come. And that was the same Grissom who stood there with me in the break room and wiped the tears from my eyes.

You weren’t there to provide professional advice, but personal support.

After all the time we’ve been together, I should have understood that. And understood what happened next.

For that night, I wanted nothing more than to get out of there. So I didn’t protest or question or worry when you kept your hand at my waist as you led me out to your car. Right then, I didn’t care who saw what — who thought what.

I just wanted, if only for a little while, to leave the lab and all the attendant grief and pain and frustration behind, so that perhaps once outside, I could breathe or at least try to breathe again.

Admittedly though, it is fairly difficult to ache or even stay numb with Hank nudging your hand requesting to be pet first thing like he always does when we go to pick him up from the sitter’s. But that night when I knelt down to clip on his leash, he nuzzled my face with his as if he knew how much I needed the affection, too.

You seemed to sense this as well. For on the way home, you took my hand and gave it a squeeze, and me an encouraging smile.

Me, I wanted to retreat into the shower and try – however futile I knew it would be – to wash the remains of the last twenty-four hours away.

Besides, showers are good places to have a good cry unnoticed. I learned that early. Very early. Although after my father died, I discovered the hard truth that crying never really fixed anything, which meant that tears were ultimately pointless. Which was also about the time when I resolved to no longer indulge in something so foolish.

But there are just some days — some times — when the tears are just too hard to keep at bay.

I could feel them – the tears – in the tightness in my throat, those in particular even more demanding and insistent than the ones I couldn’t keep from streaming down my cheeks earlier. So as soon as we entered your townhouse I left you to take care of Hank and practically raced to the bathroom.

I turned the water as hot and as hard as it would go, undressed quickly, and waited for the steam to start filling the room before stepping under the spray.

Just how long I stood there, I don’t know.

It must have been for a while, too long probably. As even over the rush of the water, I could hear the underlying note of concern in the way you called my name from the other side of the door.

But I could not answer you. I couldn’t even trust my voice to be even. For while the tears itching at my eyes were still merely threatening to come, I couldn’t choke them back enough to be able to speak.

The door slowly creaked open. There was the sound of your footfalls on the tile. The rustle of fabric that accompanied clothes being removed. Then the metallic clanking of the shower curtain rings as it was gradually drawn aside.

And I felt before I saw that you joined me under the spray, for your hands softly settled on my shoulders. Your thumbs moved to caress the inside hollows of my neck. I closed my eyes and let you turn me towards you.

It just took too much energy, energy I certainly didn’t have, to make my heart stop pounding in my chest, my breathing to still, my face to assume something other than the vacant mask I had been wearing. Besides, you seemed to know that I was not okay, so there was no reason to pretend otherwise.

You simply gathered me up until my head rested on your shoulder and held me. There were no shushes, no words at all, just the warmth of your arms about me, the gentle caress of your fingers along my back, the reassuring rhythm of your heart beating against my ear.

Which is when I finally realized that it had been idiotic of me to hide the hurt and the tears from you. So I stopped. And those tears began to roll down my cheeks, wrack in my chest, stole what little breath I could manage. And you, you only held me tighter and let me cry myself quiet again.

It was a strange sort of silence that followed, but not an uncomfortable one. Nor was it one of absence, but rather presence.

And I was suddenly reminded of that afternoon when I told you about my family. You were quiet then, too. But the way your fingers curled around my hand and the pressure of your palm had been more comforting than all the well-meant things people used to say to me during all those years when I was still in the system.

After a while, the tightness started to ease until I finally felt like I could breathe and managed several great gasps of air. And for the first time in I don’t know how long, I was able to relax, if only a little.

You took my face into your hands, lifted my chin. When I couldn’t help but wince slightly as the scratch Cammie had given me was still yet sore to the touch, you took extra care to make sure to place beneath it your long lingering sort of kiss.

Just as gently, you eased my head back under the spray in what I knew was in preparation for washing my hair. My eyes flashed open however at the rush of lavender that suddenly filled the air.

And realizing that I was probably was supposed to be back in the lab shortly, I hurriedly protested. You merely replied that you had already told Catherine not to expect me in. Which confused me at first, until you seemingly having sensed my confusion, added She’s supervisor tonight as it is my night off.

At this, I returned the soft smile you were giving me. For as much as I hadn’t really wanted to have to face going back into work so soon, I hadn’t relished the idea of being stuck at home alone either.

But being able to spend the evening with you, that was another story entirely.

*******

When I appeared in your kitchen fifteen minutes later — dried, dressed and with my hair pulled back into its usual hurried and not entirely neat ponytail — it was to find the normally tidy island cleared of its usual paraphernalia and covered with enough food stuffs to feed a small army.

Although honestly food of any kind was the last thing on my mind, I could not help asking if both your fridge and pantry had exploded.

When you did not deign to reply, I decided instead, to attempt to puzzle out what you might have had in mind for that night’s menu.

Flour. Eggs. No sugar, so not pancakes.

Crepes? I inquired, to which you shook your head, gave me an unusually impish sort of grin and replied, Pasta.

As in homemade? I had to ask, as I knew perfectly well that you had several perfectly good cartons of Barilla in your pantry, and told you as much.

When you said That would take all the fun out of it, I was almost afraid of the answer, but hesitantly intoned Out of what? anyway.

You rejoined The experiment as if it were obvious.

Of course the term experiment in these cases was usually Grissom speak for we’re going to try out something I’ve never done before. Often with a rather strong emphasis on the we part.

Ever since you moved into your new place, you’ve been roping me more and more into your culinary investigations. So much so, that I began to dub them my chemistry of cooking lessons. For the most part, our endeavors have proven successful. I think we’ve only set the smoke detector off once in the new place, an event to which I still maintain was utterly and entirely all your fault.

And while I might hem-and-haw and half-heartedly protest about the work involved, for someone who has spent most of their adult life surviving on cheap takeout, home-cooked meals — even those I had to help cook — were an unheard of, yet very welcomed, luxury.

Although why you thought your telling me that It can’t be that hard and that after all, you had seen a video on the internet would actually be reassuring, I was not so sure. But you only gave me a look that plainly said humor me when I teased You do realize how many horror stories start with the phrase ‘I saw this video on the internet.’

Knowing that capitulation was really my only option at this point, I simply sighed, shrugged and took the apron you extended to me and slipped it over my head. You already had yours on and the sleeves to your sweatshirt (which along with jeans often made up your at-home wardrobe) rolled up past your elbows. The sight of which, I have to admit always makes me want to grin irregardless of whatever mood I am in.

It seemed as a good a time as any to ask Aren’t you missing something? when you poured the flour directly onto a large wooden chopping board and moved to reach for the eggs. You paused in your motions as if waiting for me to elaborate.

A bowl? I supplied, as if that were obvious — which it should have been. But instead of reaching under the counter for one, you took my hands, pulled me towards you and asked me if I had ever made a volcano for a science project in school.

Having had years to get used to your sometimes bizarre non sequiturs, I nonchalantly replied that I had been much more interested in observing the effects of different molecular densities than blowing things up. And added, You know, the kind that happen when you mix cornstarch and water, in response to the puzzled look you were giving me.

Oobleckh, you nodded in comprehension.

As turn about should be fair play, I turned the question back on you. But before you could answer, I laughed and said, Let me guess — bugs.

Black Argentine Ants came your precise reply.

Remembering just how much of a pest that particular species of ant had been in many of the houses I had lived in growing up, I asked, rather agog at the possibility, if your mother actually allowed you to keep them in the house. Turns out your mother was a lot more supportive of your scientific quests than mine, and I didn’t even bring noxious six-legged critters inside on purpose. When you explained that you had been studying colony interactions, I told you that giving them some water mixed with a little boric acid powder and sugar would have made for interesting observations.

Unsurprisingly, you looked fairly horrified at the idea. So I hurriedly changed the topic back to that of volcanoes, although still unsure why you had brought them up in the first place.

You chose to demonstrate rather than verbally elaborate, molding the pile of flour into a shape that did indeed resemble a volcano, especially after you hollowed out a small well in the center.

Once you added the eggs, you motioned for me to take over, telling me to Think implosion rather than explosion and to try not to make a mess.

I tossed a handful of flour at you in reply. As you turned away a little too late, the fine dust ended up settling in your still damp hair. The effect of which I thought made you look more distinguished than anything – an observation as it happened that you did not at all agree with me upon.

For a moment, I thought you might retaliate, but it appeared that you believed in a non-escalation policy when it came to cooking conflicts; that or you were just waiting for the right moment to enact your revenge.

Which as it turned out was to saddle me with the job of turning the flour and egg mixture into something that resembled dough, a task that necessitated a lot of constant and intensive kneading for extended periods of time.

How it always worked out this way, I don’t know, but when it came to our little cooking exercises, you always seemed to get the easier jobs. For while I was busy working the dough, you drifted off to prepare the salad, for which apart from having to slice the fresh strawberries, all you had to do was tip the rest of the ingredients into a bowl of pre-washed greens.

I had thought that with the dough well mixed and sitting under a bowl to rest, the labor-intensive part of the dinner prep would be over.

Of course I also assumed wrongly that something out of a can would serve for the sauce. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Nor at the fact that I was the one who ended up with the skinning, slicing and dicing duty when it came to the tomatoes either.

Oil, vinegar, garlic and a few dashes of salt and pepper added, the sauce needed just enough time to marinate to give us plenty of time to finish up with the pasta.

While the kitchen in your old townhouse was rather cozy, it, like the rest of that particular place you once called home, was more Spartan and strictly functional than anything  else. I was never quite sure why, but you seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in the outfitting of your current cooking space. And even now how many months later, you still manage to pull things from out of its various nooks and crannies that I had no idea were even there.

This time, it was a long narrow wooden rolling rod. As you passed it to me, you instructed apply even pressure. You might as well have told me to use it to bludgeon the dough into submission for all I understood about what I was supposed to do next.

My lack of comprehension must have been plain on my face, as you came up behind me, and after showing me where exactly to place my hands on the roller, placed your own hands next to mine.

Somehow during the whole process, the steady forward and back motion as we rolled out the dough had taken on a surprisingly sensuous timbre. Perhaps it was merely the physical nearness of having you lean in so close, or maybe it was the heat of your breath on the back of my neck.

Either way, I had to close my eyes and I eventually and reluctantly bemoaned that if we keep this up, dinner will never get done.

You only chuckled in reply, but did not retreat right away, and when you did, you paused to run a thumb along the back of my neck.

Tease, I whispered.

I found I could only shake my head and purse my lips in attempts to hold back a smile as you gave me one of your patented who me? looks, as if to intimate that you hadn’t done anything, anything at all.

*******

While I finished up with cooking the rest of the pasta, you set two places on the far end of the island with what you seemed to deem all the necessary accoutrements. Although I seriously doubt that you went through the trouble of using the heavy earthenware plates you bought especially for the apartment or the simple and yet elegant glassware, or placed neatly folded napkins beneath the forks (regular and salad) and knives, when you dined alone.

Of course, I knew better to leave the actual plating of the pasta to you, as it is an art for which I have absolutely no talent whatsoever. Besides, you seemed to relish adding small final touches to your dishes. I can’t explain it, but there was something comforting in watching a storm of Parmesan snow over each of our plates and I can still almost smell the heady fragrance of the basil that you had just picked from one of your windowsill pots to serve as a vibrant garnish to the sauce.

Yes, meals with you certainly beat take-out — or going out, for that matter. Of course we didn’t and don’t always eat like this, as our schedules tended to preclude complicated or time consuming dishes, but I learned a long time ago never to turn down any offer from you to have dinner at your place.

Said dinner on the table, you turned off the bulb over the stove and dimmed the overhead lights until the only illumination was the soft glow of a single lamp you kept on the island. The effect of which always makes me feel like we were suddenly the only two people in the world.

Well, at least we had the kitchen all to ourselves. Hank, having been fed earlier and having no interest it seemed in either salad or homemade pasta and sauce had lumbered off, most likely to curl up on your side of the bed for a long dognap.

You motioned for me to sit and filled my glass with a generous measure of club soda then added a twist of lime – our usual version of dinner cocktails. I raised my glass and intoned Salute in honor of the origins of our meal when you grinned and rather cheekily informed me that if that had been my intention, I should have said Gan bei – as that was the traditional phrase for toasting in China where of course pasta had its real origins.

There are times when you are far too clever for your own good and you know it too, at least you knew it then, for you only laughed when I said as much to you.

Neither of us were all that keen on talking about work that night. So as we proceeded to eat, you confessed that you were still having problems settling on a topic for the keynote you had been invited to present at the ESA Annual Meeting in San Diego later this year. The problem of course mostly being that the organizers needed your abstract before the end of the week. I thought about teasing you about the perils of procrastination, but realizing that you were seriously consulting me about the whole thing, decided instead to ask you what topics you were considering.

When you and I first met, the sum-total of my knowledge about the insect world could be wrapped up in my ability to distinguish between the bugs that bite, stung or were otherwise obnoxious, noxious or dangerous, and those that were just a nuisance and for the most part harmless. So I was fairly pleased with myself that I was able to follow pretty much all of your various arguments that night.

I am certainly no expert like you are, but in spite or perhaps despite all of my preconceived prejudices against insects, I’ve discovered that entomology really can be just as fascinating as you often make it out to be.

Of course I would never tell you that.

I have to admit though, that I wasn’t entirely sure you were being serious when you told me that you wanted to make sure your talk wouldn’t be regarded as dull.

I seriously doubted that would be possible, considering the audience was going to be a room full of bug enthusiasts. Anything related to the six and eight-legged universe would likely go over well, especially if you made out that the bugs had been instrumental in solving a problem or providing critical information on a case. Like any other aficionados, entomologists loved to hear about their favorite creatures saving the day.

When I inquired after why you were suddenly so concerned about how your speech would be received, you told me that it had recently come to your attention that you were dull as a speaker. Remembering all too well the conversation you were referring to, I rolled my eyes, shook my head and rather exasperatedly reminded you that I had never said you were dull. Your subsequent Really? was practically dripping with incredulity.

I had heard you were a little dull, I clarified and then maintained there is a difference. Besides, I decided to ask you, since when did four months ago qualify as ‘recent’? And don’t give me the it would be recent to an astronomer line.

When you decided not to dignify my inquiry with a response, I sighed and instead asked if you were planning to take your roaches along.

To this day, I still have no idea how you manage to get them past airport security. Perhaps there just hasn’t been any real threat of people using bug bombs.

We were just about finished with dinner, when I noticed that you had a trace of sauce on the side of your mouth. But as we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere when I tried to direct you in its removal (and I was having difficulties not grinning the whole time), I reached over and rubbed the spot clean myself.

Your eyes met mine.

At first, I expected to find disapproval there, but instead, they crinkled in a smile, a smile that only seemed to grow as my thumb slid along your mouth to come to rest in the cleft in your chin that had become far more apparent ever since you decided to yet again shave off your beard.

We both leaned in.

But the island was just a little too wide.

I mumbled something about getting started on the dishes; you disappeared up the stairs on the pretext of putting on some music.

When I called No opera after you, I could hear even over the sound of the running water, you grumbling under your breath, although exactly what you were saying wasn’t audible, which perhaps was all for the best.

I think we both know that my bemoaning your taste in music is more posturing and an attempt to goad you than anything. Opera isn’t really all that bad. Maybe it’s like bugs, and grows on you after a while.

Hank however seemed to think otherwise. His reactions were usually far more vociferous. Put on Wagner, Verdi or Puccini, and he is guaranteed to start howling two minutes into the first act, whether in protest or an attempt at harmony, neither of us has yet to figure out.

The smooth, soulful almost sensual sway of a single saxophone paired with the whisper of lone piano drifted down the stairs after you.

I could see the challenge in your eyes – as if to say Does this meet your approval?

Coltrane? I asked. When you looked both pleased and surprised at my answer, I proceeded to inform you that contrary to what you might think, I’m not entirely a heathen when it comes to music.

One of your eyebrows went up at this; I chose to ignore your nonverbal reply and went back to concentrating on scrubbing the sauce from off the dinner dishes.

I expected you to take up a towel and begin drying the plates in the drainer. Instead, you reached for the bowl I was in the process of washing, took my hand and spun me once around, before pulling me towards you.

Gil! I half-laughed, half-chided as since my hands had been covered with soapsuds, now your sweatshirt was too. However, when I protested as much to you, you just shrugged as if it didn’t matter.

I thought about asking what had gotten into you that night, for we haven’t had that many opportunities to dance together since that first meal we shared at your townhouse almost two years ago. I do remember how we had both been sorely tempted to at David’s wedding the October before. But dancing with you has always had the tendency to pretty much put an end to any hopes of rational thought, let alone rational speech. It was just one of those things best left to savor, instead of question.

Before we broke away, you leaned in and placed another of your lingering kisses on my cheek.

It hadn’t been the evening alone together that we had planned for the night before – well, probably hadn’t been, as I had no clue what you had originally had in mind. I would never have pegged you as a man who loved to spring surprises, but you seemed to enjoy planning our rare evenings out under a thick veil of secrecy. And apart from often barely even knowing the dress code in advance, I have never had any reason for complaints.

No, it wasn’t the evening alone together that we had planned, but in some ways, the simple and ordinary quiet closeness of it all was far better than any date out we could have had.

********

While I remembered it being very late or very early, depending on how one divvied up the morning hours, remembered the two of us sitting down on your sofa to decompress in front of the TV, remembered you slipping your arm around my shoulder and pulling me closer to you, remembered the almost absentmindedly and yet deliberate way your fingers traced their way up and down my bare arm, I don’t remember falling asleep. And yet, I woke to find myself curled up on the couch with my head resting on a pillow in your lap and a light blanket draped over my shoulders. You had been still sitting up, snoring and very fast asleep until I began to stir.

I don’t know the when or the how or the why behind how you had at some point perfected the art of sleeping while in an upright position, but I did know that doing so for any length of time could not be good for your neck.

You simply smiled still a little sleepily when I expressed my concern and replied that you hadn’t wanted to wake me. Then as the sun was just beginning to seep through the edges of the blinds, which meant that it couldn’t be much later than seven, you suggested that we actually go to bed.

I shook my head and told you to go on without me. Even though I had likely had no more than two or three hours of sleep, I didn’t really want to risk either a replay of the amorphous, almost dreamless sort of sleep I had just woken from – the kind that sometimes was even more disconcerting and even less restful than the nightmares – or the nightmares themselves I knew would eventually come. It was bad enough to see Cammie’s eyes staring back at me during my waking hours; I didn’t need them to populate my sleeping ones as well.

While I didn’t tell you any of this, you seemed to understand my reticence and instead told me to Get dressed as we were going to go out for breakfast, just the three of us — you and Hank and I.

Despite the earliness of the hour, Hank was enthusiastic about the prospect of being taken out. Well, as enthusiastic as Hank gets. Although I don’t think either of us could have really handled the unfettered exuberance of a puppy. Hank it seemed had over the years that we hadn’t known him, acquired a sort of pleasant air of passivity. He was, for the most part, obedient, genuinely affectionate and really only got into mischief when his curiosity got the best of him.

Perhaps, it is true what they say about the resemblances that exist between dogs and their owners.

You helped me slip on my jacket, and then with you leash in hand, the three of us stepped out into the still quiet of a day just begun. It was the sort of morning that seemed yet uncertain of itself and what it would bring. I slipped my arm through yours and rested my head up on your shoulder for a moment. You didn’t seem to mind.

It was breezy, not quite fifty, the coolness the only real hint of it being spring. The desert, itself, had flowered more than a month ago. And it being too early for the park to be full of the merry din of children at play and almost too late for it to be populated by the joggers trying to get one last workout in before heading off to work, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

We sank down onto what was quickly becoming our usual bench, or our usual one since you brought Hank home. I began to unload the spoils from your quick dash into the bakery we had stopped in at along the way. We drank ice cold juice from glass bottles, slathered thick layers of cream cheese on toasted bagels, attempted with very little success not to get our fingers too sticky eating grapes, mandarin orange slices and pineapple chunks straight from the container (as the clerk it seemed forgot to put any spoons into the bag), and for the most part successfully tried to ignore Hank’s silent baleful pleas for a bite.

Well, you did at least. Since we have this unspoken agreement about not feeding him people food, I had to wait for you to be distracted by some six-legged thing or other (it was far too small for me to see exactly what it was), before slipping Hank the last bit of my bagel and letting him lick the leftover cheese from the carton. If you noticed the overloud slurping sounds, you never let on.  Once he had gotten a taste and realized that there would be nothing more coming, Hank seemed content to perch himself at our feet and doze in the sun.

I thought we would head back soon after we had finished eating, but you settled back onto the bench with a sigh that almost matched Hank’s level of contentment. I smiled when you once again slipped your arm around me and drew me close. I laid my head on your shoulder and closed my eyes.

Yes, you had been different since you returned from Massachusetts. Good different. More open and affectionate, less reserved and guarded — even at work. And as much as I had missed you and hated having you gone, the time away had been good for you, even despite the fact that your return had been tempered by Keppler’s death and the finding of yet another miniature.

Things may have been chaotic as usual at work, but at home — whether at mine or yours, although mostly yours these days with Hank around — you had acquired a sense of ease and something else I still cannot quite find a name for — contentment maybe. All I know is, it was good to see you smile again.

I am not quite sure what we talked about that morning as we sat there as oblivious to the rest of the world as it was to us. Probably nothing at all. But that didn’t matter.

Eventually though, Hank began to get antsy and it was time to go. You extended a hand to help me up, that done however, you did not release your grasp. Instead, you threaded your fingers through mine. I did not have long enough to be surprised by the public gesture as Hank decided at that moment that he was very eager to return home for his own breakfast.

*******

When we arrived twenty minutes later, you put the kettle on for tea and fed Hank as I sorted through the newspaper. I actively avoided the front page, for I already knew that the headlines would contain more details about the Green Valley case. Neither the sports nor the business section held any interest for me. And I knew better than to touch the crossword in Arts and Entertainment. Which didn’t always leave all that much to read, in terms of good news at least, and that morning I wasn’t really in the mood for any more bad news. So I put the paper aside.

Seeing the counter in front of me empty, you neatly separated the Jumble from the rest of the puzzle page and passed it and a pen to me. I smiled.

The steaming mug you placed next to it was even more welcome.

But halfway through my puzzle, I noticed that you were no longer engrossed in your own.

Stumped? I asked. You shook your head but didn’t seem all that interested in sharing, so instead I teased, Don’t you have a proposal you’re supposed to be writing? You shrugged and finished the last dregs of your tea. I reached out and covered your hand with my own and told you to go on; that I was perfectly capable of finding ways to amuse myself for a little while.

Although I knew even then that wasn’t what it was. Of course, I just thought it was you attempting to keep and eye on me, which was sweet, but wholly unnecessary.

With you and I spending even more time together or trying to, barring the usual work interruptions, we were still working the kinks out of our new routines, especially with Hank now in the picture.

I don’t recall exactly when we stopped putting everyday things on hold while the other was around, but I liked it better that way. That way even together we still had time to do our own things, still pursue our own interests, so there was still a measure of independence in our togetherness. Considering how long the two of us had been single, it was a sensible sort of compromise. Besides, even with all the overtime, doubles and extra days in that both of us had been putting in lately, some household chores were still a necessity – especially if you didn’t want to run out of socks or clean underwear or end up with an empty pantry — which was never really an issue at your place, but always seemed to be at mine. You and I did have to have a few chats about what does and doesn’t go in the dryer. I learned about how to hang trousers so that the correct creases stayed in place, and was surprised to find that there was a wrong way to fold towels. You discovered that there was actually a proper method to care for women’s unmentionables.

While you went to barricade yourself in your office in attempts to get at least some writing done, I set about raiding your library shelves. Thankfully, there is never a dearth of reading materials in your house, nor a lack of variety. Volumes on everything from art, philosophy, history, sociology, any number of scientific disciplines (although you kept most of your entomology and forensic texts in your work office), were neatly arranged next to a diverse selection of more literary works. I ran a finger along the shelves until a title caught my eye, took it down and having absently stumbled up the steps — my nose already firmly planted in the book — curled up on your sofa to read in earnest.

Hank alternated between you and I for a while, before finally figuring out that as you were rather single-mindedly engrossed in your work, and I less so in my reading, his best chance to be pet and fawned over resided with me. So eventually he settled down and rested his head in my lap. Which is an act that is always endearing up until the point when he starts snoring. I swear sometimes he is worse than you.

Despite you being busy, you were still present and fairly frequently checking up on me on some pretense or other. It was a little after one, when you stopped in the kitchen on the pretext of making more tea. As you placed a fresh cup on the coffee table in front of me, you took the opportunity to reminded me that there were other chairs in your office. I nodded, but knew how to take a hint. So I peered up at you and smirked, You’re just jealous because Hank is out here with me, but followed you back to your office just the same.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that none of it was an exercise to keep a closer eye on me. Nor did I register then the possibility that you might not really want to be alone that afternoon.

So for the next few hours I was comfortably ensconced in the large leather armchair in the corner, quietly absorbed in my reading, while the alternating sounds of your pen scrawling across paper and your fingers clicking against the keyboard tried to drown out Hank’s shuffling snores. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

After a while though, you tidied up the pages on your desk and having closed the lid on your laptop, rose. But before you left, you placed a post-it note over the page I was currently perusing.

I stared down at it for a moment befuddled. In the same clear block print script you always use for filling in your crossword puzzles, were scrawled two words:

Comet Bode.

Whose intended meaning admittedly was perplexing to say the least, especially considering the width and depth and breadth and diversity of your body of knowledge.

Like you always said, evidence without context is ambiguous at best.

For I knew there had been a comet named after Johann Elert Bode, a German astronomer responsible for formulating Bodes’ law, which allowed for the prediction of the orbits of planetary objects, but who was more famously known for giving the planet Uranus its name. But as the comet hadn’t been seen since 1779, your note couldn’t be referring to some top-secret outing you had planned.

Of course, there were the meanings of the words themselves with bode referring to a foreshadowing or an omen of something (usually bad) to come and comets did regularly feature as such things, often presaging end of the world sort of events. But as you weren’t much of a proponent of such beliefs, I didn’t think you were attempting to issue me some cryptic sort of warning.

And then I recollected our perpetual debates over which types of puzzles required more intellectual and verbal acumen, crosswords or Jumbles. You maintained that crosswords necessitated the possession of a large vocabulary as well as a broad scope of general knowledge. I argued that was just rote knowing, that Jumbles and anagrams required the ability to manipulate and actively play with language, and therefore demanded more wit. It was one of those mostly friendly arguments that never went anywhere, as neither of us were willing to concede anything. The only thing we ever really seemed to agree upon was that Jumble Crosswords did provide the best of both worlds, along with the added bonus of supplying some often much needed humor.

While I sincerely doubted your note was any sort of concession, it was possible that you weren’t above using my favorite kind of puzzle to communicate.

I peered down at the post-it and mentally set about rearranging the letters.

And smiled.

*******

You greeted me with a smile of your own as I came to join you in the bedroom, along with the words Took you long enough.

I sighed and shook my head. It hadn’t been all that long, although by the time I had puzzled it out, you were already changed, completely ready for bed and in the process of trying to coax Hank from the middle of the mattress without having resort to bribery. As he appeared to be fairly comfortably ensconced there, I had some doubt as to your chances of success. Anyway, usually any attempt to keep him off the bed lasted about five minutes. But even having to share the bed with the two of you was always far better than sleeping alone.

Recognizing the tease for what it was, I supplied Analysis paralysis as my excuse, and stated equally brazenly that you weren’t the only one who suffers from chronic over-thinking syndrome as I hurriedly changed into a rather worn pair of pajamas.

You shot me a mock dirty look and said, that it’s getting late and reiterating verbally this time that I should come to bed.

I had to grin at the absurdity of it all. As for how many people was four in the afternoon late to be going to sleep? But I allowed you to tug me to bed anyway.

I curled up beneath the blankets. In record time, Hank happily moved to occupy the space you had just vacated when you migrated to my side of the bed. I sighed, enjoying the feel of you snuggled up against me. You draped one arm around my middle and pulled me close; your hand edged beneath my shirt before coming to rest on my stomach.

I had been fighting the fatigue for hours, if not longer, not quite ready to face what dreams might come, what sleep could bring. But there was something infinitely comforting in the way your fingers absently brushed against my skin. And in the warmth of your breath on the back of my neck. We were so close. I could feel your heartbeat, with all its calm steadiness. I covered your hand with mine and slept.

*******

Eighteen hours and yet another completed shift later, and I found myself perched on one of the locker room’s benches staring down at the small brass key in my hand.

Your key.

I can’t recall when we began the practice of leaving out keys for each other, but I can never help but smile at how quintessentially Grissom the method is for conveying your desires — subtle, understated and yet wholly unambiguous.

I suppose it never hurts that they so often mirror my own.

Ever since you returned from Williams a little more than a month ago, we’ve been spending less and less time apart – both at work and away from the office – of which I am most certainly not complaining.

It has been nice to come home to you at the end of a very long shift. Nice, too, not to have to always to invent my own ways to the fill the hours when I can’t sleep. Nice to wake up with you beside me instead of to what now feels like a half-empty bed.

Which was perhaps why it felt so strange to wake up the evening before to find your side of the bed vacant. At first, I thought that perhaps I had overslept, but when I rolled over, the clock said it wasn’t that much past seven – still relatively early. Too early for you to be up and about.

And you had to be tired.

None of us had slept during the Green Valley investigation. I doubted you had gotten half as much of a nap as I had on that sofa of yours. And judging from the fact that the crossword puzzle on the counter in front of you was only a clue or two from being complete, you had been up for while then.

It was your turn to plead insomnia when I asked you what you were doing up. I had to sigh and I nodded knowingly as I finished your I didn’t want to with wake me. Although I knew it was more than that, I also knew that your putting down your pen, pulling off your spectacles and asking me if I was hungry signaled the end of any discussion on the issue of your sleeping or not.

Besides, I do try to avoid playing the hypocrite as much as I possibly can.

Still, you’re not sleeping is not a good sign.

But then it seems that even after all the years we have shared together, that I forget far too often and far too readily that you are there at the same crime scenes the rest of us are, that you see the same horror and evil, the same devastation and senseless tragedy day in and day out. I think that by the time we finally got together, I had gotten used to the idea that none of it affected you, or at least that it no longer does. That at the end of the day, it was all just work and you were immune to it all. Yes, I think I told myself that so many times, heard the belief confirmed so often by the others, that I believed it to be true.

I remember once you telling me after one of those cases that had just been too much for all of us, when tempers had flared and yet again one of us (this time not me at least) snapped at you with the accusations that you were inhumanly indifferent and ultimately unfeeling, that you were neither shocked nor surprised at what had been said. That you knew all too well what was said, what had been said about you, over the years – both behind your back and to your face. And you conceded that it was probably true. Admitted that you had over time, intentionally and not always intentionally cultivated that persona. That you had to. Had to create that absolute air of objectivity, not because you didn’t give a damn about the people in our cases, but because it was easy, so very easy to get so overwhelmed that you couldn’t feel or think or do anything else.

I don’t think I ever really quite understood what you meant all those years ago when you warned me about not getting too close to the victims, about needing to be able to let go, to have other interests and diversions outside of work. That you weren’t telling me that I shouldn’t feel anything. You were telling me that those feelings shouldn’t be the only thing.

For the sad truth about being a CSI is that by the time we arrive, it is already too late. The crime has been committed and in the case of murders, the dead are cold and gone and nothing – nothing – we can do can change that fact, unmake that reality. We cannot bring the dead back to life. We cannot stop the heartache that the victims’ families are feeling. We can make sure that whoever did these terrible things are punished, are locked up and will stay locked up and will never be able to inflict upon anyone else any more pain and suffering. But that is all the justice there will ever be. And I am not so sure there really is all that much justice to be found in that.

The realization that no matter what we do, how hard we work, the hours and days and years we give to the job, that we aren’t really changing anything, fixing anything, is hard to stomach. All we can do is be that final voice for the dead, for the ones who can no longer speak for themselves.

And while the heart aches and breaks at the evil that men do, you were right, you are right, you have to be able to put it away. Not because you don’t feeling anything, but because you know if you allow yourself to feel everything, then it will all consume you – the job, the horror, until there is nothing of you left, and then you won’t be able to feel anything, anything at all.

When we come into this job, I think we all naively believe that what we are doing can change the world, make it a safer, better place, but sometimes all we can hope for is for that world not to change us so much that we no longer know or recognize ourselves.

You knew.

As I sit here, I find I am just realizing just how much you knew and understood. About the too long showers. The anxious thoughts that needed distractions, diversions. That attempting to go straight to bed even after being awake for forty-eight straight hours would only lead to the frustration of long hours spent lying awake.

You knew there would be plenty of time later to think about Cammie and her housemates. There would be time to process the painful reality of it all. Time to be rightly horrified and hurt and angry, to be frustrated and overwhelmed. Time to face that tumult of emotions. The guilt. The impotence.

But that night, it was all too fresh — too immediate — too much.

In some ways, I still feel shrouded by the unreality of it all, of these last days. Not because of the horror, but because of the lack of it in those twenty-four hours of normality you gifted to me.

In those hours, you gave me time, time to recover a sense of equilibrium, time to breathe and time to perhaps regain a little of the perspective I seemed to have lost along the way.

But it wasn’t just for me. I can see that now.

Yes, I do forget that these cases affect you, too. That you too crave care as well as time and space away from it all.

Those hours weren’t just about the giving of comfort, but the seeking of it. That you had the need for closeness, connection and a measure of peace in a world that doesn’t always – or even ever really – makes sense. The way you took my hand, held me when I cried, laughed with me, danced with me, walked with me, pulled me close to help me sleep, in all these acts I could hear It’s okay. I’m here. It’s okay. You’re okay. But I realize now that these words were there to: It’s okay. You’re here. It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m okay.

I have to admit there are still so many times even now when you are as much as if not more of a mystery to me than you were in all those years before we got together.

As I clasp your key in my hand, I realize that this is not one of those times.

And finally I understand what you have been trying to tell me all along.

That in the same world that held such senseless tragedy as at what happened in Green Valley, there was also life and love and joy and laughter to be found. That even in a world of such ugliness, beauty still exists, if only we take the time to see it.

For yes, there are Marlon Frosts in the world – far too many of them – but there are also – however few – Gil Grissom’s, too. Albeit I doubt that many of them have your penchant for all things insects or your fastidious memory for quotations.

At this thought, I cannot help but smile. And it hits me. It wasn’t just some polite automatic response. I really meant it when I told Nicky I was good.

I am good. It still hurt, yes. There was still shock and grief, but that wasn’t all I felt. There was warmth and hope and tenderness. And those are ultimately the things to cherish.

And with that realization, I rose and reached for my jacket. Only to be interrupted in the act of putting it on, by Greg’s ever-chipper voice piping up behind me For someone who spent the shift on dumpster duty you look awfully – But as I turned to face him, he seemed to reconsider whatever crack he was about to make and settled for Clean.

I rolled my eyes and told him rather flippantly that it wasn’t that bad. Greg of course looked understandably disbelieving and cheekily suggested that I could take all of his trash runs from now on if that was how I felt about it. When I told him Thanks, but I’ll pass, he shrugged as if to say suit yourself and said to let him know if I ever changed my mind.

Like that was ever going to happen, I thought as he went to go. Of course, I wasn’t going to tell him so.

And his offer certainly wasn’t the one I was considering.  Although as I gave the key in my palm a squeeze, I knew there wasn’t any need for debate.

Just as I knew that its presence meant Come. Stay, I knew what I was going to do. For I certainly had no intention of passing on what you were offering. The shower I had planned back at my place could wait. I had somewhere more important to go, to be.

Home with you.

*******

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

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shantiangel
    May 10, 2009 @ 19:32:37

    Hi Karen,
    You already know I love this; I just wanted to tell you again. I somehow overlooked the Jumble reference before…it’s my favorite puzzle, too. Great story. Oh, and I survived the dreaded mother’s day.
    Marcia

  2. mbonthecorner
    May 11, 2009 @ 17:35:41

    A beautiful take on Grissom’s feelings (who knew he had feelings?)from the one who knows him best. Thanks for this tender story.

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