The Back End of August



Grissom stalked into the kitchen, trying to keep calm, trying not to trail anything in, but it wasn’t easy. His shirt was soaked, and the wet spots down his slacks were slowly beginning to turn white around the edges. The fumes weren’t doing him any good either. As he passed, the two girls looked up from the Candy Land game on the table, eyeing him uncertainly.

 

“Daddy?”

 

Grissom turned, his expression not quite as neutral as he would have liked. He arched an eyebrow at his daughter, waiting for her question.

 

“Did you have . . . a accident?”

 

At her comment, her companion at the table burst into giggles that she tried to smother in her palms. Grissom gave a pained sigh, looking down at his ruined clothing before returning his gaze to the hazel sweetness of his daughter’s eyes.

 

“Very good, Bingo. Care to make a guess what happened?”

 

“Um—you were out in the lab—“ the girl deduced, “—where I left the supplies Mom told me to bring you on the counter—“

 

“—Including the laundry stuff, yes,” Grissom prompted her, “What happened to that bottle of bleach?”

 

“You—spilled it?”  She concluded brightly. Grissom’s mouth twitched. The other girl, the one with the long dark hair and blue eyes, laughed again.

 

“Oooooo, you’re in truuuble, Bingo. Uncle Griss, are you okay?”

 

Grissom tugged on his wet shirt, which had a loop, arch and ridge design commemorating fifty years of Harrison fingerprint powder. Unfortunately, the spatter of bleach had ruined the front of it, already eating little holes in the cloth.

 

“I’m fine—just going to change and rinse off. But the next time mom tells you to put supplies in the lab honey, put them UNDER the table instead of leaving them right near the edge, okay?”

 

Bingo’s woebegone expression melted him, as it nearly always did, and Grissom tapped her pointed nose with a finger playfully, adding, “Good thing it wasn’t one of your brother’s diapers, huh?”

 

“Ew!” Bingo agreed with a giggle. She watched him head up the stairs, grinning as she did so.

 

“Isn’t your mom up there?” came the question from her companion. Bingo nodded.

 

“Yep. I bet they’re going to lock the door, too. Wanna go see if Squirt’s awake?”

 

The two girls slipped out of their chairs and headed to the sunroom in the front of the house where a playpen sat in one shady corner. In it, a rounded, snoring infant slept on, sucking one little fist.

 

“He’s cute!”

 

“Lily Brass, you’re crazy! He’s JUST a smelly little brother—“ Bingo grumbled, even though she secretly thought Jameshew James Grissom was pretty amazing. He blew spit bubbles and could suck his own toes and had an adorable little crowing sound he made whenever she did faces for him. The only two things that annoyed her were his diapers, which never had anything fun about them, and his lung power, especially before Mom could settle down with him the wicker rocking chair to nurse.

 

“Well he IS. I wish I had one,” Lily commented wistfully, leaning over to get a better look at him. “I’m only going to be a aunt soon, not a big sister.” Squirt slept on, little chest moving in regular rhythm. Bingo smiled.

 

“Watch this—“ She stuck a finger through the mesh and lightly stroked her brother’s shoulder; in his sleep, Squirt broke into a happy pink-gummed smile. Lily laughed softly.

 

“Cutie! Mom loves babysitting him you know. When we do, she changes his outfits like, ten times.”

 

“Along with his diapers I bet. Daddy says that’s the reason we call him Squirt, you know . . .”

 

Their voices floated up, drifting into the open windows of the second story, where Grissom stood listening, bare-chested, clean shirt in his hands. He started as two cool hands slid around his shoulders and a voice whispered in one of his ears.

 

“Hey there—“ came the soft coo. He smiled.

 

“Hey yourself. Nap okay?”

 

“Just fine. Is Squirt still down?”

 

“We’d hear about it if he wasn’t. As long as Lily and Bingo don’t wake him up, we’re good for about an hour until he makes his needs known.”

 

“Mmmmm—what would it take for his mother to make HER needs known around here?”

 

Grissom smirked and dropped his shirt. Turning, he caught Sara in his arms and slowly herded her back towards the bed.

 

“Gil, the door, the window--” Sara whispered to him even as she reached for his belt buckle. He unbuttoned her blouse and nuzzled her collarbones.

 

“The former, locked. As for the latter . . . well, we’ll just have to be very, very quiet . . .”

 

Sara smothered her chuckle against his broad bare shoulder. “You smell like bleach,” she commented, enjoying the tender caress of his hands over her swollen chest. Grissom gave a shrug, lightly looming over her on all fours, smiling down at her.

 

“Accident in the lab. Bingo needs to put dangerous chemicals a little closer to the center of the table instead of near the edge . . .” he kissed his way down the valley between her breasts as Sara stroked the nape of his neck, eyes closed in blissful pleasure.

 

They didn’t talk after that, letting their touches and kisses communicate growing desire between them, and when Grissom slowly took her, Sara clung to him, hot-eyed joy radiating through her smile. Afterwards, he gently wiped her leaking chest with a warm washcloth while she sighed.

 

“I’m never going to get used to gushing like that—“ she commented softly; Grissom smiled, eyes bright.

 

“It’s a lovely response, and very gratifying, at least to me.” He paused and added, “Are you sure you’re up for this trip?”

 

Sara rose up on her elbows to look at him, her brown eyes luminous as she nodded.

 

“Come on—you, me, Squirt and Bingo along with Lily and Jim? I’ve been looking forward to this trip on the Southwest Trickster for months, Gil!” She eyed him suspiciously, and he went slightly red.

 

“This isn’t what you think it is,” he replied quickly, but Sara rolled her eyes, mouth trying to frown and failing.

 

“Yes it is, you’re mother henning me again. I’m telling you I’m fine, so stop fussing. My ankle’s fine, I’m ready to go.”

 

Grissom hesitated, then gave a quick nod, rising off the bed to climb back into his pants. Sara watched him with amusement.

 

“You and Jim finish loading up the houseboat and I’ll get James fed. Deal?”

 

“Deal,” he leaned down to kiss her forehead.

 

***   ***   ***

 

James was definitely hungry; limping, Sara carried him to the sofa and sat down, pulling her blouse open and undoing the nursing bra with absent, well-practiced moves. Bingo came and sat on one side of her, Lily on the other. James started to whimper.

 

“Hush, hush,” Bingo chided her brother as Sara lifted him to the nipple. He latched on eagerly and she winced a moment before sighing, and stretching her foot out to the pillow on the coffee table. For a moment, both girls merely watched her nurse, then Bingo looked up at her mother.

 

“Tell me about when I was a baby,” she asked. Sara looked over at her daughter, dimpling a smile.

 

“You want the Bingo baby story. Don’t you ever get tired of that one?”

 

“Nope,” Bingo grinned widely.

 

“Okay,” Sara laughed. She shifted James a bit in the crook of her arm and looked at Lily. “You want to hear it again too?”

 

“Sure!” Lily beamed, reaching a hand out to stroke James’s chubby little foot. Sara took a breath and began.

 

“Well, about seven years ago, your dad and I found out we were going to have a baby. The doctor told me, and I told dad. He was very surprised.”  Sara paused a moment, remembering Grissom’s expression back on that long ago morning. His glance had gone from her face to her belly, and then down the front of his own stomach, as if to confirm the guilty parties involved; it still made her laugh.

 

“And you were surprised too,” Bingo prompted. James made a little snuffling noise against Sara’s breast, as if to agree. Sara nodded.

 

“Oh yeah. I was surprised too, but in a good way. All the good things in my life happen like that, babe—changes that made all the difference. Anyway, Dad and I started getting ready to have you. And the problem was--“ she waited, letting her daughter fill in the rest of the sentence. Bingo laughed.

 

“—You and Dad didn’t know anything about babies!”

 

Which, Sara remembered, was the understatement of the year. The sheer panic of those first few days had mellowed out into a giddy tension through the following months as the two of them bought books and talked, and argued and made love and got ready to face the shock and amusement of their co-workers, who were just as startled at this development as they were.

 

“So we read a lot. And borrowed other people’s babies for practice.”

 

“Like ME!” Lily volunteered, delighted to reach her contribution to the story. Sara nodded again, wiping the corners of James’s mouth with the burp cloth as he suckled.

 

“Yep. Your mom and dad were nice enough to let us borrow you for a few days and that was sort of fun, even though your dad kept calling to make sure we didn’t feed you any bugs, or leave you at a crime scene.”

 

Lily giggled at that, nodding shyly. “Yeah, my daddy told me that you and uncle Grissom were very sciencetifical about it and that I was a project.”

 

“But what about ME?” Bingo demanded, trying to bring the story back around to her favorite subject. Sara carefully slid a finger into the corner of James’s mouth, breaking the suction. He whimpered a little, bubbles frothing up, but Sara turned him around and pressed his face to the other breast. He nuzzled her and latched on with a sigh. Sara bit her lip.

 

“So we practiced a little on Lily, and finally the day came that we had you. Dad and I couldn’t agree on what to name you. I wanted to name you Mary after my grandmother, but Dad wanted to name you after me. We were still arguing about it the whole time I was having you, all fifteen hours, and then he played a trick on me. I was SO tired after all that work that I took a nap, and Dad got to fill out the birth certificate. When I woke up, you were Sara-Mary Grissom, and that was that,” Sara commented with a soft grin.

 

The compromise had been typical of Grissom and time has softened the edges of her initial annoyance. Win-win, both names, nobody left out, even if it had turned out to be a mouthful to say at times. Bingo beamed, tossing her curly hair back.

 

“But that’s only my ‘get mad’ name. my REAL name is Bingo.”

 

“Your ‘get mad’ name?” Lily giggled. Bingo nodded, looking at her hands.

 

“Yeah. When Mom yells at me she says ‘Sara-Mary Grissom, WHO left the Barbies on the porch?’ or Dad says really really quiet, ‘Sara-Mary, I KNOW you’re not going to spit at your brother again, are you?’ Sara-Mary is when people are getting mad. But I’m really Bingo, huh mom?”

 

Sara listened to this with a pang deep in her heart, but she smiled and slid her free arm around her daughter’s shoulders, giving her a light, quick hug.

 

“Yep. And again, it’s all because of your dad, who told me he only knew one kid song.”

 

“There was a farmer hadda dog!“ Lily burst out, startling James, who let go of Sara’s nipple and began to make snuffly ‘I’m-going-to-cry’ faces. Immediately Sara stroked his nose and nudged him back to the nipple while Lily, wide-eyed and chagrined, meekly let Bingo glare at her around Sara’s arms.

 

“Shhhhhh! Somebody’s EATING!”

 

“Sor-ree!”

 

“Hey, knock it off you two—it’s okay. Now do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?” Sara chided them softly. Both of them settled back, nodding.

 

“Okay then. So your dad and I took you home, and that was the start of a whole lot of changes.” Another understatement, Sara laughed to herself. Lily had been a rowdy toddler and they’d only had her for a weekend, but this new little baby, this loud monkey in a diaper, was a whirlwind of never-ending needs. Feeding, changing, rocking, playing, washing, sleeping and starting the cycle all over again—after three days, Sara remembered seeing an exhausted Grissom sound asleep on the soft play blanket on the living room floor, baby Sara-Mary lying next to his head, stomping his grey curls with her tiny feet and cooing.

 

“I was a spirited baby,” Bingo informed Lily, who grinned.

 

“Daddy says you made Uncle Grissom cry.”

 

“Did NOT.”

 

“Shhh,” Sara interrupted in a low voice. “Anyway, your dad learned a lot. He figured out that if you cried, it was for a reason, so he’d check. Was it your diaper? When it was, he’d say ‘Bingo!’ and change you. Other times it wasn’t your diaper, so he’d bounce you on his shoulder until you gave a really big burp and he’d say ‘Bingo!’ Sometimes you wanted to be rocked to sleep, and then Dad would just very softly whisper in a liiiittle tiny voice, ‘bingo’ and carry you to the rocking chair.”

 

Bingo blushed, embarrassed yet proud to have had so much power at so young an age. Sara checked James, who was starting to sleep, the milky nipple slipping from his slack little mouth. She tugged her bra up and shifted the baby up to her shoulder. He nestled into her neck, and Sara savored the soft weight of him there, warm and sweet-smelling.

 

“So he called me Bingo?” came the prompt. Sara nodded.

 

“Both of us did. Bingo was faster to say than Sara-Mary, and sillier. You used to laugh when we said it, and when Dad sang to you, you’d bounce in your walker. Pretty soon it was clear that you thought your name was Bingo, and so there you have it.”

 

All of them sighed together, and Lily reached up to pat James’s leg. “I wish I had a little brother.”

 

Sara gave a nod, suspecting Lily had been mentioning this to Jim and Heather with increasing frequency. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, not entirely--on that thought, the front door opened, and a low voice called out,

 

“Anybody up for a week on Lake Mead?”

 

“Daddy!” Lily launched herself to the doorway, where Jim Brass picked her up and swung her around before setting her down again. He smiled over at Sara, politely trying not to notice her unbuttoned blouse; she draped the burp rag over herself and sleeping James.

 

“Jim—“ he kissed her cheek, and stroked James’s gossamer curls, then sat down beside her. Lily climbed up into his lap.

 

“Hey. Just got word from Heather—both Zoë and the baby are doing fine. A boy, seven pounds, three ounces.”

 

“Whoa, congratulations, Grandpa!” Sara laughed. On his lap, Lily tugged at his shirt, her face alight with excitement. Bingo bounced over as well.

 

“Wow! What’s his name?”

 

“Noah James McAllister,” Jim managed with only a slightly smug smile as his daughter squealed.

 

“I’m a aunt, I’m a aunt!”

 

Jim rolled his eyes, but nodded, then fished in his pocket for his cell phone.

 

“Mom wanted to talk to you, Lilybit, so you take this in the other room and call her, okay?”

 

“’kay,” the girl beamed, taking Bingo’s hand and leading her off. Both Jim and Sara watched them go. He held out his hands, and she eased James into them, then finished buttoning her blouse.

 

“I don’t know if this is going to take the pressure off or pile it on,” he mumbled, cradling James, who sighed and burped a little. Sara laughed, sitting back and stretching a bit, then patted Jim’s arm; he looked relaxed in his madras shirt and green shorts, sunglasses folded and hanging from his collar. She sighed.

 

“Well Bingo was a surprise, but James was definitely a planned production, so don’t think you’re going to get any help from me. Maybe you ought to get her a puppy.”

 

“Yeah well you know who’s going to have the last say on THAT, and she’s currently in Boston, so the discussion’s moot. Man, this kid feels heavier than the last time I held him—“

 

“Wasn’t that this morning?” Sara mused with a grin. Jim returned it and let his glance move to her propped up foot.

 

“And the ankle?”

 

“You’re worse than Grissom! It’s fine.”

 

“Just checking—don’t want you slipping on the deck and re-injuring it you know. You wouldn’t want me and Gil in charge of three kids on our own.”

 

She laughed at that, loudly enough to disturb James a little, but Jim soothed him and shot Sara a reproving look that she blatantly, good-naturedly, ignored.

 

“When’s Heather due back?”

 

“Two days—she’s going straight from the airport to Pine Pier so we can pick her up there. Think this vacation is going to be a good as last year’s?”

 

Sara glanced out the living room window to the minivan in the driveway. Grissom was loading gear on the roof, strapping it down with bungee cords, Bingo helping him by bouncing around him and chattering. He looked up at just the right moment to meet Sara’s eyes through the window and mouthed the words ‘love you’ before picking his daughter up and setting her on his shoulders.

 

She squealed, and lightly grabbed his ears, upsetting his glasses, making him grin. Sara sighed, turning back her companion, and her smile was luminous.

 

“Oh yeah—don’t you know the secret by now, Jim? Vacations are like wine—they get better as we age.”

 

END

                                       
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