The cough got worse.
He’d ignored it, trying not to let it distract him, or get in the way of the job. Most of the week he managed just fine, making sure not to contaminate evidence or his co-workers. Once or twice both Catherine and Sara had given him concerned looks but Grissom managed to wave them off; redirect them to the cases without too much trouble.
In the meantime, the symptoms mounted. He fought back with aspirin (when he remembered) and stubbornness. Coffee cleared his throat and soothed it a bit, and most of the time he wasn’t too hungry anyway. Grissom managed to last all the way to Thursday. The Macenas case was coming up; Greg was straddling between fieldwork and lab, and Ecklie was making noises about yearly reviews . . . it was only in the early hours of Friday morning when Grissom coughed over a report and splashed a fleck of blood on it that he finally admitted to himself that he didn’t feel terribly well. Wiping the folder off, he wearily leaned back and wheezed a little, wondering if he was ever going to catch his breath. In the stillness of his office the rattle of his chest sounded loud, even to him.
He wiped his pale, damp forehead and made the decision.
*** *** ***
“Sara?” The voice sounded both reedy and distant; even so Sara instantly recognized Grissom’s tones. She held the cell phone to her ear and slowed for the red light.
“Grissom? You sound terrible.” She observed bluntly, then wished she hadn’t stated the obvious. The man had been fighting his cold all week, refusing to call in sick, and she’d hoped that the two days off would work in his favor. She’d even toyed with the idea of bringing him some soup, but ultimately had held off, caught between those familiar emotions of nurturing and neutrality. A sick Grissom wasn’t always a fun Grissom; that much was clear.
“Yeah, I know. Listen, I hate to be asking a favor, but I need one, and Catherine’s out of town this weekend,” he began. Sara fought a little personal pang at the knowledge that she was second on his list and made a soft little encouraging noise. “You can always say no—“ He coughed again, a deep wet hacking the made Sara wince just to hear it.
“No, I’m fine with it, Grissom. What do you need?”
“I need my overnight bag that I keep by the door, and my personal gear—toothbrush and paste, bathrobe and slippers. I’m pretty sure they’re all in the bathroom . . .” As he spoke, Sara listened, catching the odd sound or two in the background, and suddenly an image came into focus, sharp and clear.
“Grissom?” she demanded, a little more sharply than she’d intended. He gave a knowing chuckle.
“Don’t get upset. I’m at Desert Palms and I’m fine, really. I just sort of have . . . pneumonia.”
“Sort of have pneumonia,” she echoed. “Damn it Grissom, we KNEW you were sick!” Sara blurted, her words sharper now. The light had changed and she moved through it, mind already mapping out new coordinates, shifting to accommodate a change in direction. More coughing echoed through the earpiece followed by his voice once more.
“Yes, well you were all right, then—but there was work to be done, and now I have a few days to get over this.”
“In the hospital.”
A little resigned sigh. “Yes, in the hospital.”
This little admission nearly undid Sara, who knew what it cost Grissom to confess to any weakness; she bit her lips and made the turn onto the side street as the silent pause stretched on between the two of them over the phones.
“Okay. So—how do I get in?” She finally asked. Grissom chuckled, although it threatened to turn into another bout of coughing. He fought it and spoke up, wheezily.
“Spare key on my desk. Taped to the back of Trigger’s frame.”
“Let me guess—mnemonics—horse key?”
“Actually, I saw it there a few weeks ago,” Sara admitted, and heard Grissom chuckle with a wet sound. She’d turned the car around when he managed to talk again.
“I have to go—they want to take more blood. And Sara—thanks.”
“It’s okay Grissom—“ she murmured back and hung up.
*** *** ***
He looked pale enough to be dead, Sara thought. Against the hospital gown, Grissom’s skin was washed out; even his beard seemed lighter than usual. Sara didn’t miss the sparkle in his eyes though, when he watched her walk through the door, and for a sweet moment she savored that look. When Grissom glanced at her that way, his boyish sweetness filtering through his melancholy smile Sara felt as if he were whispering a secret she could never quite hear.
She reached the bed and patted the back of his wrist, which felt very hot, but dry. He drank in the sight of her, finally meeting her eyes.
“No problem. I took in your mail too.” She told him, setting the shopping bag on the bed, right next to his blanket-covered thigh. Grissom kept looking at her, and she winced at the sight of the IV line in the back of his hand, the oxygen lines in his nose. He shrugged.
“Overreaction on the part of the medical staff, really, but I keep getting the lecture about being in the most vulnerable group now.” He made a pained face, and Sara impulsively stroked his hand again.
“Yeah, well it’s true. We workaholics have to stay healthy you know—“
The look he shot her twinkled for a moment, and she found herself looking down again, amused at how little it took to cheer Grissom up sometimes. He coughed, a thick sound that echoed in the room. Sara reached for a tissue, handing it to him; Grissom neatly covered his mouth, the little lines between his brows tensing up with each spasm. It died down after a few seconds.
“Lousy phlegm,” he groused. Sara lifted her shoulders a little, feeling them tense. He needed to get better. She didn’t analyze it too much; he just had, to, that was all.
“Yeah. Okay, well I guess I’ll leave you to heal up then,“ Sara murmured, reluctant to leave him, but sensing his embarrassment. He gave an unenthusiastic nod, and glanced at her.
“Um . . . There’s one more thing—“ his voice was reedy now. Sara nodded. He looked up, meeting her glance, his eyes beseeching for a moment.
“The clothes I wore here . . .”
“Oh, right.” Sara nodded. The practical and mundane still had to be done. Grissom nodded towards the bathroom, his face a little red.
“They’re on the back of the door in there. If you could just drop them in the hamper at my place . . . “ He muttered. Sara chuckled softly.
“I could throw them in with my stuff—“ she offered. Grissom looked up at her, startled, and she noted with deeper amusement, intrigued; as if images of their mingled co-ed laundry were a new and novel concept to him.
Actually she’d thought of it before. It was one of those weird things Sara had considered once. That along with what a joint grocery list with him would be like.
Exercises in domestic improbabilities.
“Uh, I mean, that won’t be necessary, Sara, really.” He told her, wide-eyed. She waited a moment just to tease him and sighed.
“Well if you say so. Anything else you need?”
Something flickered in his gaze, a glint of something unshadowed for just a moment; a wish. It vanished though, and Grissom shook his head.
“No, you’ve done so much. Thanks.”
*** *** ***
She entered the townhouse once again, feeling a little more at ease this time, but still slightly unsettled and curious. This sanctum was--well, Grissom’s after all, and that fact alone gave it all sorts of importance. The drape of his kitchen towels on the stove handle, the fold of his newspaper with its half-finished crossword, all highly significant. Sara could picture him in half a dozen places here: chopping tomatoes at the counter, lounging on the sofa, squatting down by the bookcase for a volume.
Grissom in his retreat, being himself. That mysteriously elusive image that Sara tried to piece from the evidence around her.
She sighed. Carefully she went through the living room to the hallway, moving to the bathroom. Once there though, she realized the hamper wasn’t here. Not odd, but different. Sara shifted the plastic bag full of clothes and stepped out, towards the bedroom.
Her mouth was dry, and she tried to reason away her girly reaction. A bedroom. She’d been in these before, and just because this one was Grissom’s didn’t mean anything important.
Stepping in, Sara spotted the wicker hamper on the far side of the room, next to the desk with the overhead bookcase. She dumped the laundry quickly, not wanting to think too much about the soft tumble of cloth into the basket. To distract herself, she glanced at the desk, and the journal sitting there caught her eye.
It was a green leather volume, with good paper and gilt edges, the sort of higher end blank journal that a serious sort of person might have. Before she could stop herself, Sara glanced over the open page, recognizing Grissom’s neat and squared handwriting with a shiver of delight. But the odd thing was that the words didn’t go across the page. Instead, they were sort of clustered in the center . . .
Like a poem. In fact, she realized with delighted panic, EXACTLY like a poem. Completely poem-ish. And that was just sort of impossible, because Grissom didn’t write poetry. Grissom wrote reports and summaries and evaluations and timelines. He recited Shakespeare, sometimes, but he sure as heck didn’t—
--Sara peeked. Sara peeked because it was THERE, and she’d never get another chance and damn it, it was just so unbelievable to think that Grissom would write poetry. She took a breath, prepared for the Ode to Ants, or couplets on crickets as she began to read.
Charm me with a smile, my fairest Sara,
And blind me with your grace I ill deserve
Your upturned lips arch like the avis rara
In flight your smile remains the sweetest curve
And I, the awkward earthbound mortal blessed
To see that tempting parabolic gift
Know well the inner pang of the obsessed
When such a tiny thing my soul uplifts
Know this; I’d walk for endless days and miles
To shyly bask in Sara’s perfect smiles.
She breathed hard and fast, feeling the blood drain from her face in shock.
Oh. Ohhhhhhh. A sonnet. Iambic pentameter. She dimly remembered an English teacher telling her about ten syllables with some rhyme scheme, but all she could really SEE was her name in Grissom’s handwriting, capital S and then the rest after it, sweetly nesting in that poem, placed there by his fingers, surrounded by those thoughts and images.
Her knees felt weak and she grabbed the back of the chair to steady herself. A sonnet. With HER in it. Grissom wrote her a poem—
Well, not TO her. About her, really. She was in it, as in the subject. His . . . inspiration. And that sent a jolt through her stomach, a rolling happiness that pushed the breath out of her lungs for a moment.
Grissom wrote a poem about HER.
Guiltily Sara looked back at the page, glancing over the sonnet once more, and noted the Roman numeral at the top. She flipped a page back, and another cluster of lines appeared.
In two graceful palms the evidence rests
Cradled in fingers clever yet gentle
Carefully handled, subjected to tests
Held at times with a grip sentimental
Reverence shows in her delicate touch
With the clues that remain, just their traces
Fool I, my battle with envy is such
How I long to be part of her cases
I see it now what long I did not see
The world I’d give for Sara’s hands on me.
Sara read it again, amused at the way Grissom had turned a simple comment about her hands into a sort of wistful observation, and the melancholy tone brought him to mind so clearly, so honestly.
It dawned on her that the entire thing would have been creepy if she didn’t know the man so well. But certainly Grissom had never stalked her, or done anything to indicate an uncontrollable obsession with her, more’s the pity.
Until now, she mused, smiling a little. And sonnet-tizing her hardly ranked in the same category as going paparazzi on her.
She looked up, and as she did so, the bookcase above the desk caught her glance. She realized that just in front of her face stood three other journals, identical to the one on the desk; same green leather backs, same gilt-edged pages. Sara paused, wondering what THEY held.
God, she hoped they weren’t poems about other women.
That thought made her cringe, both for the fierce, hot lance of jealousy and the fear they brought out in her. The idea of a volume of Sofia poems, or Teri poems made her stomach roil so quick and hard that she felt dizzy again. Deliberately she reached up for one, slowly, watching her hand select the right-end volume and take it down.
Nothing on the cover; nothing on the spine.
Sara drew in
a deep breath and flipped it open to the middle, gritting her teeth
as she did so. On the opened page was a small verse; not a sonnet,
but something shorter and much quicker to scan. Along the sides of
the page were little quick sketches of
. . . butterflies.
The butterfly flew up from off the rose
And landed on the tip of Sara’s nose.
A perch so lofty pert and sweetly tipped
(In dreams of mine so often lightly nipped)
She laughed and lightly brushed the bug aside
Amused by this and taking it in stride
While I stood watching, understanding all—
The pull of Sara has me too, in thrall.
She remembered the case almost a year and a half ago. Evidence of a burglary dumped out in a field north of Henderson. It had been a mild evening, and the wildflowers had been blooming near the foothills. Grissom had remarked that it was mariposa weather. They’d worked through the discarded haul until she’d looked up, and right at that point, yep, a butterfly had landed on her nose. Sara remembered feeling silly trying to look at it sitting there, going a little cross-eyed in the attempt, and so she’d waved her hand and made it fly off.
And Grissom had been watching.
Well obviously he had and stuck the entire recollection here in a couplet, neatly written and decorated along the edges. Sara felt another joyous shiver run down her back. Goosebumps rose along her skin; she set the journal back and rubbed her arms to smooth them down again.
So. Grissom wrote poetry.
Grissom wrote poetry about her, and had been doing so for . . . a while. Sara quickly calculated the numbers in her head. If each journal had eighty to a hundred and twenty pages, then that would be roughly—two hundred and forty to three hundred and sixty poems over the course of seven years.
So thirty four to fifty one poems a year.
Or, roughly one every five to nine days, and that was ONLY with the assumption that he’d started the year she’d come to Las Vegas.
The goosebumps didn’t go away. Sara turned to the journal on the desk; Grissom had just started it, and she flipped to the first page, reading the first sonnet there:
When sleep eludes me in the coming day
I lie awake within my shuttered room
My thoughts to Sara’s charms will often stray
Those tender memories quick dispel the gloom
I dwell upon her cheek, her saucy brow
The bird-like brightness of her umber eyes
Long clean sweet limbs, small waist and even now
I dare to let myself think of her thighs
I sleep with dreams of Sara on my mind
And wonder if SHE ever does in kind.
Again a jolt of pleasured surprise surged through her, and Sara finally gave in to her need to sit down. In an ungainly collapse, she dropped onto the carpet, journal still in hand, her breathing erratic.
More bombshells. Grissom had noticed her body. Actually LIKED her body! And that implication . . . that he thought of her before he went to sleep . . . Sara’s face felt hot. She couldn’t quite grasp it all, this new, tender roil of feelings through her chest. This was too much, it was overwhelmingly romantic in a way she’d never even considered, and . . . and . . . and—
Damn it, she couldn’t say a word.
She’d read his journal, discovered his secret adoration of her, and Sara realized she couldn’t ever say a thing about it to him. All this insight was a violation; one Grissom would probably never forgive if he even SENSED she know about it. A great big pearl of a secret, locked up in the oyster of propriety . . . Sara snorted.
Losing it here. Making really stupid analogies. Sitting on the floor comparing Grissom’s poems to pearls now—She stood up carefully, dusting the back of her thighs off in long sweeps, passing the journal from hand to hand as she did so. Sara took in a deep breath and tried to center herself. Tried. It was like trying to put a pebble on a balloon, though, and expecting it to hold the MOOD down. She was just too—lighter than air.
Her face hurt from grinning so much.
*** *** ***
The sun was still bright, but bleeding across the landscape as Grissom slowly made his way to the parking lot. His body ached from sleeping on an unfamiliar mattress, he had a bag of prescriptions in one hand and a new sense of appreciation for cough syrup. As he walked along the rows of cars, he spotted the Denali and headed for it, feeling his relief growing with every step closer.
Home, he decided, shower before work, and back to the orderly scheme of things. Grissom set his bag down on the passenger seat and started the engine, pulling out carefully.
The townhouse seemed slightly stale and overly quiet but welcoming, and Grissom walked in, eyeing the pile of mail on the kitchen counter with a sigh. He took a moment to sort through it, and wandered back to the bedroom to look longingly at the bed as he began to strip down. Glancing around he noted his journal. Seeing it, he smiled.
The shower felt good—hot enough, strong enough and steamy enough to loosen more of his congestion. He dried and dressed again, moving through his routine happily, making coffee and thinking personal thoughts. He was just heading out the door when his cell phone rang.
“Grissom? Heard you were out of the hospital,”
His grin flashed out, and he held the cell phone closer; as if this would make Sara’s voice all his.
“Yes. I’m on my way to work now, in fact.”
“Great! Um, I need a favor?” came her husky tone. Grissom drew in a breath, still a little wheezy, but soft.
“What do you need, Sara?”
“I left my grey jacket in the break room, and if you get in before me could you go put it in my locker before Judy sticks it in the lost and found with all that other stuff?”
“Sure.” A simple thing, easily done. Grissom listened to her quietly breathe on the other end of the line.
“So?” came her question after a moment. “All healed up?”
“Good.” Her tone was simple and unhesitating. “Good.”
Grissom spotted the jacket on the back of one of the chairs and scooped it up, feeling the softness of the linen, smelling the faint scent of Sara; that mix of herbal soap and mint. He carried the coat over one arm and stepped into the locker room, heading directly for her space, dialing the combination quickly.
Not wanting to be caught.
Not wanting to share the moment.
Grissom swung the metal door open, and caught his reflection out of the corner of his eye on the small mirror there. Startled, he stared at himself, and just as quickly his gaze fell to the piece of crumpled Bellagio notepaper carelessly taped next to it.
When I look in the mirror
Because I remember your words
The gift of them
The gift of you
Because I make you
Think of beauty
When I look in the mirror
Because I remember your voice
Weary and beaten
Sad beyond measure
Because you want me
But not enough
When I look in the mirror
Because I remember your face
The light of your eyes
The quirk of your smile
Because you’re not there
Over my shoulder
When I look in the mirror
I still dream
He stared stupidly at the lines for a long moment. Grissom stared so hard that the words themselves seemed to grow, and cut themselves into his vision, blocking out anything else. His hearing thickened, his concentration made the white of the page burn his retinas.
Grissom blinked. His focus moved to the top line again. He read it once more, lips moving in gentle soundless formation of the words, and unbidden, his finger touched the page. It trailed along the feminine printing, stroking the consonants and vowels, caressing the pattern.
His gaze shifted to the mirror.