Padding the Truth

Samuel Vartan felt terrible. Well into his third glass of amber brown whisky, he looked across the kitchen of his apartment to the rising sun and sighed.


It wasn’t fair. For so many years he’d managed to deal with the ups and downs of his life. The rough places and the not so terrific childhood with his battling parents. Most of the time he wished they’d just divorced, instead of staying together grimly as they had. He and his brother had grown tough skins against the ongoing grind of anger in that house. The lean fury of two lanky, irate people locked forever in a battle neither would win nor concede. The only time his mother ever hugged him was when she was using him as a shield against his father, shouting hateful crap over his head. He’d escaped it through sports, mostly, and some study.


And sex.


That part was darker too; although Sam knew with his looks he could generally do pretty well with most women. They liked him, and showed it in lots of wonderfully athletic ways. When it was just sex, he could manage with almost any woman and walk away whistling. Yeah, sex was good.


And sometimes,


Sometimes with the right woman, it was—


Ohhhh it was so much more.


Her name had been Helen. She had long black hair that gleamed as it hung down her back. He’d spotted her at the back of the senior chemistry class, hunched behind a lab table trying to keep from being noticed, but unmissable in her own way. Sam remembered glancing back and seeing her there, so far from the blackboard that she probably couldn’t read most of the formulas on it. He remembered her soft, tentative smile when their eyes met.


Helen was his first.


She had a gorgeous laugh, deep yet girlish, and long, long eyelashes. Conversations with her started on neutral topics, but by the time the teacher had assigned lab partners, Sam remembered asking to be paired with Helen. Her intellect was ferocious, and her perfume was L’Heure Bleu. The first time he kissed her, she cried, and he’d been so goddamn hard he was dizzy. Helen was everything that love was supposed to be. Soft and enveloping. She’d been a virgin, and it had taken him a while to seduce her, but it had been worth it. Deeply hot and delicious. Jesus, even now the memory of those times left him half-stiff and smiling.


The smile faded as other memories crowded in. Recollections of his life being divided into two separate worlds: With Helen and In Public. The comments about her from other people. Her refusals to even acknowledge him when they were out.


“It’s safer, Sam. Safer for you. Nobody needs to know you’re with me, okay? I don’t want anyone making fun of you the way . . .” she didn’t finish that, but he knew what she meant.


The way they did of her. The way he did himself when he was in the locker room with the team, or hanging with the guys.


Christ it still hit him sometimes, the things he’d gone along with, said himself. Hefty Helen. The Metric Ton. The asinine, cruel comments that the rest of the high school made and that he went along with because despite the love, he just wasn’t quite strong enough to stand up for her.


And Helen knew it.


She broke up with him gently, before track season. He took up the hammer throw, and poured every pang of his broken heart into it. Took third at the state championships. Fought with his parents. Drank and partied and somehow got into college on the strength of a sports scholarship.


At college he met Diana, and it was so damn good for a while. She had those great, full curves and brassy brightness. She was more adventurous than Helen, and held him through the night, teased him about how he left her breathless. The pillow of her chest was amazing, and Sam loved losing himself in the warmth of her ample body.


And then at a kegger, someone made a comment. Later, he skipped out of a date, rationalizing that it was for the best. He skipped a few more, made excuses. After all, he needed the team’s support, and the classes took up his time, and, and


And it wasn’t cool to date fat chicks.


Diana got it oh yes. She looked right through him whenever their paths crossed after that, and found herself a new boyfriend, a chubby computer geek with more freckles than a Dalmatian. Sam tried to laugh when some of his buddies snickered at them, but his heart and dick knew better. He dated around, trying to see if maybe his tastes could be reshaped a little; into something thinner he bitterly jeered at himself.


Sometimes it was okay. He could fake it a bit, and when it was just sex he got away with it. But for a guy who didn’t trust easily, who wore a façade most of the time, it was lonely as hell. He made it through college on the CJ major, and got into the Academy. He learned how to work a stakeout, and once in a while practiced it at the mall. Near the stores where his type would shop


He sighed and took another slug of his whisky.


And then today, walking around that damned convention. Dear God, talk about feeling like a kid in a candy store. Women, dozens of them, gorgeous and full and rich, smiling and sweet, leaving him close to gritting his teeth with the unfairness of having so much, so close. Forcing himself not to smile, not to look.


Sander’s comment did it. Chubby chaser, so casually tossed down, as if it was no big deal. The kid didn’t get it, didn’t know what personal conflict was, not on that sort of level, and it took him by surprise that SANDERS of all people could just throw that out as if it was no big deal. Shit. That kid NEVER had to deal with a team of buddies, with REAL peer pressure, and social tension. Hell, he always seemed so flippant, but when he said that, Sam knew the shoe fit right at that damn moment.


So he snapped back the way he’d learned to do, letting hurtful comments fly to keep up the façade. Only this time it hadn’t worked; both Grissom and Sanders had the audacity to look offended, and Sam could have kicked himself. His chance to—




Hell, to OUT himself, he snickered, and sipped more whisky. Oh yeah, Samuel D. Vartan, Homicide detective grade three and secret chubby chaser. But shit, if there was anyone wouldn’t really give a damn, it would probably be Grissom. The guy was into bugs for Christ’s sake, and ones on dead bodies at that. And Sanders—who cared what HE thought?


Sam let his head drop, and for a moment, felt his face burn a little with shame.


Sanders was right, though, and he was wrong. There was nothing bad or strange or wrong about having a preference. And goddamn it, he’d paid the price so often. TOO often.


He thought back to the four women in the interrogation room, of Metcalf standing guard, the lucky bastard. A blonde, a brunette and two redheads, and oh the taller one was enough to make him breathe a little harder. Luscious as a peach she was, with that big woman’s laugh and he would have given anything to scoop her into his arms and show her exactly what a nice deep interrogation could be like.


Hell, he’d take all of them. The little cutie with the red-gold curls and sweet face; the sultry-eyed brunette with the smoky voice; and the queenly blonde. His harem right there—


Sam laughed bitterly and set his whiskey down. He drew in a deep breath and reached into his pocket, pulling out a card. He’d taken a moment to jot down the number from her business card, and he stared at it now.


Regina Owens. The gorgeous redhead.


He took another breath, and looked out the window, where another day was dawning on Las Vegas. Sam stroked a finger over the card, and let his glance shift to his glass on the counter. Slowly, he pushed it away. Pushed it until it reached the edge of the sink and teetered there, then toppled in and broke, splashing brown drops onto the porcelain.


New day. Thank you Sanders, he thought.


And he picked up the phone.




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