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Tentative

Chapter Six

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            By nightfall, Nick has gone and I've made my uncle return home with a promise that I'll be nice to my mother.

            I'm such a fucking liar.

            "Greg?" Kia calls, "Mama's gonna be back soon." She tells me.  No real emotion, no tone when she lisps out the m-word, because she still harbors contempt for our parents.

            I wasn't the only one to lose a childhood.

            "Evdokia, don't be mad at Mama.  Not anymore.  It was Papa's fault that she started drinking and my fault that I didn't think to say to Tatek that we needed him to help us."

            Without warning, she flies up the stairs and lands on top of me, "Take that back!  Take it back right now, Luka Gregori Petrov!  We were children!" She hisses, half-enraged and half-crying, "It was not our job to do what we were made to do.  That is what our parents were for." Her grip on my arms tightens and soothes, tightens and soothes as she flexes her fingers unconsciously.

            "Ki…Kia…I need you to get of…off of me and then you can yell at me." I struggle out because her elbow is digging into my chest, where I'm still bruised from the impact I made contact with my steering wheel through the airbag, "My chest, sis."

            Clambering off my bed and off of me, her look grows to horror, "Oh, fuck.  I'm sorry, Greg."

            And I know she is.  One glance into her eyes, however, informs me that she's starting to feel guilty for hurting me further.  It's something that's been force-fed to this A/V analysis expert, the idea that she's responsible if pain comes to be inflicted upon someone.

            "I'm alright.  Just couldn't breathe for a second there." I smile, albeit weakly at her, "You can resume your verbal berating."

            She's too sullen and merely escapes to the first floor, taking my ringing phone with her.  I know it's one of the various doctors who treated me.  No doubt calling to ask the mediocre question of 'How's Greg?' and detail a treatment plan for me.

            As if I'd ever stick to it.

            My twin purrs out 'um hum' and states 'Yes, sir' a few times, before dropping the item onto the kitchen counter with a plastic thud, "What the hell are they thinking?" She mutters.

            "Uh, could you let the injured one know you're talking about?" I inquire, making my way down to her and my battered calling device.

            "They actually want you to work." She exclaims.

            One eyebrow peaks, "That's unusual, how?  Evdokia, I don't know what goes on at home, but here in Vegas, we work." Oh the irony in that statement, "Murderers and rapists don't take the day off because little Greggo Sanders got hurt."

            "I guess I should find you some clean clothes then." On her last nerve and it's stretched drum-skin taut, "What do you normally wear there?"

            "Jeans.  Tee shirt.  Sneakers." I tally off, "Same as you wear to your crime lab."

            "Not anymore." She comments, "Dress code was instituted a few weeks ago.  No casual dress – no shorts or tee shirts or running shoes.  I have to go dressed in nice slacks and button-down shirts with dress shoes of some sort.  I never thought I'd hate high heels as much as I do now." She exits my bathroom, an amused expression, "None of us can make heads or tails of the new policy, considering we're not the ones who go into the field, but they're the bosses."

            She tosses the garments at me that she's picked – a white-and-grey baseball shirt, nearly skin-tight worn-in jeans, and Halloween boxers.  A pair of white ankle socks to match and one of my blue tennis shoes.  Then she excuses herself to use my shower, complaining that she smells.

            Hopeful I can switch outfits before my mother waltzes in through the front door.  Lounge pants off, underwear too.  New ones cover over the still-healing wounds on my lower legs and knees, then the process is repeated for the rest.

            In time for Mama to re-enter my home, "Ah, look who's up from his nap."

            Why is she talking to me like I'm five?

            "I'm not a child anymore, Mama.  We established this.  You cannot reclaim the past with me.  I'm sorry." I remind her, hoping she still recalls that we had a conversation like this one before.

            She's crestfallen, says nothing.  Instead, taking her leave and walking to the couch, "Where are you going?" She asks, hitting the cushions.

            'Away from you.' What I think, not what I say.  No, what I tell her is, "The doctor called and said I can work.  So I am getting out of this house for a little while.  I'm going to call someone and see if they can swing by and pick me up." Grab the phone.

            Don't fight with me.  Please don't fight with me.

            "You can't go to work!" She pleas, "Stay.  Your boss…"

            "Mama, I am not going to sit here and remain idle." We'll just leave off any indication that it is what I normally do anyhow, or that I really could care less about my j-o-b.

            Grab the phone, click out the digits swiftly, and wait for someone to pick up before I speak, "Hi, Catherine."

            "Greg?  Are you alright?"

            "Fine.  I…uh…the doctors say I can work, but my car is obviously out of commission.  Do you think you could come by and get me?"

            "Yeah.  No problem.  I have to drop off Lindsay at my sister's first.  So…maybe ten, fifteen minutes?"

            "That's great.  Thanks, Catherine." I say my goodbye and she retorts with her own.  I always knew I liked her – she can be a bitch, but she's still nice to me and that's something.

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            Catherine raps on my door lightly, testing the waters, then knocks harder, "Greg." Her voice is soft and tired.

            Evdokia opens the wooden barrier, as I search beneath my couch for my missing shoe, "He's almost ready." My sister informs her with a wry smile and a dry laugh.

            "What'd you lose, Greggo?"

            "My shoe." I reply, when my fingers hit the sole of the item, "There you are, you little bastard!" I retrieve it from its hiding place and pull it on, triumphant.  Instead of rising from the floor, I turn to face my blonde coworker, "I'm ready when you are."

            She grins, "Let's go.  Grissom's already got something waiting for you at the lab.  From what he said, it's probably extremely important."

            My features contort, my old immediate persona trying to emerge against my will, but I am victorious, "Sounds good to me." The smile is genuine and I can tell that she's a little confused.

            "Okey-dokey."

            And without a second thought, I stand and follow her out, refusing to look at my sister as I exit to the black Tahoe parked at my curb.  The interior smells of chocolate and peanut butter, M&M's scattered throughout the backseat.  The mark of a child's existence.

            Like years ago when I made my first road trip to Vegas with seven-year old Nikolai and nine-year old Peter in the backseat, while I, at eighteen, tried to not jump out of my skin every time a glob of marshmallow fluff hit the windshield.  Parked in the hotel parking lot because I would not valet the car in its condition, I remember yelling, speech peppered with Russian and Norwegian, wielding cleaning supplies and rags, hoping that grape jelly didn't stain.  Nikolai, halfway through my tirade, wrapped his arms around me, and whispered, "I love you, Luka." in that child's voice I couldn't deny.

            I laugh in the wake of that memory.

            Catherine stares at me, a weary glance as though trying to judge if I have lost my fucking mind.  (Too late.  I lost it a long time ago…back when I thought I could save my family.)

            So I choose to calm her fears, "I'm alright.  Lindsay's wake of destruction reminds me of my brothers."

            "Oh." She nods and lets out a silent snort, before removing her vehicle and heading for our place of employment, "Lindsay wants to know if she can come to your house one day.  She said you told her about your skill with a piano and that you promised to teach her."

            I did?  Oh…yeah.  I promised the little munchkin the last time I saw her.  Before the crash.  Before people started pushing their way into my life without permission.

            "It's okay with me.  Just gimme a few more days to heal up and then Linds can come wreck the place."

            The car pulls off the main road and into the lot, into the space marked 'C. Willows' near the door.  I disembark and notice immediately that my own car is sitting in it's customary place – second row, fourth in from the left.  It's badly banged up; dents in all four doors, the trunk now non-existent, and the hood crushed in.  It's missing three of the four hubcaps and the front left wheel is gone completely.  The back windshield is shattered, while the front one has an outward, circular, spider-web pattern.

            "We were called to the accident because no one could figure out who was the negligent driver.  We knew it was your car the minute we saw it." She sighs, "Sara saw where your head hit the glass and Grissom nearly had to send her home."

            "I don't remember too much about what happened.  I spun out because I couldn't maintain traction, ended up in oncoming traffic.  There was an SUV and then nothing."

            She bobs her head, "You hit your head pretty hard, Greg.  Most people lose a few minutes of memory after an injury like that.  Hell, first report we got was from the EMTs who both swore that they didn't think you were going to wake up at all."

            My hand lands on my scalp, where there are stitches holding the skin together.  Once the doctors talked with Grissom, they realized I was a hemophiliac – when sent them on suture mode.  Claire Dean later told me that she had eight different nurses sewing me up while she sped up her actions to alleviate the pain within my abdomen.  Four pints of blood was emptied into me in an hour long period.

            I still have bruises that are achy, but I've learned to live with the pain, "Yeah.  I figured as much."

            "You alright?"

            "Uh huh.  Just a little tired still."

            She pats my shoulder, "Well, I'm glad you're back.  This other guy they brought in can't make heads or tails of the evidence we give him.  We're still trying to figure out how he got hired."

            "Probably banging Eckley." I say nonchalant, but that evil grin I've acquired after years of watching suspects while they are questioned by the CSIs and various detectives has appeared on my lips.

            Catherine laughs, then laughs harder, "You…Oh, Greg…you're probably right!" She manages to get herself under control and flashes one of her infamous smiles, "Come on.  I told the rest of them that I was picking you up and there was immediate talk of parties."

            I groan.

            Parties.  I'm not a big fan of them anymore.

            "I made them promise if they decided on one that they'd have to keep it small.  Besides, they've only had about twenty-five minutes." She says, as though they've never pulled together to do something in that amount of time before.

            We stroll through the open door; past the receptionist who smiles and greets me, even though she's never done that before.  Into the break room, where Warrick, Nick, Grissom, Archie, Lindsay, and several others are standing with a chocolate layer cake and a couple bottles of soda.

            "I thought you weren't involved." I state, venomous, but it's washed away when I hug her, "It's not bad." I'm suddenly enclosed in a pair of skinny, feminine arms, "Hey, you."

            Little Willows leaps up, "I missed you!" Squeezes my chest tight, taking all the air out of me.
            "I missed you, too!" I spirit out, against the wringing in my heart and the burning in my lungs.

            "Lindsay!  Let go of Greg!"

            As she relinquishes her hold on me, I shake my head, "It's okay, Catherine.  She's just happy to see me."

            "We all are, man.  I swear there a couple minutes there I really didn't know if you were gonna make it.  But I should've known that you're too strong to give up." Nick slaps me on the back, and grins idiotically.

            Is that supposed to mean something to me?  Should I be glad that they've decided to see that I am human and not a lab rat?

            I settled for a mock-heartwarming, "Thanks, Nick." instead of the scathing I want to scream out.  Not that I would with the young blonde here anyway.  I'll let her have her time of thinking that the world is good, thinking that not all people are fucking evil beings despite the work her mother does and despite the harsh reality that her daddy is dead and gone.  She deserves that much.

            This replacement kid sister, who I use to right the wrongs of siblings now full of anger toward me.

            "How'd you guys find out about my favorite food?" I ask, gesturing to the sweet on the counter.

            "We asked David.  He said you and a group of people go out to breakfast every Wednesday, and, without fail, you always order a piece of chocolate layer cake." Sara supplies, "We couldn't find one with cherry on the inside so we bought a can of pie filling that you can put on it."

            I cannot believe that David remembered that.  Perhaps he should be the one bucking for a CSI position.

            Perhaps.

            "Remind me to thank him later.  And where's this pie filling?  Forget putting it on the cake…that stuff is great straight up!" I laugh, scratching my ribs through the fabric of my shirt and earning a few smiles from the gang of sudden-friends.

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*v* Cassie Jamie *v*

csimiami@cassie-jamie.com