"No." The word has a disturbingly final ring as it comes out of her mouth, and I just barely manage to keep my face from registering the surprise I feel. It isn't a tone Sara would normally use with me, and certainly not in a professional context – but there it is.
I feel rebuffed, and the feeling insinuates itself into my voice as I answer her. "You don't have much choice in this matter, Sara – either you go to the workshop or you're going to have to deal with someone higher-up than me who won't be pleased about having his orders disobeyed."
Things shift back into familiar territory as she gives me a "piss-off-and-die" glare. "I wasn't aware that CEUs had become mandatory, Grissom," she says tightly, putting more emphasis than necessary on my name. "The last time I checked, we were allowed to pick which courses we wanted to take and not take."
I shrug, carefully schooling my face into a calm look that belies my rising blood pressure. "CEUs are still voluntary – just not this particular one. As I've already told you, this wasn't my call to make. Tearing a strip off of me isn't going to get you any farther with the management."
She still looks strained, but the edge in her voice is less sharp as she speaks this time. "I know. You told me that. But . . ." She flings her hands in the air and rolls her eyes. "I don't get it! I do not understand what is so special about forensic linguistics that I cannot possibly be allowed to miss this course!"
I'd run out of platitudes, and now I was quickly running out of patience with her. "I don't know either," I tell her, picking up my glasses off of the desk and replacing them on my face. "But I also don't know why you would be so vehemently opposed to going. No," I add, holding up a hand as she starts to say something, "don't tell me why. It doesn't particularly matter. Bottom line, Sara: the two of us are stuck going to this workshop. We might as well just adjust to the notion."
"I'm not adjusting!"
"I noticed." I raise my hand back to my glasses, adjusting them but not taking them off. "And I'm left with only one thing to say in response to that."
She gives me a dark look, daring me to say something that would allow her to yell at me some more. "And just what is that?"
Assuming a look of supreme indifference, I say coolly, "I don't care." I'm gratified to see her eyebrows nearly shoot off her face at my apparent lack of interest. "You can adjust or not adjust," I go on in the same calm way, "and it doesn't matter to me which you choose to do. All I'm concerned with is the fact that I was asked to attend this workshop and I'm going. I'll learn just as much without you there as with you."
The words seem harsh even before they leave my mouth, but I don't attempt to soften them. What I'm telling her is, technically, the truth – the amount of knowledge I gain could only be increased, not decreased, should she not attend. That the reason for the increase would be because that way she wouldn't be there to distract me is a different issue entirely.
I rein in the mental digression and return my focus to the woman standing in front of me. She looks shocked, I note. She's no more used to hearing such harshness from me than I'm used to hearing it from her. Her mouth opens once, then closes, and I almost laugh as I realize that I've left her speechless. "I'm not telling you that it wouldn't be helpful to have you there," I begin, then check myself. Way to backpedal, Gil – you're just getting the upper hand and now you're going soft because it's Sara you're speaking to. I search for less touchy-feely words as I finish my sentence: "I'm just telling you that, though it's in your best interests to attend, I obviously can't force you, and neither can anyone else."
"Damn straight." Oh, wonderful – there goes her mouth again.
"Okay, then," I say with an abrupt nod. "That would be the end of our business in here."
"What?" She looks confused, and I realize that I've surprised her once again. Twice in one night, a new record for me!
"We've reached an impasse in logic. I've presented all my arguments and you've presented yours. The rest can only be done in our heads." She looks at me like I have two heads and it dawns on me that I've been using big words when small ones would do. "In other words," I offer, "I think this could be called a 'Mexican standoff'. Nothing can be done until one of us deigns to move – or until the workshop begins."
Sara looks at me for a long moment, seeming to wait for me to give her something more. When I don't, she shakes her head and shrugs. "Right. See you later, Grissom."
I nod. As I watch her retreating figure grow smaller as she walks away from my office, I remove my glasses and pinch the bridge of my nose, hoping to stave off the headache I feel coming on.
I've successfully avoided her for almost an entire night, and I'm standing in front of my locker congratulating myself when Greg pops his head around from the other side. "Hey, Gris."
I mumble a greeting, wishing that he didn't pick such inopportune moments to try to bond with me.
I almost groan when the rest of his body follows his head and he plops himself down on the bench in front of me. "So . . ." I brace myself for what's coming – Greg always seems to have something annoying to say – and I'm not disappointed when he continues, "What'd you do to Sara tonight?"
Why does everyone thing I seek out ways to antagonize the woman? I feel like screaming at the next person who mentions Sara to me, especially in the context of the two of us fighting. "I didn't do anything to Sara," I tell the brat with a disdainful look. "And I don't see where it would be your place to ask me that sort of question, anyway."
He gives me an exaggeratedly frightened look. "Hey, okay. Didn't mean to push your buttons. I'll just . . ." He tugs at the collar of his bright green shirt and takes a step away from me. "I'll just leave you alone, then." He beats a hasty retreat, leaving me back where I started, alone.
It drives me crazy that everyone thinks I deliberately do things to her. It also drives me crazy that people act like I'm some monster who doesn't care about the people I work with. In fact, I'm just feeling rather crazy overall tonight. I wonder if I should go rampaging through the halls and just validate everyone's feelings.
I decide against it – big surprise there – and opt instead to change my shirt and hope that my mood changes with it. I tug off the polo I've been wearing and reach into my locker for the old button-down shirt that I know I have in there.
It's not on the hook that it should be on, and as a result I'm crouched down, fishing around the floor of my locker for my clothing, when Sara appears beside me. I look up when I sense the movement, then do a double-take when I realize who it is. The absurd urge to do something to hide my bare chest from her comes upon me, and I just barely resist, knowing how stupid that would make me look. As if I don't look stupid enough in front of her every day of my life.
My hand finally encounters my shirt and I grab it and stand up to face her. Her eyes flick to my chest, and though they just as quickly move back to my face, I decide that I've had enough. I turn my back to her and shrug the shirt on, asking over my shoulder, "Do you need something?"
She says nothing, waiting until I'm back behind my protective barrier of clothing and facing her again. When she does speak then, her words surprise me. " 'Need' . . . no, I don't need anything," she says, sounding wistful. But maybe that's just my wishful thinking. I raise my eyebrows, encouraging her to continue. "I just wanted to let you know that I, ah . . ." She pauses, clearly uncomfortable.
I have a good idea of what she's going to tell me, and I feel rather guilty for handling things so clumsily that she's forced to tell me this way. I wait for her to go on, trying to look less forbidding.
". . .that I'll be at the workshop," she finishes quickly. "So, uh, yeah. Just . . ." She stops, trying her hardest not to look at me. I wonder if she's really that embarrassed about having to acquiesce to a command I gave her, or whether she just won't look at me on general principle.
I nod gently. "Ok. Thank you for letting me know." I give her what I hope is a conciliatory smile. "I appreciate it."
She nods jerkily and turns to leave. After a moment, she turns back to me and points to my torso. "You, um . . ." I look down and see the problem at the same time she voices it: "You messed up your buttons."
Well, great. I'm incapable of dressing myself like a competent adult when facing her. It's my turn to be embarrassed, and I feel an absurd heat start to creep up my cheeks. I quickly focus my attention on my chest and start unbuttoning.
Distracted, as usual, by her presence, I fumble with a few buttons and she gives me a knowing look. "Stop, you'll just end up pulling one off." She reaches out and shoos my hands away, making quick work of the buttons that I couldn't figure out. "There."
She brushes a speck of imaginary – or perhaps not imaginary – dust off of my shoulder and smiles. For just a moment, it's the full grin that I love so much to see on her face. Then it dims and I can tell that she just decided she crossed some sort of line. Whether said line is mine or hers, I don't know, but I look on with no expression as her eyes dart from side to side and she backs away. "Uh . . . yeah. So I'll, uh, see you tomorrow."
She gone before I can formulate a response that doesn't make me look any stupider than I already do, and I lean an arm against my locker and sigh, wishing that this whole problem would just go away.
The problem is still there three days later when I ring her doorbell, so nervous that I fear I might stutter when she opens her door. It's bad enough that the two of us somehow got paired up for this conference, but the fact that the conference is in New York makes me wonder if someone upstairs is out to get me. I'm going to have to spend five hours in a cramped airplane with her!
Does she like the aisle, or the window? I wonder, then quickly dismiss the thought as inconsequential. It doesn't matter; she can have whichever she likes.
I'm still trying to convince myself that I can survive the flight when her door opens and she gives me a curious look. "You're early."
I look at my watch to verify this. I am, indeed, thirty minutes early picking her up. Well, I just got a little impatient sitting at home. Half an hour isn't that bad, right? Besides, we could use the extra time for airport check-in hassles. "Sorry," I mumble.
Despite her words, she appears to be ready to go, wearing a loose pair of jeans and an LVPD sweatshirt. Her suitcase – or one of them, at least – sits by the door, neatly zipped and locked. I gesture to it and ask her if it's ready to go to my car. She nods and tells me to hold on a second while she gets her carry-on and purse.
She shuts her door in my face, probably just by reflex, and I'm left on her front stoop, contemplating the myriad ways that this trip could go wrong. I've just come up with "Sara could meet another man there" when her door opens again and she gives me a sheepish look. "Sorry. It's habit to shut my door like that."
I nod, unsurprised. "I figured." She wheels her suitcase outside and I pick it up easily, glad that I don't look like a chump trying to carry something too heavy for him.
"Hey, wait up." She takes long steps to catch up with me. "It's not going to do me any good if you and my suitcase make it to New York, but I don't." She gives me a smile and a rush of hope fills me. Maybe this week won't be so bad . . .