"If I love you, what business is it of yours?" – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I stood for a long time under the almost unbearably hot spray of the shower, willing the water to wash away my shame, my mistakes, my longing. My head bent, I simply stood and against my will relived the incident that had been the catalyst to my life's downward spiral.
"Would you like to have dinner with me?"
I'd been so nervous ... all that day I'd made numerous trips to his office, wanting to ask, thinking that after all that time we'd finally made the connection that was, I had thought, inevitable between us. It had been the end of the shift when I'd worked up the courage to ask, and I had been eager, and earnest. But then ...
"Why not? Let's ... let's have dinner. Let's see what happens."
"Sara ..." He had sighed then, and my heart had plummeted. "I don't know what to do about this."
"I do." And I had. That was why I was there, after all.
For a long, tense moment we'd simply stared at each other, and it was then that the fragile hopes I'd harbored for me, for us, had splintered. And in an effort to stay calm, to remain nonchalant, I'd given him a parting shot : "You know, by the time you figure it out, you really could be too late."
Without realizing it, I'd curled one hand into a fist, and as I replayed those words again in my mind I struck the tiled wall before me. Why? I demanded silently, heart-sick, Why me? Why him? I received no answer; I never did. Miserable and terrified of confronting the man who even now waited for me in my kitchen, I turned the shower off and slid the fogged glass door open. For a moment I stood there, steam swirling around me, listening to the faint sounds of Grissom preparing a meal. I absurdly wished then that I had some means of escape, some small window in here or my room through which I could crawl to gain freedom from what was inevitable. With a heavy sigh I pulled my blue bath sheet off the rack and wrapped it around myself, grabbing another to wind around my dripping hair. The scent of whatever Grissom was making had drifted into the room, and at that instant I realized the severity of the situation I now found myself in. I'd gone too far last night, and the consequences were about to be revealed. I felt ill, not only from the hangover but from my extreme anxiety and it was with shaking hands that I dried myself and combed my wet hair free of its tangles before entering my room to dress.
Minutes later, clad in worn out jeans and a heavy sweater, I furtively opened the door to my room, hoping beyond hope that Grissom had inexplicably vanished. But no, there he was, standing at my kitchen table, setting it for two. Hesitantly I drifted over to the stove, to see what he had concocted, and found a pot of boiling chicken soup. Grissom had noticed me then, and beckoned me to sit in front of a bowl and spoon. Silently I obeyed, and as I stepped past him he held out one hand, in which there were two aspirin. I took the pills, studiously avoiding his gaze, and swallowed them dry before sitting down. He'd gone back to the kitchen, and returned a minute later with the soup. He served me my portion, then his own, and returned the soup to the stove top. When he finally he sat down opposite me, I was ready to scream from the charged, almost tangible tension between us.
"Sara," He said, and I jumped at the sound. He gave me a peculiar look, and pointed with his spoon. "Eat."
I glanced down at my bowl, and while the liquid within it smelled enticing, my stomach roiled uneasily. I shook my head, "I don't think I can."
"You need to eat something. You don't need to finish it all. Just some of it."
That brought a ghost of a smile to my face. "Yes, Dad." I shot him a look to see his expression, and was surprised to see the corner of his mouth tilted upwards in amusement. Feeling a little of my nervousness seep away, I lifted my spoon and began to eat. I only made it through several mouthfuls before I began to feel distinctly unwell again, and so I pushed the bowl away. Grissom, who ate fast and was always done before me, pushed his aside as well, propped both arms on the table, and clasped his hands. There was no avoiding it now; the time of reckoning was at hand, and it was with no small measure of misery that I forced myself to meet his gaze.
Because he said nothing, I spoke first. "Well, Grissom? Can we please get this over with?"
He nodded, brows pulled together in a frown. That wasn't reassuring. He didn't speak immediately, instead leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. I fidgeted; his stare was beginning to unnerve me as it usually did. Finally he said, "I need to know that you're going to be okay, Sara."
Whoa. That came out of left field, and out of surprise all I could dumbly reply with was, "What?"
"I said I need to know that you're going to be okay."
"I'll be fine."
"How can you do that?" He demanded suddenly, his tone sharp. My eyes, which had been steadfastly avoiding his presence, snapped back to him. He went on, his tone heated, "How can you sit there and blatantly lie to me like that?"
"I – I'm not lying, Grissom." I said weakly, taken aback.
"Yes, you are. You've done it for a long time now, and it took me this long to catch on. I don't think it's just others you lie to, either. I think you lie to yourself as well."
"No, I don't." I said with the beginnings of some anger.
"Prove it. Stop the drinking, stop pretending around everyone like you're okay and stop ... avoiding me like you always do."
My heart skipped a beat. "I don't avoid you, Grissom."
"You're lying again," He had raised his voice, and while he wasn't quite yelling he was close enough to it that inwardly, I was cringing. "Why can't you just tell me the truth? How hard can it be?"
You have no idea, I wanted to say, but I just mutely shook my head and made to rise from my seat.
"Sit. Down." He ground out, slamming both hands flat on the table. Shaken, I dropped back down. "You're not running out of this, Sara. We are going to get through this now."
I said nothing, now in a state of genuine terror. This had gotten way, way out of hand in a manner of seconds. Grissom's eyes, so icy in their fury, refused to loose their hold on my own. "You do avoid me. You won't look at me anymore, you only speak to me when I ask you a question, and you go out of your way to be assigned to any case that I'm not working on. I know the why of it, Sara; it was obvious." I felt heat rise to my face as again, his refusal to my proposal ripped resoundingly through my mind. Grissom continued relentlessly, "I figured you had the right; in fact, I didn't even blame you. But then the weeks went by and you began to change in other ways as well. You hardly speak to anyone anymore, you never smile, and always look ill. And I'm partially to blame, because I didn't think enough of it to say anything. But then Brass came to me with his suspicions, and the very next night you get pulled over for driving drunk –"
"Grissom, stop!" I shouted, rising from the table so abruptly that I sent my chair falling over backwards. He fell silent, more from surprise than because I had ordered him to. I was trembling, I realized vaguely; my overly analytical mind was doing its work, detached from the more volatile, emotionally chaotic parts of me. I swallowed several times, and when I could speak past the lump in my throat I said in a voice that was painfully uneven, "Leave. Get out. Please."
"No." He was on his feet then, too. Separated from him by the table, I would have given anything to be on a different plane of existence. Any minute now the very tenuous hold I had on all my inner turmoil was going to give way, and I couldn't let him see me like that. I was breathing quickly, in panicked gulps, and I almost sobbed aloud when he slowly stepped around the table to come in my direction.
"I'm not leaving until you give me reasons, Sara. Real reasons." His voice had softened, was barely more than a whisper, as if he were afraid that to speak any louder would send me fleeing. It would have; as it was now I was steadily backing away.
"I don't have to answer to you," I said, and my voice cracked.
"If this concerned just you ... then that would be true. But you're not the only one involved."
"Yes," I said, a little wildly, "I am."
He was a little more than a foot away from me now, and I was backed into a corner. "I won't stand by and watch you destroy yourself, Sara."
"Then don't watch."
His eyes glinted; frustration, and ... sorrow? What he said next astounded me. "I know I'm part of why you've done this."
"No, you're not." I automatically replied, dumbfounded because he knew what I was certain didn't.
"Another lie." His hands were held out before him in a gesture of peace, "Just acknowledge it, please, Sara. My ... rejection .... That's what set it all off, isn't it."
He was hitting way too close to home, but he knew it now, so why deny it? "Yes." I whispered, aware that that one word could alter everything on a grand scale.
He closed his eyes then; a brief wince at what I'd said? He opened them again, and asked me, "And what else, Sara? What else is causing this?"
He was too close; I couldn't think with him so near, and so I pushed away from the wall and very quickly strode to stand, again, before my patio window. He didn't follow, merely watched, and when I spoke again I was staring at the hazy sky outside. "I can't explain it ... I'm just so – so sick of it all. The cases get worse and worse ... I dread going to work, Grissom. I dread the assignments you give us. And the problem is, when you get off work and come home, things are supposed to be all better, things are supposed to go away ..."
"But they don't." Grissom finished my thoughts quietly.
"Right. They don't." I turned to face him, having calmed somewhat. "And so I'm coping, the only way I can."
"This," he said, gesturing with a wave of his hand to the empty beer bottles, "is not the only way you can cope."
"It's the only way I know how."
He didn't respond, and I turned back to the window. It was easier to look at something that didn't watch me back with a measuring, judgmental gaze. I heard him walking across the carpet, and then he was standing beside me, careful, I noticed, to keep his distance. He said then, "I want to help you overcome this."
And I replied by asking the one and only thing that really mattered, "Why?"
There was no hesitation on his behalf, though I was certain there would be. "Because I care enough to want to help. Because I'm partially to blame. And because ..."
"Because if I don't, it will be too late. For many things."
For a moment I stood and tossed that phrase around and around in my head; then, with a suddenness that left me breathless I realized there was an underlying meaning hidden within those words. Speechless, I slowly turned my head to look at him, to see if this was another thing of chance, something he'd said without realizing the importance. For a second he stared back, his gaze serious and grave, until a shrill ringing ripped through the tense stillness. Eyes never leaving mine, he reached down and freed his pager from where it hung at his belt. Seeing the message, he cursed softly.
Knowing what it would read, I said, "You had better go."
He nodded. "I'll go, but this isn't over. I'll be back when I can."
"No." I said quickly, and then blanched. But his expression remained the same: calm and intense.
"Yes." He replied. "I meant what I said, Sara."
"Just what ... just what did you mean?"
He smiled then, although it was tainted by the saddened, wistful light in his eyes. "You'll figure it out. We'll figure it out together." And with that vague, enigmatic comment he turned and made his way to my front door. He stopped once on the threshold, glancing back at me where I still stood numb with shock and a number of other afflictions, before crossing over and closing the door behind him.
In a state of utter bewilderment, I sank to the floor and drew my knees to my chest.
What the hell had just happened?