Author: Vplasgirl (aka Danie, LSI)
Disclaimer: 'CSI' and all its characters belong to Anthony Zuiker, CBS and Alliance Atlantis. No copyright infringement is intended.
Spoilers: Up to the end of Season 5
Summary: Six years after Sara leaves the lab and Las Vegas, Grissom retires and moves to Boston to teach at Harvard. There, he finds a nice compromise to the life he's always loved. And, he gets to reunite with his old friend, Dan. Little did he know that he and Dan have a mutual acquaintance, one that would at long last change his life.
I can picture your utter disbelief at receiving this email. You didn't think you'd hear from me, did you? It's that 'uh-huh' you mumbled when I said I'd be in touch that clued me in to your skepticism. But your first clue that I intended to keep my promise should have been that I hung around for cake. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, ask Warrick. He'll explain it to you.)
I met with the Dean this morning, finalized the terms of my employment, and then found a nice hermetically sealed condo near campus. No snickering! I've turned enough new leaves this year. Unfortunately, it's not available until the end of August so I'll need to make other arrangements for the summer…preferably some quiet place where I can finally tackle my little project. And no, I still won't tell you what it is. Deal with it. If it's successful, I promise you'll be the first to know.
I'll be in touch again once I'm settled somewhere, but for now, I have to go. I'm meeting an old friend for drinks in the lounge downstairs in a few minutes. He's a heart surgeon and a professor of cardiovascular surgery at Harvard Medical School. And before you complete that disparaging thought, he's in pediatrics!
Give my regards to everyone. And, keep an eye on Greg for me, will you?
p.s.: When all is said and done, it's not the lab I miss so much as the people. (See, I do have a heart.) Take care of each other.
Satisfied with his missive, Gil hit 'send' and powered down his laptop. A quick glance at his watch told him he had just enough time for a quick shower before meeting Dan.
Chapter 1 - Summerhouse
June 30, 2011
As expected at five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, the Four Seasons' lobby lounge was lively with the after-work crowd. Suits, male and female, sat in overstuffed chairs and loveseats around low round tables, sipping cocktails and popping fistfuls of peanuts into their mouths; some were in hushed conversations while others carried on in more boisterous tones.
Gil immediately spotted Daniel Colton at the bar. Although Daniel was facing away from the door and he hadn't laid eyes on him in over ten years, there was no mistaking that full head of strawberry-blond hair. Gil smiled, but before joining Dan, he took a moment to do what he always did, what he had semi-consciously been doing for six years: he scanned the room for a pretty brunette with dark eyes and a heart-stopping smile.
Expectations of seeing her had never been high, and after all these years his disappointment barely registered.
But he still looked. Just in case.
As if sensing his presence, Dan turned and after a moment's hesitation, a wide grin split his face. "Hey, Gil!" He waived as he got to his feet.
Gil crossed the room and shook his friend's hand. "It's been too long, Daniel."
"It has." Dan motioned for him to sit. "A drink," he stated loudly, drawing the bartender's attention. "What will you have?"
"A vodka Martini," Gil said directly to the bartender, then swiveled in his seat to face Dan who was eyeing him steadily.
"I'd say you haven't changed, but that would be a lie. I almost didn't recognize you with that beard."
Grinning wryly, Gil unconsciously scratched his jaw. "A mid-life crisis; it hides a double chin."
"You look pretty trim and fit to me."
The bartender set Gil's martini down on a cardboard coaster.
Gil turned his attention to Dan. "I wasn't when I grew it, and by the time I no longer needed the cover, I'd grown attached to it." He lifted his cocktail glass to Dan's Old Fashioned in a silent toast.
"Speaking of attached…," Dan purposefully looked at Gil's left hand.
Gil shrugged. "I never found the time or energy for it."
"Hmm," he grunted noncommittally.
Dan smirked. "Mel had you well-pegged—what was it? Thirty-three years ago? Damn, how time flies."
"Ah, yes, and how is the beautiful Melanie?"
"She's great—still happily married to Chuck. They live in L.A. now. A real society gal." He rolled his eyes, but his grin betrayed his fondness for his sister. "With the kids gone, she now devotes most of her time to whatever charity event attracts the who's who of Hollywood."
The two men traded a conspiratorial grin. Melanie was Gil's first serious girlfriend in college and his polar opposite. In fact, had she not been a knockout, he doubted he would have spared her a second glance. Dan understood that now, of course, but as a young adolescent who had worshipped the ground his sister's boyfriend walked on, their break-up had been difficult for him.
Early that fall, Gil received his first letter from Dan, and they continued to keep in touch sporadically over the years. Gil had attended his college graduation, his wedding, and finally, a little over ten years ago, his parents' and his wife's funerals. All three were killed in a car accident on their way back from a conference in New York where Dan's father—an appellate court judge—had been the keynote speaker. Dan had encouraged his wife to go with them to do some shopping and take in some shows, which she had loved, while he spent the weekend fishing with his young son at his family home in Cape Cod.
While losing his parents had been hard on Dan, Gil knew that losing Carol had devastated him. He remembered her as a pretty brunette with wide blue eyes and a ready smile. Dan had been deeply in love with her and told Gil a few months after her death that were it not for his son, he doubted he would get out of bed in the morning. But with his tall good looks and gregarious personality, Dan had never lacked female attention and Gil had expected that in time, he would find someone who made him as happy as Carol had.
To the best of his knowledge, it hadn't happened.
Although his fondness for Dan made him want to ask about his social life, Gil hesitated, and asked about his son instead.
"He's almost fourteen," Dan stated with a raised brow that implied further explanation shouldn't be necessary.
"Right." Gil replied, "enough said."
"Actually—" With a motion of his hand, he drew Gil's attention to a recently vacated table nearby. Both men left the bar for the more private space as he continued, "He's a great kid; quieter than he used to be, but that's to be expected. To be honest, it's a bit of a relief. Remember how talkative he was as a four-year-old?"
Chuckling, Gil took a seat across from Dan and stretched his legs. "I do."
"Until the age of thirteen, I don't think he had a thought he didn't express. He talked a mile a minute and rarely took a breath." Dan shook his head. "It drove me nuts at times. Now, I worry about what he's not telling me."
"Well, it shouldn't be a mystery. At fourteen, most of his preoccupations are likely wearing short skirts."
"I wish," Dan said emphatically. "It's part of what worries me." At Gil's questioning glance, he said, "He developed an infatuation for our next door neighbor at the Cape when he was ten or so. He told her that when he was all 'growed'up, he'd marry her. We laughed about it at the time. I mean, what boy hasn't had a crush on an older woman? And I was even secretly proud that he had such good taste; she's very attractive." He gave Gil a brief smile, and then his expression turned serious again. "The problem is, he hasn't outgrown it. He's showing no interest in girls his age, and when we have to miss a weekend in Provincetown, he spends all his time moping around the house."
Gil absently stirred his martini as an old memory came back to him. He bit the olive off the swizzle stick then tossed the stick to the table. "He sounds like you at that age. Remember—what was her name? The, uh, buxom blonde that lived down the street from you guys?"
Dan laughed. "Suzy Cooper. She was stacked, Gil. Who says 'buxom' anymore? Anyway, it's not the same. Suzy was a twenty-year old sex goddess. Sara's close to forty."
The mere mention of that name still made something shift in Gil's chest; fortunately, the sensation wasn't as sharp as it had once been. Ignoring it with practiced ease, he squinted at Dan. "That is strange," he said, but it wasn't that strange. Gil didn't say it, but as unusual as Dan's son's crush sounded, he knew it wasn't unheard of. Drawing on his experience as a criminologist, which had made him somewhat of an expert in the human psyche, he asked, "What about your social life? Have you had any serious relationships since…?"
"Since Carol died?" Dan shook his head and the shadow that crossed his face did nothing to alleviate Gil's concern. "You have to understand. What I had with Carol…that doesn't happen twice."
"It's been ten years, Dan. Ghosts don't keep your bed warm at night, and they certainly don't fulfill a boy's needs."
Staring at Gil, Dan frowned. "You think Billy's looking for a mother?"
"It's possible. He lost both his mother and his grandmother when he was four years old. Has he had any mother figure in his life other than this woman?"
"No," Dan reluctantly admitted. He frowned again. "You make a valid point. I never gave it much thought, but a couple of years ago Sara did mention something about Billy scheming to get us to spend more time together." Laughter suddenly erupted from him and he shook his head. "I can't believe this didn't this occur to me before? It makes sense. My kid found himself a mother and he's trying to make her my wife."
"How do you feel about that?"
Dan's eyes shot up in good-humored surprise. "Psychoanalysis your new passion, Gil, or was that a Freudian slip?"
Gil grimaced lightly. "Job hazard." After a brief pause, he added, "I have been concerned about your apparent lack of social life since Carol died."
"I'm fine. Of all people, I'd think you should understand. Didn't you steer clear of romantic entanglements your entire life?"
Gil lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "Not really. There's a difference between not wanting something and not knowing how to get it, or keep it when you do find it. You, on the other hand, never had a problem in that area."
Dan gave him a wry grin, emptied his glass, and waved to the waitress. "Another?" he asked.
When the waitress left with their drink order, Dan said, "Sara's a great gal. She inherited the place next door five years ago and turned it into a very successful Guest House. She's interesting and smart and pretty, and a very talented photographer. And she adores Billy, of course. We keep each other company."
"A paragon of virtue. So, is it that you're not in love with her, or that you're afraid to love her?"
Gil shifted in his seat as all traces of humor left Dan's face. He had spent a good part of his life interrogating people, digging into their psyche, trying to understand them, manipulating them to reveal themselves, and at times, sitting in judgment of them. It was part of the job, and after years of practice, prying into people's lives had become second nature. But his respect for his friends and colleagues had never permitted him to cross that line with them—unless his position at the lab made it necessary, and even then, it had made him uncomfortable. It was different with Dan who was seven years his junior, and while hardly an important distinction at their age, he still thought of him as the kid brother who had looked up to him as a teenager, then sought his advice as a young man.
And it worried Gil that Dan continued to hang on to his late wife's ghost.
Dan blamed it on love, the kind that happened only once in a lifetime, and while that assessment was understandable in the beginning, ten years later, Gil simply wasn't buying it. He was tempted to probe further, to lead Dan to the conclusion he had already reached, that he was letting guilt and fear stop him from moving on with his life. But the faint scowl on his friend's face kept Gil silent.
The waitress came with their drinks, providing a welcome distraction. After thanking her, Gil looked at Dan who was eyeing him speculatively with a lilting smile on his lips.
"What happened to, 'Do yourself a favor and don't come to me for advice on love'? When did you become an expert in the human heart?"
"You're right. I'm hardly in a position to lecture you about this. I'm sorry."
"Hmm," Sitting back, Dan perched his right ankle on his left knee. A moment of silence followed, then unexpectedly, he said, "'Curator of Coleoptera'. You must be pleased with that."
"I am. I'll also be teaching, which made the position even more attractive."
"You never said why you retired from CSI."
Gil sighed regretfully. "My knees. Physically, the job just became too demanding. The only alternative was to limit myself to management, and I never really enjoyed that aspect of the job." He gave a self-deprecating chuckle. "I wasn't very good at it. It was time to do something else, and with this offer came the added benefit of having more time to write."
"Ah, yes. A crime novel, Gil? That does surprise me."
"I suspect it will surprise many people. I'm keeping it quiet for now, at least until something comes of it—if something comes of it."
"I'm sure it will. Anyway, with your experience in criminology you probably have an endless pool of stories just waiting to be told." Dan made small rotations with his wrist, swirling the golden liquid in his glass. The ice cubes clinked. "Have you given any thought to where you'll live?"
Gil nodded. "I bought a condo near campus. I take possession at the end of August, so if you know of something that's available for the summer—"
Without hesitation, Dan said, "Come stay with Billy and me at the Cape. We spend most of the summer there."
With an equal lack of hesitation, Gil shook his head. "Thank you, that's very thoughtful, but—"
"Say no more," Dan interrupted. "You need peace and quiet to work on that novel of yours. At least come spend a few days with us. We're flying down in the morning. We'll be staying the week, so you can come anytime. The Cessna only seats two anyway. If you don't mind the drive, we'll be there when you get there."
"I'd like that. Listen, I do appreciate your offer, but under the circumstances, I wouldn't make a very pleasant houseguest."
"I understand. You can still drive out whenever you need a break." Dan sat back and stretched his legs. "So, tell me about your novel."
Brightening up considerably, Gil did just that.
THE BEGINNING OF the Cape Cod tourist season was making itself felt along the US 6 East between Truro and Provincetown. Heavy traffic was stretching the expected two-and-a-half hour trip from Boston to the tip of the Cape to more than three. But Gil didn't mind. He enjoyed the drive, the time for reflection, of which he'd had precious little since leaving his twenty-five-year career three weeks ago. He hadn't had time for regrets either, if indeed such a time would come.
But it wouldn't be today.
The July 1st sun was comfortable for someone accustomed to the smoldering heat of the desert. He didn't turn on the air-conditioning in the car, but kept his windows open to let in the salt-scented, warm breeze, and he reveled in a feeling of peace, almost foreign to him after years of restlessness.
When he arrived in Provincetown, a surprising prickle of excitement and anticipation nipped at his gut. He took Commercial Street and continued south to Harbor Drive, making a turn in the cul-de-sac where the Colton family home stood, unchanged thanks to conservation laws dating back to the Kennedy administration.
He parked behind Dan's car in the narrow driveway and looked up at the large two-story clapboard house circa 1930. It had weathered nicely to its natural silvery color over the years, and the trim was still neatly painted a deep shade of blue-gray.
Only one house stood beyond the Colton home in the cul-de-sac, a slightly larger one, Georgian Colonial in architecture. Gil noted that time had not stood still there. He remembered it as an old, rambling, and unremarkable house, unkempt in appearance, which had irritated the Coltons. Now, the flat boards sported a fresh coat of blue-gray paint, almost the shade of the trim on Dan's house. A well-tended courtyard, edged by a low-riding flagstone wall, made it look inviting yet private. Even the trees and shrubs seemed to want to cozy up to it. The sign perched at the top of an ornate wrought iron post at the mouth of the walkway identified it as 'Summerhouse'.
Dan came out and waved. Gil pulled the trunk release lever and got out of his new Lexus.
"Fourth of July weekend; I should have expected it," Gil replied as he collected his luggage from the trunk.
Dan went to his car and pulled three overstuffed bags from the back seat.
Gil snapped the trunk shut. "Did you just get here?"
"Yeah…I was called in on an emergency this morning." He glanced at the house next door, a good-natured frown marring his forehead as he hitched one bag over his shoulder and balanced two more in his left hand, closing the door with his right. "Billy," he said in an exasperated tone. "He made a beeline for Sara's the minute we got here; didn't even take a minute to bring his bag in the house."
Gil smiled and followed Dan up the driveway. Motioning towards his neighbor's house with his chin, he said, "Quite an improvement."
"Tell me about it. I was about to pressure the Mayor to do something about that place. When old Mrs. Crawford died, she left the property to her daughter, Sara's mother, but I don't think the woman ever came back after the funeral. Sara inherited it five years ago and fixed it up."
Inside, Dan dropped his bags in the foyer and Gil did the same. He followed him down the long hallway to the back of the house, past the L-shape staircase on the right and the double living-sitting room on the left. The curtains were still drawn, but from what Gil could see in the gloom, nothing had changed in ten years. Even the furniture looked the same.
By contrast, the kitchen was filled with light. Punching a number in the cordless phone, Dan indicated a stool at the large center island, which housed the cook-top and an inset butcher-block cutting board on one side, and the breakfast bar on the other.
Gil took a seat as Dan spoke into the phone. "Hi, Steph. Is Sara around?"
The kitchen was brighter than Gil remembered, but otherwise familiar with its light oak cupboards and burgundy-red countertops, their shade identical to the tiled floor. Cradling the receiver in his neck, Dan took two beers from the refrigerator, twisted off the caps, and offered one to Gil.
Dan tipped his bottle to his lips, and mid-swallow, smiled. "Hey, yourself. Busy?"
Gil only half listened to Dan's end of the conversation. His gaze took in to the row of double-hung windows with their roman shades drawn to let in the mid-afternoon light. Dan was looking out, saying, "Yeah, I see him. Did he mention we have a guest?" He looked back at Gil, hooking a thumb in the direction of his neighbor's house and mouthing, 'barbecue'?
Gil shrugged his assent as he got to his feet and wandered to the screened back door which opened onto a porch. The views of Provincetown Harbor beyond the well-tended garden and the narrow stretch of beach on the other side of the gate were quite impressive.
"Sure, we'd love to come. I'll bring the wine." Dan said. "Yeah, he's an old friend of mine, a writer—"
Unaccustomed to hearing that description of himself, Gil whirled to face Dan.
Dan winked and then his eyes grew wide. "Hey," he said, "Is the attic room done?" He listened for a beat, and then laughed. "I told you not to trust that guy. Will you ever listen to me?...Yeah, yeah. Seriously though, I just might have a customer for you… Yeah, he's looking for a quiet place to write for the summer."
Gil threw Dan a quizzical look, but Dan only brushed it off with a quick shake of his head. "Great, he can see it later," he continued. "We'll be there in…" he glanced at his watch, "…an hour okay with you?... Good. See you soon—Oh, and tell Billy to get his ass over here. He hasn't even unpacked."
After he hung up, Gil raised a brow. "What was that about?"
"How would you like to spend the summer in Provincetown, all the privacy you want, free to come and go as you please, no demands on your time?"
Dan nodded. "It's a good-sized suite in the attic. I call it the 'attic room', but she doesn't like that very much. I think she calls it the 'Eagle's Nest' or something fancy like that. Anyway, it's large and overlooks the harbor, but the best part is that it's available…well, almost available. She had a minor plumbing problem, but nothing that won't be fixed by Tuesday."
"Sounds interesting. I'll talk to her about it at dinner."
At that moment, a freckled-faced boy with a thick mop of curly, brown hair, and a mild case of adolescent acne, bounced in, banging the screen door behind him. "Dad! Sara wants us to come to dinner."
"Hey, where are your manners, young man?" Dan grabbed his son's shoulders and turned him to face Gil. "Say hello to Mr. Grissom."
Billy's fair skin flushed, and his wide blue eyes touched on Gil for the briefest moment before dropping to his feet. "Hi."
"It's a pleasure to see you again, Billy."
He looked up, surprised. "Again?"
Gil nodded. "We met when you were four years' old."
"Oh." Having evidently reached the extent of his interest in his father's old friend, Billy turned to Dan, and with the single-mindedness of youth, said, "Can we go to Sara's, Dad? Please."
"Only if you take your stuff upstairs and unpack. And bring Mr. Grissom's bags up as well. Put them in the guest room at the end of the hall. The one on the right."
"'Kay." The bounce was back in the boy's step as he took off for the front hall. Then, remembering his manners, he turned back into the room. "It was nice meeting you again, sir."
Gil smiled. "Thank you, Billy. And call me Gil."
"'Kay," he muttered before fleeing the room.
An hour later, Gil and Dan were crossing to Summerhouse's back garden by way of the beach. In his haste to get there, Billy had taken a quicker route through the dense, white cedar hedge that served as a boundary between the two properties. A tolerant Dan only shook his head in mild exasperation as Billy crawled through the man-made gap at the base of two shrubs, attesting to the boy's frequent use of the shortcut.
They entered Sara's garden through a wrought iron gate and followed the path along colorful and fragrant flowerbeds, leafy border plants and evergreens, and past secondary paths that led to a pergola and a fishpond—various 'rooms', each designed to afford Summerhouse's guests some privacy.
Gil noted that the garden and the house were as arrestingly attractive in the back as they were in the front. The only distinguishable feature between front and back was the wide patio door—obviously not part of the original architecture—on the flagstone terrace. The garden plantings extended to the terrace, bordering it with various shrubs that served as a backdrop to large terra-cotta flowerpots and several lounge chairs covered in striped navy and white fabric. A matching linen umbrella topped a rectangular table, which was elegantly dressed for four with bright yellow table linens, white porcelain dishes, crystal, and silverware.
The effect was nothing short of striking.
Dan put the wine on the table. "We need a corkscrew. Make yourself at home," he told Gil. "I'll be right back."
Alone on the terrace, Gil looked up at the guesthouse, at the row of double-hung windows on the second floor, and up higher, at the dormer windows in the gabled roof. The Attic Room. Although he had yet to set foot inside, his impression thus far left little doubt that there was much to recommend Summerhouse. But even without its elegance and intrinsic restfulness, having his oldest and dearest friend—the closest thing he'd had to family other than his mother—living next door made the idea of spending the summer there even more enticing.
He was wondering what a two-month stay in this east-coast paradise would cost him when an exuberant Billy bounded onto the terrace.
"Sara made my favorite!" he exclaimed as he carefully set a bowl of guacamole and a basket of tortilla chips on the table. He plopped himself into a chair and immediately dug in.
Gil went to the table and scooped up some of the avocado dip with a tortilla. He took a bite. "This is very good."
"She always makes it for me because she knows I like it."
He popped the last half of his tortilla into his mouth. "Well, from what your father tells me, she's a very nice lady."
Billy's expression turned contemplative. "I like this house much better than ours."
Curiosity made him ask. After what Dan had told him the night before, and what he had witnessed today, Gil suspected it was because this woman—Sara—lived in it. But he was interested in what Billy had to say.
His curiosity, however, wouldn't be satisfied. Billy only shrugged and, as if deciding he'd said enough to this stranger, proceeded to ignore him.
If Gil hadn't heard Dan's voice at the patio door just then, his interest in the boy might have incited him to probe further. But it wasn't Dan who made him forget all about Billy and his teenaged crush on an older woman. It was her laugh—so familiar it made his insides twist painfully.
And then he heard her voice. A voice he couldn't mistake for anyone else's.
She stepped out onto the terrace and he froze. When her dark eyes lifted and met his, her smile slowly died on her lips.
Gil was aware of his heart racing, his heavy breathing, his hands trembling, which he instinctly controlled by making fists. He was even vaguely aware of two other people curiously watching them. But he couldn't think of a thing to say. Under the emotional and physical assault of her unexpected appearance, his brain had ceased to function, and he couldn't recall the things he had dreamed he'd say, or do, if he ever saw her again.
Sara hauled in a sharp breath. "Grissom!"
Commanding himself to recover, to respond, he swallowed, and finally managed—
—and damned the tremor in his voice.