Disclaimer: Not mine.
Props: Cybrokat and Jennie are amazing and kind and the best damn people ever.
A/N: This was my attempt to write true and honest fluff. Well, this isn't fluff. Yet, it isn't angst, drama, romance or smut either. I'm not sure what it is. And since I've got about three other fics in my muse's pipeline, I figured I would finally post this. I hope you all enjoy it!
I don't remember the first day he walked through my door. Nor do I remember the second or the third. But I've been running this place for almost ten years now, and I can't remember a time when he wasn't around. I know I won't be seeing him again, I'm as sure of it as the day is long. But I won't forget him... or his story.
I have a vague memory that it started simply, sporadically. He must have walked in and ordered his usual - black coffee, wheat toast, sausage and two eggs, sunny-side up. I probably smiled politely and served it to him without batting an eyelash. I know a pattern ensued over time, and he was at my counter four days a week. Him and his newspaper.
I originally thought he was reading it; it wasn't until later that I noticed what he was up to. He did the New York Times crossword, and he stayed until he finished it. That's right, I said he finished it. Each and every time.
The morning is a busy time for my little greasy spoon off the highway; every trucker on the road comes in, they're either starting their day or ending it. That's why it took me a while to figure it out – I was busy. I ain't slow or nothing, I own this business and I've always got my eye on the bottom line. Truckers make up the majority of my customers, and I want them happy with my food and glancing at my ass as I walk by. I know how to keep those men coming in without prostituting myself like that bitch Arlene who owns the shack two exits up I-15, about two miles from downtown Vegas. Her food tastes like shit, too.
But I digress, and Arlene ain't worth speaking about anyways. So, after a few months, maybe more like a year, he finally started to speak. He'd chat politely with me, saying "Hello, Jessica" and "Thank you, Jessica." After three or four days of that, I set him straight. "It's Jess. Please, call me Jess." I distinctly remember the flash of embarrassment and discomfort that crossed his face in that moment, right before he became extremely interested in his eggs. In his defense, it was an honest mistake. He'd read my nametag, which has since been changed due to him, although he probably doesn't know that. I've seen a lot of folks cross my doors, and I pride myself on my ability to read people. My Puzzle Man, he was a shy guy. I remember I smiled sweetly at him and left him to his crossword. The next time he was in, and every time after that, he addressed me properly. I rewarded him with a smile each time and an extra cup on the house.
At one point, he did tell me his name. But I quickly forgot it; I knew him as my Puzzle Man. I figured he was single, he wore no ring and if he had a live-in girl, he'd be home and not working his crosswords at the corner of my counter at 7:30 a.m. He was middle-aged, somewhere between 40 and 50. His BMW proved he'd experienced and overcome his mid-life crisis. He seemed relatively content with his lot in life.
That is, until that night four years ago.
Now I'd better back up and explain the policies of the house. My restaurant, or diner, or hole in the wall, or whatever the hell you want to call it, it's open 24/7, 363 days a year. It seats seventy, and it looks just a diner from the fifties, complete with the old style jukebox against the far wall that cost me damn near a fortune. The floors are tile, the booths and metal stools are upholstered in black pleather, the tabletops and counters are stainless steel, and everything cleans up easily no matter what nastiness splatters on it. I've got six different cooks on staff, three hostesses for the dinner rush on the weekends, and five other waitresses besides myself. And like I said earlier, the majority of my customers are truckers. I'm far enough away from the city to offer good food cheap, but close enough that nobody's stranded out in the desert with the coyotes.
And I'm realistic. Sometimes the truckers need more than a steaming cup of my coffee. Although it's damn good coffee, if I do say so myself. But sometimes it ain't enough and I can respect that. So I got my liquor license early on and I can serve it if I want. The house rules stand that anyone can have one drink without question. Two or more, and you either hand over your keys or you show me the key card from the hotel across the street. I don't serve to anyone who has a kid with 'em either. And if I ain't here? Then there's no booze at all. Since I live in a double-wide out back, I'm usually around, and my customers can get sloshed at their leisure.
It's rare that I get a trucker wanting to booze up past 3 a.m., but it's happened. My Puzzle Man must have heard me reciting the rules at one point in time, because on that night, or early morning, or whichever you prefer to call 4:53 a.m., he walked straight up to my counter and placed the white key card two inches from the rag in my hand.
"JD on the rocks," he'd barked at me. Then he walked to his usual spot in the corner and sat with his hands folded in front of him, his brows furrowed and his eyes downcast.
I froze and Tommy, a regular who does his runs from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m., he looked at me hesitantly. Tommy's a big ol' teddy bear but he likes to think he's tough. I could tell he was getting that overprotective thing going, so I shot him a 'leave it alone' look and went and got the JD from my cabinet. I took out a tumbler from under the counter, scooped in a couple cubes of ice, and poured the whiskey for my strangely-behaving Puzzle Man.
Two seconds. That's all it took for him to down his drink and push it back towards me for another. O-kay… Far be it for me to deny a thirsty customer. I poured him another. And another. And perhaps a fourth, I can't remember for certain. He then sat for a while, contemplating those hands of his again. I went and took care of Tommy, reassuring him that everything was okay and that Eduardo was in back and would take care of me if things got hairy. It took a while to convince my wayward hero wannabe, and I'm sure my Puzzle Man overheard the conversation. But he didn't acknowledge it; he just stared at his damn hands.
Once Tommy left, I poured him another, which he sipped slowly this time. It was then I noticed the vest. The one that read "LVPD", "Forensics" and "Grissom". I recognized Grissom as his last name, like I said, he did tell me once. But until then, he'd never mentioned he worked for the cops, or that he was into forensics. And yeah, I know what forensic science is. I know what he does for a living.
"Rough night?" I asked.
He shrugged in reply. I took the hint and left him to drown his sorrows. When he left about an hour later as things started to get busy, he didn't stumble or falter as he walked out my door. I watched him walk across the street and around to the side entryway. He disappeared, and I didn't see him again for two months.
But I didn't forget him or the fifty dollar bill he'd left on the counter that night.
When he showed up for his normal routine, I tried to talk with him about the fifty. I mean, fifty bucks is fifty bucks people. That's a little too big of a tip for my tastes. I should've kept my mouth shut, but stupid me, I never could let things go.
"Hey," I'd said as I handed over his usual. "How are you?" I was sincere too. I had been concerned about my Puzzle Man.
"Hello, Jess. I'm doing well, thanks." He'd then gone back to his crossword, like nothing unusual had happened the last time he was here.
"Really? That's good. I was kind of worried you know. I hadn't seen you since that night."
He didn't look up from his crossword as he softly said, "Yes, I know."
"You didn't have to leave me that fifty, you know. I mean, I really appreciate it, I do, but…" His eyes stopped me right there; deep blue and swirled with sorrow. I'd offended him and I knew it.
He didn't speak and neither did I. Six months passed with nary a word between us other than "Yes" and "Thank you". Something strange had developed between me and my Puzzle Man, but it clearly was never to be discussed.
After a time, the casual familiarity returned. He was different somehow, tense and less content with his world. I had no idea what the catalyst for this change was, but I was quite sure when it first appeared. I let it go, as I had my own problems to deal with. Taxes were on the rise along with the costs of running a restaurant. And my clientele were thinning out. Times were tough, and I had ends that needed meeting.
I guess you could say it was all water under the bridge, until it happened again. This time he was in street clothes and he was more distraught than angry. Hurt would be a good description. Something, or some one, had hurt him. He was discreet about presenting the card this time, and an unspoken communication began between us.
I presented him with his Jack on the rocks, and I continued to refill his glass until his hand covered the rim. He left quietly like before; his tolerance of the hard stuff impressive. Then again, he wasn't a scrawny little thing, so maybe it fit.
He'd left another fifty and I took it without question.
Thus a second pattern began with my Puzzle Man, one I couldn't readily decipher. The whiskey sessions increased in frequency, but the delays in returning decreased. We'd reached an understanding, and in a way, I wondered if I was being used. He could have gone to a bar; it wasn't like there weren't millions of them around. He could have gone home rather than pay sixty bucks for the hotel bill, and another fifty to me. But he didn't and to this day I still don't know why. Part of me thinks it was a comfort thing, that he was comfortable here, comfortable with me.
Then again, I could be flattering myself. I can count on one hand the number of times he's come in for booze this past year. I try not to think much into it, but hey, he's grown on me. And the beard doesn't hurt his appeal either. I've always liked my men a little on the scruffy side; it makes 'em look tougher. I'd swear the beard's still around because of me.
About two years or so ago, he came in with about three days worth of scruff. It wasn't for booze this time, he was just hungry. I figured he'd been working, there were a lot of bad things going down around that time. I'd heard on the news about a month before then that a building where he worked had exploded. So I figured things weren't so hot for him, hence his uncharacteristic lack of personal grooming.
He'd smiled wanly at me and eaten his eggs in silence. He had his newspaper, but he seemed more interested in the other customers. He kept staring at them, watching them eat like the slovenly pigs that they were.
I'd picked up the plates of the guy nearest him and murmured softly, "Yeah, I know it's disgusting. Bunch of slurping animals is what they are."
His eyes were innocent, confused. "Are they always this… loud?"
I snorted. "Actually, today I'd say they were on the quiet side. When Robbie and his brother John show up, it's like a damn barn in here."
He seemed to smile at that before focusing back on his paper. I'll admit it; I was feeling kind of soft on him that day. He just seemed lost, lonely or something. So I bent my own personal rule of fraternization and flirted with him a little.
"I like the new look," I purred.
"Whuh?" he blurted, floored. If I remember correctly, he dropped his pen too.
I deepened my smile. "Your new look," I murmured in my smutty voice as I reached out and barely touched his cheek. "I like it. Makes you look… distinguished."
You should've seen it, he went bright red. Like maraschino cherry red. It was damned adorable and I had to stop myself from busting out into a girlish giggle fit and saying, "Aw, aren't you just so freakin' cute?"
Really, it was a thing to see. Anyways, I sauntered away, having done my damage for the day. But the beard stayed, it only took about a week for him to grow it in fully. And because deep down I'm still a twelve year old, I like to think I had something to do with that.
Now I told you about my Puzzle Man, and his boozing, and his bearded shy guy ways. But what I haven't told you about what happened this past May, and how I found out about Sara.
It was raining that night. A wicked storm had blown through around midnight and I'd lost power. My generator had kicked in, but it was still kind of spooky with only the emergency lights running. I'd sent Jimmy, he's my best short-order, really, I'd sent him home and the kitchen was closed until the power was back on. The few truckers that appeared at my counter sipped coffee to fight the chill and kept to themselves. It was that kind of rain; it was that kind of night.
He walked through the door with the evening's storm glistening on his head. His eyes carried the haunted look of the night, and I felt fear grip my heart. Something about him scared the hell outta me. I actually remember stepping backwards away from him, because I bumped into the damn register and it left a killer bruise on my hip for days.
He said nothing, just showed the card and sat at his corner of the counter. I brought him his glass, with ice of course, and I left him the bottle. I was again breaking my own rules when it came to him, but that night I wasn't in the mood to be bossy. I wanted him sloshed, and I wanted him out. He drank half the damn bottle before he finally calmed down. That's right, half the damn bottle.
I saw his fingers trembling as he reached for his glass and my heart went out to my Puzzle Man. I wheeled the small stool under the register over to where he sat and waited while he finished his last swig. He reached for the bottle again, and I put my hand atop his to stop him.
"Hey," I said, my voice echoing in the quiet. It was then I realized we were alone, and that prickling of uncertainty had all the little hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. But I knew, deep down, something was wrong with my shy guy, and I wanted to help him.
"He was gonna kill her," he slurred in a whisper. "I would've watched her die."
"Who?" I asked.
"The sick bastard. He was gonna kill her." He looked straight through me then, I swear, it actually ached to have him look at me like that. "It would have been my fault."
"Did she die?" I couldn't think of anything else to say.
"No. She didn't get hurt. Didn't even break the skin on her neck."
Wow. I didn't know who the hell this "she" was, but she clearly had one doozie of a night as well.
"So it's okay," I said, all-knowing. "She's okay. No harm done."
"No!" he bellowed, slamming his hand on the counter. I must have jumped six feet. The noise reverberated throughout the diner and my Puzzle Man shrunk into himself. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, "I'm sorry."
He was wasted. Poor guy. "It's okay." I patted his hand. "You wanna talk about it?"
"No, see… she… came here and I, well I didn't understand, really… and…."
He went on like that for a while, and let me tell you, it was damn difficult to follow. I got up and made more coffee, and when it was finished I brought him a cup along with my own. The rain continued it's staccato on my roof, and words continued to flow out of my Puzzle Man's mouth.
Long story short, he had a girl at work. Her name was Sara, and he didn't know what to do about her. She was younger than him, I guess significantly because he kept bringing up how she needed someone her own age. And tonight some freakazoid at a mental institution had cornered her in a room and tried to kill her. From what I made out, it sounded like my Puzzle Man had left her alone in that room and he was having serious guilt issues over it. Not to mention the fact that his girl almost died right in front of his face.
"She didn't want reassignment," he'd said with pride. "She said she could handle it. She's always been like that. Stubborn. Brave."
I nodded and let him continue. I knew how to be a good listener, and like I said before, I know people. My Puzzle Man loved this poor girl; he just didn't know it yet. But he was close, and if I left him to keep talking to himself, maybe he'd figure it out on his own. And I'll be honest; I didn't understand half of the shit he was saying.
He surprised me when he stood suddenly. "I should go. Uh… thank you."
He reached into his wallet and I held up my hand. "On the house, okay?"
He gave me a cute little boyish grin, half fueled by the Jack I'm sure, and I watched him stumble a little as he waddled out the door. He plodded through the rain, crossed the street safely, and disappeared around the side of the hotel. I watched him from my doorway; I wanted to make sure he'd be okay. I remember thinking I'd have to pay a visit to Mary later that week and find out if my Puzzle Man had his own "room" over there. Knowing her, she probably gave him the one with the full tub. She appreciated man flesh the same way I did. But I never did go over. Got busy, I suppose.
Truth be told, I didn't expect to see him again. I mean, he poured his guts out all over my counter. Well, figuratively. You know what I mean. He's a shy guy, and a cop of some sort, and shy cop guys just don't open up to middle-aged waitresses at run-down diners off of I-15. It just isn't done, right? So I went on with my life, I bought a new freezer, and I hoped that he had gotten himself a clue that night and went for his girl Sara.
You could have knocked me over with a feather when she showed up last week. She'd come straight up to me, looked at my nametag, and point-blank asked me, "Where's Grissom?"
"Grissom. Gil Grissom. Middle-aged guy, about yeah high, graying hair, salt-and-pepper beard. Probably does the crossword puzzles while he eats his eggs. I know he used to come here. You know him?"
"Who're you?" I asked in my best authoritative voice. Bitch, thou art my namesake.
"My name is Sara Sidle. I work with him. Have you seen him?"
This would be where my face went all duh-like and you could have knocked me over with that feather.
"What?" she asked. No flies on that girl, she saw my face and knew what it meant.
"I haven't seen him since May," I said softly. She was quick; she picked up on what I was referring to. But then she took it the wrong way or something. Really, I don't know what she thought. I just know she got real sad all of a sudden. And stupid me, I had to go and look at her neck, like I was expecting to see some scar plastered there.
I made her horribly self-conscious and she scrunched her shoulders up as if to hide that one side. That made me feel like a real dumbass.
"Why don't you have a seat over there and we'll talk for a minute, kay?"
She sat in his spot of course, and I took care of a few customers and made sure everyone was settled before I wheeled the little stool over to that corner.
"So," I drawled, "I'm Jess and yes, I know your Grissom, and no, I haven't seen him in a while."
She was dying to ask me if we were involved, I could tell. You could just see the question in her brown little doe eyes. I should have made her sweat it a little longer, but I didn't. I must be going soft or something.
"I didn't know him very well," I said pointedly. "In fact, I didn't really know his name."
She perked up at that. I then said, "I call him my Puzzle Man. He's been coming here for as long as I can remember." That made her smile, a pretty bright thing that lit up her whole face. No wonder he was fascinated with her; she had spunk and an inner beauty that was rare nowadays. Good for him. He could do a lot worse.
"Puzzle Man," she said slowly, like her tongue needed to learn how to form the words. "You call him Puzzle Man."
I grinned. "Yes. I thought it fit. Don't you?"
She chuckled wryly to herself. "It fits in more ways than you probably realize."
"So what's this about him being missing?"
She sighed. "He told Warrick, he's one of our co-workers, that on the day he retired, he'd just disappear. Fade away, like a ghost. He hasn't been to work in almost a week and I'm pretty sure he's done just that – retired and disappeared."
I smirked. "Something tells me you aren't going to sit by and let him get away with that."
"Hell no. He and I have… a history. At a minimum, I want to say good-bye." She paused and looked down at her hands, picking idly at one of her fingernails. "I wanted to let him know I was sorry too, I guess. Because I am."
No one's ever called me tactful. Or graceful. Or demure. Or respectful of other people's privacy. "I'm sorry you broke up," I said with false empathy. How she reacted to that would let me know whether he finally got his act together and went for her or not.
She sputtered a little and seemed uncomfortable. She didn't quite blush in embarrassment, but I took her response as the tough gal equivalent to it. "Oh no, we weren't… we didn't date."
"Oh," I said. Yeah, I'm quite the conversationalist.
Then she got all antsy and was heading for the door. "Well, I need to get going. If you do happen to see him, would you… would you tell him that I'm looking for him?"
God, her face just about sprung Niagara Falls from my eyes. Damned if she didn't love him right back. These poor saps. "If I see him honey, I'll let him know." She got all weird about that too, and I watched her drive off in a hurry.
You know, I should have left it alone. I should have just went back to scrubbing out the coffee pots and hollering at Eduardo to turn his damn music down. But I didn't. I called in Theresa and had her watch the shop while I went on a little road trip. My first stop was the hotel across the street. Evril was behind the desk, and Evril is like ninety years old and blind as a bat. He recognized me somehow or another and I told him I needed to check the guest list. He waved me behind the counter and I checked the logs for the past two years.
Sure enough, Mary had been giving him the room in the back with the tub. Slut.
So I'm jealous. So what? If she pulled her famous "Maid Service" stunt on my Puzzle Man while he was in the shower, I'll kill her. I swear to God I will.
I left and headed over to the police department. I wanted to look distressed, so I managed to call up a few tears and smear them around to make my mascara run. I rumpled up my hair a bit and I tried to think of the most depressing thing in my life at that moment. My credit card bill payments came to mind, and I was in character by the time I reached the receptionist's desk.
"Hello, can you help me?" I sniffed as if to hide a sob. "I'm looking for Gil Grissom. Is he in?"
The lady behind the desk studied me coldly. "He isn't in right now. I can take a message for him if you'd like."
"He isn't," I sighed, like it was the most awful thing in the world to have him not in that building. "Can I wait for him until he returns?" I tried to sound really, really desperate.
"Um… why don't you wait over there and I'll see what I can do for you." She waved me off to the side, and I sat on an incredibly uncomfortable chair while she whispered sweet nothings into her funky-looking telephone.
"Someone will be with you shortly," she said from behind her counter. I could just barely see the top of her head. I found this all very interesting, and I spent the next five minutes working on my routine. I thought about when my cat died, when my mom died, and how I'd never, ever have enough money to buy a Lambourghini. I was downright dismal when a tall, thin bald guy stepped towards me.
"Miss…?" He looked puzzled. Clearly he'd been told to come get me, but he didn't know who the hell I was.
"Jessica. Jessica Simpson. Please," I said, "I'm looking for Gil Grissom." I laid on the desperation pretty thick and tried not to choke on my fake name. "Do you know where he is? It's... it's so very important I speak with him. His mother… she…" I then started up with the water works. If I was lucky, his mom was still among the living.
"Is his mother ill?" The guy looked pretty concerned; perhaps he was a friend.
"I'm afraid so," I said solemnly. "She's… she's asking for him."
"I'm Conrad Ecklie," the man intoned superiorly. "I'm his supervisor. Are you… family?"
"Yes. Well, no… I mean, I'm Ms. Grissom's caretaker. I'm her nurse." I tried to look all nurse-like, blinking my eyes and looking very caring about everything. It seemed to work as he held out his hand for me.
"I know how you can get a hold of him. Come with me and I'll give you what you need."
Jackpot. Am I something, or what? I followed Conrad down the hallway, trying to keep close and not be conspicuous. I walked through what looked like a chemistry lab on steroids, hidden behind walls of glass. A blonde with big boobs and a lifetime investment in Botox shot me a weird look right before I was shuffled into Conrad's office.
He shut the door and I got a slight case of the heeby-jeebies. Why was I doing this again? What exactly was I smoking when I thought this was a good idea?
He motioned for me to sit, so I did. "Gil had to take some time off for a medical condition. He's at the hospital in recovery." Conrad took out a notepad and scribbled something that I hoped would be legible later. "Here are directions and his room number. I'm sure if you talk with the staff on the floor they'll be able to help you."
"Thank you," I gushed, starting up the water works again. "Thank you so much."
"Please have him contact me if he is going to need more time. I'll have to have him sign the paperwork."
I fought hard to keep my face soft and grateful, although the guy was starting to creep me out. I guess I nodded because the next thing I know, I was out in the hallway on my way towards the exit. The receptionist nodded at me curtly and wished me a nice day. I smiled in return and kept my cool until I was in my car.
Then I celebrated and did a little happy dance in my seat. I was off to the hospital to play matchmaker with my Puzzle Man and his Sara. I felt very alive and the thrill was like no other. Wasn't I just the shit? Just call me Cupid.
I daydreamed about Puzzle Man inviting me to his wedding while I sat in traffic on the highway. My dreams faded when I was in the parking lot. I hadn't seen this guy in months, I barely knew him at all, and now I was going to walk in on him at the hospital? Clearly he didn't want anyone to know where he was, so what gave me the right?
I went in anyways, because I'm no coward. I gave my real name this time, telling them I was here to see Gil Grissom in Room 547. The nurse didn't bat a fake eyelash as she pointed towards the elevator. "Fifth floor. Take a right and check in at the station," she droned. Yeah, if only my job was that exciting.
I did as she directed and met a clone of the nurse downstairs who had me sign my life away before pointing me in the right direction. I hovered outside his doorway, peering in at him sleeping in his hospital bed. He looked pale and my heart panged. Maybe he was really sick.
I walked in slowly, past the softly snoring black man in the bed closest to the door. I settled myself in the chair and wondered what to do. A few minutes passed before his lashes fluttered and his eyes met mine.
He blinked a few times before waking fully. When he finally realized who I was, he scowled and scooted himself to an upright position.
"What are you doing here?" His voice was strong and despite the tubes in his arm, he didn't appear that sick at all. What was going on?
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Why in God's name are you here?" I watched as a thought sparked in his brain. "Does anyone else know I'm here?"
"Your supervisor does," I said. "But he seems to be the only one. What's going on?"
Boy he looked pissed. His eyes were all dark and I was betting on whether or not his eyebrows could actually meet up in the middle of his head, he was frowning so hard.
I got defensive. "You'd better start talking or I'll have to tell Sara where you are the next time she comes looking for you in my diner."
His face softened and he looked like my shy guy again. "She was there? She was looking for me?"
"She thinks you retired. You told someone named War-wick that you were going to disappear or something and that's what she thinks you did. Something about ghosts or whatever. So are you going to be okay or are you dying or what?" Subtlety – one of my many gifts.
The frowning returned. "How did you find out I was here?"
I stood and walked towards his bed, making sure he could see me clearly. "I went and lied like a rug to your people. I gave them a sob story about your mom and they told me you were here. I put on quite a performance for you, so I think it's your turn to start with the talking. What's the big secret?"
He was trapped, there in his bed, and it was kind of mean of me to bully him around, but I did it anyways. I was getting mad on Sara's behalf – she was worried about him and he was hiding from her and probably the rest of his people. That didn't sit right in my book.
"I had a bypass. Doctor found a blockage a few weeks ago. It was close to my heart, so they had to go in up here in my chest rather than through my leg. Difference between outpatient and a week at home, and a week here and a week at home." His expression screamed, Happy Now?
"You should have told her. She's worried."
"I'm surprised she knew to look for me… at your place."
"She wondered about me." I let that hang for a while, make him feel guilty and all. When he looked it, I said, "I set her straight. I told her about our torrid love affair and our secret love child. I even offered to introduce her to Charlie, but she seemed really upset about that. She kind of drove off in a huff."
Damn if his eyes didn't bug right out of his head. I really am a nice person, but I have my moments. And you know, I couldn't resist. He deserved it for being such a jerk to his girl Sara.
I looked at him smugly and let him debate whether or not I was telling the truth. He went from horrified to furious to humbled. He started to chuckle, but pain seemed to overcome him and he settled back in his bed, wheezing a little. It was pretty pathetic and I got all guilty about it. I was at his side in an instant and holding his hand. "Easy there. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to get you all riled up. You okay? You need me to get the nurse?"
He shook his head no. "I'll… be okay."
"Don't be scaring me like that. Jesus." I patted his hand softly. It felt cool beneath mine. Perhaps Puzzle Man wasn't as well as he thought he was. I let him rest for a while before saying, "You should let her know you're here."
He looked away, eyes shut. "I can't."
"Why the hell not? It's the perfect scenario. She'll freak out and lose it when she sees you like this, and you can comfort her and tell her everything will be okay. It'll be very romantic." I gave him my smutty smile.
"She isn't interested anymore."
Now that was the last thing I expected him to say. "Why do you think that?"
He gave the sick person equivalent of a shrug. "I can tell."
"Well," I said, "she didn't seem uninterested when she was grilling me earlier today. She seemed hurt and confused and a little pissed. Just like I would be if the man I loved went and disappeared without tell me."
That one threw him. The love part, I mean. He just kind of blinked at me for a bit.
"What?" I asked.
"You think… you think that she loves me?"
"Look sweetie, I hate to break this to you but it is pretty damn obvious to anyone with eyes that you love that girl and she loves you right back. Why the two of you haven't shacked up and had little cop babies yet is beyond me."
He scowled and rolled his head away from me. "It's complicated."
"I'm her supervisor. My supervisor would not approve."
"So? What's more important, pleasing your supervisor or pleasing your girl Sara? I met him; he seems like a real weasel. She's cute."
He didn't answer. He just kept looking away from me at the little monitors next to his bed. The heart one was beeping softly.
"Well? This isn't rocket science, you know."
"I don't know," he whispered so low that I almost didn't hear him. I waited, but he didn't say anything else. Clearly he'd shut down into that stasis that any smart woman can recognize… male sulking.
"Here," I said as I walked over to the little table in the corner. "Here's a phone. Why don't you think about giving her a call? At least to let her know you're okay. She deserves that much, right?" I picked up the clunky hospital phone and placed it on his bed near his hand. He didn't move and I figured that was my cue to exit. So I did, and like the doof I am, I walked halfway down the hall nice and loud and then tiptoed back to eavesdrop.
It took him a while to get his courage up, but when I heard him grab for the receiver, I knew he was gonna do it. I waited until I heard him murmur, "Sara? It's… it's, uh, Grissom" and then I left. I swear it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I felt like my whole insides were flying. Am I a saint or what?
So that's pretty much it. Sara came into my diner this afternoon, and I could tell they were together. This was new for both of them, and I was pretty sure my Puzzle Man was going to be excited, enthralled and terrified all at the same time. I wondered how many crossword puzzles he'd get to do in the next few months. Sara looked calm and reassured, and I had faith in that girl to stick it out with my Puzzle Man when the newness wore off. She'd whip his ass in line and they'd probably be walking down the aisle around this time next year.
"I wanted to thank you for what you did," she said to me. "I'm not sure what it was, but thank you for it."
"You're welcome, honey," I said as I retrieved a turkey club and a steak sub from the shelf into the kitchen. "I'm glad things worked out… for both of you. He's a good guy."
She smiled a little but didn't say anything.
"I suppose I won't be seeing him in here anymore, huh?"
Her face broke out into that pretty full grin of hers as she shrugged her shoulders.
Yeah, that's what I thought. So this is my goodbye to the infamous Puzzle Man. Goodbye and good luck, my friend. You're gonna need it.