Summary: Grissom does not celebrate his birthday.
Disclaimer: Nope, not mine. No silver has crossed my palm, either.
A/N: Written for the BestKeptPrivate fic challenge. Prompt: birthday cake. References to CSI Season 6: Still Life.
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
Don Henley / Boys of Summer
Grissom said, "I told you I don't do birthdays, Sara."
Sara looked up from the cake she was removing from the bakery box, "But…"
Before she could ask him why, he had stalked out the kitchen door, slamming it behind him.
Sinking into a chair at the kitchen table, Sara peeked over the edge of the box. Happy 51st Birthday Gil. She sighed, "Surprise," and closed the lid.
Grissom walked around for awhile before coming back into the house. The cake was gone from its spot on the kitchen table. The edge of the box poked up out of the trash. He stared at it for a moment. "Damn."
"Honey…Sara? Where are you?" he called when he couldn't find her anywhere on the first floor.
No response. Her purse and keys were still on the table by the door. "If she left, she left on foot," he thought. Considering that the heat had driven him back in, he turned and looked up the stairwell. "Sara?"
Gravity shifted as he walked up the stairs, his steps as heavy as the awful feeling in his gut. When he got to the top he called softly, "Sara?"
She was in the bedroom lying on top of the covers facing away from the door. "I'm sorry, Sara. I shouldn't have done that," he said as he sat carefully on the side of the bed.
"No, you shouldn't have." Her voice was thick; she'd been crying.
Grissom said, "You threw away the cake."
It was a stupid thing to say, really, but his mind was blank.
"You don't do birthdays. You don't need a cake."
He knew it was a mistake when he did it, but he did it anyway. He got up and left the room – her sobs followed him all the way down the stairs.
When Grissom returned, he came back in a cab. Weaving, obviously drunk, he paid the driver and wobbled up the steps. Sara was waiting; she opened the door before he managed to get his key in the lock. It took a few moments before he could process that the door was open and he could go in. With elaborate care he put his keys back in his pocket and stumbled through the door.
"Jesus, Grissom..." Sara said as he half fell on her.
He straightened up too quickly and lost his balance, landing smack on his ass. Blinking stupidly, he looked up at Sara. "Birthdays are bad," he said in a small voice. Then he passed out.
Squatting in front of him, caressing his cheek, Sara whispered, "What on earth happened to you?"
"Thanks for coming, Jim. I couldn't leave him on the floor like that and I couldn't move him by myself."
Brass glanced around the living room of Grissom's townhouse, clearly uncomfortable, before looking back at her. "Do I want to know what happened?"
It was Sara's turn to look uncomfortable. "I wish I knew. He got mad because I bought him a birthday cake?"
"The birthday thing."
"The birthday thing?" she asked, confused.
"Years ago, not long after I came out here from Jersey, there was this little print tech...Eleanor...who baked stuff all the time. Cookies...brownies...and a lot of it found its way into the break room. Somehow she found out it was Gil's birthday and brought him a cupcake with a candle in it. She just walked in carrying this thing...candle going...singing happy birthday. There were two or three people besides me in the break room at the time, so they joined in."
Brass took a breath and looked at Sara, "It was like he'd turned to stone. He sat there frozen for a good five minutes...by then the people in the room were looking at each other, wondering what was going on. When he finally moved he pinched out the candle, mumbled something to poor Eleanor, and walked out of the room."
Sara rubbed the side of her forehead. "Did he say why he reacted that way?"
"Oh yeah, I asked him about it later. He said, 'I don't do birthdays.'"
Neither of them knew what this meant beyond the obvious.
//It's time to go, Gil,// she signed.
Anna Grissom gave her son the once over. //Comb your hair, honey.//
//OK,// he signed, rising from the couch and going to the bathroom. When he emerged, hair wet and plastered to his head, he sat back down on the couch and picked up his baseball glove, an early birthday present.
//Much better. Let's go,// she signed, offering him a hand.
Gil Grissom hadn't held his mother's hand since he was five years old. That was for babies. But it felt good today. He allowed her to lead him out of the house and stood quietly while she turned to lock the front door. When she was done, she took his hand again so they could approach the waiting limousine together. There was a man in a black suit waiting there, holding the door for them.
Grandfather Grissom indicated Gil should sit next to him. Anna inserted herself between Grandmother Grissom and his father's sister, Margaret. They all started to speak in sign, but he'd had enough of adult talk in the past couple of days, so he just stared at his hands. They wouldn't have answered his questions, anyway. He'd become the Invisible Boy, which was sort of OK because Dad had become the Invisible Man. Only Dad wasn't ever going to come back.
He stole a glance at the adults. They'd stopped talking. Mom was holding Aunt Margaret's hand, Grandma was crying quietly and Grandpa was staring out the window. Well, at least they weren't staring at him anymore. Like they'd stared at him in the hospital that afternoon.
Or like they'd stared at him last night at the wake. People were so stupid. They thought if they whispered, he couldn't hear what they said. Didn't they know Mom was deaf? Didn't they understand he could probably read lips?
"He was out all day in that heat? Can you imagine? With his heart."
"I heard he waited outside the stadium for four hours."
"All for an autograph. Have you ever heard anything so foolish?"
And then they'd looked at him. He felt like one of his butterflies, big pin stuck through his middle, holding him in place. He'd gone to find Mom, but she was crying; several people hovering around her. Every one of them had given him that same look.
The room had stopped spinning when Grissom woke. That would have been great except now his head felt ready to explode. Slowly he managed to sit up. Aspirin and a glass of water were waiting by the side of the bed. He winced, remembering what an ass he'd been. Then he took four aspirin and held the cool glass to his forehead.
Eventually he was conscious enough to be aware of himself. Dirty clothes. Taking a sniff of his shirt, he pulled it off and stumbled toward the bathroom. Thirty minutes and a scalding shower later he felt a little more human.
The enticing aroma of fresh coffee had worked its way into the bedroom. Wondering what else might be waiting for him in the kitchen, he went downstairs.
Sara had just poured a cup and set it on the table when he entered the room. Sitting in his customary place, Grissom laced his fingers around the mug. "Thank you," he said quietly.
"You're welcome…how are you?" she asked.
Taking a sip he said, "I feel like shit…which, when taken with my behavior yesterday, makes a matched set."
Her only response was an arched eyebrow.
They sat in silence for awhile, trying to find the words…this had been their first serious fight…and the first time one went unsettled overnight.
Grissom reached across the table and took Sara's hand. "I am so sorry…I behaved like an ass." His heart broke a little bit as tears welled in her eyes.
"What the hell happened yesterday, Griss?"
He really did not know what to say. "I don't do birthdays…"
Sara shot out of her seat and stared down at him, "God dammit, Gil, that is no answer! What the fuck is going on?"
All he could do was take his head in his hands. After scrubbing his face a few times, he looked at her over his fingertips. He wished mightily that he was back in that dive he'd landed in last night with four shots of bourbon winking at him from the bar. Then he could erase it all for awhile longer. "It's hard to explain," he started.
Music thundered through the cathedral. Mom rested her hands flat on the pew in front of her to feel the vibrations.
"I told you my Dad died when I was nine…" he said.
Grandma was weeping openly.
"Yeah…" she said, pulling her chair close to his and sitting right next to him.
At the grave, Grandma had forced dirt into his hand to throw on Dad's casket as they lowered it in to the ground. He'd dropped it and wiped his hand on his suit.
He would have liked to have melted into Sara then – he was almost certain that would have worked. But he had to be sure, so he got up and pulled down a bottle of bourbon from the cabinet over the stove. Two fingers in a water glass ought to do it.
"Pick that up," she'd hissed. "Selfish child."
Grissom leaned against the counter on both hands after he'd downed his poison, gasping a little at the burn in his throat.
Quietly, Sara said, "It's 10:00 in the morning, Gil."
It had started to rain then, so everyone had drifted away and back to their cars. Everyone except his mother and him.
He poured another two fingers and gulped it down before he turned to her.
They were soaked to the skin before Aunt Margaret had come to lead Mom away. Since he was holding Mom's hand, he went, too.
"I need to make them stop, Sara," he whispered.
Grandma saw that Mom's glove was all muddy…from the dirt he'd had in his hand. Once she'd gotten Mom's gloves off, she'd made Grandpa take him to another limousine.
Sara looked up at him, worried. "Jesus, Gil…make what stop?"
As Grandpa had led him away, Grandma said, "Him and his baseball…it's all his…" the last word cut off by the slamming door.
"Fault," he said. "It was all my fault."
"What was all your fault? Grissom, you're scaring me."
Either the bourbon kicked in or the fear in Sara's eyes finally caught his full attention. He looked at her as if he had no idea what they'd been talking about…and then he did. "I need to sit down," he said.
Sara followed him out of the kitchen and into the living room where they sat side by side on the couch. By the time they were settled, his head had cleared. When he looked at her, her face was confused and frightened; not that different from how he felt himself. "Shit…I'm sorry…this is very old stuff, Sara. I've never dealt with it and it seems like every year the pull is stronger…"
"Please tell me what's going on, Gil."
"OK…let me see if I can explain…Dad died in the summer of 1965. The L.A. Dodgers were having a great year, even though Sandy Koufax had problems with his pitching arm and was only playing every five days instead of every four. I was wild about Sandy Koufax."
Confused, Sara said, "Okay…"
"Dad and I followed the Dodgers. We listened on the radio and went to as many games as we could get tickets for…but that summer, it was magic. The Dodgers were amazing and Sandy Koufax had one of the best seasons of his career."
Sara shook her head. "All this is about baseball?"
"Please…let me finish…so, we tried to meet Sandy Koufax when we went to the park but we never did. He wasn't playing or we were on the wrong side of the park when he came out…it just didn't happen. I was pitching for my Little League team that year. I'd thrown a no hitter in June and I wanted Koufax to sign my game ball.
"Well, it was August and we still hadn't managed to do it. I was impatient…I really wanted him to sign that ball…so I started to whine about it. I kept saying that it was never going to happen like it was the end of the world. Dad promised me that we'd get that ball signed before the World Series started.
"So, one day Dad went off on an errand in the morning and came back in the afternoon. He and Mom talked for awhile in the kitchen when he got back and then he came into the living room where I was to nap on the couch. I was on the floor watching the Three Stooges. Mom came in with some cold drinks for us, but she couldn't wake Dad up.
"I had to call an ambulance. I didn't understand what was going on, just that Dad was sick and that it must be bad because Mom was crying. Grandma and Grandpa Grissom got to the hospital right about when we did. Dad's sister, Margaret, too. Well, they all started talking in sign…Margaret was deaf, see, and her whole family had learned sign when she was little…so everyone was signing and then the doctor came out and took Mom down the hall. She fainted, right on the spot. Everyone ran to her and got her up…then the doctor took her into one of the rooms so she could lie down."
Sara put her arm around him. "Oh, Gil…you must have been scared to death."
"You know, I wasn't. I was in shock, I think. Aunt Margaret went with Mom when they took her away, so I stayed with Grandma and Grandpa. They started whispering and every now and then, one of them would look at me. It felt like when the nuns at school caught you doing something wrong…and I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong.
"I asked a couple of times, but Grandma looked at me so hard that I just sat back down and waited for Mom to come back. That's when it hit me that Dad wasn't going to come back, and I started to cry.
"Grandma was just furious…she stood up and came over to me and screamed at me, "Now you're sorry…when it's too late." I had no idea what she was talking about. One of the nurses heard her yelling and got the doctor, who took her away to a room, too."
Sara said, "What did she think you were sorry for? You hadn't done anything."
"Dad had been out at Dodger Stadium all day waiting for Koufax to show up…and he finally did…and he got that damn ball signed that I'd been whining about for two months. When he came home, he had a heart attack, Sara. If he hadn't been out in the heat all day, he wouldn't have died."
"Gil…you don't know that…if your dad had a bad heart, he could have died any time."
Forty years of pain showed in his eyes. "Well, he wouldn't have died on my birthday."
Sara's mouth dropped open. "Oh, my God…and your grandmother blamed you."
Grissom went on in a resigned tone. "I didn't really figure that out until later. She was just hateful to me at the funeral. I couldn't understand what I'd done…but I knew everyone was staring at me and I'd heard whispers.
"Mom couldn't stand the thought of me not having my birthday, so the next week she made me a cake and invited a few of my friends over. They all stood around like mannequins…they'd never known anyone who'd lost a parent…I'm not sure if they even knew what that meant, but they'd been warned to behave. So we had this sad little party and I opened my presents. After everyone was gone, Grandma was suddenly all smiles. She gave me a box and said it was a present from my dad. It was that baseball…and when I opened it, she pulled me into a hug and whispered, 'I hope you're satisfied.'"
"Mom had seen the whole thing from across the room. She snatched the box out of my hands and started signing furiously to my grandmother who signed and yelled back. Grandpa had been out in the back yard…he came running in and got between them and eventually he got Grandma out of the house. Mom just sat on the couch and cried. After awhile, she went to bed.
"Later, I picked up the ball from where it had rolled on the floor. There was Sandy Koufax's autograph…right there on my no hitter game ball. Dad died getting that for me. I took it out into the back yard and buried it.
"Mom never got over Dad's death, Sara. Grandma blamed me openly. I was only her grandchild by marriage. But I also think Mom blamed me privately…just a little. And after I'd been stared at by all the relatives, I'd started to feel kind of funny. When I saw that ball, I knew they were right. It was my fault."
From her seat next to Grissom, Sara pulled him into her lap and he went, unresisting and spent. "You don't really believe that, do you?" she said, stroking his hair.
Very quietly, in a small voice, he said, "I know it's irrational, but that's what it feels like…that's what it always feels like…I miss him, Sara."
"You've been crying for him once a year for forty odd years, Gil."
Sara said, "Gil…did it never occur to you how much he must have loved you to stand outside Dodger Stadium for hours waiting for Sandy Koufax? He didn't know he was going to die…he wanted to make you happy, and I'll bet seeing you so excited about a simple little baseball would have given him great joy."
Grissom, resting in her lap with his eyes closed, was drifting off to sleep…it had been hard work carrying this around all those years. He murmured "Yeah?"
"And I think maybe it would make him sad to see you blame yourself for a choice he made that turned out so badly."
The only response from Grissom was slow breathing and a sigh.
Despite a hangover, Grissom felt much better when he next woke. It took a moment to orient himself. The soft touch of Sara's fingers in his hair made him look up.
"How ya doin'?" she smiled.
"Better," he said, sitting up. After he combed his fingers through his hair, he turned to her and kissed her cheek. "I'm sorry, Sara...I was awful to you..."
"Yes, you were..." she said, reaching for his hand and tugging it a bit. "Maybe you could just talk to me next time?"
"I will...sorry about the cake."
"You don't like cake all that much anyway..."
Eyes soft, he covered their entwined fingers with his free hand. "Thanks for listening...I've never talked to anyone about any of that."
"Then it was long overdue. You know you didn't kill your father, don't you?"
Surprisingly, he did.
The World Series was on TV. Grissom and Sara were camped out in front of the set, chivying each other about their respective teams. After several beers and a raft of vegetarian tacos, they were feeling pleasantly stuffed and a little sleepy. Grissom nodded off during the seventh inning stretch.
"Hit it, Dad," he said.
"C'mon, hit it!"
Jack Grissom tossed the ball into the air, swung and hit a nice fly into center field.
Gil ran as fast he could, racing the ball in its arc across the sky. Just for moment he felt like he was flying,
then the ball smacked into his glove and from way across the field, he heard the wonderful sound of his father's laugh.