Greg Sanders winced as he lowered the rickety ladder that lead to the attic of 27 Harris Street. The cheap wood protested in his hands, creaking tiredly as he bent, bringing the lowest steps to touch the hardwood floor of their upstairs hallway. He hadn't been up in his attic in at least ten years, almost forgetting that the space existed. It remained the last barrier between himself and their boxes of unsorted photographs, and as much as he wanted to assemble the album for his daughter and son-in-law's upcoming first anniversary, he had a burning distaste for venturing into the attic. He'd rather handle a three-week floater than creep his way up the archaic ladder.
"Maybe we could just not-"
"Are you afraid of the attic, Greg?" Sara stood behind him, one hand settled on her waist, the other hiding her grin amusedly.
"No." He answered quickly, fixing her with a pleading expression. "What if something's dead up there?"
"Since when do dead things bother you?" She laughed, rolling her eyes. "C'mon, Gregory, just one box." She arched an eyebrow at him defiantly when he hesitated, pushing a stray curl out of her eyes. "Fine. I'll go first." She brushed past him with a smug smile, taking the makeshift stairs determinedly. "You are such a girl."
"Hey, I'm legitimately concerned for my health." There was laughter in Greg's voice, and he smirked, stepping back to watch his wife's backside sway ever so slightly as she climbed the ladder. "You're my hero."
"Yeah, yeah." She climbed up, disappearing into the black darkness for only a moment before pulling the string that turned on the ninety watt bulb that hung from the ceiling. "Getcher ass up here, Sanders." She grinned, standing on the edge under the light, watching her husband scale the ladder with ease, taking with him the empty photo album. She stepped back as he climbed onto the floor of the attic, turning around and surveying the small storage space.
"Since when do we have so much stuff?" Greg frowned, disgusted with both the air quality and the amount of work this project was going to entail. "We didn't even put anything up here 'til Nora was ten." He glanced around, coughing a handful of times, squinting in the dim, uneven light, smiling as he listened to his wife laugh.
"This is not merely stuff, Gregory. These boxes are the contents of our life." Sara knelt, shifting a larger box labeled 'Dad's hair band tee shirts' in Nora's chicken scratch, rolling her eyes. "Well, some of it is your stuff."
"I resent that." He set down the photo album and moved a few boxes out of the way, careful of the one labeled 'Good China- don't drop" in Sara's loopy, lazy handwriting. "They're not all hair bands. Some of them are respectable ensembles."
She opened one of the boxes marked 'Photos from Nick' giving him an exasperated look.
"The Philadelphia Philharmonic is a respectable ensemble, Greg. Aerosmith is not a respectable ensemble."
"Don't tread on Steve and the boys, they held degrees in classical composition." He picked up the box and set it on a milk crate of story books beside an old armchair from his apartment, pulling off the sheet that kept the dust away and flopping down, peering in at the bundles and collections of photos. "And the chord progressions of Black Sabbath are reminiscent of Bach's arias. Or so Jack says." Greg pulled out a stack of photographs, sifting through them, his attention rapt by the images of his daughter as a tiny child. Sara cast him a sideways glance as she made her way over to him, an amused smirk curling her lip.
"You like him." Her tone was teasing, light and melodic, making Greg sigh, meeting her gaze with a disbelieving one.
"I never said that." He replied, evenly, tossing the bundle of photos back in the box and picking out some more.
"C'mon, Gregory, it's just us up here." Sara lifted another box from its perch, bending to place it on the floor before settling into the oversized chair with him, giggling softly when he leaned forward to kiss her cheek. He propped his head up on his hand, resting his elbow on the armrest, handing her the photos in favor of fiddling with her coppery brown curls, littered now with strands of silver, when she curled into the crook of his arm, leaning against his chest easily.
"I like it when it's just us." He mumbled sweetly, giving his wife a fond smile as she looked up at him, the soft light of the bulb making the brown of her eyes sparkle. His gaze shifted to her runaway curls, and he threaded his fingers through them, pushing them away from her features. After a moment he leaned over, kissing her lightly before turning his attention to the pile of photographs in her hand.
She cuddled into his frame, watching him in the dim, uneven light as he squinted at the black and white print she held in her hand. He took it from her, bringing the print closer, angling toward the light to see it better. His hair had gotten longer, in need of a cut, tumbling over into his eyes; refracting the light, still nearly void of any gray. Sure, he was younger than her, as he liked to remind her ever so often, but only by a few years.
She smiled softly, glad that he had made the bold move in the layout room, all those years ago. Taking risks on the job, yeah, she had been doing that since her first shift. Taking risks with her heart, though, she'd never done that until she had kissed him back. Greg's lips moved evenly, tongue darting out to wet his bottom lip before he looked down at her, eyebrow cocked.
"Sara? Did you hear me?" His voice had a husky, familiar quality that made her grin.
"I said you look beautiful." He nodded at the photograph, handing it back to her. The image was of Sara holding Nora, nearly a year after they had moved to Harris Street. It was obviously a Nick Stokes original, every picture Greg tried to take came out with ridge detail of his index finger instead of the desired image. She had been walking away from Nick, intent of putting Nora down for a nap, or changing her diaper, or some other such baby-related activity, pressing an motherly kiss to her chubby little cheek.
While Sara was the focal point of the photograph, little Nora stole the scene, giving Nick a goofy, lopsided, toothless grin, stretching her little hand out toward him. Her shocks of blonde had still been curly then, and Nora's baby curls had been tight little ringlets, contrasting sharply with Sara's darker, wavier loops. In the photo, Sara's jeans hung loosely to her frame, and the familiar lettering of Greg's Stanford Chess sweatshirt made her grin. The beauty in the photograph was clearly her daughter, and Nora's trademark, mischievous Greg Sanders smile.
"I look tired." She halfheartedly argued, but he kissed her hair, affectionately.
"This is everything I ever wanted, right here in this picture. Two most important women in my life." He took it from her, placing it carefully in the sleeve of one of the pages in the album. There was a smile in his eyes when he turned back to her, and he shrugged. "It's beautiful."
Sara rolled her eyes, smiling softly as she sifted through a handful of other photographs, keenly aware of his hands collecting her gangly legs against his chest before he picked through the box beside him. They forgot about time, sitting there in the attic, piled comfortably into the archaic armchair, occasionally adding to their collection.
After a while, Greg lost interest in continuing his own search, content to look on with his wife, looping his arm across her lap and knitting his fingers together against her hip, offering commentary on the odd image here or there. He hugged her to him, making her smile, shifting and resting an arm along his shoulders, holding photos out for both of them to see.
She was glad he had talked her out of putting this chair and all it's hideously tacky upholstery out with the garbage. There really was no other place she'd rather be.
Sara chuckled softly, excavating from the box a series of action shots. She flipped them like a book, holding it out for Greg to see as well. There were a half dozen or so images, Nora taking a few steps and kicking a soccer ball, laughing when Jack failed to block the shot, the soccer ball hitting the net in the goal the Sanders' had had set up in their backyard.
"Gregory, they're just kids." Sara sighed, failing to remember who was behind the lens. She squinted at the image of Nora laughing in the last photo, trying to determine when the shots were taken. Greg pressed a kiss to the underside of her jaw slowly.
"Summer before the ninth grade. Practicing for varsity."
"Huh." She placed the picture that had Jack lying in the grass, looking wounded, and Nora laughing in their pile to go into the album, dropping the rest back in the box.
"You don't remember? Good God, I wasn't sure she was going to survive that week. I think that exact moment was the only time she didn't cry."
"Mmm. I'm so very glad she made it. Talk about a walking nightmare." Sara pursed her lips, reaching for another stack of photos. Nora was all about art and soccer from the time she was five until the time she moved to Chicago, and she had been a moody, temperamental, terrorous ball of anxiety in the weeks leading up to what they referred to as 'The Varsity Decision.'
"Jack was always a lousy goalie."
"But he was always good to Nora." Sara sifted her fingers through her husband's hair as he groaned, refusing to comment. He picked out a photo from the middle of the pile in her hands, and inspected it closely, his gentle laughter reverberating through her warmly.
"We gotta add this one." He handed it to his wife, pleased with the confusion that clouded her features. "D'you remember?" Sara's nose crinkled, and she shook her head.
"Where is this, Greg?" He slipped his hand from her hip to her abdomen, kissing her shoulder before answering.
"Main hallway of the Maternity Ward at Desert Palms." His lip curved into a sly smile as she squirmed in his lap, responding to his touch. "You were dilated seven or eight centimeters, and you were pissed off, labor wasn't making any progress. You accused me of 'hovering,' I believe, and you kicked me out." She arched an eyebrow at him, not remembering. He shrugged. "Drugs made you a little crazy. That and Nora decided to hold up for a while. And we both know how much you love losing control." He was teasing, and she suppressed a smug grin. "Anyway, Dr. Hart suggested I get a cup of coffee, which was code for 'get out of her sight before her blood pressure gets any higher,' and I sat out on the bench in the hall, and waited for you to decide to let me back in."
Her gaze flickered to his for a short moment, before she squinted, inspecting the photograph more closely. At first glance, she had thought it was just a print of that silhouette of Jack and Bobby Kennedy seated in a hotel room while on JFK's campaign. Looking closer, she saw that the darkened figures were Nick and Greg, slouched on benches on opposing sides of the corridor.
"Who took it?"
"Lindsey, actually, I think. Picked Nick's camera up, and took a roll and a half of film before he woke up." She tilted the picture toward the light bulb, noticing that Nick was, indeed, asleep, head propped up on the palm of his hand.
"You boys were so adorable."
"Were. Listen to you." He cuddled closer, and she smirked, hugging him tightly, dropping an attentive kiss to his lips. In a few short hours, they had almost filled the photo album for Nora and Jack. Greg took the picture of him and Nick in the hospital hallway from his wife, reaching over and sliding it into the empty sleeve of the page, closing the book and handing it to Sara silently.
"I'm really glad we did this, Gregory." She stretched out her legs over the armrest of the chair, opening the album across her thighs, thumbing through their handiwork. He grunted, noncommittally, resting his head against the nook of her neck, and closing his eyes, fingers knitted, again, along her hip, holding her securely.
A photograph of a baby Nora asleep on Nick, curled up on his chest while he sprawled out on the couch in the break room. One of fifteen-year-old Jack sitting on the floor in Greg's 'office' eating an apple and watching her daughter paint the mural that dominated one whole wall- it had been a surprise for Father's Day, the entire wall had been transformed into a landscape, the Santa Monica coast where Greg used to surf blended into the skyline of Brooklyn, where he had spent the majority of his childhood. She smiled fondly at the memory of their Sanders' women devious behavior. Greg had been sent to speak at a conference in Detroit for a week, and mother and daughter had seized their opportunity.
Sara turned a few pages, tears pricking in her eyes as she ran her fingers over the image of Nora and Jack in an uncontrollable fit of laughter, Jack's features bright crimson, corsage in hand, Nora's prom dress making her look elegant, Jack's unadulterated affection for her plainly visible in the awestruck smile he had fixed her with. One of their graduation from high school, Nora's white robe contrasting with the hunter green of Jack's as he lifted her easily, supporting her around her waist as she gripped his shoulders, touching her nose to his in the setting Nevada sun, her blonde hair pushed away in the gentle breeze.
A photograph of Jack leaning against the wall beside a painting of him at Nora's showing, a photograph of Nora dancing with Nick at his and Grace's wedding. Four-year-old Nora swiveling in Grissom's office chair, crayons and coloring books laid out on top of case reports, forgotten as her attention was caught by Grissom's fetal pig, her little features twisted into a sort of morbid curiosity. She kissed Greg's hair lovingly, looking at the picture of Nick and Greg and a teenage Jack, heads bent together under the hood of Jack's beat up old pick up truck, trying to make it work.
Contrasting to their younger counterparts, Sara flipped through, smiling softly at the photo of Nora seated at the vintage vanity backstage at the Friar's Inn in Chicago, nervously biting her lip as Sara focused on placing the simple veil in her hair moments before Greg walked her down the aisle. Below it, they had secured a photograph of Jack tugging at the collar of his tux, standing beside the justice of the peace that had officiated over their wedding. She had been hesitant about her daughter getting married in a jazz club, but they had transformed the cozy little scene into a classically beautiful, inviting venue. Nora had referenced their own wedding, lighting up the entire club with white Christmas lights, creating a soft, warm glow.
There were a few dozen more, Nora, Nora and Jack, Nora and either or both of them, Nora and Nick. They had put in a half dozen or so pictures of them before Nora was born, as well, candid moments here and there that happened to be caught on film, courtesy of Nick's revived passion for photography.
All in all, they had led a good life. They had a daughter they cherished, a son-in-law Greg was beginning to warm up to, and they had each other. Sara tilted her head away from him, leaning only just to be able to see his face, calm, asleep. The poor man had pulled seven hours of overtime before being dragged somewhat unwillingly up to the attic. She knew he hated it up here, but really, she didn't want to get lost in their memories by herself.
That, and there could very possibly be dead things up here.
She pushed a stray lock of hair out of his eyes, her smile reaching her heart, squeezing gently. He was everything she wanted. Everything she needed. Everything she loved and adored. They had constructed this life for each other, and for Nora, carving out happiness and battling the anger and tragedy and violence they saw shift after shift with domesticity and affection and laughter and kisses.
"I love you so much, Greg." She whispered, sighing happily when he stirred, but didn't wake, instead curling into her a bit more, settling against the back of the old armchair. She kissed his forehead. "Thank you."
Their marriage had kept them going, kept them strong, kept them from buckling under the weight of the job and losing sight of the goodness in humanity. They had done their best with Nora, and she had grown from a happy baby to an animated kid to a smart, witty, contented adult, the product of their life together but not nearly the sum of it. They had saved each other from burning out and giving up, their brand of intimacy translating into companionship and dependence in every aspect of their lives, bringing their affection for each other to such an intensity that it brought her to tears, broke her down, changed her, changed them both.
Greg had been such a loving father to her child, such an attentive, affectionate husband when she had hesitated. He had taught her that nurture could win out over nature, when she was worried about the kind of genes she had. He had started their family, really, loving her unconditionally for so many years; before she loved him back, and after. He had waited, patiently, surprising her with a brand of unyielding devotion, while she had surprised him with Nora, loving him back, fiercely. They were a good team, at work and at home, experienced and knowledgeable as criminalists, loving and faithful as husband and wife, effective and caring as Mom and Dad.
Sara shifted, careful to not disturb Greg, who had dozed off. She reached into the back pocket of her jeans, pulling out a copy of the photograph that would go in the last empty slot. She smoothed out the edges, sliding the latest sonogram image Jack and Nora had sent them carefully into the sleeve, closing the album. She pressed a kiss to Greg's lips, a warming sensation leaking from her heart, settling in her hips as she felt him smile lazily, then begin to kiss her back, tightening his grip on her waist.
A good life, indeed.