A/N: Thank you so much for reading my story! This is the continuation of two of my previous stories, so I'd suggest beginning with "Fairytales" and then reading "Chasing the Rainbow's End" before starting this one. If you'd rather not, then feel free to disregard my advice … but, bear in mind that all three stories are connected.
This chapter is just the prologue to this story. It's a situation that I know is highly unlikely, but the romantic in me couldn't stop writing it, no matter what my logical side said. The next chapter will get into the believable part of the story.
Thanks for reading and reviewing! I hope you enjoy this new story!
I don't own CSI.
"Okay, that's done," Laura Sidle said as she finished tying the pink ribbon in her daughter's hair. "Turn around so that Mommy can see you."
Sara Sidle turned as directed and looked at her mother with a hopeful smile. Laura grinned back at her.
"You look beautiful, princess," she said, smoothing the skirt of Sara's dress. "Should we go show Daddy how nice you look?"
Sara nodded and took her mother's offered hand. They left her bedroom and went to the living room, where Malcolm Sidle was watching the morning news on tv.
"Look at me, Daddy!" Sara exclaimed as they entered the room.
He turned from the tv, his eyes falling on his little girl. He smiled at her.
"Don't you look pretty?" he smiled. "You're going to help Mommy pick out some new pictures for the house?"
Sara rolled her eyes as best a five-year-old could. "Paintings, Daddy," she said empathetically.
Malcolm laughed good-naturedly. "That's right. Daddy's little genius always knows the right words." He looked at his wife with a smile. "Sara's smarter than the both of us, Laura."
Laura smiled back, hoping that he was right. "We'll be back in time for dinner tomorrow," she promised.
"Take your time," he smiled. "It's a long trip to Venice."
Laura's smile shook slightly. She knew very well that if she came home too late to have dinner ready the next day, the consequences would be severe. "We'll be back in time," she said.
He shook his head. "I can't believe you're going that far just to find some artwork."
"This gallery is supposed to be amazing."
He nodded. "So they say." He turned from his wife to look at his daughter. "You take good care of Mommy while you're away, okay?" he smiled, kissing Sara's cheek.
"I will," Sara replied solemnly.
"Good girl." He stood up to kiss his wife. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Laura nodded and took Sara's hand. "Let's go, princess."
They walked out to the car, and Laura buckled Sara in. She glanced at their suitcase in the backseat, wondering for the millionth time if she shouldn't just leave and keep driving. Why not? Why come back to this place? Why come back to him?
Then, she turned to see him leaning in the passenger seat to give Sara one last kiss on her tiny cheek. Sara giggled at something he said, and Laura felt her throat ache.
She couldn't separate them. Sara loved her father, and he was so proud of his "little genius," as he always called her. And, he loved Laura, too, as much as she loved him. He had a bit of a temper, but so many men did. It wasn't so bad. They'd be fine.
"Are we there yet?" Sara asked for the tenth time.
"Almost, sweetie," Laura replied. "Why don't you take a nap? We'll probably be there when you wake up. It will make the time go faster."
"I'm not tired," Sara said, her jaw dropping in a wide yawn.
Laura glanced at her and smiled. "Just close your eyes and count to fifty, princess."
Sara complied at once. She loved number games. She leaned her head back against the seat, closing her eyes as she began to count aloud. As Laura had assumed, she was asleep before she reached thirty.
Sara awoke just as they drove into Venice. She looked out the window for a moment, then looked at her mother.
"Where are we?"
"We're in Venice, baby," Laura replied. She glanced at the clock. "Are you hungry? It's lunch time."
"Yes," Sara said.
Laura glanced up the street, searching for a restaurant. "How about McDonald's?"
"Yay!" Sara exclaimed. "Can I have ice cream?"
Laura laughed. "Okay. But, you have to eat your lunch first."
Sara nodded enthusiastically. "Okay."
After eating their lunch and ice cream cones, they went to the gallery. Sara looked around with wide eyes as her mother opened the front door.
"Don't touch anything, Sara," Laura cautioned as they entered the large building.
"I won't," Sara promised.
A young man with bright blue eyes and curly brown hair stepped out from behind the desk at the back of the room. He gave them a welcoming smile.
"May I help you?"
"We're looking for a few paintings for our bed and breakfast," Laura smiled.
He nodded. "Do you have a particular theme you'd like to …?"
"Mommy, look at this!" Sara exclaimed, cutting off his question.
"Sara, don't interrupt when others are talking!" Laura chided. "Come here and stay with me."
Sara obediently crossed to her mother, her eyes darting back to the painting she had found. The man smiled at her.
"Your name is Sara?" he asked.
Sara looked up at him with her big brown eyes and nodded shyly. He smiled wider.
"I'm Gil. I'd like to help you and your mom find the paintings you want. Did you see one that you like?"
"Will you show it to me?"
She nodded again, and looked up at her mother. Laura nodded, and Sara took off down the row, the pink bow her mother had tied bouncing with her dark hair. Laura and Gil followed behind her.
"There," Sara said, pointing at a painting that was hanging at the perfect height for a little girl to notice.
"Ah," Gil smiled. "That's a copy of a Sánchez Coello."
"Who are the girls?" she asked, pointing at the two little girls in the painting who stood side by side, each holding one side of a wreath of flowers.
"They're princesses," Gil explained. "Their names were Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela."
Sara's eyes grew to the size of saucers. "They're princesses?"
"Real, live princesses?"
Gil smiled. "They were," he said.
"Where do they live?"
"They lived in Spain," he explained. "Do you know where that is?"
"In Europe," she answered.
His eyebrows shot up. "Very good. You're a smart little girl."
"Daddy says I'm a genius."
He grinned at her. "I'm sure you are."
"Do you know more about them?" Sara asked, pointing to the princesses in the pictures.
"Well, this one was Isabel Clara Eugenia," Gil said. "She was her father's favorite."
Sara's face fell as she looked at the other girl. "But, what about her? Did her daddy love her, too?"
"I'm sure he did," Gil said, immediately regretting telling her that piece of information.
"Was he the king?"
"Yes, he was."
"Wow," Sara said, looking back at the princesses again. "Did they have princes who came to rescue them?"
Gil frowned slightly and Laura smiled.
"Sara and I read a lot of fairytales," she explained. "She likes to read the ones about princesses who are rescued by princes."
"Ah," Gil said, looking back at Laura. He wasn't surprised that he had nearly forgotten about her while talking to Sara. Children had an amazing ability to capture his attention. "Well, this would be a lovely piece, if you'd like to buy it. As I said, it's a copy of the original … I believe the original is in the Museo del Prado in Madrid."
"Madrid is the capital of Spain," Sara said suddenly, eager to show off her knowledge to the nice man.
"That's right," Gil smiled. "Your father is right, Sara – you are a genius."
Gil looked back at Laura. "If you're interested …"
Laura shook her head slightly. "I don't know … we had thought of just getting some seascapes or scenes of San Francisco …"
"Oh, please, Mommy?" Sara begged, grabbing her mother's hand again. "Please, can't we have the princesses?" She looked back at the painting, her eyes focusing on the younger of the two princesses. "I want Catalina Micaela to know that someone loves her best."
Gil watched as Laura's resolve melted under her daughter's hopeful expression.
"All right," she said. "Daddy said we could have three paintings, so why don't you go find us two with the ocean in them?"
"Okay," Sara said cheerfully, bouncing down the row to look at the other paintings.
"I'm sorry," Gil said. "If I had known, I wouldn't have given her so much information …"
"Don't worry about it," Laura smiled. "I'm sure she would have talked me into it even without knowing that they were princesses." She noted the UCLA t-shirt that he was sporting. "Are you studying art history? You're very knowledgeable about the paintings."
"No, actually, I'm studying entomology," he said. "This is my mom's gallery; I help her out over the summer. I work here while she goes to look at new artists."
"That's very kind of you."
He shrugged. "After all she's done for me, it's the least I can do for her."
"Mommy! I found one!"
Laura smiled. "Show me, princess."
Two hours later, Laura and Sara had purchased the three paintings they had come to buy. Sara was beaming as they prepared to leave; she was thrilled that she had gotten her painting of the princesses. Gil smiled at her as her mother signed the credit card slip.
"You'll take good care of the princesses, won't you?"
Sara nodded solemnly. "Thank you for telling me about them."
He looked surprised that she was so polite. "You're welcome. Thank you for giving them a good home."
"Thank you for all your help, Gil," Laura said. "Tell your mother that she's raised a wonderful young man."
He smiled, flushing slightly. "Thanks, Mrs. Sidle."
He walked to their car with them, carrying the heavy paintings. He packed them into the backseat while Laura helped Sara buckle her seatbelt in the front. Sara turned around to watch as he finished securing the paintings.
"Bye, Gil," she said cheerfully.
"Bye, Sara," he smiled.
Laura thanked him again, and climbed into the driver's seat. Gil watched as they drove away, thinking that Sara Sidle was a darling little girl. He hoped that if he ever had a daughter, she'd be just like Sara.
"Did you meet anyone in the shop today?" Mrs. Grissom signed over dinner.
"A woman from San Francisco," he replied. "Your reputation is spreading, Mom. She drove hours to get here."
Mrs. Grissom smiled. "But, did she buy anything?"
Her eyes widened. "So many!"
"They're for her bed and breakfast." He smiled at the memory. "Her little girl talked her into one of them."
"How old is she?"
"The little girl? About five."
"Yeah, she's cute."
She shook her head. "You're so good with children, Gil. You should be a teacher."
He smiled. They had had this argument before. "I don't want to be in charge of an entire classroom of children, Mom. Besides, I like bugs."
She shook her head again. "You and your bugs. You're going to become a hermit if you don't spend more time with people."
"I spend plenty of time with people. I talked to Sara and her mother today."
"Sara? Is that the little girl's name?"
He smiled. "She's a pretty little girl." He paused. "Did you find anything worth showing today?"
"Yes, I did."
His mother began to describe the paintings she had seen from a new, talented artist. As she related the events of her day to him, little Sara slipped from Gil's mind.
It would be decades later before he would think of that afternoon in the gallery again.
Sara was sound asleep when Laura pulled into their driveway. Malcolm came out of the house as she parked the car, smiling at them. He opened Sara's door as Laura stepped out of the car.
"Looks like you wore her out," he said as he lifted Sara out of the car.
"She fell asleep about an hour ago," Laura said. "I'll take her in. Could you get the paintings?"
Laura took the sleeping child and carried her into the house. She laid her down on her bed and covered her with a blanket. By the time she got back downstairs, Malcolm had unwrapped the paintings.
"What do you think of them?" she asked.
He frowned at her. "I thought we had agreed on local scenes done by local artists."
"I know," Laura said with an apologetic smile. "That third one is a copy of a Sánchez Coello. Sara wanted it."
"Sara … Laura, this is ridiculous! We run a bed and breakfast for Christ's sake, not a five star hotel! Where on earth are we going to put something like this?"
"I don't know," she said, trying to stay calm. "If you could have seen Sara's face …"
"Stop pinning this on Sara!" he yelled, advancing on her. "She doesn't have a credit card, Laura! You do! You're the one who paid for this! You're the one who bought this with our money!"
"It's a gorgeous painting, Malcolm!" Laura cried a bit desperately, fearful of the way his temper was mounting. "Even you can see that!"
The back of his hand came down across her face. "It's a goddamn waste of money, that's what it is!"
Laura raised a shaking hand to her cheek. "You told me to get paintings."
He turned away from her, clutching at his hair for a moment. "Don't play stupid!"
"I'm not –"
He struck her again, sending her flying off her feet. "I swear, Laura, sometimes …"
Laura wanted to fight back, but she couldn't find the strength. She pulled herself into a sitting position, clutching her knees to her chest as the tears gathered in her eyes.
"Christ, Laura, I'm sorry," Malcolm said, sitting down next to her. He grabbed her into his arms, hugging her against his chest. "I hate it when I hurt you. You know that, don't you?"
She nodded against his chest, trying to stop the tears.
"Look, we'll … we'll just put the painting in Sara's room. She'll like that, won't she?"
"She will," Laura agreed.
"Good. I'll go hang it right now."
When Sara woke up, the first thing she saw was the painting of the princesses hanging opposite her bed. She gave a shriek of delight and ran to find her mother.
"Mommy!" she exclaimed, running into her parents' room. "The princesses are on my wall!"
Laura put down the foundation she had been using to cover the bruises on her cheeks. "I know, princess. Daddy put your painting there. He thought you'd like it."
Sara looks suspiciously at the make up. "Are you hurt, Mommy?"
"Just a little," Laura admitted. "It's nothing. I don't even need a doctor, see? Just a little bit of foundation."
Sara nodded and smiled. "Will you read me a story about the princesses?"
"I don't know if we have one about those two particular princesses," Laura said. "Can we make one up about them?"
Sara cocked her head to the side as she considered it. "Can we call Gil? He knew all about them. He might know a story about them."
Laura smiled. "I don't think so, sweetie."
Sara's face fell. "Oh." She thought about her new "friend" for a moment. "He's smart, huh?"
"Yes, he is."
Sara considered this for a moment. "I'm going to marry him," she whispered.
Laura's eyebrows shot up. "Sara! You're far too young to get married!"
"Not right now," Sara said seriously. "I have to wait until I'm grown up. When I'm ten, I'll marry him."
"Oh," Laura said, trying desperately to keep a straight face. "As long as you're willing to wait until you're old enough."
Sara nodded with a smile. "I'm going to go look at my princesses."
"You do that."
Sara skipped off to her room to study the painting, leaving a very amused mother behind her.
For a few weeks, Sara thought of Gil every time she looked at the painting. Then, the stories she invented to go with the portrait took over, and she thought only of the two Spanish princesses. Gradually, Gil slipped from her mind.
It would be decades later before she would think of that afternoon in the gallery again.