Title: The Cabin
Words: Approximately 5200
Disclaimer: CSI is the property of CBS/Paramount. I just like to play with the characters.
Summary: Sara goes back to the cabin she used to visit as a kid.
X X X
Hitching her weighed down backpack up higher on her shoulders Sara continued forward, using her denim covered legs to part the way through the dense underbrush of the forest. Step by step, she made her way closer to her destination. The thick fir trees partially blocked out the light, as she hiked, and she could simply smell the green of the Oregon forest.
It was a half day drive from San Francisco, and an hour hike to get where she was going. The boat would be waiting for her, she knew. It always was. This was their place. She and her foster father, Warren, used to hike out to the cabin upon occasion. Usually, he'd hand her a fishing rod and tackle box when she started feeling overwhelmed. Together, they'd make their way out to what he referred to as his little piece of heaven.
Tromping on, she suddenly spotted the ramshackle looking shack in the distance and picked up her pace. Her pulse skittered for a moment, as she realized how much she'd missed the simplicity of it.
When her foot got caught on the limb of a fallen tree, she laughed out loud, announced, "I'm home," and felt a bit childlike. Smiling wide, she rushed forward the last bit of distance, and set her foot on the creaky wooden step up to the porch.
Taking stock, she examined the log cabin itself. It wasn't big… if anything it reminded her of something a miner would've built back in the gold rush days. Steps led up to a porch that covered the expanse of the front. She could see two boards rotting. They hadn't been painted in so long, the water damage was tremendous.
Taking those few steps up, she stood in front of the screen door and noted how the weather had aged the log walls. The oils used to maintain them had faded, and some of the logs were showing their age.
"Tomorrow, I paint," she stated. Looking under her foot, she examined the shaky board, and made a mental note to go into town sometime to pick up lumber. She was taking back what she'd neglected. She was taking back her life.
Finally opening the door, Sara walked into the carpeted cabin. Directly in front of her was a couch that pulled out into a bed. It was over fifty years old, in bad need of repair, and the most hideous green imaginable. Smiling fondly she stepped forward and ran her hand lovingly across its rough and worn fabric. She wouldn't change it for the world, as it was where she'd always slept when she visited this place.
Next to the couch was a massive cast iron wood burning stove. The left side was a where logs were burned. A hatch opened up, and logs would be placed inside, and the hatch closed again to retain the heat. The top was used to cook with pots and pans. The right side was an oven. It was where Warren taught Sara how to burn biscuits.
The other end of the room contained a desk and shelves filled with books. It also held a long, cushioned bench. Warren had been tall, so it fit his frame well, and it's where he slept. Beams crossed above, and acted as braces for the steep roof. One of the beams had a handful of hooks attached. They'd had a sheet to hang, so Sara could have privacy. It was something Warren always respected… her privacy.
A door led out the back of the cabin, as well, and curtained windows lined nearly every wall.
Looking around the room, fully taking it in, Sara winced at the thick layer of dust covering… everything. Dropping her bag in the middle of the floor, she pulled open the curtains, as the afternoon sun burst into the room. The light sparkled off the dust that flew out from the curtains, and she resigned herself to having to air them out on this trip.
In the sunlit room, Sara took in the comforts of the one place on earth she always felt… free.
The colors of the room clashed harshly. The dark, pea green couch clashed against the bright red carpet. The burnt orange bench clashed against… absolutely everything, because it had strange, swirling flowers on it. The pink flower rug that lay in front of the cast iron stove simply made her laugh.
Sara had always wondered if perhaps Warren and his wife Eden had been born just a bit later, would they have been hippies? Instead, they'd been born too soon… near the end of the Great Depression.
They'd decided that since their child was grown and moved away that they would open their home, and had ended up with Sara.
Smiling at the oil lamps hanging here and there from the rafters, Sara reached up and began to take them down from their hooks. They would need to be fueled before dark, and dark would come soon.
Over the next few hours Sara watched the sun begin to dip, as she cleaned the years of grime from the cupboards. Pots and pans were scrubbed down and put back to hang. Water was brought in by the bucket to fill the holding tub behind the house. Next to the back door was a sink that allowed water to drain from where it was stored in the tub, down into the sink whenever the stopper was pulled. From the sink, the water would flow through a tube, out into a drainage ditch.
By the time the sun sank, leaving the wilderness it pitch black, Sara sat cozily stoking the fire, curled up on her couch. The cushions had been beaten, but she knew she'd be sleeping in dust, and she was okay with that. There was time – plenty of time – to bring it all back to life.
X X X
It took three days and two supply runs into town before Sara was able to sit in the old rocking chair on the front porch of the cabin and relax. Creaking back and forth, she peered through the trees, and could make out a hint of water. Glancing around, she admired her own handiwork. She'd replaced all of the boards on the porch that were rotting or cracking. A fresh coat of primer and dark brown paint protected the wood from the elements. Every log had been tenderly cared for with oil, and in some cases sandpaper.
Inside, every cushion and pillow had been beaten of their dust, and now smelled like the fir trees around the cabin. She'd even managed to cut away the brush, making a protective fire break in case of fire. It was something she'd learned the first trip up – always make sure there's at least fifteen feet around the cabin with no brush or trees.
Every muscle ached in a satisfied way, and so she simply sat and peered over to her pond. These last days she'd worked. Tomorrow, she would play.
X X X
The sun had not yet risen, as Sara put on her fishing vest. Wearing jeans, a flannel shirt over her t-shirt, and her tennis shoes, she set out. In one hand, she held her fishing rod. In the other – the tackle box. It was time to fish.
The boat, protected under a make-shift cover, desperately needed a new coat of paint, but pushing it into the water, she found no leaks. The boards seemed firm enough, so she climbed in and rowed out. The pond itself was small. A creek fed in from one direction, and out the other. It was maybe four hundred feet long, and a hundred feet wide.
Smiling, she pulled the hook from where it was purposely snagged on a loop, and grabbed a jar of bait. Placing the eggs on the line, she cast. Pleased at the distance, she put the rod in the holder, wound a finger around the line, and opened a book.
She didn't see the words. Instead, as the sun began to rise above the trees, making the water glow brilliant, she closed her eyes and dreamed.
X X X
Getting nervous when you're moving to a new foster home is ridiculous, fourteen year old Sara thought, fidgeting in the seat of her current foster mom's car. She'd been in her latest foster home for six months – the longest ever. By now she was used to moving, though. She'd already lived in five homes since she went into care. Morosely, she sank farther down into her seat, staring out the window.
When they pulled up to the two story brick house in San Francisco, she waited until her foster mother opened her car door. Sara's social worker was already there – smiling at her, like she usually did.
The social worker held out her hand, said, "Sara, you're going to love living here. I promise." All Sara could think was that the woman had said that about the last two foster homes.
The older couple stood on the steps of their home. They weren't as young as the other foster parents Sara had stayed with. Rather, they looked to be middle-aged, maybe in their fifties. His hair was going gray, and her blond tresses seemed to be a bit dulled with time. Hesitantly, Sara walked up the low steps, and waited for the social worker to make the introductions.
In all her years, it was the first time someone had really looked Sara in the eye. People would look at her. Sometimes they would talk about her family. Yet Warren, a tall, rugged man in his fifties, looked her in the eye and truly acknowledged her existence.
The first time Sara came home from school and didn't open her school books immediately, Warren sat down on the couch next to her and said in his low, rumbling voice, "Go pack a bag. We're goin' fishin'."
She hadn't known what to pack and felt embarrassed at the thought of asking. After all, she'd grown up on the ocean, and fishing was a typical past time. Sara had never been fishing, though, and felt stupid about it.
When they got to the cabin, he grabbed the sheet, and hung it down the middle. During the day, they'd drape the bottom of the sheet over the beam to open up the room. At night, though, when Sara needed her time alone, they'd drop the sheet and give each other space.
Sara had packed the basics, but nothing else. That evening, he pulled a round tube out of his backpack, handed it to her, and said, "If you're gonna fish, you need a rod."
The next day, they kicked back in the boat. They were seated at the stern and the bow, with their feet propped up on the middle bench. For awhile they just… existed. Something about the gentle lapping of the water soothed away everything but the moment.
He taught her how to cast, and then taught her the importance of day dreaming. It was while riding the faintly lapping water that she learned the importance of simply being.
His low, rumbling voice could seem so soothing, and seemed to drift across the water as if it belonged on the pond. It never startled her those rare times he spoke; and when he spoke, Sara listened.
"You know, sometimes I wonder where life is taking me," he said. "Other times, I'm pretty sure, I don't wanna know. You ever feel that way?"
She didn't know how to respond at first, so she didn't. Instead, that part of her that withheld her feelings clenched up. Yet the gentle rocking of the boat, as the duo lazily waited for a bite, would not let that tension remain. With her head tilted back, dreaming of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, she eased into oblivion and simply enjoyed the silence permeated only by the whispers of nature in the air.
The day passed so slow and lazy, Sara was surprised to find the late afternoon drift to evening. Sitting up, she watched this very gentle giant row them back toward shore.
"I can't afford to wonder where life is taking me," the quiet teenager said. "If I do, I'll always be disappointed."
They didn't even get a nibble that day. Not that it mattered. Warren had packed in a small cooler, and it included some frozen fish. "I'll cook dinner," he said, handing her his pole. "Put the rods out back."
She figured he must've been doing this a long time, when he expertly picked up a cast iron skillet and started flipping fillets around the pan. Settling on the green couch, she watched the gentle movements, as the man in question flipped around the fish, throwing in a dash of dried herbs stored in the cupboards. Before long, the cabin lay cozy in heat and the aroma of a home cooked meal. When he pulled potatoes out of the oven and served them alongside the fish, Sara suddenly felt… happily fatigued. Content.
The small folding table was easily set up in the middle of the room. Comfortably seated in their accompanying chairs, they ate in companionable silence. As they washed the dishes side-by-side, Warren said, "You got me contemplating somethin'. I guess I'm curious… are you sure it's wonderin' where life will take you that disappoints you, or is it that you don't get much say in it?" He shrugged his big shoulder, put away the last plate, and made his way to the front porch.
She felt tired the next morning. No one had ever really talked to her like she understood anything before. As a result, she'd been up half the night, thinking. She nearly choked on the bitter and thick coffee he handed her. Sara had never had coffee before. It was a strange introduction to the dark liquid. For a moment, she wondered if she stuck a knife in it if perhaps the knife would easily stand on end. Grinning, she watched him set up the table and open up their tackle boxes.
For an hour, he went through their kits… explaining everything from the hooks to the weights. Sara soaked it up, asking questions on how to use each item, until she felt comfortable with the subject.
"Your turn to cook," he stated. Looking dubiously at the wood stove, she chewed on her cheek. When she started going through the dried goods in the cupboards, Sara sighed. Without a clue of what to do, she decided to just start making something. The worst case scenario would be something inedible.
"Watcha cookin'?" Warren asked from where he lay with his eyes half closed.
"Biscuits?" she responded.
"Want to learn my mom's recipe?" he asked, and Sara smiled in his general direction.
So Sara learned to make biscuit dough… and burnt biscuits. They generally didn't turn black, but they were never golden brown. When Warren bit into the biscuits that morning, he hummed with a smile on his face. "Yep," he said. "Just like my mom's… crispy around the edges. She never figured out how to cook 'em in a wood oven, either. Prayed in thankfulness for three solid weeks the day my dad got her an electric stove."
They didn't get out on the pond before dawn, as he preferred, but they were both content on arrival. In silence, they spent the day occasionally casting, and waiting for that fish to bite.
X X X
Sara woke with the sun low in the sky. Her back ached from laying in a position that would strain a pretzel. Stretching her muscles, she rowed back to the water's edge, secured the row boat, grabbed her book, and made her way back to the cabin.
Dinner was a simple affair. Diced vegetables over pasta, with a bit of avocado oil for flavoring, filled her up fast enough; and eventually she settled on her couch. The lamps were lit, and Sara pulled Romeo and Juliet off the shelf. Smiling in memory, she began to read. As the night turned from blue to cobalt and then to pitch black, Sara put the book back on the shelf and made her way out to the front porch. She'd dimmed the interior lights and closed the curtains, because out in the wilderness she was gifted with the greatest of sights. The stars were amazing.
The night was clear, and she could make out millions of the twinkling objects in the sky. In the rocker, quietly creaking in harmony with the soft sounds of life that accompanied the wilderness, Sara let her eyes drift slowly closed.
X X X
They told Sara's foster parents she should be moved up two grades. That's what the tests showed… that she may be the age of a freshman, but she should be in the junior class. When Warren and Eden had been consulted, they'd left the choice to her. That meant a trip out to the cabin with Warren.
"Got a lot on your mind," Warren stated, making his way down the road in his old Chevy truck. It wasn't a question. "I think you gotta decide pretty soon." He didn't say anything more that night. They got in late, hiking their way through the forest in the dark. The moon was bright, though, and guided them well.
If he was impressed by how much she remembered about opening up the cabin and getting it ready for them, he didn't say anything. He acted as if he expected it. Sara found a comfort in his attitude, and set about easily enough making herself useful. They dropped into sleep quickly that night.
Getting up and out to the pond before dawn, they'd feasted on partially burnt biscuits and honey, and felt replete enough to relax into the boat with blankets wrapped around their legs. A thermos with Warren's thick as butter coffee lay rolling around the bottom of the boat, and on more than one occasion, Sara found herself actually craving the stuff.
Eventually, he passed over the container's lid that doubled as a cup for her to take a sip, and chuckled at her wince. He grinned when she returned the favor, as he winced also.
"Eden makes better coffee," she'd stated, and he nodded with a big smile on his face.
For a couple hours, as the sun rose up over the trees, they sat in quiet solitude, feeling the occasional jerk on the line, only to come up with tangled weeds wrapped around the hooks. Mid morning, Warren asked, "Given any thought to your education?"
That's pretty much all she'd thought about, but just shrugged.
Time passed as slow as dripping molasses, until the heat of noon forced Sara to shrug off her heaviest coat. In a sweater, she sat across from her foster father and said, "I don't fit in anywhere. Not really."
That statement made, she waited for a reply, but didn't get one immediately. It was almost half an hour later, when the big man roused himself enough to say, "Seems to me that a lot of people try to fit in and never quite get there. Seems to me everyone wants to find their place. Guess you just need to figure out what matters to you."
The rest of the day passed fairly uneventful, as the duo occasionally recast their lines, kicked back, and enjoyed the rocking of the boat.
On the way back to the cabin after securing the boat, Sara glanced over at Warren and said, "I think maybe I want to jump a couple of grades. I'm already an outsider in my school. I don't think staying where I am will make me fit in any better than I already do, so I might as well take the chance I've been given." Standing on the front porch, she waited until she had his attention before she added, "Besides, I've already done all the junior-level work in my subjects this year, so I won't be behind," and listened to his low, earthy chuckle.
X X X
Sleeping on the green couch was always an experience, because it was old and lumpy. Yet somehow, she always woke refreshed. It was past dawn, and she was feeling a little lazy. Grabbing the dried ingredients from the cupboards, she set about making biscuits… burnt as usual.
Thinking about the biscuits, she remembered a time when she and her mom, Laura, used to make cookies together. Chocolate chip. Both of their favorites. Without her father around, Sara relished those times with her mom. They'd laugh and talk, and when Sara got to that time in her life, when boys became important, they'd talked even more. Occasionally, if he was sober, her dad would sit down at a stool in the kitchen, and they'd actually laugh together. The three of them.
Stirring the ingredients, Sara looked down at the watery mess she'd made and actually giggled – then looked around. Feeling a bit foolish, she added a bit more flour, and let her mind wander back.
X X X
Her fifteenth birthday party had consisted of herself, her friend Janine, and her foster parents. Eden, down to earth yet outgoing, had made Sara's favorite – linguine with pesto sauce. Everyone had had a great time, but two days later Sara had to go visit her mom again. The forced visitations were never fun, as it was a reminder of everything Sara had experienced.
She shouldn't have been surprised when the following weekend, she found herself ensconced in the passenger seat of the old pickup, heading north into Oregon. The sun was setting over the trees, when they made the hike into the cabin. It didn't take long to get things in order, as they worked in silence.
Eating dinner over the fold out table, Warren said, "Visit didn't go so well, huh?"
Sara just shrugged, not trusting herself to say anything that wouldn't come out harsh and angry. With the wood stove heating up the cabin nicely, they shut the drapes, and bedded down for the night. In the thin silence, broken only by the rustling of the wind, she felt stiff. In her cocoon created by the hanging sheet that fell from the ceiling and the mound of blankets over her, she finally spoke. "She could've taken me someplace, away from it all. She could've just left, and she didn't. Visiting her in that place – that group home – it pissed me off. Because it didn't have to be this way."
When he didn't answer for awhile, Sara laid back, let out a breath and closed her eyes, willing herself to find elusive sleep. He quietly said, "Sometimes we don't think we have a choice. Sometimes we don't think we have any control. Even parents are flawed human beings."
She didn't need to even think about her reply. "It wasn't fair that I'm the one that has to live with it, though." The one and only time he ever invaded her privacy was when the tears came through when she asked, "What did I do wrong?"
For a man who took everything slow, he moved pretty quickly. In a flash, she found herself wound up in a warm embrace. Time stood still, as he cradled and rocked her, whispering, "It's okay, girly. It's okay." Pent-up confusion and frustration burned out through her tears, until she fell asleep against his chest.
In the morning, when she woke up, she realized what it felt like to be a bit cherished. Her "temporary" dad had tucked her in, kissed her forehead, and told her to dream good dreams… just like a real dad.
Sitting out on the boat, Sara read Little Women for the umpteenth time. She loved to read about the fun the sisters would have together, and relished the love story between Jo and the professor. When her bobber jerked, she sat up, grinned at Warren, and began to reel it in. However, whatever had popped onto her line was gone, and she happily set about baiting and casting her line again.
As Warren recast his own line, Sara shyly glanced over and said, "Thanks. For last night. Thanks."
He simply smiled back, kicked back on his seat and propped his long denim clad legs up on the bench across the middle of the boat. Getting back to her book, Sara smiled to herself and continued to read.
By the time the sun went down, Sara and Warren were ensconced in companionable silence back at the cabin. Each holding a book, they enjoyed the warmth emanating from the fire, and snuggled down onto their respective couches. She'd just closed the book when Warren said, "That novel you've got looks pretty worn. You read it a lot?"
A sighing smile on her face, Sara replied, "It was my mom's. She gave it to me when I turned ten." Feeling a bit shy, she added, "I like the story."
Nodding in his direction, Sara indicated his own well-worn book, when she asked, "What about you? That looks pretty worn, too."
Holding up and examining the cover of Where the Red Fern Grows, he grinned when he said, "I gave it to my boy when he was ten. He liked it some, but I liked it more." Glancing around the cabin, he added, "It gives me a bit of peace to read it when I come up here."
Making her way over, she examined the cover of the book in his hand, and the book in her own. Holding out her own novel, she said, "Maybe it's time we read something different."
X X X
Kicked back in the boat, Sara was lulled into a peaceful comfort as she read the last pages of Where the Red Fern Grows. Tears streamed down her face – sadness, joy… imagination.
When her bobber tugged under the water and stayed, she sat up and yanked to get the hook off the bottom of the pond. Sighing, she re-baited, and cast once again, before settling back. Picking up the book once more, she fingered to the first page.
The heat of the afternoon sun sank into her, and the gentle rocking of the boat lulled her to sleep.
X X X
Sara was graduating from high school… finally. It was just weeks before graduation, and she was sixteen. Recently, Rob Arco down the street had asked her on a date, and she'd been allowed to go, with Eden and Warren sitting in the back row of the theater. To some degree, it gave the newly dating teenager some comfort to know that they were there.
Her best friend, Janine, would be going into her junior year, while Sara prepared for the ceremony... and to become emancipated. She knew Eden worried about her going off to Harvard alone. However, Sara's foster parents had helped her fill out the scholarship forms and made sure their foster daughter would be well prepared when she headed off to Boston.
Hiking in from the road, where they parked the truck for the long weekend, Sara led the way to the cabin. Guided by experience, it took no time to get set up and get the lamps lit before the sun sank down and left them in a blissful, deepening dark in the wilderness.
Glancing out the window, as the sky turned to ink, Sara watched the bright full moon illuminate the area, and said, "We're going to have to cut back the underbrush around the cabin tomorrow. There are a couple of trees needing a good trim, too."
While he made dinner, she dusted every surface. Sitting at the fold out table, halfway through their meal, Warren said, "When I was a boy, I was a lot of trouble. I was arrested twice by the time I was fourteen. Did a six month stint in jail when I was eighteen." They continued eating in silence, but Sara wasn't sure what to think. The man in front of her had always been kind and responsible. He'd always been there when she needed him, so this revelation stunned her.
Together, they washed the dishes, put them in their place, and settled in for the evening. It was while they were flipping through books pulled from the bookcase that he laid his down and said, "I had a chance to start my life over after I got out of jail – to leave it all behind me, and never look back. I left behind people I loved, but I knew I had to do it, and I'd like to think they understood. I went through a bit of a wild time, then settled down with Eden and raised my boy right."
That night, nestled in her bed on the fold out couch, Sara wondered at what he'd said. She hadn't really talked about it, but she was scared of going to Boston on her own. Sure, she was excited as well, but it was something new, and it was a big change. It occurred to her she was given a chance. Knowing he was still awake, as a lantern was still lit on his side of the curtain hanging between them, Sara said, "You raised your girl right, too."
Smiling, she fell asleep.
X X X
Sara woke with a start, when she felt the tug on the line. Muttering, "Crap, crap, crap," she pulled on the line, and waited to reel in her catch. When nothing came up but another crop of tangled weeds, she decided to call it a day and rowed to shore. Pulling the boat up and tying it down, she made the short walk to the cabin before the revelation hit her.
Meanwhile, Grissom was sitting on his couch trying to watch the baseball game. It was the fifth inning, and he was highly annoyed. Muttering, "if people would stop calling me, I'd be able to at least catch the score," he winced once more when his cell phone rang.
He resignedly reached over for the phone. The day had been a nightmare – one for the books – and he just wanted a little peace and quiet. Huffing out a harsh breath, he looked at Hank and said, "If it's Ecklie again, I'm not answering." When he checked the ID on the screen, he smiled. The tension of aggravation turned to a soothing release; and he kicked back on the couch and flipped open the cell.
"Hi," he said, a smile crossing his face. He didn't get a chance to say anything else.
Instead, she spoke – not about them, but about what she'd finally figured out.
"You know, it's taken me over twenty years to figure out there are no damn fish in the pond."