For Syd, as I promised a Powell POV in exchange for zombies...

The Neon Sign

He's in love again. Oh, it's subtle since he's not a neon sign kinda guy. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who's noticed the indicators and that's only when I've got the Connor-shaped magnifying glass out. The youngsters on the team may register the slight reprieve on their ears, but they don't have the trained eyes I've developed to spot the cause. Complex as the boss is, it's difficult to decipher the emotional ranges in the daunting mix of bad-mood-to-worse-mood. After a while, it all looks the same. If you ask me, Stephen's a Sherlock Holmes mystery wrapped in a Where's Waldo puzzle. I find it as fascinating as it is infuriating, though we're talking a damn fine line there.

He's in love again and God help the woman. Habitual preoccupation and past history have a way of keeping my friend single. Mind you, having a spouse give up can do things to a guy's outlook on romance. Of course, I'd swear that my better half would never abandon our marriage. I'd shout it with the force of King Kong. But as surely as I believe this, I know that abruptly leave family game night to go poke through some dying person's possessions causes some serious tongue-biting on Kim's part. Mrs. Connor used to do the same. Bit the tip clear off, I think, which freed up the rest to argue up a nasty streak. Stephen's misfortune has renewed my awareness of lengthy days away and I naturally make up for it with more souvenirs than we have shelves. I should probably reevaluate that plan. Kim complains that parts of our house look like a garage sale in progress. Wives are funny things, really; sent by God to make fellas work harder at stuff for which we have no particular gifts. Like mind reading and the well-placed word. Hallmark and flower shops exist for the wounds we create by just being ourselves.

He's in love again. And I know this because the bad moods, though present, are tamed just enough to no longer dodge for cover. Kim always said his resumption of bachelorhood wouldn't last and now I'm obliged to treat her to a spa day for losing that bet. As long as I don't have to go with her to engage in couple's day or something, it's money well spent. I wonder if Connor's new interest knows about her prospects for quality time. I wonder how much of his flaws, which he conveniently calls 'dedication,' he's admitted to her. I mean, you can't let them find out on their own, can you? You gotta soften the blow, ease them into an understanding of how screwed up we are as a gender. And he, more than most, has a lot of explaining to do. See, as intense as he is about work, he's equally oblivious to personal responsibilities. She'd better be addicted to forgiving, because that's one chore she'll revisit often.

He's in love again and I just have to ask him. Because that's the only way to deal with Connor. Bluntness is the oxygen he breathes. So while I'm busy swabbing for evidence under a spotless sink, I ask what his new lady does for a living. It's thrown out there like I was asking for his lunch order. And he tells me, complete with every possible signal of exasperation, that she is an artist. Of course, he had to think about the answer and by this, I decide he really isn't as into her as I first believed. I mean, there's hesitation because I'm prying, something I've seen as many times as I've stubbed a toe. But this one-sentence conversation had the sound of someone who has to pull a basic fact from the recesses of his mind. I tell Kim about this and she takes the position that he hesitated not from lack of knowledge, but something far more sinister. The woman's a secret, Kim decides with a clap of her hands. Man, she does love a good mystery. He's lying, she tells me and appoints me the seeker of truth. Find out who she really is and then invite them for dinner so Kim can design the rest of their relationship over lamp chops.

He's in love again and I pray that she is, in fact, an artist. Let's face it, it takes a creative type to handle him. You've gotta invent ways to open him up and then craft tools to keep him from shutting down. I've just about exhausted every version of confrontation and the few really honest discourses we've had bore no resemblance to heartfelt talk. Girl stuff anyway, I guess. But damn, if he was any more tightly wound, he'd spring out of his own skin. But I've got that magnifying glass and I'm squinting like hell because in the right light his inner coil seems to relax a fraction. I can't decide if it's due to genuine romance or just the result of getting laid. I wouldn't complain either way. Until it ends. And it will.

He's in love again and the aftermath could kill him. And by extension, all of us. When the interruptions and the stand-ups and the forgetting take their toll, she'll be out the door. And he tends to leave that door open wide, like a preplanned escape route he designs out of twisted consideration. Proof? He could have contested the divorce, fought for Lisa, made an effort. But he shrugged and attended the hearings and never said a damned word. He gave her a way out. If Kim tried to leave me, I'd live on my beggin' knees, endure therapy, even quit this job. Because I know what's important. Connor hasn't learned that yet and this poor woman's gonna pay for it. When Kim suggests this mystery girl could be the one that teaches him, I nearly choke on my peas. I'll believe that when aliens land in our pool. I love my wife, but she doesn't always appreciate my sarcasm. And now my daughter's looking out the window anticipating a crash.

He's in love again and he's not the only one. Must be something in the NIH water fountains because Natalie's been acting…well, like she's high. Poor Miles, recently dumped, pointed this out to me and I applaud his newly discovered perception. The kid shakes his head, musing about the former boxer Eva learned Nat's seeing. She does go for the athletic type. While Connor's entanglement left him with a slightly longer fuse, Natalie has begun to hum. Yup, we now get our test results with the accompaniment of made-up, fairly tuneless warbles. Now, your average hummer gets a song stuck in their head and employs closed-lipped mouth vibrations to deal with it. But not our pathologist. No, she's stringing random notes together in orchestration to the words in her head. No doubt of a romantic nature. Her smile is quick and frighteningly eager. I think Connor's slightly annoyed by it, but I don't see where he has room to complain. She's just filling any voids where his tirades are supposed to be. I'm happy for them both and yet strangely disappointed. I'm not blind; although my mother in law's month-long stay was surprising. The two of them represent a wasted opportunity.

He's in love and I'm blind as a faceless statue. A wrapped up case brings conclusion reports, auxiliary reports and expense reports, not to mention yawns. Natalie is paused in her furious writing, mind likely numb from all the recounting we're required to put on paper. Instead, her pen has turned to her yellow legal pad, indulging in some brainless doodling. Connor is just outside the glass door, debating some fine point with Director Ewing. I know he's close to losing his cool because his upper arms are flexing within the confines of the black tee. With every gesture, the tightening of biceps causes worry over Kate's safety. Has she been born with a different set of equipment, he'd have taken a swing long ago. Those over-developed arms could flatten most opponents. Wait…

Nat's dating a boxer?

I look back to the humming woman and the meaningless geometric patterns filling her notepad margins. Wait...

Connor's dating an artist?

I've just run smack into a blinking, glaring neon sign.