Notes: I am aware that the length of time between updates for this story has been outrageous and that all of you have surely given up on me. Sorry about that! Being back to work full-time this school year along with being a full-time grad student on top of my most important job of being a mom has me up past midnight most nights just trying to get the "have-tos" done; there just isn't time for the "want tos" anymore. I am on Christmas break from teaching and from grad school right now, so even though my photo album is still not caught up, my grad school portfolio has been neglected, there is no fruit in my house, and I have no lesson plans for next week, I thought it'd be lovely to sit down and write something for a change. I hope I have something decent to offer. This chapter makes major leaps in time and completes the story.
Nora had been a member of the family for six months. She attended seventh grade at St. Viator, where she was a quiet, well-mannered student with no friends. She wasn't bullied, but everyone knew she was the girl whose parents were dead. The manner of their deaths changed with each telling of the story by different kids. Nora had heard about them being drowned, shot, stabbed, hung, strangled, and even poisoned by her, but she had learned, or at least was still learning through twice weekly therapy sessions, to ignore it all. She had found a home with Grissom and Sara and with the employees of the grave shift of the LVPD CSI unit.
While life for Nora wasn't carefree, especially because of being ostracized at school, she'd come a long way in six months. She had been terrified of being in the same room as Grissom, but was now comfortable hugging him, ruffling his hair just to annoy him, and didn't even flinch when he kissed Sara. At first, she had slept with "the" bedroom door locked due to her unease with Gil, but now slept soundly in "her" bedroom with the door cracked open so Hank could come and go as he pleased. She and Gil had even developed a routine of eating their breakfasts together while doing the Sudokus in the morning paper (Grissom the "expert" one and Nora the "easy" one).
Nora was no longer a stranger invading Sara's and Gil's space. At first, Nora had kept all of her things in her bedroom, even going as far as removing her toothbrush from her bathroom twice a day so that it wouldn't be in anyone's way (never mind the fact that toothbrushes in general are not typically in anyone's way and never mind the fact that she was the only one who used that bathroom). Now, although Sara insisted on tidiness, Nora's iPod was nearly always on an end table, two or three pairs of shoes were nearly always kicked to a position near the front door, a jacket was frequently left slung over the back of the couch, and several glasses of water were left out and forgotten on several surfaces.
At first, Gil had felt like a stranger in his own home, try as he did to make sure Nora was comfortable and knowing as he did that his presence made her as uncomfortable as could be. He was hesitant to touch Sara, and certainly paranoid about touching Nora. He chose his words with even more deliberation than he had been prone to back in his days as the boss of grave shift. Now, showing affection to his wife was not something he was afraid to do, and Nora even hugged him goodnight every night. He wasn't even sure "normal" twelve year old kids did that. He didn't think he'd hugged him mom at age twelve unless she forced him to. He and Nora even cracked jokes together and shared similar dry senses of humor. She even watched Discovery channel with him after Sara left for work at night.
When Nora first arrived, Sara had had nightmares, night terrors, and terrible insomnia. Memories of her father's murder and her life as a foster child kept her awake, or worse, woke her from fitful sleep, trembling and sweating like a small child afraid of a monster in the closet. Unable to accept that Nora was suffering as badly as she had, Sara was constantly on edge and paranoid that she couldn't "make it right" for Nora. Gil had eventually insisted that Sara attend counseling with Nora one afternoon a week and alone once a week, and with counseling, Sara was able to come to grips with the fact that Nora was suffering and that she couldn't take the suffering away. She had since learned to read Nora for signs of wanting or needing to talk about her feelings, for signs of depression or withdrawal, and most importantly, for signs of wanting to be a happy twelve year old who just wanted to talk, play Just Dance on the wii, and shop for clothes. Sara learned to pretend to forget hers and her foster daughter's shared past of violence and loss during the times when Nora was pretending to forget it, too. The nightmares and insomnia had diminished, although not ceased.
There had been setbacks in the development of a mostly happy home shared by Gil, Sara, and Nora.
There was the one time Nora had a major panic attack when Grissom suggested going out for ice cream. Gil and Sara had learned the hard way that before her dad would sexually assault Nora, he would take her out for ice cream. After staring helplessly at Nora for what seemed like ages as she curled up into fetal position, rocked, and alternated between sobbing and screaming, Sara had kicked Gil out of the house and had spent two solid hours huddled up on the floor, holding Nora as close as she could or dodging panicked kicks until Nora had regained the ability to control her body and had calmed down enough to move to the couch and verbalize why she had freaked out.
There had been the time when Nora had left the house to walk Hank alone without telling either Sara or Gil, and they had immediately assumed the worst, thinking that she had run away. By the time Nora returned home (probably less than 30 minutes after she'd left), Jim Brass and Gil were already driving the neighborhood streets in search of her, Sara was sending her text after text and was simultaneously on the phone with Catherine, trying to find out if Nora had told Lindsey she was running away (she and Lindsey, while not the same age, had developed a bond). When Nora had returned home with flushed cheeks from the chilly air, she had been greeted with the closest thing to yelling she'd heard since her parents' last fight, and had had another panic attack.
There had been the time Nora had seen Gil folding a pair of her underwear. It had never crossed Grissom's mind that doing so could bother Nora; all Sara did when he folded her underwear was thank him for taking care of a chore. Nora had basically hidden from him for a week. Sara made magnets for the washer and dryer that said, "Sara's and Gil's" and "Nora's" and a rule was established that whoever was using the washer or dryer had to label it with their magnet and that Gil was never to touch "Nora's" and that Nora was never to touch "Sara's and Gil's.
There was the four month time period in which Sara and Gil had hardly kissed each other goodnight, much less had sex. There was so much uncertainty with what Nora may or may not hear through the walls that intimacy seemed forbidden. Eventually, the therapist had insisted that even though Nora carried major emotional scars because of sex and sexual acts, she needed to see a proper, loving relationship in action. She needed to see snuggling up on the couch, simple kisses while cooking together, light-hearted flirting, and hand-holding while on a walk. Sara still insisted on rolling a towel up in front of the crack under their bedroom door to block out whatever noise she allowed Grissom to make during love-making, but hey, at least they were back to having sex.
There had been the time Nora met Betty. Sara and Gil had taught Nora some basic signs and Betty was prepared to write some conversation and to be patient as Gil translated for both herself and for Nora. Nora had actually been thrilled with the idea of having a grandma, and had helped Gil make the lasagna and Caesar salad for dinner just before Betty's arrival. Unfortunately, when Betty had seen Nora's bedroom, she'd commented about how she used to love staying in that room. Nora ended up hiding in her bathroom for the majority of the evening, and only after Betty left did she sob to Sara that she felt guilty for taking the room from Betty. Sara had emailed an explanation to Betty, but she'd maintained that Nora hated her for over a month. Now, Nora called Betty "Grandma" and she enjoyed looking at the photo albums from Gil's childhood that Betty shared every time they saw her. Nora especially enjoyed the times when Gil's cheeks would flush as he was forced to translate an embarrassing story about himself as a boy.
Now, panic attacks were still a very real threat to the happy Grissom household, but they were few and far between. A routine had been established that all three people in the house, and even Hank, seemed to be happy with. Nora and Gil visited the lab once a week, on Friday nights, to bring lunch to Sara and the rest of the grave shift. Nora loved the attention she got there. Now that she was comfortable being around the grave team, Greg was pulling off more and more stunts and tricks for her entertainment, Nick had taken to calling her "Sweetheart," Mandy had taught her everything she'd ever want to know about fingerprints, proper nail care, and eyebrow maintenance, Archie had helped her with several homework projects, giving her status at school as "tech savvy," and the new boss, DB, had given her instructions on how to care for and use the various plants in his office and had framed and hung up a sketch she'd drawn for him of his favorite mushroom.
DB had struggled with the schedule for Christmas. Nick wanted to go home to Texas. Greg wanted to go to Norway to visit a cousin he'd recently developed a bond with through Facebook. Catherine wanted to spend the holiday with Lindsey. Sara wanted to spend the holiday with Nora. He wanted to spend the holiday with his wife and kids. Brody was a good CSI and all, but DB didn't think she could work Christmas Eve and Christmas day on her own. People were still murdered on Christmas, after all. Eventually, he'd settled on telling Greg to go to Norway in January when no one needed off and gave each of his team members either Christmas Eve or Christmas day off, including himself. Sara happened to get Christmas Eve off.
Christmas had been a hot topic of conversation in the Grissom household. Sara and Gil had wheedled as much information about Nora's past Christmases as they could while trying not to make her relive horrible memories. As it turned out, Nora had never received a gift from Santa; her dad had told her early on that Santa was a lie. She had never received Christmas gifts from her parents, either, but her grandparents had always made the holiday happy for her until they either moved away, passed away, or were placed in nursing homes. Sara and Gil were determined to make some happy Christmas memories with the girl they saw as their daughter, not their foster child. They'd bought a live tree, set it up, cursed the strand of lights that died after being strung on the tree as Nora laughed, and hung an assortment of random ornaments Sara and Gil had been gifted over the years and had never hung before, ranging from a Billy Bass to an LVPD logo, to a couple of jolly Santas, to a Nativity, to a rather interesting, apparently drunken reindeer. They'd even gone as far as hanging a strand of icicle lights from the garage roof. Sara and Nora had baked and then thrown away a batch of Christmas cookies because they'd apparently failed to add a key ingredient. Gil had then shown them up by shooing them out of the kitchen and only letting them back in after he'd pulled freshly baked, perfectly decorated gingerbread men from the oven.
On Christmas Eve, Sara, Gil, and Nora headed to Betty's house, which she'd decorated lavishly and beautifully. Her Christmas tree was much more elegant than theirs with its simple white lights and all red ball ornaments. The four watched A Christmas Story after dinner and Nora had teared up while opening her present, saying, "It's really, really nice to feel special enough to be given anything." That statement, had, of course, made Gil, Sara, and Betty tear up. Contagious laughter filled the room as they all teased each other for being so sentimental.
Unbeknownst to Nora, Sara had begged Greg to set Nora's Christmas presents from Santa out under the tree while they were at Betty's. When they returned home, Nora could barely contain her excitement, leading Gil and Sara to be glad they had decided to give gifts from Santa even though Nora was obviously way too old to actually believe in him. She literally skipped around the family room after opening Just Dance 2 for the wii, and immediately challenged Sara to a dance off. Nora won, of course, but not for lack of effort on Sara's part. The competitor in her hated losing to a child, and Gil was frequently heard laughing as his wife pulled off some highly entertaining moves.
When Nora bounced off to the kitchen for a glass of water, Sara and Gil immediately met each other's gaze and silently nodded. It was time. Really, it was well past bedtime, but right now, it was time for the big gift. Well, not literally big, per say, but the best gift. At least, they hoped it was better than the iTunes gift card.
When Nora plopped down on the couch, Sara took a deep breath and said, "Hey, we have one more present for you, but I think you should open it in your room. We're not sure what you'll think of it, and want to give you the privacy to react however you want to."
Nora cocked an eyebrow suspiciously at Sara, then turned her gaze to Gil. She had an inkling of what was going on, but chose to say, "What? Is it a mounted tarantula? If it is, I've told you a million times that the framed butterflies are cool, but I am so not living with framed spiders on the wall. Well, hand it over." She held a hand out to Sara. "If I'm going to freak out, I really should get on with it. It's practically midnight, you know."
Sara handed Nora an envelope. She and Gil watched as Nora walked away with it. They waited with baited breath. Neither even moved, except for reaching to hold each other's hand. The fact that there was no audible noise, no crying, nothing thudding against the wall, no whimpering from Hank as he tried to comfort a sad Nora was potentially a good thing. Still, Sara and Gil stood waiting. Minutes passed and still they stood. Sara whispered, "We said we'd give her privacy."
"I know, dear. She'll come back. Relax."
"Relax. How am I supposed to relax?" Sara removed her sweaty palm from Gil's hand and wiped it on her jeans. When she returned her fingers to the comfort of Gil's grasp, Nora made a reappearance. Tear tracks lined her face. Her eyelids were puffy and her eyes were reddened. She carried two envelopes.
Without speaking, Nora placed one of the envelopes in Sara's hand. Sara looked at Nora, who gave a small nod. Sara looked at Gil, who gave a small nod. Sara carefully opened the envelope, revealing a familiar set of papers: adoption paperwork from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. She and Gil grinned. Nora beamed.
"I asked Catherine to help me get those papers." Nora barely managed to get that sentence out before all three of them were crying and hugging. The happiness was tangible and wonderful, but Sara did have a fleeting thought that Greg would absolutely rib her for the rest of her life about this tear fest had he been present to witness it.
Eventually, the tears stopped flowing and Sara, Gil, and Nora all had sore faces from smiling so widely for so long. Gil was the first to regain the power of intelligible speaking, and asked Nora, "You really want us to be your parents? Forever?"
"Um, duh." Nora was sometimes oh so typically preteen. Duh. Of all the words at a time like this. Ignoring that thought, Sara was the first to utter the three little words never yet spoken between her and Nora or Grissom and Nora. "God, Nora, I love you."
"I love you, too. I really do. I love you, too, Gil."
Gil yanked Nora in for a tight hug and managed to whisper into her hair that he loved her, too, though tears were clouding his vision again.
Once Nora extracted herself from Gil's grasp, she said, "There's one more thing," and withdrew a piece of stationery from the envelope Sara had set down. She handed it to Sara, saying, "I think you should read this first. You have to like the idea, too."
It was Sara's turn to arch an eyebrow in confusion, but Nora refused to answer the silent question. She simply watched Sara's face as Sara read aloud, "Dear Sara, I think that when my adoption becomes official, we should seem like a family even to strangers. Instead of being Gil Grissom, Sara Sidle, and Nora Pennington, we should truly become the Grissom family. Will you change your name to Sara Grissom and change mine to Nora Grissom?"
The Grissoms lived happily ever after.
Notes: Thank you for reading this, even though you've probably long since forgotten the events of the previous chapters. I had a long list of events planned. This story was meant to have about 30 chapters. Knowing that there was no way I'd ever find time to write that many, I pretty much ruined the story by squashing as many little things as I could into this one final chapter, leaving out detail and dialogue. I really just wanted to finish the story, both for myself and for you. I hope you are not despairing right now at the incredibly fairy-tale-ish ending to this story, but hey, it is Christmas, and eventually, in the original plans for this story, the adoption and the name change were going to take place, just not all at once, not on Christmas, and not only six months after starting the foster care relationship. Oh well. It is what it is.
Have a blessed and happy new year! I hope to get back to writing in June.