Long River In Egypt


Disclaimers: Not mine. No money made. C.S.I. and C and S belong to CBS & Mr. Bruckheimer, while I belong to myself, as does this little story.

Pairing: Catherine/Sara

Author’s Notes: This story was – sort of – inspired by a throwaway challenge that was issued by Jolie in the catherinesara yahoogroup a long time ago (as in May 24 th, 2004). The storyboard sat on my hard drive for the past 18 months and would probably have remained there indefinitely if it hadn’t been for the constant and supportive nagging of a few people: Storm, Anja, and especially Rykö. – So this one’s for them!

Timeframe: late Season Three

Spoilers: Lady Heather’s Box; Crash and Burn; Inside the Box; Nesting Dolls.

Rating: G to NC-17. vanilla with a sprinkle of salt.

Beta Credits: This story would never have made it past the A draft without the diligent and valiant editing by Rykoe and the greatly appreciated comment(arie)s by Caren.

Banner: made by Rykoe.

Archives: Passion & Perfection, Eye Bags and var[title] only.


(1)

I can hardly see the room through my tears; everything is just blurs of color. Olive. Cream. Ochre. Nancy said those were calming, homey colors when we redid the house after the divorce. I would have liked to move then, but with the mortgage, it would have been hard. Another one of Eddie’s remnants. He came by money fast, and lost it just as quickly. Sports cars. Booking an entire club for a birthday party. Fancy weekend trips, with me or without me. And drugs.

After the divorce, he was late with the mortgage payment most of the time. And with the alimony. That didn’t keep him from spending much more on Lindsey when it was one of his weekends, though. She was his little princess.

Only a few a days ago, she was on her school stage in that little blue dress, and he was late again. At some point, I grew tired of making scenes when he was late for a date with me and showed up smelling like another woman’s perfume, but he should have been on time for Lindsey’s play.

And I’m crying, even though I cursed that man more times than I can count. Perhaps it’s because it’s so final that I find myself crying over him, over us, and over what we should have or could have been. About what we were instead, and how it ended now. It’s over, but nothing is resolved, not even the case is solved – Sara closed it, without a result, and without the possibility of an indictment.

She let me down and Eddie’s killer won’t pay for the murder, even though I know who he is. We all know who he is, and if it were me, I would have nailed him. Like this, everything is up in the air and it will never end. Things have been taken out of my hands, and I feel like I’m drifting, not knowing where I’ll go from here.

I suddenly remember how Eddie looked after Lindsey’s birth, how he held her for the first time, in the hospital. I remember how he used to take her for walks in her stroller, every inch the proud dad. That was before he came home late again, smelling like other women’s perfume.

Even if I spent most of the time being mad at him in the end, at least I knew where I was. Now I don’t know where to direct my ire, and it had to be Sara Sidle, of all people, to call me on that, to remind me that I should be taking care of Lindsey instead of being mad at the world on her behalf.

Sara, who’d never win an award for social aptitude, making me feel like a failure. I don’t take kindly to that. Especially after she failed me in the end, closing the case without a chance at justice.

I hate feeling this out of sorts over something that shouldn’t even move me that much, but it just makes me cry harder.

Suddenly, there are little hands in my hair. Lindsey. I haven’t heard her come in. And I have to cry even more when she softly strokes my head.

“It’s okay, Mommy.”

How can my child be such a grown-up now, when I can’t seem to stop crying?

She doesn’t know yet what she’ll miss out on, growing up without a father. I grew up with a mere shadow of one, and I don’t want her to go through the same. I’d still rather have Eddie around than no one at all – so he wasn’t reliable, and he rarely did right by her, but she adored him, and I think that made him a better dad in return. It’s not like I ever could share much of the responsibility of raising Lindsey with him, but now that he’s gone, I feel even more left alone. At least I could always let my anger bounce off Eddie.

Now my anger runs free, and again I have to think how Sara sent me home, out of that interview room. Now that my anger has been tempered by sadness, I have to admit that even Sara – self‑proclaimed failure at interacting with children – was actually calmer with Lindsey than I was when she conducted the interview in the aftermath of the accident. And not just calm: She was gentle, and the image puzzles me in retrospect.

Lindsey is still stroking my hair, her reassuring warmth pressed against my back, and I can only think that I am the one who is supposed to take care of her. Not the other way around.

But at the moment, I can’t stop crying.

Eddie endangered her, she almost drowned because of one of his stupid bimbo girlfriends. I don’t even want to cry over him, yet I do. The last time I saw him, we fought. We always fought these past years, but even though I wouldn’t have wanted him back as a partner, there’s still something that ties me to him and pulls me under along within, something archaic and stark – he is the man who gave me my child.

The thought echoes through my head, and I realize I have to correct myself. He was the man who gave me my child.

I can’t stop crying.

Two days ago, my daughter was a princess. Now it seems the fairy tale is over for good.

(2)

“Hey Cinderella

Step in your shoe

I’ll be your non-stop lover

Get it while you can

Your non-stop miracle

I’m your man…”

It was almost five in the morning, Billy Ocean’s latest thinly blaring out of the speakers over the empty stage and plush seats, and over their small group of girls who were sitting closely together at the otherwise deserted bar. The flashy show lights had long since been turned off and only one last group of customers – a couple of young men who kept laughing loudly – remained standing near the doors, as if indecisive whether to leave or not.

She recognized them as she glanced over, it was the same group that had been watching them earlier in the lounge – too cheap or too poor to buy them drinks, though, by the looks of it, it was probably the latter. Reading people became increasingly simple when thrown into such primal conditions – Want. Power. Possession.

In the back, the cleaning crew had already begun sweeping away the glitter, the empty bottles and the occasional shredded piece of underwear. She yawned tiredly, the cold seeping into her bones despite her having changed into jeans and boots. The penny heels would need to be redone, she noted when she gazed down at her shoes. Perhaps she could get that done tomorrow before the show. At the moment, she just wanted to head home and pick up a coffee on the way before she crawled into bed. It wasn’t as if she would get a coffee here, with Rob the barkeeper having taken off already, no doubt with some new conquest. All the high rollers had left already, as well, so there was no use in hanging around to see whether one might get picked up for a private dance.

“…Get outta my dreams

Get into my car

Get outta my dreams

Get in the back seat baby…”

“Hi,” a voice said a little too closely to her ear and she swiveled around to face one of the young men from the group at the entrance. He was tall, with dark hair that was longer in the back, blue eyes and a ruggedly handsome face. His bleached-out jeans were so tight that he couldn’t really hook his thumbs into the pockets, so his cool pose came across a little forced.

He grinned crookedly at her. “I suppose it’s kind of a bad time to ask, but would someone as pretty as you go out with me?” His friends had clearly spurred him on, watching their exchange with interest, and now he didn’t want to lose his face in front of them. “I work in music management,” he bragged and she thought he probably rolled up the recording tapes. On one side, his white cowboy boots were held together with safety pins. “I could make you a singer, you know.”

It was a line she heard by the dozen, but the little easy grin he wore – half self-depreciating, half cocky – set him somewhat apart from both the sleazy and the awkward come-ons she was used to. She slowly looked him up and down, barely avoiding rolling her eyes at how he swirled his money clip between his fingers. The way he was flashing his money clearly showed he didn’t have too much of it. She leaned back, putting her elbows on the bar behind her and waiting a moment for good measure as she pushed her gum from one cheek to the other. “I just got off work and the only thing I want right now is a coffee, so why don’t you make yourself scarce?”

He looked at her for a moment as if he wasn’t used to being told off, but then that crooked grin was back. “One coffee coming right up,” he said, easily hopping over the counter and moving behind the bar. She thought that Rob would be really mad to see someone else in between his bottles and she grinned at the stranger in reply.

He winked at her, while some of his friends whistled in the back. “Name’s Eddie, by the way.”

Eddie made her coffee. Good coffee. And she went out with him.

(3)

It’s the quiet hours of the early morning, before the real buzz of day shift sets in, the lights in most of the empty labs set on low, enveloping the floor in a tired, a blue-grayish hue. This feels like the longest shift I ever pulled, and I didn’t even do a full double. Just hung around a few hours in addition, picking up a few loose ends and trying not to think about Catherine.

It isn’t working.

In the end, I go down to take another look at him, inwardly apologizing that I couldn’t tie up his case as neatly as I wanted to. He doesn’t look threatening, cold and wrapped up in a drawer like that, and I find myself trying to imagine what kind of a dad he may have been. What kind of a husband. All you ever hear around the lab is how bad he was for Catherine, and I’ve witnessed her yelling at him over the phone more than once when we were working a scene together. When I had just started here in Vegas, there was a bit of rumor that he manhandled her in the lab, out in the open.

It’s hard to believe he could be that stupid. Perhaps he was just a hothead. After all, he tried to make it to his girl’s school play, even if he was late. And he bought her ice cream instead of meeting his bimbo girlfriend first. Doesn’t sound like the worst kind of dad to me. And from how Lindsey spoke about him in the interview, it’s clear she has him on a pedestal a mile high. I think of all participants, I feel the most sorry for her.

I could see Eddie being the charming kind of bad guy, I guess, and for a moment, I understand what Catherine might have seen in him once. For a fleeting moment I wonder what drew him to her in return, and I find myself thinking that if she is as high maintenance at home as she is at work, I wouldn’t want to be married to her, either. No matter how beautiful she is.

But they were divorced, for God’s sake. She didn’t have a good word to say about him for as long as I knew her, and now it seems she’s more upset about his death than she’s mad at him for endangering Lindsey. I don’t get it.

As cases go, this wasn’t even one of the really bad ones – there was no abuse, no sexual assault, and no dead child. Those are the ones who keep me awake at night, so actually, I shouldn’t feel so bad now. There was nothing left for me to do, my knees are from searching through those water tunnels for the murder weapon, on all fours, and I still feel like I didn’t do enough. I already know I’ll keep my eyes open for that gun for years to come. I’m telling myself it’s because I don’t like loose ends, but I know I’m lying.

It doesn’t help. I truly wish I could have made this one right for her. I’m weary as I leave the morgue, thinking that someone needs to let Catherine know that she can pick up the body for the funeral.

Dammit, does Catherine think I didn’t want to solve this for her? I wanted to smack that bimbo girlfriend – Candeece – around that interview room as much as she did, but apart from the whole ‘illegal’ aspect, Catherine would probably have torn off my head for that one, too.

I’m angry as I pack up my things, and I push the door to the empty break room open more forcefully than necessary when I stop on my way out to deposit my empty coffee mug by the sink. It’s then that I see the black leather jacket lying over the arm of the couch. Catherine’s jacket. And the guys have left already, every single one of them. Just great.

I sigh as I pick up the garment, deciding I might just as well drop the jacket at her place on my way home. I need to inform her that she can have Eddie’s body picked up, anyway. I would really like to send someone else to do that, but all the boys have left already and it was my case, so it’s my bloody responsibility. For a moment I toy with the idea of just stashing the jacket into a locker and sending her a text message about Eddie, but that would look exactly like the cop-out it would be. I have to face her again sooner or later. Better get it over with.

The leather feels cool and smooth under my fingers and it reminds me a bit of her. I remember hearing Catherine complain about the money she paid for this jacket, even though she got it on sale already, and I know she’d never leave it behind anywhere. For her to have forgotten the jacket, she must have been really out of it, and for the first time today, I try to push away my anger and instead attempt to imagine how she must be doing.

She’s probably feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and don’t we all know that she doesn’t do helpless very well. No, what Catherine does best is being in charge, and now it was me being in charge of her personal case. I guess I can’t really blame her for not taking that well.

As I walk out into the parking lot, taking the few stairs, I have to wince and I know I’ll end up with some nice bruises from crawling through the tunnels half of the night. Just what I need. Although I’d take bruised knees over having to face Catherine right now. I’m sure she’ll rip my head off all over again and even though I understand she’s mad, I don’t really want to go through that a third time.

When I got this case, I knew she would flip on me at some point either way. Which leads me to the question as to why I got the case, and not Nick, or Warrick, who are a lot friendlier with Catherine than I am. Though that’s probably why Grissom assigned it to me, I conclude grimly as I pull out into the street. I’m the one on the team with the greatest personal distance to Catherine.

But does that make him think I don’t care? Hell, it’s no secret that Catherine and I aren’t exactly getting along, but that doesn’t mean this doesn’t affect me. She’s a colleague. I’ve been working alongside her for almost three years. Of course I care. I know her. And I know Lindsey; I’ve seen her around the lab, coloring books, waiting for Mom to sign off and drive her to school, or asleep on the ouch in Grissom’s office.

And now that girl got almost killed in a car crash because of some coked up wannabe singer, and Eddie ended up dead, and I couldn’t even find the murder weapon to nail the bastard who did it.

Catherine isn’t the only one who’s feeling angry and frustrated. Does she think I’ll sleep well tonight? Or any of the upcoming nights? Well, fuck.

I feel awful. Trying to pry her off that singer was like trying to talk to a wild animal. I know she was just lashing out. Rationally, I get it. Emotionally, I’m pissed as hell. I hate it when she goes all superior on me, playing the age card. She tends to give me the feeling that I’m not good enough. It’s a feeling I’ve battled most of my life, except for in my work, and now she hit me over the head with it right there.

Still, of all the times she bitched at me, I think that today, she had a real reason for exploding in my face. I don’t know how I would react if some crazed junkie had almost drowned the person I love most. Though I’d be hard‑pressed to give out that title.

I spare a glance at the jacket that’s draped on my passenger seat, catching a whiff of leather and her perfume.

I wonder why I even try to reach out now.

My knees hurt. My head hurts. What she said to me hurts.

I look out the window, trying to determine which way to go; it’s not as if I were driving around Catherine’s neighborhood on a regular basis. I finally decide to turn after the Luxor, catching the announcement for their latest Egyptian styled show as I speed pass.

(4)

A flash of bronze skin, sheer hose over lean legs glittering in the flashing lights overhead.

A foot on a chair, the arch tightly stretched over a stiletto heel, sparkling little bands of diamonds tying it to a delicate ankle.

Long, polished nails skimming up well-defined calf muscles.

The scents of sweat, sweet champagne and smoke over the steady beat of the drum.

Black hair, interwoven with beads. Long eyelashes and red, shimmering lips. A sheer white coat falling open to offer tantalizing glimpses of smooth, glistening skin. The coat slowly edging over a shoulder, a bead of sweat trickling down a long neck, almost coming to a stop over a generously displayed curve of chest before disappearing into a tiny golden brassiere that was sparkling under the lights, and with the movements. Fingers edging towards the tiny clasp right in the middle…

The sharp, staccato sounds of stiletto heels on the stage floor, pirouetting and sliding. Bent. Stretched. Lifted high.

Overall, the near hypnotic movement of hips, swaying slowly, following the luring oriental tunes with their wild beats underneath. Slow. Slower. Then fast again. Thighs bent low, circling over an unseen sensual axis, grinding, drawn taut with exertion. Breasts moving with the fluid rush of a quick shake, quivering with the rhythm.

The soft hiss when the tiny band of fabric, stretched tight across smooth hips, finally gave way, first snapping against sweat-soaked skin, then, with a flick of a strong wrist, being torn into its pieces.

She had never seen anything like that.

She had never seen anything like these women. She had never seen Egypt, but that was what it had to be like. Wild, and heady and shimmering golden.

(5)

The door bell is ringing and I’m stumbling down the hallway, not sure who would come by now – Warrick has already called to ask me if I need anything, so have Nick and Brass – but it doesn’t matter because I’m not in the mood to see anyone.

When I look through the spyhole, the sight that greets me is one I’m not prepared for. Cautiously, I open my door because I’m sure this isn’t a social call. Standing on my doorstep, shoulders pulled up defensively, is Sara Sidle. She’s clearly uncomfortable and I’m thinking that we’re having one thing in common after all.

Why couldn’t they have given the case to anyone else, anyone? Knowing Grissom, he gave it to her because Sara is the one with the greatest emotional distance to me. But I don’t need distance right now, I need someone who understands what I feel!

“I can’t deal with you right now.”

Her booted foot is in the door before I can shut it again. “You forgot your jacket.”

She holds my leather jacket out to me, and I accept it gingerly, unaccustomed to her gesture. I hadn’t even realized I left it at work, but I become conscious of the fact that I’m wearing the same clothes in which I stumbled in here hours ago. It’s bright morning out and I blink against the light. I have no idea what time it is, I must have fallen asleep after Nancy picked up Lindsey for school. I didn’t want to let her go, or wanted to at least drive her myself, but Nancy is right, disrupting the daily routine would only make it harder on Lindsey.

Sara is looking at me oddly; it must show that I cried. I probably look about as bad as I feel and part of me is impressed, even though I don’t want to be, that she has the guts to face me down again already.

She looks down for a second, drawing the tip of her boot across my doormat. “The paperwork is all done. Thought I’d let you know you can pick up…” She stops herself with an unwilling shake of her head, and she looks at me again when she continues. “The lab has released the body.”

I can pick up Eddie, she means. I look down at the jacket in my hands, finding that I’m twisting it and then look up at Sara again, at a loss. I’ve never had to arrange a funeral before. I’ve processed so many bodies, notified so many loved ones, handed out phone numbers for morticians, but now that it’s about me, I don’t know where to start.

“You’re still listed as his next of kin,” Sara states hesitantly and I wonder how bad I must look for her to be so cautious around me.

“I know.” I steady myself against the door frame. I can do this. “I’ve just never been in charge of a funeral before.”

“I could help.” Sara seems as surprised by her own cooperativeness as I am, and it must have shown in my face because she immediately hastens to explain herself. “I’ve done this before.” I stare at her dumbly, wondering why the hell she is willing to help me out and for whom she might have had to organize a funeral. I don’t even know whether her parents are still alive. My questioning look prompts her to elaborate, even though she lets a moment pass, obviously not really prepared to share that bit of information, “I organized my grandfather’s funeral.”

Something seems off about that, but it takes me a moment to put my finger on it. “What about your parents?”

She gives me that stoic look of hers, but for a moment, there was a flicker of something in her eyes. She looked vulnerable.

“They weren’t around,” she finally says curtly, but then she seems to notice that her tone might make me ask more questions, so she tries to make light of it. “Also, my mother’s plan of an Indian funeral pyre turned out to be illegal.”

Her parents weren’t around? – I don’t know anything about Sara’s parents, but then, I don’t know too much about Sara, period. She works too much and keeps to herself. And she usually solves every case you give to her, but she didn’t solve mine. Still, that odd vulnerable look piqued my curiosity.

“How old were you?” I ask, trying to be civil. I’m still mad about her closing the case, but I don’t want to revisit all that anger now, or I’ll yell at her yet again. I’m too exhausted for that. I moved to the side while we were talking and she hesitates again, but then she steps over the threshold. I should probably offer her a coffee.

“Fifteen,” she says quietly as I close the door and for a moment, I have to try and remember my question. And even though I’m still angry at her, I can’t help but feel sorry for a teen-aged Sara who was forced to be an adult when she shouldn’t have been yet.

I wish I knew what to say, but we just stare at each other for a moment, as if we were contestants feeling each other out before a competition. She has her hands pushed into the pockets of her pants now and she looks out of place, dressed all in black, standing in my hallway. Finally she shrugs. “You got a funeral parlor already?”

She’s blunt, but I don’t take offense. It’s the tone she has when she is concentrating on getting a task done, all tempering and distractions cut away. I know it’s set me off before, but right now, I find it strangely comforting. So I shake my head and gesture at the door to the living room. “Phone’s in there.”

She just nods and I’m suddenly grateful I don’t have to say anything else. There’s something like acceptance in her gaze before she turns and walks ahead of me, her shoulders still drawn a little too high. She doesn’t even ask for the Yellow Pages, dialing a number from memory, and I hear her talking quietly. When I try to disregard the fact that we’re in my home, it feels like working a crime scene with her – attentive, efficient, thorough. She asks me a few things in between, about flowers and how many people I expect, and I decide to make us a coffee after all to feel like I’m doing something as well.

When I look at her from the kitchen door, she’s standing with her back to me, talking on the phone. It’s a strangely reassuring sight, Sara towering over my phone table: a tall, lanky silhouette, dark against the calm colors of my place.

(6)

The lanky brunette was leaning against the doorway, smiling at her where she was wiping off the coffee table, the bottles from last night’s game already stashed into a garbage can next to her.

“Morning,” the woman said gravelly. She was clothed in nothing but high heels and a robe that wasn’t hers. The midday sun reflected of her hair, making the brown curls shimmer with highlights of blonde and red.

“Morning,” she answered, her own voice still raspy as well. Her robe looked good on the other woman, she decided. A little shorter than on herself. Aloud, she questioned, “Eddie still sleeping?”

When the brunette nodded, she herself stopped in straightening out the room for a minute, watching the other woman pick up her clothes that were haphazardly strewn all over the room. She must have been staring, because the brunette woman turned around, bent over from where she was currently picking up her skirt.

“I had fun,” the stranger stated with an easy grin.

She smiled in reply. “So did I.”

It wasn’t the first time, and probably not the last time, either. He liked it, occasionally, and so did she. The first time, it had been odd as much as edgy and exciting, at least the bits she remembered, although she had already done a fair deal of all that before, while dancing on stage. The bills flew even more when there were two girls instead of one, and she didn’t mind. Nobody in Vegas minded.

A time or two, he had shown up after a fight with another girl, as a peace offering of sorts, and she remembered those nights the most because she had still been mad at him, and the contrast of another woman had been all the more palpable, smoother and less tense, and they had felt so soft in comparison.

On occasion, it had been another dancer, though she tried to stay clear of her own colleagues. Especially those she liked.

At times, she found herself baffled at how seamlessly she fit into Vegas now, and how little still managed to faze her. She had come a long way from waiting tables at the diner, until one night, by chance or not, “Uncle Sam” had walked in and offered her a dancing gig for old times’ sake. Now she was one of his top girls, and of all the things she hadn’t done before Sam had offered her a job working for him in one of his clubs, there weren’t many left.

(7)

There aren’t many seats left, both sides of the aisle. Seems Eddie was a popular guy, at least in certain circles. There are even some casino types sitting in the back, all wearing shades even though the light is dim inside the small chapel. It doesn’t really feel like a chapel, and the supposed minister wears a simple suit and has hair that is too long in the back. He looks too relaxed for me, as if he didn’t get yet that death is a serious business and that a little attitude can’t cover it up.

I hate it when they try to be cheerful. My father’s funeral was that way, in between all the silence and the awkwardness, and I made sure that it didn’t happen with Gramps. He wouldn’t have liked it, either.

Catherine is handling it pretty well so far, even though she’s looking pale and I can tell she’s been crying on and off. She’s wearing a simple black suit and hardly any make-up, and it’s probably the wrong time to notice, but she looks beautiful like that, very classy. Which I couldn’t say about too many of the guests. With some of the people she’s talking to, I wonder how she knows them, if Eddie introduced them to her, or if they go back to her dancing days.

Lindsey looks kind of lost while Catherine has to make small talk. Seeing her dad in that coffin must be hard, and he looks odd in a proper suit and well-shaven. My father’s funeral was with a closed casket.

A bit uncertain, I sit down to Lindsey who is sitting in the first row in a little black dress and shiny black shoes with pink bows. The ribbons in her hair are pink, too, and I suddenly feel a lot more friendly towards Catherine because she didn’t force her daughter to dress entirely in black.

Lindsey is picking at the flower decoration, and I watch her for a moment. “Did you know those are lilies?” I reach for one that has tiny specks of pink in its calyx, silently cursing my lack of experience with children.

“It’s pretty,” she shrugs, but she looks up when I carefully tear the small blossom out of the arrangement and offer it to her. “It matches your bows.” I point at her shoes.

She takes the flower and I help her fix it to the front of the dress, and we talk about more flowers because I don’t know what I can talk about with her, and then she says that her dad looks so different, and I tell her that on my father’s funeral, I didn’t even see him. It’s not easy for me to talk about it, but Lindsey doesn’t seem to notice.

She looks at me with uncompromising curiosity. “But how do you know it was him then?”

“Good point,” I allow.

She picks at another flower, glancing over at the polished coffin. “How did he die?”

I don’t know what to say. “He got killed,” I finally offer.

“In a car accident?” Her eyes are so unguarded, and I just hope she won’t lose this when she grows up.

For I moment, I debate whether to lie, but I think she would notice. She has a gaze like Catherine, unnerving and intelligent and bright. She even purses her lips the same way. I wonder if she’ll be a lot like Catherine when she grows up. “No, somebody killed him,” I finally admit.

“Did you catch the bad guy?”

I have to take a deep breath before I continue. “I wasn’t a CSI back then,” I tell her. “I was a bit older than you were, but I still went to school.”

“Did the police catch him then?” At her honest concern, I feel guilty again that I couldn’t prove Eddie’s murder.

“Yeah, they caught the one who did it,” I say, and I hope she won’t ask anymore questions, because I don’t want to lie to her, but I don’t want to tell her about why my mother is in prison, either. Lindsey doesn’t ask anything else, though. She suddenly seems to shrink into her seat and when I look up, I see a shock of pink hair down the room.

Candeece. She is with two men, each of them looking shadier than the other, and from the looks of it, she’s on something again. I remember Catherine saying how Eddie’s girlfriends often did drugs, and I’m mad all over again, especially as Lindsey cowers away and reaches for my hand.

For a moment, I’m dumbstruck by the feeling of that small hand in mine, but then I square my shoulders and plant myself I front of Lindsey. “Don’t worry,” I say quietly and squeeze the hand I’m holding a bit. “If she tries to get near you, I’ll kick her ass all over the room.”

Lindsey almost giggles, and I feel the warmth where she is hiding against my back. I look across the room, trying to see if Catherine noticed as well. She did, and Warrick is standing next to her, looking every bit as protective as I must be right now, but her eyes still rove over the room until she catches sight of me and Lindsey, and for a moment she looks at me as if she’s never seen me before. It’s weird, and I look at Warrick instead. He nods at me and over the course of the ceremony and condolences, we fall into a routine of sorts, he’s staying with Catherine and I’m with Lindsey. The menace in my stance keeps most of the seedier elements at bay, but I’m not taking any chances. For a moment, I wonder whether I should throw Candeece and her croonies out, but she has two guys with her and I don’t have a weapon on me. And I really don’t want to ruin the ceremony for Catherine.

It still feels weird to be here, right in the middle of Catherine’s personal life. It’s like attending someone else’s family reunion, but I organized most of this for her, and what surprises me even more is that she let me.

She’s standing only a few feet away from me now, shaking hands with a few late guests who offer their condolences. This guy next in line is definitely one of the shady kind, with his shirt half unbuttoned, expensive sunglasses and a neck like a bull. He’s raising the hair on my arms, especially as I witness how Catherine instinctively leans away from him when he takes her hand.

“It’s a shame,” he says and his voice sounds like he swallowed lye at some point in his life. I instinctively reach for where my gun would be when he lifts his glasses and looks Catherine down like a product on display. “Long time no see, Kitty.”

(8)

“Sara, get your ass down here, we’ll be late!”

“Coming!” she yelled back, taking the stairs two at a time.

She wasn’t too thrilled about having to attend this wedding – an Elvis theme wedding, no less – but foster mom had insisted, saying something about bonding and processing. Just whom was she supposed to bond with if she didn’t know any of the guests, much less the bride and groom themselves?

She wondered why exactly the child care people had thought she would blend in well in another family that was big on hippie qualities. They had probably assumed she’d feel at home around things she was familiar with, but it just gave her the creeps. Still, as foster families went, this one wasn’t too bad. Even if they had weird hippie friends who got married Elvis style.

“We could drive through Berkeley, you know.” Foster mom – Janet – offered as they got in the car.

“I told you I’m trying out for a Harvard scholarship,” she deflected immediately. Like she’d try out for more hippie environment and processing. On a cold day in hell.

Janet needed two tries two get behind the steering wheel with her multi-petticoat 50s-styled dress. Foster dad – Reginald – looked even stranger, decked out like Buddy Holly with glasses that consisted mostly of huge black rims. She was so not looking forward to stopping for lunch at a roadside diner. Though she probably should be grateful that they weren’t invited to a space wedding where they’d have to show up as aliens. Janet and Reginald would have loved that.

At least this way, she didn’t have to get into some ridiculous dress for the wedding. She had borrowed an old sports jacket from foster bro – Regis – who looked the same he did everyday, actually, in his football jacket and jeans. Perhaps Regis was actually 1950s all the time. Now there was a scary thought. He was nice enough, though not very bright, a typical sports jock. He tended to look at her and her books as if she were a rare insect and as if he was trying to figure out which part of it was the head. She generally shied away from him, intimidated by his huge, bulky frame.

Today, though, she looked like a very slim miniature version of him, in her jeans and small white t-shirt, in his old junior league jacket, her chin-length hair slicked back with a whole lot of Regis’ pomade. She wore boots, though, instead of sneakers. She had tried to polish them, but they still looked scuffed. It was one of the few possessions she had kept from before it had happened.

She didn’t speak for most of the drive, but she never spoke much.

In the end, the wedding wasn’t too bad and with everyone around dressed up the same, it was a lot less embarrassing than the lunch break at the truck stop on the highway. Also, she was allowed to have beer since Janet wasn’t into oppressive rules, but into something about processing and experience.

At one point, needing a break and being bored with the party around her, she walked outside for a smoke – something Janet wasn’t so easy about since she’d apparently had a very hard time quitting a few years back – and looked at the madly blinking lights that seemed to form a carpet all over the city, visible even in this shady backyard.

On her way back in, she wasn’t sure which corridor she had come from – they all looked the same, and this place was huge, with different halls, and hotel rooms, too. Further down the hallway, she could hear a slow, steady percussion beat sound from behind a closed door that had a burly guy standing next to it. She thought she could ask him about where the Elvis wedding party was – it was kinda hard to miss, with all the strangely dressed people – but when she walked closer, he just looked her up and down before he grinned at her and opened the door, motioning for her to step in.

Loud music enveloped her immediately, intermingled with the clinking of glasses, with wolf whistles and catcalls. The room was dimly lit, apart from a bar to one side, but at the end of it was a stage with three poles, alight under a disco ball and a multitude of neon flashlights. A cloud of sweat, smoke and booze, and of something else perhaps, something she didn’t know, hung over everything. Through the haze, she could make out three women sauntering onto the stage and the music changed into a suggestive beat.

She squinted her eyes, moving a few steps closer. She had never seen heels that high. They were transparent, too, and she couldn’t imagine how anyone might be able to walk on these things. All of the women had long dark hair, and they wore sheer coats of some sort and – she squinted again – something underneath that looked like small underwear, but it seemed to consist of nothing but sparkle. One of them, the one in the middle, wore a small corsage, and suddenly the flashlights overhead spun into action, casting glitter all over the scene.

Hips moving from side to side. Thighs stretched taut. Long hair thrown back.

She had never seen anyone move like that, only on TV, and it still hadn’t looked like this – absently, she stashed her crumpled package of cigarettes into her back pocket and took another few steps closer, until she found a place where she could lean against a column, half in the shadows. The room was packed. Now that her eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the audience, she could make out men of all ages and a few women who looked like dancers themselves.

Here, she was close to one edge of the stage, to the tall dancer on the right, but she liked the one in the middle best, the one who just… bent over, to let a swarthy guy stash a dollar bill down her cleavage. Her first thought was that the corsage didn’t look like it would hold up for long, not with this… body… The woman moved very gracefully, to a point that made the other two girls look a little cheap in comparison.

Her cheeks felt hot, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away. The dancer in the middle easily slid a thigh high around one of the poles, gliding downwards and arching her back until her hair almost touched the ground.

The crowd cheered, but she hardly heard it. She hadn’t known anyone could bend like that, least of all in those heels, and all she could do was stare at that corsage that sparkled in the lights and think that it was actually way too small.

Another man came up, and the dancer turned, bending over with her back to the guy and letting him stash a bill under the small string of underwear she wore. And even though that smooth curve of ass was in his face, and not in hers, she was the one who couldn’t breathe. He just laughed and leaned back, and so did the dancer, flinging long, black hair back over her shoulder. It almost seemed to fall in slow motion, and she still couldn’t look away. She had never felt like this. Her palms were sweaty, and the slow beat of the music resounded low in her stomach, making her breaths come shorter. She wanted to grip something, her own heartbeat loudly reverberating though her skull.

Perhaps it was just odd chance, or perhaps it was because she stuck out, since she wasn’t cheering and waving bills. Perhaps it was because her white shirt stood out against the column she was leaning against in a flash from the stage lights, but in that moment, when the dancer looked out over the crowd again, her gaze halted when it swept across her. And for one endless moment, as she stared at the dancer, the woman looked straight back at her.

(9)

I’m incredibly relieved when I can finally close the door behind me, letting Sara and Warrick walk ahead of me. They’re depositing the last of the flowers in the kitchen but I think I might throw them out tomorrow anyway. I don’t want to be reminded of the funeral any more than necessary. Lindsey is tiredly clinging to my hand and I know the first thing I’ll do is getting her and me out of those black clothes.

I hope she can sleep well tonight. I’m not sure I can.

Warrick stands in the doorway to the living room, looking at me with a worried expression. “You sure you gonna be okay?”

“We’ll be fine,” I say, more for Lindsey’s benefit than my own, before I see Warrick out. He has to go into work, he’s already running late.

I don’t know how I would have made it through today without Warrick. Or without Sara. They kept everyone and everything that I couldn’t handle at bay. In a way, it was touching that so many of Eddie’s connections showed up, but there were some I could have done without. Like that singer. I felt like killing her all over again when Lindsey flinched away at the sight of her, but Warrick held me back and to my surprise, Sara put herself immediately between Lindsey and Candeece. I saw Lindsey hiding behind Sara, and even holding onto her hand. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but Sara managed to make her feel safe, and even though she’s the last person I would have predicted to have a way with kids, in this instance she clearly did. That, and her glare was menacing enough to keep every one of Eddie’s shady crooks away from Lindsey for the entire ceremony. I’ll have to remember to thank her.

It’s strange, even though we spent a lot of time together these past few days over organizing the funeral – most of which she did – we haven’t really talked. Not about the fight we had around Eddie’s case, not about anything else that would be personal. Just flower arrangements, coffins, seat numbers and songs. She’s simply been there, and now that the week has passed in a blur, I realize I’m not even that mad at her anymore.

“I need to get out of this suit,” I tell her and for a moment, it seems as if she wants to reply something, but then she just nods.

She points at the flowers and cards. “I’ll just get these in order.”

I nod, carrying Lindsey into her room. She doesn’t protest, even though she is much too old to be carried around. A few minutes later, we walk back into the kitchen, Lindsay in her pajamas with fairy tale characters on them and me in drawstring pants and a soft shirt, in my bare feet. About to enter the room, I’m struck by how easily Sara is moving though my kitchen, sorting through glasses and carafes to make do with the flowers. But that only lasts until she sees us, and then, almost imperceptibly, her shoulders go up a bit again.

I still don’t quite understand why she was so helpful about the funeral, but I’m guessing a lot of is a guilty conscience about not being able to nail Eddie’s murderer. And then there’s something else, I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it must be related to a bad experience with funerals or the death of a family member. She mentioned that her father is deceased, though she didn’t mention how he died, so perhaps she also relates a bit to Lindsey’s pain and confusion. She didn’t say how old she was when her father died, but I’m guessing she was young. Perhaps not as young as Lindsey – who is now quietly having a glass of milk and a cookie, clearly as exhausted as she looks – but too young either way.

We are all lost in our own thoughts for a minute. I feel the worn linoleum under my soles and Sara is putting flowers away. Every other minute, Lindsey takes a bite from her cookie, the crunching sound echoing through the kitchen. I feel oddly at peace.

Lindsey’s eyes are getting smaller and smaller, and when I tell her it’s bedtime, she doesn’t even try to wheedle another ten minutes out of me. She tells Sara good night, sleepily hugging her thighs, and Sara is surprised, I can see that, before she gently strokes Lindsey’s head, just once. It’s an endearingly shy gesture, but it’s protective as well and I suddenly flash to Sara’s fury as she interviewed the singer, forcing her to admit she left Lindsey in the sinking car. Telling that junkie that she should have done anything, actually, other than what she did in the situation.

As I put Lindsey to bed, sitting next to her until she’s fallen asleep, I wonder how caught up in my own anger I’ve been to miss how mad Sara was on Lindsey’s behalf. She does have a habit of standing up for the kids; I remember her flying off than handle more than once when it came to domestic abuse cases.

I guess what unnerved me most about the way she treated me during this case were the kid gloves – gently asking for the evidence we pulled from the car. Calmly reminding me to go home and take care of Lindsey. As if I couldn’t handle things! I would have needed someone to bitch back at me to snap me out of it. Sara usually does. Only this time, she didn’t, and now she’s in my kitchen and she’s still broody and unreadable, but somehow I hope she’s still there when I come back out. I couldn’t explain it, but I’m reluctant to be on my own tonight.

And she is still there. She’s standing in the room as if someone ordered her and then didn’t pick her up. Behind her on the counter, she has neatly lined up the improvised vases like specimen jars, even the small lily blossom Lindsey wore on her dress is there, in an eggcup.

“Thanks for helping out,” I say and I don’t mean the flowers.

Sara just shrugs. She looks at me closely, though. “Will you be alright?”

Now that we don’t have flower arrangements and seat numbers to hide behind anymore, talking seems harder. Perhaps we say so little because we don’t want to get into another fight. I know I don’t want to, I’m much too exhausted. Or perhaps it is because we realize that we don’t really know much about each other that we can talk about.

I don’t even know what hobbies she has, if she has any, next to her never-ending overtime schedule. Or why she had nothing better to do tonight than help a colleague she’s barely civil with at a funeral for someone she’s never met. Isn’t there someone who’s disappointed she didn’t have time for them today? Someone waiting for her at home right now? She never mentioned anyone. She has a thing for Grissom, though. Or had – they’ve been kind of reserved around each other lately.

It’s my turn to shrug. “It’ll take a while, I guess.” I’m not even up to lying about how I feel.

This is it, then. Funny, I saw her more off work this week than ever before, and now that it’s all over and done, it’s strange. Almost as if I might miss this truce.

“Probably.” She doesn’t lie, either and I like that. That she isn’t trying to tell me I’ll feel better tomorrow. We reserve that phrase for the bereaved at the lab. She pushes loose from the counter. “I better get going.”

“Sara —“

What do I want to tell her? That I’m still mad at her for closing Eddie’s case without an indictment, and that at the same time, I’m not? That I don’t understand why she’s been supportive this week, with how I bitched at her about the investigation? That I’m sorry about my words, and that, at the same time, I want to bitch at her all over again for the way she sent me home that day?

Sara just looks at me, but doesn’t prompt me to go on. “Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?” She has her hands tucked into her pockets again and she looks nonchalant, as if nothing could rattle her.

Why do you care, I want to ask her. It’s not as if I gave her much reason to. But I don’t say it. Instead I shake my head noncommittally. “I’m tired, but I’m not sure I can sleep just yet.”

“Let me make you a coffee,” Sara offers. It sounds as if she does that a lot, drinking coffee at night. I wonder if she has trouble sleeping.

When she turns to the coffeemaker and reaches for the can of grounds next to it, I suddenly have to think of Eddie and how he made me coffee the first time we met. How it was before everything else. Before the fights and the other women and mortgage payments.

I still can’t believe that he’ll never be around again. He’ll never show up again on my doorstep, late as always, with some over-the-top gift for Lindsey. He’s gone. I feel tears trickling down my cheeks again and when Sara turns around, she notices them, as well.

For a moment, the only sound in the kitchen is the gurgling of the coffeemaker and I look at it because I don’t want to look at Sara who is standing rooted in place, staring at me. But as I reach to wipe away the tears, she’s suddenly moving closer, with her arms half raised as if she isn’t sure where to put them.

“Hey…” Her voice is soft and low, the kind you would use to calm a frightened animal, and oddly enough, it works. I don’t move away when she uncertainly strokes across my shoulders, and then awkwardly puts her arms around me. It’s only a few seconds, but I’m struck by how solid she feels despite her slim frame. She is tall enough for me to lean my head against her shoulder – I should have remembered that she is that much taller – and her black sweater is soft and smells of laundry softener and skin, not of the funereal flowers.

When she lets go of me, the look on her face is serious, with a frown that I’m tempted to call cute. “Are you okay?”

As I nod, I need to remind myself that she always gets this serious look when she really focuses on something. But for all I know, hugs are a serious business for her, too. Not that I ever expected to be on the receiving end of one. Behind her on the counter, I see the lily in the eggcup and there is something else I need to say. “Thank you for looking out for Lindsey today.”

She actually smiles at that, and for the first time, that little frown is gone. “You’re welcome.”

(10)

The room around her was a welcome blur of stage lights and hands flashing bills, the sounds of the music pulling her in as she moved. As far as theme shows went, this Egypt thing was one she could have done without, especially since the wigs were heavy, and hot under the light. And the guys didn’t want to see fake oriental women, they always gave more freely if they thought someone was a blonde or a redhead. But the Luxor had raging success with an Egypt theme show, so Sam had to have one as well. So here they were.

She thrust her hip out to let a guy stuff a rolled dollar bill under her string, and bent over a little for good measure. Their faces were mellowed away, nothing she would remember. She could just dance – a tiny line before stepping out onto stage worked wonders. She didn’t feel how her feet might hurt and she didn’t think about this being her fifth year in the business. She was starting to have back aches when she slipped off the heels in the morning. And if she were honest, there was a slight sag to her breasts already – one of the throwbacks of a more ample cleavage that got one cast in the first place. But the lights were merciless. So was the business.

She accepted another bill with her teeth, letting her nails rake down the guy’s shirt before she grabbed hold of one of the poles. She knew she was better than the other two girls, but she also knew that they both were younger. Arching backwards, she looked into the audience more closely, finding most of the eyes on her. Off to the side, a flash of white caught her eye, and she saw a lanky young man in a white t-shirt lean against one of the columns with his arms crossed in front of his chest, half in the shadows. No, not a man, she corrected herself as a stage light strayed over the column, a woman, much younger than the ones that occasionally stumbled in here. She wasn’t cheering, or holding onto a handful of bills, but she was staring at her with a rapt attention that was out of place even for a strip show.

For a long moment, she looked back at the girl, she couldn’t be older than twenty, and was surprised to find her looking at her face. She held the gaze, challenging the girl who finally looked away, her eyes nervously gliding down the body on display, as if she wasn’t quite sure she was allowed to look.

This would be fun. Granted, the girl didn’t look as if she had any real money on her, but the two guys in suits sitting at the table next to her sure did. Time for a little floor show. A roar went through the room as she broke out of the choreography and stepped down the few stairs into the audience. The regulars, who knew what was about to happen, whistled and yelled. She did this sometimes, when she found someone in the crowd she could play on, a shy fiancé, a military man whose cap she could borrow for a minute, or a woman who didn’t really know what was happening to her.

She took her time advancing on the column, and she had calculated right. The young woman didn’t move, staring at her like a deer caught in the headlights. When the rest of the room realized where she was headed, the noise went up another notch, catcalls ringing out.

The girl had her hair- it had to be almost shoulder-length – slicked back Elvis style and clearly tried to look nonchalant, but her eyes kept tracking the advancing dancer, moving left and right with the sway of her hips. With her jeans and boots, she looked a bit like one of the cocky dykes who came in now and then and often behaved worse than every man around, but it was pretty obvious that this one wouldn’t try to pour beer over her head. She didn’t even have a glass.

She only needed one well-placed grip into the collar of that t-shirt to haul the girl into a seat. With one pronounced move, she stepped over her legs, straddling her, but not touching her in any way. From the corner of her eye she saw people move in to get a better view, but the girl didn’t seem to notice that she was going to be part of the main event any minute now. She just stared at her, the close proximity clearly affecting her, but she also seemed nervous, as if her reaction was surprising herself.

A newbie? This was going to be even more fun. At the short distance, she could tell that the girl had had a few drinks already, but not so much as to be sloppy. Her eyes were clear, alert and intense.

She moved in closer a little and enjoyed hearing the girl’s breath quicken as her hair slid across her cheek. The hollering and catcalling around them increased and her face was so close to the girl that she could hear her swallowing audibly.

Bending over a bit to put her cleavage at the perfect angle, at a distance where the suit-and-tie guys at the next table got the best view, she reached back and slowly began undoing the laces to her corsage, right in the young woman’s face.

Sometimes, when she did that with a soldier, or a guy from a bachelor party’s crowd, they’d pull on the laces with their teeth if she taunted them enough, but this one – even though for a second, she thought that she wouldn’t mind that particular scenario – clearly was too caught up in her own reaction, nervously licking her lips.

The men on the next table cheered, the first dollar bills flying her way. Thrusting her chest out, she moved her hips closely across the girl’s jeans, enough to feel the fabric brush against the inside of her thighs, but even though the girl had her hands tightly grabbing the sides of the chair, she didn’t look away. Even the loudest guys would blink at this point, but the girl didn’t. And it clearly wasn’t for lack of interest. There was something obstinate, some challenge in that gaze, too, and it only goaded her on. Perhaps in a minute, she’d simply take a hold of the girl’s head and find out at what point she would look away if she moved right against her.

(11)

The line of cars is not moving along in the slightest. I honk again, taking my frustration out on the driver in front of me. I’m sitting in a traffic jam, on my night off, on my way over to Catherine’s place. To play babysitter, no less.

Why am I doing this again?

It’s been almost two weeks since the funeral and Catherine and I have eased back into our usual work relationship: sticking to small talk, and cutting a wide berth around any in-depth topics. Like Eddie’s death.

We had our first fight again, too, over processing a murder, where she showed up to the questioning in something so sheer that I could almost see through it, even though I wore sunglasses at the time. Okay, so the suspect confessed to her, but we had enough evidence to nail him anyway. But that fight was almost civil – she didn’t pull the age card, I didn’t say a word about her outfit, and we didn’t yell. Much.

I guess things are pretty much back to normal. Except for the fact that this afternoon, my phone rang and a very demure Catherine asked me whether I could look after Lindsey tonight. Seems her usual babysitters are unavailable and Warrick is working tonight.

I asked whether she couldn’t find anyone else, and I might have sounded a bit sarcastic, but then I couldn’t keep it up when she said that she didn’t like to hire just anyone to look after Lindsey, especially after the accident, and always made sure Lindsey knew the people and had agreed to being babysat by them.

A vote of trust from the Willows household? That’s a first. Well, actually the second, to be fair. After all, Catherine let me handle the funeral arrangements.

I remembered Lindsey standing there during the ceremony, forlornly looking at Eddie in the cushioned coffin. That girl’s been disappointed enough already, and I wasn’t going to be the next one in line. So I said yes, and here I am, standing in front of Catherine’s house again, at a time when I really hadn’t expected it.

“I’m so glad you could make it.” Catherine is standing in the door and if she showed up at the lab in whatever it is she’s wearing now, I would say something if we got into a fight. It’s low-cut and patterned and seems to be constantly shifting across her torso, and it ends exactly where the waistband of her pants begins, so when she moves ahead of me down the hallway, a bit of skin is showing as she walks, left and right, left and right. I wonder if it’s a date she’s going on tonight and am thinking that the poor guy probably doesn’t stand a chance. Catherine is very good at getting exactly what she wants.

Lindsey is sitting at the kitchen table, looking up at me as I enter. “Hi.” She seems much more comfortable with the situation than I am. I wave back at her and lean in the kitchen doorway, wondering what exactly I’m supposed to do now. I’ve never actually babysat someone before.

In the end, though, it turns out to be simple because Lindsey really knows a lot more about this than I do. I’m conned into a board game with lots of little wooden figures and stacks of wildly colored cards before Catherine even leaves. And when the doorbell rings and Catherine kisses Lindsey goodbye and waves at me, I could swear that she grins at my predicament. Lindsey whips me the first two rounds, but then I start to get better with the tactics and the questions and it turns into an even match. I’m required to sketch an elf at some point, and later, I have to form a pony out of plasticine – Lindsey insists it looks like a cow – and I’m wondering what happened to good old ludo, but I can’t deny I’m having fun. So does Lindsey, who is giggling at my attempts to mimic a beaver. I’m telling her that the next stupid action card will go her way, and she giggles again. Her cheeks are flushed from concentration and for a moment, I get a feeling of fond protectiveness that parents must have when they watch their children.

Only once Lindsey asks me about my dad – we have retreated to the couch at this point, having milk and cookies and she can’t believe I like drinking a glass of milk just like she does. She wants to know whether I miss him, and I tell her that I miss him the way he was when I was very little, when he brought home ice cream for my brother and me and put on music when I was supposed to go to bed but didn’t want to. I can’t remember how his face looked back then, though. Mostly, I remember his legs, how I held onto the fabric of his jeans and stood on his feet so he would carry me when he walked.

Lindsey tells me how Eddie used to carry her around on his shoulders, even though she was too old for it already, and then we share another cookie. She shows me her room before she goes to bed and, for a moment, I can’t help but feel envious the way I did as a girl when I looked into the rooms of other children, wishing desperately that I had something like that as well – glowing stars on the ceiling, and wallpaper with little scenes from various fairy tales, huge boxes with toys and children’s books and a little nightstand with a reading lamp that looks like something straight out of a Barbie movie.

It’s a happy room, full of loving little details, and I try to imagine Catherine assembling all this. I’ve heard a dozen times around the lab how Lindsey is everything to Catherine, but I think I never really understood how true that is until now.

Lindsey makes me read a chapter from the second Harry Potter book as a bedtime story and she makes me sit down on the edge of her bed for that just as I have pulled up one of the small chairs in the room. She switches on the very pink reading lamp and I have to sit next to her so I don’t block out the light. She squeals when I put my feet up on the bed, staring at my socks. They’re striped and kind of pink and have little hearts and smileys on them and the only thing I have to say in my defense is that they were a gag gift from Greg and that all my black socks are in the laundry.

“They’re like totally cute,” Lindsey states.

I hope that is something good.

Only after she has fallen asleep, I switch off the very pink light and tiptoe to the door. When I look back at her calmly breathing form, one hand nudged under her chin, there is that surge of fond protectiveness again. It feels strange, but good.

In my socks, I wander into the living room. I’ve been in here before, right after Eddie died, but I never had a chance to look around. The whole place is a lot less glamorous than I would have expected from Catherine – instead of the Warhol prints, futuristic light consoles and brightly colored, asymmetrical furniture I would have guessed at, there are a lot of light woods, simple shapes and warm, subdued colors like green and ochre. It looks like a modest, loving home. A modest, normal life. From the way Catherine acts around the lab sometimes, hinting at her showgirl past and flirting with all the lab techs, I wouldn’t have guessed.

She has quite a few illustrated books, mostly photography, portraits and landscapes, and not just the big names. I read a few more names as I walk past the shelves. Brown. Wolfe. Ishiguro. A few books on horses, which is odd, I think, but perhaps she used to ride at some point. I smile at a line of prominently displayed cooking books that don’t look as if they’ve ever been used.

When I head Catherine’s key in the lock, I’m sitting on the couch with an illustrated book of Nevada landscapes and a mug of tea.

“What are you looking at?”

She leans in the doorway and when I glance up at her, my first, unbidden thought is that she looks really good. Her date probably drove a convertible because her hair is all curly and mussed up, and with how she is leaning against the door, her shirt is riding up again, showing a tiny strip of skin.

“Landscape photography.” I answer her question much too late. “I hope you don’t mind…?”

“No, not at all.” She tries to make out the book I’m perusing upside down, but then looks up at me again “How did it go?”

“It went well.” I carefully close the book shut. “She beat me at that game though. Three times.” I gesture at the box on the end of the coffee table.

Catherine laughs softly. “She usually beats me, too.” Then she walks closer, until she is standing right in front of the couch and I have to look up at her. “Thanks again for jumping in.”

“Not a problem.” I’m surprised to find all my earlier reluctance gone. Granted, it was a rather unusual night off, but it’s not as if I had any great plans.

Catherine peers into the empty tea mug next to me. “Can I offer you a glass of wine?”

“Sure.” I wonder if she already had a glass on her date – she seems relaxed and she usually isn’t relaxed around me. Much less inviting me to share a glass with her. She disappears into the kitchen and when she comes back, she is carrying a bottle of red and two glasses. The couch cushions move when she settles down and languidly kicks her shoes off. She pushes one foot under her leg and I’m thinking that I’ve probably never seen her this relaxed, least of all while being this close to me.

I take a sip of wine. “How was your date?”

“Nice.” She shifts her glass from one hand to the other. “It wasn’t a big date or anything. I just needed to get out there again – to think about something else, after the funeral and the case being closed…”

It’s the first time she’s mentioned the case to me since the funeral and I should probably pay more attention to that fact, but now she’s using one hand to gesture and it makes her shirt ride up that little bit again, allowing a brief glimpse of skin. It’s distracting. “I really wanted to find that murder weapon,” I murmur instead and then I wonder why the hell I’m bringing up the case again. “I didn’t like closing it either.”

She shakes her head. “You did all you could.” When she speaks again, she is looking at me over the rim of her glass. “I was out of line.”

“Well, at least this time you had a reason,” I admit grudgingly while I still try to stomach the fact that Catherine just more or less apologized to me. She has the grace to actually look contrite at my comment. It’s cute.

I register nervously that there’s that unbidden thought again – Catherine being attractive is not exactly news to me, but that I’m having a glass of wine with her on her couch and can’t stop glancing at that small exposed strip of skin just over her hips, that is new.

I should probably ‘get out there again’ as well, when I start to look at Catherine like that. And looking at Catherine is a bad idea for so many reasons, not the least of which being that our relationship is already strained when we’re hardly having one. Not to mention that we’re team colleagues. Or the little fact that most of the time, she just drives me up the pole.

I don’t even want to think about thinking about it. In fact, I’m going to return Hank’s call first thing tomorrow. Going out with him was fun enough, and I’m pretty sure it’d be fun again.

(12)

The woman’s hips were circling low over lap, so low that she could feel the heat emanate from her skin. She could see the muscles in her thighs flex as she moved lower… and lower… and she knew that if she could tear her eyes away for one moment to look down the side, she would see those heels to either side of her legs, most likely leaving imprints in the floor. She thought she ought to have imprints all over her body, from those hands, and those thighs, and those breasts, even though she knew that the woman hadn’t touched her at all, apart from hauling her into this seat. She couldn’t have moved if she wanted do.

In the background, the men were whooping and hollering, but she hardly heard it. The dancer was smiling at her now, challengingly, never once stopping the slow movement of her hips. With her fingers, she held onto the last lace that kept her corsage together, but she didn’t pull on it. Yet.

She couldn’t look anywhere else.

The corsage had already loosened enough to offer a tantalizing view of cleft and curve, the lights in the room casting fleeting shadows down the sparkling fabric and over the skin. She saw fingers, carefully manicured, grasping that last bit of lace more deftly, and then, the dancer flicked her wrist and she could feel the tear of the fabric echo down her own spine.

A cheer went through the crowd.

She thought she would explode. She had to swallow repeatedly and didn’t know how she could feel so thirsty when at the same time, her mouth was watering so much.

The dancer straightened herself to stand over her, with her own hands covering her breasts, and even though she couldn’t see any more skin than before, she couldn’t breathe for a moment just the same – there was something about the image that made her heart beat even faster, and she felt lightheaded. Her knees were now held together by the dancer’s thighs on either side of her, and she thought they were strong, and her own legs felt weak in comparison. She was sure that if the dancer stepped away now, they’d just fall open, and she’d helplessly slide to the floor.

But instead of stepping back the dancer secured her stance – she could sense the movement through her jeans – and raised her hands behind her head, only to slowly drag them down again, along her neck, across her chest and her stomach.

She could only stare. And then dancer reached over to touch her body, and she could feel nails scraping along her shoulders, grabbing fistfuls of her t-shirt and she was sure she gasped as the dancer arched back in one slow, undulating motion, dark hair falling back all the way until it touched her jean-clad knees. Before she could even take it all in – the lithe, warm body in front of her, skin everywhere she looked, lightly tanned and smooth – the dancer reversed the movement, using her for leverage a she pressed her pelvis right into her stomach.

Heat. Against her shirt, and crawling up her stomach inside her, flushing her cheeks and sinking into every bit of her. She could feel the sequins on the tiny last piece of underwear scrape across the cotton of her shirt, and as she looked up, she could see a drop of sweat rolling down between the dancer’s breasts that were bouncing with the movement. She didn’t know her mouth had fallen open until she tried to breathe in deeply, catching the mixed scents of sweat and make-up and what had to be sex – real sex, where both people wanted it.

She must have been hung up for a beat too long on the vision of licking that drop of sweat off the smooth stomach in front of her, because suddenly, she heard loud laughing and cheering around her again, and dollar bills were falling into her lap, and the dancer had moved back a little, away from her. But then she bent over again, her legs straight and close together, in those heels, making her hips stand out. She had something of a cat, with her back stretched taut and a few strands of dark hair falling across her face as she advanced again, just a step.

And she had to be the mouse, she thought, as the dancer moved in, and then she didn’t think anything anymore and only tried not to whimper when the dancer smoothly stretched closer, letting her breasts brush along her thighs, before she bent far enough to pick the dollar bills out of her crotch with her teeth.

The room around her was suddenly dotted with dark spots and it took her a few seconds to realize that she had stopped breathing. When her vision cleared, the dancer stood over her, grinning at her, one last bill still between her teeth.

Sitting limply in her seat, she was for a moment distracted by the hips that were still moving in slow circles, right in front of her face. The small scrap of sequined fabric glittered in the light. Once again, the dancer bent down to her, the money now in her hand, and she could see lipstick on the bills. The dancer’s lips were suddenly close to her own, and then the woman winked at her before she drew back and sauntered back up to the stage.

Everything was a haze. Some broad hand clapped her on the shoulder, there was applause and cheering, but she was still preoccupied by that last glance. With the black hair she’d have expected dark eyes, but they had been blue. A piercing blue, all the more accentuated by long lines of black eyeliner.

(13)

The piercing sounds of crushed glass under her shoes echoes through the room as Sara walks across the crime scene. It’s a restaurant, into which an elderly woman has crashed her car, right through the glass front. “I’m sorry,” Sara offers apologetically when she walks up next to me. “I got wrapped up in…”

“…Hank,” I state, nodding over to where the medic is tended to by another medic. Oh, I don’t sound neutral at all.

It’s been a buzz, Sara dating. The whole lab is talking about it, especially after everyone thought she’d be forever hung up on Grissom, who, ironically, is the only one who doesn’t get she’s seeing Hank.

Personally, I think that whole Grissom infatuation was rather unbecoming for a woman of her age and skill. She’s out of crushing age. But still, with Gil, I could see common ground. Two brains in a pod, so to speak. But Hank? Sure, he’s handsome, but other than that, I don’t understand what she sees in him. It’s funny, I could have sworn that if she ever stopped mooning over Gil, she would date a woman instead.

The guys and the techs at the lab lay into her pretty good about her ‘boytoy’ – Greg’s creation, not mine – and they’re teasing her to no end. For some reason, I’m not joining in.

But right now, Sara and I have a crime scene to work, so she’d better tell her boytoy to wait at home. Instead, she goes to see him at the hospital after we finish at the scene. I drive back to the lab already, wondering if for once, she’ll show up late, but of course she doesn’t. She seems more somber than before, though, and I wonder if they fought.

Hank doesn’t seem the type who turns off his sunny boy smile when a pretty girl walks by, and there are a lot of girls out there who are a lot more approachable than Sara is. I don’t know why I suddenly feel protective when it comes to her, perhaps it’s because my radar is spot on when it comes to men, and hers isn’t, and I don’t want to see her get hurt.

I hope he isn’t treating her badly. Sure, she is broody and intense and hard to get to know – I can’t say I know her and I’ve been working with the woman for three years – but she’s very smart, and, if you catch her off guard and with a smile on her face, she’s very pretty, and she’s as loyal as they come. Not many people would offer to help a colleague who’s been distant and confrontational for years organize a funeral.

The puzzle pieces are coming together for me as I work through the seating chart of the restaurant where the crash took place. Hank was there as a customer, and when I call up the customers’ photos that I fed into the flashy new software we have, I see the picture of a girl who shared a table with Hank. A table for two.

I don’t really want to meddle in Sara’s affairs – it’s not like it’s any of my business – and perhaps it’s nothing. But I don’t want her to be the last to know, either, in case there is something going on.

I ask her about Elaine Alcott – the girl who shared the table with Hank – when we analyze the chart together, and I’m growing even more suspicious when she mentions that she saw them together at the hospital.

“They must be friends,” Sara states and she looks kind of lost. The wheels in her head are apparently beginning to turn, and I just know he’s cheating on her. I’m surprised to find how angry that makes me. Why do I even care? Sara is an adult, and her bad taste in men is her own problem.

Still, I don’t want her to stare at Elaine’s picture on the seating chart for the next half hour, and I more or less send her off to dismantle the car. I’ll go see her later – if there is anything to be found on the car, she will find it. She’s good with that, and with the power tools and the physical work. And I’ll never admit it to anyone, but she actually looks good in those coveralls. Another reason to stop by the garage later.

When I do, I find her in baggy blues, with hair matted to her head and a dark smudge across her cheek, rolling out from under the car. Never be it said that I don’t know to appreciate a woman who’s been working up a sweat.

Of course, these aren’t thoughts I usually entertain when it comes to Sara, of all people. I’m surprised to find myself noticing how she looks when I check in on her and the half dismantled car. I barely catch myself before my eyes can linger on her arms and hands.

What is wrong with me?

I’m still puzzled by my own reaction when I work on the crash reconstruction at the computer later. And it happens again – when she walks in, looking at the screen over my shoulder, I’m extremely conscious of her body so close behind me. I try to blend out the sound of her breathing, but somehow I can’t. She’s bending down further to point at something at the screen – she is hovering close to me now – and her bare arm brushes against my shoulder.

She smells like shampoo and I think she probably took a shower after taking the car apart. A brief image of Sara under the shower meanders through my brain, long arms and a tapered back, and I force myself to focus on the screen again. She’s in the middle of finding out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, and I – after three years, no less – suddenly decide to discover that she’s attractive?

When she leaves the lab, I look after her. Snug jeans. Short-sleeved black tee. Long arms and a tapered back. – Something must have been in my coffee today. And it doesn’t get better. When we walk down the corridor and Sara tells me about her kamikaze theory – that the old woman intentionally accelerated her car into the restaurant – I’m oddly aware of my own outfit. Of my cleavage. And I try to gauge her reaction. Did Sara look just now?

…Do I want Sara to look?

Instead I advise her to go talk to Elaine Alcott because Sara still doesn’t seem to get it. Funny, a few weeks ago, I’d just have shaken my head at her bad taste in men, but now I feel truly sorry for her.

I can’t help myself and ask her how it went when she comes back – I know those nonchalantly hunched up shoulders, and I wonder when I have started to pay such attention to her – but she clams up. So I’m guessing she finally figured it out. I’m surprised at my sudden urge to place an arm around her and ask her to tell me what’s wrong. The impulse doesn’t feel very motherly. Not even sisterly.

And then I finally come face to face with Elaine Alcott myself. Sara and I have to interview someone from the old kamikaze woman’s insurance, and she is the responsible account manager. From the way Sara acts around Elaine, it’s obvious that she knows Hank cheats on her. And with how Elaine looks at her when she awkwardly hands Sara a stack of folders, I’m sure she knows, as well.

I think I’d like to punch Hank real good.

Elaine is pretty, I think, assessing her frankly. But in comparison to Sara, she looks boring. There is no challenge in her gaze, and no passion to her voice or her thoughts. Taking my cue from there, I’d even say that Sara was the adventure for him, and that Elaine is probably the stable girlfriend. I just know those types. Next thing, he’ll be standing in the lobby saying he’s sorry and didn’t mean to hurt anyone.

And what do you know. As we walk out of the precinct where we filed the paperwork for the case, Hank is standing in the hallway with a hangdog expression.

I’d still like to punch him.

Instead, I hover close to Sara, not even questioning my protectiveness now. “I’ll meet you at the car.”

When I finally see her walk out of the precinct towards the car, she is looking down, her shoulders hunched up, and I wish I had punched Hank anyway. She gets into the car and I decide to run with my instincts.

“You got plans?”

“Nope.” She shakes her head, not looking at me.

I decide to risk it. Perhaps I’ve danced around this for far too long already. “You wanna get a beer?”

She casts a look at me and when she looks away again, there’s a small smile playing around her lips. “Drive.”

And I drive. Neither of us speaks for the rest of the way.

(14)

None of the other two girls spoke with her as they moved backstage to get some rest and change into the costumes for the next – their final – set. No kidding, her impromptu floor show with the girl in the audience had thrown all the money her way. She still was the best, she thought as she unrolled the third hundred dollar bill.

Through the curtain to the stage, she could hear the laughter and music, mixed with some impatient shouts for their next dance. The mood was raucous, perfect for more tips. Drawing a flimsy red satin robe close over her show costume, she decided to collect on some of it early and have someone buy her a drink at the bar. Perhaps one of the men with the suits who had sat right next to the girl would ask her for a private dance, and if they kept throwing the hundreds her way, she would be able to take a week off, or ‘persuade’ the boss to let her choose the next set of new girls herself. She was still the star of the group, but to keep it that way, she better not get someone too young or too talented placed in her sets.

The part of the bar that was closed to the backstage doors was dimly lit, the real players sat further down under the neon spotlights, looking over the girls from the elevated white leather barstools. Already on her way over there, she almost missed the slender figure sitting in the shadows, turned away from the room, her elbows perched on the counter. Next to her sat a glass with a clear liquid, already half-drained. Gin and tonic, she guessed.

One of the bartenders had seen her approach and ambled over. “The usual work lunch?”

“Gin and tonic, Rob.” She nodded at the girl who hadn’t looked up yet, seeming lost in thought. ”And another one for her.”

Rob looked over between the two of them, and then grinned, reaching for two tall glasses.

She slid onto the barstool next to the girl, who was startled out of her thoughts. The girl looked up, she really couldn’t be any older than twenty. Her face was young, and earnest, and when her eyes slid over her briefly, she seemed almost bashful. The girl kept playing with her glass, clearly steeling her courage, before she nodded at the woman next to her. “Hi.”

She had to smile at the reserved greeting, as if she hadn’t been right up in the girl’s space in front of the whole room mere minutes ago. It was a behavior she wasn’t used to in here. She was used to men thrusting drinks into her hands, along with offers of some kind or the other, as soon as she walked into the room. “Hi yourself,” she said, half amused at herself for being rattled by the girl’s politeness.

Rob used that moment to set two fresh glasses down between them, winking at her again. Unnecessarily so, she thought. The girl looked at the drinks, puzzlement evident in her gaze.

“Thanks to you, I made the biggest tip this week yet.” She nudged once glass closer to the girl with two fingers. “It’s only fair I buy you a drink.”

The girl looked at the glass skeptically. “Shouldn’t I be the one buying you a drink?”

She laughed. Shy but proud, she liked the type. Not to mention that adorable frown that creased her brows right then. She circled the rim of her glass with a finger. “How about being a little unconventional for a change?” She began to spin left and right a bit with her barstool, slowly swinging back and forth.

The girl’s eyes flickered down to the softly moving stool and then back up. She lifted the glass to her face, sniffed at the contents and then took a careful sip. “Thanks,” she said and had to clear her throat. When she sat the glass back down, she squared her shoulders.

Observing the little display, she had to smother another smile. Really cute. Although she wasn’t the type Eddie would bring along – for that she looked too stern, too edgy, and not approachable enough, but she liked her. Especially her eyes, all dark and intense, and that cute frown. And the way she tried not to look at her, but failed.

“Sorry if I embarrassed you out there.” She nodded towards the stage area and smiled in a way that said she wasn’t sorry at all.

The girl took a huge sip of her drink. “A little.”

She didn’t stop to slowly spin her barstool, even as she leaned a little closer to the girl, dropping her voice half an octave. “It looked like you were enjoying it a little bit, too.”

To her credit, the girl didn’t blink under her gaze, but her eyes wandered down her robe and over her heels. When she looked up again, a light blush was crawling up her face.

Cute, she thought, letting her eyes trail over the serious face and wide, but thin shoulders. Really, really cute.

(15)

I take another long swig of my beer, feeling the cool liquid trail down my throat. We’re in a little diner of sorts off the strip, one that I’ve never been to before. Most of the interior is wood and old, red leather – the seats of the booth we’re sitting in are tattered and bleached out, but the place has a warm, cozy atmosphere to it. It feels a bit like a trip back in time, too.

Catherine is only sipping at her beer, I guess it’s because she’s driving and also because she isn’t the one who’s just been dumped.

I feel so gullible. To think that I asked him to call me if he needed anything – anything, and he went to Hawaii with his real girlfriend instead. I made a complete fool of myself. The whole lab will laugh at me.

And Catherine. She knew. She knew it, that’s why she asked me to go talk to Elaine. Does she have some kind of spider sense when it comes to relationships, or does everyone get it and I’m the only one who doesn’t realize what’s going on? I feel so stupid.

But it looks like Catherine won’t be laughing. She’s peeling the silver wrapping from the neck of her beer bottle and just waits. She doesn’t gloat, she doesn’t swamp me with patronizing advice and she doesn’t give me the ‘us sistas gotta stick together’ speech, either.

She just sits there, sips on her beer and understands I need to work through this in my head. I like that about her. Only belatedly – I have ordered a second beer by then – I ask myself how she knows so well how to react and realize that she’s probably been there more than once herself. I wonder how much of a jerk Eddie really was.

Perhaps that’s what made her so bitchy – well, you could call it tough, I guess. If someone cheats on you over and over, you probably need to develop some self-defense mechanisms sooner or later. And Catherine definitely knows how to hold her own.

If you aren’t on the receiving end of one of her rants, it does have its perks. I liked how she got in the face of the sleazy insurance manager earlier, for example, over the suicide of the old woman who drove the car into the building. Catherine can pull such things off, get into people’s faces and rip them a new one and then walk out and leave them stunned in her wake, too mellowed to even protest. I know that if I tried to do that on a case, Ecklie would be waving a complaint at me faster than I can say ‘disciplinary hearing’. Catherine can get away with that – must be something about her people skills again – but the thing is that she’d also do it of she knew that she wouldn’t get away with it. I admire that about her. Not that she needs to know.

I look at her again, feeling comfortable in her company.

How did it that happen again that we’re sitting here, sharing a beer in companionable silence, after nearly three years?

Oh, right. I got dumped by my supposed boyfriend. I should probably be more upset by our break-up. Well, it isn’t really a break-up since it was never more than affair, but I still think I should be sadder. Instead, I’m mostly angry at him for pulling this on both me and Elaine, and I’m angry at myself that I let myself be fooled by him. If there is one thing I’m upset about it’s my dating track record that just dropped another notch towards hell, but apart from that, I’m enjoying my beer with Catherine.

To be honest, I’m probably enjoying it a little too much. Until a few hours ago, I was sort of involved with Hank – affair or not – and that means I shouldn’t notice how good Catherine looks right now, with her jacket still on, but it’s falling open to reveal the low neckline of her shirt. And her hair – I hadn’t really stopped to think about how much longer she’s wearing it now – is tumbling loosely over her shoulders. When she takes another sip of beer, I can’t help but watch her throat move as she swallows.

(16)

She didn’t know where to look.

Swinging left to right on the barstool, the dancer apparently hadn’t noticed that her red satin robe had fallen open to reveal long, smooth legs, and it also gaped open over her neck, allowing a long glance down her cleavage.

She wondered if the robe was designed that way because the dancer didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest by the amounts of skin she was showing even though she wasn’t on stage at the moment. But then, with that body, she didn’t have a reason to mind, really.

She remembered the heat of that body, pressed up against her, and wondered if the dancer had put on a new bra beneath the robe. From where she sat – just to make sure, she glanced over again, briefly distracted by the sight of curve against satin – she couldn’t tell. Instead, she took another deep swallow from her drink. She didn’t know what it was, but it tasted of alcohol, much more alcohol than beer. Before the dancer arrived, she had been drinking water, trying to clear her head and get her wobbly knees under control. The close proximity of the woman next to her wasn’t helping. Now the dancer had crossed one leg over the other and was slowly circling her foot at her ankle, the stiletto heel glinting under the dim light with every turn. It was very distracting.

She knew she should say something instead of just sitting there staring at the dancer who was looking back at her with those strange blue eyes. She didn’t know what the woman expected, or why she was even sitting here with her. The other two women who had danced earlier were across the room where then men sat who had thrown the bills earlier. And yet, her favorite of the dancers was sitting right next to her. And she had danced with her – if that was the right word for what had happened – earlier. Not with any of the men with the money. She took another sip of her drink. “So what’s your name?”

The dancer just looked at her, never stopping to rotate her heel. “Does it matter?”

She blinked, startled for a moment. “Yes –“

The woman was smiling at her, as if she were thinking her question sweet or naïve. Before she could bristle, though, the dancer canted her head to the side. “Just call me Kitty.”

“Okay… Kitty,” she said and only then it occurred to her that she should perhaps introduce herself as well. “I’m Sara.” She stretched out her hand, and again, the dancer smiled in a manner that was short of making her bristle before she took the offered hand.

“I’ll call you whatever you like, honey.”

The dancer winked, and she almost coughed in reaction, although she hadn’t been drinking. The hand in her own was soft and warm, and she tried not to think about how these fingers had been clawing into her shirt earlier. She could still fee their grip on her shoulders.

“Nice thoughts?” The dancer looked as if she knew exactly that she was the subject of these thoughts.

She felt another blush coloring her cheeks. Only then did she notice that the dancer was now holding a cigarette and she fumbled for her lighter before anyone else cold butt in. In the end, she had to climb down from the barstool to fish it out of her pocket and her legs felt wobbly all over again when the dancer leaned down – she was slightly taller now, sitting on that high barstool – and lit her cigarette.

“Thanks…” The dancer breathed out, tendrils of smoke curling around her face. “…Sara.”

She could only stare at those lips, forming her name, and even though she was standing a little shorter now, she felt tall and good.

Suddenly, a broad hand landed on her shoulder. “Hey kid, let a real man through, will ya?”

She let herself be pushed backwards, instinctively leaning away from the large, bulky frame of a man who didn’t even look at her twice, having already insinuated himself between her and the dancer. “Can I buy you a drink?”

He smelled like alcohol and sweat, and something about him made the hair on her arms stand on end.

“Why don’t you save your money for my next set?” The dancer looked the man up and down flirtatiously. “You’re gonna need it.”

She was shocked, a little dismayed to hear the dancer come on to someone else when she had just been talking to her, but she was more worried that the woman didn’t realize the guy was trouble.

“You want to get away with me now, you know it.”

Trouble alright. He tried to sound charming, his speech wasn’t slurred yet, but his movements were already a little off.

“Sorry, no can do.” The dancer easily angled her body away from the unwanted admirer. “I still have to work.”

“Don’t play coy now.” He grabbed her arm, almost succeeding in pulling her off her seat.

The dancer held onto the bar with one hand, looking around as if she were waiting for someone. Security perhaps. But nobody was in sight. Nobody even seemed to notice what was going on.

The man tugged harder on the dancer’s arm, and she could see the imprint his grip was leaving on her wrist.

That did it. She tapped him sharply on the shoulder, enough to make him turn around.

“Wha…?”he glared at her drunkenly.

She straightened and looked right back at him. “I believe the lady said no.”

(17)

“No way.”

Hmm. I guess that answers my question as to whether Sara wants to hook up with Hank again. Well, good for her. She seems more angry than sad anyway, now that we’re two beers into the morning and she has finally started to talk.

“But it’s not just Hank,” she explains with frustration. “My whole dating history is…warped, somehow.”

“Tell me about it,” I commiserate dryly.

“You?” she exclaims. Then she leans back in her seat and she grins a little. “I could make any number of comments here, but I’m holding out for you buying the beers.”

Sara, joking with me? Wow. We’re entering brand new territory. And I really like that grin.

She just shakes her head at me. “Catherine, potted plants would line up to go out with you.” She empties her beer with one long swallow. “And what’s worse, you could probably make them dance for real.”

I’m sure there was a compliment hidden in there somewhere, but I don’t have time to think about that now because Sara is opening up for once, and I’m pouncing at the opportunity. “No, I meant: Tell me about it. Honestly.” I let that one sink in before I add, “And just for the record, I’ve been on plenty of bad dates.” I’m thinking about the last one, where Sara was babysitting Lindsey. The glass of wine we had on the couch afterwards was actually nicer than the whole evening out with Brent. “And the man I married didn’t exactly turn out to be Prince Charming, either.”

“No kidding,” she mutters.

I toss her a challenging look. “So, can you measure up to a crook of an ex-husband who screwed half of Nevada behind your back and then left with all of your hard-earned money?”

“Shit.” She clearly hadn’t expected that. “Did he really do that?”

“You don’t wanna know,” I nod grimly, but then I cross my arms on the table in font of me, leaning in almost conspiratorially. “So, let’s hear it.”

“There isn’t much to tell.” She shrugs. “The man I almost ended up engaged to ran off with my grad work and published it under his own name, but I couldn’t prove it – which was the end of my interest in an academic career.”

I blink. “Ouch.” Internally, I’m cringing. No wonder she has trust issues a mile wide.

“Other than that, let’s see –“ She ticks them off on her fingers like numbers and I take note of how long and lean her arms are. Again. “The man I wanted for a boyfriend is seeing a dominatrix. – My on and off lover merely cheated on his real girlfriend with me. – My first girlfriend pulled an Anne Heche on me and left me for a man. – Oh, and the first person to ever kiss me was on drugs while they did it.” She looks at me in frustration. “Is it just bad luck, or is there something I’m generally not getting? Am I missing a gene?”

Wow. I’ve never seen Sara act so… human. Who’d think that a woman like her, who comes across so strong and self-sufficient, is beating herself up over a streak of bad dates. Admittedly really bad dates, from what it sounds like. Still, looking at Sara who has scoffed at so many of my more emotional moments in the past, it’s very strange to hear her admit to actually missing emotion and closeness. She seems so fiercely independent that half the people probably think she doesn’t even want to go out, and the other half is most likely scared of her.

“I didn’t really know Hank, not even after all these months.” She twirls the second empty beer bottle between her fingers, looking at me pensively. Then she chuckles, but it’s entirely sarcastic. “I can’t even blame Grissom for falling for a dominatrix, as far as women of the trade go. My own first real crush was a stripper, and I was seventeen back then.”

“Not a word against strippers,” I interject half-jokingly and she stops short, something in my tone having alerted her.

“Huh?” The typical Sara frown is edging onto her features and I know I’ll have to spill the beans.

“Old habits,” I explain with a shrug.

Sara’s frown deepens. “…But you were a showgirl? …a dancer?”

Leave it to Sara not to listen to the gossip at the lab, I think with a fond smile. “Really, don’t Greg and you talk about anything?”

“I just thought you – well, the way you move – ” Now she’s trying to backpedal. “…gracious and lithe and…” She stops, before she can dig herself in deeper, even though I for one would love to hear more about her thoughts on the way I move.

I know I shouldn’t bring it up, not with her, but I can’t help myself. “You better be lithe for a lap dance,” I state casually.

Sara just stares at me, slightly befuddled, as if she isn’t sure what I’m telling her.

I lean back in the booth and keep my gaze level with hers. “When they say around the lab that I was a dancer, they mean that I was a stripper.”

Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular dumbstruck expression on Sara’s face before.

(18)

She slid from her barstool, watching the scene that unfolded before her with trepidation.

The girl was tall now that she stood, taller than she had seemed earlier. She had her shoulders squared and there was some serious menace to her stance – for a moment, she wondered if it wasn’t the first drunk jerk to fight off for the girl, either – but her lanky frame was no match for the two-hundred pounds of muscle in front of her.

She checked the bar again, hoping that Rob would look her way. Of course, he didn’t. Luke, the bouncer, was nowhere in sight, even though it was his fucking job to prevent things like this. Knowing Luke, he was off somewhere banging Kelli from the wardrobe for the second time this shift.

She had to go get Rob…

A sharp crack brought her back to the present, and she looked up just in time to see the girl’s head snap back before she went down in slow motion, crumbling in front of the bar.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” she yelled, and barely managed to grasp the girl’s shoulders before her head hit the floor. A few drops of blood trickled from her lower lip and as she awkwardly pulled her into her lap, the girl’s head lolled back. Yep, she was clearly out of it. Carefully, she tried to dab at the blood with her robe. She hoped it was only a split lip.

The man seemed to be dumbstruck by his own punch, staring at the scene on the floor. She hoped he wouldn’t try anything else. With the girl in her lap, she couldn’t even use her heels to step onto his feet. Hell, she couldn’t even signal Rob behind the bar for a bloody glass of water to bring the girl to again.

Luke chose this moment to come running from the backstage area, two other bouncers on his heels. He was red in the face and his shirt was half hanging out of his pants. The other two men grabbed the attacker who thankfully didn’t try to put up much of a fight.

“Luke, you idiot! Can’t you screw Kelli when you’re both off the clock for a change?” She gestured at the girl in her lap. “I really don’t want to explain this to Sam!”

Rob had finally realized that something was going on and came hurrying along the bar. “What the hell happened?”

“Luke couldn’t keep it in his pants, that’s what happened,” she hissed. “Quick, help me get her backstage before anyone notices.” She motioned for Luke to grasp the girl’s legs. “And be careful! He decked her pretty good.” When the two men lifted the unconscious girl up, she got a first close look at her face under the bright lights that strayed over from the stage. The girl looked very pale. And very young.

“Fuck.” She muttered. She bet that girl was a minor.

(19)

“Fuck,” I mutter. Catherine as a stripper, that image is a libido feed I sure don’t need. Looking at her, I can’t imagine her like that – she’s so… well, yes, she flirts a lot, and I’ve made comments about it more than once, but I would never go that far.

“So… your first crush was a stripper?” She looks very interested all of a sudden and I almost squirm under her inquisitive gaze. She seems nervous, and that puts me on edge in return. – Didn’t she think I was into girls?

“Yep.” From all the things I’d have imagined I would talk about with Catherine over a drink, my teenage crush on a stripper was not on the list. “Here in Vegas, even – she was a dancer in some Egypt themed show. I don’t even remember the club.” Even though I remember ‘Kitty’ very clearly. I know that she probably stopped dancing long ago and that the drugs most likely dragged her down, but during my first year here, whenever we had a crime scene to work in a strip joint, I almost expected her to walk in at any given moment, with long black hair and stiletto heels, wearing that little corsage.

Catherine still looks at me expectantly, and at the same time as if there were something she really doesn’t want to know.

“What?” I shrug defensively. “There’s not much to tell. I stumbled into a strip show when I was seventeen, and before I knew it, I was part of the floor show.”

Catherine seems surprised at that. “Seventeen?” She shakes her head at me and I’m beginning to feel embarrassed. “So what happened?”

“She gave me a lap dance,” I admit and I can feel that I’m about to blush, so I barge on. “Even though back then, I didn’t know that’s what it was.” I conveniently skip the parts of my sudden sexual awakening and subsequent interest in all things Egypt. “Then some drunk jerk molested her and I stepped in and took a shiner for her. End of story.”

“Ouch,” Catherine comments, and she waves at the waitress for another beer without ever really taking her eyes off me. I read something akin to respect in them when she adds, “But very chivalrous of you.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” I say and then I can’t hide the smile creeping onto my face at the memory of my reward. “I got my first kiss for it.”

“Your first kiss?” For some reason, that seems to shock Catherine. “Ever?”

I blink at her. “Yes.” What does she expect I did before seventeen? Do I need to spell out ‘late bloomer’ for her, or does she want to rub her years of wild experiences in my face to make me feel even more awkward?

“I couldn’t have told,” she murmurs, more to herself, and I don’t know what she means.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” She shakes her head. “It just seems a high price for a kiss.”

Now I’m grinning. “You didn’t get that kiss.”

“You didn’t see that shiner up close,” she counters and then she leans in a little bit further, reaching out with her hand so that she almost touches my temple. “You could barely open that eye…”

Her gesture feels intimate and I’m lost in the tenderness of her gaze. Absently, I agree. “Yeah, I could hardly se…”

And then it hits me. I’m still looking at her, thinking that I’ve never sat across a table from her like this and when I look into her eyes, a frisson of awareness trickles down my spine.

“What are you saying?” I manage to get out, and it sounds choked. It can’t be, can it? I feel nausea, and suddenly it’s hard to breathe.

“I’m saying that you could barely open your eye after you stepped between me and that jerk.” She’s still looking at me with that strangely soft expression and it occurs to me that I’ve never really looked at her up close like this before, not in all the years we’ve worked together.

I touch my fingers to my temple, staring at her incredulously. “…You?”

For the first time, I take note of her eyes, and that they’re blue. A piercing blue. And if she wore heavy black eyeliner…

“Shit.”

I must have said that out loud because she chuckles, although it doesn’t really sound too amused. “That’s pretty much what I thought when you walked into the lab three years ago.”

Shit. Shit! I’m still gaping at her. “…You knew?”

“How many Saras your size with a Harvard degree in Physics are running around this country?” she asks me with a pointed look. “Besides, it’s not like you went blond.”

“I still should have realized…” I mumble, and I feel stupid. “I guess I’ve just never really looked at you that closely. But I’m sure I would have remembered if I’d just once seen your eyes up close like this,” I state in my defense. That, and I’d never have expected ‘Kitty’ to show up in my line of work, in my lab, and holding a higher rank than I do.

She just nods. “That’s why I never let you get that close.”

“You knew right away?” It unnerves me that she is so much more observant than I am. I’m supposed to be a CSI, goddammit. I make my living off my observation skills.

“Right away.” She peels the aluminum wrapping from the neck of her second beer bottle. “The first few months, I was afraid you’d realize it every moment.”

Afraid? What does she have to be afraid of? “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“It’s not exactly the thing you bring up in conversation,” she says angrily and puts her beer down on the table with more force than necessary. “– ‘Hey, here are the DNA results, and by the way, do you remember I gave you a lap dance in 1988?’”

“I do remember.” I glare at her obstinately, even though I know she’s probably right. I’d be mortified to admit that to the new colleague, even if it had been a dozen years ago. Not that I’d ever be doing any dancing of that kind in the first place. “You always say you aren’t ashamed of the dancing,” I challenge her. Of course, when I heard that bit around the lab, I still thought she had been a showgirl. I make the mistake of briefly looking away from her face and my eyes trail down her cleavage of their own volition. I remember sparkling underwear and a tiny corsage, her breasts pushing against the flimsy restraint and I blush furiously.

“I’m not ashamed,” she states hotly. Thank God, she has mercy on me and doesn’t comment on my flushed state. “And you still blush the same way.”

No mercy, then. God, I don’t know where to look anymore. Catherine. …Kitty… My head is spinning.

She sighs and I realize I’m not the only one for whom this feels awkward. “Sara, you were a minor back then.” I curse myself for staring at her lips as she says my name. “Not to mention the fact that I practically assaulted you. – Ever hear of statutory rape?”

“Oh, come on, Cath,” I scoff. I don’t want her to be embarrassed about it. It’s one of the few prized teenage memories I have, and I won’t have her put it down. Distantly, I wonder whether perhaps we’d have fought a whole lot less these past three years if I had known, or whether we fought so much in the first place because she was so keen on keeping her distance. “I wasn’t exactly opposing the idea,” I remind her. “And we were both pretty out of it at the time.”

“Not out enough to not remember,” she contradicts me, swiftly rejecting the easy way out.

Shit. Especially since part of me likes that she doesn’t take the easy way out. Although I have a sinking feeling that I haven’t hit rock bottom yet when Catherine smiles slyly at me.

“So… you had a crush on me?”

“No!” Crushing on Catherine is something I refuse to think about. “I didn’t know it was you – I didn’t know you yet – “ I shut up because I realize that I’m only digging myself in deeper. This still feels like I’ve been dropped in the twilight zone. Again, I look at her face, searching for the carefully guarded image of the dancer I never knew, in the features of the colleague I thought I knew. “How much make‑up did you wear back then?”

She laughs at the non-sequitur. “It was the eighties!” She hesitates for a moment before she continues. “And I had a thing or two done over the years.”

“You?” I’m glad my beer is empty because I’m sure I’d sputter it all over the table right now.

“Anniversary gifts from Eddie.” Her voice is noncommittally, but when she continues, it sounds sarcastic. “The really selfless kind.”

“You should have gotten him glasses in return,” I mumble. It makes her laugh, and the sound moves down my body like the taste of something smooth and sweet.

“When did you stop dancing?” I’m still trying to piece everything together.

“That same year, actually,” she says and pushes the hair back from her face. For one moment, I see a long black wig and shiny pink lipstick in front of my mind’s eye. “Jimmy – Jimmy Tadeiro, my old mentor? – showed up with Gil in my wardrobe one night. In the end, they got me a trainee tech position with the lab and I went back to school.” She eyes me warily. “Thank God you and Gil never got together to talk about strippers you used to have crushes on.”

“Grissom?” I can’t believe it. Grissom crushing on Catherine? I want to add a jibe as to when she grew another six legs, but it would probably be very immature of me to belatedly get jealous over my teenage crush. At my boss, no less, whom I was still interested in myself, and not too long ago, either. This is the most awkward triangle I’ ever heard of.

“I know, it’s funny.” Catherine clearly doesn’t get my predicament. She play with the rim of her beer bottle instead, regarding me pensively. And there’s that softness again as well that makes me nervous in an entirely unprofessional manner. “You know what’s funny as well?”

I don’t think anything’s funny about this at all, but Catherine is smiling and I think I’ll need another beer. Or maybe a scotch.

She looks straight at me when she speaks, and I think I should have recognized those eyes. “In all those years, Eddie never took a shiner for me like you did.”

(20)

“Sara?…Sara!”

Warm hands were patting her cheeks and there was a voice urgently whispering her name. She blinked her eyes open and groaned. Her head felt as if it had been hit by a train and her tongue was numb. She tasted blood in her mouth.

“What the hell…?”

“Welcome back.” Crouched in front of her, surveying her intently, was the dancer, still clad in that satin robe, long dark hair falling over her shoulders. She looked different in the cool, bright light around them. At the short distance, small lines around her eyes were visible through the layers of her make-up. She looked a little older like this, but no less beautiful.

She blinked as she realized the woman was talking to her. “You had me worried there for a minute. – Here.”

She stared at the ice pack was held out to her. “Huh?”

“For your lip.” The dancer gestured at her face. “I tried to put ice spray on your temple.”

She reached up gingerly. Ouch. So that was why it hurt. She remembered the man’s fist coming up to her face. With a wince, she sat up, leaning against the wall behind her before she put the ice pack back against her cheek. “What happened?”

“The bouncers tossed the jerk out.” The dancer reached out to touch her jaw. “Unfortunately, only after he decked you.”

She looked around the room, seeing a row of make-up tables line one wall like a counter, with mirrors above. There were various chairs and mannequins and a small set of lockers. They were alone. “Where are we?”

“You hit the jackpot, honey.” The dancer leaned back on her heels before she stood up, leaving her to stare at the legs showing underneath the robe. “This is my wardrobe.”

The dancer sat down on a chair and put her feet up on the counter, her stiletto heels almost touching the mirrors. She reached up with her hands, undoing her hair, and then she… pulled it off?

A wig. Of course. She felt a little stupid that she hadn’t caught on to it earlier. Bright red hair tumbled down over the woman’s shoulders, a much better match to her light complexion. And to her eyes.

The dancer caught her baffled expression in the mirror, and was clearly amused. “Honey, I’m three hair colors per night.” She gestured at a rack to the side that she now saw contained a variety of wigs, corsages, and caps. “Have your pick.”

She thought that she really liked the way the dancer called her ‘honey’.

“How old are you?” The dancer kicked off her heels, leaving them on the counter upside down.

“Twenty,” she replied defensively. Nobody needed to know that she was only seventeen.

“Really?” The dancer reached for a pair of stockings, her expression pensive .“Twenty… – I started dancing when I was twenty.” She slid one foot into a black piece of hosiery without even looking. “What are you doing?” She rolled the stocking up her leg.

“I’m trying out for Harvard,” she replied, distracted by the sight of sheer stocking and smooth leg. “For a scholarship,” She had never before seen someone actually wear fishnet stockings.

“Really?” The stocking came to a halt mid-calf.

She shrugged, a tad embarrassed. “Yep. In physics.”

“Wow.” The dancer resumed the slow rolling motion, taking her time to adjust the lace tops. She caught her look in the mirror again, her tone half-amused and teasing. “You not into dancing then?”

She snorted. “As if I had the looks.”

The dancer turned around, assessing her frankly. “I think you’re cute.” She walked back to where she was still leaning against the wall, crouching down before her in her stockinged feet. Carefully, she reached out with her fingers. “Sorry about the shiner.”

Even the gently probing touch against her temple hurt like a mother, but she still didn’t want the dancer to take her hand away. Instead, she tried to shrug nonchalantly. “No need to be sorry. You didn’t slug me.”

“But you got slugged on my behalf,” the dancer corrected her, taking the ice pack from her and rewrapping the towel around it with a few quick motions. “Very cavalier of you.” Her voice wasn’t teasing now, but warm.

“You’re welcome.” And despite sitting on the floor with her head pounding and her lip split, she felt tall and dashing and handsome.

“And you even got the smile to go with the attitude,” the dancer noted, stroking once more across her temple. She handed her back the icepack before she stood up again. “You’ll be breaking the girls’ hearts before you know it.”

(21)

Well, talking to her was certainly easier before she knew we had already met. Granted, she and I talking involved a whole lot of yelling and bitching at times, but Sara never backed away from it. Now, she’s avoiding me whenever she can. We haven’t worked a scene together in over a week and I’m beginning to wonder whether she asked Gil to organize that. Probably not, though. Sara’s not the scheming kind. Either way, I’ve hardly seen her lately. And here I thought that having a beer with her might improve the atmosphere between us. Of course, that was before I suddenly decided to let her in on the carefully guarded fact that we’ve met before.

Damn her for looking so endearing when she was talking about her ‘crush’, as if it was a really treasured memory. Her smile reminded me of how she looked at me fifteen years ago, and then I just wanted her to know it was me.

Possessive much, Cath?

It was the one big thing that stood between us. And telling her seems to have made things worse, although I don’t know what she has to be embarrassed about, unless she’s put off by my barging in on her memories – her least favorite colleague turning out to be her own teenage crush, that’s got to be a blow. But I really thought we were making some headway after the whole Eddie fiasco. I didn’t expect it, I certainly didn’t plan on it, but I liked getting along with her better. And now that I really tried to let her in, she backs away. It’s been almost fifteen years, for God’s sake! I didn’t know she even remembered.

I didn’t know she used to have a crush on me, either. For some reason, I find that too cute for words. And, entirely flattering. Sara too-independent-for-her-boots Sidle with a crush. On me. Back then, I mean.

I still can’t believe that I was the first person she ever kissed. Part of me can’t help but wonder how she kisses now, several men and women later – a few of whom I’d like to smack around for how they treated her. Especially the bastard who ran off with her grad work, although I’m ultimately grateful that the incident made her turn toward the coroner’s office, and then to CSI work.

So here we are, although I don’t see much of her these days – just when shift starts and Gil hands out the cases, and then perhaps later, when I walk past a lab where she’s so focused on her work that she doesn’t even notice me passing by.

I’ve been looking at her a lot lately, noticing the way she touches her lips to her mug of coffee while she’s reading a file on the side, or how tapered her back really is when she bends down to study evidence laid out on a table.

Suddenly, I can’t stop comparing her to the girl she was back then. I never gave much thought to it, even though I knew all along that it was her, but now that I told her – now that I know that she knows – it seems I can think of little else when I look at her. To be honest, I don’t remember too much about the dance that impressed her so, but I remember her eyes, and how she stood up to that jerk who was so much heavier than she was, and I remember how she kissed me in the wardrobe.

I try to remember how I danced for her, but in my mind, I don’t see her as she looked back then, but as she looks now – her body lean, but more muscled and not as gangly anymore, in jeans and a short‑sleeved black tee, with her hair falling over her shoulders. And with a small frown creasing her brow. Her gaze challenging. And those same, intense eyes… although I imagine she wouldn’t look up at me as helplessly as she did back then. I don’t know what she might do instead, but the possibilities alone send an entirely too delighted shiver down my spine.

What does she see when she looks at me now, now that she knows? Does she see the stripper I used to be, her fantasy image, the colleague she always resented? Or does she see me?

What I remember most about her from back then is that she looked into my face.

“Are you okay?”

Gil breaks into my reverie, asking me how I am. I must look really lost to the world, if even he picks up on it.

This whole mess I’m in with Sara started with our fight over Eddie’s death. “Why did you give her my case, Gil? Eddie’s case?”

He blinks in his usual, slightly befuddled way, probably trying to follow my jagged trail of thought. And now he’ll say it was because he knew Sara would tackle the case with her head, and not with her heart. He shrugs. “Because she’s the best.”

The answer throws me for a loop, and then I wonder if he ever told her that.

An hour later, he puts me on a new case with her and Sara looks chagrined when I wave the small paper slip in her face. DB at the Luxor.

She walks down the corridor next to me, her kit in hand, and she walks a little closer to me than she has to. I’m not about to object, suddenly utterly aware of her body so close to mine, of the way her hands grip the handle of the kit, and of what else she could grasp in these hands, of the way she walks, as if she were on a prowl, with her shoulders tensed and her legs at a wider stance. There’s that shiver down my spine again and I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m not really in a position to wisecrack about anyone’s crushes.

I risk a quick glance to the side and fall back a step over the sudden realization that, actually, Sara is exactly my type. Tall, dark and unpredictable, with an edge of something wild underneath.

Her hand brushes against mine as I reach to open the door for her, and the shiver trickles all the way down to my fingertips.

(22)

The girl’s eyes were on her as she brushed out her hair, and even though she could hardly be more than twenty and was probably as innocent as they come, she felt a tingle down her spine a that look. The girl had these dark, serious eyes that seemed so much older than the rest of her face. Eyes that followed her every move, staring at her with both a frankness and a sincerity that threw her for a loop.

A knock interrupted the loaded silence.

“Stay down, it could be my boss,” she advised the girl as the door already opened and Sam Brown entered unasked. She positioned herself right inside the door so that he couldn’t see the girl leaning against the wall around the corner.

Sam’s eyes wandered over her. “I heard you got into a brawl?”

“A drunk jerk tried to get too friendly,” she downplayed the situation. Sam might have taken her under her wing years ago because he had once dated her mother, but when it came to his business, she was an employee like any other. And Sam hated business disruptions. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

He wasn’t calmed that easily, though. “A customer got into it?” he peered at her intently. “A young woman? …Very young?”

“Nah.” She waved it off, thinking about the girl who was sitting a few feet away, nursing a bruise because she had shown some old-fashioned manners that weren’t too common around here. “She was just trying to defend me. Nothing happened.”

“Good,” Sam nodded, although his expression was still skeptical. “I don’t want any complaints.”

“About me?” She batted her eyes at him. “Never.”

“That’s my kitten.” He laughed, slapping her ass for good measure. “Thirty minutes till your next set.”

When she closed the door behind him, she took a deep breath.

The girl was still sitting against the wall, the ice pack on her cheek, a stark crease showing between her brows. “That your boss?”

She shrugged, feeling older than only minutes before. “Yeah.”

The girl readjusted the ice pack against her face. “Shit.”

She didn’t say anything in reply as she sat down again, staring at her face in the mirror. She reached for a high heeled boot that lay strew across the counter, fingering a small plastic bag out of its tip. “I need to get ready for my next set.” Only a teeny, tiny line. Just enough to get through the rest of tonight’s show. From the corner of her eyes, she saw the girl slowly rising to her feet, still holding onto the wall with a hand.

“You don’t need to leave,” she said over her shoulder, carefully laying out her utensils. “You better keep that ice pack on for another few minutes.” The girl leaned back against the wall, but her gaze changed, making her feel uncomfortable in return.

“What – do you mind?” What did the kid know, really. Frowning at her as if she were doing something she shouldn’t.

The girl shook her head, her arms defensively crossed in front of her chest, the ice pack still dangling form her hand. “I’m not into the stuff.”

“Suit yourself,” she snapped, not liking the condescension in the girl’s tone. She bent her head over the counter, careful not to spill any of the precious powder. The sound of her sniffing echoed through the room, but then she didn’t care anymore.

“You just don’t look as if you’d need it,” the girl observed from the other side of the room, but she just smiled at the worry in that voice.

“Sara, honey, you still have a lot to learn,” she drawled. She was still the best out here, and even if the younger girls called her ‘granny’ and vied for a spot with her personal high rollers, they didn’t stand a chance. She was the best and she could have anyone.

“Haven’t you ever wanted to do something else?” The girl…Sara… was walking over to her. She really was tall and lanky, moving as if she wasn’t quite at home yet in her own body. Which was a shame, really. The split lip gave her a rakish look, along with her left eye swelling shut fast. Yes, she could have anyone, if even young girls took shiners for her. The girl’s voice rang out at her again. “ Not that you aren’t good at what you do… you know you are… but, I don’t know, haven’t you ever wanted to do something else? Like a day time job?”

She got up and leaned herself back against the counter, arching a brow at the advancing girl. “One where I keep my clothes on?”

“One where you don’t take drugs to make it through a shift.”

The girl’s voice was very soft, but something slithered through her at the tone, scratching at the haze of invincibility. “Who made you the judge, Harvard kid?”

“I’m no Harvard kid.” The girl’s voice was sharp as well, and she could only guess at the pain behind it. Looking at the girl now, she thought that there was probably no Ivy League childhood, either. But then that strangely clear and soft voice was back. “I’m only asking you what you really want.”

Something about the tone made her mad, but it also turned her on. The girl was now standing directly in front of her and she had to look up to gaze into her eyes. Dark. Serious. Slowly, she slid a hand down the girl’s shirt front, her smile widening when she heard a sharp intake of breath.

“A good question,” she murmured, canting her head to the side as she looked up at the girl. Her other hand edged up the white t-shirt until she felt lean muscles and a slim waist against her fingertips. She drew tiny circles across warm skin, enjoying the ripple that went through the girl’s body under her touch. ”And what do you really want …Sara?”

(23)

I really want to. Ask Catherine out for another beer, that is. Or a coffee. Or breakfast after shift. But I can’t do it.

I bend lower over the evidence on the table, examining a piece of glass shard.

Apart from the fact that, as of recently, I’ve turned into a blushing teenager again when it comes to her, I can’t do it just after having learned about her past as a stripper – I mean, what would it look like if I asked her out now? – Even if it were just breakfast, and not a date.

I really wouldn’t mind if it were a date, though.

Not a fun date with no strings attached, like Hank, but a real date, with dressing up and being nervous beforehand and throughout, and fretting over whether I dare to kiss her goodnight on the doorstep in the end.

It’s different from what I wanted from Grissom, too. With him, it was about the connection, about being understood – about knowing each other and wordlessly getting each other’s quirks. We think alike and shared the same mental space.

With Catherine, I’m struggling for words all the time and we’re most likely from different spheres. She drives me crazy, and I know nothing about how it might turn out, and when I’m around her, I don’t think at all. But when she walks into the room, I can’t look anywhere else. How the color of her shirt – today it was powder blue, with three buttons undone – compliments her eyes. How her hair moves when she turns her head. How she walks down the corridor, in those snug pants that accentuate her legs with every step, the sound of her heels resounding on the lab floors.

Thinking about her seems to conjure her up out of thin air. She’s suddenly leaning against the evidence table with a hip, arms crossed over chest, smiling down at me.

“What do you want?” I’m not glancing at her shirt. I’m not. I’m not.

She purses her lips and cants her head slightly to the side. “Talk?” she suggests, looking at me as if I’m particularly dense.

“You weren’t so keen on talking the past three years,” I observe gruffly. Seems I’m still not over her letting me in the dark for so long.

“Perhaps I wanted to avoid precisely this?” she shoots back acidly.

She has a point, I have to admit that. And I can’t help staring at where she’s leaning against the table with her hip. Her pants are so snug that they don’t even crease over the curve of her hip as she shifts to the side.

“Think about it, Sara.” There it is, she’s saying my name again. “You barge in here, all Harvard graduate, all successful and arrogant, honing in on my territory – do you really think I’d lay myself bare in such a situation?“

“I wasn’t arrogant,” I mumble. I thought she was, but perhaps she was simply protecting her own. Just like I was.

“No, you just were young and smart and beautiful and very conscious of the fact.” She pushes loose from the table and walks closer, getting right in my face. I try to ignore the fact that there are still those three buttons open on her shirt. “And you and Gil had this instant connection. Where did that leave me?”

“Right atop things?” I bite back. I can’t imagine Catherine being insecure, ever, and I sound as incredulous as I am. “You’re the uncrowned queen of this lab, now as much as back then, and everyone knows it — You never even gave me a chance to fit in!”

“Because I thought you’d just take over!” She shakes her head in frustration and her hair tumbles over her shoulders before it settles anew. “You were Grissom’s new star out of nowhere, while I was stuck with a bad marriage on its last legs. And not getting any younger, either. And just to top it off, you were a former customer! – I thought you’d sneer and walk all over me!”

I just stare at her. She just doesn’t get it, does she? “You changed my fucking life!” I nearly shout. “Kitty changed my fucking life!” And I wasn’t after her position, and I wouldn’t have sneered at her. I’d probably have asked her out before fixating on Grissom in the first place.

“How was I supposed to know that?” she retorts hotly and can only think about how good she looks when she’s angry, eyes flashing and talking agitatedly. “You were interested in Grissom! Just how much farther could you get away from a female stripper, as far as types go?” But the sarcastic tone is gone when she continues. “How was I to know you even remembered that dancer from back then? It’s not like you recognized me!”

“You made sure I didn’t get close enough.” I sound accusing, and I still don’t understand how I didn’t get it. Now, when I watch her at a crime scene, the fluid grace of her movements even when she has to crouch down or bend across something, I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. “Would it have made a difference? If I found out?”

“Hell, yes!” she states with vehemence and I wonder what that difference might have been.

Now I lean back against the table. “You should have let me closer,” I say gruffly, but the smile in my voice is audible.

She stands right in front of me, poking at me with an outstretched finger. “You should have tried harder.” She is smiling, too.

Something else occurs to me. “Did you just call me beautiful a minute ago?”

She grins at me. “Yeah, I did.”

I know I’m blushing again and her grin just gets wider. “You don’t want to know how many gratuitous fantasies you fed over the years,” I toss back at her, but she doesn’t stop grinning.

The slow, thorough once-over she gives me makes me feel like a fish out of water yapping for air. “Perhaps I do.” Out of water and tossed into a very hot pan.

“This is so not good for my concentration.” I sound whiny as I gesture toward the half forgotten evidence on the table behind us. God, I want to kiss her again, and not stop.

She leans in close, easily stepping over one of my legs. Even for that little move, her foot is perfectly stretched. Her lips almost brush my ear when she whispers, “Then I’d advise you to focus.”

I’m just glad I’m safely perched against the table as I watch her walk to the door, following the movement of her hips with my eyes. How wrong is it to picture a perfectly respectable colleague in fishnet stockings? It’s cheap, and disrespectful, and, unfortunately, incredibly hot. Especially since I know how good they look on her.

“Sara, you okay?”

Nick is glancing at me oddly. He’s probably stopped by for an update on the glass shards, but the only update I could give him is that my legs feel like jelly and that Catherine still knows how to leave me breathless.

“Are you pulling a triple again?!” He peers at me closely, his expression worried. “Because your eyes are kind of glazing over…”

(24)

She looked into the dilated pupils right across from her own. Vague memories flashed through her mind, her mother on the couch with glazed eyes, the empty dinner table, her own stomach tight, feeling weak with hunger. Large cigarette stubs in the ashtray. The smell of her father’s unwashed hair…

She blinked, looking back into the dancer’s eyes . Something about this was wrong, but she couldn’t bring herself to step back, away from the hands that were drawing light circles across the skin of her hips. Never before had she been so aware of her own body. She could almost hear her own blood rushing through her veins, felt her limbs grow hot and solid under the teasing touch of those fingertips. It was as if all her senses were heightened – the room they were in, shabby except for the bright costumes and starkly lit by the bright lamps lining the mirrors. The near inaudible sound of the satin robe brushing against her shirt. The smell of the dancer’s hair: sweat, make-up and shampoo. The fading taste of blood and smoke against her tongue, together with the remnants of the drink she had never gotten to finish. The feeling of the dancer’s hands against her skin, melting her from the inside out, turning her into something ardent and wild that would explode any minute now…

What was happening to her body?

She tried to stand still, not to move, afraid she would burst.

The dancer withdrew her fingers and pushed her back a little. It wasn’t more than a nudge with two fingertips, but off balance as she was, she stumbled backward, coming to stand in the middle of the room with the dancer slowly advancing on her. Before she could even comprehend what was happening, the dancer had loosened her belt, the satin robe falling open to reveal a very small brassiere set with pink, sparkling gemstones and matching panties that, really, didn’t consist of more than a few strings.

Her eyes followed the lines of the lace top stockings.

Her mouth was dry, and yet she tried to swallow reflexively. How could she feel so hot and not melt away from the inside out? She shifted her shoulders, determinedly fixing her gaze on the dancer’s face. The sultry smile she found there didn’t ease her condition in the least. Before she knew it, the dancer was standing right in front of her, leaning in.

“Don’t be so tense,” she whispered in her ear and when she leaned back, she felt a tongue accidentally graze her ear. She stumbled backwards again, looking at the dancer in shock.

Or perhaps the move hadn’t been that accidental, she thought when she caught sight of the smile that had grown even more sultry. And again, the dancer stood right before her. With one stockinged foot, she kicked her legs apart a bit. “Better stance.”

She managed to right herself again without stumbling, but the dancer didn’t withdraw her leg. A toe slid along her ankle. A knee nudge against the inside of her thigh, and then, grabbing her hips for support, the dancer shimmied down her body, never once taking her eyes off her face. And never once ceasing to smile in a way that made heat flare up through her like a white flame.

When the tiny brassiere scraped across the zipper of her jeans, she couldn’t bite back a strangled gasp. She could feel curved, warm skin press into the waistband of her jeans, and lower.

Agonizingly slow, the dancer moved up her body again, never once losing body contact. She thought she would fall backwards and pass out all over again any second.

The dancer winked at her when they were face to face again. “Some men would kill for this.”

“I’m no man,” she croaked and she thought that her head didn’t hurt any more. At all.

“No,” the dancer purred, one hand again sliding down the front of her shirt, this time with more pressure. “But you like this just as much.” With that, the dancer firmly took hold of her hands and pushed them underneath her robe, placing them right on her hips and covering them with her own.

She could feel the little gemstones on the tiny panty strings pressing into her hands. When she had started breathing through her mouth, she didn’t know, and then she didn’t breathe anymore at all when the dancer slowly dragged their joined hands up her torso.

She stumbled forward, and for one moment, a flash of pain shot through her cheek and jaw when the dancer pulled her head down, and then she forgot all about it at the taste of the dancer’s lips against her own. It only lasted for a second or two, until a smooth tongue pushed past her lips and into her mouth.

Lush, wet heat, tasting of smoke, liquor and more.

After a first moment of surprise, she kissed the dancer back, almost pushing them both off balance, and she distantly heard them stumble against the counter, but nothing mattered but the dancer kissing her, and her kissing the woman back.

She didn’t know where to put her hands at first, or how to keep her balance, but she remembered the dancer’s earlier move and pushed a knee between unresisting legs, sliding her hands a bit higher. In response, she felt a hand close tightly around her neck and the other edging underneath her t-shirt again, moving higher than before.

She leaned into the dancer, almost bending her back across the make-up table, but instead of pushing back, the dancer arched her back, pressing her body more tightly against her. A sexy little moan escaped the dancer’s lips and she thought that this was what flying had to be like, as she slowly brought her hands up and around, burying them in red hair. Flying, and driving really fast cars, and falling in love.

A low catcall interrupted them and she turned around, feeling caught red-handed. In the doorframe leaned a man in tight jeans and cowboy boots, his arms crossed over his chest. He had beard stubble, and his dark hair was cut short in the front but reached his shoulders in the back.

From the corner of their eye, she could see the display they offered reflected in the mirror behind them – her standing between the dancer’s legs, lipstick smeared across her mouth, the dancer’s robe splayed open, and their hands all over each other.

She moved back, blushing.

The man ambled into the room as if he came into here all the time, and she wondered who he was. He nodded at her. “Nice show!”

The dancer didn’t seem too perturbed, merely drawing her robe closed again and setting one leg pointedly right next to the other. Only the slight shaking of her hand when she reached for her cigarette case betrayed her cool, or perhaps it was just the drugs.

“Whatever,” the dancer shrugged at the man and lit her cigarette. Her fingers were still trembling. “You wanna stay for the last set, honey?”

She looked at her again, and from the gaze, nobody would have guessed they had been kissing passionately less than a minute ago, if it weren’t for her mussed up hair and her lips that were red and swollen.

The man just trailed a long glance over the dancer. “You need to get dressed,” he stated coolly and then he turned to look at her, with her split lip and swollen cheek. She had the odd impression that he was sizing her up and she wondered whether he was just another bouncer, or perhaps something more. “Come on, I’ll bring you out.”

He didn’t even sound unfriendly. Perhaps this happened all the time? She glanced back at the dancer who had turned around and was slipping into another pair of heels, and then felt the man press something into her hands. She looked down to see the half-melted ice pack in her fingers.

“You better keep that.” He gestured at her face. “Looks like you’ll need it.”

With that, he ushered her through the door and she barely managed to catch one last look at the dancer through the mirror, standing in her heels with her robe wrapped around her, taking a drag from her smoke. She couldn’t tell if the dancer was looking back.

(25)

Looking back, I should have known. Fucking bastard.

One of my earliest memories is ‘Uncle Sam’ sitting on my mother’s couch, drinking scotch and letting me play with his shoestrings. Uncle my ass. He’s my father. I had to turn forty to find out who my real father is. And he didn’t even seem too surprised when I told him what I found out. Bastard.

This case was tough enough already, with a murdered cop and Sam ultimately involved in stabbing a waitress from one of his own hotels. He swore to me that he didn’t do it, but after I saw his eyes when I told him I was his daughter, cold and smug, I don’t think I’ll believe anything he says ever again. Even though I want to. Somehow, he’s still the same Uncle Sam who bought me my first doll as a kid – a thing a father would do.

And he let me dance in his clubs!

I think I’m going to be sick. I feel dirty. I guess I could have asked more questions as kid, or have been more suspicious about how he always favored me over Nancy, but it’s not my fault. I still feel dirty, though. Used. It’s a feeling I know and that I doused with coke in my dancing days, and that I had again, briefly, after I tossed out Eddie for good – when he left me broke, with a helpless child to care for.

It suddenly strikes me that he’s Lindsey’s grandfather. Bastard!

I don’t know where to go with my ire. And with my grief, over a father I didn’t know, and that now, I don’t want to know anymore.

First Eddie, then Sam… I feel like I’ve recently stumbled into quicksand, where everything that I had come to perceive as reliable around me is sinking away and disappearing. I need to talk to someone. I need a hold –

An image flashes through my brain, Sara awkwardly pulling me into her arms after Eddie’s funeral, exuding an odd mix of safety, comfort and protectiveness.

I think about calling Nancy, but she is at work. Lindsey is at school. Gil is at the hospital, and, even though he is a dear friend, he wouldn’t understand my need to vent and rage. I know I could call Warrick, but my first, impulsive thought is to call Sara.

She would just look at me and listen, and I know she understands how tough parents can be. From the few allusions I’ve gotten out of her, it seems her deceased father isn’t someone she likes to be reminded of, either, and she doesn’t speak about her mother at all.

When I started shift last night, I was investigating my former boss, one I still had friendly ties to because he knew me as a kid. This morning, I have a father who is most likely a killer. Thinking about our odd relationship, little snippets rise to the surface – how he hired me as a dancer, how often he dropped by my wardrobe without knocking, how he looked at me when I was in one of my show costumes. He never tried to sleep with me, and that should probably tell me he knew all along, but he flirted with me nonetheless.

If he knew, he let his own daughter work as a stripper, in his clubs. And only yesterday, he was still trying to get to me, when he pointed out – in front of Gil – how his right-hand man, Benny, used to move the high rollers my way when I was still dancing.

My own dad pimped me out.

Bastard.

I’m incredibly mad, and incredibly exhausted at the same time, and what I really want right now is to hit something really hard, and then cry and then get a hug. I want Sara looking at me with that little frown of hers and telling me that she understands what I’m going through, and then I want her to hug me and take it all away.

Shit. Somewhere in the back of my head I know that this is fast exceeding crush territory, but I don’t care. Briefly, when I start my car and catch my own image in the rear-view mirror, it occurs to me that I probably shouldn’t be driving like this.

(26)

She felt tired as she looked at herself in the wardrobe mirror, not satisfied with herself. The last set tonight hadn’t been as good and she was just relieved it was over.

She thought of the girl – there had been something about her. Absently, she touched her lips and shivered, drawing the robe closer around her. Damn desert nights. The girl’s eyes had seemed much older than her body, and despite her youthful lankiness, there had been something very serious about her.

Critically surveying herself in the mirror, she thought she looked old despite her mere twenty-five years. She was already the oldest dancer in the solo set.

Was dancing still what she wanted?

She was the best, she knew it, she still could give all those teenagers a run for their money. But for how much longer could she do this? Her feet hurt as she slid off her heels. What would she do if she couldn’t dance anymore?

She remembered her career aspirations over the years. Princess. Show jumper. Rock star groupie. Veterinarian. Medical Assistant. She’d even gone to college over that one, trying to make enough money as a waitress to pay for her tuition. It had been nothing more than scraping through most of the time.

And then Sam had offered her the job as a dancer – glamour, men, and money.

She felt so tired.

A knock sounded on her door that was immediately opened without waiting for an answer and she thought he really should have learned from the earlier scene to wait for her to ask him in. Perhaps it was time they made something more serious out of themselves as well, when she was already reevaluating her life. “You know, Eddie,” she said, reaching for her cigarette case without even turning around. ”Perhaps we should move in together or get married or something.”

But the voice behind her wasn’t Eddie’s. “Good to know, kitten.“

“Jimmy!”

Her favorite cop – and one of her favorite customers – stood in the door grinning at her. She enjoyed being the sounding board for his cases; it took her mind off of her aching feet and the other girls during slow nights. He gestured at someone behind him. “I brought someone who wants to meet you…“

She was about to roll her eyes and tell him off, the last thing she needed now was another jerk trying to hit on her. She’d rather see the girl again – trying not to look at her body, and blushing. Cute. Not to mention she had been a good kisser. Any gruff comment, however, died on her lips when her eyes fell onto the man next to Jimmy and she was hard-pressed not to laugh. Everything about him screamed geek, from his glasses to his neatly buttoned shirt, from his slightly stocky, but untrained frame to his pants that were ironed, but an inch too short. He moved towards her, his eyes briefly skittering down her body. He squinted, and a few seconds passed before he spoke. “Hello, my name is Gil Grissom, and I’m with the cleava… Crime Lab.”

He offered her his hand, which she shook, and she gestured for him to take a seat. Jimmy had already made himself comfortable, leaning over to offer her a light for her cigarette. “I told him how you cracked that last case with your hunch about the ex-boyfriend. He was curious.”

She leaned back against the counter, briefly flashing back two hours, to the girl standing between her legs, bending her half over the counter and kissing her like no tomorrow. She took a long draft of her smoke. “So, gentlemen… what’s the case tonight?”

(27)

The case kept me up all night and I dropped straight into bed when I got home, so when my doorbell is ringing insistently, it yanks me out of a surprisingly sound sleep and I stumble towards the door with my eyes still half closed, barely aware of my surroundings. That changes when I pull open the door and come face to face with a very agitated Catherine.

She looks as if she’s either incredibly mad, or incredibly rattled, and the first thing my still addled brain unhelpfully supplies is that she looks incredibly good like this. Her light jacket hangs open, and the shirt underneath – something black and snug with a low v-cut – rises and falls with her every breath and I wonder whether she ran up my stairs. Her hair is tousled, falling over her shoulders in streaks of blond, and her cheeks are flushed.

For a moment, I think she’s going to yell at me again, but she doesn’t. “Cath…” My voice is still gravelly with sleep. “What happened?”

She just stares at me with wide eyes and she looks about pretty darn perfect and I self-consciously shift from one bare foot to the other, which are peeking out from below my long, striped pajama pants. I pull my crinkled white t-shirt down, wishing I’d look a little more appealing than I do right now.

Her eyes follow the movement, thin cotton stretching taut against my skin, and only when her eyes linger a little too long on my chest, I remember that I’m not wearing a bra. I cross my arms in front of me.

She blinks as she looks up into my eyes again. “Can I come in…?”

“Sure…” I step to the side, wondering what could have happened. She seems shaken, her movements less graceful than usual as she brushes past me. My gaze is drawn to her feet at the muted sounds of her heels on my hallway carpet. They’re high and I swallow reflexively. I wonder if I’ve ever seen her wear purely sensible shoes. Probably not. My eyes slowly travel up her body, almost on their own volition. When they reach her face, she’s looking straight back at me and for a moment, I can literally see the atmosphere quiver between us, like air over a hot desert road.

Catherine’s expression suddenly changes, from frayed to focused, and her gaze on me feels like touching an electrical current. A moment before she moves, it hits me and I know what is about to happen, but then I find myself backed against my own hallway already, and Catherine is kissing me. Thoroughly.

I’m struggling to keep my balance, leaning heavily against the wall behind me. My arms are full of Catherine, the warmth of her body permeating the thin layer of my clothes. I feel one of her thighs pressing between mine as she pulls my bottom lip between her teeth. Her nails scrape across my shoulders, I can feel them through the worn cotton of my shirt.

I’ve possibly died and gone to heaven. I’m swept under a thick and heady wave of nothing but pleasure, and I don’t want it to stop. Because then I’d have to think about that she is my colleague, and that things between us aren’t exactly resolved, and…

Her tongue pushes into my mouth and she grips my upper arms tightly.

I’ve dreamed about this since I was seventeen and I curse my conscience for making me break the kiss and pull away. Her eyes are wild and glazed, and I can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. She isn’t drunk, and I don’t believe it’s drugs, but she’s not quite herself, and even though I’m terribly tempted to ignore that fact, I can’t.

I still have to work with her, after whatever she’s on has worn off. I have to work with her tonight, and a lot of nights to come.

But, looking at her, my attempts at sensibility are crumbling. Fast.

She has her hands in my hair now, so tightly that I can feel the pull on my scalp. Holding my head firmly in between her hands, she leans in, so closely that I can feel her breath against my lips when she speaks again. “Didn’t you like kissing me back then?” Her smile is sultry, and so is her voice.

“You know I did,” I mumble and I can’t believe how turned on I am. She slides one hand down my body and I’m on the verge of passing out when I realize she’s playing with the drawstrings of my pants.

“What happened?” I finally manage to get out, but even as I hear my own question, I’m blissfully oblivious to why I was asking it, distracting by soft fingertips edging up my t-shirt.

“It doesn’t matter,” she murmurs against my neck, trailing kisses in her wake.

I know I should make her stop. I know I should sit her down and ask her what’s wrong. Make her a coffee. Comfort her.

She senses my hesitation and pushes me back against the wall a little harder. Her eyes are flashing hotly, and I feel a resounding sensation somewhere low in my stomach. “Can you say that you don’t want me right now?”

Her tongue flicks across my pulse point.

I give up, my arms closing around her waist. She smiles into our shared kiss, and I’m thinking that she’s too smug for her own good, but I don’t care. My head thumps back against the wall as her kisses become more insistent.

Distantly, I hear the rip of fabric over the pounding of my own blood, and it takes me a few seconds to realize that she has torn my shirt off. My knees are weak.

She drags me away from the wall, her hands raking up my back, and I try to steer us towards my bedroom, but we don’t make it farther than the coffee table. When I tumble down gracelessly on the rug in front of it, I absently wish I owned a couch. But that’s as far as I get with my thoughts because she’s on me in a heartbeat, straddling my hips and I expect a triumphant grin or a teasing remark, but her expression is dead serious. And hungry.

Her eyes have narrowed and her movements have a catlike grace – prowling, precise, with something fatal rippling underneath the surface. She isn’t straddling me directly, she’s holding her hips slightly above my lap, circling them slowly, but she’s close enough that I can feel the heat emanating from her.

She drags her hands over my exposed breasts, and I gasp at the sensation.

She’s looking down at me now, challengingly, and her hair is tumbling around her face. The necklace she’s wearing dangles between us as she bends forward, something heavy and silver on a leather string and it’s glinting in the sunlight.

I put my hands on her hips, grinding her against me and my heels dig into the rug when I feel her move against me. I feel my blood pour heavier through my veins, making me see everything through a haze of want. It’s wild and thick, and I’m firmly lodged in between strong thighs, but at the same time, she’s soft and hot and the material of her pants shifts against my palms.

I see a flash of light as she sinks her teeth into her lower lip, and then she arches up, throwing her head back and sliding half up my torso in one, slow, undulating movement and the rug under me scrapes against my back.

My head is spinning. I’ve never felt so hot in my life and my hands are clenching her sides reflexively. Her hair is all mussed up when she looks down at me again, her eyes so blue they’re almost violet. She’s trying to gauge my reaction, I realize, and for some reason, that irks me. She doesn’t have to scheme for maximum effort. I don’t want her to put on a show. I want her for real.

In some distant part of my brain, I’m aware that this admission just made whatever it is that’s happening between us here a few sizes bigger than merely enacting an old fantasy. It’s not about Kitty anymore. It’s about Catherine – the Catherine I’m only just getting to know.

I tense my stomach muscles and she bites her lip again; it almost manages to throw me off focus, but then I shift and flip us over, very nearly straining my shoulder and banging my elbow on the glass plate of the coffee table in addition for good measure.

The bruise will so be worth it, I think as I look at her sprawled underneath me, her jacket having fallen open, her shirt riding up, gazing at me with heavily lidded eyes. There is a smile playing about her lips that is half impressed, and half daring me to make the next move.

I want to, but I also don’t want this to be over too soon. Perhaps I should slow things down, just a little, but at that point, she has already shifted her hips and hooks a calf across my thighs, pulling me down on top of her and I’m lost in the vee of warm skin that her shirt leaves bare. She is still moving her hips against me, and her nails are scraping up my bare back and then she drags my head level with hers, and we’re kissing again, her tongue slick and silky against mine.

She is fumbling for the drawstrings of my pants again and when I expect her to struggle with the ties, she’s simply edging her hand underneath the waistband, her fingers suddenly splayed against the skin of my stomach and I jump, but she’s already moving lower, and before I know it, she’s touching me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so ready in my life, but she is content to tease and wait, drawing light circles over slick skin and evading me when I try to move my hips more firmly against her. My arms are shaking so badly, I can barely hold myself up above her, but Catherine just looks at me, her pupils so large that only small bands of blue remain visible around them.

I think I’ll weep, and I don’t know whether she wants to make me beg, and just as I realize that I probably would, she bends her wrist, and there’s a split second where I already move into the touch that I know it’s going to come, and then she pushes deep without preamble.

“Fuck,” I ground out and my eyes are squeezing shut with pleasure. My whole body seems to contract around her touch, and I try to gather my bearings, but she just keeps moving, slow, and deep, and with just enough pressure to make any thought impossible for me. Her wrist is pressed tightly against my lower stomach, and I feel the sinews in her forearm flex with every thrust.

It strikes me that she moves too smoothly for someone who would have no experience in sleeping with a woman. I’ve always seen Catherine as someone who gets around, but only with men. But then, that certainly doesn’t go for Kitty, and I’m reminded again that I really need to readjust my image of this woman. “You did this before,” I manage to ground out, lost in her touch.

She grins that sexy little grin of hers. “Perhaps.” A flick of her thumb sends my eyes squeezed shut again and I only hear her voice against my ear, low and breathless. “But not with you.”

With effort, I blink my eyes open. It is so hard to think with her body underneath my own, warm and pliant and moving against me, and I can only stare at her. Something inside of me is going to explode, or to melt, and it’ll devour both of us in its path.

Suddenly, she stops her movements. She just doesn’t move anymore, at all. Only her breaths are still coming quicker, but other than that, she’s holding perfectly still. And then I see her grin and I want to be mad at her, but it only pushes me higher and I can’t believe how she does it. I know I’ll come at the tiniest flicker of her fingers inside me, probably even at a single batting of her eyelashes, but she doesn’t move. She doesn’t even blink.

I stare at her helplessly, breathing shallowly, suspended between her touch and the wave that’s threatening to pull me under any moment.

I’m completely at her mercy and I’m thinking she enjoys it way too much. But then, so do I.

“Of course, there’s no way of telling what would have happened if we hadn’t been interrupted back then,” she states lightly and she’s still grinning, but her eyes are serious.

I just gape at her. “You wouldn’t have…” I gasp incredulously, but at the same time, I know she would have done it. First tremors are running low through my stomach.

“We would have,” she says and it feels like an eternity until she finally moves her fingers again. “But you know…” Slowly. “…what they say…” Intently. “…about things being worth the wait.”

“Fuck, Cath…” The last thought flashing through my brain is that she can’t know my body that well, but she does and I crash into her, my arms giving way under my own weight, and my only thought is that I don’t want this to end, ever.

I don’t know if I screamed, much less what, but from how she looks at me when I manage to blink my eyes open and raise my head, I may very well have.

I can’t believe we’re both still more or less dressed. She hasn’t even shed her jacket yet. I lean back on wobbly legs and then pull her up by the lapels. I notice that my hands are shaking as I drag her into the large lounge chair. She settles down and slowly crosses her legs, although the movement is much slower than usual and I see her draw a ragged breath. She’s still wearing her heels.

They’re the first thing I slip off when I move in, setting her feet down gently before I come to stand in between her legs. She looks up at me and I notice how her eyes are lingering on my breasts again. Her eyelids seem to grow heavier when I balance myself with a knee on the chair that sways a little under the added weight. I lean forward, but before Catherine can reach up to touch me, I’m already pushing her jacket open and backwards, trapping her arms behind her so she can’t distract me from leaning in and kissing up her cleavage, and then her neck. She leans back more heavily into the chair when my breath hits her ear, but I’m inching away already, dragging the jacket off her and tossing it into the room, and when she tries to reach for me again, I do the same with her shirt, trapping her hands above her head.

She squirms under my lips when I lick my way up her torso, and across the swell of her breasts. The bra she wears is small and lacy and mint green, with tiny white pearls stitched in the middle and they’re cool against my tongue. I wonder whether she always wears underwear like this, or whether she planned on me seeing it when she put it on. I don’t know which scenario excites me more and I haphazardly toss the shirt in direction of her jacket.

She leans back against the backrest – the leather has to be warm against her skin by now – and just looks at me from underneath heavy eyelids, observing my fingers that are on the zipper of her pants and that are shaking so badly that I need two tries to pull it down. She slides a little lower in the chair, her hair splayed wildly around her now, and when she looks up at me, it takes her a moment to focus.

I feel a rush at being able to put her in such a state and I grope for the handle on the side of the chair without tearing my eyes away from hers. I don’t find it immediately and this time, when she reaches out to touch me, I have no free hand to hinder her.

Her hands are hot on my skin, over my breasts, and I lean heavily into her touch. When I finally find the handle, I’m almost as surprised as she is when the backrest gives way, leaving her stretched out on her back as she were sitting in a lounge chair on a beach.

At the moment, I’m incredibly glad that this is a single household that may not have a couch, but a very expensive TV chair instead that never has been more worth its cost.

I let my fingers scrape along the inside of her thighs as I ease back a little, and she looks at me, breathing heavily through her mouth. Her gaze makes it a lot easier to go through with what I’m about to do.

I take another step back, until she can see me perfectly from where she’s sitting. Slowly, I reach for the strings of my pants and pull them open. I inch them across my hips, and I try to make my movements look smooth. From the way she stares at me, it seems to work. With one last tug, the pants slide to the floor and pool around my feet. I kick them to the side, standing bared to her gaze.

I expected to feel ridiculous, but I don’t. Her eyes are on me like a touch and I don’t know if she realizes it, but her mouth is hanging open. I valiantly try to fight the blush that is creeping up my chest and face, but I know it’s a lost battle.

“God, Sara… ” she moans and struggles to sit up, but I push her back with a hand on her chest. I move in to tug down her pants in return, but they’re tight and it takes me a little longer. Especially since she’s trying to help, attempting to shimmy out of the fabric while she holds tightly onto the armrests so I don’t pull her off the chair. It’s very distracting, watch her writhe against the chair, pale skin against dark leather, and I almost fall backwards when the pants finally give way because I’m not paying attention anymore.

I balance myself with my hands on her thighs and I have to tip my head up a little to look at her. For some reason, that makes me feel even more lightheaded. The look in her eyes is feral.

“C’mere,” she growls, and I slowly drag my body level with hers, skin against skin and I think that by now, everything inside me is trembling, but her hands are unsteady, too, as she pulls me into another long kiss. She squirms against me and moves her hands up between our bodies. It takes me a minute to realize she’s trying to get rid of her bra, but she doesn’t stop kissing me, so I don’t stop kissing her, either, and I groan into her mouth when she finally tosses the flimsy garment aside and pulls me closer, wrapping a leg over my thighs to keep me where she wants me.

Her breasts are shifting against mine, heavy, sticky with sweat, and I break the kiss to put more weight into the movement. I guess I’m about to find out if the chair really was worth the price.

She holds my head firmly between her hands as I trail my lips over her breasts, losing myself in the sensation of smooth curve and the strong grip against my scalp. At first, I don’t hear that she’s mumbling softly.

“God Sara, please…please…”

The breathless whisper makes my own breath hitch in return and when I look up, her eyes are closed. She’s so beautiful that I can’t quite believe that this is really happening, and it’s with something akin to awe that I slowly move a hand down her torso.

She intercepts me in mid-motion, impatiently dragging my hand down and against her sex.

Her breath hitches a little, but it’s me who’s seeing stars. She feels so incredibly hot. And I’ve barely touched her, and she’s already grinding into my hand. I feel my own body clench in response and I know that it will take only a little more of this, and I’ll come again before she does.

I bite my lip in concentration and try to steady my hold on the chair. Her nails are digging into my back and I can feel her breath come in short, hot gasps against my shoulder. I feel a few drops of sweat trickle down my chest and her hair is sticking to my skin.

The chair beneath us is rocking rhythmically. And then, not so rhythmically. There’s sunlight streaming into the windows and briefly, I’m aware that I’m fucking Catherine Willows. In my apartment. In broad daylight.

But then her grip tightens even more and just when I think I’m about to explode, her teeth sink sharply into my shoulder, and she whimpers as her hips buck into my hand and it’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard.

There’s a brief flash of pain traveling up from my shoulder, but I don’t care and when I shift against the chair to hold onto Catherine, I feel wetness smeared across the inside of my own thighs.

Finally, her shudders subside and I loosen my death grip on the chair. My arms are trembling and I hope she doesn’t want me to move, because I couldn’t move a muscle if I wanted to.

For a long minute, there’s just the sound of our mingled breathing.

“Fuck,” she murmurs finally, her lips still against my shoulder.

“Yeah,” I agree and I grin against her temple. I stroke her hair, awkwardly trying to arrange myself next to her, which doesn’t get any easier as her arms tighten around me. The chill from the air condition against my sweaty back makes me shiver, and I try to turn and grab the blanket off the edge of the coffee table without letting go off her, but in the end, we slide back to the floor, still wrapped around each other.

(28)

The Elvis wedding wasn’t too hard to find in the end since they had turned the music up. The scene she stepped into was a wildly surreal swing dance tableau, but in comparison to what she had seen the past hour or two, perhaps it wasn’t so surreal after all.

What was very real, however, was a very worried looking Janet heading her way.

“Sara! Where have you been?” The light in the hall was low, but not low enough to hide the condition her face was in. “Where’d you get that black eye?”

She didn’t refuse when Janet pulled her off to one side of the dance floor and sat her down on a chair. In front of her mind’s eye, she saw Kitty the dancer advancing on her again, fake black hair falling across bare shoulders. She didn’t care if Janet grounded her until she was eighteen.

“What happened to your face?!”

She blinked at the harsh tone, noting that it was harder with the left eye that was now almost swollen shut. She shrugged. “I went to get some air and walked too close to a pair of flying fists on my way back in.” That didn’t seem to calm Janet in the slightest, and she held up the ice pack. “See, I even got it looked at already.” That was a bit of a stretch, but she knew the blow had only met her cheekbone and lip. Really bad blows to the head felt different.

“Walked too close to a pair of flying fists?” Janet glared at her furiously. “That’s it?”

“Yep.” She nodded.

“Are you sure?” Janet asked in what she called her emotional voice.

Aww, shit. Janet had to be growing on her when she started to react to all that processing and conscience mumbo jumbo. “Some jerk tried to molest a dancer down the hall,” she mumbled. That wasn’t even a lie, really. “I told him that no means no, and he told me this.” She gestured at her face.

Janet looked at her oddly, and for a moment she was sure the woman was going to smile. But then she just shook her head with as sigh. “Just keep that ice pack on, alright? – And don’t ever fucking pull something like this on me again!”

She grinned. “Sure, Janet.”

Already in walking away, her foster mom turned around again. “And I sure hope he looks worse than you do right now.”

At that, she had to grin so broadly that she felt a tightening in he lower lip and she pursed her mouth, trying not to open up the cut again. She had to smile again as she remembered the cure the dancer had administered. Her lips were still tingling with the memory of the kiss. With a happy sigh, she slid a little lower in her seat, stopping when she came to sit on something hard and knobby. She shifted, reaching for her back pocket and found her package of cigarettes, crumpled beyond saving. She tried to pinpoint when and how that had happened, and when she had figured it out, she slid yet a little lower in her seat, her grin widening despite her split lip.

Red hair. Hot lips. Fishnet stockings.

Black wig. Sheer coat. A tiny sparkling corsage.

Kitty.

Egypt.

Janet didn’t complain when she brought home a poster of the pyramids to hang up in her room the following week. She kindly overlooked the one with the scantily clad belly dancer, as well. She didn’t protest when Sara talked about dying her hair black and carried home stacks of books on ancient Egypt. Only when she announced that she wanted to go up to San Francisco to see an exhibition on the pharaohs, Janet became suspicious.

“You’re telling me you’re going up there to look at dusty exsanguinated bodies that have a few thousand years on us?”

“Yep.” She hunched up her shoulders defensively.

Janet was giving her the karma conscience eye again. “Are you sure that’s all?”

“Yes!” For once she was not trying to sneak off or smoke, and Janet didn’t even get it. Sure, this whole thing might have started because of the dancer, but some of the books she had read on ancient astronomy and medicine had been so fascinating that she really wanted to go see that exhibition. “Mummies are so interesting,” she tried to explain. But then, she had already tried to explain it to Regis when he had asked her what she was reading, and he clearly hadn’t gotten it. “It’s about the whole process of what they did, without knowing anything about modern medicine — I read about how they drew the brain out of the body through the nose, with a special fork…”

Janet nodded with a pained expression. “You’ll call every two hours.”

She grinned. “Sure.”

“And you better don’t get back with a black eye…”

“Sure, Janet.” She was already have out of the door.

“…or with a mummy!”

She shifted the bag with her notebooks under the other arm, arm feeling the sun on her bare shoulders as she walked down the driveway. She smiled.

(29)

I smile at the sensation of sunlight on my bare shoulders and an arm slung across my waist. My body feels sore, but at the same time I feel more energized that I did the whole last year.

I blink my eyes open and stare at a white wall. This isn’t my bedroom. And this isn’t my bed. I’m not sure how I got here, the last thing I remember is the floor… and Sara…

My pulse suddenly jumpstarts as the memory of the past few hours flashes back and I turn abruptly, finding myself face to face with Sara and something in the close vicinity of my heart is clenching with affection.

She’s looking at me and I’ve never seen her eyes hold such a fond and soft expression. Her hair is splayed out over her shoulders and on the pillow beneath her and all the lines of her body – she has a sheet drawn over her, haphazardly bunched around her hips – are lean and smooth and relaxed.

She looks serene. And incredibly beautiful.

“I was wondering when you’d wake up,” she says, pushing a strand of hair from my forehead. She half rises on an elbow and I see a huge, angry bite mark marking her shoulder, standing out doubly against the paleness of her skin.

I gasp at the sight. “God, I’m so sorry!”

She needs a moment to understand what I’m talking about, following my gaze with her own. “Don’t be,” she says and she smiles. “I’m not.”

“No.” She’s not getting it. “Not just about that. About everything. Coming here… “ Even when I was standing in her door, all I wanted was a talk and a hug. And then she looked at me like that, and something inside of me just snapped. “I’m sorry for jumping you like that.” I look at her intently, trying to make myself crystal clear. “I never meant to use you.”

She shakes her head. “You didn’t –“

I don’t let her finish “I did…”

This time she intercepts me. “It’s not like I said stop. And I would have if I hadn’t wanted this.”

She has a point there. I still see her standing in front of me, looking straight into my eyes as she let her pants fall to the floor. Something warm and very inappropriate is moving down my spine at the image.

“Do you regret it?” She doesn’t look at me when she asks the question.

Regret it? I blink incredulously. My legs still turn to jelly when I merely think about how she looked at me, and she thinks I could regret it?

I lay a hand atop hers, pulling it towards me across the sheets. “Not a chance,” I say and stroke her palm with my thumb.

She smiles, and it’s so unguarded that it leaves me breathless all over again. “Will you tell me what happened now?” she prods gently and already at that tone I know I’m going to tell her whatever she asks of me.

I slump back against the pillow and blow a strand of hair out of my face. Her ceiling is white, too. In the end, I opt for short and honest. “Sam Brown is my father.”

Her hold on my hand tightens and there is an odd bout of silence before she breathes. “No way.”

I turn to look at her and my look clearly answers that question.

She nods slowly. “How…?”

I heave a sigh. “I tested the unknown male DNA from the waitress murder against my own blood, and it’s related to mine.”

She doesn’t question it. “So that’s what Greg was doing last night?”

I really need to tell Greg a thing or two about doing tests off the record unobtrusively. “Yeah.”

“And now we can’t nail him…” I see the wheels turning in her head and she knows that after the testing, the evidence is out, and so is the case because I am a relative of the suspect.

“Yeah,” I agree dejectedly. Part of me wants to see Sam in jail for what he did, but there’s still part of me that’s glad I won’t have to step up to the stand and testify against the man who gave me my first doll as a child.

Sara tenses suddenly. “Did he know?” Shit sits up, moving so that she can see my face. “That you are his daughter?”

It’s still odd to hear it spoken out loud. “He wasn’t surprised.”

“And he let you dance in his clubs?” Sara yells incredulously. “Even though he’s as rich as it gets? That rotten bastard!” She pushes the covers down, angrily gesturing with her hands. Then something else seems to occur to her and she turns toward me again. “I saw him grab your ass that night in the wardrobe! – And he’s your father?” she roars, even though her face has become paler now. If anything, she’s even more agitated. “That godforsaken son of a…”

I bask in her protectiveness, but just when I want to reach for her hand again, I see that it’s shaking and the puzzle pieces click together in my mind. I suddenly have a pretty good grasp of what happened with her father. Her ire at Sam right now. Her rage when it comes to cases of domestic violence and child abuse, even though she never loses her cool otherwise.

“How did your father die, Sara?”

“Don’t!” She looks at me wildly, and then shields her face in her hands. “Just don’t.”

For a frightening second, a wild suspicion rises at the back of my mind. “…you didn’t kill him, did you?” I whisper.

“No.” She whispers as well now. It’s a long minute before she takes her hands away from her face and when she looks at me, she seems so much younger. Finally, she takes a deep breath. “My mother did,” she admits tonelessly.

There’s more silence, and it seems to spread out and wrap around us. I don’t know what to say. Or if there even is anything I could say.

Sara is the first one to speak again. “Maybe I can tell you one day,” she says slowly and I will probably never be able to grasp just how much this offer costs her. “But mostly, I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Okay.” I nod and I wrap my arms around her from behind, pulling her back until she’s resting against my chest. “Okay.” Her hands feel cold and clammy to my touch and I cover them with my own. I wonder how she could sleep with me like she did earlier, after what must have happened to her.

It takes a minute or two, and but she finally relaxes against me, turning her head to press a kiss to my collarbone. I swear to myself then and there that I’ll do anything I can to keep her safe and close forever.

Well. No time to start like the present. “Listen…” I clear my throat. “I admit that I’m getting this whole thing backwards, but… would you like to go out with me sometime?”

She raises her head from where it’s pillowed against my shoulder. “As in a date?”

Her brows are furrowed and my heart suddenly drops to my stomach as I wonder whether this was a onetime fantasy thing for her. I mentally square my shoulders and saunter on. If I’m going to dig myself in, I might just as well do it real deep. “Yes.” I sound a lot calmer than I am. “A real date, where I fret over what to wear and where you drive me home afterwards so that I can ask you whether you want to come in for a drink.”

There’s a small smile playing about the corners of her mouth but her eyes are almost solemn as she answers. “Yes.” She sits up and moves until she kneels across from me on the mattress. “Yes. Yes I would.”

“Oh thank God,” I mutter and now she is smiling. I let myself fall back against the bed and revel in the soft covers against my back. “Your sheets are Egyptian cotton, aren’t they?”

“300 count,” she replies demurely, as if she’s almost embarrassed by the decadent possession.

I gnaw on my lower lip and bat my eyelashes at her for good measure. “When do we have to be at work?”

She laughs, and after the heavy revelations of the past half hour, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. “Three and a half hours,” she states with a glance at her nightstand alarm.

“Egyptian cotton, huh?” I draw one of the luxuriously soft sheets across our bodies before I bend over to softly kiss her on the lips.

(30)

”Hi.”

She looked up from where she was bent over the lab table, peering at the different wires to figure out why her latest experiment had gone wrong. In front of her stood a girl in a Harvard sweater and jeans, hair pulled back into a ponytail, probably a little older than she was herself.

“Is this seat free?”

“Sure.” She gestured at the other half of the table, wiping her leftover wires and tools over onto just one half of the desk.

“Thanks.” The girl put her books down, but she still felt her eyes boring into her back.

Finally, she looked up from her wires again. “What?”

“Nothing.” The girl smiled at her and now she could see that she had bright blue eyes. “You’re taking the class on quantum mechanics, aren’t you?”

Now she looked a little more closely. The quantum lecture was actually a graduate class the she was only sneaking into. Aloud she said, “I guess.”

“I guess so, too.” The other girl smiled again and held her hand out. “I’m Karin.”

She shook the proffered hand, thinking that she liked names starting with a capital K. “Sara.”

Karin didn’t stop smiling. She also didn’t let go of her hand right away. “Perhaps you’d like to go get a coffee with me later?”

She almost did a double take. A graduate student was hitting on her? And one with blue eyes and a pretty smile at that. She wiped her hands on her pants. “Sure.”

Later, gazing away from Karin’s face for a minute and into her steaming cup, she saw her teenage fantasies of riding into Las Vegas like some Indiana Jones with a Nobel prize in Physics to sweep a certain dancer off her heels and into the sunset blowing away in the steam as well, disappearing into thin air.

Karin just outlined another point about molecular structure and the concept of time. She had also agreed on the concept of spending more time with her, at the movies, two days from now.

She smiled happily, and took another sip of coffee.

****

Staring distrustfully into her cup of decaf, she took another sip only to grimace at the taste. Really, the biggest sacrifice about it all was not having to give up on alcohol and cigarettes, but on coffee. She shifted in her chair again and cracked the volume of her walk-man up another notch, absently tapping the rhythm with her wedding band against the surface of the table.

The final exam was in a week, she’d put in all her field hours already, and she only had one try before the last months of pregnancy put her on lab duty only. She really wanted to make it to CSI before that.

Pushing her chewing gum from one cheek to the other, she turned to the next page of notes and shifted in her seat once again. She still wasn’t used to her body feeling so heavy, not even now when the end was already in sight and she knew that it was going to be a little baby girl.

Eddie had been so excited and invited all his pals over to paint the nursery pink, and to have some beer in celebration and she had spent most of the next morning collecting empty beer bottles and getting stains out of the newly laid out pink carpet before she left for her shift at the lab.

Most of the nights, Eddie was out now. Producing, he said. She didn’t know whether it was work or another woman – it wouldn’t be the first – but she was too busy to care, with the exam coming up and the baby on the way. Half of the lab was counting the days with her and she already had enough gifts to make sure her little girl would turn into a science geek before she even turned three.

Some gifts, she wasn’t sure she would pass on, like the little stuffed spider from Gil. Really, leave it to him to find a stuffed spider pet. It had taken a while to accept him as her boss – for a long time, he had been the geek who stumbled into her wardrobe and her cleavage in one awkward move, with pants that were an inch too short.

Now he was a man whose work she admired and whom she was proud to call a friend, and who had been there for her more than once during a few rough sport over that past years, both personally and professionally. She had even gotten him to wear pants that had the appropriate length in the meantime. It had been a pet project of hers that had taken her almost two years, and here she was now, getting her CSI degree and her child within a mere two months of each other. Out with a bang.

She pressed the rewind button on her walk-man and turned the next page.

(31)

“Well, you know what they say,” Catherine says as she carefully places a band-aid on my temple. “Out with a bang.”

“Har har,” I murmur gruffly and I wince when I reach up to touch the side of my face. We’re in one of the smaller labs, to avoid even more of a commotion. “Why does it always have to be me who ends up with the bruises?”

She stretches up and oh-so-gently places a kiss next to the band-aid. “I’m really sorry – I didn’t notice that the door of that locker was only ajar.”

I still want to be mad, I really do, but I just can’t. “It’s not like I noticed it, either,” I concede. This whole relationship thing is doing strange things to my moods. Next thing I’ll go around and start hugging people.

It’s nerve-wrecking, dating for real, but it’s also fucking wonderful. Including the sex – amazing sex – on every available surface of Catherine’s place. And my place – I even own a proper couch now – and Catherine’s place again.

I can’t help but smile whenever I see her, and constantly notice all the little things that are perfect about her – the crinkle around her eyes when she smiles, the sway of her hips when she walks from a room, and the accidental way she brushes past me at work.

Which is how I got into this whole mess in the first place. I got changed to head out on a case, and just as I was slipping my shirt off, Catherine walked in and I swear it was only about a little kiss, at first, but then it turned into more kissing, and a bit of making out, even though we had agreed on keeping it out of the workplace, but the locker room technically isn’t a workplace, and it didn’t matter anyway with me backed against the lockers and Catherine having that intent look as she pushed me back harder.

Next thing I know, I had an open locker door show up from nowhere and hit me right across the face. And then I had to head out with a murder headache and all kinds off odd stares and remarks from the guys. And now I’m getting a band-aid I don’t really need anymore, four hours later.

“If it’s any consolation, the guys think that you got into a fight with Hank,” Catherine offers. She’s still trying to make sure that band-aid sits perfectly right, or at least she’s pretending to, but I’m not about to complain about her closeness.

“What?” True, Hank was in the lab earlier, dropping off some evidence one of the swing shift collected at the hospital, but I didn’t even look at him twice.

“The bet is he looks ten times worse,” Catherine relays with a grin.

“Oh.” Well, I’d rather have them lay into me about that than leering at Catherine and me and making suggestive remarks, although I know it’s only a matter of time before they’ll find out. Something else puzzles me, though. “They have placed bets on this?”

“Does it still hurt?” Catherine asks, stroking the hair back from my forehead and I realize that she’s not answering my question. “I’ll try to think of something to make it up to you after shift.”

“How about now?” I suggest only half-jokingly and I hardly recognize my own voice. It’s strange, all this – needing someone. Being needed. It’s scary, but it’s pretty darn wonderful, as well.

Catherine shakes her head at me. “You’re incorrigible.” Although I have to say in my defense that we didn’t get much time alone this week. Lindsey had a day off school and we spent the whole day together, all three of us. It went surprisingly well. So well that last night before shift started, Lindsey insisted on afternoon ice-cream at the mall with Catherine and me. I needed new sneakers anyway, so it didn’t feel too much like I was tagging along. Lindsey declared the shoes I finally got as ‘totally wicked’. I guess that means I’m in.

Tonight, Lindsey’s staying with Nancy because she has school extra early – some kind of ‘wicked’ project I haven’t really understood yet – and we won’t be able to bring her to school ourselves because shift will barely be over by then, if we’re lucky.

I already brought Lindsey to school on my own a few times, when Catherine was tied up on a case. I even picked her up once, with dozens of soccer moms staring at me.

Anyway, when we get off shift in – I glance at my watch – less than two hours, Catherine and I will have the whole house to ourselves. All day long.

When Catherine leaves me alone to sort through the evidence before shift ends – and I really don’t want to pull any overtime today – I’m trying to imagine what she might do to make me forget about my bruise. Although to be honest, by the time we stumble through the door, I’ll hardly remember it.

Sometimes, she still dances when we’re alone. Just for fun, and just because it makes her feel good, but I think she also enjoys driving me out of my mind.

I think that one day, I’d like to take her to Egypt.

*finis*


~ Anik LaChev 2005 ~

8 thoughts on “Long River In Egypt”

  1. Really really nice job with the shocking ‘identity’ disclosure, and beautiful work carrying the tension. Best of all a happy ending. I had no idea the story was going to be so long when I began reading, and here it is 9.00 am and I haven’t gone to bed!
    Brava!

    Like

  2. Well, I am glad you now know it can be done, and that I was the first to stumble on the ‘discovery’!
    I love your blog, and intend to spend many more happy hours here reading and listening and educating myself.
    Cheers, and Best Wishes,
    Dia.

    Like

    1. thanks, Dia – and please continue posting pre-Baroque Spanish sonnets over at your place. That was another discovery! 🙂

      Like

    1. oh, high Baroque I do love even more 🙂 I don’t know when exactly de Quevedo (unkown to me until this day) wrote the three sonnets you translated, I think we can file him under Baroque although some of the tropes are dating back a bit more (IMHO). — De la Cruz is canon, of course!!

      Like

  3. I always agonise about my translations – if you ever see anything at all that needs correction or improvement please don’t hesitate to tell me! My Spanish is rudimentary and not being a scholar, I am sure I am guilty of many solecisms.
    I am delighted by your interest – many thanks!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s