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Living Dead Girl

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Chapter 1: Trying to Hide the Pain

“Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable love for the dead? Living dead girl.” Rob Zombie, “Living Dead Girl”

*** 

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

It was the screaming that woke her, made her bolt up in bed and sit ramrod straight, heart trip-hammering.

“I come home and find my kid with bruises all over her, can’t even speak a word to me! What in God’s name are you doing to her while I’m not here?”

Sara didn’t need to hear her mother’s reply. She knew the litany of excuses that would come pouring out of Laura Sidle’s too-red mouth. It was just a party with a few friends; it was just her way to unwind after a hard week at work; it was just a few guys;  just a few lines;  just a few bottles of booze. With her mother it was always “just” something. 

Sara lived for the days between her father’s business trips, the too-short spans of time when the parties would stop and the house would return to normal, when there was food in the fridge, sitcoms on the TV, and the bottles, straight-razors, and roach clips would vanish. Her mother would stop smelling so strongly of booze and begin to take an interest in normal things again– chores and gardening, movies and Sara’s school work.

But those days had been fewer and fewer since her father’s promotion nearly two years ago. The more he was out of town, the more out of control her mother seemed to get. Every time she back-slid, the less likely it was that she would resurface as a normal mother again.

When her father was away, home became synonymous with hell. There were long spans of days when there was nothing in the kitchen but the junk food her mother munched on when she was coked up, and strings of nights when Sara didn’t sleep for the endless strains of Grateful Dead and Hendrix blasting from the living room stereo. Everything in the house took on a permanent reek of reefer smoke, even the clothes that Sara hung out the window to air in a valiant attempt to appear presentable at school.  She became accustomed to finding roach clips and straight razors on the mirror-topped dining room table amid  trails of white powder. She spent as many hours at the library as possible, dreading the moment when she’d have to return home to fend for herself in a house completely inhospitable to a 13-year-old with scientific leanings and no friends.

“You’re a waste case, Laura! You’re not fit to be a parent.”

Her mother’s voice was too loud and slurred for Sara to make out her response. What she did hear was heavy feet on the stairs, a sound that set off a Pavlovian response in her gut– HIDE! She backed herself into the corner between her bed and the wall, dragging her pillow with her, ducking behind it like a shield, trying to make herself as small as possible.        

The door knob rattled and shuddered against her homemade locking mechanism and the chair she’d shoved against the door. Sara cringed, hugged her pillow tighter.

“Sara? Baby, open the door. It’s Dad.”

Dad. Dad wouldn’t hurt her– no matter how long he’d been away she knew that would never change. She bounded up out of bed and hurried to the door, moved the chair and disengaged her locks. Then she was in her father’s arms, his familiar spicy cologne a welcome smell.

“Come on, Peaches, you’re coming with me.” Dad pulled her duffel bag out of the closet and began pulling shirts and jeans off the shelves and hangers. “Let’s get packed.”

“She’s my fucking daughter, too,” slurred a voice from the door. “You’re not taking her away from me.”

Laura Sidle had been pretty. Sara remembered a time when her mother was all saucy curves, warm colors, and thick glossy hair. The past two years and their resulting change in lifestyle had worn her down to a stick figure drawing of her former self. Gone were the feminine curves and the brightly patterned sundresses– Laura had grown skeletally thin and wore jeans that were forever sagging off of her hips. Her thin arms protruded like match sticks from a short tank top that revealed a concave belly. She was carrying a Coca-Cola bottle full of one alcoholic concoction or another. Sara could smell the alcohol fumes in her mother’s sweat– the air conditioning had broken down a week ago and her mother hadn’t bothered to get it fixed. 

“I come home from a business trip and find you coked out of your gourd, two guys in your bed, no food in the fridge, Sara hiding in the garage. If I’d known things had gotten so bad around here I--” Timothy Sidle stared coolly at his wife and shook his head. “God, you’re a fucking mess.”

“I am perfectly under control,” Laura retorted, tossing her stringy hair. “I had some friends over. It’s been a long week.”

Timothy turned to Sara. “Don’t forget to pack your backpack, too, Peaches. I’ll drop you off at school tomorrow.”

“Show’s what you know,” Laura slurred triumphantly. “School is over.”

“School’s not over for another two weeks,” Sara corrected, quickly jamming several novels into her overnight bag.

Her backpack was sitting on the floor next to her desk, neatly organized and ready to go. Sara liked to make sure she was ready for anything the minute she got out of bed. She never knew when she’d have to make a quick escape from the house to avoid listening to the sounds of her mother’s latest “friend” fucking her brains out in the next bedroom.

Laura didn’t have anything to say to that. She simply stood in the doorway, eyes narrowed, watching her daughter and husband.

“Sara,” she crooned, affecting a softer, pleading tone. “Sara, honey, don’t leave your mama. She’s lonely without you. Stay here and we’ll do something, just us.”

She wandered over to Sara’s chest of drawers and picked up a hairbrush. Advancing toward Sara, she ran the brush clumsily through her daughter’s pony-tailed hair, knotting bits of hair in the bristles and making Sara wince.

“We’ll braid our hair like we used to, with flower chains, and watch “The Wizard of OZ” with my red high heels on. I’ll make you a cake for your birthday and we’ll burn sparklers on the lawn, all pink and pretty, like fairies. Come on, baby, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“My birthday’s next month,” Sara mumbled, smoothing her hair. She zipped up her bag and looked at her father. “Dad? What about Arroway?”

Arroway was her pet turtle, who she’d found on the side of the road with a crack in his shell. She’d salvaged an old terrarium and had carefully constructed a habitat for him.

“Arroway will be okay here, sweets. We’ll come by and feed him tomorrow.”

“I’m ready, then,” Sara said and jammed her feet into her sneakers, mindless of the fact that she was wearing the running shorts and long-sleeved t-shirt that she slept in. She hefted her book bag and her father lifted her duffle. Together they brushed past Laura and down the stairs.

“You’re not taking my daughter, Timothy,” Laura yelled, stumbling after them. “Come back here, Sara, and go to your fucking room, right now. Tim! Tim, you asshole, you’re not taking her without me.”

Laura grabbed for her husband’s arm and Timothy shook it off, as if it was something that disgusted him.

“I’m your fucking WIFE, you dickless asshole. I’m the one you said you’d be with forever, not her. Timothy! Tim!”

Laura’s muddled shouts followed Sara and Timothy out of the house and into the quiet streets of their neighborhood. None of the neighbors bothered to see what the shouting was about– they were used to hearing it by now.

Sara stared out of the window of her father’s car as the house receded behind them, leaving her mother standing on the lawn, waving her Coke bottle, shouting to the air.

***

“All you know is alone. You see a phantom stranger. Down you go, all alone. You love my phantom stranger.” Rob Zombie, “Return of the Phantom Stranger”  

Sara jerked upright in her bed, covers twined around her legs.

Fuck! she thought. I do NOT need this now.

Completely worn out from a double-shift, she was craving sleep the way other people craved chocolate or coffee. Bitter experience had taught her that no matter how tired, a dream about her parents wouldn’t allow her to sleep again, at least not until she found other thoughts to lull her back to unconsciousness.

She flipped on the bedside lamp and mopped her face and neck with the corner of her pillowcase. Her sheets were heavy and damp with perspiration. She groaned and moved over to the other side of the bed, too tired to get up and change the linens.

Her cell phone rang, sending her heart-rate galloping again. She scrabbled for the small device, cursing her inability to remember to put the phone on vibrate. 

“Sidle.”

“It’s Grissom. Sorry to wake you.”

If there was any voice that was welcome in the middle of the night, it was his. Although Sara knew, ten to one, that the call was in reference to some unforeseen forensic emergency, she was still glad to hear Grissom’s husky timbre. It had the ability to calm her when nothing else could.

“It’s okay.” She rolled onto her back and stretched. “I was awake all ready.”

“The hearing for Adam Trent is scheduled for tomorrow. I need you to come in so we can go over your testimony again. The lawyers are going to grill you about what happened in the hospital that night. Let’s make sure we have everything we need to get an assault charge to stick.”

Sara sighed and sat up, running a hand through her hair. “Grissom, I’ve already told you I don’t want to file charges.”

“I know that. But Ecklie insists we file on behalf of the office. Makes a statement about the competency of the mental hospital. It’s a lot of political maneuvering, Sara, you know that.”

Irritation shot through Sara.  Goddam Ecklie. Forever trying to finagle his way higher up the departmental ranks and with never a care who he stepped on to get there.

“Well, Ecklie can keep me out of it. I don’t want to have to deal with Adam Trent again.”

She felt the memory clawing its way up, despite all her efforts to hold it at bay. Adam Trent, mad-dog eyes and a lazy smile, wiry arms tight around her, a needle-sharp clay shard pushing obscenely against her carotid. She didn’t want to keep remembering, not him, not that place. It sent her soaring back into nightmares she swore she’d never let herself remember again.

Grissom seemed to hear the strain in her voice, despite her efforts to keep the conversation as low key as possible. “Are you okay?”

“I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” she answered shortly.

“Apparently. Look, I know this is a chore. You’re the key to this case Ecklie’s trying to build. In the interest of keeping the peace in this office, I wish you’d cooperate with him.”

When she stayed stubbornly silent, he tried another tack. “Sara, you’re all ready on a very short lead with Ecklie, okay? I had to do some fast talking to keep you from getting fired. Show him and me that you’re willing to validate the trust I’ve placed in you.”

Oh, so it’s like that, Sara thought. Tit for fucking tat.  She blew out an impatient breath. “Okay, fine. Fine. I’ll see you in about an hour.”

Indulging in her urge to throw something, she chucked the cell phone into the folds of her comforter and sat, fuming.

Nothing had been the same since Ecklie had split the team up. Tempers were frayed, nerves were on edge, and it was getting to the point where she almost dreaded going to work. Grissom pressuring her into one of Ecklie’s political schemes was just the latest example of how cockeyed things at the CSI offices had become. 

Swearing under her breath and stifling a yawn, Sara swung her legs out of bed and started for the shower.

***

When she arrived at CSI headquarters, Grissom shanghaied her and led her to his office.

“Ecklie’s been sniffing around. He’s wants you to testify on behalf of the office if this thing with Trent goes to court instead of just letting you give a sworn deposition.” Grissom drummed his fingers on the desk, the most agitation he would allow himself to show in front of his team. “Look, I’ve got better things to do than watch Ecklie build some trumped up case against a lunatic and so do you. So I want to get you down to the county clerk’s office, give the deposition, and get all of this behind us.”

Sara stared incredulously. “Today? Now?”

“Right now.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“Does it look like I’m kidding?”

Since Grissom was wearing his most difficult to read expression, Sara decided it was better not to answer– she honestly had no idea when he was kidding anymore. He had turned back to the stack of paperwork on the desk, apparently considering the matter closed.

No. This was NOT how she wanted to start her day. She didn’t want Adam Trent crawling around in her head again, didn’t want his doll-black eyes and long twitching fingers scratching the inside of her skull.

“Grissom, I just don’t think–“

“Sara.” He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He looked incredibly tired. “Please.”

She snapped her mouth shut and nodded. It wasn’t for her to give him this kind of aggravation, not now. After all, he had a point. He’d gone to the wall for her with Ecklie. The least she could do was play the obedient forensic drone for a few hours.

“Okay. I’m going.”

He didn’t even say goodbye.  She left him to his stacks of paper and drifted toward the front doors, trying hard not to notice how empty the halls felt with no Warrick around to tease her, no Nick to flirt with her, and no Catherine moving through like a manic whirl-wind.

Sara sighed. Things were awfully quiet when it was just herself, Grissom, and Greg.

 

Chapter 2: A Different Kind of Pain

“Blood on her skin, dripping with sin, do it again, living dead girl.”  Rob Zombie, “Living Dead Girl”

“Peaches, does your mother hurt you when I’m not home?”

Sara stopped eating mid-way through her stack of pancakes. Even though it was the middle of the night, they’d stopped at a diner.

“You’re skin and bones, Munchkin,” Tim had said, taking her chin in his hand and looking her up and down. “You don’t look healthy at all.”

She hadn’t mentioned the empty fridge, the barren cupboards, or the fast-food bags and boxes in the trash can that never contained anything for her. Nor did she mention the walks she took through the endless maze of neighborhood streets, wandering under the sodium-vapor lights long after dark, hoping her mother and her boyfriends would be crashed out by the time she came home.

But here it was. The big question. Sara swallowed the mouthful of syrup and buttermilk batter and took a sip of water to buy herself time.

Did her mother hurt her while her father was away? Yes, in a hundred different ways.

Her carelessness with harsh words and slaps and the occasional wallop with the back end of a hairbrush.

Her neglect of the cooking and cleaning until Sara was living on toast and fruit and whatever she could scrounge up with her baby-sitting money, which sometimes meant nothing at all.

The men (and women) with hard eyes and cruel laughs who populated the house day and night.

The lifestyle that kept Sara from having any friends because her clothes were always out of fashion, her haircut was always awry from self-trimmings, and because she lived inside her books, the only things that made sense in her world.

“Sara?” Her father reached out and took her arm, gently, pushing up her sleeve to reveal the bruises on the inside of her elbows and upper arms where she’d been grabbed by rough hands. “Baby, did your mother do this?”

“No,” she said softly.

“You’d tell me if she did, right?”

“Yes.”

“So who grabbed you? Who hurt you? Who were you hiding from when I came home tonight?”

Too many questions. Who didn’t make a grab for her when she walked through the living room? 

“Some guy.”

“Can you tell me about him?”

Sara shook her head. Her mother’s first rule was never to tell, never to whine, never to complain. She didn’t care. No one else would either.

“Peaches, listen. I know it’s hard when I’m gone and I’m sorry, I really am. But I’m trying to do better by you.” Timothy put down his coffee cup and took Sara’s hand. “Sweetie, you’re old enough to hear what I have to tell you so I want you to pay attention. Are you listening?”

Sara nodded.

“Your mom and I married way too young and way too stupid. We spent too much of your childhood coked up or stoned out. I didn’t want to keep being that person, Sara. I changed.  I wanted to be someone you could respect, someone you’d be proud to call Dad.

“I’m trying to do the best I can, you know, trying to make sure that you can go to college and have an education. But to do that I can’t stay here. I make better money out of town. And I hate leaving you with her but that’s the only way this is going to work.

“If she’s hurting you, Sara, if she’s doing things to you that she shouldn’t be doing, I can make that stop. You have to tell me, though, what she’s doing to you. You have to let me know what’s going on before I can do anything to take you away from her for good. Understand?”

Sara licked her fork and thought and finally said, “Can I tell you tomorrow? It makes me not want to eat if I talk about it now.”

Timothy stared at his daughter and felt his heart shudder. “Sure, Peaches,” he said, stroking her hair. “You can talk about it tomorrow.”

***

“Crawl on me, sink into me, die for me, living dead girl.” Rob Zombie, “Living Dead Girl.”

“Miss Sidle, will you please describe the events of the night of March 18th as they relate to your interaction with Adam Trent at Desert State Hospital?”

In her best scientific manner she described it– the portion of the investigation that lead her to suspect that Nurse McKay had played a part in Robbie Garson’s murder, the search of the nurse’s station, the fact that Grissom left to find a guard with keys to the file cabinets.

She talked about Adam’s comments to her,

Do you believe everything happens for a reason? That bad things are there to teach us some karmic lesson?

about her attempt to inject him with a syringe of tranquilizer. How he had seized her around the neck and forced her to the ground,

Maybe I’m just vibrating at the wrong frequency!

pressing a shard of needle-sharp dried clay from the art therapy room into her neck.

Don’t you move a muscle! I will grind you, you bitch, do you hear me?

Sara described Grissom’s appearance at the window,

Open the door. Please, just open the door.  

how he stared at her through the glass as she’d struggled to get out of Trent’s iron grip,

Do not look at them, you keep your eyes on the floor!

how McKay appeared in the window to talk her son down,

No, you go away, you stay out, you bitch!

and how she’d been able to elbow her way out of his grasp and break for the door.

Giving the necessary descriptions and details to the lawyers brought up the memory of everything that had happened after she sprinted into the hallway, her skin crawling from her contact with Adam Trent ... 
 

 ... Sara leaned on the window, heart pounding. Cool, rainy air was wafting inside from a crack in the double-paned glass and she leaned down to catch the small draft, desperate for air that didn’t smell medicated.

Hurried footsteps came up behind her. She could see Grissom’s reflection in the window, cut into diamonds by the wire mesh. Even in the poor light she could see that his shoulders were tense and his jaw was working as if he were grinding his teeth.  He was waiting for her, wanting some acknowledgment that she was okay, acknowledgment she couldn’t give him yet.

“Let me see,” he said quietly, taking the step forward that brought him into her personal space, carried him so close that she could feel the heat from his body radiating outward like a densely packed star.

His fingers came up and brushed her neck where the clay shard had been pressed, noting the cut, the red rawness of her fair skin. It would bruise the next day and she planned on wearing a scarf to avoid the questions that would follow.

She shuddered when Grissom touched her, unable to say whether it was from fear or pleasure. Her breath rushed out in a gasp. She locked eyes with him, helpless to stop the need from rising in her gaze. God, she’d never in her life wanted to be held this much. She could feel herself starting to shake and found she couldn’t quell the tremors.

 Grissom studied her, his eyes troubled.

“You need–“ he started, and then corrected himself. “Actually, I need to sit down.”

He slid down the wall into a crouch and she followed him, grateful that he’d suggested it before her own legs gave out ...

. . . Recalling it was chipping away at her self control, rocking her to the core of her being. She hid her shaking hands underneath the table or kept them busy playing with a pen or a coffee cup.

Don’t you move a muscle! I will grind you, you bitch, do you hear me?

Grissom, staring at her, his eyes wide, dark, frightened.

Open the door. Please, just open the door.  

How he’d kept his eyes on hers no matter how much he must have wanted to look away.

Do not look at them, you keep your eyes on the floor!

How her eyes kept moving back to his face, a life line in those desperate moments when she wanted to shrink into a ball and scream.

Do you believe everything happens for a reason? That bad things are there to teach us some karmic lesson?

If it was so then she and Adam Trent had something in common after all. They must have been paying for some awful sin to have mothers like theirs, women who killed their husbands, women who committed incest.

What sin had she, Sara, been paying for so many years later, to end up on the floor of the nurse’s station at Desert State Mental Hospital, crushed in the arms of a lunatic, her panicked eyes fixed on Gil Grissom’s as he stared at her through a locked door?

“I need to take a quick break,” Sara said as calmly as she could, heart hammering in her ears. “I think I’d like to get some air.”

She walked out of the conference room, head high then broke into a stumbling half-run when the door closed behind her, racing for the outside. As she burst through the door, the Nevada air broke over her in waves, cool and dry, and she bent forward, sucking in great lungfuls.

She sank onto the pavement, shivering, her back to the rough stone, gulping air even though it was choking her. She couldn’t cry. She rocked instead, her fingers frenetically plucking the legs of her pants.

How she knew Grissom was there was a mystery to her. But she could sense him even before he was out of the Tahoe and striding toward her, long legs eating up the pavement. Then he was on his knees in front of her and all she could think of was the fact that she still couldn’t breathe, couldn’t cry, that she wanted to scream but didn’t dare start because starting to scream meant she wouldn’t stop until her throat was raw and her lungs gave out.

“Sara, are you okay? What happened?” Grissom took hold of her arms, shook her gently. “Sara?”

Understanding came the longer he watched her, the puzzle pieces sliding into place. Sadness, then anger, then guilt washed over his face in degrees.

He slid a hand to her back and began rubbing in slow circles, the way a mother would calm a frightened child.

“Breathe, Sara. Deep slow breaths.”

He watched her face as he talked, taking a measure of her emotions until they reached a state they could both handle. He took the hand that was nervously pulling at her pants leg and closed it in his own. “Calm down.”

He steadied her, though God only knew why. Grissom was just another unstable element in her topsy-turvy world. But seeing him there, solid, real, helped her steady the hitch in her breathing. She slowed her racing heart by concentrating on the motion of his hands on her back. Bit by bit she came down from the panicked place, methodically regaining control of each of her faculties until she could look up into his impassive face and say, truthfully, “I’m okay.”

“Glad to hear it. Just sit still for a minute.”

They sat quiet, feeling the wind, the electric hum of the air before a coming storm. She could feel his pulse fluttering in his wrist and it brought her comfort.

Finally Grissom said, “All this from talking about it?”

 Sara repeated what she’d told him that night in the hospital: “Crazy people make me feel crazy.”

“You’re not crazy,” Grissom responded patiently.

“Sometimes I wonder.”

“If I’d known it would be like this for you–“

”You couldn’t know. Hell, I didn’t know. I have no idea what goes on in here these days.” She tapped her temple.

They were quiet again, hands still joined, until Sara spoke.

“It’s a lot easier thinking you’re crazy than it is to think that you’re out of control.”

“Why is that?”

“If you’re crazy– certifiably, looney-tunes, Mad Hatter crazy, like those guys at Desert State– you have an excuse for acting a certain way. You’re deviant, you’re chemically imbalanced, you’re crazy. If you happen to be like me– a loose cannon with a gun– you’re just out of control and you have no excuse. You’re the one who let it slip in the first place.”

Grissom stared at her long enough to make her feel uncomfortable.

“Now that is interesting.”

Sara shrugged, blushed. “Not really.”

“It’s interesting to me. Suddenly a lot of puzzle pieces just clicked into place.”

Sara shifted position and leaned back against the wall. She looked down at their intertwined fingers, noting their color, shape, length, anything to keep from having to look in his eyes as she spoke.

 “My foster family and social worker put me in counseling, to talk about what happened with my parents. I remember this one flaky guy, a real crystals and rainbows New Age-er. He told me I had no right to be mad at my mother for what she’d done to my dad, that she was crazy and that just couldn’t be helped. She didn’t know what she was doing when she seduced him into her bed to get him to change his mind about the divorce and then stabbed him in the chest 30 times. She was out of her mind and that somehow made it excusable.” She smirked humorlessly, thinking about it. “I kicked a hole in his wall.”

“He was wrong to tell you that after what you’d been through.”

Sara shook her head. “It put things in perspective. The world looks at craziness a certain way– it helped me define where I stand.” She took a deep, shaky breath. “I need to go back in there.”           

He peered at her long enough to make her stomach wrench. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“Thanks but no. I need to do this myself.”

“Come by my place later. We’ll have dinner.”

He couldn’t have surprised her more if he’d announced he was leaving the lab to take up alpaca farming in the Andes. “Really?”

Grissom looked amused. “I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s just that--” She cut herself off before she could say anything she might regret. “Okay. Dinner. Can I, um, bring anything? Wine or dessert or--”

”Just yourself. I’ll have everything we need.”

They rose to their feet. Sara glanced at the building, mentally steeling herself. She didn’t want to go back in there, didn’t want to face another hour of questions, of photos, of details.

Grissom’s hand rose to the back of her neck under her hair, rubbing the tense muscles with sure, strong fingers. Sara froze, deer in the headlights for a startled second then gave herself over to the delicious feeling of Grissom working her neck, easing the tension out of her bit by bit. Her head fell back and she clamped down on a groan, knowing it would turn a kind gesture into something more intimate than either of them was willing to face.

Then his hand fell away and he was giving her a small, knowing smile when she turned around to meet his eyes.

“What was that for?”

“It got your mind off the hearing, didn’t it?”

Jesus, God, the crafty bastard had used her feelings for him against her! Sara stared at him, not sure whether to be grateful for the distraction or angry. Shaking her head, she finally said, “I was wrong. You’re the person who makes me feel crazy.”

Grissom smirked and tipped an imaginary hat. “My work here is finished. See you at my place later.” And he walked back toward the Tahoe.

Chapter 3: The Place Where I Belong

Night was starting to tiptoe in when Sara arrived at Grissom’s loft. Wrung out by the long question and answer session with lawyers for both sides, she was fervently hoping that dinner would be a pleasant diversion instead of the emotional ordeal it could easily become.

Grissom answered the door in his usual black pants and black t-shirt combo. He was holding a glass of wine, which he passed to her as soon as she stepped inside.

“You read my mind,” she said with a smile. “Thank you.”

“I figured you might want it after your afternoon. But--,” he said, raising a finger in caution, “–You’re limited to a glass an hour if you plan on driving home.”

Sara nodded, the reference to her drinking problem noted and filed away. She tried not to make too much of the “if” he’d inserted in his statement– if she planned on driving home. She could only think of one reason why she wouldn’t be planning on driving home after dinner, but she was fairly certain that reason had as much chance of coming to fruition as there was of Greg wearing a three-piece suit to work on Monday.

She sipped the wine and took a slow walk around the living room as Grissom returned to the kitchen to continue cooking.

The most distinguishing characteristic of his apartment was the butterfly wall. Several Lucite display cases were filled with butterflies of every size and color imaginable, from the size of the palm of a grown man’s hand to the size of Sara’s pinkie fingernail.

Given Grissom’s love for insects, Sara was always surprised that butterflies were the only insect that he displayed in his apartment. Her first time here, she’d expected to find cockroaches and spiders on display boards and in terrariums. Instead it was the rainbow array of butterflies and a few framed prints that graced the walls, no terrariums in sight, no creepy-crawly insect photographs on display.

Sara peered into one of the display cases and found herself drawn to a blue butterfly with distinct purple and white stripes on its wings. She admired its vivid colors as she sipped her wine.

“He’s a blue morpho butterfly,” Grissom said from behind her. “I got him from Brazil. He’s one of the most beautiful blues I’ve ever seen.”

“He’s stunning.” She looked around in the case. “Do you have a monarch butterfly?”

“Right here.” Grissom located the vivid orange and yellow wings and pointed it out to her. “Do you like monarchs?”

“One of the only nice memories I have of my parents was the day we went to Pacific Grove to see the monarchs at their wintering site. I was about seven-years-old, insatiably curious. I was always asking my parents questions that they really couldn’t answer– and not just “why is the sky blue?” but really hard ones like “why do cats have tails?” and “how do cows make milk?”

Grissom laughed softly. “Sounds like my Sara.”

My Sara.

She wanted to relax into those words like sinking into a warm bath.

My Sara.

He thought of her, at least on some level, as belonging to him. From anyone else the thought would have made her scream with terror and indignation. From Grissom, though, it was comforting, and more than a little intoxicating.

She shook her head slightly and continued speaking, filing the small words away to be perused later on.

“I asked my mother how butterflies flew. She didn’t have a clue about air currents or the dynamics of flight, of course, so she made up the answer any seven-year-old girl would want to hear– she said butterflies had magic dust on their wings and if I was a very good girl a butterfly might land on me and then I could fly, too.”

Sara walked over to the window and stared down at the city. She watched Grissom’s reflection as he crossed the room to turn off the stove before moving back within hearing range.

“I stood in the park with stalks of flower blossoms in both hands. Finally this gorgeous monarch landed on my arm and started sipping from the blossoms I was holding. I stroked her wing and when I looked down at my fingers, there was a fine orange powder– my mother’s ‘magic butterfly dust.’”

Sara sipped her wine and laid her forehead on the cool glass. “I touched her wings as she drank from those flowers. I stroked those wings for what felt like forever. But when I went to toss her back into the air, she couldn’t fly. She fell to the grass. No matter how often I tried picking her up and tossing her in the air or setting her on a flower, she couldn’t flap her wings. My parents found me crying by the oleander bushes and thought I was upset because I couldn’t fly.

“When we got home a few days later I read up on butterflies at the library. I found out that the ‘magic dust’ was actually scales that helped her fly. I’d crippled her without even knowing it.”

Why did she still feel acutely guilty about that butterfly even all these years later? She suspected it had something to do with the fact that she had harmed such a delicate, beautiful creature that had done her not the slightest bit of harm. She wished, even now, that she could go back to that day, could find a way to heal that butterfly, to make the tattered wings fly again.

“Butterflies,” Grissom said, interrupting her train of thought, “are some of the hardiest insects out there. They begin life as one thing and metamorphose into another. They go from living on the land to living fully in the air, from having multiple set of legs to a set of wings, from eating leaves to sipping flower nectar. They’re some of the most highly adaptive insects because they’re used to change.”

He was looking at her with that small half-smile, the one that fairly screamed, “I’m right and you know it. Don’t you feel better now?” and it made Sara want to laugh aloud.

“Leave it to a scientist to miss the forest for all the trees.”

Grissom stared at her, perplexed. “I’m sorry?”

“You forgot the most important thing about butterflies.”

“Which is?”

“They’re beautiful.”

“Of course they are. But that’s not the point.”

Sara gave in to the urge to touch his face. She laid a hand on his cheek, looked up into clear grey-blue eyes that were just the tiniest bit confused by the fact that she was arguing with him.

“Gris, when a little girl wants to be a butterfly more than anything else in the world, she’s not thinking about how hardy and adaptive it is. She only sees that it’s beautiful. That’s the point.”

***

Sara spent that Friday at school hardly daring to believe that her father would come back for her. Though he’d promised to take her out some place very special when he’d dropped her off that morning, she didn’t get her hopes up. Sara lived comfortably alongside disappointment. It was as much a part of her existence as breathing.

So when Timothy Sidle’s sporty red convertible pulled up alongside the bus circle that afternoon, Sara felt her heart leap with joy and pride. Her father was so handsome and he was smiling at her as if she were the only person in the universe. And though Sara professed not to care at all about what was “cool” or “in”, she felt very cool indeed walking toward her father’s car, which was blasting excellent music from its equally excellent sound system.

Shouldering her worn-out backpack, she walked with a slight swagger, savoring the whispers of the other girls in the class. None of them had a father quite like hers.

“Hey, Peaches,” Timothy greeted her, handing her a pair of shades from the glove compartment. “Ready to go have some fun?”

Sara grinned, the first smile that she’d meant in a very long time. “Yeah, Dad. Let’s go.”

 ***

He took her to the mall, a place Sara rarely had occasion to visit. He replaced the clothes that she had outgrown or were too shabby to wear with brand new ones, grandly allowing her to pick whatever she wanted. He replaced the outgrown shoes with pinching toes with a pair of brand new cross-trainers.

He insisted that she have a real haircut in a salon that smelled of shampoo and hair spray and even sat alongside her in another chair, having his own trim and a shave. He let her run wild in the bookstore, buying her a thick stack of novels. He ended the evening by taking her out to a Mexican restaurant, where they shared enchiladas and fried ice cream.

“Are you having fun?” he kept asking. “Is there anything else you want?”

Was she having fun? It was like a dream, the sort of thing that happened in the fantasy novels she loved to read. A whimsical portion of Sara’s logical brain was having a lot of fun with the notion that she, too, was one of the legions of storybook princesses who, after a life of hardship, was finally being treated as she deserved.

The other part of her knew that it was silly to be so impressed. This was the sort of thing that “real” families did all the time– a Friday night at the mall of parents indulging their children.

But for the first time in her teenage life, it was happening to her. She wasn’t spending the evening avoiding her mother and her coke-fueled rages. She was being doted on by her father, the closest she had yet come to a handsome prince.

“Peaches, I’m going to ask your mother for a divorce,” he said on the way back to his townhouse.

She nodded but didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter to her one way or another, really, if her parents got divorced.  Not the way it mattered to some of the girls at school. For them, divorce was a tragedy, a shattering of their old lives. It meant break-downs in class, sessions with the school counselor, teachers who would take it easy on you for a few days because you were “going through a rough time.” For some of these girls, she supposed, divorce was a terrible thing. But they had mothers and fathers who spent time with their kids and took them out to eat and to the park, like a normal family. They didn’t have a father who was always out of town or a mother who was always high, who beat each other senseless when they battled. The girls at school had a family– Sara had never had one of those.

“What I need to know– that is, what I’d like to know is if you want to come live with me. I can’t make any promises, Peaches, and I can’t guarantee that things will be easy for you with me being away so often but at least you wouldn’t have to be around the kind of craziness your mother is in to right now.”

Sara felt a smile stretch warm and wide across her face. No more smoke and razor blades? No more men and their awful hands?

“Do you really mean it?”

“Of course I do! You’re my daughter, Sara. I love you. I don’t want you to be any place you don’t want to be.”

“All the girls at school whose parents got divorced only see their fathers on the weekends. They all have to live with their mothers. Will it be the same for me?”

“I don’t think so, baby. Considering your mother’s lifestyle, I think we can safely say that you won’t have to live with her much longer at all. I’ve already got the papers drawn up. I’ll go see her tomorrow.”

Chapter 4: Going Home

“Dead I am the dog, hound of hell you cry. Devil on your back, I can never die.” Rob Zombie, “Dragula”

Somehow they ended up lying on their backs on the living room floor, staring at the ceiling as “Carmen” played on his formidable stereo system. The lights in the apartment were off, the better to see the solar system that Grissom had meticulously recreated using florescent paint. It wasn’t just a handful of stars thrown slap-dash on the ceiling-- Grissom had taken the time to create constellations, star clusters, supernova remnants, and all the beautiful details of life in the galactic arena. Sara had never had an inkling that she’d been sharing the living room with such a wonderful work of art.

“How did you ever find time to do this?” Sara took another sip of wine and folded her arms behind her head, staring up in wonder.

“Here and there. Bit by bit.” Grissom inched closer to her and twisted his torso so that he could point in the direction of the upper left-hand corner of the room. “I still have a lot left to do. I’m going to paint the Horsehead Nebula over there once I get a free weekend.”

Sara laughed, charmed and delighted by the idea of Grissom on a step-ladder, painting a nebula. “You just reaffirmed your geek status, Gris.” She reached out and touched his wrist, relaxed enough from several glasses of wine to idly trace small circles against his skin with her fingers, gratified that he was relaxed enough to let her. “All kidding aside, it really is beautiful.”

“Thank you.” He rolled toward her and turned onto his side, propping his head on his hand. His face was relaxed, his lips quirking into an easy smile, eyes soft with affection and concern. “How do you feel?”

“Less edgy.” She turned onto her side so that they were facing each other and dropped her head onto her outstretched arm. “I’m just glad it’s over with. If Ecklie doesn’t make me testify, that is.”

She could tell by his expression that he was thinking hard about something. She waited for him to speak. Finally he said, very abruptly, “What happened to her?”

By “her” Sara knew that Grissom meant her mother. She hesitated. Talking about Laura meant opening up locked boxes of feelings that she didn’t want to face, not when she was just starting to relax. But she was the one who had opened that Pandora’s box for him months ago when she told him the story of her childhood. He had every right to ask what was left in the bottom of the box.

“If you don’t want to talk about it–“

”No, I– I started it. I may as well finish it, right?”

She sat up and leaned against the legs of the couch, drawing her knees close to her chest. Grissom sat up, too, and moved closer, watching her face raptly.

 “She went to a hospital to be evaluated and I went into the foster care system. They found her competent to stand trial and the state started building a case against her for my father’s murder with secondary charges of child abuse and neglect for what she’d done to me. I lived with a foster family, a couple named the Siegels. I was their first kid and they didn’t quite know what to make of me, a genius 13 year-old with a murdered father and a criminal mother.”

Sara rested her chin on her up drawn knees, staring at the butterfly cases to avoid meeting his eyes. “It, um, it isn’t anything like the movies, you know. Foster care. Yeah, the system’s rough and there are a fair share of people who do it for the checks and the tax write off. And there are people in the system who shouldn’t be let within a hundred miles of a child but– well, it wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t abused or starved, and I wasn’t beaten or locked in the cellar. I can’t say I ever really fit into a family all that well and I never found that ideal couple who wanted to adopt me– every foster kid’s fantasy, you know.”

She finally met his gaze again. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t come away from it poetically scarred or artistically inspired. I just ... came out of it as me.”

… which might just be bad enough.

Grissom seemed to have read her thoughts. He took her chin in one hand and raised her face until she was looking at him fully. “I’m glad. You’re one of the strongest, most amazing people I know.”

Sara blushed, unsure how to take such a direct compliment. “I, um–“

“You don’t believe me.”

“It’s hard to. You know a lot of people, most of them far less fucked up than I am.”

Grissom chuckled. “But none of them have your sense of humor, Sara. Or your intelligence. Your compassion. Your grace.”

She laughed aloud at that. “Grace?! I trip over my own feet!”

“Not that kind of grace. Humility. Honesty. Integrity. Being the most decent human being you can be every day, even in the midst of the hell we see. That’s what I mean by grace.”

“You’re giving me too much credit.”

“And you don’t give yourself enough.” Grissom looked like he wanted to say something else, but changed his mind. Finally he said, “What happened to your mother?”

“She was found guilty of one count of first degree murder, several counts of felony child neglect, and numerous misdemeanor and felony drug charges. She was given a 50 year sentence at the Central California Women’s Facility, ten years suspended, no parole. I haven’t seen her or spoken to her since she went in. I don’t even know if she’s still alive. I can’t really say that I care.”

***

Dead I am the knife, dig into the skin, knuckle crack the bone, twenty-one to win.” Rob Zombie, “Dragula.”

She’d forgotten to feed Arroway. Her conscience smote her all day long. She’d completely forgotten her turtle in all the excitement of having her father home.

Worse, she hadn’t mentioned to her father that he should feed Arroway. She thought of the small turtle waiting patiently for food and a change of water and felt horrible. She’d go pick up Arroway right after school. It didn’t matter that her mother might be home– she had to have her turtle. There were plenty of ways to sneak in and out of the house– she’d use one of her escape routes to get in if her mother was home and high.

Sara ran all the way back to her mother’s house, her book bag thudding against the small of her back. Though it was the first of June, the trees whipped in a cool breeze. Clouds raced across the sky, darkening the afternoon. There would be a storm soon and she looked forward to sitting on the balcony of her father’s town home, watching the lightning play across the Bay. She’d call him from the house, she decided, and ask him to pick her up. That way she could bring Arroway’s terrarium home.

She could tell something wasn’t right as soon as she rounded the corner onto Jacaranda Circle. Neighbors were gathered on porches and lawns, gawking at police cars that had been pulled up to the curb outside her house.

Her first thought was that her father had made good on his threat to call child services on her mother. There was his car in the driveway. He had come to talk to her about the divorce. Perhaps he’d had to threaten her with CPS to get Sara away from her. When she balked, he’d made the call.

But there was an ambulance, too, and that couldn’t be right. Why would an ambulance come to the sight of a CPS visit?

It’s funny the things you remember and the things that you don’t.

Her heart thudding, Sara ran up to the foot of the driveway. She walked up the drive and past her father’s car, heading for the front door, which was standing open.

As she drew nearer to the porch she heard the horrid, wet sounds of someone throwing up. Bent in the dried jacaranda bushes was a young policeman, coughing and spitting weakly. What the hell was going on?

There was a smell of iron in the air, cast off on the bed and wall. There was this young cop, puking his guts.

The back of her neck was tingling. It was the same feeling she got when she read HP Lovecraft novels late at night. The same impulse that made her want to yell, “Don’t go in the house!” to the main character was slaloming through her gut right now.

 There was no one to stop her– the young policeman was bent over, heaving again, and he hadn’t noticed her. Still wearing her book bag, she crept swiftly inside.

As she climbed the stairs she could hear noise from the second floor– voices, police radios chittering away. There was a strange smell in the air, something she couldn’t place until she realized that it smelled exactly like the advanced Biology classroom on dissection day.

Why did her house smell like blood?

I don’t remember the woman who took me to foster care. I can’t remember her name. Which is strange, you know, because I couldn’t let go of her hand.

Her mother’s bedroom was next door to her own and the noise was all centered there. The door was open and light spilled into the corridor. The patch of light had a decidedly rusty cast to it and pooled in weird, blotchy patterns on the carpet.

As she came nearer to the room, the smell of blood intensified. The voices were all a buzz in her brain as the tingling in the back of her neck increased.

I do remember the looks. I became ‘the girl whose father was stabbed to death.’

Sara peered around the doorframe and a scream bottled itself in her throat.

The double bed was awash in blood, so much it appeared black. There was horrid red spatter on the walls, on the light fixture overhead. There were policemen all over the room, several men in jumpsuits, a man in a lab coat, a silver gurney, a black plastic body bag.

In the middle of the bed was her father. He was wearing his underwear and nothing else, his clothes folded on the chair next to the bed. His chest had been ripped open. His face and arms and legs were splashed with blood. White rib glinted in the light.

Do you think there’s a murder gene?

A tiny squeak dislodged from her throat. The squeak gave way to a strangled sob and the sob gave way to a scream. Sara shrieked and barreled forward toward her father.

Several strong pairs of arms closed around her. She screamed again, then sobbed, huge wrenching sobs that threatened to turn her inside out. Someone lifted her, carried her out of the room, down the stairs, and onto the lawn where she collapsed, trembling, into the arms of strangers, the only thing in the world that kept her from falling completely apart.

The fights, the yelling, the trips to the hospital. I thought it was the way everyone lived. When my mother killed my father, I found out that it wasn’t.

***

“Destroy the things you love and see if I remember.”  Rob Zombie, “Return of the Phantom Stranger”

Sara shut her eyes against the flood of memories that came welling up.

The glint of white rib glimpsed in the ruin of her father’s chest.

The funeral, closed casket, with no family or friends, just herself, the minister, and the Siegels, her foster parents.

The stares and whispers up and down the hallways at Three Palms Middle, where she spent her mornings. The whispers of “freak” from the students at Palmetto High, where she took her afternoon science and math courses.

The psychology session that ended with a hole kicked in the self-righteous therapists’ office wall.

The hearing in a dingy courtroom to determine her mother’s competency to stand trial.

The trial itself and the media surrounding it, all of which the Siegels worked to shield her from.

Unwilling visits on the closed ward of the mental hospital, watching her mother pretend to be blank and crazy.

Years of being shifted from foster home to foster home, high school to high school, until she finally graduated early and left for Berkeley, wanting nothing more than to escape the whispers and the stares.

“Sara?” Grissom’s quiet inquiry brought her back. His concerned expression reflected just how anguished her face must have been. He reached, then stopped, obviously not sure whether a touch would be welcome or not.

“I hate thinking about it.”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“Yes, you should have. Of all the people in my life, you’re the one who has the most right to know.”

She hadn’t meant to say that, had no idea, really, where it came from. But there it was, and the simple truth of the statement rocked them both.

“I’m just afraid that--” Sara broke off. “I’m afraid that there really is--”

”A murder gene?” Grissom supplied quietly. “A crazy gene?”

There it was, out in the open. Her greatest fear, the one thing that could keep her up nights. The poisonous seed that blossomed into a deadly flower in the fertile soil of her imagination. The idea that she could turn out to be just like her mother, that she had that capability to destroy the person she loved most (who happened to be sitting in front of her, staring with guileless blue eyes) was what made her want to tattoo quarantine signs all over her body.

Warning– this person may self-destruct.   

“I don’t want to be like her,” Sara whispered harshly. “God, I don’t want to be what she was. I couldn’t stand it.”

“Sara.” Grissom moved closer to her, close enough that she could smell his shampoo. “There’s no way you could become your mother. You’re completely different.”

“Am I? You’ve seen me, Grissom. I lose my temper, I get drunk, I’m this self-destructive maniac–“

”None of which means you’re going to turn around tomorrow and commit homicide. You become the person you are based on the influences of your family, your peers, your life experiences, and society in general. Genetics is only a tiny factor, and an insignificant one at best. Can a woman help it if she inherits depression from her mother or high blood pressure from her father? No. But she can control it with medications, with informed decisions, by choosing not to let her genetics control her fate. Even if there were a murder gene, Sara, you’re too compassionate to ever let it take you over.”

This wasn’t anything she hadn’t told herself a million times before.

“You can’t be sure of that.”

“Yes, I can. If there’s one thing I know with certainty about you it’s that you’d never intentionally hurt someone else. The only person you hurt intentionally is yourself.”

Sara laughed sardonically. “How is it you can think better of me than I can of myself?”

“Because we rarely see ourselves as we really are. And because I happen to know quite a lot about butterflies.”

“I’m a butterfly?” Sara raised her eyebrows. “What, hardy and adaptive?”

“I suppose you could put it that way.” He slid his hands into her hair, pulled her closer to him until her lips were millimeters from his. “But I was thinking beautiful. Didn’t you say that was the point?”

 

Chapter 5: Be Careful What You Wish For– You Just Might Get It All.

“Gris, I don’t think I can do this.”

Sara’s voice was so thick with panic that Grissom stopped the Tahoe on the side of the road and turned to look at her. Her eyes were huge and dark, the shadows under them barely hidden by concealer and foundation. She’d slept fitfully the night before, plagued by nightmares despite falling, worn out, into Grissom’s arms after a thorough bout of love-making that had caught them both by surprise. 

“Well, we don’t have to go. We can always turn around.”

“And drive six hours back to Vegas?”

“If that’s what you want.”

Sara’s capable fingers were trembling like Aspen leaves. “I don’t know if I can stand to see her. Even after all this time I still can’t–“

“Forgive her?” Grissom supplied. “Or is it that you can’t stop being afraid of her?”

“Both,” Sara mumbled, looking out the window at the lushly irrigated farmland surrounding the prison.

She’d been okay with the idea the night before, readily agreeing to the trip into California when he’d suggested it. Maybe she’d only agreed in her eagerness to stop the nightmares. Maybe she’d agreed because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. All he knew was that she’d looked so haunted when he shook her awake, sweating and trembling, from a nightmare that he could only imagine one way to exorcise the demon and that he’d blurted it out before thinking through the possible consequences.

“Like I said, we can turn around.” Grissom sat with his hands folded, letting Sara wrestle with her decision.

“I feel like I’m still 13 and terrified.”

“At the risk of torturing a cliche, the only thing we have to fear–“

”Yeah, well, FDR didn’t have an abusive mother,” Sara replied, cutting him off. She fell into fretful silence then finally said, “Let’s get this over with.”

***

The parking lot of the Central California Women’s Facility shimmered in the heat. Her shoes made sticky sucking sounds on the asphalt. Grissom walked close behind, support without pressure. Without him, Sara was sure she’d turn around and bolt.

She recalled the moment the previous night everything in her world changed as his hands slid into her hair and his mouth moved over hers and she’d felt his body pressed against hers, tense and hot with need.

He’d been tender with her in a way that she’d never imagined he could be, solicitous and sweet as he learned the curves and slopes of her body. His hands had passed over her as if she were made of something rare and precious, something to be handled delicately and with deliberate care. Yet he hadn’t hesitated to give her the pressure that she’d craved, the speed and intensity that needed to be satisfied after years of pent-up lust.

When it was over and they’d lain together, flushed and breathless, he’d kissed her forehead, smoothed her hair with gentle fingers, tucked her against the curve of his body until she fell asleep.

And when she woke up again from another nightmare about her mother, he’d been already awake beside her, calming her with soothing strokes of his hands, reassuring in easy whispers that she was awake, she was fine, she was safe, she was with him.

That reassurance was what kept her going now, what she chanted to herself as she drew ever closer to the prison– she’s fine. She’s safe. She’s with him. 

Sara passed through security in a fog, mechanically handing over her purse, her stainless steel Breitling watch, submitting to the pat down and the sweep with hand-held metal detectors. She didn’t even pay attention to Grissom– she could only concentrate on what felt like an entire flock of butterflies in her stomach and her rapidly beating heart.

Grissom came up behind her, having passed successfully through security. He could feel tension radiating from her in waves, could hear the hitch in her breathing as she took in the trappings of what must have felt like her own personal hell. He placed a comforting hand on her rigid shoulders.

“You don’t have to stay long,” he reminded her.

“Sara Sidle.” The guard stood in front of the door to the visitor’s room. “Are you ready?”

Sara drew in a shallow, shaking breath.

I’m fine. I’m safe. I’m with him. He’ll be waiting outside.

“I’m ready.”

A woman sat at the scarred Formica table in the visitor’s room, fiddling with a can of Coke. She was only vaguely familiar to Sara, her features as ill-defined as that of someone she might have seen only once or twice on TV.

“Sara,” her mother murmured. She stood up, took a step forward, thought better of the gesture when the guard cleared her throat, and settled for looking Sara up and down from behind the table. “I– I keep seeing you as a thirteen-year-old. Look at you.”

Sara pushed her hair away from her face, reduced to adolescent awkwardness again.

Fine. Safe. With him

“Are you– how old are you now, Sara?”

“Thirty-three.”

“I wouldn’t have known that. I mean, it all starts to run together after awhile. I feel like I’ve been here forever.”

Sara shifted her weight, twisted her fingers, not sure what to say. The monster who killed her father, who made her own life hell, was fifty-five now, her hair greying, her face lined and hardened by two decades of concrete cells and too little sun. She was still skinny, though her arms were muscled in their denim shirt.

“Why– um– why did you come? Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice that you’re here but--?”

“I don’t know,” Sara replied, voice hoarse. Her heart was racing wildly. The Pavlovian instinct to run was still in full force, even 20 years later.

I’m fine. I’m safe. He’s outside the doors, waiting. 

“Closure maybe. Reassurance that I hadn’t grown up only to turn out like you.”

Laura Sidle met her daughter’s gaze with sober eyes. “No, you wouldn’t have turned out like me. I haven’t seen you in two decades and I can already tell you’re better than I was.”

“Let me guess-- mother’s intuition?” Sara crossed her arms, vulnerable under her mother’s gaze and defensive about it.

“20 years of living sober, wondering what happened to my only daughter. Cringing when I think about what I put you through. Remembering that there are some months, hell, some years that I can’t remember because I spent them higher than a kite.”

“Funny how that works. You want to remember and I want to forget.” A memory of white rib glinting in a mass of red muscle made Sara shudder.

Oh God.

I’m fine. I’m safe. He’s just outside the doors.

“Why did you kill him?”

Laura shook her head. “I couldn’t tell you.”

“You can drop the ‘I was crazy and disassociating’ act. It’s just me, the one person you owe an answer to. I want to know why you killed the only person I ever loved.”

“Sara, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know. I ask myself that every day. I loved your father, whether you believe it or not. Once upon a time, Sara, we were happy together, and I loved everything about him.”

“You hated him.”

She had to believe that, had to know that it was hatred that fueled it, not love, not desperation, not desire. If it was love that lead to murder, she was sunk, completely and utterly ruined. 

“I didn’t hate him. I hated myself. And he didn’t, or maybe he couldn’t, see that. He couldn’t make it any better. I hated the fact of that.” Laura shook her head. “I don’t know how else to explain it. I can barely remember what happened that day.”

“Here’s a clue,” Sara spat, anger flooding through her in heated waves. “He came by the house to tell you he was taking me to live with him. You got him into bed, maybe for old time’s sake, maybe to convince him not to take me away. I don’t imagine your ‘friends’ would have come over nearly as often if there wasn’t some hot young piece of ass to pass around and fondle.”

Laura cringed, but Sara plowed forward, years of anger fueling the words tumbling out of her mouth.

“You fucked him and then you stabbed him 30 times in the chest when you wanted him to come back to you and he wouldn’t.”

Laura shook her head, lips thinning. “It wasn’t like that. I never wanted them to hurt you. I never wanted to hurt him.”

“But you did!” Sara screamed. “You did hurt him! And you hurt me! I think about my dead father every time I work a crime scene! I go home to an empty house and I drink and I wonder every time I get drunk if I’m going to turn into you and destroy the thing I love the most!”

There it was, out in the open. Now the onus was on her mother, the burden of her own fucked-up child rearing there to fall squarely on Laura’s shoulders. If Sara couldn’t love, it could only be Laura’s fault. 

Laura eyed her daughter. “What do you want, Sara? An apology? Hugs, kisses, and cookies? It’s too late for that. The only choice you have is to move beyond it. You can do that. I don’t have that option. I’m here and I live with that every day.”

“You don’t deserve to move beyond it!”

“Maybe not. But you do. You must. Find a good man and fall in love with him. Work a job you love. Raise a family. Be the kind of woman I never was. Let it go.”

“What if I can’t?”

“You can. You have to.”

 ***

Grissom stood as Sara emerged from the visitor’s room, eyes snapping blue fire. Her body was whip tense, her jaw set. She looked as though she wanted to ram her fist through something.

“Not what you wanted to hear?”

“I don’t know what I wanted to hear. I just want to get out of here.”

When they were back in the Tahoe and driving toward the interstate Grissom finally said, “Want to talk about it?”

“She basically told me to get over it.”

“Is that all?”

“Not to turn into her.”

“No real danger of that.”

“To find a nice guy and settle down.”

“Hmm.” Grissom looked amused. “Sounds like typical mother advice. Planning on doing that any time soon?”

“Depends.”

“On?”

“Are you a nice guy?”

Grissom’s lips curved into a teasing smile. “I like to think I am. Then again, Nick is a nice guy.”

“True.”

“And Warrick.”

“Absolutely.”

“Greg, too.”

Sara snorted, giggling. “Greg is a straight-up nerd.”

“Yes, he is. But in all seriousness, Sara, your mother is right.”

“About the nice guy thing?”

“About getting past it. Which isn’t to say that you can’t mourn for your father. You can. You should. I know you do. But it’s time to compartmentalize that fear and anger towards your mother. It’s time to stop being afraid that you’re going to turn into her. We’ve already gone over this– I promise you, you’re not.”

“You can’t promise me that.”

Not after what she’d heard. After all, her impressions of her mother had been flawed in one crucial aspect. Laura hadn’t hated Timothy. Once upon a time, she’d loved him. And she’d destroyed the person she’d loved most. Who was to say she, Sara, wouldn’t do it too?

“Then listen to a scientist. As far as we can tell, there is no genetic pre-disposition to violence. The odds of you snapping and butchering someone you love are one in a million. You’re trained as a scientist, Sara, just like me. Life is more comfortable when it’s numbers and calculations, odds and ratios. If you can’t trust the promise of the person who knows you best, trust the numbers.”

“All the numbers in the world can’t undo–“

“Undo what, Sara?”

“It’s--” She fought for words, lips thinning in frustration. “It’s like a curse …”

Grissom pulled the Tahoe over, set the parking brake, and turned in his seat to look at Sara. “Dear heart, no. It’s not a curse, or a prophecy, or a conspiracy, or destiny, or anything else. What are you so afraid is going to happen?”

“I– I– Gil, I love you.”

He tilted his head a little, smiled at her gently. “I know.”

“And she– she loved him.”

“Right.” And then what was so rational in her mind came crashing into his and he stared at her, horror-struck. “Oh, Sara. Oh, honey, no.”

“How do you know?” She was crying now, really crying, hot, frustrated tears that streaked her cheeks. “I’m her daughter. You don’t know that I’m not going to just– just snap one day and pick up a gun or– or take my fists to you or…” The tears were coming faster and her words were strangling in her throat. “You’ve seen me-- you know what a maniac I can be! I’m a fucking loose cannon with a gun!”

He was across the front seat and pulling her into his arms then, desperately holding her, wanting only to dispel the awful thoughts from her mind.

“Sara, baby, no ... no, honey, you’re not ... you’d never hurt me ... I’d never let you fall that far. I’d be right there to pull you back up, sweetheart, you know I would.”

She cried into his chest, really sobbing, harder than she’d ever cried before in her life, clutching him like a lifeline. He stroked her hair, murmuring to her, nonsense mostly, meant to soothe, and held her until the storm of tears subsided and she sank back into her seat, pale and red-eyed.

“Feel better?” He brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. “That was a long time coming, wasn’t it?”

“I guess so,” she whispered.

He turned the Tahoe back on, steered out onto the road, and began looking for the highway. “It’s a long drive, sweetheart, and you’re exhausted. Why don’t you try to get some sleep?”

Chapter 6: Enough For Me

“I’m going home, back to the place where I belong, where your love has always been enough for me.” -Chris Daughtry, “Home.

Sara slept, and she dreamed of butterflies, of scalpels slicing delicate wings, of quivering antennae, of tiny proboscis unfurled like vines. She dreamed of the hands that came down to heal the tattered wings with a touch, the nimble fingers that looked impossibly huge and clumsy on the delicate membranes. In those fingers was a needle threaded with gossamer and the needle stitched the jagged tears shut. Even when the wings were whole again, the butterfly still couldn’t take flight.

She sat up, disoriented, and realized the car had stopped. Grissom was outside, pumping gas, intently interested on the numbers flashing ever upward on the price gauge. She slipped on her sunglasses and stumbled out of the car, stretching her cramped legs.

“You slept a long time,” Grissom said, giving her a one-armed squeeze. “Feel better?”

“A little.” Sara pushed her hair away from her face, squinted around at the service station. “Are we in Arizona?”

“California.”

“Still?”

“We’re taking a detour.” Grissom smiled enigmatically. “A little side trip.”

“Where?”

“You’ll see when we get there.”

Sara stared at his inscrutable face and found herself caught between amusement and exasperation. “A spontaneous side trip? This seems totally out of character.”

Grissom gave her one of his enigmatic smiles. “Wait and see.”

 ***

Every tree and bush quivered in the afternoon light, twitching with the soft tissue-paper thin wings of thousands of monarch butterflies.

Sara breathed out slowly, reverently, afraid that she would set the beautiful creatures into startled motion with the slightest breath. Beside her, Grissom studied her face intently, as if she were the one pinned to a display board under a microscope instead of a lepidoptera with spotted wings. It wasn’t scientific curiosity that compelled him to watch her but genuine affection at her awe-filled face.

“I’d forgotten this. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.” Sara lost her words, staring around the butterfly grove with wide eyes. “Oh, Gil, they’re spectacular.” Her gaze swept the eucalyptus trees, taking in vivid wings, tiny antennae, delicate needle-thin legs.

He took her hand and walked forward under the trees, watching the movement of wings against the greening.

“They’ll be leaving soon. Their wintering season is almost over. They’ll migrate back home and leave this behind. It’s the most powerful instinct in the world to go home again.”

Sara smiled, squeezed his hands. “Are you trying to tell me something in particular? Something about myself?”

Grissom shook his head. “Not at all. I’m just telling you about butterflies. They seem to change color in different lights. They migrate twice every year. They have a dull underside to their brilliant wings that serves as camouflage against predators. They secrete a venom that’s toxic to at least two types of predator birds. They mate and lay eggs and die of old age. I happen to be fascinated by them.”

“You forgot the most important thing about butterflies.” Sara repeated her words of the previous night.

“No, I didn’t.” Grissom pulled her into his arms, kissed her sweetly and slowly. “I know that you’re beautiful.”

END.