Salvar: to save, to overcome, to preserve, to rescue, to cover, to pass
Salvarse: to survive, to escape
Title translates to 'The Dinner'.
CHAPTER 10: LA CENA
Grissom watched the bustle in the kitchen quietly.
In all his years working with Warrick and Catherine, he had never quite appreciated their cooking prowess. Or at least he had assumed that Warrick had cooked the potatoes, fish and green beans. Wendy had challenged that theory, teasingly, saying she'd seldom met a straight man capable of cooking anything that smelled that good.
Catherine had pursed her lips thoughtfully -- surprisingly thoughtfully for Catherine, who always spoke her mind, and still managed to say all the right things -- and replied that they had no real proof of Warrick's sexuality.
Wendy, of course, only needed to utter one word: "Tina."
But Catherine had a quicker reply planned to that. "I don't think that skank is proof of anything. She -- or it -- would have to be human."
Nick, of course, had already shied away from the conversation. He was poised in front of a photo frame, staring intently. Or, at least, it looked as if he were staring intently. Grissom really couldn't tell.
He took pride in his objective, observational skills, but when it came to condensing those observations to make a final assessment -- a less than objective judgment -- he was often stuck. He was used to letting the evidence, along with Detective Brass's hunches and the words of witnesses, persons of interest and suspects, do the talking and fitting the puzzle pieces together. The evidence alone painted a picture, but never a clear enough one for a solid venture deserving of Gil Grissom's confidence.
That said, he had a few hypotheses floating through his unusual cerebral strands and cortexes as he watched his team's motions throughout the kitchen.
The room itself was rectangular and narrow, with pale yellow tiling surrounding the occasional, geometrically placed square tile with a central blue floral design. Like Catherine, the tiling seemed simple and classy. Appropriate.
Flooring was not something Grissom had always been one to judge. It contradicted his objective nature, and, Sara had said, his manly nonaesthetics. He had replied with lightly veiled irritation in a rare show of temper, that nonaesthetics was not a word. He remembered how he still loved it when she had rolled her eyes. Somehow, the lack of dark, sepia irises always darting around had seemed to bring out the perfect symmetry of her eyes.
He silently chastised himself for becoming distracted by his own irrelevant thoughts and memories. His job today was not to recall his own losses. It was to assess the damage; to watch his team interact in what was the closest setting to a vacuum that he could hope for. The whole team, standing together, except for him, of course. And except for Greg. Then again, circumstances with Greg could no longer be mimicked. That experiment was lost.
Sara, too. The departure of the love of his life forever tainted the dynamics of the team.
Then again, the losses of those particular members could prove the causes of many of the behaviors observed in the team members. It was likely that Wendy's venture into the field was in part the result of the departure of two other CSIs. Sara's loss could easily have initially triggered Ecklie and the undersheriff's subtle hints regarding a need for a larger night shift. After all, the team grew slower upon losing the additional member.
Greg's loss, of course, had exacerbated the crumbling clearance rates. Though he had been only a CSI level one, his presence was certainly felt, if for no other reason than he had often brought smiles to his coworkers' faces.
His death was more brutal, and unexpected. He was dead, and the result, of course, had a finality to it, one that Sara's departure had not provoked.
The team had always known that Sara had her issues. Furthermore, she had initially come as a temporary replacement. Most importantly, it was still possible for her to come back. It was no longer possible for Greg to do so, at least not as anything more than a corpse. In his mind, Grissom could not help but calculate the likely rate of decomposition in the stagnant remains of the formerly wild, restless CSI 1.
When the maggots in his mind moved to the familiar dark chestnut eyes, he cut off the vision, chastising his own perversions. He was, at times, too much the scientist. He grimaced. The impact of past losses could be analyzed later. The dinner presented a priceless and unrepeatable trial, one he should pay careful mind to.
He stared impassively across the table and into the kitchen. Thanks to its narrow layout, which ran perpendicular to the dining room he sat in, he could see all the action in there. He was grateful.
Warrick stood closest to the entryway, leaning over the green beans. Grissom was grateful for their proximity, as he was lavishing in the delightful smell of the sautéing garlic. He took another whiff of the smell -- apparently not subtly enough, as Wendy, who was facing the other counter while carefully slicing a loaf of baguette, seemed to pick up on his thoughts from the slight sound.
"I know, right? You can never go wrong with sautéing garlic. It always smells divine. That and onions." Her voice seemed a little fast. Almost anxious. Grissom could hypothesize on the causes later.
Catherine, delicately shifting to switch places with Warrick and check the oven underneath the stovetop, shook her head slowly and calmly, signaling her agreement.
"That's how Warrick gets the girls, by shows his cooking smarts. All ya got to do is make the right smells, and they'll think you know what you're doing."
She leaned up from the lit oven, wrinkling her brows slightly before lighting up. Most likely, Grissom hypothesized, that means the bird is going well.
Warrick smiled as Catherine gracefully moved up and to his left, toward the dish drain and out of his way. "There are so many other ways I do that."
"Get the girls?" Wendy asked, chuckling. "Or prove your cooking cred?" She leaned in, inspecting the cut of the bread carefully.
She was the most meticulous bread cutter Grissom had ever seen. Licking her lips, she leaned in further toward the chopping board, measuring what looked to be a quarter of an inch into the bread with the tip of her finger, before slicing down slowly.
Grissom knit his brows, wishing she would do so more swiftly, with less calculation. The trick to slicing bread, as Wendy did not seem to know, was to do it quickly enough to slice through in one motion, so that the bread slice would come out even, with straight edges.
But, in his effort to merely observe the situation, as well as his own introversion, he declined the option of commenting aloud. He could worry about his advisory role later, in the field. Helping Wendy become a CSI was different than helping her become a proficient bread slicer.
A new odor interrupted his observations. Catherine bent down as Warrick dropped the spatula he was holding, carefully setting it against the rim of the frying pan filled with darkening green beans and the sweet, yet, in the best way, bitter garlic. The door to the oven popped open and, in one strong motion, Catherine reached in, oven mitts lightly clutched in her hands. The turkey emerged quickly, still steaming, and barely missed brushing against Warrick, whose eyes still half-lingered on the frying pan's bubbling garlic and oil, but he didn't even flinch as the heavy metal tin baring the bird came close.
The bird looked wonderful. Hearing his stomach growl, Grissom tuned his ears to the banter now coming from the room.
Even Nick finally turned around, moving away from the picture frame to cast deep eyes at the poultry that was emerging from the oven and emitting a delightful, warm odor.
Catherine sure knows how to cook a bird, Grissom thought.
The kitchen looked too crowded as Nick made his way back into it. Catherine seemed comfortable in her own kitchen and Warrick, despite his hefty 6'2" frame, was also at ease.
Wendy, though graceful and light on her feet, was hunched over in concentration, elbows bent stiffly. Occasionally, her eyes darted around quickly and carefully, trying to avoid detection. She reminded Grissom of a student taking a test, while carefully checking for classmates' answers.
Nick, meanwhile, looked equally awkward, but, unlike Wendy, anything but concentrating. He almost seemed to be wavering in the non-existent wind of Catherine's kitchen.
If Greg were here, Grissom thought, he would make a joke about making wind. He chuckled sadly.
Wendy looked up, immediately alert, or rather more alert than previously. "What's so funny, Griss?"
Damn, she's sharp, Grissom thought, sighing with frustration.
Wendy raised an eyebrow, and Catherine turned around to stare at Grissom. She seemed to have caught on with Wendy's query, and raised an eyebrow as well, in near identical fashion. Grissom nearly chuckled at the sight of the two women. Warrick slowed his stirring of the green beans to cast an eye at the exchange.
Nick, of all people, saved him from responding. "You guys have the same eyebrows." It was a blunt statement, but Catherine chuckled in relief, just to hear something vaguely happy and humorous coming from Nick's mouth. Grissom barely caught Warrick scowling at Catherine over his shoulder, not needing to watch the hand holding the spoon. Expert hand-eye coordination, thought Grissom sardonically.
Warrick, as if reading Grissom's mind, looked back to the green beans, as Grissom leaned back in his chair. It was a standstill.
Catherine ignored Warrick's scowl. With expert conflict-resolution skills, she reached over to grab the pan of green beans, even as the other hand clutched the bird, still fresh out of the oven.
"Hey," Warrick said, glaring lightly.
"Let's go sit down," she replied with a smile. "I'd say dinner's ready." She directed her gaze to the green beans, which did look to be cooked to perfection.
Warrick reached for the mashed potatoes, still staying warm on the back burner. Wendy gathered the neatly arranged bread, along with the crostini, and followed Warrick carefully to the table.
"Hey, Grissom?" Grissom looked up startled as Catherine waved a hand in front of his face, or rather a frying pan full of green beans, since that was what was in her right hand. "You just gonna sit there staring, or you gonna help?"
Grissom knew his responding expression resembled a deer caught in the headlights. "What do you need help with?"
"Set out some coasters or something to put these on, will ya?"
Grissom nodded, looking around the room. He reached for a set of purple ceramic... well, square-looking things. He forgot what Sara had called them. Seeing that there were only two, he found three more brownish yellow ones, seemingly of a similar material.
Catherine scowled. "Grissom, those don't even match."
He scowled back, before seeing Nick unearth a set of four in green.
"Nice job, Nicky," she said with a smile.
Coddling, Grissom thought to himself, only slightly annoyed at himself for failing the match test yet again. Even Sara would have done better. He sighed. No thinking about Sara. That's an order, Gil Grissom.
After helping spread the placemats, plates and silverware out, he was able to quickly return to his observations. He resisted the urge to say blessings, as he had learned years ago as a young Catholic, but saw Warrick take over the task anyways. The blessing was said quietly, but Warrick's deep, rich and commanding voice made it work. In a matter of seconds -- maybe even less than a second --the food was making quick rounds around the table.
Grissom served himself moderate portions of each dish, surreptitiously glancing around every few seconds to continue his observations.
What, he thought, would be the proper trigger, to set off a reaction capable of exposing the underbelly of the team's problems? Typical conversation starters, he thought, would not quite work. He rattled off a few in his head. Weather -- too boring; sports -- only Nick and Warrick know sports; work? Everyone's tired of work, unless there's some new news...
"So, is this a congratulatory dinner?"
Nick stared up, his face as blank as ever. Warrick and Catherine's faces held mild curiosity, Catherine's showing more apparent on her non-poker face. Wendy's face bore a small smile in between spoonfuls of mashed potatoes.
Wendy gulped down her bite, and looked up, smiling more broadly. Her smile seemed to give away hints to the rest of the team -- or at least Warrick and Catherine -- of what was meant.
Catherine quickly broke the silence. "You finished the case?!"
Wendy's smile grew. "Yep. This afternoon -- or night. Whatever you say on nightshift."
Warrick chuckled. "We're special."
"Damn straight," Catherine replied, between small, ladylike mouthfuls that she chomped down, less than ladylike.
The team continued to eat, but in more silence. Grissom regretted the silence, but made no further attempts to change it, fearing the repercussions of altering the experiment further, and enjoyed the delicious food prepared.
Taking his last bite of his own potatoes, Grissom turned to stare, again surreptitiously. Warrick and Catherine were, again, at ease. Wendy seemed to be involved in a battle with the chunk of salmon, as she tried, scowling, to push off the pieces of skin. It was the second time that evening that Grissom noticed an unusual level of concentration applied to something not normally warranting such focus, by Wendy. He noticed Wendy pause, and begin to look up, so he too turned his head, this time to his immediate left, where Nick sat in a harsher silence. His face was hard, but still blank, so that Grissom couldn't tell whether it was an expression of apathy or a scowl.
Grissom looked more closely. He was surprised to catch Nick's furtive stares -- or, rather, glares -- directed across the table. Wendy. Something to do with Wendy. He's staring at her; glaring at her.
Based on the newly retrieved piece of evidence, Grissom decided to test the waters further. "So, Wendy." She picked up her head quickly to look at him, almost in surprise. "You ready to be a CSI?"
Warrick and Catherine stared at him, Catherine's expression of definite bemusement. Grissom knew the words were not those expected of him. They sounded awkward, and more so than his normal words. They sounded forced. Good job protecting the validity of this experiment, he chastised himself. But I will go on with this.
Wendy nodded happily. Nick's scowl was less furtive this time, stronger, Grissom noted. "We could sure use the extra pair of hands, and eyes, on the grave shift."
Wendy beamed again, or as much as was possible through a mouth full of green beans. Nick scowled more. Wendy and Nick's expressions seemed to exist in an inverse relationship. Where one's happiness grew, the other's decreased even more. The more talk of Wendy's inevitable promotion, the more her face lit up, and the more Nick's fell.
Hmmm, Grissom thought, intrigued.
Grissom was done observing. He was normally a patient man, but he could wait no longer to puzzle over his findings and hypothesize. Besides, he justified. With this many observations swirling around in my mind, I'm bound to forget something. The more I add, especially without thoroughly processing and encoding, the more I'm bound to forget.
He could see the change in facial expressions, and the surprise at various realizations. Though that was not what most caught his notice. Catherine's ease and sense of humor, just like normal. The only abnormalities in her behavior had been her words towards Nick, which seemed unusually maternal and coddling.
Warrick was at ease, and seemed to follow Catherine's lead more than usual, even in small situations where she blocked his path in the kitchen. Nonetheless, in those cases, only Grissom could see Warrick's small and quickly corrected scowls.
Wendy was attentive and focused. In some ways, she reminded Grissom of a Nick of earlier days, a perfectionist no matter the task. At the same time, however, she seemed very in tune with her surroundings as well as the task she herself was focusing on.
The contrast between Wendy and an earlier Nick was what most illuminated the kitchen's most obvious abnormality. Nick seemed so distracted, so... elsewhere. So faded. So different than he used to be. Grissom couldn't quite pinpoint where the change occurred, but he could still, definitely sense it.
Grissom's hypothesis solved itself.
Nick used to be so bright. Bright like a star, not like a scientist. He really did cast the sort of smile that could light up the room. It was sad to lose those smiles.
Even Grissom could see how it hurt team morale. He knew it wasn't just Greg's loss that plagued them. In reality, they were down three CSIs, not just two. In the last year, while Sara had left and Greg had died, Nick had simply faded away to nothingness. Nick was a shell, and the only difference between him and Greg was that they hadn't found Greg's corpse yet. In the darker depths of his entomologically oriented mind, Grissom wondered if he would find month-old maggot colonies growing in Nick by now.
Tearing himself from the painful metaphor, Grissom stared at the scene before him, and watched it paint the path to his solution.
"Whatcha thinking about, Griss?"
He turned to Catherine, realizing that the last small strain of conversation had died out five minutes ago as he had continued to stare and observe.
"Just the team," Grissom replied.
Catherine raised both brows and nodded, before turning back to her food. Grissom could see the expression on her face, the one that read thought, and, inevitably, an incoming comment. Her next words arrived right on time, as planned for. Nonetheless, they were unexpected. "Hasn't been quite the same for a while, has it?" she asked.
Bold move, he thought. Then again, bold has always been one of Catherine's most notable features. So no surprise there.
"No, it hasn't," Warrick replied, shooting Catherine a strange look, seemingly one of reprove.
"Hasn't been the same since Sara left," Catherine added, more aimed at Warrick's questioning look than at anyone else at the table.
Grissom coughed uncomfortably at the name of his girlfriend -- if that's even what she is anymore... -- and nodded. I'm not looking for my reaction. I'm looking for theirs.
He was surprised to see Nick finally venture words, but the words only served to bring him down further. "Nothing's been the same."
Four simple words that told Grissom everything he was looking for at the moment.
Grissom had a hypothesis, as proved, as best it could be, by the dinner experiment. More importantly, however, he also had his solution.
Watching as Catherine cleared the plates with the eager help of Wendy, Grissom excused himself, reaching into his pocket. His cell phone had never felt so much like a key to happiness before, as when he reached for the familiar, much loved button.