I’ll start at the beginning – that’s the very beginning of how I got myself into my current situation, rather than starting at this present moment. You need the background before you can understand how I have single-handedly ruined my birthday, and my life. Okay, that’s little melodramatic… But just a little!
I have this friend. Jasmine. We were at university together and we’ve been friends since then. She teaches science at UNLV now. We email, and call each other regularly for all the latest gossip, and then once month we get together for a really good chat. Our last such meeting was three weeks ago, and as usual, we got onto the topic of men.
“There was this one guy, Chris,” I tell her with a small smile, and she giggles with intrigue. “But, it was just sex.”
“No harm in that!” she exclaims.
“No,” I agree, “But I realised I want more than that.” She looks shocked. “Yeah, it took me by surprise too. I thought Eddie had put me off relationships forever. But apparently not,” I shrug. “What about you? Any developments?”
“Nope. Still as single as ever…” She looks thoughtful for a second then says, “Hey, is Grissom still single?”
And my mind immediately thought, “What a great idea! I’ll set them up!” I have condemned my mind to a life without television! That crazy idea can only have come from watching television.
So I put the idea to her and she liked it, so next time I saw Grissom, I put it to him too.
“Gil, when was the last time you went on a date?” I ask, getting straight to the point.
He looks up from the tyre tread he is examining and frowns at me. I smile, his frown is so cute. (Perhaps here I should have realised that I might see him as more than a friend!) “That’s a very personal question, Cath.”
“And? Since when do we not talk about very personal topics?” I respond.
He studies me for a second to see if I am actually seriously asking, then sighs and says, “I don’t know. A few months ago, maybe.” He looks back down to his tyre tread.
“Well, I have this friend – ” I begin.
“I am not going on a blind date… No offence to your friend,” he says, without looking up.
“It wouldn’t be a blind date. You’ve met before. Her name’s Jasmine Summers. We were at night school together. She sat next to me in that seminar on entomology that you gave. You couldn’t take your eyes off her all night.”
He turns and looks at me, and I can tell he still doesn’t know who I’m talking about. “She was at my wedding… Come on, Gil, that memory of yours contains thousands of quotes and pieces of incidental information, but you can’t even remember a woman, who is, no doubt, one of the most beautiful women you have ever met… I say one of, because I am obviously the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met,” I smirk, hoping humour will lighten him up and he’ll be more amenable to what I’m suggesting. He’s still just looking at me.
And seconds later, he’s still just looking at me, and it’s making me nervous.
“Please, Gil. She’s really nice, and she thinks you’re really cute.”
“She hasn’t seen me for years. People change.”
“You’re still cute,” I smile, and I meet his eyes with mine. (Apparently I was giving myself several clues that I have feelings for Grissom. Evidently, I ignored them!)
He holds my gaze for a second and I can see his expression softening, then something that looks like disappointment clouds his eyes, before he says:
“Okay, why not?”
When I look back on it now, it does strike me that the disappointment could have been because he had feelings for me, and he was accepting the fact that I obviously didn’t feel the same way. But thoughts like those only make me feel worse, so I’m trying to block them out. And I should do quite well because I managed not to tell myself that I was I love with Grissom for eighteen years.
Yes, I have finally come to the realisation that I’m in love with Grissom. It happened the night he was going out on his first date with Jasmine.
We had to pull a double shift at work, so he was going straight from the lab to the restaurant.
I stand in his office doorway watching him adjust his tie, and I’m reminded of the day I got back from Miami. He’s wearing a suit again. And it suits him. And for some reason, butterflies flutter in my stomach slightly when I think back to the exchange he and I shared upon my return. I realise I was checking him out. And I liked it.
He turns round, not realising I’m there, and jumps slightly.
I smile. “Sorry… You all set?”
He nods. “I hope so.”
And then we stand in silence, and it’s during that silence that I’m hit with a rush of feelings. Feelings of love, of desire, of regret. Too many emotions for me to take in all at once. My heart starts to beat rapidly, and I suddenly feel sick. I’m in love with this man, and I’ve just ruined any chance I might have had by setting him up with my best friend. I feel my throat constrict and my chest feels heavy as I breathe. God, I hope he doesn’t notice.
I smile again, and say: “Well, have fun… I’ll see you tomorrow.” I turn to leave, but his voice stops me.
“Cath?” He waits for me to turn back, which I do, still wearing my smile. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just tired. I actually feel sorry for you having to go out now. I just wanna collapse and sleep for a week… Guess I’ll have to make do with a few hours… See you tomorrow.”
So, that was two weeks ago, and they’ve been seeing each other regularly ever since. I am happy for them. I do want them to be happy, and that’s what I’ve been focussing on: Being pleased for them rather than unhappy for myself.
But tonight is going to be torture. As a birthday present, Jasmine is fixing me up with this friend of hers who she thinks is perfect for me. So I’m going out to dinner tonight with Gil and Jasmine, and this mystery guy. And I really don’t want to go. I haven’t dealt with my feelings for Gil yet. I’ve been nervous around him at work, and he keeps putting us together on cases, so I haven’t had much time away from him to work on accepting that we’re just friends. Every time I’m in the same room as him I fantasise about feeling his lips on mine, and his arms wrapped around me, our bodies rubbing together… There I go again! I’m not going to survive tonight. There is no way I’ll be able to concentrate on my date if Gil’s there. And I feel guilty for that already. I just know I’m going to spoil the entire evening. Then every birthday I have will remind me of this one, and I’ll just want to spend the day curled up in a ball, sleeping until it’s over with. I know I sound pathetic, but I’ve loved him for eighteen years, I’m finding it excruciatingly difficult to give him up.
But, it’s all my own doing, and unfortunately there’s no way I can get out of it without either Jasmine or Grissom being suspicious of my reasons. So I’ve got my little black dress on, my hair is up and my make-up’s done. Jasmine will be here any minute to pick me up, and then the torture begins. Or rather, the torture intensifies - I’ve been torturing myself enough since I realised my feelings. Every day I find something else that I love about him, and with every discovery, I kick myself even harder for not noticing any of this until it was too late.
The ringing of my cell phone distracts me from wallowing in my thoughts, and I retrieve it from my purse, hoping that it’s Jasmine calling to cancel.
Well it is Jasmine. There’s hope. I inject cheer and anticipation into my voice as I answer.
She’s calling to apologise because she’s held up at a faculty meeting at work, and she admits that my blind date is a colleague of hers and therefore is also stuck.
“Oh it’s okay,” I assure her, “We can postpone.” And I’m crossing my fingers hoping she’ll agree.
No such luck.
She has already called Grissom and he’s going to pick me up instead then they can meet us at the restaurant when their meeting eventually ends. Fabulous!
“Fabulous,” I tell her, with much more enthusiasm than I told it to myself! “I’ll see you later then.”
I return the phone to my purse and let out a heavy sigh. If the bad luck of them being held up at a meeting can’t get me out of this then it’s obviously meant to be. I need to accept that I missed my chance and move forward before I ruin my friendships with the two people I’m closest to.
I check my appearance one last time and then move to the window to await Grissom’s arrival. I hope that I don’t have to wait long - I’m eager to get this over with.
Some wishes, it seems, are granted. I have been waiting only five minutes and Grissom has just pulled up outside. I check I have everything I need in my purse as I move towards the door. It would feel too much like a date to have him come to the door, so I intend to go out to meet him.
I set the alarm and step into the cool night air. Deep breaths of this will hopefully help me get through the evening. I lock the door and turn only to find Grissom standing in front of me. I jump, startled, and he smiles.
“God, you walk fast,” I mutter.
He frowns. “Sorry?”
“I thought I’d meet you at the car so you wouldn’t have to get out.” Not a complete lie.
“Ah. Well, I brought you a birthday present, and I thought you might like to open it before we leave.”
I am pathetically excited to see what he has bought me, so I nod. “Okay.”
“Can we go inside? It’s a bit cold to stand out here.”
Isn’t this what I was avoiding?
“Sure.” I turn back and unlock the door again, hoping this won’t take long, and hating myself for that.
He steps in quite closely behind me, his presence surrounding me, and I shiver involuntarily as I’m deactivating the alarm.
“See, you’ve already been out there too long,” he comments. So, my shiver didn’t go unnoticed.
I smile as I turn around. “So what did you bring me?” I can’t get into a conversation about the cause of my shiver, and he knows how much I love presents, so the feigned excitement should successfully change the subject.
“You’re like a child at Christmas,” he laughs, and I realise I don’t see him laugh very often. I love his laugh.
I become aware that I’ve just been gazing at him when he asks if I’m okay.
“Yeah. I’m just waiting for my present.”
He smirks, and he’s not just smiling at what I said, I can tell. But I can’t tell what it is that has amused him.
“What?” I ask.
“Nothing,” he replies, shaking his head as he reaches his hand into his jacket pocket and produces a rectangular gift box.
My breath catches, hopefully imperceptibly. It certainly looks like it’s jewellery. “Gil…”
“Open it,” he says, handing it to me.
I meet his eyes - which is dangerous because I’ve learned lately that I love his eyes and could quite happily lose myself in them - and he smiles.
I’m actually scared to open the box. If he’s bought me something really pretty, and perfect for me, then my love for him is going to overload, and how the hell am I going to hide that? I don’t know how I managed to keep this secret for eighteen years, when right now I feel that I’m barely in control of my own thoughts let alone my actions.
“Jasmine helped me choose it,” he continues, and like a slap to the face that shakes some sense into me.
“Oh…” I lift the lid from the box and instantly my heart falls. Inside is a silver charm bracelet - complete with at least a dozen charms. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Were he not involved with Jasmine I’d kiss him: Hence my disappointment.
His hand appears in my line of vision as I try to think of something to say and a way to force it past the lump in my throat. He lifts the bracelet out of the box and starts at the first charm, explaining the significance of each one to me. The musical note, for my dancing; the test tube for the lab; a birthday cake because it’s my birthday; a little spider because I can’t possibly fear a fake one; a butterfly because they’re beautiful and so am I -
That’s as far as he gets before a tear slips down my cheek and he stops.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I shake my head. “Nothing.”
“Catherine, I’ve known you many years, and you don’t cry over nothing.”
“Sometimes I do,” I try, but his other hand gently touches my chin and raises my head to look at him.
“Is it the spider?” he asks, with a small smirk.
I laugh, and more tears escape.
He’s serious now. “Catherine, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Gil. I’m sorry. I just… I always get emotional on my birthday.”
“No you don’t.”
His many demonstrations that he knows me better than any man has ever known me are really not helping.
“Okay, I don’t. But there’s a first time for everything.”
“Yes there is,” he says quietly and there’s a strange look in his eyes. He seems to be summoning courage, then he steps forward and he kisses me.
It’s seconds before I even realise what is happening. His hand has slipped into my hair, holding my head close to his as his lips caress mine so softly and lovingly. When my brain finally kicks in, my conscience is first in line with an opinion and I pull away.
“Gil - ”
He doesn’t let me finish. “Cath, you have to forgive me for what I am about to admit.”
I frown. What is he talking about?
“There’s no double date tonight. There is a restaurant booked but Jasmine won’t be meeting us there.”
“When I went out on that date with Jasmine, it took her about five minutes to realise that I am completely in love with you. She called me on it and found no amount of my denial to be convincing. Instead she told me that you feel the same about me…”
Oh my God.
“… I told her that was crazy, but she insisted, and suggested a little charade to prove it to me. I don’t know what came over me, but I agreed. I think I just wanted to know if it was true.”
“You’ve not been dating Jasmine?”
He shakes his head.
“But she’s told me about your dates. That was all contrived?”
He nods slowly; he looks so ashamed and absolutely terrified. Am I really that scary?
“I’m sorry. I just needed to know.”
“You could have asked,” I say quietly, still unsure what I really should be doing.
“Would you have told me?”
I’ve got to admit I don’t know the answer to that. If he had, completely out of the blue, asked me if I have feelings for him, would I have said yes? Without this whole charade would I have even realised that I do? But while I ponder this, one thought sneaks in to override the others. I’m in love with him, he’s in love with me, and seconds ago we were kissing. And it was nice.
I smile. “Well, I suppose that depends how you asked.”
My smile must put him at ease because he smiles back. “I never would have had the courage to ask. I couldn’t risk our friendship.”
“So why risk it now?”
“Because the way you’ve been acting since Jasmine and I went on that date, it certainly seems that you share my feelings.”
I feel my cheeks blush. “Ah. You noticed that?”
“Yeah… You should have said something,” he says, taking my free hand in his, and gently stroking his fingers over my palm.
“I couldn’t do that to Jasmine - ”
“I hadn’t even told myself before your date with Jasmine. I guess I played with matches and I got burned. It was quite the wake up call… I’ve been kicking myself ever since.”
He smiles, presumably at my metaphor and steps closer to me again. “Catherine?”
My stomach is doing somersaults. This is terrifyingly exhilarating. I look up at him. “Yes, Gil?”
He swallows hard and I can see the nervousness in his eyes. “I think I’m in love with you.”
A smile creeps slowly across my lips as I replay his words over and over in my head. Perhaps I’m dreaming. Maybe I fell asleep waiting by the window. But I don’t care. My mind isn’t daft, if I’m asleep, then I doubt I’ll ever wake up. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I meet his eyes and happily melt into them. “I think the feeling’s mutual,” I tell him, and this time I initiate the kiss.
Evidently I haven’t ruined my birthday or my life. Quite the contrary: This is by far my best birthday yet.