|black_dahlia63 (black_dahlia63) wrote in csi_lv_slash,|
@ 2008-05-21 11:50:00
|Current music:||I Feel You - 3 Doors Down|
"Kjaere" (Nick/Greg, 5/12)
“Kjaere” (Nick/Greg, 5/12)
I’m just all sorts of happy that this story seems to have gathered regular readers – here’s the next chapter, and I apologise for the delay, but…work. Ick.
Title – Kjaere
Author - black_dahlia63
Characters – Nick Stokes, Greg Sanders, various OC’s
Spoilers - Fannysmackin’
Rating – PG
Warning – Serious angst, but hey…people kind of expect that from me by now, right?
Disclaimer – not mine, don’t sue.
Thanks to – elmyraemilie for creative input and moral support.
AN: The story covers the time span of a year, and will update by one month each chapter – except this instalment and the next one, which have one month split between them.
Previous instalments here.
Hey Nick –
It was good to get your email yesterday, although I’m sorry there’s still no change. I’m not sure what to say that everyone else hasn’t already said a thousand times, but hang in there, okay?
Things are still pretty much the same here, only busier – and yesterday I got a call about doing a calendar for next year. Can you believe that?? I’m still just a guy who likes tinkering with bikes, and the idea of my picture being on someone’s wall for twelve months is something I can’t quite get my head around. Also means I’ll get recognised in public more than I do now, which is something I pretend to like but really don’t. That’s why I think I’ll be making an effort to spend more time up in Salem – people let you mind your own business there.
This is gonna be short and sweet, I’m afraid – got a meeting with my accountant, and there are still about three documents he wants that I can’t find. Get back to me soon, though, and let me know how everything’s going – and I meant what I said, man. You and the kid should think about coming to Daytona for a visit, because I think it’d do the pair of you good. Especially her.
Take care –
March 15th, 11.55 a.m
“I don’t need to ask how you are,” the man with the greying beard said when Nick barely managed to refrain from slamming the door upon entering the room. “It’s all over your face – what happened?”
“Grissom,” Nick replied, letting himself fall heavily into the slightly threadbare armchair. “God damn Grissom, someone else who thinks they know what’s best for me,” and he clenched his fists painfully tightly before letting out a shaky sigh. “Sorry, Jack, I just – I came that close to smacking him -”
“Never a good idea, smacking the boss,” was the response. “I learned that at a young age, that’s why I started working for myself as soon as I could. Coffee?” Although previous visits had taught him that even the coffee from the machine at Desert Palms was better than the coffee he got here, Nick said yes – hoping that by the time it had been poured he would have calmed down a bit, although the likelihood of this happening was remote to say the least – and while his ears tuned in to the pouring of water and the rattling of spoons, he let his eyes wander around a room that had become familiar over the previous two months.
Besides the usual battery of diplomas on the wall behind the desk, there was a framed copy of the Beatles’ “White Album” - yes, it’s one of the numbered copies, Jack had said when Nick had remarked on it, and if I didn’t take it home with me every night my insurance premiums for this office would be a lot higher. A set of shelves in one corner of the room was filled with plants, and an aquarium occupied a large portion of the wall opposite the door; as Nick looked at this aquarium now, his mind distracted by the endless circling of the tropical fish it contained, a mug bearing a drug company logo was placed in his hand.
“Now, what did Grissom do to upset you?”
Nick had been to visit more therapists than he cared to remember before he’d found Jack Naumann and decided that he actually felt he could talk to him – unlike the other offices he’d sat in, where he’d been uncomfortably reminded of childhood trips to the principal’s study. Jack had salt-and-pepper hair, along with a beard that he said his wife was constantly encouraging him to get rid of; his ample belly strained at the buttons securing the pinstripe shirts he always wore - a mute testament to his addiction to candy, a big jar of which sat on one corner of his desk. Incongruously, his expensive suit and shirt were always complemented by an outlandish tie; today’s featured Bart Simpson being strangled by his irate father, accompanied by the caption Why you little…
“Greg would like that tie,” Nick said now. “He loves the Simpsons, but he -”
“Nick, you didn’t answer my question,” Jack told him, a smile twitching one corner of his mouth. “What happened at work?”
“We were at a scene last night,” Nick replied. “Suicide, at least that’s what it looked like, but we won’t know for certain until the autopsy results come back,” and he paused to take a sip of the dreadful coffee before he continued speaking. “Anyway, the woman’s husband wanted back into the house, kept saying he was an attorney and he knew what his rights were – and I – well, I raised my voice to him, and I would have put my hands on him too if Warrick hadn’t gotten the guy away from there,” he went on. “So we get back to the lab, and Grissom asks me to come into his office – gives me some bullshit speech about how he knows what kind of pressure I’m under,” and he swallowed down the lump in his throat. “He’s got no idea what kind of pressure I’m under,” he said, almost under his breath. “If he had to go into that damn hospital every day and sit next to that bed and be told there was no change -”
“What else did he say?”
“He told me I should take some time off,” and a bitter laugh escaped Nick’s lips. “Now.”
“Nick!” Emily shrieked, her face lighting up, and she raced down the path to jump into her father’s arms. “I thought Angie was picking me up today!” and she covered his face with kisses, bringing smiles from the other waiting parents; after a moment or so, she drew her head back and studied Nick’s face, her brows creased with concern. “Does your head hurt?”
“I’m okay, sweet pea,” he told her, ruffling her hair; his headaches had been getting worse lately, making the light hurt his eyes and killing his appetite – and although he’d tried to conceal his discomfort, he obviously hadn’t succeeded. “Shall we go home?”
“Are we going to go out for pie?”
“You have to go to work.”
“No, honey, I don’t,” he told Emily. “I’m on vacation for a little while.”
“Yay! Where are we going?”
“We’re not going anywhere,” he replied, somehow managing to smile. “It’s not that kind of vacation,” and he saw a puzzled expression appear on his daughter’s face. “You remember Mr. Grissom from work?” he went on, and there was a nod in response. “Well, he thinks I’m getting tired, and he told me I should take a little break.”
“Does that mean you get to take me to school?”
“Yes, it does.”
“And pick me up? Every day?” Emily went on, and when Nick nodded she flung her arms round his neck; he wrapped his arms round his daughter, holding her tightly, and when he’d blinked away the tears that threatened to spill down his cheeks he let go of her again.
“Shall we go and get our snack, kiddo?”
“Well, go and get your jammies on, then -”
The painkillers he’d taken an hour previously were finally beginning to kick in; Nick lay stretched out on the couch in his pyjama bottoms and a T shirt, while a show he couldn’t remember the name of and wasn’t really watching anyway unspooled on the TV. Emily had gone to sleep in the truck on the way back from the diner, and hadn’t stirred when he’d unfastened her seatbelt and carried her upstairs; she lay in her pink-draped bed, her mouth smeared with cherry pie filling, and as Nick had stood in the bedroom doorway looking at her his eyes had filled with the tears that were never far away these days – because Greg should have been here looking at their daughter too, an arm round Nick’s shoulders and his lips against Nick’s ear as he whispered c’mon, Nicky, come to bed…
…but he wasn’t, and how much longer was Nick going to have to do all this by himself?
“Hey, sweetie,” he said, sitting up on the couch – and as he did so, the sight of Emily’s drawn, unhappy little face hit him like a blow to the gut. “Come here,” and he held out his arms and waited for the four year old to climb into his lap. “What’s wrong?” but he received no answer; holding her close, he stroked her back and planted a kiss on top of her head before rising to his feet. “Shall we get you back to bed?”
“Wanna sleep with you,” Emily replied, the words muffled against Nick’s T shirt, and so he carried her along the hallway to his own room. When he bent to set her down on the bed, she clung to him and wouldn’t let go – so he climbed into bed and lay down, still holding onto her, only reaching out to turn off the light.
“Nick,” a voice whispered. “Nick, wake up,” and he forced his eyelids open to see Emily standing next to the bed with an anxious expression on her face; she was holding a cereal bowl in her hands, and milk was slopping from it onto the carpet. “It’s ten zero zero.”
“Ten o’clock?” he said, pushing himself upright against the pillows, wondering how he’d managed to sleep for so long and still feel so tired. “Is that for me?” and when his question was met by a nod he took the bowl from his daughter. It was full of Lucky Charms, a cereal he wouldn’t have eaten on a bet - but Emily’s eyes were on him, so he picked up the spoon.
“Have you got your ballet bag ready?” he asked, once he’d managed to force down several mouthfuls of cereal containing so much sugar it made his teeth hurt. “I’ll just fix your hair and get dressed, and we -”
“Don’t want to go.”
“What? You like your lessons.”
“I want to stay with you,” Emily told him, her voice wavering slightly. “Please.”
“Come here,” Nick said, setting the bowl on the nightstand; he wrapped his arms round his daughter as she crawled into his lap, one of her arms going round his waist and her face burrowing against the T shirt he always wore to bed. It was one of Greg’s old ones, and if Emily realised this she’d never commented on it; but as Nick looked down at her now, he realised that she was rubbing the hem of the shirt between her thumb and forefinger – exactly what she’d done for years with a tattered cloth diaper whenever she needed to comfort herself.
“If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to,” he told her. “Should we just stay here?” and when the arm round his waist tightened its grip a lump rose in Nick’s throat. He’d tried his best to keep things normal for Emily, but he knew that this relentless round of rushing between school and the sitter and everything else that made up their lives was going to have to stop – at least for a little while.
“You’ve been in that bath a long time,” Nick said. “Do you need me to come in and help you with your hair?” and he smiled when there was a shrill “No!” in response. A week or so previously, a policeman had talked to Emily’s class about “stranger danger” and how the parts of you that your underwear covered were private; Emily had interpreted this with a literalness that only a small child was capable of, and ever since that day the bathroom door was kept firmly shut.
“Nick!” came a piercing shriek a few seconds later. “I got shampoo in my eyes! It hurts!”
“I’m coming,” he called out, pushing the door open and moving swiftly into the bathroom before kneeling by the side of the bath. “No, don’t rub your eyes, sweetie, that’s going to make it hurt even more – just lean back,” and he supported her with his free hand before reaching for the oversized plastic cup that floated in the water and filling it with clean water from the faucet. “Keep still,” he told Emily as he carefully poured the water over her face, and once he’d done this he grabbed a towel from the floor to pat her face dry. “There – better?”
“Yes, thank you,” Emily said solemnly, sitting up again and covering herself with her hands. “I can finish on my own now.”
“You finish up, then,” Nick told her, breathing in the scent of watermelon shampoo as he leaned down to kiss her forehead; getting to his feet, he left the bathroom, and as he closed the door behind him he recalled an email he’d received almost a fortnight since.
You and the kid should think about coming to Daytona for a visit, because I think it’d do the pair of you good. Especially her.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said as he sat facing Emily on her bed and brushed the tangles out of her damp hair. “How would you like the two of us to go away for a few days?”
“You said this wasn’t a vacation,” Emily replied. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know if you remember when we were at the ranch just before Christmas,” Nick told her. “Someone came to visit grandma Jillian -”
“He called me Miss Emily.”
“Yes, he did,” Nick said. “You remember a lot of things, don’t you? You’re pretty smart,” and he saw his daughter’s cheeks flush pink with pride. “Well, he lives in Florida, and he told me that we should go out and visit him any time we wanted to – what do you think about doing that?”
“Well, I have to call him and make sure he isn’t too busy,” Nick told her. “We need to get plane tickets, and I need to make sure somebody can go and see Greg every day while we’re gone,” and he set the hairbrush down. “You think about it, and if you don’t want to go then we won’t -”
Desert Palms – March 25th, 1.25 p.m
“We’ll be back on Thursday evening,” Nick said, lacing his fingers with the motionless ones resting against the bedcovers. “I’m going to call the hospital every day while we’re gone, and Catherine and Warrick said they’re going to come and make sure you’re okay – right, kiddo?” he went on, turning his head to the side, and Emily nodded. “Em’s teacher gave her some work to do…”
“It’s colouring in.”
“Well, some colouring in,” Nick said, smiling even though it hurt him to do it – but this was a skill he’d mastered over the preceding months, so doing it came a lot easier now than it had in the beginning. “We’re going to think about you all the time while we’re gone,” he said, rising from his chair and leaning over the bed, and he let his lips touch Greg’s ear before he continued speaking. “I love you,” he whispered. “I love you with all my heart, G, don’t you forget that,” and then he turned to Emily. “You going to give Greg a kiss, sweetheart? We need to get to the airport, or we’ll miss our plane -”
Daytona International Airport – 7.25 p.m
Their flight had been delayed by almost an hour, meaning that by the time they retrieved their luggage from the carousel it was close to Emily’s bedtime; this had rendered the little girl scratchy and irritable, whining steadily as she trailed behind Nick and dragged the toes of her shoes along the floor. It was too hot, her feet hurt, her bag was too heavy – and this last complaint had resulted in amused smiles being directed at Nick as he headed towards Arrivals with a bright pink suitcase in one hand.
“I wanna go home,” Emily was saying now, the words delivered at a pitch that was hurting her father’s ears as the pneumatic doors opened onto Arrivals. “I don’t wanna go to stupid Daytona Beach, I don’t like it here.”
“This is just the airport, the rest of it’s different,” Nick said wearily, and he caught sight of Luke standing amidst the waiting crowd; his left hand was holding up a piece of card saying HI NICK AND EMILY!, while a helium balloon with a picture of Barbie on it was tied to his right wrist. “Come on, it’s not much further,” he told his daughter. “Em, stop dragging your feet like that, or you’ll -” but before he could finish his warning Emily tripped and went sprawling on the polished tile floor, where she burst into tears.
“Oh, sweetheart, come here,” Nick said, juggling their suitcases as he dropped to one knee next to his daughter; a sneaker-clad foot flew out, striking him square in the right shin as Emily’s wails escalated – and then, out of the corner of his eyes, Nick saw someone vault over the nearby barrier and move swiftly towards him.
“Give me those,” Luke said, lifting the two suitcases. “You take her,” and he led the way towards the exit as Nick rose to his feet with Emily kicking and sobbing in his arms; they came to a stop at the nearby Starbucks stand, where Nick set the four year old down on the floor.
“Let’s have a look at your knees, kiddo,” he said softly, rolling up Emily’s pants legs one at a time. “See? No blood – you’re fine.”
“Wanna – go - home!”
“Now, Miss Emily,” Luke said gravely, raising his voice slightly so as to make himself heard over the little girl’s protestations, “If you go home now they won’t let you take this on the plane with you,” and he lowered his right hand so that Emily could see the balloon tied to his wrist. “I’ll have to carry it all the way back to my house, and everyone’s going to laugh at me,” he went on; when Emily’s sobs began to tail off, he pulled the loop of string down over his hand and held the balloon out towards her, only to have her press herself against her father’s side.
“Want Nick to do it,” Emily said, her chest still heaving, and Nick was cringing inwardly as he took the balloon and bent to tie the string loosely round his daughter’s wrist.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he stood up, telling himself – not for the first time tonight – that this trip had been a bad idea. “She isn’t usually…” but his voice tailed off as a hand was held up to silence him.
“Tell you what,” Luke said, reaching into his pocket and producing his wallet, “you get me a coffee, and I’ll bring the car round,” and he passed Nick a twenty dollar bill. “Just a plain coffee with cream, none of that fancy crap, and get whatever the two of you want – something wrong?”
“I forgot the car seat,” Nick said, running a distracted hand over his hair. “It’s still in the Denali.”
“I went and rented one,” Luke said. “Just in case the airline lost yours,” he added tactfully, and he pointed towards a set of automatic doors. “Meet me out there, okay?” and he had grabbed the suitcases and walked away before Nick could say anything.
“He said C-R-A-P,” Emily said, her storm of rage finally eclipsed by the fact that someone had done something she perceived to be wrong. “That’s a bad word, right?”
“Yes, it is,” Nick said as he joined the queue at the Starbucks stand. “You don’t need to tell him that, though.”
“He already knows it’s a bad word,” Nick told his daughter. “And when people get to be adults they can decide whether they want to use bad words or not, even though they know they shouldn’t.”
“So I could say it?”
“When you’re fifty,” Nick said, feeling the beginnings of another headache pulsing at his temples as they reached the front of the queue. “What do you want to drink?”
“You’ll get that when you’re fifty as well,” Nick replied, and he heard a snicker of laughter from whoever was standing behind him in the queue. “Uh…yes, ma’am, can I get two tall coffees and a strawberry milkshake, please?”
Ponce Inlet, 9.30 p.m
Luke’s “car” had turned out to be a Hummer – an H3 Alpha, painted jet black with red and yellow flames licking along the sides – and Emily had been so impressed by this that she’d forgotten to complain about having to sit in what she always called a baby seat. Once they were on the road, she’d taken three sips of her milkshake before putting it in the cup holder and falling asleep; Nick, who was sitting in the back next to her, had only stayed awake long enough to drink half of his coffee before he’d allowed his eyes to close too – and when he woke up again, he was looking at white brickwork that seemed to fill most of his field of vision.
“Is that his house?” Emily asked in awe. “It’s big.”
“Not all of it’s mine,” Luke said, smiling into the rear view mirror. “Just a little bit of it,” and he reached out to press a button on a small device that was fastened to the dashboard. The brick-red doors in front of them slid open, and moments later they were in the garage; by the time Nick had unfastened Emily’s seatbelt and helped her down to the ground, their host had retrieved the luggage from the back of the Hummer, and made no attempt to let them carry it themselves.
“Come on,” Luke said, as Emily yawned mightily; she was holding something in her free hand, but concealed it behind her back when she saw him looking at it. “The sooner we get you guys inside, the sooner you can get some sleep,” and the three of them walked through a door into a hallway with a black and white tiled floor – and although he suddenly remembered something his mother had told him when he was a kid about it being rude to stare, Nick had to struggle not to let his jaw drop.
“Nick,” Emily whispered, tugging on her father’s arm, “Nick, his house is huge.”
“Ssh,” Nick whispered back, but he knew that his admonition had come too late when there was a chuckle from behind them.
“You speak your mind, don’t you, Miss Emily?” Luke said with a grin. “You want to see where your room is?”
“You can answer, sweetie, he won’t bite you,” Nick told his daughter as she hid her face against his hip, and he looked up apologetically. “Sorry,” he said, for the second time that evening. “She…”
“She’s just tired, aren’t you?” was the matter-of-fact response. “Come with me, guys, and we can get rid of this luggage,” and when Nick turned towards the nearby stairs a hand caught hold of his arm. “It’s quicker this way,” Luke told him - and he pressed a button on the wall, as though having an elevator in his house was the most natural thing in the world.
“Let’s show you your room first, shall we?” Luke asked Emily as the three of them stepped out of the elevator, and even though he received no answer he led the way across an expanse of plush blue carpet before opening a door – and Emily, who hadn’t been drilled in discretion as long as her father had, let her thumb fall out of her mouth with an audible ‘pop’.
“One of the guys at the shop did it for me about a year ago,” Luke told Nick. “My nephews thought it was just about the coolest thing they’d ever seen.”
“I think she’ll get nightmares,” Nick said doubtfully, studying the mural that had been painted on three of the bedroom walls. A line of skeletons, each of them riding a motorbike, was filing away into the distance on a desert road; a sign next to the road said Route 666, and a coyote was howling at the full moon to the right of one of the bedroom windows.
“No I won’t!” Emily piped up, making both men turn and look at her. “It’s awesome!” and then she caught sight of something. “Look, Nick!” and she peeled herself away from her father’s side to approach the bed, where she picked up a small white bear. “It’s a Beanie bear! Whose is it?”
“Well, it’s yours now,” Luke replied, winking at Nick out of Emily’s field of vision. “One of my sisters told me that little girls like these things, and I kind of figured you might like a new friend.”
“It has a sun on it,” Emily said as she rejoined Nick. “And some flowers, look – what’s it called, Nick?”
“Her name’s Ariel,” Nick told her after squinting at the tag in the bear’s ear. “What do you say to Luke?” and there was a long pause before Emily lifted her head.
“Thank you,” she whispered shyly, her eyes huge and dark against her pale skin, and then she murmured something that was too quiet for Luke to hear.
“What did you say, hon?”
“I said where’s Nick’s bed?” Emily asked, and those lines of worry etched themselves into her face again. “When we go to grandma Jillian’s, he sleeps right on the other side of the wall from me -”
“Well, let me show you where his bed is,” Luke said. “It’s just across the hall – shall we leave your stuff here?” and when there was a silent nod in response he placed the pink suitcase on the floor. “Follow me, you two -”
“How come Nick gets a TV in his room and I don’t?”
“Because Nick’s a grown-up, and you’re not,” Luke told Emily. “But you get a neat painting on your wall, and he doesn’t,” and Nick offered a silent prayer of thanks as a situation that had resulted in conflict more than once at home was neatly defused. “Okay, guys, I’ll leave you to sort yourselves out, and when you’ve unpacked I’ll give you a tour of the place.”
“I know you are,” Luke said, shooting a glance at Nick that silenced the admonition he was about to deliver. “You know what? If you get washed up and into your pyjamas, we can see about fixing you something to eat – how about that?” and once she’d been nudged by her father Emily mumbled a yes, sir. “Well, come down to the second floor when you’re ready,” and moments later Nick was alone with his daughter again.
“This is a pretty cool house, isn’t it?” he said, sitting down on the bed, but a glance at Emily’s face told him that she didn’t seem to think so. “Sweetie, what’s wrong? You don’t have to sleep in that room if you’re scared of the painting, you can come in here with me -”
“I don’t like it here,” Emily said softly. “Who’s going to look after Greg? We’re too far away.”
“He has all the nurses and doctors to take care of him,” Nick told her, reaching out to ruffle her hair. “And they know we’re here if they need to call us.”
“What if he wakes up and we’re not there?”
“Then they’ll phone me, and we’ll go straight back home,” was the answer. “Would you like me to call the hospital and make sure he’s okay?” and when his daughter’s nod was followed by an audible sniff, he lifted her onto his lap; digging his cell out of the side pocket of his cabin bag, he tapped in a number that he’d learned by heart months previously.
“Yeah, hi, this is Nick Stokes – oh, Kristen, hi. Didn’t think you were on this weekend – yes, we are in Florida, and I have a little girl here who wants to make sure Greg’s okay. Would you? Thanks so much,” and he handed the phone to Emily. “She wants to talk to you, kiddo.”
“Hi, Kristen,” Emily said, her voice pitched a shade too loud, and Nick bit back a smile as he pictured the nurse holding the phone away from her ear at the other end of the line. “Is Greg all right? Really? Will you call us if he wakes up? Thank you, Kristen, bye-bye -” and she passed the phone back to Nick, who echoed the thanks and ended the call.
“Happy now?” he asked, and his question was answered by a solemn nod. “Now, are you really hungry?”
“Well, go and get your jammies on while I grab a shower,” Nick told his daughter as he set her down on the floor. “We’re going to have a good time here, aren’t we?”
“I went in her room and she was asleep on the floor,” Nick said, in response to the inquiring glance that was directed his way when he stepped out of the elevator alone. “Didn’t even wake up when I picked her up and put her in bed.”
“Figured something like that might happen,” Luke said. “I remember when my nephews were that age, they’d get to a point where nothing would work except getting them to take a ten hour nap,” and he led the way into a kitchen that was easily four times the size of the one in Nick’s apartment.
“How many nephews have you got?”
“Three I see, one I don’t,” Luke said, and when he turned round from his position in front of the fridge to look at Nick his eyes darkened momentarily. “One of my sisters married a guy who thinks being gay guarantees you a first class ticket to hell, and I guess blood wasn’t as thick as I figured in her case,” he went on, opening the fridge door. “Okay, I’ve been working eighteen hour days for the last week and I haven’t had time to go shopping, so we have leftover pot roast from last night - or leftover pot roast.”
“I’ll take the pot roast,” Nick said, sinking down onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table and yawning for what felt like hours. “Sorry,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “You’re not the only one who’s been working eighteen hour days.”
“Looks more like twenty four hour days in your case,” Luke said over his shoulder as he removed a Tupperware container from the fridge; retrieving a knife from a nearby drawer, he cut the meat into slices which he plastered with mustard and placed between slices of bread. “Here you are,” he said, setting a heaped plate on the table. “Cold pot roast sandwiches, best late night snack on the planet,” and once he’d taken a carton of milk from the fridge and filled two glasses he sat down opposite Nick. “Okay, while you’re here you can do what you want,” he said. “I have to be in at the shop on Monday, but the two of you can come and hang out if you want to,” he went on after taking a huge bite from his sandwich. “You’ve got the run of this place,” he said, waving his hand around the kitchen, “you can sit on the beach, and if you want to go out somewhere this weekend we can do that – but if you just want to sleep out on the balcony you can do that too,” and brilliant blue eyes fixed themselves on Nick. “And to be honest, man, you look like you need it.”
“That bad, huh?” Nick said, trying to smile and not quite managing it – because doing nothing but sleep for five days actually sounded pretty damn good. “I know I need to stop, but I can’t,” he said. “There’s just too much I need to do -”
“Well, not while you’re here,” was the response as the plate was pushed across the table – and when Nick took a sandwich and devoured half of it in a single enormous bite, he realised how hungry he was.
“My god,” Nick said in awe as they stood in the den; they had toured the house from top to bottom, finally ending up in what was evidently one of his host’s favourite rooms. “How old is that thing?”
“Dates from the forties,” Luke said, running a hand over the polished surface of the jukebox. “I have a Wurlitzer at the Salem house, but I found this one in pieces in the back of the auto repair place when I bought it to knock it through to the bike shop - couldn’t tell you how long it took me to get it working right.”
“Wait a second, you restored it?”
“Every last inch,” was the proud response. “Only plays 78s, too,” and Luke reached into the pocket of his jeans for a quarter; he dropped it into the slot, and there was a few seconds’ silence before an unmistakeable voice echoed in the room.
“Basin Street, Basin Street,
That’s the place where my friends all meet -”
“My grandpa used to love Louis Armstrong,” Luke said. “I was only eight when he passed on, but I remember those old records,” and he chuckled softly. “The guys at the shop can’t understand why I’ve got this thing, but they don’t know me as well as they think they do - okay, you look as though you’re dead on your feet, and it’s after eleven, so let’s wind this up,” he went on, studying Nick closely. “Like I said in the kitchen, you’ve got the run of the house – and I can be in your pocket or I can stay out of your way, whatever the two of you want.”
“Thank you,” Nick said, and although he was smiling his eyes prickled with tears. “I -” but before he could say anything else, a raised hand cut him off.
“Don’t thank me,” Luke said good-naturedly. “This place is like Grand Central most of the time, I get lost without other people around,” and he led the way towards the door. “Stay in bed as long as you want - I’ll lock the elevator down so Emily won’t try using it by herself,” he went on, reaching out to place a hand on Nick’s arm for a brief instant. “Sleep well, okay?” he said as he pressed the elevator button. “I’ve got some stuff to take care of before I turn in, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Emily lay sprawled at the centre of a bed that was twice as big as the one she had at home, and the covers had all been kicked away; one thumb was in her mouth and her free hand clutched the white Beanie Baby, while the ever-present photo lay on the pillow a few inches from her head. Nick stood in the half-open bedroom doorway for a long time watching his daughter sleep, and eventually he tiptoed away to his own room.
Mack the Knife echoed faintly from the den as he undressed and put on the blue pyjama bottoms he’d dug out from the back of his underwear drawer at the apartment; once he’d done this, he walked across the room and opened the balcony window a few inches before climbing into bed. He turned the light off and lay in the dark, tuning in to the sounds of the ocean outside and the music coming from the floor below – and the last waking thought he had was god, G would love it here before exhaustion overtook him and he finally slept.
To be continued