Alexa King was eight years old when her father confessed his love for her. It wasn’t the first time he’d said, “I love you.” Being the devoted caregiver that he was, he had said those words to Alexa multiple times a day, every day of her life. But when she was eight years old, it was the first time he told her he loved her with his hand down her pants.
She knew it was wrong, because it felt wrong, and her face was flushed a deep magenta as she tried to hide behind her hair. Before that moment, she had been a child. She had thrived in Ms. Lipman’s third grade class, where she’d been in the accelerated reading program. Math had been her least favorite subject, and after school she’d delighted in her gymnastics activities. Her favorite book used to be A Little Princess, and when she grew up, she’d wanted to be a teacher.
But all of that was over, now that her father told her that she was ready. He told her she was ready to understand truly how much he loved her, and he communicated this love by caressing her flat chest, among other places, and making her caress him. She never wanted to. But he was her father, and she loved him, and he said this was how she could prove it.
They were always proving their love to each other. That’s what her father said grown-ups did, and she was old enough to understand that now. But Alexa didn’t think that was true, because she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand why love made her uncomfortable and unsure of herself. But she did know that she loved her father, because he was the man who would read her stories every night before bed, and always gave in when she begged for just one more. He was the man who made her peanut butter sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and left little notes for her in her lunch box. He was the man who checked in her closet every night for monsters, and he was the man who stayed up with her all night when she was sick.
And she loved him for all of those reasons, for eight years of loyalty and self-sacrifice. She just assumed it was time that she returned the favor, so not wanting to, not enjoying it, wasn’t an option. He wanted her, but he wanted her to want it, too, so Alexa tried hard to do what he said. By the time she was nine years old, Alexa had learned how to make her father happy. She also learned to enjoy their secret evenings together, or at least, she learned not to hate them. He slept with her, in her four poster bed, because he said he was lonely in his room without her.
Alexa’s mother was a high-powered businesswoman, or at least, that’s what her father called her. She often worked late nights and attended out of town business trips. Alexa and her mother used to be close, at one time, but that was when she was a child. By the time she was ten, she’d grown indifferent to her mother, who was home less and less. When she was home, Alexa’s father slept in their bed, with her. When she was eight, Alexa had seen this as a reprieve, and always sighed with relief when her mother announced she’d be home for a few days, or even a week. Her father rarely proved his love for his daughter when Alexa’s mother was around.
But as she grew older, and more dependent on her father, she began to realize that she dreaded the nights when he wasn’t in her bed. On one such occasion, she had curled into a ball and seethed when she thought about what her father was doing to her mother, and the lies he had to be telling her. She could see it in her mind. He would be touching her stomach with one hand, and her hair with another, whispering that he had few opportunities anymore to prove to her exactly how much he loved her, and then he would actually do it, he would prove it to her, and he would probably prove it to her all night long.
Alexa didn’t understand why these images made her so angry, but she knew that lying was a sin, and her father had told her when she was eight years old that he no longer loved her mother like he used to. So if he told her mother anything different, then he was lying to her. Alexa’s father would never lie to his daughter, of this Alexa was certain. He had always been so honest with her about everything else. Alexa decided to see for herself what happened in her parents’ bed at night.
She crawled soundlessly out of her bed and opened her door, tiptoeing down the hall. The door was closed, so she carefully turned the knob and it creaked open. There was movement on the bed, but it was too dark to see. She stood there in the doorway a minute, staring into the darkness.
“What is it, sweetheart?” It was her mother who had asked the question.
Alexa wrapped her arms around herself. “I had a bad dream,” she said. “Could I sleep with you?”
“Sweetheart, you’re ten years old now, don’t you think—”
“Don’t be like that, Jo, can’t you see she’s scared? Of course you can come in and sleep with us, Lexa.”
Alexa knew that she was triumphant and ran into the bedroom, diving onto the bed between her parents. She snuggled especially close to her father, who wrapped his arms protectively around her.
“No monsters or nightmares in this bed, OK, Lexa?”
She nodded and smiled as she felt her father nuzzle her shoulder and kiss her neck. Seconds later, she found sleep.
The buzzing of her phone vibrating on the bedside table woke Sara immediately, as well as the man lying beside her.
The anxiety she was feeling was reflected in her greeting. “What is it, did you find him?”
Her shoulders slumped and she glanced over at Grissom, who looked to be holding his breath. “Hi, Greg.”
Grissom exhaled and nodded, swinging his legs out over the bed. Sara wasn’t sure where he was going. They still had four more hours before Brass would even consider letting them go back.
“I had a bad dream,” Greg said into the phone.
Sara took a deep breath as she sat up and leaned against the headboard. “I know,” she said. “It’s hard to sleep when you’re thinking about him.”
“No, it wasn’t about Nick,” Greg clarified.
Sara couldn’t say she wasn’t intrigued. “Then what was it about?”
Greg groaned. “I dreamed that I’d gained like three hundred pounds and I couldn’t get out of my bed.”
Sara snorted, and her hand flew to her mouth to suppress a giggle. “Oh, Greg…” she said, shaking her head. She felt a tear sting her eye and she stared at the ceiling, blinking it away.
“Don’t laugh at me, it was a terrifying experience!”
Sara took her forefingers to the inner corners of her eyes and wiped some of the tears away. “I’m sorry you had a bad dream, but I am not sorry I laughed.”
Though his voice sounded sad, she swore she could hear a smile in it somewhere, waiting to get out. “Yeah, I guess I’m not really sorry you laughed either.”
Alexa was eleven when Joanna King caught her daughter with her husband. Alexa remembered that it was a Friday, because her father had made her shepherd’s pie for dinner, her ultimate favorite, and he only made it on Fridays. Afterwards, he had coaxed her upstairs to lay with him as he read her a story. Only, when they got up there, and he had her under the covers, he didn’t do much reading. At this point, Alexa was still struggling with her secret evenings with her father under the covers. Even after three years, it still seemed awkward, uncomfortable, even painful at times, depending on her father’s mood. And yet, a part of her wanted to be as close to her father as possible, and she always wanted to make him as happy as he made her, so she always did her best to try.
She preferred it when he asked her to use her hands or her mouth, and she was using the latter on that particular evening. Though these things had felt strange at first, she was used to them by now, and he was very good at teaching her how to get it just right. She had been using the skills her father had taught her to make him happy when the door slowly opened. It was so slow, that Alexa didn’t even hear it at all. She only felt her father’s fingers in her hair clench, and then she heard her mother scream.
Alexa was so startled she almost snapped her jaw shut, but before she could, her father’s other hand came to the side of her head and pulled her off. She rolled onto her back and stared, horrified and humiliated at her mother, whose hands were clasped over her mouth as if afraid something sinister would escape it. Joanna’s eyes snapped shut, and she ran out of the room, slamming another door. Alexa strained her ears and she heard the sound of retching. She wondered if this was a common reaction when people proved their love to each other, because she had vomited nightly when her father had first began doing it to her.
She felt her father’s hand creep across her bare shoulders, and she leaned into him. He kissed the top of her hair. “Don’t you worry, Lexa, Daddy’s gonna make everything OK.”
He rolled out of her bed and pulled on his jeans, which had lain forgotten on the floor. He turned back to Alexa and eased her shoulders backward, so she was lying flat on the bed, before tucking her in.
“Stay here. I’ll be right back.” He turned out the lights as he left.
Alexa pulled the covers up to her nose and did as she was told. She watched her father leave, but he left the door ajar. She saw light spill out into the hall as the bathroom door flew open.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Jo, listen to me—”
“I said don’t touch me.”
There was quiet. Alexa moved to the corner of her bed, craning her neck to try and see into the hall, but it was no use. All she had were voices.
“What are you going to do?”
“You know damn well what I am going to do, Louis!”
There was a scuffle. “Jo, give me the phone.” Then, a loud crack like a belt snapping and her father cursed. “Dammit, Jo, give me the phone.”
“Try and take it from me again and I will slap you again, so help me God!”
She heard beeping sounds, like numbers being dialed. Then there was another smack and crash. There was more movement, but Alexa couldn’t tell what was going on. There was a thump and the walls shook.
“You can’t tell anybody, Jo, do you hear me?”
“Louis, you’re hurting me—”
“Do you hear me? I will not let you take me away from her, she needs her father, she needs me!”
“What have you done to her? What have you done to our baby girl?” There was a strange sound, like gurgling, and then Alexa could have sworn someone spit something, like gum. “You’re despicable.”
“You’re jealous,” Alexa’s father hissed. “Jealous because I haven’t touched you in four years.”
“Is that how long you’ve been molesting your own daughter?!”
There was another crack, but this was different. It was deeper and heavier, not like the piercing one from earlier. And this time, it was her mother who cried out in pain.
“You’re old,” her father said, with the most disdain Alexa had ever heard him use, “and dried up and bitter. And your whole little world depends on one very fragile thing. And that is why you won’t tell anyone about this, Joanna.”
“I’ll tell the world if it would keep you from her.”
Alexa stiffened. She didn’t want her father to go. Why was her mother being so mean? Didn’t she understand that Alexa and her father were in love? Why couldn’t her mother just let Alexa have him? As she sank deeper under her covers, she remembered the fairytales her father would read to her. She felt like Snow White, and her wicked mother was trying to steal her prince away from her.
“And what will happen to you, Joanna? How will this make you look? The recovering alcoholic who spent most of her days and nights away from her family, allowing her husband to seduce her daughter for three years? What will people say about you, Joanna?”
“I don’t care—”
“I think you do. I’ve seen you when we go out with friends. You always order a Bloody Mary when the drink orders come out before excusing yourself thirty seconds later to tell the waiter to make it a virgin. You think no one can tell that there’s no vodka in your tomato juice, and you know what, they can’t, because you have got to be the only woman in the world who lies when she says she has been drinking alcohol. And I know why you do it, too. You’re ashamed. You’re ashamed of yourself, and you’re ashamed of us because we are part of your old life, the one you had before you got sober, before you got your fancy job, and before you found your brand new life. You love that life more than you could ever love Lexa, and you would never throw it away over a slut like her, would you?”
Silence fell like a shroud over the house. Alexa waited with bated breath to hear her mother’s response. She wasn’t sure what all the words her father meant was, but she hoped that they helped.
“You don’t hate me because I’m old,” Alexa’s mother said quietly. “You hate me because I don’t need you to hold my hair back when I throw up anymore.”
All Alexa could hear was the sound of her father’s heavy breathing. “Now. Joanna. Why don’t you go downstairs, kick off those painful looking heels, and make yourself a Virgin Mary?”
Her mother said nothing, but Alexa could hear those same high heels clicking slowly down the hall. Moments later, her father’s silhouette appeared in her doorway.
“There,” he said, his voice sickeningly sweet. “I told you I’d make it better.”
After placating Greg’s fears about being overweight, Sara finally convinced him to hang up. It took about half an hour. They both knew that it wasn’t just his body image issues that were keeping him on the phone. But she reminded him that they had to sleep, because they needed to be sharp. Not following her own advice, Sara got out of bed and went into the living room, searching for Grissom.
She found him on a stool at the breakfast bar, his back hunched, his glasses on. He was eating a bowl of Wheaties while he looked over some papers. Sara came up behind him and began massaging his shoulders. He closed his eyes and took off his glasses.
“Twice in one year…” he groaned.
She knew exactly what he was talking about. She moved her hands down his arms and rested her chin on his shoulder. “What can I tell you, Nick’s irresistible. Have you seen those abs?”
Grissom leaned forward, moving away from her touch as he placed his forehead in his hand, his elbow on the bar. “That’s not funny.”
She bit her lip. “Sorry. I’ve been talking to Greg.”
“Yes, I know.”
Sara’s lips twitched as she slid into the stool next to Grissom. “Wait a minute… are you jealous?”
“No,” Grissom said simply. The word was so flat, she almost believed him. “I’m just frustrated.”
“Day shift’s doing their best,” Sara said.
“We should be doing our best,” Grissom replied, turning to her.
Sara smiled sadly and put her hand on his cheek. “Not even you can work a seventy-two hour shift and still be, you know, alive.”
Grissom’s hand came up to cover Sara’s. “Oh God… What would I do without you?”
She pulled her hand away, slightly thrown by his words. But Grissom had a habit of saying the most intimate things in the most unexpected ways. And, just as he always did when he made these revelations, he just kept going as if he hadn’t said anything strange at all.
“It’s all about Dean Rogan.” He pushed the papers he was looking at over to Sara. “First victim, only one that’s not exactly like the victim profile. But we need more than evidence.”
Sara was surprised. “More than evidence? But I thought you always said—”
“I mean,” Grissom clarified, “that we need a liaison.”
She knit her brow together. “A liaison? A liaison to whom?”
“To the St. Louis PD.”
Alexa came home from school bubbling with anticipation for her thirteenth birthday. Her father had reluctantly let slip that he had a big surprise for her tonight, and her toes and fingers were tingling as she imagined what it could be. But when she opened the door and stepped inside, her father was nowhere to be found. Instead, she saw her mother, sitting silently on the couch, a wine glass in hand. Due to the position of the couch from the door, Alexa could only see the back of her head.
Over the past year and a half, she had watched her mother deteriorate before her very eyes. She had once voiced concern to her father about it, asking if there was anything they might do to help her, more out of pity than anything else. Louis had smiled at her, said “Bless your heart,” and told her that Joanna’s descent could not be stopped, and had been a long time coming.
Alexa had never been alone in the living room with Joanna since she was a child. She shifted her weight to one foot, rubbing her upper arms as she cautiously entered the room.
“Hi, Mom,” she said, as sweetly as she could, sliding her backpack off her shoulder and onto the floor.
Her mother was still. Alexa slowly approached her, as if she were a sleeping dragon. She rounded the corner of the couch, her eyes always on her mother’s head, trying to catch a glimpse of the green eyes she had inherited. Those eyes were wide open, staring ahead unseeing. Her fingers tightly gripped the wineglass, and Alexa could see an empty bottle rolling around on the floor. Her mother’s blonde hair was perfectly made, and there wasn’t a smear in her makeup. She reminded Alexa of a wax statue.
And then, as if suddenly coming to life, Joanna turned her head and looked at her daughter. “Happy birthday, baby girl,” she said with a sad smile.
“Mom, are you OK?”
Joanna closed her eyes and nodded. “Yes, baby, I’m fine…” She paused. “What does he call you?”
Alexa didn’t understand. “What do you mean?”
“Your father,” Joanna clarified. “Does he call you ‘baby’?”
Alexa had never really thought about it. “No. He just calls me Lexa.”
Joanna nodded. “Of course he does.” She opened her arms. “Come here, baby girl.”
Alexa hesitated. “Mom, is something wrong?”
Her mother shook her head. “No, no, no, dear. I just want a hug from my daughter on her birth… day.” She hesitated because her tongue was having difficulty wrapping around the ‘rth’ of ‘birth.’
Joanna was not only an alcoholic, but a skilled one. When she drank, her speech didn’t slur, and her balance never wavered. Years of practice had coached her body in how to over annunciate and adjust to the shifting world when she was inebriated. This was something Alexa had learned over the past year. So when Joanna King’s pronunciation began to waver, that’s when Alexa knew it was bad. Nonetheless, she played the dutiful daughter and approached, wrapping her arms around her mother’s neck as Joanna’s hands came up behind her back. At first, it wasn’t so bad. The smell of her mother’s Chanel perfume mingled with the ripe odor of fermented grapes. But Alexa remembered her mother’s perfume. It brought back deep, long forgotten memories of when she was a child, and a very small one, and her mother would swing her up into the air as Alexa giggled.
Joanna said now what she had said then: “You were my saving grace, baby.” The only difference was that the tense had changed. As Alexa felt a single hot drop of water trickle onto her shoulder, her mother’s arms constricted.
Joanna leapt to her feet, refusing to let her daughter go. “We don’t have much time,” she whispered. “He’ll be back soon enough.”
“Mom!” Alexa struggled, but she had always been of small stature, and her mother was older and taller than she was. The alcohol acted like steroids and seemed to multiply not only her strength, but also her resolve as she dragged Alexa forcefully into the kitchen. Alexa let out a shriek as her mother adjusted her grip, keeping Alexa in a headlock under one arm and seizing a kitchen knife with the other.
Alexa’s fingers flew to her mother’s arm, her nails digging into the skin as she whipped her head around on her neck, trying to escape the vice grip of her mother’s biceps.
“You have such a pretty face,” her mother said, as if it were casual conversation. “And that’s the problem, isn’t it?”
Before Alexa even knew what happened, the whole left side of her face felt like it was cracking open as if a seam had split down the middle. The edges of the gash were searing, as if they were burning away like pages of a book, curling back into itself. She found herself gasping for air even as her mother released her. She stumbled backwards and fell onto the floor. She scrambled away from her mother like a crab until she reached the wall, where she hugged her knees and the tears began to flow.
In stark contrast to Alexa, Joanna was calm and composed. She turned on the water and began washing the knife in the sink. “I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “I just want to protect you.”
But Alexa knew her real reasons. Her father had told her that Joanna hated her, that she was jealous. Alexa knew that Joanna was trying to steal Louis from her, to keep him all to herself, and she would never see him again.
Horrified and furious all at once, Alexa slowly rose to her feet. Joanna was humming as she took a sponge and washed the shiny metal of the blade. Alexa wasn’t sure what to say, or do, and her face felt like it was peeling off. Finally, despair overwhelmed her and she ran upstairs to her room where her blood and tears stained her pillow.
They sat across from each other, neither of them really wanting to speak. Warrick wasn’t eating, so Catherine reached a fork across the vast canyon between them and picked some egg off of his plate. Warrick didn’t say anything about it; in fact, he didn’t seem to notice that she’d done it at all. His eyes were gazing out the window, unfocussed, or perhaps seeing something that was beyond Catherine’s perception.
“Warm up, Sugar?”
Wordlessly, Catherine slid her empty coffee cup towards the waitress who dutifully refilled it. Catherine pulled the mug towards her again and took a sip, eyeing Warrick curiously. She almost wanted to poke him with a stick to see if he was still alive. But she knew that her best bet would be to take her time, and let Warrick come around in his own way. When it came to Nick, or at least, when it came to talking about his relationship with Nick, Warrick was always reserved. It was a stark contrast to her experiences with Greg. When Nick and Greg were arguing, the whole lab knew it, and Greg would go on and on about how annoying he found the Texan to anyone who would listen. But when Warrick fought with Nick, it wasn’t about venting and raging, it was more about finding his own space so that he could sort things out on his own. That was the fundamental difference between Nick’s two best friends: one was an extrovert, who needed to be around people to recharge his brain and bounce ideas off of, and the other, an introvert, who much preferred keeping to himself in quiet reflection. It was probably one of the reasons Warrick and Greg had never really connected. But that didn’t mean that he didn’t care for Greg.
“I’m worried about Greg. Sara said he froze up on the case with that little boy. He doesn’t seem himself anymore.”
“I wouldn’t worry about Greg. Fastest learner I ever saw.”
“That’s not what worries me, Warrick. I just… I don’t know if being a CSI is the best idea for him.”
“Are you kidding? There’s no better job for a guy like Greg. In this job, you need to find something to hold onto. Keep you grounded to reality, you know? Greg has the strongest anchor I can think of.”
“What are we doing here, Catherine?”
His smooth, deep voice startled her out of her memories. “We’re having breakfast at 3:00 in the afternoon. Or, at least, I’m having breakfast. Eat your food, you need your strength.”
“I just can’t figure it out…” Warrick said, clasping his hands together. “Last year… Everything was so fast paced. There was always something to do, and even if we thought we had a dead end, we didn’t really, because there was always something else to follow up on. It was intense and terrifying, but we made it through, and we got there. We got there, but now… Now, we’re sitting in a diner eating breakfast while half of the LVPD is out in the city looking for leads, and the dayshift is going over the evidence we already catalogued to see if they can get anything new from it. It’s not even a lack of evidence, we have evidence, what we lack is something to compare it to. But Brass has no more leads than we do, not without motive or connections. Lincoln Meyer and James Sherman had never met in their lives, they didn’t even live in the same city…” Warrick rubbed his eyes with his hand.
Catherine reached across the table and took his other hand in her own, and the crack in the dam gave way. The hand over his eyes slid to his mouth as he bowed his head. His shoulders began to shake, moving up and down, but he made no sound. Catherine abandoned her seat and slid into the booth next to him, this time clutching his hand tightly with both of hers.
That night, when Louis came home and saw what his wife had done to his daughter, everything changed. Alexa told him everything that her mother had done and he flew downstairs in a rage. Alexa followed him, clinging to the railing as she watched the fight from the top of the stairs. Her mother had finished with the wine and now clutched a fresh bottle of vodka as she calmly ironed the clothes in the living room. Her husband approached her from behind and grabbed her drinking arm, yanking her away from the ironing board as he began yelling at her.
“What the fuck is the matter with you?”
“What’s the matter with me!” she exclaimed, as if this was a rhetorical question. “What is the matter with me? Why do I torture myself by staying in this house with you? Why do I let you do what you do to our daughter? What is the matter with me?”
“I mean it, Joanna, you touch her again, so help me God—”
“Listen to that, ladies and gentlemen!” Joanna cried incredulously. “Listen to Louis King act like I’m the villain. So tell me, Lou, what will you do to me, hm?” She widened her eyes at him, daringly as she brandished her iron around.
“I’ll have you committed,” Louis growled. “Shouldn’t be too hard, you’re a raving drunk who stabbed your own daughter!”
“Better one little scar than a lifetime of abuse from you,” Joanna returned.
“You’ll regret what you’ve done,” Louis snarled, shaking the hand that held her wrist.
“Hm,” she intoned, feigning thought. “Maybe you’re right. But I know I won’t regret this.”
Her father’s deep, reverberating screams sounded like the angels did when they fell from the sky. Alexa scrambled to her feet and grabbed the phone.
“Hello? 911? My drunk mother just burned by Dad in the chest with an iron.”
It sounded simple when she said it, but was horrific to watch. Joanna had taken the iron and used it to push Louis away from her as hard as she could. It had worked. Louis was on the floor, barely moving, howling like an injured dog.
“It was set to linen,” Joanna spat, then took another swig from the vodka bottle. Alexa ran into her room to hide.
The police took Joanna away that night. She raved about how her husband was sleeping with her daughter, but she was so drunk by that point it was hard to understand her. When the police did speak with Alexa about whether or not her father was inappropriate with her, Alexa insisted that her mother was very sick, and that her father loved her, and would never be inappropriate.
When Alexa and her father came home from the hospital, she hid from him. She told him she was worried he wouldn’t think that she was pretty anymore. That’s when he had taken the knife to his own face, showing her true selflessness, something she thought she would never see again as long as she lived.
She had lost him, several times. She had lost and lost and lost him, but now, he was found, and he was safe, and she was safe in his arms. She ran her hands down his bare chest as he quivered beneath her. Those strong, chiseled muscles, like they were before her mother had scarred him, and they were stunning. He wasn’t perfect yet, but she was averse to altering such a beautiful body. Yes, the iron could wait. Tonight, they would play.
“I’ve learned some tricks while you’ve been away,” she cooed. “I think you’ll be quite proud of me.”
“I won’t,” she said, “I won’t stop.”
He inhaled sharply. “No, don’t start.”
She giggled. “You and your silly games. All right, Daddy, I’ll play along.” She unbuckled his jeans.
“Mm, and how are you going to stop me?” she purred, getting into her role. She pulled down the zipper.
“Alexa – I’m not him!”
“That’s right,” she said, her hands stroking up and down his chest. “I’m the bad girl who has you all tied up and you’re my willing victim.”
He played his part well. She could have sworn she saw actual terror in his eyes. “Snap out of it, girl, this isn’t what you think.”
“Do you remember…” she asked slowly, reaching inside, wrapping her fingers firmly around him. His whole body went rigid. He began to buck, but he was quite restrained.
“… when Joanna came home…” She leaned down. Her nose was at his navel as she breathed into him, her hand slowly, sensuously moving up and down, twisting, tickling. She looked up, and saw his eyes shut tight, his face flushed red. It only intensified her longing. “And she caught us together?”
“Oh God…” he groaned. He sounded almost ill. “No… please, don’t, Alexa… Alexa…”
“I never had a chance to finish,” she said. “I know you weren’t satisfied. But don’t worry. Now that she’s gone, we can have all the fun we want.”
And they did. And he enjoyed it. Or, she thought he enjoyed it. He stayed awake for a while afterwards, but he never looked at her, despite how she pleaded. He wouldn’t speak to her. She thought he must still be playing a game, because she knew her father loved her. So she curled up next to him like a cat so she could hear him breathing. She soon found sleep with him, but was eventually awoken again. His chest was shaking, and in the dark, she could hear him crying.