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Abs in the Fall
She didn't see me, coming up behind her on the trail.
Jimmy Palmer, Ducky's assistant, was out for the week and, needing an extra set of hands, he'd asked Abby to come along with us. Abby had talked my ear off during the entire drive from headquarters, talking about how she never got out of the lab and how exciting it was to finally be in the thick of things. When we arrived, I lagged behind to get the camera and equipment out of the truck and Ducky headed up the slope with Abby.
When I caught up with them, I hesitated and dropped back, watching Abby as she examined something on the trail. Ducky was well ahead of her, almost out of sight. Abby knelt and picked up a yellow leaf, twirling it between her fingers. Fall was in full swing, the leaves brilliantly yellow and red.
I quietly unsnapped the catch on my camera case, making sure she didn't hear me. As she brought the leaf up to her face, I snapped a quick photo and stuffed the camera back into the bag. I stepped out from my hiding place and walked up to her. She dropped the leaf and fell into step beside me.
I never told her about taking that picture. I slipped it out when the photos were developed back at NCIS, telling the lab tech it had been overexposed. I took it home and sketched a picture of it; Abby, in her black punk rock t-shirt, her torn lace dress, those black-and-red striped stockings and her Pippi Longstocking braids sticking out behind her head, staring quizzically at a leaf. My favorite things in the picture were the knee-length combat boots she wore, ankle-deep in fallen leaves.
I tried, but I wasn't able to capture the full brilliance of the sun behind her, framing her entire body like a halo. It's my favorite drawing of Abby, maybe one of the favorites I've ever done.
She sees it now, pausing halfway between my bedroom and the living room. The picture, framed out of vanity, is hanging on the wall and she's staring, transfixed at it. She takes it off the hook and I don't yell; no need, they're taking everything out of my apartment. She traces the lines of her face in the picture and I know she's wondering why I never showed it to her. Why I never told her about it. I whisper to her now that I was afraid of what she'd think it would mean, afraid she would assume correctly. She puts the frame into the bag she's carrying, tears rimming her eyes.
I see a flash from her mind, seeing the picture hanging in her bedroom. I smile and brush my hand through her hair.
I loved her. I wish I could have told her without the picture, but at least she knows now. I whisper good-bye and see her glance over her shoulder, the way someone will investigate when the wind blows just right against a pane of glass. She scans the empty hallway, looking just long enough to ensure she's alone. She smiles, holds the frame against her chest and walks out of my empty apartment.
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