Saturday, April 20, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 64

McGee centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 64. Vacation

Sixteen days all to themselves. Ten work days and six weekend days.  And yes, they pretty much had to swear a blood oath to be reachable at all times.  And Tim would not be shocked if his car got bugged somewhere along the line so Gibbs could keep track of where they were. 

The somewhat vague idea of meet the families morphed into load up the car and drive cross country since they had the time and neither of them much likes flying.

Sixteen days’ worth of gear for Tim takes up one bag. Granted, he’s assuming they’ll be able to do laundry at Luca’s and his Mom’s place. So he doesn’t have a ton of stuff.

The computer stuff takes up one more bag.

This leaves half of the trunk for Abby, which, well, let’s put it this way, it’s a very good thing that both of them are good at spatial relationships, because getting Abby’s stuff in there practically required a bag of holding.

But, by 10:00 Saturday October 12th, the trunk was full, the tank was full, and they were heading south, New Orleans in mind.

They were about an hour south of DC when he said, “I’ve never been to New Orleans.”



“Nawlins. If you call it New Orleans,” She mimicked his pronunciation, one that enunciated all the vowels and the r.  “You might as well tattoo ‘I’m A Yankee’ to your forehead.”

He shrugs a little at that. “I am a Yankee. Born in Maryland, raised mostly in California, school back in Maryland and Massachusetts.” He thinks about that for a moment. “Why don’t you have an accent?”

“I have an accent, everyone does.”

He flashes her his mildly exasperated look. “Does everyone in Nalins—”


“I honestly cannot hear the difference.”

“You need to sound like you know the letters are there, and just sort of smooth them out and blur them together.”


She shakes her head and sighs. “Just keep calling it New Orleans. You just killed that.”

“Fine. Does everyone in New Orleans,” he stresses his yankee pronunciation, “sound like you?”

She thinks about that. “Not anymore. The way I used to speak said I was well-educated and white. So, that was a whole lot closer to the way you talk than say Louisiana Bayou speech. Add in the prejudice against a pronounced drawl—” She sees him looking like that’s never occurred to him. “How you speak is directly correlated to how intelligent people think you are, and a thick Southern accent says ignorant hick to a lot of the world.”

“Really, you think that?”

“You went to two top tier schools, how many Southern accents did you hear?”

“Almost none.”

“Any western or mid-west accents?”

“Not really.”

“Everyone more or less sounded like they came from California, like you?”

“A lot of them. Lots of Asian accents, too. MIT had a decent number of Brahmin accents.”


“High class Boston.”

“Okay. Do you think almost no one at those schools was from the south, west, or mid-west?”

“Good point.”

“Anyway, even at LSU or Georgia State, sounding like you’re an extra from Gone With The Wind meant people didn’t take you as seriously. So, by the time I had my Masters, my accent had gotten pretty generic Hollywood-speak.”


“Yeah, everyone sounds like they’re from California now because that’s where all the actors are, and we’re all watching TV, movies, and listening to them in bands.”

“Hmmm... Never thought about that.” And so, for the next fifty miles, they talked about accents and how the internet and movie age had been changing them.

They stopped in Atlanta the first night, and it was there that it occurred to Tim how traveling was going to test his diet resolve.

Not snacking was easy enough. They’d stop for gas, he’d pump it, not go into the convenience store, and not feel like he wanted a candy bar. No problems. She’d come back with coffee for him, a CaffPow or whatever the local equivalent was, and off they’d go.

Eating less at meals was trickier. There was all this lovely food, all over the place, and most of it was the sort of thing they didn’t have in DC so, if he didn’t eat it now, he wasn’t going to get a shot at it later.

Fried Pickles
And while it’s true fried Okra didn’t rock his world (kind of slimy), the fried pickles did, and not eating the whole basket of them was something of a challenge.

To make matters worse, he loves barbeque, and they were going to spend the next week driving through all different sorts of it. And he wants to try them all. The little side of the road shack they found in North Carolina, where the pulled pork was mustardy and vinegary was excellent. And it looked like here in Georgia everything was hot and smoky and sweet.

He’d said goodbye to six pounds between Labor Day and today, and he had the sinking suspicion a bunch of them were going to come back before they got home.

Sunday morning driving was perplexing to Tim. First off, the traffic. There was tons of it. Secondly, for some reason a lot of the trucks/campers they were passing had some sort of very large, cylindrical, black things on pallets riding behind them.

“Okay, what is that?” he finally asked when they passed the third one.

Abby looked at it for a second. “Auburn versus ‘Bama I think.”

“Huh?” That answer meant literally nothing to him.

“College football. Those are smokers, and they’re heading to the game for tailgating followed by football.”

“People bring their own smokers to football games down here?” Okay, he’s familiar with bringing a cooler with drinks and stuff, but a smoker? That thing on the pallet whizzing by them looks big enough to handle a whole pig, not just a few burgers and hot dogs.

“And races.”


“It’s fun. You go, you set up camp, get cookin’, you eat, then watch your team do battle. Stadiums for college teams down here seat 100,000.”

Tim the Beaver. No, I'm not kidding
his name is Tim.
“People are really into football down here, aren’t they?” He was the guy in the Beaver costume at MIT, which means he was about as into college football as a spectator could get, and he never saw anything even remotely like that. Granted, in the Ivy League they tended to play other teams like CMU (The Tartans, and if a Beaver is a less-than-dignified mascot, try being the walking piece of plaid.) or Harvard (Crimson. Seriously, no one in their conference got the whole mascot concept. He kept waiting for the day they’d end up playing a team with a huge fuzzy calculator running around on the other side.)

“Yeah.” A few more miles pass by and she asks, “You ever notice how something like a third of the cars in our parking lot have Tech or Cavaliers bumper stickers?”

Tim nods. Okay, yeah, he’d noticed that. It didn’t much make any impact on him. Just one of those things, like having to get a new registration and license, that changed when he moved from Maryland to Virginia.

“Once you get into an area that stops having pro teams, college football becomes a very big deal. All of those stickers are our neighbors saying which team is theirs.”

“Huh. I though we just had a lot of alumnae in our building.”

“That, too.”

From what Tim could tell, every single person in the state of Alabama had decided to go to that game, which meant it took them close to four hours longer than expected to get to New Orleans.

The house he pulled up in front of looked more like a Victorian mansion than a house. It was a vast sprawling concoction of gingerbread detailing, huge open windows with wrought iron balconies, surrounded by a gracious porch lined with tables and rocking chairs.  From what he could see it took up the entire block in front of them.

“Abby, what does your brother do?”

“You’re looking at it.”

He noticed the sign in front of the house a moment later.  Richard’s 1882.

“It’s a bed and breakfast,” she said with a smile. “The best in New Orleans. He’s been running it for the last six years.”

He wasn’t sure what to expect from Luca. He’d seen pics, certainly heard stories, but never met the man in person.

Still, a rich baritone, curly brown hair, warm brown eyes, and an enveloping hug for Abby, with kissed cheeks while saying, “Chere!” wasn’t what he figured he’d be seeing.

Tim offered his hand and got hugged none-the-less.

“Hello and welcome. I know Abby calls you McGee, but what is your preference? Tim, Timothy, McGee?”

“Tim or McGee are fine. Just about everyone calls me one of those two things.”

The '07 Porsche Boxter
Luca nods and seems to see behind Tim for the first time. “Oh, my Chere, your boy has beautiful taste in cars. What is that, the ‘08?”

“The ‘07.”

“Beautiful.” Luca’s fingers trace delicately over the silver hood of Tim’s car. “Mama and Papa ran a car salvage/junkyard, and when something beautiful and unique came in, Papa would rebuild it with us. He would have loved your car.”

While Luca was checking out his car, Tim asked, “Why does he call you cher?”

“Mon Cheri. French. My dear. Everyone from around here speaks at least a little Creole. And Luca was in Paris for five years working as a chef, so for him it’s even more pronounced.”


There were other guests at Richard’s (Ree chards, not Richards. Apparently if he could remember enough of his high school French lessons, he could probably figure out local pronunciations, but, well, he’d probably mangle them anyway. The fact that he can program in half a dozen languages in no way indicates much facility with any human language other than English.) but Tim and Abby were brought up to the third floor, Luca’s private residence.

It was a tidy and comfortable apartment. And for as 1880s as the rest of the B&B was, the lines in Luca’s private home were clean, modern, elegant.  

“You must be tired, driving all day. Relax, rest. Tonight, dinner.”

“Are you cooking?” Abby asks.

“Of course, Chere.” Luca smiled. “Of course.”

“Luca’s the best cook you’ll ever meet.” She affectionately ruffled his hair.

“She is my sister, so she heaps on the praise.”

“Emeril said the same thing about you. Is he also your sister?”

Luca smiled, wryly. “Last I checked, no. But with our parents, who were apparently full of many surprises, who can know?”

Abby nods.

“Emeril. The Emeril? The Bam guy?” Tim felt like he was a few turns behind in the game.

“Yes. Before taking on Richard’s, I was one of his Sous Chefs.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what that means.”

“I ran one of his kitchens.”


“Seven years ago I hurt my knee water skiing, and since then I haven’t been able to work as long or as hard as you need to to run one of his places. But when I was hurt, he introduced me to the owners here, and now I run Richard’s.”

As he finished that sentence, two voices, female, closed in on them. Abby lit up in a smile. She turned toward the sound as a tall blonde woman and a gangly brow-haired girl, teen, really, entered Luca’s.

“Aunt Abby!”

“I told you she’d be here by the time we got home,” the blonde said while Abby hugged the girl.
The woman hugged Abby as well, and then offered her hand to McGee. “I’m Melody, and this is Harper.”

He took her hand while Abby said, “This is McGee.”

“She calls you by your last name?” Harper asked, looking deeply intrigued by this idea.

Tim smiles, amused by the interest Harper is showing at this idea. “Most of the time.”

“And what does she call you when she’s not calling you McGee?”

Tim thought of many of the different things Abby called him, figured most of the non-McGee things she called him were not even remotely appropriate to repeat to her niece, and settled for, “Tim.”

“Why do you call him McGee?”

“That’s what Gibbs and Tony called him when we first met.”

Harper nodded, she seemed to know who Gibbs was.  “Does Gibbs call everyone by their last names?”

Tim was about to say yes when he realized that wasn’t actually true. “Really, just Tony, Jimmy, and I.”


Tim flashes her his perplexed look. “Did he start that, or is that what we called him because Gibbs calls us by our last names?”

Abby thought about that. “Huh... I don’t actually know.”

“So, he calls you Sciuto?” Harper asks.

“No, he calls me Abbs or Abby.”

“And he doesn’t call Ziva David. And he didn’t call Kate Todd, so it’s just us guys that get the last name treatment. The girls get called by their first names.”


Tim shrugs. “You get used to it. Anyway, people on my team call me McGee. Everyone else calls me Tim.”

“And fans call you Thom,” Abby added.

“That too.”

“You have fans?” Harper was really interested in that.

“I’ve written a few books. Some people liked them.”


Melody looked at the two of them, saw the bags at their feet, and realized they hadn’t gotten settled in yet. “Come on, she’ll happily talk your ear off all night. Let’s get you settled first.”

“Are you staying in my room, Aunt Abby?”

Tim looked mildly surprised and amused by that idea. It occurred to him that he had no clue how Abby’s presumably Catholic brother and sister-in-law would feel about him sleeping with her in front of her niece.

“I think your aunt and McGee would prefer to share a room,” Melody said.

Tim nodded, and Abby smiled.

Harper narrowed her eyes. “She gets to sleep with her boyfriend! You won’t let my boyfriend sleep over.”

“And when you are forty-one, already sharing a home with your boyfriend, and bringing him home to meet us because you intend to marry him, you may sleep with him in my home, as well. Until then, no boys sleeping over!” Luca said with a fond smile.

Harper’s expression indicated that she did not find that even remotely fair.

Their room was bright and simply furnished. Good, firm, sturdy bed, which Tim appreciated by lying full out on for a few minutes. He may love the Porsche, but he also loves really stretching out after sitting in it for ten hours a day.

After a minute he sat up, watching Abby standing on the balcony, arms resting on the wrought iron railing, eyes scanning the city around them.

A breeze caught the gauzy white curtains over the French doors, and he got a picture of her like that, looking away, framed by white fabric, afternoon sun low behind her.

It’s a really good shot.

Dinner at Luca's.
Dinner was amazing. He didn’t get the name of everything they were eating, (and was sure he’d butcher the pronunciation of most of the things he did) but he was awfully certain that no matter what it was, if Luca was cooking it, he’d happily eat it.

Harper had been given permission to stay up late and hang out with them. Mostly asking about their work, what they did and how, and talking about school.

For Luca, morning began at 4:00, so he and Melody begged off close to nine.

And at midnight, when he was yawning, (Abby and Harper were going strong.) they went to bed and slept soundly.


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