Well, here's the next one. I can tell you now that this is going to be a slowly unfolding story, meaning everything seems to be moving at its own speed in this series. In this one, you get a glimpse of Simon, a little of Naomi.... And just because there's not a new AR story listed on the "What's New & What's Coming" page, doesn't mean there's not going to be another one. It merely means I haven't found a title yet. :-)
Oh, yeah. Words enclosed in <> are spoken in a foreign language.
The following is unbeta'd. All mistakes are mine. When you find them, please be gentle with me.
Hope you enjoy!
One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder where you are when you don't come home at night.
He likes the balcony. I think it's because he was locked away for ten years of his precious life. Ten years...that's a decade, longer than two presidencies, longer than the average fashion statement, longer than the life of a fruitcake, longer than I've been legally considered a man. When I see him out there, I wonder how he survived being "inside". Sure, there was "the yard" in Starkville, but it was still prison. Walls surrounded him, fences with flesh-tearing wire on top limited his movement, guards with rifles monitored his every footstep. To a man such as he, so at ease with the elements, that life must have been sheer hell. I am so glad I could give him this balcony. It is sixteen stories up, and when he looks out, he sees sky, not wires or guns. There are a few buildings rivaling ours in height, but they are on the other side of Cascade. This view gives him sky until the mountains.
I often associate the sky with him. Maybe it's because of the color of his eyes. It sounds strange that I've noticed another man's eyes, but I have noticed everything about Jim Ellison. I have stared into those eyes to watch the pupils react, giving him sight far beyond that of most men. I have traced the curve of his ears, wondering if the shape cups sound better. I know that his nostrils flare when he catches a particular smell. I watch his lips as they taste something new. Each of his long fingers I have studied closely.... No, I'm not gay, merely obsessed.
Jim Ellison is a Sentinel, a human gifted with a genetic advantage of having all five senses enhanced. How a lawyer knows such things stems from a very unconventional childhood, and an old dream of being an anthropologist. I didn't know what he was when I met him. A friend of his had come to me, Paul Garrity, asking me to help get him out of prison. Because of Garrity's sincere dedication to freeing this man, I went to visit him. Five seconds after meeting him, I knew I would do whatever I had to do to save him.
I'm not a criminal lawyer, but a quick review of Jim's case revealed he didn't need a criminal lawyer; the only crimes committed had been ones against him. What he needed was someone who would fight for him, and that definitely had not been the court-appointed lawyer whose ineptness led directly to his life sentence. But it was me, and taking on bureaucracy, well, that is my specialty. So, I prepared to fight the courts, but my preparations were in vain. Jim Ellison solved his own case, thanks to his latent Sentinel skills, skills brutally repressed most of his life. He found fingerprints, and they were eventually matched to the real culprit-- a man who had killed a woman and a baby in a fit of anger. The courts had no choice but to admit they were wrong, and set him free.
Since he didn't need me to get out of prison, I made myself useful and decided he needed me to get what he was owed. I have filed lawsuits against the police department, the public defender who did not defend him, the City of Cascade, Starksville Correctional Institute, the entire penal system of the State of Washington, and the state itself. This is a public list of people who have hurt Jim. I also have a private one. I won't need a court of law to get justice from them. I have my own ways.
Because Jim had nothing when he got out of prison-- no waiting girlfriend or family-- I brought him home with me. No, that's a lie. I brought him home with me because I knew I could take care of him, because I wanted to take care of him. It's all very simple really. Historically, Sentinels have Guides, companions who watch their backs, rescue them from zones, and make sure they're healthy. A zone is when a Sentinel concentrates so much on one sense that he disassociates from reality. My Sentinel thought they were blackouts. My Sentinel was in a zone when the cops found him over the bodies of the dead woman and child. My Sentinel went to prison because of a zone. Now my Sentinel is safe because I am his Guide, and nothing is going to hurt him again.
See? I told you I'm obsessed.
He's watching me. I should be used to it. I was watched by commanding officers in the Army, and guards in prison. But his watching is different, more personal. In the beginning, I thought he did it because he didn't trust me; it was true I hadn't committed the murders I was accused of, but he didn't know anything else about me, about my life before prison. After I broke down last week, ending up a crying heap on his sofa, I figured he was just waiting for a repeat of the humiliating episode. God, if I done something like that on the inside, I would have had so many dicks crammed up me that my ass would have looked like the Lincoln Tunnel. But he hadn't taken advantage of me, not that I thought he would have. Our relationship isn't like that.
That's about the only thing I know about our relationship though. I recognize that I need him, more than I have ever needed anyone my entire miserable life. These senses of mine were burdens that I had to bear, evil abilities that had frightened my mother away, and turned my father and brother against me. But he doesn't consider them evil, or me strange. He's given the odd things I can do a name, and he's given me control of them in the form of his own person. I know that you don't get nothing free in life, and I'm expecting to pay a price any day now, but the peace I've had the past few months has been worth it. Whatever he wants, he needs only ask. Hell, he just has to hint and it's his.
He says working for him is enough, but since he pays me for that, I know he's wrong. I'm his investigator for his law firm. He does a lot of work suing businesses, and my Sentinel abilities makes it easy for me to see dangers and hazards in the workplace others can't see-- stressed metal, frayed electrical cords, etc. I also found another talent that he deems useful; I can tell if a person is lying. Like a mechanical lie detector, I monitor pulse and respiration. There is usually a subtle shift in one or the other when a person lies. I use this talent mostly in the courtroom.
Me, an ex-con, in a courtroom and not the one on trial.... Ain't that a bitch? The first time Blair sat me at his table, I was too scared to be of much use. I kept flashing back to standing in a similar place, listening to some black-robed man telling me that the rest of my life would be spent behind bars.... Sandburg says I zoned, but I know what happened; I was merely scared shitless. He took me home, and he told me he understood, that I didn't have to go to court with him anymore. I don't know if that was a case of reverse psychology, or just my own stubbornness, but I was determined to be there the next time, not just in body, but in spirit and mind. Now, I am quite used to it. Sandburg sits in the chair closest to the aisle. Next to him is Garrity, then me. That is the order every time. At home and in the office, Sandburg is messy, organized in a disorganized manner. In court, he is precise, cutting. The blue eyes that keep his clients mesmerized become weapons during a trial. Although compact, and unorthodox with his riot of curls, he is nevertheless an imposing figure. The energy he uses in these battles scare me, as much as it draws me to him. I think that defines my relationship with him best; a mixture of fear and attraction. Doesn't sound very healthy, does it?
"Here, put this on," he tells me as he joins me on the balcony. "It's getting chilly."
I hadn't noticed, but I take the sweater anyway. As I prepare to slip it over my head, the sleeve of my T-shirt rises, revealing the scar I received during my last fight in Starkville. I know it shows because Sandburg's heart always beats a little faster when he sees it. I don't understand why it upsets him so. I have many scars on my body; but only two cause a reaction in my friend and boss: the one on my arm, and another on my leg. The one on my leg is the remains of a bite. My younger brother did it way back when we were young boys. Kids are always biting each other, so I have no idea why it bothers him. I slip into the sweater before he can get any more agitated.
"Want to go out to dinner?" he asks.
I hate going out. I can feel people staring at me. I can hear them as they speculate about my relationship with such a famed attorney. There are three groups of thought: 1) I am his lover; 2) I am his slave; and 3) he is my slave. If it were just about me, I wouldn't care, but he doesn't deserve to be defamed like that. Defamed. Can you tell I spend too much time in a law office? "Sure," I agree. If he didn't want to go out, he wouldn't have asked, and as I've said before, I cannot say no to him.
"Good. Let's go to Johnathan's."
Johnathan's. A pretentious restaurant in uptown Cascade whose management can't stand Sandburg, and by extension, me. Now I understand the thread of anticipation I feel running through him. My friend enjoys starting trouble...and has enough clout to get away with it. "Then we need to change." Johnathan's, of course, has a dress code.
"You look fine. I look fine," he says, looking down at his simple attire of pants and sweater. Do we always dress alike? I had not noticed.
"You like to live dangerously," I warn, wasting my breath as usual.
"Good thing I have a Sentinel watching out for me then, isn't it?" he asks cheekily, and literally bounces into the apartment. He tosses me a jacket and grabs his own. "Let's go, big guy."
With a sigh, and a cross of my fingers, I follow.
Jim doesn't want to go to Johnathan's. I know this, and sort of feel bad about dragging him along. But he needs to learn that conflict is okay, that he can stand up for what he believes in without the threat of being beaten down like a dog. This is a basic human right he thinks he doesn't have. I blame his father for this. Actually, I blame his father for a lot, and his name is at the top of my list. Jim has a scar on his leg where his brother bit him. As a young boy, he couldn't control his Sentinel skills very well, so when his brother's teeth sank into his skin, it hurt. I mean it really, really hurt, so he lashed out instinctively, and little Steven (he's on my list too) ended up with a cut lip. Well, when Daddy Ellison saw his poor little "normal" son was hurt, he lashed out at his other "freak of a son." He whipped Jim with a belt, making sure the buckle made contact with the boy's sensitive body. Jim shrugs it off as a childhood incident. I keep it forefront in my mind.
"Let's take your car," I suggest, hoping that will appease him. Jim is very proud of his car. It's the first thing he's ever owned. A fire engine red Jeep Grand Cherokee. He bought it with his first settlement check. I remember when we went down to the dealership. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was a red, plain Cherokee. After a quick credit check, the salesman decided to show him the Grand Cherokee, just to point out the difference a few extra thousand dollars would give him. I watched his nimble fingers caress the more expensive upholstery, noticed how his long body folded more easily into the bigger vehicle, enjoyed the involuntary smile that graced his face when the salesman demonstrated the quieter engine. When he still wanted the regular Cherokee, I pulled him aside, and explained how much better the more expensive model would be for a man of his sensitive nature. Hence, I buckle myself into the Grand Cherokee's passenger's seat for the short trip to the restaurant.
The restaurant is packed full of the "beautiful" people I absolutely abhor. Perfect. "Table for two," I say rather loudly. The maitre'd wants to ignore me, but, hey, my reputation proceeds me, so he merely dials for the manager. I laugh. Jim tenses. I turn to reassure him that I won't cause too big of a commotion, and notice I'm not the one causing the jawbone to protrude. He's listening to something else. I reach up to place my hand on his arm to anchor him and that's when I see the maitre'd has paled considerably. Real trouble is nearby.
"Call 911," I hiss as Jim moves toward the kitchen. I follow, until he pushes me into a corner, and motions for me to listen.
I send my hearing out in other directions because I do not want to hear what is close around me. Sandburg is in one of his moods, which means Johnathan's is in for a rough night. At least he argues quietly. In fact, he doesn't argue; he lectures. It's like he's in a classroom, and he wants to teach his audience something. Unfortunately, here at Johnathan's, the students are too stupid to get the lesson.
My ears catch the sound of anger, and I automatically focus on the conversation. I guess that's something I learned to do in prison, because anger there easily led to fights, and I always wanted to make sure my charges were out of harm's way. But then I learn how much I've changed, because instead of running away from the sound, I move toward it. And of course, Blair moves along with me. When we reach the point where he can hear it too, I stop so he can listen. But he looks at me strangely instead.
"They're talking Chinese or something," he says with a frown. "I can't understand them. Can you?"
I nod in amazement. "They have Johnathan Rollins hostage," I tell him. "They say he's been stealing from them." Around me are other heartbeats. The rest of the kitchen help. They have faded safely into the background. Wonder which one had the balls to alert the maitre'd?
"Can you talk to them?" Sandburg urges.
Shrugging, I move forward. There are three men of Asian descent. One has a knife to the throat of the fourth man-- definitely not of Asian descent. Johnathan Rollins is the owner of the restaurant and is as snobbish as his namesake. I think I would hate him even if I were his equal.
<What is the problem here?> I say, apparently in the correct language because one of the men answers.
<Every week he holds back a portion of our pay.>
<He says it is to make up for the supplies we have wasted. But we have wasted nothing.>
I turn to Sandburg and translate. "Tell them to let him go," he tells me. "It sounds as if they may have a legal case against this man and the restaurant. Killing Rollins won't help...actually, it would, but it wouldn't do their case any good."
I decide not to translate everything. <This is my friend. He is a lawyer. He says you do not have to do this. You can win in a court of law.>
<American justice never works for us.>
<My friend will see that it does.>
<You have the authority to speak for this man?>
<Yes.> At least I hope I do. <Please, let Rollins go.>
The man with the knife steps back, and with a whimper, Rollins runs past me. He bumps into a large Black man. "Captain Banks! Thank God you're here. Arrest these people immediately!" he nearly screams.
"Just a minute, captain," Blair says, then turns to me. "Tell them I need a dollar." I pass on the message, and the ensuing bills and assorted change. "Now you may arrest my clients, sir."
The captain starts to read them their rights, then realizes they aren't comprehending any of it. "May I borrow your translator, Mr. Sandburg? We wouldn't want any procedural error, would we?"
"Of course not, Captain Banks, even though I'm having trouble understanding why the head of Major Crimes is making this arrest."
"I was having dinner in the restaurant, and noticed your sudden trek to the kitchen without your usual tirade. Curiosity compelled me to investigate."
"Remember what happened to the curious cat, captain," Blair points out with a smile. "Jim, you want to help the captain out?"
"After he tells his men to stand down," I say, hearing the arrival of the Cascade P.D., in very large force.
"What?" Banks turns and sees an officer approaching. "Everything is under control, Andrews. I will need cuffs and transport for three."
"Are you sure, sir?"
The captain grunts impatiently. "Just follow orders, man. I have a date waiting." Andrews disappears back through the door leading to the entry of the restaurant. "Tell them they have the right to remain silent," Banks continues.
So it is that I recite to others the words which ultimately led to the loss of ten years of my life. They say fate is fickle, but it screws me on a regular basis. Guess I'm lucky that way.
Okay, up to this point, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be surprised by anything Jim could do. Despite the veneer prison has added to everyone's initial opinion of him, I know he is quite intelligent. I had learned that the hard way when I was practicing my opening argument for a case, and he had calmly proceeded to deftly counter each of my points. This resulted in Garrity spending the night doing last-minute research, me re-doing my whole opening, and Jim listening to me over and over again until I was faultless. So, if he had gone up to some world-renown scientist, and started arguing a recent finding, I wouldn't have blinked.
But when the man starts speaking fluid Cantonese, I am floored. It is not a very easy language for Westerners to grasp. Even scholars have difficulty with it because it is often the way a word is said, more than the word itself, that denotes its meaning. That's why most Chinese businessmen prefer to deal in English (and talk about their Western counterparts in Cantonese). But apparently, Jim does not have a problem with the subtleties of the language. The men show no disgust, nor interrupt with corrections. Nor do they slow down. And why should they? Jim obviously understands them, and they him. Then Captain Banks arrives, the men put me on retainer, and off we go downtown-- the men in the back of squad cars, Jim and I in the Jeep.
Jim mumbles something about having the audacity to speak for me, and I assure him it's all right. Sometimes he worries about the smallest things.... Then he asks me about Captain Banks, and I tell him that he heads Cascade's Major Crimes unit, which deals with a mixed bag of hardened, and creative criminals. Rumor has it that the man is fair and his multi-ethnic unit is not known for abuse of power. I haven't had any dealings directly with the captain, but we know of each other, and I give him points for asking Jim to translate for him.
The police station is a noisy place, and I coach Jim into turning down his hearing as I oversee the procedures for my clients. While we wait for night court to start so bail can be set, Jim calls Garrrity and fills him in. I know when I go into the office in the morning, I'll have the information I need to put the screws to Johnathan Rollins. Jim, sitting beside me, feels the shiver that races through my body at the thought, and asks me what's wrong. I tell him, and he just looks at me, shaking his head, and saying I'm a sick man. I smile and agree.
Night court is certainly an interesting affair. I've never attended one; Jim had been my first criminal client. Order is relaxed, if not missing. The crowd is noisy, disrespectful, and there is a constant babble of languages. I glance over at my Sentinel to make sure he is handling the cacophony, and I realize he's not bothered by it at all. That's when it hits me; to him this is all normal. Being constantly surrounded by people having hundreds of conversations all at once is how he lived for at least ten years of his life. What he has in my penthouse, and even at the office-- the long silences and steady order-- that is what is unnatural for him. How does he stand the change? Does he miss the constant hum of others? Is that why he stands on the balcony, not for the openness, but for the noise that rises from the street?
I ponder this until Jim touches my arm, and points toward the judge. They have called our case and I haven't even noticed. I'm glad I'm not in my suit because that would have made me stand out, probably putting me on the bad side of the judge, who looks as much a misfit as the peoples of his court. The charges are read, I say they plead not guilty, his honor calls out a bail amount, and the bailiff goes on to the next case. I briefly wonder why I'm there at all. Anyway, my clients call relatives and between them, Jim, and me, we manage to get them home for the night. Then we head home.
"You're awfully quiet. Are you thinking about the case?"
Jim's voice breaks the silence, which is strange. He rarely talks unless I initiate the conversation. "No," I say honestly. We will meet with the men in the morning, and I will get the details I need to break Johnathan Rollins. It's pretty much a done deal. At the moment, my focus is purely on him. "Where did you learn Cantonese? In the Army?"
He shakes his head. "I didn't know I knew it."
"What do you mean?"
"I heard them talking, and I just understood what they were saying. I was as surprised as you when I opened my mouth, and they understood me too."
I'm stunned, and study the enigma for a few minutes. How does one learn a language informally? Usually by immersion. But I know Jim hasn't spent any time in China, at least I think he hasn't. There are still parts of his Army background which remain in the dark. Then I figure it out "Jim, was there an Asian contingency in Starkville?"
"Several. Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, a couple of others, I think."
"Did you listen to their conversations?"
Jim smiles ruefully. "These ears of mine hear all."
Which means during all those years, he had heard Cantonese constantly, as well as.... God, just how many languages had he subconsciously picked up? "I think it's time for another test, big guy."
He nods, and suddenly we're in the parking garage. We take the elevator up, and as we approach the penthouse, Jim suddenly stops, cocking his head to one side which I know means he hears something. "Are you expecting a visitor?" he asks.
"Someone is inside."
"Should I call the police?" I reach for the cell phone in my jacket pocket.
He sniffs and sneezes. "Does sage mean anything to you?"
"Mom?" I unlock the door and yes, there she sits. My red-headed, younger-than-she-ought-to-look mother.
"So, my baby finally makes it home," she calls, and I find myself wrapped in her arms. There's something very soothing about being in your mother's arms, no matter what your age. Then she pulls away, staring at something behind me...or should I say someone. Jim.
"Jim, this is my mom, Naomi Sandburg. Naomi, this is Jim Ellison."
"How do you do?" he says formally, reaching out his hand.
She shakes it, and answers his polite question. "My energies are low due to the long journey, but my spirits are high, my chi strong."
Jim looks at me strangely. "Another language you need to learn," I tell him, and he solemnly nods. "You should have told me you were coming," I scold lovingly.
"Don't you mean 'warned' you?" she corrects, and I roll my eyes.
Jim touches my shoulder. "I'll leave you to your reunion. I'll be in my room, with my headphones on," he adds meaningfully.
"You don't have to go," I say quickly. This is his home now. And he certainly doesn't have to put on the headphones. I trust him not to intentionally eavesdrop.
"It's all right. I feel the beginnings of a headache anyway."
"How bad?" When we started testing his senses, he used to get terrible headaches. Sometimes it was because I forced him to do too much, and at other times, he grew tense because of his fear of zoning. What had caused the pain this time? Speaking the foreign language, or perhaps it was being in a police station.... The memories couldn't be good. I reach out, and let my fingers slide along his neck muscles. So tense. It had to be because of the police. I'm going to have to relax him mentally, before I can even think of massaging out the physical knots. "We're going to have to start with our breathing exercises. In--" I begin, but he stops me.
"Visit with your mother, Sandburg. I'll be fine."
Mother. Damn. I've forgotten she's there. But he hasn't, and I can tell I'm embarrassing him. He's really uncomfortable around women. "Sure you will. I'll check on you before I turn in for the night, okay?"
He nods, and sort of scurries off to his room. I hadn't meant to discomfit him. It's just that I worry about him. He doesn't always tell me when he's feeling bad. A couple weeks after he moved in, he caught a stomach virus. I knew nothing of it until I heard him retching in his bathroom. As I tugged his pale, clammy ass to the doctor's, he told me it hadn't occurred to him to tell me he was sick. He figured he'd do what he always did; take some over-the-counter remedy, and hope for the best. It hadn't occurred to him.... I translated that to mean no one had ever given a damn whether he was sick or not, so why bother to announce it. Names flashed red on that list again.
"Baby, what's going on?"
Whoa. I'm really having a hard time staying in the here and now tonight. "Nothing, Mom. It's just that Jim can get really bad headaches."
She sits on the sofa. "What is this man to you?" she asks carefully.
There is something about the question that sends off warning signals in my mind. I'm used to Naomi popping into my life off and on. But I think she's here with a definite agenda this time, and I'm too worried about Jim to play around with her. "Why are you here, Naomi?"
"I'm no longer welcome in my son's house?"
I shake my head. "You will always be welcome, but I'm picking up some strange vibes from you. You're here on a mission."
She sighs, knowing it's her own fault that I am so attuned to her. She's the one who taught me how to ready body language and auras. "I have heard several nasty rumors about you, and I just wanted to check them out for myself."
"Thanks for being so caring," I say dryly. All my life, my mother preached against gossip. Now, all of a sudden, she's believing everything she hears about me. Damn. I feel so special. "So what do you want to know? Are Jim and I sleeping together?" I hope he went ahead and put on the earphones. "Why do you want to know, Naomi? Have you become homophobic in your old age?"
She flushes. Whether it's because of the bigotry mention or the old age crack, I'm not sure. "What you do in your private life is no concern of mine, honey, as long as nobody is harmed."
"Harmed? Oh, you mean that collection of whips and chains I keep in the closet. Purely recreational." She's your mother, I intone to myself. She means well.
"Blair," she says in exasperation, as if she knows I don't own any whips and chains. Maybe she peeked into the closets before we got home. "You moved a former convict into your home. Surely, you can understand me having some concerns."
Wonder if headaches are contagious? "Jim didn't commit the crime of which he was accused and convicted. Therefore, he is not an ex-con. He was a victim of the system which you have, apparently correctly, stood against your entire life. Instead of standing here making accusations, you should be asking him to be your spokesperson."
"Maybe if he wasn't involved with my son, I would be."
Isn't it nice to have an honest mom? "Fine. State your concerns then."
"I saw his room." Before I can start on the matter of privacy, she holds up her hand. "I wasn't trying to pry. It's where I usually stay when I visit. I did not know it was occupied."
"You knew he lived here; therefore, you must have assumed he was in my room," I surmise.
She continues as if I haven't spoken. "He has acquired a lot of expensive toys."
Ah. The Playstation, television, VCR, DVD player, stereo system, pinball machine, and his computer. Let's see. Out of all it, the only one I didn't have to get down on my knees and beg him to accept, was the computer. Because it was linked to the one at the office. "He's high- maintenance," I say glibly. There was a good reason for each "toy", but I wouldn't tell her that. The Playstation and pinball machine helped improve his Sentinel-enhanced hand/eye coordination. The television, VCR, and DVD player were used to catch him up on stuff he had missed-- movies, recent events, etc. The stereo system helped to soothe jangled nerves.
"He's using you."
I nod. "I only wish he used me more. Then maybe it would be an even trade." Oh, did I mention I have a terrible character flaw? It seems when I get mad, I get a little vicious, start playing with people's minds. Scary as hell, some of my friends say.
"What are you saying, son?"
Naomi and I have had differences of opinion before, and I think whatever's running through her mind stems from the last one. My going to law school suited her just fine, but when I explained that I was settling in Cascade to actually practice law, she wasn't happy. She had expected me to continue with her on her gypsy traipse through the world. But I had learned something in college and law school; I liked staying in one place. She thought my "rebellion" would last maybe six months. When she returned the next year, I had bought this sinfully expensive penthouse, the Mercedes, and the office in the "high-rent" district. It took every ounce of her will to not go apoplectic. Guess that was me, once again, being scary as hell. Oh, well. Apparently, now I'm not only a run-of-the-mill bloodsucking lawyer, but I'm also treating people like property. I wonder if I should find the smelling salts.
I laugh. "I'm saying I use him as often as I want. He's quite versatile. That quiet demeanor of his hides a remarkable cache of useful, and unique talents." All true. "Sometimes I spend days testing him, seeing just how incredibly amazing he is. His stamina is admirable."
"This is a man, Blair, not some kind of pet!" she replies sharply.
"But I picked him up from a cage, gave him food and water, even brought him into my home," I say guilelessly. "Surely, that means he owes me something, and total obedience fits the bill."
"I knew you shouldn't have become a lawyer. It has twisted you, metamorphosed you from my dear sweet child, into something hideous," she cries. I guess I should feel ashamed, misleading her like this, but the fact is that she's my mother. She should have given me the benefit of the doubt. But she hadn't. She had come into my home, already convinced I was guilty of some perversion. Worse, she was accusing Jim of perversion. No one accuses Jim of anything without making me angry.
"Let me see if I can find you a room for the night, Mother. After all, I have work to do. There's a homeless shelter I need to close, and a family I have to kick out of their apartment. Gee, maybe you can stay there. And oh, there's an orphan boy I've been meaning to pick up. I think my pet needs a pet of his own."
Shocked silence rules for a moment, then she realizes I've been playing her. "So now I am to figure what is truth, and what is fiction. Touche, son."
"It's what you should have done before confronting me." I am not sorry for my actions.
She shrugs. "When you are a parent, you will understand."
No, I won't. But since she is my parent, I end the argument. "Jim is my friend. He lives here because, whether he knows it or not, he needs someone to take care of him. He also lives here because I need someone to take care of." I look at her, wondering if she has ever known the real me. "You were the only one in your crowd who dragged her brat along, Naomi. Everyone else was shipped off to grandparents or a more stable parent, so I spent much of my time with adults. None of you needed me, not even you. But there has always been a part of me which wanted to help others. That's why I tried so hard to get you out of jail, and out of trouble. That's why I became a practicing attorney. Finally, I had the chance to fulfill my destiny. Can you understand that?"
She nods, probably understanding fate and predestination a lot better than I do. "And Jim has become part of this caring destiny of yours?"
"Jim is my destiny, Mom."
I shake my head. "You hear me, but you don't see, or understand. But that's okay. I do and Jim does." Most of the time anyway.
"But what about when you need someone to take care of you?" she asks worriedly.
I smile. "There is no one more suitable for that task than Jim."
"I don't know. He seems a tad emotionally distant."
Anger flares again. "What do you expect? He was locked away in hell for ten years, even though he had committed no crime. Emotions would have merely gotten him killed in Starkville."
"Speaking of which.... Is it true that he killed a man in there?"
"Yes. And in the same situation, I would have done the same thing." Hell, if Jim hadn't finished Orrin Pierson, I would have...simply because of the hell he had put Jim through. When I think back to that night in the prison infirmary, the anguish Jim felt because Pierson had murdered his dependent.... Yes, I could have killed.
Naomi gently cups my jaw with her hands. "Blair, despite what you think, I only came here to make sure you were okay. Although you may be an adult, your happiness means the world to me."
I make sure her eyes are staring directly into mine so she can see the truth for herself. "Mom, I am happy, maybe for the first time in my life."
"I believe you." She smiles, and I know it's true. She looks at her watch. "This is great. If I hurry, I can make the next flight to Mexico."
"You don't have to leave town, Mom."
"Actually, there's a protest I was planning on attending when I decided you needed me more. But since you're okay, baby, I have a destiny to meet too."
I grin. "Just call when you need bail money."
"Don't I always, honey?"
I grab my jacket, then tap on Jim's door, telling him I'm taking my mother to the airport. Then we leave.
They leave and I sit up, looking around the room that has been my home for such a short time. I should have known it wouldn't last. I should have known not to dream. Happiness is not in the cards for me. Sure, I get a few weeks, maybe months...but that's only so it hurts more when it's jerked away from me.
I sigh, angry at myself for indulging in self-pity when I should be packing. But I don't have much. I'll only take what's mine-- a couple of shirts and pants, my shaving kit, and a copy of Burton's monograph on Sentinels, which Sandburg gave me the night I moved in. I start to leave before he comes back. After all, I also own a car; I can escape whenever I want to. However, I owe him too much to sneak off in the middle of the night. Maybe I'm reverting to old patterns, running away, but at least I've managed to change my methods.
When he lets himself into the penthouse, I'm sitting on the sofa with the small prison-issued gym bag at my feet. He drops his keys into the basket by the door, a system I had come up with after searching the apartment for his keys every morning, and sits down across from me. Of course, he notices the bag.
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going...somewhere else," I say, berating myself for not having come up with a definite plan. He believes in definite plans, and maybe I could have avoided the upcoming argument if I had been prepared.
"You decide at 2:30 in the morning that it is time?"
I sigh. "You took your mama to the airport."
"That's not right."
"Why? You wanted to take her?"
Damn. He's using the calm approach with me. That means he's confident that he can talk me out of this. I wish I were as confident that he couldn't. I know my leaving is for the best, his best, but I am not strong enough to resist him. I doubt I ever will be. "Listen, Sandburg. I don't want to come between you and your mother. She loves you. I could...smell it emanating from her, and although you may be angry at her for interfering in your life, you love her too. I can't let you throw that away because of me."
"How much did you hear?"
I shake my head. "None of it. But I could feel the hostility for me, blending in with the love for you. I know she was in my room, what she probably thought as she stood there." I see from the set of his shoulders, I have made no headway. "Blair," I say softly, startling him by using his first name. "I destroyed my own family. I won't destroy yours too."
He blinks. "Then why are you leaving?"
I clench my jaw, trying to firm my resolve. He needs me to do this; I have to be the strong one this time. "Don't make me do this, Chief. Don't make me stay."
He drops his head, then looks away. "I never meant to make you do anything, Jim. You have total control of your life, although you probably don't know it. I guess Naomi was right. I never meant for this place to become another cage."
"It isn't," I say bewilderedly. How could this place ever be mistaken for a cage; the bathroom itself was three times bigger than my cell.
He leaps to his feet. "What's the difference between this penthouse and prison, Jim? I tell you what to wear, when to eat, where to eat.... You didn't want to go to Johnathan's tonight, and you certainly didn't want to go under-dressed. I know you like to avoid crowds and confrontations. But I pushed you into both tonight, and hell, any other day I feel like starting trouble. You are a favorite pet, just like Naomi said you were... no, a toy. A G.I. Joe doll that I dress up, parade in front of my associates, and mix in with my other toys. At night, I stick you in your room, then go off to my own to dream about what I'm going to have you do the next day." Flashing eyes fall on me. "How do you stand it without throwing up? How can you stand me?"
"Is that the way you see me? Am I your pet, your doll? Is that what all of this has been about?" I ask quietly. I'm not sure how this makes me feel.
"No! It was my intention all along to be your friend, Jim. I wanted you to fit in, and feel useful. I wanted you to be my friend. I don't have many, not close ones anyway."
"You have friends, Sandburg."
"Yeah. But none of them feel like family. You are the brother I always wanted, Jim. You're the person who I've needed to take care of, watch out for. With you by my side, I feel like I'm whole. Maybe it's because I'm your Guide, but I felt it even before I knew you were a Sentinel. That first day, in the visitor's room, I took one look at you, and knew you were the one."
"The one what?"
"The one I had waited for all my life."
That does it. Every defense I had managed to place between me and this man has crumbled. My soul is now completely his. "I'll stay," I murmur.
"No. Not because of this. Not because of my need. You have your own burdens, big guy. Don't add mine to them, okay? Go. Find your life, your destiny." He sits down beside me, touching my arm. "But know that whatever happens, you have a home waiting for you, my friend. Know that you will be missed."
I look at him in confusion. "I'll come in for work every day, so you won't miss me."
"But you won't be here."
"But I don't do anything here, except take up space."
He smiles at me gently. "And I can't miss that?" I shake my head. "You can't tell me no one has missed you before, Jim."
"Oh, I've been missed, but that's just because I wasn't around to do what I should have done."
Sometimes I worry about him. He's the most intelligent person I've ever known, but sometimes when it comes to basics.... "I stayed out all night once when I was a kid. Came in the next morning, and no one cared until they realized I hadn't made breakfast. At least that's what Dad said when he...uh, when he let me know he was angry." Shit. Almost walked right into that one. I don't talk about my dad much around Sandburg. He doesn't understand that I was a bad kid, and I sometimes needed to be punished. Then there were the other times.... Oh, those I will never tell him about.
"He beat you?"
"Let it go, Chief." I hate the way his heart speeds up when he thinks about my father. As I said, sometimes when it comes to basics.... Maybe I should find another example. "There was this one time I was late checking back in at the base. Sergeant made me do fifty laps around the track for that offense. But that was because I was fifteen minutes late to walk sentry, not because I was missed."
"Why were you late?" I couldn't imagine him failing to do what he considered a duty.
"A car hit a dog. I had to take him to a vet." Damn. His heart is going to explode if he doesn't relax. "Chief," I say worriedly as the man beside me freezes. "You need to breathe, okay? In and out, just like when I have a headache."
He does a couple of quick inhalations, then smiles. "I'm fine, Jim."
"One day you're going to have a stroke doing that," I warn.
"Not before I finish my list," he mutters, then pats my hand. "I assure you, Jim, that I will miss you because I miss you, not what you do. I'll care when you don't come home, and if you stay out too long, I'll come looking for you."
"You'd do that?" I ask, amazed at the little things he's willing to do for me. He nods, and I return the pressure where our hands are joined. "You won't have to, Chief. I've decided I'm not quite ready to leave home yet."
"You sure?" I nod. "If you change your mind, you'll let me know? I don't think I can stand the thought of waking up one morning to find you've gone."
I flush, having come so close to doing that very same thing tonight. "I give you my word; I won't disappear on you, Chief."
"I still feel bad about your mom, though. Take it from a man who doesn't have one; family means a lot."
"I'd like to be your family if you let me, Jim."
I feel the blood pool out of my face. I don't do well with family. But I have promised not to walk out on him, and if he walks out on me, it will be because I deserve it. "Sure, Chief. We can be family," I say unenthusiastically.
Thank you? I have no idea why he says that, but it's late, I'm confused, and my head is still pounding, so I suggest we go to bed. He agrees and heads upstairs. Just as I close the door to my room, I hear his voice as clear as if he's standing beside me. "I won't disappear on you either, my brother."
I suddenly realize my headache is gone.