WARNING! DARK MATERIAL AHEAD. This piece is not quite explicit enough to earn an NC17 rating, but it is a very STRONG R! If you don't feel like visiting the dark side of human perversity today, put off reading this one. I even had to use the four-letter "C" word, which I despise, but found appropriate for this piece. Please do not disregard this warning!
Okay, this is #7 (wow!) in the Alternate Reality Series. There will be others. As some of you know I won't be posting as steadily as in the past, because of the need to indulge myself in longer works. That doesn't mean there won't be shorter ones posted in the meantime. There are shorter stories on the drawing board, and will fill in whenever I get temporarily disgusted with the lack of progress on a long one (some call it Writer's Block. I call it looking for the right sentence <smile>). Sign up for my Update List, and you'll know exactly what's posted and when.
Hope you enjoy!
I keep this stuff from him because he *is* too strong to crack, if that makes any sense. You see, he won't break, but he can be destroyed...he can destroy himself, and that's what I mostly fear. None of it was his fault. He was just a child, a boy just beginning to figure out right from wrong, but having no power to correct the perversities of his elders. He was a pawn, a weapon, in adult wars. I was but a child, too. If perhaps I'd had time to mature, to gain experience, I could have figured out another way to protect him, but all I could think of at the time was to bundle up the memories and lock them away in a dark corner.
However, finding *her* remains has got him picking at that lock, and although I have the power to stop him, I don't know if I should. Maybe the time has come for-- closure. He's a man now, and he has friends like Chief who will catch him if he starts to slide. I know that Chief is strong, and he's almost as protective as I am.
Hmm. Let's do a test, shall we?
"Come over here, Jimmy, and make Mama feel better."
I hear her talking in my head, then the next thing I remember is seeing lights flash on the far side of my eyelids. Curious, I force them to open, and immediately shut them again as the strobing lights disorient me. "Chief?"
"It's okay, Jim. Just let the paramedics do their job." Sandburg appears in my line of sight, his eyes glinting in the pulsating light. Are those tears in his eyes?
"What's happening?" I'm sure there hasn't been a car accident or anything. I'd been at home, hadn't I?
"You had some kind of seizure."
"A zone?" I hadn't zoned in a long time. I'm ashamed. I've scared Sandburg, and failed him. Not good. "I'm sorry. I don't remember focusing--"
"You didn't zone, Jim, you convulsed. Then you...you stopped breathing, man. I had to do CPR."
Shit. "You okay? Not dizzy or anything, are you?" I slap at something biting my arm.
He grabs my hand. "Let them put in the IV."
Oh. "Sorry." I watch them insert the needle with detachment. Then they lift the stretcher up. My stomach protests this motion, and I'm being turned on my side, a bowl placed next to my mouth.
God, I feel like shit.
He doesn't vomit. He would have to have something in his stomach to throw up, and I haven't seen him eat anything substantial since his mother was laid to rest a week ago.
This is all my fault. I should have insisted on a complete medical check up after that massive migraine he had. But he seemed to pull himself together after that. Yeah, he wasn't eating much, and he still had headaches, but I wasn't expecting him to bounce back completely. After all, having your mother's bones discovered in your old neighborhood had to be quite a shock. Or maybe not.
I think that's the part I was avoiding, the real reason I ignored his deteriorating health. Jim knows something about Grace Ellison's death. He'd always declared she had left the family because of him, because her son had been born a freak (his words, not mine). But her remains were found in what might as well had been the Ellisons' back yard, and Jim had no doubt whatsoever that the necklace found with the corpse belonged to his mom. I'm not saying Jim has any tangible knowledge of what happened to her-- according to the autopsy, she was killed by a blow to the head-- but Jim's a Sentinel, and it's possible he knew where his mother was buried. He could have heard her die, maybe even seen it happen, but as a child, he would have been powerless to stop it.
That's what I didn't want to make him face. He's had enough pain to last a lifetime-- hell, several lifetimes. If he'd repressed his mother's death, and his helplessness in preventing it, I didn't want this investigation to wring it out of him. Not so soon after his brother's recent betrayal anyway. So, I let the issue of his health slide to keep the cops from him. One look at his pale face had Captain Banks agreeing that he wasn't able to be questioned yet.
But it was all very calculated, you see. It was just to be this one week, then I was going to whisk him away. There's this resort in the mountains that we'd been talking about for months, but couldn't ever find the time to go. Fishing, fresh air, solitude. Garrity had already ruthlessly cleared our schedules, and our reservations were made. One more day, and we would have escaped.
I stop pacing, and stand in front of the doctor. I forget his name, and his clip-on ID has flipped over. "Yes?"
"First, let me tell you what I know. Mr. Ellison's episode tonight was brought on by severe dehydration. You indicated on the forms that he's been vomiting quite a bit?"
"Is the patient a body-builder or an athlete?"
"No. Why?" I ask slowly. I don't like this man.
"Male athletes can be prone to bulimia."
"He's not bulimic."
"Using steroids?" The doctor looks at me shrewdly. "Or other drugs?"
Of the recreational variety, right? You think he and I are a couple of drug-abusing faggots because he and I live together and I'm his next-of-kin and he was brought in wearing only a pair of boxers and I'm in some ragged sweats and a T-shirt with my hair wildly sticking out and my eyes rimmed red from crying. I reach for the bastard's throat.
"Mr. Ellison doesn't do drugs."
The deep voice halts my action, and I turn to see Captain Banks standing behind me.
"And you are?" the asshole-- excuse me-- doctor asks.
"Captain Simon Banks, Cascade P.D. I'm a personal friend of Mr. Ellison and Mr. Sandburg," he says, and I watch the doctor take in his six-feet, four inch frame. Unconsciously, the much smaller man takes a step back. I have to fight not to laugh.
"I'm sorry, Captain Banks, but unless this is a police matter and you have warrants, I can't discuss my patient with you," Dr. A says with false bravado.
"Captain Banks has my permission to stay and listen," I declare. The more witnesses the better.
"Mr. Ellison's protracted emesis is of some concern. If his tox screen comes back negative--"
"It will." Jim hadn't even taken aspirin in the past week, despite his headaches.
"We can, of course, do a thorough series of GI tests, and will if we have to, but I like to rule out the pitchfork before we blame the needle in the haystack." He gives a sick smile, as if that's supposed to absolve him of his previous crimes. Not a chance, mister. "Have you noticed a trend to his sickness? Does it occur at a certain time of the day? Could it be an allergy to something he comes in contact with? Does it accompany another condition, or--"
"He has headaches," I tell him. "Clusters and migraines."
"Do you know why?"
I sigh, and pull my hair back from my face. I hadn't thought to bring a tie. I'd been in the living room, reading a law journal, when I heard a thump from Jim's room. I found him on the floor, thrashing about-- until he went limp and ceased breathing. I don't even remember calling the doorman and demanding an ambulance....
With a shudder, I drag myself back to the present. "The remains of his mother were discovered two weeks ago. There are indications she was murdered quite some time ago." I sort of glance at Banks, and he nods his confirmation.
"Oh." The doctor frowns. "Could this have occurred while he was a child?"
"Probably. Why?" I demand. He has the look of a man who has a theory.
"Mr. Ellison could be suffering from PTSD."
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Used to be called "shell shock", but lately it had been discovered that it wasn't just something that happened to veterans. Disaster survivors could experience PTSD. So could rape victims...and child abuse sufferers. Fuck. Jim could fit into any of the above categories. He was a veteran. He'd survived a helicopter crash that had killed his seven comrades. If he hadn't been raped in prison, he'd surely witnessed the act more than once. And God only knows the hell William Ellison put him through. "You might be onto something," I admit reluctantly.
The doctor nods. "As soon as we get him stabilized, I'll have him assigned to the psych--"
"Your companion needs to be evaluated and helped, Mr. Sandburg."
"But he doesn't need to be placed on a psych floor, and drugged to the gills," I nearly shout. I know the current state of psychiatric medicine. One of my colleagues had gotten depressed after his divorce. When I'd seen him next, the man who could paint vivid imagery with his words to a jury, couldn't even make conversation with a six-year old. Hell, Jim reacted badly to some store-brand aspirin; Prozac would be waaaay too much for him to handle. "Just get him well enough to get out of here, and I'll see that he gets private care." The doctor looks like he wants to protest, but I give him my, "I don't give a shit," glare and he goes away. I slump into the nearest chair.
"How did you find out?" I ask my silent companion.
"I make sure I know what's going on with my people," the captain says. "You think it's that simple? That this crap with his mother has triggered PTSD?"
My eyes, which have drifted closed, now open to peer at the man I consider a friend. "You don't agree?"
"I think it triggered something, but I'm not sure it's something as complex as post-traumatic stress."
Damn. I should have known better than to underestimate this man. I know that he is one of Jim's protectors, but he's a cop, too. Which is his stronger instinct? "You think it's something simple?"
Banks shakes his head. "It's not simple."
To hell with subtlety. "I won't have him hurt."
"That seems to be a moot point at the moment."
"No, this conversation is a moot point. I thought I lost him at one point tonight, Captain. That's not going to happen again."
"Will be bought and paid for by me."
"If it's for his own good, man--" Banks argues.
He is a good friend to Jim. But he's wrong. "I wonder how many times in his life Jim has been told that? And how much pain has followed those words? I will not have him tortured for his own good! If he'd rather continue his life fucked up, but functioning, I say, 'More power to you, my brother.' As long as the headaches stop, I'll be satisfied."
"And if he becomes too fucked up?"
"Then, I'll take him somewhere where he can be fucked up to his heart's content." It's way too far into the recesses of the night to be having this conversation, but I want the captain to understand that my commitment is to Jim, not to the truth. "The torment stops here, Simon. Maybe he can take more, but he shouldn't have to. No one should."
He sighs. "I don't even know why I'm arguing with you. I know that in the end, you will do what's best for Jim."
"As will you."
Banks nods. "Was that ever really in question?"
I shrug. "You've been a cop much longer than you've been Jim's friend."
"But being a cop...being a cop has never affected me the way Jim has," he admits with a bewildered chuckle. "You really have to be a heartless bastard to know him and not--" He clamps his lips tightly shut.
"Love him?" I supply with a warm smile. "It's okay, Simon. You can admit you love a male, non-family member without thinking someone's going to dress you in purple, and parade you up and down the street. You can even tell Jim if you want. He won't take it the wrong way."
"No. Because he won't believe it at all," I say, sinking further into the chair. "He's pretty much convinced that he's unlovable."
"But what about you? Surely--"
"He thinks I consider him a novelty, a project, a hobby. He tries so hard to be whatever I want him to be because he thinks if he fails, I'll find something new to do with my spare time." I bury my face in my hands. I was right; it's way too late for this conversation.
"What about my friendship? And the other ones he has? What about his niece?"
"You and Garrity owe him your lives. The others befriend him because of me, or you, in the case of your officers and Taggert. His niece, Jenny? He thinks she loves him because she lost her father, and he's the nearest substitute." I note the slight tremble in my hands as I lower them from my face. Delayed shock, I suppose.
"Why isn't he a serial killer?" Banks asks hollowly.
"Because he pours all of his desire to be loved-- into loving us. Not obsequiously, not frantically, not psychopathically. Just an all-accepting love of faults and strengths alike. The kind of love he wishes he was worthy of."
He lowers his long body into the seat beside me. "How? How do you live with this, knowing this?"
I smile to keep from screaming. "With my heart breaking every day for him."
Simon, who had probably started this conversation on one side of the fence, then carefully found himself straddling it, now plants himself firmly on the opposite side. "Who the fuck cares what happened to the bitch?" he growls softly.
I nod in agreement. Who the fuck cares?
But I know the answer-- Jim does.
An unmitigating disaster, right?
Sure, Jim had a meltdown, but he didn't go for a swan dive off the balcony, or chomp down on a tasty metal barrel. All very good signs. You see, dehydrated or not, if Jim had wanted to do something drastic, he would have found the strength to do it. Most people look at how fit he keeps himself and think that it's because he was in the military, or he did it to protect himself in prison, or because he's vain. Actually, it's a control issue. All his life, things have been done *to* him, but keeping his body fit is something he does *for* himself. It's the only control he's ever had. Even when he was a boy, he made sure to eat his vegetables, drink his milk, and exercise. He rejected drugs and alcohol for the same reason. When Jim "just said no", he was exerting control-- self-empowerment they would call it now. When Jim wanted to move, his body moved. That was why he made the football, basketball, and baseball teams. That was why, if he'd wanted to *permanently* avoid that locked door, he would have.
Instead, he let himself fall, something he's never done before. The zone-outs were beyond his control, as were the enhanced senses themselves. Although it appeared that as he aged, he became their master, he-- we-- were always aware that the senses were merely condescending to us. If they wanted control, they would take it. Hence, it wasn't a big surprise I was shoved out of the way in Peru, and that's why Jim knew it was useless to try to bury them again. We both think the whole zone-out-at-a-murder-scene thing was a kind of punishment for denying them in the first place. Paranoid? I'm Jim's conscience-- it's allowed.
Anyway, I was saying he *let* himself fall. Controlling his loss of control, as it were. Why? Because of Chief. A matter of trust. A matter of knowing that not only will someone notice that he's broken, but that that certain someone will not let him remain in that condition. Those are two big steps for Jim, two steps I thought we'd never take. That's why I was content to let the lock remain forever.
But now I'm going to remove it. When he wants to open that door, he will have complete access. I'll be there if I'm needed, but I'm pretty sure Chief can handle it. I have faith in him. He's a good man, and he cares for us. For now, anyway.
And hey, if you're worried that I'm out of a job, don't be. Jim's a complicated guy.
I have other locks to tend.
I wake, but don't open my eyes. With my Sentinel abilities, sight has been reduced to a luxury, not a necessity. Although I really haven't spent much time in the places, I know the scent of a hospital. I hear the sound of Sandburg's heartbeat-- a normal rhythm indicating I'm not in any danger. In my mouth, I actually taste him, which is strange because I really think I would remember kissing Blair. Then, I remember the brief conversation we had earlier. Blair had performed CPR. He had breathed for me. With a disbelieving sigh, I commit his taste to memory.
My exploration of touch is what gives my wakened state away. I can't stop from flinching as I encounter the weight of the needle embedded in my hand. I can even feel the liquid as it drips into my vein, colder than the viscous fluid already in circulation.
"Easy, Big Guy."
I open my eyes. Immediately, I notice that he's still dressed in his version of pajamas, that he's sporting black rings around his eyes, and that the dark growth of beard on his cheeks makes him appear sallow. "Go home."
He looks hurt. "I'll wait out in the hall."
I reach out and grab him before he can get up. "I don't want you in the hall. I want you to go home and get some sleep. You look like shit, Chief."
The "Chief" mollifies him, and he relaxes back into the chair. "And you're looking less than GQ yourself," he razzes. "Man, if you ever scare me like that again...." He shakes his head.
"You went into shock due to severe dehydration."
I feel stupid. In Army training I'd had to navigate through a desert, on foot, for six days, and came through without so much as a sunburn. But here, in the land of hot and cold running water, I dehydrate. "I'm sorry. I tried to keep stuff on my stomach, but--"
He pats the hand I still have on his arm. "It's okay. Just don't give me any shit when I hand you a bottle of water six times a day from now on."
"I understand, Chief."
He gets a peculiar look on his face, and murmurs, "I don't think you do, Jim."
I try to figure him out, but it's been a long night for both of us. "It'll be all right. Once this bug gets out of my system--"
"It's not a bug, Jim. You've been under a lot of stress, and--"
"So I do a meditation, and--"
"Whoa! A meditation? You meditate, Jim?"
I feel the flush overtake my body. "I-- I studied some eastern practices in the Army. I haven't done it since I left, but--"
"Is it a religious belief? Because if it is, then don't think you have to hide it because I'm not a practitioner of organized religion--"
He gets so excited about things. "It's not my religion, Sandburg. It was just something I tried, okay? The Way of the Warrior. It had some good philosophical points, and gave me a thorough lesson in strategy, but it's way too impractical for real-world use." I shake my head at the absurdity of my life. A few hours ago I wasn't breathing, and now I'm getting into a discourse-- yes, a discourse-- of the practicality of following 17th-century philosophy in the Modern Age. But hell, it beats thinking about my mother.
Of course, that's the real issue. My mother. Thinking about her is the reason I'm in this bed, and Sandburg looks like the walking dead. There's something about finding her remains that bothers me. I wasn't surprised to discover she was dead. I wasn't even surprised that she'd been buried in the backyard. Why? What do I know about her death? What do I know that I'm not telling myself? I know I know something--dark. I've found the door it's hidden behind, but it has this massive lock on it, and I'm afraid. I'm afraid it's locked because I did something, something I can't live with if I know. Something that might be the reason why my dad has always hated me.
Maybe there's a reason why I zoned over the body of that mother and her child.
I blink, and let the sound of my Guide's voice draw me back. "Go home, Sandburg," I repeat softly.
"And let you pull another disappearing act like you just did? No way." He plops his butt into the chair in a decisive manner.
But I need him gone. I've seen something that I have to investigate. Alone. "I just wanted to see if I could sink into meditation like I used to," I lie. "Just got a bit carried away. It won't happen again. It's not good to be too exhausted when attempting this."
"So, you won't be attempting it any time soon?"
"No. I'm going to go to sleep. And I'll feel much better doing it if I know you're doing the same thing. At home. In your bed," I add pointedly.
"Fine. I get the message," he says, a tired smile coming to his face. "You're really going to be okay? No bullshitting, right?"
"Right. As soon as you leave, I'm going to close my eyes. And remember, I'm a Sentinel; no just going to the waiting area and crashing in a chair," I warn.
"Busted," he admits. "Fine. I'll be back in a couple of hours."
"Make it three or four. You need to shower," I say, wrinkling my nose to bring laughter to his eyes.
"Guess I know when I'm insulted," he replies, standing and yawning. "Get some rest, Jim. You know we'll work all this out."
"I know, Chief."
He pats my arm, and leaves. I listen to him get on the elevator. Then I close my eyes as I promised. But I don't sleep. I think. Because, you see, that lock I told you about? It's gone. The memory is now mine for the asking.
And I want to ask.
I juggle a box of doughnuts and a large suitcase as I punch the elevator panel. A deep, familiar voice has me stabbing at the Door Open button a scant second later. "Good morning, Simon." Being a cop, of course he relieves me of my heaviest burden-- the doughnuts. In doing so, he has to switch the tape recorder he's carrying from his right hand to his left. Tape recorder? "Someone making a deathbed confession?" I joke uneasily.
Hi eyes widen, then narrow. "Ellison didn't discuss this with you?"
"Discuss what?" I demand. Jim had called me, asking when I was coming to see him. I should have known he wasn't merely asking because he missed me; he'd never take such a liberty-- damn him.
"He told me he was ready to make his statement about his mother's death, and that I should bring a recorder, because he was only going to say it once."
That doesn't bode well, does it? Perhaps preemptive damage control should be employed. "This interview is being conducted without the interviewee's consultation of counsel, while interviewee is under medical supervision due to extreme stress, and has been recommended for psychiatric evaluation," I point out as the door opens onto Jim's floor.
Banks steps out first. "You can retract your claws, Counselor. I meant what I said last night. According to the records, I'm just here visiting a friend."
Ah, it feels so good when two people are in accord. Now, we need to expand that to three people.
"Come on in, Chief, and what the hell has you puffing so much?" Jim's voice sails beyond his closed door.
"The treasures of the universe," I reply, letting Banks push open the door for me. Jim's eyes widen when he sees the large pullman I'm carrying. "Just a few things to make you more comfy."
"So, I'm going to be in here for what-- the rest of my life?" he asks in horror.
I shake my head. "Hopefully, I can get you sprung tomorrow. However, I got a call from a frantic Mrs. Thomas this morning--"
"But she's in Portland with her granddaughter," Jim interrupts.
Mrs. Thomas' granddaughter had been in a car accident, and Mrs. Thomas had gone to take care of the children while their mother recovered. She had needlessly apologized effusively when she requested the time off. "Seems that a friend of hers informed her of your ambulance ride, and as soon as she finds a suitable substitute to take care of the kids, she's on her way back. In the meantime, she gave me a list of stuff to bring to you."
"Stop her, Chief," Jim pleads. "Her family needs her."
"That's exactly why she's coming back, Jim," I explain gently, and he drops his eyes, but not before I glimpse the confusion in them. He still doesn't understand that Mrs. Thomas has adopted him in all but name. Before Jim, she was the cleaning lady who came three times a week. I rarely saw her; I left her check on the table, and she left me a clean penthouse. While Jim was hanging around the apartment waiting for his P.I. license, he and Mrs. Thomas got to know each other. When one of the tests I had Jim doing caused him to have a headache on the same day I was due in court, I called Mrs. Thomas, on her day off, to check on him. The next thing I knew, she was telling me that she was coming in five days a week, so I could just send him home whenever necessary. That's also when I learned she could cook.
"So," I continue, as I lay the suitcase on the floor and unzip it, "Here are your softest sweats to sleep in--"
"Clothes!" Jim exclaims happily, snatching them out of my hand. He deftly detaches his IV, and darts into the bathroom. Banks and I look at each other and chuckle. Guess we know how Jim feels about hospital gowns.
I continue unpacking. More sweats and tee shirts. Socks and underwear. Two pillows. Fresh sheets, and a blanket. A sleeping mask and earplugs. A stack of magazines, and books. Towels and sundry items like soap, deodorant, shaving cream, etc. Banks eyes the growing pile in stoic silence. "She said--" I begin to explain, but he holds up his hand.
"No one defies Mrs. Thomas when it comes to her sweetie," he says, and I realize he understands.
"She scares me," I admit in a whisper.
"Me, too," he confesses. "Doesn't surprise me at all that she left spies on Jim."
I nod. "She did her best not to give me hell on the phone for allowing him to get into this condition, but I'm good at subtext."
"Should I assign you a guard when she gets back?" Banks teases.
"Nah. She'll be too focused on Jim to bother with me." The captain helps me strip the bed and make it more sentinel-friendly.
"This is really unnecessary," Jim says as he returns, tossing the hospital gown on the pile of old sheets.
"Is it?" I could smell the bleach in the stuff I'd stripped from the bed. Heaven only knows how Jim had suffered during the night.
He shrugs, and slips beneath the new bedding with an audible sigh. His blue eyes turn toward Banks. "Hello, Captain. I didn't mean to ignore you--"
"If you've changed your mind, that's okay, Jim. I understand you called me without benefit of counsel," Banks says hastily.
"Gave you hell, did he?" Jim replies, glaring at me fondly. "I'm sorry about that. I-- I should have talked to him first, I guess. But when I remembered--"
Jim looks at me, and nods. "Until a few hours ago, I honestly didn't remember what happened that day. Hell, I didn't even remember the years...."
Years? I don't like this conversation already. Neither does the captain.
"Jim," he says uncomfortably. "Maybe you should talk with Blair first. Then I can come back and--"
"No," Jim says forcefully. "I probably can't go through this more than once. I'd rather-- I'd rather just get it over with. Okay?" he begs.
There's nothing I can do but nod. Banks clicks on the recorder.
"Should I state my name or something?" Jim asks, far too familiar with the routine.
Banks goes through the rigamarole of making this an official tape, but I-- and he, as well-- doubt if it will ever be used as evidence in a case. "Okay, son," he says softly when the formalities are out of the way. "What is it you want to tell us?"
"My mother moved out when I was six. I had seen something I shouldn't have, and she'd had to come to the school and make excuses for me. Said that that was the last straw; she couldn't deal with what I was anymore."
I'd seen mothers who spent years, decades, making excuses for their kids, and Grace Ellison couldn't even do it for her six-year-old. I'm of the opinion that if you have to get a license to drive a car, you should have to have one to have a child. Innate maternal instincts are a joke.
"She didn't leave the area, though. She still loved Stevie, would have taken him with her if Dad hadn't told her he'd take her to court. Anyway, she came over often to see him."
"But not you?" I ask softly, despite having made the decision not to interrupt him.
He shakes his head. "I was always sent out to play when she came."
It's a good thing this is a hospital. I'm definitely going to need a sedative when this is over.
"What I never told Dad was that I knew she was sometimes over when nobody was home. I could sense that she had been there, you know?"
I nod, noting that Banks seems to accept what he's saying. Psychic is a good shield.
"One day the teachers forced me to stay home from school. They said I had lice. But I didn't. That's definitely something I would have known. But one of the rich kids had it, and everyone just assumed one of us from Ward Seven had brought it into the school. I was always big for my age, and Dad didn't want to pay extra by taking me over to the lady's house where Stevie stayed during the day. I didn't particularly want to hang around with a bunch of two-year-olds either, so I didn't mind staying home by myself."
A six-year-old in the house alone. That's insane! I grip the arms of the chair to keep from commenting.
"I was on the couch watching Captain Kangaroo when Mama came in. She was mad that I was there, but she got even madder when I told her why. 'You might be poor, but you ain't dirty,' she yelled. She sat down on the couch, and made me kneel in front of her while she checked my head. It felt so good to have her look after me like that. I'd seen her with Stevie, playing with his baby hair, but I think that's the first time I remember her ever touching me like that. I had always loved her, but at that point, I really loved her, you know?"
I make the mistake of glancing at Banks. The sheen of unshed tears in his eyes almost sends me reeling.
"I must have zoned on her touch," Jim continues, "because the next thing I know--" He stops and takes a deep breath. His next words rush together. "When I turn around to look at her, I see that she's taken off her top, and she's rubbing her breasts in my hair."
I wish I could say I saw that coming, but I didn't. Jim jerks when he hears the nearly silent gasp I make.
"Is that the only thing she did, Jim?" Banks asks, being a cop holding him in good stead at the moment.
Jim shakes his head, and he looks at both me and Banks as if willing us to understand. "She said I made her feel good, that maybe I wasn't such a bad kid after all. So I did whatever she asked, and I never told anyone about the days she checked me out of school when she needed me."
"You were just a baby," I whisper, trying to make sense of what I'm hearing. Not that I don't believe Jim. Suddenly, his shyness around women is so clear.
"But I had hands...and a mouth."
Silence can be painful. The quiet in the room makes my skin bleed.
"She ever do stuff to you, Jim?"
I think he likes the straightforward questioning from the cop, as opposed to my horrified stares. But I can't help it.
"Some--sometimes." I've never heard him stutter before. Is this an affectation from that time in his life? "But she--she was mainly concerned about feeling good herself. At first I thought her moaning meant I was doing something wrong...." He flushes red. "Guess when people call me 'motherfucker', they, uh, they aren't wrong."
I cave. Barely making it into the bathroom, I lose everything in my stomach. I know I'm not doing Jim's sentinel senses any favor, and psychologically, I'm probably destroying whatever little sense of self he has left. But I just couldn't take any more.
"Here, rinse." Banks hands me a glass of water and I take it, unmindful of the tears rolling down my face. He looks at me, and says gruffly, "Suck it up, then let's get on with this."
"No," I murmur. I've had enough. "Please."
He folds his arms across his chest resolutely. "You are going to get your butt back into that room, and let that boy tell you the whole story while he still can. Maybe then he'll be able to let it go. He needs someone to be strong for him once in his life, Sandburg."
I think the man should give motivational speaking a try. He's right. Me getting hysterical isn't doing Jim any good. He needs me. I roll off some tissue, blot my eyes, and blow my nose. Then, I go out and resume my seat, Banks silently following me. "Sorry," I say to the man curled so forlornly in the bed. Be strong, I admonish myself when I realize all I want to do is curl up with him, and cry.
My Jim. Still caring more about others than himself. "Yeah, man. Just went in the bathroom and downed a couple of Midol. Should be back on an even keel in a few minutes," I say with a smile.
"That PMS can be a bitch, huh?"
I actually see real humor in his eyes for a second, then they dim and I realize he's gone back in time again. That he has such courage humbles me.
"It wasn't that bad, Chief," he says, trying to comfort me. "I learned over the years to distance myself when I was with her. Easier than when Dad was whipping me and everything."
Disassociation, I think to myself. A mind in retreat. "Wasn't there anyone you could go to, confide in?" Damn it. Surely not every adult in his life was an abuser.
"They would have taken her away, and Stevie needed Mama. I thought about running away, but... I couldn't leave Stevie."
You mean you couldn't let them do to Stevie what they were doing to you. You mean you sacrificed everything for a little shit who couldn't even bother to come to your trials, who tried to break your jaw with a stapler because you turned him in for drug trafficking. What an appreciative little bastard.
I want this to end. "What happened to your mom?"
"My dad caught us."
There was no "us", Jim. It was all your mother's doing. All of it. "When was this, Jim?" I'm relieved that my voice sounds perfectly normal.
"When I was ten. My bed was too small, and she said there was no way she was ever getting into William's bed again, so we usually spread a sheet on the living room floor. Suddenly, this hand wraps around the back of my neck, and I'm flung into the dinette set clear across the room. I must have hit my head or something, 'cause a lot of what happens afterward is fuzzy. Dad curses a lot, and so does she. Says she's glad that there's at least one Ellison man who knows how to treat a lady. And he tells her that she's not a lady, but a whore, that she was nothing but a cunt when he met her, and apparently that was all she would ever be. Then he came over and kicked me, calling me a--an abomination, and that he should have let her abort me before I ever came to be."
"He couldn't have meant that."
I don't realize I've said it aloud, until Jim looks at me with a sad expression. "He said that if he'd known beforehand what I would become, he would have bent the coat hanger himself."
Ah, yes. The early sixties where abortions were performed with a wire coat hanger and a prayer.
"What happened after that, son?"
God bless Simon Banks. His calm, soothing voice is an anchor.
Jim wipes his nose on the back of his hand. "It's really fuzzy after that, 'cause when I stand up, Dad slams my head against the table, and asks my mama to give him one good reason why he shouldn't kill both of us. My ears were ringing so badly, I couldn't hear what she said, but there was this thunk, and he let me go. I think she hit him with something. I don't know what happened after that. I passed out, and when I came to, Mama and the sheet on the floor were missing. Dad was sitting on the couch staring at me, so I asked him where Mama was, and he said she was gone for good, thanks to me. Then he told me to get started on my homework, and I did."
Simon clicks off the recorder, and stands. "That's good, Jim. I have all that I need. You listen to the doctors and Sandburg, and you'll probably be out of here tomorrow. So, I'll see you at the penthouse, okay?"
"Sure. If you need anything else, that's where--"
A shaking, dark hand reaches out to pat Jim's. "No, Jim. I won't be coming to see a potential witness. I'll stop by to visit a friend. Okay?"
Jim nods, and looks at me. "I'm going to walk the captain out, Jim, and come right back. That all right?" I figure we both need a few minutes alone.
In the hall, Simon hands me the tape. "If I ever need it, I'll let you know," he says softly.
He nods. "Now I'm going to my office, pull down the shades, and cry like a baby."
"The world can really suck sometimes," I murmur wearily.
"And they say lawyers can't speak the truth," he taunts, causing both of us to smile.
It's enough to get me back to the room, where I find Jim has fallen asleep in my short absence. I'm not surprised-- his "confession" had been exhausting, and he'd probably been unable to get comfortable on the hospital linens. Good ol' Mrs. Thomas. She certainly knew what her sweetie needed.
I only hope that I know as easily when it's my time to give him comfort.
"I can't believe the Jags blew a sixteen-point lead!" Blair is shouting as I grab empty beer bottles, and head toward the kitchen. In the week I've been out of the hospital, this is the most strenuous thing he's allowed me to do. Mainly, I've slept and eaten, Mrs. Thomas coming up with meals that I couldn't walk away from even if I wanted to. We haven't talked about what I said at the hospital, which is good. I feel better-- the headaches have disappeared-- now that I remember, but it's not something I want to discuss ad nauseam. My mother sexually abused me. I survived. I moved on. The end.
"Oh, hush, Sandburg," Banks replies to Blair's whining. "At least you're not out an overpriced pair of sneakers. I should have known better than to bet against my son."
"Teaching him bad habits at an early age?" Sandburg asks, teasing in his voice. "A police captain inciting his son to gamble. Tsk, tsk, tsk."
"Save the tsk'ing for when I actually beat him. He has this uncanny ability.... Maybe he'll use it to break Wall Street one day. Then I'll tsk all the way to the bank."
I freeze. Daryl Banks has an uncanny ability-- and his dad is laughing about it, and encouraging it. Why hadn't my parents done that? Why had my mom exploited it? I remember her telling me to use my magic to make her feel good, to bring her to orgasm with a single touch. And Dad, Dad just wanted me to hide it, to make it go away. Why hadn't they loved me like Simon Banks obviously loved his son?
The sound of breaking glass is very distant as I sink to my knees. Sandburg's touch brings everything back into focus, and I look at the dark smoky eyes that are searching mine so intently. "Why?" I ask, my voice trembling along with the rest of my body. "Why does nobody love me?"
"I love you, Jim," Blair says firmly. "And Simon loves you. And Garrity, and Audrey. Then, there's Mrs. Thomas, and Jenny, and Carolyn--"
"But they didn't love me, did they?" I ask, closing my eyes because I hate how the world wavers through tears. "Mama and Daddy. They didn't love me, did they? They never loved me. I thought maybe Mama did, because she would say so when we were together, and she hit Dad when he was going to kill me. But that wasn't love."
He pulls me closer, and I rest my head on his shoulder. "No, Jim, it wasn't. But it had nothing to do with you. The fault was within them."
"'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,'" I quote. Out of all the Shakespeare I've read, both as a student and here living with Sandburg, I like Julius Caesar the best. Betrayal is something I'm familiar with.
"That's right, Jim," Blair says against my ear. "They were the ones in the wrong. You, my friend, were as faultless as the stars."
I've never known him to lie to me, so I guess I have to believe him. But it doesn't make me feel any better. "You wouldn't happen to have any of that Midol left lying around, would you?"
I don't know when the laughter turns to tears, or which one of us sobs the hardest.
I watch the sunrise snuggled up with my best friend on the sofa. Unorthodox, I know, and totally unexplainable if someone was to burst in with a camera. But you know what? I don't give a fuck. Last night my friend needed me to hold him, to wipe his tears, to whisper words of love in his ear, and I did. Captain Banks-- Simon, after last night, I definitely have to call him Simon-- witnessed part of the night. He helped me get Jim settled on the sofa, and he cleaned up the glass in the kitchen before discreetly leaving. On one level, I was surprised that he was so helpful. On another, I know that he's a father, and what happened to Jim hurt him deeply because he has a reference point much closer than his own childhood. Six-year-olds are small, impressionable, yet full of life. For one so young to have to deal with being sexually abused for four years, and physically abused his entire childhood-- it's hard to imagine someone being so cruel. It's doubly hard to accept when you consider this was not one parent doing it, but both.
Watching him sleep I see some of the little boy Jim must have been, and although I could have sworn I'd wept myself dry, I still shed a tear or two for the angel, for the "blameless star" I hold against my breast. I try to focus on the miracle that the star had not burned itself out, that despite the vicious huffing and puffing of mortal men and women, the star still shone brightly. Instead, my brain wants to dwell in the dark, to wallow in the violent death of Grace Ellison, to imagine a grisly end to William. Bad karma, my mom would say. I know. I should be able to rise above this with the grace and dignity Jim has, right? But I can't. Not now. Not while faint tremors still course through his body. Not while tears still glisten in his long, feathery lashes.
I do have a prayer, though. I pray that I never find William Ellison. Because not even the thought of being separated from Jim-- no way would anyone be able to convince a jury that what I want to do to Jim's biological male donor would be anything less than cruel and unusual, premeditated murder-- will stop me from striking the man dead as viciously as possible. Maybe God has never answered any of Jim's prayers, but I hope He answers mine. Jim's been alone long enough. I know that Garrity and Simon would look after him while I'm on death row, but Jim's my responsibility, and I don't want to end up like those other two despicable pieces of shit who were given that responsibility earlier, and failed. I don't want to be like them, and desert him when he needs me most.
And as long as William Ellison steers clear of me, I won't be. I'm going to stick to Jim like white on rice, like glitter on skin...like flames on a star. My star.
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