Well, this is an unexpected one. It came fully formed (well, almost) to my mind at about 3:15 A.M. I kept it intact until I could get a few free minutes to transfer to a more reliable hard drive (a few more hours in my head and it would have been "file not found" time). Because it appeared so quickly, you are getting it quickly. The editing is haphazard at best so focus on the thought, not the form please. :-)
WARNING: Character Death Ahead (Naomi Sandburg)!
By the way, this is so short I don't think you'd mind if I take up space to say thank you to everyone who has written me in the past few weeks. Sorry I haven't gotten around to answering your letters but I've had four stories bouncing around in my head-- not including this piece-- plus the holidays. I would love to say I'll do better next year and I'm going to do my best, but I don't believe in making frivolous promises. In short, I'm trying to say don't stop writing because you think it's not appreciated. IT IS! In other words, if this story moves you in some way, let me know.
The phone rings and I turn one eye toward the clock: 12:03 A.M. It's either Simon or one of Sandburg's friends who either doesn't know the rules around the loft or doesn't care. I hate the 'don't care' ones because then I have to make them care and well, Blair needs these people to fill in for him at times-- like when he needs to be with me or is recovering from being with me. See how well I've mellowed over the years?
I listen as he answers and an accented voice asks for Blair Sandburg. I close my eyes and remind myself to talk to Blair in the morning-- the real morning, I mean, with the sun up in the sky (or most probably behind the clouds considering Cascade's lovely climate). But before I can fall asleep, something drags me back to complete consciousness. It's Blair. His heart is racing, his pulse pounding in my ears. What the hell?
I scramble out of bed and race down the stairs. I find him standing as if zoned, the phone laying on the floor next to his feet. "Chief?" I say and he walks away, toward his room. I hear jabbering coming from the phone, so I pick it up and inform the caller that I'm Mr. Sandburg's partner. What he tells me is startling and I know whatever my schedule holds for the future, no longer applies. Blair needs me more than he's ever needed me before.
I break the connection with the caller, listen to Blair for a moment, noticing that he's still upset but getting no worse, and dial the airport. In less than ten minutes, I have confirmed a reservation for two to Nepal. That was where the accident occurred. That was where Naomi Sandburg died. That was where Blair was going to have to identify her body.
Most people think I'm insensitive, even Blair. I'm not talking about the incredible senses my Sentinel heritage has left me, but emotion-wise. Simon is always telling me to be more diplomatic and Blair nudges me or catches my attention when he feels I'm going to push a victim or witness too far. I freely admit that I was an emotional klutz in the past. I stomped on people's feelings, shoved when I should have gently prodded, stuck my foot in my mouth a time or two. Just ask Carolyn, my ex-wife.
But believe it or not, I've grown, matured, not with age but with experience that has a single name-- Blair. His friendship is something precious and I've had to change my old ways to keep it. Not that he threatens to take it away if I hurt his feelings or anything... He's too much of a friend to be pushed away so easily. No, I changed because I wanted to, because I found out it cost me when I hurt him. He bleeds, I bleed. It's just that simple.
And he's bleeding now. His pain is as tangible to me as if it were my own. But I can feel, even from another room, the barriers he has raised, barriers needed to get through the morbid but necessary tasks of the next few days. So even though I want to go into his room and fold him in my arms, I can't. Instead I stand in his doorway and tell him about the flight I've arranged. I remind him to pack his passport and his birth certificate just in case they need proof that he's Naomi's son. In foreign countries, procedure is always a wild guess.
He nods and reaches down for his overnight bag. This tells me he has understood what I've said because he still hasn't spoken a word. I close my eyes and will a part of my strength to him before going out into the main room and picking up the phone again.
The plane trip is as long and uncomfortable as I expected it to be. Usually I try to sleep for the better part of the flight, even if the seats are cramped and the engines are incredibly noisy. Blair, the Guide part of him too strong to be held back by grief, handed me my earplugs and eye mask as soon as the ride evened out. But although I take them, I don't use them. I want to keep my senses trained on him. This is his tragedy, an incredibly jolt in his world. I don't matter.
Settling into standby mode, I practice patience, having decided I will take all my cues from him. I will wait until he lets me know he needs me. That's not to say I haven't taken some matters into my own hands. I called Simon to let him know what was happening, why he would be two men short this week. I also called in a few favors from my old days, smoothing Blair's difficult path. That's why when we land, we are waved through customs, a car waits for us, and our hotel reservation has not "mysteriously" disappeared.
This is new territory for him, I remind myself as he sits dejectedly on one of the narrow beds in our room. He has lost friends in the past, but this is different. This is family, the woman who held him at her breast to give him nourishment, who banished the monsters under the bed to give him rest, who stood aside to give him strength. He is confused, angry, hurt. He has been sad before, but this is sorrow. He is encased in ice and the thought of thawing, and the pain it will bring, keeps him there. I know this because I see in his eyes what must have been in mine in Peru as I gazed upon the dead and watched the dying. At that moment, those men became my children. They were my responsibility, my duty. Why then, had they died without my permission, without a goodbye? And I had only known them a few months, at the most, a year. Naomi... Blair had known a lifetime.
Blair has never liked morgues and the only time he ventures into one is when he thinks I need him, when I have to do a Sentinel-style postmortem. So I know what it is doing to him to walk into this one, knowing that his mother is the long sheet-covered lump on the silver gurney in front of him. He doesn't ask to be alone so I know he wants me by his side. Instead, I stand behind him and I'm there to catch him when his knees weaken. I'm there when he chokes out the words, "No, Mama, please."
I lead him to a chair in the hallway and he withdraws into himself again, the tears drying on his face but no more falling. I leave him there and take care of the business he can't. But all the while I'm signing papers and gathering personal effects, my ears are trained on the man in the hallway. Off and on as we traveled, he told me what he thought Naomi would want. So, I arrange for cremation and the shipping of the remains back to Cascade. His mother hadn't had a home, but he did; her memorial service would be held in his city. I am surprised when my signature is so readily accepted by the officials. Either my contacts have done a better job than I expected or perhaps, I am considered the son-in-law. I never did explain the comment about being Blair's partner and since I never flashed a badge or anything, they were left to come up with their conclusions. If that was the reason I was free to do this for Blair, fine.
The memorial service is crowded. I sit beside Blair as he greets his mother's friends, an eclectic olio of New Age enthusiasts and former Flower Children who have turned into businessmen and power women. All seem to remember Naomi's shadow, the little boy who was always at her side and I can tell that each memory touches him. But what really shocks him is when the Cascade P.D. arrives. He has expected Simon, of course, and Joel, Brown, and Rafe are no big surprises either. But the presence of uniforms, office staff , and even a few of the brass rock him. He has always considered them as part of my life, not his. That they would turn out for him is incomprehensible. I know that this is a treasure he will tuck into his heart forever.
People speak and when there is a lull at the podium, I find myself approaching it. He has not asked me to say anything and I had not planned on it. But there was something I needed to say to Naomi that I never got the chance to say to her in life. I can only hope that she hears me now.
"I wish I could say that I knew Naomi well," I begin. "But she only flitted into my life a few times. What I knew of her... most I couldn't understand. Her lifestyle, her choices, weren't ones I would make and I think we made a silent pact to agree to disagree. Why? Because it was her nature to let people be who they are. Some of you out there know that isn't exactly my nature, so why did I go along with it? Because I owed Naomi Sandburg a debt that could never be repaid. If she wanted to sprinkle sage in the loft, burn incense all night, chant in the middle of my living room, she was welcome to do so because she had given birth to a son and raised him to be a man who honored me with his friendship. I just want to say thank you, Naomi, wherever you are. Your blessing has become mine and in return I promise to take care of this gift that you've left behind. If worry about his welfare disturbs your rest, find your peace, beautiful lady. He is safe. I give you my word."
Okay, so I stunned more than Blair with that speech. I take my seat beside him and although his eyes are closed, his hand reaches out to settle on my wrist. It remains there throughout the rest of the service. My waiting is nearing an end.
Two days have passed since Blair and I climbed one of the peaks in the Cascades and flung Naomi's ashes to the four winds. He was even too numb to notice how high up he was as he sent his mother on her last journey. Always so restless. Maybe now, she would find a home.
Since then, he has gone on with his life-- classes at the university, with me at the station. But because I am so in tune with him, I have felt the storm building and I know it won't be long. So I am awake when the rain appears.
"Why, Naomi?" he questions softly and I know he's talking to her picture on the shelf in the living room. "Why the hell did you do this to me?" I ease out of bed and take a seat on one of the lower steps. I don't offer to turn on the white noise generator or leave. He knows I'm here, knows I can hear him no matter how softly he speaks, so when he continues his monologue I know he wants me to hear.
"You weren't the one who was supposed to die. I wasn't prepared for this. Jim's death... God, the nightmares about that are too numerous to mention and I've worked out in my head a thousand times how to react if Simon ever calls and says, 'I'm sorry, Blair, Jim didn't make it.' I've even had dreams about your reaction when you got a call saying I was dead. I've watched you weep, meditate, and eventually come to grips with the cycle of life. But I have never imagined that I would be the one getting the call... that there would be a time you wouldn't just show up on my doorstep and say, 'are you glad to see me, son?'
"For years, you were everything to me, Naomi. You were my entire world. And even when I went out on my own, discovered a universe uniquely mine, I marked time by contacts from you-- your letters, postcards, the rare phone calls, the even rarer visits. How do I measure time now, Mom? When I know I'll never see your smile again or laugh at something you write in one of your letters or worry when you go off to some godforsaken place to get in touch with yourself?"
From my view I can see each individual tear that drips from his face and I ached to go to him, to tell him that I will measure his time if he wants me to, that I will be his mother, father, brother, friend... Whatever he needs I will be if it eases his pain just the slightest. But I wait for him to tell me when he's ready to accept my help without feeling forced to do so, without resentment that I want to take Naomi's place. Maybe waiting seems cruel, but I want to do this right. I have to get it right. I think in time it will define who we are and what we are to each other.
Patience has never been my long suit. I am, pardon the trite expression, a man of action. That was dictated to me by my father whose every minute was apparently too valuable to waste on sitting around and enjoying the things in life that take time: a child's first play or speech or even a son's first winning football game. I thank the fates, heavens, whoever, that sent Blair Sandburg my way to teach me that time rarely matters; only love. So, even though my leg muscles are jumping in anticipation and my eyes are already moist with sympathetic tears, I hold my position. I wait.
Until I hear just the softest of pleas. "Jim," he says and in two steps, I am beside him and he crumbles because now I am there to hold him together or pick up the pieces later-- the choice is his; I am only there to serve.
I watch the sunrise. If Blair was awake, he could too because the long night has left us sitting next to the balcony doors. How we came to be sitting on the floor, I don't remember. There had been pacing and talking and some very creative rants as he worked through his pain. It had suddenly hit him that the identity of his father probably died with Naomi and the fury had burned bright, then faded. He discussed how abandoned he felt, how the world seems to have dimmed without her presence. Then he wondered about the mysteries of her life, why she wandered as she did, why a home had never called out to her. Finally, he thought about her, if she still existed on some other plane or level. He asked if I thought she was happy. I replied that probably depended on him since he was her tie to this world now. He laughed and said if that was true, she was probably feeling a bit crappy at the moment.
At some point we had sat, he had leaned against my shoulder, and fallen asleep. Had I? Maybe yes, maybe no. Again, I don't remember. All I know is that he is in a healing slumber and that the arm he leans upon is numb. I shrug and adjust the arm that I can move. He'll awake soon and then I'll worry about the other one.
Yes, I think, as my eyes drift closed, I can wait.