I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Song: I'll Be Home for Christmas (By Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, copyright 1943)
I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have some snow, and mistletoe
And presents on the tree.
Christmas Eve will find me,
Where the love-light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams ..."
"Oh, hey, Jim."
All right. I know this has to be my roommate, Blair Sandburg, because who else would be caught dead using that Blue Light special phone he got opening up a bank account? However, that's not what was making his voice sound funny. It's been that way since Thanksgiving. Not sad, exactly, but not the Good-time Charley I've been rooming with for the past three years.
Well, it's the holidays. Maybe Good-time Charley's got the blues, like about a million other people.
"What's wrong, Sandburg?"
"It doesn't sound like 'nothing's wrong.'"
"Is there something you wanted, Jim, other than to bust my balls before all these people show up?"
"Is that what this is about? My Christmas party?"
"No. It's not about 'your' Christmas party."
Smooth, Ellison, very smooth. Place your foot in your mouth, all the up to your sorry ass. This was like the beginning of every knockdown, drag-out "conversation" Carolyn Plummer and I ever had, which is why she's now my "ex."
"So, if it isn't that half the PD is going to hit our front door at 9 tonight, what is it? I've got a headache that's going to blow the back of my skull off, I've done everything shit detail you put me on, and I rounded up every damned thing on the damned list of yours. Except for the ... what the hell are these hieroglyphics scribbled at the end? A jol of peed omoms? A gutter puke?"
Maybe I pushed him a little too far with that last one. He yelled loud enough for me to hear without the phone. "It's a 'jar of pearl onions,' and a 'guitar pick,' you moron." Jesus, can't a guy ask a question? "Remember, you volunteered me to entertain? And excuse the hell out of me for having to write the 'damned list' while I was in the middle of doing 'your' fucking paperwork..."
"Hey, OK. Sorry, Chief." It's not good when Sandburg curses. I mean really curses. It's like one of the signs of the Apocalypse. "Calm down. Guitar pick. Got it. Pearl onions. Got it. The biggest, friggin' jar I can find. I'll see you in 30." I don't dare ask what he wants to do with the pearl onions. At this moment, he'd tell me. In spades.
Then, I remembered. Joel Taggart once told us his mom always made peas with little pearl onions for the holidays. She'd say those were the "pearls" his dad always promised to get her for Christmas. The dish reminded the big man of family and happy times. Mrs. Taggart passed away at the beginning of this year, and I know he and Sandburg talked a lot when it happened.
And Sandburg remembered. Sandburg remembers fucking everything. He remembers the whole Abbott and Costello "Who's On First?" routine. He remembers that our Aussie transplant, Megan Connor, cries every time she sees "Ole' Yeller," so he keeps Kleenex handy. And, lucky for me, he remembers the name of every food, medicine, and personal care product that I've ever had a reaction to. ("So, doc, we've narrowed Jim's rash down to either a bag of cough drops with Eucalyptus or the buttermilk donuts and beer combo he had for lunch yesterday.").
Shit. I was really in the doghouse. Sandburg had been trying to do a lot of good stuff in a little bit of time for our friends. But, wait a minute. That should have made him feel terrific. A prince among men. So, whatever I was missing, it had to be a lot bigger than peed omoms.
He wasn't answering his cell. OK. I tried the other number.
"Happy holidays! You've reached 555-1014. We're not at home. We're either playing with our dreidels or decking our halls. In either case, leave a message. Ho, ho, ho! Or, oy, oy, oy!" Sandburg's voice on the answering machine with the idiot seasons' greetings spiel made me laugh every time I heard it. It took Blair a handful of drafts to get it just right. It hadn't taken him that long to write the first chapter of his dissertation.
"Come on, buddy, pick up. It's me."
"Listen, I'm sorry about before. I don't mean to act like an asshole."
"No problem. You gotta a lot of natural talent going for you."
I wasn't rising to the bait. I decided to kill the little son-of-a-bitch with kindness. "OK. Let me apologize right now for whatever it is or was that I did or didn't do or I should or shouldn't have said. All right? Come on, Chief. Talk to me."
"Yeah, well, it's not your fault." I could hear a slight tinge of forgiveness in his voice. "Not totally, anyway." Sandburg was letting me off the hook, but just barely. "It hasn't been one of my better days. See you soon. Drive safe."
Drive safe. Well, he still cared. A little.
While I was following his instructions, and negotiating my way around some of the most God-awful Christmas shoppers/drivers in the Pacific Northwest - no, make that the fucking world -- I ran through the possible reasons that could be making him this unhappy. We're talking here about a person who rolls with the punches better than anyone - and that includes those clowns who fall out of the tiny ambulances you see at the circus.
Work was fine. Our arrest numbers were up from last month's. Nobody at Metro was busting my partner's hump, at least that I knew about. And, trust me, with my Sentinel hearing, I'd have heard it if they were. Simon Banks, our captain, even gave him a left-handed compliment the other day. "Blair, my boy, the Devallero report ... good job. I haven't seen that much horse manure shoveled around since the rodeo was in town. You're my 'can do' man. You got it done. The Mayor's Task Force was impressed. Now, finish your java-mochachino, get your sorry butt out of my office, and you and Ellison get rolling."
I don't think Sandburg's been shot down by anyone he's been seeing. Actually, now that I think about it, his dates have been few and far between for the last few months. Or is it longer than that? Of course, I'm one to talk. My track record continues to hold. Let's just say I remember what you do with the opposite sex, but it's been kind of a long, dry spell for me, too.
More important, Blair and I were doing a lot better than we were six months ago. But it wasn't like in the beginning, when everything was a lot less complicated. Me, a cop with out-of-whack senses; him, an anthropology ditz with a sky-high I.Q who had answers to a lot of my problems. The kid wanted to learn as much as he could about yours truly, and so he finagled himself a ride-along pass - for well over 18 months. And he went about it all with enough enthusiasm to make Tony Robbins, that middle-of-the-night, self-help guru, look like a piker. On the other side of the coin, Sandburg was also downright irritating, persistent, and stubborn. But he was as loyal as Lassie. (Shit, I guess that makes me "Timmy.")
So, that's how the sneaky, little bastard managed to beachhead himself in my loft, and then my life. He's been under my skin like nobody else ever has, and that included my former wife. I "still" can't figure out how it happened. In a nutshell -- with emphasis on the nut -- Blair Sandburg became my best friend. There's never been one better.
Between then and now, things had changed, the way real life had a habit of doing. A lot of crap came our way - some of it very, scary stuff. We weren't the same, because he wasn't the same, but then neither was I. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I've been walking a tightrope, between trying to keep Sandburg close to me, safe and sound, and letting him do whatever the hell it is that would bring that look back into his eyes. It's the one I'd almost forgotten, because I was drawing on memory - and the memory was fading fast.
One day soon, it was going to be gone. And so would he. Then where the hell would I be? Just be some 40-plus, balding cop with an empty room under his staircase, and an emptier space in his life.
Fuck. Now I'm depressed.
I had to park the truck four blocks away, because somebody that I don't know was in my parking space in front of the apartment. I swore to God I was going to run the plates and have them jailed and strip-searched. Even if it was a nun. I needed about eight more inches of arm than I had to carry all the party paraphernalia up the steps to #307. The elevator was down. Again. OK, I added a call to L&I about my landlord to my list. Another jail and strip-search candidate. And that still included if it was a nun. I could hear my roommate singing softly to himself, strumming some holiday tunes on the Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix gave his mom, Naomi. (If you ever met her, you could "see" the former flower child as Jimi H.'s "purple haze.")
“I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me ...”
Oh, good choice, Sandburg. Love and loss around the holidays. A real crowd-pleaser. It'd have people crying by 9:20.
“Please have snow, and mistletoe
And presents on the tree.”
Think, Jimbo, think. Maybe he found the gift certificate and got pissed. So, it was sort of impersonal. But, if Sandburg's Volvo didn't need a full set of new tires, I didn't know what other "classic" P.O.S. did.
“Christmas Eve will find me,
Where the love-light gleams ...”
God, he was good. I could listen to Blair forever.
“I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams ..."
Jesus. I bet I knew what this is all about. God-damned Naomi, the Mother Ditz. She was bailing out on Blair again. Another holiday no-show. Wonder what it was this time? Was she on retreat, or off with a new yogi, or getting in touch with her inner child, or inner adult, or inner animal, or any one of a hundred "good" reasons she always had to break her son's oversized heart?
I was angry. At Naomi, for detaching with love for the millionth time. At Sandburg, for still letting her get to him this way. Mostly, I was angry with myself for never letting him know ... what was it I needed to let Blair - "my" Blair - know?
I practically kicked the door open, threw down the bags of things on the counter, and, in three steps, was standing in front of the couch where Blair was sitting, guitar in hand. I could feel the strings' vibrations on my knees.
"All, right, Chief. Spit it out. Exactly what the fuck crawled up your ass?"
Sandburg looked at me, like I ran over his dog. Suddenly, he exploded. "Well, it certainly wasn't you! And it's killing me, OK? Or don't you realize how I feel about you?" The words spilled out of his mouth. No, they flew out like projectile vomiting. Then Blair Sandburg realized what had just happened. He'd told me, in 25 words or less, that he loved me, and was "in" love with me. In that way.
Of course, I couldn't ask him if I'd gotten it right, because he grabbed his car keys, and ran out.
That all happened a fraction of a second before it hit me that I loved him, maybe more than my own life.
And I'm supposed to be a detective. They should ask for my paycheck back.
For the last half-hour, Sandburg had been sitting in his car, muttering, "Stupid, stupid, stupid," pounding on the steering wheel in frustration.
Join the club, buddy. I'd been tracking him since he stormed out. The way I'd always done, listening for that heartbeat, the one that's as familiar as my own.
The front door finally opened, and my best friend walked back in, quietly resigned to whatever was going to happen next, that face I know so well streaked with – shit - tears. Blair cleared his throat, but it still sounded gravelly when he finally spoke. "I am so sorry, Jim." He quickly scrubbed his cheeks with both hands as if he could obliterate the evidence. Guess Sandburg forgot he lives with a Sentinel. "Can we just chalk up what I said before as part of my usual holiday craziness?"
"Come on, Chief. Sit down." I didn't know exactly what to say. "You heard from your mom, didn't you?"
"Yeah. She called from Stonehenge right after you left. She was there for the Winter Solstice this year. With a bunch of Druids." This is when my Covert Ops training kicked in. I didn't laugh. "Naomi's going to stay there until after New Year's."
"I know you're disappointed, buddy, but don't you know by now that you're 'home' here in Cascade? With me?"
"You don't understand --"
"Yes, Sandburg. I think I do."
"Trust me. You don't."
In for a penny, in for a pound. "Sandburg - Blair - when I said you're home, I meant you're 'home' to me." I reached out and made a grab for my brass ring. Bunching up his flannel shirt with my fists, I jerked him toward me. We were about an inch apart, and I could feel his rapid breath on my upper lip, almost as if he were stroking it with his fingers. "You're the one who makes this damned loft the place I want to wake up in. And share meals in. And to go to bed in." Now, for the big guns. "I want to do it all with 'you.'"
"I've loved you just about forever, Jim." His face was so hopeful, so open, and so unguarded ... I saw "Blair" again. "So, you're OK with this? You mean, you want us to be sort of a couple? And if you say, 'a couple of what,' I am going to hurt you. And I know every place on that big Sentinel body of yours where it'll do the most damage."
Funny guy. I actually was going to say that. "Yeah. I mean it. You and me. Together."
"You're not just jerking my chain because it's the holidays and you feel sorry for me, are you, Jim?"
"In your dreams, Sandburg." I was trying to sound irritated and amused as hell, because that's how it's always been between us. Why should that change just because we're going to be knee-deep in each other, soon, I hope?
And then Blair smiled. "Not any more." With that, he practically climbed up my chest, wrapped his legs around my waist, grabbed my head between his hands, and gave me a Sandburg Deluxe. It's the kiss that women have died for. The kiss was so good, it would take three weeks and a dozen pens for me to tell you why, as my partner would say.
And now it was all mine. Like Sandburg.
"Merry Christmas, Jim. I love you." Before I could say it back, he'd slid down my legs, unzipped my pants, and was getting ready to give me a Christmas Eve-Eve gift before the company arrived. Blair's soft, hot lips touched me like nobody else ever had. He mouthed "I love you" all over my lower body. Well, fuck. This beat the hell out of saying it with a Hallmark card. Then he stopped and looked up at me with honest-to-God love-light gleaming in those blue wolf eyes of his. "You're going get so used to this, Jim Ellison, you'll never want anybody else but me. Ever again."
I just about gasped out "Like I said, in your dreams, Sandburg," before I pulled him back up so that we were face to face. His was radiant. How I loved him. Tell me again why I couldn't see it before?
"Yeah, Jim." The smile blinded me. "Like I said, that's where I found you."
Shit. I may have to marry this guy, just to get him to keep talking like that.
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