Warm by akablonded

Warm - Akablonded

In the chill before the morning,
I put my hand upon your cheek.
And your skin is soft as velvet
And face is flushed with sleep.

Look at him. Mouth slightly open, drooling. He’s sleeping like a damned puppy who’s as happy as all get out because he’s got a full stomach.

Well, Sandburg’s happy all right, but it’s not because his stomach got filled this fine Thanksgiving morning.

Jesus, that sounds so crude. (But funny.) I guess when you’re in love – for real – then everything hits you that way. Funny, that is. The fact that “the one” for you, your damned brass ring, has a five o’clock – make that 10 o’clock – shadow may have something to do with it, at least in my case. I love Blair Jacob Sandburg so much I want to shout it from the rooftop. Except then I’d have to kill half the population of Cascade who heard me. (Nah, I wouldn’t do that. I’d just give them a little Covert Ops “talk.” That’s stopped rhinos in their tracks.)

Back to my story of how Blair Sandburg went from being my detective partner at the P.D. to the guy whose buckets of personal “joy juice” royally messed up my 1000-count Egyptian sheets, not to mention the yellow and blue comforter that’s so old I actually had hair when I bought it.

Cranberries. It all started with cranberries. See, they do weird things to me. (When you’re a Sentinel, someone with five senses that are all heightened, that’s saying something.) It goes back to when I was a kid. My mom used to make cranberry sauce from scratch. That was when she was still around, cooking for family occasions and major holidays, like Thanksgiving. The best part was spending time in the kitchen - the smells, the colors, the textures, just about everything. Most especially, how my mom’s perfume seemed to be everywhere. As though it had “arms” and a life of its own, surrounding me, hugging me, keeping me warm when everything – and everybody – else was cold. I loved it. And her.

And then, right around my 11th birthday, mom left us forever. After that, the kitchen was just the kitchen (even with Sally, our wonderful housekeeper and surrogate mother to me and my brother, Stevie), and holidays were just something to be gotten through. (My pops, Bill Ellison, saw to that. I remember ‘celebrating’ one Christmas by changing the oil in his ’65 Cobra.)

But I survived, like most kids in the same situation. Except that, as I got older, I carried all that baggage with me (like the department shrink would say). Good times with friends and family, the kind of things that stick with you, seemed earmarked for everyone else – not me.

As an Army Captain, it wasn’t much of a problem. Holidays spent on a secret mission in some volatile hotspot were being pretty much non-celebrations, which was just fine by me.

When I became a police detective, I usually volunteered to work extra hours for someone who had a family, or even a half-decent place to be.

But in the last few years, my perspective has changed. Like me. All because of a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk of a guy who moved in on me, lock, stock, and Zuni fetishes.

Back to the cranberry thing. You know, even as I see it in my mind’s eye, I can almost taste the sweet-tart dish, berries swimming in a river of warm, reddish sauce, made even warmer because of a “drop of the Irish.” Yeah, my mother used to stir in a couple of tablespoons of good, old-fashioned Irish whiskey, while the mixture was still hot, but she’d always tell me the “secret” ingredient that made the cranberries so good was love.

I guess I’ve been trying to find her recipe – and the love -- ever since.

And the rain outside the window
Plays a sad and lonesome song.
It feels so good beside you.
I’ve been in that rain too long.

Even during the few years I was married to Carolyn Plummer, Thanksgiving was pretty much turkey, football, her relatives, and getting through the day without having a fight about something.

It never quite worked out that way. The arguments would start off innocently enough, usually as we were getting ready to head over to the Plummer household.

“Don’t you ever want to be anything but a cop, Jimmy?”

“I was a cop when you married me, Caro. Remember? It seemed alright then. And why do we always have this conversation before we see your folks?”

“Because they’ll want to know how we’re doing.”

“I think we’re doing good.”

“But don’t you want anything more, Jimmy?”

“More? Yeah. I want more white meat this year. Stuffing with no oysters in it. The mashed potatoes at our end of the table. Imported beer. That would be nice.”

And not to be called ‘Jimmy.’ Of course, I never told her that.

Maybe real cranberries. Or that.

And the love that went with them. Do I look stupid?

“God. It’s like talking to my toaster, Jimmy.” That’s how it would end. Just like the marriage did, with Carolyn being unhappy and me being called ‘Jimmy.’

After the divorce, I probably would have gone back to my pre-Carolyn life -- same-old, same-old -- except for two things: my five senses coming back “on-line” with a vengeance, making me half-crazy and out of control. And Blair Jacob Sandburg bursting into my life, like the Energizer Bunny on crack, helping me learn how to use them, even if it was a bumpy couple of years. (“Your abilities which were once latent and then suppressed have been dredged up. Translation: You are back on line, and I haven't got a clue on how to turn them off. You’re a detective with hyperactive senses. You're a monster, man, a human crime lab with organic surveillance equipment. What more could you want?”)

Him. I wanted him. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Warm.
We keep each other warm.
We keep each other safe,
And sheltered from the storm.

If Carolyn was colder than ice, then, from day one, Blair was on fire. Hell, who am I kidding? He was – IS – fire. I can feel the blessed heat when my body is near him. And over him. And in him.

Back to how the “us” got started. Like always, it was after a high-speed chase, with perps running in every direction, and one of us either being shot, concussed, or unbelievably wet.

"Sandburg, what the hell were you thinking?" I asked him for the hundredth time, as he shook his shortish hair. The 3 P.M. helter-skelter sprint through the dock area trying to run down suspect Lamar Watson ended up with my partner being soaked to the skin. First, an unexpected passing shower (what we call liquid sunshine here in Cascade, Washington) drenched him. That was followed up by his taking a header into the bay. I helped fish both cop and robber out of thick, pungent water. Carefully. Sandburg once told me the Chinese believe when you save a man, it’s your duty to do that for the rest of your life. It is. Now, I’m his 'Blessed Protector’ forever – or 48,000 miles, whichever comes first.

It’s just not my duty to keep him dry.

Sandburg also complains that even now he’s a detective – and ‘official’ – he’s still getting an earful from me about “Staying in the car” or “Sitting in the truck.”

“If you want something to sit and stay, Ellison, get a dog.”

I guess I really enjoy devilling the kid. Although, technically, Sandburg’s not a kid anymore. It’s still fun – and it makes me less crazy that something terrible is going to happen to him if I can rag on my partner or mentally “short-sheet” him.

“Tell me again what the thought process was, Chief.”

"Well, Jim, I was thinking, hey, I'm entirely too comfortable. Let me see how wet and miserable I can get in the shortest possible time. I figured going into the drink at the end of the E Street Pier would do the trick nicely."

Blair tried sounding as snippy as he probably felt, because it's exactly what he'd done that gray Tuesday afternoon. It was a pretty bad one-and-a-half gainer with a 3.7 difficulty factor. Not much style, since my partner was wrapped around the struggling, non-swimmer (we found out later) Watson and the small plastic bag filled with a fistful of stolen money, a Coke and a package of Ring-dings the thief was clinging to at the time.

Sandburg saw the look on my face, the steely-eyed ‘I’d like to murder you, but it would involve way too much paperwork’ one, and shot back, “I know, I know. Backup. Wait for it. I should have that phrase tattooed across my butt."

I tried not to laugh – or agree with him.

"Opt for having it done on your forehead. That way, if you forget, you can look into any shiny surface, and see it."

"You mean like that bald spot of yours?"

Ouch. Low blow. My hand reflexively reached for the top of my head. I guess I’m getting sensitive – okay, vain – in my old age. (And doesn’t the little rat bastard know it?)

“Some of the ‘crew’ still there, buddy?” Blair can always get me where I live.

"You ain't no nice guy, Sandburg."

"Who ever said I was? You have that blanket in the back of the truck?"

"No way! You have any idea what crap you swam through just now?"

"Jim, I swear to God, if you don't hand it over I'm going to strangle you. Now."

As we got to the Ford, I reached in the cab. "You could try. Here." I tossed Blair a sorry-ass piece of fabric I’ve used to wrap around engine parts, dry rescued dogs and cats, and let people (him, usually) throw up into when they’re feeling particularly truck-sick.

"That's the barf towel!"

"Would you rather use Kleenex?"

"If they were the real ones, I would."

My roommate accuses me of being the cheapest person alive. (Hey, pal, when it’s your dime, buy whatever you want. Me, it’s generic everything.)

“It’s a good thing you don’t have a sex life, Ellison.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“You probably buy generic condoms. I can see it now -- a herd of little Ellisons running around town. Muscles like THE HULK and practically hairless – including the girls.”

"Very funny. Here."

I threw my jacket around his shaking shoulders.

“What are you –“

“You look like you’re freezing, Sandburg.”

“Jim, it’s your good leather –“

“Take the damned thing before I give it to Lamar.”

“He’s probably already downtown – and dry.” Watson had been unceremoniously cuffed a half-hour before, placed into a black and white cruiser, and driven back to Metro. But the look Sandburg gave me – friendship, fondness, whatever -- was worth having the coat cleaned.

And I’m learning to be grateful
For the moments I can steal.
From the cold chill of the nighttime
From the way you make me feel.

"Thanks, man." Blair climbed into the truck and spied the scarf that Megan Connor, our Aussie transplant, had forgotten when we all went out to lunch on Monday. He ran the soft, merino wool over his face, then blew his nose in it, before handing the now-soggy mess back to me.

"Sandburg, you ‘do’ have a death wish. If Connor finds out, I'm telling her I didn’t see anything. I was only driving."

Pulling into traffic, I pointed “Sweetheart” toward the loft, not the Police Station. Before Blair began his usual “who-what-when-where-why” verbal barrage, I speed-dialed Simon Banks, our boss at Metro.

"Captain? It's Jim. You heard? Yeah. The uniforms have Watson and the money, and they're both headed in your direction."

I listened to a string of questions, most centered around our newest Metro detective, his present whereabouts and condition.

"Sandburg’s all right, Simon. Don't worry. Isn’t he always saying 'Cold and wet is his world?’ Well, today, it is."

Blair may not have my super-hearing, but Simon Banks’ laugh was loud enough to be heard over the Nokia. Sandburg made a ‘ha-ha, very funny’ face, as he continued drying his hair. (Connor was going to kill him when she got that scarf back, saturated as it was with diesel fuel, rotting seaweed, snot, and a dozen other nasties best left to the imagination.)

The last thing Simon asked was about the plans for Thanksgiving.

“Are you two still ‘on’ for bird and ball?”

“We sure are. Talk to you later, Simon.”

“Are ‘what’?”

“’On’ for Thanksgiving with Simon. Darryl’s bringing his new girlfriend. Henry’s bringing the old one.”

Blair laughed. “I hope Brown has the sense that God gave him not to call Rene an ‘old’ anything.” Henry Brown had been dating Renee Costello, an ER nurse at Cascade General, for well over a year. They’d met when Sandburg and I were both in the hospital after having been dosed with the designer drug, Golden.

“And it’ll be great seeing Tania again. I want to find out how her sociology courses are coming along. And the new apartment she and Daryl moved into. The last time I talked to them …”

Sandburg kills me. I didn’t even know Simon’s son was dating anybody special, let alone living with her.

“This is going to be a terrific holiday, Jim. Gobble, gobble.” All of a sudden, the clouds disappeared. The real Blair Sandburg was back – laughing, talking a mile-a-minute, organizing what he – “we” – were going to take, what he – “we” – needed to buy, and who he – “we” – should pick in the College Bowls’ pool this year.

The conversation carried over to the next morning. Sandburg had finished making us breakfast. The egg white omelets were fantastic, as usual. I can’t for the life of me figure out how something so healthy can still taste so great. Maybe it’s because he outdid himself and used fresh shitake mushrooms in it, along with bell peppers, three, no, four kinds of cheese and a little of that Italian Parma ham he likes so much. Blair also threw together buttermilk biscuits, and topped them off with Montana marionberry jam that one of his friends sent him. It’s like living with Betty Crocker, if Betty packed serious heat (gun-wise) and could describe in detail the totemic feasts of the Elema Tribes. (He’ll never not be an anthropologist, or share every arcane fact he knows with anyone who will listen. That’s usually yours truly.)

"I have a great recipe for pumpkin-filled ravioli that Naomi sent me. Or how about taking that Haut Medoc Steven brought over, the one he got from … wait! I know! I’m going to make ‘real’ cranberry sauce … let’s see. I’ll have to get to the co-op, then …”

My partner was reaching for his coat and checking to see how much money he had in his wallet.

“Back in a few.”

“Why don’t we just buy some Ocean Spr—“

If I had said, “Let’s take kitten stew,” my partner couldn’t have looked any more horrified.

“Canned cranberries? Are you crazy? Nothing is as good as the real thing.”

With that, Blair Sandburg, man on a mission, was gone. I thought about how things had changed since he dropped into my life. Sandburg’s flooded every corner of it, like sunshine pouring into a cave, or the smell of cranberries filling a happy home.

Blair was right. Nothing was as good as the real deal.

But how could I tell him that?

****

I was sipping my third cup of coffee when Hurricane Sandburg blew back in, and began transforming the kitchen into Cranberry Central.

“Chief, try not to—“

“Jim, I promise to clean up, if you just sit there, read your paper, and let me revel in the ‘Joy of Cooking.’” It was one of Blair’s favorite books. For a minute, though, I thought he’d said the ‘Joy of Sex.’ I almost did a spit-take across the table, but wisely said nothing. Instead, I revisited the sports pages of the CASCADE GAZETTE. They were a sad commentary on the state of college football, and more to the point, my ability to pick a winner. I couldn’t. Washington State had tanked spectacularly in Saturday’s game.

“God, you should see your face, Jim. That’s the face of one unhappy camper.”

Sandburg was right. He was also decidedly pleased with himself.

“What is it, Sandurg?”

“You owe me five bucks, Ellison.”

“How do you figure that?”

“Washington got demolished, right?”

“So?”

“And don’t I seem to recall you mocking me about Ohio’s chances?”

“I was only offering an opinion.”

“Beating it into me like a drum, more like.”

“I was just being forceful.”

“And don’t I also seem to recall a wager –“

“Gambling is illegal in this state.”

“Why is gambling only illegal when I win? When you win, it’s ‘pay up or shut up, Chief.’”

“Sandburg, I say this from the bottom of my heart. Get bent.”

“Very nice, Jim, very nice. Kiss your grandmother with that mouth?”

“No. Yours.”

“Gross, Jim. Speaking of which, you know what the definition of ‘gross’ is?”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“Slipping granny some tongue, and having her slip it back.”

“Have you been drinking the Irish whiskey?”

“How’d you know?”

“That you’d been drinking?”

“No, that it was Irish?”

“Uh, Sandburg, you remember that pesky little thing –“ I pointed to my Sentinel nose with my middle finger, then aimed it in his general direction. He took it the right/wrong way.

“I haven’t even cracked the bottle open, doof.”

Blair was right. I could see the still-sealed top. But, I swear I could smell it.

“Jesus, I thought I caught a whiff.”

Sandburg stopped stirring, but I could still hear the cranberries popping open, sort of humming their own little Thanksgiving song.

“Sorry, Jim. I haven’t gotten to that step yet.” He put the spoon down and looked at me … differently. “Your mom used to add some – her ‘secret ingredient,’ right?”

“Yeah.” So, he’d listened to my story, but I didn’t remember boring Blair with it in the last couple of days. As if reading my mind, he filled in the blanks.

“You told me about it during a stakeout once.”

Had I? Had I shared every story and experience I’d ever had with Sandburg? Had he written them all down somewhere to be included in a future chapter of that “best seller” he’d always wanted to pen? Or had Blair just filed the factoid away for a rainy day?

“That was one of them.”

“What was the other?”

“Love.” God, as soon as I said it out loud, I felt like the biggest jerk around. The only good thing was that, at least, Sandburg wouldn’t laugh at me. I hoped. No, he’d been raised on enough New-age touch-feely claptrap to be a sport about my ‘glitch.’ Still, if I wasn’t careful, we might end up having a moment of ‘processing our feelings,’ linking arms and singing Kumbaya.

We didn’t. Instead, Sandburg wiped his berry-stained hands, turned the flame off under the pot, and walked over to the table where I was still sitting. He looked undecided, as he chewed the inside of his cheek. That meant Blair was thinking.

Then, I could practically see my partner making up his mind. He reached out and gently ran two fingers through what passed for my hairline.

“’Love’ still is, Jim. You just haven’t noticed.”

Son of a bitch. Was Blair Sandburg saying what I thought he was saying?

Warm.
We keep each other warm.
We keep each other safe,
And sheltered from the storm.

“Chief, are you … making a pass at me?”

“Pass?” Blair knelt down next to my chair, and patted my knee. “No, Jim. I’m just telling you how it is. What it’s like, when you’re close, when I hear you just behind me, knowing that you’ve got my back, that you’re … there for me. Nobody’s ever done that before. It makes me feel …”

A took a deep breath – and a huge chance. “Loved?”

“I … don’t know if I‘d call it that, Jim.” He leaned over and touched my forehead tenderly with his lips, and that luscious, moist mouth. A mouth that was made to be fucked – and kissed forever. A mouth that was meant to be mine – and no one else’s. He pulled back slightly, and flashed me one of those crooked, dazzling smiles of his, the Sandburg Special, that had knocked down the walls around my heart almost from the day he’d teamed up with me. “But looking at you, Jim, I’m happy just to be here … and warm.”

“Christ, Sandb- … chie -- … Blair …” I stumbled over the names, as the essence of my partner filled me. The look of him, the taste of him, the sound of him … I was never letting go. As I yanked the old blue flannel shirt apart and heard buttons ricochet off the countertop, I clawed hungrily at his strong back. If Sandburg was surprised at my actions, he did nothing to stop me. I pulled him easily toward my lap, and kissed him again. This time, I meant business. I kissed the love of my sorry-ass life deeply, wetly, almost obscenely. I kissed Blair with everything I had and felt, with my body, but more importantly, with my soul. I wanted him to know how grateful I was. Alone and lost for so many years, now I knew what it felt like being found by “the one.”

I worshipped Blair’s body that afternoon, and evening, and the next morning. I loved him “stupid” – at least that’s what my lover said after the last time. My lover. Isn’t that a pisser?

I’m still in a haze of passion and lust and love, and if I stare at Blair Sandburg a fraction of a second longer, I’ll get hard as diamonds, and have to share it with him. Again.

You’ve got to hand it to the kid. He’s got staying power. And he’s staying.

Blair Jacob Sandburg. My guide. The real deal for one lucky S.O.B. named James Joseph Ellison. It’s the kind of gift everyone deserves, but few get.

And he can make cranberry sauce from scratch.

You gotta love this guy.

The End.

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Acknowledgments: Thank you to Mary for the beta. Thanks to the usual Mongeese suspects, and actress-cabaret singer Dixie Carter, whose rendition of the song “WARM” reminded me that being in love when you have some miles on you can be even better. ***

WARM -- by David Buskin

In the chill before the morning,
I put my hand upon your cheek.
And your skin is soft as velvet
And face is flushed with sleep.

And the rain outside the window
Plays a sad and lonesome song.
It feels so good beside you.
I’ve been in that rain too long.

Well, we’re neither of us children,
Both have been alone.
And we both know what it feels like
Getting lost and being found.

And I’m learning to be grateful
For the moments I can steal.
From the cold chill of the nighttime
From the way you make me feel.

Warm.
We keep each other warm.
We keep each other safe,
And sheltered from the storm.

Love --
We may not call it love.
But looking at the loving that I see
I’m happy just to be so …
Warm.