Acknowledgments: First off, a big thank you to the gals on the TS Writer's Group and all their comments. A special thank you also goes to Iris for her excellent betaing skills.
This is for Lisa, who likes stories about friendship.
Disclaimers: This story is not intended to infringe on any copyrights belonging to the PTBs. No money was made in the writing or sharing of this story.
I ignore the knock at my door for nearly two minutes, but whoever is on my front porch simply will not give up, as if they know I'm here. I get out of my recliner but don't make any movement toward the door. Can I even face anyone today -- of all days? I honestly don't think I have what it takes to be civil right now. Don't they know I have other things on my mind? Of course not. How could they? No one knows.
The knocking persists.
Sighing, I move slowly toward the front door, hoping if I drag my feet long enough the intruder will go away and leave me in peace.
No such luck.
Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes briefly, then open the door.
"Sandburg? What the hell are you doing here?"
The curly haired anthropologist looks up at me and grins, his hands expertly juggling a crock pot and various other containers. "What does it look like I'm doing?" He chuckles at me as if the answer should be obvious and scootches past me, ignoring the fact that I am deliberately blocking his entrance. "I had some time on my hands so I thought I'd bring you lunch."
I turn to follow him. As much as I'm touched by his thoughtfulness, I simply can't deal with this hyperactive police observer today -- not today.
By the time I enter the kitchen, he has already pulled two bowls out of the cupboard.
"Ostrich chili, hot from the crock pot." He waggles his eyebrows and plugs said crock pot into the wall socket. "My killer cornbread with apple butter and," he pauses for effect, "my extra chewy raspberry brownies."
I have to admit it sounds good -- real good, actually. If you had asked me ten minutes ago to eat something, I would have told you I wasn't interested. But as the pungent aroma of chili starts to waft around the kitchen, my stomach decides that maybe my brain should reconsider its earlier assessment.
"Look, Sandburg, I don't want to seem unappreciative, but--"
"Then sit down," he says as he practically shoves me toward the table. He retrieves the bowls and other items and sits them in front of me.
Okay, I can do this. We sit. We eat. He's gone, half hour tops. I can do this.
I grumble to show that I'm not happy, but he ignores me, as usual. How is it that I can intimidate the snot out of criminals and police detectives alike, but I can't even make one civilian anthropologist blanch? Must have something to do with his living with Jim. I take my first bite and close my eyes in appreciation. Whatever you can say about Sandburg, he does make a mean meal. I'll never admit it, but he has yet to fix something I've found unpalatable. "Not bad," I admit reluctantly.
He graces me with a smile that could solve all of California's energy problems if someone could only figure out a way to harness it.
He takes a big bite and frowns slightly.
"What?" I finally ask when his brows knit in concentration.
"It's missing something."
I take another bite. "Tastes fine to me."
"Are you sure? It seems like it's missing--"
I growl at him. "Are you fishing for another compliment, boy?"
He laughs that completely unselfconscious laugh of his, and I just roll my eyes.
He asks politely about Daryl and I tell him about the latest girlfriend, a tiny little thing who shakes like a leaf whenever she's around me. This launches Sandburg into a story about the first girlfriend he brought home to meet Naomi. He has me chuckling within a matter of minutes. I don't doubt for a second that Naomi all but assaulted the girl the moment she walked through the door in order to check her aura. I swear the kid can crack even the hardest exteriors. I continue to eat as he tells one outrageous story after another, waving his hands about as he talks. I wonder if he'd become mute if his hands were ever tied together. Naw. He's been handcuffed enough times for me to know that little theory doesn't hold any water.
After two bowls of chili, I stand to put my bowl in the sink and look over at the clock. Two o'clock. Good Lord, how in the world has two hours passed?
Sandburg is suddenly by my side, putting his bowl in the sink and reaching for the liquid soap.
"Don't worry about dishes, Sandburg. I'll take care of them. I appreciate your dropping by with lunch, but I have an appointment in an hour and I need to get ready."
"I don't mind," he insists.
"But I do."
"You don't have an appointment, Simon."
I turn and look down into his earnest, almost sad, face.
"You're waiting for a phone call. You can do that with me here just as easily as you can do it by yourself."
"I know people who know people."
"Who the hell else knows about this?" I demand angrily.
"No one, from me at least. I don't know if other people know people who know. You know?"
"Well, I am. I haven't gotten mad over that one in a long time. Although that used to get me in just as many fights as getting upset did. Bullies never understood why I didn't get angry. I just figured you can't get mad over the truth. You know?"
"What... neo-hippie, witch doctor, punk?"
"Or perhaps, a neo-hippie flower child with time on his hands now that the Dead have broken up?" He laughs. "That's my personal favorite."
"Like I said, I know people who know people."
Confronted with the ball of energy in front of me, I simply say, "I'd like to be alone."
"I'm sure you would. It's very stoic after all."
"Look--" I know I'm raising my voice, but since he won't take a subtle hint, I have no other choice than to be blunt.
However, he steps into my space, his finger pushing gently, but firmly, into my chest. "There's a game on Channel 4. I suggest you go turn it on while I finish the dishes."
We stand for a full minute, trying to stare each other down, neither one of us willing to give an inch. The kid doesn't even blink. As the seconds tick by, his face starts to twitch and I know I'm on the brink of winning; but instead of conceding, he smiles at me. Just smiles, bouncing on his toes slightly, his eyes lighting up. I sigh in resignation. I must be losing my touch.
"Go turn on the game," he says, pushing me toward the front room.
Obediently I do what I'm told. I sink into my chair once again, slouching, feeling the weight of the world pressing down on me. I flip the television on and perfunctorily channel surf for a bit, although nothing registers. My mind keeps returning to Daryl, my sister Martha, and my nieces, Alyssa and Jaenine. Martha relocated four blocks away after her divorce so she could be close to family without becoming a burden to anyone. Over the past year, she's come to rely on me so much that I worry about her being able to make it on her own. How will this affect the girls? And dear God, Daryl? Then there's the department, maybe Joel can... I blink, focusing on the bowl of popcorn which materializes from thin air in front of me.
"Thanks," I say, because my mama always expected good manners from me no matter what the circumstances.
Blair flops down on the couch in front of the television. "No problem."
The game, surprisingly, is rather rousing. I can't help but climb out of my funk as I watch Sandburg shouting at the television, flopping over dramatically whenever an easy shot is missed. I hate to admit this, but studying the kid is almost more entertaining than watching the game.
We argue good-naturedly back and forth about the players until the phone rings. My mellow mood instantly evaporates. I look at the caller ID. There's no question who it is. I look over at Sandburg, who has paled noticeably, but nods encouragingly at me.
I reach out and pick up the phone and listen to the words which will either destroy or rebuild me. I absorb the words and close my eyes.
"Yes, thank you," I say, then carefully put the phone back on the cradle.
A moment of silence passes, before a quiet, almost frightened, voice intrudes, "Simon?"
"It's benign," I whisper, opening my eyes.
The look of relief on the young face in front of me is overwhelming; everything I can't allow myself to feel is written clearly in his features.
I watch in fascination as he puts his emotions behind a wall of satisfaction, a facade that says he never really had any doubts. "Well, I guess I should be going, then, and let you enjoy the rest of your day off. Can I get you anything before I go?"
"No. Thank you."
I see it as he stands. The look. A vulnerability so raw it takes my breath away. It flashes so quickly over his face that I'm almost not sure I actually saw it.
He speaks, although he's not facing me, but is, in fact, heading for the front door. "I'm going to leave the leftovers here, okay? In case you get hungry later on."
"That's not necessary."
He doesn't turn. "Hey, I did the little dishes, you get to do the big ones as payment." He snorts in laughter, but there is something about the set of his shoulders which does not convey humor.
"Sandburg?" I ask, rising from my chair.
"I'm going to be late. Jim is expecting me at the station at four o'clock," he says quietly as he fumbles for the door handle.
I quickly close the distance between us and put my hand on his shoulder, turning him toward me. He looks over into the front room, avoiding eye contact with me. His normally electric eyes are curtained by unshed tears.
"Sand-- Blair, talk to me."
"I'm just so happy for you, Simon. I was... was..."
"So scared," he whispers.
"Oh, man," he grits out between his teeth, trying to give Jim a run for his money on his dental plan, his fists clenching helplessly at his sides. Finally, he says, "This isn't about me, sir. It's about you and I am just thrilled beyond belief..."
I step closer and wrap my arms around him.
"I thought you didn't like hugs?" He chuckles, although the last one sounds suspiciously like a sob. I squeeze him tighter. "I didn't know what I was going to do," he whispers, finally, against my shoulder.
"Do?" I whisper back.
"I can't lose you, Simon. Next to Naomi and Jim, you're... I... I just can't lose you."
Tears well in my eyes. "You're not going to lose me, son. I'm going to be here for a long time to make sure you walk the straight and narrow."
His arms come up around my waist and squeeze me back. "Like you do such a good job now."
I laugh. "I do better than most."
"That you do, sir. That you do."
When I release him, he lets out a deep, cleansing breath. "Well, okay, then," he stammers, then turns back toward the door.
"Blair," I say hesitantly before his hand reaches the handle.
"Why don't you stay a bit longer? Daryl is going to be dropping by after basketball practice in about a half hour or so, and he's been complaining that he hardly ever sees you anymore."
He flashes me another of his brilliant smiles. "I wouldn't want to intrude, sir."
I bark out in laughter, and he has grace enough to blush. "Besides, the game isn't over yet."
He looks back into the living room. "I would like to see who wins. But Jim--"
"Call him. If he gives you any grief, tell him that his captain has requested your presence."
"But the reports..." He stops, then chuckles evilly. "Yes, sir. I think I'll do just that."
"Good. Now get your skinny butt into the kitchen and get us each a beer and some more of those brownies, 'cause you know they'll disappear seconds after Daryl arrives. I swear that boy has a chocolate radar implanted somewhere."
He laughs. "Would you like for me to freeze one or two of them for you?"
I give him a mock horrific shudder and he raises his hands in apology, slowly backing into the kitchen under my scowling countenance. I chuckle as soon as I see him reach for the phone.
Who would have thought that a hyperactive, academic, neo-hippie love child could have wedged through my defenses? I think I finally understand what Jim went through when he realized that Sandburg had somehow managed to breach those impenetrable walls around his heart. Somehow the kid has taken what probably would have been a day full of self-pitying and turned it into a lesson about friendship... hell, about family. Blair Sandburg: anthropologist, observer, guide. I think I'll keep him.
"Sandburg," I grouse. "Where the hell is my beer?"
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