Jim cursed as there was a knock on the door. He looked at his watch. He was due to pick Blair up in twenty minutes so they could spend more time on his senses training before Jim headed over to work at the Day farm. He was more than a little surprised when he opened the door to find Carolyn standing there. He raised an inquiring eyebrow at her as he leaned up against the doorframe. “You’re a long way from home, Caro,” he said.
“I’m not allowed to come see where my son is living?” she replied, pushing past him and walking into the living room .
“Well, you didn’t seem to care where I was taking him when we left,” Jim said flatly. He moved around to stand in front of her. “What do you want, Carolyn?”
“Your father’s worried about Joe,” she said. “He has that right as his grandfather and quite frankly, now I’ve seen this dump, I don’t blame him.”
“So you’re doing my father’s bidding now? How much did he offer you for this little fact-finding mission?”
Carolyn looked shocked as if the very idea had never even occurred to her. “Nothing,” she snapped. “He’s my child too and there’s nothing in the divorce agreement that says I can’t see him when I want.”
“Except that you’ve never showed the slightest interest in acting upon that since then,” Jim drawled. “You certainly didn’t want to see him when we were in Cascade yet now you’re willing to drive all the way out into the boonies to do your maternal duty. Anyway,” he looked pointedly at his watch, “Joe’s in school. He won’t be home till 3-30 and I’ve got things to do before I pick him up so if you don’t mind…” He took her by the arm and ushered her not so gently towards the front door, opening it and giving her a small push to shove her out onto the front porch. “Come back tomorrow at five and stay for dinner if you want. Sorry, but I’ve got other plans for tonight.”
“What will be having? Rabbit?” Carolyn wrinkled her nose and gave a small unattractive sneer.
“As a matter of fact…” Jim replied. He laughed. “Steak,” he said finally. “Come or not, it’s up to you. I do have another guest coming as well.” He hadn’t actually asked Blair yet but he was pretty sure he’d accept and he figured he might as well lay all his cards on the table for Carolyn once and for all.
“A new girlfriend already!” Carolyn leaned in and tweaked his cheek and Jim stuck his hands in his pockets in an effort to restrain himself from doing the same back to her.
“A friend,” he said obliquely. “You coming or not?”
“Of course,” she said. “Tell Joseph Mommy can’t wait to see him.”
She twirled on her spiked heels and cursed as one got caught in a knothole in the porch floorboards and Jim hid a grin as she bent and pulled the offending shoe free then snapped the broken heel off and hobbled undaintily back to her car.
He waited till she’d driven away then got into his truck and headed for town, stopping to pick Joe up from school along the way.
In town he parked in front of the drugstore, a little surprised not to see Blair’s ancient Volvo parked out front but he climbed out of the vehicle and let Joe out then took his hand and walked into the store.
There was no sign of Blair, Jim was disappointed to see, but there was an elderly lady dispensing medicines at a high counter at the back of the store and Jim led Joe over. “Um, hi, I’m looking for Blair,” he said.
The woman looked up and gave him a smile. “You must be Jim and Joe Ellison,” she said. “Blair said you might be by. I’m sure he would have called you but he had to leave in a hurry… He was so upset— “
“Upset?” Jim asked.
“His mom got real sick again a few days ago and she died the day before yesterday. Cancer, you know. Blair had to go off up to the hospice in Cascade to be with her and then make all the arrangements.” The woman looked at Joe and dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You know, for the funeral and all. Such a shame. Naomi was a good woman but I guess it was her time. Lord knows, she’s been sick so long, it’s more than likely a blessed relief for her to be free from pain.” She smiled sadly then reached over the counter to shake Jim’s hand. “I’m Minnie, by the way. I expect Blair’s told you about me.”
“Yeah, he has. Nice to meet you.” Jim looked down at Joe. “Guess we’ll head on home then, have some dinner. How’s that sound?”
“Say goodbye,” Jim instructed.
“Bye, lady,” Joe said obediently.
“Now, young Joe, you see those rows of Gummi Bears on the shelf there?” Minnie pointed to a rack and Joe nodded, a grin lighting his whole face. “Well, you just grab yourself a bag on your way out. Maybe one for your Dad too. He looks like a man who enjoys a Gummi Bear now and then.” Minnie winked at Jim as Joe ran off to grab the candy. “Blair’s coming back tonight or tomorrow. Naomi didn’t want a big ceremony, just a small send off for her closest friends. Blair’s the only family she had anyhow. I’ll tell him you came by when he gets back.”
“Thank you.” Jim headed back to collect Joe, and taking his hand, led him out to the truck. Standing next to it, he looked through his wallet, glad he’d just been paid for the week. He still needed to stock up on groceries for dinner for the next night. No way was he having Carolyn seeing a bare larder and fridge when she arrived.
“You have to sign this,” Joe said suddenly, extracting a folded slip of paper from his jeans pocket.
Jim felt his heart sink as he opened it. A permission slip for swimming lessons, which were going to set him back fifty dollars. He sighed then looked down into Joe’s hopeful face. “I just gotta make a phone call then we’ll head home,” he said.
“Can I have the swimming lessons, Dad?” Joe asked.
“Sure,” Jim said confidently. “Everyone needs to know how to swim, right?”
“Right,” Joe replied, grinning, ripping open the bag of Gummi Bears and grabbing a handful out.
Jim thought about telling him to leave some for later then shrugged. Joe hadn’t had many treats lately after all. He pulled out his phone and dialed a number. Wouldn’t hurt to have an extra person at dinner, someone who could act as a buffer between him and Carolyn. “Hey, Simon,” he said as the phone was answered.
“Jim,” his old friend replied, “good to hear from you. How’s life in the boonies? How’s Joe doing? We all miss you guys.”
“We miss you too,” Jim said. “I was wondering if you’d like to come down.” He let out a breath then rushed on, “Actually Caro’s in town and I could really use the moral support, man.”
Simon laughed. “Be the piggy in the middle, you mean. Okay, I’ll head down tomorrow then,” Simon replied. “You can tell yourself you’ve got a hired hand for a couple of days. Give me some chores to do.”
Jim laughed. “I’ll do that. Plenty of work to do around the place. Simon, I really appreciate this. Tell the guys hi from us and that as soon as we’re more settled, we’ll have them all here for a weekend.”
“I will, Jim. I’ll see you tomorrow then, probably around 2.”
Finally letting out his tension in a huge sigh of relief Jim disconnected the call and leaned in the window. “Uncle Simon’s coming to visit tomorrow,” he told Joe, smiling as Joe grinned broadly.
“What about Uncle Rafe and Uncle H and Uncle Joel and Aunt Rhonda and Daryl-“
Jim stopped him before he could name every member of the Cascade PD. “Someone has to stay behind to catch the bad guys, buddy,” he said, climbing behind the wheel and turning the car for home. “But we’ll get them all out here as soon as we get the place fixed up.”
“Okay.” Joe settled back in his seat and chattered about school and swimming lessons all the way to the store and then all the way home as well.
“Listen,” Jim said as they went into the house. “We’ve got someone else coming over for dinner tomorrow as well as Uncle Simon. Guess we Ellison men are pretty popular, huh?”
“Who is it, Daddy?”
“Mommy,” Jim replied, getting down on his haunches in front of Joe. “She’s really missed you so she came all the way from Cascade to have dinner with us and visit with you for a while.” He didn’t miss the sudden shadowed look in Joe’s eyes and hurried on, “I bet she’s brought you a present too.”
“Can I show her the car Blair got me?” Joe asked.
“Um, sure, of course you can,” Jim said. “Now, go change your clothes and go play for a while so I can start getting dinner ready.”
“Stop wriggling so I can get this done up properly,” Jim said, fumbling with the knot on Joe’s tie.
“I don’t want to wear a tie,” Joe complained, squirming out of Jim’s reach and plonking down on the floor with a disgruntled sigh. “Why do I have to get all dressed up just for dinner anyway?”
“Because Uncle Simon and Mommy are coming and it’s nice to get dressed up when you have company coming over,” Jim said through gritted teeth. “Come on, Joe, cooperate with me here, okay?”
Joe stood up and walked back over to him. “You never made me get all dressed up when Uncle Simon came over for dinner back in Cascade,” he said.
Jim stopped reaching for Joe’s necktie in mid-action. “You’re right,” he said. He sighed. “I guess I was trying too hard in the hope we’d make a good impression on your Mom.”
“Why?” Joe asked.
“That’s a real good question, partner,” Jim replied, pulling Joe into his arms for a quick hug. “Your old dad got his priorities confused for a while there, that’s all.” He pulled the tie from around Joe’s neck then helped him take the button up shirt off as well. “Go find your favorite t-shirt that’s actually clean,” he said, pointing to the bureau in the corner.
Joe scampered over happily and opened the drawer, pulling out a t-shirt with a picture of Buzz Lightyear on the front. “This one,” he said decisively. “What’s prio- That word you said?”
“It means forgetting what’s most important,” Jim replied. He stood up and headed for the kitchen as he heard a knock at the door. “I think that’s your Uncle Simon,” he said. “You want to go let him in?”
“Yeah!” Joe yelled happily, heading for the front door at a run. “Uncle Simon! I missed you!” Jim heard him shout as he opened the door.
“Well, hello there, I’ve missed my deputy too,” Simon said. “Where’s your dad?”
“In the kitchen, Simon,” Jim called out. “Come on through.”
Jim turned from the fridge, a bottle of beer in each hand and grinned as Simon entered with Joe clinging to his hand. Simon took the beer then pulled Jim into a tight hug, slapping him on the back with his free hand. “It’s damn good to see you, Ellison,” Simon said.
“You too, Simon, you too.” He really meant it too, Jim thought. He’d never realized until right now just how much he’d missed his friends, Simon especially. “So,” he said as Joe scampered out the front door to play in the yard with Sailor, “how about we sit out on the porch and get caught up then you can give me a hand with dinner. I seem to remember you’re a dab hand at barbecuing steaks.”
A half hour later they were still sitting there, alternately talking and listening and catching each other up on what had been happening in their respective lives since Jim had left Cascade.
“Hey, I forgot to tell you about Rafe and Megan.” Simon waggled his eyebrows expressively and Jim laughed.
“Can’t say I’m surprised to hear those two hooked up,” Jim remarked. “I figured it was the only reason Megan stayed on once her international exchange posting was up.”
“Yeah? Surprised the heck out of me,” Simon replied. “I always thought she had the hots for you.”
“Nah, we were just partners, we worked together well on the job but that’s all. Actually speaking of relationships…” Jim’s voice trailed off but then he looked at Simon’s face and saw that steadfast, kind gaze looking back at him and he plunged on. “I’m seeing someone now. In fact I’m hoping you’ll get to meet him before you head back to Cascade.”
“Him?” Simon didn’t sound too shocked, just curious, so Jim kept going.
“I assumed you knew I was bisexual. I figured Caro would have told you that was one of the reasons we broke up. She couldn’t handle the idea despite the fact I never cheated on her with anyone else, male or female.”
Simon nodded. “Yeah, I remember her mentioning something about it but I figured she was just trash talking. She was pretty pissed with you at the time.” Simon gave a low, deep chuckle and shook his head wryly.
“No, it was true. Anyway, Blair owns the drug store here but he’s also an anthropologist and he’s been able to help me with that problem I was having with my senses,” Jim explained.
“You mean, that stuff that you told me about. The heightened senses stuff? It’s for real? Sorry,” Simon hastened to add,” not that I didn’t want to believe you but you have to admit it sounded kinda crazy.”
Jim nodded agreement, offering a wry smile of his own. “I don’t blame you,” he said, “but no, it’s for real. Turns out I’m what’s known as a Sentinel and I have all these heightened senses.”
“Like a Superman deal?”
“No, no, it’s all perfectly natural. Anyway, Blair’s helping me learn to control them. For the first time in months, Simon, I don’t feel like I’m going crazy. And he’s great with Joe.” He swallowed. “And I’m in love with him. I’ll understand if you’re uncomfortable with everything I’ve told you but you’re my best friend and I wanted you to know.”
Simon leaned across the gap between them and gave Jim’s shoulder a pat. “You’re damn right I’m your best friend and I’m looking forwarding to meeting this Blair of yours. Jim, you look more relaxed than I’ve seen you in years. If that’s what being in love with Blair does for you, then I’m all for it.”
“Simon! I didn’t know you’d be here,” Carolyn trilled as Simon opened the front door and let her inside.
“Nice to see you, Caro,” Simon said, hiding his insincerity behind a broad welcoming smile. “Jim asked if I’d come down and give him a hand around the place.”
He regretted that the minute the words left his mouth as Carolyn nodded then leaned in close and murmured conspiratorially, “I know, isn’t it a dump? I don’t know what Jim was thinking actually bringing Joseph to live here.”
He was thinking of what was best for your son, Simon wanted to say but he didn’t. He said instead, “It’s a nice enough place. Small towns have their charm and Jim and Joe certainly seem to like it here.”
“I guess,” Carolyn said, a small sneer twisting her mouth. “Oh god, please tell me there’s something alcoholic to drink around here besides beer.”
“Wine spritzer,” Jim said as he stepped into the hallway and held a glass out to her. He grinned, “I remember what you like, Caro.” He pecked her on the cheek then stood back and ushered her into the living room.
“Joe!” he called. “Come say hi to Mommy.”
It took a few minutes but eventually Joe sidled in through the door. He walked shyly over to Carolyn and dutifully allowed her to kiss his cheek.
“It’s so good to see you, little man,” Carolyn gushed, holding him at arm’s length. “Jim, doesn’t he have any decent clothes to wear?”
“I’m not a little man,” Joe said firmly, retreating across the room to climb up on Simon’s lap. “I’m a boy and this is a decent shirt. What’s decent mean, Uncle Simon?” he added in a whisper.
“Nothing you need to worry about yet,” Simon replied, shooting Carolyn a hard glare. “It’s a great t-shirt, buddy. “
“Can I show Mommy my car now? The one Blair gave me?” Joe asked, climbing off Simon’s lap and heading for his room.
“Sure,” Jim said.
“Blair?” Carolyn asked. “The new girlfriend?”
“Blair’s not a girl, silly,” Joe said, coming back into the room, his remote control car held proudly in his hands. “Blair’s a man like Daddy. Well, not ‘xactly like Daddy cos he has way more hair. He’s nice though. See,” he said winningly, holding his car out to Carolyn, “he gave me this and he gave me a dog too. His name’s Sailor. Would you like to play with my dog?”
“Maybe later, dear,” Carolyn said, ignoring the car and Joe’s hurt look. “Look, Jim, you might as well know the reason I’m here is to take Joe back to Cascade with me. He needs to go to a proper school, meet the right people. He’s an Ellison, after all.”
Jim snorted. “I just knew my father was behind your sudden maternal urge to see your child, Caro. How much is he paying you?”
“Nothing,” Carolyn said a little too quickly.
“Caro, you’re more of a workaholic than I ever was,” Jim added. “You telling me you’re going to ease up on your workload so you can spend time with Joe, take him to school, supervise his playtime-“
Carolyn shook her head, her lips narrowing into a thin smile. “Won’t have to,” she said. “There’s an excellent boarding school in New Jersey. Joseph will be going there next term. Your father has kindly agreed to pay the tuition since we figured you wouldn’t be able to afford it now you’re out of a job.”
“I’m working,” Jim said defensively, “but that’s beside the point because there’s no way you’re taking him. You left him with me when he was five months old. Have barely seen him since. You really think I’m going to hand him over to you just so you can collect some blood money my father’s promised you?”
Simon was standing now, sending a hard as nails glare at Carolyn, which she patently ignored. “Caro, come on,” he said after a moment, “surely you can see Joe’s happy here…”
“It’s not your business,” Simon,” she said, not taking her eyes from Jim’s face.
“He’s been more family to Joe than you or my father ever has,” Jim said hotly. “And this is my house. Simon can say whatever he likes about it.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter what either of you think,” Carolyn said coolly, turning to pick up her purse from the seat where she’d placed it. “There’s no sole custody agreement,” she went on. “We share custody, remember? You can’t stop me taking him. Joe, go pack a bag. You’re coming with me back to Cascade.”
“No!” Joe shouted, dropping his prized car onto the floor and turned to throw himself at Jim, wrapping his arms around Jim’s legs. “Don’t let her take me, Daddy. I want to stay here with you and Blair and Sailor!” He was sobbing already, fat tears dampening Jim’s pants leg.
Jim crouched down and held him away a little so he could look into his tear-filled eyes. “It’s okay, buddy. You’re not going anywhere. Why don’t you go see Sailor for a little while, take him some of those jerky treats he likes so much.”
Joe nodded, his sobs easing a little. He wiped his hand across his eyes and nose and Jim grimaced then pulled a Kleenex out of a box on the coffee table and handed it to him. “Off you go,” he said once he helped him use the tissue. “Everything’s gonna be fine, I promise.
Jim watched Joe leave then turned on his ex-wife. “You’re not taking him without a fight from me,” he said flatly.
“He’s my son too. I’ll call the police if I have to, Jimmy.” Carolyn put her hands on her hips and stared back at him, her eyes coldly angry.
Jim shot a look at Simon, who shrugged. “If there’s no custody agreement, Jim…”
Jim looked up as the front door opened and Blair walked in, stopping just inside the door and looking around at the three of them hesitantly.
“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me just letting myself in, man,” Blair said. “I knocked but no one answered and when I saw Joe take off with Sailor, I thought I’d better come let you know. It’s kind of late for him to be out running around, isn’t it?”
“I take it this is the boyfriend,” Carolyn said, a smirk in her voice. “I’m the ex,” she added.
“Caro, shut up for a minute,” Jim ordered, focusing his attention back to what Blair had said. “Where’s Joe? He was supposed to be just outside.” He walked over to the door and opened it, looking outside. “Joe!” he called. “Bring Sailor back inside now. It’ll be getting dark soon!”
Blair turned and went out onto the porch and pointed in the direction of the woods abutting the side of the property. “They headed off that way.”
By now Carolyn and Simon had joined them outside. Jim could feel a low roil of dread building in his gut and he reached out, clenching his hand onto Blair’s arm. “I gotta go find him,” he said urgently. “He was upset and it’s getting dark.”
Blair put his hand over Jim’s and squeezed tightly. “Use your hearing, Jim. Just keep hanging onto my arm and ground your senses that way then take a deep breath and focus your hearing. He’s your son. You know his voice better than anyone does. You can find him.”
Jim cast a quick look around at Simon, who had a quizzical look in his eyes. He shrugged. “This is how Blair helps me,” he said. He turned his attention back in the direction Joe had gone then let himself feel the warmth of Blair’s skin through the sleeve of his shirt, the beat of his pulse…
“Don’t go too deep, Jim.”
Blair’s voice seemed to echo inside Jim’s head and he inhaled a quick sharp breath, lifting his head and looking towards the trees. He pictured a dial, just as Blair had taught him, and then imagined turning it up till he could hear birds singing in the trees beyond the house, then further still.
Carolyn’s voice startled him and he jumped but Blair’s hand was firm on his, his voice a low urgent tone as he asked for quiet and Jim re-centered himself and listened again till he heard it – Joe’s sobbing voice, calling to Sailor, the dog’s excited yipping in counterpoint. “Oh god,” he whispered as he pinpointed the direction they were heading. “They’re heading for the bluff.”
“You sure?” Blair asked but he was already on the move, dragging Jim along with him toward the truck. Simon took off after them down the porch steps, Carolyn tottering along on her heels behind them, demanding to know what the hell was going on. Blair stood back to let Carolyn into the passenger seat then climbed onto the bed of the truck with Simon and held on as Jim climbed behind the wheel and floored the accelerator.
Jim registered it all in the periphery of his mind, his ears still focused on Joe’s voice. He took the fire road through the trees, hoping they could get there at almost the same time as Joe. His heart was pounding in his ears and his chest felt tight by the time he slewed the truck to a halt at the edge of the clearing a few hundred feet from the bluff’s edge and stumbled out of the vehicle.
There was no sign of Joe and Jim had a fleeting moment of relief till Sailor’s bark exploded in his ears and he fell to his knees. Blair was next to him in a heartbeat, pulling Jim’s hands away from his ears and urging him to dial his hearing down. It took a few moments but finally Jim was able to get to his feet. He looked around, ignoring Carolyn’s querulous questions about where they were, grateful when Simon took her by the arm and led her to one side. Sailor was running back and forth at the edge of bluff, barking madly and Jim’s heart felt as if it had dropped to his boots. He made it to the cliff’s edge in a shambling run, with Blair shadowing him. There, Jim lay flat on his belly and peered over the edge. “He’s here!” he called back over his shoulder, barely recognizing his own hoarse fear-filled voice. “He’s on a ledge about twenty feet down.”
Simon and Carolyn had joined them at the edge and Carolyn reached a shaky hand out to Jim. “Do something!” she said, tears trailing down her face.
“Simon, in the bed of the truck there’s a rope,” Jim peered over the edge of the cliff again. Joe was face down, unmoving, but by extending his sight a little, Jim could make out the rise and fall of his breathing. He took Carolyn’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “He’s alive. I think he’s unconscious but I can go over on the rope and bring him back up.”
Simon was back with the rope and he shook his head as he handed it to Jim. “It won’t hold your weight, Jim,” he said. “We can tie it on to the bumper of the truck but it still won’t support your weight or mine either. Besides we need to be topside to haul them up.”
Jim grabbed Carolyn’s hand again. “You’re the lightest, Caro. Here, let’s get the rope around your waist-“ He stopped as Carolyn shook her head, her face suddenly ghostly pale. “Carolyn, it’s Joe down there.”
“I can’t. Jimmy, you know I’ve always been afraid of heights-“
“I’ll do it,” Blair said, grabbing the rope and tying it quickly around his waist, cinching it tight and leaving a loop at the front. “I’m not as light as she is but I’m definitely lighter than you. I can do it, man. Come on, tie it off. I need to get down there before Joe wakes up.” Blair swallowed hard, his face almost as pale as Carolyn’s as he looked over the edge of the bluff. “If he moves…” He left the words unsaid but Jim knew what he meant.
“You’re scared of heights too,” Jim said, even as he checked the knots securing the rope around Blair’s waist then handed the other end to Simon, who’d already driven the truck as close to the edge as was safe.
“Yeah, well, there are times when you have to face your fears,” Blair replied. “I can do it, Jim.”
“We can’t risk pulling them up using the truck,” Simon warned as he rejoined them. “The rope might not take the strain. We’ll still have to bring them up by hand.” He turned to Blair. “Tie Joe into the loop when you get down there. Make sure it’s under his arms then give two tugs on the rope when you’re ready. Use your feet to help you climb back up. It’ll lessen the strain on the rope… and on us.”
Blair nodded then shot a quick glance at Jim. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”
Jim nodded back then tied off the rope on the truck’s front bumper and turned to watch as Blair backed over the edge. He took up position behind Simon, one hand on his back, steadying him as Simon let the rope out slowly and carefully. He couldn’t see anything beyond the ledge but by dialing his hearing up a little he could hear the scrabble of Blair’s booted feet against the loose shale of the cliff side, his panting, somewhat panicked breathing, the staccato beating of his heart.
“Jim, you okay back there?” Simon called.
“Yeah, fine.” Jim pulled himself back from the edge of an imminent zone, disseminating his senses just as Blair had taught him to do, feeling the burn of the rope on his palms, the scent of wildflowers carried by the chill wind, Simon’s steadfast form in front of him, and the acrid tang of fear in his mouth, then refocused on what he had to do to bring Joe and Blair back to safe ground. Finally he felt the jolt as Blair touched down on the ledge and waited with bated breath for what seemed forever till he felt the two tugs signaling Blair was ready for them to start pulling them up.
Jim planted his feet firmly and leaned back, bunching his biceps and pulling with a slow steady strength. The double weight of both Blair and Joe made the rope creak and Jim held his breath each time he heard the sound then released it in a whoosh and kept on pulling. A sudden gust of wind made the rope swing and Jim heard a muffled curse and then a crack as something hit the rock face. “Blair? You okay?”
“Damn,” Simon muttered, leaning forward so he could see over the edge. “Looks like he got caught in the cross draft and hit his head. They’re only a couple of feet down though. Keep hold of the rope,” he warned, dropping to his belly and inching forward till he could extend his arm over the edge. “A little more,” he called over his shoulder and Jim pulled with all of his might then stood firm as Simon reached down and managed to snag Blair’s jacket and pull him and Joe the rest of the way up. “I got them,” Simon said breathlessly. He untied the rope from around Blair’s waist then rolled him onto his side while Jim freed Joe.
Carolyn seemed suddenly to snap out of her frozen panic, appearing at Jim’s side and dropping to her knees to pull Joe into her arms.
Jim heard Blair groan and he turned his head to check on him but Joe was conscious now too, struggling against his mother’s hold and calling out for Jim.
“Look after Joe,” Simon said. “I’ll take care of your friend here.”
Jim watched for a moment as he saw Simon lean close to Blair, stilling him with gentle but firm hands and soft assurances. He turned back to his son. “Hey, buddy, just stay still okay. I’ve just got to call for help. You sit tight here with your mom, all right?”
Joe was still sobbing, his chest heaving as tears streamed down his pale face but he nodded.
Carolyn flashed a quick look at Jim. “Thank you,” she said as he got to his feet and pulled his cellphone from his pocket.
Jim looked over at Blair and Simon. “Thank Blair,” he said tersely as he dialed the emergency number.
“Can I talk to you?”
Jim looked up, putting a finger to his lips. “He’s asleep again, Caro. Can this wait?”
Carolyn shook her head. “No,” she said softly, “it really can’t.” She walked across the room and stood by the window and Jim bent forward and placed a kiss on Joe’s forehead then went over to join her.
“Well?” he asked, feeling himself tense up as he waited for her to speak. “I know I can’t stop you taking him—“
Carolyn put a finger against his lips. “I’m not going to,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “You were right, Jim. I thought if I had Joe, your father would have no choice but to help me out financially.” She blushed hotly. “Um, I have some gambling debts. Big ones. I’m not gambling anymore, I swear, but I still need to pay the debts.”
“How much?” Jim asked.
Carolyn smiled ruefully. “More than you can afford to help me with,” she replied.
“So what are you going to do?” Jim asked, hope gradually easing the tightness in his chest and jaw.
“I’m going to leave Joe where he belongs, with his father. When I couldn’t make myself go over that cliff after him, couldn’t save my own child…” Carolyn brushed at her eyes impatiently. “Your friend, Blair, was as scared as me but he was willing to risk his life for Joe. I guess I’m not much of a mother, am I?”
“No,” Jim replied honestly, “but maybe you could learn to be. Caro, get help for your gambling and we’ll find a way to pay off your debts. You can come visit Joe here, get to know him…”
“You’d do that for me?”
Jim smiled. “It’s easy to be generous when you have everything you could ever want or need,” he said. He looked around as Joe stirred. “Can you sit with him for a while?” he asked. “I’d like to go see Blair.”
“Sure. Tell him thank you for me.”
“Jim, can I see you for a moment?”
Jim stopped outside Joe’s room. “Can it wait, Simon? I’m just on my way to see Blair.”
“Well, it actually involves your friend so you might want to take a few minutes and hear what I have to say.”
“All right.” Jim felt his hackles beginning to rise, wondering if Simon had decided he couldn’t sanction Jim’s relationship with Blair after all. Well, if that was the case then Jim guessed he’d be writing another friendship off because no way was he ending things with Blair.
Simon grinned at him and Jim felt his defenses lowering a little. “Relax, Jim,” Simon said. “I told you, your relationship with Blair is your business. Besides, like I already told you, I like whatever it is he’s done for you and that’s what I want to talk to you about. But before we get to that, how’s Joe?”
“Concussion, broken arm,” Jim relied. “He thought the cast was pretty cool actually when he woke up earlier. Wants me to invite all the guys down next weekend so they can sign it for him.”
“I’m glad he’s relatively unscathed. So, Caro…” Simon left the rest of the question unspoken but Jim knew what he meant.
“She’s leaving him with me. She realized that’s the best place for him to be.” Jim said no more than that. Whether Carolyn decided to confide in Simon about her gambling problems was her business, her story to tell.
Simon seemed satisfied with the answer. “You were pretty amazing out there today,” he said. “This thing with your senses? Are you sure it’s not some kind of superman deal?”
Jim laughed. “Not hardly. No, Simon, it’s all perfectly natural. My senses are just heightened more than most people’s and Blair’s been teaching me how to use that to the best advantage.” He snorted. “Not sure what use they’ll be here but at least I don’t feel like I’m going insane anymore.”
“Yeah, that was kind of what I wanted to ask you. Jim, we could use your abilities on the job. Think about it, with your senses, you could pick up clues an ordinary cop can’t, and if Blair can help you develop them and control them…” Simon raised his eyebrows meaningfully.
“You want me to go back to Cascade and back to Major Crime?” Jim shook his head. “Sorry, Simon, but Joe’s happy here. Better yet, he’s safe here, and I’m not sure Blair would want to move to Cascade either. He has his drugstore to run.”
Simon shook his head. “I’m not asking you to move back to the city, Jim. You could work as a paid consultant. I’d make sure you only got called in on cases where we really needed your particular skills. I’d offer Blair the same role so he could work with you.”
“You really think the commissioner would go with that?” Jim asked. “I’m not looking to go public with this.”
“And I don’t want you to,” Simon said. “Why advertise to the perps that we have an ace up our sleeve? Look, if you agree to this, I’m going to call the commissioner. I’m pretty sure he’ll see the benefits of having you back and keeping it quiet.”
“Couldn’t my evidence be called into question in court?” Jim asked. He had to admit the idea of being back on the job was immensely appealing but he wanted to be sure he had all the bases covered first.
“Not if your senses are leading us to evidence that is already there but we just haven’t found yet,” Simon said. “Look, it’s going to take some time to iron out all the wrinkles, but if we can, will you do it?”
Jim nodded. “If Blair agrees, then yes.”
“That’s good enough for me. Think I’ll head in and be the first to sign my deputy’s cast.”
“I know he’d like that,” Jim said, watching as Simon pushed open the door to Joe’s room and stepped inside. He turned and headed for Blair’s room next door. Blair had come off a little better than Joe, sustaining only a slight concussion and a gashed head from his run in with the cliff face. He’d have a headache for a few days though, and with that in mind Jim opened the door quietly and peered around the corner to see if he was awake.
“Come on in,” Blair said.
“How are you feeling?” Jim asked, leaning down to brush Blair’s lips gently with his own.
“Just fine. Head’s kind of fuzzy but I’m not feeling nauseous anymore and the double vision’s gone. How’s Joe?”
“He’s fine. Got a snazzy new cast on his arm to show off. Egg on his head. You can compare war wounds when I get to take you both home tomorrow,” Jim said, settling into the chair next to the bed.
“Home. I like the sound of that,” Blair replied, reaching out to hold Jim’s hand.
“I do too. I never got the chance to tell you how sorry I am about your mom,” Jim said.
“She’d been in pain for a long time. It was a relief to know she wasn’t anymore,” Blair replied.
“Yeah, I can understand that.” Jim took a deep breath then ploughed on. “Listen, I have a proposition for you…” He laughed as Blair waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Not that kind of proposition. It’s actually Simon’s proposition—“
“Whoa!” Blair made a time out sign with his hands. “Your friend, Simon, seems really nice but he’s not really my type.”
“Haha,” Jim said with a grin. “He’s offered me a job as a consultant with Major Crime, my old unit.”
“Wow, really?” Blair pushed himself up in the bed. “That would be so cool, man. I mean, you’re a human crime lab. You could really do some good with your senses there.” His smile faltered as he added, “I guess that means you and Joe moving back to Cascade. Which is totally cool. I mean we’ll still have weekends and vacations, right?”
Jim leaned in and kissed him. “Shut up,” he said softly as he pulled away, “just listen because this involves you too.”
Blair made a show of locking his lips with a key.
“Simon wants me to work as a consultant which means I stay here in Chinook and only go to Cascade when they really need me to work on a case. He also wants you to work with me, on a paid basis, as my official partner.”
“Would I have to carry a gun?” Blair asked.
“Nope, you’ll be a consultant, just like me.”
“Well, okay then. Yes. I’m in if it means still being able to work with you,” Blair grinned broadly and added, “but I‘m not cutting my hair, man.”
“No,” Jim agreed, pulling him over for a hug and running his fingers through Blair’s soft curls, “you’re definitely not doing that.”
“Hey, what’s going on?” Blair called as he pulled his car to a stop in the yard and climbed out.
“We’re having a party,” Joe yelled back, “and Dad bought a new car!” He waved the hose in his hand at Blair, giggling as the water hit its target and drenched Blair from head to toe.
“Watch it!” Blair mock-growled, slamming the car door behind him and running across to swoop Joe into a hug. “I’m already short. I don’t want to shrink anymore.”
Jim laughed, watching them, then gasped as he got drenched in his turn as Joe and Blair wrestled for possession of the hose. Reaching out, he grabbed it from them and fixed them both with a mock-stern look. “Enough monkeying around,” he said. “Joe, go get dried off. Just as well that cast came off this morning.” He looked at his watch. “Uncle Simon and the guys will be here soon.”
“Yay!” Joe yelled. “Okay, Dad. Can we have s’mores as well? Uncle Joel loves s’mores.”
“Yes, we can but only after dinner.” Jim shook his head and smiled as Joe took off running up to the house, Sailor yapping at his heels.
“So,” Blair said, moving over to wrap his arms around Jim’s waist, “new car, huh?”
Jim shrugged. “My dad released my trust fund and I figured we needed something more suited to a family than my old truck was.”
“Family, huh?” Blair smiled sweetly. “Yeah, that’s good.”
“I think so too.” Jim turned so Blair was leaning against the car then pushed against him, the friction of their damp clothes deliciously arousing. He kissed Blair slowly and deeply then pulled away and looked into his eyes, cherishing the love he saw he reflected there. “This is our new life, Blair, our new beginning. Yours, mine, and Joe’s.”
“Smartass,” Jim said with a laugh. “Yes, and Sailor’s too.”
“Forever,” Blair replied, sealing the promise with another kiss.