Date: August, 1998
Two months ago I died and two months ago I came back.
You know how everyone always talks about a "Bright Light" when relating a near death experience? Well, it exists...I saw it, it's real.
It was so warm and inviting and I *knew* if I walked into it I would be embraced by hundreds of warm, loving arms. There would be no pain, no sadness, no shame. Only love and forgiveness. And
I dearly needed forgiveness.
So I walked towards it, towards the safety it promised. But something stopped me. A voice? A hand? At the time, I really believed I knew...so it was enough, enough to turn my back on the light and walk
toward the "something" that pulled me. And now? Two months later? I was wrong.
When I did open my eyes at the fountain, the first thing I saw was Jim's face. And I saw, or thought I saw, everything I needed to see: Happiness, Forgiveness, Relief and Joy.
I had to stay in the hospital for seven days due to pneumonia, during which time Jim moved all my stuff back to the loft. When I was finally released....he came and took me "home". But....we never really talked about any of it, talked it out...it was like....it never really happened. I was alive, home and we were supposed to pick up where we left off...Clean slate.
It took another two weeks before the doctors gave me the okay to return to work with Jim and that was....alright, I had some serious stuff to work through at the University anyway.
And now? Everything back to normal, except it isn't. Jim won't....look at me, no eye contact if he can help it. And if I reach out to touch him? He moves....it's subtle...but he does move. And we haven't had a conversation in weeks. Just polite exchanges. Yes, I know I've been different. And scared. And nervous. I admit it...I'm afraid he'll throw me out again. Now that shouldn't matter...should it? We're not joined at the hips or anything....I'm 29...should have a place of my own...
I want to stay here. With Jim. Only place I want to be...ever.
Explain "that" to a shrink!
Date: August, 1998
Denial is very dangerous, because when something happens that makes it impossible to deny? It shatters you. I've been denying something for two months...Today, I could deny no more.
It was supposed to be a routine questioning of a possible witness....Normal for me to accompany Jim, normal for me to be with him during the questions. When we arrived at the record store where our witness, Carl Lowell, worked, Jim told me to stay in the truck. I did. I do "everything" Jim tells me to do now. Once inside Lowell went from witness to prime suspect when he pulled a knife on Jim. I saw it through the window and I saw Jim go down. I got out of the truck and started inside just as Lowell came out. I was in his way so he went for me. He was in my way, so I stopped him. Decked him. He went down. I turned back to the shop just as Jim came storming out. Blood oozed from a wound on his side and I started to reach for him, to stop the bleeding, but he grabbed me and threw me against the lampost. He was yelling. I could have chocked it up to his protective mode, except for his eyes and the look of disgust...and hate radiating from the icy blue depths. I let my hands go limp at my sides, I didn't dare touch him...and I couldn't say anything so I just "hung" there. Finally he let me go and I slid down to the ground, back against the lamp post, legs stretched out in front of me.
Jim turned away and went to Lowell who was still out cold, cuffed him and called for back-up. He didn't look at me again but he was shaking and his jaw was clenching and unclenching.
I finally got up and went to the truck, closed the door and rolled up the window. Hours later we were back at the station doing reports. Jim still wasn't looking or talking. When we both finished, Jim took them into Simon. And I had the overwhelming need to leave the station. The other men and women were trying hard not to look at me and I knew what they were thinking....What has Sandburg done now? Instead of leaving...I approached Simon's office. I couldn't see in, the blinds were drawn, but I could hear some of their conversation in the few seconds I stood there, no, the eternity, that I stood there, debating...and what I heard drove the truth, that I had been trying so hard to deny, straight into my heart. I heard snips from Simon:
"Why Jim...............can't forgive.............Sandburg........Can't you......... close that door..........guilty."
And snips from Jim:
"Hate...............let him back.......loft.......betrayal..........guilt."
And the truth shall set you free? Or kill you.
And the truth I had been denying was that Jim had brought me back to the loft out of guilt. Guilt over my near death....his honor would not allow him to do otherwise....I had still betrayed him and I have no
doubt he tried to forgive me..but.....the betrayal was too fundamental, too deep. God, what he must have been going through these last two months...Living with his betrayer... If I could go back...go into the light...I would. But I can't...but I can rectify my error but it must be in such a way that it does not add to Jim's guilt.
It's so strange. I'd begun to wonder if a modern day, urban Sentinel really needed this thing we are calling a "guide" and what would happen if he lost his guide? I never once considered what would happen to the guide who lost his Sentinel.....Well, I know Jim does not need me and I guess I'm about to find about the latter.
End of Journal Entry - Blair Jacob Sandburg
"Hey, Jim, I've got some news."
Jim Ellison was lying on the couch watching one of his favorite movies when Sandburg came out of his room.
"All ears Chief." And Jim muted the TV, it was a commercial anyway.
"I've been offered....this...great opportunity Jim, to accompany Dr. Welch on a follow-up expedition to Ecuador. It's a.....great opportunity."
"You said that Chief."
"Oh, yeah....anyway, I've turned down quite a few trips...can't really afford to anymore...and this is relatively short...".
"Ok. How long?"
"Only six months, Jim."
"Oh." If Jim Ellison was surprised, shocked or hurt, he hid it very well. "Sandburg, are you sure you're up to such an undertaking?"
"Of course. I'm fine."
"Well, you lost a bit of weight after....when... you were in the hospital and you never really gained it back....", his voice trailed off.
"Jim, I'm fine, really, healthy as a horse."
"Well, then, okay. When do you leave?"
"I'm supposed to meet the rest of the crew in Los Angeles on the seventh."
Jim sat up, "The seventh? But that's next Monday...what about shots? Packing? The University? Gear?" Jim wasn't actually looking at Blair so he missed the look of pain that crossed the younger man's face at the mention of the University.
"I've already taken care of.....things at the U., they're used to this...And most of my gear is ready...it's...always ready. And I'm caught up on any shots I'd need."
"Right", and he lay back down, "Wait, what about the volvo?"
"Taken care of Jim. A friend is going to store it on blocks for me until I get back. You know, Jim, I'm used to this, I "know" what to do...".
"Oh, yeah, okay."
"You're okay with this, aren't you, Jim?"
"Sure, no problem, really. This isn't like Borneo, and I know you've got to..want to..do this, it's your job, right?"
"Right. Thanks Jim." And Sandburg turned back into his room and Ellison turned the sound back up on the TV.
"HE'S WHAT?" Simon bellowed.
"He's going to Ecuador for six months."
"Jim, is this a joke? You're pulling my leg, right?"
"No. He leaves on Monday. I'm taking him to the airport at noon."
"And you're "letting" him go? Just like that?"
"What would you have me do? Tie him to his bed? He's an adult and this is what he does. It was foolish to think he would never go on an expedition again."
Simon swiped a hand over his eyes, "Yeah, I guess...but still....It's too soon, he doesn't look good, Jim. He's lost even more weight...".
"Simon, if I didn't know better I'd say you're going to miss him....".
The smile on Jim's face was slight.
"Ellison, get back to work, ok?"
"You told Simon?"
"Yes, Chief, I did."
"You didn't...tell anyone else? Like we agreed?"
"No, Chief, I didn't tell anyone else."
Jim looked at the few bags on the floor near the door, "So you're sure this is everything? I mean, where's all your gear?"
"Jim, I told you...I sent most of my stuff ahead. It's SOP..okay?"
"Forgot. Still....a duffle bag and two backpacks?"
"It's all I'll need for the few days in L.A."
"Right. You have you're ticket? Passport?"
"Yes mommy, right here," and he patted his jacket.
"Well, then. I guess we're....off." And Jim lifted the duffle bag and one backpack and headed out the door closely followed by Blair.
As soon as the two men stepped inside the airport, Jim winced.
"Hey, Jim, tune it down...you know better that to come into an airport in full Sentinel mode."
"Right. Tune it down. Done."
"So..this is it. Here, let me take those," and Blair reached for his bags.
"Aren't you going to check these?"
"I rarely "check" luggage, it's a hassle I prefer to travel without.
And I don't have to check in either, have my boarding pass right here. Dr. Welch thinks of everything."
"I...umm, don't you want me to stay? See you off?"
"Hello in there?" Blair made a gesture as if knocking on Jim's head,
"You. Court. Forty minutes from now? Ring a bell?"
Jim wrinkled his brow, "God, I forgot. The briefing with Simon and the DA...".
"You got it, big guy. You'd better head out now, airport traffic and all. You'll barely make as it is."
"You're right. Well. Uh, stay safe, okay? And keep in touch? Let me know where you are?"
"Right, Jim. They have phones now on every other tree in the wilds of Ecuador."
"Okay, make fun of the old man. You can write? Right?"
"Don't worry, when I *can* communicate, I *will* communicate, okay?"
"Fair enough. And....eat."
The two men, friends for over three years, stood awkwardly. Then Blair held out his hand and the older man looked at it for a few seconds, then reached out and they shook.
"See you in six months Blair."
"Yep. And Jim?"
"Thanks." And Blair hefted up his bags and headed toward the escalators.
Jim Ellison stood there, staring after the young man until he could no longer see him or hear him or smell his scent. Then the Sentinel turned and left the airport and headed back to Cascade.
One and half hours later, Blair Sandburg came out of the same airport and began walking away. Away from the airport. Away from Cascade. Blair had no idea where he was going, nor did he care. The plan had worked and that was all that mattered. In six months he'd contact Jim with some story, what story he didn't know, he hadn't really planned that far ahead yet, but that call would bring final closure to his life in Cascade, Washington.
He wasn't completely aimless, he had no intention of hitching cross country or anything...In fact, he needed to find a place to roost as soon as possible. He had some heavy duty bills to pay....The hospital
bill to the tune of over thirty-five thousand dollars. A grant to the tune of about eleven thousand and naturally a couple of student loans to the tune of about a hundred and twenty-five thousand....He had spent most of the last two weeks making payment arrangements. So now he desperately needed a job
and a cheap place to stay. He'd been walking quite awhile when he decided it was time to hitch. He
was on a truck route and he had always felt "safe" hitching with truckers. He turned and began to do the hitchers backward walk, thumb out. There was an International Harvester coming....and passing. But
right behind the IH was a Freightliner and it was pulling over. "Hey, buddy, need a lift?"
His "ride" was in his early forties, big and beefy.
As Blair settled in the man held out one large hand, "John Loomis."
Blair took the outstretched hand, "Blair Sandburg, and thanks for stopping."
"No problem, these long hauls get lonely...Where you headed?"
"Gotcha, kid, no questions, just drive." His words were softened by his smile, "I'm headed for Vancouver, does that help?"
"Well, I don't think I'll be with you that long, not really looking to leave the country."
"Don't need to run that far, heh?"
"I'm not "running", man. Just...re-locating, change of scene, kinda thing, you know?"
The miles lengthened and their conversation revealed much to Blair about the trucker but little of Blair "to" the trucker. And it was doubtful Loomis was even aware of the lopsided exchange.
At some point, Loomis pulled off the main route and hit a small scenic road. He glanced at his passenger, "I always go this way," he grinned sheepishly, "It takes me through a little town called Camden and well, a lady who makes great apple pie."
"Sounds good, man."
It wasn't long before Blair saw the first sign announcing that Camden was only a few miles ahead.
Twenty minutes later they hit the outskirts of town and the first building Blair saw was a ranch style building, yellow with green trim and a sign telling the world it was "Apple Aggies - Best Apple Pie in the State". Blair wasn't surprised when Loomis pulled the rig into the parking lot.
"Well, here we are. Care to join me?"
"How can I resist the "best apple pie in the state"?"
Loomis gave a hearty laugh, "Her double cheeseburgers aren't bad either! Let's go."
Minutes later they were comfortably seated at a booth and Aggie herself was waiting on them.
"Loomis, was wonderin when you'd be coming through again. Who's your buddy?"
"Aggie, this here is Blair Sandburg. Blair, meet Aggie, the one true love of my life."
"Hi Aggie, I've heard great things about your pie."
Aggie looked appreciatively down at the young man and gave a low whistle, "My, you are a beaut...and the pie is on the house Blair."
Then she turned back to Loomis to let Blair blush in peace.
"You want the usual, stud?"
"Yeah, and the same for Blair."
"You got it. Two double cheeseburgers with everything, two coffee's and two apple pie ala modes. Coming right up gentlemen." And with that she patted Blair's cheek and walked to the kitchen.
Again Loomis gave that hearty laugh, "I know, Blair, she *is* a handful, but her food is worth it!"
Several minutes later Aggie was back with the food.
"Son, you're not eating much. Not to your liking?"
Blair looked up at the older man to gauge for anger, saw none, so answered honestly, "Sorry, I'm not really very hungry. It'll pack up, right?"
Loomis wasn't fooled. When the younger man had taken off his heavy jacket, the trucker had seen the apparent weight loss, the way his clothes hung.
"Sure, Aggie will pack it up for you." And he waved her over and asked her to do just that. She was plainly surprised but at a look from the older man, she took the food back to the kitchen.
"You know, Blair, maybe there is a job for you here in Camden. This is a nice, quiet town and the folks are friendly."
Aggie was coming back and heard Loomis' remark.
"Sweetie, this *used* to be a quiet town, but now we have a nightclub."
She set the wrapped up food down and scooted Loomis over and plopped down next to him, "Now we are a "hot" little town."
Loomis looked concerned, "What nightclub? What are you talking about
"Club Haven. It opened a few months ago, but lost it's band, now it has a new owner and word of mouth says that when it re-opens next week, it will be hotter than ever. Camden will finally be on the map."
Blair had been listening with some interest and his curiosity and job need spurred him on,"Do you know if there are any job openings left?"
"Well as of yesterday, he still needed bartenders. Does that interest you? "
Loomis looked back at Blair, "You ever tend bar, kid?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. For two summers, helped get me through school."
"Well, this is your lucky day. This might be just what you are looking for and the tips can be good."
That was Blair's thought exactly. He remembered those two summers and the tips had been incredible. Blair looked at the man who had so easily befriended him, "Well, it looks like this is my stop, John."
"I hope so Blair. I hope this is what you're looking for, but I'll miss your company. " He turned to Aggie, "Can this man tell a story!"
Blair began to reach for the bill, but Loomis' big hand beat him to it,
"No, son, this is on me, I've really enjoyed your company."
Blair could see the futility for arguing, so he smiled, "Thanks John. Maybe next time you're through, my treat?"
Somehow Loomis doubted this young man would still be here in the four months it would take for his return trip, but he smiled back, "I'll hold you to that, Blair," and then to Aggie, "Any suggestions on where Blair can stay?"
"Well, the Brownstone is only a couple of miles from the club. It's clean and it's cheap. Anyplace closer to my end of town is more expensive and quite a walk."
Clean and cheap. Music to Blair's ears, "Thanks Aggie, The Brownstone sounds perfect."
Loomis stood, "Well, let's go, son. I'll take you over. Club or The Brownstone?"
"Club. Definitely. Job first, place to stay second."
"Right. Well, Aggie, it's been a pleasure as always and I'll see you in a few months."
"You bet, stud", and with that she swatted his ass and as Blair smiled at her move and walked past she grabbed his! She smiled at him, "That's just a little encouragement, sweetie, I'll expect you to be a regular!'
His smile, the first real one in months, was broad, "You can count on it!"
Not much later the truck pulled up in front of Club Haven. The front doors were open and both men could see the activity inside. "Well, Blair....this looks like the place. How about if I wait....just in case?"
"Thanks John, but if not this job, another one.
I know you have a schedule to keep." Blair reached out his hand and the two men shook warmly, "Thanks John, for everything."
"You take care, hear me?"
Blair got down and Loomis tossed him his bags and with a wave, Loomis was gone. Blair turned and stood for a few moments, looking at the club, then took a deep breath and entered.
As Blair stepped inside he found himself somewhat awed by his first view of the interior. It was huge. A large dance floor took center stage, three levels of tables and booths surrounding it. All material was chrome with primary colors accenting the cushions and other accessories.
Upstairs, he had no doubt, were the more private booths, couches etc....
There was a massive spiral staircase leading up to the second floor as well as a glass elevator. The stage was larger than the typical club stage and currently occupied by stage hands setting up. Blair figured the set up was for rehersal.
"Excuse me? Can I help you?"
Blair turned to see a young man of about his own age, "Yes, I'm looking for a job and understand you may have openings for bartenders? My name is Blair Sandburg." "We do still have one opening, my name is Tony and I'm the Assistant Manager. Why don't you take a seat at the bar and I'll send Mr. Quinn over." Before Blair could respond, the young man had rushed off. Blair shrugged and headed over to the bar. The bar was as impressive as the rest of the club..hammered copper decorated the counter, ornate mirrors and more chrome.
A few minutes later an English accent got his attention, "Mr. Sandburg?
I'm Robin Quinn, the owner. I understand you're interested in tending bar for me?"
Blair got off the stool and found himself "looking up" at Robin Quinn.
The only word to describe Quinn was "Dapper". He was expensively and immaculately dressed. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, curly black hair and green eyes. He radiated wealth and confidence.
"Yes, I am."
"Do you have a resume, Mr. Sandburg?"
"No, I...I'm actually an anthropologist....I tended bar for a couple of summers..but I don't think I'll disappoint you."
Quinn looked at the man in front of him. An anthropologist? Well, whatever his story was, the look was perfect. Mr. Sandburg was actually quite beautiful....and if he could perform at all...".
"You willing to "audition"?"
Quinn stepped up to the bar, sat on a stool and waved Blair behind the counter.
Blair took off his jacket, set it on the back of a stool and moved as directed.
"Take a few minutes to acclimate yourself, Mr. Sandburg."
Blair did just that and thanked God for his photographic memory. He briefly thought of Tom Cruise in the movie, Cocktail, and decided to give Cruise "and" Quinn a run for their money.
Thirty minutes later a laughing Quinn announced, "You're hired! Mr. Sandburg, you are magnificent and *exactly* what I'm looking for to help set my club apart from all others. As of now, you are my head bartender", at Blair's look of surprise he quickly added, "There will be two others working your shift with you, just hired them yesterday. They're good, but don't have your style.....yet. I expect you to teach them. Agreed?"
"Fine, I'll get Tony out here to hire you in. I noticed your bags....do you have a place to stay?"
"I'll be at The Brownstone."
Quinn nodded and with a welcome aboard went off to find Tony.
An hour later Blair was hired and had his schedule. He would be spending several hours each day, until the club re-opened, working with his staff, jazzing them up. Once the club opened his hours would be six to three and he had strict orders to take his dinner break before nine....Quinn wanted him *on* during peak club hours.
Blair now had the job, it was time to get the place. The two mile walk served one good purpose, it gave him a chance to see the business' he would be frequenting. And Loomis had been right, this was a small town.
There was one market/liquor store, one deli, a book store and a cleaners. The bookstore got his attention immediately. Not because it *was* a bookstore, but because of the help wanted sign in the window.
He put a visit to the bookstore on his agenda for tomorrow.
At The Brownstone he had no problem securing a room. He signed in and paid a month in advance, which put a serious dent in his finances. He took the elevator to the sixth floor and let himself into room 502.
The room was clean and was furnished with the bare minimum. There was a small kitchenette and a bathroom.
Blair stood in the middle of the room for a few minutes, bags still on his shoulders. He looked around. The last two weeks had been busy for him as he planned his exit from Jim Ellion's life. He had little time for thought or introspection. And since leaving the airport so many hours ago, he'd again had little time for thought.
But now, standing in the middle of this room....the emptiness which had been waiting.....engulfed him. The pain exploded inside him with such force that it forced him to his knees. The bags slid off his shoulders onto the floor and he wrapped his arms around his chest and began rocking.
His mind saw his *home*. It wasn't the loft. It was Jim Ellison. Home for Blair was not a place, but a person. A man. A man, he now realized, he loved. Loved with all that he had, with all that he was. A man he had lost. He wasn't just a guide who had lost his Sentinel, he was a man who had lost his reason for being.
At that moment, all that was inside Blair Sandburg, died. And the tears flowed freely.
Eventually Blair stood and moving stiffly, unpacked. When he finished he went downstairs, outside and across to the liquor store. He purchased a fifth of scotch and went back to his room.