It's never just us. Even when we're alone.
When the city is quiet--as quiet as a violent city like Cascade can be after the sun goes down and the city lights go on--we're not alone. We're surrounded by shades, dark figures that hover in equally dark corners, accusing, watchful, daring us to blind them with the light, to banish them with the brightness of... I don't know what... but the brightness of something.
Sometimes I think I can identify them, these shades of our past--of his past. Sometimes I think I see Laura in a corner smirking at me, chin up, eyes blazing with undiluted sexuality while daring me to supplant her in Jim's memory. And I'm pretty darn certain that Lila is here, her dark sad eyes following Jim's every move. She sometimes glares at me and she seems to be accusing, but I never understand why. Why accuse me? What did I do?
Okay, maybe I do know why.
I didn't figure it out in time to save her, and thus save Jim's one true love.
His one true love if you don't count the dark, willowy, sensual slip of a shade that haunts the hall and the stairway leading to Jim's room, namely, Veronica.
She'd have to be his other true love. He seems to have quite a few.
Her eyes are hungry and restless; full of need and want and desire. Those strange blue, calculating eyes glint with shady ideas and ways to manipulate or maneuver. In fact, if any of these shades could become more substantial and threatening, it would be Veronica.
When I think of her--and I think of her often--I see her struggling to regain herself, struggling to take hold of Jim again, to control him, to use him.
Of course, there are other shades sharing the loft with us, shades that move aimlessly through our space while leaving memories and nightmares in their wake. Shades like Lash, among others.
Some of the shades aren't ghosts. They're more like shadows. Large shadows glued to us and weighing us down. Alex is one of them. She has the run of the entire apartment but prefers Jim's bedroom. She leaves me wondering how one shadow can have such weight, power and strength. She's a nakedly sharp wedge wielding power like a sword, twisting it in our guts, rending flesh that's already open and gaping as she rips through muscles, veins and arteries as if they were so much softened butter.
Now, as if Alex, Laura, Lila, Veronica and all the others weren't enough, another shade has taken up residence at 852 Prospect, number 307. I've been trying to see it more clearly, to identify this one, but so far, no luck.
Shades and shadows abound and I've learned to live with them all, but I hate it. I hate never having any privacy and I hate not being alone with Jim. If I could get rid of these shades and shadows, these reminders of our fragile existence and our many failures, I could get through to him, finally and irrevocably. I could pierce him, enter him, get his attention focused on me and me alone for just a moment, but long enough.
It's after nine now and the late summer sun is gone. The lighting is muted, provided by one soft lamp and the flickering television. We're both sitting here in our crowded apartment, watching the news. On my lap is a large book, in my right hand, a yellow highlighter, and caught between my lips, three colored paperclips. I'm studying, which is something I didn't think I'd ever be doing again. Every so often the highlighter is put to work and is soon followed by a paperclip to mark the page and paragraph. I've always had good study habits.
I'm gonna be a cop, sort of. I'm putting my minor in psychology to work for the partnership and when I'm finished at Rainier (don't ask, long story with a semi-happy ending, and did I mention that Chancellor Edwards is gone? She's the shade in the bathroom that haunts the shower curtain. I would have figured the toilet. Go figure), I'll be Jim's 'kind of' official partner with a shiny new degree. I take my classes, work on my new thesis, and guess what? Yeah, I 'ride along' with Jim. Funny, huh? Knee-slapping hilarious.
A movement in the corner catches my eye, and I try to outsmart it by pretending not to notice. Head down, eyes fixed on the page 329, I wait. The shade, the one I can't identify, moves again. Jim shifts and his shoulder no longer blocks the table light. With the absence of that dark spot, I catch a glimpse of something bright, something that sparkles, and I squint. It's an earring. There's a toss of hair, a flying curl -- and I know.
I stare. I blink. My mouth moves but nothing comes out. No sound, not even a gasp.
"Sandburg? You okay?"
I shake my head. No, I'm not okay. How do I put this to Jim? How do I say it so that the soon-to-be civilian cop with the degree in psychology doesn't come out sounding like he needs a psychologist?
"Uhm, Jim? I think ... I think we have a problem."
Jim gives a little 'humph' and says, "Sandburg, not having a problem would be news to me."
He has a point there.
"You've got a point there," I say with a weak grin. "But this one could be rather unique, even for us. You see, I think I'm, like... haunting us. Or me."
I figured that would get to him. He actually turns off the television and he's setting the remote down. I have his full attention. Wow.
"Okay, Sandburg, you're gonna need to explain that, not that I really want to hear it, mind you."
I ignore the last part and dive in. "Well, see, this place is really pretty crowded, you know? And lately, there's been this one shade--that's what I call them--shades." I pause, let that sink in, then finish. "Anyway, this one shade, until tonight, well, I couldn't identify it, but now, well, it turns out to be, well... me. Now I figure if I'm haunting this place, things might be a bit out of hand. I mean, isn't it bad enough we have all the others? Do we really need me, too?"
"Chief, Blair, buddy, you're not dead, and even I know you can't be a," he makes quote marks in the air, "'shade' unless you're dead."
I'm thinking Jim is taking this mighty well--for Jim.
"I beg to differ," I say easily. "There are shades, and then there are shadows. A slight distinction, I know, but still. Why, Chancellor Edwards is in the bathroom, and let's not talk about who haunts the entire loft and your bedroom, okay? Let's not go there, other than to say she's tall, stacked and blonde."
You have to give Jim credit... he doesn't so much as blink. I can think of a few others --Simon comes immediately to mind -- who'd be on the phone and calling in the men in white. Then I see it in Jim's eyes. The truth.
Jim knows they're there - here.
Knowing this, I watch him as he clears his throat, and says with a trace of nervousness in his voice, "Why would you be... you know, haunting us--you?"
"Damned if I can guess. But I'm really tired of all these shades, myself included. We need to get rid of them."
He knows me. Knows my mother, my upbringing, so this doesn't surprise him. He even jumps on the bandwagon in a kind of strange, hopeful way. "How? What, we do some kind of mumbo-jumbo? A sage cleaning of some sort? Or maybe we get someone in to bless the place," he adds thoughtfully.
I can feel the expression on my face and I almost crack up. I know how I must look and that knowledge is cemented by Jim's next words.
"What? You have a problem with someone coming in and blessing the place?"
"Gee, no, Jim. How 'bout we get a priest in here and do an exorcism?"
With a completely straight face, he says, "We could do that. Father Shepherd, maybe?" Then he snaps his fingers and says, "Hey, wait a minute, you're the Shaman of the Great City, per the Chopec. Why don't you exorcise the damn things?"
Huh-oh. Deep water here.
"Now, Jim, we both know I'm not a shaman," I say carefully and reasonably.
"No, no, we don't know that. You are a shaman, per Incacha."
I mimic him. "No, no, he only passed the way of the shaman on to me. He did not make me a shaman."
"Sandburg, Sandburg, Sandburg, what do you think 'passing the way' means? He passed the way to being a shaman on to you." He waves a hand in the air in a lordly fashion and says, "So get rid of 'em. Do your shaman thing, and ipso presto, they'll be gone."
With a shock, I realize that in spite of his knowing that the shades are here, he's reverted to type and is now dismissing it all with humor and a sense of the absurd. That really pisses me off too. I don't want to live with these things anymore, and I especially don't want to live with the 'me-shade'.
Desperate times--desperate measures.
"I think the me-shade is the me that died, Jim." I say it so softly, so quietly, that the words kind of hang there, gentle, no fault, no blame, just truth. A truth Jim and I must now face.
"I think a part of me--maybe the best part--died and didn't come back. I want it back, Jim. I need it back. I need your help to get it back."
The color leaches from his face and his eyes start darting all over the apartment until they come to rest in the corner--the corner where my shade is standing. We've now officially entered the Twilight Zone.
"How?" he whispers, all humor completely erased.
"I don't know."
"I'll do anything," he murmurs, and I realize he's saying it to the me-shade.
I glance over at the corner and the dark ethereal shape lightens as color starts to edge it out. I can see its -- my -- eyes, the bright blueness, the sadness, and... and....
I can see the love. The complete, all-encompassing love that it -- I -- has for Jim.
"Will you?" I say as I continue to stare unabashedly at it -- me.
"Yes," Jim whispers softly.
What do I have to lose now? The blue love-filled eyes of my shade turn to me and it - me - I, nod ever so slightly.
"Will you let me love you?" I ask.
Jim tears his gaze away from my shade to look at me -- the real me - and the color of his eyes change as fear takes over. My heart seems to stop as I realize that it's hopeless, that I've lost. I glance back at the other me and watch with horror as it seems to darken and shrink and shimmer with the loss and hurt of it, with the multitude of other pains, slings and arrows. I can't look anymore, so I close my eyes and drop my head. I clutch the yellow highlighter so tightly I fear it might snap in two.
Suddenly a voice interrupts my little pity party, and its softness, desire, and love force my eyes open.
"I would give anything, Blair, if you would love me."
Words about joining me in the water fade as I fall into Jim Ellison's gaze. Blue eyes swimming with emotion -- emotions so often locked away -- capture me and I'm almost giddy with the relief of it all. I don't want to look away, but I have to look at the me-shade.
"He's gone, Blair. It's okay."
I trust Jim's words and keep focused on those beautiful eyes, the long dark lashes and the sprinkle of faint freckles that are just barely-there along his nose and cheeks. Slowly I grin.
And just as suddenly -- Jim and I are completely alone in the loft.
Peace, quiet, Jim, me--what more could any man ask?
Jim moves toward me and I move toward him. In the back of my mind is a stray thought; I can finally take a shower in peace and quiet. No more Edwards.