Another Hallmark Moment
Sandburg turned on the stair, his action shifting the armload of books he was carrying. Hi, Eleanor. Whoa! He leaned sideways trying to stop the slide of the top books.
Watch it there. A steadying hand reached out to help him adjust his load. Library, huh?
Yeah. The anthropology student looked down at the books in his arms. I live at the library, he confirmed woefully. You know, if they installed washers and dryers there it would definitely simplify my life. Then I wouldnt have to even have that other place I mistakenly call home. He sighed. After this many years at Rainier youd think Id have figured out why it is that some teachers always find the worst possible moment in my life to assign papers that are due, like, yesterday! And its always the same professors. Always.
Oh, hey, I figured that out my first semester, the young woman beside him laughed, her smile lighting her face. Dont you know? They sneak into your office at night and look at your calendar and say, Here. This week right here. Hes already got three papers due, six classes to teach and two weddings to attend. Ill stick it to him right here!
Sandburg laughed. Listen, if I thought that was all there was to it, Id get those locks changed on my office door today! He turned back toward the stairs, the young woman joining him as he finished his climb toward Hargrove Hall.
I wanted to check and see if those white noise generators did the job for you, Eleanor said.
Oh, yeah, Ive been meaning to call and let you know. They worked even better than Id hoped. The doctor warned him but I couldnt believe how much more sensitive Jims hearing was after she cleaned his ears out. It was giving him headaches for awhile. He grinned. I wasnt sure good neighbor relations were going to survive the two teenagers in the apartment below us until he got used to the increased sound, he said, continuing the fabrication hed invented to get the needed equipment for his partner. He couldnt have told her the truth. Besides it just looks bad when the resident cop starts killing off the tenants, you know?
Brown eyes twinkling with laughter, the pretty young woman nodded solemnly. Yeah, I can see how it might be bad for public relations, she agreed.
Sandburg laughed appreciating her humor. You have no idea, he told her. I mean snarling and growling at the kids are one thing but the bodies. You just run out of a place to put them after a while. He shook his head regretfully. And then the building gets a bad reputation and the resale value of the place goes Laughter interrupted his tirade.
Oh, Blair, stop it. Ive seen that detective of yours. Hes a hunk.
That detective of yours. Sandburg had to stop his grin of secret delight from spreading to the outside. That detective of yours. Yeah, he could get used to the sound of that. He pulled his thoughts back from that line of thinking.
A hunk? he said incredulously. A hunk? He shook his head sadly. Well, I suppose some people might actually go for that muscle bound look.
Yeah, some people might, Eleanor agreed, her voice a little wistful. The biceps and the broad shoulders sloping down to that narrow waist and those long legs.
To say nothing of the tight ass, Sandburg said softly, then froze when he realized hed actually said that last bit out loud. He relaxed after a moment of inner terror as Eleanor continued listing his partners attributes. She hadnt heard him and he breathed a sigh of relief.
And hes got that chiseled look and, I swear, blue eyes to die for, she finished up.
Blue eyes? Blue eyes? Sandburg leaned forward as much as the books in his arms would allow, opening his eyes wide. What do these look like, huh? Chopped liver? Blue eyes. See? Blue eyes. He blinked them comically at her.
She patted his cheek, three quick little pats. And what cute little blue eyes they are too, she cooed, and then added for good measure, knowing he would hate it, Just like my baby brother.
Aughh, he cried, throwing his head back in dismay. Its my lot in life to be a brother figure to every beautiful woman around.
Uh huh. Right, Eleanor said sarcastically. Thats definitely not the word out on you on the grapevine.
Grapevine? he demanded. What grapevine?
And you call yourself a cultural anthropologist, she scoffed. One of the oldest university subcultures and youve never heard of it, she said with a smug grin. The SWDG.
Sandburg looked blank.
The Single Womans Dating Grapevine.
The Single Womans Dating Grapevine? Sandburg repeated. His eyes narrowed. Tell me more about this SWDG.
Nope. Cant. Eleanor pressed her lips together firmly shaking her head. Then Id have to kill you. And youre just way too cute to kill, she added with a grin.
Cute, he groaned. Kids are cute. Guys dont want to be cute. Cute is the kiss of death!
Then quit practicing, she told him unsympathetically. Cause I gotta tell you, Blair, youve got the market corned on cute. She laughed at his look of dismay.
So whats the word on the grapevine about me, huh? he demanded. You owe me after that cute remark.
Cant do it, hon. Theyd drum me out of the official SWDGC.
Single Womans Dating Grapevine Club? he guessed.
Naw, she said scornfully. Single Womans Dating Grapevine Coven. Complete with initiation, rituals, the whole nine yards.
I bet you hold meeting on the full moon too, huh? Sandburg grinned.
Too obvious, she stated. We go for the new moon. We dance naked on Dean Edwards lawn and sacrifice some guys virginity. She shook her head regretfully. We just havent had many meeting lately though.
Sandburgs grin broadened. Lemme guess. Cant find any male virgins? he said dryly.
Eleanor laughed as she pulled the door to Hargrove Hall open, holding it to let Sandburg pass through.
Thanks, he said.
Well, Im glad the white noise generators worked like you needed them to.
Yeah, the white noise generator covered most of the noise the kids made during the day and with the ear plugs Jim slept like a baby at night. I dont think it would have been so bad but they preferred alternative rock and, believe me, Jim is not into scene at all. You getting those for me definitely made my life a little easier. Jim can be a bear to live with if he doesnt get his beauty rest. He grinned.
Yeah, my roommates the same way. That girl doesnt get a full eight hours and you cant be in the same room with her.
He shifted his burden again. Ill get that portable unit back to you as soon as I can, he promised.
No hurry. The young woman shrugged. As long as I get it back sometime in the next couple of weeks, thats all that matters. She checked her watch. Listen, Ive got to run. There are eighty-two bright eyed and bushy-tailed young freshmen just waiting to sleep through my next lecture. She grinned sadistically. Wait until they find its pop quiz day. Thatll really make their day.
Ahh, Eleanor, youre a TA after my own heart, Sandburg assured her. Thanks again for helping out last week.
My pleasure, Blair. Just remember you owe me a couple of days in trade, she reminded him.
Let me know when, Sandburg called after her before turning to make his way to his own office. He didnt see her turn to walk backwards down the hall so she could stare after his disappearing figure. She came to a slow halt.
Ellisons not the only one with a tight ass, my friend. A heavy sign brought her head around to see fellow TA Jill Duffy beside her appreciating the same view.
All the good ones, Jill moaned. Why does it always have to be the good ones?
Eleanor nodded morosely. And you should see his partner. With those two off the market its a double whammy for women everywhere.
Sandburg turned down the stairs toward his own office in the basement, blissfully unaware of the conversation going on behind his back. He barely got his door open to make it to his desk before the pile of books he slid sideways to crash onto the cluttered desktop. Thank, God, he breathed heavily.
He straightened; shoving his hair back out of his face, his good mood evaporating as he wearily surveyed the mess he called an office. He just hadnt seemed to be able to get it together since the last case at the PD had wrapped. It had not been a fun one. Cops gone bad left a nasty taste in everyones mouth. It was bad enough when the bad guys were out to kill cops but when cops had to start looking over their shoulders for other cops; he shook his head at the memory. Toss into the equation a partner whose super hearing had gone off the scale of sensitivity after his ears had been cleaned out and the week had just been one fun event after the other.
Hed been very proud of himself for thinking of the white noise generators and had spent the best part of a morning in tracking them down. And he still had to pay the favor back. Two days. Two days it would cost him. And what did he have to show for it? A very grudging thanks from said partner. And even that had had to be pried out of him. Damn good thing Im as good at hearing what you dont say as I am at hearing what you do, he muttered under his breath. But you can pay for the broken ear plugs yourself, he decided dourly, as he gathered up an armload of papers from a chair.
He turned in a slow circle as he looked over his domain, trying unsuccessfully to find a place to put the papers hed just picked up. What a dump. Ive got to clean this place out. He looked around, his eyes lighting on his coffee cup with longing. Yes, he breathed. Coffee first, then work. Caffeinell help. Caffeine always helps. He dumped the papers he held back onto the same chair theyd previously occupied. Screw it, he mumbled, grabbing his cup.
He was making his way slowly back to his office lovingly nursing the steaming cup of coffee when the door to the janitors closet burst open and he juggled the brimming coffee cup with dexterity in order to keep the coffee inside the cup as he dodged Professor Albert Whitcomb exiting the closet. Easy, Professor, he said, staring at the slightly shorter man who was the original absent-minded professor. Professor Whitcomb stared through wire-rimmed glasses at the man before him, blinking through the new bifocal lenses as if he was either trying to bring Sandburgs form into focus or he was trying to figure out exactly who he was. Sandburg sipped his coffee as he watched Whitcomb pat his pockets absently looking for god only knew what. Hed always had the tiniest suspicion that the whole absent-minded professor gig was an act, as if it was Whitcombs way of laughing at the world. But if it was, he had it down pat. The grad student had never caught him in even the slightest slip.
Ahh, Blair, Whitcomb said.
Sandburg winced. Whitcomb always began with Ahh, Blair, and Sandburg always got the feeling that the man stopped himself short of saying Ahh, Blair, my boy, like some bad WC Fields imitation. He knew one of these days it was gonna slip out and he was gonna yell, Gottcha! Just to watch Whitcombs face.
There you are. Whitcomb looked back into the closet as if in mild surprise to actually find the anthropology student in the hall. Ive been looking for you, he said, a tone of vague disappointment aimed at Sandburg for not being in the closet.
You have? Sandburg asked in surprise and couldnt keep himself from peering around the door as if to confirm that he wasnt in the cleaning closet. Whitcomb always did that to him; made him feel like he was in the wrong time zone or something. Giving himself a mental shake, Sandburg brought his attention back on-line. He could see nothing in the small dark room to hold the other mans attention; a mop and pail and a shelf of cleaning supplies.
Whitcomb pushed the door gently shut with a look of reluctance and the two men stared at one another, one of them rapidly growing disconcerted. They had nothing in common but a shared love of anthropology and the grad student had never known exactly what to do with the professor. He was a great teacher, a fantastic lecturer and incredibly passionate about his field but it was like he used up everything he was inside the classroom and this absent minded shell was all that was left for the rest of the world to deal with. He was also the only person Sandburg had ever run into with whom he couldnt carry on a conversation. The professor just never seemed to be there, no matter where there was.
Sandburg waited, shifting the hot cup of coffee from one hand to the other as Professor Whitcomb blinked myopically up at him. You said youd been looking for me, he prompted finally.
Yes, yes, thats right. Whitcomb nodded his balding head, the movement having a perpetual motion feel to it as his head bobbed up and down. Ive been looking for you for three or four days now, he said pettishly as if it was Sandburgs fault for not being found.
But Professor, my office is right down the hall, Sandburg told him in surprise.
Whitcombs head pulled back and his eyes narrowed slightly as if suddenly suspicious of the man who called himself Blair Sandburg. Well, yes. But I havent been down to that end of the hall.
Sandburg looked two doors down to the door that had a paper with his name on it thumb tacked to the door and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. Ahh, yeah. Right. He waited again but when Whitcomb didnt continue he couldnt help the impatient tone that slipped into his voice as he demanded, So what did you want to see me about?
Whitcomb patted his left pocket then he patted his right pocket, then he reached inside his jacket and brought out a small white envelope and stared at it with a frown before holding it out. This was delivered to my office mailbox by mistake.
Three or four days ago? Sandburg asked in confusion. Why didnt you just shove it back in my box?
Whitcomb looked at him in surprise. Ive been looking for you, he said, as if that explained everything.
Thank you, Professor, Sandburg said hastily, feeling like he needed to escape. Immediately. Ive got to go now. He motioned toward his office. Ive got, you know ahh papers and stuff.
But Professor Whitcomb, having delivered the misdirected envelope had already dismissed him from mind and was wandering back down the hall.
Sandburg bolted, afraid any second the absent minded man would turn and start all over again, Ahh, Blair. Closing the door gently so as not to call attention to himself, he locked it behind him and leaned against it with a sense of relief at being back in a safe haven. Five minutes with Whitcomb made even his office look better, he thought with a grin.
He crossed to set his coffee cup on his desk as he examined the envelope in his hand and was more than a little surprised to recognize the easy fluid style of his partners handwriting. A little shock ran through him. In the year and a half theyd lived together hed never received any kind of mail from Ellison. Why should he? He slept in the room under the mans bedroom, for Gods sake. Anything that needed to be said was said. If his roommate needed to give him something, he gave it to him. He didnt mail it.
A feeling of unease slid through him. So why the envelope? He fingered it, noting the stiffness that meant a note card rather than a piece of paper. With a reluctance he couldnt explain he pulled his letter opener from the pencil cup on his desk and slit the envelope, hesitating for a moment before sliding the note card out.
It was a white glossy card, the round blue emblem of the Cascade Police Department in its center. Sandburg stared at it in confusion. Was it something official then? Sliding his thumb inside the card he paused a second before flipping it open. And felt a slight shock. In a graceful hand that told of hours upon hours of practice as a child, Jim Ellison had written two words. Thank you. He hadnt signed it, but in the lower right hand corner hed very carefully drawn a smiley face a black circle with a curved line for a smile. Hed used a bright blue ink to draw the eyes. Sandburg smiled at the two protrusions on either side of the circle. Ellison had quite skillfully drawn ears on the smiley. Sticking out of each ear was a slightly heavier drawn line and Sandburgs smile grew to a full fledged grin. Only he and Ellison would know what those tiny lines signified.
The undisguised look of surprised relief on the Sentinels face a week earlier when hed realized that the small white noise generators had given him the relief from the overwhelming volume of sound hed been unable to tune out himself had filled Sandburg with joy. It had been worth the hectic morning of chasing Eleanor down to explain his need then trying to work around both their schedules to meet up with her after to pick up the devices before heading to the police station.
Hed been slightly hurt and disappointed at the off-handed expression of gratitude his partner had given him, and even that had come only when hed pressed. The casual, Thank you. Ill remember to send you a card had been forgotten in the hunt for the cop killer.
Sandburg gave a pleased little bounce as he looked up, his eyes catching the wall clock. Almost eleven. Too early to head to the station? Naw. Maybe he could catch his partner before he went to lunch.
Dropping the card on his desk, he reached for his coat, shrugging it on as he reached for the doorknob. Glancing back over his shoulder to make sure everything was shut off, he stopped. With a small smile, he returned to his desk, opened the top left drawer and placed the card inside. Laughing at himself, he locked the drawer and pocketed the key.
Opening the door, he stepped out. Straight into his partner. Jim! He stepped back.
His hands on his partners arms to steady him, Ellison looked a little uncertain. Hey, Chief.
Ellison wasnt the only uncertain one. I, ahh, I got your card today, Sandburg said cautiously.
Yeah, it got shoved in the wrong mailbox.
Oh. Id been wondering
Youre welcome, by the way, Sandburg interrupted. An almost shy smile lifted his face. I liked the smiley face.
Yeah? Ellisons smile matched his partners.
Yeah. Sandburg rocked up on his toes a little nervously. So? What are you doing here?
I was just over this way and was wondering if youd like to grab
Yes, Sandburg interrupted.
Ellison grinned at the enthusiasm, one of his megawatt smiles that seemed to turn the younger mans insides to jelly.. Sandburg, you havent even heard what I was going to say.
The younger man shrugged absently. Doesnt matter. Ill grab anything with you I can, Jim. Then his heart thudded heavily in his chest as his words dawned on him and he felt his cheeks warm with a flush. This was not how hed meant to eventually share this bit of knowledge with his roommate.
Ellison eyed him, his smile never wavering, turning slowly into something more. Yeah? he questioned.
Sandburg gave a jerky little nod. Yeah. Then he had to give himself a moment so he turned to lock his office door with hands that shook only a little. He started down the hall, his partner joining him.
Good, Ellison said smugly.
Sandburgs heart thudded again. Damn straight, Sandburg confirmed with a little bounce.
God, I hope not, Ellison breathed staring at his friends profile. And the Sentinel was rewarded by the breathy hitch in his partners breathing and the suddenly rapid heartbeat. He slid his right hand into place in the small of the shorter mans back.
Without hesitation, Sandburg let his next step take him just a little closer into Ellisons space, feeling that finally hed been given that brass ring hed laid claim to a year and a half before. A slow smile of satisfaction curved the corners of his mouth upward as he felt the hand at his back shift, sliding sideways to come to rest possessively over his right hip. He let himself settle comfortably into the curve of his partners arm.
So, Jim, Sandburg said, trying for a light tone, Whatd you have in mind for lunch?
Leaning down slightly, he let his lips tease the fine hair at his roommates temple. Would that be the main course or dessert, Chief? he asked softly.
Tilting his head slightly to present his temple to the lips that were so incredibly close, he leaned a little further. Oh, dessert, he said breathlessly. Definitely dessert. I know whats for the main course.