Title: A Fair Distance:Ball and Chain Part Six
Beta’ed by t_verano T has an intuitive feel to language and writing that is awe-inspiring. I can’t thank her enough for sharing her skills with me. Picture by slipperieslope
Summary: A year after Blair left Jim and Cascade, they meet again in a small Tennessee town where Blair's been arrested and is being held for questioning at the request of the Cascade PD.
This is the second arc of A Fair Distance. The first arc,Running on Empty, can also be found at sentinel_epic and at 852 Prospect
There are now three Standalone stories from A Fair Distance
The beginning of this story
A Fair Distance:Ball and Chain Chapter Six
Blair looked up from the couch where he was supposed to be finishing writing down his thoughts and questions about the Edwards case. Earlier this afternoon, the kid had started doing an analysis of what he’d known about Nathan Bergman and Marie Edwards, brainstorming ways to connect him with her murder, while on the last leg of the ride to this pretty little cabin on Powers Lake.
Supposed to be writing down his thoughts. In actuality, Blair had been staring out of the big picture window at the lake for some time now, although it was doubtful what he could actually see. It was dark; there was a new moon and there wouldn’t be any moonlight for another week.
“Yeah?” It took him a couple of moments to respond.
“Are you okay?”
He stood up, letting the blanket he’d brought in from the truck fall to the floor. A lackadaisical shrug answered my question. Blair reduced to shrugs and monosyllables -- I didn’t need to feel his forehead to tell that the mono and strep had ganged up on him, and he was losing the fight.
He was definitely feeling worse. His face had flushed up and the energy surge he’d had in the truck was long gone. After I’d uncuffed him, he’d eaten half a bowl of soup, drunk more water and a cup of herbal tea, taken his medication, and sucked on a cough drop; now he managed to look both restless and exhausted.
“Do you want to go to bed?”
He shook his head and whispered ‘no.’ When I’d felt this way as a kid, Sally had produced coloring books and cartoons. Something mindless to do until you either felt better -- at least enough to read in bed or do the homework a friend had dropped off -- or you had relaxed enough to fall asleep.
Well, coloring books were out; I wouldn’t want to suggest them, even if I had any here, not after I’d rocked him last night. Blair was bound to be a little touchy about anything that implied he’d gone the age-regression route.
Cartoons – probably not. He’d never much watched them back at the loft. I had, occasionally. Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones, Road Runner -- the classics. I’d stared at them to just unwind, if a game wasn’t on. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask him, though.
Blair had walked over to the doors that led out to the patio while I was wondering what I could do for him. And now he leaned his forehead against the cold glass and sighed.
“Tylenol isn’t helping yet, is it?”
Another shake of his head no.
“Have you got a headache, too?”
“You want to watch TV? Cartoons, or something else where you don’t have to think about what you’re watching?”
Blair halfway smiled as he turned around to face me. And I could see him force himself to act light-hearted and pump up energy he didn’t have to spare to answer me.
“That’s what you’d do, isn’t it, if you felt like shit? I don’t want to watch the boob tube, but you can if you want to. It’s got to be about as much fun as watching paint dry, hovering over me. I’ll be all right. You don’t have to take care of me.”
You don’t have to take care of me. He was doing his old distraction technique, turning things around so that my needs were dominant. Well, not tonight, buddy-boy.
I walked over to him and laid my hands on his head, my thumbs rubbing small circles on his temples.
“Listen up, my Brave Little Toaster. This is partly where we got off track, back in Cascade. I want to take care of you, when you could use a hand. I want you to let me in, Blair. Let me help you; don’t pretend that everything is okay, be honest with me. I know you feel really tired, but you can’t relax yet, can you? You feel hot and sticky, uncomfortable with the grime from today. Your clothes feel harsh on your skin, don’t they?”
Blair was looking up at me, nodding a little, as he took in what I was telling him.
“How about this for tonight’s agenda. We shower together in luke-warm water, and I use my hands to lather soap on your skin, ‘cause a washcloth would feel too rough right now. You put on one of my t-shirts again; it’ll be loose and won’t bind you. Then, I give you a quick massage -- to finish loosening up your muscles. After that, how about another cup of tea, and we get comfortable in the bed, and I read that book to you, the one that’s in your backpack. So, how about it, partner? Can we try this novel idea that you don’t have to carry the load by yourself?”
Blair bit his lip and then said softly, “The sentinel spirit, he told me you desired to take care of me when, ah… I need to recharge my batteries. And I thought about that, while I was lying in my bunk at the jail. I… well, I’ve blown you off, a lot of times, you know… before. And I was doing it again. I’m sorry. All of that stuff, it sounds nice.”
I pulled Blair in for a light hug, mindful of how his skin was probably feeling overly sensitive. As I released him, I snaked my hand over his forehead. His temp was quite a bit higher. I’d say it was a little over 104 degrees, but the Tylenol should start bringing it down.
I turned him towards the bathroom, and as we headed there, my arm around his waist, he muttered to me, ”Brave Little Toaster?”
I shrugged. What could I say; apparently, I had cartoons on the brain.
Blair didn’t feel much better the next morning; I’d had to give him more Tylenol in the middle of the night. He’d drifted off into a doze yesterday evening when I’d massaged him, but when I opened Coming of Age in Samoa to read to him, he’d roused enough to start an anthropology lecture, telling me that Margaret Mead was only twenty-three when she’d gone to Samoa, and that follow-up studies had cast doubt on the veracity of her account. I laid my finger across his lips to hush him, because this was not what I’d had in mind; I wanted Blair to be soothed off to sleep. He’d sighed, but stopped trying to talk and I began to read.
He’d lasted for about twenty minutes before the light doze he was in deepened into actual sleep. I’d continued reading his book to myself for a while, then finished my nighttime rituals, which included shackling our legs together again, feeling that we’d made progress. Yeah, last night Blair had let me into the inner sanctum, and I was prepared to make it my permanent dwelling.
It was after breakfast that I remembered what day it was.
“Sandburg, how would you like to watch a parade?”
Blair had been made comfortable on the couch in his boxers and another one of my shirts. I’d dosed him up again and he was drinking more tea. His hair was an unruly mass of wild bed-head curls; I itched to run my hands through it… or maybe brush it so that the curls were halfway tamed. While I debated finding a brush, Blair stopped gazing out the big window towards the lake, and looked at me.
“Parade of what? Ducks?”
“Floats, Darwin. It’s Thanksgiving and the parade will be on TV. Do you want to watch it?”
“Thanksgiving. Man, I totally lost track that Thanksgiving was this week. Sorry, Jim. You should be at home, maybe at Simon’s house or visiting with Steven and your dad. Sorry you’re stuck with me. Hey, let me take a look at the groceries you’ve bought; maybe I can make something holiday-ish out of them.”
I tut-tuted my finger at him. “Blair, you’re not getting up and cooking for me because you think I’m missing out on a holiday. I know you feel like shit; let me worry about the menu for today. And I’d rather be here with you than with anybody else, including Simon and my dad. You rest, partner. Do you want to watch the parade, or would the TV bother you?”
He sighed resignedly, and I decided he needed a foot massage for a distraction, so I went over to the couch and re-arranged our bodies so that his feet were in my lap. Blair wiggled around adjusting pillows, until he had his nest all feathered, then tossed me the remote.
“Here, Jim. You drive. See if you can find the parade. Did I ever tell you I watched it from the street one year? Naomi and me, we watched it when I was… seven. Yeah, I was seven and mom was seeing this guy, and we went with him and his daughter. She was a year older than me and bossy. She was all excited because of this Disney float, which had Snow White up on it; she adored Snow White, and she kept wanting me to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with her about it, but man… it was just too girly. Mom took me aside and made me listen to the ‘I hear you’ lecture, sort of an offshoot of the ‘if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’ sermon that I think most kids get. She didn’t take her own advice, though. She and the boyfriend got into a fight later about how wasteful she thought the parade was, using all that money and all those resources that could be better put to improving the world. We moved on soon after that.”
I had found the parade, which would be starting in maybe ten minutes, and muted the sound; we could watch and skip the endless commenting that would be accompanying the parade. I pulled Blair’s right sock off and started carefully running my hand over the sole of his foot, grasping his ankle firmly with my other hand. Another day, I might tickle his feet, if I felt like being obnoxious or if he’d been a pain in the ass, but today I just wanted to help him relax.
“We contacted your mom, Chief, when we were looking for you. She said she hadn’t heard from you since July. Was that true? Or was she just not wanting to cooperate with the cops?” I was truly curious to know if Naomi had been straight with us. She had told Simon, who’d elected to be the one to get in touch with her, to tell Blair to contact her if we found him.
Blair tensed against my hands. “How did you find my mom? And no, I haven’t talked with her since summer. Was she okay?”
“She’s fine. We tracked her down by calling that boyfriend of hers, the one who wanted to publish your dissertation -- the guy you wouldn’t sue for publishing parts of it when he didn’t have your permission. He’d kept in touch with Naomi in case you changed your mind. He’s a persistent bastard, all right. Said whenever you changed your mind, they’d print it under the terms of the original contract. Simon wouldn’t let me talk with him. Good thing, because I probably would have threatened to sue him myself.”
Blair tried to withdraw his foot from my massage, but I wouldn’t let him. His heart rate had jumped, and I wasn’t surprised that what I’d said had gotten this reaction from him. I was touching on something that we hadn’t agreed on, back in Cascade. Blair had always refused to talk about why he wouldn’t sue Sid Graham and his publishing house. It had annoyed the shit out of me that the jerk could get away with what he did.
Or was Blair reacting because I’d mentioned Naomi, not because I had reminded him of Sid’s part in him renouncing his work?
I decided to probe a little more. “I could probably sue the bastard based on what he printed about me. My lawyer said the case would be stronger if I sued you also, Chief. I told him that was out of the question.” I stopped massaging Blair’s foot and laid my hands on both of his ankles. ‘Stay put, Sandburg. Talk to me.’
“Jim, please -- just let it drop. Just… let it go. I don’t want to sue Sid.” Blair was starting to breathe faster. I didn’t want to push him into a panic attack, and maybe I was being a bastard myself, trying to worm why he wouldn’t sue out of Blair now, while he was sick and vulnerable, but… Jesus. This was one of the things that had gotten me so angry with him, after the dissertation fiasco. This was always going to come up between us, unless he would tell me why?
“Why won’t you tell me, Blair? I’ve asked you a dozen times to explain it to me. Why the hell won’t you sue the god-damned arrogant jerk who published your words without your permission? Because I just don’t get it. You’ve got a really strong case against him. And you could sure use the money. Pay off your student loans. Give it to Greenpeace, if you want, or to your mom. Put it away for your old age.” I tightened my hold on his ankles. “Chief, he should be punished for what he did.”
Blair was trying harder to pull away from me, and I caught the scent of fear emanating from him.
I gave up. Whatever his reason was, he wasn’t going to share it with me. I didn’t want him to feel afraid of me. Not like he’d been afraid of me in the spirit world. Not my Blair. He freed his legs from my hands and started to slide them to the floor. ‘You idiot. You’re kicking in his flight reflex again.’ I reached over and stopped him by smoothing the bare skin of his thighs.
“Look. Just forget I asked, okay? You’re scared, Chief. Don’t be scared of me. I can’t stand that you’re scared of me. You can keep your secret. I won’t ask you again, and maybe if neither of us brings it back up, it won’t come between us like it did before. Just calm down, Blair. You don’t have to worry about telling me about it.”
Blair had relaxed his legs, indicating, I thought, his relief that I’d dropped the subject, but then I caught a new scent from him. Shame. ’Funny, isn’t it, Chief, how those tests you gave me to identify scents with emotions worked the best with you -- my guide.’
“Don’t, Blair. Don’t feel bad. I guess I’ll just trust that you have your reasons and they must be good ones, because you’re a good person, Blair. I won’t pester you anymore. Hey, look. They’ve got Snoopy in the parade again this year.”
I talked about the floats and recaptured his foot and continued my massage, changing to the other foot later, while we watched the ballons drift above the New York City streets.
Blair was quiet; his eyes were on the TV screen, but I didn’t think his mind was really on the floats. I let him be. And I told myself firmly that I’d made him a promise to drop my questions about suing, and I could damn well keep it.
After the parade, and another round of Tylenol and soup for Blair and for me a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, we settled down to watch the Detroit Lions kick the Patriots’ butts. I liked watching football, but I had loved playing it. I still missed playing sometimes. I gave a running commentary of the game and the different plays while Blair alternated watching the game and watching me. I didn’t let on to him that I knew he was doing it. He was stewing about something, I thought. But I wasn’t going to push him to spill the beans; he’d either tell me or he wouldn’t, and I recalled my resolve to accept his keeping things from me. I didn’t like it, but if I wanted to keep Blair in my life, I’d better learn to accept it.
Blair said he was tired of lying down on the couch; he scooted and wiggled until he was upright, and I reached right over and tugged him next to me. I wanted him as close as I could have him. I’d missed him, this past year, missed touching him and scenting him and tasting him. The few things I’d been able to find of his that retained his scent had kept my reduced senses in line, but now I was mainlining the source and it felt so good. Blair as my drug of choice – I wondered if he’d be amused by that thought or horrified by it. I wondered what he’d think if he knew how much satisfaction I always felt when I could scent myself on his skin. My scent and my teeth marks on his body -- I wanted him branded as mine. I wasn’t sure if this was a sentinel thing or just a Jim and Blair thing. I hadn’t felt that way about Carolyn or other lovers. When he’d cut back on sleeping with me during his stint at the bar, and I couldn’t find my scent on his body, it had made me feel that he was slipping away from me. This time, I wasn’t going to let him sleep by himself. He belonged in my bed and that’s where he was going to sleep.
Blair relaxed against me, limp and heavy, and we watched the next game; I had a bet riding on this one with Simon. The Vikings had better win, or I’d have to hear my captain gloating about the Dallas Cowboys for weeks.
Thinking about my friend reminded me that I needed to call Findley tomorrow and have him relay a message to Simon, asking him to call us. I wanted an update on how the case was going. I also wanted him to talk to Blair. Maybe he could convince my stubborn partner to accept being in custody. Blair had said yesterday that if he agreed to stay in custody, to him that meant he was agreeing to come back to me. His logic escaped me, and I wasn’t having much luck getting him to cooperate. Simon was an authority figure for Blair, sort of a cross between a boss and an elder of the tribe; not quite a father figure, but there were overtones of that connection between them. Hopefully, he could talk some sense into Blair.
Blair had fallen asleep by the half time show, and I eased myself off the couch. I rummaged around the kitchen, looking through the supplies I had bought so hastily. Canned tuna fish, beef jerky, peanut butter, bread, bananas that were finally getting ripe enough to eat, applesauce, a few containers of yogurt, apple juice, and some more cans of various chicken soups. Chicken with Rice, Chicken with Stars, Chicken with Vegetables – I think Blair was getting tired of chicken soup judging from the face he’d made at lunch when I gave him his bowl of soup. Maybe he could handle a peanut butter and banana sandwich. If he couldn’t, it was chicken soup again, or yogurt and applesauce for Thanksgiving dinner. We’d eat when he awakened.
Blair woke up cranky, which he didn’t appreciate me pointing out to him. I felt his forehead, and his fever had dropped back to a hundred degrees. He huffed and puffed for a few moments, which altered to him almost pouting before his more usual cheerful mood took over. I’d seen this transformation a thousand times before, back in the loft. Blair was not a morning person. He wasn’t an after-a-nap person, either. Usually he needed coffee and that disgusting green drink of his before he was really able to communicate with words instead of grunts. Since we didn’t have either, it took him a little longer to join the human race.
“Hey, Chief, which would you rather have, chicken soup, or maybe a peanut butter and banana sandwich? Or some plain tuna?”
“If I eat any more chicken soup, I’m going to start squawking and laying eggs. Peanut butter and banana, please.”
He sat down at the table and watched me fix our holiday meal. I kept an eye on the tube and crowed in satisfaction when the Vikings beat the Cowboys.
“Simon owes me fifty bucks.”
“How is he, anyway? And Daryl?”
So I caught Blair up on the changes in their lives over the past year. I thought it was encouraging that he was asking about people he’d had ties with before he’d left town. Then he asked about our friends’ Thanksgiving plans.
“Simon’s at Joel’s house for Thanksgiving this year. Daryl went to his mother’s place.”
“Were you going to go to Joel’s too? Or were you eating with your dad and Steven?”
“I was going to go to Dad’s house; Steven was coming too.”
Blair sighed, and I just knew he was going to start kicking himself for being the reason I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner with Dad and my brother.
I pointed a banana at him. “Don’t even start trying to take that guilt trip, Chief. It’s not your fault. After this Edwards mess is cleared up and you’re not a target anymore, we’ll go over and Dad can wine and dine us both.”
“Do you want to call him? Does he know why you aren’t sitting at his table, stuffing turkey in your mouth?”
“He knows I’m out of town on police business, Chief. And I’m not breaking security to contact him.” Blair frowned at me, and I wondered if he wanted to call Naomi.
“Jim. He’s your dad. What would it matter to call him using Dave’s phone, or a payphone?”
“You’re probably right, but when you set up security protocols, you don’t mess with them. Sorry, Chief. You probably want to call your mother, but we can’t do that. If you want, when Simon calls us, I’ll have him contact her and let her know you’re okay.”
Blair shrugged. “I’ll wait and call her when I’m a free person again. If Simon talks to her and doesn’t tell her where I am, she’s liable to picket his office. And I’ve had enough of Mom storming in and demanding control over my life.”
“Chief, she’s your mom. She just wants you to be safe and happy.”
Blair looked less than happy right now. Why hadn’t he kept in better touch with his mother? He loved her wholeheartedly and had always wanted me to make allowances for her ways in the past. Burning sage that made me sneeze for hours and feng-shitting my furniture came to mind.
I put our sandwiches on the table, and took the soup off the stove and poured it into a bowl. Blair looked askance as I put the bowl on the table, then relieved when I slid it over by my plate.
“I’m not sick of chicken soup.” I smacked my lips over my spoonful, and Blair rolled his eyes.
After I’d eaten half the soup, I decided to feel around a little, about Naomi. Even if her visits were few and far between, they’d talked on the phone at least every month, and Naomi loved to send him long letters extolling the virtues of whatever place she’d wandered over to, or confiding she’d found a new man and what fascinated her about him. Blair had enjoyed the descriptions of her adventures and worried over the new boyfriends. But he’d never put off talking to her before.
I waited till he’d finished his sandwich and juice.
“Want another one, Chief?” Blair patted his belly and shook his head no. He needed to put on more pounds. I’d try getting him to eat more bananas. They were jammed with calories.
“So… Why haven’t you kept in touch with your mother, Chief?” I cocked my eyebrows at him and waited to see if he’d give me an honest answer.
Evidently Blair had guessed I’d ask him this because he didn’t look surprised or alarmed at my question.
“Mom was happy when I was denied the chance to become a cop. You knew that, right?” I nodded at him.
“At first, when I would land somewhere and get a job, I’d call her and tell her about it, but after a while, when I kept jumping from place to place… She didn’t approve of my jobs, either. It would have been fine if I told her I was hitchhiking across America to see the sights, or traveling with a lover and living off their coattails, but… she wasn’t comfortable knowing I was driving trucks again or welding. She kept pestering me to join her and the latest boyfriend. She’d gone through two new ones when I last talked to her in the summer. They both had money and of course they’d have been infatuated with Naomi; she would have made them pay for me too, but man… I’m thirty–one years old. I’m not letting my mother support me. She kept getting more insistent the longer I kept moving around. I finally told her I’d call her when I was settled.”
He’d brought up living with lovers, so…
“Chief, what happened to the guy you left Cascade with? And it’s okay. I got over it. I drove you to leave with him, which you know I’m sorry about. You’re off the hook for cheating on me. But I would like to know about it. I haven’t seen anybody since you left and I think it would help clear the air to get all the other relationships out in the open.”
Blair hadn’t been expecting me to ask about his lover. He looked gob-smacked.
“Come on, Blair. It’s okay. I know about him from your co-workers at that sleazy bar you worked at before you left.”
Blair looked at me without answering and he still looked bewildered. I felt like snapping my fingers under his nose to jar him back to the here and now. I wasn’t mad at him for having hooked up with somebody else. I‘d forgiven him for that already. But if he lied to me about it, there would be fireworks.
“Don’t lie about it, Sandburg. I told you I already know you left Cascade with a lover. And I said something to you about it before we switched trucks. You ignored me then, and since you were upset enough I let it slide, but like I said, we should clear the air, since we’re getting back together.”
Blair’s look of bewilderment and confusion at being caught gave way to anger. He narrowed his eyes at me and he pushed himself away from the table and stood up in a sudden, violent move.
“Two hand jobs from strangers do not a relationship make, Ellison. I had no lovers. Period. In Cascade or in any of the other cities or places I landed in. I could have. There were people interested in sleeping with me; people who wanted me – men and women. Except for those two times that I weakened and just wanted some human contact because I was horny and lonely, I wasn’t interested in finding a new lover. I was grieving for you, you jerk.”
Blair turned and walked away from me, every line of his body tight. Now I was confused. Blair didn’t smell of deception, just anger and sorrow.
“Hang on, Chief. The evidence I gathered from several witnesses stated they’d seen you talking intently to a tall, blond-haired man in his forties several times before you left. You met him at your bar. And you told your co-workers you had a better opportunity coming up and you thought you might just take it. That guy gave you money, Blair. It was noticed. He paid for your drinks, and your dinner, too. He touched you while you sat together; he touched your face, god-damn-it. Are you telling me those witnesses lied? You’d better remember what I can tell with my senses.”
Blair turned around, and his face was flushing and his hands were balling up into fists; then he answered me, and his hands were talking right along with his mouth.
“I know who your ‘witnesses’ meant. What – you handled this like it was some police investigation? Did you flash your badge, too? Jesus Christ. His name was Jack, he was a kind of talent scout for people to work at the bar I saw you with your non-girlfriend at, the one I came to for a job interview.
Blair moved towards me and then caught himself and shifted several steps away.
“Yes, I let him buy me drinks and dinner while he made the pitch. He touched my hair, said it was beautiful and they were looking for lively, attractive people to work there to make it a fun place for people to entertain. He’d watched me work the crowd at The Meeting Place, and said I had a talent for being entertaining as a bartender and when I waited tables. And I was good at it, Jim. I put on my happy face and I flirted with customers. It was a job. I told you back then to get over it. It was a frickin’ job. I never touched Jack or any of the customers. I smiled at them. I gave compliments. I teased them. That’s all. Jack gave me money when I agreed to come for an interview and see the place. I never saw him again after that. He wasn’t even at the bar when I saw you, when I came to talk about a job there. They were going to pay me twice what I was making at The Meeting Place.”
He looked angrily at me and said, “Does your nose tell you I’m telling the truth? Well, here’s a message for your eyes.” He gave me the finger and stomped over to the other end of the living room, and stared out the patio glass doors.
I had used my senses and he was telling the truth. Shit. But he’d left out the part where the job offer included prostitution and how he’d been grabbed all the time at The Meeting Place. I wasn’t going to leave that thread hanging. I’d pull it and see what else unraveled.
“What about all those times you were forced to sit in customer’s laps? You weren’t touching them, but they sure as hell were touching you. They’d run their hands over your butt all the time. They touched your dick, god-damn-it! I saw that and it made me seethe. Why the hell do you think I kept asking you to quit that job? I would have covered your bills; you know I would have done it gladly.”
I got up from my chair, too agitated to sit there any longer, and moved halfway towards where Blair had turned from the window to listen to me. He wrapped his arms around himself, leaning against the glass doors, and I considered keeping the rest of my thoughts to myself, but… no. This had been a long time coming and I wanted him to know how his actions had torn me up.
“You would come home in the morning and take a shower before even coming close to me. The morning, Chief. I knew what time you got off work. You were avoiding me until you could clean up so I wouldn’t smell the scents of other men’s and women’s hands on you. Why was that better than letting me help you? And did Jack, the employment procurer, mention that he was a procurer in flesh too? That the new job you were interested in included fucking select customers in exchange for their money? Did you ever stop and wonder why I was undercover there? The place was a front for prostitution and gun running.”
“It was what?” And Blair’s eyes had widened with surprise.
“A front for gunrunning and prostitution. I guess they hadn’t made that part of the job offer to you yet. Your guy Jack, he probably got the idea you’d be willing to fuck for money by watching you let strangers handle your body, and all you’d do was chuckle at them and wiggle off their laps. God, it drove me crazy to watch and not be able to stop them.”
Blair stopped shaking his head at what I’d been saying and his face tightened. He glared at me; I realized that I’d said more than I meant to, but – what the hell – this clearing the air went two ways.
“And how, James Joseph Ellison, did you see what anybody was doing at my job? Fuck. You were spying on me, weren’t you? You didn’t trust me, you used your vision -- your gifts -- to sneak and watch me. My own lover was stalking me. And I didn’t do anything wrong! They touched me; I didn’t encourage them. I had to let them. I needed the job so I could pay my share of our bills. I couldn’t let you think of me as sponging off you. Not like --”
Blair didn’t finish that sentence but he and I both knew he meant his mother.
“Blair. Why didn’t you tell them no? You have a right not to be molested. Why was it okay to think of yourself as a commodity at work, to be fondled and touched to make money, just so I wouldn’t think you were what… trading sex for rent and groceries? I would never think that of you. You’re my partner – we share. If I was broke, you’d split whatever you had with me. You know you would. Why didn’t you tell me what was going on with you? It wasn’t until I started this investigation that I found out about all the other jobs you lost before you went to work at that bar. Why didn’t you tell me you were getting the shaft? I would have looked into it. At the least, I could have been there for you, instead of thinking you were getting itchy feet, quitting those jobs before you hardly got started in them.”
Blair was staring at me, the smell of his distress so strong I felt inundated with his scent.
I waited for him to say something – anything – till he whispered, “I wanted to protect you.”
Then his voice grew a little stronger and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself or me.
“When you love someone, you don’t tell about things that would hurt or bother the person you love and have to protect. You suck it up; you deal with it yourself. I didn’t want you to worry about me; I didn’t want to be any trouble for you. If I was high maintenance, you might get rid of me.”
He was trembling and he ran his hands through his hair. I was listening hard to his words because he was handing me a key here to understanding him. I don’t think he realized he was doing it; I wasn’t sure he had ever put these words together before now.
“I… molested? No, it was okay if they touched me because I let them. I couldn’t lose that job; I couldn’t keep any other job, not in Cascade. So I had to let them because touching me made them happy and I could keep working and making money to pay my bills and I had to pay my bills. You wouldn’t want me around if I were just your rent boy. You wouldn’t respect me, but hey – I guess that backfired because you don’t respect me anyway. Because I didn’t stop strangers from touching me, and you spied on me, and you saw them doing it to me. I thought it was different if I didn’t respond but apparently not to you. I always suspected you thought I was a slut – all those table leg comments – and now I know you didn’t trust me. You thought I cheated on you. You thought I was signing on to be a whore when you saw me at my job interview. God, how can you say you want me back when this is what you think of me?”
Blair held out both his hands palms outward, like a shield between him and me.
“No… I can’t talk anymore. I want to be by myself. I want to process what happened here. I’ve had no privacy for over a week now; I’ve been watched – in the jail, by you – and I need some time, man.”
Blair looked around and spotted the old guitar Findley had sent along with us. He walked over and opened the case, lifted it out and carried it to the biggest bedroom. He turned to look at me, and I saw the bleak despair written all over his face.
“I know you want to make sure I’m not climbing out the window, so here’s the plan. I’m going in this room and shutting the door. I’ll be making sounds on the guitar so you’ll know I’m still in there. I can’t climb out a window and play chords at the same time, so that’s your assurance I’m still here. If you try and handcuff me right now, Jim, I swear I’ll fight you with everything I have. Just let me be. I have to work through what you said and what I did.”
He opened the door and went inside, and I watched the door shut. I heard him sitting down on the bed. The guitar was out of tune, and Blair spent some time getting the old beater back in shape. Then he began some slow blues tune that rolled and flowed, the sound a mournful reminder of just how fucked up two people could be with each other.
A Fair Distance: Ball and Chain. Chapter Seven