Warning: Spoilers for TSbyBS
I never thought I would feel uncomfortable checking the calls on the answering machine. Well, there's a first time for everything.
Jim and I had been away for the weekend, trying to get over the rift in our friendship, to get the easy comradeship back that marked our relationship for so long. It hadn't been easy; neither of us was comfortable with talking about his feelings, but we were back on an even keel and slowly getting better.
I told Jim how much it had hurt me that he thought I was capable of selling him out, how his harsh and brutal comments had cut into me.
Jim apologized, telling me about the betrayals in his life and that he had lashed out at me out of anger, confusion and a feeling of helplessness. He had been totally exposed to the world, the whole thing rapidly spiraling out of control. If Jim can't stand one thing, it's being out of control. He has a hard time dealing with situations where others call the shots. Now the guilt he felt about treating me like an enemy, refusing to talk with me, was overwhelming.
We worked a lot of things out in these few days. Not everything was great right now, but at least we both felt better and were certain that within time we would be alright.
So I was relaxed and in a good mood when we entered the loft, until I saw the flashing light on the answering machine.
In the first few days after my press conference, Jim answered the phone and listened to the messages. I'm sure there were some pretty nasty ones because sometimes he clenched his jaw and got really tense after that task was done.
On our trip I recovered somewhat from the state of shock I had fallen into after my declaration as a fraud and my dismissal from the University and I insisted on taking care of the messages on my own. It wouldn't do me any good to hide from the results of my action, sooner or later I had to face the situation.
So after we hung our coats and stowed our gear away, I slowly walked over to the answering machine, and after a slight hesitation, pushed the button.
"Blair, It's Marc. I can't believe you. You were always talking about the importance of proper research and reliable sources and now you throw your values out like that. Seems the preacher didn't ..."
Delete. There went another friend.
Mr. Sandburg, Jonathan Black from the Cascade Times, would you please..."
"Mr. Sandburg, this is Maureen Hawkins from the Cascade Herald..."
"Blair, it's me, Eli."
Dele... Whoa. I stopped dead in my tracks. That was the voice of Eli Stoddard, my former mentor. I had feared this call ever since I declared my work as fraudulent.
"I'm very disappointed in you, young man."
The dread I felt as I heard Eli's voice turned into ice, filling my whole being. Jim had turned towards me as soon as he realized who the caller was, but I couldn't look him in the eyes. My gaze was locked on the answering machine. I swallowed hard, trying to get past the lump that had lodged in my throat. With a growing feeling of doom I listened as Eli continued.
"Couldn't you think of something better to do than to destroy your career and ruin your reputation to protect your friend?"
"Come on, son. You didn't believe that I would think you were capable of doing something like that, did you?"
I couldn't believe my ears. Eli called me 'son' twice before. In both situations, he had been especially proud of me. The first one was when we were studying a tribe in the Amazon rainforest and I managed to diffuse a critical situation. The second one was when I got my Masters in Anthropology. He had been there at the ceremony and as he congratulated me, he said, "I'm proud of you, son." I don't know if Eli ever realized how much that meant to me.
So instead of the expected hurt and anger about me falsifying my dissertation, Eli believed in me? He didn't think I would be able to fake my diss?
After so many of my friends and colleagues turned their backs on me in scorn, I had come to expect the worst when one of my former acquaintances called. Seemed like some people were glad to have an outlet for their frustrations and bad feelings. Why else would they bother to call and tell me in no uncertain terms what they thought about me?
Leave it to Eli to surprise me. The man had been like a surrogate father to me during my first years at Rainier. He managed to calm my exuberance, to get me to channel my energy into something useful. Eli Stoddard saw right through the facade I presented to the world and discovered the lost and unsure soul behind it. Who knows where I would be now without his encouragement and patience?
"Besides, everyone who bothers to look a little closer will find enough evidence to suspect that your dissertation was true. You two left a trail a mile long. What about when Ellison claimed in court that he could identify a suspect he saw at night, at an impossible distance? And this rouge CIA agent; why did he need Ellison's help? There is a lot of other evidence pointing in that direction. And why did you ride with him for three years if not for him being a Sentinel? You see Blair, even if you had the best intentions, you two are standing on shaky ground."
Eli's voice changed, holding warm affection. "I'm proud of you for putting your friendship first, for not being lured by the offer of money and fame. I can't imagine what that cost you, standing in front of the press and tearing your life apart. I wish I had a friend that loyal. Mr. Ellison, if you're listening, I hope you appreciate his sacrifice and treat him like the treasure he is. Blair, if you need to talk, please call me. You have my number."
Now Eli obviously addressed both of us:
"I hope you two can figure something out to restore Blair's reputation and career. I was looking forward to reading more of his articles. Please don't disappoint me."
Eli sighed. "Whatever you decide to do with your life, Blair, I'll be there for you. I hope you know that. Please call me back soon."
Finally, I was able to face Jim. His eyes were suspiciously bright and the smile on his face could light up a room. He slowly came over to me.
I couldn't hide that huge, relieved grin that crept onto my face. Eli believed in me. The man that was like a father to me hadn't fallen for my lie. The second most important person in my life was still there for me. The numbness I had felt since this whole mess began slowly abated and gave room for a feeling of giddiness.
Finally, Jim stood in front of me, the expression on his face one of wonder, tenderness and something else I couldn't quite determine. He cupped my face between his hands and locked his gaze with mine.
"Eli is right, you know? You're a treasure and I'm grateful to call you my friend. And we'll work something out to get you your life back."
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