Dedication: To you all with prayers for peace on earth in the coming year.
A light snow is falling, blanketing the Cascades in a soft, fleecy coverlet of white. It's later in the day than I'd planned to make this trek, but as so often happens, Sandburg had to stay later at Rainer than he'd planned. No matter. Even if it's dusk by the time we find the perfect tree and start home again, I won't have a problem finding our way. Being a Sentinel can come in handy sometimes.
Sandburg's ahead of me, scouting for our tree. I study the minute flakes of snow as they cling to the dark canvas of his long hair, painting his curls with a sprinkling of white. For a moment, I scan them one-by-one, trying to determine if it's really true what they say about no two snowflakes being identical. I catch myself falling too deeply into my sense of sight and pull myself up short.
The last thing Sandburg needs is a zoned Sentinel deep in the snowy Cascades on Christmas Eve.
Our third Christmas as...
The thought lies uncompleted.
The first December we knew each other, I would have filled in the blank with the words researcher and subject. It had only been a couple of months, and I still thought of him as a sometimes annoying graduate student following me around in exchange for help with my wayward senses. That first December, I volunteered, as I always had, for holiday duty. The kid was beside me every minute of every shift, but I didn't think much of it. He was Jewish, after all. Wasn't he?
By the second Christmas, I knew better than to classify our relationship strictly on the basis of the sentinel/guide thing. I would have called us friends. We'd been through a lot together, after all. Even my hang-up about calling Sandburg partner had pretty much disappeared by the time our second holiday season rolled around. I decided not to volunteer for duty Christmas Eve and Day, and Sandburg hung out at the loft with me. I didn't ask if he had plans, and he never volunteered the information. We didn't do much in the way of celebrating, though. We'd just come off a tough homocide - days on top of days of double shifts - and we were both thankful just to rest. No tree. No gifts. Nothing special.
This year, Sandburg brought up the holidays. Or rather, he brought out the holidays. First, an old brass menorah found its way onto a small table he'd moved near the fireplace. Next, he found my old box of decorations down in the basement and dragged it up to the loft. Without saying a word, my roommate made it obvious that this year, we were doing the holidays right. At least, we were going to celebrate our own special blend of the holiday season.
For some odd reason, I had absolutely no problem with that.
When Carolyn and I were married, I hated the entire month of December. Thanksgiving was okay. Caro's a pretty decent cook, and if there's one thing I enjoy, it's a good meal. Only problem was, the coming of Thanksgiving meant Christmas was right around the corner.
It's not that I have a problem with Christmas in and of itself. I'm not an outwardly religious man, but I consider myself spiritual. There's a difference.
Sandburg would probably get a laugh out of that, but it's true. I believe there's something out there...Someone...who sometimes gives us what we need, but often in ways we least expect it. I've seen too much and experienced too much not to believe that.
Sandburg turns around to check on me and grins broadly as I blink snow from my eyelids.
Right there, walking only steps ahead of me, is all the proof I need.
When my senses first erupted, threatening to drown me in their power, I desperately needed help. Even if I was too stubborn and independent to admit it, even to myself. Someone saw my desperation, though, and sent me exactly what I needed. Even if, at the time, I didn't quite recognize the package for the tremendous gift it contained. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that the bright, flickering flame that was Blair Jacob Sandburg would be the fire I needed so badly to warm my cold heart and thaw my frozen soul.
But he was.
If the gift of Sandburg wasn't enough to awaken a sense of belief, I've experienced more proof through the past few years. Certainly seeing my long-dead Shaman, Incacha, not to mention the spirit Sentinel of old and an invisible jaguar and wolf, have convinced me that there's something beyond this life.
No, the problem I had with Carolyn's version of Christmas wasn't spiritual, although at that time, I hadn't experienced the remarkable things I have since. It was more the way the holidays became a production. Now that I think about it, things spiritual didn't enter into the formula at all.
Caro decorated the loft to its rafters. It took days.
I had nothing to do with it, of course. Even if I had been willing to help, Carolyn wouldn't have let me.
If I had lent my masculine hand to her decorating scheme, it wouldn't have been her vision of the perfect home at Christmas. By the time she finished, the place would have qualified for the cover of some interior design magazine.
It no longer felt like home.
After we split, I never put up another holiday decoration.
Until this year.
Already, red and green candles lend their festive glow to the loft, and small pieces of fresh greenery and red berries are tucked onto shelves and tables. A small fresh wreath hangs on the door, and Blair's menorah stands guard over a tiny creche he found at a second-hand shop downtown. An old quilt scrap awaits the tree, to become a tree skirt and hold the presents I know will find their way home this year. It's not much, and it all appeared without my having a hand in it.
It feels right.
It feels like home.
Sandburg's excited announcement jerks me to reality. He's standing before a medium-sized tree - thankfully, he doesn't expect me to haul forth a behemoth - his face wreathed in a smile.
"Look at it, Jim! It's exactly what I was looking for." Expectant blue eyes turn to me. "Do you like it?"
I walk around the tree, inspecting it from all angles. "Seems a bit sparse here on this side, Chief. You sure this is the one you want? We've got time to look alittle more for one that's perfect."
I remember growing up, how my father would drag Steven and me around to every tree lot in the city, searching for the perfect tree. None of them were ever deemed perfect, of course, but each year we would wear ourselves out looking for one that would do.
Blair cocks his head quizzically. "Perfect? Nothing's ever perfect, man. This one's got character, though, and it's a good, deep green color. The branches are strong to hold the ornaments and lights, and if we turn the side that's not as full to the wall, no one will ever know its flaws but us." He hesitates, then adds, "Unless there's something else... Something I'm not seeing."
Character. Strength. Richness of color. Possessing flaws, certainly, but nothing so noticeable they can't be kept between us.
"It's perfect, Chief." I smile broadly, in spite of myself. Who said things must be perfect anyway? That's my father's mind-set, but it doesn't have to be mine. This tree captured Blair's imagination, therefore, it's perfect for him, and by definition, for me as well. I take my axe in both hands and prepare to cut. "Let's bring it home."
"Wait!" Blair peers into the branches. "Look."
I move to stand behind him and gaze deep within the tree's needles. "It's an old bird's nest," I comment, reaching inside. "I'll pull it out, and..."
Blair's gloved hand seizes my wrist firmly. "No. Didn't anyone ever tell you it's good luck to find a bird's nest in your Christmas tree?" His eyes twinkle at me as tiny, perfect crystals of snow cling to his thick, dark lashes.
I turn to stare at the tangled maze of small twigs and leaves. A faint odor reaches my nostrils over the freshness of the falling snow. An old, dirty, smelly bird's nest? Good luck?
A mental image of my father dragging a tree with such a nest into his perfectly decorated home flashes through my mind, and I can't help chuckling. "Good luck, huh, Chief? Well, we usually need all the luck we can get." I pull my hand back through the branches, bringing Blair's arm along in tow.
I decide to ask him a question that's been on my mind for days. Setting the axe down beside the tree, I turn to him. "Chief? Before I cut, I'd like to ask you something. If it's none of my business, just say so."
Sandburg looks up at me, open and waiting. "You can ask me anything, Jim. You know that."
I do know that. It's another unexpected treasure that came with the gift of his friendship. He trusts me - completely and without hesitation.
"You're Jewish, right? So...why the tree? The creche? All of it?" I shrug, a little embarassed. "I figured you'd be more comfortable if we just skipped the whole Christmas thing."
Blair smiles at me and looks around the mountainside for a moment. "My heritage is Jewish, Jim. You're right about that, but Naomi didn't practice any particular faith when I was growing up. She exposed me to a wide range of beliefs. In my own travels and studies, I've learned about many faiths. For a long time, I didn't even consider myself a believer in anything. Then..."
He stops, seemingly struggling for the words to express what he is feeling, his emotions clearly reflected in the endless blue pools of his eyes. I wait patiently, knowing that once Sandburg finds the words, they'll be well worth the wait.
"I've changed, Jim. Since I met you, I guess." Blair studies my face, a look of near-wonderment reflected in those indigo eyes. "Too much has happened in the past three years for me not to believe there's more out there - something or someone bigger than us, y'know? I found you, man. I mean that's pretty much a miracle in and of itself. In this whole country - this whole, huge world - that I would end up in the same city as..." Blair's face lights with laughter. "...my Holy Grail!"
A hearbeat later, his face grows solemn. "So many times, I've come so close to...losing you...or losing my own life. But we're still here, man. We're still here."
Blair grabs my hands in his and squeezes tightly. Even through our gloves, I can feel his warmth. "We're still here," he says quietly. "Look around us. The mountains...the snow...the peacefulness of it all. Our friendship."Blair shakes his head slowly. "I don't know. Somehow, I just feel it was all meant to be. That I'm supposed to be here. With you. I felt for so long like I belonged somewhere,and when I found you, I was home."
"That's why I don't mind the tree. Why I like having the menorah around, too. I don't know which religion has the answers. Maybe nobody has the complete picture, y'know? I'm not sure it really even matters, as long as we love each other and work toward peace. Does that make any sense?"
I gaze into the intent blue eyes, then I gently pull one hand loose from his to cup Blair's face. "Makes perfect sense to me, Chief." I don't mind the catch I hear in my voice.
Blair's eyes probe my own, then he smiles softly. That smile goes straight to my heart, twisting it in an aching, almost possessive pain. So much wisdom in one so young.
I pull him to me and feel Blair's arms come around my waist without hesitation. Even through my winter coat, I feel the pulsing beat of his heart. I tighten my embrace and hear his soft sigh of contentment as he welcomes the closeness and the warmth. Lowering my head to rest on his shoulder, I breathe in the fragrance of him, the essence of this man I have come to trust and to love, not only as my guide, but as my friend...my son...my brother...as my teacher and my student. Blair's face presses against my neck, the soft puffs of his breath warm and sweet against my skin.
We stand there for what could as easily be hours as minutes. Time's meaning is forgotten in a rare, perfect moment of harmony. Neither of us feels the inclination to speak or to break the embrace. We've both found where we belong, and we're content to stand here on this mountainside and soak in its rightness.
There are miracles in the world, after all, at this time of year and in all seasons. Sometimes they are not the major, earth-shaking miracles we would have to confirm our faith in what lies beyond our vision, but merely the everyday, ordinary kinds of miracles.
Like the first snowfall on Christmas Eve.
Like a perfectly imperfect evergreen tree waiting on a mountainside.
Like finding the missing piece of one's very soul, along with a peace you never knew you were lacking.
For this moment...in this place...there truly is peace on earth.
May it spread, take root, and thrive.
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