Notes: When I first began writing TSFF, I started a yearly tradition of writing a new story for this series each summer on vacation. This year's story was written on Jekyll Island, a small barrier island off the Georgia coast. Of all the places where I've traveled, it's the place I feel most at home and at peace. The series began shortly after TSbyBS and followed the storyline that Blair would attend the Academy. Since it started in this vein, I have continued it that way. However, Blair-as-cop hardly figures into them at all, so hopefully, those readers who don't usually read such stories will not find the Soliloquy stories too offensive. <g> Anyway, I hope you will enjoy this story. If you do, please let me know. Feedback is a wonderful reward.
Giver of Light
Maybe there is something more calming than watching the sun dipping slowly toward its nightly rendezvous with the sea, but so far, I haven't found it. Especially when the sunset is accompanied by the delicious anticipation of a thick, juicy steak grilled to perfection, a cold beer, and a slice of sweet apple pie a la mode. Add to that the reality of no work, no phones, no demands on me either as cop or sentinel and I do believe that this is as close to heaven as I'm likely to get on this earth.
And then there's Sandburg.
When we first began this two week vacation tradition several years ago, when we first began coming to this weathered old house by the sea for some much needed R&R, I began to notice a pattern. I call it Sandburg Vacation Syndrome.
Actually, the symptoms of the syndrome begin before long we leave Cascade. That's when I see the signs that stage one has begun - the fretting stage. For my workaholic guide, taking two weeks off is a reason for major concern. I think Sandburg was born busy. I have this vision of Naomi leaving the hospital with baby Blair, his hands already clutching a pen and a book. Or maybe a little laptop. For all his brilliance, the kid has never really learned to relax. Without help from me, that is.
His excuses not to go are numerous and richly varied: 'Jim, man, I just have too much to do this year... Simon'll kill me if I don't get that report on the Major Crimes cold case files to him... I'm in charge of arranging the volunteer rotation down at the soup kitchen this month... I promised Dr. Stoddard that I'd assist him in writing that paper based on the research we did a couple of years ago. It's a chance to do some work in anthropology again, Jim, and I just can't let Eli down... If I don't get my computer files organized, I'm not gonna be able to find a thing, and you know how Simon expects us to be able to pull up our records at the drop of a hat...'
I could write a book.
I don't bother arguing with him. There's no purpose trying to counter Blair's excuses. It's just a part of the syndrome, after all. These things must run their course. I patiently nod in agreement and firmly, but nicely, reinforce the fact that the house has been rented, that Simon's already given us the time off, that we're going, and that Ellison Vacation Rule Number One will be in effect for the entire two weeks.
Very important rule, the old Number One: No Work Allowed While On Vacation.
Once I've laid down the law in no uncertain terms, Sandburg usually passes out of stage one in a day or two and resigns himself to the fact that we are taking a vacation. A vacation with absolutely no work.
The next step in the Sandburg Syndrome is Hyper-Packing. A particularly entertaining stage, once I got past letting the messiness of it bother me.
Blair always waits until the last minute to pack. At midnight the evening before our early morning departure, he's scampering around like a crazed squirrel, tossing clothes around the loft - some of which actually find their way into his duffel. There's a variety of clothing appropriate for any kind of weather - from sub-zero in the arctic to a heat wave in Haiti. In between his clothes-tossing, Blair's on the phone making calls to everyone he knows. Why, I haven't quite figured out, but it seems important to him that he notify every name in his address book that he'll be out of touch for a couple of weeks. Fine. Whatever gets us out of Cascade and to the beach is okay by me.
During the Hyper-Packing phase of the syndrome, Blair makes at least a dozen trips to the basement laundry room, and he asks me enough questions about what I'm taking to drive the most patient of men over the edge of sanity. The first few years, it almost made me swear off all future vacations with Sandburg. Then I realized that the frantic packing was all part of the ritual - The Sandburg Vacation Syndrome. After that, I was able to view it as rather humorous to watch. After all, my picking's simple. Fold up a few pairs of shorts and some shirts, throw in my shaving kit, and I'm done. The military taught me to pack fast and pack light.
Apparently something they do not teach at the Academy these days.
Once we arrive at the house, stages three and four kick in. In a very strict sequence, I might add. The whole Sandburg Vacation Syndrome is a little like those theories of child development Sandburg's told me about. Like a developing child, Blair has to pass through one stage to arrive at the next.
Stage three is the nesting stage. Blair prowls around the rambling old house like a dog - or perhaps a wolf would be more appropriate - establishing his territory. He checks out each room, pointing out what's new or been moved to a different place. Sometimes I think the kid has a photographic memory. Anyway, this year he discovered new blinds in the bedrooms, three new videos in the collection, and a new braided rug in the living area. After inspecting the house, Blair throws the windows open wide and opens the sliding doors to the sound and scent of the sea. Then, he moves his hastily packed stuff into 'his' room and unpacks, thereby establishing his domain. Before long, there are candles burning and hot tea brewing, and our favorite popcorn is popping away in the microwave.
Home away from home.
For a guy who never really had a home until he met me, Sandburg sure did learn to create and feather his nest wherever he goes.
That's stage three.
By that first night, he's drifted into the fourth and final stage of the Sandburg Syndrome - Surrender to Rest and Relaxation. I know he's once again passed safely through the syndrome when, as we sit out on the back deck beneath a canopy of stars, Blair stretches broadly in his chaise lounge. His hands and arms reach high over his head, his leg muscles flex and straighten, and he yawns broadly before grinning at me in undisguised contentment. He's a new man already - relaxed and at ease. Then he says quietly, just loud enough for a Sentinel to hear, "Thanks, man, for making me come. This is so great, Jim. Just us, the sea, and lots of peace and quiet. I really needed this."
I know you did, kid. We both did.
With the threads of such small rituals are the quilts of life pieced together and sewn.
I've begun to mark the mileposts of our lives by this annual two weeks by the sea. The first year, Blair was on the brink of entering the academy. He was standing on the precipice of a new life while all the bridges of his previous life lying in smoldering ruins behind him. I know he was scared of the vast and unknown future stretching out before him. So many sacrifices, and all for the sake of our friendship.
I'd never loved him more than I did that first summer.
Last year was the summer when I was the one reeling in shock after nearly having killed my partner with a bullet from my own gun. The storm that moved in from the sea one volatile night paled in comparison to the turbulence of my own emotions. In the end, though, the sea, Blair, and I found our peace. We all weathered the storm. We survived.
This year, there is nothing spectacular to mark. No traumas. No emotional blow-ups. Nothing earth-shattering or life-threatening. It has been a totally 'average' year. Well, average for most cops, not for us. Our 'average' years usually consist of the most incredible, most dangerous cases imaginable.
This year, things have been relatively quiet. Oh, we've faced our yearly allotment of bad guys, psychos, and the lot, but it was a year devoid of trauma. At least, there was nothing on the scale of an Alex or Lash.
Blair and I had no major arguments. Of course, we had the normal day-to-day skirmishes that two very different men sharing a job, a loft, and a life are bound to experience, but we never lost sight of what mattered, never lost touch with each other's hearts.
The twelve preceding months have been unexpectedly - blessedly - calm. My wise partner says nothing in this universe happens randomly. Maybe someone up there was watching over us, knew we needed a break and took pity on an overworked, overstressed Sentinel and his Guide.
On the other hand, maybe it simply means that the next year is going to be particularly hellacious. I'm going to try not to think about that possibility.
As the July sun descends toward the waiting sea, we rest quietly on the wide expanse of white, sandy beach. Our towels were spread out early this morning, while the sky was still that perfect luminous pink hue, like a rare Pacific pearl after a misty morning rain. We've spent the entire day by the sea, making a few quick trips inside for sustenance or rest room breaks, but always returning to our private sandy paradise.
That's one of the things I love most about this place. Sheltered on both sides by rocky outcroppings, our beach is mercifully private. I don't think about it much in the city, but my life is a constantly noisy existence. The city is loud enough for normal hearing, but for Sentinel ears, it's a never-ending chaotic and dissonant hodge-podge of sound. I can control it, sure, but it's always there - a cacophony that is the background of my life.
Here, it's quiet. I can let go a bit of the constant control over my senses I must exercise back in Cascade. The only sounds in this place are those of nature, and they only serve to soothe my soul. It is a peace that I welcome with gratitude.
This has been a day for few words, and that's okay. Funny how over the years, we've both become more and more like the other. Now, I'm no longer uncomfortable laughing and clowning around with Blair when the mood strikes me, and he's perfectly content on balmy, molasses days like this to sit quietly beside me and say very little. Sometimes, words only get in the way.
A pelican flies out over the ocean, gliding easily on powerful wings of brown and tan. I focus on those wings, marveling at the intricacies of feathers perfectly designed to provide the miracle of flight to such an awkward-looking bird. The pelican freezes for an instant in mid-air, tucks back its wings, and nose dives toward the sea. A second later, floating on the ocean, its head tilts back and a silvery fish slides down the pelican's throat.
I smile at the simple pleasure of watching a bird make a successful catch.
Blair has been watching me, a contemplative look on his face. I recognize the longing in his eyes and immediately understand exactly what he is longing for. I understand what it is that Blair needs.
He has dedicated his life to me, helping me control senses that he'll never really understand. Oh, he understands on a purely academic level. Even on an instinctual level as my Guide. Yet, that's not quite enough.
Blair is the most sensitive and caring person I've ever met. He would do anything to help me with my senses, with the problems they can present, yet he will never experience the beauty of my world.
Too often, Sandburg sees the negatives of being a Sentinel. He sees the pain sensory spikes can bring. He is witness to the paralyzing fear that senses suddenly out of control can trigger. Yet, despite his expertise in helping me cope with these problems, he'll never know the perfection of a pelican's wings as it soars in the sun. Blair will never see the individual droplets of water that make up the ocean's spray, and he'll never taste fully the tartness of salt in the air. The realization makes me sad for everything I experience that he can never know.
We share so much, Blair and I. He has shared both my highest peaks of triumph and my deepest depths of despair. Not being able to share this important aspect of my life as a Sentinel with my Guide frustrates me. It hurts me because I know it tantalizes him, yet there's nothing he can do about it.
Perhaps, there is a way.
Blair's gazing out to sea, no longer focused on me. He turns to me in obvious surprise when I put my hands on his shoulders and push gently. "Lie down." I keep my voice quiet so I will not startle him. "Close your eyes."
Another man would probably run for cover or demand an explanation. Not Sandburg. Blair does exactly as I ask and lies back on his towel. I know I've never deserved his trust, but I hope that what I am about to try will, at the very least, not undermine it. I don't want to add a stage five to the Sandburg Vacation Syndrome: Avoid Your Crazy Sentinel Whenever Possible.
I try to explain. "Blair, I know you can't see what I see or hear all that I hear. What's so ironic is that of the two of us, you're the one who would best appreciate the gifts I've been given. I want to share something of it with you, if you'll trust me."
As if sensing that words will be necessary only from me, that something very special and extremely fragile is weaving its web between us and words might only rip apart the delicate fibers, Blair only nods. I can see his body relax into his towel, and his eyes remain close, his face relaxed.
"Your sense of sight is what it is. I can't do much to enhance it, so keep your eyes closed. Just stay relaxed and let your other senses do all the work. I'm going to go slowly, and I promise, I won't ask you to do anything you'd be uncomfortable with, so just trust me."
He doesn't protest, doesn't question, and so I wait, allowing him time to relax even deeper into the moment. I think of his 'Guide's voice' in my mind and try to emulate it as best I can.
"First, I want you to focus on your sense of touch. Even without moving, there's so much that your body can feel. The sun's still out, a little lower on the horizon, but it's warm. Feel the warmth of the sun on your body. Concentrate on its warmth, on its heat as it touches your skin."
I slide a little closer to him so my voice can remain low. I want him focused on what he's experiencing, not on me, so it's important to keep my presence as non-distracting as possible. I've learned something from the kid through the years, after all.
"Keep feeling the warmth of the sun, and then, let yourself feel the towel beneath your body. It's soft, cottony, and warm from the sun's rays. Feel it beneath your legs... your back... your arms and head. Feel every place it touches you, how soft it is and how warm."
Blair's face is totally relaxed, and a tiny smile curves the edges of his lips. His skin is bronzed from long hours in the sun, but there's a narrow white band of skin peeking over the waist of his cut-off jeans. If I look closely, I can see tiny salt crystals clinging to the thick curls of his chest hair, leftover reminders of an earlier swim in the sea.
"Now move beyond the sun and the towel. You're lying on a bed of sand. Every inch of the beach beneath your body is composed of millions of tiny crystals. Feel the sand beneath the towel. Let yourself experience every contour, every plane and valley in the sand."
On impulse, I cup my hand and scoop up a handful of white, clean sand. Reaching out, I slowly drizzle it over his arm and shoulder.
"Feel its texture... how it slides over your skin and rolls back to the beach. Some of it clings, holding on against gravity, to your body. Feel the difference in temperature where the sand is. It's a little warmer... maybe a little heavier."
As I talk to him, Blair's face turns slightly toward me, a mirror of my own 'listening stance', as he calls it. In that moment, I see myself in him. We've become so much a part of each other, he and I. Partners in fact long before we became partners in name.
An idea comes to me, and I decide to take this experiment a step farther.
"You know where I am. Let your body act as a thermometer. It's warmer where I am... you can detect the heat of my body... you would be able to find me even with your eyes closed, even if I was not speaking, just as I can find you when I need to."
Once again, the secret smile touches his mouth, and I answer with one of my own. Blair is understanding, and that pleases me.
"Now, I want you to keep all the sensations of touch, keep them in your awareness, but move beyond touch. This is a difficult sense to use indirectly, but you can find it if you try. In the air around us are all different tastes. Taste and smell are linked, remember, so you're going to use them together as one."
I sample the air with my own senses, needing to discover which odors, which tastes, are strongest so that I can lead Blair to them. He seems comfortable in the long silence, relaxed and at ease with where I'm taking him. Satisfied with what I've found, I begin with the obvious.
"The sea is all around us, here on the beach as well as when we're in the water. Take a long, slow breath. That's it... as you inhale, filter out the other scents and find the sea. That shouldn't be hard. It's such a powerful scent. As you breathe out, taste the sea. Open your mouth a little... then breathe in through your mouth. Feel the salt on your tongue and taste its flavor, wilder than table salt and so much stronger. It tastes of life, Blair, and wildness. Taste for yourself all the life contained in the sea. Keep breathing deeply, in and out, tasting... smelling... "
I watch Blair breathe, then indulge a little in my own sensory exploration. Taking long, slow breaths, I breathe in his scent, so familiar and so very much a part of me. An integral part of who I am and what I have become. I would know Blair's scent anywhere, could distinguish him from a thousand others - from a million - and find him among the masses. It is an astonishing feeling, and humbling, to know someone so very intimately.
Then, I, too, sample the air with my mouth, and I taste him on the air. When I first realized that I could actually taste another's presence near me, I hesitated to use that particular ability. It seemed, somehow, a violation of privacy. Frankly, I use that skill very seldom, and normally, only with Sandburg. I've never shared that with him, the fact that I can actually taste his essence in the air around him. It's a private thing, something I use infrequently to bond more closely with my Guide, even if he has no idea I'm doing it. It's a very personal, very private act, to draw his essence into my own body, to make him part of me. Private, but somehow, very important in the Sentinel/Guide scheme of things.
Leaning in, I decide to try something similar with Blair. It seems only fair, considering. "Focus on me now... see if you can isolate me, using the heat of my body and my scent. Keep breathing through your mouth and draw in what you can of me... that's how I find you sometimes, you know. Every person has a unique scent, even their own flavor in the air around them, and I know yours so well, I could find you in a crowded stadium, if I had to, even without my sight or hearing."
He smiles at that, obviously pleased at my admission, and his smile warms my heart. He asks so little, really. Just respect for what he does and the occasional reinforcement that I care.
"That's the way, Chief. See how focusing, the way you've always worked with me to do, really does make a difference? You've taught me that - how to use my talents to their fullest. I've always figured you could do it, too. Anyone could. Maybe not as strongly as I can, but the bottom line's the same. Focus on me, buddy - on my scent, my body heat, even the taste of me in the air, if you can find it. Nothing else is here; nothing else matters."
Blair shifts slightly, curling partially on his side and drawing closer to me. Falling silent, I give him time to concentrate on me and realize that I'm not at all uncomfortable with the intimacy.
When did I grow to need him so much? To trust him so much? Until Sandburg came into my life, I'd never have allowed another human this kind of intimacy, this depth of closeness. With Blair, it's all so natural, so necessary.
Of course, being the obstinate jerk I can often be, I fought it in the beginning. Fought it tooth and nail. But I discovered that resisting Sandburg was like trying to hold back the tide. He persisted, gradually working his way into my life and my heart. At long last, I was able to accept that this relationship would be absolutely unlike any I'd ever known before, that it would require more of me and reward me with so much more than I could ever imagine. It was only then that I realized exactly how fortunate I'd been that day at the hospital when a long-haired guy in a white coat who called himself Dr. McKay showed up, handing me a card for a grad student who would understand what was happening to me and held all my answers.
I don't think even Blair realized at that point that he literally *was* my answer. He didn't have to provide lectures and tests and research. All he needed to give me was himself. All the rest, as they say, was merely icing on the cake.
We'd explored touch, taste, and smell, now it was time to move on.
"You've always told me that hearing is my strongest sense, and you're right. It's just that sometimes sight gets in the way. So keep your eyes closed. Don't lose track of all the other things you've smelled... felt... tasted. They're still there for you, still part of your surroundings and your experience. Just let them be there... lie there... be part of you... and you can call them back immediately, whenever you choose. That's control, Blair. That's what you've given me."
"Let your hearing find the sea. Always start with the most obvious, so listen first to the waves. There's a pattern there. A rhythm. A wave rolls in from the deep water, then it begins to slow as its energy is reduced by friction against the sand on the bottom. Listen to how it breaks... starting to the left and rolling slowly to the right. So much of nature has rhythm. All life has music. It's all around us, but we don't often hear it. Hear the music now, Chief. Listen... "
I listen to the sea myself as I think, trying to decide how much to ask of him. Of course, I should know that there's nothing I couldn't ask of Blair. In return, he doesn't believe that there's anything he can ask, anything he needs, that I won't somehow be able to deliver. No matter how outlandish, how strange, some of his Sentinel ideas may seem, somehow, if I just try, they work. In like return, if I ask, he'll jump from an airplane - forget about his fear of heights. I honestly don't think there's anything Blair wouldn't do for me. Hell, he's already sacrificed his career for me. And nearly sacrificed his life more times than I can count.
"Move beyond just the breaking of the waves. Discover all the other sounds out there - the rest of the music. Listen to the bubbles after the wave crashes against the sand. Hear the sound of the backwash as the wave moves back into the sea. Can you hear the sound of the tiny worms burrowing beneath the sand? Do you hear the foam brushing across the beach?"
Blair is still rolled toward me, but his head is cocked toward the sea as he listens intently. His long hair settles softly onto my leg in the light breeze, and while I allow him time to hear the sea, I allow myself a few moments to feel each individual, silky strand. I notice that he's wearing a single small silver hoop in his ear, and I smile and thank our lucky stars for Simon's leniency in the dress-code department. For a long time, when things weren't so good between us, Blair didn't wear his earring and kept his hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. His choice of clothes became more subdued, and that brilliant light nearly faded away completely from his eyes.
Those were difficult days.
I was confused, both about my role as a Sentinel and about Sandburg's place in my life. He'd gotten so close to me, much closer than I'd ever allowed any other person to get before. It had been my experience that with closeness comes pain.
So I rebelled. I pulled back and distanced myself from the one person I should have been bringing as close as possible. Bad choice. It almost got him killed, and later, it nearly destroyed our relationship.
Now, a couple of years later - a lifetime later in many respects - the bounce is back in Blair's step. The earring is back, and his hair flows freely once more. He's a cop now, my partner in name for all the world to see. Sure, it was tough on him at first, but he's made it. He's good at it, but I always knew he would be. I'll do everything in my power to see that he never has to use that gun he carries, and Blair knows that. Just as I know he is willing to draw his weapon, if he has to in order to protect innocent lives. I pray every day that it never comes down to that.
Best of all, I know he's content with his life. He's making a real difference in the world, and that pleases him. I see it every day in his body language, in his eyes, and I hear it in his voice. I'm a damned good detective, and I figured out how to read Blair's moods a long time ago. When he's up, when he's happy, he shines - almost glows with joy. I nearly extinguished that bright flame, almost put out the brilliant light that is Blair, but he was too tough for me, too resilient. I've doomed plenty of other relationships, but what we had was too strong for even me to destroy.
I'll be grateful for that resilience of his until the day I die.
"Keep the sound of the sea within you, but let your hearing move outward. Listen for the sounds of the seagulls flying overhead. Hear the differences in their cries... listen to the beating of their wings. Can you hear the wind whistling through the individual feathers?"
"There are pelicans flying above, in a row of six. They flap, then the lead bird stops and glides. One by one, they all stop flapping their wings and just float along on the wind. Then the first pelican begins moving his wings again, and just like dominoes, they all begin flapping, one by one. Can you hear them? Listen... "
Another small smile teases at the corners of his lips. Can he really hear their wings beating out the pattern of perfect coordination? Or is he hearing some of what I ask and employing his facile mind to imagine the rest?
Does it matter?
I only hope I'm giving him a glimpse of my world. He's the one responsible for my having it in the first place.
"There are a multitude of other sounds around us. Let your hearing reach out. Find the sound of the breeze in the trees up by the house. Listen to the katydid back in the woods. Hear the songbird up on the hillside as it sings. Bees buzz by and there's a crab crawling sideways not too far to your left. His claws scratch like sandpaper against the beach. Can you hear it all, Blair? Reach out and focus on what you want to hear. Listen... "
I give him time. As I've guided him along in his exploration of his senses, I've begun to feel more and more relaxed. Is this how Blair feels when he's working with me? Unsure at first if what he's doing will succeed, then becoming more and more confident as he goes? It's a rewarding feeling, seeing your words - your ideas - really making a difference. And this is just an exercise. How much more rewarding being a real Guide must be for him.
"Do you still have my scent, Blair? Can you hear me, too? Listen to my voice. Go beyond just the words and listen to the tones, to the highs and the lows... the rumbles and the inflections."
"Then go past my voice... hear my breathing... listen to me breathe in... then out... hear each breath I take, every inhalation and exhalation. Can you hear the small movements as I shift on the sand? Can you hear my eyes opening... closing?"
"I'm going to be quiet for a while. Try to put it all together now. \What you feel - the sun... the sand... the breeze. What you taste and smell - the salt air... the smell of the sea... my sweat and yours and the smell that belongs only to me, to your Sentinel. What you hear - the sounds of the sea and the woods and your own heartbeat and mine. Bring it all together, Blair, and let yourself experience the world around you."
That's all I know to do for him. All I have to give. It's as close as I can bring him to what I experience every second of every day. It truly is a wondrous thing when I stop and realize exactly how enormous the gift I've been given truly is, but it would have been such a curse if not for Blair. Today, I've brought him as close as I can to what my life is like, thanks to him. It isn't nearly enough, I know, but I can only hope it has meant something.
The sun slowly finishes its fall into the Pacific, and gradually, the heat abandons the air and sand around us. Overhead, one by one, then by the hundreds, stars emerge. There is no moon, and the stars revel in the darkness, glistening like dazzling diamonds on their bed of black velvet.
And still Blair has not moved. I can tell he isn't asleep. There's too much alertness in his expression, and his breathing isn't deep enough. I won't disturb him, though. Whatever he's experiencing, he seems in no hurry for it to end. Without opening his eyes, Blair rolls languorously onto his back, and the softness of his hair slides from my leg, teasing my bare skin as it falls.
Some of the sand I let trickle on his shoulder still clings to his skin, and without thinking, I gently brush it away with my fingertips. Blair sighs softly, and I realize that he is very much in tune with physical sensation. My touch must have felt soothing as it replaced the roughness of the sand.
Deprived of the warmth of the sun, the ocean air has taken on a definite coolness. Without a shirt or shoes, Blair will be chilled. Focusing on not breaking his meditative state to quickly, but knowing he must return to awareness soon, I run my fingers slowly down his arm. "It's me again, Chief. Can you feel that the sun's gone? It's getting cooler out here."
I move my hand to his shoulder and begin gently kneading the muscles there. With the other hand, I grasp his hand and entwine my fingers with his. I can feel his pulse there, the blood rushing beneath the skin, the warmth of his life so close.
I wish I could give him this, too. It can't hurt to make the attempt.
"Can you feel me, Blair? Concentrate on our hands. Can you feel the pulse in my fingers? The warmth of my skin?" I tighten my grip and give him time enough to try. "Feel my hand on your shoulder, how it tightens and releases the muscles there. It's warmer than the rest of your body, right? Feel that warmth - how it soaks down into your body, spreading out and warming you." I hesitate, then add softly as I squeeze his hand and shoulder, "Feel the connection, Blair. Feel the connection flowing between us."
I give him a few minutes to focus on my touch. Then I squeeze his fingers again and pat his shoulder. "Okay, Chief, it's time to bring your sense of sight back into this and come back to me. Don't open your eyes yet. First, I want you to tilt your head back. That's the way. Now look straight up at the sky... open your eyes."
I know the vision of the brilliant stars overhead when he's seen nothing for what has to be a couple of hours will be stunning. It's the last gift I have to share - a glimpse of how I see the heavens.
Leaning back beside him, I stare upward, too, enjoying the splendor of the stars. It's a sight I never tire of seeing. Simply magnificent.
A few minutes later, Blair stirs beside me. Rising gracefully to his feet, he reaches down and holds out his hand and smiles down at me.
I grasp his hand firmly, and with a strong tug, he pulls me upward. I rise to stand beside him, then Blair leads me toward the sea.
"But it's dark and getting cooler, Chief... "
"Shhhh... I have something I want to give to you. It's my turn now. No more words, okay?"
We walk through the darkness to the ocean, and I am more attuned to my surroundings than even I would normally be, thanks to the little exercise I've led Blair through. The sand is soft beneath my feet, the night breeze cool on my bare skin. In my nostrils, the salt air is strong, and its roar grows louder with each step we take toward the waves.
We reach the ocean, then he leads me into the water. There's no hesitation in his step. Blair is a child of the water in so many ways, and he is completely at home in the sea. It's something of a miracle that the nightmare in the fountain didn't rip this love of the water from him, but it didn't. To watch Blair in the sea is to witness a purely sensual communion of man and nature. He belongs there, as simply and completely as I belong in the jungle. Water is his element.
When we are past the line of breakers, about chest deep for Blair, slightly above waist deep for me, he stops. He disappears for a moment beneath the surface, then emerges, his head tilted backward as he slicks his hair back out of his face. Dripping down in a myriad of winding salt trails, the sea water slowly abandons him and returns home.
Moving his arms through the water, from side to side, then down and under and back to the surface again, Blair looks at me and smiles. "Watch," he whispers.
The waters around us begin to glow with an unearthly light.
Fascinated, I stare at the shades of bright green, glowing white, hot pink and neon purple. The lights flash and fade, only to be replaced by more and more brilliant sparks of light. I focus on the lights and it reminds me of being at a concert with a thousand flashbulbs going off at once.
I move my arms through the water, too, and more and more eruptions of light flash around us. We're surrounded by light, above and all around. The stars twinkle on their ebony canvas and the sea comes alive with light all around our bodies. I turn to gaze at Sandburg, questioning him with my eyes.
Blair begins to laugh, a joyous, musical sound. He flips to his back and kicks. As he starts to move away, carried from me by the propulsion of his legs, I catch him beneath the arms and hold him in place as he continues kicking. The dark waters flare with more and more brilliant, colorful lights, creating a watery artists' palette of light. I laugh aloud, joining Blair in carefree, wondrous celebration.
When I release him, he dives toward the shore and into shallower water. Rising from the sea, he stands there in the darkness, stars overhead in a sparkling canopy. Blair is glowing with the living light of the sea. His body is bathed in light and color, and I stare at him in amazement - a luminescent, miraculous being emerging from the sea.
My throat tightens in an almost-painful combination of love and joy - pride and awe. I may never have riches or fame, but I have this - a Guide. A friend and a partner. I have found what was lacking in my life, what I needed to quench my parched soul, and he is here. Beside me and before me, leading me. Guiding me. Surprising and inspiring me.
Inevitably, the glowing lights fade, and it is just Blair standing before me in the surf. He grins as I plow through the waves to join him. I don't question what he's shown me there in the dark sea with only Orion and Ursa Major as our witnesses. He'll explain later, in the morning, perhaps, if I ask.
Or maybe I'll let the mystery remain.
Like our friendship, some things are best left to stand on their own merit, allowed to remain a perpetual mystery, forever unexplained. Allowed to be a miracle without need for logical explanation.
Blair reaches out to me, his hand open and inviting. I grasp it, raising his hand skyward. We stand there together as the waves wash around us. Blair's sea-blue eyes are shining, reflecting their own star-light straight into mine.
In that perfect moment, nothing exists in the universe but the powerful *something* flowing between us... something electric...something that goes far beyond the here and now. Tugging gently as I pull his hand down, I draw Blair closer, locking my arms around him to complete the connection between us. His arms tighten around me as he lowers his head to rest against my shoulder. His wet curls flatten against my skin, and the heat of his body is absorbed into mine. Small flashes of light illuminate the waves breaking around us, sparkling in rhythm with the glimmering stars above.
Behind the dunes, the lights in the sun-bleached old house beckon. Perfection cannot endure forever.
Reality awaits. There are steaks to grill and potatoes to bake. We will laugh together, and our world will resume its normal rotation once again. The days will pass, and all too soon, our vacation will end, and we'll return to our lives back in Cascade.
Instinctively, I know that we will not speak of what has passed between us today. This is definitely one of those experiences that transcends words, and we have experienced emotions that defy expression.
Blair shivers slightly, and I tighten my arms around him briefly before I let go. It is time to return to the reality we have managed, for a short time, to leave behind. Keeping one arm over his shoulders, we turn toward the house.
Looking up, a single star drops from its appointed place in the sky, blazing a trail of brilliant light as it falls. Looking down, I see that Blair has spotted it, too.
"Make a wish, Chief," I say softly, still tracking the unusually long path of the falling star.
"I don't need wishes, man," Blair whispers, but I hear him clearly. "I've said it before, and it's still true. I've got it all right here." His arm comes up around my waist, and he presses closer against my side.
A second later, the glowing trail disappears, leaving the sky so much darker where it once had been.
The lights in the sea were gone. The blazing star had fallen into dark oblivion. Somehow, the thought doesn't depress me, for I realize that maybe, just maybe, perfection can last forever.
For the light burning in my heart - the same light glowing in Blair's eyes - the glow of our friendship, and the fire of commitment that burns between us, those can never be extinguished.
We do have it all right here.
Author's Note: The lights glowing on and around Blair and Jim in the final scene are a result of bioluminescence, the giving off of light by living organisms. Like lightning bugs, microscopic marine animals give off flashes of light when they are disturbed in the water. It's an amazing sight!
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