Feedback: Always welcome
Summary: 20st story in my summer writing series. Missing scene from Black or White. Jim reflects on the meanings of truth.
Somewhere in the Middle
The music was too loud and the crowd was getting too rowdy, too many bodies pressed in around them and frankly Jim would have preferred to be home. He was too old for this scene, too cranky to put up with the idiots crowding the stools and for sure too impatient to tolerate the blaring music for too long.
But he had promised to help Blair out and if he was being honest with himself, he was interested in meeting the red head with the insane I.Q.
"So," Jim said after a while, cracking another peanut shell and flicking the meat into his mouth. "About earlier…?"
He knew it would be hard to carry on a conversation with Blair as they sat at the rickety wooden bar. The bar stool felt shaky, unsteady under him as he shifted his weight forward to grab another peanut from the bowl that was situated between them.
This place had probably been the 'in spot' near campus way back when his dad had been attending Rainier from the looks of it. The worn and cracked vinyl booth benches looked a step up from the bar stools, but they had all been taken.
A raucous cheer came from the back corner as people crowded around the two pool tables and Jim thought that maybe if the dates didn't go well, they could maybe make a little pocket money.
"What about it?" Blair asked, taking another swig from the neck of his beer bottle. His friend's easy smile and welcoming good looks, his natural charm could put anyone at ease, but Jim had also seen Blair use those traits as a tool too. To size people up, to promote a sense of trust or even talk them into doing something they maybe didn't want to do, like going into a church to disarm a bomb or playing second fiddle on an overbooked date night.
"That whole story about…" Jim stopped talking and eyed a jock type that got a little too close for comfort, pushing between him and Blair, then leaning over the counter to order a house draft and tossing down a ten to run a tab. He thought about carding the kid, but changed his mind when Blair cleared his throat. And then the kid walked off sloshing his beer over his mug and onto Jim's date loafers and he reconsidered.
"Nepal?" Blair asked to distract him from his soiled shoes and he nodded as he took another drag from his own beer bottle, but then shook his head.
Sure, he was interested in that story too, because he was sure it was mostly true. Which meant that Blair had probably been in Katmandu, which meant he had probably been doing research in Nepal, which meant he had probably been asked to go along with a rescue team, which meant he had probably been frozen, scared shitless, in the middle of a rope bridge, over a two thousand foot drop and even though he wanted to hear all about that story, that wasn't what he really wanted to ask about right now, sitting in a crowded bar, waiting for two women to show up, thinking they were both on a date with Sandburg.
No, what he really wanted to ask about was… "Therapy…you said you were in therapy since pampers…Anxiety and panic attacks being a normal state of being." Because meeting the red headed genius was only part of the reason he had agreed to come out on a work night. What he really wanted was to glean a little more information about his friend, who in many ways, was still a bit of a mystery to him.
Blair met his eyes for a brief second and then downed the rest of his beer, tapping the bottle back to the old counter, catching the bar keeps eye for another. "What about it, man?"
With the ball firmly back in Jim's court, he wasn't sure what to ask now. Was the timeframe a…what had Sandburg called it…an embellishment on the truth…not meant to hurt but to help? Or maybe it was B.S., a form of male bonding? To let Joel know that therapy was nothing to be ashamed of and that if it helped it was a tool to be used? Jim didn't know, but he wanted to know why Blair would even be in therapy to begin with, because for all his…'quirks', Blair was one of the most down to earth and most grounded guys that Jim knew…which was saying a lot considering what little Jim did know from Blair's past and upbringing. So…he decided to just ask. "Well, I guess…I guess I was just wondering why a toddler would need therapy?"
A loud roar of excitement came from the pool tables again and both men turned to see what was happening, not because either cared, but because Jim knew it would give Blair a chance to either collect his thoughts or change the subject and with Blair, you never knew which way it would go.
When the excitement died down, they turned back to the bar and the bartender put a bottle down in front of Blair. Jim watched as he picked at and played with the damp label for a few seconds, an array of expressions crossing his face, like he was trying to decide what to reveal about himself. "Look, Sandburg…you don't…"
"It's ok, Jim…I want to…"
They both were talking at the same time and they both stopped at the same time and then Blair smiled and put his bottle down. "It's really no big deal Jim."
And Jim wanted to believe him, but he was having a hard time, what with the suddenly sad look that came across Blair's face and Jim started wondering if Blair was practicing mind over matter.
"Hey, man…a table's open."
Jim nodded, grabbed his own beer and followed his friend over to the slightly more comfortable booth. He took the seat facing the bar entrance and asked, "What?", when Sandburg smirked.
"Nothing, man…it's just…ya know…you tell me a hundred little things about yourself every day just in the things you do…your… rituals and your habits and I catalog them and file them away and write them down, because you are the subject of a paper I'm writing, but then I forget."
People in the back, but closer to them now exploded in cheers again and Jim wondered if maybe it would have been better to take his chances on the bar stools, because Blair was opening up to him and he didn't want any distractions now…what his friend was saying seemed…well important.
"What do you forget?" he asked after a beat or two, when it seemed like Blair wasn't going to say anything else.
"That I'm talking to you too, but not in so many words…you know?"
Jim nodded. Half the stuff he knew about Blair was from things that his roommate had let slip when he didn't really mean to. And well, the other half was from just getting to know him, watching him, getting to know his habits, figuring out what Blair liked and what he didn't.
"I just…I had some relationship issues I guess you would say. I mean it was just me and mom for so long.
Jim didn't like the way Blair was looking down at his beer bottle, didn't like the look in Blair's eyes and didn't like where his mind almost immediately went.
But Blair being Blair, and somewhere along the way, had gotten to know Jim more than Jim had gotten to know Blair, looked up and smiled a little faint smile and shook his head. "Don't even go there, man. My mom was so protective of me…maybe a little too protective. I remember being very clingy when I was younger…when I was still a toddler I wouldn't let her out of my sight, not that I really remember that much, but my mom told me that she used to take me to a group for kids that had separation anxiety and those feelings plagued me for awhile…even into my early teens." Blair snorted, seemed almost embarrassed for his admission and now Jim just wished he had asked about that bridge hanging over the frozen waste land.
Jim couldn't imagine the man he knew now, this fiercely independent man, who started college at such a young age, who never backed down from any challenge…or threat, who wasn't afraid of anything, could have started out so insecure in himself.
"Anyway…so there you have it." Blair finished his second beer, a record for him to Jim's knowledge, but then…what did Jim really know about Blair?
Half truths and things revealed…had Jim even ever really taken the time to listen?
"Listen, Chief…you know…you can tell me anything, right? I mean I know I'm not the best listener…but I promise…I'm gonna try because…"
Blair smiled…a real smile. "Hey, man…you are a good listener and I know I can tell you anything and I appreciate that, really…"
Oh, god…they were moving into chick flick territory…Jim was starting to sweat it until he realized Blair was laughing at him.
"Man…I'm trying to have a moment here and you're making fun of me."
"No…Jim, really…" And then Blair got real quiet, even the loud bar faded a little as Jim looked at him, really looked at Blair. "All my life I guess I was on guard, ya know…even with the girls I was really into…I couldn't…I guess I was only meeting people somewhere in the middle, but man…for the first time…I can let down my guard, ya know…I'm not worried that you'll judge me if you know the real me and that means a lot, man…it really does."
The little embarrassed smile was back and Jim didn't know what to say to such a confession, even though it made him feel really good inside…not that he would ever admit that to anyone. "So…" he finally said, because it was time to change the subject. "Tell me about the redhead…how smart we talkin' here?"
And Blair was off, talking a hundred miles a minute, hands in motion, whole body engaged. The cheering crowds and pressing bodies and god awful music all but disappeared as Blair told him about Janie and his plan to set her up with Jim and the slight 'Obfuscation' he had planned.
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