Notes: I recently visited my favorite spot in the world, a small barrier island off the Georgia coast. As I was searching for fossilized sharks' teeth one afternoon, I started playing around with a story idea. Voila! I have no idea if you can find these ancient relics on the coast of Washington. If not, please forgive this Georgia girl a bit of poetic license. No real plot here. No action, no danger, no violence and only a trace of mildly objectionable language. Just some warm fuzzies and a reflective Jim. Thanks for reading!
Dedication: To all who search for treasures by the sea.
Some people mark the passage of time by the arrival of holidays, the coming of Christmas and the stroke of another midnight on New Year's Eve. Others trace time's march through the major events of their lives - the arrival of children... marriages... grandchildren... funerals. I, on the other hand, have fallen into the habit of marking my life by my yearly return to this place... this house... this sea.
Blair and I first came here three years ago on a perfect June day when the sun was bright and the ocean perfectly calm, without a single ripple to mar its glassy surface. We returned last year to the large, rambling house by the sea. Now, we half jokingly refer to it as 'ours' - this house where for two weeks each summer, we've managed to create an oasis of quiet in the chaotic lives we lead. In our case, the great Pacific is truly a place of peace.
In March, when the weather first begins to hint of spring, I begin to daydream of these two weeks, to play with the notion of their solitude and contentment. By April, I've circled the dates in red on my calendar and use any excuse to flip to them as often as possible. When May arrives, I'm counting down the hours until our departure date. Worse than a kid at Christmas.
Of course, I've never let Sandburg in on my personal countdown to vacation. I do have a reputation to uphold, after all.
We've been here four days now, and already my body is more in synch with my mind, more relaxed and healthier than when I arrived. It's become an undeclared tradition that this is a trip to do as close to nothing as possible. Sandburg and I never discuss plans for these two weeks. Once we arrive, we sleep, eat simply, walk along the beach, talk of nothing and everything, read... no stress... no strain... no pressure. No TV, no phones allowed. In many ways, it's a primitive, simple existence.
And it's perfect.
We're on the beach now, Blair and I. It's a beautiful day - warm, with not a single cloud in the azure sky. I'm sitting in front of the dunes, my new paperback book in my hand, but it's been forever since I turned a page. I'm far too engrossed in watching my guide to turn my attention to reading a mystery novel. More than any work of fiction or any case I've ever solved, Blair Sandburg remains to me the most intriguing mystery of all.
He is strolling slowly along the shore, his baggy jeans rolled up to mid-calf, shirtless and shoeless. Blair's mass of curly hair is caught up in a loose ponytail, and he carries a used, wrinkled plastic sack in his hand. His head's been bent downward for hours, visually combing through the offerings brought ashore by the waves. He reminds me of a free-spirited vagabond from an age long passed wandering the secluded beach alone in search of hidden treasure.
I asked him on our first trip what he was searching for as we walked slowly for hours along the shore, his head lowered, his eyes constantly in motion.
His blue eyes suddenly turned away from mine, and his head dropped down, almost as if he felt embarrassed. I bumped my shoulder against his, in a male bonding sort of way, and joked, "C'mon, Chief. Give it up. What's got you so fascinated?"
Silently, he held out his clenched fist, then slowly loosened his fingers. "Shark teeth," he explained simply.
"Shark teeth?" I ran my finger along the tiny, black triangles, feeling the sharpness of their serrated edges even as I felt the familiar warmth of Blair rising up to caress my sensitive skin. "Where's the shark that lost them?" I quipped, still trying to keep it light.
With the patience of a teacher faced with a rather dense pupil, he explained. "These aren't from contemporary sharks, Jim. They're fossilized. The sharks they belonged to died millions and millions of years ago. New teeth would be white. These are black. Do you realize that the shark as a life form has existed practically unchanged for millennia? It's a perfectly designed killing machine, man."
He sorted the small teeth out one by one on his palm. "See? Extinct tiger... sand shark... extinct mako. Now if I could find a megladon... wow! Won't happen just beachcombing, though. You have to dig for those monsters or dive even." He smiled at a cherished memory. "Naomi and I used to hunt for these teeth every time we came to the beach when I was a kid. We'd turn it into a game. Whenever one of us would find one, we'd shout out, 'Shark's tooth!' and keep score of who found the most. Kinda gets addictive after a while, y'know, and it's relaxing, too. Almost like meditating. I've just always enjoyed it."
He fell silent, as his bright eyes studied the teeth in his palm, then he looked up at me. In the blue depths of those expressive eyes, I could read his excitement, along with a startlingly powerful hope that I might understand why he cared so much about a handful of tiny, black fossils. That I might understand... and not ridicule.
With a brief, shining flash of perfectly timed insight, I understood that far too often I had ridiculed things that were vitally important to him, and in the process, had rejected not only whatever it was he was telling me, but the man himself. I had ridiculed his heart, his soul. Remembering the pain of the past and what it had ultimately cost us, the irreplaceable gift my callousness had nearly cost me, I was determined not to make the same mistake again.
I picked up one of the perfectly formed teeth and skimmed its inky surface with one sensitive fingertip. "Millions of years old? Amazing, Chief. You want me to help you look? With my eyes, we should find a ton of them."
Softly, Blair smiled at me and shook his head. "Then they wouldn't be special any more, would they, Jim? Thanks, man, but I'd rather keep on doing this alone, if you don't mind."
I've thought about that a lot in the two years since, and I've never helped him look for his shark teeth. At first, I admit I was a little hurt by his refusal, but I understand now why he declined the offer of my sentinel sight.
This is what Blair loves to do. It's an intricate part of who he is. To sift through the jetsam and flotsam of the sea, searching for some rare jewel, some hidden treasure, perhaps valuable only in his eyes, is to him the ultimate challenge. I've often wondered why he didn't pursue archaeology rather than anthropology. I think it's probably because he's such a 'people person'. As much as he loves searching for relics, it's ultimately discovering how he can use his knowledge to help people that's most important to Sandburg.
He's searching with full concentration now, bent from the waist slightly, moving carefully and cautiously little by little up and down the beach. I know there's a practiced methodology in his search, and I smile as I recall his words.
"See, shark's teeth are lighter than most of the material around them, Jim. They end up right on top of the other little shells and stuff. Most of the time, you find them lying by themselves, right out there on the sand, waiting for someone to find them, to appreciate them for what they are. Plus, they glisten in the sun more than the other things out here, and that makes them easier to spot. The best time's right as the tide's going out, when the waves make it kinda like panning for gold, y'know. Sifting through all the shells and sorting out the teeth for you.
That's Blair. He's turned a simple beachcombing experience into a real profession. I grin foolishly as I envision new sign for his office door. 'Blair Sandburg, Professional Shark Tooth Hunter'.
I lean back in the warm sunshine and watch him, no longer keeping up the pretense of reading, my book abandoned on the towel beside me. As I watch, it strikes me that I'm watching the perfect physical analogy for my friend. Enjoying the mental exercise, I run through the list of what his quest for fossilized teeth reveals about Blair.
Patient. That's one of Blair's strongest qualities. Heaven knows, he's needed a limitless supply of patience to put up with me all these years. My house rules... my short temper... the infamous fear response. All have certainly tried Blair's patience over and over again.
Devoted. My God, Blair is absolutely devoted to whatever it is he loves. No question that he's devoted his life to the sentinel thing. In the past, I asked myself frequently why on earth he would want to stay with someone like me. After all, with his numerous beatings, being shot several times, kidnappings, and actually physically dying, most sane people would get the hell out of Dodge. Yet, Blair's here, still at my side, facing whatever dangers each new day will bring. When he gives himself to something - to someone - it's heart and soul, mind and body. Completely and absolutely. Yeah, Blair's definitely devoted. To the sentinel thing. To me.
Optimistic. Each new wave brings with it the possibility of new discoveries literally washing up at his feet. It's always been one of my greatest fears that all the things Blair has seen since he's been with me, all the horrors and inhuman acts man is capable of, might dampen that spark of optimism that shines so beautifully in his eyes. Within his soul. Thankfully, it still burns brightly.
No matter what life - and my career - throw at him, somehow Blair manages to emerge still... Blair. Optimistic, energetic Blair Sandburg. Maybe it's selfish, but I need that optimism. It's the perfect counterweight for my own often cynical viewpoint of the world. He keeps that cynicism from becoming bitterness, shows me that though it's undeniable that the world can be a cruel, hard place, there's still more good here, more beauty, than evil and ugliness. As long as I can believe in that... hell, as long as I can believe in him, I can't give up completely.
Individualistic. Let the rest of the world enjoy lying in the sun... building sandcastles... reading a book... floating on a raft. All the mundane things people at the beach do. Not Sandburg. Nothing mundane about him. Blair will go on searching for tiny relics of a past gone now for millions of years. Everything about him shouts that here is a man who doesn't give a damn about what society thinks. I mean, just look at him. Long hair... bright layers of color... an offbeat style of speaking that might have been more recognizable in the '70s than today. That's Blair. An individual unlike any other I've ever met.
In many ways, he's like those elusive teeth he searches for in the sand. A small touch of rarity, a pearl of great price, on a beach crowded with sameness. Standing alone, apart from the crowd, sparkling and shining in the sun, just waiting for those observant enough to appreciate his uniqueness and beauty.
Persistent. Oh, yeah, that's most definitely Sandburg. Like a determined bulldog. Once he grabs hold, he won't let go, refuses to give up until he finds whatever it is he's searching for, be it a shark's tooth... some obscure reference in a stack of dusty tomes... or his Holy Grail. Imagine having the courage to defy the nay-sayers and keep looking for what no one else believed could possibly exist. A living, breathing sentinel.
A lonely cop, isolated by choice and circumstance, who didn't even have sense enough to realize how empty his life really was. How empty he was. Blair persisted until he found what he claims he'd been searching for his entire life and tore down my emotional walls of resistance.
Persistent? Damn straight.
Down at the shoreline, Blair bends down quickly and retrieves a treasure. Looking up the beach at me in delight, he proclaims, "Shark tooth!" He holds up his hand and points at the tiny object grasped between his fingers.
Thank God for his persistence. Where would I be if he hadn't found me?
I grin back and wave my congratulations.
That's another quality of Blair's that this fossil hunt makes clear. The smallest things can bring him such joy. A tiny tooth, something that probably sells for a few cents in the souvenir shop down the road, and it lights up his face like the beacon from the beckoning lighthouse we can see from our beach. In like return, seeing his happiness brings a warmth to my own heart I never knew only a few short years ago.
How much my life has changed since I met him! I eat things I would never have let past my lips before because Blair says it's healthy for me. My apartment is cluttered now with ancient artifacts and thick books with long, complicated titles because for Blair, their presence equals home. I take the stairs rather than elevators when he's with me because he still gets nervous in the confined space of an elevator car. I know how to make algae shakes and vegetarian lasagna, and I can whip up one of his cold remedies for him in a flash at the first sign of a sneeze or sore throat. I check in with him any time I'm going to be late because he worries when he's not with me. I stay awake until he comes home from a late date, and I worry when he's sick. I spend hours on the beach just watching him because he fascinates me so.
Simon pointed out to me once that our relationship exists on many levels, and the more I think about it, the more I agree with him. I know people wonder about us. They can't figure out what a cop like me is doing with him. Why would I want a partner who's not a cop? Why would I live with a guy who, on the outside, is my complete antithesis? Why would I tolerate his almost frantic energy, his long hair and colorful wardrobe, his seemingly endless supply of comments and questions?
What is Blair to me anyway?
I mentally run through the list of answers in my head.
My best friend, of course. We laugh together, watch the Jags together, enjoy just hanging out with a cold beer, a good movie, and some sandwiches. I've never had a friendship like this one before, never even thought it was possible. Deep. Unconditional. Easy. As comfortable in our silences as we are in conversation.
My little brother. In many ways, Blair is the little brother my dad never allowed Stephen to be to me. Sometimes needing my protection or my comfort. Sometimes irritating as hell. Someone to fight with, to laugh with, to cry with. Someone I can always count on to be on my side, no questions asked, with not an ounce of competition between us.
In some elusive way I haven't yet been able to name and in spite of the closeness in our ages, a son. I am so damned proud of him. Even though Blair was an adult when we met, I've watched him grow, seen him mature to become the strong, confident man he is today. Even though he isn't a cop, now he thinks like one, and he sure as hell can take care of himself and others in an emergency. The Blair Sandburg he's become still retains the shining uniqueness of old, but he's gained a rock solid, underlying strength. A firm, competent strength at the very core of his being. Secretly, I like to think that maybe I've played some small part in that. If that's true, I'll go to my grave knowing that it is my greatest accomplishment.
My teacher. I knew at the outset that Blair was going to teach me about these sentinel abilities of mine. After all, why else would I have tolerated that long haired 'neo-hippie witch doctor punk' for even a day? What I didn't count on were all the other lessons he had to offer. From Blair, I've learned tolerance and patience. Even my infamous house rules aren't as strict as they once were. Hell, most of the time he ignores them completely, and I don't even mind. Much.
I know more now than I ever thought possible about obscure cultures throughout the world, and I can tell the difference at a glance between Aztec and Mayan pottery. Amazing. What's even more amazing is the fact that I'm actually interested in some of the stuff Sandburg spouts off. Maybe I don't always let him in on that fact, but I must admit it interests me just the same.
Most of all, Blair has taught me about trust. Granted, that one was a damned hard lesson to learn. It almost cost me the best friend I ever had and almost cost Blair his life. One thing's for sure, that's one lesson I don't intend ever to forget. Not when the learning came at so high a price. I'll never doubt Sandburg again. I may be slow to learn sometimes, but once a lesson's pounded into my head - and my heart - it's there. Forever.
You've taught me well, my friend.
My partner. At the station... at home in the loft... in all things sentinel and otherwise. In every aspect of my life. We live together. We work together and hang out together in our free time. We even vacation together. We share the everyday chores of life... shopping, cleaning, making purchases for the loft.
What's the term today - my 'life partner'? In many ways, an accurate description of what we are. Not in any sexual way, of course. I'm programmed heterosexual, of that I have no doubt. No judgment intended; it's just not who I am.
Yet, when I really stop to consider my feelings toward Blair, I have to admit to a certain possessive feeling of proprietorship. I know I don't own him. Still, there's this little voice in my heart that sometimes whispers to me when I watch him. It speaks to me when I get this huge surge of pride at who he is, and I'm suddenly so very proud to have him at my side. I hear that whisper in my head... in my heart. "He's mine." My guide... my 'little guppy'. If I'm perfectly honest, there's also this little twinge of jealousy, of resentment, when anyone else gets too close. It's not that I fear being displaced in his life. One thing Sandburg inspires in me, and that's security. Hell, after all we've been through, if he was going to abandon me, I think he'd have done it a lifetime ago. It's more that I don't want to share with just anyone what it is that I've found with him. Maybe I simply don't want to share him with the world.
I'm certain of one thing. I've never loved anyone with the intensity of feeling I have for Blair. Certainly I loved Carolyn, but obviously, once the relationship ended, I went on with my life. Not a real problem when the initial shock was over. On the other hand, the mere thought of losing Blair...
Oh, God... no.
Certainly, no one in my life has ever needed me the way Blair does. Why he does, I haven't a clue. Maybe it's more of the sentinel/guide thing we've yet to figure out. Regardless of the reason, the truth remains. He needs me.
I thought about that once, trying to list all the people in my life who've really, truly needed me. There's a big difference between being needed for what you can do for another person and being needed simply because of who you are. Damned short list. One name stands out at the top, as large and bold as that of John Hancock. Sandburg.
Hell, I've never needed anyone else this much either. If you'd asked me ten years ago, would I ever need a partner, not just any partner, mind you, but the partner, I'd have said you were crazy. Jim Ellison needs no one. Safer that way. How the mighty have fallen. When Blair's not with me, not in his accustomed place at my side, my mind doesn't seem able to process that fact. I find myself turning to tell him something or, in a dangerous situation, reaching out to push him behind me for protection, only to realize he isn't even there. When he's happy, I'm happy. When something's wrong in his life, I worry. When things get strained between us, as they sometimes do, it tears me up inside until we manage to muddle through and work it all out once again.
He can make me laugh like no one else. Sometimes, when he's in his 'lecture mode', I'll find myself just grinning at him. He'll stop, this puzzled look on his face, and ask what's so funny. Usually, I'll just shrug. Wouldn't do for a hard assed cop like me to admit that he just makes me so damned happy. Gotta keep up the image.
Although Blair somehow saw through my tough shelled exterior almost from the moment we met. The bluster that seems to work so well on others has never created so much as a ripple of fear in Sandburg. Somehow, he sensed his power over me from the start. Even I have to admit the truth now. Where Blair's concerned, I'm a complete marshmallow, and he knows it.
As if he can sense my thoughts, Blair looks up and smiles at me. The sun's lower in the sky now, almost at his back, and creates behind him a bright halo of light. "Found twelve already, Jim," he says quietly, knowing I can hear every word. Reaching back, he slips off the band holding his hair back in its loose ponytail and shakes it free. Long chestnut curls cascade down his tanned back, and Blair runs his hands through it as though relieved to be unencumbered at last.
He turns his face upward toward the sky, long curls trailing behind him. My heart skips a beat as my breath catches suddenly. Silhouetted against the sapphire sea with the sun's halo painting his hair a burnished, golden copper, Blair looks every bit the mysterious shaman, the guide of legend and lore that he is. A magical, mystical being risen from the depths of the sea.
I stare at him in wonder. I am so fortunate - blessed - to have this shimmering presence in my life. When I think of what my life would have been without him, it terrifies me. I have parachuted into hostile territory, faced down psychopathic killers barehanded, hung suspended from the bottom of helicopters and survived a fiery crash in the jungles of Peru.
Yet, nothing in my life has ever frightened me as much as the thought of living one day of my life without him.
Sandburg stands beside the sea, a living statue carved from a precious metal. Golden. Glistening. Rare. Absolutely beautiful.
I think of the words to a poem I read last night. 'I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky... All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.' Without a doubt, I have found my guiding star. Without him, I have no doubt that my ship would have crashed years ago upon the rocks, and I would have foundered with it.
Blair adds color to my world... movement and laughter... the most intense joy I've ever known and the deepest pain and fear I ever dreamed of in my worst nightmares. What would I have been if I'd never known him? What would I become if I lost him now?
The mere thought drives me to my feet. I need to reassure myself of his closeness, of his reality in my life. I begin to walk down to the shoreline, then, after a few steps, surrendering to my sudden need to reach him, I break into a full run.
Blair looks up at my approach, a hint of worry darkening his face. I slow back to a walk and return his smile, falling in beside him.
"Everything okay, man?" Curious, indigo eyes hold mine, waiting. Somehow, he sees the remnants of the emotion of a few moments ago written in my own eyes, and it worries him. "What do you need?" he asks softly, ready to comply with whatever my answer may be.
I gaze down at him, at the loving concern in those blue depths. The cloud of worry lifts from my heart. I smile and wrap my arm around his shoulder, drawing him close to my side. I feel the warmth of his living body, hear the reassuring sounds of his heartbeat and steady breathing.
"You," I say simply.
He understands perfectly as I knew he would. Slipping his arm easily around my waist, Blair tucks himself beneath my shoulder, and we walk.
No words. No need to fill the silence between us because it is full already. With emotions unspoken, with needs met.
I look down and right at my feet lies a large, perfectly formed, black shark's tooth. Found his way. No sentinel sight required. Bending down, I pick it up and hold it out to Blair, a wide grin on my face at my find. He smiles and nods in satisfaction, knowing that at last, I understand the feeling of accomplishment he gets from this searching, that the message he tried to relay to me is at last clear.
Treasures are worth waiting for. You don't have to dig for them. They are gifts, to be washed up at your feet when you least expect them, and their worth is all the greater for the time spent waiting.
I hold on tightly to my shark's tooth and to Blair. We walk together down the beach, the sun setting slowly beside us, content to be in this place together.
My friend... my brother... my son... my partner.
My life and my heart and my soul completed.
My treasure found.
by John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and thesky
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song
and the white sails shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face,
and a gray dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the runningtide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gullscrying.
I must go down to the seas again,
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way
where the wind'slike a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over.
John Masefield (1878- )
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