by Kristine Williams
"Okay, for those of you not going up to the research station for the month, Professor Kinyon will be back on Monday if you need to contact her. And be sure to have your ID when you get there. Remember, you'll be in Canada while you're on the island."
Jim stopped looking for numbers and followed Blair's voice. As he approached the door it struck him just how professional Blair sounded in there, substituting for a sick Professor Kinyon. He was reminded of his housemate's position at the University, and recognized a small sense of pride in himself. He knew he wasn't responsible for Blair's experience as a teaching fellow, but he had seen a lot of changes in his friend since they first met, and he knew they were all for the better. Except the housebreaking. That, they were still working on.
"That's it for tonight. Thank you, and again, Professor Kinyon will be back on Monday."
Jim waited until most of the students had filed out before entering the lecture room. He found Blair standing behind the podium, gathering papers while three students were asking questions. Jim stepped over to the wall and waited, watching the three young, attractive women as they listened to Blair's answer. Satisfied, two of them left, leaving one that Jim remembered seeing before, Emily something. She was tall, even in the flat tennis shoes she wore. Her skin- tight jeans did much to add to the illusion of height, as did the long, flowing blonde hair. Of course, standing next to Blair helped as well.
"So, I can't talk you in to coming up with us? Not even for the weekend?"
Jim's ears perked up at the mention of the weekend and he paid closer attention, having his own plans for his housemate that weekend.
"No. I don't think so." Blair finished stuffing papers into his bag and flung it over one shoulder, glancing over at Jim. "It's not really my area. Besides, you broke my heart, remember?"
Emily laughed lightly, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, well. It was bound to happen some time." She lifted her own book bag over one shoulder and glanced across the room at Jim, smiling slightly. "Okay. Well, if you change your mind, Kenny and I will be up there for the month. Come on up for a visit."
Blair nodded, smiling as she walked out of the room. "Hey Jim, thanks for coming. My car should be ready by Monday."
Jim pushed himself off the wall he'd been leaning against and slapped Blair on the back, pushing him out the door. "No problem, Chief. I had some errands to run for this weekend's little project."
Blair flipped the light switch as they left the room, "Project?"
"Yep." Jim kept his hand on Blair's shoulder to keep him moving down the corridor. "That little science experiment of yours that you called dinner the other day left smoke stains on the walls."
Blair tried to stop and look at Jim, but the hand on his shoulder kept him moving. "Smoke stains? Jim, come on, I cleaned that up."
They were at the end of the hall now and Jim pushed the doors open, still gripping Blair's shoulder. "Sure, you cleaned up the mess in the kitchen. You cleaned the pots. You cleaned the floor. You even got those bits of that green stuff off the ceiling." They approached the truck and Jim let go of Blair. "But the billowing black cloud left stains on the walls."
He climbed into the truck, eyeing his partner who was reluctantly getting in from the passenger side. Blair looked like he was going to say something, then stopped. He nearly laughed, but he was trying to make a point. He had known Blair would most likely be making something strange for dinner that night, as Jim had a date and wouldn't be home until late. He'd caught sight of several items in the refrigerator that he couldn't identify, but since their talk about house rules, he knew Blair would have it cleaned up before he got back. What he didn't know was that his kitchen was going to be turned into a smoking inferno. By the time he came home, the bulk of the black cloud had been vented into the hallway, setting off every smoke alarm in the building, and causing two fire trucks to pull up right in front of Jim as he was parking. Luckily for all concerned, it was merely smoke. Billowing black smoke. But no fire.
Jim had made Blair stay up the entire night cleaning the mess. He'd almost had to stay at a hotel that night, but after a few hours with all the windows open and fans going, the smell had cleared out enough for him to sleep, as long as he focused on anything but his sense of smell. Blair was still scraping 'things' from the floor when he got up the next morning. Luckily for both of them, Blair had a class to teach that afternoon, and Jim was going to be in conferences all day to learn the new fingerprinting computer network the Precinct had just installed. It had taken Jim the entire day to calm down. But, as clean as Blair had managed to get the loft, there was still a noticeable blackness on the walls that just wouldn't come off. So, they were going to paint over it.
"Okay Chief. Help me unload the truck. We can get started covering and taping tonight."
"Tonight?" Blair started to open his door, then looked back at Jim.
"Tonight." Jim replied, climbing out of the truck. He was smiling a little when he walked around to the back and pulled down the tail gate. "It'll just take an hour or so to get everything ready. Is there a problem?"
"No. No, not at all." Blair raised his eyebrows and tried to smile as he grabbed a can of paint and the buckets Jim had picked up for the soap and water. "No problem."
He picked up two rolls of plastic sheeting and the bag of masking tape, then took the last can of paint and followed Blair up the stairs. He had calmed down about the mess after that first day, but he was letting his friend assume full blame for as long as he could. The worse the memory, the less likely it was to happen again. Blair had even spent the entire next night in his room, giving Jim full control over the television for the evening. But now, it was time to finish up and move on to the next crisis.
Jim fished his keys out of his pocket and opened the door, letting Blair go inside first. They deposited their painting and cleaning supplies and Jim sent Blair back down to the truck for the pans and brushes while he unrolled the plastic. He was just beginning to pull the bookcases out from the walls when Blair returned.
"We're doing the whole loft? Not just the kitchen?" Blair asked, looking around the living room.
"Yep. Painting the kitchen and scrubbing down these brick walls." Jim replied. "Give me a hand here." He didn't want to empty the bookcase just to move it a few feet from the wall. Blair came over and helped move the shelves. Then they pulled the rest of the furniture away from any walls or corners that would be scrubbed, and covered everything in plastic, taping the edges down against the bottom of the walls.
"Hey Jim, I know you talked about covering the furniture with plastic, but...?"
"Watch it Chief. With you in the house, don't think I haven't considered covering this whole place up before." He tossed Blair a roll of masking tape. "Now, go around the kitchen, and tape over the wood trim." Blair looked as if he was going to say something and Jim cut him off. "Listen, a few hours work beforehand will make the work tomorrow a lot easier. Trust me."
Blair caught the tape and rolled his eyes, but did as he was told. Jim did the same in the living room, taping over the outlets and anything he didn't want to get soaked. Then he worked his way around, stopping at the stairs to his bedroom. The ceiling fan had kept most of the smoke away from the upper level, so he wasn't going to paint his room. Blair's room, with the advantage of a door Jim had been forced to put up in an effort to soundproof his housemate's living quarters, was similarly spared. By the time they finished, it was midnight. There was a good storm brewing outside, and Jim sat down on the plastic-covered couch, watching the rain come down.
"Toss me a beer, Chief." He heard the refrigerator door open and close, then Blair joined him in the living room, handing him the bottle before falling down into the chair opposite him with his own in hand. "Now, that's the hard part. Tomorrow, we can concentrate on cleaning, and not worry about a mess."
Blair made a face and took a long pull from the beer, looking around the plastic covered room. "You know, Jim. I could have gotten some students to come over, get this done in one day."
Jim laughed, shaking his head. "No way. Uhuh. One of you is all this place can handle. I don't trust a job that can be done for pizza and beer."
Blair nodded, raising his eyebrows in his best 'Okay, insults. I can take it.' but said nothing. Lightening flashed outside and Jim turned his hearing down in anticipation of the thunder. He didn't mind storms, even enjoyed them. But he had been caught once or twice trying to listen for something when thunder struck, and the headache that action produced took more than a few aspirin to clear. Blair seemed uncharacteristically quiet that night, even with the guilt he was still dealing with over the mess in the loft.
"So, what was that girl...what's her name? Emily isn't it? What was she talking about that she wanted you to join her this weekend for?"
"She's going up to the research station for a month, on Puffin Island in the Canadian San Juans. The University has a shared interest there, studying some native Indian tribes in the region." he took another drink and looked outside at the rain. "They found a wreck out there, just off shore. Some big sailing vessel from the old Alaskan gold rush days. They've been diving around, finding artifacts and such, from the wreck." He paused, looking around the loft. "Some of the students are heading up for a month, researching the period, cataloguing finds, stuff like that."
"Sounds interesting. So, that's Emily's field?"
Blair just nodded.
"Whatever happened between you two?" Jim asked, knowing if he didn't, Blair would never say. He still seemed to take these simple romances far too seriously.
"She dumped me. Simple as that." Blair replied, finishing his beer.
"Simple as that?"
"No hard feelings? No broken hearts? Nothing you need to get off your chest?"
"Nope. Thanks Jim." Blair stood. "I'm turning in. I guess we paint tomorrow?"
"Yep. Bright and early." Jim watched Blair walk down the hall after tossing his empty beer bottle away. He had heard Blair tell Emily she had broken his heart, but whether that was true or not, he couldn't tell. His friend tended to clam up when the subject got too difficult for him. As much as he wanted Jim to open up about the smallest detail, getting Blair to talk could be like pulling teeth sometimes.
Jim finished his beer and went to bed, listening to the rain falling outside, and wondering how Blair was going to make breakfast with the kitchen all taped up and covered over.
By the time he woke, he could smell the eggs cooking. Jim came downstairs and found Blair in the kitchen. Somehow he had managed to uncover enough to fix eggs and coffee and was dishing them up. Still making up for it huh? Well, in about a week, maybe I'll let you stop.
"Hey Chief. You ready to get to work?" Jim paused on his way to the bathroom long enough to take a quick drink of hot coffee.
"Ready as I'll ever be." Blair replied, glancing around. "You want brush, or roller?"
"Brush. I'll be out in a few." Jim took his time in the shower, then shaved and put on the sweats he had carried down with him. Blair was quiet all through breakfast, and Jim was planning their attack. "Okay Chief, time to get to work." He stood and stretched, letting Blair clear the dishes. "We'll start with the brick, then move on to painting. You get the roller, I'll do the detail work."
"Right." Blair found a bucket and poured water into it, adding soap, then moved out to the far end of the loft and started scrubbing. They worked for several hours in silence, except for the occasional 'you missed a spot'.
By mid-afternoon they had finished the bulk of the loft, and Jim allowed Blair to take a brush and work the detailed areas next to the cupboards and floor boards with the green paint he preferred. Jim stepped back to take a look at their work and stepped in something damp. He was wearing socks, and hadn't been sticking to the plastic as much as Blair was in his bare feet, but now when he lifted his right foot, a green paint brush came up with it.
"Sandburg, is this yours?"
Blair turned and looked at Jim's foot. "Oh God, Jim I'm sorry." Jim reached down and pulled the brush from his foot. "Oh man, I am really sorry."
He could almost believe him, if it weren't for the laughter punctuating each sentence. It was the first sign of life from his house mate all weekend. Well, if that's what it takes... "Sorry? Sorry, huh?"
"Man, Jim, I really am. I thought I set that up on the counter. It must have fallen down." Blair was still laughing, but trying not to.
"Sure. Sure you are." He reached out and took Blair's right hand. "Here you go." Blair held out his hand for the brush, and Jim slapped it down, bristles first, into this palm.
Blair looked at his hand, with the dripping green paint oozing through his fingers. His laughter change to a look of shock and surprise. "Yeah." He set the brush down on the counter, and patted Jim on the back. "Thanks Jim."
Jim laughed a little and looked at the ceiling for just a moment, then back down to Blair. "You know Sandburg, if it's a fight you're looking for, you're gonna lose."
"You think so?"
Jim calmly tipped the small can of green paint he was holding down the front of Blair's shirt. "I know so." Blair was taken aback just long enough for Jim to grab the discarded brush and touch his nose with it. "Missed a spot."
That was all it took for Blair to realize Jim was serious about not being serious. He reached for the roller he had used in the living room and Jim grabbed the handle, pulling him into the main room. Jim was running backwards, trying to get Blair out into the living room, and forgot they had moved most of the furniture. He hit the plastic covered couch and fell backwards, bringing Blair and the dripping roller with him. Blair recovered before falling over, and let the paint roller go along with Jim, causing it to land square in his face as he hit the floor.
Jim pushed the roller off his face and glared at Blair, who was standing farther back, both hands raised.
"Hey, I didn't do anything."
"No? Well, I'm gonna." Jim leapt to his feet and charged. Blair tried to run down the hallway but his bare feet got stuck on the plastic and Jim caught up to him easily, grabbing him around the waist with one arm while reaching for the paint can with the other. He flipped Blair over and onto the floor, face up, then held the gallon pail over his body, menacingly. "New house rules. No more cooking with any ingredients I can't pronounce."
Blair lay on the floor, looking up at Jim and the can of paint. "Now, come on Jim, I told you I was sorry. It was an accident."
Jim tipped the can. "Whose house is this?"
Blair hesitated and Jim tipped the paint farther over. "Yours. It's yours, Jim."
Jim smiled. "And who makes the house rules?"
Blair swallowed, looking at the paint. "You make the rules, Jim."
"Just checking." Jim started to set the paint can down, but his sock covered foot slipped on the plastic, and some paint sloshed out just as he moved the can, landing square on Blair's head as he was getting up.
They both froze for a moment. Jim really hadn't meant for that to happen, but seeing Blair, as he sat on the floor looking stunned, dripping in green paint, was too much. He started to laugh, then held out his hand to pull his friend up. "Hey, sorry about that." Blair glared at him and he laughed again. "No, I'm serious Chief, that one was an accident." Blair wasn't taking his hand, so he reached down and pulled him up with two handfuls of shirt. "Truce?"
Blair was looking at him, eyebrows raised, paint dripping down his face. "Now, you want a truce?"
Jim was going to reply when they heard the phone. "Truce," he said, glancing around. "Where'd you put the phone?"
Blair was trying to keep paint from running into his eyes as he stood there. "I haven't touched the phone since yesterday. It's over there." He gestured towards the kitchen counter.
Jim searched, following the ring. "You taped it down." He found the phone under several layers of plastic. "Go get the extension in your room, quick." He tossed a towel to Blair, "And don't drip in there, there's no plastic."
Blair caught the towel and glared at Jim, but said nothing as he hurried into his room to answer the phone.
Jim was still laughing when he heard Blair reach the phone and answer it. He'd known his friend would be a little surprised by a paint fight, surprised enough to give Jim a definite advantage. He glanced around at the small mess, satisfied that it had all been entirely contained by plastic. It had been worth it to snap Blair out of whatever was getting him down this weekend. The mess that was made from the kitchen accident couldn't have been keeping him depressed. Blair usually shrugged those off right after Jim vented, which he had done and finished with two days ago. The phone call was obviously not for him, so Jim examined the kitchen for any missed spots, then began to close up the unspilled paint. After sealing each gallon, he started to gather up the brushes and rollers, occasionally stepping in a puddle of paint. He had to stop twice and stretch, trying to ease the kink between his shoulders that had been there all week. He considered asking Blair for a back rub, but he didn't think his friend would feel comfortable with the request. By the time he gathered all their tools, Blair was coming out of his room, slowly.
"What's up Chief?" Jim wasn't really looking at him, having his arms full of dirty rags.
Blair kept walking until he reached the living room, then he just stopped and looked around, still wiping paint from his hands.
Jim looked up and saw his face, and the look of helplessness there. "Blair, what's up?" Something was obviously wrong. Even through the paint still dripping from his hair, his friend's face was pale.
"That was...um, Professor Kinyon." he replied, glancing around as if he was looking for something. "The University called her. There's been an accident at the research station." He paused again and Jim walked over to him.
Blair looked up at him, "A diving accident. They said Emily's dead." He looked away and tossed the rag he was holding onto the pile Jim had gathered. "They need someone from the University to go up there...and uh, bring her back. Professor Kinyon can't make it, and she asked me to go."
Blair had stopped, and Jim saw the puzzled look on his face. "What about her family?"
"They're in Europe. The University is contacting them now, but they won't make it over here for a while. There's paperwork to do, for customs." Blair reached up to push his hair back, but stopped when he realized there was still wet paint there. "I need to get up there, and make arrangements." He turned to walk back down the hall, then stopped and turned around again. "Jim, I don't know what to do."
Jim had been listening, waiting for reality to hit his friend. When it did, he was ready. Jim reached out and put both hands on his shoulders. "Take it easy Chief. Go take a shower, get cleaned up. I can make arrangements to get you up there, but at this late hour, it'll probably be tomorrow. Just let me make a few phone calls. Okay?"
Blair nodded slowly, "Yeah, okay. Thanks Jim."
Jim patted his shoulders then spun him around. "Go on, and don't use all the hot water."
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