Chapter 8

"Well that was a very enlightening phone call," Brother Jeremy observed as he hung up the phone. Staring out the window, he added, "Thanks to your captain, I now know why you appeared so drawn and tired when you suddenly showed up here last month, Brother Blair. And I also know why you haven’t been your usual self."

Having been alarmed at the usually exuberant young man’s withdrawn and somber behavior, Brother Jeremy had more than once almost approached Blair about what was troubling him; not wanting to press Blair, who had been working nonstop on his dissertation, Brother Jeremy had decided to give him some space. "Now how am I going to get you to Cascade by Christmas Eve?" he wondered. "Perhaps I should seek Brother Marcus’ counsel on this matter."

Deciding to speak to Brother Marcus immediately, Brother Jeremy was just about to leave his office when a woman barged into the room. Startled by the sudden appearance, he halted in mid-step. Recovering his composure, he asked, "Can I help you?"

Eyes blazing, the woman said, "I hope so, or else there’s going to be hell to pay."

Shocked by the woman’s attitude, Brother Jeremy listened on in silence as the newcomer continued.

"My name is Naomi Sandburg and I’ve come for my son."

Unaware of his mother’s presence at the monastery, Blair was working with Br. Marcus in the barn; helping the monk in the creation of a new stained glass window for a church in Bosnia. Feeling grateful for the exacting work, which was helping to keep his mind off of everything; Blair was experiencing a rare moment of peace and contentment. For a moment he smiled as he recalled finishing his dissertation the other day.

‘When I first hooked my laptop up to the phone jack in his office, Brother Jeremy seemed about ready to throw a fit,’ Blair mused. ‘But at least it’s finally over. Now I just have to meet with Professor Jackson after Christmas and prepare for my defense. I still have to decide what to do next. Do I stay in Cascade or do I leave? Teach at the academy? Do I become an official consultant with the PD?’ Frowning, his thought turned to Jim. ‘That’s if Jim even wants me to stay,’ he thought as he once again dealt with now familiar feelings of concern for Jim and regret over the way things were between them when he had left Cascade.

Lost in thought, he didn’t hear the commotion as Brother Tomas, who was looking rather panicked, ran into the barn. "Brother Blair," the monk called out, "there’s a woman here to see you. Brother Jeremy says it is your mother and that you should come to his office right away."

"I’m coming, Tomas," Blair replied, amused by the young monk’s obvious shock that a woman would come to the monastery unannounced. "Calm down. I promise she won’t bite. Well, not you at least." After wiping his face, Blair nodded goodbye to Brother Marcus and then headed for the main building.

Entering Brother Jeremy’s office, Blair briefly wondered why Naomi had chosen this moment to reappear in his life. The fact that, as far as his mother knew, he was supposed to have started at the police academy in a few days registered in his mind as he was suddenly swept up into a tight embrace.

Returning the hug, he greeted, "Hi, Mom. It’s been a while."

"Too long, Sweetie," Naomi replied as she released Blair. "Oh, Blair," Naomi said while wiping at the tears in her eyes, "It’s so good to see you. When I arrived in Cascade and couldn’t find you, I was so worried. But Brother Jeremy was kind enough to assuage my worries. He said that you’d been here for a while and that you’ve finished your dissertation."

"Yes, Mom, it’s finished," Blair confirmed. "I’ll defend in January."

"I’m so happy for you, Baby," Naomi replied. "Now you can finally get on with your life. And, Sweetie, I’ve got the greatest surprise for you. It’s all arranged. We’ll leave right after Christmas. The ashram wants to begin your studies as soon as we get there. He’ll purify you and purge all of the violence and ugliness you’ve been exposed to for the past four years. I’m so glad you’ve finally seen reason and left those pigs behind…"

"Whoa, hold up a minute, Mom," Blair interrupted. "Get on with my life? Ashram? Leave those ‘pigs’ behind? What are you talking about?"

"Well now that you’ve finished your dissertation and will finally get your doctorate, there’s no limit to what you can do," Naomi explained. "You can teach anywhere you want, go on expeditions. Oh, Blair, it will be wonderful for you. But first, you simply must come with me to India. As I was saying, there’s this ashram…"

Becoming angry, Blair ordered, "Get to the part about leaving the ‘pigs’ behind, Naomi."

Shocked by Blair’s tone, especially since he had never spoken to her like that before, Naomi stammered, "Well… I… Since you’re… You can…"

"Can what?" Blair asked.

"Well now, you’ll no longer be stuck in Cascade," Naomi stated. "You won’t have any reason to expose yourself to Jim or his world any longer. I never liked your being a part of that, Blair. People like us shouldn’t associate with pigs. We certainly shouldn’t be living and working with them."

"Naomi…"

Ignoring Blair, Naomi continued, "Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Jim, Captain Banks, or any of those other people; but they’re simply no good for you, Sweetie." Not noticing Blair’s increasingly irate expression, Naomi prattled on. "When I think about all the times that you’ve been hurt over the past several years, I… I'm just so glad that you're finally free of him. We can move on together. We don’t need to settle anywhere. The world is our home, it always has been and it always will be. Come on, Blair; let’s go right now. We can go to India right now!"

"Naomi," Blair replied, his tone low in an attempt to maintain control over his temper, "I’m going to defend my dissertation and get my degree. Then, if they’ll have me, I will become a consultant to the PD; maybe even an instructor at the academy as well." Sighing, Blair continued, "Naomi, even though we’re not related by blood, I consider Jim to be my brother. Yeah, we’ve had some problems recently, but we’ll work them out. He’s my family and family sticks together, through good times as well as bad. I hope you can understand that."

Her expression stricken, Naomi said, "Blair, that pig is not your brother. You’re simply deluding yourself. He doesn’t need you anymore. Surely you must realize that or else you wouldn’t be here right now." Switching tactics, she asked, "Why are you here, Blair? Did that pig throw you out again? Why do you keep letting him treat you this way? What hold does he have over you that you would continue to accept this abuse?"

"First of all, Jim didn’t throw me out. I left," Blair explained. "But now, I realize how big of a mistake my leaving was. Second, don’t ever refer to Jim, or any of my other friends, as a ‘pig’. I mean it, Naomi. It’s demeaning to them and the job that they do. They’re out on the streets risking their lives day in and day out in order to protect the public. I admire them a great deal for their courage and dedication. Now, I don’t deny that there are some bad cops; but they are in the minority, especially in the Cascade PD." Reaching out to grasp Naomi’s shoulders, Blair continued in gentler tone. "Over the past four years, I’ve felt honored to be a part of that world, Naomi. Sure, it has a down side but I know that it’s where I belong."

Letting go of his mother, Blair took a step back. "I’m not going with you to India," he stated. "I’m not a little kid anymore and you can’t make decisions for my life. You can’t just trot off to some out-of-the-way place and expect me to tag along without saying a word. I mean how could you make plans like that without even consulting me first, Naomi? It’s the same thing you did when you gave my dissertation to your friend, Sid. Your actions affected a lot of people. Simon and Megan were shot and Jim’s life was almost destroyed."

Pacing in the small confines of the room, Blair said, "Now, when everything is just starting to settle down and I’m trying to get my life back on track, you show up and disrupt everything. Where have you been the past few months? When I needed you the most, you were nowhere to be found. But you know who was there for me? Jim, that’s who. That ‘pig’ and his family have done so much for me. They contacted a lawyer and with his help, I sued Rainier, your friend Sid and his publishing company. Not only was I re-accepted back into Rainier’s doctorate program, but your friend Sid is currently out of work. None of that would have been possible if not for the Ellisons."

Coming to a halt, Blair looked at his mother. "They’re my family, Naomi, by my choice and by theirs. I love you and you will always be my mom, but you have to accept that and accept their place in my life. You rejected your birth family for both of us when I was a baby and you’ve chosen to deny me a father, but this is one family that you can’t take away from me. I love them, Naomi, and I need them in my life. I want you to be a part of my life too, but if you can’t come to terms with my life as it is now, and as it will be in the future, then I don’t know how you can continue to be a part of my life."

"Blair, you can’t mean this," Naomi said.

"The choice isn’t mine, Naomi," Blair replied. "It’s yours." Turning to Brother Jeremy, Blair said, "Thank you for your hospitality but I think it’s time for me to return to my family now. I need to be with my brother, especially since tomorrow is Christmas Eve."

Relieved that he wouldn’t have to result to trickery to get Blair back to Cascade, Jeremy said, "Brother Blair, a number of us are going to Cascade volunteer at a homeless shelter. We’d be more that happy to have you ride to town with us."

"Thanks, that’d be great," Blair replied to the monk before addressing his mother once more. "What’ll it be, Naomi?" When she didn’t answer, he said, "If you change your mind, you know how to reach me." Turning to leave the office, Blair paused at the door. "You know my email, so please keep in contact; I’d like to have an idea where you are and that you’re safe, Mom. And if you’re in Cascade tomorrow night, please come to the loft. I’d really like to spend this Christmas with my entire family."

After Blair left, Brother Jeremy hurried to Naomi’s side. "Ms. Sandburg, I’ll have Brother Tomas drive you to your car," he informed her. "I hope you find the peace that you’re looking for. You will be in my prayers."

Still in shock from Blair’s words, Naomi wordlessly followed the young monk to the old vehicle and climbed in; she never looked back as the young monk drove her away from St. Sebastian’s and her son.

After Naomi had left the office, Brother Jeremy immediately headed for the phone. "Hello," he said when his call was answered, "this is Brother Jeremy from Saint Sebastian's and I need to speak with Captain Banks." While he was waiting for Simon, Brother Jeremy stared out the window and watched as Blair headed back to the barn and Brother Marcus. "Captain Banks," he said after the call had been transferred, "this is Brother Jeremy and I've got some news for you. First, I just want to assure you that Brother Blair will be returning to Cascade tomorrow. Why? Well, that's the second thing that I need to tell you. Naomi Sandburg just got through leaving. While I don't feel comfortable breaking any confidences and telling you what transpired, I can tell you that, as a result of his conversation with his mother, Brother Blair finally seems to have come to terms with whatever has been bothering him." Smiling, Brother Jeremy asked, "So what time should we have him home tomorrow evening?"

 

Chapter 9

"Glad you could make it," Simon greeted as he opened his door to allow William and Steven to enter his home. "Everyone else is already here."

"Good," William replied. "I don't want to leave Jimmy alone too long. Even though Sally is there to keep him company, I didn't feel right about leaving him."

"How is he doing?" Simon asked as he took William and Steven's coats.

"Okay, I think," William answered as Simon turned to hang up their coats. "But you know how he is; he really doesn't let you know when something is bothering him."

"Yeah, I know," Simon replied. "Sometimes, it seems like Sandburg is the only person that he'll really talk to."

"Speaking of Blair," Steven said, "have you heard anything else from him?"

"Why don't we go in the living room with everyone else," Simon suggested. "That way, I'll only have to explain things once."

"Why do I get the feeling that you've got some news for us?" Steven asked.

Smiling, Simon said, "This way, gentlemen."

When they entered the living room, everyone nodded in acknowledgement of the new arrivals.

"Hello, everyone," William said. Then, turning to Simon, he asked, "So what news do you have about Blair?"

"You heard from Sandy?" Megan asked. "Why didn't you tell us sooner?"

"I didn't hear from Sandburg," Simon explained. "I heard from Brother Jeremy?"

Confused, Megan looked around to see several smiling faces. "All right, so I see there's something else that I've missed. Who is this Brother Jeremy?"

"Don't ask me," Steven said when Megan looked his way. "I haven't got a clue."

"Me either," William said. "But going by the smiles, I see that some of you do. Would you care to enlighten us?"

"Yeah, what's up?" Costello asked.

"Brother Jeremy is the rector at Saint Sebastian's," Simon replied. "It's a monastery, which is where Blair has been ever since he left Cascade."

Chuckling, Megan asked, "Sandy in a monastery? Forgive me, but I'm having some trouble picturing that."

"Yeah, well you should hear about the last time he went there," Henri stated. "Of course, that time he took Jim with him."

"Just another one of their quiet little vacations that ended up with gunfire and bad buys," Rafe added. "I swear, those guys always end up needing to take a vacation to recover from their vacations."

"Did I hear you right?" Costello asked. "Gunfire and perps at a monastery? I mean, what are the odds…"

"You forget, Al," Joel interrupted, "this is Ellison and Sandburg we're talking about here. The one thing that you've got to remember about those two is that if something can possible go wrong, it will definitely go wrong. When they're around, anything can happen. If you're gonna make it in Major Crime, then that is one fact that you never ever want to forget."

Clearing his throat, attracting everyone's attention, Simon said, "If you'll permit me to finish, I was saying that I heard from Brother Jeremy today and he assured me that Blair will be back in Cascade tomorrow."

"Did he say why Blair decided to come back?" Joel asked.

Looking uncomfortable, Simon replied, "I just know that it had something to do with his mother. Apparently she paid a visit to Blair today. Brother Jeremy wouldn't go into much detail, but from what I gather, it wasn't a very pleasant experience."

"Poor Sandy," Megan said. "I hope that he's okay."

"He will be as soon as he and Jim make up," Henri stated.

"Yeah," Simon agreed. "Now we're coming down to the wire here, people. We've got to get everything arranged; with everything that has happened recently we haven't had time to make very many preparation and we really need to get this thing set in motion."

When Simon finished, William stepped forward. "Okay, people, we need organization," he stated, effectively taking over the meeting. "First, we need a location, so, any ideas on where this party will take place?"

"The loft," Simon stated. "Brother Jeremy and I already discussed this. He and the other monks will be volunteering at a homeless shelter tomorrow and they’re going to convince Blair to go with them. After they get finished, Brother Jeremy is going to suggest that they head over to the loft. This will give us plenty of time to get everything in place tomorrow."

"That sounds feasible," William agreed. "Jimmy has been wanting to get some items from the loft, so I suggested that we go tomorrow evening. I just need to know what time."

"I told Brother Jeremy to have Blair there around 6:30," Simon informed the others. "So I think that you should have Jim there at around 6:15."

"Why do we want Jim to get there sooner than Blair?" Costello asked. "Wouldn't it be better if they showed up at the same time?"

"No," Megan disagreed. "I think that I see what Simon is getting at here. When Jim gets to the loft, he's going to be in for a pretty big surprise; and as most of us know, when he is surprised or has something unexpected happen, he can get pretty defensive. This way, he'll have a chance to … as Sandy would say … process things before Sandy gets there."

"Exactly," Simon stated. "Now, I've got a key to the loft so we won't have any problem gaining access to the place. Since most of their neighbors are familiar with Megan and myself, we'll head over there first thing tomorrow morning and clue them in on what is happening."

"Why would you need to do that?" Steven asked.

"Well, with everything that's happened around there, most of them have become pretty suspicious of anyone lurking around the loft," Simon explained.

"Does this have something to do with that 'anything can happen' rule?" Costello asked.

"Yes," several voices answered in unison.

When the resulting laughter died down, William said, "Okay, we've got location covered; now, what about food? I know that Sally wouldn't object to cooking, but with Jimmy in the house…"

"He is bound to know that something is up," Megan finished when William trailed off.

"Exactly," William said. "I mean, Sally can make cookies and snacks using the excuse of taking them to a homeless shelter; she can just make double what she had planned making. With my help, it should be done in plenty of time."

"Excuse me?" Steven spoke up. "I must be imagining things because I know that I couldn't have heard what I thought that I heard just now. C'mon. My dad actually baking?" Turning to look at his father, Steven said, "Forgive me, Dad, but get real. I mean when Jim and I were growing up, you couldn't even handle no-bake cookies."

"That was a long time ago, Stevie," William replied. "And I’ve changed since then. I was hoping that you and Jimmy had realized that with everything that has happened recently but…"

"Dad," Steven interrupted as he came over to stand by his father, "I was just joking. I know that you've changed, Dad. Jimmy and I both know that. We do."

"Yes, well, um…" William said, emotions making his words seem hesitant, "so, where were we? Food, wasn’t it?"

"I think that I know where we can get the turkey," Costello said. When everyone turned to look at him, he added, "Well, you see, my wife's work always hands out certificates as a Christmas bonus; I think it is something like \\$10 or $15 that she can use towards the purchase of a turkey. She should be able to get a pretty good-sized one for that amount." Eyes downcast, he continued, "Neither one of us has any family in the area, and she has really missed not having anyone to cook for this year. She comes from a large family and they always made a big deal out of the holidays; at least, they did until her parents died. After that, they kind of stopped. I think something like this, it could go a long way towards lifting her spirits."

"That would be great," Simon said. "But, Al, are you sure your wife wouldn't mind?"

"Melody would love it," Costello replied. "She could cook it at our place and drop it off for the party."

"Drop it off?" Joel asked. "Won't she want to stay for the party?"

"I'm sure that she wouldn't want to impose…"

"That's nonsense," Joel interrupted. "We've all been wanting to meet your wife and this would be the perfect time. I'm sure that I speak for everyone when I say that she is more than welcome at the party."

Seeing the others nod in agreement, Costello said, "That's great. She'll love it. Thanks."

"We're that one that owe her thanks," Megan said. "Because I, for one, am absolutely lousy in the kitchen. But I can handle something simple like corn or potatoes. Your wife shouldn't have to fix everything."

"I can fix the stuffing," Rhonda volunteered. "I'll use my grandmother's recipe; it’s terrific."

"Okay," Simon said. "Now what else do we need?"

"Hairboy will probably want salad," Henri stated. "I could bring that. Hell, even I can chop tomatoes and tear up some lettuce."

"I'll take cranberry sauce and rolls," Rafe said.

Nodding, Simon said, "I think we just about have it covered. I'll bring some yams. Anything else?"

"Not that I can think of," Megan replied.

"Sounds good to me," Joel stated as the other nodded in agreement.

"What about decorations?" William asked. "I could get some from home. Try to sneak them out the back way while Jimmy is sleeping. Unless someone else has some they could bring."

"Or we could just use Sandy and Jim's stuff," Megan suggested. Seeing the surprised look on William's face, she asked, "Something the matter, Bill?"

"Oh no," William replied. "I just thought… Well, with Blair being Jewish and all… I just didn't think…"

"Didn't think that Jim would have any decorations," Simon finished. Seeing William nod, he said, "The first year after Blair showed up, they really didn't put up many decorations. I remember Blair putting up his menorah and some ceramic figures of Santa Clause and a nativity scene. But last Christmas, they went all out."

"That's right," Joel confirmed. "And as for Blair being Jewish… Well, I think that Blair is really a whole lot of things. He always seems to be celebrating something; Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah." Chuckling, he added, "Halloween. I remember Jim complaining about how hyped up on sugar Blair was last Halloween. When one thinks of Blair, the word unconventional definitely comes to mind."

"Hell, growing up with Naomi for a mother, it is surprising he turned out as normal as he did," Simon stated.

"Simon…"

"Yeah, I know, Joel," Simon said. "But sometimes that woman…"

"I understand where you're coming from," Joel said. "I really do. But now isn't the time. Right now, we need to focus on Jim and Blair."

"You're right," Simon agreed. "So what now?"

"Um… presents," Megan said. "I've got most of mine done, but I still need to pick up something for Sandy. Oh, and for Melody, of course."

"You don't have to…"

"No way, Mate," Megan interrupted. "There's no way she's going to be the only one there without a present. Besides, it's the least I can do since she's going to be cooking for us."

"Yeah," Henri agreed.

"Thanks, guys," Costello said. "I know that she'll appreciate it."

"Now that that's settled," William said, "how are we going to get the decorations? Does Jimmy keep them in the loft?"

"No," Simon answered. "I remember seeing boxes label 'Christmas décor' down in the storage area in the basement the last time I helped Jim stow away some camping gear."

"Do you think we can get into it?" William asked.

"Well, since I have a key to it," Simon replied, "I don't think that will be a problem." Seeing William's questioning look, Simon explained, "Last time Jim and Blair went camping, they invited me along. When we got back in town, I just put my stuff down with theirs and Jim gave me a key in case I ever needed to get it."

"Then I think that we've got everything covered," William said. "Unless anyone can think of something that we've overlooked?" When no one said anything, he continued, "In that case, I suggest we call this meeting to a close. We've all got a lot of preparations to make tomorrow."

"Let's call it a night then," Simon said. Turning to Megan he said, "I'm going to head over to the loft at about eight o'clock in the morning and get started on the decorations."

"I'll meet you then," Joel offered.

"All right," Simon agreed. "The rest of you show up when you can."

While everyone was getting their coats, Simon pulled Joel to the side. "Joel, would you mind sticking around for a little while?"

"Sure, Simon," Joel replied. "What's up?"

"I just need a friendly ear right now," Simon explained. "Why don't you head back into the living room while I herd everybody out of here."

"All right," Joel agreed.

After seeing everyone out, Simon went back to the living room. "Thanks for staying, Joel."

"No problem, Simon," Joel replied.

Sighing, Simon said, "It's Daryl."

"What about him?" Joel asked. "Is he all right? Nothing has happened, has it?"

"No, no," Simon reassured, "it's nothing like that. I got a phone call from him and he is doing fine. But unfortunately, he wants to spend Christmas in New York with Joan and her new boyfriend. Evidently, they're getting pretty serious and Daryl wants a chance to get to know the guy a little bit better."

"Shit, Simon, I'm sorry," Joel said. "That's gotta be tough on you."

"Yeah, but I have to respect his wishes," Simon replied. "If Joan and this guy really are getting serious then he could become a major part of Daryl's life and they should get to know each other."

"I don't know how you handle it," Joel said.

"Handle what?" Simon asked.

"Fatherhood," Joel answered. "I mean, a part of me has always regretted not having a child of my own; but, I don't think that I would have been a very good father."

"Are you kidding me?" Simon replied. "Joel, you would've been a great father. Any kid would be lucky to have you as their dad."

"Well, I don't think it is going to be an issue now," Joel said. "There's not exactly a whole lot of prospects out there for me. Besides, I'm too old to become a dad."

"Joel…" Simon began but the ringing of the phone interrupted him. "Be right back," he said as he went over to answer it. "Banks."

"Me too."

"Daryl," Simon replied, a grin lighting up his face. "It’s good to hear from you. How’s New York?"

Instead of answering, Daryl asked, "Dad, can I still spend Christmas with you?" Sounding anxious, he quickly added, "That is, if you haven’t made other plans."

"Of course you can spend Christmas with me!" Simon exclaimed. "I’ve got plans, but they'd be so much better with you here. Do you need money for a ticket? Can you get to an airport safely? Are you okay?"

Laughing, Daryl said, "Calm down, Dad. I’m fine." Voice growing serious, he explained, "I’m at a really nice hotel in New York. After I got here, Mom and Robert suddenly decided to take a cruise instead of spending Christmas here; Mom said something about being tired of all of the snow. They said that I could go with them, but… Well, I just decided that I really want to spend Christmas with you, Dad. If it's okay, that is. I know you're probably ticked about me dumping you the way that I did, but…"

"Hold it, Daryl," Simon interrupted. "Son, you are always welcome here. Never doubt that. I love you."

"I love you too, Daddy," Daryl replied in a quiet voice.

"Now then, do you need a ticket or any money?" Simon asked.

"Nope, Dad, got that covered," Daryl answered. "Before Mom and Robert left…"

"Wait a minute," Simon interrupted. "You mean to tell me that you're in New York by yourself! I…"

"Dad, I'm fine," Daryl reassured. "Everything's fine. Like I was saying, before Mom and Robert left, Mom booked me on the first flight back to Cascade. I’ll land at the airport at 9:00 tomorrow morning. Can you be there to pick me up?"

"Can I pick you up?" Simon repeated. "Are you kidding me? I'll be there with bells on."

Daryl groaned. "Dad, just be there. No decorations, okay."

After a sharing a brief laugh with his son, Simon listened as Daryl went over the flight information. "I'll see you then, Daryl. Love you, Son."

Hanging up, Simon smiled and then went to rejoin Joel.

Joel looked up as Simon came back into the living room. "Everything okay?"

"More than okay," Simon replied. "Daryl is going to be here for Christmas."

"But you said…"

"Joan and her boyfriend decided to go on a cruise," Simon interrupted. "They offered to take Daryl with them, but he decided to come back home instead."

"That's great!" Joel exclaimed. "I'm really happy for you, Simon."

"Thanks, Joel," Simon said. "But can you believe that Joan actually had the nerve to leave Daryl alone. She didn't even stay around until his flight left. Right now, he is in New York by himself."

"I'm sure he'll be all right," Joel reassured. "He's a smart kid and he knows how to handle himself."

"I know that," Simon said, "but it doesn't make me worry any less."

"Of course not, you're a good dad who loves his son." Glancing at his watch, Joel said, "I really should be heading home. We've got a lot to do tomorrow before Blair gets back."

"You're right," Simon agreed. "Thanks for staying and listening, Joel." Pausing for a moment, he added, "You know it's funny."

"What is?"

"How much you and Sandburg are alike," Simon explained. "You're both really good listeners and you're always the first one there when someone needs help." Staring intently at Joel for several seconds, Simon said, "You know, Sandburg has said that Naomi never told him who his father was; that she didn't know herself. Maybe…"

"Whoa, Simon," Joel said. "If you think…"

"Kidding, Joel," Simon interrupted. "Besides, I think that you would remember having met Naomi before. But then again, where were you back in 1968?" Laughing, Simon asked, "Run into any red-heads back then?" Abruptly coming to a halt when Joel didn't start laughing also, Simon asked, "Joel? Is something wrong?"

Shaking his head, seeming to come out of a daze, Joel replied, "No, everything's fine. But I really have to go now. See you in the morning."

"See you then," Simon said as he escorted Joel to the door.

Once he got into his car, Joel sat there thinking. After a while, he chuckled and said, "Naw, it couldn't be." Then he started up his car and headed home.

 

Chapter 10

After waking up the next morning, Blair walked over to the window and looked outside. "Cold and wet," he muttered. "Figures." Walking over to the closet, he pulled out his suitcase. After throwing in onto the bed, he began tossing his clothes inside; absentmindedly, he set two shirts and a pair of jeans aside to put on later.

Just as he finished packing, a knock sounded at the door. "Come in," he called out as he finished zipping up the suitcase.

"Brother Blair," Brother Jeremy greeted as he opened the door, "how are you this morning?"

"Fine," Blair replied.

"Maybe just a tad bit nervous?" Brother Jeremy asked after seeing the way Blair was fiddling with the zipper on his suitcase.

Looking up at the monk, Blair admitted, "Maybe just a little." Looking out of the window he said, "I mean, what if Jim doesn't want me to come back? What if he is still mad at me?"

Coming over to stand beside Blair, Brother Jeremy laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Brother Blair, from what I saw of Brother Jim during your last visit here, I'd say that he cares for you a great deal; and I know that you feel the same way towards him. It may seem like there's no solution in sight, but I know that the two of you will work this out. But that won't happen unless you go back and face him. The two of you have to confront these issues and deal with them."

"Yeah, well, confronting issues isn't exactly something that Jim does very well," Blair replied.

"Close your eyes, Brother Blair," Brother Jeremy instructed. When Blair hesitated, he said, "Do it." After Blair's eyes were closed, he added, "Now I want you to picture the place where you feel most comfortable, the place that you consider home. Do that and tell me what you see."

Brow furrowed in concentration, Blair was silent for several long seconds. Finally, he opened his eyes.

"Well?" Bother Jeremy asked. "What did you see?"

"Jim," Blair answered, in a shocked tone.

"Why do you sound so surprised?" Brother Jeremy asked. "Did you really think that only a house or a building could be a home. Home is being accepted for who and what you are; home is being cared for and loved."

"I get all of those things from Jim," Blair said. "He is my home."

"Now, don't you think that you're a little bit too old to be running away from home, young man?" Brother Jeremy asked.

Returning Brother Jeremy's smile, Blair replied, "So when do we leave?"

"Right after breakfast," Brother Jeremy answered. "But there is one thing though."

"What's that?" Blair inquired.

"Well, the brothers and I have volunteered our time to aid at a homeless shelter today," Brother Jeremy explained. "But in addition to that, we will first be picking up some presents. Unfortunately, the shelter experienced a theft sometime during the night. The majority of the packages they had already were stolen."

"That sucks," Blair exclaimed. Then realizing what he had said, he added, "Oh… Geez, I'm sorry, I…"

Chuckling Brother Jeremy said, "That's quite all right, Brother Blair. Besides, you're right. It does suck." Laughing harder at Blair's surprised expression, he added, "As I was saying, the presents were stolen so the brothers and I agreed to do a little last minute Christmas shopping. Since we are rather ignorant of what the current trends are, we were hoping that you could give us some assistance."

"You want me to go shopping with you?" Blair asked.

"We would be most appreciative," Brother Jeremy replied.

"I don't know," Blair stated. "I was wanting to get back to Jim, I want to go there and see him as soon as possible."

"Wouldn't he at the station today?" Brother Jeremy asked.

"Yeah," Blair said. "And this conversation is one that we definitely shouldn't be having there." Looking up at Brother Jeremy, he added, "I'd love to help you guys out. But on one condition."

"What?"

"Well, I don't know if you know this or not, but I received huge settlement from the lawsuit," Blair said. "I know that you guys were probably going to have to do some serious scrambling to collect enough money to buy presents today…"

"Yes," Brother Jeremy agreed, "there was some worry about where the money would come from. We were planning to use some of our own funds. It would mean delaying several other projects such as Brother Marcus' stain glass work, but…"

"I don't want you to have to do that," Blair interrupted. "I'd like to pay for the presents today. I want to make sure that all of the children in the shelter receive a Christmas that they'll remember all year long."

"Thank you, Brother Blair. For the children, I thank you," Brother Jeremy said. Turning to leave, he reminded Blair, "Breakfast will be served in fifteen minutes. After that, we'll be heading for Cascade."

"I'll be there," Blair replied. After Brother Jeremy had left, Blair softly added, "I just hope that Jim wants me there."


Back in Cascade, Jim was awakened by the smell of freshly baked cookies. Climbing out of bed, he snagged his robe and quickly donned it while following the delicious aroma to the kitchen; where he stood in shock as he watched his father using a cookie cutter to make gingerbread men.

Noticing his son's arrival, William turned around. "Hi, Jimmy. How are you this morning?"

"Um… fine, Dad," Jim replied. "How about you? Are you okay?"

"Great," William answered. Gesturing to the dough in front of him, he added, "You're just in time. I think that Sally is getting ready to take the first batch out of the oven. Maybe you can manage to nab a couple of these from her. Personally, I like the dough but the finished product is pretty good too."

Smiling, Jim said, "Well, a couple should be enough for me but what about you?"

"I know you, Son," William replied. "And I definitely know your appetite. Believe me, two will definitely not be enough for you."

"Sit down, Jimmy," Sally ordered as she took a sheet of cookies out of the oven. "I'll fix you some breakfast. Which definitely won't consist of cookies and milk."

"Really, Sally, you don't have to…"

"I said sit, young man," Sally interrupted. When Jim hesitated, she added, "Well, what are you waiting for? Get moving."

"Yes, Ma'am," Jim meekly replied.

"I see you haven't lost your touch, Sally," William said with a chuckle.

"And why are you just standing there?" Sally asked. "These cookies aren't going to bake themselves you know. Get moving."

"Yes, Ma'am," William replied, in a tone nearly identical to the one that Jim had used.

"You're right, Pop," Jim called out from his seat at the table.

"What?" William asked.

Laughing, Jim said, "Sally definitely hasn't lost her touch."

Before William could respond, the doorbell rang. Seeing Jim start to rise, William said, "Just stay put, Jimmy. I'll get it."

William went to the front door and opened it to reveal a rather angry looking, red headed woman. "Can I help you?"

Barging past William, Naomi stormed into the house.

Reaching out to snag her shoulder, William asked, "Excuse me, Miss…"

"It's Ms.," Naomi corrected. "Ms. Naomi Sandburg."

"Blair's mother?" William asked.

"That's right," Naomi confirmed, "and I've come to talk to you about our sons." Facing William, she said, "Now I'm pretty sure that you're no happier about their continued association that I am. I'm very familiar with your kind and how you view people like my son and I; what you think of those who are labeled as 'rebels' and 'non-conformists' by society. Frankly, Mr. Ellison, I don't want my son around pigs any longer. I only tolerated it this long because I was sure that Blair would eventually come to his senses and leave Jim; however, that doesn't seem to be happening. So, I decided to come to you for help."

"My help?" William asked. "To do what?"

"Why to separate our sons, of course," Naomi replied.

Catching sight of Jim, who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Bill motioned his son back when he noticed the angry expression on Jim's face. "Let me handle this, Jimmy," he whispered. Seeing Jim nod, William directed his attention to Naomi. "Ms. Sandburg, let's get one thing straight right now. Not only do I think very highly of your son, I also owe him a great deal of thanks. Not only for being instrumental in bringing my son back to me, but for helping Jimmy finally come to terms with who and what he is; something that I was never able to do. And frankly, I consider your prejudiced and stereotyped view of me to be extremely insulting. It is completely untrue and without any merit what so ever."

Taking a deep breath in an effort to regain his composure, William continued, "Ms. Sandburg, I realize that you believe that your actions are in Blair's best interests, but they are not."

"Who are you to tell me how to handle my son?" Naomi asked, her tone indignant. "From what I've seen and heard, you're in no position to be giving anyone parenting advice."

Again discretely motioning Jim to stay back when his son started forward again, William replied, "You're right. I have made a lot of mistakes. Mistakes that I paid dearly for. Due to my own stubbornness and lack of foresight, I was forced to endure a long separation from my children. That is one fate that I don't wish on anyone, Madam. Even you." Sighing, William continued, " I love my sons and I've grown to care a great deal for yours as well. Jim considers Blair to be his brother and as such I consider Blair to be a part of my family. And as with my boys, I am very proud of Blair's achievements, both in his academic career and in his involvement with the police department. I admit, their relationship may seem rather out of the ordinary to most people, but you and I both know the reason behind their involvement with each other; and we both know that they belong together."

"Mr. Ellison, be reasonable," Naomi implored when William fell silent. "your son has nearly gotten my son killed on several occasions."

"And I don't like that any more than you. I don't like the fact that our sons face life-threatening situations on an almost daily basis, but is it what they are sometimes forced to endure in order to protect those around them," William replied. "But you must realize that whether Blair stays or leaves, the choice is his. You can't make it for him."

"You're wrong there," Naomi protested. "I want Blair as far away from Jim Ellison and Cascade as I can get him and I’ll make that happen with or without your help. If you or your son try to stand in my way, I'll…"

"Stop right there," William ordered. "I don't know who you think you're dealing with, but no one threatens me or my family; and if you persist in this harassment, I will place a call to my attorney and have him ensure that you can not interfere with our lives anymore. Now, get out of my house or I’ll have you arrested for trespassing."

"I'll leave," Naomi conceded, "but you can be assured that this is not over." With that decree, she turned and stormed out of the door, slamming it behind her. Once outside, she closed her eyes for a moment and took a few deep breaths. "I am relaxed," she murmured. "I am relaxed. Oh, Hell, I am not! I swear; I will get my baby away from these people if it's the last thing that I do. I won't allow them to hurt him anymore." Then, she ran over to her car and left.

Inside, Jim walked over to his father after Naomi's exit. "You gotta admit, Pop. She certainly has a flare for the dramatic, doesn't she?"

"Tell me that Blair isn't as difficult to deal with as his mother," William responded with a smile.

"Um… well… actually…" Seeing the somewhat fearful expression on his father's face, Jim laughed. "Don't worry about it, Pop. Blair is a pretty easy-going guy most of the time."

"Why am I not reassured?" William asked with a laugh.

"Well…" Jim began.

"What's going on out there?" Sally called out, interrupted Jim. "Get back in this kitchen right now. Jim, your breakfast is ready. Mr. Ellison, there are still cookies to be made."

Exchanging a look, both Jim and William replied, "Yes, Ma'am." Then they walked back into the kitchen, their laughter trailing behind them.


Over at the loft, the group of Major Crime detectives looked around in satisfaction. "It looks beautiful," Megan observed as she stared at the decorated tree; watching the strands of lights twinkling and reflecting against the tinsel. Turning to look at Blair's menorah, complete with new candles, she added, "Jim and Sandy will love it."

"I hope so," Joel said. "I really hope so."

"Of course they will," Rafe stated. "It really is going to be a great Christmas."

"Now, all we have to do is wait for tonight," Henri said. "How much longer do we have anyway?"

"A little while," Simon answered. "We got done a lot sooner that I thought. We done good, people."

A chorus of, "yeah," sounded throughout the loft.

Laughing, Megan said, "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm going to go do some shopping and then head home to fix the corn and potatoes for tonight."

"I need to head out too," Rafe said. "I've got some rolls to make. The dough should be ready by now." Seeing the other surprised looks, he added, "What? You thought I'd use something out of a can or some store bought ones? No way, guys. I'm using my mom's recipe. They'll melt in your mouth."

"Okay, folks, let's head out," Simon ordered. "Get everything done that you need to do; cooking, shopping, whatever and we'll meet back here at 5:00 to get everything else in place."

"Will that give us enough time?" Costello asked.

"I think so," Simon replied. "We've got the decorations out and the tree set up. When we come back, all we need to do is get all the food set up."

"Sounds good," Joel said.

"See you tonight," Simon said after they had reached the street. Climbing into his car, he called out, "Merry Christmas, everyone!"


Following behind Brother Jeremy as they entered the homeless shelter, Blair let out a quiet sigh. 'God, I am so exhausted,' he thought. 'I never thought that monks could shop like that.'

"Something the matter, Brother Blair?" Brother Jeremy asked.

"Oh… no, nothing," Blair replied. "But we are done with the shopping, aren't we?"

"What's the matter, Brother Blair?" Brother Marcus asked. "You seem a little bit… flustered."

"Flustered?" Blair incredulously asked. "Are you kidding me? You guys wore me out. I'm freaking exhausted." Seeing the looks directed his way, Blair moaned, "Oh sh… I mean… I…" Trailing off, Blair ran a hand through his hair.

Laughing, Brother Jeremy said, "We're sorry, Brother Blair, but we don't usually get to go out like we did today. I think the brothers got a little bit carried away."

"I don't think that they were the only one, Brother Jeremy," Blair replied. "I mean exactly how long did you spend playing on that Playstation?"

"Well since the employees had gone to the trouble up setting one up on display," Brother Jeremy said, "I couldn't very well let all their time and hard work go to waste now, could I?"

Laughing, Blair said, "Whatever you say, Brother Jeremy."

"Did you have time to do any shopping for yourself?" Brother Jeremy asked.

"Yeah, I managed to squeeze in some when you challenged that kid to a rematch," Blair answered. "Hey, who won anyway?"

When Brother Jeremy didn't reply, Brother Marcus spoke up. "Well, as you would say, Brother Blair. The kid kicked his butt."

Aghast, Brother Jeremy exclaimed, "Brother Marcus!"

"Well he did," Brother Marcus defended himself.

"Still, we must maintain a proper level of decorum," Brother Jeremy chastised. After a few seconds, he added, "Besides, by the third game, he was the one who got his butt kicked."

Leaving a shocked Blair and Brother Marcus behind, Brother Jeremy went over to talk to a group people who were standing by a Christmas tree set up in the corner of the room.

"Did he just say what I thought I heard him just say?" Blair asked.

"Of course not," Brother Marcus replied. "Surely it was just our ears playing a trick on us." With a wicked gleam in his eyes, Brother Marcus added, "But one does wonder why he is now sporting a few new calluses."

Blair was still thinking of an appropriate response when Brother Jeremy returned. "Well are you ready to leave now, Brothers?"

"Leave?" Blair asked. "Shouldn't we stay and help out? With the food service and all?"

"They've got plenty of help for right now," Brother Jeremy replied. "Besides tomorrow, when they hand out the presents, is when they will really need help. I told them that the brothers and I would be back then. In the meantime, I thought we could take a little drive around the city. Give the brothers a chance to see the lights and various decorations."

"That's nice," Blair said, "but if you're excuse me, I'll…"

"You aren't joining us?" Brother Marcus asked.

"Well I…"

"Please do, Brother Blair," Brother Jeremy interrupted. "We really would like it if you would come with us."

"Er… I…" Seeing the hopeful look on their faces, Blair relented, "Okay, but only for a little while. Jim should be getting off of work soon and I want to see him."

"Oh, you'll definitely see him," Brother Jeremy replied.

"Huh?"

"Nothing, Brother Blair," Brother Marcus said while shooting Brother Jeremy a warning look. "Now let's head out."

"Let's," Brother Jeremy agreed. "After you, Brother Blair."

After Blair had walked out of the door, Brother Marcus hissed, "What was that about? You could have ruined the whole thing."

"Relax, Brother," Brother Jeremy replied. "I wouldn't let anything ruin this surprise. But you've got to admit, we always seem to have an interesting time when Brother Blair is around."

Smiling fondly, Brother Marcus agreed, "He certainly is a special young man, isn't he?"

"Yes," Brother Jeremy agreed. "Which is why we will do our part to ensure he and Brother Jim settle their differences."

"Yes, we will," Brother Marcus concurred. "Shall we, Brother?"

Nodding in response, Brother Jeremy headed outside with Brother Marcus following closely behind.


"You want to do what?" Jim asked in disbelief.

"Come on, Jimmy," William replied while holding out Jim's jacket. "It will be fun."

"Okay, I can accept the cookie thing," Jim stated. "I mean it was kind of a stretch, but what the heck. I've seen stranger things. Believe me, I have definitely seen stranger things. But this, I just can't accept this."

"Look, Jimmy," William said, "Sally is going to be delivering the baked goods and I don't want us sitting around the house doing nothing. Besides, it will be good for you to get out."

"What's the point?" Jim asked.

"James Joseph Ellison, you will march over here and get your coat on this instant," William ordered.

Automatically, Jim responded to the commanding tone and before he knew it, he was standing in front of his father, one hand already in a sleeve. "What?" he asked in confusion.

"Sally isn't the only who hasn't lost it, Jimmy," William replied with a chuckle. "Now finish putting on your coat, young man."

Grinning, Jim did as instructed. "All right, already, let's go and get this over with." Under his breath he mumbled, "Christmas lights. The man wants to go see Christmas lights. Un-freaking-believable."

Once they were outside and seated in the car, Jim asked, "Hey, Pop, do you think we could make a stop?"

"Sure, Jimmy, what for?"

"I've got a little bit of shopping that I need to do," Jim answered. "I thought… Well, just in case… I want…"

"Where do you want to get Blair's present?" William asked.

"What? How did you…" Smiling Jim said, "Never mind. I've got the perfect present in mind for Blair."


A few hours later, presents gift-wrapped and sitting in the back seat, William and Jim had just finished making a circuit of the city. "Anywhere else you'd like to go, Son?"

"Maybe the loft," Jim replied. "I'd like to see if…"

"If Blair is there?" William asked. When Jim simply nodded, William said, "Then that's where we'll go."

'I just hope that he is there,' Jim thought.

Smiling to himself, William turned the car around and headed for the loft.

A few minutes later, William was parking the car when Jim suddenly stiffened. "What's wrong, Jim?"

"Do you have your cell phone?" Jim asked.

"Yes, but…"

"There's someone in the loft," Jim explained. "A lot of people, actually. I'm going to see what's going on. I want you to call 911 and tell them that an officer needs assistance at this location."

"But, Jimmy…"

"Just do it, Dad," Jim ordered as he opened the car door.

Reaching over, William grabbed Jim shoulder. "That's not necessary, Son."

"What are you talking about?" Jim asked. "What's going on here?"

"Just come upstairs with me, Jimmy," William pleaded. "Please, Son, trust me."

Putting aside his mistrust, Jim agreed, "All right, Pop." Following his father inside the building, Jim thought, 'I really wish that I had my gun right now.'

Reaching the loft, William stood aside and watched as Jim unlocked the door and then pushed it open. Then, he laughed when Jim gasped in surprise when they were greeted with many shouts of "Merry Christmas."

Shocked, Jim took a hesitant step inside. "I don't believe this," he murmured as he took in the scene before him.

"Come on in, Jim," Simon invited, his arm along Daryl's shoulders, hugging his son close.

Stepping further inside, Jim saw several smiles directing his way. In disbelief, he scanned the faces. Sally, Rafe, Henri, Joel, Megan, Steven, Daryl, Simon and Al, who had an attractive woman by his side; all of his friends and family, well all except one vital member of his clan, were in attendance.

Noticing that Jim still seemed a little depressed, Simon stepped forward. "I hope we didn't…"

"Simon, this is great," Jim interrupted. "I can't believe you guys did all of this."

"So you're not mad?" Joel asked.

"No, Joel, I'm not mad," Jim replied. "But I am hungry. What smells so good?"

"That would be the turkey," Costello answered. Coming over to Jim, pulling his wife along with him, he said, "Melody, this is Detective Ellison. Detective Ellison, this is my wife, Melody."

"Pleased to meet you," Jim said as he shook the woman's hand. "But please, it's just Jim, okay? That goes for you too, Al."

"Thanks, Jim," Costello replied.

"Not prob…" Trailing off, Jim cocked his head to the side.

"Jim?" Costello asked, exchanging an uneasy glance with his wife. "Is something wrong?"

Without saying anything, Jim turned and ran from the loft.

"What?" William asked. "What happened?"

"I don't know," Costello answered. "We were just standing here talking and all of a sudden, he just stopped talking. He had his head tilted to the side and…"

"His head was tilted to the side?" Simon asked.

"Yeah," Costello replied. "What…" Tailing off, he watched as Simon ran over to the balcony.

"What's going on, Simon?" Joel asked.

"Get over here, guys," Simon said as he looked out the balcony. "I think we're about to witness a Christmas miracle."

Just as the other rushed over to join Simon by the balcony, a beat up bus pulled up in front of the building.

 

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