Of Gerbils and Men

By: Kathy

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Warnings/Notes: None really. Just some more Jim bashing. <G> Mary Ellen has been a bad influence on me. ;^)


Tired, hungry and just a little bit cranky, Jim was relieved to finally be home. It had been a long day and all he wanted was a long, hot shower, several cold beers and something to eat. There was a "Lethal Weapon" marathon on TV tonight and he wanted nothing more than to just relax on the couch and indulge in watching some half-way decent fight scenes, explosions and lots of mindless violence. Deciding that for once he would remain in control of the remote, he was determined not to wind up watching some documentary on the mating rituals of some obscure tribe in some remote country with a name that no one but his irritating, know-it-all partner could actually pronounce. This was one night when he would be immune to his roommate’s pleading and whining. Yes, tonight even the puppy dog eyes would fail. He would remain impervious and not succumb; he would be strong. Ah, who was he trying to kid? Well, he could always rent the movies this weekend. Making a mental note to stop off at Blockbusters on his way home from work on Friday, Jim unlocked the door and went into the loft.

He saw it as soon as he walked in the door. There he was with one hand on the doorknob, the other gripping his keys, frozen in place as he laid eyes on the thing sitting on the dining table. At first, he couldn’t come to terms with what he was seeing. He squeezed his eyes shut for several seconds but when he opened them again, it was still sitting there. Okay, so he wasn’t imagining this. Or was he? Raising his hands, he rubbed his eyes with his fists. Holding his breath, he slowly lowered his hands and looked towards the table again, only to let out a loud whoosh of air when it was still there.

Eyes locked on the table, he shut the door and tossed his keys towards the table. He didn’t even noticed when they missed the target and landed on the floor. He shrugged off his jacket and reached over towards the hook on the wall. The swish of fabric hitting the floor didn’t register as his jacket promptly joined his keys on the floor. He forced himself to move toward the thing on the table. Each step was a struggle as his growing repulsion, and fear though he’d never admit it, made his advancement more and more difficult. Stopping a couple of feet away from the table, he couldn’t make himself get any closer.

He was concentrating so hard on it that he didn’t notice when Blair walked up behind him. Feeling something come to rest on his shoulder, he jumped and started smacking at whatever it was that had touched him. Embarrassed, he watched as his roommate pulled away a red hand.

"What’s the matter with you?"

Despite himself, Jim’s eyes were drawn back to the table. "Sorry about that, Sandburg. You just kinda surprised me."

Jim didn’t see the calculating look Blair gave him. "Surprised you, eh? I didn’t think that was possible."

"Huh? What?" Jim’s attention wasn’t on what Blair was saying. "Oh sure, whatever you want for supper is fine."

"Jim, are you all right? What’s up with you tonight?" Then Blair saw what had captured Jim’s attention. "Oh, you saw it. Well, what do you think? Isn’t he so cute? I think I’ll call him Harry?"

"Th…Th…This thing is yours?" Jim spluttered, unable to believe what his roommate had said. "I don’t think so! No way is this… this thing staying here."

"Oh, c’mon. Why not? He’ll make a great pet. And you have to admit, he is cute."

"Cute? How can you think that that thing is cute? He… It’s disgusting."

"Don’t say that! You’re going to hurt his feelings."

"His feelings?" Jim repeated with a look of disbelief on his face. "That thing doesn’t have feelings. It’s just a… a rat."

"It’s a gerbil, Jim."

"I don’t care what you call it, it’s not staying here." Jim crossed his arms over his chest. "And that’s final."

Blair walked over to the cage and poked a finger through the wire mesh side. "Yeah, I think I’ll definitely call him Harry."

"Sandburg, you are not keeping this thing."

"Isn’t this cage so neat. It’s got a wheel and a little house. I think Harry really likes it."

"Are you listening to me? I said the rat has to go."

"I’ve already cleared off a spot in my room for his cage."

"I mean it. That thing isn’t staying."

"I just wanted to leave him out here so you could meet him."

"Sandburg, you’re not…"

"Please can’t I keep him? I’ve never had a pet before. Besides, a friend of mine gave him to me so I can’t give him back. He won’t be any problem at all. I’ll clean his cage all the time so that the smell won’t bother you. Please."

Jim groaned when Blair turned to face him. There it was, the pleading puppy dog eyes. Well, he could resist. He wouldn’t cave. He was strong. He had faced off against terrorists, drug dealers and psychos so saying no to his roommate would be easy. "Blair, I don’t…" Right then, Blair added a pout and Jim knew he was defeated. "Chief," he whined, "it’ll stink up the place."

"No, it won’t." Blair held up his right hand. "I promise to keep it clean. I swear."

"But I… But he… But you…" Jim groaned. He knew that he had lost. "I swear, the first time I smell that cage, the rodent is gone."

Blair bounced. "Thanks, Jim! I’ll go put him in my room."

Jim shuddered as he watched the gerbil disappear into the house when Blair picked up the cage. He nearly gagged when he saw the long tail hanging out. "Just hurry up and get that thing out of here." By the time Blair came back to the living room, he had gotten a beer and was trying to find "Lethal Weapon" on the TV. He looked over when his roommate sat down beside him. "Did you get the rat settled?"

"He’s not a rat, Jim! What have you got against Harry anyway? He’s just a cute, little animal."

"I just… I kinda had a…." The rest was an undecipherable mumble.

"What was that?"

Jim groaned and leaned his head back against the couch. "I just had a bad experience with a gerbil once, okay? Let’s just drop it."

"A bad experience with a gerbil?" Jim glared when Blair laughed. "How can you have a bad experience with a gerbil?"

"You can and I did."

"What happened?"

Jim looked over at Blair. "I don’t think so."

"On, c’mon, you’ve got to tell me."

"No."

"Please."

"You’ve got to promise not to tell anyone. And I mean anyone." Jim pointed a finger at Blair. "If this gets out at the station, I’ll know who to come after. Understand?"

"Yeah, whatever. Now start talking."

"I can’t believe I’m actually doing this but…" Trying to delay a few more seconds, Jim took a drink of his beer. Only to spill it all over the place when Blair whacked him on the arm.

"No stalling."

"All right, already. Knock it off." Jim tried to intimidate Blair with a glare but gave up when Blair simply raised an eyebrow. Scowling, he asked, "When did I lose control around here?"

"Duh, Jim, you never had control in the first place. Talk."

Jim muttered a few obscene comments about pushy, bossy grad students and then started to talk. "You see, when I was a kid, Stephen had one of those… those…"

"Gerbils, Jim." Blair helpfully supplied. "They’re called gerbils. C’mon, say it with me here. I know you can do it. Geeeerbiiiiils. See how easy that was."

"I’ve got a word for you too, Sandburg. Want to hear it? It’s assault. As in what I’m going to do to you if you don’t shut up." When Blair just smirked, he growled, "Do you want to hear this or not?"

"Okay, okay. I’m shutting up now."

"Good. Anyway, like I was saying, Stephen had one of those gerbils," Jim gave Blair a self-satisfied look, "when we were kids. I still don’t know why Dad left him have the thing, but he did. So, one night dad is having this really important dinner party and Stephen and I had to be there. Guess he wanted to show us off or something. We’re in the middle of dinner when I felt like something was tickling my leg. I looked down just in time to see a long tail disappear up my pants leg." Jim paused until Blair’s snickers died down. "I start jerking my leg, trying to shake the thing loose, when dad gives me the look. The one that says you’d better not embarrass me in front of all these people if you know what’s good for you. So, I’m sitting there and this… this thing is crawling up my leg. I’m still trying to shake me leg but in a way that no one will notice. But nothing is dislodging this rat. So it keeps crawling further up my leg until… Well, until it got to… Well, you know."

"No, I don’t know. Where?" Blair had his most innocent look on his face.

"Don’t even go there, Sandburg."

"So what did you do?"

"I did what any mature, brave thirteen-year-old would do."

"Which was?"

"Jumped up and ran screaming around the room while shoving my hands down the front of my pants." Jim buried his face in his hands. "Dad didn’t have another dinner party again for two years."

There was dead silence in the loft for all of two seconds and then Blair busted out laughing. "Th… That… Oh, man, that was so…" Blair wiped at his eyes. "Sorry, Jim, but you have to admit…"

"Admit what?" Jim interrupted. "It was a very traumatic experience, thank you very much. And since then, I just can’t stand…." Jim shuddered and shivered for several seconds "…gerbils, rats, whatever you want to call ‘em, I just can’t stand the sight of ‘em."

"Then having Harry here is a good thing. When you see how cute and friendly he is, you’ll get over that phobia. Just wait and see."

"Riiight. Anyway, just keep that thing in its cage."

"Sure, Jim."

 

*Later That Evening*

Slouched on the couch, head thrown back, Jim was sleeping quietly. The TV, turned to the Discovery channel, was still on. Jim snorted in his sleep but quickly settled back down. Gradually, a strange sensation began to register. It felt like something was moving on his chest. Groggily, he opened his eyes and looked down only to find himself staring at two beady little eyes and a whiskered, wiggling nose. The resulting scream could be heard throughout the entire neighborhood.

The End

Okay, I was going to end the story there but…. Well if you don't want to get a *little* bit grossed out, then stop reading here. If you've got a strong stomach, keep reading. <VEG>

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Okay, that's enough space. Now for the rest of the story:

*A Few Days Later*

"Jim, where's Harry?"

"What?"

"Harry. Where is he? The cage is in there but he's gone."

"I don't know where that rat is Sandburg. I'm sure he'll turn up. Now, c'mon, let's eat. Dinner is ready."

"Dinner? I thought we were out of everything."

"I managed to scrape something together."

"Smells good. What is it?"

"It's um.... casserole surprise."

"Well, hurry it up. I'm starving. After I eat, I'll look for Harry some more."

"Oh, I'm sure he'll show up eventually." When Blair turns away, Jim hurriedly pulls out a long, gooey tail-like string from the casserole and drops it down the sink. Then, he walks over and sets the bowl down on the table. "Here it is. Dig in."

The End.

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