"Shit, man! Watch the ditch, watch the ditch!"
A quick swerve, and the truck was off the shoulder, back on the road. "DAMMIT, Sandburg, don't do that!"
"What? It was an accident."
"It fucking well was not an accident!"
"Hey, chill out. It's just a little static electricity. I can't help it if it builds up."
"I saw you rubbing your hands on your flannel before you reached over here."
Blair gave Jim a wide-eyed innocent look that was patently false. "I was just trying to brush the powdered sugar from that last donut off my shirt. I don't want to look like I have dandruff."
"With all the money you spend on your hair care products there's no way I would ever believe you had dandruff," Jim growled. "And I'm the only one here, or were you expecting to have company when we get to the cabin?"
"No company, Big Guy. Just you, 'n me, 'n whatever piscean creature we can haul out of the lake."
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Darwin, say 'fish'."
"My, you're grumpy."
"Getting fried doesn't help. That's the third time you've done that since we started up here. Once could be an accident, I could even believe twice. But three times? Uh-uh. If you were that slow at learning you never would have gotten as far as you have in school"
"I'm an anthropologist, not an electrical engineer." Jim muttered something obscene under his breath, and Blair decided that it might be better for him to lay low for a little while. He huddled on his side of the cab, wrapping his top flannel shirt a little tighter. The heater was on, but there was a crack somewhere that was blowing chilly air on him, and he just couldn't seem to get warm.
He thought of the fireplace in the cabin with mingled longing and anticipation. As far as he was concerned, that was the best part of these trips up into the wilderness. After a day of fishing, after the supper dishes were done, Jim would build a roaring fire, and they would settle in front of it on an old blanket with beer or a bottle of wine. A lot of bullshitting went on while they toasted themselves in front of the hearth.
Blair slid a glance at his grim faced companion. A lot of serious, deep talk went on there, too. That was why Blair had suggested the trip when they got a couple of unexpected days off. Jim had been tense lately, and he hadn't been forthcoming about what it was that was bothering him. Blair was hoping that once they'd settled into the cabin, far away from the responsibilities of the great city that Jim protected, that his friend would be able to relax a little, open up and let Blair help as best he could.
I CAN help him, I'm pretty sure of that. After all, I'm his Guide, right? I'm here to help him keep an emotional and spiritual balance. We were doing so good for awhile. Why is he closing himself off lately?
Jim glanced over to where Sandburg was trying to find another few inches of flannel to wrap around himself. Well, he's got a warm personality, but he's the most cold natured person I've ever known, physically. Why the hell did he choose to live in Washington instead of somewhere warm like Texas or southern California? Oh, shit, Ellison! Don't even think things like that! What if what you've half suspected is true, and he DOES have some sort of ESP? He might take it as a suggestion and leave.
Jim dismissed that thought almost the second it occurred. If he had ESP he'd have bolted the first time I checked out his ass. Maybe not. I don't think I knew what I was doing the first time I did it. Jim sighed, missing Blair's sharp glance. I still don't know what the fuck I'm doing.
Blair tried to watch Jim without staring too obviously. What was that sigh about? Is he counting up the things I've done today that irritate him? I hope he isn't thinking about asking me to move out. Shit, no, Jim! Not before I get up enough nerve to tell you how I feel about you. Then you'll throw me out. Maybe this weekend. Yeah. He wouldn't leave me stranded out here, even if he did get freaked out because I lust after him. Would he? Oh, man, I don't wanna have to hitchhike home, had enough of that. Crap, now I'm babbling mentally. He isn't the only one who'd tensed up.
The light-hearted approach wasn't working too well, but it was hard for Blair to give up on it. Usually he could joke Ellison out of a bad mood, if not into cheerfulness, then at least to 'less than pissed-off'. But it wasn't working today, and there was always the chance of pushing him over into 'snap and snarl' territory, so it was better to just sit tight and wait for a change.
Or I could try one more time. Okay, he's on to the flannel-rubbing. What else could I do? Hmm.
Jim slid another glance at Blair. He had 'that look' on his face again. He's plotting something, devious little devil. First he flim-flams his way into my hospital room, then cons his way into riding along as my observer and making me his guinea pig on this Sentinel thing. He even weasels his way into my home, and now the little sneak has gotten under my skin to the point... Jim sighed again, and Blair frowned.
Crap. Admit it. He isn't just under your skin. The neo-hippie witch doctor has put the mojo on you and you're fucking IN LOVE with him. Christ. You DO get yourself into some messes, Ellison.
Blair was getting really worried now. That's two sighs in less than three minutes. I suppose he COULD just need extra oxygen, but I don't think so. I better do something to take his mind off whatever it is, fast. I know.
Blair pulled a comb out of his pocket and began to stroke it through his hair. Jim pretended not to notice, but secretly he was hoping that he didn't get distracted enough to head for the ditch again. Though he joked a lot about Sandburg's hair and his careful tending of the flowing locks, the truth was that he loved to watch him mess with it. The sight of Blair putting his hair in a tail, hands busy behind his neck, arms raised so that the T-shirt he was wearing stretched across his well muscled chest tight enough to show his nipple ring was enough these days to make Jim have to step into the bathroom for some 'quiet time'.
It was even more unruly than usual today. The cold, dry air had increased the static electricity Jim had been fussing about and individual strands floated and waved about his head like... like the hair of Ariel in that Disney mermaid cartoon. More than ever, his hair seemed to have a life of its own. Jim was grateful that he'd slid back across the cab instead of sitting right beside him, because if any of those silky threads had touched him...
Jim could almost see it. One curly, errant hair would have brushed his cheek, and the next thing he'd have screeched over to the side of the road, slammed it into park, and jumped Sandburg's bones before the startled Guide could say, "Huh?"
That would be a hell of a way to come out to him. But I have to tell him soon, even if I get rejected. I'm too damn old to keep taking cold showers. I'm pretty sure he's bi, from some of the remarks he's made about past lovers. I'm almost positive I heard an occasional 'he' among the 'shes'.
Jim glance briefly upward. I'm not much on praying, but just let him not hate me, okay? I'd rather not hear the 'let's just be friends' speech, either, but as long as he doesn't hate me...
Blair winced. Oh, *no*! Now he's rolling his eyes! BIG TIME trouble. Gotta act fast.
His hair had been making faint crackling noises the last few passes: it should be sufficient. Blair dropped the comb in his pocket and casually put his elbow up on the seat back, letting his hand drift toward Jim.
Jim had heard the crackles, and of course saw the hand coming. Oh, I don't believe it! He wouldn't DARE. "Blair..."
"OW! Son of a BITCH, Sandburg!"
"Damn, that was a good one!"
"I don't know about good, Einstein. We're not going to get any fishing done today, that's for sure."
"Ah, it can wait till tomorrow, man. Blair leaned forward and peered out the windshield, trying to see through the wash of rain that was swirling over the glass, fighting with the wipers. "It isn't like the fish are gonna walk off."
"It's raining so hard that they almost could. I'm glad we're this close to the cabin, but I want to get out from under these trees with this lightning."
There was another boom, and a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. It didn't strike, but leapt from cloud to cloud, lacing the swollen, purplish underbellies with gold. "Oh, that is so awesome. God does the coolest visual effects."
Jim chuckled, the grim attitude finally easing a little. "I'm glad you enjoy it. But if you take the visuals, you have to take the physical, and we still have to get into the cabin." He pulled into the little clearing in front of the cabin and parked, as close to the cabin as the little rise it was situated on would allow.
"Oo, ugh." Blair contemplated the path they'd have to take to the cabin, already an inch or two deep in water. "Oh, man, we're gonna be soaked, and I bet that rain is fucking cold."
He sounded miserable already. "Look, stay in the truck till I get the door unlocked, then grab your back pack and my duffle and dash in. I'll make a fire as soon as we're inside, okay?"
"Why do I have to carry your stuff?"
"Because I'm unlocking the door, that's why."
"Guess that's the best we can do. The way this is coming down, if I try to stay here till it lets up, it'll be Monday, and we'll be ready to head back on in.
Jim slipped out of his jacket and draped it over his head, located the key to the cabin on his ring, and took a deep breath. Then he opened the truck door and sprinted for the cabin, slamming the door after him. As fast as he was, Blair still caught a blast of mist. Watching Jim sprint to the cabin was like looking at him through a gauzy grey curtain.
He got to the cabin and used the key, then had to struggle with the door. The sound of him swearing drifted back to the truck, and Blair winced. Last time the door had stuck a little, swollen with dampness. It must be a real bitch now.
Jim threw his shoulder against the door and finally shifted it, but by the time he stumbled in, it was as if he'd been tossed in a pool, fully clothed. He held the door open, motioning for Blair to come on. Blair looked around at the rain soaked clearing, then looked back at Jim. "Dammit, Darwin, MOVE that round ass!" he bellowed.
Blair bolted out of the truck and raced to the cabin, kicking up sprays to either side on the rapidly submerging path. He pounded past Jim, tried to stop a little too suddenly, and skidded in the puddle that Jim had dripped. Unable to get his balance loaded down with the luggage, he was about to go down when strong arms hooked under his, stopping his fall. For a moment he just hung in Ellison's arms, sneakers slipping as he tried to get a firm footing. Finally Jim said, "Look, calm down for a second!" Blair went limp, and Jim lifted him, setting him on his feet and releasing him. "You're so graceful."
Love to. Jim shook his head as he shut the door. I've got to stop thinking like that, or one of these days the mental censor is gonna be down at the wrong moment.
Blair was shivering. "Come on, you promised me a fire."
"Maybe I should go start the generator first, so we can have some light."
"Fire gives light, Ellison. It's a concept that was discovered by the caveman. It also gives heat, and I'm freezing my nuts off, so start the fire."
"All right, all right." Jim walked to the fireplace, and peered at the hearth. He looked at the large box of ashes and half burned wood and snorted. "If the last tenants were going to clean the hearth, I don't know why they couldn't chuck this stuff out. Oh, well." He regarded the wood piled in the fireplace, and the bucket of small sticks. "At least they left the makings ready to go. All I'll have to do is put down a little kindling and some paper..."
"This isn't boy scouts, you don't have to teach me how to do it. Just get it done. Please!" Blair's teeth were chattering. "Shit, I've got to get into something dry now."
Jim was crumpling some of the newspaper that was stacked by the kindling bucket, placing the balls on top of the wood in the fireplace. Behind him he hear the distinct slurping sound of wet clothes being peeled off wet skin, and his heart started to pound. Blair was stripping.
"I can spread those on the fire screen to dry." Blair said. There was a squelching sound as two wet flannel shirts and pair of jeans landed on the hearth beside Jim.
Jim pulled a few sticks out of the bucket, thinking, Oh, damn. He's down to his boxers... Just as he thought that, a wet pair of red flannel boxers landed on top of the pile. The kindling snapped in Jim's hands, and he quickly put it on top of the paper, got some more, and snapped it, too. I'm not going to be able to turn around. I'm going to have a hard-on like a log.
"I'm glad I packed a couple of towels and some long johns."
"Long johns? This I gotta see." Jim had determined that the erection wasn't too obvious, yet, so he stood up and turned around. Sure enough, thermal underwear, a complete set. And the stretchy knit material hugged Blair's body in the most interesting way.
Blair put his hands on his hips, tossing his head to clear his damp hair out of his eyes. "And what are you staring at?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. They look ridiculous, but they're warm."
"I didn't say anything. Did I say anything?"
"No, but you're staring like I have two heads."
"No, you look... cute." Did I say that out loud? Fuck.
But Blair didn't look irritated, or offended, or even weirded out. He looked a little surprised, and kind of sheepish. "I'm too old for cute."
"But get that fire going. Even these aren't enough."
Jim took the box of matches off the mantle, and froze. "Ah, crap."
He shook the box. No rattle. "They left the wood, but no matches. Do you have any?"
"No. Hell, I thought I was doing good to remember to bring the flashlight and a can opener."
"Well, I'd hope you'd remember those after having to open the beans in the dark with my hunting knife. Maybe there's some in the kitchen."
They both rummaged industriously, but there wasn't a single match or lighter. "It's like Smokey the Bear came in and tossed the place,” Blair grumbled. "Now I'm going to freeze."
"No you aren't, Chief. Look what I found."
Blair looked. "A piece of metal and a rock? So?"
"Flint and steel, Chief. That's something an anthropologist should be acquainted with. I mean, after all, it was a long time between the discovery of fire and Diamond matches."
Blair examined the items more curiously. "You can really do something with those? You can make fire?"
"It's a basic survival technique. You didn't think they'd let me go into the field in the Rangers if I didn't know how to start a fire, did you?"
"Can't say I ever gave it much thought. You can really start a fire with that?"
"I can make sparks. The sparks start the fire. C'mon and watch."
They knelt down at the hearth. Jim arranged the kindling in a kind of arch on top of the logs, over some of the paper. Then he half shredded more paper, and dug in the detritus in the cardboard box, muttering to himself.
"I don't think you're going to find any live embers in there, Big Guy, or the place would have burned down by now."
"No, I'm looking for some char."
"Something to catch and hold the spark. Burnt cloth works best, but you have to have a fire to burn the cloth, so it's kind of a catch 22. Partially burned wood that was good and dry works as well... Ah!" He triumphantly pulled out a small piece of blackened wood and set it carefully in the nest of shredded paper. "I get the spark to catch on the char. Once I have an ember, I get the tinder to it, then shove it all into the kindling."
"Just watch." The steel was a flat C shaped affair, and Jim gripped it, fitting his fingers through it as if it was a set of brass knuckles. He held it close over the char, and struck the thin edge of the flint down on it at an angle. Blair blinked as several bright yellow sparks flashed out, falling on the char. "Damn. Well, it's been awhile since I've done this. Can't expect to light a fire that easily, I suppose."
"That was cool. Do it again." Jim struck again, and another few bright specks flew from the impact point. Blair murmured. "Zap! Spark!" A tiny wisp of smoke, almost invisible curled up. "I think I see a glow, Jim!"
"Maybe. One more, for good measure." He struck hard, and there was a small, dancing shower. This time he grinned. "Zap. Spark." The sparks settled into the char, and a definite cherry red started to glow under a thin grey skim of ash. Using a stick, Jim pressed the shredded paper down on it. First the paper blackened around the hot area, then a hole was eaten through it, with glowing edges, and a tiny flame burst out. Jim quickly bundled more paper onto it, and it grew stronger. Then he pushed the small, flaming mass under the piled kindling, into the waiting paper.
In a moment the fire blazed up brightly, and flames started spreading out along the logs. "There ya go, Chief."
Blair held his hands out to the fire, sighing gustily. "Oh, wow. Thanks, man."
They knelt side by side, watching the fire grow. Jim was very aware of the way that Blair's shoulder rubbed against his every time he reached out toward the fire. So close. Too close. I need to move, before I do something. Or else I need to tell him.
Blair was combing his fingers through the damp strands of his hair, spreading it to dry, and he noticed Jim watching him. He could feel the blush rising in his face, and hoped Jim would think it was just from the heat. But in these long-handles, how I feel isn't going to stay a secret for long. I guess I shouldn't put this off any longer. How am I going to start this conversation?
Both men found that they were gazing at each other silently. Static isn't supposed to be a problem in damp air. But maybe the fire had dried things out enough, or maybe there was another sort of electricity at work that made the atmosphere so charged.
Later on, when they did talk, neither could say exactly who moved first. All they knew was that they had been staring into each other's eyes for the longest time, and suddenly there wasn't any space between them any more, and their lips touched, and...
Tell Scribe how you liked it!
Back to Story Index