The Unspoken Arrangement - Marmoset

"I'm thinking of selling the loft."

That was Jim's idea of a conversation starter this morning at the breakfast table. Left something to be desired, I thought. When I could think. After I'd sputtered a few minutes, choking on my algae shake.

What could I say to that? Nothing. And I said a lot of that for several minutes until the silence between us became so thick that it was finally Jim, good ol' stoic Jim, who cut through it with,

"The neighborhood isn't as safe as it used to be, and I have to start thinking about … later."

And I found myself thinking back to the good old days, when the loft was safe. Back when psychotic killers and rogue CIA agents seemed to waltz through here by the dozens. And wondered what planet this guy'd been living on these past three years. And why now, all of a sudden, he's decided the neighborhood has gotten worse. And what does he mean by …

"Later?"

"Yeah. When I’m older. When I decide to … I don't know … settle down. Or retire."

This was a new one for us. Clearly, Jim was feeling his years. I mean, yeah, I know that he's getting older but he's nowhere near retirement age. So maybe he's really thinking about …

"Settling down? You mean, like, get married or something?"

And Jim's looking down sort of studying his coffee cup, like maybe he could read messages in the steam, the way some fortune tellers can read tea leaves. Eventually, he actually took a sip, then finally answered me.

"Maybe. Don't know. I just know I feel like … I need a change. Or something. Don't you ever feel that? Look at you, Chief: you're almost thirty; don't you ever feel like settling down? Living with a future in mind? Things like that?"

"Sometimes. Yeah." I didn't really know why, but my throat clamped down on any words that tried to surface on that particular topic. So I turned it over to Jim.

"So … when do you plan, y'know, to sell it?"

"Don't know. Soon, I guess. Gotta think about it some more. Let you know."

And with that bit of clarity, we tabled the discussion, making way for more normal topics of conversation, like what the size of the exit wounds in our most recent rash of corpses could tell us about the killers.

After breakfast, I shut myself up in my room, ostensibly to work on the paper work that takes up 90% of a detective's time. But soon I found that I couldn't concentrate on report writing, my mind drifting off taking me down paths I'd tended to steer clear of before.

Damn Jim for bringing up the F-word. No, not that one, the other one – Future.

I hadn't been exactly honest when I'd implied that I don't think that much about the future. In reality, I think about it almost daily. And a lot of the time I wonder how my role as a sentinel's partner would be reconciled with the ebb and flow of modern life.

I mean, most adults my age have already found spouses, a lot already raising children, building family lives, building networks of friends, relatives, co-workers – a clan or a tribe.

But how does a man who's received the gift of sentinel senses, a gift that once would have suited him to spending his life at the perimeter of his village – how does such a man live his life in modern times?

Does he stay on the perimeter, metaphorically speaking, remaining a solitary man, a loner – separate from all who would normally offer social support?

What happens if the 'tribe' no longer recognizes that role, no longer supports it?

What does a modern sentinel do to find his place within the modern village?

And what does his partner do? Is there even a role for the modern second to a sentinel?

Will there even be a place for me down the road?

I mean, things have changed since that day in autumn of 1994.

"He always had a partner along, someone to watch his back."

"You mean like you?"

"Yeah! Love to!"

Man, I can't believe how I'd agreed with so little thought, with absolutely no conception what it would mean.

I mean, I really thought it would be simple, you know: the teacher would study the pupil.

But it was so much more complex than that. Because really Jim was teaching me just as much as I ever taught him. Probably more. Definitely more.

It's never been simple.

And what we've been to each other has changed over the years, making things more complicated than I'd ever imagined three years ago.

Now we share time and space in ways so few co-workers, or roommates ever do. And beyond that, we've shared in the mysterious – joining soul-to-soul in a near death vision, Jim persuading my spirit to return to this temporal existence.

Thinking about that, you'd think that we'd made a major leap. And yes, being enticed back from death was a bit of a leap. But getting to that point has come slowly.

Ever since that first meeting, every change, every agreement, every re-negotiation of our initial 'contract' has been tacit, implied.

Who we are has evolved into … whatever we are now. And we've never talked about the changes or what we're supposed to be to each other. It's like whatever's come along, we've just acted like we understood, like we haven't really needed to discuss things.

***

"One week, Jim, I promise – one week and I'll be out of your hair."

"Okay, you can stay, but only for a week."

[Four days later]

"You know, Chief, Animal Control isn't gonna let you keep Larry after this."

"I know."

"And without a permit, they really aren't' going to let you have any other exotic animals … and I have to keep things legal … you know that, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'm really sorry about this. I know it messes with your studies."

"It's okay, Jim. Not your fault."

"So … then … what are you going to do about your paper?"

"Well, really, I've already got enough data for two papers. I just kind of liked having the guy around, y'know? But .. don't worry, everything's cool, man."

[Three days later]

"Jim, what's that?"

"What does it look like, Sandburg? It's a desk. Thought you might need one."

"Hey, man, that's so …. You didn't have to do that, Jim."

"Yeah, I did. I can't have you taking over the kitchen table."

[Another week]

"What's with the measuring tape, Jim?"

"Found something that might go in here but not sure it'll fit."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Got tired of seeing your clothes all over the floor. Was starting to get pissed off about the mess. But since I have these heightened senses, I was able to notice there's no dresser in here.

"So anyway, I remembered I had one hanging around in storage. Something Carolyn picked up at a flea market a long time ago and left here when she moved out. Thought you could use it. If it fits."

"Hey, thanks, man."

"You don't have to thank me, Sandburg, just put your damn clothes away."

[A month later]

"Jim!! Jim! What's that noise, man? I could hear you all the way downstairs!"

"C'mere. Could you hold that for a sec?"

"Sure. Hey, great looking doors, man."

"They're okay. Couldn't stand looking at that rag you were using. Thought these might give you more privacy."

"Privacy? A door with a window?"

"Well, um …."

"But I really like this, y'know. I mean, it makes it feel like a real room. Sort of feels less … ad hoc … more permanent. Or something."

"You're welcome, Chief."

***

That's how it's always been with us, how we've gotten to where we are now. But this – this whole thing about selling the loft – it's different.

When Jim sells the loft, when he moves … I can't just … assume .. that he'll want me to move with him.

Anyway, that's where my thoughts took me this morning. And since I couldn't just sit around, after a couple of hours of getting absolutely nothing done, I went out, bought a paper, and started through the want ads for apartments.

It was about noon by the time I'd just circled the third ad (after rejecting about 30), the whole process depressing me no end. It was then that Jim called me, saying he'd come home for lunch today, asking if I'd fix us up some sandwiches or something. So I stuck the paper on my desk in my room. Not really hiding it, just sort of … not waving it around, if you know what I mean.

When Jim got home, I noticed he was moving a bit slower than usual, had a quieter demeanor, an expression more closed than I'd seen it in months.

He sat at the table and gestured for me to join him, so I brought over the plates of sandwiches and sat beside him, waiting.

"'Sup, Jim?"

For a minute, he doesn't really look at me, or say anything. Then, he pulls a page of newsprint out of his jacket pocket and slaps it down in front of me. I saw some red circles on the page, and all of a sudden, I realized what they mean when they say your heart sinks. Because I knew this was it: he was bringing home the want ads so I could find a place. My one week was finally up.

I slid the paper away, not wanting to face it. I just looked at the sandwich on my plate, looked at the floor, looked at my hands, looked anywhere but at the paper. Or his face.

"Yeah, I figured you'd want me to do that. Been looking all day. Found a couple of studios I might be able to afford. Guess I'll check 'em out tomorrow."

"Studios, Chief?"

"Well, yeah. Can't afford much else right now, what with school loans I'll be paying off 'til I'm 50."

"I think you can do better," he said, as he slid the paper back in front of me, gesturing at the red circles on the page.

"But Jim, I can't afford—"

"Maybe you can't, but I think we can."

"You mean..?"

"I mean, I think we should make this arrangement permanent. Okay with you?"

And as if I weren't off balance already, the guy threads the fingers of both hands through my hair, clutches at it, and pulls me in for the wildest kiss I'd ever had laid on me.

And when we finally re-surfaced, I blurted the first thing that popped into my head:

"Whither thou goest, man."

Which, apparently included a trip up some stairs. But that's a story for another day.

The end.

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