Some Neighborly Advice by akablonded

Some Neighborly Advice - akablonded


Notes: This story takes place a few months after the events in Whine Wine.


Basta * -- Enough!

Pasta di fagioli** zuppa – pasta and bean soup

Culeone!* -- Balls!

Caro mio** -- my dear


Lord, what is that boy doing over there? That James Ellison has been sanding something and raising quite a racket for the past three hours. On Sunday morning, for goodness’ sake. He should be in church. The little man must not be home. If he were, they would be … the sounds would … you’d think a woman my age couldn’t be embarrassed by anything anymore. And it’s not because they’re both men. There were just as many folks who took that particular bend in the road when we were young. We just didn’t know about it. Most women didn’t back then. But I do know love when I see it.

And that’s what Detective Ellison and that lovely child, Blair Sandburg, have.

Like me and my late husband, Dominic. When he and I were first married, we hardly came up for air. Mother LaCosta was mortified that her baby boy (the youngest of seven) and I did it (isn’t that what the young people call it these days?) on an astoundingly regular basis. And – horror of horrors – we actually enjoyed it! After the first time Philomena LaCosta barged into our living room unannounced, and found us cavorting around in the altogether, the poor woman was never the same. She went to confession every week and told her priest about our carnal ways, until old Father Molari finally said “Basta!”* told her to go home, mind her own business, and think about making gnocchi, not trouble.

What a wise man.

That’s how they are across the hall. Like newlyweds.

My neighbor, James Ellison, reminds me a little of Dominic. Oh, not that Dom was a 6’1”, 200 lb. looker. But they were both pistols. He still makes me smile, and he’s been dead a lot of years. Dom, that is. And when I see his roommate, Blair Sandburg, beaming from ear to ear, like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, with James right behind him, touching Blair’s hair or the small of his back, I can’t believe no one else sees it. A blind man could with a cane. There’s so much feeling there, and it’s so fierce, so genuine, I’m sorry for people who never find it.

The way me and my Dom did. And James and his “Chief.”

So, Blair must be out. I wonder if the detective would like some company and homemade muffins for breakfast? I don’t hold with all of this fat-free nonsense. Baked goods were meant to enjoyed – and they should be made with lots of sugar and eggs. James and I are in a minority, I suppose. His … what do they call it these days … ‘significant other’ makes him eat the most awful-tasting things. Like tofu. What a terrible vegetable. Blair had me try it once. And ostrich meat. What’s wrong with beef, I’d like to know? And ‘lite’ beer. (I swear, Dom must roll over in his grave every time he even hears the word mentioned.)

So maybe the policeman and the building grandmother will cheat together. Him on his health-conscious Blair, me on my wonderful, nagging daughter, Tina, who’s always after me to eat seven-grain this, and polyunsaturated that.

After brushing my hair and touching up my lipstick. I head over to #307. I don’t care that I’m just visiting across the hall. Suppose I met someone I knew, looking like I just rolled out of bed? The door swings open before I even knock, which happens all the time when James answers.

“Good morning, Mrs. LaCosta. Was I making too much noise? Sorry if I woke you.”

“James Ellison, you know I attend 7:30 Mass every day.”

“Yes, Mrs. LaCosta.”

“Which is where you should be, young man.”

Though a head-and-a-half taller than me, James has the decency to blush. Goodness, he certainly is fine-looking. A real head-turner. My youngest grandchild, Ellie, asked all about him the first time she came to visit and spied Detective Ellison washing his truck. I told her in so many words that James was seriously involved with someone. Even before he knew it, I wager. Ellie can be quite a bulldog when she sees something – or someone -- she wants. Like her ‘Papa Dom’ was.

“Please come in. I just made some tea.” Tea. A man like James Ellison drinks tea only because someone important to him does. Blair Sandburg.

A fine, intelligent young detective, that Blair. And such a nice Jewish boy, too. So polite and considerate. He doesn’t have much family. I take that back. Blair has family made up of good, good friends. And James, of course. I’ve never met any blood relations, except his mother who visits now and then. I don’t know if I altogether approve of Naomi. Don’t misunderstand. She’s sweet. But I’d be willing to bet that Blair had to be the adult in that relationship. Naomi has what we used to call wanderlust. So, she’s off to the next adventure, over the next hill, and around the next corner. Whatever’s there is always better and more exciting than where you are and what you’re doing now.

Right after Blair moved in – can it actually be four years now? – I made him some pasta di fagioli zuppa ** when he’d come down with a particularly nasty cold. He’d caught it riding on a train. Something to do with James’ work. Anyway, Blair was genuinely surprised and so grateful for the little kindness that I knew that he wasn’t used to being fussed over. And when I made him ham and cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off the bread, you’d have thought I’d turned lead into gold. As we visited that day, Blair told me all about himself, and how he’d grown up.

Maybe that much freedom is good for some. It hadn’t seemed to have caused the dear man any lasting harm. But, sometimes a little boy needs to be a little boy, having somebody cut the crust off his bread. And Naomi Sandburg, God love her, doesn’t seem the type.

I see why Blair loves James. James was wandered out by the time they met. Being a professional soldier will do that, too. Blair was wandered out, too. Being a rolling stone will do that to a body. Even if your business calls for travel, like Blair’s had. (He studied people for a living.)

And that’s why he’s so lucky to have found someone as steady and reliable as James. Now, there’s a man who’ll always be there for you. Solid. Not flashy. And very protective of Blair. It’s nice to see. So many couples I know have broken up. What’s wrong with people these days? Why don’t they want to stay with one another anymore? What good is it, I’d like to know, to share a bed quick enough, but not the other good things in life?

Like private talks in the morning and loving looks across the table? Little jokes just between the two of you? Or even an “everything will be alright, honey” hug when no one else seems to care?

“James, how lovely!” There sits a beautiful, almost completed bookcase in the middle of the living room on top of a canvas drop cloth. God bless him. He is the neatest man I’ve ever met. Even after a morning’s work, there isn’t a speck of sawdust anywhere else in this whole apartment except on the tarp.

He looks pleased at my praise, then smiles as I pat his strong, well-muscled arm approvingly.

“It did turn out kind of nice, didn’t it?” Good God, what a smile! I can only imagine what it’s like to be the reason behind that smile. “I hope Blair …uh … Sandburg likes it.”

“Is it going to fit upstairs, James?” I ask as I walk around the piece of furniture to look at the smooth, hand-finished sides. The wood pattern is marvelous.

“It’s for Blair’s …uh … Sandburg’s … down here.” The big man flushes and gestures to the area behind the closed French doors, just across from the kitchen.

For a man who’s been in the military, he certainly is a poor liar.

“Nonsense. It’s for his room. ‘Your’ room.”

James seems to freeze, then finally nods, as though being found out is somehow liberating.


“Well, James, it will be just stunning when the morning sunlight hits it. And Blair can spread out all of his pretty things for you to see. It seems sturdy enough.”

Why has James turned red? Why is he laughing? What have I said?

“Mrs. LaCosta! You’re something else. Let me get you that tea.”

“Where is Blair this morning, dear?” The silence speaks volumes to these old ears. “James, where is he?”

“Sandburg’s … uh … Blair’s been attending a law enforcement conference in Chicago all week.”

“You couldn’t join him? Oh, that’s too bad. Shouldn’t it be over by now? Is he traveling back to Cascade today?”

James turns around and has the face of a sad 10-year-old. It’s one a proud grandmother of 13 recognizes all too easily.

“He took a few extra days.”

“Blair’s vacationing? Without you?”

“No!” Goodness, he can be loud. “Uh, no.” James lowers his voice. “We … he decided to take a break. You know, we live together, work together, spend a lot of time together …“

“And you think it’s too much time togetherness?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Nonsense! I’ve never heard of such foolishness. I want to ask you a question, young man. When you’re together, do you wish you were anywhere else?”


“Does Blair?”

“Well, Blair … uh … Sandburg needs more space … more variety than …”

“Stop right now! That Blair Sandburg loves you and the home you two have built together more than I think you’ll ever know. It seems to me he had plenty of space and variety before he met you. I’m not a betting person, but I wager he’s happier than he’s ever been in his life.”

“I guess.” He starts to perk up.

“Well, I know. And what do you do? You tell him to stay in a strange city by himself and have a good time without you!”

“Not exactly …”

“James Ellison. Did your parents raise a fool?” I speak to him as severely as I can. “They did not! I’m leaving now so that you can pick up that phone and call Blair.”

“And tell him to come back?”

Culeone!* Pardon my language, but men can be so exasperating – no matter what age they are. “No, for heaven’s sake, tell him you love him, you miss him, and that you’ll be waiting at home for him whenever he gets here.”

James is silent, as though he’s thinking about what I’ve said.

“And for future reference, young man,” I tap my index finger on the hardest chest I’ve ever felt (even through the work shirt), “tuck a little something into his pocket or briefcase. Or maybe under his pillow.”

“Like what, Mrs. LaCosta?”

Now I’m totally exasperated. How can someone so intelligent be so dense? “James Ellison, haven’t you been listening? A love note, of course! I used to do it for my Dom. It works miracles, let me tell you. And having been happily married for almost 57 years, I think I qualify as an expert.”

“More than that, Mrs. LaCosta. You’re just about the nicest woman I know.” He bends down, wraps his long arms around me and almost crushes this old body in the best hug I’ve had in years. I can see why Blair feels so safe -- and smiles all the time.

“Oh, James,” I sigh, reach up and tap his cleanly-shaven jaw, “if I were a few years younger, I’d give your Blair a run for his money and try to steal you away! Now pick up the phone and make that call!”

As I close the door, I hear, “Yes, can I speak to Blair Sandburg, in room 263? Hi ya, babe … ”


It’s Tuesday night, and quiet. Finally. I guess the boys needed to take a little rest. Gracious, they certainly have a lot of energy. Thank goodness the building’s practically empty during the day, or the other neighbors in the building would have gotten an earful. Oh, someone’s at the door.

“Hello, Blair, dear.”

The beautiful face is glowing, as he reaches forward to give me a chaste peck.

“Hi, Mrs. L.” That’s his nickname for me. “I have something for you. Can I come in for a minute?”

“Certainly, child.” He’s wearing threadbare, old jeans and a t-shirt that does nothing to hide the love bites all over his neck. Blair shoves a small box he’s holding in his right hand toward me.

“I was in Chicago last week. But I guess you know that already. And I bought this for you.”

“A present? For me?” I am outrageously happy. I’ve always been partial to getting gifts. “May I open it?”


The top comes off easily, revealing a large, brightly painted coffee cup, which reads: My grandson went to Chicago, and all I got was this lousy mug.

“How sweet!”

“You like it?” Those blue eyes could do a body serious mischief.

“Blair, you’re the most wonderful grandson a person could have.” I grab him and give him a big, solid hug. We stand that way for a little while. “Would you like to sit down and tell me all about your trip?” He looks slightly embarrassed.

“Uh, I’d like to but … uh …”

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear! Of course, you go back home now. Don’t keep Jim waiting. But be sure to drop by later in the week so we can have a nice, long chat. I’ll make muffins.” I his cheek playfully. “And for you, caro mio,** I’ll even try to make low-fat ones.” His smile could brighten a cloudy day.

As Blair turns to leave, a little scrap of paper falls out of his pocket, with “I love you, Chief” on it. For a woman my age, my eyes are quite sharp. Cataract surgery at 78 gave me back my 20/20 vision. You can tell James Ellison was in the military – the handwriting is neat and precise. (And he certainly knows how to follow an order.) My younger neighbor swoops down to pick it up, hot pink washing down from the top of that thick-maned head, to his sweet, love-flushed face.

“Go!” I instruct the newest LaCosta grandchild, as I swat that lovely little rump of his and push him out the door. “You don’t want to keep him waiting, do you?”

As my door is closing, #307’s swings open ever so slightly. I think I catch a glimpse of a decidedly naked James Ellison winking at me, for heaven’s sake, as the tall man pulls Blair into their apartment. I hear all the locks snap into place, followed by the unmistakable sounds of laughter and love. They’re going to pick up where they left off. I find myself giggling as I remember the first time Dom and I …oh, dear. I may have to go to confession this week because of those two bad boys across the way.

It’s only 7:30. Lord. Maybe I’d better put the TV on. Loud. Or better yet, I think I’ll do a little cooking. Those two are going to need something to eat to keep up their strength.


The end

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Acknowledgements: Thanks to Mongoose clan (editors, writers, betas, artists, et al) who encourage me -- and one another-- to keep cranking these puppies out. We hope you SENTINEL fans appreciate all the effort.