Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Humor

Summary: Blair must hide from the Sentinel - in a supermarket.

The Cascade Supermarket Incident
by Robyn
November 1997

"Oh, man, no way, that can not be right."

Propping himself up to a sitting position with one arm, Blair rubbed his eyes and squinted blearily at the digital clock beside his office computer for another moment in disbelief, willing the numbers to read an hour earlier. No luck. It still said 5:25 p.m., then flipped over to 5:26 even as he watched. He groaned and dropped his head back onto the desk, banging it against the paper-covered surface. Somehow he had managed to fall asleep grading a seemingly endless stack of term papers. Blair tried in vain to focus his partially sleep-fogged brain on the paper in front of him. He desperately tried to swim through aimless thoughts floating in and out of whether or not he had the research paper version of 'pillow face.'

Man, I think this kid copied every single Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the Incas, he thought wearily. Then realizing he was on page 23, I take that back. I think he just copied the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

After taking a few moments to write a comment at the bottom of the last page, Blair glanced up at the clock again, then back to the pile of term papers on his desk and his computer screen, the cursor blinking at him, waiting for the next entry. Finally, all the papers were graded, ahead of time even. The entry of the grades into the database could wait until tomorrow. His stomach growled. Blair smiled to himself. Right now, all he wanted was a nice, hot, home-cooked . . .

Oh NO! Man, Blair, how could you forget that!

Adrenaline mixed with a little panic started to work on Blair's mind. Fully awake now, he remembered his plan for dinner. Jim was supposed to come back from a three-day stakeout this evening. He had called Blair a couple hours ago, telling him that he would see him back at the loft around 6:00 p.m. after he and the guys dropped off the surveillance equipment at the station. After three days in an old, run-down cabin with Rafe and Brown in the wilderness outside of Cascade, Jim would undoubtedly welcome a hot meal. Excited about seeing his partner, Blair had immediately decided he was going to surprise Jim by cooking dinner for him. He'd planned to leave campus by 5:00 p.m., pick up a couple things at the supermarket, and get back to the loft in plenty of time to have the food ready before Jim made it home. Except he hadn't counted on the accidental nap, and now he had less than a half an hour left before Jim would be back.

Breadsticks. I gotta get those fresh breadsticks Jim likes so much. Good thing I made that marinara sauce last night -- it's gonna taste almost as good as Jim's since it's a day-old now. I need pasta, too -- which kind cooks the fastest? Oh, never mind. I can think about that on the way to the store. I gotta get to the store before there's no more breadsticks left!

He hurriedly shut down his computer and shoved the papers aside to find his car keys. Shoving a few books and a folder crammed full of papers into his backpack, he zipped the pack up as he rushed through the doorway of his office. After locking his office door, Blair hurried through the hallway of Hargrove Hall, heading for the parking lot, picking the fastest route to get to the nearest supermarket -- the one with the breadsticks.

Oh, please, please, don't be too busy. And Jim, please stay away until six. That's all I ask. Man, not another red light!

**************************

"Thanks for the hard work, men. That was a long three days," said Jim to Rafe and Brown as the three men stowed the last of the surveillance equipment in its place in the storage room.

Jim eyed the pile of incriminating tapes satisfactorily. "This is gonna be more than enough evidence to put several people behind bars. Simon'll be happy that we didn't come back empty-handed."

Brown groaned as he straightened up from setting one of the large metal suitcases in its proper corner. "Man, that's nice, Jim, but right now the only thing on my mind is a good, hot meal."

Rafe grunted in agreement, "Yeah. And a hot shower and my own bed -- you know, the kind that doesn't try to fold up on you when you sit on it."

The men laughed as Jim scooped up the tapes, turned off the light in the room, and followed the other two men out into the hall.

"You two get out of here," Jim said to Rafe and Brown. "I'll take the tapes up to the department. I'm going to personally set this stuff on Simon's desk."

Rafe and Brown waved their thanks and lost no time heading down the hall to the elevator. Just before they turned the corner, Brown called back, "Don't forget, Jim -- you get lots of cream soda now!"

"No way, man," Rafe interjected, proceeding to call down the hall as well. "Snapple! He meant to say kiwi-strawberry Snapple, Jim."

"Hey!" protested Brown. "I said no such thing! Why would you drink anything else when you could get cream soda . . ."

Their voices faded as the elevator doors closed. Jim smiled to himself and shook his head. The friendly competition between the two men had started in the truck on the way to the stakeout. Jim was in charge of buying the soft drinks and juice for the surprise party the department was throwing for Simon tomorrow, to celebrate five years of his being captain of Major Crimes. Like two lawyers in a courtroom, Rafe and Brown had spent the last three days trying to convince Jim to buy their favorite drink, since Jim hadn't had a chance to get them yet. They just can't give that argument up. But then, I guess there are worse things we could've talked about while being holed up in that cabin.

The tall detective made his way down the hall towards Major Crimes. Jim was glad that he was going home, and not just because he was going to get a shower and a solid night's sleep. He had to admit to himself that it wasn't the same not having Blair around. It wasn't that Jim didn't like Rafe or Brown; in fact, they were two of the best in the department when it came to creative ways of passing the time during a stakeout. But Blair had a unique, non-detective approach to life, one which Jim had come to appreciate and enjoy. With him, dull moments just didn't exist. But Sandburg had other responsibilities too. The fact that the term was almost over and grades were coming due meant that he had to stay back to grade papers that had been building up during one of the longer cases he and Jim had just closed.

Major Crimes was mostly deserted as Jim walked in and dropped the tapes off in Simon's darkened office. Just one more stop before home -- the supermarket on Dover.

**************************

An old, dark green Volvo pulled into the east end of the parking lot at the Cascade Supermarket. This time of year it was already dark at 5:40 p.m. and the reflection of the car's headlights glinted off the perennially wet pavement. The headlights turned off and a young man with long curly hair wearing a khaki jacket hurriedly stepped out of the car, slammed the door behind him and headed purposefully across the lot toward the lighted supermarket.

Blair glanced nervously around him as he walked. Man, I can't help myself! Jim is NOT here. There's no way he's here. He's just going straight back to the loft. Why do I have this odd feeling that . . . Blair mused somewhat sheepishly to himself. I'm gonna have to write a chapter in my dissertation -- "How attempting to surprise a Sentinel can trigger paranoid delusions!"

The automatic sliding doors parted as Blair practically barged through them. The supermarket was indeed busy, although nowhere near as bad as it would be in the upcoming holiday season. One of the female checkers looked in Blair's direction and smiled at him as she continued to scan bar codes. He grinned and waved back as he headed for the . . . wait a second.

Blair stopped, then walked a few more steps. A loud SQUEAK, SQUEAK emanated from the wet rubber soles of his shoes with each step, and Blair realized why the checker had looked over at him. Normally such a noise wouldn't have bothered him (especially since rain was the norm this time of year in Cascade), but he irrationally backtracked to the large floor mats in front of the doors and proceeded to vigorously wipe the moisture off his shoes, not even noticing the strange glances he was getting from people leaving the store. Man, if Jim were here he'd hear those squeaks and know it was me. . . Get a grip, Blair! Every other person in this store has squeaky shoes too! . . . He stopped wiping his shoes abruptly and looked at the bottom of one of his shoes in a vain attempt to cover himself. Blair was then forced to smile an embarrassed "Hi" at the checker who was now looking at him amusedly. Grabbing the nearest grocery cart, he pushed it toward the pasta aisle and away from any further amused looks.

Man! I ALWAYS end up with a stupid cart!! Blair thought disgustedly as he attempted to fight with the obnoxious grocery cart that insisted on swerving to the left. Grumbling to himself, he yanked the cart violently to the right, evoking a harsh, quavery, high-pitched yelp which interrupted his muttering.

"Watch where you're going, young man! You almost hit me! I declare, youngsters nowadays have no manners whatsoever! What is this society coming to?" The frumpy old woman, dressed very properly in an old flowered dress with thick rubber-soled black shoes, a white patent-leather handbag and a black cane, frowned over the top of her horn-billed glasses. Blair felt like she was eyeing his long hair and earrings judgmentally, which of course she was.

"Oh, pardon me, excuse me, I am so sorry, ma'am. I didn't see you there and this cart is giving me an awful time . . ." he trailed off as he realized that the old woman was still frowning at him with the "I am not impressed" look. "Uh, I'll just be getting out of your way now," he said as he pushed his cart forward.

The older woman just "harrumphed" and reached past him to snatch a bottle of salad dressing. Without thinking Blair blurted out, "You know, that stuff isn't really the healthiest type of dressing. You should try, um, this one. Low calories, low fat, good flavor . . ." She just stared at him imperiously, daring him to say more. He smiled, shrugging, and backed away. "On the other hand, never mind. If you'll excuse me, I have some shopping to do."

About ten feet later, Blair was at his wit's end with the offensive cart. Fortuitously, he spotted a wire stand stacked with small red shopping baskets at the end of one of the rows. Time to lose this dumb thing. I don't know why I didn't get a small basket in the first place. I mean, it's not like I have to buy four flats of soda or something. Blair wasted no time in pushing the grocery cart off to the side and out of people's way, and yanked a basket out of the rack.

Having deposited a bag of angel hair pasta in the basket, Blair was just about to turn the corner and head toward the bakery section when something made him freeze where he was. From his vantage point at the end of the row Blair watched, horrified, as the double doors slid open and a tall man clearly labeled "cop" entered the store. OK, am I just seeing things or is that . . . !?! However, the vision didn't fade, and it took Blair only half a second to realize what he had to do. Ack! If I don't move, he's gonna see me! I've gotta hide . . . Every rational thought fled from his mind as he took off for the back corner of the store.

**************************

With the hayseed truck parked at the west end of the lot, Jim wasted no time in heading directly for the middle of the store where the drink aisle was. He was tired, and all he wanted was to pick up the soft drinks and get on home. Supermarket sure is crowded for this time of day. I thought regular people were home eating dinner, he thought disgustedly as he evaded grocery carts of varying fullness, busy shoppers of all kinds, and children in need of naps. The din prompted Ellison to tone down his senses -- a habit that was second nature to him by now. But as he was doing so, Jim's nose picked up a familiar scent -- a certain unique herbal shampoo used by a certain partner of his. The brief whiff caught his attention, sending up an automatic alert in his brain. He paused a moment then mentally shook his head. Sandburg isn't here -- it's just my imagination. I have got to turn down that 'blessed protector' switch. He's at the loft by now . . .

But just to reassure his senses, Jim decided to focus on the smell to see if his tiredness was really getting the better of him. No, wait -- I DO smell Sandburg's shampoo! He looked down the aisle in the direction of the smell, and immediately saw the source -- a young woman with long brown hair in her mid-twenties selecting some bottles of iced tea at the end of the aisle. She turned and saw Jim, relaying a sweet smile. Jim smiled back, feeling rather sheepish. Then he jerked back to the task at hand.

Cream soda. Ugh. Lucky for you, Brown, it happens to be on sale today -- 99 cents for a six-pack. Guess it can't hurt to get one, especially since I won't hear the end of it if I don't. Jim stuck the cream soda on one corner of the empty cardboard flat. And now, just to be fair, I have to get that Snapple, which is more like 99 cents for one bottle. Good thing for Rafe that Blair happens to like that kiwi-strawberry flavor too. And for everyone else, I'm getting 7-Up, root beer, some Dr. Pepper, and for myself, some good old-fashioned Coke. Doesn't anybody like normal soft drinks anymore?

Jim had just noticed that there was only one more six-pack of Coca-cola in the designated spot on the lower shelf. He crouched down and was about to grab it when a skinny arm reached in front of him and snatched the six cans of Coke. Frowning, Jim turned around to see a teenage boy dressed in grungy baggy pants, an old plaid shirt over a dingy t-shirt and topped with a backwards baseball cap. The kid was smirking at him.

"Too bad, mister. Maybe you're gettin' a little slow in your old age," he taunted, waving the six-pack in Jim's face.

Jaw clenching, he rose up to his full height, crossed his arms, and scrutinized the boy.

"I see I'm not the only Coke drinker in Cascade."

"Uh, mmmaybe not. Uh, here sir, I'm not feeling so thirsty any more," the kid stammered, holding out the six-pack for Jim to take.

Jim paused, still maintaining the "I am not amused" look a couple seconds longer for the full effect. Then the corner of his mouth curled up slightly and he said, "That's OK. I'm sure they have some more in the back."

"Thhhank you, sir," the kid said as he turned to make a quick exit.

"And you might want to try using some manners in the future," Jim muttered to himself.

He turned to a clerk who happened to be stocking the shelves nearby. "Do you have any more Coca-cola around?"

"I think so, sir. Let me go check the back."

**************************

Blair stood with his body semi-plastered against the tall bread cart in the back corner of the store which was heaped full of day-old bakery goods. OK, man, I gotta calm down!! he repeated to himself as he tried to bring his pulse down to a normal level. It's only Jim, he's only a Sentinel able to track total strangers through crowds as thick as Disneyland . . . Man, I really gotta stop that! I can do this. I can get the stuff calmly and leave the store . . . I think . . .

"Hey Mommy! Look at that man hiding behind the bread!" A little girl with two blonde pigtails pulled on her mother's pant leg with one hand and pointed with the other.

"Shhhh, honey, it isn't nice to point," the young woman said as she gently pushed her daughter's arm down. Blair was alternately grinning and waving sweetly at the little girl and motioning wildly to get the mother to "shush" her.

"Come on, let's go now," the mother said while she grasped the little girl's arm, pushed her grocery cart forward with the other and sent Blair an apologetic look simultaneously.

"But that man, why is he . . . ?" the little girl's voice trailed off as she insisted on turning her head back to look at Blair for as long as she could.

Blair sighed. OK, I can NOT believe I stooped so low as to hide behind a bunch of old bread. Paranoia out of control? Noooooo, of course not. Oh well, I'm under control now. But how am I gonna get past that aisle where Jim is without him seeing, hearing, or smelling me? Let's see. Well, I could just try walking by that row normally, in which case he probably would find out I was here and I could smoothly obfuscate some story about having a sudden urge for dried pasta. . . Like I could lie to Jim. He's a Sentinel, a human lie detector for pity sakes! That's not gonna work. No, what I need is a distract--

Blair's eyes had been scanning the store when they paused. At the back of the supermarket, about 20 feet down from where Blair was standing, a certain very tall man in a long charcoal grey trenchcoat stood in the meat section. He was selecting a couple steaks. Simon! Just the person I'm looking for! Blair thought excitedly. He wasted no time in joining him.

**************************

The captain had just picked up a particularly nice cut of meat when he felt someone beside him. His arm stopped in midair as he looked down and saw a rather nervous-looking young man grinning up at him.

"Sandburg! What are you doing here?" Simon blurted out in his customary manner of greeting Blair.

"Shhhh! Simon, man, I really need your help," Blair said urgently.

"What? What's going on, Sandburg? Is something wrong?" Simon's tone of voice changed to the vigilant cop mode as he noticed Blair looking nervously back and forth.

"No, no man, nothing like that," Blair quickly reassured him, realizing that the words 'robbery' and 'hostage situation' were going through Simon's mind. "Nice steaks, by the way," he motioned to the meat.

"Sandburg! Never mind the steaks! What do you want?!?"

"Oh, OK. You see, Jim's getting home from that three-day stakeout tonight and I wanted to surprise him by cooking him a little dinner," he said while gesturing to the food in the basket. "But then Jim walked into the store! I think he's in the soft drink aisle. I need to get past that row where Jim is to get to the breadsticks on the other side of the store."

"Well why don't you just sneak past him?"

"C'mon Simon, you know Jim would see or hear or smell me in an instant."

"I don't like the way this is going," he said warily. "All right, so what does this have to do with me?"

"Well, do you think you could go and distract Jim, get him to turn the other way so I can walk past behind his back so he won't see me?"

"I was afraid you were gonna say that," Simon said, rolling his eyes. "Sandburg, no! And just how am I supposed to distract Jim?"

"I don't know Simon, you'll come up with something. Ask him how the stakeout went or something like that. C'mon Simon, please? I really want this to be a surprise," Blair pleaded. He was almost on the verge of looking pathetic.

Simon groaned. "Well, all right, but just this once. You owe me big time for this, Sandburg! And trust me, I won't forget it!"

"Thanks, man!" Blair said sincerely, feeling very relieved. "Oh, do you think you could hold Jim there for ten minutes so I could pay for the stuff and get out of here so I can get home before Jim does?"

"Don't push it! I'll try and get you five minutes, but I'm not guaranteeing anything, you got that? I'm not letting these steaks reach room temperature before I cook 'em!"

"Hey, thanks Simon. I mean, sir," Blair called as the captain strode toward the soft drink aisle.

**************************

Jim stood waiting with his hands in his jacket pockets, alternately shifting his gaze from the shelves of drinks to various customers so he wouldn't look like he was staring at anyone or anything in particular. But it was obvious that the man was bored and had that "I just wanna get out of here" look on his face. The shelf stocker had only been gone a couple minutes but it was already starting to feel like an hour. Man, did the guy have to go mix up a batch of Coke from scratch or something? he thought rather impatiently.

Jim spent several moments focusing on the store's ceiling (he was examining it for any cracks and possible leaks) when a thought occurred to him. I should call Sandburg and tell him I'll be a little late getting home. I hadn't counted on this taking so long. Jim was about to pull out his cellphone when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Simon! Hey, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be at home eating dinner right now?"

Simon laughed and gestured with the cellophane-wrapped cuts of meat in their yellow foam trays. "Well, if I actually had food in the refrigerator I probably would be. Actually, Daryl's coming over for dinner tomorrow evening after he gets off of school and I wanted to have something special for him."

"Hey, that sounds nice," Jim said sincerely. "I'm sure he'll enjoy that."

"Yeah, well I hope so. That boy can be so hard to please! Seems like I can't do anything right sometimes. One thing I am getting better at is paying attention to what he really wants, not what I think he wants. And he does like steak."

"You do too, as I recall," said Jim, amused.

"Well, that makes it the perfect solution then, doesn't it," Simon grinned. "Enough about my grocery shopping. What are you doing here, Jim? I'd think that after a long stakeout you'd be headed straight home."

"Yeah, the stakeout went off without a hitch, Sir," Jim said smoothly without missing a beat. "And more than that, we caught a couple crucial transactions on tape. It should be more than enough to get us a warrant and then a few convictions."

"Good work, Jim! With you and Rafe and Brown on it, I knew we could nail those guys!"

"Thank you, sir. But you know we were only trying to live up to the Major Crimes reputation and that of a certain captain," Jim teased.

"Oh, you are just too kind," Simon retorted as the two men shared a laugh. Simon stole a glance toward the end of the aisle where Blair had been hiding. Just then he saw two eyes topped with some curly hair peak around the corner. Simon's eyes widened, then narrowed like they always did when he got irritated.

Suddenly, the two men (and everyone else in the supermarket, for that matter) heard some loud angry voices at the other end of the aisle where Jim and Simon were standing. Two big burly customers who looked like they spent all their time working out at the gym had struck up a vehement argument over whose fault it was for tipping several liters of bottled water off of the display at the end of the row. Jim immediately saw the situation and walked over to diffuse it.

Simon seized the opportunity to concentrate his stare over at the two eyes peaking around the corner. The look on his face was one of "Get on with it, Sandburg!," as he impatiently jerked his head toward the side of the store where the bakery was located.

The two eyes lit up as the teaching fellow tried to sneak as inconspicuously and quickly as possible past the end of the row while Jim wasn't looking. Man, Simon thought to himself, even now that kid can't help but bounce!

**************************

Blair scampered out of what he thought was Jim's view as quickly as he could, ending up at the end of the next row. He peaked down the row one last time, pleased to find that Jim was still with his back to Blair and busy reasoning with two men. He gave a thumb-up to Simon and a grin of thanks, to which Simon responded with a patronizing smile and impatient flick of his wrist to get going.

Impulsively, Blair jerked away, skillfully backing into an end display of Ritz cracker boxes. With a crash, several of the boxes fell onto the floor. Frantically, he grabbed the cracker boxes and stuck them back on top of the no-longer neatly stacked pile. Oh, man! Good one, Sandburg. You'd better hope those guys are arguing loud enough to cover that horrendous noise!

Instead of doing the logical thing (heading straight for the bakery), Blair dared to peak around the corner one last time. He had to know if Jim had noticed. But all he saw was Simon looking at the ceiling and shaking his head in disgust.

Blair shrugged but wasted no time in grabbing his red basket. This time he headed for the bread section, ignoring the various looks from other customers who had witnessed his mishap.

Breadsticks, Sandburg. Let's stay focused here. Breadsticks, cashier, home, he repeated to himself.

Moving as quickly as he could without appearing like he was shoplifting, Blair snatched the last bag of the infamous breadsticks and tossed it into the basket.

Good thing there was one bag left, he thought, otherwise I might have to mob that man over there. And getting arrested for harassment while I'm supposed to be home cooking dinner would NOT be a good idea. Jim would NOT be impressed. Now all I have to do is throw some money at the cashier and get out of here.

**************************

Noting that Jim had the situation with the big burly water drinkers well under control, Simon realized that there was a small stack of soft drinks on the floor where Jim had been standing -- Actually, Simon thought curiously, Jim's been standing IN FRONT OF that stack.

Simon was glancing back down the row to where he had last seen the furtive anthropologist when Jim's voice interjected.

"Something down there, Simon?"

"Huh? Oh, no, I was, uh. . . Jim -- are you gonna buy all those drinks?" Simon recovered quickly.

"Hmm? What? Oh, you mean these? Yeah, Sandburg's been complaining that we've been running low at the loft," Jim said as casually as possible.

"I see. Must be all those women he invites over . . . Just a minute, Jim. Don't you hate cream soda? I seem to recall that quite clearly."

"Oh yeah, that. Well, you see, sir," Jim leaned closer and lowered his voice, "Sandburg's dating this girl who thinks cream soda is the greatest thing that ever hit the earth. Frankly, that's the biggest red flag I've ever seen."

"Ohhhh," Simon murmured knowingly.

The shelf stocking boy finally arrived. "Excuse me, sir, here's the Coca-cola you wanted," he said.

"Thanks," said Jim, grabbing the six-packs from the clerk.

"Well, I guess I'll be going on home with these drinks now," Jim said as he eyed the three other flats of soft drinks piled on the ground. "You know, I think I need a cart for this," Jim sighed. "Simon, did you know that your brain can really atrophy on a three-day stakeout?"

Simon tried for a moment to hide his grin, but broke into a laugh. "So I noticed. Hey, Jim, looks like somebody abandoned a cart over here." Pulling the cart over, Simon and Jim piled all the drinks into it.

"Thanks, Simon."

"See you tomorrow, Jim. And try not to drink all that tonight," Simon said as he went to pay for his steaks. Well Sandburg, I got you five minutes. I hope you made it to the check-out, he thought.

Jim waved, then proceeded to push the cart forward. It swerved to the left. Oh, brother, he grumbled to himself.

**************************

Blair quickly scanned the check-out counters, looking for the one with the shortest line. Then he noticed a team of basketball players at one station. Bingo! I can hide behind them if I need to. But as he approached, he realized that it probably wouldn't be worth the wait. Oh man! They WOULD have five grocery carts full of food. I don't think so.

Just then, the check-out next to the one with the basketball players opened up. Yessss! thought Blair. He moved toward the lane but was stopped by a black cane. Oh, no, it's that old woman again. As he let her get in front of him, Blair mused, I KNOW I've seen her somewhere before. . . I want to say it had something to do with an elevator . . .

Luckily she only had a few items to buy besides the unhealthful salad dressing. Blair waited nervously, looking around for any sign of Jim. Simon he could see at the other end of the store in the express lane. Man, Jim can't be far behind! I gotta get out of here . . .

"Sir? Can I help you?" a female voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, thanks." Blair plunked the red basket on the counter.

"That'll be $3.14, please."

Tossing a $5 bill at the cashier, Blair seized the paper bag. "Keep the change," he called as he dashed out the sliding doors.

**************************

Jaw clenched, Jim man-handled the obstinate grocery cart over to the nearest check-out. Remind me to never let Simon pick out a grocery cart for me again, he muttered to himself.

As he was thinking this, Jim thought he heard a familiar voice speak. Not this again. I REALLY need some sleep. But something told him that the voice he'd heard WAS his partner's. Wait a second. Jim craned his neck, almost sure that a person of about the right height and the right color jacket had just escaped through the door. He was about to focus in on the person when about eight basketball players obscured his vision.

"Will this be all for you today, sir?" the checker asked.

"Uh, yes, thank you."

Jim looked back in the direction of the doors one more time. "Man, my senses have never been THIS affected by sleep deprivation . . ."

**************************

The old green Volvo virtually careened through a back street in Cascade as Blair whipped around the corner. He was taking every shortcut he could think of in order to beat Jim to the loft. Good thing this baby just had a tune-up. Otherwise Jim would be able to follow the smoke trail all the way home!

The car screeched to a halt in front of the loft as the young man jumped out of the car, grabbing the grocery bag with one hand, swinging his backpack over a shoulder with the other, and shoving the door shut with a foot, all in one smooth motion. Rushing inside the apartment building, Blair took one look at the elevator, then ran up the three flights of stairs.

He didn't even notice that he was gasping for breath as he felt his pockets. "Keys, keys, keys. Where'd I put my keys? See, Jim, that door jamb key would be perfect right about now! No, there's only some papers in that pants pocket. Here they are," he said as he pulled the house key out of his jacket.

Kicking the loft door open, Blair threw his backpack on the kitchen counter and began yanking pots out of the cupboard. After starting some water for the pasta, he turned on the oven for the breadsticks and dumped the container of cold marinara sauce into another pot to warm up. He dumped all the breadsticks on a cookie sheet and threw them in the oven, dumped the pasta in the barely boiling water, then started rummaging through the cabinets and pulling out plates and silverware. Blair had just put down the last fork and plate on the table when he heard footsteps coming down the hallway -- familiar-sounding footsteps.

Ack! I've gotta look like I've been here awhile! Blair lunged over the back of the couch, nearly missing it. He steadied himself with one hand and reached for the remote on the coffee table with the other. Collapsing back into a sitting position, he flipped the TV on and threw one arm on the back of the couch in order to appear relaxed.

At that moment, he heard vague mutterings outside the loft door as Jim struggled to turn the knob. Finally, the door swung open and Jim stumbled in, loaded with the flats of drinks.

"Hi Jim," Blair said. Then realizing Jim could use some help, Blair jumped up and grabbed a flat off the top of the stack.

"Thanks," said Jim as they set the drinks in a corner. "Sorry I'm late -- I had to pick up drinks for Simon's party tomorrow."

"Oh yeah, that is tomorrow, isn't it?" Blair said, realizing the whole cause of his hide-and-seek.

"Looks like you've been busy here," said Jim, eyeing the stove and oven.

"Yeah, well, I thought you might be hungry for some real food after three days of take-out and canned soup. So how was the stakeout anyway?"

"It went fine -- we got everything we needed on tape." Jim paused a moment, then placed a hand on Blair's shoulder and smiled. "I gotta tell you, Chief, that I did miss having you along. I mean, I had to go THREE WHOLE DAYS without any stories about tribal cultures in countries that aren't even on the map."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Blair laughed.

"So, what's burning in the oven?" Jim said casually.

"Burning? Ack! Oh, man, not after . . . never mind!" Blair grabbed some potholders and pulled the breadsticks out of the oven. Fortunately, Jim's extra-sensitive nose had only smelled the breadsticks beginning to brown, and they were perfect.

As Blair proceeded to stir the almost-done pasta and the now-bubbling marinara sauce, he noticed that Jim was leaning against the kitchen island, amusement written all over his face.

"What?"

"Are you cold, Chief?"

"No, why?"

"Well, you still have your jacket on."

"Uh ... yeah, well, uh, you see, I've been trying to save money on the electricity bill while you've been gone, so I've just been wearing my jacket inside. See, uh, I wait until the heat from the stove and the oven warm the loft up."

Jim chuckled.

"You're not buying this, are you?"

"Nope."

- The End -