Warnings: none...nada...nothing. It's G, for heaven's sake!
For Angie and Kim (guardians
of my sanity), for Becky and Robyn (loyal knights to the
Holy Order of Smarm), and for dear Wolfshy, who came up with the idea in
the first place.
Pockets of Life
Jim stepped from the elevator and trudged down the hallway. Home. Thank God. It had been a week of Mondays, a hectic, hellish lifetime crammed into a five-day period, but now it was over. The Martin case was solved. The murderer was in custody, the young woman's body had been recovered, and the parents knew their child's fate.
Sleep. All he wanted was sleep. And beer. Beer would be good. And a shower. A shower, a beer, then sleep. Maybe the beer first. Maybe two beers first.
Jim placed his hand on the doorknob and dialed up his hearing from habit. He didn't like surprises. Surprises could kill you. He'd encountered too many surprises on the other side of closed doors. Better safe than sorry.
One heartbeat. Blair was home. No music, no TV, no incense, no voice...the kid had a tendency to talk to himself. Not today, though. Just the heartbeat, soft and calming. Jim opened the door.
Something was wrong. Jim quickly scanned the room. Each piece of furniture sat obediently in its proper place. Almost. An errant dining room chair had strayed and was against the wall by the balcony doors. At some point during its journey it must have grown lonely, because it apparently had scooped up Blair Sandburg and taken him along for the ride.
Jim closed his eyes and tried to remember if any of his house rules forbade standing on the furniture, then decided it didn't matter. "Sandburg, what are you doing? Get down out of that chair."
"Shhh!" Blair remained as he was, turned toward the wall, his body angled to allow him to peer around the corner of the furthest balcony door. "Don't talk so loud. And don't make any sudden movements. They might see you and get scared."
Screw the beer...he needed a whiskey. "What the heck are you talking about?" Jim started toward Blair, only to change direction abruptly when the younger man waved his hand and motioned for Jim to take the longer route around behind the sofas. "Chief, if there's someone on the balcony, I want them to get scared. Maybe they'll jump before I have to throw them off."
"Not someone," Blair corrected. "Something. Somethings, actually. Four of them."
Whiskey...with a tequila chaser. "What?"
"Squabs. Baby birds, man. There's a nest in the hanging begonia. I noticed the eggs a couple of days ago, but they've hatched since then." Blair raised up onto his toes and arched his neck. "It's a stretch, but if I'm standing in just the right spot, I ca--"
A small, dark figure erupted from the planter just outside of the door. Blair jerked back, and with a loud bark the legs of the wooden chair slipped several inches. Jim grabbed him as he tumbled, wrapping his arm around Blair's waist and swinging him safely to the floor. Seconds later, Jim released a deep sigh, and Blair looked up at him through an unruly curtain of curls.
A bottle each of whiskey and tequila. "Stay off the furniture, Chief, or I'll use a rolled up newspaper on you."
"Aw, Jim, you've gotta see them." Blair retrieved the chair and returned it to its former post. "C'mon, I'll even hold the chair for you."
"Sandburg, I've got better things to do then gaze at pigeons in potted plants."
"They're not pigeons, they're...brownish...and smaller...well, I know they're not pigeons." Blair continued to stand with his hands on the chair back.
"I'm too tired and too hungry for this right now."
Blair grinned. "Take a look, and I'll run down to the deli for sandwiches while you're in the shower."
Jim wavered. A sandwich...with a beer. Maybe two. He took a step forward. "With the works?"
"And not one word about clogged arteries or gastrointestinal disorders?"
"You were never a Boy Scout."
"Okay, okay." Jim positioned the chair where he thought it would allow the best viewing. "Make sure you've got a good grip on this thing. I don't want to explain to the paramedics that I crashed through a glass door because I was playing 'I Spy' with some stupid birds."
He climbed upon the chair and leaned slightly to his left. His line of sight was unhindered, and he extended his vision to gain an even better view. Peering through the begonia's dark foliage, he saw the nest, a pocket of twigs and string, paper and mud, and within its depths lay its tiny inhabitants.
Three were fully hatched, but the fourth was still encased in a part of its shell. Most movement seemed restricted to respiration as their little chests expanded with each shallow breath. They seemed too fragile to survive, yet even as he watched, the fourth hatchling pushed free of its shattered prison.
"Can you see them?"
Jim nodded slowly, lowered himself from the chair, then picked it up and carried it toward the dining room. "I'm heading for the shower. Remember, the works on mine. And tell Antonio to toss in some of his homemade chips, will ya?"
Jim ignored Blair's muttered disappointment. He marched up the stairs to his room, intending to grab a change of clothing before heading to the shower. He was vaguely aware of Blair shouting "back in a few" and of the door slamming shut soon after. He snatched a pair of underwear from his dresser, walked over to his bed...and dropped onto its edge. A smile flickered, then caught, spreading across his face.
Life. In the midst of all the evil and death that plagued Cascade, there were pockets of life. Little havens of safety. A small nest in a hanging flowerpot. A small loft on the third floor.
Pockets of life.
Blair dragged himself from his bed, stretched, and scratched at his belly. Saturday! No need to rush. No classes, no cases, no paperwork, no nothin'! He could eat a leisurely breakfast, read the paper, maybe even talk Jim into a game of b-ball down at the park.
He emerged from his room, spotted Jim, opened his mouth to say "good morning" but stopped, dumbfounded.
"Morning, Chief," Jim called from across the room, glancing over his shoulder. "Sleep well?"
"Yeah." Blair shuffled toward the older man.
"Good! Got any plans for this morning?"
"No." Blair looked up at Jim. The distance was greater than usual.
Jim chuckled. "Not your usual verbose self this morning, Sandburg?"
Blair didn't reply. There were plenty of words in his brain, but none of them seemed adequate, so why bother? He just continued to stare up at Jim.
"I thought we'd run to that store over on Hammaker Avenue...Birds of a Feather. They should be able to tell us which breed these are and what they eat." Jim hopped down from the chair, lifted it, kicked a small crate into its spot, and then sat the chair down on top of it. "Wanna take a look? Mommy and Daddy are evidently out rounding up breakfast, so you should be able to get a clear view."
Dazed, Blair allowed Jim to help him up onto the chair. He felt Jim's hand on his waist--there wouldn't be a repeat of the previous day's dismounting. With the added height he was able to see down into the planter and look directly at the nest.
Four little grey fuzzballs with gaping mouths greeted the morning.
"Cool!" He couldn't stop the smile that broke across his face, and quick look at Jim revealed one to match it.
"Yeah, cool," Jim echoed. He eased Blair down to the floor once again. "The store doesn't open until ten, so we've got plenty of time. I figured we could get a small feeder and set it nearby. That way the adults wouldn't have to stray too far from home."
Blair laughed. "Why, Ellison, you old softy!"
"One more word, Sandburg, and I'll turn your room into an aviary. Now, grab a shower while I make some breakfast."
"Sounds like a plan." Blair padded off toward the bathroom. "What're we having?"
"Worms and grubs. You need more protein in your diet."
"You're a sick man, Jim."
Note: This was my response to a challenge--write a TS story which contained an incident from real life. Last week I noticed a pair of birds had developed an unusual interest in my hanging begonia. I lifted it down to check and discovered four tiny blue eggs. Two days later they hatched. The Mr. and Mrs. are doting parents, and Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo seem to be thriving.
Hey, when birds make a nest on your front porch, then you can pick the names.