am I... your one and only desire...
am I the reason you breath...
or am I the reason you cry...
"Jim, man, please. Talk to me!"
Jim stuffed another shirt into his bag, followed by two pairs of socks. He didn't look at Blair, nor did he acknowledge his heartfelt entreaty. He also ignored the pounding heart he heard thumping against Blair's rib cage and he blocked out the pain in his own heart.
"Jim, please don't do this to me, to us!"
Jim felt Blair's distress pouring from him; he heard the hitch in his breathing, but still he remained stoic. Steeling his resolve, he blocked out Blair's anguished voice.
"Don't go," Blair begged softly. "Please, Jim. I'm sorry about- Well, I'm not really sorry-”
"I am," Jim interrupted quietly but firmly, shaking the bag once to settle the contents before he zipped it closed. He snagged the handles and jerked the bag from the bed. Stalking over to the stairs, he stopped, but didn't turn. "It's just- I can't do this. Sorry, Chief," he said quietly before he clattered down the stairs. Grabbing his jacket from the hook beside the door, he didn't bother to stop and put the coat on, tossed it over his arm, opened the door and closed it quietly behind him.
Jim drove aimlessly for several hours until the truck stalled out. With a clench of his jaw, he guided the vehicle to the side of the road and turned off the ignition. He sighed and leaned his forehead against the steering wheel.
"Fuck," he whispered. "Good going, idiot. If you're going to run away from home, at least you could have filled up the gas tank." With another deep sigh, he closed his eyes. "God, Blair, what have I done?"
Sitting up, Jim swiped his hands down his face. Looking around, he saw a brown rabbit nibbling grass from a green patch alongside the highway. He shook his head. "What am I going to do?"
The rabbit looked up and blinked. Jim saw its whiskers rise and fall as its nose twitched. He zeroed in on the questioning brown eyes. Wide and innocent; hopeful, like- Dragging his thoughts away from that painful direction, he watched the bunny as it hopped forward a few paces, examining the monster sitting before it. He wondered what the big blue and white truck looked like to the small creature. With another sigh, Jim opened the door, causing the rabbit to bolt into the brush. Closing the door and locking it, he scanned the highway in both directions.
"Have to hitch," he mused. "Or walk.” The highway was deserted as he started in the direction of nearest town. Several cars and a large truck soon passed by, but they ignored the thumb he stuck out. Walking backwards, he scanned the horizon for another vehicle. A black Mercedes crested a small hill and started to slow down. Jim waved until the car stopped and the electric window lowered.
Jim leaned over and peered into the car. "Dad?"
"What's going on? Is that your truck I saw alongside the road back a bit?"
"Yeah. Ran out of gas."
"Thanks." Jim opened the door and slid into the seat, sinking into the soft leather. "Nice wheels."
"Thanks." William pulled out onto the highway and drove silently for a mile or so before he asked, "Are you okay, son?"
Jim shrugged. "I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine."
"I'm fine," Jim repeated testily.
William rolled his eyes. "Are we going to do this again?"
"What?" Jim asked tersely.
Jim turned to look out the window. "Just drop me at the nearest gas station."
"Not now. I can't take your sanctimonious attitude right now," Jim growled.
William slowed the car down before pulling off the main road onto a small side road. He turned in his seat after cutting the engine, and Jim internally cringed under the scrutiny. "Now see here, James. I don't appreciate that attitude. I haven't done anything to you, and I don't deserve your animosity."
Jim clenched his jaw. Reaching for the door handle, he angrily pulled on it. "Unlock this door immediately," he ordered.
"Not until we talk."
"I don't have anything to say to you."
"Jimmy, I'm sorry. For whatever I've done, I'm sorry. What can I do to make it up to you? I've tried apologizing. I've tried inviting you over for dinner. I've done what I could to bridge this chasm between us, but you've steadfastly cut me down at every turn. I'm your father and I love you. I'll do whatever it takes to get past this!"
Jim heard the anguish in his father's tone. He steeled himself, determined to remain firm, but he made the mistake of glancing into his father's face. He blinked when he saw the sorrow etched there. He felt himself blanch when he saw the sincerity radiating from the pleading eyes. All William wanted was for his son to love him. It reminded him of the look in- He clamped his teeth together so hard his jaw ached.
"I want to talk like two reasonable men. Man to man. Father to son. Honest and above-board. What do you say?"
Jim held his breath before he huffed it out in a rush. "Yeah. Okay."
"Thank you, son." William started the car, backed out of the turn off and after checking his rear view mirror, merged onto the highway. "There's a nice, quiet little park in Pinecrest. Why don't we stop by the deli, grab some food, and then we'll sit and talk where nobody will interrupt us."
"Okay," Jim agreed. "I am kind of hungry."
"Good." William smiled and nodded. "My treat."
William grinned. "You haven't called me that in years."
Jim shrugged. "Why are you out this way anyway? Kind of far from the office, isn't it?"
"I retired last year. Now I do pro bono work for the Pinecrest Legal Aid Society. I don't have a private practice any longer."
"Oh, I didn't... Sorry," Jim mumbled, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. He suddenly remembered the invitation to his father's retirement party, but work had interfered. Had he at least called and made his apologies? Knowing he hadn't even done the minimum social requirement, he blushed and slumped down, instantly and unfairly angry.
"Jimmy, it's okay."
"What's okay?" Jim ground out.
"The retirement party. Blair explained."
Jim sat up. "What?"
"Blair called and told me you were on stake out. I understand these things. I know what it's like to have responsibilities and duties. Besides, the gift certificate was very thoughtful."
Jim turned to stare at William, who glanced over at the same time. With a quiet smile, William said, "Oh, right. You didn't know. Blair never said." William shrugged. "Forget it. I appreciated it anyway. Besides, Blair seems like a good sort."
Before Jim could respond, William said, "Here we are. What do you want?"
What do I want? I want... I want... No! Jim blinked and shook his head, realizing that his thoughts were screaming in his own head, drowning out his father's words. "What?"
William put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "To eat, son. Want to you want to eat?" he asked with a nod toward the delicatessen in front of which they now were parked. "You said you were hungry."
Jim blinked again, forcing himself to focus. "Yeah. Right. Ah, roast beef with the works. No onions, please."
William opened his door and climbed out. "You seem a bit unsettled. Why don't you wait here? I can handle the food detail." At Jim's nod, he closed the door and left Jim alone with his thoughts.
"So tell me what has you running away?" William said after he finished his pastrami sandwich. Munching on a dill pickle, he pointed it at Jim. "It isn't like you, Jimmy."
Jim dropped the last bite of his roast beef on whole wheat back onto the waxed paper. "I wasn't running away!" he said, bristling.
"I think if we expect to gain anything from this conversation, we should start at the beginning. What do you say?"
"The beginning was when you ignored Steven and me as kids," Jim blurted out.
William stared into Jim's eyes for a few moments before he wiped his mouth on a napkin. Balling the paper up, he tossed it into the empty white deli bag.
"Okay. Since I'm your father, I'll tell you what we're going to do. I'm giving you my permission to ask me anything you want to. Anything and everything. Don't spare my feelings, and most importantly, don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. I'm willing to answer honestly and openly. I owe you that much."
Jim eyed his father suspiciously. "Why now?"
William smiled. "I'm getting older. I want to be part of your life -- yours and Steven's. It's my responsibility to mend any fences that need mending. So ask."
"Anything?" Jim said, animosity in his tone.
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Why did my mother leave us?"
"Right," William replied with a nod. "Let's start with the hard stuff. Your mother left because she didn't want to be a wife and mother any longer."
"She was,” Jim swallowed, “tired of us?"
A chill ran through Jim. "Was it my fault?" he asked softly.
William looked directly at Jim. "Partly. Yes. You were an extremely sensitive child. She wasn't able to handle you; your moods; your tears; your..." William waved a hand before he grimaced. "...your senses."
Even though hearing the words stabbed into Jim's heart, he sighed with relief. "You meant what you said when you said you'd tell me the truth," he said incredulously.
"Yes. No more secrets between us. Not now; not again. Do you want me to tell you what happened?"
Jim nodded, his throat suddenly tight. He'd always wished he knew the honest-to-God truth about why his mother had left. Now he would know. Be careful what you wish for, it might come true. The old adage echoed in his head. With a shake, he returned his attention to his father. "Yes. Please tell me."
"Grace was a very special girl. She was younger than me by about six years; emotionally she was even younger when we married. She was eighteen and I was twenty-five." William smiled with recollection. "She was amazing. Sweet, easy-going; flighty is the word that now comes to mind, but then, I thought of her as a free spirit. I'm afraid I'm responsible for taming that free spirit. Until of course, she finally broke free."
William's smile faded and his voice was sad. "I take responsibility. Grace didn't really want children, but I was desperate for them. Back then, a man was judged by his family. I wanted to look as normal as possible." William snorted. "Normal. What a crock that is! But with hindsight, I understand that now." He held Jim's gaze. "I understand, Jimmy. I honestly do. I know what I did to you, and I'll regret it until the day I die."
"Dad, please..." Jim shifted uncomfortably, but his words were forestalled by his father's raised hand.
"No. You're going to hear this. It's painful for me, but I know you'll feel differently if you hear this." At Jim's nod, William continued. "I was tickled with two boys to carry on the family name. I felt like I deserved a family, a good job. I worked hard, sixty -- eighty hours a week. But Grace hated being a housewife-"
"Hated being a mother," Jim said bitterly.
"No, not really. At least, not at first. When you boys were babies, she loved it. She treated you like living dolls. Dressing you in different outfits. Taking pictures; making home movies. She loved putting you and Steven in the carriage and taking you to the park. I think while you were little, it was easier for her to pretend. When you both started to grow and become individuals, then that was when she started having second thoughts."
"Was it because of my abilities?" Jim forced himself to ask.
William gave Jim a sympathetic glance. "They contributed, Jimmy. She didn't understand why you were so sensitive. You cried at the smallest thing. Your feelings were easily hurt and she spent her days trying to keep you happy. We didn't know then what was wrong. The pediatrician said you were an intelligent toddler who was easily frustrated."
"When did you know that I was different?"
"About three. It wasn't until then that you started reacting to so much! It was impossible to keep you happy and content. It wore Grace out. By the time you were nine and Steven was seven, Grace finally filed for divorce, but in reality, she had left me, left us four or five years before."
"So you didn't want us either," Jim said adamantly.
"No! That's not true. I insisted that Grace leave you and Steven with me. I knew she couldn't care for you. I wanted both of you boys. Why do you think I worked so hard? I wanted what was best for you and your brother."
"Then why didn't you treat us like you cared?" Jim demanded. "You treated me like I was some kind of freak!"
"Don't you think I know that now? Back then, I didn't know what else to do but to work! I left Sally to take care of your physical needs, but I didn't think about what you needed to feel like you were loved! My own father didn't believe in hugs and kisses for boys. I don't remember my father ever hugging me. Even when I was five, I remember getting a handshake before bed. I'm sorry, but I didn't know any better." William sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I did- I do love you. Very much. You're my son."
Jim studied his father's face. The man was telling the truth, as painful as it was for him. "And so...?" Jim prompted.
"I was terrified for you. All kinds of thoughts would keep me awake. What if the teachers found out? What if somebody told Social Services that it was something I'd done to you? What if they took you away?" William grimaced. "What if some government authority took you to use you for horrible things?" He gave a small bark of laughter and buried his face in his hands.
"What?" Jim asked.
William shook his head. "Do you remember that television show where the kid was taken from his parents by some shadowy government agency to do awful things for their cause? I remember watching that show once and it scared the hell out of me. I don't remember the name of the darned thing, but I'll never forget that boy's face. That's when I knew I had done the right thing."
"That was years after. I was a grown man by then."
"Do you think it matters to a parent? I protected you. You were safe. You still are, in spite of..." William looked up and squinted at the late afternoon sun. He clenched his fingers together and shifted on the hard bench.
"It's okay. Nothing happened. Blair didn't release the information to the public. It was his mother, but she hadn't meant for anything bad to happen to me, or to Blair."
"What he did... That was very brave of him."
"Yes. Yes, it was," Jim agreed, smiling at the memory of his partner's bravery. "He's that kind of man."
William put a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Why are you running, Jimmy?" he asked softly.
Jim ducked his head and blinked, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "I did something incredibly selfish and stupid."
William waited a few moments, but when Jim didn't continue, he prompted, "Can you tell me? It might help."
"Blair always wants me to talk about my feelings, but it's so hard!" Jim sighed deeply.
"It's my fault. I remember how I raised you and your brother. How I made sure you knew that what I considered important was drilled into your heads. I remember, Jim. 'Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.' I was an idiot! I remember pitting you and Steven against each other. Instead of offering positive rewards, I forced negative punishment on you both. I was wrong! I hurt you, and forced you to hide your feelings."
William rose and walked away before he turned back. He spread arms wide. "I was so wrong, Jimmy. All I can do is apologize and swear that I didn't mean to hurt you. But you're still hiding, and it's ruining your life." Crossing his arms, William walked back to stand directly in front of Jim. "I helped to make you the man you are today. Strong, brave, steady, honest, and dammit, lonely," William admitted sadly.
Jim looked up. "I'm not lonely!"
"I thought we were going to be honest with each other," William berated kindly.
Jim pursed his lips and his eyes narrowed. His anger flared and he lashed out, intending to hurt William. "I fucked my partner."
"Oh," William responded. "Well, that's interesting. Did you force yourself on him?"
"No!" Jim rose. "No, of course not!"
"So it was just a mutual fuck? Kind of like any port in a storm? Release a little tension-"
"No! I don't just screw anything that walks by me. What kind of a man do you think I am?" Jim yelled.
William put a hand on Jim's arm. "A caring one underneath that hard-as-nails exterior. So tell me what happened."
"You are a bastard," Jim growled before he rolled his eyes. "Okay, point taken. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have shouted."
"Do you care about Blair?"
"Yes, of course. He's my best friend."
"Did you mean for the sex to happen?"
Jim considered for a moment before he nodded. "We've been working toward it for a long time now. I've been-" He cleared his throat. "I'm in love with him." He cringed, waiting for his father's next words, sure they would be angry and hurtful.
"Does he love you?"
Jim released the breath he'd been holding and looked into his father's eyes. "I admitted that I'm in love with a man and all you can ask is does he love me?"
William shrugged. "What? You want me to call you names or turn away in disgust? Do you think that little of me?"
"No, I just didn't expect this." Jim waved a hand toward his father's calm exterior.
"James, when was the last time you and I talked? Really talked? What do you really know about me? What I like. What I don't like. You really have no right to jump to any conclusions about me," William added gently, but firmly. Jim remained silent. "It's been more than twenty-five years since you lived in my home. You joined the military and were gone for years on end. I forced you away from your home; I admit that, but you don't know me. So for starters, let me tell you that I am not homophobic. In fact, I've represented several clients who were unfairly dismissed from their jobs for being involved in same-sex relationships."
Jim had the grace to blush. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't know."
William smiled. "I know, son. So let's figure out this problem of yours. We'll talk about me later. Okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Okay, I'll try."
"No, you'll talk to me and we'll do this together. For the first time in our adult lives, we'll work together."
Jim gave his father a small smile. "Thanks, Pops."
"Sure, Jimmy. If it helps, I can ask questions."
"Do you love Blair?"
"Does he love you?"
"So you mutually agreed to a physical relationship?"
"He's of age, isn't he?"
"Yes!" Jim felt his anger rising.
William smiled. "Calm down, son. So far, I don't see why you're leaving your lover. Is it because you're afraid people will find out? That you'll be considered different?"
"You want honesty, Dad. Really want honesty?" Jim paced. "Do you really want to know what I heard in my head the first thing this morning when I woke with my male lover in my arms? Do you?" he shouted. "Well, I'm going to tell you. I heard my father's voice in my head. I remember every word! Do you want me to repeat them because I hear them like some -- fucking recording in my brain!" His voice rose. "Now you got to stop pretending or people are going to think you're a freak! You understand? Is that what you want? For people to think there's something wrong with you?" Jim crossed his arms and hugged his chest. "Do you know how I felt? How it still makes me feel?" he asked accusingly.
William looked stricken. "I know. I understand, son. I regret every moment."
"I wasn't pretending then. I'm not pretending now." Jim's throat closed and he dropped his head. "I'm a grown man. It shouldn't matter now."
William moved closer and stood before his son. "But it does, doesn't it?" When Jim nodded, William put a hand on his shoulder. "I want you to know how proud I am of you. You're a good man. You're a fine police officer and any father would be honored to have a son like you."
Jim's breathing hitched and he screwed his eyes tightly closed. William slipped a hand around his shoulder and gently pulled him into an embrace. After a few moments,he wrapped his arms around his father. William's hand touched the back of his head.
"It's all right, son. It's okay if you can't forgive me, as long as you at least acknowledge that I didn't try to deliberately hurt you or your brother. Can you give me that much?"
"But I do forgive you. I understand and I'm sorry for all the years we've lost."
With a final squeeze, William released Jim from his arms. "Thank you. I love you, Jimmy."
Jim nodded. "Me, too, Pops."
"So about this guy of yours?
"I wasn't very nice this morning. I wouldn't talk to him and I stomped off knowing that he'd think he did something wrong. I was hurtful to him, and it's killing me. I'm such an asshole."
"Yes, you are."
"Dad!" Jim said in a surprised tone.
"Hey, you're right. Who am I to argue?" William answered with a smile.
Jim rolled his eyes. "So I guess I have some apologizing to do, along with some groveling."
"Flowers usually work."
"He's not a woman, Dad."
"No, but he'll appreciate the gesture."
"Maybe a potted plant."
"Good idea. A gift always helps getting back into your partner's good graces."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "You like Blair?"
"He seems like a nice guy. I'd like to get to know him better. Why don't you and he come to dinner next Sunday?"
Jim paused then smiled. "Okay, sounds-" The smile faded. "I haven't asked if he'll have me back. He might be tired of putting up with my shit by now."
"Why don't you ask him first instead of jumping to conclusions? Why don't you talk to him?"
"That sounded more like an order than a suggestion."
William laughed. "Consider it both. So what do you say we clean up from lunch, fill up a can of gas for you, and get you back on the road toward home."
"Home. Yeah, that sounds good to me. I'd like to go home," Jim added wistfully.
William smiled. "So call him."
Outside of Cascade, when Jim had cell phone reception, he dialed the familiar number.
"Jim? Are you okay? Where are you?"
Jim smiled. The concern he heard for his well-being in his lover's voice warmed his soul, but the anxiety that he could also hear made him cringe. He was responsible for causing Blair's distress, and now he would fix things. "Hey. I'm okay. I was wondering... Do you think I could come home and we could talk?"
"Geez, what do you think? Get your ass home right this minute. I've been so worried! You really scared me taking off like that."
"I'm sorry I made you worry. I'm heading that way now. Be home in about an hour."
"I'll be waiting."
Jim's face was beaming when Blair whispered, "I love you, too."