Jim climbed the stairs to the loft, smelling cinnamon and a mélange of other odors that he didn't need to identify. The important thing was it smelled tasty. As he approached their apartment, he heard Blair talking on the phone.
"Mom, we talked about this last month. I tried to get time off to meet you, but December is popular with everyone. I'm low man on the totem pole here."
"But what about Jim, sweetie? He's got seniority. As your partner, couldn't he have gotten the time off and, sort of, taken you along?"
Jim opened the door and Blair turned, giving him a smile. "Yeah, Jim could pull rank and get the time off. Do you want him to fly out?" Jim's eyes widened, and he frantically made "no way" gestures with his hands. Blair grinned. "I'm just kidding Mom. Jim has seniority, but he tailors his time off to match mine, because we're partners. As much as he'd love to see you, he needs to be here to support me. We keep each other safe."
There was a pause. "Of course. I understand, I'm just disappointed. You'll still celebrate tonight?"
"Definitely. We've got something special planned. I'll write to let you know how it goes, but I can tell you I'm making one of your favorite recipes. I love you, Mom. Give my love to Aunt Gertrude. Tell her not to dance naked around the bonfire this year, okay?"
"Don't worry, honey. Last year's bout with hypothermia taught her a lesson. I love you, Blair. Give my love to Jim."
"Bye, Ma. Happy Solstice." Blair hung up, then walked over to give Jim a kiss.
Jim returned it, along with a light smack on his butt. "That was evil, volunteering me to go to Boston to face the coven."
"Well, they don't have the entire coven there this year, just a small cabal." He looked at the bag Jim was carrying. "You got them?"
Jim nodded and up-ended the bag on the counter. Packets of $5 bills in their bank wrappers tumbled out. Blair's eyes widened. "Jim, that's more than my paycheck's worth--a lot more."
Jim nodded. "What kind of partner would I be if I didn't support you? I matched your donation with my own."
Blair swallowed hard, then hugged Jim, murmuring, "I don't know how I got so lucky."
"I think that every day, babe." Jim broke the hug and rubbed his hands together. "How about we get this show on the road?"
"Okay," Blair said, pointing to more than a hundred paper lunch bags and a large pile of aluminum-wrapped packages. "I've started filling the bags. Put one bar in each bag, add a $5 bill, then close and tape it. We'll hand them out at the Mission." Jim nodded and between them they made quick work of the task.
"What'd you make?" Jim asked, as they packed the finished bags in large boxes.
"Naomi's Apple Pie Granola bars. Nutritious and delicious."
"Any left for us?"
"Sorry. The extra bucks you contributed means we need all the bars I made. I'll make a batch tomorrow just for you." With that, they walked out the door.
Joel noticed the partners as they exited the elevator, frowning in confusion. He was sure they were off today. He watched as Blair and Jim walked down the hallway instead of coming into Major Crime. Curious, he followed them and saw Blair put a single pink carnation on the floor near a wall. "What's up, guys?" Joel asked.
"Oh, hi, Joel," Blair said, hesitating as he thought about how to explain. "Today is National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. Gabe is the only homeless person I know who's died, so I wanted to honor him."
"I remember him. He was the one who got shot when Smallwood tried to kill that kid last year. He seemed like a gentle man."
Blair nodded. "Yeah. I wish I'd had a chance to know him better." They stood together silently for a few more seconds.
"Where're you heading now?" Joel asked. "Isn't it your day off?"
"Yeah," Jim answered. "We're going over to the Oak Street Mission to help out. Take it easy, Joel. Have a Merry Christmas and a good week off." Trading handshakes, they left.
The Mission was doing a lively business, and Jim and Blair were kept busy in the kitchen and on the line. They'd added a package to each food tray until they ran out, stunning the people who opened them. As Blair handed a tray to the next person, he looked up to see Simon, Joel and Captain Harrison from Homicide standing in the line. "Can you use some help?" Simon asked.
Blair was too stunned to speak, but Joe Clarkson, the Mission's director, answered. "We sure can, gentlemen. Come in the back and we'll show you what to do."
As they passed him, Blair caught Joel's arm. "Thank you, Joel. I know you're getting ready to start your vacation."
Joel patted his hand. "Always time to do a good deed, son. There'll be more help as people come off shift. Thank you for giving us a reminder that our poor and needy should not be forgotten."
Jim came out from where he'd been washing pots to give Joel a handshake that turned into a hug. "You're a good friend, Joel. Thank you for this and for all your years of support."
Joel smiled. "It's times like this that reminds us friendship is the greatest gift we have to give." He winked at Blair. "And Happy Solstice, by the way," he said. "Let there be light for everyone."