As a reward for closing the Switchman case, I got the rarest of all pleasures: a whole weekend off. The rest of my cases were minor; once we booked Sarris and the ER doc confirmed that all I had were bruises, Simon told me to get the hell out of the office for a couple of days. I was glad to comply.
Dinner with Carolyn wasn't bad. She was dying to know how I'd found Sarris, and I almost told her--but then I didn't. I'm not sure why. She knows more about me than anyone else, but I wasn't ready to talk about it. Wasn't sure how I felt about the whole thing. "Sentinel." Once I'd sent Sandburg packing, the word started to sound a little ridiculous, you know? Like I thought I was some kind of superhero. So she pried, I clammed up, eventually her mouth tightened and I went home.
I'm not sure "cooking" is the right word for what she did, anyway. She may have learned to live without my spaghetti sauce, but she's no Julia Child.
Okay, so no kiss goodnight, not even an especially good meal, but I felt pretty good about it anyway. Maybe we can learn to actually like each other again, over time.
And I felt pretty good when I woke up Saturday morning. Stayed in bed late; went for a jog, got the paper, made some good coffee when I got home. And I stopped by Jaeschke's. I was going to get something for breakfast, danish maybe, but they'd just made a cheesecake. God, it looked good. And smelled good. Vanilla, a little lemon zest. I was glad to be using my nose for something other than police work; it made the whole senses thing seem more like an enhancement and less like something out of a cartoon.
So I bought it, brought it home. When the college game on ESPN hit halftime, I went to cut myself a slice. Figured I'd pay some attention, see what I could taste. Be kind of fun to surprise Sandburg on Monday, figure out stuff I could do that he didn't know about yet.
The first bite was just cheesecake. Good cheesecake; homemade cheesecake; but nothing out of the ordinary. So I slowed it down: held the next bite in my mouth, let it dissolve. Closed my eyes.
About two bites later I became aware that my body was tingling. I could feel the vanilla--real extract, not that fake alcohol shit--on my tongue. It was the best-tasting thing I'd ever had in my life.
My mind started wandering. The taste of it, the feel of it, impossibly creamy. Licking my lips. The sweet. The soft. And then I realized I was hard.
And my sugar-dizzied mind was starting to draw connections between the cheesecake and my dick. The thought moved through my mind that the cheesecake would feel amazing on my skin. Almost mesmerized, I reached down and touched what was on my plate. The heat of my fingers half-melted it, slipping against my hand. I could imagine that slipperiness slathered over me. I could still taste the last bite I'd eaten, all vanilla-sugar in my mouth.
My dick was straining at the confines of my pants. I wanted to unfasten my pants and rub myself with my creamy fingers. I wanted it so bad I almost gave in.
And then some spark of sanity returned and I threw the plate across the room. It shattered, ceramic and cream all over the floor. I tipped my head back and stared at the ceiling, breathing hard, willing my erection to subside.
Revulsion washed through me in waves. There was something wrong with me. I was fucking sick.
I showered. I cleaned the floor, not letting myself think about how it had been spattered. I carefully finished the book I was in the middle of, and picked up another to re-read. I refused to let my mind wander. Every time it tried to wander, I made it stop.
By eight, I had to admit it was time for dinner. I hadn't wanted to think about it; I didn't want to even consider the risk that I might have trouble eating again. So much for my plans of having a nice night out.
I heated up a can of soup. Diet Progresso, some crap left over from when Caro still lived here. I didn't think about how it tasted. I didn't try to analyze any flavors. I continued reading my book.
//...We were suddenly on Madison Street among hordes of hobos, some of them sprawled out on the street with their feet on the curb , hundreds of others milling in the doorways of saloons and alleys ...//
//...We were suddenly on Madison Street among hordes of hobos, some of them sprawled out on the street with their feet on the curb...//
//...We were suddenly on Madison Street among hordes of hobos, some of them sprawled out on the street...//
I wasn't getting very far with Kerouac:. Even though it was tasteless, the soup had a velvety texture that was distracting me. Not quite velvety exactly, more like a cross between velvet and silk. Liquid cloth.
I caught myself holding it on my tongue and slammed my spoon down. Poured the rest of the bowl down the disposal. Took a sleeping pill. Went to bed.
I was up too early on Sunday: the Ambien should have knocked me out until nine, but I was up at seven. Shoulders already tense, as if I'd been struggling with something in my sleep.
I had water for breakfast.
I had water for lunch. By my second glass, I could taste the chemicals: fluoride, and a hint of iron that had to come from some crappy pipe somewhere. They made me a little queasy, but at least there was no...reaction like yesterday.
I tried to read Kerouac again.
I tried to watch football.
Midafternoon I called Sandburg.
"Huh? --Wait, let go," he added, sotto voce. Something rustled--sheets, maybe. He sounded sleepy but I could hear the smile in his voice. I couldn't help wondering who he was talking to and what she was hanging on to. Jesus. "Jim, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me. You've got to make it go away."
"Stop it! Fine, I'm getting up," he muttered, then apparently turned his attention to me. "Make what go away?"
"The senses. I'm..." I trailed off. I couldn't tell him what was happening. "I want them gone."
"Whoa, wait a second. Friday your senses saved lives."
"I don't care. I'm sick, Sandburg."
"What's wrong?" His voice deepened a little with concern.
He cut me off. "Look, I just got up, I'm kind of hungry. You wanna meet for brunch someplace?"
My heart started racing even before I snapped "No." I knew it was curt, but I didn't care. "No restaurants."
"No restaurants." He sounded like he thought I was nuts.
"I can't--I can't eat. I'm having trouble eating. We can't eat out."
"Are you having some kind of reaction? Like you had the other night?"
"Make it stop." I didn't like sounding panicked, but I couldn't help it.
"I'm coming over. Where do you live?"
When we hung up I felt relieved. He was going to figure something out. The senses would go the fuck back to sleep. I'd be able to eat again.
Twenty minutes in, I wanted to kill him. Why did I think this was a good idea? He was pacing around my living room, hair flying in about eighteen different directions. I could smell every product he had on his body: shampoo, deodorant, the remnants of a henna tattoo from sometime last week. Plus something vaguely animal, but not an animal I could identify, not cat or dog. I didn't really want to think about what kind of weird pets a guy like Sandburg might be keeping.
He sat down next to me again. "You've gotta be more specific."
I sighed and dropped my hands on my thighs. "I can't."
"I can't help you if you don't talk to me."He pushed me, not hard, but enough to startle me into looking at him. "Tell me what happened."
I closed my eyes: maybe it would be easier if I couldn't see his face. "I was eating. Yesterday."
"Eating what?" I heard the rustle of something being pulled out of his bag, the scratch of pen on paper.
He snorted, like he was stifling a laugh. "Nice hearing."
I didn't say anything. After a second I heard him put the pen and the notebook down.
"Cheesecake. Around two o'clock." It was surprisingly easy to slip into telling him the details. I wondered if this was how witnesses felt under interrogation. "And I got kinda lost in it."
"You didn't zone out again, did you?"
I shook my head. "But I got..." I stopped. I couldn't say it. God damn it, I couldn't say it. I felt my face heating.
"Got what, Jim?" His voice was gentler than I'd heard it yet, as if he could tell this wasn't easy. I forced the words through.
There was a pause. I steeled myself for whatever he was going to say: you fucking weirdo, you freak, getting off on pastries. I told myself I'd be prepared for it if he laughed at me, or if he was disgusted. Hell, I was disgusted, why wouldn't he be?
I opened my eyes. His expression hadn't changed. Not smiling in any recognizable way, but not surly either. Eyes clear and untroubled.
"What?" I couldn't believe it.
"Is that all."
I nodded. He exhaled and allowed himself a small smile.
"That's not surprising." I waited for him to elaborate, which didn't take long. "Eating's a sensual enterprise, Jim. It involves four out of the five senses, everything but hearing. I mean, it's--it can be erotic for someone with normal senses, under the right circumstances. You know--candles, the right date, maybe a little mood music..."
He was getting into the description. As my relief at not being laughed-at wore off, I was getting annoyed. "Spare me the fantasies, Romeo. I want to know how to make it stop."
His eyes widened, startled. "Make it stop? Jim, I told you, I can't make the senses stop. You're back on-line, man. This isn't going away."
"Sandburg, I haven't eaten since yesterday afternoon. I can't live like this."
"You just need control. You can train yourself. You're just...overwhelmed because you're not used to the sensory onslaught."
The theory made sense, and I was about to tell him so, but something in his expression looked like he wasn't finished talking. Like there was something he wasn't saying.
"What?" I sounded testy but he didn't flinch.
"And maybe you're...a little understimulated, otherwise. That might explain your body's immediate overreaction."
"Please tell me you don't mean what I think you mean."
He shrugged. "Maybe if you got laid a little more often, your body wouldn't crave it so much."
Annoyance flared into anger and for a second I was tempted to pick him up and throw him across the room, but I'd tried that at his office and it hadn't gotten me anywhere. In fact, he'd seemed pushier after I tossed him against the wall. I settled for cursing. "That's none of your fucking business."
"It is my business, Jim. You asked me over here to deal with this, and I'm dealing with it. Work with me, here. Have you, ah, gotten lucky since the senses came back?"
I shook my head.
I shook my head again.
He beamed. "That's it, then. You've got to find yourself some evening's entertainment. It'll take the edge off, and with a little bit of focus you'll be able to eat again." He stood up, like he was getting ready to leave.
"Are you kidding me?"
He slung his backpack over one shoulder. "Trust me, Jim, it'll work."
"Find another solution."
He looked almost hurt. "What?"
"I don't know anyone I'm ready to explain this to." He didn't say anything, but he looked like he was listening. "And I'm not about to spring myself on some poor woman who doesn't know about the, the senses thing. God, what if something...awful happened?"I repressed a shudder. It just didn't bear thinking about.
Sandburg let the pack slide back to the floor and settled slowly back into the couch. There was a moment of silence.
"Rosie Palm and her five sisters?"
It took me a second to decipher; then I glared at him. "Not exactly doing the trick, Einstein, or I wouldn't be in this mess to begin with."I couldn't believe I was discussing masturbation with this kid. Hell, I couldn't believe I was discussing it with anybody.
This time the silence was longer. I let my head fall back and stared at the ceiling. My stomach rumbled.
"There's another option." His voice was quiet again, like it was when he was trying to gentle the confession out of me.
I raised my head and quirked an eyebrow, waiting.
"Well, there is someone who knows about your...condition," he pointed out.
I stared at him. This time my brain followed his logic instantly, but I couldn't believe he meant what I thought he meant. I parsed the sentence three or four times, trying to find some other meaning it might have.
The first time a guy hit on me, I slugged him in the jaw. My seargeant yelled at me for starting a barfight--we were supposed to be getting ready to fight the bad guys, not each other--but I didn't care.
These days, all I have to do is pull out my badge and look daggers at the guy. If that doesn't work, I drop a hint about the penalties for prostitution.
In all the times it's happened, I'd never remotely considered saying yes. But this time I was desperate.
I don't like being desperate. When I finally said something, my voice was angry and hard. "You make a habit of this?"
"What, sleeping with men, or propositioning guys I barely know?"
"Sometimes, and never."
"Then why the fuck..."
"Because I like you." This was the longest I'd heard him stay calm: no theatrics, none of the Shakespeare stuff. "And I want to help you." He quirked a grin. "Besides, it wouldn't exactly be a hardship."
That took me a second to parse, too, but when I got it I felt strangely flattered. "Ah, thanks, I guess."
There was a pause. My anger had drained away and I couldn't seem to get it back.
"Look, Chief, I appreciate the offer of help..." I could hear my voice going scratchy; I cleared my throat. "But I'm not exactly--I mean, you're not—"
"Not your usual type." Wryly.
I nodded, thankful he wasn't making me spell this out. "I'm not sure I could..." I gestured vaguely, hoping he'd get it.
"Why don't we play it by ear?"
"Okay," I said, realizing after the fact that I wasn't sure if I'd just agreed to something.
Pause. "Look, I've gotta eat--restaurants are out of the question, right?"
"Okay, who delivers here?" He reached for the remote and switched on the television and settled into the couch as if I'd invited him to stay.
I couldn't keep him from eating, could I? So I went for the pile of takeout menus. He wound up ordering Greek: two gyros, a large Greek salad, some pita, a side of tzadziki.
"That's a lot of food," I said. My stomach growled agreement.
"Yeah, half of it's for you," he said, offhand, his attention already back on the game.
"Sandburg, I told you," I started, and he cut me off.
"You're going to be fine. You're going to eat some lunch and then we'll talk again."
He sounded so sure of himself that I just nodded and poured myself another glass of water and waited for the food to come.
"You want dessert?" Sandburg's voice floated over from the sink where he was piling the dishes.
He was right; I'd managed to eat a reasonable portion of lunch. He'd kept me distracted with the game, with questions about the PD, with stories about fieldwork he'd done in Amazonia. Sounded like he'd had some culture shock after his summer with the Quechua. He might actually understand what it had been like for me, coming back from eighteen months of thatched roofs and mud floors to the high-rises of Cascade.
"Sure," I said, not really thinking about it until my nose caught the scent of vanilla.
Jesus: the cheesecake. I felt my face redden.
He brought two plates over and set one in front of me. I didn't move. He took a bite and hummed in appreciation. After a second or two he elbowed me gently. "Eat."
"You're okay. Relax."
I took a deep breath. The smell of sugar and cream went straight to my brain and I shivered.
So I took a bite.
Oh, God, it was good. It was still so good.
Three bites in I was sweating lightly. I closed my eyes, unable to look at him. I was hard again.
Hands took my wrist and pulled it. I heard the clatter of my fork being tossed onto my plate, the rustle of the couch as Sandburg shifted around. Then two of my fingers were in his mouth. His hot, wet mouth, sucking at my fingers, tongue working designs into my skin. I gasped. Heat was flooding my entire body, as if my skin were conducting electricity.
When he pulled away the cold air on my wet fingers made me shudder. "This okay, Jim?"
I was in a fog. The soft fleece of my sweatpants was torture. "Yeah," I managed.
Hot fingers scrabbled at my waistband. "Lift up," his voice said, from lower down now. I pushed out, raising my hips, and the sweatpants slid away. And then I wasn't thinking anymore, because his mouth was on my dick.
He was gentle at first. My ears burned with the sounds of his soft licking, my harsh breaths. And then he stopped and exhaled over me, and I moaned. My face was hot, as if all the blood in my body were rushing either there or to my cock. Quivers prickled up my spine, turning me to jelly.
Every breath I took was laced with vanilla and cream and sugar from our two plates of cheesecake, abandoned on the coffeetable. The scents were cloying at the back of my throat, but the sweetness was cut with the musky smells of my body, the sweat at my armpits and crotch. Smell and taste twined together, almost overwhelming, but still no match for touch. For his mouth hovering over my dick, his breath draping over me. If I'd opened my mouth again I might have begged.
He bent again, licking this time at my balls. I made a sound I don't want to admit was a whimper. No one had ever put her mouth there before, it had never even occurred to me that that would feel good, but it felt so damn good I was moving under him, pushing up, craving.
And then he slid his mouth over my dick and started sucking, the way he'd sucked on my fingers, and I gasped an "oh," once, twice, and then I was shooting in his mouth like I'd spent my entire adult life waiting to come.
Eventually my breathing returned to normal and I realized I hadn't heard or felt him move since I'd slipped out of his mouth. Jesus. There's a sentence I never thought would run across my brain.
Panic threatened to blossom. I hitched up my pants and opened my eyes.
He was sitting on the floor, hunched over slightly. He looked up at me, eyes a little sheepish.
"You, ah, mind if I take a quick cold shower before I try to drive a car?"
Did he mean...? I let myself glance at his crotch. Holy shit: sucking me off had made him hard.
Somewhere in the back of my mind it registered that I felt like a jerk. I was still floating from coming in his mouth--in his mouth, for Christ's sake--and he was about to take a cold shower so he could drive home.
His voice was deeper than usual, whether from having me nudging his throat or from his own arousal I wasn't sure.
"Sure," I said lamely. He clambered to his feet, hissing slightly from discomfort. His jeans looked absurdly tight. Now that I was paying attention, I could smell something different in his body: not sweat, exactly, but something like it. Something that made my mouth water.
Which may have been why I opened my mouth again when he was halfway to the bathroom. "Or you could—"
Sandburg turned and looked at me, eyebrows raising a question.
"I mean, I could. Give you a hand with that."
God, he smelled good. And some part of me was kind of excited by the idea that he'd gotten hard from sucking me off. He probably just liked doing it, it probably didn't have anything to do with me, but...
He smiled in a way that lit up his face, although he didn't come any closer. "You sure? I know this isn't exactly--I mean, I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to do."
"Jesus, Sandburg, I wouldn't have offered if I—" I sounded annoyed. I stopped and let out a breath. "I wouldn't have offered if I didn't mean it." That sounded better.
He gave a half-shrug and came back over to the couch. "I had every intention of going home and letting you lie here happy," he offered, as if by way of explanation. "I just didn't bargain for those...sounds you made."
Now that he was next to me, breathing was heady. Could I smell myself on him? I could hear his heartrate speeding.
"Hottest thing I ever heard, man," he said, quirking a smile.
Something in the back of my spine was crackling again. "You know, on second thought," I mused aloud.
His face shuttered like someone had just slammed a door on him. He grimaced slightly. "I can go."
"No, wait, Sandburg—" He stood and I grabbed his arm. "I was just going to say we could go somewhere more comfortable. Like upstairs."
He laughed a little, face softening. "Oh. Sorry, I—"
I stood too and let go of his arm. "Thought I was kicking you out."
Sandburg shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time somebody shut me down."
I chuckled, remembering the blonde from yesterday. I almost told him what she'd really said, but then I didn't. Who cared what the blonde said? I pushed him in front of me towards the stairs.
When we got to the bedroom, I felt a little awkward. "I don't really know what I'm doing." It was surprisingly easy to say, maybe in comparison to all the things I'd already said today that felt like pulling teeth.
"Just do what you'd do with a woman."
So I moved to where he was and our arms went around each other and then we were kissing. It wasn't exactly like kissing a woman, but it wasn't entirely different, either. He was less submissive than most of the women I've kissed--usually they sort of melt against me and suck on my tongue. Sandburg and I were trading roles on the tongue thing, and he definitely wasn't melting. Just the opposite, in fact. His body was surprisingly hard: no breasts, no soft belly, and then his dick pressing into my hip.
But it was good. Kissing was buzzy, made my mouth feel sensitized, and I liked that. Maybe these senses weren't so bad after all.
After a short while Sandburg's dick was hot against me, and I could feel his heartbeat through it, but he seemed content to let me set the pace. The second I pulled his shirt out of his waistband, though, he sighed into my mouth and slid his hands under my flannel.
It was a little bit like being in two bodies at once, feeling his strong back under my fingers, feeling his big hands moving across my shoulderblades. We broke long enough to get our shirts off; I was gratified to see that he was breathing hard.
Suddenly I really wanted to touch his dick. Some kind of line had been crossed: I'd never imagined anything like this before, but I'd already had the orgasm of my life, and the kissing and touching were good, and I wanted to touch him. I wasn't sure I could suck him the way he'd sucked me, but I wanted to do something. So I knelt in front of him and popped the button on his jeans.
I glanced up; he was flushed. "I haven't done anything yet."
"You have no idea how--just looking at you," he said thickly.
I thought about that for a second. Remembered the first time Carolyn had knelt in front of me and unzipped my pants, the way I'd almost come just looking at her wet red lips, the angle of sight down her blouse, the fact of a woman on her knees in front of me.
Sandburg had some weird kind of taste in men, if the sight of me on my knees made him that hot, but who was I to complain? I felt my face crinkle into a grin, and he stumbled backwards to the bed and fell onto it.
I pulled his jeans off, careful not to snag his dick with the zipper. The boxer briefs followed. He had closed his eyes, was breathing more shallowly now, almost panting.
His dick looked basically like mine. Like most dicks, I guess. I lay on my side next to him and spent a moment staring at his nipples, which were darker red than I had expected. One had a small silver ring running through it. Both were tight.
I ran a fingertip over the pierced nipple and he gasped, a breathy little "oh" sound that made my dick try to twitch back to life again. I'd never been much for noise during sex, but I was starting to understand how my sounds could have gotten him hard, if they were anything like the sounds he was making as I rolled the nipple between thumb and forefinger.
And then I slid my hand down to his cock and stroked it with the flat of my palm. He inhaled hard and bit his lip as his dick pushed up into my hand.
I felt giddy. This was nothing like being with a woman, where you couldn't tell what response was real and what was a show put on for your benefit. Sandburg's dick was hot in my hand and as I closed my fingers around it he swallowed a moan.
Another couple of strokes and he was near the edge, I could feel it. I'm not sure how I could tell, but I knew. I circled the tip of his dick with my thumb and that did it: he was crying out and spurting all over his stomach and chest, whole body tensing and then, finally, as I let him go, releasing.
I flopped over onto my back and lay there for a while, listening to his breathing and heartrate slowing to normal. I glanced over once or twice; his eyes were closed, but he was smiling, a big shit-eating grin that made me want to laugh.
Eventually he opened his eyes and looked at me. His pupils were wide: it had gotten dark and the light from the skylight wasn't enough for him to see by anymore. I liked having that advantage, that I could read his face when he couldn't see mine.
"Wow," he said, after a moment.
I chuckled. There was a brief silence before he spoke up again.
"I should get out of your hair. I mean, metaphorically speaking, obviously—" His manic energy was returning. I didn't want to think about why that disappointed me.
"Yeah." I wasn't sure what else to say, so I didn't say anything.
He stood and looked around the room, his movements tentative. I reached over and flipped on a light, which made him wince his eyes away, but at least he could find his clothes.
His body language was guarded. Nervous. What, did he think I was going to pop him one for forcing me to give him a handjob? Part of me wanted to calm him down, tell him I wasn't about to have some kind of first-gay-whatever freak-out. Part of me didn't, though. There was something uncomfortable about having this guy I barely knew break through my defenses like that.
While I was lost in thought, he was getting dressed, body vanishing beneath layers of denim and cotton.
"I guess I'll, ah, see you tomorrow?"
"Shit, that's right--you've gotta meet Simon."
"I met Simon already. On Friday."
"Yeah, but..." I shook my head. "We need something to tell him."
"Not the truth?" Dressed now, Sandburg's stance was less vulnerable.
"Fuck no, not the truth. I'm not ready for that."
The silence lasted a millisecond too long. "Hey, your secret's safe with me, man."
My secret. Jesus Christ. I sat up and reached for my shirt.
"What time are we meeting at the station?"
"Hey, I can do nine, that's no problem. I'm good with mornings." There was a pause. "Look--you want to meet beforehand, so we can make sure we've got our story straight?"
I considered that for a second. "Yeah, sure."
"I know this place on the corner of South and Topeka, they do this chai latte thing, and their pumpkin muffins are to die for..." His voice stopped, although its tones were still ringing in my ears. "If you feel up to eating out, I mean."
A hint of challenge.
"Yeah, I'm up to it."
He grinned. I meant to keep a poker face, but I couldn't help grinning back.
He started down the stairs, I reached for my shirt and started buttoning. I heard him stop by the door to toe his boots back on. "Hey, Sandburg," I called.
I could hear the smile shaping his vowels when he called back. "Anytime, man."
The door closed behind him and I padded down to the living room. Gathered up our plates and carried them to the sink. And then, on second thought, scraped his half-piece of pie onto my plate and took it back to the couch. Clicked on the television and settled in to watch a movie. I was hungry again.