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Jim Ellison sighed as he approached the loft door. Naomi had been staying with them for the past two days, and although he liked her, there was no doubt in his mind that he preferred Blair to be there, too, to be a buffer state; all in all, he found her enthusiasm for life even more exhausting than Sandburg's. But Blair's old Volvo wasn't there; the grad student wouldn't be home for fully two hours yet, perhaps even longer. It depended on how smoothly his chats went with various students about their work.
He opened the door, and paused, surprised. Naomi was sitting perfectly still, staring almost blindly at the papers in her hands. She wasn't meditating, but she did seem to be light years away.
"Oh! Jim." He could literally see her pull shields around herself as she rose to her feet. "Is it that time already? Oh, Jim, I'm so sorry, I meant to have something ready for you coming in, but I completely lost track of the time..."
He crossed quickly to her, and gently pushed her back down again. "What's wrong, Naomi? And don't tell me it's nothing. I'm not blind. I can see there's something worrying you."
She bit her upper lip. "Not worry, exactly." She looked at him, and he could see in her eyes the need to confide in someone warring with an equally strong need to maintain some sort of secrecy.
"What, then?" he asked sympathetically. "Naomi, you're Blair's mom. Blair's my best friend. That gives us a sort of relationship. I can guess that whatever's bothering you, you don't want to tell Blair. Is it because he'd be too close to it?"
She nodded. "I think it might hurt him. Badly. But he'll have to know."
"But I'm not too close. Sometimes it helps to tell someone what's bothering you, and it's usually best then to pick someone who isn't going to be emotionally involved. I might be able to help you work out how to tell him. And you know I'd never do anything to hurt Blair, don't you?"
"Yes. I worried at first, and I still think working with a p... cop is dangerous for him, but I know you love him, do everything you can to protect him."
"All right, then." He straightened. "Would you like something? Tea, coffee?"
"I think I'd like some coffee."
Now that was a surprise. He had expected her to ask for some of Blair's herbal tea, since that was what she usually drank when she visited. However, he was not about to break the mood by being anything but accepting. "Okay. Just sit still and decide what you want to tell me, and I'll get it."
It wasn't too long before he was sitting beside her, coffee mugs in front of them. She shivered as she took a mouthful, and he knew it was the sort of shiver that spoke of someone walking over her grave.
"How much do you knowreally knowabout Blair's life before you met him?"
"Not much," Ellison admitted wryly. "Just the little I've picked up here and there. He talks plenty, but he doesn't really say much."
"I know. He's always been secretive that way. I'd hoped it was just because I'm his mother, that he'd be able to relax with you. ...Has he ever said anything about his father?"
"Just that he didn't know who that was. That you'd never told him. He seemed to assume you didn't know."
"Oh, I knew." There was a terrible bitterness in her voice. She swallowed another mouthful of coffee, took a deep breath and seemed to push the bitterness away. "Let me tell you a story, Jim.
"Once upon a time isn't that how all good stories start? there was a family living in Tacoma. A very happy family, a family in pretty affluent circumstances. Mother, father, three sons, and two daughters, one of them five years older than the other one. In spite of the age difference, though, the two girls were very close.
"Then when she was nineteen, the older sister married. David was a handsome charmer about ten, eleven years older than Elizabeth, who swept her off her feet. Her father and mother were more than happy to welcome this son-in-law into the family despite the age difference they thought an older, more mature, husband was perfect for her, especially since he was wealthy, had a good job. Her three brothers thought he was great company; he had traveled extensively, had seen and done a lot, could tell many an interesting story. Only the younger sister didn't like him, but she said nothing because she wasn't sure why she didn't like him. She was afraid she might just be jealous because he had taken her big sister away from her.
"Did I say 'more mature'? He wasn't." The bitterness was creeping into her voice again, and Ellison knew.
"He raped you?"
Naomi nodded. "He tried seduction first, but I wasn't interested. I'd matured fairly late and I wasn't that interested in sex yet. I didn't like him, and I did love my sister, so I wasn't prepared to let him betray her trust, not with me. And he raped me, not just once but several times over a period of two months. I couldn't tell anyone, not then, because I didn't want to hurt Elizabeth. But when I realized I was pregnant, I told my mother.
"She didn't believe me. That I was raped, I mean."
Ellison clamped his lips tightly shut to stop himself from uttering the words that he wanted to say.
"She was completely taken in by him. She accused me of making it up, trying to cause trouble between Elizabeth and David because I was jealous obviously I hadn't hidden how I felt well enough, though it turned out she thought I wanted David for myself and was just saying all this to get him. She was prepared to accept that David was the father though he denied it, denied having touched me but she thought I'd seduced him in the hope that he'd divorce Elizabeth and marry me. I was fifteen, Jim. How could she have thought a fifteen-year-old could be that much of a schemer?
"They sent me away to live with an aunt in Fort Worth 'til the baby was born. They wanted me to give my baby for adoption and then go back to Tacoma and pretend it had never happened. As if I could have gone back to a place where I'd have met him regularly.
"Aunt Rachel was more understanding, but even she... Mother had told her her version of the story, and Aunt thought it was a classic case of love turned to hate when I insisted I didn't like David, had never liked David. But she gave me a home, and when Blair was born, she agreed to let me keep him and continued to give me a home for about a year. It was obvious, though, that her husband wasn't happy with the situation, so after a while, just after my seventeenth birthday, I moved out.
"When I didn't give Blair up for adoption, my father cut off the allowance he'd been giving me; but Aunt Rachel told me she didn't blame me for wanting to keep my baby and without her husband's knowledge, she gave me an allowance to match the one I'd lost she was independently wealthy.
"I wasn't sure what to do for the best when I moved out, where to go. Back in the Sixties - even the very late sixties - it wasn't respectable to be a single mother, especially as young as I was, but I wasn't prepared to lie and say I was a widow. The only people who seemed to be willing to accept me as I was were the hippies, so..." She shrugged. "I didn't choose the lifestyle, Jim I sort of fell into it, but then I found I did quite like it. And it was a lifestyle that let me save most of my allowance from Aunt Rachel, just as for seven months during my pregnancy I'd saved most of what I got from my father. I realized that eventually I'd probably have to settle, and I wanted to have money there for when I did.
"When I joined in protests, nobody knew that what I was really protesting against was society's double standards; like it was all right for a boy to 'sow his wild oats,' but heaven help a girl who did the same. That a man should be knowledgeable about sex when he married, but a girl should be completely ignorant. Where did they think the men got their experience? Then there was one law for the rich, and another for the poor. The rich could pretty well get away with anything." She shrugged. "I don't think I even realized myself that's what I was doing not at the time. I only realized it a few years ago.
"I did a lot of traveling it's amazing how cheaply you can travel if you know how though every now and then I went back to Aunt Rachel's for a few weeks. Her husband died just a few months after I left, but I didn't want to take advantage of her kindness by going back permanently."
"That's how Blair knows his cousins?"
"Well, the Fort Worth ones are really second cousins he tends to think of my cousins, Aunt Rachel's children, as his uncles and aunt. But then one of my brothers got in touch with me through Aunt Rachel about twelve, thirteen years ago by then Peter had seen through David, though he never said how. None of the rest of the family did, and they'd practically disowned him, too, when he told them he was sure I'd been telling the truth about what David did." She gave a watery smile. "He apologized for not sticking up for me all those years ago, and at least it gave me one of my family back." She finished her coffee, not noticing it was nearly cold.
"Was that the uncle who drove long-distance hauls?"
"That's right. And Blair got quite friendly with Peter's son, Robert."
"Blair's mentioned them both." "Peter was killed in a shooting accident about two years later, but those two years were good ones for Blair." She was silent for a moment. "I made Peter and Sara his wife both promise not to tell Blair who his father was. I didn't want Blair to know he was conceived through rape, and that his mother hated his father."
Ellison nodded in understanding, but said, "I don't think it would worry him too much. He's very accepting of how people behave."
"I suppose he's told you he grew up with a lot of 'uncles' around?"
"What he wouldn't have told you, because he doesn't know, is that I never slept with most of them. That's why they were mostly short-term. Once they realized that they weren't going to get what they wanted, no matter what they did, they said goodbye quite firmly. But after what David did... Even the one or two longer-term ones that I did sleep with, I could never really trust them not to do to me what David did to Elizabeth, and I always moved on before they could get tired of me.
"Anyway, this " she waved the papers she had been clutching "arrived today, forwarded from Aunt Rachel I usually let her know where I am.
"Blair is going to have to be told, and I just don't know how to tell him."
"Something's happened to let the family know you were telling the truth?" he hazarded.
"Yes. David died last month cancer. His will, though... Elizabeth gets the house and contents and half of the money. The other half is divided in three; one third to each of his two children by Elizabeth, and the remaining third to 'my son Blair who was born to my sister-in-law Naomi after I raped her. I regret I was too much of a coward to admit what I had done, and that I never knew her son.'"
Ellison gasped. Speechless for a moment, at last he managed, "It's a bit late, but at least he's admitted the truth. You've been completely exonerated."
"Yes, but I don't see the rest of the family loving me for it. I think they'd probably have preferred him to die without admitting it.
"And along with the lawyer's letter about Blair's inheritance sent in care of me because they don't know where he is there's a very stiff letter from my father, apologizing for doubting my word back then. You can see he hated writing every word, that each one is like a pin driven under his fingernails. There's a very bitter one from Elizabeth accusing me of tempting David back then, and even suggesting not in so many words, but the implication is there that I somehow persuaded him to deny her children part of their inheritance. The fact that I hadn't seen him, hadn't wanted to see him, in thirty years, and that even with just a third of half of his money they each have over a million dollars doesn't seem to have had much impact on her."
"It hasn't occurred to her that he ruined your life?"
Naomi looked thoughtful. "To be honest, I don't think he did. Not really. At the time, yes; I was devastated; but Aunt Rachel helped a lot, and I've been happy enough most of the time since, probably happier in a lot of ways than if I'd had a conventional lifestyle."
"Do any of them the ones who didn't become reconciled over the years want to meet you again?"
"None of them have said they do."
"Then stick with the ones who have been family to you, and forget the others. Offer Blair the chance to meet his grandparents I assume he never has? and if he doesn't want to know, don't push it; it's their loss."
"I never really said much about them to him. I didn't want him to know they'd rejected us. But he'll have to know it now."
"Would you like me to tell him?"
"Yes, but it would be cowardly if I let you do it. It's my responsibility. I have to do it."
"Well, you can think of telling me as a sort of rehearsal. I think you covered everything very clearly. And, Naomi "
"I feel I owe you an apology, too. I never realized just what you'd gone through. I'm afraid I always thought you were pretty selfish."
"I felt trapped by my family's attitudes, so my public face was always the one I wanted people to see; the face that said I didn't care what they thought. I wanted Blair to grow up without preconceived prejudices, though. I wanted to give him freedom.
"It's possible I gave him too much freedom, possible that at times I wasn't there when he needed me. It never seemed to bother him. And lately he's had you. If he did need an anchor, you provided it, and I'm grateful to you for it."
"Even though I am a pig?" He glanced at the time. "Blair should be in soon we'd better get some dinner on. After dinner... would you like me to leave while you tell him?"
"No. You've already heard it, and I think he might need you."
As he picked up the mugs en route to the kitchen, Ellison stopped. "Naomi did you say that Blair has been left a million dollars?"
"A little over a million."
"We're going to have to move. Get a bigger house. Can you imagine how many books he'll be able to buy with a million dollars?"
Blair arrived home pretty much on time, and sniffed appreciatively as he closed the door. "Man, that smells good. Hi, Mom."
Naomi had spent time meditating and was able to greet him as if everything was normal. He dropped his backpack beside the big couch and went to wash. He emerged from the bathroom some minutes later, saying, "I don't know why it is, but I always feel grubby after a day at Rainier."
"You use chalk some of the time, don't you?" Ellison asked.
"Yeah, if I need to draw a diagram or a map or something."
"I think that's your answer, Chief. Blackboard chalk is mucky stuff, even the dust-free kind." He stirred the contents of the pot. "Right, we timed that perfectly dinner's ready."
They spoke about inconsequentials over dinner; Blair muttering about the stupid mistakes one of his students had made, then Jim told them about a would-be robber who had succeeded in fleeing the scene of his crime with a carrier bag of garbage he had picked up instead of an identical carrier bag containing the money and jewelry he had tried to steal. The story was actually an old one Jim suspected was apocryphal; he knew Blair had heard it before, but it made Naomi laugh, which was what he intended. Well-fed, he and Blair washed the dishes and tidied the kitchen, working together with the smoothness of long practice. Then they went to sit down, and Blair reached for his pack.
"Blair." Naomi's voice interrupted him.
He looked at her and frowned, seeing the serious expression on her face. He glanced at Jim and saw an identical expression on his roommate's face.
"Naomi? Jim? What's wrong?"
"It's not actually something wrong, sweetie," Naomi said quickly, "but it is something I need to tell you."
"And Jim already knows?"
"Yes," Ellison agreed. "When I came in tonight, I caught Naomi unawares. Persuaded her to tell me. It's sort of both good and bad news, Chief. Just listen, will you? It'll be easiest on Naomi if you don't say anything 'til she's finished. Just... listen."
Blair looked from his partner to Naomi. "Okay. Tell me."
Ellison kept his eyes fixed on Blair as Naomi began to tell him how, as a fifteen-year-old, she had been raped by her brother in law...
As she finished, saying, "Your third will amount to a little over a million dollars," Blair's response was immediate, and to Jim, expected.
"I don't want it. I don't want anything from him. The other two can have it."
Naomi looked helplessly at her son's roommate. Ellison grinned. "Blair, you're not thinking. All the family except your Uncle Peter was against Naomi and by extension, you. They rejected her and you. David finally acknowledged you, and I'd guess that his conscience bothered him pretty well all his life or he wouldn't have. This is a slap in the face to them. You'll be rubbing it in by taking the money."
"This is a sop to his conscience," Blair growled. "And it couldn't have bothered him that much or he wouldn't have stayed quiet. He couldn't have regretted not knowing me all that much, either. It would have been easy enough for him to find me if he'd really wanted to." Naomi shook her head. "I think he really did love Elizabeth. He was terrified of losing her."
"So why did he make a move on you?" Blair demanded.
"Who knows? I'd guess it was a power thing, though. He had to be liked. Had to be the center of admiring attention. I didn't like him and the whole family knew it. If I'd been as besotted as the rest of them, I'd probably have become his totally spoiled little sister."
Ellison nodded. "I think Naomi's right, Blair. Somehow, instinctively, she saw through him, saw that he was actually very self-centered. So, eventually, did your Uncle Peter. He would resent that. And you know something? I think if you'd ever met him, not knowing who he was, you wouldn't have liked him, either. A Guide wouldn't."
Blair looked at him, frowning, considering what he had said. Naomi said, "A Guide?"
"Oh that's something we got out of Burton," Blair said, thinking quickly. "It was a word he used for someone like the shaman, who carried the tribe's learning. Jim insists on calling me a Guide because sometimes what I know has been useful at the station."
"But why would Jim think that just because he calls you a Guide, you wouldn't have liked David?"
"The shaman would see through him."
"But Blair isn't a shaman," Naomi objected.
"In the proper setting, I think he might have been," Jim said quietly. "He can often see right into the heart of things.
"I was in the army, Naomi. Eight of us were sent to Peru on a mission. The details don't matter, but the other seven were killed. I spent eighteen months with one of the tribes before the army found me; got quite friendly with the tribal shaman; and that was part of what made Incacha a shaman the ability to see and understand things that others missed. I think if Blair had been there, Incacha would have taken him on as an apprentice."
"Oh," Naomi said.
"It's my guess that you and your brother Peter had the same instincts, and that's why you didn't like David."
"Oh," she said again.
Blair said slowly, "This must be why... Uncle Peter told me a little about Uncle John and Uncle Tom, but he never said much about my grandparents, and I think he only once mentioned an Aunt Elizabeth. Just said that she was married and had two children, but he hadn't seen her for years."
"He promised me he wouldn't tell you what had happened." She was silent for a moment. "Do you want to meet them? Any of them?"
"No. It wouldn't make any difference, would it? I'd still be the bastard interloper."
"You might find they changed their minds about that once they actually got to know you," Ellison suggested.
"They don't want to know me. And after how they treated Naomi, I don't want to know them."
"So you'll take the money? It'll be a kind of revenge if you do," Ellison said.
"It will, won't it? Okay I can pay off my student loans, get some decent health insurance, and I don't have to touch any of it after that. It can sit and rot just as long as they don't get it."
Ellison chuckled. "You know, Chief, sometimes you're too forgiving for your own good. You sounded there as if you were going to enjoy denying them something."
"You know, Jim I think I am."
Naomi retreated to bed shortly after, emotionally drained. Jim had been right, she reflected. Telling him had been much easier than telling Blair. She wondered if, in bed that night, they would talk further about it, and guessed that they would.
And she thought, not for the first time, how nice it was of Jim to share his bed with Blair when she visited, instead of making him sleep on the couch.
After Naomi went to bed, Jim went to the fridge for beer. They sat quietly for a while, Jim respecting Blair's abstraction.
At last Blair said quietly, "It's a bummer, isn't it? I used to pretend I didn't care who my father was, but at heart I did want to know. I think now I'd almost rather not know. Bad enough knowing my father was a rapist; for him to be her brother-in-law..."
"A lot of rapes are committed by people the victim knows, Chief. You've been working with the PD long enough to know that."
"I know... but somehow it's different when you're personally involved."
"I know." Ellison tightened his grip slightly. "But none of it is your fault. You're as much a victim as Naomi. And if what he said in his will is right, he knew thirty years of regret. He was punished. He had to live with maintaining his silence or losing everything. You and Naomi had good lives during those thirty years. She maybe knew some bitterness, but she had no regrets and she had you."
"You think so? That he was punished?"
"Yes. I'm sure."
Blair was silent for a moment, then he grinned slightly. "I thought we were in for it when you called me a Guide."
"You know, for a moment, so did I. I'd completely forgotten Naomi didn't know about the Sentinel thing. Quick thinking, Darwin."
"Do you really think the Guide thing is hereditary, too? That Mom and Uncle Peter could have been potential Guides?"
"I think it's possible. Guides have pretty good instincts, and it would explain why only the two of them weren't taken in by David." He yawned, then took the last mouthful of his beer. "Come on, Chief. You've had a traumatic evening. Let's get to bed."
Blair nodded. They moved surely and automatically through the nightly routine of checking that everything was secured, and went quickly up the stairs to bed.