Across the Hall

By Aouda Fogg

The prospect of snow was making my hip ache so I'm up, despite the late hour. I decided long ago that if I'm going to be awake, I might as well be up doing something useful.

I was just binding off a blanket for the women's shelter Blair had told me about when I heard quiet laughter from the hallway. My conscience pricked me that I was turning into a nosy old woman, but those two boys across the hall keep an eye on me, so I decided I was simply returning the favor. Besides, I told that Jiminy Cricket voice, at 86, I've certainly earned the right to be old.

Peering out my peep hole proved that it was indeed James and Blair. They are good men, and I like them both. James has always checked in on me, from when he first moved in, but back then it had almost been like he'd been on patrol, surveying the territory, making sure he knew what was what. After Blair moved in, though, that slowly changed. Oh, I still got the feeling he was surveying his territory, but he began to stay to talk, and the last couple of years I'd come to count James as a friend, not just an across-the-hall neighbor.

Blair, I'd taken to right from the start. When I was young, he would've been called a rascal, but then again, so was my Charlie, and we were married for 50 years. But Blair changed, too, over the years. He was still full of life, and he still embraced each day fully, but he seemed . . . more accepting now. Settled: like he wasn't constantly searching anymore. It seemed to me that each had taken something from the other and had come out the better for it.

Smiling at the thought, I was about to turn away when I heard James speak. "Hey, Chief, I think someone spiked the punch."

Now that I looked closely, I could see that Blair was trying to steady his friend against the wall and unlock the door at the same time and having little success with either; as soon as he'd lean to the side to insert the key, James would mirror the move and begin to slide down the wall. Spiked punch indeed!

Laughter apparent in his voice, Blair answered. "Brilliant deduction, Detective. You want to tell me how it got past your nose?"

James tried to cross his arms, and when that didn't work, settled his hands on his hips. "That's just silly," he said loftily. "It didn't have to get past my nose. Just my lips!"

"Right. Silly me, what was I thinking?"

"Dunno, what were you thinking?"

"That I better get you inside before you ooze to the floor and I have to roll you inside."

James nodded solemnly and I was considering going out to help Blair, when James spoke again. "Good idea. Lemme help." He grabbed the key and turning more smoothly than I would've thought possible for a man in his condition, thrust the key at the lock. And missed. Several times. He blinked owlishly at his partner. "The door keeps jumping out of the way."

"Uh, huh, maybe if we work together, we can tame it; what do you say, Jim?"

James smiled brilliantly -- a smile I'd never seen before Blair had arrived. It was a smile that made me smile. "Great idea, Chief! I like working with you. We make a great team."

"Yeah, well, come on, throw your arm around my shoulders and we'll get you inside."

And then James said something that made me laugh softly in satisfaction -- at long last I had confirmation that they both had finally figured out what I had known almost as soon as Blair moved in.

"'Kay, but kiss for luck first!" And he planted a loud, enthusiastic kiss on the shorter man he was leaning on. And then, in a stage whisper that carried quite easily, "Don't worry. I'll love you even if we have to live out here in the hallway, buddy."

"Good to know our love knows no bounds, Big Guy. C'mon."

A moment later, they'd vanished into their apartment, the door closing with a quiet click. I slowly backed away from my own door, still smiling. Perhaps tomorrow, I'll take over one of my special chocolate cakes -- after giving poor James some time to recover -- and we'll celebrate the joy of loving a rascal.


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