Jim Ellison was one of very few people in the universe who was able to successfully navigate in and out of the Sandburg Zone. It was a nice place to visit occasionally…kind of like the fun house at an amusement park. The trip was always interesting, often amusing, usually informative and always exhausting. But taking up permanent residence was not something he’d ever planned on.
Jim grabbed the receiver on the second ring, cradling it between neck and shoulder as he continued typing his report.
“Ellison,” he blurted.
“Jim? It’s Naomi. Is Blair with you?” Naomi sounded breathless, a little tense. Jim stopped typing and shifted the receiver to his hand.
“No,” he began, but was cut off before he could elaborate or ask what was wrong.
“Good, good,” came the relieved response. “I need to talk to you, Jim. Just you. Alone. As soon as possible. Can you meet me at…”?
“Whoa, slow down Naomi,” Jim instructed, smirking. He knew from experience it was best to gain the upper hand quickly when dealing with an agitated Sandburg. “What’s up?”
A few moments of silence followed and Jim could hear his guide’s mother take a deep breath before she continued.
“I need to speak with you, Jim,” Naomi stated softly. “Please?” Her voice was more controlled now, but tinged with a hint of desperation.
Jim frowned as he quickly scanned the clutter of unfinished reports on his desk. “Sure, Naomi,” he answered calmly. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” she assured him. “I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s okay,” Jim replied. “Where are you?”
“I’m at a park. The one a couple of blocks from the station, near the swings.”
“All right. Just stay put, I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Jim hung up the phone, puffed his cheeks and blew out a slow breath, wondering where this latest detour into the Zone would take him. He started to mull over possible reasons for the cryptic call while walking to the park, but quickly discarded them all, deciding it would be better to just hear Naomi out.
He found her sitting on a bench, watching several women and one young man pushing toddlers on the nearby swings. She noticed his approach and stood to greet him, clasping his outstretched hand and standing on tiptoes to kiss him gently on one cheek. She pulled back and gave him a measured look, as if seeing him for the first time, studying his features in a way that was a little disconcerting.
Jim couldn’t put his finger on what it was, but something was definitely up.
Naomi sat down with a graceful swish, tugging on Jim’s hand as she did, urging him to join her. They stared at each other for a moment, and then spoke in unison.
“Naomi, what’s this…?”
They chuckled awkwardly and then relaxed. Jim smiled his best crookedly reassuring smile and tilted his chin toward Naomi, urging her to continue.
“Life is funny sometimes, isn’t it?” Naomi said quietly, not looking at Jim. “I’ve always been a believer in karma, what is meant to be is meant to be, you know?”
“I hear ya,” Jim acknowledged.
Naomi turned toward him, smiling appreciatively at his somber remark. She changed then, Jim noted.
The brash, outspoken woman he’d come to know faded into her surroundings. A sad, far-away look settled over her face and her eyes filled with tears. She cleared her throat before speaking again.
“I got word a few days ago that my mother’s sister died about two weeks ago,” she whispered.
“Naomi,” Jim started, “I’m sorry…”
Naomi swiped at her eyes with the back of one hand as she waved Jim off with the other.
“We weren’t close. I hadn’t seen her since I was about ten or eleven.”
She rummaged through her purse and withdrew a tissue. She dabbed at her eyes and then wiped at her nose before once again reaching into the purse. She pulled out a long envelope and held it tightly. She schooled her features…another change; her normally expressive face, so much like her son’s, revealed nothing.
“She was always,” Naomi searched for a word. “Different.” She laughed softly. “I know, coming from me,” she shrugged thoughtfully, “That’s saying something, huh?”
Jim laughed along with her. He reached over and took hold of her free hand, squeezing it gently.
“She just took off one day,” Naomi continued, shaking her head. “Crazy Aunt Gracie we all called her. We, no one in the family, heard from her again until this letter came.”
She held it out to Jim, her hand shaking. “It explains everything; why she left, where she went,” Naomi gulped and drew a deep breath. “You need to read it, Jim.”
An odd sensation settled over Jim, settling with a thud in the pit of his stomach. He took the envelope from Naomi, studying her face, her eyes, for some hint that what he suspected might be true. But she was already staring off into space again, once more changing with the shift in mood.
With the words ‘crazy Aunt Gracie’ echoing in his ears, he opened the envelope, pulled out the letter and learned what had become of his mother.
He read the letter several times, one emotion after another dancing across his heart. At first, anger, bitterness and confusion tightened his chest. But they soon gave way to compassion and understanding as the realization of what he was…who he was…dawned on him.
He was his mother’s son.
“Jim? Jim!” Naomi shook her cousin frantically and then slapped his cheeks “Jim!”
Getting no response, she lowered her voice to a soothing timber and rubbed gently on the sentinel’s forearm. “Come on, Jim, it’s all right,” she crooned. “Please, Jim, you’re scaring me here.”
The touch and voice, reminiscent of his guide’s coaxing slowly pulled Jim back. He shuddered and straightened, blinking uncertainly.
Naomi sighed in relief and gave Jim a worried look. “That bad, huh?”
“Huh?” Jim responded dazedly.
“Finding out we’re related,” she teased. “It’s enough to send you into shock?”
“No, no,” Jim hastened to answer. “It’s not that, it’s just, it’s a lot to take in all at once.”
”I hear you,” Naomi answered. “I’m still not sure what, if anything, we should tell Blair.”
Jim leaned over and pulled Naomi into a tight hug, holding her against his chest protectively for several minutes. He loosened his hold and cupped Naomi’s cheeks in his hands.
“The truth, Cuz,” he answered, grinning.
Blair entered the loft and stopped dead in his tracks at the sight that greeted him. Naomi and Jim were in the kitchen, gabbing away like long lost friends as they prepared dinner.
“Mom?” His pleasure at seeing his mom was evident in his voice. “When’d you get into town?” He hurried over and allowed himself to be swept into a warm embrace.
“Hi sweetie,” she gushed as she patted his cheeks. She threaded an arm through her son’s and led him to the couch. She sat down, pulling Blair with her. Jim followed along and sat across from them.
Blair furrowed his brows as his gaze darted back and forth between the two of them.
“Okay, what’s up guys?” he asked suspiciously.
Jim’s broad smile allayed any fears Blair might have had. The sentinel winked at Naomi and then he focused his sights on his guide.
“Chief? Do you remember the story I told Simon back on that first day you came to the station?” Jim asked mischievously. “About how you were my cousin’s kid?”
Blair nodded hesitantly.
Jim steered himself into the Sandburg Zone and settled in for the ride.
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