I take a look one last time at the only real home I've ever had and realise that it no longer looks like home. Our home. It's now their home. Jim and Julia's, not Jim and Blair's as it had been for the last three years.
It hadn't happened overnight, you know. It happened over a period of about six months. The first time it happened I was sitting at the kitchen table grading books. Jim and Julia came in laughing about something and carrying what looked like a picture. I couldn't see because it was wrapped in brown paper. They made conversation with me while making coffee and then moved into the living room with the picture. The next thing I knew the tribal mask that Jim had always said he liked was placed in front of me on the table. Hanging in its place was the picture they had bought together. Together.
Who's Julia? You ask. Julia. Julia was someone Jim bumped into, literally, at the mall one Saturday afternoon. He picked up her bags, like the gentleman he was, helped her carry them to her car and the next thing I knew they were having coffee, which turned into dinner and the rest, they say, is history.
At first, I wasn't worried. Jim's relationships over the last three years had been traumatic, to say the least. Julia was surprisingly normal; she was a junior-high schoolteacher. She didn't seem to mind that Jim was a cop, and let's face it, the guy's got everything going for him; looks, charm when he wants to use it, and believe me, he wanted to use it on her.
I had to put up with the usual ragging in the bullpen about Jim and his new lady friend. H started a pool on how long it would be before Stoneface Ellison took the plunge back into marriage.
The picture incident brought it home to me though, and I realised the writing was on the wall. Hell, it was painted in foot high letters; you didn't need sentinel vision to see them.
You're wondering about his senses? Oh, that was another thing Jim finally got round to telling me about. He'd decided he didn't want to be a sentinel any more. He wanted normality; a home and a woman in it, not an anthropologist. Man, that hurt. I tried everything to convince him not to do it. He was a cop, a protector; it was a part of him he couldn't switch off. Apparently he could though. He told me a sentinel is a sentinel until he chooses not to be, and he'd made his decision.
I know we hadn't been as close since the Brad Ventriss fiasco but I really thought we'd worked that out and gone past it.
I didn't, couldn't, believe it at first, and it was only when Simon called me into his office and told me that Jim had requested a new partner that it came crashing in on me. Simon then proved what a good friend he really was. He took me out for a drink and allowed me to crash at his place when I got drunk and started crying in my beer. He wasn't really surprised when I confessed how much I loved Jim and how I wished it was me instead of Julia; I think he always suspected I swung both ways.
So, here I am, waiting for Simon to give me a lift to the airport. Most of my things are in storage, and my duffle bag is packed and resting at my feet. I'd quit Rainier, sold the Volvo and I'd given Simon everything I'd ever written about sentinels. The only thing relating to sentinels I had was the monograph and that was never leaving my possession. I held out the faint hope that it wouldn't work out between Jim and Julia and maybe Jim would want to be a sentinel again.
I took one last look round, my gaze lingering at the top of the stairs. To my surprise I saw a wolf and a jaguar, the wolf lying at the feet of the jaguar. As I watched, the wolf got to his feet and almost in a dream I moved to the bottom of the stairs. The wolf gathered itself and sprang towards me. I had a moment of disorientation but before I could move the jaguar also sprang off the top step, straight towards me. The next thing I knew Simon was beside me, checking my vital signs.
"You okay, Sandburg?" His voice was rough with concern.
A warmth had settled in my chest, filling the hole that had been there ever since Jim had announced that Julia was moving in and would I mind finding somewhere else to live?
I heard a wolf howl and the answering scream of the jaguar. I smiled up at Simon and he helped me to my feet.
"I'm fine, Simon. Let's go."
I placed my keys in the basket and picked up my backpack, leaving Simon to carry my duffle.
"Any idea where you're going yet, Sandburg?" Simon closed the door behind us.
"I thought perhaps I'd start up in the Canadian Territories, Simon. Maybe get to know my inner wolf." I could still hear the wolf howling, and smiled for the first time in months.
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