Disclaimer: Not mine. No money. Don't sue. They're still Pet Fly's, but thankfully they no longer have anything to do with up of n. I'm just borrowing them for a brief time. The story however, is all mine.
Archive: yes please. GL and CT.
Warnings: minor, blink and you'll miss them, references to: Payback, The Debt, Switchman, and The Sentinel By Blair Sandburg. More immediate references to Sentinel Too, parts 1 and 2, and Deep Water. There is also a slight reference to Blair being a cop.
Summary: Jim reflects on what he's done with Blair's rent money over the past three years. Wnne says that it fills in the blank space after "the Rainier fiasco." I think it has more to do with the rent money....
A big thanks to my betas Ronnee and Wnnepooh. Thanks ladies, your input made this a better story. (Wnne, you're a beta, you're supposed to be a nit! everything....
This one is for all my sibs at CT who answered the inevitable rent question once again. Thanks everyone for your friendship and inspiration.
Feedback welcome at Toni Rae .
"The List: or How I Spent Blair's Rent Money, by James Ellison"
by Toni Rae
It started about a month after he moved in. I arrived home one evening
- he hadn't spent the day with me at the station, "too many commitments
at the U," he'd said - to find the check sitting on my dresser. Pay to
the Order of James Ellison. Amount: Eight hundred only. And in the little
note section, For: 1 month's rent.
Along with the check came the implicit understanding that the room, once Carolyn's and later my little-used office, was now Blair's room. Where this realization came from I will never know. We never discussed his staying, it was just sort of something that happened.
Well I tried to give it back. I mean come on, eight hundred dollars
for that little room under the stairs? That was more than I once payed
for the whole mortgage. But then I suppose he didn't know that at the time.
I hadn't shared the circumstances of Jack's death and my buying the loft
with all my military back pay from my time in Peru with him. We were still getting to know one another, still feeling out our relationship.
He, of course, refused. That was what he'd been paying for the warehouse. He'd "been here a month," he'd said. "We only agreed on a week. Besides Larry trashed the loft."
"Twice." I reminded him with a smile.
"Yeah, yeah. Twice. Which only reinforces my point. We disrupted your life, man. I owe you." He'd argued.
He can be almost as stubborn and bullheaded as I am some times. Which
actually is probably a good thing, seeing as how it's his job to keep me
in line, more so now than ever. Though I would never admit that to him.
Never admit how much I admire his convictions, his dedication, his pure
zest for life. Nope, these thoughts stay buried deep in my heart, waiting
for the right moment, the right emotional catharsis.
I almost broke down and told him these things that day in the hospital, the day that I never want to repeat. The one I even hate to remember. But instead I fell back on our old standard banter. Reminded him that he couldn't die because he still owed last month's rent. I know, big understatement there Ellison. Your best friend dies, you bring him back to life and the only thing you can say is: "You still owe me last month's rent."
In many ways, the idea of last month's rent has come to define our relationship.
Those checks that appeared on a fairly regular basis, in varying amounts.
Sometimes more, sometimes less - just depended on what else was going on
that month. The first part of the semester the checks
were always smaller. "I have to buy books," he'd say. The end of the semester they were always larger. "They gave the TA's a bonus this semester." Or "they're trying to burn off old grant money that goes back to the financial aid office at the end of the year."
I've come to depend on those checks. Not for the money, heaven knows that I don't need much of that. Enough to pay for the insurance and constant repairs on my truck. Enough to eat. All of which I can comfortably do on my own salary. No, I depend on those checks for the security they provide. The knowledge that Blair is going to stick around. That he's not going to abandon me like everyone else I've gotten close to.
After just throwing the first few months' worth of checks in my dresser drawer I decided I'd better do something with them. He was starting to get suspicious. "Hey Jim," he'd say casually over dinner one evening, "any idea why my rent check hasn't cleared yet?"
"Um, no." I'd answer. "Must be some mixup at the bank. I'll check into it on Monday." My answer seemed to satisfy him, at least the first couple of times.
The bank screw up was only going to play for so long though, so I took the small pile out of my dresser drawer. I made an appointment to see my financial planner. Never thought that I would have a financial planner did you? Years ago, you would have been right. Until Simon partnered me with Jack.
Jack taught me much more than just how to rid myself of the "Bad Boy"
attitude I'd developed. He taught me how to plan. How to think about the
future. He taught me that there was a future. He set me up with the woman
I now call my financial planner. She was young, just starting out
when Jack first stumbled on to her. A little hole-in-the-wall office down in the warehouse district. Come to think of it, at the time her office wasn't far from the loft. Now she's got a corner office in one of the most prestigious firms in town, but she still maintains her "first" clients.
So I took her my pile of checks, six months worth. Which now amounted to three thousand dollars exactly. Where did the kid get the money? I wondered at the time. The world of academia completely foreign to me. He always claimed grant money, or his TA salary, or loans. I shuddered to think of the number of loans the kid must have taken out while he was a student.
The financial planner recommended that we invest the little nest egg
Sandburg created. I agreed. Left the whole thing in her hands. After all,
she'd done phenomenally well so far. My one condition, she put both his
and my name on it. Okay, I had two conditions. The second was that
she not tell Blair about the account. She agreed, somewhat reluctantly. How was she "supposed to get his authorizing signature if he didn't know about the account?" She'd asked.
"Leave that to me." I reassured her.
Three days later I walked back into her office with the signed paperwork in hand. Getting Blair's signature turned out to be relatively easy. I just shoved the signature form at the bottom of a pile of reports he needed to sign off on. After watching him do my paperwork for six months I'd noticed that he didn't reread things as he signed them, he just flipped up the bottom of the page and went through the stack. The final signature line didn't look any different than the previous twelve so he scrawled his name on the bottom without a second thought. The second part of the routine was my signing things. That meant that when he was done he left the whole pile on the corner of my desk. Pulling the financial forms off the bottom was easy.
As I conned Sandburg into signing my financial forms I remember Jack doing the same thing to me. He too started an "emergency" account. That's what he called it on the form anyway. I never had a clue. Not until after he died anyway. Most of his investments hadn't appeared in his will. Mine don't either for that matter.
Betcha didn't think I had a will either. It's kind of a necessity in my business. Sandburg's there too. Has been for quite a while. Don't think there is any part of my life that doesn't have a small part of the Sandburg zone in it. Right after I almost killed myself falling off a train I called my lawyer; small world, he's married to my financial planner and you guessed it, he used to be Jack's lawyer too. Had him update things. Added Sandburg, dropped Carolyn - at least as my major beneficiary. It only took me two years, but after we got divorced there wasn't anyone else to change it to, so I left it alone. She's still there, I couldn't bring myself to cut her completely, but most of the places that used to say Carolyn Plummer now say Blair Sandburg. There's something there for Steven and his daughter. A contribution to Daryl's college fund. Miscellaneous contributions to charity. A pretty big one to the Cardiac Care Center at the Children's Hospital, wouldn't want that particular contribution to stop after I die.
The big investments, the majority of the ones made by my financial planner, don't appear in my stock portfolio. I'm not sure how she does it, I instinctively know she finds a legal way around some of the bureaucratic loopholes, but they don't even appear on my tax records. They all have their own beneficiaries, to be notified after my death, specific instructions as to future investment too. You don't think that I'm going to loose my anal-retentive traits after I die, do you?
She did the same thing for Jack. Course she had been doing it for Jack a little longer than she had been doing it for me. At least when he died she had. Now, I think that I have seniority when it comes to the investments. Some of them. The ones that Jack left in my name - he left rules too - those win.
Funny, I hadn't thought about Jack's rules in a while. His were almost
more convoluted than mine. Almost. I did after all learn from the master.
Isn't the greatest achievement of a teacher to see a student surpass him?
If that's the case, Jack should be really proud. I think that one of his
investments is about to come due. Might have to decide what to do with
it. Maybe send Sandburg on an extended South American expedition? But then
I would have to go with him, to keep him out of trouble you understand,
and I don't think Simon would give me the time off. Maybe I'll stop ask
my financial planner the next time I'm in her neighborhood. She'll know
when the money needs to be moved around or spent, that and whether or not
Jack has any more rules attached to it.
I need to go see her anyway. The piece of paper in my hand evidence of that, as I stand on the balcony and watch as the sun begins to set my mind still on the issue at hand. The rent money account reached $120,000. I guess three years of rent checks and investments adds up pretty quickly. Wonder what Blair would say if it told him what I've been doing. He thinks that I have been paying the mortgage, my car insurance, and the inevitable hospital bills. If only he knew, I smiled to myself.
Fixing up the loft. That's the other thing he thinks that I've been doing with his rent money. The little touches that appeared over the last few years. Little did he know some of this stuff had been living in the basement since Carolyn and I got married. She had her own things. Mine just didn't fit into her Martha Stewart decor. The influence that woman has over people, it's almost insidious. Maybe I should call a couple of friends of mine at the FBI, have her investigated. I mean, who knew that the levelheaded woman I married had this secret love for the Martha Stewart look. Had I known I might have called off the wedding. Nah, I thought that I needed her. I'm sure a little Martha Stewart obsession wouldn't have stopped me. Now it would. Martha would never approve of the tribal masks and leather furniture. Something too primitive about the decor I'm sure. Sort of appropriate for a neo-hippy witch-doctor punk and a genetic throwback to pre-civilized man, though.
He gave me the impetus I needed to turn this back into a home. Little by little I brought things out of the boxes in the basement. Small touches that proclaimed this as my territory too. Course I bought a few things too. Together we created an eclectic mixture of modern and prehistoric. Kind of like our relationship. Guess that's something else I'm going to have to mention to him one of these days. Add it to the list. Man, the list is getting pretty long. Maybe I'm going to have to just have a talk with him, quit this waiting for the right moment stuff.
As I notice the sun dropping and coloring the clouds a soft orange, I realize I've been standing here all afternoon, lost in thoughts of the last few years. Funny how time flies.
Behind me I hear the door to the loft open, interrupting my thoughts. Blair is home. I smile to myself, as I hear the keys land in the basket. I hear him move to the refrigerator, his jacket not making it on to the hook. Wonder how his first day went. Cadet Sandburg. Who ever would have thought we'd come full circle and then keep going, another circle in progress.
I feel a change in the air behind me as the door silently opens and Blair moves to join me on the balcony two open beers in his hand, he jacket still around his shoulders. Silently he hands me one, not wanting to disturb my tranquility. How he always knows exactly what I need I'll never know. As the sun continues its downward movement we watch the clouds turn vivid shades of pink, orange, violet, and red. When the last shades of color dissipate and the stars start making an appearance I turn to my friend, my brother.
"Got a letter from my financial planner today."
"What financial planner?" He asks.
I laugh remembering that day he informed me that he knew everything about me, including my PIN number. It is nice to know that I still have a few surprises up my sleeve.
"The one I found after you started leaving me rent checks." No need to tell him about the rest of my investments. There will be time enough for that in the years to come. Besides, neither one of us really wants to think about dying right now, my earlier thoughts not withstanding. His own demise at the hands of yet another psycho all too fresh in our memories.
"Huh?" He looked at me in confusion.
"The rent money you've been giving me for the last three years."
"I invested it." At his puzzled look I clarified. "In something other
than just the things that make this place a home."
"But you bought things. Furniture. Knickknacks. Decorated. Painted. Paid car insurance and hospital bills, for both you and the truck." He ducked before my hand reached the back of his head.
"Yes, I did all those things. But I did them out of my salary."
"What about the mortgage?"
"I paid off the mortgage just after we found Jack's body. He named me his beneficiary on his life insurance policy. That amount, combined with my back salary from Peru which I used as the down payment, allowed me to payoff the principle on the mortgage."
"Oh." He said softly, still not quite understanding. "So the money that I've been giving you..." He trailed off. "You didn't really need it?"
"For it's monetary value." I hastened to reassure him after noticing the crestfallen look on his face. "No. For it's emotional value. Yes."
"Emotional value. What emotional value?"
"The emotional value that came with knowing you were going to stay. That this was more than just a research project to you. That you were sticking it out. Staying put."
"Oh." The great Sandburgian wit and wisdom suddenly failing him.
"Blair, your rent money has never been about the money. It's been about friendship. That's why, when you were in the hospital, after..." I trailed off, not quite able to say her name.
"I know." He quietly reassured me, his free hand coming to rest between my shoulder blades offering silent comfort and support.
"That's why I made jokes about owing me last months rent. I couldn't tell you that I wanted you to stay, wanted you to come home."
We stood there peacefully. My arm moved around his shoulders, offering
support and friendship back to the young man at my side. Eventually minuscule
silent shivers began to shake Blair's shorter frame, probably not detectable
by anyone other than a Sentinel tuned into his Guide. Our
beers finished I turned back towards the loft, picking up the papers I had set on the concrete edge of the balcony when Blair joined me on the balcony.
Noticing my movements he finally asked. I wondered how long it was going to take for curiosity to get the better of him. "So, what'd the financial planner have to say anyway." He questioned, a slight Sandburg bounce to his step as we walked into the kitchen.
"I'll explain over dinner. Besides, we have a few decisions to make."
"Decisions? What kind of decisions? And what about dinner? It's not my night man."
"Well first we have to decide if we are going for Chinese or Italian. We have a lot to celebrate. Then when we get home we have to decide if we are going to watch the hockey game or the basketball game. And then you have to tell me how your first day at the Academy went."
At my Guide's indignant expression I decided to let him off the hook. "We have to decide what we're going to do with the rent money. Personally I was thinking one of two things. Either using part of it to pay off part of your student loans, or setting up a scholarship fund in the anthro department at Rainier. We could call it the Sentinel Scholarship." I grinned at my friend's stunned look. "Or there's always the Sandburg Fund. That way you get to rub their noses in the fact that they kicked you out." I laughed at the sneaky expression that crossed Blair's face, knowing he was suddenly turning the idea of a Sandburg scholarship over in his mind.
"Can't we do both? Or is there not enough money?" He finally suggested, some hesitation in his voice.
"I don't see why not. It would have to be a smaller amount for both things, though."
"Cool!" He began to bounce in earnest. "I want to name it the Incacha Fund for South American Studies though."
"I like it." I finally managed to stutter out, touched by the knowledge that Blair wanted to name his scholarship after the Chopec shaman. "Thank you."
"It's no more than you would have done for me."
If only he knew exactly how much his words meant to me. How much his
continued presence meant to me. How much he means to me. But looking into
his blue eyes I have an inkling that he does. That he returns the emotions
equally. I smile again, blue eyes locked with blue. He easily
returns my smile, as we communicate the importance of our relationship without words.
After shaking off my suddenly maudlin emotions I continued, all business
now. My friend, my brother's, gesture still at the forefront of my mind.
"I'll call the financial planner in the morning and have her set it up.
Let me know which loan you want paid off and I'll have her do it all at
the same time."
"How much money are we talking about, Jim?" Blair's surprise at my offer to pay off, not just reduce, one of his loans evident on his face and in his words.
"Enough. Besides, my financial planner is very good at her job." I grinned at him before reaching for the phone to make reservations. A man can only wait so long and the expression on Blair's face spoke volumes about his interest in this particular topic. "Chinese okay? The usual restaurant?"
"Yeah, fine, whatever." He waved me off as he tried to mentally calculate the amount of money he'd given me in the last three years.
As I make reservations I watch Sandburg's face. It is a definite sign you have been eating out too much when the restaurant hostess recognizes your voice when you call and only has to ask if you want the usual. Jeesh she's even going to have our appetizers waiting at our table when we arrive. Sandburg's expression changes from one of intense concentration, trying to remember how much he wrote each of those checks for, to shock at the figure his brain came up with, to utter delight at the possibilities inherent in a fairly substantial investment fund.
"Figure it out yet, junior?" I ask, after hanging up the phone.
"Well, I figure I've paid you a little over $15,000, so there should be what about $20,000 there."
I smile at the sense of awe in his voice. "About that, and well invested." I tell him. No need to mention the other $100,000. He'll find out soon enough; when the scholarship paperwork shows up on his desk.
"You know, it sort of doesn't feel right to use that money to pay off my student loans. I mean, come on man, you shouldn't be paying off my student loans for me. Maybe we should just put it all towards the scholarship."
"That's part of the reason it's there Chief. I knew one day you were going to have to start paying all those loans back. Think of it as an investment fund that you've been contributing to for the last three years."
"I don't know. It just doesn't feel right. That's the rent money man."
"Haven't you heard a word I've said? It was never about the money."
I am surprised at his sudden agreement. I really expected to have to fight harder for this one. If only he knew how much I've already contributed to his education. The Grace Chandler Grant he's been receiving for the last three years. I named it after my mother, couldn't go for something too obvious like the Sentinel Scholarship now could I? Thank you Jack. I sent a silent prayer out to my former partner. If it weren't for you and your rules Blair's debts would be significantly higher. That rider you attached to one of your investments - the one that stipulated it be used for education. Until Blair, it sat untouched. I originally had thoughts of saving it for Daryl, but something about the Chandler grant just felt right. There will be another one for Daryl. As I said, my financial planner is very good at her job.
"What about the rent money?" He interrupts my thoughts again.
"You mean the stuff you are going to keep giving me on a fairly regular
monthly basis?" I grab my jacket and keys en-route to the door. "Let's
go Chief, dinner's awaitin'." Can't let those appetizers get cold now can
"Yeah. Do you still want it?"
"That depends. Do you want to stay?"
"Always. You know that." His eyes spoke the depth of his commitment.
I smiled. One of those killer smiles that Sandburg keeps telling me causes women to swoon. The muscles in my face begin to ache with its intensity. My eyes returning his commitment. "Good. As for the money, it keeps going into the investment fund. That way whatever we decide to do with it will continue for a good long time."
I close the door behind us as we walk out the door. After a short wait for the elevator, we begin walking down the block, the restaurant just a few doors down. I have a contented smile on my face, I can feel it. It's never been about the money. He knows that now. Guess I can cross a few things off that list of mine.