(See Page 1 for Disclaimer, Background, Summary, and Author's Notes)
A New Challenge (Page 2 of 4)
Jim wasn't sure what had woken him up. Then he heard a noise coming from downstairs. Someone was in the loft. Pulling his service piece from under the other pillow, he slowly got out of bed and made his way to the stairs, quietly going down the first two. The dimly lit area below seemed to gradually get brighter until he could easily see the whole living room. Another small noise drew his attention to the large sofa. From his high perch he could make out the form curled up on the cushions. Blair. Relaxing as memory returned, he stiffened again when he realized what he was hearing. Blair was crying into a pillow. Jim froze, not sure what to do. Was he unhappy about being here with him? Was he in pain? Just as he decided to go down and find out what was wrong, he heard a softly sobbed, "Mama."
That stopped him. Blair had just found out that afternoon that his mother was dead. That she had been dead for a year now. And he found out while on display in front of a group of strangers, chained to the ground, waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Jim recalled how hard Blair had worked to hide his reaction at hearing the news. Then he had suppressed his emotions for the rest of the day. Hopefully, it was because he felt safe here that he was finally allowing his feelings to come out.
Jim turned and silently returned to his bed, giving the grieving young man some privacy to mourn in peace.
The next morning Blair awoke with a start. Oh God. Did he oversleep again? If the horses weren't fed before Mr. Shaw arrived, he was in for another beating. Wait a minute. Since when did he have pillows? Sitting up quickly, he looked around, his heart rate starting to slow down as the events of the day before slowly made their way through his still foggy brain.
"Blair? You okay?"
On hearing his name, Blair immediately jumped up, only to cry out in pain, as his leg buckled, the injured ankle not able to support the sudden weight. Before he could fall, strong hands were holding him up then sitting him down on the couch behind him.
"Jesus, Blair. What were you trying to do? The doctor said for you to take it easy, not go jumping around. Are you all right? Let me see it."
He could only watch as his new owner picked up his foot and gently probed around the now throbbing ankle. He hadn't even started his first full day here and he'd already made his new master angry. Maybe Master Decker and Mr. Shaw were right. Maybe he was worthless and only fit for punishment. As soon as Master realized that, he would probably return him to Mr. Coleman who would return him to Master Decker who would then have Mr. Shaw continue with his 'training'. They would put that manacle back on his ankle and chain him up in the barn again. He would be totally isolated from everyone else, not allowed to see or talk to anyone. Mr. Shaw would again beat him with that stick of his almost every day. If he was lucky, he'd be fed once a day. Unbidden memories surfaced as he saw himself tied to the wall of the empty horse stall as the whip lashed across his back over and over again. He couldn't go back there. He wouldn't. He'd rather die first. Suddenly there wasn't enough air in the room. His head began to spin then his vision started graying out.
"Blair? You with me, kid?" Slowly blinking his eyes open, Blair was aware of someone calling his name. He realized he was laying full length on the couch and something soft and cool was across his forehead. Master was sitting on the coffee table beside him, looking worried. Lifting one hand to his forehead, he could feel a damp cloth.
"Master? I... what...?"
"I'm not sure. I was checking your ankle and suddenly you turned white as a ghost and started to keel over. I didn't know I was moving it that much. I don't think you actually lost consciousness. More like you were just out of it for a few minutes. After you eat breakfast, you can take the pain pills with your antibiotic. Can you sit up? I went to the bakery downstairs while you were still asleep and got us some donuts and muffins and orange juice. We really need to do some grocery shopping today." As he was talking, Jim was slowly helping Blair sit up. When he got the younger man situated against the back cushions, Jim sat back on the coffee table again. "How do you feel? You up to eating something?"
"I'm all right, Master. I'm sorry to keep causing you problems. I'll try not to be any more trouble, I swear." Just please, please don't send me back.
"Blair, I've already told you, you're no trouble. Now, you ready to eat?" Jim made a mental note to try not to chastise his slave. The abuse Blair suffered previously seemed to have left him with almost no self-esteem. That would have to change. Seeing that Blair was looking better, he got up and crossed over into the kitchen. There, he proceeded to open the box with the pastries he'd bought earlier, and carried it and a few plates and napkins back out to the living room.
"You start on these. I'll be right back." Returning to the kitchen, he pocketed the two medicine vials and grabbed two glasses and the carton of orange juice, then headed back into the other room.
While setting everything down on the coffee table, Jim noticed that none of the food had been touched.
"What's wrong? Don't you like any of these? We can go out for breakfast. It's just that you can't take your pills till you eat something."
Blair was sitting with his hands folded in his lap, eyeing the box hungrily. He shook his head. "No, Master. I was waiting until you took what you wanted. After you're finished, I'll eat whatever you allow me to have."
Biting down a sharp replyafter all, it wasn't Blair's fault he'd been taught to believe that he was only entitled to leftoversJim picked out two donuts and a muffin. Putting his selections on his plate, he opened the carton and started poring two glasses of juice. "Now, you take whatever you want. Go on." He watched as Blair hesitantly chose one muffin and one donut. "Remember, Chief, you can always have seconds, too." Both men sat back and began eating.
Finally breakfast was over, Jim being secretly pleased because he had talked Blair into eating another muffin, and meds taken. Jim cleaned and put the medicated ointment on Blair's injuries before rewrapping them, then returned the supplies to the bathroom.
Back in the living room again, Jim looked at the set of ill-fitting, wrinkled clothes Blair had put back on. "Do you have any other clothes with you, Chief?" At Blair's embarrassed look and negative headshake, Jim frowned. "Okay, then one of the first orders of business today is to get you some new clothes, then we'll go food shopping. But since today is Sunday, most stores aren't open yet. Right now I want to check out the spare room here and see what we need to do about fixing it up for you. I gotta warn you, it's pretty small, not much more than a big closet, but it's the only room available." As he talked Jim was heading towards a long curtain set at an angle in the hallway across from the kitchen. The room behind the curtain was directly beneath Jim's room. Pulling aside the curtain, he flipped on the light.
Both men stepped just inside the doorway. Several boxes of various sizes were strewn across the room, smaller ones stacked on top of larger ones. A futon in its upright couch position was against a far wall. A floor lamp stood in one corner. A small dresser was against another wall with more boxes on top of it. Intermixed with the boxes was a rolled up rug and other obviously unused odds and ends. Jim grimaced as he scratched the back of his neck.
"Well, it's not too bad. A buddy of mine was going to stay here for a while when his wife kicked him out. He brought some stuff over and started to fix it up then they got back together. He said I could keep the furniture and whatever else he left and I've just been using the room for storage since then. Once we get the boxes out, we can see what's usable and what we'll need to make it livable."
Jim watched as Blair started walking around the small room. He checked out the closet then looked out of the glass window on the wooden door on the far wall.
"Master, this door goes outside and there are fire escape stairs out there."
"So? You planning on leaving or something?"
Blair whirled around. "No, Master, no. I'd never... I-I wouldn't... I just didn't know if you remembered them being there."
"I knew. So there's no problem then, right?"
Blair looked confused for a minute, then a small, shy smile formed. "Right." He trusts me. After hearing for almost a year that he couldn't be trusted not to run away, as if he even physically could, it was unbelievably gratifying to hear someone say they trusted him, no questions asked. He vowed then and there to never give his new master any reason to regret that trust.
"All right." Jim's voice broke into his thoughts. "The futon opens up into a bed. I already know what's in most of these boxes. Nothing you could use in here. I'll start taking those downstairs while you look around and decide how much of this stuff you want to keep. While I'm down in the storage area, I'll look around and see if there's anything there that might be useful." He point to a few boxes that had 'S. F.' written on them. "Sammy left those. See if there's anything in them you want, too. Once we're done, we'll have a better idea of what we'll still need to get to make this into a decent bedroom."
For the next couple hours both men worked at their tasks. The one time Blair tried to lift a heavy box, the look of pain on his face had Jim rushing to take it from him and declare that he was not to do anything more strenuous than going through everything and deciding what he wanted to keep. In the end Blair had elected to keep the dresser, rug and floor lamp. Sammy's boxes had yielded a set of bed linens and blankets he had intended to use on the futon as well as a clock radio still in its original packaging. Another box had a few sets of plastic hangers, some with clips on them for hanging pants, along with other miscellaneous odds and ends. Nothing else in the boxes proved to be very useful. Blair hung the hangers in the closet, then piled the linen and clock radio on the futon. Once the boxes were gone, Jim swept the floor while Blair ran a dust cloth over every surface. They opened the futon out into a bed out and laid out the rug beside it.
Jim left the room to return the broom and dustpan to the kitchen. When he returned he was holding a small notepad and pen. He started taking inventory. "You have a good start here. Oh, downstairs in Mr. O'Donnell's storage area, I saw a bookcase and a small table that I thought you could use as a desk. I stopped and asked him about them and he said I could have them. They're both in good shape, just need to be cleaned up a bit. I'll bring them up after we get the rest of the room squared away." He looked around and started writing. "You still need pillows, a nightstand and a lamp to put on it. Hmmm, curtains for the outside window, and what say we get rid of this curtain in the doorway and put in some real doors. Since there's not much room in here we could put some shelves on the wall if you want. Anything else you can think of?"
When Blair just shook his head Jim started to feel bad. He knew that the room wasn't much. "Look, Blair, I know that it's small but I'm sure we can make it work."
Blair shook his head again. "No, Master, it's just the opposite. I've spent most of the last year living in a barn, with horses. All I had to sleep on was a pile of hay and an old, scratchy horse blanket. I wasn't allowed to have anything. I never thought that I would ever have something this nice. I'd have been happy sleeping in here even as a storage room. To me, this room is... is... almost too much."
Even though Blair seemed slightly embarrassed by his admission, Jim couldn't help but feel pleased that the young man liked the room. It was important that Blair feel comfortable here, and with him. "Well, since that's settled, let's get cracking. First off, you need some clothes, then we'll get the stuff for your room and last we'll go grocery shopping on the way home. Good thing I have an SUV. We'll take turns getting washed up, then we'll leave." Jim left, leaving Blair still looking around his room.
Jim led Blair through the outer door that led directly into the Men's section of the upscale department store. He preferred entering stores right from the parking lot, thus avoiding having to walk through the mall itself. Not familiar with the layout of this particular store, he looked around. Joel had assured him that they carried slave clothing here since he had called them and asked about it before he bought Mandy. Now he just had to figure out where. To his left, he saw a man with an artificial white carnation in his lapel talking to a young woman. Both had on store nametags. White flowers meant managers and managers knew where things were. When the woman left, Jim approached the man before he could walk away.
The man turned and looked at Jim. He got the feeling he was being instantly appraised.
"Yes, sir, how can I help you?"
"I was told you sell clothes for slaves here. Where would they be?"
"For male slaves, that would be upstairs, on the second floor. In the far left corner, behind luggage. For females, there is a section in the back of one of the women's clothing departments."
Both out of sight from most of the real customers. Jim thanked the man and watched as he walked away. Turning around again, he saw that Blair was no longer behind him. Then he heard a terse sounding voice.
"Put that down."
Looking across the aisle, Jim saw Blair standing next to a table of neatly folded sweaters, holding one up with both hands. An annoyed looking salesman had just walked up to the table followed by another, younger man. The younger man spoke first.
"Leave him alone, Chad. He's not hurting anything."
"Oh yeah? I just folded these sweaters, now he's messing them all up. It's not like he's actually going to buy anything." He turned to a chastened looking Blair and held out his hand. "C'mon, slave, hand it over."
Just as Blair was starting to give over the sweater, he felt a hand on his shoulder and a now familiar voice come from behind. "There you are, Chief. You find anything you like, yet? Let's see that." Coming around, Jim gently took the sweater from Blair's hands and held it up. "Yeah. Nice design. How 'bout we start with this?" He turned to the two salesmen. "Would you excuse us for a minute?"
Watching until the two men were out of listening range, Jim turned to Blair, still keeping his voice low. "You like these clothes, Blair?"
Blair kept his head down but let his eyes scan around. They were standing in the Young Men's Department, these were mainly trendy clothes sold to high school and college-aged men. When Master Eli had taken him to Rainier, this is what most of the students had been wearing. He often wished he could dress like that but knew it would never happen. Letting his eyes drop again, he nodded.
"Have you ever worn... regular clothes?" Jim had never seen a slave wear anything but the traditional whites. Boys and men wore a tunic type shirt and pants while girls and women usually wore a mid calf length dress. Some male slaves also wore a short, solid colored open vest if they worked in a store or other business. Females usually had a full length, solid colored apron covering their dress and a matching kerchief to keep their hair off their face. The business' name was sometimes embroidered on the vest or apron. The tunics, pants and dresses came in a wide variety of styles but were always white. They made slaves very easy to identify.
The curly head shook back and forth. "Master Eli never made my mother wear the whites. She always wore her own clothes. But everyone else wore them. He let her add her own special touches to mine so I always did kind of stand out. Except whenever he took me off the estate with him, then I had to wear just a basic slave outfit."
"Would you rather wear regular clothes now or would you be more comfortable wearing the whites?"
Blair's head jerked up. "W-what?" He stared at Jim. "Y-you'd let me wear clothes like these instead of the whites? All the time?"
Jim shrugged. "Sure. Why not? That is, if you'd be comfortable wearing them."
"Then... I'd like to wear... regular clothes. If it's all right with you, Master."
"Good choice. 'Cause you know I'll bet whites must be hell to keep clean. Come on." Jim dropped the sweater on the table and started walking away.
Still trying to wrap his mind around the idea that his master was actually going to buy and let him wear regular, free citizen clothes, Blair numbly followed Jim over to the check out stand, where the two salesmen had retreated. He barely heard Jim's announcement.
"All right, gentlemen. We're going to need a lot of stuff and I don't want to be here all day getting it." He tilted his head towards Blair. "He needs some of everything, from underwear on out."
"Slave clothes are upstairs. Behind luggage." Chad went back to shuffling some papers around as if Jim and Blair were already gone.
Jim was beginning to get seriously annoyed at the salesman's demeanor but managed to keep his temper in check. Blair wanted these clothes and he was going to get them. "Nooo. We're going to buy what we need here. I'm not familiar with the clothes in this department so we'll need some help."
The younger man, whose nametag read 'John', smiled and nodded, as if selling a slave clothes was something he did every day. "We can do that."
Chad, on the other hand, didn't look at all happy about waiting on a slave. "Do you already have an account with us?" He seemed to be hoping that if Jim didn't have an account with the store, he might decide to shop elsewhere rather than having to open one now.
Jim silently sighed. No, I thought we'd just steal everything. Okay, another comeuppance seemed in order. What the hell, he was already 'outed', as Joel so kindly put it, anyway. He pasted on a smile. "No, I don't have one. But I'm sure my family has an account here." There was a House account established for virtually every business and store in the northwest sector and beyond.
Poising his fingers over the terminal's keyboard Chad looked directly at Jim. "I'll have to verify the account and that you're an authorized user on it. Do you have the account number?"
"Well, I don't have the account number with me, but it would be under the name of Ellison, House of Ellison, to be exact."
The way Chad froze for a moment before he began typing was most satisfying. "Under authorized users, look for James, First Heir. That would be me." Jim was already pulling his IndentiCard out of his wallet. "Did you find the account, yet, Chad?"
"Am I listed on it?"
"Good. Here's my card. Verify my identity so we can get started. We have other things to do today, too." Jim pressed his thumb onto the small, square sensor pad located near the bottom right corner of the card then handed the card to Chad who inserted it into the special slot on the terminal. The thumbprint would remain for 15 seconds before fading away, long enough for the computer to read it and verify that his thumbprint matched with the information encoded into the card. The invention of the thumbprint card had virtually eliminated the problem of identity theft and provided an easy and foolproof means of identification.
By now a small group had gathered. It didn't take long for word to spread that a high-ranking member of the House of Ellison was in the store. The same manger that Jim had talked to earlier appeared again, being much more solicitous this time around.
"Is everything all right, Mr. Ellison?"
Now Jim knew why his father rarely went out in public. "Everything's fine. We were just finishing up here and about to start shopping."
The manager smiled, looking pleased. "Good. Chad is our Men's Department's senior sales associate. I'm sure he can assist you with all your needs while you're here." Chad stood up straighter and looked a bit smug.
Jim shook his head. "Not Chad. I don't like his attitude. We want John to help us, don't we, Chief?" Not waiting to see the reaction to his announcement, Jim turned and started walking. "Let's go. We might as well start with the basics."
The next two hours were the most fun Jim had had in quite a while. Blair and John were close in age and it turned out that John only worked at the store part time. He was also a fulltime student at Rainer University, working on his degree in Sociology. They hit it off almost right away. Once John determined the type of clothes Blair preferred, Jim was treated to a continuous one-man fashion show.
Blair had a very different idea of style than the rather conservative detective but Jim had no plans to try to force his preferences on him. The only thing he insisted on was that, in addition to the mostly casual jeans, pants and shirts Blair picked out, they also included some dress pants, shirts, at least two ties and a sport coat. At one point he noticed Blair lovingly fingering a multi-colored vest hanging on a rack, then he dropped his hand and followed John into the fitting room. While Blair was changing into another outfit, Jim found one of the vests in Blair's size and handed it to John to add to the large pile they had already accumulated. Before Blair even started trying on any clothes, the pile of merchandise sitting at their personally designated register included a couple of sets of sweats, a few multi-packs of boxers and t-shirts, several pairs of socks in various colors and patterns, a thick robe and one black and one brown belt. Each Blair-approved article of clothing added to its size.
After the clothes came shoes, the final result being a pair of rugged, all weather hiking boots, two pairs of top-of-the line sneakers, a pair of loafers and one pair of black dress shoes. Since Blair had to wear Jim's other, oversized jacket when they left the loft, a trip to the coat department soon yielded a leather jacket, a lightweight, lined jacket and a long trench coat. Then a pair of warm leather gloves, a knit cap and two scarves. And, just because he felt like it, Jim added a wallet and a new leather backpack to replace the worn out nylon one Blair had been using.
When they were finally finished and ready to pay, Jim had Blair pick out a complete outfit, including shoes. These items were rung up first and the tickets removed so Blair could change while John continued ringing up the rest of the sale. The newly dressed slave soon returned wearing jeans, a long sleeved t-shirt covered by a plaid flannel shirt, brown belt and the hiking boots. He had gotten a rubber band from John and had pulled his long hair back into a ponytail that reached almost to his waist. Jim held out the leather jacket to him. By the time Blair had changed and returned, everything was bagged and ready to go. Finding out from John that the salespeople here worked on commission explained why Chad was off to one side, silently fuming as he watched the growing tally. Jim smiled when John told him that this sale alone would probably cover most of his basic bills next month. It took Jim, Blair and John to carry all the bags to the car. Once there, Jim took John's card and promised to ask for him if he or Blair should need anything else.
A quick stop at Home Depot was next. Jim had Blair help pick out some shelves and a set of French doors to be delivered and installed within the next few days. Once Blair got over the surprise of actually being allowed to choose the styles he wanted for the room, Jim was amused to watch as he debated the merits of the various types of doors and shelves. Dressed in his new clothes and as well spoken as he was, the salesman never dreamed he was dealing with a slave, which seemed to put Blair more at ease. Jim decided he liked seeing this more outgoing side of the younger man.
Next on the agenda was Wal-Mart. There they picked out a ready-to-assemble nightstand and a lamp as well as a pair of curtains, two regular pillows and a few assorted throw pillows for the bed. Then they headed for the personal care section to get Blair stocked up on personal hygiene items. After getting the basics, a razor and shaving cream, toothbrush, comb and brush, Blair surprised Jim by having him smell the different soaps, shampoos, conditioners and deodorants and pick the ones he thought were the least offensive. He didn't see what difference it made but went along because it was the first time Blair had initiated any action between them.
As they loaded the bags into the back of the SUV, Jim noted the stiff way Blair held himself, then saw the more prominent limp as he walked up towards the passenger door to get in the vehicle. How long had he been in pain? Glancing down at his watch, he berated himself for not noticing how late it had gotten. It was nearly dinnertime and they had completely skipped lunch. Blair was way past due for both his antibiotic and his pain pills. That also meant it'd been far too long since he'd last eaten, too. He, on the other hand, had never enjoyed himself so much spending money before. He now understood why some women liked to shop; it could actually be fun under the right circumstances. But that was no excuse. Blair was his responsibility; he was the one who had lost track of the time and now the poor kid was hurting and hungry because of it. There was nothing to eat at home so the answer was obvious. Pulling out of the parking lot, he offered what he hoped would be a peace offering, even though Blair gave no indication of being upset.
"It's getting late. How about we skip grocery shopping today and go get something to eat? We can go home afterwards and just take it easy for the rest of the night."
The look of relief was plain on Blair's face but he just nodded.
The blank look he got in response once again reminded Jim of Blair's status. He answered his own question. "There's a pretty good restaurant just a few blocks from here. Let's try that." Blair deserved to go someplace better than fast food.
Pulling into the family style eatery, Jim knew he'd made a good choice. It was casual enough that their jeans and shirts wouldn't be given a second glance. Since it also catered to families, the wait staff was trained to be friendly and helpful. It would be less intimidating to Blair than a fancy restaurant.
Entering the building, Jim immediately noticed the swinging door to the right. The door had a large window in it and a sign above it identifying it as the Slave Room. This was where slaves ate and/or waited while their owners dined in the main dining area. Long tables with benches and plastic tablecloths were the usual furniture. If the slave was permitted to eat, the meal was added to the owner's bill. No matter how elegant the restaurant, the slaves' fare rarely rose above the level of hamburgers and spaghetti. Jim remembered as a child dining out with his family, at much fancier places than this, and never thinking twice about it when their slaves were sent off until they were finished. Now he couldn't conceive of Blair eating in such a room. So when Blair made to move off towards the swinging door, Jim reached down and discreetly grabbed the leather jacket's sleeve near the cuff. He held on to it as he walked to the Hostess podium, forcing Blair to walk with him.
A slightly harried looking young woman smiled at them. "Two?" At Jim's nod she asked, "Smoking or non-smoking?"
She looked down at the restaurant's floor plan on her podium. "We've had an unexpected large party just show up. If you'll wait over there, we'll be with you shortly. It shouldn't be more than a few more minutes."
Jim remembered seeing a church bus in the parking lot and figured that was probably the large party. He smiled at the woman. "No problem." After giving the Hostess his name, deliberately not mentioning his House connections, he steered the still silent Blair to the nearby alcove that had been set up with a few benches and chairs. He was relieved to see that they were the only ones there as they took their seats on one of the benches.
Almost immediately Blair leaned towards Jim and whispered. "Master. I can't eat in here."
Jim just looked at him calmly. "Why not?"
Wide blue eyes stared back at him as if he'd lost his mind. "I'm not allowed. If I get caught..." There was no mistaking the real fear in the slave's voice. Considering the last year, Jim could understand Blair's terror of even being accused of doing anything wrong. He had to calm him down before he drew anyone's attention towards them.
"First off, Blair, you're with me. Nothing's going to happen to you while I'm around. Ever. Second, the way you're dressed, you'll actually attract less attention in here than in there, with the other slaves. Besides, I don't want to eat alone. They always stick single people at the worst tables, usually in the back, by the kitchen. You can do this. You talked to the guy at Home Depot and he never had a clue he was talking to a slave. You can read the menu, right?" At Blair's nod, he continued. "All right, then. Piece of cake. If there's anything you're not sure about, just ask me. Okay?" He could order Blair to do this but he wanted it to be his decision.
Blair nodded slowly. "All right, Master. If you're sure."
Jim gave the still nervous younger man a big smile. "Good. One more thing, though. If we're gonna pull this off, you can't keep calling me 'Master'. Kind of gives everything away, if you know what I mean."
"Then what should I call you?" Calling his master by just his first name was unthinkable. 'Mr. Ellison' didn't seem right either. "How about 'Sir'? It's still respectful, commonplace enough not to cause any attention and doesn't give any indication about our relationship."
That suggestion earned him another smile. "Perfect. In fact, try to think of it more as a name than a title. I like that idea even better."
Before Blair could respond to the odd comment, a few more people entered the waiting area and they had to drop the conversation.
Soon they were seated with menus. Jim had asked the waitress to bring two glasses of water right away. After bringing the water, she left to let them look over the dinner selections. Jim pulled the two pill vials out of his shirt pocket. Since they would be eating in a few minutes, he gave Blair the antibiotic and one pain pill, enough to alleviate the worst of the pain but not enough to make him groggy. Blair still looked very uncomfortable; he needed to remain clear headed.
"So, you decide on anything yet?" Jim noticed that Blair was holding the menu very close; in fact it looked like he was subconsciously trying to hide behind it.
"Um, maybe the grilled cheese sandwich. If that's all right with you, MmSir."
No, it wasn't all right. Grilled cheese was okay for lunch but Blair needed a full dinner. Looking over the menu, Jim noticed it was also among the least expensive items listed. He turned to the waitress. "Give us another minute, all right?" Once she left, he look directly at the younger man. "Blair. I want you to order what you really want. Don't even look at how much it costs. That's not a problem, believe me."
"But you've already spent so much money on me today."
"And I enjoyed every minute of it. I haven't had such a relaxing day in ages. Think of this dinner as just the end to a great day. Now I want you to either try something new or something you've had before, but haven't had in a while. And if it'll make you feel any better, this place doesn't even come close to being expensive. I've eaten in restaurants where the appetizer alone costs more than what both of our dinners will end up being."
Looking somewhat mollified, Blair looked over the menu with a renewed interest. "Yes, Sir. If that's what you want."
Hiding behind his own menu, Jim grinned to himself. Yeah, kid, that's what I want.
The rest of dinner went well, especially once Blair relaxed a bit more. It was partly due to the pain pill, but also with the surprised realization that nobody was paying any attention to him, never mind about to accuse him of being a slave trying to pass as a free citizen.
Jim felt good that dinner was going so well. He told Blair that he didn't remember the food here tasting as good as it did tonight. In fact, he even agreed when Blair suggested he try to figure out the subtle spices and flavorings used in his food, almost making a game out of it. He also used the dinner as an opportunity to explain to Blair about his duties as a police detective and how he might be called in at all hours if something major were to happen. When Blair almost slipped by starting to say Master, then quickly switched to Sir, in front of the waitress, Jim covered for him by saying the speech therapy classes were really helping with his speech impediment. Then laughed out loud when Blair turned bright red when the older woman tsked and told him he sounded just fine.
When they got home, Jim insisted on carrying most of the purchases upstairs, only allowing Blair to carry a few of the lighter bags. Together they made up the futon, placing all the new pillows on it, but decided to wait until the following night to put the nightstand together.
While Jim relaxed in the living room, Blair started putting his new clothes away. When he got to the vest Jim had added, he carried it out of his room.
"Master. The store made a mistake. Somehow this vest got put in with my clothes. You have to take it back and get a refund of your money."
Jim lowered the newspaper he was reading. "It's no mistake. It was supposed to be included." At Blair's puzzled expression, Jim continued. "I saw you eyeing it. From the way you were touching it and how your heart rate went up, I figured you really liked it. So I added it while you were in the fitting room."
Blair's expression changed from puzzled to shocked. "Y-you bought it for me just because you thought I wanted it?"
"Well, I certainly didn't buy it for me." The detective frowned. "But if I was wrong and you really don't want it we can"
"NO!" Blair hugged the colorful garment to his chest. "I want it, Master. Please."
"It's okay, Blair. If you want it, it's yours. Case closed." Blair's reaction seemed a bit overblown but Jim decided to ignore it. "And I thought we agreed you were going to call me Sir instead of Master."
The confused look returned. "But I thought that was just while we were in the restaurant. Did you mean to use it like all the time? From now on?" He'd never heard of a slave using any term other than Master when speaking or referring to their male owner. Female owners were always referred to as Miss or Ma'am.
Jim found himself relaxing as Blair's heart rate slowed down now that he knew he could keep the vest. He wasn't even aware until now that he had tensed up as soon as Blair had gotten upset. "I think that would be for the best." He grinned. "That way, when we're out somewhere like that again you won't keep sounding like you still have that speech impediment. Besides, when I hear someone say Master I think they're talking about my father. So, no more Master, right?"
"Yes, Sir. I mean no, Sir. I mean"
Jim held up his hand as he laughed. "I know what you mean. Anyway, I have to be at work early tomorrow so I'm heading off to bed. Were you planning on staying up much longer?"
"I wanted to get all the new clothes put away so they wouldn't wrinkle too badly." The hesitant tone of voice made it obvious he was asking permission rather than stating a fact.
"Good idea. Just don't overdo it. You can always finish tomorrow." Leaving the couch, Jim made his usual rounds of securing the loft for the night then, after exchanging 'Good Nights' with Blair, headed towards the bathroom. Blair went back to his room.
Settling in bed, Jim could hear the comforting sounds of Blair moving around in his room, deciding how to arrange the closet and dresser. With a newfound, but pleasant, feeling that everything was as it should be, the tired but content sentinel drifted off to sleep.
The next morning Blair woke up slowly. He was lying in a bed, a real bed, in his own room. He let his eyes wander around the small area. It wasn't just a dream, he really was here, in Master Ellison's house, and not still in Master Decker's barn. Feeling almost weak with relief, he hugged one of his new pillows as his mind wandered back over the last two weeks.
Blair sat up, wondering at the noise that had woken him up. As the barn lights came on, he saw Mr. Shaw come bursting into the barn, looking angrier than usual. He was carrying the dreaded, cane-like stick and swaying as he crossed the floor. The young slave's stomach tightened in fear. This wasn't good. It was the middle of the night; Mr. Shaw rarely ever came to the barn this late. He quickly stood up and waited as his handler approached.
"You God damn ungrateful little bastard." Shaw's words were slurred and his eyes not quite focused. "I had a good thing goin' here. All ya had to do was stay in here and jus' do what I tol' ya to do. And keep your big trap shut. But nooo, when Decker comes in this morning, you had to go and tell him all about how ya went and rearranged everything and how you thought the horses should be taken care of. Now he's decided that maybe I ain't doing such a good job of breaking you after all. That he don't want to waste no more time and money on you. So I get my walking papers and you, ya little shit, you're gonna get what ya deserve."
Blair tried to back up as the much larger man staggered up to him, a drunken rage in his eyes. He thought that when Master Decker had visited the barn earlier that day, he'd be pleased with the changes he had made in the stalls and the tack room. Being in the barn 24/7 there was little to occupy his mind; he wasn't used to being bored. So, when he wasn't taking care of the horses, he had first worked on figuring out a better way to stock the horse stalls. Pleased with results, not to mention happy to finally have something creative to do, he next worked on totally redoing the tack room to make more efficient use of the existing shelving as well as the arrangement of the equipment and supplies. He had also noted during his months of confinement how the horses reacted to changes in their diet and routine. When Master Decker had come to inspect the horses that morning, he had passed on what he thought were useful and helpful suggestions on their care and feeding. Too late now, he realized that his input had not been appreciated. He'd been told repeatedly that part of his problem was thinking that his way of doing things was better than anyone else's. Now he had taken it upon himself to change things around in the barn and told Master Decker how his horses should be fed and exercised. Worst of all, he had said all that in front of the head trainer. God, wouldn't he ever learn his place?
Shaw grabbed Blair by front of his shirt with one big, beefy hand and raised the big stick up high with the other. Before the terrified slave could even react to the foul stench of stale alcohol on the man's breath, the beating began.
Curled up in ball, frail arms covering his head in meek protection, Blair wasn't aware of anything except the pain of each heavy blow as it found its mark. Eventually he realized that he wasn't being hit any more. Instead, he found, to his horror, that one wrist had already been tightly tied to the top slat of the empty horse stall and Shaw was just finishing tying the other. His shirt was gone. He knew what was coming, and no amount of begging or pleading was going to stop it. Mr. Shaw's other favorite disciplinary tool, the thin leather horsewhip, was already lying in the straw.
The first lash caused him to arch his back but he managed not to cry out. When the third one laid open his already bruised skin, he screamed. As the whipping continued, his tears fell freely, and he no longer tried to hide his pain. His back was raw, blood also running down his arms from his wrists where the rough ropes had chafed away the skin. Throughout the entire whipping Blair could hear Shaw talking, but couldn't make out what he was saying or if he was talking to him or to himself. Finally, his tortured body couldn't take anymore and he mercifully passed out.
Blair slowly came back to consciousness. Not hearing any sounds nearby, he cautiously opened his eyes. He was surprised to find himself, not in the barn as he expected, but lying on his stomach on his old cot in the male slave quarters, where he had lived for the first few months after arriving at the estate. When he tried to move, his whole body erupted in pain and he couldn't help the low moan that escaped. Immediately there was a hand on his head.
"Shhh, Blair. Don' try to move yet."
He recognized that voice. "Donny?" Donny had been his bunkmate. He'd been helping the older slave, along with a few others, with their reading skills until he had been removed from the slave quarters.
"Yeah, it's me."
"What happened? Well, from what I heard tell, Master went to the barn lookin' fer Mr. Shaw. He found him passed out drunk inna empty horse stall and you hangin' there bleedin' and passed out yerself. They had this big fight and Master threw Mr. Shaw offa the estate. They brung you in here and I been takin' care a ya ever since. That was two days ago."
Due to the pain, Blair could only nod, relieved that his ordeal was finally over. Now that Mr. Shaw was gone, maybe he could live here again. If he never saw the inside of a barn again, it would still be too soon.
Blair looked down at the bed pillow he was still hugging tightly, surprised to see that it was wet. He carefully sat up and wiped his face with the heels of his hands. Remembering was almost as bad as being there again.
Getting up slowly, he left his small room and walked into the living room, staring at the front door. There was a lock on it. No one could just come bursting in anytime they wanted. He was safe here. Master Ellison wasn't anything like Master Decker. He didn't even want to be called Master, not even Master Jim or James. Calling an owner by Master and his first nameas Master Eli had permitted him and his mother to dowas the most familiar a slave could ever dare hope to get, and even that was pretty rare. No, his master wanted to be called Sir. And he had said to even think of that more as of a name than as a title. Very odd. Thinking back, everything about how he came to be here, now, was odd. Mama had always said that the only way to overcome your demons was to confront them head on. He could do that here.
Even though he would have preferred to sit in his usual half-lotus meditating position, his injuries wouldn't allow it right now. So Blair settled for lying stomach down on the sofa, a pillow under his head. He closed his eyes and let his mind wander back, picking up his memories where he had left off, determined to banish any power they might have over him.
For the next few days Donny stayed by Blair's side and tended to his needs. He caught Blair up on all the estate gossip, including Decker's growing frustration whenever Shaw told him that Blair still needed more training. Apparently, Shaw had been trying to milk his cushy job for as long as possible.
Almost a week after his beating and whipping, Donny came in with another, younger, slave. He didn't look happy. The older slave's voice lowered as he leaned close. "I think yer leavin' today. Master said, get you up and washed and dressed."
Just the thought of moving was still scary. With Donny and the other slave's help, Blair managed to take care of his basic needs and get dressed. It hurt just as badly as he thought it would. The other slave had already left to inform Decker that Blair was up and dressed. Donny sat beside Blair on the bunk.
"Ya know I can't talk to ya outside. Nobody can. Yer still shunned. I'm only allowed to talk to ya in here. I sure hope yer goin' to a better place. We was all real sad to see what happened to ya. The others said to tell ya 'thanks' fer helpin' 'em with their readin' an' all."
Blair tried to smile, even though everything hurt. "Tell them I was glad to do it. And I hope they keep up with it, even after I'm gone."
Soon Donny's helper returned with a large male slave who Blair recognized as Max. Donny whispered something to his helper then he and Max got Blair off the bed. They had to tighten their grip as Blair swayed, unable stand on his own at first. Once he was stable enough to walk, they helped him outside to a waiting pickup truck. The truck was being driven by one of the estate Overseers. Max lowered the tailgate and took a small stepstool from the truck bed and placed it on the ground. He carefully helped Blair step onto the stool then into the bed of the truck. Moving around was made even more awkward since the iron manacle was still locked onto his ankle and the chain, the length of which had been cut from the original 15 feet down to about two feet, was wrapped around his leg. A pallet had been made up and Blair sank down on it, grateful for the cushioning. Max climb into the truck with Blair and Donny handed him the stool and closed the tailgate. Just before the truck took off, Donny took something from his helper and handed it to Max.
The truck stopped in front of the main house with the engine running and Albert Decker soon emerged. He looked over at the two slaves in the back of the truck, then walked up to the passenger door and opened it. "Any problems?" When the driver shook his head, Decker nodded and climbed into the seat. "Let's go." With that, the truck headed towards the estate's main entrance then turned onto the road that would eventually take them to Cascade.
Just before the truck left the estate, Max gave Blair the backpack Donny had handed to him. It contained the few possessions he had brought with him from Master Eli's estate. His former bunkmate had kept it safe for him all this time. The large slave indicated that Blair should lie down. He then covered him tightly with a blanket and wrapped one around himself. Besides the cab of the truck, it was all the protection they would have from the wind and any flying debris once the truck hit the main highway.
A few hours later they reached the back entrance to a large building signed Coleman Traders. Max helped the stiff, sore, and now cold, Blair from the truck and into the building. Once inside, Decker met with Ronald Coleman and arranged for the sale of the troublesome, headstrong slave. Glad to finally be rid of him, and that worthless Shaw, Decker headed back home. Coleman turned Blair over to his assistant, Gus, with orders to keep this one away from the other slaves.
For the next several days Blair had been kept in a separate area, away from the common slave area. He could only watch the other slaves as they ate and talked together, keeping each other company. He knew they had been told he was shunned and talking to him would be grounds for punishment. Every day Gus would check his injuries, cleaning them with rubbing alcohol, then make him get up and walk around.
Blair was woken up early one morning and told to get into a long, enclosed trailer along with most of the other slaves. He just managed to grab his backpack before being herded into the trailer. After a long, silent ride, they arrived at the back half of the slave traders' section of the Fairgrounds. They were behind a long tent, which sat beside another smaller one. The other slaves entered the large tent though a flap in the back. Blair was chained to the ground behind the tents. He could hear Mr. Coleman talking to customers about the slaves being offered for sale. Occasionally he and a customer would go into the smaller tent.
Later Gus unchained him and took him to a shower area where he was ordered to take a quick lukewarm shower, and given a new set of slightly too large clothes to put on afterwards. The water stung his back and wrists, but at least the large clothes were loose and didn't cling to his wounds. Gus opened the flap to the large tent but a curtain of some kind had been set up, once again separating him from the other slaves. A round ring had been set into the ground. He was told to sit about two feet away from the ring. While Gus attached his chain to the ring, he told Blair that he was to stay there and not move or say anything to anybody, or he'd live to regret it. His clothes were arranged to hide the manacle around his ankle, and his raw wrists. He was warned not to let anything show.
After the assistant left, Blair lowered his head and tried to put himself in a meditative state. His mother had taught him how to meditate and he often thought that was the only thing that kept him sane during those long, lonely months locked away in the barn. He didn't look up when he heard the curtain in front of him being pulled back, putting him on display. He couldn't reach the full meditative state he wanted, but it was enough that he could ignore the people crowding around, talking to each other about him.
Suddenly one voice broke through above all the others. It was a deep, male voice and Blair felt himself drawn to it. He had an overwhelming compulsion to see the person it belonged to. Daring to look up, he found a pair of intense light blue eyes staring straight back into his. The man projected a strong aura of protection and safety that seemed to include him in it too. For a few seconds he allowed his emotions to surface and felt something he hadn't felt for a long, long time: hope. But the man's expression never changed and he gave no indication that he saw Blair as anything than just another slave up for sale. Oddly saddened by the man's refusal to acknowledge him further, Blair lowered his head again.
A few seconds later Mr. Coleman began speaking and Blair had to sit and listen as his life story was told to a group of gawking strangers, one of whom would most likely end up owning him. He barely paid any attention to what was going on around him until he heard someone ask about Naomi. No one had ever told him what had happened to her, who her new owner was, where she was living. Now he would finally know. Dead? B-but she couldn't be dead. For almost a year now. Oh God. The dream of someday finding her again had been his sole reason to endure everything he'd been put through since the day he'd been sold. He blinked a few times then squeezed his eyes tightly shut, refusing to let the tears building up fall. He would not lose it in front of these people. Wasn't he already providing enough entertainment for them?
The blue-eyed man was speaking again. Blair believed that the man somehow knew what he was going through. It didn't sound like pity, but as if this perfect stranger actually cared about him. Blair kept his head down and allowed the unexplainable sensations of security and protection he felt coming from this person wash over him. He clung to those feelings, using them to keep himself together.
The bidding was almost over; soon he would have a new master. The person who seemed to be outbidding everyone else reminded him too much of Master Decker. Blair tried hard not to panic. The one voice he had desperately wanted to hear the most had never even offered up one bid. It took every meditation trick he knew not to show his disappointment and, even more difficult, his rapidly growing terror of being sold to yet another cruel master.
Blair jerked his head up.
A new bid had just been offered. It was for even more than was necessary to counter the last offer. And... Yes! It was from the same man Blair had felt so strangely connected to. A new, small flame of hope started to flicker in his chest.
Almost immediately the flame started to die when the first bidder practically demanded that the new bid be thrown out. At first it seemed that the stranger was going to give in. This Beckworth person was obviously very rich and very powerful; it was a rare person who could stand up to him.
But apparently the new bidder was one of those few.
Blair had been sure his own jaw matched everyone else's when his would-be savior finally revealed himself to be none other than the often wondered about, but never seen, James Ellison, First Heir to The House of Ellison.
Beckworth had tried one last gambit but the inevitable conclusion was that he had to concede defeat. No one ever went up against an Ellison financially and even hoped to win.
Blair felt numb. He was being bought by the First Heir to The House of Ellison??? Why? Why would someone who probably already owned a mansion full of perfect slaves want someone like him? Despite his earlier feelings, he suddenly wasn't so sure if he was going to be better off or worse off than he was before.
The auction was quickly concluded and Blair now belonged to the man with whom he was still feeling that strange sense of connection. His head was still spinning from the sudden turn of events. He barely noticed the pain when Gus quickly removed the iron shackle he'd worn for so long and hid the manacle under the straw. When Gus pulled his hair, yanking back his head, everyone seemed amazed at how quickly his new master responded. Even though the look he gave Gus would probably freeze water, when he looked at him, asking if he was all right, there was only genuine concern in his eyes. When Blair answered, he could sense a barely noticeable shift of some kind occurring within the larger man. His eyes became more focused, even though his whole body seemed to relax slightly. His previously authoritative voice was surprisingly gentle when he told him to wait with his friend until he was finished. Blair's earlier misgivings began to fade. There was definitely something happening between the two of them. He could feel it and he was sure the other man felt it too.
The slave knew at that moment that he had found the only person since Master Eli that he would willingly belong to.
Blair opened his eyes, almost surprised to find himself still on the couch instead of back at Mr. Coleman's tent. The memories were so vivid, it was hard to release them. But as disturbing as those days were, everything since then had been the total opposite.
Since that first meeting, Master Ellison had been nothing but kind to him. He seemed outraged at what Mr. Shaw had done, and even took him to a doctor. Let him eat pizza. Gave up his storage room him so he could have it. Unbelievably, he even gave him the choice of either wearing regular clothes or the standard slave whites. Bought him more new things in one day than he'd ever owned in his entire life. Let him, no insisted, that he eat with him in a restaurant, as if he were a real citizen. Then he helped him fix up 'his' room.
So much had happened to him in the last two weeks that he still had a hard time grasping everything. But now it was time to officially start his new life.
Getting up, Blair hesitantly looked towards his room. Master hadn't said that he wasn't allowed to leave it when he wasn't home. Wandering into the kitchen, he spied the two medicine vials and a note with his name on it. The large, neat handwriting seemed to fit the man who wrote it. After squinting his eyes and moving the piece of paper forwards and backwards a few times, he finally got it to where it was at least legible.
You were sleeping when I left and I didn't want to wake you. My work and cell phone numbers are listed below. Don't forget to take your pills. I should be back between 6 and 7 tonight. I'll pick up some groceries on the way home. Take it easy and don't try to do too much.
Work555-6721, Cell Phone555-2035
It wasn't signed, but then, it didn't have to be.
Putting down the note, Blair picked up one of the medicine vials. No matter how much he squinted and moved the bottle around, he couldn't get the tiny, blurry printing to get any clearer. The other one wasn't any better. He knew that he was supposed to take two of the pain pills and one of the antibiotic, he just didn't know how often and, even more important, he couldn't tell which was which. He was hurting all over right now, especially his back. Deciding to play it safe, he shook out one of each into his hand. At least taking one pain pill would dull the pain so it wasn't so bad. Finding a glass, he filled it from the sink and swallowed the pills.
Medication taken care of, Blair looked around the kitchen. It was spotlessly clean with everything arranged in a very neat and organized manner. Opening the cabinets, drawers and refrigerator, he saw that everything in them was also neatly arranged. Master apparently liked things organized. That was something he would have to remember. He was getting hungry but he didn't dare touch what little food there was without permission.
Leaving the kitchen, he wandered into the living room, walking around, checking out what was now his new home. The furniture was plain but well made and comfortable. The television and stereo system both looked like top of the line models but he was surprised to find almost no personal touches anywhere. No knick-knacks or pictures or anything to give him any glimpses into the man to whom he now belonged. The walls were bare. Master Ellison must not have been living here very long. Spotting the stairs, Blair glanced up. That was Master's bedroom. Maybe he was supposed to make the bed and clean up the room as part of his duties. He climbed the stairs and entered the upper loft. It was strange to be in a room with no door, and one wall, the one that looked out over the main living area, that was only a rather frail-looking railing. He made it a point to stay well away from the railing. This room, like the others, was almost spartanly furnished and so clean you could eat off the floor. The bed was already made and there didn't seem to be anything out of order. There wasn't anything he could do to make it any neater. Turning around, he headed back down the stairs. That left only the bathroom. Naturally, it was also spotless. It was hard to believe that anyone had ever used it. Looking at the shiny white tub, Blair became acutely aware of how long it'd been since he had a real shower and, even more important, since he'd thoroughly washed his hair. Just thinking about it made his scalp start to itch. He wondered how his new master, with his sensitive nose, could even stand to be around him.
Decision made, Blair headed back to his room and gathered up the Wal-Mart bag containing the sentinel-approved bath products, as well as the other new personal care items, carrying them back to the bathroom. He turned on the shower and adjusted the temperature. Quickly shedding his clothes and bandages, he climbed into the tub and let the hot water flow over him. Ahhh. Heaven. His long hair protected his back, keeping the water from hitting it directly. After a few minutes of luxuriating at actually being in a hot shower, he started washing. The worst wounds, on his back, ankle and wrists stung when the soap touched them, but the feeling of finally being really clean overrode the pain.
He now faced the daunting problem of how to wash his hair. It was much longer than he'd ever worn it before and a lot longer than he wanted it to be. But he hadn't had anyone to cut it for him, or even the means to cut it himself, for almost a year now. Maybe there would be some other slaves in the building and one of them might be willing to do it for him. For today he decided the best way to go would be to wash it in sections, starting from the bottom and working his way up to the top.
It took a while but finally his hair was washed and conditioned. Reluctantly, he turned off the water and stepped out. Facing the tub again, he bent over at the waist and flipped his hair over his head. With the long strands hanging down over the tub he squeezed out as much water as he could. Leaning over like this was killing his back, but it was the only way he could think of to reach all of the hair and get out the excess water. Standing back up, he grabbed a towel, and quickly dried himself off, then wrapped the towel around his waist. Getting another towel he bent over again and used it to soak as much of the remaining moisture in his hair as possible. Wrapping the used towel around his head, he carefully stood upright. Most of his hair came through the top of the towel and hung down over it but it kept it up and off his now seriously aching back. Since there was no way he could bear to rub a towel across the still healing whip marks, it would have to air dry.
He had kept the bathroom door partially open and was now pleased to see that the mirror over the sink hadn't totally steamed up. His whiskers weren't too bad. Mr. Shaw had made him shave every few days, using only cold water and a usually dull razor. And Mr. Coleman had insisted he be clean-shaven for the auction. But now, as fast as his facial hair grew, he was starting to feel scruffy again. Hoping that the steam from the hot shower had already softened his beard, he ran some more hot water in the sink and wet his face. Taking his brand new razor and shaving cream out of the bag of toiletries, Blair stared at them for a moment. In the year he had lived at Master Decker's, he had never had anything new, something that was just for him. In the very short time he'd been with Master Ellison, no, 'Sir,' better get used to that, he was given more new things than he'd ever owned before. A few shakes of his head brought him back to the task at hand. He quickly finished shaving. Opening the new toothbrush and toothpaste, he gave his teeth the longest brushing they'd ever had.
As he stepped back from the mirror, Blair breathed out a sigh of relief. He hadn't felt this totally clean in ages. Returning to his room, he kept out the same jeans he had worn the day before but picked different shirts, socks and boxers and quickly got dressed. He still couldn't get over the fact that he was wearing free citizens' clothes. Back in the bathroom again, he hung up his used towels and frowned. They didn't look nearly as good as they had before he started but he didn't know what else to do with them. Glancing into the tub, he was horrified at the amount of hair he saw there. Mounds of long, dark, curly hairs were clogging the drain. For a moment he panicked, not sure what to do. Then, grimacing the whole time, he reached in and started pulling out the clog. Well, at least it's clean hair. Except now he was standing here with a large, dripping mass of wet hair. There was too much for the small, bathroom-sized wastebasket. With a sigh, he quickly carried the mess down the hall and threw it into the kitchen trashcan.
That problem taken care of, Blair returned to the bathroom and looked at all the stuff scattered around the sink and in the shower. His shampoo, conditioner, razor, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste were taking up a lot of room. Should he take it all back to his room or leave it there? Owners and slaves usually didn't use the same bathroom. He and his mother shared the one separating their bedrooms in Master Eli's house. He gathered up and carried everything back to his room using the same bag he'd brought them in with. Better to be safe than sorry.
Once everything was put away, he grabbed his new wide-tooth comb and headed back into the living room. Settling himself on the couch he turned on the TV and starting flipping through the channels, hoping to find something to watch while he spent the next hour or so detangling and combing out his hair. Daytime talk shows were usually good for a bit of entertaining people-watching. Finding one that looked promising, he put down the remote and got to work on his hair.
It took one whole talk show and most of a home improvement show before Blair's hair was finally finished. The upside was that now, thanks to the home improvement show, he had a few ideas he could try out in his room. Unfortunately, with all that constant hand and arm movement working out all those tangles, his wrists and back were really killing him. Worst of all, watching all those food commercials kept reminding him how hungry he was. Although, as queasy as his stomach had started feeling back in the bathroom right after his shower, eating probably wouldn't be such a good idea right now anyway.
A quick glance outside told him it was now late afternoon. Master wouldn't be back for at least a few more hours. Blair swapped out his comb for the TV remote and again tried to find something interesting to watch. Although he had watched some TV with Master Eli, it was usually something educational on The Discovery or History channels. He stared in amazement as two participants on yet another talk show started physically attacking each other until a large baldheaded man dressed in black separated them. And the audience seemed to be cheering them on. Fascinated, he sat back and watched.
Unfortunately, as distracting as the television shows were, they weren't enough to stop him from feeling his badly aching body. He hurt all over. Finally, unable to even sit comfortably any longer, Blair went back into the kitchen and picked up the two medicine bottles again. Holding one in each hand, he took turns squinting at each vial as he moved them around trying to once again read the tiny print. It was still useless. No matter how he held them, the letters just remained nothing but blurry squiggles. He really needed two pain pills. Sighing, he opened both of them and shook out two pills from each one. It was the only way to be sure.
It didn't take long before the first wave of nausea sent him running into the bathroom.
Jim blew out a breath of relief as the building's on-again/off-again elevator started to rise. Walking up two flights of stairs loaded down with several heavy bags of groceries would not have been fun. At least this way, though, he only had to make one trip from the truck to the loft. Thank God for plastic grocery bags with handles.
Arriving at the door, he realized that the only way to open it would entail putting down at least one handful of bags. So he did the next best thing. He kicked the bottom of the door a few times to get Blair's attention so he could open it for him. Then he kicked it again. Listening closely, he found Blair's heartbeat at the back of the loft, in the bathroom. Great. Grumbling to himself about the kid's timing, he reluctantly let go of the bags in his right hand and dug out his keys. Getting the door unlocked, he held it open with one shoulder while he tossed the keys into the basket on the small table by the door and managed to pick up all the bags he had put down. Finally wrangling all the bags onto a counter in the kitchen, he stopped for a few seconds to catch his breath then called out to Blair.
"Hey, Blair! I'm home. Come on out and see what I got."
As he started to unload of the first grocery bag, Jim noticed that the note and prescription vials had been moved. Good. That meant Blair had read it and took his medicine. So where was he? Just as he was about to call out again, the unmistakable smell of vomit assaulted his nose. What the? Dropping a loaf of bread, he hurried back to the bathroom.
The sight that greeted Jim left him motionless for a moment. Blair, fully dressed except for shoes, was sitting on the floor, sprawled against the front of the bathtub. One arm was stretched across the edge of the tub with Blair's head resting on it, his long hair falling across his face, covering it. His other arm was wrapped around his stomach. The smell coming from the toilet almost made Jim gag. As he stood there, a low moan came from beneath the now clean and shiny strands of hair. That sound spurred Jim into action.
The first thing he did was to flush the toilet. Then he knelt down and carefully moved the hair away from Blair's face and put one hand across his forehead. The young slave's skin was a pasty white and felt cold and clammy.
"Hey, Chief. What's going on?"
Blair startled at the sound. His eyes flew open to reveal dull, pained filled blue orbs. "Master? You're home?" He tried to sit up straighter. "I'm sorry. I-I"
Jim held him down with one hand firmly holding onto a thin shoulder. "Hey. Hey. It's all right. Slow down. Take it easy. Just tell me what happened. Are you all right?"
Blair's eyes widened as he tightened his arm around his stomach as the nausea stated rolling upwards again. "I'm gonnaI'm gonna"
"It's all right." Jim helped Blair once again lean over the toilet and knelt behind him, holding his hair back, even though all the slave managed was barely more than several rounds of dry heaves. Exhausted, Blair fell back with another small moan, not seeming to notice that he was leaning against his master, practically sitting in his lap. He was barely aware of the arm that came across his chest, holding him in place or the hand that gently pressed against his forehead until his head was resting on a strong shoulder. He just knew that, at least for the moment, he felt marginally human again. A small sigh escaped.
"You feeling any better now?"
Blair nodded. "Little. Stomach hurts and my throat's sore."
They sat on the floor like that for a few more minutes, until Jim was reasonably sure that Blair wasn't going to get nauseous again.
"Think you can sit up by yourself for a minute?"
Jim eased himself from behind Blair and leaned him back against the tub. He returned a few seconds later with a glass of water and a wet washcloth. He had Blair rinse out his mouth a few times, spitting the water into the toilet, then sip the rest of the water. After flushing the mess away, he wiped the still pale and sweaty face, noting how Blair closed his eyes and relaxed under his ministrations. After putting the glass and cloth on the sink, he knelt down beside Blair again.
"Okay, Chief. You ready to get out of here?"
At Blair's nod, he helped the smaller man up and held him until he was steady. Keeping one arm around the slim shoulders, he guided him down the hallway.
"Let's go into the living room. That way I can keep an eye on you while I finish putting the groceries away."
Blair was situated much as he had been on his first night, stretched out on the couch with pillows behind his back and the afghan covering him, but this time with a bottle of water to help ease the pain of his raw throat. Once he was sure Blair was comfortable, Jim returned to the kitchen and resumed emptying the grocery bags. "After I get these put away, I'll fix you something light to eat. It'll help settle your stomach. How does some soup and crackers sound?"
Blair kept his head down. "Whatever you say, Master."
Even though Blair was obviously embarrassed at having been found in the bathroom, throwing up, Jim was determined to find out the reason why. He figured that a little distance would make things easier so he continued working in the kitchen while he talked.
"So, what happened? When did you start getting sick?"
Blair swallowed another sip of water. It really did make his throat feel better. "Earlier this afternoon. I was watching T.V. when it just hit me." He looked up with a fearful, guilty look on his face.
"Blair, it's okay for you to watch T.V. while you're here alone. Now, what else did you do today?"
Relieved that he wasn't in trouble, Blair relaxed a bit as he answered. "Um. After I got up this morning, I went into the kitchen and saw your note. I tried to read the pill bottles but I couldn't, so I took one of each pill. Then I looked all around in here to see if I could figure out what I'm supposed to do. Everything's so neat; I couldn't find anything that needed cleaning. After that I decided I really needed a shower. It ended up being a lot harder than I'd figured to wash my hair. After I cleaned up the bathroom, I came out here to comb out my hair. That took a long time, too. By the time I finished, my arms and wrists and back were really hurting. I tried to read the medicine bottles again so I could figure out which were the pain pills, but I still couldn't, so I took two of each to make sure I took enough. I was watching T.V. again when suddenly I started feeling really nauseous; I just made it into the bathroom. It seemed like every time I tried to get up, I got sick again."
By that time Jim had gotten the groceries put away and was starting on the soup. "Okay. First off, your main job right now is to heal up. Don't worry about what else you're supposed to be doing. We'll deal with that later, when you're better. Second, what did you mean by you couldn't read the medicine bottles? I know you can read. You even said you read my note. And if you couldn't read them, how did you know how far apart to take the pills?"
"I can read. But when I tried to read the bottles, the words were all blurry. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make them out. The first time I just took one of each. The second time I knew I needed two of the pain pills so I took two of each."
Jim shook his head, amazed at Blair's ignorance about taking medication. "How much did you eat today?" Each bottle had a little yellow label warning that the contents had to be taken with food.
Startled by the seemingly unrelated question, Blair's eyes widened again. "Nothing, Master. I swear. You didn't give me permission to touch any of your food, so I didn't. You can check and see, everything you left is still there." Memories of the beating Mr. Shaw gave him the one time he ate a candy bar someone had left in the barn were still strong. After that incident, he wasn't even allowed to touch the food brought to him until Mr. Shaw gave him permission. Which usually only came after the food had grown cold and unappetizing.
Startled by Blair's reaction to his question, Jim looked closely at his newly acquired slave. Blair was still too pale, although the color was slowly returning to his face. His voice was also bit hoarse from the raw throat. No doubt his stomach muscles hurt, too. But what really bothered Jim was that not only had Blair not eaten anything all day, but that he was terrified that Jim would think that he had.
Leaving the soup on low to simmer, Jim picked up the newspaper he had bought with the groceries and walked over to Blair. He sat on the coffee table next to the younger man. "The soup'll be ready in a few minutes." He made sure he had Blair's attention. "But for right now, let's get something perfectly clear. You can eat anything you want whenever you want." When Blair just continued to stare at him, Jim rephrased his statement. "All right, let me put it this way. You have my permission to eat or drink anything you want, anytime you want, whether I'm around or not. You don't even have to ask. You are not to go a whole day without eating again. Especially when you're taking any kind of medication. That's why you got sick. Taking a double dose of the antibiotic, plus the pain pills, on an empty stomach is definitely not the way to go. So, do we understand each other about this eating thing?"
At Blair's small nod, Jim relaxed and gentled his voice to address the other problem. "Good. Glad we got that settled. Now, about you not being able to read the medicine bottles."
"I tried, Master. I really did. I just couldn't."
"I know you did, Chief." He handed Blair the newspaper. "I want you to read the main headline for me."
After looking at Jim for a few seconds, Blair dropped his eyes to the paper and read the large headline. Jim smiled and then pointed to a somewhat smaller, bold print sentence that sat above one of the news stories. "Good. Now read that one." He watched as Blair squinted his eyes slightly as he read the smaller print. "Okay. Now read the first paragraph of the story." Blair had to squint even harder and move the paper forwards and backwards to be able to read the smaller type. When he finished, Jim pointed to the caption under one of the pictures on the page. "Read this." No matter how much Blair squinted and moved the paper, the words wouldn't come into focus. He finally looked up in defeat. "I can't. I can't make out the words." Jim gently took the paper out of Blair's hands and sat back.
"Is that what the writing on the medicine bottles looked like?"
"Well, I'd say you need glasses, Chief. I don't know if you'll need them all the time but definitely for reading." He got up and headed back towards the kitchen. "I'll take some time off tomorrow. The mall has one of those 'glasses in an hour' places. We'll get you fixed right up." Jim was silently fuming. After being forced in live in a probably inadequately lit barn for almost a year, it was no wonder Blair's eyes were bad. He may have even needed glasses while living with Professor Stoddard, but it was doubtful if anyone ever bothered to check.
Blair was stunned. "You're-you're going to get me glasses?"
Jim looked up from where he was ladling the soup into two bowls, a serious expression on his face. "Yes, I am. What happened here today could have been a lot worse if it had been a different kind of medication, say for instance, a powerful muscle relaxant or something. I won't risk you getting sick or hurt because you couldn't read a label or directions on something." He relaxed his stance and his expression. "Okay, you ready for some soup now?"
Knowing the discussion was over, but warmed by the sentiment his master had just shown towards him, Blair gave the larger man a small but grateful smile. "Yes, Master. I guess I could eat."
Continue on to Part 3 of 4...
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