Published by Agent with Style. Apparently that 'Mirror Image' episode and watching too much HGTV just wouldn't let me forget that Jim needed to redo the loft.
Signal to Noise
Jim Ellison decided he must have been insane. Maybe it was a Sentinel thing. Truth be told, he had only been kidding when he'd made the crack about Blair and Cassie re-doing the loft after Warren Chapel had trashed it (with some help from himself as it turned out).
It had been an attempt to lighten the mood, to take everyone's mind off the evening - he hadn't considered that they might take him seriously. Sandburg he hadn't had to worry about. He could be counted on to disregard half the stuff Jim said in his dry, understated, signature joking manner. Where sometimes other people tended to wonder if Jim were actually making a joke, Sandburg always seemed to get it, and could make a suitable come-back, or be counted on to laugh appropriately. Cassie was another matter entirely.
Apparently the idea of re-decorating Jim's loft had struck a chord in her, and she took it on with the fervor of a missionary going into the wilderness for the first time.
The first sign of trouble was when she showed up with paint chips, and a plan to go to Home Depot. Jim who had spent the weekend righting the furniture, tossing what was broken, and making a list of what he wanted to replace, considered the job mostly done already. He had never been one to worry about decorating per se – he had always purchased things that were comfortable and pleasing to his own sensibilities. His friends enjoyed it, and Sandburg never seemed to particularly care what the loft looked like. What else mattered?
Cassie had an answer for that. Or rather, multiple answers. Style. Personality. Individuality. She made such a persuasive argument that Jim felt it would be almost irresponsible to refuse. Suddenly, having one’s home decorated properly ranked right up there with motherhood and apple pie. And of course when she had showed up Sandburg had been nowhere around. Cassie was like Sandburg in that she was a talker, dancing around from point to point like a boxer on steroids. Jim was no slouch when it came to having discussions, but he didn’t enjoy arguing, and was used to getting his way by saying no until it took. Blair could have probably easily deflected Cassie from the subject at hand and gotten her distracted enough to let the matter go. But Blair not being there meant that he and Cassie ended up making the trip to Home Depot.
They took Jim’s old truck, because it was useful for hauling things, and Cassie’s fussy little red sports car was not. Not that there would be that much to haul – after all, it was only going to be a couple of paint cans, right?
“Right?” he asked Cassie for the umpteenth time.
“Yes, Jim. Don’t be so paranoid.” Jim knew this meant she was thinking she could get away with something later, but he was onto that little game. Blair had tried it too often.
Strangely enough, it was Jim who fell off the wagon. He stopped so abruptly in the doorway of the store that Cassie thought he’d changed his mind. She nudged him gently with her elbow. “Come on, nothing to be afraid of in here.”
Jim wasn’t afraid. Jim was intoxicated. The smell of sawdust, oil, new plastic, and various chemicals was like a macho aphrodisiac. It triggered a build gene that called up visions of sturdy, functional furniture created by hand. And a significant number of power tools. “Maybe we should look around a bit,” he suggested innocently.
Cassie was thrilled. It was the first sign of interest Jim had shown in the project, and of course, there was the added advantage of just being there with him, sharing something, and maybe getting to know him a bit better. Yes, she considered Ellison a co-worker and friend, but if the opportunity presented itself she would certainly be open to something more. After all, she was a female, and Jim was – well, Jim was definitely a male. Lean, muscular, square-jawed, and available.
And heading in the wrong direction. “No,” she said, running to catch up. “The paint is over here.”
Jim turned in mid-stride, smiling at her disarmingly. “But the lumber is over here.”
“Lumber, what do we want with lumber?” Cassie was feeling her control over the situation slipping.
“Who knows – let’s just check it out.” Jim was already almost half an aisle ahead. By the time Cassie caught up, she was feeling a tad breathless, and inhaling sawdust was not helping. She so did not want to bring out her inhaler in front of Ellison. “What about the paint – and some spackle, we need spackle.”
“Relax Cassie, it’s not a painting emergency.”
“Not if you don’t mind your house being shot full of holes.”
“They’re not big.” Jim said absently. “You know, I could use some new shelves.”
“You can buy shelves. In fact, we were going to the furniture store after…” her voice trailed off.
“After we bought paint? Thought that’s all we were buying Cassie.” Jim could barely suppress a grin. She and Sandburg thought they were so smart, and they certainly could talk faster, but he could still occasionally get the better of them. In fact their gift of gab was what often tripped them up.
“This was your idea Jim.” Cassie said in her best lecture voice.
“It was a joke.”
“But this will work. Besides your place was – “
“Oh, well, I guess we’re lucky it got trashed then.”
Cassie sighed elaborately. “You know what I mean. Hang on, I need to make a call.” She walked away, separating herself from the smell of sawdust and a certain aggravating cop, who only ten minutes before had seemed like a good catch.
Taking out her mobile phone, she made a call to the next most available male.
“Thank goodness you’re there. Jim is out of control.”
“What? What do you mean?” Sandburg sounded distressed. Cassie guessed she had overstated things a bit.
“We’re at the Home Depot to buy paint, and now he wants to build shelves.”
There was a brief pause, and then some laughter. “Well, I’m glad you called me and not the cops. Although I am kind of busy. ”
“You’re supposed to be helping me with this.”
“I’ve got too big a workload now Cassie, and frankly I could care less. And if you think Jim’s being difficult now, just wait.”
“Couldn’t you just talk to him?”
“Trust me, it wouldn’t…” Blair’s voice disappeared as she ran to Jim with the phone in her hand.
“Here, talk to Blair.”
Jim raised an eyebrow but took the phone. “Hey, Chief.”
“Oh, hey. I told her I’m not involved in any of this – and what are you up to anyway? Trying to drive her nuts?”
“Doin’ the best I can.”
“Yeah well, I know it’s hard not to indulge yourself, but think about this for a minute. Cassie has been through a lot, and this might help her get her mind off of it. Let her have her way, and she’ll be gone in no time.”
Jim hadn’t thought of that. Trust Blair to actually consider Cassie’s feelings, while he had just been making a joke of the whole thing. Darn – looked like playtime was over. “Got ya, Chief. Thanks for the perspective.” He clicked the phone off and handed it back to Cassie. “Let’s go look at paint.”
Cassie had won the battle, but she wasn’t winning the war. She had gotten Jim to agree on a muted yellow color for the walls, but they had come home with a truckload of lumber as well. By the time Blair got home, Cassie had half-way finished painting the walls, the furniture was covered in plastic, and Jim was using the middle of the floor as a workshop.
“Wow.” Blair, who had been looking forward to relaxing a bit, was trying to think of a gracious way to just go back out the door again.
Cassie grinned at him. “You’re just in time. Grab a brush, Sandburg.”
“I thought it was home improvement.”
“It’ll look great, you’ll see.”
Blair glanced at Jim, who was dressed in ratty jeans, a tank top, and was covered with sweat and sawdust. He decided to make an attempt, probably futile, to extract himself gracefully. “I might have some things to do – “
Jim was shaking his head. “No, no. It’s a team project – get to work.”
Blair scowled. He really didn’t feel like doing any of this, even though he realized he had only brought this on himself by joking about it with Cassie, who had obviously been deadly serious. And Jim – well, who knew what Jim was thinking. It was hard to get him to do anything he was opposed to so maybe he actually wanted to do the place over. Or maybe he just wanted to irritate his roommate.
He finally took a good look around, trying to stall while he thought of a way to extract himself from all this insanity, and realized the wall color didn’t seem quite – well, Jim like. It wasn’t that it was bad, it was just – a little lively. “I didn’t know you liked yellow.”
Jim glanced at the walls, apparently having been too immersed in his own project to pay much attention before. “Hmmm,” he said thoughtfully.
“Oh, it will be a different color when it dries.” Cassie said quickly.
“You mean it won’t be yellow?” Sandburg asked hopefully.
“Well, it won’t be this yellow. But you knew that – men are so funny.” Cassie said this as if they weren’t funny at all, not really.
“Stop stalling, Sandburg, and help.” Jim reminded him again, only this time his enthusiasm seemed to be waning a bit.
“Crap. All right – let me get my old clothes on.” Noticing Jim’s raised eyebrow, Blair pointed at him. “Not a word – not one word.”
Even so, he heard Jim mutter behind him. “Only an anthropologist could find a t-shirt older than that.”
The paint color did change when it finally dried, but it was still yellow, and just as Sandburg thought, not a Jim color at all. He wondered in a detached sort of scientific way if the smell of sawdust had impaired the detective’s judgment.
Cassie tried to stay enthused, but she could tell Ellison was less than happy with the result. Even so, Jim said he was sure he would get used to it, and behaved quite graciously overall, surprising both Blair and Cassie with his gallantry.
In the time it had taken for Sandburg and Cassie to paint, Jim had finished his shelving project, which looked quite sturdy, and no nonsense.
“This is really nice, Jim.” Cassie said, sliding her hands down the side of the shelf. If there were any doubts in Blair’s mind that Cassie just considered Jim as a ‘friend,’ it disappeared as he watched her gush over his handiwork. It was practically foreplay with furniture. “You know, with the walls this would look just beautiful in a lime green.”
Jim’s expression didn’t change, but Blair could read it nonetheless. “Umm – I’ll take it into consideration. Maybe I’ll paint it later.”
Cassie shrugged. “Oh, well. Guess I’ll go home and get cleaned up. Wanna get some pizza later?”
Since Jim seemed to be somewhat preoccupied, Blair answered for both of them. “We’d love to Cassie – meet you at Gino’s around eight?”
“That would be great!” From her expression, Blair could tell she would have preferred that answer to come from Jim. Sandburg grudgingly admitted to himself that perhaps he was the ‘friend.’ Oh well, couldn’t win them all.
“See you guys later.” Cassie waved airily as she walked out the door.
For a few minutes, silence reigned.
“Sandburg,” Jim sighed.
“Ellison.” They spoke almost exactly at the same time.
“What a mess – “
“Jim, it looks fine.”
“-I liked it better when it was shot to hell.”
“But, hey – you know, you got this great shelf, and you seemed to have a blast doing it.”
Ellison nodded. “Yeah. I’m pretty pleased with that. Want one?”
“If you get time. Think I’ll paint it lime green.”
“Try it, and I’ll turn it into scrap myself.”
Blair grinned, and then realized there was total silence while Jim watched him expectantly. Sandburg glanced down at himself, wondering if he had paint slathered across his front or something, then looked back up at Jim. “What?”
“We only have a couple hours, and we’ve got a lot to do.”
“Like what?” Blair asked, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.
“Get cleaned up, and run by Home Depot. We need to pick out some paint.”
“For your shelf?”
“For the walls.”
“You have to be kidding me. You let us stand there and paint all afternoon, and now you decide to change the color?”
“Well, I didn’t want to hurt Cassie’s feelings – she’s been through so much, right Chief?”
Sandburg was shaking his head. “Come on, you can’t play that game with me. I had nothing do with this. Nothing.”
“I hear you, Sergeant Schultz, but if I remember correctly, it was you who encouraged Cassie to decorate, then guilted me into allowing her free reign – “
“Guilted is not a word.”
“- therefore, you get to help me paint.”
“But – “ Blair sputtered.
Jim walked away, reflecting on how good it felt to trump Blair at fast talk. After several years of living with it, he was getting better and better at deflecting it– all it took was saying what needed to be said and ignoring the other party. And then keep repeating the litany until they got tired of hearing it. It was good to get the practice in – after all, he would be having dinner with both Cassie and Blair. Not a total loss – at least there would be pizza.