Once again, he questioned the wisdom of his impulsive decision to go to Cascade for the holiday. After all, he hadn't seen or spoken to either his father or younger brother since walking out of his father's house the day after he turned eighteen.
His father had been vehemently against his son accepting a partial ROTC scholarship to the University of Washington, deciding he would pay for his son's education as a Business Major. Instead, Jim had worked construction jobs during the summer and part-time jobs during the rest of the year to enable him to fund the rest of his education.
But each of the last three missions his Ranger team had successfully concluded had been worse than the last. And Jim wasn't the only one who had felt the ghostly chilly hand of the Grim Reaper on his shoulder during their last mission. Every member of his team had headed towards their respective homes before their next posting to Central America…except Jim who had hitched a ride on a military plane headed to Hawaii. A week of surfing and relaxing on the beach had calmed his body but not his mind.
The only person in Cascade that he maintained contact with was Sally Choi, the housekeeper who had practically raised him and his younger brother when their mother had walked out early in their lives. Because he didn't want to put Sally in the middle of a conflict with his father, Jim kept contact with Sally to a minimum.
So, on impulse, Jim had tried to get to Cascade to surprise. He'd caught a ride on a military transport to San Diego, intending to use the same method of transportation to get to Cascade. However, a lot of military personnel had the same idea. Jim could have used his rank to bump someone, but couldn't rationalize keeping a soldier from returning home to his family. So, he'd booked a flight on a commercial flight through Denver only to run into delays caused by Mother Nature. The airline had promised to honor all tickets, but had warned ticket holders they might have to be rerouted and delays were inevitable.
In other words, passengers would get to their destination...just not on time.
Jim wearily listened to the man in front of him complain to the reservations clerk about just such a delay. He rolled his eyes when the man repeated for the fourth time that he wasn't accepting any delays. It wasn't snowing in Denver so there was no reason for his flight to San Francisco not taking off on time. Jim then shook his head as the clerk patiently explained that while it wasn't snowing in Denver, it was snowing in San Francisco. And hard enough to close the airport. However, the airport in Oakland was doing better at keeping their runways open. Would he like to be booked on a flight to Oakland that would get him there just after midnight?
Jim sighed as the man angrily replied that he was going to San Francisco...not Oakland. He rubbed his right ear as the bedlam of noise seemed to increase in intensity.
"Please. I'll take anything that'll get me closer to Seattle. It's my mom. She was in a car wreck, and they told me that I have to get there."
Jim glanced to his right and saw a young long-haired man leaning against the reservation counter. A worn backpack hung over one shoulder.
"I'll try, Mr. Sandburg, but you're flying standby. And I have to take care of booked passengers first." The young reservation clerk's voice wavered. "I'll do what I can, but..."
"I understand. Anything, okay?" The young man stepped to one side.
The man in line ahead of Jim furiously stomped away, clutching a ticket to Oakland in his fist. The weary-eyed young woman with a nametag of Susan forced a smile to her face. "May I help you, sir?"
Jim studied the long-haired young man as he handed her his ticket. "Anything to Seattle?" he quietly asked.
Susan studied the ticket with the accompanying military designation. "You've decided not to go to Cascade, Captain Ellison?"
"A change of plans," Jim nodded.
The young woman's fingers danced across the keyboard. "I can get you on a flight to Seattle that leaves in thirty minutes."
"Hang on." Jim looked at the young man and caught his eyes. "Kid! Over here!" When the young man stepped closer, confusion in his eyes, Jim put a hand on his arm. "Change the ticket to Seattle to his name."
"Oh, man, are you serious?"
"Yeah, kid. Tell her your name. You take my ticket, and I'll take your standby."
"San...Blair Sandburg. Here's my standby ticket."
Jim heard a grumbling voice behind him and slowly turned to glare at the line behind him. He inwardly chuckled when the grumbling ceased.
Susan handed Blair a printed ticket and Jim a standby pass. "We'll do our best to get you on a flight as quickly as possible, Captain Ellison. Mr. Sandburg, your flight is at Gate 17." She impishly grinned and pointed to her left. "Fortunately, it's only 5 gates away."
"Thank you. Thank you so much."
Stepping out of line, the two men stared at each other for a few minutes.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Blair held out his hand. "Blair Sandburg. She called you Captain?"
Jim hesitated then shook the younger man's hand. "Captain James Ellison. US Army. And no, just get to your mom, kid."
"Oh, man! I gotta call and let 'em know when I'm getting there!" Panicked, he looked around.
Grinning, Jim pointed him towards a bank of phones. He followed Blair who ran towards an empty phone. He patiently waited until a phone at the opposite end of the phone bank was empty then called a number he honestly thought he'd never dial again.
Jim hesitated then cleared his throat. "Merry Christmas, Sally."
"Jimmy! Where are you? Are you ill?"
Jim chuckled. "I'm fine, Sally. I just wanted to call...and say Merry Christmas."
"Are you coming home?" Sally lowered her voice.
"No, 'fraid not."
"You will be missed. Steven will be here from college."
"Yeah, well, that should please the old man." He grimaced, hearing Sally's unhappy sigh. "I'm sorry, Sally. I didn't mean that." He twisted the phone cord. "Look, I gotta go. I just wanted..." He closed his eyes as Sally's soft voice caressed his ear.
"Be safe, Jimmy. Know that we all love you."
"Yeah...Happy Holidays, Sally." Jim quickly hung up the phone and leaned his forehead against the receiver. 'Hawaii...I'm going back there...camp on one of the beaches on the north side of the island.'
"Don't you dare say that, Shay!"
Jim turned his head, hearing Sandburg's voice through the din of seven people on the phones between them. 'How in the hell can I hear him?' He glanced upwards. 'Must be some funny acoustics in this place.'
"He gave up his seat for me! I don't care how you feel about the military! Don't you dare say anything bad against this guy! Now...how's Mom?"
Jim stepped away from the phones, keeping his eyes on the younger man.
"I'll be there, Shay. No, don't cry...I'm not mad at you...honest. You just tell her that I'm coming. Yeah, she'll know even if she is unconscious."
Slowly, Jim walked to Blair. He watched as the young man hung up the phone and wiped his eyes. "How's your mom, Chief?"
Blair spun around, wiping his eyes a second time. "Unconscious. The doctors don't know if she'll make it. She was riding in taxi that got broadsided by a car that was sliding on ice. Just a stupid accident, y'know?"
"Yeah." Jim nodded.
"What about you? Are you gonna make it home? You're on leave, right?"
Jim shrugged. "I talked with the person I was going to see. Don't worry about me, Chief. I'll make it to where I need to go." He put a hand on the younger man's arm. "C'mon, let's get you to your gate. You don't want to miss your flight."
Blair's blue eyes widened in alarm. "Oh, man...." he muttered, grabbing his backpack. "I will never forget this, Captain." He suddenly grinned. "Do you believe in karma?"
"In the military we call it 'shit happens', kid." Jim grinned.
Blair snickered. "Well, I believe in karma. I desperately needed help tonight...and you were there to provide it. Someday when you desperately need help, someone will be there for you."
"Is that a fact?" Jim's blue eyes twinkled as they reached Blair's departure gate.
Blair's expression grew serious. "Yeah, it is." He handed his ticket to the older man at the gate who carefully removed one section. "Call me when you get to Seattle. I owe you dinner at least. The number's 555-1748."
"Yeah…well, Seattle wasn't where I was going. Just a stop on the way. But I hope everything turns out okay for your mom," Jim offered. He was surprised when the younger man quickly hugged him around the waist.
"Thank you," Blair whispered. Then he quickly ran down the hallway towards his plane.
"Kid brother?" the man at the gate asked with a grin.
Jim shook his head. "Just somebody who needed a favor."
"Looked more like he considered it a miracle," the older man reached for another passenger's ticket. "But it's the season for it, huh? They say one good deed deserves another."
Jim stepped away and stood at the window, staring at the plane. He thought he caught a glimpse of Sandburg walking down the aisle of the plane, but shook his head at that impossibility. Still, for some reason, he continued to stand at the window until the plane had rolled away from the gate and started its journey to the runway.
"Good luck, kid." Jim turned away to slowly walk back towards the reservation desk. 'Wonder if that good karma Sandburg was talking about will get me a quick flight back to Hawaii?'
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