His desk in his small office at Rainier University was piled higher than he could ever recall. Stacks of blue books ominously leaned against library books, which propped up bulging file folders.
Blair glanced at his phone with the blinking light indicating several voice mail messages and actually whimpered. His hand trembling, he lifted the receiver and punched in his code to retrieve messages.
"Blair, this is Connie, Dr. Rathman's secretary. He would like to you to take over his 7pm Monday class for the next month. He would consider it a personal favor. Please call me back at extension 7103."
"Blair, this is Mrs. Cochrane from the University Library. You are one week overdue on several books. We don't have anyone on the waiting list for them, but you really need to bring them in so we can recheck them out to you. I hate for you to keep accruing these fines. Thank you."
"Blair, this is Connie, Dr. Rathman's secretary. I still haven't heard from you about taking over the 7pm Monday classes next month. If it's more convenient for you, Dr. Rathman also needs someone to take over his 7pm Thursday night classes for the next two months. My extension is 7103."
"Blair, this is Delores from IT. I'm calling to remind you that the server will be down for upgrade and maintenance from Friday at 6pm through Monday at 8am. We've been requested by the Administration to remind everyone that grades need to be posted into the system no later than Friday at 4pm or you'll need to wait until Monday morning to post them. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call me at extension 5344. Have a nice day."
"Blair, this is Connie…"
"ARGHHH!!!!" Blair slammed the phone receiver into its cradle then picked it up and slammed it down again for good measure. He frantically pulled open the middle left-hand drawer of his desk and pawed through the items he saw. "I can't take any more of this…I really can't…."
"Detective Ellison? Jim Ellison?"
"Yes. Who's this?" Jim frowned as he reached for a sharpened pencil.
"My name is Lisa Wynne. I'm calling from Rainier University. I'm the departmental secretary for the TA's. I'm calling about Blair."
"What about Blair?" Jim demanded, not noticing the concerned looks from his co-workers.
"Well, it's probably nothing…no, it is something." Lisa took a deep breath. "I'm sure Blair wouldn’t want me call, and he's going to be absolutely furious with me. But I think you need to come down here. He's not acting like himself."
"How do you mean?" Jim stood and reached for his jacket.
"He's locked himself in his office. We can hear him walking around and talking to himself. But he keeps saying he can't do this anymore and that he's sorry he ever started but he can't stop and he's so ashamed." Lisa took another deep breath. "And he hasn't been returning phone calls."
"Okay, look, keep an eye on him…or an ear. I'm on my way." Jim hung up the phone and saw his co-workers standing around his desk. "I haven't a clue. I'll call you."
"Blair, honey, please open the door. You're scaring me." Lisa lightly tapped on the door.
"Will you tell me what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong! Nothing! Why would you think something's wrong?"
Lisa grimaced as she heard Blair begin to pace again. "Oh, I'm just an old worrywart, Blair. You know that."
"Lisa, you're not old."
"But I do worry."
"You don't need to. Nobody needs to."
"Let me try."
Lisa looked up to see the man she knew as Blair's friend, Jim. "Oh, thank God. He's really starting to scare me."
Jim knocked on the door. "Sandburg? You in there?"
"Jim? What are you doing here?"
Jim winked at Lisa. "You left without eating breakfast, and I'm willing to bet that you didn't eat lunch. So I figured we'd grab an early dinner. How does Italian sound?"
"I'm kinda busy."
Jim's head tilted to the left. "You okay in there?"
"Umm…yeah. So…how's your day been?"
Jim crossed his arms across his chest. "Pretty so-so. Stuck doing paperwork. You know I'm really good at detecting things, partner. So why don't you just open the door?"
Jim and Lisa looked at each other, recognizing the misery in Blair's voice.
"Is the lock stuck or something?" Jim asked.
"No. But if I open the door then everybody will come in and everybody will know and I don't want that and I can't have that so you see it's best if everybody just goes away and I'll be okay and I'll be home later. Okay, Jim?"
"No, it's not okay," Jim firmly replied. "And you know better than that, Chief."
"Blair, honey, there's nobody here but me and your friend. And I'm going back to my desk now. I can see everything's going to be okay." Lisa leaned closer to Jim and whispered. "I'll call you later."
"Lisa? You really aren't old."
"I know, honey," Lisa smiled. "I'll see you next week."
"Okay, Darwin. It's just you and me here. So unlock the door," Jim ordered. After a few seconds, he heard the door being unlocked. He cautiously opened the door and stepped inside. Closing the door behind him, he saw Blair standing next to his desk, staring down at the floor. "Okay, first things first. Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
Jim sighed. "This isn't an interrogation, Blair. I just want to help."
Blair raised his head and then began pacing. "You can't help, Jim. Nobody can. It just has to run its course."
"What has to run its course?" When Blair didn't answer, Jim glanced at the desk. "Can I help with any of that?"
"I thought I could get it done before the servers shut down this weekend," Blair muttered, running hands through his hair. "But I can't…the grading I mean."
"When are the grades actually due?" Jim asked.
"Then you've got time." Jim raised his hands to forestall Blair's arguments. "I know you want to get it done before the weekend so your students have them as quickly as possible. But it's just not gonna happen this time. So we'll pack them and take them home for the weekend. I can mark the true/fall and multiple choice ones, but you're stuck with the essay questions, buddy."
"But this is the first weekend you've had off in a long time," Blair protested.
"Last time I checked, I'm old enough to decide how I want to spend my free time," Jim grinned. "Okay, what else is going on?"
"Dr. Rathman wants me to take his Monday night class for the next month, but it'll probably turn out to be for the rest of the semester," Blair muttered. "He's got his secretary calling me just about every hour about it."
"Can you take it on and still provide your students with the level of instruction you feel they deserve?" Jim briskly asked. "And before you answer that, take another look at these tests still to be graded."
Blair sighed. "It's hard to say no to the guy who's probably going to be the next department chair."
"Who's more important? Him or your students?" When Blair's shoulders slumped, he stepped forward. "C'mon. Call this secretary back and give her a couple of recommendations for TAs who can use the extra work." He grinned. "Better yet. We'll get Lisa to call. It'll make her feel better."
"Tell her that Abby, Jamal, and Kendra are all qualified," Blair muttered.
"Okay, you sit down and start packing those blue books," Jim suggested. "I'll be right back."
Jim found Lisa's office at the other end of the hallway. "Can you call Dr. Rathman's office and let his secretary know that Blair isn't able to take that Monday night class. Blair suggests either Abby, Jamal, or Kendra."
"I'll take care of it," Lisa promised. "I can't understand how that man has kept his position with as few classes as he teaches. He palms them off on people every semester." He frowned. "Blair's going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I think he just had a little meltdown," Jim confided.
"I haven't seen him like that for years," Lisa admitted. "And it was nowhere this bad."
"Well, everybody reaches a breaking point," Jim pointed out. "I'm gonna take him home so he can get some rest." He suddenly frowned. "We're roommates, you know. And it suddenly hit me that I can't remember the last time he had more than a couple of hours' sleep." He forced a smile. "Thanks for calling me."
"My pleasure," Lisa assured him.
The frown was back on Jim's face as he walked back to Blair's office. He made a mental note to call Simon on the way back to the loft if Blair drove. If not, he would call once they got home. He had the feeling that Blair wouldn't want the bullpen to know about his meltdown.
Jim stopped in the doorway and his jaw dropped. He saw Blair bent over the middle drawer of his desk, his head almost inside the drawer. "What are you doing?" he quietly asked.
Blair immediately sat up and slammed the drawer shut. "Nothing."
Jim quietly closed the door, then waited.
Blair's face crumpled. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I tried so hard. I haven't done this for years. I can control it…I really can. But I just needed a little something to help me get through all this."
Jim knew without a doubt that Blair wasn't doing drugs. He could have sensed that on his Guide a mile away. But he was puzzled as to what Blair was talking about. "You've got me now," Jim softly reminded him. "So we will get through all this. Understand me, buddy?"
Blair slowly nodded. He wiped his eyes and straightened his shoulders. "I need to go somewhere tonight, Jim. They helped me before. Would…would you go with me?"
"Sure." Jim glanced at the desk drawer. "Now. How about we empty that drawer, okay?"
"Yes…yes…you're right…it's all got to go…every bit of it." Blair pulled the desk drawer open.
Jim quickly stepped forward and reached for the trash can. His blue eyes widened when he saw the half-dozen empty Mountain Dew cans. Hiding his surprise, he turned and held out the trash can towards Blair. He watched in silence as items literally flew from the depths of the desk drawer into the trash can.
Ho-Ho's. Snickers. 3 Musketeers. Pringles. M&Ms. Little Debbie Strawberry Snack Cakes. Twinkies. Skittles. Hershey Kisses. Empty Big Mac boxes.
"Aw, Blair," Jim sorrowfully murmured. "You went to McDonald's?"
"I’m sorry," Blair half-sobbed. "But their drive-through was empty! I was in and out so fast!"
Jim sympathetically squeezed his friend's shoulder. "It's okay. C'mon, dump the rest of it."
More Snickers, Little Debbie's, Skittles, and Twinkies landed in the trash can.
"That's it. I swear."
"Okay, how about I take this to Lisa and she can decide what to do with it?" Jim suggested. "Maybe keep it as an emergency stash?" When Blair looked at him in horror, he added. "In case someone needs a quick sugar rush?"
Blair slowly nodded. "There are a couple of TAs who have problems with low sugar."
"Okay, you pack up what you need for the weekend while I take this to Lisa. Then we're outta here."
"Thanks, Jim," Blair softly spoke.
Jim squeezed Blair's shoulder again. "Anytime. You know that." He walked down the hallway to Lisa's office, mentally trying to figure out what to tell the guys in the bullpen when he called.
"I didn't know this kind of group even existed," Jim remarked as they quietly walked into the small room.
"The JFA meets every Friday night," Blair explained. "The weekend is usually when people binge the most so…"
"Blair, it's been a long time."
Blair turned to see a middle-aged man smiling at him. "Hi, Ben. I know I promised I'd never be back but…"
"Blair…we all backslide. There's no shame in it. And every reason to be proud of the fact that you're seeking help."
Blair nodded. "This is my roommate, Jim Ellison. Jim, this is Ben Jeffreys. He's the founder of the local JFA."
As he shook hands with Jim, Ben smiled. "I'm glad Blair has someone to support him through this."
"Whatever I can do," Jim promised.
"I gotta get up front," Blair muttered.
"I'll be here," Jim assured him. He waited until Blair walked way then turned to Ben. "Can I ask a couple of questions?"
"Sure. I can't promise to answer them, though," Ben cautioned.
"Blair's been here before? Someone at the University said he'd acted like this years ago."
Ben hesitated then nodded. "I think a lot of his problem was that he felt the pressure of being at Rainier so young. The administration put him on display, if you get my drift." He grimaced. "Don't get me wrong. Blair is one of those people who thrive on pressure. If it doesn't find him, then he'll find it. But everybody has a limit. When Blair reaches it, he's usually able to either meditate or exercise." He shrugged. "But sometimes…"
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "Look, I'm a cop and you know us and donuts." When Ben chuckled, he grinned. "I also think Wonderburger is a great place to eat. Now I'm worried that I've put a lot of temptation in Blair's path."
Ben shook his head. "With some people, yes. With Blair, no. When he backslides, it's because he uses junk food as a quick fix with the intention of correcting whatever problems have created the pressure he's under. Blair can turn down junk food or be around people who are eating it." He grinned. "He may lecture you about what you're eating, but he's not tempted." He started towards the front of the room, then looked over his shoulder. "Of course, it's probably in your best interest to avoid Wonderburger and donuts, you know."
Jim managed to keep from rolling his eyes and politely nodded. He found a chair in the back of the room and settled in as Ben opened the meeting. He smiled in silent encouragement when a young man with curly hair nervously stood and faced the crowd.
"Hi. My name is Blair Sandburg. And I'm a junk food junkie."
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