To Give and Receive
by the lurker
The light from the solitary corner window of the old stone building caught her eye. She looked at her watch and wondered why he was still there. She shook her head, tugged at the tote bag on her shoulder, and headed toward the entrance.
The guard at the north door smiled at her, I thought you had a plane to catch, Miss Sommers....
I do, Harry - Is Mr. Goldman still up there?
I believe so, yes.
Then I'm going up, Harry.
The guard followed Jamie to the elevator banks and pressed the button for her. A moment later, the door opened and Jamie stepped inside the car.
Thanks, Harry, I won't be long.
Take your time, Miss Sommers, I'm not going anywhere until 6am tomorrow morning.
The smiling face of the guard was quickly replaced by the steel grey of the doors closing. Jamie could hear the clicking of the hydraulic gears as they whirred, pulling her to the top floor. The car stopped and the doors opened into a dark stillness that was eerie. Jamie suppressed an involuntary shiver.
It was long after regular business hours, and the hallway was dimly lit; this was the governmental version of energy conservation. Her heels clicked against the shiny linoleum floor, echoing down the corridor as she made her way toward his office. She gently pushed open the glass doors of the outer office, and then knocked on the tall wooden one inside.
The gentle sound caused him to look up from his papers; he thought everyone had cleared out of the building several hours before.
Jamie stuck her head around the door and looked at him, What are you still doing here? I thought you were going to your cousin's house for the weekend?
He glanced up at her and pulled off his glasses, I lost track of the time. I'll go tomorrow......weren't you catching a plane?
Jamie walked in, set her tote on the floor and made her way to his desk, Flight doesn't take off until ten. What are you working on that is so important it can't wait?
He rubbed his hands over his face, I'm preparing a briefing for the Secretary.
Jamie leaned against the edge of his desk, Come on, Oscar, it's Thanksgiving eve, you're the only one left in the building aside from the security guards. It's not like the Secretary is going to read the thing tomorrow, I'm sure it can wait until Monday.
He smiled at her, Monday? Friday, maybe.
Okay, Friday, then. There was an uncomfortable silence, then Jamie asked, Rudy gone already?
Oscar leaned his head back against his chair, Yeah. He's on his way to--
--the biggest fish in Montana.
They couldn't help but laugh at that, despite the awkward air in the room.
Oscar looked at his watch, Hey babe, you'd better get going, or you'll miss your plane.
She looked into his eyes and in that moment knew the truth, You're not going to your cousin's house, are you? He looked down and away, and Jamie touched his knee, You just told me that so I wouldn't worry about leaving you here.
He patted the hand resting on his knee, Jamie, it's Thanksgiving, you should be with your family.
Hey...you're family too, you know.
The corners of his mouth curved up slightly into a smile, I'll be fine, babe. I don't really like holidays anyway.
His eyes misted over for a moment, far away from the here and now. A cloud of vulnerability drifted into them, leaving Jamie with an unsettled feeling of concern in her gut.
She gently fingered the lapel of his jacket, Why don't you come with me?
Yes, to Ojai...
You're sweet, babe, but no.
She grabbed his hand and started to pull, Come on, I'm not leaving you here.
I'm sure that Helen and Jim already have everything planned, they don't need someone barging in at the last minute.
She pulled him up, Helen and Jim will love it. Steve will be there too - we'll have a great time.
He shook his head and looked into her eyes,
Why not, Oscar? Why stay here alone?
He moved away from her, toward the bar, I have a lot of work to do, Jamie. I can't just leave.
She followed him across the room,
He turned to her and put his hands on her shoulders, I appreciate your concern, really I do, but I'm fine.
She watched him pour himself a scotch and gently swirl it in the glass. There was something more. She could feel it.
Please come with me.
He kissed her head and walked back to his desk, He looked at his watch, and reached for the phone, I'll get you a car, you'll never make your flight otherwise.
Oscar began to dial a number, but Jamie pushed her finger down on the disconnect, gently took the phone from him, and returned it to its cradle. He sighed and sat down in his chair, Jamie settling once more on the edge of the desk in front of him. She rubbed her hand on the back of his head for a moment, worry filling her voice.
What's bothering you, Oscar?
He took a sip of his drink,
The large hazel eyes bore into him. He looked away. After a minute of uneasy silence, he stared into his glass and spoke softly.
I told you, I don't like holidays.
I've known you for a long time, and I've never known you to be melancholy.
You've never been around at this time of year.
The nickel dropped and Jamie shook her head, All these years, you always said you were going to your cousin's house, but that was just so none of us would worry about you, wasn't it?
Oscar didn't answer her, instead, he took another sip of his scotch. She shook her head. No matter how long she knew him, there were still multiple layers to uncover. But then, Oscar rarely ever talked about himself. He always concentrated on everyone around him; inquiring about their lives, lending a word of support, or a sympathetic shoulder. In all the time she had known him, and the countless times she had leaned upon him, he had only asked one personal favor of her; and that had involved an intensely deep wound.
Jamie folded her arms across her chest, You might as well talk to me, Oscar, because I'm not leaving until you do.
He set his drink down, and looked into her eyes, Jamie you know how I feel about you.... I'm asking you to leave this one alone.
Her brow creased in frustration, It hurts to see you like this.
He stood up abruptly and walked away from the desk, Then go.
His back to her, he didn't see the pain the comment inflicted upon her, rising in her eyes. He began pacing in front of the window. After a few moments, he came to a stop, his back still to her, staring out the window. Silently, Jamie stood and walked toward the door, leaning over to pick up her tote.
Happy Thanksgiving, Oscar.
She turned and was almost out the door when his voice stopped her.
Jamie.....I'm sorry. I didn't mean it.
Jamie looked at him, and his soft brown eyes were tinged with sadness. She took a tentative step toward him.
I know you didn't mean it, but it hurt; and it isn't like you.
She watched quietly, as his discomfort grew. He dug his hands deeply into his pockets, and once again began his pacing in front of the window. Oscar could be so loving to those he cared about, but he couldn't bear to be on the receiving end of solace. Jamie waited, understanding that he needed the time to collect himself.
He finally stopped pacing and turned to look at her, Thanksgiving, 1941. That was last time I celebrated the holiday.
Jamie looked down and let out a breath of air,
It was the last time I ever saw him. He had come home on a furlough. It was right before he shipped out for Pearl.
That was another lifetime ago, Oscar. You've cleared his name, and laid him to rest. There's nothing more you can do for him. It's time to let him go, and live your life.
We never celebrated another holiday after that Thanksgiving. My mother couldn't stand the fact that her eldest son was gone, and my father....well, he retreated into his work. His voice grew soft, the pain evident, It was like I had never existed. There was only my brother.
Her heart shuddered in empathy. She remembered the feeling of having family ripped away suddenly, and wondering what she had done to cause it; but Helen and Jim had stepped in to make sure Jamie knew she still had a home and people who loved her. She set her tote down and walked slowly toward him, stopping about five feet away.
It wasn't your fault, Oscar.
I joined Naval Intelligence as much to be like Sam, as to clear his name, but it was never good enough for them. I was never good enough. They simply never forgave me.
Forgave you for what? You didn't kill him.
I didn't kill him, but I survived. I lived, and Sam didn't, and my parents never forgave me for that. I've spent most of my life apologizing for not being the one who died.
Jamie's heart surged for him, and she covered her mouth in an attempt to hold in her feelings.
Her eyes filled with tears, and her voice was a whisper, You have no idea, do you?
No idea about what?
What a good man, you are, Oscar. You're forthright and decent, you're always there for everyone around you; you've spent your entire life in public service, trying to make people's lives better. She fought to steady her voice, And there are a lot of people who care a great deal about you.
He reached over and wiped the tears from her face, his timbre like velvet, You missed your flight, you know.
She smiled at him, We'll catch the next one.
She wrapped her hand through his arm, pulling him toward the door, You're coming with me, if I have to carry you. And you know that I can.
He laughed, I'll walk, if you don't mind.
Jamie grabbed her tote, and Oscar shrugged on his coat. He opened the door for her, and as she walked through it, he placed a hand on her arm, momentarily stopping her.
I do think of you as my family, babe.
She reached up and stroked his cheek, I know.
The light in the corner window of the old stone building went dark, as he flicked the switch and closed the door. The briefing would wait. The Secretary would wait. For the first time since he could remember, his family would not.