TITLE: All That You Can't Leave Behind
DISCLAIMER: The Popular characters are not mine, neither are U2's lyrics, or The Edge's guitar solos. I am not making any profit from either, sadly.
FEEDBACK: All comments gratefully received, online or off.
THANKS: Huge thanks to Alan for the assistance, ideas and editing skills and to S for being there.
NOTE: So, * that's * what happens when you spend all day listening to U2 and someone gives you a bottle of very fine scotch….anyway, this is set in an alternate future, where Brooke did leave with Kelly to live in San Francisco. Sam has since left Kennedy and graduated from college.
It's not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring
Is all that you can't leave behind"
Walk on –U2
Sam stared sadly down at the table as her companion let go of her hand. Picking up her glass she sipped the golden liquid and winced as she felt it burn the back of her throat.
`So that's it then?'
`I'm sorry' her companion said as she scooped the napkin off her lap and dumped it on the table in front of her, pushing her chair back and standing. She turned to look at Sam one last time, as if to say something. But there was nothing left to say, so she turned and left the restaurant.
<<How did it come to this?>> Sam thought to herself as picked up her empty glass and walked through the restaurant into the adjoining bar. She waved her empty glass at the bartender, indicating she wanted a refill.
She sat lost in thought for the rest of the evening, as the drinks flowed and the bar gradually emptied around her.
As she poured herself into taxi much later that evening she knew she was going to regret drinking so much the next morning, especially as tomorrow was Friday and she still had to face another day at work.
She staggered up to her front door and tried to get her key into either of the two locks she could see spinning in the blurry door in front of her, her mind wandering over the events that had brought her to where she was now.
She could remember the moment it had all changed; Four years ago when Brooke had gone with her mother to live in San Francisco. Sam had been in a daze afterwards unable to believe she was actually gone. Then it hit her, exactly why she couldn't bear to see the blonde leave; she was in love with Brooke.
It had taken Brooke's leaving to make her realise, and then of course, it had been too late.
Her mother and Brooke's dad had never managed to re-kindle their relationship, even after Brooke's mother had left, leaving Sam with no ties to keep her and Brooke in touch, so what there was of the friendship gradually fizzled out as Brooke moved on with her new life.
Sam had finished high school and gone on to college, following her dream and studying journalism. Attending college had finally made her face up to the fact that it wasn't just that she loved Brooke, but she was actually gay.
She had been out with a couple of women at college, but the relationships never lasted as she couldn't manage to let herself get close to anyone else, and ended up pushing them away, desperately trying not to admit that deep down she still loved Brooke and would always, however subconsciously, compare her girlfriends to the unattainable standards she ascribed to the blonde.
Her latest relationship had fallen prey to the same demons. This one had done better though, lasting over a year, through their final year at college and the first few months of Sam's first job and Chris's post-grad course.
Finally bursting through the door of her apartment Sam staggered towards her bedroom pulling off her clothes as she went and dropping them to the floor, leaving them in a trail behind her.
Her apartment was typical of her recently graduated status, a small one bedroom place. The front door opened immediately into the lounge, the kitchen off to the left, through an archway. The bedroom was opposite the kitchen on the other side of the lounge, the bathroom opening off the bedroom. The whole place had a temporary feel, sparsely furnished and with few personal items, except for an overflowing bookcase, filled with textbooks, paperbacks and CD's that had spilled off the shelves and into pile on the floor, and several days newspapers scattered across the well worn sofa. The lack of personal effects was more due to Sam's lack of interest in the place than her ex-student status.
Sam hadn't had a great deal of interest in anything except her studies, and then her work after Brooke had left, immersing herself in it to try and take her mind off the blonde. She had even lost interest in tormenting her nemesis, Nicole, gradually building a truce between them. She had still hung out with her friends, but even they noticed the change in her as they saw less and less of her as she devoted all of her time to studying, trying desperately to fill the emptiness Brooke's departure had left in her life.
The hard work had paid off, though as she had sailed into college and then finished third in her class at college. She had been offered a post at a magazine in San Francisco as soon as she had graduated.
Flopping onto the bed and rolling herself in the duvet, Sam stared at the ceiling and continued her musings.
Her addiction to her work had been part of the attraction for her now former girlfriend, when they had met in college, as she had seen it as a passion for seeking out the truth. By the time Sam had started work, she had realised that it was a way for Sam to hide from everyone and everything, a barrier to stop anyone from getting too close.
A very effective barrier as it turned out as it had brought them to this evening and their last date at the restaurant tonight, when she had left Sam, telling her enough was enough, that she couldn't compete with Sam's job, the endless hours she worked and the fact that even after over a year, Sam still kept all her barriers up.
Despite her drinking binge this evening Sam realised she didn't actually care that the relationship was over. She didn't really care about a great deal any more, she had lost the ability the day Brooke had left and she had been powerless to stop her.
Sam decided she was wallowing in a past she was never going to change and rolled over, pulling the duvet tight around her as she plunged into a whisky fuelled sleep.
She woke up the next morning at her usual time of 6.25am –five minutes before her alarm was due to go off –the same time she had woken up for the last four years, no matter what time she eventually collapsed into bed. She struggled to sit up in bed and rubbed her eyes, running her hands though her shoulder length dark hair, dishevelled from sleep. Padding to the bathroom she glanced at her reflection in the mirror and grimaced, before turning the shower on and standing under the hot jets as she cleaned her teeth, trying to scrub the stale taste of whisky from her mouth.
Returning to the bedroom several minutes later, she scooped up the clothes trailing through the flat from the previous night and dumped them in the washing machine, wincing at the noise as it started up its cycle. She wandered back to her room and didn't even stop to contemplate her wardrobe as she pulled out a long black skirt, matching jacket and a black blouse. Standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom she decided it was a slight improvement to the previous vision as she tried to hide the dark smudges under eyes with make up.
Half an hour after waking up Sam walked down the street to the magazine office, stopping at the coffee shop at the corner of her block for a large black coffee, as she did every morning on her way to work.
`Hey McPherson, you look like you're going to a funeral, dressed like that' Sam's boss, Jim, shouted across the office as she walked through the door ten minutes later
Sam turned to look at him, the only other occupant of the office at this hour of the day
`Jeez… no wonder…… you look like you died'
`Well, thanks Jim, now I feel so much better' Sam deadpanned as she headed for her desk in the corner of the open plan office.
Sam had an easy-going relationship with her boss as they were frequently the first ones in the building in the morning and the last ones out at night, which led to numerous opportunities for them to talk, Jim seeing himself as Sam's mentor, as he had personally recruited her straight from college.
Her desk was reminiscent of her flat for its lack of personal touches and similar haphazard filing system, which led to piles of files and paperwork covering most of the desk space and the floor immediately around it. Sam opened the laptop that was resting on top of a couple of files and switched it on. While it booted up she wandered over to the kitchenette on the other side of the office and poured her second cup of coffee of the day from the pot already brewed.
Jim had his head bent over his desk, obviously deep in thought, judging from the frown on his face, as Sam walked past his glass walled office, sipping her coffee.
Sitting down at her desk Sam moved the files from under her pc to the pile on the floor next to her and opened her email programme.
Sam smiled as she saw the first email was from Lily. Despite the fact Sam had tried to distance herself from everyone and everything at school after Brooke had left, Lily had resolutely refused to let Sam push her away, turning her zeal for campaigning for environmental issues and animal rights to their friendship, ensuring the two of them stayed in touch and in each other's lives through the rest of their senior year and then college.
Lily had been the only person Sam had told about her feelings for Brooke. Sam remembered the moment as if it were yesterday. Lily had tried for weeks to get Sam to tell her what was bothering her and to talk about it, and then said nothing when Sam told her, but had wrapped her arms around her in a hug, and held her friend as she cried, weeks of frustration and pent up emotion pouring out of her in one great release, as she cried for the love she had been too scared to admit even to herself and had lost forever.
Sam clicked on the email and read the brief note;
"Still ok for this weekend? You'd better be! I'm already packed and my bus arrives at 6pm. I'm leaving Josie with Josh, so I'm all yours for the weekend.
The smile disappeared from Sam's face as she thought of her friend. Lily and Josh had married in high school and Lily had fallen pregnant with Josie in their first year of college. She had continued her course up right up until the birth. Both she and Josh had switched their courses to part time to take care of their daughter and Josh had taken a part time job to support them both so Lily could finish her studies. Lily was now in her final year of her Law degree and Josh was working towards becoming a Phys. Ed. Teacher. Sam frowned as she thought she would never find a love like theirs, Josh and Lily doted on each other and Josh had been over the moon when their daughter was born.
<< wow… that was three years ago…. Where did the time go?>>
Sam was so lost in her thoughts she didn't hear Jim come over until he rested his hand lightly on Sam's shoulder making her jump
`God, you startled me' Sam said pressing her hand to her chest, vainly trying to slow her racing heartbeat
`Sorry… you looked miles away'
`I was, I guess….'
`Look, you've put in some serious hours recently, why don't you give yourself a break and take the day off? You look like you could use it' Jim said softly
Sam looked up at him and smiled
`Thanks… maybe I will, I have a friend coming up for the weekend tonight, I could do with tidying up my place'
Jim surveyed the area around Sam's desk and chuckled
`If it's anything like this disaster area, it'll take all day'
`I'm sorry…I'll clear it up… I was researching an article…'
`Hey, it's ok, have you seen my office lately?'
Sam leant round the screen in front of her desk and peered at the office on the other side of the room. Sam could see the files stacked halfway up the glass wall
Sam turned off her laptop and was stuffing it in her bag with a thick manila file when Jim stopped her, resting his hand gently on Sam's
`Taking the day off means you leave the work here'
Sam smiled ruefully, knowing she had been caught out as she placed the pc back on her desk
`Take the weekend off Sam, see your friend, have some fun, it'll all still be here Monday' Jim smiled
`Go… have fun… go on …get..' Jim chuckled as he waved her out of the office
`see you Monday, then'
`Bright and early, as always' Jim called over his shoulder as he headed back to his office.
Sam let herself into her flat, some time later, yanking her keys out of the door as she dropped the grocery bag she was carrying on the kitchen counter
Putting her keys down beside it she turned and looked around her at the apartment
<< what the hell do I do with a day off?>> Sam thought, realizing she couldn't remember the last time she had had a whole day off that she hadn't spent `just checking her email, just finishing an assignment, article, textbook….'
She picked up the stereo remote and flicked it on, switching it to CD. The opening track of U2's `All that You Can't Leave Behind' boomed out of the speakers, Sam chuckled to herself at the appropriateness of the song as Bono sang to her that it was a Beautiful Day as she kicked her shoes off and padded into the bedroom, swapping her suit for baggy jogging bottoms and a faded tee-shirt.
Setting pot of coffee to brew, she unpacked the shopping and gathered up bottles of cleaner and cloths from under the sink.
Singing along with Bono and playing air guitar with The Edge's solos, Sam spent the rest of the morning cleaning the flat, tidying away the CD's and books scattered across the floor and over the battered coffee table, finishing by putting clean sheets on the pull out sofa bed, before folding it away and sinking into it's cushions with a mug of coffee and the day's paper.
Sam glanced at the clock on her stereo some time later and stretched, yawning loudly, before folding the paper into the magazine rack next to the sofa and rinsing her empty mug under the tap. Heading into the bedroom Sam took her second shower of the day before changing into clean blue jeans, a white collarless shirt and black boots. She shrugged into a black suede jacket as she picked up her keys and pulled the door shut behind her.
Lily broke into huge grin and waved at Sam as she made her way off the bus.
`Hey you' she said, enveloping Sam in a hug
`Hey yourself, how was the trip?'
`weird…I got to spend the whole time reading a book, without having Josie interrupt to ask questions. I miss her already and it's only been a couple of hours'
`C'mon you can ring her from the flat' Sam chuckled as she picked up her friend's bag
`Oh my God – have you been burgled?' Lily gasped as she walked into Sam's apartment
`Ha, ha… so I tidied… I had the day off'
`Sorry… I thought you said `day off''
`I did, Jim gave me the day off'
`Sam, I can't remember the last time you had a day off…wait, you spent it cleaning?!'
`No, I also got chance to read the paper, and go shopping'
`You had a day off and you bought groceries? Ok, now I *know* there's something wrong…spill McPherson' Lily turned to Sam and stared at her, hand on hips
Sam threw her hands up in a gesture of surrender and backed into the kitchen, opening the fridge and pulling out two cans of soda, handing one to Lily
`I had a mother of hangover when I got to work this morning and Jim practically threw me out of the office and told me to take the day off' Sam said as she flopped onto the sofa
Lily sat down next to her and nudged her playfully in the ribs `So what were you up to last night then?' she wiggled her eyebrows
`Chris and I split up last night'
`Oh God, Sam, I'm sorry... I thought it was going ok with you guys?'
`Hey, no biggie' Sam shrugged 'enough about me, how's Josh and little Josie?'
Lily frowned but decided to let it go for now, instead telling Sam all about her daughter and husband, accompanied by photos of Josie's recent birthday party
Sam called a pizza and they chatted while they ate
`And you know Carmen plays for your team, right? Well she's dating Nicole!' Lily gushed some while later
`God, really…well she did turn out to be less of a bitch by the end of high school… guess being popular must get lonely too, huh?'
`Talking of which, what happened with you and Chris? You had an anniversary not long back?'
`Yeah, well… it just wasn't working, you know? She said I was always working and she never saw me and that I wasn't really with her even when I was blah, blah… I never let my barriers down, blah, blah… and what she thought was a passion for journalism was just me being a workaholic to stop anyone getting close...blah.. blah.. you know, same old, same old'
`Sam… you really have to move on … it's been four years… you have to let go'
`Can we not do this, Lil?' Sam said tiredly
`But you don't even know if she ever felt the same… I mean if she did, she would never have left for her new life would she?'
Sam winced at her friend's words, but didn't reply
`Do you even see her? I mean you live in the same city'
`I don't think she even lives here anymore, she always wanted to go away to college'
`I thought that was why you moved here? The hope of some chance meeting, some great reunion?'
`I moved because I was offered a great job, Lil'
`You didn't even look up her Mom to find out if she is even here?'
Sam looked sheepish
`I went to her Mom's gallery, but I couldn't go in. I mean, look what happened last time I went to see her Mom, she took her away from me forever. I just can't go through that again'
`God, you're still blaming yourself, after all this time'
`But if I hadn't tried to find her, my mom and Brooke's dad would still be together and none of this would have happened, she'd still be in my life'
`Yeah, as your stepsister, and you'd probably still never have told her how you felt and been torturing yourself. You have to look on the bright side Sam, she got her mom back after nine years'
`Yeah, but I lost her forever'
The next morning dawned with the promise of another fine San Francisco day. Sam woke up with a start at her usual time of 6.25am and bolted upright in bed. Picking up the clock she relaxed as she realised it was Saturday and she had the weekend off. Flipping the duvet back she swung her legs off the side of the bad and padded to the kitchen to set a pot of coffee brewing
`Oh. Morning Lil. I was trying not to wake you'
`S'ok… I have a three year old, remember? Six thirty is a lie in'
`I was just gonna start some coffee, you want the bathroom first?'
`Thanks' Lily smiled
A short while later they sat on the sofa, both showered and dressed, drinking their coffee
`So… what d'you want to do today?' Sam asked turning to face her friend, resting her coffee mug on a jean clad knee, as she lounged in the corner of the sofa
`Hmm… best friend for company, no husband and no child…' Lily looked mock-thoughtfully at her friend
Sam laughed `Shopping it is then'
The two of them spent the morning wandering round the shops, paying little attention to where they wandered as they chatted non-stop. Late morning found them sitting on a bench in Golden Gate Park, sipping take away coffees and eating sandwiches in an impromptu picnic, as they gazed out over the bay. The water was azure blue, reflecting the clear sky, the hills on the opposite side of the bay shimmering with a heat haze.
`So, you up for more shopping after lunch?' Sam asked as she screwed up her sandwich wrapper and tossed it into a nearby bin
`God no, that's the most time I've spent shopping in months'
`How about we do the tourist thing then? I never get tired of the boat trips road the bay'
`Sounds like a plan'
Sam leant on the railings on the top deck of the boat, gazing out over the water sometime later, lost in thought
`Penny for `em' Lily asked softly, resting a hand on Sam's arm
`Why are you still here, Lil?' Sam replied as she turned to face her friend `I pushed everyone else away, but you stuck with me. You're a good friend, you know that?'
`You know me, I never quit on anything and I wasn't about start with you, Samantha McPherson' Lily said, as she brushed her wind swept fringe out of her eyes
Sam smiled sadly `Thank you'
`Hey, anytime. But you have to let go, you know that, right? It's time you moved on, got some actual living into what passes for your so-called life. Chris was good for you, you know, you shouldn't have let that one get away so easily'
`Yes, mom' Sam rolled her eyes
`Hey, I'm your best friend, if I can't tell you, who can. And besides, interfering in your life is good practice for when Josie is older' Lily stated firmly
Sam shot her friend a look and they both started to laugh
`see…now that's better..' Lily said `You need to lighten up and have fun more often'
Sam span round, with her eyes twinkling and lunged at Lily, tickling her
`ahhh…….no ..ahhhh' Lily squeaked as she wriggled at Sam's touch, trying to escape.
She finally managed to break free and ran across the virtually empty deck, shrieking as Sam chased her, startling an old man throwing breadcrumbs to the seagulls.
Sam finally caught up with her at the other end of the boat and they both collapsed laughing breathlessly, leaning their backs against the railings.
`Hey, you wanna go clubbing tonight?' Sam asked as her breathing returned to normal
`God, I haven't been clubbing for ages'
`Me neither…it'll be fun'
Lily stared at Sam incredulously `Did you actually say `fun'?'
`Hey, I can do fun' Sam said in a hurt tone
`What was the last fun thing you did? Huh? Huh?'
`Um…Chris and I went bowling…'
`And that was when?'
Sam blushed `Two months ago'
`Uh-huh' Lily stood up and grabbed Sam's hand, pulling her to her feet as the boat pulled back into the pier
Sam stood nervously in her bedroom door much later that evening `so… how do I look?'
Lily looked Sam up and down, taking in her high heeled black boots, tight black leather jeans, sleeveless black top, and fashionably tousled hair, the outfit completed with smoky eye shadow and a chunky silver bracelet.
`You know I'm still an advocate of animal rights?'
`Well, despite my aversion to leather, you look fabulous. You'll have to fight the women off'
Sam smiled awkwardly `You look pretty damn fine there too'
`Well, I don't get to dress up too often' Lily said as she twirled, her dress flowing with the movement.
She was dressed in a semi-transparent flower-print dress. Despite her high heeled sandals she was still two inches shorter than Sam
`Shall we?' Sam asked as she smiled and held her arm crooked towards Lily
`We shall' Lily smiled as she linked her arm through Sam's
The club was a cavernous mass of people, most of them writhing and gyrating to the booming dance music. The bass vibrated through the soles of Sam's boots and thumped in her chest in time with her own heartbeat. She gestured toward the bar and took Lily's hand for fear of losing her among the throng.
Once they were armed with drinks they stood with their backs to the bar and scanned the club. There were couples of all persuasions moving to the beat; bare chested men, their shirts hanging out of their back pockets waved their arms in the air grinding against muscled men in tight tee-shirts, women with their arms around each other and men gyrating against flirtatious women, all moved with the tempo, the dance floor filled to overflowing. Above them, scantily clad dancers dangled in cages suspended from the ceiling.
Lily turned to deposit her drink on the bar behind them and grabbed a startled Sam's hand, pulling her into the heaving mass, somehow finding a space for them to dance.
Both of them lost themselves in the music, smiling at each other and throwing their arms up in the air. They stayed on the dance floor most of the night, stopping only to catch their breath and grab a quick drink before returning to the floor.
The crowd was starting to thin as the night turned into the early morning, when they finally succumbed to the need to stop.
`I'm just going to the bathroom' Lily shouted into Sam's ear
Sam nodded and gestured to the bar, indicating she'd get more drinks. Sinking gratefully onto a barstool she gestured the bartender over. Once she had been served, Sam took a deep draught of her bottled beer and span her stool round to face out into the club.
As she scanned the club, the bottle froze halfway to her lips. Her eyes followed the movement of the person who had caught her eye. She briefly closed her eyes and shook her head slightly to clear it, before looking up again in time to see the woman vanishing into the crowd.
`Sam?' Lily shouted as she walked up beside her `Sam?'
`You ok? You look like you've seen a ghost'
`Hmm… S'nothing' Sam smiled weakly, letting Lily pull her back onto the dance floor
Sam continued to look around her for a few minutes, before dismissing the thought
<<it couldn't have been….could it??>>
Sam didn't get chance to think about what, or rather who, she thought she saw as Lily dragged her back on to the dance floor. They finally left the club as it was starting to get light.
`Josh is so going to kill you, keeping me out all night' Lily laughed as they rode home in a taxi `You are a bad influence, Miss McPherson'
`Me? I wasn't the one who insisted on dancing all night' Sam protested feigning indignation
When they got back to Sam's apartment Lily flopped on the sofa and was asleep almost instantly. Sam smiled as she unfolded the duvet and gently placed over her friend's sleeping form.
She pulled her boots off and padded sock-footed to the kitchen. Pouring herself a nightcap, she stowed the whisky bottle and carried her glass to her bedroom. She sipped the fiery liquid as she stared out of the window at the lightening sky. Dawn was gradually creeping over the buildings under her window and over the bay in the distance.
For a brief moment Sam felt almost at peace, having enjoyed spending the day with her friend. Then her mind pulled her back to the recent past and the woman she had seen fleetingly at the club. Sam frowned and drained her glass before pushing the thought out of her mind and tugging her clothes off, leaving them in pile on the floor, before pulling on her faded t-shirt and cocooning herself in the duvet, falling into a deep sleep.
Sam staggered out of her bedroom toward the kitchen later that morning. As she passed the sofa, the duvet moved and a bleary set of eyes blinked at her
`What time is it?' Lily asked thickly, still hazy from sleep
`Midday' Sam replied, squinting at the clock on her stereo `Plenty of time before your bus'
`Urgh' was Lily's only reply as she pulled the duvet back over her head
Sam padded into the kitchen and bustled about putting on a pot of coffee, by the time she returned to the lounge with two steaming mugs, Lily was sitting on the sofa, the duvet wrapped round her shoulders, her hair dishevelled. One hand snaked out from under the duvet to take the mug Sam offered her
`th'ks' Lily mumbled, sipping the hot liquid
Sam frowned at her friend `You ok?'
`Yeah' Lily smiled ruefully `Just haven't done that for a long time. I had fun last night, Sam' she said brightening 'really'
They spent the next couple of hours sprawled on the sofa, reading the papers, drinking coffee and laughing about the previous night's adventures, before they took it in turns to shower and get dressed before Sam drove Lily to the bus station.
`Thanks for this weekend Sam, it was good to see you' Lily said as she hugged Sam `and don't forget what I said' she stared intently at her friend `get out there and do some living'
`I will, I promise' Sam replied `Say hi to Josh and give Josie a big hug for me'
Lily stowed her bag in the luggage compartment and stepped onto the bus, before turning round to look at Sam
`You take care, Sam' boarding the bus before Sam could reply
Sam waved as the bus pulled out, watching as it vanished into the distance. She turned slowly and headed back to her car.
As she walked back into the empty apartment, she looked round somewhat lost. It was Sunday night and she didn't have any work she could do, and she couldn't even call Chris to see if she wanted to come over. After a quick tidy up Sam changed out of her jeans and curled up on the bed with a paperback, reading until she fell asleep, still tired from her exploits the night before.
The next morning she woke up with a start, picking up the book from her chest where she had dropped it the night before. Placing it on the bedside table she switched off her bedside lamp, left on all night, and picked up the clock, 6.25am; another Monday morning.
Tossing the duvet aside, Sam staggered through her usual morning routine; showering and pulling on a black trouser suit from her wardrobe, a long sleeved black lycra top and black boots completing the look. Sam glanced at the clock and stopped to add black eyeliner, before grabbing her bag and keys, slamming the door behind her.
She walked down the street and discussed the weather with the guy in the coffee shop on the corner as she bought her regular large black coffee.
Sam was second to arrive in the office, as always
`Morning Jim' she said loudly waving her coffee cup at her boss
Jim Smiled broadly as he looked up from the stack of papers on his desk
`Morning, Sam. Good weekend?'
`Yeah… yeah, it was, thanks'
Sam dumped her now empty coffee cup in the bin next to her desk, dropped her bag on her chair and shrugged out of her jacket, hanging it over the back of the chair. She walked over to the office kitchen and poured herself a mug of coffee, carrying it over to Jim's office
`Thanks for Friday, I really appreciate it'
`No problem. Can't have my newest reporter falling over exhausted now could I?' Jim grinned `Or who would I have given this assignment to?'
Sam took the manila file he handed her
`Did you have a good weekend?' Sam asked as she balanced her coffee on the one free corner of Jim's overcrowded desk, and opened the file he had given her
`I did indeed, I took my own advice and had the weekend off'
Sam's head shot up as she stared at her boss
`Gwen said she didn't like it, she wasn't used to it and I was under her feet. She made me mow the lawn to get me out of her way' Jim grimaced and chuckled, leaning back in his chair `How was your friend?'
`Good, it was great to see her and we had a bit of a crazy weekend, we went clubbing till all hours Saturday' Sam rolled her eyes
`Looks like it did you good' Jim winked at Sam and Sam knew he had been right and she really had needed a break
She opened the file and skimmed the notes inside
`Oh my god… this is the lead article?' Sam looked at Jim, a look of shock on her face
`Actually, it is the lead this week and then I want you to do some follow ups, I'm even assigning you a photographer. Don't get too excited through, it's just a freelance'
`Wow. Thanks, Jim' Sam closed the file and rescued her coffee, rushing out of the office
`Don't thank me, bring me the story' Jim called after her
Sam wasn't meant to be meeting the photographer until later that morning, so she took the file and her coffee back to her desk.
As she sat down, she stacked up all the files on her desk and dumped them in a pile on the floor, clearing a space on her desk and opened her laptop. She spent the rest of the morning engrossed in research. Not looking up until the rest of the office started to fill up round her, the room buzzing with conversation and laughter as people arrived and started their day. The broken peace of the office snapped her out of her concentration and she looked absently at her watch. Swearing softly, she stood up, grabbing her jacket off the back of her chair as she rose. Scooping up a notebook off her desk and stuffing a pen in her top pocket she shot out of the door.
Sam leapt off a tram ten minutes later before it had even finished moving and hit the ground running, coming to a breathless halt a few minutes later outside a warehouse that appeared to be abandoned. She stood bent over trying to catch her breath, before straightening up and looking around.
<< Damn, first time I get assigned a photographer and I'm late>> Sam thought as she gasped for breath
`Are you with the Bay Week?' a voice asked softly behind her.
Spinning round Sam froze unable to speak
Sam swallowed painfully
Brooke laughed lightly `you're the reporter I'm meant to be meeting?'
`Uh, yeah' Sam tried not to let her jaw hang open as she stared at the woman in front of her
`You're the freelance photographer?'
Brooke's eyes seemed to bore into her, as if trying to see the last four years in Sam's eyes
`Yes. You look well'
`Uh, thanks' Sam muttered her jaw slamming painfully shut as she realized how inane she must look `um… you do too. Look well, I mean'
`Thanks' Brooke smiled as Sam continued to stare at her
Sam caught herself and realised she was staring. Suddenly she remembered why they were both there and her mind snapped instantly into work mode.
`For this story, I need a couple of shots of the outside of the warehouse and then follow me through and I'll point out what I need' Sam stated forcefully, all nervousness gone as work took over and her mind stopped thinking about how amazing Brooke looked and focused on the fact she only had four days to come up with the lead story.
Brooke didn't seem to notice the shift in Sam, or if she did, she didn't comment on it to the brunette, picking up the camera hanging round her neck and focussing on the building in front of her.
The building was filthy, marked by years of neglect and disuse; most of the windows were shattered or missing. The building itself seemed to sag in it's frame, pulling away from the two reasonably well kept buildings on either side of it.
Sam pushed the door of the warehouse open, the rusted and broken lock hanging at an angle from the wall, obviously having been forced at some point. As Sam stepped inside, Brooke finished taking the photos Sam had asked for and followed her inside.
The inside of the building wasn't in a much better state than the outside; the dust thick and oppressive, the only light coming through the few windows which weren't broken and boarded up, although they were thick with grime, giving the light a greasy sheen. A number of the floorboards had rotted and splintered, leaving gaping holes in the floor. As Sam picked her way carefully through the debris and broken floorboards towards the back of the warehouse, she found what she was looking for and gestured to Brooke
`There' she said, pointing with her pen as she opened her notebook and started scribbling furiously.
The corner of the room was splashed red as though someone had thrown a bucket of paint at the floor. The floor itself was covered in detritus; used needles, snapped and broken, the shattered remnants of vodka bottles and empty beer bottles, turned into crack pipes, empty bullet cases were strewn across the whole area. Brooke didn't hesitate, but started shooting away at the area Sam had indicated. As she stared at the scene through the lens of her camera she realised the splashes on the wall weren't paint, but blood.
Sam finished scribbling and closed her notebook, waiting for Brooke to finish taking her last shots. While she waited, she watched the blonde carefully lining up her shots.
Brooke had changed little from the last time she had seen her; she had cut her hair shorter, so it hung to her jaw, sleek and straight and she had gained a little weight, so she no longer looked gaunt, but toned and lean. She still favoured light coloured clothes, dressed in a simple unbleached linen trouser suit and white collarless shirt, in complete contrast to Sam's black attire.
Brooke took her final shot and tipped the film out of the camera, stowing it in a small plastic tub in the photography bag slung over her shoulder and instantly replacing it with a new roll. As she closed up the back of the camera she looked up, feeling Sam's gaze on her and smiled.
`Where to next?'
`Golden Gate Park' Sam answered, dragging her eyes away from Brooke
They waited for the tram in silence, neither knowing what to say, the time having passed since they had last seen each other sitting uncomfortably between them.
As they entered the park, Brooke looked around them
`Well, this is entirely different from the last location'
Sam smiled humourlessly and started walking toward the far side of the park and a large border of shrubs in one corner. As they approached, Sam saw what she was looking for; a break in the bushes, not made naturally, but from people forcing their way between the greenery. Brooke followed wordlessly, until she broke through the bushes and stopped abruptly at the scene in front of her, which was almost a replica of the scene in the abandoned warehouse. Sam turned to face Brooke ducking down until the park was visible through the break in the bushes.
`That' Sam said pointing back toward the park
Brooke crouched down and turned her camera back through the bushes and pointed the lens where Sam gestured, seeing what the brunette had seen; across the floor of broken bottles and needles, through the bushes, a small child was playing, chasing round the park, his mother following him, arms outstretched, both of them laughing in the sunshine.
Brooke took several shots and lowered the camera
`It's awful that this goes on so close to where children play' she said sadly, turning to face Sam
`Which is why we need to run this article, to let people know it doesn't just happen in places like that warehouse. It's getting a lot closer than they realise. Come on' Sam stood up and headed back through the bushes.
They spend the rest of the morning visiting places so close to schools, they were right outside the playground, evidence of violence and drugs, a war going on to take control of the streets and the supply of narcotics. They barely spoke as Sam wrote and Brooke took the photos requested of her.
Early in the afternoon Brooke turned to face Sam after taking her final shot
`Where to next?'
`That's it; all the photos I need, for now. The rest is research and interviews'
`Oh' Brooke sounded disappointed `Do you want to get some lunch?'
`I haven't really got time, the clock is ticking and I only have four days to write this before we go to press'
`How about a drink later in the week, then? I'd really like to catch up, Sam, it's been a long time'
Sam scribbled on a page of her notebook and ripped it out of the pad, handing it to Brooke
`This is my number. It's my cell'
As Sam handed Brooke the piece of paper, she hoped Brooke didn't notice that she was shaking so badly the paper rustled slightly as she held it out.
`I'll call you…. Maybe Thursday then?'
`Um… yeah' Sam mentally rolled her eyes that now they were off the subject of work she had returned to one word answers
`Um, I've gotta go if I'm gonna grab those interviews this afternoon' Sam started walking backwards, gesturing toward the tram stop
`Oh. Ok. I'll call you' Brooke said, waving the paper Sam had given her
Sam smiled weakly and turned to go, trying desperately not to run to the tram stop.
Sam spent the rest of the day interviewing people for her article, before returning to the office, just as it was emptying for the day. She typed up her notes and continued her research until late that evening, staying even after Jim had left for the day.
She finally let herself into her flat around 9pm. As she came through the door she dumped her bag into an armchair, shrugged off her jacket and threw it on top of the bag. Kicking off her shoes she padded into the kitchen, snagging the whisky bottle and a glass. Collapsing onto the sofa, Sam scooped up the CD remote and flicked the stereo on. She poured herself a drink and knocked it back. Pouring a second much larger glass full she sipped the liquid, tucking her feet under her on the sofa as she picked up the phone.
`Lil? It's Sam'
`Oh, hey Sam, How's it going?'
`She's here, Lil'
`What? What d'you mean, she's here?'
`Brooke. I saw her today, she was the freelance on the article I'm working on'
`Oh my God… how was she? How are you?'
`She wants to meet up for a drink, I gave her my number'
`Well, that's good, isn't it?'
`I don't know…I mean, it's been four years…God, Lil, it was so weird... I thought I saw her at that club, at the weekend, but I figured it couldn't be, you know?'
Sam sipped her drink pensively
`What would I say to her – I haven't stopped thinking about you in four years? I've always been in love with you, but was too scared to tell you and then you left before I got the chance?'
`Maybe this is your second chance, maybe you should tell her how you feel. What have you got to lose, I mean even if she doesn't feel the same way, then you'll finally know and you can move on with your life'
`God, why are you so damned reasonable Lily?' Sam laughed
`I'm your best friend, it's my job to tell you what you should do'
`I'm scared, Lil…I've already lost her once, I'm not sure I could lose her again'
`Then you're gonna have to take a leap of faith'
`Good night Sam. Call me when you've seen her again'
`Will do… Good night, Lil'
Sam picked up her drink and carried it over to the window, staring out at the lights of the city as she sipped it, her mind spinning.
The next morning Sam was awake at her usual time, having decided the answer was the same as the one that had served her well for so long; work. She spent the whole day working on her story, which took her mind off thoughts of anything else.
Mid-morning a package arrived for her. Opening the envelope, Sam tipped out a pile of photos and an index sheet. Tossing the index sheet to one side she picked up the photos and flipped slowly through them. They were powerful black and white shots; the monochrome highlighting the horrors of the scenes witnessed the previous day, perfect for the story Sam was working on. Attached to the final shot was a handwritten note:
`Why do you look so sad? Meet me at the bar on 5th, 7pm Wednesday and you can tell me.
Sam snorted mirthlessly; it was the bar where Chris had told her it was over. Sam peeled the note off the photo and looked at it, it was a photo of her, obviously taken the day before, all dressed in black, staring out over the bay, her brow creased and she looked miles away, lost in thought. Sam didn't even know Brooke had taken it.
Sam was still staring at the photo several minutes later when Jim walked over
Sam jumped, having not heard her boss's silent approach
`You have the same expression looking at that photo as you did when it was taken. It's a good shot' Jim said as he took the photo from Sam and studied it
`How's the story going?' he said as he handed it back
`Good. Although unsurprisingly there are a lot of people who don't want to talk to me about it, but I'm getting there'
`Good. Bring what you have to the editorial meeting tomorrow' Jim said as he headed back towards his office.
Sam put the photo of herself and Brooke's note into a file to and tucked it in her bag, putting all thoughts of Brooke out of her mind as she picked up the index sheet, reviewing the photos she needed to accompany her article.
Once she had picked out several possible photos, Sam moved on to a long list of phone calls, trying to make appointments with people that did not want to be seen. By the time the office was starting to empty Sam had managed to set up a number of interviews for the next two days. Scooping up her file and laptop she stuffed them in her bag and headed out of the door, stopping briefly to shout `goodnight' to Jim, who merely waved in response, not looking up from what he was working on.
Sam let herself into her apartment a short time later, and pulled her file out of her bag, spreading it's contents across the low coffee table in the middle of the lounge, as Sam reached into her bag for her laptop, she pulled out the other file, setting her laptop on the sofa, Sam sank onto the cushions next to it, opening the file and looking at the photo again
<<is that how the world sees me?>> she wondered to herself, looking at the faraway look on her face, the stark outfit, her whole persona giving off a aura of a woman trying to keep the world at arm's length.
Brooke's note was still attached to the photo and Sam read it again, wondering what she would say to the blonde, finally allowing herself to wonder all the things she had tried not to think about for so long
<<is she married? Does she have kids? What had she done for the last four years? Where had she been? What had she seen? >> The questions flooded Sam's mind, making her head spin. Shaking her head to clear it, Sam returned the photo to it's folder and took a deep breath, picking up her laptop and immersing herself in her work.
Sam woke up with a start, her neck ached and her legs were numb. As she lifted her head up, she realised she was still sitting on the sofa, her laptop still resting on her knees, papers scattered around her , along with the remnants of a sandwich , which was last nights dinner. As she rubbed the back of her neck, Sam realised she had fallen asleep, having worked on her story until the small hours of the morning. Sam moved the laptop and turned it off. Scooping up the papers that surrounded her she glanced at her watch; 6.25am. Depositing all the paperwork back in the file she picked it up and shoved it, and the laptop, back in her bag. As she stood up she noticed the unmarked file with Brooke's photo in it. Shaking her head she picked up the plate containing a half eaten sandwich and carried it to the kitchen
<< I don't have time for any more thoughts of `what if' this morning>> she thought sadly to herself, now convinced Brooke had married some gorgeous guy she had met in college and was only meeting Sam out of curiosity for a life she had left behind a long time ago.
Sam made a mug of coffee and carried it into the bedroom where she stripped off the previous day's clothes, depositing them in the linen basket, before climbing into the shower. The hot jets washed the clouds from her brain as she stood under them, sipping her coffee. Jumping out in record time, Sam grabbed a clean trouser suit and top from her wardrobe and dressed quickly. Looking at herself in the mirrored doors of her wardrobe she realised that from force of habit she had picked out another all black outfit
<< my defence against the world>> Sam sniggered to herself as she added eyeliner and black boots to the outfit, before grabbing her bag and racing out of the door.
After attending the editorial meeting and getting her story outline approved, the rest of the day was spent conducting interviews, so Sam took her car, driving round the city, visiting areas most people either avoided or didn't know existed and Sam was glad of the cover of daylight.
Wednesday followed pretty much the same pattern, with Sam carrying out interviews all morning, before returning to the office just after lunchtime to type up her story.
Sam found it difficult to concentrate as she typed, frequently catching herself staring out of the window next to her desk, thinking about meeting Brooke later that day.
By the time the office was starting to empty Sam was almost finished. By the time she printed off the final copy and put it in a file with the photos to accompany it the office was deserted, apart from Jim, still engrossed in his work in his office. The light from the large office windows was rapidly darkening around them as Sam walked over to his office and knocked on the doorframe, the office door standing open as always.
At Sam's knock, Jim looked up.
`Oh, hi Sam. How's it going?'
`Good, I've bought you the copy for my story' Sam replied, gesturing with the file she was holding as she crossed the office and handed it to him
`Great, thanks Sam, I'll look it over tonight, and we'll be ready to run tomorrow' Jim smiled broadly at Sam
`I'm gonna get off now, so I'll see you in the morning'
`Go out and have a drink Sam, you deserve it, you've worked hard on this'
`Funny you should say that, I'm mean to be meeting an old friend later'
`Good, well have a good time and I'll see you tomorrow'
`Night' Jim mumbled already returning to the pages in front of him as Sam turned and walked out of his office.
Sam was nervous as she walked out of the magazine office; she was meeting Brooke in two hours and not only had no idea what to say but also no idea what to wear. She was mentally flicking through her wardrobe as crossed the darkened car park behind the office, the only two cars left where hers and Jim's.
Sam was so lost in thought she didn't hear the footsteps behind her, until the world went black as a heavy cotton bag was thrown over her head. Sam was too shocked even to scream, as she was hit in the stomach and doubled over with the pain.
`There are some people who don't want to talk to nosy reporters. This is a warning to stop looking for them' a voice hissed, the speaker's mouth millimetres from Sam's ear.
She felt a fist connect with her face, once, twice as she heard a violent crack and her mouth filled with the taste of her own blood. The hand holding her arm was released and she fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, a kick connecting with her chest before footsteps rapidly echoed across the car park and faded away as Sam lapsed into unconsciousness.
Sam blinked and opened her eyes, the pain hitting her like a jackhammer to the head as light filtered into her swollen eyes.
`Urgh' Sam's voice came out as a raspy squeak past her dry lips
`Hey, you're awake'
Sam vaguely recognised the voice as coming from her boss and turned her head towards him, realising she was lying down and any movement of her head hurt like hell.
`What happened? Where am I?' Sam asked, trying to sit up
Jim's hand gently rested on her shoulder, stopping her from moving
`Hey, hey, take it easy there Sam…. I was actually hoping you could answer one of those questions, in answer to the other, you're in the ER. I came out of the office and found you unconscious next to your car, a bag over your head. What the hell happened to you?'
Sam groaned and closed her eyes, the whole incident flooding back to her
`It was a warning, some guy jumped me and told me there are some people who don't want to talk to nosy reporters'
`Well, that was one hell of warning; he broke your nose and fractured two of your ribs'
`That would explain the extreme pain. And it also means I'm on to something' Sam tried to sit up again, but was restrained by Jim
`Woah, you're not going anywhere. I have an allergy to my reporters getting beaten up, so the next step you take I am gonna take with you'
Sam lent back on the bed, resignedly, before sitting bolt upright
`Brooke, oh my god, what time is it? And ow' Sam said bringing her hand up to her head, the blood rushing to it from sitting up too fast making her nose throb
`Just after eight, you must have been in that car park for over an hour, as I didn't leave till after seven. Oh god Sam, I'm sorry'
`Hey, not your fault, you didn't bop me one' Sam said distractedly as she located her bag on the nightstand next to her bed and started rummaging through it
`You can't use that in here, miss' a nurse said as she walked into the cubicle and saw Sam pull her cell phone out of her bag
`Oh. Yes. Sorry' Sam said sheepishly as she turned it off
`Now you're awake, I'll get the doctor to check you out' the nurse said before disappearing through the curtains
`I'm sure your friend will understand' Jim said reassuringly.
`Um-hmm' Sam said noncommittally as the doctor came through the curtains to check her over
The Doctor released Sam later that night after she promised him that she would take it easy and Jim drove Sam home, making sure she had everything she needed and that she wasn't to come into work the next day if she wasn't up to it, before leaving her in her flat.
Sam rummaged through her bag as soon as Jim had left and pulled out her cell, dumping the bag on the coffee table as she sank onto the sofa.
As soon as Sam turned her phone on it flashed that she had one missed call. With shaking hands Sam dialled her voicemail.
An automated message started up, telling her the time of the call.
`Time of message; 8.02 pm, message received;
`Sam? It's Brooke… I waited an hour for you. I hope you are ok that you didn't show. If you still want to meet, you can reach me on; 5554823. Call me?'
Sam grabbed for a pen and a notebook off the top of her bookcase and replayed the message writing the number down.
Sam lent her head back on the sofa and closed her eyes. After a moment she sat up and took a deep breath. Picking up the phone, she dialled Brooke's number
[ring, ring…. ring, ring]
`Brooke? It's Sam'
`Sam, hi. Are you ok? You never showed. You did get my note?'
`Yeah, I got your note… I'm sorry about tonight… I…well, I…I had a bit of an accident'
`Are you ok?'
Sam noted the concern in Brooke's voice and felt her heart beat faster
`Um… yeah… I mean, I will be….listen, I haven't eaten yet and I was about to call for Chinese, if you wanted to join me? I mean I know it's late and you`ve probably eaten and…' Sam's voice trailed off and she mentally rolled her eyes at her babbling
`I'd love to. Where are you?'
Sam gave Brooke directions and they hung up with Brooke promising to be over in twenty minutes.
Sam stood up and headed for the kitchen in search of the Chinese menu, rarely needing it as she always ordered the same thing.
Once she had located it Sam wandered back into the lounge and dropped it on the coffee table, before heading into the bedroom to get changed. As Sam passed the mirrored doors of her wardrobe, she caught sight of herself and gasped.
The blood stains could barely be seen on Sam's black outfit, but her hair was full of it. The worst off though was her face; although the hospital had cleaned her up, her nose was swollen and taped across the bridge. Two black eyes were starting to show in lurid colour.
Sam idly wondered how many times this guy had done this that he had inflicted so much damage with just four hits. As the thought crossed Sam's mind she ran to the bathroom and was violently sick.
Once Sam had recovered she stripped naked and got into the shower, wincing as the water hit her face and ribs, but desperate to get rid of the blood in her hair and try and wash away what had happened.
Sam got out of the shower and wrapped a towel round herself and another round her hair before scooping up all her clothes and carrying them into the kitchen stuffing them into the washing machine and turning it on.
Sam padded back into the bathroom and pulled on a pair of dark blue jogging bottoms and a baggy white t-shirt. She was just finishing brushing her hair out when there was a knock at the door. Sam froze before she remembered Brooke was coming over. Her stomach flipped and she had to force her legs to start moving as she crossed the lounge. She peered out of the spy hole before undoing the three sets of locks on her door and letting Brooke in
`Oh my god Sam, what happened to you?'
`I was attacked as I left work. This was a warning'
`Are you ok? Did you call the police?'
`Jim, my boss, called them, when he found me and I have to give a statement tomorrow'
`Why would anyone do this?'
`To stop me investigating whatever it is they don't want me to investigate, which means I must be close enough to make someone nervous'
`Oh my god…. That's like waving a red flag to a bull with you' Brooke rolled her eyes
Sam stared at Brooke, a look of total surprise on her face that Brooke remembered Sam's determination in her pursuit of a story. She quickly shook her head, regretting it instantly as pain lanced through her face.
`Ugh, sorry, I am being an appalling host, come in and sit down... Would you like a drink?'
`That would be great' Brooke smiled and shrugged her jacket off before folding it over the arm of the sofa as she sat down
`Oh. Um…I've got soda or scotch… or coffee??'
`Soda's fine. Thanks'
Sam disappeared into the kitchen and re-appeared a few minutes later carrying a soda which she handed to Brooke, a bottle of whisky and a glass. She poured herself a large whisky and set the bottle down on the table in front of her, sitting down on the other corner of the sofa to Brooke, curling her legs up beneath her and turning to face the blonde.
`Well, um…cheers, I guess' Sam said as she tipped her glass towards Brooke and took a sip, wincing as the liquid burned down her throat.
`Cheers' Brooke replied softly 'So is this to do with your war on drugs story that I was taking the photos for?'
`Guess it must be, nothing else I am working on would warrant this' Sam gestured to her face
`But who, and why?'
`Could we not talk about this, it's still all a little too recent' Sam asked as she sipped her drink, feeling it`s warmth dull the aches throughout her body
`Sorry. It's just such an extreme thing for someone to do. Anyway… why don't you tell me about you? It's been so long… there must be so much to catch up on'
Sam looked uncomfortable `Um… this is pretty much it. Finished Kennedy, went to college, worked for a bunch of local papers during the holidays and the magazine offered me a job when I graduated. Pretty uneventful, excepting tonight, of course' Sam pulled a face and winced `What about you? We kind of lost touch after you moved'
Brooke's eyes took on a faraway look briefly before she answered `I'm sorry Sam…I never meant for that to happen… it's just with a new school and a new place to live…' Brooke's voice trailed off and she smiled sadly
`So come on, is there a Mr Brooke? Any Brooke juniors? How did you end up as a freelance?' Sam stopped and bit her bottom lip realising she sounded like an interrogation `Sorry….I didn't mean to bombard you like that… its just four years is a long time'
`It's ok' Brooke said, placing a placating hand on Sam's thigh
`How about we order some food' Sam leapt off the sofa and grabbed the phone `What do you fancy?'
`Um… whatever, I don't mind' Brooke replied, looking slightly hurt at Sam's sudden flight
Sam hit the speed dial on her phone and Brooke tried not laugh as Sam tried to explain to the person taking her order that she actually didn't want the same thing she always ordered, obviously confusing them. Finally succeeding in placing her order Sam hung up the phone and perched on the edge of the sofa, refilling her glass and gripping it with both hands.
`No there is no `Mr Brooke' and definitely no Brooke juniors' Brooke said softly
Sam slowly turned to face Brooke, settling back on the sofa slightly
`what about you? No significant other?'
`well, that was descriptive. Come on, you can't sum up fours years that briefly. What else have you been up to?'
`Actually… that really was pretty much it…How about you?'
`Ok, I give in, one of us has to start here; I transferred to San Fran high and decided to make a change… I gave up cheerleading and decided to work on the school paper. I'm no writer, but I discovered I could take pictures…capture a moment, you know? And I found I loved it, so when I graduated I went to college here and majored in photography. I worked for an agency during the holidays, to get some experience and I found I could earn a living with it, so I stuck with the agency once I graduated, so I'm not really freelance. I also do weddings and bar mitzvahs so it's not exactly glamorous'
`But I thought you wanted to go away to college?'
`I lived my whole life in Santa Monica, so moving to San Francisco was getting away'
`I guess… so how was your new school and college?'
`I think I learned more about myself at college than I did about photography' Brooke laughed `taking photos is just that; you point and you shoot, you either have an eye for it or you don't'
`that's like saying I just write facts, there is whole other part to it, you have to have the facts and some interest to it, some hook, surely that's like taking a photo, there has to be the right composition and light and stuff?'
`I guess, but I photograph what I see. Like the picture I took of you, it was all there, the emotion, the aura, I guess, I didn't have to look for it; it was just there' Brooke shrugged
The buzzer went making Sam jump and spill her drink
`Shit' she swore softly as she set the glass on the coffee table, shaking the liquid off her hand as she stood and crossed to the door.
Sam peered through the spy hole before undoing the locks and opening the door, taking the large box of food from the delivery guy and setting it down on the coffee table. Scooping up her bag from the chair, she rummaged though it. She handed the guy a couple of bills, mumbling her thanks as she shut and re-bolted the door.
`God, how many are you feeding?' Brooke asked as she started unpacking boxes
Sam sat on the sofa and pulled out two sets of chopsticks, handing one set to Brooke and unwrapping her own.
`I just ordered the set menu' Sam picked up the menu from the coffee table `oh. The set menu is for three. Oh well, won't have to cook for a couple of days' she shrugged `hope you're hungry'
Sam picked up a box and opened it, digging in her chopsticks and starting to eat
`So what did you mean 'you learnt more about your self than you did about photography'?'
`Well, college is about finding out who you are, right? You must have done the same, you know, trying new things?' Brooke looked uncomfortable `You are just the same as you were in school, though, always the journalist'
Sam smiled 'yeah…I guess…I wasn't terribly wild in college though, I was too busy working for the paper and studying'
Brooke frowned `That's not the Sam I remember, you always had time for having fun with your friends'
Sam didn't reply, her gaze focussed on her chicken chow mein
`So come on then, what about you?'
`Really… there is nothing to tell. I graduated Kennedy… went to USC and majored in journalism and got recruited for the Bay when I finished'
`So no significant other and the Chinese know your order without you telling them? There must be more than that for four years?'
`Well… there was someone, but it ended. Last week actually, wasn't ever serious'
`Oh? What happened?'
`I work long hours and she got fed up of waiting in restaurants for me to never show, `cause some story came up' Sam shot Brooke a look, waiting for a reaction that never came
`How long were you together?'
`Over a year. What about you? You can't tell me you never met any one in four years?'
`I never said I didn't, just not the right someone. I went out with a couple of people, but like you, nothing serious'
`Still a fan of footballers, then?'
`Not too many woman play football at college'
Sam coughed violently, choking on her noodles. She took a large swig of her drink and the colour in her face slowly returned to normal
`I'm sorry, Brooke, I thought you said women'
`Yeah? So I dated one guy…. Why the hell are you so shocked, we both play for the same team, for God's sake'
`I'm sorry… I…well… I just I never figured you were interested in women'
`The feeling is mutual. My God, why do you think I agreed to leave with Kelly all those years ago Sam? I never thought you'd be interested, so I left. I hoped the distance would help me get over you'
Sam squeaked and emptied her glass, quickly pouring another
`You…me… you liked me?'
`I was in love with you Sam'
`Loved me? You….. you loved me? Oh… God' Sam, buried her face in her hands, slowly shaking her head. Lifting her head up moments later she stared Brooke in the eye
`Well aren't we the stupid ones. I love you Brooke. I always have'
Brooke didn't say a word but leant over and took the glass out of Sam's hand and placed it on the coffee table. Bringing her hand up to Sam's face, she rested her palm against Sam's cheek and gently pressed her lips to Sam's. Pulling away she left her hand where it was
`I still love you. I never stopped'
`You love me?'
`Yes. Do you really have to repeat everything I say?'
`I'm sorry, it's just finding out the woman I have been in love with for over four years tell me she loves me too is kind of a shock, you know?'
`Yes. I do know'
Brooke let her hand fall back into her lap and she stood up.
`Look I think I should go… you've had enough shocks for one evening'
Brooke picked up her jacket and pulled it on
`Call me… tomorrow… get some sleep Sam'
Brooke bent and kissed Sam softly on the cheek. Before Sam could move Brooke let herself out of the door and was gone, leaving Sam staring at the door in shock.
Sam opened her eyes slowly, allowing the ceiling to slowly come into focus. Picking up the clock she started at it and blinked; 9am. As she slowly sat up the events of the previous evening slowly washed over her fuzzy brain. Reaching up she gently felt her nose and winced at the contact.
Images flooded her mind as she remembered being attacked leaving work and waking up in the emergency room.
She remembered Jim bringing her home and Brooke's message when she hadn't shown up to meet her. She remembered Brooke coming over and then telling her she loved her.
Sam was fully awake then as reality poured in on her; The whole time she had been pining over her, Brooke had been in love with her too.
Sam flopped back onto the bed with a groan. Brooke had kissed her and then she had left.
Reaching out a hand she grabbed the phone from next to her bed and hit speed dial
`You have reached Josh, Lily and Josie, please leave your message after the beep and we'll call you back….. Beep'
`Lily, it's Sam…. When you get this, can you call me? Thanks, bye.'
Sam hung up the phone and stared at the ceiling. Sitting up slowly she pulled off the oversize tee-shirt she wore to bed and padded into the bathroom to take a shower.
Sam got dressed slowly, in deference to her broken ribs, pulling on black trousers, a black blouse and a black jacket. Pulling on a pair of black boots she straightened up and stared at her self in the mirror. Her broken nose was still swollen and slightly purple, her eyes ringed with deep purple bruising, fading to yellow down her cheekbones.
Sam turned away from the mirror and walked into the lounge, picking up her bag she let herself out of the door.
Sam sat in the police station twenty minutes later, hands wrapped around a cup of coffee as she waited for an officer to come and take her statement.
The precinct was a hive of activity, even this early on a Thursday morning; uniformed officers bringing in handcuffed suspects, loud conversations and phones ringing constantly somewhere out of sight of the front hall all merged to a loud din around Sam as she sat on her own on a bench in front of the reception desk.
She had finished her coffee by the time a man came out of an office behind the reception desk and walked up to her. He introduced himself as Detective Stevens and led her to an interview room further down the hall.
The detective was tall and lean, with thinning brown hair brushed back from his forehead, although Sam guessed he wasn't much older than early thirties. Sam decided he was quite attractive in a rugged kid of way. His brown eyes were warm and friendly as he spoke
`Looks like whoever this guy was he did a pretty good job on your face' detective Stevens said as he sat down on the other side of the table from Sam
`Yeah and a lot of people pay good money to have their nose done' Sam laughed mirthlessly
`You wanna tell me what happened?'
Sam took a deep breath and described her attack, she didn't remember having seen anyone and was thinking about something else, so didn't hear anyone approach. Having had a bag thrown over her head she couldn't describe her attacker.
`I'm not really a great deal of help here, am I?' Sam finished
`More than you think Miss McPherson'
`But I didn't see anything and whoever it was didn't have an accent'
`No but the way you described the attack tells me a lot'
`What do you mean? I haven't told you anything…. This has happened before, hasn't it?' Sam stared at the detective, watching his facial expression although he didn't reply
`This is common MO isn't it?'
`Yes and no. the only other times I've seen it, the victims don't tend to report it'
`How can you have seen it before if it's not….oh' realisation of what the detective was implying dawned on Sam `they end up dead, don't they?'
`The bag your boss gave us is the same as has been found on a number of victims who have been stabbed to death'
`Then why aren't I dead?'
`You said the guy who attacked you said this was just a warning?'
`Oh… God' Sam felt nauseous at the thought that she was lucky to have got away from last night with her life
`the people who ended up dead weren't exactly the types to heed warnings, or report them. Can you tell me what you have been working on, maybe it'll give us a lead on how to catch this guy'
`I… um' Sam stared at the detective in shock, still trying to come to terms with what he had told her `I am working on a story about the war on drugs, how we're losing as the junkies and the dealers are taking over more and more of the city, how there are pushers outside schoolyards and parks where kids play….. How is that connected to my getting beaten up?'
`I need a list of all the people you have spoken to in connection with this story'
`Is anyone else working on this story with you? We need to talk to them if there is'
`Uh… I got the assignment from Jim…oh and I worked with a photographer; Brooke McQueen, she's not in any danger, is she?'
`Look….. I'll talk to a few people, but I'm sure you'll be safe as long as you don't pursue this story'
`I can't just let it drop, especially not after this!' Sam shouted
`I would seriously think about dropping it, these people mean business'
`So do I, Detective'
Sam had duly provided the list of people she had interviewed and arranged to meet before she left, heading back to the office.
`You are meant to be taking it easy Sam' Jim's voice boomed across the office as soon as Sam walked through the door, causing everyone to turn and stare at her
Several people asked if she was ok and voiced their concern as she walked across the open plan room to Jim's office. As she walked into Jim's office Sam closed the door.
`The police told me to drop it'
`I know, they told me the same thing last night'
`You know I won't'
`Sam, this isn't a game'
`I know, Detective Stevens said that anyone else who had been attacked like me, getting a bag thrown over their head hadn't lived to report it'
`I'm pulling the story Sam'
`You can't do that, I'm on to something' Sam shouted
`But you don't know what and any further investigation could get you killed' Jim shouted back, exasperated
`What about finding out the truth?' Sam asked in a calmer voice
`What good is the truth if you don't live long enough to write the damn story?'
`You can't just drop this'
`Yes, I can. And I have. Subject closed Sam. I'm not letting you get yourself get killed over this'
Sam fumed silently
`Look, take the rest of the week off, give yourself a break, go home, let your injuries heal. There will be other stories. You're a good reporter Sam, but you have to know when to let go'
`Yeah, so I'm told'
Sam let herself into her apartment and dropped her bag on the floor. She eased her jacket off past her broken ribs and threw it at the chair. Stomping into the kitchen she threw things together for a pot of coffee, slamming cupboard doors as she went.
Picking up a mug from off the draining board she walked over to the counter and set it down next to the coffee machine. Picking it up, she hurled it at the wall
`SHIT' she screamed as the mug shattered.
Sam stopped and stared at the fragments of the mug, breathing heavily
`shit' she said softly
A knock at the door snapped her out of her thoughts
Sam turned to stare at the door, glancing back at the remains of the mug she turned and walked over to the door. She peered through the spy hole, before opening the door
`You ok? I heard shouting' Brooke said as she walked through the door
`Bad day. The mug got the brunt of it' Sam smiled, embarrassed
`Look, I know I said for you to call me, but I just wanted to check you were ok. I called you at work, but they said you'd gone home'
`My story got pulled'
`Me too. Do you want a coffee? I've just made some'
`That'd be nice, but why don't you let me do it, I'm not sure your crockery can stand you making it' Brooke smiled
Sam returned the smile and sat down heavily on the sofa
`So why aren't you working today?'
`Slow day, so I thought I'd take the day off. I have to work this weekend anyway, the daughter of a friend of my boss is getting married and I am doing the photography so I thought I'd take some time in the week'
`Perk of being a freelance, I guess'
`Well, I'm not exactly freelance, I work when I have assignments'
Brooke came into the lounge carrying two steaming mugs and handed one to Sam
`I had to go to the police station today and give my statement'
`How'd it go?'
`Pretty scary, actually. It seems that there have been a number of attacks where people have been jumped and had a bag thrown over their head so their attacker can't be identified. Kind of a moot point since none of them have lived to tell anyone'
`Oh my God` Brooke sank onto the sofa next to Sam `But how come… you…you know..aren't…'
`Apparently the kind of people that normally receive these kind of warnings aren't the sort of people likely to report warnings…or heed them, either, so the first the police hear about it is when someone ends up dead'
`Yeah. But this means there is more to this than just my story'
`Sam, you can't seriously be thinking about pursuing this…. You could get really hurt'
`It doesn't matter anyway, Jim pulled the story'
`Well…. Good. I don't like the thought of you getting hurt Sam' Brooke leant over an touched Sam's cheek, careful to avoid the bruising spreading from her nose
Sam flinched and stood up, pacing across the lounge. Realising what she was doing she stopped and turned the stereo on. Michael Stipe's voice drifted out of the speakers, telling them everybody hurts.
Sam picked up her coffee and sat down in the armchair facing Brooke
`Since we are both free today, you want to do something?'
`What did you have in mind, I mean I'm not exactly up to be seen in public looking like this' Sam gestured to her face
`How about a movie then? Nice dark room, not many people on a week day'
`Yeah, why not. Let me get changed first'
Sam disappeared into the bedroom, reappearing a few minutes later in faded blue jeans and a black long sleeved top
`Wow, you actually own an item of clothing that's not black'
Sam looked down at her outfit and shrugged `You ready then?'
Brooke watched Sam slowly ease on a cropped black suede jacket, her movements betraying the pain from her ribs
`How are you doing today?'
`Sore' Sam winced as she finished pulling her jacket on.
She held the front door open for Brooke, carefully locking it behind her
They walked down the street in silence, both lost in their own thoughts
`So, what…' they both said in unison
`You first' Sam said
`What do you fancy seeing?'
`Um...dunno… I haven't been to the movies for a while'
`You were always a fan of thrillers, if I remember correctly'
`Maybe a little close to home for today'
`Oh… right. Sorry.'
They walked on in silence, until they reached the Movie theatre
`Anything grab your fancy?'
`How about `Ice Age'? that looks fun' Sam gestured at the poster
`Sure, why not'
`D'you want some popcorn?' Brooke said checking their tickets
`And what's a movie without popcorn?'
`Hey, I remember, half and half, right?` Brooke said as she bounded over to the snacks stand `I always thought that was weird `till you made me try it'
`I like sweet and I like salty popcorn what's wrong with having both?'
`Nothing. Nothing at all' Brooke said smiling as she handed the warm box to Sam, helping her self to a handful of kernels from the top
`That was a bad idea' Sam said smiling and clutching her ribs as they emerged blinking into the sunlight later that day
`Laughing is always a good idea' Brooke said spinning on the spot to face Sam
`Not when you have broken ribs, it's not' Sam grimaced
`But you had fun, right?'
`Yeah, I had fun' Sam admitted
`How about lunch? I'm starving'
They sat on Sam's sofa a while later, as Sam felt everyone was looking at her, with her bruised face.
So they spread out their sandwiches and chips over the coffee table and chatted as they ate, Sam telling Brooke all about the people they had known in high school and where they were now
Brooke lent over and wiped mayonnaise from the corner of Sam's mouth, frowning as Sam flinched and moved away from the contact
`Sam, have I upset you in some way?'
`Why do you say that?'
`Every time I touch you, you flinch and move away'
`It's just…. it's just, well, it's so sudden. This. Us. I've thought about you everyday for four years and, well, now you're here'
`Isn't that a good thing?'
`Yes. No....Well…' Sam's voice trailed off
`Nice to know where I stand, Sam'
`It's just… well… you're all I've thought about in all that time and to have you here now it's just… I don't want to lose you again Brooke. I couldn't bear it.'
`I don't want to lose you either, Sam. I've wanted you for so long and now we've found each other again, I just want to hold on to you and never let go'
Their eyes met and several moments passed as they stared at each other. Brooke broke the moment first, leaning towards Sam and bringing her lips to meet Sam's. Sam didn't flinch and the contact deepened, Brooke's tongue gently touching Sam's lips, parting them as their tongues met and electricity flowed between them. Brooke pulled away first, staring deep into Sam's eyes, the look searing and passionate.
Sam returned the look briefly, before dropping her gaze
`Hey, that wasn't so bad, was it?` Brooke asked gently, placing her finger under Sam's chin and tilting her face so she could look into her eyes
Sam smiled shyly at Brooke, taking her hand in her own, linking her fingers though Brooke's
`Look, I have to cover this wedding Saturday, why don't you come with me?' Brooke asked gently
`Looking like this?' Sam gestured to her face
`I can help you cover the bruises with make up and anyway, it's a wedding, no-one will be looking at you. Except me' Brooke grinned wickedly at Sam
`I guess' Sam agreed grudgingly
`Maybe we could go out to dinner afterwards?'
`Like a date'
`Yes like a date. I meant it Sam, I'm not letting you go this time. Unless you want me to….'
`I'd like that' Sam replied, brightening and meeting Brooke's gaze
Brooke smiled and leant over to kiss Sam gently
`Then it's settled. I'll come over Saturday morning and help you get ready' Brooke glanced at her watch `but for now I'm gonna have to go, I have some stuff to sort out'
`I have some work to do anyway'
`As long as it's not the kind of work that gets you hurt again' Brooke stood up and frowned at Sam
`No, I have some other articles to finish. This one was my first shot at the lead' Sam said sadly
`There will be others Sam. You're a good journalist, never doubt that'
`Thanks' Sam stood and walked Brooke to the door
Brooke turned and gently hugged Sam, kissing her cheek before she left, insisting she would see her Saturday
Sam closed the door slowly and sank back down on the sofa. Grabbing her bag she pulled out her notebook and flipped through it.
[Ring, ring…ring ring]
Startled, Sam picked up the phone
`Sam…it's Lily, I just got your message, what's up?'
`Hi Lil…Brooke just left'
`Really? Did you meet her for that drink?' Lily asked eagerly
`Um… no… I got ….delayed'
`What do you mean delayed? How could you not have gotten away from work in time? God, Sam…'
`I got beaten up' Sam interrupted, knowing she was about to get another lecture off her friend about working too hard
`Oh…Are you ok?'
`Yeah… I will be. Brooke got worried when I didn't show and she called me. I invited her over and…well…you won't believe this, she said the reason she left was because she was in love with me, and didn't think I felt the same way'
`My god… you two are as bad as each other…so what happened?'
`My story got pulled and I got sent home after the attack and she came over to see if I was ok. And then she kissed me'
Lily squealed `ohmygod…that's great'
`Isn't it?' Lily asked after several moments of silence
`She asked me out Saturday, too'
`Why are you avoiding my question Sam? Surely this is a good thing? You have been in love with her for fours years and now you find out she feels the same and you aren't leaping for joy and screaming it from the rooftops. Why?'
`I…I'm scared of losing her again Lil. I couldn't handle it if I lost her again'
`So because you're scared, you don't even want to try?'
`It's not just that, I mean what about what happened with Chris, what if now I've finally got this chance with Brooke and I push her away? I have no idea how to do this Lil.'
`But you love her, right?'
`You have no idea how much'
`Then I'm sure you'll work it out. You just have to not let work take over and actually talk to her, tell her how you feel'
`yeah… I'm sure you're right… but'
`No. No `Buts' you can do this Sam, if you really want to and God knows you've told me how much you want to for the past four years. Now how the hell did you get yourself beaten up?'
By the time Sam hung up the phone up some time later, she had received another lecture that she should drop the story and had had to promise to call Lily Sunday with details of how her date with Brooke had gone.
Sam spent the rest of the afternoon flipping through her notebook and writing down everyone she had spoken to regarding the story and more importantly, everyone she hadn't managed to interview. The afternoon turned into evening and Sam finally gave up and went to bed well after midnight, her head spinning, no closer to who had ordered her attack.