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 at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: 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.
The ringing phone woke Sam Friday morning. Battling with the duvet, she turned the clock to face her; 6am. Bleary eyed Sam found the phone and dragged it back under the duvet
`'Lo' she mumbled
`You're not thinking of coming into work today, are you?'
`Morning Jim..uh.. I was , yeah'
`Thought so, that's why I called. Well, don't. Stay home, let your broken bones mend. Give yourself a break to get over this one and we can start on a new story on Monday, maybe something that doesn't involve threats on your life'
`I'm your Editor Sam, you don't ever argue with your Editor...God don't they teach you kids anything in journalism school anymore?' Jim chuckled
Sam couldn't help but smile at her boss's words `If you're sure?'
`Would I really have rung you at this hour if I wasn't sure?'
`Ok…um… thanks, Jim. I'll see you Monday'
`Bright and early'
Sam found her self listening to the dial tone and hung up the receiver.
Easing herself out of bed, Sam padded to the kitchen and set a pot of coffee to brew before taking a shower and pulling on jeans and a sweatshirt. Pouring herself a mug of coffee she carried it over to the sofa and sank down on the cushions, staring at the notes scattered across the coffee table. Diagrams linked names together with big black crosses through the names of people Sam had already spoken to. Sam sipped her coffee and flipped through the pages spread out in front of her, picking up her notebook up she started to make notes, re-reading research notes and biographies gathered from news clippings and the internet.
Sam was still lost in thought several hours later when the phone rang, startling her out of her thoughts as she answered it
`What are you doing?'
`Working… not all of us are freelance. Why?'
`Ok, what are you working on?'
`Magazine articles, that's what I do, Brooke, I'm a reporter'
`I was just concerned you might be working on something you aren't meant to be'
`What, you're my conscience now?'
`You were, weren't you? I knew you wouldn't let it drop'
Sam's only reply was an exasperated sigh
`I thought you might like to do something today'
`I told you… I'm working'
`No you're not… I called the magazine and they told me you had the day off'
`Yeah…well, I do have other stuff I'm working on' Sam replied huffily, annoyed at being caught out
`So you're free to spend the day with me' Brooke replied ignoring Sam's comment `I'm on my way over then' Brooke continued, not giving Sam chance to argue
For the second time that morning Sam found herself listening to the dial tone. Replacing the receiver she started to pick up the pages scattered over the sofa and table as there was knock on the door.
As Sam opened the door Brooke breezed past her
`I really was on my over, after I rang the magazine and they told me you weren't there I decided to come over and rang you on the way' Brooke smiled at Sam as she dropped her cell phone into her bag
`Do you want some coffee, since you're here?' Sam asked, dodging Brooke's attempt to kiss her
`Coffee's good' Brooke replied, frowning at Sam's actions
She dropped her bag next to the sofa and sat down, picking up Sam's notes and flicking through them
`So, what do you want to do today?'
`Um… I don't know really, what did you have in mind?' Sam replied as she re-appeared from the kitchen
`You're not good at this time off stuff, are you?'
`It's not something I really do. I got out of the habit, I guess' Sam shrugged as she placed a mug in front of Brooke and started to gather up her notes
`We could just talk. There is so much I want to know about you…It's been four years... where have you been, what have you seen?'
Sam stood still and stared at Brooke, surprised at the blonde echoing her own thoughts when she had discovered they were living in the same town
`There really isn't that much to tell. I think we pretty much covered it when you came over the first night'
Sam turned away from Brooke and changed the CD in the stereo, unsure as to what to say to her, now she was really back in her life
`Did you… did you really mean it? That you were in love with me, all this time?' She asked softly, turning to face Brooke
`Yes, I did' Brooke replied, standing and crossing the room to Sam
Gently she pulled the brunette into her arms, resting her head against Sam's
`I do' she whispered softly, kissed Sam's hair. She pulled away slowly, her hands resting on Sam's shoulders as she stared into her eyes `I always will'
Sam stared into Brooke's hazel eyes and felt the world stop. Brooke lent forward and gently pressed her lips to Sam's. She linked her fingers through Sam's and pulled her toward the sofa, curling up next to her as Sam sat down.
They spent the rest of the day curled up on the sofa, talking about their lives, their friends and families, about how they never would have had the chance to really get to know each other if it hadn't been for their parents falling in love. Brooke made Sam laugh endlessly, regaling her with tells of her exploits at college, when she had spent far more time partying than studying. Sam told Brooke about all the stories she had written, the causes she had championed for the college paper. Before either of them noticed the time passing, it was starting to get dark.
Brooke glanced at her watch `God, look at the time, I've gotta run, I need to get some more film before tomorrow' Brooke said as she stood up 'I'll be over earlyish though, to help you get ready, as I need to be there before anyone arrives to get set up. Sorry about running out like this… and we've had such a wonderful afternoon' Brooke grabbed her bag and kissed Sam on the cheek, before dashing out of the door.
Once Brooke had gone, Sam wandered round her flat, somewhat lost, before picking up her notes and sitting down on the sofa. She fell asleep much later once again surrounded by papers.
Sam was sprawled out on the sofa reading the morning paper and drinking coffee at eight the next morning when the peace and quiet was shattered by a frantic hammering on the door. Sam checked the spy hole and yanked the door open causing Brooke to almost fall though it, propelled by the force of her knocking.
`Oh… morning...I thought I might need to knock loudly to wake you up, you were never much of a morning person'
`I get up at six thirty every morning'
`Oh' Brooke looked deflated at another change from the Sam she used to know
`Well, do you at least know what you are going to wear?'
`It's not black is it?'
`You can't wear black to a wedding'
Half an hour later Brooke stood exasperated in front of Sam's wardrobe
`So, let me get this straight, you own precisely two items of clothing that aren't black and one of those is a pair of jeans'
`I guess… I'd never really thought about it'
An hour later Sam stood in front of her mirrored wardrobe doors, fidgeting under Brooke's scrutiny as they both stared at her reflection
`There, you'd barely know you've got a broken nose' Brooke said, pleased with her efforts
The swelling had gone down considerably and Brooke had done a fairly impressive job of covering up the rainbow of bruises round Sam's eyes. Sam was dressed in a black skirt suit, black shoes and her only other non-black item of clothing; a white collarless shirt.
`I guess you'll do' Brooke smiled at Sam as she turned to face her.
`Thanks… I'll...er… let you get ready Sam said nervously as she moved towards the bedroom door
Brooke appeared in the bedroom doorway a short while later in a pale cream trouser suit with an electric blue top underneath.
`You look amazing' Sam said, smiling
`I don't really get to get dressed up, I am working after all, but thanks' Brooke returned Sam's smile `Better get going really'
The ceremony was a lavish affair. The church was covered in white baby's breath and pale pink roses. The bride was stunning in a designer gown and every pew in the church was filled. Sam sat at the back with Brooke, who was the last to be seated, having taken pictures of the bride and the numerous family members as they arrived.
Once it was over and the bride and groom had left in the wedding car, Sam drove Brooke and her equipment to the hotel hosting the reception. It was held in at the best hotel in San Francisco, and the décor gave the impression of no expense having been spared. Sam found a table in the corner and watched Brooke as she mingled, taking endless photos of the wedding party and the vast number of guests.
As everyone was seated for the toasts, Brooke slid into the seat next to Sam, pointing her camera at the raised platform where the speeches were to be made. Several people took their turns to offer their congratulations to the bride and groom, their speeches polite and respectful.
As the best man stood and started his speech Sam felt all the colour drain from her face and she froze, unable to breathe. After a few minutes she recovered her composure enough to lean towards Brooke
`Who is that man?' she hissed in Brooke's ear
Brooke turned to look at Sam, shocked by the tone of her voice
`That's Tony, he works for the agency as well…. Sam, are you ok?' Brooke asked concerned by the look on Sam's face
`He's the one that attacked me… I could never forget that voice' Sam whispered, her own voice like ice
`It can't be… why would he… but he's a really nice guy Sam, I've known him since I started at the agency'
`I need some air' Sam said, standing abruptly and slipping out of the back door of the room, unnoticed past the raucous laughter filling the room as Tony finished a particularly embarrassing story about the groom
Sam stood on the stone steps of the hotel, breathing heavily as she lent against the wall
Brooke ran out of the door behind Sam
`Sam …Are you ok?'
`Yeah…' Sam turned to face Brooke, her face ashen
`Are you sure that's the guy? I mean you didn't see his face or anything….'
`I swear, I will never forget that voice until the day I die Brooke. It was him, I know it'
`But why would he beat you up and what was he warning you off? He works at the agency with me, he can't possibly have anything to do with your story'
`I'm sorry, Brooke, I think I just need to go home. Will you be ok with your stuff?'
`Uh…Yeah, sure… are you sure you're ok to drive home?'
`Yeah' Sam smiled thinly and started to make her way down the hotel steps
`I'll call you later' Brooke called after Sam's disappearing form
Sam burst through the door to her apartment, a few minutes later, pulling her jacket off as she ran into the bathroom and sank to the floor, retching violently
When the nausea had passed, she went to the front door and threw all the locks. Returning to the bathroom she stripped her clothes off and climbed under the shower, not moving until the water started to run cold. Wrapping herself in her dressing gown, she crawled under the duvet, wrapping it round her.
Sam stayed where she was, cocooned, falling into a fitful sleep. She woke up as dusk started to lengthen the shadows in her apartment. She realised the noise that had woken her was the phone ringing. Waiting until it stopped Sam reached out a hand from under the duvet and yanked the receiver off the cradle, placing it on the nightstand.
Throwing the duvet back, she padded into the kitchen and made herself a strong black coffee, lacing it with whisky to try and stop her shaking. Taking it into the lounge, she placed it on the coffee table, before padding back to the bedroom and grabbing the duvet, wrapping it round herself and sitting down on the sofa, sipping her coffee slowly, letting it warm the cold she felt in every part of her body.
On top of the book case the light on her answering machine flashed repeatedly.
As Sam slowly calmed down, her mind started to clear and she picked up her bag, pulling out her laptop, placing it on the table in front of her. Her cell phone was in the bag next to it and she picked it up and dropped it on the table, noticing the display flashed a message advising she had three missed calls. Picking it up she saw there was a call from Lily followed by two from Brooke's cell. She tossed it back onto the table.
Opening up her laptop she dialled up her internet connection, starting a search on the agency Brooke worked for. As the computer hummed to itself Sam threw the duvet off her shoulders and padded to the kitchen to refill her mug. As she crossed the room there was a loud knocking on the door, which rapidly grew to a hammering, accompanied by Brooke shouting
`Sam…. It's Brooke…are you ok? Let me in Sam'
Sam walked into the kitchen and poured another cup of coffee and carried it back to the sofa, setting it down next to her laptop
`Sam… Are you in there? C'mon… let me in, I'm worried about you'
The status bar on the laptop's screen flashed complete and Sam started to scroll through the information found.
`Sam? Ok maybe you're not in there…but if you're not why the hell aren't you answering your cell?'
As Sam sipped her coffee, the hammering on the door stopped
`Fine. But I'm not giving up'
Sam could hear footsteps as Brooke retraced her steps down the hall and then they faded as she went back down the stairs. Several minutes later Sam's cell started to ring. Without even looking at it Sam picked it up, switched it off and dropped it back into her bag.
In the rapidly darkening room Sam stared at her PC screen. Picking up a notepad and pen, she started to make notes.
By the time it was starting to get light the next morning, Sam finally closed her PC and dragged the duvet back into the bedroom, crawling under it she fell asleep. At 6.25am she rolled over and picked up her clock. Dropping it back on the nightstand she rolled over and went back to sleep.
Sometime around eight a fist snaked out from under the covers and hit the clock before Sam sat up in bed and realised the noise that had woken her wasn't her alarm clock but a violent hammering on the door.
Sam moved slowly to the door and looked through the spy hole. The person who had woken her up was a dishevelled looking Brooke
Sam leapt backwards as the assault on her door started up again
`Sam, open the damn door'
Sam slid the safety chain into place and opened the door fractionally
`Oh, thank god…are you ok? I've been calling but I didn't get any answer, so I came over last night but you weren't here….' Brooke's voice trailed off as she looked at the sliver of Sam visible through the crack in the door `God, you look awful'
`thanks' Sam mumbled and smiled thinly
`So… you gonna let me in?'
`Why the hell not Sam, what's going on?'
`Ok… hang on'
Sam closed the door and turned to scoop all her notes off the table and sofa, stuffing them and her laptop in her bag. Turning back to the door, she removed the chain and opened the door, letting Brooke in
Brooke took in the sight in front of her; at some point in the previous evening Sam had changed into checked cotton pants and a mismatched tee-shirt. Her hair was still mussed from sleep and the paleness of her skin and the dark smudges under her eyes exacerbated the fading bruises covering her eyes and nose.
`So, what the hell is going on?' Brooke demanded scowling at Sam `Are you ok?' her voice softened with the question
Sam didn't reply but walked into the kitchen. She returned several minutes later with two mugs of coffee and handed one to Brooke.
Brooke took the mug and sat on the sofa, staring at Sam as she perched on the edge of the armchair opposite her
`I needed to be on my own…it was a hell of shock….seeing him'
`But you could have answered my calls, I was worried, I just wanted to know you were alright, you looked awful when you left yesterday'
`Are you ok now?'
`Look, why don't I take you out for breakfast? Take your mind off it? And you look like you could do with eating something'
Sam felt her stomach lurch at the thought of food
`I just need to get some sleep… I'd rather be on my own… but, thanks' Sam smiled wanly
`I don't think it's good for you to be on your own… are you sure you don't want me to stay?'
`I'm fine… really'
`Well… if you need anything, give me a call. I'll be on my cell all day as I need to get the photos from yesterday developed'
Sam stood up and started to move to the door. Brooke took the hint and stood. As she left she stopped and kissed Sam gently on the cheek. Sam smiled thinly
`Anytime. Anytime at all' Brooke smiled at Sam and was gone
As Sam closed the door behind Brooke she threw all the locks and crossed the room to her bag. Rummaging in it she pulled out her cell phone and switched it back on; the display told her she now had twelve missed calls, eleven of which were from Brooke. Sam scrolled past to her phone book and auto-dialled the number
[ring, ring….ring] >click<
`Jim, it's Sam'
`How're ya doing, kiddo?'
`No so bad. Are you busy today?'
`Always...why, what do you need?'
`Your help, can you come over?'
`Yeah, right now in fact, you've saved me from mowing the lawn. I'll be there in ten'
Sam ended the call and went into the bedroom, shedding her pyjamas as she headed into the bathroom. She was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, retrieving her notes and laptop from her bag when there was a knock at the door
`Thanks for coming, Jim' Sam said as she held the door open for her boss
`No problem. What have you got?'
Sam sat on sofa facing Jim and outlined her shock at the wedding the day before and her subsequent research. Jim sipped his coffee and frowned as he patiently listened to Sam, saying nothing until she'd finished
`Damn it McPherson, I told you to drop it' Jim stood up and scowled Sam as he starting pacing
`What kind of reporter would I be if I gave up on a story just `cause it got tough?'
`Do you have any idea what you are getting yourself into?'
`That's why I need your help. You knew there was something here, or you wouldn't have given me the story'
Jim stopped pacing and turned to face Sam. `This story was meant to be about the city's war on drugs; not your personal war on the world'
Sam returned his gaze defiantly
Resignedly he sighed, and sat down again
`What have you got?'
Sam showed Jim her research and the diagrams she had drawn up
`After I realised who it was that was warned me off, I just didn't get it, why would a guy who works at a photography agency be out to warn me off? And warn me off what? So I got on the net and looked up the company's website. I mean everyone has them now, it's great publicity, right? So anyway I still couldn't see any connection until I looked at the work they do. They have this whole section of their staff of photographers who do assignments abroad. So far, so normal, right? But the assignments they go on seemed kind of, well, unusual, lots of South American shoots, but I've never heard of a lot of the publications they claim to have done work for, so I checked them out…about thirty percent of them don't exist, but enough do to make it look authentic. Then it dawned on me; what's the one thing customs can't check? Exposed film. If you x-ray it or open it, the film's ruined. It's a perfect cover for bringing stuff into the country and no-one's gonna argue with someone with press credentials… they'd be too scared of bad publicity.'
Sam stopped and looked at Jim
`But I can't prove any of it –it's all speculation, that's why I need your help'
Jim stared at Sam
`This is great work Sam, but like you said, it's speculation. We can't prove any of it without putting ourselves in danger. This is obviously a secret worth killing people to protect'
`There's something else …my girlfriend works for the agency. I have no idea if she is involved in this or if she`s in danger as well'
`I think the first thing we need to do is talk to that detective we spoke to after you were attacked. The police must have some idea of what's going on' Jim said
`Wait a minute. which part of my girlfriend works for these people and I have no idea whether she is involved in this or not did you not follow?' Sam stood up and started to pace `We can't just go to the police with this, without finding out what's really going on first'
`And which part of the warning to stay away from this that involved getting your nose and ribs broken by a possible murderer did you not understand?' Jim spat back
Sam and Jim glared at each other
Jim's glare turned to a smile as he looked at Sam. Sam looked at him quizzically, before realisation dawned on her
`Oh, no. so no, don't even think about it'
`What? All you need to do is find out if your girlfriend ever goes on these shoots to South America. you can tell her you were taking and interest in her career and checking out her company's website. I hear women like it when you take an interest in them' Jim chuckled
`This is insane. It's one thing for me to get beaten up in pursuit of my story, but to ask Brooke to put herself in danger is a whole other ball game'
`How did you plan to prove your theory, then Sam? Or were you just gonna come out and ask your girlfriend if she knows the company she works is mixed up in something illegal? Oh and while you're at it, you can ask her if she's ever been to South America and did she happened to bring any film canisters stuffed with narcotics or god knows what back with her?'
Sam sank onto the sofa, dejectedly `There has to be another way to prove what's going on'
`I know this isn't just about the story for you any more Sam, you need to know if Brooke's mixed up in this'
`I've waited four years for this chance with her, Jim' Sam laughed mirthlessly `I should have known it was never gonna be easy. But even if she's not involved, I couldn't ask her to volunteer to go on one of these trips just on the chance that she might be asked to smuggle stuff into the country'
`Fine. Then we'll think of something else. This story isn't going anywhere, let's both sleep on it and see what we can come up with tomorrow' Jim stood up as he spoke and walked towards the door. As he opened the door he turned to face Sam `Just leave it for now, Sam. We'll think of something, I promise. I just don't want you going all gung-ho and going charging in and getting yourself killed, ok?'
Sam stood up and looked at Jim, the lines in his face seemed deeper than when he had arrived at her apartment
`Ok. I promise. No gung-ho reporting today' she smiled
Jim returned her smile as he left
Once Sam was alone in her apartment again, she looked round feeling at a loss as to what to do with herself. Wandering aimlessly round the room she picked up her cell and replayed her messages. Putting the phone down, she picked up her landline and dialled familiar numbers
[Ring, ring ..]
`Lo' a masculine voice answered
`Sam, hey, how's it going? Lil said you'd seen Brooke'
`Uh. yeah. I did. How's things with you?'
`Good.' Josh sounded puzzled by the sudden change in subject, Sam heard the rustle as he held the phone to his chest `Lil... phone' the shout was muffled
There was a pause, before a female voice came on
`Sam? Where have you been, I've been trying to call you.'
`I know...I'm sorry'
`Are you ok?' Lily's voice was filled with concern
`How's it going with Brooke?'
`Why? You know she loves you, and we all know you love her, so where's the problem here?'
`It's not that simple Lil. it's about more than just me and Brooke. `
`This has something to do with some story you're working on, right? You told me she was the photographer?'
`I...I'm sorry Lil, I just can't tell you about it'
`Fine. but you let her go again and I swear I will come up there and slap some sense into you'
`I thought you were a pacifist, Lil?'
`Yeah, but even I have my limits McPherson.'
Sam laughed and they moved on to chatting about other things
Later, when Sam got off of the phone, she busied herself cleaning and tidying the flat to keep herself occupied and keep her mind off what Brooke may or may not be involved in.
She was singing along with U2, booming out of her stereo, much later as she pottered round the kitchen, chopping vegetables when there was a knock on the door. Picking up the towel, Sam dried her hands as she walked to the door and peered through the spy hole.
`Brooke' she said, surprise colouring her tone as she opened the door
`Can I come in?'
`Uh.. yeah' Sam stepped back to let her in
`Something smells good'
`Minestrone soup, I needed comfort food'
`I had to see you. I had to know what last night and this morning was about. Why are you shutting me out already Sam?'
`I'm not. I ..I just needed to be alone after seeing that guy yesterday'
`Alone was the last thing you need to be. what's going on?'
`Nothing . I .'
`It's about this, isn't it?' Brooke angrily threw a sheaf of papers onto the coffee table
Sam picked them up and started leafing through them, her eyes widening as she scanned the information
`Brooke, what the hell is this?' Sam stared at the blonde in shock
`I know you Sam, you wouldn't just let this drop, even less so after seeing Tony and knowing that it was him who attacked you. You aren't the only one who wanted to know why someone who worked at a photography agency would be warning you off a drugs story. I might not be the hot-shot reporter here, but I'm not stupid either'
`Assignment sheets. I downloaded them off the database in the office while I was waiting for my photos to dry. I guess you already know the magazines these shoots are for don't actually exist.'
`Is that want you found out, why you didn't want to let me in? You thought I was mixed up in this? Brooke's tone was neutral, but her eyes betrayed exactly what she thought of Sam's assumptions
`What was I supposed to think? I haven't seen you in four years Brooke, I don't know you anymore. You said you'd been working there since you were in college. How did I know you didn't know what was going on?'
`You used to know me. how could you possibly think I could condone something like this, let alone be a part of it?' Brooke's voice was unnaturally calm
`You know I can't prove any of this, don't you?' Sam asked as sank onto the armchair behind her
Brooke perched on the corner of the coffee table and looked at Sam
`It was another reason not to let me in, into your life, I mean, wasn't it?' Brooke asked bluntly
Sam looked up, her eyes meeting Brooke's
`My soup's burning' Sam stood up abruptly and went back into the kitchen.
Brooke followed her `I still don't get it, how could you possibly imagine I knew what was going on and still work for those people?' The edge returning to her tone
Sam turned to face Brooke `To be honest, I didn't know what to think, I'm still trying to come to terms with seeing you again after so long, after thinking about you every day, dreaming of seeing you again for all this time, and then when you told me you loved me...' Sam picked up her spoon and slowly stirred her soup `I don't know how to do this, Brooke. I don't know how to let you into my life, I've spent so long trying to keep everyone away from me, so I couldn't get hurt again like it hurt when you left, I don't know how to let anyone in' Sam spoke so softly Brooke barely caught her words
The anger drained from Brooke at Sam's words, gently, she touched Sam's arm, turning the brunette to face her, before wrapping her arms around her, pulling her close
`Maybe you can let me teach you' Brooke whispered, pulling away slightly to bring her lips to Sam's
Her lips barely brushed Sam's at first, but then as the brunette responded, the kiss became more passionate, tongues meeting briefly as Sam bought her hands up to Brooke's back, pulling her closer into the embrace
The years of desire poured out of Sam into the kiss, before she abruptly pulled away and stepped back
Her eyes slowly tracked up to meet Brooke's, seeing the hurt and confusion in their depths
`I'm sorry' Sam whispered `Could we take this slowly?'
The clouds of confusion left Brooke's eyes as she returned Sam's gaze `absolutely'
`Um. do you want to stay for something to eat?' Sam asked shyly
`I'd like that' Brooke smiled
She stood and watched as Sam stirred the contents of the pot, occasionally adding things and tasting it. After a while she opened the cupboard over the worktop and pulled out two bowls, ladling soup into them. She opened the drawer and pulled out two spoons, handing one to Brooke, along with a full bowl. They took their soup into the lounge and took a corner of the sofa each.
As she ate, Sam picked up the papers Brooke had brought and flipped through them.
`Where do we go from here?' she asked, turning to face Brooke
`Like you said, you still can't prove anything. Maybe you should turn it all over to the police and let them figure it out. That is their job, after all.' Brooke paused 'and I really don't want you to get hurt again over this'
`But if the police really knew what was going on, that guy. Tony would have been behind bars, not beating the shit out of me in car park. I need proof of what's going on before I go to the police'
`I'm obviously not going to be able to talk you out of pursing this, am I?' Brooke stared intently at Sam as she spoke
Sam met Brooke's stare, but didn't say anything
`But what can you do right now?'
Brooke laughed at the look of innocence on Sam's face
`You're right' Sam said slowly stirred her soup, staring into the bowl as if it held the answers she needed `there is absolutely nothing I can do about it right now, but first thing tomorrow morning I am going to figure out why a guy at a photographers thinks I know enough to warrant warning off and what exactly is worth killing to protect'
Brooke decided not to even try and argue with the look of determination on Sam's face.
`Fine, but for today, let's talk about something else, before you drive yourself crazy trying to figure out questions you don't have answers to'
`Ok. What did you have in mind?'
`How about us?. you?.all the things I missed out on by running away four years ago'
Sam continued to stare into her soup
`I thought we weren't going to talk about questions I don't have answers to'
Sam looked at Brooke as the blonde winced at the response
`I'm sorry...I didn't mean to sound so harsh' Sam put her bowl on the coffee table
`What did you mean, Sam? You told me you love me but you keep running away from me'
`I.I don't know. I don't know how to be with you, Brooke. I've wanted this chance for so long and now I just don't know what to do'
`I love you Sam, I want to be with you, you're not the only one who has been waiting for this chance. I would wait forever for you, until you're ready for this. I don't want to lose you again'
Sam raised her eyes until she met Brooke's gaze and slowly reached across the sofa and slid her hand into Brooke's, intertwining their fingers.
`I know I don't want to lose you again either Brooke. I just wish I'd had the courage to say something then' Sam snorted with laughter `I rush into situations where I put my life at risk, but don't have the courage to tell the woman I love how I feel'
`But you didn't run hundreds of miles away, because you were too scared to say anything' Brooke replied softly
`I guess that makes us even then'
`I guess' Brooke murmured as she idly rubbed her thumb over the back of Sam's hand
Letting go of Sam's hand, she placed her hand gently against Sam's cheek. Leaning forward she brushed her lips over Sam's. Sam's eyes closed as she melted into the touch, before Brooke slowly pulled away, taking Sam's hand again.
`How about I make you dinner tomorrow night?'
`I'd like that' Sam found herself smiling as she spoke
`I'll give you the directions' Brooke picked up Sam's notebook and flipped to a new page `it's not that far from this place, actually' Brooke said as she sketched a map in the notebook `come over around seven, you'll be finished work by then?'
`I'll make sure of it'
Brooke placed the notebook back on the table and stood up.
`Look, it's been an eventful weekend, why don't I leave you to get some sleep and I'll see you tomorrow night?'
Sam stood up `Actually, that sounds like a good idea, I am really tired'
Brooke slid her arms around Sam waist and pulled her into a tight embrace, lightly kissing her cheek.
`Till tomorrow, then. Try not to get into any trouble before then'
Sam smiled 'I'll try' she said as she held the door for Brooke, watching her disappear down the stairs
Sam closed the door, smiling to herself as she realised she was looking forward to her date with Brooke the next day. Scooping up their soup bowls she carried them into the kitchen, where she slowly tidied up.
Putting the last of the dishes away Sam wandered into the lounge and flopped onto the sofa. Grabbing the remote she turned the TV on and flicked round the channels before finding an old movie and letting herself get engrossed, the plot keeping her mind off anything more taxing than guessing whodunit before the detective.
As the closing credits started, Sam punched the set off and dropped the remote onto the sofa as she stood and stretched, yawning loudly as she padded into the bedroom.
After changing into an oversize tee-shirt Sam slid under the duvet and picked up the paperback from her nightstand, reading until she fell asleep several minutes later.
The next morning Sam stood in front of her wardrobe, contemplating the contents, dressed only in a towel. Knowing she wouldn't have time to change before meeting Brooke she was trying to decide on a suitable outfit for both work and her date.
She picked out a trouser suit and blouse and sighed as she realised her choices were limited to variations on a theme; black suits and black tops.
Once she was dressed, Sam stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror and did her best to cover up her fading bruises with foundation, before adding black eyeliner. Casting an appraising eye over the final effect Sam realised despite her efforts, she looked no different than she did any other day, which the exception of the scar starting to heal on the bridge of her nose.
When she arrived at work a short time later, she realised that despite her eventful weekend, some things were comforting in their familiarity; as she walked over to the kitchenette in search of coffee she passed Jim's office and saw him bent over his desk scribbling furiously.
When she walked back past his office with a full mug of coffee, Jim looked up long enough to tell her he would meet with her later that morning before returning to what he was working on. Sam sat down at her desk and sipped her coffee. Placing it on the cluttered desk in front of her, she grabbed her bag and started unpacking files and her laptop. As she placed her files on her desk a sudden thought occurred to her. She rummaged in the depths of her bag and pulled out her cell, flipping it open and scrolling through the numbers. Finding the one she wanted she hit dial and listened to the electronic ringing
`Hello?' A sleepy voice mumbled
`Brooke? It' Sam'
`Couldn't wait till tonight to talk to me, huh? I like a woman who's keen' Brooke sounded slightly more awake, humour colouring her tone
`Huh? Oh, yeah. um.no. I had a question for you'
`Oh' Brooke sounded disappointed
`You're not cancelling on me?'
`No, definitely not'
`Good' Brooke sounded relieved `what's the question?'
`The photos you took for me, you developed them, right?'
`Yeah.I have a small dark room in my apartment, so I worked on them here, I didn't want to go into the office in case I got landed with an assignment. Joys of working for an agency, I can take a day off when I feel like it. Why do you ask?'
`Well, other than you, who else would have seen them?'
`No one -I couriered them straight to you when they were dry'
`If no-one else saw me, how did Tony know what I was working on?'
`You said it yourself, someone you were trying to talk to didn't want to talk to you'
`Yeah, but.mmm...ok, well, thanks Brooke'
`I'll see you tonight'
`Um.oh, yeah, I'm looking forward to it'
Sam distractedly ended the call, her mind elsewhere. Picking up the pack of photos Brooke had sent her, she upended the envelope, sending the pictures cascading across her desk. When the last one fell out, Sam bent to open her desk drawer, rummaging through the contents. Stationary supplies spilled over the side of the drawer and skidded across the floor, unnoticed by Sam in her search. Finally locating the object she was looking for she yanked the magnifying glass out and started to riffle through the pictures scattered over the files and papers covering her desk. Picking each one up she studied it under the glass, frowning as she did so, tossing each one aside, unable to find what she was looking for.
She dropped the last photo on the desk and threw the magnifying glass down. Folding her arms and sighing in frustration.
Suddenly she realised there was one picture she'd missed. Grabbing her bag, she unzipped the side pocket and pulled out the unmarked file. Opening it she rescued the magnifier and studied it intently, not focusing on the image of her, but the background. After a few minutes, her expression cleared as she put the photo down and stared into space, the cogs in her mind slowly beginning to click into place.
The sound of a voice next to her snapped her back into reality with a jolt
`Sorry, I seem to be making a habit of making you jump'
`Sorry Jim, I was miles away'
`So I see' Jim smiled indulgently `I've finished up the article I was reviewing, so I thought we could talk now'
`Oh, right. Yeah.' Sam grabbed the photos spread over her desk and attempted to re-assemble them in a tidy pile, before lifting up various files in a vain attempt to track down her notebook `be right with you'
Jim chuckled and started to move in the direction of his office `whenever you're ready, Sam' he called over his shoulder
`Shit' Sam swore softly as she banged her head on the underside of her desk as she finally located her notebook under her desk, sent flying by her earlier frantic search. Picking up her coffee she followed her boss as he sat down behind his desk.
Sam grabbed the pile of files threatening to topple off the chair in front Jim's desk and placed them on the floor before sitting in the now vacant chair.
`Jim, I've been thinking and I've had an idea.'
Sam was interrupted by Jeff, the local entertainments editor sticking his head round the door
`Sorry Jim, there's a Detective Stevens here asking to see you'
`I didn't know the local force knew this hour of the morning existed, Jim chuckled at his witticism as he motioned to the journalist to send him in.
Sam stood and turned round as the detective entered the office
`Looks like that's healing nicely' he said, gesturing towards Sam's face
`Yeah, the bruises are' Sam replied, not mentioning the fact that every morning since it happened she had been waking up in a cold sweat in the early hours, woken by the perpetrator's voice in her dreams.
`I'm glad' he said sadly
Sam looked puzzled
`What can I do for you detective?' Jim asked, leaning back in his chair and gesturing for the other man to sit
Sam scooped the files off another chair and dropped them on the floor before sitting back down
`Look, I know you are journalists, but this is not to go any further, I came here to make sure you've dropped your story. I know we've been over this, but the stakes just got higher; we found another body yesterday morning. That makes three, not including what happened to Ms McPherson.'
Jim didn't say anything, but his frown deepened
`Do you have any leads?' Sam stared intently at the detective
`No, but we are still following up on the list of people you were interviewing, or trying to anyway, so maybe that will help'
Sam didn't reply, but continued to stare at the detective
`Thank you for letting us know, detective. If we think of anything else we think might help we'll be sure to let you know' Jim rose as he spoke and thrust his hand across the desk
Detective Stevens stood up and shook Jim's hand
`I'd appreciate it. Ms McPherson' He nodded at Sam as he turned to leave
Jim waited until Detective Stevens had left the magazine office before he spoke, turning to face Sam
`Sam you don't know what this is really all about, you have no proof and therefore no story' His tone softened 'But I know you have a damn sight more to go on than the cops. I can't let you spend any more of the magazine's time on this, but if you come up with anything else I want to be the first to know, before you do anything that could get you in trouble'
Sam was too stunned to speak as she took the files Jim had picked up off the pile next to his desk and handed to her
`Now, get going I need to fill a magazine, and you need to write some stories to do it'
Sam nodded and gathered up her notebook, files and coffee mug and left Jim's office.
Sitting at her desk, Sam thought about what the detective had said, and then thought about what Jim had said and hastily opened the top file from the pile he had handed her.
The rest of the day passed in a blur as Sam desperately tried to get outlines written for the stories she had been assigned, the workload pushing all thought of anything else out of her mind, until she glanced at the clock on her laptop and squinted realising the only light in the room was from her laptop screen.
`Oh shit' Sam rapidly hit save and shutdown her computer, gathering her stuff together and ramming it in her bag as she realised she was due to be at Brooke's in ten minutes.
Flustered, Sam brushed her hair back out of her eyes and re-arranged the items she was carrying, before she dropped something. Slinging her bag over her shoulder she extracted the bottle of wine from where it was tucked under her arm and picked up the large bunch of flowers, which she had propped against the door. Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door in front of her.
The door opened and Brooke stood inside, dressed in pale blue jeans and a white shirt, unbuttoned, revealing a skin tight white vest
`Hi' She broke into a smile when she saw Sam and laughed lightly when Sam handed her the flowers
`These are lovely. Thank you'
She stepped back to let Sam in and closed the door behind them
`So are you going to explain my cryptic early morning alarm call?'
`Huh? Oh, God, I'm sorry..I didn't think, did I wake you up?'
`Yes. Not all of us get up before dawn on a Monday morning'
`Hey.it's ok. I can think of far worse ways to be woken up than by the sound of your voice'
`We covered that already. Now. `Brooke finished opening the wine and handed Sam a glass 'Have a drink and tell me everything'
`Oh, yes, that' Sam put her drink down on a nearby table and pulled her jacket off. Picking up her bag she pulled out the file and handed it to Brooke `I could really use a favour'
`Oh yes?' Brooke raised an eyebrow
`You said you have a darkroom here, do you keep your negatives here as well?'
`As a matter of fact I do, but I want to know what this is about before I agree to anything. Not for the first time I'm intrigued' Brooke opened the file and looked at the picture of Sam 'Ok, now I am just confused'
Sam walked over so she could look over Brooke's shoulder
`Look, there -do you see it?' Sam pointed towards the bottom corner of the picture
`I see bushes and a couple of small black blobs that could be anything' Brooke squinted at the picture
`Exactly, that's why I need you to blow it up'
`oookay' Brooke drew the word out, not following where Sam was going with her line of thought `I am obviously not going to have you paying full attention to a word I say until we do this, so I can do it now while dinner finishes cooking'
Brooke carried the photo towards the back of the apartment, closely followed by Sam. She opened the door at the end of the hallway into a small room, bathed in a faint red light.
`Shut the door behind you` Brooke said as she pulled open a drawer in a metal filing cabinet taking up a corner of the limited space
`Got it' she pulled a strip of film from the drawer and studied the tiny squares. Finding the right one she set about selecting and exposing the section Sam wanted at several times the magnification she had used originally. Slipping the paper into the tray of developing fluid she turned to face Sam, who had stayed out of the way by the darkroom's door
`So, are you going to explain this to me now?'
`When that photo develops, I'm not sure I'll have to'
Brooke turned back to the long shelf holding the trays of developing fluid. Picking up a set of tongs she pulled the photo from the tray and looked at it, before pegging it on the line strung across the room to allow it to dry.
She turned back to Sam
`I see.' She paused and frowned at Sam
Sam walked over and stared at the drying photo. At the edge of the section Brooke had blown up Sam was clearly visible staring out over the bay, but what was now more visible were the two men in her line of sight. One of them was Tony and he was handing something to another man. What it was that he was handing him couldn't be identified from the distance the photo was taken, even at a greater magnification.
`It wasn't who you talked to that got you beaten up, it's what you saw'
`But I didn't see it. I didn't even notice them, I was totally lost in thought when you took that photo. But Tony must have seen me. Why didn't he see you?'
`I was taking the pictures you wanted past the bushes at the edge of the park and..I turned round to see where you were, and that's when I took the picture. He couldn't have seen me.. What were you thinking about?' Brooke looked at Sam, her arms folded as she lent against the shelf behind her
Sam was jolted out of her thoughts as she stared at the photo
`What?' she turned to face Brooke
`What were you thinking about?'
Sam smiled, embarrassed `You'
`Oh' Brooke unfolded her arms and took a step towards Sam. In the confines of the small room, she now stood right in front of Sam. She reached out and rested her hands lightly on Sam's hips, gently pulling her towards her. Wordlessly she leant in and brought her lips to Sam's. Sam leant into the kiss and responded as Brooke's tongue gently touched her lips. Sam's lips parted as she allowed the blonde into her mouth. The kiss deepened as Sam moved towards Brooke, their whole bodies touching. They parted reluctantly, leaving Sam breathless and suddenly very aware of Brooke's hands on her hips.
`Dinner should be ready by now' Brooke spoke softly, smiling at Sam as she let her hands fall to her sides. Taking Sam's hand in her own she moved round her and opened the door.
Brooke led Sam back down the hallway, towards the open plan living area. Letting go of her hand, Brooke moved around to the other side of the breakfast bar, where the cooker was situated.
She picked up a bag of pasta and emptied the contents into a pan of water boiling on the hob.
Sam retrieved her glass of white wine and slid onto one of the stools on her side of the breakfast bar, so she could talk to Brooke while she finished cooking. Behind Brooke she could see a dining table, set for two and draped with a pristine cloth, matching napkins and gleaming silverware. In between the two settings were two white candles in plain silver holders.
`So what do you think they were up to?' Brooke asked as she stirred the boiling pasta
`That's the question really, isn't it? That is the piece of the puzzle that's still missing'
`It sounds like you have several pieces of it already'
`Well, so far we know how they are bringing whatever it is into the country and where it's coming from. But not what, or why. Yet' Sam counted off what they knew on her fingers as she spoke.
`But we know it's valuable. Worth killing people valuable'
`Three people, that we know of so far. Detective Stevens paid the magazine office a visit today. He was warning me off, again'
`But you being as stubborn as you are aren't going to let it drop' Brooke looked at Sam from under her eyebrows as she moved around the kitchen, adding things to the pan on the hob between them
`Well, at the moment I don't have a whole lot of choice. Jim has assigned me a load of articles for this week's issue and he said he can't spare any more time for me to pursue it'
Brooke shot Sam a surprised look `I'd thought you'd have fought him on it'
`What else can I do? I have hit a dead end and so have the cops, from what Stevens said this morning. Literally.'
`Well, for now you can come and eat dinner with me, `cause it's ready' Brooke said as she picked up the now full serving dish and carried it over to the table, placing it next to a large bowl of salad and a wooden platter of sliced bread
Returning to the kitchen she picked up her glass and the bottle of wine. She topped up Sam's glass as she sat and took a sip of her own
`Wow, this looks great' Sam said as she unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap
`Thanks. It's tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta. You're my guinea pig for the evening as I haven't tried it before'
Once they'd helped themselves, Sam picked up her fork and tested the pasta
`God, this is good. I'd forgotten you could cook'
`Believe me, it came in handy when I went to college, it was the only way I could afford to eat. I couldn't live on take-outs.'
`I'm sure I tried. Cooking was never something I had time for, unless I was writing about it. You know, I tried to get the college paper to start a restaurant review section, just so I'd get to eat for free.'
`Did it work?'
`Nope, but my professors said I wasn't the first to try it either'
`But you made me soup the other day, so you must be able to cook?'
`That was it, my whole repertoire. I can only cook that as it is just chopping a load of veg and shoving it in a pot. Lily taught me how to make it `cause she was worried I'd get malnutrition. Why do you think I have the Chinese on speed dial?'
`I like to cook, I get a lot of time to practice, while I'm waiting for my photos to dry.'
`Do you do take out? `
`No, but you have an open invitation for anytime you want at Chez Brooke'
Sam returned Brooke's smile as they continued to eat in companionable silence
`Thank you, that was wonderful' Sam said as she put her fork down and sat back some time later
`There's more if you want…' Brooke gestured towards the still half full dishes covering the table
`No…I'm fine, thanks' Sam smiled `Do you always cook for four?'
`Well, I don't want my guests to go home hungry'
`I really don't think there is any danger of that' Sam chuckled `Do you want me to help wash up?'
`No, thanks, it's fine.' Brooke picked up her glass and stood `Let's go get comfortable.'
Sam walked over to the sofa and settled into the cushions. Brooke collected another bottle of wine from the fridge before joining her. Tucking her bare feet under her as she sat and topped up Sam's glass.
`So, I told you about my day – how did yours go?'
`Well, I had this early morning alarm call…' Brooke laughed
Sam looked abashed
`It's fine, really. I should get up earlier than I do, but I just don't do well with mornings. Anyway, I was out working this morning, I had a photo shoot, but I spent most of the afternoon here in the darkroom. I have a small show coming up and I was unsuccessfully trying to pick some shots for it.' Brooke pulled a face
`I didn't realise you showed your stuff'
`Well, I really only do the agency stuff to pay the bills, as I've wanted to pursue it more as an artist ever since I first picked up a camera, but I got hooked as some of the assignments I do are fascinating and they give me the chance to take the sort of stuff I'm interested in' Brooke paused `I was hoping to ask you if you would mind if I included the shot of you….but I'm not sure that's such a good idea now'
`Why would you want a shot of me staring into space in a collection?'
`It's the expression on your face, the whole vibe you are giving off, I captured a moment, if you'd have known I was taking it, I would never have got the same shot'
`A picture paints a thousand words, huh?'
`Yeah' Brooke chuckled 'something like that'
`When's your show?'
`Friday night. I'm showing with a couple of other photographers, it's an "up and coming" thing'
`Maybe I'll be reporting on you soon "San Francisco's hottest new photographer"'
Brooke shrugged `Yeah, well. I'm not fussed about the labels, it doesn't matter, I just enjoy what I do'
`I can appreciate that. But I always wanted to make the front page, the cover story too'
`I thought it was all about pursuit of the truth?'
`It is. But respect of your peers goes a long way. You tell the truth and make the big news and people listen to what you have to say.'
`Ah, you and Lily always wanted to change the world.'
`Well we still do. Did I tell you Lily's studying to be a lawyer? She said she needs to take on the big guys on their own terms to change things'
`Never changed, huh?'
`I actually think she has got more vehement about it since little Josie was born.'
`She has a daughter?'
`She and Josh got married in senior year and little Josie came along when they were in their first year at college. They are crazy about each other. It's very sweet.'
`Wow… Josh Ford...there's a name I haven't heard in a long time'
`I'm sorry….. I didn't think… you dated him'
`That's what did it, you know? I figured if I couldn't make it work with him, it was never gonna work, but there was always something missing. It took me a while to figure it out, I mean Cheerleaders aren't meant to be gay, are they? It just doesn't fit. And then you and Jane moved in and I got to know you. Suddenly it all fell into place.' Brooke reached along the back of the sofa and took Sam's hand.
Sam looked up to meet Brooke's gaze. As their eyes met Sam felt something pass between them. Before she realised it they were kissing, arms wrapped round each other as they slid onto the sofa cushions. Sam didn't know who had initiated the kiss and at that moment she didn't care, Brooke's body was pressed against hers, so close she could feel the warmth of her body through her clothes. She could taste her, tinged with the wine they had been drinking. Slowly she felt a hand edging under her blouse, soft skin caressing her back, gently drawing her deeper into the kiss.
They parted fractionally, their lips almost still touching and Sam found herself hypnotised by Brooke's eyes and the barest hint of her perfume.
`I love you' Brooke breathed against Sam's lips
Brooke saw the clouds swirl across Sam's eyes as she suddenly sat up and then stood.
`I…I…I'm sorry…I have to go' Sam murmured looking round her in a panic
Grabbing her bag and jacket she turned to look at Brooke, her eyes not meeting the blonde's.
Before Brooke could even respond Sam was gone, the door gently clicking closed behind her.
Sam ran down the stairs, tears streaming down her face. As she reached the street she stopped in front of her car and suddenly realised she had had far too much to drink to even consider driving home.
`Stupid, stupid' she muttered as she turned and ran down the street, tears fogging her vision.
Behind her she didn't see Brooke burst out of the door behind her and watch her disappear round the corner.
Sam finally stopped running when she stood outside her building. Looking up at the dark windows she realised she couldn't face going home. Her cell started to ring faintly in her bag. Ignoring it she turned and started to walk, in the opposite direction from the way she had just run.
Heading across the street and round the next corner she kept walking until she came to a familiar door, pushing it open she walked inside and slid onto a bar stool, signalling the bartender.
Sam had lost track of how much she had had to drink sometime later as she pulled her cell from her bag. Flipping it open she looked at the display 0:35.
`Damn' she muttered as she realised it was too late to call Lily
The device in her hand beeped, the miniature picture of a phone flashing to tell her she had a voicemail. Sam stared at it as she took a large gulp of her drink, setting the empty glass down on the bar.
The bartender walked over with a bottle of whisky, but Sam gestured she had had enough. Pulling out her wallet she set a stack of bills on the bar and stood up, stuffing her phone back in her bag.
As she walked outside the cool night air hit her and she swayed.
Starting to walk home, she thought better of it and turned back to the road, flagging a passing cab.
Sam burst through her building front door a few minutes later and staggered up the stairs. Opening her apartment front door she dropped her bag into a chair and struggled to pull her jacket off, dropping it as well. Sam pushed the door closed behind her and threw the locks. In the dark she could she the message light on her answer phone slowing blinking at her. Ignoring it she swayed into the bedroom and fell face down on the bed, asleep instantly.
Sam opened her eyes and blinked slowly, groaning as the first fingers of dawn filtered through her window, unimpeded by the curtains she hadn't closed the night before.
Pushing herself off the bed she stood up and looked down at her wrinkled clothes. She turned round slowly and headed for the kitchen, setting a pot of strong coffee to brew and stripping her clothes off, shoving them in the washing machine. Pouring her first cup, she drank half of it in one gulp and topped it up, before carrying it back to the bathroom.
Opening the bathroom cabinet she pulled out a bottle of aspirin. Washing the tablets down with coffee she closed the cupboard and ignored her reflection. Stepping into the shower, she turned the jets on and stood under the water, scrubbing her teeth.
Getting out of the shower she wrapped a towel around herself and went in search of more coffee. By the fourth cup she was dressed and feeling more human as she as checked her reflection in the mirrored door before glancing at her clock: 7am.
As Sam was shouldering her bag she notice the message light on her machine was still flashing, pushing the button she replayed the message
`Sam? It's Brooke. Call me' Brooke's voice was full of concern
Opening her bag, Sam pulled out her cell and dialled her voicemail. Brooke's message was the same and left seconds before the one on her landline.
Opening the door, Sam hit dial on her phone and listened to it ring as she locked the door behind her. As she reached the stairs a voice answered.
`Hello, Ford residence, Josie Ford speaking'
`Hey Josie, how are you? It's Sam'
`Sam! Do you want mom?… MOM' the voice bellowed down the phone, making Sam's ears ring
`She's jus' comin' I have to go and get dressed for school. Bye Sam'
There was a thump as the phone was dropped on a table.
`Sam? What the hell have you done now that you are calling me at this hour?'
`Hi Lil, how are you?
`I'm fine, but you only ever call me this early when something's wrong so, spill'
`Busted, huh? Well, Brooke asked me over for dinner last night…. `
`Sam, that's great! You went, right?'
`Well it was great, we talked and Brooke's actually a really good cook. But after dinner, we were sitting on the sofa and …well, we kissed.'
`Why am I sensing there is no happy ever after to this story?'
`She told me she loved me.'
`I panicked, Lil. I loved her since I was sixteen and now she suddenly appears and tells me she loves me too and …I just panicked. I left'
`But you said she told you when she came over, after…..'
`She did, but it was the whole thing, I was in her apartment, on a date and …God, what am I going to do Lily? I just can't get my head round it.'
`Have you told her how you feel?'
`I tried, but how the hell do you say to someone, "I love you but I'm scared you're gonna leave me again when you get to know me"?'
`So you're not even gonna try?'
`She's left me two messages…she must have called after I …left'
`Well, duh! Call her back, apologise, take her out for coffee and tell her you're an idiot, but that you still love her.'
`It's not that easy, Lil'
`Sam, it really is. You just have to stop worrying. If she's trying this hard, I really don't think you need to worry about her leaving again.'
`But what have I got to offer her? I'm a workaholic and outside of my work I have no life, no interests. I can't even cook, for God's sake. There's just me.'
`But that's what she wants, dummy. She wants you.'
Lily's words came back to Sam as she sat at work. Between them and her pounding head, she found she couldn't concentrate. At lunchtime she gave up.
`I'm going out for lunch' Sam called across to Jim.
`What?' Jim shouted back stopping Sam in her tracks.
`I said I'm just going out for lunch' Sam repeated as Jim walked up to her.
`Well, etch that in stone. In all the time I've known you Sam, you have never "just gone out for lunch". Go have fun, see what daylight looks like. Oh, and Sam, don't rush back. The office will still be here when you do get back' Jim chuckled to himself as he walked back to his office.
Sam pulled the rumpled sheet of paper from her pocket and stared at it. She was almost thankful for her hangover as it had stopped her turning the washing machine on and destroying the directions she had left in her pocket. Glancing at the paper, she stuffed it back in her pocket and set off at a run, her head pounding with every step.
Brooke looked startled as she opened the door `Sam. I wasn't expecting anyone.'
`Evidently' Sam smiled as she took in Brooke's paint splattered sweatpants and baggy tee-shirt.
Sam stepped through the door and looked at Brooke.
`Yeah. You said last night. You wanna explain that?'
`I…actually, I'm not altogether sure how to.'
`Sam McPherson, ace reporter, lost for words?' Brooke sank onto the sofa
Sam followed her and sat on the opposite corner. Taking a deep breath she started to speak.
`Brooke, I've been in love with you since I was sixteen, but I every relationship I've had, which would be, oh, two has ended in disaster. I work from 7.30 in the morning till all hours of the night, I work weekends and when I'm not at work I'm thinking about it. It drove my last girlfriend away and I don't want to finally get a chance to be with you and drive you away too.'
`What about the other relationship?'
`You said there were two, what about the other one, how did that end?'
`She told me she loved me.'
`Yeah…I do a nice line in panicking and running for the hills.'
`So you didn't love her?'
`But you said you loved me, so what made you run last night?'
`I do love you, Brooke. But last night…I just don't know what you want from a relationship and once you get to know me again, I'm sure I'm not going to be it.'
`So you ran'
`So why are you here now, if you think I'm not going to want you?'
`Three things, the fact you tried to call me, even after I left, I spoke to Lily and what she said made sense and….well… I do love you Brooke. I was an idiot to run just because I got scared.'
`What did Lily say?'
`That I was an idiot to run just because I got scared.'
`I really must buy that woman a drink' Brooke laughed and stood up
Walking over to Sam, she pulled her to her feet and wrapped her in her arms
`Somewhere in there, is still the Sam McPherson I fell in love with four years ago, and somehow, I really don't think she could have changed so much I wouldn't still love her now. So how about we take things slowly and just get to know each other again. What do you think?'
`I think I'd like that a lot' Sam smiled and kissed Brooke 'But I'm afraid I am going to have to run again as I am on lunch and I really should get back.'
`Hang on and I'll give you a lift. Oh, you forgot this last night.'
Sam took the picture Brooke handed her and looked at it, as Brooke disappeared down the hallway.
Brooke re-appeared a few minutes later, changed into jeans and a long sleeved top.
`I have to run some errands so I can drop you back at the magazine' Brooke pulled on trainers and a jacket as she spoke, scooping up her keys off the breakfast bar.
As she pulled the door open, she stopped and turned to look at Sam. `Why don't you come over tonight, whenever you finish work and we can watch a movie or something? We can call a take-out, maybe?'
Sam thought briefly, before smiling broadly `I'd like that.'
`Good' Brooke smiled back
As they reached the street Sam stopped. `Looks like I don't need that lift. I forgot I left my car here last night.'
`No problem, but I'll see you tonight?'
Brooke smiled at Sam, before heading down the street to her own car.
Sam found she could almost concentrate when she got back to work and settled at her desk, although she did catch herself thinking about Brooke and smiling several times.
Much later that day Sam realised she was smiling again. Opening her email she clicked on a new message and started to type
Advice duly taken. Brooke says she owes you a drink.
You know I hate it when you're right, don't you?!
As she hit `send' she stretched and opened a new file. Bringing up her word processing package she stared at the blank page. Glancing at the file she lent over the keyboard and started to type.
`Look, even I have a home to go to.'
`Hi Jim' Sam said not looking up
`You know it's almost seven, don't you?
`I do now' Sam continued to type
`Do you not see a theme here?'
`Uh-huh.it's seven and you're going home.'
`And you are going too'
Sam finally looked up from what she was doing `you're right, I am.'
Sam hit `save' and closed down her PC
`Come on, I'll walk out with you'
Sam gathered her things and shrugged her jacket on.
`Still living on microwave meals for one?' Jim joked as they walked across the empty car park
`Still eating yours an hour after it's cooked?'
`You'd think after all the years I've been in this game, Gwen would stop expecting me home at six, wouldn't you?'
`Doesn't it drive her mad that you are always at work?'
`She said she knew I was a workaholic when she married me and that I'd never change and she loved me because of it, not in spite of it'
`How long have you been married?'
`Longer than you've been alive, Sam. Good night.' Jim climbed into his car and slammed the door.
Sam got into her own car, thinking about what Jim said. Pulling out of the car park, she headed home.
Having stopped long enough to shower and change into jeans, trainers and a sweatshirt, Sam locked the door behind her, stuffing her phone into her pocket, she took the bag from under her arm and headed down the stairs. If there was one thing she always had in her cupboard, it was popcorn. Now she felt ready for a major film watching session.
Brooke was also in jeans and a baggy tee-shirt when she opened the door to Sam a few minutes later.
`You can take those off for a start.'
Sam looked startled, until she followed Brooke's gaze down to her feet
`Definitely no running shoes.'
`Right' Sam looked abashed as she kicked her trainers off and shrugged her jacket off, tossing it over a stool next to the breakfast bar.
Sam turned round to find Brooke already sprawled on the sofa, slowly flicking round the channels.
`So, what are we watching?'
`Well, "come over and watch a film" was about as far as I got in the planning stakes, I'm afraid. My errands took kind of longer than I anticipated. There's the usual Tuesday night sci-fi fest if you want?'
`Whatever, I rarely get chance to watch tv, so anything's fine.'
`Well...maybe we could just talk?' Brooke suggested gently, watching Sam's reaction
`Yeah, I can do talking.'
`Actually there's kind of something I wanted to talk to you about...'
Brooke's words were cut short by the phone ringing. The machine clicked in and Brooke's voice floated out of the machine, advising the caller she was unable to take their call, but to leave a message and she would get back to them.
`McQueen, your photography supplies have just arrived' A male voice boomed out of the answering machine's speaker.
Brooke was up and heading down the hallway before Sam had even realised what was happening.
`I'm here, go ahead.'
Sam heard the bedroom door being pushed closed and Brooke's voice became muffled, she frowned, wondering what could be so urgent about photography supplies at this time of night.
Brooke re-emerged moments later, pulling on a dark blue windbreaker, as she propped her foot on the rung of a breakfast bar stool and tied the laces on a pair of what looked to Sam like combat boots.
`I am so sorry Sam, I'm afraid it's my turn to run out. You're welcome to stay and watch TV here, there's some leftover pasta in the fridge if you're hungry. I'm sorry.'
Brooke smiled weakly at Sam and kissed her on the cheek before she was gone, the door slamming behind her.
Sam turned slowly round to face back into the room, her face a mask of confusion. Shaking her head she bent and pulled her trainers back on and walked over to the TV, turning it off. Walking back over to the breakfast bar she picked up her jacket. As she did so, the answering machine clicked to a stop and rewound underneath.
Sam stared at it for several moments, torn between leaving or playing the message.
Ever the reporter, Sam's curiosity got the better of her and she reached out and pushed the play button.
The male voice she had heard earlier announced his message about photography supplies, followed by Brooke cutting in. As the tape continued to run, Sam realised Brooke had forgotten to turn the machine off and it had taped the whole call.
`I'm here. Go ahead.'
`We have a code blue, intel suggests that tonight is the big party. Pier 98 so make sure you wear your party dress'
`On my way, sir.'
The tape reached the end of the recording and clicked as it stopped and rewound again.
`What?' Sam said out loud, staring at the machine.
Sam replayed the message in her head and Brooke's rapid departure.
Reaching into her jacket pocket, she pulled out her cellphone and flipped it open.
`Jim, if I said code blue to you, would it mean anything ?'
`Yeah, I'd say you were about to get your ass kicked by the fibbies'
`Yeah, they go for that whole spy-code bull, I guess they think it makes them sound big and clever, or makes sure it confuses the hell out of anyone that's listening to their phone calls, I had a buddie I used to go drinking with, he got a code blue, he'd move like the hounds of hell were on his tail. Why?'
`Brooke just got paged by the hounds of hell to pier 98.'
`Sam, I think your story just broke. Meet me there.'
The door slammed for a second time as Sam raced through it and down the stairs. Her car was moving before the door was barely closed, the tyres leaving rubber trails on the road.
Sam killed the headlights and coasted to a silent stop by pier 97. Easing put of the car, she walked slowly towards the dark blue Humvee parked outside the next pier over, barely noticeable, parked in the shadows of the streetlights.
Sam was wondering if the FBI had special training to be able to hide a vehicle that big as she was snapped back to the present by the barely audible sound of footsteps behind her.
`Jim?' Sam called softly, turning slowly round.
`Yeah' Jim whispered, moving alongside Sam as they clung to the wood of the boathouse between them and the gate to pier 98.
`Well, at least now you know your girlfriend is on our side.'
`She's a photographer, how the hell can she be working for the FBI?'
`I think we`re about to find out.' Jim replied as they eased forward, reaching the corner of the building and crouching low to peer round it.
In front of the building Sam could see two men talking, unable to hear what they were discussing. Staying close to the ground, she slowly inched forward along the fencing between the boathouse and the next building, staying close to the ground.
As she and Jim moved, she realised there was a break in the fence. Behind it were a pile of crates, hiding the break from the view of the two men.
Sam and Jim slid in behind the crates and realised that there were a lot more people on the pier.
Stood behind the two men, were about half a dozen people. As Sam watched she realised one of them was Tony and standing right next to him, was Brooke. Sam ducked back into a crouch and turned to Jim.
`What hell is going on here?' Sam hissed `I thought you said only the FBI used those codes?'
`Maybe they started a trend, how the Sam hill should I know?' Jim whispered back harshly.
Sam turned to look over the crate again and realised they were close enough to hear what was being said.
`So, you liked the samples?' the man on Sam's right asked. Even in the dim light of the docks Sam could see he was expensively dressed in a black suit and open necked black shirt.
`Ingenious idea, getting your photographers to bring it in for you.' the man on Sam's left replied, obviously much older than expensive taste guy, dressed in a pale grey suit and dark tie.
`Ah, yes, but that was just a taste, the rest arrives tonight, if you have the money?
The grey suited man gestured to a younger man standing behind him, who stepped forward, carrying a large holdall. Walking up to the dark suited man, he opened the bag, showing the contents to the man, who nodded.
`Good. Two million US?'
`We agreed on 1.5.'
`No. The price is two million. Are you trying to screw me? It could be worth twice that, if you cut it well.'
`This much is only worth one and a half, no matter what you cut it with.'
`You had the sample, you know this is very refined, very pure. It is worth more than this. You insult me. Tony.'
As he spoke he stepped backwards and Sam saw Tony reach into his jacket. Suddenly it was as it was as if time had slowed to a crawl, Sam heard the crack of a gun and saw the grey suited man clutch his chest. He looked at the dark suited man in horror, before he fell to his knees and then face down onto the pier.
The men standing behind them pulled out guns and aimed at the dark suited man, but before any of them could fire Sam saw Brooke step forward, gun in hand and heard her shout.
`FBI - Nobody move'
Dark figures ran out from the shadows of the boat house next to where Sam and Jim were hiding, fully armed and dressed in full SWAT gear, with FBI stencilled in white on the back of their bullet proof vests.
Tony turned to look at Brooke, shock frozen on his face. The man in the dark suit casually walked back wards, his hands raised, as the agents swarmed over the pier, disarming the other men and shouting at them to lie on the ground, face down. Brooke walked slowly towards him, her gun trained on his chest.
Suddenly there was a commotion on the far side of the pier as one of dark suit's henchman kicked the gun out of the hands of one of the agents and proceeded to punch him in the face, another man grabbed the gun and all other sounds were drowned out by the sound of rapid gunshots. The man with the gun fired wildly at the FBI agents, a number of them fired back and the shooter fell to the ground.
Brooke was distracted by the shots long enough to look away from dark suit for a fraction of a second. Just long enough for him to dip his hand into his jacket pocket.
Sam saw the movement and before she had even realised what she was doing, she leapt on to the crate in front of her and used it as a springboard to launch herself at dark suit.
A shot rang out as the force of Sam hitting him sent dark suit sprawling to the floor, with Sam landing on top of him. Sam saw hit gun the ground and skid away, smashed out of dark suit's hand as he landed. Grabbing his collar Sam punched him in the face, smacking his head on the ground and knocking him out. Leaping to her feet Sam span round wildly, desperately looking for Brooke, as Jim skidded to a halt beside her.
`What fuck do you think you were doing Sam, you could have got your self...'Jim's words trailed off as he watched Sam finally spot Brooke and run over to her, landing on her knees as she came to crashing halt next to the form lying on the ground.
Sam tried not to panic at the blood soaking Brooke's t-shirt and the fact she wasn't moving. Reaching out a shaking hand she touched the blonde's neck, feeling for a pulse.
Jim stood over Sam as she burst into tears
`She's alive' Sam mumbled between sobs `she's still alive'
She gently took Brooke's hand in her own as the wail of distant sirens gradually got closer.
Sam sat unmoving next to the bed, her hair dishevelled, face smeared with blood and dirt and her jeans ripped at the knees where she had landed on the concrete of the pier.
She held Brooke's hand and absently stroked the back of it as she watched the still form.
Brooke's eyes slowly fluttered open.
`Uhh.SAM' Brooke's voice was full of panic as she tried to sit up.
`Sh..it's ok, I'm right here.' Sam spoke softly as she laid a restraining hand on Brooke's shoulder.
`Uhh...what happened? I just remember seeing you, hearing a shot and, then everything went black.'
`It's ok, you're gonna be fine.'
`Well, that was great timing.' The doctor said as she walked into the room `looks like you're finally awake.'
`Finally? How long have I been out?'
`Twenty four hours.' the Doctor pulled Brooke's chart off the end of the bed and flipped through the pages.
`We were getting worried when you didn't come round after the surgery, that was one nasty crack to the head you took and If it wasn't for your girlfriend here you would have been out permanently, from what I hear.'
`Surgery? Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on here?' Brooke asked in exasperated tone, her eyes tracking back and forth between Sam and the Doctor.
`The guy you were about to arrest pulled a gun.' Sam explained
`And this hero here jumped him, so his shot went wide, instead of hitting you in the head he got you in the shoulder. You hit your head when you fell and we had to wait for the concussion to wear off before we could operate to take the bullet out. You saved her life' The doctor said, turning to Sam and smiling `I'll leave you to rest now' She smiled at Brooke and left.
`You saved my life? But you could have been killed, jumping an armed man.'
`Funny, that's exactly what Jim said. But I didn't think, I just saw his gun and went for him. I was terrified he'd got you, when I found you just lying there.'
`God, look at the state of you, have you been sitting here all this time?'
`Yep. Looks like my running days might finally be over.'
Brooke didn't reply, but just smiled at Sam and took her hand in her own.
Friday morning Sam walked into Brooke's hospital room and found the blonde out of bed and fully dressed, stuffing things into a bag. Brooke looked up as Sam walked in, and Sam saw her arm was in a sling.
`A very good morning since they are letting me out today.'
`Well, that depends on whether you can be trusted to take it easy Brooke.'
Sam turned round to look at the doctor who had walked in behind her unnoticed.
`Don't worry, Doc I'll be keeping an eye on her.' Sam replied
`Now that is an offer I would never refuse.' Brooke smiled and zipped her bag up `I'm good to go.'
Sam smiled at the doctor and scooped the bag up off the bed `Thanks Doc.'
Brooke rested her head back on the headrest in Sam's car as Sam climbed in the driver side and started the car.
`Why aren't you at work?' Brooke asked, turning to look at Sam
`I'm working from home today. In fact I was hoping to work from your place, then I can not only keep and eye on you, but you can explain this whole weird story to me.'
`Who are you, and what have you done with my girlfriend?` Brooke frowned at Sam `Not only are you volunteering to be with me for the first time since we've seen each other again, but you actually aren't wearing black.'
Sam glanced down at her clothes before looking up at the road again `Well, my jeans got wrecked the other night and while I was in the store I just saw this and fancied a change.'
`Purple's a good colour on you.'
`As for wanting to spend time with you...the other night was a real shock.' Sam paused, staring at the road ahead `I thought I'd lost you for good, Brooke. It made me realise I never want to let you go again.'
`So my nearly getting killed and you jumping an armed guy was all it took for you to realise that you love me?'
`I knew I loved you Brooke...seeing you lying there just made me realise that I'd be an idiot if I let my fear make me lose you again.'
They drove the rest of the way in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. Once they were in Brooke's apartment and Brooke was comfortably ensconced on the sofa, Sam sat down gently on the other end of the sofa, careful not to jolt Brooke's arm.
`So, explanation time, Brooke. Why did you not tell me what the hell was going on?'
`I couldn't, Sam. I was working undercover at the agency and you just happened to stumble into my operation.'
`Why were you so desperate for me to go to the police? And why did you help me?'
`I figured if you handed everything over to the police, you'd drop it and you'd be safe. Then when you didn't, I tried to give you as much information as I could without endangering the op. I knew you wouldn't drop it once you'd identified Tony. So I helped you, hoping to keep you out of trouble.'
`But...you said Tony was a good guy and you had known him since college'
`I lied. I could hardly say I think he's mixed up in something really nasty and if you don't back off he won't stop at breaking your nose, could I?'
Sam took a deep breath and stood up, starting to pace `Ok, we have already established I am an insecure person who is lousy at relationships because I have trust issues and so far you have admitted that most of what I know about you is a lie. Start from the beginning and leave nothing out. I'm sure that somewhere in this is a really good explanation that is going to stop me from wanting to run for the hills.' Sam turned to face Brooke, her expression daring Brooke to leave anything out.
`You're right, I do owe you an explanation...it all started when I left school, I got recruited to the Bureau as I finished top of my class, but I really did study photography, I specialised in it during my bureau training. That's why I got assigned to this op. The bureau already knew there was something going here on with drugs coming in, but no one knew how so I was sent undercover to find out. The cocaine they were brining in was really pure -it had to be cut so much to sell that you didn't need to bring in much to make a fortune.
Anyway, when I got assigned to you, it was just coincidence. I didn't realise what you were really on to, until you started digging. I couldn't tell you what was really going on, for your own safety as much as anything. Tony had already killed people -rival drug dealers to make sure they cornered the market. He was a one man marketing plan; all the local guys got warned, like you, and those that didn't listen...well, we know what happened to them. That's what detective Stevens was so keen for you to drop it, he knew we were involved'
`But how did they bring it all in? They couldn't smuggle that much in film canisters?'
`No, they were bringing in samples that way, but the big shipments came by boat. This stuff was really refined so they could keep up supplies with smaller amounts -easier to hide. It gets dumped just off the coast and they can pick it up at their leisure, the coastguard just couldn't catch them.'
`So what you caught in the photo, that Tony assumed I'd seen?'
`He was handing over samples. I got the lab to analyse the photo and the guy that got killed the other night was the guy taking delivery of the sample. That's how we knew about the deal - we've had him under surveillance for months.'
`So this whole thing was just one coincidence after another?'
`That and a lot of man hours by the FBI.'
Sam finally stopped pacing and sank onto the sofa `and I just stumbled into it by accident.'
`But the good news is I've cleared it with the bureau and you get the exclusive on the story.'
`Actually I think the best news is that out of all these coincidences, we found each other again after all this time.'
`I'll drink to that' Brooke replied, lifting her soda can in a toast.
Sam slid across the sofa and gently took the can from Brooke's hand. Placing it on the coffee table in front of her, Sam slowly lent forward and kissed Brooke.
A week later, Lily stood in the middle of the empty apartment and looked at Sam.
`You're really doing this?'
`Yep, I'm really doing this.'
Lily shook her head and picked up the last box from the floor `Josh is gonna drive this lot over to Brooke's, so I'll meet you there?'
`Ok, I see you in a few.'
Sam walked out of her apartment for the final time, as she reached the door, Brooke appeared in the doorway.
`I got it, hot off the presses.' she said as she waved the magazine at Sam.
`Let me see' Sam said excitedly, leaning over Brooke's shoulder.
In bold letters over Brooke's photo of the warehouse she had visited with Sam the first day they had seen each other again were emblazed the words
`VICTORY FOR THE CITY IN THE WAR ON DRUGS, BY SAMANTHA MCPHERSON'
Brooke smiled at Sam `Your first lead story.'
`The first of many, I hope.'
`As long as they're not all so dangerous' Brooke pulled face `Are you sure about this?' she gestured at the apartment.
Sam took a last look at her apartment and pulled the door closed, locking it behind her as she turned to walk down the stairs.
`Absolutely. I think it's time to leave some parts of my life behind'
Brooke stopped and smiled at Sam. Wrapping her uninjured arm around Sam's waist she pulled her close and kissed her passionately.