Understanding the Heart

 

 

Chapter 11

The next morning, when Jack came out of his room, yawning and stretching, he noticed that Meghan's suitcases were all curiously packed and lined up waiting by the front door. He looked around first in the living room and then in the kitchen expecting to find Meghan somewhere but she was nowhere to be found. The only thing that showed signs of life was the brewing coffeemaker. Perplexed, Jack poured himself a large cup of already made coffee and stood, leaning against the counter sipping it slowly, trying to figure out where his girlfriend, no ex-girlfriend, could have gone that morning.

The answer to his reveries walked through the front door not five minutes later. She was dressed in jogging gear - a white baby tee, gray zipper sweat jacket, black wind pants and gray running sneakers. Her hair was swept up in a ponytail and her face was colored with a rosy hue from her exertions.

"Hi! You're up!" Meghan greeted him enthusiastically.

Jack stared back at her. Never a morning person to begin with, his confusion was only made worse by Meghan's jovial state. Well, at least she doesn't seem to be all that affected by yesterday's events, Jack reflected.

"Thought I'd take a morning run before I left today. You've got a gorgeous city, here. A bit sad that I'm just now noticing it," Meghan admitted. She glanced quickly at her watch and said, "I'm going to hop in the shower now and get dressed. We don't have much time before we've got to head on out to the airport if we want to be sure that I make my flight. Will you make some breakfast for the two of us since you're up and about now? And make it something good, I'm starved!"

Before Jack could give a reply, Meghan had slipped past him and shut the bathroom door behind her. Jack stared dumbly at her retreated figure, wondering at the one hundred and eighty degree change in her attitude. Now here was the Meghan Cooper he had first come to love at Georgetown.

Will wonders never cease? Jack numbly asked himself. For the first time in a week, he felt a small peace knowing that he no longer loved her and that it was alright with both Meghan and himself that they were not meant to be. Maybe we can still be friends after all, he thought. This cheered Jack up. As one who hated disharmony of any sort, he was always much more relieved when everyone could just be happy and get along. With that thought in mind, Jack happily turned towards the stove to whip up a quick breakfast. Hmmmm...scrambled eggs or pancakes?

After breakfast, Meghan cleaned up the dishes and table while Jack took a quick shower and changed. They decided to take one last tour of the UVA campus before heading onto the highway towards Richmond. Much of their morning was spent in understood silence. Jack and Meghan were satisfied to be only friends and they looked happily at the world as individuals rather than a couple. And to be honest, both Meghan and Jack were much more relieved and content than they had been in a long time. It was as if they had finally come to terms with the truth.


As they stood in front of the airport gate, waiting for Meghan's flight to be called to board the plane, Jack took her left hand and ran his thumb across her knuckles out of old habit and solemnly said, "I know this hasn't been the best of visits, Meghan. But thank you nonetheless. I really do hope that you'll come back and visit again." Adding on as an afterthought, "As a friend."

"You really mean that?" Meghan asked, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully. "I know I've been a bit of a bear this week and I really hope I haven't ruined everything for you."

Jack shrugged. "If anything has been ruined, it's probably a result of as much of my own fault as it has been of yours."

"You forgive me, then?" Meghan asked disbelievingly.

Jack smiled warmly down at her. "Only if you'll forgive me too."

Small tears rolled down Meghan's face as she threw herself at him and gave him a bear hug. "I do, Jack. Thank you," she said quietly. "And I really am so very sorry for everything. Thank you for understanding and for being so wonderful - like you always are."

The overhead announcer was calling Meghan's flight and it was time for her to board. She didn't have much time left so she quickly kissed his cheek and whispered into his ear, "Remember what I said last night - you deserve happiness. Samantha is one fortunate girl. I hope she knows how lucky she is to have your heart. Good-bye Jack."

She gave him one last hug and then headed towards the gate. She was about to hand her ticket over to the flight attendant, when something inside of her made her resist and she turned around to run back to Jack. Taking both his hands in hers, she gave him an earnest look. "You're a good friend and a good person Jack. I'm blessed to know you."

Jack was touched by her repentance and sought to give her comfort. He kissed her on the cheek and said, "Don't forget to write me, Meghan - as my friend, you're still supposed to keep in touch!"

Feeling as though a hefty weight had been lifted off her chest, Meghan grinned back. "I'll call you when I get back to Boston and let you know that I'm okay."

Jack nodded his head and watched her board the plane a second time. A quick wave of the wrist and then she was gone.


Jack hopped into his empty car to begin the hour and a half road trip back to Charlottesville. He could not help but feel the acute sense of loneliness that pervaded his car as he pulled out of the airport parking lot. At least the last time he had made the trip to the airport, Samantha had been with him. Samantha... The thoughts of the past couple of days began to invade his thoughts as he turned on the radio and made the journey back to school.

Somewhere in between Richmond and Charlottesville, a song came blaring onto the radio. It was a song that Jack had never paid much attention to before, but now as he sat there driving, listening to the words and feeling the music in his blood, he realized just how much the song applied to his life.

Chances are you'll find me
Somewhere on your road tonight
Seems I always end up drivin' by
Ever since I've known you
It just seems you're on my way
All the rules of logic don't apply

Flashback to one of their first weekends at UVA:

"Come on, Samantha!" Jack tugged his friend's hand with one hand, pulling her up the mountainside, while his other free hand held a folded flannel blanket. "Just a little bit more and then we'll be there," he promised.

Samantha groaned. "Where the heck are you taking me Jack? We couldn't just stay home and do normal things like oh, I don't know, watch television, pop in a movie, play a board game, drink????"

"Now, Sam... you know nothing good is ever on T.V. Friday nights."

"What about Providence?"

Jack wrinkled his nose. "That is such a chick show."

Sam pummeled her elbow into Jack's stomach. "I resent that! And it's not that bad, not that I ever watch it or anything."

"Or course you don't," Jack jokingly agreed. Samantha threatened to elbow him again and Jack immediately dropped his arms to protect his stomach while saying, "And we couldn't watch a movie because we couldn't agree on anything."

"That's because you wanted to watch some stupid Jackie Chan or sci-fi movie!" Samantha argued.

"Jackie Chan is a fine piece of work, I'll have you know. I can't help it if you just don't know how to appreciate the beauty of martial art. And what's wrong with sci-fi?"

"Sci-fi is for geeks."

"What if I told you I was a geek?"

"Then I'd agree whole-heartedly with you. And as for me not being able to appreciate the art of martial art, you don't know how to appreciate *$&@!#^," Samantha muttered something incoherent under her breath.

Jack ignored his friend's grumbles and continued, "And we couldn't play a board game because neither of us had one and we could drink but you don't like to drink."

"I'd much rather be inside, lounging around and getting sloshed than being outside in the freezing cold hiking up some random hill for no apparent reason!"

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Someone is certainly in a churlish mood this evening," Jack chuckled. "Come on, lazy butt! It's not that cold and we're almost there!" Again, he urged her on.

When they finally reached their destination, Jack took Samantha by the hand and led her to the precipice saying, "Now. Look. There, that is your reason."

Samantha stood still with her mouth gaping at the beauty that lay before her. From their position above, they could look down on the city below and at its twinkling lights in the darkness. Surrounding the center of lights was the rest of the countryside and with the help of the moonlight Samantha could just barely make out the faint shapes of the mountains and hills of the Blue Ridge mountain range. High up on the hill, time seemed to stand still as a sense of peace and calm enshrouded them. All in all, it was beautiful and Samantha was sufficiently amazed. She was still standing in awe when Jack left her side to spread their blanket over the dew-encrusted grass.

"Jack," Samantha whispered. "This is incredible."

Jack walked back over to Samantha, poked her in the side and said imperiously, "See? I told you the climb was worth it. I think I'll try very hard and refrain from saying, 'I told you so.'"

All peace and calm was broken when Samantha showed no hesitancy in shoving Jack in the stomach with her elbow for the second time that night. Jack, unprepared for the blow, doubled over instantly. "Gees, what have you been doing?" Jack gasped. "Working on your aim?"

Samantha blew on her knuckles and answered smugly, "Maybe."

"You are so lucky that you are a girl. If you weren't a girl, I'd take you down instantly."

"I'd like to see you try!"

Jack laughed. "Alright, fine. You're the stronger woman. I'm the wimp and the loser. Truce?"

Samantha could not prevent the snort that escaped from her lips as she took Jack's proffered hand and shook it, "Just remember you said it, not me. Truce."

"I'm sure you'll have no problem in reminding me from time to time," Jack answered. "Now come on, have a seat." Jack gently prodded her towards the blanket.

And then the two friends sat all night long underneath the glistening stars, first reminiscing about old times in high school and then sharing their hopes for their successful futures in graduate studies at UVA. Eventually Jack and Samantha fell into a comfortable silence and they laid back side by side to watch the shooting stars fall down onto the sleeping city down below.

I long to see you in the night
Be with you 'til morning light

Flashback to a phone conversation from last week:

"Why are you calling me, anyhow?" Samantha asked.

"What? Don't we always talk each night?"

We always talk each night, don't we? Jack asked himself.

I don't know what I'd do without those nightly phone calls, Jack mused. They've become a part of my routine and I really enjoy them.

"Yes... but this isn't one of our normal, typical weeks, Jack. You have a guest this week. Shouldn't you be hanging out with Meghan instead of talking on the phone with me?"

Jack gave this thought some consideration. Should I? But Meghan's in the shower right now. What will it matter? Either I sit here and twiddle my thumbs or I talk on the phone with Sam. I'd much rather talk on the phone and catch up on her day. Surely Meghan won't find this offensive...

"Oh, no. Why should Meghan care who I talk to? Besides, she's taking a shower right now anyways."

"All the same, Jack. I'd be careful," Samantha warned.

"Careful of what?" What do I have to be careful of? Talking on the phone with my best friend?

"Nothing."

I remember clearly
How you looked the night we met
I recall your laughter and your smile
I remember how you made me
Feel so at ease
I remember all your grace, your style

Flashback to Fall of senior year of high school:

Jack and his friend, Jim Grant, walked into the Mailroom. They had just come from the Science Building where they had finished enduring a painful fifty minutes of Physics and were on their way to more torture by way of English class in the Classroom Building. Although the two friends had been laughing and deeply engaged in conversation, Jack could not help but notice on his way to his mailbox that Samantha was sitting all alone reading a book in one of the booths off to the side of the room.

Walking over to his friend who was hunched over, opening up his mailbox, Jack tapped Jim's shoulder and said, "You go on ahead, Jim. I'll catch up with you in a minute."

Jim turned around and looked perplexed, "What?"

Jack shooed off his friend, "Run along and save me a seat. I'll see you in class in a bit."

Then, turning around and ignoring the confused look on his friend's face, Jack walked towards the direction of Samantha and slid into the seat across from her. "Hi."

Samantha looked up in stunned surprise. She was not sure what to say to this person who was practically a stranger to her. Samantha, being of a rather shy nature, did not do well around strangers. And even though Jack was the best friend of one her friends, she had never socialized with him except for the few times they had conversed over the phone when she had called his room looking for Roger.

"You know, Samantha, I figured that since we've taken to talking to one another over the phone when you call looking for Roger at night, that we could at least talk in person from time to time when we see each another on campus too." Jack suggested with an eager and friendly smile.

Jack's suggestion was met with silence. "Right, well, we might want to try and start out with something simple like... oh, I don't know, how about... Hi, it's so nice to finally meet you?"

Samantha could not help giggling at his remark. For some odd reason, she felt naturally drawn to this person. His frank and easy manners were comforting and she found his genuineness to be a refreshing change. "Hi Jack."

"Hello Samantha," Jack grinned back. "So, what are you doing?" he asked, peering over to look down at her book.

Samantha followed his gaze down to her Spanish book. "Oh, I was just doing some reading before class," she answered, holding her book up for his inspection.

Taking a quick glance at her watch however told Samantha that she needed to scoot if she did not want to be late to class. "Oh, I should get going!" she exclaimed.

"Where are you headed?" Jack calmly asked.

"Classroom building. I have Spanish class"

Jack stood up. "Come on, I'll walk you over. I'm headed there myself." Standing up from his seat, Jack gestured for her to walk in front of him and followed closely behind until they reached the door. Then, he rushed to reach over her and held the door of the Mailroom open for her, waving her through. Samantha turned around as she walked past him, casting him a beautiful smile. As they made their way to the Classroom Building a friendship formed that would endure the test of time.

And, now you're all I long to see
You've come to mean so much to me

Flashback to earlier that month:

Jack ran up the stairs in twos to Samantha's apartment. Once he finally got there, he pounded heavily on the door not even bothering to stop and try to catch his breath. A somewhat irate Samantha opened up the door. She had just been rudely awakened from a rare afternoon nap, but Jack did not care. He may have been breathless, but he was happy and excited and he wanted to share his joy with one of the most important people in his life.

Sweeping Samantha up in his arms, Jack twirled her around not once, not twice, but three times before setting her dizzy feet back down on the firm ground. "Guess what????" he enthusiastically asked.

Samantha put her hands up to her temple in an attempt to make herself see straight before answering his question. "What?"

"Whoops!" Jack caught her before she toppled over. "Sorry," he laughed. "Didn't mean to make you that dizzy. Well, aren't you going to even guess?"

Samantha shook her head in the negative before dryly answering, "I have no idea Jack, but I'm sure you'll tell me regardless of whether or not I want to know."

Jack dismissed her comments, knowing that she really did care and wanted to know what he had to say. He paused for an extra-added effect of suspense before shouting, "I did it, Sam! I passed my first exam in medical school - with flying colors too! A plus, baby! Doesn't get any better than that! And I wanted you to be the first to know."

Samantha broke out into a set of genuine smiles at the news and quickly threw herself forward to give him a hug. "Awww, thanks Jack! I'm touched. And Congratulations!!!! Wow, A plus, huh? You really suck!"

"Thanks! I thought you should be the first to know especially since you've had to endure so much of my complaints, whining, and worrying for the past month. You've been a trooper, Sam and I couldn't have done it without you."

"Oh, whatever. You did it yourself! I certainly wasn't there taking the exam with you." Then, poking him in the chest she added, "See? Didn't I tell you it would be so? And yet you insisted on worrying and making my life hell."

"Awww... Sam. I didn't make your life hell..." Samantha cast him a very poignant look, suggesting that she thought differently. "I'll make it up to you," he suggested. "Next time you worry about your exams, I'll listen patiently to you."

"Yeah right. You'll tell me to shut-up and study like you did the last time!" Samantha scoffed.

Jack put on a wounded air. "I'm hurt that you doubt the sincerity of my offer, Sam."

Samantha laughed heartily at his act. "Buy me dinner and that'll be enough repayment for me."

"Done."

Chances are I'll see you
Somewhere in my dreams tonight
You'll be smilin' like the night we met
Chances are I'll hold you
And I'll offer all I have
You're the only one I can't forget
Baby, you're the best I've ever met

Flashback to earlier that semester:

"Stop it, Jack! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! You're totally cheating!" Samantha accused. She lunged forward and tried to mess up his hand of cards, but Jack was faster and had already moved out of her away.

Jack snickered and threw down his hand of cards. "And that my dear, is gin rummy again."

Samantha threw her cards at him like a spoiled child and moped. "That's the last time I ever play with you ever again, Jack Everett Donaldson!!!!"

Jack laughed at her and tried to pull her hair. "Are you going to stay mad at me all night, my spoiled three-year-old of a friend?"

Samantha pouted and looked away. "Oh dear. Methinks I might have to spank you for being such a poor loser, ha!"

Samantha gave him her famous death stare, but Jack was immune to it. "Now let's see, how many times has that been tonight?" he started counting the times he'd won with his right hand and then his left.

"You always cheat!" Samantha glowered.

"How is that possible, Sam??? I don't have cards up my sleeves," he laughed. He even rolled up his sleeves in proof. "Don't be such a sore loser, Samantha. You lose! And I win! Now let's see... what did we bet this time? You have to do my laundry for two weeks?"

"Dream on! I don't care! You always win and it's not fair!"

"Oh, poor baby. I can't help it if I'm just a better card player than you. And besides, you didn't have to make a bet with me if you didn't want to," he pointed out.

"I'm not doing your laundry, jerk!" Samantha sulked.

"You made the bet! You can't back out now!"

"I'm not your maid."

"Oh, but I know that you'd love to be my maid," Jack teased.

Samantha shot daggers at him in silence.

"You're such a youngest child," Jack taunted.

"Ooooooooh, I'm so gonna get you for that one, Jack!" she attacked him and he quickly retreated. This resulted in Samantha chasing Jack round and around the room while she screamed and he chuckled.

"I'm going to get you, you big jerk!"

"Ha ha ha! I'd like to see you try!"

Finally, Jack turned around and caught Samantha as she barreled towards him. They fell forcefully over onto the ground in a fit of hysterics, tears streaming down Samantha's face.

"Oh my gosh, your neighbors are going to start calling the police from all this noise," she laughed. "They're going to think that we're trying to beat one another up or something!"

Jack joined Samantha in her laughter. "Let them."

And I'll be dreamin' of the future
And hopin' you'll be by my side
And in the morning I'll be longing
For the night
For the night

Dreaming of four years hence:

Jack heard his name being called. Walking carefully up the stairs to the stage so as to not trip and fall, he walked across the stage with his parents beside him and his black graduation robes floundering behind him in the gentle spring breeze. The rolled diploma came towards him and he gripped it firmly in his left hand, not letting the hard earned prize out of his sight for even a second, while shaking the hands of the Dean of the Medical School with his right.

Now, a graduate of the University of Virginia's Medical School, Jack turned towards his parents who proudly rearranged the tassels on his mortarboard from left to right and then gave him a hug. Together, they then faced the cheering audience. Another doctor was now ready to be admitted to the medical profession.

Making a quick sweep of the audience with his eyes, Jack found his two brothers sitting side by side in the crowd below, their hands clapping enthusiastically in sensation of the moment. But his eyes kept moving until they settled on Samantha who was sitting to the right of them. Her hands were clasped together in raptures and even from his great distance Jack could tell that her eyes were brimming with both love and pride. They had accomplished this together.

Jack shook himself out of his ruminations. Whoah! Where did that come from??

And chances are I'll see you
Somewhere in my dreams tonight
You'll be smilin' like the night we met
Chances are I'll hold you
And I'll offer all I have
You're the only one I can't forget
Baby, you're the best I've ever met*

Scene unfolding in the car:

Samantha's words from the night before last suddenly came to Jack in the form of a lightning bolt. "The only person that has to be sorry is myself. I've deluded myself into secretly hoping that there could one day be something more, but I have always known that one day this would happen. It was only a matter of when, but I have always chosen to ignore it. No, you've nothing to be sorry for, Jack. You have always been so good to me, so kind, caring, and considerate. I've really appreciated everything you've done for me, putting up with me, and trying so hard. You've been such a good friend to me and that's all I've ever wanted. I won't regret the times I've spent with you. I'll cherish them always."

Oh my goodness, Jack realized with sudden horror. She is in love with me! She was practically admitting it to me Monday night and I completely missed her subtle hints!

Jack practically recoiled from shock as an even larger revelation came crashing down upon him.

Oh, G-d! I am in love with her! I'm in love with her too! Samantha means everything to me... She's the last person I want to talk to at night and the first person I want to see in the morning. She's the person I want to share every special moment with. And she belongs in my arms, not in someone else's. She's belonged in my arms since the first day I saw her smile at me in that Mailroom.

Oh, no! What have I done????

*Bob Seger and Martina McBride: Chances Are (From Hope Floats)

 

Chapter 12

Samantha lay curled up in her bed, her hands shakily holding a note. She had come home from classes and found a cream-colored envelope taped onto her apartment door. Her name had been written in an elegant, bold, upright, cursive, but unfamiliar hand across the front. Curious of its contents but nervous as well, Samantha had held the envelope up to a light trying to see if she could discern the author of the note before opening it. Unable to make out its origins using that method, she had then ripped it open in eager anticipation to find out what it was all about. A surreptitious glimpse of the bottom of the page revealed that Meghan had penned the note. Samantha's heart had dropped, knowing that it was no doubt a reminder from Jack's girlfriend that she and Jack were to no longer be in contact even after she left town. Her initial thought had been, Gees, she even has the gall to keep rubbing this in even after she leaves?

But after reading the note, Samantha discovered that she could not have been farther from the truth. The pace of her heart quickened and her entire body trembled at the words contained in the letter. Samantha had immediately sought the support of a chair before removing herself to her bed where she now lay. Her hands reached out to gently caress the written words as if she were still trying to convince herself that they were real.

The note was not long. In fact, it was very much too the point. Samantha read it over and over again with disbelief written plainly across her every expression. I cannot believe it! It must be a joke.

Dear Samantha,

I know that I am probably the last person you would like to hear from right now, but please do not crumple up this note and throw it away before you have a chance to read what I would like to say. Do not be afraid that this letter might repeat any of the terrible things I should never have said to you the other afternoon at the coffee shop. Rather, my note, though brief, carries with it all of my most humblest apologies for all the pains I have caused you these past two weeks.

I know now just as I did then that I should never have said any of the things I said to you and Jack Monday afternoon at the coffee shop. I was way out of line in my remarks to you. And finally, I should never have interfered with your friendship with Jack. The truth is, from the very first moment I saw the two of you together, I knew that you were the woman for Jack and not me. I love Jack so very much. As you are well aware, he is a treasure and I found it hard to part with him even though I knew myself to be a lost cause. I tried and I struggled and my jealousy got the better of me. I swear to you that I am not an evil person by nature. It's just that my jealousy blinded my good judgment and made me act with as much malice as I have never known myself to have.

I have seen you and Jack together. I have witnessed the ease with which you interact. I have seen the love for him in your eyes. And I have seen the love returned. (Although perhaps I speak too hastily and perhaps you do not. I suspect however that this is not the case.) Plainly speaking, Jack is a simpleton to not see what he has before him. But I know (I hope) that it will not be long before he realizes his own true feelings. And I also hope that when he finally does open up his eyes and his heart, the two of you will be the happiest of all couples in this world.
I can only dream that one day, I will be so lucky as to find someone and be as worthy and as deserving of his love as you are of Jack's. And to conclude, I sincerely hope that you will one day find it in your heart to forgive me of all my transgressions. I know it is very bold of me to ask you for it, but I really would like to think that we could be friends some day in the future. You seem like a wonderful person that I would be fortunate to know.

Although you do not need it,

With all my blessing, forgiveness, and love,
Meghan E. Cooper

Samantha meditated over Meghan's words. They sound so sincere, so apologetic, and so real. Is she really repenting her actions? she asked herself.

Perhaps the most confusing sentences were the ones where Meghan seemed to intimate that Jack did care for her. Is that possible? No, how can it be possible? He gave me up for Meghan. He cares about her more. No, she can't be serious. Just because they have their own set of problems does not mean that Jack cares for me any more than a friend, she decided.

Samantha heaved a sigh. Giving up her friendship with Jack had probably been one of the hardest decisions she had ever had to make in her life, yet she knew that it had been necessary and that there had been no other option. She knew though that no matter how hard she tried to forget him and move on, a part of her would never be able to succeed. He would forever remain a part of her heart.

She leaned back against her pillows and tapping it against the palm of her left hand. Eventually, the letter fell to the side as her thoughts began to wander towards past events, past thoughts, and past memories.

Everybody's got something
They had to leave behind
One regret from yesterday
That just seems to grow with time
There's no use looking back or wondering
How it could be now or might have been
All this, I know, but still I can't find ways to let you go

Flashback to A Phone Conversation from Earlier that Year:

Samantha lay curled up on her bed. In one hand she held the phone and clutched it to her right ear. In her other hand, she held a tissue tightly in her fist. And from her position on the bed, she made sure that she could have a clear view of the vase of roses that now sat on her bedside table. The phone was on its third ring and Samantha was contemplating as to whether or not she wanted to hang up or leave a message when Tabbi, an old classmate of Jack's and one of Samantha's best friends from high school, finally answered her phone.

"Hello?"

Samantha sniffled. "Tabs?"

"Sam?" Tabbi asked. "What's up, Woman?!?!? How are you doing? I haven't talked to you in a while."

Samantha tried to steady her voice as she spoke into the phone, but gave up about halfway through. "It's Jack! Why do guys have to be such jerks?" she wailed.

"Alright, what did that jerk do this time? Need me to come down and kick his butt for you?" Tabbi was visibly fuming on the other end of the phone and Samantha knew that if she had the capabilities, she probably would be in Charlottesville the very next day. It was kind of scary actually, if you really thought about it.

"No, no, no," Samantha reassured. "It's just that... well, why does he have to be so sweet sometimes? It's so annoying!"

Tabbi blinked. "What'd the boy do this time?"

"It really was sweet," Samantha tried to convince her friend. Tabbi yawned. "I was having the worst week. My computer crashed on Monday, I had a horrid case of allergies on Tuesday, I borrowed Jack's computer on Wednesday, and then the air conditioner broke in my apartment unit Thursday, so I had to go to Jack's to work on my stupid paper, which was due this afternoon. My computer is not going to be fixed until next Tuesday, but at least the air conditioner is working again."

"Oh gees, Sam. That sounds like a terrible week! You're still alive?"

"It was and I'm barely alive! I was ready to kill someone by this afternoon. But here's the best part, when I got back from dropping off my paper, a dozen roses was waiting for me at the door! And accompanying it was a note that read: Sam, You've had a rough week, but you've made it through. I always knew you would, you always do. I hope these roses can bring a smile to your face, they're peach colored - your favorite. Enjoy your weekend! Love, Jack. Isn't that the nicest thing a person could ever do, Tabs?"

"Tabs? Tabs? Are you still there?" Tabbi had not yet responded to her story and Samantha was a little concerned.

"Sorry, m'dear. I'm right here," Tabbi snorted. "I just can't believe this stupid boy."

"What??? Why???" Samantha wailed. She was accustomed to complaining about him every so often, but as a general rule, she was the only person who could pick out his flaws. If anyone else tried to do that, Samantha always felt bidden to defend her friend's honor.

"Oh, come on, Sam! That boy is toying with your emotions just like he always does! I don't care if sending you flowers to cheer you up was a nice thing to do. Now he's got you all contorted on your bed crying your heart out - again! If it were up to me, I'd kick his scrawny little butt and smack some sense into him! This is just unacceptable!"

"But... but... but..."

"But what?" Tabbi asked. "I'll tell you what. You need to find yourself a big, hunky piece of male flesh. And then you need to walk around with him hanging off your right arm. Flaunt your stuff; let him know how desirable you are! Jack is a blind idiot and he doesn't deserve you, you deserve something better and I don't know why you put up with his crap, but you do. So, if you're going to be bent on having him, you might as well toy with his emotions from time to time too."

Samantha gave the phone an odd look. What was her friend talking about? "Tabbi, why should I make Jack jealous? He has Meghan and he's never going to be interested in me."

Tabbi laughed out loud. Did her friend know nothing? "Honey child, there's nothing that makes a woman more desirable than knowing that she's off the market! It doesn't matter if he has a girlfriend or not. I know Jack too, you know and from what you've been telling me all year long so far, that boy has the hots for you and he just doesn't know it."

Samantha shook her head. As much as she wanted to believe it, she could not let herself think about it. Wondering, pondering, dwelling... it never got her very far. All it ever did was bring her more heartache. It was better to be safe than to be sorry, that was her motto. She would just have to accept that he would do nice things from time to time, nice things that would only make him seem more desirable to her and in the meantime, drive her absolutely wild.

I never had a dream come true
'Til the day that I found you
Even though, I pretend that I've moved on
You'll always be my baby
I've never found the words to say
You're the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where love takes me to
A part of me will always be with you

Flashback to A High School Senior Pre-Prom Conversation:

"I talked to Kim tonight," Jack confessed.

Wonderful, Kim. Woo-hoo! Samantha thought, dispiritedly.

"Oh yeah? What'd you guys talk about?" she asked politely.

"Not much, you know, the usual. Well, it was kind of annoying this time because at first, she didn't really have anything to say to me. All she could do was complain about all the work she had to do and how her life was incredibly boring. Instead, she expected me to do all the talking and I started running out of things to say. Luckily, I had that sheet of ideas we brain-stormed over earlier so I was able to come up with several new topics of discussion pretty quickly."

Samantha giggled at the image of Jack holding up a piece of paper in front of him with an outline while talking on the phone with his girlfriend. How pathetic that their relationship has been reduced to that.

"Oh, and I tried to dissuade her from coming up for the prom," he glumly added.

Samantha frowned at the turn in his voice. "Didn't go very well, I gather?"

"No. She insists on coming up."

"Why? Isn't she getting the hint that you don't want her to come?"

"Well, if she is, she's totally ignoring the hints. I don't know how much more I can hint at it without speaking plainly."

So why don't you, then? Samantha made a face into the phone. Drats! If Kim insists on coming up, then there goes my date to the prom. Grrrr... "Oh. Well, what'd you say to her?"

"Well, at first I tried telling her that I didn't want to go anymore because none of my friends were going. Then she told me that was okay and that she'd still come up for that weekend anyways just to spend some quality time with me," Jack explained. Samantha wanted to gag.
"But I didn't want her to come up just so I would have to spend time with her alone," Jack confided. "I mean, if I'm going to have to be in her company, I'd much rather be around other people too. So then I told her that I was going but that none of my friends were taking dates, trying to hint that it might be awkward if I was the only person that had a date..."

"...But she didn't catch the hint?"

Jack groaned, "Not in the least! I don't know what I'm going to do, Samantha. I've tried everything. If only I hadn't promised her at the beginning of the year that she could come no matter what to my senior prom."

"Well why did you promise her?"

"Because I was still hopelessly in love with her back then!" Jack exclaimed. Then muttering more to himself than to her, he added, "Don't know what I was thinking though."

Samantha had to smile in spite of herself and then sighed. "Well, I guess there's only one thing for you to do."

"What's that?" Jack eagerly asked, hoping that Samantha would have the perfect solution to all his problems. Meanwhile, Samantha wanted to bang her head on her desk for what she was about to suggest. Even though neither Jack nor Samantha had ever voiced their thoughts, they both knew that Kim's presence at their senior prom would mean that they would not be able to attend the event together. Jack would be stuck with a girlfriend he was eager to break up with and Samantha would have no choice but to go stag.

"We'll all have to accept that Kim will be your date to the senior prom," she answered with a crestfallen tone of voice.

"I don't think Tabbi's going to be very happy with that idea."

Samantha also knew that their friend would not be pleased with the thought of Kim attending the prom with Jack. Ever since that February, it had been her life long mission to try and persuade Jack to ditch Kim and take Samantha. In vein, Samantha had begged her friend to desist, but Tabbi was having none of it. "You deserve to go with Jack," she would say. "Besides, no one wants that ninny around."

Samantha shook her head. "I don't think many people are going to be very happy with that idea - save Kim that is," she truthfully stated.

Somewhere in my memory I've lost all sense of time
And tomorrow could never be
Cos yesterday is all that fills my mind
There's no use looking back or wondering
How it should be now or might have been
All this, I know, but still I cant find ways to let you go

Flashback to First Year of College:

Samantha sat sullenly in her dorm room, staring at her telephone. Her bedside clock read eleven o'clock and she could not help but wish that someone would call her. Maybe if I stare at my telephone long enough, she wondered. Like a dutiful first year, she had finished her homework hours ago and was now ready for bed. But before she went to bed, she desperately wanted to talk to someone - mainly her friends from high school.

Although it was already several months into the school year, Samantha still really missed her old friends. Over the summer, she and her friends had done an excellent job of making sure they called one another just about every other week. However, since the commencement of a new school year, maintaining contact with her friends had proven to be a considerable effort. Everyone had started to formulate new lives at their respective colleges and keeping in touch with old friends was slipping in priorities. The thought of possibly losing contact with her friends from high school saddened Samantha.

The person Samantha really wanted to talk to at the moment was Jack. The hour of the night reminded her of all the phone conversations she and Jack would have during the week when they were in high school. As soon as the phones went on at ten, after study hall had ended, they would call one another and talk until the phones turned off again at midnight - also affectionately known by Samantha and her friends as "the pumpkin hour." Those were fun times, Samantha reflected. Sadly, she would never again have that sort of camaraderie with a male now that she had entered the "Nunnery," as she was wont to call Wellesley.

Her hand stretched out to pick the phone, but she promptly dropped it like a hot potato. Should I call him? No, he's probably busy with his new friends, Samantha considered.

Argh. Why do things have to be different now? Why can't things still be like last year? I wonder how things would have been if we had had more time and gotten to be friends earlier. Would it have made a difference if Jack had broken up with Kim earlier? What would Jack have done if I told him I liked him? Would he have run away or would it have triggered an opposite reaction?

Samantha sighed. Such wonderings really were futile and pointless. They only served to exacerbate the problem.

I never had a dream come true
'Til the day that I found you
Even though, I pretend that I've moved on
You'll always be my baby
I've never found the words to say
You're the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where love takes me to
A part of me will always be

Flashback to Monday night:

"There's nothing for you to be sorry for. You have made your choice and you must stand by it now. Meghan is important to you and I respect your decision."

What am I saying? I don't really believe that! How can I respect his decision when I don't want him to end our friendship? I want him to choose me over Meghan!

"Meghan placed a choice before you, Jack. You have considered your options and you have made your choice. You can't have both. Meghan won't allow it and neither will I," Samantha resolutely determined.

Oh, but won't you reconsider and pick me, Jack? I'll never make you make a choice like Meghan has. If only Meghan and I could switch positions. Please don't do this, Jack!

"And then what, Jack? Will we always be scurrying behind Meghan's back just to keep her happy? I can't do it! I'm sorry, but I can't. It makes me feel cheap and it won't be worth it in the end. And what will you do if you one day end up marrying her? Will it be so easy then to keep every friendship she disapproves of clandestine? It's better to end it now then set ourselves up for a bigger heartbreak later."

First Kim and now Meghan. I won't allow this to happen to me twice.

"No, just go, Jack. You owe me nothing. You've been a good and faithful friend all these years and I truly do appreciate it. But Meghan," Samantha sighed. "She makes you happy and you deserve to be happy. I could never be at peace with myself if I knew that I had stood in the way to your opportunity of happiness." I on the other hand, I will never make you as happy as she, even though it is my greatest wish that I could, Samantha thoughtfully added.

"You're not asking me to sacrifice our friendship, I'm doing it on my own volition, Jack. In fact, I'm asking you to release me from this bond of friendship."

Oh my goodness, was that my heart that just made that cracking noise? Tell me that you refuse to release me from our bond of friendship. Tell me that you won't allow it! That you'll go back to Meghan and demand that she be more reasonable. Tell me that we'll always be friends! Tell me that I'm not going crazy here! Jack...

"The only person that has to be sorry is myself. I've deluded myself into secretly hoping that there could one day be something more, but I have always known that one day this would happen. It was only a matter of when, but I have always chosen to ignore it. No, you've nothing to be sorry for, Jack."

Couldn't there? Could there ever be something more than friendship between us, Jack? Why not? I care about you so much! Don't you see it? Why don't you care about me in the same way?

"You've been such a good friend to me and that's all I've ever wanted. I won't regret the times I've spent with you. I'll cherish them always."

I'll never forget you. Never. For four years you have already invaded my every thought and every dream. And now, I will be plagued with the same affliction for the rest of my life.

"But I think it's time to move on now, don't you?"

How does a person move on from something like this...

You'll always be the dream that fills my head
Yes, you will, say you will, you know you will, oh baby
You'll always be the one I know I'll never forget
There's no use looking back or wondering
Because love is a strange and funny thing
No matter how I try and try I just can't say goodbye
No, no, no, no

I never had a dream come true
'Til the day that I found you
Even though, I pretend that I've moved on
You'll always be my baby
I've never found the words to say
You're the one I think about each day
And I know no matter where love takes me to
A part of me will always be with you

Samantha pounded her pillow with her fist. "Damn you, Jack! Why do you have to be so freaking irresistible? And damn me! Why am I so weak?" As much as she hated it, Samantha knew that no matter what torture and pain she went through, she would always love him.

A part of me will always be with you*

 

*S Club 7: Never Had A Dream Come True

 

Chapter 13

Thursday was a very busy day for both Jack and Samantha. Much to Jack's chagrin and Samantha's relief, both had full sets of classes that day and it kept them far too occupied to concern themselves with the trivialities of their personal lives as well as separate on opposite ends of the city.

For Jack, his busy schedule was a hindrance because it meant that he could not go and seek Samantha's attentions to clarify matters. Now that he had finally woken up from his clouded stupor and been made aware of his own feelings, he was eager to set matters straight. He only hoped that he had not hurt Samantha so badly that she would not be able to forgive him and let him back into her life. Jack hoped that eventually she would maybe learn to trust him with her heart. He wondered if he even deserved it after the way he had so casually cut her off. Jack tried to convince himself that he had not intentionally been in the wrong. After all, he had only intended to lie to Meghan. He had not actually wished to end his friendship with Samantha; that had been her own doing. But it was with a sinking feeling though that Jack began to see that he should have done more to protect his friend and stood up to his then girlfriend. A throbbing pain thudded deep within his chest as Jack realized how late his revelation had come. He began to wish that he had taken greater efforts to be more in tune with his heart earlier.

What will I do if she doesn't want me back in her life? What if she has decided she no longer loves me? Does she love me? Oh no, what if this is just a horrible presumption on everyone's parts and I'm fooling myself into thinking that she does care for me? Maybe she doesn't love me at all and I'm the idiot that has gone and fallen in love with one of my best friends who doesn't love me back? How she'll laugh at me! And so will everyone else! Or worse, it'll make everything awkward between us. Great, I'm fooling myself into thinking that she cares for me.

These insecurities plagued Jack's sanity from the moment he had woken up that morning. He had been so entranced by his ponderings at breakfast that he had almost put orange juice into his cereal and his cereal into the toaster oven. He had been so inattentive on his way to class that he had embarrassingly entered the wrong room and actually sat there until that class's professor walked into the room. Only then had he looked up and taken notice of the strange looks on people's faces as they looked back at him. Blushing a brilliant and crimson red of embarrassment, Jack had stumbled into his own classroom five minutes later. Had Samantha been aware of these insecure feelings, she might have been pleased to see the tables turned for once in her life.

At lunchtime, Jack sought Ben's company to update him on all that had taken place since they their last meeting. His story was long and often unclear, as Jack seemed to be rambling in a stream of consciousness, but Ben stayed with him, making sense of his jumbled comments and listened in unabashed bewilderment.

"Wow," Ben remarked, once Jack had finished his tale. "So much has happened!"

Jack rolled his eyes and snorted. "That's certainly one way to put it."

"But it sounds like you've made some real progress since the last time we talked."

"Yeah, I guess I did," was Jack's nonchalant reply, not that he felt nonchalant or anything like that. In fact, he had been feeling quite the opposite all day long.

"I have to admit, I'm surprised to see how well Meghan handled everything. I thought she'd be way more upset than that. You aren't a little bothered that she wasn't more upset by you breaking up with her?"

Jack cocked his head to one side and shrugged. "Nah, I suppose I might have been shocked and that might have bruised my ego a little, but I couldn't be upset. Especially since I had been the one to break up with her! I suppose that it's a good thing that we could both be really mature about it and realize that we just weren't meant for one another. There's no reason in getting upset over something you have absolutely no control over, you know?"

"Absolutely. I totally know what you're saying. Just wanted to make sure you were okay with things."

"Yeah, I am. I was actually surprised that she took the break-up so well too, though. I wasn't bothered, but I was surprised. But then again, she really is a sweet person, so I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. But given her performance last week... I guess she was just possessed by some demon or another then."

"Some demon!" Ben mumbled. Then, brightening up, he asked, "So, what now?"

"Oh, I don't know. Figure out what to do about Samantha, I guess."

Ben looked very pleased with himself. "Ah, so we have finally came to terms with our true feelings, huh?" he asked.

Jack shook his head in wonder. "What? Was I like the only person who had no idea that I liked Samantha?"

Ben chuckled. "Pretty much."

"How does that happen? I mean, how in the world does everyone else know how I feel when I'm not even aware of it myself? How did you know that I liked her?" he asked candidly.

"Well, first of all, I've seen the two of you together and I'd say that what you feel for her is a bit more than just 'like,' Jack," Ben teased.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Ben. I've never treated Samantha any differently than any other friend when we're together," Jack scowled.

Ben hooted. "So, we've admitted our true feelings, but we're still in denial about other things. Well, that's okay. Baby steps, I suppose."

Jack shot his friend another dirty look. "I'm not in denial. I'm being perfectly serious here! When have I acted differently?"

"Oh, I don't know... well there was that one case earlier this year when Samantha went out on a couple dates with that guy from the business school... remember that guy? Apparently they had met at the library or something like that. What was his name again? I don't remember what his name was anymore. All I remember is that you were so furious with him and refused to be his friend when Samantha introduced the two of you. You kept insisting that he was a jerk."

Jack scowled even harder. "His name was Damian and he was a jerk. Remember how he ended up treating Sam?"

"Well he was only a bit of a mild pain after she told him she didn't think things were going to work out between the two of them. Up until that time he was actually pretty gallant and nice."

"Gallant?" Jack sniffed. "Yeah, it was very gallant of him, the way he made her feel all bad about leading him on and stuff when she really hadn't meant to. She didn't lead him on," Jack defended his friend. "He was the one doing all the imagining."

"I suppose you're right. That wasn't very nice of Damian but that's not the point of this example. My point is that you were jealous of Damian and jealous of all the time Samantha was spending with him!"

"Jealous?" Jack scoffed. "I was not jealous. I was merely watching out for my friend."

"Right, you think that then if it gives you comfort," Ben rolled his eyes. "But in all seriousness, the first time I met Samantha and saw the two of you together, I seriously thought you guys were dating. It surprised me to hear that you weren't and I always wondered about it because it seemed so unfathomable to me that you two couldn't have been linked together at some point in time. And yet, according to the both of you, you'd never been linked together, ever. Well, at least nothing more than friendship. Then I heard you had a girlfriend so I figured that you had to have had this incredible relationship with your girlfriend if you could pass someone up like Samantha, who seemed to be so perfect for you. I confess, I was more than a little disappointed when I met Meghan and discovered that she was nothing as I had imagined. Maybe my standards were a little high given my preconceived notions and my obvious preferences for Samantha, but I still stand by my belief that you and Samantha are meant for one another."

"Your standards weren't too high at all. Meghan wasn't perfect for me and I started feeling that almost immediately after her arrival. I don't know... it was as though from the moment we saw each other we no longer clicked like we did back in college. But I didn't want to admit it to anyone, let alone myself. It's hard, you know, admitting something after so much time has passed. You don't ever want to be wrong, especially after you've spent all this time trying to convince people that you're right. And then, I never would have figured out my feelings for Samantha if Meghan hadn't been so insistent and you hadn't kept on bringing her up in our talks," Jack confessed.

"I didn't want to tell it to you straight out," Ben admitted. "Even though I knew it, or felt it I should say, I wanted you to figure it out on your own, so I tried steering you in that direction with subtle hints. They seemed to have worked and I'm pleased with the results."

Jack nodded his head. "Gosh, I can't even describe to you what I felt like when it came to me yesterday afternoon. It was like I had been dealt a large blow in my gut." A small grin played upon Jack's lips. "Kind of like the kind Sam is always giving me whenever she elbows me in the stomach."

Ben chuckled at his friend's goofy expression. Once a person was in love, everything began to take on a romantic image. In this case, even violence could be seen as something endearing through the rose-colored tinted glasses of love. Ben shook his head. It was kind of sadistic if you really thought about it.

"Gees, I guess I still can't understand how it is that everyone else besides me seems to know how I feel before I even know?"

Ben threw his head back in raucous laughter, "We're just very smart people, I guess."

"Do you think Samantha knows?" Jack asked frankly.

"That you like her?"

"Or at least that I might like her?"

Ben grew pensive for a minute, digesting and rearranging his thoughts before committing himself to an answer. "Probably not. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that she's probably feeling all those insecure feelings you're having yourself, and then some. Think about it, she's probably been having them for years now and last Monday's events could hardly have quelled them."

"So, do you think I have a chance in hell?" Jack sighed, knowing his friend's words were absolutely true.

Ben clapped his hand on Jack's back. "Hell's yeah I think you have a chance! Look, the only thing you have to be afraid of right now is Samantha's pride. If any thing is going to rebuff your offer, it's her pride, which has more than likely taken a big bruising this week and is not likely to want any more trouble. She might try and protect herself because let's face it - who wouldn't if they had to go through all that Samantha's been through? She's been through so much that she's not going to want to set herself up for another fall. But that would be the only reason why she rejects you. I know she loves you and I have every faith that ultimately, it will win out. Call me a cheesy romantic if you will, but that's what I think. It might take some time, patience, perseverance, and understanding on your part, but that's all."

"I suppose you're right. I just wish I could be sure. Oddly enough, for the first time in my life, I feel awkward around Samantha. I don't know what I should say or what I should do. I'm unsure of myself."

"And so you should," Ben laughed. "You know, it's probably how Samantha's been feeling all these years so it's kind of nice to see you in her shoes for once."

Jack glared at his friend.

"Oh come on, Jack. You've made it this far, so what's the big deal if you have to wait a little longer to resolve the issue?" he mocked.

Jack glowered even harder at his friend, but this only made Ben snicker even more.


For Samantha, a full day of classes was for once in her life welcome as it helped her put all unpleasant reveries connected to her personal life aside in her head. She was tired of thinking about anything related to Jack and/or Meghan and it relieved her to be able to put her heart and soul into something other than them for once that week. After she had lain in bed reading Meghan's note over and over again and listened to the soothing sounds and lyrics of her music the night before, Samantha had fallen asleep from emotional exhaustion and forgotten to do her homework yet again that week. It really was becoming a bad habit and she was grateful to have a friend like Tony in class who helped pick up the pieces for her.

Samantha had a strong suspicion that her friend Tanisha would have been more helpful too if it had not been for the fact that she was always holed up with her boyfriend Kyle or hanging out at Thai restaurants, again with her boyfriend Kyle. But Samantha allowed herself to smile a silly little smile. She was not so bitter over her own situation in life as to grudge her friends their own happiness. On the contrary, Samantha was very happy to see her friend so well situated and it gave her hope that she could one day have the same thing. The only question was, with whom? Jack? Even though Samantha had promised her brain a long time ago that she would forget him and move on, her heart still told her that she hoped it would be so. It was difficult when the brain and the heart refused to agree.

Over dinner that Thursday night, Samantha despondently showed Tony the note that Meghan had left for her.

"Gees, I think I'd be a little more excited by the note if I were you. Why the long face?" Tony commented after carefully reading Meghan's note several times over to also make sure that it was real and would not magically disappear.

"I don't know. It just seems rather strange and all, don't you think? I mean, I don't know whether or not to believe her. Actually, I don't know what to think! It's kind of random, but then not really I guess if they broke up, but definitely out of character - or at least from what I saw of her character. Wouldn't you agree?"

Tony took Samantha's incoherent and disjointed comments in stride, picking his way carefully around her contradictory and thrown around statements. "How'd she give you the note? Did she have any sort of facial expressions that stood out when she handed you the note? Anything out of the ordinary?" he asked, figuring that maybe if he started from square one, he would be more successful than Samantha at forming a rational conclusion.

Samantha shrugged her shoulders. "I wouldn't know. She didn't hand it to me in person. Actually, I don't even know how she got it to me. All that I know is that when I came home yesterday afternoon, an envelope was taped on my door and that note was waiting for me inside of it," she pointed at the note now safely tucked in Tony's right hand.

"Well, it appears that she must have dropped it off some time before she left yesterday morning," Tony brilliantly deduced.

Samantha looked squarely at her friend. "No duh, Sherlock. How'd you figure that one out?"

Tony looked quickly at her.

"What? You're the one that was unnecessarily pointing out the obvious."

"I'm only trying to help you make sense of things, Sam. There's no need to get snippety and sarcastic with me!"

"Sorry. My nerves have been shot this week. I'm not responsible for anything I say or do anymore. But anyways, getting back to the issue at hand here, how I got that note is not really my question. I was thinking more along the lines as to whether or not you think Jack knows about it."

Tony shook his head. "Probably not. I mean, I can't imagine Jack sanctioning such an act, not that I think he'd be displeased with what Meghan's done if he knew about it, but I just don't think he'd actually sit there and stand over Meghan and make her write such a note, he's not that kind of a person, and do you really think Meghan would tell him if she was going to write you that note?"

Samantha's head swirled as she tried to follow Tony's run-on sentence of a thought.

"No, for all the meanness that she's been showing you this past week, I would say that that note really did come from the depths of her heart," he said, finally reaching a conclusion. "At least, that's what it sounds like from the tone of this note. She does sound pretty regretful and apologetic."

Samantha nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that's pretty much what I've been thinking too. But then, that also disturbs me because... well, do you think what she says about Jack could possibly be true?"

Tony pondered her words briefly before answering, "Why not, Samantha? I think so. Everyone who has ever seen the two of you together always thinks you guys should be dating anyways. So now you know his ex-girlfriend agrees too. Why should that come as such a surprise to you and be so disbelieving?"

How did one explain that after years of thinking something could never happen, it became a truth and a fact, one that was better accepted than questioned? "I don't know. I guess it seems to be too good to be true. I don't wan to get my hopes up and then have them dashed again," Samantha confided.

Tony put his arms around his friend. "Samantha, you really don't give yourself enough credit. You're an amazing woman. You're sweet, caring, thoughtful, funny, smart, pretty... Jack would be crazy to not acknowledge even that much."

Samantha hung her head, her emotions were so raw and spent that she did not even have the energy to give him one of her witty retorts like, "Oh, you'd better stop with the compliments or else my ego's not going to fit in this room anymore."

Tony sighed at his friend's miserable expression and raised her chin carefully with his left hand. "I'm serious," he stated, looking straight into her eyes. "Mark my words. It may not be tomorrow, it may not even be next week, but once Jack figures out how he really feels about you, he'll move heaven and earth to be by your side."

Samantha broke the eye contact. "How can you be so sure?" she petulantly asked.

"Because... I know," he said with great gusto and confidence, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

Samantha looked up at him sharply. "What do you know that I don't know?" she demanded, crossing her arms across her chest.

They looked at one another, each one with their arms across their chests. It was like a showdown and each person was determined not to budge. Tony would keep his silence and Samantha would continue to pry. In the end, Samantha emerged as the victor. Seeing as Samantha was not going to back down from this one, Tony decided that it would be in his best interest to be honest and forthright.

"Oh, alright, fine! I can't stand it when you give me those desperate, doe-like, adamant eyes of yours. It's scary and I've never seen anything like it before," Tony exclaimed exasperatedly while waving his hands outwards towards her eye. "It's so unsettling."

Samantha relaxed her stance while giving him a knowing smile. She liked getting her way.

"Well... At the beginning of the year," Tony began, "when I was just getting to know you and Jack, I saw that you and he were very good friends. So, when I wasn't sure of something, I thought I'd turn to him for advice and I did."

Tony paused in his speech and Samantha seized the opportunity to ask, "What were you not sure of and what kind of advice did you need?"

"Well... basically, I asked him whether or not he thought it would be a good idea if I approached you," Tony sheepishly admitted in one fast gush.

"Approached me?" Samantha gasped.

Tony colored. "Well, yeah. You know, like ask you out on a date or something like that."

Samantha was aghast. When was Tony interested in me? she asked herself. "So... you were actually interested in me at one point?"

"Um, yeah... what? You needn't look at me with such surprise, Samantha! You should be flattered that I once even thought of you in that way."

"But... you never did ask me out on a date. What happened? Am I that undesirable?" Even though dating Tony had never been one of Samantha's goals, she still pouted thinking that maybe she really was an undesirable person after all.

"Well, no... I know I never followed up on what I'd originally set out to do, but you see, after I talked to Jack..."

It was Samantha's turn to blanch. "He told you no??? Oh my gosh! Who gave that bastard the right to be my keeper? And you actually listened to him? What were you thinking?"

Tony was confused. Samantha was now mad at him for not asking her out even though she didn't even like him like that? "No! It was nothing like what you're thinking right now, Samantha! Jack wasn't a jerk about it at all."

"Oh," Samantha started to calm herself down a little. "Well, what'd he say then? Obviously he must've given you some sort of a negative answer otherwise you would have approached me, right?"

"No, not really. You see, Jack never said that I couldn't date you. Well, not in so many words, at least." Tony looked at Samantha's face and saw the wary looks embedded there. "I told you, he was nothing like what you're thinking right now, Samantha, so stop trying to see the worst in him."

"I happen to like seeing the worst in him right now, thank you very much. I'm annoyed at him right now. I have every right to think the worst of him," Samantha grumbled.

"Until someone else starts criticizing him. Then you have to defend him," Tony finished for her.

"Well of course!"

Tony rolled his eyes and decided that he was not going to even try and point out all the fallacies in her logic. "Do you want to hear the rest of my explanation or not?"

"Oh, right. Sorry." Samantha grinned guiltily.

"Anyways... Of course Jack was incredibly gracious in his answer and told me that he thought it would be a great idea. He really was an advocate of the idea and encouraged me to do so. But then I noticed that he didn't really seem to really believe what he was saying."

Samantha was confused. "How's that?"

"I don't know, really. It wasn't that he was half-hearted in his reply or anything like that. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But then again, I think that's what tipped me off - he was too enthusiastic. What I mean is, I think it was the fact that he then went on and on and on about how wonderful of a person you were, how much fun you were to be around, and how much he was sure I would love you as I got to know you better. After listening to him ramble on about all your virtues and perfections made me realize that he seemed to be more in love with you than I was. And then the more I got to know you, the more I realized that you loved him too and after that, I knew there was no way in hell that I had a chance."

"I don't know what to say, Tony." Samantha was flabbergasted by Tony's revelation and explanation. She had never known that anyone could have been so perceptive of her relationship with Jack, let alone Tony. A small part of her also felt guilty that she did not like Tony and could not give him a chance. She had a feeling that he would make a great boyfriend. And he was such an incredible person that Samantha knew he truly deserved someone that made him happy. She wished it could be her but also knew that it was not meant to be.

"Oh, you don't have to say anything, doll." Samantha didn't appear to feel at ease, so Tony tried to reassure her with his words. "Seriously, Samantha. It's much been better that we've gotten to be such good friends and nothing more. Really. And besides, it's not like I couldn't have asked you out if I had really wanted to. But like I said, it's just that right after Jack told me all of that, I found it highly suspicious and then I noticed the way you acted around him and I knew then I didn't stand a chance. I mean, even though I didn't really know you loved him to the extent that you do, it just seemed that you appeared to hold him in high esteem and I wasn't about to compete with that. So, instead, I became your friend and I've become a very close friend of yours, if I may say so myself, and I'm much happier with that."

"Are you sure?" Samantha asked worriedly.

"Absolutely," Tony answered firmly. "And as hard as it may be for your Samantha-centric world to believe, I am not some lovesick puppy pining away for you. Besides, now that I've really gotten to know you, I see now that we would've been a romantic disaster had I tried to ask you out!" Tony joked.

"Oh, you're such a tease!" Samantha accused.

Tony laughed along with her.

 

Chapter 14A

By Friday afternoon, Jack was itching to get out of his last lecture. He was tired of listening to his professor drone on and on about various body parts, muscles and tissue. He no longer cared about what lay beneath them and on top of them and around them and in them. In Jack's humble and tired opinion, the more his professor talked, the more his voice began to sound like Charlie Brown's incoherent teacher from Charles Schulz's comic strip, Peanuts.

Jack sat nervously, bouncing his right knee up and down, up and down, and up and down some more. Ben, who was sitting next to Jack on his right, would look over from time to time and smirk. It was evident that Jack's mind was far from focused on the colossal chalkboard at the front of the large, lecture room. Jack happened to look over at one point and catch one of Ben's smirks. He scowled deeply back. Ben returned it with his own smile and pointed to Jack's knee while mouthing the word, "Stop," at the same time. The vibrations from Jack's leg movements were beginning to affect Ben's own desk and Ben wanted Jack to desist immediately. It was hard to take even notes when the desk was being constantly jiggled about. Jack sighed and stopped the leg movements, but then took up tapping his pen against his notebook. Ben shook his head and gave up trying to refrain his friend from any more distracting movements. At least Jack was no longer preventing him from writing evenly.

Looking at the large clock, at the front of the lecture room, for the five millionth time that afternoon Jack noted that only three minutes had passed since his last check. He groaned and slid down even further in his seat as he tried to pay attention to what his professor was saying. The effort was futile.

Great, I'm going to have to borrow someone's notes later, he thought to himself. I'm not catching any of this. Why is this so painful? Why is there still forty-five minutes of lecture left? What is my professor talking about now?

"So, can anyone answer this question?" the professor asked. "Mr. Donaldson?"

Jack sat up ramrod straight in his chair. Drat, was I just called on? "Um. Yes. Sir?" The temperature in the room began to rise and Jack could feel the redness slowly climbing up the nape of his neck. Shoot, what does the man want?

"The question, Mr. Donaldson," his professor stated irritably. "Do you have an answer to the question for us? It would be preferable if you answered us sometime this afternoon."

What the heck did he just ask? Shoot, I can't B-S my way through this one. "Um. No. Sorry, sir." Jack could feel himself blushing hotly. How embarrassing to be caught daydreaming, like this!

The professor frowned openly at his student. "I suggest that in the future, young man, you'd be better off paying attention in class than letting your mind wander. Daydreaming will not serve you well in the medical profession, especially if you're a surgeon in the middle of an extensive and complex operation, for example."

Then, turning his attention away from Jack, he addressed the rest of the class, "Now, does anyone else have the answer to the question? Preferably someone who has been paying attention to my lecture this afternoon?"

Jack wished that the ground would open up and swallow him whole. Ben, on the other hand, had one of his hand raised, volunteering to answer the question, while his other hand covered his mouth in an attempt to hide the laughter that was threatening to bubble out. Jack reached out with his right leg and gave his friend a good, hard kick in the shin. The pain that resulted from the kick made Ben momentarily sorry that he had laughed at his own friend's expense but, not really. Ben was after all very amused.

About half an hour later after Jack had been completely humiliated in front of his entire class, the class was finally dismissed. There was a mad dash to the door as every student was eager to go home and start the weekend. Jack wanted to join the throng of people, but was held up by several friends who had several questions to ask him about matters that Jack thought were completely insignificant at the moment.

Much to his friends' surprise, Jack rudely and impatiently dismissed them by giving them hurried and harried answers. He then ran off without so much as a decent good-bye or a glance behind. Luckily, Ben had also stayed behind and he was able to assuage the hurt feelings of their other friends and plead Jack's case for him.

"Pay no attention to him, guys," Ben said. "I know he was a bit curt just now, but he's got a lot of other things on his mind right now. But you know, if all goes well this weekend, I think that we'll be seeing Jack back to his happy, normal self on Monday," he cheerfully predicted.


The first destination on Jack's list of places to attempt after finally being dismissed from classes was the UVA Law School. It was his hope that he would catch Samantha just as she was getting out of classes, but when he got there he was too late. Samantha's car was missing from the parking lot, thereby suggesting that she had already left for the day. But just to make sure, as there was always the possibility that she had hitched a ride to school from someone else that day, Jack parked his car, got out and made a circle of the hallways and library before satisfying himself with the knowledge that she was not there and returned to his car.

Jack's next stop was her apartment, but when he got there, her car was not parked outside in the driveway there either. Again, to be sure, he called her apartment using his cell phone and got the answering machine instead. Afraid that maybe she was not answering her phone Jack, got out of the car, walked up the stairs to her apartment door and knocked loudly several times. His knockings were met with silence and there did not appear to be any movement inside. Jack guessed correctly that Samantha had probably not gone straight home after classes that day.

Jack got back into his car and pulled out his cell phone again, calling several of their mutual friends to see if they happened to know of Samantha's whereabouts. Of the people that happened to be home, no one seemed to know where she was. Jack was getting worried as this seemed unlike Samantha to not be home, so he decided to try all of their favorite haunts. He went back to the Law School library; he even checked the Medical School library, as they were known to sometime study there even though the Law School library was infinitely nicer, but she was not there either. He then stopped by Frank's to say hello and take a quick peep and when he could not find her in any of the other places they usually frequented, he also tried Blue Moon even though it was not yet the dinner hour.

Where could she have gone? Jack asked himself in frustration. He was about to drive himself mad with worry. He stopped by her house one more time but found that she had not yet returned. Venturing away from the main strip surrounding the campus, he then stopped by the local Barnes & Noble bookstore, the grocery store, and the university gym. At each place he ran into other friends, but not Samantha. This is ridiculous, Jack thought. I've been reduced to being a stalker!

The minutes and hours were ticking by and the afternoon slowly faded into evening; Jack was beginning to despair that he would ever find Samantha. He sat in his car, parked in the middle of the strip mall's parking lot, and held his hanging head over the steering wheel. Think, Jack, think! Where would Sam be?

Inspiration struck him as he snapped his fingers and remembered that sometimes Samantha and her law school friends would have dinner at a Thai restaurant on Friday nights instead of going to Blue Moon to meet up with the rest of the medical school crowd. Tanisha and Kyle were big Thai food-lovers and they insisted that their friends join them for dinner at least once in a month. Jack wondered if they could not have gone to Amarin that evening instead.

Well, there's only one way to find out, he told himself. Putting his car into drive, Jack made a quick beeline for the restaurant. Jack felt like he had hit the million-dollar lottery when he swerved into the parking lot of Amarin. There, emerging from Samantha's car was the driver herself and Tony. Jack frowned but quickly shook the feeling off as he parked his car.

Running after Samantha, in an attempt to catch her before she went into the restaurant, Jack called out her name. "Sam!!! Wait up!!!"

Samantha stopped walking, detaching herself from her group of friends, and turned around at the sound of Jack's voice. Something in her throat instinctively constricted and she wished that she could have grabbed onto something for support. This would be the first time she had seen or talked to Jack since that fateful evening.
Oh my gosh! What do I say to him? What do I do? Samantha tried to calm herself down and refrain from panicking. Must remember to maintain inner poise, she chanted. Right, cool as a cucumber. I can do this.

Jack finally caught up to her. He wanted to reach out and take one of her hands in his own, but he resisted. "Hey! I've been looking all over for you."

Samantha raised one of her eyebrows. "Really. Have you?"

"Yeah," Jack shifted a little uneasily on his feet. This was going to be much harder than he had ever imagined. "I was ummm... hoping we could talk."

His eyes drifted over to where the rest of Samantha's friends were standing. Tanisha, Kyle, Tony, Margaret, James, Pauline, they all looked at him curiously. Samantha's eyes followed Jack's as she saw her own friends staring expectantly back at them. They stood hovering by the door, but seemed reluctant to leave Samantha alone to go inside. Samantha wondered with mild amusement whether or not they were being protective or inquisitive. She guessed that it was probably a little bit of both, though she hoped it was more the former. Jack on the other hand wished they would all disappear, allowing him some private minutes with Samantha.

Only a few seconds had passed in reality, but already Samantha had managed to forget Jack's main intent. "I'm sorry, what was it you wanted?"

"I wanted to talk with you, Sam... in private," he added, trying to give a not so subtle hint.

Samantha scratched her head for a few seconds and then nodded her head in assent. Turning to her friends, she gave them an imperceptible nod, signaling that they should go in without her. Jack sighed with relief as he saw them open the door and then go in. One by one they passed through until only Tony remained. With no small amount of annoyance, Jack realized that Tony was not going to go in with the others. He was going to stand there and watch the two of them.

Well, if he's going to keep tabs on us like some sort of a bodyguard, I'm not going to let him hear what I have to say, Jack decided. What does he think I'm going to do?

He gestured for Samantha to follow him a little bit more to the side and away from Tony's listening range. Samantha went along with him, her curiosity mounting with every step she took. She could not help but be a little impatient either. This secrecy was killing her and she wanted to be inside the restaurant with her friends, celebrating Tanisha's birthday.

"What did you want to talk to me about," Samantha asked impatiently.

Jack was more than a little surprised by the tone of her voice. "I... I... I had a couple things I wanted to talk to you about. I've been trying to find you all afternoon. It's really important, Sam. I was hoping you'd make the time to talk to me." Jack tried to convey his sense of urgency through his voice.

Samantha sighed and looked down at her watch. This could not possible have come at a worse time, she thought.

On the one hand, she desperately wanted to know what Jack could possibly have to say to her. The image of Meghan's letter appeared in her mind and she wondered if the two had anything to do with one another. But on the other hand, she had an obligation to a friend to attend her birthday party. Tanisha's birthday party had been on her calendar for a long time now and Samantha was not one to break prior engagements, unless it was something drastic, like she had some sort of a dying relative in the hospital.

What do I do??? Samantha could not decide and Jack was looking at her with bated breath, waiting for her to give him the green light. After a few more minutes of teetering and tottering, Samantha gave up and decided that it was better to go inside than to stay outside with Jack. Not only would she be keeping her promise to Tanisha, but she would also have more time to think about what she wanted to say and do the next time she saw Jack. She had not been mentally prepared for this impromptu meeting with Jack and she wanted to be better prepared for all the possibilities that might occur the next time.

Samantha brushed a fallen piece of hair back. "I'm sorry, Jack. Now really isn't a good time for me."

"Why?" Jack asked, his voice crestfallen, was bordering on whining.

Samantha was not sure why, but something in his voice annoyed her and despite all her restraint, it showed through in her reply. "Because, Jack, I have somewhere to be right now. I'm supposed to be inside having dinner with my friends."

Jack winced. He could accept that. After all, he had kind of barged in on them. "Some other time then? Can we meet up later tonight?"

"Can't. We're going out clubbing afterwards," Samantha told him.

"Clubbing? But you hate clubbing!"

Samantha shrugged. "It's Tanisha's birthday and she's the queen of the day. I only do what I'm bidden to do, not what I want to do."

"Lucky her," Jack mumbled. "So, when can we meet up then? When are you free?"

Samantha shrugged her shoulders again. "I don't know, Jack. I don't keep a social calendar on me at all times and I'm pretty busy right now."

Samantha was trying to delay the inevitable for as long as she possibly could. The more time she could stall, the more time she would have to think about things. Or at least, that was what she was trying to tell herself. Aw, heck! Who am I kidding? I'm chicken! Samantha admitted.

"Sam... this is really important. I know I've been a jerk and a pain and you have every right to tell me that you want to see me ever again and kick me out, but I really, really, really hope you'll give me another chance and listen to what I have to say. It's really important."

Samantha looked at Jack oddly. "Look, Jack. I never said you were a jerk or a pain. Then again, I didn't say you weren't one either... but whatever, that's beside the point. I'm not saying that I don't ever want to see you again nor am I saying I want to kick you out. What I am saying is that right now, I'm supposed to be inside celebrating my friend's birthday and that I don't know when I'm going to be free because I'm very busy right now."

Jack bowed in acknowledgment. There was nothing more he could say if Samantha was so decidedly against hearing what he had to say. He would have to content himself with the hope that it was not that Samantha did not want to speak with him, but that she did not have the time to speak with him.

"Fine. I'm sorry for keeping you from your dinner party. I'll ahh... just go back home now, then."

Samantha caught the hurt in Jack's eyes and instantaneously felt bad. Hurting Jack went against every grain in her body. She had not meant to do so. He turned away, but Samantha called him back. "Jack!"

Jack lifted his eyes in hope. Is she going to change her mind?

"If you want to talk, as your friend, I'll always be around. You have only to look for me," she smiled.

"Look for you..." Jack repeated dumbly.

"Well, you seemed to find me alright tonight!" Samantha pointed out cheekily. She looked down at her watch and gave a yelp. "Whoa! I've got to go, Jack! Bye!"

She whirled around and ran over to the door where Tony was still waiting for her. Jack watched her every movement and every detail of her physiognomy. His hands knotted together in front of him as he watched her flash Tony a brilliant smile and then laugh at something he said. His jaw clenched as he saw Tony lean in and whisper something else in her ear. His throat contracted when he saw Samantha slap Tony's arm playfully back. His heart stopped pounding and lodged itself in his chest as he witnessed Tony placing his hand on the small of Samantha's back and propelled her through the door. His eyes blazed and his mouth opened, but no voice came out.

 

Chapter 14B

After dinner, Samantha pleaded tiredness and asked to be excused from the clubbing party. Tanisha looked at her friend with concern. "Are you okay, Sam? You were kind of quiet tonight."

"Yeah, I'm okay. I've just... got a lot on my mind right now."

Tanisha nodded her head understandingly. "Okay, hon. Go home and get a good night's sleep then. Thanks for coming tonight. I was glad you could make it."

"Thanks, Tan. And Happy Birthday again," she leaned over to give her friend a kiss on the cheek.

Tony stood up from his seat and said, "I'll see you home."

Samantha shook away his offer. She really wanted to be alone at the moment and reflect on Jack's words. "Nah, it's okay. Besides, I'd still end up having to drop you off first since I drove you here."

"That's true. Well, okay. You're going to be alright, though?"

"Perfectly so. Thanks guys. Bye guys."

Waving good-bye, Samantha and her friends parted ways. They went onto visit various dance clubs while Samantha went home to her empty apartment. Dumping her stuff onto her kitchen table, as usual, Samantha then checked her voicemail. She had one new message:

WOMAN?!?!?!? What's up?!?!??! Why are you not home?!?!?!? How can you possible dare to not be home when I am calling you?!?!? Have you no decency, Woman?!??!? What kind of a friend are you?!?!?!? You better watch out for frozen fishes in the mail!!!! Anyways, I haven't heard from you in ages. How are you?!?!??!?! Give me a call back as soon as you get this message!!!!!!!!

Samantha could hear the slamming fists in the background. She chuckled and saved it to listen to it again later. How typical of her friend, Tabbi.

Tabbi, Samantha smiled. Now she would be a perfect person to consult. Punching in the number on speed dial, Samantha waited impatiently for her friend to pick up.

"Hello?" the other person yawned into the phone.

"Where's the red carpet and trumpeting fanfare?" Samantha pouted. "I call you back and I don't even get a welcoming party?"

Tabbi laughed out loud. "Woman?!?!!? Where have you been????"

"It was Tanisha's birthday today and Kyle wanted us all to go out and celebrate with them tonight."

"It wasn't Thai again, was it?" Samantha had told Tabbi about her friends' affinity for Thai food.

"Yup. 'Fraid so."

"Sheesh! Don't they ever get sick of it?"

"Apparently not."

"Hm. Well, anyways, what else is going on?"

"Well, that's a very good question as I actually had something I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to get your opinion on something and see what advice you had to give. The only other person I've been talking to about this is Tony and well," Samantha wrinkled her brows. "It'd be nice to get a female perspective for once!"

Tabbi snorted. "Are you sure you want my advice then?"

"Oh come on Tabs... Can't you be normal for just one second and help me out a little here? I'm serious! I need your help," Samantha pouted and whined.

"Oh, alright, alright. But I swear if you end up gushing on me again, I'm going to have to hang up on you."

"I never gush."

"Yes you do."

"No I don't."

"Yes you do."

"Fine! I promise. No gushing."

"Scout's honor?"

"Scout's honor."

"You have your fingers crossed behind your back don't you?"

"Maybe, maybe not."

"You're such a liar, Sam!"

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Am not."

"ARE TOO."

"AM NOT."

"ARE TOO."

Samantha sighed. "Gees, we're such kids."

"You started it."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"DID NOT."

"DID TOO." Tabbi chuckled.

"Remind me again. Why am I paying for this long distance call?"

"Because I paid for the last one."

"Oh, right."

"So anyways, Woman?!?!? What's your problem? Think I got all night here?"

"As a matter of fact, yeah! After all it's almost eleven o'clock and you were home to answer this call."

Tabbi huffed. "Well I don't!"

"What? You waiting around for your hot date to show up tonight or something?"

"Maybe, maybe not."

It was Samantha's turn to snort. "Try not to accidentally stick him with a needle again this time. Inflatable things are so hard to repair."

"Ahahahahahaha, Woman! You're sooooo funny." Tabbi muttered something under her breath while Samantha laughed heartily at her own joke. "Well, are you going to tell me your problem or what?"

"Right, sorry." Samantha sobered instantly. It took Samantha a while to fully tell her story. She liked to bring up every detail and repeat ever conversation verbatim. Since she had Meghan's note handy, she read that to Tabbi too. Tabbi tried to follow along and not fall asleep. She kept her ears peeled for any signs of gushing, though. At the first sign of a gush, the receiver was going down.

As Tabbi kept listening to Samantha's story, her mind kept whirling. There were times when she wanted beat Jack up. There were times when she wanted to beat Meghan up. There were even times when she wanted to beat Tony up, like when he finally admitted how he had felt about Samantha at the beginning of the year. "Trust boys to have to go and do something stupid like that - fall in love, never do anything about it, and then make you feel bad months later when they finally do confess," Tabbi griped. There were times when she felt for Samantha. There were times when she felt for Meghan. And as much as she did not want to admit it, she grudgingly conceded that there were a few times when she even felt a smidgen of pity for Jack. However, she tried to tell herself that she pitied him because he was an idiot and not because he seemed to be in a vat of confusion.

Tabbi was amazed at how much could happen over a week's time span. After five-six years of waiting, pining, and doing nothing, things were finally coming to fruition it seemed. "Gees, Sam! What is this? As the UVA Campus Turns?"

"I know! I know! It really is a soap opera, isn't it?"

"Yeah, with you and Jack as the star-crossed lovers. Only, whatever you do, do not, and I repeat, do not start sleeping with his younger brother just to get Jack's attention."

"And then after I get Jack's attention and marry him, I'll find out that I'm actually pregnant by Jack's brother?"

"Exactly! Because then what will happen is Jack's mom will find out and she'll hate you."

Samantha gave a mocked gasp. "No! Jack's mom loves me!"

"She won't after she finds out that you've been playing her two sons. She'll hate you! And she'll turn both Jack and his brother against you and you'll be left all alone with this baby to take care of."

"Oh no!"

"Oh yes! And then, Jack's dad will take pity on you and..."

"Okay! Okay!" Samantha laughed, trying to get Tabbi to stop. "I get the picture! There is no need to carry on with this scenario. As soap-operish my life may be at the moment, it's not that much of a soap opera, Tabs!"

Tabbi chuckled. "Just trying to make you laugh."

"Thanks. I appreciate it." Silence ensued for a few seconds before Samantha turned serious again and asked, "What do I do, Tabbi?"

"Hmm?"

"Well, he's going to come and find me again, Tabbi. And it's going to be sooner than later, I just know it. You should have seen him tonight, Tabs. He was desperate to talk to me and I totally blew him off."

"Good! It's what he deserves! I'm glad you finally blew him off, Sam! For once you gave him what he deserved and I'm so proud of you! It's about time he sat in the hot seat for a little bit. Make him squirm. Make him suffer what you've been suffering all these years. Torture! Pain! It's all good stuff!"

"But that's not what I want! I didn't mean to hurt him... if in fact, I did."

"Pish-posh! Why ever not? Hasn't he done enough to hurt you over the years?"

"Yeah, but that's not his fault! It's not his fault that I fell in love with him. I didn't have to go and ruin a perfectly good thing like friendship. Remember, I was the one that started wanting something more and it's not his fault that he couldn't give it to me. Not to mention, he doesn't even know that he has been torturing me because he doesn't even know that I like him. Or at least he's not supposed to know that I like him. Remember?"

Tabbi sighed and rolled her eyes. She was not about to enter into one of their age-old debates over whether or not Jack was as much of a pain as she liked to think him to be. "Fine, whatever, Sam. Think what you will. But the point remains that he sought you out tonight and wanted to talk to you about something, right?"

"Right. And I told him to go away, Tabs! What if it was something really important? I mean, what if Meghan was right and he does love me and he was coming to tell me that he was in love with me, or something like that and wanted to give me a chance? Or ask me for a chance? And if that's the case, then that means I just blew my one and only chance at something I've wanted for a long time!" Samantha started freaking out. "What have I done? I'm such an idiot!"

"Whoa... easy there tiger. No need to go banging the heads just yet," Tabbi consoled. "Look, if Jack really does care about you, he's going to come back looking for you. He's not going to give up that easily."

"But what if he's now feeling rejected and snubbed and has given up?" Samantha whined.

"I could smack you so hard, upside the head, with a fish right now for that comment," Tabbi warned. "Get a grip, Woman!!!! If he did do something moronic like that, would you really want a guy that gave up so easily?"

Samantha sniffled. "No."

"Well okay, then! What are you worried about then?"

"Gah! I don't know! I'm such a mess, Tabs!"

"You're more like a freak," Tabbi muttered.

"You're so unhelpful," Samantha sulked. "No pity, no sympathy no love, no care... All you do is yell at me."

"What the heck?" Tabbi protested. "Didn't I just listen to you moan and groan over a bunch of nothings right now? Sheesh. Some people have such small memories."

"Yeah, but you still haven't told me what I should do the next time I see him."

"That's because you wouldn't do what I want you to do even if I told you to do it."

"True. But in all seriousness and honesty, what do you think I should do?"

"Personally, I think you should give him a good wallop and send him packing and make him suffer long and hard before giving in. Like I always say, torture and pain is good! But I know you... you're a mush head and a sop head and you're going to give in."

"I'm going to take this opportunity to remind you that you are one of Jack's friends too."

Tabbi shrugged on the other line. "I know I am, but I'm better friends with you and it annoys the heck out of me, what he makes you go through - intentionally or not. Can you blame me for being protective?"

"No, I guess not."

"I didn't think so. Look, getting back to your problem here. You, for some odd reason or another..."

"Tabbi..." Samantha warned.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know. You like him and you want him. And all I can say is that if that's what you want, then you have to go for it."

"But what if things don't work out? Will I loose him as a friend? Or what if he's coming to tell me that he doesn't actually like me and that Meghan was mistaken?"

"Those are the risks you're going to have to take. But somehow, I don't think Meghan's very far from the truth. In fact, I'd say she was dead on. The only decision you have to make is whether or not you want the boy to suffer."

"I don't want him to suffer... but I don't know if I'm ready either, Tabs. I don't know if I'm ready to take the risk of possibly getting myself hurt again."

"I don't blame you. Only a fool would."

"So what should I do then?"

"Take some time for yourself. Don't seek him out. Let him come to you again and think things through before you commit to anything. And above all, trust your heart. You'll never go wrong if you do what you honestly, sincerely, truly think is best. Just follow your instincts."

Samantha smiled. "Thanks Tabs. I needed to hear that."

"No problem, Woman."

"See? I knew you were capable of passing on real advice!"

"Yeah, whatever. I think I've used up my nice and helpful quotient for the day. I need to go gargle mouthwash or something now, maybe dip myself in a vat of acid."

Samantha giggled. "Okay. Thanks again, Tabbi!"

"Not a prob. Let me know how things go if and when it happens."

"Okay. Will do. Bye."

"Bye."


Jack tore himself away from staring at the ceiling and rolled over onto his stomach. Reaching over the side of his bed, he dug his old photo album out from underneath his bed and wiped off the dust that had collected on its cover. He had not looked in his photo album in ages. It was not that memories from high school upset him or anything like that. Rather, Jack preferred to live in the present. Nostalgia for him was a senseless notion. He did not know what to do with it. No, the present was definitely better. It was more manageable. And yet, on this Friday night, he caught himself looking through his old photos from high school.

There was a picture of the entire gang, celebrating their last day of classes at a local diner. There was a picture of him and his roommate, Roger, playing video games on the computer. There was a picture of Roger talking on the phone. I bet he was talking to Tabbi. Those two were always talking on the phone. There was a picture of himself talking on the phone. Hmmm... that's probably Sam on the other end of the line. There was a picture of Tabbi, Samantha, and himself sitting on the steps of the Classroom building. Jack shuddered at the thought of his old friend. Tabbi was always trying to beat him up every time she saw him. Man, she had a violent streak. Not like Sam. Sam...

The last picture Jack's eyes fell on was one where the two of them were toppled over one another in a pile of mud. From head to toe they were covered in the brown muck. The only parts of the body that could be identified were their eyes and their laughing mouths. Jack still remembered that day like yesterday. It had rained the day before and Samantha had called him up that Saturday morning and told him that under no circumstances were he and Roger allowed to do homework that morning. Instead, they were going to join her and a bunch of others in a rowdy game of soccer.

Jack laughed quietly at the thought of playing soccer with Samantha. He had never known she could be such a competitive player. Before they had even begun to scrimmage, Samantha had told him that she did not care if he was a Boy's Varsity soccer player and she was only a Girls' Reserve soccer player or not, he was not going to make it past her to score. And she was right. Several times, Jack had tried to dribble the ball forward enough to have a shot at making the goal, but Samantha had defended her goal fiercely. He had failed every time. Of course, that might also have had something to do with the fact that Samantha was not above and beyond cheating. Whereas Jack had taken pains to not run her over, she had no qualms about plowing him down. She had even hit him several times in the stomach and tried to hold onto him so that he could not run after the ball. When Jack had complained about the unfairness of it all, Samantha had told him to, "Shut up!" in between her fit of giggles, explaining that this was how she made up for the disparities in their soccer skills. And as usual, Jack had let Samantha have her way. In the end though, Jack's team still managed to prevail. That was when Samantha's team had run after Jack's and pummeled them to the ground. And that was how they had all ended up covered in mud and Samantha had ended up on top of Jack.

Jack smiled at the memory. He still remembered every word Samantha had yelled to him and every name she had called him. He laughed as he remembered her every antic and every ploy used to prevent him from scoring. This was what he loved about Samantha. She was bright, lively, and always cheerful. She was the first person to stand in line where there was fun to be had, but she was also the first person to be there to comfort when there was sadness or pain. She was generous and thoughtful and kind. She was spirited and witty. She was everything he had ever wanted and above all, she was his best friend.

Why did it take me so long to understand? he asked himself over and over again.

Closing his photo album, Jack rolled back over onto his back again and returned to staring at the ceiling. He picked up a pencil and started to fiddle with it as he reminisced about the events that had taken place earlier that evening. He saw Tony, hovering in the background. Jack remembered how Tony had looked watchfully over Samantha as she talked with him. He saw Samantha turning away from him and running back to Tony. He remembered the way Samantha had smiled at Tony and how they had shared laughter. He could mentally picture Tony's hand reaching for the small of Samantha's back. Jack snapped the pencil in half as Tony's hand connected with Samantha's back.

Jack spent the rest of the night speculating as to what was going on between Tony and Samantha. He had always believed that Samantha only felt friendship for Tony. But he also knew that there had been a time when Tony was considering something more. Although Tony had never acted upon it before, Jack wondered if he was not doing so now. He pondered as to whether or not Samantha's feelings for Tony could possibly have changed within the past few days. His eyes scowled at the thoughts running rampant through his mind. He had not come this far only to lose Samantha to Tony.

What is going on with them? he asked himself. I need to find out! I can't take this suspense of not knowing anymore! It's killing me!

In a very short amount of time, Jack had decided that by tomorrow evening he would have all his answers.

 

Chapter 15

The sunlight streaming through the cracks of her mini-blinds and the birds chirping in the distance woke Samantha up at an early hour the next morning. She rolled over in bed and opened her eyes. For the first time in a week, Samantha felt oddly refreshed. What time is it anyways? She stared blankly at the ceiling before reaching over to her bedside table to grab her clock and see what time it was. 7:15. Go figure. It's the weekend and I wake up early. Hmph!

She buried her head in the pillow one more time before casting off her covers and scrambling out of bed. Standing up, Samantha stretched her arms high up to the sky before padding into the kitchen to make herself some breakfast. Forty minutes later, Samantha sat in front of her television flipping randomly through the channels, having finished breakfast and washing up. Yuck! They really don't make Saturday morning cartoons like they used to, these days.

Bored out of her mind, Samantha cut the television off and chucked her remote control back onto the coffee table. She threw herself back onto the couch and lay there for a few minutes, tapping her fingers idly against the armrest. Samantha raised her wrist to look at her watch. 8:00. Hmmm... who can I call at this hour of the morning? she mused evilly. Samantha grinned devilishly. If there was one person amongst Samantha's acquaintances that was even less of a morning person than herself, it had to be Tony. She could barely prevent herself from rubbing her hands with impish glee.

Picking up the phone, Samantha did not even hesitate to think that Tony might hate her for waking him up at 8 o'clock in the morning. After her talk with Tabbi the previous night, Samantha was feeling good. She felt restored and that meant that her playful nature had returned and Samantha was itching to use it.

After several rings, the Tony finally picked up. "Hello?" he whispered.

"Good-morning! Rise and shine! It's a beautiful day today!" Samantha practically shrieked into the receiver.

"Who the hell is this and what do you want?" Tony groggily spoke as he put a hand to his throbbing temple. "And for crying out loud, stop trying to wake the dead!"

"I'm every man's dream come true and I want world peace, ha! And I'm not trying to wake the dead, I'm just trying to wake you!"

Tony struggled to gather his wits about him. "Samantha?" He had not heard her be so animated in a while now.

"Ding! Ding! Ding! And the million dollar jackpot goes to Anthony McElrath for answering correctly!"

"Thanks," Tony smiled weakly.

"Wow, you sound really out of it."

"Samantha, what time is it???"

Shrugging her shoulders, even though Tony could not see her, Samantha answered in complete innocence. "Eight o'clock."

There was a large crashing noise on the other end of the line. "Tony? Tony? Are you all right? Tony?"

After a few hesitant minutes, Tony's voice finally returned. "Ah, hi. Yeah, I'm still here, sorry about that. Phone crashed to the floor."

Samantha's eyes narrowed. "Just how much did you guys drink last night after I left?"

Tony winced at the sharpness in his friend's voice. "Not that much, really... enough to not remember some things, but not enough that I couldn't get home safely and into my bed."

"Gees, Tony!!!"

"Samantha! Can you stop all that shouting?" he asked in a loud, but whispering voice.

Samantha tried to refrain from sniggering but failed miserably. "Serves you right. You shouldn't be drinking like that anyways. I don't know why you do it anyways; all you get for your troubles is a pounding headache the next day. See what happens when I'm not around to keep a tab on you guys? You just let loose and this is your comeuppance."

"This is hardly the time for a lecture, Samantha. It's eight in the morning," he groaned. "Why are you calling me this early in the morning? And why are you even up at this ungodly hour of the morning?"

"Correction. Now is the perfect time to give you a lecture. It causes you more pain than what you're already feeling from the hangover, which means that you'll be more apt to pay heed to my words," she smiled.

"If I can remember them once I'm sober," Tony muttered.

"And I don't really know why I'm up this early either. I just randomly woke up and couldn't go back to sleep this morning. It's kind of annoying actually. But, I thought I'd pester you since I was bored and there was no one else to bother." Especially since I can't annoy Jack anymore, Samantha mentally added.

"Thanks, I appreciate the thoughtfulness and generosity," Tony wryly answered.

"You're welcome," was Samantha's good-natured reply. "Anytime."

Samantha's good humor was not lost on Tony. Having spent the majority of the past week listening to Samantha agonize and worry he was intrigued, though pleased, by this apparent change in her spirits. Unable to endure the suspense anymore, he asked the question. "Okay, the question begs to be asked... why are you in such a good mood?"

Samantha considered the question for a few seconds before responding. "You know, that's a very good question and I'm not sure why either. I just woke up this way, kind of like how you woke up still feeling the effects of last night," she teased.

Tony slumped over in his bed. "Samantha..." he whined. "I've got a hangover. You can't possibly expect me to be able to follow your philosophical logic when it's still the wee hours of a Saturday morning and I'm still hung over!"

"It's not the wee hours! It's eight o'clock in the morning! Wee hours is like two or three a.m.," Samantha protested.

"Fine, it's not the wee hours of the morning. But it's still early!" Tony was in so much pain that he felt like an alien was going to explode from the throbbing depths of his head at any moment, though at this point he almost wished the alien would just burst through and be done with it. Samantha's screeching was not helping. He would have to remember to make fun of her the next time she was drunk and cause her grief. That is, if she ever did get drunk since Samantha did not really drink and if he could remember any of his thoughts or at the very least the conversation.

"Well fine, don't listen to what I have to say then," Samantha sulked. "I'll just go and find someone else to talk to. Someone who'll want to listen to what I have to say."

"Samantha..." Tony sighed.

"Nope, you sleep, me off to find something else to do with myself. I'll talk to you later!"

Before Tony could say anything more, Samantha had already hung up the phone and was gone. He smothered his face with a pillow and shook his head. Women! I don't understand them!


Samantha honestly could not account for her good mood. As she had told Tony earlier, she had just woken up and felt happy. For the first time in days she had slept peacefully and restfully with no disturbing dreams or thoughts to plague her mind. A part of her knew that she had to credit her phone call with Tabbi the night before for her current peace of mind. Samantha smiled as she thought of her friend. Her friend's crazy and insane antics always made her feel better even though she usually spent half of their conversation trying to defend Jack's honor while Tabbi tried to kill Jack's honor. And yet, Tabbi and Jack were still friends. It was a strange world. And for the first time in a week, Samantha felt all right living in it.

As the mature and logical woman that Samantha could sometimes be, she had decided to stop worrying about what Jack thought. As Tabbi had persuaded her to believe the night before, if Jack genuinely wanted to be with her, even as a friend, he would find his way back to her. She had to place her trust in that and accept whatever came to her. Samantha would no longer worry about what could have been, what used to be, or what could be. She would follow her heart.

Content with her newfound perspective of the world, Samantha sought to find a place where she could seek refuge and revel in her peace. With a place in mind, she packed a picnic lunch, grabbed her well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice and went to drown herself in Regency England. In Samantha's opinion, there was nothing better than spending a Saturday afternoon in the company of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.


Jack woke up to the sharp pains of something sticking into his back. Rolling over onto his stomach, he blindly brushed his hand across the bed sheets until they fumbled over two thin pieces of wood. Carefully opening up one eye, he looked to see what he now held in his hands. Two halves of a broken pencil. How did these get here?

He sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes with one hand while clutching the pencil pieces with his other. All of the sudden, he remembered the promise he had made to himself the night before and leapt out of bed. He grabbed his towel and headed for the showers, looking down at his watch along the way. 12:00. He had no time to lose.

Jack had not meant to sleep in so late. In fact, he had even set his alarm clock for an earlier our. But after he finished washing up, he checked the clock and saw that he had stupidly set it for 8:30 PM instead of 8:30 AM. Slapping himself repeatedly, Jack grabbed a bagel and stuffed it in his mouth as he raced out of the house to begin the search for Samantha. He was about halfway down the stairs when he remembered that he had forgotten to lock the door to his apartment and retrieve his car keys. Sheepishly, he turned around and walked back upstairs to do both.

Now, with bagel still stuffed in his mouth - but now half eaten, a locked apartment door, and car keys in his hand, Jack sat in his car wondering what he was supposed to do. Do I walk up to her, sweep her into my arms, kiss her and hope she doesn't slap me in the face? Would flowers be appropriate for the occasion? What if Tony's over there? Jack sat paralyzed and horrified by his last thought. Struggling to regain his composure, he shook his head and thought, No, that would never be. I'm just jumping to conclusions.

In the end, Jack decided that the best course of action would be to just find Samantha and talk to her. He no longer cared if she did love him or if she hated him or if she was angry at him or if she was now in love with Tony. He did not care if he ended up making a fool out of himself. The only thing he knew was the he needed to find Samantha to tell her the truth. Regardless of the outcome, Jack knew that he owed her that much.

Resolute in his decision, Jack revved up the car and sped on over to Samantha's apartment. But when he got there, all he found was an empty apartment. Leaning dejectedly against the door, Jack sighed. Great, here we go again. Jack was beginning to feel like Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October only he was hunting for Samantha, not "Red October," and women did not seem to swoon over him like they did over Alec Baldwin.

Jumping back into his car, Jack once again searched every corner of the city looking for Samantha. She was not at Frank's. She was not at Blue Moon. She was not studying in the Law School's library. In fact, the only acquaintances he encountered there were Tanisha and Kyle who were cuddling in what Jack thought was a most sickening manner. Jack almost stuck his tongue out at them, but in the end decided to leave them undisturbed.

As he walked away from them, he thought to himself, The nerve of them, cuddling in the stacks like that! Hmph! If I can't cuddle with Samantha, no one else should be cuddling either!

The more Jack hunted for Samantha, the more he felt like he was beginning to lose his mind. Eventually, after driving up and down the main strip looking for Samantha, he had to admit defeat. He knew there was no way she would be at Amarin again like she had been the night before. He was at a loss as to where she could be. Well, not a total loss... there was one thought that kept creeping to the forefront of his mind. And try as he might to shove it aside, it kept coming back. After he checked back at Samantha's apartment to see if she might have returned in the interim period while he was out searching elsewhere, he gave in and pulled out his cell phone to call Tony.

Tony picked up after the first ring and thinking that it was Samantha, calling to harass him again, promptly said, "Yes, I'm still hung over."

Shocked by Tony's immediate admission, Jack accidentally hung up on him. Oh my G-d! They went out clubbing last night, got drunk, went home together and now they're naked in bed!!!

Jack put his right hand up to his heart and tried to breathe. His head was pounding with terrifying thoughts and he could not think clearly. Calm, must remain calm. Let's think through this rationally. Yes, rationally. Right, rationally.

The more Jack thought about it, the more he realized how ridiculous he was being. He knew what kind of a person Samantha was and he knew that she would never do anything so impulsive. No, he determined. There is no way Samantha would drink herself so drunk that she would do anything like that. She's too sensible and good for that sort of a thing.

After reassuring himself of the impossibilities, Jack felt much better and began to laugh at himself. Great, not only am I turning into a psycho stalker but I am also a paranoid freak!

It was about this time that he also realized he had hung up on Tony. Chuckling, he quickly called him back lest Tony suffered from any more confusion.

Again, Tony picked up after the first ring only this time his greeting was more baffled than sleepy. "Samantha?"

Despite Jack's recent rationalization that Samantha could not possibly have been with Tony in his bed, he still felt a profound wave of relief wash over him as he heard Tony's greeting. Yes! She's not there if he's asking after her!

"Tony, hi! No, it's me, Jack."

Tony fumbled the phone again at the astonishment of hearing from Jack. "Jack?"

"Yeah, hi. Sorry about the earlier call, I accidentally hit the wrong button and hung up on you."

"Oh, that was you?"

"Yeah."

"Oh."

Seeing as how Tony did not seem capable of saying sentences longer than five words at the moment, Jack decided to cut the chitchat and get straight to the point. "Look, I'm sorry to bother you, Tony. But I was wondering, have you seen Sam at all or know where she is?"

Suspicious of Jack's intentions and protective of Samantha's interests, Tony immediately asked, "Why?"

Throwing all caution aside, Jack decided to be honest. "Tony, I really need to see her. If you know where I can find her, please tell me where she is. This is important."

Even in Tony's half-drunken state he could not mistake the sense of urgency and genuineness in Jack's voice. Taking pity on him, he decided to be honest too. "Well, actually, I'm not sure where she is, Jack. She called me very early this morning, so I know she's up and around, but I'm not sure where she is if she's not in her apartment."

"She didn't tell you where she was going today?"

"No, sorry, man. I was kind of still asleep when she called and she ended up hanging up on me."

Jack hit his fist on the steering wheel in frustration. "Gees, where can she be? I've tried everywhere!"

"I don't know, man. Sorry. Good-luck, though. I... I hope you find her, Jack."

Surprised by the open confession, Jack did not try to mask it. "Really?"

"Yeah." Tony was not quite sure why Jack seemed so amazed. "Just... be careful with her, okay? Don't... hurt her."

"I'm going to try my best to not do that, Tony. Thanks."

"Good-luck! Bye."

"Bye." As Jack hung up the phone, he looked down at his watch. 3:00. He had already been searching for two hours. Admitting defeat, Jack decided to call the hunt off. He was achieving nothing and wasting a lot of gas. He decided to try later in the evening, maybe she would return to her apartment by then.

Having given up trying to find Samantha after hours of searching, Jack showed up on Ben's apartment doorstep looking both doleful and miserable.

Janey answered his timid knock and threw the door open with a relish upon finding him standing there, "Jack!" she cried with delighted surprise. "Hello! Come in! I wasn't expecting you. Ben ran out to grab some things I forgot at the store earlier this morning, but do come in and have a seat. He'll be home shortly, I'm sure."

Jack looked apologetic and shuffled his feet, "Hi Janey. Sorry about dropping in so unexpectedly like this."

Janey dismissed his apologies with a wave, "Nonsense, don't be silly. Come in, make yourself at home, and don't worry about a thing. You know you're always welcome here. Friends like you don't have to stand upon ceremony."

She dragged him through the front door and pushed him towards one of the couches in their family room. "I'll get you something to drink. You look like you could use a cool glass of something. Water? Iced tea? Punch?"

"I'll have some water. Thanks."

Jack settled into one of their couches and looked around while Janey went to grab him a glass of water from the kitchen. "Where's Aidan?" he asked.

"Oh, he was clamoring to go out as soon as he saw his father put on his jacket, so Ben took him to the grocery store with him even though I know that child is going to give his father more trouble than he's worth."

Jack chuckled at Janey's expressions. For a moment, he let himself wonder what it would be like if he were a father, taking his son out for an outing. Jack shook his head, trying to rid himself of the thoughts and images as well as the warmth that they stirred up in the depths of his inner being. It was too early to be thinking about starting a family. He still had to find his perfect woman. I have found her, Jack thought. I just have to find a way to make her want me.

"So, how have you been?" Janey asked, as she sat down across from him and looked at him intently. "Ben tells me that you've been having a rough go at things these past couple of days. Is that why you haven't been by to see me?" she smiled.

Jack smiled lamely back. "Yeah, I know, sorry about that. My girlfriend," Jack frowned. "Well, ex-girlfriend now, was in town this past week."

Janey took a sip of her own water. "So I heard."

Jack put down his cup of water and leaned back into the plush couch, stretching his arms out along the ridges of the couch and chuckled. "You are ridiculous, Janey. You know that? Ridiculous. You sit there and ask me questions when you already know exactly what I'm all about. Your husband is a rascal, he is."

Janey frowned, "You don't mind terribly do you? Oh dear, I hope I haven't gotten him in trouble. You know my lips are sealed, Jack, and I'd never tell anyone your troubles or concerns. It's just that Ben and I don't keep very many secrets from one another, although his friends' secrets don't have to be made known to me too, it's just that we're so used to sharing everything and it slipped out before we even thought anything of it and Ben didn't really mean to betray your trust or anything. What's safe with him is safe with me and oh, shoot, I just don't want you to hate him or us or think that..."

Jack laughed and held his hand up for Janey to stop rambling. "Oh, it's alright, Janey! You don't need to sit there falling all over yourself in an attempt to apologize. No, I don't mind at all. If there were two people in this world with whom I'd share my troubles right now, it'd be you and Ben anyways so really he's gone and saved me half the trouble. I should be thanking him, not blaming him."

Janey was pleased by his answer and exhaled a huge sigh of relief before getting back to the business at hand. "Well... what are you going to do?"

Jack ran his hands through his hair and frowned. "Well, that's what I've been trying to figure out all day long, actually. I think that ideally, I'd like to talk with her. I mean, wouldn't it be good to get everything out in the open?"

"Absolutely, I agree."

"That's what I thought. And so I went searching for her this afternoon, but she's nowhere to be found!"

Janey arched her eyebrows. "Nowhere to be found? That sounds a little odd, especially for Samantha. She doesn't usually go out for extended periods of time, does she?"

"No, and that's the puzzling thing. I've looked everywhere for her. I've been by her apartment twice. After the second trip, I finally broke down and called Tony to see if she was there or if he knew anything about her. He said he'd talked to her briefly earlier this morning, but she never hinted at any sort of plans for the afternoon and didn't know where she could be either."

"Where else could she have gone?" Janey asked.

"I'm not sure. I've checked all our favorite haunts... Blue Moon, Frank's, the library, I even drove out to Barnes and Nobles and the grocery store!"

"She didn't go home this weekend, did she?"

"No. She probably would have mentioned it to Tony this morning when she called him if she was going home today, but she didn't. And I know she didn't go home last night because I saw her last night and she was having dinner at Amarin with her friends."

"You saw her last night?"

"Yeah, I wanted to talk to her then, but she couldn't because it was Tanisha's birthday and they were out celebrating."

"Oh."

"She has to be around somewhere in the area, but I just don't know where," Jack cried in exasperation. He tried to think really hard of any other place he might have missed when running down the list of possibilities.

Janey tried to help him think and offered a few suggestions that Jack immediately dismissed. After the last one, she said, "I don't know, Jack. I think I've run out of ideas. This is a mystery and I'm no detective! But if there's one thing we've got working for us, it's the size of this town. Charlottesville is not New York. There's only so many places Samantha could possibly be, right?"

"I suppose..."

"Think hard. You, out of anyone, would know best where Samantha could have gone. Let's think about this - if we think it through set by step, I'm sure we could figure this out. Let's see... Samantha is having inner turmoil right now, right?"

Jack shrugged his shoulders. "Inner turmoil? I don't know."

"Of course she is," Janey answered with total confidence. "All women have inner turmoil. It comes with the gender, sadly. Now, where would you want to go if you had things to think about? Preferably some place where you could be completely alone and presumably where no one would find you, right? I mean, you wouldn't want to be in a crowded place where other people would be able to constantly disturb you. But then, if she has got something like the matters of the heart on her mind, she would probably want to go to some special place where she would not only be able to find peace in the physical sense, but in the mental sense as well, right?"

Janey looked up and saw that Jack was staring blankly at her. She smiled shyly as she realized that her thoughts had run away with her. But Jack was not really staring at her, he was just staring and his eyes happened to be trained in her direction. Nevertheless, his stares were beginning to make her feel not a little self-conscious. "Well, at least that's where I would want to go," Janey offered, trying to break the sudden silence.

"Oh my gosh! That's it!" Jack jumped up and slapped himself on the forehead, shocking Janey in the process. "You've done it, Janey! Bless you, girl, you've figured it out! Thank you!" he bent over and placed a kiss on the top of her head.

"What? What are you talking about? What have I figured out?"

"I know exactly where she is, thanks to you! You are a genius and a goddess," he complimented.

Before Janey could ask Jack any more questions, he was already half way out the door. She hurriedly got up to follow him and called out after him, "Wait! Don't you want anything to eat?!?!"

"No, I'm alright. Thanks! Thanks for your help and tell Ben I said hi!" Jack yelled back.


For some inexplicable reason, Jack was convinced that Samantha had gone to Oakham Mount* to seek her solace. It had been the place where Jack had taken her so many weekends ago to watch the shootings stars at the beginning of the school year. That night had been perfect in so many more ways than one. Not only had the weather been perfect and the scenery before them been picturesque, but the friendly camaraderie between them had been flawless too. Coming together at the same school again after four years of separation, they had used that night to put aside any sort of awkwardness that had infused their relationship since college and renew their friendship. Together, they had reflected upon the past, cherished the present, and laid out their hopes for the future. Looking back now, Jack realized just how fundamental that evening had been in laying down the groundwork for his current feelings and situation.

Over the course of the fall months, Jack and Samantha had made a practice of visiting Oakham Mount often on the weekends, using it as a sort of escape from their weekly responsibilities on campus. On Saturday afternoons, they would steal away from the rest of the world and take a picnic to Oakham Mount, spreading themselves out comfortably along the grassy surface of the ground. Sometimes they would take work with them so as to remain productive, or at least appear like the studious students that they claimed to be. But mostly, they just sat and talked with one another. They could be silly, they could be honest, and they could be silent too. Sometimes words simply were not necessary. Jack and Samantha could sit side-by-side; mouths closed tightly, with their eyes focused ahead, not on each other, and still hold a conversation. It was an easy atmosphere in which they could both open up and share their innermost thoughts without the fear of being interrupted or intruded upon. Oakham Mount was Jack and Samantha's own special haven; a place no one else knew about.

The winter had brought an end to these weekend escapades and they had not yet revived their tradition that spring. It had been so long since their last visit to the place that Jack had not considered it in his places of where Samantha might be. It was not until Janey had described it so perfectly in her effort to understand Samantha's thinking process that Jack had remembered its existence. It did not take him very long to come to the conclusion that Samantha had to be there since she did not seem to be anywhere else.

The entire car ride to Oakham Mount, Jack tried to compose his thoughts and figure out what he wanted to say as well as how he was going to say what he wanted to say. About halfway to Oakham Mount, Jack began to lose confidence in himself.

What if she doesn't want to see me? What if she's really, really, really mad at me? Heck, what if she's not there? No, she has to be there. But what am I going to say when I see her? What if I turn into a bumbling idiot and say all the wrong things or just clam up? Oh, sheesh, what am I doing? These questions continued to plague him the rest of the trip to Oakham Mount.

The path leading to Oakham Mount suddenly appeared on Jack's right and he slowed the car to make the sharp turn. He held his breath as he wended his way up the steep curve, slowly and carefully making his way up the sharp incline. About three quarters of the way up the hill, the earth began to flatten out a little and by the time Jack had reached the top of the plateau, it was back to easy driving again. As his car made its way forward, his heart skipped with glee. There, sitting in the distance like some massive hulk, was Samantha's abandoned car. He had found her at last.

 

*Oakham Mount is a place name that I shamelessly stole from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I do not know if there is such a place in Charlottesville, Virginia but for the purposes of this story, let us pretend that there is.

 

2001 Copyright held by the author.

 

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