Rebecca placed the last pin in her bun knowing full well it would probably be down within the hour. That didn't matter, though. She glanced behind herself at the surfboard standing by her door and then at her watch. She frowned; her date was ten minutes late. That wasn't like him.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. Rebecca opened it to see Kenny, her sixteen-year-old brother. He gave a whistle when he saw his sister in her blue summer dress and hair pulled up. "Well, well! Don't you look gorgeous! Matt should start coming to church with us if you're going to look this nice!"
"Aren't you sweet? Matt has his own ward to go to. What do you want?"
"I was going to tell you that your date is here and that you may want to save him before dad makes him confess to whatever his worst sin may be," said Kenny, "but if that's the thanks I get for a sincere compliment~"
"What? You mean Matt's been here for ten minutes and no one told me?! And you left him to dad's mercy? What's the matter with you?" She grabbed her duffle bag and surfboard and darted up the stairs- Kenny laughing behind her.
When she entered the family room, Rebecca found Matt and her father sitting on the beige couch talking. Alex, her three-year-old sister, was pulling on Matt's pant leg trying to get his attention. He picked the little girl up and started bouncing her on his knee. She giggled in delight. Rebecca walked across the room and sat down in the chair opposite the couch.
"Beccy!" Alex squealed as she tried to launch herself out of Matt's lap. He caught her and set her on the floor so she could run to her sister. Rebecca stood, picked her up, and swung her around. "Beccy pwety!"
Rebecca laughed and gave her sister a hug. "Thank you, Alex!"
"Yes, he is, and he's been very patient," Rebecca said. She put Alex down and looked at Matt. "Sorry I'm late. Someone said he'd come get me when you arrived." She looked pointedly at Kenny who had followed her up.
Kenny grinned, and Matt laughed. He stood up, walked over, and have her a hug. "You can be half an hour late for all I care if you're going to be this beautiful!" He stepped back to admire her. The dress was a royal blue that accentuated the color of her eyes and went down just passed her knees. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a tight bun. "Well Brother Zanick, if you don't mind, I'll be stealing your daughter for an evening of surfing and food."
"Ok, have fun. Actually- could I ask a favor before you leave?"
"Ricky and Cole are at Jimmy's house. Could you pick them up on your way home?"
"Isn't 10 a little late for them to be out- especially Cole?" asked Rebecca.
Ricky and Cole were the last of Rebecca's siblings. Ricky was thirteen years old and tall for his age. He had short brown hair and eyes to match. He was at that stage when he swore he wanted nothing to do with girls, but Rebecca had caught him eyeing one of the Beehives in the ward on more than one occasion. Cole was nine. His blue eyes were the exact shape and shade as Rebecca's, and he had eyelashes that any girl would kill for. His build was average, but the whole family knew he'd be tall just as soon as his growth spurt hit. Cole adored Ricky and would do anything his older brother asked- or almost anything. He had yet to obey the ‘Go away' command.
"Yes," sighed Ted Zanick, "but your mother is scrap booking, and I'm waiting for contact from an informant."
"It's not a problem," interjected Matt.
Ted nodded his thanks. "Go have fun. We'll see you at 10."
Rebecca and Matt sat on their boards in the water waiting for the next wave. "So what kind of informant is your dad waiting for, do you know?" Matt asked.
Rebecca hesitated. "Well, I know more than I should. Dad was telling Mom about his undercover case, and I overheard the conversation." She looked out across the ocean. "Have you heard of the Flying Dragons Gang?"
Matt nodded. "A little- I've heard some things on the news."
"You have the watered down version, then. They're a huge gang that has spread across the entire west coast. Drugs are a huge part of the organization. I've heard rumors that the leader is trying to get in touch with Columbian drug dealers. Local agencies have been working with the DEA for months trying to bring them down.
"They enlisted my dad to work undercover. His assignment was to infiltrate the local branch and gather information and names- the higher up, the better. He started working crazy hours, but it must have eventually paid off because he did become acquainted with one of the men. It's been really hard for him; hopefully this will help bring down the local branch. I would assume the informant is whoever he got acquainted with."
Matt nodded in understanding. "It's been hard on more than your dad, though."
Rebecca sighed. "Yes, but I'm dealing. Honestly- I'm ok."
Matt gazed at his friend not entirely sure he believed her. They had been friends now for ten years. He could still remember the day they met in Primary. Rebecca had just moved to California from Utah, and they were in the same class. She had been painfully shy, but that had not deterred Matt. He had continued to offer his hand of friendship, and it finally paid off. She had accepted an invitation to his birthday party, and they had been friends ever since. If Matt had learned anything in the years since, it was that Rebecca would talk about what was troubling her, but she rarely let on how upset or worried she was.
"Hey Matt, that looks like it'll be an awesome wave! Let's go!" Rebecca started to paddle out toward the developing wave.
He decided to let the issue drop for now. It wasn't worth ruining the date over. Besides, she'd come talk to him when she was ready. He paddled out after her.
Matt and Rebecca walked back onto the beach as evening approached. They walked over to their bags, and Matt grabbed his watch. "Alright, it's 5:30. Our dinner reservation is at 7. Do you think you can be ready to go in half an hour?"
Rebecca sighed dramatically. "I suppose, but that's a lot to ask Matt," she said grinning. Grabbing her bag, she headed toward the girls locker room. Matt shook his head, grabbed his own bag, and went to the locker room to make himself presentable.
When he walked out fifteen minutes later, Rebecca was nowhere to be seen. He took a seat on a nearby bench and contented himself to watching the people still on the beach. He was suddenly struck by how much he was going to miss his home when he left for England on his mission next month. He was excited to go and see a new culture and share the gospel, but at the same time, he was going to miss the beautiful sunsets, the surfing, his family, and Rebecca.
A door opened behind him, and he turned to see her coming out of the locker room. Her head was down because she was fiddling with her hair-which had been put back up into a bun, and when she looked up, Matt noticed that she had bothered to put on some make-up. She smiled at him and pointed to her wrist as if asking for the time.
"Ready to go and ten minutes to spare!" she said. "That's got to be some kind of record!"
He stood, waited for her to catch up and then fell into step beside her. They walked away from the beach, and when they reached the car, Matt opened the door to allow Rebecca to slide in. He started up the car and drove toward the restaurant where they had dinner reservations.
"So, what do you have left to do before you leave for England?" Rebecca asked.
"Well, I've got to spend one night with the girl of my dreams," Matt started. "And then I've got to finish packing some stuff away. Since there's not going to be anyone at home, mom and dad are hosting the elders from the ward. It's a new program that they're doing to save the missionaries rent. After that, it's just a matter of making sure I'm packed and ready to go. I've already had my mom set the toaster so it won't burn the toast."
Rebecca laughed. "And you call yourself a missionary? What are you going to do if your companion can't cook either? You put bread into a toaster, by the way." She was teasing. She was perfectly aware of the fact that Matt could cook- and well.
"Well, I guess I'll just have to starve for two years then," said Matt. "Or eat a lot of toast. But I'll have more than one companion. What are the chances that none of them can cook?"
"Slim to none," admitted Rebecca. "Just so long as you don't come crawling off the plane in two years because you didn't eat right while you were gone."
"I won't be crawling because you'll be dragging me off, remember?" asked Matt.
"Yeah. There's that too!" The familiar tune of I Loved Her First by Heartland rang out suddenly. Rebecca grabbed her purse off the floor and pulled out her phone. "What's up Dad?" She was silent for a moment. "Alright! Thanks! We'll see you later, then. Bye!" She hung up and grinned at Matt. "Well, by some miracle, my mom got out of scrap booking early, and we don't need to go get Ricky and Cole. They're already home."
Matt nodded. "Sounds good." He stopped as they came to a red light. There was silence as the last topic of conversation hung between them. As excited as he was, Matt knew he was going to miss Rebecca terribly while he was gone. He glanced over at her and knew from the look on her face that she was thinking the same thing. "Rebecca." She looked over at him at the sound of her name. "I- as excited as I am to get to go on a mission, I'm really going to miss you. And I can see from your expression that you're thinking the same thing."
She nodded. "I'm happy for you; I really am. It's just...we've been friends for ten years, and you've become the best friend I could ever ask for. I took it pretty hard when you told me you were moving, and the only thing that made that bearable was that we'd still get to see each other at stake activities and whenever we could manage a little get together with everyone else. It's just going to be weird not seeing you for two whole years."
Matt smiled. "I know. But I promise I'll write regularly if you do, and the two years will fly by faster than you know it!"
Rebecca chuckled. "Of course I'll write to you! I've never had a missionary to write to and suddenly all the boys I grew up with are young men and going on missions! I'm going to write to all of you!"
"Good," said Matt. "But let's not think about that tonight. The restaurant is right around that corner, and I'm up for some good food after all that surfing."
Rebecca rolled her eyes. "You guys and your stomachs, I swear."
Matt grinned. "And yet, you still love us!"
"Of course I do!" agreed Rebecca.
Matt grabbed the two sodas from the lady working at the window, thanked her, and drove away. They had had a wonderful dinner, but couldn't bring home their drinks, so they had stopped at a McDonald's to grab a coke and root beer. He punched the straw into the cup and started drinking his coke deeply. He set it in the cup holder and let out a belch.
"Hmm...I give it a seven-five," said Rebecca.
"What? That was at least a nine!" argued Matt. "Let me see you do better then!"
She took a long swig of her root beer and waited a moment. Once she was ready, she let out a belch, though not as impressive as Matt's had been. She had never been as good as him in this particular competition, but it was always fun to egg him on. "Ok, so maybe yours was an eight-five. What would you give me?"
"Well, compared to how you normally do, I'd say that was a seven with five being average."
"Hey, I'm improving at least!" said Rebecca.
They continued the belching contest all the way to Rebecca's house. Matt won overall, as they both knew he would, but he was gracious enough to concede that Rebecca had improved tremendously. When they pulled up into her driveway, Rebecca got out of the car and grabbed her things from the back. Matt walked around the front of the car and escorted her to her front door. It flew open as soon as they reached the porch and Cole and Ricky stood in the doorway.
"Aren't you two supposed to be in bed?" asked Rebecca.
"Probably, but Dad said we could stay up tonight!" Cole said.
"How was your date?" asked Ricky.
"Fine. Now if you two don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you would go back into the house," replied Rebecca giving her brothers a stern look.
Cole giggled. "Are you two gonna kiss?" he asked in delight.
"No, but if you don't shut that door I'll kiss both of you! The date's not over until Matt gets back into his car!" She hadn't even finished before the door was shut in her face and they heard the two brothers running down the hall away from their sister. Matt laughed.
"My, my, you certainly know how to handle a bunch of boys," he said.
"I had plenty of practice growing up," she jested. She looked up at him and realized this would be the last time they would get to spend quality time together for two years. It might even be the last time they saw each other until he left. She smiled gently. "Thank you for a wonderful evening, Matt," she said. "I really had a good time."
"It was no trouble. I enjoyed it as much," he said. He leaned down and gave her a warm hug that lasted a few seconds longer than a casual friend would have hung on. He released her and gazed down at her. "Don't forget me while I'm gone," he whispered.
"How could I?" asked Rebecca. "I'll think about you every day. And I promise I'll write often." She hugged him one last time and stepped away. "Good night, Matt."
"Good night. Make sure to keep those rowdy boys in line."
"I will," she replied and waved as he walked away. She turned and opened the door to hear a bunch of loud and happy voices coming from the family room. She walked in and saw all of her siblings still awake and lively. Her parents were sitting on the couch watching them play (or rough house in Ricky and Kenny's case). They looked at her when she passed on the way to her room.
"So how was it?" her dad called after her.
"Fine." She gave her standard answer. There would be more time to talk after she had changed and taken off her make-up. When she walked into her room, she dumped the duffle bag on her bed and carefully leaned the surfboard against the wall next to her nightstand. Then she jumped on her bed and rolled across it to get to her dresser. She hit the button to turn on her radio before she stood up and opened drawers to find something to change into. There was no point in finding something to sleep in yet, as it seemed the family would still be up for a while. She pulled out her favorite pair of black basketball shorts and a white t-shirt with ‘BYU Cougars' on the front. After changing and taking off her make-up, Rebecca started to go back up the stairs to rejoin her family. Before she opened the door to the basement however, she stopped herself.
Something wasn't right. When she had come down, there had been a cacophony of noise from her brothers and sister. Now, however, there was almost silence. She could faintly hear a voice she didn't recognize. Her heart sped up. What was going on? Silently, she opened the door, grateful her dad had just oiled the hinges. She had a perfect view into the family room, and she had to stop herself from gasping. There was a man standing in front of her family, his back toward the door where she was hiding, and he was holding a gun. Kenny was on the floor trying to stem blood flow from his nose; it looked broken. Ricky was sitting next to him trying to help. Cole was huddled in his father's lap, visibly shaking in fear. Alex was being held in her mother's protective arms. Rebecca could see the fear on everyone's faces. Her father looked composed, but he was tense. He gently placed Cole on the couch and stood up.
"Why did you come here, Doug? You were supposed to call. And how did you get my address?" he asked calmly.
"I thought we could talk in person," said Doug. Rebecca shuddered at his voice. It was gravely and threatening. "As to how I got your address, that kind of information is freely accessible to the public once you know a person's real name, Ted."
A flicker of surprise passed through Ted's eyes. Apparently he had not expected Doug to know that particular piece of information. "What did you want to tell me?"
Rebecca heard the click of the gun. "We've made you. We've had you made for a while now. The bosses want you out of the picture. They can't have you running to your DEA pals and ruining our business." He laughed when Ted sucked in a breath. "Yes. We know you're a cop, and we know the DEA is trying to bring us down. That won't happen. But..." he trailed off for a moment. "Where's the other one?" he asked.
"The other what?" asked Ted.
"Your other brat- the oldest one, the girl."
Rebecca's skin crawled the way he said it. She couldn't believe how much this man knew about their family. How long had they known her father was undercover?
"She's out on a date," said Ted.
"Well, we'll have to arrange to meet her later, then, won't we?" Without warning, he pulled the trigger, and her father fell to the floor. In quick succession, Doug had shot all her family members with deadly accuracy. It took all of Rebecca's will power not to cry out and run to her family or to slam the door shut. She quietly closed the door before the assassin could turn around and raced down the stairs in silence. Once she had entered her room, she grabbed her purse and went into her closet, heaving herself into a storage space built into the ceiling.
She got into it not a moment too soon. The door was kicked open below her, and Rebecca could hear her room being trashed. It seemed like Doug was not prepared to take her father's word that she was out on a date. The closet door opened, and she heard him rifling through her clothes. She held her breath, not even daring to breathe for fear that he would find her.
Once it seemed Doug was satisfied that she was not in the house, he stomped back up the stairs. Rebecca couldn't move, but it wasn't shock keeping her held captive; it was fear. What if he wasn't really gone? What if he came back? After ten long minutes that stretched out for eternity, she slowly eased open the panel that would allow her to leave the sanctuary of her hiding place. The cool air from her room was a welcome relief after the stifled, cramped area she had been in. She carefully let herself drop down into the closet and landed on a pile of her favorite skirts. Doug had apparently wanted to make sure she wasn't hiding anywhere amongst her clothes.
The door was still open and Rebecca could see into the room without leaving the closet. She stepped out, however. Her bedspread was strewn across the floor, and her suitcase that was usually under the bed was haphazardly leaning against the opposite wall. The picture of the Portland Temple that she kept on her mirror was lying on the floor, ripped in half. She felt tears rise to her eyes as she looked at the destruction around her room. Her knees suddenly went weak, and she collapsed to the floor sobbing. She quickly got control of her emotions and dug around in her purse for her cell phone. Dialing 9-1-1, she put the phone up to her ear and waited for the operator to pick up.
"9-1-1 operator. What is your emergency?"
"I-...my family was just killed," said Rebecca numbly.
"And what is your address?" asked the operator.
"725 NW Sunset Court," replied Rebecca.
"We're sending dispatch out right now. Stay on the line until they come."
Rebecca spent the next five minutes listening to the operator talk and occasionally answering her just so the lady would know she was still on the line. There was a noise upstairs, but before she could retreat back to her hiding place, a uniformed officer came into her room.
She looked up at the sound of her name. The man standing in front of her was a man of average height. He had black hair and hazel eyes. "James!"
James had been her father's partner years ago, and their families had become quite close. A fresh wave of tears fell from Rebecca's eyes. James gently took her hand and pulled her to her feet. He tenderly pulled her into a hug, and Rebecca gave into the grief that had been threatening to engulf her since the first shot had rang out and her father had fallen to the floor dead. As she tried to get control of herself, James led her up the stairs and passed the family room. Rebecca couldn't bear to look in the direction. There were uniformed police officers and CSU swarming the house, but James led her passed them all and put her into the squad car.
They drove to the police station in silence. Rebecca wasn't crying anymore; she wasn't feeling anything. Maybe this was all just a dream that had started wonderful and ended the worst possible way. She couldn't fool herself, though. It was all real, and she knew it. The reality of her family's death was as dreadful as her date had been wonderful. Questions started to swirl through her mind. What was going to happen to her now? What would happen to the house? Where would she go? She had been accepted to BYU Idaho and had been planning to start in January. Would that even be possible now?
James pulled into the police station and took Rebecca into one of the interview rooms. "Can I get you anything- tea, coffee, juice?" he asked quietly.
"Apple juice is fine," said Rebecca.
He returned a few minutes later with a cup of apple juice and set it in front of her. Then he took a seat next to her and asked, "Can you tell me what happened."
Rebecca sipped at her apple juice. She set the cup down and told James what had happened over the course of the evening. Everything seemed to run routinely until she mentioned Doug's name. James looked at her sharply. "You're sure his name was Doug?" he asked.
She nodded, and James abruptly stood up and left the room. He came back a few minutes later with a handful of other officers. He asked her to repeat her story, and she did so. When she had recounted her entire evening, the officer sitting across from her asked, "Did you get a look at his face?"
Rebecca shook her head. "He had his back turned to me the whole time. Once he had... shot... my family, I ran down to my room and hid in the storage space that was in my closet." She took a deep breath to steady herself.
The door opened again and a man in a suit came in. James stood and went to shake his hand. The man pulled a seat from against the wall and sat down at the table. "Rebecca, this is Agent Lorh. He works for the FBI."
Agent Lorh did not smile or show any sign of greeting beyond a brief nod in her direction. "What do we have?" he asked the cops around the table.
They ran through an abridged version of Rebecca's story. Agent Lorh pulled a file out of his briefcase and opened it. "Is this the man you saw?" he asked, showing Rebecca a picture.
Rebecca shook her head uncertainly. "I don't know. His back was to me the whole time, but the hair color and style is the same, and it looks to be about the right body build."
Agent Lorh nodded and put the file away. "Doug Jackson is one of the leaders of a local gang that was part of a much bigger gang," he said.
"I know about the Flying Dragons," said Rebecca. "My dad was working undercover."
He nodded. "We're going to place you under federal protection until the trial. You'll be taken to an FBI safe house tonight. When the trial's over, you'll be placed into Witness Protection and relocated."
Rebecca listened and he told her her fate. This wasn't how it was supposed to work at all! She nodded without a word. Lorh stood up and beckoned her to follow him. She did so and followed him out to a nondescript, black Ford car. He opened the back door for her. They were silent as they drove.
Rebecca had a question burning inside of her. "Agent Lorh?" He looked at her through the rearview mirror to tell her she had his attention. "Could- I mean, I don't think, but- would it be possible for me to see someone before the trial?"
Lorh's eyes returned to the road as he said, "No. The safe house is strictly for those who are under government protection. I'm afraid we can't risk bringing anyone else~"
"I don't care where I meet him!" said Rebecca. "I just need to see him before..." she trailed away uncertainly.
There was silence for a moment and then Lorh asked with a sigh, "Who is it?"
"My...boyfriend," she said, deciding not to try to explain her somewhat complicated relationship with Matt. Before she could stop herself, everything was rushing out of her. "Please! He's leaving for England next month, and I won't even be able to see him off. We've known each other for ten years, and I can't just disappear. It would tear him up inside, and I don't want to leave him like that. I want him to at least know I'll be ok!"
Lorh was silent again as he pondered her words. He finally sighed. "It's against protocol, but I'll get something arranged."
"Thank you so much!" Rebecca said. She was suddenly over come by a wave of exhaustion, and she leaned her head back and fell asleep.
Rebecca sat in her room at the safe house. It was a bland room. The walls were painted some bright shade of green that she had never seen before besides in the Crayola crayons, and the bed over in the corner was covered in a white sheet with a white pillow. The floor was plastered in an off white carpet. She was currently sitting at the little desk just doodling on a piece of paper. She wanted her journal. There were so many things she needed to get down on paper, but anything that could identify her- journals, scrapbooks, awards, and other pictures- had been taken from her house and was being kept in government storage. Everything else was being thrown away.
There was a knock at the door, and Rebecca sighed. It was time for her "lesson" again, as she called them. Witness Protection agents had been coming to see her every day to teach her about her new identity. "Come in," she sighed.
The door opened, but she didn't bother to turn around. The footsteps were muffled as the person walked across the room. Whoever had entered the room stopped right behind her but didn't say anything. "Look, I know why you're here, so can't we... just..." She trailed off when she stood and turned around. It wasn't a government agent waiting to take away her identity; it was Matt. Her breath caught in her throat. She took a step forward to close the distance between them and put a hand up to his face as if to make sure he was real. He took her hand in his and said, "I don't have long."
The sound of his voice seemed to shock something in her, and everything came crashing around her. The events of the last few days suddenly seemed more real than they had until now. She started crying as she had on and off since her family's death. Matt drew her into a warm embrace and let her cry.
"I- I didn't think I'd ever see you again!" she said. "When Lorh said he'd try, he didn't sound hopeful. And I've been so alone. They're gone, Matt- all of them! Mom, Dad, Kenny, even Alex- they're all gone! He shot them in cold blood!"
"Shh," soothed Matt. "I know. It was all over the news. They said that one person wasn't home, but no one knew yet whether she was dead or alive. I was going stir crazy not knowing what had happened to you. Agent Lorh came to my house and said that I could come see you one more time." He leaned his head against hers. "I'm sorry you have to go through all of this."
Rebecca just held him tighter, taking comfort from his embrace. After a few minutes, she said, "You realize that...I can't come see you when you leave?"
Matt nodded and stepped away from the hug so he could look at her. "What's going to happen to you?" he asked.
"I've got to be kept under surveillance until the trial," she explained. "Once that's over, they're going to completely submerge me into the Witness Protection Program, and I'll be relocated."
"Where are you going?"
Rebecca shook her head. "I don't know yet. They haven't told me much of anything. Lorh and everyone else are more concerned about getting me to the trial alive. It seems like a lot of people go missing when they're going to go testify against the Dragons, so they don't want anything to happen to me. Once I've testified, I'll find out where I'm going." She sighed.
"But how are we going to stay in contact?" demanded Matt.
Rebecca smiled slightly at the longing in his voce. "I- I don't think we can Matt. Once I'm gone, I'm gone." She saw the hurt in his eyes and looked away. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Matt drew her to him again. "It's not your fault," he murmured. "I'm sorry. I'm probably making this more difficult for you than it already is."
She laid her head against his chest and listened to his heart beat. What was she going to do when she had to walk out of his life? How could she handle being alone without him? Once he was gone, she'd have nothing, not even her own self.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. It opened and her guard stepped into the room. "Your time is up," he said. Matt nodded and took a step back, but he took her hand in his again. Tears burned in his eyes as he realized these were his final moments with her. "I won't forget you," he said quietly.
"Nor will I," replied Rebecca. She gazed into his eyes. "Please, don't let my circumstances effect your decision. I still want you to go on your mission. Serve faithfully. I know it's what you're supposed to do."
Matt nodded, but no words came to him.
"Son," said the guard.
Matt sighed. "Alright." He turned to the guard. "Can I just have one more minute?"
The guard stared at them and then nodded his head. "That's all I can give you." He closed the door and left them alone.
"Rebecca, I have to know you'll be ok," Matt said.
Her gaze wavered. "I'll be fine. They'll be watching over me." She gestured to the figure outside the door.
Matt nodded, unconvinced. The tears he had been fighting against finally spilled over. "I'm going to miss you terribly, Rebecca."
"And I'll miss you, too," she said. "You're the most wonderful person who has ever come into my life. You've seen me through some of my toughest trials and always stood by me. I couldn't have asked for a better friend."
"You are the most amazing young woman I know," said Matt. "Stay close to the Lord. You need Him now more than ever. I don't know how this fits into the Plan, but it will all work out. It's been an amazing ten years being your friend, and I couldn't have hoped for anyone better to push me along when I didn't want to go on."
The door opened again. Matt raised Rebecca's hand to his lips and kissed it. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too," returned Rebecca.
They looked at each other, tears streaming down both their faces, and then hugged one last time. Matt turned to walk toward the door, but he stopped and said, "Perhaps we'll see each other again some day."
Rebecca didn't say anything as he walked to the door, and it shut behind him, leaving her more alone than she had ever been. ‘I hope so Matt,' she thought. "I really hope so." Emotions- fear, pain, anger, and grief- overwhelmed her, and she threw herself onto the bed and cried. She knew that her life as Rebecca Zanick was now over.
Two and a half years later
"Come on Matt! It'll be fun, and you need to get out!"
Matt looked up at his roommate, Aaron, irritated. "Look, I already told you that I'm going home for break. My parents haven't properly seen me for over two years! I came here almost immediately after I got back from my mission."
"Ok, how about this, then. Go home for a week and then meet me in North Carolina the next week. I'll even get your ticket."
Matter considered the offer. It sounded tempting. He had always wanted to go to the eastern United States, but on the other hand, he wanted to go home. "Let me think about it, Aaron. I'll talk to my parents and see what they think."
Aaron shrugged. "Sure. Just let me know so I can get it arranged for you."
Matt nodded and returned to the study guide in front of him. He had a huge test the next day in his psychology class right before spring break. Giving it up as a bad job, he stood up. "Well, I'm going to take a break and go walk," he said to Aaron. He grabbed his cell phone and wallet and walked out of his dorm room.
As he walked around campus, Matt considered Aaron's offer. His first instinct was to decline it and go home, but there was a nagging feeling in the back of his mind. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. There was no reason he shouldn't go home for the whole two weeks and spend quality time with his parents. Absently, he pulled out his cell phone and hit the speed dial button that had his parents' home number. The phone rang a few times, and then the voice of his mother came over the phone.
"Oh Matt! We weren't expecting a call until later this week!"
"I know. I need to talk to you and dad. Is he home?"
"Yes, let me go get him."
There was silence over the line for a few minutes, and then Matt heard the click of another phone joining the line. "Matt, how are you?" his father asked.
"Fine. I've got a test in psych tomorrow, but I need to talk to you guys about arrangements for spring break," replied Matt.
"I thought you were coming home," said his mother.
"I was, but Aaron has offered to take me to North Carolina, and..." A sudden, overwhelming feeling washed over him. He needed to go to North Carolina. He wasn't sure why, but he had learned on his mission not to ignore promptings like this.
"Matt, are you still there?"
"Yes Mom, I'm sorry. Aaron has an extra plane ticket to go to North Carolina for spring break, and he's invited me along. I really want to go home and see you guys, but I have this overwhelming feeling that I need to go to North Carolina. I don't know why. It feels right, though."
There was silence for a while as his parents considered what he was saying. "If you feel like it's where you need to be, I think we can wait a few more months to see you," said his father. "But we'll expect you home first thing when school gets out."
"I will; don't worry," Matt assured them. "I can't explain it, but I promise I'll be home as soon as school lets out."
"Then it's settled," said his mother. "When are you leaving?"
"As soon as I get out of class tomorrow," said Matt. "And that means I need to go pack. I'll call again soon. Love you!"
His parents echoed his last words, and they all hung up. He wondered what was waiting for him in North Carolina that prompted him so strongly to skip seeing his family. While no answers came to him, the words of one of his favorite hymns came to him. ‘I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, Over mountain or plain or sea; I'll say what you want me to say, dear Lord; I'll be what you want me to be.' He smiled slightly and sighed. ‘Well Lord, I'll trust you on this.'
Matt gazed out the window of the plane. They had just taken off, and Aaron was already settled into his seat, flipping through the limited radio stations the plane offered. He had also pulled out an iPod and was playing whatever games he had downloaded onto it. Matt wasn't in the mood to listen to the same songs over and over again, and he couldn't concentrate on such things, anyway. There was a growing feeling of apprehension in the pit of his stomach, and he couldn't figure out why. It was bothering him.
"Dude, chill out. We're on break. Surely you're not worried about the psych test," said Aaron.
Matt looked at him. "No. I think that went well. It's..." he hesitated. How did he explain his vague feelings and prompting? "I mostly came on a prompting. It just came over me while I was on the phone last night, and I couldn't ignore it. Honestly, I have no idea why I'm going to North Carolina."
Aaron stared at him. He knew the kind of prompting Matt was talking about; he had felt it many times on his own mission. He simply nodded in understanding and returned to his iPod. Matt sighed and looked out the window again. He hated this uncertainty but knew that everything would become clear to him in time. He dug in his backpack for the book he was reading and started where he had left off, hoping to distract himself from his ambiguous feelings.
Hours later, they landed in Jacksonville, North Carolina and got off the plane. Aaron led Matt through the airport and out to the busy street. He flagged down a taxi, and they jumped in with their luggage. After giving the driver the address of their hotel, Aaron turned to Matt and started talking about what his plans were. It sounded like there was a beach about a half hour from their hotel, so they'd be doing a lot of surfing. That was fine with him. Aaron had also signed them up for scuba classes so they could go scuba diving right before they were ready to leave.
It didn't take too long to get to the hotel, and they split the bill. They climbed out and walked through the doors of the hotel. Aaron checked them in, and then they took the elevator to the third floor where their room was. It was a modest room with two beds, a desk and padded chair, and a TV/entertainment set. The bathroom was slightly larger than a normal hotel bathroom, and there was a closet across from it.
Matt dumped his luggage on a bed and sat down. The clock next to him said nine o'clock. He wasn't really in the mood to do anything. Aaron announced that he was going to go down to the pool. Matt just nodded to him and told him to have fun.
"I'll call if there are any pretty girls down there," said Aaron.
"Nah. You go ahead and enjoy them," replied Matt. "They're all yours."
Aaron shook his head, muttering about passing up the perfect opportunity to meet beautiful young women. The door closed behind him, and Matt sighed. A wave of grief and loss washed over him. Since coming back from his mission, he had made no effort to meet young women for any other reason than to be friends. Aaron often gave him a hard time for the limited dating he had done. Matt had not shared with any of his friends his reasons that he didn't date.
He dropped his head into his hands but saw the face of the girl he had tried not to think about for two and a half years. His head snapped up again, and he brushed away the tears that were threatening to fall. The loss of Rebecca still hurt more than he cared to admit to anyone. He tried not to think about her because the life he might have had- could, no, should have had- still haunted him, and that haunting somehow prevented him from searching someone he could settle down and have his own family with, even though that's what he wanted beyond anything else. He knew he had to move on, though, because it was certain that he would never see Rebecca Zanick ever again.
Samantha Morlon smiled and waved to her friend and roommate, Erica, as she drove away for spring break. She had opted to stay on campus for the two-week break under the pretense of needing to be near the ocean for some study and insisted that it was impossible to do in Iowa. Her roommate had just laughed, rolled her eyes, and informed her that she worked entirely too hard.
Once her friend was out of sight, her hand fell limply to her side and she sighed. That, of course, wasn't the real reason she stayed on campus, but she couldn't admit that to anyone. She turned around and reentered her dorm building. Climbing the few flights of stairs to her room, Rebecca contemplated what she wanted to do that day. She approached the door and opened it. When she walked in, she tossed her keys on the couch with the feeling that she really didn't want to be there. She wandered to her room and started sorting through her books, looking for something that would interest her.
There was a knock on her door, and she turned around the way she had come. When she opened the door, she smiled. A young man stood in front of her- the only person she felt really connected to on campus. She also found herself somewhat attracted to his brown hair and eyes, broad frame, and mellow voice.
"Hello gorgeous," he said.
"Hi Rob. What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I thought we could go out and do something fun," said Rob.
"That sounds wonderful. You might just have saved me from an afternoon of boredom. What did you have in mind?" Samantha asked.
"Well, since it's mid-afternoon, and I assume you haven't eaten, I was thinking we could go out for a late lunch to the campus's fine sandwich café, and then go for a walk along the beach," explained Rob.
"Add some ice cream to that venture, and you've got yourself a deal!"
"Done then," said Rob. "Go grab your stuff and let's go!"
Samantha walked back into her dorm room after saying good-bye to Rob. It was early evening, and she did have some things she wanted to do. She walked into her room and over to her duffle bag. As she passed by her bedside cabinet, she saw her scriptures just sitting there. She sat down on her bed and gingerly picked up her Book of Mormon. Her fingers gently ran over the cover. She hadn't actually read it for quite some time. In fact, she hadn't been to church in quite a while- almost two years. She suddenly put the book down and grabbed the clothes she was going to go work out in.
She didn't know why she was avoiding it all- religion, church, and God. Her past was blighted with grief, and she felt like something was missing inside of her. Those two things repelled her from all the things she had loved as a youth. At first, she had been mad, and once that had simmered, she had just felt alienated from everything she had thought she knew. She had the feeling that one day, she'd have to face up to everything, but for now, she was happy to live as she was. Leaving the dorm, she walked the short distance to the gym and pounded out all her uncertainty and fear. It felt good, and she went to bed that night thoroughly exhausted.
Before she turned in however, she felt compelled to pick up her Book of Mormon again and open it. She stared at the title page for a while, and then without knowing why, she flipped through the pages until she stopped at 2 Nephi chapter eight. She started reading, and warmth flooded through her as she read the words. ‘For the Lord shall comfort Zion...and he will make her wilderness like Eden...Joy and gladness shall be found therein'. How she longed for those things. She hadn't felt truly happy since before she had come here. ‘...Lift up your eyes to the heavens...my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished' Hadn't she known all of this since she could read? Didn't it used to mean something? ‘...Therefore, the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away' There it was again. How she longed to feel gladness- to feel the sorrow and pain of her past erased from her mind- but she couldn't let go of it. ‘I am he; yea, I am he that comforteth you...'
Without warning, Samantha started to weep. These words did still mean something. She felt an undeniable confirmation that she still knew with conviction as strong as it always had been that her faith in God, her beliefs, and her convictions were true. Why then, was it so hard to return back to the light? Her thoughts swirled as she lay down and slowly drifted off to sleep.
Matt woke early the next morning. He didn't know what had prompted him to get up, but he couldn't just lie in bed anymore. He thought maybe it was that he had woken up at 6:30 every day for the last two years, and his body was simply used to it now. Glancing over at Aaron, he saw his friend sprawled all over his bed, sheet kicked down to the end of the bed and one leg dangling off the side. Matt shook his head and headed toward the bathroom. He had gone to bed well before Aaron had returned from the pool, but he hadn't slept well that night. Thoughts of Rebecca had loomed in his mind making it difficult to wind down and go to sleep. Once he had fallen asleep, his dreams were scattered of images of her. He had recalled vividly in his unconscious mind their last meeting and all the feelings that had been associated with it.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. There was no use in dwelling on the past. He wanted to make this a good break, and depressing thoughts like that weren't likely to help that happen. There was still the unexplainable feeling that there was something he needed to do here. Matt shrugged that feeling off, too, since there was nothing he could do about it at the moment.
Aaron was still dead to the world when Matt walked out of the bathroom. For a brief second, he thought of how amusing it would be to scare Aaron awake. It was only 7:15, though, so perhaps it would be better to let him sleep for now. He could be a killjoy if woken up too soon. Matt wrote a quick note telling him he had gone down to breakfast on the off chance his roommate woke up while he was gone. It was a slim chance, but if Scouts had taught him one thing, it was ‘Be prepared.' He left quietly.
The breakfast was good, and Matt sat in the dining area eating his bagel, cereal, muffin, and milk. The TV was tuned to the local news, and he had looked up just in time to see the weather report. It looked like it was going to be a good day to go surfing. He smiled. It had been years since he had gone surfing, and it would feel good to get back into the water. When he was finished eating, he hung around to watch the news and then went back to his room.
It was eight o'clock, and Matt thought that it was time for Aaron to get up. He snuck up to Aaron's bed, got right in his face and said loudly, "Wake up!"
Aaron jerked awake and fell off the bed. Matt had moved back just in time to avoid colliding heads with Aaron and was laughing hard. "What the heck is your problem? I was sleeping just freakin' fine before you came over! I swear I could beat the living crap out of you right now!"
Matt had a hard time getting a grip on himself. "I'm sorry! It- it was just so tempting! You were sleeping like a baby, and it's getting late!"
Aaron looked at the clock. "It's only eight, Matt. It's still early morning."
"Yes, but by the time you get dressed and eat, and we get into the car over to the beach, it'll be ten o'clock. We want to get there early enough to get a good parking and have most of the day to surf!" explained Matt.
Aaron grumbled and picked himself up. His hair was tousled, and he was rubbing his eyes to try to wake himself up. Matt flopped down onto his
bed and grinned. "I'll get up when you're ready."
Samantha hit her snooze button as the alarm went off. She had been thoroughly exhausted last night but unable to go to sleep for a long time. She nodded off again until her alarm went off again. She turned it off and rolled over. It was 5:45. She closed her eyes and sighed. The next thing she knew, the sun was shining on her face. Her eyes snapped open and she looked at her clock. It was 7:30. She groaned and put a hand to her face. This was the latest she had slept in for months. She forced herself to sit up and get out of bed.
As she went about her morning routine, Samantha tried to decide what she wanted to do with the day. She could always go surfing, and she smiled at the thought. Surfing had always been a passion and something that she could rely on to take her mind off stuff. She decided that was what she wanted to do. She finished eating, dressing, and packed to go to the beach.
Matt and Aaron stood in line to get boards. Aaron was animatedly telling him about what had happened down at the pool the night before. For his part, Matt was only half paying attention. There was a weird feeling of de ja vu in the pit of his stomach. He turned his head to glance at the girl walking by and then did a double take. Her profile was familiar, and she had auburn hair.
"Hey, you ok man?" asked Aaron.
"Yeah- fine. I just thought I saw someone I knew," said Matt. He turned back to Aaron. "So you were saying?" Aaron continued to talk, but Matt's mind was still on the girl. There was no way. What were the chances of him actually meeting someone he knew out here? Virtually none. He didn't have my relatives that lived east of the Mississippi River, and he'd only been to the eastern states once or twice. He shook the idea from his head. It was just impossible.
They finally reached the front of the line and grabbed a couple of boards. Turning around, the two boys walked toward the surf. "Whoa! Check that girl out! She's good!" said Aaron, pointing out to the ocean.
Matt followed his hand and saw the girl. He was right. She was obviously confident on the board. He felt his stomach clench. Something about the way the girl carried herself was familiar. She was also wearing a one piece as opposed to a bikini like so many other girls preferred.
They continued out toward the water, but when they reached the tide, both of them saw the girl wipe out and plunge into the water. A few guys around them laughed and made comments about girls trying to do a man's sport. Matt and Aaron exchanged a worried glance and hurried to paddle over to her. She had just surfaced and grabbed her board, coughing.
"Hey, are you alright?" Aaron asked.
The girl finished coughing and looked up at him. Matt almost fell off the board. He knew that auburn hair and those blue eyes. When she smiled and said, "Yeah. Overbalanced. Thank, though," Matt gasped. There was no doubt in his mind.
Aaron and the girl turned to look at him. Matt saw fear, recognition, and another unidentifiable emotion flash through her eyes. Aaron, for his part, was looking between the two, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Do you two know each other?" he asked.
Matt had eyes only for the girl in front of him. After a moment, he finally managed to say, "Rebecca?"
She looked like she would have a panic attack for a moment but then composed herself. She shook her head and smiled. "I'm sorry," she said. "You must have me confused with someone else. My name is Samantha, but my friends call me Sam."
Aaron laughed at his friend. "Don't you feel stupid?" he asked. Turning back to Sam, he said, "I'm Aaron Vistane, and this is Matt Preston."
Sam smiled again, but it seemed mechanical. "It's nice to meet you. I'm afraid I have to go. Thanks for making sure I was alright." She paddled away.
Aaron turned to Matt to make fun of him some more, but the look on his face stopped him. "You alright?" he asked. Matt was staring after Sam. He seemed lost in his own world. "Dude, what's going on? You act like you know her!" said Aaron.
Matt shook his head and looked at Aaron. "Sorry, what?"
"What in the world just happened? You act like you know that girl!"
"I do," said Matt. He sighed. "Look, I'll see you back at the hotel." He made his way back to shore. Aaron stared after his friend with the distinct feeling he had missed something.
"Matt, wait up!" He wasn't going to leave Matt in this state.
Samantha sat in her car, resting her head against the steering wheel. She had to get back to her dorm soon- before she fell apart. Without really thinking, she started the car and drove away.
When she arrived at the dorm building, Sam hurried up to her room, glad that there weren't too many people there. She almost missed the note on her door.
Sam- missed you. Call if you want to hang out. Rob
She took the note off the door, walked in, and tossed it away. She needed to be alone today. The face flashed in front of her again, and she sank onto the couch.
A myriad of emotions flooded her- affection, fear, anger, grief, and loss. How long had it been since Matt had crossed her mind? She had tried to suppress any memory of him because it hurt too much to think about him and the way she had imagined life with him. It also led her to think of her family, and that always pushed her over the edge.
Why had he come back? She had thought that she had moved on, but seeing the man she had loved brought everything back. ‘Loved...or love?' Sam wondered. When she had seen him at the beach for the first time in over two years, she had panicked, but a sense of longing had filled her, too. And it had seen years since she'd been called by her real name.
Her cell phone ringing interrupted her thoughts. She hastily dug into her purse and pulled it out. "Hello?"
"It's Lorh," said the voice on the other end.
"Oh, I thought you were going to call later tonight," Sam said apprehensively.
"Don't worry; nothing has happened. I was just scheduled for a meeting tonight, so I had to call now. How are things?"
Sam hesitated for a fraction of a second. "Fine. Erica left yesterday, and~"
"What did she say about you staying?"
"Oh, I told her I had to stay for some studying that I can't do in Iowa, and she just laughed, told me I work too hard, and drove away."
"Good. And everything else is fine?"
"Yes. I plan on just hanging around the dorm today to read or do something else like that."
"Ok. Just make sure to keep~"
"Keep a low profile, and don't draw attention to myself. Yes- I know."
"Alright- I'll call back in a few days. Bye."
"Bye." Sam hung up. She wasn't quite sure how she had held it together or why she had lied. Something had told her to hold back on saying anything about Matt. Why, though?
Aaron opened the door and allowed Matt to walk in before him. Matt flopped onto his bed and sighed. Aaron stared at him. This wasn't the Matt he knew. "Alright man, out with it! What's going on? I've never seen you like this!"
Matt sat up and looked back at Aaron. "Ok, but first I'm going to ask you a question," he said. "With all the grief you give me about not dating, have you ever stopped to think there might be a reason?"
That brought Aaron up short. "Well, I figured there was a reason, but I thought it was something like you expecting to feel that instant connection or a manifestation of the Spirit telling you she's the one."
Matt let out a mirthless laugh. "Hardly. I don't really believe in ‘the one." He suddenly became somber. "Oh, where do I start? Where is the beginning?" He thought for a moment. "It really started twelve years ago. I was in Primary, and this new girl moved in. Her name was Rebecca Zanick. We were in the same class, but she was a grade younger than me in school. She was quiet and shy at first. I tried for weeks to befriend her, but she never really wanted anything to do with it. She finally accepted an invitation to my birthday party, and that was the start of our friendship.
"In about eighth or ninth grade, I suddenly started seeing her in a new light. She wasn't just one young woman in the ward who was my friend anymore. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, and I never said anything about it to anyone. In tenth grade, I started to notice some things that made me wonder how she felt about me, and I finally worked up the nerve to tell her that I needed to talk to her." He smiled slightly. "When we got together to have the talk, I told her what I was thinking, and~"
Aaron laughed. "You just walked up to her and told her all of this? I can see how well that went over." He put on a mock voice. "Hi Rebecca. It's a wonderful day! Look, I have strong feelings for you, and I wonder if those feelings are reciprocated."
Matt rolled his eyes. "No, not like that. Anyway, she admitted that she liked me, too, but we didn't think it was prudent at the time to pursue a serious relationship. We were both so young, and she had definite ideas about how her future was going to be- and mine, for that matter. We had been really good friends until that point, but that day something changed, and we were each other's best friend.
"I moved away in my junior year, and she took it pretty hard. We still saw each other at dances and other activities. It was always great to see her and get caught up on what was happening. I got my mission call around the time that she was getting ready to graduate from high school. When she did, we had one last summer together, and decided to go out on a date one night about a month before I left to go on my mission. We had done group date things before, but we just wanted one night where it could just be the two of us. We went surfing and out for dinner. When I dropped her off at her house, I had the impression it was going to be the last time I saw her, but not in the way that it actually turned out.
"The very next morning, I saw a report on the news about a family being gunned down in their own home. You can imagine my horror when I saw the picture of Rebecca's family on the TV. They did say that one person was not home, and no one knew whether she was dead or alive. It drove me insane not knowing what had happened to Rebecca. Then out of the blue, a couple of days later, this guy in a suit shows up at my front door and says that she wants to see me, and it was the only time I would be able to. He drove me to a safe house and I got to see her again for about ten minutes, if that. She told me that she was going to go into Witness Protection, but she didn't know where they were going to relocate her."
Aaron gave a low whistle. "It almost sounds like a bad Hollywood movie."
Matt laughed. "Except it's real. I've tried to move on, but it's hard. None of the girls I've met since then are the same. It's like Rebecca set the standard, and no one else has reached it." He flopped back down onto the bed and didn't say another word.
Aaron stared at his friend. He was really stuck on this girl. "Do you think she's the reason?" he asked quietly.
"What?" Matt asked wearily.
"You said that you came here on a prompting. Do you think she's the reason you were supposed to come?"
Matt sat back up and frowned. "How could she be? I mean, even if she would talk to me, nothing could happen between us. She's protected by the government. And there was something about her- in her eyes. She's not the person I left two years ago. Her eyes used to sparkle with an inner light, but now they're hollow and empty." He shook his head. "I don't know, man. I guess there's always hope."
"It's been over two years. Why isn't she dead yet?"
"Look, she's being protected by the government. If she were to die so soon after entering Protection, it would look suspicious. I'm working on it, though."
"I want her dead- and soon. She's been a thorn in my side since her father infiltrated my organization! I don't care how you go about it. Crap happens to people all the time. She could get in a car accident for all I care. Just get her out of the way."
"Yes sir. I promise- just as soon as I can get it arranged."
"See to it you do. Don't disappoint me."
Sam nervously arranged the papers on her desk and looked over her lesson plan one last time. She was giving scuba instruction as a part time job to supplement her income and pay for tuition, and this was her first lesson to a class. It wasn't that she ever wanted to be a teacher, but they had needed someone, and she had been scuba certified since she was thirteen.
People started to file in about fifteen minutes before the class was about to start and sat down. It gradually began to fill up- back to front, naturally- but she didn't pay any attention to the students and pretended to be busy with something at her desk. As a result, she didn't notice the two young men slip into the back row just as the bell rang.
"You've got to be kidding," said Matt.
Aaron looked down to where the teacher was sitting and almost fell out of his seat. "Reb- I mean- Sam is the instructor. That's not a coincidence man!"
Matt suddenly turned to look at him. "Aaron, I can't do this! We need to leave, now."
"Because I can't just sit here and watch her for two hours like I don't know her! Please, we've gotta go before~"
"Good morning everyone," said Sam. "I'm Miss Morlon. I'm a student at the university and I'm studying to work in the field of marine biology. I haven't quite figured out what I want to do, but that will come with time. I've been scuba certified since I was thirteen and was asked to take this class. Who in the class has any experience with scuba diving?"
A handful of people raised their hands and Sam nodded. "Good. I just needed to know where to start. Those of you who have, bear with me as I explain some of the basics to the rest of the class."
It was a very long two hours. Matt sat in the back of the classroom trying to pay attention, but his mind kept wandering. What was he going to do when the class was over? Should he go talk to her? She wouldn't want to; the panic in her eyes when she had seen him made that perfectly clear, but he couldn't help himself. When she dismissed the class, he was careful to hang back. Aaron looked at him, but Matt just gestured for him to go on and he'd catch up. Aaron nodded and left the room. It was just the two of them now.
Sam looked up when she heard someone walking down to her. She just about passed out. "Matt, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm in the class. Aaron and I were sitting in the back corner up there." He stopped, not quite sure what to say. "What happened to you?"
Sam frowned. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"What's happened to you in the last two year, Rebecca? I've missed you so much. I~"
"I told you yesterday," said Sam, "you have me confused with someone else. I didn't know you until twenty-four hours ago!" She checked her watch. "Now if you don't mind, I need to go to lunch." She walked around him and out of the classroom.
Matt watched her go in despair. Why wouldn't she talk to him? He could see that she wanted to- wanted things to go back to the way they were. There had to be a way to get her to talk to him. There had to be.
Sam slammed the door behind her. ‘I will not cry. I've moved on. He doesn't matter anymore, and Lorh wouldn't approve.' She blindly paced around the living space, trying to convince herself that the mantra going through her head was true. The tears stinging her eyes told her that she was unsuccessful. ‘When did I become such an emotional wreck?' she wondered. It seemed that she had done more crying in the last two years than he had in her entire life. Perhaps that was the trigger. Her family had always been her security. Without them, she was just bobbing around in open waters, so to speak, and drifting around with no purpose.
‘Rob.' The thought came to her so suddenly that she almost jumped. She dug into her pocket for her cell phone and pulled it out. She dialed Rob's number and waited for him to pick up.
"Rob." Sam tried to keep her voice steady. "Are you busy?
"It's spring break," said Rob. "Are you kidding? I've been playing video games all day bored out of my mind!"
"Do you want to hang out?"
"Of course. What did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. We could walk around campus and check out some of the stores. I've got a couple of friends with birthdays coming up, so I need to go birthday shopping."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll come pick you up in half an hour."
"Alright. See you then."
True to his word, the doorbell rang half an hour later. Sam grabbed her purse and opened the door. She had gained enough control over herself that she hoped Rob wouldn't notice anything was wrong. He smiled when she appeared at the door.
"Are you ready to go?" he asked.
Sam nodded. "Yeah. I'm actually really glad you can come. One of my friends is a guy, and I always have such a hard time shopping for guys."
"Well, Robert Kluney here, at your service! I will use my expertise to help you find the perfect present for your friend." The last word was emphasized just slightly, and Sam picked up on his meaning.
"Give me a break, Rob. Just because you've had a couple dozen girlfriends doesn't mean the rest of us got around in high school! He's just a friend- a friend who's more like a brother."
"I know. You can't have a significant other because I'm probably the closest thing you've ever had. When are you going to let me ask you out, anyway?"
Sam's heart froze. Had she been that obvious about her attraction to him? Or was he just teasing her? "What makes you think I want you to ask me out?" she asked coolly.
"Oh, just the fact that I've noticed I'm the only guy you spend time with, and you do spend a lot of time with me."
Sam rolled her eyes, determined to shake off the dread this conversation had brought on. "Wow. So just because I spend a lot of time with you means I have any special feelings for you? What makes you think that my feelings are romantic and not sisterly?"
"Oh, just a hunch," said Rob. "So how about it? Will you go out with me?"
Her mind flashed to Matt, and she shook her head. "Sorry Rob, but I'm not ready for a serious relationship yet. I'm trying to focus on school right now and get college out of the way."
They walked along the sidewalk for a few moments in silence. Rob didn't seem to like her answer but didn't say more on the subject. "Ok, so tell me about your guy friend. What are his interests and hobbies?"
"He's really into soccer and swimming. On occasion, he goes out to his grandparents' farm and does some horseback riding. He has three younger sisters and an older brother. He likes to read a lot."
"So, a farm boy from Iowa who likes to read, kick a ball, and swim is my competition, eh?"
Sam suddenly became irritated. "Look, I've already told you that he's like my brother! If you didn't want to come along, all you had to do was say so!"
Rob recoiled at her anger. "Sorry! I didn't mean it." He paused for a moment to study her. "Are you ok, Sam?" he asked.
Sam sighed as her anger drained away as quickly as it had sprung up. "Yes. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you like that. I just had a bit of a rough morning." She opened the door to a bookstore on campus and walked in.
"What kinds of books does he like?"
"That's just what I was wondering," said Sam. "I haven't talk to him for a few months. I was thinking about getting him some alien book. He's always been fascinated with space and extraterrestrial beings." She started walking around and scanning shelves. One caught her eye. She grinned. It had a rather unique covered, and what had attracted her eye was the shiny patch of silver. Mindwarp: Alien Blood. That looked interesting enough. She picked it up and started reading through the back cover. It was perfect: mystery, aliens, and action. She noticed a little two on the spine and frowned. Did that mean that it was the second book in a series?
"This one is shiny, too," said Rob.
Sam looked at it. Sure enough, it had the same title. What she had failed to see was that there were other books along the shelf with the same silver patch on their covers. "This is great. He'll get a kick out of these. There are twelve of them, and each is three dollars. Man, he'd better be grateful for this one!" She picked up each book from the series and walked to the counter to pay for them.
"He must be some brother if you're willing to pay thirty-six dollars for him," remarked Rob.
"Oh, you know. We're both geeks in the fact that we can't stand not finishing a series. I thought I'd be nice this time and go ahead and buy them all. It'll save him the trouble and insanity."
"You should have bought one right in the middle," said Rob.
Sam frowned. "But then he couldn't read it; it would make no sense."
"Exactly! It's the perfect prank, at least for two people like you. I bet it would drive him up a wall!"
"I'll concede that point," said Sam, "and I might have to keep it in mind for future reference." She stopped for a moment to consider where to go next. "My other friend is a girl. I don't know how much help your expertise will be, but you're welcome to come along." She walked along campus and entered another shop.
Rob was right behind her. "So what about this friend? What's she like?"
Sam grinned. "She's an only child, but she always wanted a sibling. I told her that she could have mine any time she wanted."
"I didn't know you had any brothers or sisters," said Rob, giving her a confused look.
Sam could have slapped herself. How could she have been that careless? Quickly she said, "I did have a sister, but she died in a car accident a few years ago."
Rob looked sympathetic. "I'm sorry," he said gently.
"It's ok. Anyway, she was really good at just about any sport she tried: volleyball, tennis, basketball, soccer, heck- she's even decent at hockey! She's a really good writer, too. I like to make fun of her, though, because she's always cold. That's why we're- oh this one is perfect." Sam pulled a black hoodie off of the rack and held it up. It had white and blue lettering across the front that read ‘Jacksonville University'.
Once she had paid for it, Sam and Rob left the store. "Do you want to go over to the aquatics center and watch the dive team? They should be practicing right now," said Rob.
Sam checked her watch. "I'd love to, but I really need to get back to my dorm. I've got a couple of things I need to do before this evening and get ready for my scuba class tomorrow. I'll see you later!"
Matt walked around the college campus dejected. How was he supposed to talk to Sam if she wouldn't be around him long enough to do more than brush him off? He decided to stop by the ice cream shop to indulge in his misery. The idea almost made him laugh. Rebecca had introduced him to ice cream commiseration. She had joke about it during good times, and it was with difficulty that Matt had stopped her from indulging during some of her more trying times. He wondered if she had used it as a source of comfort after he had left for his mission.
Absently, he entered the ice cream shop and glanced up at the menu. There was a good variety of choices, and he settled on cookies ‘n cream in a waffle cup. Once he had ordered, he left the little shop and continued to walk around- contemplating his choices. Leaving her was out of the question; Matt couldn't walk away now that he had found her. His only real option was to corner her after scuba certification tomorrow.
Sam dismissed the class and hoped that Matt would leave with everyone else. She turned to erase the board but noticed footsteps behind her. It had to be him. "Can't you just leave me alone?"
Matt stopped at the last step. "Rebecca." He knew she went by Sam now, but he felt compelled to use her real name. "You're my best friend, and~"
"How many times do I have to tell you?" she demanded. "My name is Samantha Morlon!"
Matt stood his ground. He wasn't going to let her go again. "No it's not. You are Rebecca Danielle Zanick. We've known each other for twelve years, except I've spent the last two in England. You're parents are Ted and Margaret Zanick. You have three brothers: Kenny, Richard- also known as Ricky- and Cole. The youngest is Alexandra."
"Stop Matt!" said Sam. She could feel herself spiraling out of control. She tried to move passed him, but he grabbed her hand. Electricity shot through her, and Sam had to force herself not to gasp.
"Why won't you talk to me?"
"It's too dangerous," said Sam. "And if Lorh finds out..." she trailed away. She looked up at him. "Please- it's as much for you as me."
"Is there any way we can talk?"
Sam's resolution faultered. She wanted to talk to him. She wanted to spend time with him. Lorh would be furious if he found out, but what Lorh didn't know wouldn't hurt her. "Well- do you know where the McDonald's on Main Street is?"
Matt nodded. He remembered seeing it a couple of times.
"There is a park not too far from there. Drive east for about five minutes and turn left on Driftwood Drive. Keep going for another two or three blocks. The parking lot will be on your right. Meet me there at 9:30 tonight." She suddenly realized that he was still holding her hand and pulled it away. Without another word, she walked away.
Matt wasn't sure what to think. He should have been ecstatic that she had agreed to talk to him, but he wasn't sure what to expect from her.
He pulled into the parking lot, but didn't see another car. Regardless, he parked and got out of the car. There was a lone figure sitting on the sings. Even though he couldn't see who it was, Matt knew it was Sam. He sighed in relief that she had actually come. He sat down on a swing next to her but didn't say anything. He was going to force her to say something first.
"Don't expect me to jump for joy because you're here," she finally said quietly.
That wasn't hat Matt had expected. "Why?" he asked.
Sam finally looked over at him. "You have no idea how complicated my life has become. I wonder everyday if it's going to be the day that they find and kill me. Do you have any idea what that's like? I live in constant fear that the people I'm hiding from will find me, and then everything will have been for nothing.
"I was just starting to move on- letting go of my old life. You showed up and changed everything. It blurred the line between my realities. I thought I had moved on, but apparently I haven't. Seeing you again proved that. It also makes things more complicated than they already were.
"When I look at you, I still see everything I once saw. It can't happen, though. There are people who want to hurt me. They would hurt or kill you to get to me. Besides, Lorh wouldn't approve. You're a connection to my past- a past Lorh and I both want buried."
Matt felt a stab of pain. He got up off his swing and knelt in front of her. He forced her to look at him. "Beccy." He hadn't called her that for a long time. "I can't understand what you've been through, so I won't even try. I've not been asked to give up everything I love and start again. I'll tell you what I know, though. It's been six months since I've been home; I've met dozens of young women, and none of them have been half as wonderful as you.
"Aaron offered me this trip, but I came because I was prompted to." He was surprised when Sam looked away. It didn't make any sense, but he needed to say what he had to say. "The point is- I don't know what has happened to you, but I still love you." His voice broke with emotion.
Sam stood and turned her back on him. "Please don't say that," she begged.
Matt stood and took a step to her side. He couldn't understand her mental or emotional state, and it made him unsure how to proceed. "What do you want me to say, then?" he asked.
"Anything but that."
"Communication and honesty have always been important to you," he said. "Why has that changed?"
"You don't understand, do you?"
"No," replied Matt, "but I want to."
Sam sighed. "I still value truth and honesty, but my life has turned into one lie after another. What few truths I can tell are still sprinkled with lies. There's only one person on campus who I feel I'm friends with, but how can I really be his friend if I always have to lie to him?
"Don't you see, Matt? I can't be involved with anyone- ever. It's too dangerous, and whoever I'm with could never trust me."
"I trust you."
Sam shook her head. "Then you're a fool."
They stood in silence. Matt wanted to take her hand in his, but he thought that might be pushing his luck. And there was still a burning question that he had to ask. It was just a matter of how to bring it up. Years ago he wouldn't have dreamed of asking this.
"You said you didn't have any friends. What about church? What about Relief Society? What about your bishop?"
Sam shook her head. "I have to go Matt. It's getting late, and I have to be up early." She started to walk away, but Matt stepped in front of her.
"Rebecca, what's going on? I know you've been through a hard time, but surely..." A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Do they even know you?"
Sam trembled. She took a step back and collapsed onto the swing. She started talking in a rush as if she couldn't help herself. "Matt, I haven't been to church in a while. Actually I think it's been almost two years."
He stared at her stunned. "What?"
Sam looked down at the ground. "I haven't been to church in almost two years. At first, it was because my membership records weren't in order. It took a while to get my name changed in the church records." She pushed off one foot and set the swing in motion. "I still don't know if they've been changed. Lorh might have mentioned it once."
"I got mad," interrupted Sam. "I got mad at God, Doug, the Dragons, Lorh, my father, and...you." She looked back up at him. "A lot of it was irrational. I felt abandoned and alone, so my anger turned to the people around me." A harsh laugh escaped her. "I made life miserable for the agents who worked with me. I was bitter- more bitter than I've ever been in my life. That bitterness drove me to rebellion. I forsook everything that I knew and loved as a youth. My testimony was shaken."
Matt listened in horror, awe, and sadness. What else had she had to endure since they had been separated?
"Once the anger and bitterness were gone, I felt hollow and empty. I still do. Right now, life is meaningless to me."
"Rebecca," said Matt. "Come to church with Aaron and me on Sunday. We already know where the meeting house it."
"What? No! I couldn't!"
"Why not?" asked Matt.
"I- it's just..."
Matt framed her face with his hands. "Please," he said quietly. "You love the gospel and the Church. Maybe it's time to reconcile these feelings and return."
Sam held his gaze. She knew what he said was true. There was a light in his eyes that came from some inner conviction and knowledge. "It's too~"
"Dangerous? We won't go to the single's ward, then. Let's go to the ward family. We can say that Aaron and I are brothers and you're our cousin. Our family is on vacation. We'll just be there that one day. Please?" He could see her resolve slipping.
"Just the three of us?" she asked. "No one else will know?"
"I promise," said Matt.
"Could we just stay for Sacrament meeting? I'm not sure if I'm ready to go for the full three hours yet. It's not that I don't want to, but I'm not ready to expose myself that much, yet."
"That's fine," Matt agreed.
Sam sighed. "Alright. Pick me up at 8:30 outside the Winston Dorms."
Matt smiled slightly. "Great."
Sam nodded. "Look, I've really got to go. Curfew is soon, and I have to be up early tomorrow." She walked away without giving Matt an opportunity to offer her a ride or say anything else.
Sam stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. She had just finished curling her hair. The loose curls cascaded down her back bringing out the royal blue of her shirt. Her black pencil skirt went down to her knees. She looked nice- moreso than she had in a long time. She was still really nervous, though. Something could go horribly wrong. Glancing at her watch, Sam saw it was 8:25.
When the black Dodge Neon pulled up, Matt stepped out. He was wearing a black suit and red tie and smiled when he saw her. "You look beautiful."
"Thanks." She returned the smile and followed him around the car. Matt opened the door and allowed her to slide into the front seat. She glanced behind her to see Aaron sitting in the back seat.
He grinned at her and said, "Good morning!"
Matt put the car into gear and drove away. It was only a fifteen-minute drive to the meetinghouse- or should have been. Matt took a wrong turn, and it was a few minutes before he realized what he had done. By the time he had backtracked and they actually arrived there, there were only a couple of minutes before Sacrament meeting started. They slipped into the back just as the meeting was starting. Sam sat between Matt and Aaron. She looked around as if someone might stand up and say, "Hey you in Witness Protection!"
Matt took her hand in his and gave it a quick squeeze. "Relax. We're just a little family on vacation, remember?"
She nodded, and he let go of her hand. Sam was surprised at the disappointment she felt briefly. What was going on?
The bishop stood at the pulpit, and she turned her attention to the meeting. He made a few announcements and sat down as the organ began to play the strains of the opening hymn. Sam opened the hymnal to 124- one that she was vaguely familiar with.
‘Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side; With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change he faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: They best, thy heavenly Friend Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end...Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake...When we shall be forever with the Lord, When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored...When change and tears are past, All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.'
Sam felt something that she couldn't explain, and there was a familiar burning in her eyes. Everyone had already bowed their heads for prayer. She wasn't sure if she could keep her composure, so she stood up and left the chapel. Walking out the doors, Sam made her way to the rental car and leaned against it. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The words of that song had penetrated something in her that had been dormant for years. A few tears slipped from beneath her eyes, and she brushed them away. She stood there for a few minutes trying to figure out what all of them meant for her, and then she sensed, rather than heard, someone approach her. Her eyes flew open and she saw Matt standing in front of her.
"You can't just disappear like that," he said quietly.
"I'm sorry," she said shaking. "I just had to leave. That song..."
Matt nodded. "I understand; those lyrics must have meant something to you right now, but it scared me that I opened my eyes after amen and you were gone."
"You have no idea," replied Sam. She fought back the tears that she could feel fighting to get free. "You were right. I did need to come back."
"I thought it would help you," he said with a small smile. "Come back inside. They were doing a few releases and sustainings, but I would imagine they're singing the Sacrament hymn by now."
Sam nodded and followed him back inside. "I'd rather not go back into the chapel. Can we just stay out here in the foyer?"
Matt looked at her slightly surprise but nodded. "Sure." They sat down on the couch and listened as the congregation finished singing the hymn. Aaron walked by just as they were singing the last phrase.
"So you found her, I see," he said.
Matt nodded. "Yeah. We're going to stay out here." Aaron plopped down next to him on the couch. They bowed their heads as the prayer began.
Sam felt warmth spread through her body as she listened to the familiar words.
Once they heard the bishop get up to announce the first speaker, Sam excused herself to the bathroom. "I'll be right back," she promised when she saw Aaron's suspicious glance. She walked away down the hall- not to actually use the bathroom, but to be alone a little. She was on an emotionally overload and needed a little time to work through it all.
How could she have given this all up? Why hadn't she remembered the peace and comfort that she had always felt at church? Matt almost knew her better than she knew herself. He could see how good it would be for her to come back, even if she hadn't wanted to accept it. She wandered around for a few minutes until she came to a door, and then she turned around and doubled back to here she had come.
When she reached the foyer, she sat in-between Matt and Aaron again. She settled in and started listening to the talk. It didn't take long for her to realize that the topic of the meeting was the Atonement. She listened intently, absorbing everything that was said.
"...and a lot of the time we only remember that the Atonement was for our sins. What we often fail to recognize and remember is that the Atonement was for our sorrows, as well. It's through the Atonement that we can forgive others..."
Sam stiffened. She hadn't thought about this for a long time. The emptiness from her family's death came back to her, and she suddenly didn't want to be there. She didn't want to hear what was being said because she knew she'd have to take a hard look at herself.
"Christ knows all the pain we suffer in this life, whether it be the pain caused by someone else's actions against us or the pain that inevitable comes from sinning. He can help heal us of all of these if we're willing to forgive others and ourselves."
But how could she forgive Doug? Her initial anger was gone, but she had never even attempted to move on. Everything had just been pushed to the back of her mind because she couldn't deal with it. Doug had taken everything from her: family, friends, hopes, peace of mind, security, and a future she had always dreamed of. Was it possible to forgive a man of such a crime?
Matt had noticed when Sam stiffened and was currently watching as she struggled within herself. He could only imagine what she was going through. It pained him that there was nothing he could do to help her.
The rest of the meeting passed, but Sam wasn't paying much attention. She vaguely heard the congregation singing the closing song. Nothing really registered until Matt tapped her on the shoulder and said, "It's time to go. We need to leave before people start milling about."
She nodded, stood, and followed him out. Everyone was silent as they drove back to the dorms. Matt knew something had happened to Sam, but he didn't want to talk about it in the car with Aaron listening in. They'd need a more private time and place to discuss it. He pulled up to the dorms, and Sam got out.
"I'll see you two tomorrow," she said and shut the door.
Two days later, Matt and Aaron sat in their seats as Sam handed out the certifications. Aaron had just barely passed to certify, but Matt had passed with flying colors. Once they were all handed out, Sam dismissed the class. Matt hung back again and walked down.
He took it as a good sign that she wasn't totally brushing him off. "Would it be possible for us to get together again?"
"Are you trying to dominate my life, now?"
"Dominate- no. Make up for lost time- yes," replied Matt. "But I wanted to talk to you about Sunday. Not now, though. The park again tonight at 9:30?"
Sam sighed. "And I suppose if I said no, you'd find some other way to talk to me."
"Fine. Tonight at 9:30."
Matt smiled. He was making progress. "Great. I'll see you then, but I've got to go or Aaron will make me walk back to the hotel." He saw her lips twitch, as if she wanted to smile and then dashed out of the room.
Aaron was just outside the door. "So?"
"So what?" asked Matt.
"Have you popped the question yet?" demanded Aaron.
"Of course not! She's barely starting to trust me again as it is. I'd completely scare her away if I did that. No, I wanted to talk to her about Sunday."
"That was awfully fast given everything that happened," remarked Aaron.
Matt rolled his eyes. "We didn't talk about that. I'm going to go meet her over at a park tonight. And before you say anything, no, it's not a date. Yes, I like her, but right now, I'm just trying to help her through everything."
Aaron pouted. "How come you just assume I was going to say anything?"
"Well, were you?"
"Yes," admitted Aaron, "but that's beside the point. It takes all the fun away when you do that!"
"I'll keep that in mind," said Matt. He was more preoccupied with his meeting with Sam that night and what he could possibly say to help her with her troubled past.
Sam was once again waiting on the swings when Matt pulled up. He sat down next to her, and they were silent for a moment. When she spoke, it was completely unexpected.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked.
That startled Matt. "Why am I doing what?"
"You found me. I'm all the way across the country and you found me in this small little town at a beach during your spring break. I taught a class on scuba diving, and you found me. You found me, and you keep finding me. Why are you doing this?"
Matt pondered her question and his answer. It was critical he answer honestly but carefully. "I didn't mean to find you, Sam," he began. "It just happened. I think it was the Lord's will. Now that I've found you, I don't want to lose you again. It hurt too much the first time, and I can't go through that a second time. I never really got over you. I told myself to move on and meet other girls, but I couldn't. I still love you as much as I did when we had to say good bye, but if it'll make you happier, I'll leave you alone."
Sam looked at him surprised. "You'd just walk away- say good bye and leave?" she asked.
Matt nodded. "If that's what would make you happy."
She hung her head and stared at the ground. Her immediate answer was yes. A part of her wanted him to leave. That part of her had been drilled and molded by Lorh and Witness Protection. Another part of her wanted him to stay. It was the part of her that compelled her to talk with Matt, that wanted things as they used to be, and the part that still harbored her other life. "No. I don't want you to leave." She could almost sense the tension leave Matt, and she sighed. "I'm really sorry. I'm just so confused right now."
"About what?" prompted Matt.
"Everything," explained Sam. "It's all just a confused mess right now. I never actually dealt with what happened. I just shoved it to the back of my mind and vowed to not think of it. Now it's all come out at the same time- you, Doug, God, Rob- and I don't know what to do about it."
"Well then, explain it to me, and start from the beginning."
She was silent for a long time. "I-it's complicated. I went to the trial and testified, and then before I could even process what had happened, I was a plane to come here. I didn't have a choice where I was going to go. BYU was out of the question. There were a lot of places out of the question, actually. Lorh didn't want me anywhere west of the Mississippi. It was too dangerous to keep me there when anyone from the Dragons could have been searching for me.
"When I first came here, I didn't have anything to do with anyone. I even pushed away from my roommates. Erica is the one who didn't give up on me, but I'm still not that close to her. She worries about me; I can tell, but that hasn't encouraged me to get close. The only person I'm close to is Rob, and he complicates things. Actually, I guess having both of you guys around is what really complicates things."
Matt looked at her quizzically. He didn't like the sound of that at all. "What does that mean?" he asked almost defensively.
Sam sighed. "I'm not quite sure yet. It's been two and a half years since I last saw you, and I thought that I had moved on. As a result, when I met Rob and started getting close to him...I don't know. I enjoy being in his company, and I suppose to some degree, I'm attracted to him." She ran her hands through her hair. "It's all so mixed up, Matt. I don't know what to think anymore. I thought maybe Rob...but then you showed up after I had accepted the fact that I'd never see you again. I don't know how to explain it; I don't even understand it myself.
"And I haven't been to church in almost two years. When we went on Sunday, that talk- it really made me think. I mean, how can I forgive Doug? He took everything from me: my home, my family and friends, and my future!" Her voice shook slightly. "It just doesn't seem possible right now. I know I should, but how? It still hurts so much."
Matt thought he finally was starting to understand. Rebecca had always been an emotional person, and overloads like this made it hard for her to think properly. "Sam, listen. I don't have all the answers for you. I know it's going to be hard to forgive Doug, but you'll get there. You've always been a forgiving person. As to your family, have you forgotten about eternal families?"
Sam snorted. "Yeah, great. They're up there in Heaven living peaceful lives without all of this worry and confusion, and I'm stuck down here where it's sometimes hard to want to keep living!"
This disturbed Matt. Surely it hadn't become that bad. "You haven't tried to~"
"No," Sam said flatly. "I don't think I ever actually could get so low as to commit suicide, but there have been plenty of days when I just wanted to lay in bed and let my life waste away."
Matt marveled at how much Sam had changed in the last couple of years. He had never seen her this angry, this bitter. Things had always seemed like they'd turn out better when she was around. There was just an aura around her that made you think it would be better. Now it seemed like she had given up hope. He hesitated to ask this next question, but he had to know. "And...what about Rob?"
Sam let out a long, slow sigh. "I don't know Matt. I'm not even certain what I feel for Rob yet. There's certainly an attraction- if only a physical one.
He asked me out the other day, but I couldn't accept it." She finally looked at him. "I do still love you, but I don't know how or if that'll change. Just be patient with me. It's all happening so fast."
They were silent. Matt was thinking about everything that Sam had said. He felt sorry for what she had been through and for the way she had changed. He still loved her and realized that she couldn't help what she had experienced and how she had changed, but he missed Rebecca, the fun loving, care free, happy, and outgoing girl who had caught his attention all those years ago. Sam was the same body but not the same person. She was cautious and reserved. She had experienced more than a person ever should have to and was haunted for those experiences.
"How long are you and Aaron going to be here?"
The question startled Matt. He looked over at Sam and said, "Oh. Our plane leaves Saturday morning." Why had she asked?
"I see. How~" She was interrupted by a cell phone ringing. Quickly, she pulled it out and checked the caller ID. It was Lorh. "Crap. I've got to take this. Can you wait a moment?"
Matt nodded and watched her walk away.
Sam flipped open the phone. "Hello."
"Are you alone?" asked Lorh.
"Yes," replied Sam. It wasn't a total lie. She was alone where she stood, even if Matt was only twenty feet away.
"Good. I just wanted to check in. Is your vacation going well?"
"Yeah. I got my scuba class certified today and hung out with Rob to do some shopping stuff a couple of days ago. I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of the week."
"You haven't seen anything suspicious, have you?"
The question made Sam stiffen. "No. Should I have?" she asked.
"Not necessarily, but I have to be sure. I don't want your position compromised," replied Lorh. Why was he always so paranoid?
"If I see anything, I'll be sure to call you," she promised.
"Good. Enjoy the rest of your evening, then." The line disconnected.
She shook her head at his lack of phone etiquette and closed it. When she walked back to Matt, he was standing and patiently waiting for her. "Sorry," she apologized. "That was Lorh, and if I miss his call, I'll have Secret Service out looking for me."
Matt chuckled. "And that would be a good way to end a pleasant evening," he said.
"It would tend to put a damper on things," agreed Sam. She checked her watch and was surprised to see that it was already ten o'clock. That didn't matter, though. She wanted to stay with Matt for a while longer. "So, how are your parents doing?" she asked. They had spent so much time talking about her, and she wanted to hear about what had happened to him.
"They're fine," said Matt. "They're anxious to see me come summer. I haven't seen them properly since before my mission because I went off to the Y almost immediately when I came home."
"Tell me about your mission," Sam requested. "I want to hear everything." She listened as he told her about his struggles to put aside everything that had happened in that month and focus on what he needed to do. He described each of his companions in detail and made sure to mention it if he could cook. This made Sam laugh. It felt great. How long had it been since she had really laughed? Far too long at least. Matt smiled, too. If she could still laugh, there was still hope.
"And so, after three or four months, I still was struggling with your predicament," said Matt. "I decided that it was time to do something about it, so I went in to see my mission president and asked for a blessing." He stared off for a moment lost in thought. "In that blessing," he said quietly, "I was promised that if I served faithfully, everything would turn out fine for not only me but you as well." He looked back at her. "It said that if I did what the Lord asked, we'd both be happy in the end. That's all I could have asked for."
Sam looked away, afraid that he'd see how much his words both comforted and hurt her. Matt noticed her reaction but decided not to act on it. He continued with his narrative, telling her about some of his investigators who had converted and the culture of England.
When he was finished, he fell into silence. "When I got home, though," he said, "that's when I started to really miss you. It was easy to forget the hurt and worry when I was on my mission, especially if I just busied myself in the work, but when I got back and went to BYU, it all came flooding back. That blessing still had some meaning, but I couldn't see how it applied. I was miserable without you but had to trust that you were happy, wherever you were." He fell silent again.
Sam smiled ruefully. "Well, not so much. As you've heard, I had problems of my own."
"To say the least," agreed Matt. "It's all that I had to hold on to, though. I just told myself that I needed to stop thinking about you and move on because I was never going to see you again, but you have no idea how glad I am that we found each other!"
Sam was silent. She wasn't sure how she felt about his reappearance. It complicated her life so much, yet it gave her hope that things would turn out like they should. She checked her watch again and saw that it was 10:45. "Matt, it's late, and I've really got to get back to the dorms."
He nodded. "When can I see you again?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Sam. "I don't really have anything planned for the rest of the week, but I don't know if it's a good idea for us to be together again, Matt."
Matt felt his stomach drop. "Why not?"
She looked at him with sad eyes. "You're only here for another three days...actually, only two days. I couldn't stand it if I got close to you again and then had to lose you. You forget that this is only spring vacation. Odds are that once you leave, we really won't see each other ever again."
"That's not true, though!" insisted Matt. "We could keep in contact- email or phone- until summer. Then you can come back to California for a while and~"
Sam was shaking her head. "You don't understand Matt. Even if we did keep in contact, I could never go back to California, at least not until the Dragons are gone."
"Then I'll come here," suggested Matt. "I'll go home for a couple of days and see my parents. Then I can come back to see you."
"That wouldn't work either. I don't stay here for summer, and I go somewhere different every year for summer break."
"Well, where are you going this year?"
"You should know better than that by now," replied Sam. "I won't know until I get my plane ticket out of here. I could be off to Hawaii, Maine, Florida, or just about anywhere else. I'm sorry, but it just wouldn't work."
Matt was getting frustrated. Why had he been prompted to come all the way out here if all that was going to happen was that she'd push away from him? Wouldn't it have been better if he had never seen her again? His shoulders slumped. Her points and arguments were understandable, though. She was in a deadly game of self-preservation, and she had become good at it. "Ok. I see your point. But if you change your mind, here's my cell number." He pulled a piece of paper out of his wallet and wrote it down.
When she took it, Sam said, "Good bye Matt." Then she walked into the darkness.
Matt stood rooted to the spot. That good bye had such a note of finality. Anger and frustration coursed through him, but he felt sympathy for the girl who had disappeared. She hadn't asked for the life she had been given. She seemed to be dealing with it much better than he was.
What Matt hadn't seen were the silent tears of anger and regret that coursed down Sam's face as she walked away.
"We're almost ready, sir. My men are there and watching her every move. She doesn't suspect a thing. When the right time comes, they'll be ready."
"Excellent. Make sure they don't fail. I want this girl out of my way. Permanently."
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