The next day, Sam couldn't stay put any longer. She had to get out and do something. She left early in the morning and drove toward Winter Quarters. It was one of her favorite places to be, even though she'd only been there once.
She pulled into the quaint little town and drove toward the temple. She didn't want to go in, but the visitor's center and cemetery should be opened. All she wanted to do was revel in the peace and maybe find some of her own. Life hadn't been fair to her, but at least she still had her life.
When she arrived at the visitor's center, she parked the car and walked over to the cemetery. There was no one else there, but she hadn't expected there to be. It was still relatively early, not to mention that it was a weekday. It was quiet as she set along the path.
Her mind wandered for the hundredth time to everything that had happened in the last two weeks. Her life had been turned upside down for the second time. At the same time, it really hadn't changed all that much. She was still in hiding from someone who wanted to kill her. She reflected sadly that it seemed impossible for her to have what she really wanted. More than anything, she just wanted to settle down with a good man who loved her and have a family. It seemed ages ago that she had sat with all her girl friends and had the "girl talks" about boys, marriage, and children. She sighed as she realized how much she missed it all.
She also realized that she needed to come to terms with everything that had happened. She sat down under a tree and examined the headstone next to her. She hadn't been able to go to her own family's funeral. That had rankled for the longest time. It still did, in a way. There had never really been any closure. The last thing she had of her family was the image of them all lying dead on the floor. In all reality, she knew that the separation was only momentary, but it didn't seem fair that they should be ripped away from her like that.
And what of Matt? She had drawn too emotionally close to him again and wasn't sure what to do about it. Last time, Lorh had allowed them to say one final good bye. Would she even want it this time if it were possible? It almost seemed better if she could just disappear and leave everything behind. She was worried about what state that would leave Matt, though. She sighed and wrapped her arms around her knees. She last track of time as they hours passed under the tree.
He was almost there. In as few as ten minutes, he'd be free to fun his empire as he saw fit without fear of this one girl.
Matt fidgeted as they pulled into Winter Quarters. He'd relax when he knew Sam was safe but not until then. Aaron had insisted that they switch so he could get a couple hours of sleep, which hadn't really happened. He had dozed off a few times, but it never lasted longer than half an hour.
They made a turn and headed up a steep hill. When they reached the top, the temple was in view. Aaron pulled the car into the visitor's center.
"Wait," said Matt as Aaron made to open the door. "I think I should go alone. She's going to freak out as it is that we're here at all. It'd probably be better if I went alone."
Aaron nodded and watched Matt get out of the car.
Matt made his way to the cemetery. Somehow, he knew that's where she'd be. It wasn't very big, and he had almost no trouble spotting her. He made his way toward her quietly, but she looked up as she approached.
"What are you doing here?" Sam demanded as she stood up.
"I told you that I wasn't going to let you do this alone, Sam."
"How did you find me? How did you know where I was going?"
"You told me years ago, remember? ‘If ever there's a place to get lost at, it's Nebraska'. It just made sense that you'd come here. This was the high light of your vacation. You may not be Rebecca anymore, but she's still in there, and I knew her better than almost anyone else."
Sam bit her lip in an attempt to keep it from trembling. "I left so you would be safe," she said.
"I know, but I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you, and I didn't do anything to try an help," replied Matt.
Sam took a deep breath and released it slowly as she gazed at him. "And what do you plan to do now?" she asked quietly.
"That depends on what you plan to do," said Matt.
"I'm waiting for someone," she said. "And then I'm going to disappear again."
"But what~" he was cut off as she saw something behind her. It wasn't much- just a little glint. "Watch out!" He pushed her out of the way not a moment too soon. The shot rang out, and he felt something jerk his body as it hit the left side of his chest.
He heard her scream as he collapsed to the ground. She fell to her knees beside him. "I told you! You would have been safer in Oklahoma!" She dove into his pocket and pulled out his pocketknife. Once she had cut off her sleeve, she held it to his wound and put as much pressure on it as she could.
The clicking sound behind her distracted her, though, and she spun around. The man stood there with the gun pointed at her head. "Why?"
Lorh grinned. "How long have you known?"
"Just a couple of days, but why?"
"You're a threat to me. I'm sorry it had to turn out this way, but as the leader of the Flying Dragons, I make it my responsibility to personally see to any dangers I may perceive to my empire. As to him, he was in the way. He has been since he showed up again. You know, you really should have told me he found you. We could have relocated you."
"But why? When did you...you're FBI!"
"Why did I join the Dragons? Well, the old leader wanted someone on the inside. He offered pretty penny if I consented- better than the FBI, even.
I liked the way he thought, the way he worked. We saw eye to eye on many things. I got tired of being second in command, though, so I took care of the problem. Now I'm in charge!"
Sam was stunned. She had known Lorh was the one after her for two days, but to see him face to face left her speechless. "My family..."
"I had nothing to do with that," said Lorh. "Frankly, though, your life was a little too perfect. You had everything a person could want, and it had just fallen into your lap. You can think of it as a good thing that you've woken up to reality."
She couldn't move. There was nothing she could do. Matt was right behind her bleeding to death, but if she tried to help him, Lorh would shoot her. What did that matter? He was going to shoot her, anyway, and his life had so much more promise than hers. But if she moved, she ran the risk of him getting shot again.
Lorh laughed. "This is priceless! You have been a thorn in my side since your father infiltrated my organization, and now here you are- helpless to defend yourself! I will savor this moment. Do you have any last words?"
There were so many things she wanted to say to so many people. She stood there, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of her fear.
"No? Then say goodbye!"
Another gunshot resonated through the air, and Sam braced herself for what she knew was coming, but it never came. Instead, she heard a dull thud and saw Lorh clutch at his arm. There was blood beginning to ooze through his fingers. She turned around and saw an unfamiliar man standing behind her. He was holding a gun that was pointed at Lorh. That was all she needed. It didn't matter who this stranger was or what side he was on. She turned back to Matt.
His eyes were closed, and she couldn't immediately tell if he was breathing. "No!" she whispered frantically. She grabbed his limp hand and said, "Matt, you have to stay with me! Open your eyes!"
A gentle squeeze on her hand and a groan reassured her that he was still alive. "Becca?" The name barely passed his lips.
"I'm here Matt," she said. She took her free hand and reapplied pressure to the bullet hole, not sure if it was too late or not. His shirt was drenched in blood. "You need to open your eyes."
"But ‘m so tired," he complained weakly.
"I know. That's why you need to open your eyes. I need to know that you're still conscious." She could see the effort it took, but relief washed through her as his hazel eyes opened. She smiled weakly at him. "I'm not going to leave you."
He just looked up at her, too weak to say or do anything. Another shot rang out, and Sam ducked her head next to his. "'s not safe," he murmured. "Go."
Sam shook her head vehemently. "I won't leave you, Matt." His eyes closed again and she squeezed his hand tightly. "Stay with me!"
"'m not sure... make it...but...love you..."
"Don't talk like that! You're not going anywhere, so don't sound like you're on your death bed," she reprimanded. She squeezed his hand again briefly, but didn't get any response. "No. No, Matt, come on! Please, don't leave me!"
He was too weak to respond, but it was her voice he heard as he finally succumbed to the abyss.
The first thing he became aware of was pain. The next was a bright light shining through his eyes. Matt opened his eyes slowly and took in his surroundings. He was in a room- presumably a hospital. There was a TV hanging from the ceiling opposite him and a remote sitting on the table to his right. The source of the light was the sun shining through the window.
He lifted his hand to rub his eyes, but a slight thud caught his attention. He looked to the source of the noise and saw a small hand on the bed. His eyes traveled next to the arm to see a head of auburn hair. Sam was fast asleep, slumped over the bed. He couldn't imagine that her position was too comfortable.
The door opened quietly, and a nurse entered the room. She smiled when she saw he was awake. "Your friend will be happy to see you're conscious. She' been really worried.
"How long have I been here?" he asked hoarsely.
"Three days. It sounds like there was a lot of action in Winter Quarters."
"You could say that," replied Matt. He frowned. "What exactly happened?"
"I'm afraid I don't know the details. You'll have to ask your friend when she wakes up, or the man who has been watching over her." Matt nodded and stared at the ceiling.
The nurse took a few readings and left without another word. A few minutes later, the door opened and a tall man walked in. Matt didn't recognize him at all. The stranger pulled up a chair and sat next to Sam. "How are you feeling?"
"I was shot at two days ago. I guess I'm doing ok all things considering. Who are you?"
The man chuckled. "I'm sorry. My name is Andy Vanderburg. I'm an agent with the FBI. Sam called someone from her hometown, and he contacted me. She was in it pretty deep."
"But what happened exactly?" asked Matt.
"That's quite a complex question. How much do you know?"
"I knew Sam when this whole thing started, but my knowledge is probably basic and minimal."
"Well, it appears that Sam's agent turned traitor. His office and home were sear checked, and there was sufficient evidence to incriminate him. It seems he's been with the Dragons for almost two years."
Matt's eyes wandered back to Sam. "And he hasn't tried to kill her before now?"
"Not as far as we are aware. He was probably worried about his cover. I can't give you all the answer, kid. She's a very lucky woman- that's for sure."
"What's going to happen to her now?"
"She's going to have to be under surveillance for a while until Lorh can go to trial. Once that's done, the FBI will want to make sure the Dragons have disintegrated. She'll probably be free to go after that." He stood up. "I've got to go. Have her call me when she wakes up."
Matt nodded. Vanderburg walked out of the room and left Matt to his thoughts. She'd be free. The whole world was suddenly opened to her.
It was many hours and a few nurses later that Sam finally began to stir. Matt watched as she roused herself from sleep and lifted her head. She didn't seem to register at first that he was watching her and stared at him in shock.
"You know, I quite distinctly remember your mother telling you one time that it's rude to stare," Matt teased.
"You really are ok!" she said happily. "I was so worried about you! Those first few hours..." She suddenly glared at him. "And you're an idiot! Didn't I make it clear I wanted you to stay in Oklahoma! This wouldn't have happened if you had just stayed there!"
"If I had just stayed there, you would be dead now," replied Matt.
Sam sighed. "And what would I do if you died? You're all I have left, Matt."
"I know. I acted out of instinct because I didn't want you to get hurt."
Sam nodded. She would have done the same if their roles had been switched. "Just don't be so stupid next time! If you're going to save me, at least get out of the line of fire yourself!"
Matt laughed but winced. "Alright. That's a deal as long as you don't make me laugh again. That hurts."
"Sorry," apologized Sam.
"What exactly happened out there?" he asked. "I don't remember much."
"After you got shot, Lorh and I had a brief talk," explained Sam. "He was about to shoot me, but Vanderburg got to him first. He shot Lorh in the arm. After that, I'm not sure. I was too busy trying to keep you conscious and with us. I freaked out when you lost consciousness. I just kept yelling at you to wake up. I was scared I was going to lose you. When Vanderburg had put cuffs on Lorh and made sure he wasn't going anywhere, he came over and called an ambulance. It seemed like it took an eternity for them to get there.
"Vanderburg let me ride in the ambulance with you, and he followed behind. It was a long ride. Your blood pressure kept plummeting, and you flat lined once. They rushed you into surgery as soon as we arrived. They told me after it was over that if you survived the first twenty-four hours, they were sure that you'd be ok. Not that that was much comfort for those first twenty-four hours."
"Sam, where's Aaron," Matt asked, suddenly alarmed.
"What? Oh. Vanderburg took him to the safe house. He's in protective custody right now, as are you. Once you're released from the hospital, you'll join us there."
Matt nodded and relaxed. The door opened and Vanderburg walked in. "I thought I told you to have her call me when she woke up," he said with a frown.
Sam rolled her eyes. "I just woke up. He hasn't had time to tell me," she said.
Vanderburg nodded. "In any case, it's time to go. They want you back at the safe house."
"Alright." She stood up. "I'll come back when I can," she promised. Vanderburg led her out of the room and down to his car. After assisting her in, he walked around to the driver's seat and rode away. It occurred to Sam that her phone had been off since St. Louis, and she hadn't bothered to check her messages then. She pulled it out and dialed her code. The automated voice said, "You have four new messages."
Beep! "Sam, it's Erica. Where are you? School's back in, and you're not here! I heard what happened over break, and people are saying all sorts of things. Call me back when you get this!"
Beep! "It's Rob. I'm worried about you, Sam. No on has seen or heard from you since the shooting. What happened to you? Please call me back when you get this so I know you're all right."
Beep! "Sam, please, give me a call. People are starting to say that you're dead. I don't want to believe them, but...I need to hear from you. Call me when you can. I love you."
Sam shook her head as she realized what predicament she was in. Beep! "We're not done with you yet." rasped and unfamiliar voice. "You got lucky in Omaha. We may not be able to get to you physically, but there are other ways to destroy a person. You already know that, though, don't you?"
Her blood froze. "Vanderburg, you need to listen to this. I- I think Matt's in danger."
He took the phone and listened to the message. "Shoot. You're right. We've got to get him out of there." He handed her the phone and pulled out his own. "Special Agent Vanderburg here. I need a protective detail out at Omaha Mercy Central. The patient's name is Matt Preston in room 126. No one is to go in and see him except Dr. Walter and Nurse O'Brien. If they give the ok, I want him moved out of there first thing tomorrow morning. Understood? Good." He hung up and looked over at Sam. "I promise, nothing with happen to him. He's safe."
Sam nodded silently. She didn't say another word the rest of the way to the safe house. When they arrived, she got out of the car and said, "I'm going to go talk to Aaron." Vanderburg nodded his approval, and she walked away.
His door was slightly ajar, but she knocked anyway. "Come on in," he called. Sam walked through the door, and Aaron laughed. "You don't have to knock. You're welcome to just walk in."
"Perhaps, but that would be rude," said Sam. "Anyway, Matt finally woke up!"
Aaron smiled and nodded. "Yeah. Vanderburg called earlier. He also mentioned that you were passed out in the room."
"I haven't been sleeping well," she admitted. "I've been so worried about him; I just couldn't wind down." She sat down at the foot of his bed. "I was afraid that if I did fall asleep, something bad would happen, and I wouldn't know about it."
Aaron moved to sit beside her and put his arm around her shoulder. "I know. I felt the same way. We have a couple of classes together, plus he's my roommate. It wouldn't be right without him."
"No, it wouldn't," Sam agreed. "I...uh...I just got a message from someone. I think they're after him. That's what it sounded like, anyway."
"Say what?" gasped Aaron.
"Don't worry. He'll be fine. Vanderburg send a protective detail to the hospital, and Matt will be transferred here tomorrow if his doctors give the all clear. The message was anonymous, but I think it's safe to assume it was one of Lorh's guys."
"For Pete's sake!" cried Aaron. "They guy has been arrested and put in jail, and we still can't get any peace!"
Sam stood up. "In any case, I thought I'd come in and tell you. I've got to go to my own room. I'll talk to you later." She walked out.
Matt grumbled as the door closed. He had been ungraciously woken from sleep at 4:30 in the morning to be moved to the safe house. The agents hadn't said much, only that plans had changed. Classic FBI. He wanted to go back to sleep but was unable to. He stared at the ceiling. He must have dozed off because he was suddenly aware of Aaron noisily entering the room. "Hey dude, how are you?"
"I was great until you rudely burst in," said Matt.
"Good morning to you, too, Sunshine."
"What time is it?"
"It's only 7:45, but I couldn't sleep, so I decided to get up," replied Aaron. "I've even put in half a day's work- out of bed, showered, dressed, and eaten breakfast. The only things left are to eat lunch and dinner, and my day will be complete!"
"Oh, she's in the kitchen eating. She'll probably be up in a bit. So, did they tell you why you're here?"
"Not really. Some vague FBI crap."
"I don't know all the details exactly- but there's apparently been a threat against you. Someone left an anonymous message on her phone yesterday. Stupid of them- really, but it was lucky for us."
"Lovely," said Matt. "Shooting me wasn't enough for them?"
"No, because you're at least still alive. They know killing you will hurt me most," said Sam as she walked in. "What time did you get here?"
"I don't know exactly, but they woke me up at 4:30!" griped Matt.
Sam laughed. "You poor thing." She sobered quickly. "How are you feeling?"
"A lot better," said Matt. "There's not so much pain anymore. What's been going on, though? The FBI guys wouldn't tell me a whole lot. They only said that ‘plans had changed'."
Sam closed her eyes and sighed. "On the way back from the hospital yesterday, I was checking messages, and the last one was from someone who threatened that I was lucky in Omaha, but there are ways other than physical to hurt someone."
"And it's a good thing we got him out of there when we did." Vanderburg walked into the room. "The hospital just called. A woman tried to get into his room an hour ago. She claimed to be a friend bringing flowers for him."
Aaron, Matt, and Sam all looked at each other.
Rob sat moodily at the back of the little restaurant. He was contemplating the chocolate shake in front of him. He still hadn't heard back from Sam. He wasn't just worried, though. Without her around, he was beginning to realize what she meant to him. He missed her quiet demeanor and sense of humor. If she really was...
His phone rang and he absently answered it. "Hello?"
"Sam?" he chocked.
"Yeah. It's me. Sorry I've worried you so much. Thing have just been really...uh...crazy."
"What happened to you? Where are you?" He heard her sigh.
"I wish I could answer you, but I can't- at least not over the phone."
"Then come back," said Rob.
"It's not that simple. There are a lot of things that I have to explain to you, but that will have to wait. I can't risk anything being traced."
"Where are you?" he asked.
"I...hold on." She was silent for a moment, but he thought he could hear her muffled voice in the background. "Sorry about that. I had to make sure I could tell you where I was. I'm just outside Omaha, Nebraska."
"Like I said, there's a lot to explain. I'll see if I can get you up here somehow."
"Get me up there? I can do it, myself! I'll be up there as soon as I can! Where can I meet you?"
Rob looked around the tiny airport and tried to find Sam. She wasn't anywhere in sight. He saw a man dressed in a black suit holding a sign with his last name, though. He walked over to him. "Who are you?"
"Agent Vanderburg. I'm dealing with Sam's case, now. Come with me."
Rob did as he was told but still had a plethora of questions to ask. "Where is Sam? Why has she disappeared? How did she end up in Nebraska?"
"I'll answer all your questions in the car. We can't talk about it in the open- too risky," replied Vanderburg. They walked out to a green car and drove away. "Alright, what I'm about to tell you is confidential. In fact, this conversation never happened. If you repeat anything you hear, you could endanger Sam's life, understand?" Rob nodded. "Good. Sam is in the Witness Protection Program..."
A knock on her door indicated that someone wanted in. "Come in." She turned to see Rob walk through her door. He rushed across the room to her and enveloped her in a hug.
"I was worried about you! What possessed you to take off like that, anyway?"
"My life was in danger. I just kind of reacted out of instinct."
"Hey Sam, Vanderburg~" Matt stopped as he entered the room.
Sam gently disentangled herself from Rob and smiled at Matt. "I'm glad to see you're up." She noticed his hard gaze at Rob. "Matt, this is my friend, Rob. I met him at the university. Rob, this is Matt. He was my closest friend while I was living in California."
It was a sticky moment. She finally realized exactly what was going on. Standing before her were two men who had the exact same feelings for her. There was only a delicate balance, and that was her. She looked between the two of them. They weren't exactly glaring at each other, but the looks they were giving each other were by no means friendly. It dawned on her that she might have to choose between them. It was not something she was looking forward to. "So, what did you want to tell me, Matt?" she asked.
"Oh. Vanderburg wants to talk to you. He said it's kind of important."
"Alright. Thanks for letting me know." She hesitated, not wanting to leave them alone together. There was nothing she could say, so she walked out.
Matt turned to leave, too, but Rob put a hand on his shoulder. He turned back to look at him with wary eyes. "What?"
"Look, if you know what's good for you, you'll back off. I don't know what she sees in you, but I want her."
Matt sighed. "You've obviously got a problem. It's Sam's choice to make. If she picks me, she picks me. If she picks you, I won't get in your way. I just want her to be happy."
Rob snorted. "How noble of you. She will pick me, so I hope you're a man of your word." He stalked out of the room.
Matt shook his head and hoped that when the time came, Sam wouldn't regret her choice.
She poked her head into the general living space, hoping that Vanderburg was there. He was- sprawled out on the couch reading a book. "Hey, Matt said you wanted to talk to me."
He looked up from the book he was reading and smiled at her. "Yes. I did." He sat up and indicated for her to sit on the couch. She did so and waited for him to start. "I didn't know when to bring this up but probably better sooner than later. Once everything has been taken care of, you'll be free to go."
Sam's breath caught in her throat. "You mean...?"
Vanderburg nodded. "You won't have any more need for government protection. You need to decide what you're going to do when you've been given the all clear. You can continue your life in North Carolina, go back to California, or neither. It's really up to you."
Sam sat in a daze. She had a choice? When was the last time she had really had a choice about her life? And in effect, without meaning to, Vanderburg was telling her to choose between the two men in her life. She suddenly realized how much each of them meant to her. How could she possibly choose?
"Don't worry," said Vanderburg. "You have plenty of time to decide. You'll also get back all of the personal things that the FBI confiscated."
Sam nodded but was too shocked by the announcement to feel any excitement. Vanderburg smiled at her. "You're a lucky woman, Sam. You've got people who care about you, and you'll soon have your life back. I think the Lord has been mindful of you."
She nodded again and stood up. "Is that all?" she asked. He nodded. "Great. I'll be in my room if you need anything else." She turned to leave and locked herself up in her room.
Sam avoided everyone for the next few days. The enormity of her decision weighed down on her like a ton of bricks. She wanted someone to tell her what to do- to make the decision for her and take the responsibility out of her hands. It was only now that she was forced to choose that she realized how impossible that decision was. How could she possibly love two guys? How was she supposed to know what was right? And how could she make a decision without hurting either of them? It seemed an insurmountable task.
Aaron caught up with her while she was wandering the halls one day.
"Hey Sam, what's been up with you lately? You've been kind of secluded."
Sam hesitated. "Did Matt send you?" she asked.
"What? I'm not allowed to care about you independent of Matt?" Aaron feigned offense. "You've been avoiding everyone. Matt's worried, and so am I. What's going on?"
"I..." Sam trailed off, not sure how much she wanted to say. The dam burst opened, though, and she was confessing everything before she could stop herself. "Vanderburg told me that I have a choice once this whole mess is cleared up. I'm going to get to choose where I want to go, and what I want to do. It seems forever ago I was allowed to make choices like that. And the big thing is, he's essentially asking me to choose between two men I love. How can I make that choice, Aaron? They both mean a lot to me. I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
Aaron listened patiently. He had a ponderous look on his face. "Do you even know what you want?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"When you're allowed to go, what do you want to do? Where do you want your life to go? You might want to think about that, instead of what you feel." He walked away without another word.
Sam stared at him as he disappeared. His words echoed in her head. What did she want out of life? All she had thought of for the last two years was keeping her cover and getting out of college. She hadn't really thought much farther than that. She wandered back to her room and locked the door behind her.
What did she want out of life? She wanted a family and kids. ‘Eternity.' The word popped into her mind. That was what came to mind when she thought of Matt. ‘Till death do us part.' It was the phrase that always saddened her when she'd go to a wedding. So that's what it came down to: eternity versus mortality. She knew what she had to do.
Vanderburg sat in the office working on a Soduku. It was late in the evening, and he figured his charges could handle themselves. He'd only seen Sam a handful of times in the last few days, anyway, and she was the only one he was technically in charge of. A timid knock at his door interrupted his train of thought.
It opened, and Sam stepped in. He was, to say the least, surprised. She had made herself scarce recently, and she suddenly appeared out of nowhere to talk to him. He was about to open his mouth and ask her what she heeded, but she beat him to it.
He sighed in relief. That was what had made her so moody the last couple of days. Perhaps now things could be settled. Getting out of his seat, Vanderburg motioned for her to sit down on the couch. She sat down, but it took her a minute to get her thoughts together.
"When this whole thing finally blows over, I want to go back to California- or rather, I want to go where ever Matt is going to go."
Vanderburg smiled. He thought that that was what she'd choose to do. "Good. I'll let headquarters know, and we'll get things arranged."
Sam nodded. "Great. Thanks." She stood up and said, "I've got to go talk to Matt and Rob."
The walk to Rob's room seemed endless. She didn't know how to break the news to him. It wasn't that she didn't love him, but he couldn't give her what she needed. And now that she thought of it, she wasn't really sure that her feelings for him were genuine. It occurred to her that Rob was very similar to Matt, at least physically. Had she been subconsciously drawn to Rob because he had reminded her of Matt? It wouldn't be fair to him if she pursued a relationship for that reason.
She stood in front of his door for a long time, contemplating her choices. It would be so much easier if she didn't have to do this. She raised a fist and hesitantly knocked on his door. The muffled sound of footsteps preceded the door opening. Rob smiled when he saw her. "Well it's about time! You've been avoiding everyone for days!" He noticed the somber look on her face, and his smile dropped. "What's wrong?"
"Rob, I need to talk to you," she said somberly. He stepped aside, and she hesitantly entered. She took a moment to gather her thoughts and said, "I know you had hopes that something might happen between us." The look of disappointment on his face was heart wrenching. She plowed on. "A lot of things have happened in the last couple of weeks, and I've had to really take a look at what I want for my life. I'm sorry; I just don't think things could ever work between us."
"It's because of him, isn't it?" demanded Rob. The tone of his voice left her in no doubt of who he meant.
"Partly," she replied. "But there are other things, too."
"Like what? What does he have that I don't? What can he give you that I can't?"
"Eternity," said Sam. "One of the things that I hold dearest. I'm not saying that things have to end like this. We can still be friends, but I'm going back to California with Matt and Aaron when this thing blows over."
"So, this is good bye?" asked Rob.
"It doesn't have to be," insisted Sam. "I just...I have to follow my heart."
He nodded with a resigned look on his face. "Well, if it makes you happy," he sighed.
Sam smiled sadly and gave him a gentle hug. "You'll always have a special place in my heart, Rob," she said. "You were there for me when no one else was. I can never thank you enough for that."
He stepped away from her and turned his back to her. She took that as her dismissal.
Matt was lying on his bed, dangling the necklace above his head. Things had been getting more and more complicated. Rob had been a menacing presence in the last few days, and Aaron was just king of trying to fly under the radar. Vanderburg was popping in and out, but he hadn't seen much of the FBI agent.
The sound of approaching footsteps and a gentle tapping at the door disrupted his thought process. He heaved himself off the bed and padded across the room. When he opened it, he was surprised to see Sam standing in front of him. She had made herself scarce for the last few days. "What~"
"We need to talk."
Matt felt his stomach drop. In his experience, ‘we need to talk' never boded well. "Alright." He stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. They walked silently down the hall into an empty room that looked like it had once been an office. There was a desk and chair in the corner. Sam led him over to the desk and sat on it. Matt sat on the swivel chair and looked up at Sam expectantly. She was gazing across the room with a troubled look on her face.
"I just had a talk with Rob," she started. "Hopefully things will be easier now."
Matt wasn't following her train of thought. "Sam, what are you talking about?"
She sighed. "A couple of days ago, Vanderburg told me that once this whole thing clears up, I'm free to go. My choices basically boiled down to you and Rob. I didn't realize...I mean I sort of knew...but I never grasped how much he means to me. I didn't comprehend how powerful my feelings for him were until I was forced to choose."
Matt felt his apprehension growing. Had she chosen Rob after all?
"But...after these last couple of weeks, I've realized what things are most important to me. As much as I love him, I can't be with him. He can only promise me mortality." She finally looked him in the eye. "When everything is finally taken care of, I want to go back to California with you. It's about time I went home."
Matt jumped out of his seat with a huge grin on his face and hugged Sam. She laughed and returned the gesture. When he pulled away, Matt asked, "How did Rob take it?"
Sam sighed. "Better than I thought he would, but I don't think he's happy. It'll really be up to him whether we stay in contact or not."
Matt nodded. He almost felt light headed. Sam was going to go home. He hadn't even dared to dream of such a thing after their good bye. Everything was falling into place.
Sam fidgeted as the plane descended. She was glad everything was over, and she could finally go back to California- her home, where she belonged. It had taken a little over a year to get through the trial and disband the Dragons. She was no longer a protected witness. Rob had said his final good bye before returning to North Carolina. She wasn't sure what to expect when she landed in the San Francisco International Airport, and that was worrisome.
The plane landed soon enough, and she disembarked. When she entered the airport, it wasn't difficult to find her party. If the balloons didn't give it away, then the big, colorful sign that said ‘Welcome Home Sam' was. She flushed and made her way over to them. Matt's whole family was there, along with some of her other high school friends who were studying at the local community college. She hugged all of them and exchanged a little small talk. Matt walked up to her and said, "Come on. We've got a party all ready at my house. We're just waiting for the guest of honor!"
"Matt, you didn't have to~"
"Of course we did!" said Mrs. Preston. She hugged Sam one more time and whispered, "We've missed you. It's good to finally have you back."
Everyone left the airport and agreed to meet back at Matt's house. Sam followed his family to their van and climbed in. Everyone was very chatty, and she was just content to listen for a while. They wouldn't let her get away with that for long. Soon they were asking her questions about life in North Carolina. She was reluctant to share at first but soon opened up and shared some of her experiences.
They arrived at Matt's house, and Sam could see that the back yard was decked out. There were already a few people there. They all got out of the car and walked to the back. It was decorated with more balloons, food on the patio, and a dance floor in the yard. Or Sam assumed it was a dance floor since there was a stereo playing music. She smiled at Matt and his parents. "Thank you so much. This is the best home coming I could have asked for."
Mr. Preston smiled. "It was our pleasure. Now get out there and have fun."
Sam smiled and ran out to talk with the people who were already on the dance floor. Matt watched as she exchanged hugs with everyone, talked, and danced. He smiled to see not Sam, but Rebecca. She was her old self again. His dad put his hand on his shoulder. "Were you still going to go through with your plans for tonight?" he asked. Matt nodded. He gazed out at Sam again and knew that it was right.
Sam hugged the last person at the party and said good-bye. She sighed as she looked at the mess around the yard. There were balloon fragments scattered about, a few cups carelessly laying by the trashcan, and an assortment of other party items littered around the yard. It was almost nice to know that some things hadn't change- almost. She decided to start by clearing off the table on the porch and taking all the food back inside. Mrs. Preston came up behind her and said, "Don't be silly dear. You don't need to clear up. Actually, Matt was looking for you. I think he was in the front."
Sam looked at her. "Are you sure?"
"Of course. Of course. Run along. Go see what Matt needs."
Sam hesitated but finally walked away. Matt was in the front yard leaning against the hood of his car. He looked a little nervous about something, but Sam couldn't figure out what. "Hey, your mom said you were looking for me."
Matt nodded. "Yeah. I...uh...come with me."
Sam's confusion increased. "Where are we going?"
"You'll see," was Matt's ambiguous response. He stood up and opened the passenger's door for her. She slid into the car and waited for Matt to explain as he pulled out of the driveway and drove away. He didn't say anything. Patience had never been one of her strongest virtues, but Sam decided to give Matt a chance. She was surprised to find that she could guess where they were going- passed the elementary, her old house, and beyond the middle school. Why was he taking her to the park?
She had been right. Matt pulled into the parking lot of the park that was only a few blocks away from her old house. He still hadn't said anything. Just as the doors closed, it began to sprinkle. Sam looked up in surprise. She hadn't noticed the clouds rolling in. It didn't seem to deter Matt, and she didn't mind. She had always loved the rain.
Matt led her passed the park and to the trail that wound through the forest. She remembered walking this path years ago with him. Curiosity started to mix with her bewilderment. The rain began to fall heavier. She was getting soaked. "Matt, what are you doing? Where are we going?"
"But Matt, I'm getting wet!" she whined playfully.
He smiled faintly. "Since when has that bothered you? I think you're just getting impatient." He suddenly grabbed her wrist and pulled her off the trail into the forest. She followed behind him, not sure what to make of anything.
They emerged into a small clearing. Matt pulled her into the center and finally turned to face her properly. The rain continued to fall steadily. He opened his mouth and took a deep breath. "I've been thinking about this for a while. We've known each other for twelve years, and you've become my best friend. Leaving to go on my mission was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and I really never thought that I'd see you again. But I found you again, and I can't help but think that the Lord had a hand in it.
"I've experience life with you and without you. I much prefer it when you're in my life."
Sam was suddenly short of breath. Matt took her left hand in his right and got down on one knee. He pulled a small, black velvet box out of his pocket and opened it. Inside was a silver ring.
"I would have you for eternity, if you will have me. Rebecca, will you marry me?"
A brilliant smile lit her face. "Of course," she whispered. "I would have you for eternity, too."
Matt stood and slid the ring onto her finger. She admired it for a moment. It was an antique styled ring- the kind she had always admired. There were tiny diamonds set along the top half of the band. A larger diamond was set in the middle. She looked up at him.
"How did you know?" she asked.
"How did I know what?"
"You called me Rebecca. I had just decided tonight to start going by that again. How did you know?"
Matt smiled. "Because I'm marrying Rebecca. I could have accepted Sam, but she wasn't the same person. She isn't the girl I fell in love with. And there's one more thing. Turn around."
She did as she asked and felt him push her hair over one shoulder. Then he reached around her, and she saw something familiar. It was the necklace she had given back. Matt latched it together and turned her back around. "I think this belongs to you," he said quietly. He pulled her into an embrace.
She hugged him back and, it was then that significance of the woods hit her. This is where it had all began, and this is where it would begin again.
Four Months Later
Rebecca stepped out of the car and gazed at the white building before her. It was the Portland Temple. They had flown out two days ago with Matt's family. It wasn't the nearest temple to Redwood, but it was where her parents had been married. Matt had had no objection to Portland, saying he didn't care which temple, as long as it was a temple.
She felt him wrap his arms around her waist and leaned into him. Joy and contentment washed over her. She had made it to the temple with a man who loved her, and she felt a connection she hadn't felt for a long time- a connection to her family. She sensed that they were waiting for her and were just as excited as she was. This was better than anything she had dared to dream about.
Matt pulled away slightly and took her hand in his. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" he murmured.
"It is," Rebecca agreed.
He raised her hand and kissed the back of it gently. "Even more so because when we walk out of those doors, you'll be mine forever."
She liked the sound of that. "Forever." Eternity was looking promising.
© 2009 Copyright held by the author.