SYNOPSIS: Three women with a man in common learn to bridge what separates them.
ARCHIVE: Sure. Just let me know where. HTML version available.
DISCLAIMER: One of these characters is mine. The rest belong to the Evil Genius and his minions. I do this for fun, so please don't sue me.
Sam's head was spinning. A minute ago he had been about to cry, wondering if his relationship with Mallory would ever go anywhere, but before you could say 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' his hormones had kicked in and he was thinking some solidly un-filial things about a woman he'd adopted as a surrogate mother. Was it the way her hand rested on his heart? Was it the scent of her hair on his shoulder? Was it the pain he could see in her face when she thought of Leo and Jenny back together?
*Thank God,* he thought as his cell phone rang and he grabbed it out of his pocket.
"Sam, she's awake! Mallory is awake!" Leo's voice held a brief burst of boundless joy.
"I'll be right there!" He pulled away from Sarah and dashed out the door, down to his car, back to the hospital, back to her room.
"Mallory!" he cried out as he burst through the door. Looking over, he saw her sitting up in bed, still looking tired and wan, but eyes wide open. She held out a hand in his direction, and he strode over to take it in his own, then bent to give her a gentle kiss and to stroke her face with his hand. "I'm so glad to see- I can't begin to say- I'm speechless!"
"Dad?" she stage-whispered with a weak smile, looking from Sam over to her father. "Write this down, it's a red-letter day."
"Good thing it doesn't happen too often," Leo responded. "He'd be out of a job"
"That would be sad," Jenny added. "Then he couldn't support you in the manner to which you'd like to become accustomed." She smiled over at Sam and her daughter.
"Mother!" Mallory rasped.
Sam couldn't take his eyes off her. He had nearly lost his best friend, and now... Suddenly all the pieces fell into place and he knew what he had to do. "I'd be honored if you'd let me," he said softly.
"Let you what?" she squeaked.
"Support you in the manner to which you'd like to become accustomed."
She looked up at him, trying to speak, but no sound came out. Her gaze flipped back and forth between Sam and her mother and her father.
Sam shook his head. "You don't have to say anything now. We'll talk about it after you're all better."
She just smiled and nodded. All was well in Sam's world.
* * * * *
Sarah had been stunned when Sam leapt up off the sofa and rushed out. She had wanted to go, expected to go back to the hospital when Mallory woke up, but he had run out before she could even say, "Wait for me!"
And when the door closed behind him, her world collapsed. Six months of pent-up anger and sadness came pouring out in a torrent. Six months she had been riding this whirlwind, snatched out of comfortable existence by the storm at the Newseum. By what perverse fate had she been the one on call that night? How had she managed to connect with these people, people she never expected to meet, people who lived in a world as foreign as the Martian landscape?
And then there was Leo. Who had first greeted her with "Who the hell is she?" Who had hardly spoken two words to her the whole time Josh was in the hospital. Who had reluctantly told her about the OEOB AA meeting, and then only when _she_ confronted _him_ with the facts. Who had timidly asked her out at the celebration for Jeff Breckinridge's confirmation. Who had waited six weeks to literally carry her off to bed.
She had known up front that his job had wrecked his marriage, that everything else would be a distant second place, that she could make few demands on his time and attention. She had also known almost immediately that he was the most fascinating man she had ever met. He knew the elation of a Presidential election victory and the humiliation of a three-day alcoholic blackout. He knew the safety of Treasury Department protection and the terror of night in a Cambodian jungle. He could fly a plane with reckless abandon and chastise her for not looking both ways before crossing a one-way street.
And she loved him almost more than life.
And she cried herself to sleep, sure that Mallory's illness had brought Leo and Jenny back together again.
When she woke up it was dark outside, and only a single light burned, in the kitchen. Someone was scratching at the lock on the door. Momentarily confused, she sat up on the sofa and called , "Who's there?"
"It's me," Leo called through the door. "This damn key isn't working." She had shown him the trick to her front door lock a dozen times, but he never remembered.
"Push the key all the way in, hard, then pull the knob toward you!"
The door slid open and he walked in, tossing his coat on the tree.
"Hey, Toots. I guess you heard."
"Yeah, Sam was here when you called him."
"Looks like she's gonna be just fine."
"That's so great."
After a beat, the two said in unison, "How are _you_?" Then they both laughed.
"Did you get some sleep?" he asked.
Sarah nodded. "I was just waking up when I heard you at the door. I need some coffee."
"I'll get it." He went into the kitchen and looked at the half-empty pot. "Want me to make some fresh?"
"Nah, just nuke it. I'll chew if I have to."
He brought a mug full back to the sofa and sat it down on the table in front, then sat down next to her. "Sarah, I-" he began.
"It's OK, Leo, I understand." Her eyes misted over and she blinked back the tears.
She nodded, looking down so he wouldn't see her cry.
"And just what do you understand, Ms. Cooper?"
"I know how close calls can bring people closer. You want me to help you get your things together?"
He reached out and took the mug from her hands and placed it back on the table. Then he turned sideways on the sofa to face her. "You think I want to- that I could just walk away?"
"Thirty-two years is a long time."
He fell quiet, then stood up and walked over to look out the kitchen window. "Abbey was right. You really don't have a clue."
"What?" Sarah had no idea what he was talking about.
"Do you seriously think I want to go back to Jenny?"
"I don't know," she murmured. "I hope not."
"I thought you told her you'd put up a fight."
"I'm willing to fight with _her_, Leo, but I won't throw myself at you!" She sat up straight and flung herself into her chair, wheeling over to where he stood in the kitchen. "If you've decided I'm not what you want, I won't whine and cling and beg. But if you're still torn, she's in for a battle. I won't let go easily."
He reached down and touched the gold charm she wore around her neck. "I don't know why you think you even had to ask. I meant what I said when I gave you this."
The charm was a golden door that he had made from the gold in the wedding ring Jenny had given him. The accompanying card had said, "One door closes and another opens."
He poured himself some coffee and leaned back against the kitchen counter. "I didn't come here to get my stuff, Toots. I came here to get yours."
She looked at him with total confusion.
"Jenny and I both know it's over. She doesn't want me back. You and I moved on. Don't you get that?" He squatted down on his toes and looked her in the eye. "And I'm tired of pretending we don't care about each other. Come move in with me."
"You want me to come live with you?"
"Sarah, you sure can be blind when you don't want to see. I wanted you to move in when I got the place! Why do you think I dragged you out to Arlington to see the house I wanted? Why do you think I kept asking you what you thought about the apartment, why I didn't just hire a decorator and tell her to knock herself out?"
She shook her head. "I didn't really think about it."
He crossed the room to her little butcher-block table and sat on one of the chairs, then beckoned for her to come over to face him. "You're gonna make me say it, aren't you?"
Sarah shook her head. "No. One of these days, when you least expect it, it's gonna pop out and there's nothing you can do to stop it." She leaned forward and kissed him softly. "And unless we're really careful, I'm afraid I might be wrong."
"Wrong about what, Toots?"
"Maybe this isn't such a bad idea after all."
Several days later, Sarah was finishing up packing some of her books when the doorbell rang.
She rolled over and opened the door to let Sam in.
"Hey," he said, bending to kiss her on the cheek. Looking around, he asked, "I thought Leo said he was sending people over to do this."
"There are some things I don't trust to anybody, Sam. Some of these books are a hundred years old."
He picked up a volume of Vilna Talmud and opened it. Upside down.
She managed not to giggle.
He sat down on the sofa, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "I need to talk to you about something."
"Uh-oh," she responded. "Sounds serious."
"Kind of." He hesitated. "The other morning when I brought you home from the hospital, right before Leo called?"
"I... uh... well... I almost made a pass at you."
Sarah bit her lip for a minute. "Sam, you know the other morning when you brought me home from the hospital, right before Leo called?"
"Uh huh." A broad grin spread across his face.
"I... uh... well... _I_ almost made a pass at _you_." She waited for him to say something.
"Would you be hurt if I said I'm really glad you didn't? And I didn't? And we didn't?"
"No, 'cause I'm really glad too. Nothing screws up a friendship faster than unpremeditated sex."
He laughed. "Yup. It's a lot better with malice aforethought." After a moment, he went on. "Did you tell Leo?"
"Good Lord no. Did you tell Mallory?"
"Are you nuts?"
"Here," Sarah finally said. "Make yourself useful as well as decorative," and handed him an empty box.