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I first met Samantha Jennings while I was drunkenly celebrating my graduation from university at Johnny's Bar and Grill. She was serving our table, and waited patiently as Jamie animatedly finished his story on how he had once seen the dean hitting on our favourite professor, Dr. Lawson. We didn't actually notice her for a few minutes, having already had a healthy share of beverage to start off our evening venture and being fully in our own little world. My arm was around my current flower, Marcia, who was very much enamoured by what I suppose must have been my charm as she couldn't seem to extract her lips and hands from my neck.

That she didn't seem at all shocked by our behaviour may have been the first sign that she was open, but at that point I was in no state to take notice. "Oh, hi!" I slurred, raising a hand. "What's your name, babe?"

"S-Samantha," she answered. "Can I take your order?"

"Well, my name's Joanne, and you can get me the most expensive entrée I can with fifty dollars." I waved the bills haphazardly in the air. I wasn't exactly on top of my game when inebriated.

"That'd be anything," she said evenly. She had the most beautiful eyes behind her black-rimmed glasses. There was no way anybody could miss those (even if their vision was blurring).

"Get me what you think is best then, Samantha. I trust you." I wasn't deliberately flirting with her, but I guess that even then, I was unmistakeably attracted to her.

She nodded and turned to Jamie. The rest of the night was a blur. I vaguely recall more drinking and some very intimate dancing with Marcia at the club. Anyways, it's not important. Suffice to say, Marcia and I didn't last for much longer, which wasn't exactly unpredicted, and life continued much in the usual manner.

The next time I saw her after that brief encounter, I still recognized her immediately. It was the eyes, again, that caught my attention. I was at the supermarket, sober, wheeling aimlessly about the frozen foods section. Never having had much of a hand in the culinary arts, my home-cooked meals were usually limited to microwave dinners and oven-bake pizzas. (Thankfully, I had a large budget to work with.)

I was opening the door to grab the frozen peas when the person beside me asked if I could get the frozen corn for her while I was in there. I obliged, but when I turned to give them to her, I caught her gaze.

"Samantha?" I ventured. There was something distinctive about her that I couldn't forget. "From Johnny's?"

Those captivating eyes blinked back at me. "D-do I know you?" Of course she didn't know who I was. I was just one of her many customers.

"Joanne," I offered. "I was at Johnny's one night. But it's cool if you don't remember me – you'd have to be a genius to."

She smiled and nodded politely, and before I could say another word, was gone.

Now, if I had been in any way sensible, I would have put Samantha out of my mind, but something about her stuck with me. I couldn't get her eyes out of my head. So, being the headstrong idiot that I am, I found myself sitting at a table in her section at Johnny's the next night.

"Hi, Samantha!" I pulled out my charm as soon as I caught sight of her – no shame in getting what I wanted, right?

Thankfully, she smiled wanly. "Hi, Joanne. What can I get you?"

"A hamburger and a beer, if you would." When she came back with my order, I asked her what time she got off work.

She was taken aback and hesitantly informed me that she couldn't give me what I wanted from her.

I laughed it off. "I won't try anything on you, I promise." I wasn't lying. Something about Samantha fascinated me. I needed to know her, in any capacity.

But she fended me off – albeit, as courteously as one possibly could – wary of my intentions. It wasn't wrong of her. She must have remembered how Marcia and I had been all over each other that night, and she was wisely guarded when she saw me.

Still, I was undeterred. Rejection had never bothered me, being blessed with obstinacy enviable of a bull. I was back the next night, and to Samantha's credit, she greeted me with professional hospitality. "How are you tonight, Samantha?" I asked, tossing back a gulp of draft beer.

"I'm okay, thanks," she replied. "What can I do you for?"

It was a choreographed dance number night after night. The script would vary slightly here and there, but never really stray from its essence – two acquaintances, one of unswerving determination, and the other of never-ending graciousness. My friends concluded that I was out of my mind. It had never been a difficult business for me to find a girl, so why was I wasting so much effort on one who was making it clear my feminine wiles had no effect on her?

I guess I was waiting for my chance, and I got it one night, weeks after I had begun my pursuit. Samantha didn't show up for work. By then, her co-workers recognized me, and explaining that Samantha always spoke well of me, assumed that I was a friend and informed me that she had come down with a cold. They directed me to her residence and a brilliant idea took root in my mind. Boy, was she surprised when I showed up at her door with soup and flowers.

"I'm not much of a doctor," I apologized, "but I know soup's never done anybody any harm."

She giggled and let me in, looking adorable in her pyjamas and wrapped up in a camping blanket. "You can make the soup in the kitchen."

I managed to cook the soup without burning it, which was fortunate for my chances with Samantha. I found some Tylenol in the cupboard and garnished the food with it and the flowers. Bringing the tray into her bedroom, I was greeted with a dazzling smile unlike anything I had seen out of her before, which made everything I had endured worthwhile.

"Nobody's ever done this for me before," she confessed, blowing her nose. "It's really nice of you."

"You can thank me later." I poured her a glass of cranberry juice.

"I will," she answered, the true meaning veiled behind the huskiness of a voice only just stirred from sleep.

"Just as friends," I clarified, hiding the slight tremor that came with it. Strictly speaking, that wasn't completely true, but I was willing to settle with friendship for the moment. Sam smiled, as if she knew what I was up to, but didn't say anything.

Something changed that night. She opened up. I still showed up during her shifts, but nearer the end. We would go out afterwards for coffee instead of me hanging around and being a nuisance.

Sam was a private person, mostly keeping to herself throughout her life. She didn't have many friends, and they had all stayed in Chicago, where she had grown up. She was working at Johnny's over the summer to save up enough money for next year's tuition, as her parents had a large family with which to keep their hands full and couldn't provide for her education.

I also managed to pull out of her that she had recently broken up with her boyfriend after maintaining a long-distance relationship for the past three years. She said it as if she hoped that I would act on the knowledge that she was available. Still, I didn't want to make a definite move. She wasn't ready, I thought. She was exceptional, and I craved for her company like I had never any other. Seeing Sam was the bright point of my day. Work, my friends, partying – it all paled in comparison to merely talking to her at the end of her shift. I couldn't stand to risk ruining this gem of a relationship that I had stumbled onto completely by accident.

One night, near the end of the summer, I took her out to the club and introduced her to Jamie and the others. "Don't worry," I reassured her, guiding her through the door. "It'll be fun!"

"I don't know about this, Jo." She was completely out of her element here. She had protested, in vain, against the idea of coming with me, but since I had started seeing her I hadn't once gone out – and on top of that, Jamie was positively itching to put a face to a name.

"Hey." I stopped and turned to her, placing my hands on her shoulders – instead of her cheeks, which I restrained myself from touching despite her leaning into my touch. "You look gorgeous, Sam." She really did. Her hair was done up in a loose ponytail, drawing it back to reveal her thin face. She had opted for contact lenses that night, revealing her stunningly hazel eyes that I found I could easily lose myself in. "They're going to love you."

Samantha blinked and smiled shyly. "O-okay." I almost fell over when she grabbed my hand, squeezing it tight in hers. "Let's meet your friends, then."

I decided to ignore the heated sensation that the skin-against-skin was sending across my nerves and led her over to what Jamie had assured me was still our table.

"Jo!" rang out as we approached, and I was swallowed up in a mass of flesh as my friend Benjamin, for who this special occasion was for, engulfed me in a monster hug. "Girl, I come in from Vancouver for the week and you don't call, you don't visit…what's up? But hey, you haven't changed a bit!" he growled playfully. "Who's the catch of the week?"

I turned sheepishly to Sam. "Oh, we're just friends. Everybody, this is Sam." A collage of hellos sounded from around the table, accompanied with smiles and waves. "See, you're doing great." She smiled, her confidence rising.

We had a great time. Ben bought everybody a round of beers and we got down to partying. Sam didn't dance all that much, but I managed to pull her up for a few songs. Jamie took her out for a few slow ones, as did some of the other guys in the group. I tried my best not to watch them.

Atypical to my usual behaviour, I kept to myself, entertaining a few men that approached me but otherwise staying on the tame side in regards to the antics. At one point, Jamie came over and mouthed 'whipped', following the word with the motion. I generally found myself occupied with some girl when we came to the club, but had remained celibate since meeting Sam. So, instead I became much more acquainted with drink than I was accustomed to.

Afterwards, Sam drove me home, which was timely as I was only coherent enough to realize that I was in line for one hell of a hangover the next day – Saturday, thank goodness.

"Thanks for taking me out tonight." I vaguely recalled Sam kissing me on the cheek before helping me out of the passenger seat, up to my apartment and into bed, but I couldn't be sure of it.

She dropped by the next morning to see how I was doing. My drinking remedy, however foul, worked, as always, like a charm and I was up and busy washing the stench of beer out of my clothes when she came calling.

"Hey, how are you?" She was still wearing her contacts.

"Sober, for one." I let her in and took another sip of my concoction. "How bad was I last night?"

"Besides not being able to walk straight, you were fine," she smiled. "You didn't do anything worth regretting."

Would she have said the same if I had kissed her? "Would you like something to drink?"

"No, I'm okay," she answered. "Had my coffee already."

It then struck me as odd that she was in my apartment on a Saturday morning. "Don't you have work at the firm today?" When she wasn't on shift at Johnny's she worked administration at a business by her flat.

Something changed in her eyes in that moment. I saw sadness. "That why I came by today." She sat down on the couch, and beckoned for me to follow, which I did.

"What's up?" She was beautiful – more so than before, even. She had bloomed, had shown herself to me without the barriers.

"My parents are making me go back to NorthWestern next year." I hadn't realized, but she had taken hold of my hand again, intertwining our fingers tightly so that I couldn't pull away. "My dad's been getting sicker and they need me to help take care of the family." Her other hand was on my cheek, her thumb stroking the skin ever so softly. "But for some reason, I can't fathom leaving you. I've…I've never had that problem before."

I was overwhelmed by her touch, never having seen it coming nor expecting it at this moment. We had touched as friends; bumped shoulders, rested heads on shoulders, but never like this. The exquisite sensation of her hands on my neck, my cheeks, my lips, like the slide of silk over skin…I couldn't.

I pulled away. "I-I'm sorry…" Although I wanted nothing more than to close the short distance between us and kiss her, I knew that it would only cause both of us more pain in the long run. "I can't," I declared, my heart breaking with those words.

She shrunk away from me, my words hitting her like an aluminium bat. "But I thought –"

"I do," I assured her, aching to take her into my arms and not let her leave me. "But not like this. Not as a goodbye."

Sam understood, hard as it was for her to do so. "I want to be more than friends with you, Jo." She reached out and touched my cheek again. "Could we?"

My hand went up to caress hers. "We are," I told her fiercely. Despite my better judgment of merely a moment ago, I leaned in and kissed her, knowing that I, in all likelihood, would never get the chance to again. She drew me closer, pulling me down on top of her, not letting me draw back – not that I wanted to.

She tasted of all the best things in the world – like cool rain on a summer day, like cider in a winter storm, like the softest pillow you could imagine. Given more time, we would inevitably have progressed more logically to this point, but we had been struck with desperation. We let go of everything that had been holding us back and seized the moment, giving into everything we had wanted but had pushed down for the sake of friendship.

"I wish we had done this sooner," she murmured hours later. I lay beside her, stroking the bare skin of her abdomen.

"I wish you didn't have to go," I answered in equal regret. "You know that we can't continue this."

"We can," she protested. "I-I could come and visit, or you could and –"

I shushed her with a lingering kiss. "We can't," I said again with absolute certainty. "Your future is in Chicago, Sam, with your family. If we're together, you won't be able to put yourself first. You'd want to come back, or I would want to come to you, and we'll end up ruining each other's lives. Could you stand that?"

"I could," she stated, trying her hardest not to cry.

"Don't lie to yourself, Sam." I brushed her tears away with my thumb.

She was still crying when she left. I was able to keep mine in until she disappeared around the corner.

We said our goodbyes over coffee, promising to call and write frequently. We both agreed that it would be too painful for us to see each other at the airport. I walked her home afterwards. She held onto me for the longest time, and I didn't stop her, my arms around her with equal fervour. I wanted to hold her forever, but I let her go. She studied me in hopeful expectation – just waiting for me to nod my indication that I wanted to and she would – but I stood as still as stone, grasping desperately onto what self-control that remained within me. At last, she settled with a soft kiss on my cheek.

"I'll call," she whispered, her hands finding mine and holding them tightly. "We'll keep in touch."

Numbly, I nodded. All it would take was the slightest turning of my head and my lips would be on hers…but I had learned. This had gone far enough, having already dealt irreparable damage to both our hearts. Going any further would only twist the knife deeper. Sam wasn't going to end this. It was going to have to be me.

Finally, she let me go, though she clung to whatever part of me that she could. I couldn't stand to see her like this. We both knew what was happening. I had wanted this from the beginning, and now that I had it, I would have to let it go. This was a cruel hand. But I had no outs left. I could either fold or dig my own grave. I had to play smart now. I had to play safe – for both of our sakes.

I wanted to tell her – to tell her that I loved her and that it was breaking my heart to let her go away from me. But I couldn't be selfish anymore. I may have needed Sam, but her family needed her more. Sadly, I resigned myself to watch as the realization that I would not allow anything to happen dawned upon her. Stoic, she inclined her head and leaned in to once again graze her lips across my cheek. She lingered for a moment, as if to whisper one last plea into my ear, but she caught herself in a sharp gasp of breath.

"Goodbye, Jo," she said more to herself than to me. "I'll miss you."

"Me too," I stammered. "Call me when you get to Chicago."

"I will," she answered sincerely.

We were suddenly like awkward schoolchildren, not knowing what to do next. Standing in front of her building, neither of us wanted to be the first to turn away. She was so beautiful in the lamplight, brilliant in the starkness of early morning. I couldn't tear my gaze from her face. Her eyes shone wet with tears she was desperately trying to keep from falling. Her lips quivered ever so slightly, a mere step away from bursting into sobs. Gently, I touched the falling tears with my thumb, sadly noting that they were because of me.

"This is for the better," I declared sorrowfully, pressing her body tightly to my own. "Please, go. For me." I pushed her back towards the steps and turned the other way, determination to do the right thing giving me strength. When at last I heard the latch click, I dared to look back. She was gone. I let out the breath I had been holding in all evening. It was done, I thought with a note of finality. I hailed a cab, knowing that she was watching from her window. Miraculously, I was able to refrain from looking back.

Her flight was scheduled to leave that afternoon. I called in sick for work and counted the seconds until lift-off as I lay sullenly on the couch. I remembered her touch, so soft and tentative against my cheek, as if her fingers were discovering a whole new way of feeling. I remembered her kiss; sweet and satisfying like the best dessert wines. Most of all, I remembered her eyes, pleading with me to show her – to show her my world, my life. I cried for what I had lost. I had lost her by my own will. Worst of all, I knew that it was the only thing to do if I really loved her.

I imagined, as I sprawled across my bed later into the night, what might have happened if I had told her. How different things would be – how much happier. But what of the future, I asked myself. What would happen when it ended (as it inevitably would)? Where would that leave us? What would our sacrifices amount to but tears and heartache? This was for the best.

Sam called me late that night to let me know that she had arrived safely at her parent's house in Chicago. "I wish you were here with me," she ventured. "You should come and visit sometime."

Her invitation was barely veiled. I found myself at a loss of words with which to turn the opportunity down. My will had always been stronger than hers, but Sam just could not understand. Which was no wonder as I had from the beginning made my intentions relatively clear. To do a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn at this point baffled her, I knew, but I found it simply impossible to tell her the truth.

Perhaps it was my hope that one day, far in the future, we could rekindle our romance, pick up the pieces, and trudge on ahead. I was fighting a losing battle.

I mumbled a half-hearted affirmation and made a weak excuse about having to go. I knew that Sam was hurt, but the thing was that it hurt too damn much for me to pretend to want to be nothing more than a friend. I wanted all of her – every moment of every day – and to have any less than that was agony. When I let her go, was I thinking of her, or was I thinking of myself? That was the question that killed me.

"What's happened to you?" Jamie asked me a week later. He had at long last dragged me out of my apartment after much resistance on my part. "That girl's really changed you."

I nodded miserably. I was a living train wreck, hair dishevelled and eyes red from crying. Before Jamie had let himself in, everything in my life had come to a standstill. The minestrone soup he had nearly forced down my throat was the first real morsel of nourishment I had consumed since Sam had left.

"Jo, what is it?" He took my hand in his. "Please, we're all worried about you."

I said it. "I'm in love with her." There was a moment directly after when I thought that merely saying it would make everything better, but the words out of my mouth only served to open my eyes to exactly how far I had fallen.

"Have you told her?"

"I…I can't." I looked away shamefully. I had changed. Since when had I been afraid to speak my mind?

"Pardon me for saying it, but that's bullshit," Jamie said heavily. "You told me yourself before, feelings as deep as love aren't healthy to keep inside yourself."

"Well, I've told you," I disputed, "and it's done nothing for me." But there was no arguing what I had said. "This is better," I amended. "For the both of us."

"Is that why you look like a candidate for the nut house?" Jamie asked. His expression was severe, deeply disappointed in me. "Jo, look at yourself. You're a wreck."

I looked off into the shelves of liquor behind the bar, resigned to my path. I had been hoping it would encourage Jamie to desist from his intervention, but I had underestimated my friend.

"You have to choose," he told me, laying down the ultimatum that I had refused to bring to the front of my mind ever since Sam had told me she was leaving. "Either tell Sam how you really feel, or move on. You're going to waste away if you keep doing nothing with your life."

He was right, reluctant as I was to admit it. To stop my life for her sake…this wasn't right. For anyone. I had to let her go. I couldn't live in this world I had fashioned forever.

We went out the next night like we had before Sam came along. I steeled myself to the likelihood of a wild time, determined to get as piss drunk as I possible could. Jamie certainly delivered on his part, inviting what could only be described as a throng of women to keep me occupied. Coupled with free-flowing alcoholic beverages, I stood no chance. It was a party.

There was this one girl in particular who caught my eye. Melanie definitely wasn't Sam, but she was…good enough. She was different from the others that night – quieter. It was but a flicker of the woman I loved, but it was enough to spark my interest. Subconsciously, I was still looking for a replacement for Sam. Nothing would completely push her out of my mind, I knew – but I had to try.

She was in my bed when I woke up the next morning. Her body was wrapped languidly around mine, her head resting in the crook of my neck. It was about what I had expected.

She shifted as I moved, yawning sleepily. "How was I?" were her first groggy words.

"Good," I answered, running my hand appreciatively down her naked form. To be truthful, I couldn't for the life of me recall anything that had happened with Melanie past her buying me what must have been my tenth Cosmopolitan of the night.

We agreed to continue seeing each other and made arrangements to meet later in the week for dinner. She said goodbye, and I kissed her sweetly. It just wasn't the same.

That night, I called Sam. I didn't know why. I just did. I think it was because I missed her voice. As the phone rang steadily, I was tempted to hang up, but it was all worth it when her brother handed her the phone. I could tell that she was happy to hear from me.

"Jo, how are you?" she laughed into the phone. Her brother was saying something in the background.

"I've been okay," I answered noncommittally. "How's your dad?"

"Not all that well…" Her voice was suddenly quieter, as if it hurt to even think about her father's condition. "They're saying he only has a few months left."

Entering into the conversation, I thought I had prepared myself for the chance of this. But presented with it now, I wanted nothing more than to hold her and let her cry. I knew that she wanted it too. She needed to stay strong for her family, but she had never needed to be strong around me.

"Do…do you want me to come?" I could be a friend. I could be just a friend.

"No, no, it's too far for you," she said carefully. She was trying too. "What…" she hesitated. "It would be too hard for me if you came."

I dropped all pretence of detachment. Who was I trying to convince? I was fully fallen despite my efforts. "Sam, I'm sorry I can't be there for you the way you want me to."

She didn't answer for a while, although I could hear her breathing on the other end. "I-I know," she said at last. "It's okay." Her voice trembled ever so slightly. "I miss you, Jo."

"I miss you too," I said softly.

Neither of us wanted to break the moment, afraid of what would inevitably follow. It ended up being Sam.

"I've started seeing Andrew again," she offered hesitantly. "He was so sweet about it, and –"

"It's okay, Sam. I am too." Her confession relieved me. I didn't feel quite as guilty about Melanie.

We ended our conversation companionably enough. We put up believable enough fronts, leaving no room for us to mope over each other, as we were prone to do. Or at least, we were able to hide it this time. I think that we had both realized that we were too far away from each other to hope for a better ending than this.

I told myself that I could live with this choice…like there was any alternative.

I quickly filled up my schedule with finding a better job than my reception work at the rehabilitation clinic. It had been a source of steady-enough income during my schooling, but armed with a degree, there had to be more in store for me than answering the calls of distraught users who couldn't make it through their withdrawal symptoms.

Luckily for me, I had chalked up enough notches on my belt to be considered useful to most business corporations. My life became a flurry of interviews for the next three weeks before I finally decided on a grunt position downtown that had potential for quick promotion.

Melanie and I dated for another month after. She wanted much more than I was willing to give her, and although she was patient enough with me, we both realized that it wasn't working out.

"Your heart's not in this," she said regretfully, "and I can't wait forever for you to get over her."

Melanie was my rebound. She knew it, I knew it. It had been nice while it lasted. We parted ways as friends.

I poured my energy into work, staying late and taking on the more menial tasks that nobody else wanted. As a result, I rose through the ranks. By the end of the year, I was a junior manager.

Sam and I kept in occasional contact. She was still with Andrew on and off, and I floated from girl to girl much like I had before I met her. We were friendly enough with each other, but it never felt as satisfying as before. It was like holding back made all of our words seem artificial. There were questions that I wanted to ask that didn't feel right to ask as a friend. I wasn't her lover, though. It wasn't my place.

Still, the comfort I could provide, I did, as her father's condition worsened. She cried almost every time, her worry eating away at her until she barely had enough left for herself.

These nights, I so wished to be beside her – to wipe away her tears, to hold her hand, to press her face against my chest as she wept. The miles between us were my defeat. I could only be her friend.

And then, all too soon, it happened. Sam's father passed away in that quiet moment before dawn, alone in his hospital bed. Sam told me that she heard the phone ring just as the sun began to push its way above the shadows. There was a thud in the hall and gradually the house was filled with the keening wails of her mother's sorrow. She pulled back the covers and ran outside to join her gathering siblings, already cruelly aware of what news awaited them.

I arrived in Chicago on the morning of the funeral. I had caught the earliest flight out of Toronto as soon as I had heard and could get myself away from my duties. It was a nice enough day, but there was no way I could appreciate it when I finally saw Sam. Her eyes were red and swollen even through the layers of make-up she had caked on. She didn't smile when she spotted me, but she walked over and threw herself against me.

My arms instinctively closed around her. She didn't say anything – didn't cry, didn't move. She just stood there. My hands trailed up her back and gently pulled her away so that I could see her. Trembling, I touched her cheek, aching to kiss her. But her family was coming towards us already, her siblings mirror images of Sam; her mother, how Sam would look in twenty-five years. I let her go.

"Mom, this is Joanne," Sam offered politely.

Her mother grasped my arm affectionately. "Sam's told us a lot about you. Thank you for being there for her. She's been so busy caring for us, that she often forgets about herself."

"It's the least I could have done, Mrs. Jennings," I answered sincerely. "Sam means a lot to me." Struck with the peculiarity of the expression, I quickly moved the conversation along. "I'm …I'm very sorry for your family's loss."

Nodding grimly, Mrs. Jennings squeezed my arm once more before moving away. The rest of the Jennings' followed, heading down the driveway. I held my arm out to Sam and led her to the car. She and Andrew were going through one of their downtimes, and he hadn't come to escort her.

I can't explain the mixture of joy and grief that I felt as I sat beside her during the ride to the church. Joy because I had missed her so much in the past months; because she was so close beside me that I could feel the heat of her thigh flush against mine. And grief because she was grieving; because I was seeing her fresh from tears and with such a heaviness on her heart.

It all came together in a conglomerate feeling of guilt that I could be so simplistically happy to be here with Sam when her father had just died four days earlier. And still, she had not let go of my arm.

All through the service she sat close, clinging to me like a lifeline, as if I would disappear as suddenly as I had arrived. It was not until it came time to deliver the eulogy that she rose with a heavy sigh and made her way to the front. She slid a folded sheet of paper from her purse and carefully pried it open. Setting it on the stand before her, she gathered herself to speak to the small gathering of family.

"Dad…could only be described as a selfless man. All his life, he never once stopped to think of himself. He truly…he truly was a man of the Lord." Her voice came out forced, as if she was only continuing for duty's sake. She was just barely holding herself together. "He once told me that we were his inspiration – that he did what he did in the hopes that we might grow up to be children that God could truly call his own.

"Dad gave everything that he possibly could to us. He raised us to be good, conscientious, moral people." Her voice cracked at that point, and she had to take a moment to calm herself. "He wants us to continue to become who he envisioned us to be. He made us his legacy.

"We miss you, Daddy," she said so softly that we all strained to hear. "We love you." Stiffly, she walked back to her seat. I took her hand and squeezed it. She returned the gesture.

Sam's younger brothers, all in their late teens, took up the pallbearers' positions and carefully hoisted their father's casket onto their shoulders. It was a short walk from the church to the cemetery – one that we travelled in silence. Beneath the billowing sleeves of our coats, Sam held my hand, oblivious to the doubt that had taken root within me.

It was a new fear that had sprung up as I watched her at the pulpit, the epitome of her father's heir. I wondered what her family thought of me, who had held their pride and joy in a manner that was obviously more than friendly. Sam had mentioned her religious background before, but back in Toronto, there had been no pressure to adhere to the customs that she had been raised to follow. Hers was a different faith, one that strayed from doctrine. She believed in the love of God above all else.

But here…what she was with me would only shame her. Sam was the eldest; her brothers and sisters idolized her. She was her father's greatest hope in continuing his work.

So even as her fingers locked against my own, I found myself wondering if I should let her. It was merely comfort between close friends, I told myself. I had to keep on thinking it, even if I knew it was a lie. No friend could touch me so tenderly; or glance at me so longingly when she thought I wasn't looking.

Yet, despite my worries, I wrapped my arm about her and let her rest her head upon my shoulder as they lowered her father into the ground. She quivered ever so slightly beside me, but made no other motion. Next to us, her sister Lindsay took hold of Sam's hand, crying softly into her scarf. Her bothers stood stoically, the oldest two with their arms around their mother, who was openly sobbing. I tired as hard as I possibly could to displace, if only for a moment, the contentment that had obstinately settled over me. It made me feel sick to be able to be happy when I was surrounded by such deep sorrow.

After they had paid their final respects, the already meagre group dispersed and the Jennings' went home. There was no gathering or reception or anything that I was used to at the family funerals I had been to in my childhood. They were all too tired, too distraught. They had all decided to go to church as usual the following morning, keeping to routine as if nothing had happened.

"Wouldn't your family want to take some…time away?" I asked cautiously.

Sam shook her head regretfully. "This is what Dad would have wanted. He never passed on an opportunity to serve the Lord." Sam looked away for just a moment, biting her lower lip. The gesture was discreet, but I caught it, and I understood. Lindsay was just on the other side of the table. We were making sandwiches for a late lunch.

We ate with everybody else around the dining table. It was a solemn affair. Nobody was in the mood to talk. Afterwards, we helped Sam's youngest brother Matthew to wash the dishes. Sam always helped him when it was his turn to clean up because he was still too short to be able to reach over the countertop. Today though, she was staying mainly out of worry. He was too young to understand what had happened, but was yet aware enough to realize that something was wrong.

Throughout the morning, he had been asking, near tears, "What's wrong? Where's Papa?" over and over again. His siblings had answered him delicately, telling him, "Papa's sleeping." Matthew had reasoned out the general situation, but was at a loss now, as he did not know how to express his sadness. He had cried in a cruel realization when they had lowered his father's casket into the ground. But still, he would not shirk his responsibilities, pacing around the dining table so that he could take our plates before we could protest.

Everybody had a different way to deal with grief. His was to ignore it. Sam had watched, heartbroken, only for a moment before getting up and helping him like she would any other day. I had remained to help them in whatever way that I could while the rest of the family had wandered off.

Sam's brothers and sisters had went upstairs to study and to mourn privately. Mrs. Jennings had retreated to her husband's study where, if I listened closely, I could hear her muffled sobs.

"She's praying," Sam explained sombrely. "She's still trying to make sense of it all."

"Have you?" I probed gently.

She shook her head slightly. "I'll tell you later, Jo." Her gaze was still focused warily upon Matthew, who was struggling to carry the dishes from the sink to the table. Sam was placing them back in the cupboard.

At last they were done, and Matthew promptly ran upstairs to his room. We didn't move until we heard the quiet creak of his closing door. Sam beckoned to me and led me outside to the car. She climbed into the driver's seat, while I settled in beside her, and started the ignition.

We found ourselves in the parking lot of the church. She led me wordlessly inside and up to the balcony overlooking the sanctuary. Sam sat down in the back pew, her eyes asking that I join her. Once we were settled, she let out a sigh. "Thanks, Jo, for coming," she said sincerely. She laced her fingers carefully through my own. Her eyes washed over mine, awaiting my reaction.

I sighed and squeezed her hand comfortingly. "I couldn't let you go through this alone, Sam. I mean, Andrew couldn't make it and you –" I stopped as she leaned into me and rested her head on my shoulder, indicating that she didn't want to talk about him. I rested my arm on the pew behind her and held her to me. Her scent wafted over me, and I felt my body reacting to the nearness of hers. We sat in silence for a long time, until the sun began to set, just revelling in the peace of being completely alone together.

After a while, when the palms of our hands had grown sweaty, she turned to me, smiling. "We should do this more often," she said softly, tentatively.

Of course, my natural inclination was to agree, but I was reluctant to make a definite stand, especially if I would have to go back on my words. I considered myself a relatively decisive person, but for some reason Sam made me lose all the footing I had worked so hard to gain.

"I want to move back to Toronto," she continued. She waited expectantly for my response. From her expression, everything rode on it.

The ball was in my court. She was all but staking her claim. No longer needing to take care of her father, she was free. We could be together. But if I cared about her at all, I needed to tell her this. "Sometimes…I feel as though I'll die if I don't see you." I hesitated before ever so gently touching her cheek. "If-if I don't feel your skin –"

Her hand pressed insistently against my own. "They why can't we –"

"– but your family, Sam…what would they think of us?"

She hesitated. "They wouldn't know about it."

"You would have to tell them eventually," I countered. "I can see how much you love them. It will hurt so much to not tell them. So you will eventually. And then what? What will they think of you then?"

"They would have to…" she started once more before shaking her head stubbornly. "I don't care." She turned her face away from me, her hair hanging limply before her eyes. "Please, Jo." She let out a quiet sob.

Her desperation was my weakness. I couldn't help but hold her to me; couldn't help but let her cry quietly into my shoulder. The burden she had had to carry in secret all these months, coupled with her loyalty to her family had at last built to a point at which she could bear no more.

"Do you know what it's like, to tell your family? And to lose them because of it?" I asked softly. "Can you imagine what they'd say to you? How they'd look at you when you tell them?" I trailed my hand through her hair, soft and straight to contrast my own. "It hurts…hurt so much to tell them, and even if you do so because you love them…" I struggled to put my experience to words. "They might say that they don't love you less, that they don't care, but when they think you're looking the other way, there's this disgust, this disappointment on their faces." Sam shuddered. "You're a freak to them – you're not natural."

My parents were zealously religious. While I didn't share their sentiments, I loved them nevertheless. When I had realized I liked women, I had tried to hide it, aware of exactly what it would mean. For years, I refused to acknowledge it, forcing myself to suffer for the sake of my family. But at last, I came to terms with my sexuality, and I knew that there was no way that I would be able to keep it from them.

By that time, I had moved out and was living downtown in the university dorms. So I went back home one night to visit and over dinner, I told them that I was gay and that I was dating a girl.

They didn't yell at me, didn't order me to leave. Nothing happened. They continued eating as though I hadn't said anything. It would have been better if they had been angry, but there was nothing. No expression, nothing.

But they didn't call me anymore. They were too busy to talk for long when I rang. They always made excuses whenever I asked about dinner. They didn't tell me about family gatherings. All of a sudden, my parents no longer had time for their little girl, making up for it by frequently wiring handsome sums of money. But that wasn't what I wanted. I was cut loose and made to fend for myself, to fashion a life where I didn't have any family.

I told all this to Sam in the hopes that she would listen; that she would have enough of a sense of self-preservation to end this – because this needed to be her decision. I needed her to tell me to go, and to never come back. Else, I would hover on the periphery, ever hoping in my denial. But she didn't say anything for a very long time. She just stared at me, her gaze steady and unwavering. The obstinate courage in her eyes caused me to gasp in wonder. Still, she did nothing but watch me.

Finally, she sighed and leaning suddenly forward, captured my lips in a tender kiss. Her lips moved firmly against mine, not letting me go – as if I wanted to. Despite all my worry, I was addicted to absolutely everything about Sam. I felt so blessed to be given even this single fleeting moment with her, never having expected that I would get another opportunity.

She pulled away slightly. When I gave chase, hints of satisfaction broke out across her features. She rested her forehead against mine, ran her hands along my neck. "Don't you know that I'm in love with you?"

"I know," I whispered, kissing her nose. "I know."

Her fingers touched against my cheeks and came away wet. "Why…why are you crying?" I shivered as her thumb ran down the curvature of my jaw. "Jo, please don't be scared. I-I need you to be strong…for me – especially now."

I was making such a fool of myself. I never cried in front of people. I was the strong one. I was the shoulder that people cried on. But for some reason, when it came to Sam, I was weak. I was emotional. I was afraid that I was going to mess up where normally I wouldn't give a crap. So here I was, being comforted and consoled by the girl I was here to comfort and console.

"It's not that," I protested. "It's just that I don't know how we're going to make this work."

"If we want to, we will," she assured me. I began to speak, but she pressed her lips resolutely to mine and whatever I had wanted to say didn't really matter anymore.

She pushed against me, forcing me back onto the hardness of the wood pew. Her tongue teased against my own as her body pressed into mine, fitting into it like two halves of a soul. "When it comes to you, Jo," said Sam as she hovered over me, "I don't care about the consequences." Her hands brushed away the rest of my tears. "I don't care if I have to bend or break the rules."

"Cause I've got you, babe," she sang sweetly into my ear, before sucking it into her mouth. "I've got you, babe."

I can't even begin to describe how much I wanted to have her then and there – hell, on the balcony of a church – but having been raised to inherently respect sacred grounds, I couldn't stomach the potential consequences of our actions.

I took advantage of my larger build to lift Sam into my arms and carry her out of the church. "Let's take this someplace more private," I managed to say before she began to nip teasingly at my neck, which incited me to put her down and back her into the wall of the chapel. We grasped greedily at each other, crushing our bodies together in a messy tangle of limbs.

Somehow, we managed to make it to the car and tumbled collectively into the backseat. It still probably wasn't the best place we could have chosen, but in all honesty, we didn't have it in us to wait any longer. It was enough to sate us both for long enough to make it to a more appropriate location.

"Where are we going?" I asked impatiently. Sam was driving and I hadn't been in Chicago long enough to get my bearings.

When she answered that we were going to her house, I freaked out. "Wha-what?" But – but your family –"

"My room's in the attic. And there's a lock on the door," she explained demurely. "Nobody will bother us, especially tonight. And besides, all your stuff is there."

I sighed. "You'll have to be quieter, in that case." She laughed, and I joined her.

In the end, the risk of being caught was only fuel to the fire. Where we would normally grunt or cry out obscenities, we panted and moaned into each other's ears, and it added an additional element of intimacy to our time together that night.

We weren't discovered, and even early into the next morning, nobody came to check on us. Sam lay in my arms, her chest rising and falling steadily in slumber. The sun was just rising on the horizon, its rays striking through the triangular window at the end of her room and bathing us in the warmth of dawn. This was the peace I had searched for, had longed and yearned for, and yet had not found until now – lying in bed, soaking up the cooling aftermath of being with the woman I loved.

But I knew that this moment couldn't last for much longer. Sam had her family, and I had my burgeoning doubts. It was stupid, really – nothing stood in the way of our being together. Sam loved me, and I loved her. It was supposed to be simple from this point. So why was I so uncertain?

I knew that it was because I just wasn't ready to enter into this relationship. I had yet to sort through the depth of my feelings towards Sam, and to be completely honest, I was scared to death at the prospect of being in a long-term relationship with her. I had never dated anybody for longer than a few months. I had a naturally short attention span that tended to move on when I had gotten what I wanted. I was notorious in my circle of friends for having consecutive girlfriends, dating a new girl almost immediately after I had broken up with another.

I couldn't do that to Sam. I was afraid that I would do that to Sam. I cared about her far more than I did for anybody else in my life, and I felt that I needed to protect her from myself.

Her hand moved upon my breast, and she sighed contentedly as she woke. She smiled when she felt me against her – a smile that widened as she opened her eyes and saw me in her bed.

"I had a dream about you last night," she mumbled almost incoherently. Her sleepiness was absolutely endearing, and I couldn't help but grin.

"What about me?" I asked, playing along.

"You," she smacked her lips together, "you did these things to me – amazing things." The expression on her face was priceless as she burst into peals of delighted laughter. She was caught. Sam knew it, I knew it.

Taking my cue, I flipped her onto her back. Melding my figure to hers, I whispered, "Things, huh?" She moaned appreciatively, and moved her hands up my back. We fooled around for a bit, exchanging affectionate whispers and sweet kisses.

It wasn't long, however, before the rest of Sam's family began to stir. There was a quiet knock on the door at the bottom of the stairs. "Sammy, are you there?" It was Matthew, anxious in his fear that she hadn't come home the night before.

"Just a minute, Matthew." Sam threw on her nightgown, silently instructing me to put on some clothes as well. As I did so, she descended the stairs and unlocked the door. "Did you sleep alright?"

"Okay," he answered, running up and jumping onto the bed. He paused when saw me, freezing in a moment of uncertainty.

"It's Joanne, remember?" Sam told him as her head appeared above the landing. "From yesterday." He shyly waved hello and drew his knees into his chest, watching me suspiciously.

"Hey, Matthew," I said as friendly as I could. I immediately became aware of the scent of sex that hung about the room; of the unruliness of our hair, and the swollen state of our lips; and most of all, of the lack of any other place I could have slept apart from with Sam in her bed. I could only pray – to whoever was listening – that Matthew was yet too young to make the connections.

There was an awkward pause where I held my breath fearfully before Sam clapped her hands together and joined him on the bed, saying, "Shouldn't you be getting ready for church?" He nodded sheepishly, and kissed her quickly on the cheek before scrambling back down the stairs. Sam followed, closing and locking the door before joining me at the spot that I had chosen to turn into a statue by the side of her bed.

She looked at me, amused by my discomfort. "He's like that with people he doesn't know," she explained consolingly. "He'll warm up to you."

"Do you think he noticed?" I asked cautiously, still not reassured.

"Noticed what?" Sam courageously attempted to overcome my anxiety, coyly wrapping her arms about my neck.

I held firm. "Sam…"

"We'll be fine," she said quietly in a moment of honesty stripped of all bravado, saying it as much to herself as to me. "I know that this is going to be hard for both of us, but you can't protect me from it, Jo. It's my decision as much as yours," she kissed me softly on the mouth, "and I choose to be with you…I choose to live in Toronto. And I choose, if I must, to turn my back on my family."

I couldn't let her do this. It was if her words fell on deaf ears, for I was an immovable force. Despite her courage, despite her determination, I remained as I was – a coward. And so I couldn't yet take this step – not until I had steeled myself to go through with it in every aspect.

Simply put, I just wasn't good enough for her as I was. I didn't deserve her. She needed somebody better – somebody that she could rely on.

"Sam…I've made my feelings for you plain from the very beginning," I reasoned, "but I need you to do something for me." I took a deep shuddering breath, moulding the palms of my hands to her shoulders. "I…I need you to wait just a little longer."

She became angry at my request. "Jo," she protested," all I've done these past months is wait. I know that you've always wanted more than just friendship from me, and it took me time to come to terms with it, but here I am now. And I'm willing to throw away my whole life for you, and you tell me to wait?"

She spoke no louder than a whisper, but I couldn't bear it, her rage and frustration. The air was hot and crackling with raw emotion, and it suffocated me. "Sam, please…" I begged, clinging to her. But she pushed me away.

"Not now, Jo," she said, drawing her pain into herself and storing it away as quickly as she had shown it, and leaving behind a worn and broken woman. "I'm tired, and I have to go to church."

I nodded and let her go, as she all but tore away. I tried to catch her gaze, but she refused to even look at me. "I'll get out of your hair, then."

There wasn't enough time for Sam to drive me to the airport and get back in time for service, so she called me a cab, handing the driver money before I could protest. "I'll call you," she said coldly, her voice stiff with effort.

Her mother waved goodbye to me through the living room window. She clutched Matthew to her waist, and held a cold spoon to her swollen eyes.

It was late by the time I arrived at my apartment. I relished the quiet and the peace, mixed in with an already intense longing to feel Sam beside me. I called Jamie to let him know that I was home. He was surprised to hear from me so soon, having expected my stay in Chicago to go on for longer. He asked me if anything was wrong, but I was still waiting for Sam's call, and so arranged to meet him for lunch the next day. I hung up and relaxed into the couch.

It had been a long day. I didn't feel like doing anything apart from lying there and waiting for Sam. I couldn't function not knowing where I stood with her. She would forgive me, I hoped. She had to – she had to understand that my hesitation came solely out of how much I cared for her. To give her anything less than my best was unacceptable.

I had nearly fallen asleep when she finally called. I started, the shrill ring of the phone catching me off-guard.

"Hello?" I glanced over at the clock. It was 1:30 am.

"Were you asleep?" Sam asked apologetically. "I'm sorry I called so late. It's been a long day."

"I know what you mean." A pause. "Look, Sam –"

"No, it's okay, Jo. I understand."

"You do?"

She sighed. "I know you don't think that we'll work, but I'm willing to risk that for whatever time we'll have together. Love isn't a closed case."

"But it could be a doomed one," I countered warily. "I'm going to hurt you, Sam, if we're together. I don't want to hurt you."

"If you do, we'll get through it. We're not perfect."

"But you are, Sam. I can't think of anything about you that isn't."

"We choose to see the good or bad in others, Jo."

Sam was right, as usual, but I had already made up my mind. "Just give me time…I want to make this work."

"Me too," she replied, "but I can't just wait around forever."

"I know. You won't have to. I promise."

"Do you love me?"


"Say it."

"I love you, Sam."

"I love you too, Jo."

We chatted for a few more minutes about happier things before hanging up. The conversation was easy enough, but it almost felt as if though a barrier had been erected between us, like something had broken that could never be fixed.

Things stayed remarkably the same. During the day, I worked at the firm; in the evening, I enjoyed the company of my friends; and at the end of the day, I would wait by the phone for Sam to call. The length of our conservation varied from day-to-day, but in the end, they always fell along the same lines.

"I miss you, Jo."

"I miss you too, Sam."

"Are you ready yet?"

"I just need a little more. I'm almost there."


She waited for me. I waited for me. I didn't really know what I was waiting for – a test, maybe, as proof that I could be committed. But wasn't avoiding the temptation enough? Wasn't keeping to myself while my friends fell over each other flirting with the closest living thing testimony that I wanted no other woman than Sam? It should have been, but inexplicably, I remained unconvinced.

And then, one night, it happened.

"Jo, Andrew's asked me out again."

I didn't think that she meant anything by that. "Okay, so what'd you say?"

"I said yes."

The possessive creature in my rose up and thrashed about angrily. "Sam, what are you doing?" I breathed.

"I'm lonely, Jo. I'm tired of waiting for a miracle to happen and for you to realize that we should be together." Sam sounded weary.

"Is-is this a threat or something? Is this your way of telling me to hurry up?" My heart pounded inside my chest, beating faster and faster as I began to realize that this wasn't any game that she was playing with me.

"No, it's not," she answered. "I'm just…I've reached the end of my patience. I need somebody who's ready to be with me. I know you want to be with me, but we can't just keep beating around the bush waiting for that perfect moment to come along. I don't want to wait for the rest of my life to be with you."

"You could do better than Andrew, Sam," I argued.

"I thought I had," she said quietly.

The silence that followed had the tension of a sheet of water, just daring me to break its surface. I chose to wait.

"Andrew is a good man," Sam tried to explain. "He's –"

"What your family would want," I interrupted. "I know."

"That's not what I was going to say."

"Then what, Sam?" I challenged. "What makes him right for you?"

"Jo, stop it," she whispered. But I couldn't.

"Is it because he's a man then? Do you miss his stubble? Is it a dick you want?"

"I was willing to come out to my family," she shouted into the phone, her fury lashing out at me as I pushed her past what she could take. "You were the one who was scared of their reaction. You're the one who can't commit to a relationship. You're the one who's too much of a chicken shit to take a chance on something that could actually be good." She breathed loudly. "Don't you blame this on me, Jo."

It was like a slap across the face. All the anger drained from me in an instant as the unabashed truth washed over me.

"You're right," I admitted. "You're right, Sam. Have fun with Andrew." And I hung up.

I should have stayed on and worked things out with her. I should have let her say what she needed to say. I should have listened. But I didn't – and that's when I lost.

I called her a week later, very much calmed down. One of her brothers – Lester, I think – answered the phone. I told him who I was and he hesitated for a moment before running to get her. She picked up a few seconds later.

"Hi, Jo," she said, distracted.

"Sam, I just wanted to apologize again," I started, "for what I said to you last week –"

"It's okay, Jo. I know why you were angry. But it still doesn't change things…"

I avoided the topic, knowing that it would only lead to more fighting. "So…how was your date with Andrew?"

"It was good," she answered slowly, as if dragging the words out of her mouth. "He was everything a girl would want."

It was like somebody had dropped a hundred-pound weight on my shoulders. "Does that mean you're going to keep seeing him?" I asked tentatively. I already knew her answer, of course, but I couldn't keep myself from asking.


All of a sudden, it was like we didn't have anything to say anymore. Normally, we would talk for hours on end about the stupidest and most random things as if it were completely natural; but now, for the first time, we were left with nothing in common.

"I have to go," I said softly. I didn't wait for her to answer and simply hung up the phone.

And then, sitting at my kitchen counter, I lay my head in my hands and I wept. I had lost her, I realized, to somebody who was braver than I was; to somebody that had not been afraid to be with her, and to make mistakes with her, and to make up with her afterwards. I had waited too long. I had aimed too high for myself, wanting to make myself perfect for her. I had worshipped her, like an idol that I could only present to the best.

I had forgotten that she was my love; that she was like me; that we were the same – human, and prone to error. She did not have unending patience, nor did she have perfect understanding. She had needs – needs that I had neglected in my selfish quest to be the one and only person she could love.

I had tested her for so long, and stretched her until she had torn. I had asked too much of her, and she had broken at long last. Somebody else had been there to fulfill her needs where I hadn't. The battle had been fought, and the spoils rightly divided.

I could have chased after her – could have flown out to Chicago and arrived, begging, on her doorstep – but that would have been too much. So what if I had gotten her back? Did I have any right to take away the happiness that she had found? Things would become needlessly complicated, more so than any person could bear, more so than anything Sam should have to go through again.

It wasn't until several months later that we talked again. It was Sam that called me late one evening, just as I arrived home from a bar. The phone was on its last ring when I stepped into my apartment, and so I had to dash for it, nearly shouting my "hello" into the mouthpiece.

"Jo, it's Sam," came her voice from the other end, hesitant and trembling.

"What, is something wrong?" She hadn't sounded like this since her father died. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," she answered. "Yeah, everything's fine."

My flurry settled, and I took a seat on the couch. "What is it then?"

There was a pause, as if she was debating whether she should continue. "I'm marrying Andrew, Jo."

I closed my eyes, expecting a rush of red-hot anger, but it didn't come. Instead, there was a resignation that had settled within me, not unlike what I had felt when Sam first told me she was seeing him again. But some part of me contradicted the bitterness – I was happy for her, genuinely happy.

"Congratulations," I said softly. "I'm really happy for you."

"Thanks." She paused again, hesitating. But she got on with it, in the end. "I'd like, if you'd be willing to, for you to come to the wedding. I know it's probably going to be awkward for you, but…you've meant so much to me, Jo. I just couldn't imagine it without you there to share it with me."

She was right. It would be nothing short of hell for me to attend their wedding. But I remembered that Sam – apart from being my ex-lover – was still one of the most important people in my life. "Of course I'll be there. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

I could picture her smiling in Chicago.

The wedding was lovely. I arrived early at the church and was greeted by her mother, who was positively glowing. She waved when she saw me and bustled over to hug and kiss me on the cheek.

"I'm so glad that you could make it, dear," she beamed. "Samantha had worried that you wouldn't show up. She'll be so happy to see you."

She led me inside and had me sit with the family at the front of the chapel. I didn't know most of them, as Sam's siblings were either a part of the wedding party or helping out at the reception table, but they nodded politely and left me to my business. I saw Andrew standing at the front, nervous and excited as he fidgeted with his clothes. His expression wavered between a smile and a frown, but as I studied him, I could see that he would be a good husband to her.

And then everybody was sitting down and the flower girl and the ring bearer came forward; the bridesmaids followed. Finally, led down the aisle by her oldest brother, came Sam, dazzling in a simple wedding gown. Her eyes shone with excitement as she took in her waiting groom. Their eyes connected and they smiled at each other.

Her gaze scanned the room, and I knew that she was looking for me. When she found me, she held my stare for a long moment. I nodded and smiled, even as my heart broke a little bit more. But I admitted defeat. Bolstered, she returned my smile with thanks and turned back to the altar.

I watched the rest of the ceremony in a daze. Sam never took her eyes off of Andrew the whole time. I kept hoping that she would turn around and look at me. I kept waiting for that subtle hint that she was having second thoughts. But it never came.

I didn't approach her after the ceremony. I didn't stay for the reception or for the dance. I took my leave of her family, and departing from the church, went straight to the airport. I knew that if I stayed her happiness would be diminished, presented with the fleeting opportunity of excitement and adventure that I knew that she had always seen in me. I had been her escape from the expectations of her life, loathe as both of us were to admit it. It hadn't been a bad thing – she hadn't done it to get back at anybody. It had been the right for us at the time. But that time was past now.

Andrew was good for her. Andrew was safe for her. Ironically, my wish had come true. All I had ever wanted to give to Sam was a future in which she would be protected from harm, and loved for who she was. It was just that I had always pictured the person beside her to be me.

The End

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