10 Years Earlier
"Diner girl! Diner girl! Diner girl!"
Austin looked over his shoulder to see Sam standing there crying hard. She was looking at him, begging him to stand up for her. He felt his father's eyes burning into his face, demanding to know what this whole skit was about. Instead of standing up and saying something, he let it go. He was just as hurt that Sam hadn't told him who she was. When he turned to look at Sam again, she was gone.
"Waiting for you is like waiting for rain in this drought: useless and disappointing," Sam finished. Austin stared at her. He wanted to be brave like her, but it just wasn't in him. She turned and left the locker room, leaving him feeling sucker punched in the gut.
"Austin! Austin! Austin!"
The crowd was chanting. Austin looked to see Sam walking away from the game. A part of him screamed at him to give up the game and go after her, but the other part was too afraid. If he let his father down, wasn't that worse? Sam was braver than him. She always would be. She deserved someone who could be brave enough back for her. He watched her turn to look at him one more time, and then she disappeared into the crowd. Austin took in a shaky breath and got ready for the last play. Sam would find someone worthy of her. It just wasn't him.
1 Year Later
"What do you mean you're giving up football?" his father asked, stunned. His tone had anger in it as well.
"I want to do something meaningful with my life, Dad. Throwing a ball around just doesn't do it for me," Austin explained. His father picked up the pamphlets on Austin's bed. He was home for the summer, and when fall came, he was going into another direction.
"You want to be a police officer?!" his father exclaimed, dropping the pamphlet in disgust.
"For starters. Eventually I'd like to get into the FBI," Austin explained. His father snorted.
"You think you're cut out for that, do you?"
"I'm different now than I was a year ago," Austin said, jutting his chin out. It was true. After losing Sam, something inside him had snapped. Why did he pretend for the sake of the people in his life? Why did he never stand up for what he wanted? That was all about to change. It was too bad Sam had already left for Princeton and never came back. Austin frequented Hal's Diner, but she never visited. Rhonda always gave him a sympathetic look.
"I don't understand," his father started, scratching the back of his head.
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to believe in me and support me," Austin cut him off. His father sighed loudly.
"All right. I think you're making a big mistake, but fine. I will support you."
"Thank you," Austin said. He knew his father missed his mother terribly. After her accident, he had become a little more controlling of Austin's life as though he felt he needed to make it safe and secure. How playing football was deemed safe (Austin had seen all sorts of terrible injuries to other players) Austin would never know. His father left, and Austin smiled to himself. If only Sam could see him now.
9 Years Later
"I don't wanna do this," Cassie moaned, banging her head on the passenger side window. Austin looked over at her and smirked. His German Shepherd search and rescue dog, Diego, was in the back panting with a smile as well.
"It's a school project presentation," Austin commented. "It's not the end of the world."
"It might as well be," Cassie muttered irritably. He reached over and opened the door for her.
"Come on. You got this. I have total faith in you," Austin said. Cassie gave him a look before rolling her eyes. She slid out of the seat reluctantly.
"See you after school," Austin winked.
"Suck it," she said back.
"Jar," he ordered, holding out his hand. Cassie sighed loudly and slapped money into his hand. He had started an "Attitude/Swear Jar" for her to help her break the habit of being saucy and foul mouthed. He wasn't quite sure where she had gotten some of her language, and it appalled him sometimes. It was a work in progress.
"How do I know that is going to go in the jar and not pay for your lunch?" she demanded.
"You can trust me," Austin smiled innocently.
"I know exactly what's in that jar," she said, pointing at him. "I will count when I get home, and if that's not in there, you'll pay."
"Fair enough," he nodded. She turned to leave, and Austin felt a little sorry for her. School presentations were never his favorite either.
"Ready for work, buddy?" Austin asked Diego, who gave a slight woof in return. Austin had excelled to search and rescue, and for now, he was all right with it. Maybe someday he'd work on his FBI dream again. He got to the office in record time, and he let Diego hop out and trot alongside him. The dog didn't need a leash. He was so well trained even Austin was shocked sometimes. He didn't always do just search and rescue. He did some detective work part time as well. Diego was just a bonus in that department when he sniffed out the bad guys.
"Officer Ames," a coworker, Andy, said while high fiving him.
"It's Detective Ames actually," Austin corrected.
"It just doesn't have the same ring to it," Andy commented.
"What's up?" Austin asked, changing the subject.
"Well, we got a lead on the Garzinger case," Andy said, handing him a folder.
"What kind of lead?" Austin asked, opening it.
"A tip came in saying that some female journalist witnessed something Garzinger did. What it was, we don't know. We gotta bring this broad in."
"Do we have a name for her?" Austin asked, bristling inside. Andy was so crass sometimes.
"Ella Prince," Andy told him. Austin stared at him.
"Are you serious?"
"It's a pseudonym of course," Andy snorted. "I don't blame her. Why put your real name out there for the bad guys to find you? Of course, it's not the case for her right now, but she is messing with some very powerful people."
"Let me guess, I'm to bring her in?" Austin asked, shutting the file.
"All right. You got an address?"
"So how am I supposed to find her?" Austin asked incredulously.
"You're the detective, man," Andy snorted. "Use your little dog and find her." He turned to go, and Austin gritted his teeth. Andy had been jealous of Austin getting the detective promotion over him, and he was letting Austin know it every chance he could. Austin released the breath he had been holding and looked down at Diego.
"Let's go find her then," he said. He'd start where she worked.
Austin left Diego in the car when he went into the office. He approached the receptionist carefully. She snapped her gum as she looked up at him.
"Yes?" she asked, annoyed.
"I'm looking for Ella Prince?" he asked.
"She's not in," she answered, going back to her computer screen.
"Do you know when she'll be back?" he asked.
Austin felt frustrated then. This woman wasn't even looking at him anymore.
"Look, I am Detective Ames, and I need you to be helpful and tell me where I can find Ella," Austin said, showing his badge to her. She stared at it.
"Well, I wouldn't want to obstruct justice," she commented. She rifled through her drawer until she found a notepad and pen. Austin watched her write.
"Here," she said, handing it to him. "That's her home address. Make sure you leave me out of it when you tell her how you found her."
"Will do. Thanks," Austin said, tipping his head at her. He tucked the paper into his front pocket as he walked back to his car. He ruffled Diego's fur as he put the car into drive and set off. He drove slowly when he came to the neighborhood he was looking for. He saw the condo building and stopped.
"This is it," he said, putting the car in park. "Stay." He felt the hairs on his neck stand up when he entered the building, but he kept going. He found the right condo number and knocked. He could hear rustling inside, but no one answered the door.
"L.A.P.D.," he called through the door. "Open up!"
"How do I know you're the real police?" a female voice came back. Austin smiled to himself.
"I have a badge."
"Anyone impersonating a cop would have a fake badge to go along with it," the voice reasoned.
"I can assure you I am not impersonating a cop," Austin told her.
"That's exactly what they would tell me," she said back.
"Look, I know you're into some trouble, and I'm here to bring you into witness protection," Austin explained. "That's all."
"Right, and you're really the bad guys telling me this so I'll let you in, and you'll shoot me."
"Ella, open the door," Austin ordered. He was growing impatient.
"See? A real cop would know my real name," she said back. Annoyed now, Austin tried the door, and it surprisingly opened. He was just as shocked as she was, but he recovered fast.
"And a person afraid for her life would not leave her door unlocked," Austin started to say. Then he caught sight of the woman standing before him. She was staring back just as stunned.
"Austin?" she asked.