Rhonda woke Cassie up gently by shaking her.

"What's happened?" Cassie demanded.

"We gotta go to the hospital," Rhonda answered.

"Why? What's wrong? Rhonda, please tell me," Cassie said, starting to cry.

"Just come," Rhonda said. Cassie followed her to the car feeling like it was going to be the worst moment of her life next to finding out her parents were both dead. She couldn't take anymore death. She just couldn't.

...

Sam stood when Rhonda approached her. Cassie tried to read her face, but she couldn't.

"Are you okay?" Rhonda asked. Sam nodded.

"His dad is in there now," she replied.

"Will someone please tell me what is going on?" Cassie demanded. She was scared.

"Cassie Girl?" a voice asked. Sam smiled as Cassie lurched forward into the hospital room where Austin was sitting and grinning.

"Austin!" she cried, wrapping her arms around him tightly.

"Ah, don't squeeze too hard," Austin groaned. The pain from his wounds was still fresh. Andy was standing back and smiling. It was a miracle Austin had survived. They had been terrified the doctor was going to come out and tell them Austin had died, but he had pulled through.

"Don't you ever scare me like that again," Cassie warned. Austin laughed.

"I'll do my best."

"That's not good enough."

"Nice to see you too," Austin commented, ruffling her hair.

"I'm gonna go get something to eat. Do you want anything?" Andy asked.

"I'm okay," Austin answered. He knew his father had been terrified. He felt bad for putting him through it.

"Sam's outside," Cassie said, sitting on the chair next to him.

"Yea?"

"Yea."

He hadn't seen Sam yet. He wondered why she was keeping her distance.

...

"Go in there," Rhonda ordered.

"I can't," Sam shook her head.

"Why not?"

"Because it's my fault he's in there. He probably never wants to see me again," Sam said, crossing her arms. She knew she was probably being irrational, but a big part of her was afraid to see him herself. Had he heard her confession? Would he feel the same way? If he didn't, she knew she couldn't take the rejection. Perhaps it was better not knowing what could have been.

"So you're just gonna leave and never look back?" Rhonda asked.

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Sam! You can't do that to him. That boy loves you."

"How do you know that?" Sam asked.

"By the way he looks at you. Come on, Sam. You know it's true."

They were farther down the hallway so Austin couldn't hear them. Sam didn't want to intrude on his time with Cassie or his father. She had held herself back from rushing in there to profess her love, but now she didn't know what to do.

"Sam..." Rhonda said, her tone with a slight warning to it.

"I can't do this," Sam responded, turning to run away. Rhonda called after her, but she didn't stop. Sighing loudly, she turned to go into Austin's room. He smiled at her when she came in.

"Told you I'd be okay," he said.

"You didn't have to give me the heart attack first," Rhonda retorted. She went in to hug and give him a kiss on the cheek.

"Scars impress people," Austin commented, smirking. Rhonda rolled her eyes.

"Where's Sam?" Cassie asked. Rhonda noticed Austin was wanting to know the answer for that too.

"She had to go," Rhonda replied.

"What? Why?"

"She had some things to take care of."

"She can't face me, can she?" Austin asked, getting it. She would rather run that face him. That hurt.

"I think she just needs someone to go after her this time," Rhonda said, raising a brow. She knew all about what had happened on that football field ten years ago. Austin flushed.

"I'm kind of strapped to a hospital bed," he gestured.

"You won't be forever."

"Point taken."

"See to it that you do because I don't want to have to whup your butt if you don't," Rhonda threatened. He held up his hands in mock defense.

"Yes ma'am," he nodded. His father had returned by then, and everyone was talking now. He wanted to get out of there and find Sam. He had to talk to her, and if she rejected him, then at least he'd know.

...

A few hours later, Austin was visited by his teammates Andy, Russell, Peters, and Amy. They stood around his bed after the typical salutations to one another. Andy had released Diego, who was whimpering and trying to climb onto the bed with Austin. The dog had been given special permission to come in after some cajoling with the doctor and nurses.

"It's good to see you too, buddy," Austin laughed, rubbing Diego's ears.

"Sorry we couldn't tell you," Andy said after a moment.

"It's all right," Austin replied.

"Thank you for saving my life," Amy said. She had never been more grateful to hug her children when she had gotten back home. She had asked for some desk duty for a while to recover from everything.

"Thank you for not really shooting me," Austin laughed. She smiled back.

"You gonna be all right?" Peters asked, gesturing to the area where he'd been shot.

"Yea. They say I'm lucky."

"Well, it all got sorted. Too bad Bruce couldn't face his charges and prison time, but I think maybe death is just as good of an outcome for him," Russell commented. "Garzinger will do life, though."

"I can't believe we finally got him," Austin said. "But next time, you let me in on it, all right?"

"All right," Andy agreed. They bumped fists.

"Hey, Cassie stabbed one of the guys who took her..." Austin started.

"It was one of Garzinger's men we killed. We've got it," Andy told him. "Rhonda gave it to us."

"What happened to the reporter?" Amy asked, curious.

"She went on her way," Austin replied. He knew they didn't know his history with Sam. There was no point in bringing it up.

"All's well that ends well I suppose," Andy commented. "We'll leave you to get some rest."

"Thanks for coming in, guys," Austin nodded. They said their goodbyes and left. Andy took Diego with him until Austin was released. Austin waited for Sam to come back, but she never did. He hoped that by the time he got to her that it wasn't too late.

A Few Days Later

Sam had almost gone back to the hospital multiple times, but she didn't know what was holding her back. She had finished writing her story for her editor. It was going to be published soon, and everyone would know what had happened in the Garzinger case. She always felt a sense of relief after finishing a story, but not this time. It had caused so much trouble and angst that she felt that maybe it shouldn't even be told. She was in her condo getting ready to make dinner when there was a knock on her door. She froze at first, wondering who it could be. After everything, she still sometimes expected someone to jump out at her and kidnap her again. She was considering talking to a therapist about it.

She checked to see a shoulder but not the person's face.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"An old friend," came the reply. She closed her eyes briefly. Austin. Of course he'd come to her. She did want to see him, though, which explained why her heart was starting to act crazy. She opened the door, and he stood there looking at her.

"Hi," she said.

"You left," he countered. She pressed her lips together.

"I know," she nodded.

"Why?"

"I just...I just didn't want you to be mad at me," she said, moving to let him in. He shut the door behind him and stood watching her.

"Why would I be mad at you?"

"I didn't listen. I almost got you killed saving my life. I just assumed."

"Well, stop assuming."

They looked at each other for a moment.

"So why are you here?" she asked finally.

"Because I thought that after everything we just went through we could at least be friends again," he answered. He wanted more, but he thought he'd start with friends first.

"Can we?"

"I don't know. Can we?" he asked, putting it back to her.

"I asked you first," she pointed out.

"I think we can, but I also think that there's more to it than that," he noted. Sam knew what he meant, and she wondered if he knew she felt the same way.

"Like what?" she questioned, making him say it first.

"I'm not going to tiptoe around this anymore," he said. "Sam, I've always cared about you. I'm sorry I didn't drop football and chase after you that night because that was the biggest mistake of my life. I'm sorry I wasn't brave enough then to admit what I wanted, but I'm brave enough now. Sam, I love you. Can we try again?"

The silence settled in the condo when his words were finished. Sam blinked. Was this really happening?

"Sam?" he prompted. He felt nervous. Had he misread everything? Was she going to say no?

"I have waited so long to hear you say that," she said finally, her voice emotional. "I love you too." He didn't even wait. He moved in, grabbing her face with his hands and kissing her with all he had. This was happening. He and Sam were going to finally be together. She pulled him in closer, still kissing him. Austin never wanted the moment to end. He had finally gotten what he just realized that he'd always wanted.

...

Cassie could tell right away when Austin got home that things had gone well. She searched his face.

"So? Did you do it?" she prompted. He grinned.

"I did it."

"Yes!" she exclaimed, fist pumping. Austin laughed. Diego bounced around at all the excitement in the air. Austin bent to pet him vigorously.

"Rhonda will be so pleased," Cassie commented.

"You can be the one to tell her," he smiled. Cassie loved Rhonda, and he knew a friendship was happening there. Rhonda was very much like the mother figure that Cassie needed. Austin was grateful she offered to stay in their lives. He laughed as Cassie pulled out her phone to text Rhonda. He knelt beside Diego then, rubbing the dog's ears.

"We did it, boy," he said. "We told her how we felt, and she reciprocated. I think things are going to be really good from here on out." Diego licked his face eagerly. Austin grinned. He felt so happy. He felt for once that things were going to be great. He couldn't wait to see Sam again at dinner. They had a lot to catch up on. He had finally let go of the guilt from ten years ago. It was time to start things fresh. The future looked good.

The End


Thank you JeanneJam for your continued support/reviews on most of the stories I write. I always love hearing from you :)