By Ted Sadler
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
The clear night sky, for those city-dwellers who care to look regularly, is occasionally enhanced by 'streamers' of gold and green and yellow light, sometimes tinged with red. It's breathtakingly beautiful.
It's also a sign of the awesome forces at play whenever our Sun shows even a slight variation in the steadiness of its energy output that provides us all with life on Earth. The steadiness that we take for granted, and which allows us to regard the trivia of life as being somehow important. What fools we are.
Chapter 1 – Sleeping Dogs Should Be Left Lying
Surprise. Embarrassment. And, she couldn't deny it, a small feeling of excitement at the sound.
She turned to face the direction of the voice, recognising its owner through the hubbub of noise in the shopping mall before she caught sight of him.
A mutual pause was followed by the simultaneous utterance of "How are you?" and the inevitable light laughter.
"Don't get up." he said quickly, moving towards the small coffee shop table where Sam had been engrossed in the latest copy of 'Journal of Astrophysics' over a large Cappuccino. "Do you mind if I join you?"
"Of course not." she smiled back at him, her innate sense of decorum and good manners preventing any other response.
As he took his seat, Pete Shanahan gestured at the waitress across the way, who immediately recognised and acknowledged his request for a second cup to arrive in double-quick time.
"Part of the cover story?" he enquired politely, nodding towards her magazine. "You don't really still go for that stuff out of work hours, do you?"
His question caused a brief frown of puzzlement until she remembered that she had kept certain aspects of her lifestyle from him during the year that they had been together. Misguidedly, she understood now, she had believed that her own idiosyncrasies should not be brought into the 'perfect' lifestyle that had been, for her, the object of their relationship. He'd been so keen that everything they did should be a shared enthusiasm that it had taken her several months to realise that she had been holding back on some of the things that she really enjoyed – like immersing herself in science journals – and feigning interest in the things that he liked, such as trashy action movies and dining in fast food chains. The thought occurred that maybe her almost total acquiescence to his ideas had encouraged him towards taking autonomous decisions, leading to the fateful one – the step too far, or the wake-up call perhaps – of buying 'their' house without involving her.
Not knowing how to reply, she just shrugged and smiled. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "I thought you were… You know, transferring back to Denver."
"Takes time, Sam." he replied. "Plus I got involved in a few heavy cases in this part of the State. But by the end of this month, yeah, I'll be packing for the last time." He looked earnestly into her eyes. "Despite what happened to us at the end, Sam, I'm glad I came to The Springs."
Not knowing how to respond, she looked sharply downwards, and he cursed himself for his poor timing. He'd spent over a week trailing her around to be sure enough that she'd likely be stopping alone for coffee in this Mall today, and he had planned the perfect conversation to lead up to her inevitable agreement to going out with him again. And here, he'd blown it in less than two minutes. He decided on the spur of the moment to take another tack altogether.
"Oh my, look at the time! I didn't realise. I'm still on duty." he gushed, glancing at his watch. "Look, Sam. We probably won't meet again after today, but maybe you'd like to join me and a few friends for a drink this evening? One last time? Oh, please say you will! Eight o'clock at the El Dorado?"
"I'm not sure, Pete." Sam started to say, as nervous as she had been for some while.
"Please, Sam." he responded, a slight throb in his voice. "One last time? I won't get all gooey on you, I promise."
She sighed. "All right then. Twenty hundred. But I can't stay late."
Did she want to do this or not? Jack was in her life now in almost every respect. Almost….. He was still holding back on the one intimate part of their lives that enabled them to honestly say that they had not crossed the line of broken Air Force regulations. Only a few weeks to go before he left the chain of command and even that obstacle would be gone too. So, 'Don't Go' was sensible, but some part of her, driven on by the warm memories of passionate moments in her early days with Pete, coupled with her genuine regret at hurting him so much, stopped her from feeling entirely sensible. Sam watched Pete throw a couple of dollar bills onto the table and apologise to the waitress with a shrug of the shoulders as she approached with his coffee.
"Later, Sam!" he called as he walked quickly away, delving into his pocket for his cell phone. He speed-dialled his voice mail, knowing that there were probably no new messages since he had checked twenty minutes previously, but hoping that it gave the impression of genuine urgency.
Sam accepted the second cup from the waitress and glanced down at her magazine again, but the words didn't shout at her like before. Musing, it now occurred to her that Jack, by contrast, didn't mind her doing the things that she liked when they were together, and didn't seriously expect her to be mad about his interests either. The fact that she did enjoy some of them – his telescope, his pottery making, his music and his passion for ice hockey – was not at all forced on her part. Even the fishing was relaxing up to a point.
But Jack would never find out about tonight, would he? The slight feeling of guilt only added to her reluctant excitement.
Having showered and dressed for her evening out, Sam picked her cell phone off the dresser and saw the telltale 'text message waiting' marker. Confusion and alarm added to the tension that she was already building and she sat down on the bed after reading the few words.
'Meeting cancelled. Can be home late or fly tomorrow. Up to you. J'
After several minutes, the war of words in her head began to subside. Yes, Jack was the future, the reliable, always-be-there-for-you future that she wanted. But Pete had been devastated when she had called off their wedding and she couldn't bring herself to hurt him yet again by not turning up for the last time. It wasn't as if she was going to be alone with him at the bar. He said he'd be with friends, so it wasn't really cheating on Jack, was it? No, not a date at all.
In a rush before she lost her nerve, she keyed in a quick reply and pressed 'send'. The words 'Working late. See you tomorrow. Love S' disappeared into the ether and changed her life forever.
El Dorado's was moderately crowded but Sam soon spied her ex-fiancé across the room talking and laughing with a couple of his buddies whom she remembered from the Police Department. They all recognised her too as she walked across to join them, and fell into light chatter about being busy with case loads and lack of resources. Pete was in a surprisingly light mood as well, thought Sam, relieved that he wasn't drowning his sorrows or trying to cry on her shoulder. Or worst of all, hitting on her.
"Hey Freddie," he said to his pal, "how come you ain't been acting like a paparazzi all evening?" He turned to Sam to explain. "He's got a new toy, haven't you, Freddie? Come on, let's get it over with so we can enjoy the rest of the evening. I tell you, Sam, there's nothing he hasn't taken a picture of yet. Drives us mad down at the Precinct."
Freddie grinned and produced his shiny new all-singing, all-seeing, all-dancing cell phone from his pocket. "Takes pictures, shows videos and records sounds. Even makes phone calls too!" he joked. Sam laughed, remembering how Jack had bought one for Cassie a few weeks ago. Inevitably, he got one for himself as well (Cassie had more persuasive abilities with him than anyone, including Sam) and had been similarly obsessed with it for a while, the two of them constantly exchanging multimedia messages.
"So, make with the pics and let's move on, then!" laughed Pete, putting on a silly face for the camera. He clowned around for a couple of shots and then said. "Sam, how about one of us, just something for me to remember, OK?" And without waiting, he put his arm around her waist and turned her towards the camera. As Sam looked up at Freddie and tried to compose a smile, Pete rapidly leaned across and kissed her cheek, just as the flash erupted.
Annoyed at the sudden turn of events, she pushed him away and just stopped herself from uttering a swear word when she saw that he was, in fact, still laughing and making faces at the camera. Perhaps she was over-reacting, she thought, but was quite determined that no more intimate moments would be happening. That was so not the direction she wanted the rest of the evening to go.
Another round of drinks and the camera forgotten, more of Pete's police colleagues drifted by, the conversations moved on and around to the trivia of life, interspersed in the background with flash photographs of all and sundry. But before she realised, the others had suddenly disappeared and she found herself alone with Pete, the pair of them sitting on high stools next to a small shelf on which their drinks rested. Their conversation had come to a standstill, and she found that she didn't know how to bring their last evening to a comfortable end, except that she was determined to get it over and done with before too long.
Pete suddenly reached into his pocket and held a small glittering object out. Sam's eyes widened at the sight of the engagement ring she had given back to him weeks before.
"Pete…." she started in a warning tone, but he interrupted.
"I'd like you to keep this, Sam. I can't bear to hold on to it or sell it. All I know was that being with you was the time of my life, and I do know that you didn't….. don't feel the same any more. Please, Sam."
"No, Pete!" she said firmly, pushing his outstretched hand away. And damn Freddie for recording the scene as he moved through the bar!
She stood and picked her coat off the back of the stool. "Look, it was good to see you, but this is definitely it, Pete. We're not going to start talking about getting back together, because it isn't going to happen." She stood back and looked hard at him, and he shifted uneasily in her glare. "I'm sorry, Pete. This is Goodbye." Sam added as she walked off, not looking back.
Shanahan watched her walk out the door, and then glanced across at Freddie, who looked back at him and nodded his head. Pete smiled and sighed. "We'll see about that, Sam. We'll see what Mr. Wonderful has to say about that."