"SAM! SAM!" Austin immediately called her cell phone back only to be greeted by her voice mail after the fourth ring. After trying Ryan's number with the same result, he finally called Carter.
Austin breathed a sigh of relief, "Carter, it's Austin. Have you talked to Sam?"
"No I haven't. I've been trying her cell phone all night but her voice mail keeps picking up." Carter could hear the panic in Austin's voice and wondered what had happened.
"Carter, she just called me and I think she's at Ryan's."
"What? How do you know?"
"Because it sounded like she was about to say his name but then the call was disconnected. I don't know what happened. Something's wrong Carter. She sounded really disoriented; her words were slurred and she couldn't complete a single sentence. She's in trouble Carter, I know it." Austin's throat was burning with every word he uttered.
"Okay, calm down. Where does Ryan live?"
"Um," Austin took a deep breath to try and calm his nerves, "It's … it's 37 West 59th Street."
"How far away are you?" Carter asked.
Austin reflexively looked out the window as if he would be able navigate his exact coordinates based on the passing trees, "I don't know. I think I'm still about fifteen minutes out."
Carter was in the process of putting his coat on, "Okay, I'll head over to Ryan's now and you go straight there once you're train gets in."
"Carter wait! I have no idea how to get to Ryan's."
Carter sighed in a way that made his cheeks fill out when he exhaled. He knew it wasn't Austin's fault but he was frustrated at the time they were going to lose. "Fine. I'll meet you at the train station then we'll go to Ryan's"
"Okay. Thanks Carter."
After about twenty minutes, Austin was quickly weaving his way through Penn Station after his train got in where he finally found Carter waiting for him. "Carter! Thank God!" Austin reached out to shake his hand, "Thanks for meeting me bro."
Carter gave him a sideways glance and wondered when he had become Austin's 'bro'. He didn't much like the term especially in light of everything that had happened, but he pushed it aside for the time being. The short, buzz-cut type hair that Carter had last seen Austin with had grown out some and was now sprouting in several different directions. Austin's eyes were bloodshot and puffy, his shirt was a mess of wrinkles and only one shoelace was tied. All in all, it was plainly obvious that Austin was a wreck. Right now, they had more important things to deal with so Carter accepted the hand shake and just responded with a weak, "No problem."
"How far do we have to go?" Austin asked as he followed Carter through the hoards of people.
"About six blocks, three of which we can do on the subway and avoid part of the near sub-zero temperatures and torrential rain outside." Carter looked at his watch and saw that they only had a few minutes to reach the 34th Street subway terminal inside of Penn Station. "Come on, we have to hurry." They ran past shops and restaurants that lined the hallways, people singing with their instrument cases lying open for donations, and small, covered masses that were men or women sleeping on the floor. Finally they flew down a flight of stairs, and headed for the uptown A-line train just as it was about to close its doors. Carter and Austin jumped on with only a second to spare.
Austin sat silent in the subway car. It only took about five minutes to travel the three blocks but it seemed like a century because with every passing second he came another step closer to losing Sam. He didn't know if she was safe; he didn't even know if she was really at Ryan's but it was the only chance he had. All he could do was wait and it was damn near killing him. Austin grabbed his knees with his palms in an effort to keep his legs and hands from shaking but it wasn't working. Finally, he heard a recording announce the stop at West 59th Street. "That's us?" Austin asked Carter without really expecting an answer.
"Yeah, come on." Carter followed the exit signs as he ran down the platform and then up a flight of stairs onto the corner of 8th Avenue and West 59th Street.
Austin had remembered Carter saying that it was raining but he didn't process the information until the ice cold water was hitting his face. He pulled his coat tighter around him while cursing himself for not wearing his jacket with a hood. Through the rain drops, he looked around at the mass of people and cars that passed by which mixed with the sounds of horns and conversations of the people waiting to cross the street. Austin wondered how anyone could find their bearings in this city and his fear for Sam escalated tenfold. "Which way?" He yelled to Carter over the throng of noises that surrounded them.
Carter pointed down the street, "That way. Almost three blocks." Austin took off running in the direction Carter had indicated with Carter close behind him. He could tell by the street signs that he was already on West 59th Street so all he had to do was find number 37. He ran as fast as his body would allow him, no longer holding his coat closed around him because it slowed him down too much. It didn't matter that the ice-cold rain was pelting against his chest or that his shirt was now clinging to his body which made him even colder than he already was. He needed to get to number 37 and he needed to get there now.
When Austin reached 200, he looked back and noticed that Carter had fallen behind a little. He looked back again when he reached 100 and saw that Carter had stopped completely. He was clutching the pointed top of a post on a wrought-iron fence which enclosed a three by nine foot section of grass that was someone's front lawn. Austin doubled back for about twenty feet before yelling, "Come on Carter!"
Carter was supporting himself on the fence with one hand, while the other rested on his knee. He looked up weakly when he heard Austin's voice, "Austin, I'm the Actor remember? You're the Athlete."
Austin ran back the full distance to where Carter had clung to the fence as if his life depended on it. "Carter, come on. We don't have time to stop." Carter heard the pleading in Austin's voice and looked up only to see the despair in his eyes. Finally, with his chest still heaving, Carter released the iron lifeline he was holding and conceded with a nod.
They began running again and although Carter was now clutching the stitch that had formed in his left side, he kept running right behind Austin until they reached number 37. Carter followed him up the front steps, without taking them three at a time as Austin had, and then followed him up to the third floor where Austin began pounding on a door with a small, plastic '3A' nailed to the front of it.
The scent of a familiar cologne floated through the room and hit Sam's senses head on. She didn't know where she was or what had happened, but she knew that cologne – it was Austin's. Sam tried to open her eyes but they seemed to weigh ten pounds which coupled with the fact that she kept drifting in and out of sleep made that difficult. It was then that she started hearing a voice, "Sam … baby?" She tried to move only to be stopped suddenly by a sharp shooting pain that traveled up her left side. "Sam?"
Sam replied weakly, "Mmmm … Aus … Austin?"
"Baby, can you sit up?"
"Mmmm … " Sam felt two hands slide underneath her torso and pull her into a sitting position. The movement brought back the pain in her side which caused her to wince. "Ow!" Sam cried.
"Oh I'm sorry baby. Are you okay? Sam, can you look at me?"
When Sam tried to do as she was told, she only managed to open her eyes a fraction of an inch for a fraction of a second but she saw it – that beautiful blue. The color that, to her, meant comfort, security, safety and, more importantly, love. "Austin?" Sam tried to sit up straighter which just caused her head to fall backwards because she didn't have the strength to hold it upright. That's when she felt a strong hand on the back of her head that pulled her up to where she could feel his breath on her face. "Austin?" she asked again.
Sam's concentration was broken by a pounding that she heard in the distance followed by the sound of other voices but she was quickly brought back to the man before her when she heard him say, "I missed you baby."
Sam still couldn't open her eyes but she managed to respond, "Mmmm … I missed … missed you too."
They were both gasping for air. Carter was bent in half still clutching his side when the door swung open revealing Ryan on the other side with a look of surprise on his face, "Austin! Hey bro. What are you doing here?" Ryan reached for his hand and pulled Austin closer for a shoulder-to-shoulder man hug. When he pulled away again, Ryan finally noticed that he was drenched. "Whoa. What happened to you?" As much as he tried, Ryan couldn't keep his eyes from roaming down the front of Austin's body and he visibly shivered as he caught sight of Austin's shirt.
The top two buttons were open, exposing the indentation at the base of his throat. The small freckle just to the right of it caught Ryan's eye and he bit his lip to keep himself from reaching out to touch it. The shirt itself was plastered to every muscled ripple and groove in Austin's chest, leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Suppressing the shaky breath that resulted was impossible because Ryan had seen Austin without a shirt countless times before and now he was remembering that image.
Carter was watching the scene in front of him with more than a little suspicion. It was obvious to anyone with ears that it was raining outside so it shouldn't take that much time to study the state of Austin's clothes and figure out what had happened. Austin didn't seem to notice anything, but his mind was on other things at the moment. Finally, Carter decided to clear his throat to break the silence which caused Ryan to direct his gaze at him and the look in his eyes could have frozen Carter's blood. "What's he doing here?" Ryan asked curtly.
Again, Austin didn't even seem to notice. "He came with me. Ryan, we're trying to find Sam. Is she here by any chance?"
Ryan looked back to Austin and his eyes softened immediately. He sighed and then looked away as if he couldn't bear to see Austin's reaction when he answered his question. "Yes, she … " Austin didn't even wait for Ryan to finish before he pushed past him and began running from room to room in the apartment. "Austin, wait! I don't think … "
Austin had stopped suddenly in the doorway to the living room. The sight before him caused his eyes to widen and his breathing to almost stop. Sam was sitting on the couch with a guy he had never seen before and Austin was just in time to hear her say, 'Mmmm … I missed … missed you too' right before she was pulled into a kiss.
Ryan came up behind him followed by Carter and they could almost hear Austin's heart breaking. As he watched the woman he loved kissing another man, Austin couldn't help but rationalize that he had done the same thing to her, even worse, so what could he really say? He was torn between storming across the room to beat the hell out of the guy Sam was with or just leaving her to be happy. While his breathing grew rapid and heavy and Austin subconsciously clenched his fists, it seemed that he had chosen to go with the first option. But then Austin saw the man take Sam's hand to place it on his cheek and then cover it with his own. And from where he was standing, Austin could clearly see tongues dancing in rhythm with one another. It was that moment when something in him gave up. He couldn't be angry with her and he didn't want to cause her any more pain or tears.
Austin turned, pushed past the two men who were still standing behind him, then walked out the front door with Ryan on his heels. Carter was still frozen by the scene in front of him because he honestly just couldn't believe what Sam was doing. Even after he heard the front door slam, he couldn't take his eyes off of the pair on the couch. It may have seemed perverse, but Carter couldn't get over how Sam was reacting. Actually, it was the fact that she wasn't reacting that was bugging him. Every move she made seemed to be caused by the guy sitting next to her. He moved her hand to his face and then into his hair while keeping his own hand on top of hers the entire time. It even seemed as if her lips were only moving because his were pushing hers around. Suddenly, the kissing stopped and the guy turned to Carter, "Do you mind? We're kind of in the middle of something here."
Carter looked at the man but ignored the question and turned back to his friend. Sam's eyes were still closed even though they had stopped kissing. "Sam?" Carter asked hesitantly. He heard Sam make a small noise just before her head fell to the side to rest on her shoulder. Carter's eyes narrowed as he looked back at the guy who, Carter now realized, was holding Sam up, "What's wrong with her?"
Carter watched as the man gently laid Sam down on the couch before standing and extending his hand to him, "Name's Kirk."
As he accepted the handshake, Carter never took his eyes off Sam which is why he never saw it coming. The back of Kirk's free hand connected with Carter's cheek so forcefully it caused his glasses to fly off in one direction while his body went flying in the complete opposite. His limp form had hit the corner of a table before coming to rest in an unconscious heap on the floor. "Well that takes care of you," Kirk said satisfied.
Kirk returned to the couch and shook Sam gently. When she finally responded with a soft moan, he laid down on top of her to start kissing her again and was extremely excited when she started to react to his touch. "Au … Aus … "
"Yeah, it's me baby," Kirk responded before she finished. While his lips moved down the side of her neck, his fingers worked on the buttons to her shirt. After releasing the top three, he slid his hand inside where it rested on her breast.
As Kirk's lips moved to Sam's chest just under the base of her throat, she started to squirm. "Austin, when did you … you grow a beard?"
"Austin! Austin wait!" Ryan grabbed Austin's upper arm just before he reached the bottom of the stairs. As the muscles rolled underneath his fingers, Ryan watched Austin's eyes well up and he almost moaned. "Austin, are you okay?" After a minute, Austin's only response was to shrug his shoulders so Ryan decided to take a chance. He slowly pulled Austin into a hug; not a half-on, half-off hug or an ass-out hug, but a real, full-body hug. At first, Austin hesitated but it wasn't long before his emotions totally took control of his body and he just melted into Ryan's arms while the tears poured down his cheeks.
Ryan held Austin to him as tightly as possible, rubbing his back and reveling in the way he felt against him. What he wouldn't give to be able to hold Austin this way any time he wanted, even wake up with him in his arms. "Shhhh, shhhh." Ryan moved his hand to the back of Austin's head, "Everything will be okay Austin." Against his shoulder, Ryan felt Austin shake his head in disbelief. "Yes it will. Everything happens for a reason, you'll see." When Austin pulled away, he looked at the floor but Ryan wasn't deterred. He hooked his index finger under Austin's chin and lifted his head until their eyes locked, "I promise everything will be okay," Ryan said softly. Before he knew what he was doing, Ryan gently placed his hand on Austin's cheek and wiped the tears away with his thumb. His gaze slipped from Austin's eyes down to his mouth where it outlined the curves of his lips.
All at once it was too much and Ryan couldn't stop himself. Slowly, he moved closer to Austin; first with his body, then with his head. Their faces were mere inches apart but it wasn't until Austin noticed the movement of Ryan's lips as they began to part that Austin came out of his daze. He took a step back and straightened his body defensively as he moved his head away from Ryan's hand. "What … what are you doing?" he asked apprehensively.
Ryan's hand immediately fell to his side as he silently cursed himself for moving too soon. "I uh … uh, nothing. I was just … "
"NO! NO! STOOOOOP IIIIIIIIT!"
Both Austin's and Ryan's heads snapped in the direction of the scream they heard from above them. More specifically, when they heard Sam's scream from Ryan's apartment. Austin didn't hesitate for a second. He bolted back up the stairs, followed quickly by Ryan, and back into the apartment where he found Sam still in the living room but now struggling from underneath the same guy he had seen her kissing before. She was fighting him, although weakly, while he tried to take her shirt off. It took two strides for Austin to cross the room while his protective adrenaline kicked into overdrive and pulled the guy off of Sam before throwing him to the floor. Austin then fell to his knees next to Sam, "Sam? Baby? Sam, are you okay?" He held her face between his hands and smoothed the hair out of her eyes, "Sam, talk to me baby please."
Austin was suddenly ripped away from her when something grabbed him by the back of the shirt and shoved him across the room. As he was trying to push himself up from the floor, he noticed Carter lying a few feet away from him. "What did you do?" Austin asked as he turned to look at the guy he had just removed from the couch. The only response he received though was a foot connecting with his stomach. The blow caused Austin's body to collapse back to the floor where he moaned in pain.
As the guy lifted his foot to kick him again, Austin heard Ryan yell, "Kirk don't!" The distraction was enough to allow Austin to roll out of the way causing Kirk to miss and lose his balance. When they both finally managed to stand up, Kirk tried to catch him off guard by quickly throwing a right hook at Austin's head. But Austin managed to duck almost instinctively and responded to the movement with a punch of his own that connected with Kirk's jaw. While he was still off balance, Austin grabbed him by the front of his shirt and sent repeated blows of his fist into Kirk's stomach that caused him to double over. Finally, Austin took all the strength he had to slam his elbow into the back Kirk's head. The force caused him to fall to the floor first on his knees and then flat on his face.
"Ughhh, what happened?" Austin turned quickly in the direction of the voice and saw that Carter was pulling himself into a sitting position.
"Carter! Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I think so." Carter gently placed his hand on his cheek then winced in pain. As he tried to maneuver his body into a standing position, Carter suddenly remembered, "Austin! Austin, Sam wasn't kissing him. He was kissing her. I don't think she has any clue who he is or even what was going on."
Austin went back to the couch and sat down in the small space between the side of Sam's body and the edge of the cushions. He pulled her hand into his and tried to speak as clearly as possible. "Sam? It's me, Austin. Can you hear me?"
"Mmmm, Austin? Aus … no! No! NO STOP! AUSTIN DON'T!" Although her efforts were futile, Sam began fighting to get away from him.
When Sam started flailing her arms around, Austin grabbed both her hands and held them down. "Baby, it's okay. That wasn't me but I'm here now."
As much as she could, Sam kept writhing on the couch "AUSTIN PLEASE DON'T!"
Austin leaned over her further to keep Sam still, "Sam, Sam! That wasn't me baby. I would never hurt you. I love you babygirl." Sam heard that, his name for her, and calmed down almost instantly. Even in the state she was in, when he kissed her hand she realized that he didn't have a beard. Austin turned to Carter, "Carter, go downstairs and get a cab. We'll be right down."
Carter nodded and flew past Ryan then out of the room. Ryan was so stunned he didn't even have a chance to react before Carter left. How could all of this have gone so completely wrong? Austin wasn't supposed to be leaving, let alone with Sam in his arms. He was supposed to be in tears over everything, like he was before, so that Ryan could console him and then convince him that they belonged together. The desperation came on full force while he watched as Austin bent down to pick Sam up from the couch. "Austin don't!"
Austin stopped and stood up straight to look at Ryan. "What are you talking about? Don't what?"
Ryan looked at him nervously, "Um … what I mean is, um … are you sure you want to do this?" Austin just stared at him with a look of confusion. "I mean Sam runs away from you to come here. All she does is bad mouth you and air all of your dirty laundry. Then, to top it all off, she gets wasted and hooks up with my roommate here." Ryan gestured toward the form that was still lying unconscious on the floor.
Austin sighed and ran his hand through his hair which was still wet from the rain. "Ryan look, I don't know what happened and right now I don't care. All I do know is that Sam needs help and she needs it now."
"But Austin … "
Austin held up his hand in interruption. "Ryan, like I said, I don't care right now." He turned back to the couch and started to bend down again so he could pick Sam up, but he was stopped by a hand on his arm. Ryan had turned him around so quickly Austin was almost dizzy and before he knew what was happening, Ryan's hands were on the sides of his head and Ryan's lips were on his.
It took several seconds for Austin to get over the shock and realize what was going on before he pushed Ryan away from him. Austin wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand, "What the fuck are you doing?"
Ryan wanted to cry. He had never seen Austin look at him with so much hatred in his eyes before. Slowly, he inched closer to where Austin was standing. "Austin, why can't you see that you deserve so much better than her. Someone who will put you first above all else and do absolutely anything for you."
"Ryan, I suggest that you stop talking before you piss me off even further. I don't even know what to say to you right now so I'm just going to get Sam and then we're leaving."
Austin started to turn back to Sam only to be stopped again. Ryan had grabbed onto the front of Austin's shirt to pull him back and looked into his eyes. Ryan's knees were buckling underneath him as he pleaded with Austin. "She doesn't deserve you Austin. You need to be with someone who will take care of you, someone who loves you, someone like … like me."
Austin couldn't believe what he was hearing. This was so twisted, it was better than any story he could ever have dreamed of writing. "Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?" Austin looked down at Ryan with so much loathing, it was practically boiling in his veins. "Get the fuck off me!"
Austin's shove caused Ryan to stumble back about a foot but he wasn't going to give up, not when he was this close. "She's a whore Austin." Austin's eyes widened. "When are you going to see that she's just a fucking whore!" Austin's fist connected with Ryan's jaw so quickly that he didn't even have time to blink; the blow landing him sideways on the floor with a bleeding lip.
Austin didn't let anything stop him this time. He quickly bent down and scooped Sam up in his arms. With her head resting over his shoulder, he stepped over Ryan still on the floor but not before giving him one last order, "I don't ever want to see you or hear from you again." With that, Austin left the room and the apartment. He hurried down the three flights of stairs to the cab that Carter had waiting out front. As he slid into the back seat with Sam and Carter got into the front, Austin gave the driver instructions, "The nearest hospital and hurry."