Holy cheez-its, guys. Facts: I started writing this story in 2008. Prior to this chapter, the last time I had updated this story was in the summer of 2010 (6.15.2010 to be exact). It is now 2016. Within those 6 years, I've gotten a number of requests for an update and tonight I am acquiescing. Please, if you're reading this now, let me know what you think. I would love to finish this for anyone who is interested.
"Listen to me, you two." Mrs. Farrell looked between Sam and Carter and smiled. "I know that there's been a lot to absorb tonight. Sam, honey," she reached for the teenager's hand and squeezed it gently, "you are always welcome here. And I don't want you to worry about things you shouldn't have to. Carter's father and I will help you deal with Fiona. Now, it's not too late for you both to run over to the dance. This will be one of your last chances to enjoy a night like this together, so I want you both to go. But make sure you're home by midnight, okay? No shenanigans." After saying 'shenanigans,' she winked at them and they both laughed.
Carter stood up from his seat and hugged his mom, wondering silently to himself how it was possible for Sam and himself to end up in such drastically different homes. Although his heart ached for Sam, in this moment it felt so full by his mother's affection. "Thanks, mom," he whispered into her ear.
"Love you, monkey," she whispered back, using his childhood nickname.
Sam sat and watched the exchange, feeling a mixture of happiness, comfort, and very slight jealousy at seeing the mother-son bond.
"Carter, do you wanna go to the dance?" Sam asked.
"Well," Carter said, a grin forming, "I think the world deserves to see Zorro with his bride, don't you?"
Sam and Mrs. Farrell laughed.
"You're insane," Sam said.
Carter raised his eyebrow jokingly. "Am I, though?"
"Yes," both women said in unison.
It was their third date, but to Austin Ames, it easily felt like their thousandth. As 'Nomad,' he had learned so much about 'PrincetonGirl.' For Sam and her to be one in the same meant that he already had so much about Sam filed away. He knew about her evil stepmonster, he knew that she was desperate to leave home and that Princeton was the destination, he knew what her favorite book was, her favorite TV show, her favorite band. And so, their dates were far less intimidating than either of them had anticipated. Not that he would admit to being even slightly nervous to Sam.
Looking at Sam now, who seemed both calm and anxious at the same time, although the anxiety had nothing to do with their date, he asked her something he used to always ask PrincetonGirl: "Tell me something true about you."
His words snapped Sam back to reality and she responded by taking a sip of her milkshake to stall her response. Then, she replied, "I'm happier than I've been in a long time."
If Austin's smile had been any wider, his face would have split in two. "Why's that?"
"Well, as of right now, I'm not living with Fiona anymore. That alone is a gift," Sam said, with a slight twinge of sarcasm. "It makes me so furious that she has so much control over my dad's legacy, but I can't have her controlling my life anymore. It's not what my dad would want for me." Her words were an almost echo of what Rhonda had said the night before, and they had resonated deep within her. Sometimes it was a struggle for Sam to accept the sentiments as truth, but this was one moment where she trusted that they were true.
"Yeah, I get that," Austin said, waiting for Sam to go on.
"And I mean, I still have to go back to the house to get the rest of my stuff. I've been avoiding it just so I could soak in my freedom a little, y'know? I'd almost just leave everything there, but dad gave me this fairytale book when I was little and I can't just leave it behind."
"And you're living with Carter now?" Austin asked. He did such an excellent job of hiding his jealousy that it was almost as though it was Austin, and not Carter, that was the actor of the two boys in her life.
Sam nodded, and the look in her eyes showed just how happy she was about this. "Yeah, Carter's mom is incredible. She's letting me stay with them for the rest of the year. Like, I can't even begin to tell you how amazing she is. Carter's lucky to have them."
"He's lucky to have you," Austin said, before he could stop himself.
Sam couldn't stop the blush from forming. She quickly gulped down more of her milkshake and Austin took the opportunity to press her more about the newfound happiness she had spoken of moments earlier: "So, there's...nothing else...making you happier than before?"
Sam looked down, her hat completely shielding the truth on her face from him. "There might be some boy who's helped a little," she mumbled.
"You're beautiful," Austin told her, a reply that caught her off guard.
She looked up, frozen, but full of glee, and told him, "You're trouble."
"I hope you like trouble, then, Sam."
When she said with surprising confidence, "I do," Austin knew that Sam's analysis was completely wrong.
Sitting in front of him was a girl who was beautiful, kind, hard-working, funny, sweet, strange, smart, and motivated. She was Trouble, but Austin didn't care. He just wanted this unbelievable human to remain happy.
"I hope you know this means I'm going to kiss you tonight, Sam."
Her blush remained, but she was happy to hear him say it. "Tell me something true about you," she said, spinning his own inquiry back on him.
"I'm happier than I've been in a long time," he said, unable to contain his grin.
Sam walked into the Farrell's home after her date with Austin and leaned against the front door, her heartbeat racing. It was close to 10, which meant that Carter's mom and dad were already in bed, both being very early risers, so Sam didn't feel self-conscious about raising her hand to lightly touch her lips. They were still tingling from Austin's kiss.
"Fun night?" she heard to her left.
Sam jumped into the air, letting out a quick, but fairly quiet, "Oh, my God!"
Carter laughed, uncomfortably and nervous. "Sorry," he said.
"Carter, you scared me," Sam said, laughing. "I didn't see you."
To be fair, Carter had been laying in nearly complete darkness, making it difficult to notice that there was someone in the living room next to her.
"My bad," he said, sitting up onto the couch.
"You know, I really didn't think that Austin and I could ever be anything," Sam said, gushing to her oldest and best friend, "but it feels right, Carter. It's been good."
Sam knew that she could be honest with Carter, because he was one of very, very few people in her world who had always been there for her. She knew that she could trust him with the way her heart really felt, no matter how cheesy or girly she came across.
But what she didn't know was that Carter's reception of her happiness was full of his own deep unease. He wanted, desperately, to be happy for Sam, but it was a tall order. He had projected his feelings for Sam onto girls he didn't care about, like Shelby, as a means of deflecting and keeping Sam from finding out the truth. Pining for Shelby was easy, because although he did find the popular girl attractive, she was no Sam.
"I'm so happy for you, Sam. You deserve to be happy," he said, and it felt like he was choking on the words.
"You're the best," his favorite person said back. "I don't know what I would do without you."
She moved from her spot and walked over to give Carter a hug. "I mean it," she told him.
"I know, buddy. I feel the same way." Holding her in his arms, Carter felt briefly complete. But when they parted, he felt shattered all over again.
Developing this love triangle has been so much fun. It's been a goal of mine to make it truly difficult to root for one pair over the other and even as the writer, I've been struggling, because I like Carter and Austin so much. But, how do you feel? Team Austin? Team Carter? Let me know!