By Lois Kay
Disclaimers: The characters that pop up in this story spring from my own imagination. They're mine. So, if anyone wants to borrow them please ask. It's called copyright.
The Reef doesn't really exist, I think, but when it does, it's a coincidence. Australia on the other hand does exist, so does Kurrawa and Broadbeach, the Pacific Ocean and a few other places that are mentioned.
There might be some violence in this story, but you know the bad guys, you really can't sweettalk them into being perfectly good citizens. They sometimes need some convincing. And self-defense, well, that sometimes is a must.
You might run into a few strong words, but that's life, isn't it.?
The love part is the most interesting one. It's about a loving relationship between two women. So, if you're not as lucky as I am, living in The Netherlands and all, and you are easily offended, just find something else to read. I take no offense.
Right now I don't know how graphic the sex will be. That's a surprise (for me too). Depends on the mood I'm in once I get there. There will be sex between two consenting adult women though. So, beware.
Last, but not least, my main language is not English. It's Dutch. So, I wrote and read, re-read and re-re-read, edited and corrected (thank heavens for Webster's dictionary!) but you still might stumble across a few misspellings, stupid grammar mistakes and stuff. But be patient with me. Please ? I'll learn. Feedback is very welcome. Just drop me a line at : Lois.
The November sky was gray, heavy with the rain that had been pouring down for days. Now and then a small ray of sunshine tried to peek through a little hole, but never long enough to make an impression.
The woman sitting on the front row of the business class seats tried to concentrate on the documents that were scrolling through her laptop screen, but after a while she gave up. She switched off her computer with a sigh, leaned back into the comfortable seat and directed her gaze outside the window. There was not much to see, but grayness beneath and a darkening sky above.
" Excuse me, " a friendly voice suddenly interrupted. " Would you like a drink ?"
The woman turned her head and gazed into the pretty face of one of the flight attendants. Reflectively she returned the smile.
" I'd like some tea, please."
A stylis h blond head nodded and disappeared into the small, but efficient kitchen, to reappear with the requested beverage a few minutes later.
" Anything else I can do for you ?"
" No, thank you."
" We'll be serving dinner in about an hour, Miss Stevens. In the meantime, if there's anything I can do for you, please let me know."
" I will, thank you, " she replied, turning her attention to the steaming tea.
While sipping it, enjoying the rich taste, Samantha Stevens stretched her legs, crossing them at the ankles, a smile of contentment on her face.
" The way I do my long distance travelling now, is much better than when I was a student, " she mused.
Her thoughts travelled back to that time. The long hours being cooped up inside the aircraft. Not being able to get comfortable. Finally getting so tired that she felt like some other person was controlling her body.
" Well, I do have to admit, back then, the weather was a lot better. At least there was something to see, " Sam smiled, glancing outside.
"I know it's been a long time, Sam, but still, I wish you weren't going" her brother's voice suddenly echoed through her mind.
" It's a business trip, Tom, don't worry about it."
Sam remembered the look on his face and felt a tightening in her chest.
" There are people down there that, pardon my French, completely fucked you up a few years ago. What if...?"
" I won't go there, Tom. Australia is huge and the Goldcoast is very crowded. They never came up there in the first place, they won't be there."
" I still don't understand why dad asked you to go. He should know better..."
" I volunteered, Tom. He can't make a trip like that himself anymore and I know how much the resort means to him. I know that to you it was just another investment, but mom and dad have special ties with the country. Besides, I've lived th ere for a couple of years. I know a little about the "Australian way" . Face it brother, I'm the best one for the job."
" Just be careful, sis."
" I will, Tom, and I love you too."
After those words her older brother finally managed to produce a weak smile.
" All right, just find out what's going wrong at The Reef', have a vacation and hurry back home."
The unexpected image of a gentle face, surrounded by long, curly reddish blond hair, in combination with a pair of bright oceangreen eyes, sprinkled with little golden sparks, made her heart skip a beat.
" Don't go there, Sam, " she scolded herself. " It's in the past. It's over. It's a memory and one day it will fade. If you let it, " a quiet little voice added.
Sam shrug her shoulders and quickly reached for a copy of the Financial Times, pushing down feelings of melancholy.
Hours later, somewhere over the Indian ocean, the plane was cov ered in darkness. Most passengers were dozing off underneath a thin blanket. It was quiet. The only sound was the steady roaring of the huge engines, that somehow managed to fade into the background once being ignored.
Sam had transformed her seat into some kind of bed, but sleep wouldn't come. Her blue eyes were either staring at the ceiling or outside the window. The sky had turned into a velvet darkness, sprinkled with millions of stars and constellations. The water of the ocean was as dark and there was no telling where the earth ended and the sky began. Occasionally a tinly little light betrayed the presence of a ship, floating on that huge body of water.
Being without any distraction at all, Sam couldn't help but turning her thoughts to the past. This time she didn't try to fight it. It was too much like all the other nights she had spent, restless, depraved of sleep, with only memories to keep her company.
With a heartfelt sigh she closed her eyes, giving her thoughts free reign.
"Sam, some friends will come visit tonight and they might stay a few days. Do you mind sharing your bedroom, just in case ?"
" No, of course not, uncle Joe. Do I know them ?"
Joseph Billings took a seat next to his niece and smiled at her. Sam had been with them for three months now and he was still surprised by the striking resemblence between his wife and the young woman.
" What ?" Sam asked, seeing the look in his eyes.
Joe smiled and patted her knee.
" Just can't seem to get over the fact that you and Esther are so alike."
Sam grinned and looked at the topic of their conversation, entering the garden with a huge pilcher of iced tea.
" She and my mom are twins, uncle Joe. That's why."
" Did you tell her, honey, about the McDonnell's ?" Esther Billings cheerfully asked, setting down the heavy tray.
" Do they have a daughter my age ?" Sam asked. " I mean, uncle Joe asked me if I wanted to share my bedroom, so...."
She winked at her uncle who shook his head and looked at his wife for help.
" Six children, " her aunt laughed. " The oldest one is a girl, yes, and she is about your age. But I don't know if they will all be here. David and Joan might have left that bunch at home. Jody is old enough to mind them."
With a heartfelt sigh Sam opened her eyes. It had been eight years, but she could still remember that day and she didn't have to close her eyes to see that image of their first meeting.
There was a knock at the door and Sam, who had just left the kitchen called out to her uncle.
" I'll get it."
She opened the door and stood face to face with a huge crowd of people, or so it seemed. She must have looked dumbfounded, because after a few moments of observing each othe r, a woman her aunt's age started laughing.
" I know, " she smiled. " It's like an invasion, but Esther said it was all right."
She had a cute Scottish accent and Sam could feel herself returning the smile.
" I'm sorry, come in, please. My uncle and aunt are in the garden, I'm Sam, their niece."
A tall, heavy set man shook her hand with a genuine smile.
" I'm David, the father of this lot and this is my wife Joan."
He stepped inside the house and gestured his children to do the same.
Six children obediently followed him in.
" I'm Matthew, " a tall, skinny teenager introduced himself. Being the eldest son he took it upon him to introduce his siblings.
" This is my youngest brother, Michael, he's eight. This little girl is Fiona, but we call her reds'," he explained, ruffeling her red hair.
" She's the youngest and just started school, so beware, she wants to impress you with her re ading skills all the time."
Fiona flashed Sam a brilliant smile, revealing a few gaps where a few of her milkteeth used to be. Sam grinned back at the little girl, shaking her small hand.
" This fourteen year old is Gerald, but we call him bird', because he is the only one in the family who can tame chickens."
" And I've got a magpie, " Gerald proudly added.
" Who gives me a headache," a darkhaired girl admitted.
She stepped around her tall brother and friendly shook Sam's hand.
" Hi, I'm Lucy. Matthew here thinks he's gods gift to women, so we call him romeo'. Don't let him fool you, he's not the eldest, just the tird one in row. He's seventeen. I am eightteen, and somehow he just can't seem to get over that."
Sam smiled into a pair of very darkgreen eyes and tried not to laugh at Matthew who was looking very indignant.
" If you guys could just step inside I can introduce myself so we c an get this embarassing way of introducing the McDonnell clan' out of the way, " a soft voice sounded, behind Lucy's back.
It was a very pleasant voice and when Lucy stepped passed her, Sam could see the owner.
She was a young woman, just a few inches smaller than herself. Her hair was more red than it was blond, not as fiery coloured as her youngest sister. It was a very soft colour and long and curly. Sam thought it was beautiful.
A warm hand grasped hers and Sam's eyes were captured by a pair of bright emeraldgreen eyes.
" Hi, Sam. My name is Jody and I am the big sister'. They are a handful and can make quite an impression, but I can assure you they are harmless. Just make sure they're fed on time."
" Well, um...my aunt expected your whole family to show up, so she made enough to feed an army," Sam hesitantly smiled. " You think we're safe ?"
Jody laughed and squeezed Sam's hand before letting go.
Sam closed the door behind her and turned around to see six pair of eyes watching her.
" What's your nickname ?" she asked Jody, suddenly very curious about the girl.
Before Jody could react her siblings already did.
" Pea, " they replied in unison.
" When she was little she put the green stuff everywhere, except in her mouth " Lucy explained, seeing the puzzled look on Sam's face being replaced by a smile.
" Shut up, Freckles, " Jody replied mildly.
Sam frowned. She noticed that most of the family members did have those little brown specks on their faces, but Lucy's skin was flawless.
" I suppose you got your nickname by not having any ?" she asked the younger girl.
Matthew was more than willing to clear up Sam's confusion.
" When she was little, not so long ago, " he added teasingly. " Lucy was the only one without freckles and she couldn't stand it One day she got a felt-tip and just put dots all over her face. It was waterproof so it had to wear off."
" Oh, I see, " Sam chuckled.
That night, Sam shared her bedroom with the three McDonnell sisters and to her big surprise she had a great time. Having only one brother she wasn't quiet used to the sisterly bantering and she thoroughly enjoyed listening to them.
Little Fiona was the first one to doze off, quickly followed by Lucy, leaving Sam and Jody to continue their whispered conversation.
Jody was very curious about Sam's land of birth and asked question after question. Telling in return about the village they lived in, just north from Byron Bay, up in the hills where her father had cleared a patch of the forrest and build their house. It was all self-supporting. No electricity.No television, radio or telephone. The refredgiator ran on gas and once a week the generator would run for a couple of hours to allow Joan McDonnell and her daughters to do the laundry.
" That's a good thing, " Sam sighed. " Imagine, doing all that by hand. That's slavery."
Jody remained silent for a few moments.
" Um...actually, we've only had the generator for a few months now," she replied and Sam could hear the hesitation in her voice.
" Oh....." Sam answered, not knowing what to say. " I..um.."
" Don't worry about it, Sam, " Jody's soft voice reassured her. " You are right, it did sound like slavery, but..um...you know, my dad...he's a good person, but...a little old fashioned sometimes. He's very black and white when it comes to what men do and what women do. We all have our chores. Ours are usually indoors, you know cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning. The only outside chores we have is looking after the vegetable garden and doing the slashing."
" Slashing ? Sounds bloodthirsty," Sam joked.
She could hear Jody chuckle and a small smile crossed her face.
" Slashing the grass, with slashers," Jody explained. " It's too hilly to use a mower."
They were both silent for a few moments. Sam studied patches of light that decorated the ceiling, caused by the streetlights outside. She felt very comfortable, lying in her own bed, talking to her new friend, enjoying the darkness that made things so much more intimate.
" You like living like that ?" she finally asked Jody. " I mean...it sounds pretty rough."
" We lived in Sydney before, " Jody answered. " I don't really like the city, it's so crowded and there's so much pollution and noise. People don't even know their neighbours half the time. Up where we live now everybody knows each other. Our closest neighbours live three miles down the hill, but they are there whenever we need them for something and vice versa."
" You didn't answer my question, " Sam gently reminded. " Do you like it ?"
" I love living so close to nature, " Jody sighed. " I usually get up early in the morning and when I look outside there are always dozens of little diamondfinches scattered around. I love watching them before I get up, they give me a sense of peace. And then there are the koala's."
" Koala's ? " Sam echoed.
" Yes, koala's, " Jody answered and Sam could hear the smile in her voice. " They live around the house and sometimes they cross the road when I drive up. They're so funny. They just sit in the middle of the road and only move when they want to. And of course we have wallaby's and paddymellons and snakes and spiders."
" And chickens," Sam added, remembering Bird's explanation on how to tame them.
Jody snorted and Sam could hear her turn around in her sleeping bag.
" So, I guess you do like living like that," Sam concluded.
" Yeah," Jody drawled, but somehow, Sam thought, she didn't sound convincing.
She must have fallen asleep after all, because Sam woke up when a hand touched her shoulder and a friendly voice softly called her name.
" Miss Stevens, in about half an hour we will be arriving at Brisbane airport. Maybe you would like to refresh yourself al little. It's been a long flight."
A bit startled Sam returned her chair into a sitting position.
" Uh..yes...of course...thank you," she stammered, still drousy from sleep.
She cast a look outside the window to see a bright blue, clear sky. Thousands of feet below the earth was a brownish green colour, with darkgreen patches where Sam knew there were creeks and billabongs. Now and then the scourching sun was being reflected off the tin roof of a homestead, making them look like a shiny diamond in a sea of dry grass.
Sam yawned a little when she stretched, trying to get the kinks out of her back.
" Ouch, " she winced, feeling a joint pop back into place. " Serves you right for falling asleep like a baby, Samantha Stevens. You were supposed to come up with a plan, remember, a strategy to discover where all that money went to."
Sam's thoughts went back to that tuesdaymorning, a few weeks ago. Her father had called her at the office and asked her to drop by that morning. He hadn't been alone. Two of his accountants and the company lawyer had been there as well.
In his quick, no nonsense way, Richard Stevens has shared his concerns about The reef' with his daughter. He suspected there was some mismanagement going on, since large sums of money seem to disappear on a regular base.
" One of our staff down there sent me an e-mail, informing me that things are wrong. I want to know what's going on, Samantha. Somebody needs to go down there and have a look at the books."
" But...the one who informed you, can't he do it ? Obviously he already knows thing we don't."
" It was anonymous."
That was when Sam had volunteered, knowing that was exactly what her father expected her to do.
Within a few days the arrangements for her flying to Australia had been made. Her secretary had booked her into " The Reef", but using a different name.
" How am I going to pull that one off ?" Sam frowned. " I'm sure they'll need some sort of ID."
" They know there will be a visitor from the company, " her father had explained. " They just won't expect you. You'll get a company ID for Jennifer DeWit."
" Sounds like a cheap police story, " Sam had mumbled.
" Stop pouting, Sam, " Richard Stevens had growled. " It's for your own protection. Don't think I have forgotten what happened a few years ago."
" Dad, " Sam had sighed. " That is in the past. I'm sure I won't run in to...."
" Samantha, please."
And reluctantly Sam had agreed.
It didn't take long for Sam t o go through customs. Once it was clear she had nothing to declare, the custom officer put a stamp in her passport. With a genuine smile he handed her back the document.
" Welcome to Australia, Miss Stevens."
" Thanks, " Sam smiled. " It's good to be back."
The airport was buzzing with activity. Roaming across queues of patiently waiting travelers there were people hurrying along, probabely trying to catch their flights in time.
In three different languages a metallic voice informed the colourful audience about gates and flightnumbers.
In no hurry whatsoever Sam strolled towards the exit, appreciating the air conditioning. She knew that once she set foot outside the building, the heat would be rolling over her like a hot waterfall. And it did.
Sam took a deep breath and felt the warm air fill her lungs. She raked her fingers through her curly, unruly hair and looked around for a taxi, knowing she still had some ground to cover.
Her eyes fell on a taxicab that was parked in the shade and with a grin she headed towards the driver, who was a tall, skinny woman, probabely in her mid-forties.
" Need to go somewhere, lass ?"
" Actually, I do, " Sam smiled. " I need to go to Kurrawa, Broadbeach, if that's no problem."
The driver nodded and opened the trunk, taking Sam's suitcase and bags.
" Just hop in. I like to drive down the Goldcoast Highway. Where are you going ?"
" The Reef."
" Holiday ?"
" Well, let's say it's combined business and pleasure."
The driver stepped behind the steeringweel and turned on the engine. Immediately filling the car with a lovely cool airflow.
" Ah, that's great," Sam sighed.
The driver smiled and cast a look in her rearview mirror.
" You're not an Aussie, are you ?"
" What gave it away ?" Sam grinned.
" Your tan, " the driver chuckled. " Or actually, your lack of it. You're European ?"
" Dutch, " Sam answered, resting her head against the cool leather of the seat.
Two eyebrows were raised.
" You sure don't sound like it. Could have fooled me, lassie, no accent there. I thought you were a pom," she admitted, using a slang expression to refer to Brittish subjects.
" My father is English, " Sam explained. " But after he married my mother he moved to The Netherlands. My mom is Dutch."
While keeping the conversation light and sometimes funny, the driver skilfully manoeuvred the car through the afternoon traffic.
Sam actually enjoyed it and before she realized it, they arrived at her destination.
The driver pulled her gear out of the trunk and gestured toward the entrance.
" Do you need a hand ?"
" No, I'll be right, thanks," Sam answered, pulling some colourful
dollarbills from her wallet and handing them ove r.
" Have a good day."
" You too, lassie. Enjoy yourself and take care."
Sam turned around to take a long look at The Reef . The building was only three stores high, but very wide. From the entrance two wings spread to either side covering, the space of half a football field.
" Gee, didn't realize it was this huge, " Sam mused. " The pictures sure don't do it justice. But then again, I should have know, it does have threehundred rooms. Quiet an investment, dad."
Through the huge entrance, mostly built from steel and glass, she could see the private beach behind the complex, bordered by the Pacific Ocean.
Having reached her destination, after more than twentyfour hours of flying, Sam suddenly felt very tired and the thought of a long shower, a light meal and a soft bed, made her grab her bags and walk up towards the huge doors.
The main entrance was light and cool and decorated with huge plants, that made th e place look like a botanical garden, instead of a hotel lobby. Crossing the center Sam passed a fountain and with a appreciation she cast a glance at the water lily near the edge. It was delicately pink, surrounded by big, darkgreen leaves, scattered with tiny droplets that caught the rays of the sun, glistening like silver.
" Good afternoon, can I help you ?" a civilized male voice sounded as soon as Sam reached the reception desk.
Sam looked up at the young clerk and nodded, a tired smile on her face.
" I have reservations for a room. My name is S..Jennifer De Wit. I'm from Stevens Inc."
" Miss De Wit." He entered her name into the computer. " Yes. Here you are. Can I see your company ID, please ?"
Well, that goes smooth.
" Of course. Here you are."
Sam handed the clerk her false ID and he checked her employee number.
" Thank you, miss," he said, returning the card. " You will be in room 315. T hat is on the third floor. It's the executive suite. I'll send someone up with you to carry your luggage. If there's anything you need, just ask, " he smiled. " Welcome to The Reef '."
Sam returned the smile and took the keycard he handed her. The phone rang and the clerk picked it up. Sam recognized it as an internal call.
" Excuse me, Miss De Wit, " he apologized. " Hello, this is Brian.....Yes...yes...of course. No, I haven't had the time yet. I could bring them up if....Oh..that's okay. Thanks. See ya."
He gestured to a young boy, dressed in a yellow shirt and darkblue shorts.
" Pete, would you please show miss DeWit the executive suite ?"
The young boy shot a curious glance at Sam and she could almost see his brains work, trying to figure out why someone, important enough to stay at the executive suite, was dressed like a tourist.
Sam quietly followed him to the elevator and within a few minutes she rounded the co rner to the executive wing.
If she hadn't been so tired, she would have avoided a collision. But since she was exhausted, she stopped paying attention to her surroundings.
With an audible thump she crashed into someone who was just rounding the same corner, in the opposite direction. A stack of paper immediately flew into all directions and Sam mumbled a curse.
" I'm sorry, " she quickly apologized, bending down to pick up the pages. " Probably my fault, I wasn't looking."
A sharp intake of breath made her stop what she was doing and concerned she looked up.
" I hope I didn't hurt......"
Her eyes traveled up a slender, very feminine body and widened at the sight of a very familiar face. Reddish blond hair and a pair of emerald green eyes, exactely the way she remembered them to be. Only now they were filled with a mixture of fear, joy and disbelief.
" Sam ? " Jody whispered, clasping her hands together to try and stop them from trembling.
It only took a few seconds, but in that brief moment of time countless thoughts ran through Sam's mind. Her first instinct was to jump up and run away, but her body was frozen in place.
My God, she must work here. What do I do now ? Explain to her what I'm doing here ? No, I can't do that, I just signed in with a false ID. But why would I care about that ? My dad owns the damn place. I can't blow my cover. Listen to me, I sound like some sort of private investigator. I don't know what to do. Better stick to the original plan. Damn, damn, damn.
Sam picked up the stack of paper and slowly got to her feet.
" Sam ?" Jody repeated, her voice thick with emotion.
From the corner of her eye, Sam could see the bellboy patiently waiting in front of a door. His eyes were watching the scene with keen interest.
" I'm sorry. You must have mistaken me for someone else. My name is Jennifer DeWit," she softly said, not able to look at Jody's face.
Silently she handed the stack of paper back, wishing very hard that the ground would just open up and swallow her whole. It didn't.
Slowly Jody took over the, now very disorganized document and pressed it to her chest. Remaining painfully silent. Finally Sam dared to look at her and immediately her blue eyes were captured by a pair of green ones, looking almost through her. Already exposing her lies. And Sam felt very selfconcious and guilty.
It felt like hours, but it were only a few seconds before Jody spoke again.
" My mistake, I'm sorry. I thought you were an old friend." Yeah, and I'm the Queen of Sheba.
Her voice was soft, but Sam could clearly hear the anguish and the pain. For a brief moment she closed her eyes, and she was back in time, feeling that familiar wave of sadness, anger and longing wash over her.
O, God, Jody. Of all the people I could run into, it had to be you. I'm sorry. I am so sorry.
" Miss De Wit. I hope you will enjoy your stay with us."
Jody turned around and disappeared around the corner. Leaving Sam to deal with a pounding chest, trying to steady her breathing.
Sam didn't notice all the luxury in the executive suite. She just collapsed on the bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to get a grip on all the emotional turmoil going on inside. Reliving what just had happened.
" Lucky me, " she mused with a wry face. " Just arrived and already confronted with the past. If this is any indication, my stay is going to be a tough one."
She knows, of course she does. I never could fool her. Jennifer DeWit, yeah, right! It's been eight years, but I didn't change much, except for finally growing up. She still looks the same, more mature and...God, she still is gorgeous. Not that I expected otherwise. I wonder if there's anyone in her life, that....
Sam sighed and pushed herself to the edge of the bed, really needing a shower.
" Don't go there, Sam, " she scowled. " Leave it, just leave it. "
When she was out of Sam's sight, Jody leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath. Her hands were still trembling and she needed all her strength and willpower to compose herself.
She didn't have to close her eyes to remember the look of shock and confusion on Sam's face when she realized who it was she had bumped into.
It must have mirrored my own.
With still cold and shaky hands Jody pushed her long hair back, frantically trying to figure out what to do.
Stay calm, McDonnell. Just think. She uses a different name, why ? Well, probably doesn't want to be recognized, after all, she is Sam Stevens, daughter of Stevens Inc. I wonder if she is the one....
Jody felt her heartbeat slowing down and her breathing returned to normal. She pushed herself away from the wall and quickl y went back to her office, closing the door behind her.
She walked to her desk, picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.
" Meg ? It's me, Jody."
" Hey, Jody ! " a cheerful voice greeted her, bringing a small smile to her face. " Sarah and I were just talking about you. Haven't seen you around for a while. Been busy ?"
" Very, " Jody sighed. " This place can be so hectic sometimes."
" I don't get it, Jo, " Megan's voice sounded very serious now. " You are assistant-manager, but you are the one running the damn place, while your boss gets the credit and the pay. He's hardly ever around, is he ?"
" No, he isn't, but I hope that will change soon."
" Mmm, you sound stressed out. What's up ?"
Jody nervously tapped her fingers on the desk and tried to arrange her thoughts.
" Jo ?"
" It's....someone from the headoffice arrived today."
" Well, that's good, isn't it ? They must have taken your message serious if they are sending someone half across the world to check things out. Did he talk to you already ?"
" Megan, you are being a sexist, I never said it was a he ," Jody smiled.
" Must be a she than, " Megan chuckled. " Not much choice left. Well, did she ?"
" You won't believe this, Meg. It's the daughter of the boss herself."
" No, " Megan breathed. " Sam ? They send Sam ? O, my God, Jody. Are you all right ?"
" I don't know, Meg," Jody sighed, suddenly sounding very tired. " It's...I sometimes tried to imagine what it would be like to run into her again, but....I never thought it would really happen. I thought I had left the past behind, but...I was so unprepared for this. She used a different name, but I could see she knew I wasn't buying it, although I went along with it."
" Why would she do that ? "
" Well, if she really came down here to check thin gs out, I don't think she wants the word out that Stevens Inc.'s daughter is having a look around the place."
" She knows you know now. You think she is going to do something about it ? "
" I have no idea. I don't know if she trusts me."
" Jody, " Megan's voice sounded full of reproach. " Don't do this to yourself. You don't deserve that and you know it."
" Yeah, well, I think I'll just wait and see how things will develop."
" Sure, let her make the first move. If push comes to shove you can always quit and come work for me. My bookstore could really use a good assistant-manager."
Jody laughed and could feel some of the tension in her body slip away. Megan was a good friend and she could always count on her to make her feel better.
" Listen, Jo, Sarah here is handsignaling me and if I understand correctly she wants you to come over. Can't you leave early ?"
" Nah, I'm expecting a bunch of Japanese tourists any time soon, but I'd like to come after they are checked in."
" All right, deal. We'll see you in a coupe of hours then. Take care, my friend, don't let her get to you."
" I won't," Jody smiled. At least, I will try not to.
It had been a wonderful time, those few weeks. Almost for a year they had seen each other regularly, spending the occasional weekend together. Sometimes at Sam's uncle and aunt's, sometimes at the McDonnell house. Their friendship had rapidly developed and they both basked in the mutual shared feelings.
They had never spent more than a few days together and had been looking forward to the upcoming holiday season where Jody would be staying with Sam and her family for two weeks.
Joe and Esther Billings knew their niece was a very sensible, down to earth young woman with a lot of common sense and they allowed her t he freedom of a young adult, which she was. Jody on the contrary only knew her father's strict rules and was pleasantly surprised to experience the trust both Joe and Esther had in her.
They spent a lot of time on the nearby beach, lazing around in the afternoon or going for an early morning walk to see the sun rise. At night they often sat in the garden, talking about just anything or stargazing in companiable silence.
One evening they were lying on their backs, searching the nightsky for shooting stars, trying to beat each other in spotting the first one, when Sam felt Jody restlessly moving around.
" Not comfy ?" she asked with a lazy voice, without taking her eyes from the Southern Cross.
In answer Jody sat up, turned around and slapped the patch of grass behind her.
" Nah. Somehow this part of the garden doesn't want to agree with me tonight."
Sam turned her head and cast an affectionate look at her friend. She extended her rightarm and tugged Jody's shirt.
"C'mere," she invited.
One moment only, Jody hesitated, knowing their friendship would gain a new dimension if she accepted Sam's invitation. But it was only a moment. She willingly let herself being pulled down, resting her head on Sam's shoulder, feeling a strong arm settle around her back.
It took a little while for their heartbeats to settle down, but when Sam's finally did, she smiled into the nightsky.
" Better ?" she asked.
" Much," Jody sighed in all honesty, pleasantly surprised by her body's reaction to their unexpected closeness. Thoughts about her father were conveniently pushed to the background.
When Jody arrived at her apartment that evening she tossed her keys on the table and just crashed on the couch. Exhausted.
Dinner with Megan and Sarah had been very pleasan t and the couple even managed to get Jody to relax for a while and forget about the inevitable upcoming confrontation with Sam.
She treasured her friendship with Megan, very grateful that they had been able to remain friends after their relationship as lovers ended. Truth was they were better friends, than they were lovers, so a few years ago they decided to remain the first and end the latter. It had been a good deciscion, because their friendship had deepened and they were able to mean more to each other than ever before.
From the corner of her eye, Jody saw the flashing red light of her answering machine and with a grunt she slapped the button.
" Hey, sis, it's me, " Lucy's voice filled the room and braught a smile to Jody's face. " Don't tell me your working late again ! You are a disgrace to our lazy family ! Listen, I need to talk to you. I'll be home tonight, so if you can spare me a little bit of your precious time, I would be very grateful Talk to you later."
Jody was still grinning when she speeddialed her sister's number.
" Hey, Freckles, what's up ?"
" Hi, stranger. Long time no see. What do you do ? Work twenty hours a day or something ?"
" I might me crazy, Luce, but I'm not soft in the head. I was at Meg's and Sarah's place."
" Ah, that explains your absence. I called you a couple of times and finally got so fed up with it, I talked to your machine. I hate those things. How are you doing ? Haven't spoken to you for a while."
" It's only been five days, Lucy and I'm doing......all right."
" Doesn't sound convincing to me. What's wrong ?'
Jody briefly considered not to tell her sister, but decided to be honest anyway. After all, Lucy and Sam had been good friends as well.
" Listen, Luce, something happened today and I..."
" Are you all right, Jo ? You sound....I don't know...confused? " Lucy sounded alarmed.
" I'm fine, it's just......Sam is at The Reef' ," she bluntly dropped the bom.
Jody could hear her sister gasping, followed by dead silence.
" Luce ?"
" I hear you."
Jody could hear her sister release her breath.
" O, my God, Jody. How did that happen ? Did she come down for a holiday ? Did you talk to her ? How is she doing ?"
Jody told her sister what had happened, not leaving out any detail and finally Lucy sighed.
" Wow, must be a tough job for her. I hardly think she expected to find you there as well., they only took over the joint a year ago, didn't they ? And you've been there, how long ? Three years ? God, Jo, I just wish I could go over there and talk to her. I still miss her, you know. She was a good friend."
Her voice was soft and filled with sadness.
" If dad finds out she's here, he's going to freak out."
" I won't tell him, sis, don't worry. I just wish...never mind."
" You can't change the past, Lucy. I would have done it, believe me."
" I know, but I'm still convinced we never heard the real story, Jo, you can't persuade me to believe otherwise. There are too many questionmarks. What does it do to you sis, bumping in to her like that ?"
Jody frowned and put her feet up the coffee table, thinking about that question.
" It made me realize there are still a lot of unresolved issues, " she honestly answered. " I'm confused, Lucy, at the moment I don't know what to think or how to feel."
" Sounds familiar, " was the dry reply.
Jody was slashing the high grass around the house, enjoying it's sweet smell. The patch she was working on was underneath a few high trees and that, combined with a bit of a breeze made the work less straining than usual.
Absorbed in her thought s she didn't hear her sister sneaking up on her and when she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder she yelped, jumping away.
" Gee, Luce, don't sneak up on me like that, will you please ? You scared the living daylights out of me."
" Bad consience ?" Lucy sweetly informed.
Jody just cast her an annoyed look and continued her chore.
" Jo, listen, I have to talk to you, all right ? So put down that thing for a minute, will ya ?"
Jody turned around tapping her boot with the slasher, looking impatient.
" What's up ?"
Lucy wasn't a person with a cautious approach. She was very direct and not easily discouraged. Especially not by her sister, whom she adored, although she would never admit that.
" You're giving it away, Jo, it's so obvious. It won't take long for dad to catch on."
Jody frowned and stared at her younger sister with a blank face.
" What are you talking about ?"
Lucy sighed, shaking her head in disbelief.
" Jody, even a blind wombat with no sense of direction could clearly see that you're in love with Sam."
Jody's jaw just dropped and with a growing feeling of panick she looked at her sister.
" Close your mouth, dear, you're causing a draft."
Finally Jody was able to regain some sort of composure.
" I'm not, " she weakly defended herself.
" Come on, Jo, it's me. I'm on your side. And, yes, you are. Level with me, sis. I just want to help you."
Jody threw her slasher in the grass and turned away from her sister, feeling the tears sting in the back of her eyes. She bit her lip and swallowed hard, trying to push them back. Suddenly a comforting hand squeezed her shoulder.
" It's all right, Jo." Lucy's voice was soft and compassionate. " I'm not gonna pretend I know what you're feeling, because I don't, but I don't want you to get into trouble. If dad finds out he'll chain you to the wall, or something."
" Or send me to some mental hospital, " Jody sniffed. " O, God, Luce, it's so confusing, I really don't know what to do. I...I never thought I could...but... I did... didn't I ?"
" Head over heels, darling, " Lucy replied merciless. " Did you and Sam talk about it ?"
Jody shook her head and studied her boots.
" Surely Sam feels the same, " Lucy stated, watching her sister react in surprise.
" Come on, Jo, the way she loooks at you. You must have known. Gee, you're ignorant.Just be honest, will ya ? You guys kissed yet ?"
Jody's face turned into a deep crimson and Lucy chuckled, nudging her sister in the ribs.
" Lucy, sometimes, just sometimes I wish you would be a little less blunt," Jody replied, thus avoiding Lucy's question.
As a matter of fact they had kissed, the last night of their holiday together. They were stargazing, of course and Jody was tucked into her favourite position, snuggled up against Sam's shoulder.
" Final night, " Sam had mused, feeling an ache taking over her chest."
"Yeah, " Jody had softly replied, swallowing away the lump in her throat.
" I just had the best two weeks in my life," Sam whispered. " Hope we'll be seeing each other again soon."
" I'll miss you, " Jody confessed. " I already do and I'm not even gone yet."
Sam had turned her head to look at Jody and with their eyes only a few inches apart they had just stared at each other for a long time.
They wouldn't have been able to tell who initiated it, but suddenly their lips met and they kissed. Tentative and shy at first, but with quickly growing passion and confidence. Their position had shifted and all of a sudden they were in each others arms, Jody half on top of Sam, Sam's arms firmly wrapped around her. Finally Jody had to break away to breath, her heart ham mering in her chest and very aware of her body's reaction to Sam's touch. She could feel a hand sliding to the back of her neck, pulling her in for another kiss.
" You have no idea what you're doing to me, Sam," she had said with a husky voice.
" If it's only half of what you're doing to me, I'll have a pretty good idea," Sam had whispered, brushing her lips against the sensative skin of Jody's throat. She had slightly raised her knee when she had pulled Jody closer, causing her friend to gasp when the unexpected pressure at her center sent jolts of pleasure through her body.
Jody had moaned and collapsed into Sam's arms and they has stayed like that for a long time, reluctantly breaking the contact when they could hear Joe and Esther Billings returning home late that night.
" There's only one real solution to this, Jo and you know it, don't you ?"
Jody let out a heartfelt sigh and threw her head back to look at the sky.
" Leave home, " she stated. " I thought about that, you know. Dad will have a fit, but I'm twenty now, old enough to go and live on my own. Besides, there's not much work around here anyway. I don't want to work in that tiny postoffice for the rest of my life, listening to all the neighbourly gossip. I should go up the coast. After all, I didn't take that managing course for nothing, now, did I ?"
It was still early when Sam woke up from a restless sleep the following day. Although she slept through the night, she was still feeling tired and she briefly considered to stay snuggled up in the comfortable bed. She cast a look at the alarm.
" Seven-thirty," she sighed. " Well, I suppose that's a reasonable time to get up anyway. Better get started."
She padded to the bathroom and splashed her face with icy cold water to help herself wake up. A quick look in the mirror showed a pale face, with very tangled hair and dark shadows underneath a pair of clear blue eyes.
" I look like death warmed up, " she grumbled, patting her face to get a more healthy look.
" Forget it, won't work."
While brushing her teeth she heard her stomach growling and decided the first stop would be any place with decent breakfast.
Before going to sleep the previous night, Sam had decided to level with Jody. It seemed the most decent thing to do at the time, but now, realizing that moment of confrontation was only about an hour away she got second thoughts.
Maybe Jody is one of the bad apples I'm here to sort out. That thought made her smile and she shook her head. You don't believe that yourself, Samantha Stevens. Get real. She is the most honest person you ever met in your life. Take the chance and she'll prove it to you.
One last look in the mirror made Sam pull an ugly face, before taken her ke ycard and leave the room.
The executive suite was at the end of a long hallway, with a few offices on both sides. While walking past them, Sam read the signs on the door. Personnel' , Financial administration' , Management' .
" I wonder which one of them hides Jody, " Sam mused, rounding the corner on her way to the elevator. She had to do a full stop to avoid bumping into someone.
" Miss....DeWit, " Jody's voice was so cold and distant, it made Sam wince.
" We are making a habit of this, " Sam nervously joked. " Maybe we should come to an agreement, I'll stick to the right side, if you keep to the left."
Jody pursed her lips and seeing Sam not move, she started to walk around her.
No, no, Jody, come on, please. Help me out here.
Sam's voice was strained and her words sounded like a plea.
Jody stopped moving and stared at the opposite wall. Waiting. Slowly Sam turn ed so she could look at the woman standing next to her and if Jody would have looked up, she could have seen a look of total devestation in those clear blue eyes. But Jody's eyes were still glued to the wall and the look on Sam's face slowly changed to a less pained expression, when she was able to regain some composure.
Sam's mouth felt very dry and she swallowed hard, quickly moistening her lips.
" I'm sorry about yesterday, " Sam began, carefully chosing her words. " I....I was...wrong to...brush you off like that. I was just....so astounded to see you here, I...I'm sorry, I really am."
Jody finally turned to face Sam and for the first time in eight years they looked at each other closely. The cold expression in the green eyes faded, leaving shadows of hurt and sadness.
Jody cleared her throat and stared into a pair of eyes that brought back all the memories she spent years trying to forget.
" Why the change of name ? "
" I'll explain, but not here. I have to talk to you in private. Maybe we should go back to my room, if that's all right with you, " Sam quickly added.
Jody nodded in approval and silently followed Sam back to the executive suite.
" Sit down, " Sam invited, nervously fiddeling around with her keycard.
From the corner of her eye, Jody saw Sam fidgeting and in spite of all the issues between them, she took pity on her.
" Did you have anything to eat yet ? " she asked, remembering Sam's problem with low bloodsugars.
" Uh...actually, I was just ...."
" Can I use the phone ?"
Without waiting for permission, Jody picked up the phone and dialed a three digit number.
" Carlos, goodmorning, it's Jody. Could you please send up a Reef special brekkie' to 315, with some coffee and juice ? ....Thanks, Carlos, see ya."
" A Reef special brekkie' ?" Sam repeated. " Sounds....um...crunchy."
Jody's face lost some of it's tension and she actually smiled.
" You'll like it, " she stated, remembering Sam's fondness for sweet rolls. " So, tell me."
Jody went all businesslike, not realizing it was just that what made Sam nervous.
" It could be a long story, but I don't know all the details yet, so I'll keep it brief."
In a rather toneless voice she told Jody the reason for her presence, watching the younger woman intently when she spoke. Jody's face remained straight, giving Sam no clues what to expect in terms of reaction.
When she finished her story a knock on the door announced breakfast and Sam jumped up to open it. A tray with a selection of different breakfast items was placed on the table and Jody saw Sam's eyes widen at the sight of the freshly baked sweet rolls. She had to bite her lip not to smirk. Nope, didn't change a bit in that department.
" Want some coffee ?" Sam offered.
" Thanks." < BR>
She silently studied Sam, wondering why she felt so at ease. It had been eight years. So many things had happened, she should still be furious, demanding explanations. But seeing that blond head with the curly, always unruly hair and those familiar blue eyes, surrounded by surprisingly dark eyelashes, she realized there was still some kind of connection, deep down inside.
" Why did you tell me all this ?" Jody finally asked, her voice suddenly gentle. " I mean, if there are some strange things going on, I could be a part of that."
Blue eyes stared at her intently and Sam shook her head.
" Not you," she simply stated.
" Does that mean you trust me ?"
" I do, " Sam answered, shooting a glance at her. "It even occured to me that it could have been you who sent that e-mail."
Her eyes challenged Jody, who was caught off guard for a moment and looked back startled.
" Well, " Jody took a sip of co ffee, buying some time to organize her thoughts. " I...um.. Well, I actually did, yes."
" Why ?"
Jody decided that those blue eyes who were looking at her inquisitivly were much too distracting and she jumped up and headed for the window. The beautiful view of a clear azur ocean wasn't registered at all, when she carefully chose her words.
" I...thought that....About three years ago I came to work for Alex Livingston, the previous owner and everything here was organized just perfectly. When I started working here it was at the reception, but Alex had other plans for me. He wanted me to become assistant-manager, so after five or six months I was promoted. Not long after that, Alex retired, selling The Reef' to Stevens Inc. They hired a new manager and, as far as I know, wanted things to continue as they were." Jody leaned her hip against the window-sill and stared into the distance. The early morning sun highlighted the red in her hair, turning it into a warm, deep orange color.
" And they did, at least at the beginning, "she continued. " Recently though I noticed that some things didn't make sense, like....the accountancy, the numbers just weren't right. I asked William about it, but he told me not to worry, he would fix it. Two months ago I found out that he hadn't. "
Jody turned around, a pensive look on her face.
" Don't get me wrong here, Sam, I don't want to slander him, but....he's hardly ever here and when he is, nobody knows what he's doing. He comes and goes at random, always away on businessmeetings, I never hear anything about. A few weeks ago he was supposed to be at a meeting in Brisbane. I needed to talk to him, so I called, but he wasn't there. He didn't answer his cellphone, so I left a message. He never returned the call and when he finally came back here, he was raving about this interesting meeting, I'm sure he never even attended."
Sam bit the inside of her lip, a habi t Jody remebered she did when something was bothering her.
" What you're saying is very serious, you realize that, don't you ?"
Jody nodded and stared at the carpet.
" You also realize that I need something specific if I want to nail him."
" I have access to most of the computer files, I could show them to you, maybe you can figure out what's wrong."
" You think it's just a matter of money ?"
" I'm afraid not, " Jody sighed. " Last week I found out he's hiring illegal immigrants. He's paying them half of the normal wages. I can only guess what he's doing with the rest of it."
Sam suddenly sat up straight. Very alarmed.
" Illegal immigrants ? Are you sure ? He could get us into a lot of trouble with that."
" I know, that's why I finally decided to try and do something about it."
" By sending that e-mail ?"
Jody pushed her hair back from her face and sat back in t he chair, finishing her coffee.
" Why anonymous ?"
She had expected that question, but the answer was still dificult. For a minute she didn't answer. When she finally did, her voice was so soft, Sam had to strain herself to hear it.
" I didn't want your family to know that I work here. I hoped they would send someone down to investigate and I expected one of the accountants. Not the daughter of the boss. I...um..I didn't ....want... to rake up the past."
Sam glanced at the woman in front of her and felt her stomach tie in knots, when she realized the meaning of those words.
" So there's nothing to rake up, is there ? "
She didn't mean to sound so distant and bitter, but somehow couldn't prevent the words to carry her emotions.
Jody looked up, the sound of Sam's voice hitting her hard. She felt her stomach drop and swallowed hard to keep away a sudden feeling of nausea.
For long moments only the sound of the ocean waves filled the room, like a distant whisper, a neverending soothing sound.
" I told you once, young lady. Don't make me repeat myself."
David McDonnell was furious. He paced the room with his long legs, clenching his fists, his lips pursed and his blue eyes two chips of fire.
Jody could feel her whole body shake with anxiety, but she didn't want to give in. Not this time.
" Dad, please listen to me. I'm an adult, I am able to look after myself. I had a good education and the only thing I want is to find a suitable job. It's only up the coast."
" I did not raise my daughters to work at such a...immoral place. For the love of God, Jody, people run around half naked over there. I'm not going to expose you to something like that."
" You don't have to, dad," Jody replied, suddenly feeling very calm. "
I made up my mind. It's my decision. My responsibility."
" You are staying here, until you meet a decent man and get married. Not a day sooner," David raged.
Jody cast a look at her mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, nervously twisting around one of the cotton shirts she was folding. She intercepted her daughter's look and for a second Jody was able to hold her gaze. Then she looked away and Jody realized she was on her own. Knowing it was now or never.
" I'm sorry, dad, but I will take the job I'm offered. I was hoping ....I'll be leaving next week."
David McDonnell turned around and slammed his fist down at the table, making his wife jump in surprise. Jody just sat very still, recalling the love and friendship Sam abundantly provided her with, making it her anchor to get her through this terrible confrontation with her father.
" It's that Samantha, isn't it ? " He spat the words out. " She filled your head with all these nonsense, turni ng you away from your own family. But I'll tell you one thing, she will never set foot in this house ever again. You'll never see her again, if it's the last thing I do."
" Sam has nothing to do with this, dad. It's my decision, I told you that."
" Like hell she does. Since the day you met her, you started to change. Paying each other visits, all those letters you write. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're in love with her."
Jody tried to stop the blush creeping up her face, by taking a few deep breaths. But to no avail. Her father looked at her with an astonished look on his face that slowly turned to disgust.
" You are ! " he whispered. " Look me in the eyes and tell me you're not in love with her."
Jody kept her head bent down, too scared to look up and see the rejection she knew would be there.
" Look at me, " her father repeated. " LOOK AT ME !"
Finally Jody obeyed and let her eyes slowly travel up.
" Tell me, " David McDonnell demanded.
" I can't, " Jody whispered.
She could hear her mother choke back her tears, while her father's face went very pale.
" No child of mine is.....like that," he hissed through clenched teeth.
" You are staying right here. If you dare put one foot outside that door, you will have no more family and I will make sure you will curse the day you were born."
After those words he left the room, slamming the door behind him, leaving Jody with her sobbing mother.
That night Jody was silently packing a suitcase, afraid to wake up her father, knowing that if she didn't leave soon, her life would turn into a living hell.
A soft sound at the door nearly made her jump, but to her utter relief it was Lucy.
" Hey, Pea, you're packing. Good."
" You think so ?" Jody asked, fighting back her tears. " I'm about to run away from home, Freckl es and doing so, being disowned by my own family."
" Not by me, sis, " Lucy whispered. " Listen, you can't leave tonight, or did you plan to leave on foot. He'll have you back before you're down the hill and you know it. You'd better wait till the morning."
Jody rubbed her head, feeling a massive headache coming up. She looked at her younger sister, who made a very relaxed impression.
" What's in the morning ? Is there something you know, that I don't ?"
A small smile spread across Lucy's face and she looked very pleased with herself.
" Dad will be out in the morning. I heard him tell mom he is going to vicar Jamison, probably to talk about a cure for you. I arranged a ride for you. Sam will pick you up as soon as she sees dad drive past the gasstation. You'll be driving through Pottsville, don't want to run into dad on your way out, now, do you ?"
Jody's face had turned all shades of red and she finally stopped trying to hold back her tears.
" You did what ?" she sniffed. " You called Sam ?"
She walked over to her sister and wrapped her arms around her.
" Freckles, how can I ever thank you for this ? "
Lucy returned the hug wholeheartedly, knowing she would probably not see her sister for a long time.
" Just be happy, Jo. You know I'm on your side and I can promise you one thing, I'll be the next one to leave this house."
" As soon as I've got my own place, you're welcome to. What did Sam say ?"
Lucy loosened her grip and tilted her head to the side, a mischieveous twinkle in her eyes.
" Well, she said to tell you not to worry, to make sure you're ready on time and...that she loves you. And you know what, Jo, I think she really does."
" Jody, I hate to be the one to tell you this, " Sam finally broke the si lence. " But the past is a part of us and I don't know about you, but I can't block that out. God knows I've tried."
" So have I, " Jody admitted. " But there's no use dwelling on it, is there ? "
She looked at Sam, who was stirring her coffee with a stiff motion, trying to hide her anxiety and again she was surprised by the conflicting emotions that ran through her. Part of her didn't want to stir up all the bad memories and the pain she'd suffered, but another part wanted to get it out in the open. Talk about it to Sam, ask for explanations and maybe...just maybe...Jody moistened her lips and scanned her brain for something intelligent to say.
"I know, but I'm still convinced we never heard the real story, Jo, you can't persuade me to believe otherwise. There are too many questionmarks," Lucy's voice echoed in her mind.
" How's your family, Jo ? " Sam suddenly asked, catching Jody completely off guard, with the unexpected question.
Jody briefly considered giving a meaningless answer, not willing to complicate her life and being honest would certainly do that, but she decided against it.
" Lucy is doing fine, she's working at this lawyers office, " she answered, carefully chosing her words. " So is Bird, he's at the university, studying marine biology."
She saw Sam's face lose some of it's tension when she mentioned her youngest brother's nickname.
" Still hooked on nature, huh ? " Sam smiled.
" Yeah, it fits him like a glove, " Jody returned the smile, feeling this tiny little twinge in the pit of her stomach.
" What about the rest ? How's Matthew doing ?"
The last question was forced out and Jody could hear the catch in Sam's voice.
" He became a carpenter, he's a contractor really, has his own business."
The last thing Jody expected was Sam staring at her, with round, widened eyes, almost in shock. The blood was drained from her face and she looked sickly pale, even her lips had lost their color.
Unconsciously Jody strechted out a hand to touch Sam's arm.
" Sam ? Are you allright ? What is it ?"
Sam's eyes slowly traveled to Jody's face, a look of utter bewilderment in them.
Suddenly aware of her very dry mouth, she swallowed.
" Matthew is a carpenter, well, there's nothing wrong with that, of course. It's just that, eight years ago I was told he became paraplegic, after the accident damaged his spinal cord." Sam had to just force the words out, her voice still thick with emotion.
" Paraplegic ?" Jody repeated, the surprise evident in her voice. " Sam, no, he broke his leg, that was all. It was a clean break too. He was in plaster for a few weeks and that was it."
" Are you saying I spent almost eight years of my life feeling guilty for something that wasn't even my fault to begin with, asking myself over and ove r again if things would have been different if I had just.....?"
Jody's hands tightened around the arm of Sam's chair, steadying herself after a sudden wave of dizziness hit her. Realizing with painful clearity what the horrible truth was.
" Who told you that ?" she asked, almost inaudible, knowing all too well what the answer would be.
" Your father...and the vicar," Sam answered in a toneless voice. " They came for a visit at the hospital. Some visit that was."
Now it was Jody's turn to be shocked.
" You were in the hospital ?"
Sam turned to look at the woman kneeling next to her chair and her face softened when she saw the horrified look in those green eyes, darkened with emotion.
" For almost three weeks, " she answered. " I was flown back home when my condition was stable. I was pretty banged up."
Sam had lef t very early that morning, after a sleepless night. When Lucy had called to tell what had happened to her sister, she'd been a nervous wreck, counting the hours until the next day. Knowing Jody depended on her to pick her up in time.
Her uncle and aunt had been very worried and reluctant about the whole thing, but couldn't disagree with their niece when she said that Jody was an adult and had a right to live her life the way she wanted to.
After promising them she would be very careful, Jody had stepped into her uncle's truck, to start her two hours drive.
She had parked the car off the road near the gasstation and just waited with growing nervousness, carefully observing every car that passed.
Finally, after waiting for an hour and a half she saw the well known red Toyota Hi-ace coming down the hill, slowing down at the junction and heading for town.
Immediately Sam had started the engine and drove past the gasstation, turning right, steer ing the car up the hill. It was just a dirt track, with a lot of gravel and putholes, she carefully tried to avoid.
Halfway up the hill she suddenly noticed a motorbike in her rearview mirror. When it came closer she regognized it as Matthew's. His face was determined and she could see Jody's brother was angry.
" Don't give me a hard time, Romeo," she whispered, starting to get a little worried.
He steered his bike next to the car and motioned her to stop, which she did.
" Are you here to pick up my sister ?" he asked, an angry look on his face.
" As a matter of fact, I am, " Sam admitted. " Your sister is a big girl, Matthew. Just let her live her own life. She is a responsible adult."
" She is in love with you and that's wrong, " he hissed. " My sister is not turning into one of those...perverted...gay people."
" I'm not going to discuss this with you, Matt. Not here, not now. Whether you'll like it or not, she's going to leave."
" Like hell she isnt't."
Sam drove on, ignoring his angry remarks, until they came around a sharp corner. He tried to overtake her on the left side, forcing her towards the edge of the road that was bordered by a steep cliff. With horrific clearity Sam realized which way the car was heading and feeling the panic rise, she slammed the brakes. The gravel made the car spin out of control and while fear nearly choked her, she felt the vehicle turn over the edge. With a sickening crash the car overturned once, twice, tumbeling down a thirty feet drop, finally hitting a sturdy tree.
A sharp agonizing pain jolted through her body, taking her breath away and Sam could feel the darkness creeping up.
" Jody, o, God, Jody, I'm so sorry," were her last thoughts before unconsciousness claimed her.
Jody rested her forhead on her hands, t hat were still firmly clenched around the arm of the chair. Frantically she tried to cope with all the things Sam had just told her, but she felt like there was a fog in her head, preventing her to think.
" I didn't know, " she finally whispered, almost in tears. " O God, Sam, I didn't know."
Sam let her head rest against the back of the chair and closed her eyes, fighting back the tears when remembering those long, long days and nights at the hospital. Hoping and praying that Jody would come and visit, or at least send her a letter or a card. But nothing had happened and when she was able to travel back home, to Holland, she had given up hope.
" Where did you think I went to ?" she finally managed to ask, her eyes still closed.
Jody rubbed her face, looking at the still form sitting in the chair next to her, so close and yet so far away.
" They told me you had an accident, trying to run Matthew off the road and that you wer e allright, just a few cuts and bruises. Dad..." she swallowed hard. "Dad said the police gave you two options, to stay and face the consequences or go back to Holland. He said you choose to run."
Jody's voice was strained and Sam could hear the sadness and pain in it. She opened her eyes and turned her head so she could look at the younger woman next to her.
" And you believed that ?"
It was no accusation, it was more like a sad confirmation.
" Did I have a choice ?" Jody whispered. " All I knew is you were back in Holland. I thought you just left without saying goodbye and I ...I...just felt so hurt and betrayed. No, I could never believe you would do something like that, but what other options did I have ? You just disappeared, Sam. I didn't know what to think."
Sam raked her fingers through her hair, feeling a tear sliding down her cheek, leaving a salty, moist track. Impatiently she wanted to brush it away, when she felt Jody 's thumb softly removing the drop. Without realizing what she was doing, Sam leaned into the soft hand, desperately needing the contact.
" So, it was all a clever way of keeping us apart," she concluded softly. " Well, they sure succeeded. I thought the accident had ruined your brother's life and although I knew it wasn't my fault, I still felt very bad about it. When I....when I was...staring at that awful hospital ceiling...all those days, I...I thought you were really angry with me for doing that to your brother. I...I..figured that had to be the reason...you didn't come...to visit. "
Seeing the lost look on Sam's face and hearing the anguish in that soft voice stirred up a little fire, Jody thought was long lost. Her hand caressed a soft cheek and her eyes fastened on Sam's, holding them without effort.
" Sam, I know we can't turn back the clock, but we're both here now. Maybe if we can clear up all those misunderstandings...? We used to be such good friends. I've missed that." She smiled a sad smile. " I've missed you."
" So many nights, when I couldn't sleep, I watched the stars, hoping you would do the same, " Sam confessed. " Until I realized we were both in totally different hemispheres. That almost did me in then. So, I got stuck with the moon. At least that would be the same one, so I focused on that. Did you...I mean...look at the moon and...?"
" I did, " Jody smiled. "More nights than I care to remember."
Sam returned the smile and carefully brushed away a strand of reddish hair.
" Can I interest you in a little stargazing tonight then? At the beach ? Just like the old days? So we can catch up and maybe resolve a few more misunderstandings ? I...it's not that I don't want to talk to you right now, 'cause I do, but...I've got a lot of things to think about. My head is a mess at the moment."
Jody felt her heart skip a beat and a feeling of peace she hadn't felt in years flooded thro ugh her system.
" I'd love to, " she answered. " But what do we do about William....?"
" Don't worry about that, " Sam interrupted. " I'll think of something today and...well, I might come up with something like a plan.. I'll let you know."
" I d better go back to work now, " Jody said, getting up. Not at all interested in returning to her office. But she wanted to give Sam the space she needed.
She straightened her back, feeling a little stiff after sitting in the same position for such a long time.
" Where will I meet you ?" Sam asked looking up, thinking it might not be a good idea to meet at The Reef' itself.
" There's a newspaper stand, about half a mile down the road. I could meet you there after work. About half past five ?"
" Sounds fine to me. I'll bring some tucker, " Sam smiled, a lot more relaxed than Jody had seen her that morning.
" Fish and chips ?" Jody inquired, her green ey es sparkling.
" Just wait and see, " Sam answered. " I might surprise you."
It was hard to concentrate on work that morning. Fragments of her conversation with Sam kept playing through her mind and numerous times Jody caught herself staring at her computer screen, without seeing anything.
She never thought her father would be capable to do the things he did. There were some big issues between the two of them, but she always thought of him as being honest. The few things Sam had told her, mercilessly opened her eyes, confronting her with a reality she never knew existed. That knowledge filled her with both a profound sadness and a deep anger. The sight of the pain in Sam's eyes and the hurt in her voice had struck a chord deep inside her heart and Jody wondered if there could be a possibility of them being friends again.
The phone on her desk buzzed and absent-minded Jody picked it up.
" G'day, sis, " she heard Lucy's cheerful greeting. " Everything allright ?"
" You are just being curious, " Jody accused, but her voice was warm and gentle.
" Can't blame me, now, can ya ? It doesn't happen too often that one of your long lost lovers reappears in your life."
" Yeah, right, " Jody snorted. " And it's a long list of lovers too, isn't it.?"
She heard her sister laugh and Jody could just picture her face, impish and full of mischief.
" Come on, Jo, tell me, did you speak to her already ?"
" Does your boss approve of all those private phonecalls ?"
" Don't be a spoilsport, Pea, " Lucy sighed. " Just tell me."
" Well, actually, we did run into each other again, same corner, but without the bump this time."
She could hear her sister grinning and paused.
" Go on, " Lucy encouraged. " I bet there's more to it."
Jody quickly told her what had happened that morning, filling her sister in on most of the details.
" Your joking, " Lucy said and the disgust in her voice was evident. " I knew there had to be more to it, but ...he just lied to keep you two apart. And what lies. Gee, Jody, telling Sam that Matthew's a paraplegic! That's just plain....criminal. And letting you believe Sam chickened out after causing an accident ! God, he made all of us believe that. I...I don't know what to say."
" Neither do I, " Jody admitted. " Part of me is still shocked and the other part is furious."
" How's Sam ?"
" I think she was as shocked as I was, " Jody answered. " She went through hell back then, Luce, waiting for me to show up, and I never came. All I was thinking at the time was how angry and hurt I was for just leaving me like that."
" I want to see her, " Lucy suddenly decided, very resolute.
" That's fine with me, you know where to find The Reef' ."
" Allright, I'll stop by in a few hours. See you then."
After Jody left, Sam just sat in her chair for a very long time. Reliving that morning over and over again. Chewing on the words she had heard, turning them around, analyzing, dissecting, trying to unravel the choas Jody left in her head. And the feelings that tumbled around in her soul, all of them screaming for attention, wanting to be the first one to be aknowledged.
With a heartfelt sigh Sam closed her eyes, resting her head against the back of the chair.
What a day ! I can't believe all that's happening at the moment. First I run into my...Sam's heart started pounding, when she realized what words were creeping up into her conscious thoughts. ...first love...there, I've aknowledged it. Good, girl. Now what ? Sam blew out the breath she had been holding, rubbing her face in a gesture of uncertainty.
Two days ago I was convinced we would never meet again and now I asked her to go stargazing with me t onight. I must be out of my mind ! Am I ? And she accepted ! After that stunt I pulled on her yesterday, she accepted !
Sam restlessly jumped up and paced the room, suddenly very annoyed with herself.
Damn it, Sam, you're twentynine years old, you are here for business and you're acting like a...like a...Sam caught her reflection in the mirror and stood very still, studying herself intensely. ...like a lovestruck teenager. The words reverberated in her mind and Sam could feel a warm flush creep up her cheeks. Her reflection confirmed the changing color of her skin.
I can't believe this is happening to me. Not after eight years ! It's impossible, this is like some sleezy storyline, not like reality at all. Sam grunted and turned away to stare out the window.
But why do I still feel so at ease when I'm with her ? How come I can still feel her fingers on my cheek when I close my eyes ? Why can't I concentrate on coming up with a plan to clear up the mess this sorry excuse for a manager created ? Why am I looking so unshamelessly forward to tonight ?
" Because I'm a fool, " Sam exclaimed, totally frustrated with herself.
A loud knock on the door disrupted her musings and grateful for the diversion, but still annoyed with herself, she yanked open the door. The elegant woman on the other side jumped back in surprise and looked startled. But that only lasted a moment.
" Hey, stranger, " Lucy greeted. " I heard you were back in town. Mind if I come in ?"
Sam felt like she was nailed to the ground when she recognized the woman in front of her. She remembered the black hair and the darkgreen eyes, but the last time they had met, Lucy had been a skinny eighteen year old. The years had been kind , she had filled out and had become a strinkingly beautiful woman.
" Lucy ?" Sam whispered, still astonished.
" The one and only, Sam."
Lucy's amused express ion was replaced by a slightly saddened one.
" It's been a while, huh ?"
Sam, still shaking her head in disbelief, grabbed Lucy's hand to pull her inside. They stood looking at each other for a moment, until Lucy spoke.
" Mind if I give you a hug ?"
Sam didn't answer, but opened her arms and Lucy didn't need further encouragement. She disappeared into a strong pair of arms, not able to bite back her tears anymore.
Sam could hear the sobs and she gently rubbed Lucy's back, whispering words of comfort.
Finally she pushed Lucy back a bit to look at her.
" Does this mean you're happy to see me ?" she feintly joked.
" Are you kidding ?" Lucy replied, still sniffing. " It's a miracle. You've got no idea how much you've been missed, Sam."
Sam glanced away, but Lucy had seen the sudden look of hurt and confusion.
" I spoke to Jody this morning, " she confessed. " She told m e you two had a talk. She also told me a lot of things I didn't know. We didn't know. And I am very ashamed of my father, Sam. I don't understand how he could do such a thing. I mean, we knew he wouldn't accept you and Jody being in love with each other, but I'd never expect him to lie in order to keep you two apart. It's such a shame, everybody could see how my sister and you belonged together."
Sam appreciated Lucy's honesty, but the words did hurt. Opening wounds she thought would have remained just scars. She swallowed hard and slowly turned away.
" Maybe...eight years ago, " she answered with a husky voice. " That's a long time, Luce, people change, things are different now."
Lucy studied Sam's tense form and took a seat on the armrest of a chair, gathering courage for her next question.
" Are you involved with someone ?" Lucy narrowed her eyes, bracing herself for the answer.
Sam didn't immediately answer. She stared at the ocean for a long time, before turning around to face Lucy.
" No, I am not involved."
The relief on Lucy's face was evident and curiously Sam stepped closer.
" What's on your mind ? " she cautiously asked.
" I was just curious, that's all, " Lucy answered, feigning innocence.
" Some things never change, do they ?"
" Nope, " Lucy grinned. " You now what they say: When there's life, there's hope."
" Don't get your hopes up too high, Freckles. As I said, people change. Eight years is a long time. Besides, your father...."
Lucy shrugged her shoulders.
" Dad's no issue anymore, hasn't been for a very long time now."
Seeing the puzzled look on Sam's face, Lucy realized there were still a lot of things Sam didn't know.
" Jody didn't tell you, " she concluded.
" Well, after you left," she paused and snorted. " After we were let to believe you left, things got worse at home. Dad was really angry with Jo, but this time she stood up against him. When Jody will tell you this, I bet it will sound very different from my story, but I tell you Sam, she was my hero ! It took a lot of guts to do what she did, standing up against him. Three weeks after you....had the accident, she just walked out. She wasn't allowed to leave the house, but she just stood up and left. She only took one bag with some stuff, that's all. She was so hurt, Sam, she just couldn't take it anymore."
Those last words were spoken with such sadness it touched Sam deep inside.
" I'm sorry, Lucy. I know how much you love your sister and I swear if I'd known, if I'd only known..."
" Yeah, I know, " Lucy sighed. " Anyway, that was the last time she's been home. Dad disowned her and they haven't seen each other since. Lots of things happened to Jody, but I think she's the one who should tell you about that. Oh, uh...one more thing."
< BR>Sam looked at Lucy expectantly, one eyebrow arched. When she saw the impish smile she knew what was coming.
" Jody has no attachments either," Lucy smirked. " Just in case you wanted to know."
" Thanks, Luce, " Sam answered wryly. " But I already gathered that."
" How ?"
Suddenly Sam realized Jody's sister didn't know anything about their arrangement for that night and mentally she slapped herself. She knew how persistent and curious Lucy could be.
" Well...um....wild guess?"
" O, no, Sam, " Lucy laughed, her eyes sparkling. " You are going to tell me, cause Jody didn't tell me everything, I know my sister like the back of my hand."
" Okay, if you insist, we're having...diner tonight. I asked her and she agreed immediately, so...I just guessed there's no one waiting for her at home."
Sam suddenly turned to Lucy, a very serious expression on her face, her eyes pleading.
" Lucy, I kn ow you like teasing, and that's fine with me, but....there are so many things Jody and I have to talk about. Things you don't know and...If at the most we can restore our friendship, I will be extremely happy. Don't ...."
" Push things, " Lucy added calmly. " I won't, Sam. And I promise I won't tease....too much. But my sister deserves some happiness in her life and if I can do anything to help her with that, I will. But I promise I won't butt in.. unless needed... or asked."
Jody, unaware of the conversation her sister and Sam were having, was struggeling with problems of her own.
An American couple had lost their keycard somewhere on the beach and demanded an immediat replacement. At the same time one of the entertainers for that night called in sick, while another guest didn't agree with the choice of the menu and demanded to see the manager, who, of course wasn't available.
It took her an agonizing hour and a half to straighten things out and when she was finally able to go up to her office to do some paperwork, she was called back by one of the waitresses, complaining about being sexually harassed by one of the guests.
By the time it was five o' clock Jody's head was pounding and she felt like screaming. Her original plan had been to stop by at her apartment to take a shower before meeting Sam, but she was running late as it was already, so she had to forget about that.
It was half past five exactely when she arrived at the newsstand were she was supposed to meet Sam. It was still very hot, so the moist seabreeze felt refreshing against her flushed skin. Jody's eyes were scanning her surroundings, searching for the familiar form of Sam. She shielded her eyes from the sun's bright reflection on the ocean, expecting her to be near the water.
" Looking for me ? " an amused voice sounded behind her.
Jody spun around to look in a pair of twinkling blue eyes. They we re so close and unexpected it nearly took her breath away and she quickly stepped back, putting a hand on her chest.
" Sam, " she breathed. " Don't....do that. God, I thought my heart would stop."
Jody heard herself speak those words and immediately realized they could be interpreted differently when she remembered one particular night, nearly eight years ago.
It was early morning, the sun was about to rise, painting the world with warm, orange colors. A careless ray of sun peeked in through the window and Jody watched tiny particles of dust dancing in the light, feeling content with herself and the whole world.
She turned her head to watch a sleeping Sam, so close, she could feel the warmth of her breath caressing the bare skin of her arm. She loved that time of the morning, waking up early, way before Sam, who never really had to get up at first light, just wa tching her friend sleep.
Studying the youthful face, surrounded by curly, blonde hair. The long, dark eyelashes resting on her cheeks, the steady breathing. It gave Jody a sense of peace to see her like that. It always gave her a chance to reflect on their friendship and the way Sam made her feel.
Jody's lips curled into a smile, when Sam stirred, mumbling something incoherent. She carefully brushed away a blond strand of hair and looked at it in awe when it boldly curled around her finger.
With a sharp intake of breath she let it go when she noticed a pair of, not so sleepy blue eyes stare at her from a close distance. They were twinkling and Jody unconsciously held her breath, her heart pounding.
" Sam, God, I thought my heart would stop. I didn't know you were awake."
" I just liked the attention, " Sam smirked, not feeling sorry at all.
Her eyes held Jody's and her friend simply couldn't look away.
" What is it ?" she gently asked
" Your eyes, " Jody explained, swallowing hard. " They are so incredibly blue, like...I don't know, I haven't found a comparison yet."
" Let me know when you do, " Sam smiled. " See if there's a poet in you somewhere."
Sam's didn't respond to her words, but Jody could see a hint of recognition in her eyes, followed by a gentle smile.
" Did you, by any chance, grew taller ?" Jody quickly changed the subject. " Or did I shrink, already ?"
She studied Sam's relaxed form. The lightblue t- shirt, tucked into a pair of darkblue cotton slacks. A bag casually slung over her left shoulder. The sun painting golden highlights in her hair.
" I don't think so, " Sam chuckled. " I do work out, though, so...I might seem taller, that's all. Last time I had a check up I was still one eightythree."
" That's ...n early six feet, is it ?"
" Something like that, yeah. I thought you Aussies would have figured the metric system out by now, " Sam teased. " Guess I still have to translate, huh ?"
" Yeah, yeah, " Jody smiled, grateful for the light bantering between them. " Old habits die hard, you know. Besides, I was taught the old way, so..."
" All right, you have an excuse, " Sam grinned.
" I guess it's true then, huh, those Dutchies beeing the tallest people in the world ? " Jody mused.
" Well, the teenagers seem to be, anyway. But do you also know why ?" Sam replied with a mischievous smile.
" No, I don't, " Jody grinned. " But I'm sure you're going to tell me."
" It's the dykes, " Sam deadpanned, pausing for a moment to watch the confused expression on Jody's face.
" The dykes that keep the water out ...kind of dykes, " she added with a smirk. " Living below sealevel and all, we have to stretch a lot if we want to look across them. It's probably some sort of evolution in progress."
" Yeah, right, " Jody laughed, feeling very relaxed and rediculously happy. " You're still a big tease, aren't you ? "
Sam shrugged her shoulders and cast a fond glance at the woman next to her.
" Old habits and all, yada yada yada, " she replied with a wink. " So, you want to sit down somewhere and relax a little ? I brought us something to drink."
" Sounds great, "Jody sighed. " My day has been pretty busy, so far. I just hope I won't be paged this evening."
Sam steered her companion towards a stretch of sand, surrounded by a few rocks that would make an excellent backrest. She motioned her to sit down and put the bag next to her, opening it and pulling out two very chilled Bacardi Breezers.
" Oh..." Jody gasped with appreciation. " That looks very good."
With a quick flick of her wrist Sam opened a tropical citrus flavour a nd handed it to Jody.
" Bottems up, " she grinned.
" Better not, " Jody replied. " I skipped lunch, so I'd be tipsy in no time."
Sam decided not to comment on that last remark, but she did make a mental note. Extending her long legs in front of her, resting her back against the smooth surface of the rock, she relaxed. While sipping her drink her eyes lazily followed a sailingboat, tacking against the gentle breeze.
" So, did the illustrious William show up today ? " she finally asked, not taking her eyes off the horizon.
" On a Friday ? You're kidding, " Jody snorted.
" Does that mean you're running the place by yourself ?" Sam carefully asked.
She turned to look at Jody and saw a pair of pensive green eyes watch her. She didn't look away, but friendly returned the stare.
" Um...yep,I guess I do, " Jody finally answered. " I like my job, every day is a challenge and I really like meeting people from all over the world, but...." An audible sigh. " Lately I feel like it's getting to me, I drains me and...sometimes I think I should throw in the towel and just quit..."
" But ?" Sam probed.
But this job was my only connection with you.
" But I guess I just like it too much. Anyway, did you come up with a plan ?"
" Not yet, " Sam confessed. Her eyes searched Jody's and held her gaze. " I had a lot to think about today, but I'm working on it. I'd like to see a few files though. Maybe if I can detect what's going on I can develop a strategy. Dad gave me free hand, but I'd like to get it over with as soon as possible."
Jody tore her eyes away from those captivating blue ones and felt a heavy sadness settling in her chest.
She probably wants to go back home as soon as possible.
" I'm due for a holiday, " Sam explained, not having missed the darkening of Jody's eyes. " I haven't had one in years."
Instan tly the heaviness lifted and Jody let out a shaking breath, quickly regaining her composure.
" So, why do you do the things you do ?" she asked, immediately regretting the question, when she realized it was put very akward. " I mean, you work for your father, but I thought you never wanted that. You wanted to become a physiotherapist."
" Yeah, I did, " Sam softly answered. " But when my car decided to dive off the road, things kinda changed."
She tried to keep her voice light, but Jody could still hear the tension in it.
" Want to tell me about it ?" she invited, fighting the urge to cover Sam's fidgeting fingers with her own.
Sam stared at her feet for a long time, collecting her thoughts. Debating how much she should tell Jody. She didn't want to make her feel sad, but on the other hand she didn't want to keep anything from her either. She cleared her throat and took another sip of her drink.
" This morning I t old you I was pretty banged up, " she started with a quiet voice. " The truth is I fractured my right leg, or should I say shattered' ? Everything, from the kneecap down was just a mess, my shinbone, splint-bone and ankle were just...shattered. They had to be held together by plates and pins and I needed five operations to get it all back in place. Right now there's still a plate in there."
Sam tried hard not to see the shocked look on Jody's face and she cast her eyes down.
" That was not all. I also broke my right arm and broke two ribs. One of them punctured my lung. I had several deep cuts, a concussion and a lot of bruises. One of those cuts was on my hand."
Unconciously Sam rubbed the area and Jody could see a thin scar on the back of her hand.
" My arm must have gone through the sidewindow and the glass cut two of the tendons. They could be stiched up, but I had to forget about becoming a physiotherapist. They need two strong hand s to begin with." Sam flexed her fingers and studied her hand with a slight smile. " I'm lucky I can still use my hand, you know."
Sam paused, still too uncertain to look at Jody, who was sitting motionless, her head down, hiding her face behind her hair.
" So, instead of going into the medical field, I went to the university to get a business degree and joined my dad and brother at the corporate battlefields. Which is not bad, I have to admit."
Jody's uncharacteristic silence worried Sam and gently she brushed back the hair that obscured her face, startled at the sight of tears rolling down a pair of flushed cheeks.
"Hey, " she said softly, shifting closer. " I'm sorry, Jody, I didn't want to upset you, I just guessed you wouldn't let me off the hook if I didn't tell you the whole thing," she tried with a light joke.
" Damn right, " Jody sniffed. " It's just....it's so unfair, Sam."
A pair of green eyes, brimming with tears were looking her way and Sam fought a silent fight with herself, trying not to give into the urge of brushing them away. She lost. Carefully she wiped away the tears with her fingertips, her eyes locked into Jody's.
" Don't cry, Jody, " she whispered. " It's a long time ago and ..."
" It hurts, Sam, " Jody replied with a hoarse voice. " And I just can't get rid of this picture of you, lying in hospital, waiting for me to show up and I never came...."
Sam's hands traveled to Jody's shoulders, holding her tight and shaking her gently.
" Don't do this to yourself, please, " she pleaded. " I know it hurts, but it's not your fault. It was your father who ended...what we had. And the accident, well, that was just a freak thing. I admit, there were times I blamed your brother for it, but now...I realize he was a victim, like you and me. He did what he thought was the right thing and of course, that is no excuse, but...those were the circumsta nces. I don't think Matthew deliberately ran me off the road. Maybe I shouldn't have slammed the brakes, I don't know.
" Sam paused, cupping Jody's chin and lifting her face to look her in the eyes. " Point is, Jody, it happened, it can't be changed, so don't go on this guilt trip, okay? "
Jody grabbed the hand that still held her face and gingerly touched the scar.
" I could just....slap my dad for what he did, " she grunted, a glint of anger in her eyes.
Sam's face creased into a smile and she gently squeezed the fingers that were holding her hand.
" Well, that would probably surprise the hell out of him, " she said amused.
" It would, " Jody admitted. " Last time I saw him was eight years ago."
" Want to share ?"
Jody shook her head.
" No, not now, later. All right ? I can't talk about him right now, without getting upset. I'm too...furious. When I calm down, I'll tell you."
" That's fine with me, " Sam agreed. " Let's not dwell on the bad memories, shall we ? There's lots of good ones." Her eyes softened. " Remember that day when I stole a kiss behind the shed ?"
" O, God, " Jody chuckled. " You were so convinced no one could see us, while Lucy was watching us the whole time."
" I still don't understand where she came from, " Sam grinned, remembering. " She must have been following us around. I'll never forget that smirk on her face when she suddenly popped up, saying : Hey, guys, better rap it up, dad is coming down to get some tools.' "
" Talking about a cold shower, " Jody laughed. " She saved our hides then, you know."
" I guess so. And you just refused to come near me again that day."
" Can't blame me. My hormones were having a ball, I didn't want to risk anything, " Jody blushed. " I could never tell what you were up to.You were very dangerous and very sneaky, my friend."
T hose last words were spoken without thought and Sam was pleasantly surprised.
" It was fun, though, " she said warmly. " So, are you hungry yet ?"
" Starving, " Jody admitted. " Where are the fish and chips ?"
" You don't seriously expect us to eat junk food, now do you ?" Sam feigned a hurtful look, but Jody saw the twinkling in her eyes.
" Well, you always were a sucker for greasy stuff."
" That's the old me, " Sam grinned. " I developed a taste for the better cuisine', you know. So, how about that fishy place up the road."
" O, God, Sam, don't let them hear you say that, " Jody laughed. "That's one of the finest restaurants around. Besides, I don't think we could just walk in there without reservations. It's always packed."
" Don't worry, " Sam replied, jumping up and extending her hand to pull Jody on to her feet. " I booked a table for two. Window seat. Facing the ocean. How about them apples, hey ?"
About twenty kilometers to the south, near Burleigh Heads, two cars were parked off the road, near one of the picnic sites facing the ocean. Three men were having a drink, relaxing and sharing casual small talk. So it seemed. If anyone could have taken a closer look, it would have been clear that their conversation wasn't all that innocent.
" So, Billiy boy, " a tall, muscular man with short blond hair said. " Did you come up with an idea to get the money ?"
William Jensen nervously clasped a can of beer in his hand, unconsiously denting the thin metal. His other hand raked through his dark hair, leaving it disheveled.
" I'm working on it, Joe. I told you, next week."
" It's Friday already, mate. I'm still ten thousand short, you know that. Of course I can always persuade little Steven here to apply a bit more pressure."
The huge man sitting next to Joe Michaels growled and squeezed the can he was holding, apparently without effort.
William swallowed hard and frantically tried to come up with a satisfactory explanation.
" I'm waiting on some insurance money, " he tried. " We had this leeking waterpipe a while ago, that ruined the carpet in the gym. The money could come in any time now."
" It better, Billy boy, or my friend here will teach you a few valuable lessons about paybacks and deadlines. With the emphasis on dead'. You don't want to end up as sharkfood, now do you ?"
William shook his head, wiping his forhead where persperation made his damp hair stick to his skin.
" I'll pay you, Joe. I promise."
Joe Michaels stood up, dusting his trousers before strolling to his car. He stopped halfway and turned around.
" Wednesday, Billy. Not a day later. That's the best I can do for you."
" Mmm, this is the best salmon I ever had, " Jody happily sighed, sin king her teeth into a piece of soft pink flesh. " And this dressing is just....devine. What is it ?"
Sam peered at Jody's plate and shrugged her shoulders.
" Can't tell by the look of it. Maybe you should ask them the recipe."
" As if they would share their secrets with me, " Jody snorted. " Here, have a taste."
She offered a chunk of salmon to Sam, who obediently nipped it off her fork. She thoughtfully chewed on it.
" Horseradish, " she concluded, after swallowing.
" Are you sure ? " Jody asked.
" Positive, " Sam answered. " My mom always uses that stuff when she juggles up diner for businessdiners at home."
Jody studied the face opposite her and slowly put down her fork. She took her glass of chilled white wine and sipped it, enjoying the fruity taste. The sun had set and the part of the restaurant they were sitting, was dimly lit by candles. One of them painted Sam's face a golden tan, highl ighting the color of her hair. She was thoroughly enjoying her food and didn't seem to be bothered by the silence between them.
She's even more beautiful than eight years ago. She looks so mature, so strong, but yet so...vulnerable. Does she realize just how attractive she is ? That guy over there can't keep his eyes off her.
Suddenly Jody noticed that a pair of clear blue eyes were watching her with a quizzical look. Sam noticed Jody's startled reaction and a slow smile crossed her face.
" What ?"
Nothing, just admiring your beauty, wondering if...
" You still didn't tell me what it is you do, exactly, at Stevens inc."
" Well, usually I just stick to marketing. You know, research, planning, strategy and all that stuff. But I also do other things. My brother, Tom, he's our financial wizzard, so he usually sticks to his specialty. I haven't find mine yet. I like doing marketing, but...I'm not sure if that's what I want to do fo r the rest of my life." Sam smiled wryly. "Hearing myself say those words, I just know I don't want to."
" How come you were sent down here ?"
" I volunteered, " Sam answered. " You know my dad is from England, right ? Well, before he married my mom he spent a few years in Australia and he just loved it. The Reef' was his dream, something he would like to spend time after retiring. So, when the ocassion rose, he bought the place. Plan is for him and mom to hibernate here during the Dutch winter season and go back in the summer. He loves this place. But last year he had a heartattack, so, he had to cut down on the stress. He's not working anymore, just doing some consulting. I somehow thought it wouldn't be a great idea for him to come all the way down here, not knowing what to expect. So, here I am."
Jody nodded in understanding and absently played with her knife, until Sam extended her arm and covered the fidgeting fingers with her own.
" Are you all right ?" she asked, the concern evident in her voice.
" Yes, I am, I'm just....trying to come up with the words to tell you...about my dad."
Sam's thumb stroked the smooth skin underneath her fingers in an attempt to calm Jody's nerves.
" Why don't you just start at the beginning ?" she encouraged. " Why did you leave ?"
Jody took courage from that warm, strong hand and she let their fingers interlace .
" The day before you came to pick me up, he sort of guessed that...I...we..." Jody sighed, deciding to be completely honest. " He guessed that I was in love with you and I couldn't deny it."
It was the first time Sam heard Jody say these words aloud and even after eight years, she could feel her heart skip a beat and her breathing increase. She gently squeezed Jody's fingers, encouraging her to continue.
" He grounded me, I wasn't even allowed to walk as far as to the shed. And then the acciden t happened. One of the neighbours had heard the noise and warned the police. I don't know what happened at the scene, but when dad came home he told us Matthew had broken his leg, because you tried to run him off the road. You supposedly had some cuts and bruises, but were fine otherwise and would be leaving the country soon."
Jody swallowed and had to take a deep breath.
" Dad...kept on raving about you, what a bad influence you'd been, what a bad person you were, how dishonest and cruel and dangerous you were and how happy he was you'd gone back to Holland. I was hurt so badly, Sam, "
Jody's voice caught and Sam could see her eyes darken.
" I thought you had just left me, but still I couldn't stand dad talking about you like that. He never missed an opportunity to talk down on you and it...hurt...because I knew that was not the Sam I'd known. So one day I decided I had enough . I just packed a bag, took my personal things and walked out the doo r. Dad was away at the time and Matthew was still on crutches, so I knew no one would stop me. I walked down the hill and jumped on the first bus that stopped. I ended up in Currumbin. I slept on the beach the first few days, until I met a very nice lady who was looking for a helping hand around the house. She owned a bookstore and ever since her husband had died, a year before I arrived, she'd been really busy. She offered me food and lodging if I would look after the house."
Jody smiled at the memory.
" Mrs. Jenkins has been really good to me. She gave me the chance to look for a proper job and when I found one, she didn't even want me to leave. I stayed on for a few more months, but left when her daughter came back from a trip to Europe. I didn't want to intrude. We still visit each other, though, she's a real good friend."
Jody's face radiated warmth and Sam couldn't help but return the brilliant smile.
" I haven't seen my dad ever since I left home. I do see my mom, occassionally. I know when she does her shopping, so, sometimes I go to Tweed Heads and we have a drink together. I don't see Fiona and Matthew much either. Fiona's fourteen now and she's just like Lucy, you wouldn't believe it. The only difference is the color of their hair. They even share the same attitude, poor mom. She's a handful."
Jody sipped her wine, thirsty from all the talking.
" So, now you know my story." Well, part of it anyhow. I will tell you the rest of it, Sam, I promise. Just not now.
Sam could tell there had to be more, but she respected that didn't want to share that yet. It had been eight years and they needed time to come to terms with all the things that had happened and to cover all the issues that remained to be discussed.
Their fingers were still interlaced and Sam reluctantly pulled back. Almost physically in pain by the loss of contact.
" Ready to do some starg azing ?" she asked with a genuine smile, that ignited little sparks in her eyes.
" Absolutely, " Jody answered.
The office was dark. Only the soft light of the moon, that peeked in through one of the windows managed to outline the few desks and file cabinets.
With a little squeek the door was opened and a shadowy figure stepped inside. With purposeful strides the distance to the computer was covered and within a few seconds the machine was booted.
For a moment the only sound was a soft sliding of disks and the humming of the computer, followed by a soft rattling of keys. It only lasted a few minutes, before the machine was turned off and the screen went black.
The shadow moved to another corner of the room, near the wastepaper basket. There was a rustling sound of paper and a sudden flicker of a match, lighting a filter cigaret. It was carefully placed on top of the basket.
The shadow turned around an d quickly left the room, carefully closing the door.
For a few minutes there was only darkness, until a tiny little flame was born from the smouldering, softly glowing tip.
" What are you up to tomorrow ?" Jody asked a few hours later, stiffling a yawn.
" Nothing much." Sam strechted her long frame and winced when she felt an old, sore spot in her back. " I suppose I should have a look at those files."
" Mmm, I'll get them for you. First thing in the morning."
Jody glanced at her watch and nearly jumped.
" Speaking of which...I'm not sure if you are aware of it, Sam, but it's way past midnight."
Sam smiled a lazy smile and turned her head.
" So ?"
" I don't know about you, but I need at least four hours of sleep if I want to make it through another day."
Sam got up from her lazy position on the sand and shrugged her shoulders.
" It's just past twelve, so..."
" Way past, you sneak, you heard me, " Jody laughed. " It's nearly half past one and I'm bushed."
" That's a compliment, " Sam grunted in response.
Jody playfully backslapped her in the stomach and jumped to her feet.
" Don't start. I had a great night ! And you know it."
Jody extended her hand and felt Sam's firm grasp when she hauled the taller woman to her feet.
" Thank you, " she softly added.
" The pleasure was all mine, " Sam replied, slowly letting go of the warm hand that was still holding her own. " I'll walk you home."
Jody frowned and looked up, a puzzled expression on her face.
" You don't know....o, wait, Lucy told you."
" It's so helpful to talk to sisters, " Sam teased. " She told me you live just across The Reef'. Must be one of those apartments on the corner."
In companionable silence they walked the remaining distance back to the hotel, bo th absorbed by their own thoughts.
I never could have imagined that we would be friends again, but I guess we are. I forgot how easy it is to talk to Sam. Even the silences don't bother me, it's just so good to...be near her again. Just walking alongside her, without speaking a word, gives me such a peaceful feeling. I guess our friendship never died, it was just put on hold for a long time. Much too long.
" Jody, " an amused voice suddenly gently stirred her. " Jody, you're home. What are you doing ? Sleepwalking ?"
" Looks like it, " Jody replied, thankful for the darkness that hid her flushing cheeks. She pulled out her key and turned to Sam.
" Sam, I..." Suddenly feeling very insecure, Jody didn't know how to explain what she was feeling. " I really had a good time and...I..."
" It's allright, Jody, " Sam interrupted. " So did I. I'm very grateful that we were able to clear up a lot of misunderstandings and...I feel insecure too, right now. But why don't we just take it one day at the time and see what will happen ? "
Without realizing what she was doing, Jody had grasped Sam's hand and squeezed tight. Her eyes were dark with emotions and shining with unshed tears.
" How do you do that ?" she whispered.
" What ?" Sam asked curious.
" Reading my thoughts, " Jody answered in wonder.
Because I found back again the best friend I ever had. The only person ever who has been able to touch my very soul.
" Must be one of those secrets boardroom skills, " Sam joked, returning the pressure Jody's fingers were applying.
" Mmm, you must teach me that one day, " Jody replied, knowing Sam willingly kept the conversation lighthearted. " Might come in handy, sometimes."
" Will I see you tomorrow ?"
" Yes, you will, " Jody promised. " I'll get you those files, allright ?"
Sam nodded and released the hand she was stil l holding.
" See you later, then. Make sure you'll get at least five hours of sleep."
" I will. See you in the morning, Sam. G'night."
With her eyes firmly closed Sam let the lukewarm water cascade down her body, caressing her skin with a soft, liquid touch. Her intention had been to jump in and out of the shower, but the water simply felt too good. She ignored her conscience, reprimanding her that fresh water shouldn't be wasted like that. One more minute, just one.
Sam couldn't help returning her thoughts to Jody, the sparkling of the warm green eyes, the smile that made the skin around her eyes wrinkle up, the way she slightly tilted her head when she was concentrating on something.
" Get a grip, Stevens, " Sam groaned, turning of the flow of water. " You've got a job to do, remember ?"
She grabbed one of the creamcolored, fluffy towels that were
conveniently placed within reach and started to dry herself off, still mumbling.
" Just find out what the hell the problem is, solve it, have a little vacation and..."
Sam stopped in mid-motion and stared at her image in the mirror. And then what ?
" Go back home, " Sam whispered.
A pair of clear blue eyes were immediately filled with pain and Sam turned around, pressing her warm forehead against the cool tiles of the bathroom wall. The damp towel draped around her shoulders.
" Shit ! I can't do that, " she realized, feeling her heart pounding against her chest. " It would be like leaving her all over again. I...."
The air was suddenly filled with a high pitched noise and Sam nearly jumped.
" What the...?"
She almost ran into the bedroom determined to locate the source of the assault on her eardrums. When she realized it was a fire-alarm she quickly grabbed some sweatpants and a t-shirt. She didn't bother about shoes as she closed the distance to the doo r. She wanted to yank it open when she remembered that probably wouldn't be the safest thing to do, in case there would be a fire.
With the back of her hand she carefully felt at the smooth surface of the door. The wooden panel was still cool to her touch and Sam released a breath of relief. Kneeling down on one leg she grabbed hold of the doorhandle and slowly opened the door. Ready to let herself drop to the floor. There were no flames in the corridor, but the dim lit room was full of smoke and quickly Sam closed the door. Her brain was working overtime trying to determine what to do. Running through that much smoke, in search for the staircase wouldn't be a wise thing to do. But she knew she had to do something, being in one of the corners of the building.
Sam grabbed the towel she left on the bed and walked back to the door. With quick motions she put the damp cloth on the floor, pressing it against the wooden surface. At least that would keep the smoke ou t. For the time being.
Stay calm, Sam, she kept reminding herself, willing her heartrate to slow down. You need to focus. Get out of here.
She grabbed her leather backpack, threw in a couple of items and opened the sliding door to the balcony. She looked to her right and saw the flames behind the windows of one of the offices. Her eyes scanned the second and fourth floor and she realized that the fire must have started at the third.
A quick glance down wasn't very encouraging. She was on the third floor , but there were no hotelrooms on her side of the building. Just offices, without balconies. Jumping would certainly mean crashing down on the rocky surface of "The Reef's " garden.
" Okay, what can't go down, must go up, " Sam whispered, looking up. Above her she could see the concrete floor and iron railing of a balcony on the fourth floor. She took a deep breath and prayed a silent prayer to whatever Devine entity that was listening.
" Please, don't let me slip."
Without giving it a second thought, Sam flung one long leg over the railing. With one leg on either side she took a last deep breath and slowly, but very carefully placed her feet on the bar, inching her way up, until she was fully stretched, standing on the railing like a tightrope walker. Very slowly she tilted her head, straining the muscles in her legs to remain balanced, while her eyes searched the balcony she was going to reach for.
" Thank the Gods I'm tall, she grunted. "Well, here goes nothing."
Sam bend her knees a little and, knowing she had only one chance, jumped up, stretching her arms out, nearly sobbing with relief when she felt the cold iron bars her hands had been aiming for. With her long legs dangling in the air Sam pulled herself up, very thankful for all the time spent in the gym, working out. Within a minute she was on the fourth floor, panting and sweating, but safe.
To be continued in part two
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