For general disclaimers see part 1

Thank you Janna for beta reading. I feel like a real writer now.  And thank you T., you were such an inspiration!!

The Reef - part 3

By Lois Kay

The silence was deafening. To Sam it seemed like the world was holding it's breath, motionless, waiting for something or somebody to be the first to end the stillness and bring back life into the scene.

The coals of the, now forgotten barbeque were almost burnt down, although a light breeze sometimes blew back some life into it, making the embers glow and the ash twirl around in it's confinement of cast iron. 

Jody's face matched her sister's in color and expression, looking very pale and shocked. Sam saw her lips move, but there was no sound. The struggle to free herself from the paralysing effect Lucy's message has had on her, was clearly visible. A cascade of emotions ran across her face, varying from disbelief to realisation and from fear to pain, leaving her with a numbness that made it hard to think clear.

Sam's heart ached for the woman her eyes were still fixed on, knowing what Jody and her sister were going through, since her father had suffered the same horrible ordeal not that long ago. But there was a very big difference. Sam and her father had not been estranged and Sam could only try to understand how that alienating would effect her friend in the current situation.

With one fluid motion Sam left her seat and knelt next to Jody's chair, covering her hands with her own. They were cold to her touch and automatically Sam started to rub them in order to return some of the warmth. Her eyes searched Jody's, but they were still staring at her sister, nearly begging her to take back her words, waking her up from the nightmare she seemed to be trapped inside of.

" Jody, " Sam urged, her voice soft but strong. " Jody, look at me. You've got to focus here, honey, please." 

Those last two words got her attention and slowly Jody's eyes found their way to Sam's. The emptiness disappeared and was replaced with a look of profound sadness.

" I don't know what to do, Sam, " she confessed, sounding hurt and confused.

Sam's reassuring grip tightened and without letting go of Jody's hand, she turned to Lucy.

" What happened, Luce ?" 

Lucy rubbed her face, using two hands and tried to organize the chaos inside her head, thinking back to the conversation she just had with her mother.

" called,, well, " Lucy took a deep breath, determined to be coherent. " Mom called from the hospital, " she continued. " Apparently dad was doing some work around the house, when suddenly he collapsed. Jeff Wilkins was helping him, which's a friend of his," Lucy explained, " and he resuscitated him, while mom called the ambulance. They've flown him to Tweed Heads and right now he's at the CCU." 

" he going to.. make it ?" Jody asked fearfully.

" Mom couldn't tell yet, " Lucy slowly answered, only then starting to realize what that could mean. She shivered, suddenly feeling very cold and welcomed the warm touch of Megan's hand on her shoulder. 

" Mom wants us there, " she added, flinching when she saw the pain in her sister's eyes.

" I don't know what to do ," Jody whispered. " I can't think clearly right now. I need some...I need to..." 

She suddenly jumped up, catching Sam off guard and hurried towards the back of the house. Sam saw Lucy prepare herself to go after her sister, but Sam stopped her in mid motion.

" No, let me talk to her." 

She briefly touched Lucy's shoulder while passing her and walked into the direction Jody had disappeared in, making good use of her long legs, quickly covering the distance. She was worried about her friend, understanding full well the complicated situation she was in. Sam felt a stab of pain when her eyes caught sight of Jody, standing on the verandah, her shoulders slumped, her hands clenched into fists, looking very fragile and vulnerable. She was in deep thought and only noticed Sam's presence when the other woman was standing behind her, not saying a word, but wrapping her arms around her, enveloping her in a warm, comforting embrace.

With a sigh Jody leaned back, resting her head against Sam's shoulder, closing her eyes, desperately wishing her world could only consist of that, just the two of them, holding each other close. 

Sam felt Jody's body relax in her arms and she pulled her even closer, resting her cheek on top of the smaller woman's head, still not speaking, letting her body do the talking for her. When Jody slightly tilted her head, Sam's lips brushed a smooth forehead, breathing in the scent of shampoo and Eternity. It was a sweetness that was specifically Jody's and in spite of the dramatic situation they were in, Sam could feel her heart rate increase when her body remembered the closeness they had once shared.

Jody must have been following the same line of thought, because she let out a sigh of contenment and managed to snuggle even closer, which put a small smile on Sam's face.

" Comfy ?' her voice rumbled in Jody's ear.

In answer the other woman covered Sam's hands with her smaller ones, rubbing the skin with her thumb.

How can I not be ? My God, Sam, just a week ago I was content with the life I was leading. Of course, I never resigned to the fact my own father disowned me, but the years helped to take the sharp edges off. But now, you are back into my life and I just know I simply can't go back to the way things were a few days ago. I need you in my life, Sam. Now that I've seen you again, spoken to you, felt your touch, I just know I can never let you go, not again. It scares me so. What will happen when you leave ? Who will give me strength ? Who will comfort me ? Hold me ? I want you, Sam, only you. O, God, why does this hurt so much ?

A small tear escaped Jody's eye, finding it's way down her cheek, before falling on the back of Sam's hand, alarming her.

She loosened her grip, wanting to turn the other woman around, but Jody shook her head, not ready to break the contact yet.

" Just hold me, Sam, " she whipered. It feels so warm and safe.

Sam silently complied, knowing that if holding Jody was the only thing she could do to help her friend, she would be willing to that for as long as she needed to. 

After a long time of drawing strength from Sam's warm presence, Jody finally started to speak.

" Life is weird, isn't it ? " she mused. " When I was little, I was daddy's girl. He made me feel safe, secure. And whenever he was home, I followed him around like a puppy. Daddy just knew everything. In my eyes he was omnipotent, there wasn't a thing he couldn't do and I just worshipped him. That all changed when Matthew was born. It wasn't a secret dad always wanted to have a son. I was three when Matt came and by the time he started to walk most of the attention went his way. But that was all right by me, Matt was a cute baby and I adored him. Taking good care of my little brother got me dad's approval and I used to be real proud when he told me I was doing a great job looking after his family heir. In a way that made me feel like I was still daddy's little girl." 

Jody paused for a few moments, still lost in thought and Sam patiently waited for her to continue.

" Nearly nine years ago my whole perception changed. I never knew the God fearing father I had known all my life, could be so resentful and harsh." Jody sighed, lost in the memories. " It's a good thing you weren't there, Sam. It wasn't a pleasant thing to witness. " 

Sam didn't respond to that, but her own thoughts went back to that little hospital room, where she had been forced to stay for three weeks, staring at the ceiling, while her life had come to a stand still. Every morning brought a new day filled with hope, every night became a disillusion. The endless waiting nibbled on her strength and finally ate away all faith, leaving her lonely and brokenhearted when realizing David McDonnell had been right. Jody wouldn't come.

Sam had been in the hospital for eight days, driving the nurses insane with her impatience and inflexibility. Her parents, who had flown to Australia immediately after hearing their only daughter had been in a serious car accident, were not able to reach the young woman enough to comfort her and take care of her battered heart and soul. Only one person would have been able to do that, but wasn't there.

The morning of the eighth day, her mother had just left to get something to eat, while urgent business matters had forced her father to leave the previous day, Sam had just suffered half an hour of therapy, doing breathing excercises combined with training the muscles of her damaged leg. The agonizing pain she had suffered the first few days was replaced by a dull ache, making her leg feel like it weighed at least a hundred pounds. She could hardly move the affected extremity and seeing her leg, with the pins that kept the fragmented bones in one piece sticking out, made her feel depressed and scared.

The physiotherapist had just left the room, admiring the young woman for her dogged determination to block out the pain, but annoyed with her ability to always making him angry with her, for doing things her own way. Careful not to put too much strain on the muscles and tendons in her knee and leg he had instructed her to go easy on the exercices, extending and flexing her leg was good, but she had to follow a schedule to build up her strength. Sam however was inclined to skip a few steps to speed things up. No matter what he said, she did it her own way.

When the door closed behind the therapist, Sam fell back into her pillows, fighting to control her ragged breathing. She knew she had overdone it this time, but wasn't willing to admit that to anybody. She also knew she had to pay for being stubborn later that day, when her knee would painfully swell up and the only thing she could do was lay down in bed, a cold pack on her leg, waiting for the pain to go away. She didn't really mind though. The pain in her leg was a good diversion from the pain in her heart. It was that pain she could hardly handle.

The door opened again and Sam's eyes widened, first in pleasant surprise, but that expression quickly changed into worry and fear when she saw the look on David McDonnell's face. A man she recognized as Vicar Jamison, although they were never formally introduced, accompanied him.

The vicar remained standing near the door, while David McDonnell approached the bed, taking on an intimidating posture, nearly hovering over Sam. 

Sam's first reaction was to ask about Jody, but somewhere, deep inside of her, warning bells were ringing and she decided to wait. To let Jody's father do the talking first and react to it later.

His eyes traveled from her battered leg to her arm, that was resting in a sling, up to her eyes and for a split second only, Sam thought she saw something like remorse. Before she could even blink her eyes the expression was gone, leaving her in doubt whether it had really been there. 

" I came here to make something perfectly clear, Samantha Stevens, " he began, his voice strained with suppressed anger. " You will never, I repeat, never, see my daughter again as long as I live. Do you understand ? I can not tolerate you polluting her mind with your...lawlessness and perverse lifestyle. You can not and will not ever see her again. Your uncle and aunt have been good friends to me and my family, but I already told Joe I will have nothing to do with him anymore as well. It's obvious he supports you." 

Sam opened her mouth to speak, to object, to give voice to the injustice she felt, but no sound came out. She was simply too shocked.

 " To make matters worse you've destroyed my son's future. He broke his back and will be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. We are all totally devestated by it. There is no way I have been able to comfort my wife or daughters these last few days. You have scarred my family forever, Samantha Stevens. " 

Sam felt all blood drain from her face and if she had not been laying down, she would have fallen to the ground. Her horrified eyes searched David 's, but somehow he couldn't look straight at her. 

" Now you know why I want you out of our lives, Sam. You can stay here and get in trouble with the police, because I will press charges if you do, or you can go home and go on with your life. I'd suggest the latter one." 

His eyes came to rest upon hers and what Sam saw in them made her blood chill. David McDonnell hated her.

 She wanted to answer him back, argue with him, even plead, but after casting her a last look, full of disgust, he turned around and left the room. Leaving her staring at the door, totally devestated. 

That little spark of hope that had kept her going was gone. Extinguished. Dead. Sam didn't tell anybody about the unexpected visitor, until years later. It was a burden she had to carry all by herself, like a penance. Deep down inside she knew the accident had not been her fault, but maybe...if she hadn't slammed the breaks...or if she had turned around...

Sam swallowed down the lump in her throat, when she remembered all the pain she had suffered, realizing it had been caused by lies and deceit. Prejudice and fear. She could feel the anger well up in her chest when imagining the lies David McDonnell must have told his family, explaining Sam's sudden disappearance. The grief he had caused his eldest daughter. The one she would never, ever see again, as long as he lived. The one she was holding now, comfortably snuggled up against her tall body, sighing in contentment.

Looking down at Jody, Sam felt the anger leave and her body relaxed. She's here, David, with me. There's nothing you can do to keep us apart again. Ever. I swear. Can't you just accept us the way we are? Or do you really belief we are such monsters? I'd like to talk to you, Mr. McDonnell. Tell you about love and acceptance. About ignorance and hate. And I' ve got one very important question for you: 'Why?'

" You're awfully quiet, " Jody's voice interrupted her musings. " Penny for your thoughts."

" Miser, " Sam jokingly responded. " Is that all you can spare? You know, with the inflation and all, I thought..." 

" Shut up, Sam," Jody affectionately smiled.

She had turned around and her arms were firmly wrapped around her friend's tall body, her head resting comfortably on the soft swell of firm breasts, while her ear picked up a strong, steady heartbeat. It was the most soothing sound she had ever heard.

" I was thinking about your father, " Sam explained, absently minded running her fingers through long, red tresses, twirling them around her fingers. " This must be very difficult for you." 

" Mmm, it is, " Jody answered, closing her eyes. " But I think I know what to do. If I'd stay here, I would probably disappoint mom, but when I go down there and dad finds out, he'll be really mad, so,I don't think any deciscion right now would be a good one, but I guess mom needs us. I know she never stood up against dad, but you know him, he never would have accepted that. And mom is very religious too, believes that women are subjected to their husbands. She would never publicly question him." Jody let out a frustrated breath. " But she never gave up on me. We don't see each other often enough, but she went through a lot of trouble to find me when I moved up the coast. She did all that behind dad's back as well. She needs me now, Sam, so I want to be there for her. I am not doing this for my father, only for mom." 

" I understand, " Sam answered. " But what about your dad? If somebody will mention you are there, he might get real angry." 

" Just have to make sure nobody will tell him then, won't we? " Jody answered with a lot of confidence she didn't feel.

" That's your big mouth talking, " Sam immediately knew. " But that's all right with me." She put her fingers under Jody's chin and lifted up her face, so she could look into her eyes. " Just be honest with yourself, Jody, " she urged and Jody could hear the concern in her voice. " You don't have to go up there in full armor, but a little protection sure won't hurt."

Jody did not try to avoid Sam's eyes, almost transparent in the light of the rising moon. They merely stood there, knowing the fragile peace they had retrieved could be shattered again within a few hours. They just needed to soak up the serenity of the moment, providing them with a memory that would fuel their souls when needed.

" I would like you to come with me," Jody finally stated, a little hesitantly.

Sam wasn't surprised. She had expected that question. In fact, if things would have been reversed, she would have asked her friend the same favor.

" I will , " she answered. " But I will stay outside. I'll be there when you need me, I promise, but I can't completely overrule your fathers ' authority. That wouldn't be right. Coming in to be with your family would do that. " 

" If only he'd really know you, Sam," Jody gratefully whispered. " You're so incredibly honest and decent."

" He has his convictions and so do I, " Sam explained. " I can't expect him to respect me if I don't show some respect towards him."

Jody bent her neck and looked up to Sam's face that held a pensive expression. Her eyes softened when she caught Jody's gaze, radiating warmth. Jody's eyes mirrored the affection and they both felt a connection so strong, it was like unbreakable threads were being weaved, pulling them closer together with every heart beat.

With a smile Sam ducked her head, brushing Jody's lips in a fleeting kiss, leaving both of them gasping for breath at the unexpected electrifying contact. Jody's hand slid behind Sam's neck, intending to pull her closer for a more solid caress, when she heard someone behind them clear her throat.

" Damn, " she muttered, slightly annoyed at the disturbance. She turned around to find her sister studying a few marigolds in the flowerbed near her feet, clearly feeling uncomfortable.

" Are you all right, Lucy? " Jody asked, not used to seeing her sister this modest.

" Um...yeah...I'll be right. checking up on you, but I can see you're...kind of... busy ."

Sam's perceptive ears didn't miss the trace of humor in her voice and she softly chuckled.

" It's okay, Luce, " she answered, gently rubbing Jody's back. " We were about to come back anyway. Weren't we?" 

Yeah, right ! I was about to kiss you senseless. Jody nodded, getting ready to walk back, but a firm grip stopped her. She glanced up with a quizzical look on her face, to see Sam gently smiling.

" That's twice, " she said with wry humor. " Third time lucky, all right?" 

" You bet, " Jody answered with determination, not seeing Sam's smile widen.

They followed Lucy back to Megan and Sarah, Sam's arm around Jody's shoulder, both trying to prolong the physical contact for as long as possible.

" There's just no one home, I told you that." 

" But how do you know? They could be....I don't know, alseep or something." 

" Listen to me Fred," the big man turned to face his companion, a younger man in his early twenties and did not try to hide his impatience. " She is not home. Got it? " 

" What about the Dutchie? Joe thinks they know each other. She might drop by. How do you know she won't? Huh? " 

" Because I use my brain, you Drongo. You should try it sometimes and get rid of those kangaroos in your top paddock. I'll explain it to you one more time: she checked out of the hotel and stayed here, tonight they left together. They didn't come back yet, so, I'll get into the apartment and you stay here, keep your eyes open and let me know if they're coming back. Hit the speed dial button of the phone, let it buzz twice and hang up. You think you can do that ?" 

" Of course I can, " the younger man answered, visibly insulted.

Little Steven left the car and crossed the street. It was nearly three o'clock at night, but there was still quite some traffic. He knew he had to be careful. Picking the lock of the main entrance had to be done quick, before anyone could spot him using his tools. He was very confident about his skills. Ever since he was a young boy he had been breaking into places. He was still amazed at the easy way he could get into buildings, that were so called 'secured'. 

The main entrance of Jody's apartment building was no exception. It only took him twenty five seconds to open the door. Without making a noise he found his way to the door he was looking for. Within moments he was inside, taking a small torch from his pocket, carefully avoiding the window, examining the place with precision.

It was nearly ten o'clock at night when they had left Megan and Sarah, promising to give them a call the next day. Lucy would be driving and Sam was about to climb into the back of the car, when Megan had stopped her.

A pair of dark brown eyes had looked at her pleadingly and Sam had just nodded.

" I'll look after her. I promise, " she had smiled, wich earned her a heartfelt hug from the other woman. " We'll call tomorrow, let you know how things are."

Less than an hour later Lucy parked her car near the entrance of Tweed Heads District Hospital. Suddenly feeling akwardly insecure she turned to her sister for support. She reached out a hand and grabbed Jody's, who squeezed hers in response.

" Are you ready for this? " 

" I don't think I ever will be, " she nervously answered. " But we better get going. Are you sure you'll be all right, Sam ? " 

Sam smiled reassuringly while nodding her head. 

" Don't worry about me, I'll be fine, really. I'm right here and I won't go anywhere. If you need me, you know just where to find me." 

" We might be away for a long time, " Jody objected, not at all happy to leave Sam in the car, in the dark, all by herself.

" I'm a big girl, Jody. I might go to sleep if I get tired, but I don't think I will. Don't forget I brought my laptop. I'll be doing some research, so, don't worry about me." 

" Yeah, just leave her with her toy, sis, " Lucy gently teased. " Let's go see the family." 

"Good luck." 

Sam smiled at Jody, putting a hand on her shoulder, gently squeezing. Immediately Jody's hand covered her own, returning the pressure.

" Remember, I'll be waiting." 

" I won't forget, " Jody promised, brushing her lips over Sam's knuckles. She opened the door and stepped out. Their eyes locked for one more moment, before she joined her sister, who was patiently waiting for her. They wrapped their arms around each other and slowly walked towards the entrance.

" Jody !"

A skinny red haired teenager came running down the lang hallway, throwing herself in the arms of her older sister.

" He, reds, " Jody warmly greeted her, holding her tight. " How are you doing ?"

Her youngest sister didn't answer, but Jody could feel her shrug her shoulders, so she just held her, brushing her disheveled hair away from her forehead. 

" Mom's been waiting for you two, " she finally told them, grinning at Lucy who affectionately grinned back. Except for the hair color, freckles and the age difference, they could have been twins. Both of them had the same dark green eyes and same facial features, but where Lucy's hair was dark and her skin flawless, Fiona's hair was red and her face freckled. Still, the resemblance was striking.

" Better go see mom then, huh ?" Jody suggested, her arm around her sister's shoulders. " Matt and Bird here yet ?" 

" Matt's been here for ages, Bird arrived 'bout fifteen minutes ago, " Fiona told them, rubbng her cheek against Jody's upper arm. " Great reunion, huh ?" 

That was something Lucy could have said and in spite of the circumstances Jody could hear her sister muffle a chuckle. She shot her a warning glance, not wanting to encourage Fiona. Lucy bit her lip and tried to look repentant, but she failed miserably.

" You two are so much alike, " Jody sighed, opening the door to the CCU. She mentally braced herself for the upcoming confrontation with her family, not knowing if she would be able to keep silent about Sam's presence. Ever since Sam had left, eight years ago, her family had never talked about her friend again. 

Jody spotted her mother and three brothers in a sitting area, looking anxious and uncomfortable. As soon as Joan McDonnell saw her daughters she jumped up.

" Jody, Lucy, I'm so glad you're here, " she sniffed, tears in her eyes.

A closer look showed Jody that her mother must have been crying, because her eyes were swollen and the trial she had been going through that night had taken it's toll, adding more lines and creases to her usually still youthful looking face.

" Couldn't stay away, mom, " Jody whispered in her ear, feeling her heart go heavy at the sight of her mothers' pain. " Is there anything I can do ?" 

" You're here." Her mother smiled a watery smile. " That's more than I could have asked from you." 

Joan McDonnell turned to Lucy, while Jody looked at her brothers. They were all tall, like their father. Matthew and Michael were most alike, with their dark blond hair and pale blue eyes. Their faces held a surly expression but Gerald beamed when he saw his sister.

" Hey, Jo, " he warmly greeted her, enveloping her in a bear hug. " Good of you to come. Must have been hard." 

Jody didn't answer, just nodded, swallowing hard to get rid of a lump in her throat. Her brother must have felt her sadness, because he held her tight and slowly rocked back and forth, providing all the comfort he could give her.

" Better ?" he asked after a little while.

Jody gratefully smiled at him, patting his shoulder.

" Thanks, Ger, " she whispered hoarsly. " How is dad doing ?"

" You have just missed the cardiologist, Jo. They've been doing all sorts of tests and he's waiting for the results of the last ones. He says dad will be all right. Probably doesn't need surgery, so that's good. His potassium level was real low. You know, potassium is a mineral that's essential for the heart. A lack of it can cause real problems. Other than that his cholesterol was way off the scale, so he should cut down on a lot of things, including yummy lamingtons and the old fish 'n chips." 

" It's not funny, Ger, " Matthew remarked, shooting his brother a gloomy look.

" I know it isn't," Gerald replied, not at all impressed. " But he's gonna live, isn't he ? I know this isn't exactly a cheerful situation, but it's not as bad as it looks. You heard dr. Parks, he'll be all right." 

" Food is not the only thing he should cut back on, " Matthew sneered, looking at Jody, who sighed inwardly. She was about to answer him, but Lucy beat her to it.

" What is that supposed to mean ?" 

Matthew nervously tapped his fingers on the arm rest of his chair.

" Dad will have a fit when he finds out Jo's here, " he said, not able to meet his mothers' sad eyes. " He should avoid stress, so...." 

" So no one will tell him, right ?" Lucy interrupted. " She didn't come for dad in the first place, little brother, she came for mom and, funny enough, also for you. You could show a little bit of appreciation, you know. I think..." 

" Lucy, it's all right, " Jody interfered. " Matthew is right, the last thing dad needs right now is stress." She looked at her brother. " I wasn't about to give him that, Matt, I hope you understand. He doesn't want to see me and I respect that." 

" It's not you, Jo, it's your lifestyle, " sixteen year old Michael tried to defend his father. " I'm sure he doesn't ...I mean, you are his daughter, so..." 

Jody smiled at her youngest brother, appreciating his effort to come to his fathers defense, without hurting her feelings. He was a kind, gentle person, with a lot of respect for his father and a lot of love for his sister, which made it extremely difficult for him to deal with the situation. He didn't want to displease his father, but he would never want to hurt his sister.

My lifestyle. Yeah, I am a bad example, dad, imagine, loving somebody the way I used to love Sam, that's a capital offense, isn't it ? God, it was the best feeling ever ! And it's all coming back. I could never give her up, not even for my family and you know it, that's why you drove us apart in the first place, isn't it ?. You hate losing, dad, you always did. But I can tell you one thing, you are not going to win this one. Not ever! She's waiting for me outside, just a few hundred feet from here. What would you do if you'd find out about that? Better not tell you, huh ? But she's waiting for me...your plan didn't work, dad, we're back in each others lifes and I'm determined to keep it that way. And if I understood the look in Sam's eyes correctly, so is she. I truly hope you will get better soon, dad, because you'll find out about us, I'm sure. Maybe this whole thing might teach you something about the relativity of life. And that we should spend the little time we have doing positive things. Like taking care of each other. I am willing to meet you halfway, but I will never give up Sam. I couldn't. 

Sam had taken a seat in the front, creating as much room for her long legs as possible, feeding her laptop a microdisk. Within a few moments columns of numbers appeared on her screen. She roughly scanned them with her eyes, looking for irregularities, which she didn't find.

" That would have been too easy, " she mumbled, scrolling back to the top of the page.

With determination Sam ploughed through the never ending rows of numbers. Now and then she had to rub her eyes, clearing her blurry vision, but she didn't give up. There had to be something wrong.

When she scrolled down again it suddenly hit her. Some of the numbers had a strange resemblance. Sam was familiar with the use of employee registration numbers, she had one herself. It was a number that was unique for every employee, since it consisted of the month and year of employment contract, month and year of birth and a code identifying gender. It was almost impossible for two people, working at the same place, to have identical numbers. Or was it ?

Sam's sharp eyes noticed five different ID numbers that were almost the same. Two of them had a different month and year of contract, but all of them had the same month and year of birth. 

" Da's vreemd, "[ That's odd] she grumbled in her mothers' language. " What's going on here ? Hiring triplets ?"

Sam's brows furrowed when she compared dates and amounts, trying to understand what they were telling her.

" I wish I had your brain for numbers, brother, " she sighed, thinking about Tom. " Could use your help right now, but I suppose I have to be patient. Hope you check out your email on saturdaymornings."

" Hey, Jo, are you all right ?" 

Gerald nudged his sister in the ribs and eyes, the color of her own, searched her face for signs of discomfort. 

", I was just thinking," she hastily replied. Her gaze was caught by Lucy's and her sister winked, nearly making her blush. 

" Must have been happy thoughts, " Gerald whispered. " It's been a long time since I saw your eyes light up like that." 

Jody looked at her younger brother, not able to hide the internal conflict. She knew Gerald had always liked Sam and when she...disappeared, he had been genuinely upset and almost inconsolable. But telling him Sam had returned, meant increasing the chances of her father finding out, with all due consequences.

You can't hide her forever. Besides, Ger is an adult now, he's not that fourteen year old chatterbox anymore. You should trust him. He's able to keep his mouth shut.

Involuntarily Jody's eyes traveled to Lucy, who was studying her with keen interest. Their eyes met and they had a silent conversation. Lucy nodded and winked, almost invisibly. 

" I need some fresh air, " Jody stated. " You're coming, Ger ?" 

She had already jumped to her feet, confident her brother would follow suit, which, in fact, he did. They left the waiting area without looking back and Jody blindly trusted Lucy's abilities to explain their departure. 

" What's going on, sis ?" Gerald urged, getting worried by his sisters' silence.

" You'll see, " she smiled. " Be patient." 

Gerald was truly puzzled and he followed his sister outside, matching his steps to hers. The sliding doors opened with a hiss and the warm evening air ruffled their hair. Without saying a word Jody walked towards a car, Gerald recognized as Lucy's. His brows furrowed when he spotted someone sitting in the back.

" Jo, what's...." 

With a gesture of her hand Jody silenced him and opened the door of the car. She stuck her head in and said something Gerald couldn't understand. When she stepped back he could see a pair of long legs appearing, followed by the rest of the body. The woman stretched to settle her long frame and when she turned around, Gerald's breath caught. 

" Sam, " he managed to whisper startled, his green eyes wide. " Sam. Is it really you ? " 

The exchange of looks between the two women told him everything he needed to know. Two steps brought him close to Sam and eagerly he threw his arms around her, not ashamed at all for the tears that were rolling down his cheeks.

Sam had not expected an emotional outburst like that and she gratefully returned the hug, swallowing hard to keep her own tears from falling.

" It's me, Bird, " she smiled, using his nickname. " I'm back." 

" But how ?" Gerald asked with a strained voice, impatiently wiping his eyes. " When did you...? I'm thrilled, Sam, I really am, but I don't understand." 

" Calm down, brother, " Jody laughed, gently patting his shoulder, pleased by Geralds' open display of happiness. " We will tell you the whole story, but we can't stay out too long or they'll send a search party looking for us. So here's the summary..." 

In concise words Jody told him about the reason why Sam came to " The Reef", the way they had run into each other and how misunderstandings had caused the breaking up of their friendship a long time ago.

" What misunderstandings ?" 

" This is not the right time, Ger, " Sam answered. " This will have to do, for now. I promise we'll tell you the full version later. Okay ? Jody's right, you can't stay outside too long. This is not the time to upset your entire family. How's your father doing ?" 

Jody quickly told her what the doctor had said and Sam was sincerely relieved to hear David McDonnell was going to be all right. She smiled at Jody, playfully ruffling her hair, which earned her a poke in the ribs. Gerald was watching them with a high wattage smile plastered on his face, still trying to come to terms with what just had happened. Hoping his sister would finally find some happiness. She deserved it, after all the things she had been through.

"I'll go back inside, " he said, wanting to give them so time alone. " I'll just go for a slash first, grab a cuppa and I'll be right. Don't worry, no one will notice, " he reassured them, before turning around and disappearing.

" I'm almost afraid to ask, " Sam chuckled, watching the sliding doors close behing Jody's tall brother. " Go for a slash ? I don't think I know that one." 

" He's going to use the bathroom, " Jody explained with a grin. " Ger likes his slang so much, he often doesn't even know he's using it. Mom hates it when he does that, probably because she doesn't know half the expressions he comes home with."

" How are you holding up ? Are they giving you a hard time ?" 

" It's not too bad, " Jody answered. " Matt's a bit cranky, but I had expected that anyway. Mom and the others were happy to see me though. Matt will eventually come around, he usually does. He's just worried dad will get real uptight when he knows I'm there."

Sam casually leaned against the car, her hands stuffed deep inside her pockets, afraid she would pull Jody in for a hug if she didn't confine them. Her eyes roamed over her friend, who was standing so close, she could feel the warmth of her skin. With her eyes half closed she breathed in Jody's scent, remembering with hedonistic pleasure how the smaller body had fit into her arms and the comfort and peace she had experienced by just holding her. 

Don't go there Sam, that's walking on thin ice. Be sensible, be cool, be...cruel... denying yourself the pleasure. Sam sighed, shaking her head like she was chasing away an annoying fly.

" Um..maybe you should go back in, " Sam suggested, feeling uncomfortable. " They might wonder where you are ?" 

Jody noticed her friends' disheartened state and a little devilish smile appeared, when she realized the cause of Sam's troubled mind.

" You want to get rid of me then ?" she asked innocently, leaning forward, dangerously close. 

The darkness couldn't hide the clenching of teeth and the working of the muscles in Sam's jaw and Jody could see her chewing her bottom lip.

" Of course not, " she replied with difficulty, knowing she was now trapped between the car and Jody's body.

" Good, " Jody purred. " I was getting worried." 

Without warning she leaned forward, reached up and pressed her lips on Sam's for a scorching kiss. For a split second Sam was paralyzed, but much to her credit she recovered with an amazing speed. Before Jody knew what was happening Sam's arms were around her, doing what they had been aching to do all night, pulling the other woman to her, holding her tight. The only thing Jody could do, after unleashing this powerful reaction, was to hold on for dear life. Although Jody was the initiator, Sam quickly took control, putting her mouth to good use, probing lips that still tasted so comfortably familiar, even after eight years. It felt so good her heart ached and a small whimper escaped when Jody's lips parted, inviting her in. The tip of her tongue followed the soft, silky folds of Jody's lips and slowly found it's way inside, encouraged by two hands on the back of her head, that just seem to pin her in place, not at all inclined to let go any time soon. Sam's tongue met Jody's halfway and when they began a sensual dance, the smaller woman's knees buckled, nearly giving away, but Sam's tightening grip kept her on her feet.

Jody could feel Sam's hands sliding down her back, until they reached her hips, pulling her even closer, while a cotton clad thigh smoothly found it's way between her legs. Her body seemed to have a mind of it's own and instinctively responded to the slow movement of Sam's hips.

After a while they simply had to come up for air and when they finally did, they were both breathing hard, but it was not just because of a lack of oxygen. 

" God, o God, Sam, we have to stop this, " Jody gasped. Her body was tingling all over. Deep down inside her belly, she could feel her arousal building up and she realized it was absolutely not the right place, nor the right time.

Sam's lips traveled up to Jody's ear, teasing the lobe with the tip of her tongue, before nibbling her way down to a shapely and very tasty collarbone. She knew Jody was right, but her body was assaulted by a blazing fire and only knew one way to extinguish that. But Sam did have excellent self control and with a lot of effort she slowly let her mind take control again. She was still holding Jody, but her touches changed intensity, until she was lightly stroking the other woman's back, burying her face in disheveled, long tresses of red blond hair. Feeling her heart rate gradually get back to its normal rythm.

Jody felt the arms that had been holding her so tight relax and with a sigh she let her head rest against Sam's chest. Feeling the longing subside, until there was only a dull, distant throbbing left.

"I'm sorry, Jody, " Sam finally apologized. " I didn't mean for this to happen." She paused and Jody felt a little chuckle. " Actually, to be honest, I did, but not here and not like this. I think I went a little overboard there." 

" You don't have to apologize, Sam, " Jody smiled, suddenly feeling very tired. " I should have known I was playing with fire. God knows I've always been extremely responsive to your touch. I should have remembered before challenging you like that." 

She raised her head from its comfortable spot and peeked up, seeing Sam looking down at her with a mischievous glint in her eyes. It made her smile and in response a full grin appeared.

" Do I really want to know what you're thinking right now?" she carefully asked, while her heart skipped a beat.

" Nah, probably not. It's about being responsive." 

Jody felt a blush creeping up and was grateful for the darkness that hid it from Sam's view. She swallowed hard and mentally braced herself.

" Spill it." 

" Well, " Sam drawled, " Once upon a time, not that long ago, fairy tale wise, that is, two girls were laying in the paddock, gazing at the stars, until their eyes met and, " Sam's voice lost it's teasing tone and was filled with warmth. " ...they kissed. It was their first kiss, but a very passionate one. And before they knew what was happening, they were in each others arms and..." 

" You knew ?" Jody asked, full of wonder, her blush deepening. " O, my God, Sam, that's embarassing. I didn't know that, you never told me you knew." 

" I guess I wasn't feeling comfortable enough to bring up the subject, " Sam smiled, stroking Jody's cheek with the back of her hand. " I was pleased though, happy to be the one who could do that to you. " 

" Look at us Sam, " Jody chuckled. " After being seperated for eight years, the third day after we meet again, we nearly make out in the parking lot of a hospital in the middle of the night and end up talking about sex." 

" Orgasms," Sam friendly corrected.

" Well, that has got something to do with sex, doesn't it ?"

" Not necessarily, " Sam smiled. " We weren't exactly having sex in that paddock, but that didn't prevent you from..."

" Okay, okay, you win, " Jody laughed, raising her hands in defeat. " You are right, we didn't , that's true. In fact, we never did, did we ? " her voice became soft and wistful.

" No, we didn't, " Sam agreed. " Not that I didn't want to. God knows my hormones were on a rampage back then. But I guess we never really had the opportunity and I wanted it to be very special." 

Jody looked up to see the tenderness in Sam's eyes and she smiled, following the outline of a cheekbone with the tip of a finger.

" As it should be," she answered, suddenly feeling a pang of regret when she thought about her relationship with Megan. If I'd only known, Sam. I would have waited for you.

Her face clouded and Sam saw her forehead crease into a frown. With a thumb she tried to stroke it away, but was only partially successful.

" Don't do this to yourself, Jody, " she gently reproached, as if reading the other woman's mind. " We both have done things that wouldn't have happened, if we'd stayed together. And it hurts to realize it all could have been different, but we are here now and I am just so grateful for having run into you. I feel truly blessed."

When the crease in Jody's forhead disappeared Sam pulled her in for a hug, revelling in their closeness and nourishing the warmth of their bond. They stood like that for a long time, until Jody untangled herself from Sam's arms and cast a look of regret at the hospital entrance.

" I have to go back, " she stated, not looking forward to actually do so. " They must be wondering where I am. Are you all right, just sitting here by yourself ? Don't you need some coffee or something ?"

" I'll be fine, don't worry, " Sam replied. " I'll go back to my laptop and look through some files. It's pretty interesting, actually. I'll tell you about it later. Okay ?" 

" See you later, then. I might send Lucy out in a while, to check up on you. Bye Sam." 

Jody stood on her toes, gave Sam a kiss on the cheek and quickly turned around, before ending up in an overheated embrace again. Sam's eyes followed her back inside, filled with hope and wonder and long after Jody had left, she was still there, standing very still, carefully thinking about her future.

It was the last shelf he was examining. Methodically he grabbed one book at the time, shaking it ferociously, like a cat toying with it's prey. Nothing came out and frustrated he threw the book on the growing pile in the middle of the room. At first he had been using his knife, to cut open the covers and see if anything was hidden in it, but after a while he gave up. Realizing it would be impossible to hide microdisks in the cover of a book. 

He already searched the kitchen, the guestroom and the bedroom. Opening every drawer, emptying its contents on the floor, occasionally stepping on it, or kicking it out of his way. Frustrated he had even sliced the mattresses, feeling inside for the little, plastic squares. But he came up empty handed. The livingroom was his last hope and already feeling the hot breath of his employer in his neck, he continued his search, sticking his knife into the leather covering of the couch, ripping off shreds of firm fabric, peering inside and reaching underneath it. Still nothing. 

Almost desperately his eyes scanned the room, looking for something, anything he might have missed, when his cellphone buzzed. Once. Twice. Quiet.

" Goddamit, " he cursed, kicking away some books. He hurried toward the frontdoor and cautiously opened it, peering into the hall. The sound of two pair of footsteps nearly made his heart stop and without a sound he closed the door, frantically looking around for a place to hide. He didn't have much time. With a boldness, born out of despair he positioned himself behind the door. His knife in his hand. Waiting...

" I'm so tired I'm sure I could go to sleep standing in a corner, " Jody yawned, hiding her face behind a hand. " I want to hit the sack and stay there until the end of the day. God, Sam, I can't believe it's nearly three thirthy already." 

Sam's hand on the small of her back prevented her from walking into the door of the elevator and she could hear her friend chuckle.

" Keep them open for just a few more minutes, honey, " Sam teased. " I'm sure you don't want a nasty bump on your head."

They had left the hospital about an hour before, after Jody made sure her mother was taken care of. Dr. Parks had told them their father would be all right and after Joan was allowed to spend a few minutes with her husband, they all went home. Gerald went with his mother and two youngest siblings, promising Jody he would stop by the next day.

Lucy had dropped off Jody and Sam declining her sister's offer to sleep at her place.

" S'all right, sis, " she had smiled, winking at Sam. " I know you're tired now, but I can hardly imagine you want me around in the morning. Maybe you and Sam through...some files together ?" 

Jody had stuck out her tongue and signaled her sister to stop at the corner of the street.

" We can walk those few metres. Thanks, Lucy."

She had kissed her sister goodbye and had stepped out of the car, closely followed by Sam. A noisy honk and a little wave and Lucy had disappeared around the corner, leaving the two of them alone. In no hurry at all they had walked towards Jody's apartment, hand in hand.

" Where are your keys ?" 

Jody opened her purse and rummaged inside, handing Sam the keychain, glad her friend was in charge, because if it had been up to her, she would have happily fallen asleep at her own doorstep.

Sam put the key in the keyhole and tried to turn it around. It didn't work. She tried it again and suddenly realized the door was unlocked. She was about to turn to Jody to ask her if she was sure she had locked the door before they left, when she could feel her nape hairs rise. It was an akward feeling that woke Sam up completely. She couldn't explain it, but she knew something was wrong. Grabbing Jody's wrist she pulled her behind her.

" Stay there, " Sam whispered. " Whatever you do, stay behind me." 

Jody's eyes widened and she was about to ask a question, when Sam's hand covered her mouth. A pair of fully alert blue eyes penetrated her sleepy green ones and the expression on Sam's face was deadly serious. The blond woman put her finger against her lips, slowly shaking her head. 

Jody nodded, blinking rapidly to clear her eyes from sleep and she clenched her hands, watching Sam reach out for the doorknob. She turned the key and swung the door open. Immediately there was a large form leaping for her. Instead of shrinking back, she stepped forward, extending her left leg in a fierce kick. Her adversary obviously hadn't expected that. He took the full blow in his stomach, grunting loudly, but kept on moving, raising a hand that was holding a knife. Regaining her balance and in the meantime making sure Jody was still behind her, Sam reached for the weapon, but it was already coming down. 

" Jody, watch out." 

Sam stepped back, at the same time turning her body aside, feeling the sharp, cold steel slit the fabric that was covering her left shoulder. The expected stab of pain didn't come and she lashed out with her right hand, hitting the man square on his nose. He grabbed the affected spot with one hand, giving Sam the opportunity to kick the knife out of his other. It flew through the air, hitting the marble floor of the hallway full speed, sliding and spinnig until it connected with the door of the elevator. Using only one arm the man slammed Sam into the wall with full force, putting all his weight behind it, knocking the air out of her longues. For a moment she wavered, and gasping for breath she gave her opponent the opportunity to ran to the stairs. Where he almost broke down the door, nearly going through it and disappeared out of sight.

Sam was holding her side, panting, still out of breath, when Jody came up beside her, eyes full of horror. With shaking hands she grabbed Sam's arm, searching for injuries. Her eyes widened in alarm when she saw the tear in the light blue cotton fabric, the ragged edges stained with blood.

" Sam, you're hurt." Jody gingerly touched the affected shoulder, afraid to cause any pain.

" Oh, that's all right, " Sam breathed, still holding on to her ribs. " Jody, would you please call the police ? Use your cellphone." 

" I'll call when I've taken you inside, Sam. I need to have a look at that cut, it's bleeding." 

" Jody, call, " Sam replied, getting a little impatient. She knew the intruder probably wasn't just another burglar and for the first time she realized this whole thing with The Reef, might be bigger than she had anticipated.

" Sam, listen to me, " Jody hissed through clenched teeth, her eyes glowing dangerously. " Did you have a good look at that guy ? No ? Neither did I . Do you think he will be patiently waiting for the police to show up ? Get real, Sam. He's long gone. Two more minutes won't matter. Now, " she raised her hand, silencing her friend, who was about to object. " You can either come inside with me and then call the police, or you can just stay here, sulking. It's your choice."

Sam was truly amazed. She knew Jody could be really stubborn if she put her mind to it, but she had never heard her talk like that before, not to her anyway. For a few moments their eyes fought a silent duel. Piercing blue met stormy green and eventually blue lost. Jody's gaze was unwavering and Sam knew her red headed friend would not give in.

" Okay, " Sam reluctantly agreed. " We'll go inside." 

She followed Jody in, who automatically switched on the light, but bumped into her when the other woman suddenly stood stock still. In a reflex she grabbed her around the waist, freezing in motion when she saw the devestation in front of her. The floor was scattered with books, some in one piece, but a lot of them cut open. The couch was systematically cut up, leather shreds ripped off and thrown on the floor. The plants near the window were all taken from the pottery they were once carefully planted it. The potting compost was lying on the rug, the plants carelessly flung into the corner, their roots pathetically sticking up, like tiny tentacles, desperately reaching out for something to hold on to.

A quick look through the door of the bedroom made clear the whole apartment had been ravaged. Pieces of the comforter that had once covered the bed, were lying near the bathroom door and the wardrobe and all it's drawers were emptied out on the floor, trampled on and torn.

A little squeak from Jody braught Sam back to reality. Without saying a word she reached inside Jody's purse to get hold of the cellphone. Silently she dialed a number from memory. Sam's face had lost all it's color. Her lips were pursed and her eyes were like two fire spitting pieces of chrystal. Ice on fire. On the outside she looked calm and collected, but inside their was a storm raging, lurking around the corner, waiting to come out. Sam didn't think she had ever been that angry. Jody's apartment had been destroyed, so deliberatly and so thoroughly it left no doubt as for whether it had been done with a specific reason.

" Carol Wong ? My name is Sam Stevens, I am calling you from Jody McDonnells' apartment, she's the assistant manager of The Reef........yeah, that's right. Someone broke in and just....ruined the place.....No, we met him when he came out...." A humorless laugh. " No, he was in too much of a hurry, I might have broken his nose though.....all right...yes, of course....we'll be waiting outside the apartment, we won't touch anything....okay, see ya soon...thanks." 

Sam switched off the phone and glanced at Jody, who was still looking around with total disbelief. She put her right arm around her shoulders and gently pulled her away in the direction of the front door. Jody didn't object, she was too bewildered to react, which Sam noticed with concern.

Outside she led Jody to a little bench near the elevator and made her sit down. With a determined look on her face she used the phone again.

" Good..." she glanced at her watch. " ..morning. I have a request. Opposite The Reef there is this apartment building, you know which......exactly. Miss McDonnell lives here, right. There's been a situation here and we can't get in, 'cause we're waiting for the police. Would you be so kind to sent over a thermos of coffee? .....Of course, I could be's good of you to be so cautious, but...all right, have it your way. My name is Samantha Stevens and my family own the joint. Listen, I am tired and very pissed off and I could really need a cup of coffee, so...." 

Jody had reached out and took hold of the phone, pulling it from Sam's grip.

" This is Jody McDonnell...oh, hi Nick...Listen, she really is who she said she is and I could use some coffee myself. Do you mind ?.....Thanks, Nick...what ?....No, I don't think she will fire you...She will understand you were just doing your job." She looked at Sam who was still standing in front of her, continually flexing and extending her fingers, trying to hide the trembling. Her face was pale and Jody noticed a sheen of perspiration on her forehead, in spite of being in a air conditioned building. " Nick, throw in something to eat as well, something sweet. Thanks, see ya." 

Exhausted Jody leaned her head back at the wall and closed her eyes, still trying to understand what had happened.

" It's completely demolished, Sam, " she spoke softly. " What...God, what do I do now ? "

Continued in part 4

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