Mark stood quietly at the entrance to his garage watching the raw determination on Sam’s face as she completed yet another set of reps. The weights in her hand weren’t nearly as heavy as the last time she’d used his private gym. With no standing in line or worrying over whose sweat was smeared all over the bench, this place was Mark’s sanctuary and since Sam was like family to him, she was entitled the right to share his home privileges.
Inwardly, Mark chuckled thinking of how many times in the last year alone Sam had crashed on his sofa after a long drawn out case only to start up again as soon as the first pot of coffee was made the next morning. Sam was family all right, in more ways than one.
Watching the sweat glistening over Sam’s straining muscles wasn’t doing his libido any more good than standing there would do to help Sam recover. The clang of iron weights striking the concrete rattle through his brain as Sam hung her head between her knees while rivulets of sweat dripped from her chin.
“You shouldn’t push yourself too hard,” Mark advised.
“I gotta get this shoulder back into shape.” Sam stretched her left arm behind her head and grimaced at the pain caused by the movement. “It still hurts.”
“That’s normal, Sam. It’s only been five weeks since the shooting.” Mark picked up a towel and held it out to her. “Some people take months to recover completely.”
“I’m not some people, Mark.” Sam snapped grabbing the towel. “And I can’t take months to recover.”
“When is your next doctor’s appointment?”
“Tomorrow morning.” She wiped her face then tossed the towel over the bench. “I’ve got to be cleared to work or I’ll lose my mind.”
“You’ve always been a lousy patient.”
She glared at him as she stood up. “I know. I’m starting to become a real bitch.”
“Tell me about it!” Mark muttered under his breath. Suddenly a nagging idea popped in his mind “So, are you going back to the hospital for your appointment?”
“Nope, the clinic” She turned around and prepared the machine for her next set of weight lifting.
Transfixed and pensive, Mark decided to test the water. “Hey Sam, I haven’t heard you mentioning anything about that Angel Doctor of yours recently. Have you given up on her?”
“Doctor Angel?” Sam winced as she continued her struggle against the strained muscles on her left shoulder. “No, I figured she was just a dream.”
“Only a dream?” Mark queried rather amused.
“Yeah, a drug induced psychosis of some kind. Why?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He kept his voice just above a whisper. “I was just thinking, what if she’s real?”
“Like that could happen,” Sam snorted. When no reply came, she lifted a suspicious eyebrow in Mark’s direction. “What do you know?”
“Just speculating, besides you did say that you saw someone.”
“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” Sam shook her head dismissively as she continued to adjust the weights in her hand. “But it was probably someone, anyone checking on me.”
“So you mean the whole sweet voice, beautiful smile thing…”
“It was just the anesthesia talking.” Sam’s face was unreadable. She kept her tough-girl-mask on as she focused on the exercise. “Why all this questioning?”
Her refusing to make eye contact intrigued Mark. “Nothing, just chatting,” He shrugged nonchalantly letting the matter drop.
“Well, how about less chatting and a little more help where my concentration’s concerned?” Sam put the hand weight down and motioned toward the bench where the long bar was rested, loaded with fifty pounds of weight. “Care to spot me?”
Mark took in Sam’s overall appearance. It was the most drained he’d ever seen her…well, other than when she was laying with her blood pooling all around her. Right then and there he knew it was time to put an end to her misery if only for a short while.
“Sure, why not?” As he turned to position himself at the head of the bench, Mark noted the time displayed on the clock opposite him. “Hey, look how late it is. You’d better go get a shower. You know how Allison hates stinky people around the dinner table.”
Sam snorted. “Then how come she’s still married to you?”
“Cause I smell perfectly good in all the right places, baby!” Mark winked teasingly with his ‘gotcha’ sneer plastered on his face.
“I’ll tell you Sam, it was beyond hysterical seeing Mark chasing that damn white mouse around the house.” Allison Stevens was laughing so hard that tears were threatening to spill from her eyes. Even though Mark’s wife had been torturing her husband by sharing with Sam really embarrassing household stories, the mood at the dinner table couldn’t be more relaxing. “Needless to say he didn’t catch the little assailant and to make things worse, when he finally gave up, the garage looked like a tornado had swept through it.”
“Gee, lieutenant, you were outsmarted by a little mouse…tsk tsk.” Sam teased mercilessly watching him blush.
“But the best part is that the next day the neighbor’s cat showed up at our front door that same little white rodent between his teeth.”
“Wow, Mark the cat beat you? I think you’re getting old partner.”
“If I’m getting old, so are you smartie pants.” He retorted in a childlike manner then did a quick 180 degree turn into adulthood again. “Besides catching mice is a cat’s job anyway. They’re supposed to be good at that.” Mark tried to muster some dignity as he glared at his wife. “I, on the other hand, am more astute to catching perpetrators of the criminal type. And by the way Miss Funny Face, the next time a mouse shows up, you’re gonna be the one doing the chasing.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” Allison smiled seductively, “I’ve already got the cat’s number on speed dial.”
Sam’s heartfelt laugh cautioned Mark of his need to change the subject or he wouldn’t see the end of this teasing. Searching for a quick diversion, his gaze fell on his two ‘not-so-inocent’ looking kids.
“Okay, enough about me. What are you two up to?”
The answer hurriedly spat off in unison served only to increase Mark’s suspiciousness.
“You don’t fool me. Those giggles mean trouble, so spill it.”
The two siblings shared a conspiring look before they turned their gaze at Sam.
“Do you have a girlfriend, Sam?” Brian asked boldly.
“Excuse me?” His parents’ heads jerked as they imitated the near unison response of their children, startling the boy.
Sam laughed at the sight. “It’s okay. Put your guns down.” She gestured for the two adults to take it easy then turned toward the stunned eight-year-old boy. “No Brian, I don’t have a girlfriend.”
Allison cleared her throat. “May I ask why the sudden interest in Sam’s love life?”
Feeling the heat of his mother’s stern gaze Brian looked at his younger sister Becky who seemed rather eager to provide relief.
“Because Sam is all alone and she needs a girlfriend.”
“Yeah!” Brian regained his courage and completed his sister’s explanation. “We think that Sam should find someone like Aunt Jessie or maybe Ms. Johnson.”
“Your math teacher?” Allison’s brows shot up in honest surprise when a pair of blonde heads nodded eagerly.
“Ms. Johnson is very sad and alone too.” Becky offered simply.
“And how would a six year old know that?” Mark joined in curious to see where this was heading.
“Because when adults are in love, they act all mooshy…”
“Like you and mom do sometimes” Brian finished his sister’s sentence with his eyes darting quickly back and forth between his parents.
“Yeah, and when they are dating, they getalldressed up, but Ms. Johnson just wears jeans,” Becky nodded toward the center of their conversation, “Like Sam does.”
“So you two decided to play matchmakers.” Mark’s conclusion was met with enthusiastic nods. “Great! More Yentes in my life,” he muttered winking at his wife.
“Hush, now. If it wasn’t for my Aunt Berta, we would have never met,” Allison defended the matchmaker’s roll in her life.
“Yeah, that and a dead body lying on the side walk outside her apartment building,” Mark gripped teasingly.
“Well, you did look dashing in your blue uniform,” Allison mused, “interviewing that crowd of bystanders. However, I didn’t see you taking everyone else’s telephone numbers.”
The lazy emergence of a smile relayed Mark’s inner most feeling about his marriage. “It was strictly a gut feeling, my dear.”
Although totally enjoying the family banter, Sam’s curiosity was peaked. “Why did you think of me, Becky?”
Becky shrugged. “Cause she’s beautiful and you’re beautiful too.”
“I’m beautiful?” Sam was touched by the compliment.
“Yeah, dad says you’re hot.” Brian declared innocently then yelped when his father cuffed his head. “Hey, what did you do that for?”
“Sorry, I thought I saw a bug in there.” Mark lied shamelessly.
“You think I’m hot?” Sam sneered at her partner.
“He does.” The disjointed chorus of voices caused another round of giggles.
“I never used the word ‘hot’,” Mark shot defensively. “I might have said that you’re not so bad on the eyes.”
“Honey, you did say ‘hot’ but as I love you I’m gonna let you off the hook.” Allison started collecting the dishes. “Come my little cupids, help mom clear the table and earn your sweet reward.”
“Can I have vanilla ice cream?”
“You don’t like vanilla.” Brian objected.
Becky collected her brother’s plate and her own. “I do to.”
“You do not. You like strawberry and chocolate.” He stated, getting up from his chair and reaching for Sam’s place setting. “Sam likes vanilla.”
“She likes strawberry as well.” Becky retorted louder.
“Hey! Why don’t we let Sam choose her own ice cream flavor?” Allison suggested putting an end to the argument.
“Here, let me help.” Sam attempted to get up from her chair only to be stopped by the gentle touch of Allison’s hand on her shoulder as she round the table.
“Nonsense,” Allison leaned toward Sam’s ear and began the first inklings of a conspiracy of her own. “You stay and make him squirm a little more.”
Sam grinned as Mark playfully landed a love tap his wife’s butt.
“Hey! Keep that up and you won’t get any desert,” Allison warned faking an angry look.
“As long as I get some sweetness later tonight,” Mark chuckled at Allison’s teasing snort as she ushered her children into the kitchen.
“You have a wonderful family, Mark.” Sam played with her napkin. “Don’t waste it.”
“I don’t plan to.” Mark turned his gaze back to his partner and proceeded to study her somewhat melancholic face. “Are you okay, Sam?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m not as lonely and sad as your junior detectives think I am, but I must admit that I’ve been feeling…alone ever since the shooting.”
“You’re not alone. I’m here…” he motioned toward the kitchen indicating the rest of his family. “We’re here for you.”
“I know. But sometimes I wish I had a home of my own to go back to every night.” She admitted quickly before putting on a stoic mask. “Then I walk into the apartment, take an aspirin or two and the pain goes away.”
“I…I didn’t know you felt that way.”
“I didn’t. At least I haven’t since…you-know-who.”
“Well, ‘you-know-who’ belongs to your past, and if you ask me, that’s where you should keep her.” Mark excused himself from the table and stood up. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.” He walked into his office and retrieved a file from the top drawer at his desk. “As you know, God works in mysterious ways, and maybe there’s something worthwhile in your very near future.” He emerged back into the dining room and handed Sam the file.
“What is this?” She took the offered folder eyeing Mark suspiciously.
“Open it.” He sat back and waited, more relaxed than he thought he would be.
Sam read the first line then quickly turned to Mark. “Who the hell is Ann Thomas?”
“Keep going.” Mark smirked. “Out loud if you’d like.”
Sam began. “Ann Lauren Thomas, MD. Age thirty-six, born in Los Angeles, California.” Sam closed the folder, her eyes questioning her partner before the words were out of her mouth. “Mark, why am I reading this?”
“Well, I don’t know if she’s the sure thing, but she’s a very close call.”
“Close call to what?” Sam’s gaze pinned him. “Is this some case you’re working on without me?”
“Not really. You asked me to look into your Angel. I mean Dr. Angel.” He sat forward engaging Sam mentally. “And I’d bet good money that Dr. Thomas is the woman you’ve been dreaming of.”
“How did you…how did you come up with this?”
“I don’t know, maybe I discovered some hidden detective instincts inside of me. In fact, I’m thinking of becoming a police officer. Hey, wait a minute,” his face lit up before settling into a self-satisfying smirk. “I am a police officer.” Mark leaned back in his chair as confident as ever. “She’s the ER doctor who saved your life.”
Sam’s eyes drifted to the file lying in her hands. “Why are you giving me this?”
“Because I think you need it now more than ever, Sam. Look, this woman has already held your heart, who knows, maybe she’s the one who’s gonna hold it forever.” Mark stood up and placed a consoling hand on her shoulder. “But you’ll never know if you don’t give yourself a chance.”
He got up and started towards the kitchen only to stop when an after thought struck him. “By the way,” Mark turned to face her, “There’s a picture of her in there as a small token of my friendship.” He winked, then left his friend staring mutely at the file, obviously too scared to open it but too afraid not to if Ann was truly the mystery woman of her dreams.
Two o’clock in the morning and yet sleep was nowhere near the wide-eyed woman lying on the couch, her gaze fixed blankly as she stared at the non-descriptive ceiling over her head. After tossing and turning for hours, Sam finally gave up and decided to confront the cause of her insomnia. She turned to her side and reached for the file Mark had given her. She opened it for what seemed to be the thousandth time that night and retrieved the picture of Ann Thomas.
“So, you do have a face?” The image was of Ann standing outside the hospital, apparently totally unaware of the snapshot being taken. Sam touched the picture with the tip of her finger. “I can’t believe you’re real.”
Sam closed her eyes and replayed the voice in her head that had been echoing in her dreams.
“Oh yes, it’s a perfect match.”
What are you going to do now? Sam’s inner voice had been nagging her since she read the file for the first time.
She chose to ignore it and focused on the picture. “Do you remember me?”
What if she does?
“There’s a boyfriend.”Sam’s mind fought against her heart’s daring hopes.She quickly searched for his name on the page making the fact even more of a reality. “There it is, Joseph Green.”
So what? It never stopped you before. Remember Jessica? Sandra? Natalie? They all had husbands too.
“They meant nothing to me. I just borrowed them from their husbands for a night…or two.” She fought with her conscious before turning her attention back to the photograph in her hand. “But you’re so beautiful, Ann Thomas. More beautiful than I ever imagined and if you really are my Dr. Angel…” For the briefest of moments, Sam speculated the possibilities.
What are you going to do about it?
As quickly as a door could be slammed shut, her mind was an empty blank. All the images that had previously been toyed with were miraculously locked away along with any heart she’d had left in it’s walled off space.
“Would you shut up?” She cut off her internal monologue abruptly. Even though Sam’s detective instincts were telling her that Ann could lead her to a deepest love, she knew all too well that love and heartaches walked hand in hand.
“Doctor Angel is nothing but an illusion. She’s just a dream and that’s how she’s going to remain.”
You’re a coward, Samantha. You may not be afraid of getting shot, but you’re a wimp when it comes to the matters of the heart.
“Shut-the-fuck-up!” She snapped, rearranging the throw pillows beneath her head in the hope that sleep would finally claim her.
To be continued…
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