|Beast in the Barrens
Author: xPrettyXxRadx PM
Sequel to ‘The Covington House’. You know, tromping through a forest for a creature that may not even exist wasn’t how I pictured spending my weekend. But, hey—at least Sam’s here to keep me company...if only we could get past the awkwardness... SLASH.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Supernatural - Chapters: 6 - Words: 27,370 - Reviews: 37 - Favs: 59 - Follows: 19 - Updated: 12-23-10 - Published: 11-18-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2865732
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/n: Woo, it's finished! Happy birthday to me! And--gah! I think this might be my favorite story out of all the ones I've written thus far. I really do love Reese and Sam to pieces and then some. But...only one more ficlet with them to go... *sad face*
And speaking of the triquel--it will be called Hell of a Night and the first part will be posted sometime on January 7th. I swear it will, because I have no excuse for it not to be; my classes don't start again until January 25th. *sigh* I love college.
Anyway. Thanks to all of those who reviewed, favorited, etc., etc. I hope you enjoy this last chapter!
The thuds on the roof continue, like whatever is up there is pacing back and forth. My heart is pounding frantically in my chest, to the point where I can hear it in my ears. With a small whimpering noise, Sam huddles closer to me and hides his face in the crook of my neck again. I press my lips to his hair and wrap my arms more securely around him.
"Drive," Gwen then breathes. And even though her voice is barely above a whisper, it still catches my attention. I glance toward the front to see her and Evan staring at each other, both of them pale and looking extremely grave.
"What?" Evan asks just as quietly.
"Drive," Gwen repeats, now slowly and carefully reaching into her bag, "and then slam on the brakes again." She pulls out her video camera, glancing at Evan as she turns it on. "It'll fly forward off the car with the force of the stop."
Evan stares at her for a few seconds, his eyes large and his lips slightly parted, before he gives her a jerky nod. "Okay," he says. "But then we're getting the fuck out of here, all right?"
"All right." Gwen nods back.
Evan takes a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment, and then turns in his seat to look back at Sam and me.
"Get your seatbelts on," he tells us.
I nod at him, and then reluctantly pull away from Sam. Sam lets me, sitting up and sliding over in the other seat; though, not without giving me an incredibly heart-wrenching, miserable look as he does. I reach over to him after buckling myself in, and touch his cheek. Sam grabs my hand and holds it tightly, staring at me with wide, scared eyes. I squeeze his hand reassuringly.
"Okay," I then say to Evan, turning back to face front. Evan nods at me then looks over at Gwen.
"You ready?" he asks her.
Gwen quickly checks the camera's setting before she gives him a nod. "Yeah," she says, and I notice her eyes flicker towards the roof. Involuntarily, I glance up, too, and listen carefully. The footsteps have stopped, but I don't think it's gone.
"Are you?" Gwen then asks, looking back down and arching an eyebrow at Evan.
"As I'll ever be," Evan mutters. Gwen laughs a little in her throat and then completely shocks me by smiling at him—genuinely smiling at him! And if the way Evan is staring at her is anything to go by, it shocked him too.
"Then floor it," she tells him, pressing the record button.
Evan blinks at her a few times before a determined expression comes across his face. Nodding once, he turns to face the windshield and then—
And then he floors it.
I'm thrown back in my seat, as is everyone else. Sam grips my hand tightly, and I grip his back, watching Gwen as she attempts to hold the camera still. Above us, there's a scraping and scratching noise, like whatever's up there is trying to steady itself by digging its claw—hooves—or whatever it has as feet—into the metal of the car.
"Now brake!" Gwen says a few seconds later, and Evan does what he's told.
Just like earlier when he slammed on the brakes, I'm thrown forward in my seat. Only, this time I'm wearing my seatbelt, so I don't going flying into the back of Gwen's. And while that prevents me from hitting my head again, the seatbelt poses a problem in itself by nearly choking me to death. I gasp, trying to get air back into my lungs, distantly aware of Sam doing the same next to me. It's then, just as I'm about ask him if he's all right, when I hear both Gwen and Evan swear under their breath, sounding awed, shocked, and a whole bunch of other things. Without thought, I snap my head forward to look out the windshield, and what I see causes my breath to desert me again.
There, lit up by the headlights, is a creature crouched on the ground not even ten feet in front of the car. I've never seen anything like it before, but I have no doubt in my mind that that—thing is the Jersey Devil. It has to be, because no normal animal looks that unnatural, deformed and disturbing. I stare wide-eyed at it, wanting to look away, but unable to.
The actual Jersey Devil resembles the pictures of it that Gwen was looking at in the library yesterday only in the way that a caricature resembles the person it's of. Instead of exaggerating features like a caricature does, however, the pictures I saw of the Jersey Devil seemed to do the opposite. In fact, compared to the real thing, those representations could be called cute and cuddly.
I force myself to look hard at the Jersey Devil as it pushes itself back up to a standing position, trying to take in its features. It's difficult to explain what exactly it looks like, but it's kind of like a cross between a bat, a horse, and a deer. Even then, that's not that good of a description because it doesn't convey how absolutely horrible the thing is to look at. It's just…the more I look at it, the more I want to cover my eyes and erase the image from my memory. It's as if my brain doesn't want to even try to process what kind of freak accident of nature created it.
Once the Jersey Devil is back on its feet—it stands on its hind legs, holding its fore legs in front like a kangaroo—it turns towards the car, its red eyes flashing. It stares at us for a few seconds before walking forward, its bat-like wing flexing threatening. My heart seems to jump up into my throat as it approaches. I don't want it to get any closer to us. Those hooves it has look heavy and sharp enough to break through the car window, and I really don't want to end up like that coyote.
But just as the Jersey Devil is about halfway to the car, the horn blares loudly. The noise is enough to startle me into looking away from the beast, over to the driver's seat. I have only a second to glimpse Evan holding his palm down on the middle of the steering wheel before that god-awful and nightmarish wail sounds again; though, this time it's much more terrible because it's closer and louder. And despite being quite honestly scared out of my mind, I still look back at the Jersey Devil just in time to watch it leap into the air, the wail fading off as it flies away from the car. It's only when the creature is out of sight completely, and when we can no longer hear the wail, that Evan takes his hand off the car horn.
Then he starts driving again, going a little faster than he probably should. I don't think he can help it; like mine, his nerves are mostly likely shot, and he probably just wants to get us out of this freaking forest as quickly as possible. I don't blame him after what we just went through.
I wait about seven seconds—for what, I don't really know—before I quickly unclip my seatbelt and slide back over to Sam. He's trembling something terrible and has his hands covering his face. Needing to comfort him as well as myself, I slip my arms around his torso and press my face into his shoulder. Sam whimpers a bit and immediately holds me back, hiding his face in my neck and wrapping his arms tightly around me.
We stay just like that for a while, only breaking apart when both of our heartbeats have gone back to their normal rhythms. But even then, Sam and I stay huddled close to each other as Evan drives us out of the Pine Barrens, back onto the main roads. We both feel safer this way—safer just by holding hands, with our other arm securely wrapped around each other's lower backs and with our foreheads rested together.
Well, at least I feel safer like this. I'm not really sure if Sam feels the same, but…you know…I hope so.
I hug Sam tighter, sighing a little when his hold tightens around me in return, and close my eyes. Mental images try to assault my mind, but I manage to keep them away by concentrating on Sam's scent. The overpowering silence in the car helps a bit too.
And it's only then I realize that, even though it has been at least fifteen minutes since we've been out of the forest, and how we've been cuddling since, Sam and I have yet to speak to each other. In fact, none of us in the car have said a single word at all.
I think we're still all too scared to.
About twenty-something minutes later, Evan pulls his SUV into a rest area, choosing a parking space where there isn't a lot of other cars around. At first, I wonder why Evan picked here—it's not the only secluded spot; the whole right end of the parking lot is pretty much empty. But then I notice how the right side of the parking lot is bordered by woods on two sides, and I understand and greatly appreciate his reasoning.
Evan shuts the car off, and after a few seconds of just sitting motionlessly in his seat, he clears his throat, being the first of us to break the silence. The sound seems louder than it really is because of it.
"We need to figure out what we're going to do for the night," he says, a bit hoarsely. "Driving back home tonight is out of the question; I doubt any of us would be able to handle the drive after…after what just happened."
"We can't leave anyway," Gwen says. There's an odd tone to her voice that has me slightly concerned. "We have to give that video to the museum."
"Right," Evan mutters.
"We don't have enough money for a cheap hotel room, do we?" Gwen asks, and Evan shakes his head. She sighs. "Then I guess we're stuck here. Is that okay?"
"I really don't see what other choice we have," Evan says. But he still turns around in his seat to look at Sam and I. "Do you guys have any ideas, or is staying here all right?"
"It's fine with me," I tell him. Sam nods in agreement.
Evan gives us a nod back. Then his eyes flicker over all of us and he grimaces slightly. "C'mon," he says, opening his car door. "We should get ourselves cleaned up before we attempt sleeping."
Nodding, we grab our bags and do as he says. Even Gwen goes without a word. I watch her curiously out of the corner of my eye as the four of us walk towards the rest area building. She's been acting uncharacteristically compliant ever since we left the woods. I thought she would go back to being herself after deciding that we were staying here, but she hasn't. If anything, she's become even more docile, keeping her head down and dragging her feet a bit as she walks. Maybe it's because she's just tired (she's been up as long as I have, and I know I'm exhausted, especially after everything), or maybe tonight's events are finally catching up and getting to her. Or maybe it's both—either way, I can't help but be concerned.
We enter the building, and thanks to the fluorescent lights, I get a better look at the other three. None of them have any serious injuries—just small cuts and bruises from running madly through the woods and being knocked around in the car—but they definitely look a bit like hell. And when I enter the bathroom and take a look at myself in the mirror, I see that I don't look any better.
I wash my face in the sink first before I go into a stall and change my clothes. Once I'm done with that, I head back out to the main part of the building. I glance around the place until my land on Gwen. She's sitting on a bench near the door, having already changed into a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants. But what catches my attention is the way she's leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. Worried, I quickly head over to her.
"Gwen, what's wrong?" I ask as I sit down next to her.
"I can't get the image of the dead coyote out of my head," she says thickly, that odd tone back in her voice again. She then squeezes her eyes shut, grimacing and looking like she's about to cry.
With a sympathetic look, I reach over and start rubbing her back soothingly. I should have known that was what was bothering her. I know Gwen might seem like a heartless bitch sometimes, but when it comes to animals, she's not at all. She loves them—always has—and can't stand the thought of them dying or getting hurt. That's why she doesn't eat meat, and hasn't for years. I can't even imagine how awful she must feel after seeing what happened to that coyote.
Sam and Evan join us a couple minutes later. When Evan sees Gwen, the fatigue and the last traces of fear in his face disappear completely, only to be replaced by genuine concern for her. Remembering the look he gave her earlier in the woods, it hits me just how much Evan must care for Gwen. And it's so obvious to someone who's paying attention. I just don't know whether or not it's a good thing for him to like her that much. I mean—how likely is it that Gwen will ever like him back or even think of him as a friend?
That happening is probably as likely to happen as her failing a test would be.
"What's wrong?" Evan asks. His eyes flicker between Gwen and I anxiously. "Is she okay?"
"She doesn't feel good," I tell him, still rubbing her back.
"Understatement," says Gwen through clenched teeth. "I feel like I'm going to throw up again." She opens her eyes and peaks up at Evan through her hair. "You didn't happen to pack crackers or anything like that, did you?"
Evan shakes his head regretfully. "No," he says. "But when we drove into the parking lot, I think I saw a vending machine out in front. It might have crackers or—"
"All right," Gwen cuts him off. She then stands up and motions for him to walk. "Lead the way."
Evan stares at her for a second, looking dumbfounded. "I—" He blinks and then shakes his head slightly. "Okay. Just…hold on a second," he tells her, reaching into his pocket. He pulls out his car keys and hands them to Sam, saying, "You and Reese head back to the car. We'll be right there." Then Evan turns back to Gwen.
"This way," he says, angling himself towards the doors opposite us. Gwen nods and follows him, looking grateful, albeit slightly green.
Watching them walk away together, I'm left feeling a bit baffled. What the hell just happened? I mean, I know they haven't argued since we left the Barrens, but that… That was just weird. I look at Sam, raising my eyebrows at him questioningly, silently asking him if he knows what's going on.
But Sam just shrugs and shakes his head at me, looking as confused as I feel. Frowning thoughtfully, I glance over at the other doors just as Gwen and Evan disappear through them.
Well… All right then.
Sighing, I turn back at Sam. He gazes back at me with a look that tells me he's still a little bit scared. I give him a small, sympathetic smile and offer him my hand.
"C'mon," I say. "Let's go back to the car."
Smiling meekly back at me, Sam nods and takes my hand. We then head out to the car together; but once we're there, I hesitate before opening the door. And even though it was only for a second, Sam notices.
"What?" he asks, giving me a curious look.
"Nothing," I say automatically. But after moment's thought, I don't see a reason why I shouldn't tell him what I'm thinking, so… I do.
"Well, nothing really that important," I correct. "I was just wondering how comfortable it's going to be to sleep in the back seat. You know—leg room wise, for either of us."
Sam blinks at me a few times before turning to look at the car, humming under his breath and biting his bottom lip thoughtfully. Then, he suddenly lets go of my hand and climbs into the car. Kind of confused, I just stand there by the open door, staring at him, as he starts to fold down the backseats.
"Um…Sam?" I say, once he starts piling everything that was in the trunk all over on one side, "what are you doing?"
Sam pauses what he's doing to flash me a sheepish smile. "Making leg room for us," he mumbles. Then, he flushes and, to hide it, he goes back to rearranging the back of Evan's SUV.
After he's done moving all the stuff, Sam begins to unzip both of our sleeping bags. He spreads his out over the truck floor and folded seats, and—oh, I get what he's doing now. With a small, amused smile, I lean against the doorframe and continue to watch him.
Sam places our pillows against the trunk door then goes to grab my sleeping bag, which he set off to the side before laying his down. But once he has it in his hands, he hesitates, like he doesn't know what to do with it now except awkwardly hold it. Sam stares down at my sleeping bag for a second before glancing up at me with large, uncertain eyes. The sight is enough melt my heart.
Or…well—you know…make me want to kiss him.
And kiss him, and kiss him.
"Um," Sam then says. "I…I think this was a little presumptuous of me. You don't—"
A laugh suddenly bursts past my lips, surprising even me. I can't help it, though—he really is that freaking adorable.
I grin fondly at him, and Sam blushes deeply, ducking his head. But his eyes keep flickering up at to mine and there's a small smile fighting its way onto his lips. Seeing it, I chuckle to myself again and climb into the car, closing the door behind me. Then I crawl across the seats, over to Sam.
Once I'm kneeling in front of him, I take his face in my hands and tilt it upwards, so I can press my lips to his. When I pull away, I give him another smile. And after a few seconds of blinking at me, Sam smiles back. Of course, it's an incredibly shy smile and he's still blushing a little—but that's just how Sam is.
And I really, really like it.
Leaning my forehead against his and stroking his cheekbones with my thumbs, I stare into his lovely brown eyes for a moment before I drop my hands down to his. I gently take a hold of his wrists and tug him towards the pillows. Sam comes, only hesitating to toss Evan's keys into the front seat.
After spending a moment getting comfortable, we finally manage to settle down on Sam's sleeping bag, covering up with mine, and lying face-to-face with each other. We're snuggled so close, our noses are nearly touching. Our legs are kind of hooked around each other's too.
I like it.
Smiling vaguely, I slide my hand along Sam's shoulder, up to the back of his neck where I tangle my fingers in his hair. Sam's eyes flutter close when I do. He gives content sigh and tilts his head forward to nudge his nose against mine. I squint one eye closed, as if it tickled, laughing a bit under my breath. Sam smiles back at me without opening his eyes.
"Thank you, Reese," he whispers after a minute or so.
I blink at him in confusion. "For what?"
Sam opens his eyes to look directly into mine. "For making me feel better," he tells me. "If you haven't already noticed, it's ridiculously easy to scare me. I'm a complete coward. Seriously, Reese—I kept my eyes closed the entire time we were in the car," he adds, apparently catching sight of my reproving look.
"But…but I'm not really scared anymore, when I normally would be," Sam then says. "And it's because of you. I know this might sound kind of stupid or whatever, but it's the truth: Having you with me makes me feel safer. So…thank you," he concludes, giving me an embarrassed and slightly nervous smile.
And even though my face feels hot, I smile back and lean forward to kiss him, because—really. That is the exact thing I wanted to hear. The exact thing. I can't describe how wonderful it makes me feel or how great it is to know that I do make him feel safe.
But before the kiss can progress beyond simple contact of lips, I pull back and smile at him again. "Thank you too, then," I tell him.
Sam stares at me with wide eyes for a few seconds, like he's not actually sure what I'm thanking him for, or has a hard time believing it. Then, he suddenly smiles back at me. Sam snuggles closer, pressing his face in the crook of my neck, and wraps his arm around my lower back.
Feeling beyond content as I hold him tightly, I rest my head lightly against his and close my eyes. I'm asleep within minutes—or it seems that way, at least. Whether that has anything to do with having Sam in my arms, I'm not really sure, but…
But I think it just might.
The waitress who brought us our food smiles at us. "You're welcome," she says. Then she turns and walks away from our booth. I'm already shoveling pancakes into my mouth as she does. Sam and Evan are doing pretty much the same with their own breakfasts.
It's a little after eight-thirty in the morning, and we're in a diner just down the road from the museum. You know—the one that was asking for proof of the Jersey Devil in exchange for a thousand bucks. Gwen's there right now, giving them the video we got last night/earlier this morning. She said she'd meet us here when she was d—
Out of nowhere, Gwen suddenly appears at the side of our table. She slams her hands down on it, causing Sam, Evan and I to jump slightly in surprise. But instead of looking up at her questioningly, like those two then do, I frown down at my coffee cup.
Some of it splashed out of the cup because of Gwen's need for dramatics. That was a perfectly good sip of coffee, too. Or, I'm guessing it would have been if she hadn't wasted it. I'll never know, though. Because that sip of coffee is now on the table. Where I can't drink it.
I turn to give Gwen a look, to let her know just how serious of a crime that is, but she's not paying any attention to me. Rather, she's glaring out the window, looking pissed off. The glare isn't as impressive as it usually is, because she still looks a bit sickish—but still. It's enough to tell me that whatever has got her like this is more important than my spilled coffee. In her opinion, at least.
"They thought the video was a fake," Gwen grinds out between her teeth, before any of us can ask her what's wrong. We stare at her incredulously and—okay, this is more important than my spilled coffee.
"You're kidding," Evan says. "Tell me you're kidding."
Gwen clenches her fists and shakes her head. "No. I'm not," she says. Then she sighs largely, her shoulders sagging, and drops herself unceremoniously down in the seat next to Evan. Evan blinks at her in surprise and confusion—as do I before I share a look with Sam—but Gwen doesn't even notice. She just puts her elbows on the table, resting her chin in her hands, with a downcast expression on her face.
"This whole trip turned out to be completely pointless," Gwen then mutters gloomily.
"Um…" Evan's eyes flicker between Gwen and me, uncertain and questioning. It's obvious he wants to console her, but doesn't know how, and is asking silently for my help. Well, unfortunately he's on his own with this, because I don't know what to do either.
And Evan is apparently able to read that in the look I'm giving him, because he sighs at me then turns back to Gwen. After staring at her for a moment, something seems to come to him, and he gives her a smile.
"Not completely pointless," Evan tells her. Gwen glances at him out of the corner of her eye, cocking a skeptical eyebrow, silently asking him how he figures. Evan just grins wider at her and says, "You proved to me that the Jersey Devil does actually exist, didn't you?"
And—yup. That perks Gwen up almost instantly.
"Yeah…" she says. A smug smirk starts to tug at her lips. "Yeah, I did. Which means…" She shoots Evan a shrewd look. "You owe me twenty bucks, Evan."
I sigh and shake my head slightly at her. I should've known that was going to be one of the first things out of her mouth. Because, really—that's Gwen for you.
Evan takes it in stride though, continuing to smile at her as he reaches into his back pocket for his wallet. He then takes out a twenty dollar bill and offers it to her. Gwen plucks it from his fingers, smirking as she stuffs it into her jeans. And I really have to hand it to Evan—he knew exactly what to do to get her in a better mood.
Even though it also made her head that much bigger, which it really didn't need—
"Aren't you going to eat?" I ask Gwen.
Gwen eyes our plates, and then, with a slightly sickened look, shakes her head. "Um…I think I'll pass," she says. "I still don't feel that great."
To be honest, she doesn't look that great either. Her face is still a bit pale and she has dark circles under her eyes, which are slightly bloodshot. But I guess that's what happens when you spend two hours being sick in a rest area parking lot. Which she did. And it's the reason her and Evan didn't get back to the car until after Sam and I fell asleep.
I hadn't noticed that last night, because all my attention had been on Sam, but when I woke up, it had been one of the first things I thought of. And, needless to say, I was a little bit suspicious of it. Still kind of am. I mean, I didn't think Gwen would let Evan be the one to "take care" of her while she was sick. In fact, he is the last person I would've thought she would let do that. Add to that how they've haven't argued at all (at least, not argued-argued) with each other since leaving the forest, and it's just downright weird. I honestly have no clue what to make of it; though…
Though, I think I may have to take back what I said last night: Maybe them becoming friends might be more likely to happen than Gwen failing a test would be after all.
"You should still try eating something," I tell her. "So you don't get sick on the car ride."
"Reese is right," Evan says, nodding. He puts his toast on a napkin and slides it in front of her. "Here—at least eat that."
Gwen looks down at the toast and then glances up at Evan, her expression unreadable. She spends a moment staring at him like that before she sighs and looks back at the toast.
"All right—fine," Gwen says. Then she picks up a piece and takes a bite without a complaint. Sam and I share another surprised/baffled look with each other, while Evan just looks pleased with himself.
Like I said—weird.
We then continued to eat in a semi-silence. At one point, while I'm taking a sip of coffee, I feel Sam hook his ankle around mine and move a bit closer to me on the seat. I smile into my cup. Then, glancing discreetly at him out of the corner of my eye, I place my left hand on his thigh under the table. Sam blushes a bit, but I see the grin that's forming on his face, so I know it's all right. I keep my hand there for the rest of breakfast.
It's about nine-ten by the time all of us are done eating. As we wait for the waitress to bring the check, I lean into Sam a little bit, feeling very full and content. Everything that happened last night/earlier this morning already seems like it happened ages ago. It might hit me again later, but right now it's not bothering me. Probably because after eating all of those pancakes, I just want to snuggle up with Sam in the back of Evan's SUV and take a nap as Evan drives us home. And, you know, I think I'm going to do just th—
Sam suddenly goes rigid next to me. Instantly worried, I look over at him to see he's staring out the window with wide eyes. I give his thigh a squeeze to get his attention. Sam turns towards me, and when he does, I notice that he's gone pale.
"Sam," I say, "what's wrong?"
At my question, Evan and Gwen stop the conversation/civil argument they were having and glance over at us. Sam's eyes flicker over to them before he looks back at me with an anxious expression.
"Do…do you see anything outside, Reese?" he asks hesitantly.
I take a quick glance out the window, but I don't see anything out of the ordinary. Just a bit of unkempt grass and a thin fence line of trees and brush that separates the diner's property from the gas station next to it. I turn back to Sam, shaking my head.
"No, I don't," I tell him. "Why?"
But instead of answering me, Sam groans and puts his face in his hands. "Fuck," he then mutters under his breath. "Just—fuck…"
"Fuck wh—?" Evan cuts himself off and flashes the elderly couple that's walking past our table an apologetic smile when they give him a scandalized look. Once they're gone, though, he looks back at Sam with a curious, yet concerned, expression. "Fuck what?" he then asks, quieter this time.
Sam drops his hands from his face, and the look on it is so distressed that it makes me want to hug him and never let him go. But I just settle for taking his hand and holding it tightly. He relaxes a little, leaning into me gratefully.
"Um, well, the coyote from last night…" Sam begins, shooting Gwen an uncertain and apologetic look. She stares back at him with a stony expression. Sam grimaces slightly at it, but then continues on anyway. "Well, uh…it's…it's followed us."
I stare at Sam with a small frown, not really sure I follow him. "What?" I ask. But then it abruptly hits me, and my eyes widen a bit. "Wait. You mean it's a—"
"Yeah," says Sam miserably, nodding his head. "A ghost."
Gwen gasps and quickly leans over Evan to press her face against the window. "Where?" she asks, sounding excited. "Where is it?"
"Even if Sam tells you that, it's not like you're going to be able to see it," Evan mutters under his breath, sounding mostly exasperated. Though, I notice there's an affectionate undertone to his voice. Gwen shoots Evan a glare—completely missing the affectionate undertone—but shockingly doesn't retort. She then glances back at Sam, raising her eyebrows expectantly.
Sam gives her an aggrieved look in return, but nonetheless tells her: "By the trees, near that log. It's just staring at us," he adds, shivering a bit.
"If it followed us here, do you think it'll follow us all the way back home?" Gwen asks, a hopeful lilt to her voice.
"God, I hope not," Sam says earnestly, his eyes widening with fear and his face draining of what little color he had left. Sympathetic, I squeeze his hand and press my side more firmly against his. Sam gives me a grateful look, which I return with a smile.
But before we can talk anymore about the ghost-coyote, the waitress comes back with our check. We spend a moment figuring out how to split it between the four of us—even though Gwen didn't order anything, she uncharacteristically insisted on paying the tip, at least. Needless to say, we were all left a little dumbfounded by that—before we head back out to Evan's SUV. Sam and I walk a few paces behind Gwen and Evan, who are once again involved in a civil argument/conversation. I can't stop staring at them, feeling beyond baffled or like I've missed something. And I'm honestly beginning to think the night in the Barrens somehow addled Gwen's brains, because this is not normal.
I stop walking to mention this to Sam, asking him if he understands what's going on. But he just shrugs and shakes his head.
"I have no idea," Sam tells me. "But…" He glances thoughtfully at Gwen and Evan as they reach the car first. "But maybe it's just hard to dislike someone after encountering the Jersey Devil with them, and then having them stay up and keep you company while you're sick."
"Maybe," I say, albeit my eyebrows come together uncertainly. "But still. You can't deny that it's just freaking strange to see them getting along."
Chuckling, Sam flashes me a grin. "No. It's definitely strange," he agrees, and I smile back at him.
But after a moment and a thought, the smile fades and I have to look away from him.
Just how long will this truce between Gwen and Evan last before Gwen begins to hate him again? Before they're back to arguing like they always have, or worse? Before—
"Hey," Sam says softly, resting his forehead against my temple so his breath breezes over my ear. At the feeling, my eyes flutter and I shiver involuntarily. Sam smiles—somehow, I know he smiles without needing to look—and he kisses my cheek.
"I know what you're thinking," he says, causing me to glance at him. I raise an eyebrow, silently asking him how, but Sam just grins at me again as an answer. Then, he nuzzles my cheek, whispering: "Don't worry about it, Reese."
"Can't help it," I tell him. "Because when things between them go to hell again, we'll be the ones stuck in the crossfire."
Looking amused, Sam raises his eyebrows at me. "And how's that any different from what we've put up with before?" he asks. I open my mouth to reply, but snap it back shut a second later. I then smile sheepishly at him.
"Point," I say.
Sam lets out another laugh and leans in to kiss me again. It's only a quick peck on the lips, but it still leaves me grinning. Sam smiles back at me, resting his forehead against mine and nudging our noses together, before he starts to tug me forward by the hand. Still smiling, I let him lead me to the car, and—you know what? He's right. It's okay if Gwen and Evan eventually go back to arguing with each other all the time. I'm used to it, so if it happens, it happens. Besides, I'm willing to take things as they come.
As long as Sam's right there by my side, of course.