Twenty Two: Happily Ever After?

Kate rolled up the last pair of socks and tucked it into the corner of her suitcase before casting her eyes around the bedroom. It was almost bare now; she had packed everything except the few items she would need before catching her aeroplane home. A few boxes containing mostly books and clothes were already on their way to her mother's home and Iris had reluctantly agreed to arrange shipping for the things which Kate couldn't fit in her suitcase.

She knew her roommate was unhappy that she was leaving New York City, but Iris was realistic enough to acknowledge that she didn't have that much choice in the matter. Kate, however, was of the opinion that going home was a good idea, all things considered. She couldn't keep renewing her visa indefinitely without any firm plans; it was time to give some serious consideration to the direction her life was taking.

To summarise - she had no job, no money and no idea what she wanted to do. And the fact that she had been about to enter into a sham marriage was, she thought, a good indication that her current mental state was more than a little screwed up. She couldn't live off her family and he friends forever. It was time to take some responsibility for herself and going home for at least a couple of months seemed to be the best way to obtain some breathing space.

Kate also needed to take the time to repair her relationship with her mother. Unlike Sam, Amanda hadn't shouted at her daughter when she learned the truth of the scheme. Instead she'd sat in stunned silence, clutching her bag between her fingers as if it was the only life raft on a sinking ship. Kate hadn't seen her mother behave like that since her father's death, and the pain she felt at being the reason for it had been enough to make her flee in tears. While Mrs Chalmers had recovered relatively quickly from the shock, Kate still believed that spending quality time together would be beneficial.

That belief meant that the only outstanding question was how to handle matters with Sam.

She hadn't had any contact with him since the awful day she and his brother had called off their plan in spectacular (and expensive) fashion. In the immediate aftermath of the wedding, Owen had urged her to stay and fight until Sam realised his error, but Kate didn't have the strength; she needed to retreat and lick her wounds until the pain lessened enough to allow her to think straight. Thankfully Iris fully understood Kate's point of view and, overriding Owen's objections, had flights to JFK booked within thirty minutes of their return to the Irvines' house.

But while six vodka and Diet Cokes had helped the flight pass in a blur, for some unknown reason the fog of agonised indecision had not yet cleared. All Kate knew for certain was that she was scared; frightened that Sam would reject her and terrified that he might not feel the same way about her anymore.

He had felt something for her, she knew; if he hadn't, he wouldn't have kissed her. However she was also aware that news of the fake wedding might have irrevocably altered his perception of her. Nothing had changed as far as Kate was concerned. She still thought about Sam all of the time and she still honestly believed that he was the man for her.

Her friends had their own opinions on the best action to take. When she spoke to Iris, her friend's view was that he did care about her – his angry and hurt reaction was surely proof of that - but she also thought that Kate needed to act before Sam concluded that she no longer cared. Owen was more blunt in expressing his views; he thought Kate was making a huge mistake in not returning to Potters Brook to see his brother. More than either girl, he was aware that there was a danger any delay would cause Sam's heart to harden against Kate. His brother could be very stubborn.

Wandering out of her bedroom, Kate walked slowly through the rest of the apartment to confirm she hadn't forgotten anything. She was alone; Owen and Iris were at the cinema together. Ostensibly they were watching Charade, but Kate suspected that a lot of the movie would go unseen.

Their new romance was another reason why Kate was keen to move out. While she knew that both of her friends would be mortified that they were making her uncomfortable, she was increasingly feeling like a third wheel. Yes, space was definitely required.

As she surveyed the living room, Kate spotted one of her training shoes sticking out from under the sofa. On her return from California she had retrieved all of her belongings from Owen's apartment and dumped them in a big pile on top of the sofa. Obviously she had missed the shoe when she later moved them to the bedroom.

It was only after she had dropped to her hands and knees to collect the errant shoe that Kate realised she hadn't seen its pair anywhere. She definitely hadn't packed it and a quick sweep under the sofa had revealed only a quarter and a rather fluffy mint. Had she left it at Owen's place?

Another fruitless search of the flat later, Kate decided that was the only explanation. Pulling on her jacket, she grabbed her wallet and the spare key for Owen's apartment. She needed that shoe.

Fifteen minutes and a short subway ride later, Kate was unlocking Owen's front door. As she pushed it open to step into the hallway, it began to register that something wasn't quite right. She could hear the noise of the television from the second bedroom in the apartment, which struck her as odd. First of all, why would Owen watch television in that room when he had a massive plasma screen in the living area? Secondly, why would Owen leave the set on when he was going out?

And then suddenly the television went silent and that was almost worse, because without sound there was nothing to shield Kate even slightly from the shock which followed.

"Owen, is that you?"

Kate froze, her hand trembling as it hovered over the light switch inside the door. She could hear his soft footsteps as he made his way towards her and wondered whether she had time to run away. Or maybe he wouldn't notice her if she just stood here in the dark and tried not to breathe...she held herself as still as possible, something which was difficult to do while her heart was in danger of racing out of control.

It was all to no avail. The overhead bulb clicked on, instantly flooding the hall with light. And standing by the switch at the other end of the passageway, looking as shocked as Kate felt, was Sam.

As her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, Kate blinked rapidly and wondered if she was actually hallucinating. But no, she wasn't mistaken. What was Sam doing here? Owen hadn't mentioned that his brother was visiting and she hoped he'd have thought it important enough to comment on, at least in passing!

"Sam, hi," she managed eventually when it became apparent that he was incapable of speech. "I just came for my shoe." When he didn't say anything she stepped fully inside the apartment and walked slowly up the hallway, pausing briefly in front of him. "Excuse me."

When he didn't step out of the bedroom doorway, Kate was forced to squeeze past him. She flushed as she accidentally stepped on his toes. "Sorry." She was tempted to close the bedroom door but knew that she couldn't; he was obviously staying in the room and besides, he was blocking the door. Moving to stand in front of the wardrobe, she was staring unseeing into its murky depths when Sam finally spoke.

"Your shoe?"

Kate turned. He was looking at her blankly, almost as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing, and she felt a strong rush of attraction. Even when he was unshaven, untidy and utterly confused, Sam was delectable. She didn't feel at all ready to see him - she had no idea what she was supposed to say to bridge the sudden gap between them - but it seemed fate had other ideas. She would have to do the best she could.

"Yeah. I, uh, left one of my trainers here. I can't finish packing without it," she said, then immediately and silently berated herself. Seriously, that's the best I can do? I suck.

Sam folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the door frame, his expression suddenly guarded. "Packing? Why? Are you going somewhere?"

"I'm going home," Kate said quietly. When he didn't immediately respond, she turned back to look into the closet again. Spotting her shoe in the corner, she practically dived inside to grab it. The desire to close the doors and hide in there until Sam was gone was overwhelming but somehow she was able to resist. Instead she took a deep breath and tackled the forbidden subject straight on. "I have to leave; I won't have a visa soon."

He nodded, running his hand through his hair. Sticking up all over the place, the messy brown locks looked like they hadn't been combed in a week and Kate had to fight a sudden urge to smooth them down. She was glad she'd resisted when she heard what Sam had to say next.

"Of course. Still, are you sure you've explored all avenues? Don't you have a million dollars you could invest in a new business – hey, you could start up as a wedding planner! Or maybe if you asked Owen very nicely, he'd adopt you!"

The bitterness in Sam's tone caused Kate to flinch. "Please don't."

"Why not?"

"Because you're better than that, Sam," she said quietly. "You're better than me." Shrugging slightly, she fiddled with the shoe in her hand for a moment. "I'm sorry. I would never have come if I'd known you were here."

"I wish you hadn't," Sam replied, closing his eyes as if he could block her out. He shifted position so that his back was against the frame and tipped his head backward until it rested against the wood. "I wish I hadn't come here."

For the first time, Kate saw the dark circles under his eyes and the huskiness in his voice. He was tired, she realised. She should have seen the signs earlier; she was well placed to recognise lack of sleep given that she spent her nights awake and staring at the ceiling.

"Why did you come here?" she asked softly.

"Honestly? I don't know." He opened his eyes to look straight at her. "I thought I wanted to see you. I thought I could talk to you and tell you that it didn't matter that you lied, but now that I'm here...I can't do it. Because it does matter; it matters a lot."

Kate took a step towards him. "How can I fix this?" she asked urgently. "Please, whatever it is, just tell me and I'll do it."

"It doesn't work like that, Kate," he said with a shake of his head, his eyes darting from side to side to avoid meeting her gaze. "I can't forget that what happened between us wasn't real. It wasn't you. You were dishonest and the whole thing was just a game. I don't even know who you really are."

"Yes, you do, Sam!" Her answer was vehement. "You know me; you do. The only thing I ever lied about was my relationship with Owen. Everything else- I was always myself when I was with you. I was always myself because you made me feel like that was okay. No one else has ever made me feel like that. I didn't have to try and be someone I'm not; I was enough. "

"You were enough. Of course you were."

Sam's words might have been almost inaudible but they were loud enough to send Kate's heart soaring in her chest. She crossed the room in three steps to stand directly in front of him. While he still refused to look at her, she sensed that she was close. If she pushed the subject just a little more, his resolution to shut her out of his life might crack.

"I know I screwed up really badly," she said earnestly, eyes begging for his understanding. "I lied to you and your family and that was wrong. If I could change it, I would, but I can't. You have no idea how much I regret hurting you," she said. "But you're not the only one who's suffering. This is killing me too." Dropping her shoe, she reached up to place her hands against his cheeks. "I promise you, everything that happened between us was real. You have to be believe me; you have to give me another chance. Please, Sam. Please give me a chance to show you that you're wrong about me."

For a minute she thought that she convinced him, but then he moved out of her reach and her spirits plummeted. "I can't," he ran his hand through his hair and the defeated expression he wore was almost worse than anything else. "I'm sorry, Kate, but I can't do this. You and me - it's not going to work."

Letting her hands drop, she had to swallow three times before she could get her next words past the lump in her throat. "I'm sorry, Sam. If I could take it all back, I would – but I can't. I can't. So I just- I don't know what else I can say."

"There's nothing else to say," Sam said hoarsely. "You should go." But Kate didn't move. She couldn't. Not until he spoke again. "Please, just go." His raised voice broke on the last word.

All at once her feet unglued themselves from the floor. Kate started to walk down the hall, her pace quickening as tears pricked her eyes, but even as every step took her further away she waited for Sam to stop her. Somehow she knew that he couldn't tear his eyes away from her – she could feel his gaze burning into her back – and she could sense that a request to stay was on the tip of his tongue.

It wasn't until she'd actually grasped the door handle that her hopes began to melt away. He wasn't going to change his mind. He was serious about banishing her from his life. So why was he still standing there, watching her?

She paused as a final flicker of optimism hit. Maybe he was waiting to give her one last chance to convince him she was genuine? It had to be worth a shot.

"I understand that you can't forgive me, but it doesn't change how I feel about you," she said softly. She turned her head slightly to meet his gaze directly. "I think I'm in love with you, Sam. I just wanted you to know that."

Then she opened the door and stepped through it, head held high.

It took only minutes for it to become obvious that Sam wasn't following her, but the adrenaline coursing through her veins meant that Kate was already back at the subway station before realisation hit.

It was over. She might see Sam again once or twice – it was bound to happen thanks to her friendship with Owen – but they would never be together. He didn't want her, or rather he wanted her but wasn't prepared to forgive the way they'd met. She wasn't sure whether to be infuriated with him or accept that it was partly her fault but either way, she had to try to move on.

God, he was such an arse sometimes! All right, so she'd been a bit stupid. Was that enough of a reason to write her off completely? It was because of Sam she hadn't gone through with it, after all. And it wasn't like she was expecting him to marry her immediately or anything like that. No way, she'd learned her lesson. She didn't want a Green Card that badly. Just a date or two would be first. Why wasn't he prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt? The man was clearly an idiot and she was better off without him.

Right. All she had to do was make herself believe that and she would be fine.

A train pulled into the station and after waiting for the previous passengers to disembark, Kate stepped aboard. The only seat available faced out towards the platform and she slumped down on it, gazing blankly out of the open train door. More than ever she wanted to go home. She would start over and do her best to forget about Sam.

As a sudden flash of blue caught her eye, Kate realised that forgetting wasn't going to be easy at first. Not when he was currently racing down the station's steps towards her.

"What the-" Kate started, rising to her feet. "Sam?"

He heard her shout and saw her on the train. Closely pursued by a uniformed member of the station's staff, Sam jumped over the last few stairs and sprinted onto the platform. Kate ran to the middle of the car as the doors began to close, looking around helplessly for the train's conductor or an emergency alarm or anything that might stop the train. Sam saw what was happening and with a huge leap, slid through the ever-narrowing gap shortly before it disappeared completely. The train moved off, leaving the staff member behind.

At first Kate couldn't do anything but stare dumbly at him as he tried to catch his breath. He was slightly bent over, his hands resting on his thighs for support. In his right hand, he was holding her forgotten training shoe by its laces. The murmur of conversation which had started in the carriage as Sam boarded in such spectacular fashion had now died away, but Kate was aware that their fellow passengers were still watching keenly from behind their newspapers.

"What are you doing here, Sam?" she asked eventually. It seemed a good enough place to start.

He straightened up. "You forgot your shoe," he replied, still wheezing slightly. He held it out to her and she took it, perplexed. He saw her confusion and gave an appealing shrug. "I know that you don't own much sensible footwear, so I didn't want you to leave without it."

Kate didn't know what to say. He had to start being adorable just when she wanted to get over him, didn't he? It wasn't the least bit helpful!

"Sam," she began, then stopped when she realised she didn't have the foggiest idea of how to continue. It was impossible. "What do you want from me?"

He took a step towards her. "I need to talk to you."

"What about?"

"About us." He shrugged again. "I was surprised tonight; I didn't expect you to show up. I wasn't ready and I didn't have the right words. But I have them now, if you want to hear them."

"I'm listening." Folding her arms across her chest as if she could shield herself from the pain she fully expected to follow, Kate waited.

"I was wrong. It doesn't matter if you lied about being with Owen, not if everything else was true."

She felt his words as a physical lurch in her chest. That was an admission she hadn't expected. "It was."

He nodded. "I know. I always knew it, deep down. I just didn't want to admit it. I was angry at you and it was easier if I believed what happened between us didn't mean anything to you."

"It did."

"I know. And I'm sorry I hurt you. I'll make it up to you if you'll let me." He regarded her solemnly. "You don't ever have to be someone you're not with me, Kate. You are enough. You always will be."

Her eyes were filling with tears but he wasn't going to get off that easy. Not after what he'd put her through. "You're a complete arse, do you know that?"

He smiled. "No, I'm a complete ass. What self-respecting American would say 'arse'?" Kate rolled her eyes. "And while that might be true, I'm also the ass who thinks he's in love with you."

Okay, maybe she was going to forgive him after all.

Her heart singing, Kate dropped her shoe and opened her arms. Sam met her halfway across the carriage and she wrapped her arms around his neck as he tipped her back onto her heels and into a dip.

Kate smiled up into his eyes as she remembered the last time he'd held her like this, just as he'd intended she should. It was the day her mother had arrived in California and if she recalled correctly, her choice of footwear had been the cause of it then too.

"I really wanted you to kiss me that day," she confided quietly, unclasping one of her hands so that she could smooth his hair back from his face.

"I really wanted to kiss you that day," he replied. "I really want to kiss you now."

"So what are you waiting for?" she teased.

He smirked. "For you to quit babbling."

"Hey! I'm not babb-" Kate's protest was prematurely ended when Sam pressed a finger to her lips.

"I like it when you babble, remember?" he said. "I hope you never stop."

But just in case, she kissed him before she could start again.



And it only took me five and half years to finish this. :-) This story was a real learning experience for me - it's taught me how not to write! I started without a plan or any idea of where the story was going to go beyond the basic ending and that is clearly not an approach that works for me. But while I'm not very happy with the end result, I am pleased I was able to see it through to the end. The lessons I've learned here will be invaluable when I'm writing in the future. They certainly helped when I wrote 'Free Love' in the middle of all this.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it, at least a little. And it would be much appreciated if you could spare the time for even a short review. Thank you!