The Reef by Lois Kay

The Reef
by Lois Kay

Part 1

The November sky was gray, heavy with the rain that had been pouring down for days. Now and then a small ray of sunshine tried to peek through a little hole, but never long enough to make an impression.

The woman sitting on the front row of the business class seats tried to concentrate on the documents that were scrolling through her laptop screen, but after a while she gave up. She switched off her computer with a sigh, leaned back into the comfortable seat and directed her gaze outside the window. There was not much to see, but grayness beneath and a darkening sky above.

” Excuse me, ” a friendly voice suddenly interrupted. ” Would you like a drink ?”

The woman turned her head and gazed into the pretty face of one of the flight attendants. Reflectively she returned the smile.

” I’d like some tea, please.”

A stylish blond head nodded and disappeared into the small, but efficient kitchen, to reappear with the requested beverage a few minutes later.

” Anything else I can do for you ?”

” No, thank you.”
” We’ll be serving dinner in about an hour, Miss Stevens. In the meantime, if there’s anything I can do for you, please let me know.”

” I will, thank you, ” she replied, turning her attention to the steaming tea.

While sipping it, enjoying the rich taste, Samantha Stevens stretched her legs, crossing them at the ankles, a smile of contentment on her face.

” The way I do my long distance travelling now, is much better than when I was a student, ” she mused.

Her thoughts travelled back to that time. The long hours being cooped up inside the aircraft. Not being able to get comfortable. Finally getting so tired that she felt like some other person was controlling her body.

” Well, I do have to admit, back then, the weather was a lot better. At least there was something to see, ” Sam smiled, glancing outside.

“I know it’s been a long time, Sam, but still, I wish you weren’t going” her brother’s voice suddenly echoed through her mind.

” It’s a business trip, Tom, don’t worry about it.”

Sam remembered the look on his face and felt a tightening in her chest.

” There are people down there that, pardon my French, completely fucked you up a few years ago. What if…?”

” I won’t go there, Tom. Australia is huge and the Goldcoast is very crowded. They never came up there in the first place, they won’t be there.”

” I still don’t understand why dad asked you to go. He should know better…”

” I volunteered, Tom. He can’t make a trip like that himself anymore and I know how much the resort means to him. I know that to you it was just another investment, but mom and dad have special ties with the country. Besides, I’ve lived there for a couple of years. I know a little about the “Australian way” . Face it brother, I’m the best one for the job.”

” Just be careful, sis.”

” I will, Tom, and I love you too.”

After those words her older brother finally managed to produce a weak smile.

” All right, just find out what’s going wrong at ‘The Reef’, have a vacation and hurry back home.”

The unexpected image of a gentle face, surrounded by long, curly reddish blond hair, in combination with a pair of bright oceangreen eyes, sprinkled with little golden sparks, made her heart skip a beat.

” Don’t go there, Sam, ” she scolded herself. ” It’s in the past. It’s over. It’s a memory and one day it will fade. If you let it, ” a quiet little voice added.

Sam shrug her shoulders and quickly reached for a copy of the Financial Times, pushing down feelings of melancholy.

Hours later, somewhere over the Indian ocean, the plane was covered in darkness. Most passengers were dozing off underneath a thin blanket. It was quiet. The only sound was the steady roaring of the huge engines, that somehow managed to fade into the background once being ignored.

Sam had transformed her seat into some kind of bed, but sleep wouldn’t come. Her blue eyes were either staring at the ceiling or outside the window. The sky had turned into a velvet darkness, sprinkled with millions of stars and constellations. The water of the ocean was as dark and there was no telling where the earth ended and the sky began. Occasionally a tinly little light betrayed the presence of a ship, floating on that huge body of water.

Being without any distraction at all, Sam couldn’t help but turning her thoughts to the past. This time she didn’t try to fight it. It was too much like all the other nights she had spent, restless, depraved of sleep, with only memories to keep her company.
With a heartfelt sigh she closed her eyes, giving her thoughts free reign.

———————————————————————–

“Sam, some friends will come visit tonight and they might stay a few days. Do you mind sharing your bedroom, just in case ?”

” No, of course not, uncle Joe. Do I know them ?”

Joseph Billings took a seat next to his niece and smiled at her. Sam had been with them for three months now and he was still surprised by the striking resemblence between his wife and the young woman.

” What ?” Sam asked, seeing the look in his eyes.

Joe smiled and patted her knee.

” Just can’t seem to get over the fact that you and Esther are so alike.”

Sam grinned and looked at the topic of their conversation, entering the garden with a huge pilcher of iced tea.

” She and my mom are twins, uncle Joe. That’s why.”

” Did you tell her, honey, about the McDonnell’s ?” Esther Billings cheerfully asked, setting down the heavy tray.

” Do they have a daughter my age ?” Sam asked. ” I mean, uncle Joe asked me if I wanted to share my bedroom, so….”

She winked at her uncle who shook his head and looked at his wife for help.

” Six children, ” her aunt laughed. ” The oldest one is a girl, yes, and she is about your age. But I don’t know if they will all be here. David and Joan might have left that bunch at home. Jody is old enough to mind them.”

With a heartfelt sigh Sam opened her eyes. It had been eight years, but she could still remember that day and she didn’t have to close her eyes to see that image of their first meeting.

There was a knock at the door and Sam, who had just left the kitchen called out to her uncle.

” I’ll get it.”

She opened the door and stood face to face with a huge crowd of people, or so it seemed. She must have looked dumbfounded, because after a few moments of observing each other, a woman her aunt’s age started laughing.

” I know, ” she smiled. ” It’s like an invasion, but Esther said it was all right.”

She had a cute Scottish accent and Sam could feel herself returning the smile.

” I’m sorry, come in, please. My uncle and aunt are in the garden, I’m Sam, their niece.”

A tall, heavy set man shook her hand with a genuine smile.

” I’m David, the father of this lot and this is my wife Joan.”

He stepped inside the house and gestured his children to do the same.
Six children obediently followed him in.

” I’m Matthew, ” a tall, skinny teenager introduced himself. Being the eldest son he took it upon him to introduce his siblings.

” This is my youngest brother, Michael, he’s eight. This little girl is Fiona, but we call her ‘reds’,” he explained, ruffeling her red hair.
” She’s the youngest and just started school, so beware, she wants to impress you with her reading skills all the time.”

Fiona flashed Sam a brilliant smile, revealing a few gaps where a few of her milkteeth used to be. Sam grinned back at the little girl, shaking her small hand.

” This fourteen year old is Gerald, but we call him ‘bird’, because he is the only one in the family who can tame chickens.”

” And I’ve got a magpie, ” Gerald proudly added.

” Who gives me a headache,” a darkhaired girl admitted.

She stepped around her tall brother and friendly shook Sam’s hand.

” Hi, I’m Lucy. Matthew here thinks he’s gods gift to women, so we call him ‘romeo’. Don’t let him fool you, he’s not the eldest, just the tird one in row. He’s seventeen. I am eightteen, and somehow he just can’t seem to get over that.”

Sam smiled into a pair of very darkgreen eyes and tried not to laugh at Matthew who was looking very indignant.

” If you guys could just step inside I can introduce myself so we can get this embarassing way of introducing ‘the McDonnell clan’ out of the way, ” a soft voice sounded, behind Lucy’s back.

It was a very pleasant voice and when Lucy stepped passed her, Sam could see the owner.

She was a young woman, just a few inches smaller than herself. Her hair was more red than it was blond, not as fiery coloured as her youngest sister. It was a very soft colour and long and curly. Sam thought it was beautiful.

A warm hand grasped hers and Sam’s eyes were captured by a pair of bright emeraldgreen eyes.

” Hi, Sam. My name is Jody and I am the ‘big sister’. They are a handful and can make quite an impression, but I can assure you they are harmless. Just make sure they’re fed on time.”

” Well, um…my aunt expected your whole family to show up, so she made enough to feed an army,” Sam hesitantly smiled. ” You think we’re safe ?”

Jody laughed and squeezed Sam’s hand before letting go.

” Probabely.”

Sam closed the door behind her and turned around to see six pair of eyes watching her.

” What’s your nickname ?” she asked Jody, suddenly very curious about the girl.

Before Jody could react her siblings already did.

” Pea, ” they replied in unison.

” When she was little she put the green stuff everywhere, except in her mouth ” Lucy explained, seeing the puzzled look on Sam’s face being replaced by a smile.

” Shut up, Freckles, ” Jody replied mildly.

Sam frowned. She noticed that most of the family members did have those little brown specks on their faces, but Lucy’s skin was flawless.

” I suppose you got your nickname by not having any ?” she asked the younger girl.

Matthew was more than willing to clear up Sam’s confusion.

” When she was little, not so long ago, ” he added teasingly. ” Lucy was the only one without freckles and she couldn’t stand it. One day she got a felt-tip and just put dots all over her face. It was waterproof so it had to wear off.”

” Oh, I see, ” Sam chuckled.

That night, Sam shared her bedroom with the three McDonnell sisters and to her big surprise she had a great time. Having only one brother she wasn’t quiet used to the sisterly bantering and she thoroughly enjoyed listening to them.

Little Fiona was the first one to doze off, quickly followed by Lucy, leaving Sam and Jody to continue their whispered conversation.

Jody was very curious about Sam’s land of birth and asked question after question. Telling in return about the village they lived in, just north from Byron Bay, up in the hills where her father had cleared a patch of the forrest and build their house. It was all self-supporting. No electricity.No television, radio or telephone. The refredgiator ran on gas and once a week the generator would run for a couple of hours to allow Joan McDonnell and her daughters to do the laundry.

” That’s a good thing, ” Sam sighed. ” Imagine, doing all that by hand. That’s slavery.”

Jody remained silent for a few moments.

” Um…actually, we’ve only had the generator for a few months now,” she replied and Sam could hear the hesitation in her voice.

” Oh…..” Sam answered, not knowing what to say. ” I..um..”

” Don’t worry about it, Sam, ” Jody’s soft voice reassured her. ” You are right, it did sound like slavery, but..um…you know, my dad…he’s a good person, but…a little old fashioned sometimes. He’s very black and white when it comes to what men do and what women do. We all have our chores. Ours are usually indoors, you know cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning. The only outside chores we have is looking after the vegetable garden and doing the slashing.”

” Slashing ? Sounds bloodthirsty,” Sam joked.

She could hear Jody chuckle and a small smile crossed her face.
” Slashing the grass, with slashers,” Jody explained. ” It’s too hilly to use a mower.”

They were both silent for a few moments. Sam studied patches of light that decorated the ceiling, caused by the streetlights outside. She felt very comfortable, lying in her own bed, talking to her new friend, enjoying the darkness that made things so much more intimate.

” You like living like that ?” she finally asked Jody. ” I mean…it sounds pretty rough.”

” We lived in Sydney before, ” Jody answered. ” I don’t really like the city, it’s so crowded and there’s so much pollution and noise. People don’t even know their neighbours half the time. Up where we live now everybody knows each other. Our closest neighbours live three miles down the hill, but they are there whenever we need them for something and vice versa.”

” You didn’t answer my question, ” Sam gently reminded. ” Do you like it ?”

” I love living so close to nature, ” Jody sighed. ” I usually get up early in the morning and when I look outside there are always dozens of little diamondfinches scattered around. I love watching them before I get up, they give me a sense of peace. And then there are the koala’s.”

” Koala’s ? ” Sam echoed.

” Yes, koala’s, ” Jody answered and Sam could hear the smile in her voice. ” They live around the house and sometimes they cross the road when I drive up. They’re so funny. They just sit in the middle of the road and only move when they want to. And of course we have wallaby’s and paddymellons and snakes and spiders.”

” And chickens,” Sam added, remembering Bird’s explanation on how to tame them.

Jody snorted and Sam could hear her turn around in her sleeping bag.

” So, I guess you do like living like that,” Sam concluded.

” Yeah,” Jody drawled, but somehow, Sam thought, she didn’t sound convincing.

———————————————————————-

She must have fallen asleep after all, because Sam woke up when a hand touched her shoulder and a friendly voice softly called her name.

” Miss Stevens, in about half an hour we will be arriving at Brisbane airport. Maybe you would like to refresh yourself al little. It’s been a long flight.”

A bit startled Sam returned her chair into a sitting position.

” Uh..yes…of course…thank you,” she stammered, still drousy from sleep.
She cast a look outside the window to see a bright blue, clear sky. Thousands of feet below the earth was a brownish green colour, with darkgreen patches where Sam knew there were creeks and billabongs. Now and then the scourching sun was being reflected off the tin roof of a homestead, making them look like a shiny diamond in a sea of dry grass.
Sam yawned a little when she stretched, trying to get the kinks out of her back.

” Ouch, ” she winced, feeling a joint pop back into place. ” Serves you right for falling asleep like a baby, Samantha Stevens. You were supposed to come up with a plan, remember, a strategy to discover where all that money went to.”

Sam’s thoughts went back to that tuesdaymorning, a few weeks ago. Her father had called her at the office and asked her to drop by that morning. He hadn’t been alone. Two of his accountants and the company lawyer had been there as well.

In his quick, no nonsense way, Richard Stevens has shared his concerns about ‘The reef’ with his daughter. He suspected there was some mismanagement going on, since large sums of money seem to disappear on a regular base.

” One of our staff down there sent me an e-mail, informing me that things are wrong. I want to know what’s going on, Samantha. Somebody needs to go down there and have a look at the books.”

” But…the one who informed you, can’t he do it ? Obviously he already knows thing we don’t.”

” It was anonymous.”

That was when Sam had volunteered, knowing that was exactly what her father expected her to do.

Within a few days the arrangements for her flying to Australia had been made. Her secretary had booked her into ” The Reef”, but using a different name.

” How am I going to pull that one off ?” Sam frowned. ” I’m sure they’ll need some sort of ID.”

” They know there will be a visitor from the company, ” her father had explained. ” They just won’t expect you. You’ll get a company ID for Jennifer DeWit.”

” Sounds like a cheap police story, ” Sam had mumbled.

” Stop pouting, Sam, ” Richard Stevens had growled. ” It’s for your own protection. Don’t think I have forgotten what happened a few years ago.”

” Dad, ” Sam had sighed. ” That is in the past. I’m sure I won’t run in to….”

” Samantha, please.”

And reluctantly Sam had agreed.

It didn’t take long for Sam to go through customs. Once it was clear she had nothing to declare, the custom officer put a stamp in her passport. With a genuine smile he handed her back the document.

” Welcome to Australia, Miss Stevens.”

” Thanks, ” Sam smiled. ” It’s good to be back.”

The airport was buzzing with activity. Roaming across queues of patiently waiting travelers there were people hurrying along, probabely trying to catch their flights in time.
In three different languages a metallic voice informed the colourful audience about gates and flightnumbers.

In no hurry whatsoever Sam strolled towards the exit, appreciating the air conditioning. She knew that once she set foot outside the building, the heat would be rolling over her like a hot waterfall. And it did.

Sam took a deep breath and felt the warm air fill her lungs. She raked her fingers through her curly, unruly hair and looked around for a taxi, knowing she still had some ground to cover.
Her eyes fell on a taxicab that was parked in the shade and with a grin she headed towards the driver, who was a tall, skinny woman, probabely in her mid-forties.

” Need to go somewhere, lass ?”

” Actually, I do, ” Sam smiled. ” I need to go to Kurrawa, Broadbeach, if that’s no problem.”

The driver nodded and opened the trunk, taking Sam’s suitcase and bags.

” Just hop in. I like to drive down the Goldcoast Highway. Where are you going ?”

” The Reef.”

” Holiday ?”

” Well, let’s say it’s combined business and pleasure.”

The driver stepped behind the steeringweel and turned on the engine. Immediately filling the car with a lovely cool airflow.

” Ah, that’s great,” Sam sighed.

The driver smiled and cast a look in her rearview mirror.

” You’re not an Aussie, are you ?”

” What gave it away ?” Sam grinned.

” Your tan, ” the driver chuckled. ” Or actually, your lack of it. You’re European ?”

” Dutch, ” Sam answered, resting her head against the cool leather of the seat.

Two eyebrows were raised.

” You sure don’t sound like it. Could have fooled me, lassie, no accent there. I thought you were a pom,” she admitted, using a slang expression to refer to Brittish subjects.

” My father is English, ” Sam explained. ” But after he married my mother he moved to The Netherlands. My mom is Dutch.”

While keeping the conversation light and sometimes funny, the driver skilfully manoeuvred the car through the afternoon traffic.
Sam actually enjoyed it and before she realized it, they arrived at her destination.
The driver pulled her gear out of the trunk and gestured toward the entrance.

” Do you need a hand ?”

” No, I’ll be right, thanks,” Sam answered, pulling some colourful
dollarbills from her wallet and handing them over.

” Have a good day.”

” You too, lassie. Enjoy yourself and take care.”

Sam turned around to take a long look at ‘The Reef ‘. The building was only three stores high, but very wide. From the entrance two wings spread to either side covering, the space of half a football field.

” Gee, didn’t realize it was this huge, ” Sam mused. ” The pictures sure don’t do it justice. But then again, I should have know, it does have threehundred rooms. Quiet an investment, dad.”

Through the huge entrance, mostly built from steel and glass, she could see the private beach behind the complex, bordered by the Pacific Ocean.
Having reached her destination, after more than twentyfour hours of flying, Sam suddenly felt very tired and the thought of a long shower, a light meal and a soft bed, made her grab her bags and walk up towards the huge doors.

The main entrance was light and cool and decorated with huge plants, that made the place look like a botanical garden, instead of a hotel lobby. Crossing the center Sam passed a fountain and with a appreciation she cast a glance at the water lily near the edge. It was delicately pink, surrounded by big, darkgreen leaves, scattered with tiny droplets that caught the rays of the sun, glistening like silver.

” Good afternoon, can I help you ?” a civilized male voice sounded as soon as Sam reached the reception desk.

Sam looked up at the young clerk and nodded, a tired smile on her face.
” I have reservations for a room. My name is S..Jennifer De Wit. I’m from Stevens Inc.”

” Miss De Wit.” He entered her name into the computer. ” Yes. Here you are. Can I see your company ID, please ?”

Well, that goes smooth.

” Of course. Here you are.”

Sam handed the clerk her false ID and he checked her employee number.

” Thank you, miss,” he said, returning the card. ” You will be in room 315. That is on the third floor. It’s the executive suite. I’ll send someone up with you to carry your luggage. If there’s anything you need, just ask, ” he smiled. ” Welcome to ‘ The Reef ’.”

Sam returned the smile and took the keycard he handed her. The phone rang and the clerk picked it up. Sam recognized it as an internal call.

” Excuse me, Miss De Wit, ” he apologized. ” Hello, this is Brian…..Yes…yes…of course. No, I haven’t had the time yet. I could bring them up if….Oh..that’s okay. Thanks. See ya.”

He gestured to a young boy, dressed in a yellow shirt and darkblue shorts.

” Pete, would you please show miss DeWit the executive suite ?”

The young boy shot a curious glance at Sam and she could almost see his brains work, trying to figure out why someone, important enough to stay at the executive suite, was dressed like a tourist.

Sam quietly followed him to the elevator and within a few minutes she rounded the corner to the executive wing.
If she hadn’t been so tired, she would have avoided a collision. But since she was exhausted, she stopped paying attention to her surroundings.

With an audible thump she crashed into someone who was just rounding the same corner, in the opposite direction. A stack of paper immediately flew into all directions and Sam mumbled a curse.

” I’m sorry, ” she quickly apologized, bending down to pick up the pages. ” Probably my fault, I wasn’t looking.”

A sharp intake of breath made her stop what she was doing and concerned she looked up.

” I hope I didn’t hurt……”

Her eyes traveled up a slender, very feminine body and widened at the sight of a very familiar face. Reddish blond hair and a pair of emerald green eyes, exactely the way she remembered them to be. Only now they were filled with a mixture of fear, joy and disbelief.

” Sam ? ” Jody whispered, clasping her hands together to try and stop them from trembling.

It only took a few seconds, but in that brief moment of time countless thoughts ran through Sam’s mind. Her first instinct was to jump up and run away, but her body was frozen in place.

My God, she must work here. What do I do now ? Explain to her what I’m doing here ? No, I can’t do that, I just signed in with a false ID. But why would I care about that ? My dad owns the damn place. I can’t blow my cover. Listen to me, I sound like some sort of private investigator. I don’t know what to do. Better stick to the original plan. Damn, damn, damn.

Sam picked up the stack of paper and slowly got to her feet.

” Sam ?” Jody repeated, her voice thick with emotion.

From the corner of her eye, Sam could see the bellboy patiently waiting in front of a door. His eyes were watching the scene with keen interest.

” I’m sorry. You must have mistaken me for someone else. My name is Jennifer DeWit,” she softly said, not able to look at Jody’s face.

Silently she handed the stack of paper back, wishing very hard that the ground would just open up and swallow her whole. It didn’t.

Slowly Jody took over the, now very disorganized document and pressed it to her chest. Remaining painfully silent. Finally Sam dared to look at her and immediately her blue eyes were captured by a pair of green ones, looking almost through her. Already exposing her lies. And Sam felt very selfconcious and guilty.
It felt like hours, but it were only a few seconds before Jody spoke again.

” My mistake, I’m sorry. I thought you were an old friend.” Yeah, and I’m the Queen of Sheba.

Her voice was soft, but Sam could clearly hear the anguish and the pain. For a brief moment she closed her eyes, and she was back in time, feeling that familiar wave of sadness, anger and longing wash over her.

O, God, Jody. Of all the people I could run into, it had to be you. I’m sorry. I am so sorry.

” Miss De Wit. I hope you will enjoy your stay with us.”

Jody turned around and disappeared around the corner. Leaving Sam to deal with a pounding chest, trying to steady her breathing.

Sam didn’t notice all the luxury in the executive suite. She just collapsed on the bed and stared at the ceiling, trying to get a grip on all the emotional turmoil going on inside. Reliving what just had happened.

” Lucky me, ” she mused with a wry face. ” Just arrived and already confronted with the past. If this is any indication, my stay is going to be a tough one.”

She knows, of course she does. I never could fool her. Jennifer DeWit, yeah, right! It’s been eight years, but I didn’t change much, except for finally growing up. She still looks the same, more mature and…God, she still is gorgeous. Not that I expected otherwise. I wonder if there’s anyone in her life, that….

Sam sighed and pushed herself to the edge of the bed, really needing a shower.

” Don’t go there, Sam, ” she scowled. ” Leave it, just leave it. ”
When she was out of Sam’s sight, Jody leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath. Her hands were still trembling and she needed all her strength and willpower to compose herself.

She didn’t have to close her eyes to remember the look of shock and confusion on Sam’s face when she realized who it was she had bumped into.

It must have mirrored my own.

With still cold and shaky hands Jody pushed her long hair back, frantically trying to figure out what to do.

Stay calm, McDonnell. Just think. She uses a different name, why ? Well, probably doesn’t want to be recognized, after all, she is Sam Stevens, daughter of Stevens Inc. I wonder if she is the one….

Jody felt her heartbeat slowing down and her breathing returned to normal. She pushed herself away from the wall and quickly went back to her office, closing the door behind her.

She walked to her desk, picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number.

” Meg ? It’s me, Jody.”

” Hey, Jody ! ” a cheerful voice greeted her, bringing a small smile to her face. ” Sarah and I were just talking about you. Haven’t seen you around for a while. Been busy ?”

” Very, ” Jody sighed. ” This place can be so hectic sometimes.”

” I don’t get it, Jo, ” Megan’s voice sounded very serious now. ” You are assistant-manager, but you are the one running the damn place, while your boss gets the credit and the pay. He’s hardly ever around, is he ?”

” No, he isn’t, but I hope that will change soon.”

” Mmm, you sound stressed out. What’s up ?”

Jody nervously tapped her fingers on the desk and tried to arrange her thoughts.

” Jo ?”

” It’s….someone from the headoffice arrived today.”

” Well, that’s good, isn’t it ? They must have taken your message serious if they are sending someone half across the world to check things out. Did he talk to you already ?”

” Megan, you are being a sexist, I never said it was a ‘he ‘,” Jody smiled.

” Must be a she than, ” Megan chuckled. ” Not much choice left. Well, did she ?”

” You won’t believe this, Meg. It’s the daughter of the boss herself.”

” No, ” Megan breathed. ” Sam ? They send Sam ? O, my God, Jody. Are you all right ?”

” I don’t know, Meg,” Jody sighed, suddenly sounding very tired. ” It’s…I sometimes tried to imagine what it would be like to run into her again, but….I never thought it would really happen. I thought I had left the past behind, but…I was so unprepared for this. She used a different name, but I could see she knew I wasn’t buying it, although I went along with it.”

” Why would she do that ? ”

” Well, if she really came down here to check things out, I don’t think she wants the word out that Stevens Inc.’s daughter is having a look around the place.”

” She knows you know now. You think she is going to do something about it ? ”

” I have no idea. I don’t know if she trusts me.”

” Jody, ” Megan’s voice sounded full of reproach. ” Don’t do this to yourself. You don’t deserve that and you know it.”

” Yeah, well, I think I’ll just wait and see how things will develop.”

” Sure, let her make the first move. If push comes to shove you can always quit and come work for me. My bookstore could really use a good assistant-manager.”

Jody laughed and could feel some of the tension in her body slip away. Megan was a good friend and she could always count on her to make her feel better.

” Listen, Jo, Sarah here is handsignaling me and if I understand correctly she wants you to come over. Can’t you leave early ?”

” Nah, I’m expecting a bunch of Japanese tourists any time soon, but I’d like to come after they are checked in.”

” All right, deal. We’ll see you in a coupe of hours then. Take care, my friend, don’t let her get to you.”

” I won’t,” Jody smiled. At least, I will try not to.

———————————————————————
It had been a wonderful time, those few weeks. Almost for a year they had seen each other regularly, spending the occasional weekend together. Sometimes at Sam’s uncle and aunt’s, sometimes at the McDonnell house. Their friendship had rapidly developed and they both basked in the mutual shared feelings.

They had never spent more than a few days together and had been looking forward to the upcoming holiday season where Jody would be staying with Sam and her family for two weeks.

Joe and Esther Billings knew their niece was a very sensible, down to earth young woman with a lot of common sense and they allowed her the freedom of a young adult, which she was. Jody on the contrary only knew her father’s strict rules and was pleasantly surprised to experience the trust both Joe and Esther had in her.

They spent a lot of time on the nearby beach, lazing around in the afternoon or going for an early morning walk to see the sun rise. At night they often sat in the garden, talking about just anything or stargazing in companiable silence.

One evening they were lying on their backs, searching the nightsky for shooting stars, trying to beat each other in spotting the first one, when Sam felt Jody restlessly moving around.

” Not comfy ?” she asked with a lazy voice, without taking her eyes from the Southern Cross.

In answer Jody sat up, turned around and slapped the patch of grass behind her.

” Nah. Somehow this part of the garden doesn’t want to agree with me tonight.”

Sam turned her head and cast an affectionate look at her friend. She extended her rightarm and tugged Jody’s shirt.

“C’mere,” she invited.

One moment only, Jody hesitated, knowing their friendship would gain a new dimension if she accepted Sam’s invitation. But it was only a moment. She willingly let herself being pulled down, resting her head on Sam’s shoulder, feeling a strong arm settle around her back.

It took a little while for their heartbeats to settle down, but when Sam’s finally did, she smiled into the nightsky.

” Better ?” she asked.

” Much,” Jody sighed in all honesty, pleasantly surprised by her body’s reaction to their unexpected closeness. Thoughts about her father were conveniently pushed to the background.

———————————————————————

When Jody arrived at her apartment that evening she tossed her keys on the table and just crashed on the couch. Exhausted.

Dinner with Megan and Sarah had been very pleasant and the couple even managed to get Jody to relax for a while and forget about the inevitable upcoming confrontation with Sam.

She treasured her friendship with Megan, very grateful that they had been able to remain friends after their relationship as lovers ended. Truth was they were better friends, than they were lovers, so a few years ago they decided to remain the first and end the latter. It had been a good deciscion, because their friendship had deepened and they were able to mean more to each other than ever before.

From the corner of her eye, Jody saw the flashing red light of her answering machine and with a grunt she slapped the button.

” Hey, sis, it’s me, ” Lucy’s voice filled the room and braught a smile to Jody’s face. ” Don’t tell me your working late again ! You are a disgrace to our lazy family ! Listen, I need to talk to you. I’ll be home tonight, so if you can spare me a little bit of your precious time, I would be very grateful. Talk to you later.”

Jody was still grinning when she speeddialed her sister’s number.

” Hey, ‘Freckles, what’s up ?”

” Hi, stranger. Long time no see. What do you do ? Work twenty hours a day or something ?”

” I might me crazy, Luce, but I’m not soft in the head. I was at Meg’s and Sarah’s place.”

” Ah, that explains your absence. I called you a couple of times and finally got so fed up with it, I talked to your machine. I hate those things. How are you doing ? Haven’t spoken to you for a while.”

” It’s only been five days, Lucy and I’m doing……all right.”

” Doesn’t sound convincing to me. What’s wrong ?’

Jody briefly considered not to tell her sister, but decided to be honest anyway. After all, Lucy and Sam had been good friends as well.
” Listen, Luce, something happened today and I…”

” Are you all right, Jo ? You sound….I don’t know…confused? ” Lucy sounded alarmed.

” I’m fine, it’s just……Sam is at ‘ The Reef’ ,” she bluntly dropped the bom.

Jody could hear her sister gasping, followed by dead silence.

” Luce ?”

” I hear you.”

Jody could hear her sister release her breath.

” O, my God, Jody. How did that happen ? Did she come down for a holiday ? Did you talk to her ? How is she doing ?”

Jody told her sister what had happened, not leaving out any detail and finally Lucy sighed.

” Wow, must be a tough job for her. I hardly think she expected to find you there as well., they only took over the joint a year ago, didn’t they ? And you’ve been there, how long ? Three years ? God, Jo, I just wish I could go over there and talk to her. I still miss her, you know. She was a good friend.”

Her voice was soft and filled with sadness.

” If dad finds out she’s here, he’s going to freak out.”

” I won’t tell him, sis, don’t worry. I just wish…never mind.”

” You can’t change the past, Lucy. I would have done it, believe me.”

” I know, but I’m still convinced we never heard the real story, Jo, you can’t persuade me to believe otherwise. There are too many questionmarks. What does it do to you sis, bumping in to her like that ?”

Jody frowned and put her feet up the coffee table, thinking about that question.

” It made me realize there are still a lot of unresolved issues, ” she honestly answered. ” I’m confused, Lucy, at the moment I don’t know what to think or how to feel.”

” Sounds familiar, ” was the dry reply.

———————————————————————-

Jody was slashing the high grass around the house, enjoying it’s sweet smell. The patch she was working on was underneath a few high trees and that, combined with a bit of a breeze made the work less straining than usual.

Absorbed in her thoughts she didn’t hear her sister sneaking up on her and when she suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder she yelped, jumping away.

” Gee, Luce, don’t sneak up on me like that, will you please ? You scared the living daylights out of me.”

” Bad consience ?” Lucy sweetly informed.

Jody just cast her an annoyed look and continued her chore.

” Jo, listen, I have to talk to you, all right ? So put down that thing for a minute, will ya ?”

Jody turned around tapping her boot with the slasher, looking impatient.

” What’s up ?”

Lucy wasn’t a person with a cautious approach. She was very direct and not easily discouraged. Especially not by her sister, whom she adored, although she would never admit that.

” You’re giving it away, Jo, it’s so obvious. It won’t take long for dad to catch on.”

Jody frowned and stared at her younger sister with a blank face.

” What are you talking about ?”

Lucy sighed, shaking her head in disbelief.

” Jody, even a blind wombat with no sense of direction could clearly see that you’re in love with Sam.”

Jody’s jaw just dropped and with a growing feeling of panick she looked at her sister.

” Close your mouth, dear, you’re causing a draft.”

Finally Jody was able to regain some sort of composure.

” I’m not, ” she weakly defended herself.

” Come on, Jo, it’s me. I’m on your side. And, yes, you are. Level with me, sis. I just want to help you.”

Jody threw her slasher in the grass and turned away from her sister, feeling the tears sting in the back of her eyes. She bit her lip and swallowed hard, trying to push them back. Suddenly a comforting hand squeezed her shoulder.

” It’s all right, Jo.” Lucy’s voice was soft and compassionate. ” I’m not gonna pretend I know what you’re feeling, because I don’t, but I don’t want you to get into trouble. If dad finds out he’ll chain you to the wall, or something.”

” Or send me to some mental hospital, ” Jody sniffed. ” O, God, Luce, it’s so confusing, I really don’t know what to do. I…I never thought I could…but… I did… didn’t I ?”

” Head over heels, darling, ” Lucy replied merciless. ” Did you and Sam talk about it ?”

Jody shook her head and studied her boots.

” Surely Sam feels the same, ” Lucy stated, watching her sister react in surprise.

” Come on, Jo, the way she loooks at you. You must have known. Gee, you’re ignorant.Just be honest, will ya ? You guys kissed yet ?”
Jody’s face turned into a deep crimson and Lucy chuckled, nudging her sister in the ribs.

” Lucy, sometimes, just sometimes I wish you would be a little less blunt,” Jody replied, thus avoiding Lucy’s question.

As a matter of fact they had kissed, the last night of their holiday together. They were stargazing, of course and Jody was tucked into her favourite position, snuggled up against Sam’s shoulder.

” Final night, ” Sam had mused, feeling an ache taking over her chest.”

“Yeah, ” Jody had softly replied, swallowing away the lump in her throat.

” I just had the best two weeks in my life,” Sam whispered. ” Hope we’ll be seeing each other again soon.”

” I’ll miss you, ” Jody confessed. ” I already do and I’m not even gone yet.”

Sam had turned her head to look at Jody and with their eyes only a few inches apart they had just stared at each other for a long time.

They wouldn’t have been able to tell who initiated it, but suddenly their lips met and they kissed. Tentative and shy at first, but with quickly growing passion and confidence. Their position had shifted and all of a sudden they were in each others arms, Jody half on top of Sam, Sam’s arms firmly wrapped around her. Finally Jody had to break away to breath, her heart hammering in her chest and very aware of her body’s reaction to Sam’s touch. She could feel a hand sliding to the back of her neck, pulling her in for another kiss.

” You have no idea what you’re doing to me, Sam,” she had said with a husky voice.

” If it’s only half of what you’re doing to me, I’ll have a pretty good idea,” Sam had whispered, brushing her lips against the sensative skin of Jody’s throat. She had slightly raised her knee when she had pulled Jody closer, causing her friend to gasp when the unexpected pressure at her center sent jolts of pleasure through her body.

Jody had moaned and collapsed into Sam’s arms and they has stayed like that for a long time, reluctantly breaking the contact when they could hear Joe and Esther Billings returning home late that night.
” There’s only one real solution to this, Jo and you know it, don’t you ?”

Jody let out a heartfelt sigh and threw her head back to look at the sky.

” Leave home, ” she stated. ” I thought about that, you know. Dad will have a fit, but I’m twenty now, old enough to go and live on my own. Besides, there’s not much work around here anyway. I don’t want to work in that tiny postoffice for the rest of my life, listening to all the neighbourly gossip. I should go up the coast. After all, I didn’t take that managing course for nothing, now, did I ?”

———————————————————————–

It was still early when Sam woke up from a restless sleep the following day. Although she slept through the night, she was still feeling tired and she briefly considered to stay snuggled up in the comfortable bed. She cast a look at the alarm.

” Seven-thirty,” she sighed. ” Well, I suppose that’s a reasonable time to get up anyway. Better get started.”

She padded to the bathroom and splashed her face with icy cold water to help herself wake up. A quick look in the mirror showed a pale face, with very tangled hair and dark shadows underneath a pair of clear blue eyes.

” I look like death warmed up, ” she grumbled, patting her face to get a more healthy look.

” Forget it, won’t work.”

While brushing her teeth she heard her stomach growling and decided the first stop would be any place with decent breakfast.

Before going to sleep the previous night, Sam had decided to level with Jody. It seemed the most decent thing to do at the time, but now, realizing that moment of confrontation was only about an hour away she got second thoughts.

Maybe Jody is one of the bad apples I’m here to sort out. That thought made her smile and she shook her head. You don’t believe that yourself, Samantha Stevens. Get real. She is the most honest person you ever met in your life. Take the chance and she’ll prove it to you.

One last look in the mirror made Sam pull an ugly face, before taken her keycard and leave the room.

The executive suite was at the end of a long hallway, with a few offices on both sides. While walking past them, Sam read the signs on the door. ‘ Personnel’ , ‘ Financial administration’ , ‘ Management’ .

” I wonder which one of them hides Jody, ” Sam mused, rounding the corner on her way to the elevator. She had to do a full stop to avoid bumping into someone.

” Miss….DeWit, ” Jody’s voice was so cold and distant, it made Sam wince.

” We are making a habit of this, ” Sam nervously joked. ” Maybe we should come to an agreement, I’ll stick to the right side, if you keep to the left.”

Jody pursed her lips and seeing Sam not move, she started to walk around her.

No, no, Jody, come on, please. Help me out here.

” Jody….please.”

Sam’s voice was strained and her words sounded like a plea.
Jody stopped moving and stared at the opposite wall. Waiting. Slowly Sam turned so she could look at the woman standing next to her and if Jody would have looked up, she could have seen a look of total devestation in those clear blue eyes. But Jody’s eyes were still glued to the wall and the look on Sam’s face slowly changed to a less pained expression, when she was able to regain some composure.

Sam’s mouth felt very dry and she swallowed hard, quickly moistening her lips.

” I’m sorry about yesterday, ” Sam began, carefully chosing her words. ” I….I was…wrong to…brush you off like that. I was just….so astounded to see you here, I…I’m sorry, I really am.”

Jody finally turned to face Sam and for the first time in eight years they looked at each other closely. The cold expression in the green eyes faded, leaving shadows of hurt and sadness.

Jody cleared her throat and stared into a pair of eyes that brought back all the memories she spent years trying to forget.

” Why the change of name ? ”

” I’ll explain, but not here. I have to talk to you in private. Maybe we should go back to my room, if that’s all right with you, ” Sam quickly added.

Jody nodded in approval and silently followed Sam back to the executive suite.

” Sit down, ” Sam invited, nervously fiddeling around with her keycard.
From the corner of her eye, Jody saw Sam fidgeting and in spite of all the issues between them, she took pity on her.

” Did you have anything to eat yet ? ” she asked, remembering Sam’s problem with low bloodsugars.

” Uh…actually, I was just ….”

” Can I use the phone ?”

Without waiting for permission, Jody picked up the phone and dialed a three digit number.

” Carlos, goodmorning, it’s Jody. Could you please send up a ‘ Reef special brekkie’ to 315, with some coffee and juice ? ….Thanks, Carlos, see ya.”

” A ‘Reef special brekkie’ ?” Sam repeated. ” Sounds….um…crunchy.”

Jody’s face lost some of it’s tension and she actually smiled.

” You’ll like it, ” she stated, remembering Sam’s fondness for sweet rolls. ” So, tell me.”

Jody went all businesslike, not realizing it was just that what made Sam nervous.

” It could be a long story, but I don’t know all the details yet, so I’ll keep it brief.”

In a rather toneless voice she told Jody the reason for her presence, watching the younger woman intently when she spoke. Jody’s face remained straight, giving Sam no clues what to expect in terms of reaction.

When she finished her story a knock on the door announced breakfast and Sam jumped up to open it. A tray with a selection of different breakfast items was placed on the table and Jody saw Sam’s eyes widen at the sight of the freshly baked sweet rolls. She had to bite her lip not to smirk. Nope, didn’t change a bit in that department.

” Want some coffee ?” Sam offered.

” Thanks.”

She silently studied Sam, wondering why she felt so at ease. It had been eight years. So many things had happened, she should still be furious, demanding explanations. But seeing that blond head with the curly, always unruly hair and those familiar blue eyes, surrounded by surprisingly dark eyelashes, she realized there was still some kind of connection, deep down inside.

” Why did you tell me all this ?” Jody finally asked, her voice suddenly gentle. ” I mean, if there are some strange things going on, I could be a part of that.”

Blue eyes stared at her intently and Sam shook her head.

” Not you,” she simply stated.

” Does that mean you trust me ?”

” I do, ” Sam answered, shooting a glance at her. “It even occured to me that it could have been you who sent that e-mail.”

Her eyes challenged Jody, who was caught off guard for a moment and looked back startled.

” Well, ” Jody took a sip of coffee, buying some time to organize her thoughts. ” I…um.. Well, I actually did, yes.”

” Why ?”

Jody decided that those blue eyes who were looking at her inquisitivly were much too distracting and she jumped up and headed for the window. The beautiful view of a clear azur ocean wasn’t registered at all, when she carefully chose her words.

” I…thought that….About three years ago I came to work for Alex Livingston, the previous owner and everything here was organized just perfectly. When I started working here it was at the reception, but Alex had other plans for me. He wanted me to become assistant-manager, so after five or six months I was promoted. Not long after that, Alex retired, selling ‘The Reef’ to Stevens Inc. They hired a new manager and, as far as I know, wanted things to continue as they were.” Jody leaned her hip against the window-sill and stared into the distance. The early morning sun highlighted the red in her hair, turning it into a warm, deep orange color.

” And they did, at least at the beginning, “she continued. ” Recently though I noticed that some things didn’t make sense, like….the accountancy, the numbers just weren’t right. I asked William about it, but he told me not to worry, he would fix it. Two months ago I found out that he hadn’t. ”

Jody turned around, a pensive look on her face.

” Don’t get me wrong here, Sam, I don’t want to slander him, but….he’s hardly ever here and when he is, nobody knows what he’s doing. He comes and goes at random, always away on businessmeetings, I never hear anything about. A few weeks ago he was supposed to be at a meeting in Brisbane. I needed to talk to him, so I called, but he wasn’t there. He didn’t answer his cellphone, so I left a message. He never returned the call and when he finally came back here, he was raving about this interesting meeting, I’m sure he never even attended.”

Sam bit the inside of her lip, a habit Jody remebered she did when something was bothering her.

” What you’re saying is very serious, you realize that, don’t you ?”
Jody nodded and stared at the carpet.

” You also realize that I need something specific if I want to nail him.”

” I have access to most of the computer files, I could show them to you, maybe you can figure out what’s wrong.”

” You think it’s just a matter of money ?”

” I’m afraid not, ” Jody sighed. ” Last week I found out he’s hiring illegal immigrants. He’s paying them half of the normal wages. I can only guess what he’s doing with the rest of it.”

Sam suddenly sat up straight. Very alarmed.

” Illegal immigrants ? Are you sure ? He could get us into a lot of trouble with that.”

” I know, that’s why I finally decided to try and do something about it.”

” By sending that e-mail ?”

Jody pushed her hair back from her face and sat back in the chair, finishing her coffee.

” Why anonymous ?”

She had expected that question, but the answer was still dificult. For a minute she didn’t answer. When she finally did, her voice was so soft, Sam had to strain herself to hear it.

” I didn’t want your family to know that I work here. I hoped they would send someone down to investigate and I expected one of the accountants. Not the daughter of the boss. I…um..I didn’t ….want… to rake up the past.”

Sam glanced at the woman in front of her and felt her stomach tie in knots, when she realized the meaning of those words.

” So there’s nothing to rake up, is there ? ”

She didn’t mean to sound so distant and bitter, but somehow couldn’t prevent the words to carry her emotions.

Jody looked up, the sound of Sam’s voice hitting her hard. She felt her stomach drop and swallowed hard to keep away a sudden feeling of nausea.
For long moments only the sound of the ocean waves filled the room, like a distant whisper, a neverending soothing sound.

———————————————————————–
” I told you once, young lady. Don’t make me repeat myself.”

David McDonnell was furious. He paced the room with his long legs, clenching his fists, his lips pursed and his blue eyes two chips of fire.

Jody could feel her whole body shake with anxiety, but she didn’t want to give in. Not this time.

” Dad, please listen to me. I’m an adult, I am able to look after myself. I had a good education and the only thing I want is to find a suitable job. It’s only up the coast.”

” I did not raise my daughters to work at such a…immoral place. For the love of God, Jody, people run around half naked over there. I’m not going to expose you to something like that.”

” You don’t have to, dad,” Jody replied, suddenly feeling very calm. ”

I made up my mind. It’s my decision. My responsibility.”

” You are staying here, until you meet a decent man and get married. Not a day sooner,” David raged.

Jody cast a look at her mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, nervously twisting around one of the cotton shirts she was folding. She intercepted her daughter’s look and for a second Jody was able to hold her gaze. Then she looked away and Jody realized she was on her own. Knowing it was now or never.

” I’m sorry, dad, but I will take the job I’m offered. I was hoping ….I’ll be leaving next week.”

David McDonnell turned around and slammed his fist down at the table, making his wife jump in surprise. Jody just sat very still, recalling the love and friendship Sam abundantly provided her with, making it her anchor to get her through this terrible confrontation with her father.

” It’s that Samantha, isn’t it ? ” He spat the words out. ” She filled your head with all these nonsense, turning you away from your own family. But I’ll tell you one thing, she will never set foot in this house ever again. You’ll never see her again, if it’s the last thing I do.”

” Sam has nothing to do with this, dad. It’s my decision, I told you that.”

” Like hell she does. Since the day you met her, you started to change. Paying each other visits, all those letters you write. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re in love with her.”

Jody tried to stop the blush creeping up her face, by taking a few deep breaths. But to no avail. Her father looked at her with an astonished look on his face that slowly turned to disgust.

” You are ! ” he whispered. ” Look me in the eyes and tell me you’re not in love with her.”

Jody kept her head bent down, too scared to look up and see the rejection she knew would be there.

” Look at me, ” her father repeated. ” LOOK AT ME !”

Finally Jody obeyed and let her eyes slowly travel up.

” Tell me, ” David McDonnell demanded.

” I can’t, ” Jody whispered.

She could hear her mother choke back her tears, while her father’s face went very pale.

” No child of mine is…..like that,” he hissed through clenched teeth.
” You are staying right here. If you dare put one foot outside that door, you will have no more family and I will make sure you will curse the day you were born.”

After those words he left the room, slamming the door behind him, leaving Jody with her sobbing mother.

That night Jody was silently packing a suitcase, afraid to wake up her father, knowing that if she didn’t leave soon, her life would turn into a living hell.
A soft sound at the door nearly made her jump, but to her utter relief it was Lucy.

” Hey, Pea, you’re packing. Good.”

” You think so ?” Jody asked, fighting back her tears. ” I’m about to run away from home, Freckles and doing so, being disowned by my own family.”

” Not by me, sis, ” Lucy whispered. ” Listen, you can’t leave tonight, or did you plan to leave on foot. He’ll have you back before you’re down the hill and you know it. You’d better wait ‘till the morning.”

Jody rubbed her head, feeling a massive headache coming up. She looked at her younger sister, who made a very relaxed impression.

” What’s in the morning ? Is there something you know, that I don’t ?”

A small smile spread across Lucy’s face and she looked very pleased with herself.

” Dad will be out in the morning. I heard him tell mom he is going to vicar Jamison, probably to talk about a cure for you. I arranged a ride for you. Sam will pick you up as soon as she sees dad drive past the gasstation. You’ll be driving through Pottsville, don’t want to run into dad on your way out, now, do you ?”

Jody’s face had turned all shades of red and she finally stopped trying to hold back her tears.

” You did what ?” she sniffed. ” You called Sam ?”

She walked over to her sister and wrapped her arms around her.

” Freckles, how can I ever thank you for this ? ”

Lucy returned the hug wholeheartedly, knowing she would probably not see her sister for a long time.

” Just be happy, Jo. You know I’m on your side and I can promise you one thing, I’ll be the next one to leave this house.”

” As soon as I’ve got my own place, you’re welcome to. What did Sam say ?”

Lucy loosened her grip and tilted her head to the side, a mischieveous twinkle in her eyes.

” Well, she said to tell you not to worry, to make sure you’re ready on time and…that she loves you. And you know what, Jo, I think she really does.”

———————————————————————–

” Jody, I hate to be the one to tell you this, ” Sam finally broke the silence. ” But the past is a part of us and I don’t know about you, but I can’t block that out. God knows I’ve tried.”

” So have I, ” Jody admitted. ” But there’s no use dwelling on it, is there ? ”

She looked at Sam, who was stirring her coffee with a stiff motion, trying to hide her anxiety and again she was surprised by the conflicting emotions that ran through her. Part of her didn’t want to stir up all the bad memories and the pain she’d suffered, but another part wanted to get it out in the open. Talk about it to Sam, ask for explanations and maybe…just maybe…Jody moistened her lips and scanned her brain for something intelligent to say.

“I know, but I’m still convinced we never heard the real story, Jo, you can’t persuade me to believe otherwise. There are too many questionmarks,” Lucy’s voice echoed in her mind.

” How’s your family, Jo ? ” Sam suddenly asked, catching Jody completely off guard, with the unexpected question.

Jody briefly considered giving a meaningless answer, not willing to complicate her life and being honest would certainly do that, but she decided against it.

” Lucy is doing fine, she’s working at this lawyers office, ” she answered, carefully chosing her words. ” So is Bird, he’s at the university, studying marine biology.”

She saw Sam’s face lose some of it’s tension when she mentioned her youngest brother’s nickname.

” Still hooked on nature, huh ? ” Sam smiled.

” Yeah, it fits him like a glove, ” Jody returned the smile, feeling this tiny little twinge in the pit of her stomach.

” What about the rest ? How’s Matthew doing ?”

The last question was forced out and Jody could hear the catch in Sam’s voice.

” He became a carpenter, he’s a contractor really, has his own business.”

The last thing Jody expected was Sam staring at her, with round, widened eyes, almost in shock. The blood was drained from her face and she looked sickly pale, even her lips had lost their color.
Unconsciously Jody strechted out a hand to touch Sam’s arm.

” Sam ? Are you allright ? What is it ?”

Sam’s eyes slowly traveled to Jody’s face, a look of utter bewilderment in them.

Suddenly aware of her very dry mouth, she swallowed.

” Matthew is a carpenter, well, there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just that, eight years ago I was told he became paraplegic, after the accident damaged his spinal cord.” Sam had to just force the words out, her voice still thick with emotion.

” Paraplegic ?” Jody repeated, the surprise evident in her voice. ” Sam, no, he broke his leg, that was all. It was a clean break too. He was in plaster for a few weeks and that was it.”

” Are you saying I spent almost eight years of my life feeling guilty for something that wasn’t even my fault to begin with, asking myself over and over again if things would have been different if I had just…..?”

Jody’s hands tightened around the arm of Sam’s chair, steadying herself after a sudden wave of dizziness hit her. Realizing with painful clearity what the horrible truth was.

” Who told you that ?” she asked, almost inaudible, knowing all too well what the answer would be.

” Your father…and the vicar,” Sam answered in a toneless voice. ” They came for a visit at the hospital. Some visit that was.”

Now it was Jody’s turn to be shocked.

” You were in the hospital ?”

Sam turned to look at the woman kneeling next to her chair and her face softened when she saw the horrified look in those green eyes, darkened with emotion.

” For almost three weeks, ” she answered. ” I was flown back home when my condition was stable. I was pretty banged up.”
——————————————————————–

Sam had left very early that morning, after a sleepless night. When Lucy had called to tell what had happened to her sister, she’d been a nervous wreck, counting the hours until the next day. Knowing Jody depended on her to pick her up in time.

Her uncle and aunt had been very worried and reluctant about the whole thing, but couldn’t disagree with their niece when she said that Jody was an adult and had a right to live her life the way she wanted to.
After promising them she would be very careful, Jody had stepped into her uncle’s truck, to start her two hours drive.

She had parked the car off the road near the gasstation and just waited with growing nervousness, carefully observing every car that passed.
Finally, after waiting for an hour and a half she saw the well known red Toyota Hi-ace coming down the hill, slowing down at the junction and heading for town.

Immediately Sam had started the engine and drove past the gasstation, turning right, steering the car up the hill. It was just a dirt track, with a lot of gravel and putholes, she carefully tried to avoid.

Halfway up the hill she suddenly noticed a motorbike in her rearview mirror. When it came closer she regognized it as Matthew’s. His face was determined and she could see Jody’s brother was angry.

” Don’t give me a hard time, Romeo,” she whispered, starting to get a little worried.

He steered his bike next to the car and motioned her to stop, which she did.

” Are you here to pick up my sister ?” he asked, an angry look on his face.

” As a matter of fact, I am, ” Sam admitted. ” Your sister is a big girl, Matthew. Just let her live her own life. She is a responsible adult.”

” She is in love with you and that’s wrong, ” he hissed. ” My sister is not turning into one of those…perverted…gay people.”

” I’m not going to discuss this with you, Matt. Not here, not now. Whether you’ll like it or not, she’s going to leave.”

” Like hell she isnt’t.”

Sam drove on, ignoring his angry remarks, until they came around a sharp corner. He tried to overtake her on the left side, forcing her towards the edge of the road that was bordered by a steep cliff. With horrific clearity Sam realized which way the car was heading and feeling the panic rise, she slammed the brakes. The gravel made the car spin out of control and while fear nearly choked her, she felt the vehicle turn over the edge. With a sickening crash the car overturned once, twice, tumbeling down a thirty feet drop, finally hitting a sturdy tree.

A sharp agonizing pain jolted through her body, taking her breath away and Sam could feel the darkness creeping up.

” Jody, o, God, Jody, I’m so sorry,” were her last thoughts before unconsciousness claimed her.

———————————————————————-

Jody rested her forhead on her hands, that were still firmly clenched around the arm of the chair. Frantically she tried to cope with all the things Sam had just told her, but she felt like there was a fog in her head, preventing her to think.

” I didn’t know, ” she finally whispered, almost in tears. ” O God, Sam, I didn’t know.”

Sam let her head rest against the back of the chair and closed her eyes, fighting back the tears when remembering those long, long days and nights at the hospital. Hoping and praying that Jody would come and visit, or at least send her a letter or a card. But nothing had happened and when she was able to travel back home, to Holland, she had given up hope.

” Where did you think I went to ?” she finally managed to ask, her eyes still closed.

Jody rubbed her face, looking at the still form sitting in the chair next to her, so close and yet so far away.

” They told me you had an accident, trying to run Matthew off the road and that you were allright, just a few cuts and bruises. Dad…” she swallowed hard. “Dad said the police gave you two options, to stay and face the consequences or go back to Holland. He said you choose to run.”

Jody’s voice was strained and Sam could hear the sadness and pain in it. She opened her eyes and turned her head so she could look at the younger woman next to her.

” And you believed that ?”

It was no accusation, it was more like a sad confirmation.

” Did I have a choice ?” Jody whispered. ” All I knew is you were back in Holland. I thought you just left without saying goodbye and I …I…just felt so hurt and betrayed. No, I could never believe you would do something like that, but what other options did I have ? You just disappeared, Sam. I didn’t know what to think.”

Sam raked her fingers through her hair, feeling a tear sliding down her cheek, leaving a salty, moist track. Impatiently she wanted to brush it away, when she felt Jody’s thumb softly removing the drop. Without realizing what she was doing, Sam leaned into the soft hand, desperately needing the contact.

” So, it was all a clever way of keeping us apart,” she concluded softly. ” Well, they sure succeeded. I thought the accident had ruined your brother’s life and although I knew it wasn’t my fault, I still felt very bad about it. When I….when I was…staring at that awful hospital ceiling…all those days, I…I thought you were really angry with me for doing that to your brother. I…I..figured that had to be the reason…you didn’t come…to visit. ”

Seeing the lost look on Sam’s face and hearing the anguish in that soft voice stirred up a little fire, Jody thought was long lost. Her hand caressed a soft cheek and her eyes fastened on Sam’s, holding them without effort.

” Sam, I know we can’t turn back the clock, but we’re both here now. Maybe if we can clear up all those misunderstandings…? We used to be such good friends. I’ve missed that.” She smiled a sad smile. ” I’ve missed you.”

” So many nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I watched the stars, hoping you would do the same, ” Sam confessed. ” Until I realized we were both in totally different hemispheres. That almost did me in then. So, I got stuck with the moon. At least that would be the same one, so I focused on that. Did you…I mean…look at the moon and…?”

” I did, ” Jody smiled. “More nights than I care to remember.”

Sam returned the smile and carefully brushed away a strand of reddish hair.

” Can I interest you in a little stargazing tonight then? At the beach ? Just like the old days? So we can catch up and maybe resolve a few more misunderstandings ? I…it’s not that I don’t want to talk to you right now, ’cause I do, but…I’ve got a lot of things to think about. My head is a mess at the moment.”

Jody felt her heart skip a beat and a feeling of peace she hadn’t felt in years flooded through her system.

” I’d love to, ” she answered. ” But what do we do about William….?”

” Don’t worry about that, ” Sam interrupted. ” I’ll think of something today and…well, I might come up with something like a plan.. I’ll let you know.”

” I ‘d better go back to work now, ” Jody said, getting up. Not at all interested in returning to her office. But she wanted to give Sam the space she needed.

She straightened her back, feeling a little stiff after sitting in the same position for such a long time.

” Where will I meet you ?” Sam asked looking up, thinking it might not be a good idea to meet at ‘The Reef’ itself.

” There’s a newspaper stand, about half a mile down the road. I could meet you there after work. About half past five ?”

” Sounds fine to me. I’ll bring some tucker, ” Sam smiled, a lot more relaxed than Jody had seen her that morning.

” Fish and chips ?” Jody inquired, her green eyes sparkling.

” Just wait and see, ” Sam answered. ” I might surprise you.”

It was hard to concentrate on work that morning. Fragments of her conversation with Sam kept playing through her mind and numerous times Jody caught herself staring at her computer screen, without seeing anything.

She never thought her father would be capable to do the things he did. There were some big issues between the two of them, but she always thought of him as being honest. The few things Sam had told her, mercilessly opened her eyes, confronting her with a reality she never knew existed. That knowledge filled her with both a profound sadness and a deep anger. The sight of the pain in Sam’s eyes and the hurt in her voice had struck a chord deep inside her heart and Jody wondered if there could be a possibility of them being friends again.

The phone on her desk buzzed and absent-minded Jody picked it up.

” G’day, sis, ” she heard Lucy’s cheerful greeting. ” Everything allright ?”

” You are just being curious, ” Jody accused, but her voice was warm and gentle.

” Can’t blame me, now, can ya ? It doesn’t happen too often that one of your long lost lovers reappears in your life.”

” Yeah, right, ” Jody snorted. ” And it’s a long list of lovers too, isn’t it.?”

She heard her sister laugh and Jody could just picture her face, impish and full of mischief.

” Come on, Jo, tell me, did you speak to her already ?”

” Does your boss approve of all those private phonecalls ?”

” Don’t be a spoilsport, Pea, ” Lucy sighed. ” Just tell me.”

” Well, actually, we did run into each other again, same corner, but without the bump this time.”

She could hear her sister grinning and paused.

” Go on, ” Lucy encouraged. ” I bet there’s more to it.”

Jody quickly told her what had happened that morning, filling her sister in on most of the details.

” Your joking, ” Lucy said and the disgust in her voice was evident. ” I knew there had to be more to it, but …he just lied to keep you two apart. And what lies. Gee, Jody, telling Sam that Matthew’s a paraplegic! That’s just plain….criminal. And letting you believe Sam chickened out after causing an accident ! God, he made all of us believe that. I…I don’t know what to say.”

” Neither do I, ” Jody admitted. ” Part of me is still shocked and the other part is furious.”

” How’s Sam ?”

” I think she was as shocked as I was, ” Jody answered. ” She went through hell back then, Luce, waiting for me to show up, and I never came. All I was thinking at the time was how angry and hurt I was for just leaving me like that.”

” I want to see her, ” Lucy suddenly decided, very resolute.

” That’s fine with me, you know where to find ‘The Reef’ .”

” Allright, I’ll stop by in a few hours. See you then.”

After Jody left, Sam just sat in her chair for a very long time. Reliving that morning over and over again. Chewing on the words she had heard, turning them around, analyzing, dissecting, trying to unravel the choas Jody left in her head. And the feelings that tumbled around in her soul, all of them screaming for attention, wanting to be the first one to be aknowledged.

With a heartfelt sigh Sam closed her eyes, resting her head against the back of the chair.

What a day ! I can’t believe all that’s happening at the moment. First I run into my…Sam’s heart started pounding, when she realized what words were creeping up into her conscious thoughts. …first love…there, I’ve aknowledged it. Good, girl. Now what ? Sam blew out the breath she had been holding, rubbing her face in a gesture of uncertainty.

Two days ago I was convinced we would never meet again and now I asked her to go stargazing with me tonight. I must be out of my mind ! Am I ? And she accepted ! After that stunt I pulled on her yesterday, she accepted !

Sam restlessly jumped up and paced the room, suddenly very annoyed with herself.

Damn it, Sam, you’re twentynine years old, you are here for business and you’re acting like a…like a…Sam caught her reflection in the mirror and stood very still, studying herself intensely. …like a lovestruck teenager. The words reverberated in her mind and Sam could feel a warm flush creep up her cheeks. Her reflection confirmed the changing color of her skin.

I can’t believe this is happening to me. Not after eight years ! It’s impossible, this is like some sleezy storyline, not like reality at all. Sam grunted and turned away to stare out the window.

But why do I still feel so at ease when I’m with her ? How come I can still feel her fingers on my cheek when I close my eyes ? Why can’t I concentrate on coming up with a plan to clear up the mess this sorry excuse for a manager created ? Why am I looking so unshamelessly forward to tonight ?

” Because I’m a fool, ” Sam exclaimed, totally frustrated with herself.

A loud knock on the door disrupted her musings and grateful for the diversion, but still annoyed with herself, she yanked open the door. The elegant woman on the other side jumped back in surprise and looked startled. But that only lasted a moment.

” Hey, stranger, ” Lucy greeted. ” I heard you were back in town. Mind if I come in ?”

Sam felt like she was nailed to the ground when she recognized the woman in front of her. She remembered the black hair and the darkgreen eyes, but the last time they had met, Lucy had been a skinny eighteen year old. The years had been kind , she had filled out and had become a strinkingly beautiful woman.

” Lucy ?” Sam whispered, still astonished.

” The one and only, Sam.”

Lucy’s amused expression was replaced by a slightly saddened one.

” It’s been a while, huh ?”

Sam, still shaking her head in disbelief, grabbed Lucy’s hand to pull her inside. They stood looking at each other for a moment, until Lucy spoke.

” Mind if I give you a hug ?”

Sam didn’t answer, but opened her arms and Lucy didn’t need further encouragement. She disappeared into a strong pair of arms, not able to bite back her tears anymore.

Sam could hear the sobs and she gently rubbed Lucy’s back, whispering words of comfort.

Finally she pushed Lucy back a bit to look at her.

” Does this mean you’re happy to see me ?” she feintly joked.

” Are you kidding ?” Lucy replied, still sniffing. ” It’s a miracle. You’ve got no idea how much you’ve been missed, Sam.”

Sam glanced away, but Lucy had seen the sudden look of hurt and confusion.

” I spoke to Jody this morning, ” she confessed. ” She told me you two had a talk. She also told me a lot of things I didn’t know. We didn’t know. And I am very ashamed of my father, Sam. I don’t understand how he could do such a thing. I mean, we knew he wouldn’t accept you and Jody being in love with each other, but I’d never expect him to lie in order to keep you two apart. It’s such a shame, everybody could see how my sister and you belonged together.”

Sam appreciated Lucy’s honesty, but the words did hurt. Opening wounds she thought would have remained just scars. She swallowed hard and slowly turned away.

” Maybe…eight years ago, ” she answered with a husky voice. ” That’s a long time, Luce, people change, things are different now.”

Lucy studied Sam’s tense form and took a seat on the armrest of a chair, gathering courage for her next question.

” Are you involved with someone ?” Lucy narrowed her eyes, bracing herself for the answer.

Sam didn’t immediately answer. She stared at the ocean for a long time, before turning around to face Lucy.

” No, I am not involved.”

The relief on Lucy’s face was evident and curiously Sam stepped closer.

” What’s on your mind ? ” she cautiously asked.

” I was just curious, that’s all, ” Lucy answered, feigning innocence.

” Some things never change, do they ?”

” Nope, ” Lucy grinned. ” You now what they say: When there’s life, there’s hope.”

” Don’t get your hopes up too high, Freckles. As I said, people change. Eight years is a long time. Besides, your father….”

Lucy shrugged her shoulders.

” Dad’s no issue anymore, hasn’t been for a very long time now.”

Seeing the puzzled look on Sam’s face, Lucy realized there were still a lot of things Sam didn’t know.

” Jody didn’t tell you, ” she concluded.

” Well, after you left,” she paused and snorted. ” After we were let to believe you left, things got worse at home. Dad was really angry with Jo, but this time she stood up against him. When Jody will tell you this, I bet it will sound very different from my story, but I tell you Sam, she was my hero ! It took a lot of guts to do what she did, standing up against him. Three weeks after you….had the accident, she just walked out. She wasn’t allowed to leave the house, but she just stood up and left. She only took one bag with some stuff, that’s all. She was so hurt, Sam, she just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Those last words were spoken with such sadness it touched Sam deep inside.

” I’m sorry, Lucy. I know how much you love your sister and I swear if I’d known, if I’d only known…”

” Yeah, I know, ” Lucy sighed. ” Anyway, that was the last time she’s been home. Dad disowned her and they haven’t seen each other since. Lots of things happened to Jody, but I think she’s the one who should tell you about that. Oh, uh…one more thing.”

Sam looked at Lucy expectantly, one eyebrow arched. When she saw the impish smile she knew what was coming.

” Jody has no attachments either,” Lucy smirked. ” Just in case you wanted to know.”

” Thanks, Luce, ” Sam answered wryly. ” But I already gathered that.”

” How ?”

Suddenly Sam realized Jody’s sister didn’t know anything about their arrangement for that night and mentally she slapped herself. She knew how persistent and curious Lucy could be.

” Well…um….wild guess?”

” O, no, Sam, ” Lucy laughed, her eyes sparkling. ” You are going to tell me, ‘cause Jody didn’t tell me everything, I know my sister like the back of my hand.”

” Okay, if you insist, we’re having…diner tonight. I asked her and she agreed immediately, so…I just guessed there’s no one waiting for her at home.”

Sam suddenly turned to Lucy, a very serious expression on her face, her eyes pleading.

” Lucy, I know you like teasing, and that’s fine with me, but….there are so many things Jody and I have to talk about. Things you don’t know and…If at the most we can restore our friendship, I will be extremely happy. Don’t ….”

” Push things, ” Lucy added calmly. ” I won’t, Sam. And I promise I won’t tease….too much. But my sister deserves some happiness in her life and if I can do anything to help her with that, I will. But I promise I won’t butt in.. unless needed… or asked.”

Jody, unaware of the conversation her sister and Sam were having, was struggeling with problems of her own.

An American couple had lost their keycard somewhere on the beach and demanded an immediat replacement. At the same time one of the entertainers for that night called in sick, while another guest didn’t agree with the choice of the menu and demanded to see the manager, who, of course wasn’t available.

It took her an agonizing hour and a half to straighten things out and when she was finally able to go up to her office to do some paperwork, she was called back by one of the waitresses, complaining about being sexually harassed by one of the guests.

By the time it was five o’ clock Jody’s head was pounding and she felt like screaming. Her original plan had been to stop by at her apartment to take a shower before meeting Sam, but she was running late as it was already, so she had to forget about that.
It was half past five exactely when she arrived at the newsstand were she was supposed to meet Sam. It was still very hot, so the moist seabreeze felt refreshing against her flushed skin. Jody’s eyes were scanning her surroundings, searching for the familiar form of Sam. She shielded her eyes from the sun’s bright reflection on the ocean, expecting her to be near the water.

” Looking for me ? ” an amused voice sounded behind her.

Jody spun around to look in a pair of twinkling blue eyes. They were so close and unexpected it nearly took her breath away and she quickly stepped back, putting a hand on her chest.

” Sam, ” she breathed. ” Don’t….do that. God, I thought my heart would stop.”

———————————————————————

Jody heard herself speak those words and immediately realized they could be interpreted differently when she remembered one particular night, nearly eight years ago.

It was early morning, the sun was about to rise, painting the world with warm, orange colors. A careless ray of sun peeked in through the window and Jody watched tiny particles of dust dancing in the light, feeling content with herself and the whole world.

She turned her head to watch a sleeping Sam, so close, she could feel the warmth of her breath caressing the bare skin of her arm. She loved that time of the morning, waking up early, way before Sam, who never really had to get up at first light, just watching her friend sleep.

Studying the youthful face, surrounded by curly, blonde hair. The long, dark eyelashes resting on her cheeks, the steady breathing. It gave Jody a sense of peace to see her like that. It always gave her a chance to reflect on their friendship and the way Sam made her feel.

Jody’s lips curled into a smile, when Sam stirred, mumbling something incoherent. She carefully brushed away a blond strand of hair and looked at it in awe when it boldly curled around her finger.

With a sharp intake of breath she let it go when she noticed a pair of, not so sleepy blue eyes stare at her from a close distance. They were twinkling and Jody unconsciously held her breath, her heart pounding.

” Sam, God, I thought my heart would stop. I didn’t know you were awake.”

” I just liked the attention, ” Sam smirked, not feeling sorry at all.

Her eyes held Jody’s and her friend simply couldn’t look away.

” What is it ?” she gently asked

” Your eyes, ” Jody explained, swallowing hard. ” They are so incredibly blue, like…I don’t know, I haven’t found a comparison yet.”

” Let me know when you do, ” Sam smiled. ” See if there’s a poet in you somewhere.”

———————————————————————–

Sam’s didn’t respond to her words, but Jody could see a hint of recognition in her eyes, followed by a gentle smile.

” Did you, by any chance, grew taller ?” Jody quickly changed the subject. ” Or did I shrink, already ?”

She studied Sam’s relaxed form. The lightblue t- shirt, tucked into a pair of darkblue cotton slacks. A bag casually slung over her left shoulder. The sun painting golden highlights in her hair.

” I don’t think so, ” Sam chuckled. ” I do work out, though, so…I might seem taller, that’s all. Last time I had a check up I was still one eightythree.”

” That’s …nearly six feet, is it ?”

” Something like that, yeah. I thought you Aussies would have figured the metric system out by now, ” Sam teased. ” Guess I still have to translate, huh ?”

” Yeah, yeah, ” Jody smiled, grateful for the light bantering between them. ” Old habits die hard, you know. Besides, I was taught the old way, so…”

” All right, you have an excuse, ” Sam grinned.

” I guess it’s true then, huh, those Dutchies beeing the tallest people in the world ? ” Jody mused.

” Well, the teenagers seem to be, anyway. But do you also know why ?” Sam replied with a mischievous smile.

” No, I don’t, ” Jody grinned. ” But I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

” It’s the dykes, ” Sam deadpanned, pausing for a moment to watch the confused expression on Jody’s face.

” The dykes that keep the water out …kind of dykes, ” she added with a smirk. ” Living below sealevel and all, we have to stretch a lot if we want to look across them. It’s probably some sort of evolution in progress.”

” Yeah, right, ” Jody laughed, feeling very relaxed and rediculously happy. ” You’re still a big tease, aren’t you ? ”

Sam shrugged her shoulders and cast a fond glance at the woman next to her.

” Old habits and all, yada yada yada, ” she replied with a wink. ” So, you want to sit down somewhere and relax a little ? I brought us something to drink.”

” Sounds great, “Jody sighed. ” My day has been pretty busy, so far. I just hope I won’t be paged this evening.”

Sam steered her companion towards a stretch of sand, surrounded by a few rocks that would make an excellent backrest. She motioned her to sit down and put the bag next to her, opening it and pulling out two very chilled Bacardi Breezers.

” Oh…” Jody gasped with appreciation. ” That looks very good.”

With a quick flick of her wrist Sam opened a tropical citrus flavour and handed it to Jody.

” Bottems up, ” she grinned.

” Better not, ” Jody replied. ” I skipped lunch, so I’d be tipsy in no time.”

Sam decided not to comment on that last remark, but she did make a mental note. Extending her long legs in front of her, resting her back against the smooth surface of the rock, she relaxed. While sipping her drink her eyes lazily followed a sailingboat, tacking against the gentle breeze.

” So, did the illustrious William show up today ? ” she finally asked, not taking her eyes off the horizon.

” On a Friday ? You’re kidding, ” Jody snorted.

” Does that mean you’re running the place by yourself ?” Sam carefully asked.

She turned to look at Jody and saw a pair of pensive green eyes watch her. She didn’t look away, but friendly returned the stare.

” Um…yep,I guess I do, ” Jody finally answered. ” I like my job, every day is a challenge and I really like meeting people from all over the world, but….” An audible sigh. ” Lately I feel like it’s getting to me, I drains me and…sometimes I think I should throw in the towel and just quit…”

” But ?” Sam probed.

But this job was my only connection with you.
” But I guess I just like it too much. Anyway, did you come up with a plan ?”

” Not yet, ” Sam confessed. Her eyes searched Jody’s and held her gaze. ” I had a lot to think about today, but I’m working on it. I’d like to see a few files though. Maybe if I can detect what’s going on I can develop a strategy. Dad gave me free hand, but I’d like to get it over with as soon as possible.”

Jody tore her eyes away from those captivating blue ones and felt a heavy sadness settling in her chest.

She probably wants to go back home as soon as possible.

” I’m due for a holiday, ” Sam explained, not having missed the darkening of Jody’s eyes. ” I haven’t had one in years.”

Instantly the heaviness lifted and Jody let out a shaking breath, quickly regaining her composure.

” So, why do you do the things you do ?” she asked, immediately regretting the question, when she realized it was put very akward. ” I mean, you work for your father, but I thought you never wanted that. You wanted to become a physiotherapist.”

” Yeah, I did, ” Sam softly answered. ” But when my car decided to dive off the road, things kinda changed.”

She tried to keep her voice light, but Jody could still hear the tension in it.

” Want to tell me about it ?” she invited, fighting the urge to cover Sam’s fidgeting fingers with her own.

Sam stared at her feet for a long time, collecting her thoughts. Debating how much she should tell Jody. She didn’t want to make her feel sad, but on the other hand she didn’t want to keep anything from her either. She cleared her throat and took another sip of her drink.

” This morning I told you I was pretty banged up, ” she started with a quiet voice. ” The truth is I fractured my right leg, or should I say ‘shattered’ ? Everything, from the kneecap down was just a mess, my shinbone, splint-bone and ankle were just…shattered. They had to be held together by plates and pins and I needed five operations to get it all back in place. Right now there’s still a plate in there.”

Sam tried hard not to see the shocked look on Jody’s face and she cast her eyes down.

” That was not all. I also broke my right arm and broke two ribs. One of them punctured my lung. I had several deep cuts, a concussion and a lot of bruises. One of those cuts was on my hand.”

Unconciously Sam rubbed the area and Jody could see a thin scar on the back of her hand.

” My arm must have gone through the sidewindow and the glass cut two of the tendons. They could be stiched up, but I had to forget about becoming a physiotherapist. They need two strong hands to begin with.” Sam flexed her fingers and studied her hand with a slight smile. ” I’m lucky I can still use my hand, you know.”

Sam paused, still too uncertain to look at Jody, who was sitting motionless, her head down, hiding her face behind her hair.

” So, instead of going into the medical field, I went to the university to get a business degree and joined my dad and brother at the corporate battlefields. Which is not bad, I have to admit.”

Jody’s uncharacteristic silence worried Sam and gently she brushed back the hair that obscured her face, startled at the sight of tears rolling down a pair of flushed cheeks.

“Hey, ” she said softly, shifting closer. ” I’m sorry, Jody, I didn’t want to upset you, I just guessed you wouldn’t let me off the hook if I didn’t tell you the whole thing,” she tried with a light joke.

” Damn right, ” Jody sniffed. ” It’s just….it’s so unfair, Sam.”

A pair of green eyes, brimming with tears were looking her way and Sam fought a silent fight with herself, trying not to give into the urge of brushing them away. She lost. Carefully she wiped away the tears with her fingertips, her eyes locked into Jody’s.

” Don’t cry, Jody, ” she whispered. ” It’s a long time ago and …”

” It hurts, Sam, ” Jody replied with a hoarse voice. ” And I just can’t get rid of this picture of you, lying in hospital, waiting for me to show up and I never came….”

Sam’s hands traveled to Jody’s shoulders, holding her tight and shaking her gently.

” Don’t do this to yourself, please, ” she pleaded. ” I know it hurts, but it’s not your fault. It was your father who ended…what we had. And the accident, well, that was just a freak thing. I admit, there were times I blamed your brother for it, but now…I realize he was a victim, like you and me. He did what he thought was the right thing and of course, that is no excuse, but…those were the circumstances. I don’t think Matthew deliberately ran me off the road. Maybe I shouldn’t have slammed the brakes, I don’t know.
” Sam paused, cupping Jody’s chin and lifting her face to look her in the eyes. ” Point is, Jody, it happened, it can’t be changed, so don’t go on this guilt trip, okay? ”

Jody grabbed the hand that still held her face and gingerly touched the scar.

” I could just….slap my dad for what he did, ” she grunted, a glint of anger in her eyes.

Sam’s face creased into a smile and she gently squeezed the fingers that were holding her hand.

” Well, that would probably surprise the hell out of him, ” she said amused.

” It would, ” Jody admitted. ” Last time I saw him was eight years ago.”

” Want to share ?”

Jody shook her head.

” No, not now, later. All right ? I can’t talk about him right now, without getting upset. I’m too…furious. When I calm down, I’ll tell you.”

” That’s fine with me, ” Sam agreed. ” Let’s not dwell on the bad memories, shall we ? There’s lots of good ones.” Her eyes softened. ” Remember that day when I stole a kiss behind the shed ?”

” O, God, ” Jody chuckled. ” You were so convinced no one could see us, while Lucy was watching us the whole time.”

” I still don’t understand where she came from, ” Sam grinned, remembering. ” She must have been following us around. I’ll never forget that smirk on her face when she suddenly popped up, saying : ‘ Hey, guys, better rap it up, dad is coming down to get some tools.’ ”

” Talking about a cold shower, ” Jody laughed. ” She saved our hides then, you know.”

” I guess so. And you just refused to come near me again that day.”

” Can’t blame me. My hormones were having a ball, I didn’t want to risk anything, ” Jody blushed. ” I could never tell what you were up to.You were very dangerous and very sneaky, my friend.”

Those last words were spoken without thought and Sam was pleasantly surprised.

” It was fun, though, ” she said warmly. ” So, are you hungry yet ?”

” Starving, ” Jody admitted. ” Where are the fish and chips ?”

” You don’t seriously expect us to eat junk food, now do you ?” Sam feigned a hurtful look, but Jody saw the twinkling in her eyes.

” Well, you always were a sucker for greasy stuff.”

” That’s the old me, ” Sam grinned. ” I developed a taste for the better ‘cuisine’, you know. So, how about that fishy place up the road.”

” O, God, Sam, don’t let them hear you say that, ” Jody laughed. “That’s one of the finest restaurants around. Besides, I don’t think we could just walk in there without reservations. It’s always packed.”

” Don’t worry, ” Sam replied, jumping up and extending her hand to pull Jody on to her feet. ” I booked a table for two. Window seat. Facing the ocean. How about them apples, hey ?”

About twenty kilometers to the south, near Burleigh Heads, two cars were parked off the road, near one of the picnic sites facing the ocean. Three men were having a drink, relaxing and sharing casual small talk. So it seemed. If anyone could have taken a closer look, it would have been clear that their conversation wasn’t all that innocent.

” So, Billiy boy, ” a tall, muscular man with short blond hair said. ” Did you come up with an idea to get the money ?”

William Jensen nervously clasped a can of beer in his hand, unconsiously denting the thin metal. His other hand raked through his dark hair, leaving it disheveled.

” I’m working on it, Joe. I told you, next week.”

” It’s Friday already, mate. I’m still ten thousand short, you know that. Of course I can always persuade little Steven here to apply a bit more pressure.”

The huge man sitting next to Joe Michaels growled and squeezed the can he was holding, apparently without effort.

William swallowed hard and frantically tried to come up with a satisfactory explanation.

” I’m waiting on some insurance money, ” he tried. ” We had this leeking waterpipe a while ago, that ruined the carpet in the gym. The money could come in any time now.”

” It better, Billy boy, or my friend here will teach you a few valuable lessons about paybacks and deadlines. With the emphasis on ‘dead’. You don’t want to end up as sharkfood, now do you ?”

William shook his head, wiping his forhead where persperation made his damp hair stick to his skin.

” I’ll pay you, Joe. I promise.”

” Good.”

Joe Michaels stood up, dusting his trousers before strolling to his car. He stopped halfway and turned around.

” Wednesday, Billy. Not a day later. That’s the best I can do for you.”

” Mmm, this is the best salmon I ever had, ” Jody happily sighed, sinking her teeth into a piece of soft pink flesh. ” And this dressing is just….devine. What is it ?”

Sam peered at Jody’s plate and shrugged her shoulders.

” Can’t tell by the look of it. Maybe you should ask them the recipe.”
” As if they would share their secrets with me, ” Jody snorted. ” Here, have a taste.”

She offered a chunk of salmon to Sam, who obediently nipped it off her fork. She thoughtfully chewed on it.

” Horseradish, ” she concluded, after swallowing.
” Are you sure ? ” Jody asked.

” Positive, ” Sam answered. ” My mom always uses that stuff when she juggles up diner for businessdiners at home.”

Jody studied the face opposite her and slowly put down her fork. She took her glass of chilled white wine and sipped it, enjoying the fruity taste. The sun had set and the part of the restaurant they were sitting, was dimly lit by candles. One of them painted Sam’s face a golden tan, highlighting the color of her hair. She was thoroughly enjoying her food and didn’t seem to be bothered by the silence between them.

She’s even more beautiful than eight years ago. She looks so mature, so strong, but yet so…vulnerable. Does she realize just how attractive she is ? That guy over there can’t keep his eyes off her.

Suddenly Jody noticed that a pair of clear blue eyes were watching her with a quizzical look. Sam noticed Jody’s startled reaction and a slow smile crossed her face.

” What ?”

Nothing, just admiring your beauty, wondering if…
” You still didn’t tell me what it is you do, exactly, at Stevens inc.”

” Well, usually I just stick to marketing. You know, research, planning, strategy and all that stuff. But I also do other things. My brother, Tom, he’s our financial wizzard, so he usually sticks to his specialty. I haven’t find mine yet. I like doing marketing, but…I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Sam smiled wryly. “Hearing myself say those words, I just know I don’t want to.”

” How come you were sent down here ?”

” I volunteered, ” Sam answered. ” You know my dad is from England, right ? Well, before he married my mom he spent a few years in Australia and he just loved it. ‘ The Reef’ was his dream, something he would like to spend time after retiring. So, when the ocassion rose, he bought the place. Plan is for him and mom to hibernate here during the Dutch winter season and go back in the summer. He loves this place. But last year he had a heartattack, so, he had to cut down on the stress. He’s not working anymore, just doing some consulting. I somehow thought it wouldn’t be a great idea for him to come all the way down here, not knowing what to expect. So, here I am.”

Jody nodded in understanding and absently played with her knife, until Sam extended her arm and covered the fidgeting fingers with her own.

” Are you all right ?” she asked, the concern evident in her voice.

” Yes, I am, I’m just….trying to come up with the words to tell you…about my dad.”

Sam’s thumb stroked the smooth skin underneath her fingers in an attempt to calm Jody’s nerves.

” Why don’t you just start at the beginning ?” she encouraged. ” Why did you leave ?”

Jody took courage from that warm, strong hand and she let their fingers interlace .

” The day before you came to pick me up, he sort of guessed that…I…we…” Jody sighed, deciding to be completely honest. ” He guessed that I was in love with you and I couldn’t deny it.”

It was the first time Sam heard Jody say these words aloud and even after eight years, she could feel her heart skip a beat and her breathing increase. She gently squeezed Jody’s fingers, encouraging her to continue.

” He grounded me, I wasn’t even allowed to walk as far as to the shed. And then the accident happened. One of the neighbours had heard the noise and warned the police. I don’t know what happened at the scene, but when dad came home he told us Matthew had broken his leg, because you tried to run him off the road. You supposedly had some cuts and bruises, but were fine otherwise and would be leaving the country soon.”

Jody swallowed and had to take a deep breath.

” Dad…kept on raving about you, what a bad influence you’d been, what a bad person you were, how dishonest and cruel and dangerous you were and how happy he was you’d gone back to Holland. I was hurt so badly, Sam, ”

Jody’s voice caught and Sam could see her eyes darken.

” I thought you had just left me, but still I couldn’t stand dad talking about you like that. He never missed an opportunity to talk down on you and it…hurt…because I knew that was not the Sam I’d known. So one day I decided I had enough . I just packed a bag, took my personal things and walked out the door. Dad was away at the time and Matthew was still on crutches, so I knew no one would stop me. I walked down the hill and jumped on the first bus that stopped. I ended up in Currumbin. I slept on the beach the first few days, until I met a very nice lady who was looking for a helping hand around the house. She owned a bookstore and ever since her husband had died, a year before I arrived, she’d been really busy. She offered me food and lodging if I would look after the house.”

Jody smiled at the memory.

” Mrs. Jenkins has been really good to me. She gave me the chance to look for a proper job and when I found one, she didn’t even want me to leave. I stayed on for a few more months, but left when her daughter came back from a trip to Europe. I didn’t want to intrude. We still visit each other, though, she’s a real good friend.”

Jody’s face radiated warmth and Sam couldn’t help but return the brilliant smile.

” I haven’t seen my dad ever since I left home. I do see my mom, occassionally. I know when she does her shopping, so, sometimes I go to Tweed Heads and we have a drink together. I don’t see Fiona and Matthew much either. Fiona’s fourteen now and she’s just like Lucy, you wouldn’t believe it. The only difference is the color of their hair. They even share the same attitude, poor mom. She’s a handful.”

Jody sipped her wine, thirsty from all the talking.

” So, now you know my story.” Well, part of it anyhow. I will tell you the rest of it, Sam, I promise. Just not now.

Sam could tell there had to be more, but she respected that didn’t want to share that yet. It had been eight years and they needed time to come to terms with all the things that had happened and to cover all the issues that remained to be discussed.

Their fingers were still interlaced and Sam reluctantly pulled back. Almost physically in pain by the loss of contact.

” Ready to do some stargazing ?” she asked with a genuine smile, that ignited little sparks in her eyes.

” Absolutely, ” Jody answered.

The office was dark. Only the soft light of the moon, that peeked in through one of the windows managed to outline the few desks and file cabinets.

With a little squeek the door was opened and a shadowy figure stepped inside. With purposeful strides the distance to the computer was covered and within a few seconds the machine was booted.

For a moment the only sound was a soft sliding of disks and the humming of the computer, followed by a soft rattling of keys. It only lasted a few minutes, before the machine was turned off and the screen went black.

The shadow moved to another corner of the room, near the wastepaper basket. There was a rustling sound of paper and a sudden flicker of a match, lighting a filter cigaret. It was carefully placed on top of the basket.
The shadow turned around and quickly left the room, carefully closing the door.

For a few minutes there was only darkness, until a tiny little flame was born from the smouldering, softly glowing tip.
” What are you up to tomorrow ?” Jody asked a few hours later, stiffling a yawn.

” Nothing much.” Sam strechted her long frame and winced when she felt an old, sore spot in her back. ” I suppose I should have a look at those files.”

” Mmm, I’ll get them for you. First thing in the morning.”

Jody glanced at her watch and nearly jumped.

” Speaking of which…I’m not sure if you are aware of it, Sam, but it’s way past midnight.”

Sam smiled a lazy smile and turned her head.

” So ?”

” I don’t know about you, but I need at least four hours of sleep if I want to make it through another day.”

Sam got up from her lazy position on the sand and shrugged her shoulders.

” It’s just past twelve, so…”

” Way past, you sneak, you heard me, ” Jody laughed. ” It’s nearly half past one and I’m bushed.”

” That’s a compliment, ” Sam grunted in response.

Jody playfully backslapped her in the stomach and jumped to her feet.
” Don’t start. I had a great night ! And you know it.”

Jody extended her hand and felt Sam’s firm grasp when she hauled the taller woman to her feet.

” Thank you, ” she softly added.

” The pleasure was all mine, ” Sam replied, slowly letting go of the warm hand that was still holding her own. ” I’ll walk you home.”

Jody frowned and looked up, a puzzled expression on her face.

” You don’t know….o, wait, Lucy told you.”

” It’s so helpful to talk to sisters, ” Sam teased. ” She told me you live just across ‘ The Reef’. Must be one of those apartments on the corner.”

In companionable silence they walked the remaining distance back to the hotel, both absorbed by their own thoughts.

I never could have imagined that we would be friends again, but I guess we are. I forgot how easy it is to talk to Sam. Even the silences don’t bother me, it’s just so good to…be near her again. Just walking alongside her, without speaking a word, gives me such a peaceful feeling. I guess our friendship never died, it was just put on hold for a long time. Much too long.

” Jody, ” an amused voice suddenly gently stirred her. ” Jody, you’re home. What are you doing ? Sleepwalking ?”

” Looks like it, ” Jody replied, thankful for the darkness that hid her flushing cheeks. She pulled out her key and turned to Sam.

” Sam, I…” Suddenly feeling very insecure, Jody didn’t know how to explain what she was feeling. ” I really had a good time and…I…”

” It’s allright, Jody, ” Sam interrupted. ” So did I. I’m very grateful that we were able to clear up a lot of misunderstandings and…I feel insecure too, right now. But why don’t we just take it one day at the time and see what will happen ? ”

Without realizing what she was doing, Jody had grasped Sam’s hand and squeezed tight. Her eyes were dark with emotions and shining with unshed tears.

” How do you do that ?” she whispered.

” What ?” Sam asked curious.

” Reading my thoughts, ” Jody answered in wonder.

Because I found back again the best friend I ever had. The only person ever who has been able to touch my very soul.
” Must be one of those secrets boardroom skills, ” Sam joked, returning the pressure Jody’s fingers were applying.

” Mmm, you must teach me that one day, ” Jody replied, knowing Sam willingly kept the conversation lighthearted. ” Might come in handy, sometimes.”

” Will I see you tomorrow ?”

” Yes, you will, ” Jody promised. ” I’ll get you those files, allright ?”

Sam nodded and released the hand she was still holding.

” See you later, then. Make sure you’ll get at least five hours of sleep.”

” I will. See you in the morning, Sam. G’night.”

With her eyes firmly closed Sam let the lukewarm water cascade down her body, caressing her skin with a soft, liquid touch. Her intention had been to jump in and out of the shower, but the water simply felt too good. She ignored her conscience, reprimanding her that fresh water shouldn’t be wasted like that. One more minute, just one.

Sam couldn’t help returning her thoughts to Jody, the sparkling of the warm green eyes, the smile that made the skin around her eyes wrinkle up, the way she slightly tilted her head when she was concentrating on something.

” Get a grip, Stevens, ” Sam groaned, turning of the flow of water. ” You’ve got a job to do, remember ?”

She grabbed one of the creamcolored, fluffy towels that were
conveniently placed within reach and started to dry herself off, still mumbling.

” Just find out what the hell the problem is, solve it, have a little vacation and…”

Sam stopped in mid-motion and stared at her image in the mirror. And then what ?

” Go back home, ” Sam whispered.

A pair of clear blue eyes were immediately filled with pain and Sam turned around, pressing her warm forehead against the cool tiles of the bathroom wall. The damp towel draped around her shoulders.

” Shit ! I can’t do that, ” she realized, feeling her heart pounding against her chest. ” It would be like leaving her all over again. I….”
The air was suddenly filled with a high pitched noise and Sam nearly jumped.

” What the…?”

She almost ran into the bedroom determined to locate the source of the assault on her eardrums. When she realized it was a fire-alarm she quickly grabbed some sweatpants and a t-shirt. She didn’t bother about shoes as she closed the distance to the door. She wanted to yank it open when she remembered that probably wouldn’t be the safest thing to do, in case there would be a fire.

With the back of her hand she carefully felt at the smooth surface of the door. The wooden panel was still cool to her touch and Sam released a breath of relief. Kneeling down on one leg she grabbed hold of the doorhandle and slowly opened the door. Ready to let herself drop to the floor. There were no flames in the corridor, but the dim lit room was full of smoke and quickly Sam closed the door. Her brain was working overtime trying to determine what to do. Running through that much smoke, in search for the staircase wouldn’t be a wise thing to do. But she knew she had to do something, being in one of the corners of the building.

Sam grabbed the towel she left on the bed and walked back to the door. With quick motions she put the damp cloth on the floor, pressing it against the wooden surface. At least that would keep the smoke out. For the time being.

Stay calm, Sam, she kept reminding herself, willing her heartrate to slow down. You need to focus. Get out of here.

She grabbed her leather backpack, threw in a couple of items and opened the sliding door to the balcony. She looked to her right and saw the flames behind the windows of one of the offices. Her eyes scanned the second and fourth floor and she realized that the fire must have started at the third.

A quick glance down wasn’t very encouraging. She was on the third floor , but there were no hotelrooms on her side of the building. Just offices, without balconies. Jumping would certainly mean crashing down on the rocky surface of “The Reef’s ” garden.

” Okay, what can’t go down, must go up, ” Sam whispered, looking up. Above her she could see the concrete floor and iron railing of a balcony on the fourth floor. She took a deep breath and prayed a silent prayer to whatever Devine entity that was listening.

” Please, don’t let me slip.”

Without giving it a second thought, Sam flung one long leg over the railing. With one leg on either side she took a last deep breath and slowly, but very carefully placed her feet on the bar, inching her way up, until she was fully stretched, standing on the railing like a tightrope walker. Very slowly she tilted her head, straining the muscles in her legs to remain balanced, while her eyes searched the balcony she was going to reach for.

” Thank the Gods I’m tall, she grunted. “Well, here goes nothing.”

Sam bend her knees a little and, knowing she had only one chance, jumped up, stretching her arms out, nearly sobbing with relief when she felt the cold iron bars her hands had been aiming for. With her long legs dangling in the air Sam pulled herself up, very thankful for all the time spent in the gym, working out. Within a minute she was on the fourth floor, panting and sweating, but safe.
part 2
Jody had just drifted off into a peaceful slumber when the ringing sound of her phone violently interrupted an image of a blue eyed, blond woman, smiling at her, bending her head close to whisper something in her ear.

” O, come on. It can’t be morning yet, ” she exclaimed frustrated, hiding her head underneath her pillow, to block out the sound. ” Have mercy on me !! Please!!”

The phone clearly didn’t care, because the ringing relentlessly kept on going.

A green orb peeked up from under the pillow, rapidly blinking a few times when finally realizing she was hearing the phone and not the alarm clock.

” This should better be good, ” Jody grunted, still feeling drowsy from sleep.

“Hello, ” her voice croaked, hoarse from sleep, and the lack thereof.

” Miss McDonnell. I’m sorry to disturb you in the middle of the night. My name is Carol Wong and I’m with the police-department. I’m afraid there’s a situation at ‘The Reef”.

That statement had the same effect on Jody as a bucket of cold water would have had. She nearly jumped out of bed, all traces of sleep disappeared.

” What kind of a situation ?”

” Um…apparently the manager…William…Jensen… can’t be reached, so…”

” What situation ?” Jody repeated, more sharply than intended.

” There’s been a fire. A small one and everything in under control, but we would like to speak to someone who is in charge. Quite a few guests are upset, so…”

Jody pushed her disheveled hair away from her forehead and let out a deep sigh.

” I’ll be right there. Give me five minutes, ” she promised. ” Um…Miss Wong, are there…any..”

” Don’t worry, ” Carol Wong interrupted. ” There are no casualties, although the fire brigade did have to pick up someone from the roof.”

” Ï’ll be over in a few minutes, ” Jody promised.

Sam was sitting on one of the wooden benches outside “The Reef”, watching her surroundings with keen interest. A few firemen were organizing their equipment, putting everything back in their trucks in neatly arranged order. It had only taken them less than fifteen minutes to put out the fire and give the ‘all clear’ sign. That was about the same amount of time Sam spent on the roof, before two of the firefighters came up the fire escape to get her off the roof.

Climbing up on the roof from the fifth floor hadn’t been that hard. She had used one of the chairs she came across as a sort of a leg up. Standing on one of the armrests of the chair she had been able to reach the roof and simply pulled herself up. The fire-escape , that was on the side of the building , only reached as high as the fifth floor and Sam had found herself trapped. Jumping from the roof down to the iron steps of the fire-escape was no option, since Sam’s arms and legs had been shaking both from strain and low blood sugars. So, she had taken a seat on one of the air-conditioning outlets, patiently waiting for someone to help her down.

Sam was amazed at the amount of people that showed up in the middle of the night, attracted by the sensation of a fire and it’s possible victims.

” Disaster- tourists, ” she thought with disgust. ” Just like a flock of vultures.”

A handful of policemen were busy keeping the onlookers at a safe distance, making sure nobody would be in the way of the emergency teams that were doing their jobs. Her eyes caught sight of a man who was standing in the front. To Sam he looked very nervous. He seemed to flinch every time one of the policemen was coming close to him, nearly crawling away. Sam was too tired to think anything about it, but she did make a mental note of it, storing the information away for future reference.

Sam was in good shape and very healthy, but climbing up the fourth and the fifth floor had put a lot of strain on her arms and legs and she knew her body would be aching badly the next morning. While climbing down the stairs her legs had started shaking so much, one of the firemen had to help her down. Immediately putting in the care of an ambulance team, but she had refused all help, telling them she was all right, just a bit tired. Which must have been the understatement of the year.

Sam shivered when the night breeze ruffled her hair and cooled her overheated skin. She could feel the throbbing ache in her right leg and knew she had to get up and walk around to keep her muscles warm. With a sigh she got on her feet and carefully stretched her leg, straining the muscles in her calf. She winced when she could feel the cramp and grunted in frustration, quickly dropping back on the bench.

” I don’t know what’s worse, ” she sighed. ” Actually climbing up two floors or the after effects of it. I think I’ll vote for the latter one.”

” Are you all right, lass ?”

An elderly police-officer shot her a worried look and Sam managed to smile at him.

” I’m fine, just a few cramps, that’s all.”

” Walking on bare feet ,outside, in the middle of the night won’t make it better, ” he reprimanded, pointing towards her feet.

” I forgot to put my shoes on, ” Sam answered, smiling a little sheepish. ” I was in a hurry, you know. Didn’t want to get fried.”

Constable Tierny returned the smile and slowly shook his head.

” How did you get up there anyway ?”

” Lots of gymnastics, a little luck and some help from above, ” Sam grinned, enjoying the confused look on his face. ” I climbed up, ” she explained. ” I sort of hopped from one balcony to the other. Much like one of your precious kangaroos.”

” You’re joking,” he cried horrified.

” No, I’m afraid not. ”

From the corner of her eye Sam saw a familiar red head approaching. ” Just don’t tell my friend, please. She’ll go bananas. It might be better if I’ll tell her myself.”

Jody had been talking to Carol Wong, very concerned about the guests ‘The Reef” was housing. No one had been hurt, although Jody only believed that when she could see it with her own eyes.

” You mentioned something about somebody on the roof ?” Jody asked the petite, Asian-Australian policewoman, who had been writing down her statement.

Carol Wong nodded, scribbling something on her notepad. Jody patiently waited until she was finished and a pair of dark brown eyes looked up.

” Apparently one of your guests who was staying on the third floor, near the offices. Although there weren’t many flames, there still was a lot of smoke and…”

” Wait a second, ” Jody interrupted, suddenly very pale. ” A guest on the third floor ? Near the offices ? Are you referring to the executive suite ? ”

Carol Wong glanced at her notepad and nodded.

” Um…yeah, that’s right, the executive suite, are you… ?”

” Is she all right ?” Jody gasped, her heart pounding in her chest. ” I mean….”

She paused and cast the policewoman a puzzled look. Letting the information slowly sink in.

” She was on the roof ?”

Her eyes gazed at the building, searching for the third floor and slowly traveling up.

” How ?” was the only word that came into her mind.

Carol Wong had been a member of the police force for nearly a decade and couldn’t be surprised much anymore.” She climbed the balconies, ” she casually informed Jody. ” Must have a hell of a physique. She does look good, actually. And being tall certainly does has it advantages.” She chuckled. ” I should know.”

Jody couldn’t answer. Her eyes were still glued to the roof and her brain was frantically trying to comprehend what the other woman was telling her.

” Where is she ?” she finally managed to ask.

Carol Wong pointed towards the entrance where a small group of firemen and members of the police force were obviously sharing a joke, because there was a lot of laughter. A few feet behind them Jody could see a familiar form and she was flooded with a sense of relief.

” Do you need to know anything else ?” she asked. ” Or am I…”

” I’ll let you know if I do, ” Carol Wong answered with a smile. ” You can go and see for yourself that your guest is still in one piece. Thank you for coming, miss McDonnell.”

Jody returned the friendly smile and walked towards the entrance, her eyes never leaving Sam’s tall form.

Sam’s eyes had been following Jody from the moment she arrived and she braced herself when her old friend finally caught up with her. At first she didn’t speak, but Sam could almost feel the green eyes piercing her skin, searching for injuries. Sam waited patiently until Jody finished her precise inspection. Her blue eyes were fastened on the green ones and one eyebrow was raised when she saw the look of concern on the other woman’s face.

” Sam, where are your shoes ?” was the only thing Jody could ask, realizing she must sound like a parent and immediately regretting her words.

Sam looked like a little girl who had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. A pink flush colored her face and she cast down her eyes, feeling a little insecure of herself, something she hadn’t felt in years.

” Um…..in my room ?” she finally answered, completely missing the twinkle in Jody’s eyes.

A chuckle made her look up and much to her relief she saw a radiating smile being sent her way. She grinned back and casually shrugged her shoulders, like a silent apology.

Jody took a seat next to her and Sam could feel her small hand on her knee, softly rubbing the fabric of her sweats. They sat like that for a long time, not talking, but watching the scene around them, reveling in a mutual shared warmth that had been missed for such a long time. Finally Jody sighed, casting a glance at her companion, who was gazing in the distance without seeing much., obviously very tired.

” They told me you’ve been doing some climbing tonight, ” she mentioned, her voice a bit hoarse from emotion.

” Well, ever since I was a kid, they told me I was a monkey, ” Sam joked. ” Always been better at climbing trees than Tom, and…”

” You could have fallen to your death, Sam.”

A pair of gentle blue eyes searched for her green ones and a strong hand covered Jody’s, interlacing their fingers. Jody could feel the gaze, but refused to look up, afraid she would break down and cry. The image of Sam slipping off the railing and falling down, firmly planted in her mind.

” I didn’t, Jody. I’m still here, in one piece, ” Sam softly answered. ” Don’t dwell on it. Please.”

Jody still stared at the ground in front of her, trying to avert those captivating blue eyes, until Sam’s other hand cupped her chin and lifted up her face. Completely unaware of her surroundings. Not at all bothered by the few curious stares they were attracting.

” Look at me, Jody.”

Jody finally gave in and Sam felt a stab of pain when she saw the unshed tears in her friends eyes. Her thumb softly followed the line of a cheekbone, caressing the silky skin. With a heartfelt sigh Jody leaned into the contact and closed her eyes, desperately wishing that time could be turned back. That very moment she realized the bond they had shared all those years ago was still there. It had never been broken, just faded away. And suddenly the loss of those years and the realization of all the things that could have been hit her with full force and her resistance broke, giving way to tears.

Sam didn’t try to stop them. She just wrapped her arm around the silently crying woman and pulled her close, leaning her cheek on top of fragrant reddish blond hair. Trying to put all the comfort in the warmth of her presence and the soft caresses of her hand, still holding the smaller one.

After a long time, the shaking slowly subsided and Sam noticed Jody drying her eyes.

” I’m sorry about that, Sam ” she apologized. ” I didn’t meant to behave like a baby. It’s just that…”

” You don’t have to apologize, Jody, ” Sam interrupted. ” I know I pulled off a dangerous stunt, but it was the only thing I could do. The hallway was just full of smoke and I couldn’t risk losing my way trying to find the staircase. Breathing in smoke for thirty seconds can really kill a person, and I sure didn’t want to wait for it to catch up with me in my room. At least climbing up gave me a chance. And it worked out pretty good.”

” I know, ” Jody sighed.

That’s not why I was crying, Sam. I might tell you the real reason later. If I’ll get the chance. And the courage.

” That police woman, Carol Wong, told me the fire started in my office. She says it’s a mess. There were two computers in there and they are just melted away. That’s probably where all the smoke came from.”

Sam pondered about that information for a while, unconsciously biting the inside of her lip. Her hand was still holding Jody’s, squeezing the smaller digits into her own, without even knowing she was doing so. Jody returned the pressure, a small, wistful smile on her face.

” You know what that means, Jody, ” Sam thoughtfully said. ” All the information that was stored at the hard disk of your computer has been lost. Damn, ” she continued a bit more forceful. ” there’s no way I can find out what’s been going on now. That’s real fu….frustrating, ” she ended with a sigh, raking her hand through her hair with an impatient gesture.

” Mmmm…,” was her companions’s only comment and Sam shot her a puzzled look.

Jody looked up into a pair of eyes that were almost turned see through by the scarce illumination of the street lights, a couple of feet away. A smirk crossed her face and Sam looked at it with amazement.

” What are you up to ?” she quickly asked. ” What’s that smirk for ?”

That ‘smirk’ turned into a high wattage smile and in spite of the tears a few minutes before, Jody suddenly felt very pleased with herself. And it showed.

” Tell me, you little sneak, ” Sam urged, but her smile took the sting out of the words.

” I’ve got copy’s , ” Jody answered. ” I copied everything and I kept the disks at my apartment.”

” You didn’t ” Sam gasped, but a bright smile was painting her face and she just beamed.

” I did, ” Jody confirmed. ” Want to see them ?”

” O, Yes, ” Sam replied. ” I don’t think this fire was an accident, you know. Someone must feel some hot breath down his neck and I have the intention to find out who that someone is and why he or she is trying to cover up things. Don’t you ?”

” Definitely, ” Jody answered, fighting the urgent desire to wrap her arms around Sam, bury her face into her chest and never let go.

Her feelings must have showed, because Sam’s features softened and the fingers that were squeezing Jody’s just a minute before, started caressing her hand again, slowly traveling up her arm. Their eyes were locked into a wordless gaze, looking deep into each others souls. They didn’t need words. Their eyes were saying it all and they both felt strengthened with promises silently shared.

” I’d better go and see if there’s a room available, ” Sam finally broke the spell. ” I need a hot shower and a warm bed.”

” Are you nuts ? ” Jody strongly replied. ” You are not staying here. You’re coming with me….and I don’t want to hear you object, Sam. I’m serious. ”

” I can’t impose on you like that, Jo, I…”

” No objection, Sam. Or do you want to argue with me ?”

” What about Jennifer De Wit ? ” Sam tried. She knew once Jody made up her mind about something, it was hard to convince her otherwise.

Jody had to think about that question for a few minutes. Her eyes squinted and a crease in her forehead gave away her state of concentration.

” To hell with Jennifer De Wit, ” she finally stated with determination. ” You’re coming home with me. And that’s final.”

He had been walking for hours, deep in thought, not seeing where his footsteps were leading him. Taking step after step after step, until, at the horizon, the edge of the dark night sky started to change color, announcing the birth of yet another day.

He didn’t notice the beauty of the deep orange sun, peeping up at the skyline, nor the way the changing in light painted the majestic ocean into a huge blanket of happily dancing waves. His vision was darkened. With slumped shoulders, his hands buried deep inside his pockets, he unconsciously followed his own footsteps imprinted in the sand. Even though his soul was lost, his body still knew the way home.

It was Saturday morning and he still had four days left. Ninety six hours. Maybe the fire bought him more time. He knew his corruption had been discovered. He did manage to delay things for a couple of months, but the arrival of someone from the head office was too much a coincidence. Or was it ?

He had been watching, when the fire brigade arrived at ‘The Reef”, being one of the anonymous onlookers. He knew there wouldn’t be too much damage, because that had not been the intention. The only thing he wanted was to erase his tracks. By destroying the computer and, hopefully, the cabinet files, he should have accomplished at least that.

Seeing the tall, Dutch woman being brought down from the roof had scared him, even made him feel guilty. But a little voice inside his head had quickly reassured him. She was all right. No harm done. Just a little shaken up, maybe, but she would get over it.

When his assistant-manager had arrived, anxiety had nearly taken him over. He had flinched when he saw her talking to the police woman, wondering if it were him she was talking about. Again the little voice had come to his aid. She might suspect certain things, but she can’t prove it. Not now. Not anymore.

The interaction between his assistant-manager and the woman from the head office had startled him. They clearly knew each other very well. Seeing them together had strengthened his belief that the blond one was sent down to investigate. The fear that brought a tightening to his chest was lifted when he realized he did buy himself some time. He had done good. No one was hurt, but his traces were gone.

He looked at his watch. Ninety five hours.

Jody closed the door of her apartment behind her and tossed her keys at the coffee table. Her cell phone immediately followed. She walked towards the kitchen, blindly hitting the light switch when she passed it.

” Sit down, Sam, I’ll make us a cuppa.”

” A ‘cuppa’ what ?” Sam teasingly asked.

” A ‘ cuppa’ whatever you want, ” Jody dryly replied, but Sam could hear the smile in her voice. ” Smartass,” she softly added.

” I heard that, ” Sam’s voice suddenly sounded from the kitchen entrance. ” And yes, I’d love a cup of tea.”

She looked around with appreciative eyes. The apartment was rather small, but was furnished and decorated very tasteful. It had a wooden floor and at the sitting area a large, dark blue rug was spread across it. The couch was made from a very soft looking, light yellow leather and seemed very comfortable. One of the walls was covered with a huge bookcase, stacked to its full limit. Opposite the couch was an entertainment set and Sam could almost picture Jody sitting on that couch, her feet on the table, glass of wine in her hand, watching a good movie and being totally relaxed.

” So, what’s the verdict ?” Jody’s voice disturbed her musings.

” It’s cozy, ” Sam smiled. ” I like the bookcase. Guess you still read a lot, huh ?”

” Whenever I’ve got the time, ” Jody answered, taking two teacups from one of the kitchen cabinets. ” Which isn’t too often anymore these days.”

” Mmmm, I know what you mean, ” Sam replied, while her eyes were scanning the titles. ” I see you like a good mystery novel. Aha, Patricia Cornwell, good choice, I like her too.”

” Gaining some points there ?” Jody smiled, putting the steaming cups on the coffee table and sitting down.

” Definitely, ” Sam grinned, casting a look at her friend. ” Not that you needed some, but a little extra credit never did hurt anybody, now, did it ?’

” Sit down and drink your tea, while it’s still hot, Miss Quick-witted. I want to take a look at your foot. When you were putting on those sneakers that Brian gave you I saw some blood. You must have grazed it somehow.”

” Yeah, I wonder how, ” Sam joked, obediently sitting down and taking off the oversized shoes.

” Put ‘ em up, Spiderwoman.”

Jody invitingly patted her lap and gained a raised eyebrow in response.

” Come on, Sam. I want to see where the blood came from, I’m not going to bite.”

” My feet are filthy, Jo, ” Sam objected, wiggling her toes to prove her point.

” And the problem with that is, what ? ” Jody laughed. ” You should know better than that, you goof ! Don’t you remember the mud fights we had ? Or the way we looked after going out in the bush, when it had been raining ? Your feet look clean in comparison to what they did then. Put ‘ em up and let me have a look.”

With an exaggerated sigh Sam complied, leaning back against the armrest of the couch and putting her feet in Jody’s lap, who immediately started her inspection.

” You’ve got a cut right here, ” she declared, tracing the instep of Sam’s right foot with her finger. ” It’s not bleeding anymore, but I think you should clean it.”

” It will wash off in the shower, ” Sam answered, not bothered at all . ” You do have a shower, don’t you ?”

Jody didn’t answer that question, but merely snorted, sipping her tea, her hand still resting on Sam’s foot.

Sam was quiet content to be where she was and didn’t want to move an inch. Relaxing on the couch, her feet on Jody’s lap, drinking a cup of sweet, hot tea was much more than she would have bargained for, just a few hours earlier.

” I could easily fall asleep like this, God, this feels good.”

The hot beverage warmed her insides and she could feel her body starting to relax when a sudden cramp in her right leg almost made her cry out. Her body jerked in response and Sam clenched her teeth, willing the pain to subside.

Jody could feel Sam’s body go rigid and she quickly put down her cup, grabbing the long legs with both hands. Her eyes were full of concern when she looked at Sam’s pained face.

” Sam ? What is it ? ”

” Cramp, ” Sam managed to hiss, silently cursing her damaged leg. ” My right…leg…it…”

” Is there anything I can do ?”

” It will go away in a minute, ” Sam growled in frustration. ” It always does.”

Jody decided not to wait for that. She put her hand on Sam’s right calve and started to massage the tense muscles she could feel through the fabric of the sweats. Her eyes never left Sam’s face, wanting to see every change in the blond’s features that could tell her if her actions did have any effect. After a while she could feel the muscles slowly relax, as did Sam’s face and her own tension faded away.

” Better ?” she gently asked.

Sam could only nod in response. She bit her lip and Jody saw the tears in her eyes, knowing her friend was trying with all her might, to bite them back.

” That was a bad one, ” Sam finally explained, her voice a little hoarse. She knew Jody’s gaze had not missed the tears she had been able to blink back. It hadn’t been the cramp that had caused them. It had been the feeling of those warm, strong hands selflessly trying to ease the pain. That had evoked a sense of loss she had never experienced before. Knowing it all could have been different, if only….

” I think you should take a hot shower and go to sleep, ” Jody’s soft voice broke the silence. ” It’s nearly morning already and you are clearly exhausted. So am I, really. Come on Sam, you think you can stand up ?”

Jody stood up extending her hand in invitation and Sam gratefully accepted it. They shared a smile when Jody opened the door to the bathroom.

” Towels are on the top shelf of that cabinet, ” she explained. ” A couple of toothbrushes and toothpaste in the drawer. Use whatever you need. I’ll get you a shirt and some shorts Bird has left here. They should fit you, I guess.”

” Wow, you’re prepared, ” Sam reacted in surprise and all of a sudden she felt a little twinge of jealousy.

” Got unexpected guests more often, huh ?”

It didn’t sound as casual as she thought it would and Jody caught on immediately.

” Well, Lucy and Bird have a habit of dropping by unexpectedly, ” she smiled, secretely pleased with Sam’s display of insecurity. ” They can be really wild sometimes, so at least I’ll keep ’em well fed and clean.”

” Oh…smart woman, ” Sam grinned sheepishly. ” Still the big sister, huh ?”

” I’ll always be that, Sam. It’s a birthright.”

Jody winked and closed the door behind her, leaving Sam in a turmoil of emotions.

” Where did that come from, Stevens ?” Sam scolded at her image in the mirror. ” Never taken you for the jealous type.”

Never had a reason to be jealous. Never cared for someone enough, I guess, except for one time…about eight years ago…Better not go there. What happened to that famous Dutch matter-of-fact thing ? Left it on the roof, did you ? It must still be up there, next to the leftovers of your good intentions. Ready to be scattered by the wind and blown to the four corners of the earth.

Jody had put up Sam in the guestroom, making sure she was comfortable. After that she took a quick shower herself, checked up on Sam, who was already sound asleep and finally went to bed, while the sky was already changing colors.

Before leaving ‘The Reef’ that night she had told Brian she would be back on Monday, leaving him in charge and telling him she only wanted to be paged in case of an extreme emergency.

” Like what ?” he had asked.

” Like a Tsunami, ” Jody had answered, much to Sam’s amusement. ” Not that I could stop it, but at least I would know I don’t have to show up for work on Monday. Okay ?”

Brian had just laughed, appreciating Jody’s trust in him. He liked his boss and there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for her. He knew she worked hard, too hard sometimes and staying away for the weekend was a very wise thing to do.

” Okay, boss. I’ll see you Monday then. Make sure to catch up on some rest. Go for a bush walk, read a book, relax at the beach…whatever. Just stay away from here.”

Sam was the first one to get up. At first she was a little disoriented, but she quickly remembered where she was. She lazily stretched her long frame, pleased to notice that she did have some muscular pain, but the throbbing ache in her right leg had vanished. Thanks to a good night rest.

She cast a look at her watch and seeing it was a quarter to two she decided to get up and see if she could make some breakfast. She made a much needed stop at the bathroom, after which she padded to the kitchen, in search for, at least, some coffee. She had the dark brown stuff brewing and was just making some toast, when she heard the sound of the doorbell. She hurried to open it, not wanting Jody to wake up yet and stood face to face with Lucy. For a few moments nothing was said, but Lucy got over her initial surprise real quick and with resignation Sam saw the face of the woman opposite her shift into teasing mode.

” Hey, Luce, ” she greeted, afraid of what was undoubtedly coming. ” I suppose you’re welcome to come in.”

Lucy just grinned and stepped past Sam, walking towards the living room. She let herself drop on the couch and looked up, a devilish glint in her eyes.

” Well…Sam…I must say, I did not expect to see you here. Diner went well last night, huh ? ”

” It did, ” Sam agreed. ” But not as well as you’d like to belief. I did sleep here, yes, but we didn’t sleep together. Got it ?”

” Well, it’s a start, ” Lucy replied with a smirk. ” I guess it’s a good start too.”

” What is ?” a sleepy voice suddenly sounded when Jody entered the room.

She was walking on bare feet, wearing a dark blue pair of pajamas, her long hair disheveled from sleep, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand and Sam thought she just looked adorable.

” What is, sis ?” Jody repeated, sitting down next to her sibling.

” I was just telling Sam that you two must have had a good night last night. You know, with Sam staying over and all…”

” O, God, ” Jody groaned in response. ” I know what you’re hinting at, sis, but I guess Sam already filled you in on it, so let me wake up first, okay. You’re having an advantage here.”

Lucy just laughed and jumped to her feet.

” I can smell some coffee, ” she grinned. ” Let me get you two sleepyheads some caffeine. Trust me, you’ll need it.”

She disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Sam and Jody staring at each other.

” You will have to excuse her, Sam, she is hopeless.”

Sam shrugged her shoulders and just smiled at the still sleepy woman who was rubbing her face, yawning. Her eyes softened and she couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to see Jody like that every morning, for the rest of her life.

Heaven, she thought, while her heart rate picked up.

Jody must have felt her gaze, because she looked up and their eyes locked, just staring at each other in silent wonder, not being able to look away. It was like some mysterious force drew them together and although they both remained seated, opposite each other, it was like the distance was somehow crossed. Sam was convinced she could feel the warmth of Jody’s skin against her own and Jody could have sworn she felt Sam’s breath brushing her cheek. It was like the merging of two souls and the magical moment was broken, when Lucy returned with the coffee.

With raised eyebrows she looked from Jody to Sam and back again, seeing them reluctantly breaking eye contact. The tension in the air was almost palpable and uncharacteristically she remained silent. Suspecting something intimate had just taken place.

Despite all the teasing, Lucy loved both her sister and Sam intensely and she would do anything to get them back together again. Even keeping her mouth shut, when needed. Like now.

” So, big sister, ” Lucy finally broke the silence. ” I somehow have the feeling you forgot all about our diner arrangements.”

Jody was just taking a sip from her coffee and she looked up, unpleasantly surprised.

” What diner arrange…Oh, my God ! ” she clasped her hand in front of her mouth and stared at her sister wide eyed.

” Guessed right then, ” Lucy smirked.

” That’s real smart of me, ” Jody sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. ” Lucy and I are supposed to visit friends of ours. They’re having a barbecue and…”

” I’m sure they’d love to meet Sam, ” Lucy interrupted. ” Why don’t we give them a call ?”

” No, I can’t, ” Sam immediately objected. ” Lucy, I’m a total stranger to them, besides, I’ve got a heap of things to do, so…”

” Can I use your phone, Jo ?” Lucy asked, completely ignoring Sam and already dialing the number.

Jody glanced at Sam and shrugged her shoulders. She knew her stubborn sister wouldn’t listen, she hardly ever did. She also knew Megan and Sarah wouldn’t mind Sam to come along, but deep down inside she felt a little tense, knowing her former lover and Sam would be meeting each other sooner than anticipated. It’s not that she wanted to hide anything from her Dutch friend, but there were certain things she hadn’t told her yet and with Lucy around she probably wouldn’t get the chance any time soon.

She avoided Sam’s eyes and stared at her feet, frantically trying to come up with a plan to talk to her in private. One thing she knew for sure, she didn’t want her sister to be present when telling Sam about certain parts of her past. Lucy knew most of it, but not everything and she wanted to keep it that way.

” Hey Sarah, ” Lucy cheerfully greeted her friend. ” It’s me, Lucy.”

The person on the other side must have said something funny, because Lucy chuckled.

” No, I’m not canceling, so don’t put those steaks in the freezer. And no we’re not late. Just wanted to know if you guys would mind if we brought a friend ?”

” Yep, the same one. How did you guess ?”

” Fire ? What fire ?” Lucy repeated, staring at her sister with an astonished look.

” Of course I read the papers…usually, ” she added. ” Hold on a sec, Sez.”

She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and cast a threatening look at Jody, who was returning the stare with a victorious smile.

” Why didn’t you tell me ?” she hissed accusingly.

” Like I got the chance, ” Jody replied with a sweet smile. ” You come in here and start raving on about all sorts of things. I didn’t exactly had the opportunity yet, now, did I ?”

” Sarah, we’ll be there at five. …Yep, the three of us….all right, see ya.”

She broke the connection and turned to Sam who had been following the conversation with an amused smile on her face.

” You’re invited, ” Lucy declared.

” Some sort of invitation, ” Sam snorted. ” You didn’t give her a choice, did you ?”

” No, she didn’t, ” Jody reacted with a heartfelt sigh. ” But I do know they won’t mind, Sam. They’re very nice. I am sure you’ll like them.”

” Now, tell me about this fire, ” Lucy urged. ” How come I didn’t know ? What happened ?”

” Wow, Samantha Stevens, you are really something, ” Lucy breathed after hearing the story about the fire, brought to her in a very in matter-of -fact kind of way. ” And I sincerely belief you are deliberately making it sound casual, aren’t you. Wait ’til I tell Megan and Sarah about it.”

Lucy stared at Sam in awe, trying to picture her climbing up two balconies in order to get to safety. Surprisingly it wasn’t that hard. Sam looked strong and had a very athletic build. And besides, Lucy could still remember a few play fights between Sam and Matthew in which her sister’s friend had made quite an impression.

” Luce, can I talk to you for a minute ?”

Jody had jumped to her feet and walked towards her bedroom, not looking back, confident her younger sister would follow her. Lucy did. She cast Sam a puzzled look, but the blond woman just shrugged her shoulders and pulled a face, making Lucy chuckle. When she entered the bedroom, Jody was sitting on the edge of the bed, patting the empty space beside her.

” Sit down. I need a favor.”

Lucy obediently sat down and looked at her older sister with an expectant look on her face. Jody’s hands were resting in her lap and to a stranger she would have seemed relaxed, but Lucy noticed the nervously tightening of her fingers and she covered the fidgeting digits with her hand.

” What’s up ? ”

” I hate to ask this of you, ” Jody started with a sigh. ” I don’t want you to feel…excluded, or something, but I haven’t told Sam about Megan yet, and…well…”

” You want me to make myself scarce for a while,” Lucy concluded, with a touch of humor in her voice. ” Come on, Pea, you don’t have to sweat over it. I understand, you know. I’m not as thickheaded as I look. God, I’m human after all, ” she joked.

Jody sent her an utterly relieved and thankful look and Lucy affectionately squeezed the hand she was still holding.

” She means a lot to you, huh ? ” she stated. ” Always has, hasn’t she ?”

Jody could only nod, while she tried to swallow away the lump in her throat.

” I’m glad,” Lucy confessed, brushing away a strand of reddish blond hair. ” I know I don’t say it very often, but I love you heaps, sis, and I really want to see you happy. I just know you and Sam…well…the two of you should be together. Realizing what dad has done to you just breaks my heart. It’s so unfair and I’m still so very pissed off, I could just…never mind. Better not get bloodthirsty here, Sam might think I’m slapping you around. And that’s one woman I don’t want to wrestle with. She would have me for breakfast.”

” Thanks, Lucy.”

Jody gave her sister a kiss on her cheek and jumped to her feet.

” Yeah, better get going, before we get all mushy, ” Lucy agreed with a grin.

She walked back into the living room and grabbed her purse from the coffee table, noticing Sam was drinking her coffee, looking very relaxed and well rested.

” I’ll see you in a bit, Sam, ” Lucy waved. ” I have some things to do before we hit the barbecue. I’ll be picking you guys up later. See ya.”

Before Sam could even ask where she was going the door was closed and a pair of very puzzled eyes traveled from the front door towards Jody, who was just entering the living room.

” Did the two of you had a fight ?” she asked with concern. She knew Lucy could be a pest sometimes, but usually Jody didn’t let her sister get to her. Ignoring her sibling had always been the best way of dealing with a potential conflict.

Jody sat down and grabbed her coffee. Not that she was interested in the lukewarm beverage, although her mouth had suddenly gone dry. She just needed to hold on to something, afraid she would start fiddling again, thus showing Sam how nervous she was.

” No, we didn’t fight, ” she answered. ” I…Maybe…I need to tell you something, Sam, before we visit Megan and Sarah.”

She glanced over the rim of her cup and saw Sam raise her eyebrows, slightly leaning forward, not saying a word, but silently inviting Jody to continue. A small smile on her face. Jody took courage from that.

” Megan and I used to be lovers, ” she confessed, her voice a little hoarse.

Sam didn’t look surprised. Her eyes held Jody’s and she nodded.

” It seems you are still good friends, ” she concluded. ” What happened ?”

The McDonnell family was a very religious one. Although they didn’t go to their church meetings every week, David and Joan made sure their children regularly attended bible study classes. Being children, they sometimes tried to get out of it by feigning a headache, a lot of homework or a stomach ache. While Joan sometimes wanted to give in to their excuses, aware of the fact it was hard on her energetic offspring to sit still and concentrate for an hour an a half, David was inexorable. Only when they were really ill, and according to his standards that was only when they were having a fever, they were allowed to stay home.

Once, when Jody was about thirteen years old, she was having a very bad stomachache, due to having recently started her period. Joan understood, fully aware of that part of being a woman, always suffering from backaches herself. She knew Jody wasn’t faking it, because her eldest daughter just wasn’t the kind of child to be dishonest. But David told her to go. She wasn’t having a fever, now, was she ? Besides, women were created that way and it served a purpose. Didn’t God himself told Eve he would increase the pain of her pregnancy and children would be brought forth in birth pangs ? Jody had to attend the bible study. She didn’t argue with her father, knowing it would only make him angry. So, she went. Feeling sick to her stomach and vomiting twice on the way to church, nearly passing out when fierce cramps assaulted her body.

They never talked about that day again, but it did change the young girl. She never stopped believing, but the seed of resentment against the religious pressure of her father was born. And she promised herself, the day she would leave home, she would do it her own way.

And she did. Ever since Jody left home that day, nearly eight years ago, she never attended another sermon or bible%20study again. The weeks before she left, her father had told her time and time again that people like Sam and herself didn’t deserve the love of God. They were wicked and immoral and one day would be sentenced by God.

Away from the controlling presence of her father, Jody tipped the scales. Trying to forget the pain of losing Sam and her family she jumped into the always exciting nightlife at the Gold coast, hanging out in bars and nightclubs and attracting a lot of new friends, who really enjoyed inciting the inexperienced young woman. They did like to buy her a few drinks, seeing her, at first, getting tipsy and after that quickly getting drunk.

There were mornings when Jody woke up at the little house at the back of Mrs. Jenkins’ place, not knowing how she ended up there. At first it scared her, but thinking about her father brought back all the hurt and anger, until she finally completely lost control. Mrs. Jenkins, who really liked the young woman, had never felt the need to supervise Jody. She completely trusted her and only started to worry when the dark circles around the usually bright green eyes became permanent ones. Jody, knowing her new friend loved her like her own daughter, felt very guilty about her excessive drinking and partying, avoiding her as much as she could. Trapped within a vortex of anger, pain and guilt, that nearly drowned her. Until she met Megan.

It was a Saturday night and Jody had visited a few bars with some of her friends. She had been drinking steadily and by midnight she was already dead drunk, like the rest of the group she was with. Acting silly, being noisy and troubling other visitors, until the manager of the club had enough of it. He threw them all out, telling them not to come back again. That had them all in fits of laughter, until the manager, who was really fed up with them, called the police. Within a few minutes the group had split up and Jody found herself alone with one of her drinking mates, who volunteered to drive her home. Not being able to think straight Jody accepted and got in the car with him. Miraculously they managed to make it to Mrs. Jenkins’ place, without causing an accident and injuring or killing themselves or somebody else. With some difficulty Jody managed to open the door and wanted to get out of the car, when she was being pulled back by her companion. In spite of her intoxicated state she fully understood what he was after and suddenly she was panic stricken, fighting him off.

She never remembered how she did it, but eventually she got out of the car. Her dress torn apart, but her body undamaged. Sobbing with relief and still scared out of her wits. Luckily her ‘friend’, whose name she didn’t even know, immediately drove off, leaving a devastated Jody behind.

She managed to cross the garden and reach the front door of her little shelter, but when stepping up the porch her legs gave away and she sank to the floor, hysterically sobbing. The frightening event had somewhat sobered her up and Jody realized, all her life, she had never felt so miserable and lonely.

The feeling of a hand touching her shoulder nearly made her jump, but an unfamiliar, yet gentle voice tried to reassure her. When she looked up through watery eyes, she saw a dark haired young woman, who she recognized from the pictures on Mrs. Jenkins’ mantelpiece.

” You’re Megan, ” she slurred.

” That’s right and you must be Jody. I don’t need to ask you if you’ ve been drinking. Good grief, you smell like a distillery. Where are your keys, so I can get you inside ?”

Still shaken up, Jody handed Megan her purse to retrieve the requested item The latter one kept silent while taking out the keys and opening the door. She extended her hand and pulled Jody to her feet, her arm firmly wrapped around a slim waist, to make sure she didn’t stumble or crash into the door-post. Inside she sat Jody down on a kitchen chair and, still silent, put on the kettle to make a cup of tea. After that she sat down herself and looked at the woman in front of her.

” What happened to your dress ?” she finally asked.

Jody slowly cast down her eyes to inspect the fabric that was torn off her right shoulder, revealing part of her bare chest. With shaking fingers she tried to cover herself, while tears rolled down her cheeks.

” Did he rape you ?” Megan asked, not knowing how to ask a question like that in a tactful way and choosing the direct approach.

” No, ” Jody whispered, suddenly feeling very sick and very, very stupid.

Megan let out a breath of relief and studied the younger woman, who was still avoiding her eyes, looking mortally embarrassed. Her eyes were puffy and her tear-streaked face was pale, making the freckles on her nose and cheekbones clearly stand out. At that moment she looked much younger than her actual age, twenty-one, and Megan took pity on her, never been able to turn away from a hurting soul.

” Do you want to talk about it ?” she asked. Her eyes softening when she saw Jody flinch.

” Are you…are you going..to tell..your mother ?” Jody asked in fear. ” I…she’s been so good to me, and I…”

Again her body shook with gut wrenching sobs and instinctively Megan knew the only thing she could do to help her mother’s young friend, was to let her cry, to release some of the build up tension. So she decided not to interfere and leave Jody be, until she was either ready to talk, or too tired to stay awake. But Jody didn’t fall asleep. After a while she calmed down enough to blow her nose and sip from the tea Megan had put in front of her. Without looking up she was aware of a pair of dark brown eyes, studying her with genuine interest.

” I totally fu…I really messed up, didn’t I ?”

” If ‘fucked up’ is what you wanted to say, I can only agree, ” Megan answered smiling. ” While I was traveling across Europe my mom wrote me about you, Jody. Somehow I didn’t picture you like this.”

” Cause it’s not like me, at all,” was the honest answer. Her voice was bitter and full of self-contempt. “Lately it seems I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”

” What are you running away from ?”

Jody stared at her fingers, fiddling with her dress, tying two torn pieces of fabric into knots, searching her brain for an answer. A quick look across the table showed a gentle face, with a pair of soulful brown eyes, that didn’t radiate contempt or disgust but held only kindness.

And finally she gave in, telling Megan everything about her strict and religious upbringing. The joy and love she found when meeting Sam. The heartbreak and suffering when she lost the friend that had become the center of her universe. The way her father had treated her. Her anger about his prejudiced and judgmental attitude and the confusion about the way God created her.

They talked, or better said, Megan let Jody talk until the sun was rising, warming the earth in abundance. And when she was finally finished, her throat was sore and her head was aching, but for the first time in months Jody felt relaxed. Drained but relieved and very grateful for finding a friend who was willing to acknowledge her pain and help her carry her burden.

” Seems to me she really took good care of you, ” Sam smiled. ” She must be a precious friend.”

” She is, ” Jody admitted, the warmth evident in her voice.

Halfway through the story, Sam had traded her seat on the chair for one on the couch, next to Jody and they looked at each other from close distance.

” You probably never expected me to behave that way, did you ?” Jody asked and Sam could see the insecurity in her eyes. ” I was real lost there for a while, Sam, I…”

” Don’t do this, Jody.” Sam interrupted. ” You don’t have to apologize for what you did. You were hurt, lost…and all alone. God knows what I would have done in a situation like that. You came out of it in one piece, and that’s all that matters. You’re here now, completely sane and sober.”

That last remark put a smile on Jody’s face and she gratefully grabbed Sam’s hand, holding her tight.

” I didn’t really know how to tell you all this, but I should have known you wouldn’t judge me. You never did.”

” Well, I’m not the one to talk. You should have seen me when I came back home eight years ago. I was unbearable. With all those fractures and stuff I couldn’t go to college for quite a while, so I had to stay home. I just lashed out at everyone around me, especially my family. I couldn’t cope with my frustrations for a long time and instead of talking about it, I tried to make everyone as miserable as I was.”

” You ?” Jody whispered in disbelief.

” Yes, me, ” Sam smiled. ” I came to my senses one day, when Tom, who had only been trying to help me, finally gave up and started crying. I ‘d seen him angry with me, yelling at me, even threatening to beat me up, but actually seeing him break down and cry…well, that was getting my attention all right.”

” I just can’t picture you like that, Sam. You always seem so…in control.”

” I was hurt too, Jody. I couldn’t understand what had happened. Couldn’t figure out why you dumped me, because that was how it felt to me, back then. I’d expected our friendship to be stronger. Our bond unbreakable.” Sam’s voice was soft and melancholic, but lacked any trace of reproach.

Jody stared at the thumb that was absently stroking the back of her hand and a small wistful smile appeared.

” Maybe now we have a second chance.”

Their eyes met and again time stood still. They were so close their breath mingled and deep down into those clear blue eyes, Jody could see something she thought she had lost forever.

” Maybe, ” Sam smiled and tantalizing slow their faces were drawn together. Jody held her breath, feeling her heart pounding in her chest, so loud she wondered if Sam could hear it. A warm flow flushed her system and she could feel her body leaning into Sam’s. Desperately craving the contact. Her nerve endings almost reaching out to feel the other woman touch her. Her lips slightly parted in anticipation.

” Jody, ” Sam whispered. ” I….”

The doorbell rang, the sound making them freeze in mid-motion. Jody cursed under her breath, utterly frustrated and ready to slap around the person who had the nerve to shatter an almost perfect moment. She jumped up and yanked the door open to find herself staring into a pair of sparkling, dark green eyes.

” Hey, sis, ” Lucy greeted. ” Got it all out in the open ?”

There weren’t many people on the beach, although it was a Saturday afternoon. Scattered around the yellowish sand little flocks of people were relaxing and having a good time. A lifeguard kept a watchful eye, noticing any irregularity in the water, ready to jump up and dive into the ocean in order to give assistance to those who were in need of it.

Somewhere near some big rocks that were once washed ashore, long before James Cook set foot on the East coast, a solitaire figure was sitting in the sand, staring at the endless supply of waves, crashing at the shore before slowly pulling back. His fingers were clenched around an object that was small enough to be hidden inside the palm of his hand. From time to time he looked at it, a pleading look on his face. Finally it started vibrating and eagerly he brought it to his ear.

” Hello.”

” G’day, Billie Boy. I read the newspaper today and I’m proud of you, mate. Did you come up with that plan all by yourself ?”

William Jensen nodded his head and suddenly noticed how dry his mouth was. He tried to moisten his lips, a little salty after sitting in the same spot for such a long time, and audibly swallowed. Despite the words of the person who was talking to him, the tone of the voice made the hair on his arms stand up.

” Wha…What do you mean, Joe ? ” he stammered. ” I erased my tracks like you told me to do.”

” Are you sure,genius ?”

” The computer melted, both of them did, they’re completely useless. Besides, before burning it I deleted some files, just in case it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing to be found anymore, Joe.”

A throaty chuckle was the response and his stomach contracted. He felt the bile rise and convulsively swallowed it down.

” Tell me, Einstein, are you sure the girl doesn’t have any copies ?”

” I… I…I never…I don’t think she has, Joe, ” he objected. ” She always works on the office, I don’t think she took anything home with her.”

” You think, you THINK ? What about making sure, you idiot ?If she’s clever enough to see you’ve been messing with the books, she’ll be smart enough to make some copies to secure the evidence. DON’T YOU THINK ?”

” I’ll…I’ll…see if I can check out her apartment and…”

” No, you’re not. I’ll have to clean up after you this time, now, don’t I ? You might be recognized and that would cost me a lot of money. You just stay put and wait ’till you hear from me again. You got it ?”

” Yes, Joe, I will, ” he almost whispered. ” Joe, you ‘re not going to…? I mean, you will not…hurt her, will you ?”

” Depends on the mood I’ m in, you little piece of shit. Stay put.”

A soft, buzzing sound told him the connection had been broken and nervously biting his fingernails he stared at the ocean. Wondering if walking into those soft looking waves and letting himself be swallowed up by them, would hurt. He slowly shook his head. No, there was still a chance to solve all of this. He did have some time left.

” God, you took your time, ” Lucy welcomed Sam, who had been to ‘The Reef’ to get some clothes and other belongings.

” I had to convince an inspector from the fire department I simply couldn’t go to diner dressed in sweats and a t-shirt.”

” Was he investigating the place ?” Lucy asked, closing the door and following Sam into the living room.

” Yeah, he was.”

” And, did he find out anything yet ? Come on, Sam, you can tell me.”

Sam dropped her bag on the floor and shrugged her shoulders.

” He only told me it wasn’t an accident, but I already knew that. I’d like to know who did it and how and why. You should see the place, Luce, it’s a mess. There was even soot in my room. The sheets of the bed turned from crispy white to gray and you could use the door to draw charcoal pictures.”

” That bad, huh ?”

Sam nodded and stared out of the window, still very impressed by the way the place had looked. She had never seen the after effects of a fire before and was unpleasantly surprised by it. Thinking what could have happened if she had been fast asleep at the time, made a chill run up her spine. She could easily have died from smoke inhalation. Sam shivered, suddenly feeling cold and when she turned around she was startled when all of a sudden two pair of green eyes were looking at her intently.

” Are you all right, Sam ? ” Jody asked. ” You look a little pale.”

” That’s just my Dutch trademark, ” Sam joked, winking at Lucy, who chuckled in response. ” Too much sun doesn’t agree with me.”

” I dare to disagree, ” Lucy responded with a wink. ” I can still remember what a tanned Sam looked like and believe me, you looked….” She cast a quick look on Jody, hiding a grin. “….absolutely hot !”

Jody ignored that last remark and walked over to Sam, touching her back with the flat of her hand, making slow, circular movements.

” You okay ?” she repeated, feeling the muscular back relax underneath her touch.

Sam smiled at her warmly, igniting little sparks in her eyes and a blazing fire in Jody’s chest, nearly making her gasp. For a few moments they stayed like that, until Jody pulled away her hand and managed a weak smile.

” I’ll have a shower and get dressed. ” she sighed.

” Don’t use up all the water, ” Sam playfully whispered. ” I hate cold showers.”

Jody knew exactly what she was referring to and she could feel a warm blush creeping up her neck, quickly covering her cheeks. Still she wasn’t able to avert her eyes from those enchanting blue ones.

” You’re bad, ” she mouthed, turning around and starting to walk away. A strong hand on her shoulder made her stop.

” Can I have a quick look at those files ?” Sam asked. ” It might be worth the trouble to send them to Tom.”

Jody looked a little confused.

” Um…I don’t have a computer here, Sam, so I…”

” That’s all right, ” Sam interrupted.

” So how are you going to have a look ?” Lucy snorted. ” Hold them up against the light ?”

” Nope. I’ll use my computer.”

Two pair of eyes simultaneously traveled towards the bag on the floor.

” You’ve got a computer in there ?” Lucy asked.

” Nope. I have a laptop and it’s in my backpack.”

With a shocked look on her face Jody looked up at Sam.

” You have a laptop in your backpack ? The one you were climbing up the balconies with last night ? ”

” What do you think ? Tom would skin me alive if I’d ruined the damn thing. It’s company property and it did cost him a fortune, you know. Took me forever to talk him into getting me one.”

Her infectious laugh brought a smile on Jody’s face and shaking her head she walked towards her bedroom.

” An attitude like that deserves a few disks, don’t you think ?”

” Megan, would you please sit down!! You’re making me seasick.”

With a resigned look on her face, an auburn haired woman patiently watched her lover walk back and forth the spacious kitchen.

” You’ ll wear out the floor, ” Sarah added with a wry smile, watching the other woman slump into a chair.

” Aren’t you the funny one, ” Megan grunted, pushing her dark hair out of her eyes.

” Honey, what are you so nervous about ? Is it Sam ? From what Lucy told us the other day, she does seem nice enough. Or are you in protection mode ?”

” What do you mean ?” A pair of dark eyes looked at her and Sarah noticed the tension in it.

” You’ve always been very protective when it comes to Jody. Is it bothering you she and Sam are…well, what are they anyway…friends again ?”

” Maybe, ” Megan answered in all honesty. ” I care about her, Sarah. I don’t want to see her get hurt again.I seriously don’t think she could cope with that a second time.”

With a loving look Sarah studied the woman she had vowed to share the rest of her life with. Her Megan, always protecting the needy ones, never turning her back when she knew someone needed help. She was a very caring soul, but people sometimes were mistaken by her gentleness. She was very strong willed and could be as stubborn as a mule. She fought for what she believed in with a passion that was impressive, sometimes surprising friend and foe.

” What ? ” the subject of her thoughts asked, noticing the pensive look on Sarah’s face.

” I love you, ” Sarah simply answered, her grey eyes reflecting her emotions.

Megan could feel the tension leave her body and she stood up to wrap her arms around the slightly smaller woman.

” I know, ” she whispered, burying her face into Sarah’s neck, breathing in her scent and a touch of Truth. ” You are my anchor, you know that ? You keep me sane. I love you too.”

Her lips caressed the soft skin of her neck, slowly finding their way to her pulse point, up to her chin and finally resting on an equally soft pair of lips, slightly parting them to taste the inside of her mouth.

” Megan,” Sarah breathed, softly groaning and quickly losing all control. ” Megan…if…you…keep…this up, we’ll have…to send…away…our…guests ”

Her body had a mind of it’s own, pressing herself up against Megan’s, moaning when she felt a pair soft mounds, hidden underneath a thin layer of fabric, connecting with her own.

” How much time have we got ?” Megan whispered, her voice husky with desire.

” None, ” Sarah managed to answer, feeling her knees almost give out when a moist tongue traveled down to her cleavage, playfully dipping in between her breasts and returning back up again, while a pair of insistent hands started kneading the firm flesh of her behind, slowly pulling up her dress. She needed all her self control to push Megan away and watched her with evident desire.

” We have to stop this, honey,” she urged, slightly out of breath and willing her body to listen to her mind. ” And I mean right now. If Lucy catches us like this, we’ll never hear the end of it. And you know it.”

Megan blew out a breath and rubbed the flushed skin of her face.

” You’re right, ‘” she reluctantly admitted. ” God, what a bummer !! Make sure you hold that thought, though,” she added with a leer. ” It was a perfectly good one.”

Sarah swallowed hard, quickly stepping back when Megan reached out a hand.

” I won’t do anything, ” Megan chuckled. ” It’s just that one of those tiny little buttons is undone and I can look right into a place I can’t wait to get my hands on.”

Sarah immediately looked down, noticing she was showing more cleavage than intended and she quickly fastened the button.

” You’re incorrigible.”

” Nah, just not satisfied, ” Megan purred, waggling her eyebrows. ” Yet.”

Lucy drove her air conditioned car off the main road, entering a dirt track, full of dust and put holes. Concentrating on the road, she had no eyes for the beauty that surrounded them. The huge trees that were lined up alongside the track provided much needed shade, slowly moving their crown in the always present ocean breeze.

They were leaving the ocean behind them, climbing up the hill that would lead them to their destination. A barking dog followed the car for about half a kilometer, but eventually gave up, panting. His tongue dripping wet and his chest heaving.

” Too hot for that, Fifi, ” Lucy scolded at him. ” Pay attention Sam, it’s just around the corner. You’ll love their place. It’s beautiful .”

This time Lucy hadn’t exaggerated. When they rounded the corner, Sam caught sight of a huge clearing, surrounded by trees and shrub, providing the place with excellent privacy. The house was nearly on top of the hill and was build up from grey river rocks, making it blend in with it’s surroundings. It looked sturdy and very cozy with the wooden verandah that was wrapped around the house and Sam liked it already.

” Look behind you, Sam, ” Jody advised.

Sam turned around and the view was breathtaking. In the distance she could see the ocean, a massive patch of blue, clearly standing out between all the shades of green. They could overlook the treetops, that hid the valley below, not seeing the highway or the crowded tourist centre. The only thing in sight was a part of glorious creation.

” It’s magnificent, ” she breathed. ” What a place to live !”

” Well, here are the owners, ” Lucy chuckled, seeing her friends coming through the kitchen door. She waved at them and parked the car in the shadow of a big tree. ” They’re lovely, ” she added, winking at Sam before leaving the car.

” Hey, girls,” she greeted, before disappearing into a double-hug.

Sam looked at the scene with a smile on her face, that deepened when the dark haired woman walked towards her, her hand extended. Sam took it and was pleasantly surprised by the firm grip.

” You must be Sam, ” Megan smiled.

Sam noticed the warmth of her smile and returned it immediately.

” It’s nice to meet you, Megan, ” she said.

” What makes you so sure I’m not Sarah ?” Megan teased.

” Jody told me a lot about you. I recognize you from her stories, ” Sam answered in sober earnest.

” Just try to ignore her, Sam, ” an auburn haired woman interrupted, shaking her hand. ” God knows I do. Thank you for coming along, the more, the merrier.”

” I should thank you for inviting me, but I’m afraid that was not the case, ” Sam deadpanned, a twinkle in her eyes. ” So, maybe I should thank you for patiently indulging Lucy’s whims.”

They all started laughing but Lucy just shrugged her shoulders, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

” What can I say ? It was just another brilliant idea, ” she smirked.

While Sarah and Lucy were starting the barbecue, Megan and Jody gave Sam a tour around the house. The latter one was very impressed. Being made out of rocks the house was pleasantly cool inside. Sturdy looking furniture radiated a natural look and nicely colored rugs and accessories added a sense of warmth.

Sam observed the interaction between Jody and Megan and if Jody hadn’t told her about their shared past, she never would have suspected them to be former lovers. Their fondness of each other was obvious.And the way they acted around each other was very comfortable and amicable. They clearly were the best of friends.

Jody hid a smile when she saw the pensive look in her Dutch friend’s eyes, knowing her busy brain was processing all the impressions and information her eyes were sending to that mass of grey cells. Sam caught her looking and a smile lit up her face. Without thought she stretched out her hand, gently caressing Jody’s cheek. For a brief moment Megan was forgotten and the dark haired woman cast down her eyes, realizing she had been anxious for no reason. It was clear to see that Sam cared deeply for Jody. She only had to look at the taller woman’s face. The softening of her features, the way her eyes turned into glowing pieces of crystal, radiating tenderness, every time she looked at her friend.

Jody returned the smile, aware of Megan, who was patiently waiting for them. She took the hand that had cupped her cheek and let their fingers entwine, her eyes never leaving Sam’s.

” Let’s follow the guide, ” she smiled, squeezing the larger hand she was holding, feeling the fingers tighten. Their eyes broke contact, but their hands were still holding on when they continued their tour.

” Megan, Sarah, I’m stuffed, ” Lucy sighed, shamelessly unbuttoning the top button of her jeans. ” This must have been the best BBQ I have ever had. Those kebabs with that peanut sauce were just…devine.”

She was sprawled in her chair, her legs crossed at her ankles, looking totally relaxed.

Sarah shot a look at the younger woman and shook her head in disbelief.

” I still can’t believe you ate all that.”

” And more, ” Jody added, remembering all the salad, fruit and bread her sister had managed to eat.

” Can’t help it, ” Lucy yawned. ” At least I don’t have to worry about what I’m eating.”

Jody decided not to react to that statement, knowing full well her sister was only trying to wind her up. She didn’t take the bait, just smiled at her sweetly, not missing the little lights in those dark green eyes.

The evening had been very pleasant. Jody had expected Sam to get along with Sarah and Megan, but they seem to really like each other a lot, having animated discussions about traveling through Europe, something both Megan and Sarah had been doing, comparing experiences and sharing anecdotes. Sam had turned out to be quite the storyteller. She often emphasized her words using both hands and her face constantly changed expression. She regularly had them all doubled over in laughter.

Jody thoroughly enjoyed herself just watching Sam. And every time their eyes met, she felt her heart skip a beat and a fluttering in her stomach.

It’s really happening. She mused, while Megan was relating a story involving an old Greek farmer, a donkey, a lack of water and a roadmap that didn’t make sense. I’m here with Sam. We’re here, after all those years and we’re still friends, good friends. And again I am falling in love with her. I don’t think I ever stopped loving her. Maybe that’s why it didn’t work out with Megan, my heart simply couldn’t forget Sam. Is that what it feels like having a soul mate ? Not being able to fully give yourself to anybody else, even if you’re not together anymore ? Is Sam my soul mate ? Am I her other half ? If so, does that mean we can’t be whole without each other ? Do I need her ? Can I live without her ? No, I can’t. Or won’t ?

Jody felt a pair of eyes resting on her face and let her gaze slowly travel to the source. Sam’s eyes were pensive, but lightened up when their eyes met, a wistful smile on her face. An eyebrow was raised and Jody understood the unspoken question. Hardly noticeable she shook her head, returning the smile.

No, I can’t.

Her musings were interrupted when the sound of a ringing cell phone rang through the warm evening air. Lucy got up, clearly not in any hurry at all and strolled towards the kitchen where she had left the noisy machine.

” Take your time, sis, ” Jody sneered. ” Don’t want you to get tired.”

Lucy didn’t answer, just stuck out her tongue before entering the house.

Sam grinned and thought life was never dull when Lucy McDonnell was around. She was so totally different from her sister it still amazed her sometimes. She loved Lucy and thought the younger woman was fun to be around with, but she was glad Jody was the more softhearted and gentle one. If Jody was right about her youngest sister, Fiona, taking after Lucy that much, she pitied their mother.

Lucy had only been in the house for a few minutes and when she came outside again Jody wanted to comment on that, but swallowed her remark when she saw her face. All color had been drained from her face, causing her dark eyes to stand out. It wasn’t the contrast of colors that worried Jody, it was the emptiness in her eyes, giving her a haunted look.

Jody felt her mouth go dry, realizing something must be terribly wrong. She swallowed hard and moistened her lips.

” Lucy, what’s wrong ?” she asked with a whisper.

Lucy looked up at her sister, trying to come up with the words to tell her what had happened. There was no easy way.

” Dad just had a heart attack.”
Part 3
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.

” Um…mom called, and…um…dad, 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.”

” Is…is 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. I…um…came 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.

” Huh…um..no, 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 can…um…go.. 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 them…now, ” 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……exactely. 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 anybody…it’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 condiotioned 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 ? ”
Part 4
” So, you didn’t recognize him ? ” Carol Wong asked, for the second time, observing Sam with intelligent brown eyes. When Sam shook her head, she tapped her notepad with her pen, obviously deep in thought. ” Would you recognize him when you saw him ?”

” Don’t think so, ” Sam replied, shrugging her shoulders. ” It was dark and it all happened real fast. I didn’t get a chance to take a good look.”

” Did you see him, Miss McDonnell ?”

” Jody, please. No, I didn’t, I was standing behind Sam. She had told me to stand back.”

A pair of very interested eyes traveled from Jody to Sam and back again. Carol Wong didn’t speak, she seemed to be a little absent minded, but her brain was working overtime.

” Why did you tell her that, Miss Stevens ?”

” You can call me Sam and I told Jody to stand back because I felt something was wrong, ” Sam truthfully answered, her blue eyes unwavering under Carol Wong’s scrutinizing look. ” When I was trying to open the door, I noticed it was unlocked. Jody always locks up.”

” You sound very convinced.”

” I am, ” Sam coolly replied. She was tired, knew Jody was exhausted and only wanted one thing: to go to sleep. Carol Wong was friendly and Sam did like the zealous Asian Australian police woman, but was getting fed up with all the questions.

” Can we go now, please ? It’s getting light already and we are bushed. I will be happy to drop by later today to clarify things for you, but we desperately need some sleep.”

Carol Wong put away her notepad and nodded, while casting a look at Jody, who was fighting hard to keep her eyes open. Now and then a concerned look from Sam was sent her way.

” Where will you be staying ?”

” We have some friends, a few miles down the coast. They are willing to put us up. I’ll give you my phone number, just in case you have some questions. Please, feel free to call.”

Carol Wong scribbled down the number and smiled.

” Thank you for your time and I will get back to you…Sam.”

Jody missed the exchanged look between her blond friend and the police woman. The first one looked innocent, almost indifferent, while the latter one had a suspicious glare in her eyes, like she wasn’t satisfied with all the answers she had received.

Sam gave Carol Wong a brief nod and put her arm around Jody’s shoulders, guiding her towards the elevator.

” Come on, Jody, I’m gonna take you to Sarah and Megan’s. You can sleep in the car if you want, I think I will be able to find the place on my own.”

” It’s not that hard, ” Jody mumbled sleepily. ” I can stay awake a little longer.”

Sam smiled and pulled her friend a little closer, kissing her on top of her head.

” I know you can, honey. But it’s all right.”

The elevator doors closed and with a puzzled look on her face Jody looked up at Sam, who was pensively staring at the wall. Apparently deep in thought.

” You didn’t tell her about the disks. Why ?”

Sam quickly turned to Jody, the surprise evident on her face. Her blue eyes widened when she saw a pair of suddenly not so sleepy eyes look back at her, clear and wide awake. It caught her off guard and for a moment she didn’t answer.

” Um….well….um….Gods, you wake up quick! How do you do that?”

” I am tired, Sam, very tired. But I’m not stupid, ” Jody answered, feeling a little insulted. ” Carol Wong was about to give you the third degree there. I don’t really know why, but I guess it might have something to do with certain information you’re witholding from her. I thought she might let us go if I was almost falling asleep on her. So, stop dodging my question. Why didn’t you tell her about the disks?”

Sam knew Jody could see straight through her and being evasive wasn’t an option.

” I want to figure them out myself first,” she answered, avoiding Jody’s eyes. ” Call me stubborn, stupid, opinionated, obstinate or anything else, but I have a gut feeling telling me to do it this way.”

” There must be more to it, Sam,” Jody replied. ” I know you, don’t insult my intelligence.”

” I’m not, Jody, ” Sam softly answered, waiting for the elevator door to open. ” I think this thing might be bigger than I thought. I need some information first, that’s all. As soon as I’ve got it, I’ll tell Carol Wong about it.”

They stepped out the elevator and walked towards the frontdoor, which Sam opened. She made room to let Jody pass, scanning the enviroment with a keen eye.

” Is this all a way to protect the good name of Stevens Inc.?” Jody suddenly asked and she couldn’t hide the bitterness in her voice. From the corner of her eye she saw Sam stiffen and an expression of pain crossed the blond woman’s face. Jody wished she hadn’t said the words and she bit her lip, looking away, not willing to meet her friend’s eyes.

Of all the remarks you could make, you picked this one. Great, Jody, good job. Now she’s really pissed off. Congratulations, Miss McDonnell, you’ve just scored a few points here!!

” Sam, I…”

” If you’ll give me the keys, Jody, I’ll drive, ” Sam offered, painfully polite. Her lips were pursed, while she waited, her hand stretched out, suddenly very distant. ” I’m very tired and not in the mood to go into a meaningless discussion.”

” Sam, I…” Jody tried again, but Sam interrupted her.

” I’m not in the mood, Jody.”

I only want to apologize to you. I don’t know where that came from, Sam, but I’m sorry. I really am.

Biting her lip to try and keep the tears away, Jody handed Sam the keys and meekly got into the car. She glanced at the woman on her right, but Sam concentrated on the road and ongoing traffic, ignoring her completely. She had shifted into a very businesslike mood and it was a Sam Jody wasn’t familiar with.

In the meantime Sam was trying to calm down the storm that was raging through her system. On the outside she looked calm, but inside she could feel an anger, she hadn’t felt in years. All she could do at the moment, was trying to collect herself, because the last thing she wanted to do was rant at Jody.

Her friend’s words had been the proverbial last straw of that evening. She knew Jody was sorry and her friend didn’t mean it, but the words had stung nonetheless. And since Sam was still trying to calm down from the ferocious demolishing of Jody’s apartment, it had just been too much. She rarely lost her temper, but when she did it was with an intensity that had gained her a legendary status within her family. Her brother Tom used to say : ‘ If Sam reaches her boiling point, that’s bad enough. But don’t let her explode, or you’ll have some serious mopping up to do.”

It was only after Sam drove the car up the driveway leading to Sarah’s and Megan’s house, that Jody dared to speak again. She had been watching Sam from the corner of her eye and had noticed that most of the tension that had been so unmistakenbly present, had gone away. Leaving her visibly drained and tired, with dark circles underneath her eyes.

” I didn’t mean what I said earlier, Sam, I’m sorry.” Jody’s voice was nothing but a whisper but Sam could clearly hear the unshed tears she was trying to hold back. ” I…I don’t know where that came from, but…but it was a stupid thing to say. I’m sorry.”

Jody hung her head and when she didn’t hear her friend respond to her apology she feared the anger she thought had slowly dissappeared, still had to be bottled up inside. She missed the the look Sam gave her, the softening of the eyes and the small, tired smile.

Sam parked the car and opened the door, quickly stepping to open the door at the other side. Jody looked up when a hand was stretched out to her, inviting her to take hold of it. Willingly she complied, letting Sam guide her towards the house, where the lights in the kitchen were already switched on. Halfway the little flower garden Sam stopped and put her hand on the smaller womans shoulder.

” We will talk about it later, if that’s all right with you, ” she softly spoke. ” I’m not angry with you, Jody, I’m just really tired. I just want you to now I have my reasons, but we can talk about that later.”

Jody looked up at her friend and slowly nodded, while a grateful smile lightened up her features. She squeezed Sam’s hand and rested her head against a very comfortable feeling, very familiar shoulder, letting out a deep sigh. Immediately Sam’s arm was wrapped around her.

” I’m sorry, Sam, I really didn’t…”

” It’s okay, honey, ” Sam interrupted. ” I know you are. Come on, let’s go inside, before we topple over.”

The moment they stepped on the varandah, the kitchen door was opened and a worried looking Megan stepped outside, closely followed by Sarah. They were almost dragged into the house and firmly planted on one of the kitchen chairs. While Sarah put a hot, steaming cup of tea in front of them. Sam shot her a grateful look.

” Are you girls all right?” Megan asked, the anxiety written all over her face. ” I don’t think I really understood your message. Did someone break in into your apartment, Jody? They trashed it?”

” Yes, that’s what happened, ” Jody sighed, rubbing her eyes. ” It’s torn to pieces and I….”

She bit her lip and swallowed hard, trying to blink away the tears that were stinging her eyes, making it impossible for her to see clearly.

“….everything I own has just been ruined, ” she finished, her voice slightly hoarse. ” All my stuff, my clothes, my books, everything. It’s like my place is hit by a tornado or something ”

A lonely tear escaped her eye and slid down her cheek. With an impatient gesture she tried to wipe it away, but Sam had already caught her hand, holding it in a firm grip.

“It’s all right to cry, Jody, ” she softly spoke. ” You’ve been through a lot lately. Don’t bottle it all up inside. Just let it go. It might make you feel better.”

” I don’t want to cry, Sam, because I don’t think I will be able to stop when I do.”

Jody looked up at her friend, who was still holding her hand and although determined she was not to give in to tears, the tender, loving expression in those crystal clear eyes broke all resistance. Finally she let go and with a gut wrenching sob the tears started to fall.

Sam put down her cup, cast a look at Megan and Sarah, who were almost in tears as well and simply pulled Jody from her chair, right into her lap. Secretely hoping the kitchen chair would survive this kind of assault. It did. Jody burried her face in Sam’s neck and cried away all the pain and tension she had been gone through, since the phonecall from her sister, the evening before. Sam didn’t say a word. Her arms were wrapped around her friend’s body, holding her tight, trying to be as comforting as she could be.

From the corner of her eye, Sam noticed that Sarah and Megan were getting ready to silently leave, but Sam looked at them and slowly shook her head. She didn’t want her new friends to leave their own kitchen, because of them.

” It’s okay, ” she mouthed.

Her left hand traveled up and her fingers started gently massaging the back of Jody’s neck. That seemed to have a calming effect and the sobs became less and less intense, until finally Jody let out a long, heartfelt sigh. Feeling completely exhausted.

” You two should get some sleep, ” Sarah’s voice broke the silence. ” We can talk later about what happened. And what we are going to do about it. You look like hell, Sam.”

A quick smile crossed Sam’s face and a little spark of humor found it’s way to her eyes.

” Gee, thanks, Sarah, ” she replied dryly. ” Funny, I’ve only been up since….one o’clock, yesterday afternoon. Guess I need a lot of sleep, huh?”

” Sam has a cut that has to be seen to, ” a strangled voice suddenly sounded from Sam’s shoulder. Jody lifted her face and looked at Megan with pleading eyes. ” Could you have a look at it, Meg? She didn’t let me do it before.”

” Because it’s just a scratch, ” Sam protested. ” It’s okay, really.”

” I’ll have a look at it anyway, ” Megan said, already on her way to one of the kitchen cabinets, where they kept their first aid kit.

Sam sighed and looked down at Jody, who was anything but getting ready to leave her lap. She was very comfortable and very snuggly and looked like a content little girl.

” You might have to go back to your own chair now, ” Sam deadpanned. ” Megan can’t have a look at my shoulder with you all draped around me.”

” Mmm, that’s a good point, ” Jody answered, not moving an inch.

Sam smiled and wiped away a strand of hair that obscured her view of a pair of green eyes. She was happy to see that the dull, hollow look that had been there before, was gone. Jody still looked very tired, her eyes were puffy from crying, but the little spark had returned.

” You can sit on my lap later, ” Sam teased. ” I can sing you a few nursery rhymes, if you want me to.”

Jody’s face went back to it’s original place, but Sam could feel her chuckle.

” That would be a sight to see, ” her friend answered. ” I’d love it.”

Megan had returned to the kitchen table and was rummaging through her first aid kit, pulling out different items and placing them on the table. Sam looked at it and her eyes widened.

” Megan, I didn’t get run over by a truck!”

” Well, with you a person never knows, ” Megan answered. ” That story of you climbing up those balconies somehow gave me the impression you are a bit of a daredevil. Can’t take any chances now, can I? McDonnell, scoot! Go sit on your own chair. You’re hogging my patient.”

Jody chuckled, but obediently left Sam’s lap to return to her own chair, while Megan hovered over Sam, casting her a stern look.

” Shirt has to come off, you know, ” she said, pointing at the bloodstain. ” Can’t reach it any other way. You are not shy, are you?”

Sam only snorted in reply and pulled her shirt over her head, revealing a long, red gash, that ran from the top of her shoulder to her collar bone. It wasn’t deep enough to need stitches, but still looked very nasty, with swollen, red welts around it.

” Looks bad, Sam, ” Megan said, narrowing her eyes. “Cleaning that out is going to hurt, I guess.”

Jody just gasped and sent Sam an annoyed look.

” Sam, you are so terrible! You should have someone have a look at that. That could get infected.”

” Someone’s looking at it now, ” Sam answered. ” It’s okay, honey, it looks worse than it is. Believe me.”

” Okay, Warrior Princess, brace yourself, ” Megan warned, while taking a swab with some alcohol to desinfect the cut.

Jody’s eyes were fixed on Sam’s face, constantly searching for any signs of pain, but only the occasional darkening or narrowing of her eyes gave away her discomfort.

” All done, ” Megan finally spoke, after covering up the cut with a sterile gauze. ” You need to change that a few times a day, Sam. You don’t want it to stick to the wound and have it bleeding all over again when you remove it.”

” Yes, nurse, ” Sam joked, putting her shirt back on. ” I’ll be right. Thanks.”

” Okay, you two, off to bed, ” Sarah said. ” You need to get some sleep, because we want to hear the full story later. Okay? Come on, I’ll show you your room.”

Obediently Sam and Jody got to their feet to follow Sarah into the hall. While passing Megan Jody stopped to give her friend a hug.

” Thanks for helping us out, Meg. You two are the best.”

” That’s okay, sweetie. We’re friends. Right? Now, hurry up and go to bed. You look like you could fall over any time.”

Jody smiled and followed Sarah and Sam into the hall, where they stopped in front of a door. Sarah opened it and stepped inside, letting her friends enter.

” Somehow I guessed you two wouldn’t mind sharing a room, ” she said with a twinkle in her eyes, pointing at the very comfortable looking double bed. She ignored Jody’s blush and opened the door of the wardrobe. ” Here’s towels, washing cloths, shirts, soap anything you need. The guest bathroom is through there, so, if you feel up to it you could take a shower. If you need anything, just let us know. All right? Please, make yourselves at home.”

” Thanks, Sarah, ” Jody said, hugging her friend. ” You and Megan are such good friends. Thank you.”

Sarah patted her back and smiled at Sam.

” Have some sleep, you two. We’ll see you later.”

She left the room and closed the door behind her. Leaving Sam and Jody alone. They stood there, in the middle of the room and suddenly Jody felt a bit awkward, but when Sam smiled at her the feeling disappeared, leaving her tired, but at peace with herself.

” I don’t know about you, but I just want to brush my teeth and go to sleep, ” she sighed, pushing back her hair.

” I’ll second that, ” Sam smiled. ” I am so tired I feel numb. You go ahead, brush your teeth, I’ll see if I can find a shirt that will fit me. Can’t sleep in this filthy, sorry excuse for a piece of clothing.”

Jody went into the bathroom and when she came back a few minutes later, Sam was already dressed in a clean shirt, that barely reached her hips. She smiled sheepishly when she saw Jody’s amused eyes and just shrugged her shoulders.

” This is the best I can do. I put your shirt on the bed, guess that will be a better fit.”

Jody nodded and yawned.

” Just don’t put your arms in the air, ” she joked. ” Or your shirt will go all the way up.”

” Very funny, ” Sam replied, entering the bathroom. ” Pigmy.”

” I heard that, ” Jody answered in mock anger. ” Beanpole.”

The only answer was half a choke, half a snort and Jody just grinned while climbing into bed. She stretched her exhausted body and when Sam came in she saw her friend already half asleep.

Sam got in bed on the other side and felt her whole body almost sighing in relief when it realized it was finally laying down. In a soft, comfortable bed. She stretched out her hand to brush away some reddish blond strands of hair and noticed a pair of very sleepy eyes watching her.

” Can I snuggle up?” Jody asked hopefully.

Sam didn’t answer, but extended her good arm and immediately Jody crept closer, until her head was resting on Sam’s shoulder, her arm wrapped around her waist.

” Oh, this feels so good, ” she sighed in pure contentment, closing her eyes. ” I’m gonna conk out, Sam, sorry…’bout…that.”

Amused, Sam noticed that Jody was already asleep. She smiled and gently kissed the forhead that was so close to her lips.

” Sleep tight, love, sweet dreams, ” she whispered, before closing her eyes.

Within minutes the only sound heard in the room, was the peaceful breathing of two people sleeping.

“I can’t believe this, I really can’t. Do I have to do everything myself ? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”

Joseph Michaels paced the room, casting a furious look at the two men that were standing near the door, ready to escape if needed. Fred was nervously plucking at his shirt, twirling it around between his fingers, while little Steven appeared calm, except for the rapid blinking of his eyes.

” The disks just weren’t there, Joe. I swear, I would have find them if they were.”

“I’m not only talking about those disks, ” Joe hissed between clenched teeth. ” How did you let them SURPRISE you like that, you IDIOT? God, you two are such amateurs. I should have done this myself. Just LOOK AT YOU.”

Little Steven gingerly touched his bruised nose and flinched at the contact. Sam had hit him pretty hard and although he was very angry about that, he still admired the Dutch woman for her strength and fast reflexes.

” I…I….I..didn’t see them coming, mr Michaels, ” Fred stammered. ” All of a sudden they were just there, they must have walked or something…”

” Or something, ” Joe cynically repeated. ” You two are so stupid, I……never mind. I’ll give you one more chance. ONE. Screw this up and you’re in REAL TROUBLE. GOT IT?”

Two heads nodded simultaneously and they both let out a releaved breath.

” Find out where those two went to. It’s obvious that Blondie carries the disks with her. I want them and I want them fast. I don’t care how you get them, got it? As long as you do. Just….don’t leave any mess behind. Clean up after yourselves. I don’t want the police sniffing around.

” Yes, Joe, ” Little Steven meekly answered, glad for getting a second chance. ” We will do it right this time.”

” You’d better, ” Joe growled. ” Get on with it. Move.”

His two errand boys quickly disappeared, carefully closing the door behind them. Leaving their boss staring outside the window, a worried crease between his eyebrows.

The sun was high in the sky, burning the earth it cast it’s light on. The heat had driven all bush life into hiding. Only the snakes and other reptiles were basking in the heat, warming their blood before going on their hunt for food. Occasionaly the sound of magpies crying out shattered the silence, followed by the distinct laughing call of a Kookaburra, celebrating the catch of a meal. Tranquility ruled, while a light breeze from the ocean stirred the always green leaves of the many trees. Nature was patiently waiting for the late hours of the afternoon, that would bring the most welcome cooling down, keeping the delicate balance between scorching and survival.

The room was almost dark. The big fan on the ceiling lazily turned around and around, providing the occupants of the room with a pleasant temperature, that allowed them to catch up on their much needed sleep. A curly blond head rested near a reddish blond one, their hair entangled due to their closeness. It was a perfectly peaceful picture, that was disturbed when a pair of sleepy blue eyes were opened to face the world around them.

Sam noticed she was not alone and carefully turned her head to look at the person she was sharing the bed with and who was curled up alongside her tall body. A head rested against her shoulder and one arm was possesively draped around her bare waist. She immediately realized the shirt she was wearing must have crept up, leaving her abdomen naked.

A small smile lit up her face when she admitted to herself that the position she was in, wasn’t all that bad. Jody was still fast asleep, her breathing deep and regular and the last thing Sam wanted, was to wake her up. But nature called and laying on her back, with the weight of her friend’s arm on her bladder wasn’t all that comfortable. Carefully she tried to free herself from the gentle grip, but immediately Jody stirred, mumbling something incoherent, tightening her grip. Sam winced and bit her lip in an attempt not to laugh.

This is not the way I imagined us waking up, sweetheart. In my fantasy I didn’t have a full bladder.

Again Sam tried to lift Jody’s arm, scooting to the edge of the bed and this time she was succesful. With a sigh of relief she got out of the bed and headed for the bathroom. When she came back a few minutes later, a pair of green eyes watched her walk in the room and followed her when she gingerly stepped back into bed.

” I am awake, you know, ” Jody said dryly, surprising Sam. ” You don’t have to tip toe around.”

Sam smiled and hit her pillow a few times, before laying down again.

” I’m sorry if I woke you, but I really had to go.”

” Some things never change, do they? ” Jody playfully snorted. ” I remember you waking me up almost every morning because ‘you had to go'”.

” Well, I can’t be held responsible for my bladder, ” Sam grinned. ” It has a mind of it’s own. And when it’s full, it’s full. Or, if you prefer: when you gotta go, you gotta go.”

Jody laughed and stretched her body, yawning wide, revealing a set of perfectly white teeth. She curled up again after that and cast Sam an affectionate look.

” Morning, ” she said, her eyes twinkling.

” Morning, ” Sam answered, not able to tear her eyes away from those beautiful green orbs. ” Did you have a good sleep?”

” Perfect, ” Jody sighed. ” Never slept better.”

And you my friend have a lot to do with that. I just loved the way I fell asleep, my head on your shoulder, your arm around me. It was divine. I could get used to that.

Sam smiled and just stared at the face that was so close, she could feel Jody’s breath on her skin. Neither of them moved for a long time. They just laid there, looking at each other from close range, revelling in each other’s closeness. Until they both moved as one, getting even closer, their lips only a breath apart. Tantalizing slow they drew closer, until finally their lips met for a kiss that took both their breaths away. It was a slow and very tender connection, that started almost hesitant, and gradually increased in passion. Jody’s hands traveled to Sam’s shoulders, pulling her closer, so she could wrap her arms around her neck. Jody moaned when she could feel Sam’s arm around her waist, pulling her on top of her. They took their time exploring one another, exchanging kisses that were filled with tenderness and passion, lighting a fire that they couldn’t deny much longer. When Sam felt the tip of Jody’s tongue brushing against her lips, a small whimper escaped and immediately Jody increased the pressure, feeling Sam’s grip on her body tighten. When the knee of a long leg was raised, Jody gasped and involuntarily, because her body had developed a mind of it’s own, she started grinding her hips, wanting to realease the constantly building pressure in the lower part of her body.

” O, God, Sam, ” she breathed, feeling the other woman’s hands guiding her hips. ” Sam, I…”

But she was interrupted by a pair of lips that hungrily seeked for her own and a strong, smooth tongue that entered her mouth, caressing her with such a wonderful tenderness it took her breath away.

When Sam increased the pressure, using her strong thigh, Jody suddenly went very still, motionless. Sam leaned back in the pillow and watched as Jody’s eyes stared at her with a glassy look, that quickly turned into pure ecstasy when her whole body started shivering, rocked to it’s core, when she came crashing down from the height Sam had taken her to.

Jody collapsed and disappeared in a pair of strong arms that held her close, idly stroking her back, while her thundering heart beat slowly settled down. They stayed like that for a very long time, until Jody slowly raised her head and looked into a pair of clear blue eyes, radiating so much love and tenderness it brought tears to her eyes.

” The things you do to me, Sam,” she sighed. “All I need is one touch from you and…”

” And you’re off, ” Sam smiled, with a twinkle in her eyes. “I like that part of you, honey. I like being the one who can do that to you. You are so beautiful when you climax, I missed that the last time, it was too dark.”

Jody chuckled and buried her face against the soft skin of Sam’s neck. Sighing in pure contentment, feeling very well loved and totally relaxed.

“I feel so comfortable with you, that hasn’t changed a bit over the years, ” she mumbled, placing tiny kisses on every part of skin she was able to reach.

“I’m glad, ” Sam answered, twirling a strand of hair between her fingers, enjoying the sensations that were making her body feel so much alive. She buried her face in the fragrant hair that was tickling her face and closed her eyes, soaking up the attention she was receiving.

” Sam, do you think that……”

A high pitched scream and the sound of breaking glass shattered the silence. They were frozen in place, but that only lasted a moment and with a speed born from an adrenaline rush they both jumped out of bed to run towards the source of the noise.

Sam was the first one who entered the kitchen. Astonished she watched Megan stand on top of the kitchen table, her face pale, beads of sweat on her forehead.

” What the heck…” Jody asked, stepping inside, past Sam.

With trembling fingers the dark haired woman pointed towards the floor, near the kitchen cabinet. Jody followed her gaze and jumped back in reaction when she saw the outline of a huge snake.

“Where’s Bindi?” she asked, refering to the cattle dog, that was an exeptional good snake catcher.

” Sarah took him into town, ” Megan answered with a shaky voice. ” Jody, please get rid of that thing, you know I hate them.”

Jody took a deep breath and stepped forward, but was held back by Sam’s firm grip on her arm.

” What are you doing? ” the blond woman asked, trying to divide her attention between her firiend and the snake, who was curiosly examining one of the cabinets, using it’s little tongue to guide the way.

” I’ll get rid of him, ” Jody explained in a very matter of fact kind of way.

” How?”

Jody looked up and was surprised to see a pair of anxious blue eyes.

” Tell him to leave? ” she joked.

Sam didn’t appreciate that remark and a small crease appeared in her fore head.

” Don’t worry, Sam, I’ll just…catch him and throw him out.”

” How? With your hands? What if he bites?”

” He won’t bite, ” Jody snorted, full of self confidence. ” He’s just a carpet snake, they’re harmless.”

” Are you sure?”

” Yes, Jody, ” Megan whispered. ” How do you know it’s not one of those cross breds? He might be partly brown snake, for all you know.”

” Come off it, ” Jody laughed. ” You two are terrible. But, all right, I won’t pick him up. Honey, give me that broom, will you?”

Sam cast a suspicious look at the requested item and raised an eyebrow.

” What are you going to do with that? Brush him to death?”

Slightly annoyed Jody took the stick out of her hands and shook her head.

” I am going to make him leave, all right? I am not going to kill him. He’s beautiful and he’s harmless. You’ll see.”

” I don’t want him around the house, Jody, ” Megan cried out. ” He has to go.”

With a sigh Jody turned around and disappeared into the bedroom, to return with an empty pillow case. With a few steps she was standing near the snake, carefully observing it’s coloring.

“It’s a carpet snake, ” she stated, carefully poking the reptile with the end of the broom. The snake stirred and raised it’s head, looking for his adversary, but didn’t attempt to strike.

” Come here, Steve Irwin, ” Jody called Sam. ” Hold that pillow case, so we can put him in and get him out.”

Sam stepped closer, constantly looking at the snake, not at all comfortable with the situation. She hated to admit it, but snakes gave her the chills.

” Can I hold the stick? ” she asked, a bit sheepishly.

Jody looked up and tried to hide the smirk that was creeping up her face.

” Okay, honey, just gently push him towards me, I will put him in the case, all right?”

Sam just nodded and took the broom out of Jody’s hands, obediently pushing the snake towards the pillow case. The snake was clearly annoyed, but let himself be pushed away and within minutes he was scooped up in the cotton cloth, never knowing what hit him.

” See, I told you, no worries, ” Jody chuckled. ” He was as scared as you were.”

” Well, I’m glad you’ve got him, ” Megan sighed, climbing off the table. ” They give me the creeps.”

” They usually travel together, ” Jody deadpanned, scanning the floor with her eyes.

Megan missed the mischievous twinkle and quickly hopped back on the table, nervously clutching her hands.

” I don’t know much about snakes, but you are lying, ” Sam chuckled, tickling Jody’s ribs.

Jody laughed and motioned Megan to climb down.

” It’s okay, Meg. I was just teasing. You can relax now, I will put him back into the bush.”

” Please, ” Megan sighed, wiping her forehead. ” I can’t believe this. The dog is always here and just when Sarah decides to take him with her, a snake pops up.”

” Maybe that was the reason, ” Sam dryly replied, watching Jody walk outside, crossing the garden to put the snake away.

Megan followed her gaze an unsuccesfully tried to hide a smile.

” I didn’t wake you up, did I? I mean, the both of you are not exactly fully dressed yet.”

For the very first time Sam realized both she and Jody were just wearing a shirt and panties. She looked down her tall body and started chuckling when she saw her naked legs and bare feet.

” We’d better get dressed, I guess, ” she replied. ” Can’t walk around like this.”

She cast a look at her red haired friend and smiled. Jody was dressed in a dark green shirt and skin colored panties. Her slim, but muscular legs were uncovered and Sam had to admit it was a beautiful sight to see her walk through the grass, clad in almost nothing.

” I hope I didn’t interrupt anything? ” Megan chuckled, seeing the look on Sam’s face.

” Actually, you did, ” Sam replied honest. ” But I guess it was a worthy cause. I’m not that fond of snakes myself.”

“So, are you serious? ”

Sam turned to Megan, a puzzled look on her face. The other woman didn’t avoid the scrutinizing stare, but just returned it with an honest expression in her dark brown eyes.

” What do you mean?”

” Are you serious about Jody? ” Megan asked, very straightforward. ” I don’t think she could hack it if she lost you again, Sam.”

” Neither could I, ” Sam softly answered. ” There are still a lot of things to work out, but I don’t want to lose her, Megan. Not again.”

Megan nodded and was touched by the pained expression on Sam’s face. She put a hand on the other woman’s arm and gave her a reassuring squeeze.

” I’m sure you two will work it out, ” she smiled, watching Jody enter the varandah. ” It’s about time someone makes her happy. I know I couldn’t. She’s always been yours Sam, always.”

” Damnit, Steve, we’ve been sitting here for hours now and nothing has happened. I feel like a complete idiot.”

” You look like one too, ” Little Steven replied, not taking his eyes off the entrance of the apartment building.

” This doesn’t get us anywhere, we have to find those sheila’s! If we don’t the boss will have us for breakfast.”

” I don’t think he will have us for breakfast, Freddy boy. But the sharks will.”

Fred glanced at his companion and felt all color leave his face. All of a sudden he felt sick to his stomach and he had to swallow a few times to get rid of the bile that was rising in his throat. Little Steven’s face showed no emotion at all and Fred wondered if he had been serious.

” You’re….kidding. Right?” he stammered. ” Surely the boss wouldn’t…”

” He would, ” was the crisp answer. ” That’s why I don’t want to screw this up, you understand? I don’t want to end up as shark food. So we just stay right here and wait. They will come back eventually and when they do, they’re ours.”

” So, what will we do then? I mean, we can’t just….I don’t know.”

” Fred, has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?”

” No, but…”

” Shut up, Fred. I can’t ….” Little Steven suddenly narrowed his eyes and a small smile appeared.

” I’ll be damned….look who’s there.”

Fred followed his gaze and saw a young woman step out of a car in front of the apartment building. She was followed by a tall man.

” Wow, she’s hot looking, ” Fred chuckled. ” Look at those legs will you, they go on forever. You know her?”

” That’s McDonnells sister. I’ve seen them together once. She’s not the kind of woman you forget.”

” Who’s the bloke?”

” I don’t know, could be a brother, he does look like that red head. Our patience is rewarded, Freddy boy.”

” What are we going to do now? You reckon they know where blondie is?”

” Yup. We stay here and when they come out we will just follow them. I bet they will lead us just to the right place.”

” Sometimes I really don’t understand you, Luce, ” Gerald sighed. ” Is it your curiosity? Why do you want to have a look at Jody’s place when you know it’s wrecked?”

” Because…..okay, I’m curious, all right! I still can’t believe it, I have to see it with my own two eyes. I don’t understand why a person would do something like that.”

Lucy pushed open the door and entered the floor her sister’s apartment was located on. The hallway was quiet and there was no evidence of the things that had been taken place the night before. She took out the key that Jody once gave her and opened the door.

” Oh my God, ” she exclaimed, grabbing her brother by his arm. ” Look at that.”

Gerald peered inside and felt his stomach drop. The devestation was complete and he felt the tears stinging when he realized his sister had just lost everything that she owned.

” Better not go inside, ” he whispered. ” The police might not be finished here.”

” Who could do such a thing?” Lucy asked with a strained voice. ” It’s not like Jody has enemies. God, Ger, she’s the kindest person I know. It’s not fair.”

” No, it isn’t, ” Gerald answered, closing the door and guiding his sister back to the elevator. ” Maybe Jody can tell us more about this. We just go to Megan and Sarah’s, okay? ”

Sam was sitting on the varandah, her feet propped up a chair in front of her, her laptop resting on her knees. She was silently scanning all the data that scrolled by, while her brain processed every bit of information she could grasp. Her eyes were fixed on the screen and she was so absorbed that she didn’t seem to notice someone was observing her.

Jody was studying her friend’s face with keen interest, noticing every little twitch, frown and narrowing of the eyes. She loved watching Sam and it wasn’t something she could often induldge in, because her friend usually focused completely on her. Jody smiled when Sam rubbed her nose, a gesture she had come to known as one of utter concentration. She bit her lip and Jody could hear her suck in some air. A smile lit up her face and suddenly a pair of blue eyes captured her whole.

” You like what you see? ” Sam purred, amused by the surprised look in Jody’s eyes.

” Oh, yes, ” Jody laughed. ” I like it a lot. Goodness, Sam, I thought you were concentrating.”

” I was, ” Sam agreed, with a twinkle in her eyes. ” But I could feel your eyes all over me and that sort of makes it harder to focus.”

” Did you find anything? ”

” I think I did. If you’ll give me five more minutes I think I can show you.”

” Fair enough, ” Jody smiled. ” I’ll get you something to drink. What would you like?”

” Mmm…what? Oh, I liked that lemon squash thing.”

” Okay, I’ll get you some.” Jody agreed, getting to her feet. ” Lucy and Ger might be here soon. She said they would come.”

Sam just nodded and lookes at her screen again, not responding to her friend’s words. But suddenly a thought hit her and immediately she jumped to her feet, nearly dropping her laptop.

” Jody!”

Jody who was just entering the kitchen turned around when she heard the anxiety in Sam’s voice. She frowned when she saw a pair of frightened blue eyes.

” Sam, what’s…”

” Lucy and Ger are coming? Now?”

” Yes, ” Jody answered, totally confused because of her friend’s reaction. ” Sam, what is it?”

” You think Lucy would have had a look at your apartment?”

” She’s curious enough, ” Jody smirked. ” So, that’s possible, I…….”

She fell silent when her brain registered her words, leaving frightening possibilities. Her face went pale and suddenly very nervous she clenched her hands into fists.

” Sam, you don’t think that….?” She asked, moistening her lips, afraid to finish her sentence.

” I don’t know. But I don’t want to take any risk, ” Sam answered with a grim look. ” Where’s my cell phone? It might not be too late.”
Part 5
Gerald’s green eyes widened when his sister slammed the breaks just in time to avoid running into a pedestrian. In reaction he extended his right leg like he was driving the car himself. Lucy just chuckled.

” Gee, Luce, do you have to do that? Where did you learn how to drive? You are going to kill me like this.”

” Don’t worry little brother, ” Lucy grinned, patting him on the knee. ” I’ve got everything under control. You don’t think I would let anything happen to my little brother, now, do you?”

” I’m not sure about that, ” Gerald mumbled, not feeling very comfortable and certainly not safe.

Lucy threw her head back and just laughed, always enjoying teasing her siblings with her fast and wild driving. Jody got genuinely upset with her a few times and only when she threatened to get out of the car and walk, Lucy had slowed down.

There was a lot of traffic, as usual and they made slow progress, much to Lucy’s annoyance.

” This is gonna take forever, ” she sighed, pointing at all the cars in front of them.

” Good exercise for your patience, ” Gerald remarked, still recovering from the scare she had given him just a few minutes before.

” You are just grumpy, ” Lucy smirked. ” Why is that men always think they are better drivers than women? You know, Matt and dad have had a few accidents, but Jody and I never did run into anything.”

” Yet, ” was Gerald’s wry reply. ” Just keep up driving like this and you will.”

” We’ll see, ” Lucy grinned, pulling up again.

” They are taking a right turn, Steve, off the highway ” Fred remarked, not taking his eyes off the red car, a couple of hundred feet in front of them. ” Where do you think they’re going?’

” How would I know?” Little Steven grumbled. ” We’ll see soon enough, won’t we? Just keep an eye on them. Jesus, this car in front of me keeps on changing lanes. He’s driving me bonkers.”

Fred nervously rubbed his hands together and quickly glanced at the man sitting next to him. Little Steven’s face had a very determined expression, his eyes were squinted and his lips pursed. He was definitely not screwing up this time and that knowledge made Fred feel a lot better. They still might have a chance not to end up as shark bait. That thought made him nauseous and he felt his mouth go dry.

” Don’t go there, Fred. It’s no use. Just make sure you don’t fuck up again. Those Sheila’s are your lifeline, use them, regardless. This time it’s a matter of to eat or to be eaten. Literally.”

” I’m glad we only have to cross this section, ” Lucy sighed, pushing back her dark hair. ” There won’t be much traffic going up on Megan and Sarah’s road. Thank goodness. Where do all these people come from anyway?”

Gerald shrugged his shoulders and wanted to give his sister a reply, when her cell phone started buzzing.

” Will you take that, Bird? It’s in my purse. I don’t want to scare you by driving and calling.”

Gerald ignored the teasing and pulled Lucy’s purse from the back seat, grabbing the buzzing cell phone.

” Hello?”

” Hey, Gerald? It’s me, Sam.”

” Hey, Sam, ” Gerald smiled. ” What’s up? We’re nearly there, so, no use in wasting good money, huh?”

” Listen, Ger, ” the anxiety in Sam’s voice made Gerald sit up straight and he noticed Lucy shooting him a quizzical look. ” This might be very important. Did you and Luce go to Jody’s place, before coming here?”

” Well, actually we did. You know, Luce, she’s just too damn curious.”

” Where are you now?”

” We just left the Pacific Highway. We’re almost there.”

” Don’t ”

Gerald clenched the phone in his hand and furrowed his brows.

” What? But…”

” Tell Lucy to keep on driving, okay? ”

” But Sam..”

” Tell her, Gerald,” Sam’s voice was tense and Gerald could tell she was upset.

” Don’t go up to Megan’s Luce, ” he obediently said. ” I don’t know what the hell is going on, but Sam doesn’t want us there.”

” What? But why..?”

” I don’t know, just do it. I don’t want to piss off, Sam. She sounds very serious.”

” Gerald?”

” Still here, Sam. We just keep on driving. What is going on?”

” Someone might be following you, ” Sam explained. She suddenly sounded very tired. ” This guy that trashed the apartment. He got away last night and I’m afraid he didn’t find what he was looking for.”

” And what was that?”

” I’ll explain later, Bird. Okay?”

Gerald nodded, as if Sam could see him and cast a look in the rearview mirror. He saw nothing out of the ordinary.

” So, what do we do now?”

” I haven’t figured that out yet, Bird, ” Sam’s voice was a lot more relaxed and Gerald could actually hear a trace of humor in it. ” Just make sure you don’t go anywhere isolated. Just keep on driving. I’ll call you back. Okay?”

” Fine, Sam. Talk to you later.”

Gerald switched off the phone and sighed.

” This is like some damn police movie, ” he sighed. ” And you know what? I don’t like it. Sam thinks we might have someone tailing us. The guy that was at Pea’s place last night.”

” You’re kidding, ” Lucy reacted, immediately checking out her mirror. ” So, we have to keep on driving?”

” Yup, although that might seem a bit suspicious. Why don’t we find a crowded place where we can have a cuppa, or something? We’ll just wait for Sam to call back ”

Lucy bit her lip and nodded, still keeping an eye on her mirror.

” Sounds like a plan. ” she admitted with a smile. ” Just make sure you take the most expensive drink. Sam can pay for it later.”

A pair of worried green eyes followed all Sam’s movements when she switched off the phone, tossed it on the table and sank down in a chair. She raked her hands through her unruly hair and sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. Jody stepped closer and put her hand on Sam’s shoulder, feeling the tension in the muscles underneath the light blue cotton.

” They keep on driving?” she asked, softly stroking the fabric underneath her hand.

Sam nodded and grabbed the hand that was caressing her shoulder, rubbing her cheek against the soft skin. Immediately Jody’s other hand found it’s way to Sam’s neck, scratching gently.

” Now what?” she softly asked.

Sam didn’t immediately answer. She stared at the table in front of her, without seeing it. Her mind was racing to come up with all the answers.

What can I do? I’m sure he’s looking for us, for me, because I have the disks, although he might not know that. This is so much more serious than I thought it would be. Maybe I should have told Carol Wong about those disks last night. Maybe I should give her a call now. But what could I tell her? I’m not even sure Lucy and Gerald were followed. Dammit, what a mess!! How do I get us out of here? Maybe we should go, we can’t risk putting Sarah and Megan into danger. That wouldn’t be right. Maybe I should go by myself, so Jody can stay here. She’ll be safe as long as they don’t find out where she is. Mmm..that could work. I could try and find out who this guy is and what he wants. If I’m right about him I could call Carol. Get it all done and over with.

” Sam?” Jody asked for the third time, worried by the silence and the hand that was squeezing her fingers tight.

” Come here, Jody, ” Sam answered, pulling her in the chair next to her. She took both Jody’s hands in her own, rubbing her skin with her thumbs.

” Sam?”

Jody saw the somber expression on her friend’s face and somehow knew she didn’t want to hear what she was about to say.

” I think I have a plan, ” Sam began, avoiding the pleading green eyes that were so close to her own. ” Listen and, please, let me finish first, okay?”

Now I definitely know I’m not going to like what she is has in mind. Come on, Sam, what is it?

” We are not sure about anything, right now. Right? I mean, there was somebody looking for something in your apartment last night and we think he was after the disks, but we can’t tell for sure. We also don’t really know if Lucy and Gerald were followed. I think they were, but we’re not sure. Right? So, here’s what I want to do. I’ll call Lucy and Gerald and tell them to go to that little restaurant just off the Highway, you know the one, when you turn right? I’ll go there myself and keep an eye on the place. Maybe I can see if someone is following them. And if they do I can try to find out who he is and what he wants.” Sam raised her hand to prevent Jody from speaking and softly squeezed her hand. ” I want you to stay with Megan and Sarah. You will be safe here. I will come back as soon as I’ve got the information I need. I promise.”

“No, Sam, ” Jody’s eyes were blazing and Sam knew what that meant. Trouble. ” I will come with you.”

” Jody listen, ” Sam tried to sound as reasonable as she could. ” My guess is that he or they know you. They have seen you. They might have seen me too, but that was not for long. When they see us together, we will stand out like…a grizzly in the snow.”

That last remark was meant to be a joke, but Jody ignored it completely, too upset with the plan her friend had come up with.

” Sam, I don’t think….,” she argued, but Sam interrupted.

” Jody, you will stay here and I will go. By myself. Please, don’t make this harder than it already is.”

Jody looked into a pair of pleading blue eyes, but was too irritated to see the concern.

” Have it your way, ” she snapped, pulling her hands from Sam’s.

She jumped up and without saying another word she disappeared into the house, never looking back and missing the pained expression on Sam’s face.

Megan, who was still in the kitchen, saw Jody barging in but didn’t even have the chance to ask what was wrong. The angry young woman slammed the door of the bedroom behind her, causing a pair of soulful brown eyes to stare at the wooden barrier with astonishment.

Megan glanced outside to see Sam pacing the verandah with a grim look on her face.

” Oh, this doesn’t look good, ” she whispered to herself, tossing the towel in the sink and heading outside.

” Sam?” she carefully asked. ” What’s wrong?”

Sam turned to look at the dark haired woman and tried to smile, but failed miserably. All she could come up with was a pained grimace. She shrugged her shoulders and buried her hands in the pockets of her shorts, to hide the trembling of her fingers.

” Apparently we have a disagreement.”

In a few words she told Megan about what had happened and what she was planning to do. Megan listened attentively and nodded in approval when Sam finished her story.

” Sounds sensible, ” she agreed.

” Try and tell Jody, ” Sam snorted. ” God, Megan, she can be so stubborn!! All I want to do is keep her safe. Why doesn’t she understand that?”

” Because she loves you, Sam,” was the simple answer. ” She doesn’t want anything to happen to you.”

” It won’t. I’m not stupid. I only want to check the place out, see if I can come up with something, that’s all. I don’t have the intention to put myself in danger, I’m not one of those flippin’ Charlie’s Angels.”

They’d wish. You would be a gorgeous one.

” You want me to have a talk to her? I know that stubborn streak of hers, you know. Dealt with it a couple of times myself.”

” Be my guest, ” Sam sighed, flopping down in one of the chairs, making it squeak in protest. ” Nothing I can say that will make a difference.”

Jody was sitting against the headboard of the bed. Her arms wrapped around her pulled up knees. She stared at the wall, biting her lip in order to keep the tears away.

Why do you treat me like a little kid, Sam? I am big enough to look after myself, you know. I have been doing that for years now. And I’m not that scared easily. You think I have nothing to do with this? Well, let me tell you, it was my apartment they trashed. I was the one who got those disks in the first place. It was my office they set on fire. I don’t need you to be my guardian angel, I want you to be my friend. And I don’t want you to get hurt.

The tears she bravely tried to swallow away came anyhow and with an annoyed gesture she wiped them away. A soft knock made her look up, but before she could react, the door was opened and Megan stepped inside, carefully closing the door behind her.

” Did Sam send you?” Jody quickly asked, not at all pleased by that idea.

” No, ” Megan asked. ” I volunteered to step into the lion’s pit myself. I am familiar with your sharp teeth, my friend.”

Megan took a seat on the bed, opposite her friend and looked at her sternly.

” Sam is right, you know, ” she remarked.

” Yeah, just side with her, ” Jody sneered. ” I need that.”

Megan ignored that remark and if Jody would have looked at her, she would have seen a small smile, tugging at the corner of her mouth.

” What’s the real problem, Pea?”

Jody’s fingers did a good job twitching her shirt out of proportion and gently Megan covered the fidgeting fingers with her own. Immediately they grabbed hold of hers, holding her tight.

” I am scared, Megs.” Jody finally whispered, voicing her feelings.

” Of what?”

Jody swallowed hard and moistened her lips before answering.

” I don’t want to sound melodramatic, or something, but I don’t want to lose her. That guy last night pulled a knife on her, for crying out loud. I can’t let her go by herself.”

” Don’t you trust her, Jo? She says she won’t take any chances. I believe her.”

” I do trust Sam, I don’t trust the rest of the world,” Jody sighed. ” If I lose her I’d die.”

A pair of emerald green eyes searched Megan’s face for recognition and she was rewarded with a smile.

” Then tell her that. It will make her even more careful. And you have to realize you are not helping her by sitting here and sulk. You don’t want her to worry about you, now do you?”

Jody bent her head in defeat and felt a soft hand brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. She knew Megan was right. She had been acting like a spoiled little brat, who threw a tantrum, because she didn’t get what she wanted. Jody softly groaned and heard Megan chuckle in response.

“Embarrassing, huh?” Megan smiled. ” Don’t worry, sweetie, I’m sure she’ll forgive you. Just doing that eye-batting trick of yours always worked with me.”

Jody looked up at her friend and laughed at the memory.

” Might not work with Sam, though,” she replied.

” Heck, woman, ” Megan joked. ” I’m convinced you don’t even need it. She’s crazy about you, just in case you hadn’t noticed. Come on, go see her, before that laptop is wrecked. She was rattling those keys like they are her worst enemy.”

Jody laughed and jumped up, giving Megan a heartfelt hug, before leaving the room, heading for the verandah.

Sam was staring at the screen in front of her, but the data that scrolled by was constantly disturbed by the image of a pair of angry green eyes, blazing with fire and indignation. She tried to focus on the puzzle in front of her, but somehow couldn’t concentrate. Frustrated she shoved the laptop away from her, jumping up, with the intention to take a walk.

When she had her foot on the first step of the stairs, the kitchen door was opened and a subdued looking Jody appeared. She didn’t try to avoid Sam’s eyes, but looked straight back, her eyes showing everything Sam needed to know.

Sam stepped back onto the verandah and smiled, opening her arms. Jody didn’t need further encouragement. She almost dove into Sam’s embrace, hiding her face against a warm chest that echoed a rapid heart beat.

” I’m sorry, Sam, ” Jody whispered. ” I didn’t want to be mean, I just want you to be safe.”

” That’s exactly my intention, ” Sam answered, pulling her friend closer. ” Keeping you and me both safe.”

“I acted like a two-year-old, didn’t I? ”

” Mmm, I wouldn’t say that, ” Sam answered, the mirth evident in her voice. ” It was more like a three-year-old. There is a difference you know.”

” All right, I deserved that, ” Jody sighed, looking up into a pair of twinkling blue eyes. “I just…”

Her words were smothered by lips that captured hers in a long, passionate kiss. Immediately Jody’s arms were wrapped around Sam’s neck, pulling her closer, enthusiastically participating in the exchange.

“You know the best thing about arguing? ” Sam whispered, placing a trail of kisses along the soft, silky skin of a shapely neck. ” Making up afterwards.”

Jody smiled and softly moaned when Sam playfully nipped a particular sensitive spot behind her ear.

” You like that, huh?” Sam purred, always happy to discover new areas to explore. ” I’ll have to make a mental note of that.”

” I bet you would, ” Jody answered, squirming in her arms. ” But if you keep this up, Dutchie, my brother and sister won’t be too pleased.”

” You have a point there, ” Sam smiled, kissing Jody on the nose. ” But I’ll be back.”

” Oh, I count on that, ” was the whispered answer. ” Just hurry, will ya?”

” All right, girls, ” Megan sighed, letting herself fall down on one of the kitchen chairs. ” You promised us the full story as soon as Sarah would be back. Spill it.”

Her dark eyes looked from Sam to Jody and back again, inviting them to tell their story. Sarah had taken a seat next to her and Megan could feel a soft hand squeezing her knee. She glanced aside to see a pair of gray eyes radiating warm affection. With a smile Megan put her hand over Sarah’s, leaving it there, gently stroking the skin underneath her hand.

” Well, I guess I have to start at the beginning, ” Jody answered. ” Last Thursday I…my God, it’s only been three days ago, it seems so much longer. Anyway, last Thursday…”

With a clear voice Jody told her friends about her running into Sam at The Reef, the way her father had deliberately drove them apart, the messing with the accounts, the fire, their suspicions and the way her apartment was methodically destroyed. After relating the story there was a long silence and both Sarah and Megan looked at the women across the table with a horrified expression in their eyes.

” Honey, you’re crushing my fingers, ” Sarah friendly told Megan, who had unconsciously tightened her grip on Sarah’s hand. ” I need some blood there.”

” Oh, I’m sorry, baby, ” Megan nervously chuckled, immediately letting go of the bloodless digits. ” Good grief, I can hardly believe this, Jody. But aren’t the police doing something?

Jody cast a quick look at Sam and the other women saw her hesitate.

” They are, in a way, ” Sam replied, speaking for the first time. ” I didn’t tell them about the disks yet, though.”

” But, Sam, why?” Sarah asked, full of surprise. ” It seems they might be the keys to this whole mess.”

” I know,” Sam replied. ” But I wanted to be sure there was something to be found on them.”

” Is there?” Megan curiously asked.

Sam looked at Jody, silently apologizing for the way her friend was about to hear her discoveries. But Jody smiled and nodded, encouraging Sam to continue.

“Well, ” Sam started, clearing her throat. ” At first I thought there was nothing to be seen, but as I was pulling apart the data I discovered a few remarkable things. Every employer that works for our company has his own number. It’s used for identification. It consists of day of employment combined with date and year of birth and a gender code. That way, it’s nearly impossible to have two employees with exactly the same identification number. I discovered that at The Reef, a few people work with exactly the same employer identification number.”

” What? ” Jody reacted, completely astonished. ” But…how?”

” I don’t know ‘how’ yet, but I know somebody has been inventing five employees, who do not exist. I emailed the financial records on that to my brother and hope he can quickly work it out. My guess is those fake ID’s were a way to draw away money. I ran into two different bank accounts that were both connected with all five employee numbers. Makes you wonder, huh?”

” But, Sam, why didn’t I see that? I’ve been looking through them numerous times.” Jody exclaimed.

” Because they were hidden in various sub directories, honey. It took me quite a while to find them. Only when I started to put them together I could see there was something wrong.”

” When will you tell the police all this, Sam? ” Sarah asked. ” This is fraud, pure and simple.”

” I’ll wait for Tom’s report on it first and I want to know who thinks those disks are important enough to be a threat to Jody. I refuse to put her in any kind of danger. It’s not like it’s a million-dollar scam. I mean, there’s a lot of money involved, but somehow I feel there is a lot more to it. I would like to have a talk with the illustrious William Jensen, see what his story is.”

Brian, one of the reception clerks of The Reef had just explained to a couple of German tourists how to get to the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary. He looked at the entrance where a familiar, but rarely seen figure appeared. His eyes widened when he saw his manager. And on a Sunday. It took him a lot of effort to hide his surprise and he politely smiled when William Jensen approached his desk.

” Hello Brian, ” William Jensen greeted the young man with a smile that never reached his eyes. ” Everything all right? No problem?”

” Um…no, sir, no, everything is under control, ” Brian quickly answered, trying to regain his composure. ” No problems. The office wing is closed, due to the fire the other day, but the guest that was up there checked out.”

William Jensen looked up, a crease in hid forehead.

” Did we have a guest in the executive room? Who?”

Brian knew he was not allowed to give any information about guests to anyone, but William Jensen was his superior. That would surely be allowed.

” A Dutch woman, sir. Jennifer DeWit.”

” From Stevens Inc.?”

” Uh…yes, sir, she did have an employee identification.”

” Do you have a copy?”

” Well, we do…but…”

” Show me.”

William Jensen stretched his hand out and gave Brian a stern look, apparently not in the mood to discuss the need of his request.

With flushed cheeks the young clerk rummaged through the file cabinet underneath his desk. Jody was the one who always took care of the copies they made from the various passports. Destroying them when guests checked out. But since she had not been at work since Friday they were still filed in one of the drawers.

Reluctantly Brian handed the copy of Sam’s employee ID to his superior.

William Jensen nearly pulled it out of his hands and eagerly cast a look at the paper. He immediately felt the blood drain from his face when he recognized the black and white picture. He pursed his lips and tried to stop his hands from trembling. Just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, the daughter of the boss came for a visit. He recognized her from a picture he had seen in one of Stevens Inc.’s business magazines. She worked for her father. He didn’t have to wonder why she used a different name. They had find out. And she had been sent to check on the accounts.

William Jensen swallowed hard when he folded the sheet of paper and put it in his pocket, ignoring Brian’s curious gaze.

” I need the key to the safe, Brian.”

” Um…Jody said….”

” I don’t care what Jody said. I’m the manager here and I want the key to the safe. I have to make a deposit. Can’t have too much money lying around.”

The fact that it was a Sunday had apparently escaped his attention, but Brian didn’t dare object. He didn’t know his manager very well, because he usually dealt with Jody, but he didn’t want to risk losing his job. He handed over the key and silently watched his superior fidgeting with it for a while.

“Where is Jody anyway? ” William Jensen finally asked.

” It’s Sunday sir, she had the weekend off. Besides, they broke in into her apartment yesterday. I think she’s staying with family right now.”

William Jensen felt his stomach rebel and he tried to swallow away a sudden feeling of nausea.

” They broke in into her apartment? Yesterday?”

” Yes, sir. Nick was on duty and he told us Jody had called to bring over some coffee. They had to wait for the police.”

” That…Jennifer DeWit, was she there as well?”

Brian cast down his eyes and hesitated only for one moment.

” Miss DeWit was there as well, yes.” Except Nick said her name is Sam Stevens and not Jennifer DeWit. But somehow I feel I shouldn’t tell you this.

” Right, ” William Jensen drawled. ” Thanks Brian.”

He turned around and quickly walked towards the stairs that were leading to the third floor, where the safe was.

My God, everything just goes wrong! The daughter of the boss shows up. And now they’re after Jody. Joe was right, she must have those disks. Dammit! I never thought she would find out, let alone copy the freaking files. Jesus, Joe is relentless, Jody wouldn’t stand a chance. She doesn’t know what she got herself in to. Maybe I should warn her? I mean, she’s a very nice person, she’s honest. It’s not her fault I got myself into this mess. But when I warn her, I have to explain why. I can’t do that. I have to get myself out of this situation. I have to think about myself, my family. God, Cheryl doesn’t know anything. How could I tell her? I just need two more days. One big win at the racetracks and I’m home free. I can do it. I know I can. I have to. It will all be over by Wednesday. I can do this.

” Okay, Sam, are you all set? ” Sarah asked, looking at the taller woman with a very serious expression on her face.

Sam nodded, trying hard not to see the anxiety in Jody’s eyes, who tried to hide the fear and tried to ignore the knots in her stomach.

” I called Lucy. They will just stay where they are and wait at the restaurant until they hear from me.”

Sarah shot a glance at Megan and smiled at her partner.

” I’ll drop Sam off and will come back immediately. All right?”

” That’s okay, sweetie, Jody and I won’t go anywhere. ” Megan took Sarah’s hand and pulled her with her to the driveway. ” I’ll walk you to the car.”

Jody stared at her disappearing friends and chuckled in spite of her nervousness.

” That was not even a hint, ” she remarked.

Sam smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

” It’s not very subtle, ” she agreed. ” But I appreciate it just the same.”

She stretched out her hand and grabbed the other woman’s shoulder, pulling her closer.

With a heartfelt sigh Jody wrapped her arms around Sam’s waist, resting her head against a blue clad shoulder.

” You’ll be careful, won’t you?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

” I will, ” Sam solemnly pledged. ” I promise. I’ll have a look around. I might even be wrong about all this, maybe it’s just my imagination running wild.”

I doubt it, Sam, I know you better than that.

” Maybe, ” Jody whispered, not at all convinced.

She pulled her head back to look up in Sam’s eyes. For a long moment they stared at each other, silently exchanging feelings and promises that were not put into words yet.

” You’d better go, ” Jody finally said. ” It’s not getting easier, besides the sooner you’ll go, the sooner you’ll be back. Right?”

” Right, ” Sam smiled.

She ducked her head and captured Jody’s lips for a lingering kiss. They took their time, thoroughly exploring each other’s softness. It was Sam who finally broke the contact.

” I’ll be back as soon as I can, ” she whispered, kissing the freckled nose in front of her.

She quickly turned around and walked to Sarah who was patiently waiting for her, not once looking back.

Jody stared at the disappearing form of her tall friend, biting back tears, remembering the last time she had felt that lost

All night long she had not been able to sleep. The hours and minutes seemed to crawl and the darkness of the night just refused to make way for the early dawn. Jody had spent most of the night on a chair near the window of her bedroom, staring outside, not able to enjoy the beauty of the millions of stars or the way the moonlight caught the trees in a silvery light.

Her stomach was tied in knots every time she realized what she was about to do, leaving her family. She knew her father would disown her for what she was about to do, but she felt he had left her no choice. Deep down inside Jody knew it was only her father who despised her for loving Sam, but losing her whole family would be the consequence of leaving. Lucy had assured her she would never abandon her, but Jody knew that, as long as her sister would live at home, her father would never allow her to visit her older sister. But how could a feeling that came so natural to her be wrong? Falling in love with Sam had been a revelation, showing Jody parts of herself that she knew had always been there. It had made her at peace with herself, realizing she had discovered her most inner self. She couldn’t remember feeling so whole. So complete.

Jody felt a lump in her throat and tried to bite back the tears that were stinging her eyes. They came anyway. She silently cried over the loss of her home, the uncertainty of the future and the pain of being forced to make decisions, that should not have been an issue if only there would have been more understanding. For the first time in her life she felt lost and truly lonely. Caught between two loves that somehow couldn’t integrate. Leaving her without the loving support of her family, the only safe place she had ever known, except for Sam’s arms.

“Fiona, please, stop whining. We don’t have time to visit your sister. I’ve got to do some grocery shopping and after that we go and see your father. Maybe next time.”

Joan McDonnell cast a look in her rearview mirror and sighed when she saw the unhappy face of her youngest daughter. She knew her fourteen-year-old adored her eldest sister, whom she didn’t see that often. It was hard on the teenager, living with just an older brother and a very strict father. Fiona was as rebellious as Lucy has been and Joan often felt like she was caught between two fires, not able to take sides. She respected the rules her husband had installed, but often felt sorry for her children, afraid all the rules and regulations would turn them away from their parents one day. Fiona was as stubborn and outspoken as Lucy, which had gotten her in trouble more times than her mother could count.

” Why don’t we give Jody a call later, ask her if it’s all right when we visit tomorrow, when she’s at work. Maybe we can have lunch together.”

Joan McDonnell realized the fact that her husband was still admitted in the hospital gave her a lot more freedom to unfold certain initiatives, like visiting her daughter, something she normally wasn’t able to do. Deep down inside she felt a little guilty about this infidelity, but on the other hand she appreciated the freedom the absence of David gave her.

Fiona’s face lit up by a brilliant smile and she looked at her mother in eager expectation.

” Can we?” she asked, afraid she had misinterpreted her mother’s proposal.

” Yes, we can, ” Joan smiled ” We’ll give your sister a call, okay?”

” Cool,” Fiona beamed, suddenly very happy at the prospect of spending some time with Jody, without the presence of her other siblings.

Joan smiled and took a right turn, off the Goldcoast Highway to visit one of the little deli shops she liked so much. She parked her car near ‘Dutch Treat’ and turned around in her seat to look at her youngest daughter.

” Are you coming in with me?”

” Can I have some licorice?”

” Are you trying to bribe your poor old mother?” Joanne laughed. ” Well, all right, you can have some, if you promise me you won’t eat it all at once like you did last time. You were sick all day.”

” I won’t,” Fiona grinned, stepping out of the car and following her mother inside ” I’m gonna enjoy it this time.”

.

Sarah drove her car onto the highway trying to relax and not to think about how uncomfortable Sam would be, folding her tall frame on the backseat to stay out of sight. Sarah glanced over her shoulder to look into a pair of amused blue eyes.

” You okay? Doesn’t look very comfy.”

” I’ll live, “Sam grinned, trying to extend one of her long legs to avoid a cramp. ” We’re nearly there anyway, aren’t we?”

” Yes, about two miles, I guess. I’ll park near the shops. You should be able to get out without being noticed. There are some souvenir shops as well, so you could look around for a while and keep an eye on Lucy and Bird. Oh, and Sam, in case you might need to….um….disappear, the shop at the corner has two entrances, one at the back.”

” Thanks, Sarah, ” Sam chuckled. ” Might come in handy. You never know.”

Sarah skillfully parked her car between two pickup trucks and quickly looked around. There were a lot of people around, but they were all very much interested in the items the shops displayed.

” You can get out, Sam.”

Sam opened the car door and extended her legs, grateful to be able to stretch her muscles again. She groaned when she felt a cramp in her right leg and firmly rubbed her affected calf, before putting her weight on it. She looked at Sarah, smiled and disappeared into the nearest shop, limping almost invisibly.

Sarah’s eyes followed her in and when she was convinced that Sam could not been seen anymore, she pulled up, only looking back once.

” Humm..’Dutch Treat’, how appropriate, ” she chuckled, before steering her car back on the road.

Sam decided to leisurely stroll along the isles, checking out the various items, before focusing on the restaurant across the street. She smiled when her eyes caught sight of a ‘Dr. Oetker’ butter biscuit mix, which was presented as a typical Dutch treat.

” Wouldn’t mind a slice of that right now, ” she mumbled, remembering the sweet soft taste of the cake. One of her mother’s specialties.

When she passed the licorice, acid drops and peppermint sticks she nearly collided with a dark haired teenager, who nearly jumped in front of her.

” Excuse me, ” the girl politely apologized, looking up at the tall woman.

Sam glanced down with a smile and immediately froze in place. The face that was looking up at her was the spitting, freckled image of Lucy McDonnell, which could only mean one thing.

Fiona was about to turn around and join her mother, who was talking to the shop owner, when a long forgotten memory surfaced.

” Okay, little bookworm, ” Sam laughed. ” Here you go.”

A pair of strong arms lifted the six-year-old girl effortlessly out of the water, only to throw her back in again.

Fiona sputtered and wiped the water out of her face, her eyes shining with pleasure.

” Sam, you’re much stronger than Jody, ” she called. ” Is that because you’re taller?”

” No, that’s because I like to eat spinach…and little girls,” Sam replied, diving in to grab the little girl by the ankles.

Fiona squeaked and tried to get away from the long arms that were trying to lift her up again. She enjoyed playing with Sam in the creek on their father’s property. Whenever her brothers tried to play games like that she never liked it. They were too rough, but with Sam it was different. Sam was gentle and never did anything that Fiona didn’t like. And she had much more patience.

Fiona glanced at her eldest sister, who was sitting on the grass, a bright smile on her face. She waved and received a blown kiss in return.

” Sam, why don’t we get Jody all wet? She’s been sitting there for ages now.” Fiona whispered like a true conspirator.

Sam followed her gaze and her smile deepened when she caught sight of her friend who was enjoying the scene in front of her, not aware of the sneaky little plans her little sister was coming up with.

A pair of dark green eyes searched her face and Sam couldn’t help smiling when she saw the mischief on Fiona’s face. She was very fond of Jody’s little sister had never made a secret about that.

” Let’s do it, ” she replied, her blue eyes sparkling.

” Sam, you’re great fun, ” Fiona chuckled. ” I wish you were my sister too.”

Sam saw the expression of the teenager’s face change from polite interest to astonishment. Without hesitation she quickly stepped past her, looking for the exit, only to see Joan McDonnell standing in front of the door, still talking to the shop owner, blocking her escape route.

Sam inwardly cursed and turned around to walk to the other site of the shop.

Good thing you didn’t come with me, Jody, or you would have had a lot of troubles. God, what do I do now? How do I get myself out of this mess?

She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed the number Jody had given her.

” You know what, Ger? If Sam doesn’t show up soon, I might fall asleep, ” Lucy yawned, finishing her third cup of coffee. ” And I’ll be using the bathroom a lot as well. I’m drinking way too much coffee here.”

Gerald extended his long legs, crossing them at the ankles and looked totally relaxed. His eyes lazily swept the ones passing by, thoroughly enjoying himself.

” Mmmm..” was his answer.

Lucy looked at him and her eyes were shining with mirth.

” For a marine biology student you sure don’t display a lot of intelligence. ‘Mmmm’, is that all you can say? I am trying to have a civilized conversation with you.”

” That’s your problem, sis, you talk too much,” Gerald answered with a grin.

Lucy was just about to playfully kick him when her cell phone rang.

” Finally, ‘ she sighed. ” Hello? Hi, Sam.”

Her smile suddenly disappeared and Gerald saw her almost jumping off her chair.

” You’re kidding! …..No, of course….we’ll be there in a minute. Hang on.”

With widened eyes she looked at her brother, who could barely contain his curiosity.

” Fiona and mom are in that shop. And so is Sam.”

Gerald needed no further encouragement. He raised his tall frame and almost ran away, leaving his muttering sister behind to pay the bill.

Fiona looked from her mother, who was still enjoying her animated discussion, to Sam, who was trying very hard not to look like she was hiding in the darkest corner she could find. Her intelligent eyes showed a keen interest in the blond woman, whom she knew, she was certain about that.

Sam could almost feel Fiona’s piercing eyes, but she refused to look up. The last thing she wanted was to cause a scene and blow her chance to find out who had been demolishing Jody’s apartment. And why. Her heart started racing when she noticed, from the corner of her eye, that Fiona was about to come her way. But at that same moment Gerald entered the shop and Sam was so relieved she let out a long breath.

” Hey mom!” he cried out in surprise. ” Hi, little mongrel, ” he greeted his sister, who turned around to face her brother and Sam made a mental not to recommend Gerald for the upcoming Academy Awards.

” What are two beautiful ladies like you, doing in a shop like this? ” he joked.

He kissed his mother on her cheek and grabbed her arm to lead her away from the door, chatting enthusiastically. Unnoticed by his family he winked at Sam, who quickly left her corner, to walk towards the exit. But when she had almost reached her goal, Fiona stepped in front of her.

” Hi, Sam, ” she whispered, her dark green eyes full of wonder.

Sam nervously looked at Gerald who was still guiding his mother away from the door. Sam’s mind was racing, not knowing how to react. She had always liked Fiona and knew those feeling used to be mutual. But what would the girl do when she acknowledged who she was. The pleading look in those big green eyes tipped the scales. Sam’s eyes held Fiona’s and a small smile tugged on the corner of her mouth.

” Hi, Fiona. Yeah, it’s me, ” she softly answered, smiling at the joy in the girl’s face. ” Listen, I can’t talk right now, but I will explain everything. Soon. Okay?”

Fiona nodded and glanced at her mother.

” Are you with Jody now?” she whispered.

Sam was struck by that question and could only nod. Realizing that six years olds must have a lot more sense than grown ups would give them credit for.

” I am, ” she replied. ” But I really have to go now.”

” Talk to you later, Sam. I’m glad you’re back.”

Sam reached out and gently touched Fiona’s cheek.

” It’s good to be back, ” she smiled. ” I will see you later. Okay?

” Okay. I won’t tell anyone.”

” Thanks. I appreciate that.”

Sam stepped outside and paced away, leaving behind an awestruck teenager, that had the widest smile plastered on her face.

The metal of the car reflected the scorching sun and almost prevented the occupants from breathing, because of the heat. To save fuel they had turned off the engine. The windows were rolled down, but there was no cooling breeze, just the heat that surrounded everything and was about to swallow them whole.

Fred had to really strain himself to keep his eyes open. The heat made him sleepy and constantly staring at the ongoing traffic didn’t help much either.

” I still don’t understand why you couldn’t have parked under a tree or something, ” he mumbled. ” This sun is killing us. Them two are nice and comfy over there, sipping away their cuppa. They’re not going anywhere, Steve.”

” Shut up, you idiot, ” Little Steven hissed. ” Can’t you see she on the phone? They might go somewhere soon. I reckon that blondie is very clever. She must have known they’ve been to the apartment. She knows we’re looking for her. Just be patient, will you?”

” Still think it’s a bloody waste of time, ” Fred grumbled, looking forward to a cold Foster’s. But he suddenly sat up straight when Gerald jumped up and hastily crossed the street.

” See?” Little Steven growled. ” Something might be up.”

They both watched Gerald enter one of the stores. It was a busy Sunday, with a lot of people enjoying themselves, strolling past the little souvenir shops. They missed the exit of a tall, blond woman, quickly leaving the store. She mingled with a little group of tourists and disappeared around the corner. However they did see Lucy follow her brother in a few minutes later.

Suddenly a slender, dark haired girl came outside, happily chewing on what appeared to be licorice. She casually leaned against one of the newsstands on the pavement and looked around with a bored expression on her freckled face.

” Look at that, Steve, ” Fred chuckled, forgetting the heat and his annoyance. ” That redhead’s sister shrunk. Wow, it’s a spitting image. You think it’s their kid sister?”

” No doubt, ” Little Steven replied with a grim look. ” And I’ll tell you something else, Freddy, she just became our one way ticket to the disks.”
Part 6
With her hands buried in the pockets of her slacks, Sam stared in the distance. To anybody passing her she looked like she was enjoying the view, casually leaning against one of the many trees providing shade. Her clear blue eyes contrasted with her tanned face and blond hair, providing a stunning look she wasn’t aware of.

Her brain was trying to come up with a plan to obtain the information she so desperately wanted. She knew Gerald and Lucy would take care of their mother and sister, so they would not accidently run into each other. But it had ruined her original plan. There was no way she could find out if somebody had been following Lucy and Gerald and who he or they would be.

Sam sighed heavily and shrugged her shoulders.

That’s plan A down the drain. Now what? Maybe I should go back and talk it over with Jody. Maybe I should give Carol Wong those disks and get it over with. Let them figure it out. As long as they make sure Jody is safe.

The tension left Sam’s face and was replaced by a soft smile when she thought about her friend and the way they had woken up that morning. Involuntarily her heart started pounding when she suddenly remembered the look in Jody’s eyes when she reached her climax. Sam swallowed hard when she felt a warm, tingling sensation spread through her body. With an impatient gesture she stood up straight, suddenly very aware of what she should do.

Let them all take a long walk of a short dock. I don’t want to spend my time being some pathetic excuse for a detective. I’ll get Carol Wong those disks and make sure Jody will be safe. They can fix up this mess by themselves.

Relieved because she reached a decision Sam walked back to the corner she quickly rounded a little while ago. She felt a lot better, knowing she would be back at her friends’ house, where Jody would be waiting for her. With a happy little bounce in her step, Sam walked around the corner. Immediately her sharp eyes noticed the scene in front of her and with catlike grace she stepped back behind a newsstand, out of sight.

Fiona was still enjoying the soft, salty taste of her licorice, when a car pulled up in front of her. Her green eyes looked at the driver and his passenger and almost invisibly she raised one eyebrow. Just like her older sister would have done.

The sight of the chewing fourteen year old, with the totally bored expression on her face nearly made Fred burst out in laughter. She was a character. He was almost sorry their plans involved her. He grinned at her and nodded.

” Hey.”

Fiona stared at him like he was annoyingly blocking her view. Mentally she shook her head, amazed by the boldness of some men.

God, mate, I’m fourteen. Get a life! Besides, even if I would have been older, you are not my type!.

“Hi, ” she answered, preparing to walk back into the store.

“Hey, wait, ” Fred quickly said. ” I just wanted to ask you something okay?”

Fred’s mind worked overtime to come up with a reasonable question that would sound genuine. Fiona just looked at him with a impatient look on her freckled face, ready to turn around and walk back.

” Umm…my mate and I are looking for a…um…a gas station. We don’t know the place and we’re running low, so…”

Fiona squinted her eyes and didn’t believe him for one second, but she was willing to tell them how to the closest gas station, so she could get rid of them.

She pointed towards the corner.

” Go that way and when you reach the Highway turn right. It’s about a kilometer I guess. Good luck.”

She turned around to walk back to her family, but Fred suddenly called her. The anxiety in his voice made her turn around and look at him with raised eyebrows.

” I’m sorry, I…I’m a bit deaf. Could you repeat that please? Maybe you could come a bit closer?”

Fiona was just about to give in to his request when she froze in place. A very well known whistle, she had not heard for years suddenly made her stop dead in her tracks.

‘Sam, you have to teach me how you do that,” Fiona begged, tugging on Sam’s shirt.

Sam looked down at the little girl, the affection evident in her eyes.

“I’d like to, Fi, really, but you are missing half of your teeth right now. No way you can whistle like that.” She teased.

” Yes, I can, ” Fiona objected. ” Listen.”

She put two fingers in her mouth and started blowing. She did produce a little sound and a lot of saliva.

Sam laughed and with a lot of exaggeration she wiped her face.

” Okay, okay, I believe you. I had a shower this morning, you know!” She folded her long frame to kneel down beside the six year old and gave her a suspiscious look.

” I will teach you, ” she whispered. ” But this is our secret whistle. Okay?”

Fiona nodded enthusiastically her dark green eyes shining with excitement.

” Listen…” Sam started and a blond and a dark head were bent close together.

Again a clear whistling reached her ears and without thinking twice Fiona turned around and made a run for the corner, following the direction of the sound.

Sam had been watching the scene in front of her with fear in her heart, her hands clenched into fists, her whole body alert, ready to come into action when needed. She couldn’t hear the conversation that was going on between her friend’s little sister and the stranger in the car, but deep down inside she knew it could only mean trouble. She mentally slapped herself for not telling Fiona to stay inside the shop, close to her mother and brother. If Lucy and Gerald were followed after visiting Jody’s apartment, the ones doing that would easily recognize Fiona as being Lucy’s sister. They were just too much alike.

Relief took over when she saw Fiona getting ready to turn around, but immediately after that her heart stopped when the girl turned back, ready to step closer to the car.

Guided by instinct only, Sam whistled, the ‘secret’ whistle she taught Fiona years ago, hoping and praying the girl would remember. And she did. Sam saw the dark haired head jerk back and Fiona’s whole body tensed. Sam whistled again and to her utter relief, the fourteen year old turned around and ran towards the corner, where Sam was waiting.

Fiona raced around the corner without looking where she was going and felt a pair of strong arms pull her out of sight.

“Let’s go, ” Sam hissed, not bothered to explain anything yet. She didn’t know what the reaction of the two men in the car would be and she had no intention of finding out. Not with Jody’s sister around.

She pulled Fiona through the back entrance, inside the corner shop, scanning her surroundings with hawk like precision. It was a regular souvenir shop, with lots of caps, t-shirts, postcards and other knick knacks. Without trying to attract attention Sam walked to a distant corner where she could keep an eye on both entrances, never letting go of Fiona’s arm. Finally she stopped, turned around and cast the young girl a worried look.

” Are you all right? ” she asked, her blue eyes filled with concern.

Fiona just nodded and stared back at Sam with her eyes wide open.

” What did they want?”

Fiona rubbed her face, trying to remember what the young man in the car had asked her. That wasn’t an easy thing to do, because Sam’s whistle and presence had thrown her totally off guard.

” Um….he…they were looking for a gas station and I told him where to find one. But then he said he was a little deaf and he asked me to come closer. I…Sam, what the hell is going on here?”

Those last words were uttered in so much adult like frustration that Sam had to smile. The agony in her eyes was replaced by a gentle spark and she couldn’t help smiling.

” Wow, you have grown up, ” she teased.

Fiona smiled back and reached out to touch Sam’s arm.

” It’s really you, isn’t it?” she asked, full of wonder. “I always hoped you would come back, Sam. I missed you, you know. So did Jody and Luce.. I mean, we weren’t allowed to talk about you, but I knew they missed you. Jody is gay, you know. Dad doesn’t approve.”

Sam’s face went blank after that little demonstration of teenage bluntness and she could feel herself stare, not feeling very intelligent at the moment.

Fiona looked up at her and furrowed a brow.

” You did know that, didn’t you? It’s not like I outed my sister. Did I?”

” No, ” Sam answered, finally finding her voice again. She chuckled, ruffeling Fiona’s hair affectionately. ” I knew that, silly, it’s just that…you can sure change a subject, you know that?”

Fiona giggled and playfully pushed away Sam’s hand. Grabbing it between her own.

“I’ll try to stay on the track, ” she promised, her dark green eyes sparkling. ” What did those blokes want, Sam?”

” That is a long story, Fi and I don’t mind telling you, but not here. Let’s just say they were up to no good. Okay? I will tell you the rest later.”

” Please do, ” Fiona mumbled. ” I am sick of getting treated like the family’s fool. No one tells me anything, ever. They all think I’m a baby or something. Only Jody treats me like a human being.”

” Oh, and a baby isn’t a human being?” Sam teased, good naturedly.

Fiona laughed and stuck out her tongue at Sam, who tweeked her nose in answer.

” I suppose I’ll have to come up with a plan,” Sam mused, keeping an eye on the door. ” We have to get out of here, but I don’t want those men to see us. They might still be waiting out there. But I have to warn Ger and Lucy.”

” Don’t you have a ce….ah, I see, you have a cell phone, ” Fiona said, watching Sam pull the item out of her pocket. “Good, I’m glad you are one of those modern people. ”

” Squirt, ” Sam answered, but she smiled.

She speed dialed a number and within seconds she was speaking to Lucy.

” Lucy, it’s me, listen. I am in the shop at the corner and I have Fiona here with me. We…..no, she’s all right…yes, she did, right away…” Sam winked at Fiona. ” No…Lucy…Lucy, listen, please, I will explain later. I want you and Ger and your mom to walk to your car. Take your time, all right? …No, I do have a plan, just wait. Walk to the car and you’ll see…..What? Yes, they are still out there. No….okay, we’ll see you there. …It’s okay, Luce, I can deal with your mom, don’t worry. See you in a bit.”

” She talks too much, doesn’t she, ” Fiona smirked, watching the resigned expression on Sam’s face

” So do you, ” Sam grunted, making Fiona laugh. ” Come on, we have to get moving.”

” What are we going to do?”

Sam looked down at the young girl that was standing next to her and a mischievous glint appeared in her eyes.

” Something I have always dreamed of, ” she grinned. She walked toward the counter, where an eldery woman looked at her with an expectant expression on her face.

” Hi,” Sam greeted her. ” Those caps behind the counter, are they hanging on a nail?”

The woman looked at her, totally astounded and wasn’t able to answer for a few seconds.

” If they are, ” Sam continued. ” I would like to buy them. All of them, but I also need the nail.”

” Do you remember what I told you , Fi? “Sam asked looking the teenager straight into her eyes. Fiona nodded and jerked her head in the direction of the corner.

” I will cross the street, right there, so they have to see me and I will walk to mom and the others. But, Sam, how do you know they won’t see you? ”

” I’m not sure, Fi, but I think they will be too busy watching you and your family, to have eyes for a clumsy tourist dropping a stack of baseball caps.”

” I hope you are right, ” Fiona answered, impressed by Sam’s confidence. “I’d better get going then, huh?”

She wanted to turn around, but Sam stopped her, to look at her intently.

” If anything goes wrong, go straight to Gerald. Don’t come this way. Okay?”

Fiona cast down her eyes and nodded obediently.

” I want to hear you say it, Fi, ” Sam urged. ” Promise me.”

” I promise, Sam, ” Fiona repeated softly. ” You be careful. Okay?”

” Of course, ” Sam grinned. ” I’ll see you in a few minutes. Tell Lucy to pick me up at the back of the Mall.”

Fiona nodded and walked to the corner of the street intently watched by Sam, who also kept an eye on the car with the two men, still parked at the same spot. She saw them watching Lucy and Gerald and they suddenly sat up straight when Fiona crossed the street.

Sam wasted no time. She stepped outside, her face obscured by the stack of caps in her arm and walked towards the car, passing them unnoticed. Suddenly she dropped the caps on the pavement, next to the car.

Softly muttering she kneeled down to pick each and every one up, praying the men in the car would ignore her. They did and when she grabbed the last item she placed a big nail against one of the back tires. When the car moved it would certainly puncture the rubber, causing it to go flat within a few seconds.

After that she quickly got up, and let her long legs carry her away, still unnoticed.

” I told you they would eventually show up, ” Little Steven spoke with evident pride.

Fred cast a look to the right and shrugged his shoulders. His partner had been cursing at him for at least five minutes after Fiona bolted, threatening him with all plagues known to mankind if he screwed up again.

” Wonder where she went to,” Fred mused.

” You never know with those kids, ” Little Steven answered. ” Maybe her boyfriend called or something.”

Their eyes traveled from the slim form of Fiona to her family who were waiting for her at the opposite corner, near the restaurant Lucy and Gerald had been waiting before.

” Keep your eyes on them, Freddie, ” Little Steven growled. ” Can’t lose them now. We will follow them wherever they go. Got it?”

Fred nodded in silence and squinted his eyes against the bright sunlight. From the corner of his eye he saw a tall form passing the car, dropping a stack of baseball caps.

” What’s that? ” Little Steven asked, casting a quick look in his rearview mirror.

” Some bimbo being stupid, ” Fred answered absentmindedly, not taking his eyes from Fiona, who was crossing the street.

Neither of them payed attention to the woman picking up the items she dropped and neither of them saw her walk away, a big smile covering her face, her clear blue eyes twinkling, while her brain registered the license plate number that was now engraved in her memory.

.

” Fiona, where in the name of everything that is sacred did you disappear to?” Joan McDonnell asked her daughter as soon as she was close enough to hear her.

” I was outside, mom, ” Fiona tried to explain, remembering Sam’s warning not to tell about the two of them meeting yet. “I went to that shop at the corner.”

That wasn’t a lie, Fiona thought and her dark green eyes were innocent when she looked at her mother.

Joan sighed and put her hand on Fiona’s shoulder, pulling her with her.

Lucy and Gerald exchanged looks and the first one quickly stepped forward.

“Mom?”

Joan McDonnell heard the tension in Lucy’s voice and turned around, a crease in her forehead.

” Umm, I…there’s some trouble Jody ran into and…”

” What kind of trouble?” her mother interrupted, with a worried look. ” Is she all right? Why didn’t you tell me before? Where is she?”

” Wow, so many questions, ” Lucy tried to joke, but her mother’s piercing eyes stared right through her. ” She’s fine, mom, really. I thought you might want to see her. I know she’d love to see you.”

” Honey, you are not really comforting here, ” Joan McDonnell answered, not recognizing her daughter who usually was full of confidence, but was carefully chosing her words now.

” Jody’s apartment has been broken into, ” Gerald took over, knowing his mother simply needed more information to calm down. ” Jody wasn’t home at the time and right now she’s with Sarah and Megan. We were actually on our way to see her.”

” I’ll come with you then, ” Joan McDonnell spoke without hesitation, surprising her children who knew their parents normally didn’t want to associate with gay people. Well, their father didn’t, their mother had never said a word about it. ” Let’s go.”

” We have to pick up some…thing from the mall, ” Lucy explained, feeling like a conspirator. ” Why don’t you go ahead?”

” I don’t know where they live, ” Joan McDonnell simply answered, causing Fiona to chuckle.

” I’ll come with you then, ” Gerald offered the solution. His little sisters eyes were begging and he could hardly suppress a smile.

” Fi, why don’t you keep Lucy company ?”

The answer was a big grin and Gerald laughed at the eager expression on the freckled face of his sister. He followed his mother to the car and before he got in he turned around to look at Lucy.

” Be careful, ” he mouthed and his sister nodded, sending him a small smile.

” Come on, twin sister, ‘ she joked, teasingly pulling a strand of hair. “Let’s go get Sam. ”

” Okay, Fred, here they go. Now we only have to follow them to find out where that redhead is and if we don’t we always have the kid sister to help us out.”

” Which car are we following? There are two.”

” What do you think? ” Little Steven sneered. ” The two sisters, of course. God knows where the other two are going. We have to keep an eye on that little one. She’s our ticket. Remember?”

Little Steven’s eyes followed Lucy and Fiona, who were walking towards Lucy’s red car, apparently taking their time, chatting and teasing each other. Fred couldn’t help but smile when he saw the way the two sisters were treating each other. It reminded him of his own sister. He hadn’t seen her in years. Not since his father seriously beat him up and he decided to run away from home. He had never returned. For the first time in years he remembered his sister’s face when he walked out the door and a lump formed in his throat. Fred swallowed hard and looked outside the window, trying hard to regain his composure.

” You ready? ” Little Steven asked in his gruff way.

” Yeah, I am, ” Fred answered, his voice slightly hoarse from emotion.

Little Steven cast him a curious look and shrugged his shoulders.

” You okay?”

” Fine, ” Fred answered, clearing his throat. ” Just thirsty, that’s all.”

” If everything goes according to plan I’ll buy you a nice cold Foster’s,” Little Steven promised, starting the engine.

He waited for Lucy’s car to leave the parking lot and when she drove past them he pulled up, making sure there were no more than two cars between him and the one he followed. After a few hundred meters Little Steven noticed that the car didn’t respond well and he yanked the steering weel while going around a corner. Immediately he started cursing, startling Fred, who’s eyes were fixed on the car in front of them.

” What?”

” Damnit it all to hell!! Believe it or not, but we’ve got a flat tire.”

” Jody, honey, will you please at least try to relax,” Sarah sighed, watching her friend pace the varandah for the umpteenth time. ” You and Megan are so alike. Whenever you are nervous, you start pacing like idiots. You are driving me nuts.”

Jody stopped dead in her tracks and send her friend an apologizing look. The minute Sam had left, she has been a nervous wreck and she knew it. She trusted Sam, knew she would be careful and not take any risks. But still.

With an audible grunt Jody let herself fall down into a chair, brushing away her hair from her forehead with an impatient gesture. She had promised Sam to stay put, but it took a lot of effort not to jump up, take the car and drive downtown, looking for her friend.

” Sam is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, ” Sarah softly spoke, trying to comfort the fidgeting woman in front of her. ” I think she proved that the other night when she fought off that bloke.”

“I know, I know, ” Jody sighed. ” But I’m still worried.”

What if something does happen to her? I can’t cope with that. Oh, God and I didn’t even tell her that…I should have told her. It’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity. I could have told her this morning, after….

Jody felt a blush creep up her cheeks, but didn’t try to hide it.

Of course Sarah noticed and with a small smile she looked at her friend.

” Happy thoughts?” she teased.

” Mmm, ” was all Jody answered, but she couldn’t hide her smile.

“Want to share ? ” Sarah asked, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

” No, ” Jody laughed. ” You know I don’t have many secrets from you or Megan, but there are a few things I like to keep private.”

The auburn haired woman laughed hartily and affectionately squeezed Jody’s knee.

” I can’t blame you, ‘ she agreed, her grey eyes twinkling. ” Just hold those thoughts, will you? They suit you much better than a worried frown. Ah, there’s our tea girl, ” she spoke when Megan came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray full of glasses and a steaming tea pot. ” Saved by the drink, Jo.”

” Who is saved from what? ” Megan informed, placing the heavy tray on the table, casting a curious look at her lover.

” I am, ” Jody answered with a smile. ” Your wife is a tease, Megan.”

” Tell me about it, ” Megan grunted, taking a seat next to Sarah. ” She’s an expert. I think she took lessons at college. But hey, gotta love her anyway.”

She leaned over and gave Sarah a quick kiss, winking at Jody.

“Talking about my wife, ” Megan continued. ” You didn’t forget about the party next week, did you? We really want you and Sam here when we celebrate our fifth anniversary.”

” We’ll be there, ” Jody smiled. ” I wouldn’t want to miss that for the world. I just hope this mess will all be cleaned up and I can continue my normal life again.”

Megan and Sarah exchanged a look, while the latter one filled their glasses with the hot beverage.

” What are your plans, Jody? ” Megan asked. ” I mean, with Sam and all.”

Jody stared at the flowers that were bordering the varandah, a pensive look on her face. Her green eyes were dark and Megan could see the conflicting emotions run across her expressive features.

” We haven’t discussed that yet, ‘ she finally answered. ” Heck, we haven’t discussed anything yet. I mean, everything happened so fast and I don’t even know whether we want the same thing.”

” What do you want, Jody? ” Sarah gently asked.

” I don’t want to give up on Sam, ” Jody quickly answered. ” When I ran into her last week it became clear to me that I….that even though I tried to forget her, I hadn’t. Eight years later and I still feel the same about her. I feel like she completes me. I could probably live my life without her, like I’ve been doing ever since she left, but I would never be whole, a part of me would be missing. I feel like only Sam can make me feel complete. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed her, until I saw her again.”

Jody twirled a strand of hair around her finger and bit her bottom lip, trying to come up with the right words.

” I still love her, ” she finally said. ” That’s what it all comes down to. I don’t think I have ever stopped loving her. Somehow I can’t.”

She hesitantly looked at Megan, but her friend smiled warmly at her.

” I have always known that, Jody. Please, don’t apologize. We knew we would be better friends than lovers, and we are. You were looking for a friend, and you found one.” Megan grabbed Sarah’s hand and squeezed it tight. ” You have found two friends, ” she added. ” I think that is worth a lot.”

“It is, ” Jody answered, tears in her eyes. ” You two are….just wonderful. But you know that.”

” I know I am, ” Sarah deadpanned. ” But I am not so sure about old Megan here.”

” Hey, who are you calling old?” Megan called out with feigned hurt. She reached out to grab Sarah’s arm, but her partner was much faster and had jumped up, before Megan could even touch her.

” Take it easy, children, ” Jody laughed. ” I don’t think that…….”

She stopped in mid sentence, cocking her head to one side, listening intently. Immediately she jumped up.

” There’s a car coming.”

Sarah and Megan stopped their playful interaction and joined Jody, who had walked to the driveway. She had hoped to see Sam return, but when the car came into sight, her shoulders slumped slightly as she protected her eyes from the sun to get a better view.

Megan who was standing next to her heard her gasp.

” Oh, my God, it’s mom.”

The first thing that came into mind was her father, but then she realized her mother would have called her. Besides, how would she know where to find her? Jody could see Gerald sitting next to his mother, but Lucy was nowhere in sight. She clenched her hands into fists, causing the knuckles to go white.Silently she prayed that Sam and her sister would be safe. Her stomach was tied in knots when her mother parked the car and she and Gerald stepped out. Gerald immediately noticed the anxiety on his sister’s face and he smiled reassuringly, seeing her visibly relax a little. Sarah and Megan tried to look not too surprised when Joan McDonnell approached the varandah.

The older woman hesitated and her eyes traveled from her daughter to the couple standing next to her. The silence was deafening, until Megan stepped forward, her right hand extended.

” Mrs. McDonnell, what a surprise. I am Megan, Jody’s friend. ” she smiled friendly, shaking the other woman’s callused hand. ” Why don’t you come up to the varandah?”

” Umm…nice to meet you Megan. I…um…I heard about Jody’s apartment and I wanted to make sure she’s all right.”

” I’m fine, mom, ” Jody finally spoke, stepping down and hugging her mother. ” But thanks for coming up. Uh..you’ve met Megan.” She turned around to Sarah. ” This is Sarah, Megan’s partner.”

” Nice to meet you, Mrs. McDonnell, ” Sarah smiled. ” Come out of that sun, you all. It’s much better up here.”

Joan McDonnell returned the warm smile and willingly followed the auburn haired woman up the stairs, taking a seat on the varandah.

” Ger, ” Jody hissed when her brother tried to walk passed her. ” What the hell is going on? Where are Sam and Lucy?”

” They will be here any minute, sis, ” Gerald explained very matter of factly. ” We ran into mom and Fiona at the shop.”

” Fiona? ” Jody echoed. ” Where is she?”

” With Sam and Lucy, ” Gerald answered as if that would be self-evident.

” What? No, Ger, stop, I don’t understand. Please?”

Jody was genuinely confused and Gerald took pity on his sister, gently patting her back.

” Sam has everything under control, Jody, ” he comforted her chuckling. ” She must have some sort of a plan, but I have to admit I am dying of curiosity. This is going to be interesting.”

” That’s the understatement of the year, ” Jody reacted feebly, feeling all control she had slipping away, like sand through her fingers.

Her mind raced, trying to comprehend what her brother had just told her.

” Did Sam run into mom ?”

” No, Fiona,” Gerald grinned, finding it all very amusing. ” Mom doesn’t know Sam’s here. Yet.”

” Oh, my goodness, ” Jody whispered, suddenly feeling very light headed. This was a confrontation she had hoped to postpone, at least until Sam and her had a chance to work things out between them.

How will mom react when she sees Sam? The last time they saw each other was eight years ago, way before the accident. Mom has never spoken about Sam after that, like she didn’t exist.This could get nasty. Mom might blow her top and Sam…I don’t want her to be hurt again. I won’t allow that. I have to stick with her, even if that would mean losing my mother. Oh, God, I hope Sam knows what she is doing.

Jody turned around to walk back to the varandah where her mother and Megan were having a polite conversation about the flower garden. Megan sensed the older womans agitation and tried to put her at ease, realizing Joan McDonnell had to willingly be here, doing something her husband did not approve of. She knew from the stories Jody had told her what kind of person David McDonnell was and how his iron will used to rule the whole family.

Feeling grateful Jody smiled at her friend and took a seat next to her mother, trying very hard not to see the amused glint in Gerald’s eyes, who apparently was finding the whole situation very amusing. Jody shot him a gloomy look and was about to ask her mother what she wanted to drink, when a car entered the driveway. Lucy’s little red beetle.

” Ah, there’s Lucy and Fiona, ” Joan McDonnell smiled, not hearing Jody’s groan. ” Fiona was dying to see you, Jody, I…what’s wrong, love? You are so pale. Are you sure you are all right?”

Jody could only nod and swallowed away the bile that was rising in her throat, suddenly feeling very nervous.

” I’m okay, mom. Really, ” she softly answered, her eyes glued to the car. They were looking for Sam, whom she could see sitting next to Lucy. After the car stopped, they remained seated and by the gestures she was making, Jody could tell Sam was giving instructions.

God, honey, I hope you know what you are doing. Please, know what you are doing.

Finally both car doors were opened and Lucy and Fiona were the first ones to get out, Sam followed, unfolding her tall frame and stretching her muscles.

Jody anxiously looked at her mother who was staring at the threesome with furrowed brows and Jody knew she just had to wait until recognition set in.

Joan McDonnell shielded her eyes against the sun to get a better look and her face changed from eager anticipation to bewilderment to shock. All blood drained from her face and even her lips were white when she recognized Sam.

Time froze when the two women locked gazes and like in slow motion Sam walked up to the varandah, her eyes never leaving Joan McDonnell’s. To Jody’s relief Sam looked calm and only the way she bit her bottom lip showed ner nervousness.

In the meantime Jody’s eyes flew from her mother to Sam and back again, waiting for the first words they would exchange. No one spoke. Lucy and Fiona were standing next to Gerald, who finally seemed to realize the impact the meeting could have and Megan and Sarah were sitting very quietly, hardly breathing. Wishing they would be somewhere else.

Sam stopped at the stairs and looked up, sending Jody an encouraging smile, before retutning her stare to Joan McDonnell, who finally found the strength to speak again.

” Samantha Stevens, ” Joan McDonnell’s voice was thick with emotion.

” You don’t have to worry about Jody anymore, love,” David McDonnell spoke with contentment. ” She’s gone. ”

” Who is? ” Joan asked, afraid to hear the answer.

” That …heithen. She was polluting Jody’s mind with all those pervert thoughts.”

” But, David….”

” No, Joan, don’t worry about it. I took care of it. Me and father Jamison. She won’t be back.”

” But…what did you do, David? ” Joan asked, while her heart cried out for the pain her eldest daughter would have to go through.

” I didn’t have to a thing, ” David laughed. ” She did it all by herself. Drove her car off the cliff. She’s in the hospital and will be okay. She’s going back to Holland.”

” What happened?” Joan gasped.

” Just an accident, “her husband explained very matter of factly. ” I told you not to worry. She won’t come back, I made sure of that. Jody will never see her again. ”

” David…”

” No, Joan, that’s enough. I don’t want to hear another word. You understand? That Stevens’ girl is out of our daughter’s life and that’s for the better. I won’t accept any of my children associating with people like that. She will never see Jody again. I promise.”

” Yes, it’s me, ” Sam softly answered, her eyes full of compassion for the woman she knew had no life of her own. ” It’s been a long time.”

“Yes, it has, ” was the whispered answer.

Joan McDonnells eyes slowly traveled to her eldest daughter, who was looking at her Dutch friend, not able to hide the loving concern on her face.

They have found each other again. I can see it in Jody’s eyes. She’s trying not to show it, but I can see. My God, how did all this happen? Sam. And she looks so calm, so mature, so…very confident. What has been going on? But…does it matter? She is here, after all these years she came back. Does it matter what happened? Not that I know, David never wanted to tell me. But whatever it was, shouldn’t I be forgiving? Shouldn’t I accept all people the way they are? Just because some are…’different’, doesn’t mean they are bad. Megan and Sarah seem very nice and I always did like Sam. Besides, I could never disown my own daughter, even though David insisted. If I really love my fellow as myself I can’t turn my back on her. She doesn’t deserve that. No one does. She’s a human, not better or worse than I am.

For the very first time ever since she got married, Joan McDonnell made an important decision all by herself. She slowly rose from her seat and stiffly walked towards Sam, who had still not moved an inch, but Jody could see her swallow hard. Just in front of the tall, blond woman she stopped and extended her hand.

” It’s good to see you again, Sam,” Joan McDonnell spoke hoarsely, feeling her hand get caught in Sam’s larger one.

Jody’s sigh was audible for everyone present while Lucy raised her eyes to the sky and mouthed a silent ‘Thank you’.

” It’s good to see you too, Mrs. McDonnell. It’s been too long.”

” It has. Can you tell me what happened? I really want to know. David never….”

” It’s not a nice story, mom,” Jody interrupted, putting her hand on her mothers shoulder, softly squeezing. ” It really isn’t.”

Joan McDonell turned around to look at her daughter. There was sadness in her eyes and Jody could see the resignation, but also a flicker of something very unknown to her mother, fighting spirit. A spark of pride and resistance.

” You don’t have to protect me from the truth, Jody, ” she spoke, sounding very determined. ” I would really like to hear the whole story. I think it’s about time.”

“Maybe we should all sit down, ” Sam suggested.

” Sarah and I will make you all some sandwiches, ” Megan spoke, getting to her feet and pulling Sarah with her. ” We know the story and I think this really is a family matter.”

” You are my family, ” Jody objected. ” But I appreciate the thought, Meg, thanks.”

Megan smiled and she and Sarah disappeared into the kithen, leaving the padded bench for Jody and Sam to sit on.

Jody entwined her fingers with Sam’s and briefly nudged her shoulder with her head. Sam smiled at her and squeezed her friend’s warm hand reassuringly.

” Mush balls, ” Lucy teased, trying to lighten the mood, which earned her a poke from Fiona who looked at her annoyed.

” I don’t know where to begin, ” Jody started, looking up at Sam. ” So many things have happened.”

” The accident, ” her mother suggested. ” I’d like to know what happened.”

” All right, ” Jody answered, taking a deep breath. ” I was waiting for Sam to pick me up that morning…”

Taking turns Jody and Sam told Joan McDonnell their story, sometimes interrupting each other to complete it. Their voices were soft and melancholy when relating the events that had happened eight years before, but couldn’t hide the warmth and of happiness when telling how they met again and what happened after that. When talking about her reason to come over and the break in at Jody’s apartment, Sam took control and her face was grim when she told the attentive audience, including Jody, what had happened that morning. Her clear eyes were pensive when they rested on Fiona, realizing what could have happened to the teenager if she had not been there.

” But how did you know it was Sam whistling?” Gerald asked his youngest sister, who was sitting on the arm rest of Lucy’s chair.

Fiona looked at Sam and a mysterious smile crossed her face. Sam chuckled when she realized Fiona wasn’t going to tell anybody about the secret whistle that was invented in her childhood.

” That’s for you to find out, Birdy boy, ” she teased. “You are the scientist of the family.”

Jody ignored the bantering of her siblings and had turned to look at her mother, who was very pale and whose eyes shone with unshed tears. She reached out a hand to cover her mother’s slightly trembling one.

” Are you all right, mom?”

Joan McDonnell swallowed hard before nodding.

” It’s so much to deal with all of a sudden, ” she answered, her voice filled with pain, while the same words echoed in her head over and over again.

Oh, David, how could you? How could you?

” I can’t believe he did that. I didn’t know he was capable of….this,” she sighed. ” I don’t know what to do. I…I have to think it all over, I guess.”

” Are you going to confront him about it?” Lucy asked, feeling sorry for her mother and the situation she was in.

” Not now, ” her mother answered. “Not while he’s in hospital because of his heart, but he will be out in a few days. Maybe I should just ask his doctor about it. See if he can take…..the stress.”

“Are you gonna tell him about us,” Jody asked, feeling like an iron band was being pulled tight around her stomach.

” About Sam and me?”

The greatest fear Jody had was her father trying to come in between her and Sam again, even though she had not seen him for years. But now she knew what he was capable of doing and she also knew her father was a very proud and determined man.

” Not if you don’t want me to.” her mother answered, giving her daughter an inquisitive look.

Jody cast down her eyes and immediately felt Sam’s hand gently rubbing her back. She leaned into the contact and felt a strong arm slipping around her shoulders, pulling her closer. With a sigh she rested her head against the familiar shoulder and closed her eyes.

” I don’t know, mom. I don’t think I know anything right now. I…it’s just…Sam and I, we’ve just recently met again and I couldn’t stand the thought of…him…trying to destroy that again.”

” We wouldn’t let him, honey, not anymore, ” Sam’s voice rumbled in her ear and a pair of green eyes met a very confident pair of blue ones.

” You sound do sure of yourself.”

” I am sure, ” Sam smiled, kissing the top of a reddish blond head and it sounded so much like a promise that it brought tears to Jody’s eyes.

” Than I think I should be as well, ” she smiled, returning her gaze back to her mother.

” Tell him, mom. Whenever you feel it is the right time, just tell him.”

” I am glad that is all settled, ” Lucy suddenly spoke in a voice that sounded so dry Sam had to smile. ” But what do we do about these guys that were after Fiona?”

Continued in part 7

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