Sam wiped her nose on her sleeve. It didn't help that it was freezing in the Colorado Springs area. She shifted against the slightly broken picnic table on which she sat. Not figuring out whether her rear end was numb from the cold or the table, she stood up to get some blood circulation. She didn't make it far. Plopping down on the dead grass, her jeans quickly became damp from the inch or so of snow that had originally laid claim to the city. At least there wasn't much of a wind. Little breezes here and there made her runny nose sting, and her tears start to crystallize. She pulled her knees to her chest in an attempt to feel a little more warmth than her father's gray Air Force sweatshirt provided. At least she'd thought to grab a scarf. Or her shoes, for that matter. She couldn't find socks, but then she had run out of the house in too much of a hurry. She glanced down the street. Two blocks away, her father slept soundly in his bed, completely oblivious to his daughter's tears. He had hugged her tightly when she ran home that afternoon, but could only muster up a simple, yet completely inappropriate statement: "I'm so sorry that you're hurting."
She'd been so happy these past two years. Sure, that little voice inside her head kept rising up and telling her that she was living a lie. That she wasn't happy with Greg. That she needed more. That he would never learn to do his laundry unless she taught him how. That he never randomly brought her roses (or any type of romantic gift) unless she specifically asked him why he didn't ever bring her roses (or any type of romantic gift), which would inevitably lead to the bouquet three days later. Wasn't random at all. She'd reminded him that she needed romance. He actually had the audacity to believe that three days later, she would've forgotten the conversation. That was the problem. Women never forget. Even if some little action reminded her of some little action that had happened to her, she would never forget.
They'd been so comfortable. Too comfortable for their age. She was 19, and he was 22. It was like the whole thing had happened backwards. They'd been introduced through Erin, Sam's former best friend and had hooked up, said "I love you," talked about marriage, forgotten about marriage, went days without even touching, and finally she'd gotten up the nerve to ask him if that was all there is to it. His heart was broken, but that didn't bother her as much as it should have; he rarely used his heart for much. He went to work to blind himself from what had inevitably happened; she just went home to cry. Then, suddenly, she stopped crying. For about a week, she'd been fine. Most of her friends had moved away right after graduation, so all she had was her dad and the occasional phone call from Mark. She and Mark had never really been that close anyway. And her father was. . .her father. He didn't know what to say in a situation like this. She'd known that her first, real, true-to-life breakup would come one day, but she never actually thought it would come. For some reason, with Greg, she'd been so comfortable, she'd forgotten that there was more to being with someone for the rest of your life besides comfort. They'd gotten together, shown everyone how much they adored each other, she secretly rejected him in reality, but the comfort was. . .safe.
Now, here she was, three years later, fresh out of college, already accepted into grad school, and walking away from what would've been the easiest life she could've ever hoped for. They'd lied to each other since day one, so why was she the only one who couldn't stand not saying what needed to be said? He was happy with just being alive. How, on God’s green earth, could anyone be happy with. . .just living?
Last night, while her father was at the base, she'd watched a couple of romance movies. Why in the world she did it was beyond her. It was like listening to country music. Erin always said that on the top ten list of things not to do with yourself after a breakup, romance movies and country music were biggies. Gorging on chocolate was number one. She'd done that too. At least Sam had the reassurance that chocolate was an urban legend. It did absolutely nothing to make someone feel better. Country music wasn't her style anyway. However, the movies had provided a completely opposite feeling in her. Sure she'd cleaned out an entire box of Kleenex within four hours, but for some strange reason, the movies had made her feel...hopeful. Like if that shit can hit the fan and then get cleaned up, then she could be okay. Of course, real life was rarely, if ever, like movies.
Snowflakes began to fall again. She listened. The slight sound of something so unbelievably light hitting the ground caused her to realize how bizarrely at peace she felt. She'd finally gotten over the easy way out, and oddly enough, felt sad and lonely and stunned and overwhelmed and excited and scared and empowered. Too bad crying was an action that could portray all those emotions, and she couldn't seem to stop. She wished she could just break down and cry and cry and cry until she had nothing left in her. Instead, she cried in spurts. Never forgetting caused the slightest thing to remind her of where she was in her life. So, here she was: in the snow, in one layer of clothing, shedding tears and most unattractively, snot on her favorite red scarf. Since Kleenex weren't available, her scarf was in desperate need of a wash.
It was around midnight. The falling snow blurred the stars, but the full moon provided more than enough reflection on the white earth. One of the swings on the nearby swing set caught a breeze and creaked back and forth. She heard a car backfire from blocks away, and jumped slightly. The quick jump caused her to pop out of her reverie, and she sighed, wiping her frozen nose on her sleeve one more time. She stood up, feeling the cold wet of the back of her jeans. She crossed her arms, looked up at the sky, blinked away the snowflakes and tears, and prayed that her mother were still here.
"Remember what I told you, Sam. Cookies are the answer to every problem with the universe."
She remembered snorting. "Right, Mom. So when our nearest star collides with another and gamma rays eventually cover the Earth and we're all burning to death, I'll be sure to have some cookie dough handy."
Her mother laughed. "Keep mixing the dough until it's nice and thick, then had the peanut butter and chocolate." She washed her hands and grabbed her purse. "Now, your father's going to pick me up when he gets off from work, so I'll be back in a couple of hours. Then we'll head to the mall, and maybe catch a movie?"
"Sure." Sam nodded and kept mixing the dough. She heard her brother, Mark running down the stairs.
"We ready to go, Mom? I've got a class in twenty minutes."
Her mom planted a quick kiss on Sam's cheek and hurried after her son.
About two hours later, Sam preheated the oven and pulled the cookie dough out of the fridge. Forming little balls with her hands, she made three perfectly even rows of four. As they baked, she scanned through her brother's latest textbook. Practically all of it was highlighted. She snorted. Just because a sentence SOUNDED important doesn't mean it has to be highlighted. The timer dinged. She pulled the cookies from the oven. She heard a car door slam, and knew they were home. Mark would go to a friend's basketball game while she and her mom picked out her dress for prom. Too excited to let the cookies cool, she grabbed a spatula and started piling them onto a plate.
The front door opened. "Sam?" She heard her father yell.
He looked at her.
She looked at him.
She dropped the cookie sheet. Then burst into tears.
Now, seven years later, that day was still the last day she'd ever made cookies.
Sam looked down at her sneakers and shuffled her feet in the snow that was piling up pretty quickly. She looked around her and promptly decided that she needed to act like a kid again. She'd been the lady of the house for almost a decade, and here, in the dead of night, who would notice if she went for a little swing?
She walked over and swept aside the snow that covered the rubber seat. Sitting down, she pushed off with her legs and flew back and forth. Suddenly feeling free, she laughed. Actually laughed. Something she hadn't done in a very, very long time. Without a care in the world, she floated freely and left the snow clean her face. Even if comfort wasn't what she wanted, she knew that she would move on. She knew she could make herself happy. Really and truly happy.
She slowed to a stop. Tears formed in her eyes as the empowerment subsided and she started to sob, but as quickly as the sobs had formed she forced herself to giggle again. It felt good, albeit she would've looked insane to the outside viewer. She didn't care. She had her mind made up. No "ifs," "ands," or "buts." She was going to make herself be happy if it was the last thing she ever did.
Jeez, it's cold out here.
Jack turned the key into the lock on his front door and buttoned his coat. Turning around to look at the white land that lay beyond his front porch, he breathed in the clean air and buttoned his coat. Double checking his pocket to make sure he'd remembered the little bottle of Glenmorangie scotch, he'd jumped the stairs of his front porch, and began a brisk walk down the street. At least nights like this provided a sense of peace and calm.
Sara was five months pregnant, and--if a man could speak freely--driving him absolutely insane. He understood the late night cravings, the foot rubs, and the fact that it was actually colder inside his own home than it was where he walked. She'd be laughing hysterically at one of his jokes, and then crying the next minute. Yeah, sure, he was excited about the prospect of being a dad, but, well, to be perfectly frank with you, he was scared shitless. Scared about what Sara was going through, but thanking whatever god there was that he was a guy. He had to admit, the woman had some serious balls to pop out a person from inside her.
He only wished he'd been around more. Hell, he was in Russia when she'd taken the test. He'd come home to find a very gorgeous, albeit, rather large woman standing on the tarmac. He remembered stopping short, and staring at her expanding belly. His eyes trailed up to her face, and to this day, he would never forget the scared expression on her face. Without speaking, his face has asked, hers had answered, he'd tasted salt and then ran to her. He'd lifted her off the ground and spun her around as she laughed. That laugh. Pure, unadulterated happiness.
Somehow, he managed to avoid being shipped out for some reason or another. Guess people were behaving themselves. Over the past two months, they'd lived together longer than they ever had. He knew that it was inevitable though. One day, the General was going to call him up and tell him he needed to board a plane or helicopter. Then off Jack would go, leaving a very pregnant wife with nobody but obnoxious relatives while he murdered yet another life. That warranted a swig of scotch. Here he was bringing life into the world while his job was to get rid of it.
Another swig of scotch. Scared shitless. Scared shitless that his son...his child, his baby boy (or baby girl) would end up royally fucked up. That all the darkness in Jack's mind would somehow pop out genetically within his own child. Kawalsky had understood that. Fucked up Captain Charles Kawalsky had understood how scary just being at home, safe and sound, could be. The same darkness ran through him, but Kelly had turned out to be the most beautiful, charming, blonde-headed little angel there ever could be. She'd hug her daddy so tight when he was leaving, but Jack never remembered Sara saying that Gina said that Kelly complained. Kelly knew her daddy would come home. Kelly understood Daddy was trying to keep her safe. Jack sighed. If only Gina had known that. Kawalsky only saw Kelly once a month.
Jack knew that he would try his damnedest. His absolute best to make sure his child would be happy. That he would have fun and play ball and ride a bike and hell, build mountains if he wanted to. What he didn't understand was why Kelly was so understanding, but her mother never could be. What if Sara was the same way, but she never let on? What if he ended up visiting his kid once a month? He took another swig. What if he screwed the kid up? What if Sara left? And she took their child with her? What if he talked one day with his son (or girl) from two states away? And his (or her) mommy hated and resented him?
Jack was halfway through the scotch with "ifs," "ands," or "buts" pounding in his head when he heard laughter. Looking around, he realized he'd neared the same park that he'd brought Kawalsky and Kelly to last week. Someone was swinging on the same swing Kelly has sat in while he pushed her. Someone who was obviously not a kid's size, out at midnight, and laughing at the air.
Yup, that's a little whacked.
He watched the person slow the swing to a stop and become very still. A sob escaped the person, and instantly Jack was embarrassed. The shoulders shook, and little gasps echoed through the snowflakes. Almost as suddenly as they had begun, the sobs ceased. Then a giggle came forth. The person looked at their surroundings, causing their hair to swish and Jack realized it was a woman. He took a step back to seem less stalkeresque, and was about to turn and leave when the person caught his eye in the moonlight.
The resolve to make herself happy quickly faded into embarrassment as Sam realized she wasn't alone. A man stood about twenty feet away and he was eyeing her strangely. She flickered her eyes away, hoping the guy would just ignore her and walk away. The last thing she needed right now, was to kick some stranger's ass in the middle of a snowstorm.
Jack watched her look away. He wanted to do the same, but he felt slightly concerned. From what he could tell in the moonlight, there was an attractive woman just sitting in the middle of a park in the middle of a snowstorm in nothing but a sweatshirt and jeans. Without thinking twice, he resolved to convince her to go back to her home before some wacko attacked her. He inhaled the cold air and asked, "Are you okay, Miss?"
Sam looked at the guy again. Doing her best not to trust her first impressions--even though he'd used the word "Miss"--she muttered, "I'm fine, thank you." She looked away, demonstrating her back-off-or-I'll-kick-the-shit-out-of-you personality.
Quietly, Jack chuckled. He knew that body language. Hell, he'd taught Sara how to make a stranger think twice about coming near her. Still, best to leave well enough alone.
"Okay, I was just checking." He turned and began to continue his walk. However, being the soldier he was, impulse took over and he turned back. He walked within ten feet of her and tried again, "You sure you don't want me to call you a cab or something? There's a pay phone just around the block."
She turned and looked at him once more. Death by daggers. He flinched. Just turn and walk away, O'Neill. But her expression slowly softened, and a slight tug of the left side of her mouth formed a half smile.
Sam looked at the stranger with a strange feeling a trust in her gut. "No. Thank you though. I'll be fine. I just live a couple of blocks from here."
He smiled at her, showing some pretty deep dimples. Whoa. Worried chocolate brown eyes created conflict between the sweet smile he had on his lips. The other side of her mouth turned up as well. She lowered her eyes, slightly envying the heavy brown jacket he wore when her eyes fell on his left hand.
"That wouldn't happen to be scotch, would it?" She implied.
The guy looked down, and looked back at her with one eyebrow raised, and eyes squinted. "Yeeeeah."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm twenty-two."
She looked at him with an air of the ridiculous. "Aaaaand, come on, give it here."
He grinned fully. "Now why would I share a bottle of fifty dollar scotch with someone I don't know?"
Sam eyed him. "I'm Sam."
They stayed there, her on the swing and him rocking back and forth in the snow to keep his feet warm. Finally, she looked at him with exasperation.
Jack furrowed his brow. "Oh! Right. Nice to meet you." He extended his hand.
Without a word, Sam stood up, walked right to him, and took the bottle. Looking him straight in the eye, she knocked it back, and swallowed two huge gulps.
Jack's eyebrows rose, and he grinned. She capped the bottle and returned it to him. "Fair enough," he said and took the bottle from her. She turned around and sat back down on the swing. Without bothering to ask for an invitation, Jack swept snow off the swing next to her and took a seat. She looked at him. He took off his jacket and extended it to her.
"So, you wanna talk about it?" He asked.
Sam sighed, and wrapped the warm coat around her. It smelled like aftershave and scotch. Or that could've been her breath. Oh, what the hell. "Just ended a relationship."
Jack immediately passed her the bottle again. "Better than chocolate."
She smiled. After another swig, she just started talking. She told a complete stranger about Greg, about comfort and about wanting to make herself happy. He sat with her for almost an hour as she relayed the needs she wasn't getting, the emptiness of her social life, and how her mother couldn't help her through it. Jack listened intently, and when he heard about her mother, reached out and took her hand. After she finished explaining why she was still living with her father when she should’ve been on her own, he squeezed her hand.
"You know, Sam, military dads aren't as strong as they make themselves out to be."
She looked confused. "I don't care whether or not he's strong enough. I just want him to notice someone other than himself. It's his fault Mom died."
Jack frowned. "Sam, was he driving the taxi?"
She looked down. "No."
He sighed. "I missed finding out about my wife's pregnancy until she a third of the way there. I've been home for two months avoiding the phone whenever it rings because I'm worried that I'll have to miss the birth of my child. But I know, eventually, I'm gonna have to leave. Whether I want to or not. Sam, that's the thing with the military. When you're in the military and you have a family, you have a responsibility. And sometimes you have to choose which responsibility you're going to adhere to. Do you know what your father was doing when he couldn't pick your mother up?"
Sam nodded. "He was in some emergency meeting about some foreign guy who was delivering bombs from Romania or something."
A thought struck Jack. "What's your father’s name?"
Huh. Seven years ago, he'd received a classified written order from a General Jacob Carter to stop the move of some heavy artillery in Romania. Two of his buddies had been killed, and he'd landed a bullet in his thigh. The next six months were spent in rehab.
Jack sighed. "Sam, being in the military means having the best opportunity to protect your family. I know it's hard for family to understand why we do what we do, but we do it for you."
Sam looked at Jack with tears in her eyes. "Jack, what if I never get over her? What if Dad never really looks at me? What if I'm truly never going to be happy?"
Jack gave her a small smile. "You will be. I don't know how, but you will be."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Hell, Sam, if I can actually find someone like Sara and bring a child into the world with her and still manage to survive?"
Sam gave him a look. "Jack, somehow I seriously doubt you're as sure as you make yourself out to be."
Now it was Jack's turn to sigh. His eyes flickered around for a minute. He took another shot of scotch and offered it to Sam. "More?"
"Nice try." She snatched the bottle.
"Alright, fine. I'm scared to death. I can shoot a guy in the back, but I can't be a good husband. I can make a bomb out of a coat hanger and a rubber band but I can't even begin to understand how I'm gonna raise a kid. I'm so scared I'm gonna fuck it all up, Sam!" He buried his hands in his hands.
Sam put a hand on his flannel covered back, and said the only thing she knew how to say. "You'll survive, Jack."
He sniffed and wiped tears from his eyes. "How can you be so sure?"
She smiled, knowing that this was one of those moments in life when the light bulb comes on, even if it's dim. One of those moments when you grow up. One of those moments where you find yourself comforting a father-to-be in the snow and all you can say is "Because if we don't survive, if we don't move past tears, if we let our worlds crush us, we lived in vain."
Jack looked at this young woman with deep respect. She looked back at him mutually.
They looked at each other for a moment, relaxing in the comfort of someone who tried their best to speak the truth rather than hide behind something prettier. Sam finally swallowed her last shot and offer Jack the rest. He finished the bottle off and pocketed it. They looked at each other once more, and at the same time, rose to their feet.
Without even a second thought, Sam closed the short distance between them and pulled Jack into a hug. He held her back. Together they found peace in the middle of a snowstorm by a swing set. Jack laid his head on her shoulder when she whispered, "It'll be alright, Jack."
They pulled apart and held each other's hands for a moment. They smiled slightly at each other until Sam finally let go and started to walk away. Jack watched her leave, and turned to go back home.
Sam crunched a good four inches of white powder underneath her feet as she walked back to the street. The temperature had dropped considerably and she pulled the jacket tighter before recognizing the aftershave scent.
She turned around, and ran toward Jack's departing figure. "Jack!"
He turned and watched as Sam jogged toward him. She had his jacket in her hands. She reached him, and he took it from her grasp. She smiled goodbye and walked away. Jack stood there watching an exceptional woman walk toward a new path in her life. "Hey Sam?"
She turned. "Yeah?"
Jack smiled. "Just in case we never get another chance to talk, I have a piece of advice for you."
Sam inclined her head. "What's that?"
"Bake cookies again."
Sam smiled and nodded. Jack smiled back. The two walked away from each other.
When Jack returned home, he hung up his jacket on the coat tree, and kicked off his shoes. The cold had worn off the effects of the scotch, but the sudden warmth of his home caused tipsiness to swarm in his head. He sauntered down the hallway to his and Sara's bedroom. He quietly opened the door and looked at his wife. She had fallen asleep with her reading glasses perched on her nose, and a romance novel lay open on her belly. Jack smiled and walked over to her. He removed her glasses from her face and used them as a bookmark. After he set the book on the bedside table, he pulled the sheet over her. Only one sheet, not the comforter, because he knew she would get warm in the night, even with subzero temperatures outside. He changed into some pajama pants and folded his slightly damp khakis. He felt a lump in the pocket and pulled out he empty bottle of Glenmorangie. Smiling, he placed it in the shoebox that also held a wedding picture of his parents, a wallet picture of Sara, and a copy of Charlie's ultrasound.
Yup, he's gonna be a boy. Kawalsky'll like the name
He curled under the covers and wrapped himself around his wife.
Sam was half frozen when she got home. Fortunately, the fire that had been burning in the fireplace still held some hot coals. She ditched her shoes, threw her scarf in the laundry room, and parked it on the hearth. Feeling her rear end begin to dry out, she grew warm pretty quickly because of the scotch. She knew she needed to go to sleep. She could handle her tequila, but scotch was a different story. As she stood up and tried to shake off the dizziness, she glanced at the kitchen. Nodding her head, she walked through the doorway and began opening cabinets.
Okay, butter, flour, sugar...do we have chocolate chips?