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Sam Carter stands in front of her open closet and stares at the clothes hanging there; her dress blues and dress mess hang carefully encased in garment bags, matching shoe boxes and hat boxes wait on the shelf above them. Next are her dresses, three or four classic styles appropriate for any occasion and designed to withstand the test of time and rapidly changing fashions, along with several semi-trendy and not too out-dated dresses and skirts, perfect for a casual day out. Jeans, slacks, shirts and blouses fill in the rest of the space; plenty of variety and dozens of different combinations, so why can’t she decide?

Temporarily giving up on her closet, Sam turns her attention to her dresser drawers and pulls the top one open. Panties, socks and bras, shouldn’t be any problem deciding what to pack. Except…which ones should she pack? The utilitarian white cotton panties and sports bras she wears under her BDU’s day in and day out? She picks up a silky pair of pink panties and the matching lacy bra, the satiny material lush and cool between her fingers. Or does she pack her weekend panties and bras? The colorful satiny and lacy ones that are her secret indulgence?

And what about her pajamas? Should she pack her favorite pajamas with the knit bottoms and comfy camisole tops or should she pack a couple of her slinkier nighties? She picks up a particularly nice black one with spaghetti straps and strategically place lace panels and frowns at it. She’d bought it—and worn it—when she’d been engaged to Pete and it suddenly doesn’t seem appropriate to even wear, or much less keep it, given her changed circumstances. Digging through the drawer, she tosses a teal blue baby doll nightie along with the black lace chemise and a red merry widow with ribbon bedecked panties into the charity donation pile she accumulates semi-regularly in her closet.

Which still leaves her no closer to having anything packed. She looks at her watch, she only has an hour.

Deciding to the ditch the large duffel she originally thought she’d use in favor of a proper suitcase, Sam leaves the bedroom and goes to the closet tucked off the kitchen by the backdoor. Opening the door, Sam stares in dismay at the mess that greets her. The closet is overflowing with boxes and shopping bags full of…well, she doesn’t know what they contain. The closet is a mess, which suddenly strikes her as an apt analogy for her life.

She doesn’t have time to indulge in any introspection, so she picks up one of the shopping bags emblazoned with the logo of one of the Springs’ more exclusive stores, it’s still filled with the pastel tissue paper that had been wrapped around whatever it was Pete bought her. She tosses it aside; she can’t even remember now what had been wrapped and presented so carefully, not that it matters anyway. It probably never mattered. Snorting softly, she picks up another empty shopping bag and gives it the same treatment. And that’s when she sees the box.

Her hand trembles slightly when she reaches out and lightly runs a finger along the blue cardboard top, her finger bumping against the twine, wrapped around it like a present. It isn’t a big box; it actually looks like the kind of sturdy cardboard box printing companies use for custom envelopes and stationary. Plain and functional and how could she have forgotten about it?

She carefully picks up the box and carries it into the living room, sitting down on the sofa. Resting the box on her knees, she toys with the fraying ends of the twine bow. She suspects she already knows the reason she’s forgotten; maybe it was her father’s death, or finding the man she loved involved with someone else, or herself on the verge of marrying a man she didn’t love and who deserved way better than what she had to offer and then there was the whole thing with Anubis and imminent annihilation of Earth, acting as an off-key counterpoint to her sad attempt to move on with her life.

She straightens her spine, her gaze fastening on the family picture on her mantle and the smiling faces of her parents she’s memorized; she has moved on and this time she’s moving on with the man she loves. God, at least she hopes that’s what Jack’s fishing invitation means. She hopes this is what her father had tried to tell her and while she now desperately wishes that he could see for himself, she’ll allow herself the wishful hope that wherever he is, that he knows and approves.

The knot’s stubborn and she bites at her lower lip, pulling at the reluctant fibers, which finally give way. Her hands hover over the box and she remembers when it was delivered, the day after her father’s memorial service.

She was home alone—a thankful respite from hovering friends and her smothering fiancé, when the doorbell rang. She almost hadn’t answered, wanting nothing more than to curl up on her bed and shut out the world for a few hours, but she’d caught sight of the tell-tale blue uniform through the windows and she opened the door. A very young and fresh-faced lieutenant stood on her porch, the box clutched in his hands. He’d stammered out a greeting and held the box out to her.

The personal effects of General Jacob Carter, he’d informed her, held in safe keeping until the time of his death, when they were to be delivered to his next of kin. She’d been stunned, but automatically took the box, clutching it to her chest; she’d known about the safety deposit box filled with his will and various other legal papers, but he’d never said a word about a blue cardboard box tied with twine.

The young lieutenant appeared relieved and after a quickly murmured, “I’m sorry for your loss”, had raced down the steps and across her lawn to his waiting car. Looking back, she doesn’t remember if she was going to open the box right away or wait; but in the end it didn’t make any difference. Before she could decide, Pete had returned and not wanting to answer any questions about the box, she had tucked it in the hall closet where it remained forgotten—until now.

Sam suddenly doesn’t care that she has packing to do and that Jack is due any minute to pick her up. She needs to see what’s in the box. Taking a shaky breath, she lifts off the lid and carefully folds back the white tissue paper. She can’t breathe for a minute and she wipes at the tears that trickle slowly down her cheeks. She gently picks up the lacy white baby bonnet and matching booties; she has a distant memory of her mother showing them to her once upon a time and the fond smile on her face as she told the story of
Great-Aunt Marie carefully knitting the tiny bonnet and booties for her first great niece.

Setting the bonnet and booties aside, Sam picks up the tiny pair of blue plaid tennis shoes next. She doesn’t think these are hers and her suspicion is confirmed when she turns them over and see the name ‘Mark’ written in faded magic marker on the soles. A piece of red terry cloth turns out to be a bib with two Hot Wheels cars wrapped in it. Mark’s again, she thinks, remembering how he loved racing around the house with his cars, and she sets them aside. She’s puzzled when she discovers a black velvet ring box next, the velvet worn with age and she can’t help the soft gasp when she opens it and finds her mother’s engagement and wedding rings.

She carefully takes them out of the box and studies them; just a simple diamond solitaire and plain gold band but she remembers them as if it was just yesterday that she saw her mother wearing them. They seem so small and she wonders how she could have forgotten how small her mother’s hands were and she rubs the gold band and marvels that her father, always so gruff and unsentimental, kept them all these years. Putting them back into the ring box, she finds two lace handkerchiefs next, embroidered with her mother’s initials and a pair of cuff links with an elaborate ‘C’ inscribed on them. She doesn’t ever remember her father wearing cuff links and she wonders sadly what other memories have been lost now that he’s gone.

There isn’t much else in the way of things; a matching tie-tack for the cuff links, her parent’s wedding invitation nestled incongruously with a memorial leaflet from her mother’s funeral and the desiccated remains of what was once a red rose, crumbling in a shroud of wax paper. At the very bottom of the box is a thick manila envelope and she’s not sure what she expects to find. All of the important papers—marriage, birth and death certificates—were in the safety deposit box and any family photos were long ago divided between her and Mark.

The envelope is old and she carefully folds back the metal clasp and gently eases out the contents and finds more envelopes, tied together with a yellow ribbon. She’s confused for the briefest moment, but then she catches the faintest whiff of her mother’s perfume and recognizes her father’s handwriting on the top envelope and she doesn’t need to look any further to know what she’s found. But she does anyway, her father’s handwriting is on some of the envelopes and while the decidedly feminine script on the rest of the envelopes is unfamiliar, she knows it was her mother’s. The postmarks are faded, but the single digit postage stamp places the time before her birth and likely that of Mark as well.

Sam shuffles through the stack, carefully keeping them in order and she counts nine letters all together. She never thought of her father as a sentimental man, but the contents of the box would seem to contradict her perception. Tears start to prick at her eyes again; in spite of the closeness she felt they had achieved over the last few years, there was still so much more for her to learn and now she never will. Her hazy memories of her parents as a couple are those of a child and later as an adolescent, filled with grief and anger over her mother’s death and she wishes that he was sitting next to her, smiling and laughing and telling her the story behind every item so carefully saved in a cardboard box.

“Oh, Dad,” she murmurs softly, her voice breaking. Her finger slips beneath the flap of the first envelope but before she can open it her doorbell rings. “Crap!” It can’t be that time already and she hurriedly slips the ribbon back around the envelopes, cursing softly when some of the edges get caught and bent in her haste. The door bell rings again and she’s almost frantic now, shoving the envelopes back in the box and jamming the lid on top.

Recklessly tossing her precious box on the coffee table, she stands up and hurries to the front door, wiping at her eyes. She’s almost there when her visitor gives up on the doorbell and starts pounding and her heart starts beating faster with something other than panic when she hears Jack’s voice. “Sam?”

She brushes at her wet cheeks one more time, wiping her hands on her jeans, painfully aware that there’s nothing she can do about her tear-stained face and eyes. Taking a deep breath, she opens the door and greets him with a cheerful smile. “Jack!”

His eyes crinkle and his lips start to curve in a smile, but his smile stalls mid-way, concern filling his dark eyes and she feels her composure start to crumble under his scrutiny. “Sam?” He takes a step forward and she’s forced to back up and she starts to feel suffocated, his presence suddenly overpowering in her small entryway. “What’s wrong?”

The tenderness in his voice is her undoing and though she’s pretty sure it wasn’t what she meant to say, she blurts out, “I don’t know what to pack.” She waits, inwardly cringing at the inane comment; she really isn’t sure the other alternative, telling him she was crying over a box of her father’s keepsakes, would have made any more sense.

He clearly wasn’t expecting that; his brow wrinkles for the briefest moment before he relaxes, his smile as tender as his voice. “We’re just going fishing.”

That’s just the point, she thinks a bit wildly. After five years and at least as many invitations—not to mention everything else that’s happened between them—she’s finally going fishing with him. And maybe her thoughts are all jumbled up with memories of her father now, courtesy of the contents of the box and she has this sudden flash of someone—her niece or nephew maybe, opening a similar box—because god knows the way her life is going it won’t be her child—and finding…she doesn’t know what. And that’s when it hits her; she doesn’t want someone to open up the box that contains the mementos of her life and find nothing but a handful of medals and regrets.

Jack’s still talking, she hears him ramble on, which in itself tells her he isn’t quite as calm and cool as he appears, about chilly mornings and evenings, but the afternoons can be hot and there’s always the chance of rain, so she really should pack layers and she would really like to hit him for being so dense, because really, she knows all that. What she desperately needs to know is what this trip really means—to him, to her and the ethereal ‘them’ she’s been trying to deny for so long.

She’s had a long string of disappointments in her life of late and if it truly is just a fishing trip, then maybe she should have said no again. “Jack,” she finally interrupts him. “I just want to know what to expect.”

He gets that cutely perplexed look on his face and repeats, “Layers. It’s hard to predict the weather in Northern Minnesota this time of year.” He smiles his pleased smile, as if he’s suddenly solved all the problems in the world and in spite of the turmoil churning inside her, her heart does a little flip-flop.

Layers, she thinks, seeing analogies and metaphors in everything. It’s all about peeling back the layers and getting to what really matters and she doesn’t want there to be any layers separating them anymore. Getting to the heart of Jack O’Neill has never been an easy task, she’s been close on some very rare occasions, so while she doesn’t expect it to be easy, she knows that with the invitation to go fishing, she’s closer than she’s been in a very long time and maybe it’s time to start adding something that matters to that box.

He quirks an eyebrow, that easy smile still on his handsome face, and she recognizes it as an invitation for her to say something now, like maybe how she’ll go pack clothes she can layer, t-shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, maybe a quilted vest. And she probably will pack like that…later…after she’s stripped away the last layers between her and the man she loves. She takes a step closer to him and slowly reaches towards him, past the open edges of his leather jacket and places her hand in the center of his chest. Even through his shirt she feels the heat of his skin—and the sudden increase in his heart rate.

Sam never imagined, and she’s imagined this a lot, that she would seduce him in the foyer of her house; she was saving it for a more special location, say a certain cabin on a certain lake in Northern Minnesota, but the time will never be better and before she goes fishing she will peel back the layers and see the heart of Jack O’Neill.

She doesn’t see the point in trying to be coy or cute; what happens next is too important, and besides, she’s tired of hiding behind words and regulations. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a while now,” she tells him. “But something always seemed to get in the way.” Her smile is tender and a bit sad; his expression remains the same but beneath her hand she can feel his muscles tense. She flexes her fingers lightly in a subtle caress, reassuring him and herself. She’s not going to exhume the past, he knows just as well as she does what got ‘in the way’ and she isn’t interested in peeling back the layers of past lovers.

Fighting the urge to look away from his too perceptive eyes, she resolutely holds his gaze, forging their connection. “I made some choices and settled for a relationship that was convenient instead of fighting for the one I wanted. And by the time I came to my senses, it seemed like it was too late. But now I’ve been given a second chance.” She takes a deep breath, her fingers unconsciously clenching in the fabric of his shirt. “We’ve been given a second chance, so I need to know. Are we just friends going fishing? Or are we something more?”

He’s still and quiet for so long that he starts to get that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach and she searches desperately for the courage to plaster a bright smile on her face when he suddenly speaks. “Something more,” he says, his voice rough and his dark eyes searching hers. “It’s always been something more.”

Relief and love spark in a flash fire, igniting the desire that smolders inside her and smothering the despair. Tightening her grip on his shirt, she smiles and tugs him closer.

The stunned look on his face fades and his lips curve in a lazy smile causing the conflagration burning inside her to explode. “I can’t wait any longer,” she tells him; her free hand glides up to his shoulder and she leans towards him. She feels his hands at her waist and then she can’t feel anything at all except the exquisite pleasure of his mouth against hers. She’s starving…drowning…dying for his touch and she’s sinking into him, pressing him back against the door and nipping at his lower lip with her teeth, demanding entrance.

“Sam.” Jack groans her name and she slides her tongue into his mouth. His taste is heady and his answering kiss is as wild and hungry as hers. Crazy pleasure blazes through her and she can’t get enough of him, pressing her body roughly against his and grinding her hips against him. She whimpers when one of Jack’s hands glides down to ass and as she tries to wrap one of her legs around him, he wraps his other arm around her and with a move worthy of his training, lifts her and spins her around, pinning her against the door.

It’s better. He’s still pressed just as tightly against her as before and when she shifts, widening her stance, he takes immediate advantage, wedging his thigh against her. She whimpers into his mouth again and he answers with a low growl; and this time when she tries to wrap her leg around him, the hand at her waist travels down her thigh and helps her. Oh god, it’s even better now. Jack leans heavily into her, their mouths still fused and she rubs against him, the sensation intense even through the barrier of their clothes and she wants him so badly that she doesn’t care that they’re on the verge of having sex in the foyer against her front door.

But apparently Jack has other ideas when he gently breaks the kiss, bracketing her wrists against the door with his hands and resting his forehead against hers. She bites back a low groan of protest, but slowly lets her leg drift back down, fighting to get her breathing under control. She feels him lift his head, but she doesn’t open her eyes when she hears him murmur, “Is this what you want?” Uncertain of her control, she nods her head. “Then not here,” he rumbles.

A moment of pure panic fills her; her eyes fly open and she strains futilely against the hands still wrapped around her wrists. “Jack, I don’t think I can wait until we go fishing.”

The flash of amusement sparks in his dark eyes, some of the strain on his face briefly fading. “Oh don’t worry,” he growls. “I have no intention of waiting.” His hands tighten on her wrists and he tugs her back up against his hard body, pressing a fierce kiss on her lips. Her eyes drift shut when his mouth drifts along her jaw, barely able to concentrate on the hypnotic sound of his voice as he murmurs, “We’ve waited too long to be satisfied with a quickie in the hallway.” His teeth nip lightly at her ear lobe and he whispers, “I need you to trust me here, Carter—”

Sam gives a strangled gasp, half laugh and half sob, and he abruptly moves, gently cupping her face between his large hands and she forces her eyes to open and finds him gazing at her, the fierce desire in his eyes of only moments ago tempered with tender laughter. “A bed will be much better.”

“Will it now?” She’s not sure where the gentle teasing comes from, maybe it’s the growing confidence she feels or maybe in working her way through the layers of Jack O’Neill, she’s shedding a few herself. With a suddenly mischievous smile, she slips out of his arms and before he can react, she grabs one of his hands and lacing her fingers with his, pulls him down the hallway to the requested bedroom.

The duffel is still on her bed where she left it, along with the few items of clothing she had been able to decide on, but she sweeps them aside, along with the bedspread. Jack is right behind her, his hands already at her waist and bunching up her sweater and sending tingles across her exposed skin. She finishes the job for him, pulling the sweater off and tossing it in the general direction of the discarded duffel and a shiver chases through her when his fingers glide up her spine and deftly undo her bra.

Turning, Sam lets the bra slip off her arms and onto the floor and she reaches for Jack, but he seems suddenly distracted. An indulgent smile twitches at her lips and she starts unbuttoning his shirt, trying hard to not get distracted herself when his fingers feather in a light caress across her collarbone and then along her ribs, brushing against her breasts with teasing touches. Once his shirt is unbuttoned, she mimics his actions, running her fingers across his chest, thoroughly enjoying the freedom to finally touch and caress him.

She shuffles closer to him, pressing soft kisses along his collarbone, totally distracted now and barely aware of his caressing hands still moving across her tender flesh. Lost in the haze of pleasure surrounding them, Jack catches her by surprise when he employs a move generally reserved for hand-to-hand combat and she lets out a soft shriek, clutching at his shoulders as he drops her down onto the bed. In an equally swift and effective movement, he hooks his fingers in the waistband of her jeans—somehow unbuttoned, probably while she was distracted earlier—and along with her panties, tugs them down and off.

Jack drops the last of her clothing onto the floor, his eyes never leaving her as he shrugs out of his shirt and begins unfastening his belt. Stretching leisurely for his benefit, Sam scoots further back on the bed, waiting eagerly while he undresses. She knows they all answer to time and sitting behind a desk instead of being out in the field everyday can take its toll, but he looks just as good to her as the day they first met so many years ago. She isn’t going to think about wasted years; the time for regrets is long gone and it’s time to start living the life that until a few weeks ago only existed in her dreams.

He stands before her, his eyes filled with dark fire, his muscles tense and straining with passion. His desire for her is evident and everything inside her responds to his blatant arousal. Sam smiles, her fears and uncertainties swept away in an incredible rush of love, desire and timeless feminine power. “Jack,” she says, holding her arms out to him. “What are you waiting for?”

“Nothing…everything,” he rumbles, crawling onto the bed and into her arms.

The first electric contact of his body fully against hers causes her to gasp. It’s almost overwhelming in its intensity, almost too much, too fast. But then he’s kissing her, gently at first, coaxing out a response and then with increasing passion. Her body catches up faster than her brain, adjusting and adapting her soft curves to the harder planes and angles of his body. She shifts, her arms and legs cradling him against her, each point of contact overloading her synapses with pleasure.

Jack’s kisses are drugging, his softly murmured endearments arousing, his hands are strong and sure as they caress her. She can feel her rigid length hot and heavy against her belly and oh god, he feels so good and she’s wet and so ready and she needs him now.

“Jack,” she moans, tugging at his hips. “Now. I need you now.”

Sam’s not sure if he’s ignoring her or didn’t hear her because he doesn’t move, seemingly content to nuzzle and tease her soft breasts. And as nice as it feels—she gasps softly, her back arching when he nips and then begins to suck on one tight nipple—she’s pretty confident it’s not as nice as what’s to come and she won’t be distracted that easily again. Moving her hands caressingly across his shoulders and back, she eventually slips one between their bodies and begins to stroke his engorged penis.

“Oh god, Sam,” he groans, sagging against her, his head dropping to her breast.

It’s a bit awkward, she can barely move her hand, so she squeezes gently and murmurs, “Like that?” He groans again, his head moving against her breast. “Good,” she purrs and then whispers, “It’ll feel even better once you’re inside me.”

A ragged shudder runs through him with her suggestive words and this time, when she urges him to move, he does, rising up over her and resting on his elbows. She shifts with him, making room for him to settle fully between her spread thighs, guiding him to her. She’s so wet and ready that when she feels him begin to resist her, she has a brief moment of panic. “Jack!” she gasps, tightening her legs around him, trying to urge him on.

“Easy, Sam,” he rumbles, easing more of his weight down on her and stilling her movements. She moans a soft protest but he doesn’t relent and she eventually lays quiet. “Look at me,” he orders.

Forcing her eyes open, she finds him looking down at her, his eyes dark with desire and possessiveness. She wonders if she should be frightened by the intensity of his gaze, but she’s not; she wanted to get through the layers and touch the heart of Jack O’Neill and she won’t back away now. His whole body is pressed against hers in one giant caress and she wants to weep in frustration when he shifts again, bringing his penis into even more intimate contact with her soft flesh, only to stop short. Slowly and deliberately, he locates first one hand and then the other, lacing her fingers through hers and gently forcing her arms back down on the bed, pinning them to the mattress.

She feels utterly and totally surrounded by him and with any of her previous lovers, she never would have given up this much controls this fast—or possibly ever. But this is Jack and so she sheds one more layer. He stayed strong beside her when she was shattered with grief over her father’s death and through the slow and cautious dance that has finally brought them to this moment.

Sam stops fighting and relaxes, opening her heart fully and letting the final barrier fall. “I love you.”

She’s not surprised by the intensely satisfied look on his face what does surprise her is the faint, yet unmistakable relief in his eyes. And it humbles her to think he was that unsure. “I love you,” she repeats gently, shifting her pelvis in an intimate caress.

Jack groans again, his hands clench around hers and she sobs with relief and pleasure when he finally thrusts into her. She eagerly moves with him, wrapping her legs higher around his hips, seeking an even deeper joining. Jack pounds into her and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Their passion rises, sharp and fast, the intensity building until she has no choice but to surrender to the incredible sensations rushing through her.

Swept away in the powerful rush of emotions cascading through her, the only thing keeping her grounded are his hands squeezing hers and his dark eyes boring in to hers. Sam sobs his name, shattering into a million pieces when she breaks, pleasure beyond what she thought was humanly possible crashing through her, leaving her helpless in its aftermath.

When Jack releases her hands and cups her shoulders, she clings to him, burying her face in his throat as he thrusts heavily into her until he finally surrenders in turn. She holds him tightly when he collapses on her, his big body shuddering and all his muscles trembling. She feels such a tremendous wave of love and protectiveness flow through her, it brings tears to her eyes; there isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for him. She smiles and sniffles a bit, heck; she’s even agreed to go fishing.

“What’s wrong?” he murmurs, his voice low and rough in her ear.

His hearing always was too good; running a soothing hand down his back, she replies, “Nothing. Just thinking about fishing.”

He moves then, lifting his head just enough to look at her. She suspects she looks as satisfied as she feels because his eyes are tender and he gives her a crooked smile and raises an eyebrow. “Fishing? Really? You’re thinking about fishing? Now?”

“I’m thinking,” she says with a smile, “that I should have agreed to go fishing you a long time ago.”

He smiles his pleased smile. ‘Yes well, you finally came to your senses.”

She snorts and hits him lightly on the shoulder which just causes him to look even smugger. “We both came to our senses.”

“Amen to that,” he agrees. Jack moves then and she mumbles a half-hearted protest because even though he is heavy, she doesn’t want this moment to ever end. But it is more comfortable curled up in his arms and she sighs with contentment. His heart beats strong and steady beneath her ear and his hand moves slowly up and down her arm in a leisurely caress. His voice rumbles above her. “It never was about the fishing, you know.”

“I know,” she replies softly, smoothing her hand across his chest. “I’ve always known.”

“Well then, as long as we’re both clear on that. So, anymore questions on what to pack?”

She laughs then, there’s still sadness lingering in her heart from her father’s death, but the future looks much brighter from her position in Jack’s arms than it did before. ‘No,” she says. “I think I’ve got it figured out now. Layers.”

EPILOG

“Are you ready, Sam?”

Jack’s voice drifts down from somewhere in the front of the cabin to the bedroom, where she’s just about finished packing. The two weeks at the cabin have gone way too fast, but she’s not too worried, the future is wide open and no matter what happens once they return to the Springs, her present now includes one Jack O’Neill.

“Be right there,” she calls out.

Zipping up her suitcase, she sets it on the floor, pulling up the handle and swinging her tote bag over her shoulder. Pausing at the door, she looks around the rustic room one last time. The pine dresser, chest of drawers and the double bed with its navy blue bedspread—and matching curtains at the two windows—are still just as plain and functional as when they arrived, but she wouldn’t trade them for the swankiest suite at a luxury resort. Of course, she is going to order a new bed before their next trip because no matter how much she loves him, it turns out he’s a bed hog and a queen size bed will suit them both much better.

 

She’s just ready to leave when a sliver of sunlight sneaking through the blinds and curtains glints off something on the dresser. Holy Hannah, she almost forgot it. Two quick strides bring her to the dresser and she picks up the bass jig lying there—already carefully de- barbed. The gold spinner gleams dully, the yellow plastic lure attached to it, designed to mimic an immature baby bass according to Jack, dangles listlessly from the remnant of line. Jack had been so surprised that day when her fishing pole had suddenly bowed and she’d reeled in a medium-sized bass.

The fish was a beauty and she couldn’t bear to kill it, so after a quick photo from her cell phone, they’d tossed it back into his supposedly fish-less lake. She’d finished out the day using the same lure, but never caught another fish and that night when they’d put away their gear, she’d cut off the barb and slipped the jig into her pocket.

“Whatcha’ doing?” he asked.

She glanced over at him and shrugged, the jig and wire cutters in her hand. “Souvenir,” she replied, deftly snipping off the barb.

He raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything else, just continued to carefully stow the gear they’d used during the day.

He didn’t ask and she didn’t offer to explain, though she will—if he ever asks. Smiling, she slips the jig into the inner pocket of her tote bag and makes her way to the front of the cabin where her future waits for her.

THE END