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At the Edge of Nothing At All

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Chapter One

“The notion of a multiverse is essentially a reworking of Many Worlds, with one critical difference. In the multiverse, the dictum against interactions isn’t absolute. Travel between worlds is technically within the laws of physics, but statistically highly unlikely.”
-The Physics of the Buffyverse, page 205

*

She has a week to settle in before the kids start back. It seems like both a lot of time and not enough all at once. New jobs always make her a little anxious and this one includes moving to another state into a town where she hardly knows a soul. She’s been to Colorado Springs a few times - to visit when Mark was in the Air Force Academy and more recently for her job interview and to rent a quick apartment.

She liked San Diego, she did, but the California economy meant she was pink slipped at the end of almost every school year and she just wants a little more job stability. Liberty high school is in an affluent part of Colorado Springs which greatly increases her chance of someday actually getting tenure. Plus Colorado is a beautiful state and she loves the outdoors. She’ll be able to hike in the summer, ski in the winter. She’s confident it’ll be a good fit and she’s certainly not tied down in San Diego. No husband, no boyfriend, no prospects after living there for four years.

She drove her car with a U-Haul trailer attached through the desert to the mountains. Her furniture she had to ship.

Now it’s her first day actually on campus. She’s met almost no other teachers - her interview was with Principal Hammond, Vice-Principal Landry and the head of the Science department, Janet something. Janet had seemed nice, friendly, and pleased to hire another female science teacher.

“This department has been a boys club for too long,” she’d said after Hammond had officially offered the job.

But as Sam waits around in the office while the Principal’s secretary, Walter, hunts around for the keys to Sam’s new classroom, she doesn’t see any familiar faces. She doesn’t see any faces at all save for Walter rummaging through a cupboard. The principal’s office is dark and while there are cars in the faculty parking lot, the campus is a ghost town.

Walter must see her staring out the window at the parking lot because he says, “Don’t worry Ms. Carter, student orientation will fill this place up in a jiffy.”

“Call me Sam,” she says.

“Sure,” he says. “Okay, this key is for your classroom. This is for the Science faculty room. This is for the communal faculty areas around the campus and this is for the after hours parking gate if you’re here late and your car gets stuck.”

“Uh,” she says. “Okay.”

“This is your parking pass - row F, spot 23. The longer you’re here, the better the spot.” He wiggles his eyebrows at her like this is some sort of brass ring to go after.

“Thanks,” she says. “Do you, uh, have a map of the campus?”

“Sure,” he says. He pulls one out of a folder and slides it to her across the counter that separates his work area from who ever might wander into the office. “Do you want me to show you where your room is?”

“I can find it, thanks,” she says.

“Principal Hammond wants the first semester’s lesson plans by Wednesday,” he says. “Welcome to LHS. Go Lancers!”

She carries her new bounty back to her car where’s parked in a visitor’s spot and then hangs the navy and silver parking permit on her rearview mirror. She drives to the faculty lot and finds her spot - closer to the road than to the school, but still much closer than her spot ever was in San Diego. The air here is cool and clean this early on an August morning instead of smoggy and sweltering and though she feels a little anxious, she feels good about things. She can make this work, she can.

She sits in her car and studies the map for awhile. Her classroom is in the C building which is basically all the way across campus from everything, down by sports fields. Sighing, she gets out of the car and gets the box from her trunk that contains the things she usually keeps in her classroom. A few framed pictures for her desk, a couple personal physics books, her poster of Carl Sagan.

She fumbles for a minute trying to find the right key to open the double doors that lets her into the building. The keys all look the same - small gold keys imprinted with the instructions that they are not to be duplicated. Once she opens the doors, she sets her box down inside and digs a permanent marker out of her purse. She writes a little ‘C’ on the key and attaches it to her key ring.

The halls twist and turn and she studies the map for a bit before she continues on. Her room is C-4. Most of the classrooms are dark and empty but as she passes C-2 she sees Janet inside, sitting at the desk and tapping away at her computer. Her door is propped open so Sam sticks her head in.

“Hello,” she says. Janet looks up.

“Samantha!” she says. “You’re here!”

“Yeah,” she says. “How are you?”

“Good, good. Welcome!” Janet says standing up. “Have you found your room?”

“I’m just headed there now,” Sam says, shifting the box to rest on her hip. “This place is quiet.”

“You’re our only new hire this year if you can believe it,” Janet says. “Most teachers will come in on Wednesday to get ready for freshman orientation but I came in hoping to see you. Come on, I’ll show you your room.”

The room is bigger than her classroom in San Diego and she’ll have less students. Her classes gets capped at 28 - something she’s really looking forward to.

“This is it,” Janet says, flipping on the lights.

“It’s really nice,” Sam says, smiling.

“I left your packet here on your desk,” Janet says, hurrying over to the big gray desk in the corner of the room. “It has more information on the school, the staff contact list, and your schedule.”

“Okay,” she says, setting the box down on one of the desks.

“Just let me know if you need anything,” she says. “Do you have family in the area?”

“Nope,” Sam says. “This is kind of a fresh start for me. My dad was an Air Force General and my brother is a Major but he’s stationed in California…” She trails off, wondering if she’d already over shared. Mark hadn’t been happy about his sister leaving but after her dad died last year, it just seemed like time to move on.

“Have you found a place?”

“Uh,” she says. “I’m renting month to month at an apartment but I hope to find a house.”

“It’s a pretty good market here, especially for renters,” Janet says. “My shitty ex-husband was in real estate.”

“Ah,” Sam says.

“Because of the Air Force, there’s a lot of people coming and going in this market, so there’s always stuff to rent,” Janet says.

“I’m sure I’ll find something,” she says.

“Okay, well,” Janet says. “I’ll leave you to work. If you want, we can get lunch?”

“Sure,” Sam says.

She reads the packet on her desk, instructions on how to electronically submit her lesson plan to Hammond, the freshman orientation schedule, her identification badge attached to a navy colored Liberty High School lanyard. She finds her class schedule - two physics classes, an AP physics class, two honors physics class and a prep period.

At least she could tailor her lesson plan from San Diego a bit and not start over from scratch.

The school feels a little dark and eerie. She has windows that looks out onto the field, but she’s used to California where all the classroom doors open to the outside, not this where, even now when her door is wide open, all she can see is a dark and empty hallway. She listens hard to see if she can hear Janet a few doors down, but all is quiet.

She gets up and struggles to open the windows. They do open, but they don’t give easily and screech a little as she forces them open. One slides back down again and she sees a ruler on the ledge and uses it to keep it propped open. A gift from whoever had this job before.

At some point, the sound of sprinklers coming on jars her out of her focus on her lesson plans and a look at the clock tells her it’s five past noon. Her stomach growls audibly.

“Guess it’s time for lunch,” she mutters. She saves everything to her thumb drive and logs out of the computer.

Purse on her shoulder, she walks down to Janet’s classroom, but it’s empty. Figuring there could be many reasons for that, she heads for the double doors that exit to the back of the school and figures she’ll walk around in the sunshine and head for her car. If she runs into Janet, fine, if not, she’ll go to that sandwich shop she passed on the way in.

The sprinklers make everything smell like wet, cut grass and she breathes in deeply, gazing across the green expanse toward the baseball diamond and, past that, what looks to be the football field surrounded by tall lights and bleachers. She’s done a fair bit of research on this school but she didn’t bother much with the sports program. She knows they have teams but past that, she doesn’t know much.

As she turns the corner, she sees a set of open doors that lead into the gym. Inside, a man in a navy polo shirt and khaki shorts is standing a few yards away from her, under one of the basketball nets. He’s staring up at it, a whistle around his neck. She glances up and sees that there’s something caught in the netting - a jock strap.

“Need a hand?” she asks.

He turns at looks at her.

“Got any ideas?” he asks, a slight southern drawl tinging his voice.

“How about a ladder?” she suggests.

“I was thinking of just hurling basketballs at it until it comes down.” He smiles at her. “I’m Cam.”

“Sam Carter,” she says. She walks in far enough to shake his hand.

“Oh, you’re our new hire!” he says.

“Guess so,” she says.

“I’m the assistant coach,” he says. “Also, apparently I’m in charge of getting junk cup straps down from nets.”

“What an appalling phrase,” she says, walking over to the cart of basketballs. She drops her purse onto the gym floor and picks up a basketball. Eyeing the jock strap she throws the basketball up, hard.

It hits the net, slams into the wall and then bounces away. The jock strap falls to the floor.

“See you later,” she says picking up her purse and walking out.

oooo

“I’m so sorry,” Janet says the next day. “I didn’t mean to flake out on you. My daughter got a flat tire and I had to go help her change it on the side of the road.”

“It’s okay,” Sam says. “I won’t take it personally.”

They are having lunch now, at any rate. This isn’t the first apology, but it’s the first explanation.

“She’s only had her license for a couple weeks so I’m still nervous,” Janet says.

“She’s sixteen?” Sam asks.

“Yep. And a Liberty student which thrills her to no end, I assure you,” Janet says, rolling her eyes.

“Yeah, that must be weird, having your mom be your teacher.”

“She’s never even been in my class!” Janet defends. “It’s still the end of the world. She avoids me on campus.”

Janet shakes her head and stabs her salad.

“What about you?” she asks. “Any kids?”

“No,” Sam says. “Maybe someday? I guess?”

“What does your husband think?” Janet probes.

“I don’t have one of those, either,” Sam says. “I must’ve accidentally left pathetic spinster off my resume.”

“Spinster, maybe,” Janet says. “But that resume was not pathetic.”

“Thanks, I think,” Sam says.

“Well I know plenty of single men,” Janet says, waving her hand in the air dramatically. “We can go on double dates.”

“Um,” Sam says. “I’m actually… I think I just need to settle in for a while. Get my bearings.”

“Bad break-up, huh?” she asks.

“No, just… my father just passed away last year so I just… now this big move. I feel like I’ve had enough change for awhile.” Sam smiles, forces one to show Janet that she’s okay.

“I’m so sorry,” Janet says.

“It’s fine,” she says. “It’s… it’s really okay.”

Of course it isn’t, but Sam steers the conversation gently away from herself. Janet adores her daughter and chatters about her endlessly. How they’re already looking at colleges, how she doesn’t want Cassie to move far away, how Cassie refuses to try out for cheerleading even though she’d be a smash at it - Janet’s words.

“She’s too cool for it,” Janet says sadly, shaking her head. “She likes sports but she says cheerleading isn’t serious enough.”

“What does she play?”

“Track and softball,” she says. “Although the girl’s coach, Carolyn, just went out on maternity leave so I think Jack is going to take over the girls for a few months. That’ll be a riot.”

“I thought the coach’s name was Cam,” she says.

“Cam Mitchell is the assistant coach,” Janet says. “He’s pretty new here, too.”

“Oh,” says Sam.

“Jack O’Neill is the head coach. He’s been here longer than I have. His son Charlie is really smart. He has some classes with Cassie, though he’s a year younger.” Janet squints. “You’ll probably have Charlie in physics this year. He’ll maybe be your only sophomore.”

“Okay,” Sam says. Though Janet has been more than friendly, she seems like she might be the conductor of the gossip train as far as the staff goes.

“Jack is nice,” Janet says. “I’ll introduce you.”

“I’m sure I’ll meet everyone before too long,” she says dismissively. Sam likes to make up her own mind about people. This is the fourth high school she’s worked at and there are always cliques within the teaching staff, just like with the students. She wants to like Colorado Springs, wants to settle down somewhere and so she’s wary of choosing a side too quickly.

After lunch, returned to her classroom, Sam finishes working on her lesson plan for the first semester and emails it to Principal Hammond. She hasn’t seen him - or much of anyone - for the last two days, but they have an all staff meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the orientation days that fill the rest of the week, so she’s not too worried about it. She’s glad she has the bulk of her planning out of the way. And when three rolls around, she leaves feeling satisfied and prepared.

oooo

There are more cars in the parking lot than she has ever seen when she arrives on Wednesday morning. It seems as if most of the staff park as close as they can - in the visitor spots, along the fire lane that lines the strip of road that segregates the parking lot and the building, and in the student lot closest to the cafeteria. Sam parks in her designated space. She puts her purse on her shoulder and carries her travel mug of coffee down to the set of open double doors that lead to the cafeteria.

The place is milling with people and it all seems like they stop to look at her at the same time. There are a few familiar faces - Walter at the side of Principal Hammond and she can see Janet waving her in.

“Ah,” says Principal Hammond. “Here she is now.”

“Hi,” she says uneasily. “Am I late?”

“No,” he says. “No of course not. We’re just happy to welcome you.”

“Well thank you, sir,” she says.

“Please,” he says. “Call me George.”

For her benefit, once they are all there, seated around one of the long cafeteria tables, everyone introduces themselves and what they teach. She sits between Janet and George Hammond and tries to remember everyone’s name though halfway through, she gives it up as an impossible feat. Some people stand out like the huge history teacher, who just introduced himself as ‘T’ and the shop teacher who had a cast on his left arm and a bandage across his nose, Sylvester Siler. She could always remember alliterative names.

Just as they’re about finished with introductions, two more men enter. The doors clatter behind them and everyone looks at them.

“Jack! Daniel! How nice that you’ve decided to join us,” Hammond says.

“Ah,” says one of them. “George. Thanks for having us.”

“Sorry,” mutters the other one. He’s a bit younger, has glasses and long floppy hair and at least manages to look a little embarrassed. They sit at the far end of the table. When the last person introduces themselves - Jonas Quinn, English - Hammond doesn’t give the late comers the opportunity of introduction. Janet leans in and says softly, “Daniel’s our librarian, and that’s Jack O’Neill.”

Sam nods. She remembers Janet mentioning him and his son, Charlie. Jack is a little older than she imagined or maybe his tan face and salt and pepper hair just make him look older than he really is. But there’s something about him - his cocky attitude at his tardiness, his intelligent eyes, his strong build - that is appealing and familiar. He looks… military. As someone who has grown up in a family where the men have always been in the Air Force, she can spot them.

She stops looking at him when he looks up at her and tries to listen to the instructions that Hammond is laying down for the next few days of student orientation. She’s done this before - different location but same thing. Freshman come pick up their schedules, pre-purchase yearbooks, school t-shirts, sign up for clubs and sports, find their classrooms before the big day. Hammond has her sitting at one of the registration tables to ease her in. Thursday is students with last names A through M and Friday is the rest.

“Wear your school colors,” Hammond says. “School spirit starts with us, people.”

That afternoon, the truck hauling the rest of Sam’s things finally arrives a week after she does and she spends the rest of the evening pushing furniture around her little apartment. She doesn’t want this place to become permanent, but she’s happy enough to put her bed together so she doesn’t have to spend another night on an air mattress. She unpacks her kitchen, hangs all her clothes. And along with her furniture, the truck has delivered her motorcycle. As soon as the sun sets and she’s tired of unpacking, she puts on her leather jacket, her helmet, and takes her bike out of the residential neighborhood and into the more commercial part of town to find herself some dinner.

There’s a small diner in a strip mall that looks like it’s been there for 50 years. She’s noticed it a few times and though it doesn’t look very inviting, it’s usually places like these that have the best food. She parks her bike and carries her helmet into the diner. There are a few people here and there and she’s just looking around for hostess when someone says, “Hey, Physics!”

She turns and sees someone waving her over.

“Librarian,” she says. “Hi.”

“Daniel Jackson,” he says, shaking her hand when she gets close enough.

“Sam Carter,” she replies.

“Care to join me?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “You could be a murderer for all I know.”

“So could you,” he says. “But what are the odds of us both being murderers?”

“You want the math?” she asks.

“Never mind, go away,” he says.

She sits down.

“So, where are you from?” he asks, pushing his menu toward her. He says it with an edge of sarcasm, like this is a game he’s playing, being polite, but it doesn’t seem disingenuous.

“Everywhere,” she says.

“Military family?”

“Yep,” she says. “But I just moved from San Diego.”

“Wow, is winter going to suck for you,” he says.

“I’ve lived all over,” she says. “I can deal with winter.”

He nods toward the window. “Motorcycles aren’t good in the snow.”

“Thanks for the tip,” she says. “I ride a motorcycle so obviously I don’t know the first thing about them.”

“I just meant, I hope you have something else to drive,” he says.

“Volvo,” she says.

“A motorcycle riding physics teacher from California,” he says. “Kids will love you.”

“Maybe,” she says. “But I don’t grade easily. I make them work for it.”

He nods. “Good.”

“So, anything good here?”

“Anything deep fried is to die for,” he says.

“Oh boy,” she says. “I am not in California anymore.”

oooo

Sam gets partnered with the English teacher, Jonas, and they sit at a long folding table out on the quad. They are at the check-in table for freshman registration. It’s an easy gig and she is glad to have it. She gets to sit in the sunshine and do little more than check names off a list and hand out the welcome packet. She has a stack of maps and occasionally directs people to the front office or another building, but nothing is beyond her. It’s warm but not hot and she keeps her sunglasses up on her head just in case. She'd worn a navy, sleeveless blouse and a jean skirt. It was the closest she could come to school spirit, but when Janet saw her in the morning, she'd tossed her a blue shirt that said ‘Go Lancers!’ in silver type and had the cheesy mascot on the back.

It’s large on her - she thinks it’s meant for the sports department because it looks like the coaches are wearing them too - Cam and Coach O’Neill. She uses a rubber band from her purse to tie the extra fabric of her shirt behind her and rolls up the sleeves a little.

Mostly, she won’t meet her students because no freshman are in Physics, but it’s good to see some new faces anyway. Jonas is chatty and friendly and recognizes parents and the younger siblings of former students. They only chit chat during lulls and mostly he fills that space.

“You’re from California?” he asks.

“Well, kind of,” she says. “I’m not really from anywhere. We moved a lot.”

“Military,” he says, nodding. “We have a lot of that here because of the Academy. A lot of students come and go and never make it through all four years.”

“Where are you from?” she asks, hoping to get the subject off things that make her think of her dad.

“Kelowna,” he says. She shakes her head a little. “It’s in Canada. I’m technically Canadian. Well, my mother is Canadian, and my father was American, so I actually have citizenship in both countries…”

And he’s off again chatting until another batch of students come up to the table, looking nervous and sweaty. Sam smiles at them, tries to look comforting.

“Welcome to Liberty,” she says. “Last name?”

Finally, their line dies down and Sam stands up to stretch her tired muscles. The sun is directly overhead and beats down on her. Her short hair feels damp at her neck and over her ears and she feels sticky and salty wherever clothes touch her skin.

“August, huh?” asks Jonas.

“Where do we go now?” she asks.

“The gym,” he says.

She remembers now. All of the clubs have set up tables in the gym to try to recruit new members before school even starts. Technically, sports are considered a club, but the football team has already been practicing through the summer. There are other, more academic clubs. Janet waves her over to a table she’s sitting at - Science club. There’s also a creative writing club, a Gay-Straight Alliance table with a huge rainbow flag duct taped to the wall behind them, all the foreign language clubs, chess club, ROTC, et cetera.

“You look cooked,” Janet says.

“Probably should have worn more sunscreen,” she admits. She’d put on her regular lotion that included sunscreen, but that felt like ages ago.

“Your nose is red,” Janet says. “There’s probably aloe vera in the nurse’s office.”

“That’s a good idea. Can I get into there?” she asks.

“Do you have your school keys?”

Sam fishes them out of her pocket. Janet takes them and plucks one key out of the rest. The others slide down to the bottom of the ring with a soft, metallic clank. Sam takes it, makes sure not to lose it.

“Across from the counseling offices,” Janet says.

“Great,” Sam says, “Thanks.”

Because everything is set up for orientation, the actual offices are pretty deserted. She lets herself in and is grateful for the cool air pumping into the enclosed space. As she turns the corner, though, she can hear voices.

“Can you bend it?”

“It’s fine, dad.”

“If you can’t walk across the quad without biffing it, how are you supposed to make QB this year?”

“I’m a sophomore, I shouldn’t be QB and you know Austin is a better choice. He’s more athletic than I am.”

“You’re plenty athletic, Charlie.”

“I’m a baseball player, I suck at football.”

“You don’t suck, you just need more practice.”

Sam steps up to the open door and knocks lightly on the frame. She doesn’t like feeling like she’s eavesdropping - she recognizes Coach O’Neill and a boy of about 15, what must be his son, Charlie, who Janet had mentioned before. Charlie has a big band-aid on his elbow and blood down one leg of his khaki cargo shorts.

“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t mean to interrupt.”

“Who are you?” asks Charlie. Coach O’Neill elbows him in his injured arm. “Ow!”

“Manners,” Coach O’Neill says. “This is… I’m sorry, I actually can’t remember. We’ve just been calling you ‘the new one’.”

“Samantha Carter,” she says. “Physics.”

“Did Mr. Stevenson finally destroy his liver and die?” asks Charlie. Coach O’Neill elbows him again, harder, still in his injured arm. “OW! Dad, seriously?”

“Uh,” Sam says. “I don’t know what happened to my predecessor, but I hear you’ll be in my class?”

“That’s the plan,” Charlie says.

"AP," Coach O'Neill says proudly.

Though Charlie is tall like his dad, and thin, he has a baby roundness to his face. He isn’t very muscular and looks like he’s still in for a big dose of puberty. She can see just by looking at him that he’d be better at baseball than football, but it must be hard when your father is the football coach. Sam points to his elbow.

“Did you take a spill?” she asks.

“I’m a klutz,” he says.

“It’s not your fault,” Sam says. “When adolescents are growing, their legs are often different lengths which makes it difficult not to fall.”

“See?” Charlies says, turning on his dad. “Science.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Go back to the team table, please.”

Charlie doesn’t make him ask twice, just scoots past Sam as fast as he can.

“Do I need to patch you up, too?” he asks.

“Just a sunburn,” she says. “Pretty sure I can handle it.”

“No, no, I’m on a roll,” he says. He twists his ball cap around so the brim is over the back of his head and she gets a better look at him. He’s tan - not exactly wrinkle free, but he’s obviously a bit older than her and his eyes look kind. He seems like the kind of man that should rub her the wrong way, did rub her the wrong way at other schools, but instead of arrogance, he seems almost gentle. His movements seem deliberate and careful and thoughtful. “I think I saw some of that green goo in here.” He digs into one of the cupboards. “How are you liking Colorado Springs?”

“It’s fine,” she says.

“Better air quality compared to California, eh?” he asks. His voice is muffled, but she understands him well enough.

“How do you know where I moved from?” she asks.

“Daniel,” he says, emerging with the bottle of aloe vera. “He’s a terrible gossip. Never tell him your secrets. Between him and Janet, no one is safe.”

“Oh fabulous, the two people I’ve managed to befriend,” she says, holding out two fingers. He chuckles and squeeze a dollop out for her.

“Of course,” he says. “Fresh meat. You’re like blood in the gossip water… of sharks. Whatever, you know what I mean.”

She feels weird smoothing the stuff onto her face while he watches but it would be weirder to just carry it to the bathroom first. And anyway, it is cool and soothing and hopefully she won’t wake up tomorrow with her face blistered.

“Sorry about Charlie,” he says, as they leave the nurse's office behind. “Kid has a mouth on him. Got that from his mother.”

“Uh huh,” Sam says. “And if I were to ask her that, would she agree?” It seems like Coach O’Neill probably has the same sharp tongue as his son.

Coach O’Neill’s pace falters for a moment. “Charlie’s mom passed away when he was seven,” he says.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t… know.” She winces.

“Of course you didn’t,” he says. “But no, she would not have agreed.”

There’s an awkward silence as they head out of the building and back toward the gym.

“Hey listen,” he says. “I know it sucks to be new. We all go to the bar after these orientation days. Why don’t you come with us? Get to know someone besides the gossip twins?”

“Okay,” she says. “I mean, if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure, Samantha,” he says.

“You can call me Sam,” she says.

“Jack,” he says, extending his hand. “Welcome to Liberty High.”

“Go Lancers,” she says, shaking his hand with a smile.

oooo

She still gets a ride with Janet. Janet issues a separate invitation and something makes Sam keep the conversation she had with Coach O’Neill - Jack - to herself. Sam wishes she could go home and shower first, but she settles for shucking the ill-fitting t-shirt only to find that she has sweated through her blouse underneath.

“Yikes,” says Janet.

“Your tact is appreciated,” Sam says.

“I live not far,” Janet says. “We’ll stop and find you something to wear.”

“You are tiny!” Sam exclaims. “It won’t work. I’ll just go home and meet you there.”

“Nonsense,” Janet says, waving Sam into her car. “I’m sure I have something.”

Janet’s house is a small three bedroom bungalow with a wrap around porch that Sam admires. When they walk in, she sees a girl sitting on the couch in front of the television.

“Cass,” Janet says loudly over the sound of the TV. “Too loud.”

Cassandra turns around and eyes Sam.

“Hi,” Sam says with a little wave.

“This is Ms. Carter,” Janet says. “This is Cassandra.”

“Cassie,” Cassie corrects. “You’re the new science teacher?”

“Yup,” Sam says.

“Cool,” Cassie says and turns around again. She say ‘cool’ the way she might have said ‘whatever’ and Sam isn’t dumb enough to take it as acceptance.

“This way,” Janet says, leading her down the hall.

Sam ends up in a v-neck t-shirt that might have been loose on Janet but is borderline obscene on Sam.

“I don’t know about this.” Sam stares at herself in the mirror. It’s not the shirt’s fault - the shirt is a nice fabric and a pretty sea foam green that makes Sam’s blue eyes turn aquamarine in the evening light, but it shows a lot of cleavage and leaves little to the imagination.

“Good thing we’re going to a bar, not a funeral,” Janet says. “Come on, or we’ll miss happy hour.”

She rides with her arms crossed as they drive the short distance to the bar.

“Relax,” Janet says as she pulls into a parking spot. There are a handful of cars in the parking lot.

“I am relaxed,” she says. “I just don’t know these people very well. Or you.”

“This is how you make friends. Didn’t you ever learn how to make friends?” Janet asks laughing.

“I had the childhood of a military brat,” Sam says. “Not really.”

Janet’s features soften. “Tell you what,” she says. “We’re friends now, so I can say this without it being too weird. Your boobs look amazing. Own it.”

Sam tries to smile but it comes out more like an awkward grimace. “Thanks.”

Everyone calls it the bar, but it’s actually a restaurant. There’s a full bar inside set aside from the main dining area. When she and Janet arrive, several high top tables have been pushed together and there are about ten familiar faces.

“What are you drinking?” Janet asks. “First round on me.”

“Blue moon?” Sam asks.

There’s an empty stool by the huge history teacher so she takes it. He dips his head at her in greeting.

“Hi,” she says.

“Samantha Carter,” he says. “How are you enjoying your new post?”

“Very well,” she says.

“I am glad,” he says. “Though you may change your mind once classes start.”

She laughs. “No history enthusiasts at Liberty?”

“A few,” he concedes. “Mostly teenagers are just bodies being controlled by hormones I have found.”

“True,” she says. “Are you originally from Colorado?”

He looks away. “Do I not seem native to this place?”

“Well your impeccably formal English makes me think it is your second language,” she says.

“I am Canadian,” he says. “Quebec.”

“I see,” she says. “Jonas Quinn is Canadian as well. What are the odds?”

Janet sets a beer in front of her and then wanders off to find another empty stool at the other end of the table, near Daniel. Sam scans the group and sees Coach O’Neill a couple stools away. He’s looking at her and raises his glass a little when their eyes meet.

“Are you and he acquainted already?” asks T.

“I talked to him a little bit today. I met his son, Charlie,” she says.

“Charlie is extremely bright,” T says. There’s a pause there like he wants to say more about it, but he doesn’t.

“Good,” she says a little uneasily. Coach O’Neill has slipped off his stool and is coming around to their side of the table. On Sam’s other side is one of the math teachers who happily gives his seat to O’Neill.

“You two having fun?” he asks.

“Indeed,” says T.

“You’ve hardly touched your beer,” he says, pointing to her bottle. She takes a swig. “You want something else?”

“No,” she says. “I’m good.”

“Daniel says you drive a motorcycle?”

“An Indian,” she says. “Yeah. When I can.”

“I have an old Harley that I inherited from my father-in-law but I’ve never been able to make it run,” he says.

“Are you mechanical?” she asks, surprised.

“No,” answers T for him.

“I mean, I kicked it a couple times, but that never seemed to do it,” O’Neill says.

She smiles and shakes her head. “What about the shop teacher?” she asks.

“Siler?” O’Neill crows. “No way! I mean, he probably could fix it but he’s so accident prone, he’d probably burn down the neighborhood trying.”

“I see,” she says.

“Maybe if you find a good shop, you can let me know,” he says.

“Oh I never take my Indian in,” she says, shaking her head. “It’s my baby. I do all my repairs myself.”

His eyebrows shoot up. “Really?”

She bristles. “What? You don’t think a woman can make a good mechanic?”

“On the contrary,” he says. “I think it’s… awesome.”

“I require another beverage,” T says and heads for the bar.

“Well, I could take a look, if you want,” she offers.

“Sure, sure,” he says. “You can tell me if it is worth salvaging.”

She takes a swig of her beer. She’s tired and feels a little feverish from her sunburn.

“Well, Charlie’s home alone so I’m gonna head out,” he says.

“I came with Janet,” she says. “And from the looks of her, I’ll never get out of here.” Janet has her head thrown back in laughter at something Daniel is saying and is already on her second drink.

“I can give you a ride,” O’Neill offers.

“Oh, I don’t want to impose,” she says.

“Come on,” he says. “You’ll offend me if you say no.”

“Just let me tell Janet,” she says. “I’ll meet you by the door.”

The music has gotten loud - a recent development as the after work crowd had started coming in. It takes a minute to get Janet’s attention. She points to the door.

“I’m going home,” she says.

“What? We just got here!” Janet says.

“Tired,” Sam says and points to her red nose. “I’ll wash your shirt.”

“Okay!” Janet says.

She doesn’t ask how Sam is getting home and Sam is weirdly relieved.

Coach O’Neill is coming out of the men’s room when she reaches the doors to the restaurant, and he holds the door open for her. Outside has cooled down quite a bit and she’s grateful for the breeze across her skin, though she does wish there was less skin showing.

“I must be getting old,” O’Neill says. “I used to last longer than an hour at these things.”

“I was never much of a party girl,” she says.

“You ride motorcycles for science, then?” he asks.

“I just like to thrill seek sober, I guess,” she says. “I ride motorcycles because I couldn’t fly jet planes.”

“Ex-military?” he asks, surprise on his face.

“No,” she says. “My dad and brother. When I realized at 14 that women couldn’t fly combat planes, I vowed never to enlist.”

They’ve stopped beside a large truck.

“You’re not Jacob Carter’s daughter, are you?” he asks.

She feels her stomach fall like it does when anyone brings up her father unexpectedly.

“You knew him?” she asks.

“Not well,” O’Neill says. “But I knew he was a good general. I was sorry to hear about his passing.”

“Thank you,” she says. “We didn’t always see eye to eye but he was my dad and I miss him.”

“Of course,” he says. He reaches into his pocket and unlocks the truck with his fob.

The truck is pretty clean and well-kept, though the back seat is loaded with sports equipment like it had been in the bed of the truck and he’d shoved it in the cab when he parked.

“Where to?”

“The Vineyards?” she says. “It’s off Woodmen road.”

“I know that complex,” he says.

“It’s not perfect but I didn’t have enough time to find a permanent place and they let me rent month to month, so…”

“Close to the school,” he offers.

“Right.”

“How long have you been in town?” he asks.

“Only a couple weeks. I’m still mostly living out of boxes,” she admits. “My furniture came a couple days ago so that’s a relief. I’m not sleeping on an air mattress anymore.”

He winces. “Moving is the pits.”

“Yeah, but,” she shrugs. “There’s something refreshing about a new start. All new people, all new places. I’m just a born explorer, I think.”

“You would’ve done fine in the military,” he says.

It seems like no time, but then he’s pulling up to the gate of her complex.

“Want me to see you all the way in?” he asks.

“No,” she says. “Here is fine. Thanks, Coach.”

“Jack,” he says.

She nods. “See you, Jack.”

Her apartment seems all the more messy when she's faced with it again. Part of her doesn’t want to unpack because she really does want to find a place with more space - a house or at least a townhouse - but she also doesn’t want to be constantly rooting around for things. Washing the same set of silverware over and over again.

She calls her brother, but he doesn’t answer. A few moments later, her phone rings. It’s her sister-in-law.

“Screening calls again?” Sam asks.

“You never leave a message! That’s how I knew it was probably you,” her sister-in-law says. Her name is Elizabeth and she and Mark have been married twelve years.

“Just feeling a little homesick I guess,” Sam admits.

“Are you meeting people, at least?” Elizabeth asks.

“Co-workers,” Sam says. “They’re nice.”

“Any handsome ones?”

“No,” Sam says, but she accidentally draws it out. “Well, no available handsome ones.”

She certain doesn’t need the baggage of dead wife and teenage son.

“Eye candy, then,” Elizabeth says. “Anyway, Mark’s at work and I have to put the kids to bed but I’ll tell him you called.”

“Bye,” Sam says.

She showers off the sweat, puts on pajamas and has no trouble falling asleep.

In the morning, her nose is peeling.