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            “After everything that’s happened the past few months, I don’t want to wait anymore. Will you marry me? Will you make me the happiest man in King Falls, no, on Earth and marry me? Marry me please?” Ben signed angrily at his reflection in the mirror. “Come on, Arnold. You got this. I love you, marry me…”

            “Well, I love you too, Ben, but I really didn’t think I was your type.” Sammy teased. He was leaning on the doorframe to Ben’s room, trying not to laugh too hard. It was still painful after his fight with Tim1000.

            “Sammy Stevens!” Ben turned, glaring at Sammy, half angrily, half embarrassed. “Are you spying on me now?” He asked, indignant.

            “I’m sorry, Ben. I wasn’t spying. I just walked in the door and heard talking. I think it’s sweet that you were practicing proposing. Congratulations, Ben. I’m sure you and Emily will be very happy.”

            “She hasn’t said yes yet. I haven’t even decided how to ask yet.”

            “How could she say no to you? I’m surprised that it’s taken you this long to ask to be honest. I’ll leave you to it.” Sammy started to walk away.

            “Sammy, wait!”

            Sammy turned looking expectantly at Ben.

            He hesitated before continuing, “H-How did you and Jack get engaged?” He asked cautiously then rushing to finish before Sammy could walk away. “I mean, if you don’t mind talking about it. If it’s too painful, I understand.”

            Sammy took a deep breath before, wincing slightly. “It’s fine. What do you want to know?”

            “Well, I’ve never done this before. I could use a little help.”

            “OK. I’ll do what I can. Do you want to know about the first time we got engaged, or about what happened in my fever dream?”

            Ben nodded slowly, breathing heavily for a minute.

            “Sammy,” Ben finally said, “if you say you experienced all of those things when you were in the hospital, I believe you. I believe that it was not a fever dream, that it was totally and completely true.”

            “Thanks, Ben. And of course, I’ll help.” He said walking into Ben’s room noticing his friend’s unmade bed shaking his head in disgust. “The first thing you’re going to want to do, for the love of God, is Clean. Your. Room.”

            “Yes, Dad!” Ben’s usual sarcasm was back.

            “It will put you in a better headspace.”

            “Yeah. Yeah. So tell me what happened.” Ben said pressing Sammy for an answer.

            Sammy took another ragged breath, and pulled the comforter up on the corner of Ben’s bed before sitting down to talk. “OK, so when I was in the hospital dreaming, or whatever that was, I think we were already engaged. At least, I know that it was after we got engaged, but I don’t know for sure if it had happened or not, some things were definitely different. But one night we were just sitting on the couch watching TV and I just asked what he was doing the next day and did he want to get married.”

            “Awwwww…. Sammy. That’s so sweet.”

            “OK. OK.” Sammy continued, “When we got engaged for real, it wasn’t some grand romantic gesture. We weren’t out at work, and no one really knew about us. Not even the station manager or HR. That could have gotten us into a lot of trouble all things considered. It was station policy that if we were in a romantic relationship with anyone working there that we had to let HR know about it. So we were careful at work. I had a reputation to live up to, ‘Shotgun Sammy’ would never date, much less marry, another man. He was very homophobic and in no way at all PC as you know.” Sammy paused. Ben nodded. If he had been asked to describe the look on Sammy’s face at that moment he would only be able to say it looked like a mixture of   anger, disgust, sadness, regret, and mostly shame all wrapped into one. It hurt Ben’s heart to see it.

            “Anyway, “ Sammy continued, shaking off the mood, “it was about a year or so after we moved to California. We had a few friends who didn’t work at the station and who didn’t know anything about my alter ego. We were at a wedding of all places, with people didn’t care that we were a couple, so we didn’t have to be careful. It was nice. It was great actually. The freedom to be who we are without having to hide. It was like breathing fresh air after being trapped for years indoors. We actually got to hold hands. Dance. Laugh. Be ourselves. Now worry that someone might see us, or what they might think. I know it’s stupid. I mean, who cares, right? “

            “It’s not stupid,” Ben said. “Everyone should be free to love who they love and show it.”

            “Well I was paranoid about us loosing our jobs, and I was afraid of what my family and ‘friends’ would do or say,“ Sammy explained. “But, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t just scared and stupid, my priorities were all messed up. No one at the station cared. And how would my listeners know? But the way I was brought up… Let’s jus say it was not in my best interests to be out at home. And it stuck with me, even after all of these years. I could have lost Jack then and there. And it would have been all my own doing. I know now that was what I should have been afraid of. But Jack, he didn’t care who knew about us; he just went along for me. He was always so much braver than I could ever be. But he knew how scared I was, so he let me take it at my own pace. He was – is – so thoughtful like that.”

            “He sounds like a great guy.”

            “The best.” Sammy said, hoping Ben didn’t notice his eyes tear up.

             “You’re braver than you think, Sammy.” Ben said quietly, not sure if Sammy heard him.

              “At the reception we were outside on the patio. Holding hands. Just talking, and enjoying being able to dream about our future, not worried about who could see us or overhear what we were talking about. The kind of freedom that came with being away from people who make you feel ashamed of just being yourself.”

            “I’m sorry you had to go through that Sammy. And I hope that I never make you, or Lily, or anyone, feel like that. Not ever.” Ben said.

            “No. No not at all. I hid who I was when I first got here. That was about me, not about you. And not about anyone else in this town. There are always going to be assholes that don’t accept people for who they are, but here in King Falls, most people just accept everyone, no matter what. That’s part of why I love it here. And if I never said thank you for that, I’m sorry. Thank you, for being so accepting. I love you for it. And she’ll probably never admit it, but so does Lily.”

            “You’re my best friend, Sammy. You know I don’t care who you love. I just want you to be happy. As happy as I am with Em.” Ben smiled reassuringly.

            “I know. And I’m sure you, Emily, and Lily will all be very happy together.”

            “WHAHOOOOOO Sammy!” Ben’s voice went up at least three octaves and his face turned bright red.

            Sammy continued before Ben could interrupt again, “So, like I was saying, the DJ was playing something, I don’t remember what…”

           “What was the song?”

           “I don’t remember. “ Sammy avoided looking Ben in the eye.

            “Yes you do.”

             Sammy sighed before answering, knowing Ben wouldn’t let it go. “Can’t Help Falling In Love. “

           Ben started to laugh.

              “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’ll be quiet!” Ben said quickly.

           “Do you want my help?” Sammy crossed his arms glaring at Ben.

           “Yes! It won’t happen again, I promise.” Ben apologized.

             Sammy sat back down and continued, “It was a wedding, what do you expect? And don’t act like it hasn’t already crossed your mind for a first dance with Emily.”

           Ben smirked, but he knew Sammy was right.

           “Do you want me to track down ‘Big E.’ and tell him that you were laughing at his music?”

           Ben shook his head making a motion to lock his lips and throw away the key.

          “As I was saying, Jack was singing along. He was just goofing off, but his voice… I’ve always loved his voice. I mean, he’s not going to win American Idol or anything, but he can hold his own at karaoke or singing along with the car radio.” Sammy paused, smiling to himself.

           “In the middle of singing, he just stopped, looked at me, with this stupid, scared grin, and said, “ Sammy hesitated, “something sappy that boiled down to how much he loved me and the idea of us spending the rest of our lives together. He pulled the ring out of his pocket,” Sammy absently fingered the ring on his hand. “He was actually shaking. I had never seen him look so scared before. I’d have laughed if it had been anyone else. And he asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes. I didn’t even hesitate. I’d have married him right there on the spot if I could have. Hell, I should have been the one proposing to him. But again, I was being a chicken shit.” Sammy stopped to catch his breath, trying not to cry.

            Ben leaned over and hugged Sammy. “That was beautiful. You’re going to get that happily ever after someday,” he said wiping away a tear.

            “Alright. No crying. Pull yourself together. Emily doesn’t need some big production. She loves you. Just speak from your heart and tell her how you feel. She’ll have to say yes.”

            Sammy went to his room to collect himself before Emily and Lily showed up with diner. He sat on his bed and just stared into the mirror across the room.


            *                                                          *                                                          *


            “I never knew you felt that way about my singing.” the voice came from behind him. Sammy looked at his reflection in the mirror and saw the familiar shape staring back at him. He didn’t have to turn around to know that no one was in the room with him. This wasn’t the first time he heard the voice. “I’m surprised you even remember that day.“

            Sammy put his face in his hands. “You’re not here. This isn’t real.” Sammy hated that he was seeing this shadow of Jack. Not the dark, scary, red-eyed shadow that had frightened Lily. More like a reflection in a window, when you can see someone there but you can see through them. He would rather go back to where ever he was before when he was dreaming that he was actually with Jack again.

            “I’m as real as you are. Ignoring me won’t change that.”

            Sammy grabbed the picture of himself and Jack off of the nightstand. The same picture he took out of storage when he retrieved his ring. He just sat looking at the photo until the tears caused his vision to blur.

            “We were happy then. Weren’t we, Sammy?”

            Sammy gave an involuntary nod.

            “We can be again. You just need to come and find me. “

            “What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?”

            Sammy looked in the mirror again. The reflection had moved closer. It was standing right behind him. He tried not to look at it, tired to convince himself that it was all in his imagination.

            Sammy stood and turned around throwing the picture as hard as he could at the figure that wasn’t there. It shattered against the wall. Sammy walked into the bathroom and got into the shower, turning the water on as hot as he could stand it and let his tears fall freely. He stood there until the water got cold and he started to shiver.

            He heard a soft knock on the bedroom door. “Sammy?” Ben’s voice drifted into the room as he cracked the door open. “The girls are back with dinner. “

            “Are you OK?” Ben asked, indicating the picture on the floor.

            “Yeah. Yeah I just bumped into the nightstand and knocked the picture on the floor.” Sammy bent down to clean up the glass, but there wasn’t any, and the picture frame was in one piece. He must be going crazy. He knew that the frame had broken. Sammy picked it up and put it back on the nightstand before joining everyone else for dinner. “I’ll be right there.” He didn’t want Ben to see that he had been crying or to see how upset he’d been.


            “Sammy!” Emily smiled and hugged him tighter than one would think possible for a woman of her stature. He froze for a second, surprised by the hug but welcomed it gratefully and happily returned it.

            “Sorry, I forgot about your ribs, “ she paused before asking “are you OK?” she asked concerned. Emily always knew when he was upset, even when no one else did. “You look…”

            “I’m fine,” he said giving her a little squeeze before breaking the hug. “What did you bring for dinner?”

            “Pizza.” Ben said through a mouthful of cheese, crust, and pepperoni.

            “Beer.” Lily said handing Sammy an open bottle.

            Sammy took a long swallow, enjoying the cold liquid and hoppy flavor before turning to Ben noticing at least four slices of pizza on his plate. He would never understand how Ben could eat like that and stay so small. “Jack in the Box Jesus, Ben! There’s a salad on the counter, at least pretend to eat something healthy for dinner!”

            Emily was already pushing a plate of salad in front of Ben

            Ben took the plate and reluctantly shoved a fork full of vegetables into his mouth. Sammy would never be able to comprehend the power that Emily had over Ben, but he was grateful for it.

            Sammy sat down and added his notebook to those already on the table. “Let game night begin, “ he said.

            “Why do you insist on calling it game night, Sammy?” Lily asked.

            Ben answered for him, “Notebooks are a touchy subject for Sammy.”

            “Only ones that imply that I may be responsible for the disappearance of our favorite librarian.”

            “Sammy!” Ben pleaded.

            “Sammy, you know that’s not what he meant.” Emily chided.

            “I know. But reminding Ben of that is just one way of keeping him from going overboard again,” he smirked at Emily.

            “I’m sorry I asked,” Lily said handing Emily a beer.

            She took it but didn’t take a drink but set it down in front of Ben and reached instead for the bottle of water she put down earlier.


                        *                                  *                                  *


            “So we’re really going to do this thing then,” Sammy said definitively.

            “Looks like it,” Ben said. “Just a few more thing to do before we settle on a date.”

           “That can wait until next week, it’s getting late,” Sammy said, nodding his head toward Emily who’s head was cradled in her arm on the table and her eyes were closed.

            “I’m awake.” She said to Sammy. She hadn’t opened her eyes but still somehow knew that he was talking about her. “Just resting my eyes.”

            “Are you OK to drive? I don’t want you falling asleep behind the wheel. Why don’t you just stay the night?” Ben said.

             Emily opened her eyes blinding the sleep away. “I’m fine. But I do need to get going.”

            “You’re always welcome,” Sammy agreed.

             She yawned. “Thanks, Sammy. But I need to get going. I have an early morning ahead of me.”

            “The more the merrier,” Lily said leaning closer to Emily causing Ben to scoot his chair closer to Emily and putting his arm around her possessively. “You practically live here anyway,” she continued, giving Ben a look that said she wasn’t afraid of him but keeping a playful smile on her face.

            “Lily, we’ve talked about you picking on Ben.” Emily chided.

            “But he makes it so easy,” she said.

            “You know, you could just move in. They you wouldn’t have to drive home ever.”

           “Benny, Sweetheart, we’ve talked about that. I love you, but this apartment is just too small. I mean, Lily doesn’t even have her own room.”

           “Don’t bring me into this! It’s better than the hotel in Big Pine. And sometimes Sammy cooks.” Lily answered as she started gathering the dishes that had been ignored since dinner.

           “I love you, Benny. I love all of you, you guys know that,” back to Ben, “but there’s just no privacy here.”

          “She’s got a point.” Sammy chimed in.

          Ben shot him a look and Sammy retreated to the kitchen and busied himself loading the dishwasher.

           “We need more space for notebook meetings alone,” she indicated the piles of notebooks and maps scattered on the table and floor.

           “We make due just fine.” Ben argued.

           “Ben. The four of us can’t all live here. I’m sorry, but Lily just started her new job at the station and can’t afford to live on her own yet, or even to pay half the rent on a decent place.” Emily turned apologetically to Lily who just shrugged and continued clearing the table. “And there is no way any of us will let Sammy live on his own on his own after what happened.” She looked at Sammy who just banged the dishes together making as much noise as he could, pretending he didn’t hear them talking about him.

           “It’s cozy.”

           Emily rolled her eyes. “No, Benny. It’s crowded.”

          “We can figure it out.”

           “Ben.” Emily said firmly, “listen to me. We can not all live in this apartment. Period.”


           “There’s not even enough room for the baby!” Emily raised her voice, loosing her temper, her hand flying up to cover her mouth too late when she realized what she said as if somehow that would put the words back where they belonged.

           All of the activity in the apartment came to a sudden and complete stop as everyone turned to look at Emily. It was one of those moments that have been described as being able to hear a pin drop. Sammy and Lily looked first at each other then from Emily to Ben and back to Emily again. Her eyes were wide and she had a look of pure panic on her face.

          Ben sat back down in his chair and Emily sat next to him. “I’m so sorry. That’s not how I wanted to tell you.” Emily said, placing a hand on his leg, coming to terms with what she had done.

          Ben stared blankly. “I… What? Uhhh… I thought you just said… Did you? Are you?”

          Emily nodded.

          “But, how?”

          “Well,” Lily said, “when a boy and a girl are attracted to each other…”

           “Lily!” Sammy cut her off. “Shhhh!”

           “Do you need me to draw you a diagram, Ben?” she asked grabbing a notebook and a pen.

          “Give me that!” Sammy snatched the notebook and pen out of her hand.

         “I know HOW.” Ben said frowning at Lily. “I mean how? When? We’ve barely been alone lately. And we’re always careful.”

          “Apparently not careful enough.” Sammy muttered under his breath.

          Now it was Lily’s turn to shush him.

          Ben stood up and pulled Emily into his arm. “I can’t believe it!” He said, finally grasping the situation. “We’re having a baby!” he beamed and wrapped Emily in a hug.

          “So you’re happy about this?” Emily asked against his chest.

          Ben pulled away just far enough to look into her eyes, “You have no idea!” and he leaned in to kiss her.

          “Aw…” Lily said as she leaned on Sammy. “They’re so cute.”

         “They grow up so fast.” He replied playing along.

         “Well, Emily grew up. Ben just got older.”

          “Really, Lily?” Ben exclaimed.

          Sammy draped his arm around Lily’s shoulders; “You do your best to raise them right.”

         “We did all we could.”

          “We have to let our little birds fly.”

         “Our babies are having a baby!” Lily couldn’t contain her laughter anymore.

         “Alright, that’s enough!” Emily finally said, joining in the laughter.

          “Seriously though,” Sammy started.

          “Congratulations!” Lily said and reached out to hug Emily.

           Ben smiled and threw his arms around both of the women, waiving Sammy over to join in the group hug.

          “Ben?” Emily’s muffled voice came from the middle of the hug, “When did they start finishing each other’s sentences?”


*                                                          *                                                          *


          “So did you and Jack ever think of having kids?” Lily asked after Ben and Emily left.

           "You know your brother. Of course we talked about it. We were even looking into adoptions and surrogates. One day Jack will make a great father. What about you? Do you ever get the urge to be a mom, or was it always going to be Aunt Lily for you?”

          “Me? A mom? Are you kidding?” Lily scoffed. “I had to give away my dog once I realized that I wasn’t leaving King Falls. Can you imagine if I had a kid! Nope! I’m just going to be every kid’s favorite aunt.”

          “Oh, I don’t know. I think once you decide to settle down you’d make a pretty good mom. You were always a great big sister to Jack. “

          “What about you? I mean, I know having a kid was probably all Jack’s idea, but he managed to get you onboard.”

          “I’ve always liked kids, but I never imagined myself having one. I never thought I’d be a dad. But, yeah, he had me thinking about the prospect of a kid. Me? Can you believe it? And it was hard for him to convince me, what with my history. But he managed to get me involved, excited even, about the possibility of being a father.”

           “You’ll be a great dad. You’re doing a good job rising Ben.”


          “Come on. You know you’re the only one who can contain his special brand of…” she hesitated, trying to think of the right word, “enthusiasm. Well, you and Emily.”

          “Thank God for Emily. It took her all of four minutes to figure out what it took me four years to learn.”

           “We filled out an application to adopt before Jack disappeared.” Sammy said after a few minutes of silence.

          “What?” Lily sat up straight on the couch to get a better look at him.

         He didn’t look back. He knew if he looked at her he wouldn’t have the courage to finish. He just kept talking before he lost his nerve. “We didn’t tell anyone because of how things were at work. Obviously I didn’t other telling my family. There was no point. He wanted to tell you but wanted to wait and see if we were approved first. Even I wouldn’t agree to having a child without telling you.”

       He paused, and Lily wasn’t sure he was going to continue. “But then he vanished. I never heard back from the agency. I guess I just figured we were never approved the notification got lost in the mail when I moved here. I suppose I just pushed it from my mind and forgot about it. Do you know what the real kick in the head is about all if this?” He asked absently.

        “What?” Lily whispered, afraid of what the answer might be.

       He finally looked at her; “I got a call from the lawyer the other day. He found a baby for Jack and me.”

        “Oh, Sammy,” she could see the tears in his eyes threatening to spill over and for once didn’t know what to say.

        “Look, do me a favor, don’t say anything to anyone OK. Especially not to Ben and Emily. They have enough going on and if we’re being honest, I couldn’t handle their sympathy. It would just be too much. They’d mean well, but they’d drive me crazy. And that includes Katie, I don’t want her to accidently let it slip to Troy.

       “OK. I promise.” She hesitated before continuing, “So what did you tell the lawyer?”

         “Nothing yet. He left a message. Someone liked our application; she’s pregnant but doesn’t want to keep the baby. I haven’t called him back yet. I haven’t figured out how to tell him about why I can’t take the baby or about Jack yet. “

          “I don’t understand…” Lily’s eyes got wide.

          “At first I was excited. Then sad because Jack wasn’t here for me to tell. Then angry. Then sad again. And that was just while listening to the message. I just don’t know what to do. I mean, there’s no way I could raise a kid by myself, not now. And what would happen if Jack, WHEN Jack, comes back and I suddenly have a kid he knows nothing about? I have no idea what’s going on in the Void, what he’s going through. I couldn’t do that to him too.”

           “First of all,” Lily interrupted him, “you know you wouldn’t be doing this alone. You have Ben, Emily, Troy and Loretta, Tim and Mary. You have me! So you would never be alone in any of this. But I get it,” she continued. “Would Jack even remember wanting kids? What if he had some kind of PTSD? Would it be fair to him? Would it be fair to a child?”

            She looked at him, not really expecting an answer, “But, Sammy, what do you want?”

            Sammy sat in silence for a long time. Lily didn’t think he was going to answer when he got up off the couch and headed to his room. He stopped when he got to the bedroom door. Without turning around he said quietly, “I want to tell him I’ll take the baby,” and he closed the door behind him, not wanting her to see his tears.


*                                              *                                              *


          Ben sat waiting for Emily to finish getting changed. He stood up when he heard the bathroom door open. “Emily?” He said nervously.

         “Hmm?” she asked absently, leaning on the door frame, her silhouette outlined by the light shining through the open door.

         Ben just stared for a moment, taking in her beauty. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was that she’d chosen him of all the guys in King Falls.

         “Did you want something, Benny? The bathroom is free if that’s what you were waiting for. “

         “What? No. I mean, yes. I…” he stammered, “Are you OK?”

         “Of course I am, Ben. Are you OK?” she asked crossing the room pulling him down to sit next to her on the bed. She knew he was freaking out but trying to hold it together.

        “And you’re happy? About the baby I mean?”

        “You know I am. Benny what’s the matter? What’s this all about?” Now she was getting concerned. “Do you not want to have a baby?”

        “Emily Potter! You know that’s not what I mean! Of course I want us to have a baby! We’ve talked about this before.”

        “Well I know we talked about it, in theory. But this is real life, and not at all what we planned.”

        “I know. And I’m messing this all up,” he got off the bed and kneeled in front of Emily holding out a small box to her. “Will you marry me?”

        “Oh, Benny!” She exclaimed, tears making her eyes glisten. “You don’t have to do this just because I’m pregnant.”

         Ben stood up, looking her directly in the eyes, “You think that’s why I’m asking you this? I’m asking because I love you and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. I’ve had this ring in my pocket for months just trying to figure out how to ask you to marry me! If you don’t believe me you can a…”

          Emily stood up and quieted Ben by kissing him. “I believe you, Sweetheart,” she said when she broke the kiss. “And of course I’ll marry you. It’s the only thing that could have made me happier.” She wrapped her arms around him, kissing him again.