Sam was fighting with the lock on her front door when her phone started ringing. The lock had been sticking for months, she just hadn't yet gotten around to fixing it. She wiggled the keys in the lock while the phone rang and then, suddenly, the keys turned and the door swung open. Leaving her keys dangling, she dashed to the phone.
She'd nearly missed his call. Every Sunday, at about four o'clock for the past year or so, her brother, Mark, called for a weekly check in. Sam snatched up the phone.
"Hello, I'm here!"
A mirthful chuckle greeted her. "Good, Sam. Hi. How are ya?"
"Good," she said. "Great. Just got in from the base."
"So that's what took you so long."
"The phone was already ringing when I got here," she confirmed.
She could practically feel him nodding. "So how are things in Colorado?"
"Quiet, if you can believe that." They were a little quiet. Quiet for her, anyway. Quiet if a teammate coming back from the dead and the destruction of a pretty nasty weapon counted as quiet. Which, yes, it bordered on quiet for her.
"Quiet? You were at work on a Sunday, Sam."
"My job's not a nine to five, you know that," she said a little peevishly. Mark still wasn't a big fan of the Air Force, even after all the years since their mother's death and their father's spiral into his work. Sam took a deep, calming breath. "How are things in California?"
"Hello?" Her sister-in-law, Angela, broke into the conversation.
"Hi Sam! How're you doing?"
"We did this part already," Mark ribbed his wife good-naturedly.
"Well, I was dealing with your daughter, so we can do it again."
"Uh-oh," Sam said, unaccustomed to the terseness in her sister-in-law's voice, "Is everything all right?"
"It's fine," Mark said.
"It's not fine," Angie countered. "You only think it's fine because she'll actually talk to you about it."
"Guys?" Sam said, not really wanting to be in the middle of whatever argument they were having. She went to retrieve her keys and shut the front door as they talked.
"Hannah's been having a little trouble getting along with some of the kids in her swim class," Angie explained. "And she got in a fight with one of the boys on Friday. Mark thinks it's no big deal because she'll talk to him, at least, about what's going on. But not to me. No, not to her mother," Angie groused, albeit relatively good naturedly considering. "I thought she was supposed to like me at least until she reached middle school.
"She does like you," he placated. "And at least she's talking."
"She's always been more willing to talk to men than to women," Angela conceded. "From her dad to her teachers."
"But everything's okay?" Sam asked to confirm.
"Sure, sure," Mark said easily. "Nothing a little cooling off time and some life experience won't cure."
Sam always got a pang of a little something unrecognizable when she brushed up against her brother's family life. Like, maybe she was missing something. Or like maybe there were things she didn't really understand.
"She's always gotten along with me," Sam pointed out, "but now that I think about it, she's never been overly talkative either."
"It's not just that she's quiet," Angie said, "it's that you're female. I really don't know what it is. But her counselor at school said that if she's closer with her dad then maybe she'd be more likely to bond better with the male authority figures in her life. And as long as she's behaving well, I'm fine with that. But not when she punches a boy in the stomach at the swimming pool," Angie said pointedly as if she'd said that very thing to Mark before.
They chatted a while longer about her niece and nephew, Ben, who was apparently very involved in and enjoying the Navigators group he was in which was, if Sam understood properly, similar to the Boy Scouts but, as Ben said into the phone when asked, way better.
"Ben is in to all things science this year," her brother said. "He's been asking to go to Space Camp in Texas, but we think he's still too young."
"He was crushed," Angela said, "and sulked the first three weeks of summer vacation until we found the Navigators."
Despite the long, intervening months, they discussed Thanksgiving. "How about it, sis?"
"Sorry," she said, "I just don't get enough time off and with the base on a lighter staff through the holiday season than we normally are, it's better if I'm close to home. But I will try to come out for Christmas."
"So," Mark asked her, "have you changed your mind about being set up with my friend in Denver?"
She thought a little about the cop Mark had been trying to get her to go out with. She didn't want to go out with the guy. Not even a little. "No, Mark. I'm perfectly capable of getting my own dates."
"I didn't say you weren't, I just thought you might like him."
"I'm sure he's a nice guy, it's just... not a good time." She wanted to kick herself for implying there might be a good time in the future because it meant she'd be having this conversation all over again in a couple of months.
She sighed and decided to jump into the part of the conversation that always made Mark a little quiet. "I spoke with dad earlier this week," a little white lie - but she'd promised her dad she'd keep up the pretense that they spoke regularly. "He says hello."
"What almost-retired general suddenly pulls a mission that keeps him out of contact with the family for months upon months at a time?" Mark groused predictably and not for the first time.
They talked a little bit about a possible trip over the summer so the kids could come out and visit, but they agreed to put a pin in it until Sam could better attest to her own schedule, which, as she warned them, was still likely to change at any time so perhaps it was better if she came to them. But Angie wouldn't hear it.
"It'll be nice for the kids to get out of Southern California for a while. To maybe experience some weather."
"Summer in Colorado is rather uneventful. You want weather you should bring them out for Christmas sometime."
They chatted about this and that for nearly twenty minutes of normalcy that Sam was still getting used to even after a year. It still felt strange to relate to her brother this way, like they were close. Though in all reality these days she probably could consider herself close to her brother. And it felt good to be a part of someone else's life, someone else's plans.
As they chatted, she mused about how their lives, though busy, always sounded so simple. Simple in a way that made her wonder if that's what people really wanted. Sure, there were schedules to coordinate, kids to wrangle, a home to manage... the myriad other things that went along with life as a family of four, but at the end of the day, to her standards it seemed more un-complicated than, say, saving the world. Again.
When they said goodbye she booted up her laptop. She had five, maybe six hours of work ahead of her. Par for the course on a Sunday evening, not that she minded. Running gate simulations was actually her idea of a fun and stimulating activity. Sure, she sometimes got a pang of something-missing when she talked to her brother, but really, she wouldn't change her life.
At twenty-three hundred she'd hit a snag that meant she had to either quit or wait for an hour for a program tweak to download. She was sorely tempted to head to bed part of her was anxious to find out how the change would work. She was tired enough to call it a night, but excited enough to push through. So she cranked up the stereo and put on a pot of coffee. She'd just suffer through tomorrow - they weren't on the mission roster anyway.
She thought again of her brother's life. He was probably kicked back, watching Letterman. She was rocking out to Deep Purple and contemplating astrophysics.
No, she liked complicated just fine.