Ashley was nervous and apprehensive about going unannounced. Thinking about Veronica and meeting her made her even more uneasy but this time the voice inside her was louder than her head and she was ready to face anything just to see him once.
She packed her things and made arrangements for her dogs and took the flight to New Haven. She didn’t even want to meet Jackie for the fear that she might succeed in changing her mind. So she got the cab and drove down to Woodstock.
The closer she came to the exit towards Woodstock the more her heart raced. Woodstock was a typical American small town. She wanted to ask around to find where he lived right now. The voice in her head was screaming at her saying that she was stupid to do this and was sure that he would not even welcome her into his house.
But she kept pressing the accelerator. Being a small town she assumed people would know about each other. She got down at a gas station and enquired about Sam Nolan’s whereabouts. She remembered his mother’s name was Tracy and the guy at the gas station immediately recognized who she was talking about and gave the direction and said that she would be able to tell her where her son was living now.
Their house was almost at the outskirts of the town. It was a dirt road with tall grass on either side leading to the address that she had on her google map. At the end of the road stood a house surrounded by maple trees and a white picket fence around it. It looked like a picture from a magazine. She parked her car and walked towards the house to hear the scream of kids from the backyard. She wondered whether they were Sam’s kids.
“Maybe they are over to their grandma’s house.” She thought and opened the gate to walk into the cobbled pathway leading to the house with a porch. Flower pots overflowing with flowers hung from the roof. She rang the bell and stood there waiting. But no one answered.
So she walked around the house to see two boys chasing each other with a sword. An older woman was on her knees working in the garden and a few yards from the house she saw another structure for a house and two men – One was cutting the plywood and another holding it. They had helmet on and she could not see their faces as they were turning the other side. With all this noise no wondered no one heard the bell she thought.
She stood there with a black over coat and her Gucci handbag and sun glasses for a moment waiting to see if anyone would turn around.
Finally the kids noticed her and screamed and all of them turned around at the same moment to see her.
Ashley froze when all the eyes were on her.
Ashley immediately felt that the older woman must be Sam’s mom because she had the same piercing grey eyes and smile. She walked towards her and said.
“Hi are you looking for someone?”
She removed her sunglasses and spoke nervously “I’m looking for Sam Nolan. The guy at the gas station said that you would be able to help me.”
“Yes surely. I am his mom and may I know who I am talking to?”
“I’m sorry. I am Ashley and I was his student years ago. I was passing by this side and thought I would just swing by to see him. Is he here?”
“So you are the Ashley? You look taller in person than on TV and prettier too.”
“Thanks and you must be Mrs. Tracy Nolan?” Ashley asked with apprehension.
“Yes I am. So you got the bouquet that we sent you on behalf of our organization?”
“Yes I did and those lilies were lovely. Thank You so much.” She leaned over to give her a gentle hug.
“That is indeed a great achievement. You will be an inspiration for many more kids now. Sam is at the computer center and will be here in half an hour for lunch. Please come inside. You must be tired after your drive.”
“Yes a bit. Or if you give me the address to the center I can go there.”
“It would take you another half hour drive from here honey. He would be closing that place and heading home right now. I don’t want you to miss him again would I?” she spoke with a teasing smile.
“Come in. Come in. I have plenty for food and we can all have lunch.”
“Kids put those swords down and come in for lunch. Ted you too.” She yelled.
“Who is that?” he yelled back.
“Sam’s friend.” She said and winked.
Ashley was becoming nervous on hearing her talk. She spoke as if she knew Ashley and had a grin planted on her face.
“So how is Sam? Are those his kids?”
“No. We are fostering these two kids.” she nodded. “So you really don’t know anything that happened to him?” she asked her curiously.
“To tell you the truth I haven’t been in touch with him and it has been almost ten years since I’ve seen him.” Her eyes were glistening with tears.
She walked into the dining room with the smell of spaghetti sauce wafting through the air and her stomach grumbled reminding her that she had been drinking only coffee since the time she took the flight.
“What can I get you honey? Some juice? You look really flushed. Please have a seat.”
Ashley was becoming nervous by the minute. She sat down on one of the chairs in the kitchen. For a second she felt like bolting through the door and going the same way she had driven and then when she looked at the wall diagonally opposite to her she saw the painting that she had given.
“You are a good artist. That’s a pretty picture.” Tracy handed her a glass of lemonade.
The kids came running through the back door and went straight to the bathroom to wash their hands.
One of the men came in too. He was almost six feet tall.
“Hello young lady. So what is your name?”
“Ashley.” She held out her hand and he said
“I’m Ted. Sam’s father.” Her hand sunk into his.
“Please remove you jacket and make yourself at home, Sam will be here any minute.” At the exact moment the bell rang and Ted winked at her and said
“May be in a second then!” he chuckled.
The kids ran to him and said “You have a lady friend waiting for you? Who is she?” they whispered.
Sam shrugged his shoulders not knowing whether they were just kidding.
“I have to see to tell you that. Don’t I?” he said ruffling their hair.
The voice that Ashley had wanted to hear for so many years, wafted through the air to where she was sitting and she got up. Her knees felt weak and her heart was pounding louder that she felt she would not be able to hear anyone talk.
Sam’s mother was warming up the food and setting the table. Ashley stood up and walked through the corridor towards the front door.
Sam was hanging his jacket and he turned around and he became pale as if he had seen a ghost.
“Ashley?” he nodded his head and brushed his hair with his hand unable to believe if this was a dream or if he was hallucinating.
“Hi Sam.” Ashley’s eyes were welled up. She was expecting Veronica to walk right in then so she controlled herself and walked slowly towards him because she felt like Sam’s leg had been glued to where he was standing.
“Ashley. How did you? When did you…” he was getting emotional as well but the two kids were standing beside’s him and watching the expression on both their faces.
“I just came ten minutes back.”
“I rented a car and drove here from New Haven.” Ashley was wondering whether the expression that he held in his face was that of excitement or horror on seeing her.
Sam’s mom called out to him saying, “Sam lunch is ready. Ask those two knights in armor to come to the table too.”
He gently pushed the kids towards the dining room. “Are you hungry?” he turned to Ashley and asked her. He was shocked beyond words and he could hardly think clearly.
Ashley shrugged her shoulders all the hunger had evaporated on seeing him. “So how are you Sam?”
“I am good…I’m good. Congratulations on your Oscars. You made it didn’t you?”
She brushed it off saying “I didn’t work towards it, it just happened.”
“Jackie didn’t come?” Ashley nodded her head to say no.
“I’m starving. Let’s have lunch first.” She noticed that he had a limp when he walked. Grey hairs were already sprouting near his ears. He looked tanned and he still had maintained himself. But there was something missing that she couldn’t put her finger on.
“Mom what’s for lunch?” he walked towards the kitchen asking her to follow him.
All of them turned around to see Ashley and Sam.
“Hey dad. This is Ashley. She was one of my best students at the center in New Haven.”
“Ah! I see.” He said sarcastically and winked at her.
He pulled out a chair and made her sit and she noticed then that there was no ring on his finger. She wished she could talk to him instead of sitting around his people and eating. But his mother was adamant on feeding them.
His mom and dad asked a lot of question about her work which she answered good-naturedly. His mother was curious about all the celebrities that she had met at the Oscars and she filled in on all the details. Sam was impressed that she still remembered his siblings name when she asked about them. This is what he had wanted that Christmas long time back and here it was all happening so unexpectedly. He wanted to pinch himself to see whether he was dreaming.
He hardly spoke nor ate and just sat there and watched her talking to his mom and dad. She was not the timid girl that he had seen years back. She looked self-assured and spoke to his parents with ease. She took her time to answer and spoke slowly and answered things in detail. Her hair was cut short and the bangs that used to be hanging to cover her face were not there. She looked younger than her age he thought. She looked healthier and radiant. He noticed that all that she was wearing were designer clothes and shoes. She was still having her jacket on.
The kids got bored with all the talks and they hurried to their room.
Ashley had hardly touched her food too.
“Ashley you need to eat up what’s on your plate.” Her mother spoke to her like a child and laughed. Ashley took an immediate liking to her. She was just the way Sam had described her and she felt Sam had gotten his good looks from her as well.
“So how long are you here for Ashley?” his mother asked her while she was picking on her food with her head bent down.
“I will be leaving in an hour or so. I have a friend in New Haven and I want to reach there before it gets too dark.”
“Okay. But you are most welcome to stay here and finish what you came here for.” She patted her on her shoulder and left Ashley and Sam alone.
“Thanks.” She looked up and nodded her head.
“I’m done with my food too.” Sam got up to leave.
“I’m done too.” They scarped the leftovers in silence and washed their plates.
“Come let’s go outside.” He opened the back door leading towards the backyard and the place where the new building was coming up. He walked right past it and there was a huge oak tree with a wooden swing hanging down and a few yards from there Ashley saw the stream shimmering in the afternoon sunlight.
“This is beautiful. Your house is very nice too.”
He sat down on the grass near the stream and didn’t answer her. Then he looked for small stones and threw them one by one onto the water running by.
Ashley stood where she was for awhile and watched him.
“So what is that your parents are building?” she asked trying to make him talk.
Instead of answering her he asked vehemently “So what made you come here after all these years?”
“I just needed to see you and talk to you.”
“In all these years you never thought about that.” He spoke still throwing those pebbles angrily onto the water.
She was still standing behind him with her hands folded watching him.
“I did Sam. Many times, a million times. But I was scared.”
“Scared that I would be a hindrance to your dreams?”
“No. Scared that I would give up every dream that I had and fall into the same bandwagon of the many women that I had seen in my life who blamed the one that they loved that they were responsible for the place that they were in.”
“So you never felt that I wouldn’t be one of those men who would pull you up instead.”
“Sam, I had issues from my past that made me behave in the way I did to you. It has taken me so many years to come to the place where I am now.”
“Seeing you at the Oscars was an enough proof that you had indeed succeeded in what you set out to do and you have proved your point that you could do it without me or any other men I guess. I got it Ashley. I got it. Thanks.” He spoke harshly.
Tears broke their walls and flowed.
“I didn’t come to rub it on you Sam that I did it without you. I came to tell you that I missed you all these years and that I indeed had fallen for you deeper that I thought but was afraid to admit it. I could not love another man without looking for a trace of you there in their face or in their mannerism. Every man that I saw proved that he was not the one I was looking for. I came to tell you that the distance didn’t matter at all and that you have been in my thoughts every single day from the day that I left and I came to tell you in person that I loved you, I still love you and that I always will Sam. I always will. I felt you deserved that.”
The anger in Sam was simmering high and he didn’t turn around for the fear that seeing her face would make him forgive her for all the pain and anguish that he had felt all these years. Finally when he had found his peace here she was rocking his boat and he didn’t like it one bit.
“I guess that is all I came to say.”
“You are not the same person Ashley. I can hardly recognize the person that you have become.”
“Don’t be fooled by the labels that I have decked myself with Sam.” She was silent for a moment and then he heard the crunching of footsteps against the grass. Ashley came and sat next to him with her hands hugging the knees that were folded close to her body. She had removed her jacket and revealed the purple sweater that she had been wearing beneath it. Those were the ones Sam had bought for her during the time that she had stayed at his place. She turned around to look at his face unable to stop the tears that flowed like the stream in front of her.
He turned to look at her and recognizing the sweater immediately.
“You are still mad at me Sam, even though you say that you are not. Please forgive…”
He shut her mouth with his hands and looked at those eyes that haunted him even after all these years. Tears welled up in his matching the intensity with which they were coming out of Ashley’s eyes. He wiped her tears and saw the timid and vulnerable girl that he had seen the first time. He held her face with both his hands and spoke.
“I’m so proud of you. You did the right thing. It has been very hard for me because I haven’t been able to move on like how everyone in this world does. How could you love someone so much and then just move on? I tried to. I tried. But here I am after all these years still stuck on you. Probably that is why I am mad at you. Mad at myself even more.”
Ashley put her hand over his cheeks and asked
“Will you give me another chance to make it up to you after all these years Sam? Even I haven’t been able to love someone as I loved you. Even though I have been in therapy for so many years I still cannot make myself trust any men. But I am willing breakdown the walls and trust you. I know you are different from many of them and I know you loved me for who I was with my deep scars and all.”
He took her hand in his and kissed it.
“Ashley you have made a wonderful life for yourself at the other side of this country. I’m still the small town boy with little dreams and still living in a single bedroom apartment. I am not even close to making the cost of all those labels that you have been wearing. For a change I am going to be practical. I am glad that you came all the way looking for me. Even gladder to hear that you love me. But life has taken us both of us in very different paths and changed us too for the better or worse. My life is with these foster kids now. I am happy and I have found my peace and my path finally. Likewise you have to move forward with your life in the direction that you have been going now.”
“Sam, what if I say that for the rest of my life I would like to make your dreams come true by standing beside you and supporting you. I have always been involved with kids in foster cares in California and now we can join together and do more than what each of us set out to do.”
Sam shook his head not quiet believing what was being said.
“I will move out from California this time. None of those matter to me anymore. I thought you would be married by now. I just wanted an excuse to see you and so I brought this check for your organization. She handed over a check for $50000.”
“How did you know about it?”
“I got a bouquet of blue lilies from the CEO of this organization.”
“I think probably your CEO didn’t consult with you before sending it out.” She smiled cheekily.
Just then he heard his mom call him “Sam I have some tea ready. Please come over here and take it.”
“You wait here. I will be back.”
The whole place looked magical with the gentle sound of water splashing against the rocks and the smell of grass and the shadow of the oak tree almost ready to burst with spring leaves and above all sitting and talking with Sam.
“Will I ever be able to convince him?” she wondered. She could never imagine going back to California and working there after seeing him after all these years. She had never expected him to be single and never thought she would get another chance after ten years. She felt that it was meant to be and resolved to fight for it no matter what excuse he gave or no matter how practical he was going to be about their situation.
“I have thought enough of doing the right thing and being realistic. For a change I want to take a chance and I am willing to sacrifice any comfort to be with him. Please God help me.” She pleaded
Sam looked at his mother quizzically and asked “So it was you who sneaked behind my back and sent her flowers Mom.”
“We are into encouraging kids from foster care after all and when a child from the same system succeeded, it is the duty of the CEO of the organization to congratulate them and that is what I did. I didn’t ask her to come. She has come looking for you.”
“So hope everything is okay there?” she pointed towards the backyard.
“Is she married yet?”
“No. she says she wants to move here and help me out with the center and the home and she gave me this.” He handed over the check.
“So what did you say?”
“I don’t know. I feel we are different people now. I haven’t answered her yet.”
“So you are going to let her go again?”
“I…” he hesitated.
“Sam. You have to understand that it is difficult for a girl who had undergone so much of trauma at the hands of men to trust men. You have to understand that it was not you she was scared about, but all the men who had made her trust her and betrayed her at the end. So you are going to be that man who she can learn to trust and depend and you are going to be the man standing like a rock when she needs you because you have been in love with her for a long long time. You are not going to waste your time thinking about it and analyzing it again. Here…” She placed a velvet box in his hand.
“This is my engagement ring. I am sure it would be loose for her. But don’t let her go again. If your dad had given up on me 40 years ago I would have been a rich man’s wife with an empty heart but he didn’t and I am richer than any woman out there because I get to see the face of the love of my life first thing in the morning and as the last thing at night.”
“Don’t think too much. You will figure it out how to work it out. I think she will too. Now go…” she pushed him out the door placing a tray with two cups of tea and some cookies.
Sam came walking over carrying the tray. Ashley had taken a seat on the swing and was swinging gently unaware of his arrival.
He put the tray down and stopped the swing and took a place besides her.
“This place feels magical.”
“This is my favorite place too. I have too many good memories around here.” He took her hand in his and held it tightly.
“I can imagine.” She said pushing the hair that was covering her eyes.
“Ashley I want to make another unforgettable memory in this place.” He pulled out the ring from his pocket and showed it to her.
“Ashley I never want to lose you again. Whatever life throws at us, the good, bad and the ugly I want us to standing beside each other and facing it. I may not be able to give you a life of luxury at the present moment but I can promise you a life time of my relentless love, support and protection but also the freedom to be who you are. Will you marry me Ashley?”
Tears of joy danced through her eyelashes and her hand shook.
“But wait Sam…”
Sam jumped out of the swing and stopped the swing from swinging and looked into Ashley’s eyes as if asking are you kidding me?
“Haven’t I waited enough?”
“Sam, but I need to tell you something important before you…”
“Before what?” he asked impatiently.
“I can never have children.” She looked down at the ground not knowing what is reaction would be.
Sam knelt down before her holding her hand again.
“Ashley. Was that one of your reasons you ran away too?”
She nodded letting the tears slide down her cheeks.
“Ashley. You are what I want. Aren’t we both enough for each other? We also have these foster care kids to take care don’t we? So Ashley I am asking again. Will you marry me?”
“I will marry you Sam Nolan. I will. I promise to never leave your side until I die Sam. I love you and I trust you more than anyone in this world. I will always be a good friend to you and your partner to help you achieve your dreams.”
He slid the ring into her finger and it was lose as his mom told him. He held her hand even tighter. Pulled her up from the swing and pulled her closer towards him and kissed her.
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