Chapter Five – Stories
The week following moving in was devastatingly boring for Samantha. While she was extremely busy, she couldn’t envision a more monotonous life. Laurel was a social butterfly and wanted them to do everything together. So Samantha went along with all of Laurel’s plans, simply because she couldn’t think of any way out of it.
But all Samantha really wanted was a single day of peace.
One day that she could fill with quiet tranquility and reflection.
Just one little day to herself.
But between Laurel and Nick, she never got a moment of silence, not a moment to herself just to think about everything around her. She was a listener, an observer, so all the activity gave her plenty to think about, to muse on, but never a moment to analyze any of it.
And she still hadn’t figured Nick out. She feared that unless he gave her a few seconds to digest his words, discern his meaning, she would never understand him. She could tell there was something he was hiding, something big. She just needed a little time.
But he seemed to be deliberately clogging her brain with meaningless words and comments. Ridiculous jokes, little facts, pointless banter. He would never let there be more than five seconds of silence. She knew he was hiding something. She could see the signs.
But what? What was he hiding? What happened to him that made him so acutely aware of the moods of everyone around him? What happened to him that made him think it was his job to keep everyone in good spirits. What made him care?
She had to know. She had to figure him out. She had so many questions flying through her mind. It took all her will power to stay on top of the conversation, to pay attention. All she could think about was that something had to have happened to Nick when he was younger to make him this way. No one was so supremely good. Something made him this way.
But what? The question kept springing up in her mind. But what? Between him and his roommate, she was bogged down in confusion. These two seemed completely different, nothing in common, no thread that could possibly tie them together. And yet they were best friends. They knew each other. They were there for each other. They cared.
As a pair, she could see the lines of their friendship, the ties that bound them together. They were a good team. But apart, she couldn’t see how these two people ever managed to connect. They were so different. And as individuals, she couldn’t understand either one of them. The two of them, complete mysteries. Nick was a wonderfully caring person who never wanted anyone to feel anything but joy. And Peter was, well, Peter. Quiet, but mocking. Attractive, yet repulsive.
Well, not really… repulsive. No, he wasn’t repulsive at all. He tried to act like a repulsing force. He tried to pretend that he hated the world, but from Samantha, he couldn’t actually hide the fact that he wasn’t actually like that. And Samantha couldn’t help but be drawn to him. There was something about him that attracted her like a moth to a flame. Something she just couldn’t put her finger on. The constant warning of danger was a dull annoyance in her brain by the first day of classes. She had spent so much time with both him and Nick that she had decided the voices were mistaken. He couldn’t actually be dangerous, not if Nick trusted him so much. And the voices were starting to believe her.
No, he wasn’t dangerous at all. He was just… Peter. Enigmatic, beautiful, quietly sweet and helpful, unobtrusive Peter. He must be like her, Samantha decided. He was an observer, on the fringe of the action, more inclined to analyze the conversation than participate in it.
And yet, he was always looking at her with his mocking grin, like he knew something she didn’t—something important involving her. But she didn’t know what he could know. Whenever she would catch him staring at her, she would start fiddling with her amulet, and the voices would grow louder, and she would be forced to drop it, if only to stop the repetition of the one word she didn’t want to hear.
She didn’t want to feel like she was in danger here. She was tired of always being warned something she was doing might be dangerous. Ever since her mother’s death, her father was terrified that she would get hurt. “It’s dangerous,” he would say anytime she proposed doing anything that might even possibly lead to a slight scratch or bruise. She didn’t care. She was out in the world now, and it was time to live dangerously.
And yet, the warning comforted her. At least someone cared what happened to her. At least someone cared if she got hurt.
But now, even after only the one week she had spent with Laurel, Peter and Nick, she felt like she had people who cared about her. She didn’t like being told that Peter was dangerous. He cared about her. He cared what happened to her. Samantha was certain of that, though she didn’t know how she could possibly be so positive that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.
And Laurel cared about her too, no matter how little she cared about giving Samantha space. She must know. She must at least suspect something, Samantha would think every time Laurel’s chatter would interrupt her thoughts. Like now. Samantha mentally rolled her eyes. Laurel was going on about something again. Some inane subject that was extremely important right now, but why Samantha would never understand.
“So, my mother and father wanted to come down to visit for Parent’s Weekend, is it ok if I bring them up here again?” Laurel was asking.
Samantha brought herself around to the conversation in front of her, pushing her earlier thoughts to the deepest corners of her mind.
“Um, yeah, I guess that’s ok,” she replied, not noticing the look Laurel was giving her.
“Well, they’d really like to meet your parents, since they didn’t get to last week… You know, at move in?”
Samantha knew. But Samantha also knew that there was no way her father would ever visit her in Palo Alto. She doubted her father even realized that she had left for Palo Alto. He was so oblivious to everything now.
“Oh… no, I don’t think they’ll be able to come up. Sorry.”
“My parents are starting to think you’re an orphan or something…” Laurel began.
“Not exactly,” Samantha muttered, hoping Laurel wouldn’t hear her as she finished her thought.
“Our parents are going to have to meet sometime… What do you mean ‘not exactly’?” Laurel had caught her words after all.
“I’m not an orphan.”
“But you said not exactly…”
Samantha shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t want to go into it. Not yet. She wasn’t ready to open up. But she knew Laurel wouldn’t give up the point. Laurel was definitely not one to give up any points.
“Samantha, come on. I’ve told you all about my life, even the stuff that you can’t read in the papers. Give me something to work with. Please.”
“Laurel,” Samantha began, choking on her words, “It’s just… There’s just nothing to tell.”
The pain was evident on Samantha’s face. She’d been holding this in for the last week. All of her thoughts about her mother that had bombarded her the first day she had arrived in Palo Alto came swarming back. She had been so annoyed by Laurel and Nick distracting her that she didn’t realize what their distraction was preventing her from thinking about. And now Laurel was giving her that moment she had coveted so fiercely, and she didn’t want it any more.
“Oh, there’s gotta be something. Just give me something, anything, even something small? Teensy? Like… Where did you grow up?”
“But you don’t understand. That’s not small for me. That’s huge.” Samantha needed a distraction. Something to get her away from the swirling images that threatened to engulf her.
“Samantha, please. We’re gonna be living together for a whole year. You have to let me get to know you. I like you. And I want to be friends with you. I don’t want us to be the roommates who never talk and hate each other because we don’t know each other...”
Laurel hit a nerve. Samantha knew the moment the words came out of Laurel’s mouth that she didn’t want to lose her roommate’s friendship based on this. Maybe if she just gave up one little piece of herself, maybe it would give her peace, if it be just momentary.
“All over,” Samantha sighed. There, she’d done it. She’d said something. She’d given Laurel some little piece of her. “We moved a lot.”
“Why? Dad’s job?” Laurel was leading her on, Samantha knew it. But Samantha also knew she needed this. She needed someone to know the truth. Or part of it, at least.
“No. Not because of my dad’s job…” Samantha paused. She needed this, but how could she tell someone who was a complete stranger. How?
“We just… did. After…” Samantha looked to Laurel for encouragement, and Laurel was doing her best to look trustworthy and approachable. “After my mom died,” there, she had gotten it out, “my dad couldn’t seem to be able to stay in one place for very long. We were in DC then… when my mom died. My dad was a cop. Detective actually. He loved it, his work. But when Mom died, he just kind of cracked. Survivor’s guilt or something like that, I guess. We moved the next day. And we just kept moving, getting farther and farther away from her. We made our way across the country as the years passed by, until we got to San Francisco. He stopped working then. He didn’t have to, for all it mattered, and I guess he just couldn’t anymore. We had enough to get by. And now I’m here. Now I’m here…”
There, she had gotten it all out. Once she started, it just seemed to flow from her. With every little bit she gave, she felt strength coming back to her, willing her to continue. She didn’t know how it was possible, but she felt better now that she had told Laurel her story. Well, part of her story. She couldn’t tell her everything. She couldn’t tell anyone.
“How’d your mother die?” Laurel asked, not knowing that this one seemingly innocent question might send her roommate over the edge.
Samantha’s eyes went wide, as the images converged on her. It had been a mistake, telling Laurel about her mother. It had been a mistake. Images of her mother’s dead body flashed through Samantha’s mind. She could hear a child’s scream, her own screams, her mother’s killer’s voice echoing through her memories, cursing her family, cursing her. She saw her father rushing in, grabbing her, holding her, hugging her, taking her to safety. But there was no safety. That had been his last truly sane act. She heard the sirens blaring down the street. They were real. They were here. Make them stop. The red, the blue, the white of the police car lights invaded her vision. The sheet, that miraculously perfect sheet of the body bag, zipped closed, hiding her mother’s face. The coroner pronouncing her mother dead. She was dead, gone. Samantha would never see her again.
Laurel’s voice snapped Samantha out of her memories, saving her from destruction. “Samantha?”
Samantha’s mind went blank. All the images were gone. She couldn’t even remember what they had been talking about. “What?” she asked, her voice hollow.
“Never mind. It’s not important.”
“Ok,” she shrugged, her mentality coming back to her. She remembered what they were talking about, but she definitely didn’t want to bring it back up. She had had enough truth for the day.
She looked at her watch. 12:15. Lunch time.
“Hey, weren’t we supposed to meeting Nick and Peter for lunch?”
“What, oh yeah, right.” Samantha could see that Laurel was wishing she hadn’t asked to be privy to Samantha’s history. Samantha wished she could say the same. She felt better, already. Except for the brief nosedive into her memories, talking had been cathartic.
They walked to the dining hall in silence, giving Samantha the chance, but not the desire, to think. When they saw Nick, however, their attitudes quickly changed, replaced by his utter excitement at whatever he had to share with them. It was amazing how one glance from him could wash away all of their other feelings, how easily he could improve anyone’s mood with just his presence. He was a force of nature.
Nick and Peter waited for Laurel and Samantha at a small round table. They already had their food, but were waiting for the girls before starting to eat. It was an insane gesture of chivalry, and Samantha found herself smirking at them. She was so used to eating alone, no one to wait for or to wait for her. Their behavior baffled her immensely.
Nick barely waited for Samantha and Laurel to put their trays on the table and sit down before he start talking. His energy and excitement amused her to no extent. He seemed so much like a child sometimes.
“Ok, so I was thinking that instead of staying on campus for the weekend, we could go to the beach. Peter and I did it last year, and I thought it’d be fun to make it a tradition. Plus, there’s only so much time until the water gets too cold, and I’ve been itching to go surfing since we got up here. My parents have a beach house just south of Malibu and they are taking my sister down for the weekend, so we won’t have to worry about food or anything. And it’d be lots of fun, especially compared to campus. So what do you think?”
He looked over at Peter to back him up. It was obvious that Peter was already in on this plan.
Samantha didn’t know what to think of Nick’s plan. She hadn’t been to the beach since her mother died, and she didn’t know how she would react to going back. But she also knew that she didn’t want to stay in town if Nick and Peter would be gone for the weekend.
“Think of it as a reward for surviving the first week of college,” Nick threw in, trying to sweeten the deal. Samantha didn’t know why he was so insistent on this, bus since she wasn’t completely averse to the plan, she shrugged at Laurel when their eyes met.
“I’m in,” Samantha said with a shrug, giving in.
“Yeah, me too, I guess,” Laurel agreed, not wanting to seem too excited.
“Great, then it’s settled!” Nick was obviously pleased by how easily he had been able to persuade the girls. He had been expecting to have to give them more incentive to come, but he didn’t realize how infectious his moods were. No one could resist him for too long.
“On one condition,” Laurel began. The boys looked at her curiously. They hadn’t been expecting any conditions. “I get to drive.”
Samantha watched as different expressions registered on the boys’ faces: Shock, incredulity, amusement. They thought she was joking.
“Oh, Laurel, come on,” Peter began, but Laurel quickly cut him off.
“No ifs, ands or buts about it. I get to drive. There’s no way I’m sitting in the backseat of anyone’s car. And neither one of you would want that.”
While her speech confused the boys, Samantha had no doubts that she was serious. If there was one thing Samantha had learned about Laurel in the last week, it was that she loved to drive. And fast. Laurel’s red Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet was her pride and joy, the one thing she didn’t mind her parents buying for her. Whenever Samantha had needed to go to the store, no matter how short the drive, Laurel would always insist on driving. Samantha assured Laurel that she had a car and could drive herself, but Laurel always insisted. Samantha hadn’t gotten to drive her Mustang since she arrived in Palo Alto. She missed her car terribly.
Samantha watched, amused, as Nick and Laurel argued about whether or not she would be driving. Laurel’s argument was that there wouldn’t be enough room in Nick’s truck. Nick’s was that it would be cheaper to just take one car. Samantha knew the argument was futile, that Laurel would eventually get her way, but Nick didn’t seem to see that. Occasionally, her eyes would glide over to Peter’s face, to judge his reactions, and these brief glances convinced her that he had come to the same conclusion he had.
The argument lasted throughout lunch, and continued until Friday afternoon when they were packing the cars to leave. Nick continued to insist that Laurel wasn’t driving to the beach house, even as she packed her car with Samantha’s bags and her own. Peter would be riding with Nick, and Samantha was with Laurel. For dinner, they would be stopping at a little restaurant Nick knew of that was halfway between Palo Alto and the house, so they would make it to the beach by sunset. Even though plans had been made, Nick still wouldn’t give up. Samantha wouldn’t have been surprised if they were still arguing about this over dinner and throughout the whole weekend. It was ridiculous.
They plan went off without a hitch, and, as Nick’s black truck pulled up to the house with Laurel’s sports car right behind it, the sun was setting gracefully on the horizon, it’s rays glittering on the water. Samantha couldn’t imagine a more peaceful end to her day. Well, she could. Nick and Laurel were still arguing. But not even their bickering could ruin this experience for her. She only had good memories of the beach, and this was another to add to that list. She had been worried that seeing the beach would be painful for her, but it made her feel freer than she had in a long time. It was amazing.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
Peter had been watching her, though she hadn’t realized it. He had noticed the change in her expression when she looked out at the beach; he saw how it affected her. This didn’t surprise Samantha, she knew what he was. What surprised her was how close he was. She hadn’t noticed his approach, but not that she was aware of his presence, she could feel the heat coming off his body only inches from her own. It was a surreal feeling, having him this close. She hadn’t noticed that she had been shying away from him, keeping her distance, subconsciously listening to the warnings of danger. But when he got this close, it all faded away, all of her reservations against him simply disappeared. She wondered why that was, but didn’t really think much of it. Why should she? All it proved was that perhaps the warnings really were wrong.
“It is,” she answered him in a reverent whisper. She couldn’t think of any other words to describe her feelings, so she fell silent. Peter seemed to understand, and he didn’t say anything else. But his presence was enough to distract her. She didn’t know how to think, how to breathe with him this close. She needed something to bring her back to the real world.
As if he could hear her thoughts, Nick was there, standing next to Peter. “Laurel and I are going in, so I can show her to her room. You guys are welcome to stay out here if you want.”
His voice snapped Samantha back to reality.
“You know, I think I’m ready to go in, too.”
She smiled at Peter, not knowing what to say, or even to think. There was so much she didn’t know.
She followed Nick into the house, not noticing her surroundings. All she noticed was that Peter wasn’t with her anymore; the heat of his body wasn’t there to warm her now cooling skin. Involuntarily, she shivered, wishing he was there to warm her, though it wasn’t cold. She looked back at him. He was still facing the ocean, just standing there with the sunset framing him, the little light that was left glancing off of his white shirt. She wondered what he was thinking about, if he had been affected by the moment they had just shared.
She followed Nick to her room, her thoughts still outside with Peter. Without bothering to turn the lights on, she dropped her bags on the floor and sat down on the bed. She needed to think. There was so much she didn’t understand.
What was it about Peter that made her freeze?
Who was he?
Why did it mater?
Samantha fell asleep dwelling on these thoughts, not knowing which pieces of the puzzle she had or how they fit together. Even in her dreams, her mind couldn’t let go of the image of him standing so close to her on the beach, his warmth, his voice, his eyes. There was something so familiar about him, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. Who was he?
His face flashed through her dreams, mingling with another. They looked nothing alike, but there was something so similar about the two faces. Where Peter had dirty blonde hair and sparkling gray-blue eyes, the one from her nightmares was dark, with dark brown hair and eyes that were deep black pits of hatred. His face, contorted in anger, slowly shifted to a mocking grin, Peter’s grin. But that grin didn’t hold the warmth that Peter’s did. She didn’t like seeing in on his face. She couldn’t be here. This wasn’t fair. Peter was not her mother’s killer. Peter was safe. She had to believe that.
Her dreams slid away from those images to more peaceful scenes. Peter was still in the forefront of these dreams, but, thankfully, his face was no longer fused with the other. Samantha drifted from dream to dream, not comprehending anything she saw, just trying to escape the thought that was haunting her. Were they really so similar? Samantha refused to believe he was anything other that he appeared to be. He was safe. He had to be. She knew it.
The next morning, Samantha woke with no memory of the dreams or thoughts that had occupied her mind throughout the night. They simply disappeared like the fog on the ocean as the sun filled her room with light and warmth. Outside her window, she could see Laurel sitting in the sand, watching the waves crashing against the sand. Samantha couldn’t understand how Laurel always seemed to wake up so early, even when she didn’t have to. It was something Samantha wasn’t used to.
As Samantha continued to watch the waves from her window, she noticed a speck in the water that quickly grew from a speck to a standing person. Nick—or was it Peter?—, apparently, was already surfing. How late was it?
Realizing that she was possibly the last one up that morning, Samantha quickly changing into her only bikini—a blue, pink and white flowered thing that she had let Olivia convince her to buy—and pulled her jeans and tank on over it. She was here for one last holiday before school pulled her in completely, not just to sleep the weekend away. As she rushed outside to join her friends in the sand, excitement filled her body. All she wanted to do was spend the day on the beach. And that’s exactly what she and her friends did. Nick and Peter surfed for most of the day—or at least pretended to—, and Samantha and Laurel sunned on the beach, lounging and laughing at the boys. At lunch, they ate sandwiches and lemonade that Nick’s mother sent out with Nick’s younger sister, Allison.
Allison was a small girl with bright blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. She was a shy girl of 15 years, and her brother guarded her like she was the most important person in the world. But what he was protecting her from, Samantha couldn’t tell. He was more protective of her than any normal big brother would be of a sister. While most older brothers would be protective of their sisters in the presence of a threat, and then pick on them when they were just with family, Nick protected his sister every moment they were together. It was as if he thought even the slightest of breezes could break her. But to Samantha’s eyes, Allison didn’t look that fragile. She just looked scared.
Allison spent the rest of the day with Laurel and Samantha on the beach, watching her brother surf. Samantha tried to make conversation with her, but as she wasn’t much of a conversationalist herself, and Allison was too shy to say anything at all, everyone fell silent pretty quickly. Except for Laurel of course. But Laurel could carry on a conversation with herself if she felt like it. She didn’t need any other acting participants, so long as she had an audience.
Samantha finally felt calm. She had been through two weeks of nonstop tedium. After all of the activities leading up to the first week of school, and then suffering through her first college lectures, she had been feeling completely drained. But now, under the sun, on the beach, she felt completely at peace with herself, and nothing could take that from her today.
After a while, Peter and Nick gave up on the surfing. Peter’s interpretation of the sport consisted mostly of falling, anyway, and Nick didn’t really feel like being on the waves alone. After a while he was only out there to watch Peter fall over and over again, so once Peter packed it in, Nick did as well. With nothing else on the schedule until dinner, Samantha, Laurel and Peter lounged about playing cards for the rest of the afternoon. Nick, being his art major self, walked around in the sand taking pictures. You name it, he took a picture of it. And even though Laurel hid her face every time he came near, he still managed to get some pretty good shots of her that day.
Dinner that night was a somewhat subdued affair. After all the excitement of the day, everyone was pretty quite sitting around the bonfire on the beach. After the sun went down for the night, and the marshmallows had been eaten, Nick’s parents and sister went in for the night, but the four new friends stayed out watching the fire as it died.
“This is nice,” Samantha whispered.
“Yeah, it is,” agreed Laurel. “You’re family is really cool Nick.”
“I bet they’d like hearing that,” Nick replied, smiling.
There was something odd in Nick’s tone as he spoke, something that piqued Samantha’s curiosity, something he wasn’t saying.
“I wish my parents could be like that. Just normal for a day,” Laurel half-complained, half-stated. She rarely complained, but in this night, she was strangely jealous of everything Nick had. “I wonder what it would have been like growing up with a normal family.”
“We really aren’t that normal.”
“Oh come on. You’re, like, the poster family for normal. Two happy parents, two bubbling kids? You’re just missing the dog,” Laurel teased. “What’s more normal than that?”
Samantha was only half paying attention to their conversation, but she still looked over at Nick to see his response. But he didn’t look like Nick anymore. The expression on his face surprised her. She could see the pain on his face, illuminated by the bonfire. He looked haunted. She would have never expected to see such contortion on his normally very happy face. It was more an expression she expected from her father, one he wore more often than she liked.
“Hey, Nick. Don’t sweat it. She was just playing with you,” Samantha said, trying to save him from the pain. But she didn’t know what she could actually do.
“No… no. You guys need to know this… I guess.” Nick took a deep breath before he continued. “I have another sister—so it’s three kids, not two, like your perfect family…” The attempted joke was lost on Samantha. “Jessica. She’s actually my twin…” He trailed off. The stress lines were obvious on his face. “When we were sophomores in high school, she tried to kill herself.”
Samantha was stunned. Was that it? Was that what made him the person that he was? If it was, it wasn’t fair.
“Not so normal after all, huh?”