"Hey Mikey," I smiled as he jumped at me, the very minute I opened the door.
"Hey Cara!" He grinned.
"Wow, you've grown. And I don't think it's just your hair." I ruffled the crazy mess on top of his head.
"Aunty Sam can't brush my hair very well." He chuckled, and then his face went very serious. "You didn't come to my birthday."
"No... no I'm sorry about that. I wish I could have."
"Mikey you can't run off like that!" Sam appeared, looking a little harassed.
"Sorry Aunty Sam." He tried to look guilty.
"No you're not, you little monkey." She looked at me then, running her hand through her hair. "Sorry we're late. Someone wouldn't clean his teeth."
"Monkey's don't clean their teeth."
"Monkey's don't have to go to the dentist. And they don't eat junk food." She raised and eyebrow and I chuckled. "What?"
"Nothing. You're just very... mum-like."
"Always wanted kids." She shrugged, avoiding my eyes.
"You will do. And they'll always clean their teeth." I threw a pointed look at Mikey, and stepped out of the house, closing the door behind me. I was wrapped tightly in my warmest coat, and had my scarf on, and a beanie, from underneath which my curls flowed, with the help of extensions. I'd got my new black boots on too, with a heel. I felt grown up, and warm, and I looked good. Ali had convinced me that I had to try; I couldn't go looking like I'd just thrown anything on. Just in case I was invited to anything after the zoo, like the film and food.
"You look nice." She murmured as she opened the car door for Mikey.
"Thank you. So do you." We looked similar actually, except that her boots were flat and her coat was black instead of the dark emerald green that mine was. Once Mikey was fastened in, and we were both in the car, we set off. Mikey chatted away, both of us barely getting a word in.
"...and you missed the brownies! Aunty Sam made brownies. Can we make brownies tomorrow?"
"If you'd like," Sam replied.
"Yay! Then Cara can have some!"
I shifted in my seat and glanced out of the corner of my eye to check Sam's reaction. She blinked.
"Of course she can."
"I don't know if I can help though Mikey." I added, to clear the air. "I might just have to let you two do all the work and hope that Aunty Sam saves one for me."
"Why?" He asked, and I could see his pout in the mirror.
"You can come if he wants." Sam said quickly.
"I don't want to unless you want me to." I replied, quietly. "I don't want to force myself in to your home after everything. I have no rights to open arms and brownies."
"Cara..." She sighed, "you can come. I'd like you to. And after you helped pull me up after... you know, you can at least feel welcome in our... my flat."
I tired to ignore that she'd just said our, but it stuck in my mind for the rest of the journey. I missed everything about 'us' and 'our'.
"Aunty Cara?" I started, and felt Sam tense next to me.
"Can we go and see the penguins?"
"We can see every animal there Mikey."
"Awesome." He grinned.
"I'm sorry." I murmured to Sam.
"For... impacting more than I thought I would, when I messed up." I glanced back at Mikey, who was playing with a toy giraffe he seemed to be glued to.
"We couldn't have known."
"I should have been better."
"Can we not talk about this now?" She murmured.
"Yeah... sorry. I didn't mean to... sorry."
"Stop saying sorry." She begged.
We arrived at the zoo, and Mikey was out almost as soon as he'd been unbuckled. I had to grab his hand to stop him from escaping, and soon, Sam and I had a side each, to cover all bases. I didn't want him getting eaten.
"Penguins, and lions, and giraffes!"
"Yes, all of them." I smiled. I caught Sam looking at me with that look... like... that look. SO I tried not to blush and swung Mikey's hand gently as we headed over to the first enclosure.
We looked at the llamas, the warthogs, the meerkats, the penguins and the seals, and the lions. Mikey was most excited when he saw the giraffe's and he demanded to be lifted up to show them his giraffe, Norman (I mean come on, Norman the Giraffe). I was particularly glad that the giraffe's didn't seem interested in the toy, because I wouldn't have liked to deal with Mikey if one of them had taken it.
"Hungry, Aunty Sam!"
"Alright, we'll get lunch, and go and see the rest before film and food. Okay?"
He dragged us along to a little cafe, attached to a gift shop, which was promptly raided. Sam caved, and got him the most adorable giraffe waterproof, with giraffe head hood. He announced that he would wear it for the rest of the day, and, with her help, put it on over his jumper. His previous coat was discarded on a seat at the table we'd chosen. I tried to get the food, but Sam wouldn't allow it, and went up to the register. I slipped a note in her bag, unwilling to let her pay, and told Mikey it was a secret. The cheeky monkey lasted five seconds when Sam found the note.
"Cara said she didn't want you to pay."
"Cara, you're a student. Let me."
I pursed my lips at Mikey, and shook my head.
"No, I got it, seriously."
"Don't argue Sam." I shrugged off my coat, and she blinked, then looked away. I glanced down. She'd gotten me this jumper on our first Christmas, last year. Just a plain black jumper, but with a v-neck and 3/4 sleeves, and it fitted me snugly. It was soft, and warm, and I hadn't been able to resist slipping it on for the day. I pulled off my beanie, and fluffed my hair, pretending I hadn't noticed her reaction.
"You..." She bit her lip and shook her head. "Is that the one I bought?"
I glanced down, and thought about pretending to have forgotten. But I'd done enough pretending in the past.
The waitress arrived with our drinks, and although Sam was entirely polite, as usual, her eyes barely left me.
We ate, and saw the rest of the zoo. Mikey napped in the car as we left, and I bit my lip and tried not to want to ask if I could carry on the day with them. But Sam didn't take me home; she took me to the cinema. As she parked, I checked that Mikey was still asleep. His little mouth was open, and his giraffe was clutched tightly in his fists.
"How do you fancy watching a children's cartoon film?" She asked, before I could suggest that I leave them to it.
"Are you sure?"
"Well then..." I smiled, "that depends on the film."
"The Charlie Brown and Snoopy film?"I laughed, "Sure, I'll watch that."
"Can I have an ice-cream?" Mikey asked, as we headed to our seats for dinner.
"Only if you eat your vegetables." Sam replied.
"But I'm having pizza!" Mikey complained.
"Well that changes everything!" She chuckled, and he grinned as he scrambled on to a booth. "Budge over."
"Oh I see. You want Cara to sit with you huh?"
"Nope. I want to sit by myself!" He said.
Sam glanced at me, and the booth, hesitant.
"But Aunty Sam wants to snuggle with you." I tried.
"NOPE." He repeated.
"Okay." She agreed, and allowed me to slide in first. I'd already taken off my coat and hat, so I just slipped straight in.
"Pizza all around, or...?" She glanced at me in case I wanted different.
"Cheese. Lots of cheesy pizza." I smiled. She chuckled.
"Alright, I'm on it." And she stood up to order, but returned to take her bag. "And it's on me." She raised an eyebrow at me, as if challenging me. I scowled, but couldn't keep the smile from my face.
I'd be lying if I said that occasionally, during the meal, I let me calf tap Sam's leg. Completely innocently. But the first time, she did this inhale... thing, and no one can blame me for wanting to hear that again.
"Ice cream?" Mikey asked, when he'd finished his pizza.
"Sure." Sam said. "Just don't tell your mum."
"Okay!" He agreed gleefully.
"Go and choose which one you want and I'll ask the waitress when she comes to clear up. They're all there, look." She pointed to the ice-cream, about ten steps from us. Or twenty Mikey run-shuffles, I noticed, as he practically galloped over there.
"That was lovely. Thank you." I said once we were alone.
"They do good pizza here."
"Not just that. I mean the day."
She paused and looked at me.
"It has been good."
"Is it wrong if I say I've missed this?"
"No... no I wouldn't say that's wrong. I've missed it too."
"Really? Because I wouldn't blame you if you'd wiped me from your memories. The first dates, the trip to Italy... the dance."
"That is burned in to my... everything. I couldn't get rid of it, even if I wanted to. Which I don't." I glanced at her and saw that her eyes were burning.
"I want chocolate ice-cream!" Mikey arrived back and we said no more about it.
"I want Cara to read me a bed time story."
"Mikey I don't think-"
"Sure, she can if she wants to." God Sam, why are you being so god damn reasonable? I can't keep up!
"Do you need a hand?" I whispered, as Sam unbuckled a sleeping Mikey from his car seat.
"No I've got it... could you get the door?"
"Sure." I ignored that tingle I felt as I took the keys from her hands, and hurried up the steps. I opened the door and let her past me, standing awkward and unsure on the outside.
"The spare room too?" She whispered. I followed her in, closing the door to keep in the warmth, and opened the door to Mikey's room for the night. She got him on the bed, and took off his shoes, and socks, and his giraffe raincoat. As she gently wrestled with the jumper I realised I was staring. Sam being soft, and caring... it was possibly the most beautiful moment I'd seen. I realised I'd stepped forward to help when my hands clutched the covers, and I waited until she'd lifted him before moving them, so she could put him under. As she tucked him in and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, I lost all sense of anything else. And I don't think I would have been able to move myself, if she hadn't looked at me as she straightened up, and I had to move to get away. I stepped in to the hallway and prepared to make my goodbyes. I could do this.
"Want a drink?" Sam asked as she closed the door.
"I should... probably..." I CAN do this. "Sure." Failure.
"Tea? Hot chocolate? Something stronger?"
"Whatever you're having." My feet followed her in to the kitchen.
"Would you like... to put on some music?" She'd definitely been about to say something else, but I was so filled with nerves that I couldn't try to ask...
"Sure. Anything in particular?"
"There should be something in there already."
I was glad to have an excuse to turn away from her, and went to the music player, waiting for it to turn on. I pressed play. Fuck. We danced to this song at her birthday.
"Are you okay?"
"Not really." I turned around, and she was offering one of two wine glasses.
"I'm sorry. I know today has been... a lot. It's been a lot for me too."
"Then why are you... Mikey's not awake; you could just send me home."
"I want you to stay." She gestured with the wine glass, and I took it. The little shiver that ran through me when our fingers touched did not go unnoticed. "Just to be clear, I'm not propositioning you."
"Oh." I couldn't keep the disappointment out of my voice.
"I would be, but I think we already went down this road. We have a lot of repairing to do if we're going to be friends or... well more, again." She had on a very business-like tone, and it was kind of confusing.
"Sam... what are you doing?"
"What do you mean?" She asked, sitting down and patting the sofa.
"You're talking to me like a client." She took a sip of wine and started avoiding eye contact, so I sat down, put my glass on the table, and took one of her hands. She froze up a little. "Tell me."
"I want you." She murmured, so quiet I almost didn't hear." I want you so much but I'm scared that... that we'll fall apart again." She looked up at me and her tone became strong. "And I can't go through that again Cara. I've never been so hurt in my life, and that is saying something."
"I will do whatever it takes to make you feel like you can trust me again. Anything. Tell me and I'll do it."
"I don't know if there's anything you can do. I know that it wasn't that you didn't trust me... I know you thought it was for the right reasons. But you thought that it would tie us together, and you couldn't live with that. And I wanted nothing but to be tied to you for the rest of my life." A tear rolled down her cheek and I reached up to wipe it away.
"I wasn't scared about being tied to you. I was scared that you wouldn't want to be tied to me. I'm young, I've not finished Uni, I don't have a place in the world yet. Everyone was talking about marriage, and children, and they'd put me in a wedding dress and were making comments and when I realised that I wanted it, I got scared that at some point in the future, you might realise that you didn't want it like I did. I got scared that you'd go, and that made me want to take you up on your offer. So I couldn't let you give me a kidney, Sam. Because I knew that I'd use it to always keep you close, and I couldn't force you to stay if you were happier somewhere else."