A Change with Sam

byJRLover©

I met Sam three days before her birthday. At the time this information was nothing to me, and she was just a shadow within the day to day of my life. The school cafeteria was busy the day we met, though I cannot recall exactly why. Some sort of event, one of the many ways my school sought to break from the minutiae of every day and supplement education with fun (in order to promote more education). I felt a tug on my sleeve and found myself being pulled by a stream of friends through the cafe line. I wasn't hungry, but I could always drink. I grabbed a chilled can of soda without thinking and slid it alone the metal line that was reserved for tray placement. My eyes roamed the room on nothing in particular, and even as I moved autonomously through the languid line, I was losing my placement on the when and now.

"Just hold on please," she said. I watched her rummage through the small bag that was slung from one shoulder, but her hand returned from its confines. A fruitless grimace, and she plunged her hands desperately into her pockets.

"Just move the fuck on," one of my friends demanded. I knew the girl then. Sam. I really hardly spoke to her, few people did. I never knew why. Rumors and decisions circle through school for little reason other than to pass the time at the expense of another person. I thought she was pretty enough: a cute smile (when she smiled), sea-green eyes, freckles sprinkled across her nose. She always had her hair up in this sort of half ponytail. It worked for her.

"One moment. I'm sorry, really," she said. The cafeteria worker managing the register was starting to get anxious, I could see him bouncing on the balls of his feet. A body was pressed against my back and I tapped my soda against the counter.

Sam grunted in embarrassment and frustrated and dove into her bag again. As she turned away form the register, her arm caught the tray of food and slipped it towards the end of the metal counter top. Quicker than anyone could follow, the tray of food slid off into the emptiness of space. It overturned and food spilled out across the the tiled floor. At first no one spoke, and Sam just stared down at the mess in a final resignation of the fate of her day. Then the customary laughter and noise erupted. For a moment I thought she was going to be silly enough to bend down and clean up the food. Sam looked at the cafeteria worker in order to offer a silent apology, and then quickly took off, running towards the double doors that led toward the student quad.

Next in line, I placed my soda on the counter and rolled out a few bills. I stared at the mess, and then toward the receding view of Sam, and then at the employee.

"A slice of cake too please. The chocolate mousse one there," I said. The employee shrugged and nodded, taking my bills and giving me change. "Someone will clean that up," I offered. "Sorry."

I grabbed the small plate, the piece of chocolate mousse cake balancing fat on the sphere of waxed cardboard. Soda in the other hand, I walked out of the cafeteria.

I don't know what made me sit down next to Sam. I could recall all the times we had spoken on one hand and make a fist. There are moments in life where simple desire takes over, and the 'rightness' of a situation makes itself known like a flash of light in the dark. The bit of breeze about the day ruffled my jacket as I sat on the steps of the quad, close enough to the girl so she would know I was a friend, and far enough away as to not disturb her if she wanted me to go. When I opened my can of soda, the metallic pop alerted her to my presence. She stared at me for an uncomfortable moment and then turned back to her focus of nothing. Her eyes were red and puffy from tears.

"I'm sorry about that back there. You looked like you were having a really tough time," I started. She said nothing. "I should have offered to pay. It would've been better than that scene."

I allowed the words to soak into the ether about us, waiting for her to speak. I had another class in fifteen minutes, but it was nothing I couldn't skip. I had left my book bag in the cafeteria, and silently hoped one of my friends had the foresight to grab it after they saw me leave.

"I couldn't take your money," Sam said quietly.

"How about something else instead?" I asked her.

She turned to me then, and I gave her my best smile. Even with the tears she was cute. I held out the plate and the cake, pulling a wrapped plastic fork and knife from my pocket. Sam stared at the dessert and then lifted her eyes to mine, not understanding.

"Why?" she asked suspiciously.

"Because I wanted to," I said. "Go on, it's not a big deal."

"I'm not hungry," she said, taking the cake. She unwrapped the plastic ware and stared at the chocolate treat with the fork poised between the fingers of her right hand. I noticed that on one hand her nails were painted green and on the other, blue. I continued to talk as she sunk the tongs of the fork in the moist chocolate mousse. She put a miniature bite in her mouth and swallowed without chewing.

"You know I'm really not sure why we haven't talked before. You seem pretty cool," I offered.

"You are always with your friends, just like everyone else. I don't know what to say," Sam said.

I nodded. "Yeah. Lately I've wanted to get away. It might be fun to hang out with someone new," I said.

"I suppose we are hanging out now," she sniffed, wiping at her face with the back of her hand. She took another bite. I was starting to get sort of a childlike vibe from her, like she wasn't quite sure what to do with herself in the situation.

"I never see you hanging out with everyone. And you always look exhausted," I said.

"I'm busy. Night job," she said between bites.

"You work after school? I am sort of jealous," I said. "I usually just drink water or soda for lunch. It sort of sucks, but I get by."

"I have to. It's just me and my mom," Sam said. "God, I don't know why I'm telling you this. You have some trick of coercion or something?"

"I'm a good listener. And I bought you chocolate cake. You can pay me with a few words, really," I said with a smile. Sam smiled back.

"Alright, you have me there. Though I didn't ask for this. Who would have known that our school has such great bakers?" she asked.

"There's always surprises in the strangest places," I said. "So tell me about your job. Your parents don't make enough at home that you can't just focus on your studies?"

Sam shook her head. "I wish. It's just my mom and she works doubles. I pull my own weight when I can. Mostly I pay for our meals. I think buying cafeteria food is the largest way I spoil myself," she said.

"And your dad?"

"An asshole. Gone. It's better that way," Sam said, finishing the last bite of her cake. I couldn't believe how quickly she ate or the bites she took. A voracious eater. "Look, why don't we just skip this place for a while. I'm going to be blunt here: I could use a friend. You seem like the type that won't take advantage of trust."

I nodded. "Sure, I'm always up for something different. What did you have in mind?"

She stuck her thumb out and pointed behind her. "I don't live far from here. Its more comfortable than these concrete steps if you want to hang out," she said.

I could hear the catch in her voice. What exactly was this girl asking me? There was a mystery in the situation I wasn't grasping, a subtlety I couldn't catch on to. I knew she was truly just asking me to come hang out and relax, but I could sense the severe anxiety in her. It took some effort for her to offer her home. Sometimes people make the most desperate changes to themselves in order to find comfort.

We didn't have to walk far to arrive at the front door of Sam's little duplex. She rummaged through her shoulder bag and pulled out her keys quickly, giving me a look that said, "See? Usually I don't have any problems with this thing." I held the door open and she walked inside. I was met with the smells of clean laundry and that stale house scent. It was comforting. Sam threw her bag down in the hallway, near a pile of folded towels. She shrugged as I looked around.

"Not exactly clean. Make yourself comfortable," she said. Her entire posture changed as she enshrined herself in a familiar place.

"I like it. Just like a home should be. I don't think I could trust someone that had an immaculate living space. Serial-killer business there," I said. Sam laughed at that and held up her hands. "I'm good."

She walked into her kitchen and started rifling through her fridge. Sam asked if I wanted anything and I gave a non-committal grunt. I have a habit of immediately rejecting the first measure of polite good will in social situations. I licked my lips and thought about asking for a bottle of water. Instead I walked into their living room and started to look through the pictures on the mantel. Most of them were recent, within the last year or so. Sam and another woman, most likely her mom. Cousins, uncles, aunts. One of Sam holding up some sort of paper, an award of some kind. Then I found a few pictures of the same woman, Sam's mom, and another child that looked just like Sam. Similar facial features, though the boy was much younger. I picked up the photograph and stared of it. The boy in the picture was at least ten years younger. Sam's mom looked younger too.

"Hey Brett, you okay?" she asked, surprising me. I placed the picture back where it was.

"Just being nosy is all. I'm sorry," I said.

She walked up behind me and took a sip from her glass. Orange juice. Sam saw the picture I was looking at and sort of froze, her face taking a disheartened look. There was something in the picture she obviously didn't like.

"I've asked my mom for years to put those away. She has this sort of, fondness, for those photographs. I really hate them," she said.

"Who is this here? Your brother?" I asked her. She turned away and sat on the couch, facing the television set. I sat down beside her, the soft cushions sinking under me. "Sorry, I don't mean to pry."

"Do you ever carry around secrets from your past that just sort of weigh on you? Heavy moments that are your day to day, and you bury them but they still spring up at the worst moments. I think if my mom took those pictures down I would be able to move on. She loves the past too much. She was happier then. I know its the moments that mean much to her, and not the change. Still it just makes me so uncomfortable," Sam said. As she spoke her tone turned to a dull evenness, her words floating about us with an ugly weight. She brushed a bit of hair behind one ear as she spoke.

"Yeah. I mean everyone does. Why, you have something pretty bad?" I asked her.

"Brett. I don't know what it is but I just want to tell you thinks. You are easy to have around. And you are kind. I'm hoping your kindness is real," she said.

I nodded to her. What was I to this girl? What was she to me? Did it matter?

"So my parents had their divorce a few years ago. Well I say that, but I think its been about eleven now. It's been some time. Anyways, I had a really tough childhood. That boy in the picture there with my mom, that's me," Sam said.

I glanced back at the picture, though it was still fresh in my mind. I didn't say anything, just waited for her to continue.

"I never felt right, the way I was. My mom knew this, and even though it was hard for her to accept she helped me. I used to love to try and dresses and play with dolls. I did boy stuff too. I liked to go on hikes and build forts and such. I really love video games, though I know that's not necessarily a boy thing. Always hated sports. My dad gave me a really hard time," Sam said.

"There was this one bad day, I mean really bad. I can't even remember it all and my mom pretends it didn't happen. My dad was sort of fed up with me. He always forced me to do 'guy bonding' stuff that I didn't want to do. Watch sports and read about cars. Kind of force me to be rough and tumble, and it just made me sick to my stomach. There was one day when I think my behavior just snapped. It was after school, I was home alone. I've always walked home by myself. I was in my room, in front of the big mirror my mom bought me. I wanted to try on one of my dresses, but the day was different. I didn't hear him knock. I was slipping on a pair of panties, and then he was just there. He screamed and yelled and then just started hitting me. I kind of blacked out after that. I was in the hospital for a while," she said.

"Oh my god Sam, I'm so sorry," I told her, putting one hand on her shoulder and squeezing gently. She looked at me and smiled in a pained way.

"It's a long ago memory now. But yeah, they got a divorce. My mom received this nice settlement from him, and then a few years later my dad just disappeared. We've gotten no money or contact since, and it has made things really hard. My mom works doubles and I work nights after school. We make ends meet, just the two of us," she said. "I changed schools too."

I kept my hand on her shoulder, slipping further into the couch and closer to her.

"I've never told anyone any of this. Well no one but my mom, she knows of course, and the psychiatrist from the hospital. I get check ups sometimes. Most of that settlement, or a lot at least, my mom used it for me. To help me out. Most of it went to surgery. Breast implants. I've always been sort of fair, and I didn't need much else. Hormone treatment or whatever. Life has been hard but I can't tell you how much better I have felt since that day," she said.

"No one at school knows right?" I asked her.

"No. But it has always been hard for me to make friends. I just don't mesh with anyone, and in high school kids don't go out of their way to make friends. You really surprised me today. God I didn't mean to dump so much on you," Sam said.

I slipped my arm around her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. "It's fine. I wanted to know. You're right, you shouldn't have to share that weight. You can talk to me whenever you want now Sam. Honest," I said.

She smiled up at me, her face red and a few tears slipping out of her eyes. I felt the difference in breathing, and the way that time just slowed, and leaned in. She accepted my kiss full on the lips, and then we kissed again. Against my desires to rush anything, I let my tongue slip into her mouth, and she met me with her own. We kissed soft and slow, my hands moving to her waste and touching her skin where her jacket had slipped up her body. My fingers traced lines across her soft skin as I continued to kiss her. She made a little gasp, and then pulled away.

"Wait. Just wait," she said, pulling back into the couch. Her cheeks were flushed and she looked cuter than before. "You don't know everything."

I touched her side again, drawing my hand slowly across the soft material of her blouse, inside her jacket. "It's okay. Do I need to?" I asked her.

Sam stared deep into my eyes as if weighing my sincerity. Either it wasn't enough or she didn't' see what she wanted to find, because she stood up from the couch and pulled her jacket sleeves down around her wrists. "Thank you Brett. Really, you have no idea. But I just can't right now. I can't. I think you should go," she said.

I nodded and stood, taking one of her hands into mine. I leaned in for a quick kiss and she turned, my kiss landing somewhere on her cheek. I smiled as convincingly as I could, and then walked out her door.

A night, a day, a night, a day, a night. Nothing. I saw Sam at school but she didn't approach me. Once in the hallways I saw her staring at me, deeply, and when I walked towards her she disappeared into the crowds like a gheist.

"Such a strange girl," one of my friends said. The others echoed the sentiment with their laughs and grunts.

"It's her birthday tomorrow," one said.

"Really? How the hell do you know that?" I asked, incredulous.

"I don't know, I have memory for those things. I've been going to school with her for years. We just don't talk," he said.

I stared after the space that Sam occupied only moments before. I could still remember the way she smelled, just lightly of perfume and deodorant and laundry. I felt like I knew what I needed to do.

I didn't see her at school that day, though I knew she was there. Wanting me but afraid. So I waited through each of my classes, bored and sullen and expectant. I bought a soda from the cafeteria, gathered my things, and walked towards her house. With one parcel under my arm I rang her doorbell. Once, twice. She answered on the third, and tried to act surprised though I knew she could see me through the peep hole in the door. Her hair was wet from a shower, and there was a towel around her shoulders. A baggy shirt and sweats clung damply to her skin, clothes thrown on just for my sake.

"Happy birthday Sam," I said to her, holding out the pink box.

She stared at it, and then at me, her mouth opening and closing as if not finding the words that would work.

"Why Brett? I don't understand you," she said.

"It's cold. Can I come in? You should take your present," I said.

Sam nodded and weighed the moment in her mind, then took the pink box from me and left the door open. I walked in behind her, shrugged off my shoes and jacket, and shut the front door. She walked into the dining room and placed the pink box on the table, one hand on its top.

"Go ahead, it's yours," I said.

She lifted the cardboard lid of the box and stared at the object inside. A chocolate cake stared back at her.

"Hopefully better than the one from the cafeteria. And all yours," I said.

"Brett," she said, staring down at the cake and then back at me. She ran up to me, gave me a quick hug, and then stepped quickly into the kitchen. She returned with two plates, two forks, and a knife. I pulled her chair out for her, letting her sit and planted a soft kiss on the top of her head before she could stop me. I slid the knife into the cake as she said 'Thank you.' I cut her a slice, and then a small one for myself. As I expected she ate the whole large piece and asked for another.

"How old are you today?" I asked her.

Sam blushed. "Nineteen. I was held back one year because of my, um, problem. From the other day," she said, looking back down at her piece and taking a bite.

"Well happy birthday Sam. What do you think of the cake?" I asked her.

"It's amazing. Where did you get it?" she asked me.

"I made it," I replied with a smile.

"You're joking."

"Nope. My dad owns a bakery and I've been helping him since I can remember. I really got into it a few years ago. I baked that cake last night after he closed up. Really," I said.

"Oh my god it's killer. I can't believe this," she said. She looked up at me with her sea-green eyes, hair plastered wetly to her neck and shoulders. Sam looked so different without makeup, and yet I loved how clean she looked, her skin rubbed down to a soft pink from the hot shower.

"You are the nicest person I've ever met. I just don't even understand. I'm so sorry for the last few days," she said.

I nodded. "It's fine. You needed your space. I was worried about you though. I wanted to be with you," I said. I took her hand, the one absent of a fork. "I really loved kissing you, Sam. The other day."

"I enjoyed it too. I'm really sorry for pushing you out. It's hard for me," she admitted.

"I know. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I just, I really like you," I said.

Sam weighed me again, staring into my eyes. Whatever she saw this time made sense to her, and she put her fork down on her plate with half her slice of chocolate cake still left. My hand in hers, she lead me down the hallway and into a bedroom. There was a single bed, a desk with a laptop, a book case full of novels and textbooks, a television hooked up to a Playstation 2, a single chair. Stacks of folded clothes. Sam went over to her bed and sat down, patting the bed spread with one hand. I sat down next to her, the material soft on the palms of my hands.

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