Chapter Thirty-One

The shock of waking from the vivid and unexpected dream brought me quickly back to full consciousness. Although I had no idea how long it was that I had been sleeping for, it felt as if it should be between nine and ten o'clock. Despite the frustration I felt at having been plunged back into the chaos of the dying planet, it came as something of a relief to wake up and actually find the world still alive around me. I quickly sat up, keen not to miss another second of what little time remained. It was pitch black outside but it was still stifling and sickeningly hot and an instinctive feeling in my gut told me that it would not be long before we would be hit by another devastating energy pulse.

Sitting upright, I was able to get my first real look around the cluttered room in which I had been ungraciously dumped earlier. It seemed to be a workshop or garage and the rectangular shaped floor was covered from end to end with tools, boxes, books and other assorted piles of junk and rubbish. The area in which I had been lying was, as far as I could see, the only available space. At the far end of the room was a small connecting door which, I presumed, led to the rest of the house and at the other end, close to where I sat, was a pair of heavy wooden doors with small square windows made of frosted glass. Through them I could see the dark evening sky punctuated by brilliant stars.

As I waited in the silence for something to happen, I could not help but wonder why I had been left in the garage rather than taken into the house. I knew that I had little to complain about - it was enough that I had found somewhere that would offer me protection from the next deadly energy pulse.

The silence was broken by sounds of movement from inside the house. I shuffled in the little space where I sat and craned my neck to try and get a clear view of the door through which anybody would have to come to get into the garage. The handle moved downwards and the door was pulled open with some force. After having opened only a couple of inches, it stuck (it may not have been used regularly for some time - the garage certainly looked as if it had been unattended and uncleaned for a long while) before another hefty tug at the handle opened it fully. Someone in the shadows grunted with effort and I knew before I was able to see her clearly that it was Samantha. I watched as she carefully and quietly closed the door behind her and struggled to pick her way through the rubbish scattered on the floor to make her way over towards me. She sat down at my side and we held each other tightly.

Sam had brought with her a pint glass full of clear, cool water and she held it up to my thirsty lips. I drained it dry in a matter of a few seconds and then we sat together in a peculiar silence. After having become so close in the city and then being torn apart so quickly and cruelly, we both had so much to say to each other and yet were unable to find the words to express how we felt. Just to be with Samantha was enough for me - I needed no further confirmation of her feelings - but the way that she looked into my face and the gentle, soothing touch of her body said more than a thousand words ever could have. Despite the raging heat of the night, the warmth of her body next to mine refreshed and restored me and I felt my worries and pains melting away into insignificance. The doubts I had entertained on the journey - that I either wouldn't reach Samantha in time or that she would reject me when I did arrive - now seemed foolish and unnecessary. As she held me tightly to her, I knew that I had not needed to worry and the relief I felt was like having a heavy, cumbersome weight lifted gently from me.

'I can't believe that you came all of this way just to see me,' Sam said quietly, disturbing the gentle silence. Her hushed tones echoed loudly around the cluttered room.

'Of course I did,' I answered. 'I told you I would.'

I squeezed her hand gently in mine before lifting it up to my lips and kissing it softly.

'How far have you walked?' she asked. I shrugged my shoulders - it was difficult to try and estimate the distance.

'I lost the car at about midday yesterday,' I replied. It seemed more like weeks had passed since I had stopped at the service station and it was strange to think that it had only been just over a day ago.

'Which way did you come?'

I shrugged my shoulders again and hoped that the brevity of my responses would let Sam know that I did not want to talk about the subject any longer. The journey was over and I had managed to reach her - that was all that mattered now.

'Let's change the subject,' I said. 'It's done now.'

'I know. I'm proud of you.'

'It was worth every step,' I whispered. 'I'd do it again, and more after that if I had to.'

I thought about my last words for a moment. Although they were true and I honestly would have done anything for the girl at my side, the chances were that I would now never have the opportunity to.

'I love you,' she said softly and her words made my heart glow with a pride and a tender warmth that made the temperature outside seem cool by comparison. I slid back down to the floor, rested my head in her lap and looked up into her face.

'You don't know how much it means to hear you say that,' I whispered. 'I've been so worried that...'

Sam gently put her hand over my mouth, stopping me mid-sentence.

'There's no need to worry anymore. I've wanted to be with you since the minute I first walked into your office and I never want to let you go again. What you've done has only made me more sure.'

I shuffled about uncomfortably for a moment. The scars on my back were still spitefully sore even though their tenderness had been tempered by a couple of hours of much-needed sleep.

'I'd ask you to marry me if we had time,' I said, truthfully. Sam quickly put her hand over my mouth again.

'And if we had time then I'd say yes,' she replied.

The room suddenly fell quiet again. It was not that either of us wanted to stop talking to the other, it was just the fact that it hurt too much to talk about what might have been. We both knew that if we'd still had futures to look forward to, then we could have looked forward to sharing them with each other. The realisation that that would never be the case was a bitter pill to have to try and swallow.

'I'm just so glad that I managed to get here,' I said. Sam did not reply. I found myself wondering whether if I'd known what an ordeal the trip would turn out to be, would I have had the courage to undertake it at all? I could tell just by looking up into Sam's perfect face that I would have had to try - it would have been impossible to have waited miles away and alone in the city without knowing if the girl I loved was safe. I forced myself to abandon that line of thought - the journey was over now and I had to concentrate on making the most of the short time that Samantha and I had left together.

'I'm sorry I look such a mess,' I said, laughing and coughing with the dryness of my throat. Sam smiled. 'I couldn't find anywhere to wash and shave this morning!'

Her expression quickly changed to one of obviously false disappointment. She shook her tired head and scowled fiercely.

'I wouldn't normally even let you in the house looking like that,' she joked. 'But today I'll let you off.'

'But you haven't let me into the house,' I croaked sarcastically. 'I'm only good enough for the garage.'

Sam's expression changed again, as did the tone of her voice.

'I know, I'm sorry. It's just that my dad...'

'...doesn't want me around,' I said, interrupting and finishing her sentence for her. She nodded sadly.

'It's just that he doesn't want you to...'

I pulled myself upright and held her close to me. I softly kissed her forehead before looking long and deep into her eyes.

'It's all right,' I whispered reassuringly. 'I've had plenty of time to think over the last few days. I had started to think that your dad might not be too keen on having me around - I think I'd be the same if I was in his position. He's worried that having me here will mean that you spend less time with your family and let's face it, time seems to be the one thing that we're all short of right now.'

Sam stood up and, picking her way through the random piles of junk which were spread around the cluttered floor, made her way over to the double doors which separated us from the burning world outside. Once there, she stood on tiptoes and peered through the dirty glass in one of the little windows.

She was quiet for a moment before speaking again.

'I love all of them,' she said before pausing for a second. 'But it's you that I want to be with.'

I dragged myself up onto my unsteady feet and walked over to where she stood.

'It's your choice,' I said. 'I want you with me, you know I do, but if you feel that you have to be with your family then it's your decision and I'll have to accept it. It works both ways though; if you're stopping with me then they're going to have to try and live with it.'

Although I did my best to sound fair and diplomatic, while I spoke, I knew that if Sam did decide to spend her last moments with her family then it would be impossible for me to stand back and let it happen. I knew that I wouldn't be able to stand having her so close and yet be unable to be with her.

All the talk of families and of the choice that Sam had to make made me remember my relations, hundreds of miles away. It seemed unfair that she was able to walk through a single door to reach her parents while I knew that I would never see or hear from mine again. Although it was hard to accept, having Samantha by my side cushioned the blow and made it easier to come to terms with the inevitable.

There came a sudden sound from the door at the other end of the room which led back into the house and it juddered open once more. A figure appeared from the darkness of the house carrying a candle and, even though the low orange light flickered and danced around, I knew that it was Samantha's father who had come to collect her. My heart sank like a stone as I moved closer to Sam and held her tightly in defiance. I wanted to remind her that I was there and, at the same time, let Mr Hill know that I had no intention of letting his daughter go. My emotions and instincts were suddenly at odds with what I had told Sam only moments earlier.

In the dull yellow light, Mr Hill's face looked haggard and worn and his voice sounded tired and low.

'Samantha, will you come back inside please?' he asked.

She looked at me before turning back to face her father. Although she had already told me that she intended to spend the rest of her life with me, the appearance of the old man filled me with a new uncertainty which made my legs weaken and my heartbeat quicken. She started to walk over to her father while I remained by the wooden doors, leaning heavily against them for support.

'I want to stay here Dad,' Sam said as she approached her father. 'I want to be with Steven.'

Mr Hill had obviously anticipated his daughter's intentions and his answer to her sounded false and prepared.

'I know you do. It'll hurt having to leave him here but you belong in the house with us. You started your life with your family and we all want you with us when...' His voice faltered and trailed away as he fought to talk about what was surely about to happen.

Sam stopped when she was halfway across the room and stood defiantly still.

'I'm not going anywhere without Steven,' she said. I could do nothing but watch from the other end of the room and wait for her father to react. I felt proud and yet unexpectedly embarrassed and ashamed at being the cause of a deep family rift at such an important time.

'Please, just come inside,' Mr Hill begged. He stepped into the garage and walked slowly towards his daughter who remained stationary in the centre of the room. 'Your mother wants to see you. Gran wants you there and so do I. It'll make it so much easier for us all to have you with us.'

The old man's blundering attempt at emotional blackmail angered me and I struggled to stay calm and quiet. I knew that the argument could only be resolved by Samantha and that any ill-considered intrusion from me would only make matters worse. From our very first meeting I had felt that Mr Hill had taken an intense dislike to me and the occasional, venomous glances which he aimed in my direction confirmed the fact that the strength of his feelings had not diminished.

Now only a couple of feet away from Samantha, he took his daughter's hand in his own and held it tightly. She made no attempt to resist. Looking deep into her father's face, she began to cry.

'I'm sorry, Dad,' she said gently, struggling to hold back her tears. 'I can't leave him. He's travelled halfway across the country just to be with me today.'

'What about us?' Hill snapped, his grip on his daughter's wrist visibly tightening. 'We've always been there for you.'

'I know,' Sam cried. 'It's just that I...'

'You what?'

'I love him, Dad. I don't want to leave him.'

'I don't want to hear any more,' he interrupted in a loud and unnervingly calm voice. 'You're coming inside now!'

Mr Hill started to walk back towards the door, dragging Samantha along behind him. She fought to get a grip on some of the nearby rubbish and to pull him back into the garage but she could not hold on. With the inspired power of a man on the brink of losing all control, he savagely yanked and dragged his precious daughter away from me and into the house.

For the briefest of moments I could only watch and look on in utter disbelief. The conditions had pushed everybody's control and composure to the absolute limit and it seemed that Samantha's refusal to comply with her father's pleas and demands had pushed him over the edge. I ran from the far end of the room and dived towards the door to try and reach Sam but, before I could reach her, I tripped in the gloomy confusion and stumbled to the cluttered ground. I quickly staggered to my feet and fought to stop the two figures from disappearing into the house but, before I could reach the door, it was slammed shut and my Samantha was trapped.

With my anger and disbelief mounting by the second, I smashed my weary fists into the thick door and struggled in the half-light to push down the handle and get inside. As I pounded against the door I heard sounds of confusion and anger coming from the other side and I listened as Samantha cried and protested with her father as he blocked the entrance to the garage by dragging heavy furniture in front of it. Moments later, the other side of the doorway became silent again and the house was quiet save for my relentless bangs and crashes and the pitiful tears of frustration which I began to cry.

I slumped to the ground at the foot of the door and, devastated, held my head in my hands. The insane actions of Samantha's father had taken me completely by surprise and I cursed myself for ever having let her go. I lay on the ground and, in between my own sobs and moans, I could hear Sam crying and pleading with her family in the house. Although she was only a few feet away from me, she may as well have been in another country.

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