The Gamble

Chapter One

It felt like it had been years since he’d left, but really only a handful of months had passed. His books were still on the shelf, his shoes tucked into the nook under the stairs. She stared down at the mail in her hand addressed to Mr. Samuel James and Ms. Tomika Hartnett.

‘Mika?’

Her head jerked up from where she’d stood, eyes downcast, staring for long minutes at the mail. Mika turned her attention to Lorrie.

‘You ok?’

Mika nodded, avoiding her friends’ gaze. ‘Fine.’ She shuffled the envelope under a stack of junk mail and magazine subscriptions and, turning, she glanced in the hallway mirror.  As always, she was shocked at the sad blue eyes, pale face, and long un-kept brown hair that the mirror reflected back. Mika paused, staring at the woman she had become.

‘Mika?’ Lorrie’s voice was gentle, hesitant. ‘Are you sure you want to go tonight? We could always stay here.’ Connection broken, Mika swung her handbag over her shoulder and gestured for Lorrie to proceed her.

‘I’m fine. Let’s go.’

***

People packed the street circling the lake, dancing, eating and laughing.  It was New Year’s Eve and Sam was working.  Like so many times before, his eyes automatically scanned the crowd, taking in the celebrations and checking for those who would or could cause trouble. His partner shoulder-tapped him.

‘Yo. Isn’t that Mika?’ Mitch, Sam’s partner, tipped his head towards a crowd of dancers and picnickers on the small grassy hill to their left. ‘Sure moves like her.’

Sam paused, his eyes drawn to where the girl with the long brown hair swayed in time to the music bellowing from a portable speaker.

‘That your girl?’

Without answering, Sam moved towards the group gathered on the hill. He felt the inexplicable pull of her. Yes, yes it was Mika. His Mika.

She spun and stopped, startled her eyes meeting his. And for one brief moment he watched as they lit up. He felt the answer in his gaze, the heat and passion that sparked between them. The wordless way they showed how much they loved each other. It was familiar and exciting. He loved how those baby blues brightened, exactly the way they had all the months which had preceded the birth of their stillborn baby.

Sarah.

He felt the slash of regret and the grief hit him once again. Sarah had been born at three months premature. Perfect in every way.  Except for the hole in her tiny heart. She had passed away in utero. Mika had gone through the long birth process. Sam had been helpless, unable to take away their grief or Mika’s pain. They’d held their baby girl and cried, grieving for the life she would never get a chance to live. Grieving for the family they were meant to be.

Sam watched as Mika’s eyes dimmed. Grief slicing through them as memories hit her. Before his eyes he watched as powerful emotions gripped the woman he loved, the pain that seeing him caused. Without a word Sam turned, leaving her to her night. Praying her joy would return when he was out of sight.

‘Was it Mika?’ Mitch stood, hands on his belt nodding in time with the music that swirled around them on the hot summer breeze.

‘No. It was someone else.’

 

Chapter Two

Mika felt her heartache as she watched Sam walk away. His sandy blonde hair was slightly too long, he was forever forgetting to cut it. It had been her job to remind him, even though she loved raking her fingers through the thick locks. His frame was tall, built, strong. She ached to be in his arms, to look up into his beautiful green eyes. To smell his strong male scent as they made love.

Drawn to the connection between them, Mika left her dancing friends and followed. Sam. Her lover. The man whose child she lost.

Sarah. Their daughter.

She felt the familiar bite of emotion, but rather than the familiar anguish and guilt she’d felt for their loss, Mika felt the heat of anger. She was furious. He’d left her. Abandoned her when she needed him the most. She knew getting pregnant was an accident. Unplanned and unexpected. But she had loved him. Did love him.

Sam had never said those words.

Mika quickened her pace, and pushed through the surging crowd until she reached him. Without a thought she grabbed his arm, swinging the man she loved around to face her. His expression was stern, blank, controlled. A police officer all the way through. Until he saw just who was touching him.

‘Mika?’ His voice was soft, questioning.

She felt tears sting her eyes.

‘You bastard! You left me!’ The words cracked out like a whip between them, causing him to flinch at their bite.

‘I thought that’s what you wanted.’

Their eyes met and she shook her head violently in denial, her hair flying.

‘I wanted space and time. Not for you to leave me! I needed you!’ She pushed against his chest angrily, causing him to rock back on a foot as she felt her heart break all over again. ‘It was our baby! Our daughter!’ Sam reached for her, his expression broken, but she stepped back, away. Leaving space between them.

‘Didn’t my leaving give you that?’ He looked so confused and angry. She felt that in her soul.

‘I -’ Mika broke off, turning. ‘I’m sorry.’ She took off, running back towards the safety of the hill and her car keys.

‘Mika!’

She glanced over her shoulder, tears streaming down her face. Sam pushed through the crowd, trying to get to her. She ducked and ran, dodging drunks and children, all the while praying he wouldn’t follow.

 

Chapter Three

Mika stared at the clock on her bedside table. 2.09am. The little lights had slowly counted down midnight and then into the early morning. The bed she had shared with Sam was cold, empty. The house was no longer filled with music and laughter and the sounds of love. The silence filled with the heaviness of anger and bitter regrets. She rolled to her back and stared at the ceiling. It was her fault. She had pushed him away.

The doorbell rang, startling her. Mika shot upright, pulling the covers up to her neck. Silence followed. Her phone beeped with an incoming text message. She reached out and slid cold fingers up the lock screen, noting the picture of her in Sam’s arms. Her heart thumped as Sam’s name filled the screen.

Sorry 2 wake you. I left a package @ the door. I miss you. We need 2 talk.

Mika threw back the cover and padded barefoot to the front door, switching on the entrance light. A darkened red Alfa Romeo sat in the street.  Sam.

A plain white box sat on the door mat. Mika ripped it open, and pulled out a necklace and card. A green jewel hung from the end of the delicate chain. She glanced at the car in the street and then down at the card.

Mika,

Peridot is a stone of compassion. I read on the internet that it’s got a power to heal and can assist in rebirths and renewal of all kinds. They say it can help find what is lost.

Somewhere along the way we got lost.

Somewhere along the way we both got hurt, and hurt each other.

They say Peridot can help with healing, especially relationships.

I want to heal what is broken.

Please Tomika.

Txt me.

Sam.

Mika looked over at the car again, tears in her eyes. She knew. This was the moment. She could either walk away from the other half of her heart, or try and repair this. Mika fingered the jewel for long moments, debating. Then slowly, deliberately, she walked back into the house, turning on the lights as she moved. The front door stayed open.

***

Sam closed his eyes in thanks, before vaulting from the car. He entered the house, breathing in the smell of home. Without a word he followed the path of lights into the back of the house. Along the way he noted his things were still in their places. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. There was still hope.

Mika sat on the far side of the living room curled into the big arm chair where they used to snuggle, waiting. He took her in, the brown hair, the blue eyes, her long legs.

‘Mika …’ She raised a hand, halting him.

‘I need to say something.’ He waited, watching her breathe deep and gather her thoughts.

‘I was broken by Sarah. She meant so much to both of us. She was the best parts of us.’ She paused, meeting his eyes. ‘Yes, she was unplanned. Yes, we were in a new relationship. But we were committed. You never said I love you, but I did. I told you every day and every day it was true. But when you left, Sam, you ruined me. I couldn’t eat. I cried for a month. I am still barely functioning. I needed you and you left me.’ She watched as his eyes closed and he ran a hand through his hair.

‘You’re the other half of me Sam, and I can’t function without my other half. But I will.’ Her voice broke, rough from crying. ‘I will, because I will never go through the pain of you leaving me again. If you’re in this, you’re in all the way. Do you get that? You don’t get to leave because it’s hard or because you think it’s what I need. You stay. You stay and you deal. We deal. We’re a team. I can’t do this again Sam. I won’t.’ She was so fierce, so proud.

He felt humbled by her strength, by the words which cut him down. He felt himself shatter, and knew what to say. Sam lifted his eyes to meet hers.

‘Leaving you broke me.’ He swallowed past the lump in his throat.

‘I’m a cop. I’m meant to protect people, it’s what I do. It’s who I am. And I couldn’t help Sarah.’ His voice broke. ‘I couldn’t save her. Every time you looked at me – the pain in your eyes, I felt helpless.’ Sam turned, taking in the photos of them smiling in bliss, on the wall. He ran a hand through his hair, searching for the words.

‘Sam -’ He turned, holding a hand high.

‘No. Let me finish.’ Sam moved to sit on the edge of their coffee table, his palms itching for skin on skin contact. He clasped them together before continuing, his bold green eyes meeting her blue.

‘I never had a family. Foster and group homes. That’s all I knew until you. Together we were, are, a family. I protect my family. But I couldn’t stop this. I couldn’t take away the hurt.’ He stared at her as she looked away. ‘I tried Mika. I tried. But you pulled away.’

‘I felt guilty.’ Their eyes met, briefly before she looked away again, tears sliding gently down her flushed cheeks.

‘And I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do.’ Sam stood then sat again, running hands through his hair repeatedly.  Mika noted it was a sign of his frustration.

‘I saw that pain every time you looked at me. So I thought, if I left, if I wasn’t around, the pain would go away.’

‘You were wrong.’ Her whispered statement broke him, ripping him open.

‘I know. Tonight…’ Sam reached out a hand and clasped it behind her head, gently pulling her towards him. ‘The moment you decided to follow me I knew I had a chance.’

‘But you don’t love me.’

He shook his head in denial. ‘Words are hard for me, Mika. But the moment I saw you at the station open day last year, that first moment I saw you … you were laughing and holding your nieces’ hand. I just knew that I would spend the rest of my life looking at you. I knew at that moment that I wanted to spend a million years looking at you look at me that way. I fell in love with the promise of you in that moment. Then Sarah…’ They both drew a ragged breath, bodies tight.

‘We were broken and I didn’t know how to fix us. I didn’t know how to bring us back to that laughter. So I left.’ Sam brushed the tears from Mika’s cheeks, his hands gently cradling her face.

‘Then tonight … you saw me and you looked at me like you used to for the briefest of moments. I want that back. I could taste it Mika, I could feel it burn through me. I knew that I wanted that more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.’ He let her go and stood, disheartened.

‘It was in that one brief moment, Mika, that a million words were passed between us and all of them ended with I love you.’ He stared down at her, his gaze serious and hungry.

‘That look said I love you now, I love you tomorrow and I will love you every day after that. And I know, that you know, that I was looking at you the same way. This look is me saying I love you, Tomika. I’m not leaving. I’m not going to let grief or hurt or anything else ever get in the way of being with you and loving you. Not ever again.’ Sam crouched down before her again, gripping her knees with his hands.

‘I’m sorry I left. I’m sorry I broke you. Sorry I broke us. These last few months… I was lost. I thought I’d lost us. You’re the other half of me, Mika. I’m so sorry that I ever left.’ Sam leaned toward her, then stopped inches from her. Their breath mingled as he gazed into her eyes. ‘Will you have me back?’

Mika stared at him. Silent.

‘I need the words baby.’

She still said nothing. Long minutes passed. Sam stood and moved to the doorway, his heart breaking. Mika’s broken whisper halted him.

‘Why are you saying this now?’

Sam hesitated, turning. ‘Because before I left, you stopped looking at me. And tonight I realised that I wanted nothing more than for that look to be on your face again.’ He paused, waiting. She remained silent for long moments.

‘I didn’t shut a door Sam, you did.’

‘When you’ve never known love before, it’s a daunting thing. I was prepared for Sarah. I was prepared for you. I wasn’t prepared to hurt for you, to want to fix you so desperately, that I physically hurt. I realised I couldn’t glue us back together. But then leaving… I was prepared to be alone again. You needed time to think. But baby, it hurt. It hurt more than losing our beautiful girl because I knew she would have wanted us to be a family.’

‘And that’s when you realised you couldn’t be without me? That you ‘loved’ me? During this ‘thinking period?’’ She sounded confused.

Sam shook his head vehemently in denial. ‘No. I realised I was already in love with you. I am in love with you.’

‘You’re saying a lot of pretty words Sam.’

‘I know.’

‘I don’t know if I can trust you right now.’ Her face was heartbreakingly hopeful and weary at the same time.

‘Then don’t. But everything I’m saying is true. Let me love you Tomika. Let me try.’

‘I can’t be hurt like that again.’ Mika warned, shaking her head.

‘I can’t promise you that. Life is a gamble.’ Honesty.  A gamble.

‘You’re a bastard you know that right?’

His lips quirked a little.

‘And you’re a rude mouthed minx. Your point?’

She sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. ‘Damn it Sam. Get over here.’

Sam went to her, hands pulling her towards him, crushing Mika against his chest as his lips sought hers. Words of love and gratitude flowed from his mouth as he rained kisses down on her lips, cheeks and eyelids. He stepped back.

‘I love you Tomika.’

Mika sighed and sank into him, his words burning away the months of grief and loneliness. She felt her heart grow warm as he crushed her against him.

‘I know. Now shut up and do me.’

He chuckled. ‘Minx.’

‘You love it.’ He gathered her up in his arms and headed for the bedroom.

‘I never said I didn’t.’

 

 Epilogue

Sam leaned against the doorway of their bedroom, a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and another cup of something sweet smelling in the other. He grinned contentedly as his wife sat propped up in bed cuddled between their two children. The twins were listening to Tomika read a book they’d dragged into the bed early that morning. He’d abandoned the covers in search of coffee and now stood watching his perfect world. He watched as Mika turned a page then moved a hand from her neck, where it had toyed with the peridot necklace, down to rest on her softly rounding belly. Another child for them.  Sarah would have been delighted.

Tomika finished the story and closed the book. The twins had already fallen back to sleep. Mika looked up with a small smile. There it was. That look. Wordless, yet perfect.

I love you.

I love you more.

She quirked an eyebrow.  Oh really?

Yes.

Bastard.

He laughed aloud.

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