rating: Green Cortina
word count: 697
Thanks to my husband, M., for Britpicking, both linguistic and cultural.
Annie woke up, and knew she was alone.
She’d always known this day would come.
They weren’t together, and then one day, they were. The protective arm around her shoulder turned into a caress, and there was a kiss, and after awhile, Sam stopped talking about belonging someplace else.
They moved in together after about six months, into a small but sunny flat that didn’t have ancient wallpaper or a funny fold-out bed. Sam taught her to cook exotic foods she hadn’t even ever heard about, and they spent their evenings creating feasts. Sometimes they had small dinner parties: Annie’s friends from university, mostly, or occasionally and ambitiously, some of the squad with their wives and girlfriends. (Usually Gene would complain about never having heard of the food before, would refuse to try it and then would polish off at least three plates of it, and his missus would ask Annie for the recipe every time, though every time Annie referred her to Sam.)
Partly to offset all the cooking, Sam persuaded her to join him for early morning runs, and Annie was pleased to find herself getting less winded on the odd pursuit of a criminal.
All in all, they were happy together. Her family quite liked him, and most of her friends (Neil never quite came around, of course), but he never brought home a family member or a friend who wasn’t from work. They talked about marriage but Sam said he was afraid that one day he might just find himself gone, just as he had found himself there, and he didn’t want Annie to be in that position. It was the only reference he ever made to traveling in time, and Annie preferred to avoid the subject these days.
He stopped falling asleep with the television on, and never seemed to be hearing conversations that no one else could hear anymore. Until the week he left.
That last week, he was quite disorientated. He was agitated, more than he’d ever been at his worst. He seemed convinced that someone in a hospital somewhere was about to pull a plug, and kept pleading with that unseen someone not to.
Gene approached her, asking with remarkable tact for Gene, about Sam’s “relapse,” but she didn’t know how to reply.
And then that night, she woke up and she was alone.
“He’d been in a coma for nearly three years,” Sam’s mother was explaining to someone.
Annie was no longer surprised to see that the woman she’d met in 1973, who Sam had claimed was his mother, was indeed standing there, older by three decades and a bit. She sat near the back; she didn’t know these people, she’d had an entire life (husband, children, career) since Sam had disappeared that night. She thought about ducking out before the end, but found herself standing in line to offer her condolences.
“And who might you be?” Annie was surprised, though she shouldn’t have been, to realize she was talking to a woman of about her own age. The dark-haired woman standing by Mrs. Tyler might have been Maya; Annie noted she was wearing an engagement ring, and was pleased somehow that all of Sam’s women had managed to move on.
“Annie Thompson . . . Cartwright, when I knew your son. We worked together when he was first,” the practiced lie, “out of the academy. He showed so much promise even then.”
“Well, it was lovely of you to come. Had you kept up with him?”
“No, I’d read about the accident, and then I saw the announcement in the papers. I just wanted to show my respects.”
“Annie, you said?”
Mrs. Tyler darted a glance in probably-Maya’s direction; she was talking earnestly with a couple of men and a woman who gave off an aura of being C.I.D. “You must have made quite an impression on Sam, when he was young.”
“What do you mean? Did he speak of me?”
“Never. But . . . just before he died, there was one moment when he seemed to wake up. He said one thing. A name. Annie.”