Snowbound, Part 1
- - -
"Josie?" Anita said as she stuck her head through the doorway of Josie's office.
"Huh?" Her concentration broken, Josie looked up from her computer screen to find Anita lounging against the doorjamb.
"Gus wants to see you in his office," Anita continued.
Josie looked back down at the monitor for a moment to save her work onto disk and shut down her writing program. "Did he say what for?"
Anita rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Something about some wild goose chase story he wants to send you on."
Josie just shook her head. Anita usually exaggerated quite a bit when it came to Gus. Theirs had been an on-again, off-again romantic attachment that was currently in an off phase. "Oh, Anita… Surely, it can't be that bad…" She smiled slightly at her friend as she passed her in the doorway and then turned and walked toward Gus' office.
Lost in thought, Anita stood watching her friend enter Gus' office and close the door. But Anita was not thinking about Gus at that moment; she was thinking about Josie.
Josie had indeed officially earned the title of "reporter" after the success of her "Never Been Kissed" article, which had followed her disastrous undercover assignment at South Glen South. She was now a contributing Features writer…and moving quickly up through the ranks. Working on Features instead of hard news/expose type articles allowed her to search out the feel-good human-interest stories that she was so talented at writing. Yes, Josie Geller had certainly arrived when it came to being a reporter.
But sadly, that was the only success that had come from her very public bid to win back the affection of Sam Coulson.
Josie had put her pride and heart on the line to stand out on that baseball field, hoping beyond hope that love would prevail and bring him back to her. Only in this case…it hadn't, because Sam never showed up (a fact that made Anita want to kill him because Josie was, in her mind at least, the best thing that would ever happen to that worthless excuse for a man…). And although Josie put on a brave face for the crowd, Anita knew it had emotionally crippled her to be publicly shunned by her "mystery teacher."
For a while, Josie had held out hope that maybe Sam hadn't seen her article, that he'd gone away, or even that maybe he'd gone off to be with his ex- girlfriend Lara…anything but believe that he'd turn her away, even after knowing how she felt. But Josie was grasping at straws, and she knew it. The story had been in newspapers and on television programs throughout the country; it was a pretty slim bet that he hadn't heard of the story and read the article. And a few well-placed phone calls quickly determined that Sam was still living in Chicago…and still teaching at South Glen South as if nothing had ever happened…as if Josie had never even existed for him.
Once the realization had hit Josie that Sam had simply not loved her or not forgiven her—or both—she had retreated back into her shell. Oh, she had kept up the outward appearance of beauty that she had learned while at South Glen South, but she let no man affect her. Lots of men at the office…and lots of men outside the office, for that matter…had asked her out, but she politely refused them all. As far as Josie was concerned, she'd gambled on true love, and she'd lost. If she couldn't have that, she wasn't going to settle for less.
Anita wished there was something…anything…she could do to get her best friend to believe in love—in life—again. Even Anita knew that Josie needed to put Sam Coulson behind her and move on. But seven months after that fateful Prom night where everything in Josie's world had fallen apart, that still hadn't happened…and Anita was beginning to think that maybe it never would.
Sighing heavily, Anita pushed away from the wall and headed back to the stack of classified ads on her desk that she needed to finish before five.
- - -
Josie closed the door to Gus' office and sat down in the chair before his desk. "Anita said you needed to see me?" she began.
"Geller…" Gus jumped right in with his no-nonsense style. "I got a story I want you to work on."
Josie leaned forward, "Yes…what is it?"
Gus leaned back in his chair, balancing a pen between his two index fingers. "I need you to go to Green Bay."
"As in Green Bay, Wisconsin?" Josie asked incredulously. "What's in Green Bay that's so important to our readers here in Chicago?"
"In Green Bay, so I'm told, a group of aging parents of mentally handicapped adults have banded together to create a group home for their children."
Josie waved her hands as if she wanted Gus to continue. "And…? I don't get it…"
"Look, Geller, this housing system for the mentally handicapped is in bad shape. There are many more individuals that need to be placed in homes than there are places for them. And unfortunately for those parents who decided to keep their children at home instead of sending them away all those years ago, the people who were institutionalized are given first preference for available housing. The spots available for handicapped children that live at home, therefore, are very slim."
"These were people who were sick of having their children on an endless wait list for non-existent housing and decided to do something about it. Instead of lobbying for more homes, they took all the steps necessary to create a privately initiated group home that would be approved by the Office of Housing and Urban Development. And mind you, that is no easy task, even for state agencies that do it all the time. Each proposal is looked at on a case-by-case basis and the only the best are awarded with grants. It's the first privately created, publicly subsidized group home in the Midwest."
Josie's attention was instantly whetted, just as Gus had known it would be. This kind of story was the kind she craved…to see the "little people" prevail against great odds.
"Really? That sounds fascinating! When do you want me to go?"
"Tomorrow morning," Gus answered, not blinking.
"Tomorrow?" Josie repeated. "The Wednesday before Christmas? Gus, I don't know…"
"Well, you don't have any choice," he returned, "because your appointment to meet with them has been set for noon tomorrow."
"Geller, it's the perfect story for Christmas. People are feeling more charitable, 'Good will toward men…' and all that stuff. Good time to remind people that others are still struggling. Also gives other people in their situation some hope. That's the kind of stuff that sells papers," Gus explained.
Josie rebutted, "Wait a minute… I thought you told me that sex scandals, suicides, and bribery sells papers?"
"For news stories, yes. But for the features…it's the sappy, heartstring stuff," he clarified.
Josie sighed, and shook her head at him.
Gus saw this and smiled, knowing he'd won. "Then on Thursday morning, you have a meeting with the local rep for HUD, who you can ask about the details of what needed to be done, etc."
"So I'll want you back in the office on Thursday afternoon so that you can push out the story for the Christmas Eve edition. If it's good, it could mean section cover spot for you," Gus offered.
Josie was impressed, although she knew it would require a lot of work…and a lot of driving. "I assume there's no budget for a flight there and back?"
"Not this time a year, there isn't," Gus answered. "I don't have much to work with this late in the fiscal year, so we have to make do. If you drive, I'll pay for the mileage…and of course, for your accommodations overnight in Green Bay."
"Okay, Gus. I'll do it. I admit, I'm not thrilled you dumped this on me so close to the holidays…but, it does sound like a pretty amazing story…" Josie got up from her chair. "I guess I need to go put my finishing touches on the update piece about the family burned out of their home two weeks ago. They received so much help from the first article that they now have at least twice the presents for the kids they started with. And that's not including all the replacement clothing, etc…"
"Fine. Finish it up and get it in here so I can get it proofed before five…" Gus intoned, looking back down to the piles of paperwork on his desk.
Josie rolled her eyes and standing in the doorway, teased, "Since when have you had to proofread my stories?"
Gus knew Josie had a point, but he wasn't going admit it to her. "Geller?… Out."
Josie shook her head and smiled, heading back to her office. She had an article to finish.
- - -
Sam looked at his watch as he stuffed his last pair of sweatpants into his large black hockey equipment bag (which for now was doubling as a suitcase…). It said 2:21pm. School had let out for the Christmas break at noon and he was raring to get on the road. Since it was only Wednesday, he was hoping to beat the majority of holiday travelers. Zipping up the bag, he turned his head as the telephone started to ring. Crossing the room, he picked up the handset from the bedside table.
"Hello?" he answered.
"Sam, honey…It's Mom."
Sam sighed, rolling his eyes. "Hi, Mom…again."
"I'm sorry, dear, but…are you really sure you don't want to spend Christmas with us here? I just don't like the idea of you being all alone up at that cabin like this…" Sarah Coulson asked worriedly.
"Mom…thank you, but I'm sure. I'm…just not in the mood for celebrating this year. I'd rather be alone, if that's okay."
Sarah sighed deeply. She knew that her middle son was hurting… In fact, he had been hurting ever since that past May, when he found out that the woman he'd been falling in love with had been using him, lying to him. Granted, there were some extenuating circumstances involved, but she understood her son's pain and feelings of betrayal. However, she had never agreed with his decision not to allow Josie Geller back into his life. It was obvious that he still pined for her; at least it was obvious to Sarah. She supposed he probably hid it better from the rest of the world than he did his own mother.
But no one who knew him before Josie Geller came along could deny that Sam was a changed man after that experience. Luckily, he'd seen the light before he ran headlong off to New York to be with Lara. Sarah knew that Lara just was not right for her son and that rebounding back to her would have been disastrous for them both.
She also had a sneaking suspicion that maybe Josie Geller was the right woman for Sam: and it was that fact that she believed ate away at her son so much.
Sam, it seemed, had given up on love. He apparently had no interest in dating, and according to Abby, he hadn't breathed a word of even one date since that fateful spring night…and he told Abby everything.
Sarah knew that going to the cabin to be alone was Sam's attempt at running from his emotions. But she knew that no matter how much he tried to avoid dealing with his feelings for Josie, sooner or later they would catch up with him anyway.
"All right," Sarah finally acquiesced. "I understand. But bring your cell phone, okay? That place really is two right turns from nowhere, and I don't like the idea of you up there with no way to contact anyone in an emergency."
Shaking his head and smiling, Sam agreed, "Okay, Mom…if you're really that concerned, I promise to bring it with me, all right?"
"Thanks," she said, the smile in her voice, "for humoring your old mother."
"You will stop by on your way home, though, won't you? It won't be the same without you."
"Yes, I'll stop there on my way back to the city, Mom. I promise. And…thanks for understanding," he finished hesitantly.
"Give my love to Dad and the guys, will you? And when you speak to her, tell Abby I'll give her a call myself soon."
"Okay, will do. And this time I promise to leave you alone. No more phone calls…" Sarah vowed. "Oh, and Sam?"
"I love you," she replied.
Sam smiled softly. "I love you too, Mom. Talk to you soon. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas to you, too, Sam. Bye," Sarah said, and then hung up.
- - -
Later that evening, after he had settled in at the cabin, Sam used an iron poker to rearrange the logs in the fireplace and then sat back on the floor in front of it, leaning his back against the sofa. A light lake effect snow was falling outside, covering the trees and ground with a glistening blanket of white.
Sam picked up a copy of Jane Eyre and tried to concentrate on the story, but it wasn't long before he began to envision himself as the stoic Mr. Rochester and Josie as the soft, shy Jane falling in love against all odds.
Putting the open book face down on the floor, Sam stared at the mesmerizing dance of the flames for a few long minutes. He tried like hell to not think about it: to not think about her…but it wasn't working. He had hoped that getting away from Chicago, away from his job, away from his well-meaning family and friends, would allow him to rest from the constant barrage of thoughts and feelings about Josie Geller. Instead, the quiet and solitude of his surroundings only made all of it come closer to the surface.
About seven months had passed since that terrible evening at the South Glen 1999 Senior Prom, but in his mind, it was as clear as if it had happened that day. Everything about Josie seemed etched in his mind whether he liked it or not: the way she would blush at anything resembling a compliment, the way her whole face lit up when she smiled, her love of knowledge and literature, they way she could passionately argue the finer points of any work he himself had read, her incredible talent as a writer. But most of all, it was her beautifully expressive green eyes that seemed to never leave him. Anytime he closed his eyes, he could see them: first happy, then sad…afraid and then pained…and oh, the love that he was sure he'd seen in them, many times but most especially on that fateful night. His dreams were filled with those eyes, haunted by them.
He'd tried so hard to move on, to push anything to do with Josie Geller out of his life for good, and yet it seemed that he could not forget her.
He'd been so angry, so hurt that night. He had been so vulnerable…
Indeed, he had been "in the very wrath of love" as the Bard would have put it: about to put everything else in his life on the line to finally admit to the feelings for Josie that had grown beyond all containment. And just moments later, his whole world had crumbled around him. No, that wasn't right, he admitted. The world hadn't crumbled…just his heart: his heart, and maybe his faith in love. How could she have done that to him? How could she have made him believe in her…made him love her, just so that she could ruin his life? And how could she have possibly been anything he thought she had been if she could do that?
The obvious answer at the time had been that she couldn't have been anything like the person he'd fallen in love with. The story she was working on had been about him; the black man he'd caught Josie speaking to outside the country club had said it. He'd had two bitter days and nights to think about it before her article appeared in the newspaper, asking for his forgiveness. A part of him did want to forgive her. But on the other hand, he was afraid that her "story" had only been a last ditch effort to salvage her career, and it was that sentiment that won out in the end.
Now…well, he wasn't so sure.
Thinking back again to that night at the prom, he remembered the events leading up to Josie's revelation in almost perfect detail. Josie had said she had something to tell him…and she looked awfully nervous about it. At the time, he had thought it was simply that she was going to reveal her feelings for him. But looking back at it now, maybe it had been more than that. Because then she had removed her hand from his long enough to remove the small pin she always wore, dropping it purposely to the floor and stepping on it. He remembered hearing it crunch beneath her heel. Why would she have done that? Was it possible this was some sort of bug or wire? That would make sense as to how they would know of her progress… And if it had been a bug…why would she have taken it off? That didn't make any sense if she were indeed trying to write a story about his "inappropriate" feelings for her.
Also, there was the reason she'd been distracted from his moment of revelation. The popular kids were about to play a terrible prank on Aldys Wells…the girl who had first befriended Josie at South Glen. As part of the "popular crowd", she had no obligation to do anything to help Aldys, but yet she had been propelled into action, almost as if driven by her own internal demons. She had blown everything: her cover, her story, and her chance of a potential relationship with him, just to save the girl from humiliation. She'd put Aldys before herself, and that did not jive with the image of the self-serving liar he'd made Josie out to be in his mind.
And then…there was that article.
Sam reached up behind him and pulled a scrapbook from the seat of the sofa, placing it in his lap. Opening to the first page, the headline "Never Been Kissed" stared back at him…along with three pictures, all of Josie. Sighing heavily, he began to read the article for what was probably the thousandth time. He had read it so much, he could probably have recited it verbatim, but still, it seemed that some different aspect of her story—of her—jumped out at him each time. Her writing was so sweet, so unassumingly shy, and so full of hope: so much like the Josie he had loved. And as much as he hated to admit it, it was pretty obvious from the evening news and the papers next day that she had been devastated when he didn't show up at her little media circus.
Flipping the page, he looked at another article written by Josie: a story about a woman who chosen to give up chemotherapy in favor of trying to carry her pregnancy to term. It was so poignant and expertly written that the emotions just poured off the page.
It was the same, story after story. Each time, Josie had found a small, quiet, overlooked corner of everyday life and chose to shine her light upon it, making it glow for all to see. And he should know…his scrapbook contained every one of her articles.
Was it possible…that he had been wrong? This was the thought that tormented him night after night, forcing him to see her in his dreams and in every petite blonde that walked by him on the streets, hearing her in just about any song on the radio…calling out to him, taunting him. What if… she were the right one— his penguin in Josie-speak—and he had thrown it all away?
Pushing off the floor, he headed to the kitchen, opened the fridge door, and pulled out a beer. Twisting off the cap, he took a long swig. This going around in mental circles was getting him nowhere…because the fact remained that Josie Geller was now in his past…and that was where she was going to stay, whether he liked it or not.
- - -
Josie dragged herself into her hotel room in Green Bay, closing the door by leaning heavily against it. Limply dropping her bags in the entryway, she crossed the room to collapse across the bed. Although quite satisfying, the day had turned out to be an incredibly busy one. Her meeting with the parents of the clients in the new group home then became a tour of the facility, which then became an interview with the clients and staff. After a celebratory dinner, she spent three hours sitting in a deserted Starbucks coffee bar, putting her notes together in the computer and drafting an outline for her article.
Tomorrow, she still needed to meet with their representative at HUD and get the details of the myriad of codes and regulations the parents had had to meet in order to be able to apply for government backing. But all in all, she couldn't wait to put this story on paper, so to speak.
But with her mental and physical reserves so low, she wasn't able to stop the flood of thoughts about Sam from overwhelming her. That always seemed to happen when she was alone. It was as if his memory was just waiting in the wings, waiting for its cue to take center stage in her mind.
As tears welled in her eyes, she remembered so many things about him: the ride on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier and how he had been so frightened, yet had jumped to help her; the day they had painted the prom backdrop together, getting into a paint fight in the process; the many times their eyes had locked and neither one could look away; the way he looked at the prom in his tuxedo, so handsome, so sweet; the way his eyes traveled her face and his voice shook when he told her he wanted to tell her something; the pain, anger, and betrayal in his face and eyes just before he turned his back on her and walked out of her life.
Tears fell in earnest as she hugged herself, rocking back and forth on the bed as she let the misery overtake her. 'Why hadn't he come?' her soul begged to know. How could he forget her and move on as if nothing had ever happened? Was it possible that she had simply imagined the attraction between them?
No, she knew at least that was true. She felt that unalienable truth deep within her: Sam Coulson was her soul mate, and he'd felt it, too. And if she couldn't have him, then she would have no one. She would not settle for less.
"So what does that leave you?" her subconscious asked. "Endless lonely nights alone with cold memories and dreams of what might have been?"
Shoving off her shoes and climbing underneath the covers fully clad, she huddled up into a ball, hugging the extra pillow against her chest. "For now…yes," she whispered aloud. Then she buried her face into the pillow, allowing the soft cotton to soak up her tears and muffle her sobs as she cried herself to sleep.
- - -
As Sam finished up the last dregs of his beer, he placed the glass bottle along the side of the sink. He walked through the one bedroom in the cabin and into the bathroom, shivering a little at the chill. He brushed his teeth and washed with the mostly cold water from the tap and then headed back out to the bedroom to change into some sweats and crawl into bed.
But once he had changed and went to pull down the covers on the queen-sized bed, he knew he couldn't sleep in it…not tonight anyway. Not while all those thoughts of Josie Geller were swirling around in his head. It would only serve as a reminder that, if he had only decided to forgive her all those months ago, she could have been in his arms to share that big bed instead of lying in it all alone.
He went over to the long bench seat along the living room wall and lifted up one section, revealing an extensive array of camping supplies beneath. Dragging out the first sleeping bag he found, he flattened it out on the floor a safe distance from the fire. Then he crawled inside, turning his back to the flames, and prayed that tonight at least, he could have a dreamless sleep.
- - -