Hey everyone! Some of you may recognize this as Epilogue II from my story "iBreak the Rules". Because of the events I foresee ahead thanks to "iLost My Mind", I am posting this as a one-shot, also. But feel free to read "iBreak the Rules", too! :]
Rule 1: Don't try to understand why their insults are actually endearments.
Carly blew out an exasperated breath as she heard her two best friends squabbling a few places ahead of her in the line as they waited to graduate from Ridgeway High. She had hoped (dreamed, prayed) that the arguing would cease once Freddie and Sam began dating. It hadn't. If anything, the two viewed it as some kind of cute bantering, blissfully unaware how annoying it was to everyone else.
"Nub!" Sam shot at her boyfriend, shaking her head, hands on her hips.
"Blonde-headed demon!" Freddie folded his arms, and smirked. "You know I'm right about this!"
As Carly stepped out of line to settle it, the band struck up the first notes of "Pomp and Circumstance", leaving her little more time than to walk over, flick her friends in the foreheads, then quickly rejoin the line.
Just before Freddie and Sam took their turn to walk out, Freddie leaned over and kissed the spot Carly had flicked on Sam's forehead, then laughed when Sam quietly said something to him and grinned.
Carly smiled and shook her head. She'd never understand those two.
Rule 2: Don't get between the two of them in any situation.
The first few months of college had been rough – rougher than Carly had anticipated. It wasn't the classes; it was being away from Spencer, from Sam who had stayed in Seattle, and from Freddie who was in Boston. Berkley was a great school, and Carly didn't regret attending, but by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, she was more than ready to come home for a few days.
Sam was there to greet her when she walked into the Bushwell with Spencer, and there was much screaming (some by them, some by Lewbert) and hugging, and Carly felt all the loneliness of school melt away. Even though she'd been able to video chat with her friends, nothing filled the void like Spencer's glue-and-paint odor and the way Sam always seemed to smell slightly of ham and Freddie's antibacterial cloud that always… seemed… to precede…
As Carly smelled it, she knew Sam did, too. Sam dropped her arm from Carly's and sharply turned her head towards the door, sensing her boyfriend like a wild animal would sense its mate. "Freddie," Sam nearly whispered it, her voice all breathy. Carly wasn't even sure that Sam was aware she said it out loud.
The front door of the Bushwell's lobby opened and Carly saw Mrs. Benson first, beaming proudly, then Freddie was there filling up the doorway. "Freddie!" Sam said it louder this time, and Carly knew that if she commented on it, she'd just embarrass Sam, who didn't like to show emotion.
Then all of a sudden, a blonde tidal wave knocked Carly into Spencer, who fell back against Carly's bags and went tumbling to the ground. Before Carly knew it, Sam had launched herself at Freddie, who wisely took the time to brace himself and drop his own luggage so he could catch his airborne girlfriend.
Sam linked her legs around Freddie's waist and immediately the two became attached at the lips in a way that was cute at first, then gradually grew nauseating, and quickly passed nauseating on the way to gross. Carly looked over at Mrs. Benson, who seemed just this side of pained keening, and then helped Spencer up. "We might as well go up, and leave them alone for a few minutes," Carly offered, trying to avoid looking at her two friends full-on making out in the middle of the lobby. It was nearly impossible, like ignoring a car crash on the side of the road, but Carly shook herself out of it and led the two adults to the elevator.
Two hours later, Sam and Freddie finally joined them in the Shays' apartment.
Rule 3: Don't take sides.
The time between Christmas and Spring Break flew, and before Carly knew it, she, Sam and Freddie were chilling on the beaches of Cancun, enjoying their first official college spring break.
At least, Carly was trying to enjoy it, but the two crazies she insisted on calling her friends were making it very difficult.
"It was just a little harmless flirting! Nothing was going to come of it. C'mon, you know I love you."
Freddie shook his head, hurt radiating from him. "I don't understand why you'd even think that was okay, Sam. Especially when I was standing right there!"
It had been Carly's idea to come to Cancun, and they'd been fortunate enough that Socko's travel agent had been able to find them a discount, enabling all three of them to be able to go. And this time, Spencer had made sure there would be no animals on the flight and that the plane was actually going to land. All in all, it had been one of the better international trips they'd taken.
Until, that is, they'd checked into their hotel and the young, buff bellboy had gotten it into his head that Sam was the girl of his dreams. For kicks, Sam had played into it, leaving Freddie furious and hurt and angry. And, yes, maybe Freddie had gone too far by blatantly telling the other man that he and Sam would be sharing a room, so he could put their bags together. And maybe it was also not helpful when Sam carried Freddie's bag out of their room and dropped it in the common room of the suite and said she'd sleep with who she'd like, and it was none of his business. And then to make matters worse, Freddie had done the one thing guaranteed to make Sam see red: he picked her up and carried her into the room and slammed the door closed, leaving a mortified Carly to tip the very confused bellboy and show him out.
An hour of shouting later, Carly had finally lured them out for dinner on the terrace. They'd been sitting in awkward silence after ordering, until Sam had tried one more time to make Freddie listen. He stood up, and started walking away.
Carly half stood to call after him. "Where are you going?" Freddie waved her off and kept walking across the beach.
Sam groaned. "Why does he have to be such a- such a… girl about this? I'm sure he flirts with girls when I'm not around."
"I think," Carly pointed out, "the key part of that is 'when you're not around'. He had to stand there and watch it."
"So what?" Sam reasoned with a shrug. "He should know it means nothing. We've been together for almost two years, and no matter what I say to another guy, he knows that it's just him for me."
Carly looked at Sam appraisingly. "Maybe he doesn't know that. Maybe he's insecure about your relationship. You should talk to him about this."
Sam snorted, then threw her cloth napkin on the table. "I should've known you'd take his side," she said, before walking back into the hotel.
Aggravated beyond belief, Carly nearly followed her, but decided to go work on the reasonable half of the duo. She found Freddie at the water's edge. He smiled sadly at her as she stopped next to him. "It was so much easier when I thought I loved you," he began without waiting to see why she'd followed him. "You weren't interested, and it was fact, and I could handle it. Being with Sam is so- and she's so- and I just love her so much. I can't help but think some day, some guy is going to realize how awesome she is, and I'll lose her, because I am so out of her league."
"Freddie," Carly began tentatively, touched by his vulnerability, "have you told her all of this? Sam's a pretty confident person, but if you talk to her, I'm sure she'll understand. After all, one of the reasons she tried so hard not to date you was because she felt she was beneath you. She probably has no idea that you're this uncertain of your relationship after all this time."
Freddie scoffed. "And give her more proof that she's too good for me? No way." He shuffled his feet through the sand. "Sam is it for me, and it'd kill me to find out she doesn't feel the same way."
"Did you ever think that the reason she feels so comfortable flirting with other guys like that is because of you? Because you made her feel confident and safe? Because she knows that nothing like that could ever ruin what you guys have?"
Freddie turned to Carly in disgust. "Don't try to make excuses for her, Carly. She's in the wrong here." He shook his head. "I should've known you'd take her side. Women," he spat out, turning back towards the hotel.
Frustrated with them both, Carly went back and finished her dinner herself, uncaring whether it was weird for a single woman to be sitting in the sunset on a terrace in Cancun with a table full of entrees. After eating as much as she could stand, she had the waiter box the rest up, then reluctantly went back into their suite.
She was expecting broken glass and toppled furniture and screaming and tears, but what she saw instead were Freddie and Sam, tumbled together on the couch, fast asleep, spooning, and smiling.
Rule 4: When either the fighting or the making up gets too involved, just walk out of the room.
"Freddie wants me to move to Chicago with him," Sam blurted out the instant Carly accepted her video chat request.
Carly was just finishing packing up her dorm room for the last time before graduating from Berkley, but this brought her back to the computer in a snap. "What? Freddie's moving to Chicago? I thought he was staying in Boston."
Sam looked around her hotel room in Boston, the one she was reluctantly sharing with Mrs. Benson while they were both in town for Freddie's graduation from MIT. "He got a job offer in Chicago, a good one that doesn't even compare to the offer the college made him." Sam shook her head, and Carly could see how freaked out she was. She'd never seen so much of the whites of Sam's eyes before. "I could've handled Boston; I've actually grown to like it over the trips I've made these last four years, but-" Sam turned her head, and Carly could faintly hear someone knocking. "I'll be right back."
Within a minute, Carly could hear Freddie's voice with Sam's, each one getting more strident. Obviously Mrs. Benson had tipped Freddie off to Sam's reluctance to move to Chicago. Carly felt bad for eavesdropping on their private conversation, but didn't know how to get their attention to let them know she was still connected. When the voices raised even louder, and she heard Freddie's indignant cry of, "Ow!" Carly tried to get their attention. The fighting just continued, so Carly guiltily minimized the screen and started packing again to the soundtrack of Sam and Freddie's argument. After all, they would probably tell her all about it later anyway.
After a few minutes, however, the fighting subsided and their voices turned more into murmurs. Carly sighed in relief and went over to check on her friends, only to shriek when she pulled the screen back up and saw Freddie and Sam – horizontal - on the couch in front of her. She took a moment to wonder how they hadn't fogged up the video cam, before sighing. "C'mon, guys! I'm still here!" That got no response, and Carly could see where this was heading, so she just closed the chat and tried to see if she had any bleach she could use on her brain.
Rule 5: If all else fails, remind one – or both – of them how lucky they are to have each other.
Carly was looking forward to spending Christmas in Chicago. She didn't know why, honestly, since Christmas in New York City was perfectly lovely, and she'd enjoyed everyone one of the four she'd spent there so far. This year, she had a feeling it had more to do with her friends than the landscape.
Spencer and Mrs. Benson were coming on the same flight from Seattle, so Carly had waited around Midway after grabbing her luggage so she could welcome them. After the hugging and greetings were exchanged, they rented a car and made their way over to Freddie and Sam's apartment on the North Side. The building actually sort of resembled the Bushwell, sans annoying doorman of course, but Carly immediately felt at home. Freddie welcomed them as soon as the elevator doors opened on the ninth floor, and Sam joined the fray the instant the group crossed the threshold.
After dinner and while Mrs. B, Spencer and Sam cleaned up after dinner (Sam! cleaning! Freddie was a miracle worker) Freddie gave Carly the full tour of their spacious three bedroom apartment. "This is great," Carly said while she opened and closed the closet door of the third bedroom. "I'm so proud of you guys, making it work in a new city. Can you believe you've been together eight years? We're getting so old!"
Freddie smiled nervously. "That's actually kind of why I wanted to talk to you." He opened the empty closet back up then reached to the very back of the shelf and pulled out a small velvet box, snapping it open. "What do you think?"
Carly looked down at the ring, and wondered inanely why she was so surprised. Freddie and Sam were a constant in her life; them getting married made sense, but she'd never even thought about it. "Wow," she croaked, then cleared her throat, and said it again. "Wow. Freddie, this is beautiful! Is this why you wanted us all to come here for Christmas?"
He chuckled. "Yeah. And don't tell Sam, but Mel and Mrs. P are going to be here for Christmas morning."
"Oh, I'm so happy for you guys!" Carly pulled Freddie into a hug and tried her hardest not to cry.
They jumped apart when Sam called down the hall, "Hey, guys, you stay in there any longer and Mama's going to start getting suspicious."
Laughing nervously, Freddie returned the ring to its hiding spot while Carly dabbed a few stubborn tears away.
They all settled in around the open living room, Carly and Spencer joking around, while Sam and Freddie held hands and argued over the last piece of pie, and Mrs. Benson poured them all some coffee.
"Fredward, this apartment is just perfect for children. I can't wait until you fill up the empty bedrooms and I have grandchildren!"
Silence dropped on the group like a canopy. "What?" Sam exclaimed first, while Freddie gave his mother a pained look. "Mom!"
Marissa looked shocked by their outburst. "Samantha, you're 26 now. You need to be thinking about this before your eggs go bad." Spencer pulled a face and spit out his last bite of pie, shoving the plate as far away as it could go on the coffee table.
Freddie's face turned bright red. "Mother, this is not a conversation to be had tonight. When Sam and I are ready for kids, we'll know."
"Ready for kids?" Sam looked at her boyfriend like she had never seen him before. "What could've possibly given you the idea I'd ever be 'ready' for kids?"
Freddie looked nonplussed. "You love kids! Why wouldn't I expect to have children with the woman I love?"
Carly looked at her brother, and slapped his knee. "Well, I think that's our cue to go to our hotel. C'mon, Spence."
"But- I want to- I never get- Fine!" He finally agreed when he saw that Carly was serious about staying out of it. Sam, Freddie, and Mrs. B issued a détente for the night, and Carly and Sam made plans to shop the Magnificent Mile the next morning.
It was after their second hour of shopping that Carly realized perhaps shopping on Christmas Eve was not a good idea. Especially when Sam looked tired and surly and irritated with the world in general. "Long night?" Carly asked as they took a break and parked themselves on some seats outside of a changing area in Macy's.
"Freddie wouldn't let it go!" Sam shrugged bad-temperedly and snarled at a passing patron. "I guess he doesn't understand that it's my body, my eggs, and my choice whether or not I want to lug around fifty extra pounds for nine months."
Carly blew out a breath. "Are you telling me in eight years this seriously has never come up before?"
"Once or twice, but we'd always just shove it away to think about some other day." Sam grimaced. "For some reason, he's really intent on seeing it through this time."
Carly thought about the ring and squirmed in guilty silence, then finally blurted out, "Maybe… his biological clock is ticking?"
Frowning, Sam considered this. "It could be."
"Do you really not want kids with Freddie?"
"I don't know!" Sam got up to pace. "I hardly even consider myself as not being a kid. How can I think about raising someone else? Feeding, clothing, educating, and it's all I can think of! All I've been able to think about since-" Suddenly she stopped and dropped back into her seat.
Carly's ears perked up. "Since…?"
"Since," Sam said with a sigh, "I realized that I'm three weeks late."
Stunned, Carly sat back in her chair, and just stared at Sam in awe. Honestly, if she'd had known holidays around Sam and Freddie were so exciting, she'd have been doing this for years. "Wow," she murmured. "Have you been to a doctor yet?"
Sam groaned. "No, I just keep waking up every morning, hoping that today will be the day that I get proved wrong. No such luck." She smiled grimly. "So much for it being my choice, right?"
Carly glanced down at her hands, then back up at her best friend. "That changes the question I asked earlier. Instead of some distant future kids, I have to ask: do you want this baby with Freddie? Don't think, just answer."
"Yes," Sam whispered. "Yes, I want the baby, but I'm so scared! My mom – let's face it, she tried the last few years I was home, too little, too late – but she wasn't the best role model. Freddie's mom is different but hardly any better."
Carly thought about that for a moment. "Do you know what the difference is, Sam? Neither your mom nor Freddie's mom had a partner to turn to, to balance them out. You have Freddie, and Freddie has you. Together, you complement each other, and together, you will be awesome parents."
Sam was quiet. Carly could practically see the wheels spinning in her head. "You may have a point there, Shay." Then she grinned. "Fredward's going to flip his lid when I tell him."
"Maybe… maybe you should be sure before you tell him. Why don't you see if your doctor can squeeze you in for a quick Christmas visit, so you can give Freddie the best gift ever."
Sam nodded and pulled her phone out, dialing the number from memory. It was clear to Carly that Sam had nearly called several times in the past three weeks.
Carly dropped Sam off at the office, then made her way back to Freddie and Sam's apartment to hide her present for Spencer. Just as the elevator door started to close, she heard "Hold the door!" and immediately held her hand out to activate the door's safety feature.
A tall man in his early thirties with glasses and mussed dark blond hair nodded at her. "Thanks."
Attraction hit Carly in the midsection as she took in his green eyes and serious demeanor. "No problem. What floor?" she asked breathily.
It turned out that Hunter – that was his name – was a neighbor to Freddie and Sam. He'd just moved to Chicago from Washington, D.C., and was a medical resident at Loyola hospital. By the time they hit the ninth floor, Carly was smitten, and seriously considering throwing everything aside to come live across the hall and moon after him. Outside his door, as she was getting up the courage to ask him to Christmas dinner, Freddie opened the door behind her.
"Hey, Hunter. Carly! I thought I heard your voice." He frowned and looked after her. "Where's Sam?"
Suddenly the drama of the previous night and this morning smacked Carly in the face again. "She had something to take care of. I came to hide Spencer's gift, if that's okay, and then I'll go pick her up."
"And Spencer is…" Hunter inquired politely, and Carly could feel her face turn red as Freddie watched them appraisingly.
"My brother!" she blurted out. "Older brother, he's an artist, a sculptor actually, and he's nuts."
She could tell that Freddie was struggling to keep a straight face. "That's fine, Carly. Go on in. So, Hunter, do you have plans for Christmas day?"
Carly strove to remain calm as Freddie joined her in the apartment, but threw that out the window almost as soon as he closed the door. "So? Is he coming?"
Freddie finally gave in to the laughter. "Yes, he said he'd love to. But Carly, you do know you're going back to New York in two days, right? Sam and I will still have to live across the hall from him."
"I know, I know," she answered with a pout. "I'll take it easy." Shaking off her own concerns, she took in Freddie's haggard appearance and knew he'd been worrying all day. "What's up?"
Sitting beside her, he shook his head. "This whole baby thing has me all shaken up. If Sam and I have this big difference between us, how can we ever make a marriage work?"
Carly laid her hand on his. "Freddie, you and Sam belong together. I don't think the problem is as big as you think it is. Yes," she stopped him before he could interrupt, "it seems important, but I think if you consider it enough, you'll see it's just Sam's nerves getting the best of her. She does love kids, and she loves you, but her mom has always been her biggest chink, and Sam has done everything she can to make sure she never ends up like her."
"And she's not."
"No, she's not," Carly agreed. "And you're a big reason why not. And as you guys get married and have kids and grandkids, you'll just have to remind her every so often that you're here for her, that you love her, and that together you guys are an amazing team."
Freddie slung an arm around Carly's shoulders. "The two best things that ever happened to me were falling in love with you and falling out of love with you."
"Um, thanks?" Carly said with a laugh and put a companionable arm around Freddie as well.
That night they all decided to have a huge sleepover at Freddie and Sam's, so they could all be together first thing Christmas morning. Before everyone else woke up, Carly got the text she'd been waiting for, crept over to the door and snuck Pam and Melanie into the apartment and helped them hide in the kitchen. Everyone but Sam was in on the surprise, but only Carly was in on Sam's little surprise.
The other two Puckett women lasted longer than Carly would've anticipated before pouncing on an unsuspecting Sam as Mrs. Benson started passing out presents. Sam shrieked then hugged her sister and mother, both of whom she'd grown much closer to over the last few years.
As they reached the end of the pile of gifts, Freddie excused himself to go get his for Sam, and Sam took the opportunity to go get hers for Freddie and his mother. They exchanged in front of the Christmas tree, each one of them telling the other to go first. Carly finally stood up. "Okay! On the count of three, both of you open your gifts. One, two, thr-"
Before she could get the whole word out, Sam and Freddie ripped the wrapping open. Sam looked stunned as she slowly began to realize what it was. Snapping open the box, she looked from the ring to Freddie, then back to the ring.
"Will you-" Freddie didn't get a chance to ask, as Sam cried "Yesss!" and kissed him enthusiastically. With a shaking hand, Freddie pulled the ring free and slid it on Sam's hand.
It was then that Sam noticed he hadn't opened her gift all the way. "Finish!" she commanded, kissing him again. "You, too, Mrs. Benson."
Mother and son looked at each other in confusion, then finished opening each of their gifts. Freddie's mother caught on much faster than her son when she pulled a "best grandma in the world" shirt out.
Freddie stared down at the box in his hand for a few long minutes, then finally pulled out the tiny white onesie with "Daddy's Little Angel" embroidered on it. His hands were shaking twice as hard as he held it up, then he gave a bark of laughter as he pulled an identical red onesie out that read "Daddy's Little Devil". Shaking his head, Freddie pulled Sam in for a gentle hug, and through her tears, Carly could see him whisper something to Sam. His fiancée slapped at him, then started crying. Happy tears, Carly was relieved to see. Happy tears for a happy, happy Christmas.
There was a knock at the door, and Carly excused herself, swiping at her eyes. Beaming she opened the door. "Merry Christmas," she sang out, fumbling a little as she recognized Hunter.
"Merry Christmas, Carly," he said with a quirky smile, then pointed up to the mistletoe hung over the door. "It must be fate."
Carly looked up bemusedly then grinned at him again. "It must be."