Sam had made his plans long before he made his next visit to Rainstorm.
But all the same as he drove towards the small town that was a world away from Vegas and the time and place he recalled so long ago, he still felt as if past and present were merging and it was an odd feeling.
Ginger's words were still going around in his head.
But he doubted she could ever really trust him; Ginger had her own way of thinking and what she did think was very much about her – not about what was going on around her.
He didn't want to stay away from Nicky forever and he didn't like the idea of Nicky having to sneak around behind Gingers back either – but he had asked Ginger for her trust, to Sam it didn't seem like such a difficult thing to give but he knew Ginger – she still had her heart set on seeing Amy even though Amy herself had said she didn't want to see her.
But Ginger would never know that, because she was out of her life now and it was none of her damned business any way…
As Rainstorm grew closer, Sam gave a sigh:
He still wasn't free of Ginger.
That was all he wanted, to be able to let go of her and leave the past behind, go home to Amy and get on with life without memories dragging him backwards all the time.
But she had said, she trusted him.
Today he was sure he would find out once and for all if she had meant that or if it was just another lie…
That was the hardest part for him; Ginger didn't know how to be honest with him. She said she trusted him, but did she? Maybe if she did it could be the start of rebuilding bridges. He hadn't said that to Nicky because he had promised him he would never turn his back on him – but it was better if he saw him when Ginger wasn't around.
Sam was happiest doing it that way.
But, if Ginger was serious about giving him that trust he asked for, he guessed it would make a difference to their friendship. It wouldn't make a difference for Amy because his daughter was grown up now and she knew her own mind and she was sure she didn't want to see her mother again.
But if Ginger could be different it could make a difference to his bond of friendship with her and her attitude could go a long way towards mending things – if she was telling him the truth…
He would soon find out –and he had decided, this was her last chance any way…
He pulled up outside the house and checked the time.
Then he glanced at the large brown paper grocery bag on the passenger seat, then he placed it under the drivers seat and got out of his car.
He walked up the path and rang the doorbell and Ginger answered it.
She gave him a look that said she was trying to keep her promise but he saw it there at the back of her eyes; this was all about her getting her own way - of course she wanted to see Amy…
But she didn't mention her.
Instead she smiled as she opened up the door and stepped back.
"Hi Sam." She said quietly, "It's good to see you, I'm glad you came back."
As he looked back at her he felt a tiny ache in his heart because he saw a glimmer of desperation in her eyes and it reminded him of the old days, of the way he never really could break free of her.
"Well I promised Nicky I'd be here and I wouldn't go back on that. Where is he?"
"He's waiting for you in the front room. Emily loves her dolls house – she's gone to the park with Iris – they'll be back in a little while –"
"I'm not stopping too long." He replied, walking off before she got a chance to say another word.
Ginger watched him walk off down the hall, she wanted to yell his name and demand he look at her, speak to her – but she knew she couldn't do that.
She also knew there was much more at stake here than her chance to ever see Amy again – she didn't want to cause another quarrel because she didn't want to upset Nicky – she never wanted him to see her yelling at Sam just like the old days because she had told him over and over that she had no feelings left for Sam and that was how she had to keep it – even if, under the surface she would always feel something for him. He had been her husband; they had made a child together. After all that she couldn't erase everything from her heart, but she loved Nicky too much to tell him that…
Ginger followed Sam into the front room.
He was giving Nicky a hug and suddenly she felt out of place.
"You and me need to talk." He said to Nicky, then he glanced at Ginger and she got it – he wanted her out of the way...
She crossed the room and went out into the garden, where she sat on a swing seat by the fence, away from the open door, just so Sam knew she wasn't listening. Then she blinked away tears and wished she had handled this differently – maybe if she had waited, if she had never mentioned Amy, if she had wanted for a few months – would he have been any different? Would he have had time to get to know her all over again, maybe see her in a different light?
She knew for sure she would never have the answer to that question.
Ginger sat alone in the garden and as she sat there she looked at Emily's empty swing, but her thoughts were with another little girl, the one who had grown up without her…
Sam sat down, pulling his chair closer to Nicky.
He glanced out the open doorway, seeing the sprinkler turn and throw out droplets of water on the lawn as Ginger sat on the swing seat far over on the other side of the garden.
Then he looked back at Nicky.
Ginger was out of the way now but all the same he kept his voice down.
"Nicky, I don't want you to say I shouldn't have done it – I don't want you to say anything about it – but I've got something for you."
Nicky stared at him.
He was about to say something, or try to say something, but Sam stopped him.
"Don't say anything – just listen. You're my friend, right? How many fuckin' years have I known you? A lot, that's how many. And when I came here the first time and I saw you and I realised just how much you've been through I knew I had to do something about it."
"But you…you…are, you –"
Sam smiled as he recalled the conversation they had shared last time he had come here and Nicky had told him what he wanted most of all.
"Yeah, I know I've done that for you –but that's a different matter. I'm talking about the practical stuff. You'll never be the guy you used to be again – I don't mean that as an insult, I just mean you can't do the kind of stuff you used to do. And I know how tough things are for you and Ginger. She's got Emily now, - and she's changed. I know she's changed-"
Nicky looked at him doubtfully.
"Not…that f-fuckin' …much!"
As the two men looked at each other they both laughed and Sam shook his head.
"You're right, Nicky – I know she's still Ginger deep down inside. But she is a good mother to Emily, I can tell. She needs to be spending all her time with that kid and I know she…"
He paused, not wanting to dent Nicky's pride.
"I know you need her too – she helps you, she has to. Anyone would need a bit of taking care of after an accident like that. And that's why I want to help – because you can't make a living the way you used to and I know things are difficult right now."
Nicky stared at him.
Sam looked into his eyes.
"You need the money Nicky. I'd like to think if things were the other way around you would have done the same for me. It's not a fortune, but it's what I can afford to give you and I want you to have it because I wouldn't be happy any other way."
Nicky shook his head.
Sam reached out and took hold of his hands.
"Look at me, Nicky."
He slowly raised his head and met his gaze and Sam saw tears in his eyes.
"It's okay." He said quietly, "You're my friend, I fucking love you! The past is gone and the shit that went with it is history. What matters is right here and now and I wouldn't be able to go back home and live my life and get on with my life if I thought you needed help and I did nothing about it."
Nicky gave a sigh.
"You don't deserve this? Do you really think that?"
Nicky nodded as tears ran from his eyes.
Sam tightened his grip on his hands.
"The past is gone." He repeated. "You and me once had a friendship that was so strong nothing could break it. I'd like to think that's what truly made us friends, I'd like to think that was real – did you think it was real? Was our bond real to you, Nicky?"
"Yeah." Nicky said tearfully.
"Then it still is." Sam promised him, "All the shit that went on in our lives, it was just a pause, it was just a bad heap full of shit that wrecked everything between us but we're here today and we're still friends. So that says to me I think we always will be."
Then he blinked back tears of his own as he looked at Nicky.
"If you love someone," He said to him, "No matter what's gone wrong – you can cut 'em out of your life but you can't cut 'em out of your heart because it doesn't happen that way."
"I…know…that." Nicky said as he shed more tears.
Sam leaned closer and pulled him into his arms and held him tightly, then he let go and paused to wipe a tear from Nicky's face.
The Sam smiled.
"Stop crying, Nicky. I've decided I wanted to do it and I've done it, the money's sitting in the car. I don't care what you do with it – just make sure you have a life where you don't have to worry about anything, that's all I want for you – I want you to have a better life."
Nicky took a deep breath. He had calmed down now at least to the point where he wasn't crying but he still felt overwhelmed that Ace would want to help him like this. It made him feel like apologising for all the shit that had happened six years ago all over again – but like Sam had said, it was in the past now - and it felt good to be assured of that.
The two men smiled at each other.
"Thanks…Ace." Nicky said to him.
Ace gave him another hug and kissed his cheek.
"Shall I tell Ginger about the money?" He asked him,"I think that might just put a smile on her face."
"Oh…yeah…her and...fuckin'…money – sure!"
Sam checked the time.
"I should get going soon." He told him, "And I will call you – and I will see you again – just don't say anything to Ginger about it, not right now, maybe you can never tell her – we don't know if she's going to start with all the shit over Amy again."
Nicky nodded in agreement.
Then Sam checked his watch again.
"Did you wanna wait in here?"
Nicky smiled and nodded again.
"Okay," Sam said, "You do that – I'll take Ginger out to the car and tell her about the money – I'll keep her out of the way for a little while."
Nicky smiled up at him.
"Thanks…Ace." He said again.
Sam saw his eyes shining with gratitude and he wanted to hug him all over again, but they were both watching the clock for a reason and Ginger needed to be out of the way for a while.
"I'll see you soon." He promised him, then he went over to the door and called out to Ginger who was still sitting on the swing seat.
She walked back into the room and got the feeling that whatever had been said between the two men, those words had passed quietly and she would never know what had been said. She felt shut out but as Nicky smiled at her and Sam asked her to follow him she just glanced back at Nicky.
"Go…" He encouraged her.
Ginger glanced back at him as she followed Sam up the hall.
He opened the front door and she stopped and looked at him.
"What's this about?"
"You'll see. I've got something I wanna show you."
Ginger tensed as she looked at him doubtfully.
"How come you need me to come outside?"
Sam looked at her wearily.
"Here we fuckin' go again – I knew it, I knew you couldn't trust me…"
"No!" She said quickly, "I do trust you. I just don't get why you want me to go outside to tell me something. What's this about, what do you want to show me?"
Sam paused. He was thinking it again; same old Ginger. She said she trusted him but he didn't exactly feel that she did – either she was trying and not making a good job of it or she was still the same liar she had always been…
"Just follow me out to the car and I'll explain everything, okay?"
She looked at him and that doubt was still in her eyes.
"Okay." She said quietly, then followed him to the car.
She got in the car and so did Sam, as the door closed she felt uncomfortably trapped all over again.
Sam relaxed in his seat and turned and looked at her.
"Don't look so worried…by the time I've finished explaining you might actually be glad you trusted me. I've got something to tell you."
As Ginger looked back at him the possibilities swirled around in her mind: Nicky was looking happy about something, she had seen it in his eyes as she had followed Sam out of the door.
She didn't want to say it because she knew it would break her heart if she was wrong, but…could it be possible?
Could Nicky have persuaded Sam to agree to let her see Amy?
She started to smile.
"You'd better tell me what it is, Sam. I don't want to try and guess because I might be wrong."
Sam looked at her and wondered what was going through her head right now.
"What do you think it might be?"
"I don't know. Will I like it?"
Sam laughed too.
"Will you like it? I can't say, knowing you in the old days maybe you would – who knows? I guess you'll just have to find out and make up your mind."
Ginger sighed and shifted impatiently on the passenger seat.
"Oh come on, Sam! What is it?"
Sam held back for a moment.
"I've been thinking about you and Amy."
As he said those words she could barely contain her own shooting hopes from going through the roof of the car, but she stayed quiet, listening, hoping it would all go her way at last…
"I've been thinking about the past and how it all screwed up and now I'm here and seeing you with Emily and I do think you've changed a lot, Ginger. I think you're a great mother to that girl and I'm proud of you for that. But I guess maybe it's got a lot to do with the fact that you and Nicky have something a lot deeper than we ever had. I can see that now; looking back I can really understand that."
Ginger nodded in agreement.
"So…" She said cautiously. "What does that have to do with what you've decided?"
"I've decided I can't keep coming out here, Ginger. Nicky needs to live his life as quietly as he can. It's safer that way. But I do want to help. That's why I brought this with me."
He reached under the seat.
Ginger heard a car door shut and she glanced around.
Her eyes grew wider and she felt her blood run cold.
It was a set up; it had to be…Frankie Marino had just got out of a car and he was walking up the path, towards the open front door.
"You son of bitch!" She yelled, "You fucking liar! You set this up –"
Sam took hold of her wrist and his grip closed tighter, into a bruising grip she could not free herself from as he smiled.
"I fuckin' knew it!" He exclaimed, "You don't trust me…would you just hear me out –"
Ginger struggled and he held her tighter.
"Would you just calm down, listen to me – I said I had something to show you, I'd like you to see it –"
"You fucker!" She yelled, "You set this up, you're having him whacked!"
Sam smiled and shook his head.
"Just shut up, Ginger…if you keep yelling someone might call the cops and then we're all in the shit…just sit here with me for a little while longer."
His grip on her wrist had clamped like a vice.
Ginger looked back at the house.
"Nicky!" She yelled, but the windows were closed and the street was deserted and Sam would not let her go…
As Frankie spoke his voice trembled.
Ace had told him about the accident but it still made him feel like weeping even though he knew what to expect.
Nicky was sitting in an armchair and Frankie sat down on another chair and pulled it close to him.
"Hi." Nicky said.
His eyes were blurred with tears as he looked at the man who had once been a loyal friend, a close friend, someone who he could share every confidence with, if his crew had been an army Frankie would have been his loyal General. That man had done everything he could to protect him when it all turned bad – until the day he was ordered to kill him or lose his own life. Pain burned in Frankie's eyes.
"Sam told you all about it?"
"No." He said sharply, "No, Nicky! By the time the sun went down I knew if anyone was gonna be a dead man that day it would be me because I knew then I couldn't fuckin' do it!"
Frankie gave a sob.
"Oh shit, Nicky…I'm so sorry…you don't know how many times I've lived that day again. Some nights I can't sleep because I see it happen differently – I see you and Dominic turn up and then I do it, I kill you both…We drag the bodies over to the hole and throw 'em in and just as the dirt covers your face you take a breath and I want to jump in there and get you out but I know if I do I'm next…"
He put his face in his hands and sobbed heavily.
"You're my friend; I loved you like a fucking brother! What man can kill his brother and not kill a part of himself at the same time? I've been in hell for six fucking years, Nicky! When Ace told me you was still alive I wanted to see you – then he said you wanted to see me- I'm surprised you didn't meet me with a loaded fuckin' gun in your hand!"
Frankie was still sobbing.
"Hey…" Nicky said again, reaching over and patting his shoulder.
Frankie looked up at him.
Nicky turned his attention to the scrabble letters on the table beside him.
Frankie was wiping his eyes and at first he didn't notice what Nicky was doing until he looked and realised he was spelling something out.
Nicky tapped his finger on the glass, urging him to read the message.
Frankie read the words and more tears ran from his eyes; Nicky had spelled out a message in three words and those words made all the difference to him, it was all he needed to know:
I forgive you.
Nicky smiled at him and held his arms out to him, then Frankie embraced him sobbing as he placed his hand on the back of Nicky's head and gently stroked his hair.
"Oh Nicky, I – I can't. I don't know what to –"
As Nicky let him go amusement danced in his eyes as Frankie pulled himself together and wiped away his tears.
"I….I just don't know how to say it…you're like my brother, I…"
Nicky laughed softly.
"Hey, f-Frankie…I…I'm the one…who…can't f-fuckin'…talk a-around –here!"
Frankie looked at him and managed to smile.
He reached down to the letters on Nicky's table and started to use them, moving them around to spell out a message of his own.
"I can't say no more without fuckin' cryin' like a girl!" He exclaimed, "I'm gonna do it your way…You're like a brother to me, you're like blood…"
He had finished with the letters.
Nicky looked down and read them:
I love you.
He reached for his cane and got up, then walked outside with him into the garden where the cornfield beyond the house was lit up by a high afternoon sun.
The two men looked at each other.
"You're…i-in here." Nicky said quietly, pointing to his chest, "I…l-love…you…too."
Then the two men embraced and the hurts of the past were healed once and for all.
Ginger was still struggling.
"Fucking let me go!" She yelled.
Sam gave a sigh and shook his head.
"You just can't do it, can you Ginger? All I asked from you was that you trusted me. You can't even do that! I knew you couldn't do it!"
"But he's going to kill him, Sam!"
He looked back at Ginger and spelled out the facts:
"Actually, no. He has no fucking intention of harming Nicky. Last time I was here Nicky told me what he wanted more than anything in this world was to see Frankie again. And Frankie went through hell when he thought Nicky was dead – he's been in hell for six years because he never wanted to be the one to whack him in the first place! You and me, we've got regrets in life but not like that man – it broke him, Ginger! Frankie told me he wants to get out of Vegas. He just wants to get out and start again. Now he knows Nicky's alive he's thinking about moving down this way because he wants to be close to him. Those guys were always close. Do you get it now? Do you understand a single fucking word I've just said to you?"
His grip relaxed on Ginger's wrist as he saw her expression change: Yes, she got it at last…
"I didn't realise, I just thought –"
"You don't trust me!" He yelled, "You never will! That's all I wanted from you, Ginger – a little tiny bit of trust. You can't do it."
"I thought when we came out here you might want to talk to me about Amy."
Sam laughed off her remark.
"Amy?" He said, "Our child? She's grown up now, Ginger – and you know what, you were a terrible fucking mother to that girl and she knows it! She would never ever want to see you any way!"
Then his eyes darkened.
"I've had enough of this shit. Get out of my car."
She saw it in his eyes; something she had never seen before - he was turning his back on her forever.
"Sam, no –"
He opened the car door and shoved her out onto the grass.
She was on her knees beside the car. Suddenly her eyes widened.
"Wait!" She begged him.
Sam closed the passenger door and looked at her wearily.
"What about the money?"
That did it; Sam snatched up the bag from under the seat with anger burning in his eyes.
Ginger and fucking money…
"You want the money? Take it. Fuckin' take it!"
He leaned out of the open window and turned the bag upside down and Ginger blinked as she was stunned into silence as money fluttered about and rained down on her.
"You won't see me again." Sam said coldly.
Then as the last of the money floated to the ground he took off at speed, the car moving like a blur as he sped away from the house.
Ginger gave a sob.
"I'm sorry." She said tearfully, "Sam, I'm so sorry..."
Then the breeze picked up and the money started to lift and shift with it and her sorrow turned to alarm.
"Oh shit, the money!" She said aloud, diving onto the grass and snatching it up in her hands.
As she gathered up the cash and put it back into the bag, she stood up and pulled some out to look at it and her eyes grew wider…there was a lot of money in there…
"Wow!" Said Emily.
Ginger put the money back in the bag and looked up.
Iris had just arrived back with Emily and they were both staring at her.
"It's a present from Sam." She said quickly.
Then she looked into the bag again and felt a tingle that reminded her of the old days and all the things that cash could have bought.
But she brushed it all aside and looked back at her daughter and smiled.
"It's a present for Daddy." She told her.
Then she took Emily's hand and led her back into the house.
Nicky and Frankie were still in the garden.
"I don't think I really stopped crying since Ace told me." He said to Nicky, "About everything that's happened over the last six years…it must have been fuckin' awful…"
Then a spark of amusement lit up in his eyes.
"I mean," He added, "Six years stuck with Ginger? That's gotta be rough on any man!"
And Frankie laughed out loud and so did Nicky.
The two men were still laughing when Ginger walked over to them.
"Hi." She said to Frankie, "Sam said you're thinking of moving out here?"
"Yes I am." He replied, "If that's okay with Nicky."
"Hi." Said Emily to her father's friend, "I'm Emily."
"Hi Emily." He said to her, "I'm Frankie – me and your Daddy go a long way back…"
As Frankie spoke to their daughter, Ginger put her arm around Nicky.
He glanced at the bag in her hand and he smiled.
"It was nice of him to do that." She said, then she gave Nicky a hug.
"You…take that…to..the…bank." Nicky told her.
"I will." Ginger replied.
As she thought of Sam she felt a tiny ache in her heart, but then she peered inside the bag again – and Ginger being Ginger, she suddenly forgot all about Sam and thought of the money instead and started to smile again.
Sam blinked away tears as he sped past the sign that said Rainstorm and headed out onto the long, straight road ahead.
He stepped on the gas and watched as the speed began to climb, sixty, seventy, eighty, eighty five…
At that moment he didn't care if a farm truck pulled out of nowhere and smashed into him, he felt like he could keep on going and not care if or when he ever came to a stop. He could crash right now and it would all be over…
Nicky was okay, he had Frankie and he had the money. He knew for sure he could see Nicky again some day if he wanted to.
But Ginger? No, never again…
Then he thought about what really mattered in life and where he needed to be as his vision cleared and the pain he felt at all of life's past regrets vanished as his speed started to drop.
Sam drove along the road towards a sinking sun, towards the highway that would eventually lead him to the place where everything really mattered to him – it would lead him home to Amy.
As a smile crept across his face as he realised he was leaving the past behind as sure as the wheels of his car were kicking up dust as they turned, leaving it behind as he moved on towards home.
Sam was smiling as he drove in the fading light as a realisation dawned on him; it was something he had wanted for years and finally, it had happened:
He was finally free of Ginger once and for all.
She was out of his thoughts and out of his heart and that long road ahead suddenly looked like the road to freedom as he put more distance between himself and Rainstorm.
With that thought in mind, Sam drove onwards, while the wheels turned and kicked back dust that vanished behind him into its place in the past, much like his own regrets had vanished too.
It was all behind him now and he had never felt so free in his life before and it felt good.
With that thought in mind, Sam drove onwards, heading home to Amy.