Reach for Something That's Already Gone

Chapter Twenty

Piecing our Lives Back Together

And then came the part where we fell in love for real.

I'd known Sam for twelve years by the time we'd picked up our lives and moved to New York. She wasn't always the easiest person to deal with, but Carly was the glue that'd kept us together for so many years. Now we were making it on our own. We were living our lives in a new city, with new friends and a new take on everything.

We didn't just grow together; we grew with the people around us. Nina and Sam ran together on a regular basis, and as Will and I started to hang out I realized fast enough how similar we were. To say we got along well would be an understatement.

"I was the shy kid in high school," he admitted to me one day. "You know, Devon had to set me up with an ex-girlfriend of his so I could get a Prom date."

"For real?"

"Mhm." He cracked a smile. "She was still infatuated with him, of course."

"So why'd she go with you?"

He shrugged. "Beats me. But she would do anything for Devon—actually, that's probably why she said yes when he asked her to take me."

"Well . . . was she hot at least?"

He laughed. "Freddie. My brother doesn't date ugly girls."

I could see that. Devon and I didn't particularly click, but him and Sam ran together, so they went back and forth with plenty of witty banter. 'Witty' meaning he'd try to woo her and she'd shut him down, but it was still pretty funny.

The winter came and went; Christmas was celebrated in upstate New York, with the Hudsons and a few other people. We met Kenzie and Darcy that trip, Nina's two closest friends from high school, and Julia and James came up with us all.

I was stuck with dish duty after Christmas dinner. We'd rented a condo at a popular ski resort, so everyone else was passed out on the couch either drunk or exhausted from a day on the mountain when it came time for cleanup. Julia walked into the kitchen as I was scrubbing at the plates, trying to scrape off potato chunks with failure.

"Here, let me help you," she said, reaching in for a sponge.

"No, it's okay, I've got it."

She offered me a smile, taking a plate anyway and scrubbing with me. "Don't be ridiculous."

We cleaned in comfortable silence for a bit before the small talk picked up. "So how do you know Will and Devon?" I asked.

"Hmm. Are you still piecing together the stories of our lives?"

"Eh, kind of."

She laughed. "I knew Will first, we were friends in college."

Ahh. So that explained it. Of everyone I'd met in New York, Julia wasn't like the rest of them.

"Must've been a wild night, huh?" I teased.

She laughed. "Oh, totally." Then she shook her head. "Nahh, we were in the same Lit class, so we became library buddies."

"You mean, special library buddies?"

She raised a brow, and that was enough to get both of us laughing.

"I see why Sam's into you—you've got a sense of humor, Benson. Shame we didn't get to see it on iCarly."

I shrugged. It was a harmless statement, her mentioning it, but the label of being 'that iCarly star' was proving to be something that would stick no matter how many miles I put between myself and Seattle.

"Joking aside, Will's a completely platonic friend of mine," she specified. I was grateful for the subject change.

"Hmm, really?"

"Yep."

"So was there anyone else in college?"

"Eh," she went, but from the inflection she put into that one syllable I could tell there was a lot more to that story then she let on. I didn't pry, because something told me that even if I did, Julia would keep a pretty tight lip. "What about you?" she asked.

"What d'you mean?"

"Well, what was college like for you?"

I laughed starkly. "Oh, I didn't go." I cleared my throat. "Ca-" I stopped short. "There were some things in Seattle Sam and I needed to deal with," I phrased carefully.

Julia gave me a look, and it clearly read, it's okay, you don't have to tell me.

More small talked ensued. She asked me how I liked New York, and I asked her how long she'd been living in the City for.

"Oh, I've never left. I've lived here since I was born."

"What school did you go to?"

"I went to Columbia for undergrad," she said.

Ahh. I figured as much, but now I knew for a fact that she was smart. "Columbia. Jesus."

"Yeah," she said with a smile. She'd been scrubbing at the same red pot for over ten minutes. "I've been applying to different grad schools, but I'm not locked in anywhere just yet."

I nodded. Our college conversation ended there, and she brightly shifted gears. "So. Are you sick of our crazy just yet?"

"Completely," I drawled, my voice dripping with sarcasm. "No, you guys have been great. Seriously. Sam and I didn't expect to fit in to city life so quickly."

"Well, you're welcome," she replied.

I'd always had a good feeling about her, but after that conversation, I decided that I really liked Julia. Sure, she was everything you'd expect her to be at first glance-reserved, plain, and, okay, maybe even a little boring. It wasn't like I was anyone to judge. But something about her was just . . . well, I can't even place my finger on it. But I knew that becoming good friends with her would be as easy as becoming good friends with Will.

XXX

By New Year's Eve we'd headed back into the city. Nina and her high school friends had stuck around in Ski-ville, so the rest of us hightailed it back for Sandra's New Year's party. We'd gotten the forewarnment from Devon beforehand ("y'all don't have to worry, there will be plenty of alcohol!"), so Sandra's state of mind when we got to the door wasn't any surprise.

"You guys!" She squealed. She threw her arms around all of us. "I'm so glad you could make it!"

Everyone was there. Devon, Will, Julia, and even James and the Newlyweds.

We counted down to the New Year together. With eight seconds to go, Sam grabbed my hand. We jumped the gun and starting kissing with two seconds left.

By the time we got back to our apartment, we were tired and we were drunk, but that didn't stop us from trying to get it in. (Okay, so it wasn't exactly good. But we gave it an effort.)

Sam started laughing after we finished. "Ugh. I'm off my game tonight."

"You and me both."

She nestled her head in my chest, which I noticed she had a habit of doing when she was under the influence. "We'll try again tomorrow. Another year, another fuck."

"Mhm."

We didn't say anything for a minute.

"Hey, Sam?"

"Hmm?"

"Happy New Year."

"Ahhh. I love you."

With that, she fell asleep.

XXX

Thinking back to that time now, I completely took it all for granted. From the nights we spent out to the morning runs I forced myself into doing to the food we ate and the people we met, I didn't realize just how good things were. Just how good Sam and I had it. We were doing the impossible, we were doing it together, and at the time, we didn't even know it.

At the time, Sam and I kind of just went along with these new friendships. We were meeting new people, yeah, but we didn't realize just how lucky we were and how good we had it. To this day, I can still remember incredibly vivid but scattered details about each of them. Like how Laura had a beauty mark on her right cheek, how James' ears would turn red when he had too much to drink, how Sandra would start snorting when she laughed too hard…

Oh, Sam and I knew we were making a new life for ourselves. But I don't think we ever really realized the gravity of what that meant.

Even now, looking back, the months start to blur together. The weeks that pass and the memories we shared get jumbled because each was better than the next, and because, all the while, we were taking things day by day.

Days, weeks, and months passed. Winter became Spring. Every New York minute was worth it.

XXX

"C'mon, Sam, hustle! Let's pick it up—d'you want to be somebody or not?"

Only Devon and Nina could get away with screaming at her like that. I stared at them, dumbfounded, clapping my hands and feebly cheering as I watched the two of them. They were shouting like football coaches.

"Catch her, Sammy, you're at six minute pace, keep it up and it's yours."

It was just the three of us cheering her on that day. It was a cold February day, and well below freezing in the City. Instead of cuddling up with a cup of coffee like sensible human beings, I was cheering my girlfriend on at a 5K with her two closest friends. Typical.

We cut the course, going from the second mile mark to the third. We got to the sidelines just in time, because she barreling down the street in blazing speed.

We looked at the clock and just about flipped a shit.

"You've got it! You've got it! Pass her, you've got it!"

She barely missed first place, but she crossed the line in 18:12. She walked over to us, a medal around her neck and a big smile plastered across her face.

"Casual," she said.

Devon and Nina practically tackled her to the ground in a victory hug, so I waited until they were done before going in for a kiss. As I pulled away, she whispered into my ear,

"Victory sex tonight?"

I laughed in response. "Yeah, that seems to be in order."

The four of us grabbed lunch that day, warming up with platters of spaghetti and meatballs at a restaurant in Soho. I picked at mine and watched the three of them gorge themselves, shoveling food in their mouths like they'd never see it again. Oh. So that was where Sam got her barbaric eating habits from.

"Y'know," Nina said, turning to Sam, "You're beating little miss Stub Legs next time."

"Aww hell yeah." Devon nodded his head in agreement. "That bitch is built like a bulldog. Take her down, why don't ya?"

"She's fast," Sam drawled.

"Yeah, and so are you," I told her. "Devon, could you pass the salt?"

"Will do." He handed it over.

"Damnit!" Nina exclaimed. She looked up from her cellphone, grumbling. "I told Melissa a dozen times I couldn't make it into the office today, if I get one more empty threat from her via text, I'll shoot myself."

"Ahhh, Melissa." Devon sighed, smiling. "The super-bitch boss lady. Not gonna lie, that's pretty hot."

Nina kicked him under the table, and then turned to me. "So. Speaking of work, how's Best Buy been treating you?"

"Oh, y'know, the same—"

"He hates it," Sam interjected.

"Really?"

I nodded. Kinda true. It's not like I complained about it, but Sam could tell. "It's just not the right environment for me—"

"—he's stuck with minimum wage high school dropouts and teenagers," Sam filled in.

"For a guy that used to run iCarly," Devon said, taking a swig of water, "I'd never have thought you'd be working at Best Buy."

I shrugged. "It's hard to find work in this economy. Especially without a college education."

"Bullshit." I was on the verge of getting frustrated with Devon, but then he added, "I dropped out. Started taking night classes last year, and I've got the job I want now."

"Wait—"

"—for real?"

Both me and Sam jumped at Devon, and he laughed at our eagerness. "Yeah, I'm studying at NYU. Goin' for my sports science major."

"How much is tuition?"

"Peanuts, compared to what it could be," he replied. Sam and I looked at each other warily. It wasn't until Christmas—when the Hudsons picked up the tab for a condo that cost over a thousand dollars a night—that we figured they were loaded. "Peanuts" to blue-collared ex web-stars meant a whole lot less than "peanuts" to Southern aristocracy.

"NYU's in state," Nina added. "And since you're New York residents, I can't imagine it being over ten grand a year."

I looked over to Sam. She shrugged, her indifference seeming forced. Sitting next to her, I could tell her heart was pounding.

"I'll have to talk to my mom about this later," I said, turning to Sam. She nodded.

Our conversation about college ended there, and chit-chat and gossip about the others ensued. From time to time, I'd squeeze Sam's hand from under the table. We're doing this, it said. This is happening. We're getting educated and we're getting the jobs we want.

It was happening gradually, but happening all the same. We were piecing back together the lives that Carly Shay had destroyed.

XXX

Laura's baby shower was in early March, a good month before her due date. With her being 5'9" and Darius standing over six feet tall, it isn't any surprise that at eight months, her stomach protruded like she'd stuffed a basketball under it.

"He's gonna be huuuuuuge," Darius said, putting a hand on his wife's belly. She laughed, pecking him on the forehead and saying,

"Stop being gender specific.I think she's a girl."

"You guys haven't checked the sex?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Nahhh, we wanted to be surprised. Dumbo here thinks it's a boy, but we both know she's a girl."

"She can't be female," he drawled. "You're her mother, d'you have any idea how gorgeous she'd be? Like I want to fend off the assholes that'd be after starting age five."

"Well, even if this one is a boy, does that mean—"

"Yep. We're only having boys."

"I'm not so sure they'll all be such asshole magnets, tough guy." She poked his chest. "After all, their genes are fifty percent yours—they could just as well inherit your funny looks."

"Yeah, and my charm." He wrapped his arms around her and starting kissing her head, the two of them laughing. Luke, her little brother who was standing right there, looked at the two of them in disgust.

"Jesus, get a room!"

Laura made a point to introduce us to the rest of her family. She was the third of four siblings, and her two older sisters were named Grete and Lea. Like Laura, Grete was also gorgeous, and based on the way she interacted with her husband, we could tell she was a flirt back in her younger days. Her hair was dark and she was in her late twenties, and she already had two kids (both of which we met, but I couldn't remember their names for the life of me.) Lea was a little over thirty, and also beautiful. We wondered why she didn't have a husband or kids in tow, given this family's affinity for young marriages, but the minute she opened her mouth Sam and I recognized oldest-sibling bossiness on crack. And then there was Luke, the baby of them all at just twenty, who played the annoying younger brother role. But when I caught him on his own, he seemed like a nice kid.

After that, Sam gravitated towards Nina just about as much as I gravitated towards Will, so we didn't really see each other until Sandra was banging her fork on a glass. "Toast, toast!" she called.

Everyone in the room quieted down, turning their attention to Sandra.

She cleared her throat. "I've known Laura and Darius since we were all kids. I remember being eight years old and sharing the same bunk as her in camp, and us talking about our perfect future—a big wedding, a white picket fence, and house full of kids." Sandra gestured towards the apartment. "Well, there aren't that many white picket fences in midtown, I can tell you that much." That got a chortle from everyone. "But most of us were here for the big wedding, and now, we're all celebrating the 'lots of kids' part of that perfect future."

"Here here!" Nina cheered, raising her glass. Everyone joined in.

Sandra lifted her champagne over her head, stretching her arm like the statue of liberty. "A toast," she said, "to this little rascal, and to many more."

"Cheers!" Devon called out.

That was when we all went around clinking glasses. From across the room I looked at Sam, who was laughing and mingling with Nina and Devon's friends. I thought of our time with Carly, fleetingly, and then I thought of how she looked now.

She definitely didn't smile this much after Spencer's death.

She looked over from across the room, and her eyes met mine. And she gave me a smile that said it all.

We were exactly where we belonged.

XXX

A/N: I really hope you guys enjoyed this one! Kind of a little filler-y, but we're clipping right along with the timeline, so expect the drama to pick up in a little bit.

Thank you all so much for your incredibly kind responses to the last chapter, it really meant the world to me.

A quick note on my plans for Reach; I think I'm going to take some time off from this fic, so expect the next update to be something in early February. Between now and then school's going to be hell, what with midterms and AP qualification, and I have a lot on my fanfiction plate right now concerning my Hunger Games related fics. Don't worry, I haven't lost inspiration for this fic, I just need a brief hiatus to get my grades together. (I'm a junior in high school. What I'd give to be a bloody senior right now.)

Have a lovely new year, everyone xx

xx Nina