A/N: I've discovered the lovely world of Foyle's War over the past few months, and have immensely enjoyed reading the other Foyle stories on . I thought I should finally put up a small contribution of my own.
Last Man Standing
It began with an utterly inane comment.
"Good to see you smiling more, Christopher," the vicar said as he shook my hand that Sunday.
"Beg pardon?" I wasn't sure I had heard correctly.
"You're smiling more," he reiterated, still clasping my hand in that iron grip of his.
"I wasn't aware that I went around with a scowl on my face, Vicar."
He roared with laughter, releasing my hand only to clap me good naturedly on the back.
"It's only that when you smile, I've noticed it reaches your eyes now." The vicar sobered somewhat. "For many years that's not been the case."
I began to formulate a rebuttal in my mind, but he had already seized the hand of Mrs. Dougherty behind me and was greeting her with the same ebullient enthusiasm. Deep in thought, I moved down the path from the church, frowning and trying not to. Not when I'd just been complimented on my improved demeanor.
Why did people assume that I was unable to move past my grief over Rosalind's death? I missed her terribly, always would, but I couldn't say that I was still in the process of grieving her loss. True, I have never been emotionally demonstrative, wearing my heart on my sleeve as some do. I rather like my image, that of the coolly detached, calm and unruffled detective. It has served me well over the years; I doubt that I would have been nearly so successful at my job were I to approach it any other way.
By the time I arrived home, the matter had been forgotten. When invading forces are practically at the doorstep, it does tend to distract from more personal concerns, I suppose. I gave the vicar's comments no more thought until the following morning when the knock sounded at my door.
"Good morning, sir!"
Sam, my driver, looking bright as a new penny and insufferably happy to see me.
Involuntarily, I smiled back and nodded – nodded, because I was briefly incapable of speech. I knew suddenly, blindingly, that this was the reason for any change in my starched and stiff demeanor. This was the ray of sunshine that had unwittingly pierced my rather considerable armor. It was impossible to spend time with Samantha Stewart without being affected by her smile, her warm brown eyes, her effervescent personality…
Effervescent? I was in trouble.
"I'll be out shortly, Sam. Wait for me in the car, hmm?" My voice, now that I'd found it, sounded reasonably normal.
I closed the door behind her and dropped my forehead against it with a pitiful thump. God help me, I was well on my way to falling in love with Sam and hadn't even known. How was it possible?
There was a war taking place, one far removed from the bombs of the Blitz and the bloodshed on the Continent. It was a war that I fought on a regular basis, a scripted conflict with repetitious dialogue and a predictable finale.
I'm too old.
She's too young.
She needs someone her age.
I'm an old fool.
That is not to say that my dilemma consumed me. I had a job to do in Hastings, however much I wanted to be more directly involved with the war, and I intended to do it well. And while I was certainly not lovesick, it seemed cruel that the first time any woman since Rosalind had caught my eye, it would be someone who was forever unattainable. It was a sort of sweet torment, enjoying every day I worked with Sam Stewart, while knowing that the intimacy of the Wolseley's front seat would be the peak of our relationship. When Andrew turned up temporarily invalided, bored, and out of sorts, inspiration struck.
I could have chosen my words a bit more carefully, I think. Coming right out and asking Sam if she was doing anything that evening simply screamed to be misinterpreted – which, of course, she did. Was I asking her out? My denial couldn't have been more vehement, which I'm afraid sounded as though spending an evening with Sam was a horror to be avoided at all costs.
She was a good sport about entertaining Andrew that evening, and they did eventually step out for a while. I can't say I was terribly surprised when their relationship did not advance. I clearly remember chastising a young Andrew for chasing young girls (with torment in mind) and now found myself in the peculiar position of chastising a grown Andrew for chasing grown girls (with only one thing in mind). He should have treated Sam better, I told him. She was an exceptional young woman who deserved better than a brief note of dismissal. Andrew raised an eyebrow at my vehemence, and for a long moment I was afraid I'd been found out. What my son would have to say about my tender feelings toward a girl not even half my age didn't bear contemplating.
Then there was the American soldier. Joe.
I resigned myself to the idea of Sam moving to the other side of the world, one of hundreds of war brides who would leave Britain one day. Joe was full of promises of palm trees and California sunshine and a family who would adore Miss Samantha Stewart. I could picture what he was offering: a home with shiny American appliances and a shiny American car parked in front. What young woman, beaten down by rationing and wartime deprivation, wouldn't be swayed by that vision?
And when Sam contracted Anthrax (and I fully expected that she would succumb to the disease, life being as unfair as it was), it was no surprise to find Joe maintaining a vigil at her bedside. What did surprise me was when she looked so utterly happy to see me, to hear me say that she was a part of our little Hastings crime-fighting unit.
And when Sam recovered and Joe was no longer talked of, I beat back a tiny shred of hope.
And then came Adam...
It was so obvious that he and Sam were perfectly suited that it almost hurt to see them together. Thank God that by that time the war had ended and our roles were not what they once were. How painful would it have been to sit daily by Sam's side in the car and listen to her discuss her plans to marry Adam Wainwright? I was grateful for my upcoming trip to America, certain that it would be my salvation. I could wrap up the loose ends of an old case and, in the process, allow distance to soothe my heart. Sam made noises about delaying the wedding until I returned, but I encouraged her not to worry on my account. Better for us all that she be an old married lady the next time I saw her.
And for weeks, in a new setting, in a different chapter of my life, my heart was calmed. I threw myself into tracking down Howard Paige and bringing him to justice. The man was truly stunned that I had not forgotten my promise to find him after the war. Arrogance never fails to provide a false sense of security, does it? Sooner or later, one finds that no one is above the law, and it always comes as such a shock.
I returned to Britain honestly believing that Sam was married by now, might even be expecting a child already. I would no doubt run into her on the street one day: she would be pushing a pram, I would exclaim over her beautiful child, and then we would chat briefly about old times.
Old times for an old man. It was too painful to contemplate.
'Surprise' is too mild a word to describe my feelings when I disembarked from the ship and found Samantha Stewart waiting for me.
"Mr. Foyle, sir!" Sam's face lit up when she spotted me.
"I didn't expect to find you here. Why are you here?
"To drive you home, of course." She looked at me as though I were as thick as a board.
"Of course, but…" My voice trailed off. Sam looked beautiful, more beautiful than I remembered. I took advantage of my bewilderment to get a good look at her. Not only was she not pregnant, there was no gold band on the fourth finger of her left hand. "How did you know what day I'd be back?"
"Checked with the authorities. That narrowed it down to a within a week or so."
"Do you mean to say that you've been down here every day for a week to see if I got off the ship?"
"Only twice before, actually. Where do we find your bags, do you think?" Sam asked, rising to her tiptoes to peer about the crowd of passengers and dock workers.
"This is all I have," I said, indicating the case in my hand.
"Jolly good! We can be off then."
Sam led me to a parked car and opened the boot. She would have taken my suitcase and stowed it safely away, had I not protested that I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. We settled in the car, Sam put the car in gear, and then launched into inquiries about my trip.
"How was America, sir? Was it like you expected? You didn't say a lot in your postcard. I bet Mr. Paige was shocked to see you, wasn't he? I can't believe that he thought he would get away with murder, you know. Not with you on the case! Did you see many interesting sights? What about the latest styles? What were they like?"
I finally found a tiny break in the avalanche of questions. I was quick to take advantage of it.
"Sam, how's Adam?"
"He's fine, I suppose."
"Oh?" I ventured carefully.
"We broke off our engagement. Well, no, I broke off our engagement."
First Andrew, then Joe, and now, Adam?
"Why?" I blurted. "You seemed so well-suited."
"We did, didn't we?" Sam was busy steering the car in and out of traffic, keeping a firm hand on the wheel and her eye on the road. To avoid looking at me, it seemed.
"He wasn't seeing someone else on the side, was he?" My indignation rose at the prospect.
"Oh, no, nothing like that."
The traffic light turned red, and Sam lapsed into silence while we sat there waiting.
"If you'd rather not tell me, Sam, it's perfectly all right."
"No, no it's fine. Really. The truth is, I – I had an attack of the jitters."
"The jitters? You? I find that rather hard to believe."
"You do? Why?" She finally turned to look at me, a frown furrowing her forehead.
"Why? Because you don't have the jitters, Sam. You've been blown up three times, survived a police chase where we were fired upon, seen more dead bodies than any young woman has a need to, and narrowly escaped a murderer on more than one occasion. And each and every time you shrugged it off and said you were just tickety-boo, thank you very much. Do you really expect me to believe that a case of premarital nerves would get the best of you?"
Sam bit her lip nervously.
"But that's exactly what happened, you see. I was being fitted for my wedding gown. Everyone was fussing over me, telling me what a beautiful bride I would be. And I just – just couldn't take it anymore. I started crying – well, sobbing, really. I couldn't stop. I suppose I was hysterical, wasn't I? It kept on and kept on, and finally Mum had to send the dressmaker away and get me a bit of a drink to calm me down. All I kept saying was –"
The driver of the car behind us leaned on his horn loud and long, making quite sure we got the message that the traffic light had turned to green. Sam threw the car back into gear and hit the accelerator. The tires squealed and the car leapt forward. In all the years she had driven me about, such a thing had never happened.
"Sorry," she said, stricken.
We drove in silence for a minute, two minutes, then three. I couldn't take the suspense.
"Go back to what were you saying. About when you were so upset."
Even from the side, there was no mistaking the look of determination that now formed on Sam's face.
"I kept saying that I couldn't marry Adam when I was in love with someone else."
"I see." The faint, flickering hope that I'd refused to nurture these past five years suddenly leapt back into flame. "You're in love with someone else."
"Yes. For quite some time, actually."
If there turned out to be a heretofore unknown fourth contender for Sam Stewart's hand, I didn't know what I would do. I cleared my throat, trying to sound nonchalant.
"And who would that be?"
"You," Sam whispered. And added, as an afterthought, as if it would make the revelation more acceptable, "Sir."
My heart swelled to near the bursting point. But I am unflappable and unshakeable, and cheering from the top of my lungs just isn't done.
"I think that you should come in for tea when we reach my house, Sam."
Sam's head spun in my direction and she anxiously scanned my face to see if I was displeased. I reached out to caress her cheek gently with the back of my hand.
"Darling," I added, in as firm a voice as my traitorous emotions would allow.