Chapter 4: Daddy's Girl
8 am. It was a beautiful Sunday in June, the third Sunday, to be precise. Freddie Benson lay awake in bed, his alarm having gone off shortly before. He always set an alarm, even on weekends when he never expected to leave the apartment. It would have been unthinkable to most kids his age to wake themselves early deliberately during summer vacation; but those kids didn't have his mother.
Freddie was nearly 18, yet his mother still barged, uninvited, into his room on weekends to rouse him, usually with some annoying rhyme, and always with some ridiculous excuse when what she really wanted to do was snoop. It had become worse over the past few months, because Marissa Benson was obviously looking for evidence that Sam Puckett had been in his room. The day before Freddie had caught her looking closely at a hair found on his pillow, checking it carefully for length (sorry, Mom, short) and color (sorry again, brown). But she would back off when she came in to find Freddie awake. So the alarm clock was less about convenience, and more about necessity.
"Freddie-bear, I'm off to the hospital, and I won't be back until after dinnertime. The refrigerator is full. Are you going to be okay today?"
This was probably the one day a year that his mother wasn't worried about Freddie having some freak home accident. It was Fathers' Day, a day that Freddie hadn't taken well since losing his father to a heart attack when Freddie was just five. Generally, he did nothing on Father's Day, not changing out of his pajamas, and often not even bothering to eat. Most of the time he was okay with having to grow up without his father; he didn't think about it too much, since both of his best friends were without fathers. Sam's was gone and Carly's was out to sea most of the time, so it wasn't like he had a lot of chances to think of what he was missing. But one day a year, it was impossible not to think about it. One day a year the pain was fresh and he felt just as hurt and alone as he had in the years immediately following his father's death.
When Jack Benson died, Freddie withdrew into a shell. His performance in school faltered so badly that his mother withdrew him and attempted to home-school him, a failure that caused Freddie to be a year older than most of his classmates at Ridgeway. He was out of that shell now, but he still spent Father's Day alone; he never saw his two closest friends. Carly always went to Yakima with her brother Spencer to visit their grandfather in years that her father couldn't get leave to come home. And Sam Puckett simply disappeared from both the real and virtual worlds for the day.
Freddie wondered if Sam sulked around the house the way he did. She surely had the same feelings about Fathers' Day, maybe even worse. Freddie always knew that Sam's father had abandoned the family, but until he'd talked to Sam's mom he'd never known the details. In between numerous flirtatious and creepy remarks, Pam Puckett told Freddie that Sam's father had divorced her when Sam was five, and had left Seattle. Two years after that, he broke contact with the family, and Sam hadn't heard from him in any form since. Sam was devastated; she had been very close to her father, and according to Pam, had loved him deeply. She said Sam was never the same after that. In the last month he'd seen with his own eyes that the hurt remained strong in Sam. He felt it the night Sam had broken up with him.
You're gonna leave. You're a liar, just like the rest of them.
Freddie had slowly realized that Sam had a long history of bad relationships with the men who she thought loved her. Her father vanished, uncles in prison, followed by several "boyfriends" who had broken up with her, in a couple of cases because they were using her to get to know Carly. Sam was slow to trust anyone, especially men. Even though she had spent every day for the past six years around Carly and Freddie, Carly was like a sister, while, up until this year, Freddie had been held at arm's length and pushed away with verbal and sometimes physical violence. No matter how well she knew Freddie, or how many years he'd been around, there'd always been a wall, first of indifference, then of fear, that she wouldn't let him cross.
When they'd started hanging out, and then dating (it still felt a little weird to say it, even to himself) she'd still held him at arm's length, scared he'd leave and hurt her like all the other men in her life did. No matter how hard he'd tried to convince her otherwise, she'd eventually broken it off with him, convinced that, eventually, he'd leave. It had almost killed him, experiencing the rush of having her in his life, of being able to say she was really his, only to have her walk away – he'd been scared she'd never come back. He was never so glad to be wrong. After their reconciliation at the prom, Sam had warmed to him again. But while she was physically affectionate once again, he could still feel her holding something back. Freddie worried about their relationship, and constantly lived in fear of Sam preemptively breaking it off again.
But despite this, Freddie clung to the hope that his girlfriend would rather spend a day with him, even if she was sad, than stay in her bed alone. He picked up his phone, reading the unanswered text messages he had sent Sam over the course of the morning:
Good morning Princess Puckett…
Hey there, r u up yet?
Plans for today?
11 am. He knew there was no changing Sam's mind when she didn't feel like seeing anyone. When they were younger, he'd just ignore her, leave her to herself and thank God for the reprieve from being pummeled. As he got older, he became a little more willing to talk to her when she felt that way; but it was increasingly looking like he would not get that chance today.
Breakfast was out of the way, and a pound of bacon was fried up and set aside in the hope of a certain girlfriend inhaling it before lunchtime. Freddie contemplated bagging up the bacon and setting off for Sam's house, wondering if he could coax her into getting out of bed and opening the door.
Freddie was already at work on his usual mental checklist of what he would take to Sam's, beginning with the bacon, when he thought he heard a light tap at the door. He walked toward the door, wondering if it could be Sam. But Sam liked her entrances to be momentous and surprising. Her two favorite modes of operation were picking the locks (Freddie longed to give her a key and be done with it, but he had to get his mother used to the idea first—that should take place right around the first day of never) and coming in his bedroom window via the fire escape, a nice feat when they were on the eighth floor.
He went to the door and looked through the peephole, hoping, successfully it turned out, that he would see a mound of curly blond hair. He pulled the door open quickly, in time to hear Sam gasp for air loudly. He stood shocked at the sight before him.
She was crying. Not just regular crying. She was crying so uncontrollably that she could barely breathe. She was wearing a plain gray t-shirt (Freddie didn't even notice that it was one of his) and a pair of blue sweats, with no makeup. For a moment he didn't know what to do. He mentally ran though his list of tricks on dealing with the different incarnations of Sam. Angry Sam – run and hope she can't catch you. Hungry Sam – feed her, fast! Lazy Sam – give her a Peppy Cola if you expected her to work, or walk very quietly if she decided to take a nap and you didn't want to go back to dealing with Angry Sam. He had no frame of reference for Inconsolable Sam.
He looked into her red rimmed eyes, searching for a clue on what to do. Even full of tears, he knew those eyes. And he knew the heart behind those eyes, the heart of a girl who'd spent her life trying to keep everyone from seeing what she was letting him see now. Real Sam. He knew what to do. A week previously, Sam was there for him when he drank himself sick at that party. Today, he would do the giving.
He took a step toward her and opened his arms. She crossed the space between them, burying her head in his chest as he wrapped his arms around her and placed his chin on the hair still wet from her shower. He urged her into the apartment, got her to kick off her sneakers (partly his mother's cleanliness thing, but mostly to add an extra step just in case she tried to run away) and moved her to the couch, where she sat. She leaned right into his chest and continued to cry.
"What's wrong, Sam?" he softly said into her ear. Of course he knew. He fully expected her to be this upset on Fathers' Day. He just needed to hear her voice.
"My mother didn't come home last night," Sam finally said, once her crying died down and she got control of her breathing. "I couldn't stand being alone; being in that house. Can I stay here today?"
"Of course. Come on, sit back, take deep breaths, Sam." Freddie ran to his bathroom and wet a washcloth, coming back out and handing it to Sam. Using a trick he learned from his mother, he put it into Sam's hand and had her hold it against the back of her neck. It seemed to help her… a little anyway. She stopped crying, long enough for Freddie to press a tissue to her cheeks and dry them.
Freddie sat beside Sam in silence, holding her hand as her sobs tapered off to sniffles. She was quiet, hiding behind her wall. History told him to let it go, sit and enjoy her company – maybe get in a kiss or two. But his heart said something different. Sam had been building her wall for a long time, but today, showing up at his house and letting him see her in this state, he felt like she'd given him an invitation to help her tear it down.
"Is it your dad?" he said quietly.
"I hate that bastard, Freddie. I hate what he did to my mother. What he did to Melanie. What he did to me." Her voice was full of anger and pain, "I hate that it still hurts." She whispered. Her tears began fresh and he leaned back on the couch, pulling her to him and putting his arms around her. She leaned into him, putting all her weight on him, and setting her head under his chin. "And he almost made me lose you. Making me believe that you would leave the way he did. The way they all did."
Freddie was still not altogether sure of what to do. Until about four months previously, he had never seen Sam cry. There were a couple of times that Sam had gotten Carly to make Freddie leave the room because she thought she would cry. Freddie just accepted that she didn't, or at least that he would never see it. But he saw her cry for the first time the afternoon following the lock-in, when he went to her house, knelt in front of her as she sat on her couch, and confessed his own feelings for her. They had cried for each other since, through their breakup and reunion. But this was different … Sam was crying for her father, the father she never spoke of to anyone. He was terrified that Sam would bolt, and was already wondering if he should run after her if she did. But she stayed right there with him, holding onto him for dear life as the tears flowed.
He held her quietly for several minutes, until her sobbing slowed. He moved his mouth closer to her ear, speaking in the gentlest voice he could muster.
"Sam, this is absolutely the worst day of the year, for both of us. No one deserves to be treated the way he treated you. His duty was to love the three of you. Unconditionally. But what he did wasn't your fault. You did what you had to do. You carried on."
"I know what it's like to have a promise broken and I know that you're hurting but I'm going to be right here with you. I promised you that before, and I'm promising it again. I believe in keeping my promises. I finish what I start." Sam pulled away and began to shake her head, but Freddie continued. "I know you remember the years that we spent fighting. All the times you tried to push me away, all those times I wanted us to be closer, to really be friends." He laughed lightly. "You spent most of your times trying to figure out new and more painful ways to push me away. Well, I didn't run then, and I'm not going to now. I told you before, there's nothing you could do to make me leave. None of that has changed."
"I grew up without my dad too. I still remember the night he died, right in our living room. Down on the floor. The paramedics putting him onto the stretcher. And Mom making me stay in my bedroom. I never saw him again. Not alive. He was gone before he got to the hospital. I don't remember much about the days right after that. I guess I was numb. Maybe I blocked them out. No warning, Sam. He was just 38 years old. And Mom. It changed her completely. She became …" Freddie tried to gesture at the floors and kitchen, unsure if Sam would get the reference to his mother's obsession with hygiene, "like she is now. I think it was the only way she knew how to deal with it."
Sam raised her head off Freddie, swallowed, and spoke for the first time in nearly half an hour.
"Your mom told me about your dad the night of the prom. When she talked about him, I could tell she really loved him. I never knew how…how hard it was for you." She looked at her hands. "Look Freddie, today is rough enough on you without my coming here with all of my problems. I should go, I'll see you…"
She began to stand, and Freddie grabbed her by the arm and pulled her back to the couch, a little more roughly than he meant to, but Sam sat back down.
"Today used to be rough" he started, "it was for a long time. But now…it doesn't feel as bad. I still feel some pain, but it's mostly healed. I don't sit and feel sorry about the past. Every day I watch my mother do it, and I see what that's like. I try to think about the future, when I'll be with my own kids. And … the past couple of months, I've kind of been seeing that image more clearly than I did before."
He paused again. Sam looked deep in thought. He hadn't meant to say something that forward, but it was true. He often fantasized about having his own family and his own house. But over the past few months, the generic image of a future wife had given way to one of Sam. It was no doubt ridiculous to be dreaming about what it would be like to be married to Sam, and about what their kids would look like, when they'd only been together for what amounted to weeks. But that was what he felt toward Sam deep inside. She was not casual fun. He loved her, and hoped he would be with her for a long time. Sam still looked pensive, but not upset. It was not what he expected after alluding, however indirectly, to her having his children.
He decided to continue speaking, this time timidly venturing into the subject of Sam's father.
"So I know what it's like to lose a father. It has to be worse for you. My dad had no choice in leaving, and no way to come back. So … your dad just left? He didn't say goodbye to you?" He feared he'd gone too far - asked too much as he saw her taking a deep breath to steady herself. "We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"No. No, it's okay." She raised her eyes to look directly into his, "I trust you."
He thought his heart might burst at those words. He couldn't think of anything that would sound sweeter. Anyone who knew anything about Sam Puckett could tell you that meant just as much as her telling him she loved him. She smiled at him, at what he was sure was a look of pure joy on his face, and continued.
"It was at night, on my fifth birthday. He came into my room, after our birthday party, and said he had to go away, but he promised he'd come back…" Sam's voice faded out.
"Do you talk to him? Does he write to you?"
She just shook her head "no," and wrapped her arms around her legs, pulling them closer to her chest.
"Where is he now?" Freddie continued, but Sam didn't answer, resting her forehead against her knees.
Freddie reached his arm around her shoulder again, and pulled her into him. He was again relieved that she was letting him. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be trying to force you to talk. This is for you to talk about when you want to. But if you ever need to talk about it, if you want to get something off your chest, you know I'm here, right? And it will stay right here, between us," he said, making sure Sam looked at him as he pointed to his heart. "You've never told Carly about your father, have you…" Sam shook her head again, and the tears returned. Freddie did the only thing he could do. He held her, and hoped that she could feel the love he had for her, and that it would comfort her. "Let it out, baby," he said softly, "you're safe here…with me."
After a while, Sam had finally cried herself out, and she yawned while leaning more heavily into Freddie, catching his attention.
"Do you want to take a nap?"
"I smell bacon," Sam interrupted, just above a whisper.
Good, Princess Puckett is still in there , Freddie thought to himself. Motioning Sam to stay put, he went to the bacon still on the kitchen counter, and grabbed some bread and cheese slices to make grilled cheese with bacon sandwiches for lunch. He made them quickly, with some lettuce and tomato slices on the side (he'd gotten very creative at making sure Sam regularly ate some kind of vegetable), taking the stack of sandwiches out to Sam, together with several cans of Wahoo Punch.
Sam ate and drank quietly, but she ate with him nonetheless. Freddie briefly missed the gusto and enthusiasm Sam usually brought to having a meal. She did not eat food so much as tear through it like a tornado. It could be an experience … she'd keep right on with her conversation, not waiting to speak between bites, and she'd chew with her mouth open, spraying crumbs everywhere. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought this should horrify him, and he dreaded eating with her in a really fancy restaurant. But frankly, who could appreciate Sam Puckett without finding her passion for food … endearing?
But none of that was happening now. Without passion, without that little bit of showmanship, she finished her lunch (the vegetables included), and sat back, the sleepiness still evident on her face. She dozed off, her head turned crookedly on the couch. Freddie's neck hurt just from looking at her, and he decided to try something that would have cost him an arm last year (maybe both arms, one for Sam and his mother each to break). He reached under Sam, picked her up rather easily, and, his mother be damned, carried her bridal style into his bedroom. He set her down on his bed, sitting next to her, rubbing her back in circles. After a couple of minutes, she appeared to be asleep. Freddie took a blanket and spread it across her, and began to head for the living room.
"Freddie," he heard from behind. He turned back to her, and she said, "please stay."
This was unexpected. In the course of a few hours, he'd had Sam come into his apartment by knocking on the front door, cry on his shoulder while asking him to hold her, eat quietly while thanking him for the food, let him carry her into his room, and now ask him to stay with her while she slept. His accumulated knowledge and tricks for dealing were now entirely irrelevant—his inventory had no listing for Sam in My Bedroom. But he walked over to his side of the bed and sat on his usual sleeping spot. Sam rolled over and came to him, crawling into his lap, where Freddie began to play with the ends of her hair. Freddie was not used to sitting in this position, and his back quickly grew sore. He nudged Sam from his lap so he could lie down, and as he did so, he pulled Sam to him, and she nuzzled into his chest.
Freddie would have loved to nap, but his mind was racing a mile a minute. Like any teenage boy would, Freddie had enjoyed thoughts involving his girlfriend and this bed, but today was way too soon for him to act on those thoughts. He was in shock that she was simply here on his bed, letting him cuddle with her. He assumed Sam was sleeping, but he looked down to see her blue eyes wide open.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked, and Sam quietly nodded. He wanted to say something else, but was a little afraid, as though speaking to her would remind her too bluntly of where she was. And if she knew where she was she might decide to be somewhere else. He pulled her to him more tightly. "This is nice," he whispered.
He looked down at Sam, to see her smiling for the first time that day, a full smile without any trace of her trademark smirk. But her eyes were still clouded, and he knew she was still in the dark place where her father abandoned her. He needed to get her mind elsewhere.
He began to move the strands of hair that were blocking most of her face, and kissed the forehead he had just cleared. He continued to play with her hair, twirling strands between his fingers.
"Do you remember, back when we were really little, how I'd pull your hair when we fought?"
"Yep. I'm still wondering why I let you live," Sam replied, still smiling a little.
"I just did that so I could touch your hair," he confessed as he wrapped a few strands around a finger, "and it didn't matter if I couldn't stand the rest of you. Seriously, you should call Floyd's of Dublin and, like, insure it."
Despite the dorky joke, Sam was now smiling fully—laughing, even if it was at his expense. Her eyes had lightened and were almost sparking again. He had wanted to tell her something right from the moment they had become a couple, and he decided it was time to risk it.
"Sam, do you ever think about the first time we kissed?"
She continued to smile, and nodded, punching him playfully on the arm.
"I thought we weren't supposed to speak of it!" She laughed.
"Well, we didn't, except for that one time. But I thought about it pretty much every day, and never regretted it. And I've never told you that back on that night, I didn't really want you to leave. I was about to call you to come back as you were going through the window. I even took the breath to do it, but I lost my nerve. I wanted to kiss you again so badly. And so I wasted another two years before I got to. Two years we could have been together."
Sam was looking Freddie straight in the eye, and said softly, "I would have stayed…"
Freddie continued. "All those times I said I hated you. I never meant a word of it. I tried to come up with the perfect thing to say or do that would make us friends; make us stop pushing each other away. But you always seemed so, well, so strong I guess. I figured you didn't really need me. I wish I'd known to ask you over to watch a horror movie sooner."
Sam smiled again. He felt her relax in his arms, folding herself into his chest.
"I always knew how I felt." He said, "I didn't understand it, and I wasn't always ready to admit it, plus there was this … other thing I kept letting distract me."
Sam snorted her laughter. They both knew what, or who, the other thing was. Freddie still felt guilty for the pain he caused Sam with his childish pursuit of her best friend.
"But I always saw something coming from you, right there in your eyes. When you'd fight with me, no matter how mad you were, or how much I was trying to provoke you, your eyes sparkled. But when I'd hear you argue with your mother on the phone, or when you'd talk back to the teachers at school, they were dull and dark. So I realized you liked our bickering too, it was like our thing, a secret language only for us."
Freddie felt wetness against his face. Sam was crying again. He brushed her tears away with his finger. His heart ached with love for this girl. He wanted to hold her like this forever; make sure that no one and nothing could ever hurt her. "My Princess…" He cut himself off.
"You know…my," she paused, "my dad used to call me that."
Freddie let Sam go, and laid on his back, his head turned toward her. Sam looked down at him, a question in her eyes.
"I never knew he called you 'Princess,' Sam. I didn't mean to remind you of him when you were with me, or of how he hurt you. Or try to intrude on those memories."
Sam lay down beside him and sighed, unsure of how to respond. She knew he would never have called her that if he thought it would hurt her. And while it had stung a little in the beginning, she'd grown to see it differently.
"You weren't, Freddie. I liked it when Daddy called me 'Princess,' but it's been a long time since he did." She turned her face to look in his eyes. "When you called me that, it was coming from you, not him. 'Princess' is the name you call me. I like it."
Freddie rolled back on his side as they embraced tightly. When they finally pulled away, he leaned over and whispered into her ear, "I love you, Samantha." Sam frowned at him immediately, silently asking what was that for? "I don't think I ever called you that without meaning it to anger you. And I've never told you how much I like your full name. Samantha. It's beautiful, and it's feminine."
"Pfffft. You mean you like it because it's girly!" Sam said as she started to poke Freddie in the ribs.
"Not even close. You're not a little girl. Samantha is a beautiful name for the most beautiful woman I know."
Sam immediately pulled close to him and held him tightly around the neck.
"I still hate being called that, but thank you, Fredward. And I love you, too. Just please none of this 'Samantha' stuff around other people, okay? I have a reputation to protect!"
"No problem, Princess."
Freddie looked over at the alarm clock. "It's 5:45, Sam. My mom will be back a little after six."
"Same drill as before," Sam sighed.
Freddie didn't want Sam to have to deal with his mother when she was still upset. They were getting along much better now, which he hoped was a good sign for the future. In fact, Sam had even given his mom a card for Mother's Day on the Sunday after the prom, with a long letter in it. His mother would not let him see the letter or talk about what was in it. But even if they were getting along and she'd softened a little toward Sam, Sam was right the night she stayed with him while he sobered up: it wouldn't matter in the least if she came back and found them on Freddie's bed.
"How about some pizza—you know that place, Giuseppe's, that Carly and I always order from? They have a little dining room, one with wine bottle drip candles. Meat Special? I'm buying…"
"Well, far be it from me to turn down free meat pizza from a nub." Sam got up from the bed and stretched, smoothed out the clothes Freddie helped her rumple, turned toward the bathroom to go wash her face, but then stopped and came back to Freddie and looked him right in the eye. "Thank you for being here when I needed you." She put her arms around Freddie's back and pulled him close to her yet again. Even though he held her for several minutes more, Freddie hated to let her go.
"Besides, I've got a couple of ideas for the summer I want to tell you about…" he said cryptically behind her.
As Sam ran into the bathroom, Freddie straightened the bed's comforter and put the pillows in place. When he did this, he noticed several very long strands of blond hair on the pillow. The heck with my mother, he thought. I like knowing they're there.
They headed through the living room to the front door, Sam walking out before Freddie could open the door for her. They were almost at the elevator when Freddie stopped, looking at the window opening into the fire escape. Their fire escape, and their last stop before going out. He grabbed Sam's hand then pulled her toward the window, as he stepped through.
"What are you doing, Freddork?" Sam said through the window.
"The day you came in to watch horror movies—that was 100 days ago today, the day we really started becoming 'us.' It's time for our Hundred Day Kiss, and there's only one place I would want it to happen." Sam beamed as she moved outside.
This kiss was much less innocent, and lasted much longer than the seven, maybe eight seconds their first kiss on that fire escape took. And they were in no hurry to just get it over with.