"Jax honey, please be still!"
Sam reached into the tub and pulled a struggling Jax from the water, wrapped him in a towel, and set him on the floor beside her. His face was all smiles as she looked into his eyes, so much like her own.
"I wanna play, Mama!"
"There's no time to play, baby. Do you know what today is?"
He nodded his head solemnly. "Mama and Daddy are gettin' hitched!"
Sam laughed at her son. She'd have to thank J'Maw Maw for that one later.
"And what do you have to do today?"
"Be a good boy."
"That's right." She leaned into the tub to let the water out, remembering a second too late that she'd left the door open as she heard a shriek of laughter and turned to see Jax running naked out of the room. She threw her head back in frustration. She was usually pretty lenient with Jax, taking as much delight in his playfulness as he did, but it was the worst time for him to be more Puckett than Benson.
Struggling to her feet she took off after him.
"Jackson Daniel Benson, you get back here right now!"
She ran into the living room to find Marissa wrapping an arm around Jax, and lifting him up. Her face screamed 'I told you so'. Sam ignored her and walked over to gather Jax. Marissa had offered to take care of him this morning but Sam had turned her down. She'd woken up this morning in full on nervous panic mode. She needed the normality of her regular routine to calm her. Or at least that's what she thought it would do. Right now she was wondering why she hadn't listened to her mother-in-law.
Mother-in-law. As in the woman who gave birth to Freddie. Freddie, the man who, in less than 5 hours, would her husband. The word sounded strange in her mouth and she could hardly wrap her mind around the concept. But none of that mattered. Ready or not she was hurtling toward the altar at warp speed.
"Thanks." She said, taking the still wet, naked Jax from Marissa's arms. "I was just getting ready to get him dressed."
Marissa looked down at her, her eyes incredulous. "How are you?"
Sam sighed and tried her hardest to look calm despite the storm of emotions raging in her chest. "I'm good…great!"
Marissa turned her head to the side, lone eye brow raised. "Samantha. You don't have to lie to me. This is a big day, a really big day. It's okay to be nervous."
Sam walked over to the sofa and took a seat, letting Jax down. Marissa would normally complain about Sam letting him run around naked but she didn't care right now. At least one person in the house was comfortable.
"What about terrified…is it okay to feel that?"
"Absolutely. I've been there." Marissa laughed at the disbelief on Sam's face. "Don't look so surprised. On my wedding day I must have thrown up three times. I was a mess."
"Great…so Freddie's right. I am like you."
"Well…in this particular instance that wouldn't be such a bad thing would it? I married the man I loved despite the fact that I spent most of the day so scared I thought I'd pass out, or hop the next bus out of town. And we had seven amazing years together." Her smile held an old sadness.
"I wish he could be here. Mr. Benson I mean. I know it would make Freddie happy."
"I wish that too. But Samantha, today isn't a day to focus on the past. Jack will always be here with us, and this day will have the two things that make Freddie happiest – you, and my grandson." She looked over at the corner of the living room. "Who is about to pee in my potted fern!"
Sam shot to her feet and scooped Jax up just in time for him to miss the fern, and soak the front of her shirt.
"Potty Mama!" he clapped his hands together, proud of himself. Potty training was proving to be a nightmare. Even as convinced as she was that Jax was a genius – he was at the moment choosing not to use those genius traits in the control of his bladder.
"Thanks Jackson…next time tell Mommy before you pee!" She kissed the top of his brown curls and headed toward his bedroom. Stopping before entering the hallway she turned to find Marissa staring into space, a soft smile on her lips. Sam had no doubt what she was thinking about. "And Marissa?"
"Thanks. For everything."
"You are most welcome. What's family for?" she laughed, "And you know you can call me … Mom … if you want."
Sam laughed and hugged Jax to her, "Baby steps Marissa. Baby steps."
Sam carried Jax back into his bedroom and dressed him in jeans and a t-shirt that said 'I'm Trouble'. She put some of his toys on the floor and set him down to play, turning on the television in the corner to play Sid the Science Kid. Jax was obsessed with this show. Every time they went for a walk now there was some new insect he knew the name of, some scientific fact he'd share with her. She swore that last week she heard him repeating the Latin name of some species. Everyone said she was crazy, except for Marissa, but she knew Jax was smarter than the average two year old. He might be mischievous and a little wild, but underneath all of that beat the heart of a genius. She supposed she had Freddie's genes to thank for that; at least that's what Marissa said.
"Jax, Mama's going to take a shower. You behave yourself, okay?"
"Aye, Aye Matey!" he laughed, totally absorbed with the pirate ship he was playing with.
After taking a hot shower that did nothing to relax here, she walked into her room and sat on the edge of the bed. She'd been doing it all morning, trying to keep the nerves at bay. Wake up Jax…sit on the bed. Feed Jax breakfast … sit on the bed. Remember this is the biggest day of your life … sit on the bed. So far it wasn't helping.
She looked over at the clock. It was ten o'clock. The wedding was at two. Four hours and counting. Sarah, Carly and Melanie would be here at eleven thirty. They'd all get dressed at the church. She probably had time for a nap. Maybe that would help her nerves. The sound of her phone drew her from her thoughts.
Freduccini: Good morning Princess Benson
Sam: Not so fast…I could still change my mind
Freduccini: Never…who would by your ham?
Sam: Good point!
Freduccini: Plus, there's my nubbish charm and boyish good looks…and that thing I do that you like
Freduccini: Only for you
Freduccini: No. Are you
Sam: I plead the fifth
Freduccini: Four more hours. I can't wait to see you. I love you
Sam: Until Forever Ends?
Freduccini: Even longer
Sam breathed a sigh of relief and lay down on the bed. Freddie always knew how to calm her down. It was one of the reasons they worked so well.
Until forever ends. That had always been the best way she knew to tell him how much she loved him. It was less of a statement and more of a promise; a promise she intended to keep.
July 14th, 2014 – the day Sam learned to believe in bad luck. The day all hell broke loose.
Standing in the middle of the dressing room at the church, she paced back and forth, alone. Her entire wedding party was gone, After her last stream of tears and expletives they'd all fled – off trying to fix the disaster that had become her wedding day.
Sam inwardly cursed herself for ignoring Marissa's warnings about bad luck, because in the time it took her to lay down for a thirty-minute nap, a hurricane of bad luck had swept into her world and was attempting to destroy everything in its path.
She'd woken to a panicked Marissa barging into the room. She'd been followed closely by a distraught Melanie and Carly. She knew it was bad news if Marissa needed reinforcements to deliver it. After telling her about a million times not to freak out, Marissa told her that Minister Prewitt's secretary had just called. He apparently had an allergic reaction to the chocolates in the gift basket they gave him last night. He was currently at Seattle General Hospital and it was unlikely he'd get out in time for the wedding.
Sam hadn't known what to say. She hadn't been to many weddings in her life but she was pretty sure having a minister there was a deal breaker. Carly told her not to worry; she had Spencer, Gibby and Uncle Carmine on phone duty trying to find a replacement.
Sam had tried to laugh it off. If necessary they could just go down to the homeless shelter and grab the priest who worked there. 'No sweat' she said. 'We're doomed' she thought.
"Well...that's not exactly all the news…exactly." Carly said softly, wringing her hands.
Sam looked into all three faces, waiting for the rest of the news. No one seemed too eager to volunteer for the job. Finally after being nudged by Carly and Melanie, Marissa spoke up.
"It's the cake."
'Oh, God, not the cake!' she thought. It was one of the only parts about all this wedding craziness she'd been excited about.
"It…it had an accident."
"The cake, had an accident? Was it driving drunk? What the heck are you guys talking about?"
Melanie came to sit beside her.
"Okay Sam, it's like this. The caterer called. They were at the reception hall, taking the cake out of the back and one of the caterers lost his footing and, well, the cake is now in the middle of 58th street."
"Sam, honey, calm down. We'll fix this…somehow." Marissa said, sitting on Sam's other side.
"Well, can't they just make me another cake?" she asked.
Carly shook her head, "There's no time Sam. I'm sorry."
Sam shook her head. This was a mess. No minister, no cake.
"Does Freddie know all of this?"
"Yeah" Carly said, "I called him right before we came over here. I told him to let us tell you."
"Okay, so what do we do now?" Sam asked, turning to Marissa.
"First, you calm down. Then we get your things together, head to the church and …hope for the best."
"Hope for the best! That's the big plan? Hope for the best!" Sam's voice rose higher and higher until she was pretty sure it could be heard by dogs in the next county.
"Sam, freaking out isn't going to help anything. This is your day…everything is going to work out." Melanie kneeled in front of her, holding her hands.
Sam sighed and agreed to their plan…flimsy as it was, and started gathering her things so they could head over to the church. Sarah was on kid duty and had taken Jax and Jason over to the Shay's apartment to get them ready. Marissa headed over to the reception hall to make sure everything (aside from the cake disaster) was okay. She'd be meeting them at the church later. Without the added distraction of chasing Jax around the apartment, she managed to throw on some clothes and meet Carly, Melanie, Sarah, and the boys in the lobby. As the doors to the elevator opened she heard her son's voice.
"Rain, rain, go away. Rain, rain, go away."
Before she could exit the elevator there was a loud 'crack' followed by a 'boom' that seemed to shake the building, sending Jax running toward her where he buried his face in her knees. She leaned down to pick him up, and noticed two things at once. First, Sarah, Melanie, and Carly all had 'the look', the same one they had when she found out Minister Rat-Face was in the hospital and her cake had died a tragic death. Second, the skies above Seattle had opened up and there now appeared to be a full-blown typhoon raging outside the lobby doors.
"You have got to be freaking kidding me!" she cried.
Carly took a step toward her. "Sam, don't…"
"If you tell me not to freak out, there will be both a wedding and a funeral today. And guess which one will be for you!" Carly stopped in her tracks and Sam felt a little bad. It wasn't Carly's fault that everything was going wrong. It wasn't her fault that they'd all be arriving at the church, soaking wet and having a wedding with no minister and no cake. It was Sam's fault. Her and her rotten luck.
She saw the outline of the limo as it pulled up to the curb and the driver exited, running through the rain and into the lobby. By the time he got through the doors he was soaked, including the newspaper he'd been holding over his head. He surveyed the scene in front of him. They must have looked like the saddest wedding party he'd ever seen. Sam was standing near the stairs, holding Jax and trying not to cry. Carly, Sarah, and Melanie stood near the doors, shaking their heads and trying to think of something to say. Jason was the only one who seemed at all happy, running circles around his mother's feet.
"Puckett-Benson wedding party?"
"That's us," Sam said, walking toward the doors. Following the driver she turned to the girls. "Well…we better go, before this day gets any worse."
They all managed to get into the limo only slightly waterlogged thanks to the umbrellas Carly had brought down. Carly and Melanie tried to create a festive atmosphere on the way to the church, asking the driver to put on some music and opening a bottle of champagne. When Adele's voice thundered through the limo as she sang 'Set Fire to the Rain', Carly launched herself toward the front seat begging the driver to change the station and they all spent the rest of the drive in silence.
Sam felt her phone vibrate and looked down to see an incoming call from Freddie. No way was she answering that. She wasn't real clear on how this whole wedding superstition thing worked, but she was pretty sure that seeing him on their wedding day was what started this whole disaster. And she already talked to him by text message this morning, just adding to the curse. No way was she going to risk making it worse. He called two more times and she ignored both, eventually turning off her phone. That's when Carly's phone started to ring.
"Hello…Freddie? Yeah, she's with us. How am I supposed to know why she's not answering her phone?" Carly rolled her eyes. "I'm not asking her that. No! Alright…but I'm warning you…it won't go well." Carly reached over and offered Sam her phone. Sam looked at the phone, back and Carly and then returned to staring out the window. "Hey. No, it's Carly. I told you she wasn't going to talk. Good news? Really?" Carly's frown steadily turned until she was beaming at Sam, patting her knee. "Yeah, of course I'll tell her. Alright, see you soon."
Sam reluctantly turned to Carly, who was bouncing in her seat.
"They found a minister!"
"What?" Sam said, scared to believe her.
"They found a minister! He'll be at the church by one thirty!"
Sam sighed in relief. Finally, something going right!
"Oh my God Carly! Are you serious!"
"True chizz!" she said, immediately covering her mouth and looking over at Jax who was, thankfully, to busy playing with Jason to have noticed or repeated what she'd said. "And they figured out what to do about the cake!"
"Thank God! I was starting to believe Marissa's crazy warnings."
"What warnings?" Sarah asked.
Sam laughed. It was sort of funny when she thought about it now. "She said that it was bad luck for Freddie and me to see each other on our wedding day."
"Oh, I've heard that! It's totally true." Melanie said, "But, wait…you didn't see Freddie today, did you?"
Sam bit her lip, "Well, I may or may not have snuck out last night and we may or may not have lost track of the time. So I might still have been kissing him at … twelve fifteen."
"Sam!" all three women said in unison.
"But it's fine! We have a minister, we have a cake…crisis averted!" She smiled at them, but now they all looked the way she'd felt five minutes ago. "Come on you guys, you can't believe in all that superstitious mumbo jumbo."
"Well…I mean I do believe in it, but it looks like everything has worked out so… "Melanie gave her a tentative smile, "I guess it's okay. But just in case, I'm gonna be on Freddie duty today. No way he's seeing you before the ceremony!"
"Mel!" Sam cried.
"What! Someone has to take care of the important stuff." Melanie laughed and the atmosphere inside the limo improved…even more once the champagne bottle started to make the rounds.
'This might just all work out' she'd thought 'It can't get any worse, right?'
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
With a belly full of champagne and nerves, she was pacing around the small dressing room wondering what the protocol was for wedding day disasters. It was one o'clock. She was supposed to be getting married in an hour. But in the hour since she'd arrived at the church, she'd lost count of how many things had gone wrong. She wasn't superstitious, not before today at least, but even she had to admit that things weren't just regular run of the mill bad. This was a mess of epic proportions.
Seattle was in the middle of the worst storm in a decade. The streets were so flooded that police were starting to close off the streets, and the church she was sitting in happened to be right in the middle of the worst of it. She'd expected to see her mother and grandmother early so they could help her get ready. When they hadn't shown up by twelve thirty she started to get worried. And that worry turned to panic when Marissa broke the news that her mother's street was flooded and they couldn't get the car to start. In the middle of this storm taxis were out of the question. They were trying their hardest to find a solution and everyone had told her to calm down, something she was really tired of hearing, and all she could think of was the fact that on the most important day of her life she'd have no family there.
Her family had been witness to all the mistakes she made, every fight, every suspension, every stint in juvie. They'd seen her pregnant at seventeen and in labor when she should have been walking the stage at graduation. Just this once she wanted them to see her at her best, wanted to see her stand next to the most amazing man in the world and listen when he said that she was the one he wanted to spend forever with. Now, that might not happen.
Last night she told Freddie that what they shared wasn't a fluke. But now she wondered. Was she even entitled to this happiness? She'd had a life with Freddie already, one that she'd been pretty happy with. Sure, there were no rings, no ceremonies, no official looking papers to confirm what they meant to each other. Maybe she was being greedy by messing with it. Maybe the disarray this day had become was fate's way of telling her that they were making a mistake.
Sam sat down in the quiet room and put her head in her hands. Her dress hung high on a hanger across from her, mocking her. In the beginning, when she came back from Willacoochee and had Jax, she spent every day in silent fear that one day she'd wake up and find it had been a dream. That at some point Freddie would look at her and instead of seeing how much he loved her, he'd see that he'd made a mistake. Over time that fear had quieted, eventually relegated to a small corner in her mind. Today it returned full force, sweeping over her in waves until she thought she'd drown in it, and she was too tired to resist.
How dare she think that after a lifetime of mistakes she'd be allowed to be so happy? For as long as she could remember, everything she'd ever loved had eventually turned to crap. Freddie and Jax were the only thing she'd ever done right. And now, just when she thought she'd have a lifetime to enjoy some happiness, everything was a mess. At this point she wondered if they'd ever make it to the altar. Or if they even should.
'I should have gone to Vegas' Freddie thought as he stood in the center of his dressing room staring into Spencer's grinning face. When Carly had told him that the minister was going to be a no-show, he'd done what he did best – he started working on a solution. After only thirty minutes of phone calls, Spencer saved the day. He found someone who could marry them for half of what they were paying Minister Prewitt and he could be at the church in an hour. Freddie had been relieved, that was until Spencer had shown up a few minutes ago.
"Spencer. Where's the minister?" he asked, looking over Spencer's shoulder at the person following close behind. "And why is T-Bo here?"
"He's your minister!"
"Gimme some!" T-Bo said, bumping fists with Spencer as they both stood looking entirely too pleased with themselves.
"Wait a minute. What?"
"He's your minister!"
"Yeah! Just call me Minister T-Bo!"
Freddie stood open mouthed, looking back and forth between the two of them, unable to believe what he was hearing. Sam was going to flip. It wasn't that she didn't like T-Bo—no one disliked T-Bo-but when they imagined their wedding day he didn't think either of them thought they'd be saying their vows in front of a man who sold stuff on sticks.
T-Bo stepped toward Freddie, offering him a crumpled piece of paper.
"It's my certification. I got it online! Look, it's got a fancy stamp on it and everything!"
Freddie muttered under his breath, "You have got to be kidding me." Looking up at T-Bo he took it all in. The dude rag, the bright orange shirt, and the cargo shorts pockmarked with fruit stains, all topped off with a nametag that had 'Minister' hand written above his name. "Where's your suit?"
"Oh, well I didn't have time to go get my suit, but look," he said, digging a hand into his pocket, "I got a tie!"
Before Freddie could respond there was a knock on the door and Carly poked her face in.
"Is everyone decent?" she asked.
"Yeah, come on in kid!" Spencer opened the door to let her in.
"Did you know about this?" Freddie asked as Carly entered the room holding Jax on her hip.
"Know about what?" she asked, handing Jax to Freddie. "Hey T-Bo," she said noticing him for the first time. "What are you doing here…in your uniform?"
"He's our minister…" Freddie said, his voice strained.
Carly's eyes went wide. "He's what?"
"The minister!" Spencer and Freddie said in unison.
"Oh my God, does Sam know?" Carly asked.
"No…and she's not going to either, Carly. No one tells her…got it?" He searched Carly's face, "Wait a minute. Aren't you supposed to be with Sam now, helping her get ready?"
"Yeah…about that. She sort of…threw us all out." The end of her sentence was a whisper but Freddie heard it.
"Daddy?" Freddie looked down onto his lap at Jax who was tugging on Freddie's tie to get his attention.
"Why is Mama crying?"
Freddie's eyes shot up at Carly who looked like she wanted to cry too. This was just great. They were being married by a guy in cargo shorts, there would be no cake at the reception, Sam's family was M.I.A., she had no one to walk her down the aisle, and now she was somewhere in this church, alone and crying. What else could go wrong?
He started to reassure Jax, convince him that his mother was okay, but before he could the lights overhead began to flicker – and then went out.
He'd spoken too soon.
Jax was crying, Carly was screaming, and Freddie was thinking it no longer mattered what T-Bo had on because no one would be able to see him in the dark. Freddie drew in a deep breath. He wasn't scared and he wasn't worried – he was pissed! This was supposed to be the best day of his life – it was the best day of his life. Today he was finally going to marry the woman he'd loved for as long as he'd known what the word meant. He'd fought long and hard to convince her that this was the right decision, that they were ready to make this step, and he was damned if he was going to let anything mess it up. Freddie was a fixer – it's what he did. When there was a problem, he thought, he planned, and he fixed it. Today was not going to be any different.
His mother entered the room, her voice loud, adding to the jumble of panicked voices around him. It was too much. All of this was just too damn much and he'd had enough. He sat Jax down on the sofa and stood.
"Everyone shut up!" he screamed.
The room went silent as they all turned to Freddie in shock. Freddie wasn't a screamer, but he was desperate.
"I mean it Mom. Everyone be quiet!" he paused, analyzing the situation, determining his course of action. "This is my wedding day. Sam's and my wedding day. Now I don't want to hear anything else about what's gone wrong or what's messed up," he turned to his mother, "or what bad luck we're having. I know things haven't gone exactly as we planned, but I refuse to let this ruin Sam's day. Now, we've got almost an hour until the wedding, so we're all gonna suck it up, quit talking about what's wrong and fix it! Got it?" he said, leaving no room for disagreement.
"Got it." They all said in unison.
"Alright, now, Gibby and Michael?"
"I want you to go to the store across the street and buy all the fat cakes they've got."
"What for?" Gibby asked
"Don't ask questions Gibby! Just do it…please."
"I'm on it," Gibby said, dragging Michael from his spot on the sofa and heading for the door.
"Sam's family can't get here because Pam's car won't start right?"
"That's what they said."
"Get them on the phone, tell them to load up the RV."
"But Freddie, that RV is…not exactly appropriate for a wedding."
"Mom, how you feel about the RV doesn't matter now. Sam needs her family here. We're gonna make that happen, okay?"
Marissa nodded and walked to the corner of the room to place the call.
"I want you to go through this building and find every candle you can." He watched as Carly's eyes grew wide, "On second thought, scratch that. Carly, you and Melanie go find candles. Where is Melanie, anyway?"
"Standing guard outside Sam's dressing room."
"She said that you guys have already had too much bad luck so she's standing there to make sure you don't try to get in and see Sam."
Freddie considered the situation. "Alright, you go find the candles and take Jax to Sarah. Spencer, you come with me."
They all headed out the door into the darkened church. The sound of rain pounding against the roof was the only thing breaking the silence. Heading up the stairs, Freddie approached Sam's dressing room, stopping down the hall and motioning Spencer to stand behind him.
"Spencer," he whispered. "I need you to distract Melanie so I can get in to talk to Sam."
"You got it!" Spencer replied, walking toward the door where Melanie stood, looking nervous.
"Hey Spencer," she said, looking suspiciously over his shoulder. "Do you know what happened to the lights? Is Freddie with you?"
"Freddie? No! Haven't you heard it's bad luck for him to see the bride on the wedding day?"
"I keep telling people that!" she said, "So why are you here? Is something wrong?"
"Wrong? No, nothing's wrong. I mean besides the whole 'getting married in the dark' thing. I just um, came up here to, uh…ask you to come with me. Away…to uh, to the basement!"
"To the basement? In the dark? Why?"
"Why? Oh, um, because I need to show you…this giant rat I saw down there!"
Freddie shook his head. He'd totally forgotten how bad Spencer was at lying. This was never going to work.
"A rat? Spencer I don't want to see a giant rat. Plus I need to stay here for Sam, she's really freaking out in there."
"If she's freaking out in there, why are you standing out here?"
"She sort of threatened to kill me if I came back in."
"Oh, okay. So are you ready?"
"For the wedding?"
"No…to see the giant rat!"
"Spencer, I'm not going with you to see a rat!"
The door behind her cracked open and Sam's tear stained face emerged.
"What the hell is going on out there?"
"Nothing Sam, Spencer was just leaving, right Spencer?" Melanie said.
"Right, I was just leaving. I've got…a thing…to do. So…bye!"
Spencer turned on his heel and walked back to the wall Freddie was hiding behind.
"What the hell was that, Spencer? You were supposed to distract her!"
"I'm sorry Freddie…she's not easily distracted!"
Freddie ran a hand wearily over his neck. Time for plan B. It was crazy and maybe a little dangerous, but at this point he didn't have much choice. He needed to see Sam. He needed to know that she was okay.
"Spencer. I need you to find me a ladder."
Sam closed the door to the room despite Melanie's protests that she shouldn't be alone. Seclusion was exactly what Sam wanted right now. Everything was bad enough without having to deal with her sister prattling on about bad luck. In recent years she'd gotten her violent streak mostly under control – having Melanie in the room right now might just undo all that progress. Plus, if she opened her mouth to talk to anyone she was scared the only words that would come out would be "Stop the wedding! This is a mistake!" As much as she might be feeling it, she wasn't ready to say it.
She turned toward the muffled sound of her name and saw nothing. Great. On top of everything else, she was losing her mind.
"Sam!" the voice was louder now, accompanied by what sounded like someone knocking on glass. Looking toward the side of the room, she saw a shadow outside the window. She walked slowly toward the window and pulled back the partially open curtains. Realizing who it was, she wrapped the curtain around herself, hiding from view.
"Sam, open the window! I'm getting soaked out here!"
Sam considered her options: considered leaving the room, or not opening the window. But she was tired, exhausted from the effort of holding her world together. Looking out into the downpour, at the outline of Freddie's hand as he pressed it to the window, she gave in. Unwrapping herself from the curtain, she walked to the window and raised it, stepping back as a water logged Freddie stuck his head inside.
"Freddie, what the hell are you doing?"
"Coming to save the princess." He smiled and heaved himself over the windowsill and into the room. He was soaking wet, water dripping from his hair that now hung down into his eyes, running down the tux that was now sticking to him and forming a puddle at his feet.
Sam couldn't meet his eyes and instead turned away, crossing her arms over her chest. The sound of banging on the door drew their attention and Freddie rushed across the room in time to see Melanie's face peeking through the door.
"Freddie! You can't be in here!" She pushed the door and attempted to enter the room.
"No offense, Melanie, but get the hell out!" He slammed the door on his irate future sister-in-law, and locked it to prevent any further interruption, trying to ignore the loud, steady knocking.
Sam remained facing away from him, her eyes closed. Just hearing his voice was breaking her heart, there was no way she could look him in the eye. Freddie knew her better than anyone, and just one look would show him that the fear he'd spent two years trying to dispel had returned and held an iron grip on her heart.
She heard him approach her from behind and flinched when she felt his hands on her arms.
"Baby, look at me." His voice was so gentle. She wished she could just melt into his arms. She wished she could be as sure now as she'd been a day ago. She wished she wasn't such a coward.
"I can't," she whispered.
"What do you mean? You can't what?"
She shut her eyes tightly. Her throat closed and refused to let her speak.
"Sam, please…you're scaring me."
"I'm sorry, Freddie."
"Sorry for what?" Please don't do this. Please don't run away now.
"For this…all of this. The wedding is a mess. The day is a disaster. It's…"
"Sam, what do you have to be sorry for? We had some problems…we aren't the first people to get married that had a few problems on their wedding day. It's not a big deal."
She turned to him then. How did he not understand what this meant- what it all meant?
"Don't you get it? Can't you see what this all means?" She walked over to the chaise and sat down, staring at her ringless hand. "It's not about the cake or the rain, or even the fact that we're getting married by the dude who serves us smoothies!"
"They told you about that?"
"Yes, Melanie told me, but that's not the point. None of those things are the problem, not really."
"So what is the problem?"
"Me, Freddie! It's me. I…It's always been like this. Nothing ever works out for long, nothing ever stays good, never! Everything I touch just gets messed up and Freddie…if you do this, if we do this, and we get messed up too I won't be able to handle it." She was sobbing in earnest now, her breath coming in shallow gasps. "I'm scared, Freddie! And I'm angry! All I want, all I ever wanted was to be able to love you. All I wanted for today was to see your face and know you were proud….know that finally after all the crap we've had to deal with, life wasn't going to be so damn hard! But it doesn't stop. No matter what we fight, there's always another fight coming. No matter how hard we try…"
Freddie sat beside her and reached out for her hand.
"Sam…this is ridiculous. You can't possibly think that any of this changes anything?"
She turned to him with fire in her eyes.
"Wake up, Freddie! We're barely twenty years old and we've been through hell and back. And for one day was supposed to go right. Instead, the one day that will prove to everyone that we belong together, is falling apart. You don't think that means something?"
"No, Sam, I don't! For God's sake, just look at me!" He reached out and raised her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. "All of this-the problems, the bad luck, all of it-only means as much as we allow it to, and I refuse to let anything change what I feel for you. I don't care about the stupid cake, or the minister or the rain or any of that! And I don't care what anyone else thinks about us – we have nothing to prove Sam! Nothing!"
She looked into his eyes, trained on her, unflinching.
"None of this matters." He wrapped her hand in his and placed it on his chest. "This is what matters Sam. You and me. We're what matters. Nothing else. Yes, this day has been hell. And yes, it's scary but if I had to relive this disaster of a day a million times to make you mine I'd do it. And if I have to deal with things a thousand times worse than this for you to be my wife I will, because it's worth any price I have to pay to know that you'll be with me forever. You're worth it to me, Princess." His voice softened as he placed a hand to her cheek, "I know you're scared and that makes you want to run, but I can't let you do that-not this time. Because even if you're having a hard time believing in this – in us, right now, it doesn't matter. I believe it, Sam, enough for both of us. And I'll believe every minute of every day for the rest of our lives." He ran his thumb over her cheek, "You say you want me to be proud. How could you not know that I don't need any of this to make me proud of you. I'm proud of you every time I watch you with Jax and I see what an amazing mother you are – even though you never had anyone to show you how. I see how you've faced down things that would have destroyed other people. I see how strong you are, I see your beautiful heart and I can't feel anything but pride. Samantha Puckett, you are greatest, most surprising, amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I don't need a church full of people. I only need to spend the rest of my life with you."
Sam sniffled, wiping her nose with the soggy handkerchief Freddie offered her.
"I'd marry you right here, soaking wet in the dark, if I had to."
Sam studied his face. He meant that; she could tell. And while the fear didn't leave, the love she felt coming off of him in waves was enough to push it back and let her breathe.
"Let's do it."
She stood and faced him. "You said you'd marry me right here in the dark, soaking wet…so let's do it."
"What about the minister?"
"You said you didn't need all of that."
"I don't! But, you sort of have to have it to make the whole thing legal."
Sam smiled for the first time in what felt like forever. "When have you known me to be interested in what is or isn't 'legal'?" she laughed, "And we can still do the whole thing in front of everyone. I just…I need to do this. Please?"
Freddie stood and took both of her hands in his.
"Whatever you need. So, how does this work?"
"Well, I hadn't really thought about it…I wasn't so sure you'd say yes."
"Don't worry about it, we'll wing it…we're good at that." He laughed, "Just follow my lead."
He stared down into Sam's eyes, and here in the darkened room, with water filling his shoes and Sam in a white robe, he spoke the most important words of his life.
"Samantha Joy Puckett, if anyone had told me that first day of kindergarten that the girl who hit me in the head with the shovel would one day hold my heart I don't think either of us would have believed it. Loving you has been the greatest surprise, and the greatest gift I've ever been given. There is not a part of me that isn't already yours. Everything I have and am belonged to you long before today, and I will continue to be yours long after this. Today I promise to always put you first. I promise to protect you, to guard your heart, to encourage your dreams and to cherish you as the treasure that you are. From this day on, you'll never be alone. We face our fears together, and our happiness is that much sweeter because we share it. Thank you for accepting me as I am. Thank you for welcoming me into your heart, and agreeing to live in mine. I love you, until forever ends."
Sam didn't bother trying not to cry. As she watched the tears fall from Freddie's eyes, she felt free, freer than she ever had. She didn't have to hide, not from him. She didn't have to be afraid. She took a deep breath and said the words written in her heart.
"I used to be afraid of love, afraid to give my heart away. I never believed in fairytales. I thought they were for other girls, not for me. But then I met you and because of you now I know what love really is. You're the reason I believe in happy endings. You came into my life and loved me in spite of me. You took my hand and refused to let go. You saw the best in me, even when I couldn't see it myself and filled the empty space inside my heart. So today I give you the heart you helped to heal. In good times, I'll give you my joy. In hard times, I'll give you my strength, and in the spaces in between I'll give you all the love I have to give. I promise to be only yours, until forever ends."
Freddie squeezed her hand and leaned toward her, his voice low.
"Can I kiss the bride?"
"Every day for the rest of your life."
And this kiss was better than the first time, or any time since. His lips were soft as they moved against hers. She reached up and tangled a hand in his still wet hair, pulling him closer. Without words, in the middle of chaos, they found peace, a secret place the storms outside couldn't penetrate.
When they finally pulled away they stood, wrapped in each other's arms, neither wanting to say anything.
"Samantha and Fredward!" Marissa's voice was urgent outside the door as she banged against the wood.
"To face your mother?"
He laughed, "I meant are you ready to get married…again."
Squeezing his hand, Sam smiled up into the face of the only man she'd ever love. In all the ways that mattered, she'd already given herself to him; she was already his. The rest of this day was a formality.
"Yeah…let's do it."
It felt like a brand new day. Nothing had changed really. She was still going to be married by T-Bo in his bright orange Groovy Smoothie shirt. They still had no cake, and the lights had yet to come back on, but her family had managed to brave the storm thanks to J'Maw Maw's giant RV and knowing she was surrounded by the people who loved her made the other things feel less important. Standing in the middle of the dressing room, waiting for her mother to zip her dress, Sam felt different. Her happiness was apparently contagious as all the women gathered around her mirrored her smiles; laughing and telling her how beautiful she looked. She felt beautiful.
"There you go, Sammy." her mom said, finishing the zipper and standing back to look at her.
"Here's your veil, Carly said, walking toward her.
"I'll take that, Carly." J'Maw Maw took the veil from Carly and moved to stand in front of Sam, fastening it to her hair. Sam stood still as Carly and Melanie smoothed her veil in the back. Her grandmother was beaming, her eyes shiny with tears. Her veil finally fixed, she turned to face the women who were most important to her. The room was silent.
"Well…" she said, twirling softly for effect.
"Wow, Sam." Carly said, dabbing at her eyes. Melanie only smiled, crying too hard to speak.
"Sam, you look absolutely stunning," J'Maw Maw said, reaching out to grab her hand. "I don't think I've ever been more proud of you than I am right now."
Sam reached out and hugged her grandmother. "I love you."
"Right back atcha, J'Maw Maw winked at her and headed out the door.
Marissa told the bridesmaids it was time to line up. The lineup had changed a bit. No power in the church meant no music, so Carly offered to sing while the other bridesmaids and Sam walked down the aisle. She told Sam the song would be a surprise. They all hugged her as they left, looking as nervous as she felt.
Left alone in the room with her mother and Marissa, Sam took deep breaths. She wasn't afraid anymore, just anxious to announce to the world the promises she'd made to Freddie not thirty minutes ago.
Sam turned to face her mother. She had to hand it to her-Pam Puckett really cleaned up nice. She was wearing an entirely appropriate floor length gown in a blue the same as her eyes. Gone was her usual smirk and she looked ten years younger. She looked beautiful. Walking over to Sam she seemed at a loss for words. Pam Puckett was never at a loss for words.
"You know I'm not good with all this mushy mother-daughter stuff."
"Yeah," Sam laughed, "I know."
"But I just want you to know that…I'm proud of you kid. I didn't give you the best start in life, but you turned out alright. Better than alright…you're a pretty amazing woman." She looked down at her hands and when she faced Sam again, there were tears shining in her eyes. "I just want you to know that…that I love you." Clearing her throat, she looked at Sam once more and headed for the door. Turning at the doorway she laughed, "Don't trip down the aisle. You know me; I'll laugh first and help you later." She shut the door behind her and Sam shook her head. Some things never change.
Marissa turned to Sam, fluffing her veil and straightening the bottom of her dress. Standing, she checked her watch.
"Well, Sam, honey, it's time."
Sam followed Marissa out the door and down the hall. Standing outside of the sanctuary was Uncle Carmine, looking particularly dapper in his tuxedo. Marissa reached up and lowered Sam's veil, resting it on her shoulders. "I love you, Samantha."
Sam drew in a breath. Marissa had never said that to her. "I love you too." Sam said. Watching as Marissa walked into the church she put her arm through Uncle Carmine's, trying to keep her hands from shaking. Placing a large warm hand around hers, Uncle Carmine looked down at her.
"Don't worry Sammy, you're gonna do just fine." His smile was reassuring and as the doors to the sanctuary opened she began to walk with him down the center aisle, her eyes resting on Freddie, as Carly began to sing.
From this moment life has begun. From this moment you are the one
Right beside you is where I belong
From this moment on
From this moment I have been blessed. I live only for your happiness
And for your love I'd give my last breath
From this moment on
Carly's voice echoed out in the silent room, the word reflecting exactly what was in Sam's heart. Freddie stood next to T-Bo. His hair was still wet, and his tie was crooked, but the smile on his face lit up the whole room. This was the face she'd imagined, this is how she'd wanted him to look at her. She had to force herself not to run down the aisle and jump into his arms.
I give my hand to you with all my heart. Can't wait to live my life with you, can't wait to start
You and I will never be apart. My dreams came true because of you
From this moment as long as I live. I will love you, I promise you this
There is nothing I wouldn't give
From this moment on
You're the reason I believe in love. And you're the answer to my prayers from up above
All we need is just the two of us. My dreams came true because of you
From this moment as long as I live. I will love you, I promise you this
There is nothing I wouldn't give
From this moment
I will love you as long as I live
From this moment on
Sam made it to the altar as the last notes of Carly's song rang out. Uncle Carmine placed Sam's hand in Freddie's, giving Freddie one last threatening look before stepping back to stand behind the couple. The look was lost on Freddie. Since Sam had entered those doors, she was the only thing he'd seen.
"You look beautiful," he whispered.
"You look wet," she laughed.
"Some crazy lady made me wait in the rain outside her window."
T-Bo cleared his throat and Sam and Freddie reluctantly turned their attention to him.
Despite the bright shirt, stained pants and the distinct aroma of blueberries coming from him, T-Bo conducted the ceremony with more solemnity than anyone present thought possible. Even so, Sam found it difficult to concentrate on what he was saying, frequently stealing glances at Freddie, who would usually be staring right back at her. She'd never been so happy.
The ceremony was quick, they repeated the words that T-Bo told them to, exchanged the rings and finally, finally held their breath as T-Bo said the words that made it all official.
"By the power vested in me by the State of Washington, I now pronounce you man and wife." Sam faced Freddie, and they both looked up and T-Bo, waiting for him to continue. T-Bo stared down at them all smiles, finally realizing he'd forgotten the best part. "Oh, yeah – go on and kiss her man!"
Freddie lifted her veil and wrapped his arms around her waist. Sam looked over at Marissa who seemed to be holding her breath –bracing herself for a display like they'd given at the rehearsal. She didn't have to worry. The kiss was soft, sweet and appropriately short. They had all the time in the world for fiery kisses, and they had nothing to prove.
"I now present to you…Mr. and Mrs. Fredward Benson!"
Freddie threw their joined hands in the air as the sanctuary erupted in applause. They walked together down the aisle and into the small dressing room that just a few hours earlier had housed a much different atmosphere. The rain was preventing a big send off before the reception so there would be no running through the crowd into the waiting limo as bubbles were blown at them. Sam didn't mind that…she'd thought the whole idea was pretty lame. As they entered the door there was a crackling sound and the room suddenly filled with light.
"Oh great…now you decide to come back on!" she laughed and turned to face Freddie who was leaning against the wall, staring at her. "You're staring." She laughed.
"I know," he said, his voice low as he walked toward her. "Have I told you how absolutely beautiful you look?"
"The last time I saw you I had on a robe, so…no" she leaned into his arms as he stood in front of her, "but thank you."
"You happy?" he whispered in her ear.
"I can honestly say that I've never been happier."
"Knock, knock. Everyone decent?" Marissa's voice called from outside.
"Yeah, Marissa…we're decent." Sam and Freddie both laughed. After the last time she didn't think Marissa would ever just open the door to a room they were in alone again. "Come on in."
She cracked the door and peered in. "Just wanted to let you know the limo is out front, and someone is pretty anxious to see you." She opened the door wider and Jax flew in, making a beeline for Sam.
Sam leaned down and scooped him up, peppering his face with kisses. Freddie shook his head, and walked over to the two of them.
"What about me?"
Jax turned his head to Freddie for all of two seconds. "Hi Daddy." He said, turning his attention back to Sam. Freddie didn't blame him. Marissa had come in to stand beside him and they both watched and Sam danced around the room with Jax, both of them laughing.
"You were just like that, you know."
"Really...you mean crazy about you and totally ignoring dad." He laughed.
"Until you were about three. Then you and your dad were inseparable."
"So eventually this ends?" Freddie asked
"No it doesn't." Sam said from across the room, "Jax is going to be crazy about me forever, right?" she asked him.
"Crazy! Crazy like grandma!" he said, looking at his grandmother, oblivious to the stunned looks on his parents' faces.
"Jackson Daniel!" Freddie scolded, trying very hard not to laugh at the confusion on Jax' face and the embarrassment on Sam's. "That's not a nice word." He turned to his mother, "Mom…I, uh, I don't know where he got that."
Marissa walked over to Sam and lifted Jax from her arms, still smiling to Sam's surprise.
"Marissa…I…" Sam stuttered.
"Oh calm down Samantha, you've been calling me that for so long it's almost a nick name," she said, swinging Jax onto her hip. "Besides, I've got five whole days to de-program him." She laughed looking down at Jax, "You're going to have lots of fun with Grandma, aren't you, Jackson?"
Sam shook her head as Marissa and Jax headed out the door, Jax blowing her kisses over Marissa's shoulder.
"Your mother wants to de-program our son." She walked over to Freddie and eased onto his lap. "There had better not be any tick baths."
"Don't worry, baby." Freddie kissed her neck, "Tick baths don't start until you're three. We'll be back way before that." He laughed as Sam elbowed him. "So, you ready to go?"
Sam began placing kisses along his jawline. "Can't we just go straight to the hotel?"
"Trust me…I'd much rather be behind closed doors with you than at the reception."
"Naked behind closed doors…"
Freddie closed his eyes. Damn the stupid reception.
"Well," he whispered in her ear, "You know the limo has doors. And the reception doesn't start for," he looked at his watch, "another hour."
Sam stood and smoothed her dress, "So what are we waiting for." She reached out her hand for Freddie's, her eyes twinkling. Freddie grasped her hand and followed her out of the room.
"After you, Princess Benson."