Note: This story's been in the works since I'd finished "Always Glad You Came." Basically, I wrote it out of the desire to give Sam and Diane—particularly Diane—the "closure" they didn't quite have in the final scene of "I Do, Adieu". There, recall, Diane refuses to accept that it's goodbye. But I really felt I owed it to her, to give her and Sam the chance to truly come to terms with that fact. (Of course, we all know she comes back for the series finale, but still….)
Anyway, this first chapter practically sprung out of me, as I simply refused to accept that Diane never called Sam…or that Sam was never there to answer. I personally don't consider it AU—I don't really recall anything in the Cheers canon to discount it.
The title comes from the Three Degrees song, "When Will I See You Again?"
This tale's set, of course, between "I Do, Adieu" and "Home Is The Sailor". Enjoy!
It was the last of many calls she'd make to him, before her six months were up.
Diane Chambers sat in the bed in Sumner Sloan's cabin in Maine. Thank heaven, he'd kept his promise—and never "stopped by to see how you were faring". She suspected, somehow, that if he had—she'd have stopped, right then, right there…packed, and flown straight back to Boston—back into Cheers…back into the arms of the man she loved more than any other in this world.
But Sumner Sloan had never "stopped by". And so, Diane would call the man she loved. As the months would go on, it would be less and less frequent…but she would call, nevertheless. And now, her six months were all but up. And so she called.
She felt a smile. "Why Sam…how could you know?"
The voice of Sam Malone sounded both amused and exhausted. "Do you have any idea how late it is?"
No…no, the truth was—she didn't. She frowned, without responding, as she turned to glance at the alarm clock on the table near the bed. It was three-thirty—in the morning.
"Right," she said, now smiling at herself.
"Uh-huh—that's how." If his voice was any indication…that smile was mutual.
Diane chuckled, suddenly feeling an embarrassed flush of her alabaster cheeks. "Did I wake you?"
"No, you know how late I stay up, when I'm not with a chick." A pause, then: "Sometimes when I am, come to think of it."
Diane felt a flinch at this. She found herself wanting to ask whether he'd…seen anyone since she's left. But she didn't ask. Her heart would not allow her to ask.
His voice brought her out of it. "Work late, again?"
She shrugged. "As usual, I suppose."
"How's it coming along?"
She couldn't lie to him—after all these years, he'd long learned how to spot such things in her voice, as she could, his. "Well, um…the truth is, Sam, I've ran into a—a bit of a hindrance."
"A setback, huh? You said you were almost done, last call."
"It—it's not that, Sam. I-I am done—my novel's finished, and—"
She found herself cutting off, unable to bring herself to come out and say it all. After all her preparation for this, for what she would say and how she would say it…when the moment came—
A pause on the other end. Diane swallowed, imagining Sam Malone finding something right there on which to sit down…somehow managing to suppress the feelings struggling to burst out—the joy that his love, at last, was coming home—as far as he knew, from what she'd just said…
Oh no, Sam, I didn't mean that! Oh, my love…I'm so sorry for putting you through this moment—
"That's…that's great!" he said with what sounded so clearly like a nervous smile, "I can't—well, Diane, that's wonderful! You—you did it—"
"Sam, don't," Diane's eyes started to well up, "Please don't. I-I can't allow it…"
"Well, what—" Silence. She could see him in her mind's eye, mulling over what she'd just said…his face turning grave, and almost afraid. "Diane…they didn't—did they reject it, or something?"
"Well, um…" Diane swallowed, and blurted out, "I suppose one might say, 'It's complicated'."
Complicated, indeed. They had rejected it, after all this time spent based on that promise of theirs over the phone in Cheers, almost six months ago. Rejected, with no reasons given, nor any explanation.
And of course they did, Sumner—what did you tell them, to make them "accept" it in the first place, I wonder? Well, where were your oh-so-wonderful powers of persuasion here?
But then her agent, God bless him, had managed to convince someone in Hollywood—Hollywood!—to accept it, and on the condition that she'd adapt it into, of all things, a screenplay. It wasn't the sort of thing she was expecting—she'd never thought herself to be a screenwriter, by any means! Needless to say, this sort of thing wasn't exactly what Sam would call a "no-brainer".
To his credit, Sam didn't press her for details. But what he did say, as far as Diane was concerned, was far more painful a tug at the deepest corner of her heart:
It was calm, composed…but soft, almost—tired again, as though…as though the energy he'd felt, from the elation of thinking she'd been published, had suddenly been drained from within him. As though…
"But—Sam!" Diane quickly jumped in, "That—that doesn't change a thing. Not at all! I-I gave you my word, Sam, and I intend to—"
"Diane." Still calm. Still composed. Still tired.
Diane felt one of the tears escape. "Sam—I-I promised you—"
"I know, I was there. Diane, why did I tell you to go, anyway?"
She felt her voice rise. "Well, I don't know—why did you?"
A pause—and Diane knew, without any way to confirm, that he was giving her time to compose herself, before this would simmer up into yet another Classic Clash of Sam and Diane.
Finally, Sam replied, "Diane…I told you, I couldn't live with it—knowing that you never had the chance to…fulfill any of those great dreams you've got. Look, uh—I know this'll sound kinda silly, but I'd rather…aw, whatever, I'll say it: I'd rather be alone, and know you were out there, following your dreams, than…than just having you to myself, without anything to show for what you could've had." And after a pause, he muttered "Oh, that was sappy, wasn't it?"
Diane shook her head, smiling through the streams coming down from her eyes. "No Sam—it wasn't. It wasn't 'sappy', or 'silly'—it was…oh, Sam, it was one of the most romantic things I've ever heard you say!"
"Yeah, thanks. Whew!—that was a relief! Wait…" he sighed, "Yeah, that's how you'd think about it. Don't know what I was so worried about."
Diane chuckled silently, closing her eyes to will the rest of the tears away. "Well, you should know," she said, as she opened her eyes, "that regardless of all that—"
"Honey, listen. I said I couldn't live with it, and I mean it. I mean—geez, Diane! You deserve a heck of a lot more than to just spend your life in a bar and that crummy little house—"
"It's not crummy, Sam," Diane began to pout—but then froze, as the exact nature of his words suddenly registered.
"Sam," she swallowed, "Don't…you mean 'this crummy little house'?"
Another silence—and this time, it felt tense—almost afraid.
No, Sam—no! But, alas…his giving her his "new" number, the last time she'd called, suddenly made sense…sad, terrible sense.
Finally, Sam replied, "Uh, yeah—this house, that's what I meant—"
"Sam—" Diane shook her head, unable to believe what she was hearing, "Y-you…didn't—"
"Okay, all right, look—honey…I still own the darned thing, I've just moved back into my old apartment, just in case—well, you know—"
"Sam, don't!" Her eyes welled up again, "I…I told you I would be back in—"
"Honey, listen to me: if you've got a chance, take it. I know what you promised me—I was there, remember?"
Despite herself, Diane chuckled again, nervously. "Yes, Sam, I remember."
"Look, I guess what I'm trying to say is…whatever you said to me, Diane—you don't owe me a thing. Okay—you hear me? Not a thing."
"Sam, that's not true! I promised you—!" Her voice cut off…and the tears flowed down, despite all she could do to fight them. "Oh, God in heaven…" she managed to say—but that was all, as she let out a sob.
"Hey…hey, listen…" Sam's voice was so comforting—so…so endearing, "Hey, sweetheart—don't. You're just making it harder…not impossible." Diane heard him force a chuckle. "Yeah, listen to me—I just said something dramatic and meaningful. How about that, huh?"
The quip didn't help her recover. It just made it worse—Confound it, Sam, why do you have to be so charming—in a time like this, when everything falls apart like it just has…?
"Hey," he said, "Diane, do it for me, then…okay? I want you to do something great with your life—like you've always wanted."
She managed to gather herself with a closed-eyed sniffle, to say, "What I want, Sam, is to be with you. With you! I—I don't care if I never—"
"Don't say it, sweetheart. I don't want you to say it."
Diane swallowed. "Please, Sam…" she whispered.
She heard him sigh, and he said, "Diane…I'm not holding you to the 'six months' thing. I never held you to that—so don't you do it. If you have to stay there longer, work things out…I don't care—and I don't care if something new opens up to keep you away—okay? Just…just follow that dream, Diane. You've earned it…hear me? You deserve it."
Diane closed her eyes again, fighting the emotions clamoring to burst out from within
It's not fair—it's not fair! Why—why couldn't I finish the darned book in Boston? Why? Oh, curse you, Sumner Sloan—curse you to the deepest circle of whatever underworld exists, for forcing that choice on me—on Sam. He…he honestly believed my staying with him would smother me—and he still does! How could you come, when you did—just when he and I were going to be so happy? I swear, Sumner Sloan, you thank whatever pagan god you serve that you'll never visit me here, because the moment I'd see you, I swear I'd—
But there was nothing to change all that. That choice had already been made. And as far as Sam was concerned, so was this one—and Diane knew she could not convince him otherwise…and that were she to come back to Boston, not having succeeded in her dreams…he would never forgive himself—and certainly not her.
Diane opened her eyes. "All right, Sam," she said, her voice low and oddly calm to her ears. "But—I-I think you should know, this lady is not going to let you off that easily. I will come back to you—maybe not soon, but someday, when we're still…young and fresh with the world ahead of us. And we'll marry, and take that honeymoon in Disney as you wanted, and have that first little Malone come along, and—and that's a promise to hold me to…okay?"
And there was silence for a time, until Sam said in a careful tone, "Diane…look, I'm never gonna be as smart as you are, but one thing I've learned—and God knows I've still got to learn—is never make that kind of promise. You never know—"
"Don't say that, Sam—not again! How can you—?"
"I'm just saying…if you ever find someone—don't push him away. Okay?—not for me. I'm not worth it."
Diane froze. "Not—not worth it? How—Sam, how can you say that?"
More silence—but when he spoke at last, Diane was certain she heard tears in the voice of Sam Malone. "Because I won't be pushing the next someone away."
The blood ran cold in the veins of Diane Chambers. So, this was goodbye—just as it was, that last night, the night that should have been their wedding night.
And so, when she clutched the phone, pressing it against her ear and her mouth, she said in a near whisper. "Well…that's it then."
A pause, and Diane could picture him swallowing, forcing back his own feelings at this declaration. "Sure sounds that way," he said.
"But—Sam…if—if I do come back, someday…"
She could hear his smile. "Well, you'll know where to find me."
She nodded. "I will…." And she paused, and unable to help herself, she whispered, "Bon soir, mon coeur."
A pause from him—and he quietly replied, "Have a good life, Diane."
The words stung, as they had six months before…but this time, she didn't fight them. Diane swallowed, and nodded. "I will, Sam…"
And she heard the click—and the dial tone. She hung the receiver back where it belonged. And she looked around her—at the polished wood of the cabin, at the table beside her, with the lamp and the clock and the picture of the two of them together…. And she looked at the desk across the room where sat the typewriter—and beside it, the manuscript of the novel that was soon to begin its long, arduous transformation to a screenplay—and, God willing, a film.
She stared across the room at her future—the cruelly indifferent, cake-eating-but-not-having future that once again tore her heart in two.
"…I hope," Diane Chambers finished with a whisper…a short while before she turned off the light, laying her head on the pillow, staring at the picture by the clock and the lamp…the picture of the two of them, together.
For a while, she couldn't sleep…her memory filled with that last night—the last time she'd seen the strong, handsome face of that dashing rogue knight she'd been so proud to call her husband-to-be.
"Sam—I'm going away for six months. That's all! So no more of this 'have a good life' stuff—"
"You never know; you—you could die, I could die—the world could end…one of us could—bump our heads, and…wander the streets for the rest of our life with amnesia…or maybe—one of us will decide they want something else…."
"None of those things will happen…. I'll be back here. I will! I'll see you in six months…okay?"
And in the darkness, Diane Chambers pressed her eyes to the pillow, clutching a chunk of its cushion in her wrist and twisting it in anguish...as she at last let out all the feelings of searing pain she'd bottled up, from the moment she's walked up the steps from Cheers, that last, lonely night. And she cried herself to sleep, alone the whole night through.
Note: No, folks...this isn't the end! There's more to come; as I said, it's just the first chapter. In the meantime...please let me know your thoughts!