Chapter Fourteen

Fifteen minutes quickly passed and the plastic and concrete of the city soon gave way to the brittle, scorched greenery of the moisture-starved countryside. We drove down a narrow, rough country lane and, as we approached a lay-by, I pulled in and stopped the car. For a moment we sat quietly together, subdued by what we had seen and had left behind in the city.

'What's going on?' Samantha asked. I felt sure that she knew I could not answer her. 'I mean,' she continued, 'we only drove into a part of the city, imagine what it's like...'

'It's not worth thinking about,' I interrupted. 'It's just what we're all feeling. We're both worried but we're able to control ourselves and not do anything...'

I shut up quickly as I realised that my meaningless words were helping no-one. Sam opened the car door and turned around on the seat so that her feet dangled outside. She breathed the warm night air in deeply and I watched her as she stood up and walked away. It was obvious that she was frightened and that she was trying to hide her fear from me. In reality I was equally scared and could offer frustratingly little comfort.

I climbed out of the car and followed Samantha as she walked towards the brittle, dying hedgerow which separated the road from the fields beyond. I put my arm gently around her and held her close to me. Despite the raging heat that suffocated everything around us, the warmth of her body next to mine was soothing and almost cooling. I turned her around so that she was looking towards me and looked deep into her troubled face. A single tear fell from her eye and trickled slowly down her perfect skin before she lifted her hand and wiped it away, ashamed at herself for having let her emotions show so readily.

'Come on,' I said. 'Don't cry. We're going to be all right.'

My words sounded hollow and they echoed through the strange stillness of the silent countryside. Samantha forced herself to smile.

'I'm okay,' she said, sniffing back more tears. 'It's just that I know things are going to get worse before they get any better, and I don't think I'll be able to get through them without you.'

'I'm not going anywhere,' I said, foolishly.

'No, but I am. Christ, Steve, I'm scared to death.'

'If it hadn't been for you, I'd have lost control a long time ago,' I whispered. 'You're the reason that I've managed to get through the last few days and if you think I'm ever going to let you go then you've got another think coming.'

'Will you come with us tomorrow?' she asked, hopefully. I knew that there was no way I could travel up to the coast with Sam and her family and, besides, there were things that I would need to sort out at home before I could leave.

'I can't,' I said, sadly. 'I won't be able to leave in time in the morning.'

Perhaps I was just fooling myself. If I was brutally honest, there was nothing I needed to do at home or at the office which couldn't wait. I desperately wanted to travel with Samantha, but I could not face the prospect of intruding on the privacy of her family at such an uncertain time. I knew that it was weak of me, and it was shallow, but there was nothing I could do that would change the way I felt.

'As soon as you can then?' she said and I nodded.

'First chance I get and I'll be coming straight to you.'

She smiled again, and I felt a little better.

'Anyway,' I continued, 'let's forget about tomorrow until it arrives. Let's make the most of what we've got left tonight now that it's here.'

I held Sam a little way away from me and looked deep into her mesmerising eyes, glinting with moisture in the low light of evening. Slowly, and with a strange trepidation, I moved my head towards hers and lightly kissed her soft lips.

Samantha took my hand and led me towards the hedge in front of us. We walked along the harsh and spiky border until we found a place where it thinned enough to allow us to clamber through into the field beyond. The parched grass was so dry that it crunched under my feet and the noise of our footsteps was the only sound that could be heard.

We walked a few yards into the field before Samantha stopped and turned around to face me once more. With a trembling hand she undid the top button of her dress before reaching out for me again. Again we kissed, more passionately than before and then, with excitement mounting, I began to undo the rest of her dress. Slowly at first, and then with desire accelerating us, we tore the clothes from each other's bodies until we stood naked in the evening silence. I took her shoulders in my hands and pulled her gently to the ground. Samantha writhed with pleasure as I entered her and as the brittle, coarse grass tickled and played on her naked, exposed skin. Slowly, and with a passion the like of which neither of us had dared imagine before, we made love for what felt like hours. The world was silent save for our whispers and moans of pleasure which shattered the fragile peace. I could not begin to describe the pleasure that Samantha's body brought to me in those moments.

After what had felt like a blissful eternity, I climbed from her and lay exhausted at her side. Holding each other tightly, we both floated away into a light, untroubled sleep.

I was woken with a sharp jolt to find Samantha frantically shaking my shoulder. She was fully dressed and, as I pulled myself up onto my elbows, I felt a familiar and immediately disturbing hot wind blowing into my face. I struggled to keep open my sleep-filled, tried eyes and squinted through the darkness to stare at a horizon which had begun to glow and, incredibly, to change colour.

Samantha knelt at my side and shook me continually until I was wide awake and sitting up. I fumbled on the ground beside me to find my trousers and shirt and pulled them on quickly. I held Sam close to me as we watched the entire sky change colour from dark purple to a bright orange which then melted into almost a brilliant vibrant yellow. The warm wind continued to blow and it made it difficult for me to watch with dry, stinging eyes. As the sky lightened further still, my skin began to prickle and it felt as if brilliant sunlight was scorching my face.

As it had done before, once the light had reached a brilliant crescendo of bright colour, it quickly began to mutate and dissolve back through the various shades and hues until its original tone was restored. The wind died down and I held Samantha tightly as we sat motionless, transfixed and confused. Although the last vestiges of sleep still slowed and dulled my tired brain, I knew at once that what we had just experienced was another energy pulse. I did not need to wait for scientific proof or official confirmation to tell me that this new wave had been stronger and had lasted far longer than any other that we had felt before.

My first and most immediate reaction was to try and find something strong and supportive to say to Samantha but, despite trying desperately to search for the words I needed in my head, nothing could overcome the feelings and fears which the energy pulse had given rise to. Instead we sat shaking in silence in the incredible heat.

'Are you all right?' I finally managed to ask, pulling Sam away so that I could get a clear look at her tear-streaked face. She nodded and I watched as more tears began to roll down from her stinging eyes. I began to cry too and held her tightly once more.

'Come on,' I whispered, my voice far from steady. 'Let's go home.'

'I don't want to go home,' she sobbed. 'If I go home then I'll have to go away and I don't want to go...'

'I don't want you to go,' I said. I took a deep breath and, against my better judgement, told her that she had to go, that her family needed her to be with them. I stopped for a moment and, as I held Samantha's shaking body close to mine, I could not help but think how hypocritical I sounded. My family needed me too, but I had stayed in the city rather than travel with them to Scotland. I wished that I could have gone with Sam in the morning and, if the truth be known, I probably could have. I felt awkward and uncomfortable attaching myself to her family when I had so selfishly abandoned my own and I was sure that her father would have had something to say about me hitching a ride with them all. To satisfy my feelings of guilt, I managed to convince myself that I needed to call into the office in the morning to check that everything was all right and I made a silent promise to travel up after Samantha later in the day before continuing north to be with my family again.

Sam pulled away from me, dried her eyes and stood up to leave the field. I pulled on my shoes and socks, finished dressing and watched her as she walked towards the gap in the fence to get back to the road. To see her in such a state was tearing me apart inside, but I did not know what I could do to ease her pain.

I walked back to the car, got inside and turned it around to drive her home. While it had not been quite the evening that either of us had expected or imagined, neither of us really minded. As we travelled along the dusty road in silence, my busy, racing brain helped me to come to two important realisations. Firstly, I admitted that I was in love with Samantha and that she meant more to me than any girl ever had before and, secondly, I realised with bitter sadness that the old man in the park last week had been right - the heat and the light really were the beginnings of something terrifying and unstoppable. The confusion seemed much clearer and easier to comprehend with Sam at my side and my heart sank at the thought of her leaving town.

I looked across at the beautiful girl next to me and wished that we could have met under different circumstances. Until she had walked into my office, I had scoffed at the idea of love at first sight but now, now that it had actually happened to me, I had been changed forever. I thought angrily about the time I had wasted alone when Sam had always been there and within easy reach and I knew at that moment that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, however long that proved to be. Inside I tried to laugh at the savage irony that my life had been subjected to but I could not - the pain I felt at the prospect of losing Samantha was tearing me apart.

As we neared her home Sam, who had been quiet and subdued for the whole of the journey, finally spoke.

'Steve, are you sure that you can't come with us tomorrow?'

I knew that I could but I felt sure that it would only cause unnecessary and unwanted trouble and friction. I also knew that I should be able to rise above such trivial things but, in the heat and confusion, I wasn't so sure that they could easily be overcome.

'Honestly, I can't. Give me the morning to sort myself out and I'll start out then. With a little luck I might be with you this time tomorrow.'

I wasn't sure if that was true, but I knew that I would certainly do my best to try and reach her.

'Have you got any paper?' she asked and I leant across the car to search in the glove box for a scrap that she could use. I found an old pad and, taking the paper from me, Sam scribbled down her grandmother's address and brief directions to find her house once I had managed to reach the village.

'There you go,' she said, beginning to smile again. 'Now you've got no excuse!'

I was glad that she seemed a little happier.

'I will come you know,' I said, truthfully. I knew that there would be no way that I could sit alone in the city without knowing how Sam was.

'Do you promise?' she asked.

'Cross my heart.'

I had made thousands of promises before but there had seldom been one that I intended to keep more than that. As I looked across at the girl sitting next to me and she smiled back, I vowed to do everything within my power to make sure that I was away from her for as short a time as possible.

'You try and keep me away,' I whispered.

I turned the car left off the main road and round onto the street where Samantha lived. Although neither of us said anything, I knew that we both wanted to keep driving and not to stop. Against my better judgement, however, I pulled the car up outside her house. It was a little after midnight and, in one of the windows on the top floor of the building, I could just make out the shadowy figure of Sam's father waiting anxiously for his daughter's return. Sam looked up and noticed him momentarily before turning back to face me and putting a reassuring hand on my arm.

'He means well,' she said, softly. 'He's just worried about me.'

'I'm worried about you,' I said, instinctively and honestly as my feelings rushed out like a dam that had suddenly burst its banks. 'You're on my mind all the time. Christ, whenever I'm away from you I can't think about anything else.'

Sam shuffled towards me in her seat and held my arm tightly. She rested her head on my shoulder and, although I tried hard not to, for the second time that night I began to cry.

'Shit,' I said, trying desperately to hold back the tears and not upset Sam. 'Our first real time together and I feel like I've spent most of the night grizzling.'

'It shows you care,' she whispered quietly.

'I do. More than you could ever imagine.'

She kissed me softly and we held each other tightly. I knew, sadly, that it was time for us to part. Sam climbed out of the car and walked around to stand next to my open window.

'I'll call you as soon as we get to Gran's,' she said, sniffling back more tears. 'It'll be the first thing I do.'

'It had better be,' I said as I reached out and held her hand. 'I'll come up just as soon as I can.'

The front door of the house slowly opened and the pyjama-clad figure of Samantha's father appeared on the driveway.

'I've got to go,' she said quietly and despondently. She leant into the car and we kissed again until her father suddenly appeared at her side to lead her indoors.

I sat in the car and watched as Sam walked towards the house and as she was quickly engulfed in the shadows and darkness of the building. Slowly and tearfully, I left her road and drove back towards my house.

I cared little about the collapsing city around me - all that I cared about at that moment was Samantha and until I was with her again I knew I would not rest.

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