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Stark Reflections

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“I wrote a book,” Sandor explained. He went to his fourth bookshelf, moved a few volumes around and removed a thick, hard-bound book. He came back to the dining table, sat next to Sansa, and handed her the book.

Life From Nothing – A Guide to Organic Wilderness Survival

“You wrote this?” Sansa asked. She was truly surprised given Sandor’s lack of education.

“Nick taught me to read and he made me go to school. I hated school so I didn’t stay long. It wasn’t just because of my face,” Sandor explained. “It was because of who I was. Even though I was nothing like my dad and my brother, people would always associate me with them. I would always be a Clegane – at least in name.”

As she listened, Sansa opened the book and flipped through the pages. Sandor shifted closer under the pretense of looking at the book with her. Her aroma was intoxicating to him and he wanted more of her.

“I did love to learn, though,” Sandor continued. “I read voraciously. Anything I could get my hands on. I learned a lot, but this,” he said indicating the cabin around them, “was the only thing I knew how to do. There were lots of books on gardening, building, hunting, but nothing that explained how to start and all the in-between – how to make it all work together.”

“Nick found a publisher who agreed to come out here to meet me. I was still pretty self-conscious back then. When the publishing agent came out and looked at what I’d written, he was surprised that it was so well written. He asked me who edited my book. I told him I did it myself. Because of the way I live – I’ll get to that in a moment – he asked if I’d be interested in an editing job. I told him I would, but that I prefer my life out here and Jim – that’s his name, Jim Thorpe – said that’s why he offered it to me.”

“I don’t get it,” Sansa said shaking her head in confusion.

“The author he had in mind had very strict requirements for his process,” Sandor said making air quotes. He casually dropped his arm around Sansa’s shoulders. “The man is very peculiar. He’s paranoid of technology.”

Suddenly Sansa understood. “Lord Varys?” she asked recalling Sandor’s unorthodox collection. Sandor nodded. He reached behind him to the cabinet to get the two parcels they’d picked up in Leeston a few days before. He gave one to Sansa so they could each open a package. Under the brown wrapping paper was exactly what Sansa expected – photocopy paper boxes. Inside the boxes were a stack of hand-written manuscript pages. Each box contained one copy of the same manuscript. Sandor was free to mark them up as he saw fit.

“In addition to editing his books, I do research for him. He pays me a lot for that. Plus my book did really well. So that’s how I could afford to send Sam to college.”

Sansa turned to look at Sandor. He had drawn himself closer to her. With his slightly parted lips and soft expression, Sansa knew what he wanted, she could see it in his eyes. It wasn’t lustful or insistent or possessive. There was just wanting.

 With one arm around her shoulders, Sandor moved his other hand and gently rested it on Sansa’s knee. Sansa jumped to her feet shoving her chair away from the table. “I’ll start cleaning up if you’ll go get some water,” she suggested awkwardly.

Sansa didn’t notice Sandor’s shoulders drop as she made her way around the table away from him collecting their plates and glasses. It hadn't been the first time she'd reacted that way, but Sandor was hoping that if he kept trying, gently, that eventually Sansa would come around.

Sandor got up and went outside. He came back in with two buckets of water. He poured one into the wash basin while Sansa scraped the plates and the skillet into the slop bucket.

Sandor stood back and watched Sansa as she began washing the dishes. She was pretending not to notice that he was there. Sandor chewed his lip trying to decide what to do next. He wanted his relationship with Sansa to move forward. He wanted to be patient with her, but damn, he wanted her.

Forcing himself to be tender and cautious, Sandor moved behind Sansa. He placed his hands on her hips and slowly moved them under the hem of her shirt to touch the skin on her waist.

“Don’t!” Sansa screeched as she whirled on him.

Sandor stepped back with his hands up in surrender. Sansa tried to slow her panicked breathing. When she saw Sandor’s eyes flick nervously to her right, she followed his line of sight to the steak knife in her hand. Sansa was shocked, not even realizing she had grabbed it and pointed it at him.

“Is that what you think of me?” he demanded. “Will I always be just another Clegane to you?”

Sansa gulped and dropped the knife on the floor by her side. She put her head down, unable to look Sandor in the eye. She was frightened and embarrassed, but neither did she try to explain or appeal to him.

“Do you think I would hurt you?” he asked, bewildered. Sansa shook her head still staring at the floor, trembling.

“Then what? What is it?” Sandor pleaded.

“I don’t know,” Sansa whimpered.

“You don’t know what? You don’t know if you trust me? You don’t know how you feel? What is it?” Again, Sansa didn’t answer and wouldn’t look him in the face.

“Do you feel anything for me at all?” Sandor’s voice was strangely calm.

“I … I don’t know,” she stammered.

Sandor’s heart sunk. Sansa had expressed a desire to be with him. She had even shown him some affection. But the closer he tried to get, the more she pulled away.

“What is it you want from me, Sansa? Do you even know what you want?”

Sansa looked up, her eyes wide and frightened. In that face, Sandor could imagine what she must have looked like as a young teenager, awkward and unsure of herself.

Sansa shook her head.

“Then why are you still here? If you don’t want to be here you could have left days ago.” Sandor was exasperated. He wanted so much to be able to love Sansa, but only if she could feel the same way about him. Sandor didn’t want to say his next words, but he needed to be honest with her.

“If you can’t feel anything for me, there’s no reason for you to be here.”

Sansa burst into tears and hurried out the door grabbing her crutches and Sandor’s car keys on the way out. Sandor let her go. He sat on the edge of the porch in the deepening twilight and stared out into the trees.

Sandor’s heart wrenched with pain. He hadn’t meant to let himself get so attached so quickly, but Sansa was irresistible. She was beautiful, intelligent, caring, and thoughtful. She thought for herself and was stronger than she realized. More than anything, it hurt to sit here and not go after her. But he couldn’t force her to love him. That’s what would make him a monster.

Sansa drove Sandor’s truck into Leeston. She didn’t know where else to go. She just needed to get away, to think, to figure things out.  Her mind wouldn’t stop thinking about Sandor or the things he’d said to her, so she drove slow to make up for her lack of focus.

Sansa hadn’t left for home because she wanted to stay. There were feelings, oh yes, there were definitely feelings, but they were stuck inside her and she couldn’t get them out. Sansa wouldn’t even know what words to use if she had the courage to talk to Sandor about it.

Sandor was the cliché. He was everything she could ever want in a man.  He was strong, sensitive, gentle, and handsome despite his scars. He had trusted enough in her to tell her his story. She had her own story and her own scars, but her scars were on the inside. They were deep, they were still painful and she was partly to blame for them. If Sandor knew, he would never be able to look at her the same way again.

In downtown Leeston, Sansa could have shot a machine gun down the middle of the street and not hit anything. She could have danced naked in the middle of the only intersection in town, and no one would have noticed. The town was dead.

There were a few lights on inside the homes and some of the apartments above the storefronts, but the town was tucked in for the night. Sansa looked at the dashboard clock. It was only 7:00pm.

Sansa pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. Even in the middle of the summer, it got really cold at night in the mountains. Sansa knew this, but she hadn’t been thinking when she’d bolted out the door without a jacket. The inside of the truck quickly turned chilly. She could turn the engine on again, but she’d already taken Sandor’s truck. Burning an entire tank of gas just because she was cold would be pushing too far.

 Sansa took a deep breath, blew her hair out of her face and knocked on the door. When the door opened, a young mousy-haired woman opened it and peered out at her.

“Hello,” she said brightly. She had a quirky smile that made her buck teeth seem a little more prominent.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I must have the wrong door.” Sansa stammered, confused. Sandor did say that Sam lived at the back of the library. Sansa wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Sorry to disturb you.”

As she was about to turn away, Sansa heard Sam’s voice. “Who was it?” he asked the young woman. He came to the door and saw Sansa as she was about to leave.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “I’m sorry I’ve forgot your name.”

“Hi Sam, I’m Sansa.” She shivered again and rubbed her arms.

“Come in, please,” he told her making room between him and the woman. “Let’s get you out of the cold.” Once they were inside, Sam introduced them. “Sansa, this is my girlfriend Gilly. She’s visiting from Portland for a couple of weeks before school starts again.” He leaned toward Gilly and said, “This is Sansa. I think she’s my uncle’s girlfriend.”

“You’re not sure?” Gilly asked him. She turned to smile at Sansa. “It’s nice to meet you, Sansa.” She turned back to Sam and said, “What do you mean you’re not sure?” Her smile and manner were sweet and genuine just like Sam’s.

“Well, I’ve only just met her once for a brief moment a few days ago.” They both turned and smiled at Sansa as though they suddenly remembered she was there.

“Honestly, I’m not even sure,” Sansa said. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, all the mixed up feelings inside her exploded and she burst into tears. Sam and Gilly bustled her into the small cozy living room and sat her down.

“I’m sorry,” Sansa told them. “The only other people I know in Leeston are Nick and Doc and I don’t know where they live. I didn’t know where else to go.”

“That’s okay,” Sam said. “I’m happy to have you here. What’s wrong?”

“Sandor and I got into a big fight. He wants to be with me and I want to be with him. He’s been so patient with me, but I panicked when he tried to put his arms around me and …”

“Oh ahh …” Sam stood up and backed out of the room. “Sounds like talk for women. I’ll be in the library if you need me,” he said as he hurried away.

Talking to a woman who was a total stranger, who didn’t know her at all, made Sansa somehow willing to open up. She was embarrassed, but she told Gilly the whole truth.

Gilly smiled sympathetically. When she started to speak, Sansa was surprised by her thick southern accent. “When I first met Sam, I didn’t ever think he could love somebody like me, not with what I been through. You see, my momma walked out on my daddy on account that he was sleeping around with other women. He got real drunk and mean all the time and started molesting me and my four sisters. We got taken away and put in foster care, but I always somehow thought it was my fault.” Gilly paused and put her hand on Sansa’s shoulder. “Now I know that what happened to you ain’t the same, but the point is, it wasn’t your fault any more than it was mine. If Sam’s uncle is a good man, he knows that it don’t matter what’s been done to you. What matters is what you do.”

“But I was so stupid. I let it happen.” Sansa shook her head. “No, he could never love me knowing what I did.”

“Why don’t you let him decide that? You can go home and you’ll both be hurt and wondering or you can tell him the truth. If he decides he doesn’t want you, you can still go home and you’ll know …” Gilly lifted her head in defiance. “… that he wasn’t worth havin’ in the first place!”

“Thanks, Gilly. I really appreciate you listening.” Sansa felt a little bit lighter inside, but she would still have to face Sandor. “I hope you’re right.”

Gilly went and retrieved Sam from the library so that he could see Sansa off.

“I’m sorry this is the way we had to meet again, Sam. I was hoping it would be better that the first time I met you. You seemed nervous about Sandor being there and – ”

Sam shook his head. “Oh no, not at all. I wasn’t nervous about Uncle being there. I was nervous about you being there. I wasn’t sure if you knew about me and I was worried what you’d think about me because of who my father was.”

“Sam, I could never hold any of that against you. None of that was your fault.”

“Ah ha!” Gilly said, playfully punching Sansa on the arm. “See?”