He likes running in the cold, where the wind nips him in the face when he runs hard against the ground, frozen solid from the freezing temperatures the night before. He tries his hardest to ignore how numb he really is, forgetting about how he should have put on another layer of clothing before setting out at 4:30 in the morning.
He pulls on the nightcap he chose to wear, his fingers brushing against his ears, the cold flesh intermingling with one another and Sam knows. He knows he should have stayed indoors this Sunday morning, to try to get some sleep before another start of a hectic work week but he can’t. He finds no comfort in lying in bed all night, tossing and turning in restlessness, his mind wrestling with ‘he should have or could have’. He chooses instead to face his troubles on the road, where his feet hit the ground hard and his heart no longer feels the pain of missing her.
He could have easily remedied the situation, ran after her that Saturday morning to tell her she’s got it all wrong, how it was all a big misunderstanding. He could have told her then about the woman in his apartment, a childhood friend who needed a place to stay from a relationship turned bad and a safe place before moving on.
But he couldn’t. Why he couldn’t- the question still lingers in the back of his mind.
He grew up with Hannah near the stables in New Galloway during a time when he needed a friend most. Life was complicated enough with family and her friendship was his way to forget, even if it was for a few hours in a day. Long nights were spent underneath the stars atop abandon buildings, where friends confided in one another of wistful dreams and endless possibilities without being judged. Problems faded away just as quickly as the sun setting at dusk.
Hannah’s father was an alcoholic, spending whatever wages he garnered throughout the week at the local pub. She was often sent to fetch him when her mother desperately needed him home, Sam tagging along for companionship. Life drew them apart eventually, Hannah’s family moving in with a distant cousin up north, and Sam’s thirst for theatre sending him off to London. They remained friends all these years, as childhood friends normally did, word from acquaintances telling Sam of the kind of trouble that seemed to follow Hannah every which way she went.
Hannah’s appearance, although a surprise, was a welcomed one. She never asked him for anything, albeit a place to stay. It was all she needed and perhaps someone to listen to- life’s unforgiving journey. But when he came back that Saturday morning, visually distraught, she had pleaded with him to go after Caitriona, to find a way to make amends but words fell on to deaf ears. He failed to stay connected, Sam kept to himself the majority of the day, locked away, with his time spent behind empty eyes and forced smiles.
The café across from where he stops his run is bustling with vendors, fresh pastries from neighboring bakeries going in and out, with white smoke billowing from the stack above, letting him know it was an hour at least until sunrise. He knows in due time, the now empty streets will be bustling with traffic, doors will open, and people would wake up to the draw of a new day.
He hurries quickly across the cobblestone walkway and into his apartment building, where he slowly moves one step at a time before turning the corner to his stairway. He feels his hamstrings begin to tighten as he makes his way up, quietly reminding himself of the need to stretch. He feels her just then, even before he could have physically seen her, and it makes him stop immediately in his tracks.
He remembers the first time he felt it. He was early to an engagement hosted by Sony, networking with other actors and production personnel. The hairs on his forearms suddenly began to prickle, his heart began to race without reason. He blamed it on the temperature but the slightly warmer weather in Los Angeles was far from what would have caused it. When Sam felt someone grab his waist from behind, he was greeted with Caitriona’s soft face and sweet smile. By then, he knew. He knew what he felt was an unspoken connection.
He doesn’t notice it right away, but when he pushes the hard oak entryway into his apartment, he does. A white posted note flutters down between his door and its jamb. It lands on the hardwood floors and stays slightly opened, its familiar script noticeable even from afar. He doesn’t have to open the single folded note to know who it’s from. He instantly recognizes the neat intricate lettering on the inside- the ink delicately displayed in her cursive handwriting.
The message is simple enough, and yet his heart breaks a little, knowing Caitriona came to see him so early in the morning, only to find his apartment closed up and him gone. His mind races in an endless loop wondering what she may have been thinking when she found no one home. He immediately acts on impulse, beginning his race down the stairs, moving rapidly step by step, hoping he could still catch her walking down the street.
It doesn’t dawn on him until he’s half way to her apartment. What he would say to her? Silent conversations run through his head, but he only worries about saying the wrong thing. When he sees her, her noticeable lean frame walking down the street, the care of idle conversation is of no matter.
It’s been a while since he spoke with her one on one, and it makes him quite nervous. The calming center they once described as their relationship has now become nervous twitches, awkward silences, and constant fidgeting.
When he calls out her name, she abruptly stops to the familiar sound of his voice, her body standing still underneath a lamp post before slowly making a move to turn around. He sees her face flush from her walk, the dim light showing how her cheeks were slightly reddened by her fast pace. She pulls on her coat, tightly securing it against her body. It was either she was looking for more warmth or subconsciously trying to protect herself from Sam.
He tries his best to slow his breathing as he makes his way to her. He watches her lift her hand up to brush her hair back with her fingers, tucking the loose strands of hair behind her ears. She twists her body from side to side, looking for things to distract her. He’s fully aware how nervous she is and perhaps for the same reasons, he is too.
She speaks before he reaches her, her hands moving in conversation, “I came by your apartment but you weren’t there…or you were busy.” The later part of her statement coming out in spurts.
“I saw,” he tells her, slowly reaching into his pocket and pulling out the note she left behind.
The sudden pink tinge to her cheeks and her inability to look at him directly makes him wonder if she is regretting her decision.
“I…” she stammers, unable to continue without looking up from her feet, “I wanted to tell you I was sorry. How I shouldn’t have been so upset.”
“Caitriona,” he whispers.
“No…wait,” she says, cutting him off with a wave of her hand. “It doesn’t matter at this point really. What’s done is done.”
She moves to look at her watch, visibly surprised by the time, “I had plans to meet Maril for an early run and I’m already late. I’m sorry. Maybe over lunch later this week we can talk?”
He doesn’t try to persuade her to stay for a moment but helps her instead to hail a cab. Once she’s settled in the vehicle, her eyes slowly look toward his direction standing by the curb. His hands are in his pockets with shoulders hunched over, bracing the cold behind his back.
Sam sees the ends of her mouth turn up in a small smile, and for a brief moment, hopes she changes her mind to exit. But instead Caitriona offers him a slight wave goodbye and he watches the cab start on its way. He’s disappointed with himself for not having the courage to stop her- to let the opportunity to tell her he loved her, pass him by once again.
He’s surprise to see her waiting atop the landing outside his apartment, the lights in the stairway adding a soft glow around her. He doesn’t question how or why she’s there. He lets out a large sigh, his shoulders giving in to relief. He stops for a moment, afraid that what he sees is another dream and worries she would disappear if he closed his eyes.
Her arms are crossed against her chest again and he wonders what she’s thinking. She lets out a loud sigh before speaking, trying her best to keep her voice steady.
“You were there,” she says almost critical, her voice slightly above a whisper, hands dropping to her side, eyes downcast and away from his face. “You were there at the race and you didn’t tell me. You let me believe you didn’t...”
Caitriona’s voice cracks at the end of her statement, tears slowly forming- her eyes glassy.
He slowly walks up the stairs, his legs heavier now from two runs, and stops a step below her. He watches her, focusing solely on her face. When he looks to her side, he sees her hands fidgeting with the hem of her sweater dress. Her hands continue their repeated action- opening and closing in nervousness.
He takes a leap of faith, his determination due in part because of exhaustion and moves his hand to grab a hold of hers. He pulls her hand away from her body, allowing his fingers to interlace with hers, their palms meet one on one. He watches her bite down onto her bottom lip as he leans closer, doing the only thing that comes to mind, placing his forehead against her chest.
He sighs before asking, murmuring, “Do you? Do you think I don’t love you?”
Sam’s question was a response to all the lingering doubts she had in her head. He had been at her race, regardless of what had happened between them the day before, not out of obligation, but because of how he felt about her.
She slowly shakes her head no, her free hand moving to the base of his skull, weaving her fingers through his damp hair. Caitriona finds the warmth underneath the cap momentarily before settling in the space behind his ears.
“No,” she tells him, making sure he understood loud and clear. There’s a sense of urgency in her voice, a need to tell him there was no reason for doubt.
He pulls her closer, moving his hands to the small of her back, placing his face to the crook of her neck. He rubs his nose against her, relishing in the slight smell of perfume as he feels her arms reaching up around his shoulders, her own hands making their way behind his head.
“I’m so tired,” Sam whispers, not knowing why exactly he chose to say what he did other than it being the truth. When he feels her head nod in response, he’s suddenly relieved, knowing she too was feeling the effects of the hectic work week and perhaps more so with what had happened between the two of them.
“Me too,” she replies. Her cheek rests against his head and her fingers begin stroking the lobes of his ears.
He feels a wave of exhaustion coming over him, the way his shoulders give in underneath her arms. He pulls away a tad when the sound of a neighbor’s door above them opens. His eyes linger momentarily on hers, then he puts her hand in his and makes his way to unlock his door.