Geoffrey approached Samantha with something like trepidation. He wasn't at all sure she'd be happy to see him. She was sitting on the bridge over the Abyss, looking forlorn and small in the vast chamber. He had heard her sobbing from a long way off, carried by the incredible acoustics of the place. It was this sound he had followed to find her. Now, as he stood in the chamber entrance, he couldn't think of a thing to say. Why did he always have such a difficult time talking to her? He decided on a noncommittal call.


"Hey, Sam...what's up?"


She lifted her head abruptly at his inquiry, surprise written across her face. The tears she had shed hung damply upon her face, but she made no attempt to brush them away. "Wh...what are you doing here?" she demanded in a hoarse whisper. "He's your friend. Or are you just here to gloat?"


Her accusation stung him, but he admitted to himself that, from her perspective, he must seem like an unlikely ally. "Just because Kipper's my friend doesn't mean I...I agree with everything he does...or says." He sat beside her on the bridge, dangling his legs over the edge as she was doing. "He was wrong, Sam. I told him so, after you...left."


She snorted. "You mean after he ran me off!"


"Yes," he acknowledged. "I'm sorry I didn't speak up before that, but I was stunned by what he said to you. I thought...well, it seemed like he really cared for you."


"Yeah, that's what I thought, too," she replied bitterly. "Guess we were both wrong." Samantha shook her head. "I don't know what I could have done to have made him so angry...."


Geoffrey couldn't believe his ears. "Stop that!"


Samantha looked up at his sharp rebuke.


"I can't believe you actually think any of this is your fault! You didn't do anything wrong!"


She smiled wryly as she regarded him. "You know that for a fact, do you?" She was amused at his indignant manner.


"Sam...he's never treated you...." Geoffrey struggled to put his feelings into words, but hesitated, unsure of what her reaction might be. After all, it was Kipper she liked. She probably didn't want to hear any love-sick confessions from him. Still, Dad always told him to follow his heart. The truth couldn't hurt, could it? The worse that could happen was she'd laugh at him. He'd probably die on the spot if that happened, but it was worth the chance.


"Look, I've never said anything before, because I know you and Kipper...." No, that wasn't the right approach. Damn, why did this have to be so complicated? What he felt wasn't complicated at all, in fact it was amazingly simple. He loved her. Ever since they were children, he'd loved her.




Now Sam was impatient. In Geoffrey's eyes, it was one of her few faults. So many times he'd tried to express his feelings to her in the past, but she'd never given him enough time. Then this whole thing with Kipper had started, and he'd retreated from the scene, watching in painful silence as the girl he cared about fell for his best friend. He'd held his tongue when Kipper had been unkind or uncaring towards her. It wasn't his place to criticize or even comment. He'd ached when Kipper's thoughtlessness had hurt her, almost reaching out to comfort her on several occasions. But always, he'd held back. Not this time, though. If she'd let him, he'd make her forget the unhappy times with Kipper. He'd be good to her, listen to her, share her joys and pain. If she'd only let him.




"What is it, Geoffrey?" Samantha was starting to get mad. She was feeling sorry for herself, wholly miserable, and this tongue-tied guy was keeping her from a good cry.


"Stop it, please, Sam!" Desperation gave him the courage to stand up to her. "You always cut me off. I'm trying to tell you something. I know I'm having trouble getting it out, but please listen!"


Her mouth already open for a retort, his last comment caused her to reconsider the request to get lost that was on the tip of her tongue. She pressed her lips together in a grim smile. "O...K...," she said with an exaggerated show of the patience she did not feel.


Suddenly, Geoffrey was struck by the futility of it all. She wasn't in the mood to hear what he had to say. She probably wouldn't ever want to hear it. She'd never once even looked at him, not in the way she'd mooned over Kipper. Maybe he should just leave her alone. That's what she really wanted, wasn't it? "Oh, hell, Sam...never mind. I'm sorry I bothered you."


Geoffrey rose to leave and was surprised when he felt her hand on his arm, restraining him.

"I'm sorry, Geoffy." Using the diminutive she'd adopted when they were kids, she gave him an apologetic smile. "I'm mad at Kip and taking it out on you. Please don't go. I'll sit quietly until you say what you want to say, 'K?" She gave his arm a squeeze before letting go. Even after she took her hand away, though, the memory of her touch burned through him like wildfire.


"Sam...Samantha...I...." Jeez, why was this so hard? He took a deep breath, then plunged ahead. "It's killing me that Kipper hurt you. If you were my girlfriend, I'd never hurt you. I'd care for you and protect you and...." He wound down, appalled at how much he'd said. He hadn't meant to reveal so much, yet, at least it -- most of it --was out. He hadn't quite worked up the nerve to tell her that even though he'd never acted like it, or said anything, he'd always loved her. That the only dream he held in his heart these days was that one day she would love him too. But surely it must be obvious to her? Surely he didn't need to say it?


He risked a glance at her. Her mouth was hanging open again. Oh, it comes, he thought.


"Is this some kind of joke? 'Cause believe me, Geoffrey, it isn't funny."


"No joke, Sam. I'd never joke about something like this. Promise." His eyes presented his appeal to her. She gazed long and hard into them. She found honesty there. Some embarrassment too. And a lot of something else...affection?


Samantha looked down at her hands. "I'd better not hear you laughing with your buddies over this tomorrow." The suspicion in her voice broke his heart.


"Hey, you never knew, all these years. You really think I'd tell anyone else?"


His small joke caused her to smile briefly, charmed in spite of herself. She wanted to be mad at all men right now. She wanted to believe they were all like Kipper. But thinking back, little episodes started coming together in her mind, and suddenly, she believed him.


Even when they were children, Geoffrey hadn't teased her like the other boys did. When they got treats from William, she recalled times when Geoffrey would give her half of his, claiming he wasn't that hungry. She'd never thought twice about it, taking the extra as her due. But he was always doing nice things for her, even when she hardly ever remembered to thank him. And just last Winterfest, who was the one guy who'd asked her to dance when she was still recovering from the flu? Father had only let her come for a little while, and all her friends had kept away from her, afraid they'd catch it. But not Geoffrey. He'd brought her some punch and sat and talked with her, then offered her a dance. At the time, she'd turned him down thoughtlessly, not wanting to be seen dancing with him when it was Kipper she'd wanted to dance with. But he hadn't abandoned her, even after that rejection. And he'd even walked her back to the hospital chamber, missing out on the fun, in order to be sure she was safely tucked in.


Samantha cast an appraising glance over the young man by her side. He'd been a silent presence in her life for so long, she'd hardly noticed him. But now that she took a good look at him, she realized he was kind of cute. He had those sweet freckles on his nose, and an endearing smile. And those could believe what you saw in those eyes, she knew now.


"OK, Geoffrey."


"OK? OK...what?"




She sat looking down into the Abyss, swinging her legs. Slowly, she placed her hand beside his on the bridge. Slower still, his own crept over and covered hers. They sat in silence for a long while, her heart healing...and his singing.


_ _ _


"Have you noticed?"


"Hmmm?" Looking up from his bowl of vegetable stew, Vincent followed Catherine's eyes to where their oldest son was sitting. Usually, the family ate together, but this lunchtime had found the two of them alone with their eighteen-month-old, who was snugly asleep in one of his doting Father's immense arms. Geoffrey was ensconced in a corner of the dining chamber, seated next to a vibrant Samantha, his own stew sitting forgotten as he gazed at her with rapt attention.


"How could I help but notice, Catherine. He's glowing so brightly, I imagine it would hurt my eyes to stare at him directly."


Catherine chuckled. "I believe you're right!" Her laugh became a soft sigh. "Amazing, isn't it? One minute, he's a child running to you over a skinned knee. The next, he's risking skinning his heart against the fickle nature of a teenage girl."


"I admit it is...difficult to let go. But he must follow his heart, Catherine. If it leads him to the rather...irrepressible Samantha...." He left the rest of his comment to her imagination, but she knew what he meant. Geoffrey was a quiet, sensitive boy, but, as the old adage put it so well, "still waters run deep." Samantha, quicksilver and mercurial, outgoing and outspoken, demanding and imperious, seemed the exact opposite of him in every way. That he would be drawn to her surprised them, even disconcerted them.


Catherine glanced shyly at her Bondmate. "We should be ashamed of ourselves, Vincent. After what Father put us through...."


"....We should be the last to judge. Yes, I realize the dichotomy. I am as uncomfortable about what I am thinking as you, no doubt." He shook his head as he flashed her a quick but rueful grin. "We are only human, my love."


Catherine gazed solemnly in the young people's direction. "I just hope she's gentle with our son. He deserves the best."


Leaning to whisper in her ear, Vincent turned her slight frown into a smile of delight when he murmured, "That's not possible, for I already hold claim to that treasure, my dearest heart!"


_ _ _


"What's the deal, Geoff?" Kipper accosted Geoffrey as he and Samantha were leaving the kitchen chamber. They had shared clean-up chores, even though only Samantha was scheduled to work, and were planning to go back to her dormitory chamber to study. No one was around except William, who was whistling amid the clatter of pans as he began to prepare for the evening meal, oblivious to the potential altercation brewing behind him.


"What do you want, Kip?" Geoffrey stood his ground, defiantly holding Samantha's hand.


"I want you to get your hands off my girl, that's what!" Kipper turned to regard his erstwhile girlfriend. "Sam, c'mon. We need to talk."


Samantha seemed to waiver a bit. She dropped Geoffrey's hand, but didn't immediately join her former boyfriend. "We...we have nothing to talk about, Kipper. You told me everything I needed to know yesterday." Her eyes began to sparkle as tears filled them. The hurt he had inflicted by his thoughtless words was apparent to the older boy, perhaps for the first time.


His face reflected his sudden concern, but his apology flowed haltingly. "Aw, Sam, I didn't mean anything. It was interrupted me when I was with the guys, and...well, I just said that 'cause they...expected me to go with 'em...and...."


"You told me, clearly, to get lost. 'You're a huge pain in the rear and I don't need a hemorrhoid' were your exact words."


"Oh, Sam, please. It was a joke! Can't you take a joke?" He tried to brush off the insult, but he could see she wasn't appeased.

In a quiet voice, Geoffrey intervened. "It wasn't funny to me either, Kip."


Kipper stared at Geoffrey, amazed that his usually quiet friend would challenge him, then his eyes narrowed and he replied in a sarcastic tone, "Yeah, sure, you would say that. You've got an ulterior motive. You saw an opportunity to get into Sam's pants."


"That's not true!" Anger flared in the younger boy, causing a flush of rage to infuse his cheeks. He curled his hands into fists, but managed to hold them to his sides. He did not want to fight with his friend, but what the boy had suggested was outrageous and offensive.


Insolently, Kipper replied, "If it's not true, why are you getting so upset?" His eyes flashed with irritation. "C'mon, Sam, I promise I won't say anything like that again. Let's go. I've got something to show you." He reached out his hand, expecting her to take it. Still she hesitated.


"What?" Despite her intended demeanor of injured pride, Samantha's query betrayed her interest.


"You'll have to come with me to find out. Let's go." Impatient now, he wiggled his fingers to gain her attention. When she didn't move fast enough to suit him, he snapped his fingers in her face. "Come on!"


Samantha stared at Kipper, his impudent manner a far cry from the courteous, deferential way Geoffrey treated her. When he'd first arrived, she'd been happy to see him, had wanted to go with him, but now.... Reviewing her options and the recent experiences she'd had with both boys, she came to a decision. "No, Kip. I'm not going with you. You really hurt me yesterday...and that wasn't the first time. I...don't want to be with you anymore."


Shock and hurt gave way to a look of feigned indifference. Casually, Kipper dropped his arm and flung a "Fine!" at her as he turned and stalked away.


Looking after him in silence for a long moment, Samantha finally took a deep breath and shyly reached to grasp Geoffrey's hand again. "I'm...I'm sorry, Geoffy." The apology encompassed not only the scene he'd witnessed, but the fact that for a moment she'd been ready to go back to Kipper.


Geoffrey was still shaken by the implication of her letting go of his hand. It had wounded him to realize that she was willing, at least initially, to return to the boy who had hurt her feelings so badly. She hadn't gone, of course...but if Kipper had been a bit more sincere with his apology...would she have?


"Come on. Let's go do our homework." Her words shook him out of his reverie, and he nodded, then turned to her and smiled gratefully. She was with him, holding his hand. She had chosen him, after all.


_ _ _


Samantha yawned widely. "It's late, Geoffy. I think I've gotten as smart as I'm going to get tonight!"


He smiled and closed his notebook. "Thanks for your help with the math, Sam."


"No problem!" She smiled at him as he rose to leave. Suddenly awkward, he didn't know what to do.


"So...I guess I'll...see you tomorrow?"


"Sure! Where else am I gonna be?" Realizing his discomfort, she sought to ease it. "C'mon, I'll walk you back to your chambers."


"You don't have's a long way."


"I don't mind. I could use a walk to work the kinks out before I go to bed. Come on!" She reached for his hand and tugged it. He followed willingly.


As they walked, Samantha talked about an amazing variety of subjects, seeming to jump from one to another with no breath in between. He didn't mind, though. He was content just to be with her, to know that she enjoyed being with him. He was in heaven. He smiled and nodded at appropriate intervals, and Samantha, with her captive and captivated audience, didn't slow the stream of words until they reached the side tunnel leading to his chamber.


"Well, here we are. I guess I should get back. It is late."


Geoffrey nodded dumbly. He felt self-conscious suddenly, facing her. He wanted desperately to do...something. But he wasn't sure what...or even how.


Samantha smiled sweetly at him. He'd been her defender today. Her knight in shining armor. He deserved some token from her. Since she didn't have a ribbon to bestow like the ladies of yore.... Samantha reached out to cup the unresisting Geoffrey's chin in her hand, then she rose on tip-toe to place a brief, gentle kiss upon his astonished mouth.


The feeling of her warm soft lips upon his was incredible, like nothing he'd ever felt before. He melted and hardened all at the same time. His body became a battleground of yearning, joy, lust, and exhilaration. She had kissed him!

Desperate to re-live that sensation...just once more...he reached out for her. Tentatively enfolding her in his arms -- they seemed suddenly stiff, his hands like lumps of lead -- he bent and brushed a clumsy, off-center kiss against her lips, tasting the sweet dew of her slightly open mouth, thrilling to the lushness revealed there.


Aware of the effect she'd had on him, and very pleased with herself, Samantha smiled as she disengaged from his embrace, then twirled and flounced away down the tunnel. As she turned the corner out of sight, Geoffrey struggled to remember how to breathe.


_ _ _


"Sam? Sam!" The harsh whisper cut through her dreams, slowly waking her. The lone candle in the dormitory chamber had burned low, indicating it was very early in the morning. She wasn't sure what had awakened her at first, then she heard it again: the low call of her name. Throwing back the covers, she slipped into her robe and slippers and tread softly out of the chamber. Outside the entrance, she encountered Kipper.


"Kip!" Surprised, she hissed at him, "It's so late...what do you want?"


"You, Sam. I want you back."


Disgusted, she replied, "Go back to sleep, Kip." But before she could turn to go back inside, he grabbed her shoulder.


"Why? What's Geoffrey got that I don't?" Although he tried to act cocky, his voice betrayed a hint of his true feelings -- stunned dismay.


"Well, for one thing, he'd never wake me up early in the morning to ask me stupid questions." Now that she was fully awake, Kipper's audacity was irritating her more and more.


"Sam...we've been together for so long...what's it been....?"


"Six months." Just like him not to remember, she thought petulantly.


"Six months! I'm sorry if I said some things that hurt you. I can be pretty insensitive at times, I know that. But...Sammi...does he kiss you like I do?" The hand on her shoulder drifted to her cheek, and he ran his index finger lightly across her lips. Samantha quivered at the intimate gesture. "Does he?" Kipper leaned closer and pressed his lips tenderly to hers once, twice. The third time, his kiss grew more insistent, and he drew her easily into his arms as he deepened the kiss.


Her entire body shivered with the powerful feelings he aroused in her. Until Kipper, she'd always been "one of the guys." None of the boys had treated her like a woman. Then he had walked with her to the Chamber of the Falls one lazy afternoon, and their horseplay had turned into...something else. Exploration and discovery, amazement and delight. Ever since, no matter how they might fight, whenever he held her, she was lost. His kisses made her feel so weak and fluttery inside, and she craved the affection, the touch, that made her feel so grown up, so feminine.


As he pulled back, her eyelids drifted open. "Oh, Kip," she sighed.


"You're my girl, aren't you?" It was part plea, part demand.




Trying to disguise the relief he felt, he murmured, "OK, then. I'll see you later this morning. Meet me for breakfast?"


At her enthusiastic nod, he backed down the tunnel, smiling and waving, before turning and running back to his own dormitory.


A brief flicker of concern about Geoffrey passed through Samantha's mind as she made her way quietly back to bed. "He'll understand," she decided, nodding to herself, before she pulled the covers to her chin and closed her eyes, dreaming of Kipper's kisses.


_ _ _


"Hi, Sam!" Seeing her enter the dining chamber, Geoffrey rose from his seat and rushed over to her.


"Oh...hi, Geoffy." She brushed past him with no more than a brief glance, her eyes searching the chamber until they alighted on someone. "See you later, 'K?"


He turned to follow her with his eyes, noting with dismay that she was joining Kipper at a table in the corner...the same table at which he himself had met her for lunch just yesterday. His heart lurched. She couldn't....! But his eyes didn't lie. Something had happened between last night and this morning. Between that glorious kiss...and this rude awakening.


Numbly, he returned to his seat. Catherine, although trying to slip oatmeal between the stubborn lips of baby Jacob, had missed none of the by-play, but wisely said nothing except, "Another muffin, sweetheart?"


Geoffrey shook his head, his eyes never leaving the corner where Samantha was now playfully punching Kipper on the arm. Catherine watched him, her heart breaking for him, until he finally turned back to his meal. Then, abandoning for the moment her attempts to feed her recalcitrant younger son his breakfast, she dropped her eyes and pretended to concentrate on devouring one of William's delicious creations. Surreptitiously, she watched her eldest as he stared into his plate, his meal forgotten. Suddenly, he mumbled, "May I be excused?" and left before receiving an answer. Vincent walked into the chamber just as Geoffrey rushed out. In his turmoil, the boy hadn't even noticed or acknowledged his Dad.


Vincent's puzzled eyes went first to Catherine, then, following the nod of her head, to the scene in the corner of the chamber. Their eyes met again, in mutual and silent sympathy. As he sat beside his Bondmate, he said, "So...what we feared has already come to pass."


Sensing the sudden troubling of his spirit, she murmured, "We couldn't have prevented this, Vincent."


He nodded. "I know."


She patted his hand. "If you'll finish feeding Jacob, I think I'll go back to our chambers. If Geoffrey's there, maybe he'll talk to me."


"No...I think this is a time for...for a man-to-man discussion. He will not be feeling kindly toward the female of the species at this moment, my love, not even one as rare and special as yourself." His gentle jest was meant to assuage the discouragement she was feeling that her son had not immediately sought her company in his pain.


She smiled and acquiesced, silently handing him a muffin. Vincent took it from her, his fingers lightly caressing hers as he did so, before he rose and left the chamber.


_ _ _


"Geoffrey, may I come in?"


Standing at the entrance to his son's chamber, Vincent tried to focus on the situation at hand. All the way here from the kitchen chamber, his mind had been replaying his relationship with Lisa, his first and only attempt -- until Catherine -- to brave the mysteries of romantic love. As ardently as he had adored Lisa, that relationship had nearly ruined his life. It had taken many years, and the spectacular devotion of his Bondmate, to overcome all the fears and doubts engendered by the abrupt and disturbing termination of that relationship. He realized his son's situation was much different, but he understood all too well the thrill of first love, the anguish of rejection, and the devastation and self-doubt which followed.


He found Geoffrey sitting on his bed, a picture of dejection. Slumped over, his forearms resting on his thighs, the boy looked miserable...and so very lonely. Vincent sat beside him, copying his stance by leaning on his own knees. He looked over into the boy's face, noting with concern the reddened eyes, the evidence of copious tears shed.


"I'm sorry, son."


Geoffrey snorted. "I thought she...." Tears choked his voice and he couldn't continue, lapsing into silence as he tried to control his emotions.


Vincent waited, knowing the boy had more to say, sitting patient and still until it came bubbling up to be purged from his bitter heart.


Finally, Geoffrey turned, looking at the older man with pleading eyes as he said, "Why, Dad? Just last night...she...she kissed me. Now...she acts like I don't exist. What did I do to make her leave me?"


Vincent drew his son into an embrace and kissed the top of his head before replying. "I'm sure you did nothing wrong. I saw you with her yesterday, and you treated her with respect and affection."


"Maybe..." he mumbled against his Dad's chest, "...maybe she hated the way I kissed her...I didn't know what to do, how to touch her...maybe I...revolted her...." Hot tears fell, burning his cheeks. He burrowed deeper into the comforting embrace, desperate for the human contact, the acceptance and love he had always found within those arms.


"No, Geoffrey, no. Believe me...I know from...personal experience that...when a woman loves does not matter in the least if you have any...experience. She will not care. She will not be revolted, I promise."


Geoffrey sat up, the surprising revelation causing him to forget his own misery for a moment. "Was it...was it that way for you...and Mom?" He was intensely curious about this aspect of their relationship. Knowing that his Dad's physical appearance was daunting to newcomers, he had lately wondered how his Mom and Dad had handled the more intimate aspects of their early relationship. He had understood intellectually that there had to have been a "first time" -- but he had never realized that his Mom was his Dad's first time ever. He could well understand the trepidation his Dad must have felt, the fear of rejection, the paralysis of not knowing what to do, what to expect.


Vincent smiled, a faraway look stealing over his face. "Yes." He said no more for a moment, then turned to his son, noting the frankly curious stare on his face. Perhaps some insight into his own situation would help the boy to understand.


"Your mother, Geoffrey...well, you have been blessed by her love, so you know how powerful and cleansing it is. She fought for our right to love, even when I was not strong enough to get past the fear of what...of what I am...and how I might...possibly...hurt her." His voice had become a hoarse whisper, and Geoffrey strained to hear him. "I was...unsure...terrified. But she was like cool water, like a soothing balm. In her arms, I...I became beautiful. And she guided me so gently, my fear fell away."


Geoffrey let out a long sigh. He knew intuitively that his Dad had never spoken these words to another living soul. They hung like a precious bond between them, a measure of the trust and faith which his Dad had in him. He was immeasurably grateful for them...and for the man who had adopted him as his own.


"Thank you, Dad."


Vincent nodded.


Emboldened by the intimacy just divulged, Geoffrey tendered another question, one which might shed more light onto his own unhappy situation. "Can I ask..." he began tentatively.


"You may ask me anything," Vincent responded quietly.


"Did you ever...well, was there ever another guy....?" Now that he was in the middle of the question, he realized he didn't have a diplomatic way of asking it. But his Dad understood his intent well enough.


"Yes. There was a time when...when your Mother became...interested in...someone else." To this day, the pain of that memory still had the power to wound him. He took a shuddering breath before continuing. "She...became close to a man Above...a rich, powerful man. One who could give her the world."


"Were you...did did you...handle it?"


Vincent shook his head. "Not very well, I'm afraid. I loved her more than my life, but I believed...that she would be happier with this...other. The pain was...unbearable."


From the expression on his Dad's face, the fascinated boy could well believe it.


"But I did not tell her of my pain, Geoffrey. I bore it in silence, dying a little more each moment. At some point...she decided...thank the gods!...that she did not love this man. You would think I had learned a hard lesson, but no. There were other times...when I misunderstood her feelings toward another, and still I would not stand up for my right to her love.


"I was a terrible student," he admitted wryly. "Always having to relearn the same lesson. Finally, though, I understood. Catherine gave me the confidence to believe in my right to love." Vincent grasped his son by the shoulders as he said, "You have that right, too, son. Do not let this situation crush your belief in love, in its terrible splendor and potency."

Geoffrey nodded solemnly. He had much to consider. His Dad had a way of giving advice that didn't sound like instruction. He just showed him a way to approach a problem, then allowed him to decide if it was relevant to him. He really appreciated that his Dad considered him intelligent enough to make his own choices. But sometimes he wished his Dad would just tell him what to do!


Kissing the older man on the cheek, he murmured, "I'm glad you guys worked it out, Dad."

Vincent regarded his son with frank affection. "So am I. Would you like for me to stay with you a while?"


", I'll be OK."


Vincent rose and got to the entranceway before he turned once more to address his son. "Know that I am a patient listener, Geoffrey. Anytime you need to talk...."


His son nodded with gratitude. "I know."


_ _ _


The class was rapidly filing out of the chamber, the English lesson over. Geoffrey tugged at Samantha's sleeve, catching her attention. "May I please talk with you?"


Looking over her shoulder at her departing friends, she said impatiently, "I need to go."


Resolutely, he faced her down. "This will only take a moment."


She shrugged and said, "OK," but she remained standing.


Geoffrey licked his lips, took a deep breath and began. "I know that you and Kip have made up. I'm happy for you, Sam, I really am, if that's what you want. But please remember that...I'm always here for you. If you need me for talk...anything. OK?"


She nodded her head, then looked at him sharply, guiltily. "I probably should have said this before now but...I'm really sorry for what happened. I was mad at Kip and...and you were there and being so nice...."


He held up his hand, forestalling further explanation. "I understand. But I want you to know...that time we spent together was the most wonderful time of my life. I care for you...more than anything, Samantha. Please, always remember that."


Suddenly very serious, she replied, "I will. Thanks, Geoffy. I'm sorry." She looked over her shoulder again as someone called her name, and when she turned back to him, all trace of solemnity had vanished. She was once more the capricious child. "Gotta go!"


After she left, Geoffrey slowly lowered himself into a seat in the now deserted chamber. A hurricane lamp sat on the table before him, the flickering light it cast painting his face with a mercurial blend of highlight and shadow. Staring into the candleflame, his face contorted in misery, he wept.