“Care to share the joke?” asked Taysia when she and Paige walked in from their shopping trip.
Sam looked up, embarrassed that she’d been laughing at her text. Walker had texted her while she was sitting in the kitchen nursing a cup of coffee, pondering what to wear. ‘Reservations are at 7:00, I’ll pick you up at 6:30 Scarlet.’ “It’s just Walker,” she explained, not wanting to share the Scarlet part, “he’s crazy. He made me go furniture shopping today, so he’s taking me to dinner tonight to thank me.”
“Walker bought us hot chocolate,” chimed in Paige.
“Ohhh, right, the man from the park? Furniture shopping huh?” asked Taysia as an eyebrow went up.
“Yeah,” said Sam, uncomfortable with Taysia’s insinuation. “He was at Ty’s party last night. He rooked me into going shopping with him today. Anyway, Paige guess what? He’s moving into the new house next door! He said they were closing in just a few weeks, that’s why he needed to shop for furnishings. I can’t believe he’s living in that big house all alone.” Then she thought, I’m living in an even bigger one all alone so who am I to judge? “So Paige, you need to go over and make him buy you hot chocolate all the time, he’s gonna need company.”
“Small world,” said Taysia, giving her a smug look. “When he gets here, please bring him, we’d like to meet our new neighbor.”
“Right, of course,” said Sam suddenly feeling a little weird. It seemed as if she were being asked to introduce her boyfriend to her parents. But he isn’t a boyfriend, she thought, just a friend, albeit a really good friend.
“I need to go get ready,” said Sam as she got up to leave, “if I can find something to wear. He’s gonna pick me up at 6:30. Do you think you might have something I can borrow?”
Taysia looked at her like she was crazy. “You brought plenty of beautiful designer clothes, but you’re welcome to go shopping in my department store closet.”
“Thank you!” said Sam, and followed Taysia to her and her father’s bedroom.
“Why are you so worried about your clothes?” asked Taysia when they got upstairs, “you’re gorgeous and sexy in everything.”
“That’s just it, I don’t want to look sexy. This isn’t a date, just two friends having dinner. I don’t want to send the wrong message.”
“Oh, I see – and you think I have matronly clothes,” replied Taysia, acting offended. “Thanks a lot,” she added, glancing down at her own cleavage. “However, I suppose my work clothes are a bit more conservative – but not really dressy. I suppose you can always dress them up with cute heels and jewelry. But Sam, do you really think he cares what you’re wearing?”
“Crap, do you think he thinks this is a date?” she asked.
“Well, he took you furniture shopping, that’s pretty personal, so unless he’s gay….”
“Well, I’m pretty sure he isn’t, but we never really talked about it.”
“Oh puhleese,” she said rolling her eyes, “you really like him don’t you?”
“He’s been so sweet, of course I like him.” Too much, she added in her head.
“Then you need to be very clear with him where you stand.”
“Exactly why I’m raiding your closet.”
“Right, okay then let’s try this,” she said and pulled out a black dress, “black is always good.”
“Perfect,” said Sam and hurriedly pulled on the dress and finished getting ready.
Sam took one last look in the mirror before going downstairs. Well, at least it doesn’t show too much skin even though it does hug my curves, she thought. God, why am I so nervous? Because I had fun today and I like spending time with Walker – probably way too much. It’s just that he makes me feel normal, but dammit, I’m not normal and I’m not Scarlet. I need to remember exactly who I am.
Sam had just settled on the couch to wait, when Paige came barreling down the stairs. “Walker’s here!” she announced and opened the door before Sam could stop her. “Hi!” she said, just as he was getting ready to ring the bell.
“Well, hello there Miss Paige,” he replied in his kind, yet sexy voice, “how are you?”
“You’re gonna be our neighbor!” she sang out excitedly, “Sam said we could get hot chocolate all the time now.”
“You bet,” he said and chuckled, “So where is that sister of yours?”
“Um, sorry about that,” said Sam quickly, trying to rescue him from Paige. When she rounded the corner, she say he was wearing a suit, and couldn’t stop herself from admiring how handsome he was. When he caught her checking him out, he grinned causing her stomach to do somersaults, just like it did the first time Dax smiled at her. But damn, she wasn’t 16 anymore, so what was wrong with her?
“You look lovely,” he said still grinning.
Sam took a breath and forced a smile through her nerves. “Thank you. Um – please come in – I want to introduce you to my parents before we go,” she said, “Uh – they wanted to meet their new neighbor,” she added quickly with a grimace, “have a seat, and I’ll get them.” Geez Sam, what’s wrong with you? she wondered, you’re sending all the wrong signals – first ogling him then fumbling for words.
When she walked back into the room with her parents, Paige had parked herself right next to Walker as if he had come just to see her. “Are you and Sam gonna get married?” she asked and continued talking without taking a breath, “‘cause if you do, then you’d live next door and I’d get to see Sam all the time and we could all go for hot chocolate and – ”
Before Sam could form any words, Taysia called out her daughter. “Paige! That’s enough, that’s very rude.”
Walker was laughing, seemingly delighted with Paige’s monologue. “It’s okay, Paige and I are buds, right Paige?” She nodded, so he stood up and put his hand out. “Mrs. Murdock, I presume? I’m Walker Kerns, your soon-to-be next door neighbor.”
“Taysia, please – and it’s nice to meet you too Walker. Sorry about Paige, she doesn’t have much of a filter, or apparently an off switch. Both Paige and Sam seem to think highly of you, so we’re thrilled you’ll be our neighbor.”
“Um, Dad, this is Walker,” said Sam, “Walker, this is my father, Ryan Murdock.”
“Ah, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” said Walker with a warm smile and stuck out his hand again.
“Same,” said her father, looking him over. “What do you do for a living Walker?” he asked clasping his hand.
What? thought Sam panicking, now I know where Paige gets it from. “Dad,” she gasped before Walker had a chance to reply, “Walker, we need to go, or we’ll be late.”
“It’s okay Sam,” replied Walker coolly, not taking his eyes off her father, and clearly not willing to back down from his question. “I’m an advertising exec at BCL in Willow Creek, I’m sure you you’ve heard of us. I handle all of our top accounts. If you ever need to run a new ad campaign for the gym, give me a call. We do both print and media advertising and would be honored to count Total Mind & Body among our best clients. I’d be happy to provide references if needed.”
“Walker, let’s go,” said Sam through clenched teeth. Not waiting for a response this time, she grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the door. It was like he and her dad were having some sort of dick measuring contest and she didn’t want to stick around to hear her dad’s response.
After at least five minutes of driving in silence, Walker finally spoke. “I guess I overstepped back there.”
“Yeah, you think? God Walker, what was that about?” Sam was still fuming about the whole exchange and her anger just spewed out.
“Sorry Scarlet, but what the hell kind of question was that anyway?” he asked.
“Sam,” she corrected and blew out a frustrated breath. He was more defensive than she expected, but he was right, it was inappropriate. “It was a Dad question I suppose, I guess he wanted to learn more about his new neighbor.”
“By asking about my occupation? Hell no, he wanted to make sure I was good enough to take out his little girl.”
“It’s not a date, and I’m not his ‘little girl’,” she said quickly. Too quickly based on the look he shot her, and now she felt bad.
“I wasn’t there to ask for your hand in marriage, so it was out of line,” then he huffed a laugh, “although Paige did already have us married and living next door.” She could hear the smirk in his voice. Arrogant much?
“Look, we’re here,” she said relieved, wanting the unpleasant conversation to end. This was probably a bad idea, I should’ve refused.
After valeting the car, Walker gently put his hand on the her back as they made their way towards the door and she knew it was a bad idea. She wanted him to remove it, and not because she didn’t like it, but because she did. Friends. That’s all we can ever be, so get those thoughts out of your head Samantha, she reprimanded herself.
“Oh dear, they didn’t tell me the reservation was for Samantha Murdock,” said the distressed host as soon as he saw her. “Please, have a seat at the bar for one second while I prepare a private table so you won’t be bothered by autograph seekers. Drinks are on the house.”
Sam decided to go along with him this time. She wanted Walker to see what her world was like. “Thank you very much,” she said with a forgiving smile, “that would be excellent.”
“Scarlet, why didn’t you just say you looked like her?” asked Walker after they were seated at the bar.
“Because Walker, I’m not Scarlet. And I need to stop pretending I’m not who I am – and so do you.” Walker was at a loss for words and she felt bad for being so blunt, but she needed to set the record straight. I’m not Scarlet, the girl from Newcrest, she repeated to herself, I’m Samantha Murdock, the actress along with all the baggage that comes with who I am and I can’t let Walker make me forget.
Finally he spoke. “I don’t think you were pretending, you were just letting go and being yourself.”
Before she could reply to what he said, the host was back, with a waiter following behind him. “We have your table ready Ms. Murdock. Joseph will get your drinks. Please, follow me.”
They were seated in a table back in the corner that was indeed private. “This is lovely,” said Sam, “thank you.”
Joseph busied himself placing their drinks on the table. “Would you like a minute? Or I could tell you about our chef’s specials,” he offered with a big smile.
“Can you give us a minute Joseph?” asked Walker.
“Of course sir, I’ll be back in a few to check on you.”
Walker was holding back a laugh. “I suppose celebrity does have its perks,” he said when Joseph was out of ear shot.
“Well, we’ll see how much you like the perks, because I guarantee you, there will be paparazzi when we leave.”
“How?” he asked.
“Are you kidding? The wait staff is already gossiping. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m asked for autographs before we leave. Be prepared to be plastered on the front of a magazine as Samantha’s new lover.”
Walker lowered his brow in thought. “Hmmm, I don’t work with many celebrities, mostly just up and coming actors trying to make a name doing a commercial, but when we do, it’s very low key. So I guess I didn’t think you being recognized was a big deal. I mean, it worked great today when you pretended to be a look alike – and you have to admit – that was funny as hell. Your cheeks got so red, that’s why I called you Scarlet.” Now he was grinning again.
Sam softened and smiled in return. He was right, it was funny and she had enjoyed it. “You do know you’re going to have to call and exchange that canopy bed. That won’t work for a bachelor pad, although it might come in handy to win over some unsuspecting woman.” She felt her heart squeeze a little at her own words.
“I’ll have you know, Scarlet, I don’t need a canopy bed to win over women. But just the same, I’m keeping it, it will remind of you.” Then he barked out a laugh. “In fact, my whole damn house will.” Then he had the audacity to wink at her.
God, what have I done? I should’ve never agreed to help him. “Nope, my dear Walker,” she said smugly, “it’ll remind you of Scarlet, not me. And now, Samantha Murdock is starving. If you’ll just look behind us, Joseph will come running. He’s been watching,” she added in a conspiratorial whisper.
Sure enough he was right there and they quickly ordered. Walker was sweet and didn’t order any alcohol even though Joseph would’ve gotten them a really nice wine – which would’ve been lovely with dinner. Sam sighed softly. I wonder if I’ll ever be well enough to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner again?
“Hey, are you okay?” he asked.
Sam quickly smiled. “Yes, just thinking about when I have to go home and back to reality. But I’m really excited about the new script,” she added with a little more enthusiasm.
Their dinner came and they chatted about nothing too personal, which was fine with her. Then Walker imitated Henry from the furniture store, which had her laughing again.
Soon it was already time to go and she suddenly felt silly that she had flaunted who she was. “Are you ready?” she asked.
“No,” he said and gave her a look that twisted her stomach in knots again, “the evening sailed by, we’ll need to do this again and soon.”
“I enjoyed it too, but what I meant was are you ready for the paparazzi. I’m pretty sure Joseph took pictures while we were talking and it’s already on social media.”
“He did?” asked Walker frowning. She just nodded and smiled.
Just then Joseph walked over and asked if he could have a picture with Sam. “Of course,” she said pleasantly and got up so they could get a picture together.
On the way out the door, as she had predicted, the Paparrazi were there. “Told you,” said Sam under her breath, as they quickly escaped to his waiting car and drove off.
One month later …..
“What’s worrying that pretty head of yours Scarlet?” asked Walker once they were seated. He immediately sensed something wasn’t right when he picked her up for their regular Saturday morning coffee date. She’d been quiet in the car instead of turning on the radio and singing along.
She gave him a weak smile at the use of his nickname for her and took off her sunglasses. She’d taken to trying to hide her identity again after being recognized at the restaurant. “Sam,” she corrected as she always did when he called her Scarlet. For some reason, she didn’t like the nickname, but he liked what it represented and wanted to remind her, so he kept teasing her with it.
Now he could see those gorgeous eyes, and they were filled with sadness. “Filming starts in two weeks,” she continued, “so I have to get back next Saturday to meet the cast and crew and get settled in. I’ve been looking forward to it for so long, but now that it’s here, I’m terrified.”
“Why?” he asked, doing his best to keep the disappointment off his face and out of his voice. He knew this day would come, but he wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
“So many reasons, mostly the unknowns and ‘what ifs’ are killing me. It’s going to be weird going back after being away for so long. And then, there’s not seeing you a couple of times a week. I look forward to our coffee dates, hanging out with Cassie and Cris, furniture shopping or whatever you throw at me. I’m going to miss my park friend.”
She’s gonna miss me? he thought, I’m gonna be fucking lost without her around. I look forward to her smile and making her laugh. I can’t do that when she’s so far away. Damn, how did I get so attached when I haven’t even kissed her yet? And now it’s too fucking late. “So, we have a week?” he stated his question.
“I have a week, yes,” she said and looked at him curiously.
“Then we have a week too. I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.” Not even remotely close.
She sighed softly before responding. “Me either, but …”
“No buts,” he said cutting her off. “Here’s what we’ll do – I’ll take the week off and we can spend it together doing crazy shit – fun stuff – before you have to leave.”
She cocked her head at his statement, looking adorable. “What kind of crazy fun stuff?” she asked, biting her bottom lip, the one he hadn’t yet kissed, but wanted to.
“We can go ice skating, decorate my house, drink hot cocoa by the fire, watch a movie, go bowling, have a picnic in the park. Whatever you want, we’ll do.”
“Walker … I don’t think so, that’s only going to make it harder for me to say goodbye.”
Walker grinned. “That’s my master plan.” Then he got serious. “Scarlet, I don’t want you to forget about me when you get back to the land of beautiful people and have to be Samantha Murdock again – with a new leading man dominating your time.”
“I could never forget my park friend … but Walker, please, don’t make this harder. I came today,” she stopped and swallowed hard, “to say goodbye.”
“So I gathered, but neither one of us is ready. So what do you want to do first?”
“You’re seriously taking the entire week off?”
Walker couldn’t keep the smile from his face, he knew he’d won. “Absofuckinglutely I am! So, you pick first and we’ll take turns, it’ll be fun.”
Her face softened and she smiled, wrinkling her nose. “You’re insane Walker Kerns. Okay, ice skating, maybe? Are you good? Because I’ve never been, I’ll need lots of help.”
There’s the smile I was missing, he thought smugly, imagining himself holding her while she figured out how to balance. A perfect first activity. “Ice skating it is.”