The first thing Sam does- once the papers are signed and the dust has settled and his life is officially titled ‘Post-Lorraine’ in his mind- is make arrangements to move his life from New York.
He’d only moved to the city because it had been what Lorraine’s parents had wanted and expected- just like their entire relationship had been. They’d been friends since they were small, and it had just always been assumed they’d fall in love and get married and the Carmichael-Rockwell houses would be united. And they’d dated, in college, because they were both at Columbia and it was easy and it was comfortable. And Sam cared for Lorraine- loved her, on some level. But it had never been a fireworks exploding, heart-stopping kind of love; the engagement had been Lorraine’s father’s idea, not Sam’s, and he’d gone to Greece to try to sort out his own head before he married away his own life.
Now the city held too many memories of a failed marriage, so Sam packed up his apartment, got on a plane with his two small boys, and headed back to that same small island in an attempt to clear his head once more. The thought of Donna being there crossed his mind, but he couldn’t imagine she’d stuck around for the last seven years, so he pushed it aside and tried to figure out what he was going to do with his life now.
By the time they arrive in Athens, Adam is whining for food and Max is overtired, having refused to sleep on the plane- Sam manages to get them checked into their hotel before either boy has a major meltdown and both are sound asleep, room service trays only half-eaten, within half an hour. He breathes out a sigh of relief, and takes the opportunity to shower quickly before rummaging through their luggage- most of their things were in storage in New York, his assistant awaiting word on where to send it once Sam made a decision about where they were living.
When Lorraine had come to him, telling him in her calm, straightforward way that she wanted a divorce, he hadn’t been surprised. Their relationship had been on a downward path since Max’s birth two years ago; they slept in separate rooms and rarely saw each other, save for events at Adam’s daycare that required both of them to be present.
The shock had been when she’d informed him she was signing over her parental rights and he would have full custody of both boys; that she wanted no custody whatsoever. It was no secret she wasn’t much of a hands-on parents; they’d had a nanny since the time Adam was six months old. But when Sam had tried to argue- insist that Adam and Max needed their mother in their lives- Lorraine had merely walked away, and told him the papers would be mailed to him. She’d moved back to her parent’s loft that very night, and Sam and the boys hadn’t seen her again until the court hearing three months later.
Adam still couldn’t quite grasp it- he asked Sam when Mommy would be joining them on their trip frequently, and Sam had told him only that this was a trip their mother wasn’t a part of. Max, thankfully, was too small to understand.
Sam slides carefully into bed, holding his breath when Max moves sleepily; his son settles once he had a hand fisted in Sam’s shirt, and Sam carefully wrapped his arms around his youngest, cradling him against his chest. He falls asleep listening to both his sons breathing, and his dreams are inexplicably filled with the laugh of a little girl and golden blonde hair.
The next day, after a breakfast buffet and a bath for the boys, they take the train from Athens to the coast; the boys are fascinated by the scenery, so used to only New York.
“It’s so blue, Daddy,” Adam tells him in awe, pointing to the ocean, and Sam smiles, stroking a hand over the little boy’s auburn baby curls. Max watches the window from Sam’s lap, his thumb in his mouth.
“We can go swimming in it, how does that sound?” Sam asks, and Adam nods vigorously, clearly excited at the prospect.
By the time they arrive at the coast, it’s early afternoon; everything is as Sam remembers, right down to the people. It’s the strangest sensation of coming home, and something tugs in the pit of his stomach; the memory of blonde hair and a bright smile and eyes as blue as the sea. Max is fascinated by everything; he watches everything from Sam’s hip, green eyes wide and thumb firmly in his mouth.
By the third hotel that’s booked full, though, Sam is feeling less nostalgic and more irritated than anything else. He’s bought the boys drinks and sat them down outside one of the restaurants when a tall, dark-haired man approaches them.
“You are looking for a hotel?” he asks, his voice accented as he looks at Sam. Sam nods, standing up, and the man nods his head towards the ferry.
“The Hotel Sophia should still have rooms, it’s only been reopened for a few months now. The festival has filled everywhere else up,” he tells him, and Sam lets out a noise of understanding, some of his irritation leaking away. “The last ferry of the day leaves in twenty minutes, for Kalokairi. I’d be on it if I were you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Sam says, and the man merely nods, sending a small half-smile to Adam and Max, before he disappears back into the crowd. “Alright boys, let’s go for a boat ride, how does that sound?”
The island is nearly exactly as Sam remembers it, and everywhere he looks, there’s a phantom girl smiling back at him teasingly, waiting for him to catch up.
He pushes the memories aside and guides Adam forward through the courtyard, pulling their suitcase along behind him and shifting Max on his hip. The summer sun is still high in the sky, and he can feel his thin shirt sticking to his back, sweat dripping down his neck.
The veranda is empty, save for a little girl at the side table, coloring something and happily swinging her feet. She looks up at the sound of footsteps, and gives them a beaming smile.
“Hi! I’m Sophie. My mommy will be right back,” she tells them, showcasing a missing front tooth in her grin. Her eyes are a familiar shade of blue, and something stirs in Sam’s chest.
“Hi Sophie, I’m Sam, and these are my boys, Adam and Max,” he replies, and Adam waves while Max hides his face shyly in Sam’s chest.
“Wanna color? I have lotsa pages,” Sophie offers, and Adam looks up at Sam- after a moment, Sam nods, walking over with him to help him into the chair beside Sophie’s. Her page is a myriad of bright colors, and Sam watches her offer pages to his son with amusement before sharing her crayons.
It’s been a handful of minutes when a voice comes from behind him, and his stomach drops at the familiar tone.
“Sorry for the wait, I was…Sam? What are you doing here?”
He turns, heart in his throat, to find Donna Sheridan looking at him with wide eyes, shock plainly painted in her features. Sam clears his throat, shifting Max in his arms.
“I’m looking for a room, Sheridan. Heard this was the place to stay.”
She’s positive she’s hallucinating when he turns around. Sam Carmichael can’t be here- not again, not after seven years.
But he still has that lopsided smile and his eyes still burn her skin just a little when he looks at her and no one else can make her heart race the way he does, and she swallows hard at the sight of him, a little boy in his arms. Her gaze falls to the second boy, seated beside Sophie, and she can’t help the way her eyes widen just a little bit.
“There are a dozen places to stay, Sam,” she tells him, watching the way he shifts his stance.
“They’re all full- there’s a festival in town. I was directed here,” he replies, and she closes her eyes, remembering the five day festival to be thrown starting tomorrow. “I didn’t know you were even still here, Donna.”
“Why are you here, Sam?” she asks, the weight of her question hanging between them for a few long moments before the little boy in the chair tugs on Sam’s pants.
“Daddy? I’m hungry,” he whines quietly, and Sophie looks up.
“Me too, Mommy,” she pouts, pushing out her bottom lip, and Donna watches as Sam’s spine stiffens at her last word. Unable to even begin to broach that subject with him, she turns to the open door and walks over to the guest book. She feels Sam follow, the aching familiarity of it choking her.
“How long do you intend on staying?” she asks, flicking pages- it’s practically bare, the hotel barely off the ground in the year since Sophia had passed away and Donna had undertaken it, trying to renovate the old structure as much as possible while raising a daughter and keeping them afloat with the money the old woman had left them. She really could use a guest, even if it is the man she’d sworn she never wanted to see again.
“At least a week,” Sam answers, voice rough in his throat, and she nods. He hands her the money in cash up front and she gives him the key for one of the larger rooms with two beds, farther away from where she and Sophie slept.
“Mommy, food!” Sophie demands from behind them, a little less pleasant this time, and Donna rubs at the skin between her eyebrows, a headache blooming.
“Let’s go see what’s in the kitchen, alright?” she asks, and Sophie nods, skipping ahead of her. Turning to Sam, she points up the stairs. “Up and to the right, second door. That’s your room.”
Not waiting for an answer, she goes after her daughter- Sophie is humming to herself as she pushes a chair towards the counter, clearly planning to stand on it.
“I think not, Sophie Samantha Sheridan,” Donna chides, and Sophie huffs dramatically, collapsing onto the wooden furniture. “What are you hungry for? PB&J? Marcos brought over more jelly yesterday from the market.”
Sophie nods dejectedly, and Donna frowns, watching her as she pulls things out of the cabinets to make the sandwich. “Why the face, Soph?”
“Can I play with Adam more?” she asks, and Donna’s lips seal together in a line. “He’s from New York, Mama. I wanna go there!”
“He’s a guest, baby,” Donna reminds her, and Sophie sighs once more.
“I know. And guests aren’t friends,” she recites, and Donna can’t help the sad twinge in her heart at Sophie’s crushed face. Her daughter takes the plate with the sandwich on it and musters up a small smile of gratitude. “Thanks Mommy. I’ll go eat in my room.”
Donna watches Sophie leave the kitchen and sinks into one of the chairs, covering her face with her hands. The less Sophie is around Sam, the better- but the sadness in her daughter’s small face is too much on top of seeing Sam again, and a few stray tears leak down her cheeks.
There’s so much to do- there are a whole block of rooms she’d planned to paint, along with figuring out the design for the new hotel sign and writing out the food order for the next day. But she’s suddenly exhausted, and plagued with thoughts of Sam and their history and the looming question she knows he’ll find a way to ask her.
“Donna-” she looks up at the voice, finding one of the men from the docks in the doorway. “Sorry to disturb you, but you wanted me to let you know when the new shipment came in.”
“Right. The new shutters. Can you just leave them in the courtyard, Marcos?” she asks, swiping at her damp face, and the man nods before disappearing again. Donna rubs at her eyes again before pushing herself into a standing position and clearing away the lunch dishes and then takes stock of the pantry; once she’s written her list, she tucks it into the pocket of her overalls and heads for the courtyard.
The crate with the shutters is off to the side, and Donna closes her eyes the moment she takes the top off. The shutters were supposed to be blue, but she’s looking down at a bunch of white wood, and that’s apparently just how her day is going to go. It won’t be too hard to fix- just a few coats of paint, really- but just the thought of adding something else to her to do list makes Donna want to tear her hair out.
Unable to look at the new load of work that’s just piled into her lap, Donna makes her way back to the main office. There are stacks of bills to go through and file because of simple neglect on her part, and with a sigh, she begins the task of separating them by month and placing them in the corresponding files.
It’s mind-numbing work, and she doesn’t even realize how long she’s been doing it until Sophie skips into the room, humming.
“Mommy, I’m bored. I finished my book and it’s hot in my room,” she tells her, and Donna brushes her hair out of her face, lifting an eyebrow at her daughter as she hops up onto the now cleared-off desk. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I did just finish cleaning off the desk, though it seems to be occupied once more,” Donna replies, tickling her daughter’s side and earning a squealing giggle, making her lips curve into a half-smile. “Come with me to check on the laundry? I could use another set of hands to fold the sheets.”
“Okay Mommy!” Sophie says, sliding off the desk and extending her hand, waving it impatiently when Donna takes a moment to rise and follow her. She chuckles, low under her breath, and takes her daughter’s hand in hers, allowing the younger girl to swing their clutched fingers between their bodies as they headed for the linen lines.
“Okay, Soph, hold that end for me,” Donna instructs, handing Sophie one half of the sheet; her daughter nodded, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, and Donna couldn’t help but smile as together they folded the shirt into a neat little square.
“Mommy,” Sophie starts, and Donna looks at her, waiting for her to continue. “How do you know Adam’s Daddy?”
Donna pauses at that, throat going dry, and she rubs at the back of her neck as she closes her eyes briefly.
“I knew him a long, long time ago, baby. For a summer,” she answers, stroking a hand over her daughter’s soft hair. “Before I was your mommy and he was Adam and Max’s daddy.”
Sophie’s nose crinkles.
“That was forever ago,” she replies, and Donna laughs, hugging her daughter to her side before she bends to kiss the top of her head.
“You’re very right, Sophie. It was forever ago.”
She picked up the next sheet, handing her daughter one end. “C’mon, these won’t fold themselves.”
“That lady’s pretty, Daddy,” Adam tells him as the door to their room shuts behind them, and Sam can’t help but huff out a laugh. He sets their bags down, and then plops Max on one of the beds; the little boy lays back, giggling as he rolls a little on the soft surface, and Sam feels his chest lighten a little at the sound.
“She’s very beautiful, Adam, you’re right,” Sam tells his son, beginning to unpack some of their things; depositing their toiletries in the bathroom and some of their clothes in the dresser. Adam’s stuffed turtle ends up on the pillow beside Max’s trusty security blanket, and Sam watches as both boys’ eyes droop with tiredness after a quick lunch of bread and cheese at the balcony table in the sunshine.
Not wanting to stray far from the boys lest one of the wake from their nap early, Sam sits at the balcony table and sketches what he can of the view; they have the ocean below them, crashing against the cliffside, and his pencil flies across the page. The urge to draw anything remotely scenic and not strictly blueprints hadn’t struck him in nearly eight years, and the reason behind this sudden inspiration wasn’t lost to him.
By the time Max stirs an hour later, Sam has charcoal-stained fingertips and nearly a dozen sheets of sketches; the hotel and the ocean and faces. He tries not to dwell on the latter; tries not to think about the tangled mess his thoughts are about the beautiful little girl in the lobby, looking like a miniature replica of Donna. The little girl whose age fit perfectly with the summer that—
“Daddy,” he’s pulled from the cyclone of thoughts by Adam’s voice, and he pushes himself up and out of the chair, heading for the bedroom. His eldest son was sitting up on the bed, rubbing at his eyes and his auburn curls still tousled from sleep.
“Hey there big man. Sleep well?” he asked, carefully picking him up and cradling him to his chest. Adam was almost too big for it- still only allowed this kind of affection when he was half asleep, so Sam treasured the way his son clung to him, still sleep warm and soft.
Max was still dead to the world, soft snoring sounds leaving his mouth, so Sam shifted Adam to his hip and headed out the bedroom door, shutting it quietly behind him. Adam’s more awake when they reach the courtyard, arms slung around his father’s neck, and his voice is quiet when he speaks.
“Daddy, I have a question,” he says, and Sam shifts, setting his son on the ground and kneeling until they were level, stroking his hair out of his face.
“What is it, son?” he asks, and Adam’s face is young and open and earnest as he asks his perfectly innocent question.
“Is Mommy going to come soon?” he asks, and Sam feels irrational annoyance well inside of him, though it isn’t directed at his son. It’s centered entirely at Lorraine; for leaving him to field these questions and to raise their sons alone.
Sam takes a breath, squeezing his son’s shoulders and gathers all his patience before he answers his son’s question for what must have been the fifth time of the trip.
Donna’s hanging the newest load of laundry up to dry when she hears them; Sam’s voice is quiet, but it carries on the wind, and she closes her eyes, hands gripping the damp towel in her hands tightly.
“Is Mommy going to come soon?” it must be Adam that’s talking, his voice small, and Donna swallows thickly at his question. The thought of dealing with the woman Sam had left to go home to marry is just too much for her.
“I told you, Adam, your mother isn’t coming. That’s why we left New York,” Sam’s voice is gentle, but has a tone to it like he’s explained this before- Donna recognizes it from her own life and explaining to Sophie why she didn’t have a dad like the other kids. “Your mother decided she wanted a change.”
Donna frowns at that. It didn’t sound like something a happily married man would say, and it certainly didn’t support the picture-perfect family portrait she’d had in her head. She hangs the towel in her hands up, wiping her hands on her jeans, and rounds the corner; Sam is kneeling before Adam, brushing some of the auburn hair from his eyes, and Donna feels her stomach swoop a little at the motion.
Sam looks up, lips quirking into an instant little half-smile that makes her knees weak, and she clears her throat, forcing herself not to smile back.
“Hello,” he says, standing up and dusting off his knees, picking Adam up and putting the boy on his hip; Adam smiles at her, giving a little wave. She softens, smiling at him.
“Hello. Sophie and I were about to make dinner…” she starts, and throwing caution to the wind, continues on, despite the anxiety pulsing in her throat. “Would you and your boys like to join us?”
“We wouldn’t want to intrude…” Sam says, but Adam pats on his shoulder.
“But I want to see Sophie again!” he says, and Donna’s smile widens just a touch.
“I think that settles it then,” she replies, picking up her empty laundry basket from behind her. “Come by the kitchen in about twenty minutes.”
With that, she heads for her room to drop the basket off and to find Sophie; her daughter would be over the moon to know she’d be seeing her New York friend again, which was enough to soften Donna’s heart. The traitorous organ was already thrumming with a hint of excitement at the prospect of a meal with Sam, much to her chagrin.
She leaves the basket by the foot of her bed, and tells herself it isn’t for Sam that she changes out of her sweaty overalls into a cotton summer dress, and pins her hair back in a loose bun, strands floating around her shoulders and against her neck. When she peeks her head into Sophie’s room, she finds her daughter flipping through an old picture book.
“C’mon, Soph. I’ve got a surprise for you,” she says, and her daughter’s eyes widen before she scampers off the bed, taking Donna’s hand and skipping along beside her as they head for the kitchen.
“What is it, Mommy?” she asks, allowing Donna to quickly braid her hair out of her face and secure it between her shoulder blades, before she steps onto a chair next to the counter.
Before Donna can answer, there’s a knock on the door, and they turn to find Sam in the doorway, Max and Adam stepping in ahead of him.
“Are we early?” he asks, and Donna shakes her head.
“Right on time, we were just about to get started,” she answers, and pulls another chair up, beckoning Adam over. “Would you like to help Sophie make the salad?”
“They’re the surprise?” Sophie asks, turning to her as her entire face lights up- when Donna nods, Sophie throws her arms around her, squeezing tightly. “Oh, Mommy, thank you!”
Donna kisses her head, unable to help the smile. “You show the boys how to rip the lettuce apart, okay?”
Sophie nods, then very seriously begins explaining to Adam and Max how to take the lettuce head apart and divide it into smaller pieces. Donna watches fondly before she pulls the cheese and meat out of the fridge, and nods her head to the counter.
“Can you cut the bread? I figured we could do panini sandwiches,” she directs Sam to the other counter from where he had been watching her quietly as she moved around the kitchen. He nods, setting to work, and Donna heats the stove, pulling out the iron press and setting it aside.
It feels comfortable and domestic and the longing in the pit of Donna’s stomach grows as she watches Sam; he’d moved to help the kids with the salad after he’d finished with the bread, and Sophie giggled at his suggestions of ridiculous things they could add to the salad. Her heart clenched, and she found herself studying them; trying even harder to find bits of Sam in her daughter, as though she didn’t already spend most of her days doing just that.
When they sit, Sophie and Adam sit on one side, and Sam sits with Max in his lap, the younger boy suddenly shy as he clung to the collar of his father’s shirt. Donna ended up beside Sam, Sophie wanting her mother directly across from her, and she could feel the heat of him, barely an inch between them on the bench. She took a drink of water to alleviate the sudden dryness in her throat, smiling at Sophie as they all started to eat.
“Tell us about New York! Is it big? Does it get cold? What’s snow like?” Sophie asks, questions pouring out of her as she picked up her sandwich, and Sam’s lips twitched in amusement; Donna opened her mouth to tell her daughter to slow down, but she was interrupted by Adam’s excited reply.
“It’s only cold in the winter, when it snows!” Adam answers her, and Donna sat back, letting the two of them talk, Sam chiming in occasionally to correct some fact or add something to a story Adam told.
They were nearly done when Max lifted his head from Sam’s chest, and stretched out his arms- directly to Donna. Her eyes widened, and when Sam realized what his son was doing, he shifted him a little.
“No, Max,” he told the boy softly, frowning when tears welled up in his eyes. Donna bit her lip, and extended a hand hesitantly, touching his upper arm.
“It’s okay. I’ll take him; it just means that you get to clean up,” she suggested. She knew the beginnings of a tantrum when she saw one, and she didn’t want this evening to end. Not yet. She couldn’t put words to it- couldn’t justify it to her head, but her heart told her to hold onto this moment. Just for a little while longer.
Sam looked at her carefully- studying her face, his blue eyes dark and achingly deep as they traced her features for any signs of hesitation- before he nodded; he carefully shifted Max until he could place him in Donna’s lap, and the toddler happily snuggled into her, thumb in his mouth and head nestled beneath her chin. It had been too long since she’d had the opportunity to hold such a young child; not since Sophie had been that age. She breathed in his baby scent, mixed with just a touch of Sam’s aftershave, and inhaled deeply; imprinting it in her mind.
“I’ll help you, Sam!” Sophie offered, beaming up at him and helping him collect the plates; Sam smiled softly, starting the water in the sink and helping Sophie pull a stepstool over so she could reach, Adam joining them a moment later. Donna watches them work together, Max settled comfortably in her lap, and for just a snapshot of a moment she forgets about the pressing issue of Sophie’s parentage and her feelings for Sam that had clearly never disappeared over the years and the affection for his sons she could feel welling inside of her.
For a singular moment it feels like home and she does everything she can to lock the feeling away before it grows roots inside her.