“And we’re clear!”
Carly sagged with relief as soon as Freddie ended the stream. Doing iCarly was more exhausting than she remembered. Maybe it was because she’d started the show when she was thirteen and now she was just a few years away from turning thirty. Time could rob anyone of their energy.
Or maybe it was because she was hosting the show alone. With a sigh, Carly looked at the cardboard cut-out of Sam that Spencer had hung up in the studio. Some might think it morbid to have a life-sized picture of your dead best friend in your apartment but Carly found it comforting. It was nice to have something to remind her of her former co-host in the new iCarly.
Sometimes doing iCarly again felt like a tribute to Sam’s memory. Sometimes, it felt like an insult.
“Great show today Carly!” said Harper as Freddie tidied up his equipment. Carly smiled at her friend, roommate and self-appointed costume designer. She was grateful for Harper’s involvement in all this, and that she was willing to appear on the show for various skits with her and Spencer.
“Thanks Harper,” said Carly. “I was worried about how the candid camera segment would go down with the viewers.”
“Are you kidding?” Freddie interjected, looking up with a grin. “The chat went wild for that! Come here and check the comments!”
With a glance at each other the girls walked over to Freddie as he scrolled back through the chat to find what he was looking for. Carly stood back with her arms crossed as Harper leaned over Freddie’s shoulder to look at his laptop screen.
“OMG this is hilarious,” she read aloud. “LOL classic comedy. Did you see that guy’s face?” Harper looked at Freddie and Carly with a smile. “Wow they really did love it,” she said before looking back at the comments. “This reminds me of the “Messing with Lewbert” segments you did with Sam in the original show.”
Carly’s felt her smile drop from her face, her stomach feeling like a lead weight had settled in it. A quick look at Freddie confirmed he was feeling it too. Carly averted her eyes, blinking back the tears suddenly trying to escape. This should have been easier by now! It had been years since Sam’s death.
Harper seemed to notice the change in atmosphere that had taken over the studio. She opened her mouth, probably to try to apologise, but nothing came out.
“Guys, dinner’s ready!” Spencer called from downstairs. Harper quickly took advantage of the distraction and raced out the studio door, leaving her friends behind. Freddie sighed, scratching the back of his head before placing a hand on Carly’s shoulder.
“I miss her too,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel real sometimes.”
Carly nodded, reaching up to squeeze his hand. She looked back at Sam’s picture again, taking in the long blonde hair and mischievous smile. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Come on, let’s eat.”
Dinner turned out to be spaghetti tacos. Just another sharp reminder of Sam. She loved spaghetti tacos. Carly tried not to think about it, picking at her meal. Thankfully Freddie and Millicent were causing a scene, giving her something else to focus on.
“Come on Millie,” Freddie pleaded with his stepdaughter. “You like spaghetti, you like tacos. What’s the problem with spaghetti tacos?”
“They. Are. Weird!” Millicent insisted, not for the first time. Freddie groaned, letting his head fall to the table and nearly crushing his own taco. Carly had to bite back a chuckle. She really shouldn’t find it funny, Freddie was doing his best to raise Millicent without his ex-wife. But she could be such a brat sometimes!
“Look,” said Freddie, staring the girl in the eye. “One taco, that’s all I’m asking. Eat one taco and you can have some ice-cream for desert.”
Millicent crossed her arms, staring her step-father down. She was a stubborn kid but Carly could see she was faltering. “Swear?” she asked.
“Fine,” she muttered with an eye roll. The girl picked up one of the tacos with a grimace before daintily nibbling at it. Harper and Spencer shared a chuckle at her expression, one of a child realising she had been making a big deal out of nothing but refusing to admit it. Freddie sighed in relief, finally digging into his own taco.
“You’ve been quiet this evening Carly,” said Spencer between mouthfuls. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” lied Carly, plastering her best smile on her face. She really didn’t want to get into this at the dinner table. “Just having one of those days.” The look on her brother’s was far too understanding for her liking. She cast around for a change in subject. “How’s your new sculpture going?”
The rest of dinner, and Millicent’s promised desert, was spent listening to Spencer ramble about his newest piece of art and the ideas he had to use electromagnets to make it appear as if parts of it were floating. Carly had to admit, it sounded cool, but privately she wondered how long it would take to burst into flames.
When the food was gone and Carly and Harper were clearing away the dishes Freddie started herding Millicent out the door and back to their apartment.
“Come on kiddo,” he said, gathering his stuff together. “Mom signed us up for father-daughter line dancing classes in the morning.”
“Ugh, lame,” Millicent groused. Freddie stared at her for a moment, then sagged in agreement.
“I know, but you try stopping my mom,” he said. “She used to do this all the time when I was a kid.”
“It’s true,” said Carly and Spencer confirmed together. Millicent groaned loudly before marching out the door, likely to confront Mrs Benson. Carly wished her luck, but that woman was not easily swayed.
“So do you guys want to watch a movie or something?” Harper asked as she put away the last of the dishes. Spencer quickly agreed and began digging under the cushions on the couch for the remote.
“You guys go ahead, I’m pretty beat,” said Carly. “I’m just going to head to bed.”
“You sure?” asked Spencer, looking up at her with that damn understanding expression. Carly nodded, saying her goodnights before heading up the stairs to her room. She didn’t bother turning on the lights, just kicked off her shoes and let her jeans fall to the floor before she crawled into bed. Taking her phone in hand she opened an old video.
“And I’m Sam!”
“And this is iCarly!”
Tears filled Carly’s vision, finally falling from where they’d been building all evening. The two little girls on the screen had been convinced that nothing could tear them apart.
It had been six years. Six years since that awful phone call, telling her that Sam had crashed a car into the bay. Six years since she’d attended a closed casket funeral, holding Melanie close as they cried their eyes out, as Spencer and Freddie tried their hardest to be strong for the girls and Sam’s mother drank herself into oblivion. Six years without the most important person in her life.
“We’ll see you on the next iCarly!”
“I miss you Sam,” she sobbed. “So much.”
Carly was awoken from a dream about motorcycles by a clang of metal. Confused, she glanced over to the window and froze. On the fire escape, backlit by the moonlight, was a figure jamming something into the gap between the window and the sill.
Carly didn’t dare breathe as the person (thief? burglar?) opened the window and slid into her room with a silent grace.
Just take what you want and get out! she thought desperately, but the person immediately padded over to her bed. Panic gripped Carly’s heart as she tensed further. No, no, no!
The person reached for her and Carly screamed. The figure flinched and she threw her bedsheets over their head before pouncing on them, tackling them to the floor and raining blows down on the intruder’s head as hard as she could, screaming all the while.
Be as aggressive as you can, Sam had told once, more than a decade ago. They never expect little girls to go hard, so unless they’re really used to fighting you can take them. Just put every emotion you have, anger, fear, disgust, whatever, into your swings and you can take them. And do not fight fair.
Carly struck the intruder’s face through her bedsheets, swatting their hands away as they tried to stop her. She would not be a victim in her own home.
“Carly! Carly stop!” they pleaded. “It’s me!”
Carly froze, sure her mind was playing tricks on her. There was no way. She franticly reached for her bedside lamp, flicking the light on before pulling the sheet off the person, the woman, beneath her. Carly gasped. The woman was clad in a leather jacket and her hair was short, it fell just past her ears and was dyed blue with a few tiny streaks of blonde through it. A dozen piercings covered her face and her lip was bleeding from beneath one of them.
But there was no mistaking her.
“Hey Cupcake,” said Sam, smiling up at her, seemingly indifferent to the blood on her mouth. “Nice right hook you’ve got there.”
Carly shook her head, breathing hard. This had to be a dream. She pinched her arm, and when the pain didn’t wake her up she did it again.
“I want to wake up now,” she whimpered, before slapping herself across the face. This was too cruel. A dream where her best friend was still alive, looking up at her with those same eyes she grew up with, and she couldn’t wake up. It was only going to hurt more when she eventually did the longer this went on. She tried to slap herself again but the dream Sam caught her wrist.
“Carly stop,” she said. “You’re not dreaming. I really am alive,” she finished with a smile.
“I faked my death,” she explained, smiling as if that was something that made any sense at all.
“There were some bad people after me,” Sam explained. “And the only way to stop them from trying to kill me was to make them think I was already dead.” She looked proud of herself. “Pretty smart, right?”
“Carly?” Sam asked, seeming far away. Carly’s vision blurred as tears fell once again. “Carly?”
“You-you BITCH!” Carly screamed, swinging at Sam with an open palm slap. The resulting smack echoed around her room. Sam looked up at her in shock, clutching her face with one hand. Carly smacked her again. “How DARE you! Do you have any idea what it was like? I MOURNED you! Everybody’s STILL mourning you!” Carly sobbed, letting her arms fall and grasping at Sam’s collar. The woman was looking up at her with the expression of one who had only just realised that her actions had consequences. Carly collapsed into her, crying into her shirt. “How could do this to me?” she sobbed.
“I’m sorry,” said Sam, bringing her arms up around Carly to hold her. It was such a familiar gesture Carly immediately returned it, holding on tighter than she’d ever had before. “I guess I didn’t think it though.”
“Carly!” shouted Spencer, bursting through the door with Harper right behind him. “We heard screami-“ Her brother stopped dead in his tracks, dropping the golf club he was holding. Harper had a pan in hand, lowering it as she stared on in disbelief. Spencer took a step forward, one hand going to his mouth, the other reaching out to the girls on the floor. “Sam?”
The four migrated down to the kitchen, though it took a while as Carly refused to let Sam go. In the end, Spencer and Harper had to drag them both to their feet so they could walk downstairs while she still held her friend. Now the two of them sat at the island in the kitchen while Harper took a chair at the dining table and Spencer dug around under the sink.
“So,” said Harper, trying to break the ice. “You’re the famous Sam.”
“That’s me,” said Sam, looking at her over Carly’s head. “You’re Harper, right? Nice to meet you.”
Spencer interrupted them, slamming a large box down on the island counter. “Carly I need you to move so I can take care of Sam’s face.” Carly shook her head, trying bury herself further into her friend’s arms. Spencer sighed. “At least shift around so I can clean the cut on her lip, kiddo.”
Carly shot him a dirty look before getting up without relinquishing her hold on Sam. She shuffled behind her friend, dragging her stool along with her foot before sitting back down and resting her cheek between Sam’s shoulder blades.
“Yeah, I don’t think she’s letting go any time soon,” said Sam with a chuckle.
“Yeah, it’s not every day your friend comes back from the dead,” Spencer snarked as he pulled an anti-sceptic wipe from the first-aid kit. “Now look here,” he said, taking her chin in his hand before aggressively dabbing at her bleeding lip.
“Ow, Spencer!” Sam hissed. “That stings!”
“Oh don’t be a baby!” he retorted. “You’re just lucky we don’t have any iodine!”
Sam pouted, wincing as the action pulled at her lip. Spencer finished cleaning her face, throwing the wipe into the trash before grabbing something from the freezer and tossing it to Sam.
“Tater-tots?” she asked with a smile.
“Not for eating,” he ordered. “Put it on your lip.”
“Who do you think I am?” she said, crossing her arms and glaring up at him. He just put his hands on his hips and raised an eyebrow. “Ok, point taken. Carly, could let me go for a sec? I need to take this jacket off or I’m gonna overheat.”
Carly grumbled under her breath and didn’t move. Instead she shifted her arms, one clutching Sam lower around her stomach while the other slid up to push her sleeve off, refusing to relinquish contact for even a second before repeating the action with the other sleeve. She caught sight of Harper waggling her eyebrows at her, biting her bottom lip and mouthed a quick “shut up” before pressing her forehead against Sam’s now exposed skin, noticing the ink peeking out from beneath her tank top. Tattoos?
“So are you gonna tell us how you’re still alive, Sam?” Spencer asked.
“Maybe in the morning?” Sam suggested feebly. “I feel like Freddie should be here for this.”
“Spencer,” said Carly.
“Yeah, I’ll get him,” he said with a sigh, walking out of the apartment.
“Wait, don’t tell me Freddie’s still living with his Mom?” Sam blurted in disbelief. Carly shook her head against her.
“He’s back living with his Mom,” she clarified. “His ex-wife took everything in the divorce.”
“Freddie got married?!”
“Twice,” Carly confirmed. Sam stared at her in shock before bringing her frozen tater-tots back to her lip.
“Damn,” she murmured. “He has me beat. I’ve only done that once.”
“You got married?” Now it was Carly’s turn to stare in disbelief.
“I mean, kinda?” Sam admitted. “It was in Vegas and we were so drunk I barely remember it.”
“What was his name?” Carly asked, voice small.
“Her name was Amber.”
“You married a GIRL?!”
“That a problem?” Sam asked defensively, shooting Carly a look.
“What? No! Hell Harper brings home random girls all the time!” Carly hurried to explain, ignoring the “HEY!” from Harper. “I just, I wish I’d known that about you.”
“It was something I hadn’t really figured until after, well, everything,” said Sam, leaning into Carly’s embrace. She tightened her hold on her.
“Well, I was using a fake name at the time and I’m pretty sure Amber was just her stage name so it’s not like the marriage was official,” Sam explained, grimacing a bit. “I kinda bounced.”
“You left your wife?!”
“What would you have done if you’d woken up with the mother of all hangovers to find out you married a stripper?”
Harper, who had been mostly quiet for the conversation, choked on the laughter she’d clearly been trying to hold back. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said, waving her hand back and forth. “You really lived out that Hangover movie, huh?”
Sam smirked but was interrupted before she could reply by yelling from outside the apartment. The door opened and Spencer backed through it, dragging Freddie in by the legs.
“What the hell Spencer?” the younger man asked.
“Uh, Spence,” Harper began, “Why are you dragging Freddie?”
“I told him this would take too long to explain,” said Spencer dropping Freddie’s legs and making a beeline for the fridge. “And then he got stubborn.”
“It’s three in the morning!” argued Freddie, getting to his feet and brushing off his white and red striped pyjamas. “What could possibly be so importa-“ He stopped, noticing the girls. Freddie’s mouth moved silently, the words failing him. “Sam?” he whispered, voice small.
“’Sup Fredward?” she said. “Nice jim-jams.”
“Sam what the fuck!” Freddie yelled, rushing over to the kitchen island, hands flailing in her direction. “What the fuck?”
“Oh this?” Sam asked blithely, pointing at her face. “Carly beat me up.”
“How? You! Alive?” Freddie shouted, face reddening.
“She was just about to tell us,” explained Spencer, handing bottles of beers out to everyone.
“Yup,” said Sam, taking her bottle from Spencer, and bringing it to her lips and biting the bottle cap off the top, ignoring the cries of “Gah!” “Dear god!” and “There was a bottle opener right there!”
“Take a seat, Freddie,” she said. “It’s a long story and I’m only gonna tell it once.”