Sam sat in the grass next to the path in the middle of the park. The rain came down in torrents all around her, relentlessly pounding on the soft earth, offering no peace to the people and animals who happened to be traveling in it. Living in Florida, Sam hated the rain. She preferred the sun to shine on her face and spread warmth throughout her body down to her very soul. Every time a rain cloud passed over the sky, she'd head inside. But today, she allowed herself to become soaked to the skin, her hair lying flat and matted over her face and shoulders, shivers constantly running down her spine as a sharp, cold breeze blew through the air.
And ironically enough, she barely felt any of it.
It reflected her mood so well that it almost seemed to comfort her. She knew she ought to get inside out of the rain, but she couldn't bring herself to move. All that was waiting for her at home was an empty house and a dog. There was a coffee shop close by where her best friend worked, but she didn't really want to go there either. Cassie would help her, she knew that, but she'd also ask questions and she didn't want someone who'd badger her for the truth like she knew Cassie would. And she most certainly couldn't go back to her cousin's house, where she'd spent that morning. Madeline would be glad to see her all right, but then she'd get a sharp reprimand from her aunt for doing such a foolish thing. She gave a derisive laugh. Her aunt's snide comments were exactly why she was out there in the first place.
"I can't believe my mom actually calls that…that…dragon her sister!" she said out loud.
What she needed was someone who'd sit and offer quiet companionship, someone who wouldn't judge her and instead would just listen and soothe her tears away, but she knew the chances of her finding someone like that were slim, especially in this weather. She tried yet again to get up, but she just didn't want to. However, sooner or later she'd have to. In the last few minutes, she'd begun to feel hot and sweaty even though a cold rain was pouring around her.
"Aw great, as if I don't have enough problems," she said. She didn't want to get sick, but at the same time, she didn't want to leave. She just laid back in the grass and let the rain fall on her, letting her fever increase.
"Sam!" she heard a voice in the distance call out to her. It sounded like Madeline.
"Sam!" she heard another voice call. She frowned. She almost thought she could place that voice, but her mind was getting very foggy by that point and it was getting hard to keep her eyes open. She let them slide closed and gave in to the darkness.
A short while later, her eyelids began to flutter and she gave a small groan that meant she was starting to wake up. What got her immediate attention, even though she was still a bit foggy, was that she wasn't in the rain. There were no water droplets falling on her face, no sharp chill coming from the wind, nothing that suggested the outdoors. She was lying in a bed, a heater was close by. Someone was sitting beside her, sponging her forehead in an attempt to reduce her fever. It was probably Madeline.
"Sam," they said. "Sam, can you hear me?"
That was definitely not Madeline. She'd only heard that voice before on PBS interviews and YouTube videos. She had to be hallucinating, the fever must be making her delirious, that was the only possible explanation.
"Sam, open your eyes please," the voice pleaded with her.
"This is a dream, but a very good dream," she thought to herself. Curiosity got the better of her and she cracked her eyes open a little. Sitting beside her, eyes full of worry, was her favorite singer of all time from her favorite group: Celtic Thunder's Ryan Kelly.
"Hey there," he said smiling down at her. "How're you feeling?"
She couldn't answer, she just stared up at him in shock. He chuckled. From what her friends had said, he knew all three of them were Thunderheads and that he was Sam's favorite. He dipped his washcloth into the tub of water next to him and ran it back over Sam's forehead.
"You gave us quite a scare there," he said. "Feeling any better?" He gave a small gasp when he saw her eyes roll back in her head. "Sam, stay with me!" he said hurriedly. "Try to stay awake!" It was too late, she had already passed out again. He gave a sigh, thinking he should've expected that and decided that when she woke up again, one of her friends had to be here with her.
Sam was afraid to open her eyes when she came to again. She still wasn't sure whether or not what had happened was a dream. It made sense for it to be a dream; she often dreamt of meeting Ryan Kelly, so why should this be any different? She just hoped that this one time, the dream could be a reality.
"Sam," she heard a voice say and she felt her heart sink. It was Madeline. She reluctantly opened her eyes and look over at her cousin.
"Hey Maddie," she said weakly.
"Oh thank goodness!" said Maddie, grabbing her cousin up in a huge hug. "You scared us so badly!"
"Us? Who's us?" asked Sam.
"Me and Cassie obviously and a couple other people."
"What couple other people?"
"You'll find out in a few minutes," said Maddie. "What do you remember?"
"I remember being in the park in the middle of the rain, hearing you call out for me and then passing out." She paused, then remembered Ryan. "Oh Maddie, I had the best dream. I dreamt that I woke up and Ryan Kelly was sitting next to me, doctoring me up. It seemed so real, I could feel his hand on my forehead, saw him smiling at me. I could even smell his cologne. I wish it hadn't been a dream."
Maddie smiled, "it's good that you wish it wasn't a dream, because…" She turned to the door.
"It was real, not a dream," a voice by the door finished the sentence. Sam turned to see who it was and for a moment, she thought she was going to pass out again. There was Ryan, handsome as ever, walking into the room with a bowl of soup in his hands.
"Good to see you back with us," he said smiling. "Try not to faint this time."
"Don't worry, I know how to keep her from fainting," said Madeline, giving him a reassuring look.
"Good," said Ryan nodding. He set the bowl of soup down on the bedside table. "I made you this. See if you can keep it down."
"Thank you," she said shyly, sitting up so she could eat it.
"Take it slow," he said, a hand on her shoulder to keep her from moving too quickly. Sam eased herself back against the pillows and reached for the soup. "Lay still, I'll get it," said Ryan comfortingly. He handed her the bowl and both her and Madeline sat by her, making sure she drank every bit of the soup. She avoided their eyes as she did, not sure what to say or do, but wishing someone would break the awkward silence that seemed to have settled around them. She wished Ryan wouldn't look at her the way he was. It was a look of intense worry, but also very deep compassion. It made shivers run down her spine and even though she was glad Ryan was worried about her, she wished he'd look at something else.
"Feeling any better?" he asked when she was finished.
"Yes thanks," she said, still not looking at him. She turned to Madeline and asked, "how did you find me?"
"Ryan found you first," replied her cousin, making Sam blush even more. "And up until that point, I was about to go insane with worry. I searched all our regular hangouts and couldn't find you anywhere."
"So she came and got me," said their best friend, Cassie, who was coming in at that moment. "Honestly Sam, you'll be the death of all three of us. We went and searched the park for you and we got some extra help."
"We were glad to help, we really were," Ryan assured the girls with a smile.
"How'd you guys get involved anyway?" asked Sam curiously.
Ryan took a deep breath and began his tale, the three girls sitting back to listen, though Madeline and Cassie weren't really sure they wanted to be reminded of how scared they had been.
"Nice place," said Keith, gazing around at the little coffee shop he and his friends were in. "It's not Starbucks, but it's nice."
"I wish I could've gotten a picture of your face when you saw there wasn't a Starbucks around," said Damian, laughing as he remembered the look on his friend's face when he didn't see a single Starbucks in the vicinity of the hotel they were staying in or the venue they were playing at the following two nights. In truth, the nearest Starbucks was about 20 miles away. Fortunately for Keith, there was a neighborhood coffee place just across the street from the hotel. Fortunately for the rest of the guys, they didn't have to listen to him whine.
"Makes a good latte, I'll give them that," said Ryan, lifting the cup to his lips.
"Especially on a day like today," said Paul, gazing out the window at the wretched weather. The rain had been coming down in sheets for the last hour, so hard you could barely see two feet in front of you. The guys had come in just as it'd started and were waiting for it to clear up a bit. It was a good thing they didn't have a show tonight, or else they'd be in big trouble with their producer, Sharon, as they'd already be twenty minutes late for a sound check.
"Do you guys want anything else?" asked the girl behind the counter.
"No thanks, Cassie," said Neil, smiling at her. Once they were sure she wasn't listening, the other guys immediately rounded on him.
"Cassie, eh?" asked Keith. "When did you get her name?"
"She has a nametag on," said Neil, rolling his eyes at Keith.
"Not sweet on her, are you Neil?" asked Paul teasingly.
"I don't think so," said Neil, shaking his head. But he couldn't help but glance at the pretty girl who'd made their drinks for them.
"Leave him alone, lads," said George, earning a grateful smile from Neil.
They waited about twenty more minutes before the rain finally began to lighten up. Just as they were getting on their coats to leave, a young girl came dashing into the coffee shop. She was breathing heavily, her face pale, her hair matted with both rain and sweat. The look on her face was one of absolute panic. If she hadn't been so frantic, she would've noticed who was standing in the corner looking at her.
"Maddie, what's wrong?" asked Cassie, coming around the corner to look at her. One of the other employees stood by interestedly, knowing that Cassie was probably going to be running off in a moment.
"Cassie, has Sam been in here at all?" asked Maddie, barely able to get the words out in between deep breaths from running and terrified sobs.
"No, I haven't seen her, why?" Maddie gave a cry of frustration, which immediately got Cassie on edge. "Madeline, what is it?"
"She and Mom had an argument and she went running off," explained Madeline. "I can't find her anywhere!"
"She hasn't been outside in this weather, has she?" asked Cassie. Maddie just nodded. Cassie looked over to her friend, who nodded to say she could go, then dashed to the back of the shop where she had her coat hanging on a chair. She came back out and said, "I know you hate it when people tell you 'I told you so', but…"
"You've made your point!" snapped Maddie. "Now come and help me search!"
"Anything we can do to help?" asked Keith. He'd spent the last few minutes staring at Madeline, but had been jerked back to reality when she'd let out that cry. Neil stepped forward too, nodding his head that he'd help.
"I don't think…." Maddie trailed off as she realized who was speaking. Her eyes widened and she stood there speechless for a minute. "It's finally happened, I've cracked," she said when she got her voice back. "Or is Celtic Thunder really standing over there?"
"It's them," said Cassie nodding. "I think we have more pressing matters though."
"Right," said Maddie shaking her head. It was lucky for them that they'd caught her at a bad time. Any other time and she'd be jumping up and down and squealing excitedly and asking for autographs and pictures. If Sam were here, she'd be doing the same.
"We'll help search if you want," said Ryan, stepping forward too.
"Well, all right," said Maddie, knowing she needed all the help she could get.
"Maddie, was it?" asked Keith, walking outside with her and giving her an interested eye even though he knew this wasn't the time.
"Yeah, Madeline Christianson at your service," she replied. "Okay, the basics, we're looking for my cousin, Samantha Roberts. She goes by Sam, long brown hair, brown eyes, 22 years old, about 5'2"."
"Where haven't you looked?" asked Cassie, adjusting the collar on her coat.
"The only place is the park," said Maddie. "That's why I came here first, the park is enormous and I'd need your help anyway.
"Why would she go to the park in the middle of a storm?" asked Damian.
"I can't think where else she'd be," said Maddie. "It's one of many places she goes when she wants to sit and think or if she wants to be alone. And I've tried her other haunts, nothing."
The park was only five minutes down the street and by this point, they'd almost reached it. When they got to the main trail, they divided up and began searching for Sam. Cassie, Neil, Paul and George went in one direction; Maddie, Keith, Ryan and Damian went in the other.
"Where could she be?" asked Maddie worriedly after about fifteen minutes. Keith couldn't help himself. He put his arm around her and told her everything would be all right.
"Does she have a favorite spot in the park?" asked Ryan, almost as worried about this girl as her cousin was. He glanced up at the sky. The rain clouds were still hovering ominously and he didn't want it to start raining again while they were still looking.
"Just down that trail," said Maddie, pointing at the bend just ahead of them. They rounded it and Ryan's face went pale. There, lying on the grass by the path, was the motionless form of a young girl. He ran to her, knelt down next to her and took her in his arms, wondering what was the best way to get her to wake up.
"Sam!" Maddie said panic-stricken. Sam didn't answer. She just laid there, still and cold and soaked to the skin. She'd been in the rain far too long. Ryan placed his hand on her forehead.
"She's got a fever, let's get her home," he said, taking his coat off and wrapping it around her shoulders to provide some warmth. He stood up with her in his arms, ready to carry her for miles to get her home if he needed to, but he knew that probably wasn't the best option. "Where does she live?"
"About ten blocks away," said Maddie. "I ran all the way here, so if you wouldn't mind calling us a cab."
Ryan looked at Keith and Damian. Both knew instantly what he was thinking: could Sam stay with them until she got better? They had to admit it'd be easier to just take her back to their place. It was only a five minute walk once they got out of the park. And they had a pretty large suite, they had room for her to stay. The sooner they got her out of this cold the better; she'd develop pneumonia if they didn't hurry.
Keith whipped out his cell phone and called George, asking if it was all right that the girls stayed with them. He personally didn't mind, it gave him more of a chance to talk to Maddie and he knew Damian didn't mind. The boy was just glad of some new faces to chat with, provided they didn't jump him. Sure enough, George said it was all right with them and they met back up at the entrance to the park.
"What was she doing out here?" asked Ryan, not taking his eyes off of Sam.
"That's a long story," said Maddie, her eyes on the ground.
"Does that mean you're not going to tell us?" asked Keith, who hated being left out of the loop.
"Not yet anyway," replied Maddie.
They got back to the hotel and Ryan immediately took Sam into his room and wrapped a blanket around her. He then waited outside while Madeline cleaned her up. Neil and Cassie went back to Sam's place and got her some dry clothes and supplies. Once the girls had her cleaned up and changed did Ryan come back in to see her. For reasons he couldn't explain, his heart plummeted at the sight of her lying still and pale in bed. He sat beside her, took a washcloth and sponged her forehead, waiting for what seemed like days for her to wake up.
"Don't you ever scare us like that again," said Madeline. "I mean it, Sam. Cassie and I were scared to death."
"You weren't the only ones," said Ryan. Sam glanced up at him, then quickly glanced back down at the comforter. He was still looking at her worriedly. She wondered why on Earth he'd be worried about her, he barely knew her. Thankfully for her, Cassie came inside at that moment to check on her.
"Hey there," she said, entering the room with quick, purposeful strides as she always did. "You look better."
"Where've you been?" asked Madeline interestedly.
"Neil and I went to get coffee."
"You two have been seeing a lot of each other. Is there something I ought to know about?"
"Perhaps, perhaps not," said Cassie, shrugging slightly, but both girls detected a faint blush on her cheeks.
"Would it be all right with the both of you if I spoke to Sam alone?" asked Ryan politely.
Madeline and Cassie looked at each other before Madeline said, "it's fine with me."'
Cassie nodded and said, "yeah, fine with me too." Sam looked at both of them like they were insane, but the two girls were out of the room in a flash. She could see they were whispering to each other though.
"You sure this is a good idea?" asked Cassie.
"Positive," affirmed Maddie. "She's still depressed after the day's events, but talking to either of us will make it worse. She needs someone who'll just hold her and listen and Ryan will do that. Once he gets her to open up to him that is."
Ryan waited until the two friends had left before he turned to talk to Sam. "Are you sure you're feeling better?"
"I'm fine," she replied stiffly. "I'd like some more sleep though if you wouldn't mind." She turned away from him, laid down and closed her eyes as if to show she was sleepy, but he wasn't buying it.
"I would mind actually," he said, gently rolling her over so she was laying on her back. She kept her head turned towards the wall, not meeting his eyes. "What's wrong?" he asked her.
"Then why won't you look at me?" he asked. Sam sighed and turned her head to look at him. There was that look again, the one of deep concern.
"Would you please not look at me like that?" she asked.
"Like you understand what I'm feeling, like you're worried. You don't know anything about me."
"I'd like to," he said. "You're right, I don't know what you're feeling or why you were outside in that storm, but I'd like to. I want to help you in any way I possibly can. But I can't do that if you don't let me."
"Forgive me if I'm a tad gun shy of spilling my guts to a complete stranger," she snapped.
Ryan couldn't help but smile. She was by far the most interesting girl he'd ever met on tour. Most of the time, they just stood and screamed and asked for his autograph. Days like that often culminated in nights spent in bed with a couple of aspirin to prevent a headache. The fact that none of these girls had screamed or fainted had made it a pretty good day aside from Sam's walk in the rain.
He scooted closer to her and said, "I understand you're nervousness, but it's not going to solve a thing. Please talk to me, please let me help you."
Sam knew she might regret doing this, but she couldn't help herself. She looked directly into his eyes and couldn't believe what she saw there. She saw more compassion than she thought was possible, a sort of silent understanding and a trust she'd never seen in anyone else's eyes before. He wouldn't judge her nor would he tell anyone else about her problems without her permission. She really couldn't help herself now. The tears fell from her eyes like a river and before she knew it, she was crying into his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her, rocked her back and forth and made little shushing sounds to her. She just sobbed until she nearly cried herself to sleep. Ryan held her a few minutes longer after the tears had stopped.
"Better?" he asked. She just nodded. "Do you feel up to talking?" he asked. She nodded again, albeit hesitantly. He pulled away enough so he could look her in the eye and asked the crucial question, "what were you doing out there in the middle of a storm?"
She took a shaky breath and said, "I was trying to forget what my aunt said to me."
"May I ask what she said to you?"
"She basically trashed my greatest dream," replied Sam. "I'm studying music at the local college. My senior showcase is coming up soon. I've been rehearsing for months, I've even got a few of the other music students accompanying me on piano, flute and violin. It's my dream to sing on stage."
"That's great," broke in Ryan. "Follow your heart and follow your dreams. You can never go wrong."
"Yeah, tell that to my aunt," scoffed Sam. "I was having lunch with her and Madeline and she started asking me about my performance coming up. I gave her all the details, what I was going to be singing, the date and time, everything. She seemed interested at first, then said I was a fool for following such a stupid dream. She said I'd just be a starving artist who'd never amount to anything and I'd die on the streets alone and hungry. And she'd never lift a finger to help me and she'd disown Madeline if she tried to help me."
"What?!" said Ryan in disbelief. "What kind of person would say something like that to their own family?"
"She's said worse to other members of my family. She starts fights all the time, she even started one in an email. I think she does it intentionally, but don't ask me why. I don't really understand it myself."
"What do your parents have to say about this?"
"They don't know. They're at a conference in Charleston, they won't be back for a couple more days."
"What do they think about a career in music?"
"They support it thankfully," said Sam. "My mom's always enjoyed coming to hear me sing and Dad's always on my side no matter what. If they weren't with me on this, I don't know what I'd do."
A couple more tears found their way down Sam's face and she gasped as she felt Ryan's fingers brushing them away. "No more tears," he whispered to her. "Everything's all right. You're here with me and that dragon isn't around to say more harsh things to you."
"You must've read my mind," said Sam, almost a laugh in her voice. "I've thought of her as a dragon lady for awhile now." There was a pause, then she said, "thank you, Ryan. Thank you for everything."
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said earnestly. She gave a small smile and a blush. He found he loved that smile. He didn't want anything to ever erase it from her face; he wanted to see it every day for always. An idea struck him then. "Did you have any plans for tonight?" he asked her.
She started to ask why tonight, but then realized she must've slept through the night. "No, why?" she asked curiously.
He reached into the drawer of the nightstand and pulled out a couple thin pieces of paper and handed them to her. She gasped. He had just given her a ticket and a backstage pass to the Celtic Thunder concert that night. He chuckled at her reaction.
"Madeline and Cassie have already gotten them as well. Keith and Neil seem to have taken a liking to them," said Ryan.
This time Sam's smile spread all the way to her eyes and she let out a laugh of delight. She jumped into Ryan's arms, gave him the biggest hug she'd ever gave anyone and said, "yes, I'll come. I can't believe it!"
He laughed, hugged her back and kissed her on the forehead. "Meet us backstage after the show."
"You sure you guys won't be busy?" asked Sam, not wanting to be in the way.
"We have two nights scheduled at that venue. We won't be busy until tomorrow night. I do have to warn you though, the fans will be all over the place, waiting by all the doors for us. You'd probably have to leave by another exit so they don't trample you."
"That's all right," said Sam. "This is amazing!"
She dashed outside, pulled Maddie and Cassie away from the other guys and made them go home with her. Cassie took the day off from work and the three of them did each other's hair and makeup and helped each other try on clothes. The only downer was that the dragon lady kept trying to reach them. Madeline had to turn off her phone because her mother kept calling every five minutes. The girls were in such a state of bliss that they didn't want anything, especially her to ruin it.
That night at 7:30, the three girls were sitting in their second row seats at the theatre, watching the guys perform. When it came time for Ryan to sing "Everything I Do," he looked directly at Sam for duration of the song. She blushed, but looked right back up at him and smiled. He winked at her at the very end and she winked back. She wasn't the only one who flirted. Keith sang "I Want to Know What Love Is" to Maddie and Neil sang "Noirin, Mo Stoirin" to Cassie.
After the show was over, the three girls went backstage and ate pizza and chatted with the guys. Ryan took Sam aside after a little while to speak with her in private.
"Did you hear more from your…relative?" he asked, taking a moment to find a good word.
"No," Sam shook her head. "She kept calling though. We had to unplug all the phones to get her to leave us alone."
"Well, I wanted to give you something," said Ryan, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a little card that had a phone number, email address and Skype username written on it. "This is for you. If you ever need to talk about anything, give me a call. I'll listen, I promise."
"Thank you," she said, reaching up to give him a kiss on the cheek.
He then did something that surprised both of them. He leaned down to her level and gave her a small kiss on the lips. She stood there trying to make sense of what'd just happened. Ryan just chuckled and led her back to the others, where they spent the rest of the evening chatting and having fun with each other. Sam and Ryan spent every possible moment with each other until the concert the next night, after which he had to leave. The last thing he said to her was, "keep in touch."
"You too," she answered. "Thank you."