Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine.
"The world is against me."
Josh looked up at the slouched figure dropped into his visitor's chair. "The world is against you?"
Sam covered his eyes with one hand. "Yes."
Josh paused, not sure whether he really wanted to know. "Um - why?"
Sam shifted in the chair, then planted both hands on the arms as if planning to get up. "You know what, never mind." But he stayed in the chair.
Josh lifted an eyebrow. "What's up?"
"It's not serious, is it?"
"No, no, nothing like that," Sam replied quickly.
The eyebrow went higher. "So Ainsley's sick and the world is against *you*?"
"I think she might disagree."
"But she doesn't know," Sam protested.
"That the world is against you."
"She knows she's sick, though, right?"
Sam slouched even deeper into the chair. "Hence the problem."
Josh frowned in total confusion. He was beginning to think that Donna might have a much easier time following this conversation. "You expected her to be sick and not know about it?"
"No, I mean she really feels like hell. She's got a fever and her eyes are doing that glassy, burning thing."
Josh shook his head. "I still don't see how that's your problem." Quickly he amended, "You know, I mean other than the obvious reason."
Sam shifted again, clearly uncomfortable. He opened and closed his mouth a few times before Josh finally prodded, "Sam?"
"Yeah." He shifted again and said quietly and nervously, "I have this . . . thing."
This took a moment to sink in. "You have a ring?"
Josh sat very still for a moment, trying to process this information and reconcile it with his image of Sam and Ainsley. Finally he said, "And that's a bad thing?"
"Then - why is the world against you?"
"Because she's sick."
And they were back to that again. "She's sick, and you have a ring - so the world is against you."
"Sorry, I'm not following you there."
Sam sighed heavily. "I have to wait."
Josh rolled his eyes. "Okay. So the world is against you because you want to give her the ring, but she's sick."
"I can't - you know . . ."
Sam winced. For some reason he wasn't a big fan of that particular word. "Right. Not when she's sick."
"Because . . ."
Sam gave him a look as if it should have been perfectly obvious. "Well, I think it would be a nicer moment if she didn't feel like hell."
"Probably," Josh conceded.
"So I have to wait another week."
"She's going to be sick another week? That's a hell of a cold."
He could have sworn Sam actually blushed. "No, but in a couple days she's going to be - not feeling well, again."
Josh frowned for a minute or two before he finally figured out what Sam meant. "Oh. And you don't want to do it then because -"
"She'll still feel like hell." Now Sam was definitely blushing. "Plus, you know . . ."
"Got it," Josh said quickly. "I don't really need to . . ."
"But - you know exactly when . . . ?"
Sam shook his head. "Trust me, you would too."
"Okay." Josh leaned back in his chair. "But . . ."
His face broke into a grin. "So you're really going to do it?"
Sam grinned back. "Yeah."
"You think so?"
Josh frowned again. "You don't?"
"No, I do, I do. It's just . . ."
"A little worried?"
"Yeah. I mean, I know - we sort of talked about it before, and she said, you know, that she would, so . . ."
Josh laughed, shaking his head. "Well, good, then. So what are you worried about?"
"I've never been married before."
"Most people haven't been, when they get married."
"I - you know what I mean."
"I think you'll be fine," Josh reassured him.
Sam's face lit up. "Really?"
"You're such a nerd."
"Yeah, I know."
Josh relaxed in his chair. "Look, Sam, you're not worried about . . ."
Josh gestured uncomfortably, searching for tactful words. " . . . your dad. Are you?"
Sam shrugged. "I guess. Maybe that's it."
"Yeah, that's pretty much it."
Josh's brow furrowed in deep thought. "How long had your parents known each other when they got married?"
Sam paused. "I guess - a year? Not quite. But four months, when they got engaged."
"And you've known Ainsley for . . . ?"
"Over a year."
"And you've been dating for . . . ?"
"Almost ten months."
"And practically living together for most of that time."
Sam nodded. "Yeah."
"So?" Josh spread his hands wide. "You ever going to get tired of talking to her?"
"No," Sam said firmly.
"Of looking at her?"
Sam smiled softly to himself. "No."
"Sleeping with her?"
Sam reddened just a little, but he said, "No."
Josh leaned forward over his desk. "If right now you knew that you would never be with anyone else but her - would you feel trapped? Limited? Cheated out of . . . whatever?"
"No," Sam said quietly.
"Yeah," Sam said even more softly.
"If you were going to cheat on her, I can't help but think that you would know - somehow."
"Maybe you're right." He sighed. "But I can't picture my dad marrying my mom knowing that he would cheat on her."
Josh shrugged. "They got married in - what year?"
"How old were they?"
"Twenty-two. Just out of college."
Josh frowned suddenly. "Wait - weren't you born in '68?"
"Six months after the wedding."
"So your dad was young, he probably hadn't had many serious relationships, and your mom was pregnant so he felt like he had to - plus it was the sixties and monogamy was pretty much out of style among college kids."
Sam acknowledged all this with a nod. "Yeah, I guess."
"So a couple years down the road he meets someone new and exciting . . ."
"She's a - I guess an activist," Sam said slowly. "She worked for some feminist organization. She's three years younger than he is. When they met she was right out of college, and he was twenty-five. He and my mom were fighting a lot - they'd been married a couple years, I was two - the honeymoon was pretty much over and they didn't have much in common. I don't know," he laughed harshly, "maybe it's to his credit that he didn't start the affair for another two years after they met."
Josh had never heard any of this before - he'd never wanted to ask. "Why did he?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know. It was right after my sister was born - maybe he missed the available sex, I have no idea. But he went to Santa Monica for something or other, and apparently went out for drinks with a bunch of people and wound up sleeping with Gail. He thought it would be a, you know, a one-night stand, but then it - wasn't."
"He told you all this?"
"And he never left your mom because . . . ?"
"I don't - me and Nancy? I don't know. I think he still had feelings for my mom - I think he sort of still does, he just - he couldn't choose between her and Gail."
"Did he have any children with Gail?" Josh asked very gently.
"No," Sam said hurriedly. "Thank God. Gail thought children would weigh her down, apparently. I guess my father kind of agreed, or he wouldn't have . . ." He shook his head. "Anyway." He frowned suspiciously at Josh. "Why are you laughing?"
"I'm sorry," Josh said sincerely, but still unable to keep the smile off his face. "It's just I associate Gail with, you know - fish."
A smile twitched at the corners of Sam's mouth. "You know, when he first told me her name - I was so mad, and - that was the first thing I thought of, too."
Their eyes met and they burst out laughing. When they had subsided Josh asked curiously, "Do you want kids?"
"I always did," Sam confessed. "I mean, so did Lisa - but she wanted exactly two, you know, a boy and a girl. She thought that was the perfect family. I wanted a couple more."
"Really?" Josh asked, looking surprised.
Sam seemed almost embarrassed. "It was a little lonely with just me and Nancy - I always wanted a brother, and Nan was always asking Mom to have her a sister. I think I would want my kids to have more than one sibling."
"You don't talk about her much," Josh observed.
Sam shrugged. "She's busy. I'm busy. We don't talk that much. We haven't, really, since I left for college." Too late he realized that might have been an insensitive thing to say - Josh, he was sure, wished he could still talk to his sister. But the Lymans and the Seaborns had been very different families - and anyway Josh showed no particular reaction to his statement.
"Does Ainsley want children?" Josh frowned. "I mean, I know it's different for the woman - her job, and all."
"Yeah." Sam exhaled. "We haven't talked a lot about it, but I'm pretty sure she does want a couple."
"I'm kind of surprised you haven't talked about it."
"It's kind of awkward. I mean, we haven't yet said anything - permanent - about us, so . . ."
"I guess," Josh acknowledged.
"I don't think either of us wants to be the first to assume . . . "
"I mean, kids are a scary subject when you're not married. You don't want to take for granted that the other person wants to commit to having them with *you*."
Sam didn't really believe in signs or prophetic statements, but if he had, the memory of that conversation would have made his spine tingle. As it was, he was distracted enough by planning his impending proposal and trying to soothe Ainsley through her cold (while hiding the ring carefully where she wouldn't find it) that he pretty much forgot the substance of his talk with Josh. He was pleased when she started to feel better, and even more pleased when a few days passed and she wasn't completely miserable. He didn't over-analyze this occurrence; all the other usual signs were there - she'd started sleeping fully dressed and made no particularly amorous moves on him, and she seemed tense and quiet, a little emotional and a little cross, so he just assumed she wasn't having cramps and was glad for her. He hated to see her in pain. Of course he would still wait until she was finished - it would just be much pleasanter, even if she wasn't feeling too bad. Everything was goin g according to plan.
At the end of the week he dropped into Josh's chair again. Josh took one look at the pale expression on Sam's face and asked, horrified, "She didn't turn you down?"
"No," Sam said tensely. "I haven't asked. I - I'm not sure I can, right now."
Sam took a deep breath. "I came home last night - I was planning to take her to dinner in a couple days, then come back home and - you know, do it."
Josh blanched. "Look, Sam . . ."
Sam shook his head. "I meant give her the ring."
"Oh." Josh relaxed again. "So - what happened?"
"She said we had to talk."
"Yeah, she doesn't usually say that. She's not that dramatic, you know?"
"So she said -" He paused and started over. "I had just assumed, because she was really quiet and we weren't - um, we hadn't been -" His face turned deep red. "When we don't, for a while, that's usually the reason, and it was time, so I thought - I didn't realize it was actually because she was worried that, um . . ."
"Sam, I have to say, you completely lost me."
Sam didn't seem to hear him. "But then she told me," he whispered, "and now if I ask her she'll think I'm only asking because she thought she was pregnant."