Samantha in Winter a short story in hypertext Menu 
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  Paul Stephens 2004

Sam flopped onto her bed and lay there, staring at the ceiling. She was cold, and tired, and irritated after the way Mark had been to her outside the supermarket that afternoon. She wanted to finish with him, but she wanted to see him too. She never wanted to hear his voice again. She wanted him to call.

Rolling onto her stomach, Sam took her phone from her bag and called her best friend Rosie. She told her about what had happened with Mark. Rosie told her that she'd decided not to finish with Nick yet. They gossiped about two girls in their year who were about to be thrown out for non-attendance. Sam trailed her hand along the radiator, and began to feel warmer. Her mum called for her to come and have tea. Before she went, Rosie asked her if she thought she was right to give Nick another chance. She said she'd think about it and call her later. On her way downstairs she thought about Mark.


Sam hated winter; she was a summer girl, built for warm air and brown skin and feet that didn't see the insides of proper shoes for months. It wasn't natural to live at these latitudes. In winter the sun seemed dim, and the haze in front of it was like the ones in TV programmes about what the world would be like after an asteroid impact or a nuclear war. Nuclear winter, we see it every year this far north.

Outside the supermarket, waiting for Mark, Sam shivered through her coat. She wasn't wearing enough underneath. Her mother would have told her so that morning if she hadn't slipped quickly past her to the front door. You couldn't go to college dressed like a polar explorer; it just wasn't done. Indoors she was still a summer girl, even in December.

Mark didn't come when he'd said he would, nor 15 minutes later, nor 30. Sam waited, and got colder, and went inside the supermarket, and worried that he'd drive past and think she wasn't there, so went outside again and got colder still. When he finally did arrive, nearly 50 minutes late, she was on the verge of hypothermia.
Summer Girl

On a beach in Spain, hot sun, crowds, the smell of suntan oil, a man selling slices of fruit crying "Mejilones" as he walks along the sand. Outside a bar that night, the air still hot, noise all around, lights all around, two boys on a tiny motor scooter buzzing through the crowds.

Back home, still summer. Long evenings by the river, long afternoons in the park to keep her Spanish tan. Reaching the coast by sunset, air still warm, sitting on the terrace wall with Mark, watching the sea. Sand between her toes as she walks along the dusty lane to the supermarket.

Summer girl.

When Mark eventually turned up at the supermarket, he acted as if there was nothing wrong. Sam pointed out that he was 50 minutes late, but he just shrugged and said he'd had things to do. When she asked him why he'd had his phone turned off, he said they'd been things that couldn't be interrupted.

Why did she let him treat her like this, and sulk and go back to her room and flop on her bed, instead of telling him to get lost? It was a power thing. He needed to prove that he was such a man-god that she'd put up with it just to be with him. In his twisted logic, if he didn't prove it then she wouldn't want him, so he had no choice. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps she was the twisted one.

Tom said to her once that Mark was punishing her for being beautiful. Like a lot of things Tom said, it didn't make sense, but then somehow it did. It was nice of Tom to call her beautiful. He wouldn't have treated her like dirt. But it was Mark she hung around for in the freezing cold.

Sam wasn't getting enough sleep. The previous day she'd been at college, then worked at the supermarket until 9.30 in the evening. Back home, eat the meal her mum warmed up for her, then some college work to finish in her room. Bed at 12.30, then up again at 7 for another college day. It wasn't enough.

The work at the supermarket was tiring. You wouldn't think it, just sitting on the checkout, but it hurt your back, and there was just a single 15 minute break in her shift. And the customers were tiring, asking you things, complaining about things, wanting to talk to you, expecting some response. She'd either be a good customer in later life, or take terrible revenge for the miseries she'd suffered.

But then, as her mum said, she didn't have to do it. Her wages went on things she liked - CDs, clothes, her phone, going out - not on essentials like rent or bills. Her dad agreed with her mum on this one; they'd rather she gave up the job, and concentrated on her education. But that would mean giving up the things that she and her friends enjoyed. None of them could, so they all had jobs. And they were all tired.

Sam's mum called her "Samantha" when she wanted to show disapproval, or that she was being really serious. She'd been calling her that a lot recently. Sam's way of getting back was to call her "Mother", but she wasn't sure it worked; her mum seemed to quite like it.

Sam's mum was worried about her all the time - worried that she wouldn't go to university, worried that she would, worried that biology was too difficult a subject, worried that she took it too seriously. Mark worried her too - were he and Sam not serious enough, or was it so serious that she'd put off university to stay with him? Everything was serious, everything worried her.

And always the same reason for her worry - "Samantha, make something of your life, don't waste it, don't end up like...". Like her, of course, but why was that so bad? At night, when she was studying in her room, Sam could hear her mum worrying about her to her dad, complaining because he wasn't worried too. Sometimes Sam's mum worried her.

When Sam's dad called her "Samantha", it was a joke, mock-seriousness. "Samantha, I'm not sure that outfit is entirely suitable for a social occasion." Her mum might say the same thing, but there'd be nothing jokey about it.

Sam's dad didn't seem worried about her at all. He thought biology was an excellent choice, and said it would get her a place at a good university. He thought Mark was a decent lad, but was glad it wasn't too serious between them. He said a gap year would be good, especially if she went abroad; everyone did it these days.

He never seemed to worry - but then, as her mum said, he'd never had to, had he?


Sam wasn't always truthful about her interest in biology. To her friends, it was just another subject - perhaps a rather strange one - that she was taking to get enough points to get to university. To her mum it wasn't something that was going to drag her into the life of a poorly-paid scientist. To the people she knew at the supermarket, it wasn't part of her life at all.

Only Tom and Rosie and her dad knew the truth. Biology was her passion. Since the first time she'd looked through a microscope and seen life happening in front of her, she'd been hooked.

Sam wasn't always truthful about her plans, either. Like most of her friends at college, she said she hadn't really decided. In fact she knew exactly what she was going to do. She was going to be be a marine biologist, spend her life at the water's edge, where life on land had begun. And she was going to do it somewhere that fulfilled her other passion, for sun and warm air and clear skies. Her life would start next year at the field centre. She'd be a summer girl, all life long.

Tom was in Sam's biology class. Most of her friends thought he was a dork; even Rosie warned her against catching terminal uncoolness from him.

Tom was kind and intelligent and thoughtful. He read a lot and enjoyed the same music as Sam did. Most people thought he was gay because he didn't try to pull girls on the rare occasions when he went out. Sam knew he wasn't, because he'd told her that he was in love with her, and that no-one else would do. It was strange having someone in love with you, all those feelings that you didn't feel back, but Tom didn't make it awkward.

Tom's parents didn't like Sam; they knew she'd broken his heart. But all she'd done was be herself; you couldn't blame someone for that. Tom didn't blame her, which was why it wasn't awkward with him. She wished she could feel the same way back, but perhaps that wouldn't be the best thing for her right now. Tom was going to be a biologist too; perhaps they'd meet up on the water's edge some day, and it would all be different.

Sam and Rosie walked from the college to the supermarket, where Sam was going to meet Mark. Rosie was like her name, sweet and round and pretty. Sam was beautiful and athletic and just a bit reserved. They were close; they told each other their darkest secrets.

Rosie had trouble with her boyfriend, Nick. She hadn't wanted to go out last Saturday, so he'd gone with his mates, and now she was hearing stories about him with other girls. Sam hadn't been out either, but she'd heard the same stories. Rosie was lovely, Nick was mad to cheat on her. But then he'd tried to cheat on her with Sam too, more than once. That was one dark secret she kept from her best friend.

It was cold walking to the supermarket. Not even four o' clock, and dusk was already falling. Sam hated winter. She couldn't wait for next year to come. Rosie said she was going to have it out with Nick. Sam said that was right, she shouldn't let him treat her like that. They reached the supermarket; Rosie carried on home, Sam stopped to wait for Mark. They said they'd ring each other later.

Sam was beautiful, everyone said so. She had long straight hair and long brown legs and big brown eyes. She could have been a model, although her mum didn't encourage people to tell her that.

Sometimes Sam stared at herself in the mirror. She liked the way she looked, but that was all it was - just the way she looked. She didn't like the idea that it defined her, but as Rosie had once said, in an unusually critical moment, that was easy for her to say when everyone and everything fell at her feet because of it.

Rosie was right. She would use her looks to get where she wanted to be. Doors opened for beautiful people; at least she was serious about wanting to be on the other side. She studied biology, she knew she couldn't help looking like this; blame it on her parents' genes and the good diet her mum had so determinedly fed her. Blame it on other peoples' obsession with beauty.

Her mum has been beautiful too. She'd seen photos of her in her late teens. Was it age that made her seem different now, or disappointment?

Sometimes Sam frightened herself. Was she so self-controlling that she'd stopped herself from being able to feel love?

What she felt for Mark wasn't love. It was controlled obsession, obsession that made her wait outside the supermarket in the freezing cold for him, controlled in that she'd be able to switch it off next year when it was time to make her break for freedom. Or at least she hoped so.

She loved Tom, but she'd controlled that too, so that she loved him as a friend. She didn't know if she could feel any other way about him, because she'd never let herself think about it, except that a few times she'd imagined them quietly together, listening to the music they both loved. It was too risky; she'd hurt him less this way.

Sometimes her dad looked sad when he saw her and Mark together. He knew, she could tell. But he understood too. She was more like her mum than she wanted to admit.

Was Sam Mark's trophy girlfriend? Or was Mark Sam's trophy boyfriend? Mark was tall and good looking and smart and had a car. All the girls wanted him. Only Sam had him. That was an achievement in itself, although it made her feel isolated sometimes to know that most of her friends would go with him if they had the chance. Rosie was the only one she could really trust.

Perhaps having to turn down all those chances was the reason why he treated her so badly sometimes. After he'd finally arrived at the supermarket, and refused to be sorry for being late, he'd driven her out to the burger bar. In the car park he held her hand and kissed her gently and said that he loved her. He meant it; his eyes glistened in the light from the neon sign.   

But she was still cross with him. She didn't want to go in, just wanted him to take her home. Tom was right about him punishing her for being beautiful, but she was tired of it. She'd had enough of that day; she just wanted to flop on her bed and forget about Mark's games and dream about next year.
Next Year

Spring would come. Her last spring at home, her last at the college, before she started her new life. Next summer she'd be at the field centre, after that at university, and after that there'd be no more cold, no more winters like these.