by:  Jennifer Rowland 


As the withdrawal symptoms begin to abate, Al tries to adapt to dealing with his memories without the assistance of alcohol to drown them out.  Always watchful for any opening in Al's protective wall, Sam tries to assure Al that it's safe to trust him.  But when Al finally does so, will Sam be prepared for the depth of his friend's pain?

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Chapter Five



Tuesday, April 23, 1985


Al tugged at his green cuffs, making sure the bandages were well-hidden beneath the fabric of his shirt.


“You look fine, Al,” Sam said.


“If you say so,” Al sighed, still fidgeting. He relaxed his shoulders and then squared them again, staring at his reflection in the mirror.  He frowned and pawed at his hair, combing through it with his fingers and smoothing it in attainment of some undefined level of perfection.  Thank God for electric razors,’ Al thought, feeling his face for any missed stubble.  His still-shaking hands would probably have cut his own throat, otherwise.  After several minutes of inspection, he took a deep breath and turned to face Sam.


“Okay,” he said, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”


If Sam felt any impatience, he didn’t show it.


“Let’s go then,” he smiled, taking a suitcase in each hand.


Not wanting to appear helpless, Al threw the strap of a duffel bag over his shoulder and hurried to open the door for Sam.  He whispered curses under his breath at his hands.  The shaking had begun to calm to some degree, but his hands were still far from steady.  Even so, he managed to get the door open and then locked behind them.  He hoped he’d locked the voices away, too, but a niggling whisper at the back of his thoughts remained.


Al shook his head and marched down the hall with Sam at his side, focusing his attention on moving as steadily as possible.  With a little concentration, he felt more like a person and less like a robot.  Still, he frowned as voices wafted down the hallway from the recreational lounge at the hub.


“Shouldn’t they all be at work now?” Al asked, gruffness in his voice, surprising himself with the appearance of the administrator he’d thought buried deeply beneath a layer of apathy and alcohol.  Or was it fear that voiced his thought?


Either way, Sam just shrugged.  Al glanced at the younger man, who apparently didn’t see any cause for concern.  Straightening his own posture, Al surreptitiously tugged his cuffs down again, just in case.


The scientists and military personnel in the hub stood around in small social circles, hardly paying any mind to Sam and Al’s entrance.  At least until they caught sight of the suitcases.


“Off on a trip, Sam?  Captain?” asked one of the scientists.  Al recognized him as Ian Markham.


“Research trip, Ian,” Sam answered brightly.  “We’ll be back in a week.  Think you can hold down the labs without me?”


“We’ll hardly miss ya,” Ian replied, chuckling.  “Have a safe flight.”


The rest of the crowd added their good wishes as well, and Sam and Al exited the building without incident.  Al let out a whoosh of relieved air, warring against an urge to turn around and make sure the group hadn’t begun gossiping about him in his absence.  He thwarted the paranoia, and continued weaving through the parking lot toward the waiting shuttle.


Halfway through the hike, Sam paused to give his cramping hands a rest from the handles of the suitcases.  Al, who’d been trailing a few feet behind, caught up with him. 


“Are you sure you can’t handle my car?” he lightly panted, embarrassed at how out of shape he’d let himself become.


“As sensitive as you said the controls are after your customization?”  Sam cocked an eyebrow at his friend.  “The shuttle will be just fine.”


“Don’t say I didn’t try.”  Al spread his hands wide, mentally ordering them to remain still.  They obeyed with some rebellion.


Sam grinned, and picked up the suitcases again, resuming their trek across the hot pavement.  Al was very grateful when they finally reached the shuttle.


The driver, a young Marine on transportation duty, hopped out of the driver’s seat and quickly appropriated all the luggage, expertly stowing it in the rear compartment while they climbed aboard.


“Sirs, you’re my only pickup, so you can sit wherever you’d like,” the Marine called out.


Al took a seat on the right side of the small bus.  Sam sat opposite him on the left side.


“To the airport, sirs?”  The young soldier had reboarded the bus and sat behind the wheel once more.


“Yes, Private Simms,” Al said.  “Thanks, Tommy.”


Tommy Simms straightened almost imperceptibly at the recognition.  Al doubted that Sam had noticed, but he well remembered the almost instantaneous surge of pride when a superior recognized you--especially if that superior wasn’t likely to--and he allowed himself a small grin.


“You seem to be feeling better,” Sam said in a low voice, noticing Al’s grin.


Al shrugged, still smiling.  “Relatively speaking.”


'For now, came a deep cackle from the back of his head.


Al rubbed his temple to silence the voice, the smile fading from his face by degrees.


Sam glanced at Simms then reached across the aisle to touch Al’s arm.  “You OK?” he whispered.


Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Al leaned his head against the back of the seat.  “I will be.”


Making sure the private was focused on the road, Sam squeezed the older man’s arm encouragingly and quickly let go.  Al opened his eyes and made contact with Sam for a moment.


“Thanks,” he mouthed.  He exchanged a brief smile with Sam before turning to stare out the window.


Al’s mind ran on a free course as he watched the desert scenery passing before his window.  That he’d survived Friday night and made it to the next week was still an amazement to him.  His cheeks burned and Al adjusted his cuffs again.  He owed a lot to the kid, including the astounding miracle Sam had pulled off.  Al had figured the next time he’d be leaving the project, it would be for good.


‘Well it still might be.  You’ve still got to get through the hearing.’


A cold hand of dread twisted Al’s stomach.  He reminded himself that it was still a week away.  I’ll be ready for it.  I hope.’  Al probed his right wrist with the thumb of his left hand.  He had to disguise the wince that reflexively crossed his face.  The pain he felt was discouraging in its reminder of the slow road of healing ahead.  It also resurrected a wave of guilt and shame over his own weakness.  And yet, the sharp biting sting was a reminder that he was alive.  Like so much other pain he’d experienced in his life, he would overcome this as well.


If only he felt as encouraged about the hearing.  His thoughts kept returning to that, keeping him from sharing in the excitement Sam Beckett couldn’t fully hide.  Al knew the real purpose of their trip was for his own benefit, but he also knew the young scientist well enough by now to know that even if they could only devote ten minutes to his theories, Sam would be thrilled.  For the physicist’s sake, Al hoped that the worst was behind them.


‘Be honest, Calavicci, it’s not just for the kid’s sake.’  Al had a deep-seated fear that his memories and hallucinations might begin to take over again.  As bad as the voices had gotten in his drunken haze that night, he worried that they’d get worse without the help of the booze to drown them out.  He rubbed his wrists again.


Al glanced at Sam, knowing that fresh-faced Beckett’s advice would be to find another way to deal with it.  While he knew that was sound advice, he was doubtful of his ability to do so.


It would be a problem he’d have to tackle later, though.  Simms pulled up in the airport’s passenger zone and brought the bus to a stop.


“I’ll get your luggage, sirs,” Simms said, gesturing them off the bus.  Sam followed close behind Al, ready with an unobtrusive supporting hand when Al wobbled on the bus stairs.  Al endured the grip until he was off the bus, quickly shaking off the younger man.


Defiantly, Al grabbed both his duffel and a suitcase from Private Simms.  He thanked the Marine civilly enough, but as soon as Simms boarded the bus and drove off, Al squared his jaw and shoulders and marched into the airport, Sam close on his heels.


“You really shouldn’t overdo it,” cautioned Sam.


Al didn’t say a word.  He didn’t even release the relieved sigh he felt when they reached the ticket counter and he could drop the bags.


They were in luck.  No one was in the line in front of them, and the pleasant brunette behind the counter, whose name tag read “Christina Shepherd,” smiled a welcome.


“Good morning.  How can I help you?” Christina asked.


“I made a standby reservation yesterday.  It should be under the name of Beckett.”


“One ‘T’ or two?” she asked, peering over her wire-frame glasses as she typed on her computer terminal.




A clatter of keystrokes.  “Sam Beckett?”  At Sam’s nod, she requested and entered some more information, but Al barely noticed.


As he’d glanced around the bustling terminal, a familiar sight caught his eye.  A woman stood in the next line at the airline’s ticket counter, her back to him.  Her dark hair was set in a style that tugged at his memory, the line of her white uniform falling around her frame in a way he recognized.  After all the years, could it be?  “Beth?”  He held his breath as she turned.


“I’m sorry, were you talking to me?” she asked.


Al’s face fell.  It wasn’t her.  Certainly attractive, this woman was too young, her skin too deeply tanned to be Beth.


“I’m sorry, Lieutenant, I thought you were someone else,” he apologized.


She smiled at him.  “I’m sorry I wasn’t who you hoped.”  She stuck her hand out in greeting.  “Lieutenant Ann Marie Paris.”


Al shook her hand, wishing his grip were stronger and steadier.  “Al Calavicci.”


“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Cala....”  Her brow crinkled slightly in thought.  “Calavicci, right?  Captain Calavicci?  You flew on Apollo!  It’s an honor, sir.”


‘I don’t know about that,’ Al started to say, but caught himself in time.  Instead, he just bowed his head in acknowledgment.  “Thank you, Lieutenant.  Are you on leave?”


Lieutenant Paris nodded, a smile lighting up her face.  “Yes, sir.  I’m visiting family.”  The ticket agent at her counter gently coughed to get her attention, tickets in his hand.  “Oh, my tickets.  I’ve got to run.  I hope you have a good trip, sir.  Again, it was an honor to meet you.”


“Thank you.  You, too,” Al said.  He watched as she gathered her belongings and headed off toward the terminals.  He shook his head, amazed at how his mind always managed to bring up a picture of Beth as she was, when they were in love.  By all rights he should have identified the middle-aged woman three stations over as Beth, not some fresh-faced girl just starting out on her career.  With a small sigh, he returned his attention to Sam and Christina.


Christina had just finished calling up the last bit of information she needed.  “You’re in luck, Mr. Beckett, we do have two seats available.”  A twinkle entered into her eye.  “I’m afraid all we have is in first class.  Do you mind an upgrade?”


Feeling like his old self for a moment, Al grinned and winked at the ticket agent.  “The only thing we could mind that your pretty face wouldn’t be there.”  He was gratified to see her cheeks lightly blush in pleasure.


“We’ll take it,” Sam affirmed.


“Very good.”  She tapped a series of keys to print their tickets.  “We can go ahead and check your baggage here, and you’ll take these to your boarding gate.”  She handed the tickets to Sam while Al set the suitcases on the scale.  Christina expertly attached the routing tags to the handles and hefted the luggage onto the conveyor behind the counter.  “Thank you for choosing to fly with us.  Have a good trip, gentlemen.”


Sam nodded a thanks to her and led the way to their terminal.


“How long of a wait do we have till the flight?” Al asked.


“Not much of one, actually.  In fact, they should be starting to board when we reach the gate.”  Sam grinned and handed Al his ticket.


Al tucked the ticket into his breast pocket.  “Good.  I’m not big on twiddling my thumbs in an airport, anyway.”


“Rather be in the air?”


“You know it.”  Al adjusted the strap of the duffel bag on his shoulder as they stepped up their pace a bit in a thinning crowd.  He was looking forward to the thrill of take-off.  The building speed, the ever so gentle pressure forcing everyone to the back of their seats, the angle of the plane, and then, the sensation of absolute freedom as the plane left the ground and broke from the pull of gravity--the brief moment of every weight in the world being lifted from his shoulders as he soared into the clouds.  Yes, he would rather be in the air, leaving the past weekend and all the problems of Project Starbright behind.


It looked like he wouldn’t have to wait long.  Sam’s hunch was right and the boarding agents were announcing first call on their flight as they reached the gate.  The first-class upgrade was paying off already, as they were to board the plane first. 


Once on board the plane, Al allowed Sam to finally take the duffel bag and stow it in the overhead compartment.  He wasn’t going to take any chances on exposing his bandages, even to complete strangers.  As upbeat as his thoughts had gotten a few moments before with the anticipation of flying, even if he couldn’t be at the controls, the cursed bandages began to drag him down again.  Al silently took the window seat and watched the ground crew prepping the plane for take off.


“Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?”


Al and Sam turned to see a dark-haired stewardess in the aisle.  Her name tag simply read “Pat.”


“Yes, I’d like a Bloody Mary, please,” Al said.


“Just the mix,” Sam quickly put in.  “No alcohol.  And I’ll have the same.”


“Yes, coming right up,” Pat said, heading to the small kitchenette to prepare the drinks for them.


“You’re lucky this is such a confined space,” Al said in a very low voice, fire in his eyes.


Sam just regarded him.  “I know that was force of habit that ordered that drink, Al.  You’ve come too far to go back to square one.”


Al flared his nostrils, but didn’t say anything.  He hated to admit it, but Sam was right.  Years of habit were hard to break, and he really didn’t want to have to start all over again, not when he was just beginning to get a bit of a handle on the withdrawal symptoms.


Pat returned with their drinks, and Al’s glower quickly evaporated to be replaced by a winning smile for her benefit.  Rather than speaking with Sam, Al sipped the seasoned tomato juice as the stewardess moved on to attend to the other passengers.  He twirled the wilting celery stalk in the red liquid, stirring his temper down at the same time.  Sam nursed his drink as well, making a face at the flavor.


Al couldn’t help chuckling.  “Next time try to cover for me with something you actually like,” he said to make peace.


Sam grinned, setting the glass down on his tray table.  “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”


Al waved off the apology.  “I know.  Just forget about it.”  He stirred the celery again before nibbling on the end of it.


The coach passengers were allowed onto the plane as the final drinks for first class were distributed.  Al caught sight of Ann Marie Paris behind a haggard mother with twins and he smiled a greeting at her.  Her face lit up at the recognition, and she waved at him as best as the crowded aisle would allow.


“Small world,” she grinned as she maneuvered down the narrow aisle toward coach.


When she was gone, Sam turned to Al and raised a questioning brow.


“I just met her,” he explained.  “She was at the ticket window next to ours.”


“You certainly don’t waste any time, do you?  I guess that’s a good sign.”


Al shrugged, chewing on his celery stalk again and looking out the window rather than explaining the circumstances to Sam.  “It looks like they’re getting ready to pull chocks,” he said.


Sure enough, the stewardesses began working their way up and down the aisle, latching the overhead compartments and picking up the mostly empty glasses from the first class passengers.  Sam quickly and gratefully surrendered his.  Al laughed as he passed his own glass over.


The head stewardess, a mature red-haired woman, soon took the cabin microphone and introduced herself.  “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  On behalf of the flight crew, I’d like to welcome you aboard Flight 1893 to Boston.  My name is Freda, and I and the other members of our crew are here to serve you.  Simply press the call button above your seat if you need anything.”  She proceeded to identify all the safety features and procedures intended to give a sense that something could actually be done if the plane suddenly plummeted from the sky.


“Wonder if she’ll explain the kiss your butt goodbye position,” Al murmured in Sam’s ear.


The mental picture that popped into Sam’s head was so funny he couldn’t hold back a chortle.  That earned him a strange look from Freda, so he stifled it as best as he could, clearing his throat to regain his composure.  Al had an innocent, seriously attentive expression on his face as he listened to the rest of the safety directives.


“You must have been a joy to be in classes with,” Sam said when the safety lecture was finished and the pilots began backing the plane toward the runway.  “How many of your friends did you get in trouble?”


Al grinned.  “About as many as got me into trouble the same way.  Didn’t you cut up at school at all?”  He chuckled and shook his head.  “What am I thinking?  You were probably the teacher’s pet.”


“You weren’t any teacher’s pet?” Sam asked, answering Al’s assumption by not answering it.


“Pet project, maybe.  I went to Catholic school.  In the Forties.  Need I say more?”  He smirked as Sam shook his head.  “That’s what I thought.”  A barely perceptible rumble in the engines pricked his ears.  “We’re getting ready to take off.”


Sam took the hint and settled back into his seat, letting Al have the moment of take-off to focus on.  Hopefully the flight would have a comparable effect on Al as a passenger as he claimed it did when he was a pilot.  It seemed as if it might.  Al closed his eyes and Sam could almost feel the former astronaut’s concentration on each aspect of take-off.  A huge smile spread across Al’s face when the plane launched itself forward, and he gestured a finger like a conductor a split second before the aircraft lifted off the ground.


When they were airborne, he opened his eyes, letting Sam share in the broad smile splitting his face.  “Take-offs are such a kick in the butt!” he beamed.


Sam just returned the smile weakly.  He was quite glad he didn’t have the window seat.  It was bad enough seeing the white puffs of cloud when he glanced past Al, reminding him just how high they were.  But he certainly didn’t need to see the gradual climb as the ground shrank away below.


The captain looked out the window again and sighed in contentment.  “I sure miss flying.  That’s one of the drawbacks to getting promoted--you have to let all the up and comers do the flying for you.”


“Did you ever think about buying your own plane?”


“Plenty of times!” Al laughed.  “But alimony four times over kind of gets in the way.”  A slight tinge of bitterness colored the laugh upon mentioning his ex-wives. 


“I guess it might,” Sam said, trying to keep the conversation light.  If he’d learned one thing over the last few days, it was that almost anything Al brought up about his past (which wasn’t much) could very easily take the plummet toward despair, no matter how casually mentioned.  Trying to refocus the conversation, Sam admitted, “I’m not too crazy about flying.  I’m actually pretty scared of heights.”


“You’re kidding me,” Al said, his eyes widening in amazement that the young man didn’t share his enthusiasm.


“Wish I were.  I wasn’t always phobic, though.”


That perked up Al’s ears.  After four days of having his weaknesses exposed, he was glad to deflect attention off of himself.


“What happened?  Did you fall?”


“I think it might have been easier if I’d fallen,” Sam said.  “My brother and I were playing Tarzan in the barn.  There was this rope tied to the upper rafter--the perfect vine, Tom said.  He swung down first--made it look so easy.  Then the rope loosened, and Tom sent me up to tighten the knot.  I shimmied up the rope just fine, but when I reached the top, I froze.”  Sam’s eyes reflexively tightened at the memory, his fists gripping the remembered rope, biceps clenched in aching terror.  “It seemed like forever before they got me down.”


Al let out a low empathic whistle.  “You were just a kid, huh?”


Sam nodded.  Their conversation was temporarily broken as the stewardesses began delivering the meal.  Both men dutifully lowered their tray tables to receive the plates.  This time, Al declined the alcoholic beverage, opting for a soda.  Sam again followed suit in support, flight being one of the few times he actually desired the numbing effects of alcohol.


Although preferable to the fare served in coach, the fettucine still left much to be desired, and after a few attempts to devour the bland, pasty substance, Sam and Al abandoned their silverware.


“So you’re afraid of all heights?” Al asked, returning to the subject of Sam’s phobia.


“It’s kind of selective, I guess,” Sam answered.  “Like this mountain cabin we’re going to--it doesn’t bother me.  And I can go to the top of the Empire State Building.  But an unrailed balcony or . . . flying.”  He shrugged.  “Sounds silly I suppose.”


Al shook his head.  Sipping his soda as if it were a bracer, he said in a voice almost too low for Sam to hear, “No more than being afraid of something that happened twenty years ago.”


Sam looked around the cabin before pursuing the avenue Al had just left partially unguarded. The stewardesses were allowing the passengers time to eat, and those who weren’t concentrating on their plates or seatmates were taking advantage of the in-flight radio.


“What did happen over there?”


“You don’t want to know,” Al said, his hand drawing itself to his ribs and the secret scar tracing his side.


Sam made a clinical note of the habit. He tried another angle.


“Have you ever talked about it with anyone?”


“Sure, the VA shrinks.”


Sam had a fair idea of the quality of treatment Al had received from the woefully unprepared (through no fault of their own) Veterans Administration hospital.  But his goal was not to discuss the VA.


“And since then?”


Al cocked his head to the side.  “Why are you so interested in who I’ve talked to all of a sudden?”  His eyes narrowed, a wall beginning to rise up again, brick by brick.


“I just can’t help thinking that maybe if you got some of it out, off your chest, you wouldn’t have so much bottled up inside.  Maybe then you could stave off the memories on your own, without the liquor.”


Al was silent, staring at Sam as if the physicist had lost his marbles.  He shook his head somberly, a serious intensity burning in his eyes.  What he remembered unbidden in the middle of the night was bad enough, and the heinous acts he’d survived deserved to remain buried far below the surface.  He deserved to have them stay in the depths--and he knew with a certainty that no matter how many memories he purged, an equal number would remain, rising up to take their place at the forefront of his mind. 


“Listen, kid, I pray you never have to see anything even remotely related to what happened over there.  Sometimes I think the guys who died were the lucky ones.”  He shifted uneasily in his seat, unprepared for the sadness suddenly misting over Sam’s eyes.  “What?  What is it?” he asked.  “Not more pity, I hope,” he added, a sharp edge in his tone.


Sam shook his head, a tear dropping from his eye with the movement.  “No, I, uh . . . .”  He cleared his throat.  “My brother Tom was killed in action in Vietnam.”


Al’s jaw dropped and he cursed his self-absorption.  “I’m sorry.  I had no idea.”


“How could you have known?”  Sam quickly scrubbed the tear away.  He cleared his throat again, coughing away the lump of pain rising in his throat at the memory of his brother.


Al was saved having to respond by the appearance of a stewardess, who quickly collected their plates and trash, asking if they needed anything before retreating down the aisle again.  He chewed his lip and rubbed the back of his neck, taking a deep breath to prepare himself for what he was about to say.


“I know what it’s like to lose a sibling, though.”  Al patted his pocket, searching for the cigar he knew he hadn’t stashed there so he wouldn’t have to face Sam.  He didn’t want to see the young scientist’s empathy and the shocked sadness he knew would fill Sam’s eyes.  He looked out the window instead, picturing Trudy’s round face, beautiful to him despite an appearance that had been described as mongoloid.  “My younger sister died when she was sixteen.”


“You don’t ever think they’ll ever leave you when you’re growing up, do you?” Sam quietly said.


Al thought about how he and Trudy had been separated for several years after their father died.  “Not forever, anyway,” he said.


At that, both men fell into their own private reveries.  Al continued to stare out the window, while Sam fell into a silent contemplation focused on the rear of the seat in front of him.  The stewardesses seemed to sense that the men needed this personal time, and let them be for a good portion of the flight.  They remained in this quiet mode, and when they began conversing again, it was most superficial and light.



Sam set the suitcases down on the hardwood floor of the cabin’s living room.  Al shuffled inside the log cabin, shutting the door once the duffel bag slung over his shoulder had cleared the jamb.  A small layer of dust lightly covered those furnishings not draped with protective sheets, but all in all the cabin was in a rather good state.  The dark planks of the floor were covered by woven Navajo style rugs scattered in some semblance of a decorating attempt.  Sam took on the role of tour guide, urging Al to drop the duffel bag beside the suitcases.


“It shouldn’t take long to show you around,” Sam grinned.  Al nodded, the drive from the airport and up the mountains having relaxed him.  The two of them had exchanged nostalgic memories of their respective times at MIT, Al’s being peppered with more “social” reminiscences than Sam’s.  The jaunt down a more congenial memory lane had calmed Al’s edginess, and he found himself enjoying being away from the project for the first time.


There were only a few rooms branched off from the central living room.  Directly to the right was the small kitchen and dining area.  The cupboards were sparsely stocked with nonperishables, and Sam commented that they’d have to remember to make a trip into town for replacement supplies.  He led the captain back through the living room to two smaller rooms, each marked by a doorway on either side of the fireplace.  One was the bathroom, equipped with a utility shower stall.  The other was the bedroom, conveniently furnished with two twin beds, one step above army cots.  Sam offered Al the choice of beds, and after a moment’s thought Al selected the one nearest the small window.


“Think you can find your way without getting lost?”


Al laughed as he followed Sam back to the living room to collect their luggage.  “I think I can manage.”  He grabbed his suitcase and dragged it to the floor at the foot of his bed, kneeling before it to open it and neatly arrange the clothes within.


Sam hefted his luggage to the floor directly in front of his bed as well, but didn’t feel the need to compulsively set everything in order.  After a moment of watching the captain, Sam left the bedroom and headed into the kitchen to prepare an early supper from the few groceries available.


One thing he hadn’t inherited from his mother was a good cooking sense.  Sam scratched his head in a stereotypical “absent-minded professor” fashion as he regarded the contents of the cabinets.  A flash of memory of one of his mother’s casseroles told him that he should be able to make something palatable from the cans of tuna and green beans, but as he removed the cans and stood there with one in each hand, he hadn’t a clue how to go about it.  Unfortunately, a photographic memory wasn’t much help when you didn’t actually watch your mother preparing meals.  He had inherited enough of his father’s chauvinistic attitude that he’d left kitchen matters to Katie for the most part.




Sam turned, startled by Al’s sudden appearance in the kitchen doorway.  “I’m afraid anything higher than omelets on the food chain are a bit beyond my capabilities.  If you think about Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving dinner, you should get a fair idea.”


“Would you like some help?” Al asked, nearly consumed with laughter at the young scientist’s predicament, and his description of it.


“Only if you’d like to eat,” Sam countered, gladly surrendering control of the kitchen.  He left the cans on the counter and stepped out of Al’s way.


Al perused the cupboards, rapidly selecting several cans and setting them on the small table in order.  A small can of Ro-Tel tomatoes joined cans of hominy, beans, corn, and tomato soup.  Getting some hint of what Al had in mind, Sam opened the cabinet he knew to contain the pots and took hold of the largest stewpot.  Al nodded and smiled in approval as Sam set the pot on the stove.


“If you’ll open the cans, I’ll fix a chili,” Al said.  The itching he was starting to feel in his wrists told him that the healing had begun, but the soreness hadn’t abated enough to allow him to abuse the damaged muscles and tissues by cranking a hand can opener.  Plus, his hands hadn’t decided to give him a break from their mutinous betrayal of control.


Sam swiftly identified the drawer where Dr. LoNigro stored the can opener and began his attack on the aluminum cans.  As the sealed lid was removed from each can, Al dumped its contents into the pot, adding a can full of water each time--to clean the can of its contents as well as to thin the chili with a soup base.  Once Al raised the heat underneath the pot, the aroma began to fill the cabin.


“It would be better with some ground meat,” Al commented, stirring his gourmet concoction, “but it should be tolerable.”


“We can head into town for some meat tomorrow,” Sam said.  “I’m really surprised Dr. LoNigro doesn’t have any in the freezer.”


“I’m not.  I wouldn’t leave any meat up here when I left at the end of deer season if it were my cabin.”


“I guess you’re right.”


Al stirred the chili for a few minutes before covering it and letting it cook.  He then took a seat at the table with Sam.


“Does Dr. LoNigro know we’re here?”


Sam nodded.  “I checked with him Monday night while I was packing to make sure we could use the cabin.  He was more than glad to help out.”


Eyes beginning to narrow, Al tightened his lips and tugged at his cuffs.  “What did you tell him?”


“Just that we needed someplace quiet to work on the string theory.”  Sam was taken aback by the question, and it showed in his voice.


“That’s all you told him?”


Frowning, Sam assured Al that was all he’d said.  “Al, I’m not going to betray any secrets.  Why can’t you trust me?”


Instead of answering, Al started to get up to check the pot, but Sam grabbed his forearm and held on.  The captain slowly sat back down, focusing on the aged vinyl of the red-checkered tablecloth and avoiding Sam’s eyes as long as he could.  Sam loosened his grip but didn’t let go of Al’s right arm.


Al sighed and rubbed his forehead with his left hand.  Finally, he looked into the young man’s face.  “You get burned enough, you learn not to trust anyone.”


“Then why agree to come here with me?” Sam asked, pulling back, his eyes displaying the hurt that after all he’d done, the captain still couldn’t bring himself to trust him.


“Maybe you’re different,” Al shrugged.  He continued talking as if to himself, suddenly rubbing his arms like a chill had descended.  “But I just can’t take any chances.”


“Why not?” demanded Sam.  Every step we take forward, we seem to take two steps back.  What can I do to show him he can trust me?’  “You seemed to trust me this weekend.  This morning even.”


Al frowned, aware that his arguments weren’t making any sense.  He wanted to trust Sam Beckett, wanted a friend.  But we don’t always get what we want, do we?’ taunted the reappearing voice.  Just remember Beth.’ 


He jumped up from the table and stirred the chili again, shoving the voice away as he did so.  When he felt that he’d regained control, he took a deep breath and faced Sam.


“I thought I could trust Bob Jansen, but he turned on me.  I thought I could trust my wife . . . all my wives, but we know how all that ended.  I thought I could trust my mother . . . . .”  He broke off before stiffly continuing, “And I found out you can’t even trust God . . . . He’s not in charge at a POW camp.”  Al paused again.  “So it’s a little hard to see how you can break a track record like that.”


Sam chewed his lip.  “If I was going to turn on you, I had the perfect opportunity yesterday morning.  I was in Bob Jansen’s office, along with the other administrators.”


“You did work a miracle,” admitted Al, without having to think long about it.


“And?  That’s not enough evidence that you can trust me?”  Sam didn’t even mention the night of Al’s suicide attempt.  He didn’t have to.  Along with the administration miracle, that night was foremost in Al’s thoughts right now.


Al shifted uncomfortably and bounced on his heels.  “I know I can trust you, Sam. In my head I do, I really do.”




“But it’s something that’s going to take a while for me to get used to.”  He hesitated, feeling the strain of opening up to Sam, no matter how slightly.  “And I have to ask you to bear with me.”


Sam nodded, a little subdued by the captain’s revelation.  His patience was really a small price to ask; Sam was sure that the litany Al had shared was merely the tip of a giant glacier of betrayals.  He reminded himself not to expect too much from Al right now, and not to push too hard.  He was lucky that Al had opened up to him at all, instead of closing him away.  Perhaps he was making more headway than he knew.


After a moment, Al returned his attention to the stove.  “Chili’s done,” he announced.  He ladled it into the chipped stoneware bowls Sam held out.  They dined with battered silverware.  Sam tasted the chili and pronounced it a success.  Al’s face lit up with pride, but other than that, they ate without conversation.


Halfway through their silent dinner, Al looked up at Sam.  “Thank you,” he said.


‘For what?’ Sam started to ask, but he knew what the captain meant.  He smiled at Al.  “You’re welcome,” was all he said.


It was the right thing to say.



Something awoke Sam in the middle of the night.  It wasn’t a noise.  The night was much too peaceful.  A lone coyote howled mournfully in the distance while crickets chirped their night music outside the cabin walls.  He lay there for a few moments, feeling at one with nature, and then tried to discern what had awakened him.  Maybe it had been the silence.


He sat up quietly in his bed, scanning the room through the weak moonlight filtering through the window.  He didn’t want to wake Al, but a glance at the captain’s bed quickly made that a moot concern.  The bed was empty, the sheets strewn as if whatever had roused Al required immediate attention.  Maybe it had just been a midnight call of nature, but Sam wasn’t about to take any chances.  He tossed his own sheets aside and leapt from his bed, crossing the small room in three steps and flinging open the door.


Al jumped in his seat on the lumpy couch at the sharp bang of the door against the cabin wall.  After dinner, he and Sam had spent the evening getting LoNigro’s cabin in order, unveiling all the furniture and making sure all the fuses were working properly.  Then, exhausted, they’d imbibed steaming mugs of cocoa while they enjoyed the results of their efforts.  The conversation had been light and free of all suspicion and concern.  Both had headed off to bed more relaxed than at any other moment in the last five days.  So Sam’s sudden appearance startled and worried Al.


“What’s wrong?” they both asked at almost the same instant.


After a beat, Sam answered first.  “I was worried about you.  I woke up and your bed was empty.”


“And you thought maybe I was stuck in a hallucination again,” Al finished for him.  He ran a hand through his tousled hair and blew out a frustrated breath.  “I appreciate your concern, Sam.”  But I wish you didn’t feel you had to watch me like a hawk.’  Al frowned at his own thoughts.  He was grateful for Sam’s caution, and to some extent was glad Sam was so attentive.  He’d managed to defeat the hallucinations so far today, but the night wasn’t over yet.  Given the last few days, the young man was probably right to be concerned.  To alleviate Sam’s fear, Al added, “I did have some disturbing dreams, but that’s all they were.”


“Is that why you got up?”


“Mm,” Al nodded.  “Kinda hard to go back to sleep after some of those.  I figured I’d wake you with my tossing and turning, so I came in here.”  He gestured at the physics text in his lap.  “Doesn’t LoNigro read anything for fun?


Sam laughed.  “That is fun for Dr. LoNigro.”  He glanced at the title and took a seat in the small chair opposite the sofa.  “You know, I think that’s one of the books we used when we worked on the string theory.  I can’t believe it’s still here.”


Al passed the book over, and Sam turned it in his hands as if it were a priceless treasure.  He cracked the front cover and smiled at the title page.  “1973. This book was brand new, parts of it were considered controversial.”  He looked up, “It was the perfect text for what we had in mind.”


Al smiled weakly.  His own memories of ‘73 weren’t so warm and fuzzy.  In fact, the only thing warm about it was the raging fever that had tormented him for months at Cham Hoi.  He shook the memory off before it could take hold of him and focused on Sam’s nostalgic monologue.


The young scientist was completely transformed as he described his time with Dr. LoNigro.  The fits and starts they’d had in getting the theory to a point where even they could understand what they’d uncovered.  The moment of breakthrough when they realized that Einstein’s theory could be unlocked.  The exultation of discovering that the final barrier could be broken . . . the barrier of time.  And then, the brick wall that suddenly barred the way.  How to put the theory into practice.


“I got my appointment to Starbright before we could figure that out.  We’d worked on that theory through all my degrees.”  Sam stopped, realizing that a number of years had passed.


“So why are you and Dr. LoNigro so sure that I can help?  You two obviously worked on this for a long time.  What can I add that you two haven’t already considered?”


“A fresh perspective,” Sam suggested.  “You’ve got a background in engineering that neither of us had.”


Al shrugged.  “I haven’t had to use it in years.  It may take a while for it to come back.”  If only his personal memories could be as fleeting as the things he’d learned in school were. 


“It will, though.  It’s like riding a bike,” Sam joked.  He stretched and yawned in the armchair.


“Don’t stay up on my account,” said Al.  “You’ve already had a weekend full of vigils.  Just because I can’t sleep doesn’t mean you should stay up, too.”


“I’m fine,” Sam spoke around a yawn that betrayed him.


Al simply cocked an eyebrow at him.  “Go to bed, Sam.  I think everything will be fine,” he lied, trying to convince Sam of something he didn’t really believe himself.  “Dr. Beckett’s patented de-tox program is beginning to pay off.”  He held out a steady hand.  “See?”  He hoped the amount of concentration it took to keep his hand from shivering was unnoticeable.


“All I really need is a cup of coffee,” Sam protested.  He started to get up to go to the kitchen.


Al held up a hand to stop him.  “You’re determined to stay up with me, aren’t you?”  At Sam’s nod, he sighed.  “You’re liable to fall asleep sitting up.  Okay, you win.  Put on some coffee for us.  I don’t suppose there are any cards around here.”


“In that drawer.”  Sam pointed to the small table next to the couch as he rose and headed for the kitchen to fix coffee for the two of them.  Some part of him couldn’t ignore the irony that in order to help Al’s insomnia, they were going to drink caffeine.  He chuckled a bit as he filled the coffeepot and started the grounds brewing.  As the water poured over the black powder, Sam wondered what sort of “disturbing dreams” Al had had.


Despite Al’s assurances that his nightmares had remained at the dream level, Sam wasn’t convinced.  He’d witnessed too many of Al’s “nightmares” over the last few days, and he knew that even when the visions didn’t make the transition into the land of the living, they still had a vicious hold on him.  Sure enough, as he risked a surreptitious glance into the living room, he saw Al rubbing his temples with both hands.  He’d rested his elbows on his knees and bowed over.  The tension in his shoulders was visible from across the room.  Sam withdrew just as quietly, certain that Al wanted, needed to be left alone to deal with his personal demons right now.  He reasoned that he could hear Al, but until Sam’s presence was required or requested, he’d stay put.


Al, meanwhile, was trying to beat the nightmare into submission.  Why did I try to get Sam to go to bed?  Thank God he didn’t listen.’  The moment Sam had left the room, the visions had flared up.  Sleep was definitely out of the question now.  The only hope for getting through the night was distraction.  Without his usual method for solving the problem, Al was going to have to rely on coffee, company, and cards.  He only hoped it would be enough.


‘You can hope so,’ taunted the voice, back and strong after several hours of silence.


Al groaned under his breath, not ready to go into battle.  “Please,” he murmured, “please, just go away.”


“Did you say something, Al?” called Sam from the kitchen.


“No, just clearing my throat,” he quickly answered.


‘Good boy.  Don’t want Sam to think you’re going crazy, now do you?’


Al shook his head in response, beginning to have that thought himself.  He rummaged through the drawer Sam had pointed to in search of the cards.  His hand brushed a squat, half-empty bottle of vodka.  Al froze at the sight of it, snatching his hand back as if he’d burned it.


‘You want me to shut up?  There’s the key . . . . . .’


He almost wondered if his subconscious had known the booze was there.  He swallowed hard as he stared at the clear, potent liquid.  A decision grabbed him and he stuck his hand in the drawer and withdrew it as fast as he could, prize in hand.


Al slammed the drawer shut, blocking the vodka from sight, and headed into the kitchen with the pack of cards.


‘You really think that’s going to help?’  But the voice wasn’t as strong as it had been.  Al smiled at the tiny victory.  The war was far from over, but he’d won a very important battle.  Part of him felt he should tell Sam about the liquor and let him dispose of it or lock it away in a secret place, but he didn’t want to do that.  If he could conquer the temptation to take a drink, with the full knowledge that the first step toward losing the tenuous hold he had on the wagon was within the cabin, maybe he would actually stand a chance at beating his demons.


He would have a fight on his hands, though, that much he knew.  A fight for his sanity, and maybe even for his life. . . again.  Al rubbed his wrists as a familiar cold chill ran down his spine.  But I am going to win,’ he thought with determination.  He squared his shoulders ever so slightly and walked into the kitchen.


“Well, kiddo, I hope you know more games than ‘Go Fish’,” Al said with forced brightness as he took a seat at the table.


Sam turned from his search for the mugs in the best condition.  “Rummy?”


“Well, it’s not poker, but it’s a start.”  Al smirked and started shuffling the cards while Sam took the recently located mugs, rinsed them, and then poured coffee.


“You take yours black, right?”


Al nodded.  Sam doctored his own coffee with cream and sugar, and then joined Al at the table.


He sipped his coffee while the captain shuffled the cards one final time and started dealing.  Sam scooped his hand up and studied Al from behind the small fan.  Al was regarding his own hand, but didn’t seem intent on the game.  He rubbed the back of his neck every so often, rolling his head and shifting in his seat.  Sam returned his attention to the cards in his hand before Al felt the gaze and looked up.


“You’re first,” commented Al. 


Sam made his first play, dropping a jack onto the discard pile.  Al looked at the pile, then drew a card and promptly discarded it.  He closed his card fan and tapped it against the table.  Abruptly, he stopped making the repetitive noise and sat up straighter in his chair.


“Something wrong?”  Sam asked the question as casually as possible, making his next play at the same time. 


“No,” Al said, too quickly.  He drew from the deck and discarded from his hand without even looking at the cards.


“Something is wrong.”  Sam set his cards aside and folded his hands, making it quite clear the game was put on hold.  He almost asked if Al wanted to talk about it, but knew that the answer would be “no.”  But no matter what Al said, Sam was positive he needed to talk about it if he was ever going to learn to conquer whatever was resurrected in the middle of the night without trying to drown it out with alcohol.


Al sighed when Sam put the cards down.  One of his distractions was now gone.  “Why do you say that?”


Sam pointed at the discard pile.  “You just tossed away an ace instead of taking the rummy.”  The ace sat on top of a jack, queen, and king of the same suit.


“Figures,” Al frowned.  He shook his head.  “So now what?  Psychotherapy?  No, wait.  Dream analysis, right?”


“How about just talking it out?” Sam asked.  “Friend to friend.  One thing I’m not is a psychiatric expert.”


‘Don’t do it.  Talking about it will only make things worse.  You know that.’


‘And Brer Rabbit didn’t want to be thrown into the briar patch.’  Al thought it over.  The nightmarish visions encroached on his consciousness, the sounds of the woods being transformed into the hellish sounds of the Vietnamese jungles at night.  He was going to have to deal with the nightmare whether he wanted to or not.  The painful memories were determined to make an appearance tonight.  And maybe, just maybe, Sam was right about talking.


‘Just this once.  What the hell?’  “Don’t forget, I’ve tried to warn you that you don’t want to know,” Al said.


Sam nodded, speechless, almost afraid of what Al was about to unburden.


Steeling himself, Al tried to find the words to begin.  Irrationally, he silently argued with himself, unable to break the silence he’d kept for years.  Al breathed in deeply and closed his eyes.  He blew out an explosive breath and shook his head, telling Sam, “I can’t do this.”


“Why not?”


Al rubbed the side of his ear and took a sip from his mug of coffee.  “Well, for one thing, I’ll probably just end up giving you nightmares, too.”


Sam made an abortive gesture towards Al’s arm, refraining from contact at the last moment.  “I’ll take the chance.  Especially if it helps you.”


A few seconds passed before Al quietly yielded.


“I was remembering . . . dreaming about . . . the day I was captured by the VC.”  Al stared down at the table, refusing to look at Sam, to see the shock and pity he knew even those simple words would bring upon the young man’s face.  It was the only way he’d be able to talk about it at all--to stare at the lifeless tablecloth.  The tablecloth simply was.  It couldn’t react to the painful memories he was drawing out.


“We were flying over the Annam Highlands at night.  That was the best time to run these sort of missions--at night.  Or so we thought anyway.  Charlie must have been ready for us, because we hadn’t even cleared the mountain range when the shots started going up.  I don’t really know if any of us got away.”  He let out a hollow laugh. “Well, you know I didn’t.”


Al shifted in his chair and clasped his hands around the warm mug, focusing on the rising steam.  As he described the instant his plane was hit, the steam began to take on the attributes of the smoke that had filled his cockpit after the missile struck.  Al briefly closed his eyes to block out the sight, incapable of driving the vision of the actual smoke from his mind’s eye.


“I tried to recover, but the plane was too damaged.  I couldn’t get the hatch to pop for several precious seconds, and I was going down fast.  When I was finally able to eject, I was almost too close to the ground.  As it was, the chute didn’t keep me from hitting stuff on the way down.  I broke some ribs, I guess.  Probably punctured a lung.  Definitely had a concussion, but I was conscious long enough to see my plane explode into the side of a mountain before I blacked out.”


“No wonder you have nightmares,” Sam whispered.


Al looked away from the red and white squares and risked meeting Sam’s eyes.  “Kid, I wish that was the only thing I had nightmares about.”  He rubbed the back of his neck.  “I don’t think you want to know any more.”


“No,” Sam licked suddenly dry lips, “keep going.”


Swallowing hard, Al nodded.  His stomach began to churn as he allowed the rest of the memory to come forward after years of fighting it off.  “I woke up to hear voices shouting back and forth across the field.  I was so out of it I actually called out for help, not realizing they were speaking Vietnamese.”  He shut his eyes again and laughed darkly.  “It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t on their side.  None of them spoke English, and they used that as an excuse to start beating me when I didn’t answer their questions.  If I hadn’t punctured a lung on my way down, I had one by the time they finished with me.” 


Al tucked his arm against his side, as if still protecting the broken ribs that had healed and been rebroken over the years of captivity.  He heard Sam suck in a strained breath, but he couldn’t look up, not if he was going to finish what he’d just started.  To stop now, with the memory halfway out but not resolved, was to invite despair--and the voices.


“I don’t know what happened after that because I blacked out again.  When I came to, I was in the corner of a dirty room.  They’d tossed me there when we got to what I soon found out was a prison camp.  My hands were tied together behind me and I was lying in a puddle of blood and urine on the dirt floor.  I didn’t know how much of it was my own or what had been there already.  And I didn’t think that I could feel any worse than I did.”


Al paused to take a sip of coffee.  He splashed a few drops on the tablecloth when his hands started shaking again as he returned the cup to its place.


“I was wrong,” he quietly said.


Sam’s face began to lose some of its color and he had to steady his own mug.  “Oh dear God,” he murmured.


“God wasn’t there,” Al said, steel in his voice.  “Just me and the Vietcong, and the deck wasn’t stacked in my favor.”  He rubbed his face.  “The soldiers in the field were just the welcome wagon.  The real party began when the VC sergeant came in to interrogate me.  He had his cronies yank me up by my hair and drag me to a rickety chair.  It was like a scene from a bad movie.  They train you how to respond when captured.  Name, rank, serial number.  Don’t give away any secrets.  All that cloak and dagger stuff you think you’ll never have to use.  But they don’t--can’t prepare you for the torture.  He knew where each wound was and just how to aggravate it to cause exquisite pain--things like ramming his boot into my broken ribs.  And that doesn’t even bring in the new wounds he caused.  I didn’t think there was any part of my body that hadn’t been hurt out in the field, but he found new places to cause pain.”


Bile rose in Sam’s throat as Al described his first interrogation session in the prison camp.  He couldn’t imagine surviving even a few hours in such a place, and yet Al had apparently made it through a number of years.  Years where the situation was probably not only duplicated, but also intensified.  Where the young military officer had been patched up just enough to survive the next rounds of torture and abuse, repeatedly paying for the so-called crimes perpetrated by the very nature of warfare.


“I didn’t break, though,” Al said, some pride coming through.  “I couldn’t see from how swollen my eyes had gotten, I could barely breathe, and I was more familiar with the taste of my own blood than anyone should be.  But I didn’t break.”  He chuckled softly.  “I think that ticked off the sergeant more than anything else.  Too bad I was the one that paid for his temper.”


Sam sat frozen across the table, swallowing a hot swig of coffee to burn away the lump that had developed in his throat.  What was he supposed to say now that he had convinced Al to open up?  What did you expect, a story about being lost in the jungles?  You saw Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, did you think that was entirely fictional?’


“Al, I . . .   I mean . . .  Oh, God.”  Sam was completely overwhelmed.  It seemed too trite to ask Al if he felt better now.  Sam was shamed for even having thought that merely talking about it would solve Al’s problems.  “Do you dream about that every night?” he solemnly asked.


“Oh, I have a huge repertoire of sessions I could dream about.  That one just happened to be tonight’s selection.”


“How did you survive?” Sam asked.  He gasped at his own words and quickly apologized, trying to take them back.


Al gave a weak half-smile.  “It’s okay, Sam.  I’ve wondered that a lot myself lately, especially when I wake up from one of the nightmares.  I guess . . . I just refused to give up.  I . . . dreamed about home . . . and my wife . . . and getting back to her.”  He sighed and picked at the bandage on his wrist.


“You did survive, though,” Sam affirmed, grasping at a fragile straw.


“I did,” agreed Al quietly.  He hid his hands beneath the table so he wouldn’t have to look at the bandages again.  Al closed his eyes, but for once, the memory didn’t immediately flood his senses.  It wasn’t gone and he probably would never be able to exorcise it, but at least it wasn’t at the forefront of his thoughts. 


“I . . . I’m sorry I made you talk about it,” Sam was saying.  “I just thought that it might help.  I don’t know, I guess I thought it might make it less, I dunno, real.”


“I don’t think anything can make it less real,” Al said, bitterness creeping into his voice. 


“I realize that now,” Sam apologized.  “I was just trying to help.”


“I know,” Al said.  “You don’t need to apologize.”


“But you were right.  All I did was make you relive it.”


“I was gonna relive it anyway.  I was reliving it when I woke up.”  Al hesitated.  “I’m not saying you were right about talking about it.  I’m not saying it helped, and I’m not saying it didn’t.  But . . . I dunno . . . maybe talking about it did work a little better than just trying to fight it off.”


“Maybe you should think about seeing a therapist, then?” Sam offered.  “Someone you could talk about it with who’s trained to deal with it?”


No!  Al took a calming breath.  “I don’t talk to shrinks anymore.  In fact, I don’t want to talk about my dreams with anyone, either.”


“But you just said getting it out might have helped a little.”


“I am not talking to a shrink.”  Al was firm, and he folded his arms for emphasis as he glared across the table.  “Dammit, Sam, why do you keep pushing this?”


“You’re right.  I’m sorry,” Sam suddenly backed down.  “I just . . . you need some way to deal with such . . . painful stuff.”


“Some way that doesn’t include booze,” Al put in, and sighed.  “Sam, you can’t make it all go away at once.  There’s no magic wand you can wave to make it all better.  They don’t make Band-Aids for wounds like this.”


Sam nodded.  He did wish that he could strike upon some magic solution that would solve all of Al’s problems, but it was ludicrous and pointless to count on that.  “But you need to find some way to cope, and if talking’s out . . .”


“I’m not talking to a shrink,” Al repeated.  “And you. . . I told you you didn’t want to know.  I’m certainly not going to . . . traumatize you more.”


“You did warn me.  And I insisted,” Sam said, flushing at his inability to handle just a small taste of what Al himself struggled with daily.


“Well, there’s no need to be giving you nightmares just so I can deal with mine.”  Al picked up the cards he’d laid on the table and started shuffling them back and forth within his hand.


“I’m sorry, Al.”


“Dammit, stop saying you’re sorry!” Al shouted, throwing the cards down.  “I’m so sick of people telling me they’re sorry.  ‘Sorry you had to go through that, Al.’  ‘Sorry to have to tell you about your wife.’  ‘Sorry I have to make you go through a hearing to keep your job.’”  He shoved himself out of the chair and stalked to one of the small windows.  Al squeezed his upper arms as he stared outside into the blackness.


Sam didn’t move from the table.  “I wish I knew what to say.”


Al snorted and turned to face the young scientist.  “There isn’t anything you can say.  That anyone can say, for that matter,” he shrugged.  He rolled his shoulders back and forth.  “I think I’m gonna try to get some sleep again, after all,” Al finally said.  He waved at the table.  “Do you mind if I just leave all this for morning?”


“I’ll take care of it,” Sam quietly answered.


“Goodnight, then,” Al nodded.  He turned and swiftly marched out of the kitchen.  He kept his eyes set forward as he walked through the living room, past the table with the liquor inside its drawer.  As if he were wearing blinders, Al continued into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.


Sam sat at the table, unmoving, after Al left.  He wasn’t really helping matters, and he only prayed he wasn’t making things worse for Al in his attempts to help.


‘Tom, how did you help your friend?’ he silently asked his older brother.  It’s not enough to just take away the booze.  I see that now.  But I don’t know what to do.  I’m so scared that I’m hurting him more than I’m helping.  I’m not qualified to do this.’


Sam buried his head in his hands and thought back over the details of Al’s nightmarish memory.  Be honest, Sam, what he lived through.’  The later experiences had to have been so much worse, and just that first day had been horrific in Sam’s eyes.  The lump returned to Sam’s throat.


“I’m sorry, Al,” he whispered to the empty room.  “I know you don’t want to hear that, but I really am sorry.”


He closed his eyes and let the tears of empathy for Al’s pain and shame at his own ineptitude streak down his cheeks.


‘Help me,’ he prayed.  I don’t know what to do.  Give me the answers to help Al.’ Sam folded his arms on the table and used them as a cushion for his head.  “Tom, how would you have handled this?  What do I do?”


A sob suddenly rose up in his throat and Sam started crying in earnest.  “I wish you were here to help me, Tom.  You’d know what to say.”


‘What do I do?  What do I do?’


To Be Continued



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