by:  Jennifer Rowland 


Sam has saved Al's career and Al has helped Sam get the Committee's approval for his proposals.  While both work to improve Starbright, they make plans to continue theorizing together on Sam's pet time-travel project.  Meanwhile, Sam discovers a new love and Al faces the AA meetings he's been mandated into attending.

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Chapter Nine



Tuesday, April 30, 1985


“Al?  Wait up!”


Sam hurried down the passageway to catch up to his friend.  Al had quickly excused himself as soon as the report session had come to an end.  Between the two of them, they’d gotten the Committee’s approval to move forward with Sam’s ideas.  Now Sam would have to meet with the department heads, a field of battle he was more comfortable stepping onto.


Al slowed his pace, but didn’t stop.


“I need to get back to the office,” he said, without a hint of brusqueness.


“I know,” Sam answered.  “I just wanted to thank you.  I couldn’t have done it without you.”


Al smiled and shrugged.  “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.”


Sam grinned back.  “Can I ask you a question, Al?”


Al just looked at him as if to say, ‘What do you think?’


“Do you think we can meet on a regular basis to work through these theories?”


Al finally stopped walking.  “You’ve gotten the approval, what do you need me for now?”


“Well, actually, I wasn’t just talking about the theories for the communications system,” Sam explained.


“Ah.  Your time travel theory,” Al interpreted.


A quick glance around the empty hallway, and Sam nodded.  “You really helped me flesh everything out.  And the way you explained everything to the Committee in there, you made it all so simple, but you didn’t talk down to them.  How did you do that?”


Al just shrugged.  “Lots of practice?”  He started moving towards the administration wing again.


Sam reached out to touch his sleeve.  “Al, I want your help on this.”  When Al turned to him, Sam smirked and said, “Now don’t tell me you’ll think about it.  Will you help me?”




“Huh?”  Sam didn’t get it at first.


“Thursdays,” Al patiently repeated.  “My Thursday evenings are usually free.”



Bob was waiting for him in the reception area when Al returned to the office.  He shook off the sensation of deja vu and cordially greeted the man he would never trust again.


“Rachelle told me where you went,” Bob said, glossing over a returned greeting.  “You’re certainly off to a conscientious start.”


“I have a lot of ground to regain,” Al said in response.  “Speaking of which, there’s a huge pile on my desk that I’d like to get back to, if you don’t mind, Bob.”


“Al, can I buy you lunch?” Bob blurted out as Al headed past.


He stopped and turned on his heel.  “Why would you want to do that?” he carefully asked, one eye narrowing suspiciously.


“I owe you an explanation.”


“You don’t owe me anything,” Al said the words sadly rather than harshly.


“I think I do,” Bob answered.  He glanced at Rachelle’s empty desk.  “She’ll be back from filing soon, and I don’t want her to overhear anything.  I’m almost positive she’s the source behind all the rumors about you, and I’m sorry about that, Al.”


“Yeah, well, she does her job efficiently enough, so there’s nothing you can do about that,” Al said, brushing off the apology.


Bob tried again.  “Let me take you to lunch, Al.  There was nothing personal about yesterday.”


Al barked out a bitter laugh.  “Like hell there wasn’t.”  He shook his head.  “Bob, I have to finish going through those files.”


“It’s practically lunchtime now, Al.  The files will keep.  I don’t want things to be strained between us.  We do have to work together.  Al, we’re on the same side.”


Al shook his head again.  “No, Bob.  We’re not.  You made it very clear whose side you were on yesterday.”


“Please, Al, give me a chance to explain.”  Bob extended a hand to him, palm up.


Al folded his arms over his chest.  “You explained plenty to the Committee.”


“Al, I’m sorry.”  Bob dropped his hand to his side.  “Just one lunch.  That’s all I’m asking.  Let me explain things to you, and if you’re still not satisfied after that, then I’ll let things be.”


“How do I know you won’t go running to the Committee with what we talk about?”


Bob flinched.  “I deserved that.”


His arms still folded protectively over his chest, Al just cocked an eyebrow at the man before him.


“I swear to you, Al, this lunch will be one hundred percent off the record.  Trust me.”


‘I did.  Look what it got me.’  Al sighed, realizing that wasn’t entirely fair.  He couldn’t blame Bob for everything.  His own actions were a sizable portion of what had led to the hearing.


“One lunch,” he reluctantly said.  “I’ll listen to what you have to say.  That’s all I’m promising.”


“Fair enough,” Bob said.  He gestured Al to follow him from the offices.  “We’ll go into town, where the walls don’t have ears.  I’ll drive.”


Wondering why he was doing this, Al accompanied Bob from the administrative wing to the parking lot.



Piped-in mariachi music added to the ambience even more than the serapes and sombreros hung on the walls.  The ceiling was cluttered by a bright palette of piñatas, designed to both provide decoration and to tease and tempt the youngest patrons into pleading with their parents to take one home.  “Please, Mommy, Daddy,” could be heard from the children at the tables closest to the one Sam, Shari, and Donna sat at in the center of the restaurant.


They filled three of the four chairs, the fourth one glaringly empty to Sam’s eyes.  In the center of the table, a basket of fresh tortilla chips rested next to a small stoneware bowl filled with salsa, and they munched on the nachos as they waited for their order to arrive.  The waiter had already brought their drinks: three bottles of Corona to celebrate in the proper atmosphere, as Shari had said.


Shari raised her beer bottle.  “To Sam Beckett, who has not only gotten the holography labs back on track, but who is going to move us into the future!”


“Hear, hear!  To Sam!” Donna echoed.


Sam flushed, but clinked the neck of his beer bottle against those of his companions.  They each took a swig afterwards.


Shari glanced at the empty chair.  “It’s a shame Al didn’t come,” she commented.


“I didn’t realize you’d invited him,” said Donna.  “Why didn’t he?”


Sam put his beer bottle down, feeling guilty as he did so.  If he had succeeded in convincing his friend to join them, what would he have been tempting him with?  Then again, Shari would surely have been sensitive enough not to have ordered the Coronas if Al were there.  He thought back to Al’s declining of his invitation—the second time in as many days.


“No, Sam.  I’m still trying to get used to being back--really back.”


“I know, but why won’t you come with us?”  Sam wheedled.  “You deserve a chance to celebrate as much as I do.  More than I do, in fact.”


Al shook his head.  “I’m not good company right now.  I just want to be left alone for a while.”


Baffled by Al’s withdrawal, Sam reluctantly agreed to let him be, and left to tell Shari it would just be three for dinner.


“He just wasn’t up to coming into town,” Sam said.


“Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind couple of days for him,” Donna mused.  “I heard you were at the Committee meeting yesterday.  And that he was in uniform, no less.”


Sam flicked his eyes to Shari, but the look on her face assured him she hadn’t said anything.


“Where did you hear that?” he asked.


“I don’t remember exactly, but it was floating around the complex,” she answered.


“Well, what’ll soon be floating around is what a great job Al and Sam did on getting that proposal together!” enthused Shari.  She raised her beer bottle again.  “To Al, who knew just the right words to use to convince the Committee!”


“To Al!” Sam and Donna chorused, and the trio clinked bottle necks again.


“I’m still amazed,” Shari gushed, after they’d each had the obligatory sip.  “How did you two came up with such a great idea?  I mean, it made so much sense once you explained it to me, but I don’t think I could have come up with something like that.”


Sam took another sip of his beer.  “Well, the base concept is something I’ve been working on since grad school.  Al really helped me see how it could be applied to Starbright.”


“I imagine you didn’t need all that much help,” Donna said, lightly touching his arm.  “I’ve heard nothing but good things about you since you got here.  A lot of it from Shari.”


“Yeah, you know I’m your biggest fan, Beckett,” she teased as he gave her a surprised look.


“I’ve seen the specs on the holography labs.  You really sped things up down there,” Donna continued.


“It was just a fresh perspective,” Sam said, trying to deflect the praise and attention.


“No, it was more than that,” Donna said.  “What was it they said about you at the Nobel Prize ceremony?  The next Einstein?”


“That was Time Magazine,” Shari said.  She laughed merrily as Sam blushed a deep shade of crimson.  “Poor Sam, are you getting uncomfortable?” she heckled. 


“Just a bit,” Sam shot back, having to grin.


Shari exchanged a surreptitious glance with Donna, and then turned to examine the bar at the far end of the room.  “Say, is that Brad Temple over there?  It sure is!  If you two will excuse me . . . .”  She got up and walked over to the bar.


Once she was gone, Donna spoke.  “Sam, I wish I wasn’t leaving the project now.  I wasn’t kidding.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about you, and I wish I could see all your theories put into practice.”


“Yeah, unfortunately, no matter how big a team we have, there’s no way it’ll get done in two weeks,” Sam commented.  He grabbed a chip and swabbed it full of salsa.  “So tell me more about this corporation you’re going to be working for.”


“Well, it’s not one of the largest companies around, but they are doing some fascinating things.  And I think they’ll challenge me more than Starbright is.  There’s only so long you can sit and plow through equations to derive the proper telescope angles, you know?”


“Didn’t you put in for a transfer to another section?  I mean, if you were getting bored where you were.”


“Several times.  Got turned down every time, too.”


“Hmmm.  They did the complete opposite with me.  I hit almost every lab there was.”


“You didn’t hit mine,” Donna said.  She lightly touched his arm again.  “I would have liked to have gotten to know you sooner.”


In a flash, Sam realized why Shari had been so interested in “Brad Temple.”  In that same flash, a thousand subtle hints Donna had made Sunday night made complete sense.  And at the same time, Sam knew that he felt the same way.  They’d discussed business Sunday night, and they’d discussed personal things, but with Shari there, Sam hadn’t picked up on Donna’s interest.  He was so used to Shari’s teasing, and her ebullient personality was so vivacious, so strong, that Donna’s more sedate attitude failed to catch his notice. 


Why was it then that he saw it all so clearly now?  He wasn’t sure, but it didn’t really matter.  Whatever the reason, he now knew that he wanted to learn more about Donna Elysee.


And yet, he wasn’t sure why he was pursuing this, knowing full well Donna would be gone.  They had such a limited amount of time to get to know each other. 


He didn’t care.  Maybe they’d get to know each other better because their time was limited.


“I know you only have a couple of weeks left,” Sam said, “but would you like to go out Friday night?”     


“With Shari?” Donna gently asked, nodding towards the vacated chair.


“With me.”


“Are you asking me out on a date, Dr. Beckett?” Donna asked, coyly.


“I guess I am,” Sam answered, a bit nervously.


Donna smiled and touched his hand.  “I would love to go out with you.  Sam.”



Al rubbed his temples as he leaned his head back against the ancient leather of his father’s chair, mulling over his day.  His head was pounding; the aspirin he’d taken hadn’t kicked in yet.  Al knew that just a few weeks ago he would have dealt with his mixed emotions by drowning them in an amber sea of booze.  The temptation to do just that tugged at him, but he drew every bit of willpower he had to remain in the chair, ignoring the keys on his dresser that told him all he had to do was take them to his car and drive to the nearest liquor store--a location he was all too familiar with.


“No,” he said aloud.  He sighed, part of him almost wishing he had gone with Sam tonight.  But no, he had things on his mind.  Things he had to sort out before he could handle another day at the office.  Things like his lunch with Bob.


He’d listened to Bob, listened to the man’s reasoning behind his actions.  He understood part of it.  Al knew that Bob had tried everything he could think of to reach him.  One glance at the scar tissue on his wrists was all it took to remind Al of just how far beyond help even he believed he’d gotten.  Deep down he didn’t entirely blame Bob for the hearing; he knew he’d deserved it.  He’d even told Bob that.


What he took issue with was the way Bob had gone about it.


“I didn’t intend for it to turn the way it did, Al,” Bob said.  He leaned forward, sincerity in his grey eyes.  “You have to believe me.”


“What did you think was going to happen?” Al demanded.  “Did you think we were all just going to sit around and have a nice cup of tea?!”


“Eddison told me . . .”


Al interrupted, angrily.  “I don’t even need to hear what Eddison told you!  Whatever you brought to him was enough for him to pull the whole thing together.”  He took a deep breath.  “Bob, I know I hit bottom.  I understand that you didn’t have a choice.”


“I had to think about what was best for the project,” Bob softly added.


“I know.  Starbright is more important than any of us.  I also know how hard I was to deal with, and I’ll tell you the same thing I told the Committee.  I’m ashamed of how low I let myself get.”  Al paused.  “But, Bob, you crossed the line.  You went behind my back.  You didn’t even give me a clue that was coming!”


“Would you have even listened if I’d tried?”


Al sighed.  “Probably not.  But you didn’t try.”  He shook his head.  “It would have been a common courtesy, but that’s not even the point.  You betrayed me.”


“Al, I . . .”


“No, I listened to you.  Now you listen to me.  You brought up stuff that you promised--that you swore to me--was off the record.  ‘Friend to friend,’ you said.  So, Friend, what happened yesterday?  Did all that just go out the window?”


Bob sat in silence for several minutes.  Finally, he said, “I’m sorry, Al.  I did betray you.  I broke your trust.  But I don’t know what else to say, except I truly am sorry.”


Al rubbed his face to clear his thoughts.  There really wasn’t much Bob could have said.  He’d tried to explain to Al how he was only doing what he thought was best for the project, but he seemed to realize that didn’t hold much water.  Their lunch ended uneasily, the ride back to the project was awkward, and Al doubted they’d ever regain the ground they’d lost.  The air had been cleared enough that they’d probably be able to work together well enough, but anything beyond that was irrevocably lost.


He stretched and rose from the chair, crossing the room to the window at the edge of his bed.  Al drew the blinds and looked out, resting his head against the cool pane of glass.  The chill momentarily sharpened the headache, and then started soothing it.  He closed his eyes and stayed leaning there.  When he opened them, he saw a small group walking through the parking lot.  One of the bunch pointed up in the direction of his window and said something to the others.  The eruption of laughter was loud enough that even he could hear it.


Al turned away from the window and dropped the blinds.  He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, how deeply it cut him to catch hints of whispers that stopped as soon as he drew close, and promptly resumed when they thought he was out of earshot.


‘Was this what it was like for you, Trudy?  Is this how you felt?  And you didn’t even do anything to deserve it, honey.’


Shaking off the thoughts, Al sat on the end of his bed and laid his arms against his legs.  He twisted his forearms so that his wrists were upturned, and stared down at the wounds that could now accurately be termed scars.  Not quite as angry looking as they had been, the red was fading to a darkish pink.  As Sam had promised, the dots had faded to the palest white.


Al shivered suddenly and jumped up to start a small pace.  An envelope from the Committee sat on his desk.  He’d put off opening it all afternoon and all evening.  He supposed that some corner of his soul feared that any news from the Committee could prove life-threatening.  Al reflexively rubbed his wrists and let the logical part of his mind take over.  Most likely it was just his copy of the paperwork they’d made him sign, signifying that he agreed with the stipulations they’d put into place as conditional for keeping his job.  That knowledge didn’t make it any easier to reach for the envelope and read its contents.


“All right, Calavicci, enough dilly-dallying.”  He took a deep breath and picked it up.


He still didn’t open it.  Now the regular flapping of the envelope against his palm was added to the mix of his eight-step pace.


Abruptly, Al stopped and tore off one end of the envelope.  He tilted the sleeve to the side and two sheets of paper slid into his other hand.  Al set the remains of the envelope on his desk and sat on the edge of his bed again, one sheet of paper in each hand.


The sheet in his right hand was exactly what he thought the envelope had contained.  Al skimmed over the conditions he’d agreed to meet and dropped the page on the bed beside him.


The smaller sheet in his left hand was the surprise, handwritten on paper that bore the army seal and proclaimed that it was from the desk of Major Ronald Van Sant.  Al’s hand trembled slightly as he read the Major’s elegant script.


Captain Calavicci,


        The others on the Committee can’t truly understand what you’re going through.  As we discussed in the hearing, even my understanding can’t come close to your reality.  Then again, I doubt anyone had the same experience over there.


        I know that given your choice, you probably wouldn’t be seeking out AA.  I’m not sure how I would react if I were in your shoes.  But several friends of mine have done just that.  Some because they were forced to, some because they realized they needed to.  Suffice it to say that it can help you, if you give it a chance.  I hope you’ll do that. 


        I believed you when you said you’d changed.  From what I know about you, you’re a man of your word.  I’d like to check up on you periodically, see how you’re doing.  Completely off the record, of course.  Please feel free to call me if you need anything.


        Maybe next time you’re in Washington we can visit the Wall together.


                                                                --Ronald Van Sant


“Off the record,” Al whispered.  He shook his head, letting the note flutter to the bed as his hand went limp.  He stood and started pacing again.  Why was the major reaching out to him?  Surely the man had to have known about their common Vietnam experiences before the hearing.


‘Why do I have to have an explanation?  Why can’t it be enough to have someone on my side?’ he wondered.  He didn’t even have to continue to ask himself the question to know why.  It was because he’d had his trust destroyed too many times.  Only Sam hadn’t turned on him.


‘So far.’


Al stopped in his tracks and ran his hands through his hair.  That wasn’t fair to the kid.


So why couldn’t he give Van Sant the same chance he was trying to give Sam?



Saturday, May 4, 1985


The ringing phone stopped Al in midstride.  He was planning on taking a drive, just to get away for a while.  He toyed with the idea of ignoring the call, but ended up answering the phone.




“Hi, Al,” came Sam’s voice.  “I was just calling to see how you were doing.”


The drive would have to wait.  Al sat down at his desk and dropped his keys on the flat surface.


“I’m doing pretty good, I suppose.  How did last night go?” he asked to deflect attention off himself, recalling the news Sam had shared with him Thursday night about his date.


Sam’s tone softened.  “Oh, Al, Donna’s great.  We had a wonderful time.”


“She’s ‘great,’ huh?” Al asked, a hint of innuendo in his voice.


Sam was so enamored of Donna that he didn’t rise to the bait, apparently not even picking up on Al’s emphasis.  “Yeah.  We went out to dinner at Micelli’s, then to Satchmo’s nightclub for some live music and dancing.  And, Al, after that we drove into the foothills and spread a blanket out and stargazed and talked for hours.”


Al smiled at how moonstruck his young friend was.  He’d felt the same way about Beth after their first date.  Every moment had been perfect.  A scripted play couldn’t have gone smoother.  Their first kiss rivaled any other throughout history, they’d thought at the time.  Al blinked away a mist that suddenly filmed his eyes.


“Sounds like you had a good time,” Al lightly said, hoping Sam wouldn’t catch the huskiness in his voice.  “When are you going out again?”




“Moving right along,” Al commented.  “I don’t blame you.  I’d make the most of every minute, too.”


Sam’s sigh filled his ear.  “I just don’t understand why I had to meet her now, when she’s leaving.”


“You really like her, don’t ya, kid?”


“It’s crazy, I know.  We barely know anything about each other.  But, yeah.  I do.”


“So go for it.”


Sam didn’t answer, but Al could practically hear the smile that lit up his face.


“How are you sleeping?” Sam asked after a few seconds had passed.


Al played with the phone cord, clearing his throat to stall.  “I’m still having some problems with the nightmares.  Not as regularly as before, though.”  He glanced at the ashtray on his desk, filled to nearly overflowing with ashes that hadn’t come from his cigar.  He gingerly picked a still-intact corner of paper from the remains before dumping the entire contents into his wastebasket.


“Are you dealing with them okay?” pressed Sam.


It was Al’s turn to sigh.  “If you’re asking how I’m holding up, I’m still sober.”


Sam paused.  “Your first meeting is tonight, isn’t it?”


Al rubbed his forehead.  “Yeah.”


“Do you want me to go with you?  I can cancel with Donna.”


“No,” Al said, too fast.  He cleared his throat again.  “Don’t cancel your plans.  This is something I need to do on my own.  Besides, it’s a closed meeting--you couldn’t come even if I wanted you to.  Alcoholics only.”  Bitterness crept into his voice.


“Okay, Al.”


Silence covered the phone line as they both waited awkwardly for the other to break the hush.


“It’s getting better,” Al quietly said, finally.  “Slowly, but it is getting better. It’s just . . .”




“Nothing.  Never mind.”


Sam was clinging to Al’s unfinished thought as stubbornly as a bulldog locks its jaws around a thick bone.  “No, Al, what is it?  Tell me.”


“I know there’s still some booze hidden in my office,” Al spilled out the confession.  “I’m scared to look for it, even to get rid of it, because . . . .”


Gently persisting, Sam prompted him to complete the sentence, “Because?”


Al’s voice lowered to the point that Sam almost couldn’t hear him.  “Because I’ve been feeling that pull again.  I’ve pushed it away all week, but it hasn’t been easy.”  He exhaled roughly.  “Part of me wanted to get rid of the stuff, but what if Bob or Rachelle saw me?  They wouldn’t understand.”


“You do need to get rid of it, though.  What if the Committee does an inspection of your office and finds it?  They won’t think that you just didn’t get around to throwing it out,” Sam pointed out.


“They’ll think I’m still drinking,” Al finished the thought.  He twisted the phone cord around his index finger.


“Do you want me to help you clean it out?  Today?” Sam offered.


It would be easier to do with someone else, Al realized.  Plus, the offices would be deserted for the weekend, so no one would ever have to know.


“You’d do that?”


Sam’s answer gave him all the reassurance he needed.  “I’ll meet you at your office in fifteen minutes.”



Al dreaded walking into the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  He hadn’t even reached town yet, and already a pit large enough to contain a small village had swallowed up his stomach.  He adjusted the volume on his car radio, trying to drown out the apprehension.  The synthesized tones of “Purple Rain” filled the interior of his Corvette.


He again checked the directions to the site where the group would convene, keeping one eye on the stretch of highway ahead.  Although they would be meeting at a church, he’d been relieved to find out that they’d be using the fellowship hall rather than the sanctuary.  The Committee had arranged everything, sending the information as well as the directions.  That fact didn’t help to calm his nerves.


The town rose up on the horizon, nearer than he wanted it to be.  The closer he got, the closer he was to having to attend the meeting.  A bright Huey Lewis and the News tune came on the radio.  Al kept the beat by drumming his fingers against the steering wheel, but the movements didn’t penetrate to lift his mood.


The church was close to the center of the town.  Al double-checked street names as he wove along the route.  The tall, illuminated steeple beckoned the downtrodden, and if the brightly lit windows of the church didn’t point out the location to him, the people making their way through the side door did. 


He turned into the mostly empty parking lot across the street and easily found a spot.  He switched off the engine and sat there, just watching as more cars pulled into the lot.  He watched as each person calmly left the parking lot and entered the church.  Some greeted others taking the same path.  Others kept their heads lowered and trudged forward.  Not a one fit the mental picture Al had had of strung-out bums or neurotic basket cases.  He scratched the back of his neck, wondering where he fit in the assumptions he held.


A new group of vehicles entered the parking lot, and as the owners emerged, Al sighed and got out of his own car.  He followed the small cluster of people inside the church.


A table was set up inside the door, and the people paused to write their names on small tags, sticking them to their shirts.  A short-haired woman supervised the table from her seat, greeting the “regulars” and making a special welcome to those she identified as new.  She quickly spotted Al as he drew near and she warmly motioned for him to come over.


“Hi, I’m Wanda,” she said.  Wanda handed him a felt-tip marker and a blank name tag, stamped across the top with the ubiquitous HELLO, MY NAME IS.  “Just put your first name, honey,” she added as he bent to write.  She watched him carefully print “Albert” on the tag.


“Albert, we’re glad you came tonight,” Wanda said, extending a hand to shake after he applied the name tag to his lapel.  She had a firm grip and pumped his hand vigorously.  “Coffee and cookies are on the side,” she pointed across the room to the table where the majority of the group mingled, turning to greet the latest new arrival.


Al headed toward the table, stopping just shy of the group.  He pretended to check his watch and then bent to fake tightening his shoelaces.  When he straightened, a tall man with the slightest hint of a pot belly was standing next to him.  The man’s name tag identified him as Timothy.


“Hello, Albert,” Timothy said, shaking hands.  “I’m glad you made it.  My name is Timothy, and I’ll be sponsoring you.  You can call me Tim.”




Tim smiled.  “Al.  I’m glad to finally meet you.”  He lowered his voice and took Al’s elbow to steer him away from the crowd.  “Senator Eddison and Major Van Sant contacted me a couple of days ago.”


“Oh,” Al said, frowning.  He folded his arms.  “I see.”


“I understand that coming to AA wasn’t your choice.  You’re not the first person that’s been mandated into attending meetings.  I’m sure you have a lot of resentment about being here, but I hope that in time you’ll be able to move past that.  In the meantime, I want to set some things straight.  I don’t know what you were told about what to expect from me.”  He paused, waiting for Al to supply that information.


Sighing, Al said, “They told me that a contact would report on my attendance and progress.”


Tim nodded.  “That’s not entirely true.  I won’t be sharing any information with anybody.”  He gestured around the fellowship hall.  “This is your sanctuary, your safe zone, as it were.  Nothing that is said in here ever leaves these four walls.  What I will do is sign a slip every week showing that you were here, but you’re the one who’ll take that and make sure that your supervisors--or whoever--gets it.”


Al’s muscles relaxed so tangibly that even Tim picked up on the shift in his posture.


“Your confidentiality is of paramount importance to us, Al.  That’s why we only use first names here.  I’m the only one that knows your last name, and I wouldn’t even know that if you hadn’t been mandated into coming.”  He patted Al’s shoulder encouragingly.  “Don’t feel like you have to contribute tonight.  Obviously, if you have something you’d like to share, please speak up, but I want you to know that no one will think any less of you if you just sit back and listen.  Do you have any questions for me?”


He had hundreds, but shook his head.


“Help yourself to coffee and snacks, then,” Tim advised.  “We’ll be getting started in about five minutes or so.  That should give you a chance to meet a few of us before then.”


Al only nodded.  He made his way to the table, where the crowd was now thinning.  He poured himself a cup of black coffee and sat down in a chair at the edge of the room, furthest away from the small groups who chatted with each other.  Sipping the coffee, Al studied the other people in attendance.  Had he seen any of them on the street, he would have been hard-pressed to pinpoint even one as someone with a drinking problem.  As he surveyed the room, he noticed a couple of other people hanging back much as he did.  Neither of them looked particularly comfortable about being there, and Al experienced a momentary empathy with them.  One of them, a petite redhead, made eye contact with him and smiled, shrugging self-deprecatingly.  Al returned the smile, then returned to his people-watching.


Tim walked to the center of the room and clapped his hands together.  “Shall we get started, folks?”


The buzz of chatter momentarily increased, then came to a halt.  The room was filled instead with the screech of metal folding chairs being dragged across the floor as the members formed a cluster in the center of the room.  Al reluctantly relocated to the spot as well, taking a position on the outer edge of the layered semi-circle.


“Fritz is going to speak tonight,” Tim announced.  “Before I turn things over to him, are there any announcements needing to be made?”


A couple of hands went up, and Tim called on each person in turn.  The first person, an elderly woman, reminded the group about an upcoming potluck dinner.  The second speaker was Wanda, and she asked for volunteers to assist her with an informational meeting for a D.W.I. program.  Several hands shot up before she informed them that they needed to wait til the end of the meeting to see her personally.


Finally, Tim sat down and Fritz, a short man in his mid-fifties, took the floor.


“For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Fritz,” he said by way of introduction.  “I’m an alcoholic, and I’ve been sober for six months now.”  A round of applause broke into his speech.  He bobbed his head in gratitude, his chubby cheeks turning bright pink.  “It’s been a long six months, though.  I lost my family, lost my job, and lost my house before I saw what alcohol was doing to me.”  Fritz went on to describe the struggles he’d had with the bottle and how AA was helping him to cope on a day-by-day basis.  He talked for a good forty-five minutes before he began trailing off.  “I know it might be too much to hope for that I’ll get my family back,” he said, his eyes filling with tears that spilled down his round cheeks, “but it’s one of the goals I have set to make amends to them.  Just to have contact with them, to see my son again.  To see my wife.”  He shook his head and raised a hand to the group.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and sat down.


The group sat in silence, then someone started clapping.  Al, who’d been listening intently to Fritz and identifying with more of his testimony than he wanted to acknowledge, joined in at the last.  He thought that was the end of the meeting and that he could leave, but Tim took the floor again and started a discussion on some of the things Fritz had talked about.


Al shifted uncomfortably in his chair as the group talked about their individual battles with drinking and the things that were helping them to stay sober.  Each new story could have been describing a piece of his own life.  The circumstances were different, but the outcome was all the same.  Each of them described a feeling of powerlessness and chaos in their lives.  One young woman even confessed to attempting suicide rather than face another day of guilt, and Al cringed, folding his arms and tucking his wrists under as if the others could see through his cuffs to the scars.


Tim finally reminded them to renew their commitment to focus only on making it through the next day without drinking.  “Don’t look at 365 days worth of struggling,” he advised them, “take it in 24 hour blocks.  ‘Just for today, I won’t drink.’  If you find yourself struggling, remember to look beyond yourself for help.”  Tim paused.  “If you need any support literature, it’s at the back of the room as you leave.  I’d like to thank you all for coming.  See you next week.”


The group rose and rearranged the chairs.  Some clustered into bunches for socializing again, while others made a beeline for the door.  Al joined the swift of feet.


Tim was waiting for him at the door with a signed slip of paper.  “Thanks for hanging in there, Al,” he said as he handed him the confirmation of his attendance.  “I hope you got something out of it.”


Al nodded.  “It’s a lot to think about,” he answered honestly.


“Yeah, it is.  I felt the same way my first time.”


“When was that?” Al asked, engaging in the conversation despite wanting to be anywhere else.


“I’ve been sober for over 5 years now.”


“Why do you still come?”


Tim smiled.  “I’ll never stop being an alcoholic.  I’ll never reach a point where I can say, ‘Yes, I’m cured!’  I stopped coming for a period of time, but I found that I missed the support of the group, and I missed the opportunity to help others reach sobriety like I did.  That’s why I got into sponsorship.”


“I see,” Al said, taking a step closer to the door.  Tim sensed his discomfort.


“Here.”  He dug into his pocket and pulled out a small metal box.  Opening it, he withdrew a business card.  “If you need anything, anything at all, give me a call.  I don’t care what time of the day or night it is.”


Al took the card and tucked it into his breast pocket without looking at it.  “Thanks,” he nodded.


“Oh, I also have some information for you to look over before next week.  Just so you understand what we’re about a little better.”  Tim bent behind the welcome table and came up with a small folder, which he handed to Al.


Al nodded his thanks again, wishing himself home as if he had Dorothy’s ruby slippers.


Tim smiled and patted him on the upper arm.  “I’ll see you next week then.”


Al bobbed his assent and fled the building.



Saturday, May 11, 1985


Sam and Donna snuggled together beneath the saddle blanket.  The remains of their beach campfire smoldered, thin wisps of smoke curling into the air.  The sun peeked its sleepy rays past the waves breaking on the horizon, painting the sky with layers of golden pastel colors.  The deep purple of the twilight shattered into violets, pinks, baby blues, and rosy golden hues, which bounced off the pebbly clouds like golden cobblestones along the streets of Heaven.


Donna leaned her head against Sam’s shoulder, lacing her fingers with his.  He tightened the grip he had on her waist and pressed his lips to her temple.  A tear glistened on her lashes, breaking free to roll down her cheek and moisten Sam’s bare shoulder.


“What is it?” he asked, brushing hair away from her face.


“What do you mean, what is it?”  She sat up straight and adjusted his shirt she wore over her bathing suit, pushing the too long cuffs back to reveal her wristwatch.  Frowning, she extended her slender arm so he could read the dial.  “My flight leaves in three hours.  Three hours, Sam.”  She drew her knees into her chest and scrubbed at her eyes.


“Let’s not think about it,” Sam breathed, tracking a line of kisses from her ear to her mouth. 


Donna responded passionately before breaking away.


“Sam, we have to think about it.  It’s staring us in the face.”  She rested her chin on her knees and stared out at the ever brightening sky and sea.  “This has been the best two weeks of my life.”  Her shoulders quivered as sobs suddenly overtook her.  “I don’t want to go now.”


Sam took hold of her shoulders, rubbing circles with his thumbs as he bent close to her ear.  “I don’t want you to go, either.”


“But I have to,” she sighed, tilting her head back to make eye contact with him.  She touched his cheek, running a finger across his lips.  “Sam, I could probably pull some strings and get you on at the company, too.”


He shook his head, taking her hand in his and pressing it close to his chest.  “I appreciate the thought, Donna, but I’m not interested in working for a private business.”


“No, I don’t guess you would be,” she quietly said, pulling her hand back and physically drawing into herself.  She breathed in and out, slowly and deeply, wiping at her eyes to catch stray tears.


“What do we do now?” she wanted to know, the question catching in her throat.


“Right now, we take a walk on the beach,” Sam answered, rising and pulling her to her feet.  Gooseflesh prickled along his arms and legs, and he bent to toss his windbreaker on over his bare arms.  Unfortunately, he would have to shiver in his swim trunks until the heat from the sun warmed the beach.  Donna chafed her own arms and shifted her chilled legs until he wrapped his arm around her shoulder.


“You know what I meant,” Donna persisted as they left a trail of footprints in the pristine, as yet untouched shoreline.  The surf teased their ankles, filling and nearly obliterating the prints they left in their wake.


Sam tightened his arm around her and kissed her cheek.  “Yes, I do.  And, no, I don’t know,” he answered, looking out to sea for a moment.  “But we’ll make the best of it, I guess.”




“You’ll have a phone, I hope?”


Donna laughed at that, her reddened eyes brightening merrily.  “Yes, I imagine I will.”


“Mmm,” Sam pretended to mull it over.  “An address?  I can send mail to you, can’t I?”


Giggling, Donna nodded.


“Say, you don’t suppose there might actually be an airport, do you?  I mean, that I could take a flight out there to see you?”


Donna slapped his bare chest.  “All right, you’ve made your point.”  She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him.  “You’re right, we’ll work it out.”


Sam twined his fingers in her hair as they kissed, waves lapping their feet.


“But I don’t have to like it,” Donna murmured when they broke apart.


“Donna?”  Sam lowered his head to hers.




“Shut up and kiss me.”



With the small bag containing a fresh box of cigars and a new book tucked under his arm, Al walked into the residential wing.  The trip into town had refreshed him, and he’d enjoyed the opportunity to stroll easily around the shopping mall.  He’d have to attend his second AA meeting that night, but for now the evening seemed further away than the few short hours it actually was.


He paused when he entered the lobby as the sound of someone sniffling filled his ears.  Searching for the source, he found Shari slouched down on the vinyl couch, wiping her eyes.


“Shari?  What’s wrong?”  He sat down next to her and took her hand.


“N-nothing.  It, um, it was just the show I was watching,” she said, her tears bringing a thick, nasal quality to her voice.


Al glanced at the TV.


Gilligan’s Island makes you cry?”  He looked at her askance.


Shari chuckled halfheartedly and shook her head.  “Okay,” she sighed.  “I just couldn’t stand being in my quarters any longer.  And I figured there wouldn’t be much traffic through here this afternoon.”


“Honey, you look like you just lost your best friend.”


A sob caught in her throat.  “Something like that.”


“Does this have anything to do with Donna Elysee’s resignation?” Al gently asked, recalling that the two had been good friends. 


Shari nodded to answer his question and squeezed her eyes shut as a fresh barrage of tears hit her.


“I’m sorry, hon,” he whispered, drawing her into a paternal hug.  She let herself go limp in his arms, and he rubbed her shoulder, gently rocking back and forth.


Al let her cry, reflecting on how Sam had been very distant the last couple of days, a slight depression beginning to take hold of him as Donna’s departure grew nearer.  If he hadn’t experienced a similar emotion in his own life, Al would have doubted it was possible to get so close to someone in such a brief period of time.  He could only imagine how Shari felt.  She gave her friendship and love away so easily and so completely, it was only natural that she’d feel the deep sting when someone she cared about left.


Gradually, her sniffles grew less and less frequent.  Al didn’t shift his position at all, allowing her to be the one to pull away.  She apologized when she did, scrubbing at eyes that had acquired red, puffy lids.


“I’m sorry, Al.  I feel so . . . so grade-school about all of this.”


“Nonsense,” he assured her. 


She sighed and rubbed her hands across her face several times.  “I must look a mess,” she mused.


Al pretended to scrutinize her face.  “Well, you’re no Ginger right now, that’s for sure.”  He winked.  “But then, I always preferred Mary Ann.”


Shari laughed through straggling tears.


“That’s better,” Al smiled.  He bent forward to lightly kiss her forehead.  “Are you going to be all right?”


Shari took a deep breath and nodded.  “Yeah.  I’m gonna go wash my face and take a walk outside, I think.”  She stood up from the couch and kissed Al on the cheek before she left.  “Thank you, Al.”


“Don’t mention it, sweetie,” he called after her.  He sat there for a few minutes, wondering how Sam was dealing with the loss of his new love, until the closing song of Gilligan’s Island snapped his attention back to where he was.  Al stood and switched off the television, turning to head down the passageway to his quarters.


His phone started ringing when he reached the doorway.  He fumbled with his keys, finagling the door open on the third ring.  He tossed the keys on his bed, along with the package, and closed the door behind him.  The phone rang a fourth and fifth time before he was able to answer it.


“Hello?” he asked, a little out of breath.  He expected to hear Sam’s voice; he’d wanted to check on how the kid was hanging in there anyway.


“Captain?  Is that you?”  It wasn’t Sam.


“Yes,” Al said, hesitantly.  “Who is this?”


“Oh, I’m sorry.  This is Ronald Van Sant.”


“Good afternoon, Major,” Al answered, instinctively straightening his posture.


“Ronald is just fine for today,” Van Sant corrected him.  He waited a few moments, and then continued when Al didn’t respond.  “I just wanted to touch base with you, see how you’re doing.”


“Did you get the slip I mailed in?  I have my second meeting tonight,” Al answered, formally.


“Yes, yes, we got that.  That’s not what I’m talking about, though.”


‘That’s what I was worried about.’


“I’m afraid I . . . .”


“It’s not a trick question.  How are you doing?” Van Sant asked again.


“Fine.  And you?”  Al hadn’t lost any formality yet.


Van Sant sighed.  “I was hoping this would be a chance for us to talk, you know, outside of a business setting.”




“I don’t know about you, but I look forward to the opportunity to talk with someone who’s had a similar experience.”


“I’d rather focus on today,” Al said, afraid that Van Sant sought an exchange of memories.


“I understand, but sometimes the things we saw just won’t stay buried, will they?” 


‘That’s why you tried to drown them out with alcohol.’  He didn’t speak it, but the words were there, even unsaid.


“No, I guess they won’t,” Al finally answered.


Silence stretched out before Van Sant spoke again.  “You’re not ready to talk about this.”


“You’re very observant.”  He surprised himself with his brazenness, but Van Sant had said this wasn’t a business call.  The major was true to his word.


“If you ever change your mind . . . .”  He let the offer hang there. 


“Thank you.”  Al hesitated, then grabbed hold of the generosity the major had given at the outset of the call by addressing him by his first name.  “Ronald.”


An uncomfortable quiet extended.  Each military officer cleared his throat, but didn’t speak.


Van Sant finally took pity on him.  “I’ve gotta take my son to the park, so I’ll let you go.”


“Okay,” Al said.  He made an uneasy goodbye and hung up the phone.


Only two hours until his meeting.


Only fifty more meetings to go to fulfill his obligation.


It was going to be a long year.

To Be Continued



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