Episode 1112

A Leap Frog Christmas II

by: C. E. Krawiec 


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**Previously on Quantum Leap**


        In Part One, Sam leaped into the life of Tessa Millikin in Parlboro, Michigan. It seemed like a straightforward leap when he set right a wrong in her original history.  But his next leap was into her brother, Rio’s life...and then back into Tessa’s life...then into another Millikin daughter, Margaret and then back into Rio. And GTFW isn’t handing out any clues to give Sam even the smallest hint of what it is he’s missing that he needs to set right – or for who before the leaper will be allowed to move on.






        Sam spent the time after church with his family, quite grateful that he had leaped into the Millikins’ son, Rio, again instead of one of their eight daughters.  As he sat at the dinner table with them, he wondered idly if he was going to be dropped into the lives of each of the Millikin girls until he finally discovered and put right whatever it was that was eluding him.

        After dinner, Sam and Aaron Millikin went into the large family room situated at the back of the house where they decided on which football game to watch.  Later in the afternoon, the game began to get competition for attention as the mouthwatering aroma of chicken and dumplings began to fill the air.

        It was about four o’clock when he heard Jill call, “Rio,” and went to see what she wanted.  At the kitchen door, he couldn’t help stopping and taking in a deep breath of the warm, fragrant smells.  “Oh, man, does that smell good!” then responded, “Sure,” when she asked him to take a dish of the chicken and dumplings to Mrs. Warwick, “Before we sit down to dinner.”

        Carrying a laden wicker hand basket covered with a thick dishtowel, Sam set off down the long lane toward the Warwick home situated directly across the road from the lane.  Though he still hadn’t sorted out what his specific goal was on the dizzying series of leaps that reminded him more of the game of leapfrog than anything else, the leaper was discovering with each related leap that he was enjoying being a part of a family again, especially during the Christmas season, his favorite holiday time.

        As he strode along in the late afternoon sunshine, snow crunching under his boots and his breath making soft white plumes in the frosty air, he again mentally went down the list of the things he had accomplished in the five leaps – one of them being a double leap into Tessa Millikin - thus far.  That feat in and of itself was amazing to him.  In general, memories from prior leaps rarely stayed with him.

        “Originally Tessa got pregnant and committed suicide, but now she doesn’t,” he said aloud, his tone thoughtful. “Rio...originally he didn’t go to California but now he does.  Then there’s Tessa again, then Margaret, and now back to Rio…”

        “You always talk to yourself when you walk?” Al asked.

        The unexpected sound of the Observer’s voice beside him caused Sam to start suddenly, and he stumbled a few steps, just managing to not spill the contents of the basket as he caught his balance. Brushing the snow from his free hand against his leg, he lifted a corner of the thick dishtowel tucked over the basket.  Satisfied that the contents had survived intact, he turned an annoyed look on the hologram as he carefully tucked the blue and white dishtowel again over the basket contents.  “Nothing spilled, no thanks to you.  I really wish you wouldn’t do that, Al!” he insisted.

        “Well if you weren’t so engrossed in conversation with Mother Nature in all her winter finery,” Al came back, not in the least ruffled by the touch of impatience in his friend’s voice. “You’d have been aware that I’ve been trying to get your attention for at least thirty feet.”  He grinned slightly at the exasperated look that got him then fell into step beside Sam as he continued down the lane at a steady clip. Glancing at the basket he teased, “Where are you going with your basket of goodies, Little Red Riding Hood?” then chuckled when Sam ignored him a moment before answering.

        “To see how Mrs. Warwick is doing,” Sam answered as he walked, glancing around at the farm landscape heavy with a fresh layer of pristine snow.  “Mom…Mrs. Millikin made chicken and dumplings for dinner tonight, and I’m taking some to Mrs. Warwick.”

        “Who’s Mrs. Warwick?” Al asked only to added, “Oh, oh, yeah.  The old lady who lives across the road.”

        Sam nodded toward the road that was visible a few hundred yards ahead.  “According to Jill, the Warwicks have lived in that house since before she was born.”

        “Is she sick?” Al asked.

        “No,” Sam said, slowing down then stopping for a moment as he drew closer to the road.  “Jill…Rio’s mother sent me to check on her.“ Looking at Al, Sam said, “Her husband is in the hospital.”

        “What’s his name?” Al asked, pulling out the handlink.

        Sam stopped walking and thought for a moment. “Umm…Fel... Fel-something.”  His brow furrowed as he searched his new memories of this leap then said firmly an instant later, “Felton.  Felton Warwick.”  Shaking his head softly, he started to speak then sighed before adding, “From what I could gather from Jill about the situation, Mr. Warwick’s got a heart condition. I get the feeling that he probably won’t see the New Year.”

        Al fed the name into the handlink, and when Sam finished his thought, he had something for him.  “Sam,” he said quietly.  “Felton Warwick isn’t even going to see Christmas.”

        “Oh no,” the words slipped involuntarily from Sam’s lips as he turned to face the hologram.  The expression on Al’s face was plain enough for anyone to read.  “When?”

        Al had Ziggy recheck the information before saying, “Felton Charles Warwick, age 76, of Parlboro, Michigan dies of congestive heart failure on December 22, 1989 at 11:59 p.m. in Kalamazoo General Hospital.”

        “Five days,” Sam said softly.  For a moment he just stood gazing down the lane to the road and the small farmhouse set back from it across the way.  From somewhere out of his Swiss-cheesed memory came a vague recollection of when one of his grandparents…Grandma Nettie? ... or was it Grandpa Beckett?… had died, and it had been winter…

Just that small wondering was enough to bring back how he’d felt as a young boy and his own grief at loosing a beloved grandparent.  From there it was a short jump to the even more painful memory of learning of his father’s death after the fact, and for a few seconds the leaper was overwhelmed.  Yet even as his heart ached a moment at that memory, another memory flitted across his mind.  A memory of a doctor and a hospital room…his father’s hospital room… and then standing outside that hospital in pre-dawn darkness as he looked up at a lighted window of that hospital and knew the instant that his father was gone.*

Sam blinked rapidly and turned his head to look out over the snow-covered field to his right, grateful that he had to squint against the last strong rays of the fading sunlight.  Maybe it would be enough to disguise the couple of tears that trickled down his cheeks.  Taking a few slow, deep breaths he turned and started walking again, his pace a little faster.

        “What does Ziggy say the odds are that I’m here to help Mr. Warwick?” Sam asked as he reached the road.  Glancing both ways for any approaching vehicles, he quickly crossed the snow-dusted road and started up the long driveway to the Warwick house, carefully picking his way through the shin-deep snow.  He paused at the foot of the porch steps and looked to Al.

        Al had already put the question to Ziggy and had the answer before Sam turned to him.  “You’re not here for Mr. Warwick,” he began.

        “What does Ziggy say the odds are?” Sam insisted, keeping his voice down as he glanced toward one of the curtain covered porch windows then back to Al.

        Without looking at the handlink, Al told him, “Ziggy double-checked the possibilities and it was the same answer both times, Sam. Less than half a percent.”  He didn’t say anything as he watched his friend’s expression. The almost wistful look of “But why can’t I be here for him?” was so exactly similar to other such looks he’d seen in the leaper’s eyes so many times before.  Though he had watched his friend mature in his outlook over these many years, on occasion forced to do so quickly in the course of certain leaps, then as now, the look in Sam’s green eyes was one that he knew well.  The look that said that he understood but would hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, before this leap was over, maybe things would change and he would be able to help keep Felton Warwick alive for a little while longer... like maybe at least through Christmas. It was the sound of a lock being turned on the front door that broke the long look between the two friends and both looked toward the door.

        “Go on,” Al said, nodding his head toward the basket Sam held.  “Take the basket into her before the food gets cold.”

        “You’re sure?” Sam whispered under his breath.

        Al’s gaze remained steady as he said, “Go on inside, Sam, before she catches a chill.”  His eyes flicked to the thin, gray-haired woman, wearing a blue-patterned housedress and a red sweater and slippers, as she stepped onto the porch.

        “Rio?” Eulene Warwick’s voice was strong yet soft as she stepped carefully closer to the porch steps.

        Sam finally accepted what he didn’t want to, giving a single nod to the hologram then turned to the elderly woman.  “Yes, ma’am. It’s me,” Sam responded as he climbed the steps then leaned down a bit to accept her hug.

        “What are you doing here?” Eulene asked, stepping back a bit to be able to look up at the tall young man’s eyes. Folding her arms tightly over her chest against the cold, she continued, “How are your folks?  Not sick I hope.”

        “No, ma’am,” Sam replied respectfully.  “They’re fine.”  Seeing her shiver a bit, he remembered why he was here.  Showing her the basket he said, “Why don’t we go inside?” then followed Eulene, pausing on the doormat to stamp the snow from his boots before entering the house and closing the door.

        “Let’s go back to the kitchen,” Eulene prompted him then turned and led the way past the doorway into the living room to the left and down the hall to the kitchen. “Whatever you’ve got in that basket smells so good!”

        Sam paused at the doorway of the small living room that clearly could use a good dusting and perhaps having a vacuum cleaner passed over the carpet. 

The furnishings, though showing signs of wear, looked comfortable. The warm colors of brown and tan with touches of brighter colors kept it from being dreary.  On one side of a small table under the front window sat a small crèche; at the other end of the table was a small ceramic Christmas tree.

His gaze continued to rove around the room, coming to rest on the small array of family pictures on the wall above the television set; several of the pictures were of a man who looked to be in his thirties and wearing a dark blue military uniform.  Snippets of memories of his grandparents’ house came to him, however fleeting, causing Sam to smile.  Hearing Mrs. Warwick calling drew him back to the present and he followed the sound of her voice.

        Looking around the small and more or less tidy kitchen for a place to set the basket, Sam opted for the nearest counter.  As Mrs. Warwick removed the dishtowel covering the basket, a warm, mouthwatering, buttery aroma filled the air as he said, “Mom made chicken and dumplings today, and she sent me to bring you some. There are some corn muffins, too.  Here, let me help with that.”  Pulling his gloves off, Sam reached into the basket and lifted out the small, still hot, covered dish.

        “Just put it on the table there,” Eulene directed then bustled across the kitchen to get two plates from a cupboard and utensils from a drawer.  At the table she set the plates on opposite sides, laying the utensils beside each.  Taking a brightly colored potholder from a magnet hook on the refrigerator, she went to lift the cover from the dish of hot food and sniffed.

        “Oh my, doesn’t that smell wonderful!” she exclaimed.  “And muffins. I’ll just get some butter for the muffins.  And I think I’ll have some buttermilk to drink, and we’ll be all set.”  Going to open the refrigerator she took out a small container of butter then stopped as something occurred to her.  Looking back at the boy standing beside the table she asked, “You will have some supper with me, won’t you, Rio?”

        Al, who had followed Sam into the house, now stood in the kitchen doorway.  Just as Sam opened his mouth to answer, he said, “Eat with her, Sam.” Glancing at the woman who was easily close to his own age, Al added, “If things are as bad as they seem to be, I’m guessing she’s probably as hungry for company as she is for food.”  As soon as he’d spoken, Al saw that his prompting Sam hadn’t been necessary.

        “Sure,” Sam said, liking how Mrs. Warwick’s face brightened at his answer as he took his jacket off.

        “Just put it anywhere,” Eulene said as she went to get glasses for them.  “Do you like apple cider?”

        “Yes, ma’am,” Sam replied.  “Cider would be great,” then went back down the hallway.  Looking around, he draped his coat over the back of a chair in the living room then returned to the kitchen.

        “Can I help?” he asked as Mrs. Warwick finished pouring a glass of apple cider and was turning to take it to the table.

        “If you don’t mind, put this by your place,” she said, picking the glass up and turning toward him.  Her hand shaking ever so slightly caused the golden liquid to slosh precariously.

        Stepping forward, Sam took the glass and put it on the table then watched as Mrs. Warwick put the carton of cider back into the refrigerator.  As she moved slowly to the table, he remembered something and asked, “Where can I wash up?”

        Eulene stopped behind the kitchen chair she always sat in when eating her meals, placing her hands on the dark green vinyl back for a bit of support.  “You can wash your hands in the kitchen sink,” she said as a knowing smile crossed her face.  “Felton always does.  Unless,” she went on as the boy went to the sink and turned on the water, “he’d been working outside.  Those times he used the sink on the back porch.  Usually left his boots on the mat, too.”  Seeing the boy hesitate as he tore a couple of paper towels from the roll standing at the end of the small counter, she laughed, the sound sort of raspy and warm at the same time.  “Not you,” she told him.  “You weren’t walking in the fields or in the hog pen.”  Seeing him looking around for the trash, she pointed to the wastebasket near the back door before washing her hands as well.  When he pulled her chair out and helped her to sit down, Eulene reached to put a hand on the young man’s arm as he stepped past her to go take his place at the table.  “You remind me a lot of Clayton when he was your age.”

        “Your son?” Sam ventured as he sat down.

        “Yes,” Eulene said, unselfconsciously tucking a stray lock of her short gray hair behind one ear.  As she added, “He was a good boy,” there was no mistaking the trace of wistfulness in her voice.  But the wistfulness didn’t linger long, and she lifted her head and smiled up at Sam.  “And now he’s a good man,” she told her unexpected young visitor with a mother’s pride.  “He’s serving his country,” then, “Listen to me going on when there’s your mother’s casserole just waiting to be eaten.” Picking up the serving spoon she’d placed next to the white and blue Corning-ware dish, she lifted the tempered glass lid. It rattled a bit against the dish as she said, “Hold your plate and I’ll dip you up some.”

        “Nobody makes chicken and dumplings like Mom,” Sam said, and for a moment wondered…*Did Mom make chicken and dumplings?*… then forgot to wonder further when he heard the glass lid rattling. 

“Here, let me,” he offered.  Deftly and gently, Sam finished removing the lid and set it aside before reaching for the serving spoon.  “May I?” he asked then took the spoon from Mrs. Warwick’s thin, somewhat gnarled fingers. Sam dipped up two spoonfuls of chicken and dumplings onto her plate then placed a like amount on his plate and picked up his fork.

From what he had read on the handlink, there wasn’t anything pressing to keep Al with Sam for the moment.  Still, he chose to stay and unobtrusively share the company of his friend and Eulene Warwick as they shared the simple supper and talked about the weather, how Sam’s host was doing in school, Christmas. In turn Sam asked her about her husband and son.

Hearing a soft note of sadness in her voice when she answered Sam about her husband, it struck the Observer as he moved quietly from one place to another in the small kitchen, how much she was missing her husband’s presence in their home.  At one point, Al paused behind Sam’s chair to take out a fresh cigar, clipped the tip and lit it.  He puffed gently until the tip of the cigar was glowing then exhaled a stream of the Chivello’s fragrant smoke. His expression was introspective as he considered Eulene Warwick’s softly wrinkled face.  It was etched by the inevitable storms of life she had weathered, yet softened, no doubt, by the love of her husband through it all.  As he studied her, Al felt a response inside as Beth came to his thoughts.

After nearly forty-six years with the same woman, Al wondered how  he would act if he knew that he only had five more days with the one woman who knew him better than he knew himself. The one person in the world for whom he would walk through fire and never think twice about the consequences.  The woman who completed him, who was the other half of his soul...

*I don’t think I could bear it if something happened to you,* he sent the thought winging to the woman with the neatly coifed ear-length, silvery gray hair, blue eyes and a smile that could still make his heart skip a beat.  Studying Eulene’s slightly rheumy blue eyes behind her glasses as she concentrated on taking another bite of a dumpling, Al strongly suspected that she knew that her time with her life’s mate was rapidly drawing to a close. For an instant an ache tightened the Observer’s throat and he blinked hastily against the moisture that was threatening to blur his vision.

‘Life without Beth?’

The ache in his throat increased at that unbidden and unwanted notion.  A moment later Al was grateful beyond saying when the sound of a chair scooting back from the table pulled him away from the brief trip down a path he wasn’t ready to tread.

“I’ll help you wash these dishes,” Sam began as he carried their plates to the sink.

“No, you won’t either,” Eulene insisted, following Sam.  “Leave those be,” she told him.  “Just run a bit of water on them.  It’ll give me something to do after you leave.”

Sam did as she had requested, rinsing the two plates and utensils with hot water.  “But it will only take five minutes…”

“If you want to help me,” the elderly woman told him. “Then you can walk down to the pond with me before it gets too dark.”

The unusual request caught both the leaper and the Observer’s attention, shifting both from their trains of thought.

“What pond?  Umm… I mean, what’s at the pond?” Sam asked as he turned to finish clearing the few things from the table to the sink then put the butter back in the refrigerator.

“I want to go see the geese,” Eulene said firmly.

“Geese?” Al asked the question before Sam could get the word out. He glanced at his friend.  “It must be below freezing outside right now,” he said.


Eulene paused as she started toward the doorway into the hall and looked back at the teenager.  “Twenty-nine?  Twenty-nine what?”

“It’s…twenty-nine degrees outside, Mrs. Warwick,” Sam said hastily as he went to her.  “And the temperature’s supposed to drop another six degrees tonight. And… what geese?”  He hoped the question didn’t sound too odd.  After all, she and the Millikins were neighbors.  It stood to reason that if the Warwicks had a few geese they took care of that Rio would probably know about them.

Her moment of puzzlement over the boy’s odd reaction to her request passed upon hearing about the temperature drop, and she said, “I heard the geese come in just before you got here. I’ve been studying about how I was going to get down to the pond to put out some cracked corn and pellets for them with slipping and breaking my fool old neck.”  The old lady’s smile widened a bit as she patted Sam’s arm lightly.  “Then poof! You show up at my door.” Patting his arm again Eulene resumed her trek down hallway.  “You just wait while I put on some boots and get my coat.”  Pausing at a door midway down the hall she turned to look back at Sam, wagging a finger at him. “And don’t you go washin’ those dishes either.”  Only when Sam answered, “No, ma’am,” did she open the door and enter her bedroom.  “I won’t be a minute,” she said then closed the door.

Knowing it would take longer than the minute Mrs. Warwick had stated, Sam looked around the kitchen then went to look out the window above the sink.  The sight of the snow-covered yard and the small faded red barn off to the left and the gated fence into the pasture brought a feeling of familiarity.  As with the few other times he had leaped into a farm setting, such as the Millikin farm, no matter its layout or condition, and though it was plain to see that the little farm was no longer actively worked, Sam felt a little closer to home.  Scanning the pasture just beyond the barn, Sam’s gaze was snagged by something and he focused his eyes on what appeared to be some bales of hay a short distance inside the pasture.

“I’m ready,” Eulene announced as she came into the kitchen again.  Noticing where Sam was, she moved to his side.  “What are you looking at?”

Sam hadn’t turned when the old lady announced that she was ready to go outside.  “I was just looking outside.  What are those hay bales for in the pasture? I didn’t see any cows or horses,” he asked turning to face her.  True to her word, Eulene was wearing a pair of scuffed black rubber boots, the kind worn over shoes, and had pulled on an off-white winter parka that had seen plenty of service in its time.  A bright red wool scarf wound around her throat completed her preparation for going out into the rapidly dimming winter evening.  But it was the sight of an old pair of binoculars draped around her neck that caught his attention.  “What are you going to do with those?”

“The hay’s for the geese,” Eulene told him, “and these are so I can see them better.  Now get your coat on. There’s not much light left, and we have to stop at the barn for the corn and pellets.”

        Once he had his jacket on again, Sam helped the old woman down the back porch steps then measured his normal stride to her shorter, slower steps as they went to barn.  Choosing to use the normal size door set near the large double doors, he left it open for light then followed Eulene inside.  Staying close enough to offer help if Mrs. Warwick needed it, Sam walked into the middle of the large main room of the barn and just stood and looked around.  There were four empty stalls, and various pieces of dusty paraphernalia – halters and leather leads and such – hanging on a nearby wall told him that at some time in earlier years, the Warwicks had kept a few cows.  But it was the vaguely sweet yet musty smell of hay that enhanced the feeling of home for the leaper.  In spite of the dizzying array of leaps he’d experienced in the last three days, for whatever reason, they had all come back to the Millikin family and this place.  And Sam was grateful.

        Hearing the familiar sound of corn kernels being poured in a metal bucket, Sam shook off his reverie and went in search of his –for now- elderly neighbor.

        Eulene was just folding down the torn top of a large bag of feed corn when she heard the sound of footsteps behind her.  “I wondered where you got off to,” she said.

        “Just looking around the barn a little,” Sam admitted as he picked up the scuffed metal bucket with a mixture of corn and some sort of small, dark-colored, pea-sized pellets in the bottom.  “Ready?”

        Once outside again, he took the elderly woman’s arm as they went through the gate ... “Just leave it open till we get back.  There’s nothing in here to worry about gettin’ out,”...and started out toward the few bales of hay he’d seen from the kitchen window.

With Sam’s height, it only took about five minutes of walking with Mrs. Warwick in the until now untouched ankle deep snow before he realized that from the kitchen window he couldn’t see the small manmade pond that had been put in just below the gentle slope of the ground a few hundred yards beyond the gate.  And as they reached the edge of the slope, both stopped and just gazed at the sight.  After a moment, Eulene lifted the binoculars to her eyes and trained the glasses on the pond.  “That’s better,” she murmured after a bit of adjustment sharpened the focus.  “Aren’t they beautiful?” she whispered.

“Yeah,” Sam whispered back.

Some wild geese had decided to shelter for the night on the small pond and were now gliding calmly on the water or ducking under in search of food. Another pair honked to each other as they waddled near the bales of hay on the opposite shore of the pond.

        As a puff of cold wind nipped his ears, Sam watched the geese, understanding why Eulene had wanted to come to the pond.  It was like a beautiful painting come to life, the peacefulness of the lowering light of the crisp winter evening, coupled with the sight of the wild Canadian geese, totally trusting in the safety of the Warwicks’ small pond and pasture as they prepared to rest for the night.  Not even his and Eulene’s presence appeared to bother them.

        At her softly spoken direction, he took care to move slowly as he scattered the contents of the bucket in a small area to her right then moved back to her side.

        “Do they come every winter?” he asked softly.

        Eulene, once more holding to the boy’s strong right arm, smiled.  “More often than not,” she said.  “A few times over the years we didn’t see any.  We get ducks, too, more often than the geese.”  She paused, lowering the binoculars to let them dangle from the neck strap as she added, an unmistakable wistfulness in her voice, “For as long as he was up to it, Felton and me always came down to see the geese when they stopped here.”  Looking around, she pointed to a tall pole with a small spotlight affixed to the top that was about halfway around the pond.  “He put in that light when Clayton was little.  He’d turn the light on just before dusk, so as not to scare the geese, and then later we’d bring little Clay out here to see them.”

        Though he was starting to feel a bit of a chill in his feet from standing in the snow, Sam couldn’t take his eyes from the scene.  “What’s the hay for?” he asked.

        Eulene shivered a bit when a puff of the rising cold wind swirled under the hem of her dress but she didn’t miss a beat in her reply.  “Felton started that a couple of years after we put the pond in,” she reminisced.  “It’s just a little shelter for the geese,” she explained. “The bales are stacked two high in the shape of a U, and a couple of sheets of plywood on the top is all you need.  Oh, and you always face the opening to the south.”  The wistfulness was even more evident in her voice when she said softly, “He’s always had a special feeling for the geese.”

        When his elderly companion began to talk about the geese Sam just listened, continuing to drink in the scene before him.  It was the wistfulness in Mrs. Warwick’s last words that drew his attention.  Even in the winter dusk, there was no missing the glint of light on a spot of moisture on her cheek; he also didn’t miss the way she shivered just then.

“You’re cold,” Sam said gently.  “Maybe we should go back to the house now,” he suggested moving closer to her side.  He wasn’t sure if Mrs. Warwick hadn’t heard him or was ignoring him as she spoke again.

“They mate for life, you know,” Eulene said, her gaze following one of the geese as it made its way into the hay bale shelter. She smiled to herself as the wild game bird ‘talked’ to another bird…its mate, she thought… already settling into the thick mat of straw strewn inside the shelter. “And they can live a long time, too.  As long as twenty years or more, I remember reading.  Almost sounds like a marriage, doesn’t it?”

Sam’s heart ached for his companion.  ‘She knows,’ was all he could think.  He wished he could tell her just how little time she had left with her husband, but that was out of the question.  No matter how well meaning, any way he might try to explain how he knew when her husband was going to die, would hurt her by making her think that her young neighbor was mocking the first subtle signs of impending grief.  But he was even more startled when Mrs. Warwick suddenly removed the strap from around her neck and pressed the binoculars into his hands, telling him, “Quick, look inside the shelter.  There’s just enough light left.”

Obediently he put the binoculars to his eyes then turned slowly until suddenly he was seeing the geese already inside the shelter so close up he could make out their eyes in the rapidly fading light.

“There’s five… no, six already nested down,” he murmured.  It was the sound of soft sniffling beside him that pushed all thoughts of the geese from Sam’s mind.  Putting the strap of the binoculars around his neck, he slipped an arm behind Mrs. Warwick’s back and gently but firmly led her away from the pond.

Back at the house a few minutes later, the gate closed and the bucket set inside the barn door, Sam wasted no time in getting Mrs. Warwick up the back steps and inside the kitchen.  He helped her off with her coat, draping it on the back of a chair.  When he turned to find her just standing and looking up at him then laying a hand on his arm, he smiled at her.  Covering her hand with his, Sam said, “You’re cold.  Why don’t you go take off your boots, while I make us some tea?”  When the elderly woman just turned and started toward the door into the hallway, the leaper wondered if perhaps he’d presumed too much.  That presumption increased a little more when, after reaching the door, Eulene walked slowly back to him again, once more looking up into his eyes as if searching for something. But then she spoke and that presumption was vanquished when he heard her ask, “Rio... could I hug you?”

A strong surge of relief and an even stronger wave of emotion washed over Sam.  “Sure,” he said softly, swallowing down the vague tightness in his throat and opened his arms to her.

Without a word, Eulene walked up to Sam, whom she saw as her neighbors’ son, and wrapped her arms around him then pressed her cheek against his chest and hugged him. Feeling his strong young arms returning the hug, for the first time in a long time she felt comforted as not just loneliness but the chasm of aloneness brought on by her husband being in the hospital and her son so far away was, even for a few minutes, erased.

        “You remind me so much of my Clay,” she whispered, trying hard not to let the wistfulness show. “It’s been so long since the last time he got to come home for Christmas.”

        It was, for all Sam knew, the closest he would ever again get to hugging his own elderly mother as he held Eulene almost protectively against his heart.  The ache in her last words touched him as few had in a long time, and his chin quivered as he closed his eyes and gently laid his head against the top of hers, his hug tightening just a little more.  He wanted to assure her that he understood, but the fact of how long it had been since the last time he’d been home for Christmas with his loved ones and friends threatened to overwhelm him, so he just whispered, “I know.  But I’m here...for now... and you can hug me anytime you want to, Mrs. Warwick.“

        Eulene’s heart warmed at the boy’s words and she squeezed him once more then stepped back, tipping her head back a bit to look up at him.  Then, raising up on tip-toe, she brushed a soft kiss on his cheek before turning to go and take her boots off.

        Sam ducked his head a bit to accept her kiss then watched her for a moment as she started out of the kitchen.  Blinking against the dampness that had sprung up in his eyes, he turned to look for a kettle to heat some water for the tea.


        Sam paused in his search and turned to face Eulene.  “Yes, ma’am?”

        Eulene’s eyes searched the teenager’s face carefully, especially his eyes before saying simply, “Thank you.  You’re a good boy with a good heart, and I know you’re going to be a fine man, too.”  She smiled tremulously then turned and walked down the hall.

If she had paused to look back at that moment, she would have seen the real Rio standing with her teakettle in hand and wearing a slightly confused expression.  What she couldn’t have seen, even if she was looking at the boy, was how a vague memory of why he was where he was at the moment, was settling into place, and even more that it was a good thing and that he liked it.  And after another moment, Rio went to the sink and filled the kettle with water, before putting it on the stove to heat.  As he opened cupboards to look for cups and teabags, the leaper who had made a small but significant change in his life, had already moved on to yet another someone to help.




December 18, 1989


It was the first Monday of the two-week Christmas vacation, but all that meant at the Millikin household was that there was more time to get in extra shopping, a trip to the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport to pick up the last Millikin child, Carol Anne, coming home for the holidays, and anything else that needed doing today.

Marilyn hadn’t even stopped for breakfast, instead grabbing a slice of toast and a cup of coffee as she hurried off to work.  Margaret, who was still insisting that nothing was wrong with her ankle, was still in bed, taking advantage of her first class-free day, as well as it being her day off from her part-time job.  Rio had run out almost on Marilyn’s heels.

“Where are you off to this morning?” his mother asked.

“Dad’s going to drop me off at school. Mr. Adler called a special practice for this morning,” he said as he stood up from the table after wolfing down the last bite of his breakfast of a stack of pancakes smothered with warm apple butter and cinnamon, sausages and orange juice.

“You can’t play with that brace on your hand, dumbo,” Olivia pointed out the obvious.

Rio ruffled his little sister’s hair as he passed behind her chair.  “Dr. Straffin said I only have to wear it at night,” he told her.

Turning away from the range where she was waiting to flip the last couple of pancakes, Jill fixed him with a look. “Rio?  You know what the doctor said.”

“Yeah.  But I remember more what Mr. Adler said last week,” he had come back. “You think I’d try something stupid around him, and risk missing out on going to California?”  As he swooped out of the kitchen to get his coat when he heard a horn honking outside, Rio paused by his mother’s side.  “I promise that the only drumming I’ll do is with the fingers of this hand…” he showed her his good hand. “…on the wall.”  Jill had given him a motherly warning look as she said, “Okay.”

Sophie had exercised her senior sibling rank, coupled with a  ‘been there done that’ understanding of breaking up with a boyfriend, when she had successfully cajoled Tessa to go with her to the local airport to pick up Carol.  The ‘Threesome’, Jill’s group nickname for her youngest children, had clamored to go along.  As everyone was buzzing about getting coats on and finding purses then finally rushing out, she had attracted her eldest daughter’s attention as she started out the door. “Sophie, after you pick up Carol, would you mind driving over to the Weidemann’s farm and get some of their fresh apple cider?”

Sophie had grinned at her mother as she jingled the keys to the Dodge Caravan.  “Sure.  How much? A gallon?”

“Better make it two gallons,” Jill said.  “I volunteered to make mulled cider for the Lindens’ Christmas Eve party Sunday night.”   She had added a couple of other shopping stops along the way, then watched from the front window as the small parade of vehicles had driven off down the lane.

 Now, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee to savor in the luxury of utter peace and quiet, she began to consider some of the things that had been happening amongst her children over the last few days, they weren’t odd, but certainly just outside the range of what was normal.   For one thing, there was the problem with Rio’s wrist cropping up again so close to the trip to Pasadena. But even that shrunk in light of how he’d suddenly taken a real interest in their elderly neighbor, Eulene Warwick.  She’d always known that being around older people, his grandparents excepted, made him antsy.  But ever since Sunday evening when he’d returned from delivering the chicken and dumplings to Eulene Warwick, she had noticed it.  Nothing drastic - but something had brought about a change in her son.

Jill took another slow sip of coffee, gazing at the crisp blue sky showing through the window above the kitchen sink, her musing shifting to Tessa.  Aside from her dramatic telephone break-up with that Zang boy on Friday night, Jill had noticed something different about her fifth daughter.  Bright, confident and popular, Tessa was also much like her brother; she preferred being around kids her own age and leaving the real world stuff like charity work and such to anyone else.  It had startled her – to say nothing of the other children – when, on the heels of the break-up with Marvin, instead of spending the night on her bed crying, she had offered to go with her mother to take Mrs. Warwick to the hospital because her husband had taken a turn for the worse.  That, coupled with what Rio had mentioned last Thursday about how Tessa had made a fuss over their neighbor flitted through her mind, and it was then that the penny dropped for Jill Millikin.  “It was after both of them were at Eulene’s,” she murmured as she slowly set her cup down.  She considered a moment, her lips pursing thoughtfully.  “I wonder if Margaret…”

The rest of Jill’s thought evaporated in the next instant as she disappeared in a blue haze, having been replaced with a figure whose reaction to the surroundings would have surprised her.

Sam blinked as he looked around the kitchen he found himself in…and frowned.  “I… know this place,” he said softly as he stood up from the table.  “I’ve been here before.”  The sudden ‘klunk… schoom’ of the Imaging Chamber door appearing and opening made him turn to find Al wearing an amazed expression.

“Sam, this is almost as bad as the guy in that movie “Groundhog’s Day’,” Al exclaimed as he went to his friend.  “Do you know how many times you’ve been here?”

“Then I’m not hallucinating,” Sam interrupted.  “I have been here before?”

“Yeah,” Al replied, busy punching buttons on the handlink.  “Do you know how many times you’ve been here?” He didn’t wait for Sam to answer.  “In your last five leaps you have landed in some member of the Millikin family.  Five times. Five times!” He held up one hand and wiggled his fingers for emphasis. Fixing the leaper with a look he said, “I don’t know what it is you’re here to do, but I hope you figure it out soon.  This little game of cosmic leapfrog is starting to make me dizzy.”

Hearing the name ‘Millikin’ was like a breath of warm air on a frosty pane of glass as it cleared the fog in Sam’s head, allowing the memories of some of each of those other five leaps to resettle into his mind.

“Try it from my side for a while,” he muttered.  “So who am I this time?”  He looked down at the clothing he was wearing: Christmas-themed flannel pajamas and a white chenille robe.  On his feet were a pair of well worn blue bootie slippers.  The person’s identity came to him just as the Observer spoke it aloud.

“This time, you’ve leaped into Mama Millikin,” Al said.  “Jill Millikin, age forty-nine, is married to Aaron and they’ve been married… let’s see, it will be twenty-six years next month January 27, 1990.  She does freelance writing for several magazines so that she can stay at home and be a full time mom to her nine kids. Well, now, the last five. The two oldest are in college, and the other two older girls will be off at college starting with the January semester.  But they’ll all be home for the holidays.”

As the hologram had continued to talk, Sam had started to clear the table of the breakfast dishes and started loading the dishwasher.  The simple task left his mind free to theorize on what the reason could be for his repeat return to this family that he had already experienced from several different angles already.

“What day is this?” he asked as he scrapped leftover breakfast food into the garbage disposal.

Al summoned the information.  Seeing it on the screen, he said, “This is weird.”

Sam paused and looked around at him. “What’s so weird about it?”

Moving over to his friend, Al looked him in the eyes as he said, “It’s Monday, December 18, 1989.”

Sam shrugged.  “What’s weird about that?” he asked as he continued to load the dishwasher. When it was full, he found a box of Cascade dishwasher soap under the sink, put some in the dishwasher, closed it and turned it on.

“On the face of it, nothing,” Al allowed, watching as Sam filled the sink half-full with soapy water and began to wipe down the counter and table.  “But when you consider that your first leap in here was on December 14, 1989, and that each leap since then has been, consecutively, on December 15, 1989…. December 16, 1989... and December 17, 1989…” He nodded as he saw understanding light up Sam’s eyes.  “Yeah.  It’s weird.”

“Did Ziggy find any similarities between the leaps?” Sam asked.

“Besides the fact that you have been one member of the Millikin family, or another, so much now that they probably seem like family to you, the one thing that four of the five leaps have in common is…”


Sam walked across the kitchen to the wall phone and picked up the receiver and put it to his ear.  “Hello? This is…” His eyes widened a bit at the voice speaking to him.  “Yes, yes…Mrs. Warwick…”

Al’s head came up at that and he hurried over to Sam.  Waving a hand to get his attention, he whispered, turning the handlink for Sam to see its screen.  “Her,” he whispered.  “Eulene Warwick is the common factor in the other leaps.”

But Sam was focused on listening to the anxious voice on the phone, and was trying to calm her down.

“Eulene…Eulene…calm down, dear,” Sam said, keeping his tone gentle and calm.  “What’s wrong?” He only had to hear a few words to understand.  “Yes, of course,” he said. “I’ll come right over. I just need to change.” He paused, listening a moment; he soothed her again.  “No more than ten minutes,” he promised then hung up the phone and left the kitchen.  He’d only been in this leap five minutes or so, but his memories served him well as he hurried through the dining room and headed to the staircase.  He was halfway up them, taking the steps two at a time when he heard a sound and looked up to see a sleepy-eyed, pajama clad Margaret just starting down the stairs.

“Get dressed,” he told her as he reached the landing and headed down the hall.  Pausing for an instant to try and recall which bedroom belonged to Jill and her husband, he heard Margaret asking through a yawn, “Why?  Where are we going?”

Scanning the doors along the hall where he stood, Sam crossed his fingers and went to the door directly at the end of the hall.  He was quietly grateful when he saw a pair of men’s shoes on the floor at the foot of the rumpled queen-sized bed.  Stepping inside, Sam paused to look back at Margaret who had followed him, scratching her head as she watched him.

“Mrs. Warwick just called…”

Margaret stopped and sighed, not a bit impatiently.  “What does she want now?” she said petulantly.  “Can’t she go one day without needing something?  I mean, come on.  It’s not like we’re her family…”

It was a good thing for Margaret that Al wasn’t there to give her a pithy piece of his mind about her attitude, since the hologram had not yet joined the Leaper upstairs.  As it was, she got a glimpse of a side of Sam Beckett’s attitude that was rarely seen by many.

Sam had shed the robe and had just tossed it on the bed when he heard what Margaret Millikin said and his temper bristled. He forgot about changing out of the pajamas he was wearing, and instead marched into the hall to confront the girl.  He didn’t mince words.

“What’s the matter you?” he demanded of the pretty, dark-haired girl now staring up at him like her mother had just grown another head.  “What’s the matter with this family?” Sam said sharply.  “Eulene Warwick is our neighbor and friend... our good neighbor and friend.  She and her husband have been friends with this family since…” From across the width of time a memory from the woman in the Waiting Room slipped into place.  “...since I was a little girl growing up in this house with my mother and father.  I count it a blessing to have the Warwicks as friends.”  He scanned Margaret’s startled face. “And I want to believe that I’ve instilled in you… in all of my children that when you’re friends with someone, that when they need you, you’re there for them, no matter what time of day or night or if it’s a holiday or anything else.” He paused in his impassioned comments to catch his breath.  Taking one more to calm himself Sam added, “No, Eulene Warwick isn’t family, she’s a friend.  And even though your family should be loved and treasured, I think good friends are even a little more important.”

Margaret gaped at that. She couldn’t recall when she’d ever seen her mother so wound up.  “How do you figure that?” she dared to ask carefully.

Sam met her gaze as he answered her.  “You don’t have a choice about the family you’re born into. That’s just a fact of life. On the other hand,” he said, his tone calmer but no less determined. “You do have a choice of whom to have as your friends.  And friends are often much closer to you because you choose to open yourself to them.  In a friendship you choose to trust them with knowing you, your strengths as well as your weaknesses.” His gaze drifted for a moment to the hologram now standing near Margaret then back to her.

“You’ll laugh with them, work with them.  They’ll listen to you when no one else will, even your family. You may disagree with that friend, argue or even fight with them.  But when the world caves in top of you, if your family can’t… or won’t… be there for you, a good friend will put aside what they’re doing in their own busy lives in order to be there before the dust settles to help you get up again and keep going.”

Al regarded Sam with a glistening in his eye that told Sam his friend not only appreciated the speech but felt the same way.  As if there could be any doubt.

Sam took another breath.  “Eulene called to ask for a ride because she just got a call from the hospital.  Her husband has slipped into a coma and they don’t expect him to live more than a few more days.  I just thought that perhaps you could come along to give her a little moral support.”  Seeing Margaret’s eyes widen at that, Sam nodded then started back to the bedroom to finish changing. Then he paused again to look back at the girl.

 “Christmas… life… isn’t only about parties and gifts and dancing or even making a living or whatever.  It’s about people, Margaret. And for my money, the greatest gift someone can give me is the gift of themselves, of their time.”

Margaret licked her lips before she spoke.  “Mom…”

Sam spoke over her.  “I’m going to change now and go take Mrs. Warwick to the hospital.  You can come or not.  It’s your choice.”

Ten minutes later, Sam was dressed and wearing Jill’s winter parka as he headed out the front door, purse and car keys in hand.  He didn’t say a word when he saw Margaret, clad in jeans and boots and winter coat standing near the car.  They got into the car and, after allowing the engine to warm up for a couple of minutes, Sam put it in gear and headed down the lane then to the Warwick home.  He waited in the car when Margaret hopped out and went to the door to escort their elderly neighbor down the steps and help her into the car.  When she was settled, Sam backed down the driveway, memorizing the directions Al gave him to get to Kalamazoo General Hospital.  But just as he was about to pull out onto the road, he felt the tingle come over him suddenly.  Before he could say a word to either of his companions, he leaped.





        All he had time to do, it seemed, was blink before yet again Sam Beckett felt the felt the unmistakable draw into the next person whom GTFW had determined needed something set right that had originally gone wrong.  This time, however, it was as if Whoever or Whatever was bouncing him around in time like a ping pong ball in a tornado, decided to give the leaper a break.  So it was that even before the last of the tingling vanished, when Sam opened his eyes, instantly recognizing where he was and who the women in the front seats of car with him were.

        Hearing the older woman… Mrs. Warwick ….say, “Jill, are you all right, dear?” Sam leaned forward to gently place a hand on Jill Millikin’s shoulder nearest him.  “Mom?” he said softly.  “Are you okay?”  He understood well the vague confusion in Jill’s eyes when she turned her head to look at him.

        “Yes. I’m…fine, honey,” Jill murmured then closed her eyes and shook her head lightly before reopening her eyes.  “I just felt a bit dizzy for a moment.”  She blinked as she murmured under her breath, “It was the strangest thing…”

        “Uh, Mom,” Sam deliberately interrupted Jill’s musings.  “Shouldn’t we get going to the hospital?”

        “What?” Jill glanced back at her daughter then at Eulene Warwick.  It was another moment before a vague memory settled in her mind.  “Oh my, yes.”

        The ride to the hospital took about a half hour, during which Sam made himself as inconspicuous in the back seat as possible.  Gazing out at the snowy landscape and then at the passing traffic as they neared the city of Kalamazoo, it was the quietest space of time he’d had since Whoever or Whatever had decided that he was needed for an extended period in the Millikin family.

        Once at the hospital, he caught a glimpse of Jill’s surprised expression when he hopped out of the car and with great care, assisted the elderly Mrs. Warwick from the car.  He nodded, responding respectfully when Jill called to him, “I’ll be up as soon as I find a parking place.”

        “Yes, ma’am,” he said, and turned his attention to guiding Eulene carefully up the broad walk to the entrance.  Inside the door, Sam paused then followed Eulene when she made an unhesitating beeline for the bank of three elevators situated on the opposite side of the busy lobby.  As they waited for one of the elevator cars to arrive, he looked around the lobby.

        “They really did a nice job of decorating that Christmas tree,” he commented.

        Turning slightly, Eulene glanced at the Christmas tree and a smile brightened her face as she walked over to it.  Most were brightly colored bulbs, but scattered amongst them were small novelty ornaments. There were snowflakes and tiny Christmas stockings; another was a puppy and kitten curled up together, and there were several in the form of a teddy bear holding a brightly wrapped gift, and there were several different bird ornaments. Several strands of tiny lights woven amongst the branches of the tree winked and blinked merrily, and a sweet-faced angel ornament topped the tree.

        Though an elevator car had arrived, Sam ignored it to follow the old woman over to the tree.  He didn’t say anything as he watched her reach out to touch one of the small white bird ornaments and then, seeing another one just like it, carefully removed it from that branch then just as carefully hung it near the first one so that it appeared the two little birds were flying toward each other, their tiny beaks almost touching. 

        “There,” was all Eulene said, smiling as a memory as clear as the day it came into being filled her thoughts.  “Reminds me of mine and Felton’s wedding cake,” she said softly.  “Only those two little birds held a small white bow in their beaks between them.”  Glancing up at the young girl waiting patiently beside her, Eulene smiled. “I believe I still have it tucked away somewhere.”

        “I thought you would already be upstairs by now,” Jill Millikin said gently, surprised when she entered the hospital lobby to see Eulene and Margaret looking at the large Christmas tree set up in the hospital’s lobby.

        Drawn back from her momentary slip back to a more joyful day in her life, Eulene allowed the memory to slip away as she turned and walked back to the elevator.  A moment later one of the elevators opened and she got on.  She watched Margaret Millikin press the button for the third floor.

        When the elevator doors opened on the third floor, Sam followed Eulene and Jill out, staying close as they went to the visitor’s desk.  The woman behind the desk checked her clipboard and then handed each of them a yellow I.C.U. pass card with a number four on it.  To Jill’s request for directions, she pointed toward the other side of the visitor’s area, saying, “Go through that door then follow the hall.  Take the first left and go through the double doors.  I.CU. is past those doors.  Once you go through those doors, you’ll see the nurses’ station at the end of the hall.”

        He wasn’t sure when the Observer had finally shown up; all Sam knew was that when he and the two women turned to go to the intensive care unit, he was glad to see his friend already waiting near that first doorway.  Without drawing attention to himself, Sam slowed his step so that he could at least listen to whatever information Al had for him.

        Informed by Ziggy that Sam had leaped yet again, Al Calavicci wasn’t really all that surprised when the hybrid computer informed him of the location of the leap.  As he took his place in the Imaging Chamber and just before Ziggy initiated the neural search through time, it seemed more like hearing a hunch confirmed when he heard her say, “Dr. Beckett has leaped again into the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan.”

        ‘And Parlboro and the Millikin family living there isn’t that far away’ Al pondered silently.

        “Who has he leaped into?” he called out from within the whirling column of scenes of decades of time past.  The Observer just nodded when he heard Ziggy say, “Dr. Beeks has only been in with the visitor five minutes.  However, she has ascertained that the Visitor this time is Margaret Millikin, the younger of Aaron and Jill Millikin’s twin daughters.”  Hearing her say in the next moment, “We have a lock,” he cleared his thoughts then stepped through the Imagining Chamber door and closed it.  Seeing a man dressed in dark maroon-colored scrubs told him that Sam was in a hospital.  A quick scan of the area revealed his friend, for the second time in three days wearing the aura of nineteen-year old Margaret Millikin, as he trailed behind Jill Millikin and Eulene Warwick.  As the threesome passed through the door, Al pressed a couple of buttons on the handlink, saying quietly, “Keep me centered on Sam.”  The hologram vanished only to reappear in the next second at his best friend’s side as he walked slowly behind the two women.

        “I know you can’t talk right now,” he told Sam, glancing up at the other man. “But by the look on your face, I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you the who or where about this leap.”

        “Nope,” Sam murmured under his breath, sparing a quick look at Al before fixing his gaze on Jill and Eulene as they reached the I.C.U. nurses’ station.  “Not even the date,” he added softly.  “December 18, 1989. Right?”

        “Bingo,” was all Al said.

        Before he got too close to the nurses’ station, Sam whispered, “Is there any change for Mr. Warwick?”  He watched the Observer enter the question on the handlink.

        Punching in the request, Al quirked an eyebrow at what he read. “Actually, yes.”

        “For the good, I hope,” Sam whispered.

        “Sort of,” Al said quietly as he double-checked the answer before looking up at Sam.  “I don’t what you did,” he told the leaper.  “The best that ‘Her Highness’ can come up with at the moment is that perhaps this visit somehow gives Felton something to hold onto and stick around for a while.  Anyway, whatever the reason, Ziggy’s now giving it a seventy point seven-three percent probably that Felton Warwick now dies at 12:32 a.m. Christmas Eve morning.”

        Hearing, “Margaret, are you coming?” Sam and Al turned to see Jill Millikin approaching them.

        “Yes, I’m coming,” Sam assured her hastily.  “I just…” He went quiet when Jill put a hand on his arm, saying, “I’m sure Mrs. Warwick would understand if you…”

        “No, no,” Sam said firmly as he met her eyes.  “I want to go in,” then followed her into the I.C.U.

        The eight I.C.U. rooms were arranged around the floor so that the double sliding doors of each opened facing the large central nursing station.  As he followed Jill past the nursing station, a quick glance around revealed that five of the rooms were occupied.  His thoughts didn’t go any further than that as Jill came to the last of the three patient rooms on their left. Following her in, Sam stopped still at the sight that met him and almost lost it.

        The bedrail had been lowered out of the way to allow Eulene Warwick to be as close to her comatose husband as possible.  Though being mindful of the ventilator tube that was breathing for him, and taking care not to disturb the several IV lines that were dripping medication into his veins, she ignored them.  Though the face she knew better than her own was now pale and unresponsive, precious memories of this man who had won her heart and then shared her soul as they had faced together all that life had put before them flooded her thoughts.  Reaching to caress her husband’s thinning gray hair, Eulene smiled at the memory of the big, rawboned farmer’s son with dancing brown eyes, a dusting of freckles on his nose and thick auburn hair who had captured her heart more than fifty years before.

        Glancing down, she slipped her hand into Felton’s hand where it lay unmoving at his side.  That simple act took her back nearly forty years to an early May morning when, just after dawn, Dr. Hanratty had allowed him to enter their bedroom where she had just given birth to their only child, a son they named Clayton.  Now as she held his unresponsive hand, in her memory she saw again how gentle and strong those big hands had been when Felton had lifted their tiny son to cradle him in his arms.   That precious memory gave way as she remembered countless other times when those strong arms had held her close to his heart.

        It was that thought that brought the mist to Eulene’s eyes as she leaned in to kiss her husband’s cheek before straightening up.  She didn’t let go of Felton’s hand even when she heard the now familiar sound of Dr. David Petrovich’s voice say her name.

        “Hello, Mrs. Warwick,” Dr. Petrovich greeted her.  He didn’t need to look at the chart in his hand to recall what he knew she needed to know.  “Let’s step outside. There are some things we need to talk about.”

        Jill had stood quietly with her daughter, her own emotions welling up inside as she watched Eulene release her husband’s hand and follow the physician out of the room. However, it was the sight of tears slowly rolling down her daughter’s cheeks, the expression on Margaret’s face that touched her even more deeply than the ache she felt for her elderly friend and neighbor.  Looking in her purse, she found a Kleenex and handed to her daughter, who dabbed her eyes.

        “I’m… okay,” Sam whispered, sniffling a bit. He smiled tentatively at Jill but shook his head when she suggested going back to the Visitors Area.  “No, really. I’m okay.”  As if to prove he meant what he had said, he followed Jill out of the room then listened quietly as the doctor talked gently but inexorably to Felton Warwick’s wife about the simple but hard facts about the last handful of days of her husband’s life.

        It was close to noon when Sam and the two women started for home.  Sitting in the back seat and listening to the old woman alternating between speaking calmly only to start crying again, he wished there was something more he could do for Felton Warwick.  But asking Al again for any possibilities would only get him the same answer.

        Again, when Jill pulled the car up to the Warwick house, Sam helped her up the steps and waited until she had unlocked the front door and was inside.  “Is there anything I can do for you, Mrs. Warwick?” he asked as she started to close the door.

        Eulene shook her head slightly.  “No, thank you, dear.  I think I’m going to make a cup of tea and then lie down for a while.”  The smile she gave Sam was weary and sad.

        “Okay,” Sam said.  “I’ll stop by this evening, if that’s okay with you.”  He nodded when she agreed then went back to the car.

        “I told her I’d stop by this evening to check on her,” he told Jill as she turned the car around then drove the short distance back to the Millikin home.  Looking toward the house, Sam saw that the Caravan was back, which meant that most of the other Millikin girls were home.

        “Don’t you have a rehearsal class at the studio in three hours?” Jill asked as they got out of the car and walked across the yard and climbed the front steps.

        “Well, yeah,” Sam said as he reached to open the door for Jill then followed her inside.  “But I was thinking that I could leave a little early, and that way I could stop by and see how Mrs. Warwick’s doing.”  Shrugging out of his jacket, Sam turned back toward Jill, just as she gave an affectionate kiss to her husband, Aaron Millikin, a tall, slender man with blonde hair.

        “Where have you two been all morning?” Aaron Millikin inquired as his wife moved away from him to take off her coat and hand it to Margaret before returning to be close to him.

        Jill paused a moment to try and sort something out of the fuzzy patch of her memory that covered the past few hours.  “I...”

        “Mrs. Warwick called Mom,” Sam spoke up, then came under “his” father’s curious gaze.  “She needed a ride to the hospital.”

        For Jill it was a moment of appreciation to her daughter for filling in the blanks for her. In that silent appreciation, she sensed a settling inside about the situation.  Meeting her husband’s eyes, she told him, “Felton has slipped into a coma.”  Pausing at his side, Jill looked up into his eyes. She modulated her voice as she said, “His doctor told her that he would be surprised if he makes it to the end of the week.”

        After dropping his son off at the high school, and with the assurance that one of Rio’s friends would give him a ride home after the corps’ special practice session, Aaron Millikin had driven into Kalamazoo.  As had become habit over the last several years, for him the week before Christmas usually found him with Christmas shopping left to do.  This year was no different, but he was pleased with himself that this last Monday before Christmas, he only had two gifts left to buy. Even better, was the fact that he could purchase both gifts - diamond stud earrings for Jill and a birthstone pendant for Patti - at Keefe’s Jewelry Store in the large downtown shopping mall. On his way out, Aaron had paused a few times to chat with friends and acquaintances. After that he drove across town to Dickens & Sims Art Works. The shop was modest in appearance, but it was the only place that Aaron would go to look for the wildlife paintings that were his personal passion.  Several weeks before, during a spur of the moment visit to the shop on his way home, he had nearly missed a small painting by a favorite local artist.  Almost.

        “Glen,” he had called out to the clerk who had worked at the shop for as long as he could remember.  “When did this come in?” he asked as he carefully lifted the eight by ten inch dark wood framed painting.  The scene depicted was of a small game bird with brownish and gray plumage and a narrow black iridescent neck ruff perched on the limb of a tree against a backdrop of green leaves and small white blossoms.

        Glen Chesley, when he heard Aaron Millikin, one of the shops longstanding good customers call his name, had smiled broadly as he joined him where he stood admiring the painting.  “It came in four days ago with several others that Mr. Sims purchased.  He’s working on a brochure for a special viewing to present the new acquisitions. As I recall, he’s planning it for the second weekend in January.”

        Aaron had been hard pressed to draw his gaze from the little bird in the painting.  The title inscribed on the nameplate: “Ruffed Grouse Amongst White Blossoms”, as well as scanning the artist’s name, Seth Mitchell, inscribed in the lower left hand corner, had been more than enough for him.

        “Is it possible that this one could be excluded out?” he had asked.

        Experienced art sales clerk that he was, Glen Chesley hadn’t made any promises but had conceded that, “For one of our best customers, such as yourself, Mr. Millikin... I’m sure Mr. Sims would be more than happy to accommodate you.”

        So it was that before he left Dickens & Sims that day, Aaron, after paying for it, had paid for the painting and made arrangements to leave it there for the few weeks leading up to Christmas.  “It’s my Christmas gift to myself,” he had explained with a grin as he watched the clerk move the painting to a display area with several other paintings, then carefully attach a “Sold” tag to the lower left-hand corner of the frame.  “I’ll pick it up the week before Christmas.”  And so he had.

It was close to noon when he arrived back home, not surprised in the least to find the house empty.  He remembered the chatter amongst his daughters about going to the airport to pick up Carol Anne that he’d heard when he came into the kitchen for coffee.  Though he loved each and every one of his children and adored his wife, it was a rare moment when Aaron had the house to himself, and so he had taken advantage of their absence.  First, he had tucked Jill and Patti’s gifts amongst the branches of the tree.  It had become a family tradition for him to hide at least one gift amongst the tree branches to be the last one discovered and opened.

Next, Aaron had carried his newest painting into his small den, which was situated at the back of the house.  This was his domain and decorated to his tastes.  The walls were covered with burnished oak paneling.  There was a desk and chair set closer to the end of the room where the wall was taken up almost entirely by a six-shelf bookcase.  There was also a leather- upholstered Nantucket wing chair placed near the only window the room boasted where he liked to sit and read.  Touches of dark gold and hunter green in the drapes and some smaller appointments kept the room from being oppressing.  On the available wall space of the den were hung several of the small wildlife paintings that he had been collecting for a couple of decades.

He had taken care to find just the right place to display his new painting and then moved about the room to look at it from different angles. The peace and quiet had been banished a few minutes later when he heard the front door open, a gabble of laughing voices announcing that most of his children spilled inside.  There had been a special hug for Carol and then he asked, “Who wants to see my Christmas present?”

Father and daughters had just emerged from the den when he again heard the sound of the door opening and went to see who it was.  Seeing Jill and Margaret, Aaron had gone to give his wife a hug and a kiss.

        Like his wife, Aaron had been born and grown up in the small community of Parlboro, living with his parents and brothers and sister in their home that was three or four miles up the road from where he lived now.  And like her, he also couldn’t remember a time when the Warwicks hadn’t lived in the small green farmhouse across the road. They’d always been good neighbors, friendly, never too busy with their lives to stop and chat.  But as he and Jill’s family had grown by leaps and bounds it seemed at times, it became necessary for him to find additional means of providing for his family. The gradual result of Aaron taking on the challenge of learning about and then selling real estate part-time, was that the two families closeness had, little by little, dwindled to chatting at church after the worship service for a few minutes, or the occasional wave from the road if he saw one or the other of them out in the yard when the weather was nice.  Christmas had slowly become a time to give them some small gift and extend good wishes for the coming year before moving ahead into the new one.   Hearing Margaret answering for her mother when he asked, “Where have you two been all morning?” followed by Jill’s somber answer took him aback.

        “How is she doing?” Aaron asked as he watched his wife remove her coat and hand it to Margaret to put away.

        Jill glanced around, taking in the sight of her children, laughing and happy in the warm, safe and happy environment of their home.  Then her blue gaze settled on her husband’s face.  “About as well as can be expected, considering the situation,” she said quietly. 

A somber silence draped itself over the couple and Sam where they stood in the small foyer for a couple of moments.

Glancing at his third daughter, a thought occurred to Aaron.  “What about Clayton?” he asked.  “Does he know?”

Jill shook her head slightly.  “I’m not certain, but I’d guess not.” Looking into her husband’s green eyes, she suggested, “We could try to reach him for her.”

“Isn’t he overseas somewhere?” Aaron asked as the suggestion swirled slowly in his thoughts.





        After a few hours back at the Project, during which Ziggy had filled in some additional information regarding the family and friends that GTFW had settled Sam amongst, Al had decided he needed to check in with Sam.  As it turned out, he had arrived just at the moment when Sam and Margaret walked in the front door.  He only had time to say, “Hi, Sam. How are things going?” when he heard Jill’s comment to Aaron.  Pulling out the handlink, he had connected with Ziggy and summoned up all the information that the super-hybrid computer had been able to access about the Warwick family, and specifically about one Clayton Warwick.  Jill’s suggestion about calling Clayton Warwick was the spur that finally got Al talking.

        “Sam,” Al said, his attitude focused on imparting the information to his friend. “In December 1989, Eulene’s son, Clayton James Warwick, was a Captain in the Air Force on active duty at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.”  Moving to Sam’s side he continued. “In the original history, he called home on Christmas Day only to discover that his father had died three days earlier.” Al paused.  Something about the pause caught Sam’s attention and he turned his head to look at the hologram.  “He never forgave himself for not being there when his father died.”  Sam’s slight frown of puzzlement pushed Al to finish.  “On December 20, 1989,” he said quietly.  “Clayton was offered a special pass to fly home to spend Christmas with his parents. However, he had received reassignment orders to be rotated back to the States at the end of January 1990, so he declined the pass and let someone else take his place.  And then he made that call Christmas morning and…  Anyway, Ziggy says that if Aaron makes the call and gets through to Clayton Warwick, that it’s a one hundred percent certainty that Clayton will take that offer and fly home.”

        Sam looked at Jill’s coat that he still held then turned and went to the coat closet.  He didn’t have to look back to know that Al was right behind him.  As he hung up the coat, he murmured softly, “Does he get home in time to see his father before he dies?”

Before Sam opened his mouth, Al had a good idea of what his friend was going to attempt.  The question his friend posed more or less confirmed that idea.

With the pressing of a few buttons, Al had an answer within a few seconds.  “Ziggy says that if... if... Eulene tells Felton that his son is coming home to see him that there’s a slim chance that it might give him reason to...” Al searched for the best word.  “...linger for a little longer.”

        The memory, though it rarely crossed his mind, sprang into Sam’s mind.  The Observer’s explanation had brought the memory and the resulting feelings brought about because of it surging to the surface, and Sam couldn’t have hesitated even if he had wanted to try.

Jill and Aaron were both startled when Margaret, aided by a hologram they couldn’t see, chose that moment to interject her opinion into the conversation.

        “You have to call him... Clayton, and tell him to come home,” Sam blurted out.  The surprised expression on Jill and Aaron Millikin’s faces didn’t slow him down.  “If you don’t, he’ll never forgive himself.”  When neither parent said anything, Sam went to Aaron.  Looking into the other man’s eyes, he said earnestly, “Please...Dad,” he pleaded.  “You’ve got to call him.  At least give him a chance to find out about his father before... before Mr. Warwick dies,” he finished in a whisper.

        It was the strength of his daughter’s sudden and compelling plea that touched Aaron’s heart in a way it hadn’t been touched in a long time where their elderly neighbors were concerned.  He started to nod to her, but when Margaret suddenly swayed as if dizzy, he reached to steady her.

        “Margie, are you alright?” he asked just before he, himself, was overcome with a strong wave of vertigo.





        Sam’s leap out and darn near instantaneous leap in came close to putting Al Calavicci’s head in a spin.  He barely had time to hear Ziggy saying, “Dr. Beckett has leaped,” when he heard her say, “Dr. Beckett has landed.”  The Observer only had to glance at the three members of the Millikin family he was with to recognize where Sam had landed, the change so swift the Imagining Chamber hadn’t even reset. The real Margaret had already begun to re-assimilate into her own time, responding to her mother’s inquiries if she was okay.  But when Al looked at Aaron Millikin, the vague, confused expression told him where Sam was (never mind the sight of his friend a few feet over).

        Moving a couple of steps closer to the dazed leaper, Al spoke calmly and clearly so as not to startle his friend.  “Sam?” he said.  “You okay?”

        “Al?” Sam whispered under his breath, more startled by the fact that Al had, it seemed, arrived at his next leap destination before him. “How did you get here so fast? Wherever here...is.”  The last word dropped from his lips almost an afterthought as his mind grasped what he was beginning to think as inevitable. “It can’t be...”

        “I’ll second that,” Al responded. “But it’s also true.  You leaped out of the Millikin family and then right back in.  This time you leaped into Aaron Millikin, Jill’s husband.”

        Trying to cover his moment of initial leap-in vagueness, Sam blinked and shook his head slightly. It was all he had time for as Jill turned to him and said, “I think Margie’s right, honey.  I think you should call him.”

        Al deftly picked up on her comment and filled in the gaps for Sam.

        “Just before you leaped out of Margaret,” he quickly supplied. “You were trying to talk Aaron into calling Eulene Warwick’s son...”

        “Clayton,” Sam said slowly.  He glanced between Jill and Al when both responded, “Yes.”  It only took a few words of reminding for him to recall the conversation with the hologram just before this lightning fast leap.

        Jill Millikin knew that when her husband made up his mind to do something, he did it.  Even if it was on the spur of the moment or if he’d never done it before, she knew that Aaron never let anything get in his way. So it was easy to spot the signs of determination, starting with him going to the closet and getting his coat.

“Where are you going?” she asked as pulled his coat on then checked his pockets for his keys.

“Tell her...” Al began.

“I’m going to get Eulene and bring her here,” Sam said as he went to the door.

“Why?” Margaret asked.

Opening the door, Sam looked back at the others. “When I get back with her,” he told them. “I’m going to put a call in to Germany to her son.” Glancing at the hologram, Sam then looked at Margaret and turned her question back on her.  “Why not?”

The Observer had had plenty of encounters with the Beckett stubbornness, to say nothing of the unwavering focus that came over Sam when he was set on accomplishing a goal.  He decided quickly that the best thing he could do for his friend now was to stay with him until the goal of getting in touch with Clayton Warwick was accomplished.

Once Sam arrived back with Eulene Warwick, Al advised him of the necessary information and protocols needed to reach Clayton Warwick at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany where he was stationed.  And when some three hours later the phone in Aaron’s den rang and Sam answered it with Jill and Eulene Warwick looking on, the look of satisfaction that came over the leaper was mirrored in Al’s eyes. He didn’t know who shared more in his friend’s accomplishment as they watched Eulene take the phone and put it to her ear.

“Hello... Clayton?  This is Momma.” Eulene had to take a breath before she could get the next words out, trying not to let her voice quiver. “He slipped into a coma earlier today, Clay.  The... the doctor doesn’t expect him to be with us much longer, honey.” She took another breath to try to steady herself but the quiver in her voice became more evident as she whispered into the phone, “He’ll probably be gone before Christmas.” Hearing the words aloud broke down what little resolve she’d had not to cry. “Oh, Clayton. I wish you were here. Not so much for me but for your father so... so you could say good-bye.”

At the instant Sam felt the tingling inside as he watched Jill sitting beside Eulene with an arm around her shoulders, Al saw the history change on the handlink’s screen.  By the time his eyes found Sam’s, his friend was already surrounded by blue light.

“Clayton will be on a plane tomorrow afternoon, Sam,” he called out, but Sam was already gone.





December 22, 1989


        At the Project it was approaching two days, the longest gap in the merry-go-round of leaping that had kept Sam in the small community of Parlboro, Michigan for the last six days, for him.  In that time, Al managed to get in a couple of nights sleep and some decent meals, and even a trip topside for some much needed fresh air. It was while he was outside enjoying a short spell of nobody needing him for something when his wrist communicator chirped, followed instantly by Ziggy’s familiar, “Dr. Beckett has landed.”

        Carefully stubbing out the lit end of the freshly lit cigar, he put it in the small case he kept in his coat pocket then headed for the door back into the complex.  As he walked Al asked aloud, “Do I even need to ask where… or what year he’s leaped into?”

        “Nooo,” the computer replied.

        “I didn’t think so,” was all the Project’s Co-Director and Chief Observer said as he re-entered the complex then took the elevator down to the lowest level where the Control Room was located.  Once inside the Control Room, Al took the handlink that Dominic held out to him as he passed the main control panel on his way to the Imaging Chamber, and marched up the ramp and into the Imaging Chamber and took his place. Within seconds the search through time began, in about the same amount of time a neural link was achieved.

        He took a deep breath and blew it out then pressed the button to open the Imaging Chamber door.  “One more time,” he murmured as he stepped out into a holographic duplication of the Millikin family’s living room where he saw Sam sitting on one of the two overstuffed sofas, this time in the aura of the youngest Millikin daughter, and listening to Rio, Carol-Anne and Sophie talking about the Arts Society dinner Saturday night.

        “You know, Sam,” he began as he crossed the room to stand near his friend. “Time wise… as years go, that is… this isn’t your longest leap.  But according to Ziggy, it is the longest stretch you’ve stayed in any one location since you began leaping.”

        “Many more leaps in here, and they might as well paint my name on the mailbox,” Sam murmured under his breath. “So does Ziggy have any idea of what I’m here…this time… to fix?”

        Al checked the handlink. “Ziggy’s saying that Verbina’s still in the Waiting Room talking to ‘OK’ …” He glanced at Sam then clarified, “Olivia Kate, remember? She’s the baby of the Millikin family.  Anyway, nothing from OK yet.”

        “I remember what all the leaps have in common,” Sam said softly.  When Al said, “Eulene Warwick?” he looked up at the Observer and nodded.

        “Yeah,” Al said. “But Ziggy still hasn’t figured out what her connection to the Millikin family is.”

        “I think I have,” Sam said, shifting his position to kneel on the sofa as if looking for something on the floor behind it.

        Al moved around the sofa so he was facing Sam.  “Care to enlighten me?”

        “Listen to them, Al,” Sam said softly.  “To what they’re talking about.”

        Al’s gaze went to Rio, Carol-Anne, and Sophie as they were putting some more gifts under the Christmas tree, which already had numerous prettily wrapped and beribboned gifts of various shapes and sizes beneath it.  Walking over to the trio, he listened for a minute then returned to Sam.

        “From what I gathered, Sophie’s trying to decide which of two dresses – a dark blue velvet or an emerald silk sheath – to wear to her boyfriend’s family Christmas party on Friday night. Carol-Anne’s kinda got the same dilemma, except she’s trying to decide if she’s going to go to a sleigh-ride party with Thad Beamer Friday night. And both girls are giving Rio a hard time about what he’s supposed to wear to the recital and the Arts Society dinner afterward Saturday evening.”  The inquiring expression on Sam’s face made him ask, “What am I missing?”

        “Did you hear them mention anything about themselves, the family, I mean, or Eulene?”

        “No,” Al admitted. “But then I doubt that Eulene is in any frame of mind to want to go to a party right now.”

        Just then the ringing of the phone interrupted their thoughts.  Sam started to get off the sofa.  “I’ll get it,” he said, but Rio hurried past him.

        “Stay put, twerp,” Rio said with a grin, darting a hand out to ruffle his little sister’s hair.  “It could be for me.”

        “Or not,” Sam called after the teenager as he went to the phone on the small table near the foot of the stairs.    Hearing Rio answer the phone, “Millikin residence… oh, hey Scott. What’s up?” Sam shifted his attention back to Al.

        “Al, I think the reason I’m here is to help this family get back together...”

        Al gave the leaper a vague look.  “I don’t follow,” he said.  “They’re all here for Christmas, everyone’s busy with parties and stuff.  From what we’ve learned about them in your seemingly never-ending leaps here, it’s non-stop for the whole family.  Sorta like Christmas on a fast track.”

Sam jumped on the point.  “That’s just it, Al,” he said.  “Even on Christmas Eve they’re not together.  All of them, including me…I mean, Olivia…are going to a party.  And from what I gathered before you showed up, Christmas Day is going to be just as busy.”

        “Sam, you know as well as I do, that Christmas Day is always busy for most families,” Al began.

        Sam persisted.  “That’s just it, Al. The Millikins are all busy… individually.  Not once, that I can recall while leaping in here, have I heard any one of them say anything about them as a family spending time together.”

        As he listened to what Sam was saying, Al’s eyes narrowed consideringly as he looked at his friend then past him to the two young women beside the Christmas tree.  “So how does Eulene Warwick figure into this multi-faceted, or should I say, multi-leap equation?” he asked, shifting his gaze back to his friend.

“I’m still working on that part,” Sam admitted then paused a moment to look in the direction of the hallway when Rio let out an excited whoop.  “But for certain it’s slowed some of these kids down to where they’ve had a chance to interact with a neighbor they see in passing but never take time to talk to.”  Those words were no sooner out of his mouth than the proverbial light bulb went on.

          "I know that look," Al said.

          "Alright!" Rio yelled in the hallway.  A moment later he came bounding into the living room. "You are not gonna believe it!" he enthused.  "That was Scott Holliman."

          "So what's not to believe about that?" Carol asked as she shifted another gift under the tree then stood up.

          "It's what he just told me. Offered me, really," Rio said.

          "Belief, in this case, is in the hearing," Sophie chimed in.

          Positioning himself so he could see all three of his sisters, Rio's bright eyes darted from one to the other as he announced, "Scott's brother, Chuck, is a sky-diver, right? Well, Scott started taking lessons at the same club Chuck belongs to. And because Chuck's recommended so many people to the club... Scott says he's been with this club for about three years. Anyway, last week another person he recommended signed up as a member with the club. The manager of the club told Chuck that that person was the twenty-fifth new member to sign up this year because of his recommendation."

       "Is there a point to all of this fabulous news?" Sophie asked with a tinge of sisterly sarcasm.

       "I'm gettin' to it," Rio insisted. He took a deep breath.  "The point is this. As a thank you to Chuck, the club manager told him that he could invite a group of friends for a private sky-diving party. And Scott just called to tell me that Chuck called him to say that he had to find one more person --the manager told him he could invite nine friends to make a group of ten—and then Chuck told Scott that he could invite a friend to be the tenth person. And I'm the tenth person! I’m going sky-diving! Isn't that awesome!"

       "Have you lost your mind?" Carol demanded.  "You'd really strap on a harness attached to a large piece of material suitable for dress-making and then *willingly* jump out of a perfectly good airplane?!" She walked over to her brother and thumped him on the head. "It doesn't sound hollow, but it has to be. Because only somebody without a brain in his head would do something so...."

      "Exciting," Rio filled in.

      Carol folded her arms across her chest.  "I was thinking more along the lines of 'monumentally stupid.'"

       Sophie tossed in her two cents.  "Do you mind telling us exactly how you intend on convincing Mom and Dad to let you exercise your natural born talent for hare-brained antics?"

        Al couldn't help getting into the conversational fray, for all the good it did him.  "Hey, I've floated to Earth on a pillow of silk any number of times during my time in the Navy. It's a real kick in the butt. Besides," he informed Carol, walking up to her as she slowly shook her head at her brother's ear to ear grin, her amazed reaction rolling off of him like water off a duck. "With all the safety precautions and training nowadays, sky-diving's no-where near as risky as it used to be."

        "Convince me about what?" Jill Millikin asked, having been drawn from another room by her son's excited whoop.

         "Go on," Carol egged her brother.  "This I have to see."

         Sophie moved over next to her sister.  "I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world," she added, sharing an agreeing glance with Carol that Rio was about to get his skydiving dream nipped squarely in the parachute.

         When her son began, "Don't listen to them, Mom," Jill's parental radar went on high alert.  "I'm listening," she told him and then did just that.  Her answer, when Rio finished his pitch for the skydiving party invitation, was succinct.   “No.”

        “But, Mom,” Rio cajoled.  “It’s so perfect.  It’s not going to cost me anything, I’ll be with a group of experienced sky-divers, and…”

        “No,” Jill repeated her decision firmly.  Fixing her son with a firm look, she said, “At this time of year, Rio, I prefer having visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Not a mental picture of my son yelling ‘Geronimo!’ as he jumps out of an airplane and plummets toward the ground like a stone.”


        “Rio,” Jill spoke only his name, lifting her chin slightly as she looked up into his eyes.  However, her son wasn’t giving up just yet.

        “It’s not until spring,” he told her, his tone suggesting that he was still hopeful.

        For a moment or two, Jill studied her son’s expectant, hopeful expression as she weighed the pros and cons of this unexpected opportunity.  A moment passed before she sighed softly; it was a give-away her children knew well.

        “I’ll discuss it with your Dad,” was all she said. “That’s not a ‘yes’,” she reminded Rio when he let out another whoop and threw his arms around her.

        “Okay…yeah…sure,” Rio enthused as he stepped back from his mother, his eyes dancing.  But in the next instant he swooped in to give her another hug.  He couldn’t resist a triumphant smirk at his sisters before responding to the question his mother asked next.

        In the past couple of days Jill had wondered a few times about the lapse of those few hours she’d experienced in the car that day on the way to the hospital with her neighbor.  Fleeting snippets tantalized her mind…white walls…something blue….but would never come together.  All she did know was that since then Eulene Warwick, who had been a fixture on the periphery of her life, had moved closer into her thoughts.  Now, watching Rio exulting over his strong possibility of skydiving, their elderly neighbor came again to her thoughts.  “Rio,” she called.  When he turned to her, Jill said, “Why don’t you go over and see how Mrs. Warwick is?”  She glanced across the room to the anniversary clock that sat in the middle of the mantel above the fireplace.  “It’s almost noon.”

        For a split second Rio entertained the notion to try to get out of doing as his mother asked, but then it was gone.  “Okay…”

        Sam took the opportunity that word offered him.  “Yeah?” he said, getting off the couch and going toward Rio.

        Rio grinned.  “I wasn’t talking to you, twerp,” he told his little sister affectionately.  “I was about to say, ‘Okay, I’ll walk over to see how Mrs. Warwick is doing’.”

        “Can I go with you?” Sam pressed.

        Jill smiled at her youngest child then to her son.  “I think that’s a great idea.”

        Rio was in too good of a mood to let anything mess it up.  “Alright, get your coat on.”  As he and his sister put their coats on and headed out the front door, he said, “Maybe Mrs. Warwick will want to go down to the pond this evening.”

        Again, Sam took advantage of the opening, taking care not to give away that he already knew about the pond. “She has a pond?  Can I come with you when you go to the pond?”

        He had been around the Millikin family long enough by this time, and so Sam slipped easily into the familiar give and take of this seemingly constantly on the move family.  Ten minutes later and standing beside Rio on the Warwick front porch and waiting for Eulene to come to the door, Sam wondered what else there was for him to do to before he would leap and open his eyes to find himself not as one or another of the Millikin family.  His musing was put aside when the front door opened and they were confronted by Eulene Warwick

        “Hi, Mrs. Warwick,” Rio said with a friendly smile.  “Mom asked me to come over and see how you’re doing today.” A not so subtle nudge in his ribs hastened him to add, “This is Olivia, my youngest sister.”

        “Hello, Rio,” Eulene said with a small smile then turned to Sam.  “It’s nice to meet you Olivia.  As for how I’m doing… as well as to be expected, I guess. I was just about to warm up a can of soup for lunch.” She paused, searching the boy’s eyes.  “I hate to be a bother,” she began.

        “It’s no bother… whatever it is,” Sam jumped into the conversation.  Glancing at Rio he saw the wondering in his eyes.  “Right?” he asked him.

        For Rio the wondering passed. He hadn’t told anyone about the two large fuzzy spaces in his memory in the past week, and now, something about his youngest sister’s comment and question nudged him.  His smile broadened a bit as he nodded his head before he turned back to their neighbor.  “The twerp’s right, Mrs. Warwick,” he said then grinned when his little sister insisted, “I’m not a twerp!”  When he looked back at Eulene, Rio saw her shiver. “She’s right.  Whatever it is, it won’t be a bother.” When she shivered again, he asked, “Could we come inside for a minute?”

        When all of them were inside and the door closed against the raw cold of the winter afternoon, Rio said, “What were you about to ask, ma’am?”

        Eulene didn’t hesitate.  “I was about to ask if you thought your mother would mind driving me to the hospital this afternoon.”

        Rio thought for barely a moment before answering firmly, “I don’t think she’d mind, but if she can’t, I’ll drive you into town.”  A thought occurred to him – one of the ‘new’ notions that had settled into his mind in the past several days. “If you’d like, I could walk down to the pond and put out some more corn for the geese.”

        “That would be nice, though I think most of them are gone,” Eulene told him, her smile not as sad as it had been.  She glanced at the girl beside him.  “Perhaps your sister would like to see the pond?”

        “You bet,” Sam said, smiling at her then looked up at Rio.  “We could go now, while you eat your soup.”  Grabbing his arm, Sam tugged at it.  “Come on, big brother.  Show me the pond and these geese or ducks or whatever feathered thing they might be.”

        For a moment Eulene’s heart lightened as she listened to the brother and sister talking.  Turning to Rio she said, “You know where the corn and pellets are in the barn.  When you get back, just let yourselves in the back door.”

        Sam barely bit his tongue in time to keep from echoing Rio’s, “Yes, ma’am,” then followed him out the front door again and around the house to the barn to get the feed.  He and Rio entered the pasture, trudging through the snow that was nearly mid-shin deep, squinting against the sunlight reflecting off the pristine whiteness.  He didn’t try to interfere, instead waiting patiently where Rio told him to stay while he scattered the few handfuls of corn and food pellets before coming back to stand with him.

        “Thanks for letting me come along,” Sam said softly as he drank in the beauty of the pond where a couple of ducks paddled lazily, as well as the unspoiled scenery beyond the pond.

        Rio glanced at his sister, started to speak, hesitated then did speak at last. “No problem.”  After about ten minutes or so, they returned to the house and entered through the back door as instructed just as Eulene stepped into the kitchen carrying what looked like a small jewelry box.  Seeing the two young people, their cheeks and noses rosy from the cold, she smiled at them as she went to set the box on the counter near the sink.

        Sam was pretty sure it was some of young Olivia’s youthful curiosity bleeding through as he gave into the urge and went to her side.  “What’s that?” he asked.

        “None of your business, twerp,” Rio admonished his sibling’s innate nosiness as he followed her.

        Eulene chuckled as she patted Sam’s arm closest to her.  “It’s alright, Rio,” she told him.  “It would be my guess that there’s not a woman alive who doesn’t like to look at pretty things.”  Looking into the young girl’s brown eyes, she said as she opened the lid, “It’s my jewelry box. Not that there’s much in it.”

        Sam could see she was telling the truth.  There were two or three simple bead necklaces, as well as a like number of clip-on earring sets.

        “What’s in the little bag?” the leaper asked, pointing to a small red velvet pouch about the size of a silver dollar.

        Eulene carefully picked up the small pouch then took great care in opening the top of it. “Hold out your hands,” she told the ‘girl’.

        Sam paused just long enough to pull his mittens off and stuff them in his coat pockets.  Cupping his hands together, he and Rio watched as Eulene poured the contents of the little pouch into his hands.  “Wow!  Are all these wedding rings yours?” he asked softly. “How many times have you been married?”

        Rio gaped, almost choking over his ‘sister’s’ apparent total lack of thinking.  “Olivia Kate!” he said, aghast, as he gave her a swat on the shoulder. “That is most definitely none of your business!”

        Laughter bubbled up from Eulene’s throat at the youthful directness of the questions as well as Rio’s reaction to them.

        “It’s alright, Rio,” she reassured the boy before turning back to Sam.  “I don’t mind your sister’s questions,” then turned her gaze back to the jewelry in his hands.  “To answer both of your questions, dear,” she said.  “Yes, they are all mine, and I’ve only ever been married to my Felton.”  Reaching into the cupped hands that held her most prized material possessions, Eulene selected the simple gold wedding band from amongst the others and held it up for them to see more closely.

        “This is the ring Felton put on my finger the day we got married,” she said softly, the memory of that day more than apparent in the softness of her tone.

        Sliding an “I’m going to do it again” look at Rio, Sam asked, “What are the others for?”

        Eulene’s smile brightened even more though her tone remained just as soft and full of memories.  “The first time he did it was on our tenth anniversary,” she told the two young people.  “I told him he shouldn’t have, but Felton was always such a romantic.  He had saved up for two years to buy me a proper wedding ring with a diamond in it.  This is the one he gave me on our tenth anniversary,” she said, returning the first band and selecting one of others.  “After that, no matter how many times I told him not to...” she said softly, the rest of the thought drifting off. “On our twentieth he did it again. And again on our thirtieth and so on.”  Gently putting the ring back with the others in Sam’s cupped hands, she turned her left hand over to show them the wedding band she wore now; five small diamonds set into the wide band.

Neither Sam nor Rio said anything as they watched the elderly woman lightly run the tip of a finger across the stones as she said, “He gave this to me on our anniversary just this past April.”  She paused, licking her lips a couple of times before she whispered, “Fifty years together.” She hesitated, swallowed then added, “And if I could do it all again, I wouldn’t think twice.”

        A knowing, almost intimate silence held them for another moment before Eulene shook her head and sighed and smiled at them.  “Anyway, while I was getting ready, I was thinking about Felton, and I just decided that I wanted to look at them again in the sunlight,” she indicated the window over the sink with a glance.  “I’ll just put these away,” she said as she held the small pouch for ‘Olivia’ to put them into it.

        When the rings were again securely in the little velvet pouch and the pouch in the jewelry box, Eulene carried it back to her room.  When she came out, she had a dark brown wool coat in one hand.  As she began to put it on, Rio spoke up at last.

“I’ll go back to the house and get the van, Mrs. Warwick,” he began.

        Eulene paused as she slowly buttoned her best coat.  “I was thinking I could walk back with you. I need some fresh air and to stretch my legs a bit.”

“Mrs. Warwick, it’s almost a quarter of a mile up the lane to the house,” Rio began.

“It’s almost that far to the pond,” Sam pointed out then turned to Eulene.  “You walk down to the pond when the weather is nice, don’t you Mrs. Warwick?”

It took a couple of minutes of convincing but in the end Sam and Rio with Mrs. Warwick between them began the walk back to the Millikin house.  Sam and Rio gauged their pace to accommodate her shorter, slower stride that stretched the ten-minute walk out to about twenty minutes.  As they walked along, the conversation amongst the teenager, the leaper and the old woman was light and easy, as if they had known one another all their lives.  The spots of laughter that appeared doing as much, if not more, than the high dazzling blue sky and sunshine to dispel even for a short while, the inevitably approaching time of sadness in Eulene’s life.

Upon reaching the house, Rio and Sam insisted that Eulene come inside and rest for a few minutes, and helped her up the front steps and into the house. 

“Mom,” Rio called out.  Closing the door, he took off his jacket and tossed it on the narrow bench by the wall by the door.

Aaron and Jill Millikin came from different areas of the house, as did a couple of the other girls.  Jill’s eyes widened at the sight of their elderly neighbor and rushed to her.  “Eulene, what is it?  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Mom,” Sam piped in.  “Mrs. Warwick wanted to walk back to the house with us to get a little exercise.”

Rio filled in the questioning blank look his mother turned on him.  “She also asked if you could take her to the hospital,” he explained.  “And I told her that if you couldn’t … I didn’t remember if you had something to do this afternoon or not.  So I told her I’d be glad to drive her into town. But then she wanted to walk back with OK and me.”

Eulene, by now divested gently of her coat and the old fashioned snow boots she had put on over her shoes, reassured Jill.  “Rio is right,” she assured her much younger neighbor.  Her gaze shifted as she looked around.  “You have such a lovely home,” she said. “And it looks so pretty all decorated up for Christmas, too.  I can’t remember the last time I decorated like this for Christmas.”

“Would you like to see our Christmas tree?” Sam asked with the impetuousness that his young host might have exhibited.

Jill, smiling from the compliment, added, “Yes.  Go into the living room and sit down.  I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

“Well, perhaps for a few minutes,” Eulene admitted as she allowed Aaron Millikin to escort her into the large bright living room.  “But I do want to get to the hospital to see Felton.  Oh, what a beautiful Christmas tree!” she exclaimed and headed over to it. “It almost touches the ceiling.  And so many presents.”  With a merriment that hadn’t touched her in a long time, she looked at Sam in the aura of Olivia, who had affixed herself at Eulene’s side.  “Judging by all those presents, I’m guessing that your name was on Santa’s list of ‘good little girls’ this year.”

Sam grinned and went with the flow of the moment. “I hope so,” he laughed.  “I don’t think I did anything this year that deserves a lump of coal in my stocking.”

        Aaron chuckled at his daughter’s comment as he led Eulene over to one of the two the sofas and helped her to sit down.  “Don’t you worry,” he assured her, sitting down beside her.  “Rio will drive you into town, just as he said he would.  Right now, though, you need to catch your breath.”

        “Here we go,” Jill said as she came into the living room carrying a pretty Christmas mug.

        In the next half hour Sam, now sitting cross-legged on the floor near Eulene Warwick and listening quietly, saw something he hadn’t seen –as far as he could recall out of his ever Swiss-cheesed memory -- in the Millikin house at any time during all of his leaps into this family.  None of those sitting and talking with Eulene Warwick had once said or hinted about leaving to go and do something else.  From where he was sitting, he had a clear view of the Imagining Chamber door opening just in front of the fireplace.  A vague nod and a smile was his only available response to the Observer’s, “Hiya, Sam.  How’s it going here in Millikin Land?”

        Moving around so he was closer to his friend, Al noticed who was the center of the family’s attention at the moment.  “This is nice,” he commented as he carefully squatted down to be at more of an eye level with Sam.  Meeting his friend’s eyes, he noted the familiar question in those green depths.

        “Ziggy’s still not sure of what you’re here...again... to do,” he admitted.  “And twelve year olds, especially this one, are not always founts of helpful information.  Don’t get me wrong,” he added.  “OK’s not a bad kid but her memory is really Swiss-cheesed.  But, on the other hand, she’s handling the swap in time better than some adults do.”

        Even though Sam’s last several leaps had repeatedly bounced him into the Millikin family, Al refreshed his friend on what he had accomplished thus far. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything to add about the fate of Felton Warwick.  Just then, a comment by Eulene caught both his and Sam’s attention.

        “It will be so good to have Clayton home, even for a little while,” Eulene was saying.  “I just wish that it was...”  She swallowed then swallowed again before she could finish her thought.  “Under better... happier circumstances.”

        Hearing her comment, for a split second, Sam thought he felt something inside. He hesitated, waiting to see if what he had felt would materialize, but it didn’t.  Still, instincts learned during his years of leaping kept his focus on Eulene.  Somewhere inside, the leaper heard a vague whisper to pay attention.

Finishing the last of her tea, Eulene Warwick’s wistful gaze scanned the decorated room then paused on the Christmas tree. “It’s been so long since we had a Christmas tree in the house.”

The words sprang to Sam’s lips and as he spoke them, felt the tingle that told him this leap was finished.

“Come and spend Christmas with us,” he said, his own enthusiasm at the idea clear in his voice and in his eyes as well as what his temporary family perceived as Olivia Kate’s response.

From within the depths of the blue haze that was preparing to claim him, Sam smiled when Eulene and the assorted members of the Millikin family sitting together turned a collective look of wondering on him.





Saturday, December 23, 1989


        The last vestiges of the leap-in fuzziness was still fading from Sam Beckett’s mind when he brought his hands up automatically to grasp at the hands that seemingly were trying to choke him with something.

        “Aaron, stop fidgeting, or I’ll never get this tie tied,” Jill admonished her husband when he slapped at her hands.

        Sam couldn’t help the thought that flashed through his mind at hearing the name he’d been called. ‘It can’t be!  Not again!  But when he opened his eyes there was...

        “Jill,” he said hesitantly.

        “The one and only,” Jill came back, taking advantage of her husband’s decision to do the unusual and let her finish with his tie.  “You teach graduate school level English literature, and could probably sell the Taj Mahal to Jack Benny,” she murmured as she deftly completed the four in hand knot. “How can you not figure out the simple equation of two turns over and through the loop?” she asked, the twinkle in her eyes saying plainly to the leaper she wasn’t aware of that it was a mini-monologue she’d recited many times in the past.  Giving the now neat knot a little pat, she pronounced it, “Perfect.”

        Sam smiled weakly at her.  “Imagine if I was a quantum physicist,” he suggested as she turned and picked up the black dinner jacket from the bed.  Jill’s warm giggle followed by her giving him a quick kiss let him know that it was a familiar routine between her and Aaron.  Taking the coat, Sam slipped it on while Jill went to the small walk-in closet.  She emerged a minute later with a pair of black pumps that complemented the black-beaded silk dress she was wearing. 

        “So where are we off to this evening?” Sam asked as he watched Jill slip the shoes on.

        Jill rolled her eyes, ignoring the obvious question. “Just make sure you have the tickets in your pocket before we leave the house.  I don’t want to get halfway there only for you to remember you left them on the dresser.”  Walking over to her husband’s dresser, she spied a narrow envelope and turned around with it in her hand.  “Speaking of which,” she said.

        “Whoops,” Sam said, trying to keep the moment light as he went to take the envelope from her and check the contents.  “Ten tickets?”

        “Just put them in your pocket,” Jill told him then glanced around the bedroom.  “I guess that’s everything. Let’s go.”

        Going to the door, Sam opened it then ushered Jill out with a wave of his hand. “After you,” he said then followed her out where he was quickly reintroduced to the family he had begun to know almost as well as his own.

Only now he was the temporary father of eight daughters, seven of which were equally as dressed up as Jill.  Bringing up the rear of the troupe of girls was Rio, looking very nice in a dark blue suit.

        “I’ll go get the car and bring it up by the door,” Sam said as he followed the Millikin entourage downstairs.  His escape was delayed as he helped a couple of the girls on with their coats.  At last he turned around to find Sophie with a black overcoat that could only have been for him.  Slipping it on, Sam headed for the door.

        “Hey, Dad,” Rio called.

        It took Sam a couple of steps before he realized Rio meant him and turned to look back at him.  “Yes?”

        “Are we all going in the Jeep, or do you want me to drive the Caravan to divide the load?”

        Scanning the foyer and the sea of finery worn by Jill and the girls, Sam opted for the division.  Hating that he couldn’t pull all their names back as quickly as he’d recognized their faces, he pointed to Olivia, Patti and Fiona, saying, “You three will ride with your mother and I.”

        “Aren’t you supposed to pick up Stacy?” Patti asked, pretty in a dark green dress with a bit of lace at the neckline and cuffs.

        “She’s riding in with her folks,” Rio informed his sister. “But she’s going to sit with us at the show, and at dinner later.”

        Getting everyone into the two vehicles and finally started down the lane, Sam was secretly glad when Rio pulled out just ahead of him and headed down the lane.  As he was about to make the left turn to follow the Caravan, Sam glanced across the road and noticed that the house was dark.

Jill didn’t miss the direction of his gaze but didn’t say anything.

        Some thirty minutes later the two vehicles reached the city limits of Kalamazoo.  The congestion of traffic from last minute Christmas shoppers kept Sam on his toes as he managed to keep the big black Jeep close enough behind the maroon Caravan so as not to get lost.  Ten minutes later, he followed the van into the parking lot of the large Hyatt-Hines Performing Arts Center.  A few more minutes were spent getting everyone out and tickets distributed to each one of the girls and Rio.

        “The invasion of Normandy took less time to synchronize,” Sam joked lightly as he and Jill followed after the children. Her response took him by surprise.

        “I feel almost guilty,” Jill murmured as they reached the recently shoveled sidewalk, following the many other well-dressed people moving toward the front door of the auditorium.

        “What do you have to feel guilty about?” Sam asked, dividing his attention between the girls and Rio and Jill.

        Keeping her voice low, Jill replied, “Here we are going to a benefit recital and the dinner afterward, and she’s sitting in the hospital waiting for...” A familiar gravelly voice spoke behind Sam, completing Jill’s unfinished sentence.

        “... her husband to die,” Al said soberly.  He didn’t comment when Sam told Jill to go on ahead.  “I’ll be there in a minute.”  When she did so without asking any questions, Sam turned back to the hologram.  To cover what would look like him talking to thin air, Sam began patting the pockets of his coat as if searching for something, keeping his voice at a whisper.

        “I ought to know their names…and everything else by this time,” he muttered, “but I don’t.”

        “Who, the family?”

        “No,” Sam whispered back.  “Who’s the ‘she’ Jill mentioned about feeling guilty about?  I can see her face in my mind but...”

        “Eulene Warwick, you mean?” Al asked.

        The name slipped into place with the face of the older woman the leaper was seeing in his mind.  “That’s it,” he said softly.  “How is she doing, Al?”

        Al took the handlink from his coat pocket but didn’t bother to activate it just yet.  “Just what Jill said,” he replied. “She’s across town at Kalamazoo General Hospital, sitting in a chair beside her husband’s bed in the Critical Care Unit, holding his hand and waiting for him to die.” He paused then added, “And hoping and praying that their son’s plane isn’t delayed by the weather so maybe he’ll get here in time to tell his father good-bye.”

        “Aaron, what’s taking so long?” Jill’s voice carried over the low sea of multiple conversations of other art patrons as they moved toward the doors of the auditorium.

        “Be right there,” Sam called then turned back to Al.  “Where’s their son...” Sam frowned as he tried to summon the name out of his memory.

        “Clayton Warwick,” Al supplied the missing name for Sam, now with the handlink in hand and fully activated. “Is presently on Delta Airlines Flight 5188, a two hour flight out of Atlanta bound for Cincinnati where he’s got an hour and a half layover before Delta Flight 5184 takes off...on time hopefully... meaning 10:15 p.m. ... for Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport with a present estimated time of arrival of 11:30 p.m.”  Reading the information being supplied by the handlink, he said, “He’s been traveling to get home ever since you, as Aaron, called him in Germany three and a half days ago.”

        “Three and a half days?” Sam asked.

        “Yeah.  His flight out of Germany was delayed seven hours by a snow storm,” Al said, double-checking the information feed on the handlink.  “And he ran into the same problem at Dulles Airport in Washington.  The plane circled the airport for an hour before they could get a runway cleared for it to land.”

        “Al,” Sam interrupted him, pausing to look back at Jill and wave a hand, calling out, “Just a second, honey.”  Turning back to the hologram, he asked, “Is Clayton going to get here in time?”

        “Whether or not Clayton makes it in time to see his father is dependent in large part on the weather,” Al replied. “But it really depends on how much longer Felton Warwick can hang on.”  Pressing several buttons, he queried Ziggy about such odds. A moment later the requested odds appeared and they weren’t promising.  Looking up into his friend’s eyes, Al told him quietly, “Ziggy still says that Felton dies at 12:32 a.m. on December 24, 1989...Christmas Eve morning.”  Glancing past his friend, Al said, “You better get going. Jill’s headed this way.”  As Sam turned and waved to Jill as he went to her, Al kept pace with him a few steps. “I’ll check back with you in a couple of hours.”

        Sam managed to cover his delay in joining Jill and the girls, and they all joined the steadily moving queue of friends, family members and patrons entering the large lobby of the auditorium.  After checking their coats, the family headed for the generously designed staircase that led up to the balcony where their seats were located. A large section of the floor seats had been set aside for the elementary students, accompanied by a parent or guardian, from surrounding area schools that were there by special arrangement to give them a chance to experience one aspect of “the arts”; tonight it was ballet.  The orchestra was warming up in the pit just in front of the stage when Sam and the Millikin family found their seats.  They had barely gotten seated when the house lights went down and the familiar opening strains of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” began.

        The program wasn’t a full ballet. Rather, the first half of the program was composed of selected scenes from two well-known ballets: “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake”.  After a brief intermission, the second hour of the evening was wholly dedicated to the classic hour-long children’s ballet, “Peter and The Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev.

        Sam, though he appreciated the beauty of the music and the skill of the orchestra and the dancers, found his thoughts drifting first to a dying man and then to that man’s son trying desperately to get home before it was too late.  He also got more than one nudge from Jill’s elbow, letting him know that his mental wandering hadn’t gone unnoticed.   After the second nudge, followed by Jill hissing under her breath, “Aaron, what’s wrong with you?  Pay attention,” and him whispering yet another, “I’m sorry,” Sam forced himself to focus. 

To keep his mind focused on the performance, Sam’s ever active brain found something in each scene presented on which to focus.  One primary aspect he kept coming back to was how the girls made dancing on pointe look so effortless and easy.  Common sense and logic, however, told him that that the flowing graceful moves came at the expense of years of long hours of dedicated practice...’and getting used to stuffing your toes into dance slippers designed by the Marquis de Sade!’

During the Waltz of the Snowflakes, Sam’s mind began to play with the number nine, the number being arrived at by adding the number of ‘snowflakes’ dancing with the Snow Queen.  With an effortless ease akin to that of the dancers he was watching, Sam Beckett’s mind turned to the uniqueness of real snowflakes.

He began with the scientific fact that every snowflake that had ever fallen was a one of a kind creation never to be repeated. Next he combined that fact with the number nine and after that, it was just a matter of relaxing and let his mind do what it did best.  Even as he visually focused on and appreciated the performance he was watching, Sam’s mind moved with a breathtaking speed and grace that not even the most accomplished dancers on stage could ever hope to match.  His brain began to calculate the mathematical possibilities of how just a single unique facet of a single snowflake could be transformed into yet another one-of-a-kind instant of temporary natural art that once gone would never be repeated again.

“Amazing,” he murmured under his breath then started slightly when he heard Jill whisper back, “Yes, she is.”  It was enough of a prod back into the moment and he scanned the stage and realized that the scenes from “The Nutcracker” had finished; the scene now being danced was from “Swan Lake”.  Scanning the faces of the dancers now on stage, Sam quickly discovered Margaret Millikin as one of the six girls in longer white tutus dancing with the central dancer who was wearing a white classic tutu.  Even his mental mathematical gymnastics were forgotten as he watched the third Millikin daughter’s accomplished dancing.

Realizing that he had narrowly avoided a possible scene of his own with Jill for being caught yet again ‘drifting in the ozone’, for the remainder of the first part of the program, the leaper refused to allow himself to do anything more mentally challenging than to enjoy the music and dancing.

At intermission, he hung back to walk with Rio, whose expression told Sam that the teenager was wishing he was anywhere but here. As Jill and the girls, including Rio's girlfriend, Stacy headed for the ladies room, Sam caught up with her and said, “Rio and I are going to step outside for a breath of fresh air.”  He was grateful that all she said was, “Keep an eye on the time. Intermission is only twenty minutes.”

“Okay,” he assured her then followed Rio Millikin down to the lobby and out the front door.  They weren’t alone; several other people were standing in the cold night air smoking.  A light snow was falling and seeing it was all the nudging Sam’s mind needed to, as it were, leap back to Captain Clayton Warwick sitting on a plane streaking through the night sky in hopes of reaching his father’s bedside before it was too late.

All too soon the intermission ended and Sam and Rio returned inside, each of them, without realizing it, taking heart in the thought, ‘Just one more hour’.

When the final scene of “Peter and The Wolf” was finished, the audience erupted with thunderous applause as the house lights came up. Once downstairs in the lobby, Sam followed Jill and the children as they joined many of the attendees in crossing the wide lobby toward the open double doors of a sumptuous banquet room beside which was a sign which read: “Art Society Holiday Banquet”.  Through the open doors it was easy to see that the large, spacious room was replete with tasteful holiday decorations. The precisely laid-out tables were draped with red tablecloths and each centerpiece was a reflection of the Christmas season.  There was also a myriad of tantalizing aromas wafting into the lobby as if to encourage the banquet attendees not to dawdle in the lobby.

Making small talk at large banquets or parties, such as this one, was on a par, for Sam, with getting his teeth drilled without Novocain.  Still, once they had found a table to accommodate the family and Rio’s girlfriend, Stacy, he made the best of the situation, following Jill’s lead as numerous of their friends belonging to the Art Society, stopped by to chat for a few moments.

The Arts Society’s annual Christmas banquet was always fully catered, including about a dozen wait people, by one of the city’s restaurants.  Tonight it was classic French cuisine as attested to by the single-page card menu beside the end place setting at each table.  The three entrees offered this evening were Coq Au Vin Blanc, Poulet à la Fenouil, and Chicken Francese, along with a choice of a two small salads. Desserts were a choice of Crème Caramel (a baked caramel custard), or the always popular Chocolate Mousse.

Sam’s photographic memory stood him in good stead during the several minutes of lively, if subdued, decisions of who wanted what to eat.  When a waiter approached their table and inquired if they were ready to order, and nobody, not even Jill spoke up, Sam realized that he was expected to give the order for everyone at the table.  He did it logically, indicating each family member to the waiter as he gave that one’s order.

          About forty-five minutes later, Sam had relaxed and was enjoying the conversation at the table as well as the Poulet à la Fenouil (chicken baked with fennel, garlic and potatoes) he had chosen as his entrée, when Al showed up.

          “Sam, before you get to dessert, we need to talk,” he said.  He didn’t bother to comment when his friend excused himself from the table and made his way out of the banquet room and from there to the men’s room located just off the main lobby. Fortunately for leaper and Observer the bathroom was unoccupied.





          “What’s Ziggy come up with?” Sam asked, getting directly to the point.

          Al already had the handlink out and was reviewing the newest small wrinkle in this leap.  “For starters, so far Clayton’s luck seems to be turning toward the better.  His flight into Cincinnati landed on time, and it appears that his final flight from Cincy to Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport will leave on time in about ten minutes.”

          Sam absorbed it all, adding when Al paused, “When Rio and I were outside during intermission, it had started snowing again.”

          Al nodded, saying, “Ziggy’s been re-checking the weather patterns for this area every half-hour. So far she’s still predicting an ninety percent probability that Clayton’s plane lands, here, on schedule at 11:30.”

          “So where’s the problem?” Sam asked.

          “He can’t get a cab.”

          Sam did a slight double take, looking closely at the hologram.  “I beg your pardon?  Did you say Clayton misses reaching his father before he dies because he can’t get a cab?  Al,” Sam insisted. “That’s absurd!”

          “Normally, I’d agree with you,” Al conceded.   “And so would Ziggy.  But remember what time of year it is.  Remember, Sam, the weekend before Christmas is one of the, if not *the* busiest travel times for airlines all year.” He paused to take a breath.  “The problem, tonight, though, is that with all the Christmas parties going on around town, as well as all the other people coming through the airport, the city’s taxi service is swamped, even with an extra six taxis added for this weekend alone.”  When the handlink chirped softly, Al glanced at the new information coming to him.  “Ziggy’s now estimating that it will be close to twelve thirty before a cab can get to the airport to take Clayton to hospital.  And with the road conditions, it’ll be close to 1:00 a.m. before he gets there.”

          “And by then his father will have died,” Sam’s tone was somber.

          “Uh huh,” Al agreed quietly. “And it’s something that he never forgives himself for.”  He didn’t miss the way his friend reacted to that last part.  “What are you going to do?”

          Sam didn’t answer Al.  Instead he exited the restroom and went back into the banquet room and straight to the table where dessert was being served to the Millikin family.

          Jill had just taken a taste of the warm caramel custard she’d chosen when she looked up at her husband’s face.  “Aaron, what is it?”

          There wasn’t time for taking her aside to talk, but Sam did keep his voice lowered as he leaned down close to Jill and asked, “How would you like to do something about that guilty feeling you mentioned earlier?”

          Jill felt her cheeks get a bit warm at the directness of the question.  But after nearly twenty-six years of marriage, she knew that’s how her spouse was when something was important.  “I definitely would,” she murmured softly, already laying her napkin on the table and standing up from her chair.

          Sam glanced at his watch then over at Al, who was sticking close, before looking into Jill Millikin’s waiting blue eyes.  “I checked with the airlines and Clayton Warwick’s flight should be on time,” he began.  “But, what with this being the weekend before Christmas...” he shook his head softly. “I’ve just got this feeling that when he finally gets here that he might not be able to get a cab in time to get to his father before... you know,” he finished quietly.

          Jill just nodded. “What do you want me to do, Aaron?” she asked plainly.  She didn’t flinch when he told her his idea.  She also didn’t notice that the conversation at the table had ended as all of their children heard the tone of their parents’ conversation and were listening closely.

          Turning to the table, Sam’s gaze went immediately to Sophie.   “Your mother, Rio, and I will take the Jeep.  Sophie, you take the Caravan and get your sisters home.”

          “No problem, Dad,” Sophie Millikin stood up from the table. The rest of her sisters followed suit, even though OK took time to scrape the last of her chocolate mousse from the dish and pop the loaded spoonful in her mouth, first. She glanced at her brother just in time to catch the keys he’d dug out of his pants pocket and tossed in her direction. Inclining her head at her sisters, she said, “Let’s go get our coats and get going.”

          “Drive carefully,” Sam admonished.  Sophie nodded. “I will,” she assured him, and followed her siblings out of the banquet hall.

          Sam, Jill, and Rio brought up the rear of the procession of Millikin girls.  Rio escorted Stacy back inside to her parents before rejoining the others as they collected their coats from the attendant in the Coat Check Room.  As everyone put their coat on, Sam explained to Jill and Rio what their part in all of this was.

          To Jill Sam said, “I’m going to drop you at the hospital.”  He paused a moment when he saw the pinkness in her cheeks increase a bit but didn’t say anything to embarrass her in front of her son.  He looked now at Rio.  “And after that, Rio, you and I are going out to the airport and warm a couple of seats in the waiting area until Clayton’s plane lands, and then we’ll drive him to the hospital.”  As they exited the auditorium and headed for the parking lot, he told them quietly but clearly, “This is the last Christmas Clayton’s going to have with his father.  And if I have to park myself in that airport waiting room to make sure that he gets to be with his father, then so be it.”

          The trip to the hospital was accomplished in silence.  Sam pulled up by the front door, and Jill picked up her purse, opened the door, and got out.  Before she closed the door, she looked into what she thought were her husband’s green eyes.  No words were necessary between them; nor were they needed with Sam.

          “We’ll be back as fast as we can once Clayton arrives,” Sam said simply.

          “I’ll tell Eulene,” Jill responded, then added softly, “Honey... thank you for being the man that you are.”

          Sam just smiled softly. While he waited as she closed the door and hurried around the Jeep and entered the front door of Kalamazoo General Hospital, Rio had hopped into the front seat with him.

          Snow was still falling and a bit of wind had kicked up by the time Sam and Rio found a parking space in the airport parking lot and went inside.  Locating the information desk for Delta Airlines, Sam ascertained that the flight they wanted --5184 from Cincinnati-- was on time.

          “Yes, sir,” the man behind the counter assured the leaper.  With the ease of experience, the clerk entered a query into the computer and added, “Flight 5184 should be landing in approximately twenty minutes.”

          As it turned out, Sam and Rio were at the viewing window when Flight 5184 arrived three minutes early.  Sam continued to watch the plane until it taxied to a stop on the tarmac a couple of hundred feet from the terminal. A couple of minutes later the hatch opened and a portable ramp was moved into place.

          Turning to Rio, Sam said, “I’m going to go get the Jeep and bring it around by the entrance.  As soon as you see Clayton, grab him.”

          “Got it,” Rio responded, turning back to the viewing window to watch the passengers when they began to disembark the plane.  It wasn’t until the first couple of people, a young couple, started down the ramp that he realized something and spun around. “Hey, Dad! I...” he hesitated when he didn’t see his father. “I don’t know what Clayton looks like,” he murmured to himself as he scanned the near empty waiting area before turning back to watch the passengers now hurrying across the tarmac toward the terminal.  ‘How am I going to recognize him?’ he wondered.

          Outside, Sam had reached the Jeep, paid the parking fee and had pulled it up near the terminal entrance in near record time.  He had just put it in park when the pull to leap swept over him. He didn’t have time to catch his breath before he was once more returned to the fathomless blue.  Or rather, made a fleeting pass through it as the unmistakable sensation of the beginning of a new leap came over him.





          Clayton Warwick sat in Window Seat 10-A of the plane taking him on the final leg of his journey to see his father one last time. His were eyes closed as he dozed lightly, lulled by the steady sound of the plane’s engines.

          To get home in time - that had been his prayer since his flight out of Germany was delayed by a snowstorm that had moved in and closed the airport for seven long, seemingly interminable hours.  Being in the military, he had come up against having to do without sleep for long periods. That experience had served him well, since he had slept only during each of the flights taking him home.  Clayton had opted to wear civilian attire, but had carefully packed his winter dress uniform anyway; he would wear IT at his father’s funeral.  Now, knowing that the plane would be touching down at Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport in the next twenty minutes--his last stop before heading directly to the hospital-- the weary and sad man had allowed himself to doze lightly.

          At the sound of the flight attendant announcing that the pilot was beginning landing procedures, Clayton wiped a hand over his eyes, then returned his seat to the upright position. As he felt the plane begin its descent, his weary thoughts turned to finding a pay phone to call a cab to take him to his father.

          The plane landed without incident and came to a complete stop at the terminal just a few minutes later.  He remained in his seat, preferring to allow the passengers in the seats behind him to disembark.  When he glanced back and saw that only one or two people remained in the rear of the plane, Clayton stood and reached up to retrieve his small carry-on bag from the overhead bin.  But his fingers had just closed on the handle of the case when suddenly he felt himself caught up in a strong vortex then swept into a brilliant expanse of blue.



          When Sam finally opened his eyes to find himself sitting in a seat on an airplane, his first thought was that he had finally escaped the loop that had continually dropped him into the Millikin family. But yet again that thought was shredded when he heard a familiar ‘klunk...schoom’, followed a moment later by a voice he would know anywhere greeting him.

          “Sam,” Al began.  “Hang onto your skivvies...”

          It was all the leaper had to hear to know what Al was about to say.  To that end, he didn’t even bother with inanities – like questioning Whoever or Whatever was controlling his leaps about... ‘Why am I here...again?

          “I know... sort of,” Sam said wearily, then paused as a woman with a small boy in tow passed him on her way to the exit.

          Al didn’t even wait for the woman to get as far as the exit before he began giving Sam the probabilities that Ziggy had, to his own personal amazement, issued to him before he had reached the Imaging Chamber door.

          “First, yeah, you’re still in Kalamazoo,” he told Sam.  “But you are not...repeat not... occupying the aura of any member of the Millikin family at this time.”

          That was heartening to the leaper but he still had to ask, “Who am I? If I’m still in or near Kalamazoo, then the Millikins have to still be involved somehow.”

          Al met his friend’s gaze and said simply, “You are Air Force Captain Clayton Warwick.” He paused, and added softly, “And you’ve just arrived home in time to see your father before he dies.”  He didn’t allow any time for Sam’s own emotions to get involved as he hurried to add a vital bit of information.

          “But in order to get you...Clayton to the hospital in time,” he said, his tone taking on a firmer, more commanding aspect to hold Sam’s attention.  “You have to get into that airport, and as soon as you see Rio...”

          “Rio?” Sam questioned but then nodded when a mental image of a young man sifted through the holes in his Swiss-cheesed memory and attached itself to the name.  “Yeah, I remember him.”

          Al kept subtle control of the moment. Though he knew that Whoever or Whatever was bouncing his best friend around in time had, in the past couple of years, allowed Sam to come to a less guilt-laden acceptance concerning his own father’s passing, the Observer knew that the original memory was never far below the surface.

          “Okay, that’s good,” Al told him, following Sam to the exit. He had Ziggy relocate him near Sam once the leaper was on the ground and headed for the terminal.  “I was about to tell you that Ziggy’s giving this leap a one hundred percent probability of success,” he said.  That comment was enough to cause Sam to pause just outside the door leading into the terminal from the tarmac. Halogen security lights flooded the area with a brightness that made it easy for him to see Sam’s face.  “Ziggy says that all you have to do is go inside, go to the Delta information desk and have the attendant on duty do a terminal-wide page for ‘the party for Warwick to please come to the Delta ticket counter.’”

          “You’re sure that Ziggy’s sure?” Sam couldn’t help asking.  He could count on the fingers of one hand how many times over his years of leaping that his hybrid-computer brainchild had issued a one hundred percent probability prediction.

          Al just cocked an eyebrow at him and held up the handlink.  “You want me to summon ‘Her Canned Royal Highness’ so you can ask her in person?  But when she ‘winks out’ in a snit because you questioned her calculations, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

          It was a good enough answer for Sam.  With a slight smile, he took a deep breath of the bone-chilling air and entered the terminal.  Once inside, Sam found his way to the Delta ticket counter and made his request.  “Thanks,” he said to the attendant, then moved over to stand beside a row of the molded, hard-plastic seats to wait.  His wait was brief.  Less than five minutes later, as he was scanning the waiting area again, he saw a tall young man hurrying directly toward him.  Sam held his breath... then let it out when the teenager came up to him and said, “Excuse me, but are you Clayton Warwick?”

          The leaper barely had time to nod and say, “Yes, I am,” before he was whisked back into the blue.  But his trip into the blue was the most fleeting that he’d ever experienced... that he could recall.



          For as long as he lived after this, Clayton Warwick would wonder many times about the ten minutes of his life that was a sort of fuzzy, not quite certain blank spot in his memory.  He would remember starting to get off the plane in Kalamazoo... then there was the blue expanse so brilliant that it almost hurt.  After that there was the large almost seamless white room with only a bed and mirror-topped table in it.  There hadn’t been any sound of any sort.  He would remember not moving from where he found himself standing for a couple of minutes.  And then he would remember deciding to go over to the table.  Last of all, Captain Clayton Warwick, an Air Force combat missions pilot would remember being sucked back into that blueness for what seemed a split second before he opened his eyes to see a somewhat dazed teenager standing in front of him inside the airport terminal that he did not remember entering of his own accord.

          When the boy swayed slightly, Clayton reached to put a hand on his arm to steady him.  “Are you okay, son?” he asked.





          This time when Sam opened his eyes he was met by the sight of two sets of eyes watching him.  One set belonged to the hologram standing practically shoulder to shoulder with a man who looked like he could sleep for a week, judging by the dark circles that were splotched beneath the man’s eyes. Sam glanced to Al for guidance.

          Al smacked the handlink when Ziggy complained about her ‘father’s’ leap that had been almost faster than she could make record of.

          “To quote the man caught up in that whirlwind,” he said sarcastically. “Try it from my side ... in the flesh... one time.”  He ignored the petulant comeback, and turned his attention to Sam.

          “Sam... you know the old saying, ‘The third time is the charm?’” He saw the leaper nod vaguely and added, “Well, this has to be the charm.  You’ve just leaped into Rio Millikin for the third time.”  He glanced at Clayton Warwick who was again telling Sam, “I think you need to sit down for a minute.”

          “No, Sam,” Al negated the captain’s suggestion.  “Tell him you’re Rio Millikin and that your family’s neighbors of his parents, and...”

          Sam got the gist of what Al was telling him, shook his head to clear his thoughts and straightened up.  “I’m all right, Mr. Warwick,” he just did remember to address the man respectfully.  “I’m Rio Millikin,” Sam told Clayton.  “My family and your folks are neighbors.  We live across the road from each other.”

          Clayton’s eyes widened as the boy’s words sank in. “You know my parents?”

          Sam needed no further prompting from the Observer as he told Clayton why he was there.  “My Dad had a...feeling that we should come to the airport to meet you,” he said softly, compassion for the pain Clayton was about to go through coloring his words.  “My Dad’s waiting outside to take you to the hospital...to your father.  Your Mom’s there, too.”

          “Alone?” Clayton’s voice ached as the one-word question slipped from his lips.

          Sam reached to put a hand on Clayton’s arm, giving him a reassuring smile.  “No. My Mom is with her.”

          That bit of relief was enough to galvanize Clayton Warwick into action.  “Then let’s grab my bag and get moving,” he said with a briskness he knew was fueled by adrenaline.

          It was less than ten minutes later when the big black Jeep pulled away from the airport and headed across town as fast as the road conditions would allow.  Sam sat in the backseat just listening to the brief, quiet and emotionally charged conversation between Aaron Millikin and Clayton Warwick.  He didn’t hesitate when, upon arriving at the hospital and pulling up to the front door, Aaron looked back at him and said, “You go up with him, Rio.  Show him the way. I’ll come up as soon as I find a place to park.”

          “Yes, sir,” Sam answered as he got out of the Jeep and headed after another son hurrying to his father.

          Al, through the entire journey to the hospital, had told Ziggy to keep him centered on Sam.  Now, as he hurried along side his friend, he gave Sam the directions he needed to get Clayton to his parents.

          The brief ride up in the elevator to the second floor was silent.  Al didn’t have to be physically present in the elevator to know that every inch of space the two men didn’t occupy was quivering with emotion just waiting to be released.

          When they turned down the last hall and Sam saw the nurses’ station for the I.C.U. straight ahead, all he had to say was, “It’s this way, Captain Warwick,” and then just kept pace with the other man.  Sam was grateful beyond words when the nurse at the desk didn’t ask Clayton a lot of questions, instead just saying softly, “Your father is in Room 8, Mr. Warwick.”

          Sam followed silently after Clayton as he barely kept himself from running the last few feet to reach the destination that he’d set out for three and a half days ago. It was a moment that Sam, Al, and Jill would never forget when Clayton Warwick stepped into the room and said softly, “Momma?”

          Eulene had been moved to tears of gratefulness when she had looked around about two hours ago and saw Jill Millikin step into the room, saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner.”

          “It’s all right, dear,” Eulene had comforted the younger woman who had come to comfort her. “You’re here now.  That’s what matters.”  And then she had cried tears both joyful and sad when she learned that her son was on his way, hearing Jill say, “Aaron and Rio are waiting at the airport to bring him here,” was the happiest news she’d heard in too long a time.

          Eulene had gone to the bed and leaned over to whisper in Felton’s ear, “He’s coming, my heart.  Clay’s coming to see you.  Our son’s coming to see you.  Hold on, Felton.  Wait for Clay.”

          For the nearly two hours since, the neighbor that Eulene had watched grow from childhood into the woman now keeping vigil with her, had sat and listened to her talk about her life with her beloved Felton.  A couple of times one of the monitors attached to her husband’s chest had sounded and the doctor and a couple of nurses had come running.  But both times the life still in his frail body had fought back, and Felton Warwick’s heart continued to beat.

          After the last scare, Eulene had returned to sit in the chair beside the bed, reaching up a bit to gently clasp Felton’s still hand. After a few minutes she had leaned her head back against the chair and closed her eyes. But she had barely closed them when she heard a beloved voice she hadn’t heard so close in too long a time say, “Momma?”  Her eyes flew open and her voice became a sob as she let go of her husband’s hand so as to hold out both her arms to her son.  “Clay…you’re here.”

          Years of military training and service had taught Clayton Warwick the importance of holding his emotions in check, to use logic and common sense in stressful situations.  But here, in his dying father’s hospital room, there was no room for stoicism, and Clay turned his back on it.

          Two steps into his father’s room and Clayton stood before his mother, but only for a second before he went down on his knees in front of her, and gathered her into his arms and hugged her tightly.

          Mother and son clung to each other for perhaps a minute before Eulene whispered to him, “Talk to your Daddy, Clay.”  When he drew back so they could look into each other’s eyes, she told him, “I told him you were coming to see him, Clay.  I... I think it’s what kept him here this last hour or so.”  Gently she reached to cup one of her son’s beard-stubbled cheeks.  “Go on, Clay. He doesn’t have much time left.”

          All Clay could manage was a whispered, “Yes, ma’am,” before he stood up and turned his gaze to the frail figure on the bed.  Moving around the bed to the other side, he didn’t hesitate to take his father’s motionless hand between his.  It took a moment for him to swallow down the tightness in his throat but at last the words began to come.  “Dad?” he said softly.  “It’s Clay.”

          Just outside the room, Sam was a few steps away from Jill and Aaron, who had come up a few moments before.  Al stood beside his friend, his own emotions strong and mixed.  For the next twenty-one minutes, all of them bore silent witness as a mother and son spoke their final words of love to the life long partner of one, and the father of the other.

          Tears were already beginning to trickle down Clayton’s face as he leaned down one last time and whispered in his father’s ear, “Merry Christmas, Dad.  I love you.”  He stepped back to allow his mother to kiss her husband’s cheek one last time.  After that there were no more words to say, and together they held Felton Warwick’s cool hand in theirs.

          Not many minutes later, a monitor alarm went off again, bringing the doctor and nurses into the room once more.  But the narrow green plastic bracelet with the letters ‘DNR’ that had been put on Felton’s right wrist at Eulene’s decision after the second alarm was set off, was the directive they were bound to follow. That, coupled with Eulene’s quiet, “Let him rest,” was all that was needed. After a few moments of close monitoring and checking with his stethoscope for a heartbeat, Dr. David Petrovich straightened up and said, “He’s gone.” Glancing at the clock on the wall at the head of the bed he said quietly, “Time of death...12:32 A.M. December 24th.”

          While Jill and Aaron stepped into the room to offer their sympathies to Eulene and Clayton, Al took the handlink from his pocket to check it for any possible changes in history.

          Sam finally had to ask when the Observer didn’t say anything for a moment. “What’s changed?” he whispered under his breath, covering his mouth with one hand.

          Al’s smile was calm as he at last looked up into his friend’s eyes.  “I think you’ve finally accomplished your mission here, Sam.”


          Al reminded him. “Remember a few days ago in the living room when you told me that this whole family was non-stop busy – individually – all the way up through and almost including Christmas Day?  And that you thought you were here to get them back together?”

          Sam listened and remembered and shook his head slightly.  “Yeah, I remember, sorta... more or less. But... Al,” he began.

          Al shook his head, realizing what hadn’t yet filtered down through Sam’s emotions that were still close to the surface.  “Sam... you did it.”

          Sam was almost afraid to breathe for fear the act would wake him up and he’d find it was all a bad dream and that he was still on a loop in time that was still stuck in a small town in Michigan.

          “Believe it, Sam,” Al told him, moving closer so he could turn the handlink so his friend could read the words scrolling across the handlink’s screen.  “Everything you’ve done with each member of this family has helped to draw them back together as a family. And, as a result of what you did by having Aaron and Rio go to the airport... or taking them there if you look at it from another angle... the Millikin family opens their home to Eulene and Clayton. In fact, the Millikins spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home with each other, as well as lending support to their neighbors... their good neighbors... in the time of their grief.” 

          Al had barely finished his thought when he saw the first vague wisps of blue beginning to surround his friend.  Looking into Sam’s eyes, there was no doubt he knew what was coming, too.

          “It’s been a helluva a sleigh ride these past few days, Sam,” Al said with a smile.

          As the pull to leap multiplied exponentially, Sam looked deep into his friend’s dark eyes and said, “Thanks for tagging along, Al.”

          “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, kid,” the Observer replied.

          Sam grinned at Al from the depths of the intensifying blueness and said, “Merry Christmas, Al.”

          “Merry Christmas, Sam,” Al replied.  In the next instant though, the holographic image of a hospital room vanished and he was standing alone in the Imaging Chamber.  For a moment he just stood quietly, thinking about all the things he’d seen and been given to think about through this longest and most convoluted of Sam’s leaps.

          When at last Al finally emerged from the Imaging Chamber, he returned the handlink to Dominic without comment and left the Control Room to go in search of his wife.  And when he discovered Beth’s whereabouts, he took her in his arms and held her close for a good while.


*Refers to VS Season 10, Episode 1015, “To Say Goodbye” written by A.J. Burfield and R. L. Cole.




'As always, as I am deposited at my next destination, the first of my senses kicks into action.  The raw, rumbling sound has me confused at first, it doesn't match what I am feeling and it isn't until the veil of quantum mist drops from my eyes that I realize I am outside.

'The air about me is cold but very humid and the atmosphere bears a sense of excitement, as if holding back some immensely powerful force.  Also, it is dark, so I assume it must be night but I cannot be more wrong.  On the horizon I can see bright sunlight and as I look around me, I see this is so… in all directions.

'Excited voices surround me, undiscerning voices, barely distinguishable amidst the din and rumbling that, I now realize, is coming from above.  A lump rises in my throat as my vision traces upwards… to dark angry clouds that swirl above me in a rolling, never-ending servitude of enraged molecules that clash together when north meets south.  An imminent thunderstorm, I figure but the vastness and the color of the cloud seems to be too great and too dark to be a mere storm.

'Through the fogginess of my memory, I recall such an event in what seems my very distant past.  It's as muddled as I feel but the feeling I had then, was the same as I'm feeling right now.  The thrill as a child was as much as I could bear then and the sensation isn't any different as an adult.

'Standing beneath that cloud of discontent, I sense more than see, the brilliant electric blue flash as it lights up the whole sky.  The screams of exhilaration from my companions are drowned out by the thunderous roar before their gratified cries can leave their lips.  Repeatedly, the thundercloud emits its flashing display of dazzling brilliance and is soon followed by a rush of cold wind and a splattering of heavy raindrops.

'I am about to turn to one of my companions when, she calls out, "LOOK!" she points in the direction to where my eyes have just strayed and there I see a long spiraling tail reaching down towards the earth.  I cannot keep my eyes from it.

'I hear another gaunt voice as it yells out into the enveloping darkness, "Another and this one's a touchdown!"

"And another! Let's get outta here!" a different voice calls out from my rear flank.

Even through the dampness, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and a creepy feeling run along my skin as the static electricity starts to build up into a frenzy.'

"It's too late Carl," the young woman calls out shrilly.  And as I turn to her, her auburn hair is fluffed out and standing on end.

"Quit stallin' Yvette and get into the damn truck," the one I assume is Carl, demands hurriedly.

'As I spin around from one formation to the other, I see the first monstrous extension has also made contact with the ground.  We are now surrounded on all sides with developing tornados and the rain morphs into pea sized ice that bounces a foot from the road's surface.  As I watch in fascination and awe, a further trail in the distance reaches down its hand of devastation.'

"Oooh boooy!" I breathe as another tail descends and all start closing in.


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