|No Greater Love
Author: QLTales PM
Sam and Al are in the wrong place at the wrong time.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Chapters: 24 - Words: 104,845 - Reviews: 20 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 10-27-11 - Published: 10-16-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7470588
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
As he paged through an outdated magazine, Al decided that if he never saw another waiting room again, it might be too soon. Dr. Reynolds had been running late and once Sam got out of that appointment, he'd practically had to run to get to his physical therapy appointment on time. There hadn't been any time for him to let Al know what the doctor had said.
Tossing the magazine on a nearby table, Al looked at his watch. It would probably be at least another twenty minutes before Sam would be done. He got up and walked out to the vending machines in the hall outside the waiting room. As he was looking over what was on offer, he heard someone call out to him.
"Admiral Calavicci, right?"
Al turned with a smile to look at the woman, for the voice was obviously from one of the fairer sex. "Yes, Calavicci's the name..." He became more serious when he saw the woman was the psychiatrist that Sam had seen briefly in the hospital. "Dr. Beeks I believe."
"Yes. I was seeing your friend, Sam. How's he doing?"
Al's face dropped slightly and took on a concerned visage. "Not too well. He's still bothered a lot by what happened." He wasn't sure how much he should tell her and quickly added. "He's not crazy though...just doing his best to work through a difficult time."
Dr. Beeks was taken aback for a moment by the reply. She'd meant her question as an inquiry of her former patient's general health. The answer she received wasn't what she'd expected. "I'm sure he's not," she replied. "I was just wondering how he was doing overall but it sounds like something's got you concerned." She checked her watch and saw that she had some time before she had to be at her next scheduled appointment. "Would you like to talk," she offered.
Al's eyes shifted away. "No. I don't want to get Sam in any trouble. He's had more than he can take recently." His words may have started with a negative but it was clear he was unsettled.
"Admiral, it's obvious you're worried about him. Unless he's a threat to the safety of himself or anyone else, I don't see any way you could 'get him in trouble' and even then, wouldn't it be better he get help?"
"Not always," the older man said cryptically. He quickly recovered, "I guess we could talk in the hypothetical, right? I mean, it doesn't have to be Sam I'm talking about." He knew it was a lame save but if she agreed to the terms then it wouldn't be like talking behind his friend's back.
"If that's what makes you comfortable."
"Ok." He looked around. "Is there someplace more private? I'd hate to have someone overhear."
"Follow me." Dr. Beeks led him to a small consultation room that was close by. "Now, what would you like to ask me about this hypothetical friend?" she asked once the door was closed. "I'm going to assume that this friend has recently suffered a serious physical injury caused by violence."
"Um, yeah," Al responded uneasily. As much as they weren't using Sam's name, there was no denying who they were talking about. He decided to drop the pretense. "He's had a few issues since he came home." Briefly, he touched upon what had happened at the fireworks as well as the phone call Sam had made to police that morning. He ended off with saying how Sam seemed reluctant to leave his apartment and, when he did, he seemed to be looking everywhere for anything or anyone who could be a danger.
"Considering the trauma he's suffered, both physical and emotional, a lot of what you're telling me doesn't sound too far off base. The call to the police and reluctance to leave the house could be worrisome, though, especially if it keeps happening. Has he indicated that he's aware of what he's been doing?" Despite Al dropping the pretense of the hypothetical friend, neither used Sam's name.
"He seems to be. We've talked about it a couple of times. He said he needs time to adjust to things getting back to normal."
"Again, that's really not far off base." Dr. Beeks thought for a moment, "Do you think he'd be amenable to speaking with me again."
Al was silent for a moment then answered. "I'm not so sure he'd like that suggestion. Hell, he'd probably blow a gasket if he knew we were talking right now. He just keeps asking me to give him a little time. I'm afraid he'll have too much time and won't get over it."
At Al's use of the words 'get over it', Verbena chuckled slightly. "I'd say it is going to take him a while to 'get over it' as you so succinctly put it. It's not going to happen overnight. From what you've told me, it sounds like he's looking for a safe place so he can work through it all. Right now, home is it for him. I want you to keep in mind that unless he consents to speaking with me, the best I can do is offer you some advice based on what you've told me."
Al nodded expecting as much. "When he spoke to you before, he said he was comfortable doing it. I just thought you might have some insight on what's going on."
"Well, I can't tell you what we spoke about. That would come under doctor/patient confidentiality. If he wants you to know, he'll have to tell you. The advice I'd give you right now is to give him the time he's asked you for. This may seem to have been going on for an extended time for you but for S…him, everything probably seems like its coming fast. Give him time to adjust. Let him find the safe place he's looking for but keep encouraging him to go beyond that but go at his pace, not yours."
"Ok, I guess that makes sense. What about the phone call, though, and what happened at the fireworks. What if something like that happens again?"
"Then, I'd say he definitely needs to seek some kind of help. It may well be that both incidents are a one-off thing as he's getting his bearings back. If you honestly think he needs outside help, and he might, encourage him to call me and make an appointment but you can't force him to do so."
"Sometimes, I think there's not a whole lot you can force that kid to do." Al let out a small sigh. "Ok. I'll give him time like he's asked and I won't push him into doing something he's not ready to do."
"Unless he wants to make an appointment, it's the best thing you can do for him, Admiral. I sincerely believe, though, that that might be all he needs."
"You really think so? I don't care if it takes a hundred years then. All I want is Sam to be ok."
Verbena smiled slightly as, this time, Al used his friend's name. "I do. Sometimes all that's really needed is a strong support system. I think Sam definitely has that in you. Right now, I think you just need to let him go at his own pace even if that does seem slow to you. He's got a lot to work through. Being fearful or even angry isn't unexpected. The best thing you can do is just be there for him. Let him know he's got someone who can support him without being judgmental." She looked briefly at her watch. "I need to run to an appointment but if Sam would like to talk, tell him to call my office."
'Will do." Al watched as the woman left, once again impressed by her manner and bearing. Then he left the room in search of his friend. He didn't have to wait long.
Sam was just exiting the waiting area for physical therapy when he saw Al coming towards him. "Where were you? You said you'd wait for me."
"Yeah. Sorry. I went in search of coffee and ended up running into a friend. We talked for a few minutes." He figured he wasn't far off the mark with his statement. "You finished? Everything ok?"
"Yeah," Sam answered guardedly. He couldn't imagine what friend Al had run into. For just a moment when he'd walked into the waiting room and hadn't seen the older man, he'd thought he'd left. "I have another therapy appointment on Tuesday."
"Well, that shouldn't be hard to make." Al's eyes narrowed as he scrutinized Sam. "What's wrong? You look like that grilled cheese didn't agree with you."
"Nothing," Sam answered waving off Al's concern. He didn't want to let on that he'd been half-afraid he'd been abandoned. "You don't have to worry about driving me Tuesday."
"I can drive myself. I can also go to work." He held up a folded piece of paper. "Dr. Reynolds cleared me for that and gave me the note I'll need. I can only do half days for the first two weeks then after that, I can go back to normal."
"Sounds great, Kid!" Al responded with grin. "I'm glad that things will be getting back..." He started to falter with his words. "I mean that's what you've wanted to hear."
"Normal," Sam filled in. "And they are getting back to normal"
"Yeah. They are. I just don't want you to feel I'm pushing or anything," the older man explained. "We'll take it at your speed."
Sam stopped and just looked at Al for a few seconds. This seemed like a turnaround from earlier. "I was," he answered honestly.
"I guess I have that coming," Al admitted. "I've been thinking about what you said earlier. You're right. You're the one the needs to find your safety zone again. I'll just be here to help whenever you need it."
"Thanks, Al," Sam responded after a moment. "So, home?"
"Yeah." As the two men started towards where the car was, Al amended his statement. "Although, we have a couple of stops to make first."
Sam stopped walking. "Stops? What do you mean?"
"Grocery store? Milk store? Remember? You have nothing in your house short of what I was able to get this morning...and that wasn't much."
"Oh, yeah. I guess I sort of forgot that." Sam started walking again. "Milk store?" he questioned with a smile. "I didn't know there were stores dedicated to milk."
"They're related to specific dairies. One opened close to my apartment recently and the milk's fresher than in the grocery store. I noticed the other day they have one close to your place."
"The milk's just as fresh at the grocery store."
"Maybe. The other thing I like about them is they recycle the milk containers. Higher grade plastic that you turn back in. No more milk containers going to the landfills."
"We don't need to go to a separate store for milk," Sam said shortly.
"Ok, if you don't want to try it out. We still need to go to the grocery store."
"That's fine. Just there and nowhere else." Sam could feel his chest tightening just at the thought of going to the grocery store but he didn't want to say that. He could go there. He'd force himself to. He just didn't think he could do much more than that right now.
"Ok." They'd reached the car and got in. As they were driving to the grocery store, Al decided to bring up a little of what Dr. Beeks and he had discussed...without telling Sam that he talked to her. "You know, Kid...it's normal to feel reluctant to try new things when you're trying to regain feeling safe."
"One thing doesn't have anything to do with the other. I just don't see any reason to make any extra stops. The therapy was rough today and when I get home I want to ice my shoulder and relax for a little while." Al was hitting a little too close to home to how he was feeling and he didn't want to admit it to himself, much less his friend.
"Ok. I'm just saying." Al wasn't just referring to the milk store. As he had pointed out to Beeks, it was the pattern of the behavior that had concerned him. Her assurance that Sam wasn't acting extreme had been a relief to him.
"And I'm just saying, too," Sam snapped. "Geez, you're always going off on these crusades to try something new. You know, newer doesn't always mean better. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the milk at the grocery store I've been going to. I don't know why you think there is all of a sudden. And I recycle the damn cartons. Hell, you've nagged at me enough about that when I forget."
Al glanced over to his friend and he went off on a mini-tirade. This must be the anger that Dr. Beeks warned him about. "Ok, Sam," he said mildly. He didn't want to push his friend's anger anymore. Even though Dr. Beeks hadn't said it, he didn't think it served any purpose to feed into the anger. "It's no big deal. I just thought I'd suggest it."
Sam nodded shortly but didn't say anything. He didn't trust himself to say anything right now. It seemed the good mood he'd been in after getting the good news from Dr. Reynolds was evaporating and he felt himself slipping into anger he couldn't explain.
Neither man said much of anything as they finished the drive to the grocery store. Al found a parking space as close as he could to the front door knowing they'd likely have a lot of bags when they came out and Sam wouldn't be able to help much with them. Once the car was parked, he pulled off his seatbelt and got out of the car. As he started to swing the door shut, he noticed that Sam hadn't made a move to exit the car yet. He pulled the door back open and leaned in. "If you want, I can go in while you wait out here." He didn't want to push the younger man into doing something he might not be ready for yet.
Hearing Al's voice, Sam quickly shook his head. "I'm coming in. I was just…just putting a mental list together of what I needed."
Al smiled. "Pretty much everything. Old Mother Hubbard had nothing on you," he gently teased.
"Yeah," I guess Sam answered with a weak smile. He took off his seatbelt and got out of the car but hesitated for a moment before swinging to door closed. He resolutely squared his shoulders unwilling to give in to his fear. It was only a grocery store. Nothing was going to happen. "Let's go."
As they approached the door, Sam pulled back slightly. Al stopped as well. He opened his mouth to say something but quickly closed it again, waiting for Sam to decide what he wanted to do.
What?" Sam said looking at Al.
"You were going to say something. What were you going to say?" he confronted
"I...well..." he appeared to be at a loss. "It wouldn't have been helpful. I told you before; we need to take this at your pace."
"How about if you stop saying that, ok? You've gone from trying to push me to deal with things on your schedule to saying that over and over." Sam eyed his friend speculatively. "Just what friend were you talking with while I was in PT?"
"If I tell you, you'll kill me," the older man replied, pretty sure he wasn't just being dramatic. He added, "Can't we just say it was someone who gave me good counsel?"
Sam blew out a quick breath. If Al was admitting whatever he was hiding was likely to get him killed, it had to be pretty big. The frontend of the local Safeway was the last place to deal with that. Besides, that would prolong how long this errand would take. "Fine. You're telling me when we get home. Now, let's just get this done and over with."
"Ok." Al realized that he probably should have handled the question better. Now he had whatever time they were in the store to think of what he was going to tell his friend.
Over the next forty minutes, the two shopped in relative silence, Al dragging his feet a bit while Sam did his best to get what he needed as quick as possible. With all they needed, it still took a while. Once they'd checked out and were moving to the car Al asked, "You want me to make my spaghetti tonight?" He knew Sam liked that and thought it might make things easier.
"Sure," Sam answered in a distracted way. He was rubbing his left shoulder and kept wincing on occasion. He hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said the physical therapy had been rough today. The therapist had introduced some new exercises that were designed to improve his range of motion. Right now, the only motion he wanted to think about using his shoulder for was no motion.
Al noticed Sam's movements. "Shoulder's hurting you, huh. If you've got some BenGay at home, I could massage it for you."
"That sounds good, Al, but I don't think it's a good idea. It could get into the wound. That's still healing."
"Oh. Yeah. Didn't think about that. Is there anything that would help?" He hated seeing Sam in pain.
"Not really," Sam responded with a negative shake of his head. "I'll take some ibuprophen and ice it once I'm home and it should settle down."
"Ok," Al finished. "You get in the car though. If your shoulder's hurting the last thing you need to do is schlep bags."
Agreeing, Sam pulled open the passenger door and got in. He let out a little sigh once he thought he was out of Al's sight. He'd made it through the store without falling apart and having a panic attack or something similar. It was a first step.
After putting the bags in the trunk, Al returned th cart to the front of the store then got in the car. "I was thinking that we could watch a movie tonight. Maybe one of those old screwball comedies. One of the Road pictures maybe." He knew Sam had those in his extensive collection of old movies.
"After we talk," Sam agreed giving his friend a hard look. "I haven't forgotten."
"Yeah," Al answered with resignation. "I didn't think you had." He pulled out into traffic, "Hoped maybe, but didn't really think so."
The two men made inconsequential small talk on the drive back to Sam's apartment. When they got there, Al sent Sam inside to take something to help the pain in his shoulder while he brought the grocery bags in. Sam waited until his friend was done putting the groceries away before confronting him. "Ok, so who were you talking to?"
"You don't want me to start the dinner first," Al tried to deflect. "We haven't had much to eat today."
"It can wait and we ate at the diner."
Realizing that Sam was going to expect an answer, he sighed. "Ok." He blinked a few times considering making something up but realizing that Sam should know. Hell, that may have been why he'd sort of spilled the beans. "It wasn't planned. It just happened," he prefaced.
"Spill it," Sam ordered as he tossed the icepack he'd been using on the coffee table.
"Well…your session was taking more time than usual and I went to get a cup of coffee. I didn't expect Dr. Beeks to be there." He winced a bit as he confessed.
"Dr Beeks?" Sam questioned, his eyebrows rising. "You were talking to Dr. Beeks? About me?" He stood up and walked over to where Al was standing just outside of the kitchen. His voice grew louder as he asked, "You talked to her about me without letting me know? You had no right!"
"It's not like that, Sam," Al tried to defend himself. He knew his friend was justified feeling the way he did but that didn't mean he was just going to stand and allow himself to be yelled at.
"It's not, huh? Really? You didn't take the opportunity to go look for her and talk to her about me? Am I supposed to believe it was just all a coincidence?"
"It was a coincidence whether you believe it or not. She asked about you. I guess I could have lied and said you were just fine." He sighed. "That would probably have been the best thing to do and then we wouldn't be having this conversation now."
"I am fine," Sam spat. "That's not a lie. You're the one who's deciding something's wrong with me. What? Did you tell her I'd cracked up and should be locked up like a looney tune? I suppose you told her I'm making prank calls to the police."
The older man's eyes narrowed. "You really think I'd do that? Of course I didn't say those things."
"Oh please. You all but said I was crazy this morning. You'd probably just lock me up if you could." Sam got as close to Al as he could, towering over him. "Is this the thanks I get?"
Al blinked but didn't respond to the question. He knew it was being asked because of anger and not because Sam was sorry he did what he had. Instead, he concentrated on trying to make his friend understand that it was only his concern that prompted him to talk to the psychiatrist. "I gotta admit I am worried about you, Sam...but I don't think you're crazy." He fidgeted a bit. "I just figured this was a difficult time for you and I didn't know what was normal and what wasn't under the circumstances."
"Normal," Sam asked. His voice softened but it was deceptive to how he was really feeling. At his next words, he erupted. "There is nothing...nothing…remotely normal about any of this. How can you think anything should be normal? I was shot!" he shouted.
In contrast to Sam's shout, Al kept his voice steady. "I didn't mean the robbery. That was as whacked as you can get. You shouldn't have been shot to begin with." He looked down. "I know you did what you felt you had to do but if you hadn't you wouldn't be going through this now."
Sam took a couple of unsteady steps backwards from the older man. "I was shot," he said again in lower voice as if finally understanding the realization of what happened. It didn't appear that he'd heard what his friend said. "He had a gun and he shot me."
Al moved forward ready to catch Sam if he fell. He certainly looked like he might. "Yeah. It shouldn't have happened and now...I just want to help you and I don't know how. If you'd been shot in combat, that would be one thing...but you were shot just because you wanted to make a deposit."
When he saw Al reaching out to him, Sam batted his friend's hands away. "What difference does it make? He...he was going to kill you. You're my friend, I couldn't let him." He cocked his head slightly, a lost look on his face. "But you think I'm crazy."
Al looked stricken; worried that Sam was really going to push him away permanently. "No, Kid. I don't think you're crazy. I think you're hurting from what that bastard did to you. That's why I talked with Dr. Beeks. I wanted things to be getting better but I didn't know how to help you. I just seemed to be making things worse." He swallowed tightly. "I guess I still am."
"I can't be 'better' just to suit you. I'm sorry if you don't approve of fear. I'm sorry if the fact that I can't stop thinking that could happen again doesn't fit your idea of normal." The heat was back in Sam's words. "If you can't take being around a basket case, the door's right there."
Al stood there for a moment, stunned by the accusation. "I won't do that, Sam. I won't walk away from you. Don't you understand? I don't want you to fit anything...I just want you to be okay. Beeks told me what you're feeling is normal under the circumstance. That after what you faced, she'd be surprised if there was any other reaction. She just said you needed time."
"Stop telling me what's normal. I don't care what you say is normal or Dr. Beeks or anyone else. I. Don't. Care." In blind anger, Sam reached for the nearest object and threw it as hard as he could. It was only when heard the sound of breaking glass that he looked at what he'd thrown. It was the photo of him and Al with a battleship in the background that had been taken at the naval base in Norfolk. He remembered how he'd taken the photo of him and Prof. LoNigro out of the frame and replaced it. "Oh," he said softly as he dropped to his knees on the floor. He reached for the photo and saw, with dismay, that the broken glass had torn it.
Blinking rapidly at what had just happened, the older man's voice grew softer. "I'm sorry, Sam. You're right." Beeks had told him Sam would probably get angry at some point but it hadn't prepared him for this eruption of anger. "It's your life and no one should be telling you what's right for you. You tell me what you want me to do...just don't ask me not to care. I don't think I can do that."
"There's tape and glue in the credenza," Sam said numbly still looking at the photo. He glanced up at Al. "I can fix and it will be just like before, right?" He reached to pick up one of the larger pieces of glass and tried to fit it back into place.
"Sure." As was just about to get the items requested hoping that it would mollify his friend. When he turned to go into the kitchen, he saw what Sam was trying to do with the glass out of the corner of his eye. Dropping down beside his friend, Al put his hand on Sam's. "Leave it. We can get another pane."
This time, Sam didn't try to evade his friend's touch. He dropped the piece of glass and the frame and grabbed on to the hand that held his with his other hand, squeezing as tightly as he could. It was a lifeline for him right now and he grasped it as tightly as drowning man would grasp the rope thrown to him. "Help me." he begged. "Help me to not be afraid."
"I'm here, Kid. You just need time and I'll be here as long as it takes." Al responded, putting his hand on Sam's shoulder to steady and comfort him.
The anger that had infused Sam fizzled away. At the touch of the hand on his shoulder, he leaned forward towards the man offering the comfort. "I'm sorry I doubted you."
"I understand, Sam. I didn't handle this very well but like I said, I just want you be okay."
Dropping his hands limply to his lap, Sam looked down. "I wish Mom were here," he mumbled.
"Yeah." Al said softly. "I do too." He'd seen firsthand the relationship between the two Becketts' and knew Sam's mother would be able to provide the comfort he needed. "You want to call her?"
"No," Sam answered with a small shake of his head. "I don't want to worry her." He also knew talking to her was not what he was looking for right now but didn't know how to verbalize what he wanted without making Al think he was even worse off than he thought. It was exactly normal for a thirty-one year old to need his mommy to hold him and tell him everything would be ok.
Looking into Sam's eyes, Al saw a hurting soul and couldn't help but pull him closer. "I know I'm not from your family, Sam...but I care about you like you were from mine. We'll get through this together, I promise. I don't know when, but we will come out the other side."
When he felt himself being pulled closer, Sam allowed it. Right now, he needed to feel a human touch that could offer him some sense of safety. He dropped his head so his forehead was resting on his friend's shoulder. "I'm so tired, Al. I didn't sleep."
"You said," Al answered quietly, unconsciously rocking the man as he'd done so many times with his sister, Trudy.
Sam allowed himself to relax into the rocking motion. As he did, he felt the tenseness start to leave his body for the first time in a long while. "I'd do it again," he softly said.
"Hmmm?" the older man inquired.
"Save you," Sam breathed out. He felt his body getting heavier and let his eyes drift shut.
Al lips bent into a light smile that was at once happy and sad. "I know, Kid. That's what scares me," he answered. He doubted Sam heard him as the younger man was obviously asleep. Knowing that moving him would awaken him, he continued to hold him. He made sure there was no pressure on his friend's hurting shoulder and settled in for the duration.
Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, Al sat on the floor holding his friend while he slept. He somehow managed to drag both of them across the floor without waking Sam so he could lean against the side of the couch. Thankfully, the floor was hardwood making that possible.
It was when he tried to roll over to a more comfortable position that Sam woke up. "Oh," he said in surprise when he realized his position. His surprise gave way to embarrassment. "Sorry."
"No problem. You should go into your room, though, and get some more sleep. Here...I'll help you."
Sam let his friend help him to his feet. He leaned heavily against him still half-asleep. When he felt himself being moved in the direction of his bedroom, he pulled to stop. "Don't wanna go to bed."
"You need some sleep, Sam." When he saw the stubbornness setting in, Al amended. "You don't have to go to bed...just lay down and catch a few z's. I have to make the spaghetti anyways."
"Uh uh." Sam tried to pull away from his friend but wasn't successful. "Couch."
"Ok. Couch." Al turned around to the furniture in question.
Sam let himself be led to the couch. He didn't resist when Al pushed him down on it. He lay on his side with his hand pillowing his cheek and was back to sleep almost immediately.
Al looked down on the sleeping man with a chuckle. Going to Sam's room, he retrieved a pillow and a blanket and brought them back to the couch. Gently, he maneuvered the kid to put the pillow under his head and then covered him with the blanket. With another light smile he told the slumberer, "It's going to be ok." Then he turned to start the meal he'd promised.
When he woke on the couch, Sam knew from the dim light that he'd been sleeping for a while. Although it hadn't set yet, the sun would be doing so within the hour. He heard the sound of cooking coming from the kitchen. He slowly sat up and pushed the blanket to one end of the couch. He snuck a glance over his should and saw his friend at the stove. Right now, he felt too embarrassed to face his friend.
He didn't know what embarrassed him more – the meltdown that he'd had when he found out his friend had spoken with Dr. Beeks or the fact that he'd fallen asleep in his friend's lap. He'd thrown accusations at his friend that weren't fair. He knew that Al didn't think he was crazy. It was just that in the heat of the moment, he'd wanted to lash out. He looked over to where he'd thrown the frame and realized it had been cleaned up, the frame sitting on its back on the bookcase. Now, he didn't know how to face his friend.
He wasn't given much choice in the matter when he felt his friend's hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see him standing behind him smiling.
"Hey, you're awake. Feeling better?"
"Um, yeah. I...uh...I think I owe you an apology."
Al shrugged. "You were upset. You said things you didn't completely mean. Besides, I didn't handle things as well as I could have."
"That's no excuse." Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I haven't been handling things all that great myself."
"Yeah...but like you said you were dealing with a really whacked out..." Al paused. "Hold on a minute." He turned and moved back to the stove.
Sam got up and followed his friend. "What are you doing?"
Standing in front of the sink draining water from the noodles Al asked, "Think you can set the silverware out?"
"Sure." Sam moved to the drawer and pulled out what they'd need. "What are you doing ?" he asked again. "One second you're talking to me, the next you walk away."
"You want to have mushy noodles? Since you've been asleep, I've been taking care of dinner. There's a salad in the fridge too," he pointed out after Sam finished setting the table. "We'll talk more as soon as we get everything on the table."
"Later, later, later," Sam said under his breath as he got the salad out of the refrigerator. He thunked it on the table.
Al finished his part of the dinner prep, putting the spaghetti on the plates with sauce and bringing out some hot garlic bread. After sitting down he started again. "Like I said, you had to deal with some pretty whacked stuff. It's expected that something like that would make it difficult to handle things well."
"Al," Sam interrupted before his friend could go on, "don't handle me. I'm not up for that."
"Huh?" The older man asked. He nodded to the spaghetti he'd put in front of Sam. "I hope you like the sauce. It's a Bolognese sauce my Dad taught me years ago."
"Don't handle me," Sam said again. "Don't act like you're a shrink trying to rationalize what's happened."
Al put his fork down blinking before looking back to Sam. This time, the concern was there again. "What do you want me to do, Kid? If I go with my gut, I smother you. You may not be happy that I ran into Dr. Beeks but...at least she gave me some suggestions I could follow. I'm not trying to handle you...I'm trying to handle me."
"It's the same thing." Sam picked up his fork and poked at the spaghetti. "I don't remember you smothering me."
Al shook his head. It's not the same thing…and even your mother knows I hover. He grabbed a piece of the garlic bread. "You know, I'm not much for shrinks usually myself, but that Dr. Beeks sure is something. She was very professional...we really didn't talk about things other than in the broadest strokes...but she said that I needed to be there to support you. I told her I wouldn't have it any other way."
"You have been. Supporting me, I mean."
"I've been trying, Kid." Al sighed. "It's been hard, though. All my experience for things like this have been in a military context. For right or wrong, the way that's handled is different. It's changed over the years to an extent but still...you don't feel like you're on shifting sands."
Sam reached across the table and rested his hand on his friend's arm. "This didn't just happen to me, Al. You were there, too. It happened to me just as much as you." He pulled his hand back and started poking at his food again. "I think I've been forgetting that. I'm sorry."
"Thanks. I appreciate that." Al took a bite, thinking as he chewed. After swallowing he added, "I think things will be ok eventually. I just need to remember that the way you're dealing with it has to fit your comfort zone and you have to know I'm doing my best, even if I'm not always sure what to do."
"Can't say I'm exactly sure what to do either. The last time I can remember feeling fear like this was when I was little kid and I'd wake up from a nightmare or think there were monsters under the bed or something. I knew what to do then to feel safe but now….I don't know what to do."
"Maybe just acknowledging that. Talking about it when you feel scared. Remembering that this isn't a normal event. I mean, you don't really believe that every time you walk into a place you're going to face something like that again?" He paused before adding, "Do you?"
"Rationally, no, I don't. But there's some part of me that can't let that thought go and I just freeze up and can't do anything."
"Then...I guess we take that slow. At those moments give your rational mind a boost to help you over the fear. That I can tell you about. Facing horrors isn't easy but it can be done." Al picked up his glass to take a drink but paused, asking instead, "Out of curiosity, what did you do to feel safe? I mean, when you were a kid."
Shrugging, Sam grabbed the grated cheese and sprinkled some on his spaghetti then answered. "I'd get in bed between Mom and Dad. It was the safest place in the world to me." He looked up and met his friend's eyes. "That hasn't been an option for a long time."
"No. That only works when you're little." Al paused. "But there must have been things you did at other times...like when you were at school...or after you outgrew that comfort."
"I don't know. Go to my room, I guess."
"Maybe that can help you now." Al finally took his sip and set the glass down again.
"Isn't that what I've been doing?" Sam asked as he twirled spaghetti around his fork. "I thought you wanted me to stop doing that. You know, get back to normal." He didn't look at his friend and did his best to keep his voice neutral and not accusing.
"I don't mean literally. I mean mentally. If you're feeling fearful, take a mental time out. Doesn't have to be long...just enough to regain your bearings, so to speak. Really look at what you're facing and decide what you need to do."
Sam sighed. "I don't know if I know how to do that. When it happens, it's not like I think logically and I just," he shrugged. "When it happens I just need to be somewhere that I know is safe."
Al thought for a moment, wanting to know how much he wanted to reveal. He knew the kid knew some of it, though, and figured it might help. "Remember when I told you about being a POW?"
Sam nodded and waited for his friend to continue.
"There were times they'd pull us out of our sleep and act like they were ready to execute us. Made us kneel and put the gun to our heads. That's not a time when it's easy to think logically but we had to find a way that worked for us. All I'm saying is that you can train yourself to do what works when there isn't any other choice."
The food Sam had put in his mouth seemed to turn to dust as he listened to Al. He'd known his friend was a POW but it had never occurred to him what his friend had gone through. He swallowed the bite with some difficulty. "Oh my God," he said softly. "I never knew. Al, I'm so sorry you had to live through that."
Al shrugged looking down. "Nothing I can do about it. It happened. That was the main reason I turned to the bottle...not a smart choice but one that I thought was getting me through until it all started falling apart. Good thing we met and you took my rehab up as a project. Since then, when the flashbacks hit me, I try to use the techniques I developed back then. Certainly better then self-medicating." He finally looked up at Sam to see how he was taking this turn of the conversation. He hoped it would help him see he needed to develop coping techniques.
"I'm coping the best way I can, Al. I'm not as strong as you. I know that." Sam completely disregarded Al's reminder of his alcohol dependence. "I can't just change how I deal with things overnight even if I want to."
"I'd say in some ways, Sam, you're stronger than I am. And I'm not saying you have to change the way you deal with things overnight. Just that you start the process knowing you have someone walking every step of the way with you. It's going to take a while. I know that. But you'll get there. I know that as certain as I know the sun will rise and set tomorrow."
"I'm not sure I know where to start," Sam confessed softly. It was as close as he could get, at the moment, to asking for help.
Sam nodded and watched his friend walk away. He pulled in a deep breath once he was out of sight and let it out slowly. It was time, he decided, that he started dealing with everything not as a frightened child but as an adult. He'd be going back to work in three days. If he didn't get a handle on things now, he'd never be able to do his job. Instead of simply reacting to his fear and hiding, it was time to start facing it head on. "You should probably be getting home soon," he said when his friend rejoined him. "You must be tired with all the traveling yesterday and helping me today."
Al's head tilted as he blinked at the sudden request. Still he decided to probe the question rather than react. "You want me to go home?" He couldn't help but think of what had happened with the call to the police. If it happened again, they likely wouldn't be as forgiving.
"I need to start somewhere, Al. Being home alone is as good a place to start as any. I think," he continued uncertainly, then pushed on trying to sound more confident. "I think I'll drive to the park. I might not be up to getting back into my running routine but I can start by walking." He forced a smile to his face but as an idea came to him, the smile became genuine with a hint of a laugh. "As long as there are no stray remote control airplanes, that should be perfectly safe."
"Doubtful there'd be one at night," Al replied dryly. "I agree you need to start somewhere but..." He knew as the one who'd been pushing his request was going to sound strange. "...but could I just stay tonight? See how it goes...for my sake." He added quickly, "I can just clean up the mess while you're at the park." He didn't want his friend thinking he saw him as unable to do things for himself now.
Sam studied the older man carefully. It seemed, he realized, he wasn't the only one who had to start somewhere. Al had been spending a lot of time the last month worrying about him and it didn't look like he was ready to stop that tonight. "Sure," he agreed. "You can save yourself the drive back to your place tonight but tomorrow, you go into StarBright. You can't keep losing time because of me."
Nodding lightly in agreement, the older man stated, "Ok. I can do that." He figured that if things went well that night, it would signal a positive change in the status quo for certain. If not, well, they could deal with that possibility if they reached that bridge.
"Ok." Sam looked down to his plate and only then realized he'd emptied it. "Dinner was great." He put his fork down, finished his drink then stood up. "I'm just going to go get changed and head out. I shouldn't be gone more than an hour, hour and half tops." He started to walk to his bedroom but stopped and looked back. "Don't follow me, even if you feel like you have to. I'll be ok." He smiled to take any sting out of his words and to reassure his friend.
Al almost was ready to argue that but he heard something in Sam's voice that told him he needed to show his friend trust. "Ok."
Without saying anything further, Sam went into his bedroom. He came out a few minutes later in a pair of running shorts, a t-shirt that he'd cut the sleeves off of, and his running shoes. "You need anything while I'm out?" he asked as he stuffed his wallet into his pocket and grabbed his keys off the desk.
"Ok. I'll get it on the way back. See you in a bit."
"In a bit." When the door closed, Al went to the window to peek out, watching as Sam came out of the building and got into his vehicle. Once the man had left the parking lot, he did his best to stay totally busy to keep his mind off of what could be happening.
It was a little over an hour later when Sam returned. He carried the bag with the requested ice cream. As he walked into his apartment, he tried to keep the relief from his face that he was feeling now that he was back in his home. "I'm back," he called out.
When Al heard the door opening, he'd gone into the kitchento put the dust rag that he'd used to dust the living room three times in the cabinet under the sink. Rising from where he'd bent down, he did his best to embrace calm now that his friend was back. "Oh good. Have a nice walk?"
"I guess," Sam responded with a half-hearted shrug. He handed the bag to the other man. "Here's the ice cream. I'm going to go take a shower. It's still hot as hell out there."
"Yeah. Hope the ice cream didn't melt." He put the ice cream in the freezer.
Sam watched his friend walk away puzzled. He'd expected to be asked a battery of questions and it sent him off kilter when he wasn't. He was still standing in the same place when Al turned from the refrigerator.
"I thought you were going to get a shower."
"Huh? Uh...yeah," Sam answered mentally shaking himself. "I'll need you to wrap my shoulder again." Al got the proper materials and did so. "I'll be right back," Sam told him before walking into his bedroom. He looked over his shoulder once at his friend, still not sure why Al was being so silent about things, then went into the bathroom. He came back out fifteen minutes later freshly showered.
This time Al was on the couch apparently relaxing. The only sign that things weren't as they should be was that Al was holding the magazine upside down. "I was thinking a movie might be good tonight," Al said casually.
Sam started to answer but then caught sight of the magazine. He took it from his friend's hand and flipped it the right way. "I think it works better this way." He sat on the other end of the couch. "What's going on, Al?"
"On?" Al asked innocently. Seeing Sam's face and knowing the man wasn't buying his act, he sighed. "I gotta admit, I was worried about you."
"So you read upside down?"
"No," Al didn't expand on that. "How did your walk go?"
"It went." Knowing that the answer was more of a non-answer, Sam continued, "I spent most of the time sitting in the car. After I drove to the park, I just sat there trying to convince myself to get out of the car and that there was nothing there that could hurt me."
"You were sweaty though. Fear do that or did you finally get up and walk?"
"I walked. I used the oval - thought it would be easier. I made it around once then I had to stop."
"Ok...and nothing happened there...which is good. I had all sorts of thoughts going through my mind while you were gone. Was there going to be a car backfire...or a squirrel jumping in the trees...or something else that would have keyed into your fear."
"At first I kept thinking about that but once I got half way around, that wasn't at the top of my mind anymore."
Al smiled. "I'm glad for you, Kid."
"I'm not so glad," Sam grumbled. "I got halfway around and instead all I could think about was getting back to the car without passing out. When I did get to the car, I had to just sit there for a few minutes 'til I could catch my breath. I can't remember the last time I've been this out of shape. I couldn't make it a quarter mile without huffing and puffing."
"I didn't think about that," Al admitted. "But, you're just getting over some serious stuff, Sam. You've got to give your body time to heal."
"It's had plenty of time." Sam shook his head slightly. "I'm just a little frustrated with it, that's all. I know I have to give it time."
"So...what about the store? When you got the ice cream."
"I almost didn't go in," Sam said truthfully. "I got there and just sat in the car again. When I finally did go in, I felt like I was back on the track again and I might hyperventilate. I think the guy at the counter thought I was going to rob him or something because I was so jumpy."
"I shouldn't have asked you." The older man obviously felt guilty.
"No, Al," Sam quickly disagreed. "I needed to do it. I'm glad you asked me because I did it. As hard as it was, I felt good afterwards because I did it." A broad grin came to Sam's face. "I did it," he repeated.
Al smiled as well seeing his friend feeling more confident in himself. "Then I'm glad I asked now. So...you want a bowl to celebrate?"
"I didn't buy it to keep it in the freezer."
"All right then. I'll get us a couple of bowls." Al got up to get the ice cream "I'm proud of you Sam," He said as he dished up two bowls.
If possible, the grin on Sam's face grew even broader when he heard what his friend said. "Thanks, Al."
Al put the bowls of ice cream on the table and gestured for Sam to sit. "You're welcome. I know it's going to take some time, but tonight was a good start."
"It was," Sam agreed.
The two men enjoyed their ice cream then spent the rest of the night watching a movie before turning in for the night. Al was relieved that it looked like Sam was turning a corner putting both the physical and emotional trauma of the shooting behind him. His relief, however, started to evaporate when he heard the younger man moving around the apartment at 3:00 am. As he got out of bed to see what Sam was doing, he thought there was going to be a replay of the call to the police.
When he looked over to the kitchen where the noise was coming from, he found his friend putting the ice cream back in the freezer. Not wanting to admit that he'd been worried, Al instead told Sam that he'd been getting up for the same reason. The rest of the night had gone quietly after that.
Al went back to work the next morning. He had to stop himself from calling Sam throughout the day to check on him. After work, he went back to Sam's apartment and was pleasantly surprised when he found out that not only had Sam gone for another walk in the park, but he'd also gone to the grocery store and bought steaks to grill for dinner. Although he confessed to Al that it had again been hard, he'd forced himself to do it. It looked like their talk had a positive effect on the younger man.
When Monday came around, Sam was ready for his first day back at StarBright. Most of the morning was spent with a steady stream of visitors coming into his office to welcome him back. By the time 12:30 came around, it was time for him to leave and he'd done very little work. Still, it had been good to be with other people. The next day, he threw himself wholeheartedly into his work and the morning flew by.
The next few weeks went much the same. Sam would go into the office in the morning and then home in the afternoon. He very rarely chose to go anywhere else other than his medical and therapy appointments without good reason. Al noticed, though, that that reluctance seemed to ebb as the weeks went by.
By the middle of September, Sam was back to work full time and he seemed to have reclaimed his normal life. The only thing he still seemed reluctant to do was go into the bank. Al figured that, given time, he'd even be able to conquer that fear as well.
As fall wore on, Al began to breathe a sigh of relief as Sam put the events of the summer behind him. It looked like his friend was finally going to be able to get on with his life. It came as a surprise to the two of them when Steve Matthews informed Sam in late October that he was being given the opportunity to take the role of the director at the New Mexico facility. The offer was presented in such a way that Sam knew it would hurt his career with StarBright irreparably to turn down it down. Reluctantly, he agreed but he insisted that Al go along to head up the HR department there.
The next month became a whirlwind for the two men. They were expected in New Mexico at the beginning of December. Al flew out the first weekend in November to arrange an apartment for the two of them. They decided, at least for the short term that it would be easier for them to room together. Because of his still healing lung, Sam was prohibited from flying until at least the first of the year. Once Al had arranged the apartment, he'd fly back to Virginia then the two of them would make the cross country drive.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, Sam locked up his apartment for the last time. Al was waiting for him at the car. They'd start the drive to New Mexico today. Yesterday, they'd gone to the Hay-Adams in Washington, DC for Thanksgiving dinner. It had been Al's idea to eat out for the holiday since, with the move the next day, it would have been too complicated for either men to cook dinner. It hadn't been Sam's idea of the best Thanksgiving dinner – he'd been hoping to be with his family for that – but at least the friends had been able to share it.
"All locked up?" Al asked as Sam came to the car.
"Yeah. It seemed so empty." Sam gave one last look at the building he'd called home for almost a year then pulled open the passenger door of the car and got in.
"You gonna be ok?" Al asked as he also got in the car. He knew this trip wasn't Sam's first choice but his friend was making the best of it.
Sam looked at Al, back to the apartment building and then back to his friend again. "I'm gonna be ok, Al." A smile came to his face. "We both are. This is a chance for both of us to put a lot of bad stuff behind us and make a fresh start."
"That's the spirit, Kid," Al agreed as he patted his friend on the shoulder. He started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. "Let's go find that fresh start, Sam."