The Dance

by Jennifer L. Rowland

Sam Leaped and the Imaging Chamber resolved back into a large, empty white room. San Diego, 1969 faded back into the past. Al was still standing with his arms outstretched, where he had reached for the image of Beth's shoulders. He opened his eyes and dropped his arms, then touched wonderingly at his lips. He had felt the skin of her forehead, had moved her hair. He had heard her whisper his name as the Past faded and the Present took over. He wondered then if the goodbye Sam had made him give had been the thing that finally convinced Beth he was dead.

I don't want to leave this room, he thought. He could still pretend he was actually in 1969, with his Beth. He wouldn't have to acknowledge in the "real world" what he had admitted to Sam—his subsequent marriages had all failed because they weren't HER. He continually tried and failed to replicate his one true love. He missed her. It hurt as much as it did in 1973 when they'd finally told him why his wife hadn't come to the hospital after his repatriation.

Al hung his head and buried his face in his hands. Oh, Beth. He felt the tears building and he struggled to choke them back. They knew out there that Sam had Leaped. They would be wondering why he was still in the Imaging Chamber. If he didn't emerge soon, they'd send someone in after him. But he couldn't make himself move. He couldn't bear to face Tina and Gooshie in the Control Room, knowing that there was a record of his side of things.

"Admiral Calavicci," Ziggy's voice sounded softer than normal. He realized the computer was tactfully speaking for his ears only. "Admiral Calavicci," she said again, refusing to continue until he acknowledged her.

Al cleared his throat, "Yes, Ziggy?"

"I cut the audio feed to the Control Room once you entered your old home, and I purged the recording of your...soliloquy...from the Leap file."

"When did you get a heart, Zig?" Al hated how his voice cracked when he spoke.

"There's no need to be insulting, Admiral," Ziggy primly said, and she opened the Imaging Chamber door. Clearly, if he didn't leave now she was going to allow someone to come in after him, and he knew that someone would likely be Verbena Beeks.

Al stalked out of the Imaging Chamber into the Control Room. Gooshie was alone at the console, and he didn't say a word as Al handed him the handlink with a hand that quivered ever so slightly. Tina was nowhere to be seen, and that was just fine with Al right now. He turned to head to his quarters, when Gooshie nervously called to him. Sighing, Al turned back. "What?" he snapped.

"Uh, Dr. Beeks wanted to talk to you, Admiral. She asked if you would go to her office when you came out."

"I'm sure she did. Well, she can wait til kingdom come for all I care."

Gooshie didn't try to stop him this time.

The corridors were thankfully empty as Al made his way to his quarters. Once inside, he locked the door and leaned against it. The tears he had somehow held back pushed forth with a vengeance and Al sobbed as he dealt with losing Beth for the second time in his life. The dashing of hopes hurt more than he imagined they could. Having danced with the hologram of her had reignited so many memories of their life together. She was so beautiful. He remembered the first time they had danced to "Georgia." It was at the O club. The dance floor had been crowded, but as far as they were concerned they had it all to themselves. He remembered the feel of her lips against his as they kissed while dancing. He could almost smell the faint jasmine of her perfume she'd worn, hear the rustle of her skirts as they brushed against his legs.

Al scrubbed at his eyes and stared at his quarters, so unlike the home he had made with Beth. A hollow pain filled his chest and he made his way slowly to his dresser. He opened the top drawer and reached all the way to the back of it, to the small wooden box tucked away behind his socks. He closed his hand around it and took it with him as he moved to the couch in his sitting area. He didn't open it, but sat with the box in his lap, staring at it.

It's too damn quiet in here, Al thought, and he reached to snap on the radio. As the closing strains of a song he couldn't recognize ended, he lifted the lid. He ignored the final letter from Beth he had received during his recuperation and rehab—he couldn't bear to re-read her words explaining how she had met Dirk on April Fool's Day, 1969. Explaining why she had lost faith in his, Al's, return. Had him declared dead. How she and Dirk had married. He didn't know why he still held on to the painful epistle. But in truth he did—it was her handwriting.

He lifted out a faded photograph. Beth had not held on to much of his effects after marrying Dirk and selling their bungalow. Like many widows, she had come to terms with her grief by purging many of his belongings. The difference was, he hadn't been dead. Unlike his divorces, there was no box of his things to be handed. Beth had, apparently, kept their wedding album, and she had parted with some of the photos, tucking them into the envelope the letter had come in. Al supposed he should be grateful that she still cared enough about what they had shared that she wanted to keep her own memories. But not enough to divorce Dirk and take me back, Al bitterly thought. Tears once again obscured his vision of the wedding photograph, Beth in her beautifully simple white, lace-trimmed wedding gown with short veil, himself an ensign in his dress whites, so many fewer ribbons adorning the uniform. He set the photo aside and allowed himself the grief release as his face crumpled and a pained sound emerged from his throat.

A second photo came out of the box. A candid photo someone had taken of them at the wedding reception, dancing and gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Al stared at it and ran a hand over his face. "I loved you so much, Beth. Hell, I still love you." He fell silent and allowed the memories to wash over him again as a new song began to play on the radio. The instrumental intro sounded and Al quietly laughed a harsh ironic laugh as he recognized the Garth Brooks song.

"Looking back
On the memory of
The dance we shared
'Neath the stars above"

He held the photograph of their documented dance in his hands. He remembered dancing so many times with her. He remembered how happy they had been.

"For a moment
All the world was right
But how could I have known
That you'd ever say goodbye"

Garth Brooks was singing the contents of Al's heart and the performer didn't even know it. Damn, he wanted those years he'd spent as a prisoner back. They had robbed him of everything. He wanted Beth back. Sam had changed things and gotten Donna back. She was alone in the quarters she had shared with Sam right now. Why not me? Al knew if he spoke the thought aloud it would come out as a wail.

"And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance"

A sob built in his throat and Al considered the lyric. God, it hurt to be without Beth now, but he considered the alternative of never having had her in his life at all. He looked down at the photo of their previous dance in his hand and suddenly pressed It to his heart.

"Holding you
I held everything
For a moment
Wasn't I the king?

If I'd only known
How the king would fall
Hey, who's to say
You know I might have changed it all"

The tears streamed down Al's face. Why had he gone back to Vietnam for that damned second tour? Beth had truly been his everything, only he hadn't treasured her enough when he had her. He'd put his "duty" before her, volunteering to leave before he was scheduled to, shortening his time home with her. She wanted children and he didn't, and therefore they hadn't had any. Oh, how he regretted that now. He wished he had the chance to make it right, to put her first and to do whatever it took to make her happy. I'm part of a time travel experiment and I can't, he laughed hollowly.

"And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end
The way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance"

Al's tears were spent. He knew one thing for certain, losing Beth was more pain than he'd ever known. The VC had caused physical pain to him, but he'd held on to the memory and hope of her. He'd held on to their love, and as he had just told her during his dance with her as a shadow in the Imaging Chamber (still unsure if she'd been able to hear him or not) their love was what had kept him alive.

"Yes, my life, it's better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss
the dance."

Al looked at the photograph once more, leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. In his mind's eye, he held Beth close and they danced, two young lovers with all their hopes and dreams ahead of them.

"The Dance" © 1989, written by Tony Arata, performed by Garth Brooks