Sunday, April 11, 1982

"Mommy, the Bunny came! The Bunny came!" Theresa bounced excitedly on the bed and held my wrist in her hands.

I smiled. Yesterday, Mom and I had left the girls with Dad and Rob and gone shopping at J C Penney for Easter dresses for me and my daughters. Though the selection was picked over so close to Easter we'd found suitable dresses for the girls, including one confection that was sure to delight Grace, who adored frilly things. A quick stop at the toy store yielded four stuffed animals. While I would have preferred to give each girl a bunny, our last-minute shopping once again left us with little to choose from. Only one bunny remained in the bin of Easter toys, and I could just imagine the squabble that would ensue if only one girl received a coveted bunny. I came up with two lambs and two ducks and Mom said she had ribbon so we could give each critter a unique color to distinguish ownership.

The grocery store's Easter aisle, surprisingly, wasn't decimated. As we entered the aisle, an employee was unloading a fresh shipment to restock the empty areas. Four identical baskets ended up in our cart, along with an extra-large package of Easter grass. Two packages of jellybeans, chocolate eggs, and of course, marshmallow Peeps joined the baskets.

After the girls went to bed, Mom and Dad took charge of assembling the baskets, looking much like little kids themselves. I busied myself with removing the tags from the girls' Easter dresses, leaving my parents to enjoy this rare chance to spoil my kids. Just as I finished with the last dress Al had called and we'd talked briefly. Because he sounded drained and exhausted, his throat raw, I hadn't kept him on the phone as long as I would have liked to. After satisfying myself that he was fine, I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him then urged him to get some sleep.

Though I'd been pretty exhausted myself upon heading to bed after all the running, now I sat up to share in Theresa's excitement. She threw her arms around me to hug me and then jumped to the floor, pulling at my hand to follow her.

"Come see, Mommy! Come see what the Bunny bringed me!"

I got up to follow her, grinning at her enthusiasm and feeling a wistful pang that Al wasn't with me to share this. We padded down the stairs, Theresa looking back to make sure I followed close behind. She led the way to the basket Mom had affixed a placard to bearing her name in calligraphy, kneeling in front of it and lifting out a stuffed duck with a bright green ribbon tied to its neck.

"Look, Mommy!" she cried, presenting the duck to me.

I cooed accordingly and patted the stuffed creature's head. "Have you picked a name yet?"

Theresa crinkled her brow in thought and then announced, "Mistah Duck!"

"Well, hello, Mr. Duck," I said, genteelly shaking his wing in greeting. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Theresa giggled and hugged the duck close. She hefted her basket and plopped it in my lap. "The Bunny leaved goodies, Mommy!"

"I see that! You must have been a good little girl for the Bunny to be so generous to you."

Cocking her head to the side, Theresa asked, "What is jenna-wuss?"

"Look at all the goodies you got," I said, tilting the basket to display its contents. I reached in to ruffle the treats around a bit. "You're a very lucky girl! The Bunny left you a lot of candy."

"Nice Bunny! Thank you, Easter Bunny!" she shouted at the ceiling before I could shush her. Moments later I heard the heavy thump of Dad getting out of bed.

"Oh, Resa, you woke up Nana and Papa," I said.

My gentle disapproval was lost on her. "Yay! Wake up, everyone!" she cheered. She jumped to her feet and ran upstairs, shouting, "Bree! Sheli! Grace! Wake up! Wake up and see what the Bunny bringed! He's jenna-wuss!"

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"Do you like your new dress, Bree?" I asked as I brushed her hair.

Bridget looked down at the lavender dress and tugged at the smocking. She looked up at me and asked, "Would Daddy like it?"

"Oh yes," I nodded, "Daddy would think you look very pretty in it."

She smiled. "I like it."

I tied a matching ribbon in her hair to keep her curls back from her face and made sure the bow was at an angle. "Look how pretty you look! Now put on your fancy socks and the new white shoes Nana bought for you, okay?"

Michele slid off the chair she'd been sitting in and joined her twin, scrutinizing the final results.

"Well?" Bridget finally asked.

Michele nodded her approval and hugged her twin. "You look pretty in purple, Bree."

"You look pretty, too," Bridget said. Michele glanced at her light blue dress, identical to Bridget's in all but color, and smiled.

"Okay, you two go downstairs and wait in the living room until we're all ready to go. No running! I want you both looking as pretty for Mass as you look right now."

They calmly walked from the room but the clattering of their shoes on the wooden stairs betrayed their disobedience. I bit back a sigh and a stern comment. After the past few days, I was happy to see any signs of exuberance from the girls. Leaving Al behind had affected them so deeply. I sighed, knowing that the circumstances surrounding the separation had caused deep pain to my children. Only time would tell in what form it would manifest itself. I could only pray that when we rejoined Al, their little spirits would be healed.

Grace peeked in the doorway and smiled at me. "Mommy, me like new dwess!" She did a pirouette so that the flouncy skirt twirled around her.

"You look very pretty in it, too, Grace," I told her.

She beamed at me. A soft yelp sounded from behind her and she turned in that direction before facing me again. "Nana bwush Wee-sa hair."

I well remembered how diligently Mom would work to get tangles free and I also knew how tangled Theresa's hair was capable of getting. A sympathetic wince twisted my face for a moment before I picked Grace up and kissed her chubby cheeks.

"It's Easter Sunday, Grace," I said in a sudden rush of warmth. I kissed her again.

"Happy Easter," she responded, returning the kiss.

I hugged my daughter tightly and then reluctantly put her down as she began squirming. She shouted "Happy Easter" to me again and then ran off in search of her grandfather.

Checking my makeup in the mirror, I blinked away tears. Al should be here with us. I imagined him standing behind me adjusting his tie, the grin that I loved tracing his lips as he listened to the girls' laughter. "Listen to them," he'd say. "That's how kids should sound. That's what a house should sound like."

"Oh, Al," I whispered as my head dropped. "I hope you're okay, baby."

Mom knocked softly on my door and poked her head in, her grey curls perfectly coifed. "Beth, are you ready?"

Forcing a smile to my face, I nodded and followed her downstairs.

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"It's a shame your husband couldn't come," Nad told me as we talked in the parking lot after the service. Nadine and I had been friends since elementary school, inseparable in high school. I couldn't bring myself to tell her the truth, though.

"Yes, he couldn't get away from the Project," I breezily fibbed. "He's got so much on his plate."

The half-truth ripped at me and I had to force the easy smile of pride to stay on my face. I squinted in the glare of the sun on the macadam of the church parking lot and hoped I could use it as an excuse for any excess water in my eyes.

"Well, you tell that handsome devil I've got a spot on my dance card reserved for him at the class reunion. And that means you two better be there this time!" Nad told me, wagging a sculpted acrylic nail.

Captain of the cheerleading squad, it was no surprise to me that Nad was on the reunion committee. I fully believed her to be single-handedly responsible for making sure our class held reunions on a regular basis. If she had her way, we'd surely have reunions every five years. I wondered how many calendars she had and if she ever took a break from party planning. Nad's house had been the social center in high school. Her father owned the largest Lincoln dealership in the area and the family had the house to show for it.

"Nadine," said Mom, finally breaking away from chatting with the ladies in her bridge club. "How are you, dear? It's so good to see you."

"I'm fine, Mrs. Warner," smiled Nad. "Just catching up with Beth and telling her how disappointed I am that Al's too busy to get away."

Mom didn't miss a beat, nodding and smiling agreeably. "Yes, we're disappointed, too."

Three short beeps of a horn caused Nad to whip her head around and she waved distractedly at the silver Jaguar. "Ronny," she said. "We'll be late to his mother's so I better run." She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. "It was so good to see you, Beth! Keep in touch, okay?"

"Okay," I agreed, giving her a hug before she hurried to the car as fast as her straight skirt and high heels would allow her to. Mom slipped an arm around my shoulders as they drove off.

"You handled that beautifully," she whispered in my ear.

"I couldn't tell Nad," I said. "I couldn't do that to Al."

"I know." She squeezed my shoulder and then gently nudged me towards the car. "Rob and Angie are coming over for Easter dinner and we've got a lot to do yet."

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Mom set the baked ham on the table and stepped back to survey the spread.

"It looks great, Mrs. Warner," Angie enthused. "Smells wonderful, too!"

I nodded my agreement and Mom smiled her thanks at both of us. "Angie, would you light the candles and Beth, if you'd let the rest of the family know dinner's ready."

Nodding again, I stepped into the family room and beckoned everyone, saying, "Dinner's ready. Put the game away, girls, and let's eat."

Rob helped them pick up the game and then carried Grace piggyback into the dining room. Theresa whined for her grandfather to carry her, too, so Dad knelt and swung Theresa into his arms. An impromptu race to the dining room commenced, with Dad and Theresa winning.

"Ah, we'll get 'em next time, Gracie," Rob panted, winking at me.

"Pete, would you ask the blessing?"

Dad nodded at Mom and we all stood silently around the table, crossing ourselves as the prayer began. "Dear Lord, bless this food and bless the hands that prepared it. Thank You for those of our family that are here on this holy day and take special care of those who can't be with us. Thank You for Your Son and thank You for taking care of us all. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen."

"Amen."

We pulled out our chairs and sat down, immediately beginning the process of filling plates and passing dishes around the table. Mom put a spoonful of sweet potato casserole on Bridget's plate and my daughter made a face.

"What are those?" she asked.

"Sweet potatoes. You'll like them."

Bridget shook her head. "It looks like baby food."

Mom shrugged and lightly commented, "Your Daddy likes them so much he always takes seconds."

An eyebrow raised and Bridget looked suspiciously at the plate then to me. "Does Daddy really like them?"

"Yes, he does."

She allowed Mom to set her plate down in front of her and then squinted at the potatoes as she slowly lifted a tiny forkful to her lips. Surprise painted her face as she enjoyed the taste. "Why don't we have these at home, Mommy?"

I blushed and Rob started laughing. "Because your Mommy hasn't figured out how to cook them without burning them yet!"

"Rob!" Mom scolded, and Angie swatted him.

"No, he's right," I said. "I've tried but I just can't make them come out as good as yours."

"Well, looks like that's a reason for you to keep coming out here for a visit then," grinned Dad.

I smiled weakly and turned to feed Grace some of the sweet potatoes. She smacked her lips loudly and asked for more. Theresa pushed food around her plate and made patterns in the potatoes with her fork. She speared a green bean and stared at it.

"Resa? Eat your food, baby," I softly told her.

Theresa blinked her wide brown eyes and seemed to shake herself. The green bean disappeared into her mouth and she chewed it past the point of swallowing. She forced it down and slowly poked her fork into a small cube of ham.

Michele was sitting next to her sister and she reached out to touch Theresa's hand. Theresa looked at her big sister as she squeezed her fingers. "It's going to be okay," Michele said.

"It's lunchtime," Theresa protested.

Dad was closer to Theresa and he gently asked her what was wrong. She looked at him and frowned.

"Papa, Daddy said he would call on Easter…"

Dad touched her small shoulder. "Theresa, Easter isn't over by a long shot. It's not even lunchtime for your Daddy yet."

That confused her. Her little brow creased and she shook her head. "It's lunchtime now!"

Dad tried to explain the time zone difference to her but quickly abandoned it to simply tell her again, "Easter isn't over, honey. He'll call before Easter is over."

All four of my daughters looked at their grandfather and then looked at me to see if I agreed. I was concerned by the fact that Al hadn't called yet but I couldn't show it. I forced my face into a pleasant expression, smiling reassuringly at the girls and nodding. A sip of wine steadied me enough to say, "Daddy keeps his promises."

I picked up my utensils and began eating with more relish than I felt. Gradually my children returned to their meals, but Mom kept her gaze on me. I looked up and read her concern. She could feel that something was wrong with me.

As for me, I was certain something was wrong with Al.

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"Find eggs again, Unca Rob…find eggs again!" shouted Grace, clapping her hands together excitedly.

Rob looked down at the basket full of plastic snap-together Easter eggs with an air of longsuffering. His reluctance was lost on Grace, who jumped up and down in her enthusiasm.

"Hide eggs, Unca Rob. Peas?"

Grace had a way of putting a lilt on the end of her pleading requests that melted even the sternest adult heart. Whatever Rob would rather have been doing disappeared as a warm smile spread across his face. Reaching to ruffle Grace's dark hair, he said, "All right, squirt. You and your sisters go in the sunporch and hide your faces and I'll hide the eggs again."

"What a squirt?" Grace asked Michele as the girls headed onto the screened-in sunporch.

"Thanks, Rob," I told him as he picked up the basket and started to hide the eggs around the yard.

"Yeah, yeah," he said, waving a hand at me.

Mom grinned at me over her glass of pink lemonade. "You know he loves every minute of playing with his nieces, no matter what he says."

I smiled back. "I know he does." I watched him hide eggs, putting some in easy to find spots for Grace, while he hid the twins' eggs in tougher locations. My mother, in her wisdom, had purchased eggs in four colors. Each girl had a unique color of egg to hunt for, which ensured that the more obvious eggs weren't snatched up by the older girls. I sighed, wishing yet again that Al was with us.

Mom glanced over at the sound of my sigh and reached to squeeze my hand encouragingly. "Why don't you go call him, honey?" When I glanced at the sunporch, she shook her head. "They won't even notice you're missing, Beth."

I kissed Mom on the cheek as I rose. "I'll just be upstairs."

I slipped inside the house, entering through the door at the side yard rather than the sunporch and headed upstairs to my parents' room. I pushed the door closed, and moved through their sanctum to take a seat on Mom's side of the bed. I briefly closed my eyes then lifted the handset and dialed.

Four rings sounded before the line at home was answered.

"Hello?"

"Sam? Is that you?"

"Mrs. Calavicci. Hi. Uh, this isn't a good time."

I frowned. What about this entire weekend had been good? Fighting to remain calm, I asked Sam what he meant.

Sam sounded hesitant. "Al's really upset with me. I woke him up for lunch but maybe I should have let him rest. He started shouting at me and then cursing at me, and now I can't understand half of what he's saying."

The background noises I had initially assumed to be the television (forgetting it had been destroyed) now came through the phone lines with full clarity. I heard Star barking and over the sharp yips, I could hear Al screaming out that he just wanted to be left alone. Obscenities peppered his speech and he switched intermittently between English, Italian, and Vietnamese. My heart leapt into my throat.

"Sam…how did you wake him up? Was he talking in his sleep?"

Confusion bathed Sam's voice. "No, he was dead asleep on the couch. I shook his shoulder, and when that didn't work I poked him in the side to tease him and…"

Star's barking intensified as the stress over his master's behavior hit a peak. I didn't even let Sam finish before I cried out, "Put the dog outside, Sam!"

"He's just frightened by Al's shouting, Mrs. Cala--," Sam began to explain.

"Now, Sam! Put the damn dog outside now!"

Startled into action, Sam dropped the phone and I heard him calling Star as he chased him into the backyard. I bit my lip and prayed that the removal of the dog's barking would ease the flashback's hold on Al. I knew that Sam's playful jab in the ribs had sparked bad memories, and Star's barking had made a mental association of the guard dogs for my husband.

"It's going to be all right, honey," I called through the phone, even though I knew Al couldn't hear me. Had he been totally silent he couldn't have heard me. But somehow, it made me feel better to say it.

Sam scooped the phone up again, somewhat breathless. "Star's outside now. Why?"

"I'll explain later, Sam. Has Al calmed down any? What is he doing?"

Worry replaced confusion. "He's muttering to himself. He's pressed his body into a corner."

My stomach shrank as if large fists compressed it. My voice shook as I asked Sam to describe his posture.

"He…uh…he's sitting on the floor and his legs are straight out in front of him. He's holding his hands over his head."

"Over his head how? Straight up or wrists together?"

"Wrists together."

Like they were bound. I pressed a hand to my stomach as ripples of fear passed through my abdomen. "Sam. Listen to me. I need you to tell me exactly where Al is. Is he in the living room?"

"No, he's in the dining room, in the corner."

"Which phone are you on, the kitchen?"

"Yeah." Sam sounded frightened now. "What's going on?"

"I'll explain later," I repeated. Thank God Sam was on the kitchen phone with its incredibly long cord. "I need you to hold the receiver to Al's ear for me. Move slowly and steadily towards him, okay? Whatever happens, stay calm and keep holding the phone to his ear."

Sam didn't speak as he followed my instructions. When he reached Al, he told me, "I'm right next to him. I'm going to put the phone to his ear now."

The feel of the hard plastic against the side of his head translated to something far more sinister in Al's mind. A faint whimper of fear was quickly followed by a harsh curse. "Why don't you bastards just shoot me already?" he demanded. "You've been playing this damn game for weeks! Shoot me!" A steady stream of obscenities that included vulgarities Al would never have said in front of me erupted from him before he screamed again, "SHOOT ME, DAMN YOU!"

"Al, baby, can you hear me? Honey, it's Beth."

"What kind of sick game is this?" he snarled.

I bit my lip, and said again, "Baby, it's Beth. Honey, can you hear me? You're home, Al. You're home."

"No, it's a trick. It's a cruel trick."

"Oh, God, baby, no. No, it's not. Honey, it's me. It's Beth. I love you, Al. God, I wish I was there with you."

Al's protests became a despairing wail. "No, it's a lie."

Beside him, Sam said, "No, Al, it's not. Your wife's talking to you."

"Beth? Where are you? I can't see you." His voice shrank to that of a little boy's and stabbed through me with all the force of its piteousness. It was hard to be strong for him in the face of his despair when I couldn't touch him to encourage him.

"I'm in Kansas City, Al. I'm on the phone, baby. You had a bad dream, Al. That's all, sweetheart, just a bad dream."

"Here, Al, hold the phone," I heard Sam quietly urge him. "That's it. There you go. Talk to your wife."

"Beth?"

My heart cried out in anguish for what my husband was going through but somehow I managed to keep my voice steady and reassuring. "Yes, baby. I'm here."

"I miss you."

"I know. I miss you, too, Al. I love you, honey."

"Beth? I miss you. I love you," Al said, as if I hadn't spoken.

"I love you, too," I said fervently. "Baby, talk to me. Are you all right now?"

"Shower. I need a shower."

Al's disconnect from the flow of our conversation worried me. "Al, talk to me, honey. Are you all right?"

"I need a shower," he repeated. "I need a shower and I'll be fine."

"Okay, baby, go take a shower." I loosened a grip that had become painful on the receiver. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he weakly responded. "I'm going to go take a shower now." He apparently handed the phone off to Sam because he sounded distant as he informed Sam, "I'm going to take a shower."

"Sam?"

The young man sounded stunned as he responded, "Yes, I'm here."

"Make sure he's okay, would you? I'll wait."

"Uh, sure." A clunk signaled the receiver's placement on the dining table or counter as Sam trailed after my husband.

As I waited for Sam to return, I tried to calm my racing heart by breathing slowly in and out. The level of unease evident in Sam's nervous voice told me clearly he had no inkling of Al's history. I couldn't say I was surprised that Al hadn't told him. There were more than a few things about Vietnam Al wouldn't tell me even now, after being home for nearly seven years. I was just grateful he wasn't alone. That didn't stop me from yearning to be with him, though. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and soothe the bad memories away. I wanted to remind him he was safe and loved.

Quiet rustling drew me from my thoughts as I realized Sam had returned. He picked the phone up but didn't say anything for a few moments. When he finally spoke, complete and utter shock coated his voice.

"What happened to him? What the hell happened to him?" Before I could even try to answer, Sam began speaking again. His voice quavered and almost broke. "I've never seen so many scars in my life."

The tone of Sam's voice more than his words told me what had to have occurred. I could see it as clearly as if Sam described it. In his near-delirium, Al must have uncharacteristically left the bathroom door open as he stripped for his shower. When Sam went upstairs to check on him, he'd undoubtedly seen the myriad scars covering Al's back. That alone was enough to shock even someone who knew of the scars' existence. If Al had removed more than just his shirt, if Sam had caught a glimpse of the scars extending down my husband's buttocks, raggedly tearing across his legs…his legs that had never healed as straight and strong as they had been prior to the war…

Shaking my head, I softly inquired, "Has Al told you anything about his past?" I was leading Sam, and knew before he answered in the negative that Al hadn't told him one single thing about Vietnam.

"Sam, Al flew missions over Vietnam during the war and in '67 he was shot down. He was listed MIA and for nearly three years I didn't know for sure if he was alive or dead."

"But…he came home," Sam faintly argued.

"In 1975, Sam. The VC had him for eight years."

"No…oh, no." Realization slapped him in the face. "So what happened just now…wasn't a dream…that really did…"

I couldn't help the tiny sob that caught in my throat as I simply said yes, adding, "He was remembering."

"Oh, God. Oh, my dear God," Sam stammered. He sounded like he wanted to throw up. "They tortured him."

"Brutally." I let the impact of that sink in. "Sam, you said when you woke him you poked him in the ribs?"

"I didn't know," he weakly protested, guilt weighing on each word.

"I'm not blaming you," I assured him. "I just want you to understand. Al was in very bad shape when he came home. He had to undergo a lot of reconstructive surgery, and one area was his ribcage. The VC…they broke and rebroke those bones so many times when he was a POW. I'm sure he had to have been having a nightmare about the camps and when you poked him there—"

An anguished sound emerged from Sam's throat. "I'm so sorry. Oh, God, Mrs. Calavicci, I'm sorry."

He had such a good heart. He was berating himself for something he had not caused, and certainly had no control over. Sam felt as anguished and helpless as I did about what Al had gone through and how it affected him to this day.

"Sam, I told you, I'm not blaming you. I can't tell you how many times the most innocuous thing has set off a flashback for him, especially when he's in that place between waking and sleeping. Star's barking…Al heard it as the guard dogs at Cham Hoi."

"That's why you wanted me to put Star outside," reasoned Sam.

"Yes," I nodded. "Sam, I'm very glad you're there with him. I was afraid this might happen when he started to dry out. You see, he started drinking because the night terrors had started coming back."

"Night terrors?"

"Sam, they're so much more than just a bad dream. When Al has one of them—well, you saw it—he can't tell the difference between the memory and reality when he first wakes up. They're so vivid he relives what he went through."

Silence fell as Sam absorbed what I had just told him. His voice barely sounded in my ears when he spoke. "So many scars."

I had to ask. "Are you sorry you offered to help him?"

"Not at all!" There wasn't a moment's hesitation in Sam's answer. Gratitude washed over me.

"Good, because Al really needs you." I paused, and then smiled wryly. "I know you're getting more than you bargained for."

"I told Al I'd help him get through this," Sam said. "Now I'm telling you, Mrs. Calavicci. I'm here for your husband. If he needs to talk—"

I almost laughed, interrupting Sam to say, "Al isn't going to talk about what happened. When he comes downstairs, don't be surprised if he's very sullen and quiet." I thought of the times I had found him urgently drinking after a nightmare. "He's just going to want to forget."

As if reading the thoughts behind my last statement, Sam offered, "I got rid of all the alcohol in the house within an hour of getting here on Friday, Mrs. Calavicci."

"Thank you." I rubbed a hand over my face and sighed. "Take good care of him for me, Sam."

"I will." He sighed in turn and hesitantly offered, "You know, I could give him something to help him rest."

I responded far more vociferously than I expected. "No! No drugs!" I fought down a lump in my throat that had waited until now to form. "I don't want him to trade the booze for sleeping pills."

"You're right," Sam said. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Calavicci. You're right."

I softened my tone with him. "Your intentions were in the right place. But Al needs to learn to deal with the memories on his own. I know it's hard on you to see this—believe me, I know."

"Before he started drinking, how would you help him?"

The first merry laugh in months erupted from me. It was almost a full minute before I could speak, and laughter continued to bubble up. "I don't think my method will work for you. I usually hug and kiss him until he feels safe again." I chuckled again and wiped involuntary tears from my eyes. "He won't talk about it. I've tried asking him before."

Sam sat in silent thoughtfulness for a while and then said, "I'll think of something. I have to, don't I?"

"Thank you, Sam. You're an answer to prayer." I closed my eyes and thought back to my desperate prayer Friday afternoon.

He didn't respond at first and I was afraid I had embarrassed him. Then he said, "I just heard the water shut off."

"Go check on him, please. There's a phone on the nightstand in our bedroom. Would you call me back?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'll call you back in a minute." There was a soft click as he settled the receiver into the cradle and I hung up the phone with a shaking hand.

I had no idea how Al would respond to Sam. While there was a slim chance that Al wouldn't recall the flashback that had captured him, I knew better than to think it might be the case this time. Far more likely was Al's shame and humiliation taking the form of a sharp tongue and bad attitude if Sam made any attempts at conversation. I felt as if I had just asked a lamb to check on the wolf's lair.

Still, if Sam intended to see this through, he needed to understand Al's pain. If he truly wanted to help Al dry out, he needed to help Al to come to grips with the demons that had recently regained lost ground in the battlefields of my husband's mind. I had no doubt about Sam's sincerity, and I believed he would do his best. What I questioned was his ability, and it struck me that Sam probably did as well.

That's not fair, I berated myself. He's offered to help and I said it myself…he's an answer to prayer. I now directed my thoughts heavenward. Surely You wouldn't have given us this hope if You didn't think Sam could help Al. So I'm relying on You, God. Get them through this week. Get us all through it.

The ringing phone caused me to whisper a quick, "Amen," and then answer the phone.

"Sam?"

"Hello? Who's this?"

"Janie, is that you?"

My sister sounded annoyed, "Of course it is. Beth? What did you call me when you answered? Sam?"

I sighed. "I'm waiting for a call, Janie. It's very important."

"Who's this Sam you're waiting to hear from?"

"He works with Al." I shook my head, frustrated, and cut her off as she tried to speak. "Janie, I need to keep the line clear. I'll tell Mom to call you back."

"Happy Easter to you, too," she shot back, hanging the phone up without another word.

A brief stab of guilt pained me as I replaced the receiver. It vanished when the phone rang again less than a minute later.

Just in case, I answered with a simple, "Hello."

"Mrs. Calavicci, is that you?"

"How is he?" I asked, the question verifying my identity.

"He's getting dressed." Sam hesitated, "He was just standing in the shower when I came up. He'd turned the water off, but it was like he was in another world."

"He probably was," I softly agreed.

"I gave him a towel and that seemed to bring him back. He came out, got his clothes, and went back in the bathroom to change. He closed the door this time."

"I'm glad you're there with him."

"Whatever he needs," Sam vowed. I heard the bathroom door creak open and Sam asked, "Al, do you want to talk to your wife?"

The phone passed silently from Sam to Al and then I heard him say, "Beth?"

"Hi, honey. How are you feeling?"

"Like crap."

"I'm sorry," I soothed. "I miss you."

"I miss you, too." He groaned. "Did I…did I say what I think I said to you earlier?"

"It's okay, baby," I promised him. "It's going to get better. You'll see."

"Damn it," he muttered. "I'm sorry, Beth."

"Al, it's all right, sweetheart. You were stuck in a bad memory."

"It's not all right. Damn it all to hell…"

I frowned. "Honey, stop it. Just take it easy." His fixation on the flashback surprised me. Maybe Sam will be able to get him to talk it out after all, I thought. "You know I wish I was there to hug you right now."

"I know." He let out a shaky sigh. "It's hard, Beth."

"It's going to get better," I said again. "I promise you, baby. Sam is going to help you get through this."

"I hope so," he said, but he sounded dubious. "I just want one peaceful sleep, is that too much to ask?"

"Of course not, honey. And you'll get one. You will." I chewed my lip as my soul pulled towards him. "I love you, you know."

"I know," Al said. "I love you more."

I heard a faint voice shouting from downstairs, "Mommy!"

I sighed. "One of the girls is calling for me."

"I can't talk to them right now," Al said quickly. He sounded both disappointed and anxious at the same time. "I'll have to call back later."

"Okay, honey. Go on and eat something. Call us when you feel up to talking to the girls. I know they want to talk to you so badly."

"Mommy! Where are you?"

I sighed again. "I've got to go, baby. I love you, Al."

"I love you, too. I'll call later, I promise."

We made our goodbyes and then I rose to open the bedroom door. Theresa stood in the hallway, the stuffed duck still clutched in her grasp as it had been since she'd plucked it from her Easter basket.

"Mommy, I missed you!" Theresa cried, burying her face in my thighs. "I didn't know where you went!"

"I didn't leave, honey." I hugged her and then lifted her into my arms. I felt terrible about her apprehension and I kissed her nose. "I'm right here, Resa."

She clung to me and buried her face in my neck. "I didn't know where you were."

"I'm right here," I repeated, running my hand along her spine. "Mommy's right here."

Theresa didn't loosen her grip one iota and shortly she started to cry. I carried her into the room she and Grace were sharing and sat down on the bed with her then began gently rocking back and forth. "I'm sorry, Resa. Mommy didn't mean to worry you."

She shook her head and sobbed, "I miss Daddy."

I cupped the crown of her head in my hand and kissed her forehead. "I miss Daddy, too."

"I want to see him."

"I know you do, honey. And as soon as Daddy feels better you will." I knew my words weren't helping. All Theresa knew was that she was hurting and she wanted her Daddy. "I tell you what. Mommy has an idea. Wait right here for me, okay?"

"Okay," she sniffled, clambering off my lap and sitting on the bed.

I hurried downstairs to the entryway where my purse hung alongside Mom's on the coat rack. I fumbled to get my wallet out and hurriedly flipped through the photographs to find the one I was looking for—a headshot of Al taken at our last visit to the photographer's. I slipped it out of the plastic sleeve and went upstairs to rejoin my daughter.

"Here you go, Resa," I said as I handed the photograph to her. "I'm going to let you be in charge of this picture until we go home to see Daddy."

She reached for the picture with both hands, gingerly holding it and staring at her father's smiling face. "Daddy," she softly said, extending a delicate finger to touch the image of her father's cheek. Theresa suddenly pressed the photo to her chest and held it there, her hands crossed over it, as she looked up at me and smiled. "Thank you, Mommy."

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"Mmm, thank you," I told Grace as she pushed another jellybean into my mouth. The other girls had changed out of their Easter dresses once the egg hunts ended, but Grace refused to take hers off. I only hoped I'd be able to get it off her before bedtime.

She picked up her Easter basket and flounced over to Angie. She plucked a jellybean from the plastic grass and offered it to her. Angie smiled and gratefully accepted the treat, popping it into her mouth and making expansive "mmmm" noises as she chewed it up. Grace beamed and clapped her hands.

Michele and Bridget played Memory with Rob, who swore he wasn't taking it easy on them as they beat him round after round. I smiled as Bridget demanded he shuffle the cards and play again.

Theresa looked up from the coloring book she scrawled in and glanced over at me. "Easter's almost over, Mommy. When does Daddy call us?"

Three other small heads looked in my direction, slight realization in their eyes that Daddy hadn't been a part of the day.

I smiled warmly at them, hoping the worry in my thoughts over what Al might be going through didn't show. He'd promised again he would call and the still silent phone concerned me. "Daddy will call, girls."

Theresa looked deeply into my eyes, seeking out the promise I made to her, then nodded. "Okay," she said and turned back to her coloring. After a couple of seconds her sisters followed suit.

"Beth? Would you help me make some tea in the kitchen?" Mom asked.

I nodded, knowing she wanted to talk, and followed her to the kitchen. She slipped the doorstop free so the kitchen door swung closed and touched my shoulder.

"Janie said you were really short with her on the phone."

"I apologized for that," I protested, feeling for a moment as if I was a teenager squabbling with my younger sister again.

"I know something had to have been going on at home, Beth. What was it?"

I bit my lip, folded my arms, and turned away. "Al had a flashback. Sam had no idea Al was a POW and it shook him up pretty badly." I turned back to her. "I'm worried, Mom. This is why Al started drinking in the first place, because of the memories."

She gripped both my shoulders and looked intently at me. "You're afraid Sam won't be able to handle it."

I nodded. "Or Al. You should have heard him."

"Al's strong, Beth. He survived eight years of hell to come home to you. And he overcame so much to get into space. He'll beat this, too." She patted my cheek and smiled. "From what you told me, Sam sounds like a pretty special guy. He won't let Al down."

I let out a short bark of a laugh. "How can you know that?"

She smiled and shrugged. "I feel it." She picked up the kettle and began filling it with water from the tap. As she cut off the flow of water Mom looked at me. "Don't you?"

I had to nod. I still had no idea how, but I did know with certainty that my angel and this Sam Beckett were one and the same. As comforted as I had been by his mysterious visit and words of hope years ago, knowing he was with Al right now equally comforted me.

"Beth? Would you take four cups out, please?"

Mom's question pulled me out of my reverie. I nodded and opened the cabinet, withdrawing the cups and setting them on the counter. As I had so many times since my collapse, I set the conundrum of my angel aside.

The kettle whistled loudly, and Mom turned off the heat. I set tea bags in each of the cups while she poured the steaming hot water over them and I jumped when Angie came up behind me and softly touched my arm.

"Al's on the phone, Beth. Rob's talking to him right now."

"They're not fighting again, are they?" I asked, a knot in my stomach.

Angie shook her head and beamed. "Al apologized to Rob right off the bat. Rob was apologizing when I came to get you."

"Have the girls figured out it's Al yet?" I asked, wiping my hands on a towel.

"Not yet, but you know how sharp they are."

I laughed and left the kitchen. Bridget and Michele studied Rob the most intently, since he'd abandoned the game with them to answer the phone. Rob glanced up at me and smiled.

"Here's Beth," he said. "Hope you feel better soon."

I pressed the receiver to my ear and asked, "Honey? How are you?"

Al sounded tired. "I'm all right. It's been…a rough afternoon." He sighed. "My head's killing me."

"Are you up for this?" I asked, trying to continue obscuring the identity of the caller from the girls.

"I'm not a hundred percent," he said, "but there's no way I'm going to miss wishing my girls a Happy Easter."

"I'm glad to hear that, because someone's been asking for you all day." I tilted the mouthpiece away from my chin and softly called, "Theresa. Honey, guess who wants to talk to you?"

She was at my side in two seconds, grabbing the phone and smiling broadly as she said, "Happy Easter, Daddy!"