Sunday, April 25, 1982

"Are we almost home YET?"

It had to have been the fiftieth time Theresa had asked in the last two hours. The kids had definitely been troupers as we reversed the long drive back home from my parents' house. They finally had started to relax their clinginess towards Al and trust that we were indeed united again, permanently. But that didn't prevent the whining that went along with long road trips, even ones that were far more hopeful than the one that had preceded it.

Al reached over to squeeze my hand and glanced into the rearview mirror to meet her eyes. "Almost. Finally."

Theresa whooped in excitement as the question she had asked over and over was finally answered with something other than "No."

Bridget and Michele rolled their eyes simultaneously and Al and I both chuckled.

Huey Lewis and the News sang "Do You Believe in Love?" on the radio as Al took the exit from the interstate towards home. He sang along in his off-key way, stroking his thumb on the back of my hand.

"Do you believe in love? Do you believe it's true? Do you believe in love? Well, you're making me believe it too," he crooned meaningfully, briefly meeting my eyes before returning his attention to the road.

Grace piped in to accompany the "wee-oo's" in the chorus, which was her favorite part of the song. Everyone laughed, which made her pout in annoyance at the perceived mockery.

"Me sing good," she insisted.

"Yes, sweetie, you sure do," I agreed.

The car fell silent as we approached our street, each one of us suddenly taken by the memory of the night almost three weeks ago when I had taken the girls to get away from Al's drunken accusations and shock him into realizing what was important. Even though it had worked, he had dealt with his dependency, or at least had begun the important process, still I swallowed hard and licked my lips nervously. Awkwardness filled the space between Al and me in the front seats. The older girls tensed and I felt their eyes solidly on us, gauging our every movement and reaction.

The tension was shattered when Grace cheered, "Our house!" as she caught sight of it.

A strange car was parked in our driveway. Al parked next to it on the wide drive and squeezed my hand again.

"Sam's been dogsitting Star," he explained, confirming my assumption.

"Who's Sam?" asked Michele.

Al turned to face her. "Doctor Beckett to you girls. He's my new friend and he's been helping a lot around here while you were away at Nana and Papa's. It looks like he is still here, so best behavior, please."

The girls clambered out of the car and Al looked at me, concern in his eyes. I smiled to reassure him, but truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive about finally meeting Dr. Sam Beckett in person. I covered by saying, "Home sweet home."

Al smiled and we got out of the car to follow the girls to the front door. He had just extended his key towards the lock when the door swung open.

"Welcome home, Calaviccis," beamed Sam Beckett, holding Star in one arm.

Grace instantly hid behind my legs while Al shook Sam's hand.

"Hi, Sam," he said, "thanks again for keeping an eye on the dog."

"My pleasure," answered Sam, turning to face me. "Mrs. Calavicci, I'm glad to finally meet you."

I reached to shake his hand, stifling an abrupt case of nerves that threatened to make my hand quiver. Al's free hand gently rested on my back as Sam and I shook hands. I studied Sam's face intently. Not a glimmer of recognition flickered in his expression, not even a reaction in his eyes at seeing my face. We greeted each other as we ostensibly met for the first time. My nerves stilled. I did not fully understand the connection of this younger man to my long ago angelic visitor who shared everything from his appearance to his kind voice, but there was no doubt about the gratitude I felt towards him now.

"Please, call me Beth," I said. "Thank you for everything you've done for Al." I paused and added, "For our family."

"Of course," he responded, inclining his head.

He stepped back then and we all walked inside the house. Al introduced our daughters to him. Grace refused to do more than peep at him from the safety of her place behind me.

"Dr. Beckett, thank you for helping Daddy," Bridget said, as Sam released the small black dog, which promptly began prancing around his family in exhilaration that we were finally back.

Sam knelt so that he was at eye level with her. "I was very glad to be of service," he said. "Dads are important."

Bridget nodded. "Especially my Daddy. He's so important to us."

Theresa suddenly dashed forward and embraced Sam. "Thank you for fixing Daddy," she cried.

Sam awkwardly hugged her back as he was almost knocked off balance in his squat. "Oh, I didn't fix him," he said. "He did that himself. I just helped him along the way."

Al cleared his throat and blinked furiously as he mumbled something about taking the dog outside, and disappeared with Star following close on his heels.

"We needed our Daddy back," Michele told Sam. Her eyes brimmed with tears. "And you helped. Thank you."

Tears streamed down my cheeks now as Sam looked up at me. "Yes, Sam. Thank you." I couldn't say anything else. His gaze told me it wasn't necessary.

Despite my best cajoling, Sam declined to stay for dinner, insisting that the six of us needed family time and rest at home. He was right, of course, but I exacted a promise that he would come for dinner the following weekend. Al walked outside to the car with him, and I surveyed our house.

The TV Al said he'd destroyed had been removed; I could see a fresh patch where he'd repaired the damaged wall from punching a hole in it. I glanced at the shelves and noted the absence of several collectables, victims of Al's "tantrum" while we were gone. All in all things did not seem as bad as he had made it sound. But something felt different about the space. Something else was missing and I heaved a sigh of relief when I realized what it was. The liquor cabinet was gone.

I heard Sam's car start outside. Al came back in and I turned to him with tears once again filling my eyes.

"What is it? What's wrong?" he asked, at my side in seconds.

I shook my head and smiled. "Nothing's wrong," I insisted, the thickness in my voice belying the words. "It's what's right." I gestured at the open space where the liquor cabinet had been.

"Oh, well," he dissembled, shrugging and waving a hand in the air. "You were right. About priorities. And I thought I'd better make it crystal clear to you...and to myself...that you and the girls, you are what's most important to me in the whole world."

I reached for his hand.

"We'll get through this, Al. Together."