Saturday, May 1, 1982

"Whoa, hold it!" I called out as the twins pulled the door open to come inside from the patio. "Make sure you wipe Star's feet off before you come inside with him. I just mopped." Al had cut the grass earlier, and inevitably Star would bring grass clippings inside with him after romping around. Sam was coming over for dinner and I had been spending the morning freshening up the house despite Al teasing me, accurately pointing out that Sam had been in our home in a literal state of destruction while he had been helping Al through his recovery. I had laughed, but insisted it had to be company ready for our dinner with Sam.

Al entered the kitchen rubbing his wet hair with the towel he had draped around his neck. He'd just come out of a post-yardwork shower and was wearing jeans and a Navy Air t-shirt. His feet were bare. "You'd better listen to Mommy," he advised, having heard my admonition. "She's been working so hard making everything look nice for Dr. Beckett." He kissed my cheek as Bridget obediently knelt and wiped Star's feet with an old towel. "What can we do to help?"

I rested my hands on my hips as I glanced about me, considering. Bridget and Michele released Star. The dog promptly took off for the living room to find Theresa and Grace, who were still watching Saturday morning cartoons on the new television that had been delivered the other day. The twins looked wistfully in the direction he'd gone, hearing the sound of The Smurfs, but waited to see what I might task them with, understanding that they were included in their father's "we."

"Go watch cartoons with your sisters. You can help me vacuum when they're over," I smiled at them and then laughed as they took off in a flash. "Al, if you'd help me prep for the meal that would be wonderful. I was hoping you'd make your salad dressing and a marinade."

"At your service," he grinned, giving his hair a final pass with the towel before briefly disappearing to toss it into the laundry room. He set about whisking first his specialty salad dressing and then a marinade for the steaks while I trimmed and sliced the meat. I had just deposited the meat into the marinade, covered it, and set the dish in the refrigerator when the doorbell rang.

"Surely that isn't Sam," I exclaimed over Star's barking. It was several hours before the time we had agreed on.

"No, if there's one thing Sam is, it's punctual," Al commented, heading for the front door. He checked the peephole. "Oh! I think I know what this is." He opened the door and greeted the delivery man waiting outside, signing the small clipboard that was presented to him. "I'll open the garage and you can bring it in there," he told the man.

"Al, what did you-?" But he was already gone, having headed into the garage to hit the automatic garage door opener. I closed the front door and made it to the garage just in time to see the delivery man walking back to the truck with an empty handtruck. Al stood next to a tall rectangular cardboard box with a couple of relatively smaller boxes stacked on top. As the garage door trundled noisily back down, he looked over at me standing inside the interior door frame, and I knew the confusion showed on my face.

"Come in and close the door and I'll explain," Al said.

Since he didn't want the girls to overhear, I began to have a suspicion that the delivery had something to do with Al's efforts in dealing with the harsh Vietnam memories and nightmares without the damaging crutch of booze. Now that I was inside the garage, I could read the printing on the boxes and I saw that the large box contained a heavy punching bag.

"Picking up boxing again?" He had been a Golden Gloves champion as a teen, but he hadn't touched boxing gloves the entire time we'd been a couple.

"Well, I won't be sparring against anyone or finding a gym," he chuckled. "I just ordered a heavy bag and a speedbag."

"Tape and gloves, too, I hope?"

He nodded and patted the second smaller box. "Of course."

I hesitated before speaking again, trying to find the words to gently ask the question on my mind. I felt my inkling of the delivery being something to help him cope was correct, but voicing it was difficult.

Al must have read my thoughts as he filled the silence. "I won't start drinking to forget again, Beth."

Touching his arm in support, I nodded. "So...this," I gestured at the boxing accoutrements, "will help with the nightmares?"

"Sam's older brother suggested it. He was in Vietnam, too—a SEAL. Sam, he, uh, he reached out to him after what happened on Easter and..." Al broke off, closing his eyes briefly.

"Because his brother would understand what you're going through," I mused.

Al nodded. "Tom—that's his brother—told me I wasn't the only one dealing with this. Uh, he called it PTSD-Post-traumatic Stress Disorder." He looked down at his bare feet and rubbed the back of his neck. "Physical exertion has helped him with his flashbacks, he said. It seemed worth a try."

I hugged him tightly. "Oh, Al..." I held him until he raised his head to make eye contact with me then kissed his cheek. "I'm proud of you."

He gave me a wan smile. "If it works..."

"Like you said, it's worth a try."


I made a final swirl of chocolate frosting with the butter knife and stepped back to regard the finished cake. Satisfied with its appearance, I put it on the cake stand, covered it with the protective dome, and dropped the knife in the dishwasher. I checked my watch to make sure I was still on track for getting everything ready in time for Sam's arrival.

Potatoes had already been washed and pierced, so I wrapped them in foil and placed them on a sheet pan to slow roast in the oven. As I stood back up, I was surprised by Theresa, who had silently entered the kitchen.

"Hey there, baby girl," I smiled. "Do you need something?"

Theresa just shrugged. She looked around the kitchen. "Can I help you make dinner for Dr. Beckett?"

I beamed at her. "Of course you can, precious. I'd love your help."

"Thank you, Mommy!" She practically danced into the pantry, emerging with the frilly apron my mother had sent her for a recent birthday. "Tie it, Mommy?"

I bent and tied the straps at the waist into a bow and then rested my hands on Theresa's shoulders. "I have the potatoes in the oven, and the cake is done. I won't put the meat on for another half would you like to help me with the salad and the green beans?"

Theresa clapped her hands. "Can I wash the lettuce and tear it up?"

I set her to the task and then started prepping the beans. I glanced over at her and watched her concentrating as she tore the lettuce into small pieces. "You're doing a great job, Theresa," I praised her.

Al came into the kitchen and smiled. "I'll make sure to tell Sam that Theresa did the salad," he commented, coming over to kiss her on the cheek.

"I can't cut the tomatoes," Theresa protested. "So it won't be true."

"How about if I help you?" Al suggested. Theresa's mouth dropped open in surprise.

"I can use the knife?" she asked. She looked over at me. "Mommy?"

"Al, I don't know about this," I said, hesitantly, but he raised a hand up to stop me. He gave me a look that urged me to trust him. I sighed and held my tongue.

Al turned to the knife block and pulled out a knife. "I want you to put your hand on top of mine," he told Theresa, as he reached for a tomato. "Keep your hand right there and don't move it, okay?" He held the tomato in his free left hand, the knife in his right, with Theresa's small one resting on the back of his hand. Slowly, he cut up the tomato, Theresa's hand along for the ride, and her smile got bigger and bigger.

I handed a bowl over to him, and he directed Theresa to put the chopped up tomatoes into it.

"See?" he grinned as he rinsed off the knife and put it in the dishwasher, "now we can honestly say you fixed the salad, Resa."

She threw her arms around him and squealed, "Thank you, Daddy! I love you!"

Al hugged her back, tightly, and kissed the top of her head. "I love you, too, munchkin. Why don't you get Michele and Bridget to help you set the table?"

"Use the nice dishes and silverware from the china cabinet," I said.

"Okay!" she cheered, and ran out of the room.

I finished with the beans and put the pot on the stove to start cooking. Al embraced me from behind, resting his chin on my shoulder. "I appreciate you," he said earnestly.

"Thank you," I said, turning my head to brush a kiss against his face. "What brought that on?"

He shrugged. "You're putting all this effort in to tonight's dinner."

"I want to thank Sam," I said. "We owe so much to him."

"More than you know," Al said in a low voice.

I turned to face him, gently touching his face. "Babe, what haven't you told me?"

He startled, and I got the feeling he had said more than he meant to or that I wasn't supposed to have heard him. "Nothing," he said too quickly.

I took both his hands in mine and pressed them. "No more secrets between us. Please."

Al started to look out the window then returned his eyes to meet mine. He sighed and tugged one hand free to rub the side of his ear. "I—I don't think I would have made it without Sam being here."

"Of course you would have," I protested, but Al shook his head.

"No." He looked into my eyes. "No more secrets, right?" He gave me a sardonic smile and his voice got very quiet. "When the alcohol started wearing off, I mean really wearing off, things got bad. I...I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't." He stopped and glanced at the doorway to make sure the girls weren't near. His eyes glistened when he looked back at me. "It was worse than the flashback on Easter. I didn't remember you or the girls. All that was there was Vietnam," he paused and breathed in. "It-it was happening to me all over again. And I just wanted it all to stop...once and for all."

I gasped. An icy grip clenched my heart as the impact of his words drove home. "Al? didn't try to..."

He looked directly at me and simply said, "Sam stopped me."

I closed my eyes and grabbed him in a smothering hug. "Ohmigod. Al. No. No! Oh Lord, I should never have left you."

Al hugged me back and took a shuddering breath. "Beth, don't. Don't do this to yourself, honey." He leaned back to see me better and held my shoulders. "It's going to be okay. I'm going to be okay." He breathed deeply through his nose. "Sam got me through the worst of it. I'm here, all the way here, and I swear I won't try again. Ever. I swear to God."

I pulled him back into my arms. "Al," I wept, "I'm sorry. If I hadn't-"

"No," he insisted, gently putting a finger to my lips, "I don't want you to apologize for anything. We've been over this; you didn't have any other options but to go to your parents' house."

"But if I had tried harder..."

Al shook his head. "Beth, listen to me. You and the's for the best you weren't here for that. But thank God Sam was."

I nodded and held onto my husband in a tight embrace, pressing my head to his chest. "Thank God," I repeated. I closed my eyes and listened to his heart beating beneath my ear. I had never been so grateful for its rhythm.


Al had already changed into a pair of grey slacks and a blue dress shirt and was helping fasten the girls' dresses while I finished changing into a skirt and blouse. I ran a brush through my hair as I heard them all marching downstairs.

"Are the Giants still winning?" Bridget asked. They were headed to the living room to watch the Mets and Giants playing at Candlestick Park while we waited for Sam's arrival. I followed and lightly perched on the arm of the sofa. Bridget loved baseball almost as much as Al did and despite her youth, she and Al would discuss intricacies of the game. She had a fairly decent grasp of the sport and I made a mental note to sit with Al and discuss the summer T-ball signup flyer that had come home from the Mother's Day Out program. How were our girls getting old enough to begin participating in activities? Wistfulness struck me at the realization that Bridget and Michele would start kindergarten in the fall. Their late December birthday had given us an extra year with them, and I treasured it.

Before I could get maudlin in my own thoughts, the doorbell rang. Star barked, as usual.

"Hush, you," Al said, as he got up to answer the door. He smiled at Sam, who stood nervously with a bouquet of flowers in his hands. "For me? Aw, Sam, you shouldn't have," he teased.

"They're for Beth," Sam said, missing Al's joke due to nerves.

I hurried to the door to rescue Sam before Al teased him some more. "Thank you, Sam. Won't you come in?" I took the flowers from him. "I'll just put these in a vase. They're beautiful, thank you!"

Grace fled the living room as I went to retrieve a vase from the china cabinet and then entered the kitchen to fill it with water. "Grace, honey, why are you on my heels?" I asked her as I arranged the flowers in the vase, ready to bring it into the dining room.

"No doctor," she protested. "Me not want shots again."

I wanted to laugh as all her hiding from Sam made sudden sense, but I choked it back. I put the vase down on the counter and knelt, reaching for Grace's hand.

"Gracie, Dr. Beckett isn't going to give you any shots. He's not the same kind of doctor as Dr. O'Connell. He works at Starbright with Daddy—he's an academic doctor."

Grace shook her head. "No ack-dennic doctor either. No doctor. No shots." She looked at the doorway and folded her arms over her chest.

Sighing, I picked up the vase and looked down at Grace. "I'm bringing this to the dining room. I hope you'll join us all in the living room." I walked out of the kitchen and listened for the sound of her footsteps, even though I knew a battle of wills was brewing. After I set the vase of flowers in the center of the dining table, I peeked into the kitchen and shook my head in annoyed amusement. Grace had plopped herself in her chair at the breakfast table, frowning and resolutely staring in the direction of the chatting voices in the living room.

Pick your battles, Beth. I decided to leave her be for the moment and went into the living room to be sociable. Al and Sam were standing at the back of the living room discussing this morning's delivery. Bridget had settled herself back on the couch to watch the baseball game, joined by her twin and Theresa (who were not nearly as interested as she was). I walked up to the men and stood next to Al, who reached an arm around my waist without breaking his conversational rhythm.

"I can help you hang the bags tomorrow," Sam offered.

I winked at Sam as I teased, "What? You don't think I can handle it?"

Sam blushed, and started to stammer an apology.

"I'm teasing, Sam. I wouldn't be much help hanging those."

His blush deepened at having missed another joke. The crack of a bat sounded from the TV and Bridget cheered, followed momentarily by Michelle and Theresa. The Giants had hit a home run. Grace came running in, so as not to be left out of anything, and started cheering as well. She turned to look at us and froze in terror as she realized she was only four feet away from the "ack-dennic doctor" she feared was there to give her shots. Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened as she sidled towards me and hid behind my skirt.

"Grace, why are you hiding behind Mommy?" Al looked down at our youngest, perplexed at her behavior.

"No shots!" she cried out, on the verge of tears. "Peas, no shots!"

"Shots?" Al echoed as I turned to lift Grace into my arms. She screeched as she was lifted closer to Sam and buried her face in my neck. By now the older girls had come over, curious and concerned about their little sister.

"Now, Gracie, stop being silly," I soothed. "I told you, Dr. Beckett isn't that kind of doctor."

"Actually, I..." Sam said, but Al gave him a look and held up a warning finger and he hushed. I wondered about it, but decided I would ask later.

Al rubbed Grace's back and said, "Gracie, honey, look at me." She slowly raised her head, tears smeared on her cheeks. "No one is going to give you any shots. Dr. Beckett is a doctor in astronomy and physics, and that's what he does at our Project."

Grace looked at me and said, "Ack-dennic doctor?" When I nodded, she looked over at Sam. "No shots?"

"No shots, I promise," Sam said, spreading his hands wide. He paused a moment and then added, "I'm not a pediatrician."

Wiping her eyes, Grace considered this information.

Michele looked up at Sam and volunteered, "Grace is just a toddler, Dr. Beckett."

Al snorted, trying to stifle a laugh, while Sam smiled sincerely at Michele and thanked her.

"Can we be friends, Grace?" Sam asked her, holding a hand out towards her.

Grace slowly nodded and gingerly reached out to close her hand around his fingers. They shook hands and Grace said, "Friends wif Doctor Beckett."

"Well, now that's settled," Al said as he clapped his hands together, "shall we?" He gestured toward the dining room and indicated that the girls and I should precede him and Sam.

We encouraged Sam to sit across from Al at the head of the table in my usual spot. Theresa opened her mouth to protest at the change from routine, but I anticipated and gently touched her arm to silence her and took the seat next to her. To our surprise, Grace insisted on having a seat near Sam.

Before I had gone up to change clothes I had placed the salad bowl on the table, and I rose now to offer it to Sam. He accepted it with thanks and said, "The table looks beautiful, Mrs. Cala—Beth." I chuckled at how he caught himself while he served himself salad. The bowl made the round of the table (of the children only the twins took any), followed by the cruet of salad dressing.

"This is delicious, Beth," Sam said.

True to his promise, Al piped up, "Theresa fixed the salad." Next to me, she flushed with praise.

"Theresa, you did a wonderful job," Sam told her.

"Thank you," she smiled. "Daddy makes the salad dressing! It's Mommy's favorite."

"I can see why. You are a man of many talents, Al."

"So are you, Sam. Seven doctorates and what, nine or ten languages you can speak fluently?"

"Seven doctorates?" I was amazed. He wasn't even thirty years old yet! "What are they in?"

A blend of embarrassment and accomplishment crossed Sam's face. "Oh, well, quantum physics and astronomy, Al's already mentioned. Then there's music, chemistry, uh, archaeology, and ancient languages," he paused and mouthed, "and medicine."

In the midst of my wonderment, I appreciated his discretion and understood Al's warning finger from earlier. Grace was happily deconstructing a dinner roll and had not noticed a thing.

" can speak how many languages? Are they all ancient?"

Sam swallowed another bite of salad and said, "Well, four ancient languages. And six modern ones."

"Sam, I never thought I would meet such a genius! It's amazing everything you've accomplished!"

"You should see his CV," Al commented. "As soon as it crossed my desk I knew Sam was what we needed at Starbright."

"How long have you been at the Project?" I asked Sam.

"About a month," Sam answered. "It's fascinating work."

Al nodded and said, "The last reports I got showed we've made incredible progress since you arrived, Sam."

Bridget and Michele had finished their salads and were absorbing the conversation between their father and Sam, who had gotten lost in a jargon-loaded discussion about the Project. I doubted the girls understood much about the back and forth about telescopes, holograms, and constellations, but then again, they had surprised me on more than one occasion with their astuteness.

I nudged Theresa and quietly asked her if she wanted to help me bring the meal to the table. We slipped out of the room and returned with the green beans, potatoes, and beef, which we placed on the table. Sam and Al barely noticed, deep in a debate about something technical about one of the telescopes at the Project.

"Daddy! Daddy, look!" Grace finally exclaimed. "Mommy and Resa bringed supper!"

Al blinked and laughed as he finally saw the serving dishes loaded with dinner waiting on the table, "So they did. Sorry about the work talk." He gestured at the platters and bowls and told Sam, "Company first. Help yourself."

The dishes made the rounds of the table; Al cut Grace's food up for her while I did Theresa's. Sam politely waited until the younger girls had their dinner plates in front of them before he lifted his silverware.

Theresa looked at her father and raised her eyebrows. "Daddy, we didn't bless the food." The twins stopped with forks already in their mouths and silently finished the bites they had taken.

Sam returned his silverware to the table and smiled at Theresa. "You're right, we didn't. Who usually says grace?"

"Grace ME!" Grace said, pointing to herself, getting indignant when we all laughed.

"Resa, since you noticed, would you do the honors?" Al offered.

She blushed and nodded. Six Calaviccis did the Sign of the Cross (Grace did her best), while Protestant Sam bowed his head. Theresa prayed. "Dear God, thank you for our family and our new friend, Dr. Beckett. Thank you for this yummy food. Amen."

"Amen," everyone echoed.

"Thank you, honey," I whispered to Theresa, and brushed a kiss across the top of her head.

"Beth," Sam caught my attention, "Al tells me you used to be a nurse."

I nodded, as Bridget informed him, "She stopped working when we adopted Grace. Now she stays home with us!"

"That's important work, too," Sam told her. "My mom stayed home with us kids."

"Al told you me you have an older brother, Sam. Just the two of you?"

"No, there's three of us. Tom and I have a younger sister named Katie."

"Mommy, you and Aunt Janie and Uncle Rob make three," observed Bridget. She ticked off on her fingers and added, "Only you are two girls and one boy! Dr. Beckett's family is two boys and one girl."

"Daddy's family was one of each," Michele commented. "My middle name is after Aunt Trudy, but she died a long time ago. We never got to meet her, not even Mommy got to meet her."

I was sitting to Al's right and I gently touched his arm as Michele spoke. We had made a point of keeping Trudy's memory alive with the girls, although we only had a couple of photographs of her and both of them were when she was a young girl. Neither photo was in great condition, but we had framed them. One sat on Al's desk in the den, the other amidst our family portraits in the living room.

Sam was struck by the tragedy of Michele's words and he breathed, "I'm sorry, Al." I could tell that his heart was touched by this sadness added to what he had gleaned of Al's painful past by helping him through alcohol withdrawals and POW camp flashbacks.

Melancholy tinged Al's grateful smile and he laid a hand atop mine. "Thank you. She's with Pop now."

"In Heaven," Bridget felt the need to explain. "With Grace's first mommy and daddy."

"And Craig, her brother," Michele added.

Sam's smile held a hint of sadness as well as he said, "And my Dad."

Al cleared his throat and spoke to break the cloud of sorrow now hovering over the table. "Beth, you've outdone yourself on this meal."

"Yes," Sam agreed, "thank you, Beth. I'm glad you insisted I come for dinner. I haven't eaten a good homecooked meal like this since I got to California."

"You're welcome here any time, Sam," I told him, and both he and Al beamed at me like schoolboys. I wanted to laugh but managed not to. Finally, I thought, a friend for Al. A true friend. They clearly connected on many levels, professionally and personally. The ease between them, not a trace of awkwardness on Al's part despite the vulnerability he had shown before Sam those couple of weeks in April, gave me reason to believe that they would be friends for life. "I'm a friend of Al's," I heard in my memory one final time before all thoughts of my long-ago angel melted away into the far deep recesses of my mind.


After dessert and coffee, Sam insisted on helping me with the dishes. Al took charge of getting the girls ready for bed (much to the protests of the twins, who had been enjoying talking with Sam).

"Really, I've got it," I tried one more time, as I put the leftovers in the refrigerator.

"No, ma'am," Sam said. "My mom would kill me if I didn't make myself useful."

"Okay," I laughed, "far be it from me to interfere with your mother! We moms have to have each other's backs." I gestured at the sink. "Wash, or dry?"

"I'll wash," Sam decided, rolling up his sleeves. "I think your hands have had to do enough today."

I grinned and reached into the pantry for an apron to protect my skirt and blouse then took up a position near the drainboard. We worked in companionable silence for the first couple of minutes. As I dried a serving platter, I quietly said, "Thank you, Sam. Thank you for saving Al's life."

Sam nearly dropped the drinking glass he was washing. "I promised him I'd never mention it again."

I put the platter away and held up a hand. "I'm not asking you to break a promise. I don't need any details. God knows I don't want any details. I don't think Al intended for me to find out... what he t-tried to do." I hugged my elbows and looked at Sam. "Sam, even if he hadn't—attempted..." I broke off, not wanting to vocalize it. He dried his hands and touched my shoulder. "He was self-destructing, Sam. And if you hadn't come along when you did...if you hadn't decided to help him, I don't know what might have happened." I sighed, "Thank you is so inadequate."

"Al's a pretty special person," Sam said. "The drunkenness and anger couldn't hide that. I could tell before I'd even gotten to know him." He grinned and added, "You're a wonderful person, too, Beth. It's no wonder you two found each other."

I could say the same thing about you two, I thought as I smiled and thanked Sam for his kind words. We resumed work on the dishes, chatting lightly now, and had just finished when Al returned.

"The girls are asleep, or nearly," he said, kissing my cheek. "Sam, thanks for helping my best girl out."

"Yes, thank you. It made my job much easier," I smiled.

"You're welcome."

"Would you like some more coffee? I can make a fresh pot," I offered. "Or it's easy enough to put the kettle on for some tea."

Sam glanced at the clock and said, "Maybe tea?"

"Of course! Al, you too?"

"Thanks, Beth. Sure." He turned to Sam. "Why don't we go to the den and you can sketch out your thoughts about these changes you think we need to make to the Elendil telescope. Show me why we should try that instead of what worked with Gandalf."

"Elendil? Gandalf? Is this a government project or a Tolkien novel?" I teased as I filled the kettle.

"Beth, don't tell me you're surprised—this type of venture attracts all the nerds!" Al exclaimed.

I nodded as I turned the burner on. "Oh, I'm not. I'm just wondering how many of these names originated with you."

"I'll never tell," Al said, winking at me as he left the kitchen. "Top secret clearance required and all that..."

Sam paused a moment before following him. "Most of them," he confided with a grin.