Tuesday, June 15, 1982

T-ball games gave the impression of the coaches attempting to herd cats. Only a handful of the children seemed to understand they were supposed to be playing baseball. The rest occupied themselves by staring at the clouds, chasing bumblebees, picking clumps of clover blossoms out of the ground (or picking their noses), or wandering aimlessly around the field. Bridget was one of the children that fell into the serious player camp, Michele was an aimless wanderer.

Al cupped his hands around his mouth and called, "Sheli, the game is behind you, sweetie!" She stared blankly at him for a moment before turning around and absently punching a fist into her tiny glove as she stared at the small boy on the opposing team who was leveling his bat at the ball perched on top of the tee at home plate. Her attention lasted all of ten seconds before she yawned widely and began examining the clouds.

"It's not like he's likely to hit it hard enough to even reach her," I commented lightly in response to his amused groan.

"Why did she say she wanted to play if she acts like this on the field every game?"

I looked askance at him. "Do you even have to ask that? You know why, she wants to be with Bridget. Besides," I gestured at the field, "she's hardly alone."

He chuckled. "Okay, you have a point."

The little boy swung the bat with all his might and toppled the ball to the ground. All the parents, including our side, cheered. The little boy stood staring at the ball before his coach pointed to first base and shouted, "Run, Derek!" Derek took off, arms flailing, as Coach Debra from our team nudged the "pitcher," a chubby boy named Keith, and urged him to run and pick up the ball from the ground.

Bridget was playing first base, and she yelled at Keith to hurry up as Derek made his way closer to her. "Throw me the ball, Keith!" she shouted, holding her glove ready to catch it. Keith threw—and it fell short. Bridget frowned as Derek hopped onto first base and grinned at his parents, waving his arm widely. She glared at Keith, opened her mouth, glanced over at us, and then closed it again. She took the two steps required to pick up the ball and underhand tossed it to Keith with a tight smile on her face.

"She remembered what you told her," I grinned at Al. He nodded and gave Bridget a wink and a thumbs-up when she looked back at him. Things had been demanding at the Project and, as one of the Administrators, his current work schedule didn't allow him to make many of the twins' weeknight games or practices. The last game he had been able to attend Al had borne witness to Bridget's temper flare when her less-skilled-than-her teammates made mistakes, which was frequent as T-ball was principally a learning league. She didn't call any of them mean names, but she was capable of being sharp, loud, and withering in her comments. When the fourth child on the receiving end of one of her tongue lashings had tears coming down his cheeks, Coach Debra had promptly sidelined her to the bench, and it was Bridget's turn to cry. Her Daddy had finally been able to come watch her and her sister play, and she'd only been on the field for one inning. She'd looked forlornly back at us sitting on the bleachers as she sobbed and Whit, Debra's husband and assistant coach, had walked over to ask Al if we wanted Bridget to join us for the rest of the game as consolation.

"No, indeed," Al had replied. "Coach Debra put her on the bench and that's where she'll stay. We support her decision, and I'll be having a talk with Bridget after the game about being a good teammate."

That game, Michele had hit the ball well at her at-bats, although she had been just as much a field-wanderer as she was this evening. When the game ended (the other team had won), we had celebrated Michele's accomplishments before Al left her with me, Theresa, and Grace and walked seriously over to the bench, where a subdued Bridget still sat waiting. He and Debra had briefly spoken before Al sat down next to our eldest daughter and put an arm around her shoulders. I left them talking and took the other girls to the concession stand so Bridget wouldn't feel even more embarrassed. When we had gotten back, Bridget had just finished apologizing to Coach Debra and Coach Whit, who'd hugged her and told her they would see her at the next practice. Al's lecture on sportsmanship had done its work, and he had just seen the payoff for himself in this evening's game.

Theresa tugged at my sleeve as the inning finally came to an end. "Mommy," she whispered when I looked down at her, "are we going to be late?"

It was Al's birthday, and we had made plans with Eileen and Sam to surprise him with a small party at Casita Gonzales at 6:30. I had brought the cake the girls and I had baked to the restaurant earlier that afternoon and entrusted Eileen with the gifts. Normally the T-ball games ended after four innings or one hour, whichever came first, but the umpire had been late arriving and what had originally been plenty of time was now in danger of being cut close. This was the top of the third inning.

I surreptitiously glanced at my watch and shook my head. As long as the four innings end before the hour elapses, I thought, we'll be fine. Theresa relaxed and leaned against my arm. Grace sat between me and Al and clapped her hands as Michele came up to the plate. "GO, SHELI!" she shouted with amazing volume, causing the grandparents seated in front of us to turn around laughing when they saw how small she was.

Michele leveled her bat and swung at the tee. The ball took flight into the outfield. Al rose to his feet as he cheered, "Great job, baby! Now, run!"

She took off for first base, and Coach Lily sent her continuing on to second before the scrambling outfielders finally came up with the ball and ran it back to the pitcher's mound.

Now it was Bridget's turn at bat. Coach Whit placed the ball on the tee for her and stepped back. Bridget's first swing completely missed and her cheeks pinked as she looked up at her Daddy.

"That's all right, sweetie. Try again," Al called to her.

"You got this, Bridget!" Keith's mom shouted.

Bridget stepped up to the tee again and glared at the ball. She got into a batter's stance, stepped, and swung. POP! The ball took flight and landed just a bit farther than the distance Michele's ball had gone. Michele took off for third and Bridget stopped at first, because the outfielders were a little better at retrieving the ball this time.

Nicky was up to bat now. He was the shortest kid on the team, and Coach Whit had to adjust the height of the tee for him. I wasn't sure how he managed to hold the bat without getting overbalanced, even though it was the smallest one available.

"Bless his little heart," I heard Keith's mom say to her husband.

"YOU GOT THIS, NICKY!" Grace bellowed at the same time as Nicky's family. She paid a lot of attention to what the parents shouted and many things she heard made their way into her speech. Thankfully none of the parents on our team behaved the way some of the parents on another team, the Sharks, did, so we had not yet had to deal with Grace copying insults to the umpires or denigrating the opponents.

Nicky hefted the bat and swung, making contact with the ball. It traveled a few feet and he took off for first base while Bridget dashed to second. Michele hesitated until Coach Whit beckoned her, yelling, "Michele, run to home plate!"

"GO SHELI!" Grace screamed, jumping up and down as she gripped Al's shoulder to keep her balance on the bleachers.

Michele ran and hopped onto home plate, scoring the go-ahead run, as every parent present exploded into cheers. Theresa squealed in excitement and hugged me as we applauded. Al swept Grace into his arms as he stood and yelled, "Way to go!"

The next batter was one of the bigger boys, Vinny, and his first swing drove the ball into the next field. Bridget scored easily before the ball made it back to the pitcher's mound. "BREE! BREE!" shouted Grace while Al exclaimed, "All right, Bridget!" amidst the uproar of cheers.

She looked up and met her father's eyes and her face lit up with pride. Bridget walked happily to the bench and sat next to her sister, who promptly hugged her.

Finally the side retired and it was time for our team to take the field. Herding cats time again. At least it was the bottom of the third, and if they could get at least half of the kids to focus, there was a distinct possibility that three outs could happen quickly. I glanced at my watch again, wondering if I should give Eileen a heads up that we might be late. I decided against it, because Al would surely wonder why I was leaving the game. Not that this is the most riveting game known to man, I chuckled to myself as I watched Michele bend to pick clover blossoms. Bridget glanced over her shoulder from first base, and I could see the massive sigh she heaved at the sight of her sister's distraction.

Keith's dad turned around and tapped Al on the knee to get his attention. "Your Bridget has the makings of a serious athlete," he commented.

Al nodded in agreement. "I'm seeing that."

"I think she's the best player in the whole T-ball league. She's a natural."

Eyebrows raised, Al thanked him then looked inquisitively to me after Keith's dad turned back to face the field. "You get to see all the games, Beth."

"She's good," I concurred. "I think she could even hold her own with the bigger kids if they'd let her." His eyebrows went higher at that comment. "Al, when you threw the ball for her last weekend she hit it almost every time."

"Who'd've guessed she'd be such a chip off the old block?" he mused, a pleased expression on his face. I knew he was fondly remembering his days playing for the Naval Academy Midshipmen.

"She's like you in so many ways, Al. I'm not surprised she inherited your baseball talent as well."

While we'd been talking, the inning had come to an end. Now all I could hope was that the fourth inning would fly by and we could make it to the restaurant on time.

"And next practice we're going to work again on paying attention when we're on the field," Coach Debra said with a smile as the post-game meeting wrapped up. "Good game today, kiddos! Congratulations!" She held her hand out, and all the kids and assistant coaches piled their hands on top of hers. She bowed down low and they all followed suit, lowering their hands, "Goooooooooooo Pandas!" They threw their hands into the air and cheered before scattering to parents.

"Gooooooooo Pandas!" echoed Grace, laughing.

Al shook his head. "I still can't get over the name."

"That's what happens when you let four and five year olds choose," I smiled, as Bridget and Michele ran up to us. "Could be worse," I commented, as Bridget went from hugging me to Al. "The other team is the Skunks."

Al burst out laughing so hard he had to wipe at his eyes. "C'mon, girls, let's go home. I'm ready to relax."

Theresa and the twins looked at me wide-eyed. This was going to ruin the surprise, their faces projected. I smiled reassuringly at them.

"Al, after the win the girls had, don't you think it would be nice to go out to celebrate them as well as your birthday?"

"I'd rather celebrate my birthday at home and there's ice cream in the freezer for them. The Senate Committee's liaison team pulled a surprise inspection on the project today and I'm wiped out after having to deal with them all day, honey." He looked down at the girls. "Aw, now don't make those sad puppy-dog faces at me. I'd have thought you'd be excited to have ice cream."

"But, Daddy," Bridget said, "can't we go to Casita Gonzales? Please?"

"Yes, please, Daddy," added Michele.

"We don't want to be late," Theresa explained. "What?" she asked when the twins whirled on her, shushing her and sighing exasperatedly.

Al looked suspicious now, one eye narrowed. "'We don't want to be late,'" he echoed. "Late for what exactly, Theresa?"

Realizing what she had said, she clamped her hands over her mouth. Bridget frowned and Michele dropped her glove in dismay. I whispered in Al's ear, "Just please act surprised, honey."

"You didn't," he said in a low voice. When I smiled guiltily at him, he shook his head and sighed. "All right, girls," Al said in an overly cheery voice, "you convinced me. Let's go to Casita Gonzales for supper."

They cheered and skipped to the station wagon. Al's car was parked a few spots over, as he'd come directly from work to their game. "Can I ride with Daddy?" Bridget asked.

"It's okay with me," I said, but Michele stamped her foot.

"You rode with him last time! It's my turn!" She looked up at me, "I promise Mommy, it is my turn!"

Al nodded. "She's right. Sorry, Bree, you did ride with me last time. It's Michele's turn."

"And then me," declared Theresa.

I shook my head and opened the back of the station wagon to put the twins' gloves and bats in. "As long as you all are keeping track of it. Keep me out of it," I laughed.

Al kissed Bridget on the forehead and told her he'd see her at the restaurant before walking to his car with his arm around Michele's shoulders. Bridget sulked, but cheered when I reminded her we had his surprise party waiting.

"Let's see if we can beat them there!" she crowed, encouraging Theresa to get situated and buckled while I strapped Grace into her safety seat.

"Not much chance of that," I commented, watching as Al pulled out of the parking lot.

I got behind the wheel and followed suit, heading to the restaurant. It was a short drive, just a few minutes. We saw Al's car pull in and park a few seconds before we did the same. He parked next to Sam's car, and I saw the recognition in his eyes when he spotted Eileen's on the other side of the parking lot, near where I had found a spot. He put his hands on his hips, a slight frown on his face, as he waited for us to join him and Michele, scanning the parking lot to see if he recognized any other vehicles.

"Beth," he grumbled as he thumbed towards Sam's car and nodded his head in the direction of Eileen's.

I mouthed over the girls' heads, "No one else, I promise."

Satisfied, he softly exhaled a long-suffering breath and allowed the girls to lead the way into the restaurant.

"Señora Calavicci," Carmelita Gonzales greeted me from the hostess stand, feigning innocence before Al as she nodded and added, "Señor Calavicci y sus niñitas. Buenas noches. Right this way."

We followed her to a large back corner table, where Sam and Eileen were waiting. They were chatting, but Eileen had put the stack of wrapped gifts in the chair between her and Sam. So much for my hopes that they'd hit it off. Eileen's heart was clearly not ready to move on from her late husband yet. Seeing us approach, Sam and Eileen both rose and cried, "Happy Birthday, Al!"

"Surprise, Daddy!" yelled the girls.

Al looked down at them and said, too brightly, "Is this why you wanted to come here?"

"Yes!" they said in unison. "Did we surprise you?!"

While Al nodded at the girls Eileen looked at me and quietly said, "He knew, didn't he?"

I nodded as I hugged her in greeting and told her, "He just wanted to go home after the game. Resa's reaction pretty much gave it away that something was up. I had to tell him."

She laughed. "Well, at least they think they pulled off a surprise."

"Hi, Beth," Sam greeted me after shaking Al's hand. I kissed his cheek as we hugged and I thanked him for coming.

Carmelita gestured to the open seats at the table. "Señor Calavicci, por favor, as the guest of honor, have a seat. ¡Feliz cumpleaños!"

"Gracias," Al said to her, as he sat. He waited for the rest of us to follow suit and shook his head. "I can't believe you all did this. You really shouldn't have." His eyes drifted towards me, and I could read the message they telegraphed, "You really shouldn't have." I felt a twinge of guilt, although there was no way I could have known about the surprise inspection at work that day. After that and the crowd at the T-ball game, Al was peopled out. He might be an extrovert but he still needed time alone to withdraw and recharge. The party at the restaurant, small as it was, was asking him to be "on" even longer, when he was ready to be unwinding in his own safe space at home.

Carmelita passed out menus and then went back to the hostess stand.

I was sitting between Al and Eileen, and I leaned over towards him while Eileen conversed with the girls. "I'm sorry, babe," I whispered.

Al shook his head and smiled at me. He whispered back, "Forget it, it's fine. Besides," he smirked, "you can make it up to me later." He winked and waggled his eyebrows.

Esteban, one of the best waiters at the restaurant, came over with chips and salsa and took our drink orders. When he left, Sam asked how the game had gone.

"We won, Dr. Sam!" Bridget exclaimed, and Michele emphatically nodded.

"How many flowers did Michele pick in the outfield?" Eileen asked with a wink. She had come to a few of the games with me when Al couldn't.

"Only five," Michele answered her.

Eileen's eyes twinkled as she grinned at Michele. "Only five? Wow, last game it was ten. Are you getting more focused, Sheli, or are there not that many flowers left to find?"

Michele tilted her head at Eileen and stuck her tongue out at her. Eileen stuck her tongue out in return and they laughed at each other. Sam swabbed a tortilla chip in salsa and chuckled as he watched their interaction.

Al glanced hopefully at me and I shook my head, nodding towards the barrier of gifts Eileen had placed between herself and Sam. "Ah," he quietly said, understanding. He opened and perused his menu.

I opened mine as well, which prompted Eileen and Sam to do the same. Knowing we would order for them, the girls chattered happily with each other about how successful their surprise party for Daddy was. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw Al grin to himself as he listened.

So maybe this won't be such a bad celebration for him, after all.

I slipped away from the table under pretense of needing to go to the restroom, but I made my way to the hostess stand to confer with Carmelita.

"We're nearly finished with the meal, so after the plates are cleared is the perfect time to bring out the cake. But, please, PLEASE, tell the staff NO sombrero. And definitely no singing."

Al had started showing signs of enjoying himself as the meal had progressed, chatting easily with Eileen and Sam as well as the girls. I knew the attention of the restaurant's usual birthday routine of placing a giant velvet sequined and embroidered mariachi-style sombrero on the birthday customer's head, clapping and encouraging the whole restaurant to sing "Happy Birthday" would be a disaster.

"Of course, Señora Calavicci," Carmelita promised. She beckoned to Esteban as I returned to the table.

I ran my hand across Al's shoulders as I sat back down, and kissed his cheek. He reached to take my hand and ran his thumb in caressing circles on the back of it. I knew then that any annoyance he'd had about not being able to go straight home after the game was gone.

Esteban inquired if anyone needed any to go boxes, although nearly every plate was cleaned. When we all answered no, he promptly gathered and stacked them all in an impressive tower and made off for the kitchen. Al glanced uneasily towards the front of the restaurant, and I knew he was dreading the expected sombrero-laden birthday spectacle.

"I told them not to," I said.

Al visibly relaxed and his shoulders dropped. "Thank you." He pulled me into an embrace and kissed me full on the mouth, his hands moving into my hair.

Sam awkwardly cleared his throat as the kiss went on, and Eileen laughed as we broke apart. "Sam, don't tell me you're not used to these two lovebirds yet. I think it's darling." She smiled and then I saw tears spring to her eyes and I knew she was thinking about Todd and missing him. I rested a comforting hand on her forearm, and she nodded in gratitude.

At that moment Esteban returned with the cake. I appreciated that he had not lit the candles, and that he was alone. "Feliz cumpleaños, Señor Calavicci," he softly said as he placed the cake on the table in front of Al. He handed a lighter to Sam, nodded at me, and then left.

Al looked at the cake, with its clumsy gumdrop flowers and roughly formed frosting letters that spelled out "Hapy Birtday DADDY" and smiled. "You girls decorated this," he observed warmly. "It's real pretty. Thank you."

"We love you, Daddy," Theresa said. She glanced around the restaurant then looked at him and asked, "Is it okay if we sing 'Happy Birthday' to you?"

He touched a hand to his heart, startled that Theresa had noticed his discomfort with extra attention being called to him, and nodded. "Yes, honey, of course it is. Sam, go ahead and light them," he said, gesturing to the three candles on the cake. "I see Beth spared us the bonfire my age in candles would make."

"Yesterday, today, and tomorrow," I said, as Sam lit them one by one.

We quietly sang "Happy Birthday" to him, barely drawing any notice from the occupied tables near us, and Al blew his candles out.

"Good job, Daddy!" Grace cheered and clapped.

Esteban slipped back to the table with a stack of small plates topped by a bundle of forks and holding a large knife. "Would you like me to slice the cake or would you like to do it, Señor?"

"I'll do it, Esteban, gracias," said Al, holding his hand out for the knife. Esteban nodded and presented it to him handle first. He set the plates on the table near the cake and walked off to check on his other tables.

Al cut pieces of cake that were large enough to be satisfying but small enough to not make anyone regret partaking after the generous portions of the savory meal. He passed plates bearing cake to me as he sliced, and I sent them around the table. Grace had to be reminded to send the first piece that reached her around to Theresa, who was sitting closest to Al on his right. Shortly, everyone had cake in front of them and Al sat down.

The girls paused in their consumption of the dessert to watch Al take his first bite of their labors. He looked up to see them watching as he lifted the fork to his mouth, so he made a big deal of closing his eyes in ecstasy as he chewed and swallowed. "Mmmm, yumola!" he enthused. "That's the best birthday cake I've ever tasted."

"I agree," Sam said, catching on. "You girls did a wonderful job." Eileen agreed.

They beamed, and soon the clink of their forks against their plates resumed.

When the servings of cake had been eaten, Eileen gestured to the stack of presents and said, "I know you're beyond ready to get home, Al. Do you want to open them here or I can just help Beth get them back to the car?"

Al opened his mouth, no doubt to choose packing the gifts into the car, but then looked over at the eager faces of our daughters. He closed his mouth and gave Eileen a half-smile, "Here will be fine."

Understanding, she smiled and handed the top gift over to him.

The package was wrapped in navy blue paper with gold accents, but had no tag or card attached to it. Al neatly tugged at the wrapping paper where it was sealed with tape, and carefully unwrapped his gift. A beautifully aged black leather-bound book fell into his hands, the gold imprint on the cover declaring it Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Admiring it, Al gently caressed the corners of the book, and then lifted the cover. Whatever he saw on the flyleaf made him raise his head suddenly and stare at Eileen. I glanced down and saw an inscription to Al from Todd.

Eileen's eyes were filling with tears. "I just found it. I finally felt up to cleaning out Todd's study last week. He'd bought it at an estate sale a few days before the accident. He was going to give it to you for your birthday last year. I'd forgotten all about it." She paused, and then added, "He loved talking about books and life with you, Al."

"'Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations,'" Al quoted from the work. "I miss him, too, Eileen. Thank you so much. I'll treasure it always," he said, reaching across me to grasp Eileen's hand. Sam reached for a napkin and passed it to her. She gratefully took it and dabbed at her eyes. Sam laid a kind hand on her shoulder.

"Sorry, y'all," she said, waving the napkin. "This is supposed to be a happy birthday party."

While Eileen composed herself, Sam passed the next gift, wrapped in bold, varicolored polka dotted paper, to Al. Meticulously, Al opened the card attached to it, looking up at Eileen again after reading it and smiling. "You didn't have to get me anything, sweetheart." He opened the gift and then laughed. Eileen had gotten him three pairs of obnoxiously printed socks.

"My dad always wore the most audacious socks beneath his serious work attire," she said. "You remind me of him sometimes, just as vibrant a personality."

"I love them," Al said. "Thank you."

I grinned at Eileen and gave her a side-hug after she passed the next present to Al. This one, wrapped in an impressionistic woodland scene paper, was from Sam. After reading the card, Al unwrapped the present to reveal a hand turned wooden fountain pen and a red leather-bound volume. When Al opened the book, I saw the pages were blank—it was a journal.

"For your ideas," Sam said, by way of explanation. "You've got great ideas. You should write them down somewhere that's worthy of holding them."

I smiled at Sam's considerateness.

"Thanks, Sam," Al said, giving him a grateful smile. He lifted the pen and admired the grain of the wood before replacing it in its box.

"Two more," Eileen said, passing a square box wrapped in solid red paper to him.

"That's from us," exclaimed Bridget, nudging her sisters.

"Is that so?" Al smiled. He carefully unwrapped it and opened the lid, grinning as he pulled out first a coffee mug declaring its holder THE BEST DADDY IN THE WORLD, and then a sack of imported Costa Rican coffee. "Who was my competition?" Al joked, holding the mug up.

"Don't be silly, Daddy," Theresa said, "you are the bestest Daddy!"

"Love you, Daddy!" Grace shouted.

Michele looked at him, and quietly said, "It's true, Daddy. You're the best Daddy in the whole wide world." Beside her, Bridget nodded seriously.

"Thank you, girls. I love you, too."

Eileen cleared her throat from returning tears and handed Al the gift from me. "Last one, Al."

He opened the card, and I was glad I had picked a silly one to make him laugh because when he removed the red paper covering the present and saw the gift inside his eyes got moist. I had purchased a collage frame, and put our wedding photo and a recent photo of the two of us in the center openings. Photographs of Al holding each of the girls filled the eight outer ones; half of the photos were with an infant, the other half current.

"Beth, this is amazing."

"I thought you could put it in your office. When the days feel long-"

"—I can see my girls," he finished the sentence. He took me into his arms and kissed me deeply. "Thank you, honey." He released me and looked at Sam and Eileen. "Thank you both for this surprise party. It really does mean a lot."

Esteban quietly slipped behind Al and passed the bill to me. I reached into my purse and tucked enough cash to cover the bill and a sizable tip for him before handing the folder back to him. "Keep the change," I softly told him.

The girls were starting to droop and yawn, the sugar crash from the cake striking. I also knew, as Eileen had said earlier, that Al was "beyond ready" to get home. To get the dinner party wrapped up, I said, "Eileen, thanks for all your help with arranging this. Sam, thank you so much for coming."

The girls hugged Eileen and told her goodbye, then hugged "Dr. Sam" and made farewells to him as well as Al and I gathered everything up. We loaded Al's gifts and the cake into the station wagon, then hugged Eileen and Sam goodbye amidst more thank you's and birthday wishes. Theresa announced that she was riding with her Daddy because it was her turn, and we all headed for home.

"So much for thinking we'd play matchmaker for Sam and Eileen," Al said, laying back on his pillow and staring at the ceiling.

I nodded, rolling onto my side to face him. "She's not ready to entertain the thought of anyone new yet. I don't think she will be for a while. She loved Todd so much."

He turned his head to look at me. "It seemed too perfect to set Sam up with her." He sighed. "When that kid isn't working on some theory or advancement of his at the Project, he's spending time with us. But it's usually the former."

"At least when he's over here I know he's eating well," I commented. "You told me when he gets lost in his work he sometimes forgets to eat."

Al nodded, "His brain never stops thinking about his theories, not really. Half the time when he's here Sam and I end up talking shop at some point."

"You're a good sounding board for him." I thought about the enthusiasm in their voices I'd hear when Al would get swept into discussion of Sam's ideas, countering and contributing his own. I also contemplated the longing I often noted in Sam's face as he joined our family at the dinner table. While part of it was probably missing his own family, I thought there was more to it. "Sam seems so lonely," I said.

"He is lonely. I don't think he's been on more than a handful of dates since the Seventies ended. I know for a fact he hasn't dated anyone since he moved to the Project."

I considered that. As a single scientist, Sam found it preferable to make use of the barracks on the Project site. A thought occurred to me and I voiced it. "Surely there are women at the Project that are single. He needs a girl that can keep up with his brain, and that seems like the most likely place to find one." I tapped a finger thoughtfully against my lips. "They're still doing a Fourth of July picnic for all hands at the Project and the families, right?"

Al nodded.

"Good. While we're there, I'm going to see if there's anyone for our Sam that I think might be a good fit."

"Our Sam?" Al asked, chuckling.

I laughed. It was true, even though we had only known Sam for a couple of months he was already an important part of our lives. We both cared for him and hoped to see him happy. That lonely sadness in Sam's eyes I saw when he smiled pained me; he deserved to have joy shining there.

"Beth, honey, do you think maybe we aren't cut out to be matchmakers?"

I shrugged. "I'm not giving up just because we failed at the first attempt."

Al laughed and kissed me. "Romanticist, that is you one hundred and ten percent."

"So you always tell me."

"I love that about you," he admitted, caressing my face.

"Happy Birthday, honey. I love you."

"I love you more." He playfully tugged at the ribbon fastening my negligee. "I believe I have one last birthday gift to open, don't I?"

"I suppose I should make it up to you for forcing you go to your own surprise party," I grinned as he took me into his arms.