Saturday, July 3, 1982

STARBRIGHT SALUTES THE STARS AND STRIPES proclaimed the large banners in Griffith Park denoting the location of the Fourth of July picnic. Admittedly, it wasn't being held ON the Fourth of July, as Saturday was far preferable for such an event. Not to mention the Administrators and a handful of the staff had been invited to the planned landing of Space Shuttle Columbia tomorrow on Edwards Air Force Base, where President Reagan was scheduled to speak. As a former astronaut, Al had also been invited to speak at a private event later that evening. The girls were excited about the prospect of Eileen watching them ("And spending the night!" as Michele enthused) while Al and I attended both of the next day's events, staying overnight because of the evening VIP event since Monday was a federal holiday. But for now, the girls' attention was taken by the attractions in place at the picnic to entertain the children of the Project employees.

"Mommy, can we ride the ponies?" breathed Theresa, staring at the small fenced area where several children were being marched in a plodding circle on the backs of patient ponies.

"In a while, when the line dies down," I answered, urging her and Grace forward. They each held my hands; Al had the twins with him a few steps ahead of us. "Let's get settled first and get our bearings."

"And find Dr. Sam?" Grace asked. She craned her head as she scanned the crowds of people scattered around the park for the festivities. I was amazed at how many people were employed at the Project, and I felt pride for what Al had helped bring together.

"I'm sure we'll find Dr. Sam," I assured her. All four girls had long since abandoned calling him "Dr. Beckett" as he was at our home at least once a week and they had taken up the more familiar moniker of his title and first name. I wasn't even sure anymore which girl had started doing it first, but it had quickly spread among them. It had slipped into my own vernacular when I was talking with our daughters.

We followed Al to where rows of picnic tables had been set up. They were crowded with people who had just left the catering tents with loaded down plates, people actively eating the deliciously scented barbecued meal, and those who were lingering chatting with friends and coworkers. Al moved past the tables to a large canopy that had been set up with lawn chairs and additional tables, dropping Bridget's hand to shake that of the stout balding man standing at the edge of the pavilion.

"How's it going, Stu?" Al greeted him. "You remember my wife, Beth, don't you?"

Stu Perkins grinned at me as he shook my hand. "How could anyone forget this stunning woman? You're a lucky man, Al."

I blushed and told Stu it was nice to see him again. Al introduced the girls to his fellow Administrator. Stu addressed them as civilly as he would any adult, and their postures each straightened ever so slightly.

"You girls look hungry," Stu commented. He gestured to the serving tables at the back of the large pop up canopy. "Rank has its privileges, the line is much shorter for food here versus over there."

Al nodded, "Thanks, Stu. I think we will." We walked over and got in line. The catering staff served the plates, for which I was grateful. Fixing plates for four young children was challenging when it was serve yourself at a potluck. I did have to juggle Grace's plate alongside my own, but the older three girls were capable of making their way from the food line to the picnic table seating at the edge of the large canopy after being cautioned to hold their plates with both hands. We got the plates situated on the table and Al took Bridget and Michele with him to get cups of lemonade for all of us while Theresa and I helped Grace sit next to me on the bench.

"Hi, Beth!" A bubbly voice accompanied a pair of slender brown arms that surprised me by hugging me from behind. I looked up to see Al's secretary, Cynthia Dobbins, and her husband Jermaine, who held their two-month old infant, Titus.

"Cynthia," I got up and hugged her, "I wasn't sure if I'd see you today. And you brought the baby!" I cooed over him and pronounced him beautiful as Al and the twins returned with drinks. Al greeted Cynthia and Jermaine and also exclaimed over their baby.

"I'll be back to work in a couple of weeks," Cynthia told Al.

"I'll be glad to have you keeping things running smoothly around the office again," Al smiled, "but for now you just focus on that handsome young man of yours."

Jermaine cheekily slid an arm around her as Cynthia laughed, "You know he means Titus!"

"Have you eaten yet, Cynthia?" I asked her. When she shook her head, I held my arms open. "I'll hold Titus while you fix your plates."

"Oh, no, Beth, you just sat down to eat," she protested.

"I can eat one-handed. After four kids, I've had plenty of practice. Besides, I need a baby fix."

Cynthia laughed at that and nodded at Jermaine, who passed the baby to me. I cradled him close as they headed for the line. I fussed over him and fondled his soft brown cheeks as he studied my face with his dark eyes. "Who's the sweetest little boy? You are, Titus. You are."

"I thought you said you could eat one-handed. Looks like all you're eating is eating up that baby," teased Al, watching me with soft eyes.

Twisting my lips at him, I shifted Titus carefully to the crook of my left arm and lifted a forkful of pulled pork, brandishing it in Al's direction. "Happy?"

"Cynthia will be when she gets back and sees you've actually eaten some food," Al said as I took a bite.

The girls were happily munching on hamburgers and potato chips. Al had selected pulled pork, potato salad, and beans as I had. Most of his food was gone by the time Cynthia and Jermaine returned with their plates and sat down. Cynthia eyeballed the amount of food still on my plate. She raised an eyebrow at me and smirked, but didn't say anything and gratefully took to enjoying her meal. I remembered how hard it was to take care of my own needs in the first few months of motherhood, and even if my food was ice cold by the time I could finish it, I was going to make sure Cynthia could savor a peaceful meal.

Finished eating now, Al nudged me and, without moving anything but his eyes, looked from my plate to Titus and then raised his eyes to meet mine, inquiringly. Sharp-eyed Cynthia noticed everything and she laughed before I could even react in answer to him.

"Don't tell me you need a baby fix, too, Al."

"As a matter of fact, I do miss when the girls were this small sometimes," he admitted as I surrendered Titus to him. He cuddled the now sleepy baby against his chest and looked seriously at Cynthia and Jermaine. "It goes by so fast. Don't blink or you'll miss it."

The couple looked from Titus to our daughters and back to Al. Jermaine nodded. "Thank you, Al. It's been a rough week with sleep regression and we were wishing time would start moving faster. Thanks for the reminder."

Al bobbed his head in acknowledgment and gently swayed back and forth in his seat, soothing tiny Titus to sleep as he hummed a lullaby and smiled down at him. Cynthia watched Al as she ate. I suspected she was filing away this side of her boss she had never seen before, especially as a smile played across her lips and a teardrop glistened on her long lashes. Feeling my gaze on her, she met my eyes and we shared a knowing smile.

I walked around the picnic grounds while Al played horseshoes with the girls and Stu. We had not run across Sam yet, but I hadn't forgotten about my self-assigned mission of surveying the Project staff for a woman who could not only hold her own with him intellectually, but who would fit the more elusive characteristics of someone I would want to introduce to the young man I already thought of as a little brother and loved. Idly, I scanned the crowded picnic tables, looking not only for Sam (or a potential date for him) but also for anyone I recognized. The Christmas party had been a long time ago, and while as Al's wife, having undergone my own security background check, I was on the approved list to visit the Project, I had only gone there a few times.

All the Administrators had made an appearance today; several were single men. Stu, for instance, was divorced. Apart from Cynthia, I didn't really know many of the department staff or their families. Annalise Wilkes was the only female Administrator. She and I had chatted briefly, but she had departed shortly after the meal. The few Admin spouses in attendance were empty-nesters, and while they smiled fondly at our young daughters, memories triggered and bringing wistful smiles, idle chitchat had long since dried up. So I wandered the grounds now, the stroll preferable to sitting alone in the Admin tent. The multitude of faces I passed proved unfamiliar.

A petite blonde woman waved enthusiastically as I passed a face painting station. Any doubt that she was waving at me was gone when she called, "Mrs. Calavicci!" as she walked towards me.

I waved back politely, as she got closer my smile strengthened with recognition. "Dr. Washington, hi! How are you?" Dr. Shari Washington was the head of the holography lab, I remembered. She was outgoing and had circulated the tables at the Christmas party. I had enjoyed conversing with her when she paused at our table. Instantly likable, she was down-to-earth and witty.

"I'm doing great! But we're not at the Project, so please call me Shari."

I grinned. "Of course, Shari, but only if you'll call me Beth."

Shari grinned back then looked around. "Got some time by yourself, I see."

"Al and the girls are playing horseshoes up the hill." I gestured behind me. "I thought I'd take a stroll."

"You deserve the break!" she enthused. "Those four girls must keep you hopping, not to mention Captain Calavicci. My mom used to say she felt like she had six kids sometimes." Shari winked, "I have four siblings."

Laughing, I said, "I think every wife and mother must feel that way every once in a while. My mom used to say the same sort of thing!"

"A universal truth, then," giggled Shari. She took my arm, "Some of the other girls from the Project are down this way. Come have some girl time and some adult conversation."

"Adult conversation? That sounds wonderful," I agreed, walking with her to yet another canopy, this one smaller than the one set up for the Administrators and families. A circle of lawn chairs was beneath it, three were already occupied. I recognized Dr. Barbara Milligan, a slightly dowdy brunette, but couldn't recall what section she worked in. The other two ladies were unfamiliar to me.

Shari set to making introductions. "Girls, this is Beth Calavicci, Captain Calavicci's wife."

"Uh oh, an Administrator's wife. Married to the military liaison to boot. Do we need to be on our best behavior?" joked one of the women drily, gesturing towards me with her wine cooler. She was Asian and her hair was in pigtails beneath the sunglasses perched atop her head. "You gathering intel for him?"

Shari took her breath in sharply and opened her mouth, but I cut in before she could say anything, raising my eyebrow as I countered, "My husband wears the eagles and works at the Project, not me."

The Asian woman grinned widely and gestured to the empty chair beside her. "I like you. Come sit by me, Beth. Sandy Chen," she shook my hand as I sat next to her. She opened the ice chest near her feet and offered a wine cooler to me. I accepted and she inclined the neck of her bottle towards me in affirmation.

Barbara greeted me politely, "Have you been enjoying the event, Beth?"

I nodded. "Yes, I think it came together wonderfully. The food was delicious! Al and our daughters were playing horseshoes when I decided to take a walk. What about you?"

Barbara shrugged. "The food was delicious. The activities seem geared more towards the staff who have kids, though."

"Hmmm, maybe," I considered her point. "Having four kids to keep entertained, I'm glad for that but I can see what you mean."

Sandy slugged a drink of her wine cooler and said, "You're all right, Beth."

The third woman still hadn't spoken. Dark haired with dark eyes, she nursed her wine cooler and only spoke when Shari specifically introduced her. "Beth, this is Donna Eleese. Donna, Beth Calavicci."

Donna softly said, "Nice to meet you, Beth."

"Likewise," I smiled. She struck me as shy and I strove to keep the conversation going. "Are you looking forward to the fireworks?"

Donna shook her head, "I plan on heading out of here in about an hour. I've got some reading I want to get to, and I don't relish being stuck in that traffic."

"You sound like my husband. If it weren't for the fact that our girls have been looking forward to them, he'd head out early, too." I paused. "What are you reading?"

"Carl Sagan's Cosmos and re-reading Albert Einstein's Relativity."

"She doesn't read anything fun," drawled Sandy.

Donna looked sideways at her friend. "It's fun to me."

Sandy rummaged through the tote bag beside her chair and tossed a paperback novel at Donna. "I dare you to read this."

Donna caught the book and her mouth twisted as she raised an eyebrow. "A Danielle Steel romance novel? Palomino," she read the title. "You've got to be kidding me."

Shari leaned forward, "That's a good book, Donna! Granted, it's lighter fare than your current choices."

"I don't think so," Donna said, starting to toss the book back to Sandy. Sandy folded her arms over her chest, and Donna stayed the throw so as not to strike her friend with the book. "You're impossible, Sandy," she said, relegating herself to borrowing the book.

Sandy shrugged and chuckled, "I expect to hear an apology from you after you finish it."

Barbara joined in now, "Shari and Sandy are right, Donna, it's good! I think you'll enjoy it."

"A romance novel," Donna said again, rolling her eyes. She looked at me. "I suppose you enjoyed it, too, Beth."

"I haven't read it," I said simply. I took a sip of my wine cooler.

Shari sat up suddenly and we could almost see an imaginary cartoon lightbulb hover over her head as a thought struck her. Her excitement at whatever had occurred to her was palpable. "Beth, you need to read it, too, and then we can have a book club meeting!"

Donna shook her head, "Okay, this is getting to be too much now. I have to read this and discuss it with you all, too?"

"Yes!" the other three women chorused at her.

"Beth, are you in?" Shari asked me.

I looked at the women, evaluating their expressions. This was quite the mixed group and I found the mingling of their personalities interesting. I wondered how the rest felt about Shari drawing me into their circle. They were scientists, I was not. They were single career women, I was a married mother, older than all of them by at least five years. I was accepted by Sandy after holding my own against her testing. Barbara was opinionated, but seemed nice. Donna was harder to read, but then she said hopefully, "Misery loves company, Beth?"

"Okay," I said. "Count me in."

Shari grinned at me, "Wonderful! We'll have it at my house in a couple of weeks!"

Everyone agreed to the plan and then Sandy looked at me with her eyebrows raised meaningfully, "So, Beth, word on the street is that you Calaviccis have, how shall I put it, taken Dr. Beckett under your wings."

At the mention of Sam, the other women leaned forward, interest piqued. I felt like I was under an interrogation spotlight even though no one said anything further. No doubt at all that he's considered an eligible bachelor.

Aloud I said, "Oh, I'm just an old mother hen."

"Hardly!" Shari scoffed. "Mother hen, maybe. Old, no way."

I grinned at her in thanks.

Sandy wasn't giving up on this line of discussion. "I heard he's at your house for dinner at least once a week."

"How did I end up feeding the rumor mill?" I chuckled.

"You're deflecting," observed Barbara. "Come on, Beth. Spill. How were you able to get Sam Beckett away from his labs?"

I shrugged. "I guess I remind him of his mom."

Shari shook her head. "Nah, I've seen a photo of his mom." At the surprised look the other women gave her, she explained, "I saw an article about when he played Carnegie Hall. His mom was with him in one of the pictures."

"Her cooking then?" I laughed.

"What's he like?" Shari asked. "I mean, outside of genius scientist mode. I've been in a few meetings with him. The man is brilliant."

I was under the spotlight again. Although, to be fair, while the other ladies didn't know it, so were they. It was obvious they were all interested in Sam, and I was evaluating them as any good big sister-or mother hen- would. "He's kind," I said, carefully contemplating the adjectives I wanted to use to describe Sam. I felt quite protective of him. "My girls adore him. He doesn't talk down to them. He makes them feel like what they have to say to him is important, no matter how mundane or imaginative it might be. I'd agree with brilliant. Considerate." I thought about everything he had done for Al in April, and though there was absolutely no way I was going to talk about that, the adjective that came to mind was one that could be used to describe Sam in several ways. "Dedicated."

"Handsome," put in Barbara, and we all laughed.

"Mommy?" Theresa ran into the canopy and made a beeline for me. I hugged her and craned my head around.

"Resa, where's Daddy? You didn't go looking for me by yourself, I hope."

Al walked towards me, holding Grace, with the twins on his heels. "No, she just got ahead of me once she saw you." He smiled winningly at the four women and greeted them, "Hello, Dr. Washington, Dr. Milligan, Dr. Chen, Dr. Eleese."

Sandy raised her bottle in salute, "Nice to see you, Captain. We've been getting to know your wife. We convinced her to join our newly formed book club."

Al looked pleased at that. He'd expressed concern recently that I was in danger of losing sight of who I was outside of my roles as wife and mother. It had led to a minor argument, but now I knew he would be supportive because of his earlier qualms.

"Beth said you and the girls were playing horseshoes," Shari said. "Who won?"

"Me and Theresa and Mr. Perkins," said Michele.

The women congratulated them, and then Donna asked, "And what's your name, cutie?"

"I'm Michele."

I sat up straighter, "I'm sorry, let me introduce the girls! This is Michele's twin, Bridget. Al's holding our youngest, Grace, and this is Theresa."

"You've got a beautiful family, Beth, Captain Calavicci," smiled Donna. Barbara, Shari, and Sandy agreed.

I thanked them, as Al put in, "Thank goodness they take after Beth in their looks and not me." I playfully swatted his leg.

"Mommy," Theresa shifted her feet and looked pleadingly at me, "can we ride the ponies now?"

"All good things must come to an end," said Barbara, chuckling.

Shari touched my elbow as I rose to leave, handing me a slip of paper with her address on it. "See you in a couple weeks at our first book club meeting. And next time you pop by the Project, swing by my lab and say hi, okay?"

Sandy looked up at Al and winked, "I guess we have to let you have your wife back, Captain."

"I would appreciate it," he laughed. I exited the tent with Theresa and the twins and walked several yards before I realized Al had lingered behind. I turned to see him and Shari standing outside the canopy. Al was grinning and I read his lips as he thanked Shari for including me, gesturing in my direction. His head followed suit and he saw me watching them talk. His eyes shifted and he bit his lower lip, leaving me with no doubt of his part in Shari's "finding" me and bringing me to meet her circle of friends.

I hadn't even suspected the set up one bit. Al caught up with us and took my hand as we headed towards the pony rides. I stared at him until he looked back at me. "You were behind this?" I thumbed over my shoulder back at the ladies whose company I had enjoyed.

Al looked slightly guilty. "I just asked Shari yesterday if she wouldn't mind talking with you if she saw you here at the picnic. That's all, I promise." He studied my patiently amused face and softly said, "Sam's not the only one who seems lonely sometimes."

Al and I leaned on the railing of the metal fence encircling the pony rides as our four girls enjoyed themselves. I had initially been concerned about small, two-year old Grace, but the proprietors demonstrated a safety belt that anchored to the saddle horn they would use for her and I gave in and allowed her to join her big sisters in the fun. As the ponies rounded towards us, Grace had a huge smile on her face and she lifted a hand to wave at us.

"Have you stopped worrying about her yet?" Al waved back at her.

I laughed. "Almost."

Al kissed my cheek and we waved again as the girls looked towards us from the far end of the ring. They only had a short while before the pony ride came to an end.

"Al?" Sam's voice surprised us from behind and we turned to see him walking towards us.

"Hey, Sam," Al greeted him. "The girls'll be happy to see you. Grace started asking after 'Dr. Sam' as soon as we got here. It's been a long afternoon."

Sam chuckled then turned to me, "Hi, Beth."

I gave him my usual welcoming hug, when a flurry of commotion behind me caught my attention. Al gasped and vaulted over the fence. I whirled around to see Bridget face down on the ground next to the pony she had been riding and Al dashing towards her still form.

"Bridget!" I screamed. Sam was over the fence after Al within seconds, running towards her as well. I took off for the entry point, knocking other parents out of my way. "That's my baby! Let me through!" I shouted at the worker who tried to keep me from entering. I ran to join my husband and Sam.

Al's face was white as he knelt beside Bridget. "Bree, wake up, honey. Daddy's here."

Sam examined her, gently turning her over onto her back after carefully feeling around her neck. Bridget's nose was trickling blood. She moaned and opened her eyes, blinking as she saw Sam and her father leaning over her. "Bridget, hey there," Sam said, "you scared us."

"What happened?" I panted as I tried to catch my breath. Hugging Sam hello, my back had been to the ponies.

Al clutched Bridget's small hand in his. "She saw Sam and started to get out of the saddle before the workers got over to help her down. Her foot caught in the stirrup and she fell head first. Stay still, baby girl."

"My head hurts, Daddy," Bridget complained.

"I'm sure it does."

Sam held up two fingers. "How many fingers do you see?"

Bridget squinted. "Three? Your hand is fuzzy, Dr. Sam."

I gripped Sam's shoulder. "She's got a concussion."

He nodded. "Bridget, can you sit up?"

She did, pulling herself up on Al's arm with his help. Blood dripped from her nose onto her pink shorts and she started crying. The other girls were now safely off their ponies and had been brought over to us while the workers guided the rest of the children out of the ring to their parents. Al dug in his front pocket and pulled out his handkerchief square, handing it to Bridget. "Here, sweetie, hold this to your nose."

The owner of the pony rides knelt next to us. His face was stricken. "Sir, ma'am, I am so sorry about this!"

"It was an accident," Al assured him, stroking Bridget's back. "I saw it happen."

One of the workers, a blonde teenage girl, ran over, "Mr. Walker, I called an ambulance like you said. It should be here soon."

"Does Bree have to go to the hospital?" Michele started crying, too. I drew her into my arms.

"We just want to make sure everything is okay after her fall," Sam explained to her. He turned back to Bridget, whose nose had stopped bleeding. This time he held a single finger before her. "Bridget, can you follow my finger? Just use your eyes, don't move your head."

I breathed a sigh of relief as Bridget's eyes smoothly tracked his finger as Sam moved it back and forth before her face. I met Al's questioning look and answered, "It seems to be mild. She still needs to go to the ER for a CAT scan, but it could have been so much worse." I hugged Michele close. "She's going to be okay, Sheli. She's just going to have to take it easy for a few days."

"Dr. Sam, did Bree get a ouchie?" Grace asked. She was holding tight to Theresa's hand.

He nodded and started to answer her but the loud sirens of the arriving ambulance drowned him out. Bridget's eyes widened and she shook her head, instantly groaning and starting to cry again at the movement that intensified her headache. She clutched at Al's forearm. "I'm scared, Daddy!"

Al gently kissed her temple. "I'm right here, sweetheart. It's gonna be okay."

A crowd had started to gather as the piercing sounds of the ambulance caught attention for several hundred yards. The driver honked to force an opening then parked right near the entry gate of the ring. He and a woman headed straight for us.

"What do we have here?" asked the short Hispanic woman, her hair pulled back into a bun. She knelt by Bridget and introduced herself. "Hello, sweet girl, my name is Rosa. Can you tell me your name?"


"Hi, Bridget, it's nice to meet you. Do you know your last name?"


"And do you know what day of the week it is today?"


While Rosa continued talking with Bridget, the driver, who introduced himself to us as Kevin, asked what happened. Al explained what he had witnessed and then Sam took over, rattling off his medical observations of Bridget's condition. Rosa had pulled out a penlight and was checking Bridget's pupils, nodding approvingly.

"I agree, although we won't know for sure until she's checked at the hospital, it's probably a mild concussion," said Kevin, as Rosa gave him a thumbs up.

"Miss Bridget, are you ready to take a ride to the hospital with us so the doctors can take a picture of your head to make sure everything is okay inside it?" asked Rosa.

Bridget gripped Al's hand. "Do I hafta?"

"Yes, my love," I told her.

She frowned and turned to Al. "Daddy, I'm scared!"

Rosa smiled compassionately at her. "Your Daddy can ride in the ambulance with you and stay by your side."


"Absolutely, Bree," he assured her. To me, he said, "See you at the hospital," giving me a quick kiss as Kevin lifted Bridget and placed her on the gurney he had retrieved from the ambulance. Rosa covered Bridget's legs with the blanket and fastened the straps, "Like a seatbelt, honey," she explained. She followed the gurney into the ambulance, then shifted to make room for Al to climb in and sit beside her. Kevin closed the back door to the ambulance, got into the driver's seat, and drove out of Griffith Park with the sirens blaring.

"Come on, girls," I said, reaching my hands out for them to walk with me. Mr. Walker caught my arm.

"Ma'am," he said, "words can't express how sorry I am about all this."

Kindly, I repeated what Al had told him. "It was an accident, Mr. Walker."

"I insist on covering the hospital bills." He thrust a business card at me. "Please give this to the hospital."

I tucked the card into my pocket and thanked Mr. Walker. Once again, I attempted to usher the girls out of the pony ride circle. All three were crying now that the ambulance was gone and the immediate stress was over. "Girls, Bridget is going to be fine. We need to leave now." Theresa and Michele were holding onto each other as they cried and Grace wouldn't get up off the ground. I sighed in frustration, wanting to get to the car and head for the hospital. Sam laid a hand on my back.

"Beth, please let me help you." He picked Grace up and she locked her arms around his neck.

I finally got Theresa and Michele moving and we headed towards the parking lot.

"Beth!" I turned to see Cynthia hurrying over, pushing Titus in a pram. "Was that ambulance for Bridget?" she asked, Bridget and Al's absence obvious.

I nodded. "She fell trying to get out of the saddle by herself and landed on her head. It knocked her out for a bit. She's got a concussion." As the words left my mouth I felt my hands start to shake.

"Oh, Beth," Cynthia put her hands to her mouth and then drew me into a hug. "Al's with her?"

"Y-yes." My own delayed stress was trying to show itself, but I needed to tamp it down for my daughters. "We're about to head to the hospital to meet them."

"We'll be praying, Beth," Cynthia told me. She looked at Sam holding Grace. "Are you going with her, Dr. Beckett?"

"Yes, ma'am," he assured her.

Cynthia nodded approvingly. "Good. I won't hold you up any longer; I know you want to get to your baby."

Sam parked our station wagon in the lot near the Emergency Room. He'd insisted on driving us as soon as he noted my shaking hands and voice. I had protested, knowing it would inconvenience him leaving his car behind, but I was grateful now that we were here.

Michele, Theresa, and Grace trailed after me like ducklings and Sam brought up the rear as we walked through the parking lot into the lobby of the Emergency Room. A stout nurse worked the registration desk.

"How can I help you?" she asked.

"My daughter was brought in by ambulance. Head injury. Calavicci is the last name."

The nurse nodded as she checked her notes. "Room 3, down that hallway." As our group started to move she stopped me. "Ma'am, only one of you can go back there. Her father is already with her."

"I've got the girls, Beth. Go on," Sam urged.

I bent to brush kisses across the girls' foreheads. "Thank you, Sam."

Room 3 was deceptively further down the hallway, almost to the rear of the emergency corridor. I heard Al's voice as I drew near.

"No, they won't need to stick you again, sweetie."

"But why did they put this in my hand, Daddy? It hurt!"

I walked in as Bridget pointed to the IV tubing port in her hand. She looked up and saw me. "Mommy!"

Hugging and kissing her, I asked, "How are you feeling?"

She frowned. "My head still hurts. They made me drink yucky red medicine and said it would help me feel better, but it didn't." She showed me her hand now. "And they sticked me!"

Gently taking her hand and stroking her fingers, I explained, "Honey, that's just in case you need more special medicine than acetaminophen."

Bridget stuck her chin out. "I don't like all this 'just in case' stuff."

I knew she was not going to like the CAT scan either, although no needles would be involved with that. But I only said, "I know. I don't either."

"I'm sorry we had to leave the picnic," Bridget said now. "Are the girls mad at me?"

"Of course not! They're concerned about you, Bree. They're in the waiting room with Dr. Sam." I turned to Al. "He insisted on helping me corral the girls and then on driving us here. But they made them stay in the waiting room. Apparently we were too large of a crowd. I suppose I should be glad they let me come back here."

He chuckled despite the situation. The exam room was quite small, and a smile flitted across my face as I pictured the addition of Sam, Michele, Theresa, and Grace in the space.

"I'm glad they let you in, too, Mommy," said Bridget.

"Does your head feel any better?"

She considered. "Maybe a little bit."

Al filled me in on how the ambulance ride had gone and what the ER staff had done since their arrival. "Mostly we've been waiting," he shrugged.

Someone cleared their throat in the doorway and an ER doctor entered after knocking against the doorjamb. He was a tall strawberry blonde haired man, quite young, probably fairly recent out of med school. "Hi, I'm Dr. Fischer. You must be Mrs. Calavicci. I've already met your husband and Bridget." He shook my hand. "Bridget is quite alert, her eyes are tracking well, and her pupils are responding properly, so really we just want to do a CAT scan to make sure nothing is fractured, bleeding, or swelling that we can't see."

"Just in case," complained Bridget.

Dr. Fischer smiled, "Yes, just in case." He looked at his watch. "I put the order in several minutes ago, so someone should be coming shortly to get Bridget and bring her up to Radiology. You're both welcome to go with her, but you'll have to wait in the hallway."

"You're coming with me, right?" Bridget looked from me to Al.

"Of course we are, baby," he assured her.

She relaxed at that and was quiet until Dr. Fischer left the room. She heaved a huge sigh. "This stinks! And my head still hurts."

"As bad as before?"

Bridget sighed again. "No," she admitted. "I want to go home, Mommy!"

I stroked her cheek. "We all do, my heart."

"I wanted to see the fireworks."

Al patted her hand. "I know you did."

"I want to go home!" Bridget said again, and started crying. Al squeezed her hand while I sat next to her on the bed and hugged her. It took several minutes for us to get her calm enough to stop crying and we exchanged troubled looks over her head.

A knock at the door drew our attention, and a nurse opened the door. She pushed a wheelchair before her and she smiled at Bridget. "I'm here to pick up Miss Calavicci for her CAT scan."

"What kind of cat is it going to be?" Bridget asked. She scrubbed at her eyes and gave the nurse a hopeful smile. "Grey like Henrietta Pussycat?"

The nurse chortled and then immediately sobered. "Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry to tell you there are no cats involved with a CAT scan. C-A-T stands for three big words: computerized axial tomography. There isn't going to be a kitty cat for you to hold."

Bridget deflated. "Oh." A fresh sheen of tears sprang to her eyes, but she didn't let them fall.

Al's expression shifted as an idea occurred to him and he kissed Bridget on the cheek. "Say, sweetheart. Is it okay if just Mommy goes up with you? I just remembered I need to check on your sisters and Sam." I started to scold him for going back on his word to her, but his eyes telegraphed that he had another purpose in mind.

"But, Daddy!" she protested. The tears were on the verge of resuming now.

As Al's eyes continued to plead with me, I said, "Bridget, we can't go into the scan with you anyway. I'll be right there with you until they take you in, and I'm sure Daddy will be here when we get back."

The nurse noticed Bridget beginning to get distraught, but she was also astute enough to have picked up on Al's diversion tactic. I wasn't sure what Al had in mind, but it seemed the nurse had an inkling. "I tell you what, Miss Calavicci," she said to Bridget, "I'm pretty sure I can convince them to let your Mommy come in with you until the scan starts if it's just her with us."

"Okaaaay," Bridget conceded, sniffling. Al lifted her into the wheelchair and the nurse started to push it when she stopped and lifted a finger as if struck by a sudden thought. "Mrs. Calavicci, would you mind pushing Bridget into the hallway?"

As I pushed Bridget out I heard the nurse say in a low voice, "Mr. Calavicci, the gift shop is on the first floor...head out of the ER and hang a right. Then go straight until you hit the lobby." She came out and brightly thanked me, and then took over pushing the wheelchair as we proceeded towards the elevators.

As she pressed the "Up" button for the elevator, she turned to me and asked in a voice so low that Bridget couldn't hear, "Is she claustrophobic?" I shook my head. "Good," she smiled.

The elevator arrived and we filed in. The nurse pushed the button for "4" and a short ride later we stopped at the Radiology floor. Bridget looked around with interest at the many doors and corridors until the nurse stopped and knocked on one. "I'll be right back," she told us as she disappeared inside.

"Do you think they'll really let you come inside, Mommy?" Bridget asked as we waited.

"I hope so," I smiled down at her. "You've been very brave through all of this."

"Daddy told me in the ambalanst to be brave and it will all be okay."

I stroked her cheek. "Daddy's very wise."

The nurse was back. "Mrs. Calavicci, you can come in with us while we get Bridget situated." She grabbed the handles and pushed the wheelchair in. I followed and patted Bridget's shoulder when she caught sight of the large machine with the circular opening.

"Is that the scan thingy?"

The radiology tech greeted us and smiled at Bridget. "Hi there. Yes, we're going to use that machine to get some pictures of the inside of your head to make sure your fall didn't give you more than a headache." He explained how the machine worked, which piqued Bridget's interest. "Now, you need to lie really still while the machine takes pictures. Can you do that?"

Bridget eyed the machine. "So you're going to push me inside that tube part?" When he nodded, she looked uncertainly at me.

"Remember what Daddy told you?"

She took a deep breath. "Be brave and it will all be okay." She looked at the tube and then said, "I'll pretend I'm visiting Moley and Badger in a burrow." We had been reading The Wind in the Willows at bedtime, and I was relieved that it was now providing comfort to her.

"Good idea!" I said. As she got out of the wheelchair, I hugged her and kissed her cheek. "Make sure you follow all their directions."

Bridget nodded. They helped her onto the sliding table, and she smiled nervously at me. I had to leave now, but I squeezed her fingers before I did. The nurse escorted me back to the hallway.

"She'll be fine. It will just be a few minutes."

There were chairs in the hallway. I sat in one and waited. A few minutes in hospital time was never short.

Al was waiting in the exam room when we returned, his right ankle resting atop his left knee. His foot was wiggling and he idly tapped his fingers against the cabinet beside him. He sat up straight and smiled at Bridget as the nurse pushed her into the room.

"How did it go?"

Bridget gave him a tiny smile. "I was brave. I had to go into this tube, and it was dark, but I just pretended I was in Mole's hole." Her smile got a little bigger. "And, Daddy, it was all okay."

The nurse helped Bridget back onto the bed and then left us alone.

Al looked at me, "Did they tell you anything?"

I shook my head. "We'll have to wait for Dr. Fischer to tell us what they saw."

"Hurry up and wait," Al murmured. He lifted a paper bag from the floor beneath his seat and handed it to Bridget.

"What's this?" she asked him.

"Why don't you open it and see?" he grinned. Catching my eye, he winked.

Bridget squealed in delight as she lifted out a small plush cat. She hugged it to her chest as she cried, "Thank you, Daddy!"

"She was so disappointed about the CAT scan," Al started to explain, but I cut him off with a kiss.

"Did you actually check on Sam and the girls?"

He nodded. "Grace fell asleep on him. Michele and Theresa are definitely getting bored, but they were playing 'I'm going on a picnic' with Sam." He chortled, "When I walked up, Sam had just added 'quark' to the litany. He and the girls were arguing the merits of it."

"What's a quark?" asked Bridget.

"A subatomic particle," Al explained, then realized he needed to break it down a little more for our five year old. "See, everything is made up of things that get progressively smaller. Your body has an arm, your arm has a hand, your hand has a finger, your finger has skin, your skin has cells, your cells have atoms, and deep inside your atoms are protons, neutrons, electrons and—"

"Quarks!" exclaimed Bridget.

Al and I looked at each other with wide eyes. "Yes, that's exactly right," he nodded.

Bridget thought a moment. "Then Dr. Sam is right. If he said 'I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing quarks,' he would be, if they are inside his atoms inside his cells." I was speechless at her comprehension. She studied the IV in her hand. "Are my quarks and atoms leaking out?"

Gently taking her hand in his, Al rubbed her arm reassuringly. "No, sweetheart. Nothing is leaking out."

"But they stuck me and it hurt. And when they pull this out, I'll bleed."

"Just a little," I assured her.

Bridget frowned, "But then my quarks and atoms will leak."

"Quarks and atoms?" asked Dr. Fischer's cheery voice. "That's a big topic for such a little girl." He carried a folder under his arm as he entered the room. "How's your head feeling, Bridget?"

"It just hurts a little bit now." She squeezed the stuffed cat closer.

"Very good." Dr. Fischer turned to face me and Al now. "Mr. and Mrs. Calavicci, Bridget is going to be fine. There were no fractures, bleeding, or internal swelling. This is just about the best outcome we could want with a head injury. Now, because it is a head injury, I do want her to rest for the next several days, meaning no running or jumping."

"What about T-ball?" Bridget exclaimed. Their team had practice on Tuesday.

"I'm sorry, no T-ball this week," the doctor said. He proceeded to continue with directives for Bridget's care for the next week. Bridget cried into the plush cat's fur. While I consoled her, Al thanked Dr. Fischer, who said a nurse would be back shortly with our outgoing paperwork.

"Hey, chin up, munchkin," Al tried to boost her spirits, "we get to go home soon."

Bridget just shook her head, all the disappointment from having to leave the picnic to being deprived of T-ball was just too much for her to bear right now. It hurt my heart to see her so distraught. Al looked as if he felt the same way. We both tried to jolly her with conversation to no avail. She kept her face buried in the toy cat's fur even when the nurse finally entered the room with a duplicates form for Al to sign. While he surveyed the information and scrawled his name, the nurse slid the IV needle from Bridget's hand. Bridget barely noticed until the adhesive bandage was placed on the site.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" I soothed as she stared at the bandage.

"Mommy, I want to go home."

Finished with the discharge paperwork, Al held his arms out to her to pick her up. "Come on then, Bree, let's go home." She clambered into his hold and rested her head on his shoulder. He thanked the nurse and we followed her into the waiting room.

Theresa had fallen asleep, her head pressed against Sam's shoulder, and Grace was still sleeping in his hold. Michele was talking animatedly to him about The Wind in the Willows as we walked up to the cluster of chairs. Sam was doing his best to listen, but it was clear that all this time sitting and waiting had worn him to exhaustion as well. He yawned and apologized to Michele before looking up to see the three of us.

"Everything turn out okay?" Sam asked.

I nodded. "She has to stay still for several days, which is going to be a challenge in our house, but there weren't any skull fractures or anything of concern."

"That's wonderful!" Sam's face broke into a wide smile, which quickly became another yawn.

Al and I exchanged a concerned look. At my nod, Al said, "Sam, why don't you come home with us and get some sleep? I'll bring you to pick up your car in the morning."

"Oh, no, I couldn't put you and Beth out like that," Sam protested. "I'll...[yawn] fine."

"Sam Beckett," I said, drawing his gaze to me with my firm tone, "it's late and you are exhausted. You've been keeping an eye on these three out here. Keeping them out of trouble and entertaining them, and don't think I don't know firsthand how tiring that can be! I'm worried about how long the drive is from Griffith Park to the Project."

Theresa stretched and awoke at the sound of our voices. "Hi, Bree! Does this mean we can go home?"

"I want to go home now," whined Bridget.

Shaking his head in surrender, Sam chuckled softly, "Okay, okay. I give in to the combined power of Calavicci." He started to stand then realized his muscles had stiffened after so long in the hard plastic chair of the waiting room. I leaned to take Grace from him, and he raised his arms over his head in a stretch that released a series of cracking sounds from his back. Al winced.

"Sorry about this, pal," he said as Sam stood up. "I owe you one. Again."

"No, I'm glad I was here," countered Sam. He yawned again and laughed at the confirming look I gave him. "You're right, Beth. I am tired."

"Let's get this crew home," Al said, taking Michele's hand. Sam picked up Theresa, who grinned at him.

The sun had long since set and we made our way to the station wagon under the orangey-yellow glow of the parking lot lights. Sam protested slightly when I insisted he take the front passenger seat but acceded. I got the other girls situated in the back bench seats, then climbed in myself, draping an arm around Bridget's shoulders. Al started the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

"Mommy, if I promise not to run can I go to T-ball practice?" Bridget wheedled.

"You heard the doctor. No T-ball this week."

Bridget crossed her arms over her chest and sulked.

"Do I go to T-ball without Bridget?" asked Michele.

"Yes, honey. Your team needs you," I said.

"Aw, that's not fair! She doesn't even pay attention half the time!" exploded Bridget.

Al raised his eyes to the rearview mirror and caught Bridget's attention by saying her name in a low voice. She instantly subsided as he gently narrowed his eyes at her.

"Well, it isn't fair," she muttered softly.

"I'm just glad you're okay, Bree," Michele said in her quiet way.

Shame crossed Bridget's face now and a silent tear trickled down her cheek. I lightly kissed her forehead. This was going to be a hard week for our athletic child.

"Sheli, I'm sorry," Bridget finally said.

"I know," her twin answered. "It's okay."

A soft rumble filled the car. Al glanced over at Sam, whose head had fallen back against the headrest, and chuckled as his friend snored louder. The twins and Theresa giggled and I couldn't keep a smile from my own face.

"Poor Sam," I murmured. I was glad he had agreed to stay over at our house. It wasn't a stretch to think that he had stayed up far too late the night before working on his experiments or theories. I smirked as I thought of how the ladies I had met today would react if they knew Sam was sleeping on our couch tonight. Almost an instant later, I felt bad that all we had to offer was a couch; comfortable as it might be, it wasn't a bed. Now that Grace was older, perhaps it was time to move her and Theresa into the same room so we could have a guest room. I laughed to myself picturing Al's reaction to my latest home improvement idea.

"I'm hungry," Theresa announced after several minutes of silence.

"Me, too," echoed Michele, followed by Bridget.

"I'll make sandwiches when we get home, and then it's baths and bed."

A car unexpectedly changed lanes without signaling, and Al slammed on the brakes. Sam snorted awake as his head tipped forward.

"Sorry 'bout that," Al apologized.

Rubbing his eye, Sam waved off the apology with a yawn. "I didn't mean to fall asleep," he said.

"Are you hungry, too, Dr. Sam?" Theresa called from the back of the car.

"Maybe a little," he answered.

"Mommy, you'll have to make Dr. Sam a sammich, too." She paused and thought about what she had just said and giggled. "A sammich for Dr. Sam!" Her giggle was so contagious the rest of us couldn't help joining in.

"Beth does make great 'sammiches,'" commented Al, making a turn towards our neighborhood.

"Thanks, babe."

We were on our street now and soon Al was pulling into our driveway and parking the car. He turned to the girls after removing the key from the ignition. "Please keep your voices down when you get out. I'm sure the Rayburns are already in bed."

"Yes, Daddy," they chorused.

Sam and Al headed for the front door with the three awake girls while I leaned to get Grace from the backseat. She woke up when I closed the car door. The others had all gone inside and Grace sleepily looked around.

"We home?"

"Yes, we're home. Everyone else is inside. Are you hungry?"

Grace nodded.

"Come on then, let's get inside and I'll make you a sandwich."


"If that's what you want."

We were inside now and I put her down to close and lock the door behind me. Splashing and giggling from the bathroom told me the girls were washing their hands. I sent Grace to join them and headed for the kitchen, where I could hear Al and Sam's voices. Al was rummaging in the refrigerator for cold cuts, cheese, and condiments while Sam was retrieving the bread from the breadbox. I pulled the peanut butter from the pantry.

Placing his burden on the counter, Al laughed at the sight of the jar in my hand. We had vowed not to be short order cooks for the kids at mealtimes. Grace's strong will often struggled with this. "PB&J for Grace?" he got out around chuckles.

I nodded as I plucked the grape jelly from the fridge. "Not a battle I feel like fighting tonight."

"Me either," he admitted.

Sam was methodically setting seven slices of bread on the counter. I swabbed peanut butter on one of them, quickly following it with jelly while Al spread mayonnaise and mustard on the other six. An assembly line of sorts soon developed as I put slices of ham down while Sam sliced the block of cheese. Al grabbed the slices as they were cut and topped the meat. As each sandwich was done, I topped them with bread and cut them into diagonal halves just as the girls entered the kitchen. While Sam plated, Al was filling small cups with milk for them and he gestured towards the breakfast table.

"Sit down, girls. We'll bring your sandwiches to you."

Sam and I each brought two plates over and set them in front of the girls; I made sure Grace got her peanut butter sandwich. Al carried over all four cups of milk like a professional waiter. He then grabbed a sandwich plate, filled a glass of water from the fridge, and joined them. I urged Sam to do the same.

"But you'll have to stand," he protested chivalrously.

"You think the waiting room chairs were hard? The one outside the CAT scan was killer. I'm happy to stand." I shooed him toward the table as I lifted my sandwich to eat it.

"I wouldn't argue with her, Sam," advised Al, pushing the empty chair out with his foot.

Sam sat and put his plate on the table in front of him. He gave another guilty look in my direction, then smiled in concession and began eating.

"Dr. Sam," Bridget hesitantly began, "I'm sorry I messed up your day."

He swallowed his bite of sandwich and followed it with a drink of water. "Oh, Bridget, you didn't mess up my day. I'm glad you're okay and that I could help your mom and dad with your sisters."

"Dr. Sam, will you read to me, peas?" Grace asked.

"Grace, Dr. Sam is tired," I began, but Sam lifted a hand and smiled at me.

"I'd be happy to read to you tonight, Grace."

"Me, too?" begged Theresa.

"What about us?" put in the twins.

"One story to all of you," Al intervened. "And not until after you've all been bathed and in your jammies."

"Finish your sandwiches, girls," I said as I rinsed my plate and set it in the dishwasher. I refilled my water glass, feeling very thirsty after the picnic and the emergency room visit.

"Me done!" announced Grace.

"So am I," Theresa added.

"Well, let's go get a bath then," I said. "Run upstairs and pick out your jammies and clean underwear and meet me in the bathroom. I'll bathe you together."

"Yay!" they cheered, taking me literally and dashing pell-mell out of the room. I choked back an admonition as I realized what I had said. Al snickered and shook his head. Sam was chewing his sandwich, so didn't laugh, but his eyes danced and his closed mouth stretched in a smile.

"Don't you two get any ideas when you come up for your bath," I told the twins before leaving the room and heading upstairs to the bathroom to run the bath for Grace and Theresa.

Clutching pajamas and panties, the girls skipped into the bathroom singing "C is for Cookie." Grace never stopped singing as I helped her undress, and she wiggled her bare behind as her sister undressed, bellowing the chorus at the top of her lungs. I quickly fastened their hair up into topknots with hair elastics.

"All right, my little songbirds, into the tub," I said, picking Grace up and depositing her into the bath. Theresa clambered in after her and made a passable effort at beginning to bathe herself.

Grace began singing, "Sing...Sing a song..."

"Sing out loud...Sing out strong..." joined in Theresa.

They continued singing as I soaped and scrubbed with the washcloths.

"Sing wif us, Mommy," Grace demanded.

Smiling, I accompanied their tiny voices. "Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear...Sing...Sing a song..."

They immediately and energetically burst into the chorus of "La's" as I rinsed them off. "Mommy, sing it again wif us, peas!" begged Grace as I lifted her out of the tub and began rubbing her dry with the fluffy towel. I wrapped her up and kissed her on the end of the nose as I helped Theresa out of the tub and repeated the drying process.

"Sing...Sing a song," I dutifully sang with them as they got dry and began getting into their pajamas. They dashed downstairs and I drained the tub and tossed the towels into the hamper, wondering if the twins were ready for their bath yet. I almost crashed into Al escorting them upstairs as I exited the bathroom.

"Well, that answers that question," I smiled.

"What question, Mommy?" asked Michele.

"If you're ready for your bath. Go grab your jammies and come back in. I'll have the bath drawn for you." I turned to start the water, reminding Bridget she was not to run.

"I won't, Mommy!" Exasperation was already starting to tinge her voice. I closed my eyes and shook my head, cutting her some slack for her attitude given the way her day had gone.

"I'm going to have my hands full keeping her still tomorrow, I just know it." As soon as the word "tomorrow" left my lips, Al stared at me, his eyes going wide. I was confused for just a moment and then my expression matched his as I also remembered the shuttle landing and private event tomorrow. "I can't leave her," I said.

"I know. I'll call Stu and cancel."

"No, don't do that, hon. They're expecting you to be there—they're expecting you to speak at the VIP event. Besides, it's too late to call Stu now."

The twins walked back into the bathroom with their nightclothes in their arms. I turned the water off and looked at Al, who was about to argue with me. "Don't cancel," I repeated, twirling the girls' hair into topknots. "We'll pick this up after their bath. You better go rescue Sam from Theresa and Grace. They are in full singing mode tonight and their jukebox seems stuck on Sesame Street."

As if on cue, Grace's voice bellowing "Cookie cookie cookie starts wif C!" drifted upstairs. Al laughed and said, "All right, we'll put a pin in this for now. I'll go save Sam from her serenading."

"I'm still amazed at the volume she's capable of," I commented as he turned to go.

Grinning, Al looked back. "'And though she be but little, she is fierce,'" he quoted.

The twins got into the tub and started washing. They mostly just needed to be supervised these days, which my back and shoulders appreciated. Michele helped Bridget wash her back and then they switched.

"Mommy, Dr. Sam told Daddy you sing pretty," Michele confided.

I blushed, "He could hear me?"

"We could all hear you. You do sing pretty, Mommy," Bridget agreed.

Michele added, "Daddy said that he could listen to you sing all day."

"You should sing more often."

"More than just lullabies."

"Okay, thank you, girls." I held open a towel first for Bridget and then for Michele. My cheeks still felt flushed from the compliments they'd relayed and from the surprise that I'd been heard downstairs. I helped them dry off and they got into their pajamas. Michele yanked the elastic out of her hair, but Bridget asked me to take hers down for her. "Does your head hurt, baby?"

She just shrugged. "Can we go see if Dr. Sam is ready to read to us all now?"

"One story," I reminded them. "Dr. Sam is here tonight because it's late and he's tired."

Michele giggled, "And he fell asleep on the way home from the hospital."

"All the more reason to be considerate," I said, reaching to drain the tub for the second time.

"We will, Mommy," Bridget said. She nudged Michele. "Let's go pick out a book."

"Pick one all four of you will like."

"Yes, Mommy," they said together. I finished straightening the bathroom and then headed downstairs to do the dishes.

Sam was on the sofa surrounded by little girls, a picture book in his hands. "Lived twelve little girls / In two straight lines," he read and I knew without even seeing the cover that they had chosen Madeline. It was a favorite in our house, even with Al, who had fond memories of reading it to his little sister in the orphanage they'd been placed in together while their father worked overseas. Trudy had loved the story as much as our daughters. I ran a hand over Al's shoulders as I passed the chair he was sitting in on my way to the kitchen.

"Where are you going?" he quietly asked me.

"To do the dishes."

"Already done." He got up from his chair and nodded towards the den. "Shall we talk about what we're going to do about tomorrow?" He closed the pocket doors behind us and we sat on the leather couch. "Why shouldn't I cancel?"

"Because they asked you to speak."

"Pah. If I was the one with the concussion I'd have to cancel."

"Fair enough," I conceded. "But you're not. And you don't know what sort of benefit you can do for Starbright while you're rubbing elbows at the VIP event." He started to protest, but I cut him off. "Dale Carnegie could have been writing about you, you know, with your Calavicci Charm. You were complaining last week about needing approval for extra funding for the holography labs. You don't think being in the same room with the President and several Senators isn't an opportunity you should take advantage of? Not to mention the support you can probably get from some of the other astronauts that will be there. You'll be able to charm them into getting the ball rolling, I'm sure."

He considered what I'd said. "I hate it when you're right."

I just smiled at him.

"Fine, I'll go. But that hotel room is going to be pretty lonely tomorrow night." He frowned thoughtfully. "Beth, don't cancel with Eileen. You're going to need an extra set of hands tomorrow keeping Bridget still and the other three occupied."

"Okay, I can give in on that point. Gladly. But I'm letting her sleep in her own bed instead of staying over here."

"That makes sense," he agreed.

"I'll let you pick the dog up from the boarding kennel on your way home Monday."

"You got it."

I looked at my watch. "Sam must be nearly done with the book by now. I'll go get sheets and blankets to make up the couch for him."

Al nodded. "I'll tuck the girls in."

"Thanks, babe." I kissed him before slipping out of the den and heading upstairs to the linen closet. Sure enough, Sam was on the final pages of the story. I smiled at the way our girls were taken with him as I reached for a set of twin size sheets and an extra blanket and pillow. I came back downstairs as Sam said, "The End."

"Now it's time for bed," Al announced. "Tell Sam goodnight and head upstairs."

The girls took turns hugging Sam goodnight. Grace kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for da story, Dr. Sam!"

"You're welcome," Sam grinned. He watched the girls traipse up the stairs with Al following. "They're great kids, Beth."

"Thank you. I think so, too."

He stretched and yawned with the book still in his hand. We both laughed when he noticed that he was still holding it. "My little sister loved this book."

"So did Al's. I'm sure it goes without saying that my little sister and I loved it, too."

Sam stood and set the book on the coffee table. I put my load of linens down next to it and snapped the fitted sheet open.

"I'm sorry all we have to offer is a couch," I said as I tucked the sheet around the sofa cushions. "Al should have brought you to the barracks so you could sleep in your own bed. We weren't thinking straight."

"Beth, this is fine. I appreciate it." He stretched again then grabbed the pillow and put the case on it while I arranged the top sheet and blankets. "Besides, I wouldn't have gotten fed at the Project," he grinned.

"Such gourmet fare, too," I teased.

Serious now, Sam looked into my eyes, "I'm glad I was there when Bridget fell and that I could help."

"Me, too." I smiled and added, "You do always seem to be in the right place at the right time to help us out, Sam."

"You can say that again," said Al, back from tucking the girls in for the night. He rolled his head to stretch his neck. "What a day." He gestured at the couch. "This going to work out okay for you, Sam?"

Sam answered, "Absolutely. Thank you again." Abashedly he admitted, "I only got a couple hours of sleep last night. I was working on some issues the holography lab asked for help with. I think I might have solved a couple of them."

I smiled to myself that my inclination as to the reason behind Sam's utter exhaustion was correct. Al looked thoughtful, and I realized when Sam had mentioned the holography lab an idea had come to him.

"Say, Sam," he began, "I'm going to the shuttle landing tomorrow at Edwards."

"I heard about that," Sam said. "Dr. Lawson scored one of the staff invitations."

Al smiled, "Well, Beth was going to go with me, but she's going to stay home to keep an eye on Bridget now. I was gonna cancel and stay home, too, but the thing is, I've also been invited to a private event in the evening and I'm expected to speak at it. Beth pointed out that it would give me a chance to schmooze with some of the government VIPs, maybe grease some skids to get some more funding for the holography labs. I've got an open plus-one spot if you'd like to come along."

Sam's face lit up. "I'd love to. What can I do to help grease skids?"

"First of all, get some sleep," grinned Al. "We'll figure out what details you can help provide tomorrow morning. Oh, I almost's an overnight stay. You still game?"

Nodding, Sam said, "I can pack a bag when I get back to the Project tomorrow."

"Great! I can get you up to speed over breakfast. So I'll bring you to your car around—"

"In the morning," I cut in. "You two stop all this plotting. You both need sleep. Al, upstairs now. Sam, sweet dreams. We'll see you in the morning." I kissed Sam on the cheek and started shooing Al upstairs.

They both laughed at me, but Sam dutifully kicked off his shoes and turned back the sheet and blanket on the sofa. Al was already marching up the stairs. I followed, thinking to myself how accurate Al's assessment of a few moments ago had been. What a day.