Peligro County Hospital
By the early hours of Monday, Sam had drifted into a more natural, restful sleep.
Al continued to maintain his vigil, even though the leaper now slept undisturbed. This time Al made no attempt to rouse him as he had back at the lighthouse. Sam obviously needed to rest. So too did Al, yet he categorically refused Beth's pleas to retire to bed for a couple of hours. Eventually, he did concede that he would doze in the large comfortable chair that had been installed in the Imaging Chamber on the condition that Ziggy would monitor Sam every second and wake Al at the first sign that the leaper was stirring. He was not prepared to cause Sam even one moment of unnecessary anxiety.
Marge looked in on Sam from early in the morning too. It had started as sheer gratitude but she was finding that she'd developed a strong maternal affection for this young man.
The Kettlers had taken rooms in the local hotel but Marge had been up early and at the hospital as soon as visitors were allowed. Having satisfied herself that Jim had slept well and was recovering satisfactorily, she had hurried to check on Ken Barham's condition.
"He just has to get his sight back," she told the attending physician in a tone of voice that made it almost an order. "He's an artist, you know, and a very good one too."
She had seen some of his artwork when tidying the lighthouse after Gil's blitz. It had been heartbreaking to see that the old man had ripped up most of the sketches in his drunken fury. Some had escaped intact though, and when she had taken up temporary residence in Ken's room, she had fixed them to the wall where she could see them when she woke.
"Mrs. Kettler?" The sound of voices had penetrated Sam's slumbers. His own sounded confused and tinged with apprehension.
"Hush, it's okay. Go back to sleep, son." Marge soothed, stroking his face, now mercifully not burning up with fever, and gently squeezing his hand.
"Jim?" Sam's leaper's instinct told him that her presence at the hospital could signify a relapse for her son.
"Don't worry, Sam," Al, instantly awake himself, relayed the information that he knew Sam needed to hear and which, for once, was rapidly forthcoming. "Jim's recovering well. Ziggy says he's out of danger now."
"He's doing great," Marge assured him, "thanks to you. We're more worried about you at the moment. Anything you need, let the nurses know and we'll see what we can arrange. Okay?"
"Thank you, but all I need right now is to see again. I hate being trapped in the dark like this." He gripped a handful of the sheet in his fist, reflecting the tension he was feeling. "I've never told anyone before, but I've always had the deepest dread of going blind. I'd rather lose both my legs."
"Aww, Sam," Al put in, "you should'a told me, buddy. That time when you were the pianist, you never let on."
"There, there, it's going to be okay," Marge patted the back of Sam's hand so that he relaxed his grip on the sheet. "Would you like me to sit with you until you fall asleep again? I can imagine that the time must drag endlessly being alone."
"He's not alone," put in Al defensively, though she couldn't hear him, "but feel free to have her stay too, Sam. I won't be offended." Far from it, Al welcomed having reinforcements.
"That's very kind, Mrs. Kettler," Sam clasped her hand in his as if to prevent her changing her mind. He was truly grateful for Al's presence but feeling the warm touch of another human being was like feeling the earth firm beneath your feet when you thought you had been falling into a quagmire.
"Please, call me Marge," she told Sam, settling herself comfortably in the chair by the bed. She shot the doctor a look that warned him she would by no means tolerate being asked to leave.
The doctor checked Sam's medication, the status of his drip bag and that it was feeding into him correctly. He made a note on the patient's chart of his reduced temperature and current status and then departed.
Marge whispered soft reassurances to Sam, all the while holding his hand and stroking his arm to let him know she was there, until he drifted back to sleep.
Once she was sure he was peaceful she stood up and planted a tender kiss on his forehead. "Sleep well. God bless, young man. Be better soon." Marge breathed softly and turned to leave.
"Thanks, Mrs. K." Al told her, appreciative of anything that helped to keep Sam calm. "I'll take it from here."
He knew she couldn't hear him and had no idea he was there but he said it anyway.
"Al!" Sam called for the third time to his softly snoring friend.
"Wha...?" Al had finally nodded off in his chair, worn out by the long hours of being on constant duty. He quickly roused himself. "I'm right here, Sam. Sorry. How you feeling?"
"Leg's still sore, head's still pounding, and I ache all over. I'm pitifully weak and still unbelievably tired. But never mind me, Al... you look exhausted. You should get to bed and get some proper sleep buddy!"
"I'm okay," Al insisted stubbornly, "I promised you I'd stay until..."
Al did a classic double take, sitting forward in his chair and then getting up and leaning over his friend.
"Wait a minute... what did you say?"
Sam smiled - a huge goofy grin. "I said 'you look exhausted'. Actually, it'd be more accurate to say you look a wreck."
"Are you trying to tell me..?"
"Yeah, Al. I can see you. You're still a bit blurred round the edges but I'm not blind any more. I can see again!"
Al's face broke into a huge grin of his own. "That's great!"
He still couldn't quite believe it, "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"That's so clichéd." Sam reprimanded, "but just to humor you... three."
"Oh, thank God, Sam. You have no idea how relieved I am..."
"You're relieved? How do you think I feel, Al?" Sam let out a little embarrassed laugh. "I guess I was really freaking out there for a while, wasn't I? Thanks for sticking it out with me, Al."
"That's what I'm here for, buddy." Al replied modestly, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.
"Yeah, well, now you better get outta here, pal. Even though you're the most wonderful sight in the world to me right now, you look absolutely terrible. So, Dr. Beckett is prescribing a good long sleep in the comfort of your own bed, capiche? Just tell me what I need to do and I'll take care of it, okay?"
"You're as bad as Beth," Al muttered.
"Yeah? Well, that could be because we both care about you, Al."
Al conceded defeat. He told Sam what they'd learned about Ken's aspirations for a new career and how he couldn't afford to sign up for training.
"The Kettlers must be loaded, Sam." Al suggested, "That yacht would have cost a packet. Maybe they'll be so grateful you saved their lives that they'll stump up the moolah."
"They probably would, Al, but I can't just ask them for it. Thanks for the lead, though. Now off to bed with you."
Al called up the Imaging Chamber door and was about to step through it when Sam called to him.
The hologram instantly turned around, "You okay, Sam?"
"Yeah. Never mind. Goodnight, Al."
"Sleep well, Al. That's doctor's orders."
Al gave him a swift salute in acknowledgement and stepped back to the future.
The siren call of silky sheets and soft pillows could be ignored no longer.
While Al was sleeping peacefully in the gentle embrace of his beloved Beth, Sam had a busy afternoon. Once the doctors discovered that his sight had been restored, he'd been put through another barrage of tests. His progress in all areas of recovery was most encouraging, although he was cautioned not to over exert himself.
The local sheriff arrived and was given permission to take his statement. He needed to corroborate what Don had told them since Ken had been the only actual witness to the events surrounding the criminal damage done to the lighthouse. Sam had told them everything, apart from the elements where he had foreknowledge of events, of course. He confirmed most of what Mr. Kettler had said, but insisted emphatically that Gil Burgess had never beaten Ken. The only reason Gil had hurt him at all that night was that he was under the influence of alcohol and not responsible for his actions. Even if Gil had lived, he would not have pressed charges for his injuries.
When he was satisfied that he had all the information he needed, the sheriff thanked Sam and told him to be sure and rest well. He congratulated the young man on his 'heroic rescue' of the Kettler family and hinted that the Mayor's office may be in touch in due course. Sam modestly denied that he deserved any recognition for his deeds. "I was just doing my job," he insisted.
Finally alone, Sam had settled down to sleep a little more. It seemed incredible that he should still feel so desperately tired when he'd been inactive for 24 hours or more. Yet the doctor in him recognized the strain his body had been under as it fought the infection and injuries, and he knew he still had a way to go before his strength was fully restored.
Even so, he was amazed that he slept through the entire night without waking.
Scarcely had he finished the breakfast he'd developed a real appetite for when Sam again found himself with more visitors.
First to arrive was Al, looking refreshed and relaxed. Al mischievously indicated that he'd received some 'therapy' from Beth, which Sam begged him not to expand upon. He then commented that Sam, too, looked much improved, having lost the awful pallor that had marred his features the previous day. Further conversation was precluded when Sam's other guests arrived.
Jim Kettler was being discharged into his mother's capable care and the family had come to fetch him. They decided to look in on their savior on the way out.
Marge professed herself delighted to hear that he could see them once more. She reiterated her claim that it would have been a wicked waste of an incredible artistic talent had he remained visually impaired. Hearing this and seeing the group gathered together at his bedside, gave Sam an idea.
"How long are you folks staying in town?" he inquired.
"Jim's been told he shouldn't travel for a couple more days," Marge told him and Sam nodded in agreement of the caution. "So we thought we'd stick around for the remainder of our vacation. Did we tell you the cruise was to celebrate our 25th anniversary?"
"To be honest, I don't recall," Sam admitted but was forgiven instantly. "Happy Anniversary. I'm sorry your celebrations were so drastically interrupted."
"We count ourselves blessed at the outcome," Don told him, "You gave us the greatest gift we could have received - you gave us back our lives."
"I'd like to give you another, if I may," Sam began.
They merely looked at him questioningly, not knowing how to respond.
"When I'm better..." In other words, when he'd leaped and the real Ken was back, for he felt sure the young man would honor what he was proposing, "I'd like to do a family portrait for you."
"Oh, Don, wouldn't that be wonderful?" Marge enthused.
"We'd love to have you paint our portrait, Mr. Barham," Don agreed, "but we couldn't possibly accept it as a gift. We owe you so much already, we can never repay you."
Sam was sure that Al was right. They would willingly have paid for Ken's University education. He didn't think Ken would have felt comfortable accepting a simple handout, though.
"Please, call me Ken. You don't owe me a thing," Sam maintained, "but if you insist on paying me a modest commission for your portrait, I can use it to start off my college fund."
"Good idea, Sam. Ken says he'll go along with anything you arrange and this sounds perfect!"
"College fund?" Marge picked up the cue as he'd felt sure she would. Sam explained about Ken's need for a new career and how he was going to have to find a temporary job and save hard to fulfill his ambition of training to teach art.
Marge pulled Don to one side and they exchanged words in excited whispers.
Al slipped a little closer and eavesdropped on their conversation, his grin broadening with every word he heard.
"Sam, you're a genius! I mean, I know you have a genius IQ, but..."
Sam shot him a look that suggested 'when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging'.
Don and Marge turned back to the young man in the hospital bed, smiling.
"I have a proposition for you, Ken, and I want you to hear me out."
"Okay," Sam agreed.
"Do you know where you'd like to study?"
Al put the question through Ziggy, who relayed the answer from Ken.
"Beaverbrook Art College, if I can get in. The fees are about $5-6K a year, though, and places are well sought after. It may be fairly local but it's one of the best in the State."
"Right." Don made a mental note. "Well you've missed enrollment for this semester. You could try for a January start but I'd recommend waiting until next year."
"It'll take a lot longer than that to save up the money." Sam put in, "I have to get myself somewhere to live too, since the lighthouse was a 'live-in' post.
"You promised to hear me out." Don chastised.
"Sorry. Please go on."
"My proposition is this. I own a chain of hotels, which are very successful as you may surmise from the ability to afford our yacht. They could always do with some positive publicity, though. I'd like to hire you initially to do some sketches of our holdings for the brochures. In addition, I want to commission you to paint some local scenes to put up in each of the hotels – in reception, in the bedrooms, in the dining rooms, all over basically. It will mean a lot of work and should keep you pretty busy. You'll stay in my hotels as my guest and all materials will be provided, but you'll have to live on a frugal wage, no spare cash for luxuries. Meanwhile, I'll put $1,000 a month into your college fund. That will get you started. If I'm suitably impressed next summer, there may be a bonus too. Then I want you on a retainer so that if I need any additional artwork, you'll produce it for me during your holidays – Christmas, spring break, summer vacation. I undertake to pay you enough to cover your tuition and board for the duration of your course, on condition that you get good grades and give me first option on anything 'independent' you produce over and above the hotel work. Do we have a deal?"
"That's a remarkably generous offer," Sam began.
"If it's too much of a commitment, I may just have to pay you, say $25K up front for that family portrait!" Don countered. "I must warn you, young man, I'm accustomed to getting my own way in business deals. I'm not in the habit of taking 'no' for an answer. Not to mention the fact that what Marge wants, Marge gets, and my wife wants to sponsor your talent. You wouldn't deny my wife the opportunity to 'discover' an up-and-coming young artist, would you, Ken?"
"If you put it like that," Sam and Al exchanged winks, "then I'd be delighted to accept. I won't let you down, Mr. Kettler, Mrs. Kettler."
As he made this assurance, Sam looked to Al to confirm its validity.
"He doesn't, Sam. Ken works really hard and produces some fabulous artwork. It becomes the signature feature of Kettler's hotels. He never makes a fortune from his art but he lives comfortably. He goes on to graduate top of his class. He's been teaching 20 odd years now and his students love him. He's fostered many a budding talent. He becomes good friends with the Kettlers and is best man at Jim's wedding. In fact, he recently did a new portrait with the grandchildren for Don and Marge's Golden Wedding Anniversary. You did it, buddy - another triumph over adversity."
Don held out his hand to seal the deal and, as Sam shook it, he felt a familiar tingling sensation. Ken was not the only one about to embark on a new job...