Back in the waiting room, there is a full-length mirror. In it lives a second Sam Beckett, looking as he ought to, looking as he never can—shaggy hair, cleft chin, hazel eyes. Every few days, he stands within the mirror frame and blinks, opens his mouth, closes his mouth, touches his face.
Every now and then, the Al in the mirror joins him. He stands behind Sam's shoulder, squinting at the exercise as though in pain, his first finger hooked over his cigar. Sometimes Al pretends that the Sam in the mirror is his Sam. He pretends that his friend has finally, finally made the leap home, and that it is him testing out his own face at last. It lasts for a few seconds, at best. Then instead of splitting his face with a grin, the Sam in the mirror just gapes, or screams sometimes, and instead of spinning around to Al for a hug, he spins around to demand an explanation. That's where the illusion ends. On the good days, Al looks into the frightened eyes of this person wearing his best friend's face, and explains. On the bad days, he just walks out and leaves the explanation to somebody else.
It's a strange way to miss someone. They talk all the time, spend half their days together. But sometimes he wishes for a handshake, a hug, a slug on the arm, things you can't get from an imaging chamber. He wishes for Sam's words coming out of Sam's mouth. He wishes for Sam going with him after work for a beer in that new place downtown. Yeah, it's probably a selfish thing to wish, when the real Sam has a hundred times more reason to wish a hundred times harder. But, well, their friendship has never been based on Al's resemblance to a saint.
One day Sam asks Al to do him a favor, and Al says, like he always does, anything within the rules, and because reminding Sam of something he hasn't yet forgotten isn't against the rules, Al says okay. He cancels his plans with Tina and spends all evening and most of the night looking for just the right photograph. He goes through Sam's things, he goes through Donna's, he goes through his. Around a quarter to four, he finds the perfect one.
It's in the bottom of a drawer of old papers. It was taken maybe a few years before Sam left, but he doesn't really know. It is of Sam and Al, together, at some dark corner table in some bar hard to identify since the background is black behind the wash of camera flash on their faces. They are smiling—Al mischievously, Sam tolerantly but with humor sparkling in the corners of his eyes. Al's right hand is dangling a cigar near his face, and his left arm is draped over Sam's shoulders.
He likes that, that they're touching, but it's not what makes Al choose it. He chooses it because he has no recollection of that night. He doesn't know where they were, he doesn't know when it was, he has no clue who took the picture. He likes the fact that the photograph means nothing more to him than it does to Sam and his Swiss cheese brain—or, more to the point, means nothing less to Sam than it does to Al.
He brings it in the next day. Sam looks up from trying to remind himself that he's dissected a frog before, and raises his hand for a hall pass. Once they are in the sanctuary of the men's room, Al reaches into his jacket pocket. He says nothing, Sam says nothing, he just pulls out the photograph and holds it up for Sam to see.
Sam looks at it for a minute, head cocked a little, staring thoughtfully. After a long moment, he reaches out to point out his own face, extended finger dipping through the surface of the photo.
"That's me," he says. A pause. "That is me?" he says again—a question now, just because he wants to hear Al say "Yes." Al rolls his eyes.
"No, I brought a picture of me and the Pope just to screw with you. Of course it's you, Sam."
Sam chuckles in acknowledgment and keeps staring at the photo. "When is this?" he asks, after another moment.
"I have no idea," Al says with satisfaction. Sam looks up from the photograph at last and smiles at his friend, smiles at something nobody's saying. He turns toward the restroom mirror, the teen boy's reflection that belongs to him today and may not tomorrow. He looks down at the photo, looks back at the mirror. Then he looks once more back at Al. He nods, smiling gratefully.
"Thanks." Al nods back, and Sam walks out of the restroom and goes back to his classroom.
Back at home, the Sam in the mirror lines himself up in the frame and rubs his chin, waiting for the man he is meant to reflect.