"You know he won't be able to leap until you return to help him out," Mark Gordon said. He found Beckett a handsome man, but he missed seeing his own face in the mirror.
"I thought you said you weren't an angel," Al said, waving his cigar around.
"Then how do you know anything about this assignment, this leap?"
"First of all, Jonathan explained to me what was going to happen before Sam even leaped into my body. Secondly, I'm using intuition to figure the rest of it out. The Boss wouldn't have brought you and Sam into this assignment for no reason. I'm sure that Jonathan will need help from both of you."
"Isn't that quite convenient for you. You get to sit around in the Waiting Room while we try to fix the mess."
In his drunken days, Mark have punched a guy for such a comment. Now, thanks to Jonathan's influence, he was able to take it in stride. "Hey, I've been in worse situations than this one," he replied. "And I'm sure you have too."
Al turned his back on the ex-cop. "I agree. Many of the leaps have been life-threatening for Sam. It's just that this leap gives me the creeps. All those kids, no parents. It brings back some of the worst memories of my life. My mother died when I went through a lot of years feeling like nobody loved me. Verbena thinks that's why I've had so many wives."
"But if you could only help Sam and Jonathan out, maybe you could make a difference in those children's lives. A difference that you never had. Besides if you help them, then maybe they'll help you." God, I sound like a shrink. He glanced up. Sorry.
"Sam's leaps can never benefit him or me."
"Oh, is that a fact? Did The Boss tell you that HIMSELF?"
"No, not exactly."
"Well then, what's to say that this isn't the leap that you can benefit from? Jonathan tells me that God loves all his children equally, whether they be man, animal, or whatever. God wants to see his children happy."
"Oh really!" Al countered, his mouth gaping. "Then explain to me why HE orphaned me at nine, made me a POW for five years, and is now forcing Sam to leap into one tragic situation after another."
"I didn't say that I had all the answers, but I do believe that The Boss doesn't give anyone more than HE thinks they can handle." He paused, remembering a time when he didn't believe that himself. "HE really does want to help you. That's why I'm here, and Sam is where I should be. Hey if I had my way, this whole situation wouldn't have happened in the first place. You think I like being separated from Jonathan?"
"Well no," Al said hesitantly.
"Jonathan says that The Boss told him that you haven't been your usual self for awhile. And if you're not yourself, then how can you effectively channel your energy into helping Sam? Your problem has something to do with a leap about four months back." Maybe I should be charging hourly rates, Gordon thought, surprised by his own words. "Do you want to talk about Billy?"
Al opened his mouth, surprised. "You know about him!"
"Jonathan told me after The Boss told him."
"Oh. Well, I will admit that it was rough dealing with the death of Billy's parents," Al replied. "But this is different. We're talking about a whole bunch of orphans."
"No, we're not. We're talking about dealing with your feelings. You have to come to terms with this, so you can continue working with Sam. Don't you understand? The Boss put Sam in my shoes, because he thought it was the only way you could face your fears, so you could get on with your purpose: helping Sam help other people."
"My purpose! You make it sound as though Sam and I'll be doing this for the rest of our lives."
"I didn't say that. I don't know what The Boss has planned for you. Hey, I really don't know much more than you do."
"But I'm so tired of dealing with other people's problems," Al replied. "When are Sam and I going to get our own lives back?" The orphan took a couple steps away from Mark. "Are you thirsty?" he asked, trying to change the subject. "Would you like something to eat?"
"Hey, food's my middle name." Mark's stomach rumbled at the thought.
It was almost six-thirty before Sam woke up. By the time he showered and changed into clean clothes, he could hear the children playing down the hall in the living room.
"Do you know yet what we're supposed to do to help Lori keep this orphanage open?" Sam asked, trying to be friendly.
Jonathan nodded. "Yes. The Boss explained everything to me last night. After we finish with work, I want you to stay here while I go talk to Lori's father."
"Why do I have to stay here while you go?" No matter how much he liked Jonathan, Sam hated feeling as though he had no control over anything.
"Because of the storm. I can use 'the stuff' to help me."
"What do you mean by 'the stuff'?" Sam asked.
"It's an ability that The Boss gives me when certain situations merit its use. To you it would look like magic."
"Okay, but Lori said she didn't want anything to do with her father."
"I have a feeling she's going to change her mind. Now let's get to work on our assignment, okay, Sam?"
Before Sam could reply, Lori appeared in the doorway.
"Who's Sam?" she asked.
"Ah, Sam?" Beckett replied, trying to look confused.
"I thought I heard Jonathan call you Sam. Maybe I'm hearing things." She was wearing her hair in a ponytail and her face seemed buoyant as if she had forgotten about the unwanted phone call from the night before. Anyway," she said, smiling. "The living room looks clean all except the vacuuming. How'd you get it all done so fast?"
"I couldn't get to sleep last night," Jonathan replied.
"I bet," Sam muttered.
"So I thought I'd get started a little early," Jonathan continued. I didn't do the vacuuming, because I was afraid I'd wake the children."
"Efficient. I like that," Lori said. "Would you like some breakfast? The children have eaten already, so you can eat in the kitchen if you prefer."
"That would be great," Jonathan replied and Sam followed him down the hall and into the kitchen. "Good morning, Ruth."
Ruth was busy cleaning the breakfast dishes. Sam wondered if she ever got tired of doing dishes. He supposed so.
"Good morning, Jonathan," Ruth replied. "There's some scrambled eggs left, a few strips of bacon, a couple biscuits. I'm afraid the kids really like the biscuits so you're lucky I was able to save you two a piece."
Ruth dried the last of the dishes and put them away in the cupboards. She left the room humming.
Sam removed the lid to the container with the biscuits, discovering that there were only three left.
"Looks like we're going to have to fight over the biscuits," Sam said. "Who gets two?"
"I don't need to eat," Jonathan replied.
"Oh, that's right. You don't need to eat, because you're an angel. Don't you ever miss not being able to taste?"
"I haven't lost my taste, Sam. Only the hunger and the need for sustenance."
Sam filled his plate and began eating the food, content with having a hunger he could satiate. He was finished eating when Lori entered the room.
"A shelf in one of the children's closets needs repairs," Lori said. "I'd appreciate it if you could get to it today."
"I can do that," Sam offered.
"And Jonathan, after you finish vacuuming the living room, could you go up into the attic. I need you to bring down a couple boxes of clothes. Some of the children need larger sizes."
Jonathan nodded. "I'll get right on it," he said and left the room.
Sam took his plate to the sink, then followed Lori out of the kitchen. As he walked past the door to the living room, he glanced in to see some of the children laughing and playing while Jonathan vacuumed around them.
Lori guided Sam to one of the eight bedrooms on the second floor. He noticed a little girl about four-years old with long black hair sitting in a chair next to the window. Sam wondered why she wasn't playing with the other children and if there was anything he could do for her.
"It's the closet over there," Lori said, pointing to her left. "Everything you need is inside."
Lori approached the little girl and knelt to her level. "Peggy, wouldn't you rather go downstairs and play with the other children?"
"No, Miss McKensie," the girl replied, glancing away from the window only momentarily. "I'd rather stay up here and wait." She returned to staring out the window at the falling snow as though she were watching a cartoon instead.
"Well, I'm not going to force you to play, but maybe later you'll change your mind."
The girl continued to look absently at the snow falling down in huge flakes, saying no more.
Lori stood up and walked over to Sam. "Will it bother you, her being in here?"
"Not at all."
Lori nodded and left the room.
Sam opened the closet and noticed that the wooden shelf was collapsing. Two of the boards were rotting. He picked up the hammer from the floor and began pounding on one of the boards until it became loose enough for him to remove with his hands.
He glanced over at the little girl, who was still sitting in the same position. I wonder if she might be a big part of the reason why I leaped into Mark Gordon, he thought.
"Why don't you try talking to her," Jonathan said, appearing in the doorway.
"I don't know what to say to her," Sam replied. "Do you know what's wrong with her?"
"Her parents died in a car accident only a month ago. She doesn't accept that they're gone. She's waiting for them to come back for her."
Beckett set the hammer down and approached the little girl. "The snow's very pretty, isn't it, Peggy?" Sam asked. "I remember when I was a little boy. I used to love making snow angels. And snowball fights, they were the best."
Sam waited for the little girl to say something, but she didn't even move.
"Peggy, I know it's terrible to lose your parents the way you did, but they're not going to come back."
Suddenly, Peggy turned her head in Sam's direction. "Yes, they are! You'll see."
She stood up and ran out of the room.
"I don't know what I can do to help her, Jonathan," Sam said. "I'm not a psychologist. I don't know. Maybe it's too soon. Maybe denial is a natural thing that an orphaned child has to go through before adjusting to a life without his or her parents."
"You did your best," Jonathan replied. "I think it's going to take another orphan to get through to her."
"Another orphan?" Sam asked, and realized Jonathan meant Al before he even finished asking. "Do you really think this leap, or assignment as you call it, will help Al?"
"The Boss helps those who are willing to help themselves."
"You mean, Al has to decide for himself to come back, right?"
"That's right, Sam."
"About that diatribe I forced on you-"
"I have a confession to make," Jonathan began, pausing as though checking to make sure he had permission from The Boss. He sighed heavily, an obvious admission that he'd not received any guidance. "No matter how hard I try to fight it, I'm afraid I'm feeling as angry about this whole situation as you are. We each miss our partner. But The Boss wants us to help each other, so let's try to get along and we'll make our way through this situation."
"I couldn't agree more."
Jonathan placed his hand on Sam's shoulder, but only briefly. In that moment, Sam thought about how nice it would be if he and Al could share the sensation of a friendly touch.
"Well, you better get back to work," Jonathan said. "And I better get that box of clothes that Lori asked for." Jonathan left, heading for the stairs that led to the attic.
A half hour later, Sam finished the repair job on the closet and went back downstairs to the living room where Lori and Ruth were looking through the clothes that Jonathan had brought down.
Lori looked up. "Do you know where Jonathan went?" she asked.
"I don't know," Sam replied, though he had his suspicions that a man named Peter McKensie was receiving a visit from a certain angel right about now.
The doorbell rang and Lori stood, excused herself, then left the room to answer it.
He noticed that Peggy had moved to one of the windows in the living room. He approached her, unsure of what he was going to say to her. Before he could reach the girl, he heard a man yelling and turned around to see Lori standing in the doorway beside a tall man in his thirties.
"You have no right to do this!" Lori screamed.
"Miss McKensie, I am a certified health inspector. That gives me the right."
"Well, then you have no heart. Look at all these young faces around you." Lori waved her left arm around, pointing at her children. "Tell them what you plan to do. Tell them that they're going to lose their home."
"A place is not a home when it's as rundown as this place is. I'm taking this to court on Monday, and I'll have you closed down by the end of the month."
"Why did you come out here?"
"You could have told me this on the phone. Why did you go to the trouble of coming out here? Did you want to see the expression on my face when you told me?"
Halsey reached inside his coat and pulled a paper out from his inner pocket. "I'll see you in court," Halsey said, as he handed the paper to her, then turned around and stormed out.
"What was that about?" Sam asked, after the man had gone.
"He's the health inspector. He says that this building is too rundown to be safe for the children. And now I have to show up in court to plead my case."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"Appeal to the judge for more time."
"You need a lawyer."
Lori burst into tears. "I can't even afford to pay for the repairs. How in the Hell am I supposed to pay for a lawyer!" She ran from the room like a child being sent to her bedroom as punishment.
Sam almost went after her, but stopped when he heard beeping sounds coming from the television. He approached the set to read the snow storm warning flashing across the bottom of the screen, telling them to expect up to two feet of snow before nightfall.
One of the older children, a black boy with a slender build, walked up beside the time traveler to read the warning.
"Guess this means we won't be having any outside play for quite some time," the boy observed.
"No, I'm afraid-"
Before Sam could finish, the entrance door down the hall opened and Greg Halsey stepped back inside, stomping his feet on the welcome mat.
"Damn it, damn it to Hell," the health inspector muttered. "My car is stuck in the driveway."
What next? Sam wondered.
"Don't tell me we're going to have to put up with him 'til the roads are cleared," the boy said. "I don't like him much. He wants us to move out of here, but if we did that Miss McKensie would lose her job."
I don't like him either, Sam thought, but decided it was best not to say so. "It's just his job to make sure that all you kids have a healthy environment to live in," he said aloud.
"Well, are you going to help me get my car unstuck or not?" the health inspector demanded.
"I'll give it a try," Sam answered. "But the weather isn't exactly ideal for driving. The snow is coming down in buckets."
"I have to get to my office," Halsey said, starting to turn red in the face.
After he grabbed his coat from the closet, Sam followed the irate man out the door. Halsey had managed to back his classic New Yorker about a foot into the yard, enough to prevent him from leaving.
The snow continued to fall, obscuring Sam's vision and intensifying the situation. His entire body rapidly grew numb.
He tried to push the car out for a half hour while Halsey pumped the gas before giving in to the blizzard. The health inspector stepped out of the car spewing obscenities at Sam. He walked around to the front of the car, nearly slipped on a patch of ice in his haste to catch up with Sam. He cursed the weather, muttering, "You're lucky I didn't fall or I'd sue this damn orphanage."
Sam flashed him an indignant glance.
"Where are you going?" Halsey screamed.
"It's no use. We'll have to wait until the storm clears."
As the time traveler went inside and removed his coat he wondered what his friend was doing. He hoped Al would return soon. Peggy needed his help. I need his company, Sam thought. I feel lonely and abandoned without him.
The health inspector came inside, stomping his feet as though he meant to put a hole in the floor.
Sam returned to the living room where Lori was now playing "Ring around the Rosy" with the smaller children. She stopped when she noticed Halsey standing behind the janitor.
"His car's stuck in the driveway," Sam explained. "So I'm afraid he has to spend the night."
"Certainly not my idea of fun," Halsey grumbled. "I'll probably freeze to death tonight."
"I'll prepare the empty bedroom upstairs for you," Lori said as though she hadn't heard the health inspector's churlish remark. "Sam, I need you to fix the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. And if you see Jonathan, tell him to come talk to me. You don't think he went outside, do you? I can't believe he would just disappear on his first day on the job, especially considering how nasty it is outside.
"Ask Ruth to come into the living room to watch the children while I'm upstairs." She stepped out of the room.
Sam turned to look at the other man.
"Stop staring at me and go do your job, handyman," Halsey said saucily.
Sam barely restrained himself from punching the man before leaving the room.
"This stuff is really good," Mark said, and to Al's astonishment began filling his plate for the third time.
"How much can one person eat?" Al asked, wondering if Gordon's weak spot wasn't more of a weak spot for him.
"Hey, I told you food was my middle name."
"We can't afford to feed you indefinitely. We only have a few million in the cafeteria budget."
"You know how to get rid of me," Mark said in a teasing voice. "All you have to do is go to the orphanage and help your buddy Sam, so he can leap out of my body, and I can have it back."
Al sighed heavily as he watched Gordon stuff a heaping spoon full of stroganoff into his mouth. Mark grinned as he chewed his food. "You know I can't stay in this body forever."
"It's only been a couple days," Al argued.
"Yeah, but even two days out of your own body isreally taxing. This isn't the first time for me either."
"Nope. The Boss made me switch places with a woman once. Boy was I glad to get my old body back. I can just imagine how Sam feels. Always leaping around from one body to the next, never returning to his own."
"Well, that's not entirely true. There was the one time. He leaped back into himself at sixteen. God, did he want to stay!"
"Al, have you thought about how you're hurting Sam by avoiding your fears?"
"Hurting Sam? No, I-"
"You see! If you just thought about it for a minute, you'd understand how important it is for you to get back there and help him."
Al sighed, but said nothing. He knew Mark was right, but hated the thought of admitting it.
"You're orphaning him the way you're handling this."
"Sam thinks of you as a father figure or a big brother at least."
"I never thought about it that way." Al placed his cigar in his mouth and puffed on it, reflecting on Mark's words.
Mark pushed his plate away. "Boy, am I stuffed."
"It's about time," Al said, feeling the tension lift from him now that he knew what he had to do.
Both men burst into laughter.
After lunch, Lori had the children sit down in front of the television to watch an animated movie. She asked Sam to mop the dining room floor and he went to the kitchen closet where she told him he would find the mop and bucket. He no more than got started when he heard the health inspector harassing Lori, blaming her because he was stuck at an orphanage with a bunch of brats.
The wind rattled against the windows, and Sam could feel the cold air creeping inside. He knew that Greg Halsey was right. The orphanage was severely rundown. Sam empathized with the children, because as a time traveler he was constantly forced to "move". He missed having a place to call home. Home, he thought. I wish Al would come back. He's the only piece of home I have left.
He wrung the mop out in the bucket and the water turned black. A floor sure can get dirty when kids are around, he thought, then began mopping the next strip of linoleum, his musings returning to his absent friend.
If I were stuck in this orphanage indefinitely without Al around, I'd feel as much like an orphan as any one of these kids.
Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by Lori's screaming. "Ruth, There's something wrong with Robin! I think it might be his appendix."
Sam dropped the mop, missing the bucket, and the mop made a loud smacking sound as it hit the floor. He rushed out to the living room where a boy, about eight-years old, was curled in the fetal position on the floor. Lori was kneeling by the boy's side, trying to comfort him. The other children backed away from them to let Sam through. Sam knelt down next to Robin, asking him where it hurt, and the boy pointed to his lower right side.
Ruth entered the room and asked, "Is it his tummy again?"
"Robin, it's going to be okay," Lori said. "You don't have to be scared, because we're going to take care of you."
Sam turned to Lori. "You were right. It's his appendix."
"How do you know for sure?" Lori asked.
"I don't have time to explain that right now. If we don't get him some help soon, it may rupture."
They both looked out the window, seeing nothing but white.
Sam walked up to the phone and picked up the receiver, but there was no dial tone.
"The phone's dead," he said. "We can't call an ambulance. Now what do we do?"
"My pickup is a four-wheel drive," Lori said. "Do you think we can make it?"
"We'll have to try," Sam replied, lifting Robin into his arms.
Greg Halsey smiled as the janitor and Lori McKensie bundled up for the cold ride to the hospital. Halsey was sure he could climb in the back of the pickup without being seen. Once in town, he'd be able to make his way to his office where he had a desk full of paperwork. The top item on his agenda was writing a plea to present to Judge Thompson on the court date to have the Marshall County Orphanage shut down for good.
The health inspector made his way out to the garage and into the back of the truck. Within minutes, the falling snow buried his footprints.
Jonathan climbed the stairs, approached room 217, then knocked on the door. A moment later an elderly man opened the door.
"Excuse me," Jonathan said. "Are you Peter McKensie?"
"Good Lord, son," the man exclaimed in a Scottish accent. "What the bloody Hell are ya doin' out in this storm. Ya'll catch pneumonia." The man stepped aside. "Come inside where it's warm."
"Why, thank you." Jonathan stepped inside and the other man closed the door. "Mister. McKensie, my name's Jonathan Smith. I'm a janitor at the Marshall County Orphanage where your daughter works."
"How is she?" McKensie asked anxiously.
"She's fine, but I'm afraid the orphanage is in dire straights. If they don't receive financial aid immediately, they will be forced to close at the end of the month."
"That's a shame. I'd offer to help, but I don't think I'll ever be welcome. Mister. Smith, I'm a rich man, but I'm afraid I'm poor where it really counts, 'cause I don't have the love of my little lassie. Oh, I don't blame her for bein' angry with me. I guess I deserve nothin' more. But if I could just see her again, and tell her how much I love her."
"Oh, you don't have to convince me, Mister. McKensie," Jonathan replied. "It's your daughter who lost a father at five, then a mother at nine."
"Honest, I didn't know her mom had passed on until a few years ago. If I could do anythin' to change that, don't you think I'd bloody well do it!"
"Why don't you tell your daughter your story?"
"How can I when she won't even talk to me on the phone?"
"Because I'm going to take you to her."
"In this storm? We won't even make it a mile before-"
"Mister. McKensie, God will be with us on this journey. You see, I'm an angel."
Peter McKensie bellowed a deep guttural laugh. "And I'm Santie Claus, Mister. Smith. Do you actually expect me to believe that you're a real live angel?"
"Oh, of course not. You see, we angels are not alive."
Suddenly, Peter McKensie found himself flying outside in the midst of the storm beside Jonathan Smith. He was bundled up in his coat, hat, and scarf that only a moment ago had been lying on his bed. Somehow, he couldn't feel the snow and wind whipping at his face.
"You really are an angel!" McKensie exclaimed with a laugh.
A clear path opened up in the sky before them like the Red Sea parting for Moses. The sun shone through, showing them the way to Lori. Jonathan was sure that it was a sign that The Boss was pleased with the way he was handling this assignment.
"Oh it's no use!" Lori said after fifteen minutes had passed since Sam skidded the truck into the ditch. She was holding Robin in her arms with a wool blanket wrapped around him. "We'll never make it to the hospital, not tonight. We're probably going to freeze to death out here."
"We have to," Sam replied, feeling helpless. "We've only got a couple more miles. Maybe I should walk to the hospital and send back for help."
"Ohhhhh," Robin groaned. "It hurts, Miss McKensie!"
"I know," Lori said softly, kissing the boy on his sweating forehead. "Just a little longer, and we'll get you some help." Lori looked up at Sam. "Do you think you can make it to the hospital on foot?"
"I have to," Sam replied and pushed the door open against the blizzard's wind. He stepped outside to see Jonathan standing only inches away. "Jonathan, how'd you get here?"
"Sam," Jonathan replied in a teasing voice. "Have you forgotten who I am already?"
"Oh, right." Curious about how Lori would react to Jonathan's sudden appearance, Sam turned around and stuck his head through the open door and saw the puzzled look on her face.
"Where have you been?" Lori asked Jonathan.
"Does that matter?" Sam asked. "I think He's a Godsend." He turned toward the angel. "We need help getting the truck unstuck."
"No problem. I think my friend and I can manage pushing you out."
"Your friend?" Sam asked as an older man stepped out of the swirling snow into view.
Sam climbed behind the steering wheel as the angel and the other man walked behind the truck. After only seconds of pushing, the truck moved forward onto the road.
"Thank you, Jonathan," Sam said as Jonathan approached the driver-side door.
Peter McKensie stood behind the angel.
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" Lori asked the older man.
Jonathan smiled and glanced back at the Scotsman. "Lori, this is Peter McKensie, your father."
For a long moment, no one said anything. Lori looked down at the boy bundled in her lap as though afraid to look her estranged father in the face.
"I don't want to speak with you," Lori said. "Do you hear!"
"Lori, your father just helped you out of a ditch," Jonathan pointed out. "The least you can do is to be kind enough to give him a ride, so he won't be out in the cold."
McKensie was rubbing his arms, emphasizing the fact that he was bitterly cold.
"All right. But don't expect any more from me."
"Jonathan, Peter, you'll have to ride in the back," Sam said, then closed his door.
Jonathan and McKensie hopped up into the back of the truck, noticing for the first time that there was a stowaway.
"Who are you?" Peter asked.
"Greg Halsey, Marshall County health inspector," Halsey replied, blowing air onto his hands to keep them warm.
"If you hitched a ride, then why in the bloody Hell didn't ya pitch a hand in gettin' them unstuck. They've got a sick kid up there that might've died if we hadn't of come along."
Jonathan sat silently as a conversation unfolded between the Scotsman and the health inspector. By the time they pulled into the hospital parking lot, Peter McKensie had come to the conclusion that Gregory Halsey didn't have a heart. Not even one that was two sizes too small like the Grinch.
After parking alongside the hospital sidewalk, Sam stepped out of the pickup, opened the passenger door and took Robin from Lori. Everyone followed him inside through the emergency doors. Halsey immediately went to a pay phone to call a cab.
"Someone please help this boy," Sam yelled. "He has appendicitis."
An orderly rolled a bed in Sam's direction, then helped the time traveler place Robin onto it. A moment later a black doctor in his early forties with a name tag reading "Dr. Marvin" came over and began checking Robin's vitals. A middle-aged nurse, Gladys, was writing the symptoms down as the doctor gave them to her.
"Nurse, take this boy down to x-ray," the doctor ordered and Gladys began rolling the boy toward radiology.
Sam turned toward Lori and clutched her hands inside of his. "He's going to be all right," he assured her.
They entered the waiting room together. Halsey, cursing taxi drivers, and McKensie were sitting on opposite sides of the room. Lori took a seat on the south side, away from both men. Sam sat down beside her.
"Where'd Jonathan go?" Lori asked.
I wonder if he had something else that he needed to do, Sam thought. Did he go to help Al?
"He was here a minute ago," Sam said.
"I don't understand how he found us in the middle of a storm, or what he was doing for that matter, but thank God he came when he did. We might never have made it to the hospital in time."
Sam looked at Lori's father. "There's also someone else you should thank."
McKensie's eyes briefly touched on his daughter, then refocussed on the far wall.
Lori sighed heavily. "You have to understand where I'm coming from."
"But maybe he's sincere in his efforts to bridge the gap between you two."
"He's had a lot of years when he didn't even think to call me or send me a postcard. Something. No, I don't think I owe him anything."
The time traveler looked to the ceiling, wondering what more he could do or say. It would be a lot simpler if Al or Jonathan were around.
Al had been sitting in his private room for a long time thinking about what Mark had said. He had even turned away Tina when she had knocked at his door.
Sam depended on him as an authority. Al had realized that on the day he'd met Sam, but until Mark pointed it out to him, he hadn't realized that Sam viewed him as father-like. Al had filled the void that Sam's natural father had left behind.
Maybe Mark's right, Al thought. I could be orphaning Sam in a way. I can't just abandon him. I have to go back, for his sake.
Al wiped sweat off his brow.
I'm gonna do it, Sam, he thought. I'm going to come back to you.
He stood and went to tell Mark Gordon his decision.
"Jonathan!" Ruth exclaimed as the angel entered the living room of the orphanage. "Where have you been? Sam and Lori had to rush one of the kids to the hospital a couple hours ago."
"I went to speak with Lori's father. We found her and Mark stuck in the road about a mile from the hospital. Robin's going to be fine."
"Thank God." Ruth breathed fervently, then looked him over in confusion. "What made you decide to visit with Mister McKensie out in this weather, especially when you hardly know Lori?"
The angel shrugged his shoulders and said, "I wanted to help."
"I think you're wasting your time, Jonathan. No matter what you do or say that child is never going to forgive her father for abandoning her."
"Well, I'd like to think that there's still hope in every situation. She's with him now. Though they weren't speaking when I left."
Ruth turned away to watch the children playing. Anyone of them would probably be overjoyed to have a father, and Lori was pushing away hers.
Ruth stood and said, "Come along, children. It's time to eat your supper." The children eagerly followed the black woman into the dining room, that is everyone except Peggy.
The angel wasn't surprised that Peggy stayed behind. In fact, The Boss had told him that he'd done everything he could to help Peter McKensie and that he should return to the orphanage to help Peggy.
Jonathan approached Peggy, who was still sitting beside the window waiting for her Mommy and Daddy.
"Hello Peggy," Smith said. "Do you know who I am?"
The little girl looked puzzlingly at him as though she had just realized that someone else was in the room.
"You're the janitor that Miss McKensie introduced to us yesterday," she replied.
"Oh yeah, but that's kind of like a disguise. I'm actually an angel."
"Really? A real true angel?"
"That's right and in fact, I know your Mommy and Daddy. They're in Heaven with God right now. They're happy up there, and they want you to be happy too."
"But I didn't want them to leave me." Tears began rolling down Peggy's face. "I need them, and they just went away."
"But it wasn't their fault, Darling," the angel said, beginning to water around the eyes himself. "They want you to enjoy your life. Don't spend your time waiting for them to return when you can play with the other children. Your parents want you to be happy. They believe you'll find a new family soon."
Before Peggy could finish, Al reentered. He glanced at the angel and nodded his approval, his smile showing none of the animosity he'd demonstrated earlier. He then glanced around the room, and Jonathan knew he was looking for Sam.
"Are you an angel too?" Peggy asked the hologram.
"No, I'm not," Al said slowly turning toward the little girl, confusion, distracting half his attention. He played with the hand link to Ziggy as if expecting it to tell him why he had been centered on the angel and the little girl instead of the time traveler. "Peggy, I'm an orphan just like you."
The little girl stood for the first time in hours. "You mean, your parents left you too?" The child's face contorted in obvious pain.
"Yes, they did. But they didn't mean to, Peggy. Just like your parents didn't mean to leave you. God just decided it was time for them to come home to HIM."
"But I needed them in my home!" Peggy sobbed.
Al knelt to Peggy's level. "I know. It's difficult growing up without parents, but you'll be okay. You just have to move on, and remember how much they love you."
Peggy wiped her tears with her shirt sleeve. "I'll try, but I miss them so much it hurts."
"In time, it won't hurt so much. You may not believe it now, but someday you'll feel happy again. You'll be able to smile and play with the other children."
"Do you have a happy life?"
"Yes, I do," Al replied. "It took me a while to realize how well things had turned out for me. Life can only get better for you, Sweetheart."
Peggy raised her arm as though she intended to grab Al's hand, but it passed through him instead.
"You said you weren't an angel," Peggy exclaimed with fright. "You lied!"
"No, no. Do you know what a hologram is?"
"Well its kind of like a movie that you can see, but can't touch. That's what I am: a hologram. I'm from the future, and I came here to make sure you're going to be okay."
Peggy furrowed her brow as if contemplating an idea well beyond her years. "If you're from the future, then don't you already know if I'm going to be okay?"
Al laughed. "You know, Peggy, I think you're going to be just fine." He didn't need to ask Ziggy for confirmation. He knew it.
Peggy started walking away.
"Where are you going?"
"To eat supper. I'm starving."
Al looked at Jonathan and the angel smiled broadly. "I knew you would come back."
"It took me a while to build up the courage."
"But you're not the sort of person who would leave your partner high and dry."
"Partner," Al said, musing over the word.
"You are his partner. Sam wouldn't be able to solve the problems he faces without your help. That's why The Boss decided to bring you here. To help you realize how much Sam really depends on you."
"Where is Sam now?" Al asked, glancing at the hand link, but deciding not to push the buttons. This time, he wanted the angel to answer.
"He's at the hospital."
"A little boy took ill and Sam and Lori had to rush him there before his appendix ruptured."
"I hope they made it."
"They did," Jonathan said.
"Well, let's pop on over there right now."
"But you're an angel. Why not?"
"It's true that as an angel I can just 'pop' in wherever I'm needed as you so eloquently put it, but you see, The Boss says that I'm not needed in this case. In fact, it's best if I don't go. You need Sam and he needs you. Neither of you need me anymore."
Al removed the cigar from his mouth and stared at the angel with glossy eyes.
"Gooshi, center me on Sam," he said after a long moment.
After the hologram vanished, Jonathan looked up and smiled.
Sam sat quietly in the waiting room, watching Lori as she talked with the nurse named Gladys about Robin and the other children at the orphanage.
"I really love children," Gladys said. I wish I could work with them everyday instead of dealing with one emergency right after another."
"Children are wonderful," Lori agreed. "I never had any of my own, but I feel as though they are my family."
"Mine are all grown," Gladys said solemnly. "It seems that as the years go by, they visit less and less."
Lori thought that if only she had enough money, she and Gladys could get along conveniently. The orphans needed a nurse to take care of their daily health care. It was trivial to wish for it though. The orphanage would be closed down soon.
She stood as Doctor Marvin entered the waiting room and Sam followed her.
"He's in recovery," the doctor said, and Lori sighed heavily with relief. "He's still asleep, but he's going to be okay."
"Can I see him?" Lori asked.
"Why don't we wait until he can be transferred to a regular room?"
Before the doctor had finished his sentence, Sam heard Al arriving behind him. Sam glanced back at his friend, smiling. Al puffed on his cigar, looking content. You're back to your old self.
"Take care," the doctor said, gently touching Lori on the shoulder, then walking out of the room.
Suddenly Greg Halsey rushed toward them. "This incident further proof that your building should be closed down," he said. "You can't even afford to employ a nurse."
"The kid had appendicitis," Lori screamed. "That's hardly a preventable disease."
"Oh yeah. Well, that doesn't change anything. You still don't have a nurse, and I'm still going to have you closed down by the end of the month."
"What a dickhead," Al said.
Halsey turned away from Lori and went to the window. The storm outside was finally tapering off.
"Good," Halsey exclaimed. "Now, maybe I can get a cab." He left the room, looking for a pay phone.
"Sam, Robin's going to be okay," Al said. "In a few weeks, he's going to be placed with a foster family, and he does quite well."
"What about Lori?" Sam asked.
"What?" Lori asked turning in Sam's direction.
"I mean, what about it, Lori," Sam told her. "Don't you think it's time that you seriously sat down and talked with your father?"
Lori looked toward the aging man, her lower lip trembling.
"If you don't open up to him now," Sam continued, "you may never get another chance. He loves you. Can't you see that?"
"Then why did he leave me?" Lori asked turning back toward Sam.
Al started punching buttons. "Ziggy says that her parents had a volatile relationship and-"
"You'll have to ask him that yourself," Sam said.
Al lowered the hand link and puffed on his cigar.
Tentatively, Lori approached her father, glancing back at Sam. Peter McKensie looked up at her and smiled warmly. She sat down beside him. He reached out, and she allowed him to grip her hand.
"So often I've thought about ya, Lassie," he said. "But I had to leave, else your mom and I might ha' killed one another. If only I'd known what was happenin' to you."
"You could have called or written."
"I did write at first, but then your Mom moved ya, and I didn't know where ya were. I've been searchin' for ya for years and years. I only found out a few years back about your Mom passin' on. I'd give anythin' I owned if I could get back the time I lost wi' ya."
Lori finally released thirty years of suppressed tears, then allowed her father to embrace her.
Sam turned toward Al. "What happens, Al?"
Al removed the cigar from his mouth, then peered into the hand link before answering.
"Lori accepts her father back into her life," Al said, excitedly. "And he gives the funding to fix up the orphanage so it won't be closed down. A few days from now, Gladys, you know the nurse that took care of Robin, quits her job here and goes to work for Lori."
"Al, I'm glad you decided to come back and help me," Sam said.
"Well, if I didn't help you, who else would?"
A few minutes later, Lori walked up to Sam. "Thank you for all your help," she said. "And when you see Jonathan, could you thank him for me?"
"You were right about talking to my father. It all makes sense now. I always thought he left because he didn't love me, but he left because he does love me. He didn't want me to suffer because of his and my mother's bitter arguments."
Sam clutched Lori's hand. "May God be with you," he said, then felt the leap effect wrap itself around him.
Mark felt a strange tugging as his spirit lifted from the Waiting Room and returned to his own body back in 1990. He saw a woman standing in front of him and realized he was holding onto her hands. He smiled, then released his grip.
I got my old body back! he thought, jumping for joy.
The woman looked at him oddly.
"Sorry," he said with a laugh.
He looked toward the doorway and saw Jonathan staring at him. He approached the angel.
"Hey buddy," Mark said. "It's great to see you again." He placed his arm gently around Jonathan's back, and the two of them began walking down the corridor together. He had always taken their physical contact for granted, but in that moment he felt such great sympathy for Sam and Al that he couldn't help but feel a little sadness mixed in with the joy. "Has The Boss told you what our next assignment is yet? It was kind of boring in that Waiting Room. You know what I mean?"
"Yeah. I know what you mean, Mark," the angel replied. "I think you're going to like our next assignment."