Disclaimer: I do not own Quantum Leap.
Sammy Jo wasn't entirely sure when it started but it had just been a random thought that she had treated with the proper seriousness it deserved and laughed to herself before moving on. She hadn't been consciously focusing on it and yet somehow it still came back to her from time to time and now she might actually – dare she say it – believe in some of it.
It's hard to remember when it started but it might have been when Will Kinman, her mother's former fiancé and the man who she had always believed fathered her, had met with her.
To be fair, she was already predisposed to dislike him. Her mother had tried to sugarcoat the story all her life, using words like "we had different paths to take" and "he had to follow his dreams" but all it really meant was that the man had gotten her pregnant shortly before their wedding. There was nothing really all that scandalous about that except that he had never actually gone through with the wedding.
Oh, it wasn't his fault the first time the wedding had been called off. There was this kid missing or something and who could think of a wedding when they had to find him? But once the kid had been found, the wedding had never been rescheduled. She didn't know the full story but she did know that Will had left her mother to become an unwed mother while he pursued his dreams of being a novelist out west.
And he had only contacted her last year, a week after her mother's funeral. He had been absent from her entire life and the only pictures she had of him (not that she kept them or even wanted to) were from his books. He certainly didn't attend her mother's funeral.
But afterwards he had called and said that he was in Chicago and asked to meet with her. More out of curiosity and the fact she knew she would never forgive herself for turning this chance down than out of any real desire, she met with him.
He looked…she didn't even know. He looked like an ordinary guy, the kind that she wouldn't have given a second look if she'd passed him on the street. He didn't look that different than his picture, actually, but those were on the cover of book jackets and so somehow seemed a bit more…special. Will Kinman had never made it big as a writer but he had steady employment writing – ironically – romance novels that were reasonably well-liked. Not that the standard for romance novels were all that high.
He had recognized her right away despite the fact that she didn't think that her mother had sent him any pictures. But maybe she had, maybe she was sentimental and had just never mentioned it because she knew that Sammy Jo would never understand.
Will had stood up from his chair so fast that he'd nearly knocked it over and seemed not to notice the stares the other restaurant patrons were giving him.
Sammy Jo, painfully aware of them, smiled awkwardly and hurried over to him, if only because she had a horrible feeling that he'd make a scene following her if she turned around and left.
"You look just like your mother," Will breathed, unable to take his eyes off of her. He was smiling.
"My dead mother," Sammy Jo said offhandedly as she sat down. She already felt like she needed a drink but she ordered a coke – no ice – because she didn't trust herself to stop, not here and not with this man.
That wiped the smile right off of Will's face and perhaps it wasn't very nice but she wasn't feeling very charitable to this man who seemed like he had just been waiting for her mother to die before swooping and…doing whatever it was he planned to do. She still didn't understand.
Will swallowed uncomfortably. "Yes, I heard. I-I'm sorry."
Marie had mentioned, once, that he'd had a stutter, back when she'd still cared for details about her father. Marie didn't give those out often and her mother never did (she might have if Sammy Jo had only asked but how could she bring herself to talk about something that her mother clearly didn't want to?) but it seemed that in the…oh, thirty-three years since Will had left he had managed to work past that. It would have been more noticeable if he hadn't. It was a good thing, too. She had never been a patient person and had no time for stammering. Perhaps it was a good thing her mother had never married him.
"You can't be that sorry; you weren't at the funeral," Sammy Jo said, still in that casual and detached tone she'd chosen to begin this meeting with.
Will looked down. "I didn't think that it would be…appropriate."
"Because of the way you abandoned her when she was pregnant with your child and then never looked back?" Sammy Jo inquired.
Will's hands shook and he placed them on his lap. "I did not aban-that's not what happened. Is that what she told you?" He almost looked angry.
"My mother didn't tell me much of anything," she admitted. "I've had to come to my own conclusions. If you don't like those conclusions, well, you weren't there to influence them. You have your chance now."
"I loved your mother very much," Will said heatedly. "I've loved her since…Oh, I don't even know. She was a great kid, you know, just a few years younger than me. We grew up together and I was the one who got her out of that house when crazy old Leta Aider set it on fire. I was there for her when her father didn't make it out of the building in time. I was one of the only people who never for a second considered that she might have been cursed and I saved her from a goddamn lynch mob!"
That was news to her and she couldn't quite stop the surprise from showing on her face nor the shiver from racing up and down her spine. Leta Aider was the first and only person that she had ever seen die and now every time she thought of death at all she couldn't forget the desperation and hopelessness in that bitter old woman's eyes or the sight of a living, breathing creatures suddenly going still. It's strange how the very air seems to change when a life goes out. Strange and impossible to describe and impossible to forget.
There was malice in that knife, even if it was self-inflicted, and it had taken a miracle to see her family through that. It might not have had to if she had only been able to deal with what had happened and tell someone but she hadn't been able to and her weakness might have cost her mother everything.
"She didn't tell you," Will realized, leaning back in his chair. "All this time and she never told you. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything."
"Maybe, maybe not," Sammy Jo said the moment she had found her voice. "But you did and I think I'm entitled to an explanation."
Will eyed her warily. "What do you want to know?"
"Leta Aider…That's the woman that killed herself in my house and set it up to look like Mother had done it. She thought that Mother killed her daughter back when they were both just children even though it turned out that my mentally unstable grandmother had accidentally caused her death and institutionalized herself for it. She believed that my mother killed her husband even though an autopsy proved it was a heart attack. She didn't have a case for Violet's death even if my mother had been involved because she had been a minor at the time and hadn't been able to handle it," Sammy Jo recited, staring at the ceiling. "I knew that Mother had to bring in some fancy retired lawyer who was in terrible health and that everyone thought she was guilty. But what's this about a deliberate arson and a lynch mob?"
Will winced, clearly regretting that he'd said anything at all. It was too late to take it back now, however. "Sammy Jo, if your mother didn't tell you then I'm sure it was for a reason and I don't feel right going against her wishes."
"My mother is dead," Sammy Jo said again. "And I'm not a child anymore so you don't have to worry about 'going against her wishes.' What happened?"
He fixed her with a long, hard look and – evidently convinced that she wouldn't drop it – he nodded. "As you know, Leta fixated on your mother as a cold-blooded murderer or, at the very least, as cursed. It was bad luck that, aside from your grandmother, your mother was the last person to see both Violet and then Leta's husband. At first, Leta didn't think much of the fact that your mother was the last one to see Violet aside from maybe blaming her for fighting with Violet as maybe that had something to do with Violet running off and meeting up with those dogs."
"What changed?" Sammy Jo wondered. "Was it just when Leta's husband died?"
Will shook his head. "No, it was before that although that certainly made it worse. Your grandfather called off the investigation after a few weeks with no luck and Leta couldn't accept that. She thought it was too soon. She would have thought it was too soon every day until they looked in that well and found the body. And maybe it was a little premature but your grandfather was protecting his wife and Leta thought he was protecting his daughter. It wasn't like your grandmother was let off the hook for what she did but she…she wasn't right in the head and prison wasn't the place for her. Even after her confession at your mother's trial, they didn't send her to prison."
"Not everyone even believed her," Sammy Jo recalled.
"No, they didn't," Will agreed. "But it didn't matter because she wasn't truly responsible for her actions if she had done it and if it was Abigail then she was untouchable by law. And then your mother just happened to be there when Leta's husband had his heart attack…It certainly didn't help matters that Leta was absolutely convinced of the insanity in your family."
Everyone had been, as far as Sammy Jo could remember. She had never heard of such a thing personally until Leta's death and then suddenly it was all anyone could talk about. She couldn't remember the details (and she hadn't wanted to hear them in the first place) but apparently her great-grandmother's husband died and she couldn't support her children. She didn't want them to starve to death and so she decided to slit their throats and then her own. The only reason her own grandmother had survived was because she fell out of the bed and so was hidden. The blood had dripped down on Grandmother Laura's head all night like rain.
Well, people were ignorant back then and thought that if your parent was a murderer or crazy or whatever then you had no choice but to be one, too. Even today, people still sometimes wondered but nothing like back then. And then when Laura was institutionalized…well, it was proof, wasn't it? Her mother must be crazy, too, and that's why she killed the Aiders. People had been starting to whisper about her, as well, though Sammy Jo considered herself to be quite sane.
"Leta had started blaming your mother for Violet's death the minute she heard that the investigation had been closed but no one took her seriously," Will continued. "And no one really paid any mind after her husband died because everyone knew that he was a drunk and that it was only a matter of time. Leta decided to take matters into her own hands and lured your mother away from Marie's one night and back to your house while your grandfather was away. I don't know if she was always planning on burning the house down or if she just got tired of your mother's refusal to confess. But your grandfather got home just in time to save your mother before one of the beams collapsed on him and killed him."
Sammy Jo had always known that her grandfather had died in a fire but, somehow, this most important detail had never quite been mentioned. "Why wasn't she arrested after that? Arson is illegal and it would be at least a manslaughter charge since she didn't mean to kill my grandfather. Unless, I guess, the courts thought she was crazy but even then she'd need to be institutionalized like my grandmother."
Will shrugged. "I believed your mother and a lot of other people did, too. But with your father dead it was just your word against hers and she didn't see the fire start. She was just a child, too, and Leta was a grieving mother and widow. There was never enough evidence, either."
That made sense. It was stupid and it caused so much trouble later but it made sense. And if it had happened today, there was no way her mother would have been allowed to live alone with only an employee taking care of her even if that employee had practically raised her as Marie had. Even with the insurance money, Child Services would have done something even if that was to just grant Marie custody.
"And the lynch mob?" Sammy Jo asked.
"It was the day of our wedding," Will said, looking so wistful that it was hard to believe that he had walked away from it all. "I was getting ready and your mother snuck in in her wedding gown even though it was bad luck to see the bride beforehand. The sheriff came in telling us that one of the kids that your mother used to baby-sit, had baby-sat for the night before in fact, had gone missing. Your mother was disappointed, of course, as was I but we called off the wedding to go look. We searched for hours but saw no sign of him. "
"But he was found alive, right?" Sammy Jo asked, just to make sure that she had her facts straight.
Will nodded. "He was, yes, the day after our not-wedding. Unfortunately, Leta – who had never stopped persecuting your mother – spent the entire day riling up the townsfolk. His parents, particularly his mother who knew nothing about him, refused to understand that their son was a lonely seven-year-old with a crush who had run away because he was upset that his baby-sitter was getting married and couldn't understand that she'd be back after the honeymoon. And everyone was so terrified. Things like that just didn't happen there…except for Violet. They wanted something to do, someone to blame and Leta gave that to them."
"And so they formed a fucking lynch mob," Sammy Jo spat out, disgusted.
Will didn't look particularly shocked by her outburst. "I couldn't believe it either," he confided. "I mean, it was 1966! I had hoped we'd be past that but evidently we weren't. Angry townspeople broke into your mother's room that night and grabbed her. They knocked me out and as soon as I woke up I ran out after her. I barely managed to talk them out of hanging her on the spot. If it hadn't been for the support of the sheriff – who they attacked – as well as the father of that child holding a gun on them and my lucky guess as to where the child was then I don't know what would have happened."
But he did, they both did.
"When it looked like they weren't going to kill your mother, Leta had a breakdown that showed everyone just how crazy she was and that did help wake people up. I was getting pretty desperate. I kept swearing that the kid was alive even though I had no idea if that was true or not. I promised that we would turn Abigail over to the state police if he wasn't but that wasn't good enough. Leta believed 'justice' to mean 'death' and crowds always listen to those who shout the loudest. I even promised to give your mother to them if they couldn't find him in five hours, anything to save her life then. It was a miracle that your mother survived the night," Will said, lost in the memories. "Despite the fact that I was supposed to have already married her, I had never realized how in love with your mother I was until I almost lost her forever."
"Then why did you leave?" Sammy Jo demanded. It was a nice story to be sure (well, the parts that didn't make her glad she'd managed to escape Louisiana) but it didn't line up with the facts.
"I had to leave," Will had said, almost wildly. "They had formed a lynch mob! Friends of ours, actual friends of ours and people we had known and liked for years was going to kill your mother because of a boy who turned out to be right where I had said. How could I ever face any of them again knowing that they had the potential to be like those bigots in the Klan? I had to get out of there. And, Sammy Jo…I asked your mother to come with me."
That got her attention. "What?"
"I did!" Will insisted. "I figured that it was a no-brainer. They were never going let her just be normal and they had even tried to kill her. Why stay? What was there for her? But she refused to go. She said that that was her home but that I…" He trailed off and took a deep breath. "She thought that I should go out west."
"I don't understand," Sammy Jo admitted.
Will laughed bitterly. "Neither did I. At first I just thought she was doing the whole martyr thing, trying to either be supportive or get me to change my mind or something. But no, as she explained to me, we felt 'wrong.' She said that she didn't know when the feeling started but when we made love she couldn't ignore it anymore, especially not once she'd had had something better to compare it to."
Sammy Jo fought down the instinctive anger at his words. "Are you saying that my mother cheated on you?"
"She said that she hadn't," Will assured her. "But she couldn't explain what she meant and I certainly didn't understand it. Maybe I could understand if she'd said that years later after she met Michael but this was only a few days after we didn't get married. I tried to argue, to fight for her but she wouldn't let me. And without her there really was nothing left for me there and so I left."
"You could have stayed a part of my life," Sammy Jo said accusingly. She didn't know if any of that was true but he certainly seemed to believe it and it was so long ago now that it didn't even matter. She hadn't needed married parents but having two parents at all would have been nice.
"I could have," Will agreed readily. "I have no excuse for why I didn't except that I was young and angry and stupid. I always meant to reach out but I got so caught up in California that before I knew it, you were all grown up and it was too late."
"But now that Mother is dead it's not too late?" Sammy Jo challenged.
Will winced again. "I…I don't know. I guess I thought that, well, since your mother's…I just didn't want you to be alone."
Sammy Jo knew exactly what he meant but he was a poor substitute for her mother.
He was a perfectly nice guy, she supposed, if you ignored his abandonment of their family which even he did not deny even if he disputed the circumstances behind it. She could certainly believe that her mother had refused to go with him. The only thing that had finally sent their family off to Chicago was Marie's deathbed request when she was thirteen and by then Sammy Jo had so hated that town she had been born into that she couldn't understand why it had taken such drastic measures to free them from its evil influence. Even after Leta's death was proved to be a suicide, there were still whispers. There would always be whispers.
They had actually spoken about it one time, right before she had left for New Mexico.
"So you're going out west," Abigail had said teasingly as she helped her daughter pack. "How very exciting. Of course, most kids go to Hollywood but I think I can live with my daughter working on time travel."
"You know that you're not actually supposed to know that, right?" Sammy Jo asked rhetorically. "So don't tell Michael."
Abigail frowned as she always did whenever Sammy Jo referred to her stepfather by his given name instead of 'father' but she had only even met him when she was thirteen. She was very nice, of course, and she was glad to see her mother so happy but she'd never been able to think of him as her father. Michael, who she suspected never really saw her as a daughter even if he was always very welcoming, had less of a problem than her mother did.
"I won't," Abigail promised. "Do you think that this Dr. Beckett can really pull it off?"
Sammy Jo had shrugged. "Well, I won't know until I get there. From what I've heard, the theories seem sound but it's just such a moneysink that it's not a matter of ever getting results but of getting results before the funding committee runs out of patience and decides it's not worth it."
Abigail had laughed. "Time travel and they think it might not be worth it?"
"You really don't want to see their budget," Sammy Jo had replied simply.
"You know, your grandmother saw Dr. Beckett on TV once before she died," Abigail said thoughtfully. "She was certainly very excited. Kept claiming that he had saved us all or something."
"Maybe he did," Sammy Jo joked. "Time travel, remember. Just because he hasn't built the thing yet doesn't mean he hasn't already used it."
"Do you think you'll have a New Mexican accent before you come back?" Abigail had asked suddenly.
Sammy Jo was puzzled. "I don't see why I would. I mean, I'm twenty-six so that's a bit old to go around switching accents on you. I might get a mild one or something but nothing too noticeable and certainly not quickly. Why?"
"You were thirteen when you came to Chicago and you might as well have been born here for all that anyone can tell that you're actually from Louisiana," Abigail said quietly. Her accent had softened over the years but there was still no doubt that she was a southern girl.
"Yeah, well, that was different," Sammy Jo had said awkwardly.
"Why?" Abigail had asked simply.
Honestly, Sammy Jo was ashamed of where she had come from. Oh, it didn't matter so much that her parents weren't married (and was mattering less and less as time went by) and she could never be ashamed of her mother but she really hated Louisiana. Maybe it wasn't fair to judge the whole state by the one tiny town she had hailed from but it was what she thought of when she thought of Louisiana and that place was terrible.
They had all privately convicted her mother for an accidental death that happened when her mother was eight, a heart attack when her mother was ten, and a suicide years later. Though to be fair, the suicide was supposed to look like a murder. But they never stopped judging everything about them and some days Sammy Jo started to wonder when she'd turn crazy, too. Some of the townspeople had actually started to make predictions on that front. They were all so ignorant and mean and cruel and small-minded and it was a wonder that they had stayed there for as long as they had.
"You know why," Sammy Jo had replied just as simply. "Why did you stay there, Mother? Maybe you couldn't have left when you were a child but when you were older you could have gone away and never looked back. So why didn't you?"
Abigail sighed. "It was my home."
Sammy Jo snorted. "Some home. They hated you."
"I didn't want to run away," Abigail admitted. "I didn't want to give them the satisfaction of running me out of town. I knew that, by and large, they didn't like me but I was not crazy and I would not let them bully me. It was only when Marie made me see what that was doing to you that I knew that none of that was important."
"I just don't understand why you'd stay in a place that made you miserable just to spite people," Sammy Jo told her.
"You'll understand someday," Abigail predicted. "When you've been pushed far enough, you'll understand completely."
"Oh, joy," Sammy Jo had deadpanned and then they'd segued into much safer topics.
There had been so much about her mother that she hadn't known, could never know now.
Was one of those things, she couldn't help wondering, that she was not Will Kinman's child after all?
There was no real reason to think that. She hadn't gotten a DNA test or anything and she looked enough like but it was just…he was a perfectly ordinary man. And her mother, God bless her, was a pretty ordinary – if strong and persecuted – woman.
And Sammy Jo…well, she was not. She had always understood things faster than those around her, even adults, but she'd had the hardest time explaining it to them. Maybe that was why she'd never had any patience, because she was always waiting for others to catch up. The tests said that she was a genius and she even had a photographic memory, a phenomenon so rare that not everyone even believed in it.
And even those who did usually didn't get it. Whenever she forgot something, they always made a big deal about it and asked how she could forget something with her photographic memory. Well, all a photographic memory meant was that she could remember anything she saw if she thought about it. It didn't do her any special favors when it came to her having an appointment and just not thinking about it and so missing it.
Photographic memories didn't have to be inherited and there were only two other people she had ever met who had been blessed with them. One was the man who had saved her mother and taught her to believe in miracles, Larry Stanton, and the other was Dr. Sam Beckett himself, the man they'd spent the last five years trying to bring home. She had never officially met Dr. Beckett but she'd seen him around a few times in the two years they'd worked on the project together before he had disappeared. Quantum Leap had actually started in 1989 but she hadn't been brought in right at the start. She'd heard that he'd come back when he and the Admiral switched places but he was only there for a few hours and so she hadn't seen him in person.
It probably didn't mean anything even if Dr. Beckett wasn't going around constantly leaping in and out of people's lives and making things better. Besides, everyone knew that Dr. Beckett's brain was 'Swiss-cheesed' so maybe he wasn't still capable of remembering everything he saw even in the same leap. But they had called it a miracle when Leta's death was proved an accident. And Will had called it a miracle that they got Abigail out of that burning house just seconds before it killed her father. And then talking down that mob…
Well, miracles could happen even without the aid of Dr. Beckett but how could one person be so lucky without it making you wonder? Most would call it unlikely, surely, with all the death and persecution – and fiancé abandonment – surrounding her but, on the other hand, it could all have easily ended a lot worse. Her mother could have been killed as a child or by that mob or by that small-town jury.
It was ridiculous to think, even if Dr. Beckett had been involved, that he could have possibly actually fathered her. For one thing, he would have only been thirteen at the time even if his forty-something self was what was leaping. She looked about as much like him as she did like Will, she thought, and she had studied his picture very carefully to be sure. They both had very high IQs (though his was miles above hers) and photographic memories…
It wasn't impossible and there were some similarities but it was highly improbable. But if Will was right and her mother had said that she and Will were wrong but she had seen what was right…It wasn't true. It couldn't be.
But just the same, she had been telling herself that for weeks now – increasingly often – and it was starting to become a nuisance. So she figured that, really, the only way to put the whole ridiculous theory to rest was to go up to Ziggy and ask her about it.
Chances were that the Admiral would know, too, but she hadn't really had much to do with him and it would be too awkward to ask one of the higher-ups whether or not his best friend had inadvertently had an extramarital affair that resulted in her when the project's director was Dr. Beckett's wife.
Ziggy, however, was a computer and not particularly sentimental. She also had this strange talent for keeping track of the timelines no matter how much they changed (had Jackie Kennedy really been hit by a stray bullet back in 1963? It seemed incredible). Sammy Jo might not have spoken with Ziggy much, either, but she wouldn't have to see the expression on her face and so it would be easier. Maybe. She hoped.
And now she was standing in front of Ziggy and perhaps it would be better to ask it when there weren't so many people around but, well, ever since Dr. Beckett had lost contact with them there were always people around. She had made her decision and she still agreed with it. Putting it off would only keep her in suspense and wouldn't make this any easier. She lowered her voice, hoping no one else would hear her and especially hoping that this wouldn't get back to Dr. Eleese.
Still, she hesitated. "Ziggy…Are you my big sister?"