AUTHOR'S NOTES: Sorry this is taking so long. Never try to write two stories at once, and NEVER wait until you're five chapters into a story to "firm up" the details of a Leap. Christina L. Bartruff December 1997 ********************** Chapter 12: The McGintys WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1960, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS Beth waited by Al's car, shivering. She could have gone in with Al, but opted to stay outside in the snow. Maureen was turning out to be vindictive. This was the third motel Beth and Al had come to in search of rooms. Maureen was supposed to have made their reservations weeks ago. When Al had gone to the reception desk at the hotel Maureen had claimed their reservations were made at, they learned that she had ‘accidently' reserved them for Thursday and Friday instead of Wednesday and Thursday. The hotel was booked solid for today. It was snowing again and Beth hugged herself for warmth. Barring the weather and Maureen's little ‘slip', the trip up was pleasant. Al had booked separate rooms for them, without her having to request it. Yesterday evening, they had gotten into a snowball fight, which she won, though she suspected he let her. They even built a snowman. It turned out lopsided and it had no face. Al appeared. The snow was a sharp contrast against his dark hair and coat. "They have one room left. I called Mr. McGinty and he said either of us is more than welcome to use the guest room," Al informed her. Beth noticed there were snowflakes in his eyelashes. Beth considered the options. She had to trust him alone at the McGinty's. "I'll stay here." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." He gazed at her solemnly. "I'm sorry about Maureen," he started to say, but Beth lay two fingers across his lips. He kissed them. Retrieving her bags from the trunk, Al led them to her room. "So how is this going to work?" Beth asked, sitting down at the little table. "We've been invited to dinner tonight," Al said, taking a sheet of writing paper from the desk, and sitting down across from her. "I let you drive, so you can see the way in daylight. After dinner, you can come back here at anytime." Beth nodded. It wouldn't make sense for him to make two trips. "When's dinner tonight?" "Around six." Al was busy drawing up a map and writing instructions. Beth glanced at her watch. Plenty of time. He handed the sheet of paper. "Just in case you need it on the way back tonight, or tomorrow morning." "Should we go over now?" She asked, reading over the instructions. "Unless you have a better idea," he replied quietly. Without looking up, Beth slowly shook her head. Al sighed. "I guess we should get going then." He handed her the car keys. Beth knew many women whose boyfriends or husbands would give up their right arms before allowing them to drive their cars. Al didn't think twice. He made a quick phone call to tell their host they were on the way. Beth had no trouble finding her way and, half an hour later, they were pulling up to a well- kept house on a quiet suburban street. They were greeted by a motherly woman, wearing an apron. Her affection for Al was apparent. "Al, it's so good to see you.." Doris McGinty was no taller than Al and just as slim. She turned her sunny face toward Beth. "And this must be Elizabeth. You can call me Doris, dear. Now, let's go inside before we catch our deaths." Doris' home was warm and comfortable, the way Gran's had been in Greenbelt. Even after Aunt Milly's death, the home in Columbus never felt the same as the first house. Sitting in any easy chair, reading the paper, was a stocky, red-headed man. Donald McGinty rose and shook Al's hand. "I was beginning to think you forgot all about us, Al," he said good-naturedly. "You can call me Don." This last part was directed to Beth. Doris was in the background fussing over them and taking their coats. "Beth", she replied to her host. "You have a lovely home here . . .Don." "Why, thank you, Beth. Have a seat. We're not very formal around here." He turned his attention back to Al. "Reeny isn't exactly pleased, you know." Don turned to Beth again. "I'm apologize, Beth, for the inconvenience my daughter has caused." *Deja vu. First Admiral Whitmore, now Don. Doesn't Al know anyone who's family doesn't embarrass their guests?* Al, seated next to her on the love seat, shook his head. "I want and apology from Maureen, Don. I think she's gone too far this time." Don rubbed his chin and sighed. "You're right. She should be home soon. She's seeing some friends off." Doris reentered from the kitchen, with a tray of hot cider. "Too bad you can't stay the whole weekend," Doris said as she handed out mugs. "We're putting up the tree this weekend." "Isn't it a little early?" Al asked her. "Oh, we don't put up a live tree anymore, Al. Donny here is getting too old to be lugging those around. We have an artificial one." She sat down with her own mug. "Now, Al, tell us what you've been up to." Beth listened as the old friends caught up with each other's lives. Beth didn't feel left out at all. She sat and watched him, and took his hand as Doris told him about some of his old friends. Since September, she had been harboring a silent grudge against him. She was being very subtle about it. Al had spent a fortune on flowers for a reason he was completely unaware of. Since that night, she more or less called the shots on where they went and what they did. Beth had finally come to terms with the fact that this was something she could not change, even with time. Al hadn't given her a moment of added grief since, and she never had cause to think that he, like George, had strayed. The flirting was just a habit, harmless and meaningless. Though she accepted it, she still had plans to talk to him about it. Al flirted with her, constantly, but on a more serious level. It was his way of letting her know he wanted their relationship to become more physical. He wasn't becoming impatient with her, and for that Beth was grateful. He was so understanding, and Beth loved him for it. In mid-October, a new pilot by the name of Paul Bennett tried, unsuccessfully, to win her attention. The man was everything she hated: a womanizing, chauvinistic, braggart. Al became jealous, but she set his mind to rest and reminded him that she wasn't overly fond of pilots. Lt. Bennett, as it turned out, wasn't half the pilot Al was, and this soothed any ruffled feathers. Beth's train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of Maureen. George's description of her was accurate. Shorter than her mother, she had her father's red hair and blue eyes. Before any of them could speak, Maureen was babbling on. "I'm so sorry. I don't know where my head was. I had my dates all confused. It's a wonder I knew what year it was." She continued on, breezily. "I guess I was so excited about the elections. Jack Kennedy is such a dream, don't you think?" This last was directed at Beth. "Not really," she replied. This left Maureen momentarily speechless. Beth extracted her hand from Al's and offered it to Maureen. "I'm Beth Townsend." It was obvious that Maureen did not want to take her hand. She offered the perfect excuse for not doing so. "Oh, my hands are cold," she commented, rubbing them together until her mother brought in another mug of hot cider. Beth put her hand back in Al's. She looked at him. He was watching Maureen with a suspicious glare. However, he didn't comment on her excuses or her explanation. He gave Beth's hand a gentle squeeze and began caressing it. Because the topic had been brought up, the conversation turned toward the recent election of John F. Kennedy. Beth continued to say very little, letting Al have this time with his old friends. Inevitably, the conversation turned to flying, and she watched as his face lit up. She smiled. He looked like a little boy, with a favorite toy at Christmas. "Dear me," Doris said, startling Beth from her contemplation of Al. "We're being so rude to Beth, talking on so." "I assure you Doris," Beth said, sincerely, "I'm not offended. I know you and your family have a lot to catch up on with Al." "I understand you are a nurse?" "Yes." "And where are you from, dear?" Doris asked her. Al's hand squeezed her's again "Originally, from Maryland. I was raised in Georgia." "Oh. And what does your father do?" "I've never met my father, and my mother died when I was ten." Beth hated to make Doris feel bad, but she didn't want to lie. She discovered, if she said it this way, most people automatically assumed he died before her birth. Doris immediately apologized and changed the subject. Maureen had sat through the previous conversations, saying more than Beth, but still not an active participant. As Beth talked about her job, it became apparent that Maureen wanted to be anyplace else but there. *Does she really care about him that much?* Beth thought Doris disappeared into the kitchen shortly after that and Al was now discussing sports with Don. Beth was willing to listen, but that would have left Maureen without any one to speak to. "What do you do, Maureen?" Maureen was startled. "I'm a legal secretary." "Oh. What type of law?" "Corporate." "One of my best friends from high school is a legal secretary. Her boss is in corporate law, too. She wants to become a lawyer." "Not me. Too stressful." Maureen sat in silence, and didn't offer another topic of conversation. Beth honestly couldn't think of anything else to say. She tried. "I'm going to see if Doris needs my help," she informed them. She released Al's hand, almost forgetting that she still held it. Maureen made no move to follow and Beth wondered how long it would be before she took Beth's place on the love seat. Doris refused her help, saying Beth was company and shouldn't be required to help. But she was glad to have a bit of company in the kitchen with her. Beth manage to help her anyway. "You love him, don't you?" Doris asked, quietly. Not surprised, Beth nodded. Doris sighed. "We always thought that he'd marry Maureen, but Don and I both realize now that it never would have lasted. He needs a marriage that can stand the separation, and Maureen would have left him on his first sea duty." "Does she still love him?" "Love? I don't know. I think she still believes she can convince him to resign his commission and settle down here." Neither woman spoke as Beth set the table and Doris finished preparing the meal. "Please call them to dinner, Beth." Beth reentered the living room and was surprised to see that Maureen was still sitting where she was when Beth had left. During the meal Doris mentioned, in passing, "Al, you may want to strip down the bed in the guest room. It hasn't been slept in for over a year." "You know, Beth, you could sleep here, in the guest room, and Al could sleep on the couch," Don suggested. "Thank you, Don, but Al did most of the driving and he should sleep on a real bed." Maureen's surprised look didn't escape Beth's noticed. Though she trusted Al, she didn't trust Maureen. Regardless if Beth stayed at the McGinty's or not, she just couldn't trust Maureen to behave. She was seriously reconsidering asking Al to stay with her at the motel. After dinner, Beth helped Doris and Maureen with cleanup. Doris was also getting her kitchen ready for the holiday dinner. The two younger women joined the men. Don was setting up for a game of pinochle. "Reeny, you be my partner tonight. Unless you want to play women against men, Al?" "No, this is good," he replied, grinning at his partner. Beth smiled back. She couldn't imagine him playing such a docile game. It was a pleasant surprise. Doris observed the game, between kitchen chores. When everything was set for tomorrow, she pulled out her crochet. Beth and Al were beating Don and his daughter. Maureen was a sore loser, and they played until Beth heard the clock strike 2230. She couldn't stifle a yawn. Doris chides her husband. "I think she needs to get back to her hotel. Al, why don't you go warm up the car for her." Don went to get her coat and Doris continued. "I'll have Al call you when we're all up and about, Beth. You can come over anytime after that." She handed Beth a sealed bowl of fresh fruit and a thermos. "For breakfast," she explained, "because I have a feeling the other's will sleep in and I wouldn't want you to go hungry or get lost looking for a place that serving breakfast." "Thank you, Doris." She said good night to the McGintys. Even Maureen returned the greeting. Al was just getting out of the car when she joined him. He wasn't wearing a coat and she was about to chide him about it, when he caught her up in his embrace and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around him, pleased. The long kiss ended, and as usual, he didn't let go of her. After a minute or so, she realized that her numb feet had nothing to do with the kiss. "Al," she murmured against his lips. "Hmm?" "I think I'm standing in a snowdrift." He let go of her, and she stomped her feet, shaking the snow off her shoes. He took her in his arms again, this time making sure she was standing on the clear sidewalk. "Are you sure you don't want company?" He asked her, kissing the tip of her cold nose. *Well,* she thought, looking him in the eyes, *here's my chance.* But even as she thought this, she knew she wouldn't ask him to stay. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Al. Not yet." He kissed her again, tenderly. She almost changed her mind. "Goodnight, sweetheart. Be careful. Call when you get there. The number's on the map." Beth nodded and kissed his cheek. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The streets were deserted, but plowed, so Beth made good timing. Al was waiting for her call and he had picked up the phone on the first ring. "Everything Ok?" he asked. "Yes. Do you want me to fill the tank tomorrow?" "If you can find a station that's open." "I saw one that said it would be open." "You be careful." "Are you worried about your car, or me?" She asked him, joking. There was a pause. "You. I can always replace the car. I could never replace you." Beth bit her lip, emotions close to getting the best of her. That statement was so unexpected. "I will," she replied quietly. She hung up, wondering if she made the right choice tonight.