Chapter 17: Homecoming SATURDAY, JUNE 17, 1961, PENSACOLA REGIONAL AIRPORT "Where's Al?" Grace asked her granddaughter, as she was greet at the arrival gate. "The ship is late. It didn't come in yesterday, Gran." Beth couldn't keep the anxiety from her voice or her face. "Do you know why?" "No one would tell me," Beth replied. Her granddaughter looked worn out and emotionally drained. "Don't worry, angel. I'm sure he's alright." "But what if they don't get back by Friday?" "Beth dear, I know you anxious, but try not to worry just yet. It's possible that they'll be back in the next few days." "How can you tell me not to worry? I've got guests to think about," she said irritably. Grace blinked in surprise. Her mild Beth never spoke to her in that tone of voice, ever. Before she could recover from her shock, Beth was already apologizing. "I'm sorry Gran." Grace nodded, more concerned than angry. They picked up Grace's luggage in silence, which continued as Beth drove them back to the base. Grace understood her irritation. Beth had probably counted the days since he left and fully expected to have Al home by now. All that built up anticipation, and then to be told that the ship was late. It was a miracle Beth hadn't had a nervous breakdown. "I wish I had listened to Al," Beth said suddenly, startling Grace out of her reverie. "About what, angel?" "About waiting until this fall to be married," Beth replied tiredly. "Well, you know what they say about hindsight." They fell silent again. "We're staying at Commander Layton's," Beth informed her, as they drove through the main gate. "We?" "You and I. I packed up my things yesterday and moved out of the barracks." "Will I get to see your new house?" The couple had purchased a house. Beth had spent the last six weeks getting it ready. "Tomorrow," she replied. "I've finished the painting on Wednesday. I had hoped to pick out furniture with Al this weekend, have the carpet laid by Tuesday, and have the furniture move in on Wednesday. That way, we could spend Thursday and Friday unpacking." She sighed, pulling up into the Layton's driveway. "So much for that." Shirley Layton greeted Grace warmly and escorted her to one of the spare rooms. Beth disappeared into the other. Once Grace had unpacked and gotten settled in, she knocked on Beth's door and went in. "I just came to get a look at your dress, Beth." Her granddaughter was curled up on the bed, back to the door. Grace was beginning to worry about her. She had expected Beth to be so full of excitement, that she would not have waited for Grace to unpack before dragging her in to see the gown. Beth uncurled herself and got up. She opened the closet and removed the white plastic gown bag. Carefully draping it across the bed, she unzipped the bag. Grace gently removed the gown and held it up. "Oh angel, it's beautiful!" She was tempted to ask Beth to put it on, but decided against it. Beth had resumed her previous position, so Grace put the gown back in it's bag, and carefully hung it back in the closet. Grace studied her granddaughter. "Elizabeth, if you get like this every time he goes to sea, you'll give yourself a nervous breakdown." "That's only part of it, Gran," Beth quietly replied. Grace sat on the edge of the bed and put her hand on Beth's back. "What is it, dear?" she asked soothingly. Beth sat up and Grace saw tears in her eyes. "I miss Mom and Grandpa Henry," she choked out." Grace pulled her granddaughter into her arms and gently rocked the quietly crying woman. "I miss them too, honey," she said sadly, stroking her hair. "Your grandfather would have loved walking you down the aisle." She stayed with Beth until she stopped crying. Beth then crawled under the blankets, exhausted. Grace kissed her on the forehead, before leaving the room. A short while later, as Grace was reading in the sitting room, Shirley came in and told her that Margaret Mitchell was there to see Beth. Mrs. Mitchell was the wife of Al's commanding officer. "Where's Beth?" Shirley asked. "Asleep." Mrs. Mitchell looked to be about thirty-six and Grace's idea of the typical officer's wife. "Hello, Mrs. Townsend. I have some news that your granddaughter will be happy to hear." "Oh?" "I've heard from my husband. He said that they should put into port sometime Monday. He doesn't know exactly what time though. I told him that I would meet him at our normal meeting spot, and I would bring Beth with me. Dennis will bring Al. It's better than trying to find each other in the crowd of other family members who gather to greet the ship." "Thank you, Mrs. Mitchell, I'll let Beth know." When she was gone, Grace breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully this news would ease Beth's mind a little. MONDAY, JUNE 19, 1961, NAS PENSACOLA Beth was disappointed to learn that the Mitchell's special meeting spot was nothing more than the parking lot just off the docks. Beth waited with Mrs. Mitchell, Helen, and Gran for the crew to disembark. Gran was awed by the sight of carrier. It was the first time she had ever seen one up close. The waiting was unbearable. Beth wasn't sure how she made it through Sunday. She kept her promise and took Gran over to see the house. There, they met with Kelly and Janet. Beth didn't know where she'd had been without those two. "I thought pilots flew back to land," Beth heard Gran say to Mrs. Mitchell. "Sometimes they do." "Do officers disembark first?" "No, the enlisted crew disembarks first. Actually, I think it's the practice of this captain to allow new fathers, men who's children were born while they were at sea, to disembark first, then the enlisted crew." "Oh, that's a nice custom. Don't you think, Beth?" "Hmmm." It seemed like hours before she saw the two figures moving toward them across the parking lot. Beth wasn't sure, due to the distance and glare of the sun, if it was Al and Commander Mitchell. However, Helen's delighted squeal confirmed their identities. The only thing keeping Helen from bolting across the parking lot, was her mother's grip. There were cars, not many, driving through the lot. The only thing keeping Beth rooted to her spot, was the wave of relief that washed over her. It left her weak-kneed. Though she wanted to run to him, she felt she'd never make it, and the last thing she needed was to be hit by a car. Once she could make out his smiling face clearly, her legs finally cooperated. She rushed into his waiting arms. "Al!" His arms closed around her tightly. He tilted her head slightly kissed her deeply. Beth had almost forgotten what it was like to held and kissed by him. Al was quite eager to remind her. "We're going to have pry them apart," she heard Commander Mitchell say to the others. Al gently pulled away and looked directly into her eyes. "I missed you." "I've missed you too, Al. Want to come with us to Layton's or would you rather go back to the barracks first?" "Layton's will be fine," he replied, kissing her again. It was a short kiss. Gran came up to the couple. Al leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. She beamed delightedly at him. She also looked relieved. "Welcome home, Al dear." Beth slid one arm around Al's waist, and the other around Gran's, and the three of them walked back to her car. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Between lunch and dinner, Beth took Al over to the house. He was delighted with her choice and impressed with her handiwork. He listened to her plans and her rationale for setting up the house prior to their honeymoon. "I really don't want to come back to all that unpacking. I really hope to get most of that taken care of in the next few days." He looked thoughtful. "It makes sense. We would only have to worry about the finishing touches when we got back." "Exactly." She paused. "Are you still planning on going to Chicago in August?" Al hadn't discussed with her his plans to visit Trudy's grave yet. He nodded. "Then I'll go with you." "I was hoping you would." After looking over the house, they went back to Layton's and went over the wedding plans. They sat together on Layton's couch, comfortable and relaxed. Beth had been a little uneasy about dumping all this on him on his first day back, but he was taking in stride and was happy as long as they were together. He was surprised when he saw the guest list. "Maureen's not coming? And only Adam is coming?" "Apparently JP wanted to come too, but his doctors refused to allow it. He called me, by the way, to congratulate us and apologize for not being able to be there." She paused. "He also told me that Adam was going to make Victoria come, but they had a huge argument in the middle of last month and she moved out." Al's jaw dropped. "You're joking." Beth shook her head. "JP was serious. I don't think either have filed for divorce." Al was still in a state of shock. "George never breathed a word." Beth snorted. "He probably doesn't know yet." Al thought about it. "That's true," he conceded. "As for Maureen," Beth said, returning to the original topic. "She's jealous of me, Al. Doris called. She wasn't very specific about the reason, but I knew." "I see Edward's fiancee's name, but where's Edward?" Al asked, skimming the names. "Oh, I forgot. I hired him to be the photographer." They continued on with the wedding plans until dinner. They celebrated Al's birthday belatedly with ice cream and the cake Gran had baked. The look on his face during the singing told Beth that he'd probably never had a birthday party with cake, ice cream and singing, since his mother left, if at all. It made her wonder if the McGinty's had ever done anything special for him on his birthday. After the impromptu party, Commander Layton and her husband played card in the dining room, and Gran went upstairs to read. Al led her to the sitting room. He turned on the stereo, searching for a station. Once he found one he was happy with, he pulled Beth into his arms, and they danced slowly. "Do you realize that tomorrow is the first anniversary of our first date?" he asked her softly. "I was just remembering the first time I saw you." Beth chuckled. "When we collided with each other in the hospital?" "Hmmm. From that moment, you've not been far from my mind." Beth buried her face against his neck. His arms tightened around her and he buried his face in her hair. "I was afraid you wouldn't make it back in time," she whispered. "Mitchell told me he would have asked the captain to send me back early, if we weren't home by this Wednesday." "That was nice of him." "Well, the captain has grown daughters, so he knows what wedding plans are like. Mention the words ‘no refund' around him and he would have seen to it, personally, that I made it back for our wedding," Al explained. "Oh, and speaking of Commander Mitchell, he invited me to stay with them until Saturday. I'll move out of the barracks tomorrow." "We're going furniture shopping tomorrow," she reminded him. "After that." Beth sighed, looking up at his face. "This is probably the last quiet moment we have." "Until Saturday evening, that is." He was quiet for a moment. "Speaking of which, you haven't told me what you got for your shower." An eavesdropper would never have understood the connection. Beth did, but she played innocent. "Five toasters." "Five? That's an awful lot of toast. Anything else?" "The usual things," she replied, smiling. "Can I see?" "No. They're packed already. Besides, I thought you liked surprises." Al stopped dancing, astonished. "You're already packed for the honeymoon? My, aren't we a little anxious?" he commented, impressed. Beth giggled, as they resumed dancing. "With the schedule I have, when else was I going to pack?" "Hmmm. Good point." Something occurred to Beth. "When's your bachelor party?" "I haven't a clue. I know George was planning it, but no one has told me when it is." "I bet it was for this past Friday or Saturday evening." Al frowned slightly. "I don't think so, Beth. He wasn't too upset to learn we wouldn't be home by Friday afternoon." He paused, thoughtful. "I certainly hope it's not for this Friday. If it is, I'm not going." It was Beth's turn to look astonished. "Why not?" "Never plan a bachelor party for the night before the wedding. The first party I ever attended, right after graduating from Annapolis, was held the night before the wedding. Every one was hung over the next morning, and the groom and the brothers of the bride got into a brawl at the wedding reception. Actually, in this case it should be said, never invite the brothers of the bride to the bachelor party." He paused. "I felt sorry for the poor bride." She smiled at him. "Well, the rehearsal dinner is Friday night, and I'm sure George knew that." "Hmm. I'll just have to keep my evenings free for the rest of the week." They continued dancing, arms wrapped tightly around each other, for several more hours. It was nearly midnight before Al left. And for the first time in nearly a week, Beth had no trouble getting to sleep.