Author's Note: First, a big hug and many thanks to Ann Tajuddin for her....third?.... opinion on this chapter ;>. Second, ETC is on hiatus for a MAJOR rewrite. I have NO idea how long it will last so please feel free to drop a line, for time to time, and check on my progress. Thridly, during the hiatus, I will also work on my Leap. Sam will still be a minor character. Chapter 8: Confessions 1815 HRS. FRIDAY, AUGUST 19, 1960. PENSACOLA NAVAL AIR STATION Beth moved briskly to her car. Al had called around 1300 to tell her he was back. He had sounded tired and a bit gloomy. Beth found this odd. The overall spirits of Lenora's friends had lifted considerably over the last few weeks and even Janet was better. But Al still sounded out of sorts. Beth never asked him why he went to Chicago. He seemed relieved that she hadn't. Neither was willing to talk about personal things so the relationship was crawling. Beth could tell anyone who asked what Al's feelings about civil rights were, but if one asked her about what his father did for a living, she couldn't answer. The same applied to her. Except that she let slip that her father had been a naval aviator. Tonight, she would treat him to dinner and hopefully lift his spirits. Maybe they would see a movie this weekend or picnic on the beach. Chip led her to Al's room and knocked on the door. While waiting for an answer, Chip asked, "Big plans for this evening?" She rolled her eyes at him. The door opened and Beth knew something was wrong the moment she saw him. He looked. . . .drunk? "Beth!" Al was surprised to see her. Chip, giving up, left them standing in the doorway of Al's room. "I thought I'd treat you to dinner tonight," Beth said. "You sounded a little down on the phone and I thought I could cheer you up." "OK, sounds good to me." To Beth's ears, it sounded like false cheer. But it least he hadn't turned her down, meaning he still wanted to see her. "You drive." "Hey, Bingo," Chip called out as they crossed through the day room, "the tower called and said George would be landing ahead of schedule. Do you want me to pick him up?" Al nodded and threw Chip his spare car keys. "Thanks, Chip." "I forgot George was returning tonight," Beth commented as she backed out of the parking lot. "Hmm." She headed for Gino's Pizzeria. She glanced at Al and he looked to be a million miles away. "Al, what's wrong?" He sighed. "Nothing. Lot on my mind, that's all." "The new pilots?" "Hmm." Beth wasn't buying it. She'd just have to wait him out. Gino served more than just pizza. He served traditional Italian meals and Al had found no complaints with any of them in the past, so Beth called Gino to let him know that she was coming with Al. Gino only required advanced warning and he could have the meal ready when they arrived. Gino showed them to a quiet, out of the way, booth and their dinner was brought out before Al could even finish his beer. He ordered another. "So, what did you do in Chicago?" Beth asked him after several minutes of silence. Al avoided her eyes and shrugged. "Not much," he replied, playing with his food. Beth blinked, stunned. She tried again. "Did you visit family?" "Yes." Al's tone was sharp and final, conveying that he wanted the subject dropped. She was hurt and confused by his actions and tone. "I don't want you to think I'm prying into your personal--" she started, anger rising. "Gino, another beer." Beth sat motionlessly, as Gino brought Al another beer. In the two months they had been together, Al had kept his drinking under moderation, even on Independence day. He never ignored her either. As she stared at him, unnoticed, hurt and angry, tears began to well up. She fought back the urge: he would *not* make her cry. Beth was determined never to see him again. Not ever. She would give him one more chance tonight, but not here. "Gino, I would like the bill please. And put that," she said, indicating the row of empty beer bottles, "on his bar tab. He'll settle it later." Gino was understanding. He, too, had noticed. *Why?* she thought, somewhere between anger and despair, as she rummaged through her purse for her car keys. *Why did you have to do this, Al? Why can't you talk to me?* Beth knew of a relatively safe and secluded spot. It was still light out so wasn't apprehensive about driving there. At their destination, a spot that overlooked the beach, Beth got out of her car and slammed the door shut. She stood waiting for him by the hood. It took him a minute or two to realize what she wanted him to do. He didn't stagger, but he walked close to the car and sat on the hood, looking at the water. "What the hell is wrong?" she snapped. He looked at her almost immediately, blinking. "You've been depressed for weeks. I thought it was because of Lenora. Then you go home for a week and I hoped that the trip would have cheered you up, but you came back twice as depressed. I swear to God, Al, if you don't tell me what is wrong, I'm not going to see you again. I promise you that." Her anger and hurt had built up to such a point that her last words had the same effect as a slap across the face. Al had heard and understood every word she said, that was obvious by the look on his face. "I went to visit my sister's grave," he said finally, miserable. The bottom fell out of her anger and she felt herself go numb. "She would have been twenty-three on the 13th," Al continued, "but she will always be sixteen." Beth remembered being sixteen and a lump formed in her throat. "Trudy was born. . . . retarded. I did everything I could to protect her." He swallowed. "Our father had to work overtime for her medical bills, so he was hardly around." Seemingly unnoticed, tears began to roll down his checks. He didn't move to wipe them away or hide them. "My mother couldn't handle both of us anymore. I was constantly in trouble and Trudy had to be watched every minute. She finally up and left us." With those words, Beth finally understood nearly everything about him. Al became suddenly blurry and she realized that she was crying too. "Our father tried to keep us, but a good paying job was offered in Saudi Arabia. He put both of us in the orphanage, but they wouldn't keep her. He came back, but was diagnosed with cancer and died in ‘44." Al voice was beginning to crack. Beth knew it wouldn't hold out much longer. "The last time I saw my sister, I promised her that I would come back for her someday. After Annapolis, I wanted to save up some money before I went back for her, and in the summer of ‘58, George and I went to Illinois." He shook his head. "I was too late, Beth. If I had enlisted instead of accepting an appointment to Annapolis, she might not have died of pneumonia in that metal institution. I broke my promise to my sister." The last restraint on Al's grief finally broke and Beth pulled him into her arm. He wept like a brokenhearted little boy, one who never had the chance to grieve properly for his sister. Beth had seen many grown men cry; but these were the tears of a devoted brother who believed he had failed his sister. As she held him, her love for him became overwhelming. She stroked his head and let her own tears fall. Everything made sense: he was afraid to get too close to anyone. She was the same way, but a different reason. Both lost people very dear to them. Somewhere out there, was Beth's father (if he survived WWII) and Al's mother; two people who had hurt their children by never being part of their lives. When the sobbing subsided and Beth could find her voice again, she said gently, "I don't believe you let her down, Al. You did what was important: think about how to support her. I believe she never gave up believing that you would one day come for her.." She sighed. "And you did go back, Al, and you keep her memory alive by visiting her grave. Don't blame yourself. Trudy doesn't." Beth gave him some space, to regroup. While Al was wiping his face with his handkerchief, Beth made a decision. She had to tell him about her own past, before she lost the nerve. "Since we're confessing family secrets, I'd better let you in on mine. I think you've sensed it, because you've been treating me like fine crystal." Al focused his attention on her. He still looked like hell, but neither was expected back, and Beth was willing to drive for hours if needed. But right now, she had to get this out of the way. "When I alluded to Kelly that my father was a dead naval aviator, I was purposely misleading. My mother, at sixteen, had a brief affair with one who was passing through. I have her diary and for the sake of time, I will tell you that it wasn't a planned affair and she never saw him again after that night. She never mentions his name or whether she even knew it. He could have died in WWII or he could be commanding a carrier as we speak." Beth paused to gauge his reaction to this. Al seemed to mull over the fact that her father could easily be someone he knew. "My grandparents were upset. Being Catholics, they didn't believe in abortion, and they would never turn my mother out. She was their only child and to lose her, they would lose everything they treasured. According to my grandmother, the moment my grandfather first set eyes on me, all thought of orphanages and adoption agencies went out the window. I was named after my mother and called Beth to distinguish me from her." Beth turned to look out over the water. "As you know, I was born in Maryland and every summer, we would go to the Jersey shore. My grandfather, who I loved dearly, taught me to swim and sail. You remind me of him, in some ways. He felt so alive and full of energy, just like you." She turned back to Al. "The summer of ‘46, we went as usual. My mother went out for a swim. She was an excellent swimmer, but the undertow was too strong. Grandfather went to help her but --" Beth couldn't finish. She didn't need to. The look on his face told her he knew they had drowned. "My grandmother sold everything she could and we moved to Georgia, to live with her widowed, older sister. My Great-Aunt Milly's late husband was from Georgia and she was the last, close family Gran had. I didn't escape the stigma of illegitimacy there. Everyone knew. Milly made sure of it. I was miserable. Milly died a few years ago and she left everything to Gran. Gran's all alone up there, but I write and call all the time. I send her money and care packages. I wanted her to come to Florida with me, but he didn't want me to waste the rest of my life looking after her." Beth looked Al squarely in the eyes and said, "When she's gone, I'll be all alone, too." Al stood up and drew her into his arms. He held her tightly. She wrapped her arms around his waist. Beth didn't feel like crying; she had done enough of it earlier. After a few minutes had passed, Al held her way from him, slightly, and looked into her eyes. She saw his pain and understanding, but she also saw something that turned her legs into rubber. Without a word, he tilted her chin and kissed her. He tasted like beer, but she had eaten garlic bread. There would be no escaping any recriminations later. But this kiss was warm and tender. Beth moved one hand to the back of his head, preventing him from ending the kiss sooner than she wanted. In response, Al held her tighter. Beth's legs threatened to give out. All sorts of warning bells went off as she clung to him for support. She ignored them. Beth was certain if Al made the decision to go further, she would not stop him. Apparently, Al heard the warning bells and he wasn't prepared to go any further. As gently as he could, he disengaged his lips from hers. For an irrational moment, Beth hated him. "I think we should go back," Al said. 2115 HRS. FRIDAY, AUGUST 19, 1960. BOQ, PENSACOLA NAS George fretted. George did everything, *except* call his father, to get back to Pensacola as soon as possible. Al was George's only true friend and he was worried about this trip to Chicago. As soon as Chip picked him up in Al's car, George played dumb. "Did Al just get back? I see you have his car. Has he turned in already?" "Oh, no. Beth's taken him to dinner." Now he sat on the steps outside the BOQ, ‘admiring the sky', as he told Chip who couldn't understand why he hadn't gone in to change out of his flight suit He continued to worry about his best friend. Al and George hadn't always been best friends. In the fall of 1952, George was a stuck-up rich kid that everyone either avoided or fawned over, and Al was, well, a nobody who made friends with just about everybody. They tolerated each other until that fateful day George said something he really shouldn't have and Al found out. Al, knowing he could be thrown out of the Academy, slugged George. He had deserved that punch, of course, but he wouldn't have admitted it then. Al had already started packing when the superintendent called them before him. Of course, George had called his father. Adam was with the superintendent and he was furious with Al (without even knowing Al's side of the story). Adam wanted him out. Fortunately for all parties, the superintendent had learned that Al was making arrangement to leave and this, coupled with Al's academic standing so far, impressed him. The superintendent was unimpressed, to say the least, with the Whitmore-Joneses and made George confess to making a remark that was unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Al was never asked why he found the remark offensive (George found out later that the superintendent had already known Al's sister was retarded). As punishment, George and Al were forced to become room mates. At first, it was hell. But by spring, George discovered Al's desire to fly. From there, a friendship began. Al told George about Trudy and George apologized. Al had opened more doors for George. Al had taken him to *real* parties, not stuffy affairs with politicians and socialites. George even went on a *real* first date. Before he met Al, George socialized with the daughters of politicians and other prominent families: Now George did more than just socialize with women from different backgrounds. George's attitudes and perceptions changed, too, and not all for the better. George began to hate his parents and he never again went running to his father. Al never asked for any big favors of George (like money, for instance). Al never wanted George or his father to use their influence in his behalf. George didn't mind the little favors that Al asked (there weren't many). After all, George owed him. Going to Illinois with Al had a dramatic effect on him. Al seemed so happy-go-lucky and carefree. No one would have guessed his history. To see Al so devastated, it shocked and scared George. This wasn't the Al he knew, the one, George had predicted to his father that would one day wear stars. This Al had his heart literally ripped out. *And that could happen again tonight*, George thought to himself, frustrated. *It's going to be a disaster. He's going to put his foot in it and she's going to dump him.* Al was in love. So much in love in fact, that Al was acting out of character. George could normally set his watch by Al's routine, but not this time. From the first, George suspected; then he saw with his own eyes the way they danced that night in June. He kept an eye on them, from a distance and saw that he had been right about her feelings, too. George began composing his Best Man toast by Independence Day. George had seen Al through two Augusts and could guess what Al would be doing and how he was acting. Beth would be bewildered. She would want to know what was troubling him and want to comfort him. She was a nurse and in love with him. It had been hard to get Al to talk about his family before he learned of Trudy's death; now he would shut Beth out completely So much for the Best Man toast. *I should have called her and told her what to expect*, George berated himself. He never wanted to see Al that devastated again. Beth's car pulled up and it took all of George's will power to saunter, nonchalantly, over. The fact that both were in her car gave George hope. After all, she could have left him at the restaurant. Neither looked angry. Beth looked tired and thoughtful; Al looked hung over and drained. George floundered for an opening. He wasn't prepared for this. They walked over to where he was standing. His concern and confusion must have been obvious. "I've told her about Trudy, George," Al said tiredly, to his friend. Relief washed over him and he sighed. "You two look like hell." "Well, neither of us are up to long conversations either. I'm heading in." Al turned to Beth and kissed her good night. George's jaw dropped and he snapped it shut before they parted. "Let's skip breakfast tomorrow, George. And could you get my keys from Chip?" George nodded, understanding. Al turned away from them both and started up the steps. Beth still stood by George, watching Al. Al did not look back. "I need to talk to you, Beth, " George said once Al was out of earshot. "I'm too tired right now," she started. "I know," he interrupted gently. "Look, I know you don't think highly of me, but I'm the only one here who really knows Al. If I'm not being too forward, I would like to take you to breakfast tomorrow. I'll tell Al what I'm doing." Beth considered the idea. "You could wait forever for him to about himself again, Beth," he told her. "I can at least try to answer your questions. I should have warned you about this." "We talked a long time, George and he told me a lot of things." "If I know Al, he didn't tell you everything. Please allow me to take you to breakfast." Beth nodded. "If you think it's necessary." George sighed. "For both your sakes, it is." 0830 HRS. SATURDAY, AUGUST 20, 1960. BOB'S DINER, PENSACOLA, FL Margie looked curiously at George's breakfast companion. "This is Al's girlfriend, Beth." "He's letting you take her to breakfast? Why isn't she back there with him?" Beth blushed. "He's under the weather, Marge." Margie shook her head and left to place the order. "The first thing I should mention, and I hope I'm not putting my foot in it, is Maureen McGinty." "Who?" Her brown eyes became suspicious. "Al's high school sweetheart. They had a big argument over him accepting an Appointment. She wanted him to stay in Chicago. Al wanted, and needed, out." Beth nodded, understanding. "Her parents all but adopted him. He still cares about her, but not enough to marry her." "And she?" "Well, when we were there in ‘58, we were supposed to visit the McGinty's. When he found out about Trudy . . . I'll never forget the look on his face. ‘Devastated' doesn't really cover it." Both sat in silence, lost in thought. George broke the silence by resuming his narrative. "Since he didn't seem to care what was happening, I made the decision to end the trip and take him with me to Evermore. I called Maureen and told her want was happening. I left Al is his room and a short time later, there this little redhead banging on my door, demanding to see Al. She's concerned about him, like a good friend would be, but there's something in her eyes that I don't trust. She wants him back and in the state of mind he was in then, she could have gotten what she wanted." George paused to take a sip of his coffee. "Anyway, Al refused to answer the door or the phone so she came to me for help. Naturally, I behave like the jerk I can be and this infuriates her. After about five minutes, she gives up and leaves in a huff. Since he gave her no warning last year, they only saw each other for a few hours, I think. I hope this year he didn't see her." "I don't know. He hasn't said anything to me about her." Beth stirred her coffee and asked curiously, "How did you two become friends?" George smiled ruefully. "The spoiled, rich kid said something about retarded people, and this wiry, little nothing, who knows exactly who the rich kid is, slugs him like a Golden Gloves champ." George shook his head. "I deserved that punch and Al knew it could cost him his Appointment. He did it anyway and started packing. He was already impressing the Sup, who wasn't exactly fond of my father or me. The Sup made us roommates. We didn't get along, not at first, but our common love for the Navy and the desire to fly became a foundation for a friendship" Beth was thoughtful again. George struggled a moment or two with how to ask her about the night before. "Forgive me, but what happened last night?" She shrugged. "Not much. He told me his past, I told him mine." Tilting her head to one side, she said. "In the two months we've known each other, we've never talked bout personal things of that nature or that painful. We *had* to have that conversation, George. Our friendship, our *relationship*, is dead in the water, if we don't know where we came from." *I wonder what happened in her past?* The full force of the Calavicci charm would have scarred her off, that much was obvious to George from the beginning. George considered what he knew about Al and his dealings with women, and knew enough about his friend to know he was going slow for fear of losing her. "He cares about you deeply, Beth. He must, because he never would have revealed so much, especially now that he knows about Trudy." "I love him, George." George was startled. It was the last thing he expected to hear. He knew it already, but for her to say so (to him, no less), was something different. "Have you told him?" She shook her head. "Do you think it's premature?" "It depends. Let me talk to him first and see what happened in Chicago." 0945 HRS. SATURDAY, AUGUST 20, 1960. BOQ, PENSACOLA NAS "What's with Bingo lately?" Chip asked George as George entered the day room. "I saw him come in last night. I guess he's finally gotten tired of playing hard-to-get with Lt. Townsend. Man, how long has it been since he scored? New Year's Day, I think. Nearly nine months! So, did he break up with her?" George stared at him. Chip was truly amazing sometimes. Was it only obvious to George that Al was in love? Chip continued. "All they do is walk, and talk, and go to the movies or to the beach, and have dinner. They get back at a decent hour and when they don't see each other, he stays here. It must be driving him crazy." "Chip," George said, finally grasping the fact that Chip was blind, "they're still an item, as far as I know." "You're kidding, right?" George gave him the haughtiest, iciest, glare he could manage before ten o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. It must have been impressive, because Chip backed away a few steps. "What Lt. Townsend and Lt. Calavicci do, or not do, is none of your concern, Lt. Fergueson. Is that clear?" George said coldly. Chip stared back, but said nothing. George looked at him a moment longer and than coldly turned away. He slowly headed for Al' room, recomposing himself. He knocked as politely as he could. There was a muffled response. It could have been a request to be left alone, but George didn't really care. George was surprised when he open the door. Al was still in bed, as expected. However, he had gotten up earlier, showered and shaved, changed clothes, made the bed, and crawled back into it. There was a towel draped over the back of the chair and the smell of soap and shaving cream still hung in the air. Al had made an attempt to get back to normal earlier than usual. He was sprawled out on his stomach, face toward the wall. "We're back," he informed Al, closing the door and crossing to Al's desk. He sat on it and pick up the baseball still in Al's glove. He tossed it into the air a few times, waiting for Al to respond. Al's eyes were still closed. "Hmm." "I told her how we met. I think she was impressed. With what you did, that is." George kept one eye on the ball, the other on his friend. "Hmm." He stopped tossing the ball and turned his complete attention to the man on the bed. "I told her about Maureen." As soon as the words registered, Al's eyes flew open. He raised his head slightly to get a better look at George. "What did you tell her?" Al croaked suspiciously. George repeated what he said, almost word for word, then added, "Beth handled the news rather well." He couldn't tell what Al was thinking. "Did you see Miss McGinty this time?" Al nodded slowly, closed his eyes, and lowered his head back down on the pillow. "I only saw her for a few minutes. I was late getting to the restaurant for our lunch date and she asked me if I was seeing someone new." Al stopped and sat up slowly. He carefully stood and walked past George, grabbing the towel on his way to the head. George listened for the sounds of vomiting, but all Al was doing was splashing cold water on his face. Al reemerged and sat Indian-style, on the foot of his bed. "I told her a little about Beth," he continued, looking George squarely in the eyes. "I told her that Beth might be the one and that made her jealous. I told her so and she left in a huff. Oh, and I told her I was bringing Beth for Thanksgiving." George was still reeling, mentally, from Al's previous statement about Beth ‘being the one'. He hadn't expected Al to confess so quickly. The word ‘might' still bother George, though. It wasn't a true confession until Al spoke emphatically. "Maureen didn't handle the news well at all," Al finished. Still, there was a glimmer of hope. George still could be called upon to perform the duty of Best Man. He cleared his throat. "Al, you can run me off, but I want to know how you honestly feel about Beth." Al was quiet a moment, and he expected to be thrown out at any moment. "I love her, George. I love her more than I've loved any other woman," he said quietly, staring blankly at the wall. Emphatic. Today was full of surprises and it wasn't even noon. George was going to let the lovebirds confess their true feelings to each other. His curiosity was satisfied. If Al's attention was completely on Beth, he wouldn't get on his case when he dumped Janet. "It's your call, Al, but I think you should tell her how you feel." He stood up and headed for the door. "I let you get some more rest. Beth's doing the same, I guess." "Thanks, George." "Just don't mess this up, Al. You could end up regretting it for the rest of your life." @@@@@@@@@@@@@ REMINDER: Story is on hiatus. CLB.