Chapter Seven Donna pushed and shoved her way through the mall, one she had never been in before, which made it even more difficult to find anything. Philip often mentioned it to her, since his new office was just a few blocks away. With Christmas only two days away, it was overcrowded, people shoulder to shoulder, shoving their way past those they felt were moving too slowly, overstuffed shopping bags bouncing off shins of passers-by. There was one more gift she had wanted to send to Tina and Gushie for the new baby, and wanted to get it into the mail that day, but knew they wouldn't get it until after Christmas. In reality, she just didn't want to stay in the house by herself. After seeing Sam last night, or at least thinking she had seen him, she needed to get out into the real world, to assure herself she wasn't going crazy. Walking into a baby store, she nearly crashed into the back of another woman who had stopped abruptly in front of her. As the woman turned around, Donna saw that she was pregnant, very pregnant. "Oh god, I'm so sorry. Are you alright?", she asked, bending to pick up the parcels the woman had dropped upon their colliding. "I didn't even see you stop." She guessed that this was about the size Tina would be in a few weeks. "It was my fault. You'd think that I'd have learned by now not to stop as soon as I've stepped into a store, especially with this crowd," with her eyes she motioned back into the congested mall. "My little boy followed my mother-in-law in here and I was looking for them. I can't keep up to him the way I used to." She patted her stomach. Donna grinned weakly and handed the woman her parcels, just as a small, tow-headed boy, about 3 years old, ran up to the woman, and hid behind her coat. "Justin, don't stand behind mommy. Come out front." She tried to pulled him from behind her, but her reach was limited. Two big blue eyes peered out at Donna from under his mother's arm. She crouched down to be at his level. "Hi, sweetie. How are you?" The boy shrank further behind his mother. "He's pretty shy," the mother said as Donna stood up. "Justin! Ugh." She tried to reach around again, but to no avail. Just then, an older woman approached the small group. "There you are! I thought I'd lost you! You know better than to run off like that!" "It's okay, mom. He spotted me talking to this lady. She crashed into me after I stopped in front of her. She was just helping me with my bags." The older woman gave Donna a quick assessment and, with a smile, gave her a nod of approval. "You're both alright, I take it." She didn't wait for an answer, but turned to the pregnant woman, "I've got everything I need, if you want to go home now." "I'd love to. My feet are killing me." She tried to look down at them. "I do still have feet, don't I?" "Yes, you still have feet," Donna replied, laughing with the woman. "Well, come on, Kathy, let's get you two home. Justin, take mommy's hand, and don't run off this time." Justin grabbed his mother's free hand while the grandmother took the parcels from other woman, and the threesome left the store. Donna continued to walk deeper into store, stopping to look at the occasional baby outfit. She really didn't feel like shopping but didn't want to go home empty handed after braving the crowd. Not finding anything that appealed to her, she stepped back into the bustling crowded mall. The smell coming from the food court told her just how hungry she was. She hadn't eaten breakfast, staying in bed until after Philip had left, she just couldn't face him that morning, and now her stomach was complaining. A quick review of the seating area told her that there was absolutely no way she was going to get a seat, even if she did manage to make it near a food counter. Weighing her options, she decided to spend a quiet lunch in the restaurant she had seen when she first entered the mall. Anyway, she had made up her mind that she really didn't need to get anything more for the baby, but she just didn't want to stay in the house alone today. Finally finding her way back to the corridor where she had first come into the mall, she spotted the sign for the restaurant. It seemed nice and quiet, not the type to attract the usual crowd, a little more upscale, at least for a mall. A quick perusal of the menu posted outside its doors led her inside. The line-up was small and she was shown to a table in a booth after only a short wait. After placing her order, she pulled a magazine from her bag, the only thing she had actually purchased that day, and began to flip through its glossy pages. As she sipped her coffee and scanned the magazine, she heard the waiter showing a couple to the booth behind her. Something in the man's voice sounded familiar, but it was too low to her to tell for sure. "You know I love you, darling, I've told you that before," could be heard over the din of the restaurant. It was the man, speaking low and sensual. "But I thought you said you were married. I don't like this, it's not right." Good for you, girl. You tell him. "I am, happily. I'm just not ecstatic about it. I mean, she's a great wife, great hostess when I have clients in, and I'm sure she'd make a great mother, if we had any children, but she doesn't excite me the way you do." What a slimeball! I can't believe he would actually think she'd fall for that crap! "I excite you, do I?" "Very, very much." The silence that followed hinted to Donna that the two were kissing. It made her stomach crawl. At least she didn't have to worry about Philip. That much she was sure of. Despite everything that had happened in the short time they had known each other, she felt she truly knew and could trust him. Just then the waiter returned with her meal, and she missed part of the conversation. Not that she was listening, she just couldn't help overhearing them. "Listen, darling, why don't we skip lunch and, uh, head straight for dessert?" Ugh! What a line! The woman laughed, a deep, throaty laugh, knowing that the "dessert" was mostly likely going to be each other. "Sure. That is, if you don't think your wife will mind." "I won't tell her if you don't." They sniggered, sharing in the deceit of some poor woman. As she heard them sliding out of the booth, she glanced up at the mirrored wall at the far end of the restaurant, wanting to see just what kind of man would cheat on a wife he claimed he was happily married to. The woman's face appeared, followed by the back of the man. As he turned to place the woman's coat on her shoulders, Donna's heart skipped a beat. Philip! It was Philip all along! She watched them as they left he restaurant, her brain not willing to accept what her eyes had seen. "Is everything alright, ma'am? Ma'am?" It was then that Donna realized she was being spoken to. "Pardon?" "Your meal. Is everything alright with your meal?" His hands indicated the meal she had hardly touched. "Uh, yes, everything's fine." She quickly pulled the napkin from her lap. "Could I have the bill, please? I just remembered something I've got to do right away." "Certainly, ma'am. I'll be right back." He disappeared for a few minutes, allowing Donna time to think, not that she wanted or needed to think about what she had just seen and heard. Paying the bill, she ran to her car and, with no particular destination in mind, began to drive. Philip. Philip! What had she done to send him into the arm's of another woman? She had been the good wife, perfect hostess when he had to bring clients home or a charming dinner companion when they were at a function and she was seated next to someone who was a complete bore, always had dinner ready for him, even when he worked late ... was he working late, or playing? She admitted that her passion for him was nowhere near the same as it was for Sam, but she had loved Sam more than she could even think about loving anyone else. She loved Philip as much as she could, didn't she? She didn't want to think about it. Her brain couldn't begin to process everything she was throwing at it. Before she realized it, she had arrived back home. In a daze, Donna parked the car in the garage þ can't leave it in the driveway, can we, Philip, the sun will bake the paint þ put the key into the lock and entered the house. Bosco was right there, waiting at the door, his vocal chords in fine working order. Dropping her bags on the counter, she went through the mechanics of feeding the cat, then picked the mail up from the front foyer. Greeting cards from Verbeena, Tina and Gushie and a few old friends from Project Star Bright. She didn't bother to open any of them. Wandering through the now immense house, she thought back to when she and Philip had first met. After the Project had first been discontinued, after Sam had died when finally returning to her, she, along with Verbeena, Tina, Gushie and Sammi Jo stayed at the Project long enough to see to Ziggy's careful dismantling. Al hadn't wanted anyone but those closest to Sam to take care of his computer, but she couldn't bring herself to stay around until the task was completed. It was hard enough burying Sam next to his father, back in Elk Ridge, but to return to the Project and take care of his belongings, that was almost more than she could handle. Al understood and, with his blessings saying he would look after everything, sent her on her way. But to where? Sam's mother had invited her to stay in Hawaii, but she knew that would just be running away. That was exactly was she had wanted to do, but knew that wasn't what she needed to do. She decided to accept an invitation from old highschool friend, Sally Johansen, and moved to San Bernardino in February that year. After a few weeks, she managed to get a job in Sally's legal office in the secretarial pool. She downgraded her credentials on her resume and job application, making herself less intelligent that she really was. She didn't want to go back to science, not yet anyway. She just wanted to exist, because she felt as if her reason for living had died with Sam. That was where she met Philip. He was tall, handsome. The one all the single, and even some of the married, secretaries crooned over, especially whenever he brought work to them. He never asked his personal secretary to deliver his work, he always brought it down to the secretarial pool area himself. Probably to check out the newest game in town. He started to single her out from the first time he had seen her. Even after she had blatantly pointed out her wedding ring, which she still wore, he only backed off slightly. It was only after Sally had told him that she was recently widowed did he leave her alone. For a few months, at least. By June, he was back on the prowl, following her everywhere, making it known that she was going to be his, and that was all there was to it. All the other secretaries pined, wishing it was them and telling her how lucky she was. But she didn't feel lucky. She didn't feel anything. Finally, after nearly a year between Sally telling her she should start getting out more, and Philip's constant, but gentle, persuasion, Donna finally relented to one date. But then, one turned into another and then another. Philip was used to taking control of whatever situation he found himself in, and she fell into his arms, wanting someone to be in control of her life. She had had too many years making decisions for Sam and she just wanted to have someone do that for her for a change. Philip Brecknall seemed to fit that bill perfectly. He had wanted to marry right away, but that was one decision she had made and stuck to. Their first date had happened a little less than a year after Sam's death, and he had wanted to be married three weeks later, but she held him off for as long as she could. She was still wearing Sam's wedding set, even if it was on her right hand, but Philip insisted she take them off completely. Finally, giving into his pressure, she agreed to get married. They had married quickly, barely even giving her time to invite Verbeena, Sammi Jo, Gushie and Tina, and Al. Everyone but Al had come. That was just ten months ago, on Valentine's Day. That was his idea, Valentine's Day. He said it was to ensure that they would always remember that they loved each other. "Yeah, sure. To love, honour and cherish ... until something better comes along." She hadn't worked since then, because 'no wife of mine is going to work'. As a result, she spent her days at various classes - ceramics, exercise - and doing whatever else she could to fill the time between when he left and when he came home. She wandered aimlessly around the house, looking at, but not actually seeing, the things they had collected in their brief time together. Actually, they hadn't collected them, Philip had. He would buy whatever he liked, regardless of whether or not she liked it, and she was expected to silently acquiesce. Always play the good wife, she thought, laughing without feeling any humour. Without realizing where her aimless wandering had lead her, she stood outside the door to the attic. Opening the door, a cool, musty draft flowed past her. Philip had made her put all of her 'non-essential' things up here. To him, 'non-essential' meant everything except a few family photos and her clothes, and he even moved some of those into the attic afterwards. Those he had thought 'inappropriate' for the wife of a soon-to-be-partner in a prestigious law firm. Flipping the light switch, illuminating the stairwell and the floor above, she trepidiously made her way upward. Midday sun filtered through the small windows at the top of either end of the long attic, showing the dust particles that always seem to be attracted to sunlight. The room ran the entire length of the house, including the garage. It was originally meant to be a "play room" of sorts for the previous owners teenaged children, but they had moved out before it was completed. As a result, it was insulated, painted, air conditioned and carpeted. A built-in wall unit stood at one end under a window, and a wetbar stood unused about halfway down the wall. Wiring had be put in over what she guessed would have been a pool table area, but only a basic fluorescent lighting system had ever been hooked up over the entire area. She walked to the wall unit, where a number of her boxes had been placed. She drew her fingers across them, making small paths in the dust that had accumulated, as she read the names on each one, written in black marker what seemed eons ago. Records, Kitchen, Dust Collectors, Sam. She stopped, her hand poised over the name. She carefully removed the box, then, placing it on the carpeted floor, sat down. Pulling the top of the box open, she sneezed at the slight rise of dust that came both from the box and the carpet. She began to pull out the few items she had saved for herself from Sam's personal possessions. He didn't really have very many personal articles. He always relied on his photographic memory for retaining the things he wanted most to recall, not falling into the tourist trap of buying a souvenir everytime he went somewhere. Not that he took a great deal of time for pleasurable travel. He did, however, concede to her insistence that they at least take some photographs on the few vacations or outings she had managed to talk him into taking, and the album was the first thing she pulled out. She slowly turned each page, smiling with the remembrances of the good times they had spent. Their first picture together, taken outside the restaurant where they had first met, showed Sam wearing an outfit that lead people to believe the photo was taken in the mid-70s rather than the 80s. His suit looked like he'd had it for years, which of course, he had. As she progressed through the book, Sam's clothes told the story of her gentle persuasions and influence, something Al had thanked her for profusely. Not that she had tried to change him, just introduce him to something past 1977, which is when she was convinced was the last time he had actually gone clothes shopping. Page after page reminded her of just how much she truly had been in love with Sam, not that she needed any reminding. Their wedding was simple and quiet, with only immediate family and a few close friends. Al had been his best man - who else would he have chosen - and his sister Katie had been her maid of honour. The photographer never did get a serious picture of the four of them. Between Al and Katie, they couldn't keep from laughing, the simple joy of the occasion not lost on anyone. And both Sam's mother and her own, crying. Her father had left the family when she was a child, and her mother had passed away not long after the wedding, so Sam's family truly became hers as well. How she loved his family, and missed them terribly. The last picture in the book was of Sam, Al and herself, together with numerous Project personnel, sitting at a bunch of rickety tables that had been set up outside the Project. They were celebrating the official completion of Ziggy. Everyone had their bottles of beer raised in a toast, everyone except Sam and herself. Just as the security guard, who had been drafted to take the picture, yelled 'Say cheese', he had grabbed her around the shoulders and turned her towards himself, giving her a long, deep kiss. Knowing Sam wasn't much for public displays of affection, this took her by surprise. "I love you so much, Donna. I don't want to ever lose you," he'd said to her later than night. A few short months later, he had left her, unwillingly, but nonetheless, he had left her. In essence, he had lost her to time and some unknown force's idea of where he should go and what he should do. Placing the photo album down, she lifted a few books Sam had collected, one or two he had started to write but never quite managed to finish - he preferred researching them to actually writing them - Sam's numerous diplomas, from highschool to the seven doctorates he had amassed, a photograph of him and Professor LoNigro. Each were holding a fishing pole and a few fish they had caught at the Professor's cottage in the Birkshires. He had told her how he and the Professor had spent many university weekends working on the string theory at that cottage. All these things that had made Sam the man she had fallen in love with the first time she had seen him, nearly twenty years earlier. As she reached the bottom of the box, she found a small parcel, wrapped as if for Christmas. She now remembered putting it in the box when she had first left the Project. She couldn't bring herself to open then, and it had laid forgotten these past years. The tag had read "To my Dulcinea, From your Don Quixote, Merry Christmas, I love you". Sam had written the card and left instructions for Al to purchase the gift for her during the brief twelve hours where he and Al and changed places, when Sam had become the Observer. That was only been three months before he died. He had remembered that they were married then, but only then. When he was leaping, he couldn't remember her. As painful as it was, she felt it best that he not know - it could interfere with whatever he may have to do. She pulled at the ribbon that was now only loosely tied around the box. It fell away easily. The paper around the gift had not been secured with tape, and all she had to do was remove it from around the small container. Slowly, she lifted the lid, the metallic hinge groaning from being disturbed after years of silent respite. As the faint sunlight from the window above her glint off the gold contained inside the jeweller's box, she could feel the emotion catching in her throat. A small heart-shaped locket rested on faux blue velvet. She gently pulled it from its home and, holding it to the light, she could see a small diamond among the gently swirling patterns the jeweller had created on the locket's face. Turning it over, she saw the engraving. "D & S". She opened it to find a picture of Sam on one side and herself on the other. When the pictures had been taken, she had no idea. But he looked as recent as ... when Sam had last been with her. Sometime during that brief half-day, he had found a few minutes to have someone, most likely Tina, take his picture for her. She clasped the locket to her chest, her eyes filling with unspent tears. Wiping her eyes dry, she regained her composure. Opening the locket's clasp, sh secured it around her neck, placing it under the sweater she was wearing, next to her heart. "Donna, are you up there?" The voice coming from the bottom of the stairs snapped her back to reality. Philip! He was home far sooner than usual. She quickly put everything back into the box, then stood and replaced the box on the shelf. "Donna!" "I'm coming, Philip," she responded, trying to brush the dust from her dark pants. She hadn't realized she had spent the entire afternoon in the attic. The sun had almost set, casting long, eerie shadows in the room. Bosco had arrived at some point, and found himself a nice place to sleep, she assumed where the sun once was. With one last look, she picked up the cat, turning out the light at the bottom of the stairs, headed down to face the man she had married just ten months ago. The man who was now cheating on her.