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  can't leave it in the
driveway, can we, Philip, the sun will bake the paint  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.