"Rebirth" Part II June, 2002 Ely, MN Al shouldered the bag and waited for the crowd to ease into a sluggish motion in front of him. Marina wasn't at the gate, so he trudged his way to baggage claim. The belt started moving and he stood, staring into oblivion, numbing himself to the crowd around him. He felt a touch on his pants' leg and he glanced down, startled, into the smiling face of Marina's only child. Jay was only 2 ½ years old and was an extremely quiet boy. Al grinned, feeling the sorrowful cloud that had lain over him since Verbena's visit lift minutely. He let his carryon bag slide to the floor and picked him up. "Hey, little man," he crowed, the tension easing more still when Jay kissed him on the cheek and flung his arms around his neck. He glanced around, knowing the boy's mother had to be close behind. Sure enough, Marina appeared in the crowd, looking agitated and moving fast despite her ever-present limp and the cane that trailed along with her. David, her husband, was right behind her. "Jay, I told you to stay with me," she scolded as she came into range. Jay hid behind Al's head and he shifted him to one arm so he could clasp Marina's hand with his free one. "Hi, sweetheart," he said gently, kissing her on the cheek. She smiled slightly in apology for her outburst. "Hi, Dad. Your flight okay?" "Yeah, but you're gonna have to take the tyke - I've got luggage coming." David stepped forward, picked up Al's carryon, and let him pass Jay on as well. "I got him." Al smiled slightly at him. He liked David - always had. Not like those nuts Meg always dated, but - thankfully - hadn't settled down with. (Although they often wondered if she ever would "settle down" in any sense and Al often found himself hoping she wouldn't.) David, on the other hand, was reserved, intelligent, and, most importantly, Al could tell by looking in his eyes how much he loved Marina and how completely he adored his son. Beth had always loved him, too. "Thanks, David." Al retrieved his suitcase and followed them out to the car, falling easily into the sorts of conversations that usually ensue when you haven't seen someone in a while. "We know you've been traveling all day, but we thought we'd stop somewhere along the way home to eat. Is that okay, Dad?" Marina asked from the back seat, where she'd insisted on sitting. "Fine by me." They pulled up outside of a fairly nice restaurant and Marina pulled Jay out of the car seat. "We're celebrating," she explained at Al's questioning look. "Celebrating what?" he asked, slightly irritated. He was tired and beginning to feel disheartened. All he wanted to do was get to the house and go to bed. "You'll see," she responded cryptically. Jay took David's hand and she touched Al's arm carefully. "Dad? You all right?" He put an arm around her shoulders. "Yeah, I'm fine." She looked uncertain. "I'm sorry; it was a bad idea to do this now. Especially seeing as the last time we got together was the funeral." "No, no, it's fine." But the words sounded unconvincing, even in his own ears. Still, he could feel Marina's excitement and he could never do anything to squelch her enthusiasm. "I should have made more of an effort to come down recently, but-" "Marina. It's fine, honey," he said firmly. They proceeded into the building and were seated almost immediately; it seemed that David had made reservations. He had also ordered champagne. *Oh, please don't let them be doing this over me,* was all Al could think. "Okay," Marina began, laying her hands flat on the shiny tabletop and smiling at Al, "we're here for two reasons." Al cocked his head to one side and eyed both her and his grandson, sitting across from him. "The first is your birthday," she resumed, "and the second is the reason I won't be having any champagne with you." She fell into silence, a barely restrained grin fighting its way across her face and up into her sparkling eyes. For several long seconds, Al didn't comprehend. Then, realization dawned. "You're pregnant?" he questioned in amazement, glancing to his right, as if seeking confirmation from David. "We found out last week. She's seven weeks along." "It's too early to tell, of course," she continued, "but if it's a girl, we want to name her Elizabeth." It amazed Al how quickly and easily his eyes flooded with tears and he blinked them back with an effort. "Oh, Marina..." was all he could seem to say. She slid out of the booth, laughing with childlike delight, and he stood up, too, embracing her warmly. ~~~~~~ "Can I talk to you?" Al folded the shirt in his lap and looked up to see Marina standing in the doorway of the guest room. "Sure, sweetheart. What's on your mind?" She advanced into the room almost timidly and he patted the bed beside him. She sat to his right. "David and I have been talking and I wanted to discuss a possibility with you." She was hedging and he knew it. Instead of prodding, he remained silent, staring into her face, seeing only Beth there. As always, the dull ache in his heart swelled momentarily into a painful wound and he thought of the picture in the suitcase he was packing. "After the baby is born, I want to go back to work," she said. "Okay..." he responded slowly, unsure of where the conversation was headed. "So someone's going to have to take care of Jay and little...whoever." Now he did see. "So we were thinking, if you wanted to, you could come live up here." He hesitated, gazing to the far corner of the room, and she waved a hand in the air. "Oh, there's no reason to tell me now. I mean, unless you know the answer." He fingered a cuff of the clothing resting in his lap. "I don't know, Marina..." "It's just an idea," she said hastily, suddenly embarrassed. "If you think it's a bad idea, that's fine, but the offer stands. "Give it time to percolate," he suggested lightly, forcing a grin. She laughed uneasily and he set aside the shirts, watching her intently as she stared out the door into the hall. "How do you deal with living alone, Dad? I mean, if anything ever happened to David, I don't know what I'd do." "You'd keep going," Al said firmly, "because you'd have to." "Do you want to?" she asked. "Keep going, I mean." He considered the question. "There are some days the answer is ‘no'." He held her hand, rubbing his thumb absently against her fingers. "You want to know something silly? About a week and a half after she died, I woke up and couldn't picture her face. After just a week and a half! After over 40 years of marriage." He sighed. "So I got a picture of her and I keep it nearby so I can see it when I wake up." He shrugged. "So many years of seeing her face in the morning before anything else...I guess old habits die hard." "I have something I wanted to give you, if you'd like it." He refocused his gaze on her. "What?" She untangled her hands from his and stood to open the top drawer of the dresser. She pulled out a stack of envelopes tied together with a white ribbon. "This was one of the things Mom left me in that box when she died." Al swallowed and accepted the letters from her. He knew what they were. "Did you...read them?" "Yes." Marina stood in front of him and folded her hands. "These are her letters to your grandmother, aren't they?" "Yes," she said again. "Have you ever read them?" He shook his head, fingering the tip of the ribbon. "No. They were sort of your mother's equivalent of a journal. They were her private thoughts. I never read them." "Maybe you ought to." Al tucked them away in his suitcase. "Maybe I will." Marina nodded, satisfied. "What about...Doctor Beckett?" she asked, changing the subject. "Do you ever forget him?" Marina didn't know the particulars - indeed, even the generalities - of Project Quantum Leap, of course. But she'd been told the same story as the rest of the world, that Doctor Sam Beckett had been tragically and unexpectedly killed in the process of completing some experimentation. Al knew the truth and he would have to live with it: that he was unable to prevent abandoning his partner and friend, that he had failed in keeping their dream afloat. All this time without guidance - surely the story was accurate. "No," he said quietly, "I always see his face." ~~~~~~ June, 2002 Minneapolis, MN Al was in the process of attempting to juggle two formidable pieces of luggage while he tried to hunt down his keys when he saw the little restaurant out of the corner of his eye. Normally, he would have starved rather than succumb to the high cost, low quality aspects of airport food. Today, he was feeling just drained enough to relinquish the principles and sit down at the bar. He ordered a meal and a drink that he was craving just a bit too much, but an internal promise to have just one silenced his conscience. As he waited for his order, he absently scanned the crowd, his eyes eventually coming to rest on a young woman - maybe in her late 30's, early 40's (still very young, from his perspective). She was slight and attractive with shining auburn hair that fell about her shoulders and caught the light with its bounce whenever she moved her head, which she did quite often. She talked with her entire body, her hands moving about in striking visual aids. Instinctively, he liked her. The drink was placed in front of him and he paid for it right away, trying to assure that the purchase would stop there. He resumed watching the woman, wondering why he found her so fascinating. He was becoming melancholy in his old age, he supposed, and once again he turned Marina's offer over in his mind. Was this really something he could be happy doing? Leaving the house he had lived in with Beth would be both a relief and a painful experience. Was he really lonely enough to move in with his daughter? He realized, with that thought, that he _was_ lonely. The revelation hit hard and he sighed deeply, fingering the glass without drinking its contents. Maybe it would be for the best - he could be around his family in a pleasant town. He and Beth had made several acquaintances while they lived in Minneapolis, but since he was out of town so often, he rather considered them her friends, not his. It was at times like this that he really missed Sam, and he wondered how much better he would have able to handle Beth's death if he had been there. Al lifted his glass and, with another long sigh, he brought it to his lips. *Here's to you, Sam...* The woman at the distant table laughed and reached across to pat her companion's hand. The glass slipped from Al's fingers before he had even tasted the drink and there were several seconds of nothingness as it fell. He couldn't hear any sounds until the shattering of glass as the drink hit the floor, dissolving into a myriad of minute shards and tiny droplets. At the loud crash, the natural buzz of conversation dimmed as people paused to discern the nature of the disturbance. The woman and her dinner date turned, too, and locked eyes with Al. Now Al's brain refused to accept the information his eyes were feeding it and so it manufactured a truth of its own. He accepted the fact that he must slowly be going crazy. Without pausing to think, he turned and left the restaurant, moving steadily through the crowd, just needing to get out, to get away from people. He practically ran to his car, fumbling with the keys as he unlocked the door. He thought he heard someone calling to him, but when he paused and turned, there was no-one there. *This is it - I'm finally cracking up.* That had to be it. There was no other explanation. He hastily paid the fee for parking and headed out onto the freeway. Reaching beside him, he pulled out his cellular phone and dialed the number Verbena had given him. All he got was the machine and he realized she was probably at her office. Pulling out the card, he dialed that number instead. "Dr. Owens' office." He swallowed. *Calm. Just stay calm. You don't want them coming out with the nets for you, do you?* "I need to speak with Verbena." "She's in session right now; can I take a message?" "No," he snapped. "I need to talk with her now. It's urgent." The woman on the other end of the line paused. "This isn't her husband, is it?" "No." "I'm sorry, sir, I can't interrupt session. Are you a client?" He gritted his teeth. "No," he said again, "I'm a friend. Please, can't you make an exception this once?" "I can take a message," she compromised. "Fine. Tell her Al Calavicci called. I need to talk with her right away. You got that?" "I'll tell her, sir." "Yeah, thanks a lot," he muttered, breaking the connection. By this point, his hands had started shaking and he pulled over into the breakdown lane and draped his arms over the steering wheel, resting his head against them. The sound of his own breathing was loud in his ears and he could only think of one thing over and over. *Why did I leave? Why did I run?* *That wasn't Sam.* +Sorry for the delay, guys... been working hard.
Here's the next couple. Thanks for your patience and kind comments about "Linked" -amkt