"Wake up, lazybones, it's nearly ten o'clock."
    Sam winced at the overly loud, overly cheerful voice.  He forced one
leaden eyelid open, and shut it quickly as bright light pierced his
brain via his eyesocket.  Giving himself time to adjust to the daylight
that poured into the bedroom, he opened his eyes again, very carefully.
He blinked, and found Helen smiling down at him, waving a mug back and
forth under his nose.  The aroma of fresh coffee drifted into his
    "Hunngh," he said.  The sound reverberated in his head like fifty
jackhammers, pounding into the soft mush of his brain, splattering it
around the inside of his skull.
    "Wakey, wakey, rise and shine."  Helen sat on the edge of the bed,
holding out the mug.  Groaning, he slowly pulled himself up and scrubbed
his face with his hand.  How was it that sometimes you could wake up
with a hangover even when you hadn't drunk any alcohol?  He carefully
took the mug, holding it in both hands to keep it steady, and sipped the
fragrant liquid gratefully.
    "And what time did you get to bed last night?" demanded Helen.
    The coffee was beginning to clear away the fog that enveloped his
brain and the fur that blanketed his mouth.
    "Uh, I dunno.  About two o'clock - I think."
    "Two o'clock!  What were you doing until that time, Sam?"
    "Um - sorta having a party with Al."  Helen's eyebrows rose.  "We
were listening to 'Man of La Mancha' and - um - dancing and - and
singing."  Sam eyed her a little shamefacedly from behind the rim of his
    "Until two in the morning?"
    "Well, no - not exactly.  After 'Man of La Mancha' we played some of
your other stuff and - and danced and sang to that, too."
    "You mean the two of you had a party in my house, playing my music,
and you didn't bother to invite me?"  Helen sounded annoyed.
    "Well, I didn't think you'd be in the mood for a party and, anyway,
you were sound asleep.  Though thinking about it, I'm kinda surprised
you didn't wake up.  We were - um - pretty loud."
    "I see.  There I was, very upset and totally exhausted, and you were
so concerned that you left me all alone and went and had a damn good
time with your pal - not even worrying that you might disturb my much
needed rest!"  Helen sounded reproachful now, as well as annoyed.
    "Aw, I'm sorry, Helen, but you were so sound asleep I didn't think
you'd notice if I was there or not - and I really wanted to show Al the
album."  He reached for her hand.
    She pulled away and crossed her arms.  "Men!  You're all the same.
You never grow up.  Anyone'd think it was you who were just out of their
teens, not me!  You're like little kids who can't keep their hands out
the cookie jar, concerned with nothing but your own selfish pleasure!"
Sam looked so abashed, Helen couldn't keep up the indignant pose any
longer.  "Oh, I'd have given a million bucks to see you having a party
all by yourself, Sam!"
    Relieved she was only joking, Sam smiled ruefully.  "I guess I would
have looked pretty crazy to anyone else, apparently boogie-ing on down
on my own."  He also began to chuckle - carefully, so the jackhammers
wouldn't start up again.
    William poked his head inquisitively around the door, wondering what
all the noise was about.  He sprang onto the bed and butted Sam's hand
with his head, demanding attention, nearly making the man spill his
    Sam cursed, then dutifully rubbed under the cat's chin.  "William
was there, too, weren't you, old fella?  He sat on the chair just
watching to start with."  Sam looked up at Helen.  "Did you know animals
can see Al?  Usually he scares them half to death.  I think they get
confused because they can see him but not smell him.  But you weren't
frightened, were you, William?  When Al stopped for a rest, William
jumped off the chair and sort of rubbed round his legs.  I don't know
how he did it.  Most cats go straight through Al and come out the other
side, spitting and hissing.  William just purred.  Then he jumped back
on the chair and sat staring at Al quite calmly with these big, green
eyes of his.  Al and I couldn't believe it, so Al went and ran his hand
over William's back, as though he was stroking him, and William loved
it.  He purred even louder and closed his eyes."  Sam looked at the cat,
now reduced to a state of bliss by his stroking, and gave a little
laugh.  "Just like he's doing now.  Al said he couldn't feel William but
William sure could feel Al!"
    Helen tickled behind William's ears.  "I'm not at all surprised.  He
comes from a long line of superior cats - Angharad's cats."  She looked
at Sam through her lashes.  "I think his great grandmother met Al once.
She wasn't scared either, though I was, just a little."
    Sam stopped stroking the cat.  "You've met Al?  Seen him?  Al the
    Helen nodded.
    "But you told me at the cabin you didn't know anything about him!"
    "Sorry, Sam.  I bent the truth just a smidge."  Helen had the grace
to look a little ashamed, though her eyes held a hint of a twinkle.  She
shrugged.  "I needed to get you to talk and I didn't think you'd tell me
about yourself so Al seemed the next best thing."
    "Helen, exactly when did you meet Al?"
    "Well, I must have only been about four, I think," she mused.  "I
was in the garden, playing under the apple tree with my cat - she was
orange and white too, like William.  It must have been late spring
because I remember the smell of the apple blossom.  All at once, I could
smell smoke.  I hadn't become aware of it gradually like you usually do
- it didn't 'drift' into my nose.  It was quite sudden.  One moment all
I could smell was apple blossom, then - bam!  A real strong, smoky smell
overpowered everything.  It wasn't scary though, like a fire, it smelled
lovely, fragrant, so I turned around to find out where it was coming
from.  There was a man watching me.  He was dressed very strangely, in a
silver jacket and pink pants and he had a button on the jacket that
glowed - you know, like a neon sign - that was pink, too."  Helen gave a
little smile.  "I thought it was so funny, seeing a man with pink pants.
Only girls wore pink.  Anyway, I picked up my cat and cuddled her
because I was a little frightened - he shouldn't have been in my garden
- but she just looked at him, purring really loud.  The man said, 'Hi,
Helen,' - softly.  I think he was trying to reassure me - and I remember
thinking that his eyes looked nice and friendly.
    "He bent down and tickled my cat under her chin - only his hand
didn't actually touch her - and he said, 'Hi, William.'  My cat purred
even louder so I decided he must be okay, so I told him, 'She's not a
boy, she's a girl and her name's Ginger Nutmeg Cinnamon, but you can
call her Mrs Spice, if you like.'  He laughed and said sorry to Mrs
Spice.  He smiled at me just like my Dad did when I gave him a hug, so I
decided I wasn't scared anymore and told him he could stroke Mrs Spice
if he wanted.  He was going to, when he said, 'Ho-ly Mackerel!' in an
awed sort of voice and straightened up all of a sudden, and I heard my
Mom behind me, asking who I was talking to.
    "She'd been washing the laundry and had her apron on and suds on her
arms.  Her cheeks were red and her hair was falling down out the pins,
the wind blew it about her face, but she still looked beautiful - Mom
always did.  I pointed to the man and said I was talking to him.  Mom
looked at me in a funny sort of way and asked, 'Who?  There's no one
there, cariad?'
    "'Yes, there is,' I insisted.  'He's standing right there.  There's
a man with a cigar and funny clothes.  He knows my name,' I explained,
because I knew I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers.  Then the man
spoke again.  He said, still staring at Mom, 'Tell your Mom my name is
Al - and tell her she's even more beautiful than in her photo.'"  Helen
laughed.  "His jaw was almost on the floor."
    "'But you've just told her your name,' I protested.
    "'I don't think your Mom can see or hear me,' he said.  'Only
special people can, sweetheart, and you're special, aren't you?  Like
Old Angharad.'  And he smiled at me again before looking back at my Mom.
    "I told Mom what he had said, including the bit about Old Angharad.
She just stared at me for a minute, all the redness draining away from
her cheeks.  Then she sort of shook herself and told me to come inside
for my morning glass of milk.  She said there was a cookie for me, too.
    "Al said, 'Ooh, that sounds yumola, Helen.  You better go.'
    "I'd never heard the word 'yumola' before but it was perfect for
Mom's cookies - made me feel hungry - so I went with her.  I looked back
from the kitchen door and saw Al under the apple tree, tickling Mrs
Spice under the chin again.  Just like you're tickling William."  She
laughed at Sam's surprised expression.
    It was the perfect opportunity to ask her about what she'd told Al
at the cabin.  Part of Sam itched to do so.  Most of him, however,
didn't want to know, didn't want to maybe spoil the harmony of their
days.  So he contented himself by merely asking, "Do you have anything
else you'd like to tell me, while you're here?  You know, get everything
over in one hit instead of giving me mini shocks all the time."
    Helen became suddenly serious.  "No, Sam.  Not yet."
    Seeing the look on her face, he was glad he hadn't asked a direct
    She rose and picked William up off the bed, hugging him in her arms.
"I'm sorry.  I would have told you about seeing Al before only I'd
nearly forgotten.  I - I don't think I wanted to remember for a long
time."  Her expression lightened.  "Come on, it's time you were up.
We've got lots to do today."
    Sam became aware she was wearing old, oil stained, paint spattered
overalls that were too big for her, rolled up several times at the
ankles and wrists.  She picked up a similar pair of overalls from the
black chest at the end of the bed and threw them at him.
    "What, I wonder, do you have in store for me now?" he moaned,
pushing back the quilt.
    "Wait and see," said Helen, as she walked towards the door.
    "How many more 'little surprises' am I going to have to deal with?"
he muttered as he shoved his legs into the overalls.
    Helen turned back, mischief lurking in her eyes.  "Hmm.  Not many
more.  Maybe one or two."  She headed into the hall.
    "Helen."  She popped her head back around the door.  Sam was sitting
on the edge of the bed, the overalls half on.  "How do you feel?  After
last night, I mean?"
    She came slowly back into the room, still cuddling the cat, rubbing
her cheek into his fur.  "Relieved.  Much better, I guess.  I - I hadn't
realised how much I needed to talk about it - let it go."  Her mouth
curved a little.  "Thank you for listening - Dr Beckett."
    "You're welcome," he said, smiling back.
    William suddenly meowed and jumped out of Helen's arms onto the bed,
reminding Sam about something else.
    "Helen, tell me, how DO you know when Al's around?"
    Her eyes sparkled, nearly as green as the cat's.  She looked down at
Sam, head on one side, considering.  "Do you absolutely swear not to
tell him?"
    "Cross my heart and hope to die."
    "I've already told you.  Think about my story just now."  She stood,
hands on hips, waiting for him to understand.
    Sam looked at her, puzzled.  Then a slow, delighted grin spread
across his face, which turned into a chuckle that became louder and
louder.  Spasms of mirth gripped him until, whooping with laughter, he
fell backwards and banged the bed helplessly with his fist.  He laughed
and laughed until tears ran down his cheeks and his sides ached.  In a
vain attempt to stop them hurting, he wrapped his arms around his ribs
and hung on.
    William jumped onto his heaving chest and he coughed and spluttered.
Pushing the startled cat away, he rolled over, grabbed the sheet and
mopped his streaming eyes.
    "Oh, that's wonderful!" he gasped.  "That's absolutely priceless!"
He gulped and massaged the muscles in his aching jaw.  "Oh, I wouldn't
tell him in a million years!  He's just gonna die when he finds out.  Oh
God!"  He sighed, wishing his jaw muscles and ribs didn't hurt so much.
    "Have you quite finished?" demanded Helen, although she was grinning
from ear to ear.  Sam's laughter had been infectious.
    "I think so."  He gave his eyes one last wipe, then stood and
shrugged his arms into the sleeves of the overalls.  "Okay, so what do
you want me to do?"
    Helen caught his hand and pulled him out of the bedroom.  She took a
couple of steps along the hall and opened another door with an
exaggerated gesture, "Ta-da!" then stood to one side, so he could walk
into the room beyond.
    It was obviously another bedroom.  The walls were covered with
paper, its original white now yellow with age, the pattern of blue
forget-me-nots so faded as to be nearly invisible, except in a couple of
places where rectangles still showed brightly, having obviously been
protected by pictures.  No drapes hung at either of the windows, even
the rails had been removed, gaping holes black against the faded walls.
The floor wasn't visible as dust sheets covered every inch but the feel
of pile under his feet told him it was carpeted.  Apart from a small,
white wardrobe and chest of drawers, the room was devoid of furniture,
and these two items stood in the middle of the room.  The only other
objects he could see were more dust sheets, neatly folded, a step-
ladder, a couple of tins of paint, some brushes, rollers and trays, two
metal scrapers, a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush.
    Helen went over to the decorating equipment.  She picked up one of
the paint brushes by the bristles and, holding it like a gun, pointed it
at him, saying in a deep voice, "This is your mission, Jim; to have this
room completely redecorated and looking like new.  You have only twenty-
four hours in which to complete your mission.  This tape will self-
destruct in five seconds."  She sang a couple of bars of the 'Mission
Impossible' theme while pretending to spray Sam with bullets from the
brush.  She broke off, picked up one of the scrapers and handed it to
him.  "Actually, you'll need one of these first.  All the wallpaper has
to come off."
    Sam blinked.  "You mean I've Leaped in here to help with your
    "Um - no, not exactly," admitted Helen.  She rushed on, "But I do
have to do this room and I won't be able to take any more time off for a
long while so I thought I might as well get you to help me while you're
here.  I think I've used up my annual leave for about the next twenty
years.  I only managed to get this long because I have a VERY nice boss
who knew Mom VERY well."
    Sam glowered.
    "Oh, please, Sam," she wheedled, putting her arms around his waist.
"It'll only take half as long if you help and it'll be fun.  Honest."
She looked up beseechingly through her lashes.  "Please.  Pretty
    He found her impossible to resist.  "You really ARE a witch, Helen."
He gave an exaggerated sigh.  "Okay.  What do you want me to do?"
    Helen kissed the tip of his nose several times.  "Thank you, thank
you, thank you."
    He pulled away, laughing.  "Okay, okay.  If you don't stop that we
won't get anything done.  Now, Witch, where do you want me to start?"
    She shrugged.  "It doesn't really matter with scraping."  
    They set to work with a will, Sam going one way, Helen the other,
racing to see who could strip off the most paper.  They fought over the
scrubbing brush, flicking as much water over each other as they did the
walls.  When they met at the other side of the room, Sam claimed victory
of the race.  Helen contradicted him, saying she'd had to do more than
he, as her walls didn't have any windows.  
    Later, as they sat down to eat lunch, Helen gave Sam a copy of the
Washington Post.  "You'd better make sure you know what's going on in
the world."
    He took the newspaper with a puzzled look.
    "The Spanish Inquisition?" she said, raising her eyebrows.  He still
looked puzzled.  "David.  He's coming for dinner.  Remember?"
    Sam grimaced.  "Oh.  Yeah."
    "He's into politics, so he's bound to ask what you think about
what's going on - so you'd better KNOW!"
    Sam studied the paper while he ate, speed reading, absorbing
information without allowing himself to be sidetracked by commenting on
it.  Helen tried to read, too, as he scanned the articles but he turned
the pages before she even had time to finish the lead stories.  She gave
up and watched him, frowning.
    As he finished the last page and folded the paper over, she asked,
"Have you really read all that?"
    "Yes, of course.  I have a photographic memory, so it's easy."  He
saw the disbelief in her eyes and pushed the paper over.  "Try me.  Go
on, tell me what page you want."
    Helen obediently opened the paper.  "Page A15."
    "It's about TV.  By line:  Meg Greenfield.  Main headline: 'Where
have you gone, Boccaccio?  I was as disappointed as you were by 'Soap',
or its first installment, anyway.  Occasionally funny, generally just
silly-suggestive and scarcely distinguishable from the TV farces to
which we have already become accustomed...'  Humph, well it set Billy
Crystal on the path to fame and fortune.  Do you need any more?"
    "Wow!  That's amazing."  Her voice was tinged with awe.
    Sam grinned.  "I'm glad I can do something you think is clever."  He
picked up his fork.
    Her eyes gleamed provocatively.  "Oh, you do lots of things I think
are clever."
    Lunch suddenly forgotten, Sam put down his fork and pulled her onto
his knee.  "Oh, yes?  Like what?" 
    Helen shrugged.  "Oh, nothing much.  Just little things.  Everyday
stuff.  You know, building incredible computers, time travelling."
    Sam nuzzled her neck.  "What else?"  He kissed her throat, gently
licking her soft skin.  The pulse under his tongue began to beat faster.
    Helen's eyes drifted shut.  "Um, playing chess."
    "Anything else?" he whispered.  His mouth worked its way upward and
gently nibbled her ear.
    She shivered.  "Yeah," she replied, her voice smoky.  "Playing the
piano and - and stuff."  
    "Stuff?" queried Sam, his mouth hovering close to hers.  "What sort
of stuff?"
    Helen's eyes opened.  "You know very well," she murmured.  Her eyes
closed again.  "Now, shut up and just do your stuff."
    So he did, taking a long time and great delight in showing her
exactly how clever he could be.