CHAPTER SEVEN The next few days glided by in a haze of pleasurable pursuits. In the mornings Helen insisted they do some form of exercise. Usually they ran, either down to the lake or up to the village. At the store, Sam noticed Helen always spoke gently to Jimmy, the acne-covered clerk, giving him lots of smiles. The gangly kid ducked under the counter and produced exotic fruits or vegetables for her with the air of a novice conjurer, Adam's apple bobbing nervously. Helen thanked him delightedly for the trouble he had taken and gave him large tips with her payments. >From the way Jimmy's face flamed with pleasure at her thanks, it was obvious the boy considered her smile sufficient tip for a whole truck load of fruit and vegetables, never mind a couple of pounds. The day a small carton of lychees appeared on the counter, Helen was ecstatic. "Oohh, Jimmy, my favorites! You clever thing! Look, Sam - lychees! They look just ready to eat, too. Wherever did you find them, Jimmy?" The kid flushed and tried to force words past the Adam's apple. Unable to articulate anything coherent, he gave up and grinned shyly, his color gradually subsiding. Helen leaned across the counter and gently touched the boy's ravaged face. "Thank you very much. That was very thoughtful of you." She gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. "We'll really enjoy eating them." To Sam's surprise, the kid didn't blush, though he looked rather dazed, nor did he stammer when he said good-bye. Once they were outside, Sam said, "You like him, don't you?" "However did you guess?" replied Helen with a grin. "Yes, I do. No-one takes any notice of him because of the way he looks and because he's shy - he's 'just Jimmy' - or they tease him about his stammer. He's a nice kid. He deserves better than that. All he needs is a little self-confidence. If I can boost his ego a little then I will. And it WAS kind of him to get the lychees." She grabbed the bag from him. "Come on, I'll carry these, you might drop them. Let's hurry up and get home, then we can eat them," and she hared off down the road with Sam in hot pursuit. The afternoon of the day following Al's visit, a breeze came up and Helen took Sam down to a small boat-house. Inside was a small, two-man sailing dinghy. Once they had dragged it outside, Sam started to rig the mast and sail without waiting for any directions from Helen, so intent on his task he didn't notice she merely stood, watching. As he finished, she came forward and helped launch the boat onto the lake. They jumped aboard and it rocked dangerously as they both ignored the tiller and tried to take the crew's position. "Take the tiller, Sam, quick - before we lose the wind. I'll crew," said Helen, shoving him towards the tiller. She plonked herself down on the seat. Sam wobbled dangerously as the dinghy rocked again, but regained his quilibrium quickly, balancing on the balls of his feet. He remained standing, swaying with the dinghy's motion. "But I don't sail!" Canvas flapped noisily as the boat drifted. "Wanna bet? You've just rigged this without a word from me and did a perfect beach launch. It'd be a bit strange if you can do all that and not sail." Helen lounged back against the side of the boat, grinning up at him. He had no recollection of sailing, his mind was a complete blank when he thought 'boat'. There was nothing. Zip, zilch, nada. But he had rigged it. Without thinking, his hands had slipped into tasks that needed to be done. He couldn't even say he KNEW what he was doing. Until Helen had pointed it out to him, he hadn't realised he HAD rigged the boat. "But I can't remember sailing or learning or - or anything!" "So?" Helen deliberately rocked the little craft. Sam swayed but maintained his balance perfectly. She waved a hand at him. "Look at you. You're hardly wobbling. Of course you can sail. Stop worrying about whether you can do it or not and just DO it, Sam." He wasn't convinced. Surely he would remember something, anything, if he had sailed before. "Can you read, Sam?" asked Helen suddenly. His brows knit in surprise. "Of course I can read." "So can I. But I can't remember learning how and if you asked me how I do it I couldn't tell you. I don't care that I don't remember learning, I don't need that piece of information anymore, but it doesn't stop me from reading. No-one's recall is perfect, Sam, we've all got gaps - black holes - in our memories." She lifted a shoulder. "Your black holes are just a little bigger than most people's." But he had a photographic memory. It was supposed to be perfect. Helen indicated the tiller. "Look, why don't you just try? The worst that can happen is we'll get wet if you capsize us." She patted the orange life vest she was wearing. "We won't drown, not in these." Sam gave up and prepared himself for a wetting. As he sat, the wind changed direction and the sail billowed out. Instinctively, he grabbed the tiller and pushed it hard to starboard as Helen yanked in the sheet. The little craft immediately responded and they skimmed across the clear blue surface of the lake. "Do I win my bet?" inquired Helen. Sam grinned and pulled the tiller over. "Coming about." They ducked and changed sides as the boom swung across. "It's called the Swiss-cheese Effect." The wind whipped Helen's hair across her face and she tossed the irritating strands out of her eyes. "What is?" "The amnesia." "Oh." She leaned out over the side of the dinghy to balance it as Sam sailed close to the wind. "I bet Al named it that." "You'd win that bet, too. How -" Sam bit back the rest of his sentence. No questions, he'd promised. "How did I know Al called it that? I didn't. It was just a lucky guess. It sounds like the sort of thing Al would say from what you've told me about him. Hey! He's an admiral, isn't he? Maybe you went sailing with him." Sam tried to picture Al in the little boat, wearing a life vest - and failed. He could see Al getting cosy with the real Mae West, but not with one made of orange plastic. "I shouldn't think so. He's a jet jock - and the boats in the Navy are usually a tiny bit bigger than this." The wind picked up even more, filling Sam with exuberant exhilaration as it filled the sail. "It doesn't matter, Helen. I can sail, that's what's important. So prepare yourself for the sail of your life, woman! Let's tack again!" After that, whenever there was enough wind, they sailed all after- noon. If the wind was lazy, so were they. They idled away the hours swinging in the hammock, reading or talking, or watching the ever- changing reflections of the clouds in the lake. Sometimes they hiked through the woods, watching and listening to the birds and small wild- life. They pointed out special things to each other; the bright orange of a lichen, a caterpillar humping its way across a leaf, an industrious grey squirrel gathering early nuts, flocks of migrating geese arrowing across the sky and, once, the flash of a doe in the distance as they startled it into flight. Late one afternoon they took a blanket and made love in the woods by the edge of the lake, while the sun streamed down on them. As it dropped in the sky, it disappeared in temporary eclipse behind Helen's head as she knelt over Sam, throwing her features into shadow as he looked up at her. He caught his breath as, lit from behind, her hair became a corona, a red-gold halo of flame, an apparent physical manifestation of the fire which burned through them, binding them together. Afterwards, he went skinny-dipping in the chilly waters of the lake, swimming with powerful strokes while Helen watched from the shore. When he came back, he shook himself over her, spattering her with water. She squealed at the coldness of the droplets on her sun- warmed skin, trying to capture him in the blanket so she could dry him. Most days, as the sun left the sky, they fished. When the midges drove them back indoors, they cooked their catch, if there was any, for dinner or prepared something else if they had not been lucky. Sam loved to watch Helen while she prepared food. She worked swiftly and efficiently, moving gracefully from refrigerator to bench to stove, giving the task in hand her total concentration, whether it was filleting fish, kneading bread, or slicing vegetables and fruit. While she worked she hummed or sang softly in a low voice and he caught snatches of many different tunes, some folk songs, some pop or rock and sometimes, to his delight, musicals or classical. He never commented on her singing, concerned that if he did she might realise she was doing it and stop. He enjoyed listening to her too much to risk that. Once dinner was over, they sat on the couch or rug. Sam persuaded Helen to let him teach her chess but she never really mastered it, always wanting to protect the pawns, the 'little guys'. Sometimes they played cards, including silly kids' games like 'snap' or 'old maid', and Helen showed him how to play cribbage after she'd found the little wooden score keeper with its tiny pegs. They also had a couple of hilarious games of snakes and ladders when Helen discovered the board and a die in the drawer where she'd found the checkers. One particularly clear night they went back outside after dinner and swung in the hammock. They turned their eyes to the dark expanse of sky visible above the grey shadows of the mountains across the lake, and stargazed. Helen pointed out all the constellations to Sam. He didn't tell her he knew them as well as she. He loved to hear her talk, listening to the soft lilt in her voice. She knew all the myths and legends surrounding the names, which didn't surprise him at all, and recounted story after story. "Look, Sam, there's Perseus. He killed Medusa, the Gorgon who had snakes for hair. She was a 'beautiful horror' who turned men to stone with a single glance. 'Taught by Athena he slew her, and saw not herself, but her image'. Athena gave him her shield and he looked at Medusa's reflection in the polished metal and cut off her head. Then he rescued Andromeda - she's over there - from being a sacrifice for a sea- monster by showing the monster Medusa's head and turning it to stone." The hammock creaked as Helen shifted a little, turning so she could look at Sam. Her next words did surprise him. "Did you know, Sam, there's a planetary nebula in Andromeda that's within our galaxy and it's over 5,000 light years away? There's another galaxy that's in there, too - it's called M31 - and it's even further away, more than 2.2 million light years away from Earth. Isn't that incredible? 2.2 MILLION light years." Sam stared at the face next to his, its features half hidden in the dark. "Yes, it is incredible - but not half as incredible as you knowing about it. I wouldn't have thought you'd be into astronomy, Helen." Even in the dark, he could see her eyes gleam. "I'm not really, and I don't know much." He heard laughter lurking in her voice. "I dated the President of the Astronomy Club at school for a while." "Ah. Was he another of your 'little guys', like Jimmy?" "No, he was over six feet, only most of the time he stooped so you didn't realise. But if you mean, 'Was he a geek?' Yes, he was. He was long-sighted, maybe that's why he liked things so far away, and wore really thick glasses. No-one ever seemed to notice he had the most gorgeous, bluest of blue eyes behind the lenses. I guess no-one ever bothered taking the glasses off - except me." Sam smiled. He silently bet no-one in particular that the Astronomical Pres felt even more astronomical and stood a lot nearer the stars by the time Helen had finished with him. Helen could just see Sam's mouth curving in the darkness. "I like geeks and nerds," she said, slightly defensively. "They've usually got big, sensitive, nervous hands that they're not quite sure what to do with and, once you show them, they're interested in using them to a mutual advantage - rather than groping around for their own arrogant, selfish purposes." Sam had beautiful hands. Not that he was a geek or a nerd. He knew exactly what to do with his skillful fingers. Sam made another bet with no-one in particular that the horny, arrogant, popular jocks who'd tried to get inside Helen's denim shorts at school would not merely have been told where to go - in no uncertain terms - but would have been socked on the jaw, or possibly somewhere infinitely more painful, if they had persisted with their unwanted attentions. An arm and shoulder capable of doing as many push-ups as Helen's would pack a pretty powerful punch. Thank God he was no jock. Helen decided she could wait a while for Sam's hands to work their magic. It was such a beautiful night. She turned her head to the sky once more. "If it was later in the year, we'd be able to see Orion. I know a little about the stars that make up him, too. You know he has a star on each shoulder and knee?" She stabbed her finger in the air at the corners of a vague rectangle and felt Sam nod. "Well, the one up to the left is Bellatrix, that one's Betelgeuse and the ones in his knees are Rigel and Saiph. Aren't they wonderful words? I don't know what the ones in his belt are called, though." "Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka," said Sam promptly. "Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka," repeated Helen softly, committing the names to memory. "Mmm, I like those, too. Thanks, Sam. Orion was killed by a scorpion - Scorpio - after he tried to have his wicked way with Artemis." "He must have been a jock trying to get inside her shorts," murmured Sam. "What did you call him? A jock? I guess he was - the Ancient Greek version, anyway, as he was a hunter. Definitely not a nerd. I like him, though. He's my favorite. He's the first constellation I ever learned about. My Mom showed him to me one night when I was afraid of the dark. It wasn't long after Dad's accident. She said when she was small she used to imagine Orion watching over her while she was trying to sleep and then the dark wasn't so scary." The hammock creaked again as Helen pulled Sam's arm around her. She was beginning to tire of the night sky. She rested her head on Sam's chest. "Mom said that in Australia Orion is always low in the sky and he's upside down. If you want to look at him the right way round you have to crane your neck way, way back. She said it was that - him being upside down, that something she'd seen one way all her life was completely different - it was that more than anything that made her realise she was on the other side of the world from where she was born. I'd like to go there - to the Land of Oz - one day and do that, see the stars upside down." Sam leaned his cheek against the soft curls. "Maybe you will one day, Helen. Maybe you will." Sam's very favourite evenings, much to his surprise, were when Helen picked up the book of John Donne's poetry and read to him. She showed him how to take the poem apart, word by word, and they argued amicably over the meaning of each little phrase. Then she built the lines back up again, extracting every nuance, every shade from the rhyme and rhythm, turning it once more into a glorious whole. Later, when they were in bed, he found certain phrases and words tumbling through his mind, seeming to complement perfectly the incredible feelings that surged through him. As the days passed his feelings for Helen grew stronger. In whatever he did she was by his side and he never tired of her presence. She was intelligent and articulate, her interests wide-ranging, knowledgeable enough to be able to discuss a variety of issues. And she was more than capable of holding her own if she disagreed with something he said. Sometimes, when they were talking of national or international affairs, current affairs to her, modern history to him, he played devil's advocate just to hear her argue her case. She spoke with an insight that surprised him, going straight to the heart of the matter, eyes shining, voice passionate. She listened, too, just as hard as she talked, willing to hear another point of view and reconsider her own position in the light of new evidence, not embarrassed to admit she was wrong. If she knew nothing about a subject, she wasn't afraid to say so. Then she would question him eagerly, wanting to learn. Her sense of humor, which delighted him so much, was never far away, reflected in her eyes and ever-ready laughter. She made their days sufficiently busy so they did not become bored, their activities as varied as their meals, without allowing the pace to become frantic. Sam loved the contrasts of her character; the energy and the tranquillity, the lightheartedness and the passion, the practical and the romantic, the independence and the need for him. He loved seeing her feelings mirrored in her face; fun, compassion, calm, strength. And dominating them all, love. Love that was in her eyes every time she looked his way. She was incredibly honest, never shirking a question, answering any- thing he asked with a direct look, never prevaricating. When she spoke of her mother, she sometimes became a little sad and turned their talk in another direction. Sam felt certain that on this one point she was holding something back but respected her grief and never pushed her to talk, sure she would tell him in her own time. He kept his promise and never asked what she had said to Al, again trusting in her innate honesty to tell him everything when she was ready, as she had promised. If it had anything to do with why he was here, he was in no hurry to find out. He was perfectly happy now to accept he'd been granted a vacation. It was about time. He must have several lifetimes of vacation due him. Every so often the thought niggled into his mind that vacations didn't last forever. He pushed the unwanted thought away and focussed on enjoying his sabbatical while it lasted. He couldn't remember having had a vacation before, not in his own life, though he supposed vaguely that he must have had vacations as a kid. Al had told him that as a teenager he'd always been studying. As an adult, although he couldn't really remember any details, he had the impression that he'd always been busy on some project or another and that he'd loved his workaholic life. Since he'd stepped into the Accelerator and started Leaping, his leisure time had been almost non- existent. When there had been any he'd still had to remember to answer to someone else's name, behave like someone else. He'd still had to watch what he said so he didn't make too many references to events that hadn't yet happened or use phrases inappropriate to the time he was in, ready to cover up mistakes with a quick tongue, never able to relax completely, not even for a moment. Al had done his best to remind him who he was, calling him by name as often as possible, but there had been long periods when Al was not around, when he was called by other names. Now it was different. Like Al, Helen always called him by his own name. Unlike Al, she never disappeared at the wrong moment but remained with him constantly, helping him re-establish his identity. She frequently referred to how he looked, usually in a joking, disparaging manner, dabbing soothing cream on his sunburnt 'Caesar's conk', flicking that 'darn white streak' off his forehead. When they talked, he knew he'd referred to a future event or used an anachronistic phrase by Helen's puzzled or astonished expression. As he realised his blunder, his heart sank like a stone and he tried to cover up. Until, that is, the day Helen threw Welsh words or slang English or Australian phrases at him, laughing at his baffled face, refusing to translate, making him guess what she meant. After that, he stopped worrying about his 'mistakes' or even thinking of them as being mistakes. They were merely events or phrases he knew and Helen didn't. He rarely thought of Helen as being so much younger than himself. When he did remember their disparate ages it surprised him. She felt the same age - but he couldn't decide if this was because he felt younger or she older. They had both experienced the late Fifties, the Sixties and the early Seventies as children and had experiences common to all American kids of that time: watching Neil Armstrong take that first, small step, hearing the Beatles on the radio and, in Helen's case, drooling over them, seeing young men, school friends' older brothers, go off to Vietnam, not seeing some of them come home. Sam was highly amused to discover she had even caught 'Captain Galaxy' re-runs in the early Sixties. Helen was right, they were almost contemporaries. He had simply lived longer, and time would remedy that. After her slip when she had asked about his age, Helen never questioned him about his life, though sometimes he could see she itched to. If he volunteered information she listened hard, seeming to file it away in her mind. However, as the days passed, he referred less and less to his past life, remembering didn't seem so important anymore. He wanted to concentrate on the now, not think of the past - or the future. He was intensely grateful Helen had brought him to the isolated cabin and realised it was deliberate. There was no phone, no radio or TV, no newspapers and no people, other than at the store, to remind him he was in a time not his own, inside a body not his. Sometimes he noticed the dated look of the clothes as he took them out of the wardrobe. Then he would dress quickly, so he couldn't see them. It seemed to him Helen wore clothes that were not particularly fashionable. Again, he was certain she chose them quite deliberately. Most of the time he was able to ignore what she wore by concentrating on the vital personality inside the garments. He knew vaguely that her clothes suited her, that she looked good in them. The only time he was reminded of his real situation was when he shaved, which he came to hate. Whenever he looked in the mirror, Brian Palmer's pale blue eyes stared at him out of Brian Palmer's wishy-washy face. He grit his teeth, used the razor as quickly as possible and turned away, so he could forget again. Other than when he shaved, when he tensed so much his shoulders and back ached, his body became more and more relaxed. In contrast, his mind became more alert and Helen found him more difficult to argue against when he played devil's advocate, though she never yielded if she believed she was right. Remembering the weak and feeble shell of the library, seeing the battered mind and body gradually heal, she didn't care that Sam outstripped her in intellect but was glad he was on the way to being whole once more. Except, that is, when they played 'snap' and his faster physical and mental responses beat hers every time. Then she threw the cards in the air, laughing, and refused to play any more games with him - not of 'snap' anyway. She continued to put him through a punishing fitness routine every day, pushing him to the limits of his endurance, coaxing, cajoling and teasing him into doing that little bit more than he thought he could manage. He swore, gasping for breath, sweating like a pig, calling her all the names under the sun while she laughed. The day came when Sam beat her through the door of the cabin - just - on their run back from the lake. Crowing in triumph, he caught her in his sweaty arms and swung her around, regardless of her protests. He kissed her soundly to shut her up, delighting in the way she responded, knowing the fire surged through her as it did him. They sank down to the floor of the cabin and, as always, when they reached the peak of the sensations that poured through their bodies, they were also joined in mind and heart, melded together, each part of the other, two halves of the same being. Later, Helen lifted her head from where it lay across Sam's ribs and pushed her tangled hair away from her face. "We have to leave tomorrow, dear heart. There are things that need to be done at home."