"Less Than Perfect" Christina L. Bartruff Chapter XVI DECEMBER 17,1955 KEARNEY, NEW JERSEY ``Sam, are you gonna let me in on this? I can't figure out why you think this is the reason you're still here. I mean, Dwight isn't the most successful lawyer, but he's done alright. And Ziggy is giving me nothing but statistics and facts. She isn't giving me *reasons* why it should be changed.'' ``But he's not doing what he wanted to do, Al,'' Sam reminded him quietly, as they stepped out into the cold afternoon. Or rather, as Sam stepped out into the snowy afternoon. He did not join Dorothy. Instead, Sam hung back close to the house, hopefully out of earshot. Al glanced briefly at Sam, who was frowning, lost in thought. *Probably trying to figure out how to convince a little kid that his idol is a nozzle.* Al watched to pair for several minutes. It got him thinking, and he queried Ziggy on Dwight's high school information, and had her run scenarios on the people he represented as a lawyer. So far, Ziggy hadn't been too forthcoming about how Dwight's career choice would impact others. ``Now Dwight,'' Lowell was saying to the little boy, ``If you want to win, you've got to remember what I'm teaching you.'' ``What ever happened to lessons in cooperation?'' Sam asked Lowell, walking up to stand next to Dorothy. ``Or playing, because you like the game? It's not all about winning.'' Dwight looked at his `grandmother', considering `her' words. Al looked from the scientist to the little boy. *What is he up to?* ``Mrs. Grayson, please. You don't understand football.'' He was polite, but there was a note of condescension in his tone. ``Now, if you'll excuse us, we're practicing.'' He handed the football to Dwight, dismissing Sam. A quick glance at Dorothy told Al that Lowell had just crossed an invisible line that she had drawn, Al he was willing to bet that the man was about to find himself in the middle of an argument. Dwight looked at the ball, troubled. ``I don't wanna practice anymore,'' he blurted out, startling the grownups. ``You don't have to, honey,'' his mother soothed. ``C'mon, Dwight,'' Sam said, taking the little boy's hand, ``let's go play a game inside.'' ``That's a good idea,'' Lowell said, ``Why don't you take a little break and we can finish practicing later?'' ``I don't want to,'' Dwight said. ``Ever.'' He looked at his mother, nearly on the edge of tears. ``I don't like football, mommy.'' ``That's okay, honey,'' she said, bending down to his eye level. ``You don't have to play.'' Lowell was obviously angry, but under the circumstances, there wasn't anything he could say or do. Taking the boy by the hand, Sam led him back into the house. Al trailed, wondering what was going on in Sam's head and waiting on data from the computer. Lowell and Dorothy stayed out of doors. Eudora was waiting for them, grinning. She gave her `sister' a knowing look before going back to into the kitchen. ``Why don't you go get a game, Dwight,'' Sam instructed him, ``and bring it into the living room.'' Once he was out of earshot, Sam turned to Al. ``Well? How am I doing so far?'' ``Dorothy and Lowell are out back, arguing,'' Al informed him, not taking his eyes off the link. Ziggy was now throwing everything at them. Figures. ``It looks like the chances of them marrying have fallen slightly. Ziggy predicts things will turn out better for his clients if Dwight *doesn't* become a lawyer.'' Al shook his head. Poor kid. ``And it still looks like he'll play football, if his mother and Lowell get together. Oh. Ziggy's got information on the kids who got hurt. It's coming up now.'' Sam motioned toward the bathroom, as he heard Dwight's footsteps on the basement's stairs. ``The first kid, Edgar Sawyer, faired well. Uh, it looks like he gave up football, after getting hurt, and went on to become a . . .CPA?'' ``What are the odds he should have been a professional football player?'' Sam asked, with an amused look. ``Please,'' Al snorted. ``He gets hurt *once* and ditches the game to study accounting. What do *you* think his odds are? The next kid, an All-Star quarterback, broke his arm in several places . . .'' Al trailed off and frowned. This sounded familiar to him. ``He was being scouted by the big schools and was being considered by . . .'' He stopped again. Sam was peering at him, concerned. ``Al, what's wrong?'' Al shook his head, trying to remember. ``Anyway, he was benched for the rest of the season and missed his chance at a football scholarship. He went to Vietnam instead.'' Sam's face was somber. ``And he died there.'' Ziggy wasn't saying. In fact, the flow of information that had be steadily streaming in front of Al's eye, stopped abruptly. No probability, no dates, no names. Just a little blank screen. The computer seemed to be waiting for him. So, was Sam. A knock on the door startled them, and both men looked at it. ``Yes?'' Sam said. ``Grandma, are you almost done?'' ``Just give me a few more minutes. Go ahead and set up, okay?'' ``Okay.'' Sam turned back to Al. ``Is that it?'' Al shrugged. ``Ziggy just stopped giving me data. See?'' He showed the handlink to Sam. The scientist squinted at the machine. ``It says `Kenneth Murphy','' Sam read aloud. Suddenly, as if someone had just knocked the wind out of him, Al found he couldn't breathe. ``Al?'' There was a note of panic in Sam's voice. ``Al, please tell me what's wrong?'' He was practically begging, in low tones. Al blinked at him, trying to refocus. The look on his friend's face brought him back to reality. ``Kenneth Murphy,'' Al choked out, ``was ... is , Michael's older brother.'' A blank look replaced the panicked one. ``Your last leap, Sam,'' Al reminded him. It was Sam's turn to look like he'd been punched in the stomach. He gripped the sink basin for support. ``I - I didn't know anything about this, Sam. I told Ziggy *not* to research for a connection.'' Sam nodded. ``I know you did, Al.'' The handlink chirped. There was a message from Donna on the screen. ~Al, I need to speak to you.~ ``Listen, Sam, I need to . . . get with . . .'' He stopped. ``I need to go, Sam.'' Sam nodded, giving him a look of understanding. ``Go. I take care of everything here,'' he promised. ``I'll be back,'' Al insisted, just before punching out. Donna was waiting at the bottom of the ramp. ``It was my idea.'' ``Why?'' he demanded, not harshly. ``Because, it's something Sam would have wanted to do for you,'' she said, touching his arm. ``Because, we, I, owe you so much and I wanted to do something for you.'' ``Donna --'' ``Al, if things remain the way they are, if you continue to remember what you once had, it could end up hurting Sabina and destroying you.'' ``But things are better,'' he protested, out of form. ``Yes. While Sam's in a leap. But what happens between leaps, when you're not in the Imagining Chamber or the Observation Room, doing everything you can for Sam? God knows I consider Sabina a good friend and I know the two of you were happy together, but it's all different now.'' She looked deeply into his eyes. ``I'm comforted in the knowledge that Sabina was happy in her other life, too.'' Al stood there, studying her, too moved to speak. She was trying to give him back the life he lost, out of friendship, and it would be inconsiderate to argue with her about it. His only fear was that Sam couldn't pull it off, and his one regret was that he hadn't said good-bye to Sabina. ``Thank you, Donna,'' Al whispered. ``You're welcome.'' Suddenly, he didn't feel like going back into the Imaging Chamber. The walls seemed be closing in on him, and he need more air. He handed her the link and left the Control Room. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ``Do you understand what I'm telling you, Dwight?'' Sam asked, as they sat on the floor across the coffee table from each other. ``Yes, grandma.'' Sam tousled the little boy's hair. He wished he knew how successful this little talk had been. *None too well, I'd imagine,* he thought, picking up the ‘Go Fish' cards. *I'm still here.* Sam hoped Al was okay. Under the circumstances, Sam should have realized that he was given the chance to undo the accident. After all, he'd been putting things right all this time, why stop now? However, he did wonder if Ziggy had took the initiative to start the research, or did Al have another guardian angel back at the project? While Sam thought of more things he could say to help Dwight, he heard a car door slam and, a few minutes later, the sound of tires screeching as it took off. Several minutes after that, Dorothy slowly came into the room, sad and tear streaked. ``What's wrong, mommy? Where's Lowell'' Sam knew. And he knew he'd be leaping soon. ``Lowell's not coming back, honey.'' * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The wind picked up and Al shivered. He wondered if he'd know when Sam leaped. Glancing at his watch, he estimated he'd been out here about half an hour. So far, no one paged him or come looking for him. Al wasn't sure if it was a good sign or a bad one. There were footsteps crunching the gravel behind him. He closed his eyes. A light hand touched his arm. Even through the thick jacket and shirt, he recognized her touch. Without opening his eyes, Al pulled Beth into his arms and buried his face in her hair. *Thank you, Sam.* ================================== What? You *honestly* thought I'd keep Beth dead???