"Off the Beaten Path" pt. IV

May, 1988
Charlotte, NC

  Sam was closing the hood when Al popped in beside him, a self-satisfied
grin on his face.
  "What?" Sam grumbled, wiping his hands on a rag. He was trying not to
act grumpy, but it was getting late and he was getting tired.
  Al raised an eyebrow, but let it pass. "We have your location."
  Sam exhaled, letting some of the tension flow out of him. "That's
great. Where are we headed, now that I'm finally ready to go?"
  "We're going to Nant, SC. It's about five hours East of here, right on
the coast."
  Sam sighed and then got in the car. "Okay, then, which way do I go?"
  "You're still going tonight? Gee, Sam, it's kinda late, isn't it?"
  Sam glanced around, as if just realizing it himself. It was now pitch
black out, a few scattered stars that had survived dousing from city
lights dispersed across the sky. A chilling breeze cut straight through
to Sam's bones and he exhaled heavily. "What choice do I have? We only
have two days left. You said it happens day after tomorrow, right?"
  "I don't want to waste any more time. We may need it later." He started
the car and it jolted, then died. Sam bit his lip and tried again. This
time, it came to life and he smiled up at Al. "Like a kitten," he
  Al rolled his eyes. "Just make sure you check into a motel or something
if you start getting tired. You're not going to do Evelyn any good if you
fall asleep at the wheel." 
  Sam just nodded, resisting the urge to make a "mother hen" comment. 
  With the admiral providing the directions, he made his way to the
highway and started East.
  "You know, Al, I was thinking... Daniel. What if he doesn't accept
Evelyn coming home? How can we be certain this is the best thing for both
of them?"
  "Sam, Evelyn overdosed, and she did it because she was so distraught
over her father's death."
  He eyed Al, positioned on the passenger's seat beside him. "Seriously?"
  "'Course," Al replied matter-of-factly. "Sam, this guy, Daniel, he's no
father-of-the-year, but he's not a monster. He's a decent guy just trying
to deal with everything life has thrown at him. Maybe Evelyn just needed
to find something of herself that she'd lost..."
  "I don't know," Sam said doubtfully. "If things were that bad at home,
that she felt her only option was to run away, what makes you so certain,
you know, that this'll all work out if she comes back?"
  "Sam, I want to tell you a story. When Meg was, oh, I guess she was
about 10 or 11, she got into this huge argument with Beth and I over how
late we'd allow her to be out with friends."
  "Meg's the...youngest?"
  Al looked carefully at Sam. "Close. She's the second youngest, one of
the twins, remember?" He didn't wait to see if Sam could confirm that he
remembered anything, but kept talking. "Anyhow, she became so angry that
she stormed out of the house and rode off on her bike. _I_ was more upset
than Beth was - she kept telling me Meg'd be back when she was good and
ready and that she just needed this time to herself. Well, we waited for
an hour. An hour turned into two, then three, and before we knew it, it
was dark out." He cleared his throat and tucked away the handlink. "Beth
called the police and waited at home for them to arrive and I took the
car out to look for her.
  "I tried all the directions I could think of and eventually it started
raining, just really pouring down. Thunder, lightning, the works. I
finally found her about three miles from home, walking her bike because
she'd wiped out on it and couldn't fix it herself. I was still mad and
she was still hurt, and maybe just a touch angry herself, but when I
pulled onto the side of the road and got out, the first thing she did was
drop the bike and run over. She was sobbing like a baby!" Al stopped and
a small sigh escaped him.
  "What did you do?" Sam asked, feeling as if he knew the answer before
it was said.
  The corner of Al's mouth lifted in a faint smile. "I hugged her, Sam."
Sam's face became a brighter copy of Al's own. "I hugged her for all she
was worth and few things in my life have ever felt better than that. What
if...what if this is never what Evelyn intended? Her past shows she was
never a bad kid, never a troublemaker. What if she just took a spill on
her bike and doesn't know how to get back home again?"
  "Well," Sam said slowly, half reflecting on Al's meaning, half focusing
on traffic, "then I guess we'll just have to go look for her."
  "Right," Al agreed. "Just make sure you keep one eye on the roadside
and one on the approaching storm front."

June, 2000
Stallions Gate, NM

  Al Calavicci watched Daniel through the Observation Deck. Again. This
time, it was Verbena running the tests and asking the questions. She was
doing more listening than either of the other two, though.
  Beth had been conspicuously absent all day. She hadn't mentioned going
out, but the word on the street - as it were - was that she had gone
  Or not.
  A small smile materialized almost against his will and he turned in the
chair to face her. "Where ya been?" he asked, taking her outstretched
  "Working in the lab."
  He pulled her onto his lap and she flushed slightly at the action.
"Something wrong with Daniel?" he questioned.
  "What? Oh, no. I was just working on some personal research." She
hesitated. "Don't make me ask you again," she said finally.
  His expression held little less than sheer incredulity. "Unbelievable,"
he muttered, "are you still hounding me about my _health_?"
  "You still haven't taken me seriously about it."
  "There's nothing to be serious about."
  She nodded towards the Waiting Room below. "What about him?"
  He repositioned her and clasped his hands loosely, his arms around her
waist. "Daniel?" he asked, honestly lost.
  "You only got a couple hours of sleep earlier, I know. Ziggy says you
don't have anything more pressing to attend to, and yet I find you here,
watching Daniel. Again."
  "Not again," he countered. "The first time I was watching you." She
frowned. "I was thinking about Meg, okay? I was telling Sam earlier about
the time she ran away, remember?"
  "Of course." Beth watched his eyes intently as he stared at some remote
point. She still didn't like what she saw there. "Is that why you're
being so distant now?"
  He sighed. "I suppose."
  "That was a long time ago, Al," she reminded him, laying her head on
his shoulder.
  "I know." He paused. "Aside from a bit of a heavy heart from thinking
about that, there's nothing wrong with me, Beth. Why is that so hard for
you to accept?"
  She took several deep breaths, and then squeezed his arm. "Okay, I'll
stop pestering. Will that satisfy you?"
  "No. I want you to stop _worrying_."
  "I'll try. Now will you go get some rest before you drop from
  He smiled again. "Depends. Will you join me?"
  She laughed. "I'll do some work in our quarters, but if I join you I
know you won't get any sleep."
  He pretended to be hurt by the comment. "That was just cold, Mrs.
  "Tough." She pulled back and stood up. "Come on."
  "Yes, ma'am." He stood up beside her, taking a moment to work the kinks
out of his back. Then he leaned forward and kissed her.
  With her customary lack of tact, Ziggy intruded on the moment.
  He pulled back with an audible groan. Beth smiled mischievously. "It
wouldn't have worked anyhow, Al," she admonished.
  "What makes you think I was trying anything?"
  "I know you."
  "I'm still here, you know?" Ziggy prodded, her tone sultry.
  "We know, Ziggy," Beth replied, a tinge annoyed.
  Al wiped a hand over his face. "What is it?"
  "You may find it necessary to check in on Dr. Beckett."
  Al glanced habitually at his watch, even though that told him very
little about what was going on with Sam. His mind was so cloudy that he
couldn't even remember what time it was for him in relation to the
project. "Is he okay?" 
  "I am unable to answer that with any degree of certainty. All I can
tell you is that his heart rate is accelerating and he appears to be
  "Where is he?" 
  "About 50 miles out of Raleigh."
  Al started moving, Beth trailing along behind. "Is he hurt?"
  "I cannot be certain, but I don't believe so."
  Al stopped in the Control Room, grabbed the handlink, and turned to
Beth. "I'll have to take a rain check on that nap."
  She kissed him briefly. "I'm holding you to it." The instant he
vanished into the Imaging Chamber, the worried gaze she'd been holding
back reasserted itself.
  Verbena entered the room and, seeing the look, stopped dead in her
tracks. "Is something wrong with Sam? Ziggy just told me his lifesigns
were a bit erratic."
  "We think he's fine, but Al's checking."
  "Ah." She watched Beth a moment longer. Beth continued to stare
absently towards the Imaging Chamber Door. "You know," Verbena continued,
"maybe you could come join me for some lunch? I know you've been hard at
work all morning in your lab. We could talk for a while."
  Beth was so distracted that she missed the decidedly clinical tone of
her friend's voice. "Sure," she said, finally turning to face the
psychologist. "I could do with a bite to eat."
  Verbena offered her a smile and led the way out of the Control Room.

May, 1988
Nant, NC

  It had been a while since Eve had enjoyed such a relaxing atmosphere,
but instead of putting her at ease, she just began to feel angrier and
angrier. She was upset with herself for being so stubborn, for making
such a stupid choice in the first place. And she was frustrated with her
father, that every time she called, all she heard was a recording.
  She stifled a heavy sigh and reached awkwardly for her glass of orange
juice. The cast made it difficult to do much, but she was determined not
to let it slow her down. Joseph had come back as promised for breakfast,
but then left soon after room service delivered it to them. He had
intended to take her out, he explained, but had been off to a late start
that morning. She refrained from commenting that it was still only 5:30.
  All the while he had been with her, he kept rubbing his hands together,
as if he was anxious or upset. His conversation had been short and tight
and she eventually gave up trying to have one. Granted, she hadn't seen
him all that many times, but he had never been so...closed up. That tiny
feeling that it had been a mistake to trust him returned, but she pushed
it away again. He had been the only one who cared, the only one willing
to help her. She'd been childish and immature in all her decisions; she
realized that now, but he hadn't judged. He had...cared.
  Eve curled up on the bed, abandoning the remainder of her breakfast,
cradling her wrist to herself. It was starting to throb again. The doctor
had said it was broken in three places, and it sure felt like it. Not
only that, but she discovered a bruise earlier that morning that covered
a large enough portion of her back from when she'd been thrown against
the wall. She closed her eyes, wishing Joseph was still there.
  Actually, she would rather her father was there. And her sister.
  And her mother. God, she missed them all.
  The psychologist had told her, after her mother and sister died, that
she needed to allow herself to cry, to grieve, but her father never had.
Instead, he had taken a firm hold on Eve and refused to let go, ever. It
felt like he was trying to make up with Eve for mistakes made with the
rest of their family. But Eve never blamed him for their deaths, no
matter what he thought. It was hardly anyone's fault.
  It had been storming, though, and her father had tried to talk them out
of going. Her mother said he was being silly and they would be back
shortly, that they had a few errands to run. He'd dropped the subject
after that.
  How could anyone blame himself for that?
  The psychologist had said a lot of things, most of which never
registered through the strong grief she was still experiencing. Her
father had never cried, though, and she hadn't either, no matter what
rational part of her insisted it was the healthy thing to do.
  She curled up a little tighter, fighting back the tears that were
beginning to threaten now. After a few moments of stillness, Eve sat up
and reached for the phone again. She dialed home, then her father's cell
phone, just as she had been doing repeatedly ever since arriving at the
hotel. As always, there was no answer.
  Eve had not felt so alone since she had initially decided to leave
home. Not stopping to think that he might be angry if she tried to reach
him at work, Eve dug out the number Joseph had given her. It was probably
his home number, but maybe someone would be willing to give her his work
  She hesitated only a moment, then dialed. The phone rang twice, then a
female voice answered. "Hello?"
  Eve almost hung up. She didn't know why she was so shocked, except that
she'd noticed at breakfast that Joseph didn't have a wedding ring. Then
she realized how hurt she was. *It's just a hero worship thing,* she told
herself. *You're being silly. He tried to help you, and now-* She cut off
that line of thought, and cleared her throat. "I'm trying to reach
Joseph," she said quietly, angry at how much her voice shook.
  "You have the wrong number," she said, sounding as if she was trying to
keep her temper in check, and failing.
  "Sorry," she said meekly, and replaced the receiver.