x"The Day After That" pt. VI August, 1980 Laurel, MD She felt betrayed. Again and again. Things were starting to catch up with her and she hit overload when she saw Al. How had Linny even known unless she'd been snooping, checking up on her? And what now? Would she go back to Dirk after all the courage it took to leave him? Beth fell to her knees in the grass, buried her face in her hands and cried. If nothing else, she needed the release. The pressure was unbearable and now there was no-one else she could trust, no-one else she could go to. It wasn't so much that she'd just become alone, but more that she'd just realized it. She hadn't felt the comforting presence of anyone since Al left for his second tour... And now he was here. Thirty feet away. He'd betrayed her, too. He'd left her again and again and she'd known there'd be a time when he wouldn't come back. Yet, he had. Every time. Eventually, however, the time would come and she could never let him near her again. It hurt too much. "Beth?" Linny dropped beside her in the grass and put her arm around her shoulders, but Beth pulled back. "Leave me alone!" she cried, blinded by tears and rage and turmoil. "How could you do this? I trusted you!" "Beth, I'm sorry, I-" "Like you were sorry on the plane?" she interjected, sitting up and facing her companion. "What good could it possibly do to bring me here?" "What harm could it do?" he countered evenly. "Are you kidding me?!" Beth scrambled to her feet. "I'll show you what harm. I _quit_!" Linny grabbed her arm roughly. "What do you mean you quit? Quit what?" She yanked free, trembling and on edge. "I can't _do_ it anymore, don't you get it? I can't-" She stopped and clutched her stomach as another wave of dizziness and nausea assaulted her. She was a nurse; she knew she wasn't well, but she couldn't seem to stop herself from making it all worse. She swayed precariously and probably would have fallen except Al appeared from nowhere and caught her arm. He looked almost as shocked as she did at the action. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out; for several seconds the only sound was that of her frantic breathing. "Are you sick?" he asked finally. She certainly did look it. "If you need my help, I'll give it to you," he said quietly, hurriedly. There was a pained look etched in every line of his face. "Let go," she whispered. He hesitated. "My God, let go!" she shrieked suddenly and he let her go as if she'd suddenly turned into a rattlesnake. She backed up several steps and almost tripped on the uneven soil. "Everyone just stay away from me!" Linny took a step towards her, waving at Al to back off, for which she was grateful. Some part of her mind that was trying to protect her refused to acknowledge his presence at all. "Beth, you're sick, okay? And we can't go anywhere until we take care of that. You've been feeling sick all day, haven't you?" She wasn't sure - she thought she'd been okay on the plane. She shrugged. "Come on," Linny continued soothingly, "we need to take your temperature. Beth, you're getting hysterical. Come on..." Her words were finally beginning to break through and some rational thought drifted back into her senses. This was madness. And she was contributing to it. "I'm sorry," Beth whispered, allowing Linny to take her arm and lead her back inside to the couch. She laid down on it. Linny smiled down at her. "You don't have to be sorry, Beth. None of this is your fault. I know it's going to be hard, but you'll get through it, okay?" Beth didn't believe her. "I can't stay here," she insisted in mellow tones. Her friend just looked sympathetically at her with an expression almost maternal in nature. The admiral had long since left. The entire scene was becoming far too painful and Sam realized more than ever just how much of a difference there was between 2000 and 1980. The admiral wanted nothing more than to soothe her and take away her pain. The commander may have wanted that, too, but then the main difference between the two exerted itself. Commander Calavicci was still angry at Beth. Angry at her for leaving, at giving up on him. But he was hiding it well. "What happened?" the commander asked quietly of Sam, watching Beth, who had finally fallen asleep on the couch. "She had a panic attack," Sam told him in equally subdued tones. "Well...what's wrong with her?" Sam sighed deeply. "Her husband beats her." The anger began to build like a storm in his eyes. "He _what_?" Sam's hand shot out and grabbed his arm. "And that doesn't help," he hissed angrily. "She's ready to give up on everything and yelling and screaming is _not_ going to improve matters. That's what I brought her here to get her away from. She's very sick in both mind and body and she's got eleven years of suppressed anguish that she's gonna start facing soon. So, are you going to help me or not?!" "Y-yes," he stammered. Then, more firmly, "Of course." He frowned. "What am I supposed to do? Is she..." He stopped and drew in a breath. "Is she scared of me?" Sam rubbed his hands together anxiously. "Yes and no. I think she's more scared of whatever part of herself she's keeping buried." "I don't understand." "Neither do I. Something terrifies her and I don't know what." He stared absently towards the front door. "Did she... Did she love him?" Before this leap, Sam would have said ‘yes', but now...he really didn't have the answer. "I don't know." Al left early for work that morning which, in the end, turned out to be better. At least that would give Beth some recovery time without him around. Sam wondered how long he would stall before coming home that afternoon. As far as he could tell, Beth'd slept straight through from the evening before and Sam wondered if she might have even been okay if Al hadn't started yelling. Sam took a deep breath and bent over Beth's peaceful form. "Beth?" he called. She jumped slightly her eyes flew open. Sam backed up several steps, giving her room. "It just me," he reassured her. She looked around the room as if she didn't recognize it, then he could see the recollection enter her face. She sat up. "I'm sorry...I don't really remember much of-" "You had a panic attack," Sam explained calmly, pushing a glass of water into her hand. The liquid inside the glass vibrated. "San Diego," he heard her whisper faintly. "Oh, no, it's San Diego all over again." Sam pulled up a foot rest and sat on it, perched at eye level with her. "Beth, will you tell me what happened there?" "It's where I married Dirk," she said as if she was giving a history lesson of some stranger. He slid the seat a notch closer. "I did some digging..." "I can tell." "What?" he asked, alarmed. "How else could you have known about _him_?" "You mean you didn't-" Sam cut himself off. "Of course not," he muttered. She didn't trust even Linny with that kind of glimpse at her true regrets. "You were hospitalized once, weren't you?" "Who told you that?" she demanded, trying to look angry, but looking scared instead. Then she continued on without waiting for any reply. "Linny, we can't stay here." "Sure we can." "No...no, I don't think we can. You saw what happened yesterday. Everything's just going to pieces and I can't stay." "Where will you go?" Her eyes filled with tears, but she blinked them back. "I don't know. Home, I guess." "And where is home?" She looked up sharply. "You're relentless!" He smiled. "I'm your friend." She twisted her fingers into an anxious knot. "Um, it was over a year after Dirk and I married and I was just trying to get used to not having work and not spending time with coworkers and friends." It took Sam a few seconds to catch up with the conversation and realize she was giving him the information he'd requested. "This is after you left the Navy, right?" Sam said, mainly for his own clarification. "Yes. And that's the problem, you see." He didn't. And he said so. "If I'd still been in touch with people from the Navy, I would have had some warning." Sam's brow furrowed. "About what?" Beth looked directly at him and spoke two words that wouldn't have meant anything to Linny, but meant everything to Sam. "The picture." *Maggie.* Sam struggled to control his reaction. Beth continued, as if Sam didn't comprehend the statement. "There was a reporter in Vietnam. And she took a picture in April and by the time it filtered down the lines and made it through military red tape and by the time everyone in it had been identified and by the time it had won a Pulitzer, it was the middle of the year. "It was a photograph. Of Al." She swallowed harshly, but her composure had yet to slip. "He was still alive, Linny! And even if I had been notified the instant the picture was taken, it still would have been too late." Sam breathed in fresh air through his nostrils, surveying the disarrayed apartment with half-packed boxes and dirty dishes in the sink. And he wondered if Beth and Admiral Calavicci had both been right. Maybe this had been a bad idea. Commander Calavicci was obviously in a massive state of adjustment and transition and bringing Beth into the picture was certain to cloud matters for him. "How did you find out?" Her laugh was far from comforting. "Saw it in a magazine. I'm not too sure of what happened after that. I think...I started screaming. I screamed until someone came. The next month or so is kind of a blur..." She shrugged and fingered the necklace again. "So you understand why I can't stay here." "You can't run away from this, Beth. Maybe this was the wrong time to bring you here, but it had to be done sometime." *There really is nothing left of Beth Calavicci,* Sam thought with dismay. *This Beth Simon person is different in every respect. Almost every respect.* She shook her head. "No." "Beth..." "No!" she cried out. "Linny, please." Sam held her shoulders in a restraint, not relenting when she tried to wrench herself free. "You still love him, don't you?" "_Please_." Desperation was starting to creep into her eyes, but she'd stopped struggling. Sam didn't know whether to take that as a good sign or a bad one. It seemed she didn't do enough struggling in this situation except in her efforts to escape the past. "You made a mistake and so did he. But that doesn't mean that-" "That what?" she demanded. "Linny, think! How old are you? Twenty-one? You don't understand any of this." "Maybe not, but I..." He paused as the Imaging Chamber Door slid open. "Sam..." Al broke off when he saw Beth's troubled expression. "Is she okay?" "-I just want to help you," Sam finished. "Then take me back." "I wouldn't do that, Sam. We need to talk." He looked up from the ‘link and stared at Beth, longer this time. "What a mess," he muttered. What, exactly, he was referring to, Sam couldn't say. "I can't do that," Sam said, responding to her statement. "Why don't you go take a long shower and we can talk some more after, okay?" She mumbled some kind of vague assent and left Sam alone with the admiral. "I think I understand," Sam said quietly. Al watched her as she left the room. "Understand what?" "Why she stayed with Dirk. It was her penance." "For what?" he asked absently. Sam looked at his friend. "For you." "Me?" Al was taken aback and his gaze snapped towards the leaper. "For giving up on you, for losing faith. She felt...she had to pay for her mistake and living with her decision was the only way she knew how to do it." Al stared off into the distance. "Sam, I have a confession to make. I would never wish any harm on her, but after I came home from hell and she was gone...well, there was a part of me that-" He shook himself. "And to some extent, that part never quite left and now I almost feel-" he fished for the right word "-justified? God, Sam, does that make me a bad person?" "No," Sam assured him readily. "It just makes you a human person." "Yeah, well, that's little comfort." Sam let a short silence signal his change of direction. "She doesn't want to stay." Al shoved the handlink into his pocket. "Yeah." "And I'm wondering if she's right." "Sam!" Al's face reddened and all passive nuances vanished. "You're not gonna let her-" "No, Al," Sam cut in, "of course not. But I'm just not so sure it's a good idea for us to stay here." "Where would you go?" Sam shrugged and flopped gracelessly onto the couch. "I don't know." He raised his eyes, then frowned. "You don't want me to take her away from here, do you?" When Al refrained from answering, he squinted at the admiral, puzzled. "I don't get it. A few days ago you couldn't try and talk me out of it fast enough. Why the change of heart?" Al avoided his gaze. "There was a time, when I married her, that I couldn't imagine a life without her. Then I was living it. Part of me just kept saying, years later, that she was better off. Then you leaped into Linny and I felt that it was no good bringing her to me again, in spite of her circumstances." Al shifted uncomfortably and breathed in cigar smoke with something akin to desperation. "And I didn't think I could bear to see her again and risk the chance that...she might not love me anymore. Because as long as I didn't know for sure, I could have my own truth." Sam thought back on her frantic reaction when she'd seen Al, then to her story of seeing Maggie Dawson's picture. "So what made you change your mind?" Al's face altered into sheepish admission. "The ring. If facing me brings up memories of guilt and sorrow, I don't want her to have to deal with it, but if she's clinging to a symbol - now... I just don't see how I could possibly deny my desire to help her. Then and now. I mean, maybe..." He hesitated. "Maybe she still needs me." Sam was moved by Al's sentiments, but he refused to show it, trying not to make Al any more self-conscious than he already was. "Then we won't leave. But I don't know how to fix this situation, Al. She's scared to go, scared to stay, and I don't think she feels she has anywhere else to turn. That can be dangerous. And every time I try and talk with her, she gets defensive and angry. Or just sarcastic." Al lowered his cigar, small eddies of smoke curling up to the ceiling and through it. "I told you before, that's all just a cover for her. And the more hostile she gets, the closer you are to making her face what's really getting to her. Granted, the way she reacts seems to be more harsh than I remember, but she probably had to do that to survive with that monster. Trust me, Sam, the downpour's on the horizon." He shook his head. "I could never stand it when she cried," he added. Then he smiled slightly. "Sometimes I think she just did it to get her way." "Did she?" Sam asked, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "At least I didn't try to _make_ her cry," Al choked in angrier tones than he had intended. The heavy curtain of anger and regret blanketed the room again. "I'm sorry, Al," Sam said after a moment. Al pulled himself from the approaching pall. "For what?" "I could've changed this. I could've-" "Sam," Al said firmly, "_this_ is not your fault. Any more than what happened to me was Beth's. We all make decisions and those of us who don't know the future are bound to make mistakes." Sam smiled faintly. It wasn't even so much that Al had forgiven him, but that it had never occurred to the observer to blame him in the first place. He wished he could change his original decision - save Al some grief and Beth some pain. He'd made a mistake and it was at times like this when he wondered who was left to clean up after _his_ errors. "Which is what I needed to talk to you about," Al resumed. "What?" "Ziggy told me that in three days, Beth still dies." +Wow....I promise not to pester now, but to do so later and THEN I get comments.
And I'm not complaining... a couple is better than none and it lets me know people out there ARE reading and enjoying them. So many heartfelt thanks to those of you who DO write with comments - it warmed my heart to read them! -amkt