CHAPTER TEN "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 nostrils. "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 mug. "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 coffee. 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 hologram?" 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 question. 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 DECORATING?" "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 please." 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.