CHAPTER NINE After supper, Sam sat on the wide piano bench and opened the lid of the instrument. He looked at the yellowing ivory keys and prayed they were in tune. Holding his breath, he touched middle C gently, and let it go in relief when the note sounded true. He played a few scales, listening carefully to the sounds the old up-right produced, pleased when all the notes rang out clear and in harmony. Well, it was no Steinway but had been well looked after and tuned regularly. Moving his hands ever faster up and down the keyboard, he played more scales, warming his fingers. He stopped and rubbed his hands against his thighs. He stared at his fingers - Brian Palmer's fingers - long and bony with nails just as badly bitten as they had been in the library. He knew his own hands didn't look like that. One night, Helen had described what she saw. They were almost the only part of him about which she never joked. "They're big hands, Sam, and very gentle, with a wide span. The fingers are long and strong and flexible - and they have square tips. Musician's hands, I think." Al had told him he could play the piano. He seemed to remember he had played once in a Leap. So let's find out if he could do it again. He took a deep breath, emptying his mind. Shutting his eyes, he lifted his hands and touched the keys. He played for hours or, possibly, just a few minutes. He didn't concentrate on hitting the right notes or playing anything in particular but simply let his fingers move where they willed, instinctively producing glorious sounds; first soft and gentle, rising gradually to a great, thundering crescendo of notes, before modulating to a sweet, lyrical melody. The music flowed through him, rose again, triumphant, then returned to the same soft, gentle tones with which it had begun. As the last notes died away, he came back to earth and opened his eyes. *God, I'd forgotten how good that could feel.* He looked around. Helen was curled up on the couch with William on her knee. They were both watching him. "That was beautiful," Helen breathed. "What was it?" She gently pushed William down and came over to stand by Sam's side. He slid along the piano bench so she could sit by him. "I'm not sure. Mainly Beethoven, I think. Maybe a bit of Beckett." "I've never heard anyone play like that on this old thing before." Sam ran his hands idly over the keys, softly playing chords and arpeggios. "Can you play?" "Me? No." Helen's eyes twinkled. "Mom tried to make me and I had lessons for a while, but whenever I was supposed to be practicing I'd hide and she'd find me somewhere with my nose in a book. She gave up in the end. Mom could play, she loved it, but she couldn't play like that." She fell silent, watching his hands, listening to the sounds he made with them. As Sam played, his gaze wandered over the photos on top of the piano. He smiled as he noticed again Helen's striking resemblance to her father. His gaze wandered higher, to the little oil painting that hung on the wall. The old woman looked down at him with her compelling grey eyes, the expression in them kind, thoughtful, and incredibly shrewd. He nodded at the portrait. "Who's that?" "Old Angharad, my great, great grandmother. You know the chest in my bedroom? Well, that belonged to her. I'm Helen Angharad Carter after her. She was a witch. A real one." "Witch! Oh, come on, Helen, there's no such-" At the serious look on her face, Sam swallowed the rest of his derisive remark. A belief in witches. Typical Helen. Well, it wouldn't do any harm to indulge her. Thinking about it, 'witch' had been one of the things Al had called her that morning at the cabin. "She looks too nice - too good - to be a witch." "Witches aren't always bad, Sam. Some are good, like Glinda the Good in the 'Wizard of Oz'. There are lots of stories my Welsh relatives tell about Old Angharad, my Auntie Eurwen knows them all. The best is that she was descended from Merlin. He was the very first time- traveller, you know, even before Mr Wells. He lived his life in reverse. That's how he knew what the future held, he'd already lived it." Helen grinned suddenly. "Maybe you're descended from him, too!" "Do you really believe in witches and magic and things?" queried Sam a little cautiously. "Or are you just kidding?" "Am I kidding? Here I am, sitting next to a time traveller, and he asks if I believe in magic. Of course I do!" "But time-travel's physics - not magic." "It might be physics to you, Dr 'Nobel Prize' Beckett, but it sure isn't to me! Isn't magic what we call anything we don't understand? Well, I don't understand how time-travel works - except it's got some- thing to do with a piece of string - so as far as I'm concerned it's magic. Even some things we DO understand the scientific explanations for are still magical - rainbows, sunsets, beautiful music. Play some more, Sam. The order in which you press the keys and make the hammers strike the strings sounds pretty magical to me!" Smiling, Sam complied. For all her good intellect, no-one could ever accuse Helen of being scientific. She relied more on instinct and intuition, which was fine. Instinct was what he relied on every time Ziggy failed to come up with the goods - and sometimes what he trusted more than the most sure-fire odds the computer calculated. Helen looked up at the portrait. "Old Angharad had a magic clock, too." "Which, I suppose, kept perfect time all her life but 'stopped, short, never to go again when the old woman died'," he warbled, unable to resist poking fun just a little. "No. It's still going - but it does keep perfect time, and it never needs winding. And, yes, I'm sure your Ziggy could come up with a logical, scientific explanation for that. Mamo - my grandmother - she has the clock now. She's an Angharad, too. She's very special. She has Merlin's Gift. It's only given to the eldest girl every other generation. It's very strong with her - she KNOWS things without being told. As soon as my Mom got home after first meeting my father, Mamo hugged her and said she'd miss her very much when she went to America, before Mom had so much as mentioned Dad." "Do you have it, Helen? Merlin's Gift?" asked Sam, wondering for a full second if that was how she knew about him. Helen made a see-saw motion with her hand. "Mamo says it isn't very strong with me. But I don't have an explanation for how I see you so I guess that's my version of The Gift - or maybe it's got something to do with similar brainwaves. I PREFER to think it's due to The Gift, and I love Old Angharad and Merlin very much for giving it me." She gave the portrait a brilliant smile and nod of thanks. Her gaze dropped to the photo of her mother and she lifted it off the top of the piano. "My Mom firmly believed in The Gift, even though she didn't have it herself." She turned her eyes to Sam. "She believed in you, too, Sam." "She knew about me?" He took the photograph from Helen, studying it closely. The woman was very beautiful; white skin with high cheek- bones, hair so black and glossy the highlights seemed almost blue, eyes the color of a northern sky after a storm, grey and clear, lips curved upwards in a slight smile. A true Welshwoman, he thought. "Oh, yes, she knew about you. You see, it took twelve years of marriage before she fell pregnant and she and Dad had resigned themselves to not having children. Then, in the fall of '56, completely out the blue, she received a letter from someone who signed himself 'Sam Beckett', who claimed she was going to have a baby, a little girl, who'd be born on Midsummer Day. He even said the baby would look like her husband and not at all like herself." Helen paused for a moment to look significantly at Sam. "Go on," he urged, all thought of magic flying out of his mind as rapidly as a coven on a battalion of broomsticks. "Okay." Helen folded her hands lightly in her lap and continued, repeating the tale her mother had told her so many times. "Mom hadn't told anyone she thought she was pregnant, not even my Dad. She wanted to make absolutely sure before she told him - they'd been disappointed so many often. No-one knew - she wasn't even really sure herself - and her mother, Mamo, hadn't contacted her either, which made her even less sure. Yet here was this man who claimed he knew because he was a time- traveller and had met her daughter in the future. So Mom kept the letter and waited to see if it was right. And lo and behold, I was born right on schedule. She never mentioned the letter to my Dad because he didn't believe in that sort of stuff - said it was all hogwash. He used to laugh at the stories about Old Angharad - he'd even laughed a little at Mamo - and Mom didn't want him to laugh at something she believed in. So my Dad died without ever knowing about you. "As I grew up, every once in a while another letter would come and explain a bit more about Sam Beckett, who he was and why I would meet him, and Mom kept them all. Then one day, when I was about eleven, I got the mail out the box and, because one of the letters was addressed to me, I opened it. It was from this strange man so I showed it to Mom. She decided it was time I knew the whole story, so she sat me down and told me what she knew and showed me all the other letters. She said I'd been chosen to help you. She called it my destiny. "I thought it was wonderful! At eleven, I was still enough of a kid to feel as though I was in a fairy tale. I imagined you as a sort of futuristic knight on a quest who rescued people and who 'righted wrongs'. I saw myself as the young maiden who would nurse you back to health so you could continue your quest. For a long time I felt very special. I had such an amazing secret. It was wonderful knowing what was going to happen in the future, my future. I didn't have to worry about what I was going to do, I knew. Everything was mapped out for me." Helen's gaze slid to her hands in her lap. Realising they were clasped tightly together, she deliberately relaxed them, laying them on her knees. "As - as I grew older, I began to realise what the realities - the practicalities - of it all meant, and I - I stopped seeing it that way." She bit her lip before continuing quickly, "I realised I might have to stay here the rest of my life, hanging around, waiting for this man, this 'scientist' to appear. But my horizons had expanded and I didn't want to stay anymore. There was a whole world out there waiting for me to explore." Sam frowned at her change in demeanor. She was no longer telling a story but was reliving the past. "I was seventeen for Pete's sake. There was no way I was going to stay in dull, boring, old Truro - small-minded, sleepy suburbia - and do what some stupid old letters said." No longer on her knees, her hands punctuated her words with sharp gestures. "Why the hell did I have to stay? Why did it have to be me? All my friends were going off to college and I didn't want to be left behind, everyone expected me to go. Even Mom had wanted me to. God, I'd worked so hard for it. Mom was the one who'd encouraged me to study - she was so proud of my grades in high school." Helen jerked herself off the bench and glared out the window at the neat, smug, little houses sitting in the dark with their nylon drapes and garden gnomes. Sam remained where he was. Resentment and anger were apparent in the inflexible line of Helen's back, in the harshness of her voice, the way her arms were crossed tightly over her chest. "But when it came down to it," Helen said bitterly, "she didn't want me to go at all. All my work was for nothing - NOTHING. All the encouragement she'd given me, all the times she'd told me how important my education was - it was all lies." Suddenly, Sam understood. This wasn't about her having to give up school to wait for him. It was about her mother. "Oh, she never said anything, never did a thing that anyone could take to mean she didn't want her clever daughter to go to college. She just - just...LOOKED at me, waiting for me to change my mind." Helen's chin jutted stubbornly at the window. "Well, I didn't. I ranted and raved instead - said I wasn't going to stay and be someone's nursemaid and - and whatever, I didn't care how special they were. I rebelled against everything she'd ever taught me to believe in." She gave a short, mirthless laugh. "I behaved like a typical teenager, I guess. I did really silly stuff - stayed out late, wore the way-out clothes and heavy make-up I knew she hated, mixed with the wrong kids at high school - though I never let my grades slip. I wanted to go to college too much for that. I was just generally obnoxious and rude." She turned away from the window and moved back into the room. Going over to the shelf that held the chess set, she picked up the white queen and absently twisted it in her fingers. "She put up with all of it, never raised her voice, never objected to what I did - which, of course, made me worse. She just made sure she knew where I was and that I got home safely." For a second, Helen's eyes focussed on her hand. Realising she held the chess piece, she put it carefully back on the shelf, then crossed slowly to the piano. God, she'd been such a stupid little brat. She knew Mom had been just as confused as herself, had seen the bewilderment in the slate-grey eyes as Mom's belief in making of life what you could had clashed with her belief in fate. But not once, not ONCE had she tried to understand Mom, not once had she let up with her tirade and temper. Instead she had made Mom's life absolute hell, despising her for being a superstitious, credulous, old fool. Sam longed to go Helen, tell her she'd only behaved like any teenager struggling with the realisation that the person they'd looked up to as a child was not the infallible, omniscient tower of strength they had thought. Parents had their weaknesses, too. It was okay to be independent, have different beliefs. It was okay to want more, to grow up, even to grow away, be your own person. But still he remained silent. She had more to say - and needed to say it. "It ended with my leaving and going to Penn. State to do an English major. I'd been accepted by the University of Virginia as well but Charlottesville wasn't far enough away from here." Helen's voice was dreary and tired. "Mom didn't try to stop me, even though she believed I should stay - that it was my fate to meet you, my 'destiny'. I think she felt that I still had to CHOOSE to do it. I had to stay of my own free will, or it wouldn't have been right - that somehow, if I was forced to stay, it would all have failed." She paused and it seemed to Sam that she was now holding herself aloof, separating herself from what she was about to say. "I didn't even kiss her when I left and I never came back." She gestured impatiently. "Oh, I wrote a few letters and managed to phone a couple of times, but I always made myself too busy to come home. I either visited friends, went to summer school or worked in the vacations. She wrote asking me to come home for the summer vacation this year and I said I would, but I'd no real intention of coming and sent her a note at the last minute saying I was going to a girl friend's." Helen stood by the corner of the piano, staring at the highly polished top of the old instrument her mother had loved so much. Her arms were wrapped around her ribs but Sam could still see her hands. Her nails were digging into her palms, her knuckles were white. "On the last day of the semester, David phoned saying that Mom was in hospital and that I had to come home - now. He sounded so upset and angry. When I got back he was waiting for me at the airport and drove me straight to the hospital. She had cervical cancer. She'd known about it even before I'd left for college. David said she didn't tell me because she hadn't wanted me to stay home and miss school just because she was sick. But I know it was because she wanted me to make a completely free choice, stay and wait of my own free will." Helen gave a self-conscious little laugh. "I'd never known David be so angry. He called me a selfish little bitch. He'd wanted to tell me lots of times but Mom wouldn't let him. She kept hoping I'd come home on my own." Helen's voice was now completely devoid of expression; even more so than before. It was flat and detached, as though she was speaking about something that meant nothing to her. Only her tightly clenched hands betrayed her inner anguish. "She was hooked up to all these machines. I hardly recognized her she looked so small and thin. Fragile - so fragile. I was almost afraid to touch her in case she fell to pieces. Her face was blank, as though she'd already gone somewhere else, and she had this horrible cap on, like a baby, because all her hair -" Helen's voice cracked. She swallowed hard. "All her beautiful, black hair had fallen out. "She was unconscious with all the drugs, so I just sat and held her hand, willing her to wake up so I could say how sorry I was for leaving her - but she just lay there. I sat and prayed. I prayed so hard. I promised I'd do whatever He wanted as long as He made her get better. I swore I would stay and wait for this man, whoever he was, be what He needed me to be just as long as she got well, as long as she opened her eyes - even if it was only for a minute, but she never even stirred. "Every so often a nurse would come in and fuss about her bed but she still never woke up. Eventually, David forced me to come home and go to bed. Just as we were leaving in the morning, I got a phone call saying she was gone. She'd never regained consciousness, just slipped away when no-one was there." Helen finally looked at Sam, her expression bleak and wretched. He reached out and wrapped his hand around one tightly clenched fist. He wanted to tell her everything would be all right now, but knew it would be a long time before the pain went away. So he said nothing, simply trying to soothe her with his presence. Helen looked at the big, strong hand surrounding hers. She unclenched her fingers just enough to grasp Sam's, holding fast to him. "Oh, Sam," she whispered. "I never got say good-bye." "Oh, my poor, darling girl." Sam rose quickly and folded his arms around her. Thank God he'd been given a second chance, a chance to tell his father how much he loved him, a chance to say good-bye. He wished desperately that he could do more to help Helen but knew he could not. It was too late for words. So he silently held the rigid body, stroked the red hair. Surrounded by Sam's loving arms, Helen's control deserted her. She made one, small sound of relief, then wept; weakly, haltingly at first, then with huge, racking sobs, clinging to him as she released the grief and guilt she had hidden for so long. Sam sat back on the piano bench, lifted her onto his knee and held her even closer. He rocked her while she sobbed, waiting for the storm of emotion to subside, wondering if he had Leaped here simply so that she'd have someone to hold her while she cried. * * * * * It was a long time before Helen quietened down. She felt exhausted, drained, her head hot and throbbing. Yet somehow, deep down inside, she was more at peace than she had been for months. She lifted her head from where it rested against Sam, reached out, and carefully set the picture of her mother upright. Smiling crookedly, she gently touched the face in the photo, as though caressing the glossy black hair. "I'm sorry, Mam. I didn't understand how it would be." The clear, grey eyes of the picture smiled at her. "She wanted so much to meet you, Sam." Helen's voice shook as she realised how much she wished she could have seen her mother and Sam together. Seen her mother getting to know him, watch her coming to love him for the MAN he was, not just respect him for WHAT he was - a clever scientist, a time traveller with a very special job. Sensing Helen's distress, Sam tightened his hold on her. "I wish I could have met her, too. I'm sorry I didn't get the chance." Helen pulled in a big breath, picked up the photo and set it back in its proper place on the piano, opposite the photograph of her father. "She's with my Dad now. I think maybe she wanted that even more than she wanted to meet you." Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she sniffed. "Oh Lord, I'm sorry, Sam, your shirt feels as though you've worn it in the shower, I've made it so wet. I could do with a hanky. Have you got one, please?" "Yeah, sure." Sam shifted her onto one knee, dug into his jeans' pocket and pulled out a nice, big one. "Here. I always keep one handy, ready for damsels in distress - though, of course, for really big jobs they're welcome to use my shirt." His mild joke was awarded a weak smile. Helen wiped her face and gave her nose a good blow. Feeling much better, she pushed her damp hair out of her eyes. "You know, David was wonderful after Mom's death, Sam. He dealt with everything, all the funeral arrangements and stuff. He's good at that sort of thing." "Yes, he looked pretty capable at the hotel. I'm glad he was there to help." Helen nodded. "So am I. I didn't seem able to do anything, I felt so numb. Nothing was real. I shut myself away in the house, dragging up all the memories of Mom that I could - talking to her as though she was still here, playing her favorite music. Her room still smelled of her and I even slept in her bed to make her feel closer. I thought that if I tried hard enough, remembered her well enough, she'd come back and I wouldn't be alone any more. "I was like that for weeks. David kept coming to visit, talking to me, trying to make me go out, start living again, but I pushed him away. I wanted to be with my memories of Mom." Helen grimaced and looked a little ashamed. "I suppose I wallowed in my misery. Isn't that terrible?" "No, Helen. It isn't. It's quite normal. People need time to grieve. If that was your way of dealing with your mother's death, then that's fine." Helen made another face. "Yeah, I guess. It's just so unlike ME. I'm usually pretty capable, too. Maybe that's why David wouldn't leave me alone. I must have had him really worried. "One day he came in with all the mail I'd left piling up in the box and threw it on the table saying that I'd got to wake up, start dealing with the present, that I couldn't live in the past for ever. I just wanted him to go away but I knew he wouldn't until I did something so I opened one of the letters." She rubbed Sam's arm. "It was your letter, Sam, the one I showed you telling me when you were coming. "I sat for a while in a daze, staring at it, while David talked at me across the table. I've no idea what he said, I was remembering everything Mom had ever told me about you and the part I was supposed to play. I realised she was right, that I needed to stay and follow the path laid down for me." She paused, remembering. "It was wonderful! A revelation! Everything seemed crystal clear. I knew exactly what I had to do." She caught hold of Sam's shirt. "Don't think that I decided to stay just for Mom, because she'd wanted me to, or in memory of her. I just knew it was right. I made a free choice." She gave a little laugh. "I startled the heck out of David by asking him to help me find a job. I surprised him so much that he didn't even mention my going back to school. He was so glad I wanted to do something at last. He actually found me two jobs - the one at the library and the one at the Health Club. "I had so much energy again! I cleaned everything in sight and planned every little detail ready for your arrival. I still felt terrible when I thought about how I'd behaved to Mom those last couple of years, but it helped a little to imagine how happy she'd have been to know I was doing what was right - following my destiny." Helen gave her mother's picture one last look, then turned her head so Sam could see directly into her face. All traces of sadness had gone. She was transfigured by a brilliant, incandescent light. "Oh, Sam, I'm so GLAD I made the choice to stay." Her voice was full of fierce joy. "I wouldn't have missed being with you for anything. Not for the whole world. I don't know how I ever existed before you came." Her eyes shone with such love Sam couldn't bear it. *Oh, God, how can you give me this and then take me away again?* He wrapped his arms tightly around her again, not daring to let her see him, not trusting himself to hide the agony which sliced through him at the thought that soon he would leave her. He rocked her again, this time because HE needed comforting. Forcing himself to hide his misery, he mastered his emotions because he knew that, for the moment, Helen was happy. He stroked her hair away from her face. Pale cheeks and dark stains under her eyes showed how exhausted the emotional outpouring had left her, but she was calm now and relaxed against him, eyes closed. He stroked her hair once more, then stood and carried her into the bedroom. Pulling back the covers of the bed with one hand, he laid her gently down, then carefully tucked the sheet and quilt around her. She snuggled down into the pillows, murmuring, "Thanks, Sam." He stood looking down at her, then turned to go back to the living room where he would not have to hide his feelings, where there was no danger of her seeing his anguish. "Sam!" Helen's eyes were wide, her hand reached out to him. "Don't go away, Sam. Not yet." He took her hand and sat on the edge of the bed. "It's okay. I won't. I'll be right here. You need to sleep now," he said softly. She smiled before closing her eyes once more. * * * * * Al stepped through The Door. The room was dark, except on the far side where a single bedside lamp cast a pool of soft light around the girl lying in the bed, her face very white against her tumbled red hair. Sam sat motionless beside her, holding her hand, his head bowed, face shadowed. For a moment, Al thought the girl was ill. Then, in the stillness of the room, he heard her deep, even breathing, saw the quilt that lay over her breast rise and fall slowly, indicating she was merely asleep. Sam stirred and turned his head. The light caught the angles and planes of his face, threw them into sharp relief. His eyes were full of pain. Haunted. "How much longer do Helen and I have together before I Leap?" Al tore his eyes away from his friend. He pushed hurriedly at the handlink. "Ziggy says he's not sure," he lied. There were some things it was better not to know. "Probably a few more days." Sam gently disengaged his hand from Helen's and stood. Looking Al straight in the eye, he asked, "How long are you with her?" "About four months." He dropped his gaze from Sam's intense scrutiny, feeling guilty he'd had more time with Helen than the man who truly loved her. "Why didn't I Leap in here earlier, Al? I might have been able to save her Mom." "No, you wouldn't, Sam. The cancer was too far advanced." "But if I couldn't do that maybe I could have gotten Helen home in time to say good-bye." Al shook his head soberly. "No, Sam. It wasn't meant to happen like that." "Then why was I sent here at all? And don't you even THINK about mentioning the word 'vacation'!" Anger rose in Sam like a flood-tide. "Helen's never going to meet anyone else, is she? She's never going to fall in love and get married. She can't - because she's given her heart to me! So don't you DARE tell me I'm here for a 'vacation', for a good time, finally doing something that's for me when it's at the expense of her happiness. What I'm really doing here is ruining her life! Why couldn't I have been sent some place where I could do some good?" If the Bartender had appeared he would have choked the life out of him and enjoyed it. He strained up, towards to the Someone who controlled him. "I don't want this! Send me some place I can help, not harm!" "And how many more times do you think you could have helped?" came Al's harsh voice. "Have you forgotten the mess you were before you Leaped here and met Helen? You needed this time with her, this space, to heal, Sam. You needed the love she's given you." "And what have I given her in return? Nothing! Except an ache instead of a heart and a life alone!" Al shook his head. "No, Sam, you've given her something very special - your true love. Not many people are lucky enough to have that." His expression softened. "I'm lucky. I have Beth's. Tell me something, Sam. Can you truly say you wish you'd never come here? Never met Helen? Never seen her, touched her, breathed in the scent of her? Truly?" "Yes!" answered Sam, fists clenched tight. Al silently held his gaze. Sam's eyes slid away, down to the sleeping girl. The light from the lamp caught at copper highlights in her hair, the lashes that hid her beautiful eyes cast feathery shadows on her cheeks. Her face was utterly serene. His hand slowly reached out and barely touched a red curl. "No," he whispered. "Not for the world." "Do you think it's any different for her? She'll carry the memories of her time with you for the rest of her life - and she'll treasure them, they'll help her live. "Stop wasting your time feeling sorry for her, Sam. She isn't going to shut herself up and fade away after you've gone. Give the kid some credit, she's a stronger person than that. She'll get on with her life, like her mother did when her father died. People do, you know. It's part of the human spirit. Helen's not the only person who's been left alone. It happens all the time, all over the world. People learn to manage without, to make something of their lives, even if they never forget what they once had. Helen's luckier than some. At least she'll carry good memories with her, some people don't even have that." Sam remembered a man, an Al, who'd carried some memories, bitter ones, who'd learned to manage, not without, but with what he could get. An Al who'd still made something of his life - with maybe a gentle shove in the right direction from a friend. And he also remembered that Al almost crying, telling him how those same memories, before they had become bitter, had helped him live. For the millionth time since Sam had met his friend, he sent out a silent 'thank you' to whatever agency had first brought them together. Wishing he could hug the hologram, he said quietly, "Thank you, Al. I don't know how I'd do without you. You always help me see things straight." "That's what I'm here for," replied Al, back to his usual, light- hearted self, his serious look gone. "Best damn hologram in the business!" He puffed on his cigar importantly, before giving his friend a knowing look. He decided to admonish him for one more thing. The cigar stabbed in Sam's direction. "And stop wasting the time you have with Helen feeling sorry for YOURSELF. Enjoy it, savor it - while you have the chance." Sam acknowledged his rebuke with a rueful grin, remembering another time when Al had given him similar advice. "I'll try," he promised. He looked down at Helen's peacefully sleeping figure. "I think she'll be okay now." He resisted the temptation to stroke her hair, not wanting to risk disturbing her. Though if she'd slept through him yelling like a deranged maniac, nothing was going to wake her. "Come on, come and see what I found." He went down the hall to the living room and crossed to the stereo. Al followed curiously, walking, not bothering to shift location with the handlink. "By the way," Sam asked, "did you enjoy the next class at the Health Club?" "Oh, I didn't stay very long. I was taking Hel - an old friend out to dinner." Al looked sharply at Sam, wondering if he had noticed his slip, but he was busy lining up the stylus of the turntable. He grimaced. Helen had spent most of dinner trying to persuade him to let her meet Beth and it had ruined his meal. The record sleeve Sam had propped up by the side of the stereo caught his eye. "Oh, wow! 'Man of La Mancha'!" he exclaimed, glad to find an excuse to push aside something that was threatening to give him heartburn - literally and figuratively. He'd forgotten about Helen's LP collection. Not that 'Man of La Mancha' had any significance back then. It had only been later, after he'd met Sam, that he'd come to know it so well. He hadn't had a lot of choice about listening to it. "Do you remember playing that when we were -" "- building the Project?" Sam finished for him. "No. But it doesn't matter. I remember you telling me I did, and I know all the words and the music makes me feel good somehow when I hear it." The strains of the introduction began. The two men looked at one another, their faces full of fun. As Richard Kiley began to sing 'Impossible Dream' Sam and Al sang along, too. Quietly at first, then, as the music swelled, so did their voices, louder and louder, until the room rang with the sound of clear tenor blended harmoniously with husky baritone.