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Part Five

Sam

I feel weak, as if my limbs donít belong to me and yet the sight of Al, not the holographic version that had just visited me, but the bold and brash, living and breathing one now standing within easy reach gives me the energy I need to lift my arms.

After his initial reaction itís an almost overwhelming relief to see him smile and lean forward to allow me to initiate contact.

It has literally been years since the last time I touched him and I find myself marvelling at my ability to finally do so. The weathered skin beneath my fingertips is slightly cool from the air conditioning but still warm, so alive and real. I close my eyes. I am trembling, both physically and mentally exhausted. It is difficult to keep my arms up, but I am not ready to let to go of him just yet and I continue my careful exploration unsighted. Scarcely able to believe that after so long I can still recognise every indentation and small crease; the clear shape of his lips and the sharp jut of his chin, both of which are easily recognised as I caress his dear face.

I can also hear him talking to me. Telling me in a voice clearly affected by emotion that is equal to mine that everything was going to be fine, that Iím going to be fine and I am not to worry about anything. It is so Al and while I have no reason to doubt him I canít seem to make myself care. If I die tomorrow it wonít matter because I am here now, home at last, and Al is with me.

The moments he lets me stroke his face melt into one another and for that time at least everything else fades into insignificance. There is only Al and I. The rest of the world disappears around us. I open my eyes again and he leans closer, still smiling at me. I can feel the warmth of his breath and itís a natural progression, I realise. The slow slide of fingers across his cheek and into his hair, wrapping carefully around his scalp to draw him down just a little more. One exhalation mingles with another and I lift up. My elbows slipping a little on the steel table supporting me. My vision blurs as the distance is closed. Oh God. Dry patched lips meet my own and I am in heaven.

Heaven or whatever other unworldly dimension we currently occupy lasts no more than an instant however until it disintegrates. I feel the shock and then resistance, the unspoken repulsion as Al draws back. Our connection broken. My eyes cloud but his expression is easily readable, stern and less understanding.

Iím confused. I watch as Al opens his mouth. Iím not sure if he is going to say something or not.One of his own hands lifting to touch his lips, almost as if he canít believe whatís just happen, then rolling at the last moment to wipe away my kiss. A look of disbelief and horror marring his face. An admonishment that is loud and clear although not a word is uttered. I let my arms fall to my side. My hopes and dreams shattering as flesh and bone make contact with cold steel.

ďJesus Sam, what are you doing?Ē Alís eyes are wide and bright, translating a position I donít understand.

His face is flushed, heat rising from his neck to cover his well-loved face. Embarrassment, I note as I lay prone against the table. Iím sorry I want to say. The words wonít come though and now the moment has passed it is obvious he is no longer interested.

The sniff of indignation is not unexpected, nor is the step back to distance himself from the situation. I am used to pretending that Al and I are no more than colleagues. Still I would have thought that some leeway would be given. Especially after a quick glance confirms that no one in the room has witnessed anything incriminating and I had meant no harm.

The woman, Kate she said her name was, a doctor I assume and the others helping her have turned from their work and are now staring quizzically in Alís direction, completely oblivious to what has just occurred.It has little impact. Despite his sudden outburst and reddened face Al continues to act every inch the man of position and authority he is. Only this time he appears lost for words.

I find myself feeling incredibly deflated. I know better than to do anything to risk Alís reputation but weíve separated for years and I have missed him more than words can possibly explain. I let myself sink into the table, my exhaustion taking the very last of my strength as I watch the silent exchange between my lover and the woman who had come to help me. For what it is, it lasts no more than a moment or two before the waiting room wall slides open once again and all eyes turn towards a new visitor, closely followed behind by Verbena.

Something stirs as I take in the sight of the two strong women striding towards me. Verbena for all our history is a known quantity and represents compassion and support, the other for reasons I canít explain does not.There is something about her though and I feel a sense of nostalgia -- a long forgotten memory taking shape as they draw closer. Itís from a time before Al and me, I recall, when my understanding of myself was very different to what it is now. A time long ago when there were women, one woman who I had desired and thought could fill the empty spaces inside of me. In the end it was not to be and in spite my feelings for her she did not trust me to stay.

I blink, squeezing my eyes closed before opening them again. She is older now, but no less attractive.

Donna.

How on earth, my mind demands, but is given no time to react. I see Al out of the corner of my eye moving further away, increasing the distance between us. His arms folded and his eyes definitely avoiding mine. It doesnít make sense. Why would he make room for Donna Elesee? The woman who had abandoned me. He could barely tolerate her before she made a fool of me, I recall. In essence leaving me waiting for her on the day we were meant to be married, heartbroken and bereft. Afterwards he wouldnít even refer to her by name!

I want to ask him why she is here and then have him explain why he isnít giving me the slightest reassurance that he cares for me, that he loves me as much as I remember. He said he remembered, but it is plain that he is not willing to intervene. I donít understand whatís going on and I feel disconnected and unsure of my surrounding. My eyes search the room. Looking for an allied I guess; anyone who can tell whatís going on. My chest is tight and my head is pounding. I am beyond tired. I know I have been gone a long time, but it is obvious that much has changed in my absence. Al is different somehow. Things arenít the same.I want to close my eyes, wish myself to another time and place, but neither appears to be an option.

Up close Donnaís long hair draws on her aging features. Her small hands twist anxiously at the edges of the heavily embroidered shawl she has wrapped around her shoulders suggesting she is just as uncertain by my presence as I am of hers. Her bright eyes categorising the changes she must see in me. I glance away while she looks, and decides I presume, what she thinks of me now. Al is still refusing the return my gaze and after a moment I shift my focus to the woman now standing beside me.

Somehow I manage to smile at her although I know it is only a shadow of the ones we shared years before. Tears streak her face as she bends forward, one hand extending to touch and make certain of my existence. I let it happen, unsure of why it is the right thing to do, or how I know it is what everyone expects.

ďOh Sam, is it really you? Are you really home?Ē She asks.

Donnaís voice is choked and her words barely audible above the beating of my heart. Regardless of the mostly even temperature of the waiting room I feel chilled. Her touch is light and I shiver as her fingers skim over my arm to where my Fermi suit had been cut open earlier. I swallow the bile that rises in my throat. I know everyone is watching, that they are expecting me make some kind of grand gesture. I canít though and as one memory fits with another I turn my face away. Dumbfounded by what the memories reveal and completely helpless as gentle but insistent hands guide me back again.

ďSam honey, itís Donna. You do remember me right?Ē

I can hear her need for confirmation and I swallow again, forcing myself to acknowledge her. While things between us didnít end well I have no desire to hurt her. Too much time has passed for that. In many ways she did me a favour and allowed me to discover what and whom I truly needed.

I let my eyes skirt back to her, catching briefly the glimmer of gold on her left hand as she draws back. Another memory sliding into place. It canít be real though, surely not my mind insists.

Even with my reservations I make my look, to see the ring she is wearing, realising though I still donít know how it is possible as the same one I had purchased for her more than twenty years earlier. My visions blurs and the world tilts around me. Time and space bending and shifting to fill in the remaining gaps in my memory. The sounds of concern and commotion ringing in my ears as I manage to roll to my side and retch again.


 

Part Six

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