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Part Seven

Verbena

6th of September, 2000.

Checking the digital display on my computer I scroll to the top of the page I am working on and read over what I have written so far; adding and correcting as I go.

Itís been a little over 72 hours since Samís return and while I was initially elated to finally have him home, as the hours have slowly stretched into days most of my enthusiasm has waned, replaced now with something that is best described as optimistic caution.

My original conversation with Al had confirmed that although the man in the waiting room was indeed Doctor Sam Beckett, he was not himself. I admit I was a little unsure to begin with about how I might best support those around me, especially Sam, but for reasons I could not explain I was not surprised by Alís assessment. During their short interactions it was clear that Sam was anticipating a reception vastly different to the one he had received from our mutual friend. His disappointment palpable to anyone discerning enough to notice as he subsequently withdrew from those trying to help him. There was also something I still couldnít quite put my finger on, but one aspect remains abundantly clear, the man who had returned to us is not the same one who had left us years before.

Al seemed to sense it almost immediately, but he has since refused to provide details or spend time with Sam, thereby limiting my ability to further observe them together. He has feigned excessive paper work and meetings with the committee as his excuse. I however have surmised a completely different motive, one that apparently allows the Admiral to avoid his best friend for as long as possible.

It was not like Al. He would deny it of course, but I know he loves Sam as much as any man can love another, the way he reacted when I spoke about seeing Sam kiss him proved as much. Al could be difficult, his upbringing and some very ingrained behaviours meant that he often avoided discussing his feelings. It is no different when it comes to Sam. Of course what Al doesnít realise is that when Sam is involved it is more about what he doesnít say that gives him away every time. There is a bond between the two them.One that began long before they were physically separated to endure the challenges of time and space and I know that whatever secret Al is keeping he is more likely to take it to his grave than willingly share it with me.

To say that I was suspicious was an understatement, but I know I am not the only one. It is obvious that Donna also suspects that there is something very amiss with her husband. His disinterest in her is almost painful to watch; very different to the exchanges I had witnessed in the past and I know that my friend is worried. I have tried to reassure her that it will be only a matter of time before Sam settles into his old life. He was back; safe after so many years of trying to set right what had once gone wrong and no matter the adjustments we would all have to make it was a relief to know he was once again in his own time, surrounded by those who loved him. The shock and strain on his body were enough to leave anyone feeling out of sorts, but even as I remind her to give him a day or two I wonder just how long it will be before their relationship is damaged beyond repair.

The tests that had been run upon Samís return have all come back within what is considered normal range given his age, including the blood work to identify if in fact he had suffered a heart attack. Kateís assessment had been that stress and dehydration had contributed to his symptoms, but she could not add any additional light to the situation.

I donít usually keep notes in this fashion and while it feels more like writing a journal than supplying a record of events, I canít deny the therapeutic value so far or the growing need I have to have as much as possible in order should the need arise.

Taking a sip of my tea I am immediately taken back by how cold it had grown while I have been working. Swallowing the stone cold liquid I return my cup from whence it came. Checking the time once more I select control-S and close my document and log off.I wait until my monitor goes dark before I turn off the screen and switch off my desk lamp.

It is already after seven and I promised Donna I would drop by tonight.

Pushing away from my desk I retrieve my cardigan from the back of the chair and slip it across my shoulders.I havenít had a lot of sleep over the last few days and while I want to be supportive I would much prefer to have an early night for a change. Still, friendship and my role here at the Project comes with certain responsibilities and I know I need to keep an eye on whatís happening above ground, and most definitely on Sam.

----*----

Taking the elevator to the surface I am greeted a short time later as Donna opens the door to the quarters she share with Sam. I havenít seen my friend for several hours, but it is obvious she has been crying again. Her eyes are red and her usually flawless makeup is less than perfect.I feel the familiar tug of sympathy. God knows the last few days havenít been easy on any of us, but it is painfully clear that Samís wife is suffering.

The look of misery on her face is enough to break my heart. She seems lost; almost as if she had forgotten about my visit, but despite her confusion it is clear that she is very glad to see me. Not waiting for an invitation I step forward, leaning into her as she raises her arms to embrace me, her small body melding against my own. I am not sure what has transpired since we last saw one another and for a few seconds I simply hold her, soothing her gently until she pulls back to usher me inside -- her usual mask of control slipping firmly back into place.

ďItís been a difficult afternoon,Ē she offers by way of explanation and then changes the subject entirely. ďTea, Verbena?Ē

I nod my agreement and Donna disappears in the direction of the kitchen without a backward glance.

Left to my own devices I waste no time going in search of Sam. Given the limited dimensions of their living space he is not difficult to find.

A couple of steps take me from the small entranceway to the Beckettís main living area and Sam is exactly where I had guessed he would be-- sitting on one of the overstuffed sofas, a beer in hand. He looks up as I wander further into the room and take a seat opposite; a thinning veil of grey hair falling over his eyes. He makes no immediate attempt to speak or acknowledge me beyond the steely gaze he fixes me with. I would classify it as accusing, except we have been friends for too many years and I have practicing too long to take first impressions as my final assessment.

I take a deep breath, drawing my cardigan around my shoulders to guard against the weariness seeping into my bones as I let myself sink into the comfort of the sofa, ready for when Donna returns or Sam decides he wants to communicate.

We have had a number of discussions over the last couple of days, some official, to appease the funding body and others that had been far less formal, covering topics old and new. For the most part Sam has answered my questions without complaint; usually with short, to the point answers. On occasion he has even offered information about his whereabouts for the last month and half unprompted. To be honest, although I have been thrilled to have his cooperation, very little of what he has told me makes sense. A bar run by God! Past friends appearing as different people!If it were anyone else I would be worried about their mental health. As it was, I still had my concerns.

The thought is enough to send a shiver of urgency through my body even though I know that by coming here after hours I need to let Sam and Donna set the pace of our conversations.

Samís gaze has shifted since I first sat down and while he is no longer regarding me in a way that makes me feel like I was public enemy number one he still hasnít bothered to remove the hair from his eyes.The length of which seemed to be a concern to everyone other than the man himself. I know that Tina had offered to cut it for him and Donna had made numerous comments about it looking untidy, but to date he has refused each attempt to return him to his former style. It was almost as if he preferred it this way and he had no intention of changing it any time soon, never mind what anyone else thought.

Personally I didnít think it mattered, but the Sam I remembered would never have challenged the status quo to this level. He would have taken to heart what those around him thought and acted accordingly.

I have no idea what had gone on since I last saw Donna or Sam, but he clearly wasnít pleased about his current situation. Itís been an underlying theme over the last few days and while he hasnít come right out and said as much, it didnít take an expert to see that Donnaís presence in his life was not the happy prospect one would expect from a man who had spent so many years absent from his wifeís side.

I feel torn again; professional responsibility and friendship warring with one another for dominance. I have no doubt that the ongoing battle has attributed to my feelings of fatigue and I know I really just needed to choose a position and stick to it. Especially if I was going to understand what was happening here, and most importantly, why Donna seemed to be such a cause for dissatisfaction in Samís eyes.

Sitting up again, I lean forward. ďI can help if you let me Sam.Ē

Samís focus changes at my words and he finally brushes the hair away from his face -- his eyes meeting my own. ďDo you really think thatís possible Verbena?ĒHe sounds unconvinced, but I donít let it sway me.

ďIf you tell me what you need, then yes, Iíll do whatever I can.Ē

Despite my wish to support both my friends it seems only fitting that Donna chooses that exact same moment to reappear.

Sam seems unmoved by the interruption; his gaze following me as I sit back again and then scoot over to make room as Donna sets the tea tray she has brought with her on the coffee table.

It is only as Donna sets about pouring tea into the two mugs that she has included on the tray that I broaden my own gaze and my eyes fall on the pile of bedding folded neatly on the floor beside the opposite sofa. I canít say if they were there last time I visited or not and while it is not a revelation as such to discover my friends arenít sharing the same bed, I am a little surprised that Donna hasnít

mentioned that Sam wasnít sleeping. Of course there a number of reasons why partners may choose to seek solitude from one another, but considering the people I know I can only imagine that sleep would be the reason given even if I also know their relationship isnít what it should be.

ďYou should have said if you needed something to help you sleep Sam, I would have prescribed a sedative,Ē I offer. I am attempting to sound casual, but I note Donna stiffen beside me. The mug she has prepared for me held in mid-air as I glance back at her.

ďI sleep fine, Verbena,Ē Sam remarks, reaching for the fresh beer Donna has included on the tea tray and depositing the empty one in its place.

Donnaís expression tells another story however and I wonder if this is the opening I have been waiting for.

ďItís not Sam,Ē she announces, adding as she takes her seat beside me, ďItís been a long time since we lived together and Samís just trying to give me my space while we adjust.Ē

Everything Donna has said sounds perfectly feasible. Couples who are separated for any length of time generally do need to reacquaint themselves again. It feels a bit rehearsed though, as if she is still trying to provide a front to their situation even though it has become painfully obvious that they are at odds with the circumstances they have found themselves in.

The realisation that Donna maybe purposely trying to dilute the strain between them is unsettling and certainly not what I was expecting. Acceptance of a difficulty was one thing, but pretending none existed was another altogether.

I look back at Sam. Confused. He appears thoughtful, turning the bottle in his hands absently as he eyes the woman sitting next to me, but not willing it seems to add any more to the conversation at this point.

Itís all a little strange. The Beckettís I remember were always supportive of one another, even when Sam was struggling with the retrieval program, locking himself away for days on end and barely speaking to anyone other than Al, but they were also realistic and infinitely honest with each other.

The air in the room feels heavy. Arduous. As if the effort of simply being present is more than enough to ask.I sip my tea, grateful that it gives me something to do with my hands as I try and work out what has gone on in my absence.

As for Sam it seems unlikely that he might actually contradict Donna. For the past three days he has done nothing to challenge her perception of the two of them, or the life they shared. A life that many, perhaps everyone here at the Project remember as ideal -- everyone except Sam, I realise.

It strikes me as odd that Sam seems to be having a very different home coming to the one we had all envisionedand yet I canít put my finger on why, only that something tells me I need to press the point.

I am well aware that my next question may cause a level of disquiet, but it also appears necessary that I attempt some kind of intervention.

ďIs that what you think, Sam? That you and Donna just need time to readjust to living together again?Ē

I focus my attention on the man sitting opposite, but it is not very long before I note the restless change in the woman next to me. My heart goes out to her as the tension in the room slowly increases. I spare her a quick glance as I lean forward to place my mug on the coffee table, knowing that while this isnít comfortable for any of us she understands that we need to keep trying to resolve the situation, and then look back at Sam. I am prepared for him to simply agree, tell me that yes; itís just a matter of time or even for Donna to interject and yet as the moments stretch and silence endures it seems that my enquiry may go unanswered.††

ďSam?Ē I prompt.

This is perhaps the most introverted I have seen my friend since his return, but something seems to change, a new determination exerting itself as he lifts his chin and returns my gaze.

ďIím not trying to make this harder,Ē he starts. ďI understand that youíve waited a long time for me to return, but the last memory I have of you is the letter you sent me the day after we were meant to be married. You said that you couldnít marry me, you believed that sooner or later I would abandon you as your father had.Ē

It takes me a moment or two to realise that itís Donna and not me that Sam is addressing and then several more to absorb what he is saying. He is still talking, but itís difficult to understand -- something about believing that sooner or later that it wouldnít work. My first thought is to question what I have heard; have Sam explain what he means, that there is some kind of kind of mistake, but the sharp intake of breath and the sound of Donna weeping beside me makes it clear that we have both interpreted the information in the same way. A part of me thinks that it canít be possible, but then again, itís difficult to know for sure.

Over the years Al has eluded to changes that sometimes occur when Sam leaps. I remember a number of occasions when he had likened stepping out of the imagining chamber to playing a game of musical chairs. I recall I had asked him to explain what he meant, but he just shrugged his shoulders and said that when the chamber stopped Ďyou just didnít know who was still going to be here and who wasnít.í

It never made sense and still doesnít.

Even now I am not sure what I think. If what Sam is telling us relates to Alís long ago remarks that his leaping through time had a far greater impact than first anticipated or not. Whatever the explanation I watch Sam pause, choosing his words very carefully as Donna slowing falls apart beside me.

ďIn the past I remember,Ē he continues, ďwe were never married and we never lived together.Ē


 

Part Eight

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