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Part Eight

Sam

Telling Donna that I have memories that don't coincide with her perfect image of the two of us doesn't make me feel any better about upsetting her again. Not that I thought it would exactly. Lying to her isn't helping either one of us though and I know I can't keep up the pretence any longer. I have seen the wedding photos, listened to her while she told me about the places we have lived, the vacations we have taken together and while I can admit that yes, I remember them, it's not my life, or at least the one I left behind when I stepped into the accelerator chamber for the first time. I don't know her and haven't for many years. Irrespective of the ready supply of evidence, we were never the happy couple she has described to me.

Verbena's voice rises steadily above the sound of Donna's sobbing and I hang my head as she tries to comfort her; still turning the bottle in my hands. I feel like I should do something, make more tea or maybe just get up and leave, but I am pretty sure that walking out wouldn't be viewed as helpful.

Relations between Donna and I have been strained almost from the beginning and I know I haven't made much of an effort to change that. I had been too confused and hurt by Al's reaction to me when she had first appeared at my side to feign interest in her, even though I knew instinctively that's what was expected of me. I know now that before I leaped home I changed history, my history and for the last three days I've been trying to work out why after so many years of setting right what once went wrong for others I have been returned to a life that I can no longer identify with and I don't want.

There had been a time when being married to Donna was what I thought I wanted, but that had all changed when she left me waiting at the alter for her, humiliating me in front of our friends and family. Everything changed after that. The way I saw myself; my dreams for the future - everything. It was Al who saved me from myself. I remember he literally picked me up after Donna left, took me back to his place and helped me rebuild my life one piece at a time. I fell in love with him, and tucked away in the far recesses of my consciousness; buried deep now beneath the new memories that have formed since my return, I know he loved me too.

Just thinking about the life that I once shared with Al is enough to make my chest constrict painfully and my eyes water, my breath catching almost as an afterthought, making it hard to breathe. The feelings stirring inside of me are hard to contain and I struggle to conceal the affect they are having on me. I close my eyes, keeping my head down as my shoulders roll further forward and my body shudders.

I've been trying to reconcile seeing Donna again with my feelings for Al for days now, but nothing seems to help. I stop turning the bottle and hold it firmly with both hands; breathing through the emotions still coiling inside of me. Things are different now and I have to keep reminding myself that they are. Knowing something doesn't make it easier though.

It's still hard to believe but Al is married to Beth now and they have children, or to comprehend that I have a daughter of my own. I scarcely remember her and yet I recall her mother and the time we spent together.

It's all such a mess.

I know Al has also been avoiding me and it's pretty obvious he either doesn't remember things the way I do or he doesn't want to. I'm not sure which.

I've tried to remember my last leap. I have vague memories of seeing Jimmy and Frank again. There were others too, Moe and Don Geno and the guy behind the bar, weird Ernie. I think he was God. I wanted to come home and he said I could, but there was something else I needed to do first; only I can't recall what is was, or who I spoke with who could have possibly changed everything so much.

Nothing seems to make sense. My head hurts and I feel sick to my stomach.

I don't want any more to drink and I lean the necessary distance to place the mostly full beer bottle on the coffee table. The tension in the room has been uncomfortable for some time, but is fast approaching unbearable. Donna's weeping seems to ebb and flow and while getting up and leaving may not be considered helpful it's what I want to do more than anything right now.

"I don't understand." She is saying and I look up.

Donna's face is streaked with tears again and I am once again confronted with the agonising truth of my existence. I have seen her cry a number of times over the last couple of days. In the beginning I know it was because she was happy to see me, but that changed not long after Kate released me into her care. I can't pretend to love her when all I can think of is being with Al.

"Explain it to me Sam." She adds, irritation slowly creeping into her usually even tone, clipping her words as she turns on me.

I flinch a little and open my mouth, attempting to do as she has asked; only to have to close it again a moment later when I realise I don't know what to say. I have no idea why I have two sets of distinct memories. Why I remember my life with her, but also the one I shared with Al -- if it's a result of my last leap or if something occurred previously and he decided it was one of those things that I shouldn't be told? All I do know is that prior to a couple of days ago I hadn't seen Donna for more than a decade, hadn't even thought about her more than once or twice during all that time. It is clear however that my silence isn't helping.

"You can't just claim something like that and then refuse to explain. Don't you think I have had an enough to contend with? The other women, a child! I waited every day for you to come home Sam and now all you can do, is sit on the sofa for hours on end drinking beer, denying our life together."

I flinch again, my back and shoulders tensing as I sit up; surprised by the less than subtle reminder of my faithlessness. I know she is referring to Abigale and Sammy-Jo, but there were others too, Nicole and Tamlyn.

I remember Donna as a young woman, strong willed and outspoken. The years seem to have reinforced those traits, but they also appear to have given her a shaper edge and like me, she is tired of pretending.

I glance at Verbena, I'm not sure why. If I am looking for an ally or for answers, but none are immediately forthcoming and I look back Donna, running my fingers through my hair to keep it out of my eyes as I try again.

"The last few days have been difficult..." I begin.

"Years, Sam," she reminds me. "The last five years." Each word enunciated with such disappointment that it's hard to hear.

I feel a wave of guilt wash over me; the weight of the emotion weighing me down and tethering me in place as Donna and I regard one another. I know my leaping through time has changed many lives. I used to think that in most cases it had been for the better. Al had told me very early on that the reason he couldn't give me details about myself was because I might try to change aspects of my own life. I understood; not straight away, but as time went on, I came to understand that my own life was one that couldn't be altered. I had to invent Ziggy and Project Quantum Leap had to exist. I know I tried a couple of times, succeeding with Tom but failing to get my father to take better care of himself, but I also know I did my best to focus on what I needed to do, each time hoping that the next leap would bring me home again. Al was waiting for me and hopefully one day he would forgive me for turning our lives into a living nightmare. I feel sorry for Donna, but I am not responsible for what she's endured. She left me and I moved on.

There is a stalemate of sorts while Donna continues to hold my gaze until finally Verbena intervenes, breaking the silence and giving me the opportunity to look away.

"If you could explain what you mean Sam, I think that would help us all to understand." She offers me a small smile; her dark eyes kind and patient as she holds Donna’s hands in her own.

My memories of Verbena extend far beyond my years of leaping. Not that I remembered her initially. Like so many of the people in my life Al had to remind me who she was and what role she played her at the Project. I recall Doctor Beeks had come highly recommended when we first met and I have always liked her. Regardless of how I feel about my homecoming I know that she means well and that she is trying to help, but I am not sure even she will be able to make sense of what I am about to say.

I sigh and sit back, surveying the space around me and the women watching my every move. "Before I leaped the first time I lived here alone." I tell them, and then look at Donna again. Her eyes are very bright and more tears are inevitable I realise; resigning myself to the fact I push on, gesturing as I do to the neatly decorated room. "I know this is hard to understand, but this isn't my home."

Two sets of eyes stare back at me as I pause. Donna's bottom lip is trembling and as expected, tears appear at the corner of her eyes to slide down her cheeks. I want be completely honest with her, clear this up once and for all, but I don't think she is ready to hear that while the official record registered me as residing alone and Admiral Calavicci as being assigned his own 270 square feet of living space, in reality he spent his time here with me. We were lovers in every sense of the word and while we never made vows to one another in the same way she and I had, I was committed to him all the years we were together. It also seems pointless, especially when everything is so different between Al and I now.

For a full minute or perhaps a little longer the only response I receive from the other side of the room is a serious of half choked sounds as Donna repeatedly tries to compose herself; eventually giving up the comfort of Verbena's grasp to retrieve a Kleenex from the sleeve of her blouse to dab at her eyes -- her distress and confusion painful to watch.

Verbena just looks perplexed, her brows knitted together as her eyes search mine. To her credit she recovers reasonably quickly, pulling herself together as she tugs her cardigan more securely around her shoulders then eases off the sofa. Standing momentarily, I watch as she glances down at Donna to check on her wellbeing; a silent exchange that takes less than a second or two before she is moving again to step around the coffee table to perch on the corner.

She reaches out to me once she is settled, casually touching my knee to assure my attention; her expression serious when she sits back again. "When we spoke yesterday, you indicated that you and Donna had been reminiscing and I took that to mean that you recalled your life together."

The conversation Verbena is referring to had been one of the less formal visits we have had over the last couple of days. Arriving unannounced in the middle of the day she had found me going through an old photo album Donna had given me. "Yes, that's right," I reply.

"But you also remember your life without her, a time when you said she sent you a letter telling you she couldn't marry you?"

I sigh again, glancing briefly at the woman sitting to her left, but nod in return to my friend's question. I can see her turning the information over in her mind, trying to comprehend what I have said, wondering no doubt, how any of this is possible.

"Are you saying that you have two sets of memories Sam, each pertaining to the same time frame?"

I look at Donna again. Her tears have dried and she appears engaged and as curious as Verbena to hear my response. "Yes." I tell them both.

Verbena's brow furrows for a second time. "That's incredible. Can you tell me about it?"

I'm not sure that I can, though I know I need to at least make an attempt. "I'll try."

I've been experiencing what I can only described as mixed messages ever since Donna walked into the waiting room. How to put the phenomena it into words however is probably easier said than done. I take a breath, trying to relax and focus on what I remember about my life prior to Donna's reappearance.

I close my eyes, shutting out the present and the sights and sounds around me. I think about Al, warmth blooming in my chest as my memories of him take shape, my mind taking me back to when he kissed me for the first time.

It was late June 1989, a few weeks after I had received Donna's letter, I had been staying with him. I can feel the heat of the day, the sweat on the back of my neck. Al's house had no air conditioning and all the windows were open. I was sitting on the couch in the living room trying to stay cool. He had just gotten home from one of his AA meetings and was talking about what he was going to prepare for dinner. I started to cry, which was ridiculous, because I had been doing so well and he'd been so good to me. It was almost as if everything that had happened caught with me that day and I couldn't hold it in any longer. He sat down beside me to comfort me and starting stroking my hair. It didn't feel strange. It felt good, different, but after a while, I'm not sure how long he leaned in and kissed me. I recall he tried to shake it off, telling me it was a mistake and it didn't mean anything. Two days later I went to Al's room after he had gone to bed and amongst other things, I had kissed him back.

I open my eyes again. The women waiting patiently for me to explain my situation and the memories associated with them pushing everything else aside.

"It feels like having a veil over my memories," I say, then shake my head, it's not quite right, but I guess it's the best analogy I have at the moment. "If I think about the time before, when it was just Al and I building Ziggy and working on the Project together, then everything else fades," I tell them. "It's like they still exist, but they happened at another time and they aren't relevant to the present."

I'm not sure I am making any sense and I look from Verbena to Donna and then back again, trying to gauge her reaction. I can tell she is trying to empathise, but other than that it is hard to know.

"What about when you focus on the present, what happens to the other memories? Do they fade as well, settle somewhere under the veil?"

"Mostly, it depends on the memory; some seem harder to shift than others." I know I'm not being very specific, but I need to talk to Al before I say anymore. I have to find out if he's experiencing the same crossed connection or it's what I fear most, and he has no memory of what we shared.

Verbena still appears to be considering what I have said. I'm not sure if she believes what I have told her. I know she's been concerned for me and while she hasn't come right out and said anything exactly ever since I got back I get the impression that she suspects I'm not playing with a full deck. Of course she'd never be as blunt as that, but basically that's what it amounts too. I can't say I blame her but other than just telling her what's been happening for me I don't know how to convince her, or anyone else for that matter, that I can't just pick up the life I have been allotted and get on with it. "Where's Al?" I chance. "I haven't seen him for days now and the number I have for him seems to be disconnected."

If Verbena is taken aback by my change of topic, it doesn't show. "He's been in Washington," she explains. "The committee called an emergency meeting and he had to go."

I'm not overly surprised that the committee wants to talk to Al. News of my return must have them asking a lot questions and I guess he's the best one to answer them - still. "Shouldn't I have gone with him?"

"It's probably too soon for you to be dealing with Senator Weitzman and the others, but Al's back now."

"I need to talk to him Verbena. Please, can you help me?"

"Of course Sam," she says, fishing her cell from the pocket in her skirt. "The local telco built a new tower a couple of years ago, so that's probably why the number you have for him no longer works."

I watch while she locates Al's number and then hands the phone it to me. She smiles as I lean forward to take it from her, adding. "I'd like to keeping to talking, but I think what you've told me is enough for tonight." Standing next, her gaze drifts to where Donna is sitting and goes on. "We'll just have a chat while you make your call."

Taking her cue Donna scoops up the tea tray and stands also. It is clear however that she has no idea what to say to me.

"Thanks," I say as they both move to exit the living room.

It's not long before I hear their voice emanating from the kitchen and I take a deep breath and press the number displayed for me, mentally adding it to the other new ones I have learnt.

Al picks up on the second ring and I feel my heart begin to race and my hand shake.

"Bena?"

"No Al." I close my eyes and duck my head, trying to settle myself. "It's Sam."

I tell myself the pause from the other end of the line is because I've caught Al off-guard, he was probably in the middle of something and not because he doesn't want to hear from me.

"Hi kid," he eventually says. "How're doing?"

I let out the breath I had been holding. "Okay. I haven't seen you for a few days and was thinking that maybe we could catch up, maybe tonight or tomorrow?"

There is another pause, shorter this time where I imagine Al rubbing his hand over his face. "Sure Sam." He sounds tired, I realise. "It's getting a bit late though," he goes. "Did Verbena tell you that Weitzman and Bartlett are busting my balls?"

I open my eyes and smile into the phone. "Yes, she did." The stuck, awkward feeling I have been experiencing unfurls inside of me and I relax against the back of the sofa.

"Okay, good. Yeah I've been in D.C, just got back this afternoon. Beth's not here. She's in Chicago with Libby, school just started again and I am here on my own. Tomorrow is better. You could come by my office around lunch time and I could rustle us up some sandwiches from the canteen if you want."

"That sounds good. I'll come down about twelve," I agree.

"Good, Sam. Hey, I'm beat. Just need to eat something then I'm gonna turn in for the night."

I hear Al yawn. "Sure," I tell him. "I'll see you tomorrow. Sleep well."

The line goes dead not long after and I stare for untold moments at the small device in my hand, watching as the small light illuminating the screen dulls and then goes dark.

I sit for a couple more minutes, enjoying the solitude for as long as it lasts. It won't be long now I realise. I will be seeing Al again in a few more hours and then I will know one way or the other if the last five year of trying to get home have been worth it or not.


 

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