The Last Slide

Written by Hawk50
Originally posted at the
JOC Board

Chapter 1 [posted: 7/10/99]

There was something about the new guy that bothered Gabby.

Oh, it wasnít that he wasnít a fast learner. Heíd mastered the liquor stocking and ordering system, had completely reorganized and categorized the inventory and was already pinch-hitting for Ray behind the bar.

And she wasnít afraid of him. That wasnít the problem.

You took those chances hiring people off the street here in New Orleans.

While many were the out-of-work drifters they appeared to be, just needing some extra pocket money to find a decent place to sleep, buy a little food and keep clean clothes on their backs, some were actually dangerous. Thieves, robbers, murderers, some high on drugs or dealers themselves, running from the law.

Some were just trying to escape some dark troubled past.

She had a feeling that this guy was one of the latter. He was obviously running from something, but she didnít think it was the law. A lot of cops frequented the bar -- on and off-duty -- and Quinn never seemed uncomfortable with them. But, he had this look in his eyes...

Gabby shook her head and went back to balancing the bar books. She couldnít explain why she was so obsessed with this particular young man.

Oh, he was good-looking, all right. Young -- about 25 -- her age, actually -- tall, dark haired, slender but muscular, a great smile -- when he smiled. Which wasnít often.

It was his eyes. Light blue. Arresting. But sad, troubled, haunted -- harboring something...

He seemed to be completely alone. She never saw him with anyone. No phone calls, no visitors, no days off for personal business. He came to work alone, ate alone, and left alone.

And he never talked about himself. Never. Heíd been here for almost a month and neither she nor Ray nor Lisa nor any of the other waitstaff knew any more about him than they had when heíd first shown up on their doorstep one Monday morning. It was like he had no past. But he was heaven-sent. Their last helper -- a pleasant-enough young man but not terribly bright and with a whiny, clinging little girlfriend -- had suddenly quit Saturday night. And they desperately needed the help.

 

When they had interviewed him, he said his name was Quinn Mallory and heíd just arrived in the city from San Francisco. While he had no bar experience, heíd proven his willingness to work before theyíd even started talking about a job by helping Ray unload a large liquor shipment which had just arrived at the back door.

Heíd had no address to put on the application, so at first Ray helped him get a room at one of the cleaner, safer boarding houses in the Quarter, well within walking distance of the bar. And, just last week, heíd moved in with Ray, helping share expenses.

The bar was one of many small, almost neighborhood-type establishments scattered within the French Quarter. Not far from Bourbon Street, it attracted a fair number of tourists, but mainly boasted a loyal local clientele. A little larger than most, it had a pool table and video poker, offered a limited lunch and dinner menu and even had a few booths scattered near the large oak bar. There couples could gather, eat a light snack and neck out of the view of most of the other patrons.

 

Gabby stood up from the account books and placed her hands on the small of her back, stretching. She walked over to the bar where Quinn was busy washing and cleaning glasses, getting ready for the nightís business.

"Hey," she leaned on the bar across from him, and fingered through one of the snack bowls, picking out a couple of salted peanuts from the mix.

"Hey, back," he smiled one of those rare smiles -- they always seemed to make her feel tingly inside. He glanced at her briefly, then went back to wiping out glasses and hanging them up in the wooden glass rack that surrounded the top of the bar.

"Getting ready for tonight, I see." She hated this small talk -- it was the same almost every day. She had yet to find some common ground on which to talk with him. Every opening she pitched to him was quickly -- nicely, but quickly -- squashed by him.

"Yep. Should be a good night. Today was payday for a lot of folks. Ought to be good for business."

She decided to take another stab at it. "Quinn?"

"Yes?" he stopped what he was doing and focused his attention on her.

"You doing anything after work? I mean, Iíve got tickets to see Charmaine Neville at Snug Harbor. Rayís got a couple of friends from out of town working tonight, so I donít think weíd leave him short-handed. What do you say?" It all came out in a rush, so afraid was she that sheíd get the standard negative response.

At first, Quinn did the expected. "Thanks, Gabby, but maybe some other time. Why donít you ask one of your friends?"

"I really wanted to go with you," she said, in a voice so low it was barely audible, and she started to turn away.

Something in her eyes changed Quinnís mind. "Gabby...?" he called out after her as she walked away from the bar.

She turned back.

"It could be fun. If you think Ray can spare us...."

Her whole face lit up. "Hey," she grinned, "I can talk Ray into anything!" And she took off to the back room to talk to Ray.

Quinn looked down at the glass in his now trembling hand. He swallowed hard. When Gabrielle smiled like that she reminded him -- a little -- of Wade. This might be a mistake. But it was damn lonely living like this.

Chapter 2 [posted: 7/12/99]

Professor Maximilian Arturo was lost in thought.

Heíd been spending many of his days lately like this, just walking the streets of his beloved San Francisco, trying to sort out the many strange twists and turns his life had recently taken.

This wasnít home; he knew that. But it was a familiar, comfortable San Francisco all the same. And since he was without family, unlike his three former companions, the need to be on earth prime was not as great.

It was odd, however; in this San Francisco. it was if the Mallory, Welles and Brown families had never existed. So Wade Welles and Rembrandt Brown had set up housekeeping together. Wade had gotten a job at CompUSA; Remmy was quickly establishing a toe-hold as a popular blues singer in some of the local nightclubs.

Maximilian had gone back to teaching. But much of his love of his work was tempered by the loss of his brightest student.

Quinn had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. It happened right after the argument. That horrible, terrible argument about a month ago. Right before the slide they never made.

 

It began innocuously enough, on the previous world. A hellish one it had been, too, with large, sluglike creatures dwelling in a primordial swamp.

They had been trapped on that world for two days and nights. With no food, no fresh water and no sleep, tempers had worn dangerously thin.

After eluding the creatures for nearly 48 hours, Quinn had successfully set some fires burning in the gaseous marshes to keep the creatures at bay. However, he had almost singed Rembrandt, who was busy helping keep Wade from being that nightís dinner.

"What the hell are you trying to do, Q-ball?" Remmy had shouted, wiping the smoke from his eyes. "Barbecue me?"

Tired as he was, Quinn found the incident amusing. "Hey, Remmy, donít worry -- I would have pulled you out when you were medium rare."

Rembrandt, unfortunately, was serious. He glared at Quinn.

"I fail to see the damn humor in this situation."

Quinn raised his hands in mock defense. "Just kidding, Rem...," But before he could say anything else, Wade, wet, tired and more than just a little frightened, chimed in.

"Canít we activate the timer yet, Quinn? I want to get out of here!"

"In about five minutes, Wade," Quinn had said. "You know itís not safe to activate the timer before it reaches zero."

"Not safe for who? For us? Weíve done it before, Quinn. Anywhereís better than here," she pleaded.

"Yeah, activate the damn thing," Rembrandt added.

Quinn tried to keep a cool head. "Just hang on, people. We just got to hang on for five more minutes..."

Remmy grabbed for the timer. "Who made you God? Did we hold an election and I forget to vote? Wade and I want out of here -- now!"

The Professor tried to intervene. "Now, Mr. Brown, Miss Welles...," but found himself in the middle of a fracas.

Quinn pulled the timer out of Rembrandtís grasp. Wade grabbed Quinnís arm and tried to wrestle the timer away, so Quinn shoved Wade. Wade, unfortunately, was off-balance and went down.

This was like waving a red flag at Rembrandt, who hauled off and socked Quinn in the jaw. Hard.

Quinn went down but managed to get back up quickly. Rembrandt hit him again. And again. And again. Quinn went down. And stayed down. He never even attempted to fight back.

The Professor stepped forward, raising his voice. "Enough, Mr. Brown, enough!"

Rembrandt stood, feet apart, fists clenched, glaring down at Quinn.

"Youíve had that coming for a long, long time, smart boy," Remmy muttered.

 

The moment seemed frozen in time. Rembrandt continued to stare Quinn down. Wade stood behind Rembrandt, clutching his arm. The Professor stood between Quinn and Remmy, now, for once, at a loss for words.

Quinn rose slowly up from the ground, his lip split; blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. He wiped it away with the back of his hand.

"Feel better now, Cryiní Man?" he said quietly. And activated the timer.

Without a backward glance, Remmy and Wade jumped into the vortex.

The Professor put his hand on Quinnís shoulder.

"Donít make too much of this, Quinn," he said. "Weíre all extremely tired and aggravated."

"No," Quinn shook his head. "This isnít over yet, Professor."

Chapter 3 [posted: 7/14/99]

Rembrandt and Wade were dusting themselves off when Quinn and the Professor landed. All were relieved and heartened to see the familiar skyline of San Francisco around them.

"This looks like home." Rembrandt said excitedly. "You think we could finally be home?" He and Wade smiled at one another, eyes shining.

"Hold on, everyone," Quinn said, clutching the timer as he stood up. "Weíve thought that before and have been wrong. Besides, we only have ten minutes on this world. Thatís not enough time to make an accurate assessment."

"Oh, yeah, here we go again!" Rembrandt threw up his hands. "Two days and nights on the slug world from hell, but only ten minutes on what could be home!"

He turned on Quinn, eyes blazing. "You got us into this mess, boy genius, dragging us along on your own selfish, personal adventure -- taking us from our homes, our families, our careers -- but then, you probably donít think of that, do you, Q-ball?"

Quinn looked at Rembrandt, something close to despair in his eyes. "You never let me forget it, Remmy. Never. No matter how many times I say Iím sorry, no matter how hard I try, itís never enough. Iím just trying to get us home."

"When will we see home again, Quinn? When?" Wade spoke. "This slide? Or the next? Or the one after that? Youíve been saying this for almost three years. Will I be home this year to celebrate Christmas with my family? God!" she ran her hands through her hair. "I am sick to death of this!"

"Really, Mr. Mallory, Mr. Brown, Miss Welles --" the Professor began.

"Keep out of this, Professor," Rembrandt said abruptly. "We know whose side youíre on, anyway."

Rembrandt stepped up to Quinn, eyes narrowed. He spoke coldly. "Thanks to you, Q-ball, weíll probably never see our families or friends again. I donít know about the Professor, but youíve certainly ruined my life, as well as Wadeís."

Quinn looked stricken. "Is that true, Wade? Do you think Iíve ruined your life?"

Wade looked at him, chin trembling. "You can be such a bastard sometimes, Quinn, you know? I thought I loved you once. Now I wish to God Iíd never met you."

Quinn paled visibly at the remark. The Professor knew he should say something, but he was, again, at a loss for words.

"As far as Iím concerned, Quinn," Rembrandt spat, "You can take that damn timer of yours and go straight to the devil! Just get the hell out of our lives!" Remmy wrapped his arms protectively around Wade, who nodded, tears streaming down her face.

Quinn stood a long moment, looking at all three. His eyes turned cold and lifeless and his shoulders slumped. He threw the timer on the ground at Rembrandtís feet.

"That can be arranged," he said, without emotion. Then, turning on his heel, he walked away from the trio.

The Professor called out in Quinnís direction, "Mr. Mallory, letís not be hasty!", but Quinn never looked back.

He turned to Wade and Rembrandt, eyeing them with a disapproving stare. "Really, Mr. Brown, Miss Welles, donít you think you were a bit hard on him?"

Rembrandt let out a deep sigh. He was quickly getting over his anger, and regretted his outburst more than a little. Yet, he was tired of always being the one to back down. Hell, he was tired, period. "Maybe so, Professor, but he aggravates the devil out of me sometimes!" He looked at Quinnís rapidly retreating figure. "Heíll probably meet us back at the Chandler when heís had a chance to think about it."

"Youíre probably right, Mr. Brown," the Professor said, but this time he had serious doubts. Things seemed different, somehow. He suddenly felt very old, very tired -- and very ill.

The feelings were reinforced as the Professor picked up the timer. It was counting upwards. They had missed the window.

"Well, Mr. Brown, Miss Welles," the Professor said grimly. "I hope you find this San Francisco to your liking. Weíll be here for the next 29 years."

Chapter 4 [posted: 7/16/99]

The Professor looked back on that event with a troubled mind. It was the last time any of them saw Quinn. And that was just a week prior to the last time he had seen Wade and Rembrandt.

They had gone almost immediately to the Chandler Hotel. Checking at the front desk, he found that Quinn had left him a brief note. It read:

I hate it had to end like this, Professor.

Please know I consider you, Wade and Remmy

to be the best friends I have. I know itís because of

me that you all are in this mess. I regret it more

than I can say. Take care of each other --

Fondly,

Quinn

 

We will, my boy, the Professor had thought. But who will take care of you?

 

Brought back to the present, the Professor found himself on an unfamiliar street in a charming neighborhood. All the houses were two story and packed tightly together, bright and colorful in the crisp, clean air.

He was near one of the small neighborhood parks which could be found in and around many San Francisco neighborhoods. He breathed in the fragrance of early spring flowers. Surrounded by people -- newlyweds, young couples with babies and small children, older couples strolling hand in hand -- the Professor suddenly felt quite alone.

The sound of laughter and childrenís voices caught his attention. Walking towards the sound, the Professor came upon a woman reading a story to a group of enthralled pre-schoolers. He paused several yards from the group, partially hidden from view by a large oleander bush and a few low-branched trees.

She was seated on a low stone bench, a cherubic three-year-old perched at her left elbow and some half dozen four- and five-year olds seated on mats at her feet. Most sat quite still, mouths agape.

The Professor stood, enchanted, as she drew him into the story along with the children.

He recognized the tale from his childhood. It was one of a series of stories by A. A. Milne, featuring Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin and a host of characters from the hundred-acre wood. The children giggled as she read one of Poohís many adventures. This one involved Pooh Bear, some bees, a honey tree and a balloon.

She really was lovely, the Professor decided. Not a young woman, she was probably in her late 40s. Stylishly dressed in blue slacks and a white long-sleeved sweater sprinkled with blue and green flowers, she had thick blondish hair, worn rather short, and a peaches and cream complexion.

Her voice was one of her most attractive features -- well-modulated and full of animation, it captured the listenerís attention with itís sparkle and charm. The Professor took a seat on a nearby bench under one tree and listened as the story grew to a close.

Just then a younger woman approached the little group. "Thanks, Nancy," she said to the woman who had been telling the story. "I can tell youíve kept them occupied. Did you all enjoy Mrs. Polkís story?" She asked the children, and a chorus of yesses ensued.

"Youíre more than welcome, Angela," Nancy replied. "Youíre the one whoís doing me a favor - I just love the time we all get to spend together."

Angela gathered up the now somewhat unruly brood and spirited them away, laughing and in high spirits. Just then, Nancy caught sight of the Professor looking at her.

Maximilian lowered his gaze, afraid she might misinterpret his attentions. But, instead, she approached him with a smile. She extended her hand. "Nancy Polk," she said. "And you are...?"

The Professor got to his feet. Grasping her hand warmly, he said, "Maximilian. Professor Maximilian Arturo at your service, madam. I must tell you how much I enjoyed the story you were sharing with the children."

"Ah, I should have guessed by your demeanor that you were a scholar," she smiled -- a truly wonderful smile, the Professor concluded on the spot. And her eyes! Just bordering on blue, they were, and so youthful! Mentally he shook himself. What was it about this woman that was making him behave like a schoolboy? "Where do you teach, Professor?"

"Berkeley, Mrs. Polk. I teach physics to unappreciative students. Very unlike the rapt pupils you had today." Damn, man, what has come over you? he asked himself, you donít normally behave this - this idiotically.

"And I gather, madam, that you are also a teacher?" he inquired.

"Not since Darren -- my husband -- passed away," she said. "I just work part time now. It enables me to spend more time with my own children."

"I am truly sorry for your loss, Mrs. Polk," the Professor said, not meaning a word of it.

"Thank you, Professor," she said, and tried to disengage her hand. The Professor suddenly realized heíd been holding it all this time.

"Oh, I am sorry," he said. And they both laughed. She made him feel quite at ease.

"If you wouldnít consider it too forward of me, could I buy you a cup of tea or coffee someplace?" he asked, amazed at his own audacity.

She took it in stride. "I think that would be lovely," she said.

Chapter 5 [posted: 7/17/99]

"Hi, sweetheart," Rembrandt said, dropping an affectionate kiss on the top of Wadeís head.

"Hey, Remmy, how was the gig?" Wade didnít even look up from the computer screen.

"Oh, you know -- same old same old -- they asked me back for three more weekends," he answered, popping the top on the can of beer heíd grabbed from the fridge.

"Thereís some casserole warming in the oven, if youíre hungry," Wade added.

"Howís it coming?" he asked, looking over her shoulder at the screen.

"Itís not, Rembrandt, itís not," Wade sighed. "Just more dead ends."

A look passed between them. Theyíd talked about the incident with Quinn so many times that they didnít even bring it up anymore.

 

Rembrandt and Wade had been stunned into silence when the Professor had announced they had missed the slide window.

"You can fix it though, right, Professor?" Rembrandt had said. "Weíve missed the window before."

"Yes," the Professor said, "but it was purely a stroke of luck that we secured the other timer. However...," here he paused, "if this world has the technology, if this worldís Quinn has the equipment in his basement, or if we can get access to some, itís possible our Quinn and I can do some reconfiguring."

They took hope in that last statement and made their way to the Chandler Hotel. There the Professor found Quinnís note...

"Damn him!" Wade blurted out. "How could he just leave us like this?" And she began to cry again.

"We did come down pretty hard on him, sweetheart," Rembrandt admitted, wrapping her in his arms. "Maybe heís just off somewhere, licking his wounds. What do you think, Professor?"

You donít want to know what I think, Mr. Brown, the Professor thought to himself. He and Quinn had been opening up a little more to each other since Quinn had learned about the Professorís critical illness some four months prior. The Professor knew how much Quinn agonized over their being forced to slide from world to world, about not knowing how to pin down the earth prime coordinates. It ate at him like a cancer.

The Professor smiled disparagingly to himself. Cancer. An unfortunate choice of comparisons...

Aloud, he said, "Itís possible, Mr. Brown. I suggest we stay here for the time being. That way when heís ready heíll know where to find us."

"Yeah, well, I hope he doesnít take too long," Rembrandt muttered.

So they remained at the Chandler. The days passed by and soon a week was up. Still no sign of Quinn.

Rembrandt and Wade had learned after the first few hours that neither they nor Quinn had family in San Francisco, so that removed one place he could possibly be.

The Professor checked Berkeley and the other universities in the area. Wade checked the computer stores and related businesses. Then they all began checking -- every hotel, boarding house and apartment complex. Wade blanketed the city with her network of sources.

Finally, fearfully, they checked the city jail, hospitals, even funeral homes and the morgues.

There was no evidence Quinn Mallory ever even existed. The Professor worried. Rembrandt alternated between anger and guilt. Wade, upset and hurt at first, sunk into a resigned state of depression. But still they refused to give up.

They began building lives for themselves on this earth that wasnít theirs. Finding jobs, Rembrandt and Wade rented a small flat near downtown. The Professor, still holding out a faint hope Quinn would try contacting him again, remained at the Chandler.

 

It was an affectionate, if awkward, farewell the day Rembrandt and Wade left for their new residence.

Wade and the Professor embraced for a long moment. "Take care of yourself, Miss Welles," the Professor said, enfolding her in his arms for a big bear-like hug. Whispering in her ear, he added. "Donít hate him, my dear. Iím sure heís hurting as much as we are."

Stepping back, she gazed solemnly up at the Professor.

"Oh, I donít hate him," she choked, her luminous dark eyes filling with tears. "Anything but. Iím just disappointed -- and sorry. I thought he knew us better than that -- after all weíve been through. I - I miss him, Professor. Itís as if someone tore out a piece of my heart."

The Professor looked at her sympathetically and then hugged her tightly, again.

He and Rembrandt embraced briefly and then clasped hands warmly.

"Keep in touch, Professor," Rembrandt said, his voice cracking slightly. "And let us know if you hear from Q-ball. You do know," he added, "as mad as he made me, Iíd willingly cut my tongue out if it would take back all those things I said. I hope heíll come back so I can tell him that."

"I do believe you would, Mr. Brown," the Professor said. "I hope he will, too."

Chapter 6 [posted: 7/19/99]

As much as she was enjoying the show, Gabby couldnít help being distracted by Quinn.

First of all, she hadnít really gotten over the fact that heíd said yes, and was actually here with her.

Secondly, if they hadnít been jammed in so close together in the smoky performance hall, she might be able to think more clearly.

As it was, they sat on the lower level about halfway back from the small stage, wedged in between two large groups of rather enthusiastic Charmaine Neville fans. There were more persons seated around their table than there was room for, which put space at a premium.

Gabbyís right leg was pressed tightly up against Quinnís left from hip to knee and she had to move very carefully to keep from shoving her right elbow into the left side of his chest. His arm was draped casually over the back of her chair and she was shoved back against his left shoulder. She could smell the clean scent of his cologne and could swear she could feel his heart beating along with the reverberating bass of the music.

He seemed totally unaffected by the close surroundings. He also seemed to be enjoying himself, although with Quinn it was hard to tell.

He said very little. But she caught his foot tapping along with the music more than once and his applause at the end of each number was as enthusiastic as the other fans surrounding them.

As they walked out into the night air following the end of the show, Gabby was more determined than ever to break through this impenetrable wall Quinn had built. The pain and loneliness surrounding him was like a living, breathing entity, so overpowering was its presence. Gabby was no psychiatrist, but she knew it couldnít be healthy for anyone to live like this. Sooner or later, something was going to give way in Quinn, possibly with disastrous results.

As they walked to Gabbyís car, she said, "Great concert, wasnít it, Quinn?"

"Uh huh," he said absently.

"I had fun," she said.

"Uh huh," he said.

"Sheís got a great voice, donít you think?" she tried again.

"Uh huh."

"I especially enjoyed it when she took off all her clothes and jumped into that vat of gumbo." Gabby glanced up at him to see if he was paying attention.

"Uh huh," Quinn replied.

Gabby stopped short. Quinn kept walking. After about a dozen or so steps, he noticed she wasnít beside him. He turned around and looked back. Gabby stood on the sidewalk, hands on her hips, her head tilted to one side, just looking at him.

Quinnís breath caught in his throat. That gesture was so like Wade it hurt to look at her. He walked back in her direction. She just stood there, an odd expression on her face.

"What? What is it?" he questioned.

"Oh, Quinn," she said with a half laugh. "Where are you tonight?"

"Excuse me?" he said, puzzled.

She reached up and lightly brushed the side of his face. He shied away from her touch, much like an unbroken colt. Oddly, she wasnít offended. He was really gun-shy. Someone had hurt him -- a lot -- and recently.

"You havenít heard a word Iíve said," Gabby said.

"Sorry," he said, a bit sheepishly. "Guess I havenít. What did you say?"

When she repeated the bit about the vat of gumbo, she was treated to a full-blown, 1000-megawatt Mallory smile, as he chuckled and said, "Got me on that one, Gabby."

And she realized she wanted to see that smile more often -- every day, regularly, if possible. Especially if it was directed at her.

"You want to go for coffee, or something?" she asked.

He was just about ready to refuse -- but then --

"Yeah," he answered. "And itís on me. But itís your city -- you choose where."

Chapter 7 [posted: 7/20/99]

The Professor couldnít remember when heíd spent a more enjoyable afternoon. Nancy charmed and fascinated him. As a result, he found himself sharing things with her that heíd never told Rembrandt or Wade -- or even Quinn.

He found himself telling her about his childhood in England - about the war, how his mother and aunts were killed during a Luftwaffe bombing raid over the British countryside and how he was placed in an orphanage until his father returned from India and was able to care for him. He spoke of his early interest in physics and how it lead him to degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge and into an illustrious teaching career.

The discussion also lead to affairs of the heart. Nancy proved to be an excellent and sympathetic listener, and Maximilian told her of his deep love for his late wife Kristina and of her untimely death from an aneurysm. Nancy shared a similar affection for her late husband Darren and still missed him greatly. She also had two children -- a boy and a girl -- both in college -- whom she adored

The afternoon lead to the evening, and the evening lead to dinner, and still they talked on, never seeming to run out of things to share.

The Professor was reminded of something Rembrandt had said to him once on a long-ago slide.

"Havenít you ever just Ďclickedí with someone, Professor?" Remmy had asked him. "I mean, to the point of just minutes after youíve met them, wondering how you ever considered your life complete without them?"

At the time, the Professor had discounted Rembrandtís words. Now he knew exactly what Remmy meant.

And it terrified him.

 

Terrified him, for he knew he didnít have much time left.

At one time, the Professor had resigned himself to sharing his illness with Quinn when Quinn had bullied his way into the Professorís personal affairs. But Quinn was gone. And things had returned to the way the Professor had wanted them. But now, Nancy was insinuating herself into that void Quinn had left, and the Professor was having difficulty shutting her out.

In fact, he realized he didnít want to shut her out. He wanted to share what remained of his life with her, if she would take him, flaws and all.

The Professor knew he was getting way ahead of himself. He hadnít said anything to Nancy about sliding or the other sliders -- or his illness. She had lost her husband not that long ago. She probably didnít want to get involved with someone she would lose in a matter of months.

No, he thought, donít bring her into this. She deserves happiness and the chance to start again with someone who can give her more -- more material comforts, more stability, and, most of all -- more time.

The Professor, however, had underestimated Nancy.

Nancy did not consider herself a particularly interesting person. Certainly not a brave or daring one.

But something had made her introduce herself to this complex man -- something about him stirred strong feelings inside her the moment she laid eyes on him.

In addition to his obvious intelligence, she found he exuded a great deal of old world charm and gallantry, a sense of rightness and fair play, and, she had to admit, a healthier than average ego.

And she found him attractive, in a rumpled, bear-like sort of way. She liked the way he wore his hair a bit longer than was fashionable for a man his age, his beard and mustache, his accent and his deep booming laugh.

He had, she had immediately decided, wonderful hands, warm, compassionate eyes, and a way of smiling that lit up his entire face.

Yet she instinctively felt he wasnít being completely honest with her. He was hiding something -- something which troubled him deeply.

She sensed he wasnít well. His coloring was a bit off and she noticed times when he seemed to be suppressing a great deal of pain. She wasnít unfamiliar with that look -- she had seen it on Darrenís face towards the end of his life when he was battling with lung cancer.

And, there was an inordinate amount of sadness in the Professorís voice and demeanor when he talked about his present life. She found it difficult to believe that a man of his stature lived in a hotel, had no family or at least no close circle of friends or colleagues, and spoke so disparagingly about teaching -- something he obviously loved and was quite good at. Plus, he seemed to have no past here. It was as if everything he spoke of took place somewhere else.

So she decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak.

"Max," she said, taking one of his large hands in her small ones.

Heíd been rattling on about something rather mundane, and the tenor of her voice stopped him. "Yes, Nancy?"

"Youíre not telling me everything, are you?" she asked. The look she gave him brooked no argument.

"Well...," he began, rather abashedly.

"No, youíre not," she announced firmly. "Youíve told me nothing of your life here, who your friends are, what youíve been doing recently. Everything is past tense. Why? Are you ashamed of your life? Your friends?"

"Indeed not!" he blustered. "Iíve been leading a most -- interesting life. And Iíve had some of the finest friends a man could hope for."

Nancy noticed his use of the word Ďhadí. "You said Ďhadí, Max, Ďhad friendsí. Did something happen to them? Is that why youíre so alone?"

The Professor was stunned by her perception. And the kindness in her eyes. He felt he could trust her with this awful burden heíd been carrying for the last month. Where to start?

"This is all going to sound somewhat fantastic," he told her.

"Try me," she said earnestly.

He wrapped his other hand around hers and began, "Well, once upon a time an old college professor and three remarkable friends decided to embark on a most amazing adventure..."

Chapter 8 [posted: 7/22/99]

Quinn and Gabby ended up at Cafe` du Monde, located off Jackson Square on Decatur, just a stoneís throw from the Mississippi River.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the cafe was still crowded with customers enjoying hot fresh beignets topped with powdered sugar and cups of steaming rich chicory coffee. Quinn grimaced as he took a sip.

"Man," he smiled, "I donít know how anyone in New Orleans ever sleeps if they drink this stuff on a regular basis." He bit into a beignet, sending white powdered sugar everywhere. "Between the coffee and all this sugar, itís a wonder people arenít bouncing off the pavement."

Gabby laughed. "Oh, itís not as bad as all that, Quinn. And anyway, Cafe` du Mondeís an institution! Everyone comes here sooner or later. Iím surprised you hadnít made it here yet. Besides," she added. "That cup shouldnít be enough to keep you awake."

Especially not you, she thought, eyeing the dark circles that had begun to gather under his eyes. He usually hid them well, but late at night -- working at the bar and now, here -- Quinn showed signs of obvious fatigue -- bordering on exhaustion. Ray said Quinn never seemed to sleep. Ray himself was a light sleeper, but even when he would awake at odd hours of the morning, he would find Quinn in the living room of the apartment -- reading or, more often than not -- just sitting, staring into the darkness.

The few times Quinn would sleep, Ray said, his slumber was interrupted by what must have been horrific nightmares. Ray had sworn Gabby to secrecy when he told her.

"You canít tell Quinn Iíve shared any of this with you," Ray said to her one afternoon while Quinn was busy placing orders with one of their suppliers. "I mean, he scares me to death! Shouting and all. The first time it happened, I rushed into his room. He was sitting upright in bed, sweat pouring off him, eyes wide open, and still asleep!" Ray shivered involuntarily, remembering the incident. "Never woke up until I touched him. Then I thought he was going to punch my lights out. Wouldnít tell me anything. It was spooky. Now I hear him, but I just try to go back to sleep."

"You said he was shouting, Ray," Gabby asked. "Could you make out anything he was saying?"

"Not much," Ray admitted. "Only one or two things were understandable. But he kept talking about home. About how he couldnít get Ďthem homeí -- whatever that means. Since then, I try to tune him out." He leaned over the bar, lowering his voice, "Iíll tell you one thing -- if he doesnít get some real sleep soon, I donít know what might happen. Heís running on adrenaline and willpower now as it is."

 

Gabby thought that Quinn was even running low on those reserves right about now.

"Letís go back to my place," she said. "Rayís out-of-town friends will be staying with him tonight and they tend to get a bit loud and rowdy. You look like you could use some peace and quiet. Besides, Lisa enjoys your company."

Quinnís first thought was to say no. But, heíd found it difficult to say no to Gabby about anything today. Maybe it was because she was so comfortable to be around -- a lot like he and Wade had been, in the beginning.

Oh, not that he didnít find her attractive. That was the problem. He did.

Gabrielle Kelly was what folks liked to call "black Irish." Petite, like Wade, she had long dark hair with reddish highlights, dancing green eyes, and fair skin -- Irish linen skin. She burned easily, and Quinn had never seen her outside without some type of wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves.

Her face was one of her best features - elfin and expressive, she spoke volumes with that face. She was one of the most honest people Quinn had ever met, for she was totally unable to hide any type of guile or deceit. And she truly cared about people. Quinn had seen her slip a little money to persons unable to pay a lunch bill, or fill in for one of the waitstaff needing a little personal time off.

Besides, he was so tired. The thought of going back to a loud party just didnít appeal to him.

"Well, if you donít think Iíd be a problem..," Quinn began.

"You? A problem?" Gabby laughed. "No way!"

Lisa looked surprised when Gabby ushered Quinn into the living room of their small apartment. As Quinn looked around the place, she raised her eyebrows at Gabby as if to say What gives? Gabby mouthed an Iíll explain later and began to give Quinn the nickel tour.

Like most places in the French Quarter, the flat was small. But the girls had worked wonders with it. The living room was the largest room, its walls painted a restful green. Rectangular in shape, the far wall was a series of French doors which opened out onto a narrow wrought iron balcony overlooking a lush, peaceful inner courtyard. The room was dominated by a large sofa, two small end tables, a coffee table and one overstuffed chair. Mardi Gras and other New Orleans art hung on the walls. The kitchen was quite small, with narrow cabinets reaching to the ceiling and three bar stools surrounding an outer kitchen bar area.

The two bedrooms were tiny; no closets, just enough room for a good-sized bed, night stand, and wardrobe. At the foot of each bed was a chest for sheets, blankets and pillows. The bedrooms were separated by a small bathroom, and the balcony sported a black iron table and three chairs.

Quinn took the glass of iced tea Lisa offered and found a seat on the sofa. "Nice place," he said, looking around the room once again. His gaze fell on the sound system which dominated the other long wall. "Wow. So, this is where your paycheck goes, Gabby."

Gabby plopped down beside him. The sounds of Stevie Ray Vaughn filled the room. "Yeah," she smiled, "as Lisaís fond of saying, we may not have much, but weíve got tunes!"

Quinn set down his glass of tea and leaned against the back pillows of the sofa. "This is really comfortable," he murmured, closing his eyes. He looked so thoroughly exhausted that Gabbyís heart caught in her throat.

"Yeah," she said softly. "Many peaceful nights have been spent on that couch. Youíre welcome to stay here tonight, Quinn." She cast a confirming glance at Lisa, who just nodded, and began turning off lights. The room was soon bathed in the glow of a single light near the sofa. Quinn was almost asleep.

Gabby and Lisa tiptoed around the place, turning off the sound system and getting ready to retire for the night. Gabby eased Quinn from a sitting position to a more comfortable horizontal one and got him a pillow and blanket from the chest in her room while Lisa untied his shoes and slipped them off. Gabby draped the blanket lightly around his feet and carried the tea glass into the kitchen. She squeezed Lisaís shoulder on her way to the sink.

"Thanks, Lisa, I owe you," she whispered.

"You owe me nothing," Lisa whispered back. "Iíve been worried about him for weeks. Iím glad you were able to talk him into coming over tonight." She looked over at Quinn with an odd expression on her face. Gabby suddenly realized that Lisa, like most of the other female waitstaff at the bar, was far from immune to the Mallory charm.

"Poor Quinn," Lisa sighed. "Did you find out any more tonight about what his story is?"

"No," Gabby replied, running her fingers though her hair. "He hasnít told me anything. In fact, Iím also amazed he agreed to come over. Heís like a locked door, Lisa, and I havenít found the key -- yet."

Chapter 9 [posted: 7/25/99]

Gabby sat upright in bed, eyes wide open.

She glanced at the clock. Three a.m. What had awakened her?

Then, she heard it again - moans coming from the living room. Quinn.

She tossed off the covers, slipped on a pair of shorts under her oversized nightshirt and made her way in the dark to the sofa.

He was tossing restlessly on the couch, muttering, covered in perspiration.

"Quinn...?" she began, until she realized he couldnít hear her. She started to reach out, then stopped and just stood -- listening.

"Wade? Remmy? Please -- please -- so sorry -- so sorry," he murmured over and over. "Where are you? Professor? Please -- help me -- help me --" his voice pleaded. "Canít get -- home. Canít get you home -- "

He began to tremble, repeating the word "home" over and over. Gabby couldnít stand it any longer. She reached out for him. "Quinn?" she said softly, kneeling beside the sofa. She gently grasped his shoulder. "Quinn?"

He started at her touch, then opened his eyes and looked at her, unseeingly. Gabby realized he was still deep in the clutches of this personal nightmare.

"Wade!" he exclaimed, grabbing her and pulling her close. "Thank God! Wade! I thought Iíd lost you! I -- I thought -- I was afraid -- I -- I..."

And, rocking her back and forth in his arms, he began to cry.

 

Gabby cried, too. Softly, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her heart went out to him. Such pain! She hugged him back, stroking his hair, feeling his hot tears on her face and neck as he murmured over and over, "...so sorry, Wade, Iím so sorry,"

Not knowing what else to do, she whispered back, in a soothing cadence, "Itís all right, Quinn. I know. Iím here. Shhh...donít cry. Itís all right." She caught sight of Lisa standing nearby. She, too, had tears running down her cheeks.

They remained in each othersí arms for about ten minutes. Gradually, Quinnís tears subsided and he began to relax. His hold on her was loosening and his mutterings became less frequent. Soon, she was able to lay him back down on the sofa. His eyes closed and he drifted back into a now peaceful sleep.

Gabby remained on her knees by the sofa, stroking Quinnís hair and face as he slept. Lisa handed her a Kleenex and she wiped her eyes, then got shakily to her feet.

"Wow," she said, swallowing hard. She looked at Lisa.

"We are dealing with some major demons here, girlfriend," Lisa said. "That boy is seriously hurting."

"Youíre telling me," Gabby said. She was still a bit unsteady.

"Wonder who this ĎWadeí is?" Lisa said.

"Well, whoever she is, and Iím assuming Wade is a she, sheís certainly important to Quinn," Gabby replied, shaking her head. "He also mentioned a ĎRemmyí and someone he called ĎProfessorí. The question is now, how do I deal with this? He was obviously dreaming. Thereís a better than average chance he wonít remember any of this when he wakes up. Should I mention it to him? And if I do, will that keep him from talking to me -- from trusting me? Geez, Lisa, what do I do?"

Lisa sighed, "Beats the hell outta me, Gabby. I donít envy you. Maybe this is over your head. Maybe he needs professional help. But whatever you decide, Iíll do all I can to help. Just donít let him hurt you."

"Hurt me?" Gabby frowned, "I donít see..."

"Of course you donít see," Lisa said assertively. "Youíre too close. You like this guy, Gabby. I mean, REALLY like this guy. Donít let yourself become a substitute for the person heís really looking for, okay? Because," she said sadly. "I donít think itís you."

Chapter 10 [posted: 7/29/99]

Nancy sat, somewhat dumbfounded, as the Professor told her all about what he had been doing for the past several years. It sounded exciting, fantastic, impossible - and she believed every word. There was a strong connection between her and Maximilian, even though they had known each other for such a short period of time, that she instinctively knew he would not lie to her.

She felt a profound sadness when he told her about Quinnís disappearance. This young man obviously meant a great deal to Max, and she silently resolved that she wouldnít rest until she found him and got the two back together. Because, she also instinctively knew Max didnít have much time left.

He didnít go into great detail about his illness -- only that it was terminal and his time was limited. She wasnít sure if he had pursued all the avenues of treatment available, and she was equally determined to help him here, also.

Of one thing she was sure -- here was a man whom she cared about deeply, who needed her help and her affection. And, she realized with a start, here was a man whom she also needed - and loved. She was experiencing feelings she thought had died forever with the death of her husband. Max made her feel alive; made her feel that her life had purpose. And she was determined to hang on to those feelings for as long as she could. Oh, she loved her children, and cherished her friends, but they didnít need her -- or love her -- like Max did.

The help in the restaurant were cleaning up inconspicuously around them and Nancy glanced at her watch.

"Oh, Max," she exclaimed, "look at the time! These poor people -- we need to leave so they can close."

The Professor looked around him. Sure enough, chairs were resting upside down on tables all around them. Their waiter stood, leaning against the bar near the back, eyes closed. One lone bus boy swept the floor near the kitchen.

"Youíre absolutely right, my dear," he said. "I fear we have overstayed our welcome." He got the waiterís attention, left a very generous tip and escorted her out into the night air.

 

They walked slowly back to his car, holding hands. He opened the passenger side door for her, and she scooted over towards the center of the front seat to sit close beside him. The Professor realized that anyone seeing them could possibly mistake them for lovers -- and the thought caused him to smile.

Nancy glanced over at him.

"Whatís got you grinning like a Cheshire Cat, Max?" she asked.

He flushed, feeling as if she had read his thoughts.

"I - well - I was just thinking how you make me feel as if weíve known one another for quite a long time -- certainly much longer than one day." Well, at least he hadnít told her a lie.

She snuggled up closer to him, grasping his arm and leaning her head against his shoulder.

"Funny," she said, smiling. "I was thinking the same thing."

 

He walked her to her front door and watched as she got out her keys.

"Would you like to come in for a moment?" she asked.

"Thank you, Nancy, but I think not," he replied. "However, I must insist upon seeing you tomorrow - that is, if youíre agreeable."

His first response had caused her to think that perhaps she had overstepped her bounds. But his second statement confirmed what she had hoped -- that he wanted to see her again as badly as she wanted to see him. She breathed a silent sigh of relief and smiled up at him.

"Certainly, Max, Iíd love it. What time?"

"My last lecture is at 2 p.m. Will you be free after then?"

She nodded. He turned to leave, then turned back. He picked up her hand and brought it to his lips. "Madame, I have had a most enchanting day." His eyes twinkled.

Nancy couldnít help it. She leaned up and gave him a quick kiss. He looked startled, but then, grasping her face gently in his hands, brought her lips to his.

The kiss was brief, but passionate. They gazed at one another for a long moment, then she said softly, "Good night dear, dear Max." and went inside.

He gazed for a moment at the closed door. "Good night, my love," he murmured, and walked slowly back to his car.

Chapter 11 [posted: 7/30/99]

After a week of almost constant togetherness, the Professor and Nancy had dinner with Remmy and Wade.

Nancy had been instrumental in arranging the get together. She had soon learned that the Professor hadnít told them about his illness, and she was appalled.

"Max, honestly!" she scolded. "These two are your closest friends here -- at least thatís what youíve been telling me -- and you wonít share this with them? You owe them that much."

The Professor hemmed and hawed, but try as he might, he couldnít reason -- or argue -- with her about this matter. Secretly, he didnít want to. Nancy had had a remarkable effect on him over the past week. He suddenly found himself looking at things through different eyes -- the eyes of a man deeply in love. And it scared as well as delighted him.

 

Remmy and Wade looked at one another as they stood on Nancyís front porch that Saturday evening. All they knew was that they had received a most unusual phone call from the Professor inviting them to dinner at this address. They had both thought he was still at the Chandler.

Remmy rang the bell, and it was answered by a lovely woman in her late 40s. The warmth of her smile enveloped both him and Wade.

"Oh, you must be Remmy!" she exclaimed. He couldnít help smiling back.

"And youíre Wade," she said, putting an arm around Wadeís shoulders. "Youíre just as Max described you. Iím Nancy. Please, please come in!"

They were ushered into the front hall of a lovely old Victorian-style home. A charmingly old-fashioned parlor was on their right, an elegant dining room to their left. A large curving staircase led up to a second story.

She bustled about them as a mother hen would, immediately putting both at ease. From the back of the house -- obviously where the kitchen was located -- came the Professor. Adorned in a large, frilly apron, he carried a large plate of hors díoeuvres, which he placed on a sideboard next to a decanter of wine and four glasses.

He turned to them, clasping his large hands together. "Miss Welles! Mr. Brown! So delighted you could join us!" He enveloped Wade in a large bear hug and clasped Rembrandtís hand warmly. Then, wrapping his arm around Nancyís shoulders, he presented her with a flourish. "I trust the lady of the house has made you welcome. Nancy Polk -- meet Rembrandt Brown and Wade Welles."

"We feel like we know her already, Professor," Wade smiled at Nancy.

 

The dinner went wonderfully. It was obvious that the Professor and Nancy were very much in love, and she made Rembrandt and Wade feel like family almost immediately. They realized the Professor had shared most of his sliding experiences with her, so the anecdotes and stories came spilling out as the trio relived several of their adventures. They found she had a sharp mind and ready wit. Rembrandt soon had her in stitches with some of his tall tales, and she clearly sympathized with Wade during their recounting of some of the more dangerous escapades.

At dinnerís conclusion, Wade helped Nancy with the dishes as Rembrandt and the Professor cleared the table.

Remmy nudged the Professor as they put up the unused silverware.

"Man, she is one special lady, Professor," Remmy said.

"She is indeed, Mr. Brown, she is indeed." the Professor agreed.

In the kitchen, Wade was expressing similar thoughts to Nancy.

"The Professor seems so happy, Nancy," Wade said. "You must be good for him."

"Weíre good for each other, Wade," Nancy replied, putting the last of the dishes in the dishwasher. "Max has become a very important part of my life in the short time Iíve known him."

Nancy and Wade rejoined Rembrandt and the Professor in the parlor, where the men were enjoying an after-dinner brandy.

Nancy eyed the Professor meaningfully. He moved over to her and whispered, "The evening has been so enjoyable, I really donít think I should spoil..."

"Max, dear, you really must tell them," she whispered back emphatically.

"Youíre right, my dear," he sighed, and kissed her lovingly on the cheek. Aloud, he said, "Mr. Brown, Miss Welles, please be seated. I have something I need to share with you..."

Chapter 12 [posted: 8/1/99]

Remmy and Wade didnít know quite how to react to the news of the Professorís illness.

To be honest, it didnít come as a complete surprise. Both had suspected something was up for months. Neither had felt the Professor had been in the best of health and Quinn had been so solicitous toward the Professor before he disappeared.

Rembrandt, characteristically, was angry. Wade, characteristically, was hurt.

"Damn it, Professor!" Rembrandt exploded. "Why didnít you tell us? Does our friendship mean that little to you?"

"Our friendship was the very reason I kept this from you, Mr. Brown," the Professor said. "There was -- is -- nothing you could do. I didnít want to be a burden..."

"You should have let us make that choice, Professor," Wade scolded.

"Yeah," Rembrandt added, "I mean, you told Quinn..."

"I didnít Ďtellí Mr. Mallory," the Professor insisted. "He intercepted a private phone message from my physician and confronted me outside the doctorís office. He left me no choice. I would not have told him otherwise."

The Professor walked over to where Wade and Remmy were standing, and put his arms around their shoulders.

"There are some things even family members find difficult to share," he said, pulling them close to him. "This is one of those things." He squeezed Rembrandtís shoulder and planted an affectionate, uncharacteristic kiss on the top of Wadeís head. He continued.

"Be that as it may, itís now out in the open." He looked lovingly in Nancyís direction. "Nancy has convinced me that the time I have remaining is best spent with those I care for, and, with one glaring omission, they are the people in this room." He gave them both another quick, almost embarrassed hug.

Wade wasnít about to let him shrug off this moment so easily. She wrapped her arms tightly about him and, as Remmy would have put it, almost squeezed the stuffing out of him.

"Thanks for letting us in, Professor, before it was too late," she glanced up at him, unshed tears in her eyes. "Now, what are we going to do about that Ďglaring omission,í as you put it?"

"Iím afraid, Miss Welles, that the ball is in his court," the Professor admitted. "Iím still receiving mail and messages at the Chandler, so there is that avenue. If you, with all your contacts, have been unable to flush him out, he must not want to be found. It seems the next move is up to him."

He gave her one final hug and then his eyes brightened. "Well, on to more pleasant subjects. What are you two doing a week from tomorrow?"

Rembrandt looked at Wade. "I think our calendarís open, Professor. What did you have in mind?"

"A wedding, Mr. Brown," the Professor looked absolutely cherubic. "And Iím in need of a best man. Any suggestions?"

Chapter 13 [posted: 8/3/99]

Gabby had been right. When Quinn awoke the next morning, he remembered nothing about the nightmares.

Gabby and Lisa had been up about 15 minutes, and were stirring as quietly as they could in the small kitchen when Quinn sat up on the couch, yawned and stretched.

"Wow," he said, "Guess I fell asleep." He ran his hands through his hair and shook his head, shaking out the cobwebs.

"Thanks for putting me up last night, Gabby. Hope I wasnít too much trouble."

Lisa stifled a chuckle and Gabby shot her a warning look.

"No trouble, Quinn. Did you sleep well?"

"I must have. Donít remember falling asleep. Donít remember anything, really," he shook his head again. "Guess I sort of passed out."

Lisa almost chuckled again, and this time Gabby elbowed her in the ribs.

"Coffee? Orange juice?" Lisa offered.

"Orange juice, please," he got up, folded the blanket and made his way over to the kitchen. Despite his slightly rumpled look, he appeared a bit more rested than he had the last few days.

He even appeared to have a better appetite, demolishing the plate of bacon, eggs and toast Lisa served him.

"That was delicious," he said, treating Gabby and Lisa to one of those rare Mallory smiles. "Rayís a great guy, but he canít boil water and Iím not much better. Weíve been surviving on Pop Tarts, PoBoys, TV dinners and take out."

He helped the girls clean up after breakfast. Gabby found him a spare toothbrush, and, as Quinn showered, Lisa dug out a clean T-shirt from an old boyfriend for him to wear.

He emerged, hair still damp, twenty minutes later.

"Thanks for the loan of the shirt, Lisa," he said. "Iíll get it back to you as soon as possible."

"No hurry, Quinn," she said. "Actually, it looks better on you than it ever did on -- or off -- Brad."

Quinn raised an eyebrow. "Oh, boy, Iím not going there," he teased.

"Well," Lisa said, eyeing Gabby expectantly. "Since todayís a late day, and weíre not due at the bar Ďtil after six, what are everyoneís plans?"

"Guess I ought to get out of your hair..." Quinn said.

Lisa shot Gabby a look that said, Hereís your chance to talk with him, donít blow it, and said aloud, "Donít know about you two, but Iíve got a long list of errands to run. See ya!" She grabbed her purse and was out the door before Gabby could open her mouth.

"Wow, somebody lit a fire under her," Quinn commented, as the door slammed shut.

Gabby said nothing at first, then squared her shoulders and turned to face Quinn.

"We need to talk," was all she said.

 

Quinn got a slightly amused, slightly apprehensive look on his face.

"Sure thing, Gabby, whatís up?"

She led him back over to the couch, and plunged in.

"Weíre friends, arenít we, Quinn?"

"Sure -- at least I like to think we are. Whatís this about?"

"Whoís Wade? Who are Remmy and the Professor?"

Suddenly, his eyes lost their shine. "Who told you about them?" he asked coldly.

"You did, Quinn. In a way.." and Gabby told him about the nightmare, sparing little.

At the end, she was seated next to him, holding his hands in hers, practically pleading.

"You can tell me itís none of my business, Quinn. You can tell me to back off, shut up or even to go to hell. Itís just.." and here she blinked back tears..."Itís just weíve -- Iíve -- been so worried about you. You donít sleep; you donít eat well; you never talk to us...well, at least you never talk to me. Let me in, Quinn. I care so much. Let me help. Please?"

His angry look had passed. "Guess itís about time I talked to someone," he admitted. "I know youíre going to think this is crazy, but my friends and I are not from here -- this earth, I mean. Weíre whatís known as sliders...."

Chapter 14 [posted: 8/4/99]

And the story came out in bits and pieces.

Gabby listened quietly, unbelieving at first. Still, Quinn was quite convincing, and gradually she felt that this impossible story might, indeed, be possible. Alternate worlds or no, something had happened to Quinn, something that had shut him off from human contact. She felt his walking out was not the answer, but at the same time, she sensed how deeply Remmyís and especially Wadeís unthinking, cruel comments had hurt him.

"So you think theyíre still in San Francisco, Quinn?" she asked. "Why donít you call -- or at least try to contact the Professor. Iím sure he....,"

"No, Gabby," Quinn said emphatically. "Iím not sure thatís what I want to do right now."

"But, Quinn...." she began, but he silenced her.

"You said we were friends, Gabby. Friends donít push too hard."

Wisely, she backed down.
"Okay, Quinn, point taken, but please...," and here she grasped his hands again. "Donít shut me out, okay? I -- I really care what happens to you."

He looked at her for a long moment. "You know, Gabby? I really believe you do."

And he leaned forward and kissed her.

 

He actually pulled her into the kiss.

At first, nothing but their hands and their lips touched.

His mouth was soft on hers, tender and undemanding. Then, unexpectedly, the kiss deepened.

Gabby dropped his hands and wrapped her arms around his neck. Quinn put one arm around her waist, placed the other on the small of her back and moved her closer to him on the couch.

They pulled apart after a few minutes and stared at one another, both breathing deeply. Then, gently, Quinn put one hand behind her head and pulled her to him again. He began kissing her lightly, ever so softly, teasing her mouth with small kisses at the corners. The tip of his tongue flicked over her parted lips, tormenting her, before pushing past them into her mouth. He nibbled on her bottom lip, and then he was inside her mouth again, molding her lips with his in a kiss that splintered her with pleasure.

Her fingers tangled themselves in his thick hair as the kiss intensified. His hand began stroking her back gently, pulling her ever closer into his embrace.

When the kiss ended, it was through sheer force of will that she opened her eyes and gazed up at him, willing herself to focus.

"Wow," she said shakily. "If thatís what you call a Ďfriendlyí kiss, Quinn, Iím in deep trouble."

Actually, Quinn was shaken, too. He had meant it to be a friendly kiss, warm and caring, but nothing more. He had not expected the conflicting emotions that had exploded within him when his lips met hers.

"Oh, boy," she added. "I think this might get complicated."

"I think it already is, Gabby," Quinn said softly.

Chapter 15 [posted: 8/6/99]

Gabby and Quinn found themselves seated at the Napoleon House on Chartres Street later that afternoon.

Both had skated nervously around "the kiss" since it happened, but the whole event filled the spaces between and around them, making relaxed, normal conversation almost impossible. As much as she had enjoyed it -- longed for it, really -- Gabby was actually beginning to wish it had never taken place.

The two of them had ordered a muffaletta and split it. Gabby looked up from her barely-touched half. Quinn was absently picking at his portion of the sandwich.

"Quinn?" she said hesitantly.

"Yeah?" he replied, not really paying attention.

"Can we start over, please?"

"What?" his startled blue eyes met hers.

Gabby grasped his hand. "Look, Iím not sorry we kissed. Truth be known, Iíve wanted you to kiss me for a long time..." she looked away, somewhat embarrassed, but then brought her gaze back to meet his. "But if this is going to be what itís going to be like between us, Iíd rather go back to being just friends."

Quinn held her gaze, but said nothing.

"I really like you, Quinn, I mean, really like you. But I sense that someone else really has your heart. Itís Wade, isnít it?"

He looked away, and ran his free hand nervously through his hair. Something in her tone, her look, told him she knew the truth. Hell, he thought, I never could lie to her.

"I really donít know, Gabby," he said honestly. "I used to think so. At one time I was positive. But Iíve come so close to losing her so many times, and, after this last slide, Iím not sure how she feels about me any more. Iím not even sure how I feel any more."

"Donít you think you owe it to yourself to find out?" Gabby asked. "From what you told me, youíre not sliding any more. Why donít you go back to San Francisco and find her? Ask her how she feels about all this? What was the name of that hotel where you always stayed? Maybe sheís there."

"The Chandler," Quinn said absently. "Look, Gabby, like I said earlier, donít push."

His expression brooked no further discussion.

Now that they had cleared the air, the conversation was a lot more spontaneous and they found themselves drifting back into the comfortable role of good friends.

Gabby found herself relaxing. Sheíd gotten the information she needed to help push Quinn toward a course of action.

 

Gabby gripped the receiver tightly as directory assistance completed her call to the Chandler.

After two rings, a crisp male voice answered.

"Chandler Hotel. Front desk. How may I direct your call?"

Gabby asked nervously, "Professor Maximilian Arturoís room, please."

"Iím sorry. Professor Arturo is no longer a guest in this hotel," the voice replied. Gabby could hardly mask her disappointment. "However, he did leave a number where he could be reached. Shall I give it to you?"

"Yes, please," Gabby breathed a sigh of relief and grabbed for a piece of paper and pencil.

 

The phone in the kitchen rang shrilly. Nancy put down her morning coffee and picked up the receiver.

"Hello?"

A young female voice asked, "May I please speak to Professor Maximilian Arturo?"

"Heís not here," Nancy replied, her interest piqued. "May I help you?"

"Then this is his residence?" the voice questioned.

"Who is this?" Nancy asked.

"I have a message for the Professor from Quinn Mallory, but..." the voice continued, somewhat hesitantly.

Quinn! Nancy thought excitedly. Aloud, she said, "This is the Professorís residence, but heís teaching at Berkeley. Please donít hang up. Heís been so worried about Quinn. Is he all right?"

Drawing a deep breath, Gabby began to speak.

Chapter 16 [posted: 8/11/99]

Quinn was restocking the bar when the telegram arrived.

His face paled noticeably and his hands shook as he tore open the envelope. He scanned its contents, wadded up the piece of paper and strode purposefully over to where Gabby was entering some figures into the ledger.

He waved the telegram under her nose.

"Okay," he said, in what would have sounded to most people like a reasonable tone of voice. Gabby, however, picked up on the undercurrents of anger. "How the hell did he know where to find me?"

Gabby took the crumpled piece of paper from his hand and quickly read the message. She looked up at him, concern mirrored in her face.

"Oh, Quinn - this is terrible! You must go."

His gaze didnít waver.

"Again, Gabby, how did he know where I was?"

Furious, she stood up. Although shorter than Quinn by at least a foot, she looked bigger as she flared back at him.

"Oh, for Godís sake, Quinn! Who cares how he found out? Okay, so I contacted him. I felt that this tantrum of yours had gone on long enough and you needed to make peace." Angry tears glittered in the corners of her eyes. "The man needs you, Quinn! Put aside your hurt feelings for once -- before itís too late!"

The rage in Quinn died as he looked closely at Gabbyís open face and heard her words. Dammit, she was right. The Professor had filled such a large void in his life -- becoming both mentor and father -- and Quinn had walked out on him. And now the Professor needed him. He truly had no choice.

He smiled tentatively. She was still ruffled -- reminding him of an angry little kitten, snarling and spitting at a much larger adversary, oblivious of its own safety. Absolutely fearless. He grabbed her and hugged her to him tightly, wrapping his arms around her and murmuring into her hair.

"Oh, Gabby! Just what Iíve always needed. My own personal dark-haired, green-eyed, Irish conscience! Youíre right. Think Ray will let me off? Think Ray will let us both off? I think the Professor needs to meet his guardian angel."

Since the events of the other day, Gabby and Quinn had fallen back into the roles of good friends. Gabby wisely decided that a friend was what Quinn needed most at this time of his life, and romantic entanglements would just get in the way of what she hoped was developing into a long-term relationship. She knew she was testing the limits of their friendship by doing what she did, but she also knew that conditions as they were could not be allowed to continue. So she played the cards she was dealt. Luckily, it looked like sheíd won the hand.

 

"Really, Quinn?" she looked up at him with a big grin, and Quinn realized for the first time how lucky he was to have this lady in his life. She saw things with a clarity that lately had been sadly lacking in his life. If they werenít destined to be lovers they could certainly be friends.

"Yeah," he smiled back, dropping a kiss on her upturned nose. "Letís go talk to Ray and then letís call the airlines. San Francisco -- here we come."

Chapter 17 [posted: 8/13/99]

The day of Maximilian and Nancyís wedding dawned clear and bright.

The couple opted to hold the ceremony in Nancyís rose-covered back yard.

Postage-stamp sized, it nevertheless was picturesque and perfect. A small trellis provided a fragrant backdrop for the make-shift altar where the minister was to stand. A small cement walkway provided enough space for a dozen folding chairs, six on each side, in two rows of three chairs each.

The roses -- white, pink, blush and red -- provided most of the color. White bunting was draped across the top and sides of the trellis and big white bows were anchored to the sides of the chairs nearest the aisle.

A small reception area was set up on Nancyís tiny covered patio. There was enough room for one table holding the wedding cake, a punch bowl, cups and champagne glasses, plates, napkins and forks. A few bottles of champagne chilled in large silver bowls nearby.

 

The guest list was limited. Nancyís two children -- Carolyn and Kenny -- were part of the wedding party. Carolyn served as one of the maids of honor. Wade was the other. Kenny was a groomsman.

Nancyís parents, Kenneth and Myrtle Painter, were there, along with Angela Morris, the young teacher the Professor had seen in the park that first day he had met Nancy, and two of Nancyís other friends. The Professor had invited two of his closer colleagues from the university and they were in attendance. The minister rounded out the group.

The Professor looked handsome and distinguished in his dark morning coat with a gray striped vest. He was also extremely nervous. And he was driving Rembrandt crazy.

"Cut it out, Professor," Remmy exclaimed, as the Professor fidgeted with Rembrandtís tie for what seemed like the twelfth time in as many minutes. He pushed the Professorís hands away from his neck. "Man, isnít it ever gonna be two oíclock? Letís get this show on the road." Rembrandt was dressed in a dove gray tuxedo with a darker gray cummerbund.

"Sorry, Mr. Brown," the Professor apologized, dropping his hands to his sides. They flew up immediately to finger his own tie. "Iím as nervous as a first year student."

Rembrandt replied, "Yeah, well, itís not every day an ugly old goat like you ends up marrying one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Wonder what she sees in you?" But his eyes were twinkling.

 

In the meantime, Nancy, with Wade and Carolyn in attendance, was reasonably calm. She did indeed look lovely, in a long sleeved, floor-length off-white silk-crepe gown with shiny silk-inlaid embroidered stripes. She wore a mixture of roses as a headpiece.

Wade and Carolyn wore similarly designed dresses in a rose-colored silk. Wadeís dark hair and Carolynís red head were adorned with small white and pink roses and babyís breath.

They were standing inside in the parlor, adhering to the time-honored tradition of the groom not being allowed to see the bride until they were ready to walk down the aisle.

Nancy, however, did seem to be expecting someone.

Angela stuck her head inside the parlor. "Oh, donít you three look lovely?" she said, smiling broadly. "Nancy! I think just about everyoneís in place. Are we almost ready to begin?"

"Just a few more minutes, Angie," Nancy said.

Then the doorbell rang. Angela turned to get it, but Nancy stopped her.

"Angie, I need you here for a minute. Wade, would you mind getting the door?"

"Not at all, Nancy," Wade answered. She moved to the front door and opened it.

For a few seconds, there was silence.

"Quinn?" Wade breathed.

Chapter 18 [posted: 8/16/99]

Quinn couldnít believe his eyes. His first thought was How lovely she looks! His second thought was She looks like sheís getting married. But to whom?

Wade stared back. Here was her Quinn, in the flesh, standing before her. Her Quinn, all right, but -- different -- a little thinner, with worry lines around his eyes she hadnít noticed before.

Then, they were in each othersí arms.

"Quinn," she said brokenly, her face muffled in his chest. "Oh, God, Quinn! Iíve missed you so much!"

He gently stroked her hair, dropping kisses on the top of her head. "Me, too, angel. Me, too."

 

Gabby, still standing at the door, watched this display, tears in her eyes. Immediately she knew she had done the right thing -- no matter how much it hurt. Then she caught sight of a beautiful older woman eyeing her somewhat sadly. Nancy. This must be the Professorís Nancy.

Their eyes met. A look of complete understanding passed between them. And then Nancy stepped forward, ushering the two inside the house and closing the door.

She smiled up at Quinn. "This must be Quinn," she said, extending her hand. "Iím Nancy Polk, soon to be Mrs. Maximilian Arturo." Then she turned to Gabby. "You must be Gabrielle Kelly. Come in! I donít think you all know everyone. This is my daughter, Carolyn, my friend, Angela, and Gabby, this is Wade Welles."

Gabby and Wade stood eyeing each other for a moment, sizing each other up. Then Gabby broke the ice. "Hi, Wade," she said, blinking back tears. "Itís so good to finally meet you."

Wade looked at Gabby, then at Quinn, and back again at Gabby. Call it female intuition, or her incredible insight into people, but Wade summed up the situation almost immediately. She enveloped Gabby in a warm hug, whispering in her ear, "Thanks for bringing him home."

Nancy grasped Quinn by the elbow. "Now, thereís not much time. You need to get ready. Upstairs, first bedroom to the right."

Quinn, stunned by the whole transaction which had just taken place, was just now catching on. "Mrs. Arturo? You mean the Professorís getting married? Thatís the emergency?"

Gabby could see Quinn was starting to get angry about being blind-sided, and stepped in quickly. "Better to come home to a happy occasion than a sad one, right, Quinn?" She squeezed his arm for emphasis.

Quinn looked at Gabby, and then at Nancy, who was smiling conspiratorially. He scowled menacingly, trying to look upset, and failing miserably.

"Iíll deal with you -- both of you -- later," he said, breaking in to a half-smile. "but first -- upstairs, did you say?"

"First bedroom on the right," Nancy repeated.

Quinn disappeared up the stairs, his long legs taking the steps two at a time.

 

It was about five minutes after two. Gabby sat with the Professorís two colleagues and Angela took her place with Nancyís other friends. The minister moved down front to take his place. Kenny brought Mrs. Painter down the aisle and seated her, then moved over to stand by Rembrandt and the Professor.

Just then a tall young man, cutting quite a figure in a dove gray tuxedo and gray cummerbund, came out of the back of the house and walked down the path to where the trio stood.

The Professor looked up -- and blinked. Once. Then twice.

"Hello, Professor," Quinn said softly. "Canít believe I almost missed this."

"My boy!" the Professor beamed, grabbing Quinn and giving him a rib-cracking bear hug. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and nosily blew his nose. He shook his head, as if in disbelief. "I -- I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you."

The Professor watched as Rembrandt and Quinn embraced warmly. Not saying a word, Rembrandt handed Quinn the ring, and then stepped back a pace, leaving open the place where the best man was to stand. Kenny moved over to where his grandmother was seated and sat down beside her.

From somewhere the sounds of "The Wedding March" began to fill the back yard.

First down the short aisle was Carolyn, her red hair shining in the sun.

Next came Wade. She had her eyes demurely downcast and took carefully measured steps. Quinn watched her every move, marveling at how beautiful she looked and wondering how he could have ever been so foolish as to almost let her slip away.

Wade looked up as she approached the front. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Quinn, tall and handsome in his tuxedo, smiling, his eyes shining at her. She felt the heat rise unbidden to her cheeks and smiled happily back at him.

She took her place opposite Quinn and then all eyes turned to watch the bride come down the aisle.

Nancy looked radiant, escorted on the arm of her proud father. Maximilian was awestruck at the sight of her.

The minister asked, "Who gives this woman in marriage to this man?"

Nancyís dad announced in a loud, clear voice, "Her mother, her daughter, her son and I all do!" much to the amusement of the small gathering. Then he turned and placed her hand in the Professorís and went to sit down next to his wife.

The rest of the ceremony passed in a blur. Rembrandt sang a stirring rendition of "Unchained Melody" a capella, and, in what seemed like a matter of seconds, the minister was announcing, "I now pronounce you husband and wife,"

Max took his new bride in his arms, kissing her tenderly.

Chapter 19 [posted: 8/18/99]

The celebration lasted way into the evening. Innumerable toasts were made, the wedding cake disappeared, and family and guests danced and chatted happily.

Soon after the ceremony, the Professor, Nancy in tow, made his way over to where Gabby was standing.

"My lovely bride tells me you are the angel I have to thank for bringing that wayward scamp back home," he said jovially, gesturing over towards where Quinn and Wade were slow dancing, heads close together, deep in conversation.

"Thatís me," Gabby smiled, somewhat sadly, knowing her gesture was noble and right but feeling melancholy after seeing Quinn and Wade together -- and after consuming three glasses of champagne.

The Professor gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek and enveloped her in his bear-like grasp. "I canít tell you, my dear, dear girl, how much having him here has meant to me," he said quietly. "I am forever in your debt."

Gabby liked the Professor immediately. She also liked Rembrandt, who hung with her for most of the evening.

"Hey, sweetheart," he said companionably, standing next to her, shoulder to shoulder. "That was a fine thing you did. But it hurts a lot, doesnít it?"

She looked at him, amazed at his perception. "How did you know?"

"Girl," he sighed. "I just do. But, remember, Iíll be here for you, if you need me. Besides," he added. "I owe you. Big time. Thanks for bringing him back so I could tell him how sorry I was for the things I said. I was afraid Iíd never get the chance."

Just then Quinn walked over, and slipped an arm around Gabbyís shoulders. "Howís my Ďotherí girl?" he asked, a big grin on his face.

Gabby realized she had never seen Quinn look so happy, so relaxed. It did make things just a tiny bit easier.

"Doing okay, I guess," she said. "So, I take it youíre not mad at Nancy and me any more?"

Quinn shook a finger under her nose. "I should be, you know, I really should be. You two scared me to death with that telegram."

Nancy spoke up in Gabbyís defense. "If youíre going to be angry at anyone, Quinn, be angry at me. I was the mastermind behind this plot; Gabby just went along with it for Maxís sake."

Quinn looked closely at both Nancy and Gabby and smiled. "Somehow I sincerely doubt that Gabby is ĎMiss Innocenceí in this scheme, but, however you two did it, Iím very glad you did." With that he hugged Gabby again, and Nancy, too.

 

After the celebration broke up, Quinn, Gabby, Wade and Remmy went to dinner. Afterwards Gabby and Quinn found themselves back over at Wade and Remmyís place, sharing stories and catching everyone up on the past monthís activities.

At around 2 a.m., Quinn was too wired to sleep, but Gabby felt her eyes getting heavy. Remmy stood up and yawned hugely.

"Think this old manís goiní to bed," he announced. "Itís been a full day. Quinn, you can sleep in my room, if you like."

"Gabby can bunk with me," Wade offered, but Quinn silenced her with a finger to his lips.

"Shhh. Sheís almost asleep. Just get me a blanket, Wade. Iíll make sure sheís comfortable out here. The floorís good enough for me for tonight."

Wade nodded, understanding what he meant. She got a pillow out of the linen closet for Quinn and two blankets. Then she tenderly kissed Quinn good night and retired to her room.

"Lie down, Gabby," Quinn whispered, "and let me cover you up."

"íkay," she replied sleepily. She eased down on the couch and Quinn covered her lightly with the blanket. Then he sat on the floor next to her, leaning back against the base of the couch. Turning towards her, he lightly stroked her hair.

"Quinn?" she said.

"Hmmm?" he murmured.

She yawned, then struggled to sit up.

"Hey," he said, "I thought you were falling asleep here!"

"Just about," she admitted. "But first thereís something I need to give you." She dug in her pants pocket and pulled out a creased envelope. She placed it in Quinnís hands.

"Here - your last weekís pay from the bar - plus a little extra from Ray and the girls. And, the other half of your round trip ticket money."

"He looked at her. "I -- I donít understand..."

"Oh, come on, Quinn," she said, getting a little teary-eyed. "We both know youíre not going back to New Orleans. You belong here -- with your friends --- Remmy, the Professor -- and Wade. This should be enough to tide you over until you get settled."

It was his turn to get a little teary-eyed. "Gabby -- I donít know what to say..."

She hugged him tightly, warm tears splashing on his shirt collar.

"Donít say anything, Quinn. Just -- be happy, okay?"

Chapter 20 [posted: 8/21/99]

The next day, the four of them met the Professor and Nancy for a late brunch. Although she smiled at them and laughed at all the right comments, Gabby was miserable inside. She sensed Remmy knew that. She knew Nancy did. Quinn and Wade, however, were too wrapped up in one another to take much notice of anything else. Oh well, she sighed to herself, thatís as it should be. Time to go home. Time to get back on with your life.

 

Quinn took Gabby to the airport around two oíclock.

As they announced the last call for boarding, he gave her one last hug and one very tender kiss goodbye.

"Iíll let you know what my plans are as soon as Iím settled," he promised.

"Thatíll be great, Quinn," Gabby said, somehow knowing that, no matter how sincere and well-meaning Quinn was, any communication between them would be infrequent at best.

She boarded the American Airlines plane bound for Dallas/Ft. Worth. She turned one last time to see him waving at her from inside the terminal.

"Goodbye, Quinn," she whispered. "Have a good life."

 

Once seated, she dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex, blew her nose and tried to concentrate on the magazine stuck in the seat pocket before her. She gave up and gazed out the window near her instead. The plane was oddly empty for a Monday.

A voice shook her out of her reverie.

"Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?"

She looked up -- and her mouth dropped open.

Standing there was a handsome young man, quite tall, slender, with blue eyes and a shock of brownish hair that kept falling in his eyes. He had a wide grin, dimples -- and could pass for Quinn Malloryís brother.

Gabby recovered her composure. "Er -- no, not that I know of -- no, actually," she gestured to the seat next to her. "Please..."

He stashed a backpack in the compartment overhead and slid into the seat next to her. She couldnít help staring at his infectious grin.

He turned toward her and extended a hand. "Colin Mallory. And you are...?"

She swallowed once. Then twice. "Gabrielle Kelly."

"You going to Dallas/Ft. Worth or all the way to New Orleans?" he asked.

"New Orleans. Thatís where I live," she replied automatically.

"Really? Thatís where Iím headed, too!" He wrapped her up in his enthusiasm. "Thought it was about time for a change. I mean, Iíve finished school, got my degree, but -- no real prospects. And Iíve always wanted to visit New Orleans. Iím thinking of moving down there, if I can find a job. I want you to tell me all about it -- that is, if you donít mind. Iíve got tons of questions. Iíll probably talk your ear off."

He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Actually, I was scheduled to sit somewhere else, but I saw you and I really wanted to meet you. The planeís not very full -- that is, if itís okay with you. I mean, you might be married or engaged or -- or involved." Gabby still said nothing. She was beginning to see a glimmer of doubt in his clear blue eyes.

He started to get up. "This probably wasnít a very good idea...,"

She put a hand on his arm. "No. I donít mind. Iím glad you did. This was starting out to be a very lonely ride back. Colin, is it? Colin, do you have a brother? You look so familiar.."

"Nope," he grinned, a very relieved look on his face as he settled back in the seat. "At least, not one that I know of. Gabrielle - does everyone call you Gabrielle? Itís a beautiful name."

"Itís Gabby," she smiled back. "All my friends call me Gabby."

The End


Alternate Earth 117
Back to Contents Page
Back to Fanfiction Overview
Back to Fanfiction listings