APOLOGY #1: This isn't the epilogue I promised. SORRY! In fact, I've decided against that. I liked where the story ended, it was sweet, hopeful, etc. Just imagine the epilogue: and they lived happily ever after.

APOLOGY #2: This is the laziest chapter ever written. Seriously, I cut and pasted most of the last chapter, but . . Well, durn it! So close! So very close. I've made a few key changes. They do it on LOST, right? Show the same scene with minor changes?

Spoilers for 6.01 . . . if you haven't seen it, you'll be wondering why I even bothered to change it. So, might as well wait till you watch the episode.

But the ground started rumbling and shaking and the sky turned to white and his head burned and . . .


He couldn't fucking believe it. I mean, Christ, he had clothes that didn't cost that much. He wondered if Cassidy was playing a sick joke. "You wanna buy your daughter a birthday present? Fine, here, buy these doll clothes." Shit, $32 for a doll dress?

He'd left the American Girl store in a huff, and felt much better in the aisles of the big box toy store. He'd stopped at the Barbie stuff. Much more reasonably priced. He wondered if Clementine had any Barbies. Then he berated himself for not knowing. Plus, it wasn't that he wanted to be cheap, just, shit . . . $32 for doll clothes?

He passed a display of Hungry Hungry Hippo games at the end of an aisle. Now that would be fun. But he imagined Cassidy's voice, "You aren't the one who has to listen to the racket that game makes." So, he decided against Hungry, Hungry Hippo and looked further into the game aisle. Candyland? Nah, she was too old for that. Clue? Probably not ready for a game about a murder.

Battleship? Huh. Now that was a fun game. One of his favorites. He remembered when he used to. . . well, shit, what did he remember? "You just sank my battleship!" That was from the commercial. He stared at the boxes. Quite frankly, he couldn't ever remember playing this game, and yet . . .

"Excuse me? Sir? Are you OK?"

He'd been so spaced out, he hadn't even realized someone else had walked into the game aisle.

"It's just, you've been staring at those Battleship games for awhile," she said.

Well, don't I feel like an idiot. But, hell, maybe she could help him. He said, "It's my daughter's seventh birthday, and I'm lookin' for a gift. My ex says I should get American Girl doll clothes. You have kids?"

"No," she said, looking wistful, almost sad. She brightened right away though. "I'm shopping for my nephew's birthday. He'll be seven too, and I'm supposed to get something called Bakugan. I don't even know what that is!"

"Can't help you there," he said. "But, well, I guess you used to be a seven-year-old girl . . ."

"Way back in the '70s, sure," she answered.

"Did you like Battleship?"

"Oh, yeah!" she exclaimed. "I loved it! I used to always . . ." she trailed off. She looked off to the side, confused. "You know what? Now that I think of it, my sister used to say it was a boys' game. So, I guess I didn't ever really play." But then she stared at the game boxes, much as he'd been doing. She shook her head as if to clear it. "I do remember 'You just sunk my battleship!', right?"

Right, he thought. Just right. Something about the way she said it was just perfect, but who knows why.

"Maybe I oughta stick with the list my ex gave me," he decided.

"Probably best," she said. "Well, good luck. Off to find Bakugan!" She smiled at him, and good God, it turned his insides to jelly. She breezed past him, and the most amazing smell wafted after her. He felt almost drunk. It couldn't be perfume, it was too subtle to be perfume. It must be shampoo. Jesus, her hair smelled fantastic. He could hear the sharp staccato of her heels marching to the end of the aisle.

"Hey, wait," he called after her. The clacking heels stopped, she turned to look at him. "I'll figure something out for my daughter, but I think I'm gonna get this Battleship game, too. You wanna play?"

She stood at the end of the aisle, staring at him, unreadable. Damn, that was about the stupidest thing he'd ever asked a woman. What were they gonna do? Just sit right down here in the aisle of the toy store and play a game?

"He pulled the game off the shelf. He was going to buy it no matter what she said, but he still hoped he could convince her. "Errrr. . . I guess it would just be fun. I mean, you know, if you're interested. There's a Starbucks around the corner. It'd be fun." He waved the game box. "We could get coffee sometime."

She stopped staring at him with that blank, expressionless face, but the face that replaced it wasn't any better. Her eyes narrowed, her mouth hung slightly open. Well, damn, that had been the most ham-handed pickup line he'd ever used.

I don't drink coffee.

Sounds great, but I'm really in a hurry.

I don't play board games with strangers.

I'd love to, but I've got a big meeting.

My husband doesn't really approve of me meeting strange men for coffee.

Are you really asking me out here in Aisle 16 of the Toys 'R Us?

All, he supposed, were likely, reasonable answers. And, yeah, he was kind of asking her out, but if that's what made her so ill-at-ease; if that's what was making her look at him like he'd just sprouted a second head, he'd be happy to take it back. Not like a date, he could say. Just casual, you know.

"We can go Dutch," he said.

She advanced on him in three long, decisive steps, but stopped about five feet in front of him. Her eyes were still narrowed. She was still looking at him like he was some kind of circus freak. Shit, he thought. "Go Dutch." Lame! How old was he? 80? What was he going to say next? "That would be just swell?" And, well, now that he thought of it, was "go Dutch" politically incorrect? Maybe it was offensive? To Dutch people? Was she Dutch? Who were the Dutch? The ones with wooden shoes and tulips, right? That image was probably offensive.

But, shit, why was she staring at him like that? She'd stopped the narrow-eyed glaring. Her gaze clouded over, and she stared off to the side, seemingly concentrating on the stack of "Operation" boxes.

"Never mind," he said, lamely. Whatever chance he had, he'd just blown it.

But she seemed to snap back to reality. She waved her right hand near her temple. "No, I'm sorry," she said. "The last two weeks have just been crazy for me. I swear, my mind's playing tricks. I think coffee and Battleship would be lovely. Give me about thirty minutes . . . I'll see you there!"


He leaned back in the comfy chair, holding his warm cup of coffee. Today Starbucks was playing old World War II standards, and Bing Crosby was crooning away on the sound system.

Kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again.
It's been a long, long time.
Haven't felt like this, my dear
Since I can't remember when.
It's been a long, long time.

He closed his eyes and let the lyrics wash over him. Something about them just fit. He looked up every time the bells on the door rattled. She probably wasn't coming. Why would she? And what made him ask a woman to a coffee shop to play a kids' board game?

The bells rattled again, and it was her. She lifted a bag from the toy store, waved it in his direction. She must have found her octagon or whatever it was she needed. She went first to the counter to place an order, then came to sit next to him.

"Kind of a weird way to spend an evening, huh?" he asked her, and she nodded. He said, "I don't even know your. . ."

"Juliet!" called the man at the counter.

She stood up. "That's my coffee."

"And that answers my question," he said. "I'm James, by the way."

"Nice to meet you James."

She turned to get her coffee. Bing kept on crooning.

You'll never know how many dreams
I've dreamed about you.
Or just how empty they all seemed without you.
So kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again.
It's been a long, long time.

Something about that just sounded right to James.

THE END X