So, I lost a Super Bowl bet to eyeon. If I lost, I was supposed to write an epilogue to my story, "The Mysterious Mrs. LaFleur." And I did lose! And yet, here it is August, and I still haven't paid off my bet. Mostly because I didn't want to and also because it's not like she can track me down and force me to pay up. But, someone else (who wishes to remain anonymous) PM'ed me about "hey are you ever gonna do an epilogue?" and since the epilogue was mostly written (I just don't particularly care for it), and I had a bit of time on my hands . . . so this is dedicated to eyeon and to anonymous (you know who you are).
If you never read the story in the first place, this is more like a fluffy one-shot of James and Juliet in the real world. No need to read the other story (unless you're into Dharma-time fics, which that one is). Also, don't let this story totally influence you. I'm actually kind of proud of that one. This one - eh. It's been mostly written since March. I'm publishing it in August. That is about how I feel about it.
This takes place after The Incident, as if they really did re-set time. Sideways reality is real, there's no David, Juliet and Jack were never together (mostly because I started writing this before I even knew there was a David). I managed to squeeze in some S6 sideways time details (mostly from James' side of things).
"THE END," he says with finality. He isn't gonna be talked into another story.
His son settles his head onto his shoulder, and James realizes he could probably put the boy down, tuck him in, turn out the lights, and be done with it. He knows, though, how quickly it all goes. Ever since Clementine turned 13, she's pretended not to know James in public, and in private she keeps a guarded distance. Except when she wants something. Then she's all sweet-talk and coos and hugs and kisses, turning on the charm (wonder where she learned that behavior). He doesn't get to see her nearly enough – never has, really – and now she's not even a little girl anymore. He'll see her again in six weeks, and she'll probably pass for a 16-year-old.
So, he'll sit here with J.D.'s head on his shoulder, and smell his clean hair, still damp from his bath, curling up in little blond ringlets. James thinks of all the coincidences, all the life choices that lead to him being right here, right now, in this moment. It seems as though this was the way things were meant to be, had to be.
Starting from his 19th birthday when his uncle pulls him aside, reads him the riot act. "You better get your life in order, buddy. You're gonna be dead or in jail by the time you can drink that beer legally." His uncle's right, but James loves adventure, gets off on danger, needs a challenge. A week later, he wakes from a drunken stupor, in an unfamiliar bed, with a chick he can't remember. It scaredshim straight, and he decidedsto chase his adrenaline high with the LAPD.
Fuckin' A, he's good at that. Damn good. He's even better at undercover. Shit, get to pretend you're someone you're not? Spin some lies . . . and especially with women – man, they start spillin' out secrets. James shoots through the ranks. Until he gets caught sleeping with a witness. It isn't the first time he's done it, but it IS the first time he got caught. And, well, he got her pregnant, too. Bad news all around. The entire case shot to hell. James is dropped from the Force before he knows what hit him.
The thing was, he actually kind of likes Cassidy. Wishes he'd met her some other way. He couldn't say she likes him, though. Hell, she doesn't even know Det. Jim Ford. She knows "Sawyer," the swashbuckling oil rig investor alias the department chose for him.
Out of a job, with a kid on the way, James spends a few weeks drinking. Cassidy wants no part of him, and James doesn't fight it. He later spent years making up for that – he should have fought more to be a part of his infant daughter's life, but he didn't. Frankly, he was a selfish bastard.
His partner, well, ex-partner, Miles, eventually gets him a job working security at Miles' dad's museum. It's stultifying, nights and weekends sitting at a desk, rooting through the bags tourists aren't supposed to bring in the first place. He sticks it out, though, sends monthly checks to Cassidy, and five years later is the museum's assistant head of security. Once that promotion comes through, he starts reevaluating. Wants a part in Clementine's life. To his initial surprise, Cassidy has no objection. He soon discovers that's because Cass has a new boyfriend, and James is a free babysitter. He doen't care about the reasons. He only cares that he's making an attempt at fatherhood.
That's when James' bad timing truly starts. Six months. He's had six months with Clementine when Cassidy and the new boyfriend get engaged. No big deal, except the boyfriend gets a job in Orlando, and off they go. James can't believe it. Clementine just started calling him "Daddy." Cassidy just started letting him spend whole weekends with Clem. And now they're gone – all the way across the country.
So he pulls some strings, calls in some favors with a friend of a friend, and lands a job doing security in Miami. It's not Orlando, but it's the same state, and he sees Clem on weekends. Two years working in suit and tie at the fancy corporate headquarters right across the street from the downtown hospital.
He doesn't know it, but he spends those two years parking in the same garage; two years visiting the same coffee shop; two years patronizing the same hot dog cart. But he doesn't actually meet Juliet until one day out in the 'burbs he runs into her in the game aisle of a toy store. And – BOOM! – that's it. James doesn't believe in love at first sight or any of that kind of romantic BS (or, he didn't). They meet for coffee, and he figures the feeling will fade, but it only deepens. An hour in to their coffee date, and they're already sharing inside jokes. Reluctant to say goodbye, they go to dinner. Now he figures, reality will set in. They're sure to hit a conversational dead end somewhere, fall into awkward silence, but as the night wears on, and he realizes the waiter's hovering and the bus boy's sweeping up because the restaurant is shutting down, James thanks his lucky stars.
And now they're in the foyer of her apartment, and she's stammering, "I. . . I . . . I've never done this sort of thing before." He looks at her curiously, because that could mean a LOT of things. . . never had a one night stand, never brought a man back to her apartment, never picked up a guy at a toy store, never had sex (!) (except he's already found out she's divorced, so probably not that one . . .)
"I've never had sex on the first date," she admits.
"Ahhhh." He wants to say "Yeah, me neither." But he can't bring himself to lie to her, and besides, what a stupid lie. His silence speaks volumes (and he's already noticed she can read him like she knows him), she laughs, and leads him to the bedroom.
The next morning, he figures FOR SURE the bloom will be off the rose. The dreaded, morning-after, what-the-hell-was-I-thinking wallop in the face by reality. Except not. Except to wake up next to her is probably better than falling asleep next to her, and damn, how could he fall so hard so fast?
For two weeks, he keeps expecting it to all fall to shit. He keeps expecting to find out she hates dogs or loves the New York Yankees or thinks reading is boring or won't drink beer out of a bottle or insists her boyfriend accompany her on all shopping trips or any of the other zillion things that he considers a deal-breaker. In his experience, the more he got to know a chick, the more he realized he didn't like her, but this is the opposite.
Two weeks. Then, bad timing strikes again. He's been on the job in Miami two years. Two years gunning for a job in Orlando. And here it comes at the worst possible time – a high-level position with Disney security. Things are going so well with Juliet he considers not taking it, but she's having none of it. "I don't think I'd want to be with a man who chose a woman he barely knows over his daughter. We've only known each other two weeks, James." She's right, but shit, a lot can happen in two weeks.
So they try the long-distance thing. Hell, it's only a 4-hour drive. They alternate weekends. Things only get better between them. He's, quite frankly, in love, and tells her so, and she loves him back! Jesus, he's in it big time.
Things could have just gone on so perfectly if either of them had any kind of normal schedule. But she's often on call, and his security shifts aren't exactly regular. So, her weekends in Orlando often turn out to be no more than a Friday night and Saturday morning drop-by. And his weekends in Miami are often spent on the phone, talking to his team, working out the response to some incident – a missing child, an assault, stolen property at a hotel. The long-distance thing is exhausting.
The final straw comes via a phone call he takes while pulling into Juliet's driveway on a Friday evening. A fire at the Shades of Green hotel, and he's needed back for a briefing early the next morning. So, he walks in her front door, and drops the news: "I've gotta leave in three hours." She pours him a drink, they sit in silence for a while before he finally speaks. "It ain't workin'. This long-distance thing."
"I know," she says.
"I. . . " he starts. "God, what shitty timing."
She laughs, a bitter, joyless laugh.
"What now, you think?" he asks.
She shakes her head, looks off into the distance, blinks back tears. "We tried," she finally says. "But, it's too exhausting. You said it yourself. It's not working."
He shakes his head and tries to deny the reality. She's right, but he doesn't want to hear it. In response to his head shake, she continues, "What we had, it was just for a little while, and just because we love each other, it doesn't mean we're supposed to be together."
"What the hell does it mean?" What she's saying . . . it's the most absurd thing he's ever heard.
"I mean, maybe we were never supposed to be together. What did you call it? Shitty timing?"
He sighs heavily. She's kind of right. The only reason he moved to Florida was for his daughter. The job in Orlando meant time with his daughter. And, hell, he hasn't known Juliet for six months, even. Barely the length of a baseball season. "So, this is it, then?" he asks. She nods. He doesn't know what to do now. Normally, when you break up with someone, that means one or the both of you are done. Tired of the other person. Actively dislike them, even. Here, though . . . they are both still in love, but they've just broken up . . . and what is he supposed to do with the three hours he has? Dinner? A walk on the beach?
They stare at each other for just a bit. What is she thinking? Maybe she's going to say, "This is ridiculous. We've just got to put up with the hassle." She doesn''t say that, though. Instead, she looks down at her hands, twisting in her lap. Then she blushes, looks up at him, and says, "Got any ideas on how to spend the three hours before you've got to go?" Her tone is quite clearly an invitation.
So, they spend the last three hours of their relationship in bed. That's surreal and wonderful. You aren't supposed to sleep with someone you've just broken up with – are you? Well, you aren't supposed to break up with someone you're totally in love with – especially if they're still in love with you – so allowances could be made.
He gets dressed to go, and somehow feels kind of sleazy, leaving her in bed. "Am I supposed to say somethin' like, 'I'll call you,' or what?" he asks.
"I think it's probably best if we don't speak for a while," she says. "If we started talking on the phone, it would probably be too easy to start second guessing."
"Yeah. All right. So, I guess this is goodbye?"
"I have a conference up there a few months from now. Maybe by then it won't hurt so much to see you."
God, what a lonely, miserable drive back up to Orlando. He almost turns the car around. Screw this job. But, no. It isn't the job that keeps him in Orlando, it's his child. This is part of being a grown-up, a responsible man, a father . . . his child comes first.
He gets to Orlando, attends his briefing, and throws himself into his work, his routine, his nights and weekends with Clementine. He wants to call Juliet – so bad. He wants to tell her what's going on at work, Clem's latest success at school, the great new book he just read. He does't, though. Juliet was right. Talking to her now would just make things worse. The hurt is starting to heal – barely, but healing nonetheless. No point in opening a wound that's not even completely closed.
Until he turned on his cell one day and finds a missed call – Juliet. His heart leaps, but she hadn't left a message. Maybe she accidentally dialed him. Maybe she called in a moment of weakness, and thought better of it as soon as she heard his voice mail. He stares at his phone a little bit. He chuckles. It's only been two weeks. Two long, lonely, agonizing weeks. No, if she really wanted to talk, she would've left a message. Probably just an accidental dial.
Two days later his phone rings. The display tells him Juliet is on the other line. The phone keeps ringing. And ringing. And ringing. This is no accidental dial. Should he let it go to voice mail?
"Hello?" he answers on what's probably the last ring.
"Hi, James. I . . ."
"Hey, I been thinkin' about callin' you, but, well, I thought we had some kinda agreement, and I didn't wanna break it. But …"
"James, I'm pregnant."
For once, finally, his timing had been right. Those three hours. The afternoon in bed after they'd already broken up. It wasn't what he thought he'd wanted, but, at least at first, it was an excuse. A good enough excuse to head back to Miami for good.
There are times even now that he feels slightly guilty. As if choosing Miami over Orlando six years ago meant he chose J.D. over Clementine. That's not it, of course. Not at all, but he can't help but wonder if she sees it that way. He hopes she'll understand some day.
For now, though, James thinks everything turned out the way it was supposed to. He was supposed to become a cop. Supposed to meet Cassidy on a case. Supposed to lose his job over it. Supposed to follow her to Florida. Supposed to meet Juliet. Supposed to have J.D. Supposed to be sitting here, now, with Where the Wild Things Are on his lap and J.D.'s head on his shoulder.
Maybe the kid's fallen asleep, he thinks after a few moments pass. But J.D. stirs, and asks a question. "Where do the Wild Things live?"
"I don't know, bud. It's an imaginary place."
"An island? Max takes a boat there. It must be an island."
"Sounds about right."
"Dad, how come they made Max king of the Wild Things? Wasn't he a trouble-maker?"
"Well, yeah, he was always into mischief, and bein' a total pain in the a. . . pain in the neck. But that's just what made him fit in with the Wild Things."
"But why did he go home? I think it would be fun to be King of the Wild Things."
James thinks on that one. King of the Wild Things. Large and in charge. Leader. The man to turn to when the chips were down. Now that didn't sound bad at all. J.D. waits patiently for an answer.
"Well, bud," James finally says, "he wanted to go back to where he was loved most of all."
"To his mom and dad?" J.D. asks.
"Dad, if you were King of the Wild Things, would you ever want to go home?"
"I think I'd probably get bored of it, and I'd miss the people I love most of all."
"Like me and mom?"
"And Clem?" J.D. adds.
"Yeah. Ok, goodnight, buddy. Love you" This line of questioning could go on all night if James let it. He kisses his son, tucks the covers up around his chin, and turns out the lights.
James walks to the kitchen where Juliet is just about finished cleaning up. "J.D. asleep?' she asks.
"Just about," he says, reaching in the fridge for a beer. "Here's a question." He uncaps the beer bottle, hands it to her, and reaches in for one for himself. "Would you want to live on a crazy island with monsters and away from your family . . ." She's already shaking her head. "Hold up! I ain't finished. You'd be away from your family, but you'd get to be king!"
She chuckles. "Reading "Wild Things" again?"
He nods. "So, would ya?
"No way. Absolutely no way. Besides," she says, taking a sip of her beer, "doubt they'd need a fertility doc on wild things island. A security guy either, for that matter, so I don't want you getting any ideas about heading out with Max across the ocean."
"No, ma'am." They clink bottles and he leans in for a kiss. He spent his whole life getting the timing wrong, but about six years of getting it all right. What a happy place to be, this kitchen, this house. Being king – of something, even if it was the Wild Things – would be kind of fun, but not enough to be worth leaving here.