We are SNOWED IN. With a lot of people in the house. At least I have the excuse of an "assignment to work on" as a late-afternoon escape to a quiet room.

I can only escape for so long, so I'll just put up the first part of this. Expect two more to follow.

This is my Secret Santa: "James and Juliet stay on the sub, and face their first Christmas in the "real world," which has its own adjustment period" for tia8206 (hey, no pressure, she's only my favorite author on here!)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to tia and everybody!

December 23, 1977

James pulls into the diner parking lot and cuts the ignition. He should keep the car running, just for the heat, but that would be a waste of gas, and it's not like they can afford to be wasteful. He blows on his hands, sits on them, waits. He should just run into the diner, but it's pouring rain, so he stays in the car.

Rain. It's fucking Michigan in December. If the weather's gonna be shitty, shouldn't it be snow? But no, it's in the high 30s, a nice little "warm spell," so it's just this crappy cold rain, and he hates it.

While he waits he pulls the necklace out of his coat pocket. It's really pretty. She'll say it's beautiful, and she won't be lying, but it's also cheap. So cheap, he's pretty sure she won't be able to wear it more than a few times before it leaves a ring of green around her neck. But, hell, what can they afford?

We'll buy Microsoft. Then we'll bet the Cowboys in the '78 Super Bowl. We're gonna be rich.

God, how fucking naïve. You gotta have money to place bets, doncha? So you gotta get a job, and hey, guess what? You just got kicked out of the Dharma Initiative, and it ain't like you can call back to your last place of employment 'cause guess what? It don't exist. Plus, that Dharma Initiative thing? It's your only real job – ever – so there's that. Not that it helps much if you've had plenty of real jobs and all sorts of qualifications. Not like Juliet can just go waltzing up to the hospital and say "Yes, I just got kicked out of the Dharma Initiative where I was a mechanic, but I'd like to practice medicine here. Show you my degree? Oh, can you wait about 18 years?"

He had a crappy dishwashing job for a while, but they sacked him when he bet them all that Reggie Jackson would hit three home runs in one game in the World Series. He made about $2,000 from the cooks, and waiters, and line manager, then got booted right from that job. Most of that money went to buying this piece of shit Chevy Nova. He spent a little more on the crappy (but beautiful!) necklace.

And yeah, sure, maybe they should invest some of that money. Put a little down on Microsoft, just like he said. Hardee har har. Guess what you need to invest money? A broker. And it ain't like e-trade or any of that Internet shit exists. Yeah, you gotta get a broker, and, funny thing, those guys prefer you have a bank account. Oh, what's that? You gotta have a social security number to get a bank account? And you gotta have a birth certificate to get a social security number? Well, guess who does't have any of that shit? Time travelers, that's who.

They were so giddy and so goddamn fucking relieved when Juliet got the job in the diner back in August. She got her first (measly) paycheck, and here they go! They are gonna open an account, and start socking away the money (not much, but it'll grow), and everything's just gonna be groovy.

Until, Mr. Uptight Prick Bank Manager calls her in to the local branch to say "there are some concerns with the paperwork."

And they are? Turns out, her social security number is that of a six-year-old girl in Florida. "Probably just a typo on your part," says the manager.

"Yes, probably," says Juliet, gathering up the paperwork and backing politely out the door.

And it's 19 effing 77, and who would've guessed they were so het up about identity theft back then? Or now or whatever. They really checked that stuff back then/now? It had taken them one month in the "real world" for them to realize they needed to play it cool. They don't actually exist. No licenses, no paperwork, no nothing. And if they get caught, what the hell are they supposed to say? So, they keep their heads down.

After he lost his busboy job, James looked around a little bit, to no avail. Besides, they realize now that the only way they're going to make any money is betting. And they've wised up enough to know that James can't keep betting with the same bookies here in Lansing. They'll stop taking James' bets as soon as they catch on that he never loses. So, he's been scouting out bookies throughout the upper Midwest. He's going to bet the Yankees to repeat in '78, and he wants to place the bet as soon as spring training opens up. There's bound to be some money there, if he can find a bookie to take the action.

The real money's in Vegas, but hey? Guess what you need to get to Vegas? More money than they have, that's what.

He can't believe how fucking difficult it is. In their crap apartment in their shit car in this shit town with its crap weather. It wasn't so difficult back in 'real time.' He didn't have much of a bank account then, did he? Didn't have credentials. Didn't have a resume. Didn't have jack shit, and yet he managed to make decent money.

He stares down at the cheap ass necklace (and who cares how pretty it actually is, it's a piece of crap) in his hands, and across the street to the gas station there. An idea is forming. Just run a few cons. That's the way to sock some away. What Juliet makes at the diner is barely enough to cover their rent and food. They can bet every sure thing and win every long odd from here till 2004, but it ain't gonna amount to much if they're only putting down $25 a pop. Run a few cons, and then he'll have some real dough to lay on the Cowboys come Super Bowl time . . .

The diner door bursts open and here comes Juliet, dashing through the rain, opening the passenger side door, and darting in.

He starts the car up to turn on the heat, and starts backing out of the lot.

"Everything OK?" she asks. He usually leans over to kiss her, ask her about her shift. Tonight, his mood is too foul, and it's supposed to be Christmas, it is nearly Christmas, and here he is with nothing but cheap jewelry to give her. They're up on the main road now, heading to their place on the wrong side of the tracks.

"I was thinkin' of maybe running the necklace con. Just a few times. Give us enough to put some real money down on the Super Bowl."

"James, no."

"Look, we need more money, and might as well let one of us actually do something we're good at."

She thinks, "You don't need to do that. My tips are really getting better."

He's angry at the world, and itching for a fight. "Yeah, because you're the world's greatest waitress, right?"

"You think I'm not good at my job? I got more tips than anybody tonight."

"Through your fabulous waitressing skills," he scoffs.

"What is that even supposed to mean?" she asks.

"I mean, try buttoning that uniform shirt all the way to the top, and then see how many tips roll in. "

They're at their apartment complex now, and she gets out, slamming the door shut. The rain is cold and ceaseless. "Well, pardon me for trying to earn us a little extra money," she shouts.

"I don't see how me runnin' a con is any worse than you flashing your tits around for cash!" He's shouting now, too.

"Oh go to hell, James."

"I ain't there already?"

She smacks him then, hard, and he's about to grab her wrist, when blue lights flash, and sirens blare with a short, truncated, 'wooop.' Always cops patrolling around here.

"Everything OK, here?" the officer asks.

"Fine, thank you," says Juliet.

"Sir?" the officer looks to James.

"Just mind your busin…"

Juliet cuts him off with a low, warning, "James."

Yeah, they can't get hauled in to the cops. They have no paperwork. They don't exist.

So the officer pulls out of the lot, and they trudge in to their apartment in silence.

Juliet heads for the shower without a word. She's in there a long while, and he knows this is her escape.

He waits, leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom door. When she exits the bathroom, she glares at him before he gets a chance to raise his hands in apology. "I lived in a trailer park most of my childhood. . ."

"Well, I didn't," she says, still very angry.

"That's actually kinda my point," he says. "Look, when we were in Dharmaville, God, I thought it was great. I just felt like me and you . . . it was like bein' with you made me a better man…" he trails off, rolls his eyes. True, but this ain't a Hallmark card, and that sounds like a bunch of syrupy nonsense. "What I mean is, all my life I can feel the trailer park on me, no matter how nice I dress, no matter how much money I have. But back in Dharmaville, it's like you washed the trailer park offa me. And now. . ." He runs his fingers through his hair. "It seems like half the women in that trailer park used their tits for money one way or another, and it's like we're here now, and the trailer park hasn't washed off at all. It's like I got trailer park on you, and it breaks my heart."

She's been softening toward him throughout his little dialogue, and she steps toward him now to hug him. "Just because we're poor doesn't mean we have to be trashy," she murmurs into his neck.

"Yeah, well, didn't we just have a fight the cops had to break up? I know you're new at this, but, trust me, that is total trailer park."

"I can quit the diner job," she says. "I'm sure I can find something."

"You don't gotta quit, but maybe just button up."

She laughs. "Fine. But I'm a horrible waitress, so expect our income, such as it is, to plummet."

He pulls a box from behind his back. "Early Christmas gift," he says.

She opens it. "It's beautiful, James."

He helps her put the necklace on. "I wouldn't wear that too much at one time," he says. "It's uh. . . kinda cheap."