So, here's the equation (s):
Six days home with the family + mostly crappy weather = EXTREME boredom
Terrible writer's block (non-FF) + thumb drive coated in antibacterial gel = EXTREME frustration + continued need to break writer's block
Random unexpected reviews for old stories * handful of "writing anything new?" PMs = renewed interest
[(EXTREME frustration + continued need to break writer's block) + EXTREME boredom + renewed interest] - family (at climbing gym for the day) = NEW STORY!
Two, actually, 3 chapters each. Woot.
James is starting to think that maybe, just maybe, it's possible his little rah-rah speech last week was a misguided and delusional lie. His little motivational pep talk about how they'll never give up . . . NEVER, "but we been here half a year now, and there's no point in spinnin' our wheels while we wait. No. That's boring and depressing. What we gotta do is just start livin' life." He said this with as much gusto and resolve as he could muster, and looked over at his little band of disgruntled misfits. Looked into those four sets of eyes, two sets dark, one set blue, one set vacant, and thought he was getting his point across. Hell, three days later, the Boy Wonder set sail for Ann Arbor.
"See?" James said to Miles as they watched Dan's submarine dip beneath the water. "See? That's what I'm talkin' about. Livin' life. Gettin' on with what's next." He gave Miles a few good smacks on the back for good measure. "That's what you gotta do Miles, I'm tellin' ya."
Miles scoffed. "You first, man," he challenged.
This? Today? Tonight? This is James taking up that challenge. This is James doing something he's thought about for a while. Since his early days here in Dharma, to get technical. He didn't tell her nothing about it being a part of his "Livin' Life" plan, but he strode right over to her place. Gave her some song and dance about her bein' on this island a whole lot longer than him, and surely she's got a special place? Some place she thinks is prettier than anywhere else? She does. Fantastic.
"Then I'd love to take you for a picnic there." It sounded stilted, even as he said it.
"Are you asking me on a date?" she asked, straight-faced but with her eyes twinkling. Truth is, she's probably seen this coming a mile away.
"I am," he answered. His heart should've been pounding, waiting for her answer, but it wasn't. That's a clue he ignored. He hoped she'd say yes, but if she didn't . . . well the Living Life plan could move on to a different phase. (Horace has been making broad hints about a potential promotion.)
But she said yes, and here they are now. The site she chose, a lush hillside with mountain and ocean views, a flat space for a picnic, and within sight of the safety of the sonic fence, is about perfect, even though it calls up an eerie similarity to Amy and Paul's ill-fated picnic. But he don't talk about that. Don't see the point, and it's one of about a million things he finds himself wanting to talk about, but choosing not to. All this self-censoring fills the picnic with patches of silence. He feels like lately he's coming to find solace in shared silence, but this evening, it's awkward. For a brief spell, he falls back on good ole boy slickster charm, but feels uncomfortable with it, like wearing an old jacket that used to make him feel cool and now seems garishly out of style. Makes her look at him funny, too. She ain't familiar with the slickster version.
He thought they'd gotten to be friends since he washed up here in Dharmaville (1974 version). Now he realizes what they've gotten to be is friendly, and "friendly" turns out to be a world of difference from "friends." She gamely plays along, occasionally filling conversational gaps, telling some stories about college days and her ill-fated marriage and how said marriage ultimately led to her winding up here, but he ain't that interested in what she's got to say. Maybe 'cause it turns out she's kinda boring. Maybe 'cause he's realizing that "Living Life" ain't as easy as he made it seem in his pep talk. Maybe 'cause his heart's still elsewhere.
That last one seems most reasonable, he thinks, as they pack up their picnic basket and drive back to barracks. She's been smiling at him, and at one point, used a particularly rough bump to slide closer to him. That move makes him feel a little wrong. Disloyal, maybe. If she invites him in to her place, he wants to say yes. She is good looking, no denying that. "You ever notice her eyes?" he trilled to Miles when he bragged about his big upcoming Living Life date.
"Yeah, right. I'm sure it's her eyes you've been noticing," Miles scoffed.
But now, with her sitting too close, he feels unfaithful. (And confused. Unfaithful? Ain't no one he got any obligation to.) They park, and he walks her back to her place. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If he really wanted to say yes, he wouldn't have to repeat this to himself, but even in his pep talk to the gang, he admitted that Living Life wasn't going to always be easy. So be it.
"You want to come in?" she asks from her doorway.
If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. He can't shake that unfaithful feeling, though. He hadn't thought about Kate in months. Now he's only thinking about her because he's remembering that he's kind of forgotten her lately, and that makes him feel . . . lonely? Confused? Disloyal? Unfaithful? Like she's really traipsing around the 21st Century wondering what he's up to. But still, he . . .
"Do you?" she tries again. "Want to come inside? I baked cookies this afternoon."
If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. If she asks me in, I'll say yes. It won't be disloyal to go in. It won't be. It's just cookies. Besides, we're friends or, well, friendly acquaintances, and ain't I supposed to be living life? Ain't that the plan? Not obsessing over the past? But I haven't been obsessing over the past in ages. Kate can do what she damn well pleases, and so can I, so it AIN'T DISLOYAL and it AIN'T CHEATING and, I can . . .
"I wish I could, but I gotta get up for an early shift tomorrow." He can't do it. He simply can't. What he can do is lie to her, though (his shift don't start till 10:30). That makes him feel dirty and angry and grumpy.
"It's OK," she says, "I understand." She nods at him, and he knows her well enough to know she understands more than his "early" shift. She manages to look sympathetic (and still totally good-lookin'.. . what is wrong with him?) when she says, "Tonight was fun. Thank you."
"Yeah, maybe we'll do it again sometime."
"Sure," she agrees. "But don't feel like you have to, OK?" Can she really see through him so easily?
"Yeah, no, I, sure . . . sure." He turns on his heel and leaves her there at her doorway.
He bangs through his front door and heads directly for the kitchen. Last thing he needs right now is any smart-mouth from his fuckin' wise-ass of a roommate. He buries his head in the fridge.
"How was the big date?" comes the inevitable query from the next room.
He grumbles into the fridge. So much for avoidance. "OK," he calls out, lying. Again. Might as well go all out. He, James Ford, Sawyer, Jim LaFleur, whatever, is doing it. He is Living! Life! Just like he said he was gonna, and so what if tonight didn't go like he thought? He'll try harder next time. He will make it work, and he'll ignore all those weird feelings, and he'll spend the night at her place 'cause she's hot and nice and friendly and gets him. Tonight was a hiccup. So, he revises his answer. "Fine," he says, adding some false confidence to his voice. Then he upgrades, "Good. Great."
"Well, waddaya know? Keep saying words, and maybe you'll eventually land on 'fantastic'."
He rolls his eyes and chuckles despite himself. Miles, Juliet, even Jin (now that he understands him better): some joke the universe was playing, sending James back in time with a buncha wiseasses.
He doesn't rise to the bait. Instead, still chuckling, and feeling better already, he asks, "Want a beer?" No point ruining the rest of the evening just because the first part didn't go so great.
There's three left in a six pack on the top shelf. He picks them up by their plastic holder and carries them into the living room where he discovers she's taking up the whole couch. He hands over a beer and then orders, "Move your feet, I wanna sit there."
"I was here first."
"I was here first," he mock whines and sing songs like a 6-year-old. She doesn't move or even turn her attention away from her book, so he picks up her feet, sits at the end of the couch, puts her feet back in his lap. He pops the top on his beer can, takes a big swig, and lets loose a loud "Ahhhhhhhh," of relief. He shakes back his hair, gives her shin a few pats, and puts on his show: "Livin' life, Blondie, I tell you what. It's like I told you folks last week, just gotta go out and do it. You'll be happy you did, believe me."
"OK," she says, looking up at him briefly before turning a page. He doubts she's buying his act, but at least she's gonna let him keep on acting. Plus she won't make him talk about it. Back when they were divvying up their housing assignments, there were probably about a zillion reasons he wanted Juliet, but top of the list was probably the following: Jin doesn't talk enough; Miles talks too much; Juliet talks just the right amount. He's Goldilocks, and them three are the Three Little Bears of Conversation.
After a few pages, or a few sips of beer (depending on who's counting), she says, "Please tell me that nothing you did or didn't do tonight is going to jeopardize my sunscreen supply."
"Your sunscreen is the last of my fuckin' concerns," he states.
She makes a little sourpuss face he chooses to ignore. She returns her attention to her book, leaving him in silence. The kind of silence he finds solace in, not that awkward kind like earlier tonight with Elena.
Elena manages the commissary. First day on the job, James got assigned to guard the commissary shipment. "Sub to commissary, nothing gets lost. No five-fingered discounts, nothing 'falling off the truck,' got it, LaFleur?" the Head of Security asked him. No problem. Even less of a problem when he met the commissary manager in her short shorts and tight t-shirt, thick auburn hair, bright green eyes. She checked things off some list on her clipboard while he stood there on the dock staring at her ass and thinking this Dharma Initiative wasn't a bad deal, after all.
He helped her load up the van, and drove her back to the commissary. The whole ten-minute drive they exchanged pleasantries. That's the deal every shipment that's come since. Every few weeks or so. She checks things off, he helps her load, drives her back, helps her unload. They flirt a little in the process, and once done, she gives him first dibs on anything new, which lately means paperbacks for him, some specific kind of peanut butter cracker for Jin, and the non-greasy sunscreen Juliet likes.
Every shipment. For the past 6 months. He and Elena spend the whole time, well, . . . exchanging pleasantries. He realizes now that's all it's been. They talk about the weather, and the upcoming rainy season, and when the new recruits might be coming in, and they complain a little bit about Horace or joke about whatever slop was served in the cafeteria yesterday. That's it. They've been friendly, but not friends, and he doesn't understand how he confused the two. Probably because it's been six months talking to her, half an hour every few weeks, and that's probably, no, definitely, longer than he's ever spent talking to some woman he don't intend to talk out of her money. Right? He really thought there was more to it than just being friendly.
"Her ex-husband got himself killed in Vietnam," he says out of nowhere, even though he kinda thought he didn't want to talk about it. "She told me that tonight. I mean, what the hell I'm supposed to say to that? She's talkin' about the 11th Armored Cav or whatnot, and I'm thinkin', 'Shit. I didn't even know she was married.' Divorced. Whatever. And I mean, the guy gets shot down in the jungle, and is she glad about that or sad or what? You know?"
She nods. Yeah, right, she knows. Her ex-husband got run over by a bus, and he knows all about how sad and relieved and scared and weird that made her feel. Shit. He shoulda remembered all that tonight. He mighta said something appropriate to Elena. Something more than what he actually said, which was: "Huh. How 'bout that."
"Just thought it would be easier," he mumbles.
"You mean the big Live Life plan?" she says. There's just a slight hint of sarcasm there. He turns sharply toward her, trying to figure out how she saw right through his date night so quickly and to judge how much of what she's saying is meant to be needling. She's smiling kindly, though.
"Yeah, that," he answers.
"Did you really think it was going to be that easy?"
He shrugs. Never said it was going to be easy, but easier than tonight, that's for sure. "Why wouldn't it be?" he asks.
She looks away, staring at the spot on the carpet from that night a few months back where they got drunk off Dharma merlot and she kept pouring but missing his glass. Most fun he's had since he can probably remember.
She turns back to him and says. "I guess you're right. It might be easier for you."
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
"Living a lie. That's not easy when you're not used to it."
And see. That! That's just it. That's why he thought he could do it. He's not living a lie. For once in his adult life, he's not. He's not scheming or conning, and he's being honest. He says as much: "But I'm not living a lie."
"Really. So your name really is Jim LaFleur. You're really a salvage boat captain, and your first memory is when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? Really? Because as long as we're having true confessions, I'd like to state for the record that despite what you may have heard, I was not a member of the studio audience the night The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan."
He snorts. "God damn, you can be a wiseass sometimes, you know that?" Some joke the universe is playing on him . . .
She raises her beer can in salute. "A compliment coming from you."
"OK, yes. Yeah, that's all a lie. But I guess what I meant was. . ." What the hell did he mean? She's right. Everything they are and everything they were . . . it's a lie. Why didn't he fight in 'Nam? Where did she learn car repair? How did he become a ship captain? Then again, Juliet knows all about Cassidy and Clem, the whole sordid story. Knows about the letter and the real Mr. Sawyer. He told her about Frank Duckett, too. Told Jin about that, even. He tries to explain, "But, I mean, like us, you and me, the things we talk about in here. That's all been honest."
"Well," she says, sighing in mock concern before returning her attention to her book, "guess the big Live Life plan will have to stay within these four walls."
"Guess so," he grouses. That sounds stifling. Take out the interior walls, and this place ain't much bigger than a tennis court. He picks his second beer off the coffee table. He pops the cap then complains, "Part of my hope with the Living Life Plan was that it'd end up with me gettin' laid."
"Sorry I can't help you there," she notes.
He snorts. He drinks more.
Real quiet nights like this you can hear the bug chorus outside. It's peaceful and calm. A peace he's probably never felt before. He's about finished with his second beer when he breaks the quiet to ask, "How come?"
"How come, what?"
"How come you can't help me out with gettin' laid?" He's smiling to himself at his own smart-assedness. The very idea. "I know for a fact you ain't been celibate your whole life. Surely you're at least acquainted with the ins and outs."
"So to speak," she says, deadpan.
He laughs. "So to speak."
She closes her book on her finger. She sits up straight, angling up from the couch arm. "If you must know, I have extremely high standards when it comes to men, and you simply don't measure up."
He lets the comment linger, makes a sad face, pretending like what she said hurts his feelings. He can't keep it up, though. "Bullshit!" he laughs. She laughs, too. One of her real laughs, where she ends up covering her mouth with her hand. He knows that ain't true, her "extremely high standards." So she knows all about Clem and Cass and Duckett and Sawyer and the letter and his mama and daddy. He knows all about Edmund and Ben and Goodwin and Jack and her mama and daddy.
The silence in the aftermath of their laughter isn't quite as peaceful as the silence that came before. He's actually thinking about it . . . her . . . her and it . . . and, "I'm real good at it," he jokes (but still, always – with her, honest), trying to bail them out, float them back to calmer waters.
"Oh, I'm quite sure you are," she jokes in return (but she's still being honest, too).
They're still staring. Think of something to say . . . But he can't think of anything to say, no wise-ass comments, no joke about the Others, no insult he don't really mean. He can't say anything and he can't stop staring, and what he thinks, but doesn't (can't) say is Jesus, you're gorgeous, do you know that? His heart hammers. If his shirt were made outta thinner fabric, she could probably see his heart pumping away.
He finds himself running through the inventory of feelings that tripped him up earlier tonight. Does this feel disloyal? Not in the least. Does he feel like this is cheating? Hardly. He owes nothin' to Kate. Realization dawns that it wasn't Kate he was feeling disloyal to when he was perched on Elena's doorstep earlier tonight.
Oh, shit, he thinks. What now? This? They can't do this, right? Or maybe he's mis-reading signs, or. . .
Juliet saves him by breaking eye contact. He's teased her before about maybe trying to get in the Guinness Book for world's best stare-er, but he's glad she's the one to stop the staring now. Except what she's looking at is her feet still in his lap. Specifically, his thumb tracing circles around her ankle bone. That was unconscious, honest! He didn't mean . . . He jerks his hand away, holds it awkwardly in the air.
"Sorry, I didn't mean nothin', I . . ."
She cocks her head to the side, but still won't look at him. "No. . . I . . . it felt nice. . . I mean, it . . . it's OK. . . . you, uh . . . you don't have to stop."
He puts his hand back. Then he reaches his other hand down beside the arm of the couch, puts his beer can on the floor. He puts his second hand over her calf, and she shivers, and he can feel goosebumps on her smooth skin.
"Sorry," he mumbles again. "Beer made my hand cold."
She shakes her head and parts her lips. It's silent again, not awkward, but not entirely peaceful, either. "It isn't the cold," she finally says.
He moves his hand to the underside of her calf. He strokes her Achilles tendon with his fingers. She shivers again, and he stares at her.
Seems like all the time, Horace or someone in security is buzzing in on his walkie with some pissant task or ridiculous question. More often than James'd care for, Miles comes barging in (not always knocking), needing to whine or complain to him or to laugh with Juliet about goofy 70s styles. James finds himself hoping something like that will happen now. Save the both of them from this line they're getting ready to cross.
His hands are inching up her leg, dangerous territory, but who ever knew 'dangerous territory' could feel so smooth and soft? He scoots over so that she's sitting on his lap. If she can't feel how aroused he is, then it probably means she's got no sensory receptors in the back of her thighs.
Her face is so close to his, inches away. Her eyes dart to the door, then back to his eyes.
"Hopin' someone will come in here and save us from ourselves?" he asks.
She gulps and nods. She's blushing.
"Yeah, me too," he admits.
She laughs then. She shifts her weight a little on his lap, trying to get more comfortable. She raises her eyebrows at what she feels there. Guess she does have sensory receptors in the back of her thighs, he thinks. She shifts again, this time a little tease, and he moans, almost involuntarily.
Fuck it. He kisses her. Her eyes widen in surprise. For a split second, he thinks he's made a mistake, then anger flares out of disappointment and confusion: What the hell was she expecting with her little lap dance routine? Before he has a chance to act on that flicker of anger, though, she's kissing him back. She's running her fingers through his hair, opening her mouth to him.
He will kiss her forever. That's all he wants, all he needs (all physical evidence to the contrary). This will be fine. Just this, now, forever.
Except she breaks away to look at him with hazy eyes. She blinks and gapes and looks so damn cute, confused and uncertain. "I think we may be reaching a point of no return," she ultimately says.
He reaches out a hand to stroke the side of her neck. "'Fraid we already have," he admits.
James is starting to think that maybe, just maybe, it's possible his thought that he'd be satisfied just kissing her is a misguided and delusional lie. She leans over to kiss him, and that's it. Point of return or no, this is going all the way tonight, and soon.
Point of no return. It becomes their long-running inside joke. A few months down the road when he hears her refer to his bedroom (which he never slept in again) as the "extra room." He tells her that's a "point of no return." When he declares his love for her, and she reciprocates, she gets an alarmed look in her eye and calls it a "point of no return." When the ring comes off the sub and he stares at it in his palm, he thinks "point of no return." It's funny. Funny because the both of them are always scared at what's on the other side of the "point of no return." Funny 'cause what's on the other side is always so damn good.
Till there really is a point of no return. Hard to pinpoint when exactly that was. Jin calling up to tell him they were back or Sayid refusing to play the game or Miles forgetting to erase that damn tape or Kate's boots clomping down the sub ladder or that look. That goddamn misguided (misinterpreted?) look.
But probably what it was was when he was hangin' on so damn tight. The point of no return probably was when she was slipping, and when his grip shifted. It wasn't his forearm aching no more - it was the tiny muscles in his fingers holdin' on for damn life. That's a point of no return and what was on the other side was no damn good at all.