|Homeward Bound for colourmayfade
||[Dec. 16th, 2009|02:03 pm]
Title: Homeward Bound
Characters: Juliet, Sawyer, Daniel, Miles, Jin, young Ben, Jacob, early Juliet/Sawyer
Rating: PG 13
Warnings: Spoilers for S5, mild language
Prompt: Happiness for Juliet
Summary: A year in the life of Juliet Burke, circa 1974.
Author notes: When I saw your prompt, I was inspired to explain how Juliet came to appear so content with the life she made with Dharma and Sawyer in the 1970s. Since Juliet is such a bittersweet character, her happiness does not come without suffering, so this fic includes some tense moments too. I hope this interpretation also fits your request for character insight and relationship building. Many thanks to valhalla37 for the beta.
x x x
Reasons to Stay
I might be losing my chance to ever get back properly.
I don’t have an identity out there.
I won’t know anyone.
Sometimes I feel like I have unfinished business here.
Reasons to Leave
If I don’t leave now, I may never get another chance.
I don’t really know anyone here either.
Dharma doesn’t have a long future.
The island is ridiculously dangerous.
Juliet actually sits down and makes a list. Seeing the reasons laid out so starkly in blue ink only serves to reinforce the lack of a satisfying solution. Leaving the island no longer means leaving her problems behind, if it ever did. Choosing to stay, or rather choosing to wait and see, feels like defeat or at least someone else’s victory. Was it better to live for the now that was here or a when that might never come? Did the where even matter anymore?
The others make the decision look easy. On day two, Daniel declares he’s leaving on the next submarine which is practically the only thing he says at all. Gone are his fluttering explanations and exclamations of hope. Now, there’s only dogmatic silence and furious scribbling in his journal. Miles claims he doesn’t really care either way, and that it’s just easier to stay where he is. Juliet suspects his apathy is simply a front, and there has to be some private reason behind his seemingly stress-free choice. For Jin, the decision has been clear all along. He has no desire to make a new life, and firmly believes the risks of staying on the island are worth the chance of seeing his wife again. Meanwhile Sawyer shares none of his own reasons, and instead lobbies hard to get her to stay.
Over one breakfast, he says with a wink, “Reason # 5. There are no finer waffles than those made from Dharma brand ‘Extra-Fluffy Belgian Waffle Mix.’”
During a meeting Horace calls to review the rules of the truce, Sawyer whispers in her ear, “Reason # 31, I need someone to take my bet that Goodspeed and Alpert are the Romeo and Juliet of Craphole Island.”
One night, when it’s just the two of them hanging out after a day of futile searches for Claire or Rose or anyone, Sawyer pours her a glass of wine and holds up three fingers. “Nixon. Disco. Stagflation. And you think the monster is scary.”
If charm counted for anything, her decision would already be made. Yet she can’t figure out why Sawyer is trying so hard. Even if their upside-down-marathon-through-time gave them some sort of bond, that doesn’t wipe away a history that could at best be described as awkward. She guesses he’s only pushing her because it gives him something to focus on beside his own losses. Or he’s using her as a litmus test; if she of all people decides to stay and follow his plan, then his faith in getting them home – or failing that, making a home here – will be seen as even more legitimate.
Today is one of those occasions where she could imagine herself staying. The morning sun shines bright, giving the impression that everything it touches has been cleansed. With their own search and rescue delayed for the day, the five of them lounge on the porch of the residence temporarily assigned to LaFleur’s team, drinking the last of their coffee, writing, reading or simply being. If it wasn’t for Paul’s funeral service that evening, there would be nothing to suggest that every day on the island wasn’t full of peace and tranquility.
“Did I mention the waffles?” Sawyer calls out in a drowsy voice from the wooden swing where he lays with a Louis L’Amour paperback closed on his chest.
From her perch on the porch steps, Juliet takes a sip of coffee. She has to admit, she’s enjoying this game with Sawyer. If she did stay, she thinks they could truly be friends. There were no secrets between them, and it had been so long since she could be open with herself and others. She thinks about crossing out the item on her list that reads, I don’t really know anyone here either. She replies, “You’re running out of ideas.”
“Reason #445, if you stay, Sawyer will shut up.” Miles chimes in from across the porch where he and Jin pour over a map of the island, marking where they had already looked for their friends. Miles’s remark brings a smile to Dan’s face before he becomes absorbed in his journal again.
“Excuse me.” A bespectacled boy about ten years old seemingly appears out of nowhere. He stands a few feet away from Juliet with a stack of folded white cloth piled in his arms.
For a moment Juliet is too startled to speak. She is so unused to seeing children dot the landscape that for a moment she’s convinced he’s some sort of mirage. When she recovers, she smiles broadly and says, “Hello.”
“These are for you.” He holds out his bundle, eyes glowing with the importance of having been assigned this errand. “For Mr. Ingalls’ funeral.”
“Oh.” Juliet reaches over and unburdens the child of his delivery. The cotton is freshly pressed and smells like a meadow, however when she takes a closer look at the items, a numbness settles over her. The mourning garments are identical to those worn by the residents of this village thirty years from now. Her stomach churns as she imagines the familiar spectacle they are in for tonight - mourners dressed in white stand in a circle while a melancholy ballad plays and an empty raft is set aflame. She quickly sets the clothes down on the table and leans against the porch rail for support.
The men are too distracted by the odd delivery to notice her distress. As they sort through the clothing, she takes a moment to compose herself. Miles plucks a pair of cotton pants from the pile. He holds them up by their drawstring waist. “What are these? Pyjamas?”
“No, you wear them tonight, for the funeral,” the boy explains.
“Count me out,” Miles says, dropping the pants back on the pile.
“Ditto,” Sawyer adds, and Jin shakes his head in either confusion or agreement.
Under his owlish glasses, Juliet notices the boy’s eager gaze turns to wounded pride when Sawyer and Miles veto the funeral clothes. Then his eyes widen and if Juliet is not mistaken, panic dances in them. She thinks perhaps he’s worried about being blamed for not conveying the importance of the clothing to the guests.
The boy insists, “You have to!”
“For a bunch of lazy-daisy hippies, you folks are awfully big on ‘have to’,” Sawyer observes.
If a moment ago the boy looked close to tears, he now faces Sawyer with some bravado. “My father said you shouldn’t even be allowed to attend. You’re not one of us.”
“Your dad?” Sawyer asked. “Who might that be?”
The boy’s eyes narrow. “Yeah.”
Sawyer and Jin share a look of private bemusement. Then Sawyer chuckles and makes a gesture like he’s tipping an invisible cap. “You tell your pop, I owe him a beer.” He sits back on the swing like this declaration has ended the matter.
The boy doesn’t know what to think of Sawyer or his comment, and that clearly makes him uncomfortable. His feet do a nervous shuffle and he looks between each of them.
There’s something almost endearing about the child and his awkward mix of confidence and bewilderment. It’s all so very innocent. Juliet clears her throat and finds her voice again. “We’ll see if the clothes fit. Thank you.”
The boy accepts his dismissal and retreats down the porch steps. Maybe, she thinks, maybe she could work with the children if she stayed. It’s a nice thought and one that’s shattered almost as soon as she thinks it. At that moment, a man – presumably the aforementioned Roger – appears on the stoop of a nearby house, hollering, “Benjamin Linus, you get your ass in here, pronto.”
The man’s words are a more visceral time jump for her than the flashes. She becomes unsure if it’s 1974 or 2004. What’s the difference anyway? Blood will be spilled and loved ones will be lost for nothing. There will be abstract rituals for the bereaved, and somewhere in the crowd of mourners, Benjamin Linus will stand, ten years old or forty.
This is her circle of life; her circle of death.
Behind her come exclamations of shock and Miles utters the only suitable response. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
She doesn’t remember her knees giving out, only finds herself kneeling on the wooden planks, staring at the space where Ben stood only seconds ago. How could she not have seen it was him?
There’s a hand at her waist and one on her shoulder. She feels Sawyer’s stubble against her cheek. “Come on, let’s go inside.” He heaves her limp body up and guides her into the house. One palm rests against the base of her spine, right on top of the mark. Although it healed several weeks ago, at this moment the scars feel as raw and searing as when she was first branded.
Once inside the living room, she turns to face Sawyer. Whatever he reads across her face, all that shows on his own is disappointment. No one has to say anything. They both know there’s nothing in the world that could get her to stay now.
x x x
They say their farewells on the grassy knoll above the dock. By then, Jin, Miles and Sawyer are clad in matching beige jumpsuits. Dan looks like he might give some sort of speech, but settles on giving everyone a tight hug, even Juliet who will be travelling with him. Then he leaves them, saying he wants to ask Dr. Chang something before the sub departs. They all suspect he’s really taking one last glance at the Lewis family picnicking at the playground.
“Here.” Sawyer retrieves a thick envelope from his jumpsuit pocket and presses it into her hands. “We took up a collection. Just enough to get you and Twitchy a few nights at a Motel 8.”
“A collection?” she asks.
“Let’s just say our first job in security will be investigating the theft of Horace’s petty cash,” Sawyer explains with a nonchalant grin.
“Thank you.” Unexpected tears pool in her eyes and Juliet finds it hard to properly express her gratitude for the gesture, for the money, for everything. In a little over two weeks, and a couple dozens decades back and forth, she has become closer to these men than she had with anyone in last three years, including Goodwin and Jack. Though nothing has felt more right than her choice to leave, this is the bittersweet part, and she feels somewhat like Dorothy saying good bye to her friends in Oz.
She hugs Jin and he says something long and serious-sounding in Korean, and “Good bye” in English. Miles dodges an embrace but shakes her hand, wishing her well. Then they both step back, leaving her alone with Sawyer.
“I guess you’ll miss me most of all, huh.”
She never thought that could be possible, yet it’s true. On the surface Sawyer represents so much of the past she wants to forget, especially the last messy weeks with Ben. But he’s also responsible for keeping her sane enough to get to this point. She pulls him in a hug and a tiny part of her notes how well they seem to fit together. It’s not a thought she lingers on; there’s no time for regret today.
“You take care of yourself, Blondie.”
“I will.” She allows herself to sink into his embrace for a few more seconds. “I hope you find what you’re looking for, James.”
“Don’t we all.”
They pull apart and there’s an awkward moment where they just stand there, side by side, good byes and thank yous already said. Adding anything else at this point would just start something that can’t be finished. The submarine’s horn blares, and she pulls her backpack over one shoulder.
“I guess this is it.”
Sawyer dips his head in acknowledgement, and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I guess so.”
There’s no looking back, at least not literally. She strides down the dock and resists the urge to take one last snapshot of the island. It’s all burned inside her – the good, the bad and the decidedly ugly. She knows simply being off this piece of land won’t rid her of the regret or shame she carries, but at least she’s breaking the cycle. Whatever happens next is under her control, and that notion is exhilarating.
She drinks her orange juice and the last thought that enters her mind before the sedative takes effect is a beautiful one … freedom.
x x x
Nine months later
Her backseat is littered with postcards that will never be sent. Sorting them out would retrace her travels: Montpelier, Columbus, Atlanta, Cheyenne, and Helena – cities she stayed in for a few weeks at a time. Her pattern is to set herself up in a town big enough to have a placement agency where she moonlights as a receptionist or secretary until she builds up her savings, and then hits the road again. Travelling, she sticks to small towns off the beaten path, places that sound like they could be anywhere: Clinton, Milford, Winchester and Marion.
Each postcard only has one or two sentences scrawled on them. Dear Rachel, Had tea biscuits today, just like grandma made them. No raisins! Dear Julian, Spent the day at the local library browsing through children’s books. I read Curious George goes to the Hospital and pretended I was reading to you. Dear James, Saw The Sting today at a local rep theatre and got the theme stuck in my head. Have you seen it? All of them end with the perfectly apt cliché, Having a wonderful time, wish you were here.
It is true, she’s having a wonderful time. Nomadic existence suits her. She never plans specific destinations, never buys a map – she just gets in her car and drives. There is nothing more liberating than being able to go anywhere and yet have nowhere to go. Each town she visits is like a new puzzle to put together. She talks to the locals, visits their unique tourist curiosities be it the Museum of Teacups or the giant ceramic roadside frog, always eats the soup of the day at the local diners, and attends every type of festival from Blues to blueberries.
Each day is comparable to a holiday, and one that comes with only two rules. One, there is no travelling by or across big bodies of waters. This rules out any coastal locales; she likes to always be able to see land. This also means that Miami, where six-year-old Juliet Burke lives on Calvert Street in a pink stucco house and attends Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School is studiously avoided.
Her second rule is ignoring any news because it’s easier to forget she’s taking a stroll through history. Radio stations are changed as soon as the current events banter begins, televisions are never turned on, and newspapers are only good for crosswords and horoscopes. Today the AZ Daily Sun advises Virgos that: Your path will be changed through an encounter with a wise and pious man. Although she doesn’t really believe in that type of stuff, this particular horoscope is likely to be fulfilled immediately. All through breakfast she chats with a travelling Bible salesman on his way home from a tour of Texas. With winter coming on, her internal compass simply points south. She figures Texas is as good a place as any to visit next.
Before she leaves the diner, Juliet buys a postcard with a picture of Flagstaff’s historic main street and borrows the waitress’ pen. Dear James, Flirted with a Mormon this morning and ate some lacklustre waffles. You were right about the Dharma ones. Having a wonderful…. Before she gets into the driver’s seat, she tosses the card on top of the rest in the backseat.
She follows the signs out of the city. Seeing the diamond-shaped marker for Route 66 is a touchstone. She’s been on and off this highway dozens of times as she crisscrossed the country. It’s taken her through dusty corn fields, across rusty desert landscapes, and past grey, snow-capped mountains. Every time she gets back on the route, she feels like she’s visiting an old friend.
Her ’63 Bonneville is another old friend. She bought it from a widow for steal after saving enough working as a telephone operator in Lansing for three months. It has a light silver exterior with only few dents and a spotless burgundy interior. It smells like peppermints and every few months, Juliet finds a tiny pink or white candy on the floor, in the trunk or between the seats. It’s given her a few problems over the months, enough to consider herself an amateur mechanic. Lately it has had a tendency to overheat and every couple of miles it makes a dull thunk, almost like an exasperated sigh.
It doesn’t surprise her when an hour outside of Flagstaff, steam starts pouring out of the engine. The temperature gauge is jammed so she never gets any advanced warning. Juliet pulls onto the shoulder and turns the engine off. She gets out of the car and stretches her legs while she waits for the hood to cool down. She takes in her location. This is a less flashy part of the desert – no giant rock formations or brilliant reds – just brown dirt and barbed wire fences for miles. The sky’s overcast and the normally dry air actually feels moist and heavy today, like it might just squeeze out a few droplets of rain.
By now the hood is cool enough to open. She takes off the scarf covering her hair and wraps it around her hand before unscrewing the radiator cap. Sure enough the tank is bone dry – there must be a leak somewhere. This probably means having to stay in one place longer than normal until she earns enough to pay someone for repairs that are out of her league.
There’s a bottle of coolant in the trunk, and as she goes to retrieve it, Juliet notices a car on the other side of the highway slow down. Immediately she’s on alert, which is why she retrieves the tire iron along with coolant. Old habits. She keeps the metal rod close to her as she returns to the front of the car.
A car door slams, and a voice calls over to her, “Do you need any assistance?”
A tall blond man stands on the other side of the highway. He’s neatly dressed with a pleasant smile and has one of those faces that doesn’t betray his age. “I’m fine,” she responds, and holds up the bottle of coolant. Her other hand fingers the tire iron.
“That’s good. I’m afraid I’m pretty useless with cars, myself. Bit of a Luddite.”
Juliet nods, hoping this will be the end of it, but the man crosses the road and comes over.
“I can at least wait with you to make sure it starts again.”
She gives him a tight smile and decides it would be good to have him on hand, just in case. She fills the radiator and closes the hood. The man stands a respectable a distance away, as if he knows his presence makes her uncomfortable. She throws the empty coolant bottle, scarf and tire iron on the passenger seat, and then sits down, locking the door. The key turns easily but nothing happens. No steam, no grinding sound, no thunk, nothing. She tries again and still, nothing.
Maybe her battery died. She rolls down the window and asks the man. “Do you have any jumper cables?” She’s kicking herself that she never picked up any.
He scratches his chin. “Mine’s a rental, I’ll go check.”
“Thanks.” As she waits, she taps her fingers on the dashboard; the delay floods her with unexpected irritation. It’s not like she has somewhere to be. She groans when the man comes back empty-handed. Great. She tries the ignition again. Nothing.
“Sorry,” he shrugs. “I can take you with me or stop at the next service station and tell them you’re here.”
For a moment she imagines doing nothing, just living here in a broken-down car on the side of Route 66 for the rest of her life, watching everyone else pass by on their way somewhere. Was that any different than what she was doing now, trying to remain in perpetual motion? What was that suppose to prove? Freedom? Or was she simply running away? She swallows down these thoughts and says, “Either’s fine.”
“Or I could try myself. Some say I have a magic touch.”
“Be my guest.” Gone were any inhibitions of letting the strange man too near. She gets out and allows him into the driver’s seat. She doesn’t even pay attention when he tries the key. Her eyes focus on the horizon, thinking about what lies beyond it. Maybe she’s annoyed because an event like this reminds her that there’s no rush only because no one’s waiting for her at the other end.
Suddenly the car roars to life, and with it, her spirits return. “What did you do?”
“I think it just needed a rest, and now it’s ready to return to work. We can all use a break sometimes.”
“That’s amazing.” The man steps out of the car. Juliet holds her hand out, “Thank you….”
“Jac…” The rest of the name gets trapped in the back of her throat. No. It couldn’t be. This is just some ordinary Good Samaritan, not some fairytale god who could heal cancer. No. This is not happening.
“My pleasure.” Jacob pays no attention to her slack mouth and gaping eyes. “Well, I better be on my way. I’ve got a long trip ahead of me. Are you all set?”
There’s nothing she can say and the fact that Jacob doesn’t seem even notice she’s acting strange bothers her even more. He peers up at the sky and purses his lips. “Looks like rain.” Then he gives her one last all-too-ordinary look and darts back across the highway, dodging a pick-up truck.
She shuts her eyes tight and counts to ten. When she opens them, she imagines the car and the man will be gone – just an illusion – and she can pretend this never even happened. It doesn’t work. There he is, standing by his vehicle, watching her. Jacob raises his hand in a wave, then gets into his car and drives off.
It takes a strange rattle in the engine to finally get her moving. She gets back into her car, and despite not feeling very fit to drive, continues on her way. It’s just a coincidence, she repeats aloud. To calm herself, she takes several deep breathes, and focuses on the road ahead. Her own breathing seems too loud and she turns on the radio.
“…when you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go…”
With a snap of her wrist, Petula Clark is silenced. She drives in an overwhelming quiet until the next exit, where she pulls off and parks outside a truck stop. There she sits just shaking and watching the grey clouds roll in from the east. When the rain finally appears, it starts off slow. She can almost make out every sporadic droplet before they are absorbed into the dust. Then the sky really opens up and the rain comes fast and hard. Above her it sounds like a frantic message of Morse code is being left on her car’s roof.
When the rain slows, Juliet visits the restroom to splash cool water on her face. After, she ties her damp hair back with the scarf, and stares at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Someone has etched in the corner of the glass, Suzie was here. Underneath it, in another jagged handwriting, someone else wrote Me too. She traces the outline of the graffiti with her index finger, and repeats to herself Me too; then she washes her hands and leaves.
Next door she buys some jumper cables. Before she leaves, she asks the gas station attendant to change three dollars into coins. Then she plugs each quarter into the pay phone on the wall and dials a number scrawled on a piece of paper in her purse.
It rings and rings, and finally her call is answered with a breathless, “Hello?”
“Hello Dan. It’s Juliet.”
“Juliet! Wow. Hi. It’s Dan.”
She snorts a half laugh, half sob. “How are you?”
“Good, good. You know, busy. How are you?”
“Okay. I just had a strange … I needed to hear a familiar voice.” She hasn’t seen or spoken to Dan in almost nine months, not since they parted ways in Ann Arbor. He had arranged to continue working for Dharma and she had bolted as soon as possible. She cradles the phone between her shoulder and ear, reaching for a tissue in her pocket. She blows her nose, and then becomes aware of the noise on the other end of the line. “What’s going on? It sounds like you’re having a party.”
“Oh, the potluck.” She hears him put his hand over the receiver and tell someone to turn down the music. “It’s a going-away lunch for the new recruits. I know some of them from the lab.”
“They’re going to the island?”
So it’s still there. It still existed. It hadn’t imploded without her presence or disappeared to the nineteenth century. She asks, “Are you going too?”
There’s a sharp intake of air. After a rather long pause Dan exhales, then replies, “No, no.” His voice quivers. “It’s not a good time. Not yet.”
Juliet doesn’t know if he is talking literally or figuratively, so she changes the subject. She wipes her nose, and asks in a manner that is supposed to sound casual, “Do you ever hear anything about the others?”
“Sure, we get a quarterly newsletter here. Miles, Jin and Sawyer are still there. Nothing new on that front.”
“That’s good, I think.”
“It’s very good. Stability is the most we can hope for, at least for now.”
She makes a non-committal noise, and rests her head against the wall by the phone.
“Where are you?” Dan asks.
“Nowhere.” Juliet doesn’t mean to be glib; it just comes out that way.
“Well, if you’re ever in town, I hope you can stop by. I have some questions that you might be able to answer about the timeline.”
Her instinct is to brush him off and never call again. She should just get in her car and keep going, not look back. That’s worked so far. Or has it? Why does she write postcards to people who might as well be ghosts? Why does she steer clear of the ocean? Why does she feel the need to scratch Juliet was here somewhere so she can be sure of her own existence?
The operator interrupts her musings and tells her she only has thirty seconds left. “Dan, I’m actually on my way to Michigan,” she says, surprising herself. “I could be in Ann Arbor in three days.”
“That would be great.” There’s a crashing sound in the background, followed by laugher. “Juliet, I have to go. Come see me, okay?”
Juliet holds the receiver against her chest. For a few seconds the dial tone beats in time with her heart. She hangs up and pulls a road map out from a nearby rack. She unfolds it and sees she can take 66 all the way to Illinois; after that it’s just a hop, skip and jump to Michigan. And Michigan, she’s only going as far as Michigan, nothing more. She purchases the map along with a candy bar, a coffee, and a generic Arizona postcard with a picture of the Grand Canyon on it. Before she pulls out of the parking lots, she writes on the back, Dear Rachel, What am I doing?
x x x
One Month Later
It’s New Year’s Eve 1974, Guy Lombardo croons Auld Lang Syne on the radio and Juliet has either had too much to drink or not nearly enough. A Christmas tree that looks like it belongs to Charlie Brown sits in the corner of the room. The tiny tree’s lights blink on and off in a succession of reds, blues, greens, and yellows. It gives the impression that Daniel’s apartment is situated under a rainbow.
“Name?” Daniel asks, attempting to sound official which is betrayed by the fact he is wearing a crown made of tinsel.
“Juliet Megan Burke.” She lies on her back in the middle of Dan’s living room. Her wine glass is precariously balanced on the flat of her stomach. The carpet is brown and shaggy and reminds her of something. She pets it like she would a dog.
“Megan? That’s pretty.” He scratches his nose with his pen and continues pacing, stopping to take a swig of brandy straight from the bottle. “Um, should I put Doctor?”
“No – too many questions.” She reaches for the wine bottle and refills her glass. Then it hits her – the carpet resembles a Muppet. ”Do the Muppets exist yet?”
Dan considers her question thoughtfully. “You mean like Kermit? I think so.”
“What about the dog?”
“No! The one who played the piano. On the show!”
“Oh Rowlf. Beethoven’s Ninth.” Daniels smiles and puts the bottle, pen and clipboard down so he can make his hands dance around in some version of air piano. Then he shrugs, and says, “If Kermit does, I guess he would too.” He picks up the clipboard and consults it. “Okay. Address? I’ll just put mine. Birth date?”
“Um, September 17, 19….” She takes a sip of wine and rolls onto her stomach. Time travelling subtraction and addition seems unbearably complicated right now. “Nineteen something.”
Dan cocks his head. “How old are you?”
She bats her eyes and cocks her head back at him. “How old do you think I am?
“Ummmm.” He wipes pretend sweat off his brow. “I’m going to put 19…45?”
“Good boy. You’re very sweet.”
She takes another drink. “Very.”
“There’s a list.”
“Astronomy, Archery, ummm, archaeology …” Dan pauses so he can take another swig of brandy. “Beekeeping, Boating, Calisthenics, Cooking, Counselling, Education, Esperanto …” He continues to list the rest of the alphabetized activities that make Juliet think she’s applying to attend summer camp. “Martial Arts? Well, I guess that would come in handy against the hostiles. Metalwork, Mechanics. Oh look, they have Midwifery?”
“No. Circle mechanics.”
He looks at her curiously, then checks off a box with a flourish. “Now, references.” He jabs the pen into his chest. “Well, one will be me; however they’ll want a second one.” He chews the end of the pen. “Maybe Dr. Chang remembers you.”
“Put Jim LaFleur. Jim LaFleur.” Juliet repeats it the third time an awful Cajun accent. “Jim LaFleur. He sounds like a gay pirate.” That image sends her into a fit of giggles.
Dan drops in the armchair and loosens his tie. “I’m going to have such a headache tomorrow.” He finds the tinsel on his head and removes it. Then he tosses it along with the clipboard to Juliet. “Now you just need to write an essay on “Your Dream for Humanity.”
Juliet puts the tinsel crown on, and studies the paperwork. “And that’s it?”
“They also do a bunch of psych tests, but one thing at a time, right.”
“Right.” She puts the application on the coffee table and then uses it as a coaster. The wine glass leaves a crimson stain that resembles a bulls eye in the space left for her essay. Maybe she should just submit it like this and get points for creativity. Not that it matters. They’re just doing this for fun. It’s not like she’s actually thinking of joining the Dharma Initiative. It’s not like she’s seriously thinking of returning to the island.
“Let’s watch the ball drop in Times Square,” she suggests. She tries to stand, but finds her legs are too wobbly, so she crawls across the room to turn on Dan’s small black and white television resting atop a stack of library books. She also switches off the radio and then sits at Dan’s feet, tucking her knees up to her chin.
Dick Clark appears on the screen and starts the countdown. “He looks so young,” she says. Juliet turns to see Dan’s reaction, but he’s fallen asleep or passed out. She gets up and removes the almost empty brandy bottle from his hand and tucks a blanket around him.
On the screen the crowd shouts in unison, “Four, Three, Two, One! Happy New Year!”
“Happy New Year,” she whispers and pours herself another glass of wine. She watches the festivities for a few more minutes. Then she retrieves the application and smoothes out the wrinkled, damp paper. She flips it over and begins to make a list.
Reasons to Stay
I’m getting by okay.
Jacob is a common name and fixing a car is not the same as healing cancer.
Benjamin Linus is not here. (I think?)
The island is ridiculously dangerous.
I never got to see Texas.
Reasons to Leave
I’m only kidding myself about the getting by okay part.
I might be losing my chance to ever get back properly.
I don’t have an identity out here.
I miss the only friends I have.
Sometimes I feel like I have unfinished business there.
x x x
One month later
In medical school, one of Juliet’s professors had given the class a quiz that had them form a diagnosis using only common idioms as clues. For example, “dropping like flies” turned out to be a hint to treat the housefly-born bacteria infection, Escherichia coli, “curiosity killed the cat” was meant to suggested the inquisitive form of psychosis, monothematic delusion, and “sick as a dog”, the easiest of the bunch, designated rabies. The one Juliet got wrong had been “makes your hair stand on end” which she had guessed was paranoia, but was really just horripilation, the stimulus which causes a nerve discharge from the sympathetic nervous system, a.k.a. goose bumps. She is reminded of this assignment when she steps onto the island for the first time in almost a year. The temperature must be near ninety degrees, but her skin is awash in tiny bumps of trepidation.
She stands on the deserted dock. A welcome banner proclaiming “Namaste” flutters in the breeze. There is no one in sight. In the distance she can hear a speaker blaring a sequence of numbers spoken slowly in a deeply distorted voice, “4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.” This is periodically interrupted by a recording of an all-too-chipper singer performing the Hokey Pokey. After this, static fills the air until the sequence of numbers and song lyrics repeats.
Although Juliet would like to cling to the idea that this is just a dream, just a nightmare, she knows it to be her surreal reality. She is not sleeping in the backseat of her Bonneville or on the lumpy couch in Dan’s apartment or still sedated on the submarine. By whatever approximates as free will for her these days, she’s back, she’s here. This is her choice. Right now it’s a choice marinated in a healthy serving of misgiving and questioning of her sanity, but a choice nonetheless.
She takes two steps forward and turns back to watch the submarine hatch closes and the vessel re-submerge. For three hours she had been positioned eight feet underwater with the submarine crew and a dozen or so other new recruits waiting for the clearance to disembark. When they arrived in the lagoon, their only greeting had been Dharma’s emergency broadcast signal, the aforementioned numbers combined with the strange song. The periscope had revealed nothing – no would could be seen on the barrack’s grounds. According to the captain it was standard operating procedure to remain in lockdown until further communication with Dharma security.
At first Juliet had sat tight in her bunk, literally twiddling her thumbs, thinking perhaps this delay was a sign, a reprieve, telling her how wrong her decision to return had been. When the captain debated taking the passengers back to Fiji, a large part of her had been relieved. She wouldn’t have to know what lay beyond. But if turning back was really a solution, she would never have found herself a few feet from the island in the first place. Then panic started to seep in and she had begun to wonder if the island was really out there at all. So swallowing down any hysteria, she had negotiated her way off the sub by volunteering to investigate whatever was happening. The captain had not wanted to let her go, but after wearing him down with the argument that people could be in need of assistance out there and she had medical training, he agreed to let her do a quick investigation.
So here she is.
Juliet takes a deep breath and continues down the dock, all the while being serenaded by the creepy broadcast. “You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what’s it all about,” the voice sang.
“Yeah, that’s what it’s all about,” she mumbles, feeling that just by coming here, she had done some version of the Hokey Pokey herself. She pushes back any thought that the flashes have occurred, sweeping the population to another time. She refuses to think that the submarine might have fled and left her here all alone.
Avoiding the stairs, she scrambles up the hill, keeping low. The first building she sees is the orientation centre. The only movement are the curtains blowing in the breeze. Inside, the room is set up for the new recruit ‘Meet and Greet’. There are signs for lodging, inoculations and uniforms. On one table, an empty punch bowl sits, and there are cookies on a plate. She takes one and breaks it in half, noting its freshness. Wherever everyone is, they haven’t been gone for long.
There’s a map of the barracks on one wall. In her time, there was a bunker on the east lot to be used during hurricane season or whenever Ben wanted to play paranoia. Just like everything else, it was probably from the Dharma era, maybe even an old hatch. If this is a hostile attack, she thinks, and not a recurrence of the flashes, then people might have sought shelter in the bunker. There is no sign of it on the map, but she decides to head in that direction.
After a quick survey of her surroundings from the doorway, Juliet exits and skirts the perimeter of the courtyard. Her hearts races at the thought of what she might encounter around each corner. This is matched by the fear that she will find absolutely nothing.
She is kneeling by a hedge orientating herself when the danger finally becomes clear. There’s a metallic clicking to her left that can be heard over the broadcast. She swivels around simultaneously looking for cover and the spirals of smoke. Juliet’s about to run for the nearest building, the schoolhouse, when a hand reaches through the brush and pulls her through and down.
Her first thought is glee; she is not alone here! This quickly shifts to fear as she wonders who is lying on top of her with their hand over her mouth. She frantically tries to put together enough Latin to explain herself if it is one of Richard’s people. Her more immediate concern is the clicking which grows louder to her left, until it feels like the entity is right on the other side of the hedge. She imagines a pillar of smoke circling above her, ready to reach out and pluck her from the ground and toss her into the sky.
There are two loud bangs akin to a car backfiring. The clicking intensifies and all of a sudden it appears to depart up and away from her. She remains pressed to the ground, her face full of dirt and grass for several more seconds. The body above her lets out a long, shaky exhale, the sweaty hand is peeled away from her mouth, and the figure rolls off her.
Juliet pushes herself up on all fours and turns to see who is lying beside her. She reads the name embroidered on the grass-stained pocket of the jumpsuit before she sees his face. LaFleur
Thus begins a pantomime that would have been amusing if not for the distant clicking darting back and forth in the nearby jungle. Both of them participate in a double take, and then proceed to stare at each other with a mixture of suspicion and awe. Sawyer holds his finger to his lips, needlessly reminding her to be silent. Then he raises his eyebrows and hands in a gesture of bewilderment that she interprets as, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
She waves away his concern and mimics his amazement as she points into the jungle where the creature departed. He rolls his eyes and waggles his finger, telling her to hold on. Sawyer produces a walkie talkie from his hip and proceeds to press the call button several times in a sequence of short and long muted beeps. He appears to wait, listening for a reply, which comes in a few seconds. After this, he gives his attention back to her. Juliet points to a nearby house and then between them. Sawyer weighs her suggestion and then nods. They run as fast as they can, bent over in a crouch.
Once inside, Sawyer bolts the back and front doors, and she sees to it that the windows are locked and curtains drawn. Then Sawyer pulls open a door in the hallway and beckons Juliet to follow him. It’s the back closet, which by the quick glimpse of Dharma insignia-covered canned goods, is being used as a pantry by the occupants. Once the door is closed, they are pressed close together in the tiny space. They don’t say anything until their eyes adjust to the darkness.
Sawyer speaks first, resting his elbows on the higher shelves to give her more room. “You picked a fine time for a visit.”
She twists around so she can see him better. “What’s happening?”
“Mid-morning there was a lightening storm. It messed up our communications system, hence the Hokey Pokey whatacmacallit …” He makes a flourish with his right hand. “But more importantly it fried both generators and the emergency back-up too. The fence went down and I guess Smokey was just waiting to see if the grass was indeed greener on our side of the fence.”
She winces, thinking of all the innocent children here, even little Ben. “Casualties?”
He nods. “Two dead, three severely wounded. All the kiddies and non-essential personnel are holed up in the bunker.”
“What’s the plan?”
“We’ve got one generator up and running again, except the Velvet Fog has no interest in heading back to his own territory. So, we’re baiting it.”
“You’re baiting it?”
“We’re coaxing it out of the village and across the border. Then wham, fence goes back on, and hopefully whosever the bait finds a good hidey hole until rescue comes. What?”
She shakes her head. It’s fitting for her to have returned today of all days. Instead of a tour of the motor pool and getting her own set of coveralls, she’s back where she left off, running and plotting for her life. It’s amazing how easy it is for her to slip into this routine again. “Just business as usual, I see.”
Sawyer reaches out and pulls a rather large twig from her hair. Now it’s his turn to shake his head. “What the hell are you doing here, Blondie?”
She had known this question was coming, but until it was actually asked, she hadn’t been sure how to put it into words. If eleven months ago she had felt like Dorothy leaving Oz, since then she had travelled the yellow brick road, only to realize Kansas was no longer home.
“I had to leave, just to see if I could.” She pauses when she sees understanding in his eyes. This is what she missed, that she didn’t have to explain herself to him. She’s curious to know what this last year has meant for him as Jim LaFleur. He wears his uniform like a second skin, and despite their present circumstances, Sawyer looks, well, the best word she can think of is settled. “But getting off the island isn’t the same as going home,” she continues.
“Neither is getting your ass kicked on top of Ol’ Smokey.”
“That’s a remarkably good point. Clearly I missed your sound advice.”
The walkie talkie at Sawyer’s hip emits soft beeps. He’s trapped between the door and the shelves, so she has to reach around his waist to unhook it and hand it over. He listens intently, and then sends another message back. “That was Jin. We’ll have to save the chit chat for later.” He opens the closet door, listens, and steps out when he determines the coast is clear. She moves to follow but he pushes her back. “You stay here until the all clear signal comes through.”
“Who’s going to have your back if I’m in the closet?” she asks without thinking. It feels like just yesterday that they were side by side, striding through the jungle, off to face the next unknown together.
“I’m head of security now, Sweetheart. I’ve got a whole team to do that for me.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Have they ever outrun the monster before?”
He looks her up and down. “You’re out of practice.”
“Do you know about the tunnels?” she asks, remembering how they dealt with a similar incident in her day. “I may be out of practice, but I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. We can flush it out a different way.”
“And this worked before?”
“Well then …” He holds his palm out in an invitation to join him.
She folds her arms and returns his smirk. “Well, then.”
They creep down the hall and peek out behind the curtains. The courtyard looks clear. Sawyer opens the front door. “After you.”
She slips outside. A cool breeze hits her face. She rubs her arms, noting the goose bumps have vanished, replaced by a rush of adrenaline. She’s never felt so alive before. She points to the house that will later belong to a grown-up Ben. “Over there.”
Sawyer nods, and nudges her with his elbow. “Welcome back.”
She returns his smile. “Crazy as it sounds, it’s good to be back.”
x x x