Disclaimer: That '70s Show copyright The Carsey-Werner Company, LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC.

Author's Note: Hi, everyone! This is my first—and, likely, only—story to deal directly with season 8. It makes what isn't canon adhere to the show's previous seven years of characterization.


December 9, 1979

Point Place, Wisconsin

Eric Forman's Basement

Winter had iced over Wisconsin … and Jackie's life.

She descended the Formans' stone staircase, and each step down caused her anxiety to rise. The retaining wall sheltered her from the wind, but it did nothing for the frozen ache in her chest. She'd been avoiding this place for three weeks. The last time she unlocked the basement's back door, nightmarish sounds sent her fleeing. Steven's throaty grunts and curses had burst from his room. Intensifying, ecstatic screams from his stripper-wife followed. The two of them were having sex, and Jackie heard it.

She hadn't returned since that moment. She could still leave, but at the bottom of the stairs, she placed her gloved hand against the basement door. The wood wobbled under her touch, a sign the door was unlocked.

She didn't need to be here. The basement held her happiest memories hostage, promising only harm. Maybe she was a masochist. She was certainly a fool. The race for Steven's heart had long been won, before she'd realized a contest was even being held. But she pushed open the basement door and strode inside.

A Christmas tree stood tall within the open shower. The mere sight of it scraped over unhealing wounds. The tree was a white spruce, with blue-green needles and glittering ornaments, and it halted her entry. She remained behind Eric's low shelf of records, a few feet from the door, and Steven's voice cut into the air: "Yeah, see, if you open with moving your d4 pawn, you can work on capturing the center of the board."

Jackie hoped beyond hope he was high and talking to himself, but his stripper-wife's voice followed. "Okay, but then what would you do if I did that?"

"I'd either move my d5 pawn to meet yours or my knight—like this."

Jackie held her breath and forced her gaze to the couch. Samantha, that blonde skank, was sitting in what used to be Jackie's spot, closest to Steven's chair. The Formans' old chessboard was set up on the side table.

"It's called an Indian Defense," Steven said, and his naked eyes flicked up from the board. "Don't ask me why."

His sunglasses were off, hooked on the collar of his shirt, and his brief but raw glance made Jackie stagger back. She had to escape, and very quietly, she edged out of the basement and closed the door.

Her climb up the stairs ended on the third lowest step. The sun was already setting. She'd be standing in the dark soon, shivering in her winter coat, but the windows of her mind were lit. Memories stirred inside, casting long shadows.

Two years ago, she and Steven had driven to a local Christmas tree farm. Mrs. Forman insisted they get the basement a tree, even gave them money for it. The farm's owner herself guided them from Scotch pines, whose needles almost never fell off, to balsam firs and white spruces. The tour was insisted upon after Jackie and Steven's impromptu game of tag through the trees.

They picked a Scotch pine and, in the basement, trimmed it with classy but non-heirloom ornaments. The decorations were from Jackie's family's collection. The Formans' tacky ones would never do for a Burkhart-Hyde tree—but those tacky ornaments adorned the basement's tree now, that white spruce. Chosen and decorated, no doubt, by Steven and his stripper-wife.

Had they chased each other through the tree farm, too? Did their breaths puff white in the chilled air as their laughter warmed them? Surely he hadn't hefted Samantha up to put ornaments higher on the tree. She was too tall and breast-heavy.

Jackie turned on the stairs, intending to rush off, but a warning brightened in her thoughts. A warning from the tree farm's owner, something Steven clearly didn't remember.

Jackie pushed the basement door open again. She sneaked back inside, and her skin prickled at the continuing chess lesson. It had grown lewd, full of sexual innuendo, but the white spruce was her main concern. She scraped needles off the tree, as many as she could. Then she mashed them under her boot. The basement would smell like skunk spray for at least a week.

She smiled to herself. Steven and Samantha must've gotten the quick, uninformative tour of the tree farm. Otherwise, they'd have known white spruce needles stink when crushed. An odor resembling burnt rubber was already rising from the floor.

"Enjoy," she whispered and ducked outside into the cold.

"I should've sprinkled those stinky needles on Steven's cot!" Jackie had been pacing Donna's room the last few minutes, but she leaned her hip against Donna's desk. "Don't you see how appropriate that would be? Their marriage smells like death, so their marriage cot should, too."

"Great," Donna said from her desk chair, "so the basement's going to be off-limits until it airs out." Most of her attention was focused on writing a letter. She said nothing more about Jackie's plight but continued scribbling her thoughts—and dictating them out loud. "Eric, you have no clue how lucky you are right now. I could send you some shit-stinking, crushed white spruce needles, but I won't. You know why? Because I love you more than I'm mad at you."

She slammed her pen down, "Damn it!" and finally looked up. "I've bitched at him in every draft of this letter. He's never gonna wanna come back home if he gets this."

"Oh, of course he will." Jackie sat on Donna's bed and sucked in a deep, exasperated breath. "He's gonna be tired of diddling himself over there, and you're the only woman in the world who's willing to touch him."

"Um … ew? This has nothing to do about sex. He should've talked to me about going to—"

"Africa first," Jackie said. She'd heard this litany dozens of times. "You could've found a program to attend together, blah, blah, blah. Everyone in the town gets it, all right? Repeating it a thousand times won't change things. All you can do is be angry and make him kiss your butt the year he gets home."

"And make sure he never makes a unilateral decision like that again."


"So..." Donna pulled her pen off the desk and twirled it between her fingers, "why exactly did you funk-up the basement? Did you walk in on Hyde and Sam again, having...?"

"Worse. Much, much worse." Jackie gripped the edge of the bed. "They were playing chess!"

"Oh, my God—the bastard! We should castrate him!"

"We should!" she said, ignoring the tone of Donna's sympathy. "Do you know how to do that? I'm sure your hick-family castrated bulls or sheep or something. They must've shown you when you visited them on the Pinciotti family farm."

"My extended family's from New Jersey! We don't have a farm." Donna shook her head. "How many times do I have to tell you that?"

"Oh, whatever." Jackie was in no mood to memorize facts about Donna's family. "You don't understand how horrible this is. Within three months, Steven's completely replaced me with a spangly stranger. I spent almost three years digging my way into that man's heart and mind, and the slutball's done it like that!" She snapped her fingers. "She probably lubed herself up and slid down the tunnels I excavated."

"Jackie," Donna said, "I am so the wrong person to talk about this. Yeah, I complain about the Africa-thing to you, but I'm at least trying to tell my feelings to the right person—Eric. You have to do the same thing or find a way to move on."

A shard of awareness lodged in Jackie's spine, and her eyes widened. "You're right!"

"Thank you." Donna smiled wistfully. "Wish I'd taped you saying that."

"I need Eric's address in Africa."

"What? Why?"

"I'm taking your advice and speaking to the right person about Steven and his stripper-wife."

Donna stared at her. "Eric's the right person?"

"Yes!" Jackie scooted forward on the bed, and she clasped her hands together, praying Donna would believe her. "Eric never would've let Steven stay married to Samantha. Out of all of us, even me, Eric knows him best."

"Yeah … he does." Donna opened a drawer in her desk. Then she pulled out a small address book. "Just leave me out of whatever you tell him."

"I won't even mention your name."

Dear Eric, Jackie's letter began, but he wasn't exactly dear to her. She more tolerated him, but writing, Tolerated Eric, wouldn't inspire his empathy. She tapped her pen on the letter and mentally searched her vocabulary. She needed a more accurate but kind opening salutation, but her gaze drifted to her wall. She'd painted a rainbow on it when she'd first moved in with Fez. He wasn't home with her now. Even with Michael in Chicago, Fez insisted on hanging out in Eric's basement. So did Donna, though Eric was in Africa.

This apartment should've been the new go-to spot. Their grownup hang-out. Was Jackie's banishment of Steven from here such a big deal?

Evidently, it was. Fez and Donna refused to shun him like she'd asked. That required her to spend time in the basement and Grooves, Steven's record store—or else sacrifice seeing her two best friends, despite that she lived with one of them. Fez probably enjoyed the basement's new foul odor. Maybe it reminded him of his native land.

Their loyalty to Steven was frustrating, but their loyalty to Jackie hadn't wavered either. Fez and Donna were doing their best to remain neutral, but Eric hadn't experienced the new Steven. His allegiance was to the old one, and Jackie resumed composing her letter.

She left the Dear Eric as written and explained in detail the ways Steven had replaced her with his stripper-wife. How could he trust her so quickly? she wrote afterward. He had a hard enough time fully committing to me. Why didn't he put Samantha through the trials I went through?

She stopped writing as apprehension crushed against her ribs. It squeezed her heart and lungs so tightly she became dizzy. She put the pen down and breathed slowly through her nose. Steven was no longer someone she recognized, but he hadn't suffered a traumatic brain injury. He wasn't schizophrenic. His behavior had to be grounded in conscious, deliberate motivations.

So what's really going on? she wrote a few moments later. What do I do, Eric? I feel completely betrayed ... and I'm not saying I want him back, but I have to resolve this situation somehow.

A week after Jackie mailed her letter to Eric, all reports were that the basement was accessible again. According to all reports, Mr. Forman had cordoned it off and made Steven pay for some industrial fans to air out his mess. The white spruce was gone, replaced with a tree the Formans had chosen themselves. Steven and his stripper-wife, meanwhile, had spent that week in Laurie's room. It was a fitting place for them, the skankiest skank den of them all.

"Why are you doing this?" Fez said. His image stood beside Jackie's in their bathroom mirror. Her most expensive cosmetics were scattered on the sink, and he picked up her tube of mascara. "If the blonde whore upsets you so much, why go? I would stay away if some magnificent bastard had taken my place."

"Because Steven can't realize the effect he's having on me. My absence would tell him everything." She dabbed her lips with a paper towel. Her makeup was exactly the way Steven liked it, not too heavy. His favorite perfume enhanced her natural smell, and her body was clad in a curve-hugging top and pair of jeans. Imagining her naked would be easy, especially for one who'd experienced that glory for real.

Fez put down the mascara. Then he held her hands and studied them. "You are wearing do-me-now red on your nails." He shoved her hands away. "Ai, they are giving me needs."

"Well, I hope you won't be the only one."

She primped for a few more minutes before she and Fez went downstairs. The building's garage smelled like motor oil, but her father's Lincoln was waiting for them. Her mother had returned the car—in good condition—after returning herself from Tijuana. Then she'd flown to Europe with her latest rich boyfriend, Julius. Even from so far away, Jackie still felt her mother's influence. Her current plan came directly from Pamela Burkhart's playbook.

Part one of that plan was going to the Formans'. Jackie drove Fez across town in the Lincoln. She parked in the Formans' driveway and followed him down the stone staircase. He opened the basement door, and a thick citrus scent wafted out into the cold. "Oh, this is much better than before!" Fez said. "Miss Kitty's experiment worked."

Jackie took shallow breaths upon entering the basement. "What experiment?"

"Red set up a hot plate down here," Donna said from the duct-taped couch. "Mrs. Forman's got a big pot of stuff simmering constantly."

"Extra bonus, it covers up the circle like nothin' else," Steven said while looking at Donna. He was sitting in his chair with Samantha wedged between his legs. She was using the padded foot stool for a chair, just as Jackie used to.

No, not as Jackie used to. Samantha was too gangly to sit so low to the ground. She had her legs stretched out in front of her and crossed at the ankles, but Steven supported her back. His hands were resting on her hips. They appeared comfortable there, familiar. But his arms must've been getting tired, considering how top-heavy Samantha was.

"Well, it's a good thing my date was yesterday, not today," Jackie said loudly over the television. "Otherwise, this smell would've embedded in my hair and clothes." She sat down next to Donna on the couch, and Fez pulled the lawn chair in close. "I don't think Danny would've appreciated that."

"No, he most certainly wouldn't have," Fez said, also loudly. He was in on her plan, and even if Steven acted like the conversation didn't reach him, he'd definitely hear it.

"Donna," Jackie planted her hand on Donna's knee to get her attention, "Danny made love to me in the most incredible way last night."

"Uh..." discomfort twisted Donna's features, "that was fast. You met him, like, four days ago."

"No, he wasn't fast at all. He ramped up the intensity perfectly." Jackie was speaking with a scratchy-throated lust she knew drove Steven wild. Donna, though, seemed like she wanted to fly from the basement. Jackie had kept her in the dark, allowing her to think Daniel was someone Jackie had actually started dating. "I've never orgasmed like that before, so fully from the inside out. I didn't have to fake a thing..." she fanned herself, "which is such a relief after two-boyfriends' worth of doing that."

"Wow, that's..." Donna stood up. "Anybody want anything from the kitchen?"

"Nah, I'm good," Steven said.

"I would like some peach cobbler," Fez said.

Donna headed for the wooden staircase. "Sorry, I don't think Mrs. Forman can whip one of those up for you in five minutes. But I'll try to find you something sugary."

"Thank you, Donna!" Fez shouted, but he lowered the volume as she disappeared up the stairs. "Now that is a sweet woman. Eric should leave for Africa more often."

Steven let out one of his quiet, single laughs. "Right."

"Sweet? She's been really bitchy to me," Samantha said. She got off the foot stool and sat on the couch, in Donna's vacated spot. "But who cares about her?" She patted Jackie's arm. "Tell me about the sex!"

Jackie's instinct was to recoil—Samantha was freaking touching her—but she controlled herself. Her usurper was falling into the plan perfectly. "Sure," Jackie said. "Ask away."

"What position—or positions—got you going last night?"

"Don't you mean coming?" Fez said. He snort-chuckled, and Jackie stole a glimpse at Steven. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, and his gaze was trained on the television.

"I was lying on my back," Jackie said, trying to keep her voice steady, "on the edge of his bed. He knelt on the floor, and my legs went over his shoulders, and—"

"I love it when Hyde does that to me!" Samantha smiled brightly, with no hint of deviousness. That was unexpected. She always seemed to have Jackie-burns saved up. "He gets in so deeply with that position," she went on. "Did he ever do that with you?"

The question was innocent, not baiting, and the lack of animosity was refreshing. Steven, apparently, felt differently. A scowl had darkened his face, and he said, "Could you two maybe not discuss me fucking you?"

Samantha glanced back at him. "Don't be so uptight, honey."

"Yes, honey," Fez echoed, "don't be so uptight."

Jackie nodded. "That was his problem when we dated. We did that position plenty of times, but his technique was bad. He needed to loosen up." She returned Samantha's pat to the arm. "From what I've heard, it sounds like you've helped him do that—" she grinned widely, flashing all her teeth, "so good for you!"

"Thank you!" Samantha said. "It's strange, though. My body's flexible, but not alien-flexible. I've had to tell him more than once I'm a stripper, not a contortionist."

"Oh, I'm sorry." Jackie hid her disgust with fake giggles. "That's my fault. See, I was a champion cheerleader, and I used to get into all sorts of positions with him, hoping it would inspire—well, more than he was giving me."

Steven's chair scraped on the basement's concrete floor. "Gonna see what's taking Donna so damn long," he said, and Jackie didn't watch him leave. She listened as his footsteps faded up the wooden staircase.


Hyde pushed his back against the kitchen counter. His hands clutched the edge, and he tried to control his breathing. He failed. "What's with Jackie, huh?"

"What're you talking about?" Donna said. She was seated at the breakfast table, eating a bowl of soup. A pot was on the stove. She obviously had no intention of returning to the basement, instead opting for an early dinner.

"First, she comes to the basement dressed like that," he said, but Donna didn't seem to understand. Jackie's outfit had let him envision everything he could no longer touch. She'd put on his favorite perfume of hers, too—Beauty of the Night. Hints of its jasmine scent had cut through the basement's citrus fog.

Then again, he was conditioned to the smell of oranges and lemons, thanks to Sam's preferred perfumes. Maybe Jackie's smell stood out simply by being different. Either that, or she'd made herself a flower purposely, to attract a one kind of animal, him.

"What was all of that sex-talk, huh? Fakin' orgasms—" he gripped the counter harder, "and who the hell is Danny?"

Donna shrugged and continued eating her soup.

"Hey, Donna, man … come on." His hands relaxed, and he left the counter to sit at the table. "I gotta know if Jackie's screwin' with me or not."

"I'm staying out of it, Hyde. Any games you want to play with Jackie are your business."

"I don't wanna play any games. That's the fuckin' point. Is this whole Danny deal phony or not?"

"Well, I've never met him—"

A smile slid over his lips. "So it is bullshit."

"I didn't say that." She clanked her spoon against the bowl. "I don't track Jackie's every move. I'm not the U.S. government."

He pushed an audible breath through his nose. Donna was no help. Her patience had been worn out by Forman—probably by Hyde, too.

"What do you care anyway?" she said. "You're married to a living blowup doll. Don't tell me the mystery's gone after only three months, that you've gotten bored."

"No, I..." He scratched the back of his neck. His nails dug into his skin, making it burn. "'Mystery' is overrated."

The Camino sped down Green Bay Road. Driving usually cleared Hyde's head. He'd told no one he was going. Just left. But the events of September were inescapable. They roamed his neural pathways like a wild bear, devouring any scrap of serenity until nothing was left.

He eased his foot off the gas pedal as the memories tore through him. His life had already been totaled. He didn't need to wreck his car, too.

September 23, 1979

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Cellar of Delight

The Cellar of Delight was a middle-of-the-road strip club. Too clean to be called a dive, too trashy to be considered upscale. But it was a palace compared to Hyde's craphole motel. Everything there was either cracked, peeling, or stained.

Affording a nice hotel wasn't the issue. The credit card W.B. gave him for emergencies had a high limit, but he didn't want to be tracked. He'd brought a sizable chunk of money to Chicago. Thought he'd be staying with Jackie for a while. What a fucking fool.

The trip to Las Vegas had taken two days. He was looking for distraction, but the Cellar of Delight was no delight—even after a good amount of sleep, grub, and pot. He didn't want to be here, but Jackie squatted in his every cell. He had to evict her, yet he stared at the club's padded door.

Leaving wasn't an option, but the strippers' stage didn't compel him. His body refused to move in any direction. until a bouncer glared at him. Then Hyde turned from the door, and the club's thumping, crummy music swallowed him up.

He searched for a table away from everything and everyone, somewhere he could drink himself into a stupor. He found the perfect spot by a thick red curtain. He ensconced himself there, kept his back toward the stage, and ordered beer after beer.

"Don't you want to see the dancers?" his waitress eventually said. She pointed over his shoulder. "The stage is that way."

"I know, and I don't. Just get me 'nother beer."

"Well, instead of being bored and drunk, you could play some games. We have a little arcade right behind this curtain." She pulled back the red curtain, revealing Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, and Jacks Open Pinball.

Pinball? Man, that was exactly what he needed. He stood up unsteadily and went to the pinball machine. "Keep the beer comin' every ten minutes."

The waitress nodded. "Got it."

Hyde pulled the curtain back around the game area for privacy. No one else was here. They were too busy staring at the strippers, just like he should've been. But the only place his dollar bills slid into was the coin change machine.

Eleven quarters sat heavily in his jeans pocket, and he shoved a twelfth into the pinball machine. A steel ball rolled on top of the plunger. He launched the sucker hard, and it bounced around the upper bumpers. The game rattled and beeped as the ball racked up points, but his eyes fixed on the space below the score counter. The title, Jacks Open, was lit up in red and white. Jackie's Open Legs. How hard had Kelso launched himself inside her?

Hyde slapped the flippers, and they became Jackie's legs in his beery haze. She'd opened them back up so easily for that fucker, all because Hyde had been too slow.

His palms slammed the flippers again. Ironic that pinball could've prevented all of this crap. He'd wanted to play it the night of Jackie's ultimatum. Forman didn't. Forman was leaving for Africa in a few days, so Forman had veto power over their activities.

Hyde should've gone to The Hub anyway. Then Jackie wouldn't have found him in the basement. He might have—what? Delayed the inevitable? She still would've pushed him into something he wasn't ready for. Nineteen Goddamn years-old, but his heart pulled to the left anyway, for marriage. Then finding her with Kelso made it swerve to the right ... to a nudie bar.

This nudie bar.

He quit thinking about it and drank beer until his game became shit. His reaction time had dulled. Balls plummeted down the drain before he could press the flippers. He'd soon have to choose what to spend his dough on—more quarters or booze.

Or maybe he'd spend it on maintaining his privacy. A brunette wearing a trench coat pushed aside the red curtain and entered his personal space. She leaned her hip against the pinball machine and said, "What're you doing back here?"

"What's it look like?"

"I'm on break."

"Good for you." He punched the right flipper and propelled the ball into a kicker. "Go have it somewhere else."

He was nastier than he should've been, but his future had been blown to hell. The substances in his system hadn't improved his disposition, either. They were messing with his already muddled thoughts. Drive back to Chicago … give Jackie the ring he'd intended to buy … keep her … fuck her.

His fingers remained on the flippers, and the brunette stayed in his personal space. She didn't seem fazed by his attitude at all, but he wouldn't give the attention she wanted. He continued to play Jackie's Open Legs and said, "Already got a waitress."

She laughed. "Waitress? You obviously didn't see my act. I choreographed the girls to ABBA's "Dancing Queen".

"ABBA..." His last ball fell into the drain, and he gave the brunette a once-over. She was taller than Jackie, bustier, more hippy, but something in her face reminded him too much of what he'd lost. "You're a stripper."

"Exotic dancer."


"'Whatever,' huh?" Her fingertips scratched up his sideburns, and the back of his neck prickled. Her invasion of him was deepening. She tried to remove his shades, and he smacked her hands off his face.

"You're not interested in tits?" she said.

"Not yours."

"Really." She yanked the red curtain back around the game area. Then she removed her trench coat, revealing a body barely covered by lingerie. Her breasts were huge—four-times the size of Jackie's—and the rest of her was too thin, but his dick responded.

He didn't like the sensation, getting hard for someone other than Jackie. But the brunette chuckled in triumph. She'd noticed her effect on his body and cupped him over his jeans.

"Not payin' you," he said.

"Like I said, I'm on break. Usually, I play some games to cool down. Let's play one together." She unbuckled his belt and opened his fly, as if she'd done it thousands of times. Her hand slipped inside his briefs and began to massage him. "A big boy, huh? This is gonna be fun."

He had no will to stop her. He was trashed and in love with someone he couldn't have. Loved her … and she'd cheated on him. He didn't want to cheat back, but the brunette was already on her knees, swallowing him whole.

His mind drowned in signals from his nerve endings, and when he regained a shred of awareness, Jackie was sitting on the pinball machine. She had no clothes on, and his first impulse was to cover her up. His arms glided around her back, and his body blocked hers from view.

"You followed me?" he said.

"Wow," Jackie said with a voice that didn't sound right, "you are really drunk."

"Can't freakin' think straight, doll."

"'Doll'?" Her legs wrapped around his waist. "I like that."

"I know." He smiled into her dark hair, feeling better than he had in days. "What're you doin' here? What 'bout Kelso?"

Jackie giggled. "Oh, boy … you've definitely had too much. And maybe more than just alcohol. You would've passed out had I finished sucking you off," she giggled again, "but sometimes a girl's gotta stop and get hers." She reached down between their bodies. He was hard as hell, and she slid something over his dick. "That'll protect both of us. One can never be too sure in Vegas."

"I'm sure," he said.

"Of course you are." She guided him to her entrance. "I hope you know what to do now—oh!"

He thrust into her, over and over again. No doubts left, man. Jackie was the only chick for him. She'd gotten over the nurse … so he'd get over Kelso.

She held onto his back tightly, beneath his denim jacket and shirt. Her fingernails scraped his skin, and the face he was kissing flickered into a stranger's before returning to Jackie's.

Pressure built up in his hips, and she whispered her climax at him—not his name, just God's—with shock. His own release followed quickly. His forehead, damp with sweat, dropped onto her shoulder. "Let's get hitched," he said.

"You're plastered."

"That's how my parents got married, only I won't regret it in the mornin'."

"Okay, I understood about half that. You're slurring."

"Fuck, Grasshopper … you wanna get married, so let's get married already."

"In the club?"

"Wherever. Just..." he hugged her tiredly, "need you in my life. Let's go."

Jackie disentangled herself from his arms. Then she hopped off the pinball machine so quickly she became a blur. A few deep breaths from him sharpened her up. She pulled on a pair of spangled panties—but someone else had worn those panties earlier.

"Don't," he said. "They're dirty. Could be full of bad … bad shit."

"I'm not getting married nude." She put on a bra that matched the panties. Then she shrugged on a trench coat He stared at it, at her. None of this made any sense. That trench coat, someone else had worn it, but Jackie was right. She couldn't get married nude.

"You gonna wear your pants around your ankles while you say, 'I do'?" she said.

"Oh, uh..." He looked down at himself, and dizziness spun through his head. It destroyed his fragile balance, but Jackie caught him before he crashed through the red curtain

"I know of a cute little chapel down the road," she said. "It's called Weddings and Waffles."

"Great." He slung his arm around her shoulders, but she slipped free of him and pulled up his briefs and jeans.

"We'll have to clean you up later—before the honeymoon."

He grinned drunkenly. "Gonna have a naughty-bad honeymoon."

"We sure will … if you're conscious. You actually made me come. Not a lot of men can do that."

"So you're sayin' Kelso didn't?"

"I've never met him, so no. He didn't."

Hyde didn't understand any of her answer except for no, but it was all he needed. "Good," he said, and she pushed open the red curtain.

He awoke the next morning feeling worse than death. He'd had a horrific Exorcist dream with a cross, an altar, and an Elvis impersonator. His eyes hurt to open, but through his lashes he saw his crappy motel room. Worse, a woman he must've met at some bar was lying beside him.

He didn't kick her out, not that day or the next three weeks. He medicated his dying heart with booze and her body, and she nursed him through twenty hangovers. After the twenty-first, he bailed and drove back to Wisconsin.

He'd left Vegas just in time, before he did something stupid.

December 17, 1979

Point Place, Wisconsin


"I never learn, man," Hyde muttered. He was filing through receipts in his office, checking his written records against them. He had little brain power for work, though. His drive had done nothing to unscrew his thoughts. For such a chatterbox, Samantha knew how to keep her trap shut. During their three weeks together in Las Vegas, she'd never said a word about their marriage. It existed only in his nightmares until she showed up at the Formans', where he'd barely recognized her.

He closed the store's ledger. Unlike Grooves' receipts, certain facts about his relationship with Sam didn't add up. She'd cut off most of her hair before leaving Vegas and bleached it blonde. Was it just a change of style or was she hiding from someone? He'd never asked and didn't plan to.

Keeping shit simple was his objective. Married to a freakin' stripper, a wedding he hardly remembered—his mom's predictions about him had come true.. He'd tried to deny it to himself, but then Sam produced a marriage certificate and pictures. The cross, the altar, and the Elvis impersonator were all real. The wedding was real.

Yet, despite the visual evidence, he'd held out hope the marriage was a joke. Then she told him, in great detail, how they'd met. That he'd fucked her, not Jackie, on the pinball machine. His secret delusion, neither a secret nor a delusion.

He unlocked a desk drawer and lifted out a bottle of bourbon. It was half-empty, drained slowly over the last two months. The other half wouldn't take as long to go.