"Steven married a stripper."
"What?" Eric Foreman asked, twirling the long cord around his slim finger. He looked around the dingy room. A few rays of afternoon sun had managed to make their way through the dirty cracked glass, making everything around him appear to be a slightly lighter shade of gray than usual. Under his feet, the dusty dirt floor scuffed his old tennis shoes.
"He married a whore, Eric," Jackie Burkhart cried into her end of the receiver. Curled in a ball on Fez's couch, she held the red plastic mouthpiece next to her beautiful face. "Look, I'm sorry to call. I just didn't know who else to talk to. Donna is always busy, Michael is gone, and all Fez wants to discuss are "his needs."
"Start at the beginning," he told her patiently. As he listened to the story unfold, he thought about the petite brunette thousands of miles away in Point Place, completely alone. He felt an unfamiliar twinge of something pulse through his veins as she picked apart Samantha's appearance.
Suddenly, Jackie became quiet and began to cry softly into the phone. "I just can't believe I wasted all that time on him. I really thought that he was the one, that I would be enough to make him want to change. I thought he loved me."
Eric winced at her tears. "He did love you, Jackie, he just didn't love you in the way that you deserve."
"Eric, that's the nicest thing you have ever said to me," Jackie replied tenderly.
"Well, don't get used to it," he joked. "Honestly, you're better off without him. You've made the wrong decisions in the past when it comes to men, and we both know it. Kelso cheated on you all the time, and Hyde didn't treat you very well."
"But I loved them both," she admitted. "You're right, but who is going to want me now?"
"Jackie, you're beautiful."
"You think I'm beautiful?"
"Come on, you know that."
"Yeah, I know that. I just didn't realize that you knew that," Jackie replied. "Thanks, Eric, I am really starting to feel a little bit better. You know, you're a lot nicer in Africa."
"You're a lot easier to handle when I'm in Africa," he teased. "We've never really talked like this. You know, without fighting. Maybe you're not the Devil."
"You're still a skinny geek."
"And you're still a short, loud cheerleader."
Eric relaxed against the wall as he sunk to the ground. He listened to her now-chipper voice go on about what was going on back home. Suddenly, he felt lonely and yearned for home. Even through the countless conversations with his mother and Donna, he had never felt this way. Sure, he had missed them, but he had never really wanted to back. Before now.
On the other side of the world, Jackie snuggled beneath the purple blanket she had spread across her little frame. Eric started to tell her about some of the children in his village and about the safari he had gone on over the weekend. It was nice to escape from the sameness of Point Place for the first time in far too long. Listening to Eric, she forgot about everything in her life and only focused on the conversation that was going on between them.
"You're quiet," he said suddenly.
"I was just listening to you talk. You know, you have a nice voice. It's very soothing," she replied.
"Um, wow, thanks," he stammered.
"Don't try to sound so shocked, Eric. I am nice sometimes."
They both laughed and talked for another 20 minutes. Finally, Eric checked his wristwatch and realized that he had a class in a matter of minutes. "I'm sorry, but I have to go," he told her. "I have to go teach."
"Oh, ok," she said, clearly disappointed.
"I will call you tomorrow to check in," he retorted quickly. The comment shocked even him, he couldn't believe that he was making concrete plans to call his arch nemesis.
"That would be nice."
"Bye, Eric," she said, placing the receiver back into the cradle. Lying back against the pillows, she looked up at the ceiling and let her mind wander. Mere seconds had passed since he had spoken his last words to her, and already, Jackie felt lonely once again. She couldn't believe that she was feeling this way, that Eric had touched something inside of her that she thought was untouchable. No one, not even Michael or Steven, had hit this nerve, and it shook her to her very core.
Similar thoughts plagued Eric as he hung the phone up in the dim hut. Slinging his messenger bag over his shoulder, he headed toward the classroom. On the rocky path that ran between the buildings, he thought about what had just transpired. He'd just had the best conversation of his life, and it was with Jackie. Just the thought of having a decent conversation with her really surprised him, but the fact that it had gone so well was enough to blow his mind.