Disclaimer: I don't own.
Author's Note: This story has really been on my mind lately, so I had to start it! It's a future J/H fic, but a rather large portion of it take place shortly after the dawn of 1980 (hence, shortly after the series finale). The points of view will be shifting, and while the majority of it will be in first person, parts will be in third person. Just a heads up. I hope you enjoy!
People collect things. Some people collect baseball cards, others souvenir spoons or keychains. My brother collects girls, or at least he likes to say he does. My grandmother collects bottles of tequilla, according to my father.
I collect boxes. Not by choice. I didn't wake up one day and decide to line my dresser with boxes. In fact, it started before I was old enough to make a choice at all. Starting on my first birthday, every year on that day a new box arrived for me in the mail, from someone. I don't know who. Neither do my parents. We've always assumed that was one of my relatives, maybe one of my absent grandparents, my mother suggested.
They line my dresser, end to end. Seventeen of them, including the one that came today.
They're beautiful boxes. The first one is small, hardly bigger than a pill box, but made of frosty glass, pink, with an etching of a rose on the top. Each one is progressively bigger, I suppose to represent my growth. They all have paintings or carvings or etchings of roses, and they're all in the soft colors that I love; pink, purple, baby blue, rose, gentle yellows, sea greens.
Whoever sends them knows me, so I figure my mom is wrong. My grandparents don't know me at all.
I sit down on my canopy bed with the latest box. It's huge; about one foot in length and eight inches wide. And there are slides all over it, obviously secret compartments. It's gorgeous. Polished cherry wood with an incredibly life-like painting of a single red rose in full bloom on its top.
It reminds me...
I look over at my night stand. The rose he gave me is dead and dry, the petals beginning to crumble off. But just a few days ago, it looked exactly like the rose on this box. Vibrant and lush. My mom was impressed. So was I.
Just a few days ago, I still believed he loved me.
My eyes burn and blur, and here I go again. Crying like a little girl, falling to my bed and curling up as if I'm a rolly-polly who'd just been poked.
How could he cheat on me? How could he say those horrible things to me? How could he look into my eyes and tell me that he didn't want me?
The knock on my door and my mom's unmistakable voice interrupts my wallowing, and I quickly sit up, quickly wipe my eyes. I could tell her to go away, but she won't. And truth be told, I don't want her to. My mom gives the best hugs. Plus, she's always willing to male bash with me. I know she's gone through a lot with guys, including my dad. "Yeah, Mom."
The door opens, and she comes in smiling, but it fades immediately. "Honey, what...Oh, is this about that bastard?"
I grin and nod, still pushing tears from my cheeks. She's on my side. Bitter and angry. My aunt Donna, in the meantime, preaches forgiveness and "closure", tells me in time I'll get past it, but Mom gets it. It's only been two days. "Yeah. Asshole."
She comes over to me and sits down next to me. I look at her, and I wonder how I came out of her. She's so tiny, even though she's had three kids.
"Men suck, honey. It's a sad but true fact of life." She starts stroking my hair, and as always, I lean my head on her shoulder. She's little but she's huge to me. She's my best friend, and my greatest comfort. Well, tied with my dad. They comfort me in different ways. Mom's a talker. Dad usually just sneaks me a beer or two.
"What about Dad?"
She giggles. "Oh, he doesn't suck, unless I want him to."
"MOM!" I sit up and glare at her. "That's disgusting!"
"Okay, I'm sorry." She glances over at my dresser. "Is that your new box?" She stands and walks over to my dresser and looks at it. Her brow furrows. "Where does it open?"
I stand. "I haven't figured it out yet."
She puts it down and smiles at me, her eyes lighting up. "Well, it'll have to wait. And so will the moping about what's-his-face. You, my little bird, have a party waiting for you!" She claps her hands. "Yay!"
I can't help but smile. Just like my dad does. Most people do when she's excited about something; you just can't help it. She's so...she's just this beam of radiance. I wonder if I'll ever have an effect on a man that she has on my dad. He's all hard and Zen, aloof as he would say, but I've seen them alone. And he's not like that when they're alone.
"So come on, sweetie. Everyone is here already, and you've got a mountain of presents to open." She glances at the box again, and its weird, but she almost looks nervous for the few seconds her eyes rest on it.
I follow her, but on my way, I run my hand over the smooth, cool top of the box.
And I shiver. Uncontrollably. Goosebumps break out all over me.
Nothing has ever been inside any of the boxes, but this one is different. The card said so. Open the box, and you'll know what you need to know. So cryptic and nonsensical.
What don't I know that I need to know?
Katie's always been a quiet girl, but tonight she's more so than usual, and it worries me. I hand another plate of food to Dylan, my middle child, and of course, scold him. "This is it,buddy boy," I say. He grins, that snarky, smart-ass smile he inherited from his father, and I point at him. "I mean it, Dylan. You've had enough."
He rolls his eyes. "Mom, I'm a growing boy."
I nod. Thirteen years old and already taller than his dad. We're not quite sure where he got his height, though from what I remember of my wonderful, attentive parents, they were fairly tall. "Well, at least you're not as skinny as Eric." I look over at Eric and Donna and shake my head. She still towers over him and outweighs him by a dozen pounds. Donna's playing with my baby, Jake, and the look on her face makes me ache inside.
I've been lucky. Three beautiful babies with the love of my life, and she hasn't been able to have even one.
Dylan walks off before I can say anything else, and I sigh, noticing Katie again. She's with Betsy Kelso, and they're talking, but her light is so dim. Normally she's like me, the life of the party. Tonight she's dulled over, faded. Now my heart aches even more, for my beautiful baby.
"Hey there, wife."
Thick, strong arms wrap around my waist, and Steven's breath wafts on the side of my neck, followed by a string of kisses. Mmmmm...a string of pearls has nothing on his strings of kisses. "Steven..." I smile and turn in his arms. "Hi."
He kisses my forehead. "Got any more food for a growing boy?"
I roll my eyes and poke his still flat stomach. "Okay, Dylan can get away with that. You cannot." I look over his shoulder and see Katie. Betsy's walking away from her, and she looks so lost. Teenage heartache...I remember how it felt. Too well. "Steven," I say softly, looking up at my husband. "Do something to cheer Katie up. It's her birthday, and all she can think of is that...that..." My heart pounds with fury. I can't even think of the idiot's name. "That boy."
Steven's face clouds over with anger, and I grip his shoulders. They're suddenly tense, and I know he's struggling with his impulse, which is of course to beat the living daylights out of a teenage boy. "And I don't mean beat the boy to a pulp."
He sighs and looks away, towards our baby girl. She looks like him, with enough of me to make her a very beautiful girl, and neither of us can imagine what the boy found lacking. "Jackie, you realize that how I cheer her up is by sneaking her beers, don't you?"
I nod and roll my eyes. "Yes, Steven. Sneak her a beer! I don't care!" And truth is that tonight, I don't.
He grins. "Okay. I'll take her for a drive and we'll have a beer."
He kisses me again and starts to walk away. I stop him, tugging on his arm. "Steven," I say, waiting for him to meet my eyes. He does. "She told me that there's something in the box she got today."
He shrugs. "So?" I don't say anything, and he looks at me. "Jackie, it's probably just a letter or something. Maybe whoever's been sending her the boxes is finally revealing himself."
My stomach turns. I've never been uncomfortable about the boxes. I've always assumed it was either one of our parents, or maybe Fez. Someone who wants to make Katie feel special. But now, for some reason, I'm not so sure. Now the entire thing makes me nervous. "Steven, do you think we have anything to worry about? What if whoever's been sending these boxes isn't someone we know and wants to hurt her?
He shakes his head and smiles indulgently at me. "Baby, calm down. It's probably Fez. Remember how he gave her that toy box when she was born? Maybe he wanted to continue with a theme."
I look down. Fez. Thinking about him still makes me uncomfortable. And guilty, though long ago, he'd told me all was forgiven. "Maybe."
Steven lifts my chin, and gives me the sweetest smile he can muster. "Doll, it's nothing. I'm positive that it's someone we know. How else would they know that she loves roses?"
I nod and relax, wrapping my arms around my husband and nestling into his embrace. He's so warm, and I want to stay here forever. My eyes close, and I think about him, and us. "Steven, I love you." I wonder if he heard me; I mumbled it into his chest.
But it doesn't matter. He knows.
If I had my way, I'd be at that jackass's house having a little one to one with him. Tony, or Troy, or Todd. Something wimpy, that's for sure. He broke my daughter's heart. And for that, there is no price great enough. Not even his freaking life would pay this debt.
Instead, I'm in the El Camino, driving Katie and a few beers around Point Place. "So." I glance over at her, and she's not touching her beer. "Hey, if you're not gonna drink that, you give it to me. Wasting beer is a sin."
That makes her smile. At least a little bit.
"Right, Dad. It's right up there with greed and lust. It's the eighth deadly sin, right?"
I look at her with a grin. "In the Bible of Hyde, yes it is." I shake my head. "How in the hell did you become such a smart ass?"
She giggles. Just like her mother, with that little squeak in it. "I learned from the best."
She sighs, and I feel her eyes on me. "Dad, can I ask you something?"
I pull to a stop at the stop sign. "Sure."
"I know you and Mom broke up a lot. And then you got married. I just...You've never told me how you got back together that last time."
She can't know. She can't ever know. Jackie and I agreed on this a long time ago.
I grip the steering wheel tight and try to breathe. It's hard; my ribs are crushing all the organs in my chest. I can't answer her question. At least not honestly. I swallow, and the bile burns its way down my throat.
Swallow again. And again.
"I...We just..." I shrug one shoulder and avoid looking at my daughter. "We just realized that we wanted to be together, and decided to make it work."
I take a left. Better end this little joy ride before she gets too damn curious. She's like her mom. Persuasive as all hell.
"Yeah, but what happened? I mean, what made you realize that you wanted to be together?"
I blink slowly. Damn it, I've got to come up with something that will satisfy her. Think. Think. Think.
She shrinks back in her seat. "If you don't want to tell me..."
A-ha! I look at her and scoff. "It's not that, Kate. It's just...you know how there are certain things you don't want to share with your mom and me? Because you want to keep them for yourself?" She nods. "Well, it's kind of like that with this. I kind of just want to keep it between your mom and me."
She studies me, and then breaks out in one of those Jackie smiles. Huge and just screaming "awwwww". "I get it. Because you don't want me to suspect that you're a total sap for her, huh?"
I shake my head and go Zen. "Whatever."
She laughs, but not long enough. I notice that she's slumped over in her seat, her head resting on the back of it and turned towards me.
There's that clench in my chest. Every single time she or the boys calls me that. "Yeah, Tweety?" Tweety Bird. When she was little, she loved Tweety Bird.
"So...I mean, since you and Mom got back together after everything...there's a chance, right? For me and Tommy?"
Not unless its over my fucking dead body!
"Sure, Katie," I say instead. What in the hell else am I supposed to say? I hope she doesn't notice my voice tremble. I look at her, and she's smiling dreamily, her beer forgotten in her hand. Hoping, no doubt, for a reunion with the guy who'd completely destroyed her heart.
Not in her lifetime. I'd make sure of that.
Back at home, after Katie heads to her room, I head to mine. Jackie looks up from where she's turning down the bedcovers when I close the door a little too hard.
Her eyes are wide. "Steven, what's wrong?"
I sit down. My insides are turning inside out. Ripping and tearing inch by inch. "Katie asked me how we got back together the last time."
Instantly, my cocoa tanned chick turns pale and drops the covers she was holding. I go to her and put my hands on her shoulders. "I didn't tell her."
She looks up at me, her mismatched eyes misty with fear and anxiety. "Steven...do you think we just tell her?"
I shake my head. "No. You know what, she just wanted to know so she could convince herself that she and that kid could get back together someday." My stomach hurts, like it's shredded into ropes and tied into ridiculously tight knots, but I hanker on. Reassuring my woman. "I don't think she really wants to know. I don't think she'll ask again."
Jackie hugs me, burrowing her face into my neck, and I hold her as close to me as I can. And it's still not close enough. Nothing ever quite is, not even when we're naked and in bed. Although that comes damn close. And is very nice.
And is something I really want to be right now.
I push her away and give her my best sexy smile, my hands circling on her back lower and lower until I reach her ass. Damn it, her ass is as fine today as it was when we first hooked up. "You know, you're freaking hot, Jackie," I say in a low voice.
To my delight, she returns my look with that sexy vixen one of hers, and her hands press against my chest, rubbing slowly in exactly the way that makes my blood boil. "Are you trying to seduce me, Steven?"
She doesn't let me answer, but pushes me down to the bed.
Damn it, I LOVE it when she gets hot for me!
The box isn't hard to open. I just had to find the right combination of slides, and it only took me a few minutes. Three trays pull out, and in the bottom one was an envelope. Now I'm opening it, and my fingers are shaking.
What don't I know that I need to know?
I pull the letter out. I don't recognize the handwriting, but its neat and easy to read. I can't even tell if it's a male's or female's.
You're parents never wanted you, sweet Katherine. In fact, they tried to kill you.
I frown. What in the hell does that mean? Who in the hell IS this?
They will never tell you. They will keep the secret from you until its too late. If you want to know, ask someone who was there when you were born.
Perhaps your aunt Donna or uncle Eric.
I'm frozen. The words make no sense at all. My parents never wanted me? They tried to kill me?
The letter falls from my fingers, fluttering in the wind the fan next to my bed makes to the floor.
It has to be a joke. A sick joke. One that perhaps my stupid younger brother Dylan would play on me, just to scream "BURN" at me. In fact, he's probably waiting right outside my door.
I get up, go to the door and pull it open. No one's there.
Numbly, I decide to go downstairs and get something to eat. Away from the box, the letter and whatever the hell that cryptic message was supposed to mean.
Tonight the ten stairs that led to the first floor of our house seemed to keep going down and down and down and down and down...