"Funny now…you finally see me standing here…Funny now…I'm crying in the rain…all aloooone…I try to be invincible…together noooow…we can be saaaaved…"
Desmond blinked his eyes. He found himself sitting in a smoky barroom. On the stage before him two young musicians were standing before a set of microphones, drawing to the end of a song. The singer was tall with short brown hair and striking blue eyes. The guitarist was Charlie, his hair long, blonde and unkempt. Desmond looked to the other occupants of his table. He was sitting with Penny and her childhood friend Lucy Heatherton. The two women were laughing over their empty drink glasses and whispering to each other under their breath.
Desmond breathed a sigh of relief. It looked as though they hadn't gone on the boat after all. They had stayed in England. They were safe and content.
"That singer is bloody gorgeous!" Lucy hissed to Penny.
"He's also married," Penny informed her. "His brother is single if you're interested. And apparently he likes posh birds."
"Well, he's rather cute too. Could do with being taller, but cute all the same. Is he the one you were on the island with, Des?"
Desmond blinked, perplexed. He listened to the sounds of the barroom and realised that it was buzzing with Australian accents. It appeared they were the lone British crowd in an Oz watering hole.
Before he could answer Lucy's question, the barroom erupted in applause. The two brothers bowed and then left the stage, heading directly for Desmond's table. Penny rose to her feet, gave Charlie a hug and then eagerly introduced him to Lucy. The elder brother held out his palm.
"Desmond, right?" he asked.
"Aye…" he replied, accepting the handshake.
The man smiled and sat down beside him.
"I'm Liam…good to meet you at last. Charlie has been telling me all sorts of barmy stories about you. He says you saved us both from becoming drug-addicted rockstars when you took him off on that boat race. I'm not sure I believe that, but still…thanks for looking out for him, mate. I've not been right these last few years without him. He's my only family, you know…"
Desmond nodded, somewhat confused. "No bother, pal."
"My round!" Penny said, abruptly, waving a note. "Desmond, would you be a darling and go to the bar to get these boys a drink. They've been singing up there for hours! And me and Luce are on G&T's..."
Desmond smiled. Penny was tipsy. She was so adorable when she was drunk. He took her money and wandered up to the counter.
"Can I have three pints of Fosters and two gin and tonics," said Desmond, as soon as he could get the barman's attention.
"I'll get these…" said a strangely familiar voice.
Desmond turned to see an old woman sitting up to the bar, reading a newspaper. He recognised her from the ring shop in London. It was Mrs Hawking.
"What the…" he stammered. "Why are you…"
"You saved the world, Desmond," Mrs Hawking remarked blandly. "The least that I can do is buy you a few drinks."
"No, I mean…why are you in Australia?"
"It said on the news they had discovered an island where dangerous experiments were being conducted outside the knowledge of the government. They said a woman called Penelope Widmore had located this island after a man named Charlie Pace sent her a transmission from an underwater station."
Desmond glanced back to the table where Charlie was leaning forwards on his elbow and chatting flirtatiously with Lucy Heatherton.
"But…but Charlie drowned in that station."
The old woman shook her head. "Not this time, he didn't."
Desmond frowned. "Well, how did he escape?"
"He locked the door from the other side."
Desmond blinked. "What?!" he spluttered, shaking his head. "If it was that easy then why didn't he do that the first time?"
Mrs Hawking sighed with a weary superiority.
"The first time Charlie believed it was his destiny to drown in that station. He thought that it had to happen in order for Claire and her baby to be rescued by the helicopter. But in this timeline the plane never crashed and Charlie and Claire never met. So he had no reason to sacrifice his life. "
Desmond swallowed. "They never met…?"
She nodded. "Probably for the best. Such a rash decision for the boy to throw his life away for a girl he had only known a few months."
He smiled sadly. "Aye, I suppose so…but…"
"But what Desmond?" she asked.
Desmond sighed. "Charlie said in his note that meeting Claire was the best moment of his life. Now he has lost that moment."
The woman tutted. "Well, things change when you tamper with the universe, Mr Hume! The pieces of the puzzle shift around. I'm sorry, but you can't have everything the way that you want it." She smiled suddenly, looking back to her newspaper. "But, of course…if a thing is meant to happen."
She laid the paper flat on the bar and pointed to an advert in the lonely hearts column. Desmond hunched forwards to read it – Single white female (slim, petite, blonde hair, blue eyes) seeks funny friendly companion. My likes include astrology, nature, writing and taking long walks on the beach. I have an infant son so must enjoy children. Contact #4815162342. This all sounded very familiar. Desmond looked searchingly at Mrs Hawking waiting for her to confirm his suspicions.
"When Claire Littleton arrived in Los Angeles she found there was no couple waiting for her at the airport," she explained. "She spent a week trying to locate them without success. By the time she tried to arrange a return flight to Sydney, the doctors said she was too heavily pregnant to fly. She had the baby in America. After Aaron was born she changed her mind about the adoption."
She looked back to the advert and winced sympathetically.
"I'm afraid that she hasn't had many responses yet. Most men are scared away by that child of hers. It's too much responsibility for them. What she needs is a chap with a little more courage and staying power."
Desmond smiled at her. Mrs Hawking smiled back.
"I'm going to play the jukebox," she told him.
She turned from the bar, leaving Desmond with her newspaper. He was still staring at the advert when a hand clapped his shoulder.
"How long does a man have to wait to get a drink, hey?!" Charlie grinned, snatching a pint from the bar and sitting beside him. He hiked his thumb over his shoulder. "You see that Lucy girl…I'm in there!"
"I'm not so sure she's the one for you, mate."
Desmond ripped out the newspaper advert and pressed it into his hand. Charlie peered over the small smudgy message. He laughed, shaking his head.
"What?! You think I need a blind date? Who is this girl, Des?"
"She is your destiny, brother," Desmond answered.
Charlie frowned. "Aren't we supposed to be avoiding that?"
He shrugged. "Maybe fate is worth a go sometimes."
Desmond reached into his pocket, wrenched out a handful of change and passed it to Charlie, nodding him towards the phone that hung on the wall. Charlie seemed rather bemused, but he had trusted Desmond for this long, so he was willing to follow through with his suggestion. He sauntered over to the phone and started dialling the number. Desmond was just heading back to their table with the drinks when a familiar song came on the jukebox, causing him to smile.
"Nobody can tell ya…there's only one song worth singing…they may try and sell ya…cause it hangs them up to see someone like yooooouuuuuuu…..but you've gotta make your own kind of music…"