A/N: Again, thanks so much for the amazing feedback! It's so gratifying to read everyone's reviews and get a real sense of how the story is being received by the readers. Special thanks to oversizedchanel, fastforwarddd, StillrockininWisconsin, Hyde's Bride, zeureka, BloodyLyra, hydeandjackieforever20 and dengal90 for their invaluable input!
Check out Chapter 1 for all warnings and disclaimers.
Songs in this chapter: None.
Just a word of warning – there will be a moment of OOC-ness so unbelievable in this chapter that it will having you scratching your head, cursing at your monitor and questioning my sanity! I'm bracing myself for the outraged reviews! LOL!
Chapter 11 - "Knock on Wood"
A tiny bell dinged as Hyde walked through the door of the local convenience store. A frigid blast of super-cooled air immediately settled on his skin, offering much-needed relief from the desert heat. The sun had barely risen above the horizon, and already it was a toasty 84 degrees outside.
Nodding briefly at the middle-aged woman behind the counter, he grabbed a hand-basket near the entrance before marching towards the back of the store, choosing a few select items along the way. A loaf of bread and some nondescript lunch meat, a bag of barbecue potato chips, a package of chocolate chip cookies and a couple of Twinkies. Now all I need is some beer, and I'm all set!
Standing in front of the cooler, Hyde was confronted with a dilemma – Budweiser, his usual beer of choice, or Coors, a regional beer he couldn't get back home? As an internal debate raged in his sleep-deprived brain, a high-pitched female voice brought him quickly back to reality.
His heart racing, Hyde froze in his spot, not daring to turn around. How the hell ... ?!
And then ... "Mommy, I wanna puddin' pop, pleeeeeeeeeeease? Please oh please oh please?"
Slowly he turned towards the source of his confusion and found a small girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, having a mini-tantrum in the middle of the freezer aisle.
"Sweetie, no – you can't have a Pudding Pop for breakfast! C'mon now, let's go home and I'll make you blueberry pancakes. They're your favorite!"
"PUDDIN' POP! PUDDIN' POP! PUDDIN' POP!" Hyde stared, transfixed, at the miniature brunette as she stamped her tiny little feet, then stuck out her bottom lip in a most adorable, yet eerily-familiar, pout.
With noticeable restraint, the harried mother knelt down next to her daughter and tried her best to reason with her. "Honey, I'm sorry – I only brought enough money to buy milk and juice. I promise, the next time we're here, I'll buy you a Pudding Pop, okay?"
But simple economics was far beyond the small girl's comprehension. Huge crocodile tears spilled from the most remarkable brown eyes he'd ever seen, her bottom lip quivering pitifully. Looking up at her mother, she uttered one simple word. "Pwease?"
In one fluid motion, the mother swept the child into her arms, balancing her on her hip as she walked toward the front of the store. "Next time, pumpkin – I promise ..." she whispered.
Quickly, Hyde finished his shopping and followed the pair to the checkout counter. As the cashier began ringing up the woman's purchase, Steven laid a box of chocolate Pudding Pops next to the juice and the milk. Holding out a five-dollar bill, he smiled tentatively. "Here, let me take care of that."
"What?!" The young mother was obviously stunned by the generosity of a complete stranger. "Oh no, I couldn't ... I mean, it's nice of you to offer, but I can't accept your money!" Pushing away the box of frozen treats, the woman looked at the clerk, her eyes pleading for an intervention.
Nervously, Hyde cleared his throat. "Please, it would mean a lot to me, okay?" The clerk, the woman and the little girl were all staring at him now, and his discomfort was blatantly obvious. "Look, man – I know this is gonna sound crazy, but two days ago a total stranger took a chance on me. And, well ... in some weird way, I think this is how I'm supposed to pay it back."
The young woman studied him carefully, sizing him up. Is this guy for real? And then a knowing smile crossed her face – she was a former flower child, after all. She'd been at The Haight during the infamous Summer of Love, dropping acid, listening to the Grateful Dead and espousing the virtues of free love. Ten years ago, she reminded herself, she would have considered this simple act of karmic kindness normal.
"Alright, then ... if you insist."
Hyde nodded emphatically. "Yeah, man, I do ..."
Bouncing the small girl in her arms, she began speaking animatedly. "Well then, it looks like today's your lucky day, Hannah Banana! Can you say 'thank you' to the nice man?" The little tyke smiled bashfully at Steven for a few brief seconds, hiding her face in the crook of her mother's neck. "Thank you, mister ..." she murmured.
As the pair walked out of the store and into the parking lot, the clerk turned to Hyde. "That was a nice thing you did there, young man!" His cheeks flush with embarrassment, he stared down at the store's tacky linoleum floor. "Hey, it was nothing ..."
"That'll be 7 dollars and 92 cents."
As he handed her a ten-dollar bill, the ground beneath them began to rumble and shake, the bottles and cans on the store shelves clinking together in a most unholy racket. Gripping the counter with both hands, he surveyed the area quickly, trying to figure out what was happening. In a few seconds, it was over, and all he could hear was the sound of the older woman chuckling to herself.
"What the hell was THAT?!"
The clerk quickly made change, shutting the cash register drawer. "Yeah, that was a doozy, huh? A bit stronger than the last one." Her cool composure was mind-boggling.
"Man, what are you talking about? Was that an earthquake?"
"Don't you pay attention to the news?" Pulling a copy of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper from a nearby shelf, she pointed to a small headline at the bottom of the front page. "That, young man, was an underground nuclear test. You know, at the Nevada Proving Ground? It's only about 70 miles away."
Picking up the newspaper, he scanned the article briefly.
Nuclear Test Scheduled for Monday
Officials at the Nevada Proving Ground confirm that an underground
nuclear test, code-named Pepato, has been scheduled for Monday,
June 11th, at 7:00 a.m., weather permitting. Residents of Las Vegas
and the surrounding environs are advised to take the usual precautions.
Hyde shook his head in disbelief. "Holy crap, man – this is freakin' unreal. How often do they do these little tests, anyway?"
The older woman shrugged as she placed his items into a brown paper bag. "Once or twice a month – sometimes more, sometimes less." Handing him his receipt, she chuckled once again. "Yeah, when I was a teenager growing up here back in the '50s, we all used to park out on the edge of town and watch the mushroom clouds for entertainment. Those were the good ol' days!"
"Yeah, man ... sounds like a blast!"
A foggy mist hung low in the sky over the Grooves parking lot as Jackie carefully eased the Lincoln into a spot near the front entrance. It was her first day of work, and she wanted to start things off on the right foot – even if it was just a temp job. Taking a sip of tea from a styrofoam cup, she watched as the sign in front of the Point Place National Bank alternately flashed the time and temperature ... 9:54 a.m. ... 59 degrees.
Six minutes 'til opening time. Her stomach was tied up in knots, but she couldn't tell if it was due to nerves, morning sickness or a combination of both. The only thing Jackie knew for sure was that this day would be a memorable one – for many reasons. She took another sip of tea and closed her eyes, willing her nausea away.
Precisely at 10:00, a silver Mercedes pulled into the spot next to hers, and she recognized the driver immediately. Exiting the Lincoln, she met him on the sidewalk in front of the store. "Good morning, Mr. Barnett!"
"Why hello there, Jackie! I'm impressed – you're actually on time!" He swiftly unlocked the store's front door and held it open for her as she walked inside.
"Yeah, well ... don't worry. I'll try not to make a habit of it!" she teased. As she flipped a few switches on a nearby panel, the fluorescent lights above flickered to life.
Closing the door behind him, WB wasted no time getting down to business. As he handed her the key to the store, he outlined her duties and responsibilities. "Now Jackie ... I know this job is just a temporary one until Steven gets back. But I'm really counting on you to keep this store running in his absence. Do you think you can handle it?"
"Oh absolutely, Mr. Barnett!"
"Are you sure? Because I could always ask Angie to step in and take over for a few weeks – I'm sure she wouldn't mind. Especially if I bribe her with a cash bonus or a company car!"
"Oh no, that really won't be necessary. Look, I know this probably doesn't make much sense, but this job means a lot to me, even if it is just for a couple of weeks. I promise to work hard to make both you and Steven proud, Mr. Barnett."
"Please, Jackie – call me WB!"
"Okay ... erm, WB. Anyway, I really appreciate your faith in me. I won't let you down."
The man smiled at the tiny brunette. "I know you won't, Jackie. And don't worry – if you run into any problems, feel free to call me at the corporate office. Do you have any questions before I head back to Milwaukee?"
"Well, first of all ... what should I do about Leo?"
"I'll leave that up to you. I know he's a good friend of Steven's, but if you think you're better off hiring someone else temporarily to help out, you have my permission." Checking his watch, WB picked up his briefcase. "I hate to dash out like this, but I have a meeting in less than an hour. Any other questions?"
"Ummm – no, I don't think so. Unless ... I don't suppose you know when Steven will be home?"
William Barnett detected a hint of worry in her voice, and he did his best to allay her concerns. "Jackie, as soon as I hear anything, you'll be the first to know – I promise!"
She nodded and smiled. "Thanks, Mr. Barn—er, I mean, WB ... I-I appreciate it."
"Alright then. If there's nothing else, I guess I'll be taking off." Opening the door, he turned to face her. "And feel free to call if you need me."
As his Mercedes pulled out of the parking lot, she walked to the front and placed the "Open" sign in the window. It was official – she was in charge, for now. She busied herself with mundane chores – opening the register, counting the cash drawer, reviewing the receipts. Putting the excess cash and checks in a bank deposit bag, she walked back into Steven's office.
To say she was shocked at the state of the place was an understatement – boxes and boxes of files and papers were stacked everywhere, with hardly any room to walk. Opening the bottom drawer of the desk, she placed the bank bag inside and locked the drawer. At that moment, she heard the front door open and a familiar voice calling her name.
"Hey, Jackie ... where are you?"
"Donna? Hang on, I'll be right out ..." The brunette exited the office and met her friend in the listening pit. "So what are you doing here? I thought you had to work today?"
"My shift starts in less than an hour, but I just couldn't wait to tell you – I talked to Eric last night!"
"Oh yeah ... Mrs. Forman told me this morning that he called. Something about Rhode Island and blah, blah, blah – I stopped listening after she said the words 'Eric' and 'Africa.' I mean, haven't we heard enough about that?!"
"First of all, Eric's in Rhodesia, not Rhode Island. And secondly, after everything we've been through this weekend, I would think you'd be just a little bit more supportive, you know? But oh my God, what a shock! You're just as selfish and self-centered as ever." The blonde turned and headed toward the door, but Jackie chased after her.
"Donna ... Donna, wait! I'm sorry, okay? I guess I'm just jealous that your boyfriend is halfway around the world and still finds the time to call you. I can't believe I'm even telling you this, but there are times when I wish Steven was more like Eric."
Donna chuckled at Jackie's confession. "Oh my God, I've sometimes wished that Eric was more like Hyde! How creepy is that?!"
"Ya know, if we took the best parts of Steven and Eric, we could create the perfect man! Well ... there might be a few parts of Michael we could throw in there too, 'cuz let's face it, he's got fantastic bone structure!"
"Yeah, and we could call him the Six Dollar Man!" The two girls collapsed in a fit of giggles on the sofa. "So, hey – speaking of cheap guys, where the hell is Leo?"
Putting her finger to her chin, Jackie looked contemplative. "You know, I don't have a clue. I hope he shows up soon, though. Otherwise, I may have to cancel my doctor's appointment ..."
"God, Jackie – don't you dare! Wait, what time is your appointment?"
"Oh ... Mrs. Forman's friend was able to squeeze me in at 1:00. But Donna, don't worry – I'll figure something out. You know, let's not talk about it, okay? It's making me nervous. Just ... tell me more about Eric."
"Well, he sounded really good on the phone – tired but happy. He's in Salisbury right now, staying in some university dorm for two weeks during orientation. Then they'll assign him to a village somewhere – he doesn't know where yet. Anyway, he said he sent us all postcards along the journey, we should be getting them in the next few days. So, I guess that's about it."
"Wow ... it's almost hard to believe, isn't it? I mean, that he's really there, in Africa."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Before, I could pretend he was, like, visiting his grandmother in Arizona or something. Now it's real. It's the pits, if ya wanna know the truth." As a couple of teenage boys walked into the store, Donna looked at her watch and sighed. "Well, I guess I should be taking off. Hey, be sure to call me at the radio station when you get back from your doctor's appointment, okay?"
"God, Donna, do I have to go?" she whined.
Donna suddenly turned serious. "Yes, dammit Jackie – you have to go! Look, you can do this, I know you can. Now raise your right hand and promise me you'll be at that doctor's office this afternoon!"
The brunette reluctantly raised her hand and rolled her eyes. "Fine – I promise! God! Now get outta here, you crazy Amazon!"
"Alright, I'm leaving! Now don't forget to call!" She waved as she walked out the door. "See ya later, Midget!"
Counting a stack of boxes on a shelf, Red Forman grabbed his clipboard and grumbled to himself. Doing inventory was the bane of his existence – he'd much rather be getting his hands dirty, working under the hood of a car. Mondays were always pretty quiet in the muffler shop, but today it was positively dead. For the third time that morning, Red walked over to the front counter and stared at a slip of paper sitting there. "Damn it!" Picking up the telephone receiver, he began dialing a number ...
As the time for her appointment approached, Jackie grew more and more anxious. Where the hell is Leo? She watched the clock on the wall as the minutes ticked away ... 12:25 ... 12:30 ... 12:35. At the last minute, just as she was getting ready to close the store, her savior walked in.
"FEZ! Oh my gosh, I really need your help. Would you mind doing me a huuuuge favor?" The tiny brunette rushed to her friend, a look of desperation on her face.
"Anything for you, luscious lady!" His smile turned to a scowl as he reconsidered his offer. "Wait a second ... this doesn't involve me getting naked and smearing peanut butter all over my body, does it? 'Cuz I tried it once – not as fun as you might think! Very sticky and hard to get out of certain areas ..."
Jackie shook her head in a futile attempt to rid herself of the mental image. "Ewwww! God, Fez – NO! I just need you to watch the store for an hour or so. Do you think you can do that for me?"
"Umm ... sure, I guess so? Hey wait, where's that long-haired stoner bastard?"
Rushing to the checkout counter, Jackie retrieved her purse from a drawer under the cash register. "Oh, you mean Leo? Yeah, I dunno – I haven't seen him all morning. Look, I really appreciate this, Fez ... you are a lifesaver!" She gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she dashed out of the store. "I'll be back as soon as I can!"
Fez stood in the middle of Grooves as if in a trance, caressing the spot Jackie had just kissed. "I will never wash this cheek again!" But as he crossed over to the counter, his fantasy dissolved into reality. "Oh, who am I kidding? It's Monday ... avocado facial night!"
A soft summer rain had begun to fall as Jackie traveled to Dr. Schnider's office. Turning onto Hickory Street, her stomach once again in knots, she deliberately drove past the medical building. As she circled around the block, denial once again raised its ugly head. I'm not pregnant, I just can't be! Finally, after she passed the office for the seventh time, she forced herself to pull into the parking lot. As she shut off the engine, her forehead resting on the steering wheel, she closed her eyes and prayed. Please God ... please let this be a huge mistake!
"I can't believe it! My husband and ... and ... my own sister! Leslie, how could you?!"
"You know, Lorie – if you hadn't written that nasty exposé about my nervous breakdown, Lance would have never flown to New York that fateful weekend, and we wouldn't be having this discussion!"
"So this is my fault? You have sex with my husband, get pregnant and have his baby in secret, and suddenly it's MY fault?"
What the hell? Rolling over onto his side, Hyde opened one eye and glared at the television screen. Fucking Young & The Restless! He'd gone to sleep listening to the dulcet tones of Bob Barker's voice emanating from his TV, but now a goddamn soap opera had taken over. Angrily, he rolled out of bed and marched toward the TV set, intent on changing the channel. Flipping the dial, he landed on a local news broadcast.
" ... and the senator, while insisting he wasn't intoxicated, could not explain his nudity. Over to you, Jan!"
An exhausted Hyde shuffled back over to the bed and landed face-down onto the mattress, longing for a few more hours' sleep.
"A shockwave registering 4.2 on the Richter scale hit the Las Vegas area earlier this morning following an underground nuclear test at the Nevada Proving Ground. According to officials, no damage or injuries have been reported." Hyde snorted into his pillow. Yeah, if you don't count the damage to my psyche! "In related news, several protesters are on hand to demonstrate against the testing of nuclear weapons near the site. NewsWatch 13 reporter Max Robinson is on the scene. Max?"
"Thanks, Jan! I'm standing across Highway 95 from the Nevada Proving Ground, where concerned citizens have gathered to protest the continued testing of atomic weapons here in the Mojave Desert. Among the demonstrators are several dancers from Las Vegas' own Kit Kat Klub located on the Strip."
Raising up on one elbow, Hyde rubbed his eyes and tried to focus on the small TV across the room. Directly behind the reporter stood a dozen gorgeous young women, each of them sporting midriff-baring t-shirts emblazoned with the Kit Kat Klub's logo across their silicone-enhanced chests, smiling and waving for the camera.
"I'm here with Samantha Hudson, one of the organizers of this protest. Ms. Hudson, what do you hope to accomplish by this demonstration today?"
Now sitting on the edge of the bed, Hyde blinked – hard. There was no doubt about it – it was Sam from the strip club!
"Basically, Mr. Robinson, we want to raise awareness of the possible dangers these nuclear tests could pose to the residents of Las Vegas and surrounding areas." As Sam rambled on about environmental and health concerns, Hyde sat on his bed in total and complete shock. Fifteen minutes later, he was still trying to wrap his brain around this incredible revelation.
"Un-fucking-believable!" was all he could think of to say.
It was almost 2:30 by the time Jackie returned to Grooves. Stepping inside the store, she watched as Fez rang up a customer at the checkout counter.
"Oh, Sister Sledge – great choice! Lots of yummy dance tunes. You'll love it!" Handing the woman her change, he flashed her a cheesy smile. "Thanks ... and I'll see you on Saturday!"
Jackie stared as the leggy blonde walked by her, then out the door. "Wow, Fez! Nice job!"
"Oh, Jackie ... you will not believe it. That customer – she's an instructor at the new dance studio opening up next door. She invited me to their grand opening this weekend!" He was as excited as a toddler on Christmas morning.
"Hmm ...a dance studio, huh? You know, that could be good for business ..." The wheels in her head began to turn.
"But, Jackie – I haven't told you the best part! Her name ... it's the sweetest name I've ever heard in my life! That golden-haired goddess is named ... CANDY!" Fez collapsed on the sofa in a fit of nirvana.
Jackie couldn't help but giggle. "Oh, the jokes that are going through my head right now ..."
"Wait, what's so funny about that?!"
"Nothing, Fez – sorry. But hey, speaking of candy ..." She reached inside her purse and pulled out two Snickers bars. "Ta-dah!"
"Oh, Jackie ... you shouldn't have!" He immediately tore into the wrapper and took a bite.
"Well, I felt bad about dashing out of here earlier and just leaving you alone to run the store. So, did anything exciting happen while I was gone?"
"Actually, it was pretty quiet – probably because of the rain. Anyway, I got kinda bored so I cleaned out Hyde's office ..."
"You did WHAT?!" Jackie dashed to the office and stood in the doorway, completely amazed. The boxes were gone, the desk was clean, the entire office was spotless. "Oh my God! Fez, you are amazing! But wait ... what did you do with all the boxes and stuff that were in here?"
"Oh, I just moved them to the storeroom in the back. And you'll never guess what else is back there!"
"Umm ... dust bunnies?"
"No, but close! Follow me ..." Fez made his way down the short hallway to the storeroom. Putting his index finger to his lips, he quietly opened the door to reveal a sleeping Leo, curled up in the corner on top of a few old moving blankets..
Jackie spoke in a low whisper. "So, has he been sleeping in there this whole time?"
Closing the door gently, Fez shook his head. "No – he actually helped me move some boxes. But then he fell asleep again, and I didn't have the heart to wake him up."
"You know, I think that old hippie could sleep through World War III!"
The rest of the afternoon passed ever so slowly for Jackie. Customers continued to filter in and out, one or two at a time, but the majority of the time, she just stood there, staring at the clock on the wall, counting down the minutes until she learned the results of her blood test. Even Fez's silly antics failed to distract her for very long.
The store was dead quiet when Donna stormed in. "Damn, Jackie ... what the hell? I thought you were gonna call me when you got back from the d--"
The minute she saw her friend, Jackie rushed over in a panic to prevent her from blurting out something she shouldn't. "DONNA! Hey, Fez ... look who's here! Our good friend, Donna!"
Fez emerged from the back of the store carrying a stack of LPs. "Well hello there, Donna! You're looking delicious today!"
Obviously taken aback by his presence, the blonde stammered, "Oh, my God – Fez! What are you doing here?"
"Well ... right now I'm helping Jackie re-alphabetize. Apparently, Leo thought all the albums should be filed under 'R' – for Record." Shaking his head in disbelief, Fez just chuckled. "Oh, that crazy hippie bastard!"
Donna took a good look at the general disarray. "Huh ... I guess that explains why all the cassettes are filed under 'T' then!"
Jackie grew impatient. "Umm, Donna ... can I talk to you in Steven's office? Like, right now?"
"Yeah, okay ..."
Feeling rejected, Fez reluctantly went back to work reorganizing the albums. "Damn that Secret Hot Girls' Club! I have got to find out what goes on in those meetings!"
Closing the door behind her, Donna was immediately apologetic. "God, Jackie ... I'm really sorry about almost letting the cat out of the bag back there. But I was going out of my mind at the radio station, just waiting for you to call! So? Why didn't you?"
"Look, I didn't have anything new to report, okay? The doctor said my test results wouldn't be available until 4:30 or 5:00."
Donna checked her watch. "Okay, well – it's almost 4:30. Why don't you go ahead and give 'em a call?"
Jackie sighed and sat down at the desk. "God, will this day ever end?!" Dialing the phone, she listened to the ringing on the other end of the line. "Hi, this is Jackie Burkhart. I'm calling about my lab results – are they ready yet? ... Yes, I'll hold."
Taking a seat directly across from the brunette, Donna nervously began biting on her cuticle.
Seconds turned into minutes as the two girls sat quietly waiting. "Okay, thank you." The brunette hung up the phone and stared at her friend. "Well, Donna – it's official. I'm pregnant."
"Oh ... my God. Jackie, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine – I think ..."
"Well, you don't look fine. Can I get you something to drink or eat or ... ?"
"No, Donna ... really, I'm fine. I just ..." She grabbed her purse from the desk drawer and pulled out one of the pamphlets Dr. Schnider had given her earlier that day. "Okay, here it is – Women's Clinic of Kenosha ..." Jackie picked up the phone and started dialing.
In a flash, Donna stood up and grabbed the receiver from her hand. "No, Jackie! I can't let you do this!"
Outraged, the tiny brunette lashed out. "What the hell is your problem? Gimme the phone!" As Jackie reached up to snatch the phone back, Donna held it high above her head, beyond her grasp. "Oh my God, you freakish giant – give me the damn phone!"
"No! Not until you sit down and listen to what I have to say!"
Reluctantly, Jackie returned to her chair and glared menacingly at her best friend. "Alright, I'm sitting down. Hurry up and say your piece!"
Gently setting the telephone receiver onto its cradle, Donna sighed. "Okay ... remember our little chat yesterday morning, when you asked me what I thought Hyde would say if you told him you were pregnant? Well, you're probably right – he'd freak out for a few days. But Jackie, just trust me on this – you're wrong about the whole 'getting married and having a family' bit.."
Jackie shook her head emphatically. "No, Donna ... I'm not wrong. Look, Steven had plenty of opportunities to make a commitment and never did. I've finally come to terms with the fact that he's just not marriage material."
"Ya know, I was really hoping I wouldn't have to do this, but you've given me no other choice." Shoving her hand into her pocket, the blonde pulled out a piece of paper and placed it on the desk in front of Jackie. "I think this may change your mind ..."
"What is it?" Her brow furrowed, Jackie cast a curious look at her friend before briefly glancing at the paper. "Donna, it's just a receipt – so what?"
"Take a closer look ..."
Jackie picked up the slip of paper, studying it carefully. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide. "Donna ... where did you get this?"
A/N: Whoo boy, I know I'm gonna get so much grief over Sam's OOC behavior in this chapter, but all is not as it seems. Once again, I'm begging for your indulgence here. Keep the faith, and all will be revealed soon!
And I don't know about you guys, but I'm getting a little frustrated with the slow pace of this story! Aarrghh! I'd love to hear what you think, so please review!