Disclaimer: Don't own and am not profiting from either That '70s Show or the brilliant movie, Life As a House. This is not plagiarism, it is a homage. Pairing: J/H Life As a House
Disclaimer: Don't own and am not profiting from either That '70s Show or the brilliant movie, Life As a House. This is not plagiarism, it is a homage.
Life As a House
I just re-watched Life As a House last week and while I was watching this story was building in my head. So this is my crossover, and I think it will be more angsty than any of my other stories. If you know this wonderful movie, I am giving Jackie the role of George's son, Sam.
The pills were yellow, this time.
Jackie couldn't remember what the official name was supposed to be. Began with Dip or Dich or something like that. All she needed to know was how they would make her feel. Not up. Not down.
Numb was the best she could hope to feel. Because it meant the opposite of feeling. Numbness was a blessed defence against boyfriends who tossed away as worthless two and a half years of the most honest love you had ever dug inside yourself to offer. It deadened the betrayal of your best friends who ditched you in order to befriend the woman that boyfriend walked away with. It arrested that feeling of panic that rose in your chest when you dared to look out over a future which had no prospect of love, friendship or even an engaging career to hope for.
With a swallow of water to chase the little yellow pill down her throat, Jackie lay back on her pillow and let the nothingness wash over her.
This was her life now.
George Burkhart lay back on his bed, staring into the darkness. His mind felt as scattered as a kaleidoscope that had been shaken up. He knew he would never be able to put it back into the pattern that it had held for the last 42 years of his life, a pattern never broken until this morning.
His day had begun the same tired way it always did. Waking up in the broken down wooden shack his father had jerry-built while his brother, Jack, had been a toddler, and before George was born or thought of. A house he hated as much as he did the man who built it, yet with a view that broke your heart with its beauty. Amazing how it never lost its magic, that sweeping vista of Malibu cliff and Pacific ocean that was his lifelong companion. He knew his neighbours with their modern 10 bedroom mansions never failed to give his grey little house looks of disgust that such an ugly structure dared to spoil their perfect looking cul-de-sac. It didn't matter that it was the first house that had been built on this ocean-front property. It only mattered that it was old and ugly and out of place on their perfect-looking street.
After his golden retriever, Guster, had licked him awake, he had fought the aching lethargy in his body and dragged himself into work. He worked at the offices of Benson, Kiddler, Feinsilber and Associates, a firm which had added some of the most imposing buildings to the Los Angeles skyscape over the last 35 years. George remembered when he first began with them as an intern 20 years ago. He was determined to work his way up to be one of their top architects; he would build skyscrapers, mansions, hospitals, buildings that would astound his father who had never thought he would amount to anything, buildings that would have made his mother proud if she had still been alive to see them. He never thought that first day when they set him down at a desk and started him building models of other people's dreams, that 20 years later he would be doing the same boring, meticulous, migraine-making work; a little glue here, tweezer in the tiny roof tiles there, dabble minute patches of artificial grass there. Perhaps it was his hopeless existence that had him feeling this exhausted lately. Perhaps a lifetime of building other men's dreams had sapped the strength from his bones, caused him to lose 30 pounds these last few months, explained these strange vomiting fits that came more frequently.
When his boss, Bryan Burke, had called him into his office, he never saw it coming. After all, he had been with the firm for 20 years, rarely missed a day of work, worked overtime to get his projects in on time. But apparently it wasn't good enough. He was still not as fast as the new junior members of his department, fresh from college, who would give George the same looks as his neighbours gave his house; what is that old dinosaur still doing here?
Bryan had tried to lead into it with the usual gambits that oil the clumsy machinery of social engagement.
"So, how's the wife?"
George stared at him blankly for half a minute. They had only worked together for 12 years.
"When we divorced a decade ago, she was very, very angry," he said. "Now she's just hostile."
Bryan laughed uncomfortably, tried a few more such opening lines, and then finally went to the heart of the matter.
"It's not me," he disclaimed, holding up hands as clean at Pilate's. "You know how the Board is – it's all about profits and efficiency ratings."
"I've been here twenty years," George said, shock heavy in his voice.
"Maybe that's too long."
"Maybe...?" With a hint of hope.
"That's too long."
George absorbed the fact that he was actually losing his job. Sizing up how he felt about the fact. "I hate this job."
"What are you talking about?" Bryan said. "You love your job."
"From the day I started...to today. Can't stand it."
"Then it sounds like I'm doing you a favor." Bryan said with a smile, relieved to find a way out that wouldn't make him the bad guy.
"It may sound that way, but I react out of fear. My life has nothing to do with what I like or don't like."
Bryan didn't know how to take this. He had never really understood this quiet man who never chatted over the water cooler about the football game he had seen or the cocktail waitress he had screwed. So he did what he always did; concentrated on how the end of George's career affected him. "Well, I feel better about this now."
"Good. I was hoping for that."
The irony had gone over Bryan's head, as he knew it would. Still, he felt 20 years of loyal service deserved some reward, above the year's severance pay Bryan was 'so generously' bestowing. He asked if he could take a three or four of the hundreds of models he had built over his career. It was a small enough request, unassuming even, but Bryan had been taken aback by it. He explained, regretfully of course, that the models were company property and he really couldn't… but hey, if George wanted to pick out one, then to hell with the Board, so long as he cleared it with Bryan first, then of course…
Perhaps George had overreacted. Bryan certainly seemed to feel that going out to his workspace, removing an architectural plan from its wooden spool and then using that spool to systematically smash almost all the building models he had painstakingly created over the last two decades, was an overreaction. Secretaries screamed, smooth cheeked interns ran for cover and senior associates ducked for safety into their offices as George swept through the office with his wooden spool of destruction until the offices of Benson, Kiddler, Feinsilber and Associates looked like a miniature Manhattan after Godzilla had paid a social call.
"I'll take this one," George said to a cowering Bryan, as he cradled the one model that had escaped his wrath. A model of a late-fifties style bungalow that was the first model George had ever made. Terrified, Bryan could only nod in agreement as George turned and walked away. Then he stopped, and turned around. There was something he had always wanted to say.
"You know, you're a great architect and a miserable human being," George said dispassionately. Bryan blinked, astonished this lowly model-builder would ever say such a thing to him.
"You're not even an architect and you're a miserable human being," he spat in reply.
George turned around only long enough to answer. "You're right… you win."
George only made it 5 feet outside when he collapsed onto the pavement, his first and last model a broken pillow for his unconscious head.
And now here he was, lying on a hospital bed, coming to terms with what the doctor had just told him. It was a hell of a thing to find out this was the first day of the end of your life.
The sensation that filled him most was the injustice of it all. He had always counted on time. One day he would fix all the things that had gone wrong with his life. With his ex-wife. With his house. With Jackie.
It had been so long since he had seen her. She had been such a beautiful little girl, so full of life and overflowing with love. Her laughter bubbled from her tiny pink lips so easily. He wondered if it still did. He hoped Pam had become a better mother than the last time he had witnessed her parenting, ten years ago. He hoped his brother, Jack, had learned to appreciate the beautiful gift God had blessed him with in his daughter. He hoped life had turned out better for Jackie than it had for him.
Suddenly hoping and wondering wasn't enough. He had to know. Before he left this world, he had to know who Jackie was, know that she would be alright. He had to warn her about how capricious life could be, how important it was to hold onto the people you loved with all your strength and not let them get swept away in the daily tide of surviving that eroded the best of intentions.
He had to tell her the truth.
George picked up the phone and placed a call to Point Place, Wisconsin.
It was the memory of the ocean that made Jackie agree.
The memory that stood out from her eighth summer more than any was how intensely blue the ocean had looked from her Uncle George's house. Perhaps that was why she had loved Steven's eyes so much; they reminded her of that magical ocean, that magical summer, when every morning she would wake up on Uncle George's funny old couch, creep out barefoot on the uneven wooden floors to the balcony and gaze out in awe over that incredible expanse of blueness. She would stare at it for the hour before Uncle George awoke, joined her on the balcony and picked her up in his arms. Then he would sit down in the deck chair, settle her onto his lap and tell her wonderful stories. Stories of pirates and fair maidens, legends of shipwrecks and rescues, exciting histories of the people who had built and made this stretch of California what it was.
She had not recognised her Uncle's voice when he called. It sounded thinner than she remembered. He had invited her to stay with him at his house that still perched on its cliff in one of Malibu's outer suburbs, saying he had a special project he wanted her help with. She had not known what to say at first, the very thought of the effort it would take to pack, make travel arrangements, hand in her notice at the salon just seemed beyond her. Like the rudder on her boat was too stiff to pull it into a new direction. She had confessed she didn't have enough money to buy a ticket to LA – that much was the truth, at least. Sweeping hair for a living was not as glamorous or well paid as one might think. George cut through her objections, saying he would book and pay for her ticket.
"Jackie, I really need to see you," he said. There was a thread of intensity and need in his voice that cut through her numbness to awaken the eight year old girl who had once loved this man so deeply. At the back of her eyes she saw that blue ocean, and almost involuntarily she said the word that would change her life.
It had been three weeks since Jackie had stepped foot in the basement. At first, after Sam's disastrous arrival, she had tried to carry on with her life, fighting against the fact that everything had changed and all her friendships and relationships with the people she met in this house were irrevocably altered, like a bone that had been fractured and not properly set. As though if she just waltzed in every day, prattling about how stunning her hair looked today and how ugly Donna's shirt was, it would put everything back the way it used to be when tacky strippers did not French kiss her boyfriend in front of her, when the unambitious blonde who fawned over her latest boyfriend (who was a transparent substitute for her former boyfriend) used to be a fiery redhead who would have chased a stripper out of her territory with blazing feminist rhetoric.
Her hand on the door, she heard Donna's voice.
"Hey, Fez, I've been meaning to ask, what is Jackie up to? I haven't seen her around here lately." She spoke as though Jackie's absence had just occurred to her.
"Oh, not much," Fez said, his eyes fixated on the generous length of Sam's legs displayed by her tiny shorts. "She mainly stays in her room at the apartment and doesn't have much to say when we work together. She is no fun anymore."
"When was she ever fun?" Sam said with a biting laugh. "From what Hyde tells me, I don't know how you guys put up with her as long as you did."
There was a time when these words would have had Jackie turning away in a tearstorm, too hurt and ashamed to let her former friends know she had overheard. Now her armour of numbness protected her from the worst of the hurt. She turned the knob and stepped through.
"Thank you for talking about me behind my back," she said as their heads swivelled towards her. "That'll be useful in court."
"Jackie," Fez said nervously. "We were just lamenting your absence."
"Speak for yourself," Hyde said gruffly, his eyes hidden behind his glasses. He reflexively pulled Sam closer against his body, tightening his hand on her thigh and watching Jackie for her reaction. But there was none. Her eyes were as empty as they had been since shortly after Sam had barged her way into this house.
"What's with the suitcase," Donna asked, noticing the carry-all slung over Jackie's shoulder.
"I'm going out of town for the summer," Jackie explained with little emotion. "Visiting a relative."
"And you thought this would interest anyone here – how?" Sam asked snidely.
"No, I didn't really think any of you would be interested," Jackie said, her face giving nothing away. "I just thought I'd let Mr and Mrs Foreman know so they wouldn't worry about what happened to me."
"Well, I am very interested," Fez cried. Jackie's eyes flickered with something until Fez finished his sentence. "Who is going to pay your half of the rent until you return?"
Jackie sighed. She should have known Fez's first concern would be his self-interest. "Mandy at the salon has been looking to move out of her parents' house. If you ask her and try to tone down the creepiness I'm sure she will be happy to take my place."
"Ooh, I like Mandy," Fez said gleefully. "She is quite the slut!"
For a moment Hyde and Jackie locked eyes, the words "It's not the first time I've been replaced by a slut" were so obvious they didn't need to be said. But Jackie just could not find the energy to make the burn; it didn't matter anymore.
"So… I guess I'll see you guys again someday," Jackie said in the same wooden voice. The uncertainty in her words sent a frisson of fear down Hyde's spine. The way she looked over the basement, as though imprinting it on her memory, it all seemed so… final.
Donna must have sensed something like that as well. She stood up and went towards Jackie, her arms open to hug her best friend goodbye. Jackie stared at Donna blankly, as though she didn't know what to do with this gesture, until the blonde dropped her arms to her sides in the awkward pause. There was something in Jackie's eyes that made her feel suddenly very ashamed of herself.
Hyde sat motionless while every muscle in his body was screaming to jump up, to dump the carbon-copy male fantasy whose weight was cramping his thighs to the floor and grab Jackie. Then he would shake her until the lifeless robot that stood there was gone, until she was yelling at him and crying and beating her fists against his chest for all he had done, until he was kissing her sweet face and promising to never leave her again.
But that wasn't Hyde. And Sam could not be so easily discarded. And Jackie would never forgive him, not again. This wasn't a romance novel.
This was goodbye.
And then she was gone.
A.N. Wow, that chapter just poured out of me. I love it when that happens. Please let me know what you think – reviews inspire me to keep writing.