A.N. OK, none of the reviews picked up on the Buffy quote, but thanks for playing Pylea. It was the "Bad break up / believe me when I say uh huh" line, from the season when Angel went all bad and bloodsucky. Kind of like how this story references the season where Hyde went all bad and just plain sucky. Anyhow, hope you like this chapter and I won't even ask for reviews because either you want to say something or you don't and I doubt that my getting down on bended knees is going to make a difference (but if it does, please, please review).
Building a house is a slow process; it begins with a dream, then a plan, then the painstaking work which requires the shared vision of more than one person before it is realised.
Hyde was finding that building a friendship was no different.
He was careful not to push Jackie. He accepted that each time she spoke to him without animosity was a victory. As was each time she asked him to hold a board steady while she cut it. Or the fact that now when the young people headed down to the beach at the end of the working day to build a fire and crack open some beers, a furtive nod from her was all the invitation he needed to trail along behind them.
He was finding his work-mates to be less tool-like than originally judged, now that he had Jackie's tacit acceptance. Although Rick and Jamie being such easy-going guys, it was unlikely they could have kept up the cold front for much longer. Alex was still unequivocally opposed to the new guy, but this did not bother Hyde. If anything, it encouraged him that Alex sensed Hyde was a threat to his claim on Jackie. It gave him a reason to hope that one day, when the friendship had been rebuilt, he could draw up plans for a new type of relationship to be laid on its foundations.
Of course, there were still rocky times when a careless word spoken would trigger bad memories and Jackie's eyes would darken and her mood would cool. She would ignore him for the rest of the day and Hyde would curse his tongue and wonder if he was chasing a lost cause.
But then there were days like this, one of those summer mornings when little breezes would blow in off the ocean to soothe heated faces. When it was his turn to choose the radio station (they took hourly shifts with this sacred duty) and the DJ was finishing up with a Led Zeppelin triple play. When all the workers, young and old, were moving together in a house-building symbiosis, their separate tasks combining to one outcome. It was days like this that made him glad he had crossed those six state lines.
"My turn," Robin cried as Hyde's hour came to an end. She turned the dial on the radio to some easy-listening station.
"Aw, Mom," Ryan whined, pausing with paintbrush raised. "Not old people music."
"Hush up, you," Robin ordered. A soft song floated out of the radio, a song that brought a smile to George's face as he recognised The Flamingos rendition of "I only have eyes for you".
"It's been a while," he said, his eyes following his former wife as she swayed towards him, a far off look in her eyes.
"This was my very first slow dance," she said.
"Did you know him before you knew Dad?" Adam asked, looking curiously towards George.
"Since seventh grade."
"Tell him how you made me fall in love with you," George dared her.
Robin met the challenge. "I smiled at him," she said, and the soft radiance of the smile she shone on George made further explanation unnecessary.
"Watch out for the smile, boys."
Hyde grinned and met Jackie's eyes. Jackie would later blame the spell the two older lovers were casting over the small group, that or the romantically haunting music. She felt there must be some enchantment over her that she could not look away from Steven's blue eyes in that moment. That she could not hold back an answering smile, a smile that made his eyes widen slightly.
Jackie broke the trance first, turning her head to follow Robin waltzing with her seven year old son across the raw pine boards of the newly laid floor.
"That's all you get. I'm busy today," Adam told her, turning back to recover his paint brush. Robin looked around for her next partner. Her eyes stopped at George.
"Let's see if you've gotten any better."
"Oh, I'm worse," George assured her. "Much, much worse."
You are here
So am I
Maybe millions of people go by,
but they all disappear from view.
And I only have eyes for you
Hyde and Jackie's eyes followed the older couple as they circled the makeshift dance floor together, their faces mirroring the words of the song as they detached from space and time. In that moment they were not someone's mother or an ex-husband. They were just Robin and George. For a moment they remembered that they belonged together.
And then the music ended. Ryan grabbed his mother's hand and pulled her away from George, a suddenly suspicious light in his eyes. George blinked, coming back to the real world. And when Jackie met Hyde's eyes again, she was not surprised to see the same vague melancholy reflected back at her. She knew that he had seen it as well, two people who were supposed to have spent their lives together, rich in love, but had missed each other somewhere along the way.
That one moment of connection only underscored the waste of what could have been.
"Here," Hyde said, sitting down next to Jackie. "I brought you something."
Jackie looked away from the moonlit ocean to find her ex at her side. Her mind had been preoccupied ever since the impromptu waltz session this morning. She had excused herself from the campfire and her circle of friends to take a walk up to the rocks that bracketed this stretch of beach, where she sat and pondered as the moon left a silvery trail across the water. Now the very person who was at the edges of her vague feeling of loss was interrupting her quiet time.
Hyde held out the guitar to Jackie. A few nights ago George had brought it down to the beach, as he sometimes did, visiting with the young people and playing them a few songs that were such classics they did not date to any era. After they had all shouted out one last chorus of John Denver's 'Rocky Mountain High', Alex had proposed that it was Jackie's turn to entertain the troops. Her reaction to the offered guitar then was the same as now; she flinched.
"What's wrong?" Hyde knew his instinct had been right. Just like that night, a flash of fear crossed her face.
"I can't," Jackie said, holding her hands protectively in front of her, as though the instrument was a weapon. And the award for weird behaviour goes to…
"I – I'm not allowed."
Now he was close, although he was getting a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he sensed what was at the bottom of her irrational fear. "Who says you're not allowed to play, Jackie?" he asked her softly. She was silent but kept her eyes fixed on the guitar, as though it both repelled and enticed her. "Who, Jackie?"
"My father," Jackie whispered.
"Did he hurt you?" Hyde put his hand under her chin and raised her eyes to meet his own.
"It was only that one time," Jackie said, excusing her abuser. "I didn't know it would make him angry."
"What happened?" Without meaning to, the story spilled out of Jackie, as though it had been waiting ten years to escape her lips. Hyde's face grew whiter as she stumbled over the part where her father had wrapped his leather belt around his eight year old daughter's legs. It was lucky for Jack Burkhart he was on the other side of the country and behind solid prison walls, or he might have fallen victim to a violence with far more merit attached to it than his own.
"How could he do that to you?" Hyde asked in horrified wonder. "Just because you were playing a guitar? Hell, no-one plays bad enough to warrant that kind of punishment – not even Kelso."
Even now, Jackie's instinct was to protect her father from the judgment she saw in her ex's eyes. "It wasn't like that. My playing, it just made him so mad because I reminded him of… someone. Someone he hates."
"Who?" But Jackie shook her head, not ready to give up that secret and starting to regret revealing the other.
"It doesn't matter. It was a long time ago."
"If you're backing away from an old guitar like it was a rattlesnake, then it obviously does still matter to you." Hyde placed the guitar in Jackie's lap. Even though her first instinct was to throw it far away, she was not about to prove his point for him so she let it rest there, scowling at Hyde.
"Are you happy now? I told you, I'm fine. I just don't know how to play anymore. It's been 10 years."
"Yeah, you're right," Hyde readily agreed. "You never did have any talent when it came to picking music, stands to reason you wouldn't be any use at making it. I bet you probably couldn't remember a single chord by now."
Jackie narrowed her eyes; their widely differing musical tastes had always been a sore point between the couple. They had spent more time and passion arguing the merits of Neil Diamond verses ACDC than Kennedy and Khrushchev had given to disarmament talks. With defiant eyes, her left hand formed a V on the second fret of the guitar while her right hand swept down to evoke a perfect G chord. She raised her eyebrows haughtily as if to say so there!
"A fluke," Hyde decreed. "Everybody knows that one, anyway. Let's see you try for something that takes some skill."
And so it went, Hyde egging Jackie on as the chords unlocked themselves from her memory one by one. They lost track of time as Jackie rediscovered that old excitement of creating melodies from a hollow figure eight. When the moon withdrew it's shimmering light they used Hyde's lighter to illuminate the guitar strings. By the time the lighter fluid was getting close to empty, Jackie was shifting seamlessly between the chords, her fingers having remembered their old strumming rhythm.
Their easy moment was halted abruptly as a flashlight cut through the darkness. Her strumming ended on a discordant twang as Alex's face appeared, the handsome features strangely grisly when lit from below by his torch.
"What's going on here?" The words came out harshly as Alex's eyes flitted between the girl he proclaimed to adore and her untrustworthy ex-boyfriend.
"Just a little music lesson," Hyde said casually. "No reason for you to go clutching at your pearls, Alexandra."
"Funny," Alex said, looking at Jackie. "When I ask you to play something, you look at me like I'd asked you to dance topless at my grandparents' silver wedding anniversary. But when he asks you, suddenly you're Joni freaking Mitchell."
"I think there's a lesson to be learned there," Hyde snarked, but then backed off when Jackie frowned at him (her frown was downright scary when lit by a flashlight).
"I just didn't want to play in front of everybody because I was a little rusty," Jackie explained. "I only didn't mind playing in front of Hyde because his taste in music is so awful that no criticism he could make would have any effect on me." She stood up, handing the guitar back to Hyde.
"C'mon, you can't climb the cliff path in the dark, not unless you want to break your neck."
"You should test that theory out," Hyde muttered in Alex's direction, but quietened when Jackie squeezed his arm warningly. As she climbed down from the rock, her mouth passed by his ear and he caught the whisper of one word; thanks. It was another small stepping stone towards his redemption and he was grateful for it, but it did not make the sight of Jackie walking away with the tall Californian any easier to take.
As he stayed out on the rock, picking at the strings absently, he wondered who it was that Jackie had brought to the mind of her bastard of a father so disastrously when she played her guitar.
"So, you want to tell me why you're hanging out alone all night with your ex-boyfriend?" Alex said accusingly as they neared the garage. They were the first words he had spoken to her since they had left the beach, which was very much out of character for him. Jackie found she did not like his tone.
"What do you think I was doing?" she countered, crossing her arms and facing the boy.
"Honestly? I have no idea. I mean, from the outside it looks like you and Hyde were having a rare old time, laughing and talking away until one in the morning." This was a shock; Jackie had no idea it was so late. "A person could be forgiven for thinking you were a couple. But then when you factor in that this is the same guy you told me led you on for years only to dump you for a stripper, it's obvious that there's no way any girl with a speck of pride would ever take back a lowlife like that."
"There's no question of me taking Steven back," Jackie replied evenly. "So stop it, Alex."
"Manoeuvring me. I don't like the things I told you in confidence being used against me and I really don't like being called a doormat just so you can make me run your maze in a direction of your choosing."
Alex flushed slightly and had the grace to look a little shamed. "I never meant… I'm sorry, it's just… God, Jackie, I really care about you. You know that, right?"
Jackie read his face with thoughtful gaze and then nodded. "I know."
"Then can you blame me for going a little nuts when I find you acting all cosy with your ex-boyfriend?"
Jackie sighed, letting the tension leave her small frame. She was starting to feel the late hour and her hug was boneless as she stepped into Alex's arms. "It's not like you think," she muffled into his T-shirt. "The most I could ever by with Steven is friends. That's the best we could shoot for – too much has happened for us to ever go back to what we were." And she wanted to be friends, Jackie realised. If they were friends, maybe that dark and painful place in her heart would finally heal. Maybe she could remember Point Place as the place where she had experienced true love instead of the place where her heart was broken. For the first time, Jackie understood the real reason why George had told Hyde he could stay.
"No more than friends," Alex repeated for confirmation. "Can I quote you on that?"
Jackie brushed a kiss against his lips and smiled up at him. "Burkhart. The "h" is silent."
A.N. By the way, I took that "clutching your pearls" line from Demian whose reviews of Supernatural on TVWP crack me up every week. Seriously, they rival the show itself for entertainment value.