A/N: Okay, so this story will be loosely based off the show October Road. I believe some of you are familiar, it stars the talented Laura Prepon. I highly recommend the show, if you haven't seen it. Anyway, this story will explore what might have happened had Eric never returned from Africa. For that reason, it's AU, but I tried to keep things as close to canon as I could without compromising the plot. Pairings will be Eric/Donna and Jackie/Hyde, but just a heads up, I already have several loops planned, so don't count on a short and sweet ride. Just a note for the J/H shippers: their plot does start a couple of chapters in, so don't give up on me too early on. Hopefully most of you will stick with me, I'll try to update as often as possible, but I'm not making any promises. I'm going to New Orleans on Friday and I won't have access to a computer for the whole week, but I'm going to try my hardest to get another chapter up before I leave. On the subject of reviews, I'd really rather not beg for them, but they do make my day and encourage me to write faster. I appreciate constructive criticism, but if you're not up to that, even just leaving me a 1-10 rating of the chapter would help me out. I think that's all I've got for now, so hope you enjoy the story :)
Official Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I in any way affiliated with either That 70's Show or October Road. The characters, and, in some cases, plot, belong to their respective writers and producers.
"Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and realize that they were the big things."
Eric's shoes squeaked on the hardwood floor as he walked off the elevator and headed for his door. He paused at the end of the hall to fish his keys out of his back pocket, and the heavy oak door clicked open when he turned the knob, his Star Wars keychain clanging against his hand. A long sigh escaped when he gently kicked off his shoes in the general direction of the floor mat and shook his arms loose from his sport jacket; immediately his hands went to loosen his tie and his body turned towards the fridge, his shoulders slumping with obvious fatigue.
The blinking red light of his answering machine caught his eye as he popped open a beer, and he sipped at the bubbling amber liquid as he reached across the counter to press down the 'messages' button.
"Hi Eric, this is your mother." He smiled when Kitty's voice echoed through the empty apartment, and he set down his beer for a second to look out the oversized picture window behind him. The twinkling lights of New York City greeted him, and he smiled faintly. Sometimes living in a penthouse above Central Park was great.
"I just wanted to check up on you. You're having a big week, and you know your father and I are very proud of you, honey, but don't work yourself too hard. Make sure you eat fruits and vegetables. And get enough sleep. When Marie Lawrence's son went away to college, he -" Eric frowned when the message cut off, but made a mental note to call his parents tomorrow morning. He pressed the 'skip' button when the red light continued to blink.
"Hey, Forman, it's Rob. It's about, ah, nine o' clock. I was just wondering if you're going tonight or not. Call me either way." He smirked; he'd actually forgotten all about Daryl's party. Not like he really wanted to go anyways, but make that two calls he had to make in the morning.
Quickly losing interest in his answering machine, Eric yawned and popped open the freezer, rooting around to find something edible while his third message played.
"Eric? It's Bill. I need you to call me tonight when you get home, we've got some things to go over. Nothing serious, just some technicalities. Congrats again on a great opening day. I'll be waiting for your call."
He let a sigh slip out as the message ended, and he set the timer on his oven and slipped his frozen dinner onto the rack before stepping back and reaching for the phone, licking the ice off his fingers before dialing his producer's number and plopping down in his armchair in front of the TV. He flicked through the selection of channels as he listened to the dial tone, finally settling on an old episode of Get Smart.
"Bill," Eric greeted him amicably. "Whaddaya know?"
"Eric!" His tone was warm, and Eric turned the volume down on the TV a few notches out of courtesy. "Well, you tell me, Mr. Movie."
Eric snorted. "Yeah," he mumbled, sounding probably less energetic than he should have. "Cool stuff, huh?"
"Really cool stuff," Bill agreed easily. "And apparently we're not the only ones who think so; we just got the figures about an hour ago, Pond came in second in the box-office! That's gonna mean bonuses for everyone, my friend."
"Great!" He tried feebly, but cringed. His enthusiasm even sounded fake to his own ears.
Bill seemed to sense this, and he hesitated before clearing his throat. "Listen, man, I know you're just about ready to be done with all of this -"
"No, no," Eric interrupted congenially. "I'm just tired, Bill. This is good news. Really." He shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. He wasn't lying; he was glad his movie had done well. He silently reminded himself to be on his best behavior. Sometimes he forgot that Bill wasn't just his friend, he was talking to his producer.
"Um. Good, good. 'Cause the production team wants to wait awhile and see how things go, but judging from your hot start tonight, I just wanted to let you know that there's a chance you may be offered a sequel deal."
Eric just stared blankly at his armrest. "But there is no sequel."
"I know." There was a pregnant pause; Bill seemed uncomfortable. "They want you to write one."
Eric just shifted, unsure of how to respond. On one hand, this whole movie thing was all he had now, and he knew he had to preserve that somehow. But he had been dreading this day since the moment this whole process started; the day he'd have to admit that he actually couldn't write, that this whole stupid thing had just been a fluke; a stroke of dumb luck. "Bill..." he started wearily.
"No, wait. Don't answer yet. You can think on it if you want." Bill's voice was desperate, and Eric shut his mouth slowly. "I just, ah, I have a suggestion for you, to get your creative juices flowing again."
"Bill, I don't care how much you beg, I'm not going to Reno with you and Bah again," Eric grinned, teasing his old friend.
"Shut up, doof. I'm actually being serious, here. Me and John, well, we were thinking, you know, you write really well when you're passionate about something. And you, well, you tend to be really passionate about one thing in particular; your past."
Eric felt his stomach lurch, and he swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. "Yeah, so?"
"So, I don't know, maybe you could, like... like go back to your hometown for the weekend or something. You know, get some inspiration."
Eric blew out a breath. "Yeah, right. I don't think so. C'mon, Bill. You know about... well, you just, you know why I... I can't do that."
Bill had a response, but it was lost on Eric, because Get Smart had gone to commercials, and suddenly the grainy image of a seven year old boy with knobby knees and a backwards baseball cap filled the screen, following the standard green screen listing the rating and seal of the motion picture association of America. A man's voice provided commentary as the boy ran around a backyard barefoot.
"Nineteen-sixty-seven… I was 7 years old. A lot happened that year. The Packers won the first Super Bowl …Evil Knievel jumped his motorcycle over 16 cars lined up in a row… And I graduated first grade at Glenhurst Elementary."
Suddenly a young girl with auburn braids jumped into the frame, chasing the boy around the yard as they both laughed.
"That was also the summer Dawn came to us. Her family moved in next door, and for me, it was love at first sight."
The scene on the TV changed. Now the boy and girl were catching fireflies in a small field.
"The only thing we had in common was that she had moved here from Indiana, and I had once heard of Indiana; but it didn't matter. We became fast friends, and then somewhere between the scraped knees and skipping rocks down by the reservoir, we fell in love."
A montage of clips from the movie played. The two kids were riding their bikes down a sidewalk, playing basketball together, sipping hot cocoa atop a large snowdrift, their faces rosy and their mittened hands overlapping. They got older as the scenes progressed, the clips getting shorter as they reached adolescence. The boy and girl were all dressed up, they were holding hands and walking along a beach, they were kissing on a front porch.
"When she smiled, I smiled. When she cried, I cried. Every single thing that happened to me that mattered, in some way, had to do with her."
Suddenly, the screen went black. "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp started to play in the background, and a charismatic commentator started to talk over the music as the words "Based off of the best selling novel by Eric Forman" flashed across the screen.
"The critics are raving over "Small Pond". The classic story of teenage love and loss with a fresh spin, audiences will fall in love with "Small Pond's" real approach to life, love, and one young man's harrowing journey of self discovery as he finds for himself that love doesn't always prevail and that sometimes not every road leads home."
The camera zoomed in on a close-up of a couple's clasped hands. Slowly, the hands disentangled themselves and broke apart. The words "Now Playing" glared back at Eric from the empty spot where the young couple used to be, and just like that, the screen had switched to a Taco Bell commercial. He blinked a few times, realizing that his heartbeat had sped up a bit.
"Eric? Are you still there?"
Bill's voice brought him back down to earth, and he shook his head to clear his thoughts.
"Yeah," he murmured, his voice thin. "Sorry. I just... got distracted for a second." He flicked the TV off as he stood up and headed towards the picture window.
"So what do you say?" Bill's voice was still hopeful. "Can I go ahead and send you the plane tickets?"
Eric just shook his head, but upon realizing that Bill of course couldn't see that, he sighed into the phone. "I don't think so, Bill. I really don't see how going to Point Place is gonna help me write."
There was a long pause, and Bill's voice lowered when he said, patiently, "Look, Eric, I know why you don't wanna go back there, man. I get it. I do. It's just... you've got to face your demons sometime, you know? That's the stuff good movies are made of."
"With all due respect, I've gone five years, man. Who's to say I can't last another fifty?"
Bill didn't reply right away, and for a fleeting moment, Eric thought he'd hung up. His voice sounded tired when he spoke a moment later. "Look, I know I can't make you do this, but I really think it'd be good for you. I mean, you haven't even seen your parents in five years. Don't you miss them? Wanna see what they're up to?" His question appeared to be rhetorical, as he continued, "And, I mean, have you ever considered that maybe the reason you can't write about this anymore is because you haven't gotten the closure you need?"
Eric just hoisted himself up on his kitchen counter and glared at the oven timer that was telling him he still had to wait another five long minutes for his frozen chicken pot pie.
Bill sighed. "Alright man, well, I've done all I can now. I'll have the tickets sent over tomorrow, then it's on you. Just think long and hard about this, okay? This sequel could be a deal breaker."
They said their goodbyes, and after Eric hung up his phone he looked around his apartment dejectedly. Aside from the Star Wars posters that hung over his couch, it looked barely lived in. He sighed, realizing that he missed having someone to talk to, even if that person was his semi-annoying agent.
He studied his hands until his eyes felt strained, but finally he slid off the counter and opened the coat closet near the front door. He sighed and shot an 'I can't believe I'm doing this' look towards the ceiling, but proceeded to pull out his suitcase.
Up Next: Eric returns to Point Place for the first time in five years, and he's in for a surprise or two...
Please review!! :)
Also - did anyone catch my Wonder Years references?