A/N: This is my first one-shot for a good Donna/Eric fiction. I was trying something new and I hope my regular readers enjoy it too…..
They were two souls that were destined to be together… Sometimes it's not always the destination but the journey that makes you who you become.
Eric didn't know why he was stopping at the little strip mall. Perhaps because the September sun was blindingly hot and he was parched or he just didn't want to go home yet. In the last couple of years, shopping centers and new businesses were popping up all over the place. The drive from Point Place to Kenosha was far from boring anymore. The first weeks of school were always grueling and this year he got the Junior High School kids. Those awkward, hormone influenced 13 to 15 year old kids. Eric looked through the windshield at the sky. "Is this punishment for all the crap I did as a kid?"
Karma was a bitch!
Eric pushed open his car door and went into the juice bar for his first smoothie. The air conditioner blew cool air down on his head and shoulders and he could have almost sighed. For such a relatively new business, there was quite a line of people waiting. Eric found his place and looked at the board to see what selection of smoothie he would choose. He could choose a Banapple which was apples and milk and banana blended together….yuck. He looked at the next choice, Green Goodie which was avocado; spinach leaves and mashed apple…okay choke me now! Eric was suddenly in front of the order clerk and still hadn't decided.
"Ok-ay. Let me have the Banilla." He decided on the banana vanilla ice cream concoction. The cashier rang up the drink and Eric almost choked. "Three bucks for a drink?"
"Sir, the Banilla is chock full of low fat ice cream, creamy goodness and is good for your heart. Just pay the bill."
Eric pulled a five dollar bill out of his wallet and took his drink to a table near the window. The thick cold smoothie left a wet circle on the little table while Eric took his time sipping from the straw. He watched the afternoon traffic zip by and was nearly finished with the drink when he heard a commotion and someone backed into his chair.
He turned around and tall woman gripped his chair for balance and started apologizing. "Oh my god, I'm sorry, I almost spilled this on you. I am so clumsy today."
Eric looked up into a very familiar pair of green eyes. "Donna? Is that you?"
The woman tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, "Eric Forman? Damn, look at you! Can I sit?"
Eric motioned towards the empty chair. He couldn't believe Donna Pinciotti, his ex-everything was sitting across from him. He had a million questions but for the moment couldn't think of a single one. Her beautiful hair was still that silky shade of red he loved all those years. Her complexion was a creamy white against her pink lips and she had a light dusting of freckles across her cheeks. She smiled and just looked at him and for the moment Eric was taken back years to just the two of them sitting on the hood of his old Vista Cruiser.
Eric blinked and said, "How have you been? I think the gang sort of went separate ways after…"
Donna smiled, "After that New Year's party…I know." She took a sip from her pink smoothie. "I graduated with a major in Journalism and I'm currently writing, editing and announcing the WFPP news from nine to noon every workday. You may have heard me on the radio."
Eric chucked. "No, I teach a bunch of eight graders and during those hours I'm tearing my hair out. Pretty soon I'm going to start looking like Red."
Donna laughed. "So you became the teacher you always wanted to be."
Eric rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, it's very rewarding…well, most of the times. I'm teaching in Kenosha. Have you been back for long?" How long had Donna been back and he didn't know it?
"Well, Dad couldn't handle the humidity in Florida or the bugs." She laughed that tinkling laugh he always liked. "So he sold the bait shop and came back to Point Place and bought a condo in Kenosha. I think he's going to contact your folks when he finally decides what he wants to do with himself."
"Oh, so you live in Kenosha?"
Donna grinned, "Are you asking me where I live? Well, I work in Point Place but yes, I live in Kenosha with Dad."
"So, you've only been back for a while." Eric was trying to gleam a little more information out of this informal conversation.
"No, I've been back for a few months. I've only been living with Dad while he gets settled." She turned those green eyes on him. "So Eric…are you still living with your folks?"
"What? No…I have an apartment in Point Place. Dad's retired now and sometimes needs some help around the house. My weak little wrists have come in handy a few times." He joked.
Donna laughed. "Well, you don't resemble that skinny guy any more. You look…more buffed out. Polished."
Eric felt pleased that he passed inspection. "You haven't changed…well you went back to your natural hair color but I like that - and you are just as beautiful as ever." Donna's complexion took on a slight pink blush that made Eric smile. She sipped more of her smoothie. Eric pointed to her drink.
"Oh, it's called Berry Be Good. Full of bananas and red berries. It's my favorite."
Eric smiled, "I think this place puts bananas in everything. Do you come here often?"
Donna wiped her lips with a napkin and Eric noticed that she wasn't wearing any jewelry on her fingers. Good!
"Oh…about once or twice a week on my way home - how about you?"
"My first time. I was just thirsty for something different and here we are."
Donna teased, "I seem to be your first time for a lot of things…." She laughed and then said, "I have to go." She covered Eric's hand with her cool soft one. "Maybe I'll see you around again." Eric could only watch as she rose up from the table and smiled. "It was really nice to see you again Eric. Take care of yourself."
Eric spent the next three weeks and $45 dollars on smoothies in the hopes that he would "accidently" bump into Donna again but in the end, he was burned out on the fruity drinks. School started getting busy with dances and Halloween decorations and Eric just chalked up that chance meeting with Donna as a missed opportunity.
It was a Saturday and Eric found himself in the plumbing section of a home improvement center. His dad gave him a float ball and lift rod to replace in the toilet tank. Red's arthritic hands couldn't reach in the tank and his mom's fingers didn't have the strength. So, there he was looking at U-pipes and plungers when he heard a voice from the past.
Eric turned around and there was Bob Pinciotti wearing a pink toilet seat on his bald head. He was clad in Bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals. "Hey….Eric… Forman….great to see ya!" Eric kept thinking of one of his dad's favorite sayings….something about wearing your ass for a hat; well Bob came pretty close to it! Eric stepped forward and shook the hand of the short man.
"Bob, I heard you were back. Sorry about your bait shop."
Bob, ever the optimist, replied, "Oh, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Florida is a great place to visit but Point Place will always be my home. Hey, you're in the plumbing aisle. Do you need help?"
Eric didn't really, but hanging out with Bob might turn into an opportunity to find out more about his daughter. "My dad's toilet float ball…doesn't float. Just keeps running."
"Ah, I see that you're already holding the repair kit. That's good because it gives you all the pieces you need. I'm replacing my toilet seat, I was thinking about getting one of those cushioned ones, but…hey, don't let me stop you from shopping."
"Bob, I heard you bought a condo."
"Oh yeah, she's a great one. Two bedrooms, community pool….lots of single ladies. I made a great buy there. You should come see it some time."
Open door, Eric inserts his foot.
"I would definitely like to do that. Maybe we could watch a game."
"Oh, hey, how about the game on Sunday? I can make weenie tots. Love them with a good cheese dip." Bob replied.
The door is now open and Eric has the invitation!
"Great, I'll bring a six pack."
Bob Pinciotti had a great little condo in a great little community but now he was living in it alone. Eric discovered this little tidbit two beers too late and after finally wrangling a "tour" of the condo.
"Oh… my Donna moved back to her place last week. She got me all set up here and now I'm seeing Wanda over in Unit Six. Woo-hoo does she have a nice….a nice condo. Too bad, Donna would have probably liked to have seen you."
"Hey…that would have been great. Maybe I can catch up with her later. I'm a school teacher in Kenosha so if she wants my number…"
"Oh, if she wants your number, I'm sure Red or Kitty would give it to her." Bob was pretty positive about this. "But don't let that stop you from coming back for a game once in a while."
Eric said his goodbye's to his old neighbor and drove home with a piece of useless information.
Eric loved school holidays. Thanksgiving was one of them with four days off! No challenges to authority or kids skipping class. He had four glorious days to relax and starting the holiday was dinner with his folks.
His mom still cooked, just not the huge dinners of days past. With Hyde living in Milwaukee with W.B. and the rest of the gang out living their own lives, it was just Eric and his folks. It was nice.
"Oh, Eric, you'll never guess who I ran into the other day. Bob Pinciotti! Ahahahaha. He looked like an orange! All that time in the sun just colored his skin. He lives in Kenosha."
Eric only smiled. Red looked at his son over his coffee cup. "Donna works for the radio station. Did you know that?"
"Yeah dad, I ran into her a few weeks ago. She's looking good." Looking too damn good!
"Well, honey, if you see her again, invite her over for dinner. You know how I love to cook for a crowd."
Eric took the advertiser's recommendation and ventured out on Black Friday to do a little early Christmas shopping. He switched the station on his radio from AM to FM and came into the middle of a weather report.
"…scattered showers and a 40% chance of rain throughout the weekend and now back to Donna."
"Thanks Henry, today's mailbag is full of letters from readers about what we're thankful for." Stunned that he was hearing Donna Pinciotti's voice over his car radio, Eric pulled over into a gas station and turned off his engine just to listen to her show.
"…thankful that my son is in remission and has been for the last five years - signed Kathy P from Kenosha. Wasn't that a wonderful letter? Many people have asked me what I am thankful for and to be honest, I am thankful for all the chances and opportunities I've have had throughout my life. I grew up in Point Place when it used to be just a tiny town with no future. Well, that's what I had thought growing up. I had teenage plans and dreams and they were wonderful. When you are surrounded by the safety net of parents and friends you are allowed to have these dreams. Look, the board is lighting up…let's take some quick calls after we break for station identification."
Eric felt for pocket change and quickly ran for the payphone of the gas station. He dialed the number for the radio station and got a busy signal. He tried again and was put on hold and breathed a sigh of relief. He could hear the broadcast while he was holding.
"This is Hot Donna and we're back taking callers on what we're thankful for. Caller number one…what is it that you're thankful for?" Donna's voice was smooth and calming as Eric listened to the first caller.
"Hot Donna, I'm a first time caller, long time listener. I just want to say I'm thankful to your show for bringing subjects that other stations won't talk about. I'm a single mom and I don't have a lot of family but you give such good advice that I like to think of you as the sister I never had. My son listens to you and you just keep on being a beacon of light out here in radio land."
"Well thank you caller, and thank you to all single parents that are doing such a wonderful job of raising families alone. I may not be a single parent but my folks split up when I was a teen so I was raised by my dad…it takes a very special person to carry that load. I wasn't always the best daughter...but he was the best dad. Caller number two what are you thankful for?"
"Hot Donna? Long time, first time….I'm thankful for the Point Place Community Center. I volunteer at the soup kitchen and with donations from your station and the local neighborhood; we were able to feed 5,000 hungry and homeless this year. Keep rocking sister!"
Donna chuckled after the caller hung up. "Okay, let's pick another listener. Caller number three, you're up."
"Donna? This is….this is Luke. My name is Luke." Eric stated. God he felt like an idiot!
There was mirth in her voice as she replied. "Hello Luke. What would you like to say to our listening audience?"
"Donna, earlier when you were talking about the safety net of parents and friends that allowed you to have dreams….don't you ever think about what if one of those dreams had come true?"
There was a pause and Donna replied, "Luke. You sound like a sincere guy. Let me tell you something. If those dreams I used to have came true, I would not be on the air speaking to you today. Of course, there are memories that I will always carry that I would never trade in the world and for those, I'm eternally thankful. Those memories have helped me grow and mature as they should for all of my listening audience. Luke? We have to break for a commercial, hold the line would you?"
Eric was holding his breath! What did she mean by that? Suddenly, she was back on the phone. "Eric, I knew that was you. Are you still a Star Wars nerd or what?" she laughed softly.
Eric slowed his erratic heart, "Donna. I'm sorry, I was driving and this was the first time I heard your show. Your topic on being thankful…well I had to call in."
"Eric lets not talk about this on the radio. I'm off air at 2:00. Meet me for lunch at The Gardens and we can talk."
"Oh…okay…I'll see you there."
Eric found a nice table that overlooked the main street shoppers and still gave him a good view of the restaurant door. Donna walked in like a breath of fresh air. She was poised and elegant and seemed so far removed from the teen Eric remembered. He stood up as she sat down. Her smiled was gorgeous and her green eyes twinkled.
"Hello Luke." She quipped.
Eric felt embarrassed. "Yeah...about that."
"Don't worry…I've heard worse. I have some dude that calls everyday and claims that he's Elvis and we all know The King is dead. Funny thing though, he does sound like Elvis. So, you finally heard my show."
"Yes I did…Um…it's really good. Do you miss the DJ part?"
Donna smiled at the waitress that brought over a glass of ice water. "Oh, could you get me a Fresca?" The waitress left and Donna turned her gaze back over to Eric. "Playing the records was great, but the interaction I get talking to the public is much more satisfying."
"You have a great radio voice. You're a natural." Eric said it because he truly meant it.
"So….Luke. What part of my show interested you the most?" Donna smiled as Eric's face reddened slightly.
"I guess I was hoping that some of the memories we made were some you were thankful for."
"Eric, of course they are. We were neighbors and friends and we were like puppies gnawing on bones. You and I were trying each other out, seeing where our limitations were and just waiting for the chance to bust free and see life took us."
Eric didn't see it that way. "I'm glad you got to achieve the success you've always wanted. I always wanted to be a teacher and you…a journalist. It seems like we made our dreams come true."
Donna smiled as the waitress set her drink on the table. "Eric, I have more than one dream in my life and I'm sure you do too. I just don't want to set the bar too low and be unsatisfied when I retire."
"What do you mean?" Eric was very confused now.
"When I have personal success and all that comes with it, then I feel like I can probably set back and work on the rest of my life. I am in no hurry to do things by the book. I mean I've seen girls my age get married, have kids, get divorced and now they are struggling. The chances of them ever achieving a higher education are slim to none. They get the kids in school and then they have to get a job to pay for child care – it's a never-ending circle."
Eric's voice was somber, "So are you saying that if you and I had gotten married it would have ended in divorce…"
Donna stopped him right there. "Eric, no that's not what I'm saying at all, maybe if we had gotten married, we would both been going to school, but you know what? We would have gotten tired of each other. As teens we got to the point where I don't know where I ended and you began. We knew too much about each other and there was no room for personal growth. I needed that space and you couldn't understand it."
"No, I guess not. I think I loved you too much." He confessed.
"I felt suffocated. Not because you loved me. It was the town, my dad and his endless parade of girlfriends, not having a future…then you broke free of us by going to Africa….and well…that felt like it was my turn to finally do something."
Eric watched her face as she talked. She wasn't trying to hurt him with the truth; she was explaining herself in a way he could understand. He wouldn't have understood it back then, but he did now. Still it didn't ease the teenager sized ache in his heart.
She was getting ready to leave again. "Hey, Eric, it was great talking to you. Let's do this again sometime okay?"
He could only watch as she stood up and laid down a couple of dollars towards the bill. "Donna. It was really nice to see you again."
She smiled down at him. "Eric, it is always nice to see you. Take care."
Eric watched as she strode confidently through the doors, carefree and self-assured…every thing she always wanted to be. She wasn't the girl next door anymore; she was a woman with the world in her hand.
Eric was home with the flu. Half of his class had been out sick all month and as much as he tried, he still caught it. The bedroom was stifling and smelled like a sick person so he grabbed his blanket and pillows and made a bed on the sofa. On the coffee table sat some lukewarm tea with honey, a bottle of Nyquil, some Tylenol, and a thermometer.
He grabbed the remote control and just missed the end of the Phil Donahue show. His Nyquil tranquilized brain saw that the mid-day news was coming up so he settled back in the pillows and closed his eyes.
"Good afternoon and in the headlines this afternoon, we are still following the big rig crash on Highway 47 at Holman's bridge. Let's turn to Ted Rowland, with the traffic."
Eric opened his eyes when he thought he heard Donna's voice but remembered he never turned the radio on. It must have been a flu hallucination. He closed his eyes and listened to the traffic he didn't have to face that day.
"Thanks Ted, and in the local news, nurses at Point Place Hospital are threatening to strike if sanitation conditions do not improve. We have Wendy Wilson at the hospital with a report. Wendy?"
Eric opened his eyes again to see a nurse standing in front of his mom's hospital. Why was he hearing Donna again? He dozed a little and woke up as the credits were rolling and that's where he saw the words: Contributing Editor – Donna Pinciotti.
Donna was working on television! Damn, he missed the whole half hour of news…but wait…that was Donna talking about a big rig crash. Wow…Donna really had moved on professionally. Eric couldn't help but feel proud of her.
Eric was picking up a prescription for his mom and just looking at the hundreds of different types of aspirin. There was one for sinus pain, another for pain with sleeplessness, one for colds and fever…he just wanted a regular bottle of aspirin. The pharmacist called out, "Pinciotti."
Eric's head jerked up. He dropped the bottle into his hand held basket and made his way to the back of the drug store. It was Bob.
Meet and Greet time again! Eric smiled and gave a little wave. "Bob, great to see you again."
Bob had a tall voluptuous woman teetering on tall heels standing next to him. "Oh Eric, this is Wanda from Unit Six." Eric nodded a greeting and the woman giggled voraciously. "Oh Bobbie Bear…isn't he just the cutest little man?"
Eric winced internally, Wanda sounded just like Midge. Why were short men attracted to tall women? Or rather why were women attracted to Bob Pinciotti period? Eric did not know.
"Hey, Bob… I saw Donna on the news the other day. You must really be proud of her."
Bob smiled that big smile he always had, "Yeah, my little girl is making a name for herself. Say, she's coming over for lunch on Saturday…you wanna join me and Wanda?"
"Wait..who me?" Eric feigned ignorance although his heart was jumping for joy.
Bob grinned, "Sure, it'll be a foursome at my condo. I'm making take out. I mean, I'm ordering take out that tastes like I made it! Come by around noon and bring something to drink!"
Eric didn't want to overdress or look like he dressed special for Donna (although he did) – he looked casual and nice. He got to the condo right on schedule, taking a deep breath before knocking on the door. Wanda was laughing and opened the door. "Bobbie Bear…it's Eddie from the pharmacy."
Bob was laughing and came to the door, "Oh its Eric sweetie, not Eddie. Come on in. Donna's in the kitchen."
Eric felt like he was having one of those dreams were your feet were walking through heavy sand and even though he was moving forward, it didn't seem like he was making any progress. Then she smiled at him - a smile that was like pure white sunshine. Eric couldn't help but smile back. She motioned to the kitchen table and on wobbly legs, he sat down.
"Sandwich? Dad ordered this six foot sub and I seriously doubt that he's going to eat all that. Wait, hold that thought. Dad will definitely eat it." She laughed and put a piece of the sandwich on a plate and pushed it across the table towards him.
"I saw you on the news." Why was it so hard to talk?
"Oh, that. I work channel six. The pay is better and the drive to work is shorter. I do miss Elvis calling me everyday."
Eric laughed as he remembered that conversation. "So wow, Donna you really are going places."
Donna bit into the sandwich. "I know! It's so great to try something new and be a success. I feel like I can do anything. It's so…so liberating. Hey, enough about me how's school?"
"Oh, you know how Junior High kids can be. Half the boys are shaving and the other half are looking at the one hair on their chins like they have a beard." Eric laughed. Well, it wasn't that funny because he never could grow a mustache.
Donna smiled, "So what happens after eight grade?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, are you always going to be an eighth grade teacher?"
"Well, no…there are other grades I can teach."
Donna was getting exasperated. "No Eric. I mean aren't you going to try harder? You have it in you to be a college professor. You can be a principal. Don't let yourself get stagnant. That's like being a teenager all over again. Don't settle."
"I'm not settling. I like teaching kids."
"You can do so much better. The Eric Forman I know is a smart guy. He had the balls to go to freaking Africa to do better. He wouldn't ever settle."
"Sure, I went to Africa and lost the one thing that was most important to me. That was you Donna. I lost you and it broke my heart in a million pieces."
Donna looked at her old boyfriend with a little sadness in her eyes. "Eric. You still think of me as a possession. You said, "I lost the one thing…" Eric, I'm a woman, until you start thinking of me as a person….well, we'll never be able to move forward."
Eric rubbed the back of his neck. The old promise ring argument came rushing back to his mind. "…if you can see a future for your self without me and that doesn't break your heart…maybe be shouldn't be together at all." How terrible was that fight over a stupid high school ring that had good intentions. Donna was his past, present and future and she was right, he never really thought of her as a person - she was more like an extension of himself.
"You are absolutely right." He wiped his face with his hand. "I've been an ass. You were smart to go on and do stuff with your life. You're happy and successful – you are role model for women. You know how they say you can't go home again? Donna, sometimes you have to go back just to see where you came from. Just… to remember how you came to be the person you are now…and Donna, if you ever want to come back and visit? I'll be there for you."
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Eric got up and left.
Eric was looking over some files, reviewing college applications. There were only so many scholarships available and he had to make sure the right applicant got paired up with the right school. He was reviewing grades and test scores and essays…school seemed to be getting a little more difficult with each year.
The intercom on his desk buzzed. "Mr. Forman. I have your 2:00 o'clock appointment waiting."
"Thanks Melinda, but I don't think I had anyone scheduled for two. Send them in."
The door opened and Eric was expecting a student and instead was a vision in jeans and white blouse with silky red hair. She smiled, "Look who's a Junior College Dean?"
Eric was floored. He hadn't seen Donna in over a year since that disastrous lunch at Bob's condo! She turned the guest chair around and straddled it. "I've been keeping tabs on you Forman. You're doing go for yourself."
Eric couldn't think of a coherent thought at that moment. Donna pushed her hair over her shoulder. "I think it was very brave of you to apply for the principal job and fail. But look at you, you got back on your feet and here you are - Dean of this school. Eric, can you tell me now that you would ever want to go back and teach those one haired eighth graders?"
"No. I like this job."
She smirked, "You like the prestige."
He nodded - his mouth dry. Donna looked at the file of applications. "So you have the responsibility of the futures for all these students…right in your hands. How does that make you feel?"
Eric didn't want to admit it out loud but he would for Donna. "Powerful."
She smiled. "Can you honestly tell me that you would ever want to go back and be that twitchy skinny little nerd from Point Place?"
"I miss him sometimes." Eric said truthfully.
"He's still there. He's just grown up. Tell me Eric; is he ready for a relationship with a real woman?" Donna got up off the chair and came around the side of his desk. "I'm talking about a successful woman who knows what she wants in life?"
"I guess." Eric was about to come unglued. He could smell her fresh washed hair and that vanilla soap she must still use. She slid onto his leg and put an arm around his neck. "Do you remember how you said that sometimes we have to go back home to see where we came from? Well, I did just that and Eric, if you agree….I believe we could possibly have a future together."
"I hope you're not playing with my head."
Donna smiled and said, "No, I've got you booked for the whole hour just to convince you."
Eric was elated to have Donna sitting on his leg with her warm arm around his neck. "You…you booked the whole hour?"
She put her face close to his so green eyes could look at green eyes. "Yes. I'm very attracted to successful men and well….Dean….I'm attracted to you."
Eric carefully put a hand on her thigh and touched her cheek. Was this for real or was it a daydream? Donna smiled and cupped his face with her hands. "Do you remember our first kiss?"
Eric could only nod his head. "Well, this will make you forget that one!" Donna slanted her mouth as she touched her lips to Eric's. She remembered every curve and the way he tasted and it was like coming home. His arms went around her waist as he gave into the kiss. He had waited over five years for this chance…this opportunity…this kiss.
It was worth every second of it.
The past was such a small world when he had the future ahead of him with all the possibilities. Donna made him want to be a better person and she set the bar…he just had to meet her.
These were two souls that were destined to be together…they just took different paths and a couple of years to get there. Sometimes it's not always the destination but the journey that makes you who you become.
Thanks to lunvit for the challenge!