This is my first time writing in any fandom other than Lie to Me, so I hope I've pulled it off. I watched Kelli Williams' episodes of Men in Trees because I'm a big fan of hers. I loved Julia's character and her relationship with Jack, and wanted to explore that a little more since I think her storyline and scenes in the show ended far too abruptly.
The inspiration for part of this story is taken from the song 10,000 Stones by Adrianna, which plays at the beginning of the episode Sweatering It Out, when Jack is drifting alone in the boat. It's a beautiful song, definitely worth a listen :-)
Disclaimer: I own neither the song nor the show.
My days are filled with mistakes,
Some of them I didn't make.
10,000 Stones – Adrianna
She knew that the last time wasn't really going to be the last time. She knew that his apologies, his words of regret, his assurance that it would never happen again were all just empty words.
There were a lot of things she loved about her husband. His free-spirited nature, his impulsiveness, his creativity, his passion. But all of those things, in addition to building the man she'd chosen to marry, had built a man incapable of staying faithful, incapable of settling for the here and now, incapable of just being happy with what he had.
Of course, there were days when she blamed herself. If I wasn't away so much, if I wasn't so involved in my work, if I paid him a little more attention... Now that it had happened again, she had a different reason to suspect her involvement. If I hadn't found myself drawn to another man... Nothing had happened, of course. Unlike her husband, she did take her marriage vows seriously. But there was a part of her that, on days when she allowed her mind to wander, thought about how different things could have been. If she wasn't married when she met Jack, if he wasn't with Marin. If, if, if. If they had both been single, she could definitely see herself falling in love with him. Wasn't it already true that he knew her better than her own husband did? That she knew him better than his girlfriend?
But that was all irrelevant, at least for now. Maybe in another lifetime they could get their timing right. In this lifetime, though, in this reality she was forced to live in, it was Jim she went home to every night – the nights she wasn't away, at least. It was Jim who she would cling to when her world was crumbling, even though, during all those nights on the sea, it had been Jack she'd clung to.
She'd tried so hard, recently, to convince herself that her marriage was improving. She'd pushed any feelings she had for Jack to the side, focussing on her husband, on the reason she wore a ring on her finger, on the reason she was happy, wasn't that how Marin had described them? When he'd found his inspiration again she was delighted, loving the improvement in his mood, convincing herself that it was because of her that he felt inspired, taking it as a sign that things were good between them again. It felt like when they were first married; when every day seemed like an adventure, when his grin was infectious, when even his coconut cake tasted good just because he'd made it. She'd told herself that they could have that, again, and she'd believed it. They'd started talking about children, too. The time felt right for them to start trying; surely if they had a child, their relationship would be stronger than ever? Now she felt stupid and humiliated as she remembered her gushing words earlier about the strength of their marriage and how they were planning to start a family. And he's gone and done it again.
Maybe it was fear that drove him to it this time. Maybe he really didn't want to cheat on the mother of his child, so he had to get one last affair in before that became a reality. She didn't know. She wasn't even sure if she cared. It wasn't the reason that tore her heart apart, it was the act itself, and that wasn't going to change, no matter what his excuses.
Under different circumstances, she might walk away. She might say, I've had enough, or You don't deserve me, or I want to be with someone I trust. The problem with walking away, though, is it's hard to do when you have nothing to walk to.
Jack walked her to the car, politely pretending he didn't see the tear slipping down her cheek. "You going to be okay?" he asked.
"The journey's not that bad."
"I know," she said quietly. "I'll be fine. I've dealt with this before, I can... deal with it again." She gave him a smile to try and convince him – and herself – that what she said was true, but neither of them really bought it.
Wordlessly he opened his arms, and she stepped into his embrace. She rested her head on his shoulder, feeling him tighten his arms around her protectively. The problem, she knew, with walking away is that it's hard to do when you have nothing to walk to, and there was a woman inside who was the very reason that she had nothing to walk to right now. She had friendship, though, with both of them, and she was determined to derive strength from that, rather than letting the exact nature of their circumstances or her feelings get in the way.
She stepped back, smiling at him with watery eyes as she broke the hug that had lasted longer than it would have done if Marin had been there. "I'll be okay," she whispered, and he nodded.
"If you need anything..."
She smiled gratefully. "I'll see you soon," she promised, climbing into the car. He nodded again, stepping back as she started the engine. He stayed, watching her as she pulled away, and they shared a brief wave before she was gone. He stayed, even after her car was out of sight, just thinking.
She didn't switch on the car radio, choosing instead to drive in silence. She thought about their marriage; about the good times, the bad, the spaces in between when she'd tried to remember what it was that brought them together in the first place, and whether that would be enough to hold them together. She thought again about where the blame for this lay; how much she should really blame herself. She'd made a lot of mistakes, and many of them had stemmed from mistakes other people had made. Perhaps she shouldn't have married Jim. Perhaps she shouldn't have stayed married to Jim. Perhaps she should never have got on that damn boat. Most of all, perhaps she shouldn't have allowed her mind to imagine a different life with a different man, because now, facing the impossibility of that scenario was harder than before.
She wouldn't leave him, she knew that. She'd go home, and she'd talk to him. She would yell at him. Maybe she'd cry. He'd try to hold her, and she would push him away. She'd warn him, again, that she wouldn't stay forever. But she would. Unless she had another reason to leave.
She glanced in the mirror. Even though she'd driven almost a mile along a bendy road, she half expected to see Jack still standing there. What she didn't know was that just because she couldn't see him didn't mean he wasn't still standing there, staring at the place where she'd stood just moments before.
She was going home to her husband, to her marriage, to the life she'd chosen to live. But she couldn't completely eradicate the thoughts floating in her mind that perhaps, one day, things would change, and she would have a reason to leave, even if right now that 'reason' was in love with someone else.
They'd found each other once, when they were stranded in the sea; maybe one day they'd find each other again.