Starlight Starbright

13 – Time Stops

Chapter 13 – Time Stops

Eric woke up slowly and with a gigantic headache. How much did he drink last night? Someone was shaking his shoulder and he tried to brush the hand away. "Gimme a minute."

"No, and you spilled wine all over the carpet…what were you thinking? Did you hit your head?"

Eric blinked. Donna? He felt the carpeted floor beneath him and when he dared to open his eyes, the plate-glass window was back and he felt like he was going to die.

There was blood on his forehead as he looked in the mirror. All of his thick hair was gone and that damn receding hairline was back. What the fuck was happening? Donna yelled from the bedroom, 'Call the maid service tomorrow and they can take the stain out. Oh, and I think you broke the leg on your chair."

Wiping the blood from his face, Eric could feel his heart pounding wildly. This couldn't be happening. Seriously! THIS. COULD NOT. BE. HAPPENING. Less than eight hours ago he was with Jackie in Point Place at the Burkhart mansion and they were wrapped in coats and they made a promise to each other:

"This moment. This time right here. Never ever forget me? You have made me a better man and I could never thank you enough. I love you so much. Never forget us? We are a family and there is nothing better than the way I feel when I'm with us, all of us. Promise me that you'll never forget that. Tuck it away in your heart?"

Jackie placed his palm against her breast so he could feel her beating heart and whispered, "I promise." She smiled up at him. "Kiss me you big lug, its tradition!"

Eric fell to the cold and sterile bathroom floor and covered his face with his hands. It was like a piece of his heart had been painfully cleaved from existence and he was left in this one-dimensional Hell on earth. He wanted to scream. He wanted to sob. He was a wreck. Waves of loneliness washed over him and there was no Jackie Burkhart throwing a life preserver…instead it was Donna throwing him a concrete brick.

Reality was a brick and her name was Donna Pinciotti.

Eric sought refuge in the only place he could feel safe and normal. The Sun-Times office was open on New Year's Day but with only a skeleton crew. After he parked in the sub-basement, Eric blindly went to his office and locked the door behind him. Everything in it was perfectly in place, just like he had left it…when the hell was it? Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve?

Eric couldn't tell anymore.

When he dialed the penthouse and Donna's voice seemed harsh and brass. "Where the hell did you go? I mean you just take off like a freaking maniac and you knew we had a brunch date with the couple in 3025A."

Eric swallowed a big lump in his throat. "I think I may have had a concussion. I'm on my way to the hospital." The lie came so easily. "I'll call you later and I'm sorry for taking off like that."

"Yeah well…..that was so….not you."

"Hey Donna, can I ask you a question?"

He could almost hear the impatient sigh as she replied, "Sure."

"Who is Carter?"

Donna paused before questioning, "How do you know about him?"

Eric played dumb. Donna didn't need to know about his little breaking and entering in his new other life. She breathed into the phone. "Carter is the new publishing CEO of a magazine based in Northern California. I have an interview with him next week. Huh. I don't remember telling you about that. It was going to be a surprise."

"Hey D. This is Carter. Are we still on for Saturday? I have tickets for backstage at the new première and Meryl Streep said she would only give an interview to you! Get back to me stat!"

Carter? Who the hell was Carter?

"Donna? This is Senator Dubois….Charles and I would like to invite you and Carter to our New Years Eve party. Call me back dear!"

"It was going to be a surprise…my ass!" Eric thought. But that recalled conversation sparked a glimmer of hope in Eric's desolate heart. If the Carter "thing" hadn't happened yet, then maybe some other things hadn't happened yet.

He looked at his desk and the only two things he knew for certain was that he had a broken chair and a broken heart. Before hanging up the phone he added, "Hey Donna? Why didn't you ever tell me about your mom's accident?" The connection was severed by the sound of Donna slamming down the phone.

Eric pulled out a huge piece of paper and made two columns. They were titled: What I Do Know and What I Don't Know

What I Do Know

1. Midge still had the accident

2. Carter is going to be in Donna's future

3. I'm still in 1990.

Eric closed his eyes and recalled the fishing trip just two days ago – it could have been years ago or it could have never happened. His fingers picked up the telephone and he called information. "Yes, I'd like the number for Steven Hyde in Los Angeles, California." He waited for the 411 operator to give him the number but she came back on the line, "I'm sorry sure but I do not have a listing for a Steven Hyde in Los Angeles."

"Ummm….what about an Angie Barnett? Same city?" Mentally, he was crossing his fingers.

There was a pause and the operator came back on the line with a 213 area code and number. Eric felt like he was holding the golden ticket. He quickly dialed the number and after exchanging a few pleasantries with Angie was transferred to the house phone.

"Forman! Hey man, no see no hear– how did you know how to find me?"

Hyde still sounded just as cool as Eric remembered. "Dude, is your dad sick? I'd heard a rumor and just wanted to call and say that…if you need anything…a friend…whatever…I'm here."

Hyde's voice came back over thousands of miles, "No dude, its cool. W.B. is hanging in there – he's still truckin' and we're making music, which makes him rich and happy. If you're ever out this way…."

Eric chuckled, "I can't wait to see you." They chatted a little longer about nonsensical things before hanging up. Eric added another bullet to his list.

What I Do Know

1. Midge still had the accident

2. Carter is going to be in Donna's future

3. I'm still in 1990.

4. Hyde is in Los Angeles and W.B. is still sick

Over the course of the next couple days, Eric quietly went about extracting his existence from Chicago. He inquired about mentoring positions at Point Place High School and the Kenosha School District for a job. He also faxed several resumes to Lower Wisconsin magazines and newspapers. . He submitted his two week notice to his boss at the Sun-Times.

He still there the day Donna left for China

She looked excited to be traveling to the Orient and Eric knew that she would most likely get an apartment there (her one of many he was sure) and that twinkle in her eye was not for him. "I'll be back in a couple of weeks and we'll go do something…just me and you." Donna exclaimed as she packed her last bag.

Eric was standing by the plate-glass window and spoke as he looked at the city down below. "I don't think I'll be here when you get back."

Donna almost stumbled, "What? What about us doing things as a couple?"

Eric turned and took her hand in his. ""There is no us. Let's pretend that we're good friends and work from there okay?" God, this conversation was so ten years ago!

Donna realized that something had changed Eric – she didn't know what it was, but he was different, so she said quietly, " Okay, maybe we'll meet up for lunch one day or something?"

Eric looked back at the window, "Or something." He looked over his shoulder, "Oh and Donna?"

She picked up her duffle-bag. "Yes Eric?"

He smiled, "Don't drink the water."

She laughed softly, "You're such a dill hole."

Fez was glad to see his old friend. He was appalled at the receding hairline but grinned. "Eric, this is your lucky day. I have a client who is married to a doctor that can get you a prescription to grow back your hair. You look so much like Red it's awful."

Eric felt hopeful for the first time in a week. "Seriously? What kind of prescription?"

Fez combed the thin strands that covered Eric's head. "It's Rogaine and you'll need to shampoo twice a day for a few months, but I've seen it work wonders. Why are you so interested in your hair?"

Eric looked at his friend, "Do this for me and I'll help you find my sister."

Fez grinned, "You know where Laurie is?"

Eric met his foreign friend's eyes in the mirror. "Not exactly, but I can hire someone who does."

Eric was tucked away in his tiny temporary bachelor apartment. All of his meager belongings fit into one small suitcase and his clothes in another. On an easel beside his sofa sleeper was his work in progress and this time he was toiling on a different list:

What I Don't Know

1. Laurie and Fez never got together

2. Where does Jackie live

3. Are Mom and Dad still pissed at me

4. Is my house in Point Place Heights still available

5. Where is Kelso and Brooke

The answer to number 3 should be as simple as just driving up and seeing what kind of welcome he received. If he had some news of Laurie's whereabouts…that might ease the tension that he was sure would be there. At least with his dad. The last time he saw both of his parents together was at the luncheon from hell. He had to fix this.

The phone rang, startling him and Eric quickly picked up the receiver, "Hello?"

"Hello? Mr. Forman? I have that house available if you are still interested in viewing it."

Eric replied that he'd be over quickly and hung up the phone with a pit in his stomach. What if someone else was living there? What if it really wasn't for sale? He had to know, so he grabbed the keys to his Lexus and sped out of town.

The house could only be described as two shades nicer than Edna Hyde's ramshackle hovel. (And that was being generous!) Fixer-upper was a nice way of saying "crap house". How could his other self have thought of purchasing this kind of cracker jack home? Eric sighed loudly and recalled that his other self bought the house almost five years ago and would have taken better care of it.

The real estate agent dangled the keys – "...the owners are gone for the weekend so there won't be anyone to disrupt your inspection." Eric followed Cathy up the walkway and in his mind's eye, off to his left, he could still see the snow fort where Ben called him "daddy" and meant it. Eric could feel a lump in his throat.

The door creaked as he pushed through into the foyer. The coat rack was missing the tiny raincoats and baby rubber boots and the whole house smelled like Pine-sol and not Jackie's fat vanilla candles. He walked through the living room hating the decor and how the furniture was not in all the right places. Eric strode straight to Ben's room and there was a patched up hole in the ceiling tiles. At least that still happened.

He turned to Cathy. "How's the kitchen plumbing?"

She referred to her clipboard. "I can order an inspection if you are interested in buying."

Eric waved his hand and walked to Harry's room and almost opened the master bedroom door but didn't want to see some other couples bed – the one he slept in with Jackie was what he wanted to remember. He walked towards the kitchen where so many Eggos were eaten and pots of coffee devoured. This still somewhat resembled his memories.

He looked around the shabbily decorated house. "What are they asking for it?"

Cathy's gaze scanned her clipboard and told him the price. Eric didn't even blanch. "Tell them to include the inspection and I'll buy it."

The real estate agents eyes got wide – rarely did a customer buy at the asked for price – there is an ebb and flow of bartering and wheedling that would normally be expected….this was not the case! "Okay. Sure. I'll contact the owner's and tell them you are ready to buy."

Eric looked out the window at his Lexus and looked at the time on his Rolex – he knew that quality was worth the price so he flexed his professional muscle. "Tell them I'd like the house empty by the end of the month." Eric didn't want to add that he was gutting the place and having everything remodeled. He liked the house he remembered and he had the money in the bank to make that happen.

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