Shannon exhaled deeply and snuggled against Sayid. “Wow. You know, it’s times like this that I wish I still smoked.”
Sayid laughed. Shannon loved his laugh. Recently, she’d been trying to get him to do it around other people, too, so they could all hear what a great sound it was.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. May I get you some water instead?”
“Sure. Just don’t be gone too long.”
He pulled on his pants and gave her a quick kiss before heading out. Shannon looked around the tent; it was her first time alone in the new shelter. Sayid had surprised her with it on the previous night, but he’d waited for her to formally ask him if he wanted to move his stuff in. Always the gentleman. It was funny, the idea of “moving in” with someone in a place where there weren’t even houses. And yet here she was. Shannon looked at Sayid’s suitcases stacked so neatly next to hers. She and Sayid were alike in their anal retentiveness, just as they were in so many other random little things that the others didn’t understand and that she herself never would have expected.
Staring at Sayid’s luggage, Shannon’s curiosity got the better of her. She reached a hand inside his carry-on and giggled when she realized what she’d pulled out was his passport. It was a law of the universe that everyone, even super hot serious people like Sayid, had embarrassing passport pictures---especially super hot serious people like Sayid. Shannon opened it, and sure enough, there was a younger version of Sayid, with flat-ironed hair (she’d be sure to tease him about that sometime), looking dorky as all get-out and…
Jack and Kate looked up from where they knelt by the fishing nets to see Shannon standing over them. Her left leg shook and she wasn’t making eye contact, in the way Jack had figured out she did when she was nervous.
He sighed. There was always something. “What’s going on, Shannon?”
Shannon turned her head and looked at the sea instead of at them. “Sayid’s birthday is in two days.”
Well, it was random, but at least it wasn’t a problem… Jack hoped. With Shannon, you never knew. “Okay. And?”
“And… I think we should do something about it.”
“Like what?” Kate asked.
“Like throw him a party, obviously.”
Kate stood up and wiped her fishy hands on her pants. Jack cringed, sensing an impending catfight. He’d be the first to admit he wasn’t the best at reading women, but even he could tell that Shannon had never completely gotten over the friendship Sayid had formed with Kate.
“How do you know?” Kate’s question came out as a challenge.
Shannon shot her a withering glance. “Because I’m his girlfriend. Duh.”
“Did he actually tell you?” Kate pressed.
“Of course he did.” Shannon paused and shook her leg even harder before finally confessing, “Not exactly. Fine. I snooped in his passport last night. So?”
“So, if he didn’t tell anyone, then maybe he doesn’t want a party. I don’t think Sayid’s the kind of guy who likes a lot of attention.”
“You think you know him better than I do?” Shannon spat back, and Jack knew it was time to break it up.
“Shannon, look. There are almost fifty of us. We don’t have the resources to throw a party every time someone has a birthday.”
“But this isn’t someone. This is Sayid.” Shannon got so close to Jack’s face that he had to step back. “I know you think you’re the big leader around here, but I was talking to everyone, and they’re fine with having him be the only person we ever have a party for.”
“Define ‘everyone’,” Jack queried, curious.
“You know, the 30-odd people down the beach you never speak to... And if you ask them who takes care of them around here, they’ll say it’s Sayid, not you. Who makes sure there always fresh water in the camp? Sayid. Who organized the latrine system? Who helps out when people’s tents get blown over? Sayid. Who splinted Scott’s leg when you were too busy traipsing around the jungle to be a doctor? Sayid. Who figured out how to make maxi pads out of god knows what shit in the jungle? Sayid. Who---”
Jack put up his hands, hoping the barrage of too much information would stop right there. It was all true, though. Jack may have been the symbolic leader in the camp, but Sayid was the one who actually made sure things ran smoothly on a day-to-day basis. They’d had a silent understanding of co-leadership since practically their first day on the island. There was no resentment or jealousy, as neither of them particularly relished having been put in a group caretaker position in the first place. Still, no one, especially not Jack, liked having a finger waved in his face, so he retorted, “If I’m not the leader, then why are you asking my permission?”
“I’m not asking for your permission. I’m asking for your help.”
“Not the best way to go about it, Shannon, but okay. What did you have in mind?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I think the hatch is pretty festive. In a it’s-the-only-room-on-the-island kind of way.”
“Fine,” Jack replied, “do whatever you want. The only thing I’m going to say is that if you want to throw a party in the hatch, you should ask Locke first. He’s pretty territorial about the place. I think he’s on button duty right now, if you want to go talk to him.”
“Okay, thanks for the tip. I’ll head over there next.”
“Maybe you should make it a surprise party,” Kate suggested, still stuck on her original reservation. “That way Sayid won’t veto the whole thing before it happens. He’s such a martyr, you know? He’d probably agree with Jack that we shouldn’t waste our resources on him.”
“That wasn’t what I---” Jack tried to protest, but Kate put a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry. I know that isn’t what you meant.”
Shannon mulled this over. “You know, that’s actually not the worst idea ever.”
“I can help distract him beforehand, if you want,” Kate added helpfully, after an eye roll.
Shannon glared at her. “Thanks, but no thanks. But can I count on you to spread the word as soon as I get back to you with the time and place?”
“Sure,” Jack said.
“Maybe we can make a card,” Kate suggested. “Michael draws beautifully. I bet he could make something nice. I could pass it around to everyone when Sayid isn’t around and make sure everyone signs it before the party.”
Jack watched as Shannon relaxed and finally looked at Kate with something other than prickly suspicion. She actually smiled, for the first time in the entre conversation.
“That’s a great idea! Cool. Okay, that’s it for now. Later!” And she ran off.
Jack turned to Kate. “So, what do you think?”
“I think it’s really sweet. Remember when all she did was work on her tan? I just hope he likes it instead of getting freaked out.” Kate was looking weirdly dreamy, and for a second, Jack felt a twinge of the same irrational jealousy Shannon seemed to suffer from. Then Kate smiled at him and he shook the feeling off. More seriously, she said, “I also think we’re going to have a hell of a time keeping this a surprise. This is Sayid we’re talking about.”
It was true. “Yeah, we’d better not tell Hurley until five minutes before it starts or else the whole thing will be blown.”
“Hey, Hurley! Charlie! Wait up!”
Charlie stopped and saw Shannon running up behind them. It had been awhile since the days when beautiful women regularly flagged him down in the road. Not that the beach was a ‘road’, per say, but it was close enough.
“Hey, what’s up?”
Shannon looked around and then began speaking very softly. “I need you two to do something for me.”
Hurley and Charlie exchanged a wary glance. “Depends on what it is,” Charlie said. She’d been less hateful in recent weeks, but it didn’t wipe away the fact that both he and Hurley had been burned by this bird before. However, Shannon didn’t seem to remember the Great Fish Con of 2004, because she babbled unrepentantly on.
“We’re throwing Sayid a surprise party. I was wondering if you wanted to be in charge of the music.” She then looked at Hurley. “And if you wanted to be in charge of catering, seeing as how Jack put you in charge of the hatch food and everything. Maybe you can switch the rations around to set stuff aside for the party.”
“That’s awesome! Sure I’ll help. We had that crazy mystery food drop the other day, so I can swing it.”
Hurley’s face was diffused with joy, and Charlie felt bad for being more surprised than happy. This wasn’t what he’d expected her to say at all. But Charlie remembered how Sayid had not only rescued Aaron from Rousseau, but also let him take the credit and gain points with Claire.
“Sure. That’s a brilliant idea,” he piped up, agreeing with Hurley. “I don’t know what he likes, though.”
Shannon shrugged. “So find out. I’m going to go ask Locke if we can use the hatch now. See ya.”
She ran off before Charlie could even ask her how the bloody hell he was supposed to find out what kind of music Sayid liked when the man was almost never in the hatch and didn’t seem to have an appreciation for the 70s in the first place. What if Sayid’s tastes ran to sitars and shit? Wait, no, sitars were Indian. What the hell did people in Iraq listen to? If Charlie picked something wrong and offensive, Sayid might pour gunpowder on his head again. Or worse.
Charlie’s panicked thoughts were interrupted by Hurley thinking out loud. “I wonder what kind of cake he likes. There are chocolate bars we could melt. But if he prefers vanilla… I should ask him if---”
Charlie saw imaginary danger signs blinking red all around Hurley. “Hurley, weren’t you even listening to the lady? It’s a surprise. We’re supposed to keep it a secret, mate.”
Hurley’s face fell. “Oh. Right. I’m not good at secrets.”
Charlie sighed. No, he wasn’t. Charlie had a feeling that he’d just been given two jobs: music, and keeping Hurley away from Sayid for the next two days.
Locke was seated at the computer, waiting for the last few seconds to tick down until the clock reached four minutes, when Shannon ran into the room. Locke was surprised to see her. She’d signed up for hatch duty like everyone else, but she’d never seemed particularly excited about it.
“You’re early for your shift. You aren’t supposed to be here until…” Locke checked his watch. “Until three o’clock.”
“I’m not here for my shift,” she replied, breathlessly. “I want to talk to you about something.”
“Shannon?” Boone, having heard his sister’s voice, came out of the kitchen, where he’d been pouring himself a glass of juice. “What are you doing here?”
Shannon looked at Boone, then at Locke, and then back at Boone. “I should have known you two would be together. First jungle pals, now hatch buddies. Soon you’ll be beach bunnies or something. But whatever, that’s perfect. You’re the other person I wanted to see.”
Locke just stared at her. Shannon fascinated and amused him. She was always coming out with these things… “What’s going on?” he asked.
“I want to throw Sayid a surprise birthday party the day after tomorrow, and Jack told me I should ask you if we could do it here in the hatch.”
“He did?” As long as nothing got damaged and people remembered to press the button, Locke didn’t care too much either way. What was interesting was hearing that Jack had deferred to his authority on this. It was unexpectedly gratifying.
“Yeah, he did. Is it okay?”
“Sure it’s okay. Just as long as people stay out of this computer room. Sayid may have fixed it for us once, but I don’t know if even he would be able to do anything about wine spilled in a keyboard.”
“That’s fine. Between the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room and the hallway, I think there’s enough room for people to hang out.”
“Sounds good. I have some time this week. I’ll see if I can catch a boar the morning of the party.”
“That’d be great. Thanks.”
“What can I do?” Boone asked.
Shannon perked up. She had a self-satisfied look on her face, as though this was what she’d been waiting for. “Well, Mr. Wedding Planner, I want you to be in charge of the decorations.”
Locke was glad to see that Boone actually looked interested in the thought of doing something nice for his sister’s boyfriend (no one had ever said anything to him, but he had his suspicions about these siblings…).
“‘Mr. Wedding Planner’? Is there something important you want to tell me?” Boone asked, surprised, but not jealous, Locke noted with pleasure.
Shannon slapped him lightly on the hand. “Don’t be stupid. We only just started going out. And even if we were that serious, which we’re not, there’s no way in hell I’d ever get married in a bunker, no matter how retro 70s stylin’ it is. So, are you in?”
Boone shrugged. “Sure, why not? Sayid’s a good guy. I was just surprised at the idea of you throwing a party for anyone but yourself. That’s… that’s really nice of you.”
Shannon tossed her hair. “It’s the new me. I’m all giving and shit. Get used to it.”
There she went again. Locke nuzzled his head into his shoulder to stifle a laugh as Boone continued, “The only problem is… have you forgotten we’re on a deserted island? Where am I supposed to get supplies?”
“I’m working on it.”
Sawyer had just gotten to the good part in the Agatha Christie novel he was reading when a shadow suddenly blocked his light. He looked up to see Shannon standing over him in her shortest of skirts. Where she found those things, he had no idea.
“Well, hello, there, Sticks.”
She rolled her eyes and got to the point. Sawyer appreciated that in a woman. “I need some stuff from your stash.”
Sawyer leaned back and stretched his own legs out. This was going to be good. Shannon didn’t often visit, but he always got a kick out of dealing with her. “Let me guess. You’re looking for condoms? You and Captain Falafel ready to---”
The question had the desired effect, because she scowled real pretty. “Ew. That’s none of your business. And even if it was, you’re not the only person around here with a stash, Huckleberry.”
Sawyer chuckled. He had no idea what this slip of a spitfire was doing with the Angst-o-riffic Arab. Maybe he brought out something sweeter and more serious in her. Maybe she actually got him to chill out once in awhile. Maybe they were too busy fucking to see their incompatibility. All Sawyer knew was that of everyone on the island, this chick was the most like himself. He could smell a con man---or woman---from a mile away. And if Sayid, who could probably see through a steel wall, could find something to love in a girl like that, then… well... Maybe there was hope for all of them.
Sawyer covered up the disgusting and unwanted mushy thoughts by doing what he did best: flirting. “You know, you and I… we’ve got a lot in common. Ever wonder if maybe you and I should have---”
“In your dreams, asshole. Look, I’m here because I want to borrow some stuff. We’re throwing Sayid a birthday party in the hatch day after tomorrow.”
He and Sayid had made their peace a few weeks ago, so Sawyer actually thought it was a good idea. Not to mention a potentially hilarious one. He tried imagining Sayid wasted, wearing a party hat… He couldn’t. But he’d be more than willing to part with some stuff in order to see the image in the flesh. However, Sawyer didn’t appreciate Shannon’s tone, so he decided to give her a hard time before ultimately giving her what she wanted. “Now you’re the one dreaming. Why should I give up my valuable time help that guy when I’ve got things to do, books to read?”
“If it wasn’t for Sayid, you wouldn’t even be able to read that book right now.”
Sawyer removed his glasses from his face and looked at them. They were ridiculous, but they worked. Sayid hadn’t had to make them for him, but he had. Just ‘cause. “Touché, princess, touché. Alright. I’m open for business. What do you need?”
“Show me what you have.”
“This ain’t the mall, sweetheart. There’s no browsing. You tell me something specific you want and I’ll tell you if I’ve got it.”
“But I don’t know what I want.”
“That’s your problem, not mine.” Just to illustrate his point, he picked his book up again, silently threatening to start reading until she played by his rules.
She got the hint. “Fine. I’ll send Boone down to talk to you. He’s the one in charge of decorations anyway. He’ll know what specific things to ask for.”
This had taken an unexpected turn. Not only was Boone infinitely less fun to deal with than his hot sister, but… “Boone? Is in charge of decorating? What? Did he hit the short end of the piñata or something?”
“No. He’s just good at it. That was kind of his job. You know, back in the real world. He and his mom ran this huge wedding planning company. He’s a genius with flower arrangements.”
Now that he was thinking about it, Sawyer was not at all surprised. What he was surprised about was the phrase ‘his mom’ as opposed to ‘our mom’. But he decided to file that little nugget away for later investigation. This wasn’t the time. “It takes all kinds, doesn’t it? But okay. I’ll keep a look-out for your big sister. He and I’ll whip something up nice for the birthday boy.”
Shannon didn’t even say goodbye. Sawyer thoughtfully watched her make her way down the beach, and hoped there was a way to keep his involvement in all this as hush-hush as possible. He secretly supported the whole party idea, but he had a reputation to keep up, and doing decorating for Sayid wasn’t part of it.
“You know there’ll be conditions before you get anything, right?” he yelled after her.
Without turning around, Shannon flipped him the bird. “Whatever, Sawyer!” she yelled back.
Sayid rolled the makeshift wheelbarrow he’d made and dumped dirt into the hole he’d finished digging a few minutes before.
“What else can I do for you?” he asked, half hoping the answer would be ‘nothing’. Sun had never asked Sayid to help her in her garden before, and while he was most flattered, the list of things he had to attend to back at camp was keeping him from fully enjoying the otherwise pleasant calm of planting with Sun and Claire. Well, he thought, at least they were acting somewhat normally.
For some reason that Sayid couldn’t guess at, Sun looked at her watch and exchanged a glance with Claire before stating, “Would you help Claire bury these seeds?”
“Yeah, Sayid. Let’s bury seeds!” Claire exclaimed in a giggly squeak that was inappropriate for the context. Sayid stared, utterly confused, as she lay Aaron on a blanket beside her. He had no idea what she was so excited about. They were only seeds.
So much for ‘somewhat normal’.
Everyone had been acting so strangely for the past couple of days. Between Charlie mysteriously dragging Hurley away in the middle of every conversation, Kate becoming uncharacteristically hysterical when he’d gone to look for a bottle of water in her pack, Shannon volunteering for extra shifts in the hatch, and Sawyer calling him “old man” instead of his usual Muslim-related nicknames, Sayid was starting to wonder if perhaps the Others had, unbeknownst to him, slipped drugs into the drinking water. It would explain a lot.
“You are very good at this, Sayid. I appreciate the help,” Sun remarked, breaking the tense silence. What reason these women had to be tense around him, Sayid did not know.
“It’s no trouble,” Sayid replied. It was mostly true. A breeze had just picked up and a bird had started to sing. This was indeed an idyllic place, and, Sayid thought wistfully, perhaps the camp could get along without him for another couple of hours. It had been days since he’d had a break.
They worked for another hour or so. Surprisingly, Claire displayed more interest in him than she had in the entire month and a half that they’d been in the island. She asked him about his childhood and about his college days and about the time he’d spent living in London. It was incredible how she only seemed to touch on relatively pleasant memories, almost as if she’d been instructed. He assumed Shannon had relayed information about his life onto her girlfriends. It had been so long since he’d had a girlfriend---or any female friends---that he’d forgotten how much women shared amongst themselves.
At any rate, the time passed relatively quickly, and it seemed too soon when Sun abruptly stood up and announced, “We should go now.”
“But we have not finished the tomatoes,” Sayid pointed out.
“They can wait for tomorrow,” Sun replied nonchalantly.
Sayid found himself disappointed, not to mention slightly annoyed. Sun had requested his assistance in a way that made it sound as though there was some sort of gardening crisis. If it could wait, then why had he been needed? Plus, he’d finally found himself getting into it, and, much as his daily responsibilities hung over him, he was beginning to enjoy himself. He could see why Sun had chosen this for herself; she was able to contribute, but in a way that suited her temperament, required the cooperation of others only when she desired it, and didn’t push her comfort zone. In some ways, he envied her, but all in all, he was content with his lot. Sayid had never considered himself a leader or even particularly outgoing, but here on the island, he’d somehow fallen into a role he’d never imagined for himself. Whether or not it was appreciated, doing what he did every day in the camp gave him a sense of purpose---a way to prove to himself that he was indeed a generous and good person. The more work he did for everyone, the more light he felt inside.
“Fine. If you have no more need for me, I’ll head back to the camp now.”
This was met with an unwarranted flurry of protest. “No!” Claire exclaimed.
“Would you walk us to the hatch first? We need…” Sun didn’t even seem to know what they needed.
“I need to get some more diapers for Aaron,” Claire interjected brightly. “Rose said she’d leave the ones she washed for me in the laundry room.”
Sayid shook his head. He’d wasted enough time having fun today. “I’m sorry, but I have to get back and---”
“Jack said we should never walk in the jungle alone. Not after what happened to me the other day.
And they’ve already said they want Claire back, and I can hardly protect her. Please, Sayid?”
Sayid relented. If anything happened to them because of his refusal, he’d never forgive himself. And he had more than enough guilt to deal with as it was. “I will escort you to the hatch. But you will have to find an escort back to camp, because I cannot wait for you.”
They smiled at one another. Sayid had never before had two people who weren’t close friends so desirous of his company. It was strange, but also gratifying.
They packed up the equipment and covered it all with some enormous leaves that he’d climbed to pick for Sun a few days ago. The walk to the hatch was enjoyable, with Claire and Sun giggling girlishly. They didn’t seem to expect him to join in, so he simply basked in their inexplicable giddiness.
On their way, they ran into Hurley, who was wearing three packs on his back. He froze in terror upon seeing them emerge from a thicket.
“Don’t worry, Hurley,” Sayid attempted to reassure him. “It is only us. Not the Others.”
“Um. Right. Sure.” The reassurance hadn’t worked, and Hurley looked pleadingly at Sun.
“Go on, Hurley,” Sun said softly, and Hurley ran off without another word.
Sayid sighed. Now he could add Hurley to the list of people acting strangely.
“Guys, can we stop for a minute?” Claire suddenly said. “I think I’m a little out of breath.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea. Let’s rest. You don’t mind, do, you, Sayid?”
Sayid gritted his teeth. It was getting late and he didn’t have time for this. However, he was a gentleman, so he waited patiently while Sun gave Claire some water and they stretched their legs.
When they finally reached the front door of the hatch, Sayid was about to bid them farewell when Claire tugged at his arm. “I just remembered. Locke mentioned this morning he wanted to talk to you about something. I think he’s just finishing his shift if you want to go look for him. It sounded important.”
Sun opened the door (it moved easily now, ever since Sayid had figured out what made it stick and fixed it) and they walked into the vestibule. The hallway was uncommonly dark.
“I need to repair this light bulb,” Sayid mused, and added the task to his mental to-do list for the next day. He reached out so that he could take hold of Sun’s hand with his right, and hold onto Claire’s shoulder with his left.
“Hello?” Sun called out loudly into the darkness. “It’s Sun!”
Sayid heard scuffling noises in the darkness. He hadn’t seen any rats in here before, but perhaps there---
The lights switched on to reveal a roomful of people with a banner saying, “Happy Birthday Sayid” hanging over their heads.
“Haven’t you ever been to a surprise party?” Claire asked next to him.
“No. I haven’t.”
Sayid had been to parties before, but never for him, and never like this. Jack came forward and led him into the living room of the hatch, which was neater than he’d ever seen it. An empty bucket of ranch dressing had been made into punch bowl. A buffet of fresh-roasted boar---apple in the mouth and everything---was the centerpiece of huge feast. On the table in the booth was a cake with his name perfectly written in molten chocolate. People came up to him, saying things like, “Happy birthday” and “You’re awesome.” Kate gave him a hug and handed him a decorated piece of cardboard in which were written messages from everyone in the camp. A minute later, the record player started up, playing James Brown.
His surprise lasted longer than anyone must have expected, because soon, everyone stopped staring at him and turned their attention back to one another. The party started in full swing, leaving Sayid still shell-shocked.
One thing in particular took the surreality of the situation to a whole new level.
“Are those… flowers?”
“Having fun?” he heard from right behind him. Sayid spun around to see Jack leaning on the wall, drinking the beer, with a relaxed smile on his face that Sayid had only seen during golf games.
“Jack, what is all this?”
“Everyone wanted to show you how much they appreciate everything you do around here. Plus, it makes a nice change from funerals.”
“I don’t do anything. Nothing to warrant wasting all this… on me.”
Jack looked over at Kate, who was laughing. “Told you so,” she said.
“Are you freaked out?” Jack asked.
“No. Just… confused.”
“If you want to be less confused, stop thinking so hard. That’s always been your problem.” Sawyer walked up to them and handed Sayid a beer. “How come you don’t have a drink yet, birthday boy?”
“Thank you, Sawyer.”
“It’s my pleasure. So, how old are you?”
“How old are you?” Shannon dragged Sayid away from the leering Sawyer and into a corner near the exercise equipment.
“Did you do all this?” Sayid whispered in Shannon’s ear.
“It was my idea, but everyone pitched in. I mostly just coordinated. Do you like it?”
Sayid watched as everyone around him milled around having a good time, marveling in the idea that he was the reason. He had never experienced anything like this before. “I do. Thank you, Shannon, although I still do not know why you---”
“’Cause I love you, obviously,” she quietly interrupted, and then blushed bright red and hurriedly continued, “I mean, we love you. Everybody loves you.”
Sayid started, and had to blink back sudden tears. It was too much. The party, all these people, all this attention, and now this. It was the first time she’d said it to him, and probably, he had an inkling, the first time she’d said it to anyone, so he understood when Shannon immediately changed the subject.
“Here, you have to put this on.” Shannon strapped a piece of paper shaped like a cone with a string attached to the bottom to his head.
“I do not understand,” he protested. He tried to take it off, but her hand stopped him.
“It’s part of the ‘conditions’,” she whispered. “Sawyer said he would only help us out if you wore this. And here.” She poured him a large glass of Dharma whiskey. “You need to drink this.”
“Is this also part of the conditions?” he asked, baffled.
“Yeah. Just roll with it, okay?”
At least one thing was normal: things still weren’t normal. Sayid felt as though he’d been ‘rolling with it’ since the day of the crash. He gulped down as much as he could. “I hope that is all that is required.”
“I think so. Now let’s go have some fun.”
Sayid thought he could manage that.