The terrified pregnant girl is talking so fast that Hurley can barely understand her, so he squats beside her in the wreckage-strewn sand and tries to calm her down. Regrets spill out of her mouth: why she was even on this plane, what was she thinking, going to Los Angeles. She must have been crazy.
Her blonde hair falls into her face. He wants to brush it out of her eyes, but doesn't dare.
The polite way to put it is that he's a big man. Husky. Stocky. The truth is he's fat, huge even, but for once he's glad for his broad body. It creates a spot of shade for her to shelter in. The relentless sun makes high noon in LA seem dim.
This tall, fit guy in a dark suit told him to keep an eye on her. Jack, that was his name. Jack has given him a watch, one of those silver ones with clean lines which costs thousands of dollars.
Hurley's supposed to use the watch to time the girl's contractions, whatever that means. Instead, he just clutches it like a talisman as the pregnant girl keeps talking.
Behind him, he overhears Jack tell someone that he's a doctor. Doctor Jack, huh. That explains a lot.
He wonders if the cut on her chin hurts. Just as he's about to ask her, Jack heads for them, arms waving, screaming at the top of his lungs, “Move! Move!”
Hurley looks up. A burning airplane wing bends to and fro, ready to topple right onto himself and the girl. As if faced with an intricate sum, he puts two and two together: Jack screaming, the helpless girl crouched before him, the blade about to slice them all to shreds. Hurley hesitates, worried that he might hurt the baby if he yanks her straight up. A cold voice from deep inside says that if he waits any longer, there won't be a baby, and nothing much left of him, either.
Praying that he doesn't screw this up, Hurley takes a deep breath. Despite her pregnancy, she's light, and it takes almost no effort to move her. Doctor Jack grabs her other arm, and the two of them drag her away as she stumbles over her Converse sneakers.
The explosion numbs Hurley's ears. When it's over, Jack stands in front of him, gesturing towards the pregnant girl and shouting. The whole crash site has filled with roaring white noise, or maybe it's just his ears.
Jack's meaning is clear, though. He points at the girl, emphatic, and his words break through the confusion.
“Stay with her.”
"Dude, I'm not going anywhere," Hurley answers. His lips move but he can't hear himself.
Nor can he hear her cries. She makes them, for sure, because her small pointed face twists up in fear as she grabs that huge belly which looks ready to pop any second.
He lies in the sand, which still shakes from the explosion. Or maybe it's just him doing the shaking. Jack's command pins him to the beach like a spear.
Stay with her.
* * * * * * * *
When he gets back, she's still sitting where he left her, poking her stomach over and over in that weird pregnant-woman way. He rests on the other side of the wheel and it sinks under his weight, but luckily doesn't tip over.
She doesn't take the water bottle at first. Instead, she holds out a hand covered with dirt and scratches. "I'm Claire. We didn't get properly introduced earlier."
"Yeah," he says with a weak laugh. "Explosions and all." He almost says his name, his full real name. It hangs right on the tip of his tongue, but he hesitates. Instead, the nickname tumbles out, even though he doesn't mean for it to. "Hurley."
He doesn't take her hand, because he's too busy staring into the blue ocean of her eyes, and besides, his hands are full of water bottles. By the time she takes one, and he juggles the other from his right hand to his left, she's already pulled her own hand back.
I. Am. Such. An. Idiot, he thinks.
Politeness satisfied, she cracks open the bottle and guzzles the water, sucking and gulping as if there was none other in the world to be had.
“Take it easy,” Hurley says.
She laughs, embarrassed at her naked, uncontrolled thirst. When she hands him the empty, after a second's confusion he sees why. She has no bag, and even if that tight skirt had pockets, it's so full of baby and the rest of her that a water bottle would get squashed flat.
Claire says, “I guess we'll have to start a recycling program.”
For the first time she doesn't seem terrified. This confuses the hell out of Hurley, because now he'll have to talk to her normally. The casual back-and-forth between men and women is lost on him, always has been. It's not just unsatisfied thirst which swells his tongue two sizes too big in his mouth. Mutely he takes the bottle from her, drinks his own, then stashes both empties in his cargo pockets, lashed by a little flicker of pain as her attention wanders away from him.
Over her shoulder he sees tubs full of frozen airplane meals, probably not frozen anymore after a few hours in this sun. Weirder yet, no one's discovered them. People are still busy climbing over hot, shredded metal to get to the water.
“There's something I gotta do,” Hurley tells her, and the tire rocks to the other side as he gets up.
“Can I help? I mean, I can't just sit here.”
A few small fires still burn in front of the wreckage where the meals lie, and he knows from the restaurant how heavy pre-made food trays can be. “Nah, I got this.”
Claire gives him that smile again as the setting sun lights up her hair like spun gold. If he didn't think it was possible for her eyes to shine any more blue, he was wrong.
He lugs one tub after another from the wreckage, counting as he goes. Every so often he looks over at Claire as she stands where the shore meets the sea, just rubbing her belly.
At first Hurley wonders if that's some kind of special baby massage, but then he catches a glimpse of her stricken, anguished face. It's plain that she must not think anybody's looking at her as she covers her face with her hands.
He wants to rush to her at once, but a couple of guys want to know if that's airplane food. Pointedly they tell Hurley they were supposed to get served dinner right before the plane broke up. Claire moves on up the beach, taking with her the missed, fleeting moment. Hurley gives each guy a meal tray, then loads up a platter. If he keeps moving, a crowd won't congregate. Better that than a feeding frenzy.
All of a sudden it's dark, almost as if a light's been switched off. A few people have started fires, but not enough, and before he knows it, the beach is almost plunged into darkness.
Claire's not at the shoreline any more, leaving him in panic, afraid of failure and disappointment. Doctor Jack silently takes a tray from Hurley, then hands it to the cute brunette perched by his side. They're busy, it's obvious, wrapped up in each other and their conversation, so Hurley slips away.
There's Claire, over by a piece of burning wreckage, talking to some short guy with raggedy light-colored hair and this grimy tape stuff wrapped around his fingers. At least she's okay, so Hurley keeps passing out meals, trying to say something to each person. A few people offer their names, smile back.
The bald guy who's wearing the same shirt as him isn't interested in chatting. He grumbles at Hurley, then ignores him. Just another disgruntled customer, but that doesn't bother Hurley, because he's used to those. There are some people you just can't please, and the best thing to do is move right along to the next person.
It's fully night now. For the first time in his life, he sees above him great white swaths of stars, as if someone's sprayed milk into a vast sea of darkness. The brilliant swirls take his breath away. Every star seems alive, as they blink down on the chaos below.
What did that old astronomer on late-night cable used to say, “billy-uns and billy-uns of stars?” Hurley always thought that must have been hooey. It's true, though. Astronomer dude must have seen it too, maybe on some Pacific island somewhere with no lights, no cities, no airports, nothing but the jungle, the sea, and the arching, blazing sky.
As Hurley looks skyward, his feet keep moving on their own. He almost stumbles over Claire, wrapped in a dark blue airline blanket, sitting alone on a piece of pipe. The clear moment of transcendence passes, and silently Hurley curses his big feet, his clumsiness, his super-sized body that refuses to do what he wants, won't go where he wants it to go. Except behind the wheel of a car, that is, where he can slice through LA traffic unfazed, floating free of anxiety and racing thoughts. But there are no cars here, and he's stuck with his own two clodhoppers.
Why doesn't she have any food? Now Hurley's kicking himself inside, hard. Can't there just be one thing he doesn't mess up?
He's still got the doctor's watch in his pocket, which reminds him that he's also supposed to keep an eye on whatever baby-stuff she's got going on. But everything seems quiet in that department, and suddenly he's embarrassed to the point where he can't look at her. All along the skin of his arm and up the side of his face he can sense the temperature drop a few degrees. Not the air temperature, which is tropically warm, but the level of feeling in the gap between them, which suddenly seems as cool as the blackness between two distant stars.
Then something comes back to him, something he's heard his mother say when sitting around with his aunts, yakking up a storm about who just got married, who had to, and when was the baby due? Eating for two, his mother had called it. Eating for two.
So out of the depths of his embarrassment he hands Claire another meal, and this time he doesn't look away. Her gentle smile breaks out as bright as those overhead stars undimmed by lights or smog, and it's directed straight at him, unmistakable. He backs up, a deer caught in a pair of sweet blue headlights, then turns just in time to avoid stepping on a couple of people clustered around a small beach fire, a weak and inadequate one that won't last the night.
* * * * * * * *
Hurley ignores the chatter. Sure, that thing was weird and even scary, but right now he has something more important to worry about. He wedges wreckage into the ground, piling up sand behind it so it won't tip over. When he's done, he steps back to admire what he's made. As long as it stays dry, it'll serve as a passable nest. For her.
He hasn't been able to find any airplane blankets, though. Oh, wait, Claire already has one, which she got from the little, scraggly-haired hip guy, and a pang of disappointment shoots through him. As usual he's a day late and a dollar short. A sandy, torn airline pillow will have to do.
Claire beams at him when he hands her the pillow, brushing it off while he props up a few large pieces of luggage around the sheltering wall of the wreckage.
She laughs and says, “It's kind of like building a fort.”
“Yeah.” This time he manages a shy hint of a smile.
It was hard enough to find that pillow, and he hasn't gotten anything for himself, but he figures he can use his top shirt to cushion his head. Maybe worm himself into a place in front of one of the camp fires, where people have already started to settle down for the night.
"Where are you going?" she asks after he's rearranged the luggage for the third time, as he's gathering the resolve to struggle to his feet.
He shrugs, trying to appear nonchalant. "Far from the fuselage as I can get, I guess."
She waves her hand as if they were sitting in a coffee bar in Los Angeles, and not on the other side of the world. "You don't have to. Go, I mean. Look, there's lots of room.”
He sits down as quickly as if she'd pushed him with her small hand, instead of just using her voice.
Without waiting for an answer, she faces away from him, wraps herself in the blanket, and curls around the ball of her belly. Because he can't see her eyes, she seems to release a little of her fright. “What do you think that thing was?”
“I dunno. Animals, maybe?” In his mind he sees a black-and-white movie King Kong wrestling with a mini-Godzilla, before something even worse comes to mind. He fights with himself for a second or two, then blurts it out anyway. “You ever see Jurassic Park?”
“Who hasn't seen Jurassic Park?” She rolls over half-way, eyes big and anguished now.
Inside he kicks himself. Big feet, big gut, big mouth, what's next?
“You don't think—”
“Nah, I don't,” he lies. Who knows what scientists can do now, ten years since that movie came out? The whispering jungle could hold anything at all, even mutant dinosaurs made by crazy experiments. Dinosaurs that are on the loose. He doesn't want to freak her out, though. “Besides, if there were, why wouldn't they just scarf us down right here on the beach?”
Miraculously, it's the right thing to say. She gives him a little smile before rolling over again.
He just lies there and stares at the delicate curve of her shoulder as she breathes. Suddenly he wants to flee, but to get out, he'd have to climb over her, and he doesn't trust his clumsy feet. Or worse, he'd have to step over her head, and that would take him past a trio of women sitting a couple yards away. They watch him and Claire with intent, glittering eyes.
So he wedges himself back up as far as he can against the cool metal, trying not to touch her. His big stomach betrays him as it slopes to fill the hollow of her back. She's over-estimated how much room there is, but she doesn't scoot away.
Too soon she breaks the sweet contact by shifting over onto her back. She starts that belly-poking thing again, pressing here and there, then gives out a long sigh.
Panic seizes Hurley, because there are worse things than dinosaurs or mastodons in the night. She might be having the baby right now, right here, and a touch of fear laces his voice. “What's wrong?”
Despite his jangling nerves, he likes the way she says his name, Huuhh-ley. She stretches out the first syllable a beat longer than he's used to. “You, um, English?”
“Australian.” She sounds suddenly weary, as if she wants him to leave her alone.
The responsibility Jack laid on him won't go away, though. “You sure there's no, uh, baby stuff going on?”
“I'm fine,” she says, suddenly sharp.
He doesn't believe her, but has no idea what to say, what to ask, or what he'd do if he got an answer. Claws of fear scrabble at his throat.
So Hurley closes his eyes, measuring his breathing the way they taught him in the hospital, reinforced in outpatient therapy. Back in LA, anxiety like this would spur him to a long drive up and down Santa Monica Boulevard, or a bout of late night TV with a family-sized bag of potato chips and a pint of sour cream-and-onion dip. But there are none of those distractions here. Only the comfortable sand, the pounding surf, and Claire's soft breathing as she finally drifts off.
Exhaustion wins, drawing Hurley into sleep as well.