The Renewal

Don't Go Back

Steven and I began to hang out together all the time. We had been doing that all summer, but until now, we hadn’t admitted to ourselves that spending time with each other was all we really wanted to do. But now I went to places he wanted to go, and he even put up going with me.

Fez had picked up even more shifts at All That Glitters in an effort to grab Stephanie’s attention. They were already dating, but Fez was incredibly insecure about their relationship. And Eric…well, he was still in bed, leaving Steven and I by ourselves most of the time. And as I had already begun to realize, despite all his no-nonsense, cold-hearted attitude, Steven and I had a lot of fun together, and the more time I spent with him, the more I fell for him.

Besides spending most of the time in the basement watching TV and making out, we did some other things as well, after finally coming to the mutual agreement that spending all day down there could get incredibly boring. So we played lots of basketball, and made even more last-ditch efforts to get Eric to come back from the dead. However, even these activities all revolved around the Forman house, and so we decided we needed to venture out.

Thankfully, about three days after coming to this conclusion, Leo returned from wherever he had disappeared to for almost two months (even Steven didn’t seem to quite know where he’d been), and re-opened the Foto Hut again. So Steven started to work a couple hours during the week. He invited me to tag along, so I went to help him sometimes.

“So, Leo,” I ask him when we arrive one morning. “Where’d you go anyway?”

Leo turns to face me, his ignorant face splashed in confusion. “Who wants to know?”

I hand Steven the pile of albums that I had alphabetized for him. “You sound just like Steven.”

“Who’s Steven?”

I glance at Steven who turns to look at Leo. “Me, man. Hyde. Nobody calls me Steven except for Jackie and the Formans, mostly.”

“Who are they?” Leo still looks confused.

Steven points to me. “Jackie…”

“Oh, loud girl’s Jackie,” Leo shakes his head. “I’m putting the pieces together, man.”

Steven just shakes his head and turns to the customer who pulls up at the window.

Leo then teaches me how to develop the pictures and he and I work on that while Steven then takes them and puts them in the envelopes in-between delivering photos to customers. It’s actually a lot of fun, and Leo tells me and Steven some of his stories about God, dogs, some guy named Theo, and his time in the photo printing industry. I’m not entirely sure if any of these stories are true, but they’re entertaining enough.

“Oh, and then my dog got high once. Man, that was a weird experience. So I smoked a joint and then everything was cool again,” Leo tells another story about his dog, Dr. Zhivago.

Steven laughs. “Okay, that one’s actually true,” he tells me. I give him a questioning look and he explains himself. “I was driving Leo in his car and we got pulled over for a tail light, I think. Anyways, Leo was holding a paper bag of dog food, but he thought it was his stash, and he basically said as much to the cop. But he had switched the bags and his dog ate his stash.”

“Oh my God, no way,” I turn to Leo. “Did you get in trouble?”

“No, the occifer had nothing on me,” Leo shakes his head.

“It’s officer, Leo,” Steven corrects him.

I finish developing the last of my pile of pictures. There is a small line-up of cars now, so I begin to put them in the envelopes for Steven. Then I put them in the crate with the others. They are no longer in alphabetical order.

“Steven!” I groan.

He glances away from the customer, who was currently shuffling through his wallet. Steven sees what I’m looking at. He just smiles. “Sorry doll,” he shrugs before returning to his customer.

I re-order them in alphabetical order again. By the time I finish, Steven has gotten through three more cars.

“God, you’re a mess,” I slide the bin across the counter to him.

“Take me as I am, or don’t take me at all,” he mutters.

“As is, I suppose,” tease him.

“Good choice,” he nods in approval.

“Jerk,” I sigh.

I step toward him, ready to kiss him, but then another car pulls up. Steven groans. “Hang on,” he says, pushing past me for the pictures.

I look out at the customer. It’s Bob. Bob Pinciotti. And he’s staring at me wide-eyed. And I have no doubt in my mind that he saw mine and Steven’s almost kiss.

I grab Steven’s arm behind me. I didn’t remember seeing Bob’s name anywhere on that list.

Steven turns and faces the window. “Bob?” he says nervously.

“I came for the pictures I sent here before Leo disappeared. They’re mostly of Donna…” Bob says to Steven, before glancing back at me. “Hello Jackie.”

I feel my face redden and get very hot. “Mr. Pinciotti,” I nod.

“Hyde…” Bob says now. Steven has found his pictures and lamely hands them over. Bob takes them and hands Steven some cash. “What are you two…never mind,” he shakes his head.

Steven hands him back the money, clearly trying to ignore what he just said. “Don’t worry about this Bob, it’s on me.”

“Alrighty,” Bob shifts his car into gear. Then he glances back at us. I feel like a deer in the headlights. Wide-eyed and frozen. I hadn’t move since he’d gotten there, except to get Steven’s attention. “You know what, I saw nothing,” Bob smiles and nods. Then he drives off.

Steven turns to me, a goofy smile spreading across his face.

“What?” I can’t help but smile too, but I don’t know why.

“Come on, that was hot,” he says.

“What?” I say again. “You’re gross, you know that?”

“Take me as is, or don’t take me at all,” he says again, stepping towards me.

“As is,” I sigh, but I’m trying not to laugh. Steven kisses me first, wrapping his hands around my waist, and I cup mine behind his neck.

“Whoa, you’re dating loud girl now, Hyde man?” Leo asks, dumbfounded. “That’s weird.”

“Yeah, I am Leo,” Steven looks at him. “And my thoughts exactly.”

One day I am able to convince Steven to come to the mall with me. He’s insistent that there was no way in hell he’d ever go shopping with me, but I finally managed to convince him that there would be no shopping involved. The purpose of this expedition was solely to spy on Fenton and get a feel for him ourselves, since neither of us were certain of Fez’s depiction of this guy’s ‘character.’

“The leather pants thing…he could just be into tacky fashion, like you,” Steven says.

I glare at him. We’re sitting in the mall food court, and its quarter to one, fifteen minutes before Fenton’s shift was supposed to start, at least according to Fez.

“Or maybe he’s just a conspiracy nut, like you,” I shoot back.

Steven shakes his head. “I don’t think so. He could be obnoxious and loud. If that’s the case, you two should get along very well.”

I think of a quick response. “If he’s a fan of obnoxious and loud music, than you two will get along nicely.”

“Not me, you’re the one who likes ABBA,” Steven finishes the burger I bought him. I haven’t yet finished mine.

“But you like Zeppelin, ACDC, The Rolling Stones…” I explain.

“Your point?”

“THAT music is loud and obnoxious,” I shake my hands in emphasis.

“No. Never mind,” Steven shakes his head. “Just finish your burger so we can go.”

Instead of responding, I quickly finish off my burger and then I’m leading Steven across the mall to where this guy Fenton works. When we see the entrance to the lingerie store however, I realize that we have no plan.

“Um…” I say, we stop walking a good distance from the store so that Fez won’t see us from next door. “Here, I’ll go in and see if I can find out which one is him.”

“Okay, good, and then you can come back out and we’ll spy on the store in that empty kiosk,” Steven points to it where it is standing about ten feet away from the entrance to the store.

“Good idea,” I say, and then I turn toward the store.

Inside, I immediately grow sick to my stomach. The store is filled with lace hanging in every corner and smells sickly of jasmine and honeysuckle. There is cheesy elevator music playing softly. There are several women walking around through the items, and I even see one man. This store is about as tacky as they come. No wonder that Fenton guy spent as much time as he could next door.

All four employees are standing at the check-out counter, and two of them are men. I can see that they are all wearing name tags, the shiny oval pins tied to their shirts, but I can’t read them from here.

I decide I need to get closer, but I’m not sure how. After a moment, I know the inevitable. With a heavy sigh, I grab the closest item to me. I’m not even sure what it is, but I know that its covered in lace, like everything else, and some fake, scratchy silk.

I hurry to the counter and get in the line of one of the two guys. When it’s my turn however, I see that this guy’s name tag spells ‘Derek.’ I look down at my feet, disappointed.

“Oh miss did you know that there’s a buy two, get one free sale?” I hear the cashier say, and I look up to respond that that was quite alright, but then I notice that it’s the other cashier speaking to his customer.

I try to make out his name tag. ‘Fenton.’ Bingo. “And might I suggest, the purple would go great with your skin tone,” he adds.

Ugh. I try not to barf at this guy’s intrusiveness. My cashier hands me my receipt and I bolt out of the store carrying the bag at arm’s length.

Once I step out of the store, I make a mad dash for the garbage bin. But Steven comes up from behind me out of nowhere, and begins to steer me towards the empty kiosk.

“Wait, wait,” I say, annoyed. I toss the bag in the garbage bin. “Disgusting. I can’t believe I wasted my money on that.”

“Yes, because its not like you have a bottomless bank account,” Steven grabs my elbow and leads me toward the kiosk now. “Oh, wait. That’s exactly what you have.”

“Never mind that, going in there made me feel gross,” I say.

I look around. No one is paying us any attention, so I decide the best way to get into the kiosk would be to just walk right in. I push past the swinging ‘door’, Steven right behind me.

“Well, sorry about that,” he says earnestly. “But did you find which one was him?”

“Yes,” I say, ducking down and out of sight. Steven remains standing, so I pull him down with me. Then I point to a small opening revealing just the one store. “Okay, so he’s the cashier standing closest to us at the window,” I say. “He’s an ass, by the way,” I add.

“What?” Steven asks, either annoyed, or just not following.

“He’s an ass. He was trying to suggest what one customer should buy. What an invasion of privacy – ” I start.

“You don’t think,” Steven interrupts.

“That he’s a sleaze? Yes, in fact, I do,” I nod my head. “Absolutely.”

“No, no. That he’s gay?” Steven says.

I whip my head to face him. “Oh my God, yes,” I realize. “Yes, that makes sense.”

Steven looks amused, and we focus our attention back through the tiny opening to spy on Fenton. We watch as he picks up one of his customers purchases and admires it before holding it up to himself.

“Oh, I’m going to be sick,” I pull away. Steven’s face has disgust written all over it. I bury my head in his shoulder. “Wait…you don’t think he likes Fez, do you? And that’s why he’s doing this whole leather pants thing?”

“I don’t know. Maybe,” I feel Steven’s chest move up and down as he breathes, and I try focusing on that to get the image out of my head. “I still think he’s just trying to get Fez in trouble” Steven falls silent. A moment later he speaks again. “Wait, Jackie, look,” he taps my shoulder. “He’s leaving.”

I glance up, and watch as Fenton exits the store. Then he disappears from the view of our small opening. Steven slowly lifts his head up, and I do the same. Sure enough, Fenton is heading straight for the jewelry store.

“Hey, kids, what are you up to?” says a voice from behind me.

I tense, and I see Steven do the same.

“Well?” the voice says after a long moment. I turn and look at the man standing behind us. He’s wearing a uniform. He sighs. “Come with me.”

Steven drops his head to his chest, and I feel my heart fall into my stomach. After a moment, I stand. Steven snaps his head up and looks at me with surprise. Then he stands too.

The mall cop directs us to a corner of the mall with a small door that reads ‘Employees Only’. He ushers us in, and we find ourselves in a dark room, the kind that you see in movies with tons of television screens displaying grainy black and white footage of the entire mall. One of the screens near the bottom is not displaying a live feed, but rather a single image, as if the feed has been paused. In it, you can clearly see the empty kiosk with a dark haired girl and curly haired boy crouched in it.

Steven must notice it at the same time that I do, because he sighs heavily.

“Now,” says the cop. “I brought you here instead of arresting you so that I could show you this image,” he walks over a points to the frozen screen. “We watched you two for about five minutes, and this is basically all that you were doing. You didn’t steal anything, so I’m going to let you try to give me a reason for me not to arrest you.”

I immediately step forward. If I knew anything, it was how to shift the attention off of myself and make others look bad in that place. And in this case, it was to tell the truth.

“See, we have this friend who works at All That Glitters. And one of the employees from the lingerie store next door was giving him a hard time, so we decided to investigate,” I say quickly. Then it was time to shift the attention from me. “And he was right. This guy not only gives him a hard time, but all his customers too. He invades their privacy and makes them uncomfortable and – ”

“Jackie,” Steven says, stopping me mid-breath.

The cop stares at us, long and hard for a moment, although it feels like years. After what seems like decades, he pulls out a notepad and pen from his breast pocket. He glances between me and Steven a few times before finally speaking.

“I’m going to need the name of your friend and the name of this guy who works at the lingerie store,” the cop says.

“Our friend is Fez, and the other guy is Fenton,” Steven responds.

The cop scribbles the names on the notepad. “Alright, you’re not in trouble. But I am going to have to ask you to leave the mall. And,” he adds quickly. “If your story doesn’t check out, I better not find you two at this mall again.”

With that final sentence, I see Steven’s body lose some of its tension, and I automatically do the same. The cop walks over to the door and opens it for us. “I’ll see you two out,” he says.

The cop follows us back through the mall and walks us all the way out to Steven’s car. He watches as we pull out of the lot.

“I hate cops,” Steven says. It’s the first time either of us speaks since we were in that office.

I roll my eyes. “Not your government conspiracy stuff again,” I frown.

Steven doesn’t say anything. I can tell that he is angry at having conceded to a cop, a mall cop no less.

When we stop at a light I scoot across the seat and sit next to him. “At least we might’ve helped Fez,” I rest my head on his shoulder.

“I should’ve known. Doing good things for other people never ends well,” Steven says.

With that, however, I know that he is loosening up again. He always denied it, but he usually did what he could to help his friends when it really mattered. Like when Eric found himself torn up about Donna going to the hotel with Casey and Steven pulled the fire alarm all night.

I sit back up. “You’re a good guy, Steven Hyde.”

A few days later, Steven and I are just getting back to the Forman’s after working at the Foto Hut, when Steven stops me suddenly on the way down to the basement from the backyard.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a wad of cash. I watch in confusion as he counts out some bills. Then he holds them out to me.

“What’s that?” I ask pleasantly.

“For the Foto Hut,” Steven shakes it in front of me. I haven’t taken it. “Leo paid me today.” When it becomes clear that I’m not following, Steven sighs and gives me a look that says I was being ridiculous. I shrug. “I’m giving you your portion of the money…”

“What?” I ask incredulously.

“Look, don’t argue with me. Leo and I both agreed that you deserved some cash for all your help,” Steven grabs my arm, but I quickly close my fist so he can’t put the money in it.

I look down at my fist. I had closed it instinctively. I smile inwardly. I was really changing. Just last month I would have accepted any money held out to me. But now I knew that there was no way I could take this money. It wasn’t right.

“And that’s just what it was. Help. I just wanted to help,” I tell Steven, pulling my wrist out of his grasp. “Look, I have plenty of money. I don’t need anymore. I. Just. Wanted. To. Help.”

“Jackie…” Steven starts.

“And,” I add with a smile. “You can use that extra cash to buy me something nice,” I pat him on the shoulder and give him a quick kiss before pushing past him and heading down the stairs that led to the basement door.

“You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?” he says as I open the door.

I shrug. “It’s what I do best.”

I pull off my purse and place it next to the record player. Then I look up.

“Eric?” I say, shocked to find him sitting on the couch watching TV.

When he sees me he rolls his eyes. “This is my house. Don’t act so surprised.”

“Forman,” Steven says approvingly, heading for his now fixed chair. I take the lawn chair. “What brings you back to the world of the living?”

“Work,” Eric yawns.

I take in his white t-shirt and see that in his right hand is clutched his PriceMart smock.

“Red,” Eric adds.

“Did he put his foot in your ass?” I ask, nodding.

“Yeah, I bet he’s missed doing that, huh Forman?” Steven adds.

“I thought I’d lost my job,” Eric looks distant. “But then Red decided, why not torture Eric some more and force him to keep his job?” Eric holds up the fist holding his smock and shakes it before dropping it back in his lap. “He gets me every time.”

“Was it hell?” Steven asks him.

Eric says nothing.

“Forman?” Steven asks. Eric still doesn’t respond. He just stares straight ahead at the TV, although I doubt he actually sees what’s on it. Steven stands up. “I’ll be back. Make sure Forman doesn’t like, fall face first on the ground, or anything,” he tells me.

I nod, and he gets up and heads back into his room. He returns a moment later with his stash. “Forman needs a Circle.”

Moments later the three of us are in the Circle. After my first puff, as the room explodes into color, I begin to think about how we haven’t had a complete circle in a long time. It was usually just Steven, Fez and I. And now that we had Eric, Fez was MIA.

“You know,” Eric says passing the joint to me again. “We’re over halfway through the summer. Soon Donna will come back for senior year and I can apologize to her profusely and all will be well again.”

I exchange a wide-eyed look with Steven as I reach over and pass him the joint. “Um, Eric, you know, maybe things would be better if they didn’t go back to the way they were before,” I suggest, but I don’t tell him the truth about Donna. She still needed to do that herself. Even though I had just puffed, the subject matter was causing the effects of the high to fade fast. The basement was feeling small and ordinary again.

“You should be happy, Jackie,” Eric smiles wobbily. “Kelso will be back soon too.”

“Are you kidding?” my voice cracks. “I’m so done with that loser.”

The mention of Michael causes Steven’s expression to sour. “Forman, you need to pull yourself together. Even if Donna and Kelso come back, things won’t revert back to the way they were before. You can’t go back in time, man.”

The high was definitely gone. In its place I feel a headache setting itself in the back of my head. The joint is almost gone, and I see the high fading off of Steven’s expression too. And then Eric’s.

Eric’s smile falls into a frown. “All I can do is hope, Hyde.”

About a week after our adventure at the mall, Fez finally says something that suggests that he’s been confronted by the cop.

Steven and I are downstairs in the basement, making out since there was nothing currently on TV. Eric was at work, and Fez was too. Or so we thought.

“Ooh, candy!” I hear the familiar foreign voice echo from the kitchen.

My eyes fly open. Steven’s are already open. I pull my face away from his. “What?” I start, but then we hear the door from the kitchen open, and Steven quickly pushes himself off of me and I quickly pull myself into a sitting position.

“Ah, my friends,” Fez says when he arrives at the bottom of the stairs. He goes to sit in the lawn chair, a bag of candy by his side. “It appears you two have been hiding something from me.”

I don’t say anything. Neither does Steven. I’m frozen. I again feel like a deer in the headlights. I remember how Bob knew about Steven and me. Had he told someone, like the Formans? Had Fez overheard?

“Hello? You told someone about Fenton?” Fez says. “What did you think I was talking about?” He asks, confused.

Steven clears his throat. “Just that Fez,” he nods. “That guy is a creep.”

“Yes, well, he won’t be bothering me anymore,” Fez nods. “He got fired from the lingerie store.”

“Wait, seriously?” I turn my body to face him. “Thank God.”

“Yes, well. The mall police said that my short friend and frizzy-haired friend had brought Fenton to their attention, so I figured it was you two.”

“Frizzy-haired?” Steven quirks an eyebrow. I suppress my laughter.

“Well, I wanted to just say thank you before I go. I have a date with Stephanie tonight,” Fez smiles widely as he stands up. “Good night,” he says as he heads out the basement.

Steven and I both mumble our good-byes, and as soon as Fez is out the door, I’m pulling myself onto Steven’s lap, and he’s pulling my face towards his, his hands tangling in my hair. I wrap my arms around his neck, pulling myself as close to him as I can. I part my lips against his, feeling our warm breath mix, the moment giving me a high greater than any joint could.

As we kiss, I think about the Circle we had with Eric. How he so desperately wanted to go back into time and revert to the way things were before. And how Steven said you couldn’t do that; you couldn’t go back into the past.

And for the first time, I find that I am truly happy that you really couldn’t go back into the past. You may not always like the changes that occur, but all you can do is try to make yourself a better person because of it. Its when you fail to do that, like in Eric’s case, that you truly then wish that you could go back in time. But if you try really hard to become better, then you need not to go back to the past, just to use it to help you grow.

And, did I grow.

I had become more self-confident in myself, and self-respectful, which had consequently led me to treat others better as well. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the things of my past that had kept me from becoming that better person. So never in a million years would I want things to go back to the way they once were.

And I felt more alive than I did before too. I had a new appreciation for the little things in life. And I felt things I hadn’t known existed before. In the Before, I had just been sliding by in life content with whatever I settled with. But now, especially with Steven, I suddenly found myself surged with feelings I hadn’t known existed, and I wondered how I could have once lived in a time without such dynamic feelings.

Yes, I had grown. And yes, I was a better person because of it.

And no, I’d never go back.

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