What's In The Eyes
I no longer stayed at the Forman’s every night for dinner. It had begun that day that Eric had finally come out of his stupor. At that point I had actually been eating with the Forman’s every night. But that night would be the last.
I was really going to try to make amends with my father. I knew without any doubt and with complete certainty that he couldn’t be – that I wouldn’t let him be – forgiven him for his negligence, but I had begun to realize that that didn’t mean our relationship was severed permanently. He hadn’t given up, so I couldn’t give up on him.
Surprisingly, though, it was Steven who made me realize that. Of course we didn’t have that big emotional conversation that you read about in books or see in movies (although I desperately would have loved that). But one afternoon when my father had called the Forman’s to make sure I was there, after Kitty had left the room, I had given Steven a big eye roll and he had just shrugged and said one, just one thing: “At least he tries, unlike my absent dad.” And of course there was that undertone of bitterness that went everywhere with him.
And with that one sentence I had not only realized that he was right, but that I had acted like a normal teenager should act about their dad – rolling my eyes at his overprotective gesture.
So, I took Eric’s return as my cue to go. Although, I would still spend every day at the Forman house, now it was just until it was time for dinner. Then I would go eat with my father. And anyways, most the time after dinner I went back to Eric’s basement. Although most of the day was spent with just Steven, after dinner Fez came over and Eric occasionally came downstairs too, and I could be surrounded by all my friends.
Yes, my friends.
And yes, of course, at first dinners with my father were immensely awkward. We had very little to talk about. He would ask me about my day, and I, having been raised in a way that I kept my private life just that, private, I did not easily open up to him. And in turn, I would ask him about Mom or about his work and he would do the same, obviously having something to hide. So I figured that if I gave a little, he might do the same. It was worth a shot.
“Jackie, what did you do today?” my father started his standard speech as we sat down at the dining room table. Lena had prepared a steak and mashed potatoes meal tonight.
My normal response would simply have been just that I had been hanging out with my friends, and to give some sort of generic response with it. Maybe it would be that I watched a certain episode of Three’s Company which would spark a comfortable conversation about the lives of imaginary people that had no reserve for ourselves whatsoever.
Not tonight however.
“Let’s see. This morning I hung out with my friend Steven. We went to the place he works at, called the Foto Hut and we developed some pictures and packaged them for the customers. And this afternoon my other friend Fez got off from work early, so the three of us went to the Hub and ate some fries and just hung out,” I shrug.
I could tell my father was shocked. His eyes had widened slightly and his jaw had stopped working the food that was currently in his mouth. After a moment he swallowed and then he was the one who shocked me.
“And Eric? He’s your other friend right? The one who was seeing Donna?” despite his attempts, I could still hear the slight disdain in his voice as he said Donna’s name.
“Eric doesn’t come too all that much. He’s pretty torn up about Donna being gone,” I explain.
My father doesn’t say anything for a long moment. “And you…” he starts. Then he looks down before continuing. “And you feel the same way about Michael Kelso, I presume.”
Suddenly there’s a bitter taste in my mouth. Both from the thought of Michael and from the certain smug satisfaction my father would feel when I told him what I did next.
“No,” I clip. “I am entirely done with him.”
To my surprise, this does not entice the reaction that I had suspected. Instead his features soften. “I’m sorry, honey.”
Quickly growing uncomfortable, I use this as an opportunity to make headway in my original investigation. “And you and Mom? How do you feel about her?” I ask, trying not to look down. “Torn up about her, or completely done with her?”
“Neither,” my father squints his eyes and looks at me. “You make it seem like I’ve completely lost her.”
“Well, I just thought…with her in Mexico,” I begin.
“You know how I feel about her and me?” he asks. I don’t say anything, so he continues. “We’ll make it out of this together,” he pauses. “Letting go isn’t the only option.”
I purse my lips. That may be true. In his case, and hopefully in the case of Eric and Donna as well. But sometimes letting go was what you needed, especially if you had been holding on for too long. Because in my case, I was letting go of something that was no good for me, or, I would admit, good for the thing I was holding on to. And also, in my case, letting go could bring you closer to something that much better.
Steven turns up the radio, and suddenly the familiar lyrics of Todd Rundgren filled the tiny room of the Foto Hut.
You and me in my GT, with those little red lights in front of me. When I go to Heaven, you know that’s where I want to be.
“Steven, turn off this crap. Or at least turn it down,” I complain.
“This is Todd Rundgren. It is not crap,” Steven turns to me. “You need to learn to think from me.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “You’re right. ‘Hello Its Me’ isn’t crap. But ‘Little Red Lights’ is pretty crappy,” I shrug.
“No. No,” Steven sighs. “Never mind, its time to go anyway,” he turns off the radio and we exit the small shop.
“At least I’ll admit that not all Rundgren is bad,” I say on the way back to the Forman’s.
“What about Zeppelin, The Stones, Hendrix?” he asks.
“Ah, well, I stand by my opinion with them. No thank y-” I am abruptly cut off as the car suddenly makes a loud bump on the road. Steven immediately slows down and pulls up to the curb.
“What the hell?” he says.
“Sounded like a flat,” I frown.
“Leo better have kept a spare in the back,” Steven gets out of the car.
“Wait, do you mean to tell me that you’ve had the car this long and you don’t even know if there’s a spare tire?” I get out of the car and follow him to the back.
“Crap,” he mutters before I get there, and I know that there’s no tire.
I look at the sky, no clue what to do. But how would I, when the fact that we were stranded hadn’t even fully been registered yet?
Slowly, I pull my gaze down from the sky to look at Steven, behind him I notice something, however.
“Oh, Steven. God, we’re stupid. We’re right by my street. Look,” I point behind him at the street I live on, not even one hundred feet away. “We can use the Lincoln’s spare, and I have the tools in the trunk to change it too.”
“I knew I’d find a use for you somehow,” Steven smiles teasingly, and I punch him in the arm.
“Jerk,” I say as we climb back in the car. Steven slowly navigates it to my house. I don’t have the keys to get in the garage, so we have to go through the house.
“Your dad hasn’t noticed anything missing from the wine cellar?” Steven asks as we head into the kitchen. The house is quiet. My father is at work and this was Lena’s day off.
“Oh, I forgot about that,” I remember when I had made drinks for him, Eric and Fez. It seemed like years ago, but it had just been a month ago. Time flies.
I reach into the fridge and grab us two sodas. “Sorry, my dad doesn’t drink beer,” I explain, handing him the glass.
“It’s cool,” he says, taking the glass.
I think back to our conversation before the tire incident. “And I do actually like Rundgren,” I say abruptly.
“Oh, sure,” Steven says disbelieving.
“I have Something/Anything?” I tell him.
“Yeah? Prove it,” he says, still not believing me.
“I don’t believe this. Follow me,” I lead him out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
I open the door to my room and reach down into the bottom drawer of my desk pulling out a handful of records. ABBA is on the top. Steven snorts.
“Here,” I stand, showing him the Rundgren record.
Steven takes it from me, glancing at it, then me. He puts his soda down and then walks over to my record player. He puts it on.
“You still don’t believe me?” I raise my eyebrows as ‘I Saw the Light’ begins to play.
“Alright, I concede,” he holds up his hands. “You were right.”
I walk over to where he is standing by the player. “Never thought I’d hear those words,” I tease, bumping him on the shoulder.
“Ha ha, now are you going to give me your tire?” Steven asks.
“Hmm, its going to cost you,” I pretend to think.
Steven raises an eyebrow. “Two can play at that game,” he says and then he leans his face down into mine.
The kiss starts light and teasing, but quickly speeds up to its usual intensity, hot and heady and I wrap my arms around the back of his neck. He places his hand around my waist. His lips are soft against mine, and I taste his sweet, breath, now so familiar to me.
Steven walks me over to my bed, and he leans down on me over it. I pull my hands through his curly hair, down his neck, his shoulders, his arms, his hands. His hands. His hands are still around my waist, and incidentally one of them slips underneath the hem of my shirt, just barely, but I quickly begin to feel my own hands tremble. I don’t know if Steven notices, but he quickly takes that same hand and moves it to cup the back of my head instead.
After a moment, however, I realize that I don’t mind, and when his other hand accidentally slips beneath the hem of my shirt, I quickly grab his arm and hold it in place. But then I pull him closer, and his hand moves all the way up the back of my shirt, and I can feel the light pressure of his fingertips against my bra strap. And I do, I want this. I just kept falling for Steven Hyde more and more every day, and I want this, but this time I can’t stop the trembling.
“Jackie,” he says in-between kisses. And then again. “Jackie,” he pulls away slightly. “We’re not going to do anything, okay? Nothing you don’t want.”
He slips the hand out from my shirt and the one from my face an instead slips them behind my back – on the outside of my shirt – and hugs my shoulders. It brings us closer, but in a comfortable, kind way, like he’s hugging a teddy bear. Like I’m his teddy bear. I hook one of my legs behind his knee and I reach one of my hands forward and slip off his sunglasses. I place them beside me on the bed. Steven stares at me unflinchingly, his light colored eyes, open and honest.
And I realize now, while seeing his eyes so close to my own, why he wears the sunglasses. He always worked so hard to remain cool and confident, showing no emotion that could be used against him. But his eyes…in them I could see all the things he would never admit to aloud and in them I could see all his vulnerabilities. The truth – his truth, and in his eyes he couldn’t hide it. And his truth combined with who he always pretended to be, I looked at his eyes and realized that they were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
“You might not realize, but I can change a tire,” I hear Steven’s voice behind me.
I turn away from the car and look up at him behind me. “Do you like changing tires?”
Steven shrugs. “It doesn’t bother me.”
“But you see,” I stand up and wave my greasy fingers in his face. “I love changing tires. In fact, I love all things related to cars. I helped Red with his Toyota once.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Steven says grudgingly. “Fine, finish changing the tire.”
I spin away from him and lean back over the tire, ready to pull off the flat and switch it with my spare. “Wait a minute,” I spin to look at him again. What do you mean you remember?”
“I was there,” Steven gives me a blank stare. I must look really confused because he continues. But the truth was, I knew he was there. I just wanted to hear how he remembered it. “I was talking to Red about Edna. I thought we were alone, but then you popped out from under his car. It was freaky. You were the last one I’d suspect to coming rolling out from underneath a car all full of grease.”
“I remember that,” I point at him and begin to laugh. “The expression on your face when you saw me…that was funny.”
“Well, like I said. You are so annoyingly girly,” Steven says defensively.
“You did not say that,” I point to him again. “And see you’re wrong. I like cars too.”
“Okay, whatever,” Steven says. And then when I don’t move, he continues. “If you don’t fix it, I will.”
“Fine,” I turn back to the car. “Mr. I Don’t Understand How People Can Live Outside of their Stereotype.”
“Alright, enough of that,” Steven whines. “I’m sorry, okay?”
“I wasn’t all that bothered by it,” I stand up again, having finished. I reach for a rag and wipe off my hands. “After all, you really don’t know how to live past your stereotype.”
That gets to him. I give him a wicked smile, I couldn’t stop it, and then I had to cover my mouth so that I wouldn’t laugh. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks.
I throw up my hands as if dismissing it. “I don’t know. Just that you’ve got the whole burnout thing down to a science. The sunglasses, the stash, the government conspiracies…” I tick them off on my fingers as I put my tools away. “And see, you thought I was only that pathetic cheerleader who was naïve and innocent. But as you now see,” I hold out my hands in front of me as if to display my life. “I also have family problems. I can fix a freaking car all by myself. And my best friend and boyfriend ditched me, so I had no friends, at least not for a while,” I tack on the last part, because it was no longer true. I had friends now.
I finish pulling the last of the equipment away and I open the passenger door. Only now do I make eye contact with Steven. “Do you remember when you called me a square? And then, after I tried to show you I wasn’t, that same night you asked me if I wanted to suddenly become a burnout?”
Steven says nothing. He just gets into the car. I knew he wasn’t into much talking, but I knew he was listening by his tightened jaw.
“You see, I figured it out then. All that you could see and understand in this world was those stereotypes. People fit one category only and it’s impossible to be multi-faceted. I figured it out because you put me in one stereotype, and when I did one small thing that didn’t match that label, you thought I wanted to change myself completely. But that’s where you’re wrong. People can be multiple things. It’s not all black and white. There’s gray, and there’s color.
“And that’s what made me realize, although it took a while, the difference between you and me. Now, I may have gotten stuck with the annoying and demeaning ‘cheerleader’ stereotype while you had the cool, brooding ‘burnout’ one. But I was better off than you because I knew that those labels are nothing of substance, while you lived true to yours completely. I may have had the bad stereotype, but unlike you, at least I wasn’t held down to it. So in reality, who was the square?”
Steven didn’t apologize. But then, I didn’t expect him too. It wasn’t in his nature, and in all reality, I didn’t think he needed to apologize for something he hadn’t realized he’d been doing. And he was who he was, and I couldn’t ask him to be sorry about that.
But I could tell that he thought he was supposed to apologize. He’d grown incredibly quiet, and not just on the drive back to the Forman’s, but for the rest of the day. So I kept trying to start a series of our typical banter. And when that didn’t work, I just climbed on his lap and started making out with him. And that, he was still cool with. And as he pulled me over him, I began to wonder if the reason he liked this so much is because he didn’t like using his words to express his emotions.
Because, I was probably imagining it, but Steven’s kisses seemed lighter than before, more full of thought, and yet, if it made any sense, they were deeper. And I was losing myself in him, and all there was left in the world was our lips, and every point in which his body touched mine was fire; a strange mix of a fire of passion and a fire of comfort and belonging. And I was falling, falling, falling for Steven Hyde. And I couldn’t stop it, but I didn’t want to stop it either.
“Steven? Jackie?” I hear Red’s voice from the top of the stairs, and then one solid thump as he began down the stairs.
I pull myself off of Steven, and pull myself all the way to the other side of the couch and hugged the armrest. I closed my eyes. I was dizzy and thought I felt the room spinning, and my head was light and my pulse was racing. But all I wanted was more of Steven, because something in my bones said he was right.
Besides all that talk I had made, I understood where Steven was coming from, and even believed some of it myself, although I’d never admit it. But I think he could tell. And in a strange way, he understood where I was coming from too. And I think now he accepted it, but not in a way that he thought I was a hopeless, worthless case, but that whatever I was, it was okay. And something told me that he could help me and I could help him in our unfavorable ways.
Red finished down the stairs and walked over to Steven who had hopped over to his now fixed chair.
“I need your help,” he said to both of us, and I might have been imagining it, but it looked like he was giving us a knowing look. “Okay, Kitty’s birthday is coming up. And Eric and I mess it up a lot,” Red admits, clearing his throat uncomfortably. “I’m throwing her a surprise party since we all know she loves those so much.”
“She sucks at throwing them,” Steven says at the same time I say, “That’s so sweet, Mr. Forman.”
“Yeah, well. We won’t suck. And that’s why I need your help. God knows I can’t rely on Eric,” and Red does something that I can only describe as an eye roll. “Now Jackie, I know Kitty had put you in charge of setting up Steven’s surprise party.”
I glance over at Steven before looking at the ground. “Actually, well, she put me and Fez in charge of it. But we just fought the entire time and got nothing done. Donna decorated the party,” I admit.
“That’s why I’m asking you to work with Steven to set up the party. You two are always fighting, so you’re already used to it,” and this time Red definitely gives us a knowing look. He smiles impishly. “I assume this won’t be a problem for either one of you?”
I try to play it low-key and just act really excited. “I’ve always wanted to plan a surprise party. Well, you know, one where the surprise is actually a surprise,” I say, earnestly excited.
Red pauses, bemused. “Steven?”
“No problem Red. Whatever you need me to do,” he says curtly.
“Alright. Her birthday is one week from now. Next Friday. So plan on the party for that Saturday. The first weekend of August.”
Red disappears up the stairs.
“Oh, you know what we should do?” I say, already getting ideas. Steven comes and sits next to me on the couch again. I grab his arm. “We should have an ice cream bar. Like, build your own sundae!” I say excitedly.
“Red’s up to something,” Steven says quietly, deep in thought.
Annoyed, I slap him on the arm. “Yeah, probably,” I shrug. I knew exactly what he was talking about. “But who cares? Its Red. He certainly doesn’t care.”
Steven still appears to be in thought. “Oh, come on. We need to do this for Mrs. Forman. Focus on that. She took you in and treated you like a son. And this summer, she basically took me in too. We owe her. Big time,” I plead.
“Okay, okay,” Steven makes a face and holds up his hands, probably trying to get me to relax already. “But not right this minute okay? We have all this week.”
“Fine. But hear me now. I’ll be damned if we don’t throw Mrs. Forman the best surprise party she’s ever seen,” I cross my arms.
Steven turns his head to look at me and gives me a teasing smile. “Well, that won’t be too hard.”
“You’re so mean,” I say halfheartedly, bumping my shoulder against his.
“Come here,” Steven tilts his head.
I sigh, but then I sit on his lap anyway. I cup his face and my hands and lean in. I stay there for a moment, just treasuring it, all of it. Then he laces his hands behind my back, and I realize that this, just this, is enough. So I just give him a quick peck on the lips, then lean my head against his shoulder and I turn my attention to the TV.
“Thanks for fixing my car,” Steven says after a moment.
I smile to myself. In those five words was more than that, and I could hear it. It was that apology he needed to get off his chest, and his telling me that yeah, he didn’t care that Red probably knew about us. And it was his way of letting me know that really, it was all okay.
And that’s the thing about Steven that was drawing me closer to him every day, every moment, every second. Because those words coming from his lips was his unique way of communication, and I had a feeling I understood it better than most. Because I knew what else those words meant, and that they meant a lot more coming from him, than say, Michael. He didn’t say much, but he was human like the rest of us. You just had to know how to look.
And maybe the way of looking was through a pair of aviator sunglasses.
“Oh, you forgot these,” I pull out his sunglasses and hand them to him.
And of course, he takes them without another word, but yet he didn’t need to say anything, for I knew. I knew what he was saying by the simple fact that he just tucked them on the hem of his shirt instead of wearing them, at least for now.