The Signs of the Past
“Party aside,” I sprawl across the couch. “What are you going to get for Mrs. Forman?” I ask Steven.
He’s lying on his back on the couch across from me, staring at the ceiling. He glances over at me. “No clue. I was hoping to ask for your advice on that.”
We were trying to plan Kitty’s surprise party. We had come over to my house so that we wouldn’t have to worry about her overhearing anything. But now we were just lying around lazily on the couches in my living room, at a complete loss. Unlike what Red had predicted, Steven and I hadn’t fought too much over this party. Probably because it was really pretty simple. In fact, all the plans were done, and it was only Wednesday. We’d pick up everything we needed tomorrow at the Piggly-Wiggly, and now all that was left was her gifts.
I tried to think of something for Kitty. But my mind quickly began to stray.
“I wonder why people always come to me for gift ideas,” I think out loud. “Donna did, for Eric’s seventeenth birthday. And then you came to me for what to get Donna for Christmas. I actually suck at gift ideas…I mean, I told Donna to get Eric a freaking candle.”
“What?” Steven asks. “I don’t remember asking you for help with Donna.”
“I mean, a candle,” I continue, baffled. “Oh, and you did. Don’t you remember? You had like, six dollars. And you said it was for a friend. But it was so obviously Donna. That was so cute. You were so flustered. Or, un-Zen, as you would call it.”
“Crap,” Steven mutters. “I forgot I did that.”
“Did you really have a thing for Donna?” I ask, curious.
“Not really, I guess I was just jealous of Forman,” Steven admits.
I have a feeling he’s still high from the Circle with Fez this morning before he went to work. It was the only explanation as to why he would be so talkative.
I roll over on my side and stare at him. “Jealous?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“I’m the dirtbag who everybody assumes is immediate trouble. So yeah, I was jealous that Forman got Donna…and that Kelso – " he stops abruptly. “Why the hell am I saying this?” He shakes his head. “Okay, I’ve really got to cut back on the Circle.”
“You won’t,” I say.
“Oh, we both know I won’t,” he parrots.
“What were you going to say about Michael?” I ask him.
Steven just shakes his head. Then he sits up and shakes his head again. “Come on. I need to do something. Let’s go bowling.”
I smile, forgetting about my question. “You don’t hate bowling.”
“So?” Steven asks, making a face as he stands up.
I stand up as well, and continue to smile. “You don’t hate me.”
“What? Of course I don’t hate you. I may find you annoying but I don’t hate – ” he stops abruptly, and I can tell by the way his face falls slack that he knows exactly what I’m talking about. “Let’s go,” he puts his arm behind me and pushes me to the front door.
I know he knows, but I push it anyways. “Remember Labor Day? When you took me on that date?” I start.
Steven ruffles my hair. “Alright, grasshopper. Enough of the past.”
“Well, excuse me, but I’d never actually been bowling before,” I say the next day as we walk through the aisles of the Piggly-Wiggly. Steven was pushing the cart and I was picking up all the items that we needed as we passed them: potato chips, ice cream, birthday candles, paper plates, etc.
“Which is what made it so frustrating,” Steven groans.
“What? Why?” I frown as I throw in a box of plastic silverware.
“Because you were good at it,” Steven continues to push the basket forward.
I laugh out loud. “Are you kidding? You still beat me.”
“Not by much,” Steven continues ranting.
“So what’s your point? You can’t honestly expect me to suck on purpose.”
“My point is that someone who goes bowling for the first time and has to sanitize their freaking bowling ball each and every time should not be that good. And that’s why you’re so annoying,” Steven explains.
I roll my eyes. “I thought I was annoying because I like ABBA and disco and am really loud.”
“And because you’re rich and shallow,” Steven nods.
“Hey!” I say defensively. “What’s that supposed to mean? I am not shallow.”
“Says the girl who went back to dating Kelso after he cheated on you with his best friend’s sister.”
“You sure have a lot to say about that now. Now that Michael’s gone, you have the balls,” I see a balloon kit and make a bee-line for it. Perfect.
“Hey, when that idiot was cheating on you, I tried to get him caught. Remember Vanstock? I told you to surprise him…and I tried to get you and Laurie talking. Hell, I think at one point I told Kelso that he should tell you."
I put the balloon kit in the basket and avoid looking at him. I couldn’t believe he’d done those things, but then, I know he did. We freaking sang “Three’s Company” on the way. But it made me feel like a bumbling idiot for having strung Michael along for so long…and then again.
“Hey, what’d we say about the past? I don’t want to drudge up my indiscretions either.”
“Fair enough,” Steven shrugs. He peers into the basket. “Don’t you think we’ve got enough? How much money did Red give you anyway?”
“Oh, no!” I pull Steven’s arm, dragging him and the basket into the next aisle over.
“What? What now?” Steven asks impatiently.
“Mrs. Forman was in that aisle,” I point.
“What?” he just says.
“God, you’re slow,” I say annoyed. “She can’t see us or the stuff in our basket. And I have extra cash if we don’t have enough.”
“Huh,” Steven sighs. “I’m going to need to get some stronger stuff to keep up with you.”
I give him a look, and then inspect the spatulas on display at the end of the aisle. I carefully keep my back positioned toward Kitty so that she doesn’t notice me.
“And by the way,” I add, just to get under his skin. “Those bowling balls travel under the ground before returning,” I say pointedly. “And something tells me that whatever you guys do when you go bowling is much worse.”
“Right you are,” Steven gives me a winning smile. I laugh, besides myself.
In my periphery I see Kitty move. She wheels her basket into the next aisle down instead of ours.
“Alright, she’s moving in the other direction,” I say, back to business.
Steven looks relieved. “Alright, we’ve got everything except gifts. Let’s get out of here before she sees us,” Steven turns the basket around and wheels it to the front of the store where the registers were. I have to run to catch up with him.
Once we get back into the Camino, Steven expresses his hunger.
“Let’s go to Sizzler,” I suggest. Steven nods as he begins to pull out of the parking lot. And I can’t help myself. “Remember when I convinced you to hang out with me at Sizzler after Michael and I broke up the first time?”
“Jackie…” Steven warns.
But I press on. There was something I needed to know. “Do you? Do you remember, though?”
“Yes. Okay?” he sighs. “You got the raspberry Jell-O,” he adds huskily.
That was the answer I was hoping for. I scoot across the seat and kiss him on the cheek.
Because that night we went to Sizzler, Steven had told me I’d find someone great. And his answer now told me that I finally did; I’d found someone who was great.
Red also left it up to me and Steven to make sure that Eric would come to the surprise party. Red had convinced Kitty to go get some groceries, and then Fez and Bob had arrived. Bob looked clean-shaven and showered, but there was still a haunting sadness in eyes his from missing Donna. Fez, on the other hand, was on cloud-nine, having come here after a date with Stephanie.
And now we were trying to get Eric. Steven and I recruited Fez to help us in this ordeal. We decided to use the guilt trip method.
“Come on, Forman,” Steven knocks Eric’s limp body on his bed. “Remember last year? You forgot your mom’s birthday. And when you did remember...you got her some brochure from the gas station.”
“Yes, you owe her Eric,” Fez agrees with Steven. “She has been too good to you.”
“Not only that,” I say with sass. “But you should even be happy that your mom is in the picture. My mom’s gone to Mexico, Steven’s mom ran away, neither of Fez’s parents are here, and Donna had to go find her mom.” I cut myself off abruptly. That sounded more bitter than intended.
“Alright, fine,” Eric sits up in his bed, his eyes glazed over and his hair sticking up at an unnatural angle. “But I don’t have a gift for her.”
“Oh, Eric. Just your presence will be enough of a surprise for Miss Kitty,” Fez says sweetly.
“Alright, Forman get dressed and meet us downstairs,” Steven stands up and Fez and I follow him out of the room downstairs.
Eric does join us about five minutes later. He doesn’t look too much better. Besides his clean, wrinkle-free clothes, his hair and facial expression were still pretty dismal.
Red had set up bowls of potato chips and pretzels, plates of cheese, crackers and watermelon and other various food items that Steven and I had picked up from the store and Red himself pulled out lots of various drinks and placed them at the bar.
Remembering how Red had asked me and Steven to plan the party made me think, again, that he might have his suspicions about us. And then with a shock, I remembered what Bob had definitely seen at the Foto Hut. And then I became conscious of how close Steven and I were standing as we waited for Kitty to get home. In reality, it wasn’t very suspicious if you didn’t know to look, but there was Red and Bob. And Fez…well, he at least still thought we hated each other.
“Hmm,” I say in an undertone. “I should go talk to Fez…or something.”
Steven doesn’t say anything, but I was certain he knew what I meant, he moved over to where Eric was sitting on the couch and sat next to him.
“Hey, Fez. How’s Stephanie?” I ask him, trying to make light conversation.
The doorbell rings and Red goes to get it. Everyone freezes momentarily before realizing that it couldn’t be Kitty ringing her own doorbell. It was just a couple nurse friends of Kitty’s that had been invited.
“Great,” Fez smiles dopily. “We’re going to the drive-in tonight.”
“And that guy, Fenton?” I ask subtly.
“He got fired from the lingerie store,” he flashes me a grin, but then it quickly fades. “But he still comes to the jewelry store to harass me.”
Crap. Our plan had backfired. But at least he wasn’t being a pervert to customers anymore. I turned back to Fez, ready to make a vague comment about how that was one of the many reasons I was glad I didn’t have to work anymore, but then Red, who had been sticking his head through the curtain whispers that Kitty was pulling up the driveway.
We all find a place to hide. I, being the smallest, get stuck hiding behind the coffee table, which did a shoddy job of even hiding me.
But nevertheless, the surprise worked flawlessly. Kitty walked into the living room from the kitchen, and before she had time to even take in her surrounding, our small group jumped out from behind each corner shouting ‘surprise’ in the voice of celebration.
“What’s all this?” Kitty put her hand over her chest.
Red, who had been hiding behind the bar walks over to his wife and wraps his arm around her shoulder. “Just consider this compensation for last year.”
“Oh, Red,” Kitty smiles sweetly at him, and then turns to the rest of us. “Thank you all. I don’t know what I did to deserve all this.”
We all pay her our compliments, nothing she didn’t deserve, because, Kitty…she really was one of the most giving people I knew. She deserved this more than anyone I knew.
When it came to gifts, I grew excited. Whether or not gifts were for me, I was always excited to see what people picked to give others. I hope that she will like my gift.
Kitty’s nurse friends all got Kitty one big gift. They bought her a brand new nurse’s uniform and instruments, such as a stethoscope, thermometer and blood pressure cuff. I thought it was kind of a shoddy gift. Why give someone a birthday gift that was for their job?
Bob’s gift was slightly better, but not by much. He bought her a cheesy figurine of two seahorses kissing, apparently one from a series in which he had started giving them. Kitty pulled out the one he had already given her, a dust covered figurine of two dolphins kissing. Kitty gave Bob one of her uncomfortable laughs and temporarily placed the two eyesore figurines side by side on the coffee table.
By the time Fez handed Kitty a small gift bag in which she pulled out a bag of candy, I was beginning to think he had given her the best gift so far.
“I’ll go next,” I jumped up after Kitty thanked Fez. I hand Kitty an envelope and tell her that the present is inside.
Kitty pulls out the card I bought that morning, but that wasn’t the gift. The gift was in the note I had written. I had told her about all she had done for me that summer, and at the end, I wrote that my gift to her would be to pay for us to get a manicure and pedicure together.
“Thank you Jackie,” she holds out her arm, and I lean in to give her a hug. “And I will definitely take you up on that offer. Next weekend sound good?”
I pull away. “Perfect.” Then I stand up and move to sit on the piano bench.
Steven hands her his gift next, but looks really nervous doing so. He sits next to her on the couch. We all watch as Kitty slowly pulls a small folded piece of paper that looks like it has been decorated by a five year old with colored pencils.
Steven clears his throat uncomfortably. “When I was six they made us make our mom’s cards one day in school. I never gave mine to Edna, but you deserve it more anyway,” he shrugs nonchalantly.
I cover my mouth, suppressing a squeal. That was the sweetest, most remarkable thing I had ever seen anyone do. I would so be talking to him later. It was just so…personal, something I had only just barely began to associate with Steven.
Kitty pulls Steven close and whispers something in his ear that make his cheeks turn red. I cover my mouth again, about to squeal from all this cuteness.
As if what Steven gave Kitty wasn’t enough, Red then topped off the gifts with the real shocker: a diamond necklace. It was simple, a single diamond dangling from a delicate gold chain, but it was beautiful, and the fashion queen in me couldn’t help but notice that the necklace could be worn with anything.
“Wow, Mr. Forman. You’ve got a great sense of style,” I tell him.
Red gives me a look that tells me he has no interest in what I have to say. I just shrug at him as if to say “Well, it’s true.”
We celebrate with cake and ice cream, and slowly the party began to dissipate. Red and Bob went outside to the garage. Kitty and her nurse friends began to talk about their work, so Eric, Steven, Fez and I all went downstairs to the basement. Since there were four of us, Steven wasted no time in starting up a Circle.
“Ah…now this. This feels right,” Steven nods, very Zen as he passes along the joint. “A full Circle. Well, except for Kelso I see Jackie.”
“At least I’m not stupid like Michael,” I defend myself.
“Yeah, well you’re annoying,” Eric says eating a lollipop.
“Yes, Kelso is gone, and you haven’t gone with him,” Fez frowns.
I purse my lips. “No, instead Donna went with him,” I say getting pissed off. “Whatcha going to do about it?”
“This stuff isn’t strong enough,” Steven looks at the joint. Then he shrugs and moves it to his mouth anyway.
I roll my eyes. Then Eric begins to make a noise I can only describe as blubbering. Somewhere in the mix I hear him say ‘Donna.’
Apparently Fez hears it too. “Ah, way to go Jackie. Now you made him cry.”
“Well, to be fair, Forman is a whimp,” Steven shrugs. “And Forman. You know the rules. No crying in the Circle.”
I nod. “Yeah. You don’t see me crying over Michael. In fact, I enjoy making fun of his sorry ass. Anyone got any embarrassing stories?” I look expectantly at the three of them.
Eric stops his blubbering and momentarily thinks. Then he nods his head. “When you broke up, and he wrote a song for you, some of the original lyrics were ‘I didn’t mean to cheat but she forced me.’ But that might actually be true. Laurie had that kind of power over him.”
Fez speaks up next. “He once had a fantasy about the future and Red got to go into space,” Fez smiles dopily at the memory. But then his smile quickly fades. “Aye, but I was a robot butler.”
I look to Steven now. He gives me a wry smile. “He cried like a freakin’ baby in the Circle when you broke up with him.”
“Yes!” I hold up my arms in victory. And then the high hits me and I begin to laugh at all these stupid stories about Michael. And I laugh, laugh and laugh. And I’d never felt better.
I never actually do confront Steven about his gift for Kitty. I never intended to make fun of him, I just wanted to tell him what a sweet gesture it was, but being the way he was, I didn’t think he’d appreciate that. And if anything, I did not want to make Steven less inclined to do sweet, personal and emotional things.
However that did not stop me from talking about it to Kitty. When the next weekend came and I took her out for manicures and pedicures, I was desperate to ask her about it, but I didn’t want to reveal to her my interest in Steven. However, to my delighted surprise, she brings him up first as we are talking about her gifts.
“And Steven,” she gives me a small smile. “He’s such a sweet boy. You wouldn’t know it, but Steven does have a soft side, and is quite vulnerable.”
I listen attentively as we sit side by side at the salon. We had already gotten our manicures done and were now sitting in reclined seats as we got our toes done. We had gotten a matching peach color for our fingers and our toes we were having painted bright red.
After a moment, I move forward and ask her a question. “If you don’t mind my asking, what did you whisper to him? It made him blush.”
Mrs. Forman smiles giddily. “He probably wouldn’t want me saying this to anyone,” but then she shrugs. “Oh, well. But you have to keep it secret. I just told him what a great son he was. Because he is my son.
“Jackie, Steven has trust issues and does not want to depend on anyone, or open up to anyone. He does for me, and I do not want to betray his trust. And I’m only telling you this so that you know that you should not make fun of him for this. I know you kids all have a good time ranking on each other. But just stay away from that subject, okay?”
“Oh, of course, Mrs. Forman,” I say, feeling slightly guilty for something I hadn’t even done.
“You’re a sweet girl Jackie,” Kitty taps my hand with hers, conscious of both our nails. “And thank you for your gift too. While yes, Laurie is my daughter and I love her very much, I do wish she liked me as much as you do.”
“Well, let’s just put it this way. You’re a lot better than my own mother. But I’m sure Laurie loves you. And I know Eric does.”
Kitty frowns slightly. “Well, I just wish Eric loved me as much as he loves Donna. This is one of the last summers that I’ll have with my son before he goes off on his own and…” she drifts off. After a moment she waves her hand dismissively. “What are we doing? This is supposed to be fun. Let’s stop talking about such depressing stuff.”
I agree, and we launch into a conversation about jewelry. But in the back of my mind, I had an idea brewing.
Although I had adapted and had actually come to love the way things had turned out after the Renewal, I realized that there were a lot of other people who had been impacted by it, just as much as I had. And in all reality, I had come to accept that Donna wasn’t coming back and I would be glad to never see Michael again. But for many other people, they were still stuck in the rut of thinking this was all temporary and couldn’t move on because of it. Another change needed to be made, not for me, but for others. A change that required putting aside the past and starting over. And that involved those two certain people.
But that was okay. Because I knew that no matter what happened, I had changed for the better.
Returning to the Forman’s later that afternoon reinforced this idea, and erased any of my own qualms. I had changed. And I wasn’t the only one.
When I went downstairs to the basement, I found Steven sitting by himself. Fez was probably at work, but I thought that maybe Eric would have tried living again.
“Eric went back into hibernation?” I say disappointedly as I sit next to Steven on the couch.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Steven becomes alert to my presence. “Hey, you know how you know a lot about cars?”
“Yes, but – ” I start.
“There’s something wrong with the Camino. Will you check it out for me?” Steven asks.
Something about this gesture makes my heart skip a beat. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the gesture. Maybe its that he trusts me. Maybe it’s the openness of his expression as he looks at me waiting for an answer, and despite his shades I can feel his gaze rest contentedly on my eyes.
“Sure, but…wow, you look really worried about your car,” I say after a moment.
“Well, I mean…” Steven looks suddenly uncomfortable.
“Aww, it’s because your car is your baby, isn’t it?” I tease him.
Jackie – ” he starts.
“Which is kind of funny, considering that you were making fun of me for calling my car my baby not too long ago,” I continue anyways.
“Alright, will you look at the Camino or not?” Steven asks, having had enough.
I abruptly stop laughing and lean in to kiss him. He wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me closer deepening the kiss. After a moment I pull back.
He grins at me. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
And its him. Its Steven. He’s the reason I will find the courage to fix everything. He’s my reminder that I’ve changed for good. Because he changed too.