The Renewal

What's Changed and What Remains the Same

It had been ages since I’d been in the Vista Cruiser. But, when Eric, Steven, Fez and I left for the airport, Eric had been insistent that we take his car. We had all argued that it would have been easier for Eric to sneak out unsuspected from his parents if we had taken my car, but Eric wanted to drive, so the Vista Cruiser it was.

“I feel…like a new man,” Eric grins as he steers the wheel.

I roll my eyes in the backseat. “Eric, you were never a man to begin with.”

“You know, Jackie, normally I’d let that comment get to me, but tonight I’m like, so happy that I don’t even care,” Eric grins. Talk about annoying.

“Yeah, well, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be going,” I cross my arms. Out the window I see a sign that indicates we are nearing the airport.

“Uh…how is that, exactly?” Steven glances at me.

“Well,” I flip my hair. “Eric, you would’ve been too chicken to do this if Donna hadn’t called. And I was the one who convinced her to call you.”

“Okay, Jackie. Whatever you say,” Eric writes me off. I reach forward and hit him in the back of the head. “Ow, Jackie!” he says accusingly.

“Don’t you mean ‘thank you Jackie for your help with Donna’? If so, then, you’re welcome!” I say ubër cheerily.

Eric ignores me now and pulls into the airport parking lot.

“So this is an airport,” Fez says dreamily from the passenger seat.

“You don’t have them where you’re from?” Steven asks him as we all get out of the car.

The night air is cold, even though it’s August. I shiver and yawn in spite of myself. The airport was pretty far from Point Place, and it had to be almost eleven o’clock. I wouldn’t get home until after midnight. This had been a long day. Had I really gotten manicures with Kitty just this morning?

The three of us walk Eric to the well-lit building in the distance, bustling with thousands of people carrying bags. Reuniting with loved ones. Or leaving them. I wonder how Donna will react when she sees Eric. Will she refuse to see him? Or will all their past indiscretions be forgiven and they will start over? I guess I’d find out soon enough.

“Alright guys. I guess this is as far as you can go,” Eric points to a sign once we enter the building.

“What is that?” Fez asks suddenly, pointing to one of the large conveyer belts that handle luggage.

“See you soon Fez,” Eric hugs his friend quickly, laughing at his confusion.

“Thanks again Hyde,” Eric pulls his brother into a huge bear hug before Steven has time to react to Eric’s so-called ‘gushiness’. “You have no idea what this means to me.”

“Yes, I do Forman. Now, let me go,” Steven makes a face as he pulls himself out of Eric’s grasp. “God, stop acting like this is the last time we’ll see you.”

“Well, you never know,” Eric smiles. “This is a one-way ticket. Maybe I’ll love California and never return.”

“Good, then I can have your room,” Steven deadpans.

I use this as my opening and grab Eric around the shoulders, surprising him with a bear hug of my own. “Have a safe trip Eric,” I tell him before letting him go. Eric gives me a look like I’m crazy. “You know, I can be nice, I just choose to be a bitch,” I shrug.

“All right then. Bye,” Eric turns without another word and heads off.

Eric had given Steven his car keys, so he drove back, and Fez took the front passenger seat, which left me to the backseat myself. It was now almost eleven thirty.

I stretch out across the backseat and lie down, using my arm as a pillow. I figured I could get some rest on the long way back to Point Place. I couldn’t talk to Steven with Fez here, and there wasn’t really anything I was dying to discuss with Fez, so I close my eyes.

I focus on the white noise of the tires rapidly spinning over the pavement. The occasional street lamp flashes through my eyelids, and soon the pattern becomes steady enough that I slip out of consciousness.

The sound of the cutting of an engine wakes me up. The sudden nothingness. No sound. No movement. No moving lights.

I sit up and see that Steven is parked in front of my house.

“What time is it?” I rub my eyes as I reach for the door handle.

“Uh, almost twelve thirty,” Steven glances at his watch.

“My father’s going to kill me,” I groan. “He knows Donna isn’t in town, so I have no explanation.”

“Do you want me to explain it to him?” Steven offers.

His offer comes as a shock especially after how he was acting this afternoon. But if anything, it just reinforced my theory about him. “No,” I say. Then I give a small laugh. “It will just make it worse if he thinks I’ve been with a boy all night.”

“More like three,” Steven chuckles.

“Not the point. Okay, good night,” I say.

“Night,” he says, turning in his seat so he can kiss me. I reach forward one hand to touch his cheek, and he grabs my wrist with his hand.

By the time I walk inside, I feel this renewed sense of purpose. Tomorrow might bring back Donna. I couldn’t wait to see my redheaded lumberjack friend again.

My thoughts are interrupted when I find my father sitting in the living room wearing his pajamas and reading a book. When I see him I stop short. I hadn’t thought he’d wait up for me. My parents never did.

“You better have an explanation as to where you’ve been,” he says sternly, putting down his book and folding his glasses in his lap.

“Helping a friend,” I say vaguely.

“What friend?”

“Eric,” I don’t hesitate.

I can tell he hadn’t expected my honesty. That, or he just didn’t have a clue what he was supposed to do.

“You’ve had me worried sick. You can’t just stay out past midnight without letting me know where you’re going to be. And really, I still don’t know what you were doing with that Eric kid. Jackie, you’re grounded…for a week,” my father stands up.

“You can’t ground me!” I shout. “I’ve been staying out late with my friends for as long as I can remember and you and mom never worried, let alone cared,” I say icily, getting worked up.

“Jackie, I told you I was going to try harder, so you should’ve known to at least call,” my father says, on the defense now.

“Oh, really? I was supposed to just know? Well, this is new to me too Dad, I don’t know what you expect unless you tell me,” I’m on a roll.

“Jackie,” he interrupts, taking a step towards me.

“And what about all those times in the past, huh? You never cared then, so why should I care now? Why should I give a shit?” I can’t stop, and my picture of him gets fuzzy as tears fill my eyes.

I don’t want him to see me cry. I don’t want him to know how much I really do care. I want him to know that I don’t need him, I never did. So I spin on my heel and without another word storm up the stairs.

All the progress we’d made…we couldn’t just forget about the past. It shaped us. I could handle myself. And my father needed to know that before we could truly make any progress.

I don’t bother changing. I just throw myself onto my bed and wait for sleep to come. It takes a long time, and it seems that as soon as I fall into it, I fall out, and the morning light is streaming through my window and my already chipped manicure is the first thing I see once I open my eyes.

I shower and change into fresh clothes. However, when I go to get my blow dryer out of the bathroom I remember that I left it in the bathroom downstairs when I was running late yesterday morning on my way to go out with Kitty.

Once I reach the bottom of the stairs, I begin to realize that something is off. For some reason I didn’t expect to find myself alone in the house. I thought my father would be here.

I head towards the first floor bathroom, shaking the sleep from my head. Why? Why did I think that?

I reach the bathroom and pick up my blow dryer. I glance at myself in the mirror. “Think,” I whisper to my reflection.

Then I remember, and its like I can see the realization flash in my eyes through the mirror.

I was supposed to be grounded.

I drop my blow dryer. It falls onto the tile floor and I watch helplessly as it cracks open. But I don’t care. I move back into the main house and run to the front door. Then I open it and walk out.

“I broke my blow dryer,” I tell Kitty once she lets me inside and she asks what’s wrong. Actually, there is a lot more wrong. My father. Steven. Donna. Michael. But all I can muster is how I broke some cheap, inanimate object.

I had to walk here, since I had left my car at the Forman’s last night. My hair was probably a frizzy mess now. “Could I maybe, like, borrow yours?” I ask Kitty.

She smiles sweetly at me. “Tell you what?” she says as we pass through the living room and head for the stairs. We pass Red who is sitting on his green chair enjoying some television. “I’ll fix your hair for you,” she finishes her statement as she leads me up the stairs.

“Thank you,” I say softly.

Kitty leads me to her bedroom and points for me to sit on a chair as she walks into her bathroom. She returns a minute later holding her blow dryer and hair brush. She begins to brush my hair and I just sit back and close my eyes.

After a few moments Kitty speaks up. “So, Jackie. I’m going to ask you again. What’s wrong?”

I don’t say anything for a long time, and its not until she turns on the blow dryer do I answer. “I’m grounded,” I say simply.

Kitty immediately turns it off. “You’re grounded,” she says. But she doesn’t ask the next question. She doesn’t need to.

“I’m here because he never cared before, so what’s changed?” I say, but I’m pretty sure Kitty isn’t really able to follow my train of thought.

“All right, Jackie. I know you have your reasons, and its not my place to judge, so I’m not going to call your father – ”

“He wouldn’t care anyway,” I interrupt.

“But, if he calls, looking for you,” Kitty continues. “I’m going to have to tell him that you’re here.”

“Okay,” I say, but only because I know that he won’t call.

Then we fall into silence again as she turns on the blow dryer.

After Kitty finished blow drying my hair and after I finished styling it I decide to head down to the basement because, let’s face it, that’s obviously where Steven and Fez would be.

And of course, that’s where they were, and they were playing cards. Looked like Setback. I walk over to where I left my sweater down here yesterday.

“Aye, diamonds is trump?” Fez looks at the card Steven puts down. “Diamonds, you are my enemy!”

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Fez,” I tell him as I check my sweater’s pockets for my car keys. They aren’t there.

“Well, they’re my best friend too right now,” Steven says. I sit down in the lawn chair to watch them play. “High, low, Jack and game,” Steven displays his cards in front of Fez. “I win.”

“Did you bid four?” I ask.

“Hell yeah,” Steven says.

“Why can’t we play Candy Land?” Fez whines. “That game is so happy.”

“Because Fez, Forman hides his cash in there too,” Steven explains.

“Speaking of Eric, have either of you heard from him?” I ask. They both shake their heads. “Hmm…I wonder if he’s seen Donna yet. Of course Donna hasn’t called me yet, so that’s probably a good sign. Or, it could be a bad one – ”

“Jackie. You in?” Steven is holding the deck of cards and looking at me expectantly…and annoyed.

“Uh, no. I’ve got to go find my car keys. I can’t remember where I left them yesterday,” I jump out of the lawn chair and climb the stairs to the kitchen.

I look around and eventually find my keys in the kitchen on the hutch behind the table.

“Bingo,” I grab them and turn to head back down the basement. Only instead I see Steven come into the kitchen. “Oh, hey. I found them,” I wave my keys in the air. “What are you doing?” I walk up to him and give him a quick kiss. “Well, I told Fez I came to get a snack,” Steven pulls me over to the fridge with him. “So I guess I better get one,” he says as he opens the fridge.

“Ooh,” I giggle. “How about this?” I reach forward and kiss him.

Steven doesn’t respond to my stupid joke, but he pulls me closer and wraps one of his arms around my back. I rest both my hands on his hips and the kiss deepens. And then all that’s left is me and him. Not the hum of the refrigerator or the fact that Fez was in the basement. I lose myself in him, with him, and everything is right.

I break the kiss, but neither one of us pulls away from each other. I need to tell him something. And he probably wouldn’t want to hear it, because it was how I felt about him, but I needed to tell him.

“Okay, look Steven,” I take a breath. “These last few weeks with you have been really dirty and really wrong,” I start, trying to think about how I can sneak in what I want to say before he can shut me down.

Steven raises his eyebrows slightly, annoyed from what I just said. Too late I realize I paused at a bad moment. “Jackie, talking is for people who have something in common.”

I wanted to hit him. He knew I was getting serious so he cut me off. I wasn’t personally offended, because I knew it was just how he was. He was uncomfortable with feelings and so he pretended he had none. Although, actions spoke louder than words, and if that were any indication, I knew he had emotions.

But not only that. He was also wrong. We had a lot in common, things that were less superficial than concepts like taste in music and fashion. We had similar parent issues for one. The same sense of humor. And I knew we had the same feelings for each other. I’d get him to come to terms with that eventually.

So for that reason, and for the fact that Fez was downstairs waiting for him, I just shrug and pull his mouth back to mine.

Things start to heat up again, but then I hear the sound of someone walking into the kitchen at the same moment Steven pulls away from me.

“Oh, good God,” Kitty says. Steven takes a step back. “You kids switch partners more than square dancers,” she says desperately. She shakes her head and glances between the two of us.

I wipe my mouth with my hand as though it would erase what she just saw.

“Um, no its not what you think!” Steven reacts a moment later. I look at him expectantly. “We’re not together.”

Then I look back at Kitty. “Then what is going on in my kitchen?” she says calmly.

Uh, good question. “Um,” I start. I try to think of something to explain that, but it quickly became clear that that wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to throw her off track. “Eric’s in California,” I blurt.

Success. With that Kitty quickly exits from the kitchen without another word. I feel bad, but at the same time relieved that Steven and I are off the hook.

I look back at Steven. He seems somewhat shocked. “Jackie, you just totally burned Forman,” I detect a smile rising at the corners of his mouth. “That is so badass,” he says as he reaches for me again, and once again we find ourselves making out in front of the fridge.

“Okay,” I laugh and reluctantly pull away after another minute. “You better get back to Fez before he sees us too. Just tell him you ate your snack up here.”

“Yeah,” Steven says slowly. “Okay.” Then he closes the door to the refrigerator and heads back downstairs.

Then I turn into the living room and brace myself for a lot of questions.

“You!” Red points to me the second that I walk through the door. “What do you mean Eric is in California?”

“I…I mean,” I falter. I wring my hands together thinking of what to say. “I mean just that. He went to go see Donna.”

Red turns away from me and faces Kitty who is standing near the keyboard. “Does he not understand that no means no?” he asks her.

Kitty shrugs and looks down at her feet. Red turns back to me. “Do you know how he got there?”

“He bought a, uh, plane ticket,” I say. No way would I tell Red that Steven bought it for him. Then he’d get in trouble too.

Red doesn’t say anything for a moment. He looks off into the distance. I can tell he is trying to keep his composure…he’d save his outburst for Eric. “When does he get back?” he manages.

I was at a loss. If I told him the truth he’d blow up for sure. But what other option did I have? “As soon as he gets Donna,” I say vaguely.

“And when would that be?” Kitty asks, seeing as Red is still fighting for control.

“I…I don’t know,” I concede. They both look at me expectantly. “It was a one-way ticket,” I say reluctantly. “But, but, okay Michael has his van, so, the plan is for them to drive back,” I improvise, hoping to make things better.

If anything, this makes Red’s face grow even graver. He’s a ticking time bomb. Maybe it was the mention of Michael’s name. He seemed to have that effect on everyone. What a loser.

“Okay, Jackie,” Kitty laughs nervously. “Come with me into the kitchen,” she grabs my arm, no longer laughing and we rush into the kitchen.

“What, what’s wrong?” I ask her. She begins to pace back and forth. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t’ve told you,” I say apologetically.

“No, no. It was the right thing to do. I just had to get you out of there. Red, he’s just,” she starts laughing again. “Well, he’s got a temper.”

I nod, not sure what to say. I lean against the wall after a moment, exhausted. “I just…I wasn’t supposed to tell you. I even told Eric that we’d cover for him.”

“Well,” Kitty frowns as she sits down at the kitchen bar. “I won’t tell him it was you, if that helps.” She looks up at me and smiles. “But if you told him you wouldn’t tell, then, well…why did you?” she asks.

For about half a second I can’t remember. But then I remember that about two minutes ago before all this drama with Eric, Kitty had seen me and Steven making out in front of her refrigerator.

I see her gaze widen a moment later as she remembers too. Then I see her eyes flicker to the refrigerator momentarily. I swallow.

“Oh, right,” she looks down. I glance helplessly at the door to the basement, eager to escape.

Kitty’s laughter starts up again, and breaks my focus on the basement door. Except its not her signature, nasal laugh, its more of a quiet, concealed chuckle.

“What?” I say quietly, at a complete loss.

“Well, I just think its so cute,” Kitty drawls as she stands up and walks over to me where I am standing by the telephone. “My little Steven has a girlfriend! One he has known for years, and when one summer they find themselves by themselves without their friends, they can come to terms with how they feel about each other. Oh, its like a love story!” Kitty jumps up and down.

I feel my cheeks turning red. “No, no, please don’t tell anyone Mrs. Forman. And I’m not Steven’s girlfriend.”

Kitty gives me a look that tells me I’m being utterly ridiculous. “How long has this been going on for?”

I don’t know why she is asking, but I decide to be honest. “About a month,” I admit.

“You’re his girlfriend,” she says matter-of-factly.

“No. Steven doesn’t want a girlfriend,” I argue.

Kitty gives me a sad look. “Look, Jackie. I may not be a teenager anymore, but I know how they think. Especially my kids, and I consider Steven my son. And if you’re not a girlfriend, that makes you a ‘fling.’ And this has been going on to long for this to be a ‘fling.’”

“But – ” I begin.

“And you two have known each other since you were little kids. Steven wouldn’t have a fling with you. He has flings with girls like that, like…that Chrissy chick. Or that other girl Kat. But he knows that he has to see you every day, because you both are part of the same group of friends. That would be terribly awkward if it were a fling.”

“Yeah, but for Steven this is just something to do over the summer,” I say. I don’t know when it became more for me than just that though. Something more than just something to do over the summer. And all I knew now is that I desperately wanted it to mean more to Steven too. But I was beginning to think that it wasn’t.

We could all feel the autumn approaching, and now our friends would be coming back too. Things would be back to normal. Maybe all of Steven’s comments that I had written off were really an indication that he was ready for things to come to an end.

“Okay,” Kitty shrugs. “But if that were true, if this is just something for him to do, then why’d he pick you? Why not any other girl in Wisconsin?” Kitty pauses, giving me a moment to think about it. “I’m telling you Jackie, Steven knew what he was doing when this started. You’re his girlfriend.”

I didn’t know what to say. She made sense, and I so wanted her to be right. But my gut told me otherwise. I give her a shrug and a weak smile and then move toward the basement.

It’s a lot more peaceful down here. Steven is in his chair, Fez in the lawn chair, so I happily lay my body across the couch. I lay on my back and cover my face with my arm. From where I am lying though, I see that Steven is reading a magazine before I cover my eyes, and behind me I hear Fez eating candy.

“Okay, here’s the deal with Eric,” I say without removing my arm from my face. “I told Red and Kitty that he bought himself that ticket so we don’t get in trouble, and that the plan is for all three of them to ride back in Michael’s van. I don’t know if that’s what they actually plan to do, but that’s what I told Red in attempt to curb his anger. That’s the story.”

“Wait, you told Mr. Red and Ms. Kitty?” I hear Fez ask. “Why?”

I drop my arm and see Steven staring at me, wide-eyed. “Um,” Steven starts. “Because, uh, when I went up there to get a snack I tried to sneak some beer and Kitty caught me. Jackie threw her off track though.”

“Oh,” Fez, says unsuspecting. Then I hear the crinkle of his bag of candy behind my head once again.

I re-cover my eyes with my arm and try not to think. Unfortunately, the only sounds in the room are Fez’s candy bag and Steven flipping through a magazine. So my mind quickly wanders. I think about my dad pretending to care. I think about my absent mother. I think about how my dad’s in trouble at work. I think about telling on Eric, after I had so confidently told him that we’d cover for him. I think about Red’s outrage. I think about Kitty finding out about me and Steven. I think about how she thought we were cute. I think about how I want to be with Steven, not just as a ‘fling.’ I think about the end of summer and how that could change everything once again. I think about how I don’t want it to change.

I sit up suddenly. “Steven, do you have any film?” I rub my eyes as they re-adjust to the lights. “Can we please have a Circle? I know there are only three of us. But I can’t stop thinking.”

I’m sitting up now, but I’m curled in the fetal position and I still have my eyes covered. I want to stop thinking. I need to stop. It only made me stress more, which in turn caused me to blow things way out of proportion and make problems much worse than they really were.

“Fez, go get my stash, it’s in one of my boots,” I hear Steven say.

“But why can’t you…oh, never mind,” I hear Fez stand and walk back towards Steven’s room.

After a moment, I feel hands wrap around my wrists and they pull my hands away from my eyes. Then I see Steven standing over me, with his gaze behind me on his room, watching for Fez.

“Hey, you’re okay,” he whispers, then leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. Then he pulls back and let’s go of my wrists before sitting back in his chair.

I feel so weak and awful, and what Steven just did makes it even worse. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t need to. What he had done was enough, but that made me more confused about everything.

Fez returns a moment later with Steven’s stash, and a few minutes later we are in the circle, and I can see the pain and confusion drifting away.

“Let’s make a toast,” Fez says. “With this Circle.”

“A toast to what?” I ask and Fez shrugs.

Steven nods and his next words send a chill down my spine and all of a sudden this stuff isn’t strong enough to hold back the pain.

“A toast,” he says. “To the end of the summer.”

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