The Renewal

Our Better Selves

“So I have somewhere we can sneak out to, away from our friends, if you’re up for it,” I tell Steven the next day when we are down in the basement by ourselves.

“What do you mean if I’m up for it?” he asks.

I roll my eyes at him. “You know exactly what I mean. And in case you were wondering…its my house.”

Steven just looks at me with a blank stare. I sigh and shift the skirt of my dress so that I can face him. “This is the part you’re not going to like. I was hoping you’d come to my house for dinner too. See, my dad is making me come home for dinner every night now, and it’s going to be really difficult, so I was hoping if you came, it wouldn’t be so bad,” I admit.

“Yeah, okay. I can tell Mrs. Forman I have to go to work or something,” Steven nods his head. Then he leans forward to kiss me, but I lean back.

“Wait just one minute,” I say suspiciously. “I expected more of a protest. What’s up?”

“Jackie,” he says annoyed. “Really?”

“Yes! Really.” I wave one hand dismissively. “I thought that you would have thought coming to my house for dinner was too…sentimental, something a boy – ”

“Don’t push it,” he says warningly.

“I won’t. I just…Steven, are you my boyfriend?” I decide to ask him bluntly.

“See, now you’re pushing it,” he says, and I can hear in his voice that he is getting aggravated.

Now I give him a look. Then I cross my arms.

“Okay, look. I agreed because I don’t want you to have to deal with your father alone. I know what asshole parents are like. Okay?” Steven seems to be holding his breath.

I heard what he said, and it was very sweet. But my mind was more primarily focused on the fact that he didn’t answer my boyfriend question. And if he wasn’t my boyfriend he would have made that very clear as soon as I asked him. But he didn’t answer. It wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no either.

“Yeah. Okay,” I nod. Then I pull him toward me and kiss him fiercely. He responds in kind, leaning on top of me. He keeps his hands on the sides of the couch, but the moment remains intimate when our mouths part against each other’s and our tongues meet.

The light shines pink through my eyelids, and his skin is a blazing fire beneath my fingertips. He is a fire. But not the kind that rages and kills in a violent explosion, but just the opposite. The kind that warms and gives life, and may be your only source of light in a world shrouded in darkness.

So, the ‘talks’ must’ve been over for Eric and Donna. Because here they came, with Michael in tow, complaining about how he lost his slingshot. Steven had turned on the TV just in time however, and we both relaxed before they reached the bottom of the stairs.

Michael however, decides to sit next to me. I suppress an eye roll.

“What were you guys doing?” Eric asks. Crap.

“Huh? Oh, we’re just watching…uh, this old lady is eating a fish,” Steven points to the TV, ever detached.

“Look, Jackie,” Michael decides to take the opportunity to speak, and I instinctively lean away from him. “We’ve been avoiding each other. I think its time we hash this thing out,” he waves the lollipop he’s been holding in the air.

I look him straight in the eyes. “It’s okay. I’m good,” I say beseechingly. Then I smile and focus back on the TV.

But the idiot keeps talking, making a complete fool out of himself. “I can see you’re devastated over losing me.”

It takes every ounce of my being not to laugh in his face. I glance over at Steven and he just drums his fingers impatiently.

“You know what Michael, I’m fine,” I say earnestly and I pat him on the knee. “Really,” I drive home the point.

Unbelievable. He continues. “You sound brave,” he says ignorantly. “But inside you’re a scrambled mess.” I look at him, unable to fathom his senselessness. “Just remember this,” he wouldn’t stop waving around that damn lollipop. “I’ll always be there for ya if you have any physical needs, huh?” Then he decides to wrap his arm around my shoulder.

I roll my eyes and focus on the TV. That old lady was still eating.

Just then, Steven leans in and punches Michael in the arm. He was always doing this, but I’ve never seen him do it quite so forcefully. At least it got Michael’s arm off of me.

“Damn Hyde. What was that for?” Michael asks, somewhat dazed.

“I just missed you, man,” Steven smiles and shrugs, having recovered from his brief moment of rage.

I decide that it would probably be a good idea to change topics now. I remember what they were talking about when they came down here.

“Wait, Donna. You’re actually going to go to a Catholic school?” I lean over so I can see her where she is standing next to Eric.

“Not just Catholic school,” she glances between all of us. “Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow.” She nods. “That means sad forever.” She looks at her boyfriend. “Eric we’re never going to see each other.”

“Yeah. I know. And I can’t even drive you to school. And we can forget about any lunch time hokey-pokey,” he says. “That’s what it’s all about,” he adds, which makes Donna laugh.

“Man, it sucks not having a car,” Steven tells Eric as he stands. “Well, I’m going to go drive mine,” he pats his friend on the shoulder. “Catch you guys later.”

Wait. Was this him hinting that we should go to my house now? How could I ask him without letting everyone know?

“Wait. Wait. Steven where are you going?” Ugh. That was bad.

“Why do you care?” Steven makes a face as he opens the door.

“I don’t,” I say fast. Maybe too fast.

I end up coming up with some lame-ass excuse about a ‘Monday Madness’ sale at the mall which Donna makes worse by reminding me that it’s Tuesday. I blow her off, grabbing my purse from off the record player by the door, and rush out the door, acting like I’m some crazed shopper.

I climb into my Lincoln, and find Steven in his El Camino, idling at the curb at the end of the road. He pulls out behind me and follows me closely. His headlights shine in my rearview mirror, a constant reminder that he is here. And that I am not alone.

Going to my house for some privacy turned out to be a great idea. My dad wasn’t at home, and today was the maid’s day off, which left Steven and me to ourselves and without having to worry about interruption.

And, with the complete privacy, my last few hours with Steven had been pretty intimate, both physically and emotionally, at least for me. For most of the time we had hung out; we had a snack, worked on my car, watched TV. But when we eventually settled on the couch in the living room and just made out, it was intense, but in a beautiful way. I finally let him get to second base, and despite the moment being heated and sensual, Steven was incredibly respectful of my body and never pushed me for anything. And again, I thought about that one simple and powerful word, but to admit it yet would send us both over the edge from its sheer force.

We get no further than that, however, but its enough. And, eventually, the telephone rings.

“Crap,” I mutter, and Steven pulls away from me. I pull my top back down and rush to answer the phone. “Hello?” I answer.

“Jackie, so you are home,” Donna’s voice comes through the speaker. “Do you mind if I come over? We haven’t gotten to hang out all summer.”

I turn around to face Steven when I say my next words. “Sure Donna. You can come over,” I tell her.

“Great. See you in a few,” she says cheerily.

“Yeah, see you in a few,” I say, and wave my free arm at Steven to get up. Hearing my words to Donna, he jumps up, grabs his car keys off the coffee table and rushes over to me. He kisses me on my forehead and I give him a hug as I say good-bye to Donna on the phone.

Then I follow him outside. “Sorry about that, Donna wants to come over. And if I said no she would have asked why,” I say as he jumps into his car.

“It’s fine,” he says quickly. “I can go put in a few hours at the Foto Hut now that Leo is back. What time should I come back for dinner?”

“Wait, you still want to come?” I ask.

Steven’s look is a mixture of impatience and incredulity. “Jackie.”

“Okay. Okay. Six o’clock should be good,” I can’t conceal my grin. He shakes his head at my silliness, and then peels off onto the road.

Donna arrives not even ten minutes later, and I give her a big hug as soon as she walks in. “Hey,” she says.

I step back and appraise her. She was wearing a bright blue plaid button down, not the most girly outfit in the world, but her new haircut gives her a more feminine touch. She must’ve gotten it cut over the summer, and it looks good. It has volume, and is layered so it frames her face nicely.

“You look good Donna,” I tell her as we head up the stairs to my room.

“Thanks Jackie. So, what’ve you been up to this summer?” she asks and sits down on my bed.

I stand near my desk and think about what I can tell her. “I haven’t done very much,” I say slowly. “But I have made a lot of changes to myself. You know?”

Donna shrugs. “Like what?”

“Well,” I try again to think what I can tell her. “I’m done with Michael. I gave him a second chance, and he blew it, so I know he’s not worth it.” Then I walk over to where I kept a box in the corner of my room.

“Okay. This is my Michael box,” I grab it and sit next to Donna on my bed. “I saved everything that loser ever gave to me.”

I open the top and look disapprovingly at the contents. I hold up a rubber chicken for Donna to see. “One year anniversary.”

Donna can’t help but laugh and I fold the stupid thing and toss it in the trash. “What a moron!” I add.

I grab more things from the box and toss them in the trash. Donna rifles through some of the stuff as well. “Wow, you know I guess Kelso’s really history for you.” She picks up some toy and looks at it. “I never thought that’d happen until you met someone else.” She pauses and I continue to silently throw the things in the trash. “You met someone else,” she says knowingly.

I freeze. I can’t make eye contact with her. Finally I look up. “What? Someone else? That’s crazy!” But even I can tell my voice is pitched too high. “You’re crazy…Shut your pie hole.” Why couldn’t I have said something more rational?

Donna gives me a look like she doesn’t believe a word I said. She tosses the toy she’d been holding back into the box. “Jackie. You have a new boyfriend. I can see it on your face.”

“No. No,” I shake my head vigorously. “I do not.” But I was dying to tell her.

“Fine. Don’t tell me. But I’ll find out who he is eventually,” Donna smiles again. “You can’t hide him forever.”

Steven got here before my dad did. However, Lena had arrived shortly after Donna had left, telling me that my father had agreed to give her a hefty paycheck if she would cook dinner for tonight.

As if that wasn’t surprising enough, my jaw dropped to the floor when I opened the door for Steven at six o’clock – or actually five forty-nine; he was early – because, he had changed clothes. And if that wasn’t enough sentimentality, he had changed into some of his best clothes. He wore a pair of his nicest jeans, a dark pair that went well with his button down shirt. I couldn’t believe it. A button down.

I hadn’t even told him to dress up.

I cover my mouth with my hand, trying not to squeal, although I can’t conceal my smile. I’m grinning from ear to ear.

“Don’t,” he points at me as he steps inside.

“I’m not doing anything!” I refute, and I lead him off into the kitchen.

“Lena,” I say to the maid. Her back is to us, and she is pouring something into a pot on the stove.

She turns around, wiping her hands on the apron she is wearing. “Yes, Jackie?” she says, and her gaze switches quickly over to Steven.

“Lena, this is my friend Steven Hyde,” I point to him. I decided a while ago not to refer to Steven as my boyfriend in fear of scaring him off. “Steven, this is our maid, Lena Parks. She makes some of the best food. Even better than Mrs. Forman.”

“You’re in for a treat tonight, Mr. Hyde,” Lena nods her head in our direction.

“Thanks, Lena,” I grab Steven by the arm and direct him toward the living room. After a moment however, I turn back into the kitchen, figuring I would ask her. “Do you know when my dad will be home?” I ask her.

Lena’s dark gray eyes widen. “In about half an hour,” she gives me a kind smile. “I’ve never heard you call him Dad before. Always Father.”

I smile slightly, before heading back toward the living room, somewhat unsettled. Had I always called him Father instead of Dad? Maybe I had a tendency to call him Father, but I realized that I had been saying Dad a lot more recently.

“Okay, my dad should be home in about half an hour and then we can eat,” I turn on the television and relax next to Steven on the couch.

When my dad walks in the door, he looks incredibly excited to see me. His expression changes – only slightly – when he sees that the ‘friend’ I was bringing for dinner was a boy.

“Hello, uh…” my dad says when he walks into the room.

I stand up off the couch and Steven follows my lead. “Hey dad,” I try to say casually. “This my friend Steven.”

“Nice to meet you Steven,” my father reaches out a hand to shake Steven’s.

“Mr. Burkhart,” Steven nods and extends his hand towards my dad’s.

“Lena said dinner should be ready about now,” I struggle for something to say. “So…shall we go eat?”

Both Steven and my father nod and we move toward the dining room, Steven and I leading the way. I stay back however, with my father so I can talk to him without Steven hearing.

“Dad, don’t worry. He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just…” I’m at a loss for words. “He’s just a friend. Like I had told you. So please don’t give him the third degree. And anyways, he’s nothing like Michael.”

My dad nods, but, I find that during dinner, he does exactly that. Or well, almost. He asks him a lot of questions, but they are mostly just to learn more about him. They’re not the setup kind of questions that the Burkhart’s were famous for.

“So, you’re the boy who lives with the Forman family, right?” my father asks Steven after all small talk has ceased.

“Yes, sir. The family was kind enough to take me in after, uh, well, after both my parents left,” Steven says, although rather uncomfortably.

I want desperately help him and tell my dad what a great son he was to the Forman’s but I decide against it for two reasons. For one, I could tell my dad was just being curious, not judgmental, and two, I don’t think Steven would appreciate my help, to be honest.

So instead I decide to just give facts about how I know Steven. “Yeah, dad. Since I would always be spending time at the Forman house because of Donna and Michael, I’ve known Steven for…at least ten years?” I look to Steven for confirmation.

“Something like that,” he agrees mildly.

“Anyways,” I continue. “Since both Donna and Michael were gone this summer, it gave me the opportunity to get to know the rest of my friends better. And you’ve already met Donna, so I decided to ask a different friend to dinner.” I’m trying to subtly throw my dad off track about my real relationship with Steven by giving him details about this summer.

This also seems to help Steven relax; my giving a reason to convince my dad that he really just was a friend here for dinner.

The rest of the dinner passes pleasantly, especially when the three of us end up talking about cars.

“Yeah, I’ve got a Camino, but I’d die for a Camaro,” Steven goes on to describe his car to my dad. “And although I’d love a Camaro, I really am just lucky to have a car,” he concludes.

“Yeah, I wish Jackie would feel that way about her car,” my dad has since loosened both his tie and his attitude toward Steven. “You think she would’ve been grateful when I gave her the Lincoln as her own. But no,” he shakes his head.

Steven looks at me surprised. “I thought you loved your car.”

I shrug. “I would kind of like a Mustang,” I lean back in my seat. “What can I say? I’m a snobby rich girl.”

Steven can’t help a bemused chuckle. “I forgot you wanted a Mustang.” At first I don’t know what he means, but then I remember how I had chatted to everyone about my day with Red when they had career day. So, Steven remembered that too, not just my hiding under Red’s car.

After dinner, Lena serves us some fancy chocolate mousse. When that is finished I walk Steven outside to his car, wanting a moment alone with him.

“Hey, so thanks for coming,” I cross my arms. “I know my dad isn’t the easiest person to like.”

“He’s not bad once he loosens up,” Steven shrugs. “Plus it was worth it for that food. Do you always eat like that?”

Now it’s my turn to shrug. “When I eat at home, yeah.”

Steven shakes his head and looks me up and down. “It’s a wonder you’re so thin.”

“Hey!” I slap his arm playfully and he holds up his arms in defense

“Okay. Okay. Sorry,” he laughs. “Are you coming back to Forman’s?” he asks suddenly.

“I better not,” I frown. “My dad wants me to spend more time with him, so…” I rock back and forth on my heels. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Okay,” then he instinctively leans forward to kiss me. And I know its his instinct because if he had thought about it, he wouldn’t have done it because he had to know my dad was probably watching us.

But, it was too late now, so I just go with it. I cup my hand behind his head. “Good night,” I say when its over. “And you better hope my dad didn’t see that.”

“Yeah, I thought about that too late,” he flashes me a devilish grin. “Good night.”

When I get back inside, my dad is standing shamelessly next to the window.

“Not your boyfriend?” He peers at me over his glasses.

“Dad,” I say warningly, shutting the door. “Please don’t.”

“Then tell me the truth Jackie Beulah,” he uses my middle name. I grimace.

“Fine. The truth is…I don’t know if he’s my boyfriend. I want him to be, anyways. But yes,” I concede. “He is more than a friend.”

A smile slowly spreads across his face.

“What?” I ask, annoyed. “What is it?”

“You two are cute together,” he says.

“Okay, that was so not a dad thing to say,” I laugh and walk away toward the living room.

He follows me. “Plus, I like him a lot better than Michael Kelso. He just seems like…” he drifts off.

“A better person,” I finish for him. “Exactly. He is. But I don’t know if he wants a girlfriend.”

“Oh, please. Of course he does,” my dad says.

“Dad, you’re a riot,” I sigh.

“That’s my job,” he squeezes my shoulder. “We’ll be okay, right kiddo?” he says more seriously.

He doesn’t say it out loud, but I know he’s not just referring to our newly mended relationship. I can hear it in his voice that he’s worried about whatever trouble he has going on at work. And I don’t think its fair for him to put it on me to tell him that it’s all going to be okay, but I realize he really has no one else.

“We have to be okay,” I say eventually. “What other option do we have?”

I ease my bedroom door shut later that evening before running over to my bed and picking up the telephone. Hopefully my dad didn’t need the phone for his work, but I dial the Forman’s number anyway.

The phone rings a few times before Kitty answers the phone. “Hello?” she says.

“Oh, Mrs. Forman. Thank God it was you who answered. If it were anyone else, I would’ve had to play it coy and like, ask if Donna were there, but since it’s you – ”

“Jackie?” Kitty’s voice cracks through the speaker.

“Oh, no. You said my name aloud. Where are you? Are you in your kitchen? Is anyone else in there with you?” I must sound like a crazy person.

“Hmm, let me guess…you want to talk to Steven?” Kitty asks, and I detect a hint of amusement in her voice.

“I really hope no one is overhearing this. Okay, um…well, can you tell him that Leo’s on the line. I just wanted to talk to him for one quick second,” I say nervously.

Kitty calls for Steven before speaking to me again. “And don’t worry Jackie. Eric’s over at Donna’s right now.”

“Thank you Mrs. Forman,” I sigh and fall backwards on my bed. I hadn’t realized but I’d been biting my nails, worrying about blowing our cover.

“Hello?” I hear Steven’s voice a moment later.

“Hey, it’s me,” I pause, wondering what to say. I had called for a reason. I guess I could just say it. “You um, left your jacket here. Do you want me to bring it back tomorrow or would you rather just come pick it up so, well, you know…nobody wonders why I’m carrying your jacket?” I laugh halfheartedly.

“I did? Sorry about that. Uh, no you can just bring it. If any one sees you, just say…I don’t care. Whatever,” I can practically see him shrug over the phone line.

“Okay. See you tomorrow then. Good night,” I tell him.

“No. Wait. I wanted to ask you something,” Steven says quickly.

“Huh?” I say, curious.

“Your housekeeper, Lena, who cooked tonight. Is she the one with the film?” Steven asks inquiringly.

“Wait…what are you talking about?” I’m very confused all of a sudden.

“Last year. You know, when you had that phase when you were obsessed with me,” he sounds very uncomfortable.

For another moment I am still lost, but then I realize exactly what he is talking about. “Oh, when I bought some marijuana to try to impress you?” I laugh.

“Yeah. And you ended up just getting me busted instead,” Steven mutters.

“Um, I don’t think so,” I say cogently. “You volunteered yourself. So I wouldn’t go to prison,” I say sweetly.

“Okay, let’s not get into details,” he waves me off, but I can hear the smile in his voice. “So. Was she was the one?”

“Yes,” I admit in defeat. “Why?” I ask him, but I am still laughing.

I can hear the laughter in his voice. “She’s a badass,” he states simply.

And that’s how I ended up talking on the phone with Steven Hyde for the next hour.

“Where is everyone?” I whisper the next day when I arrive at the Forman’s basement and am pleasantly surprised when I see that the only one down here is Steven, sitting in his chair watching TV.

“Fez and Kelso aren’t here. Forman and Donna are trying to make Bob rethink the Catholic school thing,” Steven explains.

“That’s great,” I sit on the couch and toss him his jacket. “Here,” I tell him. “Crisis averted. Oh, and Lena asked about you later last night too you know. She asked if you were the one I bought her stash for,” I laugh at myself. “You know. I never apologized, or thanked you for what you did,” I tell him. “So…yeah. Thank you,” I say earnestly.

“Yeah, well your little obsession with me got me a lot more hell than just being arrested,” Steven says and begins to tick off things on his fingers. “I almost got kicked out of here, then Red grounded me and Forman, so I almost lost my job, and then he didn’t allow any of our friends to come over.”

I give him a look. “Well, I stop at nothing to get what I want,” I stand up and walk over to sit on his lap. “And hey, I got what I wanted. You,” I cup his face. I smile and slowly lean in to kiss him.

Steven wraps his arms around my waist. I spin on his lap so I am facing him and press my body close to his. I wind my fingers tightly through his curls and gently bite his bottom lip, causing him to moan, and I feel his soft breath against my cheek.

Next thing I know we are making out on the couch. I hook one of my legs behind Steven’s knee bringing him closer to myself. He comes willingly. And its so forbidden and feverish.

And I hear the door crack open and I get the same sinking feeling I had when I heard the kitchen door swing open when Kitty found us in her kitchen. Only this time its worse because its Eric and Donna who walk in on us making out.

Donna’s words from yesterday echo in my mind. I’ll find out who he is eventually. You can’t hide him forever.

Apparently not even one day.

“What the Hell?” Donna’s face contorts into a mask of pure horror.

“Oh my God,” I say instinctively. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that I’m still holding on to Steven, and he to me.

“I’m blind,” Eric squirms.

“Jackie!” Donna says my name like I just stole candy from a little kid.

Crap. “Get off me!” I push Steven away from me, not sure what to do.

And Steven, being a complete idiot, finally says something. “Nice outfit,” he says to Donna.

I give him a look. Really? He couldn’t’ve said anything else?

Donna sighs, fed up. Then she focuses her attention back on the two of us. She glances back and forth between us, as though she can’t quite believe what she’s seeing.

“Okay, so um…” I turn around on the couch so I am facing forward…and away from Steven. “What exactly did you see?” I wasn’t sure where I would go with this.

“Hands…tongues…yours…his. It was horrible,” Eric says distressed as he walks and stands behind the couch.

Donna takes a step forward. “You were like Siamese twins joined at the beard.”

I sneak a glance at Steven to see how he is taking this but his face is impassive. I can feel their two sets of eyes beating down on us. I feel like a caged animal.

“Hey. This is her fault man. She threw herself at me,” Steven rises up off the couch and joins Eric behind the couch.

I have to keep myself from laughing. “No, no. You were on top of me,” I argue back at him.

“You pulled me,” Steven refutes. He glances back and forth between Eric and Donna. “I’ve done a lot of partying,” he tries to come up with an excuse. “So you know, my balance is off.” Unbelievable.

“This is impossible,” Eric seems to have recovered; no longer acting like an old lady whose grocery cart has been stolen at the Piggly-Wiggly. “You two hate each other.”

“Kelso is gonna freak,” Donna says randomly.

Eric takes a large intake of breath. “Kelso…” he looks at Steven.

I roll my eyes. I didn’t care what Michael thought. Plus, it was really none of his business, but I had a feeling Eric and Donna would make it their business to tell him.

“Settle down, Esmerelda,” Steven waves off Eric. “Kelso doesn’t need to know about this,” he says as he sits in his chair.

I smile to myself. At least he wasn’t denying ‘this’ anymore.

“Yeah look. Its just a meaningless fling,” I lie through my teeth, hating the words that come out of my mouth. “Okay. We can stop whenever we want,” I look at Steven to see how he reacts. Again, nothing.

“Well, then maybe you should,” Eric says.

That pisses me off. Maybe he didn’t like the idea of me and Steven but that did NOT give him any right to dictate whether or not we stayed together. “Well why do you even care?” I sneer at him.

“Because you’re breaking up the band, Yoko,” Eric says, getting distressed again.

This time I try not to laugh again, but am unsuccessful. This was getting ridiculous. This was exactly why we didn’t want anyone to find out. And then just to top it all off, Fez shows up in the basement. I wanted to cry. I mean, come on.

“Well, well, well, naughty ladies wear plaid,” Fez says, and I think Donna could punch him.

“Fez, please,” Donna holds up her hand. Fez makes another comment, which then, of course, prompts Donna to tell him about me and Steven. I don’t know why she thought she had the right. “Fez. We just caught these two frenching, like a couple of French people at a Frenching Festival.”

“What? That’s impossible. You two hate each other,” Fez waves his arm back and forth between me and Steven.

I cross my arms. This was getting real old real fast. I didn’t hate Steven. He annoyed me, but I never hated him. And I knew he never hated me either.

“I said…I just said that,” Eric continues his temper tantrum.

“Okay, you are going to tell us how this happened right now,” Donna points at Steven.

He makes another comment about her uniform, so I speak up. “Okay, look. Fine. I’ll just tell you what happened. It was a few weeks after Donna and Michael left,” I start.

And I know that there was no way in a million years that I would tell Donna, Eric and Fez what really happened. They had no right to know, and honestly, I would never tell anyone. It was too personal. So I launch into some ridiculous, far-fetched story, hoping that’ll get the message across to them to back off. It involves Steven wanting to listen to ABBA. In fact, its so ridiculous that Steven even interrupts me. I yell at him that its my story and then continue. Unfortunately, they don’t get the hint, and they all laugh at my story instead.

Eric then convinces Hyde to give his side of the story. He gives me a hard look before starting, and I shrug. “So I’m hanging out in the basement like I usually do, when Jackie showed up. It was obvious she wanted me,” and he continues to tell his own farfetched story about how I threw myself at him.

“God, that’s crazy,” I say to him when he’s done. This was so frustrating. “No, no. You so came on to me first.”

Donna speaks again, which frustrates me further. This really involved no one but Steven and me. It was not their business. Did they not get that?

“You know, you said that you didn’t have a new boyfriend,” Donna says accusingly.

“He is not my boyfriend!” I say desperately, now dying for this conversation to be over.

“I’m not her boyfriend,” Steven slams his arm on the couch. Then he looks at me and I can tell that we are on the same side again. “They just don’t get it,” he says to me, defeated.

“No. Why would they?” I say to accusingly. “Let’s go baby,” I say, standing up. Steven follows. “God, they’re annoying,” I say as soon as Steven shuts the door on our way out.

“Yeah. I know. They’re exactly why we kept this under wraps,” Steven shakes his head.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and when we reach the top of the stairs I turn to face him. “I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

“Jackie, what the hell are you apologizing for?” Steven holds out his hands, face up.

“I…I don’t know,” I admit.

“You’ve really got to stop apologizing to me for everything,” he continues.

I look down at my feet. “I’m sorry – I mean, never mind. It’s just, in there…you said it was my fault.” God. I hated sounding so pathetic.

“Come on, Jackie. That was just for show. You should know better than that,” Steven brushes past me and walks into the driveway.

I was so happy he said that. “Okay. Just making sure,” I nod and skip after him. “But…just to make things extra clear…you were the one who came on to me first,” I pass in front of him and turn to face him.

“Um, no,” he crosses his arms. “What about last year when you were all over me?”

“Oh, please,” I wave one hand dismissively. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were the one to ask me on a date.”

“Because you were pestering me,” he’s getting worked up. I try not to laugh at his obvious show of discomfort.

“And anyways,” I shrug. “That was last year. I’ve been with and broken up with Michael since then. I’m talking this summer. And you came on to me first,” I say again, more smug than the first time.

“No,” he says defiantly. “Are we going to your house?”

I narrow my eyes at him and take a step closer to him “Just admit it.”

“No way kitten,” he says in a sugary voice. Then he leans in and gives me a quick kiss. “Now. Let’s go,” he drops the act.

“At least I know the truth,” I say, mostly just to get to him.

“Jackie,” he warns.

I get into my car and turn the ignition. He doesn’t say anything more once he gets in the car. Instead he turns to look out the window for the entire drive. I am reminded of the time when Steven drove me home that first day of summer when everything changed. And things had changed even more with that.

Because when Steven drove me home I had sat as close to the door as possible, away from him, and in complete awkwardness. And now, we sat together in comfortable silence, Steven’s hand on my knee.

When I reach a stop light, I take one of my hands and entwine it in his. Steven doesn’t say anything, he just lets me play with his fingers.

So how could this be a fling? I realize that despite Steven’s words, all of his actions prove that he cares about me and was happy to be with me like I was with him. He had come a long way. He letting me just hold his hand and entwine my fingers between his. I smile at the memory of when I found him in The Hub after he got out of prison for taking the blame for me. I had fought him just to hold his hand.

And for now, I hold his hand and drive.

“I can’t believe school starts tomorrow,” I frown and join Steven on the couch in the living room. I hand him a soda.

“That’s tomorrow?” Steven asks.

“Yeah,” I nod. “I’m surprised Mrs. Forman hasn’t been on your case. And Eric’s, for that matter. Plus you should be excited,” I turn to face him excitedly on the couch. You’re going to be a senior. Oh!” I make a realization, but have to stop myself short. I almost said that I was the girlfriend of a senior.

“Yeah, a senior,” Steven mutters. “If it is anything like last year I might as well go to hell now.”

“Oh, is junior year really that bad?” I make a face, suddenly nervous about school.

“Huh? Oh, no. Sorry, I didn’t mean school,” Steven grabs my hand subconsciously. He’d done that a lot since the car ride here. Maybe he didn’t realize it, but I was aware of every place the skin on our hands touched.

“Then…what?” I ask, confused. Steven shrugs. “Please tell me,” I say earnestly.

“Just a whole bunch of crap,” he says. I don’t say anything, which somehow prompts him to continue, which I was glad for. “I lost both my parents last year, Jackie,” Steven looks at me. He says it as a fact, and in no way like a victim looking for sympathy.

“I know,” I tell him, because I do. The same was happening to me, at least with my mom. “I hope you don’t mind my asking. But whatever happened with Bud?”

Steven is quiet for a long moment. “He took off with Edna,” he finally says, coldly.

I feel a shiver run down my spine, and with my free hand I cover my mouth. I look down at the floor. His parents ran away from him. Why would anyone’s parents do that? It was such a horrible concept to think about. Especially with Steven. I knew that his mom never gave him enough credit and was always shaming him. She was part of the reason he acted the way he did. Because she made him believe that that was all he was. And with his dad; he took advantage of Steven.

“Well, it’s their loss,” I lift my head and kiss him on the cheek.

“Jackie,” Steven complains, clearly shying away from my sentimentality.

So, I decide I’ll be short with him. “Well, I’m glad he’s gone. He was a terrible father to you. Mr. Forman is so much better.”

“What?” Steven makes a face.

I look him square in the eyes. “Red saw you give him money before you moved in with him,” I explain.

Something flashes in his eyes. And I know that he thought nobody knew about that. “How…” his voice fades. I see his jaw clench. Steven didn’t like to talk, I knew. He much preferred bottling things up and snapping later. But this was good for him. And I was so happy to help.

“I ran into Mr. Forman later the night that you left to live with Bud,” I refocus my story. “I was leaving Donna’s house and ran into him outside. He was working on his car. He seemed really upset,” I can tell this story is getting through to Steven because I feel his grasp on my hand tighten instinctively.

“I didn’t ask him what was wrong, but I did ask him if he wanted me to hold a flashlight for him because it was so dark. And I’m telling you Steven, when he glanced up at me…he looked sick. And I don’t know if it was my joke about the flashlight that reminded him of Career Day, but he told me what happened, and what he saw you do for Bud,” I shrug. “Then I realized he looked so sick because he thought he let you down by letting you go with Bud.”

“Jackie. Are you trying to make me feel bad?” Steven asks, raising his eyebrow and he pulls his hand away.

“Oh, no. No!” I cover my mouth. “Not at all. All I’m saying is that maybe you lost both your parents, but sometimes you have to let things go in order to let yourself find something even better.”

Steven doesn’t respond, so I continue. “So, what I meant was, Mr. and Mrs. Forman are your real parents. And I must say, you got a pretty nice deal.”

“As opposed to what you got?” Steven glances at me, and then our surroundings. I feel a pang of hurt. “I’m kidding,” he says softly. “You got dealt a bad hand of biological parents as well.”

“Not the worst,” I say quickly. “I mean, yeah there’s my mom,” I roll my eyes. “But my Dad is actually pretty awesome,” I say and I mean it. “He likes you, by the way.”

“Great,” Steven deadpans.

“Can I ask you something?” I ask, remembering something.

Steven doesn’t respond, just gives me a look. A worried look. “Nothing like that,” I shoot daggers at him. I roll off the couch and motion for him to follow me.

“Okay, what do you know about politics?” I head towards my dad’s office.

“That it’s corrupt,” Steven says instinctively, and the tone of his voice suggests that he is switching into his anti-government state of mind.

“Okay,” I say again, slowly. “What about it makes it so corrupt?” I sit behind my dad’s desk and un-abashedly begin to work through the papers on his desk. He wanted me to tell him everything was going to be okay. Well, now I needed to know if it really was okay.

“Money. Jackie, its all about money. Politicians don’t care about doing what’s best. They care about what is going to get them re-elected and what they can do to get more money. More power. Because money equals power. And power is the ultimate goal.”

“So could money get a politician into trouble?” I ask him, only half focused on what he was saying. I was more focused on trying to find out what my dad was hiding. The things on his desk were generic files. Anything really important would probably be…


In his safe.

“Yes, many politicians can let the power get to their heads and end up doing more harm than good by using illicit money to get what they want, when it’s not always what the people want.”

I didn’t know the code to his safe. But I needed to get in there.

“Hey, Jackie. What’s this about?” Steven seems to have snapped out of his political fury.

“Nothing,” It takes all my willpower to force my eyes away from the safe and back to Steven. “Just, you know. Curious about politics. My dad, you know, has to deal with all that, so now I have something I can talk to him about,” I lie through my teeth.

I wanted to tell Steven the truth, I did. But I couldn’t yet. I didn’t know what trouble my dad was in, but I was pretty sure it had to do with money. And I knew I would find the answer in that safe. I just had to get in it first. Then I’d tell Steven what this was about.

But I could tell Steven knew I wasn’t telling him something.

So I decide to quickly change the subject and get us out of my dad’s office before he got any ideas. I lead us back into the living room and pretend to check the time on the clock.

“Wow, what do you know? Its already four o’clock,” I say, possibly with too much exaggeration.

“Jackie,” Steven warns.

“You know what I just realized?” I ignore him and push forward this change in topic. “Tomorrow is going to be my first day as an upperclassmen. I have to go pick my outfit!”

“Jackie,” Steven says again.

“No. No, Steven. All the underclassmen will be looking up to me now. I will be their role model. So I have to look perfect. So…I’ll see you at school tomorrow, okay? At lunch. I have to start getting ready.”

I lead him to the front door and kiss him good-bye.

“Jackie, what’s your deal?” Steven asks for the hundredth time.

“I have to get ready!” I say in the perfect annoyingly-girly voice I can muster up.

“With your dad?” Steven ignores my act.

I don’t tell him. But I don’t say ‘nothing’ either. Because although that’s the word on the tip of my tongue, I just don’t have the energy to keep pretending anymore.

Donna called to see if she could come over that afternoon. Apparently she wanted some time to catch up with me since school was starting tomorrow, although I had my ideas about what she really wanted. And I wasn’t too happy about it. Didn’t she understand that my relationship with Steven was really none of her business? I mean, with Michael she had tried to stop me from going back to him – but she already knew about what my relationship with him had been like. She had no idea – none – what things were like with Steven. But she had already made up her mind. That more than anything made me mad.

“So I guess all the teachers are like, nuns, so they’re probably going to be really strict. But I guess that’s what happens when your sad forever,” Donna is sitting on my bed.

I, on the other hand, am rifling through my clothes, looking for the perfect outfit for tomorrow. I had meant what I said before; I needed to make a good first impression on the underclassmen since I would be their role model this year. That, and, well, I kind of needed to restore my authority in the cheerleading squad since I had sort of lost touch with them over the summer.

Needless to say, Donna’s nun problems were the least of my concerns.

“Uh-huh,” I mutter.

I wanted to look pretty and sophisticated – the perfect combination for an upperclassman. I hold up a crimson red cardigan. This could work, but it needed something else.

“Okay, Jackie. Are you even listening?” Donna asks accusingly.

I glance over at her breezily. “Uh-huh. What do you think of this sweater?” I toss it at her.

“It’s red,” she says annoyed. “Okay. What’s wrong with you?” she continues her accusatory tone.

“Nothing,” I walk over to my bed, grab my sweater and walk back to the closet. I start rifling through my shirts. “I just need to find the perfect outfit for tomorrow.”

“Is that it?” Donna says knowingly.

Uh, no. Duh. “Yep,” I say instead, ever brusquely.

“Okay, well. I don’t believe you,” Donna stands up and sits at my desk instead. “You probably figured out that I came here with an agenda.”

I turn to look at her, surprised. Was she really going to do this? My arms go limp at my sides and I give her a look of discontent.

“Okay, Jackie, I have a huge favor to ask you.” Donna’s tone changes from accusatory to slightly pleading.

I place my hands on my hips and squint my eyes at her. Favor? What favor could she ask that has to do with Steven? I mean, she already asked, or rather, demanded, that we ‘stop.’ What more did she want?

“Really Donna? What now?” I can’t keep the ice out of my voice.

Donna looks taken aback. “Um, I was just going ask if you wouldn’t mind driving me to my school tomorrow. Eric says he’ll pick me up, I don’t know how seeing as he doesn’t have a car, but anyways…” her voice fades and I can’t seem to process what she’s asking. “Look, Jackie. Trust me, I don’t like asking this of you, but its just for the first day. I’ll figure out what bus to take tomorrow when I get there.”

“Of course Donna!” I squeal, suddenly forgetting that I am angry with her. Donna, my lumberjack, redheaded friend that had it ‘all figured out’ was asking for my help. Mine. Instead of the other way around. I can’t conceal my grin.

Donna can’t seem but to smile, although somewhat tentatively, at my sudden outburst of enthusiasm. “Um, okay. Thanks,” she laughs softly. Then a look of confusion crosses her face. “Wait. Why were you so mad at me then…when I said I had a favor to ask of you?”

My cheery expression is now lost as well. Maybe Donna wasn’t here to grill me about Steven, and I sure wasn’t going to remind her. So I attempt to write it off.

“Oh, its just I was mad that you’re not going to be at Point Place High School anymore. I mean, who am I going to hang out with now?” I tease her.

Unfortunately, my distraction only brings her closer to the truth. “Oh, I don’t know,” she leans forward. “You can always hang out with Hyde.”

I give her a warning look, while crossing my arms and turning away from her. I walk back and sit on my bed.

“That is none of your business, Donna,” I decide to tell her flat out. “Honestly,” I add, to drive home the point.

“I’m just trying to protect you Jackie. And Hyde,” Donna acts all noble.

“No, you’re not Donna. You’re meddling,” I say, fed up with this. “You haven’t been here all summer. You have no idea what’s going on,” I stand up and point at her, accusingly.

“But Jackie…he’s like, so not your type. And you’re not his. There’s no way this can end well,” Donna stands up as well.

“Are you listening Donna?” I raise my voice slightly. “Because I’m going to tell you something that I really shouldn’t.” My voice drops back down to normal level, and even lower as I continue. “Steven talks to me. The boy who bottles everything up and pretends to have no emotion? That boy talks to me.”

I don’t say everything I wanted to say, because Donna speaks up again. “Whatever. It’s still weird and unnatural,” she shivers.

“Like I said,” I grit my teeth. “It’s really none of your business,” I say as pleasantly as I can.

But I still don’t say everything. I don’t say that when Steven’s with me, he’s a different person, and when I’m with Steven, I’m a different person. We are our better selves, and to me, that was all that mattered.

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