The Renewal

We're All Alright

“Donna?” I swing open the door to Eric’s basement, winded. I’d just come from Donna’s room to her backyard, to the Forman’s front yard, to the Forman’s kitchen, the Forman’s driveway, and finally the basement.

“Jackie, what took you so long?” Donna stands up from where she was on the couch and evens out her skirt.

“Well, you didn’t exactly tell me where I’d find you this morning,” I cross my arms bitterly. “Now, let’s go. I don’t want to be late for my first day as an upperclassman.”

“Wait, Jackie’s taking you?” Eric says lamely from his spot on the couch. “I thought…I thought I was?”

“Yeah, but I decided to ask Jackie, you know, as a backup plan?” Donna shrugs.

“Oh, I’m your backup plan?” I sneer.

“Jackie,” Donna says, a hint of a warning in her voice. Then she turns back to Eric. “I mean. You lost the Vista Cruiser. At least Jackie has a car.”

“Ouch, Forman,” Steven shakes his head from his chair. “That was like, an unintentional backup burn.”

“By your girlfriend,” I add, nodding at Eric, feeling smug. “Okay. Donna, we’ve really got to go,” I grab her arm and practically drag her out of the basement.

“Oh man, this sucks,” Donna whines as soon as we’re on our way.

“Excuse me?” I ask, offended.

“No, not this. I meant this…situation. I can’t believe I won’t be able to spend my last year of high school with Eric. Next year comes college, and who knows what will happen then.”

“I know,” I nod my head. I didn’t tell her, but I didn’t like this situation either. Because when all my friends graduated this year, I’d be stuck there for another year while they all drifted away and apart.

Except now, it was happening a year early. At least with Donna.

“Okay, um, let’s talk about something better,” I ponder. “Ooh, okay. So last night, after you left I drove out to the mall so I could pick a top to go with the sweater I picked when you were at my house,” I point to the sweater I was wearing. “And I found this shirt, the one I am currently wearing. And it was like, the greatest thing ever. It matches my sweater perfectly,” I say, excited.

The shirt had a repeating stripe pattern, and one of the colors was the same burgundy red that was in my sweater.

“Isn’t that awesome?” I smile.

“Fascinating,” Donna rolls her eyes sarcastically.

“Oh, you’re just jealous that you have to wear the same thing every day,” I shrug off her sarcasm. “But I have to say, I’m glad to see you finally dressing like a girl, you know, with the skirt and everything. I mean, plaid, not really my thing, you know, it’s the lumberjack look, but I must say – it’s a step in the right direction.”

Donna can’t help but crack a smile now. “That never gets old.”

“What?” I glance at her.

“The lumberjack thing,” Donna shakes her head. “Jackie, I am not a lumberjack.”

“Well, Donna, of course I know that. But what about the rest of the world?” I explain.

“Well, fortunately for me,” Donna plays along. “Everyone at this new school will be dressed in plaid, so I guess I won’t have to worry about it, right?”

“Okay, but if you decide to ditch us for your new catholic school friends, just do us all a favor and don’t wear one of your plaid shirts on your day off,” I joke…somewhat.

“Nah, I don’t think I’d be able to stop myself from wearing that,” Donna shrugs. “Guess I’ll have to stick with those of you who know me and my plaid.”

“That sounds good to me,” I smile at her.

Donna smiles too, but then it fades as she sees something out the window. I follow her gaze and see a giant sign with a golden cross hanging over it. OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL SORROW, the sign reads in embossed gold letters.

“Here you are,” I pull into the parking lot. “I’ll see you this afternoon, right?”

“I’ll be the one in plaid,” she nods.

“Donna you’re such a dork,” I shake my head.

“I know you are but what am I?” she laughs as she climbs out the passenger door. “See ya, dork,” she shuts the door and waves as she walks toward her new school.

Another change. This one not so good either, I think as I drive back to my high school, worried about what I would do now without my best friend. But I needed to remind myself that I thought giving up on Michael was a sad change too. But something better came of it.

Not that I had any plans on replacing Donna. I actually believed it would strengthen our friendship. But I had to believe something good would come out of all this. It did once, so it had to again. I had to have faith in that one rule of the universe.

Because if I didn’t, if nobody did, then what would we be living for?

“Did any of you have Mrs. Eldridge for English last year?” I drop my binder on the lunch table before sitting down.

Each table sat six people, which had always been perfect for me and my friends. This year would have an empty sixth seat, however.

Plus, it leaves me in a tiny situation. One of the seats was open between Eric and Steven. The other open seat was between Michael and Fez. But I just shrug and sit next to Steven, because, I mean, everyone already knew about us except for Michael, and he was too dumb to think anything of it anyway.

And if he did ask, well, I’d just tell him I didn’t want to sit next to him.

“Yeah, Hyde and I had her last year,” Eric shovels some unidentifiable cafeteria food in his mouth.

“That was her name?” Steven looks confused for a moment before shrugging.

“Yeah, well, she already assigned us a book and a paper we have to write on it. She’s only giving us two weeks,” I complain.

“What book?” Eric asks.

“Um,” I finish setting up my lunch – made by Lena (there was no way that I would eat cafeteria food) – then retrieve the book from my purse. “Fahrenheit 451,” I read the title and put it on the table.

“Oh, I remember that paper,” Steven nods, picking up the book.

“Yeah, man, it was the only paper you did for that class,” Eric told him.

“It was the only book worth reading,” Steven fires back.

“Because it was the only book that you had already read?” Eric looks at him accusingly.

Steven shrugs. “Like I said, it’s the only book worth reading from that class,” he says. Then he hands me the book. “Here.”

“Wait. You had already read this before you had to for school?” I ask, confused.

Eric laughs. “It’s a book about government oppression. Of course Hyde has read it.”

“Aw, I don’t want to read a book about the government,” I pout.

“That book’s not about the government,” Michael interjects. “It’s just about a bunch of crazy dudes who burn books for a hobby.”

“No, Kelso man, its about censorship in the day and age and the government’s role in suppressing free-thought. Their typical means of doing this is through burning the books. It’s not a hobby,” Steven rants.

“And there he goes,” Eric waves a hand dismissively at Steven. “Thanks for setting him off Kelso.”

“Let me see that,” Fez reaches across the table for my book. “Fahrenheit 451…what’s so special about that temperature?” he frowns.

“It’s the temperature that paper burns at,” Steven says, more calmly this time.

“451?” Fez says incredulously. “Oh, you silly Amedican’s should just convert to the Celsius scale.”

“And now we lost Fez,” Eric sighs.

“Fez, the Celsius scale was made for people who only know how to count to 100. Everybody knows that. Just like everybody knows that those guys just secretly enjoyed burning things,” Michael rolls his eyes.

“And…there goes Kelso,” Eric sighs once again as Kelso then is bombarded by both Fez and Steven for his idiotic comments.

I glance between our three nutcase friends and give off a sigh of my own. “I miss Donna,” I mutter loud enough for only Eric to hear.

Eric glances surprisingly in my direction before he looks back at the arguing trio. After a moment, he nods. “Me too.”

“Jackie, you’re not going to pick up Donna?” Eric asks when I arrive in the basement later that afternoon after school.

“Oh, no. I asked Bob and he said he was going to go get her,” I grab my book for English and plop down on the couch. “Anyways, that was like, an hour ago. She should probably be here soon.”

I open the book to the first page, and immediately the guys start arguing about what to watch on TV. Unfortunately, no one seems to have any concern for the fact that I’m trying to do homework, but then again, I suppose you don’t really go to the basement to study in the first place.

They eventually settle on Fantasy Island, although the episode is a re-run that’s on constantly and is already halfway through. After a few moments it becomes clear that I really won’t be getting any work done and grudgingly submit myself to watching TV. I’d just have to do my homework at home after dinner.

I do however, think to try reading again once the episode is over, but immediately Michael starts moronically sharing his opinion of the show.

“Here’s what I don’t get about Fantasy Island,” he picks up a magazine from the table and starts waving it in the air. “You know when you get off the plane and you see Mr. Roarke and that kid in the white suit?”

Eric and Steven look like they could care less, but, next to me Fez nods eagerly.

“Well if it’s me, I’m like,” Michael stands up continuing his rant. “This is creepy right? So I just grab a free daiquiri and I’m outta there,” He picks up a bottle of soda.

We all look at him, nobody sure of what to say. A moment later however, the basement door opens and we all turn in time to see Donna enter.

All the guys start clapping. Donna laughs, in defeat. “Grow up it’s just a uniform,” she says and pulls her hair out of its clip, causing the guys to clap and cheer even louder. I can’t help but laugh at their amusement.

“Man that was totally worth waiting for,” Michael practically drools as Donna gets settled in the lawn chair.

“I agree, now we can go,” Fez follows Michael’s line of thought before standing up.

The two of them are almost out the door when Eric asks Donna about her first day and she responds, “Grim. This nun totally spanked me with a ruler.”

Behind her Michael and Fez turn back excitedly. “Yet another reason, I wish I was a ruler,” Fez laments dreamily. Then he and Michael finally do leave.

And to my utter delight, to which I also must keep sealed, Steven is up and sitting next to me in a flash. I do my best not to smile.

“Wait a minute,” Donna is standing up, just as quick.

“Weird,” Eric follows, getting up of the couch a second later.

“Okay…now you guys are sitting together?” Donna says slowly, completely baffled.

Now I was pissed. Was she really still on this?

Apparently Eric too. “Oh my God. You guys aren’t just fooling around. You care about her,” he says to Steven.

“I do not,” he protests. Then he exchanges a meaningful glance with me. “She sickens me,” he says, a twinkle in his eyes.

I catch on to what he was doing. If they weren’t going to get over it, we were going to have to play along with what they wanted.

“No, no,” I refute. “I’m the one who’s sickened, okay?” I rise up from the couch. “I’m not supposed to be seen with scruffy guys like you. I date guys I can take out in public,” I do my best to put on a show. Then I sit in Steven’s chair and flip my hair.

“Yet you continue with this abomination,” Eric is starting to get twitchy. Again.

I ignore him, but Donna takes the opportunity to speak again. “You know, you guys have to tell Kelso.”

“Or…we’ll tell Kelso,” Eric continues on Donna’s idea.

Oh, I was ready to scream in their faces to just let it go. Where did they get the idea that they told us what we had to do?

“Shall we?” Eric leads Donna to the door.

I had to keep playing their game. “Wait, no no no, okay guys. What if we just break it off right now?” I force. “Then he never has to know.”

“Really?” Donna crosses her arm.

“Look there’s nothing to even break off so its fine by me,” Steven flips through a magazine.

“Yes,” Eric smiles, happy now. “This is what I want to hear. It’ll be like it never happened.” He turns to Donna. “Donna, come. Let us leave this unholy thing behind.”

I shoot Eric a dirty look to his back. I suppress the urge to get up and shake him.

As soon as they’re out the door, I feel the relief flood over me and I sit next to Steven again on the couch.

“Steven…do I really sicken you?” I just have to be sure.

“No,” he puts down his magazine and turns to me. “I sicken me because you’re supposed to sicken me but you don’t.”

“Well I feel the same way,” I assure him. “I mean I like how scruffy you are,” I smile.

“Of course you do,” he teases. Then he shakes his head after a moment. “Man, you know what? Screw it. Let’s just do what we want, okay?”

I was hoping he’d say that. I lean forward to kiss him, but remember one more thing.

“Okay, but what about Michael?”

“Details, baby. Details,” he shrugs before pulling me close.

We start to kiss again, but after a moment I pull back. “You know, where do Eric and Donna get off thinking they can tell us what to do?” I lean back against the couch.

Steven shakes his head and stands up. He walks over to get a soda from off the washing machine. “I don’t know, Jackie. It’s why I wanted to keep this under wraps you know? You had to know they wouldn’t understand.”

“Yeah, I know. It just bugs me that my best friend would do that to me,” I say sadly. “And yours to you.”

“Like I said, let’s just do what we want, okay?” Steven sits in his chair. I nod. “Come’ ere,” he says.

I stand up and sit on his lap, resting my head on his shoulder. And suddenly I feel so much better.

Sure, there was trouble with my mom. And my dad was having some mysterious problems at work. And my best friend was going to another school. And the rest of my friends were going to be leaving soon. But all of this didn’t seem so challenging when I knew I had Steven by my side. And I was sure of that now.

And I think I finally figured it out. The key to what to do with your past. Some people believe that your past is only going to hold you back. Others say you must keep it close because it has made you who you are.

But the truth was…both. Sometimes you had to keep parts of your past with you, because yes, they have made you what you are. They have taught you lessons and help made you a stronger person. But certain parts of your past you have to let go of so you could keep growing, and become even better than you thought was ever possible. And you could achieve things so great you’d never even dreamed of.

I lift my head and look at Steven. He glances away from the TV and returns my gaze. I purse my lips and he leans down to meet my kiss. It’s gentle yet immensely powerful.

I sit upright and loop my arm behind his neck. “You know,” I say, because what I’m thinking needs to be said. I think of everything that has happened with my family and friends, and everything that was happening and will happen. “We’re all alright.”

Steven nods and squeezes his arm around my waist. “We’re all alright.”

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