The Renewal

Corvettes and Grasshoppers

You can be inspired to do something, but it means nothing if you don’t have motivation. And although I had numerous hits of inspiration in the days after Donna and Michal had left, any motivation I had didn’t make it past the first week. It was just too easy to fall back into the routine I had been living in for countless years, even without Donna and Michael.

In fact, it was almost as if nothing changed. I still spent little to no time at my house, and spent perhaps even more time than before at the Forman’s house. Before I spent time split between Donna’s and Eric’s homes, but since Donna was no longer in the next door Pinciotti residence, I no longer had any purpose to go there. Eric and Steven both lived in the Forman house, and when Fez wasn’t working he too was in Eric’s basement. I suspected that he, like me, spent very little time at his home.

I slowly began to realize, that in the past several years as time went on, although I hadn’t realized it, I wasn’t only hanging out with Donna and Michael while the others were there, but I had been hanging out with Eric, Steven and Fez as well.

This had first come to my attention when, after a few weeks into summer, I decided it would be wise to hang out with Leslie Cannon, the cheerleader, purely out of show for my parents. It had occurred to me that I hadn’t hung out with another cheerleader just to ‘hang out’ for as long as I could remember. Plus, my parents, or rather, my father, since my mother still wasn’t home yet, had been giving me odd looks when day after day I told him I was going to hang out with Donna. I suspected it was because before Michael had been my excuse. But I had told him we had broken up, which was true, so I could no longer say I was going to see him.

Speaking of Michael, I had sent him my letter the very next morning, having rewritten it on a piece of stationary and without any scratched out errors. Five days later I had received a phone call early one morning.

“Jackie, a friend,” my father calls me from downstairs in what sounded like the living room, seconds after the phone stopped ringing.

I scamper down the stairs, still in my nightgown. “Hello?” I pick up the receiver.

“Jackie, its me,” I hear Donna’s voice, crackled and filled with static from hundreds of miles away. The sound of her voice brings images of my lumberjack friend in her jeans and with her straight red hair to the edges of my memory. “I just thought I’d call to tell you, well, Kelso got your letter in the mail last night. He acted like he didn’t care about what it said, but I could tell he was upset.”

“Yeah,” is all I manage to say.

“Jackie, what did you put in that letter?” Donna says after a moment.

I sigh and turn away from my father, all too aware that he was trying to garner as much information from one side of the conversation as he could.

I try to be subtle. “I said it was never going to work…it was permanently broken.” I think some more and add, “In fact, after I had thought about it, there had never been any true compatibility.”

I knew my father wasn’t stupid and that he probably knew exactly what I was talking about, but maybe my subtlety would have tipped him off that this was a private conversation. But no, after Donna and I had hung up, he was still standing right behind me, in no way trying to conceal his snooping.

“I’m going to Donna’s,” I say and march out the door.

A week later was when I had hung out with Leslie Cannon. I had invited her over to my house, to shove it in my father’s face that I was still his precious little cheerleader. My mom, still a no show.

I told Leslie that she should come over for lunch and that we should maybe work on some cheers for varsity cheerleading tryouts for our junior year. Leslie was also aiming for captain, which didn’t make me happy, but I reminded myself that I wasn’t doing this because I liked her in the first place, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Sure enough, Leslie drives up in my driveway exactly at noon, her shiny new blue Corvette winding its way up my driveway.

When I see her car my jaw drops.

“Jackie,” Leslie says by way of greeting when I open the door to let her inside.

“Nice wheels,” I tell her. Maybe I didn’t like her, but we did have one thing in common: we both had an affinity for cars. “Did you by any chance buy that car from Red Forman?” I ask her.

Leslie nods her head at me. “Yes. Can you believe it? When I went on that one date with his son, the ‘uh, buh’ kid, Eric? He told me it was his car. But it was his father’s. What a loser.”

I suppress a flare of anger. “He was just trying to impress you, Leslie,” I defend him.

“Whatever,” Leslie says. “So, are we going to cheer, or what?”

The housekeeper, Lena, makes Leslie and I lunch, and we practice some new, more difficult varsity cheers for a few hours. We make an appearance to my father in his office, and then two minutes after Leslie leaves, I leave too, racing down the driveway in my Lincoln.

Just because I had defended Eric didn’t mean I didn’t appreciate a good burn. After all, I was Jackie Burkhart.

Upon arriving at the Forman’s, I head straight for the basement, momentarily so caught up in the burn that I forgot that Eric was never down there anymore.

Only Steven was down there. Fez was probably at work.

“Where’s Eric?” I say as soon as I enter.

“In bed, where he’s been for the past two weeks. Why?” Steven looks up at me from the TV. He frowns. “Why are you wearing that? We’re not in school right now.”

I look down at myself, realizing that I forgot to change out of my cheer uniform. I ignore him. “I’ve got a burn to give him.”

This grabs Steven’s attention. “What?”

“Never mind you, it has to do with Eric,” I head for the stairs.

“All the more reason for you to tell me,” Steven follows me up the stairs.

I march all the way up to Eric’s room, Steven still behind me. I knock a few times.

“Here, let me. He won’t let you in,” Steven says. “Forman, open up.”

“Go away, Hyde,” a voice responds from inside.

Steven opens the door, taking Eric’s response as validation to enter.

“We’ve got a burn for you, buddy,” Steven sits on the edge of Eric’s bed.

“Um, excuse me, I’m the one with the burn,” I point to myself. “Me.”

I was beginning to think that we took these burns way too seriously.

Steven rolls his eyes at me. “Spill.”

“Eric, do you know who bought your dad’s Corvette?” I ask him. Eric doesn’t respond. I wait a moment before giving the answer. “The one and only, Leslie Cannon.”

Steven falls off of Eric’s bed, he’s laughing so hard. Eric just looks at me with a blank look.

“What part about that was supposed to make me feel better?” he asks.

I cross my arms, exasperated. “No part of it was supposed to make you feel better. Because it was a burn,” I say the last part slowly. “And come on, even you’ve got to appreciate the unexpected twist.”

Steven stands up again. “The unexpected twist? Man, this just shows that the universe really is against you, Forman.”

“Thanks Hyde,” Eric grins sarcastically before covering his head with his pillow once more, blocking us back out again.

That was how most of the summer would come to pass. Me, Steven and Fez, when he wasn’t working. And occasionally the forced interaction with Eric. I tried calling Donna once or twice more, but our conversations were clipped, and she was always the first once to say ‘bye.’ I not once talked to Michael, and I was glad.

I spent a lot of time with Kitty too. She taught me some things, like how to bake a pie. She had done that once a few years ago, but I had closed her off quickly. I managed not to burn my pie this time, although it wasn’t even close to tasting as good as one of hers. She did motherly things for me too. I had since told her that my mom hadn’t been home in weeks, and I had no idea where she was, or when she was coming home. It reminded me of when she had done the same for Donna a few months back, and I felt bad about being a bitch about it back then. Kitty took me to the movies, and we went for manicures and pedicures once too, on me. She even listened to me.

About three weeks after Donna and Michael left, Kitty and I sat in her kitchen one night after dinner. I had been spending many dinners with the Forman family (not all, but many), and Red hadn’t complained about me yet, so I didn’t feel bad. Kitty had a glass of wine and I had a glass of the sparkling cider that she had poured me a glass of.

“Jackie, you look upset,” Kitty says bluntly.

I look up, surprised. “How could you tell?”

Kitty thinks about it. “Well, you’re chipping your nail polish, first of all, which I know Jackie Burkhart would never do. So, what’s up? I’m here to listen.”

I sigh. “It’s been three weeks since Donna and Michael left and I had told myself that I was going to make this summer count and finally make some life changes, but I haven’t done that yet. I don’t know how.”

“Well,” Kitty says, seriously. “Your first problem is that you keep referring to that time from three weeks ago as ‘When Donna and Michael Left.’ There is some negative connotation to that. So,” Kitty claps her hands excitedly. “I know. We’ll instead call it The Renewal. That way you will be more encouraged to make these so-called changes.”

“Okay,” I go along with it. “So, it’s been three weeks since the start of The Renewal. But I feel like everyone’s been renewed except for me. Everyone’s changed.”

“Like who? Who’s changed?” Kitty asks.

“Well,” I think immediately to Steven and Fez, who I’ve spent most my time with. “Steven grew that beard. Fez got a job,” I begin. “Donna’s spending time with her mom. And even though Eric’s upset that she’s gone, he has learned something. That Donna is the only girl for him.”

“I see the problem here,” Kitty nods, assertively. “First of all, growing a beard doesn’t count as change. At least not in the context that we’re referring to. Steven made a physical change to his appearance, not an emotional one, like you’re referring to.

“And yes, Fez got a job. But you helped him find it, right? And that wasn’t a conscious decision that he made. His host parents made him get a job. When you got a job it was a conscious decision that you made so that you could keep something else.

“As for Donna. Yes. She did make a big change. She left, and that takes courage, courage that a lot of people in this world don’t have. A lot of people. But it’s not all positive. Donna ran away from her problems instead of trying to fix them. Michael did the same, and that is somewhat cowardly of the both of them.

“And you’re also right about Eric learning something about himself. That he is meant to be with Donna. But you did the same thing Jackie. Maybe you didn’t learn who you’re meant to be with, but you learned that Michael isn’t him. And that puts you one step closer to finding the one. And that’s closer than many people will ever get.

“And while Eric has taken this newfound information, he has allowed it to make him miserable and wallow in bed all day every day. You’ve taken this information head on. Jackie, you get up and get dressed every day and face your problems, unlike Eric. I love him, but you have proven to be stronger than him in this respect.

“You’ve been having a tough summer Jackie. And I’d be a liar if I said it was going to get easier. Because the reality is that it doesn’t get easier. You just get used to it. Jackie, the way I see it, you’ve lost the most this summer, and you’ve changed the most. You have been renewed, and you don’t even realize it.”

I feel an unwanted tear slip from my eye. Kitty made total sense, and suddenly a wave of relief washes over me. Of course I realized that one could interpret that in a completely different direction, but I wanted to believe Kitty’s version so badly. And I felt I had the right to believe it. So I did.

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Forman. You are the best mother anyone could ask for,” I tell her earnestly.

Kitty gives me a small smile. “I don’t know about that, sweetie, but I do try.” Then she pats my hand. “Tell you what, it’s getting late, but tomorrow morning how about I teach you how to make brownies? Brownies make everything better.”

I nod. “I’d love that.”

And the next morning, bright and early at seven o’clock like we had decided on, I showed up at the Forman house.

In the kitchen however, I find a sheet of notebook paper addressed to me lying on the counter. It reads:

Jackie – I got called into the hospital this morning to take the shift of a nurse who fell unexpectedly ill. I should be home by noon, if you are willing to wait to make brownies. Mrs. Forman.

I decide to wait. I really wanted to learn to make brownies. I turn around and look at the counter. There is a large mixing bowl with a sheet of paper inside and various baking ingredients displayed on the counter. I pick up the sheet of paper in the bowl. It reads: BROWNIE RECIPE.

I think it was safe to say that Kitty had been looking forward to this too.

I smile to myself and walk into the Forman living room, figuring that I’ll just watch TV, but Red is already in there, dressed for work.

“Oh, what are you doing here already?” he whines. “This isn’t a damn daycare center.”

I cross my arms. “Fine. I’ll just go in the basement,” I spin on my heel and head downstairs.

No one is in the basement, but I figure that it is too early for normal teenagers to be up in the middle of the summer at this hour anyway. So I sit on the couch and begin flipping through the channels. There is nothing on except for the weather and re-runs of The Brady Bunch, so I settle with the Brady’s.

But it was that episode where they go to Hawaii and Gregg falls into the water. I roll my eyes. It seemed like this was the only episode that was ever on TV. I begin to fall asleep ten minutes into the episode, before Gregg’s epic fall. It was somewhere around when that gross spider creeps into Jan’s bag.

“Seriously? Why are you here so early today?” I hear Steven’s voice reverberate loudly from behind me. He comes around and sits on his chair. “Ugh, this show is crap.”

“I know,” I say groggily. “It’s the only thing on at seven thirty in the morning. I’m surprised you’re up so early.”

Steven gives me a grumpy look. “The screams of the Brady family when Gregg falls in the water woke me. Again, why are you here so early today?”

I furrow my brows. Something about how he said the word ‘today’ was unsettling. But upon further thought I realized that I actually had been here every single day since Don – The Renewal.

“Mrs. Forman was going to teach me how to make brownies. But she had to go to the hospital to work so I have to wait until later,” I explain.

“Wait. You don’t know how to make brownies?” Steven sneers.

“What? And I suppose you do?” I say in my defense.

He looks at me as if I’m really slow. “Every burnout in America knows how to make brownies. Especially the special kind.”

“Right, I forgot about that,” I roll my eyes. “Of course.”

Steven’s silent for a moment. Then he gets up and goes to his room. He comes back out with a paper bag. “Did Mrs. Forman take out the ingredients already?”

“Yes,” I frown. “Why?”

“Has Mrs. Forman ever told you that brownies make everything better?” Steven grins.

I think to last night. “Yeah. Again, why?”

“Well, special brownies make things even better. And I’ve been meaning to make some to help Forman. And since Mrs. Forman already took everything out, I figured that now’s as good a time as any. Come on, I’ll teach you,” Steven explains.

“Seriously?” I say, disbelieving.

Steven just shrugs and moves to the stairs. “It’s up to you.” I follow him up the stairs. He sees the ingredients and smiles. “Alright, time to make some special brownies.”

“Careful, Red’s in there,” I whisper, pointing to the living room door.

“Crap,” Steven mutters, shoving the paper bag in his pocket. Then he walks over the mixing bowl and pulls out the recipe. “Alright, Mrs. Forman’s recipe and everything. Okay, young grasshopper. Your first lesson was Zen, your second is brownies. Are you ready for this?”

“Ugh, if this is anything like your ’Zen’ lesson, then I might as well wait for Mrs. Forman,” I sigh.

“But will Mrs. Forman teach you how to make the special kind?”

“Okay, fine,” I cross my arms. “What do I do?”

“Here. Crack two eggs into the mixing bowl,” Steven passes me a carton of eggs before turning back to the mixing bowl.

“You’re kidding right?” I hold the carton at arm’s length. I get no response. “You’re not going to make this easy, are you?”

“What’s the fun in that?” Steven goes after the butter.

“But these are eggs. They came out of a chicken butt. I can’t touch that,” I complain.

“But you have before,” is all he says. He drops the butter in the mixing bowl and moves on to the next ingredient. I’m still standing there holding the eggs.

“What? No I haven’t. And how would you know if I did anyways?” I say, exasperated.

“Okay, same rules apply as your last lesson. No questions,” the he turns around. “And yeah, you have touched an egg before. Remember when you gave Kelso that egg to babysit? The one I broke? Right before the two of you got back together?”

I had forgotten about that egg. “Yeah, well, I had been wearing gloves, and wait –you broke the egg?” I realize what he said.

“Whoops, guess you didn’t know that part,” Steven just grins at ratting out Michael.

“What?” is all I manage.

Now he looks exasperated. “Look, if you crack those eggs I’ll tell you what happened.”

The curiosity gets the best of me. I place the carton of eggs on the counter and crack two of them into the bowl as fast as I can. Then I go wash my hands.

“Kelso brought the egg to the basement and said we should pass it back and forth before he went and threw it at something. Then Donna showed up to tell him about your crazy plan. Lucky for me, I was holding the egg, and…come on, you’d do the same thing,” Steven puts the last of the ingredients in the mixing bowl and then begins to stir.

I turn off the sink, my hands burning from the scalding water. Then he passes me the mixing bowl. I begin to stir, thinking. “Donna’s got a big mouth. She always told me that I shouldn’t get back together with Michael after he cheated on me, and then she went and increased his chances of getting back with me.” I finish mixing and then put the bowl back on the counter. “Okay. Enough talk about Michael. What’s the next part of my lesson?”

“Go guard the door,” Steven says quickly.

“What?” I say, but do it anyway.

“Really? What did I say about questions?” he snaps. Once I get to the door, however, he pulls out the paper bag and adds the ‘special ingredient.’ “Now mix again,” he says handing me the bowl. “Quick.”

As I mix, he goes and grabs a soda from the fridge. I suspected there wasn’t any beer. When I finish mixing, I put the bowl down. Steven goes and sits on the chair by the phone.

“Now, lucky for you,” he says, “Mrs. Forman already greased the brownie pan. I suspect that wouldn’t have gone over well with you. Now all you have to do is pour the batter into the pan.”

I tilt the mixing bowl at an angle and begin to pour. I watch it spread evenly throughout the pan.

“Use this to get all the extra batter out,” Steven shows up with a rubber looking spatula.

Once I finish that he tells me to stick it in the oven. “Now, I preheated the oven when we started. You should always do that first so that you don’t have to wait for the oven to heat up once your batter is made. Now go check how long Mrs. Forman’s recipe says to put them in for.”

I check. 42 minutes. Steven makes me figure out how to use Mrs. Forman’s timer on my own.

“Come on, while that bakes let’s go see if Gregg has recovered yet,” Steven grabs his soda and goes down to the basement. “Bring the timer. I don’t want that stash to have been wasted.”

By the time we get back down, Gregg has already recovered, and he, Bobby and Peter have already been trapped by that creepy old guy. I almost fall asleep again, and I practically jump ten feet in the air when the timer screams at me 42 minutes later.

“Go get your brownies out of the oven,” Steven says. He’s completely disregarded the TV at this point and is instead reading one of his The Stones magazines. “Don’t forget to wear oven mitts.”

I drag myself upstairs, still pretty tired from my almost-nap. I pull on the oven mitts and remove the brownies from the oven. I put them on the counter and sniff. The only scent was of chocolate.

Steven shows up at the top of the stairs a few moments later. “I’ll go get Forman,” he says, and takes off into the living room. A few moments later I hear a loud thump from the upstairs. Then, “Jackie, could use some help up here!”

I scramble up the stairs to Eric’s room. Steven’s got him by both of the ankles and Eric is sprawled across the floor.

“If you wanted my help all you had to do was ask,” I mutter. I move to Eric’s head and grab his wrists. “Let’s go,” I sigh.

Somehow we manage to get Eric all the way to the basement. Although, by the time we got to the kitchen and he saw that the brownies were not some fictional ruse to get him out of bed he walked down to the basement without any further assistance.

About half an hour later, the three of us were sitting in a Circle.

Eric gives off a mellow laugh. “Man. My mom’s right. Brownies make everything better.”

Steven grins at Eric. “Or, as I like to say, special brownies make everything better.”

I laugh. “Eric, your mom is so cool.”

Steven points at me. “Okay, last part of your lesson, young grasshopper. Look at Forman. Twenty minutes ago he was a lifeless lump his bed. See how the brownies have wakened him?”

I look at Eric. He laughs. “Grasshopper, ha. Jackie you’re a bug.”

“Yeah,” I look at Steven. “He’s so much better now,” I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Hey, I could be moaning about Donna,” Eric looks down at his feet. Then he looks back up all of a sudden. “Hyde, you’ve got brownie all over your face, man.”

Steven looks at me again. “Okay, so he’s not perfect. But he’s better.” Then he turns back to Forman. “It’s a beard man, come on.”

“Hmmm,” Eric looks deep in thought. “There’s something missing here. Where’s Fez?”

“He’s at work,” I tell Eric. “He works at a jewelry store.” I feel the high of the brownie wearing off.

“And Jackie. Why are you being so nice?” Eric asks, his voice rising an octave.

I laugh. “Okay, Eric. I think you’ve had too much brownie if you think I’m being nice.”

Eric looks to Steven. He just shrugs. Eric thinks again. “A lot’s changed,” he decides.

I realize that he’s right. To an outsider, it might seem as if things were still the same, especially for the three of us, sitting here in the basement like we have been for so long, and would probably still be doing years from now. But somehow I feel like because we were still there, we had changed more than the rest.

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