“Fenton is trying to take from me what was given to me by God himself,” Fez groans one afternoon as he dreads going to work.
I cross over from the record player and sit on the couch. “Fez, don’t you think you’re overreacting a little bit?”
“No!” Fez whines. “I’m supposed to be the king of the jewelry store. That’s my tactic for getting the ladies. Like Stephanie, my boss,” Fez explains. “But Fenton is constantly showing up from next door and is always showing off all his knowledge about jewelry.”
Steven frowns. “You can have knowledge about jewelry?”
“Well, maybe this Fenton guy is also trying to get Stephanie to notice him,” I suggest.
“No,” Fez looks down. “I even asked him that. He said that she wasn’t his type.”
I just shrug and pick up a magazine from the coffee table.
There is a moment of silence. Then, “I need candy.” And Fez storms out the basement.
“Eric still in bed?” I ask Steven, once Fez is gone.
He nods his head. “Man, if special brownies can’t save his ass, then nothing can.”
“Why do you care so much?” I look up from my magazine. “I mean, I’d understand why anybody else would care. But you’re supposed to be the one with no emotions.”
Steven looks at me like I’m crazy. I lift up my hands in defense. “It’s true.”
Steven doesn’t dignify that with a response. So I turn back to my magazine. I just finish an article on how to coordinate lip gloss with your outfit and am about to flip the page when Steven throws the magazine he had been reading across the room. It hits the wall and falls behind the TV.
“Crap,” he mutters.
I look at him, confused. “Are you alright?”
Steven looks at me, distracted. I can tell he didn’t hear a single thing I said. “What?” he asks.
“Was that just one of those angry outbursts people like you get?”
“Jackie, what the hell are you talking about?” Steven says losing patience.
Well, I was losing patience with him. I sigh, closing my magazine and put it on the table. “Okay,” I start. “In our group, everyone categorically matches a different personality. As I was just saying before, Steven, you’re the one with no emotions. You’re the burnout. Me, I’m the shallow bitch. Eric is the spineless geek, Michael is the stupid one, Donna is the crazy feminist, and Fez is the confused foreign one. See?” I clap my hands together.
“You’re not a shallow bitch,” is all he says.
“Yeah, I am. And I’ve come to accept it,” I nod.
“Oh, no,” Steven looks down at his magazine. “No. You act like a shallow bitch, but I can tell that all the things that you say that may be classified that way you don’t actually mean. You pretend to be a bitch, but you aren’t in actuality. In reality, there’s a lot more gray then in your black and white version.”
I cross my arms skeptically. “Go on.”
Steven sighs, spinning in his chair to face me. “Yes, you’re right that I’m the burnout. But as you observed, I do care about Forman. He’s like the brother I never had. I’m not heartless,” he says wryly.
“And as for Forman. Yeah, he’s a spineless weakling who loves Star Wars way too much, but if that’s all he cared about, he wouldn’t be spending all summer locked up in his room.
“Kelso is incredibly stupid, but he also knows how to have fun more than anyone that I know. Donna may be a crazy feminist, but her intentions are good and she’s smart. And Fez – ”
As if by the sound of his name, Fez saunters back into the basement and sits in the lawn chair, now holding a bag of candy. “Well yeah. Fez really is just that horny, confused foreigner.”
Fez, completely unaware of our conversation nods along. “Right you are, amigo.”
I think about everything Steven has just said, and what Kitty had told me a few days ago. They had both taken two ideas that I had believed so wholeheartedly and changed those indoctrinations so entirely that my world had begun to spin on a whole new axis. From Kitty I learned that change didn’t have to make an obvious physical appearance, and that most the time, the changes that really mattered were really only obvious to yourself and that was okay. From Steven I learned that of course, it didn’t even make since that the world would black and white. Because opposites attract and eventually that black and white would get so close that they would mix and form a whole new genus: gray. Steven hadn’t told me anything that I didn’t know about any of our friends or ourselves. He just put it in perspective. But the more I thought about it, the quicker I began to realize that there was something about myself that Steven hadn’t picked up on and that I had just realized.
I was naïve and my world was shrouded in complete and utter ignorance.
“Steven, Jackie, dinner’s ready,” was now a commonly heard phrase heard in the Forman household each evening. By that time, Fez was either working, or had gone home for dinner, and Kitty and Red still did not mind my presence. It was no different that night.
“It’s burger night,” Steven says as we make our way up the stairs.
“You think Eric will show?” I ask him.
“For burgers? Nah. Maybe once he would’ve, but not today.”
We make it to the kitchen, and sure enough, it was burger night. Kitty had all the burgers set out on a plate over the stove, and all the condiments from mustard to lettuce and the buns spread out across the rest of the island. Kitty’s meals never failed to surprise me. They were always so…elaborate. She never did things halfway. I had begun to realize that with Kitty it was go hard or go home.
I made my burger and then took ‘my seat’. I had never realized before that the Forman’s all had their own seat assignments. It was one of the many small details I had learned about this family since The Renewal. First was Red, then Laurie when she was home, then Steven, then Kitty, then Eric, and then now there was me next to ‘Eric’.
But we all knew that Eric never came down for any meals, yet every night Kitty set out a plate at his seat, and I respected that and pulled up my chair on the other side of his.
“So,” Kitty pulls her chair in and joins the rest of us. “What’s new?” she says to no one in particular. No one says anything. “Red?” Kitty looks to her husband.
Red sighs and puts his fork down. He doesn’t look to happy. “Nothing is new, Kitty. Look around. Who knows where our daughter is? And we all know where our son is. We always know where he is. And for the past several weeks, although we’ve been feeding two kids every night, Jackie is not our daughter, and Steven is not our son.”
Steven, who was looking at Red, now looks down at his plate. I do the same.
“Okay,” Kitty gives off one of her uncomfortable laughs. “Steven. Jackie. What’s new with you two?”
I’m somewhat afraid to say something because of Red, but thankfully Steven speaks up. “We’re going to see Fez after dinner. It’s Wednesday so that means he has the late shift at the store,” he shares the plans we had made earlier.
I speak up now. “Yeah, he has this…co-worker of sorts that he has trouble with, so we’re going to give him some moral support.”
“How very kind of you two. You should bring Eric along. He could use some fresh air,” Kitty smiles.
We all look down at our food again, uncomfortable. We all knew, even Kitty, that Eric would not be going to the store with us. Kitty sighs audibly, and I begin to wonder if she has been having a rough summer too, with Laurie supposedly in Canada, and a son that she can’t seem to fix.
I look up at her. The lines in her forehead stand out more than I’ve ever noticed, and she has dark, purple circles lining the bottom of her eyes, as if all the missing sleep she has surely suffered has collected in concentration just above her cheeks.
The thought of Kitty being sad brings a wave of sorrow over me, stronger than I expect.
After dinner I help Kitty with the dishes while Steven, more for show than anything, makes a last ditch effort to get Eric to come with us.
Steven flies back into the kitchen and immediately heads for the sliding door. “Let’s go, Jackie.”
I grab a towel and dry off my hands. “Is Eric coming with us?”
Steven just shakes his head.
Red, still sitting at the kitchen table shakes his head. “Dumbass,” he mutters.
I frown. “Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Forman,” tell her before following Steven out to his car.
“What’s crawled up Red’s ass and died up there?” Steven says as he navigates out of the driveway.
“His foot,” I say instinctively.
Steven lets out a surprised laugh. “Good one,” he says, giving me a high five.
“Well,” I say, still trying to joke around while trying to get to the truth. “He wants to put his foot in Eric’s ass so badly, but he can’t because he’s in bed. And you haven’t gotten into any trouble, Fez is always working, and Michael’s not here. So, in his own ass it went.”
“Oh, and I take it that you and Donna are perfect?”
“Damn it,” I shrug. “I was hoping you wouldn’t catch on.”
“Well, you’re right. Red hasn’t put his foot in many asses this summer.”
“Hmm, just another change, I guess,” I think out loud.
“Change?” Steven glances at me.
“Oh, nothing,” I say quickly, realizing he probably had no idea what I was going off about.
The mall isn’t very crowded, but that wasn’t surprising for a Wednesday night. Steven and I have no trouble getting to the jewelry store.
“I guess that’s where that Fenton guy must work,” I point to the front of the lingerie store as we walk by it.
Steven glances ahead. “Huh. So it’s really right next door to the jewelry store.” He looks at the lingerie store. “So, if Fenton works there, then he’s a step ahead of Fez in the competition.”
“What competition?” I ask as we enter the jewelry store.
“For that chick. Sophie, or something? His boss?”
We spot Fez and begin to walk that way. “But Fez said that Fenton said Stephanie wasn’t his type.” I contest.
“That’s a load of crap,” he stops before we reach Fez. “If she’s got boobs then she’s any guy’s type.”
“What?” I say incredulously. “You are so gross.”
Steven just shrugs. “It’s the truth. Okay, before we go see Fez, which one is she?”
I point to Stephanie’s blond head. “Her.”
“Do you know her?”
I shrug. “I am Stephanie Hilt’s favorite customer.”
“Of course,” Steven rolls his eyes. “Okay, we’re going to help Fez. Go talk to her while I prep Fez.” Then he pushes me forward before taking off toward Fez.
“Hey, Stephanie,” I approach her. She is sitting at a table behind one of the display cases doing some paperwork. She looks sophisticated in her glasses and signature pearls.
“Jackie, here to buy anything?” she glances up from her paperwork.
“Well, you know me, I can’t go to the mall without buying anything,” I laugh. “But actually, I was hoping I could talk to you.”
“Yeah, okay,” Stephanie stands up and walks to the display case.
“How’s Fez doing?”
“Oh,” she puts a hand over her heart. “You were so right. He does have a gift with jewelry, and all the female customers love him. He gets a lot of attention,” she says approvingly.
“Yeah, but he really only wants attention from one person,” I say subtly.
“Who’s that?” Stephanie asks, not following.
“You!” I say. “He likes you. You should talk to him, get to know him. And if you do it now, you could have my moral support.”
Stephanie looks over to where Fez is standing. Steven has already finished talking to him and is standing off to the side.
“Well, okay,” Stephanie agrees.
I try to hide my surprise at how willing she was to go along with this. “Great. I’m going to go stand over there with my friend. Just call me if you need any support.”
She nods and I scurry over to where Steven is standing. “She agreed to talk to him,” I beam. Then I turn around and look at Fez and Stephanie.
They begin to talk, but we are too far away to catch anything they say. Fez’s back is to us, but at one point, when he crosses his arms to his back, he gives us a thumbs up.
“Yes!” I say softly, spinning in a circle.
“You know,” Steven shakes his head. “Fez could be such a ladies man if he wasn’t such a…” he’s at a loss for words.
I think about our conversation earlier that day. “Confused foreigner?”
Steven gives me a quick grin. “Exactly.”
I learned a lot more that summer. The way I began to think about certain people had changed entirely, and I found friends in people that I had thought little of beforehand.
The next day I received some unsettling news about my mother, and shortly thereafter some more harrowing news from Donna. I felt crushed, all over again, but I found solace in unexpected measures.
And this is what I learned:
No matter if the horizon holds promise or despair, life goes on. And whether or not you like it you learn to live with it. You get up every day, and you might sing with joy or clench your teeth in restraint, but you just keep going. That’s all any of us know how to do. And so we do it.