“So it’s just bruised?” Steven asks after I explain to him and Fez that my wrist was only bruised. “I heard a pretty loud crack.”
The two of them were tossing a football back and forth, and Fez was wearing the stupid helmet. Since Steven’s chair was broken and he was now sitting on the couch, I was occupying the deep freeze in order to avoid sustaining another injury, this time from the football.
“Me too,” I say after a moment, remembering the crack I heard. “Mrs. Forman thinks I might’ve just cracked a joint. Kind of like cracking your knuckles, I guess,” I shrug. “I can’t really remember. But Mrs. Forman is making me keep it wrapped for the rest of the day.”
Fez looks at me through the helmet, and I have to try not to laugh at his casual sporting of it. Only Fez would willingly wear the helmet that everyone else was embarrassed to wear. For that he kind of deserved to wear it.
“I guess you’ve replaced Kelso as the water tower-faller in his absence,” Fez says.
Steven shakes his head at Fez, smiling ruefully. “Man, if you weren’t already wearing the helmet you’d be putting it on right about now.”
I attempt to change the subject. “You know, its still light out, the rain has stopped, and it’s a beautiful summer day, and you guys are tossing a football back and forth in a basement.
Fez, who now has the football looks at Steven. “She makes a point…”
“One on one?” Steven asks. Fez nods, and they both are out of the basement and out the stairs leading to the Forman’s back yard before I even have time to slide off the deep freeze.
I grab a Popsicle and casually follow the guys outside. By the time I reach the driveway where the basketball hoop is, they’re already in full-on game mode. I grab one of the chairs from the porch with my good hand and drag it over to the opening of the garage to watch the game.
For a street game, they’re both pretty good, but not nearly as coordinated and skilled as the professional players. And as my Popsicle slowly disappears, it becomes easier and easier for me to predict their moves. Once I finish it, I stand up and walk closer to their game, conscious to avoid getting in the way. And I begin to narrate, in lieu of doing nothing.
“And Steven grabs the ball from Fez – which, might have been a foul, but moving on. He heads for the basket…but Fez blocks the way. Steven fakes left, oh, and makes it in on a layup. Fez grabs the ball off the rebound and travels back to the other side of the…driveway,” I watch the game for a moment before continuing.
“Besides countless fouls, especially including travelling on both sides, Fez makes a clean shot from the three point line despite the guileless efforts of his opponent. Oh, but Steven makes a comeback, successfully making two consecutive jump shots.”
“Jackie, what are you doing, you’re messing with my flow,” Fez whines, momentarily forgetting about the game.
I twist my mouth to the side. “You’re no fun. This is all I can do, remember? My wrist? I can’t play. So I’ll narrate.”
“Jackie, never have you once played basketball out here with anybody. You always sit on the sidelines,” Steven walks over to where Fez and I are standing. “And since when do you know basketball?”
“I’ve spent a lot of wasted time with Michael and the other Kelso brothers. I know basketball. And football. And baseball. And – ”
“Okay, okay,” Steven interrupts me. “So why now?”
I look between him and Fez. “Well, in case you haven’t noticed, this summer has really been only the three of us. In the past I would have someone to talk to while the others play basketball. But ‘the others’ are all gone. You two are literally the only ones left. And now you’re playing, and that leaves me watching alone,” I shake my head. “Do you see anyone else here?” I hold out my arms.
They both look at me like I’ve gone crazy. “Um…” is all Fez says.
I sigh, moving back toward the chair. “I like to talk!” I say sitting down. “And I have no one to talk to, so I narrated the game. But I’ll shut up if its messing with your mojo, or whatever the hell you called it.”
Instead of waiting for a response, I march into the kitchen, suddenly missing hanging out with Kitty. She was, as usual, in the kitchen, getting dinner ready.
“Hey, Mrs. Forman,” I sigh. “Can I help you with anything?”
She smiles at me. “I heard you narrating the game out there. How many more tricks do you have up your sleeve?”
I grin, sitting at the kitchen table. “I can fix a car. But Mr. Forman knows that one.”
“Yet, I can’t get you to cook,” Kitty laughs. “Can I get you to set the table?”
“Sure thing,” I stand up, and grab the dishes from the counter. Kitty leans down and pulls something out of the oven that smells like heaven. The dish is covered with cheese and appears to be something of a casserole.
I set out a plate for Red, Steven, Kitty, Eric and myself. Kitty glances at one point, and I can practically read her mind. I see her counting the number of dishes, and she gives me a small smile when she sees I set one for Eric.
“You know, I bring him up a plate from dinner every night,” she admits. “I…he can’t not eat. He’s already too skinny.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “I’m happy to do it. Especially for someone who lets me eat here almost every night.”
Steven and Fez saunter into the kitchen, clearly lulled by the smell of food. Kitty ignores them and walks over to me at the table. “Speaking of which,” she says. “Any other word on your mother yet?”
“She’s still not coming home,” I look down at the plate, tracing the little patterns on the edge with my finger.
Not pushing the subject, she pats me on the shoulder. “You’re always welcome to have dinner here.” Then she stands up and addresses the boys. “Alright, Fez. Am I setting you a place at the table?”
“Oh, no thank you, Mrs. Forman. I’ve got a date tonight with my girl Stephanie.”
“Ooh, good for you,” Kitty laughs. “Well, have fun,” she says as Fez heads for the door.
“Hey, Fez,” I say, a thought occurring to me. “How do you get home every day if you don’t drive?” I ask, suddenly curious.
“I walk. I live on the next street over. Didn’t you know that?” Fez frowns.
“Man, I’m the only one who’s ever been to your house,” Steven walks over. “And that was a few years ago. Come to think of it, where you live now is almost as much a mystery as your homeland.”
“Oh dear, its time for me to leave,” Fez swallows uncomfortably and disappears.
“Way to scare him off,” I tell Steven.
“No kidding,” he takes his seat at the table. “He took off like a bat out of Hell.”
Next Kitty calls Red and Eric to the table and begins to serve what she tells me is called her ‘special broccoli and rice casserole’ that would apparently leave me begging for more after taking ‘just one bite’.
And again, we eat with one seat empty, left obligingly for Eric, who never shows. Sometimes Kitty glances over at his seat, then back at the kitchen door, as if expecting Eric to burst through at just that moment, breaking weeks of depression to come eat his mother’s warm food. And Red, Red who sits across from Eric’s seat, often seemed to be caught by surprise by the empty chair, causing an expression of shock to quickly morph into something more along the lines of anger and maybe some desperation, although I wasn’t sure if it was for the sake of his disconsolate wife or for his despondent son.
Kitty was right about the casserole. It really was one of the best things I had ever tasted, and I even put on a big show about it, just in the hopes of making her feel better. Then, upon further thought, as she began to pick up the dishes and Red disappears into the living room, I begin to fill up Eric’s empty plate with a serving of the casserole.
“Do you want me to put this in the oven-warmer for Eric?” I ask Kitty.
She glances up at me, and suddenly I understand the satisfaction people get from helping others. I still wasn’t sure if that was really for me, but the grin on Kitty’s tired face did make me want to smile too.
“Yes, Jackie. That would be very nice,” Kitty responds.
I put the dish in the oven-warmer and walk back over to the table to clear more of the dishes. Steven, who is finishing his third serving mutters something to me under his breath without looking up. All he says is, “Donna.”
Right. I’d made Steven promise not to tell Eric, but it would probably be a good idea for me to tell Kitty. And probably Bob, too, if Donna hadn’t already.
I turn to Kitty. “Mrs. Forman, there’s something I should probably tell you,” I place a pile of dishes next to the sink. Kitty looks up at me, curious, but continues to wash the bowl in her hands.
“I got a call from Donna,” I tell her. I glance at the bowl, which almost slips out of her hand. Before telling her the rest, I reach over and grab the bowl from her so she won’t drop it and break it.
“And?” she says quietly.
“And she’s staying in California with her mom. She’s not coming back.”
“Eric,” she puts her hand to her forehead.
“I know, Mrs. Forman, I’m so sorry,” I plead. She doesn’t look up.
I glance back desperately at Steven. He looks alarmed. He stands up and walks over to where we are standing.
“Mrs. Forman?” he asks. “Are you alright?”
This seems to snap her out of her reverie. She gives me and Steven a thin-lipped smile. “Oh, I’m fine,” she laughs loudly. “And I don’t know about you guys, but this has convinced me that it’s time for Eric to get his butt out of bed and start living again!”
I’m slightly taken aback by her response. “Sure…” I drift off.
“I think I’m going to go have a stern talk with him right now,” Kitty nods determined.
“Oh, dear, well I’m just going to head out then,” I begin to retreat toward the door.
“Jackie!” Kitty yells my name across the kitchen.
I jump, startled. “What?”
Kitty shakes her head. “Nope. I don’t want you driving with your wrist.”
“Seriously?” I sigh.
“Steven, drive her home please, so Red and I can go talk to Eric,” Kitty says, and begins to walk toward the living room.
“On it,” Steven grabs my keys before I have time to protest. But then, as if remembering something, he glances at me, then turns back to Kitty. “Oh, and Mrs. Forman. I wouldn’t tell Eric about Donna yet. Give her the opportunity to tell him.”
Then Steven walks out the kitchen door, and I have no choice but to follow him.
“No argument this time about how you should really just drive yourself home?” Steven says when he sees I’m following without argument.
“Nope,” I grin, getting in the passenger seat of his Camino. “I decided to let it pass because I was right.”
“What?” he asks as we pull out of the driveway.
I sigh, exasperated. “I was right. When I told you about Donna, you wanted to tell Eric, but I told you to let Donna, although you disagreed. But you just told Mrs. Forman to let Donna tell Eric. So you know I’m right.”
“Yeah, well, the last time you were right today you fell off a water tower because of it,” Steven shrugs.
“Oh, stop ruining my fun,” I whine.
He shrugs again. “I just speak the truth.”
“And the truth was, I was right,” I nod.
“There’s no getting to you,” he shakes his head.
I laugh. “Finally, you’re catching on.”
“But do you really think Donna will tell Forman?”
I think about it for a minute. “Yeah,” I say eventually. “Because…Donna said she left because she needed her mom, and so she could find herself, you know? Although Eric contributed to the problem, he’s not why she left. So I think she’ll eventually find the courage to tell Eric.”
Steven pulls into my driveway. “Well, we’ll see if you’re right again.”
“Just you wait,” I open the door. “Give me my keys,” I say, and he does. “Good night.”
“Night,” he says before backing out.
I walk to the front door and open it up. Once I step inside, however, and am surrounded by the darkness and silence, it hits me.
It had been happening all along and I hadn’t even realized it.
Its actuality had always been there, and had already come to fruition. But only just now, with the before and after staring me right in the face was I actually able to see and understand it myself. And I couldn’t believe I was allowing myself to think this.
When The Renewal began, and Steven had driven me home that night, I was a broken girl, who had let a boy control how I felt and was acting like a victim because my friend had left me. I treated Steven like he and the rest of the world were against me.
But now, nearing the end of July, when Kitty had made him drive me home again, things had certainly changed. I hardly ever even thought about that boy who used to control my emotions. I had moved on and learned how to live without that friend, and was instead trying to find out how to help another who had been felt victimized by her disappearance. And I had joked around and carried a serious conversation simultaneously with Steven, treating him like the friend he had become and not another enemy.
And I realized the beautiful thing about change. If your circumstance changes, you will change regardless. You don’t even have to do anything, but it will happen, and more likely than not you will become a better person because of it.
A metamorphosis. A caterpillar into a butterfly. And that’s how nature works every time.