The New Custom
When I walk out of the foyer and into the living room, I almost have a heart attack.
“Dad,” I whisper, resting my hand over my heart.
I was used to coming home to a completely dark house, and the sight of a person sitting in a fully lit living room throws me out of my mental stability.
“I decided to wait up for you,” he says quietly, and slightly uncomfortably.
I take a step forward, and then another. He doesn’t say anything more. Finally, I make my way across the room and sit beside him on the couch. Behind the couch sits the bar, and a half a bottle of scotch sits on top of it, a bottle I knew was unopened last night.
“You are right that you deserved to know about your mother,” my father says unexpectedly. “But, I didn’t tell you not because I thought you didn’t have the right to know, but because I was trying to protect you from the truth so that you wouldn’t be hurt.”
I glance at my father warily. Now I notice the glass of scotch he has in his hand that he had been cleverly hiding. I glance up at his face. He looks tired. His dark, almost black, brunette hair like my own was now dusted with gray hairs throughout. The tension in his jaw was obviously discernible and his skin was pale, so much so that the blood vessels on the back of his hands stood out; a sharp blue ink against parchment paper.
I knew he was trying to be honest with me, so I would do the same. “Dad, you don’t need to protect me from anything, I’ve been looking after myself for most of my life. I don’t need your protection.”
His dark eyes that we also shared drop down to the floor. “Yes, I know Jackie. And I’ve done a lot of thinking. My most recent indiscretions were in no way meant to hurt or offend you. But I realize now that they have, and that I am completely ignorant to have thought that they would have done otherwise. And its because you’re right. You have mostly raised yourself without your mother and me. I’ve been too focused on my work.
“But, one could argue that that hasn’t gotten me very far,” all of a sudden he looks faraway, and I wonder if he remembers that he is talking to me, or if he’s somewhere else altogether. But then he focuses back on me, his eyes so dark that I can’t make out his pupils. “Jackie, I can’t say the same for your mother, I will be honest. But I will try to do better, and be a real father to you.”
As much as I was a sucker for these sweet moments in movies, they were not really so glamorous in real life. And although I could have made it such, by leaning in and giving my father a big hug, telling him that the past is just that, the past, and we could start over, that would never actually happen.
Because I knew that the past shaped who you were, and although I could give my father another chance, I had learned from a boyfriend that was no longer, that the past couldn’t be erased, and in reality, those ‘indiscretions’ my father had talked about could never be forgiven. They could only be accepted as is, as you try to move on and make your life happier.
So, all I say to my father is, “Okay.” Then I stand up, and without looking back, I make my way to the stairs. And as if in a hurry, I take two at a time. Once I get into my room, I take the door and shut it lightly, wanting to be alone, but no longer angry enough at my father to let him know it.
When I wake up the next morning, I feel something of a new experience. For the first time this summer – for the first time since The Renewal – I wake up and feel nothing. No extreme emotion of anguish, sadness, confusion, joy, or anticipation. It was finally just another day, and the change had been completed, and was now the new custom.
I could hear my father downstairs making coffee in the kitchen. This too caused no feelings of anxiety that would have before sent my stomach into knots.
I get out of bed and see that, outside my window, it is raining. I sigh. I had to walk to the Forman’s. I better dress warmly. Although it was still summer, the rain in Wisconsin could bring the weather down to the low sixties, and between the wet and rain, it could actually feel pretty cold. So I put on a long-sleeved purple button down and jeans before heading downstairs.
“Jackie, where’s your car?” my father asks when I get into the kitchen.
I open up the kitchen door and pull out the orange juice. I hold up my wrapped up hand for my father to see. “I fell on my hand yesterday. Mrs. Forman is a nurse and wouldn’t let me drive home, so she had her son drop me off,” I explain hastily as I pour myself a glass.
“Well, do you need a ride anywhere on my way to work?” my father asks, his back to me as he messes with the coffeemaker.
I practically choke on my orange juice, and it begins to pour down my chin. I quickly reach for a napkin. “Excuse me?”
My father turns around, confused. “Jackie?”
“Yeah, sure!” I say quickly, remembering the weather, and willing to do anything to get out of walking.
This causes my father to smile, briefly, and I’m humbled that my accepting his driving offer is all it took to make him happy.
“Well, are you ready to go then?” he asks after a moment.
“Sure, just let me grab my keys for later,” and then we are out of the door and on the way.
It does make me a little sad that I have to give my father directions to the Forman’s, especially since I could get there in my sleep, but we do share a couple good laughs especially when I tell him to turn after that old house or to turn on the road with that sign. But sooner or later we get there, and I’m waving goodbye to my father. Again, not the picturesque movie scene, but somewhere in the middle.
“Has Donna told Bob yet?” Kitty asks me as soon as I walk in the door. “Jackie, you can take off the bandage now.”
Steven is sitting at the kitchen, finishing his breakfast. He just shrugs when he sees I’m looking at him. “She’s been like this since you left last night.”
I sigh and turn back to Kitty, beginning to pull on the bandage. “Mrs. Forman. I’m sure that if Donna told me, she would have already told her father.”
Kitty paces back and forth across the kitchen floor. I begin to worry.
“Mrs. Forman?” I ask.
“We’re going to go make sure. I promised I wouldn’t tell Eric, but Bob has every right to know, right now!” Kitty says a little crazily.
Then she grabs me by the arms and pulls me out the kitchen door. We travel across the yard connecting the two houses and make our way to the back of the Pinciotti house.
And I have to compose myself from the sudden shock that courses through my body.
Sure, it had been a long time since I’d been to the Pinciotti house. Donna wasn’t there, so I had no reason to go there anymore. But it really had only been a few weeks, and it already looked like Bob had just given up on trying to maintain his house. The grass was overgrown and was crawling up underneath my pants and tickling my ankles. The gutter was broken, and the rainwater was pouring down in a steady stream, right next to the back door. One of the patio chairs was flipped on its side, and there was ivy growing up the umbrella stand.
Kitty however, seems unfazed by it all. My guess is that she had already sent Red over here multiple times to try to get Bob to pick up the pieces of his life again.
She knocks on the door, careful to avoid the water from the rain gutter, although we’re already pretty wet from the rain.
A moment later Bob opens the door in his house robe and is holding a bowl of ice cream, some of which is smeared on the side of his mouth, mixed in with his unshaven face.
“If you’re here to tell me the most recent news about Donna, I already know,” Bob frowns, and then sniffles. Then he slowly shuts the door.
Kitty turns around and faces the yard. “I need to send Red over here again,” she says, confirming my earlier suspicions. Then she walks back over to her house, and I follow without another word.
In the kitchen, Fez has already arrived and is sitting across the table from Steven. I sit in the chair between them.
“How’d it go?” Steven asks me.
I raise my eyebrows. “Not well.”
“We should stick Bob and Forman together. Maybe their mutual sadness will contradict and create a positive energy,” Steven says jokingly.
“Not a bad idea,” I say, then turn to Fez. “Do you have work today?”
“Yes,” Fez says dreamily. “Speaking of which,” Fez looks to Steven. “Hyde, I need a favor.”
“Could you, um…maybe pick me up after work today?”
“Yeah, man. What’s the problem?” Steven shrugs.
“Well, you see, um, you haven’t heard the rest of my proposal…” Fez says uncomfortably. I exchange looks with Steven. He looks worried. I try not to laugh at the whole scene. “Could you like…park, then hop in the bed, so that it looks like I drive the car. Like, like the El Camino is my El Camino.”
“But, Fez, the El Camino is my El Camino,” Steven says stubbornly.
Fez makes a childish noise. “But I’m still trying to impress Stephanie, and Fenton is giving me a hard time again.”
Steven groans. “Fine. But you are not actually going to drive the Camino. I don’t trust you driving…and you owe me a soda and fries at the Hub afterwards.”
“Fine. You have yourself a deal,” Fez nods. “Now, time for me to get off to work.”
Today Fez was working the long shift, and between waiting for him to get out of work, and the constant slew of rain, the day passes very slowly, and very tiringly. At one point, I actually find myself falling asleep on the couch in the basement. I glance at Steven, and I’m pretty sure he was already dead to the world.
I glance back at the TV and watch as The Price is Right never fails to consistently call up old ladies to the game. Finally, I’ve seen so many white heads that I feel my eyes begin to roll back into my head. I decide that the only way I can stay awake is if I talk, or rather, complain, even if its to myself, since I’m still pretty sure that Steven is asleep.
I pull up my knee and cross my hands around it. The game calls up another grandmother, and finally I’ve had enough. “Another old lady,” I shake my head. “She can’t even reach the wheel!” I yell at the TV.
Immediately Steven follows with a complaint of his own; apparently he wasn’t asleep. “I can’t watch The Price is Right again, I just can’t,” he groans.
I give a rueful laugh. “This summer totally sucks,” I say, as one grandmother laughs obnoxiously at something Bob says. “There’s nothing to do.”
I feel Steven shift his weight on the couch next to me, and I glance over, waiting for him to make his next complaint, because I had my next one already geared up.
Instead I find myself leaning forward, mimicking his actions, and suddenly there is something to do, and I am kissing Steven Hyde.