Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the show That 70's Show. You know the drill: none of them belong to me. This story was written for fun, not profit.
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Hi, this is Shadowscast here, doing a DVD-style commentary on this story, "Closer," which I wrote just over two years ago, in October, 2003.
The title is taken from a Nine Inch Nails song. This is not a songfic; the song really has nothing to do with the fic. I was just going through a period of life when I thought it was cool to take names of songs as titles of stories, because names of songs are frequently strange and nifty. So I picked "Closer" because it seemed to work in a literal way for the story (Eric and Hyde get closer, you see?) and also 'cause I just like NIN.
The name of the whole four-story arc that this story kicks off is "Chronicles of the Rebel Alliance." I didn't give it that name until the whole thing was written. The name came out of a meta discussion I had with fellow fan M3, about naming couples. In That '70s Show fandom (yes, there is one) the main 'ships have code names. The Jackie/Hyde shippers are the Zenmasters. Jackie/Kelso are the Icebreakers. Donna/Hyde are the Dark Shippers. Donna/Eric must have had a name too, but I forget it now! Anyway. M3 and I decided that Eric/Hyde (the most popular slash pairing, by the way) was an important enough 'ship to get a name, and we came up with the Rebel Alliance. It works because Eric, canonically, was a huge Star Wars fan. In fact he once had an onscreen daydream in which he cast himself as Luke Skywalker and Hyde as Han Solo. And it has that other level of meaning, too—that Eric and Hyde getting together would have to involve rebellion against the social conventions of their time and place. Plus, in such a het-centric fandom, shipping Eric and Hyde is a bit rebellious in itself.
Anyway, so having named the 'ship, I decided to take on the name for my series, too, to try to popularize the name. :)
Okay, now on with the story!
"I'm going to die," I said, and slammed the book shut. I like a dramatic beginning.
"Don't be so dramatic, Eric," Donna said to me, rolling her eyes and smirking just a bit. And this is me letting you know right away who the narrator is. Also: the "rolling her eyes and smirking" bit bugs me now. It seems like too many things at once. Even though Donna could totally do that. "It's just one test."
It was a Wednesday evening, and all my friends were hanging out in my basement as usual. Donna was sprawled on the couch, her feet resting casually against Jackie's leg; Jackie was snuggled against Kelso, looking pretty pleased that unlike the rest of us she didn't have a trigonometry test tomorrow. In retrospect, I'm not sure the couch is big enough for all that. Hyde was off to the side in a chair, doing his silently-judging-you-all Zen thing. I am pleased with that description of Hyde. Fez was on the floor with me, poring over his notes from class. I'd been trying to study, but I'd just now come to the terrifying realization that there was no way, no way in hell that I was going to memorize all this crap before tomorrow morning, let alone figure out how to do the proofs.
"No, really, I'm going to die," I insisted. "First, I'll flunk the test. Then Mrs. Hannigan will call my parents. Then, Red'll kill me."
"Have no fear, my friend, there is still time to learn," Fez said. "Look, sine is one over cosecant, so this cancels and...no, wait, that does not work...." At the time I wrote this, I was actually doing my practice-teaching block, during which I was teaching trigonometry to grade 11 students. So I guarantee the math babble is authentic.
Hyde decided to speak some words of wisdom. "If you don't want to take the test, don't go to class, man." That's what Hyde would do.
"Yeah, right. Then I still get killed, when Mrs. Hannigan tells my parents I've been cutting class. She always calls home, remember?" I moaned again, and put my head down on my hands. "I feel sick."
"Dude!" Kelso exclaimed. "If you're sick, your mom'll make you stay home."
"But I'm not actually sick-" I started to point out him, and then I noticed everyone staring at me and waiting for me to get it. "Oh, right!" I grinned, and felt a tidal wave of relief wash over me. "I'll fake sick!"
Donna frowned a bit. "Your mom's a nurse. She'll be hard to fool." See, Donna's the smart one.
"Nah, don't worry," Jackie said, flipping her hair back. "Just say you've got a stomachache. If she doesn't believe you, you can always lock yourself in the bathroom and stick your fingers down your throat so you throw up." Uh, that was a little graphic. We all stared at her. "What?!" she exclaimed, looking around. "I read about it in a magazine." I don't actually mean to imply that Jackie's bulemic. Just that the possibility has occurred to her.
It was a simple plan, and it was a good plan - minus the throwing up, of course, except as a desperate last resort. It had to work.
The next morning:
I fiddled with my spoon, making patterns in my oatmeal and not eating any. I figured my best bet was to slouch in my chair, acting kind of sick, but not to say anything until Mom brought it up. If she thought she'd figured out for herself that I was sick, she'd believe it easily - at least that was the plan. Of course, first she had to notice that I wasn't eating anything. Right now she was running around the kitchen, packing lunches and getting things set for making supper tonight. Poor Kitty. Always so busy trying to take care of everyone, and always so unappreciated.
Finally she looked over at me and Hyde. "Oh, you boys are such slowpokes this morning! Better hurry up and finish your breakfast or you'll be late!" She came over to the table and looked down over our shoulders. "You two have hardly touched your food! Is there something wrong with the oatmeal? I didn't put in too much sugar again, did I?" Personally, I think the "again" is funny. But realistically, when you're 17, is there such a thing as too much sugar?
"No, it's fine, Mrs. Forman," Hyde spoke up before I could. "I'm just not very hungry this morning."
"Uh, me too," I said quickly, shooting a quick glare at Hyde. I hadn't noticed, but he was doing the same thing I was, playing with his breakfast instead of eating it.
Mom frowned. "Two growing boys, not hungry? You aren't getting sick, are you?"
Hyde just shrugged.
"Actually, I'm not feeling too good," I said, trying to sound like I was admitting it reluctantly. I considered saying 'But I don't want to miss school' - but that might be laying it on too thick, even for Mom. Eric is such a little schemer!
"Oh, dear," Mom said. She pressed her hand to my forehead. "You don't seem to have a fever..." Then she put her hand on Hyde's forehead; he flinched away a bit, like he hadn't been expecting it. "Oh, dear, you do feel a little hot," she said to him. "Just let me run and get a thermometer."
As soon as Mom was out of earshot, I kicked Hyde under the table. "What are you doing?" I hissed at him. "You don't even care about the math test." I was afraid that with both of us acting sick, Mom would get suspicious. Which doesn't entirely make sense; it's totally plausible for two people who hang out together a lot to both catch the same thing at the same time. But I guess Eric wasn't thinking about that.
"Fuck off," Hyde muttered, and Mom came back in. I tried to concentrate on looking sickly while she put the thermometer in Hyde's mouth and told him to hold it under his tongue for three minutes. Hyde sat back in his chair with his arms crossed and the thermometer sticking out of his mouth, sniffling a bit, looking kind of annoyed. I bet Edna never did that to him. Since it was Mo who requested this commentary, and she as far as I know has never seen the actual show, I'll explain a few odd bits of canon as they come up. Edna is Hyde's mom; a little while previously on the show's timeline she ran off with her boyfriend, abandoning Hyde. Once the Formans found out about it, they took Hyde in.
I had to step up my symptoms a bit. "Mom, I feel kind of nauseous," I said. "I'd like to go lie down...."
She fluttered her hands. "Oh, dear. Why don't you go back up to your bed. I'll come check on you in a minute."
I felt a slight pang of guilt for making Mom worry, but I ignored it. I like this kind of stuff for characterization—the contradictory impulses, and seeing which one wins out. I went upstairs, moving a bit slower than usual. See, he's a pretty good actor! Then I lay on top of my bed, still wearing my clothes, and waited.
It wasn't long before Mom came in. "Oh, honey," she said, sitting on the side of my bed and ruffling my hair, "I think you'd better stay home today. Steven's running a bit of a temperature, so I told him to stay home, too."
"OK," I said, keeping my voice carefully neutral. Success!
"I wish I could stay and look after you, but I know there's no one who can take over my shift at the hospital today," Mom went on. Because, um, my plot demands it. "Can you boys look after each other?"
"OK, Mom." I tried to sound brave.
"I'll call home and check on you when I can," she promised, and looked at her watch. "Oh dear, I'm going to be late."
I stayed in bed until I was sure she was out of the house. Then I went downstairs. Hyde was lying on the couch, watching TV.
Even though we'd gotten away with it, I was still kind of pissed at him. "Hey! What were you doing stealing my plan?" I said, dumping myself onto the couch at his feet. He was watching Sesame Street. That would make a good story to tell to the gang, except no one would ever believe me.
"I didn't steal anything," Hyde said. "-this time," he added with a slight smirk.
"OK, so it worked and now we both have the day off," I admitted. "But I thought you were going to get us caught! How the hell did you fake her out with the thermometer, anyway?"
Hyde sighed. "I didn't fake anything, you idiot. I feel like crap." And he sneezed.
"Huh? You mean you're actually sick?" Eric finally gets it.
"I guess so," he said, sounding annoyed. "Now will you leave me alone? Grover has something to teach me about love." I think I actually checked the PBS website to make sure that Sesame Street existed back then, and that Grover was on it.
"Oh." Now I felt like a dumbass. "Uh, do you want anything? Like, uh, juice or something?" Awww. Let the caretaking begin!
"I know where the juice is, Forman. Go away and study for the damn test," Hyde said. "You'll have to take it as soon as you get back." So, does he just want Eric to go away and leave him alone? Or is he looking out for Eric's best interests, knowing Eric will be upset if he doesn't do okay on the test? You decide.
Oh, and another note about that last line of Hyde's: originally it read "You'll have to write it as soon as you get back." Luckily I had an American beta, who informed me that that made no sense to her: the teacher writes a test, the students take it. In Canada, you see, "write" and "take" are actually synonyms in this case. I had no idea the usage wasn't shared by our Southern neighbours. A few years later, I came across a "How Canadian are you?" quiz online, and one of the questions was "Do you write a test or take a test?"
For the most part Canadians can write American voices pretty safely, but you see, there's always these unexpected little things to trip you up.
I slunk back upstairs, and opened up my books.
The phone rang around ten thirty. I picked it up in Mom and Dad's room. I was assuming Eric didn't have a phone in his room. I'm not absolutely positive this is canonically correct, but it seemed right for the time period. "Hello?"
"Hi, sweetie," Mom said. "How are you doing? I hope I didn't wake you up."
"No, it's OK, I'm feeling a bit better. I was reading," I said.
"And how's Steven?" Kitty calls Hyde by his actual first name!
"He's asleep on the couch," I said. For all I knew he'd gone out to buy drugs, but I knew what Mom needed to hear.
"That's good," Mom said, sounding relieved. "You both get lots of rest, now. I'll call again this afternoon."
After I hung up, I went down to see if Hyde was still there. It turned out I hadn't lied to Mom - he'd fallen asleep with the TV on. I turned it off, picturing Red complaining about the power bill. I grabbed a snack, and went back upstairs to my math book.
By the time my stomach's growling let me know it was lunch time, I thought I understood trigonometry. It really wasn't so bad, once you'd spent a few quiet hours slaving over it. It's true! What Eric's studying are trig identities, and they're really very mechanical once you get used to them. I stood up, rubbing my neck, and went downstairs to get some food.
Hyde was still lying on the couch, and the TV was still off. He mumbled something when I walked by.
"Hey, I'm getting some lunch," I said to him. "Want anything?"
He mumbled something else; I could only make out part of it. "...fuck...don't want to suck it...please stop...hurts." Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed at having used the talking-out-loud-during-a-nightmare ploy to bring this plot point into the open. It's such a cliché, isn't it? But I think I can defend it as realistic, especially since Hyde is delirious at this point, and dammit I needed some way to bring it up, and it's not like Hyde was going to say anything of his own free will.
I realized he was talking in his sleep, and man, I didn't want to know what that dream was about. "Hyde, man!" I said, shaking his shoulder. "Wake up!"
"Huh?" He opened his eyes. "Nothing happened, Edna, Stu was just showing me the sleeper cab." And right there, that's the crucial information. Juxtaposed with the last bit, it should make the reader think something happened with Stu that Hyde didn't want, probably something sexual. Eric doesn't entirely make the connection at first, because it's very much outside of his experience and it's something that scares him, but he's definitely filing it away on a subconscious level.
"Stop messing around, Hyde, that's just twisted," I said, suddenly a bit nervous. Edna? No way he thought I was his mother. Oh, and there's the bit where I explain who Edna is, just in case you didn't know.
"...think I'm on a bad trip, man," Hyde moaned, closing his eyes again.
"What did you take?" I shook his shoulder again. They've only ever done pot together, but it's reasonable for Eric to think Hyde might be on something else.
"Nothing," he said, "Get off me. Tell Edna she can get her own damn groceries." The groceries thing has absolutely nothing to do with the previous flashback. This is just random delirious raving.
"Edna's not here," I said, stupidly. It'd been months since she walked out on him. Oh look, more exposition! I needed to establish where I was on the show's timeline, which is a trickyish thing, since the show's timeline itself isn't entirely consistent (they had, like, three Christmases in 1976 or something—what can I say, folks, it's just a sitcom). What the hell was going on here? "Wake up! Stop messing with me!" I shook him again, and he opened his eyes again, but he didn't seem to focus on me. Damn, I used the word "again" twice in that sentence. I noticed that he looked pretty flushed. "Hyde?" I put my hand on his forehead, like Mom did this morning. He felt hot. "OK, man, if you're trying to screw with my head you'd better stop right now, because you're scaring me and I'm going to call Mom."
Hyde just closed his eyes again, mumbling something that sounded like "fuck off."
I went into the kitchen and dialed Mom's number at the hospital. Another nurse answered. While I waited for Mom to come to the phone, I twisted the cord through my fingers and tried to figure out what I was going to say to her.
"Sweetie," Mom came on the line, "What's wrong? Are you all right?"
"I'm, uh, I'm feeling lots better, Mom," I said. Oh what a tangled web we weave! "But Hyde - he's talking in his sleep and I can't get him to wake up. And he feels kind of hot."
"Oh dear," Mom said, but she didn't sound panicked. "Oh dear" is one of Kitty's characteristic phrases. Just concerned. That made me feel better. "Why don't you see if you can take his temperature? The thermometer's still on the kitchen counter. Call me back when you're done."
OK, that made sense to me. I found the thermometer and went out into the living room again. Hyde looked like he was properly asleep again. I felt awkward, but I went over to him and shook him awake again. "Mom wants me to take your temperature," I said. I hoped he'd take it himself, but he didn't open his eyes. I sighed, and nudged the bulb of the thermometer through his lips. At least he didn't resist. Under the tongue, Mom had said, for three minutes. I got it into what seemed like the right position, and let go. The thermometer drooped; I caught it before it fell. "Help me out here?" I pleaded. He mumbled something. I put it in again and held it, this time, resting my hand against his face. His cheek was rough and hot. There's definitely stubble involved. God, I hoped no one ever found out I did this. Poor Eric, so awkward here just taking Hyde's temperature—he has a long road to go before he's ready for the hot gay sex! And also, I have to get them out of high school. Not that high school kids don't have sex—I just don't want to write it. Especially back then, when I was teaching kids that age. Dear god.
At three minutes, I took the thermometer out and looked at where the red line reached, then went back to the kitchen to call Mom.
This time, she answered the phone.
"Hi, Mom," I said. "It looks like it's between 105 and 106. Uh, that's high, right?" I remember when I first posted this story, there was someone who didn't like it and thought I'd made Eric seem like an idiot with this line. My intention wasn't for him to come across as dumb. In my head, Eric was pretty sure that a fever of 105 was a very bad sign, and he was scared, and he was doing that "Please, please tell me I'm wrong" thing. Maybe I should've written his reaction more explicitly. Reading back over those lines now, I can see how you could think that Eric was still calm and hadn't realized the danger yet.
"Oh my God," she said. "Eric, sweetie, I'm going to get an ambulance to come to the house, right now. You see if you can find Steven's wallet - find his ID. If you don't find it before the ambulance comes, don't worry about it, just go along with Steven in the ambulance, all right? I'll meet you in the emergency room." Kitty has it together. She deals with this kind of thing professionally.
She hung up. I stood there, staring at the phone. Then the phone started beeping, snapping me out of my state of shock. Here, I was just assuming that these things worked the same in 1970s Wisconsin as in 1980s Nova Scotia: after a good 20 or 30 seconds, an off-the-hook phone will start to make a loud beeping noise. I hung it up and ran downstairs. I started frantically searching through Hyde's space, trying to find his wallet. I still hadn't found it when I heard the siren. I ran back upstairs in time to open the door for the paramedics.
They came through the door carrying a stretcher. "Is this the patient?" one of them said, looking at Hyde.
"Yes," I said, and they brought the stretcher over to beside the couch.
"What's his name?" said the other paramedic.
"Hy-uh, Steven," I said. The name thing again. In this story I was always very conscious of what the characters called each other—in their heads, to their faces and behind their backs. It's something I thought about even in meta discussions: why, for instance, did we as fans usually use the names "Eric" and "Hyde" to refer to those two characters? Hyde calls Eric "Forman," usually; it's the girls who call him "Eric." And Jackie calls Hyde "Steven."
"Steven, can you hear me?" said the first paramedic, crouching down close to Hyde. "We need to get you onto a stretcher. Can you help us?" He waited a moment, Hyde sort of shook his head from side to side and said something I couldn't hear. "We'll have to lift him," the paramedic said.
I stood there, watching, feeling like the whole thing was unreal. The paramedics looked like firemen to me, big and burly in their uniforms. One of them took Hyde by the shoulders, and the other one took his legs, and they lifted him onto the stretcher and strapped him in.
"Are you coming with us?" one of the paramedics said to me. I nodded, and followed them out the door.
I'd never been in the back of an ambulance before. I was, once. My description's based on that. It was a cramped place; one of the paramedics went in the front to drive, and the other one stayed in the back with me and Hyde. He took out a clipboard and started asking me questions.
"What's his full name? Age? Address?" He paused long enough each time for me to stammer out an answer. I told them my parents were his legal guardians, even though I wasn't sure that was true. It hadn't come up before. I remember having a meta discussion about this one time with M3; we really weren't sure what Hyde's legal situation was with respect to guardianship. There was one time that Red and Kitty bailed him out of jail, for instance, so at that point there must have been some authorities looking into their relationship to him. Maybe it's one of those things the show's writers just didn't think too hard about.
In between questions, I watched Hyde. I couldn't believe this. He'd been fine this morning. Now he was strapped in a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, moaning softly when we went over bumps.
Suddenly Hyde started shaking. Not just a little, not like shivering, but violently, like he was desperately trying to get out of the straps that held him down.
I thought I heard the paramedic swear under his breath. "He's seizing!" he called out to the driver. He pinned Hyde's arms down, but Hyde was still shaking hard enough to rattle the stretcher in its mount.
I felt like I couldn't breathe, watching. "What's happening to him?" I managed to choke out.
"It's probably the high fever causing convulsions," the paramedic said, sounding a hell of a lot calmer than I thought he should be. "Has Steven taken any drugs in the past 24 hours?"
"No sir," I squeaked.
The paramedic turned his head half around and gave me a wry look. Meanwhile he was still pinning down my best friend, who was still convulsing wildly. "I'm not the police, kid," the paramedic said, "I just need to know what we're dealing with here. Let me put it this way: your friend's clothes smell like pot. The paramedic is a worldly man. Now, has Steven taken any drugs in the past 24 hours?"
"Uh...he might have smoked part of a joint last night," I admitted.
"Anything else? Alcohol? Acid, PCP, angel dust, quaaludes?" I think it was M3 who gave me a list of good '70s drugs. I still don't know what quaaludes are.
"No sir!" At least I didn't think so. Eric's uncertainty here is important to me. A lot of my series involves the gradual revealing of Hyde's secrets, and even in the beginning I wanted Eric to be aware that even though Hyde's his best friend, he doesn't know everything about him.
I felt the ambulance slowing down, then coming to a stop. Hm. That sentence may be a bit pedantic. I think now I'd just write "I felt the ambulance coming to a stop." Hyde was still shaking; it had been at least a minute since the seizure started. The paramedic flung the doors open, and the driver came around and helped the first guy get the stretcher out. They folded out wheels from its bottom and rushed towards the ER's entrance. I followed, almost dizzy with fear. And I would cut the "almost."
The hospital was normally a familiar, neutral place for me. It was a place I came to pick up my mother when she needed a ride home from work. Today it was like an alien landscape - the colors were jarring and the shapes were wrong and I didn't recognize anyone's face, and Hyde was being wheeled away from me down a corridor, and one of the paramedics was taking my arm and leading me to the reception desk. I like the "the colors were jarring and the shapes were wrong and I didn't recognize anyone's face" bit—I feel like that's where I most effectively managed to convey what Eric's feeling.
The receptionist wanted me to fill out another form. I had to leave half the spaces blank. I didn't know Hyde's social security number. I couldn't remember his birthday. I wanted this bit to be kind of sad, while also indicating how shaken Eric is. It happened to me, once—I couldn't remember my boyfriend's birthday at the ER. Your mind just goes blank. I didn't know whether to put "Edna Hyde" or "Kitty Forman" on the line where it said "Mother's name."
Then suddenly, someone was hugging me. It took me a moment to realize it was Mom. Yay, Kitty!
"Are you all right, sweetie?" she asked me.
I couldn't even process the question. "Do you know where they took Hyde?"
"They're bringing his fever down," she said. "He stopped seizing. That's all I know - I came straight here to find you. Are you still feeling at all sick, honey?" She put her hand on my forehead, her eyes full of concern.
"I'm really fine, Mom." I knew I had to tell her the truth now; any trouble I might get into didn't seem important next to what was happening to Hyde. And here's Eric, developing a sense of perspective. "I never was sick. I was faking to get out of a math test."
"Oh." Mom's eyes widened slightly, and she drew away from me. Then she laughed nervously. "Well, it's a good thing you did, isn't it? Otherwise Steven would have been home alone."
An announcement crackled over the PA speaker: "Nurse Forman, please report to the second floor. Repeat, Nurse Forman, please report to the second floor."
Mom smoothed the skirt of her crisp white dress with quick, desperate motions. "I'm sorry, honey, I really have to go, the ward was understaffed to start with today."
"Mom, you can't leave me here alone!" My voice cracked. "I need you!" I didn't know what I needed her for, but it seemed like as long as she was near me, nothing really bad could happen. Eric is still kind of a kid. Things are scary and he wants his Mom.
Mom wrung her hands, and looked torn, but said "There's nothing I can do down here, sweetie, and there are a lot of very ill people in my ward who need my help right now. You'd better call your father."
Mom left, and I tried to call Red. The store's phone was busy. I tried about ten times, feeding the same dime back into the slot over and over again. I looked up what pay phones cost in the '70s. It was surprisingly comforting - I felt like I was actually doing something useful. Then a sad-looking old woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could use the phone.
There were chairs in the waiting area, and magazines. I didn't feel like reading, but looking around at the frightened faces of the other people in the waiting room made my stomach hurt for real, so I picked up a 1972 issue of Reader's Digest and started slowly flipping through the pages. Of course there's an out-of-date Reader's Digest. They're standard issue.
I'd flipped through the entire magazine three times when a doctor in a white lab coat came into the waiting room and said "Eric Forman?"
I followed the doctor into an empty consulting room. He looked about my dad's age, but he was bit shorter and fatter. "I'm Dr. Brown," he greeted me. "Do you know if your vaccinations are up to date, son?"
The question took me off guard, but I knew the answer. "Yessir, I got my booster shot at school two years ago along with everyone else."
The doctor frowned, and glanced at the clipboard he was holding. "Steven is a school friend of yours, correct? Did he receive the vaccination then, too?"
"Well, yeah-" I started to say, but then I remembered: Hyde had cut class that day, so he hadn't been around for the needles. I remembered it because when we all hung out together afterwards, Kelso started punching everyone in the arm where they got their shots because he thought it was funny the way we yelped. It didn't work on Hyde, 'cause he hadn't got the shot. "No. Actually he didn't. Does that have something to do with this?"
Dr. Brown nodded, and adjusted his glasses. "Steven has the measles. I'd appreciate it if you could take a moment to think of everywhere he's been in the past week; the public health nurse may need to arrange some vaccinations." And here's where my premise nearly falls apart! A while after I first posted, Mo pointed out that the measles vaccine hadn't been introduced until the '60s; before that it was a common childhood illness, and just about everyone got it. It hadn't even occurred to me to wonder if the vaccine had been around for Eric & co's childhood! So, the question having been raised, I did an online search and found that the vaccine had started being widely given in the States in 1964. According to my calculations, Eric & his friends would have been born in the years '61-'63 (Jackie being the youngest); that makes it at least plausible that none of them (other than Fez) had ever had the measles. And from the beginning, I'd been assuming that Edna was a sufficiently negligent mother that Hyde hadn't got the vaccination when he was a kid.
Measles? I was confused; I hadn't thought they were very serious, unless you were a baby or a sick old person. It usually isn't, but it can be. "Where is he? Is he OK now?"
Meanwhile, Dr. Brown was tilting his head and looking at me. "Good Lord, you're Kitty Forman's boy, aren't you?"
He chuckled. "I remember you having a temper tantrum at the staff Christmas party when you were, oh, three or four. I was playing Santa Claus, and you didn't want to sit on my lap to have your picture taken. I don't suppose you'd remember me."
I wanted to scream - I didn't care whether Dr. Brown was Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, I wanted to know how Hyde was! "No sir," I said in a tight voice. Eric is very polite to grownups.
"Your friend is resting in Exam Room C right now, while we decide whether to discharge him or move him up into a ward. We're just monitoring him right now to see whether his fever peaks again. Since you've had your vaccinations, there's no reason you can't go in and sit with him. Just don't forget to make that list for me," and he tore a blank sheet of paper off his clipboard, and handed it to me along with a pencil. "You know the way, don't you?"
"No sir," I said, so he took me out into the hallway and pointed.
Hyde was awake. He turned his head when I walked in the door. "Hey, Forman."
"Hey." I pulled up a chair. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I'm coming off a bad acid trip."
"OK, are you just saying that, or do you have actual experience?" I asked. I was kind of just talking through my nervousness, but I was curious, too.
He smiled mysteriously. "Experience, brother."
"Why don't I know about this?" And back to the theme of: there's a lot Eric doesn't know about Hyde.
"You weren't there." He closed his eyes and coughed. "I'm tired."
"You might as well sleep," I said. "It'll probably take them a while to figure out what to do with you."
"Can you turn the damn light off? It's hurting my eyes," he said.
"Your eyes are closed."
"It goes right through my eyelids, man."
I stood up and found the light switch. There were no outside windows in the room, so when I flipped off the light it got pretty dark - though there was still enough light for me to see by, coming in from the hall.
Hyde didn't say anything else. I guessed he'd gone to sleep. He was hooked up to some kind of monitor, and it was making those nice, regular beeping noises, so I figured everything was OK. I settled back into my chair.
They'd made Hyde change into a pale hospital gown at some point; his clothes were folded up on the counter at the side of the room. I figured he'd probably be pissed off about that if he had the energy.
I made up the list for Dr. Brown, and then I sat there and watched Hyde sleep for a while. There was really nothing else to do. My eyes adjusted to the dim light. I watched his chest rise and fall. I realized after a while that four of my breaths matched three of his.
I felt...protective. It was sort of strange. Hyde had always been my protector, from when I first hired him to save me from bullies in kindergarten. Of course that hadn't really been an issue in the last few years - especially once the worst of the bullies became my other best friend (that's Donna, by the way) - but the feeling was still there somehow, underneath all the layers of hanging out and doing shit and picking on each other. But today I might have saved his life.
I checked my watch. It was weird to see it was just past three in the afternoon - the rest of the gang would be getting out of school soon. Sitting here in the dark watching Hyde sleep, it felt like the middle of the night.
I decided to go through his jeans pockets - partly because I was bored, but I justified it by thinking I'd better see if there was anything in there he wouldn't want Mom or an orderly to find.
His wallet was in there. That's why I hadn't been able to find it. I flipped it open, curious. There was a picture in just one of the pockets - one of me and him and Donna when we were about nine or ten. We were all standing in my driveway, grinning and squinting into the sun. It was kind of funny and sweet - I wondered if my mom had given it to him. This photo is so clear in my mind. I hope it is in yours, too.
Also in the wallet, besides his school ID card, library card, and social security card, there was a plastic baggie with enough weed in it to roll about half a small joint. Leftovers, I guess. Feeling a bit more justified about my snooping, I quickly stuffed the baggie into my pocket. Watch that weed! It'll reappear later!
There was something heavy in the other pocket, too. It felt like a pocketknife. I took it out and looked at it. I couldn't remember ever seeing it before - I remembered lots of times when we needed a knife for some reason, and Hyde always said he didn't have one. I usually had my old folding Scout knife with me, so no problem. In retrospect, I think most of the last two sentences were entirely unnecessary. This was a bit heavier than my knife, and the black handle felt like polished wood. There were a couple flat silver knobs on the side - one to push, and one to slide. I pushed the top one, and nothing happened. I slid the other one along to the other end of its track, then pushed the first one again. The blade leapt out with a quiet snick, and I nearly dropped the knife. I've never held a switchblade, or even seen one except on TV. I looked up a bunch of images online and tried to imagine what it would feel like, what its physical presence would be. I hope I got it right.
It was a switchblade. Fuck. I'd never actually seen one before. I stared at it for a few seconds, mesmerized, then I realized that I was standing in full view of a half-open door. I nearly cut myself in my hurry to close the knife again. I put the safety catch back on, and stuffed it in my pocket along with the pot.
Great. So now I was hiding Hyde's drugs and his switchblade in my pants. I was convinced that they were safer there than in jeans he wasn't wearing, but it made me a bit nervous. Especially the knife. Where the hell did it come from? Why was he carrying it - and how long had he had it with him? Yes, Eric, those are good questions. Thanks for bringing them to the reader's attention!
"Hi, honey!" Mom called out behind me. I literally jumped. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," she whispered. "Is Steven asleep?"
"Yeah." It looked like she hadn't woken him up. "Here, I found his wallet in his pants. It's got ID and stuff." I handed it over to her - at least now I knew it was clean. And from the way Mom was acting, she hadn't seen me with the knife.
"The doctor's going to discharge him," Mom said to me, taking the wallet. "I got hold of your father at work. He's getting off early and coming right over with the car. As soon as he gets here you can leave."
"OK Mom. Thanks." I hugged her, and she left again.
While I waited for Red I watched Hyde breathe. I thought about the happy-kids photo, and the switchblade, and I wondered when he'd done acid. I wondered what else I didn't know.
As soon as we got home from the hospital, I moved Hyde's cot upstairs to my room - Mom had left orders with Red that under no circumstances were we to leave "that poor, sick boy" in the basement. Then Red helped Hyde up the stairs. It was strange to watch; Hyde obviously didn't want help, and Red's usually not so great at giving it, but I could see that Red was supporting a lot of Hyde's weight. I followed behind, playing spotter and feeling kind of useless - me and my skinny arms, don't think I could help Hyde up the stairs. When Hyde lay down on the cot next to my bed, his face was white.
"How about you all leave me alone now?" he said, so we did.
"Your mother told me how you skipped school today," Red said when we got downstairs. "You're grounded for two days." Would "cut" have been a better word than "skipped"? ... Oh well.
I stared at him. "Dad, if I hadn't skipped, Hyde would've been screwed."
"Well, you didn't know that when you decided to skip, did you?" He slapped me on the back cheerfully and went to turn on the TV. Red can be pretty callous. From a purely logical point of view, though, he has a point!
Feeling weird and miserable, coming off my three-hour adrenaline rush, I went down to the basement because there was nowhere else to go.
Barely a minute later, the rest of the gang piled through the door.
"That math test was brutal," Donna exclaimed, the first one in. "I wish I'd followed your and Hyde's example." Ack, that last sentence is so awkward!
"Can they send me back to my home country for being too stupid to be in America?" Fez moaned. Now this line, I'm pleased with. There's this thing in the show, this running joke, that Fez never ever reveals what country he's from.
"Don't worry, Fez," Kelso said brightly. "There's no such thing as too stupid to be in America." I also really like this line. And the fact that Kelso totally didn't mean it quite that way.
"Yeah, well, I had a great day," Jackie said. "Mr. Pritchard said I was cute!"
They didn't know.
"You guys!" I shouted, "Wait! Have you all had all your measles vaccinations?"
"What?" Jackie said.
"Hyde has the measles," I told them, so glad to finally have my friends here to talk through my day with. I'd never felt as alone as I had in that emergency room. "He's probably been contagious for three or four days."
"Jesus, you mean he actually got sick on the day you were faking it?" Donna laughed. "That's hilarious." Of course no one takes it seriously at first, which is very upsetting for severely-freaked-out Eric.
I glared at her. "I'm serious, have you all had your shots?"
"Sure, they do all the tenth graders every year at school," Donna said.
"Except Hyde skipped out," I reminded her.
"Oh God, yeah! I bet he regrets that now." Donna still looked more amused than worried, and I was starting to get pissed off.
"I never got vaccinated," Fez said.
"Oh no!" I stood up. "You have to talk to my mom, if you get a shot right away you'll probably be OK."
"No, no," Fez grinned, "I had the measles already. When I was five. My mother made me a teddy bear out of old rags to make me feel better. God, I loved that bear." He broke off with a dreamy expression. Wherever it is that Fez is from, I thought it likely that the measles vaccine wouldn't have been widely distributed there as early as in the States.
Also, I just liked the idea of the rag-doll bear.
"Hey, can we go see him?" Kelso asked. "Is he all covered in spots? Can I get a picture?"
"What the hell is wrong with you!?" I shouted at Kelso. "He's sick, he's not a freak show!"
"Chill out, neighbor-boy," Donna said, sounding bemused. She patted the spot on the couch beside her. "It's just the measles. We can make him a teddy bear out of rags and he'll be fine."
"OK, you weren't there." I didn't sit down; I turned on all of them in self-righteous wrath. "You weren't there when he was delirious. He didn't recognize me, he called me Edna!" Kelso snickered, but I had momentum. "You weren't there when I took his temperature and told it to Mom and she said 'Oh my God I'm calling an ambulance'! You weren't there when he had a fucking SEIZURE in the AMBULANCE!"
I realized I was crying, and Donna wasn't sitting on the couch smirking at me anymore, she was hugging me and rocking me a bit side to side and whispering "I'm sorry, I didn't know." Donna had to be the first one to really get it; Jackie, Fez and Kelso are all comic relief characters.
"He kept shaking and shaking," I went on, quieter, talking into Donna's shoulder. "I thought he was going to die. And they all kept asking me questions and I couldn't even remember his birthday, and I've been to every birthday party he's had since he was six."
"Yeah, and most of them were here, weren't they?" Donna said, and that finally got me to smile a bit. "Sit with me," she went on, and pulled me down onto the couch. "It's OK to cry. You're really scared, aren't you? Where's Hyde now?" Donna and Eric are very close; they love each other for sure, and are in love sometimes. Hyde is also very close to both of them. The three of them have been friends since they were young children, so they have a much longer-standing relationship with each other than with the other three (Kelso, Jackie and Fez). The actual series starts out by setting up a love triangle amongst Eric, Hyde and Donna, with Donna in the middle, but it's resolved in Eric's favour within the pilot episode, and it never becomes an issue between Eric and Hyde. Donna and Eric date on and off throughout the series; at the point of this story, they're "off."
"Sleeping in my room," I said, wiping my nose with my hand. "I think he's OK now. We're supposed to take his temperature every three hours, though."
I looked at Kelso, Fez and Jackie, who were all looking guilty and worried now. "If any of you ever tells Hyde I cried over him," I said, "I'll kill you."
Fez gave a quick nod. "Understood."
The evening was pretty subdued after that. I told the others about going through Hyde's wallet and finding the pot, but I didn't tell them about the switchblade. The pot is no big deal; they all smoke up together regularly on the show. Er, well, you never actually see them smoking (is that some kind of sitcom rule?) but they often sit in a circle talking, acting really stoned, while smoke drifts by in the background. Anyway. From Eric's point of view, the knife is something new and scary and serious, and he hasn't thought out exactly why he doesn't want to tell everyone about it, he just knows that he doesn't. Everyone went home earlier than usual.
When I went to bed, Hyde was awake because Mom had just taken his temperature.
"How are you?" I asked.
"102. Just fine, man," he said. "I think your mother kind of gets off on this nursing thing. You don't give her enough chances to take care of you these days."
"Shut the hell up," I said automatically. "Uh, I emptied your pockets for you at the hospital before someone else could." I waited; he didn't react, so I went on. "I put the weed under the loose floorboard. Where do you want me to put the knife?"
"Just give it back to me, Forman," Hyde said. "And you never saw it." This is Hyde trying to keep the hidden stuff hidden.
"Bullshit. Where are you going to put it now?" I walked over to my dresser. "I'm putting it in the bottom of my underwear drawer." I wanted to ask him what the hell he was doing with the thing in the first place, but he started coughing and I decided this wasn't the best time.
I lay awake for a while, listening to the cot creak as he shifted around. Listening to him cough. Suddenly I realized I was being a jerk.
"Hey, Hyde," I said. I knew he was awake. "Why don't you sleep in my bed? It's more comfortable. I'll take the cot."
He laughed. "The cot sucks, man. I wouldn't make you sleep on it." This is the cot he's been sleeping on in the basement ever since he started living with the Formans, by the way.
"Look, you're sick. You should have the bed," I insisted.
"Your bed's wide enough for both of us." Hyde is in love with Eric. That's something that I didn't actually reveal until the next installment in the Chronicles series, but it is informing his actions here. He wants Eric to lie next to him. He's sick and scared and he wants Eric close to him. By emphasizing the crappiness of the cot, he can pretend—to himself and Eric—that it's all about courtesy and a comfortable mattress.
Hyde knows he's in love with Eric, but he thinks he can never tell Eric about it.
I felt the mattress shift as Hyde climbed up onto my bed. I shifted to one side to make room for him, but I said "Mom's going to be coming in at 3 am to take your temperature. You want her to catch us in bed together?" I laughed nervously.
"Tell her you'll set an alarm and I'll take it myself."
"She'll come in anyway to check on you. She is a nurse, you know."
"Can you keep a secret, Forman?"
He was lying alongside me now. I could feel the heat radiating off his body.
"You know I can."
"I have nightmares when I'm sick."
I waited for more, but that's all he was saying. "I think everyone does," I said softly. "They're called fever dreams." And then I remembered Hyde talking in his sleep, or his delirium or whatever, in the afternoon - the confusing, disjointed words, and Stu and his sleeper cab. And I felt a dark suspicion that I wasn't even ready to give voice to inside my head, but which lurked at the edges. "Why were you carrying an illegal weapon?" I asked, to kill the other line of thought.
"It's just a fucking knife." Hyde stopped to cough. "Some guys said they were going to cut me, and I thought I'd better get ready. Don't worry, I won't get you involved." In the next installment of the series, Hyde will reveal that it's Randy's group he's talking about here. I hadn't planned all that in detail at the point that I wrote this story—in fact originally this story was supposed to be stand-alone; I didn't have the whole series plotted ahead of time. I think the ret-con was pretty seamless, though!
"What?!" Surprisingly, my own skin was not my main concern here. I was really getting into this new protective role. "Jesus, if someone's threatening to hurt you you've got to go to the police."
Hyde laughed softly. "That's what I love about you, Forman. You're so innocent. Now shut the hell up and let me go to sleep."
So I lay still and quiet, trying not to bug him - but I was nowhere near sleep. I was hyperaware of every sound. I was freaking out at the idea that Mom would come in and find us together. I didn't know why I was so worried, either - I mean, it's not like I was in bed with Donna. Mom wouldn't be bothered by us sharing the bed. It's not like we were gay or something. Heh.
I didn't want to get off the bed, either. Not after Hyde told me we could share - in his roundabout, carefully-guarded way, I think he meant he felt better with me next to him.
Even though I thought I was wide awake, and I didn't want to fall asleep, my mind started to drift. It drifted back to when we were eleven, just before all that puberty shit started to mess us up. We didn't know anything about sex back then; no adults talk to kids about that stuff. Remember, this is the '70s. And also, it's Eric's perspective, so by "adults" he means Red and Kitty. Hyde had a very different background, and certainly knew more than Eric did. But more on that in a moment. Hyde and I used to hide out in my room and put a chair under the doorknob and play with our dicks together. Each of us with his own dick, I mean - we didn't touch each other. We were just messing around, not knowing what we were doing, though somehow we did know it wasn't something we could talk about, not even to each other. I'm sure most boys go through that phase. This is Eric reassuring himself that he's normal.
Then one day I decided to kiss him. I don't know why, I just wanted to. I went up to him and put my hands on his shoulders and pressed my lips against his. I'd never kissed anyone before, and I wasn't sure how it worked; I remember my nose bumped into his kind of hard. In my universe, Eric's first kiss was with Hyde! But it was nice. His lips were really soft. And then he hit me. He punched me in the stomach, and while I was crouched on the floor whimpering he said in a weird flat tone, "Never do that again, Forman," and he walked away. Hyde's going to give Eric a terse, partial explanation for this event before the end of the story, but it's left to the reader to fill in the blanks. The masturbation games with Eric coincided with Hyde being sexually abused by his mom's boyfriend, Stu. In fact I think it would've been Hyde who initiated the masturbation play with Eric, though Eric doesn't remember it that way—he thinks of it as something that just happened. So Hyde was really pretty fucked up at the time. And after that we never messed around with each other again. We never talked about what we'd done. I hadn't even thought about it for years. I wondered why I was remembering it now. Gee, I wonder.
I realized Hyde hadn't moved for a long time, and his breathing was slower; he'd fallen asleep. I crawled onto the cot, and next thing I knew it was morning.
I went back to school. Mom managed to get someone to take over her shift, so she could stay home. Everyone at school asked me how Hyde was. I took the math test at lunch. When I got home, I went upstairs right away to see him. Mom had moved the old TV from the basement up into my room, and Hyde was lying propped up on a couple pillows, watching The Wheel of Fortune. He had his sunglasses on, and he had a blotchy red rash on his face. Hyde frequently wears sunglasses indoors, but in particular he's wearing them at this point because having the measles makes your eyes very sensitive to light.
"Hi," I greeted him. "You look awful."
He gave me the finger. "Thanks."
So I left him alone. The boys, they can be terse.
No one was coming over to my place today; now that I'd convinced them Hyde was really sick, they didn't want to bug him. So I went next door to see if Donna was home. She was.
"Wanna shoot some hoops?" she suggested.
That seemed like a good idea. We played for an hour; she kicked my ass, as usual. Finally we slumped down beside each other on the pavement, with our backs against the car.
"Donna," I said out of nowhere, "Do you remember Edna's boyfriend Stu?" I hadn't known I was going to ask that until it came out of my mouth.
"What?" She looked at me, frowning. "Sure I do - her first trucker. He was around a lot for a while when we were eleven, then he disappeared. Thank God. Why?" I think it would have sounded more natural if I'd had Donna say "when we were in fourth grade" instead of "when we were eleven." Oh well.
"Why'd you say 'thank God,'?" I asked, evading her question. "He didn't seem any worse than her other boyfriends."
"He gave me the creeps." She paused. "OK, I never told anyone this before, but he kept asking me to come check out the sleeper cab in his truck. He acted like it'd be a treat for me."
"Did you ever go in?"
"Hell no! He probably wanted to rape me or something."
I shivered. "Donna, if someone talks about something in their sleep that doesn't mean it actually happened, does it?"
"Eric?" Donna looked around, and lowered her voice. "Are we talking about Hyde?"
"No! I didn't say anything about Hyde."
"Look, I'm not stupid. You didn't suddenly think of Stu for no reason. What did Hyde say in his sleep?" It bugs me in TV shows when a character doesn't catch blatantly obvious subtext in another character's speech. Donna's making a perfectly reasonable deduction here, because she is an intelligent human being.
"Donna, you have to promise not to tell anyone any of this," I begged her.
"I'm not going to promise that - you haven't even told me anything yet!"
"I don't know anything!" I rested my head on my knees, and decided I could trust Donna as much as anyone in the world - so I told her what I'd heard. "Just - when he was delirious, he thought I was Edna for a second, and he told me Stu was just showing him his sleeper cab. And before that he was mumbling something, I couldn't really make it out, but it sounded...like someone was making him do something he didn't want to do."
"Oh my God," Donna whispered. "Something sexual?"
I shrugged. "Maybe. Something that hurt, anyway."
She turned to me. "We have to talk to Hyde."
"What do you think we should do? Nothing?"
I thought about it for a second. "Well, yeah. I mean, he's never said anything to us; obviously he didn't want us to know. Anyway, he doesn't let things bother him." OK, my words sounded idiotic and lame even to me. It's natural for Eric to default to stoicism and silence; that's how his parents deal with things.
"If it didn't bother him, he wouldn't be having nightmares about it six years later," Donna pointed out.
I ground my fist into the asphalt. "He was having nightmares because he had a fever of a hundred and five. He probably doesn't think about it the rest of the time."
"Well, he could be repressing the memories. My mom's got books about that." Donna's parents, on the other hand, are all about getting in touch with their feelings, processing and so on.
I looked at Donna. "We can't talk to him now, anyway. He's still pretty sick today - he just wants to sleep all the time. Why don't you look in your mom's books and see if you can figure out what we should do?"
"OK." She nodded.
"And you won't tell anyone?"
"I won't tell anyone until we figure out what to do," she said. Good enough.
"Pinky swear?" I said.
Six Days Later:
Hyde and I stood by the bed, looking at each other.
"I guess I should take the cot back down to the basement," he said.
"You can stay for one more night, it's OK," I said. The measles rash was gone, he said he felt fine, and Mom had even said he should go back to school in a day or two - but I didn't really want him to leave.
After the second night, Mom had stopped coming in in the middle of the night to check Hyde's temperature, so I'd started staying on the bed with him. We didn't do anything - just lay there and slept - but I liked it. One morning I'd woken up and found him still asleep with his arm around me, and I'd liked that, too. Not that I'd tell him about it. This is where I pack a week's worth of nights into a one-paragraph summary. It's always hard to do that without feeling like SUMMARY is flashing above the paragraph in neon letters.
There was another thing, too. I needed to talk to him. Donna was freaking out. After she'd read a few of her mom's self-help and psychoanalysis books, she'd become convinced Hyde was going to kill himself. Now I couldn't talk her down. It seemed to me that even if something had happened, he'd coped fine for the six years since, so there was no emergency here. Donna, though, had worked herself into a state of near-panic. Today she'd given me an ultimatum: if I didn't talk to Hyde about it tonight, she was going to go to the school guidance counselor tomorrow. Here are Donna and Eric again with their different approaches to psychological trauma. They're both partly right; Eric is right that Hyde's not in a situation of immediate crisis, but Donna's right that it is a serious situation and they should do something. In the end they don't end up doing much of anything, and a year or so later (in Part Two), Hyde does more or less attempt suicide.
We turned off the lights, and crawled into bed - careful as usual not to touch each other.
"It's been kind of fun sharing a room," I ventured. "Like the girls' sleepovers." Canonically? Eric is such a girl.
"No offense, man, but this has not been one of the better weeks of my life," Hyde said.
"Oh. Well. Yeah."
We lay there beside each other for a while, me frantically trying to think of a way to bring up the subject I needed to talk about, him probably just drifting off to sleep.
"Hyde?" I said finally.
"What?" At least he didn't sound like he'd been asleep.
"Do you remember just before we went to the hospital?"
"You mean that morning, when you were pretending to be sick?"
"No, later, right before the ambulance came."
"Not really. Why?"
"You said some...strange...things when you were delirious."
"You've said some strange things while you're high." I could hear a smirk in his voice.
"You talked about Stu."
"You remember, Stu?" I repeated.
"Yeah, one of the many assholes who's dated my mother," he said calmly.
"I think maybe...he was worse than the others." It always bothers me to write a long series of dialogue without action or physical description to ground it, but here where they're just lying in bed in the dark, there really isn't much there beyond their words.
"Hey, Forman-" Hyde rolled onto his side to face me, "he never did anything to you, did he?" He sounded a little worried and a little angry. Hyde's first thought is that Stu did something to Eric. And even though he's never told anyone what Stu did to him, he'd be totally ready to go to war for Eric.
"Uh, no. Donna told me, though, that he tried a bunch of times to get her into his truck. Into the sleeper cab."
"What did he do to her?" Hyde asked, sitting up. Now he was definitely angry. Same thing, only now he thinks it was Donna who was hurt. I think it's realistic that he'd be much more ready to face the Stu issue to help his friends than to help himself.
"Nothing, man. She never went in there with him." I took a deep breath, and sat up too. "But you did, didn't you?"
"Don't go there, Forman," Hyde said, his voice tight. "He's an asshole, and if I ever see him again I'll kill him. That's all you need to know." He does mean it, about killing Stu. That's pretty much the only way Hyde can express what he's feeling.
In the fourth and final story of this series, there's a point where Eric and Hyde have a fight sparked by the Stu issue, and Hyde storms out and goes driving all night. Eric gets freaked out, worried Hyde might be suicidal again, and spends the whole night looking for him but doesn't find him. When Hyde shows up again in the morning and Eric asks him where he'd been, he says "I went into the woods to find my spirit animal." Originally, I'd had him say "I went and I found Stu and I killed him." And then he'd walk away, leaving Eric and the readers mostly but not entirely sure Hyde had been speaking metaphorically. But then I decided that would just confuse the issue.
I think at one point M3 told me she wanted me to have Hyde actually run into Stu, and have to decide whether to follow through on the death threat.
Anyway, that's not what this story is about. Stu is gone. Nobody's seen him in six years; no one will see him ever again.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when Hyde said 'I'll kill him.' I had the feeling that it wasn't a figure of speech - he was serious. An image of the switchblade flashed through my mind. "Look, I promised Donna that I'd talk to you about this," I said.
"Donna?" Hyde grabbed the collar of my pajama top. "Have you been talking about this with the whole fucking gang?" Do you get the feeling this is something Hyde would rather not talk about?
"No," I squeaked. "Just Donna. And she's worried about you."
He let go of me, and flopped back down onto the bed with a sigh. "Nobody's seen Stu in six years. Why worry about it now?"
"Well, that's what I told her," I said. "But she started reading about survivors of sexual abuse in her mom's pop psychology books, and now she thinks we should put you on suicide watch or something. She told me I had to talk to you tonight, or she was going to go to the guidance counselor about this."
"Fuck," Hyde swore. "Who said anything about sexual abuse? What the hell did I say while I was sick?" What's going on here is Hyde is hiding and denying as much as he can, because like most survivors of abuse he feels shame about what happened. Also, Eric using the words "sexual abuse" startles and disturbs Hyde because he never thought about it with those words.
Had I completely misinterpreted Hyde's fevered ramblings? I felt my cheeks getting hot. "Something about being in the sleeper cab with Stu. And..." I thought back, "You didn't want to suck something. You said it hurt."
"He took me back into the sleeper cab and he made me suck his dick," Hyde said, dead calm. "It only happened once. The next day he left, and I never saw him again. And yeah, it fucked up my head for a while, and it was a long time before I knew what to think about it, and that's why I hate him." Hyde is partly lying here, as most readers seemed to suspect from the beginning and as is confirmed (in a blink-and-you-miss-it way) later in the series. In fact it happened more than once, and Hyde isn't nearly as over it as he's trying to sound here.
"Oh." I didn't know what to say to that. I just didn't. It was too far outside my experience.
This is where the Stu topic gets pretty much dropped for the remainder of the story, so I want to just talk about it a little more.
So. When I started writing this story, I knew I was working with risky material. In creating a history of sexual abuse for a character who has no such history in canon, one risks going OOC. Also, the plot "character X was abused, omg!" is a bit of a fanfic cliché, and is often treated in ways that I find unrealistic.
First, how I justify saying that this plotline isn't OOC for Hyde. He doesn't talk about his feelings much, or about his history. It is canonical that he had a pretty crappy white trash childhood. His mother, Edna, had a series of boyfriends who Hyde sarcastically and with definite hostility refers to as his "uncles." Edna is canonically neglectful, to the point of actually running off with her latest boyfriend and abandoning Hyde while he's still a minor (prompting his moving into the Formans' basement). So it really doesn't seem like much of a stretch that one of those boyfriends could've molested Hyde when he was still a little kid, or that Edna would have either failed to notice or looked the other way.
I also want to emphasize that Eric's love does not magically cure Hyde. Sex with Eric does not magically cure Hyde. In fact, throughout most of this series, every time Eric and Hyde start to do something sexual, Hyde will flash back to Stu and either shut down or freak out. This only really changes after Hyde starts getting pseudo-counselling from Naomi.
This was my attempt to deal with the issue realistically.
"I'll talk to Donna tomorrow and calm her down," Hyde said. "So, wanna go down to the basement and smoke a joint?" And here's Hyde successfully changing the subject.
We crept silently down two flights of stairs, and retrieved the baggie I'd hidden under the loose floorboard last week. This is the weed he found in Hyde's wallet, in the hospital. See, continuity! Go, me! It made a pretty small joint, but what the hell, there were only two of us.
We sat on the couch, and passed the little joint back and forth. Hyde found a paperclip to use as a roach clip, and we sucked that baby dry. As an aside: a few years ago I lived with roommates who smoked a lot of pot. I got high with them on exactly one occasion. That's my entire first-hand knowledge base.
"When's the last time the two of us got stoned together without anyone else?" I mused as the high kicked in.
"Never, man." He settled down and slung on arm over the sofa back, behind my shoulders. "Never done it before."
"That's funny, isn't it? Since we live together."
"It's good to have those other idiots around," he said. "Kind of a safety valve." Again I remind you: Hyde is in love with Eric. Eric does not know this yet. Hyde says things that do not entirely make sense to Eric, but which Eric's mind quickly glosses over.
"Yeah, we get weird together. Remember that time I kissed you?...Damn, I didn't mean to say that." This is Eric catching Hyde's subtext without meaning to or even really realizing that he has. I looked over at him, worried he'd get pissed at me for bringing up the great big Unspoken, but he just sighed.
"We were stupid kids back then," he said. "Sorry I hit you, by the way. That was about Stu, not about you."
"Oh, shit," I breathed. "That was the same time...?"
"Right after." He grimaced. And that's as much as he ever says about that. As I said above, I'm really depending on the reader to connect the dots. "We're killing the high, Forman. Let's talk about something else. So, hey - why are you thinking about kissing me, anyway? Did sleeping next to me for a week give you ideas?" He smirked. "Truth or dare, Forman."
"You were sick," I said defensively. "I wasn't thinking anything."
"Truth or dare?" he repeated.
I'd had enough of truth already. What the hell. "Dare."
"Kiss me," he said. Hyde really hopes Eric will. But if he doesn't, Hyde can play it off as nothing—as you'll see him do in a moment.
I laughed nervously. "You told me never to do it again."
"And I sucker-punched you in the gut, yeah, I remember. Guess you can't kiss me, then." He yawned. "That wasn't much of a joint, was it? Let's go back to bed."
I followed him back upstairs, trying to figure out if I was relieved or disappointed that he'd just let it go like that. We lay down on the bed, side by side and not quite touching, like every night this week.
"Good night, Forman," Hyde said.
I knew: he was going to take his cot back downstairs in the morning. We'd never spend another night together, and we'd never speak again about any of this. We wouldn't talk about kissing, and we definitely wouldn't talk about Stu, or about the switchblade I knew Hyde had hidden somewhere. I had a feeling that I should have said or done something, sometime before now, and things could have been different. I wouldn't be here aching to put my arms around him and kiss him and knowing that I never, ever could. But it was too late now.
And you see, originally I was going to end it there. I have a terrible tendancy to write depressing endings. But neither M3 nor Eric and Hyde would let me stop there after all, so I ended up writing three more parts, all much longer than this one.
That's all I've got for the "commentary track." Thanks for coming along for the ride; I hope you enjoyed it! If you have any questions, feel free to ask; I love that kind of thing.