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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I woke up gently. Hyde was still asleep, facing towards me and smiling softly at his dreams. The angle of the sun coming in my window let me know I was up earlier than usual. I glanced over at my clock to confirm: I was awake nearly an hour early. That meant I didn't have to move right away. I didn't have to deal with the day yet; I could lie here watching Hyde sleep, and think about the unbelievable night that just passed.
Hyde had come to me. Even thinking that I'd blown him off for Donna two years ago because he wouldn't have sex with me, he'd come to me last night. And we'd fixed the misunderstandings, and we'd declared our love, and we'd fallen asleep in each other's arms...in my bed in my parents' house, just down the hall from their room. Oh God. Hyde had to get downstairs before anyone else woke up.
I shook his arm gently. "Wake up."
He opened his eyes and looked puzzled for a moment, like he couldn't remember where he was. Then he focused on me and smiled. "Hi Eric," he said in a soft, rough morning voice.
I kissed him. I couldn't help it. He was all sleepy and rumpled and warm. He kissed me back, and I instantly forgot why I woke him up. His lips were soft against mine, and his morning stubble was rough against my fingertips when I caressed his cheek. He tasted good, even first thing in the morning. We'd never kissed in the morning before.
"What time is it?" he whispered after a while.
"Shit." I glanced at my clock; another ten minutes had gone by. "My parents are going to wake up soon - you've gotta get out of here!"
"Right." He climbed out of my bed and found his pajama top on the floor where we'd thrown it in the night. He pulled it on. "What happens now?" he asked as he did up the buttons.
"I'll look out in the hall and make sure the coast's clear."
He gave me a look like I was a little dumb. "Yeah. I mean what happens when I walk out of this room and real life starts up again?"
"Oh." Like, can we tell anyone about this without getting killed? How can we hide this in such a crowded house? I ran my hand through my hair a little desperately. "That's one hell of a big question. We don't have time for it now..."
"I have to know now." He finished doing up his shirt, and turned his steady gaze on me. "I have to know if last night was real, because I have to face Jackie today."
"Jackie," I repeated. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten about her. Yesterday Hyde had said he loved her; I wasn't sure if he'd meant it, or if he'd just said it because he was mad at me.
"See, if this is real," Hyde went on, "I have to break up with her today. Otherwise I'm sneaking around behind her back - and you know, I don't want to be like Kelso."
"You, uh, cheated on her once already," I pointed out. He closed his eyes like I'd hit him. I don't know why I said it - it just seemed like a relevant point. Sometimes I don't think things through before I say them.
"Yeah." He opened his eyes again. "OK, so I'm already pretty far down the road to being as much of an asshole as Kelso was. That's why I need to talk to her today."
"Oh my God, you can't tell her about us!" I yelped.
"I'm not dumb, Forman. Just tell me: from where you're standing, is this real?"
I looked at him, standing there in my dad's cast-off pajamas, his hair fuzzy from sleep, glaring at me with his arms crossed, and I realized that he was giving me one more chance to back out - because he was still afraid I didn't really love him. "It's real," I said.
"All right. See you later," he said evenly. He opened the door a crack to peek outside, and then he was gone.
Jackie must have been watching the driveway, because as soon as I opened my car door she was there, saying, "Eric, I need to talk to you!"
"What? Jackie, I just got home from work, I have to change my clothes, I'm tired..."
She stomped her foot in that oddly girly way she has. "I need to talk to you now. Eric, Steven broke up with me!!"
"Oh." The first feeling that flashed through me was sheer joy - he chose me! Of course immediately afterwards I realized my awkward position here. Did Jackie know I'd stolen her boyfriend? "So what do you want to talk about?"
"Eric!" Her voice got higher-pitched and a little desperate. "Steven dumped me! Just like Donna dumped you!" She stopped herself, making a little round 'o' with her pink-glossed lips. "Oh my God, Eric, they've decided to run away together!"
"I'm pretty sure that's not happening," I said, calmly trying not to choke.
"I don't know what's happening!" she wailed, and wrapped her arms around my neck and started to cry.
And that's how I ended up sitting in the Pinciottis' kitchen, watching Jackie devour a bowl of butterscotch ice cream.
"It just came out of nowhere!" she was saying, waving the spoon in the air for emphasis. "In the car, while he was driving me to school, all of a sudden it's 'Look, Jackie, I need to break this off.' What the hell?"
"Um, yeah." Lucky for me, she didn't need me to say a whole lot - just nod my head or shake it, as appropriate. I was afraid if I said anything more, my nose would start growing like Pinocchio's. I touched it, just to make sure it was still normal-sized.
"God, did he ever really like me? I mean, he always said he didn't, but I thought he was just being, you know, surly." Her dark eyes were wide with confusion and hurt. I felt like a first-class asshole for what I was hiding from her - I mean, I didn't like her, but this situation was messed up.
"I shouldn't have put him off all summer," she went on, berating herself around another mouthful of ice cream. "That's what broke us, I know it. He didn't want to get together again after that, Michael talked him into it.... Eric, he's your friend, he must talk to you! Did he meet another girl? Is that what it's about?"
I could safely have said 'no' - it was the truth - but I was evasive anyway. "What did he say? Do you think he met someone?"
She shrugged, flipping her hair back listlessly. "I don't know. He went through the 'it's not you, it's me' routine. He said he's not cut out for a steady girlfriend." Suddenly she looked up at me with new hope in her eyes. "Oh my God, Eric, that's it! He's scared of commitment because of the mess his parents made of it!"
"Um." I started to squirm. We were getting to the place where I had to outright lie to Jackie, or else take the dangerous and stupid step of telling her the truth. "I'm not sure that's it..."
"No, Eric, don't worry," she said, her voice taking on a steadier, more confident tone. "I know Steven. I'll get through to him. I'll get him back."
She had no idea she was issuing me a challenge.
Dinner was strange: Mom and Red and Hyde and me, broiled skinless chicken and corn and baby carrots, and no awkward silences at all. I'd expected many awkward silences, the kind that usually accompany huge, life-altering secrets. Instead, Mom was full of bubbly, nervous excitement about Red's doctor appointment tomorrow. It was the crucial six-month checkup where they'd tell him if he'd recovered from the heart attack and could go back to work. Dad was being gruff about it, in his usual don't-jinx-it way. Hyde was this calm, neutral presence, smoothing over their moods with talk about people at the hotel, some work he was doing on the El Camino, and complimenting Mom on her cooking. Me, I was kind of nervous and kind of giddy, watching him and knowing for the first time that it was OK to think he was gorgeous and amazing. I mostly kept my mouth shut, except for laughing a little too loud at some funny things he said.
After dinner I went downstairs with Hyde. As soon as we were in the basement, I grabbed him for a kiss. He kissed me back, but then he pulled away with a frown. "Not out here - people walk in all the time."
So I followed him to his room, where we could close the door for a little security.
"Jackie came and talked to me," I said.
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah?"
"I felt like a jerk. She was all upset and I couldn't tell her why I was the last person she should be talking to. But then she brought herself around to thinking that you're afraid of commitment because of your crappy parents, and now she thinks she's going to get you past that and win you back." I said it almost like it was a joke, but really I felt a little guilty for letting Jackie go away with that idea - and a little worried, deep down, that I might lose him back to her after all. I wanted him to quickly reassure me that there was no way that he'd go back to Jackie, and that he wasn't afraid of commitment, either - I wanted him to say he was committed to me now.
Instead, he shrugged it off and changed the subject. "I was thinking at dinner," he said, "it's about time for me to move out of here."
"What?" I dropped down onto his cot, making the springs squeak. "Why?"
"It doesn't feel right." He sat down beside me and put his hand on my leg. "Kitty and Red have been really good to me. I don't want to be living in their house and sneaking around behind their backs."
Crap. What was he doing, thinking about ethics and consequences when we were supposed to be riding the happy buzz of the first day after we told each other 'I love you'? But he was right - I saw it and I hated it. "You can't move out now," I said anyway. "It's two weeks 'till Christmas! Mom would be so sad, and besides, I bet it's impossible to find a place right now. Wait until January."
He shrugged. "Yeah, but if I start looking now, I might find a place for January."
I nuzzled his cheek, feeling sad like we were saying good-bye. "Jesus, I'll miss having you down here."
Just then the basement door to the driveway banged open loud enough for us both to hear, and Kelso called out "Hey, guys! Guys? Anybody home?"
Hyde shot a slightly pissed-off look through the wall in Kelso's direction, then turned to me, kissing me quickly on the cheek. "See, there'd be some advantages to me having my own place," he whispered.
"Yeah," I agreed, and we went out to meet Kelso for another fine evening of hanging out.
I got home from work just in time from dinner. From the way Mom was smiling and humming as she set out the plates, I guessed right away that the news at the doctor's had been good - but I let her wait to make the official announcement.
As soon as we all had our plates full of chicken casserole, Mom poked Red in the shoulder. She was grinning ear-to-ear. "Tell the boys your news!"
Red cleared his throat. "I passed the physical. So now, Eric, you can get the hell out of here."
"All right, Dad, that's great!"
"Good for you, Mr. Forman. Guess a little beer didn't hurt after all - I mean, good job staying on the diet." Hyde nodded, with that little smirk he wears when he's messing with people. I don't know how the hell he gets away with it - Red would be kicking my ass by now if I'd said that. Instead, Red just glared at him briefly, and Mom gave him her 'I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that' look.
After dinner, we went downstairs. This time we went straight into Hyde's room.
"So what're you going to do?" he asked me as he closed the door.
"You mean now that Red doesn't need me here?" Obviously, yeah, that was the question. I sat down on the cot and absently scanned the junk on the shelf beside it. I picked up Hyde's eyeball pinky ring and slipped it over my littlest finger - it fit loosely. His hands were bigger than mine. "I don't know. I mean, back in August I was supposed to move to Madison with Donna. Now that's not going to happen, no matter what. I can't really go to college until next September - I mean, I think they have winter registration, but most of the freshman courses are full-year."
"I'm going to be looking for an apartment anyway," he said, heading over to the record player. "We could get a place together."
I looked over at him; he had his back to me, picking out an album to play. "Wow, um. Donna and I dated for a year before we decided to move in together."
He set the needle down on the record he'd chosen; it was side two of Dark Side of the Moon. "OK, whatever. It was just an idea."
Damn it, why did he always give up so easily? "No, wait, it might be a good idea. You took me by surprise, is all."
He came back over to the cot and sat down at the end, cross-legged facing me. "Nah, you're right. I mean, I dated Jackie for a year and I sure as hell wasn't ready to move in with her."
"Right." I spun his eyeball ring on my finger, hiding it behind my other hand; I don't think he'd noticed I was wearing it. "And Jesus, here we are, we've only been dating for a day..."
Hyde frogged me on the shoulder, not too hard. "Don't say we're dating, Forman. It sounds weird."
I frowned. "Well, what would you call it?"
Hyde shrugged. "Don't call it anything, man. Just let it be what it is." He smiled, and took his sunglasses off. Hooking them over the collar of his t-shirt, he grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me over to him so he could kiss me.
"You know," I said against his warm lips, "We've been living together for two years already."
He laughed. "Fuck, you're right." Then he attacked me with ferocious kisses that pushed me down flat onto the cot. I was happy to kiss him back, meeting his insistent tongue with mine. With my fingers splayed across his back, I pulled him tight. I felt his erection digging into my hip, and I was glad to know that I turned him on as fast as he did it to me. He nipped my lip with his teeth, and I liked the sharp feeling. Our noses bumped, and his stubble scratched my cheek, and I loved every sensation.
I guess between Pink Floyd on the stereo and the squeaking of the cot under us, we didn't hear the door to the driveway open and close, because the first warning we had that there was someone in the basement was a sharp knocking on Hyde's door.
"Shit," he gasped, and scrambled off me, falling on the floor with a thud. "What?!" he yelled at the door, snatching for something under the cot.
So when Jackie burst into Hyde's room, what she saw was Hyde sitting on the floor by the cot calmly leafing through a dog-eared paperback book, and me lying on the cot with rumpled hair and a guilty expression. Luckily, the obvious explanation was too far out of her life experience to even consider. "You guys!" she said excitedly, "Donna's home for Christmas! And she brought a girlfriend home with her! And her girlfriend is even more of a boy than Donna is!"
For a second I was completely stunned; I hadn't thought Donna was ready to tell everyone she was gay yet. Also, I would've thought Jackie would be a bit more shocked and horrified than this to discover she'd been roommates with a lesbian for a year.
Then I realized the obvious. Jackie didn't mean 'girlfriend' like dating, she meant 'girlfriend' like 'friend who is a girl.' Ironically, I'd give at least two-to-one odds that this 'girlfriend' was, in fact, the chick from the Women's Studies class that Donna had dumped me for. I mean, who else would she bring home for Christmas?
That was pretty ballsey of her, come to think of it.
"Cool," said Hyde. "Are they coming over?"
"Yeah, I think so, as soon as they've put their bags away. You've got to see this girl! It's like Donna times two!"
We followed Jackie out into the basement. I smoothed down my hair and straightened my shirt when Jackie's back was turned; Hyde noticed, and snickered silently.
"I already called Kelso and Fez and told them to come over here," Jackie said, clapping her hands and bouncing a bit. "It'll be just like old times!"
I didn't know whether to laugh at Jackie for talking about 'old times' like she was one of our parents, or to get indignant at her inviting everyone over to my house. I mean, it's not like she was even dating one of the residents anymore. Still, it would be cool to have the whole gang all in one room again.
"Steven, don't sit there." Hyde was sitting on the lawn chair in front of the deep freeze, and Jackie was standing in front of him with her hands on her hips. "The couch is comfier. You're here first, so you should sit on the couch."
He slipped his sunglasses on, and raised his eyebrows at her. "I like this chair."
Jackie sat down at the end of the couch closest to him, looking frustrated. I could see she was putting her plan to win Hyde back into action. I guess it was good at least that she wasn't moping... wait, no it wasn't! She was in denial, and she was trying to steal my boyfriend. And she was sitting where I wanted to be sitting - in the place closest to him. And I couldn't say anything about it, because nobody knew about me and Hyde, and no one was ever going to know. Damn it all to hell. I sat at the other end of the couch, feeling pissed off and helpless.
Luckily, Fez and Kelso burst in through the door before the three of us had to make conversation.
"I hate winter," Fez grumbled, pulling off his hat and scarf and coat. "It is so cold and gray. We do not have winter in my country."
"Oh, don't be such a wimp," Kelso said, frogging him. "It's not really winter. It hasn't even snowed yet!"
"You see?" Fez crossed his arms. "It will only get worse."
"Aw, Fez, you want me to get you a blanket to snuggle up in?" Hyde asked, all mock sympathetic.
Fez came and plopped himself down on the couch between me and Jackie, pouting. "If only I had a loving wife to keep me warm through the unnaturally dark winter months."
I shrugged. "Your mistake for marrying Laurie. Where is she these days, anyway? Oh yeah, Mexico. Hot, sunny Mexico."
Kelso settled himself on the other lawn chair, his long legs splayed out around the spool table. "Hey, Fez, are you from Mexico?"
Before Fez could answer, the door to the driveway banged open again, and Donna burst in. "Hey, guys, I'm home!" she called out with a huge grin.
"Donna!!" Kelso leapt to his feet and swept her up in a big hug. He was the only one of us who could pick Donna right off the ground and swing her around without it being awkward.
She laughed. "Put me down, you big oaf!" She hugged him back, then motioned to the door. "Come on in and meet everyone, Naomi!"
So I got my first look at the chick who Donna had dumped me for. She walked in looking a bit hesitant - I guess it must be nerve-wracking meeting all your girlfriend's childhood friends in one shot. She was smaller than Donna, more Jackie's size. Her black hair was cut shorter than I'd ever seen on a girl, almost a buzz cut. It was hard not to stare at that. Her eyes were big and dark, and she didn't look like she was wearing any makeup. She was wearing a cast-off army jacket that was too big for her and covered with all sorts of patches, including a few peace signs. She also had on camouflage pants with bright blue patches on their knees, and beat-up steel-toed work boots. I could see what Jackie meant - she was even more of a boy than Donna was. I mean, Donna was wearing jeans and boots and a men's-style sheepskin coat, but at least she had long hair.
The funny thing was, imagining Naomi with long hair and girly clothes, I thought she'd actually look a lot like Jackie. I decided that for my own personal safety, I'd refrain from sharing that observation with Donna, Naomi, or Jackie.
"Everyone, this is Naomi," Donna said, looking proud. "Naomi, this is everyone." Donna listed off each of our names, and Naomi smiled at us and made a little waving motion with her fingers. Fez and I got up to gallantly give our spots on the couch to the girls. As Donna brushed by me, I caught her in a hug.
"Welcome back," I whispered.
"We'll talk later," she whispered back.
Since there were no more seats, I sat on the floor. And since I had to sit on the floor somewhere, I sat on the floor by Hyde's feet. Almost touching him, but not quite. Meanwhile, Fez went and got himself a soda from the stack in the corner.
"So how'd your exams go?" Jackie asked Donna.
"They were brutal, but I think I kicked ass." Donna grinned. "I had the last one this morning. God, it's good to have them over with."
"How about you, Naomi?" Jackie asked, in that slightly artificial tone she uses with people she doesn't really like. I don't think she approved of Naomi's outfit, or her hair.
"Oh, I finished on Monday. I just waited around for Donna after that," Naomi said. It was the first time I'd heard her speak, and her voice surprised me - since she was small like Jackie, I expected her to have a high, girly voice. Instead her voice was a rich alto, a bit deeper than Donna's.
"So are you staying around for the whole Christmas break?" I asked her.
"Yeah," Donna said, giving me a significant look. "I invited her to spend Christmas with Bob and Jackie and me, since her parents have gone to Florida."
Kelso leaned forward in his chair. "Without her? Jesus, that sucks!"
Naomi exchanged a wry grin with Donna. "No, it's OK - Kelso, right?" Naomi said. "I don't mind coming here."
"Look, if it's any comfort," Kelso went on, looking dangerously earnest, "you're totally not alone. Hyde's parents abandoned him too, and so did Jackie's, and so did Donna's mom, and, well, nobody even knows what country Fez's parents are in."
"Donna?" Hyde said.
"You're closest to him. Hit him, would you?"
"No problem." Donna punched Kelso in the shoulder.
"Ow!" he yelped. "What was that for?"
"My family doesn't celebrate Christmas anyway, so it's no big deal," Naomi said, looking kind of amused and kind of appalled.
"You don't celebrate Christmas!?" Kelso looked like he was going to fall right out of his chair in his shock. "What kind of screwed up family is that?"
"Kelso," Donna said patiently, "Naomi's Jewish."
"Ohhhh." Kelso nodded, trying to look wise. "OK, that's cool. I've never met someone from a different culture before."
Fez, sitting in front of the TV, choked on his soda.
"So, how's everything in Point Place?" Donna asked. "Sorry I've been out of touch, the workload at college is, like, ten times what I'm used to."
So we caught each other up on the news. Everyone carefully avoided saying anything about my and Donna's broken engagement - but that wasn't news, anyway. Everyone knew.
I told Donna about Red's full recovery. Kelso told her about Police Academy. Fez told her about tricking the INS agent and becoming American. And then there came the awkward moment when Donna looked at Hyde and Jackie and said, "So how are you crazy kids doing?"
Hyde, master of bluntness, didn't hesitate. "We broke up."
Donna's eyes got wide, and she looked at me. I thought at this point she couldn't miss the significance of me sitting at Hyde's feet. I gave the tiniest nod; I wasn't sure if she saw and understood, but it was the best I could do there in the middle of everyone.
"Damn, Jackie!" Kelso said, looking shocked. "Were you going to tell me? I thought we were friends!"
"Wait, does this mean that Jackie is single now?" Fez said.
Jackie glared at everyone, especially Hyde. "We're only broken up until I make you see you're being an idiot."
"But right now, at this moment, Jackie, you are single?" Fez insisted.
She sighed, and tossed her hair back over her shoulders. "Yes, Fez. At this moment, I am single."
"All right." Fez stood up, and put his right hand over his heart. "Then at this moment, I declare my intention to court your affections."
Kelso, Donna and Jackie looked dumbstruck. Hyde, behind me, laughed softly. Naomi looked like she was fighting not to laugh, too.
"Fez," I said, "You're married to my sister."
Naomi buried her face in Donna's shoulder, and smothered her high-pitched giggles.
"It is true," Fez said, "But we all know that my marriage is an empty sham."
"All right," Jackie said suddenly. "Fez, you have my permission to court me." She gave Hyde a challenging look.
Fez bowed from the waist in Jackie's direction. "Thank-you, gracious lady." Smiling to himself, he grabbed his coat, hat and scarf, and walked out the door.
Late in the evening, after everyone had gone home, Donna came back over to talk to me alone. My parents had already gone to bed, and so had Hyde since he had an early shift at the hotel the next morning.
Donna found me in the kitchen, making a grilled-cheese sandwich for a bedtime snack. "Eric!" she said, taking a seat at the table, "You've got to tell me what's going on with Hyde and Jackie."
"Uh uh, you first." I put my sandwich on a plate and joined her at the table. "Naomi. Is she your...?"
"Yes. She's my girlfriend. You haven't told anyone, have you?"
I shook my head, and made the zipped-lips sign. "Not even Hyde."
"Thanks." Donna grabbed my sandwich and took a bite.
"Hey!" I snatched it back from her. "You can't steal my food anymore, we're not dating!"
"Sorry," she said around her mouthful, smiling and not looking sorry at all. She swallowed, then asked "Right, so what the hell happened to Hyde and Jackie? When did they break up?"
"Eric, this doesn't have anything to do with what we were talking about on Sunday, does it?"
I hesitated - but if I couldn't tell Donna, who could I tell? She already knew half the story. "Yeah," I said quietly, and her eyes widened.
"Oh my God, Eric. Details. You damn well better give me details."
I shrugged, feeling awkward. I didn't know how to tell this story. "After I talked to you I realized that I still loved him. So, Monday, I kinda... told him."
"Wow, Eric," Donna said quietly. "That was really brave of you."
I shrugged again.
"And that was it?" she prompted. "You said 'I love you Hyde,' he said 'I love you too, Forman,' and he dumped Jackie and now you're living happily ever after?" There was a definite tinge of disbelief in her voice.
"Sort of." If you cut out the parts with the sex and the yelling at each other and the crying, Donna's summary was basically accurate. "I'm not so sure about the happily ever after," I admitted. "Things are pretty weird now. Good, but weird."
"No kidding," Donna said, still sounding kind of awestruck. "Are you going to move out of your parents' house?"
"Yeah, I guess. We've kind of talked about it. That's one of the weird things... talking, I mean. I'm not sure how to talk to him now. It's like, everything's the same as it was before... but it's not."
"I know what you mean," Donna said, nodding.
"Wow, that's amazing, because I don't know what I mean," I said with a frustrated kind of laugh. I picked up the cheese sandwich to finish it off.
"Seriously, I remember it was like that when we first started dating. We'd been friends forever, but all of a sudden there was this whole new set of rules - it was really confusing. But we figured it out, right?"
"Yeah, yeah we did." And here we were, I realized, doing it again. Figuring out how to talk to each other under a whole new set of rules. At that moment I wanted to tell her I loved her - but I thought she might take it the wrong way, so I just offered her a glass of milk.
"...but Karen happened to be looking out the window, so she saw the squad car pulling up! She yelled 'oh my God, it's the cops!'" Donna waved her hands, animating the story she was telling. Naomi was half listening, and flipping through an old Newsweek; every once in a while she looked up at Donna and smiled. Hyde was slouched in the lawn chair, but I could tell he was listening to Donna intently - as interested as I was, and probably less appalled, by the story of how the entire student newspaper staff had almost been arrested. It was just Donna, Naomi, Hyde and me in the basement tonight. Jackie and Kelso both had important tests to study for, and God only knew where Fez was. "So Naomi said, 'burn the photos,'" Donna went on. "So we put them in this metal garbage can and we lit them on fire. But then the smoke detector went off! So Naomi stayed to deal with the photos, and Karen and Jeff and I ran downstairs and the cops were right there! So I told them that we were making popcorn on the hot plate and it caught on fire but it was OK now and we had to go tell the janitor to turn the alarm off, and by the time they got upstairs Naomi had flushed everything down the toilet!"
"Wow, Donna," Hyde said with a smile, "Looks like you might take away my 'most likely to go to jail' title."
Donna smirked. "Not likely, since you've already been to jail."
"Overnight lockup doesn't count."
Naomi looked intrigued. "What were you arrested for?" she asked him.
"Stupidity," I muttered under my breath.
"Possession," Hyde said.
"Of what, pot?" Naomi asked.
Naomi smiled. "Do you have any now?"
"...and then I sat on his head," Donna finished, giggling.
Naomi giggled too, and Hyde just smirked.
"OK, well, what about the time our families went camping together and I dug up a bunch of worms and put them in your sleeping bag?" I said. If we were going to get stoned and then tell Naomi all our embarrassing childhood stories, there had to be some balance.
"Wait, I think I remember that story," Hyde said. "Didn't you get mixed up in the dark and put them in your sleeping bag?"
Donna laughed so hard she snorted. "Yeaaah. He screamed like a girl."
"Damn, I forgot that part," I mumbled. I hadn't, but I'd hoped that they had.
"Hey, remember the next year when we brought Hyde with us?" Donna went on. She turned to Naomi, putting a hand on her leg. "The campground was by a lake, and Hyde convinced Eric and me to steal this rowboat with him."
I remembered. "We made it halfway across the lake, and then the wind picked up and we couldn't make it back the other way."
"I said we should swim back," Donna said, nodding lazily on the edge of laughing again. "But neither of these dorks knew how to swim."
Hyde half-shrugged. "Edna never had money for swimming lessons."
Naomi looked at me, so I pointed at my ear. "I used to get a lot of ear infections when I was little. Couldn't put my head underwater."
"So what did you do?" Naomi asked.
"We beached the boat and walked back," Donna explained. "It took an hour!"
"Yeah, and after that Donna taught us how to swim," I added. "Man, those were the days."
"You know what's cool?" Naomi asked absently, pulling a loose thread out of her jacket sleeve. "The way you all grew up together, and now you're all gay. That is just fucking awesome. I think I was the only one in my whole damn high school."
"What?" said Hyde.
"Um, Donna?" My voice went all squeaky. "You told Naomi about us?"
Hyde held up his hand in a 'stop' gesture, frowning behind his sunglasses. "Donna? Are you a lesbo now?"
"Dammit, Naomi, you weren't supposed to say anything." Donna punched her girlfriend in the arm.
"Ow! What was that for?" Naomi rubbed her arm glared at Donna. "Didn't they already know?"
"No, Eric knew, but Hyde didn't."
"Fuck, Donna, this is too complicated." Naomi hugged her knees and pouted.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, sorry I hit you," Donna murmured, kissing Naomi on the lips. "It's OK."
I just stared for a moment, transfixed by the sight of my ex-fiancee kissing another chick and calling her 'sweetie.' It was kind of hot. Weird, but hot.
Hyde, on the other hand, was staring at me. "Thanks for keeping me up to date, Forman."
"Donna swore me to secrecy!"
"Whatever, man." He stood up and left the circle, headed for the furnace room. We all watched until he shut the door behind him.
"You shouldn't keep secrets from your boyfriend," Naomi said to me, very solemn with a giggly Donna hanging over her shoulder.
"Aren't they cute together?" Donna said to Naomi. "Do you know, they were in love the whole time I was dating Eric and I never guessed?"
Now Donna was pissing me off. "Why don't you two go home now?"
"Yeah, we'll get out of here so you can go kiss and make up." Donna giggled again. "I still can't believe it! They kiss each other, Naomi! I've known them since we were six!"
Naomi, who did seem less stoned than Donna at this point, gave me a kind of apologetic look while she yanked Donna to her feet. "C'mon, honey, let's go. It's time for bed."
As soon as they were gone, I knocked on Hyde's door. He didn't answer, but I opened it anyway. He was lying on his cot, listening to the Doors.
"OK, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Donna and Naomi," I said.
He sat up. "Yeah, what I want to know is what you told Donna and Naomi."
"I only told Donna."
"You shouldn't have told anyone," he snapped.
I felt kind of uncomfortable - guilty for talking to Donna, and resentful that I was feeling that way. I wished he'd be more Zen about this. "Donna and Naomi won't tell anyone else," I said to reassure him, sitting down on the cot next to him. "They're in the same situation as us."
He didn't say anything, but I saw his jaw muscles move just a bit, like he was clenching his teeth. He was still mad at me. Damn it, words were not getting me out of this. I leaned in and kissed him. He stubbornly kept his lips pressed together, not letting me in. I traced a line of kisses down his neck, hoping he'd relent and we could make out and it would fix everything. I guess I should have told him about Donna, since I'd told Donna about us - at least I could see why he'd think I should have. OK, I'd screwed up - but all the dynamics here were so new and confusing!
"Get off me, Forman." He pushed me away, hard enough I nearly fell off the cot.
"I'm sorry, OK?" I said. His attitude was starting to piss me off a little, even though I knew I was in the wrong. "When Donna told me, she swore me to secrecy because she was scared of what everyone else will think."
"But you couldn't wait to tell her about us," he said, very cold. The light on him was too dim for me to see his eyes behind his sunglasses, and I had a sudden impulse to just rip them off his face and stop him from shutting me out this way.
"It just - it came up in conversation! Yesterday night!" I hated how he was making me so defensive. "She wanted to know why you and Jackie broke up."
"Yeah, Forman, I understand what's going on now." He stood up and crossed his arms, glaring down at me. "Your girlfriend dumped you for another girl. The only way to get back at her for that was to get with a guy."
"What?!" My voice went all squeaky with disbelief. "That's about the stupidest paranoid theory you've ever come up with!"
"Oh yeah?" he said, way quieter than I was talking. "You're still in love with her. I saw the way you were looking at her."
"No! Well, maybe, yeah, she's still attractive and I still care about her, but that page is turned, man! She's batting for the other side now!" Damn, that came out all wrong.
"And what side are you on? You expect me to think you can love me, when you're still hot for Donna?"
"OK, what, you think I'm pretending to be gay just to get back at Donna for being gay? That is - Hyde, that's fucking insane!"
"Isn't it an amazing coincidence, though?" His posture radiated angry sarcasm, while his voice stayed calm. "All your life it's girls, girls, girls, and then Donna tells you she's a lesbian, and suddenly you want to kiss me."
"Jesus Hyde, you've slept with way the hell more women than I ever have! And I'm not the one who freaks out at the idea of sex with a guy!" OK, even as I was saying it, I knew, I knew that I shouldn't say it. But somehow the words kept right on flowing out of my mouth. He was attacking me, so I attacked him right back.
And it worked. Oh yeah. I didn't even see the expression on his face, he was out the door so fast. I heard the outside door slam.
"I am a dumbass," I said out loud. That barely even scratched the surface. I swore at myself, and punched the cot.
Right, now what? Hyde probably hated me now. How the hell did I manage to screw up so badly, so fast? It had to be a new world record. He was probably begging Jackie to take him back right now...or worse.
I went out into the basement, and saw that he'd taken his coat - not likely he was just going next door, then. I grabbed my own coat, and went outside.
The El Camino was gone. I swore again, and ran back in the house for my car keys.
By the time I got the Vista Cruiser on the road, Hyde had at least two minutes' lead on me. I had no idea what direction he'd gone in. I tried the Hub first. They were just closing up, and he wasn't there. I drove out to the reservoir, remembering how he'd gone there one other time when I'd hurt him badly - but he wasn't there, either.
I was worried, and I didn't know where to go next. I drove home, hoping he'd gone back while I was out looking - but no.
I had to find him. I had to take it back, tell him I was sorry, make him see that I did love him. And I had to save him from the fucking demons I'd conjured up.
I started driving again, aimlessly this time, just looking for the El Camino. Point Place had never seemed so big.
I drove, and drove. I lost track of where I'd been; the residential streets blended together. I thought I saw the El Camino a dozen times, but each time it turned out to be some other car or truck. Not his.
I searched for hours. Around four a.m. I realized I was too tired to drive any more. You'd think the worry gnawing at the pit of my stomach would be enough to keep me awake, but no. I caught myself nodding off at the wheel for a second, and that scared me enough to send me home. I held my breath as I pulled into the driveway, hoping again that he'd come home while I was out looking - but, just like earlier, there was no sign of him.
It was four a.m., and I was too tired to drive, but I wasn't ready to give up yet. I just needed help. I needed Donna.
It wasn't too hard to climb up to her bedroom window - just stand on top of the fence, scramble onto the garage roof, then jump over to the roof under her window. I'd done it plenty of times back in the good old days.
I peeked through the window. By the soft glow of Jackie's unicorn night light, I could see three sleeping forms: one on the cot, one on the bed, and one on the floor between them. I couldn't tell who was who, so I just tapped on the glass. Nobody inside moved, so I rapped the windowpane with my knuckles.
They all sat up. Jackie, on the bed, shrieked, at the same time as Naomi, on the cot, yelped "Shit, there's a man at the window!"
Donna, who'd been lying on the floor, stood up, pushed her hair back from her face sleepily, and gave a little wave in my direction. She said something to the others - I couldn't hear what, since unlike Jackie and Naomi she wasn't yelling - and then climbed over the cot so she could open the window.
"OK, what the hell, Eric?" she asked. Jackie and Naomi both glared at me in the background.
"I need to talk to you," I said. "Alone."
"It's four in the morning."
"I know. I need to talk to you now."
I heard a pounding at Donna's bedroom door, and then Bob yelling "Is everything all right in there?"
"It's OK, Dad, it's just Eric at the window!" Donna called back over her shoulder. I cringed.
"Oh, all right! Good night then." Bob was a funny guy.
"Eric, come in so I can shut the window, it's freezing outside," Donna said.
I climbed in, careful not to step on the cot or the blankets.
"Eric," Jackie said, "this is pathetic. She dumped you. Go away."
"Donna, can we go downstairs?" I said quietly. I leaned in close to her ear, and whispered, "It's about Hyde."
"OK," Donna said out loud, "but this better be good."
We left Jackie and Naomi and went downstairs to the kitchen. Donna turned on the lights and then looked at me. "What the hell is going on?"
"We had a fight. Hyde walked out. I've been looking for him all night."
"That sucks, Eric, but couldn't we talk about it in the morning?" She yawned, covering her mouth with her hand as an afterthought.
"No!" I kind of shouted; I was too sleep-deprived and agitated for a calm conversation. "I have to find him. And I can't drive anymore, I started falling asleep at the wheel. I need your help."
"Whoa, Eric, cut the drama." Donna smiled a bit, which was probably meant to be reassuring. "Hyde's a big boy, he'll come home when he wants to. Did he take the El Camino?" I nodded. "OK, so he's gone somewhere to cool off. You can talk it out when he comes back."
"Uh, no. You don't understand. It was - fuck, it was a bad fight. And last time something like this happened-" I stopped. I was thinking about the night two years ago when I'd dumped Hyde for Donna, and he'd gone out to the reservoir and got drunk on moonshine and nearly frozen to death. I wasn't quite ready to give Donna those details. "He went out and did something really stupid."
She sighed. "OK, look. I'll make us some coffee and get dressed. You go lie down on the couch and have a ten minute nap. Then I'll go out searching with you."
"You promise you'll wake me up in ten minutes?" I was worried she still wasn't taking me seriously.
"I promise." She gave a wry smile and held up a hooked little finger. "Pinky swear."
It seemed like as soon as I'd closed my eyes, Donna was shaking my shoulder - but the hot mug of coffee she was pressing into my hand, and the fact that she was now dressed in jeans and her winter coat, told me I must've slept at least ten minutes.
With our travel mugs of coffee in hand, we went out to the Vista Cruiser and Donna took the wheel.
"You didn't tell Jackie and Naomi what's going on, did you?" I asked. My head felt fuzzy - that short nap had left me feeling even worse than before.
"Nah, I just said you needed me to drive you somewhere, it was an emergency. You can bet there'll be some wild speculation, though." She glanced over at me. "OK, you'd better give me a good explanation now, because the one you gave me before sucked."
"So why'd you agree to come out here?"
"You looked like you were going to cry." She didn't quite stop herself from smirking as she stopped at the first intersection. "Which way? Where are we going?"
"Uh, I dunno... try north. I've just been combing the town all night, looking for him."
"This is nuts," she said, turning left. "When did he leave?"
"Um, not long after you and Naomi did."
"God, Eric, he could practically be in Canada by now! What makes you think we can find him?"
"Fuck," I swore softly, letting my head fall against the window with a thud. The glass was nice and cold. Somehow, it hadn't even occurred to me that he could have left town. "OK, let's search along the highway."
"OK." Donna frowned. "For the record, this makes no sense, but I'm going along with it anyway."
"Thanks," I whispered.
"So, what the hell is going on? Was he mad at you because Naomi and I knew about the two of you? Or because you didn't tell him about us?"
"Yeah, kind of. But that wasn't the important part." I took a sip of my coffee. It tasted like hell; Donna hadn't put any sugar or milk in. "He's got this idea that I only got with him to get back at you for dumping me for a girl."
"Seriously? That's - wow, that's unbelievably paranoid, even for Hyde."
"Yeah." I gave a hollow sort laugh. "So then we got into this argument where we accused each other of being straight...."
Donna laughed too. "That's messed up."
"And then he stormed out," I finished.
Donna drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. "Look, Eric, I'm sorry I got you in trouble with Hyde. But I think you're acting a little crazy here. He's pissed at you now, but that's no reason to drive all over Wisconsin in the middle of the night looking for him. If by some miracle we do find him, he'll still be mad at you and it won't solve anything. Just wait for him to come around."
"It's not about him being mad at me." I paused, watching the bleak December streets flow by outside. Winter gets pretty damn ugly while it's waiting for the first snow.
We were almost out of town. She was still taking me at my word, driving towards the highway for what she thought was no good reason. And I'd known she would - because we had a bond of friendship that was even stronger than blood ties. All three of us did - her, and me, and Hyde.
It was time to tell her the whole truth.
"What is it about, then?" she asked.
I squeezed my fingers tight around my coffee mug. "It's possible that he might be just a little self-destructive."
"What makes you think that?" Donna asked, sounding a little worried but mostly puzzled. "I mean, OK, you had a bad fight - but you're the high-strung one. Hyde's got the Zen."
"I'm not-" I started to protest, but then I remembered that wasn't the important point here, so I let it drop. "Remember I told you we kissed two years ago and then we never talked about it again?"
"Hell yeah. You blew my mind."
"That was after you and me started dating."
"What?" She glanced over at me, her eyes wide. "Oh my God, you cheated on me with Hyde?"
"Uh, yeah." Well, that was an awkward moment. But again, it was beside the point. "And then I after I told him it'd been a mistake to kiss him and sleep with him-"
"You slept with him while you were dating me!?"
"Slept, just slept, not sex! Which is kind of the point, because he thought I dumped him for you because he wouldn't have sex with me."
"Damn, Eric, good thing I've already broken up with you or I'd have to kick your ass." Despite her words, she sounded more amused than mad. "Wait, Hyde wouldn't have sex with you? Is this where accusing each other of being straight comes into it?"
"Yeah." I took a hot, bitter gulp of coffee to prepare myself for letting Donna know what an asshole I was. "See, I brought that up in the fight. He was accusing me of using him to get back at you. So I hit back....with the sex thing."
"OK, I don't get it yet." Donna frowned. "Hyde doesn't want to have sex with you? And this is a huge issue? Do you think he is straight?"
"No." I rubbed my temples. I was starting to get a throbbing headache. "I think it has more to do with Stu."
"Stu who?" Donna asked. Before I could answer, she swore. "Oh my God, you mean Edna's Stu. Fuck."
"Yeah." A road sign flashed by: Madison, 60 miles. "Whenever we start messing around, Hyde starts remembering about him. It's pretty fucked up."
"Wow," she said softly. Then, after a moment, "He told me to forget about it, that it didn't bother him anymore."
"You mean back after we first found out?" I asked.
She nodded. "I didn't really believe him, but what could I do about it? Besides, nothing ever seems to bother him."
"I know," I agreed quietly. "Like two years ago when I told him kissing him was a mistake, he just said 'OK,' or something lame like that. I thought he didn't even care. Then as soon as I was out of the room, he walked out to the reservoir and started drinking."
"Oh, man," she said. Then a pause. I wasn't really sure how long the pauses in our conversation were - I was so tired my time sense was all skewed. "I guess it could have been worse..." Donna added.
"Donna, it was the middle of the night, it was January, it was zero degrees out, and he was drinking some kind of moonshine that tasted like lighter fluid."
"Oh my God," she breathed. "What happened?"
"I went back downstairs to try to explain myself better, and he was gone. There was fresh snow outside, so I was able to follow his footprints. He was in pretty bad shape when I found him. I - I don't think he would have made it home on his own." I felt myself getting panicky again, just remembering it. It was cold tonight, too. Just below freezing, not nearly as cold as the other time - but cold enough. I took a swallow of coffee to calm myself down.
"Eric," Donna said in a low, scared tone, "do you think he meant to kill himself?"
"I don't think he meant to, exactly," I said slowly, giving voice to these thoughts for the first time ever. "But I don't think he cared much either way."
"Why the hell didn't you say anything? Get him some help?"
"Well, he seemed OK afterwards."
"Jesus Christ, Eric! Somebody doesn't just attempt suicide one day and then poof! they're all better the next day!"
I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead against my window's frosty glass. My head was really pounding now. "OK, you're right. I was an idiot. But what else could I have done? Can you see convincing Hyde to go to a psychiatrist?"
"Good point," Donna admitted. "And even if he did...it probably wouldn't have gone so well. A lot of psychiatrists think being gay is a mental illness."
"Seriously?" I could almost laugh. I certainly would believe it right then if they told me I was crazy.
"Seriously. Naomi's a psychology major, she's told me all about it."
I felt us taking a turn and slowing down. I opened my eyes. "Where are we?"
"Truck stop," Donna explained, parking the car. "We can go in and see if he's been through here."
The guy behind the counter hadn't seen anyone who looked like Hyde, but a big, red-faced trucker who was finishing up what looked like a massive dinner perked up when he heard us mention an El Camino.
"Sure, I passed it going the other way about an hour and a half up the road, on the other side of Madison." He grinned wide, showing his yellow teeth. "That there's a beautiful vehicle, it is."
We thanked the trucker, and I bought a refill of bad coffee for my travel mug, and we headed back out into the dark parking lot.
"He's got a huge lead on us," Donna said, letting me into the Vista Cruiser. "There's no way we're going to catch him."
"Come on," I begged her as she went around to the driver's side. "At least now we know we're going the right way."
Donna started up the car, and checked the instrument panel. "Crap. You have much money on you? 'Cause I don't have any, and we're almost out of gas."
I didn't have much. This hadn't been a well-planned road trip. After I bought as much gas as I could pay for at the truck stop's gas station, we had what looked like barely enough to get home.
"He's on his own," Donna said, pulling us back out onto the highway, heading for home this time. "There's just no way we can get to him." She reached over and squeezed my hand. "He'll come home."
We drove in silence for a while. I stared blankly out the window at the moon rising over farmers' fields.
"Maybe Hyde could talk to Naomi," Donna said suddenly, startling me out of my trance.
"We have to get him to talk to someone, right? He wants us to think he's fine, but he's got some serious problems. We can't just let it slide this time."
"OK. But why Naomi?"
"He might be more willing to talk to her than to a total stranger," Donna said. "And she's studying to be a psychologist."
"No offense to your girlfriend, Donna, but I don't think three months of Psychology 101 makes her ready to fix people."
"First of all, she's not a freshman. She's a senior."
"You're dating a senior?" For just a second, my mood lightened. "Way to go, Donna."
"Yeah." She gave a sort of sheepish grin. "Anyway... not only that, she used to volunteer at a women's shelter, and she's been volunteering on a crisis hotline for a couple years." She glanced over at me, to see my reaction I guess. "She has experience helping people who've been sexually assaulted, Eric."
It was hard to think about what Donna was suggesting. I had to keep pushing back my deep, desperate fear that it was all irrelevant, because I'd never see Hyde again. Also, my head was pounding and I was starting to feel nauseous, probably from the coffee.
"What do you think, Eric? Will you try to get Hyde to talk to Naomi?"
"OK." It had to be better than doing nothing.
"I'll talk to her first, make sure it's OK with her. Don't worry, I won't tell her who it's about."
The trip home was interrupted by a flat tire. This was definitely shaping up to be one of the worst days of my life. By the time we'd fixed the tire and got home, Donna and I were snapping at each other out of sheer exhaustion, and I barely had enough time to make my 7 a.m. shift at the hotel.
"'Morning, Roy," I greeted my sad, creepy boss. I tugged my uniform straight, hoping its crispness would somehow hide my limpness. "Um, look, Hyde's not feeling well, so he's not going to be in today."
"Oh." Roy's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Gosh, that came on fast. He looked all right a minute ago."
I stared at Roy in numb disbelief. "He's here?"
Roy nodded toward the kitchen. "He's getting ready for breakfast."
I didn't even wait for Roy to finish talking, I ran straight for the kitchen. Hyde was there in his white uniform, pulling equipment out of the cupboards. He looked up when the door shut behind me. He was wearing his sunglasses, so I couldn't see the sleepless night in his eyes, but I did notice his beard stubble - he hadn't shaved this morning.
"Hi," he said.
"Where the hell did you go?" I hadn't meant to start out like that. I meant to apologize. I wanted to hug him, to kiss him, to touch him and take in the wonderful fact that he was here, and he was safe. But I was so tired I could feel my hands shaking, and my head was pounding, and I couldn't hug him in the kitchen when Roy might walk in any second.
"I went into the woods to find my spirit animal," he replied with calm irony. "I think there's a customer out in the dining room, you'd better go take the order."
There were two, actually - an elderly couple who must have been waiting at the door for Roy to open the restaurant for breakfast. I took their order and then, since there weren't any other customers, I went back into the kitchen to wait for the food.
I sat on a stool in the corner and watched Hyde get the breakfast order ready. If he was feeling as crappy as I was, he was hiding it well - even humming softly as he stirred the scrambled eggs.
I wondered how he was feeling - not just physically, but emotionally. He'd gone off and he'd come back. What happened in between? Was he still mad at me? Did he still believe I was using him to get back at Donna?
The kitchen filled with the smell of cooking eggs. The dull sense of nausea that had been with me for hours suddenly got a lot stronger. That last cup of coffee was not sitting well. In fact, it was about to come right back up.
I covered my mouth and ran for the staff washroom. I made it; I crouched in front of the toilet and puked. I heard the door behind me open, but I was in no position to turn around and see who it was. A couple seconds later it closed again.
When my stomach stopped heaving, I flushed the toilet and went to the sink to wash up. I noticed that my eyes were kind of bloodshot and my face was pastier than normal. I splashed some cold water over my face, and thought about how much today was going to suck.
The bathroom door opened again, and I looked up to see Hyde. He was wearing his coat, and holding mine. "Roy gave me time off to take you home," he said.
"What?" I said groggily. "No, I'm not really sick-"
"Oh, you're just pregnant?" He came over and pushed my coat into my hands. "Come on, I haven't got all day."
Too wasted to protest, I followed him outside to his car. It was parked right out front; I realized I must have walked past it without seeing it when I came in. God, was my mind ever shot.
I don't think I fell asleep for the short drive home, but I did blank out. Next thing I knew we were walking into the living room, where Red was watching TV.
"What the hell are you two doing here?" Red asked.
"Eric's not feeling well, Mr. Forman. I'll just take him up to his room and get back to work."
Red looked a little concerned. "Do you want me to call your mother, Eric?"
I shook my head - which wasn't such a good idea, because it threw me off balance. I felt Hyde put his arm over my shoulders, steadying me. "No, it's OK, Dad. I just need to get some rest." Oh, God, did I ever.
Hyde went up the stairs with me, keeping one hand lightly on my back. When we got to the top, another wave of nausea hit me and I had to run for the bathroom.
This time, Hyde stuck around while I puked. He didn't try to help me or anything - he just stood there, leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed, waiting. After I rinsed out my mouth and splashed water over my face again, I followed him into my bedroom.
I collapsed onto the bed, and rolled my head to the side so I could see him, standing near the door.
"You going to be all right?" he asked. "I've got to get back to work."
"I'm sorry for what I said last night," I said. "I didn't mean it."
He shrugged. "Yeah, me too." And he walked out the door.
I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but I had no will to follow him. I closed my eyes and felt my pounding head and uneasy stomach. I wondered if I'd be able to sleep, after all.
And then I slept like the dead.
When I woke up, it was dark again, and Hyde was sitting on my bed. "It was an interesting day at the hotel," he said by way of greeting.
"Yeah?" I rubbed my eyes. I felt...OK.
"Yeah. Jackie came by at lunchtime. Told me you and Donna were back together."
"Yeah, she said you climbed in the window at four in the morning, and Donna went off with you and didn't come back 'till breakfast time." He sounded calm. Amused, almost.
He interrupted me. "Then Donna came by about an hour later. She told me you spent all night driving around, looking for me." He paused. "You didn't have to do that," he added, kind of defensively.
"Yes I did." I sat up, glancing over to make sure my bedroom door was closed for privacy. "Steven," I said very softly and deliberately, "I love you. Last night I got angry and I said something that was meant to hurt you, and it did, and the moment you walked out I knew I'd fucked up big time." He started to say something, but I put my finger over his lips to shut him up so I could finish saying what I had to say. "And then, yeah, I had to look for you. Because I still remember the night I hurt you and you went out to the reservoir to get drunk...and if I hadn't followed you out and brought you home you probably would have died out there. You know that, right? You understand why I was scared when you walked out last night?"
I waited, and he didn't say anything. I hugged him, and rested my head on his shoulder, and kept waiting.
"I'm sorry I scared you," he said finally, quietly. "I didn't think about that."
"Yeah, well, you'd better start thinking about it. I care about you, Steven Hyde." I hugged him tighter.
He cleared his throat. "Hey, Eric, this is getting kind of sappy..."
"Shut up." I could tell he was uncomfortable, but there was still stuff we needed to deal with. "It still scares me, knowing you could go off like that at any time. It scares me knowing there are things that hurt you so much but you never talk about." I felt him tensing like he was maybe going to get up and walk away right now - so I kept my arms locked around him. He wasn't getting away this time. "I want you to talk to someone about Stu."
He shook his head. "No. I don't want to talk about him, Eric. I don't want to think about him."
"I know, but you do think about him." I started rubbing his back in slow circles. "Donna told me that Naomi volunteers on a crisis help line. She helps people deal with stuff like this. Do you think you could talk to her?"
I felt him shrug. "I dunno, man..."
"Please, Steven. For me?" Wow, who'd ever have thought I'd be playing the 'will you do it for me?' card so early in this relationship? But it worked.
"OK," he said. "I'll talk to her."
"Thanks," I said, and I kissed him. I was so relieved. That went a lot easier than I'd imagined. "Have you slept yet?"
"No. I just got home from work."
"You're insane. Let's go down to your room, I'll tuck you in."
He laughed, and stood up. "You're cute."
"I know." I grinned in the dark, and messed up his hair and kissed him again. "C'mon."
The rest of the house was bright - it was only about 5:30. Mom was still making dinner. She stopped me and fussed over me for a minute, until I convinced her I was feeling fine now. By the time I got downstairs, Hyde was already lying on his cot with his eyes closed. He'd left the light on for me.
"Asleep yet?" I whispered, brushing his cheek with a kiss. His two-day stubble was spiky against my lips.
"Nah," he whispered, smiling. "I was waiting for you."
I crawled onto the cot beside him, and snuggled against him with my head on his chest. I wanted to kiss him, but I knew how exhausted he must be. "I'm here," I said.
Within a minute, his breathing changed so I knew he was asleep. I stayed with him until Mom called downstairs that dinner was ready.
"I need someone to go to the store and get some eggs and whipping cream," Mom called out from the top of the basement stairs.
Present in the basement were Donna, Naomi, Fez, Hyde and me. We all looked at each other, silently passing the buck. Then Hyde shrugged and stood up. "I'll go, Mrs. Forman."
Donna's eyes opened wide, like she just remembered something. "Naomi, we need chocolate chips for the cookies! Why don't you go with Hyde?"
Naomi pulled a wallet out of her pocket - a men's wallet, I noticed. "Why don't we just give him money for the chocolate chips?"
"No, he'd get the wrong kind. He's no good at shopping." Donna gave me a significant look, silently ordering me to help her out. We'd had the chance earlier to update each other on the get-Hyde-to-talk-to-Naomi plan, so Donna knew Hyde had agreed to it. Naomi, too, had agreed, though she didn't know which friend of Donna's was going to come talk to her.
"Right, uh, last time he got the mint ones," I said. "It was all wrong. A terrible fiasco."
Hyde gave me a weird look, but he didn't contradict me, so I guess he'd figured out what Donna and I were doing.
Naomi shrugged. "OK. I can pick up some tampons, too."
I cringed. "I didn't need to hear that."
"Grow up, Eric." Donna ruffled my hair, and smirked.
Hyde and Naomi left. There was nothing good on TV, so Fez, Donna and I decided to play Monopoly.
"I love this game," Fez gloated as Donna tried to decided which of her properties to mortgage. She owed him $200 because she'd just landed on Reading and he owned all four railroads. "It teaches me so much about your culture."
Just then, the door to the driveway flew open and Jackie burst in, looking windblown and agitated. "Donna!" she shouted, "Your slutty college friend is stealing my boyfriend!"
That got everybody's attention. "OK, first of all, you don't have a boyfriend," I said.
Jackie ripped her coat off and stalked over to the spool table where we were playing our game. "You are not one to talk, Mr. Climbs-In-His-Ex-Fiancee's-Window-At-Four-In-The-Morning," she snapped at me. "Steven is my boyfriend, he just doesn't realize it right now."
"Jackie," Donna said, "what are you talking about? Naomi's not interested in Hyde."
"Oh yeah?" Jackie's eyes flashed angrily. "You know the park over by the mall? I saw them sitting on a bench there, making out!"
"You what!?" I yelped.
Donna looked as shocked as I felt. "You actually saw them kissing?" she asked, with a definite edge to her voice.
"Well, no, not actually kissing," Jackie admitted, shuffling her feet a bit. "But Christ, they were sitting on the bench and their heads were right together and that bitch had her arms around him!"
I relaxed, and I could tell Donna did too. "Don't worry," Donna said to Jackie, "I'm sure they were just talking."
"Donna. Honey." Jackie went over and sat on the couch by Donna, putting a hand on Donna's arm. "Boys and girls don't 'just talk.' Did anyone ever explain to you about the birds and the bees?"
I wished I had a camera to take a picture of the expression on Donna's face as she tried to figure out how to tell Jackie how wrong she was without telling her anything.
Then I realized: we didn't have to convince Jackie she was wrong. It was better if we didn't. If she thought Naomi and Hyde were getting together, it was a perfect alibi for everyone involved. Plus, it might finally convince her to give up on Hyde.
"Jackie," Fez said suddenly, "I think you should get back at Hyde by going on a date with me. It is couples night at the skating rink...." He trailed off, looking at her with hopeful, puppy-dog eyes.
Jackie sat up a little straighter. "You know what Fez? That sounds like fun." There was a definite angry undertone to her words, but she was smiling. "Let's go skating. Donna, Eric, when you see Steven make sure to tell him I'm having a fun date with Fez."
Fez leapt to his feet, and offered Jackie a hand up. "Oh, you do not know how happy you are making me, Jackie Burkhart!" He ran and got her coat and held it out for her to stick her arms through, which she did with a grim smile.
As they went out the door, I heard him asking "Can I kiss you now?" and her snapping "No."
Donna raised her eyebrows at me. "Well, that was interesting," she drawled. "How the hell are we going to convince her there's nothing going on between Hyde and Naomi, without giving anything away?"
"Donna, we don't have to!" I explained what I'd just realized, about how convenient Jackie's confusion was.
"God, yeah! You're right!" Donna leaned back and laughed. "And she's totally convinced that the two of us are back together, too." She looked more serious after a moment. "Actually I feel kind of bad about this. We're really pulling a lot of bullshit on her..."
I got worried suddenly at Donna's tone. "Donna, don't even think about coming out to Jackie! First, she'd freak, and then she'd tell everyone, and we'd be fucked."
"I know," Donna sighed. "It's just all this lying doesn't feel right."
"I don't love it either, but there's no choice." I moved over from the lawn chair to sit beside her on the couch, so that we could talk more quietly. "I mean, at least you and Naomi can leave again in two and a half weeks. Hyde and I have to live with whatever happens."
Donna leaned forward and picked up her Monopoly piece to fiddle with - she'd been playing the top-hat. "How's it going for you now? Being together in this house?"
I rubbed my arms. "It can be nerve-wracking. Jackie nearly caught us making out a couple of days ago. We spent the night together a couple times, but it felt like playing Russian Roulette - if we keep doing it we're going to get caught some morning, and all hell's going to break loose. So we probably won't try that again. Before too long we're going to move out, anyway."
"Oh yeah? Together?"
"Dunno yet." I shrugged. "We haven't really made the plans."
"Naomi has her own place," Donna said with a grin. "It's great."
"I bet," I said, not even trying to hide my envy.
Just then, the door at the top of the stairs opened. "Eric, honey!" Mom called down, "get up here and help your father put up Christmas lights!"
The day before Christmas, it started snowing at about nine in the morning. It was the first snow of the year, so everyone was all excited about it. All the customers in the hotel restaurant commented on the weather when they gave me their orders. Everyone who came in after nine came in coated with snow.
The snow kept falling steadily, and by noon the radio was advising people to stay off the roads. The hotel manager came downstairs and told Roy to close the restaurant and send all the staff home. "All the staff" at the time meant Hyde, Kelso and me.
We walked out of the hotel into a completely transformed world. Everything was white and fluffy. The cars in the parking lot were softly-contoured white hills. The snow was falling so thickly I couldn't see to the edge of the parking lot.
"Oh my God, guys, isn't it beautiful?" Kelso exclaimed. He threw himself down onto the ground in the middle of the parking lot, and started making a snow angel.
"Crap," Hyde said. "We're going to have to walk home."
So, we did. It would normally be a half-hour walk from the hotel to my house, but it took us an hour and a half today. It was slow slogging through the snow, which was halfway up my calves, and we stopped to help a middle-aged woman whose car was stuck in a snow bank.
When we finally got to my house, we found Donna, Jackie, Naomi, and Fez out in the yard, rolling big balls of snow.
"Making snowmen?" I called out in greeting.
"It's not a snowman," Donna corrected me, putting her hands on her hips. "It's a snow woman."
Fez grinned and called out "I'm making the boobies!" He held up a pair of good-sized snowballs.
"The three of you look like snowmen!" Jackie said. "What did you do, walk all the way from the hotel?"
"Yeah." I tried to brush some of the snow off my coat. "Our cars were totally snowed into the parking lot by the time Roy let us go. Nothing's moving on the roads, anyway."
"But now we're here, so we can make a whole snow family!" Kelso exclaimed happily. The snow was really bringing out his inner child - not that it was ever very far from the surface. "Hey, Hyde, where are you going?" Kelso added. I looked over and saw that Hyde was walking towards the house.
"Inside," Hyde said, giving Kelso a patient look. "Where it's warm."
"But- but-" Kelso sputtered, "there's no snow in there!" He ran forward and grabbed Hyde's arm. "C'mon, man, it's the first snow of the year! It's Christmas Eve! The whole gang's here! When's this ever going to happen again?"
Hyde turned around and wrenched his arm out of Kelso's grasp. "Kelso, I'm freezing, I'm wet, I'm tired, and I think I'm getting a cold. Let me go inside or I'll kick your ass."
"You know what would warm you up?" Kelso asked in a singsong tone, backing up a couple steps from Hyde. "A snowball fight!" He quickly scooped up a handful of snow and flung it at Hyde, catching him square in the face.
Behind me, one of the girls giggled. Or maybe it was Fez.
Hyde stood there for a moment, glaring at Kelso with snow sliding down off his sunglasses. "You're going to pay for that," he said calmly, and then lightning-fast he scooped up his own ball of snow and hurled it at Kelso, getting him right back in the face.
"Ow, my eye!" Kelso yelped. Donna and I mouthed it along with him.
"Are you OK, Michael?" Jackie asked, moving forward with a look of concern.
"I dunno," he said, going down on one knee in the snow. "Psyche!" He stood up fast with a snowball in his hands, and threw it at Hyde. Hyde ducked, and it hit Jackie.
The war was on.
For the first few crazy minutes it was every man for himself (or woman for herself, as Naomi reminded me with a snowball to the back of the neck). Then rough alliances formed. Naomi, Jackie and Donna formed a girls' team and started to fortify the area between the tree and the fence. I paired up with Hyde - I made snowballs and he threw them. Fez and Kelso claimed the territory in the driveway.
We were all laughing so hard it hurt, and even Hyde had to admit he was having fun. We all called a truce so we could build some proper snow forts, and then we started up a real game of capture-the-flag. The game spilled out onto the street in front of our house, and the whole block became our playground - no one else but us was crazy enough to be outside in the blizzard.
By five o'clock it was getting too dark to see, and Mom opened a window to call out that she'd made hot chocolate and cookies for all of us.
When the seven of us trooped inside, Mom must have wondered what she'd got herself in for. We were all covered head-to-toe with snow. She got out a whisk broom and made each of us stand out on the porch while she brushed the snow off of us. Then Kelso and I went down to the basement and brought up the two lawn chairs so that everyone could have a seat.
Laurie wandered into the kitchen just as we were all taking our first sips of hot chocolate.
"Damn," I said, seeing her. "Isn't the airport closed?"
"I got in this morning before the storm," she smirked. She took a look around the kitchen. "God, you have more bratty friends than ever. There's no place for me to sit." She went over to Fez's chair and ruffled his hair. "Go on, hubby dearest, offer to let me sit on your lap so I can turn you down."
Fez shook his head. "I am sorry, Laurie, but since you give me no loving, I am courting Jackie now. Jackie, would you like to sit on my lap so Laurie can have your chair?"
I loved the shocked, pissed-off look on Laurie's face. I wished I could frame it.
Jackie, meanwhile, cast a challenging glance in Hyde's direction and said "Sure, Fez."
Fez grinned widely as Jackie took a sashaying walk over to his chair, and perched lightly on one of his knees.
Jackie was hoping for a reaction from Hyde, obviously. I would feel bad for Fez, but he knew exactly what was going on.
"Steven, do you have something to say?" Jackie asked sweetly.
I saw that Hyde did have an odd look on his face, and he wrinkled his nose like he was about to say something. Then he sneezed. "'scuse me," he muttered, and wiped his nose on the back of his hand.
Jackie rolled her eyes. "So, Fez, want to come over to my place tomorrow when your host parents go to church?"
"I would love to, Jackie." He slid his arm around her waist.
"So, hey, what does everyone think they're getting for Christmas?" Kelso asked. I silently thanked him for changing the subject away from the Laurie/Fez/Jackie/Hyde tangle before anyone got mad.
After that we all chatted comfortably for a while over our hot chocolate and cookies. Even Laurie wasn't too abrasive - maybe she was hoping she could fool Santa at the last minute into thinking she was a good girl. In the background, Mom got dinner ready. Soon it was time for everyone to wish everyone else 'Merry Christmas' and go home.
After dinner, Mom looked at the clock and clapped her hands. "All right, everyone, It's a Wonderful Life is about to come on TV!"
"Kitty, we've all seen it already," Red said, balling up his napkin and setting it on the table.
"Oh, don't be a sourpuss." She smiled at him. "It's a classic, that's the whole point! Let's have some family time. With the kids grown up, we may not have many more Christmas Eves when we're all together..."
Mom was getting that desperate 'my baby is leaving me' tone in her voice. Red gave Hyde and me a stern, 'don't upset your mother' look, even though he was the one who'd been trying to get out of watching the movie.
"I love that movie, Mom!" I said, almost managing to sound sincere.
We all went out to the living room to watch the movie. I sat on the couch between Hyde and Laurie, Dad took his usual chair, and Mom ran over to turn the Christmas tree lights on and the overhead light off. "Isn't this Christmassy?" she asked gleefully. She got a throw pillow to sit on, and she sat at Red's feet.
With only the light from the Christmas tree and the TV, the room was dark enough to reassure me that no one would notice the new bulge in the front of my pants. Considering I was sitting between Hyde and my sister, and watching Jimmy Stewart on TV, there was absolutely no safe explanation for the hard-on I was hiding.
God, Hyde was right there beside me. Our legs were almost touching. I hadn't been touching him nearly enough lately. In the past week we'd both had a lot of shifts at the hotel, and then when we were home the basement was always full of people. I was too scared to try spending the night with him again, even though I desperately wanted to. The consequences of getting caught were just too awful to think about.
Not far into the movie, Hyde started sniffling. Laurie noticed, too. "Christmas make you sad, orphan boy?"
"Only when I have to spend it with you," he replied. I smiled at the burn. Family time was so much more fun with Hyde around.
"Shhh," Mom hushed them. "Come on people, it's Christmas Eve. Can't you all pretend to like each other?"
"Sorry Mrs-" Hyde started to say, then interrupted himself with a sneeze. "Sorry Mrs. Forman." He wiped his nose on the back of his hand again.
Mom briefly tore her gaze away from the TV. "Oh, for God's sake, Steven, go get a tissue."
Hyde left, and came back with a box of Kleenex. Jimmy Stewart saved his little brother from drowning. I started feeling kind of sentimental, which I guess was the whole point of watching this movie. I was tempted to slide my hand over onto Hyde's leg, but even in the dark it was too risky with my whole family right there. Laurie, for one, was very observant, and if she found out about me and Hyde we were royally screwed.
Jimmy Stewart saved the drugstore guy from accidentally poisoning his customers. Hyde sneezed again, and reached for another Kleenex.
"Ew, don't get your germs on me, orphan," Laurie said, looking across me at Hyde with a curled-up lip.
Mom looked over at us. "Steven, honey, you sound like you're getting a cold."
Hyde shrugged. "I guess so."
"Well, you should go to bed nice and early tonight-" Mom stopped, fluttering her hands. "Oh, no, you can't sleep in the basement if you're sick! It's so cold and damp..."
"It's OK," Hyde said.
"No!" I said, a little too sharply. "Mom's right. You sleep down there and you'll...you'll get pneumonia. On Christmas. It would be awful."
"Maybe he'd die!" Laurie added cheerfully.
"It's just a cold," Hyde said, sounding annoyed, totally not seeing where I was going with this.
I subtly kicked him in the ankle, and went on, "He can sleep up in my room with me tonight, Mom."
"Well, that would be perfect," Mom said, satisfied with my solution. "You can bring the cot up after the movie. And Steven, I have some cold medicine upstairs..." Mom took off up the stairs; I guess her mothering instincts were too strong to let her wait for the end of the movie before getting the medicine.
I could see Hyde struggling not to laugh. He covered it up with a cough. Then he said, deadpan, "I guess I can stand being roommates with you again for a night or two."
I had to restrain myself from breaking into gleeful giggles. We were going to spend Christmas Eve together in my room, with nobody suspecting a thing!
Mom came back downstairs just as Jimmy Stewart got to the bridge. She had a bottle of that deadly-tasting red cold medicine, and a large spoon. She poured out a spoonful, then said "Open up, Steven."
"Just give me the spoon, Mrs. Forman," Hyde said with a barely-restrained sigh.
"Oh." Mom laughed uncomfortably. "Of course."
"Mom, aren't you afraid he'll spill it?" Laurie asked, sweetly sarcastic.
Hyde took his medicine, managing to keep his reaction down to a slight grimace. I winced in sympathy, knowing how bad the stuff tasted.
We watched the rest of the movie. Mom cried at the end, like she always did. Laurie yawned loudly to show how unaffected she was. Red told us all to get the hell to bed.
Hyde went downstairs to change into his pajamas and get the cot. I had no intention of letting him sleep on it, but we had to keep up appearances. I brushed my teeth, put my own pajamas on, turned my bedside lamp on and the ceiling light off, and waited.
I felt a little nervous. I knew what I wanted to happen tonight...or at least, I thought I did. I wanted to have sex with him. Sitting next to him all evening had left me aching for it. I wasn't sure how to ask, though, or whether that would make things weird and bad with him. We hadn't really done anything sexual together since the night of our last fight. He and Naomi had been going off alone together a lot in the past week - cementing Jackie's belief that they were dating now - and I hoped that meant Hyde was working through his shit. I didn't know how to ask about it, though, without risking setting him off again.
Hyde came into my room, lugging his cot.
"Right, you get that set up now," I said, smirking a bit. Meanwhile, I grabbed my desk chair and took it over to the door. I braced it under the doorknob, so that no one could open the door from the other side.
Hyde, looking over at me, laughed softly. "I remember you used to do that when we were kids."
"Yeah, we were perverted little boys, weren't we?" I went back over to my bed and sat down. "Come over here and kiss me."
He came over to the bed, but he kept his distance, standing with his arms crossed. "I don't want to make you sick."
I felt exasperated and touched, at once. I loved it when he was protective of me, but I was too damn horny to care about a cold. "If I'm going to catch your cold, I'll get it just from sleeping in the same room as you." Well, if he wasn't going to kiss me, I'd kiss him. I stood up and wrapped my arms around him and kissed him on the lips. He responded immediately, kissing me back and sliding his hands around my waist to pull me closer. Pressed up against him, I could feel that he was hard too. Good, then. We were on the same page.
We kept the kiss going for a while, lost in the joy of finally being able to do this after days of tension. But the longer we kissed, the more I wanted more.
Hyde broke away first, to turn aside and cough.
"How are you feeling?" I asked, wondering if maybe I was being a jerk for thinking about sex. He was sick, maybe he just wanted to sleep....
Hyde shrugged, and sat down on my bed. "OK." He smiled. "I've got a buzz on from the cold medicine. That's some strong stuff."
I smiled too, crawling onto the bed next to him. "Do you feel...uninhibited?" I suggested as seductively as possible, running one finger down the line of the buttons on his pajama top.
Laughing at me, he caught my wrist in his hand and then pushed me down onto the bed, pinning me under him for more kisses. I eagerly met his mouth, at the same time squirming under him so that I could get loose of his grip and get on top myself. The kissing turned into wrestling and kissing, with both of us rolling over each other on the bed and trying to hold the other down, and kissing wherever we could. We were both laughing out loud, giddy with it.
Someone pounded on my bedroom door. "Would you two shut up and go to sleep?!" Laurie yelled at us.
"Crap," I swore under my breath. Out loud, I called "Better get back to bed before Santa catches you and decides to take you back to the North Pole to be his whore!" I waited for more, but she seemed to be gone. I turned back to Hyde, who was giving the finger to the closed door. "We have to be quieter," I whispered. "Better turn off the light so they'll think we're asleep."
With the light off, we crawled under the covers of my bed and went back to kissing each other, quietly this time. It was all warm and soft and perfect. Protected by the covers, we slowly unbuttoned each others' pajama tops and slipped them off, so we could touch more bare skin. And I still wanted more.
"I've been wondering something," I said, soft and close to his ear, nuzzling his rough cheek.
"Wondering what it's like to do it with a guy."
His hands stopped moving over my body, and he turned his head a bit so he could look me in the eye. "You mean...sex?"
"Yeah." I laughed a little, suddenly nervous again. "I mean, I'm not even sure how it works...I've heard things, you know, guys talk, joke, but they don't go into detail."
"I have a pretty good idea how it works," Hyde said, looking just a little smug, running one finger along my collarbone.
"Oh." I didn't know quite what to think - did he mean he'd done this before? Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
I guess Hyde saw my hesitation, because he kissed me and said "Naomi and I haven't been talking about my fucked-up life the whole time we're off together."
"You mean she's told you how to-"
"Give it to someone in the ass," he smirked. "Yeah."
I laughed again out of nervousness, but wow, was I ever turned on. I felt like I could barely breathe. "Would you like to try it out on me?"
"Hell yeah." He kissed me roughly, then slid over to the edge of the bed so he could reach my bedside table. He took out the bottle of lube I had hidden there. "We're gonna need this."
It was definitely time to get naked. The streetlight outside gave us just enough light to see each other's pale, lean bodies. Hyde squirted some lube onto his hand and rubbed it over his fingers.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Starting slow," he said. We lay facing each other on my bed. He kissed me, and I felt him reaching his upper hand around to cup his hand around one of my butt cheeks. Then I felt him sliding one finger between the cheeks and - Jesus. I gasped, barely stopping myself from pulling away from the strange new sensation. I wasn't sure yet if I even liked it. "You OK?" Hyde whispered.
"Yeah." It was Hyde there with me, and that made it OK. It made it good. I was starting to get used to the feeling now. "More?"
He went slowly, a fraction of an inch at a time, constantly kissing me. I could feel myself tight around his finger. I wondered how much this was like what Donna felt the first time we had sex. I wondered what it would feel like with something bigger inside me. And then - "ah" I gasped, feeling a jolt of bright sensation.
"Did that hurt?" he whispered, and I felt him pulling his finger out of me, and that was a strange new feeling itself.
"No, it just...surprised me," I said, smiling at him. "It felt good. Do it again."
I think he used more than one finger the next time. He tried moving in and out a little, and it felt so good, and I pressed my forehead against his shoulder and moaned.
When he pulled out of me again, I opened my eyes. "Why'd you stop?" I asked, just a bit petulant.
He cupped the side of my face with his other hand. "I wanna go all the way now," he said, speaking very softly, his voice a little husky from his cold. In the near-darkness his expression was painted in shadows, but I thought I could see his yearning mingling with apprehension. He was doing it again: giving me the chance to say no.
Tonight, we were both like virgins.
"Hell yeah," I said.
We fumbled to find a position that would work, stifling our snickering at our own awkwardness. It made me think, again, of the wrestling we always used to do.
Finally I lay on my back, and he knelt between my legs, and I felt him pressing his dick against my ass and then, slowly and carefully, slipping inside. It was so much bigger than his fingers it almost hurt, and I sucked my breath through my teeth. I felt him stopping, hesitating. "Come on," I begged him with a frustrated groan, "fuck me, Steven!"
I think I surprised him. He let out a sharp laugh, and ducked his head down to kiss me. "That's what you want, huh?" He pushed the rest of the way into me with one sharp thrust, and I yelped at the intensity of the feeling. He put one hand over my mouth - pressing hard, since the hand was bearing some of his weight. "shhhhh" he reminded me.
He started moving, thrusting in a rhythm that was as familiar to me as to him - but this experience was all new to me, and I was feeling tight and hot and bright in places I'd never even thought about before. Without really thinking about it I started stroking my own dick in time to his movements in and out of me. Sounds kept bubbling up out of my throat, and I was glad his hand was pressed over my mouth to muffle them.
When I came, it was with more intensity than I'd ever felt in my life. It felt like I was lost forever in the orgasm's shuddering waves. I saw bright colors behind my closed eyelids, and at the edge of my consciousness floated the awareness that he was here with me, that he did this for me: Steven.
"You bit me," he said after a while.
"On the hand. I can see the tooth marks."
I opened my eyes. He was holding his hand up to get what little light was coming from the window. "I'll kiss it better," I said. I grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand close so I could look at it. He was right - I could see the marks, too. He wasn't bleeding or anything, though. I could tell he wasn't really mad at me, so I just kissed the palm of his hand. "That was your own damn fault," I said, "for making me come so hard."
He reached down to pull the covers up over us, and then snuggled in close beside me, with his body pressed against the length of mine and his arm draped over my chest possessively. "That was fun, man," he said evenly. "Let's do it again sometime."
"We can do it tomorrow night," I said, "if you still seem sick enough to Mom."
Hyde sniffled. "I think I might be sick for a week."
I grinned in the dark. "Merry Christmas, Steven. I love you."
His arm tightened around me in a hug, and he whispered very softly, "I love you too."
"All right," Hyde said as I followed him downstairs into the basement. "Now I can give you your real present."
"Wait." I caught up to him at the bottom of the stairs and wrapped my arms around his shoulders from behind. "Are you saying the socks weren't my real present?"
He turned around in my arms, wearing an adorable smirk. "Nah. I just needed something I could give you in front of your parents." He kissed me quickly on the lips, then headed for his room. I followed, curious. It couldn't be another hemp plant; he knew I had nowhere to keep one.
He rummaged under his pile of dirty laundry, and came up with a lumpy package wrapped in red-and-green paper. He tossed it to me; when I caught it, I discovered it was squishy. I ripped open the paper.
It was a teddy bear. An old one, with worn-out fur. I looked up at Hyde. He was standing with his arms crossed, watching me intently.
I was confused for a moment. After he'd said he couldn't give it to me in front of my parents, I'd been expecting something naughty, or possibly illegal. Not an old teddy bear. Old...."This used to be yours," I guessed.
"Had it long as I can remember." He half-shrugged, keeping his tone casual. "Kept it hidden since I was eight."
I let the wrapping paper fall to the floor and cradled the teddy bear gently in my hands, getting a sense of the significance of this gift. I remembered the time he gave Jackie, for her birthday, his own favorite Led Zeppelin T-shirt. And the Christmas he gave Donna the old photo of himself and her that he'd saved for years. I remembered being pissed off at him that time, because even though his present didn't cost anything, it was so much better than the thing I bought her. Other people buy things. Hyde, when it's really important, gives away pieces of himself.
The bear looked up at me with big brown eyes and a lopsided grin. Hyde trusted me with his teddy bear. Wow. "This is the best Christmas present anyone's ever given me," I said, and I hoped he could tell I meant it.
"It's not-" He stopped, clearing his throat. "I just wanted you to have it." He shrugged, and went over to the record player to put on the new AC/DC album, which had been my Christmas present to him.
I carefully set the bear on the shelf, and when Hyde came back over I pulled him close and showed him how I felt with kisses.
I felt so easy and comfortable with him now. The sex last night had somehow erased all the lingering awkwardness I'd felt at touching a guy gently and lovingly. It's funny, I remembered it being just the opposite after the first time I did it with Donna - for the first day afterwards, I'd felt a little nervous around her, not sure how to touch her or where to look or what to say.
After a little while Hyde had to stop kissing so he could go blow his nose. I guess the cold medicine he took in the morning was wearing off. Mom had totally fussed over him all morning, which he'd accepted with his usual uneasy mix of brushing it off and lapping it up. The weird thing was, I'd wanted to fuss over him too, but I couldn't. I wanted to be the one bringing him orange juice and making him put on a sweater, but I was too afraid of doing anything that my family would see as unusual. At one point, when Laurie was unwrapping her present from Dad and Hyde must've thought everyone was watching her, I'd seen him take off his sunglasses and rub his eyes. He'd looked so tired and beaten down in that moment, Jesus, I'd just wanted to go over and make him lie down with his head in my lap so I could watch over him and let him sleep. But yeah, that kind of thing wasn't going to happen in this universe. Not even long ago in a far away galaxy. Instead, we'd kept each other at a safe distance all morning with sarcasm and minor insults.
Hyde came back over. "You look so serious, man," he said, lightly punching me in the arm as he sat down beside me on the throw rug. There was nowhere else to sit, with the cot still upstairs in my room. "What are you thinking about?" he asked.
"Wishing we didn't have to hide this from everyone."
"It's a hassle, yeah."
"It's more than that! Being with you is so good, and I think it's fucked-up that I can never tell anyone about it. I mean, shouldn't our friends be happy for us when something this good happens?"
He shrugged. "Donna is."
"Well, yeah. None of this could have happened if it wasn't for Donna." I reached over to pick up the teddy bear again. Thinking about hiding our love from everyone for the rest of our lives was getting me down, and there was something comforting about holding the bear. It was tangible proof that Hyde loved me back.
"It didn't start with Donna," Hyde said. "It started when you kissed me the first time." He said it quietly, looking at me sideways from behind his sunglasses with a wry kind of smile.
Suddenly I remembered him saying that before: 'I fell in love with you the first time you kissed me.' He'd said it that awful night I'd brought him home drunk and freezing from the reservoir - just before he found out that I was still getting beat up by guys who thought I was a fag, just before we decided that we could never be together. Afterwards, I'd made myself forget about it all, because it hurt too much. Now I wondered: was Hyde telling me he'd been in love with me since we were eleven?
I couldn't ask it straight out. "When did you realize you could fall in love with a boy?" I asked instead.
Hyde shrugged. "I always knew I was gay. But after Stu it scared the hell outta me."
My hands tightened around the teddy bear and I stared at Hyde, forgetting to breathe for a moment. He'd never voluntarily mentioned Stu before. And what did he mean, 'I always knew I was gay'?
Before I could say anything, he sneezed. He went to get another Kleenex. When he came back, bringing the box with him this time, I said "I didn't always know."
"I really thought I was straight. I mean, I liked girls, and I really loved Donna. But then things kept happening with you..." I put my hand over one of his, curling my fingers lightly around his palm. His hand felt cold. "I never let myself think about it, you know? Before Donna told me she was gay, it just seemed impossible." I watched his face as I spoke, trying to figure out how he was taking all this. We were kind of back on the same topic we'd fought about before, when he'd accused me of still being in love with Donna. As usual, his sunglasses made it a hell of a lot harder to read him. In a sudden rush of boldness, I reached over and gently pulled them off his face. "What about Jackie?" I asked as he blinked at me in surprise. "Did you really love her?"
He didn't say anything about the sunglasses, just took them from me and set them over on the shelf. "Jackie was different. We fit together....She needed me. That was nice for a change."
"I don't think you fit together," I said, feeling a little jealous. I knew I wasn't being fair - he hadn't said a word when I talked about loving Donna a moment ago - but I didn't feel quite secure enough to be fair. "She's a total bitch."
His eyes narrowed slightly, and I thought he was going to chew me out for insulting Jackie, but after a second he just laughed. "Yeah, and I'm a complete asshole, so like I said, we fit together."
"You are not an asshole." I kissed him. "I know you better than that."
"Whatever." I guess he'd had enough talking, because when he kissed me back he pushed me down onto the mat, and we started seriously making out.
I loved the feel of his lips on mine, and the weight of his body pressing down on me. I loved the smell of his hair, without knowing why - it smelled like the same cheap shampoo I used, and a hint of reefer. I snuck my hands under his sweater and T-shirt, so I could press them against the warm, bare skin of his back and hold him even closer.
He must have liked the feel of my hands against his skin, because he sat up and pulled his T-shirt and sweater off. "It's too cold for that," I protested without a lot of conviction, watching the way his abs moved as he reached his arms up over his head to get his clothes off. There was a thin shadow of dark hair running down from his belly button to the top of his jeans, and I felt myself get harder as I imagined undoing his fly and tracing that path the rest of the way down.
"Shut up, Forman," Hyde said with a wicked hint of a smile, undoing the top button of my shirt. "Help me out here."
My fingers flew over the buttons and in a moment I was bare-chested too, shivering once as the cold basement air touched my skin. We lay down together again, kissing and touching playfully. The chilliness made our nipples stood out hard. He tweaked mine with his fingers, and I moaned against his mouth and kissed him harder.
Suddenly I heard the door to the basement fly open, and I heard Jackie call out in a frantic, high-pitched tone "Steven, I need-" And then she shrieked.
Oh fuck. Hyde was frozen, his pale blue eyes open wide. I sprang to my feet and grabbed Jackie, wrapping one arm around her to keep her from leaving and clapping my other hand over her mouth. She stopped screaming, and her eyes darted back and forth frantically between me and Hyde.
"What's going on down there?" Red called from the top of the stairs. He couldn't see us from up there, of course.
"Jackie thought she saw a mouse," I yelled up.
"You know where the mousetraps are," he called back down to me. I held my breath, hoping he wouldn't come down the stairs. "You kids better not be dropping crumbs of food down there!"
That seemed to satisfy Red, so I turned my attention back to the bigger problem.
Jackie's eyes were filling with tears, and she looked like she was about to start sobbing. Hyde was sitting up now. "Jackie, I'm sorry-" he started to say.
Jackie suddenly spun in my grasp and kicked me in the shin. "Get off me!" She broke away and ran out into the basement.
"Fuck!" I swore. I ran out after her, the sharp pain in my shin dulled by the surge of adrenaline rushing through me. She had enough of a lead that she made it out the door to the driveway ahead of me. I followed, running out into the snow in my sock feet. I caught her at the foot of the driveway, grabbing her arm in both my hands. "Jackie, wait! Come back in and let us explain!" Explain what? Why I'd been making out on the floor with her half-naked ex-boyfriend? God, I didn't even know what I was saying, I just had to stop her from telling anyone about this.
Jackie tried to twist out of my grasp again, but I was holding on tighter this time. "Eric, let me go right now or I swear to God I'll scream loud enough the whole neighborhood will hear," she snapped, her voice trembling.
"Let her go, Eric," Hyde said right behind me, in a low, intense voice. I turned around, startled. It was the first time he'd ever called me 'Eric' in front of one of our friends. I wondered if he'd done it on purpose.
Jackie broke out of my loosened grasp and ran away down the street, in the direction that could take her to Kelso's house, or Fez's. "Damn it, Jackie, wait!" I yelled, and tried to run after her again, but Hyde stopped me with a hand on my shoulder.
"Let her go," he repeated.
"Are you crazy?" I spun around to face him. "She's going to tell everyone!"
"Yeah, and how were you going to stop her? Tie her up and leave her in the basement? Face it, Eric, we're busted."
I had to admit, he had a point.
He let go of my shoulder and turned away from me, coughing. It suddenly dawned on me that we were standing knee-deep in a snowdrift in our sock feet, wearing no shirts. All my skin was pulled tight in goose bumps. I gave up all hope of catching Jackie again, and said "Let's go inside, it's freezing out here."
He followed me back down into the basement. I sat down on the floor to pull off my snowy socks while he pulled the door shut behind us. I looked up and saw him still standing facing the closed door, with his shoulders kind of hunched up. He had a few snowflakes caught in his hair. Suddenly, "Fuck!" he burst out, slamming his fist into the concrete wall beside the door. "Fuck!"
I froze with one sock half off, watching him beat the hell out of the wall, transfixed and frightened by the violence of his anger. With his shirt off, I could see the muscles working in his arms and back as he pounded at the wall, swearing. Then he stopped, leaning his forehead against the wall and breathing hard. He started coughing again.
"Hyde?" I got up and approached him cautiously, worried he might start hitting things again, worried I might get in the way. I was used to quiet rages from him, not this. I had to bring him back, make him look at me, unclench his fists. I put my hand on his back, and I could feel him trembling. "Come on, let's get dressed."
He shook his head and blinked like he was waking up. "Yeah, sure."
We went into his room and put our shirts back on, put on dry socks. Then he sat down on the mat, his face set like stone, and said "Why don't you get out of here, Forman."
He wasn't looking at me, he was looking down at his hands. I saw his knuckles were scraped raw, and oozing blood. "Get the hell out of here," he said.
"Uh, no." I took a deep breath. I felt like I should be panicking at this point about who Jackie was talking to and what she was saying - but since Hyde seemed to be dealing with this even worse than I was, I had to stay in control. "We're in this together, and I'm not leaving you." I thought I saw him shiver again, so I took the blanket that was crumpled by his laundry pile, and wrapped it around his shoulders.
Just then I heard the door to the driveway open. Hyde looked up too.
"Eric? Hyde?" It was Donna.
I stepped out into the basement. Donna was standing just inside the doorway, looking windblown with her coat undone and her boots untied. When she saw me, she said quickly "Have you seen Jackie?"
"Uh, why?" I asked.
Donna glanced up at the basement stairs, and lowered her voice to a frantic whisper. "A couple minutes ago she came into the bedroom without knocking and she caught me and Naomi making out! She ran away before I could say anything. I thought she might've come over here."
"She did," Hyde said behind me. I looked around - he'd followed me out, with the blanket still hanging over his shoulders. "And she burst into my room without knocking, and guess what she saw?"
"Oh....fuck," Donna said with feeling. "Tell me you're kidding."
Hyde shook his head, and I felt a desperate giggle welling up in my throat. "Maybe after this she'll learn to knock," I said. They both glared at me.
"What happened?" Donna said to Hyde.
"She completely freaked, of course," Hyde said darkly. "She screamed and ran away." Something in the way he said it made me wonder whether he was angry at her, like I'd been thinking, or if he was angry at himself. He made it sound like it made sense for her to scream at us like she'd caught us murdering babies, after she'd burst in on us in his room.
"Oh God." Donna put her hand on her forehead, her eyes wide with worry. "Any idea where she went?"
"Maybe Fez's or Kelso's place," I said.
"OK, we have to call and see if we can find her."
We went up to the kitchen, and Donna did the calling. Fez answered at his place. He hadn't seen Jackie, and he obviously hadn't heard anything. Donna didn't tell him anything, either. Then she tried Kelso's place. His mom answered, and said that Jackie'd just come over. She was with Michael in his room.
I was watching Hyde when Donna repeated what Mrs. Kelso had said, so I saw that his first reaction was relief. I wasn't sure why - Jackie talking to Kelso was not a good thing.
"So she's OK," Hyde said. Donna nodded. I suddenly realized that both of them had been worried about Jackie.
Maybe I was a jerk, but I was more worried about us.
Then Donna noticed Hyde's bloody knuckles for the first time. "Holy shit, Hyde, what happened to your hands?"
"Fell on the steps," he said without hesitating. He didn't catch my eye, either. "Guess I'd better wash them."
Back in the basement after Hyde cleaned his wounds, we found Naomi looking for Donna. The four of us shut ourselves into Hyde's room to talk.
"God, I could use a joint right now," Naomi said, rubbing her arms with a worried expression.
"Me too," Hyde said. "I'll roll one."
"Uh, no." I grabbed his arm to stop him from going for his stash. "We have to figure out what we're going to do."
"Right," Donna said. "The cat's out of the bag, people. Jackie's telling Kelso, and they'll probably tell Fez."
"What do you think they'll do?" Naomi asked.
"Jackie's really hurt and angry right now. She could do anything," Donna said.
"Oh my God, she could tell our parents," I realized.
Hyde nodded slowly. "She might."
"Not to scare you or anything, but I think we should pack our bags," Naomi said, rubbing her hand absently across her short, fuzzy hair and biting her lip a little. "In case we have to leave in a hurry."
"Um, OK for you two, but we're not just visiting. Hyde and I live here," I pointed out.
"I meant you, too." Naomi looked grim. "You'd better pack a bag, too - in case you have to leave."
My knees suddenly felt kind of weak. "Leave?" Jesus, I'd wanted to move out of here, but not like this. "It's...it's Christmas."
"It might not come to that, but it's better to be ready," Naomi said, starting to sound more upbeat. Easy for her - she had a lot less at stake here than the rest of us. "And look, if you need someplace to go, you can stay at my place for a while."
After that, there wasn't much else to say. Donna and Naomi went back to the Pinciottis' to pack, and I went upstairs to do the same.
I took the teddy bear with me. Even if I didn't manage to bring anything else out of this house when I went, I was bringing that bear.
I felt weird and sad and scared while I packed. I didn't have a suitcase I could use - all our suitcases were stored in my parents' closet - so I packed my schoolbag with underwear, socks, and one change of clothes. And the teddy bear.
Nothing happened at dinner. Mom and Red obviously hadn't heard anything unusual. Hyde and I were quiet, so Laurie filled all the air time.
After dinner, I was moping in the kitchen eating nuts and waiting for the axe to fall when Hyde came through carrying the cot.
"Where do you think you're going, young man?" Mom asked, turning around at the sink with a soapy plate in her hands.
He stopped, looking slightly guilty. Mom has that effect on people. "Uh, back to my room?"
"No you are not," Mom said, emphasizing each word with perky iron will. "That cold you have is getting worse, and I'm not going to have you sleeping down in that dank basement and catching pneumonia. You'll stay upstairs until you're all better, mister."
"Yes Mrs. Forman," Hyde replied meekly, and turned around to take his cot back upstairs. I followed him up.
In my room, Hyde let the cot snap open and fall to the floor. He looked down at it for a minute, then sighed. "I thought it'd be safer to not be sleeping together when they find out about us."
"I'd rather have you here with me, no matter what," I said. I tried to kiss him, but he brushed me away. "Dammit, Hyde, what's wrong?"
"This is fucked up, man." He sounded angry and tired. "I'm going to get you kicked out of your house."
Was he serious? "You know what they say, it takes two to tango..."
He cracked a bitter smile. "You said yourself, you never even thought you were gay. You were attracted to girls, except for me. If I wasn't around-"
I grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight to stop him talking, before he could say something terrible and stupid about me being better off without him. "If you weren't around I would've felt like something huge and important was missing from my life and I never would've known what it was." Wow, I couldn't believe I'd just said something that sappy and sweet. And meant it. And he didn't even cheer up. "Come on, I know we're potentially in serious shit here, but don't you have some kind of Zen mind control to help us out here?"
"You're thinking of the Jedi," he said, finally laughing a bit. The laugh turned into a cough. Mom was right - he did sound worse than yesterday. Maybe that's why he was acting so defeated - he was just sick and tired.
Working on that theory, I insisted it was time to go to bed, even though it was just past nine. We were both on the early shift at the hotel tomorrow anyway. We'd get lots of sleep, and things would look better in the morning.
Of course, once we were lying side-by-side in my bed with the lights off and the chair propped under the doorknob for privacy, I realized I wasn't sleepy yet.
"Are you asleep?" I whispered.
"No. We just went to bed ten seconds ago." He sounded slightly annoyed.
"Right..." I was having a little disagreement inside my brain. Would I lie quietly and go to sleep, or would I try to tempt Hyde into having sex again? Sex was nice. Sex was relaxing. Sex made everything feel better.
OK, that was the plan, then. Sex.
I rolled over on my side and kissed his cheek. He didn't open his eyes, but he smiled a little. "Last night was nice, wasn't it?" I asked.
I propped myself up on my elbows to kiss him on the lips. "I'd like to do it again."
He opened his eyes. "I dunno, man. I'm really tired..."
"I'll do all the work this time," I promised, making my voice all soft and cajoling. "I'll do what you did to me last night."
He smiled finally. "Sure. That'd be cool."
I started by taking his pajamas off, a bit at a time, kissing him. He didn't do much back to me, and his occasional sniffling and coughing reminded me that he was sick, and I had to take good care of him. When we were naked I pulled the blankets back up over us to keep us warm.
I stroked his cock with my hand, gently and slowly, feeling how hard he was. He sighed a little and closed his eyes. "That's nice, Eric."
I remembered what he'd done last night, with his fingers and the lube. I remembered how tight I'd felt when he'd finally entered me with his dick, how it had almost-but-not-quite hurt, and I figured maybe he'd started with fingers to get me ready for it. So I did the same thing.
He didn't make a sound when the tip of my finger first entered him, but his whole body went tense for a moment. "Is it OK, Steven?" I whispered against his lips, ready to stop if anything was wrong. I didn't want anything bad to ever happen to him while he was with me.
"Yeah. Just strange," he whispered.
"I know, that's what I thought, too. It gets really good, though."
He nipped my lip with his teeth, grinning. "So keep going."
I went slowly - slower than he had last night, I think. I was a bit nervous, desperately not wanting to hurt him. Finally he grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand away, and said in a husky tone, "Eric, damn it, fuck me."
When I entered him with my dick, I gasped at the perfection of the feeling. He was so tight and hot around me, for a moment I was afraid to move, afraid I'd come right away. The best part, though, was watching his face. The moonlight highlighted every nuance of his expression. I noticed how dark his lips looked in this light, and his eyes - even though they were pale blue, in this light they looked almost black. They were slitted now, and his breathing was uneven. "God, Eric," he whispered like a prayer.
I started moving, bracing myself on my elbows so that my face wasn't far above his and I could watch every twitch of his lips and eyebrows. I remembered how I'd felt last night, the feeling like fire that had built somewhere deep inside every time he drove into me. Now, what I felt was more like times I'd had sex with Donna - but it was different with Hyde under me, the tang of his sweat in my nose and his wiry chest hair under my fingers. The noises he made were different, barely noises at all, just his breathing getting harsher and occasionally breaking into an audible gasp.
I wanted to hold on until after he came - it was only fair. I knew I was on the edge, so I slowed down a little, and I shifted my weight so I could take his cock in one hand and start stroking it, my hand and body moving with one rhythm.
That was enough. His breath caught, and his eyes squeezed shut, and his mouth opened but he didn't make a sound. I let myself move as fast as I wanted to, bringing myself almost instantly over the edge. I wanted to cry out with the ecstasy of it, but I clenched my teeth and swallowed back the sounds.
I felt warm and tingly all over, and good.
Since I'd promised to do all the work, I grabbed a handful of tissues and cleaned us up while he lay there watching me with dark eyes and a soft smile.
We put our pajamas back on, and when we went back to bed I lay with my cheek resting against his shoulder.
I still couldn't sleep. After a while I thought he was asleep, but then he coughed and I knew he wasn't.
"So you've been attracted to other guys?" I whispered out of nowhere.
"Huh?" He turned his head towards me. "Yeah, sure. Why, are you jealous?"
I shrugged. "Just...curious. I hadn't really thought of it before. I don't think I ever was. Just girls."
"What about now?" he asked.
"Could you find another guy attractive now?"
"Hell no." I squeezed him with the arm that was draped over his chest. "I'm with you."
I felt him shake a little, laughing without making a noise. "You're real sweet, Forman."
I thought a little more about it. Did it make sense that I could be attracted to Hyde, but never to any other guys? If not, did that mean I'd been attracted to guys all along, but just kind of ignoring it?
The only thing I could be sure of was that I was in love with him now. The rest was just confusing.
I reached up to stroke his hair. He'd said today he'd always known he was gay. So apparently he wasn't struggling with the same questions I was. But, damn, what did he mean by that? He knew he was gay back when we were eleven, when I kissed him and he punched me in the stomach? When we were seventeen, competing over Donna? When he had the measles and we slept side-by-side for a week without touching each other, and he then he dared me to kiss him and I didn't, even though I wanted to?
"Are you asleep yet?" I whispered.
"Nah." He opened his eyes again. "What?"
"I was wondering..." I said slowly, stroking his springy hair, "whether you ever were in love with another guy."
"Why the hell do you want to know that?"
"I won't be jealous, I promise." I twirled his hair around my finger, stopping when I saw him wince. "Sorry, didn't mean to pull...."
He still didn't answer. That probably meant the answer was 'yes.'
"It just makes sense that you would be. In love with another guy besides me, I mean. If you knew all along you were gay...." I was still trying to understand that.
"OK, whatever. I was in love with another guy once." He said it fast, then rolled away from me to cough.
No fair. I needed to know more. "Did anything happen with him?"
"No. I never said anything to him. It was junior high, man. He was straight."
"What happened? How'd it end?"
"Shut the fuck up, Eric." He pushed my hand away from his hair. "Go to sleep."
He wasn't just pissed off with me for asking questions instead of letting him sleep. From his tone when he told me to fuck off, I knew he was hiding something - one more secret hurt. Damn it, how was I supposed to make him happy when he hid everything from me? "Something bad happened, didn't it?"
"A lot of bad things happened," Hyde said tightly.
"I wish you'd talk to me about it." I stroked his cheek with my thumb, and he didn't push my hand away again.
There was silence for a while, and I'd about given up, thinking he'd actually fallen asleep, when he sighed and said "I already did, man."
"I already told you all about him."
I frowned. "I'm pretty sure I'd remember something like that..."
"I just didn't tell you I used to be in love with him."
"Who is it?"
He didn't answer at first. I wondered whether he was going to tell me at all, or just leave me with this unnerving puzzle. Then he cleared his throat and said out loud, "Randy."
"Oh God," I said softly. Randy. "Oh God, Steven, I'm sorry." Randy, whose funeral we went to two days before I asked Hyde for another chance with him.
He didn't say anything else, but he didn't resist when I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him towards me, so his head was cradled on my chest.
Honestly, from what I knew of Randy, I found it hard to believe anyone could have liked him, let alone love. But Hyde had known him differently than I did, and I had enough sense now not to ask any more questions. I just held on to him, feeling his solid warmth, full of awe and wonder at the trust he gave me now. I promised myself then: I would never betray that trust.
"Gimme my fucking shirt, Forman." Hyde snatched it out of my hands.
I was trying to convince Hyde to call in sick. It wasn't going as smoothly as I'd hoped. "You woke me up five times last night with the coughing. Did you even get to sleep at all?"
"I'm fine. Stop being such a damn mother hen." He glared at me, giving me a good look at the dark shadows under his eyes, and pulled his shirt on.
In my imagination beforehand, it'd gone like this: I said 'Steven, you're still sick. I'll tell Roy you can't make it in today. You get some rest.' And then he said 'Thanks for looking out for me, Eric.' And then I said 'I love you,' and he said 'I love you, too,' and we kissed.
He was not saying his lines right. Instead, he was swearing at me and getting dressed for work. Looking after him worked a lot better in theory than in practice. "Dammit Hyde," I said, "you look like hell."
He slipped his sunglasses on, ran his fingers through his hair once, and gave me a thin smile. "Better?"
I tried a different tack. "C'mon, man, you work in food service. You shouldn't go to work sick."
He sighed. "So I'll just bus tables today, and Roy can do the cooking." Then he sneezed. He winced and rubbed his temples, like he had a headache.
"Why?" I asked, feeling like pulling out my hair in frustration. "Why do you suddenly have a work ethic?"
He shrugged. "Same reason as everybody else - I need the money. And we might have to leave soon."
That was a scary fact, and I couldn't argue with it.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Mom was frying sausages and eggs, wearing her bathrobe and with her hair still in curlers. "Good morning, boys!" she sang out.
"Morning, Mom," I mumbled.
"Morning, Mrs. Forman," Hyde said. And then a second later he sneezed. Catching his breath, he started coughing.
"Oh, good Lord Steven," Mom said, looking up with a frown, "you're not going to work like that. Go back to bed."
"But Mrs. Forman-"
"Bed. Now." She gestured with her spatula.
Hyde looked at her, and then at me, and then back at her. He shook his head a little, and I thought I heard him stifle a laugh. "Yes, Mrs. Forman," he said meekly, and went right back the way he'd come.
Mom turned on me, her hands on her hips. "Eric, why didn't you tell Steven to stay in bed? He sounded just awful!"
I didn't know whether to laugh or scream. I forced my face into a calm mask, and said "Well, Mom, I did." My voice came out only a little bit squeaky. "But he doesn't have to do what I say, does he? It's not like we're married, or something!"
Work was hectic, since we were one man short. Even so, I worried all day about what was happening at home - whether Jackie or Kelso had spread the word about the crimes against nature being committed in the Pinciotti and Forman households. Kelso didn't have a shift at the hotel today, which was kind of good because it meant I didn't have to face him - but bad because he could be anywhere, saying anything to anyone. When I pulled back into the driveway at the end of the day, it was with a definite sense of dread.
As soon as I got out of my car, I heard Hyde calling my name. I looked around and saw him coming around from the front of the house, wearing just jeans and a sweater, no coat. My anxiety level spiked up a couple notches.
"What's wrong?" I said. "What are you doing out here?"
"I had to catch you before you went in. We have to talk." He looked serious, but not panicked.
"In the car." He went around the Vista Cruiser and let himself in the passenger side.
I slid back into the driver's seat, slammed my door, and turned to him. "What's going on? You're supposed to be in bed-"
He shook his head. "I slept all morning, I feel a lot better. Look-"
All of a sudden I realized the car reeked of alcohol. "Hyde, have you been drinking?"
"Eric, I told Kitty."
"What? You told her what?" Not about us. He couldn't mean he'd told her that.
"You what?!" I yelped.
He grimaced. "Your mom got me drunk, man."
He frogged me in the shoulder. "Stop saying that! I'm serious, Eric, Kitty got me drunk. Do you know what a hot toddy is?"
"Um, hot water and lemon juice and honey?" It was a drink Mom made when anyone in the family had a cold.
"Yeah, and a double shot of whiskey."
OK, that was not the same recipe she used when she made them for me.
"She got me drunk," Hyde repeated, "and then she drilled me. It was like the CIA, man. She knew something was wrong, and she wasn't going to stop until she found out what. She started asking what happened to my hands, and what really happened to Jackie yesterday, and before I knew it she was asking about the time we both went out driving all night, and the time I went up to your room in the middle of the night and stayed 'till morning....She notices everything, man. You don't think she does, but she does."
I tried to swallow, but my mouth had gone dry. "What exactly did you tell her?"
"Everything," he said, sounding unreasonably calm.
He couldn't mean that. He couldn't. "Hyde, did you tell my mother we had sex?"
"Yep." He nodded a couple times, slowly. "I sure did."
"Oh God." I let my head drop down to thud against the steering wheel. We were dead. "What did she do?"
"She, uh, yelled at me a little," Hyde said, sounding thoughtful. "And then she cried. And since then she's been in the kitchen, cooking."
"And she kicked you out of the house?" I asked, lifting my head again.
"No. Why-? Oh." He looked down at himself, and plucked at his sweater. "No coat. Kitty wouldn't kick me out without a coat, man. Red might. Not Kitty. I just came out to warn you before you went in the kitchen."
I couldn't believe it. All day I'd been terrified that Jackie or Kelso would tell my parents - but it was Hyde who did. "We could leave right now," I said, wrapping my fingers around the steering wheel. I had my emergency escape bag right in the car - I'd brought it with me to work, just in case. I had my wallet.
"No. You have to go talk to Kitty." He put his hand over the ignition so I couldn't put the key in. "She wants to see you."
Mom looked up from the bowl of batter she was whipping. Her eyes looked red. "Eric. Sit down at the table."
Hyde came in behind me, closed the door, and tried to head for the basement.
"Stop right there, Steven. You sit down by Eric." Mom's tone did not allow for opposition. Hyde did what she said.
"I - I made coffee," Mom said, coming to the table with three mugs. "Now, we don't have much time before Red and Laurie get back home." She got out a bottle of whiskey and poured a healthy splash into her coffee.
"Can I get some of that, Mrs. Forman?" Hyde asked, nudging his mug towards her.
"Certainly not, young man."
"C'mon, Mrs. Forman, you already gave me half the bottle in those hot toddies."
Mom's eyes widened guiltily, and she looked at me, then at Hyde, then back to me. "Ha ha," she laughed uncomfortably. "Those were medicinal." There was an awkward pause. "Oh, what the hell," she said, and poured a bit of the whiskey into Hyde's mug, and a bit into mine even though I hadn't asked for it. "We're all adults here, right? Adults who can live their lives however they want to, no matter how wrong and unnatural that might be. Ha ha."
I took a drink of my coffee, suddenly wishing she'd put more whiskey in it. "OK, Mom, you know about Hyde and me."
"I need a cigarette," Mom said abruptly. She sprang up out of her seat and back to the drawer where she hid things. She came back with a cigarette and a box of matches. We waited while she tried four or five times to strike the match against the side of the box, but it wasn't working - and then the match broke. "Damn it!" Mom burst out. I winced. Hyde took the box out of her hand and shook another match out. It caught the first time he struck it, and he held the flame up to the end of her cigarette. I noticed his hand was steady. Mine would have been shaking like leaves if I didn't have them wrapped tightly around my mug.
Mom took a long drag from the cigarette. "So, Eric, is what Steven said true? The two of you are lovers now?"
Lovers - it was a good word. She could have used a lot of worse ones. Maybe this was a hopeful sign. "Um, yeah. We are." Unlike my hands, there was no way to steady my voice.
Mom made a soft, choking noise, and took a drink of the coffee. "My baby is a homosexual," she said to no one in particular, and pressed her hand over her mouth to try to stifle a sob.
"I'm sorry, Mom," I said helplessly.
"What happened, sweetie?" She had trouble getting the words out. "Was it because I mothered you too much? Because I didn't approve of your engagement to Donna?"
Hyde silently got up, and came back with a saucer for Mom to use as an ash tray. I barely noticed. "Mom, it doesn't have anything to do with you. I just...love him."
Mom let out a high-pitched sob, but managed to get herself under control again with another long drag on the cigarette. The tip glowed red. "And you, Steven?" She turned to Hyde. "Do you love my son?"
"I do, Mrs. Forman." He was the only one of us speaking in a clear, calm voice. I wondered if he got his control from the Zen, or from the large amount of whiskey my mom had apparently given him earlier.
Mom shakily ashed her cigarette over the saucer Hyde had put in front of her. "You're children. What do you know about love?"
It was probably a rhetorical question, but Hyde answered anyway. "I know what life's like without it, Mrs. Forman."
"Eric..." Mom looked at me, so sad. "I wanted you to have a family of your own...children...."
"I still can, Mom. We can...adopt, or something."
"What?" Hyde said, looking startled.
"OK, um, we can talk about that later," I said quickly. "Mom, are you going to tell Dad?"
"Ha, ha," she laughed desperately. "Good Lord, no. Your father would... he would... it wouldn't be good. No, we're all going to pretend that everything is normal."
We survived dinner. I developed new respect for my mom's acting abilities. She'd cleaned herself up and had dinner on the table by the time Dad and Laurie got home. The kitchen was icy cold, since she'd had all the windows open to let the cigarette smoke blow out, but she told Dad she'd been having hot flashes all afternoon. That also explained any oddities in her mood, as well as the fact I was clearly walking on eggshells around her. Hyde skipped dinner - Mom gave him a plate to take back up to my room, and told him to stay out of sight until he'd sobered up.
After dinner, I got out of the way fast. I went down to the basement.
Fez was on the couch, watching TV. "Hi, Fez," I said cautiously, stopping at the bottom of the stairs.
"Hello Eric." He got up and turned off the TV. "So, is it true what Jackie says? You and Hyde are doing it now?"
"Uh..." There was no point in lying to Fez. "Yeah."
He shook his head, laughing softly. "I certainly did not see this coming."
Well, he wasn't freaking out, screaming or crying. This was the best reaction we'd had from anyone so far. "So you're, uh, OK with it?" I asked, tentatively coming around to sit on the chair by the couch.
"Why would I not be? Jackie certainly cannot get Hyde back now. My chances with her have improved." He grinned.
"So, um, you've talked to Jackie. What about Kelso?"
"Yes, I saw them both earlier. Kelso seemed as upset at Jackie was." Fez looked puzzled. "I am not sure why - I would think he, too, would be pleased that Hyde is out of Jackie's picture."
I sighed. I hadn't thought Kelso would take it well. At least Fez was still talking to me. "Has Jackie told anyone else? Besides you and Kelso?"
"No, I don't think so. She stayed at Kelso's house last night, in his sister's room, but I think she just told Mrs. Kelso that she had a fight with Donna." His eyes lit up. "So it is also true about Donna and Naomi?"
"Jackie seems just as upset about them, and I cannot understand why," Fez said. "If I accidentally saw two girls kissing, I would not scream and run away!"
"It's not quite like in Playboy, Fez. I don't think they'd let you join them."
"Damn." He pouted briefly. "So, what do your parents think about all this?"
"Mom just found out today and she's...well, it went better than I thought it would. She cried a lot, though. We're not going to tell Red." I gave him a sharp look. "Fez, you can't tell anyone, OK?"
He made the zipping motion over his lips. "You can trust me, Eric."
I felt a soft moan escape me. "No I can't. Damn it, Fez, you can't keep a secret to save your life! You told everyone about your own gay dream about Kelso!"
"Well, I did not know it would get me in trouble," he snapped.
"OK, well, you know now. And that's why you can't tell anyone about me and Hyde!"
He nodded, his expression softening into something like sympathy. "I understand. Eric, I will talk to Jackie and Kelso and try to make them understand, too."
"Th-thanks, Fez." I suddenly felt my throat tightening, almost like I was going to cry. I hadn't dared to imagine that any of my friends besides Donna would actually accept me and Hyde being together.
Fez startled me by coming over and giving me a hug. "Do not be scared, Eric. It will be all right."
"Thanks," I said again, surprised and touched, and hugged him back.
After Fez left, I stayed in the basement and watched TV until pretty late. When I went upstairs, Mom was still in the kitchen, just taking a tray of muffins out of the oven.
"Hi Mom. I thought you'd be in bed."
She looked at me with tired eyes. "Eric, honey, I can't stop you and Steven from...doing what you do together, but I don't want you doing it in my house. I want you to sleep in the basement tonight."
I felt a pang of hurt, but I said "OK." It would be pointless to argue. As long as she didn't tell Red, I'd do pretty much whatever she wanted.
Mom got out a table knife and started prying the muffins out of the tin onto a cooling rack. I saw there was already a loaf of banana bread and a fresh-baked cake sitting out on the counter. The kitchen was sweet with their mingled scents.
Obsessive baking - my mother's way of quietly freaking out.
I started to head for the basement, but then I remembered the cot was still upstairs in my room. I turned around. "Mom...."
"Yes, Eric?" She shook the last muffin onto the rack, then looked around as if trying to figure out what to do next.
"I do love him. I wish you could be happy for us."
She looked up at me, her expression pulled tight as though she were in physical pain. "I believe you, sweetie. I saw you two grow up together. And I just want you to be happy. But this...this is going to bring you nothing but pain and suffering. The world will turn its back on you. You don't understand what you're getting yourselves in for."
I was lost for a moment in a memory: myself saying almost the same thing to Donna when she broke our engagement and told me she was gay, at Thanksgiving.
I shook my head slowly. "You're wrong, Mom. We do understand. I've had the shit beaten out of me before because some guys thought I looked like a faggot." I waited for her to scold me for my language, but she didn't; she just pressed her fingers over her mouth, squinched her eyes, and made a little squeaking noise, trying not to cry. "That was a couple years ago and it scared us so much that we...I...thought we could never be together. But now I've realized that the worst possible thing would be going through life without him. Nothing else scares me as much as that."
Mom turned around so her back was to me, and started sobbing. Her shoulders shook, and she muffled the sounds with her hand pressed over her mouth. I felt indescribably terrible. What kind of son was I, making my mother cry like that? "Mom?" I went over and hugged her; she leaned into it, pressing her face into my shoulder. "Mom, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry it had to be like this...."
Hyde was asleep on my bed when I went into my room to get the cot; I managed not to wake him. I set the cot up in its usual place in the furnace room, piled it with blankets, and turned off the light.
I'd never realized before how dark the furnace room got with all the lights off. I'd never been in here at night without Hyde before. There were no windows, of course. The only illumination came from the eerie flickering of the furnace's pilot light. The basement was freezing, and the noises were strange. Not long after I lay down the furnace came on, and its rumbling filled my mind and seemed to make the cot vibrate under me. I wondered how Hyde ever managed to sleep down here.
As soon as I thought of Hyde, I was hit with a sense of loneliness so intense that tears pricked my eyes. We'd slept together for just two nights in a row, but already the night felt wrong without him. And this was his room. All the blankets smelled like him, giving me the feeling I should be able to roll over now and bump up against him.
One night apart wouldn't have been so hard to deal with if I'd had some certainty that we'd be together again soon. I didn't have that. Our situation had never been stable or safe, not since our first night together two weeks ago - and now that Mom knew, something had to give.
More than anything, I wanted to go back up to him. But I couldn't, because of Mom. So instead I went out to the Vista Cruiser, where I'd left my schoolbag. I took out the teddy bear he'd given me for Christmas, and took it back to the furnace room with me. I made myself a cocoon in the blankets, with the teddy bear pressed tight against my chest. I clutched the sad, worn, beautiful thing, and breathed deeply of Steven's scent, and imagined being happy together somewhere, someday.
As soon as we got to work in the morning, Hyde and I locked ourselves in the employee bathroom and grabbed each other for deep, frantic kisses. Since Mom found out about us nearly a week ago, this was the only place we could safely be alone together. I hated it - it was grungy and smelly and cramped, and sneaking back here for make-out sessions made me feel dirty. But it was all we had.
It was also the only place we had to talk in privacy, and that was almost as important as the kissing. "I thought we were dead last night, when Red said he saw Jackie at the grocery store," I whispered. He'd followed up by asking Hyde if he was still dating her - since when did Red take any interest in my friends' love lives? I still wondered if he suspected something.
Hyde nodded. He let go of me and leaned against the sink, crossing his arms. "It's time to get the fuck out of Point Place."
"And go where?" We'd been having variations on this conversation for days. Naomi was still offering to let us stay at her place in Madison if we needed to - but Donna had explained it was a bachelor apartment. One room with a sink and a hot plate in a corner, a shared bathroom down the hall, and not enough room to swing a cat. If we did go there, we wouldn't be able to stay for long.
"Anywhere but here, man." He shrugged. "Let's just pick a direction and go."
"That is not a plan." I started doing up the top couple buttons on my uniform, which he'd undone while we were kissing. "We have what, $200 between the two of us? And as soon as we leave here - no jobs."
"We could sleep in one of our cars," he suggested.
"It's the middle of the winter."
"So, we could head south. Did you like California?"
"Sure, California was great - that doesn't mean I want to live there in my fucking car." I was getting snippy now. I knew it, but I couldn't stop myself. The truth is, I was scared. Point Place was my whole world. Even though I'd told myself I wanted to get out, I'd always assumed that I'd come back. When I pictured myself in some hazy future with a house and kids and a respectable job, Point Place was the background.
Someone pounded at the door. "Are you guys done in there? I need the toilet!" It was Roy. He knew we'd been disappearing into the bathroom together all week, but we'd let him believe we were coming in here to get stoned.
Seriously, I don't know what a guy would have to do to get fired by Roy.
It was a quiet day at the hotel restaurant. I was the only waiter on, and I barely had enough to do to keep myself from falling asleep. The hotel wasn't hosting a New Year's party this year so we were closing early, at 7 pm.
In the mid afternoon, as I wandered around the empty tables straightening napkins and checking the salt and pepper shakers, I unexpectedly found myself missing Kelso. I hadn't seen him since Christmas Eve. We'd been supposed to have a couple shifts together this week, but he'd switched his with Will, the other part-time waiter. He'd told Roy it was because his grandparents were visiting and he had to do family stuff, but I knew he'd done it just so he wouldn't see me. And that hurt. I mean, Kelso was a dope, but I'd been friends with him nearly as long as with Hyde and Donna. I'd never known him to stay mad at anyone for long - not even Hyde, when he started dating Jackie. This might just do it, though - he might never forgive us.
I went back into the kitchen with the empty salt and pepper shakers and found Hyde there, back from his break.
"I found a place for us to stay," he said.
I felt a cautious hope building. "Where?"
"San Francisco. This guy, he's a friend of Leo's I kind of kept in touch with - he can get us a room in the place where he lives."
"What kind of place?" No offense to Hyde, but I knew his standards weren't very high - and the phrase 'friend of Leo's' set off some alarm bells, too. "It's not a flophouse, is it?"
Hyde shook his head, looking slightly amused. He popped a toothpick into his mouth to chew on, and said, "No, man. It's a Zen monastery."
"A what?!" I yelped, nearly dropping my handful of pepper shakers.
"A Zen monastery," he repeated, as though it were something perfectly normal.
I managed to get the pepper shakers safely on the counter, then squeaked out "You want us to run away and become monks?"
"No," he said patiently, "We don't have to be monks. The monks run the place, but they take in boarders sometimes. We'd just have to do a couple hours' work each day in exchange for room and board."
"What kind of work?" The only monasteries I'd ever seen were bleak stone buildings in movies set in medieval Europe. I couldn't imagine what a Zen monastery in modern America would look like - or what we'd do in one.
Hyde shrugged. "Cook, clean, rake the rock garden."
"I don't know, man..." I hedged, nervously fiddling with the bottom of my uniform shirt. "It sounds kind of weird..."
"We don't have to stay there forever," he said. "Just until we find jobs and we can get a place of our own. And...Scott said no one there would have a problem with us being, you know, together."
"Leo's friend. The monk."
"How is Leo friends with a monk?" That was probably the least important of the questions spinning around in my mind, but it was the easiest one to grab hold of.
Hyde rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses. "Scott wasn't a monk back in the '60s when Leo knew him. C'mon, Forman, what do you think? We can leave tomorrow, there'll hardly be any traffic - we could get there in two or three days."
I swallowed. How could I decide something this strange and important so fast? "Seriously, you told Scott about us?"
"And he said it was cool. Yeah."
That was hard to believe, but it was appealing - a place where we could be together, and no one would freak out or hate us for it? Hyde was starting to win me over to this crazy plan. There were still problems, though... "Last time I drove to California it cost me over a hundred bucks just for food and gas on the road. We've got two cars and not enough money."
"Yeah." Hyde stood still for a moment, slouching against the counter and rolling the toothpick around in his mouth thoughtfully. Then he stood up straight. "I have an idea about that." He went over to the wall and buzzed Roy's office.
Roy rushed into the kitchen half a minute later, and I tried not to notice that he was just doing up his fly. "What is it? Is there a customer?"
"Hey, Roy," Hyde said, "You still interested in buying the El Camino?"
Roy looked startled, and then a big grin spread across his face. "I sure am!"
"Great," Hyde said calmly as I watched in shock. "Five hundred dollars?"
"All right!" Roy grabbed a chair and scrambled up on it to grab a dusty coffee tin from a shelf near the ceiling. Still standing precariously on the chair, he peeled off the tin's lid and pulled out a wad of bills. He counted them, then climbed down and handed the whole wad to Hyde. "Five hundred dollars," he said proudly.
Hyde flipped through the bills, made a satisfied grunt, and nodded towards the door. "C'mon, I'll sign over the registration to you."
I finally managed to find my voice. "Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked, begging him with my eyes not to do something crazy and rash that he'd be mad at me for later.
He gave me a quick frown. "'Course I'm sure. I don't do things I'm not sure of, Forman."
"I can't believe you sold Roy the El Camino!!" I said, locked in the employee bathroom again at the end of our shift.
"I can't believe he had five hundred dollars in cash sitting there in that coffee tin the whole time." Hyde laughed softly, and handed me the joint.
Roy's belief that we shut ourselves in here to smoke dope was not entirely a misapprehension.
I took a drag, and handed it back to him. "But seriously, Hyde, you loved that car."
"I loved the freedom, man. And that's what I just traded it for - freedom." He let out a breath of pungent smoke. "Tomorrow morning, we show our asses to this fucking town."
I took another turn with the joint in silence, and then admitted, "I'll miss Point Place."
"Not me," he said, shaking his head. "I've been waiting to get out of here since I was born."
"Yeah..." I realized he had a lot of good reasons to hate the town he'd grown up in. "But still...all our friends are here."
"When Donna goes back to Madison tomorrow, Fez'll be the only one left here who's speaking to us," Hyde pointed out. He took the stub of the joint from me and held it gingerly, getting one more pull off it before he mashed it out on the porcelain sink.
"Fuck, I hate to leave like this - without even talking to Kelso. It doesn't seem right." I leaned against the wall, feeling a little dizzy and sad.
"I know, man, me too." He leaned against the other wall, cornerwise from me, and took my hand in one of his. He stroked my fingers absently. "I'd like to see Jackie one more time. Try to explain things better."
"It's New Year's Eve. Everybody always comes to my basement for New Year's Eve." I sighed. "Not this year, I guess."
"Donna said she'd come over with Naomi."
"Fez might come - except he'll probably want to be with Jackie." Fez and Jackie were looking more and more like they were dating - at least, as the story was told by Fez, which was the only way I got any news about Jackie or Kelso these days.
"Crap," Hyde sighed. "We might as well just leave tonight."
"No, wait!" I squeezed his hand. "If we tell them it's our last night in Point Place - if we tell them we want to say good-bye - maybe they'll come."
He looked thoughtful. "If we tell Kelso we want to say good-bye and that there's beer and weed..."
"Can you get beer?"
"Hell yeah. I've got some stashed away."
"And Jackie?" I didn't care too much if I didn't get to say good-bye to her, but I realized it was important to Hyde.
"I'll talk to Fez," he said. "We'll get her there."
"It'll work," I said. "It'll be awesome - good-bye to the 1970s, good-bye to everybody and everything."
"Not everybody." He moved to lean against me, pressing me against the wall and kissing me. "Not sayin' good-bye to you."
I opened my lips to meet his, and cupped my hands around his ass to pull him closer. The weed was making my sense of touch go crazy intense - I felt every individual cold bathroom tile pressing into my back through my uniform, I felt the coarse threads of his polyester work pants under my fingers, I felt the chapped part of his lips brushing rough against mine, I felt his hair tickling the sides of my face. I felt his erection digging into my hip.
It wasn't long before I felt his hand playing at my crotch, making me moan as he fumbled to open my fly. When he finally brought my dick out into the open, my knees almost buckled at the brush of cool air against it. His hand wrapped around me, strong and firm. I was so hypersensitive, I could feel the ridges of his fingerprints.
He knelt in front of me, and he went down on me. I had to dig my fingers into his shoulders to keep my balance. It flashed through my mind that there was something really seedy about getting blown in the staff washroom at the Point Place Hotel... but I didn't care anymore.
"Oh God...Steven...I love you," I gasped softly as he worked me with his lips, tongue and throat, bringing sensations so intense and bright and wonderful I seriously felt tears in my eyes. My knees were shaking, and all I wanted was more. His tongue circled the head of my dick, making me gasp and tighten all over each time round when he touched the most sensitive spot. I could hear little sucking noises over the sound of my panting and the blood rushing in my ears. He took me in unbelievably deep, again and again, and I realized I was about to come. I tugged at his hair to pull him off me and whispered "Stop."
"Why?" he said breathlessly, keeping so close to me that I could feel the warm word brushing against the quickly-cooling skin of my cock.
"I'm going to come," I said, wrapping my hand around myself where his mouth had been.
"Hell yeah, that's the whole point" he said, and pushed my hand away so he could go down on me again.
When he took me in again, it was even better than the first time. I clenched my teeth to try to stop myself from yelling out loud as I felt the orgasm overtake me with his warm mouth still enveloping me. It felt amazing.
When he backed off I let my knees buckle and I slid down to the floor with my back still pressed against the wall. I looked up to see him smiling at me, looking pretty satisfied with himself. "I knew you'd taste good," he said.
I giggled softly, feeling light and giddy. "Thanks. Did you know, I love you Steven?"
Fez, Jackie, and Kelso came into the basement together, at quarter to ten. Donna and Naomi had been there with Hyde and me for a couple hours already, but we'd just had one beer each in that time.
Jackie came in holding Fez's hand, and looking reluctant. She didn't meet anyone's eyes in the room, just turned to Fez and said "OK, we're here. Let's get this over with."
Kelso, meanwhile, came into the room without taking off his big puffy parka. "Hi everybody," he mumbled, looking more at the floor than at any of us.
"Kelso..." Donna said, "Take off your coat. Stay a while."
"Nope," he said with a nervous half-laugh, "I'm good." He stood there, looking awkward with his hands in his pockets.
There were no spare seats, of course. Hyde and I had the two chairs, and Donna and Naomi were on the couch. "Hyde, c'mon, let's get some chairs from the kitchen," I said.
We went upstairs. Mom was in the kitchen, wearing her good blue dress and just putting the kettle on the stove. She and Dad were planning a quiet New Year's Eve next door with just Bob, and I guess Dad didn't want to go over any sooner than necessary.
She looked a little startled, seeing the two of us. She always got that look now when she saw me and Hyde together - not sure whether to run away or break down crying or laugh hysterically. It passed in a moment. "What are you two up to?" she said, almost managing to sound casual.
"Just getting some more chairs, Mrs. Forman," Hyde said. "Everyone's here now."
"Would you like some more popcorn?" she asked.
"No, Mom, thanks, there's enough already," I said, a bit awkwardly.
She didn't know we were leaving tomorrow. Hyde and I had talked about it and decided she might crack when she realized I was actually leaving, and she could do anything - maybe even tell Red, which could only lead to a world of hurt. We expected Kitty and Red to get plastered over at Bob's, so they should be sleeping soundly when we slipped out around six a.m., leaving a note on the kitchen table. I felt awful when I thought about how Mom would feel when she found the note - but it was the only way.
Hyde grabbed two chairs and I took one, and we looked at Mom, and each other, and hesitated.
I dropped my chair and went over to hug Mom. "Good-bye, Mom," I blurted out.
"Good-bye?" she repeated.
"I won't see you again 'till 1980," I explained weakly, hugging her tight.
"Oh. Ha, ha. You're right - because it's New Year's Eve," she said a little too brightly, hugging me back with strength that surprised me. Then she let go of me and turned to Hyde. "Come over here, Steven. You don't get away without a hug."
"Sure, Mrs. Forman." They hugged, and I saw my mom squeeze her eyes tight shut. Then they were apart, and Hyde was picking up the chairs again and Mom was brushing the creases out of her dress. "Have a good night now," she said.
"You too, Mom."
"Good night, Mrs. Forman."
At the top of the basement stairs, out of sight of both Mom in the kitchen and our friends in the basement, Hyde paused and glanced back at me. "Do you think she knows we're leaving?" he asked, very softly. I wasn't sure in that poorly-lit corner, but I thought his eyes looked a little wet.
"Nah, she'd be freaking out if she knew," I said...but I wasn't sure, either.
Once we'd arranged all the chairs into a semicircle, it was Jackie and Fez who took the couch. The rest of us sat on chairs - me next to Hyde, Donna next to Naomi, and Kelso conspicuously pulling closer to the couch and farther from us, still wearing his big puffy brown parka.
"Well, this is awkward," said Fez, who was probably feeling less awkward than anyone else in the room. "I think we should play a drinking game."
"Great idea, little buddy," Hyde said, getting up and pulling another hidden six-pack from the shower.
"Uh, Hyde," I said, "We have to get an early start tomorrow." Mom didn't know, but everyone in this room did. "We shouldn't drink too much."
"Don't worry, I know." He set the six-pack on the spool table and started popping the cans out. "But everybody needs to loosen up a little here."
"What will we play?" asked Fez, the only one in the basement who looked like he was glad to be here. "I like the game with the quarters. Can we play the game with the quarters?"
"Uh, no." I shook my head quickly. "Baaaad memories."
Donna leaned forward in her chair. "I know what we should play. Let's play Question."
"How do you play Question?" Fez asked.
"Someone starts," Donna explained. "They ask someone else a question. That person either answers the question, or takes a drink. Then they ask someone else a question. It goes like that 'till everyone's finished or drunk."
"That is not a game," Fez pouted. "That is just talking!"
"Yeah." Donna leaned in, grabbed a can from the table, and popped the tab. "That is exactly the idea, Fez."
The game started timidly, with easy questions like "What's your favorite food?" and "Have you ever cheated on a test?" They weren't the kind of questions anyone would refuse to answer, and none of us would have made any progress towards inebriation at all, except we were all sipping our beers between the questions.
Finally we started asking the questions that were really on our minds. "Kelso," said Hyde, "What's with the fucking coat?"
Kelso looked down at his coat, and then at his beer, possibly considering whether to skip this question. "What's wrong with the coat?"
"We're indoors," Hyde said. "It's not that cold."
"OK, look dude." Kelso got his wide-eyed earnest expression on, finally looking straight at Hyde. "I just don't want anybody noticing my man-beauty and getting any ideas."
Hyde rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I thought that was it."
"Eric and Hyde are dating each other," Naomi said to Kelso. "They're not interested in you."
"Right, thanks Naomi." I nodded a couple times. "Couldn't have said it better myself." Plus, if I'd used the 'dating' word Hyde probably would have frogged me. Naomi was safe, two chairs away.
"I dunno," Kelso said. "I'm pretty hard to resist."
"Kelso." Hyde glared across the table at him. "Take off the coat."
Kelso whined and grumbled, but he unzipped the coat and shrugged it off.
"All right," Hyde said with dry sarcasm, "Now everyone who feels irresistibly drawn to grab Kelso and stick your tongue down his throat, raise your hand."
The only person who raised a hand was Fez. We all stared at him, and Kelso shrieked and lunged for his coat.
"I am joking, people." Fez flung both his hands out dramatically. "Ai, when did you all get so serious?"
Donna covered her mouth to stifle her giggles, then said "Kelso, it's your turn to ask someone a question."
"OK. Big D - are you really doing it with Naomi?"
Donna made a face between a cringe and a laugh. She picked up her beer and took a long drink, then said, "We're dating, OK? Whether or not we're doing it is nobody's business but ours. Right, my turn to ask... Jackie."
Jackie looked a little startled to be called on. No one had asked her anything yet, and she hadn't said a word since the game started. She was sitting at one edge of the couch with her feet tucked up under her, looking as small and inconspicuous as possible.
"Jackie..." said Donna, "Can we ever be friends again?"
Jackie flipped her hair back and looked over at Donna with her chin held high - finally putting on the superior, bitchy attitude we knew and loved. "I don't know, Donna. How can I ever trust you, after you lied to me for years? You told me you loved Eric! You told me you were hot for Casey!"
Donna nodded slowly, like she'd expected the question. "I wasn't lying, Jackie." I noticed Donna quietly slip her fingers through Naomi's, down between their chairs. "At the time, I thought it was true. And..." she glanced sideways at me and smiled a bit, "I did love Eric. There was just always something missing, and I didn't know what it was 'till I met Naomi."
"I know what was missing," Kelso said, nodding and grinning widely. "Breasts."
"Kelso, you are an idiot," Fez said. "Naomi does not have breasts."
Naomi looked down at her rather flat chest, and laughed quietly. Meanwhile, Donna's face flushed pink and she said "Yes she does. Naomi-" she squeezed her girlfriend's hand, "I love your breasts."
"OK, ew!" Jackie exclaimed. "Ew, Donna! This is gross, I do not need to hear it!"
"There's nothing gross about two people loving each other-" Naomi started, her tone making me think she'd given this speech a time or two before.
Donna interrupted her. "Naomi, let me handle this. Jackie - you used to think it was gross when I talked about Eric, too."
"Yeah," Jackie agreed easily. "He's all skinny and girly and ew." I glared at her, but I don't think she noticed. "And Naomi is an actual girl. Donna, what's wrong with you?"
"Jackie," Donna said slowly and clearly, "I'm a lesbian."
Kelso looked confused. "I thought you were born in America, Donna." We all ignored him.
"Donna, I am still mad at you," Jackie said sharply. "But...I think I'll probably get over it. Eventually."
Donna let out a deep breath, and gave a slow smile. "Thanks, Jackie."
Jackie flashed a smile too, before she went back to her pout. "Whatever."
Fez nudged Jackie's side. "It is your turn to ask a question, Jackie. You can ask me if you want. I'll tell you anything."
"Thanks, Fez," she said, squeezing his hand, "But I have a question for Steven." She looked over at Hyde, and her expression changed. The bitchy cheerleader fell away, and what was left seemed raw and scared. I felt uncomfortable, like I shouldn't be seeing this. "Steven," she said, "Did you ever really love me?"
It felt like the whole room held its breath. Hyde looked around at all of us, scowling. "Screw this game," he said roughly. "Jackie, we need to talk. In private." He stood up, and so did she.
"Your room?" she said. He nodded. They walked back to his door - neither of them touching the other, but each of them making little, tentative motions like they were trying to decide whether to or not. I watched, feeling suddenly nervous and tight, until the door shut behind them.
Fez slouched down and scowled. "That bastard had better not steal my woman."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Fez, have you been paying attention for the past week?"
"I just do not think they should be alone in his bedroom," Fez said. "We never thought they would get together in the first place, and remember what happened?"
"Yeah, you know what? This is a party. There shouldn't be any going off alone to people's bedrooms..." I stood up, ready to go pound on the door to the furnace room until Hyde and Jackie came out.
Maybe it didn't make sense, but I felt nervous when Hyde and Jackie were together. It seemed to me like Jackie always got what she wanted, sooner or later. And when I'd asked Hyde the same question Jackie just did - did he love Jackie? - the first time he said 'yes,' and the second time he never properly answered at all.
"Eric!" Donna jumped to her feet and got between me and the furnace room. "What the hell are you doing?"
I gestured at the door behind her. "What are they doing? They don't need privacy, they shouldn't be doing anything they couldn't do in front of the rest of us."
"Grow up, Eric. They're not doing, they're talking, and I think that yeah, they do need some privacy." Donna put a firm hand on my shoulder and led me back to the circle. Fez shifted out of the way, and Donna gave me a push down onto the couch, then sat beside me. "Eric..." she went on, "you don't have anything to be scared of. Even if Jackie did want Hyde back, which I don't think she does-"
"I sure hope not," Fez interjected with a mutter.
"-he wouldn't do anything with her. He loves you. He broke up with her for you. He's moving to California with you. He sold his car for you."
I closed my eyes, feeling embarrassed and relieved all at the same time. Donna was right. I had to trust Hyde, because I knew he trusted me - and tomorrow, we would leave everyone else behind.
With Jackie and Hyde gone, we gave up on the so-called drinking game. Naomi took out the joint she'd rolled earlier, and we lit up some incense and had a five-way circle.
Once Kelso got stoned, he forgot to be nervous around me. It was great, like the old days before everything got weird. We all let ourselves get silly with the high. We talked about what happens when you play the Dark Side of the Moon backwards, and whether Superman would go back in time to go to the same New Year's Eve party twice.
By quarter to midnight, our highs were wearing off and Fez had eaten all the leftover Christmas cookies. I turned on the TV to the station from Madison, where they were broadcasting live from an outdoor New Year's Eve party. The people looked cold and kind of bored; I'd just turned it on for the countdown.
"I'm going to get Hyde and Jackie," I said, standing up. "If they don't come out now, they'll miss it." Nobody stopped me, this time.
I knocked on Hyde's door, calling out "It's me! It's almost midnight."
"Come on in," Hyde said through the door.
The first thing I noticed inside was that Abba was playing on the stereo. Then I saw Jackie and Hyde sitting on the cot. They were sitting at opposite ends, not touching. Jackie's eyes and nose were red, like she'd been crying a lot, but she wasn't crying now - she was digging through a shoe box.
"Wow, I forgot I even owned this," she said, holding up a red plastic bracelet. "It's like...Christmas all over again!"
"Jackie still had some stuff over here," Hyde explained, looking up at me.
"I see...." I shifted my feet, feeling a bit awkward. "Um, are you going to come out? The New Year's in just over ten minutes - we've got the TV tuned to the countdown."
"Yeah, sure," he said. "We'll be out in a minute."
That was clearly a cue for me to leave them alone again, so I did, feeling a bit hurt. Hadn't they had enough time yet to say good-bye?
I perched on the back of the sofa and watched the party on the TV. There was someone dressed in a cow costume trying to hype up the crowd.
At one minute to midnight, the door to Hyde's room opened. Jackie came out, carrying the shoe box and her Abba album. Hyde followed her out. Thumbs hooked in his pockets, he wandered over to me.
"Hey," he said.
"I thought you were going to miss it," I said, nodding towards the TV. I guess there was a bit of silent accusation in my tone - I thought he was going to be with her when the year rolled over, instead of me.
"Nah, I wouldn't miss it," he said casually.
"Oh my God everybody, there's only 45 seconds left of the 1970s!" Kelso gasped.
Fez put down his candy cane. Donna and Naomi looked up from their game of Crazy Eights. Jackie set her stuff on the floor and then clapped her hands and rushed over to Fez. "I love New Year's!" she squealed.
Hyde shifted a step closer to me, so his arm was brushing against mine.
"Get ready to say good-bye to 1979!" called out the announcer on the TV. "All together now...ten!"
"Nine!" Fez and Kelso chimed in along with the TV. "Eight! Seven!"
"Six!" Donna grinned, and picked up the count too. Naomi didn't - she rested her chin on her hands and watched Donna, with a bemused, affectionate smile. "Five!"
I saw Jackie look back at Hyde one more time, over the back of the couch. She looked sad for a second, but then she looked at me. When I met her eyes she smiled. "Be happy together," she said quickly and softly, as the others chanted "Four!"
I was surprised - shocked, really. I hadn't expected that from Jackie. What had they said to each other in there? "Thanks," I mouthed at her.
Kelso started pumping his fist in the air in time with the count.
My throat felt tight suddenly. It was more than a year ending. More than a decade. Early tomorrow morning I was going to leave my whole life here behind. God only knew when I'd seen any of my friends again - or my family....
I felt Hyde slip his hand into mine.
"Happy New Year!" Kelso, Fez, Donna and Jackie shouted it out in unison. I saw Donna turn quickly to kiss Naomi on the lips, and Fez do the same to Jackie. Kelso was lost in his own little world, jumping up and down and yelling "1980! 1980!"
"Eric," Hyde said out loud. "C'mere." I just saw a flash of his cryptic smile before he leaned in to kiss me.
In front of all our friends, he kissed me. He wasn't ashamed, and he wasn't afraid. I felt a deep surge of joy, so profound I thought I should be glowing with it. I kissed him back, wrapping my arms tight around his shoulders. It was a new year - and it was ours.