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 didn't make a scene. I just said good-bye, and she walked away. The Greyhound pulled out of the station and I was left alone breathing the fading exhaust fumes and feeling lower than I'd felt in a long, long time.
Seconds later, the El Camino pulled up beside me. There I was, fighting back tears, and the whole gang was there to see. Correction: the whole gang, minus one.
Hyde looked up at me from the driver's seat. "Crap, we missed her, didn't we?"
Fez stumbled out of the back, wearing the same stupid dress I'd woken up in that morning. "Oh noooo," he wailed, "I wanted to say good-bye!" He shook his fist at Kelso. "You made me late! You bastard!"
I managed a wan smile at Fez's ridiculous state. "So, they got you drunk, huh?"
"Well, yes," he admitted. "But I have been wanting to try this for quite some time."
I started to laugh, and I couldn't stop, and I was dangerously close to sobbing.
Hyde stepped of the car and put his arm over my shoulders. "Come back to the basement, man. We've still got lots of beer. Fez is a cheap drunk."
I couldn't even talk - I just let them take me home.
Something was wrong with Donna. She'd been avoiding my eye all through Thanksgiving dinner. It was the first time she'd been home from Madison in way too long. In September she'd visited every weekend, but then in October she started to get swamped with work for her courses, and there just wasn't time. I offered to come visit her, but there wasn't even time for that, and besides my boss kept giving me Saturday afternoon shifts.
Donna barely even made it home for Thanksgiving weekend. She'd taken a cab from the bus station and arrived at my house just as my extended family - including Laurie, Fez, Bob, Hyde and Jackie - was sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner. So now after dinner, with our parents napping off the turkey in the living room, Laurie gone off slutting, Fez visiting his old host parents and Hyde and Jackie probably doing evil, unnatural things in the basement, we were alone together in my room for the first time in a month.
"It's so good to see you again," I said, hugging her. She smelled nice, like some kind of incense. She was so beautiful, I could hardly believe she was mine. I kissed her, but there was something missing - she wasn't really kissing me back. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Is there something wrong at school?" She'd said she was loving all her classes - especially Intro to Women's Studies, she always talked about that one - but I was afraid she was getting overwhelmed by the work. It was a lot different from high school, she'd told me that.
She moved away from me on the bed, and fiddled with her ring - the ring that marked her as my future wife. "Oh, school's fine. But...we need to talk."
I didn't like the way she said that. Bad things always happened when a girl said 'We need to talk' like that. "About what?"
Donna looked down at her hand. "Oh God, there's no easy way to say this." She looked up at me with worried eyes. "Eric, I can't marry you." She pressed the ring into my hand.
I stared at her. I thought I must have misheard her. But no, I could feel the warm circle of the ring in my palm. My ears seemed to ring, and for a moment she looked very far away. "What?" I managed to gulp out.
"I'm so sorry!" she said, and grabbed me in a hug. "It's not a problem with you, it's me!"
I stayed rigid. "Did you meet someone else?"
"Sort of," she said. "It's not what you think."
"Wow, and it's only November," I said coldly, pushing her away from me. "That must be some kind of record for getting over the love of your life. Is he on the football team?" I wanted her to hurt, damn it, like she was hurting me.
Donna put her hand over her mouth, and her eyes glimmered like she was going to cry. She shook her head. Then she slid her hand away and said "No, she's in my Women's Studies class."
I stared at her for a moment in stunned, confused silence. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were scared. I don't know what she was seeing on my face. "W-what?" I finally managed to stammer.
"Eric, I'm gay. That's why I can't marry you." One tear slid down her cheek.
I was getting that faraway feeling again, and I felt the blood rushing in my ears. I wondered if I was about to go into a fit of uncontrollable rage, or maybe just pass out. "You can't be gay, Donna. We had sex. Lots of times. You liked it."
"It's more complicated than that. It's like... all along there was something missing, only I didn't even know it 'till I found it."
"If there's something missing, we can work it out. We can find it." My voice started to get higher-pitched in my confused desperation. "We love each other, Donna, you can't just throw that away!"
"There's no way you can be what I need, Eric, I'm sorry." She made a sound halfway between a sob and a laugh. "You're just not girly enough."
"That's not funny, Donna!" I slammed my fist down on the mattress. "You're making a huge mistake! This is going to ruin your life. You'll never be able to get married, have a family-"
"I never wanted those things, Eric!" she interrupted me, her eyes flashing. "You were the one who wanted them."
"What you're talking about is wrong!" I yelled, pushing away the pain that shot through me when she said that. "It's not natural! People will hate you for it, you'll get hurt over and over again!"
"Well, this is a great beginning for that, isn't it?" she said, her voice breaking in a couple places. Tears were flowing down her cheeks now. "Look, I've got to go. I just need one promise from you."
I gave her a stony look, fiercely holding back my own tears.
"Don't tell anyone else I'm gay. I know I'll need to come out eventually...I'm just not ready yet." She pressed her hand tightly over her mouth, stifling a sob.
"So what the hell can I tell them? We're not going to pretend the wedding's still on, are we?" Even though my voice was full of anger, I secretly and desperately hoped that she would say yes, that we should pretend the wedding was still on. If we pretended hard enough, maybe it could still come true. In another month she'd get over this, and come back to me and say she was wrong, and I'd take her back, and nothing would have to change at all.
"We'll tell them we realized we're still too young after all. Just like our parents thought."
I had to turn my back on her. She was so beautiful, with her long red hair flowing loose and her pale skin flushed from the crying. I loved her so much. I couldn't let go of her like this, but nothing I said was working. And I was starting to cry. "Go away," I said as harshly as I could. "If you're going to go, just go."
I hear the bed creak, and a moment later I felt her lips brushing my cheek. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. I didn't turn around. Then the door opened and shut, and she was gone.
"Jesus, Forman, how long have you been out here?"
I looked over my shoulder and saw Hyde coming out of his room with Jackie trailing after him, holding his hand. They both looked rumpled and distinctly post-coital. It made my throat catch. I almost wished I'd stayed up in my room. "The engagement is off," I said.
"What?!" Jackie exclaimed. "But she's only been gone two months!"
"I know," I said, and I started to cry.
Fuck, that wasn't supposed to happen. I'd come down to the basement because I'd been crying in my room for an hour, and I felt so sad I thought I would die from it, and I'd decided that I'd come down and let Hyde and Jackie distract me. I didn't want to cry in front of my friends. I was supposed to tell them that the breakup was mutual. They weren't going to believe that with me sitting here weeping like a little girl.
I felt Hyde and Jackie sit down on either side of me - Hyde on my right, Jackie on my left. I felt both their arms sliding over my shoulders.
"I cried for days the first time Michael broke up with me," Jackie said softly.
"Shut up, Jackie," Hyde said, just as soft.
I don't know how long we sat there, with me sandwiched between them, sobbing. I know that at some point, Hyde turned on the TV to a football game and Jackie found a box of Kleenex for me. I was lost in my dark ball of hurt and loss until I heard Kelso exclaim "What the hell is going on here?!"
"What do you think?" Jackie snapped.
Kelso hesitated for a moment, then gave a gasp of horror. "Luke Skywalker is dead?!"
"No, idiot," Hyde said. I felt him shift his arm to give me a quiet hug, out of sight. "Donna broke off the engagement."
"Oh, man, that's rough." I heard the scrape of the lawn chair on the floor as Kelso took a seat. "Did she meet some college guy?"
"We haven't got any details out of him yet." Hyde's tone was dry, but I felt him hugging me tighter.
The door slammed open. "My host parents tricked me into going to church!" Fez announced. "Oh my God, what happened to Eric?"
I tried to salvage a scrap of dignity by explaining for myself this time. I took a deep breath and said it very fast. "Donna-and-I-broke-up-because we-realized-we're-not-old-enough to-get-married-yet."
Fez nodded, looking pensive. "Yes, marriage is a very serious commitment. You must not enter the holy sacrament lightly."
I cleared my throat. "Fez, you married Laurie-the-slut so you could keep your green card."
Fez deflated. "I would be a good husband if only she would let me."
Jackie beckoned Fez over. "If you want to be sad, come over here and be sad with Eric. My arm's falling asleep." She stood up and Fez quickly sank into her place beside me. "Steven, let's go for a walk. I still feel fat from dinner."
"This isn't a good time, Jackie," Hyde said evenly.
"Oh, come on." She put her hands on her hips. "We've done our watch. Fez and Michael can look after him now."
Hyde shrugged. "Good point. See you later, guys." He gave me a quick pat on the arm, then stood up and followed Jackie upstairs.
Fez was leaning against me with his head on my shoulder, wearing his wounded-puppy expression. "God, sit up," I said, shaking him off.
He glared at me and flopped over the other way, leaning against the sofa's arm. "You bring me down and then you cast me away," he muttered. "Bastard."
My eyes felt swollen and dry. I didn't think I could cry anymore, but I sure didn't want to talk with Fez right now. Kelso was watching us with his mouth hanging open a bit.
"Fuck it," I sighed, getting up to change the channel. "Let's watch TV."
I slouched on the basement couch, watching Saturday morning cartoons and letting the cold cereal Mom had made me take downstairs get warm and soggy. Wile E Coyote ran out over the edge of a cliff. Would he look down and fall? Why yes, yes he would.
I couldn't sleep, I wasn't hungry, and in the two weeks since Donna had broken up with me I'd done nothing but go to work and hang out on this couch feeling sorry for myself. Jackie and Hyde had started hanging out at the Pinciottis' just to get away from me. Fez and Kelso had quietly vanished. I guess I wasn't much fun to hang out with. Besides, they all had their own things keeping them busy. Fez and Hyde were pulling extra shifts at the hotel, Jackie had midterm tests, and Kelso was seriously getting into his Police Academy courses. Their lives were going on. No one was lost in the bitter ashes of regret but me.
I heard the door to Hyde's room open and close, and I looked over my shoulder automatically. I had to do a double take to check I'd seen what I thought I'd seen: Hyde was walking out into the basement wearing a black suit, like he was Secret Service or something.
This sight struck me as the most bizarrely funny thing I'd seen all month. My spirits lifted an inch or so off the floor, and I managed a sardonic grin. "Nice suit. Who died?"
He slipped his sunglasses out of his pocket and put them on. "Remember my friend Randy?"
"Yeah, I remember him beating me up," I said. "What about him?"
"He died. Funeral's in half an hour. See you later." Hyde started for the door.
"What!? Crap, I was joking, I didn't think someone had actually died-" Open mouth. Insert foot. Oh my God, was I ever a dumbass. "Hyde, wait!"
He stopped with his hand on the door to the driveway. "What?" he said, sounding just a little impatient.
"Is Jackie going with you?"
"What the hell for? She's never even heard of him."
"Yeah but..." I raked my hand through my hair. I was floundering here; I knew there were important things I should be saying, but I didn't know what they were. "You should have someone to go with."
Hyde raised one eyebrow at me. "It's a funeral, Forman, not the prom. I don't need a date."
"You should have someone with you," I insisted. Christ, nobody should have to go to a friend's funeral alone. "I'll go."
Hyde hesitated, then nodded. "OK, man," he said. "Hurry up and get dressed. If you're not in my car in five minutes, I'm leaving without you."
I've never thrown on a suit so fast. Inside the five minutes I was sitting in the passenger seat of the El Camino, knotting my tie.
In the car, I didn't know what to say. "How did he die?" I blurted out.
Hyde just grimaced slightly, keeping his eyes on the road. "Wrapped his car around a tree Wednesday night."
He didn't say anything else, and I let the silence stand.
It turned out the funeral was at the Baptist church at the other end of town. I'd never been in it before. The church was about three-quarters full when we got there. Looking around, I realized how different this was from the funerals I'd been to before: there was almost no gray hair in the crowd.
We slid into a pew near the back. I looked at the piece of paper a man had handed me at the door. "Funeral Service for Randolph Cook," it said at the top. It had a list of hymns and readings, kind of like for a normal church service. It had a thick black border.
I looked over at Hyde. He was sitting back, his expression dead neutral. I noticed his copy of the program was crumpled in his fist.
The organ started to play, and everyone stood up for the immediate family to come in. There was a woman about my mom's age with tears running down her face, a pale girl about my age in a black dress, and a grim-faced boy who looked like he was maybe 12 and had never worn a suit before.
The minister called us all to prayer. Then there was a hymn. The books in the pews were different from the ones I was used to, but the hymn was one I knew: "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." I stood up and sang along with everyone else. Beside me, Hyde stood but didn't sing, didn't even pick up a hymnal.
When the minister started what sounded like a sermon, I tuned him out. After 18 years of church it was an automatic reaction. My mind started to wander, and I started thinking about the fact that I was at the funeral of a guy I barely knew and didn't like - and who was my age. Had been my age.
I started imagining what my own funeral would look like if I died tomorrow. It would be kind of like this - more young people than old. Mom and Dad and Laurie would sit in the front row. Mom would weep uncontrollably, Dad would probably sit there looking angry, and Laurie - who knew? She might cry, she might laugh.
Then there'd be my friends. Hyde, Kelso, Jackie, Fez. And probably a bunch of people who knew me a little from school, who'd had classes with me or something - they'd come. I think a death at our age is so shocking, so out-of-the-blue, that people who barely even said 'hello' feel like they need to come and say 'good-bye.' That was the only way to explain why so many people from school were here in the church. They couldn't all have been real friends with Randy. He was a loser and an asshole.
Donna would come to my funeral. Yeah, I'd left her for last, because she was the one who actually hurt to think about. What would she do if I died tomorrow? Would she feel sorry that she'd broken up with me? Would she wish that we'd had a couple more weeks of being happy before the end? I let myself imagine it for a moment: Donna in a sexy black dress, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief and saying to Hyde, 'I didn't realize how much I loved him until he was gone.'
Shit, what if Donna died tomorrow? Then I'd be the one wishing I'd done something differently before it was too late. The last time I saw her, I yelled at her and turned my back on her and told her to leave. I think I had a right to be angry and hurt - I was still angry and hurt - but I wished I could take back some of the things I'd said. I wished I hadn't told her that being gay was unnatural and wrong. I didn't even believe that bullshit, I just knew that most of the people around us believed it. Hell, I'd got beaten up a couple times in high school when rumors were going around that I was gay. In fact, Randy-the-dead-guy was one of the ones who'd spread the rumors and beat me up. I'd never told Donna the whole truth about that. I was afraid now that she didn't know what she was getting into - she didn't really understand the danger. Not like I did.
"I now invite Frank Green to come forward and say a few words in memory of his friend," said the minister.
I recognized Frank from school, and from the time he'd helped Randy beat me up. Today his scraggy blond hair was slicked back, and he wore a dark blue suit that looked a little too big for him. Standing at the front of the church, right in front of the closed coffin, he looked out at all of us and cleared his throat. "Um, hi," he said. He pulled a sheet of loose-leaf out of his jacket pocket and unfolded it. "Randy was, like, my best friend." He glanced at Randy's graduation photo, which was standing on top of the coffin. "I've known him since we were kids," he read from his notes. "He had a great sense of humor and he always was there for me. He made some mistakes, but he was a good guy. I miss him." Frank's voice cracked; it didn't sound like he was going to make it through the speech without breaking down. He crumpled the paper, and said "Play it now," to someone I couldn't see, off to the side. "This was his favorite song," Frank managed to say.
There must've been a stereo up there somewhere, because all of a sudden the church was filled with Mick Jagger singing "Paint It Black." I felt my eyes tearing up. I think it was the strangeness of listening to the Rolling Stones in a church that got to me - that, and thinking about Donna again.
I looked over at Hyde. He was perfectly Zen - no sign of emotion at all.
After the service, there was a reception downstairs. We stood in line, waiting to give our condolences to Randy's family. I remembered going through that at my grandparents' funerals - the long blur of people I barely knew telling me how sorry they were for my loss.
Hyde was in front of me in line. When he got to the family, Randy's mom greeted him with a wavering smile.
"Steve," she said, "You're all grown up."
"Hi, Mrs. Cook," he said. "I'm really sorry." And he hugged her. It was a real hug, raising her to her tiptoes, and it looked like she squeezed him tight in return. He said something else to her, too soft for me to hear. They held on for what felt like a long time. It really hit me: they knew each other, they had this whole history together that I didn't know about. She even called Hyde by a different nickname; no one I knew ever called him 'Steve.' This was a part of Hyde's life I'd never had access to.
"Wherever Randy is, I know he's glad you came," Mrs. Cook said when they let go.
Hyde shrugged, and said "Take care, Mrs. Cook."
"I'm sorry for your loss," I said, feeling like an impostor. Mrs. Cook shook my offered hand, and thanked me, but I don't think she saw me at all.
Meanwhile, Hyde was facing the 12-year-old boy. "This sucks, Billy," he said. "Don't let it ruin your life."
"I'm sorry for your loss," I said to Billy.
"Hi Diane," Hyde said to the pale-faced girl.
"You know where I live. If you need anything else, call me," he said quietly. She nodded.
"I'm sorry for your loss," I said to Diane.
As soon as we were away from Randy's family, Hyde headed for the exit without a word. I followed him out into the church parking lot.
"Heads up, Forman," he said, and tossed his keys to me.
"Huh?" I fingered the keys, warm from his pocket. "You want me to drive the El Camino?"
"Yep." He stood there calmly, hands in his pockets, waiting for me to go ahead and open the car door.
While I let us into the car, I tried to guess what was going on in his head. That was never an easy thing to do with Hyde. But, OK, we'd just left his friend's funeral. He had to be sad, right? Any normal person would be sad. He didn't look sad, but he'd just told me to drive his car, so that had to mean...something. He didn't trust himself driving.
"Home?" I said.
I pulled us out onto the road carefully, getting the feel of the car. I'd never driven the El Camino before.
"Um, how are you doing?" I asked after what felt to me like a long awkward silence.
Hyde shrugged. "Fine. You?"
I shrugged too. "Feeling kind of weird about stuff. I started thinking about life and death..."
He kind of snorted. "At a funeral? That's original."
"I think I should drive down to Madison tomorrow and try to make things up with Donna. I mean, what if one of us died? I wouldn't want our last conversation to be a fight."
"Gonna beg her to take you back?"
I shook my head. Of course, he didn't know the real reason that she'd broken up with me. "No. I'm going to try to be friends again. It worked before."
"Yeah, well." Enough about me. "Seriously, Hyde, how are you doing?"
I heard an exasperated sigh. "Fine. Could you just shut the hell up for a few minutes?"
"OK," I agreed, and then proceeded to not shut up. "Do you remember what my mom did after grandma died?"
"She baked. She baked like crazy. It got almost frightening. She used up all the flour in the house. She baked instead of eating, instead of sleeping, instead of watching TV..."
"Sounds like Kitty, all right."
"The point of this story is, she was pretending she was fine, and she really wasn't. We were all doing it - my whole family. And then we got together and admitted that we were sad, and we hugged, and we felt better."
He gave me a funny look. "Even Laurie?"
"Well, no, not Laurie. I don't really consider her family..."
"You do get my point, right?"
"I don't want to talk about feelings, Forman."
"But you do have them, right?"
In response, he reached for the dashboard and turned on the radio. He kept turning the knob 'till the volume was so high I felt the steering wheel vibrating. Then he sat back with his arms crossed, wearing a thin smile, and let Alice Cooper do all the talking for us.
Back in jeans and a t-shirt, and holding a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, I knocked on the door to Hyde's room.
"Who is it?"
"Me. Can I come in?"
He was lying on his back on the cot, wearing nothing but white boxers and his sunglasses. The suit was hanging from a pipe in the ceiling over at the edge of the room.
"I brought you some ice cream."
He raised his eyebrows at me. "It's kind of cold for that."
"It's mint chocolate chip," I said, making my voice all singsong.
He sighed, and sat up. "What's this about, Forman? Are you still trying to be supportive or something?"
I swallowed. There was something about the way his abs moved as he sat up that made me feel tingly...and that was in the class of Things That Are Not Appropriate To Notice. Especially now. "I just had some ice cream. Thought you might like some." Of course I was trying to be supportive, but the only way to do that for Hyde was to trick him into thinking I wasn't doing it. Or something. It was complicated, anyway.
"Well, I don't."
I shrugged, sat down on the cot and started eating it myself. I'd lied about already having some.
Hyde stood up, and searched around on the floor for pants to put on. He found a pair of brown cords. I caught myself staring at him getting dressed. I looked down at the ice cream before he could notice.
"What do you want, Forman?" he asked, sounded slightly pissed. I looked up; he'd pulled on a Pink Floyd t-shirt, too, and now he was glaring down at me. "Do you want me to tell you how sad I am, ask for a hug, and spill out a bunch of funny, wistful stories about when Randy and I used to hang out together? Do you want me to cry, so you can feel like you're helping me through some fucking stage of grief?"
"Ummm," I hesitated. I guess I'd been vaguely imagining something along those lines.
"I'm not sad, OK? I'm angry."
"OK." Wow, Hyde just admitted to having a feeling. That didn't happen every day. I sat up straighter and let the spoon rest in the ice cream. "Why?"
"How do you think Randy drove into a tree at 50 miles per hour on a clear night?" Hyde didn't exactly raise his voice, but he sounded... tight.
"Um, he fell asleep?"
"He was fucking drunk. And he had his girlfriend in the car with him."
"Damn," I swore softly. "Was she hurt?"
"Not badly, she was wearing her seat belt. She was at the funeral. The tall brunette who sat up front with Randy's family."
"Yeah. Remember the phone call at seven a.m. Thursday?"
"No." I didn't wake up 'till 7:30 on work days.
"That was Diane, trying to find someone to drive her home from the hospital."
"Why'd she call you?"
He shrugged. "She couldn't get hold of anyone else."
"I can't believe you didn't say anything on Thursday." I put the ice cream down and stood up, face-to-face with him. "If I hadn't seen you walking out the door to the funeral, you wouldn't have told me about this at all, would you?"
"Why would I?"
"Because - because Jesus, Hyde, I'm your best friend!"
His expression sort of tensed for a moment, but he kept the calm mask on. It had to be a mask - he'd said he was angry. "I said I don't want to talk about this, Forman. Why don't you just get out of here?"
He wasn't going to get rid of me until I was sure that he was OK. "Know what scares me?" I said, stepping in closer and speaking softer. "What if you hadn't stopped hanging out with Randy? What if you'd been in that car?" I hadn't even realized I was thinking it until I said it, but as soon as I did, I felt all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
It was always so hard to read his eyes through the sunglasses. "If it wasn't for your family, I might've been," he said, quiet and tight.
I hugged him. I don't think he wanted me to, but I needed it. He stood stiff at first, but then he put his arms around me and returned the hug. While we stood here, he whispered, "Thanks for coming with me to the funeral."
"You're welcome," I whispered back.
We broke apart, and he tugged his shirt straight. I felt like we'd just done something important, but I wasn't sure what.
"I've gotta return the suit," he said. "See you later."
Donna approached me with a wary look in her eyes. "What are you doing here?"
I glanced at the girl at the reception desk, who was watching us with interest. She was probably a student who lived in this residence, and I didn't want to say anything too private in front of her. "I came to apologize."
Donna looked a little surprised, and still cautious. She probably thought I was here on some begging-for-another-chance mission. "OK, we can talk in the common room," she said, and started walking.
"Um," I said softly, trotting to catch up, "there are some things I'd rather not say in front of other people."
"No kidding," she replied in an undertone. "Don't worry, I'm going to sneak you up to my room."
After the plans for Donna and me to live together had fallen through, Bob had insisted that Donna live in one of the women-only dorms at Madison. Kind of ironic, when you thought about it. Anyway, I remembered now that male visitors weren't allowed upstairs.
We snuck up a back stairwell. Donna checked that the hall was clear, and hustled me into her room. I'd never been in there before; I was amazed at how small it was, especially considering she had a roommate. I recognized a lot of Donna's stuff from home - her bedspread, her lamp, some books, the toaster we'd bought together.
"Is it OK if I sit on your bed?" I asked. There was nowhere to sit other than the beds; the room was too cramped for chairs.
"Sure," she said, sitting on her roommate's bed. She was wearing a white wool sweater, and bell-bottom jeans. When she tucked her feet up under her, I could see she was wearing candy-cane striped socks. I was with her when she bought those socks. "OK, what do you want to say?" she asked.
I met her eyes, fighting back the sadness that threatened to overwhelm me as I thought about sock shopping in happier days. "I don't want to lose your friendship, Donna, no matter what. And I wanted you to know I didn't mean some of the things I said at Thanksgiving. I was just so shocked..."
She gave me a sad smile. "I'm sorry, too, for springing it all on you like that. I mean, I couldn't think of a better way...but I can understand why you were angry."
"I'm scared for you, Donna. What's going to happen when you tell your dad?"
"It can't be that much worse than telling everyone we were engaged," she said with a sort of laugh.
"Yes it can! It will be! Donna, he could disown you!"
"Shhh, calm down, Eric," Donna said, reaching across the narrow gap between the beds to put her hand on my arm. "I was joking - gallows humor, get it? I know it'll be hard. There's a gay/lesbian youth group here, and I've started going to it. I've met a guy who got caught with another guy in his bedroom when he was sixteen, and his parents kicked him out onto the street. But no matter how hard it is, it can't be as bad as living a lie for my entire life."
"I'm not so sure about that..." I said. "Look, Donna, I've had the crap beaten out of me before because some guys thought I was gay. I can't imagine going through life like that."
Donna gave me a startled look. "What the hell? When did that happen?"
"A couple years ago. It's not important... I was too embarrassed to tell you about it."
"See, that's exactly the problem!" Donna said, slapping her knee with her open hand. "You didn't want to talk about it. No one wants to talk about it. It's all hidden under the surface, and the assholes keep getting away with it."
"Well, what can you do about it? They can hurt you!" I realized I wasn't so much trying to talk Donna out of being a lesbian as I was trying to justify the choices I'd made two years ago. I'd chosen Donna over Hyde...not because I loved her more, but because I was afraid of what it would mean to choose Hyde. I was afraid of getting killed.
Donna had always been braver than me. Damn her.
"Eric, I know this is hard to believe, but it's worth the risk. I can't live in that lie. I can't settle down with you and have your children. I have to change the world, instead." Her eyes shone, and I knew she meant what she said.
"Does it have to be a lie, though?" I asked quietly. I was back at the crossroads I'd left behind two years ago, but the landscape was changed. I picked up a throw pillow from her bed and fiddled with it, trying to keep myself calm. "Can't there be more than one truth? I mean...can someone be gay and straight?"
She shook her head slowly. "I don't think so. I mean, they're like...opposite."
"Donna...what if I'm gay, too?" I could hear my own heart beating.
She smiled, like she thought I'd made a joke. "Don't worry, Eric, dating a lesbian doesn't make you gay. That's not how it works."
"Donna..." My voice felt all squeaky. I was so scared. I felt my way through the words carefully. "I think...I was in love with a guy once."
She stared at me in silence for the space of three or four breaths. "You're serious," she said finally, in a tone of wonder. "Who?"
"But I can't be gay," I went on. "Because I know I was in love with you. I wanted to spend my life with you."
"Well..." Donna pushed a couple strands of hair back from her face, looking at me intently. "What makes you think you were in love with this guy?"
"The same kinds of things that made me think I was in love with you." I shrugged. It was a hard question, actually; I didn't analyze being in love, I just knew when it happened. "I, uh, cared about him a lot. When bad things happened to him, I wished they could happen to me instead. I liked spending time with him. He made me feel, uh, good. Just by being there. And when I kissed him I felt - you know. Tingly-down-there." I flopped down onto the bed and pressed the throw pillow over my face. I couldn't believe I was admitting this - to Donna!
"You kissed!?" I heard the incredulity in Donna's voice. "My God, Eric, I had no idea - wow. So he felt the same way about you?"
"I guess so," I said through the pillow. Somehow it was easier to talk into a pillow. "He said it first - he said he loved me. He was really drunk, though. The next day it was like it never happened. I'm not sure if he even remembers."
I felt Donna sit on the bed beside me, and then she pulled the pillow away from my face. "One drunk groping session doesn't make you gay. When did this happen?"
"Junior year. And it wasn't just one time...it was twice. And we weren't drunk the first time."
She raised an eyebrow. "Were you stoned?"
"Oh my God, Eric, we're talking about one of the guys, aren't we?" she asked excitedly. "Is it Fez?"
I was starting to get annoyed with how lightly she was taking this. I mean, when she told me she was gay, I didn't laugh. "No! It's not Fez."
"Oh my God, it isn't Hyde?"
"No," I said, but I guess I didn't say it as quickly or convincingly as the first two times, because Donna gasped.
"You and Hyde - holy shit!"
We sat there in silence for a little bit. I don't know what she was thinking; I was just freaking out at what I'd revealed. That was not in the plan when I came here tonight.
"It doesn't matter," I said finally. "He's dating Jackie now."
"Are you still in love with him?"
"Damn it, Donna! I chose you! I tried to forget about him!"
She blinked at my shouting, but she stayed calm. "How can you forget about someone when he lives in your basement and you hang out with him every day?"
There was no answer for that. I hadn't forgotten about Hyde. Even while Donna and I were going through all our drama, a part of me was always watching him, reacting to him, wishing I could take him back into his room and hold him and whisper in his ear that it was all a mistake, I meant to choose him. And when I'd caught him kissing Jackie, God had I ever resented her.
"Eric?" Donna said softly. "Are you OK?"
"I don't think he's even happy with Jackie," I said.
"Well, she is a bitch." Donna put an arm over my shoulder. "But Hyde can take care of himself."
"I guess," I said with a halfhearted shrug. Donna hadn't been around to see the head games Jackie was playing with Hyde lately. Still, it's not like it was any of my business.
Except that he was my best friend. And I loved him.
Monday night, Jackie showed up at my house just as we were finishing dessert. She took the piece of apple pie that Mom offered her, and followed Hyde and me down into the basement.
"I hate being the only one still in high school," Jackie said as she settled onto the couch, tucked in the crook of Hyde's arm. "It sucked today."
"So? School always sucks," Hyde said.
"Today we spent the whole morning in the stinky gym, in this awful assembly." Jackie wrinkled her nose. "The whole thing was this big long lecture about how you shouldn't drink and drive. I guess some guy who just graduated last year got himself killed driving drunk last week. Everyone was all totally depressed all day. I mean, who the hell is this guy? Why should I care? No one I hang out with is that stupid."
I was practically choking on my own tongue, trying and failing to think of a way to deflect Jackie or warn her. Hyde, meanwhile, didn't even flinch. "Are we going to watch TV, or not?" he asked.
"A guy is dead, Jackie." I felt like I had to speak for Hyde, if he wasn't going to. "Try to show a little respect."
"For what?" Jackie asked, rolling her eyes. "If someone's an idiot when they're alive, they shouldn't become a saint just because they're dead."
"She's right, Forman." Hyde glared at me. He clearly wanted me to drop it, so I did.
We watched TV for a bit, and then Jackie started bugging Hyde to take her to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. After saying 'no' three times, he ended up saying 'yes,' so they left.
I was still sitting on the basement couch, watching TV, when Hyde came back in at about ten o'clock.
"Jackie gone home?" I greeted him as he kicked off his boots and hung up his coat.
"How was the mall?"
He flopped down on the couch beside me. "It was a cesspool of rampant consumerism."
I couldn't help smiling at his laconic indignation. But this brought back the point that I'd been dwelling on all evening: Jackie and Hyde made no sense together.
"Hyde...did you talk to Jackie about Randy?"
"Why would I?" He propped his feet up on the spool table. One of his socks had a hole in its toe.
"Because she brought it up, and you still didn't say anything...you know that's messed up, right?" I glanced over at him in time to see his shoulders falling in a silent sigh.
"I don't talk about stuff with Jackie, Forman. She talks. I tune her out. She makes me do errands. We make out, we have sex. She's hot. That's the whole deal."
I frowned. "That doesn't seem right...do you think it's fair to Jackie, keeping her closed out like that?"
Hyde narrowed his eyes behind his sunglasses, like he was trying to figure out what I was getting at. "We both get what we need out of it. And it's really none of your business, Forman."
"I know..." I fell silent, and we watched the 10 o'clock news for a while. When it cut to a commercial for bathroom cleaners, I looked over at him and asked, "Do you love her?"
"What?" He gave me a look of total disbelief. "Did Jackie put you up to this?"
"No! Jesus, Hyde, it's a simple enough question."
Hyde tilted his head a bit, looking at me. "This is really about you and Donna, isn't it?"
"No. Well, kind of..." I was getting into dangerous territory here. My instinct was to turn and flee. But that was the same instinct that had led me to tell Hyde that kissing him was a mistake; it was the instinct that had led to two years of pretending nothing had ever happened between us. And now here I was with nobody, watching him settling for a relationship he was barely in skin-deep. It was time for me to take a risk. "When I visited Donna yesterday we had a serious talk about love. And, uh, I..." I couldn't say it.
"You what?" Hyde prompted, obviously not having a clue what I was getting at.
I took a deep breath, searching wildly for the right words. "Do you remember the night I slept down here with you?"
His eyes opened wide behind his sunglasses. I was pretty sure he hadn't seen that one coming. "Why the hell are you bringing that up now?" he asked quietly, with a definite edge to his voice.
"I was so scared back then," I said. "I let the fear control me...I was a coward. And I was hoping there might be..." I swallowed, watching my thin, nervous reflection in his sunglasses, "...a second chance."
He looked at me for a moment or two, not moving, not showing any expression on his face. My mouth felt so dry. Then he spoke, in a low, even tone. "I do love Jackie. And fuck you, Eric." He stood up quickly, and a moment later I heard the door to his room slam shut.
I clenched my fists so hard I felt my fingernails digging into my palms. Fuck. I slammed my fists into the sofa cushions. I was such a jerk. I'd screwed everything up. What the hell was I going to do now?
Feeling like the biggest dumbass in the world, I went upstairs to bed.
I woke up with a weird feeling, like something wasn't quite right. It was still dark; I squinted over at my clock and saw it was about 2:30 a.m..
A large shape moved in the darkness, and my bed creaked. Someone was sitting beside me on my bed.
"agmf!" I started to let out a startled yell, but a strong hand covered my mouth, stifling it.
"Shh, Forman, it's just me," Hyde whispered. He took his hand off my mouth.
"What are you doing here?" I whispered, rubbing my eyes.
In response, he kissed me.
I wondered what the hell was going on, but I wasn't dumb enough to ask. I kissed him back with the built-up passion of two years. I kissed him deeply, darting my tongue in to taste him. His sandpaper stubble scratched the edges of my lips and I welcomed the rough sensation. God, I'd missed this.
He ripped at the buttons of my pajama top, and in a moment he had it off me. He ran his hands over my bare chest, still kissing me, and I moaned softly. His hands were a little rough, much bigger than Donna's. I wanted to feel them on me everywhere.
"Can I take your shirt off?" I whispered hoarsely. I remembered one important thing from the last time I'd been with Hyde like this: he had invisible scars, and it wasn't a good idea to push too fast.
He didn't say yes, he just started unbuttoning himself. The dim light filtering through my curtains from the streetlight outside was just barely enough to see what he was doing. He was wearing flannel pj's, and he'd left the sunglasses behind. His hair fell down a little over his face as he looked down at his buttons. I brushed the curls back, and leaned in to kiss his face. He let his shirt slip down off his shoulders, and I pulled it the rest of the way off and tossed it to the side. I caressed his shoulders, his chest, his belly, reveling in his smooth warmth. His scent was driving me wild. I nipped his shoulder with my teeth, hoping he'd be rougher with me in return. I wanted to feel more.
We kissed for a while, shirtless, twining our arms around each other. I loved the feeling of his hands running over my body. I'd have worried it was a dream, except no dream could possibly be that tactile.
Without warning, he slipped his hand through the fly of my pajama pants. My dick was aching-hard, of course. I gasped at the feel of his hand wrapped around me, and my fingers tightened on his shoulders. I felt him ease my dick out through the fly, and then...Sweet Jesus He went down on me.
Every muscle in my body seemed to burn with exquisite tension. I couldn't continue sitting up against the rush of sensation; I fell backwards onto the bed, moaning his name. His mouth was warm on me, and rough, and his tongue teased at just the right places. He knew those places; they were his places, too. He bobbed his head, taking me in so deep, and I stifled the cries that built in my throat. My hands clenched, pulling at the blankets under me, and my back arched. I felt my climax building, white-hot all through me. "Stop," I gasped, and I grabbed his hair to pull him off me before I came in his mouth. I wrapped my own right hand around my dick where his mouth had been, and held on to the memory of a moment ago, and stroked myself quickly. I clenched my teeth to keep myself silent as I felt the bright waves of the orgasm wash through me. I kept my left hand cupped over the end of my dick to catch my hot cum.
As soon as it was over I reached for the tissue box beside my bed, and I cleaned myself up. I saw that Hyde was sitting at the edge of the bed, so I draped myself over his shoulders in a warm, boneless hug. "That was so good," I whispered.
His shoulders shook like he was laughing silently. I smiled; I was too mellow now for laughing, but I felt like I'd been swallowed by a warm, happy bubble. I got up on my knees so I could reach over his shoulder to kiss his rough cheek.
His cheek was wet. "Get off," he said tightly, and he shook me off so he could stand up.
"Wait!" I leapt to my feet and grabbed his arm before he reached the door. "No fucking way am I letting you walk out now." I got myself between him and the door, and he glared at me, but I reached up to brush my thumb over his face and yes, I'd been right...damp tracks of tears ran down his cheek. I didn't know what the fuck was going on with him, but I was going to find out. "What's wrong, Steven?" I asked as gently as I knew how. He didn't say anything, so I hugged him. I could feel him trembling. I started getting scared, because I had no idea why he was breaking down. I'd never seen Hyde cry before - not when we were kids, not when Bud left or when Edna did, not even two days ago at Randy's funeral. It was eerie, the way he wasn't making any sound at all. He didn't even seem to be breathing, just standing there, so tense he was shaking, and when I touched his cheek I could feel tears running down it. "Come back to the bed," I whispered. "Whatever's wrong, it'll be OK, I promise."
He let me pull him over to the bed, and down onto it. I quickly turned on the bedside lamp, hoping light would help somehow, and then I sat next to him, one arm wrapped tight around his shoulders, the other hand stroking his springy hair. Every once in a while I heard and felt him take a shuddering breath, but other than that he was completely silent, and still except for the trembling. His eyes were squeezed closed, but tears were running quietly down his cheeks. I wasn't sure he still knew I was there. "I'm sorry, Steven," I whispered. "I don't know what to do....it'll be OK...."
Finally, he opened his eyes and looked at me. "If we'd had sex that night, would you still have chosen Donna?"
"What?" Where the hell did that come from? "You know that's not what it was about."
"No?" he whispered harshly. He pushed me away from him. "What about now? Donna dumps you, and suddenly I'm good enough for you."
OK, I could see why he'd think that. God, I must've seemed like an asshole. "It's not like that!" Damn, it was hard to keep my voice pitched low, but my parents' room was just down the hall, and Mom had been sleeping fitfully since she started menopause. "Donna made me realize I couldn't let fear rule my life. That's why I asked for a second chance."
"What do you have to be afraid of?" he hissed.
"Oh, I don't know, how about getting the crap beaten out of me by guys like Richard?!" Now we were fighting. Why the hell were we fighting?
"Who the fuck is Richard?"
"The guy who beat me up in gym class because he thought I was gay, remember? The reason we decided it was too dangerous to do things like this?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You saw the bruises, remember? After I got you home from the reservoir? And you made me tell you what happened..." I trailed off. He was shaking his head slowly. "How can you not remember?" I said, kind of stunned. That had been one of the most intense, frightening, painful nights of my entire life. I still remembered every detail like it was yesterday - his footprints in the snow, the icy bottle of moonshine he'd tried to share with me...fuuuck. I knew he'd been really fucking drunk - but drunk enough to black out the entire night? "Do you remember me finding you at the reservoir?"
He shook his head again. "I waited for you to come downstairs," he said quietly. "You didn't come for a long time. Then you did, just to tell me it was all a mistake. I was...mad, when you left. I remember walking out to the reservoir, I remember finding Randy's special tree...then nothing. I woke up in the basement at noon the next day with a hangover from hell and my knuckles ripped to shreds."
"Crap," I whispered. "I can't believe it. Steven, I followed you out there. I brought you home. You were...God, you were so cold, and so drunk, you could barely walk. I probably should have brought you to the hospital, but I was dumb and scared, so I warmed you up with my body....and then I went and made hot chocolate, and you saw the bruises on my ribs from where Richard beat me up that day."
"Shit," he took my hand and squeezed it, "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Because I thought you knew."
"Christ." He let himself fall back onto the bed, laughing softly. "We're both idiots. We deserve each other."
"Why did you come up here tonight?" I asked him, laying my hand lightly on his chest. His chest hair was soft, and his skin was warm. I could feel his heart beating under my fingers.
"To see if I could do it this time." His tone was detached and ironic, but I could feel his heartbeat speeding up.
"Oh God," I whispered. I remembered the first thing he'd asked me tonight - if we'd had sex that first night, would I still have chosen Donna? I understood the question now. The pieces fell into place - he didn't remember what happened after the reservoir. He didn't remember me telling him I loved him. All he remembered was me telling him the night we'd spent together was a mistake, and that I chose Donna over him - with no explanation. So all this time, he'd been afraid that I dumped him because he wouldn't have sex with me.
I lay down next to him, keeping my hand over his racing heart. "I'm so sorry," I said softly, feeling my throat tighten up like I was about to start crying myself. I felt like such a jerk for not realizing any of this sooner. Sure, Hyde didn't exactly make it easy to figure him out, but I should have managed somehow. It was up to me; there was no one else in the world he let this close. "I never wanted to hurt you. I would have stayed with you forever, sex or no sex. I was just too damn scared of what would happen if we got caught."
He sort of laughed. "I wanted to have sex with you, Eric. I wanted you so bad...I just couldn't."
Once again, that bastard Stu loomed over us like an evil cloud.
"Have you ever talked to anyone about it?" I asked, finding his hand and squeezing it. I don't know who I thought he could have talked to - Jackie, maybe?
"What the hell for? It's water under the bridge, man. 'Uncle' Stu used to make me suck his dick. That was eight years ago. Nothing's going to change now."
I didn't miss the way he said it. "So it happened more than once." The only other time we'd talked about this, he'd said it was a one-time thing. That was when he was trying to convince me that he wasn't totally fucked up by it, and that Donna and I shouldn't go to the school guidance counselor about it.
"It doesn't matter. It's over."
"OK." I was still worried about him, but I knew I had a snowball's chance in hell of getting him to get counseling or anything like that. All I could do was be here for him, like I should have been before. I kissed him. "Let me help you forget him?" I murmured against his lips. "I promise, I'll never, ever do anything you don't want me to. And besides, remember I'm a skinny little dork and you can kick my ass."
He smiled a bit. "You're not so skinny anymore. I think you're finally hitting that growth spurt."
"But you could still kick my ass."
"Hell yeah." He grinned, then grabbed me and flipped me over on my back. He pressed me into the bed and kissed me hard, and I parted my lips to let his tongue in. Oh man, was it ever good to kiss him again!
I wanted to make him feel as good as he'd made me feel. I wanted to have sex that wasn't tainted by anger and misunderstandings and fear. "Is it OK if I touch your dick?" I whispered in his ear. It felt weird to say the words, but that was the only way to make sure he knew what was coming and was OK with it.
His eyes widened slightly; they were still a little red from crying earlier, but anyone seeing him now would just think he was stoned or something. He only hesitated a moment before he said "yeah."
I gave him a little push so he rolled over on his back, and I propped myself up on one elbow, lying alongside him. My dick was hard again, pressed against the side of his hip, but my focus now was on him, not me. I slipped my hand in through the fly of his pajamas and eased his dick out, just like he'd done to me earlier. I felt a little jolt of pleasure just touching him. His dick was smooth and hot and firm, and a bit thicker around than mine. I ran my thumb up and down it lightly, and he shivered. "Still OK?" I whispered.
"Fuck yeah." He smiled with his eyes closed.
I watched his face carefully as I wrapped my fingers tighter around his shaft and started making slow, even strokes up and down. He bit his lower lip and groaned softly.
"Open your eyes," I whispered. I wanted him to focus on me, to not forget for a moment who he was with.
He did what I told him. "You're beautiful," he murmured.
Beautiful, hm? OK, I could accept that. Beautiful didn't have to mean girly.
"Hold on a second." I let go of him; he didn't say anything, but he let out a quiet sigh. "Don't worry, I just want to get something..." I grabbed the bottle of lube that was hidden in my bedside table, and squirted a little into my palm. I rubbed it around to warm it up, then grasped his dick again and started where I left off, now with smoother strokes.
"God, that's nice," he breathed. "Man, you must practice this a lot."
I snickered. "I've been practicing for this my whole life." I bent down to kiss his mouth, while my hand kept working him, gripping firmer now and moving faster. I made a narrow gap between my thumb and forefinger to push the head through on each down stroke, because I knew that felt nice when I did it for me - I was rewarded with a gasp, and he bit down on my lip almost enough to hurt. I moved away slightly so he wouldn't accidentally bite me again, and kept doing what I was doing. His eyes were still wide open, and I noticed for maybe the first time ever that they were blue. And I realized: he was beautiful, too.
"Oh God," he gasped suddenly, and his eyes did close now, and he banged his head back against the pillow with an expression that looked almost like pain, but I knew it what it was even before I felt his warm cum spilling over my hand. I felt a complicated mix of triumph, affection and protectiveness. I'd made Hyde come. Wow.
I grabbed a couple tissues and quickly cleaned us up while he lay there with kind of a silly grin on his face. Then I lay down beside him, facing him. I hugged my arm around him, and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks for letting me do that," I whispered.
"Anytime, man" he said, grinning wider.
My happy feelings spilled over into quiet giggles. I kissed him again, just lightly on the lips. "I love you," I said. I didn't realize I was going to say it until it popped out - it just felt so natural right now, part of the warm happy glow. But it wasn't a mistake - Donna had made me think about what love was, and I'd realized that I did love Hyde. I had for a long time.
He was being pretty quiet, though. "You don't have to say it back," I said. "It's OK."
He rolled over so he was on his side, too, facing me. "I do," he said softly, as serious and intense as I'd ever seen him.
"You do have to say it? Or you do love me?"
His lips flickered into a soft smile. "Both."
I felt so happy in that moment, I was dizzy with it. I moved in to kiss him again, knowing that after tonight, things were going to be different. This time it was going to work out right.