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 stared at the note for a moment, my blood frozen. Then I came to my senses and crumpled it up before Donna could see it.
"What was that?" she asked. She was leaning against the lockers next to mine, only half paying attention to me.
"Huh? Nothing, just an old math quiz. Here's your book," I said, digging out the copy of Lord of the Flies that I'd borrowed from her.
"Thanks. So you're not going home yet?"
"Nope, gotta go to the library and work on that History project."
"If you hadn't goofed off in class when he gave us time to work on it, you wouldn't have to do it all at the last minute..."
"And then you wouldn't have to walk home," I finished the thought for her. "But life is tough."
"Oh well, I can catch Kelso before he leaves." She kissed me quickly. "Bye, useless boyfriend."
I went down to the school library and tried to get myself to focus on Roman Architecture...but it just wasn't happening. Who the hell was putting those notes in my locker? That was the third one in the past two weeks, and I was getting fucking scared. All these questions kept swirling around in my mind: Who were they? What else were they planning to do to me? What did they know?
For the thousandth time since I found the first note, I told myself that they couldn't possibly know anything. The only person in the world who knew that I'd ever kissed a boy was Hyde, and hell would freeze over before he ever told anyone I'd kissed him. And there was that time Buddy kissed me, but I let him know right away I wasn't into it. And nobody knew about that but Hyde, and Donna, and Jackie, and Fez, and Kelso. Oh, and Buddy. Oh God.
Thirty minutes later, I had a two-page report on the Coliseum, half-plagiarized from three different encyclopedias. Good enough. I headed out.
There were hardly any cars left in the student parking lot. I headed for the Vista Cruiser.
"Hey, faggot!" someone yelled.
Oh, crap. I looked up and saw three guys hanging out by a blue Ford wagon, all of them looking my way. I recognized two of them as losers I'd been avoiding since middle school: Randy and Frank. I didn't really know the other one, but I thought his name was Chris. Were these the idiots who'd been putting those notes in my locker? I clenched my fists and then thought through it: three of them, one of me, and I'm a skinny weakling. I looked away, tucked my hands into my coat pockets, and kept walking towards my car.
They weren't letting me off that easy. They started walking towards me faster than I was walking away; I was scared, but not scared enough to break into a run and lose any dignity that I might possibly have left in this situation.
"Hey, fag, don't walk away when I'm talking to you," Randy said, getting right in my face. He was built like Hyde, but he had stringy black hair and a face made for scowling.
"I'm not a fag, I have a girlfriend, dumbass," I said, trying to sound like a dangerous man rather than a scared little girl.
Frank, on my right, gave me a shove that knocked me off balance for a couple steps sideways. "Your girlfriend is a dyke," he said.
"Hey!" I glared at him. Insulting me was one thing; starting in on Donna was another. "You take that back!"
"What are you going to do, pansy?" said Chris, and he shoved me the other way, back towards Frank.
"You know, Eric likes to look at naked boys in the locker room," Randy said conversationally. "Isn't that true, Eric?"
"Fuck off!" I yelled, and tried to punch him in the face. He ducked to the side and I missed, and then his fist connected with my jaw. I saw stars and staggered backwards, but amazingly I didn't fall down.
"Hey!" yelled a familiar voice, at the same time Randy punched me in the gut. Doubled over in pain, I heard Hyde say "Get off him, asshole!"
Randy's feet backed away from me a couple steps - that's all I could see. "Hi, Steve. You still hanging out with this pansy-ass?" he said.
"Why don't you get the fuck out of here before I decide to tell Diane what you did last summer?" Hyde said calmly.
Frank gave me another shove and said softly "You're not worth the trouble, fag." And the guys walked away, laughing to each other.
I wanted to thank Hyde for saving my ass, but I was too busy puking onto the asphalt.
"You OK, Forman?" Hyde asked as soon as my stomach stopped heaving. "Give me your car keys, I think we'd better get out of here before they decide to do something even stupider."
When I stood up, I saw that the three guys had gone back to their car - Frank and Chris were leaning against the car, getting cigarettes out of a pack. Randy was sitting on the hood, smirking in our direction and already smoking.
"Just walk away, man," Hyde said under his breath, and I followed him to the Vista Cruiser, not ready to think about anything just yet other than whether I was going to puke again.
I got in the passenger side and then huddled there, arms around my stomach, while Hyde drove us out of the parking lot.
"So," I said as we turned onto the street, "I guess I owe you a quarter." I looked over at Hyde, and his expression almost scared me. His mouth and eyes were hard and angry. He'd definitely lost the Zen.
He slammed his right hand, open-palmed, against the steering wheel. "Fuck those guys."
"Thanks for getting rid of them," I said, gingerly touching my chin. My fingers came away bloody. "Seemed like you know them better than I do." That was surprising, but useful, because whoever Diane was, Hyde's threat had got us out of there in one piece.
"I'm sorry about this, man," Hyde said.
"Sorry?" I repeated, confused for a moment. Then I understood... "You told them! Jesus Christ, Hyde, they're going to kill me!"
"Told them what?"
"About me kissing guys!"
"What?! Are you crazy, Forman?"
"You didn't tell them? Then why the hell do they think I'm gay?"
"They what?" Hyde said. "Wait, is that why they were beating you up?"
"Uh, yeah..." Maybe I was a bit woozy from the blow to the head, but I felt like Hyde and I weren't quite connecting in this conversation. "Why did you think?"
Hyde waited a moment before answering. "Randy has a problem with me. Remember a while back, you found out I was carrying a knife? Randy was the reason why." He glanced over at me. "Hey, Forman, you're dripping blood."
"Oh. Yeah." I didn't want to get bloodstains on my own car. I reached under the seat and found a crushed box of tissues; I wadded up a couple and pressed them against my lip. "Why was Randy threatening you?" I wondered if Randy'd decided Hyde was gay, too.
"He found out I'd screwed his girlfriend," Hyde replied evenly. The Zen was back, in full force.
Great. Hyde gets threatened for being a stud; I get beat up for being a fag. And I still didn't know why Randy and those guys suddenly decided I was an offense to their masculinity; I didn't know whether they'd actually heard something, or if they just didn't like the looks of me. I dabbed the tissue wad against my chin, and stared out the window in front of us. We were almost home.
"Hyde, man, you gotta promise not to tell anyone what happened!"
He looked at me, raising one eyebrow, keeping his eyes off the road just long enough to make me nervous. "Everyone's going to know what happened as soon as they see that beautiful fat lip."
"They'll know I got in a fight. I don't have to tell them why." I couldn't explain to myself why I desperately wanted to keep this a secret, so I hoped Hyde wouldn't ask me to explain it to him. All I knew was that there was something deeply humiliating about the whole experience, and I wanted to move as quickly as possible to pretending it never happened.
Hyde shrugged. "OK. They'll want to know what happened, though," he said as he pulled into my parents' driveway.
He was right, of course. Fez, Kelso and the girls were already in the basement - never mind that Hyde and I are the only ones who actually live there. As soon as I walked through the door, everyone's attention was on me. Kelso and Donna demanded to know what happened; Fez and Jackie just seemed fascinated and grossed out by my bloody lip. I shot a glance at Hyde, worried that he'd tell them after all - he doesn't often pass up a chance to laugh at me - but he was heading for the stairs, not saying a word.
I let Donna lead me to the couch and sit me down, and then I started lying through my teeth. There were four guys. They were picking on this skinny little four-eyed freshman right outside the school. Hyde and I came out the door and saw it, and we had to go over and help the kid. I put myself between the kid and the biggest guy, and told the kid to get the hell out of there. The kid ran. One of the guys started to run after him, but Hyde tackled him and took him down. Then the guy closest to me clocked me in the jaw, but I didn't fall down. I was so mad, I just punched him in the gut as hard as I could, and he doubled right over and lost his lunch. That took the fight out of the rest of the guys; they called a truce. I told them to think about this next time they wanted to pick on some skinny little kid, and then Hyde and I took off.
Hyde came back down the stairs with something in his hands just as I was finishing my story.
"Heads up, Forman," he said and tossed a bag of frozen peas at me.
I grabbed the peas out of the air, slightly confused. "What, are we making dinner now?"
Hyde rolled his eyes. "No, idiot. Hold it up to your lip."
Ohhhh, right. I pressed the icy bag against the lower half of my face.
"Hyde, did Eric really punch a guy so hard he made him puke?" Donna said.
"I believe it," Kelso said instantly. "Eric's skinny, but he hits hard." He rubbed his upper arm, as though remembering the last time I'd frogged him there.
"He sure did," Hyde said, playing it so straight I never would've guessed he was lying if I didn't already know. "He's stronger than you'd think."
I wanted to die. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole. I wanted a horde of crows to come flying in the school's doors and swoop down the corridor and converge on me and tear apart my living flesh, because painful as that would be it would save me from the humiliation of all my friends and half the people at school seeing this accusation taped to my locker door.
The whole gang was here to see, since they'd all walked me to my locker. I hadn't wanted the escort - I'd wanted to forget yesterday had ever happened - but Donna had insisted that those guys might try to get back at me for making them look bad, and there was safety in numbers.
Now I understood the disgusted looks people had been giving me as I walked into the building.
"Jesus!" Donna tore the piece of looseleaf off my locker door. "Those guys from yesterday must've done this. That is so, fucking, immature."
"Yeah," I agreed weakly, and started trying to open my locker.
"What is a faggot?" Fez asked.
My face felt like it was on fire, and I couldn't remember my locker combination. I hoped no one noticed.
"It's a man who sleeps with other men," Donna said.
"Oh! I did not know you did that here," Fez said, grinning and bouncing up and down on his toes.
Sometimes I wonder about Fez.
"We don't." Hyde slapped Fez on the back. "The excitement's over here, my young friend. Come away with me, and I will explain the customs of this land and its people."
For the rest of the day I was a nervous wreck. Whenever I walked through the halls, I could feel people's eyes on me, prickling the hairs on the back on my neck. Over and over, I thought I heard the word "faggot" whispered as I passed by, but when I tried to see who said it, no one was looking at me.
I also wondered where Hyde was. He didn't show up in the two classes we had together, and I didn't see him at lunch.
After school, we all ended up in my basement, minus Hyde.
Right after we got in, Mom came down with a cardboard box labeled Old Toys. "I want you to go through this, sweetie, and see if there's anything you don't want to keep," she said, handing me the box. "I've got to scrounge up some donations for the church rummage sale."
Mom left, and naturally Kelso and Fez dove right into the box.
"So who do you think would win in a fight: GI Joe or Barbie?" Kelso asked, holding up an example of each. Barbie had her hair hacked off, and GI Joe was missing his gun.
"That's too easy," Fez said, making a pouty face. "Barbie."
"What the hell, Fez?" Kelso gaped at him. "GI Joe is a soldier! Barbie is a girl!"
"Yes, but she is much bigger," Fez explained, grinning and drawing out the last word. He took the doll from Kelso and traced her breasts appreciatively.
I left them to dig through the rest of the box; I went and slumped on the couch.
"Is something wrong, Eric?" Donna said, sitting down next to me and kissing me on the cheek.
"I'm just wondering where Hyde is," I said. "Did he show up in any of his classes today?"
Donna frowned. "Well, he wasn't in math, or history. That's all I have with him. But so what - he skips so much I'm amazed he passes."
Jackie looked up from the fashion magazine she was flipping through. "He went off with Fez after we found that note on your locker, remember?"
"The bell rang and I went to chemistry," Fez said absently. He was busy undressing Barbie. "I did not see him after that."
"Maybe he went after those guys you beat up yesterday," Kelso said. "I mean, leaving that note on your locker - that was a major burn, man."
Fez looked up from his Barbie. "Hyde would not go pick a fight without telling us, would he? That would be so foolish."
That was exactly what I was worried about, but I couldn't tell the rest of the gang the thing that was really scaring me: a few months ago when Hyde had the measles, I'd cleaned out his pockets at the hospital and found a switchblade. He'd said that he was carrying it because some guy had threatened to cut him; now I knew that guy was Randy, who'd been mad 'cause Hyde'd slept with his girlfriend. Now Randy was threatening me, and I wondered if Hyde thought it was his responsibility to take care of it.
I wondered where the knife was now.
"Hyde wouldn't do that." Donna seemed pretty certain. "He probably decided to skip and get stoned with Leo, or something. The guys who put the note on your locker are obviously complete morons - they're not worth bothering with. I mean, hello, 'faggot'? That's like calling you 'fatso.'" She giggled at her own joke.
"I dunno Donna," Jackie said. "Two girls asked me today if Eric was really gay."
"What?!" My voice rose about two octaves, and Kelso snickered in the background.
"Well, I told them no," Jackie said, flicking her fingers in the air.
"What air heads," Donna said, looking to me for confirmation. "Obviously you're not gay - hasn't everyone at school seen us making out in the parking lot?"
"Oh, Donna. You don't want to know what they say about you." Jackie looked at us with wide, innocent eyes.
"What? Yes, I do." Donna pinned Jackie with an intense gaze. "What do they say about me?"
"Well, just that you're not very feminine. And Eric's not very masculine, so...." She shrugged. "If you'd just stop dressing like a lumberjack-"
"I think Donna is very feminine," Fez interrupted. "You are a very beautiful woman, Donna."
Donna grinned. "Thank you, Fez."
I cleared my throat. "What about me?"
Fez snapped a sultry look in my direction. "And you are a very beautiful man, Eric."
Kelso fell over backwards laughing. Donna and Jackie snickered.
"Come on- come on, guys!" I begged. It was all very well for them to laugh. They weren't the ones getting death threats because someone thought they were a fag. Remembering, I touched my lip. There was a scab where it'd split, but it was only a little swollen - probably because of the frozen peas. It was sore, though. "If you didn't know me, would you think I was gay?"
"Well, you are pretty girly...." Kelso mused.
"Buddy thought you were gay," Fez recalled.
That was not the answer I was looking for. "Fuck off!" I said, seriously pissed. "At least I'm not the one playing with dolls!"
Kelso looked offended. "It's an action figure!"
Hyde didn't show up for dinner, but it's not like it was the first time he'd stayed out and not called. He didn't show up in the basement before midnight, either - again, it wasn't the first time. Mom and Red didn't press him to account for his movements the way they did to me, and sometimes he'd just disappear for a day.
I went to bed. I didn't think I'd be able to sleep; I was worried about Hyde, and I was terrified about facing school tomorrow. The note on my locker this morning had let me know that Randy and his buddies weren't ready to leave me alone yet. Now everyone at school was wondering if I was gay, and my own friends weren't exactly jumping over each other to assure me that I seemed straight.
But I was straight. Hell yeah. To prove it, I got out the copy of Playboy I'd hidden between my mattress and the box spring, and I beat off looking at the naked-lady pictures.
And then I slept, and I dreamed.
I dreamed that I was in the boys' locker room at school, and Hyde had me backed into a corner, and he was kissing me. And I was digging it. His hands were planted on the two walls, and his body pressed against me, and his lips were hot against mine, soft and rough all at once. He wasn't wearing his sunglasses; his eyes were locked on mine. I squirmed against him, moaning, feeling my dick straining against my pants. I wanted it to go on forever, and I wanted more.
"Hey, look at the fucking faggots!" said a nasty, familiar voice. Hyde backed away from me and turned around, and I saw Randy. He must have been in here the whole time watching. "I don't want your kind in my school," he sneered at Hyde, and gave him a shove so he staggered back against me.
Hyde slipped his right hand into his pocket. "Why don't you just walk away before I hurt you?" he said, not raising his voice at all.
"No way, fag," said Randy, and then I noticed that Chris and Frank were here too, just behind him.
I wanted to run away. I wanted to grab Hyde and pull him out of there. But I was the one backed into the corner; there was no way to run.
Suddenly Hyde had the switchblade in his hand, the blade reflecting the grubby yellow tile of the walls. And Randy had one too - no, his wasn't a switchblade, it was a hunting knife, long and jagged. I wanted to call out some kind of warning to Hyde, but my voice didn't seem to work.
Hyde and Randy circled each other, faking thrusts with their knives but not getting close to drawing blood. Then Chris suddenly punched Hyde in the kidneys from behind; Hyde cried out and dropped his guard, and Randy stabbed him in the chest. The long knife sunk in to the hilt, and then Randy wrenched it out again. Hyde dropped to his knees without making a sound. His face was white.
"Hyde!" My voice finally worked. I fell to my knees beside him and wrapped my arms around him before he could fall over. "Don't die, man, you can't die, I-"
I woke up. I was lying in my bed, covered in sweat, with the blankets tangled around my legs. Holy crap. That was the most vivid nightmare I'd ever had in my life.
I lay there, trying to separate the strands of the dream from reality. Hyde wasn't really dead, and he hadn't really kissed me, and I hadn't really been totally turned on by my best friend's body pressed up against mine, and I hadn't really been about to tell him that I loved him. Nothing but a dream.
I couldn't shake the image of Hyde falling down with a big bloody hole in his chest. I knew it was only a dream, but it was so fucking clear in my memory. I shuddered. I had to see him alive again.
I checked my bedside clock; it was nearly three in the morning. He had to be home by now.
I tiptoed through the silent house, down two flights of stairs. In the basement the cold, rough concrete under my bare feet made me shiver, and then I tripped over the box of toys Fez and Kelso had abandoned behind the couch. I caught myself on the back of the couch, swearing under my breath, and then I looked up and saw a line of light under the door to the furnace room.
I was so relieved my knees nearly gave out. And that was a shock - I hadn't known I'd been that worried until I finally saw that yellow glow and knew that he must be safely home.
I needed to see him. I went and knocked on his door. "Hey, it's me. Are you awake?"
"Yeah," I heard from behind the door, so I opened it.
The room was lit with a soft yellow glow by one desk lamp, which sat on the floor at the foot of his cot. Pink Floyd was playing on the portable record player, not too loud. Hyde was sitting cross-legged on the cot, wearing blue plaid flannel pajamas that used to be Red's and smoking a joint.
"C'mon in and shut the door, Forman," he said.
I shut the door and went and sat facing him on the cot. The cot's not that big; our knees nearly touched. He leaned forward to hand me the joint, and the cot squeaked.
I took a long drag and handed the joint back to him, holding my breath as long as I could. When I had to breathe again, I said "Where were you all day?"
"I went and talked to those guys." He lifted the joint to his lips, and I saw that his knuckles were badly scraped and bruised. "They're not going to bother you any more. Don't worry about it."
I stared at his hand as my throat tightened with dread. How many times would you have to hit someone to mess up your knuckles that badly? Images flashed through my mind: the switchblade, my dream. "You didn't kill someone, did you?" I squeaked.
He looked at me with dark, stony eyes, and for a moment in the dim light he was a stranger, and I was afraid of him. Then he laughed, and the tension broke. "Hell no. Have you been waiting up all night to ask me that?"
"I wasn't waiting up. I just woke up now," I said, taking the joint back from him. I felt ridiculous for asking him if he'd killed someone - I was still tripping on that nightmare. "How can you be sure they're going to leave me alone now?"
"Like I said. I talked to them."
"And said what? They didn't seem like the listening-to-reason type yesterday."
Hyde handed joint back to me. It was nearly short enough to burn my fingers now. I held it gingerly and sucked down the acrid smoke.
"I told them that they were idiots if they really thought you're gay," Hyde said. "And if they don't believe me, they should come down to the basement and watch Charlie's Angels with us sometime." He smirked, and took the stub back from me to get the last drag off it.
"That's it?" My voice rose a little, betraying my total incredulity. Yesterday, even the fact that I had a girlfriend hadn't convinced those guys they didn't need to beat me up.
"Well, we talked for a while over some beers." Hyde leaned over and smushed the butt of the joint against the upside-down lid of a metal cookie tin on the floor. "I found out Chris had told the other guys he saw you and Buddy making out at the drive-in. I told them I knew that was total crap. So we rode Chris a bit, 'til he 'fessed up that he lied about it because - get this - he's jealous you're dating Donna now. Turns out he's had a crush on her all year."
"That's incredible." I hugged myself and shivered a bit - it was damn cold in the basement, and my cotton pajamas were thin. "You just sat down and offered them a beer and they explained everything to you? You ever consider working for the UN?"
He snickered at the suggestion. "Whatever man. I used to be pretty good friends with those guys."
I frowned. "What the hell, Hyde? How can you have friends I don't know about? You live with me."
"Doesn't mean you know everything about me, Forman."
"Anyway, didn't you say Randy wanted to kill you for sleeping with his girlfriend? Which I can't believe you didn't tell me about at the time, by the way."
Hyde gave half a shrug. "That all happened last summer. Everybody was away, so I ended up hanging out with Randy and those guys. And yeah, one night when Edna was out I had a party at my place, and Randy passed out early and I ended up doing it with his girlfriend. Who was even more of a slut than your sister, by the way."
I smiled. Nothing like a little Laurie-bashing to lighten the mood.
"He didn't find out 'till he dumped her in September," Hyde went on. Obviously the weed was making him talkative tonight. I liked it. I felt like I was peeking behind his walls, for once. "Then she got mad at him and started talking all kinds of shit about how she'd slept around with about five guys while they were dating, including me, and they were all better in bed than he was."
I shivered again, and rubbed my arms. Hyde noticed. "I know, it's cold down here," he said. "Get up."
I stood up and so did he. I stumbled a bit - the weed was just hitting me now. He yanked the quilt off the cot, then motioned for me to sit down again. I did, tucking my knees up close to my chest. He sat down right next to me, wrapping the blanket around both our shoulders. He was warm and I was cold; I felt his body heat starting to warm me. "So how'd you start hanging out with those guys, anyway?" I was very curious about Hyde's secret double life.
I felt him shrug. "Mostly we used to go drinking out by the reservoir, back in junior high."
"Junior high?" I repeated, a bit shocked.
"Hey man, I'm from the wrong side of the tracks, remember?"
"Yeah but - how the hell did you get beer when you were fourteen?"
"Twelve," he corrected me with kind of a wry tone. "Usually we stole it from our parents, or Chris's older brother bought us stuff. Not just beer, either. Later we got to know this old guy, George, who had his own still."
"Jesus." I turned a bit so I could look at him; his face was very close to mine, but his gaze was fixed on the record player. There was a momentary scratching noise as the needle advanced to a new track, and then the room filled again with Pink Floyd's 'Brain Damage.' "How did you have all this stuff going on and I didn't know about it?"
"It was like two different worlds. There was hanging out at your place with you and Donna and Kelso, with your mom hovering around offering us sandwiches and making sure we went outside to play instead of watching TV all afternoon...and then there was getting wasted out back of the reservoir after dark with Randy and Frank and some other guys."
I tried to make sense of this, thinking back to when we were in junior high. Usually Mom kicked all my friends out around eight o'clock back then, so I could finish my homework and get ready for bed. I'd always assumed Hyde went home to do the same. Of course, back then I didn't know how bad things were with Edna. I didn't really get that until she walked out on him.
"I can't believe you never told me." I giggled, though it wasn't funny at all. "You have a fucking double life, like...like Jekyll and Hyde!" OK, that last bit was funny. I giggled again, leaning against him.
"No I don't," Hyde snapped. "Except for the two weeks last summer your family was away on vacation, I haven't hung out with those guys in years."
I stopped giggling. Something told me there was more to Hyde's story. He was still staring at the spinning record, and his body seemed tight. "Oh yeah? How come?"
"The winter we were in eighth grade those guys started doing some really stupid shit," he said. "We started sneaking out of school at lunch time to go drinking. Sometimes we'd skip off, sometimes we'd go back to school drunk. I knew it wasn't a great idea, but-" He shrugged, and didn't finish the sentence.
"How the hell did you get away with that?" I asked.
He turned his head to give me a look like I was a bit stupid. "We didn't, man. The school called Edna about it lots of times. What do you think she did about it?"
I took a wild guess. "Nothing?"
I tried to imagine what Red would have done to me if I showed up for school drunk in eighth grade. Military school, probably, and I'd still be grounded.
"So if Edna didn't care, why'd you stop?" I asked.
"One night in February that year, after we had a couple bottles of George's moonshine out by the reservoir, Chris's brother Paul drove us back into town. There were seven of us in the car, and we were all totally wasted."
I shuddered, picturing it. "Was there an accident?"
"Not like you're thinking. But when we got back to Chris and Paul's place, we realized we'd left Frank in the woods. Paul and I went back for him. We found him lying in the snow, unconscious. We couldn't wake him up. I said we had to take him to the hospital. Paul said he wouldn't, because if we went there they'd know we'd been drinking, and Paul would lose his license." Hyde's voice had become very hard. "I told Paul I'd kick his ass and steal his car if I had to, to get Frank to the hospital. So he drove us there. He stopped in the hospital's driveway long enough for me to get Frank out of the back seat, and then he drove away."
"Holy crap," I managed to say. "Then what happened?" I had to get the whole horrifying story out of him now. How often did I get Hyde to myself, stoned, at 3 am? If he didn't finish telling me tonight, he probably never would.
"I guess someone inside saw us, because some guys ran out with a stretcher, and then they were rushing Frank in and asking me all kinds of questions. And they noticed I was drunk, so they decided to make me drink some ipecac to make me puke, in case there was still booze in my stomach. So the nurse comes with the ipecac, and guess who it is?"
Oh my God. "Mom."
"Fuck, man. You must have freaked."
"Actually, I was too out of it to really care."
I hugged him. It was an automatic reaction - my arm was kind of around him anyway, holding the quilt up.
"Then at the end of her shift she took me home," Hyde went on, not reacting at all to the hug. "Not my home, I mean - your home."
"Wait a second, I think I remember this," I said. "February, eighth grade? One morning I woke up and came downstairs and you were sleeping on the couch in the living room. Mom said you had the flu, and Edna couldn't take care of you 'cause she was working, so Mom'd said she'd take care of you at our place."
"Yeah," he said. "After you went to school that morning, Kitty gave me a talking to like I'd never had in my life. She told me Frank could have died - she told me if I kept going like I was, I was going to die. And she told me I had a choice."
I thought I could guess what the choice was. "That's when you stopped hanging out with those guys."
"Hell yeah. And Kitty started letting me stay here a lot later at night."
I remembered that, too. She'd said it was good for Steven and me to work on our homework together.
"God," I said. "I can't believe I never knew any of this."
Hyde smiled. "Surprised your mom keeps secrets from you?"
"Secrets? Plural? There's more?"
Hyde didn't say anything, but his smile kind of turned into a smirk.
"Don't hold out on me, man," I begged. "We're really communicating here. Isn't it beautiful? Keep it going!"
"I'm not telling you anything else about your mom." He was definitely smirking.
"Oh, I think you are," I said.
Not many people know that when Hyde gets stoned, he's really, fucking, ticklish. In fact he keeps forgetting that I know it.
I tickled his belly, and he instantly yelped and tried to roll away from me. The quilt, which was still wrapped around both of us, pulled me along with him. We fell together onto the floor, ending up tangled together with me on top of him.
"Gonna tell me now?"
"Get off me!"
I tickled him again and he writhed under me, laughing helplessly and swearing. The quilt was tangled tight around us, so he couldn't get away. I stopped, and asked "Ready to tell?"
"Yes, OK, just stop it!"
I let up. The quilt stopped me from easily moving away, so I stayed where I was. He was lying half curled up on his side, panting, and I was lying on top of him, my legs straddling his hip.
And I was turned on. Fuuuuck. My dick was hard, and it was pressed against his side. With the quilt around us, there was no easy way out of this position. He didn't seem to have noticed, though....
"When there's no one else home, Kitty watches Charlie's Angels with me," Hyde said.
"Seriously. Kelly is her favorite," Hyde said.
I couldn't help laughing at that. I buried my face in Hyde's shoulder and snickered, already forgetting that I needed to get away from him before he noticed my hard-on. The flannel of his pajama shirt was warm and soft against my cheek, and it smelled nice.
He shifted under me so that I fell down onto the floor next to him. Our noses were practically touching. I stopped giggling. "Why'd you tell me now?" I asked.
"You were going to tickle me until I died," he said.
"You can't die from tickling."
He raised an eyebrow. "You don't know that for sure."
I fought to remember what I'd been trying to ask him. I could feel his warm breath against my lips. I had this crazy impulse to kiss him, but even stoned I knew that was a bad idea. I'd done it once, when we were eleven, and he'd hit me hard and told me never to do it again. "I meant why'd you tell me about all that shit that happened in junior high? Why now?"
"Christ, Forman, I don't know. It's been a weird couple of days." He touched the cut place on my lower lip. "My old friends were going to beat the crap out of you yesterday."
My lip ached where he touched it, and I held my breath until he moved his hand away. He didn't move his arm back to where it'd been before, at his side; instead he rested his hand lightly on my waist. My brain spun wildly, trying to figure out the significance of this. Did he mean something by it? Or was it just a more comfortable position for his arm?
"Oh, I had the situation under control," I said lightly. I had to spin words to distract myself from the ghost of his touch on my lip, the lightning sensation of his hand resting on my waist, the almost-touch of his nose against mine, and the embarrassing fullness of my dick in my thin pajama pants. "I was just lulling them into a false sense of security. Hey, what were you doing leaving school that late?"
He smiled. "Detention."
Of course. Lucky for me. "Thanks," I said, pointlessly. "For standing up for me. For telling them I'm not gay."
"Yeah," he said.
"I'm not gay," I repeated.
"I know," he said.
"I've never even wanted to kiss a guy," I said.
Except you! I screamed silently in my head, not letting the thought touch my eyes.
"I know," he said.
Then he kissed me.
I didn't even clue in for the first half-second. I thought he was just shifting around to try to get untangled from the blanket. Then the room went dead silent and I felt his lips on mine, and...
...oh my God...
He tasted like the pot we'd just smoked, and a faint trace of alcohol. His lips were so warm, and soft. I hadn't really expected them to be soft, everything about him seemed so hard. I'd closed my eyes the moment our lips touched, and I was lost. I felt his hands sliding in between the quilt and my body to wrap around my waist and pull me closer. My brain shut down. I didn't name what was happening, I just kissed him back and wrapped my arms around him. His kisses became more urgent, harder against my injured lip, and I stifled a yelp of pain.
He noticed, and pulled back immediately. "Sorry," he whispered, and I stared at him, frozen, so full of shock and lust and wonder that I couldn't even remember to blink.
The silence was shattered by a horrible rhythmic scratching. The album had ended, and the record player's automatic arm was broken. Swearing, Hyde quickly disentangled himself from me and the blanket, and went over to turn it off. I sat up, watching him. He crouched in front of the record player with his back to me, gently slipping the record back into its sleeve. His feet were bare. I knew how cold the concrete floor was. "I could get you some socks," I said. "Wool ones for sleeping, I mean, since the floor down here is so cold in the winter...why am I talking about socks? You just kissed me."
He put the Pink Floyd album into the milk crate with the others, and he didn't turn around. "No I didn't, Forman. You're stoned. Why don't you go back to bed?" He pulled a Zeppelin album out and put it on the turntable.
It's true that I was stoned, but I wasn't that stoned. I knew what had just happened, though I was still pretty confused about why.
I knew one thing for sure, though: if I walked out right now, I'd regret it for the rest of my life.
"I guess I just imagined it, then," I said, standing up. I took two freezing steps across the concrete, and crouched down beside Hyde, just little behind him. "And you're probably imagining this." I brushed his frizzy hair out of the way and kissed the side of his face, just at the edge of his sideburn. I could hear my own heart pounding.
He turned towards me, and our lips met again. This time he kissed me gently. My lip ached a bit, but I was careful not to give any indication of pain so that he wouldn't pull away again.
Without talking we went back to the cot, and tucked our icy feet under the blanket, and kissed some more. He touched the side of my face, laying his strong, warm fingers against my cheek. I put my hand over his to keep it there, liking the gentle feel.
"Have you ever thought about doing this?" I asked. "Before tonight, I mean?"
"Shut up, Forman," he said, and kissed me again. He bunched up the front of my pajama top in his fist, and pulled me down so we were lying face-to-face on the cot, and then he was kissing me again, his hands caressing my body.
I didn't try to talk again. I explored his body, caressing his shoulders and arms and chest and belly through his soft blue flannel pajamas. I loved the smooth, firm shapes of his muscles. Then my hand slid down to cup his package, and I felt his dick twitch as I touched it. He was as hard as I was. He caught his breath and stopped moving. I wasn't sure what to do next. I looked at his face for a clue, and was confused by what I saw. He looked...scared. He was looking down at my hand, his lips were slightly parted, and his eyes were open a bit too wide. It only lasted a moment. He closed his eyes and let his head fall down against the pillow. I put both my hands on his chest and kissed him on the lips, and asked "Was that too fast?"
He didn't respond at all. He lay there under me with his eyes closed. His adam's apple bobbed once. Maybe he'd suddenly realized he didn't like this after all, and he'd just decided to shut me out and go to sleep.
"I mean, I don't even know where we're going, fast or slow," I said to his closed face. "Or if we have to go somewhere. I mean... fuck, man, I've never done any of this with a guy before."
He twitched - just the tiniest twitch at the corner of his mouth - and I got it. Or thought I did, anyway. Hyde is so fucking hard to read.
I'd never done any of this with a guy before, but he had.
I lay down beside him, on my side so I was facing him. "You're thinking about him, aren't you?" I was afraid to say the name, in case I was wrong.
He didn't move, except his adam's apple bobbed again. I waited, counting our breaths. Five, six....
"Go away, Forman," he said.
He didn't say 'Who are you talking about?' so I knew I was right. He was thinking about Stu.
"No," I said.
"I'll kick your ass," he said, monotone, still lying there with his eyes closed.
"You're gonna have to," I said, and I put my arm over him and hugged him around the waist. "'Cause otherwise I'm going to stay here all night." He held his body stiff. I kept my arm around him, and my body pressed up against his. My erection was gone; all I wanted now was to make things OK with Hyde, and I had no fucking clue how I was going to do that.
"Freak," he whispered, but he didn't move.
"Sticks and stones," I replied automatically. "Talk to me, Hyde." I'm used to his walls, but this went way beyond normal. I was afraid of what he was seeing behind his closed eyes. I remembered back when he first let slip about Stu, when he was sick and delirious, and how Donna and had worked herself into a near panic over it, thinking Hyde might kill himself or something, and then I'd talked to Hyde and he'd convinced me we were blowing it way out of proportion.
"Just leave it, Forman," he said, a little louder.
"No." I hugged him tighter. His hair tickled my nose, and I reached up to brush it out of the way. "You're my best friend. Please talk to me." I laid my hand on his chest. I could feel how fast his heart was beating.
"We're men. Men don't talk," he said.
"All right. We don't talk." This was getting me nowhere. Whatever weird mood had come over Hyde earlier tonight to get him to talk so much about stuff from his past, it was obviously gone now. He was shut up tight, as usual. But no way was I going to give up and just leave him down here to brood by himself. "Can we go back to what we were doing before I screwed up and pushed it too far?" I said quietly. "I swear, I won't do anything you don't want me to do."
Finally, he opened his eyes. "Eric," he said, "I trust you."
I didn't trust myself to speak in return. Any words that came to mind were too flip or too corny. Instead, I kissed him.
This time it was good, and gentle, the sweetest kisses I'd ever shared. I would be careful this time not to go too far - careful as if he were the virgin, instead of me.
"You're cold," I noticed.
"So're you," he said. "Your hands are like ice." He leaned over and picked the quilt up off the floor. "Let's get cozy."
We cocooned under the blanket and the quilt. He pulled them up over our heads, so the lamp's yellow light dimmed to almost nothing. The opening chords of Kashmir filtered through softly. Hyde was a dark, beautiful shadow, and there was nothing in our private world now but the music and the smell and the feel of him next to me, and the cot squeaking slightly as we moved.
His mouth was so warm and soft on mine. I tangled my fingers through his hair. His fingers played at the buttons of my pajama top, undoing one at a time with teasing slowness while he kept kissing me. When all the buttons were done, I felt his hands sliding across my chest. I shivered when he accidentally brushed my nipple. I moaned quietly, feeling too many intense, tingly-down-there feelings and wishing I could touch my own dick at least - but I wouldn't risk it. I just kissed him harder, loving his taste and the soft, low sounds he made.
I didn't notice the music ending until the needle started scratching against the label again. Hyde flipped back the top of our covers and crawled out to deal with it. The air in the room was so much colder than the air inside our cocoon had been, I felt like I should be able to see my breath.
He turned over the record and came back to me. As soon as he was close enough I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back onto the cot, and we picked up where we'd left off. "Can I do this?" I asked, slipping the top button of his pajama shirt out through its hole.
"Yeah, good idea," he said, and tugged my own shirt off my shoulders. I let go of his shirt for the moment it took to let mine slip off completely. Then I quickly undid the rest of his buttons, and he shrugged his shirt off. In the chilly air, our skin went all goosebumpy. His nipples stood out, dark and hard, and I thought about kissing them.
He ran a finger along my collar bone. I noticed the bruises and scrapes on his knuckles, and wondered about them again, but decided now was not the time to ask questions. He leaned in and kissed my chest, just over my breastbone.
I shivered, suddenly feeling very scrawny now that he was looking at me without my shirt. "I'm too skinny," I said.
He snorted a laugh. "Nah, you're fine." He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close, and we kissed again, my bare skin against his, our arms tight around each other. I felt a rush of feeling so intense I couldn't name it - I wanted to kiss him, to feel him, to protect him, to be with him. I wanted to hold on to this moment, this night, forever. The 'L' word skimmed the surface of my consciousness but I shied away from it. All I could do was squeeze him tight, so tight my arms started shaking. I think he understood; he stopped kissing me and squeezed back, so tight I could barely breathe. We held on as "Custard Pie" ended, and held on through the silence, and finally let go when "The Rover" filled the air.
I yawned. It snuck up on me, and as soon as I realized it was happening I tried to hide it. I didn't want to be the one to break the magical spell and remind us that the night was passing. He noticed, though.
"It's four thirty in the morning," he said, yawning himself. "We've gotta get some sleep."
"No," I said, almost desperate. "I'm not tired."
"I am." He leaned against me, resting his head on my shoulder. "You slept before you came down here. I didn't."
I put my arm around him and he nuzzled my neck sort of sleepily. I relished the comfortable feeling of it. "I'm afraid..." I said, hesitatingly.
"That this'll never happen again."
"Sure it will. You can come back down tomorrow night. I'll be here." He ran his hand over my bare skin as he spoke.
I shivered again. "Would it be all right - could I stay down here 'till morning?"
He skimmed a finger along the goosebumps on my arm. "Get back under the covers."
I did, leaving my shirt in a heap on the floor. Hyde got up and turned off the record player, turned off the lamp, and found his way back to me. He crawled under the covers and kissed me, then whispered "Roll over so your back's to me."
We spooned, me in front, his warm breath on the back of my neck and his arms around me. The narrow cot didn't leave us any room to move, but that was OK because I didn't want to move away from him. Not ever.
"Morning, Eric," Donna greeted me, and then she kissed me. Hyde stood off to the side with his Zen expression on, waiting for us to finish, and I kissed Donna back with a feeling like acid in my gut.
See, the moment Donna kissed me, I realized I'd cheated on her last night. OK, maybe I'm an idiot, but the whole time I was with Hyde last night, everything seemed so natural and right. It was all about me and him, not labels like 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' or 'dating.' But now, when Donna kissed me, it occurred to me that I'd kissed someone else last night. Part of my mind argued 'It was a guy, it doesn't count!' but the other part of my mind quickly let the first part know it was a dumbass.
"What's wrong, Eric?" Donna asked, pulling back.
I shot a guilty glance at Hyde, but he was already standing by the front passenger door of the Vista Cruiser. "I call shotgun," he said.
I was quiet during the drive to school. Hyde and Donna didn't seem to notice; they got into an argument about who was the better songwriter, Robert Plant or Janis Joplin. I didn't know how Hyde could act so normal.
What the hell was I going to do? I was attracted to both of my best friends, and I was already dating one of them, and the other one had invited me back to his bedroom tonight. I knew, in theory, I was being a total sleazeball sneaking around behind Donna's back... but it was Hyde! Didn't that make it different somehow?
The day went by in a blur of torturous introspection. Donna asked me a couple times if I was OK; I told her I had a headache. Hyde acted like nothing had happened at all - which I was grateful for, but at the same time it drove me nuts. I didn't know how to look at him, I didn't know how to talk to him, and at lunch when I was sitting at a table in the caf with all my friends, I felt like the words 'I kissed Steven Hyde!,' written in fire, were floating over my head. I couldn't believe that no one saw them.
My last class of the day was gym - my least favorite class, for a whole lot of reasons. For one thing, none of my friends were in it - Hyde, Kelso and Fez all had second period gym. Also, being a skinny weakling really worked against me in this class. The teacher had obvious contempt for me.
And finally, there was the torture of the locker room.
I stood under the jet of cold water, clenching my teeth to keep them from chattering. The hot water heater'd been broken since my freshman year. I raised my arms to let the water rinse my pits, and wished for the thousandth time that the boys' shower room had shower curtains the way Donna told me the girls' one did. I stared at the grimy tile wall, pretending very hard that there weren't nine other guys showering right now, every one of them macho and beefy in their nakedness.
I shut off the water, grabbed my towel, and hurried back to the lockers. The less time spent naked in the presence of muscular guys who didn't like me, the better.
My shoulders tensed, and I looked up. Richard, this square-jawed jock who liked to hit me in the head with basketballs, was glaring at me. "What, Dick?" I said.
"I heard about you." His lips curled with disgust and I noticed a couple of his football team buddies hanging out just behind him, watching us while they pulled their shirts on.
Crap. Hyde might've convinced his old friends to lay off the get-Eric-killed campaign, but it looked like the rumors they'd started about me were still going strong.
"Heard what?" I asked as offhandedly as I knew how, hoping that miraculously Richard wasn't thinking what I thought he was thinking. Or at least that he'd be too chicken to say it to my face.
Meanwhile, I stood in front of my gym locker wearing just my towel, feeling awkward and vulnerable. With Richard sneering at me, I wasn't about to drop the towel to put my pants on.
"You're a pervert, aren't you?" He came in so close I could smell his pizza lunch on his breath, backing me up against the lockers. "You've been checking us all out in the shower, haven't you?"
"No!" I yelped. Unfortunately, when I panic I tend to a) get sarcastic, and a) channel my mother. "That is a sick, sick lie and I can't believe a smart young man like you would listen to filth like that," I said.
He spat towards my feet. "You're the sicko." And then I barely had time to brace myself before his fist was connecting with my belly.
My knees buckled, but Richard's two buddies stepped forward to grab my arms and hold me up against the lockers. Lucky me. The other guys in the room hovered in the background, some of them watching wide-eyed, others pointedly ignoring us. None of them seemed motivated to step in and rescue me. God, I wished Hyde or Kelso was there. I was living a flashback to my nightmare.
Richard rubbed his fist, as though my soft belly could have done him any damage. "You shouldn't be in here, queer."
Well, at least we had something in common - I didn't want me to be there, either. "I'm not gay, dickhead," I managed to choke out. "I have a girlfriend."
"Shut up, faggot," he said, and hit me a couple more times. This time they landed on my ribs, and I couldn't hold back a cry of pain.
"Guys, what's going on in there?" yelled Mr. Burgher, the gym teacher. He poked his head around the corner and Richard and his henchmen stepped away from me, suddenly busy finishing getting dressed. I collapsed onto the bench, wrapping my arms around my chest. "Forman? What's going on?"
"Nothing, sir," I said, feeling everyone's eyes on me. I knew how this worked - the only thing deader than a faggot was a snitch.
"Well hurry up and get dressed. I haven't got all day," he said, and he was gone.
"You better stay outa my sight, Forman," Richard muttered, and he left too, with his friends.
I swallowed my bile, and waited for the strength to stand up and put on my clothes.
I went downstairs at 1 am. It had taken me that long to get my head together for what I needed to say to him, and as I crept down the basement stairs I was suddenly afraid that he'd already be asleep.
He wasn't. He was sitting on his cot with the quilt wrapped around his shoulders, reading some paperback and listening to the same Led Zeppelin album he'd played last night.
"Hey, man," he greeted me casually, tossing the book under the cot.
"Hi, uh, Hyde." I closed the door behind me and sat down at the foot of the cot. I drummed my hands on my knees and stared at the record spinning round and rehearsed the words once more in my head before I spat them out. "Last night was a mistake."
"Oh yeah?" He didn't sound upset.
"Yeah. See, Donna."
The cot squeaked like he'd moved a bit. I looked over and saw he was wearing his sunglasses now, and his bemused-Zen-master expression. I relaxed a bit. I'd been afraid he would....OK, I had no idea what I'd thought he'd do, but I sure as hell was glad he wasn't doing it.
"See, I realized when I saw her this morning that kissing someone else means cheating on her, no matter who it is."
"Shut it, Forman." He scowled a bit. "Far as I'm concerned, nothing happened last night."
"Right." I nodded stupidly hard. "Nothing happened last night. Good."
"Is that all you came down here to say?" He scratched his arm, and shifted on the cot like maybe he wanted me to get off it so he could go to sleep.
"Yeah. Um, yeah." I stood up. "I just - so it's all OK? You're not mad at me or anything?"
"Aw," he said, smiling at me in that sweet sarcastic way of his. "Afraid you hurt my feelings?"
"Oh, right." I laughed, feeling just a little hollow. "You don't have any."
He pointed his index finger like a gun, and made the clicking noise. "Bullseye. You're not as dumb as you look. G'night, Forman."
I lay flat on my back, staring at the ceiling and wishing for sleep. I waited and waited, and it didn't come. The full moon shone through my window as bright as a damn nightlight. I felt...uneasy.
OK, I felt like a rat bastard for cheating on Donna, and at the same time I was feeling weirdly pissed at Hyde for not reacting when I told him last night was a mistake. I mean, he didn't even blink. That had to mean he'd thought it was a mistake, too.
Plus, my ribs ached every time I moved, or breathed. The pain wouldn't let me forget that Donna was not the whole explanation for what I'd just said to Hyde.
Last night was a mistake because kissing a guy can get a guy killed.
So I was a yellow-bellied rat bastard.
Why hadn't Hyde tried to convince me I was wrong?
Well, fuck him.
Fuck him and his no feelings. And his sunglasses.
I groaned and rolled over and bit my pillow. No one believed Hyde had no feelings, except maybe Hyde. The rest of us knew it was an image thing. I knew better than anyone, because once every century or so he let down his guard in front of me. Like last night, for instance, when he'd said 'Eric, I trust you.'
I was a yellow-bellied friend-betraying rat bastard dumbass.
Why did I always screw things up like this? Did this kind of thing happen to everyone, or did some people go through their whole lives without either kissing or screwing over any of their best friends?
I had to go back downstairs.
And say what? 'Hyde, sorry I said last night was a mistake. I mean, it was a mistake, but not because I don't like you that way. It's just that I already have a girlfriend who I think I'm in love with, plus if the jocks at school caught me making out with you they'd kill us both.'
'Hyde, I just want you to know that I love you. As a friend.'
OK, it was no good planning it. I'd just have to go downstairs and improvise.
I crept downstairs for the second time that night, skipping the squeaky steps. As I went through the kitchen I noticed it was nearly 2 a.m. now. What the hell was I doing? Hyde wouldn't even be awake. I nearly turned around, but then I remembered that 'I trust you' line again. I had to make things all right somehow.
There was no light under his door. I stood there, blind in the inky blackness, debating whether to go in and wake him up. Would he be pissed off at me for waking him? Probably. He might even hit me.
But I needed to do this now. It would be too late tomorrow. This was a 2 a.m. kind of conversation.
I groped my way to his door and opened it gently. "Hyde, are you awake?" I asked. I was so nervous my voice cracked. He didn't laugh at me for that, so I knew he was asleep.
I stumbled into the room and found his lamp by feel. I flicked it on and turned to the cot.
He wasn't on it.
"Hyde?" I said, louder this time. "Hyde, man, where are you?" I went back out into the basement. The light from Hyde's room was enough to show me there was no one there. I even checked behind the shower curtain. Then I noticed, by the door, that his coat and his boots were missing.
I swore under my breath and went out the basement door. "Hyde?" I called out, gritting my teeth against the cold and going up the stairs to the driveway.
A fresh inch of fluffy snow blanketed the ground and burned my bare feet with its cold. The full moon lit the white landscape as bright as a cloudy day. And one set of footprints headed out of the driveway.
I ran along the footsteps as far as the sidewalk. The footsteps kept going, down the street and out of sight.
"Dammit!" I ran back into the basement and slammed the door shut behind me.
This was not good.
I quickly ran over my options: leave him alone to do his lone wolf thing, or throw my boots and coat on over my pajamas, take the Vista Cruiser and follow the footsteps.
One minute and thirty-five seconds later, I was turning the key in the ignition.
I had to drive slowly to follow the tracks. I was grateful for once that Point Place goes dead after 10 p.m.; there were no other footsteps to mix up with his.
A couple times the footprints headed away from the road, and I had to make detours to find the other ends of his shortcuts. One of them took me a good five minutes of driving around worrying and swearing under my breath before I picked up the track again.
When I got there, I realized I should have guessed. The reservoir.
I parked the car and walked through the stand of trees to the base of the reservoir. The footprints went on into the woods out back, then returned, ending at the bottom of the ladder. I looked up and saw Hyde sitting on the catwalk, looking down.
"What the hell are you doing here, Forman?"
"Well..." I spread my arms in a wide shrug. "I like to come out here and watch the moon, y'know. And freeze my ass off." I started climbing up the ladder, trying to ignore the way my ribs ached and the way my hands nearly froze to the rungs. When I got to the top, he offered me the bottle he was holding. It looked like a small wine bottle, but it didn't have a label.
"Since you're here," he said, "have a drink."
"Uh, sure." I pulled my coat as low as it would go over my ass, and sat down beside him with my legs dangling over the edge, and then I took a drink from the icy-cold bottle. "gah!" It went down like fire, and I coughed and choked and nearly dropped the bottle. "What the hell is this? Where did you get it?"
"George's special brew, man." He took the bottle back from me, and took a long drink from it. "Randy still hides it in the same damn hollow tree. Some things never change."
My teeth chattered. "Wouldn't it freeze?"
Hyde laughed. "Nope." He tried to hand it back to me, but I didn't take it.
"What are you doing out here?" I asked. At least he was dressed better than I was; he had jeans on instead of thin cotton pajama pants. No hat or gloves, though. Then I noticed that his knuckles looked even more messed up than they had last night. Actually, as I looked closer, it kind of looked like he was bleeding. "What the hell happened to your hands?"
He exhaled a frosty cloud and stared into the distance. I wondered how much he could see by moonlight with sunglasses on.
"Hyde? Did you get in a fight?"
He shook his head and took another drink. "Leave it alone, Forman."
"Come on, Hyde, I need to know if there's someone out there who's going to come looking to hurt us!"
"There's nobody here but us and the trees."
"OK, then who did you hit?"
"A tree." He glanced at me sideways and gave me the finger with his bloody hand.
I let out a nervous laugh, shivering hard. "W-what'd that t-tree ever do to you?"
"It was in my way." He offered me the bottle again with a grin. "Sure you don't want any? Warms ya right up."
"Actually, know what w-would warm me up? The heater in my c-car." I pulled my freezing legs back up onto the catwalk, and crouched beside Hyde. "C-can we go now?"
He shrugged. "Don't let me stop you."
"I'm not going without you." I gritted my teeth to stop them from chattering. It also made me sound very determined.
"Why?" He slammed the bottle down on the catwalk and faced me full on for the first time since I'd come up. "Why are you here?"
"Because I went back downstairs to apologize for being a dumbass, and you weren't there." Oh good, I'd hoped that I'd finally figure out why I went downstairs.
"What do you mean, apologize?" He sounded mad.
"I shouldn't have said it was a mistake. I was scared, OK?"
"Well, you were right. It was a mistake. So don't worry about it." He said it dispassionately, like he'd managed to pull some shreds of the Zen back over himself. Then he reached for the bottle and tilted it high against his lips, and I saw his adam's apple bobbing.
"Hyde, stop drinking that!" I grabbed the bottle and pitched it as hard as I could off towards the woods. It landed in a snowdrift and disappeared.
"What the hell?" He glared at me. "I should throw you off for that."
"Are you trying to reenact that story you told me about your friend who almost died out here, or what? It's, like, zero degrees out. I'm freezing my balls off. Come on, let's go." I stood up and extended a shaking hand to him, hoping he wasn't too drunk to climb down the ladder. He didn't sound too drunk, but Hyde never did.
He took my hand without saying a word, and let me help him up. When he got to his feet, he stumbled one step toward the edge, and I grabbed him around the waist with a panicked "Stop!" He swayed on his feet and leaned heavily against me. I was shaking so hard, it was hard to hold on to him. I couldn't understand why he wasn't shivering - was that a Zen thing, too?
Oh, crap. The nurse's-son part of my brain clicked into gear: it wasn't a Zen thing, it was a drunk-and-hypothermic thing.
"Hyde, man, we've got to climb down the ladder." Fear pitched my voiced higher. "Can you do that?"
"Who do you think I am, Kelso?" He shook me off and headed for the ladder.
"Wait, let me go first!" I darted around him and scrambled down the ladder. Then I stood at the bottom, shivering and looking up and wondering how the hell I planned to catch him if he fell. He outweighed me by 40 pounds. I watched the snow-caked bottoms of his boots move down from rung to rung, and my breath caught in my throat each time they slipped, but he managed to stay on 'till his feet were level with my waist. Then he tried for a rung and missed it, and when I tried to catch him we both ended up lying in the snow, him on top of me.
Ow, the ribs.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
"Yeah." He rolled off me but stayed on the ground.
"Come on to the car now...dammit, Hyde, cooperate!" I tried to pull him up by slinging his arm over my shoulder, but I didn't have the technique right or something.
"Get bent, Eric. Just leave me alone."
"What did you just call me?" I looked down at him. His glasses had fallen off, and he was lying on his back with his arms and legs spread. His hair was caked with snow. I spotted his sunglasses in the snow, so I tucked them into my pocket.
"You screw everything up. Go away."
"Damn it, Hyde! Get into the fucking car!" I grabbed him under both shoulders and pulled him up with all my strength, and he finally cooperated. He got to his feet and slung his arm over my shoulder and we made it to the car.
As soon as we were in there, I turned the heat up full blast. Cold air came out of the vents. By the time it really started to warm up, we'd be back home. Oh well. I looked over at Hyde; he was leaning against the window, and his eyes were closed.
"Hey! Hyde!" I punched him in the shoulder to get his attention.
He mumbled "fuck off," and didn't move.
"Steven!" I punched him again.
He opened his eyes and looked over at me. "What'd you call me?"
"Talk to me, Steven. I need to know you're awake." I pulled out onto the road.
He laughed a little. "Men don't talk, remember?"
"You know it's dangerous to get drunk by yourself in the woods in the winter." I gripped the cold steering wheel tightly with my numb fingers. "You know that, you told me yesterday your friend nearly died out here that time. What the hell were you doing back there?"
"You sound like your mother."
"Sometimes my mother's pretty smart. Answer the damn question."
"Haven't you ever wanted to get really fucking drunk on really bad liquor?"
I hesitated, then said "I think I know the feeling." I glanced over at him again; his eyes were open but he was still slouched against the window.
Man, this was intense. And scary. Hyde wasn't supposed to let things get to him. How did I get to him? It was only one night. It was only kisses.
What if I hadn't gone back downstairs and found him gone and followed his footprints? Jesus Christ. I wanted to grab him and hold on so tight that he could never slip away like that again, but I had to keep my hands on the wheel so instead I yelled at him. "Why the hell didn't you say something!? I was still in the house, you could have come upstairs!"
"Nah, I couldn't." He said it like it was some vague regret.
He didn't answer me.
I couldn't get him to talk anymore. For the rest of the drive home I kept bugging him, poking him, provoking him, anything to make him show me he was awake. All he'd do was swear at me and tell me to leave him alone, but that was fine by me, it proved he was conscious. As long as he didn't fall asleep, I thought, he'd be OK.
We stumbled down the stairs to the basement together, and into his room. I had to warm him up. I went and unplugged the stereo so I could plug in the space heater, then I dragged it as close to the cot as the cord allowed. That wasn't close enough, so I pulled the cot closer to the heater - not close enough to set anything on fire, I hoped.
Hyde, meanwhile, had slouched down to the floor. He was sitting on the concrete with his head on his knees.
I quickly stripped down to my underwear, then I went to him. "We've got to get your clothes off."
He looked up, confused.
"We have to share body heat." I remembered it from Boy Scout survival training: the safest way to warm up a hypothermic person is with someone else's body heat.
"Dammit, Eric," he mumbled, but he didn't stop me from pulling his coat off him, and then his shirt, and then his belt.
I pulled the blankets and quilt off the cot, then made him lie down on it so I could pull his jeans off. I hesitated with my hands on the waistband, thinking about last night and everything that happened, and wondering if this was another terrible mistake. But with my fingers wrapped under the waistband of his jeans, I felt how cold his skin was, and that scared me. I yanked the jeans down, relieved that his boxers didn't come with them. Then I threw all the covers over him, and climbed under myself.
He was so cold. I lay pressed against his side, half on top of him, one arm under his neck and the other wrapped around his torso. I wanted as much of me as possible in contact with him, warming him. I wished there were more of me.
His eyes were closed. His breath reeked of alcohol. "I can't believe this," he whispered.
Yeah. Neither could I.
I felt the space heater warming the air around us. I felt Hyde sucking away my body heat. I felt him shivering now. I wondered if I should've woken Mom up and got her help. She was the one who actually knew medical stuff - all I was going on was the afternoon in Boy Scouts when the wilderness guy came and talked to us. Still, as long as Hyde was still awake and talking, he couldn't really be in trouble. And explaining to Mom why Hyde happened to be getting drunk at the reservoir at two in the morning...fuck, I didn't want to do that.
I needed Hyde to talk to me, to keep letting me know he was OK. I searched for something to say. "Remember when we used to have snowball fights?"
"You mean last year?" His lips twitched into something like a smile.
"I mean the real snowball fights, when we were kids, with Donna and Kelso. We'd build two forts facing each other across the backyard, remember?"
"Yeah. It was always you and me against those two."
"Yeah." I nodded, my cheek rubbing against his shoulder. "Why was that?"
"'Cause Donna and I were the only ones who could throw worth a damn." He snickered softly. "We had to split up or it would've been murder."
"And when our fingers and toes started to go numb, Mom would always call us into the kitchen for hot chocolate."
"I wish we had hot chocolate now. I am so f-fucking cold."
"We can have hot chocolate. I'll go make it," I said, starting to slide away from him.
"Wait," he said. I stopped. "Don't go yet, OK?" he said in a strange, tentative tone.
He turned his head so he was looking me straight in the eye. "I love you."
I think my heart stopped beating. I must have heard him wrong. "What?" I sort of gulped.
"Don't make me say it again, dumbass," he said, in his familiar cranky tone.
"Hyde..." I said, and that didn't feel right. "Steven...you are really fucking drunk, aren't you?"
"Drunk men and children tell no lies."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I think I fell in love with you the first time you kissed me, man."
"You mean the time you sucker-punched me in the stomach?"
He laughed in a not-funny way. "I have some intimacy issues."
"I-" I had no idea what to say. I had no idea what I was feeling - it was all a bright, sharp, tangled mess. . He gave me a shove towards the edge of the cot. "Shut up Forman. Go make me some fucking hot chocolate."
I went. I pulled on my pajama pants and the first shirt I grabbed off the floor, which happened to be one of Hyde's t-shirts.
Upstairs in the kitchen, I risked turning the lights on so I could see what I was doing. I hoped my parents were sleeping deeply tonight. I put water in the kettle to boil, and sat at the table, and asked myself what the hell was going on.
I still was dating Donna. I still hurt from the beating in the locker room. At 1 a.m. those were enough reasons for me to tell Hyde that last night was a mistake. Now...it seemed so much more complicated.
Could I love a guy? Was that even possible?
Damn it, just smelling his scent on the Led Zeppelin t-shirt I was wearing made me feel kind of warm and fuzzy and good.
I wanted to kiss him again. I wanted to do more than kiss him. What did that mean?
The kettle whistled, and I got up to pour the hot water into mugs and stir in the hot chocolate powder. I took the mugs downstairs, back to the furnace room.
He was sitting up on the cot with all the blankets wrapped around him. I sat down next to him. The space heater had warmed up the room so much now I didn't need to get under any blankets myself.
He extended a hand to take a mug from me. I noticed his knuckles still looked like hell; he'd probably gotten bloodstains on his blankets. He took a sip, then raised an eyebrow at me. "It's not as good as Kitty makes."
I shrugged. "I think she uses milk instead of water."
"Forman, take my shirt off."
"Huh?" I looked over at him, confused. He was wrapped up tight in the blankets, but as far as I knew he was still wearing nothing but his boxers underneath. "You aren't wearing one."
"You are wearing my shirt," he said with exaggerated patience. "Take it off."
I felt kind of wounded. First he tells me he loves me, then he gets pissed off that I'm wearing his shirt? Still, I couldn't think of a way to protest without sounding really lame, so I put my mug of hot chocolate on the floor, stood up, and pulled the shirt off over my head. When I could see again, he was frowning at me.
"I thought so," he said.
"What?!" I kind of snapped.
"Who beat you up this time?"
"What?" I followed his gaze down to my chest, and saw what he saw: big reddish-purple splotchy bruises over my ribs. "Oh, crap."
"Whoever did that, I'll make them regret it," he said, dead calm. "Tell me."
My mouth suddenly felt so dry I couldn't talk. I didn't want to tell him. If I told him and he went after Richard and his friends...bad things could happen.
"Was it Randy?" he asked. "That prick said he was going to leave you alone. If he did this to you he's going to regret it."
I shook my head. He took my hand and pulled me down onto the cot beside him. He let the blankets fall away as he put his mug on the floor, too, then put his arms around me. He felt warm now, and even though I wasn't cold I felt myself trembling a little.
"Tell me what happened," he said in a low, almost desperate tone. "Please, Eric."
I gave in. I had to, with him holding on to me and calling me by the name he never used. "It wasn't Randy. It was these guys in my gym class...." I told him the whole story. I remembered word-for-word everything Richard said.
"I'll make them leave you alone," he promised, in a frightening low tone I'd hardly ever heard him use.
"Don't you dare." I glared at him. "How do you think I would feel if you got hurt?"
"I don't know."
My throat suddenly tightened, and I felt bizarrely close to tears. "I would feel even worse than I do right now, you idiot. I love you."
Damn it, I was crying. It was all too much. I hid my face against Steven's chest, feeling like a complete idiot. He rubbed my back and murmured soft, comforting noises that weren't quite words. It was kind of surreal, and very warm and safe, and I started to feel better.
"You have to transfer out of that gym period," Hyde said, handing me a box of kleenex. "What do you have in the period when the rest of us have gym?"
I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. "Spanish."
"I have Spanish when you have gym. You can switch. I'll talk to the guidance counselor if you don't want to."
I leaned my forehead against his chest again. It felt good, even though I was thinking about really depressing things now. "Does it even matter? Half the people at school already think I'm gay. I'm going to get beat up no matter which classes I'm in."
"Donna can protect you."
I laughed bitterly. "Oh yeah, I'll get a girl to beat up anyone who threatens me. That'll really improve my manly image."
"Not like that, idiot," Hyde sighed. "You two have to raise your profile as a couple. Hold hands, kiss in the hall, let everyone see you. The rumors will die."
I looked at him. His face was so serious, and a little bit scared. He was scared of what could happen to me. I was scared of what could happen to him. And I loved him.
"Do you understand now," I asked very softly, "why I said last night was a mistake?"
He nodded. "If anyone found out about us..."
"I had a dream the night before last." I took his hand in mine and squeezed it. "I dreamed that Randy caught us kissing, and he killed you."
"People get killed for this," Hyde said, still talking low and sad. "For real."
I kissed him. I leaned in and his lips opened to meet mine, and I threaded my hands through his tangled, wild hair and I tasted him and smelled him and touched him, drinking in the sensations with frantic urgency, because this was the good-bye kiss. We finally understood that we loved each other, just in time to realize that we couldn't bear to risk each other this way. Point Place had no room for our kind of love. So for one last moment, I let myself think nothing and feel nothing but his warmth and strength and love. Inside of that moment, I never let go. My body was walking up the stairs and climbing into my cold lonely bed and burying my head under my pillow to stifle the wracking sobs I couldn't control, but my heart was locked in that one moment, the only one that mattered.