Disclaimer: That '70s Show copyright The Carsey-Werner Company, LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC.
Author's Note: Thank you, everyone (signed-in readers and anons), for all the reads, faves, follows, and reviews! It's been a pleasure to share this story with you, and I'll see you at the next one!
April 26, 1980
Point Place, Wisconsin
The Formans' Garage
Jackie found Steven in the Formans' garage. A dirty cloth lay on the metal workbench, and Steven had another cloth in his hand. He was scrubbing wax off the El Camino's hood, and she was glad he'd sheltered himself in the garage. Though Wisconsin's cold temperature seeped inside, the wind didn't penetrate any of the doors.
Steven was wearing a thick plaid shirt, but he'd rolled the sleeves to his elbows. The collar was open, too, giving her a peak of his white undershirt. He hadn't noticed her arrival yet. She wasn't standing in his direct line of sight, and he was so focused on the El Camino.
She chose to remain silent for now, clutching a gift-wrapped box and admiring how his body moved. The muscles in his forearms tensed as he worked. He was bent over the car, and he wiped wax off the hood deftly, using the right balance of tenderness and strength.
His treatment of the El Camino was both temptation and torment, and Jackie stood rigidly as her arousal built. Blood was coursing through places he hadn't touched in eight months. Had they been dating, she would've taken advantage of their privacy. His lips looked entirely too kissable. They were flushed from exertion or the chilled air, but she skipped toward him and said a friendly, unsuggestive, "Hi."
He straightened up, and those enticing lips slid into a grin. "Hey."
"I got you something." She held out the gift-wrapped box.
"Why?" He tossed the cloth onto the El Camino's hood and wiped his palms on his jeans. Then he took the present and examined the small box. "'Cause I woke up early on a Saturday?"
"You are up early for a Saturday, but no." She showed him her left wrist. Her silver bracelet and its seven charms gleamed in the garage's lights. He'd stayed true to his word, getting her charms to commemorate their time together. "I wanted to give you something back."
He shook his head slightly. "You didn't have to—"
"I spent more time on it than money. I even re-used one of the Cherish Beads boxes you gave me … okay?"
He answered by tearing off the wrapping paper. He opened the white box and pulled out the beaded necklace she'd crafted. Its braided leather slipped between his fingers, and the wooden beads rested against his palm and wrist. He was staring at the gift, studying it, but she couldn't read his expression.
A thousand tiny Jackies marched inside her stomach. They made her feel like a thirteen-year-old girl, one with a crush on the coolest, sweetest boy in school, but neither she nor Steven were children anymore. Her heart was still healing from the wounds he'd carved into it.
"I remember you wearing necklaces like that," she said, trying to keep her voice steady, "and then you suddenly stopped. They seemed to fit who you are, and I..."
Her words evaporated as he removed his sunglasses. He hooked them onto his undershirt collar, and his eyes focused more deeply on the necklace. "I quit wearin' them after I got arrested," he said. "The cops had taken the one I was wearin' that night and put it in an evidence envelope—along with my watch, ring, and lighter. Made me realize how little I had."
"The night you were arrested for m—me?" Her voice caught. The army of tiny Jackies had crawled up her throat and were stabbing it with their high-heeled shoes. "But you had more than you were carrying with you."
He rubbed his thumb over one of the necklace's bigger beads. "Not talkin' about material stuff."
"Mr. Forman wouldn't have kicked you out if he'd known the truth," she said. "If you hadn't kept trying to protect me." Her voice had become scratchy, and she swallowed, attempting to moisten it up. "You should have told him, Steven. Rumors might've started, but they would've added to my mystique."
"Yeah. Right." He chuckled softly, and his fingers curled around the necklace in a fist. "The ring came from my uncle. The watch I'd bought with my second paycheck from the Fotohut. Wasn't gonna get rid of those. But the necklace reminded me I didn't belong anywhere. Red wouldn't have kicked out Forman for doin' what I did—'cause Forman's actually his kid. "
"Puddin' ... you had a lot back then," she cradled his fist in both hands, "and you have a lot now. I could make a list, but I know lists bore you. So I'll just say what you had back then was enough to attract me—a beautiful, upper-class woman with luxurious tastes—to a poor, scruffy orphan."
She let go of his fist and kissed his knuckles, knowing full-well the rules she was breaking. Their pact stipulated that no pet names were to be spoken, that touching was to be avoided, and kissing shouldn't even cross their minds. He'd violated the latter two himself a few times, but they were minor infractions.
"You don't have to wear the necklace," she said and backed up to the garage's closed, overhead door. She placed her palms against the cold metal, hoping it would cool off the growing heat inside her. "You can hide it in your room somewhere."
"Did you make it?"
"Mm-hmm. I had some beads left over from an arts camp I went to. They were high up in my closet—at the house. The place is so empty and dusty." She shuddered. The mansion had become a sad monument to her childhood. Her mother refused to sell it, but it served mainly as storage for her family's possessions. "This was a mistake," she said and gestured to herself. "Maybe you should give back the necklace."
"It's reminding me I don't really belong anywhere."
"Yeah, you do." He looped the necklace around his neck and clasped it. After a minor positional adjustment, the largest bead lay below his Adam's apple. "This feels right," he said serenely, pumping adrenaline into Jackie's system.
Her lust for him was speeding up her heart. It shortened her breath, befuddled her thoughts. Her gaze drifted to his belt buckle, and a merciless ache settled between her legs. She forced her gaze upward. The earth-toned necklace complimented his fair skin and, more significantly, signaled she belonged with him.
Warning bells rattled her skull, but the commotion in her chest overwhelmed her. She charged forward, cupped the back of his head, and pulled him in for a kiss. He didn't resist as their lips made contact. She grabbed the front of his shirt and pushed her mouth against his so passionately he'd make no mistake of her intentions. His butt slammed against the El Camino's freshly-waxed hood, and his arms locked around her back for balance. Then one of his hands snaked into her hair, and the other glided over her hip.
His touch ignited her thoughts, setting little fires in her mind. By now, his time away from Samantha exceeded the time he'd spent with her. That fact drove Jackie deeper into longing. She yanked open Steven's plaid shirt, popping off a few buttons in the process. Her hands slipped beneath his undershirt, and the heat of his stomach warmed her palms . He sucked in a breath as if she'd frozen him, but then his kisses grew more intense and blazed through her body.
"Tailgate," she whispered in a stolen breath.
He led her to the back of the garage and lowered the El Camino's tailgate. He sat on the flatbed, and she risked a glance at his eyes. They reflected the need spiraling through her. This moment was a mutual decision—thank God—and she climbed onto his lap.
Her legs wrapped around his waist. He supported her back as their mouths met again, and she ground into his obvious hardness. She didn't need to wait another eight months. Couldn't wait. They had to be together right now.
Hyde's sanity was buried beneath an ecstatic delirium. His breaths left him heavily, and he was palming Jackie's butt, guiding their rhythm. They were both wearing jeans, but the denim allowed plenty of friction and heat.
She called his name quietly. Soon she'd be screaming it, and he'd be drowning in euphoria, robbing him of her forever.
His hands swept up her back, and his arms tightened around her. Then he scooted them both off the Camino's flatbed. Their feet landed on the garage's cement floor, and her face filled with the same panic he was feeling. "What is it?" she said. "What's wrong?"
"You're tryin' to sabotage me."
"What are you talking about?"
He slammed the Camino's tailgate back to its upright position. "We're supposed to be platonic, man. We're not supposed to be foolin' around." He clutched the top of the tailgate and leaned into it. Maybe the pact had been a ruse from the get-go. She was playing him, getting revenge for all the things he'd done.
"Steven, look at me."
He didn't want to. His impulse was to get into his car and drive off somewhere, but doing that had led him and Jackie here. His self-protective instincts were outdated and faulty. More often than not, they caused him to veer into ditches or crash into telephone poles.
He faced her and sighed. "I'm sorry."
"You wanna go first?"
The pain in her eyes was evident, but she nodded. "I really am sorry, Steven. My body wants what it wants. It's being goaded by this," she patted the center of her chest, "but you're right. My heart has to take orders from my mind, and my body has to fall in line."
"You're not alone there." He leaned against the tailgate again, this time with his back to it. His head had begun to pound. Too much of his blood had traveled southward. "You've already paid the price for what other people did. Shouldn't have accused you of tryin' to mess with me."
He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to concentrate. Emotional honesty, man. That was the only way to fix what was broken. "Expectin' people to fuck me over is what saved my ass."
"I know." Her fingers tangled together in front of her stomach. "I'm not out to hurt you, not today. Not ever."
"Yeah, I figured that one out. Too late, as fuckin' usual."
"Not too late. You didn't run away from me." She stepped toward him, and he welcomed her hand on his cheek. "You stayed." Her thumb glided over his sideburn. "You saw me."
"But you did." Her thumb moved over his lips, drawing out a smile. "You're changing, Steven."
"Not fast enough," he said, and his smile faded. "I'm havin' a hard time not touching you, emphasis on hard." She giggled and tugged on his belt loops, but he was serious. "I wanna stick to our pact, man. No matter how good sex feels with you, I gotta show you I can do this."
She tossed her hair over her shoulder and gazed at him seductively. "You think sex feels good with me?"
"We probably shouldn't be talkin' about that." He scratched the back of head and looked down at the garage floor. His erection had weakened, but he was still in the threat zone. "In fact, we should probably separate for about ten minutes."
"Make it fifteen. You take the bathroom. I get your room."
"Wait a sec—" He pushed himself from the tailgate, but Jackie was off and running. She slipped through the garage's side door, and he laughed as he chased after her.
This chick … her ability to forgive was the eighth wonder of the world. Him being on the receiving end had to be the ninth. She was giving him room to fall and the chance to get back up, even while taking ownership of her mistakes.
He stopped at the backyard fence as she reached the house. She disappeared inside, and his fingers traced the bead under his Adam's apple. Jackie's necklace really did feel right against his skin, like it belonged there—and for the first time since falling in love with her, he felt like they might belong together, too.
July 4, 1980
Point Place, Wisconsin
The Formans' Backyard
The Formans and Pinciottis were holding a joint Fourth of July celebration. It spanned both their properties, and the sun shone equally on their houses, but Jackie was keeping to the Formans' backyard. Her mother had come home for the month. Worse, Mr. Pinciotti had welcomed her mother back into his bed, even knowing the arrangement was temporary.
Jackie didn't want to see her. Nor did she want to watch Steven's attempts to impress her. That meant staying away from the Pinciottis' property, but not everything was rainbows and unicorns at the Formans'. The whole neighborhood had been invited to this party, yet Donna had chosen Jackie as her own personal complaint office.
"Eric's been back for three days," Donna said. She was gesturing wildly, and lemonade splashed out of her cup. "Three frickin' days, and he's over there," she indicated the Pinciotti's yard, "flirting with your mother!"
"Would you rather he be flirting with his own mom?" Jackie said. They were standing by a picnic table. It was covered by a cloth inspired by the American flag, and plates of cheeseburgers were spread on it.
"Your mom already, like, hijacked my dad," Donna said. "My boyfriend's barely back from Africa. I'd like to spend a little time with him."
"It's not my fault Burkhart women are irresistible."
Heat rose from the burgers. They'd been freshly grilled, and Jackie's stomach rumbled. She ignored her appetite, however, and walked toward the garage. She hoped Donna would take the hint and leave her alone.
"Jackie—" Donna's footsteps crunched on the grass, following her. "This is important."
A sugar maple obscured the garage's side. Jackie wished she could hide behind it. Steven had been hijacked by her mother, too. Their updated pact didn't contain any rules about that, but he should've known better. "Go talk to stupid Eric about it."
"Oh, I will, but you can't tell me you're happy with your mom either."
"I'm not." She kicked at a clod of grass and dirt. It flew past Donna's legs and broke apart on the ground. "But what can I do? If I had any control over her, she'd be a sexier, classier version of Mrs. Forman. Instead, she flutters in and out of my life like a hundred-dollar bill caught in the wind."
"Yeah, I know." Donna frowned. "I'm sorry."
"She's ridiculous. I told her that I'd gotten into the Milwaukee Fashion Institute, and guess what she congratulated me on? Not the acceptance or the scholarship but for 'getting a man to pay for the rest of the tuition'. Can you believe that?"
"Unfortunately, I can. You wanna see if the bozos have come back yet?"
"Oh, why not?" Jackie said. Steven, Eric, and Fez had to get bored with her mother sometime, didn't they?
Jackie and Donna dashed to the backyard fence. They scanned the Formans' driveway, but Steven hadn't returned. Neither had Eric or Fez. "What the hell could they be doing?" Donna said.
Jackie's eyes fell shut, and she inhaled a calming breath. "I don't even care."
"Well, I do."
Donna left Jackie's side, and Jackie turned away from the driveway. She and Steven should've been in Milwaukee. His father had invited them to spend July 4th with him, but Steven wanted to spend time with Eric. She couldn't fault him for that—Eric had been gone for six months—but bonding while ogling Jackie mother?
She kicked at the ground again, and another clod of grass went flying. Her pact with Steven had half a year to go. They'd updated it to allow for non-sexual touching. A lot of their time together was spent in each other's arms, hugging and cuddling. Experiencing his physical affection left no doubts as to how much he loved her. Her body was safe with him, in ways it had never been with Michael, but she still wasn't sure about her heart.
"Yeah, she's real freakin' charming," Hyde said to the crowd in Bob's backyard. People were trying to get him to back off of Pam Burkhart. She had tears in her eyes. Hyde had put them there, but they were finally in their rightful place. Jackie had cried too damn much because of her mom, and he was done.
"You gonna deny it?" he said to Pam. "Or are you gonna fess up to partying in Mexico while your kid had nowhere to sleep? Nothin' to eat?"
"He's being dramatic." Pam showed the crowd her artificially bright smile, but her lilting voice was cracking. "We have a beautiful mansion on Rose Boulevard. She slept there, and the housekeeper prepared meals for her."
"Bullshit. Jackie had no money to pay for the housekeeper 'cause you spent it on booze. She had to fend for herself, to deal with foreclosures and banks and a whole bunch of crap that ain't her responsibility. She was sixteen, man—"
"Jackie's always been resourceful. Sixteen or not, she managed to take care of herself." Pam brushed her feathered hair off her shoulder in the same haughty way Jackie often did. "I needed some me-time after Jack's betrayal, and tequila isn't booze. It's—"
Murmurs rumbled through the crowd, and she covered her mouth. She'd screwed up—and she knew it.
A frail-looking elderly woman stepped forward and shoved a bony finger in Pam's face. "You are a horrible woman! Children are precious. Precious!"
"Come, Helen."Another elderly woman, plump, steered the first woman away.
"Pammy?" Bob had a few American flag toothpicks sticking out of his perm. A plate was in his hands with two hot dogs on it. "Is everything all right?"
"No!" Pam bolted across the backyard and shoved open the front fence's gate.
Bob didn't pursue her. He took a big bite out of a hot dog, but Forman and Fez grabbed onto Hyde's arms. They'd been part of the uninvited audience, and they pulled him to the hedge lining the back fence..
"What the hell was that?" Forman said.
"Yes," Fez said, "how could you make such a sexy whore cry?"
Forman rammed his fist into Fez's shoulder, but the punch was sloppy. "Don't call Pam a whore. She's a classy, slightly older woman who deserves our respect. And you..." he slapped Hyde's chest with the same sloppiness, "you took away my pretty lady."
"You have a pretty lady. Her name is Donna." Hyde grasped Forman's shoulders to steady him. Forman had sucked down more than a few beers at this shindig. He'd wanted to let loose today, to shake off his long-held tension, but Hyde recognized self-destruction all too well. "I know you've been hard up, Forman," he snapped his fingers in Forman's face, "but get it together. Quit hittin' on Pam-fuckin'-Burkhart and talk to Donna about your crap already."
Hyde searched the backyard with his eyes and spotted Donna. She was walking past two of Bob's National Guard buddies. He gave Forman a less-than-gentle push in her direction, and Forman managed to stumble his way to her.
"Poor Eric," Fez said. "He is so insecure. Donna may be surrounded by strong, virile men in college, but she likes her men weak and skeletal."
Hyde adjusted his shades and scowled. "You've been suckin' on the Pinciottis' keg, haven't ya?"
Fez flung his arms in the air, "Viva L'Amedica!" then ran off.
Hyde was glad for the alone-time. He needed to cool down. Reaming out Pam Burkhart had come two years too late, but he'd been under strict orders to keep his mouth shut—issued by Jackie's pride. Her vulnerability had swayed him, but he wasn't her boyfriend anymore. They were friends, and nothing in their pact stipulated he couldn't confront her mother.
She was a woman who thrived on twisted half-truths. With her arsenal of seduction—a well-spoken compliment, a litany of empty promises—she convinced people to act against their own best interests.
"Damn it." Hyde's boots dug into the grass as he wove between party guests. Pam was going to tell Jackie her version of events first. If Jackie listened, if she absorbed that crap, then he might as well say goodbye. Because they were over.
Jackie was sitting inside the Formans' garage, waiting for Donna's return. Donna had been gone for a while, which meant she must have discovered something awful.
Were Steven, Eric, and Fez all making out with Jackie's mother? Had they gone that far? Jackie slouched morosely in her chair, but she was being paranoid. Steven had promised his body to her and to her alone. Pam Burkhart was the last woman he'd touch.
"Jackie!" Pam's high heels clacked on the driveway. "Jackie, I need to talk to you!"
Jackie stood up. The garage's back door led to the street. Escape was possible, but she didn't move.
"How could you do that to me?" Pam ran into the garage. She was crying but kept her voice a low hiss. "You sent your boyfriend to yell at me!"
"He what?" Jackie's pulse tightened. "Wait, who are you talking about?"
"Your boyfriend! That—that Hyde fellow!"
"Steven's not my boyfriend."
Pam wiped her teary face then smoothed down the ruffles of her blouse. As usual, the blouse was cut short and showed far too much cleavage. "Whatever. Your boy toy. The one who's paying for your college."
Jackie groaned and cupped her forehead. Why did her mother have to put things so badly? "He's a man, not a boy or a toy. We're not even having sex—"
"Well, no wonder he's so cranky."
"Mom!" Jackie peered around the garage. It had a lot of tempting blunt objects, but bashing her mother's skull in with a pipe wrench wouldn't accomplish anything. "If Steven was yelling at you, then you probably earned it—"
Pam's mouth dropped open, but only a squeak came out.
"Because he almost never yells," Jackie said with a deep breath, the last one her lungs took in. Her pulse had grown painful in her chest, making breathing difficult. "What did he say to you?"
"Awful, awful things. People were staring, and an old woman jabbed her decrepit finger at me!"
"He—he yelled at you in public?" Jackie sat in the chair again. She'd become dizzy.
"Let's not play this game," Pam said after a moment. Jackie wasn't sure how much time had passed or if Pam had been talking during it. Jackie had blocked her out, just as Steven taught her to do, while regaining control of her breath. "Jackie, I'm waiting."
She looked up at Pam with bleary eyes. Steven was walking up behind her, but Jackie gave no indication of his presence. "Waiting for what?"
Pam gestured as if the answer was obvious. "My apology."
"Go wait for it somewhere else." Steven said.
She grimaced and turned toward him. "Excuse me?"
"Go wait for someone else to give you one, too." He crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head. "Jackie doesn't owe you shit."
Jackie gaped at him. Steven was defending her honor, not lusting after her mother. But Pam seemed about to retaliate. That dour look was on her face—the one where she might slap someone—but she strode away without a word. Her hair flew behind her as she left the garage, and Jackie blew out a shaky breath.
Steven pulled off his sunglasses and hung them on his shirt collar. He squatted in front of her chair, and his hands slid over her knees. "You okay?"
His touch was comforting, and she mustered a smile. "I am now."
"Guess your ma told you what she thought I did."
"Not really. Just that you embarrassed her." She reached toward his necklace. He hadn't stopped wearing it since he first put it on, and her finger grazed the bead beneath his Adam's apple. "You didn't embarrass me, did you?"
"Tried not to. Forman and Fez were fawnin' all over your mom, and it pissed me off. Remembered how I had to act the same way 'cause of your freakin' instructions—"
"Steven—" blood rushed to her face, "you were never that good at it."
"Hard to be enthusiastic about flirting with my chick's mom. Faked that attraction under protest."
A spark of joy floated inside her. She adored how he called her his chick, but then her shoulders tensed. "I was afraid you weren't faking this time." .
"I wasn't. Decided your orders had expired, so I let her have it."
"Did you really yell at her?"
He drummed his fingers on her thighs."Might've turned up the volume a little. I'm sick of her bouncin' in and out of your life and expecting you to play ball."
His palms were warming her knees, and he looked at her with such devotion that she considered breaching their updated pact—closing and locking every door in the Formans' garage, pushing him against Mr. Forman's workbench, making him forget his body had ever been touched by anyone else—but she stayed seated. She patted his hands, and all her frustration escaped as a sigh.
"It's the same for me," he said. "I'm sick of bouncin' in and out of your life."
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. "Oh?"
"Kept waitin' for you to dispossess me..." his gaze lowered to the cement floor, "but I kicked myself out."
She combed her fingers through the back of his soft, curly hair. "You kicked both of us out."
"Yeah. I did."
She began to respond, but metal clanking on metal penetrated her eardrums. Mr. Forman was standing a few feet away, striking a steel trash can with the pipe wrench. "All right, you two," he said, "quit makin' googly eyes at each other. You're scaring the neighborhood."
"We're what?" she said.
Mr. Forman struck the garbage can harder. "You're scaring the neighborhood! This isn't some makeout spot. It's where I keep my tools! Now get the hell out of my garage!"
"We weren't making out, Mr. Forman. We're—"
Steven grasped Jackie's hand before she could finish. He pulled her out to the backyard, and she collapsed against him in a fit of nervous laughter.
"We scare the neighborhood?" she said. "He scares the neighborhood. Point Place would be lucky to watch us kiss. We could teach this town something."
"Probably." He responded to her anxious clinging by drawing her into a full embrace. "Hell, definitely."
His chin slid over her shoulder, and she took solace in his arms. This was where she belonged, with him. Every day, her confidence in that feeling grew stronger, but a lot could happen in six months or even a minute. One wrong thought. Leading to a terrible action. Then total devastation.
"Steven," she said by his ear.
"If I needed more time, to extend the deadline of our pact, what would you do?"
"I'd stick it out."
"Even if it were another year? Even if we don't make it after that?"
His arms loosened around her then fell to his sides. He stepped backward as a summer breeze swept through the grass, through his curls. "Not gonna bail … okay?" He cupped her cheek. "Don't need guarantees, Jackie. Just a fair shot."
His thumb caressed her skin, and the hairs at her nape prickled. How could he accept having only a chance? It had never been enough for her. But Steven clearly believed she was worth the risk of total collapse.
"You have it," she said. He was cradling both her cheeks now, and his forehead pressed against hers. He seemed happy until an ache settled over his winter-blue eyes. "No one can take your place," she said, hoping she read him right. "You're irreplaceable."
Her forehead rocked with the movement of his nod. "So are you."
September 28, 1980
William Barnett's Mansion
Hyde's closet at W.B.'s place was too damn big, but almost nothing of his own filled it. A few pairs of jeans, a wool coat with thick gloves stuffed inside, and a woolen skull cap—all of which W.B. bought him—and that was about it. The rest of the closet stored Jackie's weekend crap, and he shoved aside three pairs of her knee-high boots. Behind them he found one of her smaller suitcases, not what he was searching for.
"Damn it." He must have hidden her present in the closet's other side. He crossed the room and tried not to look at Jackie, but his eyes flicked to her as she sang his name. She was sitting on his bed, bouncing on it impatiently. "I know, I know.," he said. "Give me another minute."
He slid open the closet's right-most door. Jackie's clothes hung from hangers, and he split them into two groups. He needed room to maneuver. Only an hour was left before Jackie had to return to her dorm, but the present still eluded him.
He stepped back, and his eyes scanned the upper shelves. On the lowest of them, something black glittered behind a hat box. Bingo. He reached up, pushed the hat box over, and grasped the present wrapped in shimmering black paper.
"Yay!" Jackie applauded, and her bracelet seemed to applaud with her. Its charms were clattering against one another. A dress, a pair of scissors, and a car were the latest additions, commemorating the start of school. Back in August, he'd brought her to the Milwaukee Fashion Institute and helped move her in. "What did you get me?" she said as he passed her the present. "Wait, let me guess."
She laid the present across her lap, and her palms skimmed over the wrapping. This could take a while.
"It's not a new dress," he said and went to his desk.
"Shush!" She raised the present off her knees then placed it back down.
He dragged his desk chair close to the bed and sat down. Savoring gifts had become a ritual of Jackie's, but he wished she'd hurry up and open the thing. "You really wanna spend our last hour demonstrating your deductive reasoning skills?"
"'Our last hour'?" She frowned. "Don't say it like that. I'll see you again in less than a week."
"Feels longer. Gotta get through tonight, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thurs—"
"You're making next Friday sound as if it'll never come."
"You can make the time pass faster," he gestured to the present, "if you open that faster."
She angled her head questioningly, but his answer lay inside the box. On the weekends, he drove up to Milwaukee. They stayed together in W.B.'s house, but she had the option of sleeping here whenever she wanted. W.B. had given her a set of keys, knowing what Jackie meant to Hyde. He also knew what Hyde planned to do at the end of the year.
"My birthday was six months ago," Jackie said and ripped off the present's wrapping. It revealed a shirt box. "Midterms aren't until next month, so why did you...?" She lifted off the box's lid, and her chest rose and fell with sharp breaths. "No." A wet sheen formed over her eyes. "No, Steven—"
Inside the box was his favorite Led Zeppelin shirt.
"Yeah." He leaned forward on the chair. His left hand balled into a fist, and right hand squeezed it. He had to concentrate on his body, to keep his feelings level. She couldn't realize what was at stake for him here. "Look, even if you don't kiss me on New Year's, no other chick's gonna earn that shirt."
She brought the shirt to her nose and inhaled. "It smells like you do after a shower." Then, much to his surprise, she unbuttoned her blouse.
Her lacy purple bra outlined her breasts perfectly, but his gaze wandered to her belly button. He hadn't seen this much of her bare in almost a year—she'd stuck to one-piece bathing suits over the summer, out of consideration for him—and the shock transformed into hard-on. He squeezed his left fist tighter. This glimpse of her was torturous, but it ended when his shirt dropped over her body.
She stood up and modeled for him. "How do I look?"
"Beautiful." The admission slipped from his throat easily. "Can't believe you're wearin' it."
"Oh, I wore it before." She spoke as if it were common knowledge and sank down onto his lap. Her arms looped around his neck. Her legs straddled his hips, and he hoped like hell she couldn't feel his erection. "Just privately ... but why did you wear it?"
"It's a cool freakin' shirt."
"No, I mean last New Year's Eve."
"Oh, uh..." His voice knotted up. He grunted a few times to loosen it. "Wanted to wear somethin' that reminded me to do what's right."
"Like let me go?" she said and kissed him below his jawline, right at his pulse point.
"Jackie—" His arms rose off her hips, and his hands splayed on her back. Her kisses were growing thicker and hotter on his neck. "Knock it off," he whispered. His jeans had become uncomfortably tight, and her wriggling made it worse. "I'm not losin' you over this," he said louder even as his eyes closed. She felt too damn good against him, and he groaned while edging off the seat.
"You don't have to let me go." Her mouth found his earlobe, and the light tug of her teeth crackled through his nerves. She had to notice how his body was reacting. A year's worth of fantasies were assaulting him, causing him to inch further off the chair. He repositioned his legs and stabilized himself, prevented him and Jackie from crashing to the floor.
"I'm gonna end up inside you if don't get the fuck off me." The warning came out rougher than he intended. Breathing was an effort, and his thoughts were hazy.
"What if I want that?" She kissed his barely-responsive lips.
"Then wait for it." He purposely moved them another inch off the chair, and her feet slammed onto the floor for balance. "We're not breakin' the pact."
"The pact's finished."
"So this is a goodbye screw?"
"Why do you always go there?" She shook him, and they rocked precipitously on the chair's edge. His leg muscles tensed to keep them both from falling. "No," she said, "it's finished as in complete. I don't have to wait another three months."
"Quick change, man. Why? 'Cause I gave you my fuckin' shirt back?"
"No!" She shook him harder, and they toppled off the chair. He cupped the back of her head protectively and held her close as they fell. She gasped, but he twisted them onto their sides a split-second before impact. Both his shoulder and elbow slammed into the floor.
"Steven—!" Her voice was muffled by his chest. They were tangled together on the carpet, too close to the bed frame. "Puddin', are you okay?"
"Hit my funny bone." He wiggled his fingers as pain traveled from his elbow to his hand. Then he rolled onto his back while holding onto her. "Be careful gettin' up. Bed's right there."
She didn't climb off him. Instead, she hugged herself to his body and tucked her head in the crook of his neck. Her hair smelled like jasmine, a sweet and sensual floral scent that wreaked havoc with his system. It turned him on and damped his apprehension, his only remaining safety net.
"This is why the pact's complete," she said. "You've been doing everything you can not to hurt me. You gave up so much—"
"You were willing to do the same for me." His fingers brushed through her hair slowly, indulgently. "And givin' you up, man … dumbest move I ever made."
She hugged him tighter. "Giving up on you was mine. I never should've left before you could tell me your answer."
She was talking about the marriage ultimatum, about Chicago. His lips grazed the top of her head, and he inhaled more jasmine. Heat spread through his body at the smell, but his need for her would have to go unsatisfied. "Love's a bitch, you know?"
"No, it's not." She moved off him, rolling to her right and into the desk chair. She seemed unhurt and got to her feet. "Neither of us are going to be complacent," she said and gestured for him to stand. He pushed himself off the floor, and her arms slipped around his waist. "We both know what the consequences are." She drew him close and kissed him. His mouth remained unresponsive. "Steven—"
"Can't risk it," he said.
"Risk what? Trusting me?"
"No, that's not—I gotta wait 'til New Year's."
"You don't." She kissed him again, but his lips still wouldn't accept her. "Baby, this isn't a test or a trick. We modified our pact in April from the original rules. I'm ready for it to end. You've proven yourself to me. What do I have to do?."
"You're not the problem," he said as adrenaline flowed into blood. "I can't promise I won't fuck up—"
"I trust you." She pulled herself closer to him. Pushed her chest into him, but his focus wasn't on her breasts but the beating organ behind them. It was loyal to him—and that loyalty fueled her actions, just as his loyalty to her fueled his. Maybe he wouldn't disappoint her after all. "I don't need a guarantee," she said, "just a chance of having a future with you."
"You got more than a chance." He kissed her with all he'd been holding back. A startled cry escaped her, but then she gripped his shirt. No space existed between their bodies as their mouths reconnected. Their hands explored familiar but much-missed territory, kindling an arousal deeper than his flesh.
She coaxed him onto his bed, but he tried slowing things down, to make this moment a sampler instead of a full-course meal. They had only twenty minutes left. Then they'd have to leave.
"Your roommate," he managed to say between kisses.
"Won't be bothered." Jackie was under him and tugging at the hem of his shirt. "I'm staying here tonight, with you."
Her answer extinguished the last of his concerns. They stripped each other naked, and her skin glided hotly against him. Her jasmine scent became his air. It drove him to her favorite places to be touched, where he expressed his devotion until she called his name desperately.
He grinned into her thigh before returning to her face. Sweat beaded across her hairline, and blood reddened her cheeks. Her fingers twisted into his damp curls, and she said, "You—you're making me feel like I'm all you want."
"You are." He inched his face closer to hers, but she stopped his approaching kiss. "What?"
Her legs tightened around his hips. "What you just did..."
She didn't finish her sentence, but she didn't have to. "Hey, it's okay, Grasshopper." He stroked her warm cheek. "You're not bein' selfish, all right? I brought you here. You can go to town on me next time."
"Next time." She breathed out the words happily. Then her slick, tender flesh pushed up against his hardness, and an impish smile rose on her lips. "This must be what it's like for you when I open a present."
He laughed. "Yup, the waiting's painful … and you're gonna have to wait a few more seconds." Rubbers were stashed in the nightstand. He separated from her and pulled one out, but he fumbled as he put it on himself. "Been a while," he said, and a sliver of fear wedged itself between his ribs. The last time he'd worn a condom, he'd been with Samantha.
"Steven?" Jackie's nails dragged along his back, and he glanced over his shoulder at her. "Yesterday doesn't matter. It's gone.'"
He was impressed. She'd quoted the Rolling Stones. "Takin' liberties with 'Ruby Tuesday'? Played enough of those records for ya, huh?"
"You're with me now. Be with me."
He moved back over her body. Her thighs opened to accept him, but he dropped a kiss onto her lips and said, "Never loved anyone like this but you."
She swept his damp curls off his forehead, and that impish smile of hers returned. "I told you I'm an unforgettable woman. You're doomed."
"Nope." He eased into her, and she moaned her pleasure softly. "'Cause you love me back."
Her breaths were shallow. He'd buried himself deep inside her, and he pulled back his hips and buried himself again. "I'll never stop," she whispered, and it was the last coherent sentence either of them spoke.
December 31, 1980
Point Place, Wisconsin
The Formans' Living Room
Fifteen minutes remained until the new year, and the Formans' living room throbbed with sound. Champagne glasses clinked, Fez's candy wrappers rustled, and Betsy's feet stomped on the carpet. Music blasted from the television, and Angie Barnett's purse opened, but all the noise narrowed into Steven's soft breathing. Jackie had focused her senses on him.
They'd secluded themselves on the carpeted staircase, and a small gift-wrapped box was balanced on his fingertips. "Last charm of the year," he said.
"Only one? Usually they come in twos or threes."
"Only one, but it'll probably count for a hundred." He brought the box closer to her face. She snatched it up and tore off the wrapping paper. "Where the hell was this gusto the last eleven months?" he said, laughing, but the box's size had sent her heart into spasm. It was the perfect size for a—
"You really got me a charm?" She stared at the white Cherish Beads lid. "Okay."
"Man," he kept chuckling, "how many times have assumptions gotten us into trouble?"
"Too many. Shut up." She pulled off the box's lid. The charm inside was obscured by tissue paper. She pushed it aside and found a pewter representation of … "A horseshoe?" She placed the charm on her palm. It couldn't be a horseshoe. The curved ends should've been open, but they were attached to a misshapen ball. "A doorknocker?"
Her brow creased. She was usually good at guessing his obscure symbols, but this one had her stumped.
"Zero for two, doll. Here's a hint." He held up a finger on his left hand, and she thought he was flipping her off. Then she realized he was showing his ring finger.
"It's a..." She put the charm above her own left ring finger, and both of her hands began to shake. "It's a—?"
He took the charm from her. "Lame depiction of a diamond ring, yeah." His warm, steady hand held her left wrist, and he hooked the charm onto her bracelet. "You'll get the real thing from me when we're ready—and if you want it—but I figured I'd give you this as a promise. An engagement to get engaged, I guess."
"Oh, my God..." She raised her trembling hands to her mouth. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God." She'd plummeted into a stupor, but she climbed out and slapped his knee. "I'm ready!" She slapped his knee two more times. "I'm ready, I'm ready!"
"Thought you might say that." He stood and descended the stairs, and blood rose to her face. He was so not leaving her after a tease like that. She pushed herself up, and he called back, "You comin'?"
He was acting too cool, too Zen. Suspicion propelled her down the staircase, and he grasped her hand at the bottom. Two more carpeted steps led to the living room, but he kept her on the landing.
"Attention, everyone!" he shouted, and half the guests turned toward them. "Hey! Over here!" A few more heads turned, but some people were too distracted by their own activities.
"EVERYBODY," Jackie yelled, "STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING. RIGHT NOW!" She'd used her most piercing, demanding voice, and the room fell quiet. All eyes were finally fixed on her and Steven.
"Uh … thanks," he said and scratched the back of his neck. It was the first crack in his calm. "I like doing things like this in private, but I also hate havin' to repeat myself a thousand times. Since you're all here..." He knelt down on one knee, a move that tightened her throat. "Jackie..."
"St—Steven," speaking was difficult, but she forced the words out, "you don't kneel."
"You'd kick my stones to get me down here," he said, "so I chose to skip that part."
The air vibrated with laughter. Eric and Donna's voices were the most discernible, but she refused to acknowledge them.
"Also," Steven reached behind himself, "I wanted to do this right."
"Can you do it before 1985?" Mr. Forman said, but Jackie's didn't know from where Steven had just produced a black velvet ring box, and she wouldn't look away from it.
"Red, hush!" Mrs. Forman said. "Steven's finally doing this with the right girl!"
The comment made Steven swallow and look at the floor, but his gaze rose as he opened the velvet box. Inside was a three-stone engagement ring. A large diamond sat between two smaller ones, and the three of them were surrounded by even smaller pavé diamonds. Pavé diamonds also encircled the white-gold band.
"Well?" he said.
"'Well,' what?" Her lungs threatened to collapse, but she willed them to keep working. "I'm not assuming anything. It only gets us into trouble."
"He's asking you to marry him, you fool!" Fez yelled, but she had to be sure.
She cocked an eyebrow. "Are you?"
Steven licked his lips. His discomfort was clearly growing, but he said, "The corporate money-grubbin', movie-fantasy version of being hitched ain't me. And it's got nothin' to do with outdated rituals or religious beliefs—'cause you know I don't got any." He plucked the ring from the box, and the box dropped to the floor. "Finishing out my life without you … I faced that prospect once. Wasn't pretty."
"But it sure was busty!" Donna shouted, obviously buzzed on champagne, and Jackie made a decision. The next time she or Steven had a major announcement to make, no booze was allowed.
"What I'm askin' is to share your future," Steven said, as if he hadn't been heckled, and his eyes didn't leave Jackie's face. "That's what gettin' hitched really means to you, so that's what it means to me."
"Oh, Puddin'..." Her whole body trembled. She was sweating through her blouse, and her perfectly curled hair had to be going flat. Steven didn't care about marriage or weddings, but she understood why. They weren't guarantees of a relationship lasting.
His hand slid beneath her left palm, and his fingers wrapped around it. "Jackie, you up for this? Look at my ol' man there." He nodded toward W.B. "His dad—my grandpa—is over eighty, and he runs freakin' marathons. I ain't goin' anywhere anytime soon, so you're gonna have to put up with me for a while." His lips lifted into a smirk. "Sure you can handle it?"
"More than sure." She tapped her fingertips on his wrist. "There's no one else for me."
His smirk widened into a grin. "This is better than seeing Zeppelin—"
"A damnable lie!" Eric shouted.
Steven ignored him and glided the engagement ring up her ring finger. She gave the diamonds a loving glance before flinging her arms around his neck. He was shaking as badly as she was, but he embraced her tightly and picked her up off her feet. They shared an exhilarating kiss, and applause and cheers burst in the air like fireworks.
Family and friends came up to them afterward, offering congratulatory hugs until Mr. Forman said, "Be happy for them next year. We've got two minutes to get outside and—"
"Blow stuff up!" Michael said. He and Betsy dashed to the kitchen together, pursued by a concerned-looking Brooke.
"Everybody outside! Move it! Move it!" Mr. Forman waved for everyone to follow him, and the living room emptied out except for two. Jackie and Steven had stayed behind on the carpeted landing.
"This is the best New Year's Eve ever," she said, smiling. "But why is Mr. Forman obsessed with celebrating on the driveway? It's freezing out there."
"Who cares?" Steven's hand slipped up her back, and his fingers threaded through her hair. "Got a much better tradition for celebratin' the New Year."
"Yeah, I bet you do." Her eyes drifted closed as he leaned in for a kiss. His soft lips brushed over her mouth, making her skin tingle. His love and reverence were rippling through her body as hot chills, and she gave back the same in good measure.
If the clock were counting down, neither of them noticed. They parted only when people returned inside and gawked at them. "Way to ring in the New Year," Angie said. Randy was chuckling behind her. "Tonguing your way to 1982."
"You should try it some time," Steven said and draped his arm over Jackie's shoulders. Her own arm was slung around his waist. "Happy New Year, sis."
"Happy New Year, bro." Angie's eyes met with Randy's, and she shared his laughter. They walked off together, and Fez darted out from behind the couch and followed.
"Poor Fez," Jackie said. "He never chooses right."
"Nope." Steven kissed her temple gently. "Who do you think he's chasin' after? Randy or Angie?"
She shrugged beneath his arm. "Maybe both of them—and you won our wager. Fez made no grand proclamations about his sexuality."
"Yup … but I won a lot more than that." He was talking about her—but, she hoped, he also meant himself. They'd both almost lost him to a bottomless abyss. Had he fallen, she would've been lost, too.
She gripped the material of his shirt and whispered, "Thank you for coming back to me."
"You brought me back."
"You let me," she said, and the conversation ended there. He picked her up again, this time like a husband carrying a bride.
They disappeared into the Formans' den, and he didn't put her down until they reached his room. Desire licked at her insides when he joined her on his cot. His eyes reflected back the same desire, and their personal celebration continued long into the new year.