Disclaimer: That '70s Show copyright The Carsey-Werner Company, LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC.

53 MINUTES, 12 SECONDS

Kelso's fingers gripped the stopwatch. His eyes were fixed on the LCD display, and Hyde couldn't get enough of it. "Fifty-three minutes," Kelso said, slack-jawed. "Fifty-three..."

"Don't forget the twelve seconds," Fez said.

The basement's ratty couch was crowded. Hyde and Jackie's friends had packed themselves together on it. They were mesmerized, for one reason or another, with the number on the stopwatch.

"You rigged it." Kelso tapped the display. "This has gotta include non-sex stuff."

"And what constitutes 'non-sex stuff,' Michael?" Jackie said. She was sitting comfortably on Hyde's lap. They were on their own little island, his white but dirt-stained chair.

Kelso squinted. "I'll thank you to leave the U.S. Constitution out of this."

Hyde exchanged looks with Donna and Forman. Jackie's vocabulary had exponentially increased since they'd started dating. She wasn't dumbing herself down anymore. She didn't have to, not with him.

"No..." Donna reached over Forman and shoved Kelso's shoulder, "dink! She means: what doesn't count as sex to you?"

"Well, why didn't she just say so?" Kelso shook his head. "Man..."

"Kelso, I'm gettin' you a dictionary for your next birthday," Hyde said. "Not an abridged one, either. Maybe if I beat your skull with it enough, you'll finally learn something."

"I think you mean a dick-tionary..." Fez was grinning, and his eyes flicked toward the stopwatch, "if that number is any indication. A-burn."

Jackie clapped loudly. The sound echoed through the basement, commandeering everyone's attention. "Okay, okay! Enough," she said. "Michael, answer the question."

"It'll be easier if I tell you what does count as sex." Kelso's gaze returned to the stopwatch. "You get in; you get out; you're done."

Hyde scowled. "Maybe you are—"

"Post-sex cuddling is the culprit here!" Kelso shouted. "That's obviously what makes up fifty minutes of this score—time—whatever."

"Oh, Steven pressed stop before we—" Jackie quit talking, changed course, "right after we finished."

Hyde's hand was resting on her denim-covered thigh, and he gave her a surreptitious squeeze. Her mental reflexes were quick. Staying quiet was tough for a girl like her, one who liked to blab about every detail. She'd almost revealed what he reserved only for her, but they'd both agreed to keep their relationship private—save for this one exception.

"What kind of sick bastard times his first—you know—with his girlfriend?" Forman's face was growing red. "I mean, I count the times Donna and I have sex, but that's for romantic reasons."

"Eric, first of all? Ew," Jackie said. "Second, Steven and I don't 'you know'. We make love—"

"Fuck," Hyde corrected, just to tease her, but Kelso seemed more affected by it. He let out an indignant gasp, and his eyes briefly flicked up from the stopwatch. The fury in them was unmistakable. "Yeah, man, we fuck. Get over it."

"Steven!" Jackie grasped Hyde's hand on her leg. "We make love. And I'm the one who timed it."

"You?" their friends said with the same voice. Then they fell silent, apparently waiting for a response. When none came, Donna piped up:

"Jackie, for God's sake, why?"

Jackie still didn't answer. She peered up at Hyde, who had to fight a shit-eating grin. That stopwatch was more than proof of his prowess. It had captured a defining moment between him and his chick, one that would last long beyond fifty-three minutes and twelve seconds.

Kelso shoved the stopwatch into Fez's chest. "I don't believe it. You're full of crap."

"Fez?" Hyde said.

Fez produced a folded-up piece of paper. He gave it to Kelso, who unfolded it. "'Fifty-five minutes and twenty-five seconds,'" Kelso said, reading off the paper. "What's this?"

"My verification," Fez said. "I even dated and signed it." Forman and Donna expressed varying degrees of disgust, but Fez was unfazed. "Shall I explain, or will the lovemakers do the honors?"

"Yeah, we can handle it," Hyde said, locking eyes with Jackie. But she appeared unsure, as if she couldn't decide just how much to tell.


One Week Ago

Jackie dashed across the Formans' backyard. Two shopping bags were in her hands, getting as soaked as she was. The storm had begun as a drizzle. She'd left the mall without fear, but then dark clouds billowed overhead. The raindrops grew fatter, and she was caught in nature's fireworks, drenched in water and noise.

Lightning streaked through the charcoal-gray sky. Growling thunder followed, and she slipped on the Formans' wet grass. The shopping bags flew from her grip. Their contents spilled over the yard, and she crashed to the ground. Air fled her lungs, but she refused to panic. She gathered her wits, her supplies and gifts, and ran.

The rain fell harder. It mashed her hair over her face, made the lawn more treacherous. She had trouble seeing. Kept losing her footing, but she got to the fence without another fall.

A small victory. The gate wouldn't open. It was locked. She had the key, but it was in a zippered jacket pocket. The smell of wet earth of burned her throat, and her zipper only half-unzipped. Using two fingers, she plucked the key from the small opening. Another small victory.

In the movies, weather this bad was supposed to be romantic. Two lovers kissing as water covers them head-to-toe. The ceaseless patter of raindrops as the musical score. Jackie inserted herself into that scenario, imagining her almost-lover racing through the storm. His boots wouldn't slip on the grass. He'd—

A bolt of lightning split her fantasy apart. The flash was too close, and her hands shook as thunder rolled through. Getting the fence unlocked was a feat, especially with the shopping bags dangling on her arms. She managed, though, and relocked the gate on the other side

The Formans' porch was a dry haven, but the driveway resembled the sky. Rain had darkened the pavement, and it reflected the porch lights in a zigzaggy blur. Her boots thunked wetly on the concrete. Her fingers reached for the sliding glass doors, and she shoved herself inside the kitchen.

"Finally," she said, and lightning burst behind her. Thunder boomed a final, Fuck you! to her, but she wasn't having it. "Oh, yeah? Fuck you back!"

"Excuse me?" Mrs. Forman was at the oven, pulling out a tray of cookies. "That is not birthday language, young lady."

"Look at me, Mrs. Forman!" Jackie raised her arms. Water dripped off her jacket sleeves and the shopping bags. "Steven deserves his gorgeous girlfriend today, not this."

"Oh, sweetie..." Mrs. Forman's voice softened, and she put the cookie tray on the counter. "Steven hates his birthday. He won't care what you look like. In fact, he'll probably prefer being left alone." She indicated the tray. "These delicious chocolate chip, peanut butter cookies I made? He'll want to eat them alone."

"But, Mrs. Forman—"

"Alone, Jackie." She opened a cabinet and pulled out a package of balloons. "And these? Once Eric and Donna help me blow them up, Steven will want to enjoy them all by himself. Without the woman who took him in. The woman who's been a mother to him for years and deserves her birthday hug, damn it!"

She slammed the cabinet door closed, loud enough to compete with the thunder. The sound appeared to startle her, but then she laughed. "Oh, I'm sorry, Jackie. It's these fluctuating hormones. They've gotten me in touch with all sorts of feelings, like how alone I'll be after my babies finally leave me."

Jackie barely held back the storm behind her eyes. "Steven is so not being left alone today. Not after everything I've been through." She carried her bags past Mrs. Forman to the basement stairs. "And if he even thinks of laughing at me..."

She rushed down to the basement. No time for finishing sentences or consoling a menopausal Mrs. Forman. She needed a towel. Now.

A laugh track echoed behind her. Someone was watching television, but rather than identifying who, she darted into Steven's bathroom. In the confined space, her wet jacket felt constrictive on her body. She got it off and tossed it over the shower curtain rod.

"Stupid weather, " she said and peeled her damp skirt from her legs. But the fabric clung to her skin the second she let it go. "Stupid nature."

Her shopping bags lay at her feet. She rifled through them and yanked out her new stopwatch. "Please don't be broken," she whispered. "Please don't be broken." Water droplets speckled the black casing. Laminated beneath the LCD display, however, were the words water resistant. "Oh, thank God."

She pressed the start-stop button, and the timer began counting. She pressed the button again as thunder breached the bathroom walls, and the counter stopped.

On the door, Steven's ugly green towel dangled from a hook. She used it to dry off the stopwatch, to pat her rain-spattered cheeks and forehead. But the small mirror above the sink revealed her hideousness: stringy hair, streaky makeup. She scrubbed her face clean, finger-combed her hair. That was all she could do to salvage her looks. A knock on the door ended the operation.

"Jackie," Steven's voice was muffled, "what the hell's goin' on?"

"I'm in the bathroom!"

"No shit. You okay?"

"Fine! Just give me a few minutes."

Steven answered by leaving, and the panic she'd fended off earlier rose in her chest. His birthday was ruined. By the rain. By her. He was always telling her to listen to the weather forecast, and she never did.

Her shopping bags should've come with ponchos. The items inside were in varying states of wetness. Tissue paper was soggy. Ribbons were limp. She hoped the gifts inside had been spared, but the outfit she'd bought—had intended to wear for Steven—was sopped.

She left the bathroom, shoulders hunched, bags weighing down her arms. Add some badly-applied lipstick, and she could've joined those crazy old ladies who loiter outside the mall.

"Oh, Jackie," Fez said once she reached the couch, "did you get hit by lightning?" He and Steven were, thankfully, by themselves. "Because you look like you were hit by lightning."

"Fez, cram it," Steven said from his chair. He gestured for Jackie to come to him, and when she was close, he planted his hands on her hips. "Did ya get hit by lightning?"

"No, but I wish it had!" She tore herself free and charged to his room. Slammed the door shut, sank to his cot. Then the shopping bags slipped from her arms to the was making things worse. So much worse, but her plans had been momentous. With Steven, she believed dreams could actually come true.

His door opened softly. Her palms covered eyes, but she knew Steven had entered. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Hey, that's my line." His hands landed on her knees, and her damp skirt acted as barrier between them. He must've pulled the ottoman to the cot and sat down. "You cryin'?"

"No." That was the truth. She wasn't crying, just hiding. "It's the rain."

"Yeah." He cupped the back of her wet hair and kissed her forehead. "So … you wanna tell me what's up?"

She stopped covering her face but went silent.

"I know that look, man," he said. "Somethin' important's going on in your skull."

"We've been together for five months." Her fingertips hooked onto a shopping bag, onto its stretched and strained plastic handle. "It's your birthday, and we haven't..." She pulled out the lingerie she'd bought. It was claret-colored, lacy, and soaked. "Do you understand how hot I would be in this?"

His mouth dropped open slightly, and his fingers brushed over the material. "You got this for me?"

"Yes, and a whole bunch of other things, which I'd open before they get completely destroyed." She took his gifts from the shopping bags and piled them on his lap. Only the stopwatch remained, and that she snatched up and hid behind her back.

He tore off the sodden wrapping paper, let the lifeless ribbons fall to the floor. Soon, he had cassette tapes, a Harley Davidson belt buckle, and a dressy shirt on the ottoman. "Man, I thought Thanksgiving was yesterday," he said with a chuckle. "You didn't have to get me all this stuff."

"I wanted to. You deserve it."

He leaned forward and cradled her damp cheeks. "Well, thank you." Then he kissed her, a warm peck that could've become more, but she pulled away. "You really got it good out there, huh?" A clap of thunder punctuated his question, and he wiped his fingers on his jeans. They'd gotten wet from her coating of rainwater.

"My mom has the Lincoln, so I rode the bus. The bus, Steven! And it doesn't stop close enough to the Formans' house."

"Nope, it doesn't." His sunglasses were hooked to his shirt collar. They concealed neither his eyes nor his concern "We don't have to do this today, Jackie."

"Do what?" But evasion was futile. She'd shown him the evidence.

"Have sex." He reached toward her face again, maybe to brush aside ropy locks of her hair, but she shrank back. "What?"

"I'm too ugly to make love to!" She twisted her body away and hid under his blanket. It wasn't tucked in, and she lay stomach-side down on his cot. Her ribs pushed into the stopwatch, but she didn't care. She'd earned the pain. Her emotions had gone wild, galloping her toward a ravine like spooked horse. "And this time I'm not just talking about the inside!"

A series of crashing thunder mocked her. The storm had already ravaged her beauty. Did it want to steal her dignity, as well?

"Too dramatic maybe," Steven said. "Not freakin' ugly. You got no clue what you look like."

"I saw myself in the mirror. I know exactly what I look like!" She pulled the blanket more tightly over her head. "And what I sound like. This is your day, Steven, and I'm making it about me!" She imagined casting off the blanket, standing up, bolting from his room. But she didn't move, trapped like an animal by her own insecurity. "If I could run out of here and leave you alone, I would."

Warmth eased over her calf. His palm. He didn't rub, just stayed present. "I don't give a crap about makeup or 'perfectly curled hair'. Seein' you as you? Man … you're beautiful."

His words, the gentleness of his touch, coaxed her from the blanket. She sat up, and he passed her a box of tissues.

"What else?" she said and put the tissues on his dresser. She didn't need them. "What else do you see?"

"That you're scared."

He was right. She felt as frightened as she'd been during the summer, when their relationship started. For five months, they'd done everything but make love. She knew what his body looked like, felt like ... tasted like. Learned that not all boys whined for reciprocation. Or grasped a girl's head and forced their way in deeper.

She'd learned not all boys were Michael.

"I told you before," Steven said, "I'm not gonna mess around on you." He'd put his presents on the armchair, the antique stashed in the corner. Its upholstery had turned to dust, but a knitted throw protected the gifts from it. "There's somethin' here—between us—that's got nothin' to do with sex, all right?"

He sat beside her on the cot and drew into her a hug. It wasn't a move. He wouldn't paw at her clothes, make a clumsy attempt to unhook her bra. He never went farther than she invited him. And he was a cuddler. That part had surprised her the most. His affection wasn't suffocating or needy, either, like Fez's.

It was perfect.

"Not gonna call it quits based on how much you put out," he said. "Woulda warned you from the get-go."

"I know. I've heard." Cheerleaders gossip, and being on the cheer squad had given Jackie access to special information. "Valerie Tannenbaum scoffed about your 'one week' rule. Thought you were out of your mind for being so ballsy."

"That's funny, considering she fucked me two days in."

Jackie bit down her shock. Of course Valerie had lied. She'd graduated last year, been head of the squad. Super-popular, best friends with Kat Peterson. Held her reputation sacred. "Did you and Kat make love, too?"

"Hell no. We screwed."

He was still holding her, but she withdrew from the embrace. "Did you have sex with all of them? That whole clique?"

He scratched the back of his neck and glanced down at the cot. She had her answer, but then he mumbled, "Never 'made love' to anyone, if that makes it better."

Her heart scraped against her ribs, and her next few breaths were short. "You—you were always honest about your lack of commitment, Steven. I don't judge you for enjoying sex."

"But that's all it ever was, man." His gaze met hers as thunder rumbled through his room, and fear seeped into his eyes. "With us—" Another growl of thunder shut him up.

"No, no," she patted his leg, "keep going. Release what your orphan soul's been dying to let free."

His face flushed, like he was going to cry. Though she didn't find crying men attractive, Steven was the exception. Particularly if the tears were shed over her.

"It's your birthday, your personal New Year," she said and gave him the tissue box. "A time for renewal, rebirth. If you have something romantic to confess, what better time to do it?"

He opened his mouth and blasted her with laughter. Her eyes closed at the power of it, and her jaw clenched. She got off the cot, grabbed the stopwatch.

"'Release what your orphan soul...'" he said, repeating part of what she'd said. His shoulders bounced, and his eyes were tearing. "Oh, man … that's—whenever you talk like that..."

Laughter buried his words. He was crying over her, all right. Tears of deathless amusement.

She crossed her arms over her chest, making sure the stopwatch was properly hidden. "I'm glad I could entertain you," she said, but a sense of justice muted her anger. "I'm not even kidding. I owe you one."

"Hey," his laughter vanished, and he wiped his eyes with a tissue, "you don't owe me shit." He stood up and cupped her elbow. "But I'm not that guy, one who picks flower petals and recites poetry. Or, y'know, feels."

"Two of those are a lie, but whatever." She wouldn't push it. He'd admitted enough, that he'd never made love to anyone … that sex with her might be different. The idea caused thunder to roll through her body. It throbbed in her neck, between her thighs. "Have I made this a horrible birthday?" she said.

"Not even close."

"Do you want me?"

His hands glided up her crossed arms, raising gooseflesh beneath her sleeves. "Yeah." Then he quirked up an eyebrow. "You gonna tell me the deal with that stopwatch?"

"Damn." Her arms dropped to her sides. "How did you see it?"

"When you pulled it outta the bag. What's it for?"

"I don't know how to explain without making everything worse."

"Nothing's bad, so go for it."

"Steven, you won't want to touch me if I tell you—but I need to tell you."

His expression froze. "Did Kelso give you an STD?"

"Ew, no!" She swatted his shoulder and slumped to the ottoman. "Once I caught him cheating with Laurie, I got a blood test. I had a second one after he ran off to California, just in case."

"So what is it?" He sat across from her on the cot. The stopwatch was dangling from her wrist by the cord, and this allowed him to take the watch into his hands. "You got some weird kink I don't know about?"

"More like I've got a kink to work out."

He clicked the watch's start-stop button. "Uh-huh..."

"I'd dreamt of my first time being incredible," she said, not without some discomfort. Talking to Donna about this topic was one thing. But talking to Steven felt like a knife was slicing into her skin and peeling it back. "It was not incredible."

"At least it was short." He clicked the start-stop button again. Then he showed her the counter. Seven seconds had passed. "Longer than this, though?"

"Not by much."

"Ouch."

"Four thrusts, and he was done—and he was so loud. Groaning like a rabid raccoon had gnawed off his leg. The whole experience was embarrassing."

"For him, maybe." He zeroed-out the stopwatch counter. "For the rest of us, it was hilarious."

"Steven—"

The smile inching onto his lips died. "Wasn't funny for you. I get it."

"No, it wasn't funny. Or fun." She let the stopwatch cord drop from her wrist. "I thought he'd be so much better, but it's like when you see a really good-looking meal. The turkey is golden-brown, and the mashed potatoes are fluffy. But when you take a bite, it tastes disgusting. And if you have nothing else to eat, nothing else to compare it to, you don't stop eating."

"If it's any consolation..." he took her hand, enclosing her palm snugly with his fingers, "my first time sucked, too. I was fourteen. Chick was a senior in high school. She thought I was older 'cause of the sideburns and the voice..." He let go of her and rubbed his forehead, as if recalling this memory were painful. "I couldn't come."

"What do you mean you 'couldn't'? Isn't it automatic?"

He shrugged. "It just wouldn't happen. I kept at it, but the chick had already finished. Think she even yawned at some point." His finger latched onto the stopwatch cord, tangled it up. "Was damn glad she graduated before I got to high school."

"Who was it?" Jackie probably wouldn't know the girl personally, but the name might be familiar, especially if she'd been part of a certain crowd.

"Brenda," he said. "Blond. Medium-sized rack—"

"Brenda Greene." The girl's face rose in her mind. "Snow Queen of '73."

"How the hell do you know that?" His knee started to bounce. He seemed embarrassed she'd identified his first sexual partner. But he had nothing to be ashamed of. Jackie had lost her virginity to a cheater. Had gone back to that cheater … too many times.

"I've studied Point Place High's year books," she said, "my popularity predecessors. I was not impressed by her. Her eyes looked dead in her pictures."

His leg stopped bouncing. "Hit the nail on the head. Screwin' her was like screwin' a corpse. Man ... she just lay there. Only sign of life was when she came. Didn't make a peep, but her face couldn't hide it—and I felt it."

"No wonder you had trouble … but it is kind of funny." She clarified before he could react. "Not what happened with Brenda. Funny-interesting that both of our first times were opposite but equally unsatisfying experiences."

"Right." He held the stopwatch again, switched it from one hand to the other. "It ever get satisfyin' for you?"

The nape of her neck heated up. "Sort of? Michael never really broke the five-minute mark. He held steady at two minutes until we broke up. He was able to go longer when we got back together. Maybe he'd matured, or maybe being with so many other girls had helped him. I don't know." She laughed, and a tremble settled into her bones. "I can't believe we're talking about this."

"Can't say I thought I'd be discussin' it, either. 'Specially with you." Her spine straightened in response, but he said, "Come on, Jackie. We started off hating each other."

"Well, that's over," she said, and with the next round of thunder, her trembling grew worse. It invaded her voice, as if she were shivering from cold. "Michael has this weird belief that girls don't like sex, but I just didn't like it with him."

Steven scooted his butt to the edge of the cot, and his thumb caressed the underside her wrist. Her eyes fell shut. The contact felt better than any of Michael's touches, and when Steven's lips pressed into her skin, she let out a shaky sigh.

"Different levels of satisfaction, grasshopper," he said, and her eyes opened. "Never got here with anyone else but you."

"Here?" She craved a full explanation, but none was forthcoming.

He raised the stopwatch to her eye-level. "So I'm guessin' you wanna time us."

"I used to check the clock with Michael." She took the stopwatch from him. "I need another number, a better one. It'll be a one-time thing, Steven. I promise."

"This gonna include foreplay, or are we hittin' the start button after the rubber goes on?"

Blood burned her neck at the mention of condoms. "Foreplay, too. It's part of sex … not that Michael thought so. After our first time, he forgot foreplay even existed—unless it served him."

Steven's temple pulsed. His expression was taut, as if he were gritting his teeth. "We gotta drop Kelso from the conversation."

"Sorry—" She meant to say more, but the next thunderclap made her jump. "When is this damn storm going to be over?"

"It's nature's drum solo."

"Well, the drummer needs to stop hogging the spotlight." She went to the armchair and retrieved one of his new cassettes. Then she strode to the cot and put the tape into his stereo. "I made this especially for today."

He grasped her hips and guided her to his lap. "Bad music's gonna mess up my performance."

"Don't worry. It doesn't have any ABBA on it. Or the Captain and Tennille. Trust me."

He pushed her wet hair aside in answer, kissed the sensitive skin behind her earlobe. He kissed her again, transforming her trembling into something positive. She hugged him. One of her hands knotted in the material of his shirt. The other slid into his hair, and she moaned softly as his mouth became relentless on her neck.

Eventually, he dragged his lips to her hot, damp cheek. They brushed over her ear, and he whispered, "I started the timer."

"Stop it, but don't zero it out." She pushed herself off his lap, and he did what she asked, though obviously confused. "Fez is out there," she said, "remember?"

"Shit."

"I won't be able to control how I sound. He'll know."

"Got it." Steven opened the door. He peeked his head into the basement and shouted, "Hey, Fez!"

"Are you two doing it?" Fez shouted back. He'd been following them for months, trying to catch them having sex. He knew they hadn't gone that far yet. Jackie had mistakenly confided in him.

"About to, so scram!" Steven said. "Unless you wanna lose your virginity to Red's chainsaw."

"Ai!"

Jackie couldn't see what was happening, but a door outside slammed a few seconds later, and Steven shut the door to his room. "He's gone."

"Good." She pressed play on the cassette deck, and Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" mingled with the thunder. She restarted the stopwatch, put it on a high shelf of Steven's dresser. It would been safe from interference there. Then she approached him and slipped her hands under his shirt.

His skin was warmer than hers, but his breathing was just as fast. His chest rose and fell beneath her fingertips as he pulled off his shirt. He was more naturally muscular than Michael and smelled differently—cleaner—but something woodsy also clung to his scent, as if he'd run through a forest. She inhaled deeply though her nose, nuzzling his neck, scratching her fingernails lightly down his back.

Steven exhaled audibly. She understood that sound. He liked how she touched him, and her body throbbed with that knowledge. She begun to take off her shirt, but he said, "Let's keep it slow."

"Because of the stopwatch?"

"Nope. Gotta pace myself. If I see too much of you too fast … I gotta ease into it."

He held the sides of her face, giving her a fix of his blue eyes before kissing her. Though she hadn't yet confessed love, she was in love with him. Terrifyingly so.

She pulled him onto his cot, where his touch was as tender as his eyes. His unspoken feelings seemed so clear, but she'd tricked herself before, imagining what didn't exist. She wouldn't make the same mistake again. Her own feelings would remain wordless, until she was sure no illusions were left.

Her mouth pushed kisses into his jawline. Her thumbs traced his sideburns before sliding down to his naked shoulders. He let out another audible breath as she moved lower. Her palms roamed the muscles of his back, paused at his hips. She was already close to climaxing. She tried to hold on, but her blood carried a power she was helpless against.

"You all right?" Steven said.

She nodded hesitantly. "Are you?"

"Golden." His hand glided over her stomach, beneath her shirt. "You came, didn't you?"

"How—how did you know?"

His fingers drummed playfully on her ribs. "I know my chick. You wanna keep goin'?"

"Yes." She sat up and removed her shirt, unhooked her bra. Her first release wouldn't be her last, just like that first crack of thunder had been followed by many others. The storm finally seemed to be dying down, but her desire was growing stronger. She ran a finger from Steven's collar bone to his belly button. "You've given me two before."

He laughed affectionately. "Maybe we'll hit a record and go for three."

She gripped the back of his hair when his mouth found her breasts. He was silent at first, but then a soft groan escaped him. Her hips rose in response, and his hardness became evident, even through his jeans. She unbuttoned his fly, had to feel more. He groaned more loudly as her fingers wrapped around him and rubbed.

His eyes met hers again. They weren't vacant, like Michael's, but fully present, as if she were the only other person in the universe.

His gaze—and their hands on each other—brought her back to the edge. She danced on that cliff, and the Steve Miller Band serenaded her over it. But even as she plummeted through bliss, fear threaded into her thoughts.

"What if I can't?" she said.

Steven's box of condoms rested on his dresser. He ripped open the packaging of one. "Then I bring this into the bathroom, and I'll see you in a few."

"No, I mean, what if it's me?" She pushed her head into his pillow, hoping irrationally the feathers would emerge and conceal her face. "Down there—what if I just don't work?"

He sat back on the cot and brought her legs onto his knees. "You already 'worked' twice."

"But it wasn't..." She sucked her bottom lip into her mouth, tried to find the right words. "It was … from the outside-in. I've never had one from the inside-out."

Recognition lit on his face. "That's freakin' normal."

"It is?"

He swept his palm up her shin. The move both soothed her and turned her on. "Gonna tell you this at the risk of killing the mood," he said, "but almost all the girls I've been with needed outside help during sex."

"'Outside help'?" she said, and he wiggled his index finger. "Oh."

"We can also go at it at a certain angle. Line things up so I'm pushin' against the right spot."

She turned her head on his pillow and stared at his box of condoms. She used to consider herself a sex expert, a font of love-knowledge. But the more time she spent with him, the more she realized the limits of her experience. "You already got me there with your 'outside help'."

Her mouth clamped shut. She'd said enough. But girls who wanted more—who wanted the best—talked about these kinds of things, didn't they? And Jackie Burkhart deserved the best. "You said almost all the girls needed it. What about the ones who didn't?"

"You'd have to ask them." Steven cleared his throat, as if he were uncomfortable. "Alls I know is, unless they were fakin', they got there."

Her pulse tightened. She'd overheard a story once from Kat Peterson: "It's insane how different it feels. I almost cried. It's ridiculous..."

"I want that, Steven," Jackie said. Her first time hadn't been special. Her first time with him had to be.

He patted her leg. "I'll give you all I got."

The Who's "Love Rein O'er Me" played through his speakers. The beginning of the song was both teasing and sweet, just like Steven's next kisses. But as the music intensified, so did his touch. She touched him back with the same fervor, and her insides ached for him, begging to be filled. That had to be a good sign.

"Now," she said.

"Now?"

"Yes!"

He entered her slowly, and her stomach tensed at his presence. Without him even moving her desire had increased ten-fold. "W—wow," she whispered. She hadn't expected such visceral response. "I need a second."

Her eyes closed, and he remained still. Steven was inside her. The idea alone got her heart pounding. Then she grew acutely aware of his physicality. Michael was nothing in comparison.

"I really wanna kiss you," Steven said hoarsely, and she opened her eyes. He wasn't hungering for a fuck but her. She cupped the back of his head and pulled him in. Their mouths pushed deeply into each other. The kiss quaked down her spine, and her toes twitched at the aftershocks.

"You can do more than kiss me." Her voice was as hoarse and lusty as his. "I need you to do more."

He drew back his hips and reentered smoothly. His first few thrusts were cautious, but they established a rhythm that stole her thoughts. Her instinct was to turn her head to the side, to get some distance, but she held onto his back and stayed with him.

The heat from their bodies was searing. Painful enough to sting, but she forgot it as Steven broke his silence. He exhaled a throaty moan. Inhaled. Then said her name, and all her barriers crumbled. Her voice poured forth an unrestrained and wordless horde. It reflected the sustained pleasure he was giving. Tangible and intangible. Physical and emotional: the two aspects had become inextricably linked. Inseparable.

One of her arms dropped from his back. He clutched her hand and wove their fingers together. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. This was an entirely new sensation, being so connected.

His eyes never left her. Sweat beaded along his hairline, slicked his skin, and his woodsy scent rose off him like smoke. His breaths were softly vocal. Some evolved into her name, and she gasped, "Steven," as her joy swelled. It spiraled from a place deep within her, spasmed around him, and traveled across her every nerve.

"Oh, man..." he said, a half-groan, but his expression wasn't blank. It was full of adoration, as if he knew where she'd gone. He sped up his thrusts, not aggressively but like he wanted to join her.

Quiet tears slipped down her cheeks. Time and thought had flickered out of her being. She was pure emotion, but she squeezed his hand through his climax. When he said her name again, her body acted on its own will. She was sobbing, from both joy and grief. She tried to control it, but the best she could do was let Steven hold her.

"Never thought it'd be like that," she managed to say. He'd brought her to lie on his chest and was stroking her hair. "Never thought I'd have that."

"Me neither. Was a first for me, too."

His admission had a calming affect, dried up her tears. "It was?"

"Fuckin' crazy how different that felt."

She caressed the side of his face blindly. "Yeah."

"Good, though."

"Only good?"

"No." He clasped her hand, kept it on his cheek. "But … did you like it?"

"Steven..." she sat up so she could see him properly, "it's what I was waiting for."

He swallowed and leaned into her palm, and his nervousness finally became apparent. He didn't like being vulnerable, not just with her but anyone. She'd witnessed it hundreds of times, and their lovemaking had been intimate. Maybe too intimate, bringing them closer than he could handle.

"And you...?" she said, longing for verbal confirmation, an assurance he wouldn't avoid her the next week.

"It was worth the wait," he said but climbed off the cot. She watched anxiously as he went to the bureau and grasped the stopwatch. He clicked its start-stop button. "Nothin' compares to what we just did."

"So you liked it? Enough to call me tomorrow?"

"Jackie..." He gestured for her to stand. She did, and he embraced her tightly. "That was the best damn sex I've ever had, all right? Best birthday present, too." He nuzzled her still-damp hair. "Gave me somethin' no other chick could."

A lightning storm brewed in her chest. He might as well have written her a sonnet, but she stayed composed. She wouldn't risk shutting him down, though she thirsted for specifics..

"And tomorrow's Saturday, man," he said as he parted from her. "We got a date."

She glanced at him from beneath her lashes "Where are you gonna take me?"

"Wherever you wanna go."

"Paris."

"In Kenosha County? Sure." He was smirking, infuriatingly, adorably, and she smacked his bare shoulder. "It's only a fifteen minute drive from here," he said. Then he pointed to the stopwatch. "Check it out."

She read the LCD display. "Fifty-three minutes, twelve seconds."

"How's that for a number?"

"I'll have the stopwatch bronzed," she said and hugged him again. Their nakedness together felt natural, another testament to their deepening closeness. "No. I'll have it dipped in twenty-four carat gold..."


Now

"'And encrusted in diamonds,'" Jackie said. All faces in the basement were trained on her, except for Hyde's. He was too busy enjoying Kelso's perpetual slack jaw. Jackie had shared the bones of what the stopwatch represented, using phrases like, "Most satisfied I'd ever been," and "Steven was all I needed."

Hyde wasn't sure where that last one was directed. Could've been at Kelso. She and him used to kink-it-up in semi-public places. Or it could've been at Forman, who'd once tried to turn his sex-life with Donna into a porno.

"Okay," Donna said, "but none of that explains how Fez 'verified' the time. Hyde, you kicked him out."

"Or did he?" Fez said. "I stayed by the basement door and waited for him to disappear. Then I ran back inside—it was raining fishes and squids out there—and I wrote down the current time. When they were done, they came into the basement all lovey-dovey and giggling. I wrote down the time, did the math. Then I applauded."

Forman nodded. "Of course you did."

"I was in too good a mood to kick his ass." Hyde pressed his cheek into Jackie's temple. Having her on his lap—in his life—made him all cozy. A state he'd couldn't afford to indulge in, but he couldn't help himself. "Also figured we could pull a huge burn on Kelso with that paper. So Jackie and me bribed Fez with candy to keep it to himself."

"Yes, and where is my candy?" Fez said.

Jackie wriggled a bit on Hyde's lap. She pulled a bag of M&Ms from her pocket and tossed it to Fez.

He tore into the bag like a jackal, scattering M&Ms all over the basement floor. "Damn it!" He hopped off the couch, got on his knees, and scooped M&Ms into his hand. "Curse my impatience. I am like Kelso during his first time with Jackie."

"Ah, the burn that never stops giving," Forman said to Kelso. Then he jabbed his thumb at the stopwatch, which was back in Kelso's possession. "So why'd you two decide to wait a week to display this … testimony to your depraved relationship?"

"Too busy," Hyde and Jackie said together.

"Busy doing what?" Kelso said.

Donna put up a hand. "Don't answer that."

But the answer flew from Jackie's mouth: "Making love," and Hyde laughed quietly. They'd been all over each other the past week, causing a tectonic shift inside him. Making love wasn't just a sappy chick-term for screwing. Being in love had changed the game, at least for him. Existence was becoming less of a burden he had to get through—and that made his relationship with Jackie dangerous. It gave her a power over him no one else had.

"You didn't keep me busy with sex after our first time—" Kelso fiddled with the stopwatch. "Where's the reset button?"

"Forman," Hyde said, and Forman gestured for the watch.

"No." Kelso pressed different combinations of buttons. "Jackie, maybe if we'd done it a ton of times during that first week, I could've given you fifty-three minutes, too!"

"Ah, my candy is safe and sound," Fez said and returned to the couch. Then he grabbed Kelso's nipple through his shirt and twisted.

"Ow!" The stopwatch fell from Kelso's fingers. "Fez, what the hell?"

Fez looped the stopwatch cord around his neck. "You will not ruin this trophy."

"Michael, I couldn't find you!" Jackie said. "You didn't pick up your phone. You didn't come here. I had no idea where you were!"

Because Kelso was thinking about breaking up with her, but Hyde stayed mute about that tidbit. It would only hurt her or piss her off. Neither was on his agenda. "Kelso," he said instead, "why the hell did you need anything else?"

Kelso rubbed his chest where Fez had purple-nurpled him. "Huh?"

"Jackie, man. Why the hell did you need anything more than her?"

"Because I—"

Hyde didn't hear Kelso's excuse. Jackie was off his lap and tugging him toward his room. "Now, Steven," she said. "Now, now, now, now, now!"

"Oh, God. I'm getting out of—" Donna's voice was cut off by his door. Jackie had shut it and shoved him against it. Everything became her lips on his mouth, her fingers in his hair. His hands skimmed her waist, held onto her butt as she straddled his hips.

Permanence had never been part of his belief system. He worshiped at the alter of ephemerality, of easy escapes. But in Jackie he saw infinity with his own eyes, felt it in his guts. Being with her was like an extended acid trip. Paranoia swirled with euphoria, and emotions he couldn't name exploded from unknown places.

What would be left of him if their relationship ended? Loving someone as much as he loved her, escape wasn't possible without a kind of death.

She moved fast. His clothes were stripped away, replaced with the protection they needed. She guided him inside her, and as they moved with each other—against each other—he longed for freedom. Not from her. From his beliefs. Impermanence had become a prison sentence, but he'd managed to reach Jackie's hand through the bars. Maybe, if he were lucky enough, he'd get a retrial.

Maybe he wouldn't have to let go.