Disclaimer: That '70s Show copyright The Carsey-Werner Company, LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, LLC. "Time to Change" copyright: (c) 1993 UMG Recordings, Inc.
THE BURKHART BUNCH
November 15, 1980
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Wintry Hotel Convention Center
A long, carpeted hallway led to the Wintry Hotel's convention center, and each step closer caused Hyde's stomach to tighten. He kept a don't-talk-to-me sneer on his face, having no intention of schmoozing. Fortunately, Jackie was focused on their group, not on him, but his sneer fell away once they entered the convention's vast concourse. The place was packed to the walls with fake Bradys. Some could have passed for twins with the actors. Others, not so much.
A Chinese Greg, transvestite Marcia, and canine Cindy made up one of the more interesting groups, and a smile threaded over Hyde's lips. The mix of people was amusing and a good sign that American society was moving forward, at least in some kind of way. He expected Red to have a problem with it, but Red made no distinction among the convention attendees.
"Would you look at these Brady weirdos?" Red said. "Coming all the way to Las Vegas and dressing up like a bunch of hippie sissies."
"That includes you, too, Sam," Forman said. "You're just as weird as, let's say..." he pointed to a transvestite Alice selling Brady Bunch merchandise, "that guy."
Red raised his plastic meat cleaver. "Wanna say that again?"
"I wouldn't," Bob said. "He hit me with that thing last night. Gave me a bruise. Guess he didn't like that I made out with his girlfriend."
Donna tugged on Bob's arm. "Dad, could you please stop taking this so seriously? You're giving me a neurosis."
Bob patted the back of her blonde-wigged head. "Sorry, honey. I'll save it for the stage."
"Yeah, I'm gonna dip Jo-Jo at the end of our musical number and lay a big smoochy on her."
Jackie let out a shrieked gasp. She was leading the group through the convention center, to the registration table, but she turned around and glared at Bob. "Oh, no, you're not. You're not to deviate from our routine."
"Okey-dokey," Bob said, and Jackie turned back around. Then he mouthed to Joanne, "Big, big smooch."
Bruce, the camera guy, gave Bob a thumbs-up. Bruce had apparently captured that moment on tape. He and Max, the sound guy, were following and filming their group, and Hyde was less than thrilled. His freakin' Brady-ness was going to be shown on television—but at least anyone who could burn him for it would be appearing alongside him. That was some consolation, and a little embarrassment was worth a shot at a lot of dough.
Thirty grand, man. Hell, he'd consider dressing up in Cindy's pig-tailed wig if it meant him and Jackie could keep all that cash to themselves.
A shiver of awareness crept up his back and knocked on his skull. He'd consider dressing up in Cindy's pig-tailed wig? What was he thinking? He was willing to humiliate himself for money but not let W.B. give him a little extra? His father had offered to help with both the wedding and a house. He had connections everywhere, in country clubs and with hotels. He could probably get Hyde and Jackie a good deal on a wedding venue.
But Hyde didn't want to be that guy, the one W.B. had initially accused him of being: a long-lost heir only interested in his newfound dad's fortune.
"He doesn't think that about you," Jackie had told him countless times. "He thinks that about me, and it's partially true. But he also knows how much you want to make me happy, and he loves you enough to help you do it."
She was right, and maybe he could relax about it, enough to let W.B. put in a few calls and get them that deal on a wedding venue.
For now, though, his attention drifted back to the various Bradys around him. Some groups were rehearsing in spaces between merchandise tables. Individual Bradys mingled with one another, as if the convention were a dating service. A little-person Bobby tried putting the moves on a corpulent Jan, and Hyde laughed. He looked like a moron himself, dressed the way he was, but the place was entertaining.
"Jackie, you should really try practicing your lisp more," Fez said. He'd joined Jackie and Hyde at the front of their group. "You will be more convincing."
"My lisp is as good as it's going to get," Jackie said and waved him away.
They arrived at the registration line seconds later. Two Brady families were ahead of them, and Jackie adjusted the straps of her violet overalls. That was the tenth time she'd done it since entering the convention center, and Hyde draped an arm around her shoulders, both as comfort and to make her quit fiddling with her costume.
"You look fine," he said.
"I'd look better as Marcia." She glanced back at Brooke, who was in a long blonde wig, orange turtleneck sweater, and plaid skirt. "Marcia had style. Cindy … ugh. I don't like dressing up as a geeky little kid."
"Hey, my damn hair is dyed brown, remember? And this crap ain't washing out."
Her lips pressed together, as if she were holding back a giggling fit. "I'm sorry. I was desperate. Besides, you should be proud being a brunet. You're getting married to the most gorgeous one on the planet, after all—and now we match!"
"I liked my moss the way it was," he said. "Nothin' says, 'I don't give a shit,' like the color of damp straw."
"Are you—" she let the giggles out this time, "are you trying to sound rebellious? Because that was a sad attempt, Steven. Really, really sad."
"Yeah, I know." He pulled her closer and kissed her temple. Strands of her wig got caught on his lip—an unpleasant, ticklish sensation—but he didn't spit them off. She'd kill him if he got saliva on her fake hair, so was careful when pulling away. "Hey, we're up."
They were finally at the registration table. A plump woman greeted their group. Brady Bunch pins adorned her vest, and a metal file box sat in front of her. "Whose name did you preregister under?" she said.
"Jacqueline Burkhart," Jackie said.
The registrar flipped through aqua-colored cards in the file box. "Burkhart, Burkhart—ah, here we go." She plucked out a card."How many in your group?"
"Ten." Jackie gestured to Fez. "He's just a guest."
"I see, I see." Several stacks of paper also sat on the table, and the registrar counted out ten packets. She put the aqua card on top of them. "All of you need to read through these contracts and sign them." She pointed to an area beyond the table. Rows of seats were lined up in front of a projector screen. "You can do so over there..." the registrar's gaze fixed on Hyde, "Johnny Bravo, right?"
"That's right!" Kelso pushed his way to the front of the group. "And I'm Peter."
The registrar's attention remained on Hyde, and she grinned. "Far out! You look just like him."
"Yeah, thanks." Hyde took the stack of contracts from Jackie's arms and carried them to the rows of seats. The last thing he needed was to be ogled by some Brady Bunch fanatic. He sat down, and his eyes scanned the aqua registrant card. Written in as the entry for Group Name was The Burkhart Bunch. Man, their friends were going to love that.
Soon, everyone but Jackie was seated around him. She remained standing and gave out pens. Hyde passed out the contracts, and she said, "Fill out your own names and contact information, but under 'Group Name,' all of you have to write 'The Burkhart Bunch'."
Hyde smirked as one of those collective groans rose into the air. Yup, they were loving the name, all right.
"Not doing it," Forman said. He and Donna were sitting in the row behind Hyde. "No way am I ever gonna be a Burkhart."
"You are for today," Donna said. "Suck it up."
"No, he doesn't have to 'suck it up'." Jackie glowered at both her and Forman. "You should feel blessed to be associated with my name. God is blessing you, Eric. This is probably your one and only chance to feel like royalty." She finally sat down. "Take it in while you can."
"Burkhart-Brady royalty," Donna said thoughtfully. "That's … different."
"And Jackie's a royal pain in the—" Forman said, but Hyde twisted in his chair and rammed his fist into Forman's shoulder.
"Be nice to your sister, man," Hyde said.
Forman rubbed his arm. "I hate my real sister. Why would I treat my fake one any better?"
"She's gonna be your real sister-in-law soon enough," Donna said, and Forman cried out a "No!" loud enough to make the contest registrar take notice.
Forman buried his face in his hands. "Did you have to remind me?"
"Eric," Red was sitting two chairs away from him, "shut up and read the damn contract, or I'll shove my foot up where the 'Sunshine Day' don't shine."
Mrs. Forman frowned. "Red, that wasn't very Brady of you. You know, we should all take this experience to heart and be more loving toward each other."
"I'm not sure if you really want that, Kitty," Bob said. "I heard rumors the Brady kids fooled around with each other in the doghouse."
"Told you we should get Betsy a dog," Kelso said. He was sitting in the row in front of Hyde, between Brooke and Fez. "We could make her a little brother or sister in there."
"Okay," Kitty said with false cheerfulness, "no more talking."
She punctuated her order with a laugh, and everyone fell silent … until Hyde came across a disturbing clause in the contract. "Jackie," he ran his finger beneath the offending line, "what the hell is this?"
"Oh, it's a standard clause."
"Signing away my likeness is a standard clause?"
"Baby," Jackie pressed her cheek into his shoulder, as if that would placate him, "they're paying us thirty-thousand dollars. If they want to use our Brady-ness in commercials and magazine ads, don't you think it's a fair trade?"
"No! And you shouldn't either. What about royalties, man? If they're gonna be making dough off us, we should get a bigger cut than three grand each."
"I've taught you so well!" She rubbed her finger along his sideburn, and he flinched. "Oh, come on. We're going up against eleven other Brady Bunches. It's not like we have that big a chance of winning."
"Was that an attempt at nonchalance? 'Cause it was crap."
"Fine." She plumped out her bottom lip in a pout then drew it back in. "But think of it this way: if anyone should be upset by that clause, it's me. I should have a lawyer rip this contract apart, but I'm signing it as it because I care about more than money."
She held his gaze a moment, and all doubts of her sincerity vanished. What she really wanted was this experience with him. And as ridiculous as all this Brady stuff was, he wanted the experience with her, too. So he quit griping, finished reading through the contract, and signed his name.
The contest had begun, and The Burkhart Bunch was seventh on the list. The order had been determined by the songs, but all Jackie could hear of the sixth group's performance was muffled music. Her own group had been brought through the hotel's kitchens. They were standing in a cramped hallway between them and the back of the convention center's stage.
She found the situation exasperating. The normal path backstage was apparently under construction, but her thoughts about it were limited. She was listening intently to the other Bradys' performance. It came through the stage's door and sounded like they were singing "Keep On". Applause soon took over, and her pulse tightened.
"Is everyone ready?" she said to her group.
"You better be," the contestant organizer said. He was a skinny, twitchy, mustached man who resembled an Eric-Fenton hybrid. "You're about to go on."
He opened the stage door, and the M.C.'s voice rang out clearly, "And now give a hand for The Burkhart Bunch!"
The contestant organizer gestured through the door and whispered, "Go, go!" Mrs. Forman and Mr. Pinciotti went out first, but the applause grew louder when Steven and Brooke ran onto the stage. The audience must have been impressed by Steven. He really did look like Greg Brady, and Jackie was proud of him—mostly for his willingness to be silly—and proud of herself for daring to dye his hair.
Michael and Donna went out next. Then Jackie grabbed Eric's hand, and they skipped onto the stage together. Having to hold his sweaty palm repulsed her, but she refused to wipe her hand on her overalls. She had to stay professional. Sherwood Schwartz, The Brady Bunch's creator, was the head judge. If he liked what he saw, maybe he'd create a show just for her: Jackie's Island or My Favorite Burkhart.
Mr. Forman and Joanne were last on stage, and as the M.C. introduced them, Jackie glanced over at Steven. His demeanor was naturally calm—without the aid of alcohol or a circle. His ability to relax under almost any circumstance was inspiring. She wished she had it. Her heart was beating painfully in her chest, tap-dancing on her ribs. Not only was she about to perform in front of a thousand Brady Bunch fans, but Bruce's camera was taping this moment for all of Wisconsin.
A voiceless track of "Time to Change" burst through the stage's speakers. The music cut through her nerves, and she sang, "Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na..." with her Burkhart Bunch. Then Steven took the first true verse, and the singing went relatively smoothly from there.
The majority of their dance choreography came during the sha-na-nas. She and Steven had the best rhythm out of everyone, and they moved through the routine easily. The others, though, had some trouble. Fortunately, Fez was standing at the front of the audience, and he performed what he could without drawing undue attention. The others seemed to see him, and it helped.
The best part of their performance by far—other than Jackie's natural grace and Steven's foxy Johnny Bravo—had to be Michael's Peter Brady. Each time his voice cracked, the audience broke into laughter. Jackie spared a look at the judge's table. Sherwood Schwartz, his son Lloyd, and Mrs. Brady herself, Florence Henderson, all had huge grins on their faces.
The Burkhart Bunch was a shoe-in to win, especially considering how loud the audience clapped and hooted after the performance. A pair of contestant organizers helped Jackie and her group off the stage, and they joined Fez in their designated section of seats.
"You were amazing," Fez said to them. "That two-thousand dollars is as good as mine!"
Jackie leaned her head on Steven's shoulder. They were both catching their breath, and sweat soaked the fabric of his orange dashiki shirt. "I'm never singing again," he said hoarsely.
"Yes, you are," she said. "Didn't you read the contract? If we win, we'll be touring America and singing the entire Brady Bunch catalog."
His hand slid over her knee, and she shut her eyes but not for long. She had to watch the rest of their competition. Most of the other performances were bland and off-key, but two groups added a thirty-second skit before their song. The audience and judges seemed to love that, and it shredded Jackie's confidence. If the Burkhart Bunch didn't win, it could sour this whole experience. Steven's memory of the last few days with her could be ruined.
The judges deliberated over the contestants after the final performance. Jackie watched Sherwood Schwartz, his son, and Florence Henderson talk among themselves and point at various aqua cards on their table. Eventually, Sherwood gathered up three cards and called the M.C. over.
This was the moment. Thirty-thousand dollars would either fall into Jackie's worthy hands and motivate Steven to stay sober, or it would slip through her fingers and push Steven farther away.
The M.C. returned to center stage with the aqua cards. "Grasshopper," Steven whispered and patted the top of his thighs. He wanted Jackie to sit on his lap.
"It's too dangerous," she whispered back. "If we lose, I might get violent."
He gestured to himself. "I'm willing to take that risk."
She eased off her chair and onto his lap, and his arms closed around her waist. His embrace was secure enough to support her but loose enough not to make her feel trapped. That was how he generally made her feel, both safe and free.
The M.C. announced the third-prize winner. It wasn't The Burkhart Bunch, but the audience clapped anyway. The Keller family went up on stage and accepted its $2,500 check. The Kellers had performed "Sunshine Day" with a host of props, which had probably cost them half their monetary prize. But their singing had also been pristine, and they must've won third place because of that.
The second-prize winner was The Shady Brady Bunch. A weird choice as far as Jackie was concerned. It was a group whose members each impersonated one of the Brady kids, but each kid was also dressed as Johnny Bravo. Their performance had clearly been a parody, but apparently the judges liked it enough to award them $5,000.
A few seats down, Michael and Bob applauded for the Shady Bradys loudly. They must have thought not winning third or second place meant they were going to get first place. Jackie, though, turned in Steven's lap and whispered, "We're not gonna win."
"Don't really care," he said back. "I got what I wanted."
She froze, needing a moment to analyze what he meant. Then she relaxed back into his embrace. "Aww, am I your thirty-thousand dollars?"
"No, you're my Camaro, Zeppelin, and French fries."
"Oh, Steven!" His answer was so much better than her question, and she flung her arms around his neck. Early in their relationship, he'd claim to love only three things: Camaros, Led Zeppelin, and French fries. But now she was those things to him, just as he'd become what money and jewelry used to be to her.
She kissed him, and their mouths joined with an intimacy that blotted all else from her senses. Their relationship would be easier now. Their foundation had become so much stronger. Direct communication was always their biggest challenge, but they'd finally crossed that threshold.
"How the hell can you two be Frenching?" Michael shouted from somewhere. "We lost!"
Jackie reluctantly pulled away from Steven's lips. Fez and The Burkhart Bunch were standing in front of them, and no one looked happy. The Brady Bunch's theme song was blasting through the convention center while the Gothelds stood on stage. The family was being congratulated by the judges, and a giant thirty-thousand-dollar check was the Gothelds' hands.
"I can't believe those hammy dumbasses beat us!" Mr. Forman said.
Mrs. Forman rubbed his back. "Oh, Red, we had a good time. Isn't that all that counts?"
"No!" Mr. Forman scowled. "I came here for the money. Kitty, I could've put a down payment on another Corvette! Instead, I'm dressed up like a Goddamn butcher, holding a plastic meat cleaver."
"It was the choreography that did us in," Bob said, pointing at Fez. "You made it too complicated."
"Oh, you shut your filthy Mike-Brady mouth!" Fez said. "My choreography was brilliant. None of you clumsy idiots followed it right!"
"Hey!" Eric shouted. "I twirled like a champion! These skinny legs were made for sashaying! Donna, back me up here."
Donna shook her head, "I'm going to the bar," and started up the audience aisle.
"That's the best idea I've heard all week," Mr. Forman said and followed her.
A variety of agreements came from the rest of them, and they left, revealing Bruce the cameraman and Max the boom operator. "I got all that on tape," Bruce said with a smile.
"Cool," Steven said. His hands were resting on top of Jackie's thighs, and though she would've delighted in having six grand to spend, she didn't feel like a loser.
"Do you want to do your post-contest interview now?" Bruce said.
"Sure," Jackie said, and Steven didn't object.
"You didn't win," Bruce said and directed his camera at them, "but how do you feel about this experience?"
Steven glided his chin over Jackie's shoulder and said, "Cheesy as hell but worth it."
She giggled. "What the foxy Johnny Bravo said."
"Hey," he bounced her on his lap, "no more of that Johnny Bravo crap. The contest is over."
"You're still in the costume. Take it off, and I'll stop."
"Deal," he said and stood up with her. Then he grasped her hand and spoke to Bruce and Max. "You guys might wanna go to the bar and film the rest of the losers. What we're about to do won't pass your show's censors."
Bruce and Max heeded his advice, continuing on their way once they were all outside the convention center's concourse
"You're right, baby..." Jackie slid her palm up Steven's chest, "we're too hot for TV."
They were standing in the long, carpeted hallway. Very few Brady impersonators were wandering around. A special preview of The Brady Girls Get Married was to be shown after the contest, and when she and Steven reached the hotel's lobby, they were entirely Brady free.
She was relieved, but the smell of smoke stung her eyes, and the noise generated by the casino had captured Steven's attention. He was looking through the casino's stone archway.
"Do you want to gamble?" she said and nervously readjusted the strap of her overalls.
"Nope. I got the only addiction I want..." his gaze fell onto her, so full of love and joy that it threatened to make her cry, "and I'm lookin' at her. Let's get our asses up to our room, huh? And out of these getups. Then we can tell the story of a man named Hyde who did dirty things to his hot-as-hell fiancée."
"Oh, I love that story!" She wrapped her arms around his waist, and he eased one of his arms around her back. They walked to the hotel's bank of elevators like that, hugging each other. "It's more than a hunch that I'm wearing something unwholesome beneath my costume."
He laughed and pressed a kiss into her neck. "Yeah, I'm not goin' any further parodying that song. I've reached my Brady tolerance..." he gave her a gentle squeeze, "but I haven't reached my Jackie tolerance. Not by a long shot.."
One of the elevators opened before she could respond to him. They went inside it together, but as the elevator doors closed, his happy gaze fell on her again. "Glad you dyed my hair."
A feeling as warm and bright as sunshine spread through her body. "The dye cost me four dollars, and my show won't reimburse it," she said with an insincere pout, but another smile had been imprinted on her heart. It surfaced to her lips, and she kissed back into him the bliss his adoration and bravery had given her.
A chime signaled that they'd come to their floor. The elevator doors opened, but Jackie and Steven didn't stop kissing. They made-out on the way to their suite, somehow managed to find their key and get inside, and were both naked by the time they got to the bedroom. "Best four dollars you ever spent," Steven said in the brief space between their kisses.
"I know how to make the most out of an investment."
He paused longer then. They were lying on the bed, tangled up in each other's bodies, but his eyes held an intensity that had roots deep in his soul. She'd experienced that look from him only a few precious times in her life, and her breaths became shallow while she waited for him to speak.
"Thanks for investin' in me ... even when it seemed like a bad deal."
"I don't make bad deals," she said and cupped his cheek. "We're good, Puddin'." Their relationship had come to a which-way sign, with all arrows but one pointing to a dead-end. But their love for each other was a compass. It had led them down the right road—and should another which-way sign appear, their love would lead the way. "We're not our parents. We're us."
"We're us," he repeated, and his whole being seemed to lighten. His hand was curled around her hip, and his fingers drummed a gentle beat on her skin. "And this boy's a man inside."
"Don't do that, Steven," she said, but she was giggling. He was quoting their Brady Bunch song.
"A girl's a woman, too," he half-sang. "When it's time to change—"
"Steven, stop!" She was squealing with laughter. Hiccups would follow if more of that song came out of him.
But he did as she asked, silencing himself with her mouth. And as her giddiness was coaxed back into passion by his lips and tongue, she knew she wouldn't likely taste alcohol on them again. She was all he desired, and she planned on giving him endless supply.