Chapter 1: I
You're not my homeland anymore
So what am I defending now?
You were my town, now I'm in exile, seein' you out
- Exile, Taylor Swift
Jackie, 18, heartbroken over a boy that, let’s be honest, she’s wildly too good for and definitely better looking than, and hasn’t got nearly enough upward trajectory to appease a lifetime of Pam Burkhart’s life lesson of marrying rich. Jackie, sad and lonely with no one to turn to because she knows, deep down, that the basement gang don’t really care about her. Jackie, scraping the last shred of dignity she has, leaves Point Place behind.
After she managed to carve out a somewhat stable life consisting of a shitty waitressing job and the only apartment she could afford, Jackie did what Jackie did best. Or, like, did one of the things she does best (because obviously what Jackie does best is matching her shoes to her manicure, or making sure there is a good amount of volume to her hair, or coming up with a suitably self-esteem destroying insult). She proved that she is hot, and boys want her, and Steven is stupid for not seeing all that.
And so what if that meant that the moment she realized Steven didn’t really love her and didn’t really ever want to spend the rest of his life with her, she went and found the first guy she could find that did. So what if she just wanted to prove to herself that someone would be willing to put up with her forever (and, maybe, just a little because she was heartbroken and didn’t know what else to do).
(Perhaps marriage based on proving a point is not exactly the right way to start a relationship, but honestly, it’s not like she’s seen a whole lot of healthy relationships in her time. Blame her parents.)
And so what if now, aged 26, she drinks a little too much and cries herself to sleep 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She’s Jackie bloody Fitzgerald – previously Burkhart – she’s not going to wallow more than that. How undignified.) And yeah, okay, her husband sometimes comes home smelling like someone else’s perfume and there was that one time (only once. He promised her that) she ended up with a fat lip just in time for a charity gala because she dared bring up the lipstick smudge on the underside of his jaw (in that whorey red color they sell at grocery stores). And, shit, even Jackie can’t style a bruised lip.
(Jackie admits, late at night when she’s staring at the empty side of the bed next to her after another night Edward didn’t make it home, that this isn’t the win 18 year old Jackie – dreamy and naïve – was hoping for, because now she’s even lonelier than she was then.)
Now she’s stuck waiting every day with a meal on the table for a guy she’s never fully sure will come home. She doesn’t love him, not really, but what else is she supposed to do? Who else would want her now? She’s never been good enough, not for Michael or Steven, not even for her boring, stuck up (and that’s coming from her) husband. And now she’s a mom and a wife and this was everything she was supposed to want, but just. Just not like this. Honestly, just fuck, really.
She loves her kids. Tries every day to be the type of mom she wanted when she was little; she makes sure they never feel alone in this big, cold, empty fucking house. She makes sure they know she loves them and desperately tries to make up for everything Edward doesn’t do. She’s there at parents’ evenings and school productions, there to always watch Melissa’s ballet performances and James’ soccer matches and even his really bad attempts at skateboarding in the driveway (because, while she loves her son, he’s really not got his sister’s balance). She puts them to bed each night and reads them stories with all the silly voices. She makes sure Lissa always has the best dress for school dances and James has the best Superman costume for Halloween.
She would die for her kids; could never, ever regret them. But she can’t deny that she’s also so, so sad sometimes.
But it’s fine. She deals with it. It’s okay.
Edward increasingly makes it more obvious that he’s sleeping with his PA and while she hates cheaters, she can’t help but be kind of glad. The more her husband isn’t home, the more she realizes she kind of prefers it that way.
He doesn’t give the kids any attention (one time he called their daughter Melanie), he’s always angry and whenever he’s around he always finds ways to pick her apart (or worse, the children apart). It was one morning, when he hadn’t even bothered to come home to pretend like he wasn’t spending nights in a hotel room he’d bought for someone else, that she realized she was spread over both sides of the bed. And she cried, there in her big bed with the stupidly overpriced white sheets, because a wife shouldn’t like the way that a mattress has forgotten the shape of her husband, shouldn’t like the feeling of being able to lie across two pillows.
He still gives her access to his bank account and once every month she gets to dress up all fancy to go to some event he wants to take her to (these events may be completely awful, with women who gossip about her because they know her marriage is hanging on by a thread, but they usually have a decent free bar and she can spend three hours getting ready when she’s used to having a solid 10 minutes tops to look suitable for leaving the house.)
Which, obviously, is when life throws her a bit of a curveball.
“Lis, don’t just kick off your shoes. You know we put them in the shoe rack, sweetie,” Jackie calls to the little girl who is currently taking her shoes off by pressing down on the back of the heel and flinging them up into the air. She turns to look at her mother as she flings her other shoe off. Jackie huffs out a sigh but doesn’t comment on it because in the next second her daughter picks her shoes back up and places them dutifully on the rack.
Melissa then skips off in the direction of the kitchen, no doubt to grab her after school snack, and Jackie hangs back to help James with his shoes. Her younger child hasn’t yet managed to get the hang of laces even though he had been very confident in his ability when he’d chosen them out in the shoe shop. She places his shoes on the rack next to Melissa’s as James gets up from the bottom step of the stairs.
It’s then when she notices the stack of letters she’d stacked on the hallway cabinet on the way out of the house that morning, still unopened, and picks them up before following James down the corridor to the kitchen.
She shuffles through the pile as she enters the kitchen, glancing up to see Melissa already say at the kitchen table, glass of milk and her chosen fruit snack (apple, like 90% of the time). She fills a glass of juice up for James as he gets onto his tiptoes to reach the fruit bowl, taking a banana and the juice Jackie hands him before hopping over to sit at the table next to his sister. They’re always remarkably well behaved for the first half an hour they get home from school before going absolutely berserk just before they have their dinner.
“Any homework?” She asks as she goes back to her pile of letters.
Bills, bills, advertisement, her magazine (she puts that aside), envelope addressed to Miss Jackie Burkhart, bills. Wait. Jackie Burkhart. She moves the rest of the pile aside, taking her (week old) manicured finger along the seam to open it up.
“We have an art project but it’s not due until next week,” Melissa says around a bite of apple.
“No talking with your mouth open, Melissa.”
“But you asked a question.”
Jackie snaps her eyes across to her daughter, the warning look that only being a mother for six years gives you the ability to pull off, and her daughter automatically falls silent, an apologetic look crossing over her features instead.
“Mmhm,” Jackie hums, looking back at the letter as she pulls it out of the envelope, “James? Homework?”
She scans the letter, not immediately taking any of it in, assuming it to be junk mail because of the numerous magazines she’s subscribed to these days. It’s only as her eyes drop from the flower decorative border down to start reading the actual letter that it starts to register, her mouth automatically falling open the further she reads.
You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of
Eric Albert Forman
Donna Marie Pinciotti
Jackie stops reading after that, her eyes blurring so she can no longer read the rest of the loopy, italic print. Distantly, she can hear her son babbling on about something – a times tables test? Spelling test?, she honestly isn’t sure – but everything has faded out except for those words. Her heart feels like it’s made its way to lodge in the back of her throat, leaving her only mildly winded, and she can hear her blood pulsing through her ears. (If she was in her right mind, she’d wonder how this can still affect her like this, all these years later.)
The last time she’d felt like this was when she was standing just before the church doors opened, hands clammy and heart feeling like an explosion behind her ribcage, knowing that she shouldn’t marry Edward in that bone-deep, aching way you do when you’re making a very bad decision.
She lowers the letter, looking up at her children, now looking like they’re arguing about something, except she can’t tune in enough to hear what they’re actually saying. It’s only reflex that she manages to choke out a “James, don’t shove your sister,” when the boy reaches across the table to, no doubt, try to push Melissa off her seat.
She’s not entirely sure how they got her address, she hasn’t spoken to either of them since she left. Maybe from her mom. She isn’t entirely sure what Pam is doing these days, last saw her when it was Melissa’s birthday five months ago, although she’s pretty sure that she’d met some guy on a cruise and Jackie knows what that means. Pam hadn’t mentioned anything about Point Place, but then again, her mother didn’t talk about much of anything except the boob job she’d got some poor guy to fork out for her. It’s entirely possible, however, that despite Jackie not setting foot in the state of Wisconsin, her mother might not have done the same. Especially if a man or money took her there.
It might be funny that after everything that happened back then, that Jackie’s the one already married, and Donna and Eric are the ones that ended up leaving it eight years. Although it’s also easier for Jackie to get down the aisle when she’s not trying to drag Steven down it with her.
“Mommy? Are you okay?” She looks down, which shows exactly how zoned out she’d been, to see Melissa wrapped around one of her legs, big, blue eyes (the one thing she’d inherited from her father because the thick, dark hair was all her) looking up at her.
“Yes, darling. I’m okay, baby,” Jackie strokes the hair back from her daughter’s face, long gone is the braid she’d tidied it into that morning, wisps of hair more out of the plait than it, “What game do you fancy playing tonight? I can manage an hour before I have to start making dinner?”
James sounds delighted at that, used to having to wait until after dinner for any mom time, having to make do with his sister, “Dinosaurs?”
“Ew, no,” His sister scrunches up her nose, “You never let me be the T-Rex.”
Later, when they’re both tucked into bed (after having to nearly force feed Melissa her peas, mopping up the flood that was the bathroom after bath time and four bedtime stories – three of which she had to read James), she finds herself back in the kitchen. She’s had a bath too, got into her pajamas, and poured herself a glass of wine. She’s got the phone pressed to her ear, but she hasn’t made much effort to dial a number.
She wraps the cord around her finger, not entirely sure who she wants to call. Her mom, maybe? Although she’s not sure whether the number her mom left for her the last time she visited even still works for her. She used to know the Forman’s number off by heart, still does, probably, if she tried, but she isn’t sure that’s the number still. Probably not. She picks up the invitation, still sitting on the counter from where she left it earlier and studies it. There’s a number to RSVP to, as well as an address, that she assumes to be the Pinciotti-Forman residence. She starts dialing the number before she’s even thought it through fully.
It’s 11 o’clock. They probably won’t even answer, she tells herself, panic already steadily rising in her chest, the feeling of tightness starting as if her heart is swelling up. She listens to it ring and before she has time to back out and slam the phone down, she hears the phone get picked up on the other end.
“Hello?” It’s weird, maybe. It’s been 8 years (and 5 months, 2 weeks) since she last heard that voice, but she still recognizes it down the phone line.
She can’t breathe all of a sudden, motionless, unable to put the phone down but also completely unable to say anything.
She must take too long to reply because she hears Donna huff, “Kelso, if this is you, stop prank calling us.”
It feels like it’s 1978 all over again. Tears somehow prick her eyes and what the fuck? She’s not that girl anymore. She’s grown up. She’s moved on, for God’s sake. She hasn’t missed them (except she had. She knows she has.)
She closes her eyes tight, holds the phone closer to her ear, the plastic hard against her cheekbone (now more pronounced because the rest of her teenage baby fat has gone and she’s been living off the scraps off her kids’ plates ever since she started having to eat alone). It shouldn’t feel so nice, so warm, so safe hearing Donna’s voice. It does, though. It really, really does. She closes her eyes tighter to stop from crying, her hand going up to her lips.
“I’m hanging up now –,”
“No, don’t,” Spills over her lips before Jackie can even try and stop it.
The other line falls silent and she half expects Donna not to recognize her voice, to think this is a junk call and slam the phone down, but after a half-beat of silence, “Jackie?”
“I got your wedding invitation. Should I be worried that you’re stalking me? I know that I’m more interesting than you, but you should probably find a new hobby.”
She doesn’t really know where it came from, hadn’t thought through what she was going to say. But it’s Donna. Her Donna.
Donna lets out a surprised laugh, “Jackie,” Donna repeats, except this time like maybe she’s got tears in her eyes too, the name sounding watery.
“Congratulations. I can’t believe Eric managed to keep hold of you for so long.”
Donna is definitely crying now. Jackie can’t really remember her crying much. Remembers how shaken up she was to see her crying after Eric had ditched her before the wedding, big, ugly cries, and how Jackie knew she wanted to rip Eric’s tiny balls off the next time she saw him.
“Shit, it’s really you. I, uh, didn’t really expect to hear from you.”
“I needed to know whether I have a stalker and whether I should change address.”
“You’re still the same,” Donna lets out a surprised laugh, “I’ve missed you, Jackie Burkhart.”
“Erm… Fitzgerald actually,” She cuts in awkwardly. Well aware that while she may have gotten an invite for Donna’s wedding, she didn’t quite provide the same courtesy.
“Fuck,” Donna breathes, “Jackie Beulah Fitzgerald, huh?”
“Nearly 7 years… Look, Donna, I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to –,”
“No, no. I get it,” Donna cuts her off, “7 years… Shit.”
It’s quiet for a moment.
“I got your address from my dad. Pam passed it along a while ago when she stopped into Point Place. I think she was half trying to see if there was any way she could get him back. I didn’t know whether the address would still be the same, but, uh… I guess it was? Eric said he didn’t think it’d be the same, said there was no point in trying, but I guess I had to?”
“He probably just didn’t want me there.”
Donna laughs, “Yeah, maybe. I’m glad though. That I tried.”
Jackie’s silent for a second. Her eyes feel wet still. She looks down at the bare toes, “Me too.”
“Will you come? To the wedding? You can have a plus one, bring Mr Jackie Fitzgerald.”
There’s about a 90% chance that any weekend Donna’s chosen for her wedding happens to fall on a weekend when Edward has a ‘business trip’. She can’t actually remember the last time he was home at a weekend, and even when he has been, he’s normally been in his office until the early hours of the morning before finally dragging himself to bed just a few hours before Jackie would inevitably have to wake up to prevent James from bounding into their bedroom and bouncing up and down on the bed like he does every morning (Edward’s never actually hurt the children, mainly goes the route of ignoring their existence, but she’s always a little worried on those mornings. Edward isn’t great on less than 6 hours of sleep).
“Uh… Donna? Is there any chance I could have a plus two instead?”
“You got a second boyfriend? How progressive.”
Jackie forces out a laugh, “I wish. No, uh, Edward is busy that weekend,” She twirls the phone cord around her finger again, pulling tight enough to cut off her circulation, “No, I have two children. So, just two tiny plus ones.”
Donna gasps, sounding excited, “Baby Burkharts?” Her voice sounds delighted, kind of like how it used to when Eric had done something she deemed stupidly endearing, or when Kelso had just done something plain stupid, “Of course you can bring them! Does this mean you’re coming?”
“I guess so.”
Fuck. Guess so.
“Shit, everyone’s going to be so excited to see you.”
Jackie highly doubts that, but she doesn’t comment. It’s been eight years, maybe some things do change (she certainly has). Maybe Kelso’s a genius now and Eric’s gained sixty pounds, “Uh… Yeah, I’m excited to see everyone.”
They continue small talk for a bit, although it’s difficult to catch up on eight years of life in the space of a ten-minute phone conversation. Donna sounds the same. Jackie’s not sure what she was expecting, not that she was expecting anything really because this is not how she planned her day ending. But she thought, maybe, if she ever did speak to Donna again, something would be different. Maybe that she’d have finally ditched Eric. Become a page 3 model in aid of advancing feminism by becoming the object to defeat objectification, or something. She wasn’t entirely sure, but it felt the same as it did calling her about whatever problem of the week she was having back then (some cheerleader she hated, Kelso, and later, Steven, a pair of shoes that she’d liked that weren’t in her size at the mall), and Jackie guesses the most surprising thing about it all was how normal it all felt, even now, after everything that’s happened. Jackie half regrets all those years she spent avoiding the 100-mile radius around Wisconsin because maybe she could have had it all or, at least, a little bit of it. A new life with traces of her old one.
But, she supposes, Donna is perhaps the easiest part of her life in Point Place, so maybe she doesn’t regret it after all.
Donna catches her up on herself, although it does appear that she carefully avoids everything else. She’s living in her dad’s old house with Eric after he decided to move to Florida to follow some woman half his age a few years back. She spent the first few years after Jackie left travelling around the world, sometimes with Eric and sometimes not. Now she works as a journalist for some column in the local newspaper, settled, finally, after working for bigger newspapers that took her everywhere. She supposes that makes sense, and it also makes sense that Eric waited for her through it all because even he knew that he was never going to find anything better. Eric’s a teacher at the local high school. He both hates and loves the kids there in equal measure.
“So yeah, we got engaged two years back, just after we moved into our house. Long engagement, I guess. Funny, huh? After that whirlwind back then… But, yeah. Mrs Forman probably wanted us to be married and have a billion kids by now, but luckily Laurie’s got three now. It’s insane, actually. She really popped them out for a bit there. Only two dads, mind. The dad of the two youngest looks like he’s sticking around.”
Jackie lets Donna talk about Point Place, and something deep within her, the itch beneath the surface of her skin that’s she’s not been able to scratch since she left Wisconsin, finally feels like it’s been eased a little the more she talks.
Jackie knows, thought about it on nights too dark and too lonely, when she could finally start thinking in truths (because, somehow, truth always seems to be allergic to light), that while she’d ran away from Wisconsin, she’d also ran away from herself. When she’s had too much wine and the kids are asleep and Edward’s on the other side of the bed with cheap perfume clinging to his skin that she’d never buy, she thinks about the fact that she was happy back then. And that maybe she’d turned herself inside out trying to get away from the heartbreak that being happy can bring, and how much easier it is when she doesn’t have to worry about that. (Except. She also knows that she left something of herself behind back in a basement in 1979.)
She feels calm now, listening to Donna's strangely still-familar voice over the static phone lines, deafeningly calm, her stomach no longer a torrid of waves, but she knows that a storm is coming.
Chapter 2: II
So I just wanted to start by saying a major thank you to whoever read, gave kudos, commented etc the last chapter - I really appreciate it. I hope you like this chapter!!
Firstly, I do have to give a little apology. Hyde doesn't feature in this chapter in person, although he is mentioned. I promise he will be present in the next chapter, but felt everyone needed a little background first (although, obviously, it isn't all as easy as it's made out here).
Also, I doubt the next chapter will be out as quick as this one was - I already had a good outline for this one so only really needed to add a few bits/tweak things. Although, I do hope to make sure I update frequently, feel free to give me a nudge if I'm slow at any point though!
And you can aim for my heart, go for blood
But you would still miss me in your bones
- My tears ricochet, Taylor Swift
Jackie’s been sitting in her car outside the Pinciotti-Forman residence for approximately 25 minutes. She’s surprised that she’s managed to put up with the children for that long. James has been kicking the back of her seat for the past 10 of those, and that boy has a surprisingly strong kick for a boy that’s definitely in the lower quartile in height for boys of his age. She knows that it’s less to do with her entertainment skills and more to do with the fight currently going on between Jem Doll and GI Joe in the back seat.
“Mom,” Melissa’s face presses up between the front two seats, her cheeks all squished up, “Are we getting out? James keeps trying to snatch Kelly.” Melissa didn’t like to keep the names any of her dolls were marketed with. Instead, she named them all the things she wishes Jackie had called her instead of Melissa in a passive-aggressive stance impressive for a six-year-old.
“Yes, honey. Sorry. Mommy was just thinking. We can get out now, I know you both must be hungry.”
Melissa sits back in her seat and turns to her brother, “Give her back, poo-brain.”
“Melissa, don’t call your brother names.”
“But he has got poo for brains!”
“Mom,” James calls out, high pitched and shrieky, the ‘m’ drawn out.
“Stop it,” Jackie lets out a long, frustrated breath, but manages to switch off the radio, knowing that her time is up. She has to get out.
She stares over to the two houses she knows far too well. They don’t look much different. It looks like Donna’s painted the front door, made more of an effort with the landscaping (she knows full well that the Eric she knew would not be getting his hands dirty). There’s a tacky gnome with a fishing rod in its hands in the garden that she guesses Eric thought was funny. It isn’t.
She looks over at the Forman’s. They have a new car. A gray Ford Fiesta. She doesn’t know why that sends a little stabbing pain through her. It’s stupid, really. What did she expect? Nothing to change in eight years. Stop being ridiculous, Jackie.
Everything else looks. Familiar? She never fully knows whether her memories fool her sometimes, whether the things she thinks in her head are exactly how they were. Not sure whether adolescence and wild-eyed wonder caused her to alter the pictures in her past. She can’t even bring herself to linger long on the house, though, eyes flicking back to the safer option of Bob’s (no, Donna and Eric’s) house instead.
She steels herself, taking a deep breath in and releasing it slowly. Here goes nothing. Or everything.
She opens the car door, stepping out and slamming the door behind her as she goes round to open the door for the kids. They both barrel out immediately, practically falling over each other to get out, and she’s surprised neither of them falls flat on the pavement.
“This looks like that photo!” James exclaims excitedly, pointing over at the Forman residence, “The one on your dresser.”
“Yeah, sweetie,” Jackie answers.
It was a group photo back in 1978 sometime, all of them out on the driveway, Michael turned with his back to the camera, trying and failing to manage to moon the camera before Kitty realized. Eric and Donna arms looped around each other, although Donna’s halfway to hitting Kelso on the arm. Then Fez smiling in front of them, unknowing to what was going on behind him. And then. Steven, arm loose around her as she beams her practiced camera perfect smile. She’s not entirely sure of the date of it, nothing particularly special about the day in any way. Kitty liked taking photos and sometimes they indulged her. She can’t quite bring herself to throw it out.
She gets their luggage out of the car, her two children already having run off in the direction of the door. She follows after them, nodding when James turns around to face her with a clear question on his face of whether it’s okay for him to knock.
She stands next to them, only mildly shaking, although outwardly she thinks she looks fairly composed unless you know what you’re looking for. She’d had months to come to terms with this day, had spoken to Donna, and even Eric, on the phone a few times since that first conversation. It was only last week that they were making the arrangements for Jackie to stay. She should be okay but somehow. Somehow, she still isn’t. God, she feels like a kid again. Or worse actually. She was a pretty confident kid.
Unsurprisingly, Edward was indeed busy this weekend. Conference in Atlanta apparently. He did at least leave her the number of his hotel so maybe this time it actually was a conference. She wasn’t even sure what it was Edward did exactly (something in business? Finance, maybe?) but it sure had him doing a road trip of the United States monthly. He said he might be able to make it up if she decides to stay past the weekend, an option that Donna had provided. It was the kids’ summer vacation after all, and Jackie didn’t exactly foresee Edward taking them off on a family holiday. A romantic weekend away for their one sex a year maybe, but only if he was in a good mood. But definitely not a trip with the kids. They haven’t done that since Melissa was three and James was still just learning how to walk. A trip to California that had James crying every time he touched the sand and Melissa schmoozing every adult at their hotel. It also ended with a big argument between Jackie and her husband in the hotel reception.
That's when the door opens and, in the doorway, stands a, back to red-haired, Donna standing in the doorway. Her hair is shorter, though, and there are the telltale signs of the years they've been apart in her face, which now no longer holds any trace of adolescence. But she looks like Donna. And she's smiling, that exact same smile Jackie remembers from her photo albums that she can't bear to look through.
She's wearing jeans and a sweatshirt that might be Eric's from the way it clings to her just slightly. So apparently he hasn't changed much in stature. Jackie doesn't get any more time to study her old friend because Donna's reaching out to pull her into a hug. Does she still smell the same? Jackie thinks she does.
"Jackie," Donna breathes quietly into her neck, releasing her only slightly, hands still holding her shoulders, to yell over her shoulder, "Eric, it's Jackie!"
Somewhere in the house she hears a, “The Devil?” But it sounds somewhat excited.
It only takes a few seconds before Eric is beside her. And. Wow. It looks like he’s trying to grow out his hair. Quite a bold choice for such a small boy. She says as such, “Eric? You do know you’re not Jon Bon Jovi? You look ridiculous.”
“I’ve been telling him,” Donna replies, “It seems the hair I’ve lost Eric is determined to replace.”
“He is doing something about that before Saturday, right?” The wedding is on Saturday, however, Donna forced Jackie (it was actually quite scary and that’s coming from the queen of forcing people to do things they don’t want to do) to come up early on the Thursday so they have time to catch up before Donna’s caving under all of the stress.
“I can’t believe I was mildly excited about seeing you,” Eric huffs, hand going around Donna’s shoulders, “You’re still the worst.”
“Mommy?” She feels a tug on her (comfortable, travel) blazer and looks down to see Melissa staring up at her.
Melissa has never been keen on adults leaving her out of the conversation. She hates people talking over her head about something that isn’t her, a trait Jackie thinks she probably possessed at the same age.
Jackie pats her daughter on the head comfortingly, “Sorry, baby,” She turns back to Eric and Donna, “This is Melissa.”
Melissa beams up at the two adults, “You can call me Lissa.”
“And this is James,” She strokes the soft hair of James’ head as he half hides behind her leg. For all Melissa’s confidence around adults, James lacks.
A hand flies to Donna’s mouth and she lets out an uncharacteristic coo, “Oh, Jackie! They look so much like you.”
“Poor things,” She hears Eric mutter, and she would hit him, but it appears Donna’s doing her handiwork for her.
“Shut up, Eric.”
But, despite his words, he’s crouching down in front of the two children and pitching his voice higher (because apparently that’s still possible?), “Hey kids, you must be hungry after that drive, huh? Who fancies going next door to ask Kitty whether she can make us brownies?”
The two automatically light up, almost like a candle has been lit from within them from how bright their smiles are, “Yes!” They both shout and Jackie winces, still not entirely used to how loud they actually are.
“What do you say to Mr Eric?” Jackie raises her eyebrows up at the two of them.
“Thank you, Mr Eric,” They say almost in synchrony and Jackie smiles and offers them a nod.
Eric stands back up, offering out his hands for them both to take. He gives the two adults a nod, “Give you two some space to catch up,” He tells them and then starts to walk back down the driveway and over to the Forman house, looking for all intents and purposes like he’s actually listening to Melissa as she chatters about (most likely) her current obsession – giving haircuts to all of her dolls much to Jackie’s chagrin when her daughter comes to her with Barbie and her Philip Oakey inspired hair.
“Wine?” Donna asks. It may be only early afternoon, but honestly, if Jackie’s going to make it through this weekend, she probably needs it.
“You read my mind.”
“Scary,” Donna teases, opening the door wider to let Jackie walk in.
It’s when she’s a bottle of wine in that she starts to feel the tension disappearing from the lines of her shoulder blades. She’s tipsy, the sort that makes everything feel a bit softer around the edges. Where she feels lighter, like something has settled within, and she thinks maybe she could float away. It’s this feeling that is the reason for the bottle of vodka in her bedside table, used to chase away the shadows that being up past midnight can bring. Helps her feel warm. Safe.
The house is completely different from the last time she saw it. It’s no longer completely gaudy and Jackie has to begrudgingly say that Eric (after all, Donna isn’t renowned for her sense of interior design) has done a good job of decorating the house so it no longer looks possesses the color scheme of an under the sea themed high school prom. Although she thinks Donna was probably the muscle to Eric’s design plan.
Donna fills her in on all the details that didn’t fit into their phone conversations and now that she’s conquered her fear of actually being in Point Place again, it’s nice to hear about the people she left behind.
The Forman’s are obviously still located next door, so Eric doesn’t have to go too long without a sandwich with the crusts cut off (Donna refuses to cave to it, even if Kitty has tried to convince her to). They’re both retired now which is a blessing and a curse, fuck does that woman pander to Eric. He’s definitely regressing. I had him so well trained. After the worry of a mini-stroke a year and a half ago, Red’s now on a carefully controlled diet plan made and implemented by Kitty. The scare of it all left Red actually complying, he’s even cut back to only drinking on Saturdays. Kitty’s apparently cut back too, although she does still enjoy a tipple. Donna says it’s meant that she’s now a bit of a lightweight and gets spectacularly drunk at family events because she allows herself a proper drink. You should have seen her at Eric’s last birthday party.
“They’re happy, though. Still baby Eric, of course,” Donna smiles, “Kitty was practically shitting herself with glee when we moved in next door,” She rolls her eyes, but laughs as she tips some wine into her mouth.
Jackie is glad to hear they’re still happy. When she can bear to think about them, she finds herself clinging to the knowledge that love has to exist, Kitty and Red are proof of that. It helps her to get to sleep on nights when she’s spent too much time tossing and turning.
Kelso is living in Chicago with Betsy and Brooke, although he still makes it to see them about once a month. He's a good husband and a better dad, Donna says. Poor Brooke, though. Think Betsy ended up with a few too many Kelso genes, she adds after a second's thought. And wow, just hearing Betsy's name is odd. She must be so grown up now.
Donna says Kelso also calls fall too often, leading Eric to inevitably do something stupid. He and Brooke married not too long after she left, in a wedding unfashionably Brooke. After she’d been weighed under with the strain of a wedding to plan and Betsy’s terrible twos (even though she was a little too old for them to still be calling them that), she’d caved to Kelso’s wish of a quickie Vegas wedding. The only people who saw the ceremony were a couple, foreign tourists that didn’t know English Kelso had met in the hotel reception, and Betsy. Brooke still vows they’re going to get a do-over of it all. He’s still a cop and Jackie fears for the state of the Wisconsin police department if he’s managed to keep that job.
“Oh, and Betsy fell off the water tower for the first time last Christmas. Those Kelso genes are insane, she only ended up with a broken arm.”
Fez, after following Kelso to Chicago, honestly, I think Fez loves Kelso more than his actual girlfriend, and failing to get an invite by Brooke to move into the spare bedroom, ended up meeting a girl at the salon he worked at. Apparently she’s stunning. A model, named Debbie, that is much too good for him. Everyone is a little worried she might decide one day to do a runner and leave Fez heartbroken, but, so far, they seem to be madly in love still. He follows her around the world for her runway shows like a lovestruck puppy even now they’re out of the honeymoon phase. He acts as a stylist at her shows. When they’re actually in America they’re based over in LA, obviously, where he has a salon with his business partner, who Donna thinks is just a replacement for Kelso when he’s not around.
“We don’t see him much these days, but he comes back for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Never misses the Forman’s New Year’s party.”
It’s as Donna tells her all about the places her work has taken her that Jackie notices the conspicuous absence of Hyde from her stories. She knows Donna’s trying to be careful with her, after all, the last Jackie she saw was devastated over a boy that she’d given too many second chances to. But Jackie has long resigned herself to having to see the man over the next weekend, so it’s a wasted effort.
And, anyway, Jackie isn’t a teenager anymore. She’s over Steven these days. She can think about him without feeling much at all, really. She’s grown up, she has a husband and kids. She’s over him enough that when she cries, it’s not over him anymore. She’s even over him enough to love someone else, because she thinks she did, back when she first met Edward (back when he used to look at her like she was worth something, that she was something special, and it felt nice. Knowing that someone could think of her like that.)
She doesn’t even think of him much these days, her body has long since forgotten his touch, her heart now sad over something else. And when she does think of him, she thinks of a denim jacket that smells like pot and traces of that aftershave she bought him (even though he said it was a wasted purchase because cologne is the rich man's Right Guard). Thinks of arms around her waist and long nights where he actually seemed to listen. It was nice; back then, she wasn’t much used to people listening. (So, she thinks about him in pieces, the bits that don’t hurt.)
Anyway, she doesn’t need people being careful with her. She’s careful enough with herself.
“Donna,” She cuts through a story Donna’s telling her about a ski trip she went on a couple of years ago, “How’s Hyde?” She takes a very deliberate sip of wine, her face a carefully blank mask even as something flickers across Donna’s. She used to be better at reading her facial expressions because she isn't quite sure what the emotion in Donna's eyes is.
“He’s,” Donna pauses, like she’s choosing her words. She’s being careful regardless, “He’s good. He owns a few record stores across the Midwest. Think he’s a bit embarrassed about how much he likes the white-collar lifestyle now he’s mainly doing managerial work.”
Jackie laughs but doesn’t reply, mainly because she’s not sure what she’d say, instead choosing to drain the rest of her wine glass. She picks up the bottle from the coffee table and pours herself another glass.
“He lives in Point Place, though. Got himself a nice apartment; commutes when he’s needed at the other stores.”
Jackie nods, “Bet Kitty likes that.”
“Yeah, she still tries to drop packed lunches off at the store under the guise of ‘dropping by’.” Donna rolls her eyes, although the fondness is clear in her words, “Oh, and we still have circles whenever everyone’s back in town. And sometimes when we just have enough people to make a circle.”
“Is he, uh, married? Kids?” She doesn’t know why she feels awkward asking. After all, she’s ticked both those boxes off.
Donna shakes her head, she’s watching her very steadily over the rim of her wine glass, “No. Work keeps him busy, I think. He dates, though. Some last longer than others. Think he’s got some air stewardess on the go at the moment? But that’s a fairly new thing. Think she only puts up with him because she's only in Point Place once every two weeks.”
Jackie nods again. They’re being more careful than they were before. It’s also interesting that as Donna speaks about everyone, she’s not mentioned how Jackie left, or the months after her departure. She’s still not certain how they responded, even Donna. It’s been years though so maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. She’s only in town for a few days before she’s leaving again. But... Jackie wants to know what Hyde said. How he acted. It’s silly and childish in a way that Jackie used to be but isn’t anymore. She used to do a lot of things for a reaction, and while leaving was never about that, now she kind of wants to know anyway.
(She knows that she wants Donna to say that Steven was heartbroken. Crying in bed for weeks like Jackie was. But she also knows that’s not what happened. That Steven was never that person. The most she could hope for is him going off on a bad bender.
She both wants to know what Donna would say though, while also being completely terrified of the answer.)
“I’m happy for him,” Jackie then rethinks her words, “For everyone. They all seem to be doing well.”
It may be the wine and the fact that alcohol makes her overemotional, or it might just be being back here, but it hits her all at once like a tsunami. Because she left, all those years ago, to be better, to escape, but somehow everyone else that stayed ended up significantly better off than her anyway. She is happy for them, she is, but she also feels that seething resentment that she’s kept locked up over the years.
“Yeah,” Donna nods. She doesn’t know what her face looks like, but Donna reaches out and pats her hand, “And you? Are you? Your kids seem great.”
Jackie nods, “They are. I’m so proud of them both, even if they are a handful sometimes.”
“It’s funny. You never seemed that maternal back then, but you can tell that they’re your whole world.”
Jackie, as self-absorbed as she is, has always been very good at making people her world. And she supposes that when the gang left her orbit, she found something pretty damn good instead. Those children are the best thing she’s ever done. They make everything worth it.
“And your husband?”
Jackie smiles, taking a very long sip of her wine, and it's only because of years of practice that when she says, “He’s… He’s good. The rich man I always deserved,” Her voice doesn't even shake. Creating fairytales out of tragedy is always something Jackie has been good at.
(But Jackie has always been a paradox of self-loathing and self-love, so maybe her words have a double meaning. Maybe she’s being honest after all.)
Chapter 3: III
I'm not too sure about this chapter, but it's a little more light-hearted and it features the whole gang (albeit some more briefly than others, dw there'll have some more in-depth chats later).
I have a general outline of each chapter now, but I thought I'd ask whether you guys would prefer more frequent updates (but shorter chapters) or do you guys not mind longer chapters (because, tbf, hopefully there'll still be fairly regular updates).
Thanks for reading anyway! Hope you enjoy!
I've been having a hard time adjusting
I had the shiniest wheels, now they're rusting
I didn't know if you'd care if I came back
I have a lot of regrets about that
- This is me trying, Taylor Swift
“Fez is getting a flight from LA, should be getting in this evening,” Donna tells the room at large, “He said on the phone last night that he’ll be able to make it here for nine o’clock. So, if we make a night of it, get some drinks in, he can join us when he gets here?”
Eric, Melissa and James came back after they’d finished their last bottle of wine, and it wasn’t just the children that had stains of chocolate around their mouths. (“I’ve not seen my mom so happy since Laurie had her last bay. She loves fussing over kids, especially now we’re all grown up,” Eric tells her as he walks in, “And she warned me that someone will get hurt if you don’t head over there first thing tomorrow morning.”) Donna had told them all to clean themselves up immediately. An hour later Jackie finds herself on their living room floor playing GI Joe as Eric makes them dinner. Apparently, he’s the cook of the household after he had to get used to doing things for himself while Donna was the high-flyer. Donna’s sat on the couch, half-watching the television as she chats to Jackie.
“We can either go to Charlie’s for drinks or, hey, for old time’s sake we could have drinks in the Forman’s basement?” Jackie looks up to see Donna leaning towards her, elbows on her knees, “It’s still exactly the same. Kitty’s practically made it a shrine to Eric.”
God, Jackie doesn’t think she’s ready to see the basement, “Let’s start with the bar for now?”
Donna nods, “Cool. I’ll tell everyone to meet at eight? Fez and Debbie can join whenever,” Then she pitches her voice louder, “Eight good for you, Eric?”
Eric appears in the doorway to the kitchen, “Yeah. When’s Kelso getting here? Will Brooke be there?”
“No, she’ll be here tomorrow night. Betsy has a friend’s birthday party tomorrow morning,” Donna replies, “He’s already here. Called from his hotel room just before you got back.”
Eric nods, “Cool,” then pops back into the kitchen, before, a second later, popping his head back out, looking over at Jackie, “Mom says she’ll look after the kids tonight, although Red didn’t look keen,” He grins, like that thought delights him, “I think she wanted to give us all some time to catch up.”
“Miss Kitty?” Melissa looks up from where she’s trying to pull some new clothes over Barbie’s head, her eyes are bright with excitement, “More brownies?” Which obviously makes James perk up too.
Jackie gives them both a look, “I think you’ve both had a few too many brownies for one day.” She looks back to Eric, “I’ll tell her thanks when I pick them up.”
“She says they can stay over tonight, doesn’t want to have to wake them up after she’s gotten them off to bed.”
She’s really, really missed Kitty. She’s missed out on years of free babysitting, “I’ll get them tomorrow morning.” She’s only mildly nervous about leaving them for the evening. She very rarely has an evening without them, mainly limited to events she goes to with Edward or the odd night out with some of the mothers at school. The nerves lessen the more times she leaves them, but they never quite go away completely.
“She’ll probably want us all there for breakfast,” He rolls his eyes, but looks happy at the prospect, and then goes back into the kitchen.
“Everyone’s going to be so happy to see you,” Donna tells her, which, she isn’t entirely sure is true. But Jackie guesses she’ll see.
It’s only a matter of hours before her past comes colliding with her present. It feels a little like’s she’s bracing herself for a car crash, she’s already feeling the metaphorical tightness of a seat belt digging into her chest.
They’re the first there and Jackie is more than a little glad. While she can still feel the wine she had earlier, she’s definitely feeling too sober, so she’s glad when Donna brings her and Eric’s beers, and Jackie’s vodka cranberry over to the table. Donna scoots into the booth next to Eric, his arm automatically going around her, as she distributes the drinks from her tray. Jackie takes hers gratefully from her side of the booth, taking what is perhaps a too big sip.
On the way over she hadn’t felt nervous, but now she’s here, her palms feel a little too clammy against the glass, her stomach feeling a little like she’s on a boat. She recalls being a kid and feeling seasick, boat swaying under her feet. That’s how she feels now.
“Jackie!” She hears a delighted voice and turns around in her seat to see Kelso walking towards them, arms already open, “The hotness level of the room has gone up, like, a gazillion degrees Celsius!”
“In America we use Fahrenheit,” Eric groans.
Kelso looks remarkably similar to how he did when he was still a teenager, although now there is a questionable moustache and a double denim number that even he can’t quite pull off. Jackie likes double denim, but you have to be classy about it and Kelso has never known the meaning of the world. Despite it all, he still looks like how she remembers. His smile is the same.
She laughs, standing up from her seat and lets Kelso embrace her, his hands a little too low on her back. And then. Yep. A little bit of a grope.
“You still look hot! Even if you are, like, old now.”
“You’re older than her,” Eric cuts in but Kelso ignores him.
Kelso releases her a little, although as they both get into the booth, his arm is still around her shoulders, “Damn, Jackie. Have I told you how good you look?”
“You’re married, she’s married. Cut it out, Kelso,” Donna tells him, taking a sip of beer.
“Hey, I’m looking, not touching. That’s allowed!”
“You also touched a bit, too,” Jackie says, shoving his arm off her shoulders.
“Wait, you’re married?” Kelso asks, apparently still just a little behind on any conversation, “Who did you finally get down the aisle?”
Donna reaches across the table to give him a punch to the arm, her voice has a warning tone when she speaks, “Kelso.”
“He’s called Edward,” Jackie replies, primly, “He’s rich. And good looking.”
“Are you a MILF now, too?” Kelso puts his arm back around her shoulders and leers a little, “Hey, I’ve already done the F. But, wait, does it count if I fucked you before you were a mother?”
“I have two children,” Jackie nods, biting back a smile, ignoring the rest of his comments but preening just a little at all the compliments. As crude as they are, it’s kind of nice. She’s always been a fan of compliments, and Edward isn’t exactly brimming with them these days and children aren’t always good for your self-esteem (although, she supposes, Melissa did say just the other day that she likes how Jackie uses the lice comb because she doesn’t yank it through the knots. Does that count?), “Melissa and James.”
“Guess we’re the first two to have kids, huh? But not with each other? Ha, who would have thought?”
Donna rolls her eyes, “Just go and get a drink, Kelso.”
“Whatever, I was just catching up with Jackie,” But, despite his words, he does edge out of the booth and head over to the bar to order instead of arguing with Donna.
Jackie feels a lot calmer now and when she next takes a sip of her drink, her hands don’t feel at risk of shaking the red liquid all over her. Her stomach has settled considerably, and she doesn’t even think it’s the drink. Maybe this will be okay. Maybe she can get through this weekend unscathed.
“Kelso seems to remain peaked at age 13,” Jackie comments. While they all knew that back then that he had the mental age of a pubescent boy, she thought that he might have matured at least a few years since she's been gone.
“Betsy is going to overtake him soon,” Donna agrees, and Jackie’s just about to reply when Eric’s eyes dart to a place just over her shoulder.
“Hyde! Hey, man,” Eric says suddenly, “Didn’t see you come in.”
Okay. Now Jackie’s stomach is back to curdling. She’s suddenly glad that she didn’t eat much of Eric’s lasagne earlier, at the time it was largely because she thinks Eric grated an entire block of cheese on top, and Jackie isn’t entirely sure her metabolism knows how to cope with the challenge. Now, though, she’s glad because she’s a little worried she’d have brought it back up all over the table.
She steels herself, taking a deep breath as she places her glass back down on the tabletop. The wine earlier is definitely making up for the vodka hasn’t yet done, because if she was sober, she isn’t whether she wouldn’t just shake right out of her skin with how her nerves feel like they’re vibrating under the surface.
She turns around, eyes landing on the only boy she’s ever felt like giving everything to. (The irony that she gave her hand to someone else is not lost on her)
His hair is slightly longer, the curls to his hair more pronounced, and the beard is back. He actually looks smart, which doesn’t exactly quell the despair that she’d only had ten minutes to make herself decent after being all gross from travelling, with gray trousers and a nice shirt. With buttons. If that doesn’t signify how much things have changed. Especially when she notices that the sunglasses - are they the same pair? - are now hooked onto his shirt.
It’s then that she notices the details. The slightly awkward stance, a little too rigid around his shoulders, like he’s trying too hard to look casual. The tense set of his eyes. She feels settled to know that she’s not the only one feeling nervous, especially after everything and how Steven had been so indifferent towards the end. Maybe what she was most worried about was the idea that Steven wasn’t going to be affected at all, that she’d once again be the one left suffering.
“Forman, soon to be Forman,” Hyde nods, the corner of his mouth tilting up slightly. He’s already got a beer in his hand; he must have gone straight to the bar when he came in. Does that mean something?
“You know I decided not to be a Forman,” Donna answers immediately.
“Aren’t we all Forman’s though, deep down?” Eric asks, faux philosophical tone to his voice.
Jackie cuts her eyes over to him, eyebrows pinched together, “What?”
“Well, like. Kitty sees you all as her kids?”
“I’d tread lightly there,” Hyde replies, “Broaching incest territory. We’re not in the south, Forman.”
He hasn’t actually looked at her yet, but he turns to her then as Eric tries to plough through an explanation that even Donna isn’t listening to, eyes instead directed over at Jackie, she can see out of the corner of her eye. Jackie catches his eyes for a second and then his drop down to his shoes and she doesn’t bother trying to chase his gaze, “Ah, hey Jackie.”
“Hyde!” Kelso appears on the other side of Hyde holding a beer. He looks at the seat next to Jackie in confusion, “You not sitting down?” His question gets a sharp look from Donna, but he either ignores it or, knowing Kelso, doesn’t actually notice it.
Hyde shuffles uncomfortably on the spot for a second, but now the question is out there he doesn’t have much choice but to nod, “Sorry, man. Yeah, I’m sitting.”
He slides into the booth next to Jackie and then Kelso shuffles in, causing Jackie to have to subtly move away to avoid having to touch him. It’s quiet for a beat, and then everyone starts talking at once.
Donna chooses to go for a simple, “Fez should be getting here in a bit.” While Eric goes for a slightly more original, “Hey, can we all agree that the new Superman film was the worst? Reeve should have stuck to his word and finished after the last one.” Then Kelso, completely unaware of any of the tension that’s now surrounded the table, “Hey, look! My beermat’s floating,” says in delight as he lifts the mat that’s stuck to the condensation at the bottom of his glass.
Hyde takes a sip of his beer and doesn’t say anything to any of the choices offered to him, which leaves Jackie to take the reins.
“Nuclear Man and the elevator, huh? Light couldn’t get through the doors on Earth, but on the moon it can?” Jackie cringes internally at the fact she has knowledge of any of the plot holes in the Superman films, but James is a fan of superheroes and Melissa is a fan of ripping to parts anything her brother likes. And Jackie likes being able to sit in a dark room for an hour and a half without anyone bickering.
Eric looks over at her, bewildered, “Big Superman fan?”
Jackie laughs slightly too hysterically (perhaps she should have gotten more sleep last night) – God no. Superman? Movies about flying men are totally not her thing. Although she could at least enjoy the beauty of Christopher Reeve.
“James,” She explains, “He likes superheroes. You should have seen his Halloween costume last year.”
Eric looks excited, “You’ll have to show me pictures!” She thinks this is the only time Eric has ever seemed excited about anything she’s said. So, of course, it’s to do with something geeky.
“James?” Steven speaks for the first time since he sat down, question in his voice even as he tries to keep it flat.
“Oh, my son,” She replies, turning to glance at him slightly. She chews her lip for a second before releasing it, scared she’ll ruin whatever remains of her lipstick, “I have two children. Melissa and James.”
She doesn’t know what he thinks of that information because his facial expression doesn’t so much as flicker, he just nods and takes another sip of his beer.
“James is cool. He has so many GI Joe figures,” Eric comments and she doesn’t even need to look to know that Donna’s rolling her eyes.
“He’s four, Eric,” Donna reprimands, “You’re the wrong side of 25.”
Eric shrugs, unbothered, “You’ll all be sorry when they’re collectors’ pieces in ten years’ time and I make millions from them.”
“I wouldn’t boast about the fact that you’ll still be hoarding action figures in ten years, man,” Hyde answers.
“He still likes action figures?” Jackie can’t help but question as she turns to look at Donna.
“Yeah, but at least he doesn’t play with them anymore,” Donna answers, “He buys them and keeps them in a box over at his parents’ house. I am not having them cluttering up our place.”
“How old is Melissa?” Kelso asks, and she’s only mildly surprised that he remembered her name. She guesses he is a dad after all. “Betsy will love that there are other kids at the wedding for her to play with!”
“She’s six,” Jackie answers and Kelso nods thoughtfully.
“Damn, Jackie. You were busy after you left town,” Kelso laughs, unaware that he’s probably going to make the table a whole lot more tense. He’s still chuckling as he picks up his beer, shaking his head, “Hey, isn’t it funny. You spent all that time trying to get me and Hyde to marry you, and you find some new guy to marry you and knock you up in two years’ flat.”
The table falls quiet again. She thinks there was probably a prior discussion, prompted by Donna, not to mention topics including, but not limited to: Jackie leaving like she did, Hyde and Jackie dating, and Hyde and Jackie breaking up. But she really shouldn’t have trusted Kelso to listen, even she knows that, and she hasn’t seen the guy in nearly ten years. And, yep, there Donna is sending Kelso a dirty look across the table.
“Maybe I should have left earlier. Saved us all some time,” Jackie jokes, but it doesn’t land correctly, hovering awkwardly in the air between them.
Jackie likes Fez, she does. He may have been a creep the entire time she knew him, and honestly, she was always a little terrified she’d go for a shower and come out to see Fez waiting on the toilet seat for her, but he could also be really sweet. Thoughtful, sensitive. A perv but the harmless kind. And Jackie hasn’t liked Fez more than when she sees him coming towards their table, already with a fruity looking cocktail in hand.
“Jacqueline, you look a vision. You’ve aged like a fancy wine,” Fez gasps and Jackie automatically finds herself smiling. She really took all the compliments back then for granted.
“It’s like a fine wine, Fez,” Eric corrects him, and Fez just shrugs his shoulders.
“Fancy, fine, same thing,” He replies, “You look like a goddess either way. A champagne amongst boxed wines.”
“There are others present,” Kelso cuts in, sounding offended, “You said I was the champagne to Forman’s Blue Nun.”
“Blue Nun, huh? I think I can spin that as a superhero name. Saving the world through Christianity,” Eric shrugs.
“Saturday will be the first time you’ve been to church since Christmas,” Donna answers, “So I’m not sure how that’ll work.”
“Shut up,” Jackie cuts across them, eyes sharp, “Fez was just telling us all how good looking I am. Continue, Fez.” Because, while Jackie has matured past the need to constantly receive attention from men, she also can’t say that she’d turn it down if offered.
“It’s a shame I found the love of my life Debbie because otherwise I’d be asking whether we could do it in the loos,” Fez replies, shuffling into the booth beside Eric, “I worship Debbie.”
“Finally getting sex regularly will do that to a man,” Eric agrees, “I worship Donna.”
“Where is Debbie?” Donna asks, completely ignoring her fiancé. Which Jackie thinks Donna should consider doing more of.
“She’s in our hotel room, wanted to give us space to catch up,” Fez answers, “Hopefully the time apart will have her horny and ready for when I get back.”
It’s as everyone plays nice with her and pretends like she didn’t up and leave them all eight years ago, that she realises how this weekend will go. They’re adults now, after all, so maybe they’ve all toned down the drama that being a teenager brings. Just like how Donna was careful with her earlier, there’ll all be careful now. Almost like Donna had sent out a press release of acceptable conversation topics to ensure a smooth wedding.
Jackie looks around the table and thinks about how much, outwardly, it appears nothing has changed since 1979. Except, she knows, that nothing is that simple. After all, one of her main forms of socialisation is private school moms who will go to great lengths to appear like they have a life as immaculate as their manicures. She does it herself, as she grits her teeth explaining why Edward looks like he’s flirting with the bartender at some event they’re at.
Growing up inevitably brings complications, and she wonders whether it’s easier for them all to fall back into their 18-year-old selves for a moment whenever they’re together than to deal with some of the messy parts of being an actual adult, with actual bills they need to pay for.
But, for this weekend, Jackie thinks that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to pretend for a bit. Oh, to be 18 years old when she thought she could take on the whole world, hell, the whole universe, with endless possibilities in front of her. Back before life caught up and taught her how to tie herself to the ground. And while being 18 can hurt in a way that 26 can’t, because everything feels bigger when you’re just a kid, at the time she almost thought it was all worth it. Nearly.
Later, when Donna looks like she’s getting a little handsy under the table with Eric and Kelso is getting even louder and Fez looks dangerously close to doing anything anyone says, she feels a little overwhelmed. It’s all a little much to be here, with these people she’d done a good job of forgetting about, who are all pretending that she didn’t leave them without looking back. So, she excuses herself by telling them she’s getting a drink and ducks outside.
It’s colder now. Jackie leans back against the wall outside the bar and exhales heavily, the cold helping to clear her mind a little. She isn’t sure what she expected coming back here, had made up numerous scenarios on the drive over, but this still somehow feels both the obvious scenario and the opposite to what she thought.
She supposes, deep down, that maybe she’d get some resolution. She always felt a little like Point Place haunted her present, and maybe she needed to finally put some nails in the coffin. But she isn’t sure that things are going to work out that way.
Jackie flinches as she hears the bar door open, eyes flying open to see Steven. Which, of course.
His eyes land on her and he pauses in the doorway, before finally stepping outside, the door closing behind him, “I didn’t know anyone was out here.”
“Sorry,” She replies, (does she sound as manic as she does in her head?), pulling her jacket tighter around herself, “I just needed a little break.”
“Heh, yeah I can imagine those guys are a lot after an eight-year break.”
“You could say that.”
He comes to stand next to her, leaning back against the wall, “Donna said you were coming this weekend, but I didn’t believe it till I saw you.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I was coming until I ended up in front of her house.”
He nods and then they stand in silence for a few seconds. They never had awkward silences back then and suddenly, like they’ve gone back in time, it doesn’t feel nearly as awkward as it should now, with so much time and distance between them.
“Hey, I guess congratulations are in order? Husband and kids, huh?” He says, scuffing the toe of his beat-up boots against the ground, “It’s scary, the idea of mini Jackies running ‘round.”
“They even look like me. And Melissa is so similar to me that it scares even me sometimes.”
“Horrifying,” Hyde replies, but the corner of his mouth curls up a little, “Guess I can imagine you being keen on the idea of having some little clones.”
“The world needs my DNA in future generations,” She agrees, shrugging up a shoulder. Then, she smiles a little. This is easy. She can do this. Surface level conversation, “I call it charity.”
“Jackie Burkhart, humanitarian,” His voice is filled with sarcasm and it sounds so much like how she remembers. But then, “I guess you’re not a Burkhart anymore, huh?”
She swallows, tucking some hair behind her ear, “Yep, I’m a Fitzgerald now.”
Hyde laughs, and does she detect some bitterness to it or is she just projecting? Nothing shows in his voice though when he replies, “Of course you are.”
She isn’t sure why she says it, but as she’s pushing off the wall to head back inside, she turns to him just before she walks towards the door, “I think I liked being Burkhart better,” She goes to the door, opens it up, and it’s as the sound from inside the bar floods out that she looks at him one last time, “Think I’ll head back in; see you back inside?” She hears him grunt some acknowledgement and then lets the door slam behind her.
The worst part is over, right? Jackie can do this weekend. All she needs to do is make a bit more awkward small talk. (So why does she feel like her stomach is churning more after that?)
Chapter 4: IV
This is a little bit of a filler chapter, but it does have Hyde and the kids so hopefully that makes up for it. I thought it best I get something out, but I should have an interesting next few chapters that hopefully will be coming soon!
The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy
'Til all of the tricks don't work anymore
And then they are bored of me
The following morning, Jackie heads over to the Forman’s house next door. Donna was up far too early, even by her standards (because having two children under seven means that she’s far too used to the early hours of the morning), doing last-minute wedding preparations. Eric, of course, appeared to be of little help. Jackie had offered up her help the moment she’d risen, but Donna had shaken her head and told her that if she wasn’t in the Forman’s kitchen in the next five minutes, Kitty might kill Donna for keeping Jackie away so there wouldn’t even be a wedding.
It’s weird, following the footsteps she made so many times after everything that’s happened. She can’t deny that she’s a little nervous to see Mr and Mrs Forman, albeit in a slightly different way than she felt towards having to meet the rest of the gang last night. She didn’t let them down, after all, didn’t leave them personally, so it’s different, but she also can’t deny that it’s not a little like going to see your parents you abandoned, even if that comes with the knowledge that they’ll probably forgive regardless. She guesses it’s because her leaving them was different to her leaving the gang, and it leaves her feeling slightly guilty. (Not helped by the fact that Kitty has been kind enough to babysit despite everything. She hopes Eric realizes how lucky he is to have her.)
But she swallows down the guilt, tries not to let it fester in the back of her throat, and only pauses for a second before she’s knocking on the door that heads into the Forman’s kitchen. She knows that if she doesn’t do it now, she may never will.
Kitty is the one who opens the door, unsurprisingly, and she immediately breaks out into a huge smile. She looks older, the lines around her eyes deeper, but she looks almost exactly like the last time Jackie saw her that it knocks the breath out of her slightly, “Jackie. Come in, come in. You didn’t need to knock, sweetie.”
Jackie follows Kitty into the kitchen, eyes automatically taking in the room. She notices straight away that they’ve decorated. The walls are different, the wallpaper being replaced with a coat of pale tan paint. But the rest of the room looks similar. The same kitchen chairs, the same floor.
“Hi, Mrs Forman.”
Kitty wraps her in a hug and Jackie closes her eyes against the warmth of her shoulder, taking in the smell of the familiar detergent. Suddenly she’s back to 17 and the woman who was more like a mother to her than her own. Jackie breathes her in, feeling better than she has for ages.
Kitty lets her go after a few moments, although she keeps her hands on her forearms gently, a contrast to the sharpness of her voice when she turns to shout over her shoulder, “Red, Jackie’s here.”
“Who?” She hears the familiar voice of Red shout back and Jackie fights a smile at the sound. Kitty tuts and rolls her eyes at her husband even if he isn’t there to see it.
“I should be mad at you for making Steven so sad after you left, but I can’t be when you’ve given me two adorable babies to play with,” Kitty tells her, guiding her further into the kitchen and over to the kitchen island, “Do you want a drink? I’ll make you a coffee.”
Kitty sets about making her a coffee without her having to answer and Jackie takes that as a signal to sit down in the barstool at the counter, “Steven was sad?”
“Sad, more angry,” Kitty makes a hand gesture that suggests that they’re the same thing, “I read between the lines,” She finishes, shrugging up her shoulders, “Men are emotionally constipated.”
Kitty looks at her then, changing the subject, “I thought with Donna and Eric getting together so young I’d get to have grandbabies early. But no, Donna had to go travelling,” She says as she makes up a cafetiere of coffee. Then, as a side note, she adds, “And anyway, what’s the point in travelling? These days you can see it all on TV. Technology has advanced so much.”
Kitty pours her a cup of coffee and passes it over to her, before shouting one more time into the other room, “Red! Get in here and say hello to Jackie.”
“I’m only in the next room Kitty, no need to shout,” She hears back, but it’s only a few seconds before Red, hair more gray but otherwise how Jackie remembers him, is walking through from the other room, “Have you made coffee, Kitty?”
“You know you’re not allowed much caffeine,” Kitty replies, wagging one finger in his direction.
“Hi Mr Forman,” Jackie says as she blows over the top of her coffee, her hands around the mug, “It’s good to see you both.”
“You think you get rid of one dumbass but then they come back with offspring that I’m supposed to look after. Am I ever going to get any peace and quiet?” Red grunts as he settles down at the kitchen table, picking up the newspaper from the table and starting to flick through.
“Oh hush, we loved having them,” Kitty tells her, shooting a glare to her husband who doesn’t even look up from his paper.
“Speak for yourself. The boy scribbled over my crossword puzzle.”
Kitty ignores him, “They were so well behaved. Melissa has a big attitude. Reminds me of our Laurie when she was little.”
Well, that’s a bit of a backhanded compliment.
“I’m glad they behaved themselves,” Jackie answers; she never particularly worries about them getting up to no good, but James has always been clumsy and Melissa can get a bit lippy, “Thank you both for looking after them.”
“It was our pleasure,” Kitty tells her, “I loved having children back in the house now mine are all gone.”
“They moved out 18 years too late,” Red snaps in response, “And then the dumbasses had to move in next door.”
Kitty tuts at him, “He’s just annoyed he hasn’t got many friends around here now that Bob’s over in Florida.”
“When’s he coming up for the wedding?” Jackie asks her.
“Anytime now. Red’s allowed to go for one drink with him tonight.”
It’s then that Melissa and James barrel into the kitchen from the basement, both of them barging into each other to get into the room. So much for well behaved. Melissa goes crashing into Jackie first, arms wrapping around her mother, before James attaches himself as well.
“Mr Eric has so many toys!” James exclaims excitedly, voice too loud for this time of the morning.
“Take them. Eric is much too old to be hoarding toys in the basement still,” Red comments and James looks over to him, eyes wide with excitement as he lets go of Jackie and hops over to Red, looking up at him with a huge smile on his face.
“Really? Miss Kitty, can I?” He looks between the two of them and Jackie sighs, knowing she has to step in.
“Tell Mr Red that you appreciate the offer, but we don’t have enough room in the car.”
James pouts for a second, "Thanks, Mr Red," He replies, a little morosely before perking back up, eyes bright as he asks excitedly, “Oh, are we doing another crossword?”
Later, after Eric appeared just in time for Mrs Forman’s scrambled egg and bacon before disappearing right after because he has things to ‘prepare’ for the wedding (which, Jackie would hazard a guess, means that Eric is probably taking an extended nap while Donna runs around trying to get the place sorted for Bob’s arrival, while also juggling any last-minute wedding preparations), Jackie finds herself looking through Kitty’s photo album of all the missed years. Melissa and James are doing crafts at the kitchen table. At home they would probably be fighting over a felt tip pen, but they’re clearly trying to be well behaved because this isn’t their house so they’ve kept it to mainly background level noise (which mainly consists of them both keeping their bickering to a minimum and ensuring that neither of them kicks the other under the table.)
“Oh, look. This is when Steven opened up his record store in Chicago and we all came along for the opening,” Kitty points at a picture of all the Formans, minus Laurie, and the gang standing outside a shop. Hyde is in the middle, everyone else grouped around him, all with smiles on their faces (even Red.) Steven’s even wearing a suit for the occasion. Then Kitty points at another photo of Steven, presumably the same day going by his attire, but this time with his dad and Angie.
“He was so nervous,” Kitty tells her, “My poor baby. But I was so proud of him.”
Jackie’s eyes linger on the photos even as Kitty starts talking about some photos Eric must have sent them of him and Donna when they were abroad. She can’t pick out the details in Steven’s face, but she can imagine how he must have felt. Terrified he was going to fail while pretending he wasn’t scared at all. Keeping it all inside. When he got like that, Jackie used to think he’d shake right out of his skin from the tension. She remembers how nervous he was when he found out about his father, remembers how she could feel the tension in him even as he lay asleep. How she used to curl around him tighter, like somehow, she could act as a bodily shield to protect him from everything.
It’s weird now, having to watch the big moments from a photo album when she used to be there for the actual thing. (Remembers how he squeezed her hand so tight she thought he’d break a bone when he met his father. Remembers how scared he was that he'd just be another person that let him down. And her there through all of it.)
She used to spend so many hours trying to map out each little individual plane of his body, the freckles on his skin, the facial expressions he tried to hide behind his sunglasses. Remembers how she gave up a little of herself trying to find him when he was hell-bent on running away from her.
But now, she knows exactly nothing.
She knows everyone goes through it with someone, goes from knowing everything to knowing nothing, goes from lives so wrapped up it’s impossible to unravel them to lives like parallel lines. But back when Jackie was a teenager thinking in feelings too big for her, with desperate hands trying to cling onto something that was falling apart at the seams, she thought of them in forever. (God, thought of them in marriage and kids, and now she has that with someone else. It shouldn’t still hurt.)
“Mrs Forman?” They both look up from the photo album, turning to see the man in question in the kitchen doorway holding a cardboard box.
“Oh Steven, sweetie. Why aren’t you at work?” Kitty asks, already getting up from the barstool to probably make Hyde a sandwich or something.
“Taking the day off to give a hand to Donna and Forman,” Hyde replies and nods to the box in his hands, “Donna sent me over with this. She wanted to ask whether you could help finish up some name cards for tomorrow.”
Kitty goes over to take the box off Hyde, “What would my babies do without me?” She then turns back to Jackie, “We can finish looking over those tonight.”
“Tonight?” Jackie asks and Kitty is already pushing open the kitchen door to head through to the sitting room.
“Donna didn’t get a hen party – I told her; you should find some female friends but no – so I’m taking you girls out tonight. It’ll be like old times.”
“Tonight? Is that such a good idea the night before her wedding?” Jackie replies, “Donna trips over her big feet enough already, what will she do if she’s hungover?”
“Oh no, we’ll just have a couple,” Is the last thing Jackie hears before the kitchen door closes behind Kitty.
"Are we placing bets of whether it's Kitty or Donna who is spewing chunks tomorrow morning?" Hyde asks the moment that Kitty's out of the kitchen and Jackie lets her eyes land on him, taking in the way he's awkwardly shifting his weight around, the nervous tilt to his mouth, despite his casual words.
"You'd know better than me," Jackie replies with the same amount of forced ease as him, "If we're lucky we might get two for the price of one."
Hyde laughs and nods, shoving his now free hands into the pockets of his jeans. He stands there for a few moments, quiet cloaking the kitchen in a discomfort that she isn't sure what to do with. Usually, she'd be the one to break it, or, well, back then she would have. It probably highlights how much things have changed that she doesn't.
“Kitty brought out the photo albums, huh?” Hyde breaks the silence instead, nodding to the still open book on the counter. Jackie, shocked out of her staring, looks down at the book still displaying the photo of Steven’s Chicago opening.
“Every picture of Eric is a picture you’d give to a barber of what not to do with your hair,” Jackie replies instead of commenting on the picture they were just looking, flipping back to point at a particularly bad picture of Eric in 1986 at some family wedding. Steven comes over and glances at the photo in question, although she’d be stupid not to note the sizable distance he leaves, “I don’t know how he thinks he can pull off long hair with his bone structure.”
Steven leans over her slightly, squinting at the photo in question before flipping back a few pages, “He gave us a lifetime of burn material when he went to Laurie’s kid’s christening with a bandana after he watched The Karate Kid.”
Jackie eyes the photo Steven points at and rolls her eyes, “What a dork.”
“Nothing changes in Point Place, huh?” Steven says, voice flat and depreciating.
It’s then that he suddenly realises that they’re closer than they were before and he steps back, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He then notices the two children at the kitchen table, James still scribbling in a picture book while Melissa looks more intent on drawing a tattoo on her arm. They’re being quite at least, and Jackie doesn’t think the pens are permanent.
“Man, are these the kids?”
Before Jackie even has a chance to reply, Melissa looks up at Steven from her badly drawn butterfly and says with the steely resolve of a six-year-old girl, “I’m not a kid. I’m a big girl. Nearly seven.”
Steven raises up his eyebrows, “Seven, huh? You’ll be getting your driving license soon then?”
Melissa starts giggling, “Mommy got me a car I can sit in for Christmas. But you don’t need a license, silly.”
“Sick. What kinda car you got? Bet you have some cool wheels.”
“It’s red,” Melissa answers, grinning wide and showing off the gap from the tooth she lost last week (lost being a relative term seeing as it was more of a yank because she wanted her money from the tooth fairy.)
“Sick tattoos, sick car. You must be one cool chick.”
Melissa turns to look at Jackie then, giggling again, “I’m not a chicken, mommy. I’m a girl. What a funny man.”
Jackie smiles at her daughter, “That might be the first time Hyde’s ever been called funny, Lis.”
“You used to find me funny, doll,” Steven replies automatically and then they both snap over to look at each other, the comfort of the previous conversation suddenly clouding over with a newfound awkwardness.
Jackie clears her throat awkwardly and makes the prompt decision to change the topic instead of giving his comment any response, “James,” She tells the younger boy who looks up from where he’s coloring in a picture of a tiger, his facial expression betraying the fact that he's mildly annoyed to be taken away from his coloring, “This is Steven.”
James squints at Steven for a few seconds before nodding, “You’re in some of mommy’s pictures… I like your beard. You look like Santa.”
That boy has a remarkable memory for a four-year-old, Jesus. Jackie makes sure to keep smiling through it even though she feels the awkwardness coming back with even more force.
“Santa?” Steven says even though he’s eyeing Jackie with raised eyebrows, that small smile she remembers tugging up the corners of his lips, “Who says I’m not? Have you been good this year? I might need to know for later…”
“Santa wears red,” James says flatly, clearly not as entertained as his sister as he rolls his eyes. He does still appear to have a little doubt about his words though, Jackie can tell from the way he narrows his eyes slightly like he’s wondering whether Hyde actually is Santa.
“Not on his days off,” Hyde answers and then he pitches his voice lower, a deliberate loud whisper, “Guess what, mommy never liked my beard. Mommy made me shave it off.”
James looks up at Jackie now, “Really?”
Jackie scoffs, “Made is a bit strong.”
Now Hyde looks at her as well, mirth clear in the set of his eyebrows, “Made is a bit weak.”
“If you are Santa,” James starts, voice slow and thoughtful, “Did that mean mommy didn’t get presents that year?”
Hyde laughs and Jackie bites her lip to stop herself doing the same.
“Mommy would throw a strop if she didn’t get a present. Preferable a shiny one.”
“With you as Santa, Christmas would look more like the budget section of Woolworth’s. I wouldn’t be holding out much hope of anything shiny,” Jackie snipes in response.
“Christmas is just a consumeristic virus that is infecting society.”
Jackie rolls her eyes and is about to tell James about how Hyde is only likely to be Santa if Santa was known to work on a dollar budget and shopped only at McDonald’s, but when she looks over at her son, he’s long since given up on their conversation and is instead back to coloring his picture. She looks back at Steven, who’s already looking at her, and offers him a smile and shrug.
“I think you bored him,” She says.
Hyde doesn’t reply, just quirks up the corners of his mouth into a small smile in response. He nods over to the chair next to her at the counter, raising one eyebrow in question and Jackie nods. He sits down beside her and for a few seconds they sit in silence, Jackie absent-mindedly looking down at the photos in the album she’d momentarily forgotten about, eyes catching of one of Hyde and Kitty laughing in what appears to be those paper hats you get in Christmas crackers.
It’s weird, really, because she doesn’t feel nearly as uncomfortable as she thought she would in Hyde’s presence. Almost as if they can settle into a new normal even with all the years and memories between them. Which, perhaps, is more worrying than if they were unable to speak two words together. It always scared her, just a little, of how easy it was with Steven despite everything. Maybe that’s why she fell into him so many times despite knowing that it would inevitably end up being a terrible idea. The only true discomfort is the distance between them, all the memories that they have that are so far away now, as well as everything since that she wasn’t able to see. It’s hard to bridge that gap, she guesses, after everything. Too much time has passed, maybe. She feels hopeful, though, although she isn’t sure what for. (A stress-free weekend? She promptly replies internally. Of course, that’s all she wants while she’s back.)
“You’re good with kids,” She says after a second, if just for something to say, but also because it’s true. Or maybe her standards are just low considering Edward is a pretty useless father these days. (And God, it aches sometimes to think about how he was after Melissa was born. So doting. He used to look at her like she was everything. He used to look at them both that way.)
“If I fail at overthrowing the government, I have to pass my legacy onto someone,” Hyde answers, shrugging his shoulders. Then, more serious, “Why? Are you surprised?”
Jackie startles because she is. After how reluctant Hyde was to see any sort of future with her, she’d always assumed he’d just be bad around children. Although, considering how she was back then, perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised. She was hardly Little Miss Baby-Sitters Club herself, after all.
“I don’t know. Just, back then –,” She cuts herself off, not entirely sure what else to say. What she even wants to say.
“Yeah, I know,” Steven replies after a moment, voice quiet and soft.
She nods, looking over at him with an expression that’s probably a little too open and raw for this time of the morning, because yeah. She knows, too.
Chapter 5: V
TW for discussion on infertility for this chapter. If you wanna skip just go to when Hyde picks them up from the bar.
Wanna break all the clocks and the mirrors
And go back to a time that was different
A time when I didn't feel like there was something missing
- i can't breathe, Bea Miller
The evening finds Jackie in a bar just out of town. Apparently, according to Kitty, it’s the ‘it’ place to be on a Friday night. Jackie, eyeing the crowd of middle-aged women drawn in by the promise of well-priced wine and a Tom Jones impersonator, wonders who this night out is supposed to be for exactly. But, as they all find a table in the corner of the room after they’ve ordered their drinks, the wine is quite nice for being so reasonably priced, so Jackie reasons that perhaps this isn’t that bad after all.
Kitty spends the majority of the evening chattering away, singing along to the Motown songs on the radio and getting progressively drunker. Blame that darn sauvignon blanc. Donna, better at holding her alcohol than all of them, is pacing herself well anyway, probably aware that she actually has to make it up the aisle tomorrow.
It’s actually quite nice. Jackie has friends back home, a group of gossipy mothers of some of the children in Melissa’s class, that host regular wine nights to bitch about some of the other mothers that weren’t quite as lucky to make it into their tight-knit clique (whoever said they’d outgrow the hierarchies of high school cliques and the drama that comes with them has clearly never met stay at home mothers with too much money and too little to do.) They’re nice to have, she admits, if only to pack out her schedule with some social occasions that don’t revolve around chaperoning small children’s birthday parties. She can’t deny, though, that over the years she’s missed Donna. Missed having someone to tell everything to, missed girly nights like this that didn’t just revolve around knocking other women down. If that isn’t character development, Jackie thinks, she doesn’t know what is.
“Oh, girls. It’s so nice to have you both here,” Kitty exclaims excitedly as she chugs on her next glass of wine with a fervour that Jackie has to commend, “It’s like old times, isn’t it?”
Donna laughs, “I guess it is.”
“We need to do this more often. The Tom impersonator performs on the third Saturday of each month. We should come again next time.”
“Uh, Mrs Forman?” Donna butts in, looking amused, “I don’t think Jackie’s going to be staying here that long.”
That appears to dampen Kitty’s mood, she visibly deflates, although the wine glass still doesn’t leave her hand.
“I guess we won’t see you again until Donna gives birth,” Kitty sounds a little morose all of a sudden, sagging against the table slightly, which is probably reflective more of her current drunk state than any sort of sadness at Jackie’s leaving, “And that might never happen, so I suppose we won’t be seeing you again anytime soon?”
Jackie shifts awkwardly in her seat, the words surprisingly sting, even if they are true. It’s not exactly like she looked back when she ran away. But there’s something about it being spoken out loud.
“I’m sure if they made an ABBA night you might be able to get Jackie to make an appearance,” Donna jokes, clearly sensing the tension that’s clinging to the air above them and making a valiant effort to try and diffuse it. Although even Donna’s voice sounds a little thick around the edges. Huh.
“I can’t resist ABBA,” Jackie agrees, although her voice doesn’t exactly sound like normal, even though she’s trying to force a smile on her face.
“I’ll make a suggestion at the bar. I can be very convincing,” Kitty appears to perk up, giggling at her suggestion even as Jackie and Donna exchange glances, “And while I’m there I might as well get another bottle.”
With that, Kitty finally puts her, now empty, wine glass down and slides off her chair, stumbling only slightly as she heads towards the bar. Donna looks over at Jackie and they both share a laugh. Donna finishes her glass of wine in one long gulp and then shakes her head.
“You’ll have to come back another time now.”
Jackie nods, moving her glass around on the table. She’s mainly been manning the one glass all night, Kitty taking her share, and with her rather high alcohol tolerance for a girl her size these days, she doesn’t feel tipsy in the slightest. But now she’s kind of wishing she was a little.
“Jackie, I don’t wanna, like,” Donna shakes her head and then starts again, “Will we see you again after this weekend?”
Honestly, that’s a question Jackie doesn’t know the answer to herself. But, seeing the expression on Donna’s face, like she actually missed her, she doesn’t say this. She always assumed nobody would miss her, knowing that she wasn’t their friend. Just like how they were Kelso’s, they were also Hyde’s, and she could never infiltrate that the way she’d always wanted to. Always felt a little other. But now she’s wondering whether maybe Donna needed her as much as she needed Donna all those years ago.
“I’ll try,” Jackie replies instead. It doesn’t feel like a lie. She will try. Donna seems to understand this because all she does is nod.
Donna pours what was left in the last bottle of wine into her glass, even if it is only enough to reach halfway up the glass. Kitty is probably single-handedly helping the bar turn over a profit tonight.
“I did miss you; you know?” Donna says, “I missed my midget. I needed someone to tell me the advice I didn’t want to hear.”
Jackie blinks back her tears, damn why is she always so emotional? “I’m sorry I left.”
It’s the first time she’s really addressed it, and it seems to take Donna back as much as it does her. She knows that it was kind of supposed to be untouched territory this weekend to help everything remain stable, but she knows she has to say it, and it’s easier saying it to Donna than the person she really needs to say it to.
Donna doesn’t reply for a few long moments, swirling her glass around in her hand, the wine nearly sloshing over the edge. When she does speak, it’s clear she’s choosing her words carefully, “I understand why you did,” She says slowly and then takes a sip before continuing, “I just don’t understand why you did it without telling any of us.”
It’s a fair comment, but it causes that guilt in her stomach to bubble up, she feels it in the back of her throat like sandpaper. She has to clear it away before she can speak, “I think I was scared you’d talk me out of it.”
“I probably would have,” Donna agrees.
Donna’s giving her a cop-out now, she can tell that she’d let the conversation end there if she wanted it to, but Jackie feels like she needs to explain herself. She doesn’t think she could get the courage to cough up to Steven, but she can to Donna. Maybe that will help ease the knot that’s twisted around her stomach the moment she left Wisconsin.
“I couldn’t stay,” Jackie says, her voice not shaking even as her hands are, “I just… I couldn’t see a future here without him in it, and he couldn’t give me that.”
Donna’s face turns soft as she speaks.
What Jackie wants to say is that she was cutting herself into shreds to try and make someone else whole, trying to give herself to someone that didn’t want to take her. That she couldn’t keep setting herself on fire to keep someone else warm. That she would have given Steven everything back then, her whole future and even more, and that she just needed something in response. And that she had to pack herself up before she burnt herself into ash, had to take the last salvageable remains because otherwise she never would. Now or never.
She doesn’t say this, though, feels it’s all a bit too much for tonight, Donna’s night. So what she says is, “If I didn’t leave, I never would have.”
“Have you spoken to him much since you’ve been back?”
“I saw him earlier today. I just. I don’t know what to say.”
Donna nods, “No pressure, but I think maybe you should speak to him properly. Closure, you know?”
Jackie swallows, feeling like that is an awful idea, but nods anyway, making a noise of agreement even if she isn’t sure that she’s up for that. (And, God, how pathetic. Even with so many years between her heartbreak in a basement in Wisconsin and now, she still doesn’t know how to face it all.)
Later still, as they both watch from the sidelines as Kitty gets a little too close and personal to the Tom Jones impersonator on the dancefloor now that his set’s finally up, on yet another bottle of wine, Jackie starts to feel the alcohol in her bloodstream. The room feels warmer, lighter, softer. A little hazy around the edges. She feels that happy feeling inside as she starts to forget everything except this moment. She’ll inevitably regret it tomorrow, but for now, she lets herself settle into this night and this moment. In her old town with the girl who used to be her best friend. Who’s getting married to someone she loves. She feels uncharacteristically enthusiastic, and not in a fake peppy cheerleader way.
She’s about to tell Donna all of this because the alcohol has also removed whatever filter she had, and with her filter admittedly lacking, that’s probably not an awfully hard thing to do, when she sees the look on Donna’s face.
“Donna?” She asks, setting her wine glass down on the table.
Donna’s face looks crumpled even as she’s staring off into the dancefloor. Even if it’s been too many years, Jackie still realises the immensity of that facial expression. This is Donna. She’s not known for the dramatics like Jackie is, so this is serious.
Donna looks at her now, fully, and Jackie’s stomach drops like she’s just gone over a large hill too fast.
“Jackie, I- I haven’t told anyone this,” Donna starts and then stops. Shakes her head. Swallows.
Jackie nods slowly, face scrunched up slightly in confusion, “Okay?”
“The guys, they’re great. But honestly, they’re not good at this stuff, you know? And my dad’s not here. My mum,” Donna just shakes her head, “Like… I know it’s really late to be saying this.”
“Are you in love with me?” Jackie teases, half thinking that maybe she can diffuse some of the tension or hoping anyway, “I always got a feeling. Who wouldn’t love me?”
Donna just continues to shake her head, “No. No. Uh…” She takes a deep breath and when she releases it, it all comes out at once, “I can’t have kids, Jackie.”
“I’m infertile… And uh, I haven’t told Eric. Like, what in case he doesn’t want to be with me anymore?”
Jackie swallows. She’s getting married tomorrow. She tries to remain calm, for Donna, “Hey, it’s Eric. He loves you. He’s never gonna get anyone better, he knows that. You just need to let him know before the wedding.”
She’s aiming for reassuring, never particularly her forte, but she isn’t sure whether her voice is stable enough for that, too shocked to process what Donna’s saying properly.
Donna’s quiet for a few moments, face like Jackie’s never seen before, even when Eric ditched her on their wedding all those years ago. Then, Donna’s speaking all at once, words rushing over each other like she’s scared if she doesn’t say it now, she never will.
“I was never really sure I wanted kids.” Jackie notices now that Donna’s tells are the same. Her cheeks are flushed in that way they only ever get when she’s had a little too much to drink, the kind of pink that dips down to her neck, cheeks blotchy red and angry. “But there’s something about being told you can’t, you know? That makes you want it. Especially now I’ve seen everything, and I still come back to here.”
It’s funny, actually. How they all ended up coming back to Point Place, even after everywhere they’ve gone. After everything they used to say about this dinky place. Guess it lodged somewhere deep inside in between circles and crazy, stupid schemes and they could never quite scratch it out. Makes you realise a place isn’t that important. The people are.
Jackie smiles gently, nodding because she understands more than anyone, “I don’t think we can ever outrun this place.”
Donna looks at her and then down at the table between them, swallowing thickly, “Yeah…” She pauses and then looks back up, her eyes glistening wetly. Jackie can count on one hand the number of times she’s seen Donna cry, “I, just. I don’t know how to tell Eric. He’ll be so disappointed. And his mom.”
Yeah, Kitty sure did want them to pop out grandkids at a rate of knots. Jackie reaches over to take Donna’s hand. “I’m sorry, Donna.”
Donna doesn’t sound like she’s heard her because she continues, “I know I need to tell him, before the wedding. But it’s so late now. What in case we have to call the wedding off? Fuck. I don’t know how I’d cope if he did…”
“Tell him tonight, when you get back,” Jackie says firmly before continuing in a slightly softer tone, “That’s all you can do. He has to decide what to do from there.”
Donna looks at her and then nods, “Yeah. Uh, yeah, I will. I’ll tell him when I get back.”
It ends up being Hyde that picks them up, what with Red out with Bob and Eric on babysitting duty. So, there they all are, standing on the curb outside the bar, shivering in the summer night. Except for Kitty, the alcohol has done wonders for protecting her against the chill.
Donna’s been quiet ever since her revelation, the expression on her face giving away the fact that she’s going through what she’s planning to tell Eric. Jackie leaves her to her thoughts, knowing there isn’t much she can do now and that if Donna is the same one she knew, she probably wants her space.
Hyde pulls up after only a few minutes, and Jackie sees him leaning over the car seats to open up the passenger side door. Donna doesn’t even seem to think about it before opening the door to the back, scooting into the far corner, and Jackie can see even in the darkness that she’s curled against the window, staring out at the streetlight on the other side of the road. Kitty follows her in, immediately spreading out over the seats, her head practically on Donna’s lap. Jackie glances at Steven, shrugs, and then closes the door behind them both before settling into the front seat.
After her conversation with him earlier, she feels less tense in his company, but she’s still thankful that she hadn’t actually gotten drunk enough to do anything stupid. She’s always been a little too much usually, let alone when she’s had too much to drink. She’d like to say that’s why she drinks alone now, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
“Good night?” Hyde asks as she buckles her seatbelt, nodding purposefully towards the backseat.
“Kitty certainly had a good time.”
She blames muscle memory for why she automatically goes to reach towards the dials of the radio, turning it to a pop station. Steven always hated her doing that, even when they were dating, but she always did it anyway. He eventually stopped complaining. In the end, Jackie almost thinks he liked listening to ABBA on repeat.
“I didn’t miss that,” Hyde tells her, looking at the radio, and when Jackie turns to face him, his lips are upturned in the exact same expression he used to have when she did it back then. She liked to call it endeared, although he tried to hide it. He probably wouldn’t agree with the assessment.
“This is so much better than your stupid music,” She nods at the radio as he backs out from his parked position, heading back towards Point Place. I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) plays through the car. It’s probably the drink that causes her to sing along to the chorus. She thinks she hears Hyde laughing at her, but she chooses to ignore him.
“Stupid music, huh? That should be the new slogan for my record stores.”
“At least it would be honest.”
They ride in silence for a few minutes, Jackie mainly looking out of the window at the passing streetlights, the colours splashing across her vision and making her head swim slightly. She feels slightly more drunk now that she’s in a car. She continues to sing along to the song and, when they pull up at a stop sign, she’s pretty sure she sees Hyde tapping along to the music. She decides it’s probably best she doesn’t mention it.
She thinks about how many nights they spent just like this. Alcohol makes her melancholic sometimes; she gets to thinking about everything that’s happened. It’s when she actually allows herself to think much about Point Place. To think about the people she left behind. To the person she left behind. She swallows, blinks away the lights dancing across her vision. It never gets any easier when she’s like this. She thinks it’s probably because she never did face the headlights of the car crash of her first true love.
“What’s up with her?” Hyde pitches his voice low, breaking her from her thoughts, and she knows that the two in the back seat wouldn’t have heard the question. He adds for clarification, “Donna.”
“She’s got a pretty big conversation waiting for her at home.”
“Sounds ominous. Have we got a runaway bride situation on our hands?”
“I wish,” Jackie scoffs, “I don’t think anything Eric does could make her jilt him.”
Steven laughs, “Yeah if the Africa thing wouldn’t, nothing would.”
“She didn’t mention it?” Hyde sounds surprised, “He fucked off to Africa for a bit. Dumped her by some shitty letter.”
Jackie rolls her eyes, “Do I have a wedding to break up?”
Hyde chuckles, “No. He did a lot of making up for it afterwards.”
It’s then that they’re pulling up outside the Pinciotti-Forman household. She turns to look at the house, the light still on in the front room. She turns to look at Donna, still curled into herself in the backseat. She looks small. Donna’s never looked small, which is what makes it so frightening. She’s the jolly red giant to Jackie’s borrower. She doesn’t even seem to realise they’ve reached her house.
Steven parks the car and gets out automatically, opening up the side of the car Kitty’s on and helping her out. She looks dazed as she steps out of the car, like she’s confused as to how she got home.
“You gonna be able to make it up the driveway Mrs Forman?” Steven asks her just before he shuts the car door behind him, effectively shutting out whatever Kitty’s response was.
“You’re going to be okay,” Jackie tells her, turning around even further to look at Donna in the backseat. Donna startles, eyes dashing over towards her, looking shocked that she’s not in the car alone for a second.
“Yeah, I know,” Donna nods and then takes a deep breath, “I gotta do it, huh?”
Jackie nods in response, “You’ll feel better afterwards.”
“I’m not sure,” Donna replies automatically before laughing, “You’re a lot more empathetic in your old age.”
Donna smiles. She gets out of the car and Jackie follows suit. She hangs back a bit, watching Donna head up her driveway. She pauses at the front door; Jackie can see that she’s steeling herself even from where she’s standing.
It’s then that Steven returns from dropping off Kitty, he leans back against the car beside her, the both of them watching Donna. She gets her housekeys out, struggling for a few minutes to get them into her front door, probably because her hands are shaking so much, but does eventually push the door open.
“Really big conversation, then?”
Jackie glances over at Steven, now only inches away from her, but he’s looking at Donna instead, who’s just closing the door behind her, “Pretty big.”
“Hey, if you want –,” Steven starts before cutting himself off, shaking his head. Jackie frowns.
“Man, it just looks like that might be a warzone you don’t want to enter. You can always hang out back at mine for a bit? Just till things have sorted out slightly.”
The offer surprises her, she’s sure it’s visible all over her face. Steven, despite his offer, looks just as surprised by it. He’s looking down at the floor, scuffing his shoe against the floor, and she knows that if this was 1979, he’d have his sunglasses firmly on.
“Really? Because they probably do need their space for a few hours.”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on,” He pushes off from the side of the car, heading round to the driver’s side without looking back at her.
It’s only when he’s already settled inside it that Jackie jerks herself into movement, opening her car door back up and getting inside. She fastens herself in, turns up the volume of the radio slightly. It’s one of her favourite songs at the moment, sue her.
Didn't we almost have it all
When love was all we had worth giving?
The ride with you was worth the fall my friend
She signs along softly to the song as Hyde starts to drive in the direction of his house. She looks out at the empty road ahead of them to stop her from looking over to the driver’s side. So what if maybe this song always made her think of Steven a little bit. She’s always had a tendency to attach too many emotions to songs. (And maybe most of those emotions still came back to a boy she knew when she was 18).
Hyde’s flat is a stark contrast to his basement room. He even looks like he put thought into decorating (“I didn’t,” He laughs, “Kitty should get a job doing interior design.”), the room full of photos on the walls, rugs, a plush teal couch she knows that he didn’t pick out. It’s nice. Homey. It isn’t full of toys she could trip over.
She wanders around the room, studying the bookcase full of books and records, picking out the ones he had when she knew him and the ones he didn’t. Steven heads through to the kitchen to get them both a beer. Without him in the room, she moves onto looking at the photos around the room. There are a lot of the Formans, not entirely a surprise. Some of the whole gang, plus Brooke. There’s one of him and a child which she guesses is Betsy, the little girl on his back, clinging tightly to his neck. She swallows, it’s always a hard pill to swallow when you’re looking at the life of someone you used to care so much about now that you’re not in it. It’s then that she spots the framed photo on the bookcase. One from before she left. She’s sitting next to Steven on the Forman’s couch, tucked under his arm and looking at Steven instead of the camera, in the middle of laughing at something. She thinks it was taken of that first Thanksgiving that they were together.
“Here ya go,” Hyde returns with the beers, handing one over to her. It’s then that he sees what she’s looking at and stops beside her, both of them barely brushing arms as they both stare at the photo, “Ah… Uh, I needed to fill up the frames Kitty got me.”
The comment actually forces a laugh out of her despite the tightness in the back of her throat, “Everyone needs a framed Jackie in their house. I won’t hold it against you.”
She takes a sip of her beer to wash away the feeling that’s started to settle over her, taking the picture and looking at it more closely. She looks really happy. And now, looking at it with so much time between then and now, she realises that Steven looks happy too. Or as happy as he ever looked. She always worried, back then, that he was just with her to bide time. Or she thought that a lot when she was feeling particularly insecure.
“Doubt it. That’s enough to give a lesser man nightmares.”
She kicks him sharply in the kneecap before she’s even had time to process what she’s doing.
“You used to have a better kick,” Steven replies through a laugh.
She places the photo back down, “We look happy.”
She turns to look at him, eyebrows raised in question because he never admitted that back then. He just shrugs his shoulders, face carefully blank, and she knows that she isn’t going to get much more than that from him. It’s still a lot better than she got when she was 18 and desperately trying to make a boy love her like she loved him. She looks away from him, knowing that she needs to say something else, something now, because she doesn’t know when she’ll get another chance to ask.
“Hey, uh… I probably shouldn’t be asking this,” She pauses, and she knows the only reason she actually asks the next question is because she’s got enough alcohol in her veins that the answer doesn’t seem so scary, “But… How did you react? When I left.”
He takes a sip of his beer, “Man, you really wanna know the answer?”
“Not really,” She lets out a hollow laugh and then falls silent for a few moments. Last chance to back out. She pushes forward, looking at him resolutely, “But I think I need to.”
He nods like he understands all she’s not saying. He’s quiet for a long while like he’s thinking about what to say. When he speaks, his voice sounds fuzzy, far away, like she’s hearing it from the end of a tunnel. It’s probably the alcohol and the way her head feels too light for her body. “I got really fucked up for a week. Slept with all the girls that would have me, and you know that’s a lot,” He’s aiming for joking, but it falls flat in the air between them. He shakes his head before continuing, “Thought about fucking off to Vegas and marrying a stripper just to get back at you? But even Forman told me that was a bad idea.”
“Wow, even Eric?” Jackie laughs, but it doesn’t quite sound right. She wonders whether he’d notice things like that now.
“Yeah…” Steven shifts from one foot to the other and then takes another sip of beer for good measure, “Then I just got into work. Learnt that the best way to defeat the man is to become the man.”
“Mr Hot Shot, huh?”
“Ha, I guess,” He huffs out a chuckle, “But, hey, if it helps, Fez cried for a week after you left. Ate a Hershey’s factory worth of chocolate and watched a lot of Charlie’s Angels to cheer himself up.”
“I thought no one would care,” She admits for the first time. She didn’t even tell Donna that, but it was always what worried her. Maybe that’s partly why she never said goodbye, always a little worried that they’d tell her to go. She always felt out of place in their group, even if she did a good job of hiding it.
“Kelso blamed me. He didn’t speak to me for three days,” Steven confesses. He’s quiet for a moment, eyes moving back to the framed photograph, “I really hated you for a long time.”
“And now? Do you hate me still?”
“Sometimes,” He admits, lets out a short laugh even though nothing either of them has said has been particularly funny, “Think I wish I hated you more than I do.”
She suddenly feels very, very sober. She looks at him, eyes a little cloudy from tears she refuses to shed. She feels her heart thumping loudly behind her ribcage. He’s obviously trying to mask his expression, but she was always a little too good at reading him, the only thing she really wanted to learn was him. She studies him, trying to pick out the emotion that’s settling in his eyes. It takes her longer than it used to. He looks sad.
“I hope your husband treats you right,” He settles on after a long silence.
“He buys me nice things?” She laughs, but it sounds watery, filtered out, not the laugh that she recognises (if she even recognises her own laugh anymore.)
“That’s not what I meant.”
She should say that Edward was sweet, in the beginning. That he was funny and smart and handsome. That he liked her, looked at her with unbridled love. He never masked it, eyes always so open with her that it scared her, to be loved that much. Scared her because she didn’t know whether she could return it. And he took her to nice places, and she was 19 and impressed in anywhere that wasn’t Point Place, so she loved it all. He used to say such pretty things, he always used to know exactly what to say. She supposes, more than anything, he made her feel special, at a time when she really needed that. Even if something about them never quite fit the way it should.
But then they got married and they had children and she watched as he got bored with her. He used to look at her like she shone, and she watched as he slowly realised the parts of her that were rusted. She was a mom and she was tired; James was teething, Melissa had nightmares. She was juggling two children with no help, constantly walking around with dark rings under her eyes. She wasn’t so shiny anymore, she thinks bitterly.
And then Edward went out and met people that weren’t her. He found other people to replace her with and she let it happen because it was easier than arguing. So they drifted further apart, two boats floating out at sea that never really passed each other anymore.
Instead, she just nods. She thinks about telling the truth, telling him everything, but what she ends up saying is, “I got everything I always wanted.”
She guesses she did. It was just never what she really needed.
Chapter 6: VI
Ahhh so I'm sorry this has taken longer than usual (and also that I'm behind on replying to comments - I really appreciate all the love and support). I've just started a new job so I've been super, super busy lately.
This is also not nearly good or long enough to make up for the delay, but I thought I'd get something out to make sure you know I'm still here and haven't just abandoned ship. Therefore, this is majorly just filler, but I will have some better stuff on the way.
Hopefully I'll be able to update again by next weekend with something a little more substantial! But hope you like this for now.
I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
- The Night We Met, Lord Huron
Jackie ends up falling asleep on Steven’s, admittedly very comfortable, couch after three beers, one Pink Floyd album and a passionate rant from Hyde about subliminal messages being used in advertising. It’s a remarkably familiar scene considering she’s not experienced it in years. She isn’t sure what to make of that.
She wakes when she hears said beer bottles, plus the many more that Hyde had consumed, clinking together as Hyde gathers them up to drop in a trash bag. She opens her eyes, only slightly inconvenienced by the bright light now filtering through the curtains, to see Steven tying up the bag. He doesn’t notice that she’s woken up until she’s sitting up, trying and probably failing to smooth out her hair.
“Morning, sleeping beauty.” He smiles at her, a little too gentle for her to handle in the daytime, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
She yawns into her hand. Honestly, these past couple of days she’s had a better night’s sleep than she’s had in weeks. Usually, she has two kids bouncing on her to wake her up at six o’clock in the morning hoping she’ll turn a cartoon on for them. She can’t even be angry seeing as it’s significantly better than when she had screaming babies waking her up at all hours. But, either way, it’s been nice to be able to only experience the morning after eight o’clock. With two small children, even the little things can count as luxuries.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” She replies, voice still slightly thick with sleep, “You should have woken me. I would have headed off.”
Steven raises one eyebrow, “You sleep like the dead. There was no waking you up.” She sends him a glare, about to protest, when he adds, “I forgot how much you snore.”
“I do not snore!” She says indignantly, her lips automatically going into a pout, a disgruntled taking over her features. This doesn’t do anything except cause him to start laughing at her. She picks up a cushion and throws it his way.
“Hey, it’s not my fault you sound like a chainsaw when you sleep.” He catches the cushion and throws it back at her.
Hyde laughs once more, heading towards the kitchen to drop the bag of bottles by the trash can. When he walks back out to the sitting room, he drops down into the armchair. “Anyway, you looked like you needed the sleep.”
“Are you saying I looked gross and tired?” She’s back to glaring.
He rolls his eyes in response, “You know you never look gross. It’s the only reason anyone puts up with you.”
She preens for a moment at the initial compliment before she realizes the latter part of his comment. “Says the man that has the personality of a brick wall,” She huffs.
She spots him smiling, the small one he used to have when he thought she’d said something funny but didn’t want to admit it. She ignores the swell of warmth she gets at knowing she both still understands his tells and the fact that she gets any sort of warmth at making him smile.
“Man, a brick wall? That the best you got?”
“I’ve matured past stooping to petty insults.”
He actually laughs this time. “You’ve matured?”
“Yes. At least one of us has,” She snaps. He continues laughing though and she just rolls her eyes in response, “You’re annoying.”
“Is that not a petty insult?” He fires back immediately, and she shoots him a glare. He smiles, laughter finally dying down.
They sit in the fairly comfortable silence for a few seconds. Jackie, now awake, suddenly feels a little self-conscious. She rubs her finger under her eye in the hopes of removing any smudges of mascara, pushing her hair back behind her ear. God, she needs a shower. And a toothbrush.
“Do you want a coffee or anything before I drop you back off?” Hyde asks finally and she glances across at him, suddenly remembering the state Donna was in last night.
She stands up automatically, panic starting to rise in her throat. She really hopes Donna and Eric’s chat went well last night, that Donna didn’t need someone last night while she was over here. She shakes her head, voice a little frantic as she responds, “No, no. I need to get back now. Should probably check up on Donna.”
“Yeah, uh, she seemed pretty torn up last night. She okay?”
Jackie shrugs one shoulder, because who knows. She hopes so. Knowing Eric, she feels like she will be okay; that boy loves her too much to let her go, even if it means letting go of something else. But, then again, she also doesn’t know how he’ll take the fact that Donna kept something so big from him.
“I hope so. Guess I’ll find out soon.”
“Let me know, yeah? Should probably know whether I need to iron my suit,” Hyde replies, standing up as well.
“You own an iron these days? I thought creases were a part of your aesthetic.”
“So, you admit that I have an aesthetic, huh?”
“Just drive me home.”
Hyde holds up his hands in surrender, “Okay, okay, your highness.”
Hyde gathers his car keys from the kitchen counter, raising an eyebrow back at her and nodding towards the door. She follows after him, exiting the apartment and standing behind him as he starts to lock up.
“Thanks, for uh, letting me hang out here last night.”
Hyde looks back over his shoulder at her, “You gained some manners in the last few years, huh?”
Without even thinking she gives him a firm shove to the shoulder, “You clearly haven’t. No one taught you how to accept thanks graciously?”
“I’m a poor orphan boy, what do you expect?”
“You can’t still use your orphan boy card when you have Kitty dropping off packed lunches for you.”
“How do you know about my packed lunches?” Hyde’s face looks confused for a split second before a cocky smile overtakes his face, “Have you been talking about me, Beulah?”
She’s probably blushing but she pushes forward regardless, “No. Just an easy guess.”
“Mmhm.” He doesn’t look convinced.
“Just take me home.”
He chuckles, pocketing his keys, “Yes ma’am.”
The Pinciotti-Forman household is eerily quiet as she steps inside. No children in sight (if Eric Forman let something happen to her children…), no screaming, no crying. Nothing. She can’t quite tell yet whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but it causes her to feel slightly nervous, her stomach rolling just a little. She really, really hopes Donna’s okay.
Jackie enters the kitchen and Donna’s sat, very calmly, at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. She looks too calm considering this is her wedding day.
It’s immediately unnerving.
Jackie thinks back to her own wedding day. She drank half a bottle of champagne and then ended up throwing it all back up before she’d even got down the aisle. She’s still not sure whether the dread or the alcohol had caused her overactive gag reflex that day. Her bridesmaids, three women that she only knew because of Edward and who were definitely not really her friends, had polished off four bottles of champagne between them and hadn’t even noticed Jackie heaving into the toilet. Her mother, obviously, was too busy flirting with one of the groomsmen that was much too young for her. So, this scene is a stark contrast to Jackie’s own wedding morning.
But there is the saving grace that Jackie looked much better in her wedding dress than anything Donna would have picked out for today.
Donna looks up at her. Her face is pale, like she didn’t sleep much last night, and her eyes are a little red, but these are the only traces that anything happened last night. She’s smiling, for one, and it looks genuine. It’s not her usual smile, admittedly, but it’s definitely enough to ease Jackie’s nerves somewhat.
“I told him,” She tells her straight away and Jackie immediately sits across from her at the kitchen table, “He took it well. I mean, he was upset I hadn’t told him earlier, but I think he understood…”
“That’s good,” Jackie says, slowly.
“Yeah. Uh, it was hard. He cried. But, uh. We talked about our options. He still wants to marry me.”
Jackie nods but doesn’t say anything.
“He even said he’d tell Kitty for me. After the wedding, of course. I know that will be hard for him, but,” Donna takes a sip of her coffee. It’s quiet for a long time. Jackie knows that while at least it’s now out in the open, they still have a lot to work through together. But at least they can do it together. Donna speaks a second later, and when she does her voice sounds dazed, like she can’t really believe it, “He really loves me, you know?”
The words force a laugh out of Jackie. That boy looked at Donna like she hung the stars. She’s never really known anyone to look at someone like that, even now she’s older and been to more weddings than she can count. “He really does.”
Donna smiles, content, and Jackie feels an ache inside herself. She should not be jealous of Donna on her wedding day. Fuck.
“Oh, by the way, Eric took the kids over for breakfast at Kitty’s. Said he wanted to give me some space to get ready.”
Jackie nods. For once, she’s extremely thankful for Eric Forman. She’ll have to find a way to thank him without him gloating.
Donna finishes her coffee. After everything that’s happened just this morning, Jackie feels like a whole day has passed. Jackie’s eyes dart to the clock on the wall. How is it only ten past eight in the morning? They still have hours until the wedding, “Will you help me do my hair and makeup?”
“Yes!” Jackie burst out, probably too excited, and it causes Donna to laugh.
“Thanks.” Donna gets up from her chair, popping her empty mug by the sink, “Do you want a cup of coffee or something before we get started?”
Now that Jackie’s no longer worried about Donna, she feels the tiredness start to creep into her muscles. While Hyde’s couch was comfortable enough and not particularly aggressive on her back, she still hadn’t gotten as much sleep as she’d wanted. Plus, with two children under 10, she needs at least a couple cups of coffee in order to function. Her caffeine addiction is only a slight worry. She only gets the shakes and a seriously bad headache if she hasn’t fueled it.
Donna nods, taking the pot of coffee and pouring a cup. She adds some milk and then passes it over to Jackie. She sits back down across the table from her, watching Jackie as she takes the first few sips of coffee. Jackie sighs gently, the caffeine immediately enough to perk her up slightly.
“Hey,” Donna says after a moment, like she’s just remembered something, “Where were you last night? Should I be worried?”
Jackie feels herself redden. Why is she blushing? Nothing even happened. She takes another sip of coffee to avoid answering for a few seconds while she collects herself, “Uh. I thought you guys needed some space.”
Donna nods, one eyebrow rising up in confusion, “Okay? I mean, thank you, we did…”
Jackie rolls her eyes, putting her cup back down, “Ugh. Okay. I stayed over at Steven’s.”
“Steven’s?” Donna looks delighted. Jackie scowls in return, “You were at Hyde’s? All night? And he let you?”
“Yes. It was his suggestion.”
“It was his suggestion?” Donna’s voice goes slightly high pitched and Jackie nudges her leg with her foot under the table.
“Yes. We thought you needed space.”
“Shut up,” Jackie replies, “We had a chat, I fell asleep, he brought me back. Nothing suspect here. I’m married, Donna.”
Donna laughs, “I know. I didn’t suggest otherwise.”
Jackie immediately quietens, because. Yeah, she didn’t.
“What did you talk about?”
“Nothing important,” Jackie answers. She’s not sure whether she wants to mention her conversation about their past, her leaving. It wasn’t even important. It’s all in the past. Why does it even matter?
(She doesn’t think about the fact that there’s still a bruise on the surface of her heart that hurts if poked that she got when she was 18. She doesn’t.)
Donna shrugs, “Okay,” She seems pacified. Or just like she knows that she’s not going to get further conversation out of Jackie, “Drink up. We need to get me ready to become a Forman.”
“I thought you weren’t going to be a Forman.”
“Shut it, midget.”
Jackie grins, downing her coffee in one go. It only burns her esophagus slightly, “So, best get started. I’m going to need a miracle to make you look wedding ready.”
Donna doesn’t look insulted. She grins, “I forgot how modest you made me.”
Jackie gets up, “Oh! I can’t wait to see your wedding dress.”
Chapter 7: VII
I'm not entirely sure I like this chapter but here ya go! The start of the wedding. There will be a couple more chapters at said wedding, though. Hope you like it!
I know you think about me when you kiss her
I left a taste in your mouth
Can she taste me now
- Bitter, Fletcher
Jackie doesn’t cry at weddings.
She didn’t cry when she saw Edward in an immaculately tailored suit at the end of an immaculately designed aisle (she’d paid good money for wedding planners and even Jackie, remarkably good at complaining, knew that no one could have done a better job).
She didn’t cry when Edward declared in front of a room full of 200 of their closest friends, and truth to be told, a lot of people that she’s since scratched off the Christmas list, that Jackie was the love of his life. The one. The only woman for him. (And, yes, considering everything that’s happened since, Jackie can see the irony in his speech now.)
Honestly, she didn’t even cry when she was stood staring at her beautiful Elizabeth Emanuel off-white tulle gown (if Diana could get an Emanuel dress, so could Jackie. She practically is royalty after all) and flawless hair and makeup. She looked beautiful. Everyone said so.
But, watching Eric recite to Donna exactly how much he loves her, heart eyes disgustingly on display, Jackie thinks that her eyes may be dangerously close to watery.
Whether it’s the fact that she’s grateful that someone like Donna has found a man to love her that much, even if it is Eric Forman, or whether it’s the fact that it’s painfully blatant to her that Edward never wore that facial expression when he stared into her eyes at the end of the aisle, she finds herself having to blink rapidly to clear them.
Either way, the thought promptly disappears because seconds later Melissa lets out a loud burp, causing the two rows in front of them to turn in her direction as the girl does nothing except giggle uncontrollably at the commotion.
“I told you not to drink your coke so fast,” She hisses at the little girl as she shakes her head, which just causes the girl to laugh even more, earning yet another set of glares from the row in front.
It’s a lovely service. Understated. Very Donna and Eric.
Donna looks beautiful. Jackie will take at least some of the credit. She had done an amazing job on her hair and makeup. And Eric, well, Eric looks like Eric.
Hyde is best man. He still looks awkward in a suit, but he seems to have grown at least slightly more comfortable in his old age. She can’t deny that she feels a little fluttery at seeing him all dressed up. She’ll blame it on the nostalgia of being back in her hometown. On the other hand, Donna’s, who had already told her over the phone about the fact that her bridesmaids were limited to a cousin she rarely sees, Laurie and the daughter of her dad’s girlfriend, bridesmaids looked comfortable and gorgeous in the teal puffy dresses.
It’s perhaps a little poignant because she feels, deep in her gut, an ache at knowing that if this were 10 years ago, she’d be up there too. And teal looks great with her eyes.
“If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
The vicar looks out at the church, and she’s momentarily caught off guard by just how happy they both look as they turn to glance back at the guests, meaning she’s glad her mom-reflexes are so quick, because seconds later Melissa is opening up her mouth to give her reason why to the vicar, and she’s having to clamp her hand over the little girl’s mouth.
Honestly. She shouldn’t let that girl out of the house.
Thankfully, no one else seems to notice her near-objection, and soon Eric is dramatically pulling Donna in for a slightly risky kiss considering they’re in a church in front of their parents.
She’s happy for Donna.
(She just also can’t help the jealousy that’s found a place in her bones.
Usually, she’s numb to it. She’s surrounded by women in unhappy marriages most of the time. She has a mother who cycles through men like they’re underwear. Has a social circle full of soccer moms with sleezy husbands who grope her ass at charity galas.
She’s not a kid anymore. She knows all about what happens after the wedding day. Knows that marriage can have a death sentence. Knows that even before it’s fully buried, the rot leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
But she also knows that Donna’s one of the lucky ones. And she’s sure that free champagne will wash the bittersweet taste away, but for now, she feels it in the back of her throat.
It’s basically eased by the time Donna’s walking back up the aisle, smiling wider than she’s ever seen, clutching Eric’s arm.
It’s a happy day.)
The reception is held at the hotel Hyde used to work at. It appears to have gotten new owners; the reception room is almost unrecognizable. The powers of a new coat of paint and qualified staff.
Donna and Eric are on a table with their families. Hyde is sat next to Red, arm loosely draped around the chair of the woman next to him that she assumes is his date. Did Donna say she was an air hostess? She looks like exactly the kind of woman Hyde would date. Too leggy, too blonde, too tan, with a dress too small for her boobs. Obviously. Whatever.
Kitty looks absolutely delighted by everything, albeit a little subdued from the alcohol last night. Now, plus two children, she understands the utter adoration on both Bob’s and Kitty’s faces. Even Red looks the closest he ever gets to proud as he watches Eric and Donna giggling like teenagers. They look really happy, both families, and it almost makes her laugh when she thinks about her own wedding. Her father was still in prison so the most she got from him was a letter of congratulations, and her mother hadn’t exactly been what Edward’s traditional parents had been expecting. Edward’s mother had gotten into an argument with Pam by the second course. It’s probably the only thing about her wedding that was actually funny. Pam Burkhart nearly getting into a physical fight with the uppity mother of her groom.
Unfortunately, Jackie’s been left without her security blanket as a result though. With Donna at the head table and the children over at the kids’ table (Melissa appears to be getting along suspiciously well with Betsy, and she does worry a little about what the combination of Melissa and a Kelso brood will result in. James, while well behaved, does not appear to be as delighted by his seating partner: a bored looking teenager that’s probably annoyed to be sitting at the kids table), she’s left to fend for herself.
She’s been put on a table with Kelso, Fez, their partners, and some guy she’s never met before called Randy. She isn’t sure she likes him. Kelso and Fez, despite their partners presence, appear more interested in each other, and Debbie and Brooke, apparently used to this, are talking amongst themselves. Which largely leaves her with Randy. Who, she thinks, is trying to flirt with her. She hums along politely as he tells her about the band, he’s part of (honestly, does he honestly think that’s going to impress her? She’s not Donna), as she makes her way through the majority of the table’s bottle of champagne singlehandedly.
After a sappy speech by Eric and the typical if you hurt my daughter speech from Bob, one narrowly avoided prank attempt by Melissa and Betsy and an invitation back to Randy’s room, she finds herself on the wrong side of drunk.
She’s been left on her own at the table, after the first dance, both Fez and Kelso had taken their partners off to join in, and Randy was getting her a drink from the bar, the champagne bottle now, unfortunately, empty.
“I thought you liked weddings,” She hears a voice above her, and turns her head up to see Hyde looming over her.
“Your face thinks it’s at a funeral.”
She rolls her eyes and doesn’t respond, but apparently Hyde isn’t deterred, choosing to sit down in the seat previously occupied by Randy.
“Where’s your date?” She asks eventually when Hyde doesn’t comment further.
Hyde looks amused, “She’s talking to Kitty.”
Jackie nods, bites her tongue to stop herself asking anymore questions, purposely doesn’t look in Steven’s direction.
“She’s called Shelley, by the way.”
“I didn’t ask.”
Why does she feel exactly like she did that summer when he paraded Raquel around to make her jealous? God, being back here makes her feel like a teenager.
“Mmhm,” He replies.
“I hear she’s an air hostess.”
“She’s too good looking for you.”
That actually makes him laugh, “Does that mean she’s here because of my personality?”
“No, it means she has low standards.”
“That might have more bite if it wasn’t coming from a girl who used to want to marry me.”
She feels her stomach drop. She isn’t entirely sure whether he meant the words to feel like her blood has turned to ice, but that’s what happened anyway. She supposes she could handle the careful friendship they’d developed last night as long as they managed to avoid dancing over the cracks of their history. Like a tightrope friendship. Only secure if you don’t tip into the danger zone. And she feels a little like they might be heading that way because there it is. The extent of all they were, laid out on the ivory tablecloth Donna picked out.
Fuck, she shouldn’t have drunk so much.
“It’s good I developed standards then. Like you could have afforded the beautiful rose centrepieces I picked out,” She snaps. She thinks she means for it to come out harsher than it does, but the whole day is just making her melancholic. The champagne didn’t help like she hoped it would, only left her stomach feeling like lead.
“It’s good for both of us we never got close to making it down the aisle then, huh?”
Except. She thinks about how she used to think out of everyone, after everything, they’d be the ones to make it.
(She thinks about her wedding. Thinks about how the wound of their love was still too fresh, still bled if poked at. Still wasn’t something she liked to talk about. And there she was, a fraud, telling another man that she loved him when he didn’t fit right.)
She used to think of him in happily ever after until she realised the book was long finished and she was still trying to scramble to write a different ending.
“What was your wedding like?” He asks.
The question surprises her. He’d never been a fan of weddings, but maybe they’re not as revolting when they don’t revolve around the thought of her marrying him.
“It was beautiful,” She sighs. It was. Perfect in all the ways that didn’t matter, “I looked amazing. We had a six-tier cake. Edward’s suit was flown in from Paris.”
Hyde doesn’t say anything.
“God, Vogue should have been asking me for a wedding shoot.”
“The rings cost too much. Even for me,” She twists the aforementioned ring around as she says it. It feels heavy on her finger all of a sudden, “I… It was – It was beautiful. But I was just a kid and I barely knew the guy.”
“Jackie – “
She isn’t sure what he’d been about to say but he cuts himself off promptly. She looks at him. She really, really shouldn’t have drunk so much. The tears she’d spent all day blinking back feel like they’re stinging the back of her eyes.
“Do you ever think about it? About what would have happened if we’d stayed together?”
Steven’s face is carefully blank, they way it always was when she tried to get him to think about their future back then, and it pulls the same deep, burning rage up from her stomach that it did back then. She feels the acridity of it in her throat. Fuck. How come she feels like a few days in this shitty town has her right back at square one? She remembers vividly why she’d kept her distance.
She’s about to snap, or storm off, or something, when he answers, voice smaller than she’s ever heard it, “Fuck, Jackie. Of course, I do.”
She nods. Looks down at her hands in her lap.
“I am sorry, y’know?” He adds, looking for all intents and purposes like he’s dreading the next words to leave his lips. She thinks that if he didn’t say it now, he never would. “About back then.”
Maybe it shows how long it’s been when she says, “No, it’s okay. We both needed to grow up,” And, she realises, with startling clarity, that she means it. She’d felt really bitter about it, them, for a long time. But, now, she understands that he wasn’t ready and she was still a kid living in fantasies, “Don’t get me wrong, I was angry for a while. A long while. After all, who wouldn’t want me as a trophy wife?”
Steven laughs, “I think you’re a bit too loud to be a trophy wife.”
“Shut up Steven,” She says automatically, but she’s smiling. She shakes her head, looks over at Donna and Eric, still swirling around the dance floor, “You wanted something different than I wanted. I can’t blame you for that.”
“You used to blame me for less.”
“That’s because you usually did stupid things.”
“Guess I did,” He agrees, smiling.
They both watch in silence as Eric plants a kiss to Donna’s cheekbone, her smile stretched so wide it looks like it might hurt. She can’t really remember much dancing at her own wedding. They must have had a first dance, but she can’t actually remember the song right now. Maybe something soppy. Probably by Sinatra. She thinks they’d both been a little drunk by that point. God, she hopes she hadn’t embarrassed herself, she thinks, stomach doing a turn at the thought.
“Hey, uh,” Steven’s voice breaks through her thoughts and she turns her head to look at him again, “I think I could have wanted what you did, if uh, if I’d had a bit longer,” She see him move his hand to hover awkwardly in the air, and it’s only because she used to know him so well that she knows he’s trying to find his sunglasses despite them no longer hanging loosely off his shirt, “Guess I should add never saying that to the list of things to apologise for, huh?” He laughs, but it sounds too hollow.
She closes her eyes. God, what she’d have done to hear that back then. She lets it wash over her, sink into her hollow bones.
She doesn’t get a chance to respond, isn’t entirely sure what she’d even say anyway, because it’s then that Miss Leggy places a hand on Hyde’s shoulder. She’s even prettier up close.
“Sorry, honey. I got caught up. Kitty sure can chat, huh?” She sounds southern, voice with a cute twang, and Jackie immediately hates it.
Shelley spots Jackie then, and her perfect face breaks into a pretty smile, “Hey, sorry, didn’t see ya there. Do you mind if I steal him for a dance?”
“He doesn’t dance,” She replies at the exact same time Hyde says, “I don’t dance.”
She feels a little cocky because. Well, he’d always danced with her.
Shelley looks between them, letting out an awkward-sounding laugh, “That was spooky,” She’s still smiling. She squeezes Hyde’s shoulder, “Come on, hun. Let’s go dance. Please. For me?”
Steven looks at her, eyes full of apologies. She isn’t entirely sure what they’re apologies for. Before or after? Past or present?
She nods, “Go on. Don’t leave her hanging.”
Hyde’s looking at her, and she wishes she was able to read what his eyes are trying to say. He doesn’t look at Shelley even as he says, “Yeah, sure.”
He gets up, takes her hand as Shelly smiles that radiant smile at him.
But she doesn’t let herself watch them walk off together. Instead, she gets up from her seat too, with the aim of hitting up the free bar. She feels proud when she doesn’t even look back.
He’s not hers anymore, even if she’ll always feel a little like she left some of her behind underneath his skin.
She still feels lighter than she has all day and it’s not the champagne.
Chapter 8: VIII
This is quite a light-hearted chapter. Not much happens but I thought we should have something that isn't so angst-ridden. I work at a school and it's half-term this week so hopefully I can get another chapter up soon. Thanks for sticking with me!
This is the place we were made
By the late nights and fires on the beach
Made by the small town secrets we'd keep
- Places we were made, Maisie Peters
“Mommy!” Jackie hears an excited squeal just before a small child launches themselves onto her knee. She lets out a groan at the sudden weight.
“You’re getting to be a big girl now, huh?” She murmurs, although Melissa doesn’t reply, instead choosing to talk over her completely.
“Guess what! I made a friend!” She’s still squealing and Jackie flinches at the sound, “Betsy is so, so fun. I dared her to put salt in her drink and she actually did! She even drank it,” Melissa can barely get the end of her sentence out she’s giggling so hard. Jackie steadies the girl, slightly worried that if she doesn’t she'll roll off her knee from the force of her laughter.
“Wow. Is she okay?”
“Yeah. She coughed for like, five minutes though.”
Great. Like father, like daughter.
Melissa sobers suddenly, so quickly it almost gives Jackie whiplash, excited grin quickly slipping from her face, “But then she went to go dance with her daddy.”
“Oh, honey. Hey, why don’t we go and dance too, then?” She offers. Melissa turns her face to look up at her wide-eyed, as if Jackie’s just told her something exciting, and she suddenly breaks out into a wide smile. Jackie pushes the hair back from Melissa’s face before using her thumb to rub off the tomato sauce from the girl’s cheek.
“Please, please, please!” She’s back to squealing.
“We could even go and get your brother? That would be fun, wouldn’t it?”
Despite their differences, the siblings had always gotten along well. They argued constantly, over big and small stuff, and they’d definitely had tears from someone accidentally hitting (or deliberately hitting) someone else in the eye. But Melissa would, and has, thrown punches to defend her brother. Something Jackie obviously didn’t condone, but she’s happy that they get along so well. Hopes that they’ll stay that way.
Jackie can’t understand it seeing as the closest thing she had to a sister was the time she was staying with Donna. But she feels a low level, ebbing jealousy she’d never really had when she was a kid just seeing the way they act together. She’d always kind of liked being an only child, if only because another child would probably have made her even more attention-starved. Plus, she liked being spoiled rotten. She does think, though, that it would have made her childhood a lot less lonely. She’d had a nanny, sure, but it wasn’t the same.
Melissa, then just a wobbling 18-month-old, had been so excited when she found out she was going to have a brother that she’d refused to sleep in her cot for a whole week because she didn’t want to leave him, instead, jamming herself between Jackie and Edward, hand protectively over Jackie’s stomach. Something that Edward had begrudgingly accepted, although he had needed to up his caffeine levels for that week.
“Yes!” Melissa hops back down from her knee, grabbing her hand and tugging her towards the kids’ table.
James is sat on a largely abandoned table, the children most likely having disappeared off to the dancefloor. He has a downturned expression on, looking too world-weary for a four-year-old. The likely reason is the teenager next to him, more interested in reading a comic book under the table than babysitting a kid. Bless.
He looks up as they approach, face automatically breaking into a grin. She loves it. She honestly dreads them both becoming teenagers. She doesn’t want to be met with glares and snippy comments. She likes them now, so overflowing with love and adoration.
“Mommy!” He looks for all purposes like she’s saving him from something horrible.
“Hey baby, we wanted to know whether you wanted to come dance?”
“’m not much good at dancing,” He says, pouting, his whole face looking downtrodden, and she almost laughs. He can be as dramatic as his sister sometimes.
“We can be not good at dancing together.”
“I’m good at dancing,” Melissa buts in, sounding offended.
“You can show us what to do then, Lis.”
James wiggles his way off his chair, latching onto her other hand. They feel sticky, like he used his hands to eat the chocolate pudding instead of a spoon. She’s been so used to sticky, dirty hands, though, that she almost doesn’t notice it.
She leads them both over to the dancefloor. Kelso is twirling Betsy, who looks delighted, her laughter loud even over the music.
Fez and Debbie are still doing a too elaborate routine for a wedding, but they look happy. Debbie is beautiful, even more beautiful than she was picturing when Donna had told her that she was a model. She’s got sharp cheekbones, hair that’s so glossy it reflects the lights off. She looks like she could be Naomi Campbell’s twin sister. The bright pink dress she’s wearing something only she could pull off, much to Jackie’s slight disdain.
“Show me your moves, Lissa.”
Melissa beams at her before letting go of her hand. She proceeds by doing some routine she thinks she’s been doing in ballet, which, while probably not fitting for the music choice, is well executed for a six-year-old. Melissa, while terribly lazy at most things (chores, homework, moving away from the television…), she throws her whole self into the things she likes.
“Just us then, bud?”
James nods, holding onto her now free hand, and they dance along to the music. She’s been a mom too long to be embarrassed by bad dancing, so she throws herself into it, twisting with James, spinning him around, throwing up dad moves. James cackles delightedly, and it’s moments like these that she really holds close. She knows that he’s not always going to want to leap about and dance with her, so she makes the most of it. She laughs, too, as James throws a particularly interesting dance move involving sliding across the floor.
Melissa joins them, then, taking over from her as she spins her brother about, apparently more than happy to be the one to lead. If that doesn’t say something about their dynamics…
Melissa does a little shimmy as James turns back to her, still giggling, and she takes both of his hands and bounces about with him. She’s so focused on James that she doesn’t notice someone making their way over to Melissa until they speak.
“Miss Melissa,” She snaps her eyes over to Steven, now alone, date nowhere in sight, “May I have this dance?”
Her eyebrows shoot up, but Steven doesn’t even bother looking over at her.
“Only if I can lead,” Melissa replies. Thatta girl.
Steven laughs, “Can I at least twirl you?”
“Okay,” Melissa agrees, she takes his hand, not even sparing a glance at Jackie as she lets Steven lead her off to the side.
She continues to twirl James around, picking him up momentarily to spin them both around in a circle, the little boy laughing as he throws his head back. She can’t deny, though, that she’s looking over his head at Melissa and Steven.
He’s twirling her, and she’s attempting to twirl him, too, difficult considering the height difference. She’s grinning widely, and he’s doing that face where he’s trying not to smile but he’s failing. She looks happy, her dress spinning out around her, face flushed from dancing and laughing. She’s trying not to think about the fact that it’s been years since she’s looked like that in Edward’s company, the man more often nitpicking things (stop messing with your hair, Melissa; stop tapping, Melissa; sit still, Melissa), than making her laugh.
Steven looks up from where he’d been watching Melissa spin around, landing on her instead. He smiles, briefly, small and private. She smiles back, soft, too gentle. Thank you, she mouths, and he shrugs in return.
She looks back at James, arms tight around her neck, and bounces them both around. She knows she’s smiling too hard. She chooses to ignore the tight feeling in her chest, instead swooping James down low all of a sudden, the boy laughing so loud he can be heard even over the music.
For the first time in a long time, she feels completely content. The weight of the little boy in her arms grounding her, the sound of the music loud in her ears, Melissa smiling so wide her face must hurt.
She tries not to think too hard about the fact that one of the reasons for it is a boy she's spent years trying to forget.
Both of the kids are wiped out by 10 o’clock. Unsurprising considering they’d danced for a lot longer than Jackie had wanted to. She’s not as young as she once was.
James passes out against her shoulder, curled up in her lap. He’s small for his age, but the deadweight from sleep and the fact that he isn’t a baby anymore make it difficult, her arms having gone numb a long time ago. Melissa is lay across two chairs next to her. She snores loudly, that girl, something that Melissa refutes, but now, with how loud she’s being, there is no denying it.
She’s sat at a table with some family members of Eric that she doesn’t really know, not really doing anything except let their conversation act as pleasant background noise.
Jackie still feels buzzed, knows that she can’t sleep a hangover off as well as when she was younger, so she’ll definitely be feeling it tomorrow. But for now, it leaves her warm, helps numb the pain in her arm from holding James up, and she feels happy. Despite everything, it’s times like these that she remembers exactly how lucky she is.
“Oh Jackie, sweetie,” She looks up to see Kitty coming over, “They look like such darlings when they’re asleep.”
She feels drool on her shoulder from James and Melissa sounds like a freight train. But yeah, sure. Darlings.
“The dancing knocked them right out.”
Kitty laughs, “Why don’t I take them off your hands? I can take James. You go and enjoy yourself.”
“No, no. Don’t be silly. You’ve already done enough.”
“Nonsense.” Kitty shakes her head. “I love cuddles. I’m doing it more for me than you.”
“Are you sure?”
Kitty smiles, nodding. “Honestly, Jackie. I love hugs from Eric, but it isn’t the same as when they’re this age.”
Jackie laughs. Yeah, she supposes not. Maybe she should appreciate these moments more. It is hard to though when her arm feels like it’s going to drop off.
“Thanks, Kitty. I won’t be long; I’m not planning to have a late night. But if you’re sure.”
Kitty doesn’t respond, instead making grabby hands at the little boy. Jackie hands him over, and Kitty cradles him, automatically bouncing up and down like he’s actually still a baby. Jackie gets up, shaking her arm out, trying to get the blood to flow back into the limb. Kitty takes Jackie’s seat instead now, shifting into a more comfortable position, her arm propped up on the arm of the chair instead as she still cradles the little boy.
“Now go, enjoy yourself. I know being a mother with two kids doesn’t give you much of a chance to let your hair down, enjoy this weekend with everyone doting on them.”
She bends down to press a kiss on Melissa’s forehead and then drops another one on James’ slightly sweaty head, and then offers one more thanks to Kitty before she heads over to her original table where the whole gang is now sat.
Donna is on Eric’s knee, an impressive feat considering the big, puffy dress. She can barely see Eric through all the fabric. Donna looks flushed, cheeks pink from the alcohol, and she’s laughing loudly at something. Eric’s quieter, instead just leaning his chin on Donna’s shoulder. Then Kelso, arm around Brooke. And Fez, chair shuffled closer to Debbie’s so that he can pull her closer to him.
Finally, Hyde. He’s nursing a bottle of beer, taking sips from it, date nowhere in sight. They seem to be listening to some story of Fez’s, although Debbie appears to be adding input here and there.
She takes a seat on the other side of Hyde, and the whole gang pause their conversation to turn to look over at her.
“Jackie, hey!” Kelso’s voice is loud, probably from the alcohol, and overly enthusiastic, “Fez was just telling us about when he and Debbie joined the mile-high club.”
“I don’t think that was actually – ,” Debbie cuts in, but Kelso ignores her.
“Where are the kids?”
“Kitty took them off my hands. At about the right time, too. My arm was ready to drop off,” She replies and Kelso laughs, as does Brooke, both clearly very used to the feeling.
“Yeah, we left Betsy with Red.”
“Well, she’s conked out on the chair next to him while Red drinks with Bob,” Brooke replies, “That counts as supervision, right?”
She laughs. It’s funny now. Brooke wasn’t this chill about childcare back when Betsy had just been born. She supposes the nerves wear off, albeit only slightly, as the years go on. She remembers waking up hourly just to check that Melissa was still breathing for the first three months. While she’s long past that, she still occasionally wakes in the night to peer into each of their bedrooms.
“You could even count that as double supervision,” She agrees.
“Anyone want more champagne? We spent a lot of money on the free bar, we need to make it worth our money,” Eric asks, and Donna leans forward to pick up the champagne bottle. Without anyone answering she fills up each of their glasses.
“Hey, you know what?” Donna sounds excited, “Considering it’s our wedding day. We should do a circle. Seems fitting, to mark the occasion.”
“You have your stash, man?” Eric turns to glance around Donna at Hyde.
“Forman, do you even know me?” He replies, “It’s a wedding. You can’t expect me to get through this capitalist nightmare without something to take the edge off.”
“You look so dressed up, Forman,” Kelso tells Eric, as if surprised about the fact that Eric’s wearing a suit, despite wearing it all day, “Donna! You’re wearing a dress!”
“Kelso, it’s our wedding,” Donna answers patiently, “God, it’s our wedding day,” She sighs, as if awestruck, like it hasn’t taken bloody years to get down the aisle, like it hasn't happened 10 years later than they all thought, planting a long kiss on Eric’s lips. They all boo immediately, Jackie too, almost like it’s a reflex that’s been burned into her even now.
“Wait. You’re Mr. Pinciotti,” Fez says in wonder after he’s stopped booing, “Pinciotti, Pinciotti. Two Pinciottis.”
“Hey, you know what animal looks really fancy? Penguins,” Kelso says to the group at large, following on from his previous train of thought, voice as pensive as it gets with Kelso, “Like, that tuxedo? Where are they off to? A penguin ball?”
They’re sat on a picnic table in the grounds outside the reception, the air still thankfully warm. Jackie loves summer nights, the stillness of the air, the way the dark clings to her like a blanket.
She feels fuzzy, light, like she could float away if she wanted to. The combination of weed and champagne making her feel happy, safe, warm. She wishes she could stop time for a little while, stay in this moment, where all the stresses of being a proper adult can’t pierce this carefully made bubble. She feels like a teenager again. She smiles widely, although she isn't entirely sure what she's smiling at. She just feels nice. Content. A little hungry.
“Imagine a penguin in a top hat,” Brooke adds on, curled underneath Kelso’s arm, face smushed up next to his next. She starts laughing, Kelso promptly joining in. Jackie smiles dopily at them. They really are cute together.
“I’m so hungry,” Fez interrupts, pouting. He’s eating a bag of M&Ms, crunching on them loudly.
“Baby, you ate three slices of wedding cake,” Debbie says consolingly, rubbing his arm in comfort. Fez looks at her, popping another M&M in his mouth.
“I’m a growing boy, my love.”
“Forman wishes he was a growing boy,” Hyde adds, grinning widely at his not particularly creative burn.
“Donna wishes she wasn’t a growing boy,” Jackie says, smiling proudly at her much better insult. Donna steals an M&M from Fez’s bag and throws it at Jackie’s head, although it barely skims the top of her hair. Fez grumbles loudly, muttering something about how his M&Ms don’t deserve to be used and abused in this way.
“We’re married,” Eric says, resting his head on Donna’s shoulder, he turns his cheek up so he’s looking at Donna, “Donna, you married me.”
“We’re as surprised as you, man,” Hyde replies. He’s quiet for a second, takes a drag off the joint still making rounds around the circle, “Shit, man. I can’t believe you guys actually did it. You know marriage is just another way to trick people into giving big businesses their money, right? Capitalism sucks. Stand up in front of your friends and family and declare your love? Fuck that. It’s all about getting us to hand over thousands of dollars to the 1%.”
“I’m Hyde and I’m a party pooper.” Eric puts on a silly voice, clearly not interested, or too high, to be bothered about Hyde’s rants, even if it is his wedding day.
“I’m just saying, Forman. Think about how many records you could have bought for the price of the wedding cake.”
“Don’t bring cake into this,” Fez grumbles.
“Boo, Hyde.” Donna steals another M&M and throws it at Hyde this time, “Don’t ruin my wedding circle.”
“Keep your big hands off my M&Ms,” Fez grumbles, burrowing closer to Debbie, as if anguished. She rubs his back like he’s a little kid that’s just woken up from a bad nightmare.
“He’s a Pinciotti now, man,” Kelso tells Hyde ten seconds too late.
“I’m a Pinciotti.” Eric stares lovingly at Donna before he dives in for a kiss, Donna eagerly wrapping her arms around him.
“Boo!” They collectively yell. This time Fez doesn’t seem to mind using one of his candies to chuck at the both of them.