Chapter Title Song: Lean On Me by Bill Withers
New Hyde Park, New York
June 15th, 1982
Location: Matty's Bar and Grill
"So, Hyde, how's the kid?" John, the main bartender at Matty's and my cousin, asked me as I entered the bar.
I smiled; talking about Amber was the one thing that kept me going. Okay, I lied. Even mentioning the word "Jackie" made me want to run back to Wisconsin. "She's good… starting to grow teeth." I took my usual seat at the left end and tucked my glasses into my shirt.
John placed a cold mug of beer in my hand. "Then where is she?"
I pushed the beer back towards him. "She's with Chrissy's friend in the city for the night. I have to pick her up later." I leaned forward as John went to clean a rack of beer mugs. "Listen, before I came here I had a whole other life with the best friends you could ever have, a room at the best house in the neighborhood…the girl of my dreams. It's not like I did nothing all day."
"You told me that and I keep asking why you left, but you never answer me. I mean, you've been lived in my apartment for almost 3 years and all I've heard is you blabbering on about Jackie. That's her name, right?"
"Yeah," I leaned back and stuck my hands in my jeans. "Jacqueline Beulah Burkhart." I laughed. "She hated her middle name, you know that? Even just mentioning her initials ticked her off."
John rolled his eyes and continued cleaning up; I forgot that it was closing time. "If you love her that much why are you here?"
"I don't love her, I can't love her! She was going to have sex with the most idiotic person in town while she was still with me. She didn't love me, so why should I love her?" I stood up, defensively.
"You stick to that. You know, there's going to come a day when you are so sick and tired of New York and me that you're going to take your kid and go back to that girl. Love can do crazy things to you." John sighed as he walked over to me and looked me in the eye. For someone that was still dating the first and only girl he had sex with, John knew a lot about love.
"I'll get sick of New York when I chose to." I lowered my voice to something less than a whisper and stared down into my hands, "But I'll never get tired of her."
~~~ . . . ~~~
I'm sorry it has to end this way, but what I've just seen leaves me no choice. I know you would probably tell me otherwise, though it's hard for me to believe that you weren't going to have sex with Kelso. Maybe one day I'll come to my senses and think differently of what just happened… I can't make any promises. I'm going to start a new life for myself in New York. Red gave me the rent money he's been saving up and WB is going to help set up a job for me. I don't want you to wait around for me because the point of me leaving is to move on. I have one last gift to you- Grooves. I want you to take good care of it; I know Leo would screw it up. WB will check on you everyone once in a while, but I think you'll be able to handle it on your own, you always can. There is one promise to you I will always keep and I hope you will also: even when times are hard, I promise you that I'll love you, forever and ever…
Jackie read the note twice a day, more if she was feeling lonely or sad. Today was one of those days. She flipped the note over and over in her hand until she could bare the pain she felt no more. She slipped the note into her bedside drawer, next to more of Hyde's things. The t-shirt he gave her, one of his aviator glasses, a Rolling Stones record, the picture they took on prom night. It was all there, along with the memories each item brought. The letter, at least to Jackie, represented the Hyde she knew. To her, Steven was kind, sweet, funny, gentle. To everyone else he was tough, carefree, laidback, Zen.
In the past three years since he'd been gone, there were plenty of times Jackie thought that maybe her friends would understand better why Hyde left if they knew the side of him only she knew. This didn't make sense to her sometimes, though. Why would them knowing the kind, sweet, funny, and gentle Hyde make him leaving more understandable? The laidback and carefree part of him should be reason enough for him to just get up and leave.
Hyde didn't just get up and leave, though. But in a way he did. For three months after he made his departure, around the time the strange Randy came into Donna's life, Jackie would lie in bed and contemplate the possible reasons why he left. A new job, visiting family, a vacation. But it was right there in front of her, even if she didn't want to believe it.
It was then, four and a half months after Hyde up and left, that Jackie decided to finally go into his room. It was different than when she had last seen it. Red's war cot was gone, the posters were stripped off the wall, and the band t-shirts that used to spill out of every nook and cranny were gone. The only thing normal about the room was boxes of Christmas decorations and memory boxes that Kitty always left in there. However, there was one thing that left evidence that Steven Hyde had actually lived in that room, and that was the letter. It was pinned to the wall right above where the cot used to be. And that was enough for Jackie. It gave her closure, but in a way it didn't. Only time, three years, in fact, would give the 2 year romance closure.
~~~ . . . ~~~
My decision to split from Point Place took less than a second to make. After I pummeled Kelso to the ground and took one last long look at Jackie, I was out on the highway and speeding on towards Point Place. I made it to the place I call home in an hour flat and burst through the kitchen door to find Red and Kitty still sitting at the kitchen table.
Mrs. Forman stood up when she saw me. "So, Steven, how was Jackie?"
"I don't want to talk about it," I grumbled, making my way to the basement.
"You don't want to talk about Jackie?" She seemed shocked, in some strange way.
"So what? Does it really matter?" I stopped in front of the basement steps and was about to go down when Red's voice stopped me.
"Steven, you come back here right now and answer our questions." Red's voice was firm, but unlike when his voice was usually firm, he sounded a little compassionate, like he could tell what happened between us.
"Fine," I walked over to the table and slammed down my jacket, sending Mrs. Forman flying back into her seat. "You want to know what happened? I'll tell you. Right when I was going to propose to… that girl, Kelso decided to show up in just a towel about to have sex with her."
"You don't know that," Red contradicted.
"You were going to propose to Jackie?" Mrs. Forman sounded even more shocked this time.
"It doesn't matter!" I yelled, turning back down the hall and bounding down the stairs into my room.
In an overwhelming rush of emotions, I threw all of my clothes into a suitcase, my possessions into boxes. I loaded them, along with Red's cot, into the back of the El Camino. I don't know how I didn't cry, but I guess all the practice I had as a kid when I'd listen to my so called parents would fight helped. I was placing the last box in the flatbed when I looked up to find Red standing there, his arms crossed, his eyes a bit glazy.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asked.
I shook my head and got into the car. "I'm 19; you can't tell me what I can and can't do."
"I'm not saying that." Red walked over to my side of the car. "I mean, where do you think you're going to go? You're mom is long gone and your real friends and family are here in Point Place."
I ignored him for a few moments, pulling out a pen and a piece from my jeans and scribbling a few words onto it. "I have a cousin in New Hyde Park. Cool, right? I'll start over again in a place with my name."
Red sighed and unveiled an envelope from his back pocket, handing it to me. "It's all the rent money you ever gave me… put it to good use."
"Thanks," I said dryly, though I couldn't have been more grateful because I hadn't thought about the financial side of everything. I put it on my seat and continued to write feverishly, but the end result was barely half a page. I gave it to Red when I was done. "Hang it up in my room," I instructed. "Let Jackie find it on her own."
Red smiled and, with a nod, shut the car door. Softly, but loud enough for me to hear, he told me, "We'll always be here when you come home."