Disclaimer: Victorious and all related characters do not belong to me.
Summary: Beck Oliver is living proof that the greatest thing about hitting rockbottom is that you have no other way to go but up. Bade with ensemble cast. AU.
Continuity: Alternate Universe.
Author's Notes: Written for Mad's Bade AU Challenge/Contest with prompt # 16: AU in which Character A is a frequent bookshop visitor who sits around and reads while Character B is an employee at that same book shop and finds him/herself staring at Character A until he/she finds the courage to go talk to Character A.
Thank you to Lari for convincing me to join the challenge and for Bria who stayed up late to beta-read. After writing a paragraph or two, these two lovely ladies would also tell me what a wonderful writer I am so that I'd keep on writing and not just curl up in a corner and cry. (I love you girls! You're the best!)
FROM THE ASHES
Booze. Boobs. Booties.
The flashing neon sign mocked Beck Oliver with the things he could no longer have.
Or at least one thing.
The neon sign promised everything a man could ever want, but right then and right there, Beck wanted, no, needed, only one thing.
Beck licked his dry lips and cleared his parched throat.
He could almost taste it: the bittersweet tang of the cold, amber brew as it hit his lips; the smooth slide of it down his throat; the warm, full feeling it left on his stomach.
But what he missed most of all was its promise: the promise that if he drank enough, he would forget all his troubles. He would be transported to a calm place where no one and nothing could touch him; a place where he would be safe.
Unfortunately, it was later—much later—that Beck found out that his favored alcohol was an evil conniving woman: instead of delivering on her promise, she made his problems much, much worse.
It was not until he beat up his personal assistant Robbie after the smaller man poured all of Beck's alcohol down the drain that Beck decided that something had got to change. On that nondescript Sunday afternoon, as he watched Robbie spray nose and mouth blood all over the hotel room floor, Beck realized a single terrifying act: he had become the one thing he promised he would never be. Thanks to the booze, Beck Oliver had become his alcoholic, abusive and worthless father.
On that day, he stopped drinking cold-turkey.
It was hard, unbelievably hard. Somehow, though, he was able to persevere. Second by second. Minute by minute.
He had been sober now for one month, three weeks, and two days.
It did not mean, however, that he did not miss his old succor.
Beck Oliver wrenched his eyes away from the neon sign, only for his attention to be caught by a reflection from the window: his own.
A man who wore his face stared back at him solemnly from the mirror created by the shop's window. The face of the man in the mirror was gaunt and sported a week's worth of untrimmed beard, with hair that was messy, oily and out of control.
It was a far cry from the clean-cut, athletic face of Beck Oliver, Teen Sensation, whose face graced the walls of teenaged girls all over the world.
In another lifetime, Beck Oliver was a child actor who was catapulted to fame when, at age eight, he had landed the title character in the best-selling book series, Malcolm Winchester Figglesworth.
Three years later and with two more Malcolm Winchester Figglesworth films under his belt, Beck the Child Wonder made headlines when his Uncle Barbara sued for custody. Hollywood was rocked when an emotionless Beck Oliver, in open court, related the domestic abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. A year and a media feeding frenzy later, Uncle Barbara was given custody of Beck, who, at age eleven, experienced what it was like to belong in a family for the first time.
At age seventeen and with all ten Malcolm Winchester Figglesworth movies behind him, Beck Oliver was Hollywood's Golden Boy. All his projects after Malcolm Winchester Figglesworth, carefully vetted by his assistant Robbie, were box office hits. Beck's soulful brown eyes became even more legendary, as with his charismatic smile. His face graced the walls of kids, preteens and teens all over the world.
A mere two years later, that Beck Oliver was gone; replaced by the ugly wreck of a man he was now beholding at the dirty shop window in front of him. At nineteen years old, Beck Oliver had become a has-been: an unemployed bum whose life was ruined by the bottle.
Shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat, Beck Oliver walked away from the temptation of the drink; away from the man in the mirror. He continued his aimless wandering, a trick he had resorted to countless of times in the past month whenever the craving for the bottle suffocated him.
A couple of miles later, just as Beck hit a strip of sad-looking shops, he saw a group of teens loitering about. One girl who was probably only sixteen but looked twenty-one because of her daring outfit and heavy makeup pointed him to her friends asking, "Hey, isn't that Beck Oliver? I thought he was still locked up for DUI?"
Cursing under his breath, he decided to take refuge inside a store. At random, Beck Oliver went up to a shop, opened its front door and went inside, not knowing that with that step, his life would once again change forever.
"This is a shop, not a charity house."
Beck Oliver, who was happily minding his own business, almost dropped the book he was browsing in surprise.
Suffice it to say, he was not expecting to be interrupted that Friday afternoon, just as he was not interrupted every afternoon for the past month while browsing inside the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe.
(That was not quite accurate. On his fifth day in the bookshop, a man who was all arms and legs with a shocking thatch of curls, went up to him to ask if he was finished with the book he was holding. Having just pulled the book from the shelf to check it out, Beck read the title for the first time. It was a book about teeth-collecting. Beck had immediately surrendered possession of the book to the bug-eyed nerd.)
For about a month now, Beck Oliver often found himself returning again and again to the shop he had stumbled into when he was trying to avoid discovery.
Perhaps the best word to describe the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe was a commune. Owned by a middle-aged balding hippie with an unnatural craving for coconut milk, the store was opened to give those with an artistic bent a sanctuary against the highly-commercialized world. It was a place where artistic expression was valued above all else. It encouraged everyone and anyone to write, draw, act, sing, play instruments and dance. Most of the books it was selling were penned by amateur authors, as were the paintings that decorated its walls. In short, its staff and clientele were mostly composed of unemployed actors, wannabe writers, trying hard artists and the like.
Beck was sure that he was recognized by the store's employees and patrons the minute he stepped foot inside. Fortunately for him, no one approached him; perhaps because it would be considered uncool to do so. After all, Beck Oliver was mainstream Hollywood; while the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe was indie and hipster through and through. Approaching him would be tantamount to admitting that one had watched a commercial movie, as opposed to an artistic film.
Beck's irritation at having his new-found sanctuary disturbed, however, instantly vanished when he saw who had interrupted him.
He had seen her around, this generously-proportioned woman with flawlessly luminescent skin and scarily piercing blue eyes. She was one of the bookstore's employees, identified by her black apron with the distinctive Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe logo. In fact, Beck was almost positive that he had caught her once or twice staring at him. Not that he minded the intrusion. She was easily one of the most beautiful woman Beck had ever saw (and as he moved around at the upper tiers of Hollywood, he saw a LOT of beautiful women), but she hardly ever smiled. Instead, she wore a perpetual scowl that would easily strike fear in the hearts of lesser men.
"Hey." he gave her his most charming smile.
The smile did not have its intended effect on the woman. Rather, her glare became more pronounced as she snatched away the book Beck was holding.
"This," she said, brandishing the book threateningly. "Is for sale, not for private reading. Buy it or leave."
Just as Beck opened his mouth to reply, he heard something that sounded like a puppy being strangled before two heads popped out from behind one of the bookshelves that littered the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe.
"Jade!" the head crowned with hair of unnatural red cried out. "That is not how you flirt with guys!"
"Hi!" the other head, a perky brunette, moved from behind the shelf she was hiding from and approached Beck. "I apologize for my friend. She's socially-challenged."
The female in front of him, who Beck surmised to be Jade, turned so sharply and so suddenly towards the brunette that he actually feared she might suffer from whiplash.
As Jade and the brunette silently argue between themselves, the redhead approached Beck.
"Hi!" bouncing on her feet and flashing her adorable dimples, the redhead gave Beck a very sweet smile. "I'm Cat. Like the animal, but not really."
"Hi, Cat." charmed, Beck smiled down at the diminutive woman. "Beck Oliver."
"I know," Cat giggled, but it was immediately cut short as she placed both of her hands on her mouth. "Oops. That was supposed to be a secret. Sikowitz said we're not to disturb you."
"Cat!" Jade suddenly snarled. Apparently, her argument with the brunette was finished. "Let's go."
"'kay, 'kay!" gracefully turning on her heels, Cat followed the taller woman back to the cashier. "Bye, Mr. Oliver!"
"Wait. Miss! Jade!" Beck called out to the departing woman that fascinated him so.
"What?" Jade snarled.
"The book?" he grinned impishly. "I would actually like to buy the book you confiscated from me?"
For a moment or two, Beck actually feared for his life when he saw the promise of death in the beautiful woman's blue eyes. Fortunately for him, Jade simply walked back to him, her boots stomping violently with each step, before she slammed the coveted book against his chest. Without a word, she whirled back to the giggling Cat.
Beck soon found himself smiling, his first real one since the event that sent his life into a tailspin occurred.
He must have stared too long because the brunette beside him cleared her throat to grab his attention.
"I would really like to apologize for disturbing your privacy," she said with an apologetic smile once she had Beck's attention.
Beck's eyes widened when he took a closer look at the woman beside him. Normally, he would be wary if he was cornered by a female; but not this time. "Whoa."
"Yep." the brunette patted the bulging stomach tucked beneath the black Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe employee apron she was wearing.
"You look ready to pop." then, realizing how insensitive that remark was, he winced.
"Well, I still have a couple of weeks before that." she smiled, unoffended. "Tori Vega," she said, offering her hand.
Tori nodded, unsurprised, confirming Beck's suspicions that he was recognized by the people inside the bookshop.
"I apologize again for disrupting your afternoon," Tori said. "My husband gave strict instructions not to disturb you but," she trailed off, shrugging.
"It's fine. It was an experience." he admitted. Then, because he couldn't help himself, he added, "That Jade sure is different."
"Yeah." Tori nodded, unconvinced. "Different. That's Jade alright." she sighed despairingly, lingered another awkward moment or two, before waving and saying, "Okay. Bye! Thank you for your continued patronage."
Beck watched in amusement as Tori walked over to where Cat and Jade were lounging. The trio then got into a heated argument that he can't hear. Jade, however, made the rookie mistake of looking over to where Beck was standing, confirming his hunch that the argument was about him.
Beck gave her a jaunty wave. In reply, Jade raised her hand, perhaps to give him the finger, but Cat jumped up and grabbed Jade's hand with both of hers so the taller girl had to content herself with merely glaring at him before pointedly looking away.
This would definitely not be the last he heard of one Jade of the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe, if he had anything to say about it.
After all, Beck had not been this entertained for a long, long while.
The following day, as Beck was reading, he felt someone standing beside the table he was occupying. He instantly perked up when he saw who it was. "Hey."
"Whatever," Jade grumbled mutinously.
She just kept glaring at him, which encouraged Beck to smile more. He waved the book he was reading. "Bought and paid for." he said, mock-defensively.
"Congratulations," she muttered.
"Ahem," a few feet away from them, Tori glared pointedly at Jade.
Jade rolled her eyes. She glanced at Beck before looking away. "I'm sorry," she said, but the last syllable was spoken softly and was garbled, so Beck wasn't sure he heard her clearly.
"I'm not sure I heard you correctly."
Jade made a rude sound before looking back at Beck and muttering, obviously against her will, "I'm sorry."
"Come again?" Beck was definitely enjoying her discomfort.
"I'm sorry," she bit out, looking like she just swallowed a lemon. "And don't make me repeat it or I'll—"
"Jade!" Tori snapped.
Tori made a slicing motion at the vicinity of her neck. She glared daggers at her friend before she turned to Beck with a beaming smile. "Hello, Mr. Oliver, sir."
Jade groaned at Tori's perky greeting.
"Is Jade disturbing you?" Tori ignored Jade's antics, walking over to their table. "We could always have her booted off the premises. We have a bouncer just for the purpose."
"I can take Andre with one hand tied behind my back." Jade muttered darkly.
Like Tori, however, Beck chose to ignore her. "It's fine, Miss Tori," he said gallantly. "The day I can't appreciate lovely ladies sharing my table is the day I'd surrender my man-card."
The statement was punctuated with the sound of Jade's forehead hitting the table, followed by a strangled, "Kill me now."
"And I definitely appreciate the sweetly-delivered apology." Beck's grin grew wider.
"I only apologized because Tori tattled!" Jade crossed her arms defensively, as if daring anyone to contradict her.
"I did not!" Tori gasped in mock-offense. Then, as an aside to Beck, "My husband told her to apologize for disturbing you or else she's fired."
"There's no need to fire her," alarmed, Beck tried to assure Tori that all was well, that he did not mind having his peace disturbed by Jade at all. He worried that if Jade got laid-off, he would not be able to see her again.
"Apology done." Jade told Tori. "Can I go now?"
"I think that's for the best before you say or do something that you'd have to apologize for again." Tori nodded.
"See you around, Jade." Beck called after her. "Feel free to drop by anytime and check if I'm doing private reading!"
Tori giggled as she trailed after her glowering friend.
When Beck Oliver stepped inside the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe one lazy Friday afternoon, the first thing he saw was a table occupied by a giggling redhead, a pregnant brunette, and a beautiful vamp. He found himself walking towards them without conscious thought, wanting only to be in their company.
"Good afternoon, ladies."
His greeting was met with two sunny smiles and a glare. (It was the glare that got to him, though.)
(It had been a week since he learned her name, a week since he began noticing her noticing him everyday.)
He realized that ever since he had discovered the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe, his cravings for alcohol had become significantly muted. And when he was talking to any of the three before him, the cravings were mostly silent.
"Can I join you?" he asked, indicating the vacant chair beside Jade.
Cat's and Tori's enthusiastic assents drowned out Jade's emphatic dissent.
Grinning, Beck pulled back a chair and sat down. He was already enjoying himself.
"What are you three talking about?" he asked amiably.
"Oh, nothing." came Tori's blushing reply.
"The weather." was Jade's simultaneous answer.
"You!" Cat replied earnestly. "Is it true that you lost your mind after Melinda Murray dumped you?"
Jade and Tori both furiously chorused, "CAT!"
Cat's eyes widened. "What-ie?"
"You can't just ask people that!" Tori snapped.
"If anyone's going to be rude at this table, it's going to be me!" Jade told her.
"But," Cat cried out, her eyes watering in apology. "I'm sorry."
"No, no. Don't cry. It's fine." Beck assured the redhead.
"Really?" Cat sniffed.
Beck nodded, and he was surprised to realize that, yes, it really was alright. The pain of having been dumped by the love of his life was gone now, after months of nothing but abject misery.
"So did you?" Cat pressed.
Again, twin choruses of, "CAT!"
"But he said it was okay!" the redhead protested.
"The answer is complicated." Beck told Cat seriously.
"Isn't everything?" Cat shrugged philosophically.
Looking back, Beck realized that long before he was dumped by a fellow actor named Melinda Murray, he had already been on a path to self-destruction. At age thirteen, he had tried all of the things Hollywood had to offer a teenaged boy: women, beer, drugs, cigarettes. His poison of choice, of course, was alcohol.
The fact that he was a fully-functioning human being despite the binges that he had joined in was thanks to a combination of luck and the machinations of his faithful assistant, Robbie. Beck discovered that the drunker or the higher he was, the better his performance was before a rolling camera; but without Robbie's guidance and occasional haranguing, Beck's career would have crashed and burned a long, long time ago.
"My meltdown was not Melinda's fault," Beck was finally ready to admit it. "Her breaking up with me, however, the straw that broke the camel's back."
"Oh, poor camel." Cat gasped. "Is it okay now? Is the camel's back unbroken?"
"Cat, sweetie, it's a metaphor." Tori assured her friend. "I'll explain it to you later."
Beck Oliver barely heard them, lost as he was in his own memories.
He remembered meeting Melinda Murray when he was fourteen, and she seventeen. He was asked to guest star as himself in Melinda's show Miss Fire, a popular television sitcom that aired in a kids' network. One look into the beautiful blond's blue eyes and Beck was a goner. He was convinced that it was the same for Melinda, as they soon began dating after their initial meeting.
It was the beginning of a media circus, but Beck thought he had never been happier. He was on top of his game in his career; he had all the vices he could ever want; he had everything money could buy; and he had the love of a beautiful woman.
Six months into their relationship, their respective publicist finally admitted to what the public and the gossip rags had known all along: that Hollywood hot properties Beck Oliver and Melinda Murray were in a relationship.
It was then that their relationship began to become rocky.
Melinda was attacked (and threatened) not only by Beck's rabid fangirls, but also by sleazy paparazzi who accused her of cradle-snatching. To make matters worse for Melinda, Miss Fire was inexplicably not renewed by her network, leaving her unemployed for a long while. She tried her luck in movies, but one audition after another turned her down citing her squeaky-clean image. Melinda released an album, but it did not sell well, maybe because of the accusations that she was only using Beck to further her popularity.
In retrospect, Beck should have realized how unhappy Melinda was in their relationship. But they, Beck especially, held on for three more years, before Melinda finally had had enough. She broke up with him via her publicist confirming to reporters that it was over between them. That heralded Beck's two-year downward spiral towards the bottom of a bottle.
"I was so much in love," Beck told them reflectively. "But I guess, everyday, she fell little but little out of love with me."
"Love." Jade snorted, effectively ending Beck's reflection.
"Oh that's rich, coming from a girl who costumed herself in a bloody wedding gown just to get the attention of a boy." Tori rolled her eyes at Jade.
"That was in high school!" Jade protested hotly. "And didn't you pretend to love hockey just so that very same boy would like you?"
"Hamburgers." Cat giggled.
"What?" Beck asked for clarification, as he was wont to do whenever Cat opened her mouth.
"She liked the same guy we liked," Jade rolled her eyes.
"She tried to bribe him with hamburgers so that he'll like her back." Tori finished.
Beck smiled, admiring the friendship between these three women. They were different as can be, but it was clear that they deeply care for each other. Plus, these women's lives were certainly not boring.
"You mean back in high school you three liked the same guy?" Beck clarified.
"You're still obviously friends. So what happened?"
"I didn't even like him that much." Jade replied. "Got over him."
"But only after he rejected all three of us!" Tori made a face at Jade, then she patted her stomach. "Me, I met the love of my life."
"I like girls." Cat giggled.
Beck's eyebrows raised in surprise. Jade, on the other hand, glared at him, as if daring him to make a disparaging comment. Beck grinned. It was obvious that Jade did not read gossip rags, otherwise she would know that he was the last person who would pass judgment on Cat's sexual preference.
"That," he said instead. "Would explain the blond motorcycle chick that picks you up everyday at closing."
"It would." Cat grinned at him.
Instantly, Jade relaxed. She even sent him a small, grateful smile before asking, "Can we now move into a topic that won't make me itch?"
With that, he thought, he was accepted in Jade's exclusive group of people who are not totally disgusting.
Beck grinned. This had all the makings of a beautiful relationship.
The following day, Beck's reading at the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe was once again disturbed, this time by a mouthwatering cupcake that slid towards him.
He looked up and saw a pretty redhead wearing a smile as sweet as the sweet in front of him.
"Hey, Mr. Oliver."
When no further explanation was forthcoming from the redhead, Beck pressed on, "What's this?"
"An apology cupcake." Cat told him. "Tori explained to me that I shouldn't have asked the questions I asked you yesterday. It's considered to be bad manners. I don't want to be bad."
"Apology accepted." Beck replied as he took the cupcake. He didn't have much of an appetite since the breakup, but Cat gave him such an expectant look that he forced himself to take a bite. "Oh, wow," he gasped as the soft, wonderful taste of red velvet burst in his mouth. "This is so good."
"Yep," Cat motioned towards the bar where the bountiful selection of baked products were displayed to their advantage. "Jade made them."
"Jade?" Beck asked, between mouthfuls. He greedily stared at the display case, regretting all the days that had gone by that he failed to sample any of the pastries offered by the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe because he did not feel like eating. "Jade made all of those?"
Cat nodded eagerly. "Jade likes to bake when she's angry. It's therapeutic." she looked towards the cake display case that boasted of different cakes, each more complex in design than the last. "Jade bakes a lot." the redhead intimated.
Beck looked up and grinned broadly when he saw who was manning the counter. He raised his hand as if hailing a waiter.
Jade saw him and glared. Then she looked away pointedly.
"What are you doing?" Cat giggled.
"Just watch," he replied conspiratorially, waving his hand more exaggeratedly.
"She's gonna kill you." Cat whispered to him.
"Hopefully not," Beck whispered back just as Jade started clomping over to him.
"This is not a fine-dining restaurant." Jade bit out.
"I know. I just want—"
"If you want something, stand up and get it yourself."
"And as of two seconds ago, I'm on break." with that, Jade took off her apron and slammed it on Beck's table before walking towards the break room, presumably to break something instead of his face.
"I just want to give my compliments to the chef!" Beck called out to the departing Jade.
"She gave you the finger!" Cat gasped. "Now she owes you apology cupcakes!"
It was then that Beck lost control of the laughter he was trying so hard to tamp down.
It had been more than a month since they were first introduced to each other; a month where they daily exchanged everything from barbs, smiles, jokes and even the occasional finger.
A month of doing the mating dance.
A month since Beck began feeling like a human being again.
"Why don't you just ask me out?"
Jade's imitation of a gaping fish was followed by several aborted attempts to deny Beck's statement. Then, she squared her shoulder. With a determined look on her face, she asked, "Well, will you?"
"I am not your girlfriend!" Jade snarled as she slammed down the magazine she was holding on Beck's table.
Beck, who was quietly chilling at the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe waiting for Jade's shift to end, jerked up in alarm. He thought she was his girlfriend. Or at least she was on the cusp of becoming his girlfriend. After all, they had been dating exclusively for more than a month. Granted, they still had not exchanged the L-word, but he thought it was just a matter of time.
"I am also not your gal pal, your mistress, or your mystery girl. I am especially not your ho," she bit out, emphasizing each term by hitting the table with the abused magazine.
"What's wrong, babe?"
"I. Am. Also. Not. Your. Babe."
"Um, I thought you kinda are."
"She's in a bad mood because the article called her your flavor of the month." Cat, who had followed her irate friend to Beck's table, explained.
Beck winced. After being dumped by Melinda, he tried showing the world that he was over her by dating a string of women.
Now Jade was paying the cost of his indiscretions, with his adoring public treating her as if she was a mere plaything.
Beck grabbed Jade's hand before she could once again hit the table with her magazine. He pulled her onto his lap. "I'm really sorry. It's part of my crazy life. I'd give anything to spare you this but—" he trailed of, unsure of how to finish.
"It's fine," Jade's face instantly softened. "I'm a big girl. I can handle it. It's just annoying."
"I could call my publicist to make him explain that you're now a permanent fixture in my life," Beck mused loudly.
Because she was.
Just as the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe had given him refuge all those months ago, Jade was now giving him relief from all the demons that were plaguing him. Jade made him happy, something he thought he could never be after he was dumped by Melinda.
"Do not do that," Jade told him firmly. "This is just a minor annoyance. I'd get over it."
Beck wanted to argue that as her boyfriend, he wanted to take care of her, but he knew it was futile. Instead, he kissed her hand and told her, "I'm sorry that I made poor choices in the past. Had I known that my path will lead me to you, I would have chosen better."
"And never apologize for your past." Jade told him. "They all add up to make you who you are now. Maybe I wouldn't like you as much if you didn't go what you went through before we met."
"Aw," Cat sighed. "That is so sweet."
Beck grinned even as Jade glared at the redhead that sat herself at their table.
"It is not sweet," Jade slid off his lap and transferred to her own seat. "Beck was an ass before all these things happened to him. He deserved to be taken down a peg or two."
"I can feel the love, babe," Beck told her.
Cat took the magazine from Jade and started humming as she looked at the pictures.
Beck chuckled as he watched Jade and Cat battle for the possession of the magazine. ("Don't read that filth!" Jade had cried out. "But I wanted to look at the pretty pictures!" Cat protested).
Like Jade, Cat was also a new permanent fixture in Beck's life. She, along with Tori, was like a sister to Jade. Beck had already accepted that Cat and Tori were part of Jade's package.
Not that the two women were awful bargains. Cat and Tori both made him laugh and treated him like a normal human being, instead of the popular actor that he was.
Beck enjoyed giving acting tips to Cat who dreamed of starring in Broadway. She had gone to numerous auditions already and she was often cast as one of the chorus.
Cat and Jade's tug-of-war was interrupted by Jade's vibrating phone. "Not another picture," Jade muttered. "Yep. Of course, just what I needed: a picture of Crystal bathing in the kitchen sink."
And Tori? Tori now came with a bonus.
"Let me see," Beck took Jade's phone.
Tori had given birth a few days ago to a bouncing baby girl she and husband christened Crystal Waters (a name that, for some inexplicable reason, cracked Jade up).
Beck had never been around babies. Except for his younger fans, he had not been exposed to kids at all. He had always been around adults, as he was already working since he was a toddler and was tutored on the set of whatever show he was working on instead of going to school. As such, Tori's baby fascinated him so.
Tori's life choices also fascinated him. He heard from Jade that Tori was on the brink of being discovered as a singer. Years back, a producer had expressed interest in one of the songs she co-wrote with a classmate. However, right after high school graduation, in a move that surprised her family and friends, she eloped with her favorite teacher. Later, after all the hullabaloo died down, she opted start a family and to help her husband with his new business rather than resume her journey towards becoming a pop star.
He can't imagine making that kind of sacrifice for someone or something.
Then, Jade regained his attention by snatching her phone back and glaring at him.
On second thought, maybe he could make that kind of sacrifice with the right sort of person and for the right kind of something.
"You look better," Robbie declared as he examined Beck from head to foot.
It was true. He had lost the gaunt look because of Jade's baking and cooking. He was also motivated to work out everyday, also because of Jade's baking and cooking. Moreover, because of Jade's super sensitive skin that was prone to beard-burn at the slightest hint of scruff, he had been extra careful with his personal hygiene.
"You too," was Beck's riposte. Robbie's black eye had faded now. The cut near his mouth that bled like a mother had healed up too.
Beck's assistant Robbie surprised him with a visit that Sunday morning; his first since that faithful day when Beck had beaten him black and blue.
Robbie demanded no apology, no explanation for his four-month absence, but he was back to business.
"If it made you better, then it was worth it." Robbie nodded.
Instantly, Beck felt guilty. Robbie's low self-respect and tendency to be selfless, added to his desire to be of use, were a tragic combination. The people around him, Beck included, tend to use and discard Robbie at will. And because Robbie also had the infinite capacity for forgiveness, he was often used and discarded again and again.
But thanks to Jade, Tori and Cat, Beck's eyes were opened to what a real friendship felt like. He wanted that for himself, with all his heart. And where better to find that friendship but with the person who knew him best of all.
"I'm sorry for," Beck gestured vaguely at Robbie's face.
The look of surprise on Robbie's face almost re-broke Beck's heart.
Beck realized that Robbie had been his assistant for five years, and yet he had never thanked him for all his years of service or apologized for all the chiz he had underwent in Beck's behalf.
Robbie, once again, proved himself to be the better man when he simply nodded. "Don't mention it. The important thing is that you're better now."
"I am." Beck affirmed. "Sober now for almost four months."
"Do you think you're ready to work again? Because if you need more time, I can—"
"Robbie, I'm fine. Just point me to the direction of a script."
"Great. JFW sent out feelers if you're ready to do a movie." Robbie stated. "Allegedly, Meryl Lawrence read his latest script and she convinced JFW that you could do justice to the lead role."
JFW stood for John Ford West, a director/screenwriter who was said to have a golden touch when it came to making movies. He was one of those rare breeds in Hollywood that could create a movie that would appeal to the masses without sacrificing the script's artistic sensibilities. His wife Meryl Lawrence, on the other hand, was touted as the greatest living actor, if the number of best actress trophies she won were to be believed. JFW and Meryl rarely teamed up (because the last time they did, it almost ended up in divorce), but when they do, they cleaned up not only in the box office, but in all major award-giving bodies.
Beck had worked with Meryl before. He was highly flattered that she thought of him and recommended him to her husband. And the timing could not be better if he timed it himself. This may be the sign he was waiting for, this movie may be his comeback vehicle after a year of doing nothing but burning his money and his liver and providing fodder for the paparazzi.
Before he could answer, however, Jade walked out of Beck's room in nothing but his shirt.
"Babe," Beck grinned, walking over to her and giving her a kiss. "Good morning. This is my assistant Robbie."
"Hey," Jade nodded at the other man, showing no signs of self-consciousness at her near nakedness. "I'm cooking breakfast. You in?"
Robbie, who initially looked flabbergasted at Jade's entrance (not that Beck could blame him, after all, with Jade's porcelain skin bathed in the morning light, her beautiful blue eyes and pouty mouth, she looked like a goddess who graced the earth with her presence), turned to Beck for instructions.
"She makes mean pancakes." Beck boasted to Robbie.
"Uh, sure," Robbie replied.
"I'm not your slave," Jade told them just to be contrary, but she proceeded to the kitchen anyway.
"So it's true." Robbie finally said after Jade had disappeared.
"About her? Yes." Beck nodded. "She may have saved me."
"No." Robbie disagreed. "I think you saved yourself first."
Beck liked that sentiment.
Later, after a leisurely breakfast where Jade matched wits with Beck and left Robbie's head spinning, after the two men cleaned up (because Jade did the cooking), and after Robbie left to chase after a job for Beck, Jade and Beck were lounging at the living room floor in silence, reading a book. They were content to simply be in each other's presence.
Jade waited until Beck reached for his glass of iced tea. Just as he had taken in a mouthful, she blurted out, "Since when has Robbie been in love with you?"
The spray of tea that burst out of Beck's mouth was answer enough.
"I missed you," Beck lifted his hand off the steering wheel to reach for Jade's hand.
He saw Jade's lips twitch, obviously fighting off a pleased smile. When she turned to him, however, she was glowering. "Stop being a wuss. I was gone only for five days."
"And it was the longest five days of my life!" he proclaimed dramatically as he clutched Jade's hand near his heart. "Don't ever leave me again."
"Yeah, as if I enjoy being summoned by my parents to New York, only to be quizzed on what I am doing with my life."
Beck frowned. What was Jade doing with her life?
He knew Cat was enrolled at a prestigious conservatory of the performing arts whenever she was not going to auditions or working at the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe.
He knew Tori was concentrating on her family and helping out her husband at the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe.
But Jade? He knew she was a great baker, but that was just therapy. It was not one of her passions. He knew she part-timed at the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe, but that was mostly so she can hang out with her friends.
Beck was reminded that he knew of Jade's existence for only three crazy, happy, unforgettable months, they had been dating for less than that, but already, she was as essential to him as air.
When they were together, they usually talk about Beck's pursuits and fears, about Tori's and Cat's antics, and even about the things Jade hate, but they rarely talked about their respective past. Beck was at a disadvantage, though. His past was but a Google search away.
Then again, given his checkered past, maybe Jade's parents were right. Maybe it was the present that mattered most. So he asked her, "What are you doing with your life?"
Jade rolled her eyes and snatched her hand away from Beck. "Trying to get away from you, apparently. Why are we in your house again when I have a very nice apartment waiting for me?"
Allowing himself to be distracted, Beck mock whined, "But Jade, I missed you. And my place is bigger."
"Whatever. Now go get my stuff." Jade disembarked from the car.
Beck laughed. After shouldering her duffel, they walked hand in hand into his house.
Beck was contemplating how receptive Jade would be if she found herself pinned against the door when he noticed a presence inside his living room.
"Hello, Beck," a sultry voice purred. "It seems as if I came at a bad time."
Beck's eyes almost bugged out of their sockets when he saw the woman standing in his living room as if she owned the house.
"Who's she?" Jade demanded. "And why is she inside your house?"
Beck gulped. He didn't know if Jade was only pretending not to know the woman. After all, the woman was one of the more popular actors of her generation, especially after her name became attached to his.
"Melinda Murray," the woman replied, looking at Jade directly. "And you must be Beck's latest plaything."
"I'll show you a plaything," Jade muttered as Beck desperately tried to keep her from harming Melinda.
"How did you get in?" Jade asked.
"Beck never asked me for his keys back." Melinda shrugged.
Jade's glare promised painful retribution later, but Beck hardly noticed. His mind was whirling furiously in confusion. What was Melinda doing in his house?
Melinda seemed to be able to read his mind. "I'm here to save you."
"Save me?" Beck repeated dumbly.
"From her." Melinda inclined her head towards Jade.
"I will set you on fire." Jade told her matter-of-factly, but Beck once again held her back.
"See? She doesn't even want me to expose the truth!" Melinda declared triumphantly.
"What drugs are you on?" Jade demanded.
"I saw you in New York!" Melinda accused Jade.
Melinda turned to Beck. "Do you know that your girlfriend is a wannabe actress?"
"She's a baker!" Beck told Melinda, releasing Jade from his grasp as he felt her relax.
"Hah!" Melinda snapped. "I saw her in New York the day before yesterday. I thought she looked familiar, then I remembered that I saw her in paparazzi pictures with you."
Beck looked at Jade as if he was seeing her for the first time. "Jade?"
"You knew I was in New York." she told Beck unapologetically.
"More specifically," Melinda continued venomously. "I bumped into you at the audition of JFW's latest movie."
"Assuming you did see me there," Jade said. "What of it?"
"It's no secret that JFW's wife is recommending Beck as the lead role in JFW's latest move." Melinda seethed. "It's obvious that you're dating Beck for leverage, so you would get noticed by the casting directors and JFW."
"Using your own twisted logic," Jade replied coldly. "I could conclude that you're here to renew your ties with Beck because you're desperate to get the role, too."
"I don't need to use Beck!" Melinda gasped indignantly. "I don't need to use anybody! I already have it made in Hollywood. I had my own show and an album. I have a loyal fan base. I have millions of followers!"
"But you don't have any current projects," Jade shrugged negligently. "Nor do you have any offers or prospects. What you have is a one-hit television series for little kids that rapidly becoming forgotten."
"Grunch!" Melinda screamed. "At least I made a name for myself! You, you're nobody! You're so desperate that you had to use your body to be famous!"
"You're boring me now," Jade taunted her. "Maybe you should get the hell out of here."
"Maybe Beck should be the one to decide on who between us should leave." Melinda was now breathing heavily because of her temper. "After all, it is his house."
Beck, who was quiet during the exchange because of his conflicting feelings, was shocked when the attention of the two females returned to him.
"Beck?" Jade asked.
Beck saw her turn to him, confident that he would ask Melinda to leave. Beck also saw the exact moment Jade's confidence in him faltered, then completely disappear.
"So what?" Jade demanded. "You're breaking up with me? All because she decided she wants you back?"
Beck wanted to assure Jade, but he was assaulted of all the happy memories he had shared with Melinda. He realized that he had no closure with his ex and that if he let her go now, he will forever wonder what could have been.
He also wondered whether he knew Jade at all. She never talked about what she wanted in life, so he could only assume what Melinda had told him was true.
"I see." Jade's face became shuttered. "I'm stepping out to give you time to think. If you want me, just follow after me. But if you're not out within ten seconds, then I'll know you chose her."
Beck panicked. Ten seconds was not nearly enough to think. Before he could protest, however, Jade had already sailed out.
He started to go after Jade, but Melinda grabbed his arm.
"Beck," was Melinda's desperate, tearful plea. (Beck never could say no to that face in the past.)
Melinda, Beck was reminded, was the woman he had loved for more than three years.
"I miss you, baby," was Melinda's cry. "I miss us."
Beck was a goner.
Jade had not been gone for ten minutes when Beck realized that he had made a grave mistake.
Melinda, however, was oblivious to Beck's remorse. "OMG, Beck, I'm so excited," she was saying as she arranged himself artfully on the couch.
If there was one thing he had learned from all the benders he had participated in, it was that the past did not really matter. The present did.
"We would once again be Hollywood's power couple." Melinda continued.
How did Jade once put it? Oh, yeah. One learned from the past, but one must move on from it.
"And I'll finally shed off my Miss Fire image. They'll all see that they'd made a mistake writing me off."
And Melinda was part of his past. There was no use trying to recapture what they had before because Beck was not the same person he was when he was with Melinda.
Beck was now a better version of himself.
"Melinda," Beck finally acknowledged her visitor.
"Yes, Beck?" Melinda asked sweetly.
"I think you should go."
Immediately, Melinda's face crumpled. "But Beck!" she cried out. "I love you!"
Impassively, Beck remembered how Melinda's tears could easily sway him in the past. All their arguments ended after Melinda turned on the waterworks because Beck would always cave, just so she would stop crying.
He hated that. What he wanted and needed was someone who would go toe to toe with him on all issues, someone who would challenge him every step of the way.
Someone like Jade.
Beck was an idiot.
"This won't work out between us, Melinda." Beck told her.
"Beck, you can't do this to me! You can't do this to us!" she cried out, shooting up from her comfortable lounge on the couch. "I love you!"
"I love Jade." he never knew how true the words were until he had said it. He was only crushed because he was not saying them to the right girl.
"You only knew her for a few months!" Melinda spat out. "You hardly know her!"
"I know everything about her that matters." Beck smiled to soften the blow. "I love her, Melinda. I'm sorry."
Like a movie in slow motion, Melinda crumpled on the couch. At that point, she stopped crying prettily. Instead, she had on a full-blown meltdown complete with messy tears and stuffy nose. "Y-you can't!"
"I'm really sorry," Beck handed Melinda's purse to her.
"B-beck!" she cried as she grabbed a tissue from her bag. "I'm b-b-begging you."
"It's over, Melinda."
"B-b-but I have nowhere else to go!"
And for the first time, Beck noticed the set of luggages stacked neatly at the corner of his living room. Luggages that did not belong to him or to Jade.
He looked for her for three days but it appeared that she had disappeared from the face of the planet.
She never went home, her phones were disconnected, and her friends refused to take his calls.
That left him with one option left.
"Sorry, dude. You're officially persona non grata here at the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe." Andre, part-time bookstore employee and full-time musician, told him apologetically.
"I just have come to return Jade's things." Beck tried to give him his most woebegone look.
Andre was having none of it. "So leave them there. I'll take care of it later."
"I just want to see her, just for a bit. I want to explain to her about the rumors."
By now, the rumor mill was grinding overtime with the announcement that Beck and Melinda had once again moved in together.
"She doesn't want to see you. Sorry, dude."
"Just," Beck paused, trying to get ahold of his emotions. "Just tell me if she's alright."
Andre hesitated before answering, "She's not, not really. But she's one of the strongest people I know so I'm sure she'll be okay eventually."
"Okay." Beck nodded. "Okay. Thanks, dude."
"Yeah. See you around." with that, Andre closed the door firmly on Beck's devastated face.
He had once again failed.
More than once in the past few days, he had been tempted to drink to alleviate his misery, even for a moment. Just one drop, just one swallow. Just a little something to tide him over.
He knew, though, that if he started drinking, he would stop looking for Jade.
He could not stop looking for Jade. He needed her more than he needed a drink.
So sober he remained.
Defeated, Beck sighed at sat down at the ground. He was beyond caring that he would be seen by all and sundry.
He did not know how long he stayed there, reflecting on the things he had lost, until the door to the bookstore once again opened.
"Hello," the man who had exited the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe looked at Beck curiously. He even patted Beck's head. "You have insane hair."
"Hey." Beck said without looking up. "Thanks."
"Beck Oliver, right?"
Beck looked at the person who was molesting his hair and was surprised to recognize him as one of the patrons of the bookstore. "Teeth dude."
"Sinjin Van Cleef," he bowed with a flourish. "At your service."
"Nice to meet you."
"I heard you had a problem?" Sinjin slid gracelessly down so that he was sprawled beside Beck.
"You need to see Jade?"
"Yes!"hope flared once again, however tenuous it may be. "Can you hook us up? I need to talk to her."
"What is it?" he asked, taking the small card Sinjin was offering.
"It's an invitation to part~ey."
"Thanks," immediately, Beck's hope deflated. Sinjin was just another one of the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe's patrons who was not firmly in touch with reality. "But I'm not really in the mood to party."
"You should be."
"Why? Is Jade going to be there?"
"Of course. Everyone's going to be there. The ladies can't resist the Sinjin." he grinned creepily.
"Thanks," Beck told him, but it was obvious that he had no interest in going to the party.
"Beck?" Sinjin waited until Beck was looking at him fully before continuing, "I know you might find this hard to believe, but Jade, Cat and Tori are my friends. My relationship with Jade is complicated, but she'll come to the party."
Beck knew he had no choice but to believe the earnest man in front of him. He may be his last hope of reaching Jade. He gave a small, terse nod.
"Good luck!" with a broad wink, Sinjin stood up and walked away, whistling.
"Oh my gosh, Beck," Melinda cried out in excitement as she clutched Beck's arm. "I didn't know you also knew Sinjin Van Cleef!"
Beck suppressed a groan. Since he had allowed Melinda to crash at his place until she got back on her feet, she easily caught him just as he was on his way out for Sinjin's party. Since she claimed she was bored out of her skull, she somehow convinced Beck to take her with him.
"Yeah. He's the teeth guy. But I didn't know you knew him."
"With all of Sinjin's accomplishments, you only knew him as the teeth guy?" Melinda rolled her eyes. "Typical."
"So who is Sinjin Van Cleef?" Beck asked as they walked up the driveway. Whoever he was, Sinjin must be loaded as his house was way bigger than Beck's.
"He's a genius in special effects. Most movies use him and his patented program. He's so good we had to hire him in Miss Fire to create this fantasy-dream sequence episode thing. That episode was nominated for an award because of his magic."
"I see," Beck replied absently, but he had stopped paying attention because they had entered the house. Immediately, he knew that Jade was in the vicinity even without seeing her. He didn't know if it was wishful thinking on his part, or if he really did develop that sixth sense he had only read about in books that can sense whenever a loved one was nearby, if one's love was strong enough.
Beck scanned the crowd.
A high-pitched giggle. Cat.
A pretty brunette showing off pictures after pictures of a baby. Tori.
A haunting sound coming from the piano. Andre.
Wait. Beside Andre was a beautiful woman with eyes so icy blue, skin so soft and pale, and a mouth made for sinning.
From across the room, his eyes met hers.
"In a magazine interview," Melinda continued her monologue. "Sinjin said that in a few years, human actors would become obsolete and would be replaced by computer generated ones.
It seemed unfair that Melinda was still going on and on about Sinjin's accomplishments when Beck's world had once again tilted off its axis.
"Melinda?" Beck asked softly, not breaking eye contact with Jade.
Melinda huffed in offense before stomping off to amuse herself in the revelry.
Unfortunately, that broke the spell that enveloped Beck and Jade.
Jade's eyes strayed to Beck's departing companion. Immediately, she sneered and stood up to make her getaway.
"Jade!" Beck immediately went after her. "Wait! Let me explain!"
He was so single-minded on his goal that he had easily shaken off the muscular Andre's attempt to stop him.
Fortunately he was able to grab Jade's arms. Provoked beyond reason, he started dragging her forward.
"What are you doing?" Jade hissed as she furiously struggled against him.
"Trying to talk to you," he replied as he spied a door nearby.
"Help!" Jade cried out. "He's trying to kidnap me!"
Beck knew that they were attracting unwanted attention but he did not let that deter him.
He was also impressed by Jade's acting skills, injecting just the right amount of terror in her voice. He knew it was just acting because the minute he had shoved Jade inside the room and locked the door, she had dropped all pretenses of being scared and rolled her eyes.
The small room turned out to be Sinjin's janitor closet. Beck cursed his rotten luck that he was about to declare his undying love for the real girl of his dreams in a janitor's closet.
"What?" she snarled.
"I wanted to talk to you."
"I don't." Jade replied, mulishly crossing her arms.
"I'm sorry I hurt you," Beck began desperately. "I didn't mean to do it."
"Well, you did." Jade showed her already bruising wrists, courtesy of Beck's manhandling.
"I'm sorry for these." Beck gently captured Jade's hands in his and kissed both bruised wrists gently. "But more than that, I'm sorry for not going after you. I really should have."
Jade's reply was interrupted by someone banging on the door.
"Jade?" it was Sinjin, followed by the jingling of what seemed to be a gazillion keys. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah!" this time it was Cat. "Is the poophead hurting you?"
Jade glared at Beck for a moment before she crossed her arms and admitted, "No. I'm fine."
With those words, Beck, after days of torment, could finally breathe easy again.
"He is down on his knees desperately begging me to take him back." Jade called out.
"Yeah?" Tori's melodious voice called out. "You should at least ask him to lick your shoes before you forgive him."
Beck looked ravenously at Jade's black open toed pumps that showed off her red toenails.
"I don't know, Tori, I think he might like it."
"I would." he confirmed
"We'll leave you guys to your beseeching." Tori called out.
"Have fun!" Cat giggled.
A beat, then, "Are you sure, Jade? Because I can take Beck."
"I'm fine, Sinjin."
"Sinjin seems overprotective of you." Beck observed.
When Jade didn't answer Beck's unspoken question, he prompted, "Because?"
"He's sort of my brother," she wrinkled her nose.
"He's the son of my dad's best friend who died when Sinjin was seven. We sort of adopted him, but not officially."
"He said your relationship is complicated."
"It is!" Jade made a face. "We're raised together like siblings, right? But that little chiz is in love with me."
Beck snorted a laugh.
"It is not funny!"
"Sorry." Beck apologized for the nth time that hour.
"That reminds me. Where were we?" Jade asked. "Oh, yeah. You're a poophead! Why did you bring that grunch with you here? Is it to rub my face with your relationship?"
"No!" Beck protested. "We're not in a relationship! Because the only one I want to have a relationship with is you. And I did not invite her. She insisted on coming with me."
"And you couldn't say no?" Jade asked incredelously.
"I wasn't thinking, to be honest." Beck threw up his hands in frustration. "You're all I think about!"
Jade looked only to be slightly mollified by that statement. Then, she looked murderous again. "If that's true, then why did she move in with you again?"
"Because she doesn't have anywhere else to go." Beck ran his hand through his hair. "She's broke, she has a mountain of debts, and she's unemployed. Apparently, her mother withdrew all her lifesaving and ran away to the Caribbean with her business manager."
"And she had to go to your house? Couldn't you afford to send her to a hotel or something?"
"No, I can't," Beck exhaled noisily. "She may be my ex, but she's also my friend. She has no one else but me. And I wanted to pay it forward, you know. I wanted to be there for her just as you, Robbie, and the Blackbox Bookstore and Cafe were there for me."
Jade did not reply. She just stood there stonily, eying Beck warily.
"But, Jade, I don't love her anymore. It's you for me now. I love you."
"I thought I was just using you to be famous."
"I don't care, Jade. Use me. I'll even help you stage the most controversial stunts so you could be even more famous. Just, please, come back to me and don't leave me again."
Beck tried his luck and stepped closer to Jade. Beck considered it a huge victory that she did not protest or step back.
"I'm sorry," he whispered when they were only about an inch apart. "Forgive me?"
"I don't know," her shoulders sagged. "You hurt me, you know."
"I know. I'd take it back if I could."
"I wanted to get even and smear fake blood on your doorstep," she admitted.
"You totally should." he agreed easily.
"Okay." she let out a deep, unsteady breath. "Okay."
"Okay?" Beck pressed on. "I'm forgiven?"
"Can I hug you now without fear of reprisal on my family jewels?"
Jade gave a tiny smile. "Yeah."
"Oh, thank god," Beck whispered prayerfully as his arms came around her.
Tentatively, she started to hug him too. She even placed her head against his shoulder.
Beck shuddered. "And I know I'm pressing my luck, but maybe later, you could say you love me too. Maybe not today. But soon?"
Beck felt Jade nod against his shoulder. "Okay."
"Okay." then later, Beck suggested, "You wanna get out of this closet?"
Jade pulled away from Beck then gave him a wicked grin. "I have a better idea."
Then, Jade's lips met his and Beck thought that he really loved this girl who had the most awesome ideas in the world.
"What were you doing in the closet?" Cat asked innocently. "You were there for a whole hour! You missed Trina's awesome dive into the punchbowl."
"She's out of control drunk," Tori groaned at her sister's antics.
Beck grinned, content to be at the corner of the room with his three ladies, his arms around his favorite one. He was also glad that his drunken antics were behind him.
A wait staff went to them, offering flutes of champagne.
Beck passed, but he told the women to go ahead and drink if they want. "It doesn't bother me anymore that I can't drink."
"Oh, no, I'm breastfeeding," Tori told the waitstaff. "Would you like to see pictures of my cutie little Crystal?"
"NO!" both Cat and Jade quickly replied, shooing away the wait staff before he could reply to Tori or give them any drink.
"Well!" Tori huffed in offense.
Beck laughed as he squeezed Jade closer to him.
"And speaking of drunks," Jade muttered darkly.
Beck saw Melinda teetering over to them. "Beck!" she cried out when she saw him.
"I don't care if she's alone and miserable, she's moving out of your house," Jade muttered darkly.
"No, she isn't." Beck replied easily. "But I am moving out of my house and into yours."
Before Jade could protest Beck's declaration, Melinda had made it to them.
"Melinda," Beck said pleasantly. "How many glasses of champagne did you have?"
"Never mind that," she said with an impatient wave of her hand. "Do you know who had just arrived at this party?" no one responded to her question, but she pressed on anyway. "JFW and Meryl Lawrence!" she squeaked. "Can you believe it? Sinjin Van Cleef is an even bigger celeb than I initially thought!"
Jade groaned. "Make her go away."
"Omigosh! Here they come! Here they come!" Melinda howled as she pointed to a couple who were walking toward them arm in arm.
The man, JFW, was nondescript. He was of average height, average built, and average countenance. Of course, what made him special was his talent of making movie masterpieces.
In contrast, his wife Meryl Lawrence was Hollywood beautiful and stood at least four inches above her husband. She could pass for someone half her age with her flawless skin, artfully tumbling blond hair, and expressive blue eyes.
"They're probably here to congratulate me for bagging the female lead in the new JFW movie!" Melinda produced a compact mirror to check her hair and makeup.
"Uh, I highly doubt that," Beck frowned. "How would they even know you're here in the first place?"
"Duh!" Melinda rolled her eyes. "Because I posted it on my SplashFace account."
"Kill me now!" Jade groaned as Tori and Cat began giggling, as if they were sharing a secret joke that no one else got.
By then, JFW and Meryl Lawrence had reached them.
"Hello girls," Meryl greeted them warmly. "Beck."
"So this is the Beck Oliver I had been hearing about?" JFW harrumphed. "I'm not sure I want to be working with him."
"I already told you he'd be perfect for the role!" Meryl frowned at him.
Beck can't believe that these two Hollywood giants were discussing his future right in front of him. It was surreal.
"But he hurt my little angel!" JFW's tone was almost whining.
"Oh, stop," Melinda giggled with an airy wave of her hand. "Beck didn't really hurt me, you know. I dumped him. And I refused to take him back."
Jade's eyes widened as she glared at Beck.
"Not true!" Beck protested. "I didn't ask her to take me back! You were there!"
At the same time, JFW blinked at Melinda before asking, "Who's this?"
"JFW!" Melinda cried out. "Stop teasing me. Aren't I your little angel?"
"Your little angel?" Meryl placed her hands on her hips and glared at JFW.
"I don't even know who she is!" JFW protested before husband and wife devolved into an explosive argument.
"Just ignore them," Jade rolled her eyes at the antics of the Hollywood hotshots.
"We always do." Cat agreed sagely.
"Always?" Beck's eyebrows raised.
Cat nodded. "They're always like that."
"Again," Beck, mystified, turned to Tori for guidance because of the three, Tori struck him as the sanest one. "Always?"
Tori, however, was of no help, as she just laughed out loud at the spectacle of JFW and Meryl Lawrence, at Beck's mystified look, and at Melinda's confusion on what was happening.
Fortunately, JFW and Meryl's argument ended with the former shouting, "For the last time, that girl is not my angel!" and the latter's equally loud reply, "Then who is?"
"Here we go," Jade muttered.
JFW marched towards Beck and extracted Jade from his embrace. "This!" he declared as he put an arm around Jade. "This is my little angel."
Jade smiled coldly, the kind of smile that many serial killers in history have donned just before they went in for the kill. "Yay." she said sarcastically.
"What?" Melinda screeched. "But I am your little angel!"
"Lady!" JFW contested hotly. "I don't even know who you are!"
"But I'm your new star!" Melinda cried out.
"No, you're not," Jade told her.
"Jade!" Cat protested. "Stop being mean!"
"Oh, you made it!" Sinjin suddenly appeared in front of them. "Hey, mom, pops."
Beck blinked. Mom? Pops? Then it must mean, "They're your parents?" Beck asked Jade in disbelief. "John Ford West and Meryl Lawrence?"
"Beck Oliver," Jade grin turned even more malicious. "Meet my family."
Later, after Tori and Cat had gotten their laughter under control, after Sinjin had taken Melinda away to console her, and after most of the guests had left, Beck found himself in Sinjin's ultra-modern kitchen.
"Drink?" JFW offered him a conciliatory bottle of whiskey.
"No, thanks," Beck replied as he turned the glass in front of him upside down.
JFW opened his mouth to argue, but immediately thought better of it when his wife gave him the evil eye.
"I hear you're dating my daughter." JFW said instead.
"Yes, sir." Beck replied as assertively as he can.
"Well, if you're dating her, then you can't work for me," he told him.
"Then, I guess I won't be working for you, sir." Beck replied easily.
"Hah!" Jade interjected.
"Then, I guess I won't be sleeping with you either." Meryl told JFW.
"What?" JFW whirled around to confront her. "I am just protecting my little girl!"
As Meryl and JFW once again argued between themselves, Jade sent Beck an apologetic look, as if to say, this is why I keep my parentage a secret.
"You're probably wondering how someone as insane was them could give birth to someone as normal as I." Jade told him. "That question had kept me awake at night too. I must have been adopted."
Unfortunately, the argument between the spouses had concluded and they both heard Jade's last statement.
"Jade Serene Gypsy Moonrise West!" Meryl gasped in indignation. "You take that back!"
For the second time that night, Beck's mouth dropped open unattractively. "Your middle name's Serene Gypsy Moonrise?"
"Never speak of it!" Jade snarled.
"Boy," JFW whirled around to face the younger man, obviously having forced to do so after losing the argument to his wife. "I am to officially welcome you to the family." he offered a hand.
Beck gratefully took the older man's proffered handshake.
As JFW tried to squeeze Beck's hand into powder, he said, "And to inform you that the role you covet is yours if you want it."
"I want it, sir," Beck gasped, trying desperately to mask his pain. JFW was stronger than he looked. "Thank you." he resisted the urge to massage his abused hand after it was released from JFW's grasp.
"I'm glad we got that sorted out then." Meryl clapped her hands in delight. "Well, Johnny, let's leave the youngsters alone. Take me home."
"Sure thing, my dearest," JFW said gallantly. However, just as Jade and Meryl were kissing each other goodbye, JFW, using two fingers, indicated his eyes then pointed at Beck, in a universal gesture of I'm keeping my eyes on you. And when JFW pulled Beck in for a hug, he took the opportunity to whisper threateningly, "If you hurt her, I will destroy you."
Beck had no doubts that those words were not a threat, but a promise.
"Oh, yeah, shoot me from that angle," Jade groaned.
"I think you look beautiful, babe," Beck assured her as he pulled her down on the couch. They were watching the morning news when clips of Beck and JFW's movie premier were shown.
"I know." Jade pouted and crossed her arms, even as she allowed Beck to settle her comfortably on his lap.
Jade's secret was out now. Not only was she exposed to be Beck Oliver's newest love, her parentage had also leaked out to the public. She was now one of Hollywood's most sought after property, made more alluring because of her refusal to step into the public eye.
In the months they were together, Beck delighted himself on discovering new things about Jade: that she was a budding scriptwriter and was on-track to graduate Summa Cum Laude in a prestigious performing school; that she loves horror movies; that she collects scissors.
But most of all, Beck Oliver delighted in discovering how much more he loved Jade West everyday.
Jade suddenly froze.
"What?" Beck asked, alarmed.
"I just realized something."
Then she shrugged negligently as she turned to Beck. "I think I'm in love with you."
Beck's mouth gaped open, before a look of pure delight overwhelmed his face. "You think?" he then started tickling her. "You think?" he repeated.
That was one more of Jade's secret that Beck had uncovered: that she was very, very ticklish.
"No! Stop! Beck! Please!"
"Not until you tell me you love me."
"Alright, alright, I will!"
Beck released Jade from his grip. Jade straddled Beck's lap to face him fully.
"I love you," Beck mouthed to her, encouraging her to tell him the same.
Jade smiled and it was like sunshine on Beck's skin. Her forehead touched his. "I love you." she murmured, for his ears only.
Beck's arms, on their own accord, surrounded Jade.
"You know what?" Beck asked.
"Let's get married."
Instead of answering, Jade laughed and laughed and laughed.
That, Beck thought, was answer enough.
He knew with absolute certainty, that whatever the future would bring, he and Jade would fight to get their happily ever after.