A/N: This story takes place within the continuity of my other KP fiction – Ron Stoppable, Ultimate Monkey Master. You probably don't have to have read that particular story to enjoy this one, but it might make it more fun for you at least to have read the first chapter.
Josh rolled the razor blade in his hand and then tested it's cold edge with his thumb. A small sliver of skin separated from where he ran it across one of his calluses and he was neither surprised nor disappointed by the result of this simple test. He had expected the blade to still be sharp, regardless of how many times he had used it over the last few weeks. Every time he drew it and ran it across the smooth whiteness of its target he felt a little shudder of excitement – what he was doing was sick and wrong, but he relished it anyway.
His hand moved on it's own accord, still gripping the razor tightly between thumb and index finger. His first attempt at a cut was so weak that it was only a scratch, a long twisting scratch that traced the outline of his victim's neck. She didn't flinch, or scream when Josh did this – not that he had expected her of all people to do such a thing, but he silently wished that he could get some reaction – any reaction at all. He needed it, he needed some sort of confirmation that he, Josh Mankey, existed as a person – as a human being capable of not just receiving pain, but inflicting it as well. Capable of altering her seemingly unalterable world no matter how much she kept him away.
Josh stepped back for a moment and evaluated his next move. His victim was before him, her green eyes staring blankly ahead, her mouth twisted in a frown. A single lock of auburn red hair draped down to cover the exposed nape of her delicate neck and as much as Josh wished he could wrap his arms around it and squeeze with all his might, he knew that deep inside he actually preferred the exactness of the razor blade. The way that it punctured and drew apart its target made the artist inside Josh Mankey feel satisfied in a way that brute force never could. His hands could create, but just change the tool and the intention and he knew they could destroy as well.
Destroy everything but the memories.
With a fluid motion Josh brought the point of the razor up into her sternum. He felt the resistance lightly in his implement and he wasted no time in jerking it up. With a side-to-side tearing motion he ran the blade up across her neck, past her chin and through her face. He watched with satisfaction as the edges of her face peeled away before the cruel edge of his blade. The initial incision was made and instead of abating his anger it only fueled it. His arm swung out in a forward slash, the blade cutting deeply across her face in a number of lateral cuts as he worked out his frustrations. Soon the tears were coming from his eyes as he whined a little to himself at the impotency of his act - the violence, no matter how necessary, had not been liberating.
He hated Kim Possible. He loved Kim Possible.
He was cutting her to pieces in front of his own eyes.
Eventually his motions stopped and the blade fell to the wooden floor of his studio with a loud clatter. His hand was almost numb from gripping on to it so tightly and he had lost all sensation in his fingers. He stared ahead at Kim, observed the ruination that he had wrought upon her and then lifted his left sleeve up to his eyes to wipe away the perspiration and the tears that had collected there.
"Six down, a dozen left to go," he thought silently to himself.
Josh kicked out with his foot sending the portrait and the easel it was resting on to the floor. He would destroy the other paintings later, when he was feeling up to it. He could have taken them all out back and just merely burned them all at one time, but instead he was savoring this new art of destruction and hoping that with each act of violence he visited upon his own creations that a part of his soul that belonged to the woman in the pictures would somehow find its way back to him.
He stumbled awkwardly across the floor and flopped down on the beaten old couch that along with a couple of bean bags served as the only non art related object in the small studio. His right arm and leg hung uselessly over the edge of the couch as he let his body go limp and he tried to bury his face into the cushions for no other reason than just to feel something on his face. There had been two women in his life that he had ever had any semblance of real feelings for and both of them had left him. He had been overjoyed when the first one, Kim, had seemed to come back to him.
Of course, it turned out to be a lie – he should have been expecting it, after all, he wouldn't be the artist he was if good things happened to him.
He remembered the excitement when his cell phone had run with the familiar tone that he had reserved just for her, she hadn't called him in so long and while he knew that she was in a relationship with Ron, he was still happy that she hadn't forgotten him. It was kind of sick in a way, how he acted like a gleeful little puppy when he flipped open the phone and held it to his ear. The conversation was short, but sweet – Kim wanted to see him, to hang out and get some coffee and Josh had eagerly accepted.
He knew now that his eagerness had been his downfall. If he would have stopped, even for a moment, to question the reasons that Kim would have for calling him after so long of an absence in his life, he might have been more cautious or at the very least he might have kept both of his eyes opening instead of just blindly following Kim's lead. Even when the blossoming affair had been discovered by Ron, whom Josh now admitted was Kim's real boyfriend; he still didn't want to open his eyes to the truth.
He remembered walking into the living room of Kim's place, a towel wrapped around his waist. Kim was on the floor crying, the wreckage of her life strewn around her. Josh had silently walked over to her and put his arm on her shoulder, he wanted to comfort her, to tell her that everything would be ok. He didn't care that Kim had more or less used him, he didn't care about the embarrassment of being caught in the act, he just wanted make Kim feel as good as she made him feel.
She pushed him away, and yelled at him. "Get out! GET OUT!"
She kept repeating this in between sobs and while Josh at first didn't want to believe her, the way that she pushed him across the living room made him come to his senses. He quickly ran back to the bedroom, stepping over broken glass, and then dressed himself. He looked at Kim for a long moment while he stood at the door of the apartment, he wanted to say something to her but he couldn't figure out what type of words he would need to express what he was feeling. It didn't matter – Kim didn't care anyway. She just turned her back on Josh and huddled her nude form against the couch, sobbing and crying into her hands.
Now that he was removed from the situation his mind was clearer about what had happened - what had really happened. He had been a sucker and a fool, like usual. He had wanted to believe so strongly in Kim that he had allowed himself to be willingly blind to her manipulations and evasions. The worst thing for Josh was that he had really, truly cared about Kim. He didn't see her just as an object of romance or lust, but as a real human being. It was obvious now that these feelings were one way and that Kim saw him as nothing more as a pretty face or a tool that she could use for whatever means she desired – including getting revenge on her boyfriend for "cheating" on her. Josh had actually heard the tail end of that discussion from the bedroom, mostly because they had been shouting at each other and he had to admit it did sound like Kim had made a mistake… but then again so had he, as evident by the fact he had was looking for his pants on the floor of the apartment that probably belonged to Ron Stoppable.
Josh flipped over on his back and stared at the ceiling. He knew that he was doing more harm than good by the way he was handling the situation but he didn't know any other way of dealing with the pain. At times like this he wished that he was really a typical artist, one that could blotto out the pain with a bottle or a pill, but unfortunately Josh Mankey was probably the only man with his own gallery who'd never even been drunk.
He closed his eyes, for how long he didn't know, but he was brought back to reality by the sound of his cell phone ringing. The custom ring was one that he was familiar with and he thought about ignoring it since the person that was calling was probably one of the last people he wanted to talk to right now. Eventually the ringing stopped and he breathed a sigh of relief, but it was only a momentary respite as the phone began to ring again.
"Great, she's in one of those moods… might as well answer before she starts beating down the door."
Josh's arm snaked out and scooped up his cell phone from the floor, he flipped it open and then put it to his face and immediately spoke.
"Hi Tara," said Josh into the receiver.
"Josh? Josh where the hell have you been? Did you know that your employees are actually calling me to find out where you are?" replied Tara.
Josh sighed. He knew he had been avoiding people, but he hadn't realized how long it had actually been.
"It's not your problem Tara, you don't have to deal with it," stated Josh nonchalantly.
"You think I don't know that, Josh? What the hell am I supposed to do? Emma actually showed up at my work yesterday and said you weren't answering your door," Tara was sounding particularly annoyed and Josh couldn't really blame her.
"All right, I'll call her… I hope the place didn't burn down. But hey, I've got good fire insurance." Josh replied in defeat.
The other end of the phone went silent for a few seconds and then Tara hesitantly spoke through the line.
"Josh… The Starbucks by your house in half an hour – I'll be there," said Tara.
Josh was about to say something in response, but there was just a click and the call ended.
"That's so like her. I shouldn't go. I'll stay here instead. Screw her."
Josh sat up on his couch and then looked at the clock on his phone. He looked around his studio. He hadn't left to go outside in over a week and the place positively reeked of his unwashed scent.
"I should clean up, I smell like ass."
As he stepped into the shower he still didn't have any idea of if he was going to go meet the petite blonde or not, after all it was nearly as painful to look upon her beautiful face as it had been to look upon Kim's.
Josh lathered up his body and then rinsed. He bent his face down to his armpit and then decided that he needed to lather again, it seemed that the stench of his week long pity fest wasn't going to accommodate his desire to leave his skin. The hot water did feel kind of good and when he finally finished the shower he begrudgingly admitted that he felt a little better.
Josh walked naked into his studio, leaving wet footprints on the wooden floor. He caught a glance at the clock on his cell phone and noted that Tara would be expecting him in ten minutes. He sat down on the floor in front of the phone and stared at it, waiting for the minutes to tick by.
"I'm not going."
Josh's resolve lasted for three minutes before he finally cursed under his breath and then looked around for some clothes that weren't caked in dirt or dried sweat. He left his cell phone on the ground as he exited his front door, locking it behind him.
"I was getting ready to come over and kick your door in," said the blonde girl with a sarcastic tone.
"Nice to see you too Tara," replied Josh.
"Here," said Tara as she pushed a drink across the table towards Josh. He picked it up and before he even tasted or smelled it he knew it would be his favorite. Tara and him used to come here nearly every day when they were still dating and they had fallen into a comfortable routine based upon familiarity and boredom.
"Carmel Machiato, my favorite…" Josh muttered as he sipped the frothy drink.
Tara just rolled her eyes at Josh; he always said that no matter how many times she gave him the exact same drink.
"Josh, I know what you like. Why are you always so surprised?" she finally asked. It was something that had been bothering her for a long time.
Josh screwed his face up at her question, almost as if his drink had suddenly gone sour in his mouth. He thought up a couple of responses but quickly discarded them. Finally he just gave up and settled for the truth.
"I'm just acknowledging that you did something nice for me. It's my way of saying 'Thank You'."
"Why don't you just say that instead?" Tara asked.
Josh shrugged his shoulders, and replied, "Sorry…"
A pregnant pause hung before them and Josh was about to ask Tara what she wanted to talk about when she broke the silence her self.
"So, how about it?" she asked with her eyebrow arched.
"Um…" Josh stumbled around for a second wondering what sort of response the irate blonde girl wanted from him.
"Thank you?" It was more of a question than a statement of actual gratitude, but it seemed that Josh had lucked out since he was rewarded with a smile from Tara.
"You know what Josh? That's the first time you've ever thanked me for that in like… what has it been now? Four years?" Tara said, the fake astonishment in her voice was thick.
"C'mon Tara, that can't be right…" Josh thought for a moment, flipping through the rolodex of his mind and trying to come up with the number for an event that he was really sure had happened. Tara just let him go on like this for a minute, enjoying the way that his fingers started to drum on the table top. It was one of Josh's little quirks – when he couldn't come up with an answer he started to do a drum solo on any flat surface he could find.
"Through yet?" she asked impishly.
"I'm just… out of it right now. I've been having a rough week and I can't think straight," Josh said in his defense.
"Rough week Josh? From what Emma told me on the phone this morning more like a rough month. What the hell is wrong with you? You haven't been like this since we broke up…" Tara sort of regretted bringing up their previous relationship, but it was just a fact. They were once an item, and now they weren't. Still they were friends, or at least she hoped they were.
Josh just muttered something into his Machiato and continued to slurp.
"What was that?" asked Tara.
Josh brought the paper cup away from his lips and places it down on the table. He paused for a moment and then said in a low voice, "You mean since you dumped me."
"What?" said Tara in a voice that was bordering on a scream.
"You dumped me T, I mean c'mon… it's alright, I'm over it. I mean it hurt but…" Josh started to drone on in his platitudes but something unexpected was happening to Tara that Josh couldn't understand.
Tara's face started to twitch.
Josh knew this wasn't a good sign, but he was at a lost as to what would have caused her to be so angered. He was just telling the truth, even if she didn't like hearing it.
"I can't believe you would say that!" Tara finally blew her stack and her voice was a loud whisper with more than a subtle hint of anger in it.
"Sorry for bringing it up…" replied Josh meekly.
Tara's fists were clenched in white knuckled rage as she slammed her hands down on the table while she stood up.
"Sorry doesn't cut it. I can't believe I came here to talk to you. I was worried about you, you asshole," she spat that last word at Josh with such vehemence that he almost could feel it sticking to his face.
"Hey, don't hate me for telling the truth! You're the one that always says we need to talk about how we feel about things and being honest and –" Josh was cut off by the stinging slap that landed on the side of his face.
Tara was standing above him, and while Josh had expected to see her angry there was something else there in his eyes that he thought he recognized, but couldn't quite place. Somehow he felt that he had royally screwed up – he just couldn't figure out what, or how.
"If that's what you think happened Josh Mankey then you need far more help than I can give you!" Tara said, her voice dripping with frustration.
Josh was so stunned by Tara's outburst and her parting words that it didn't even occur to him to stop her and ask her what she had meant. The petite blonde was already out the door and probably in her car speeding away from the coffee shop by the time he managed to screw his head around to the fact that maybe, just maybe, Tara held a different version of the events that had transpired between them. He reached for his cell phone in his coat, then not finding it checked his pants.
"Dammit! I left it in the house!"
Tara Strong cruised the streets of Upperton in her silver BMW, not quite wanting to go home, but definitely not wanting to be within a mile of Josh Mankey. She came upon a stoplight and then pulled down the vanity mirror in her sun visor and flipped it open.
"Great, I look like a raccoon – Bonnie is going to harass me until I tell her what happened. I can just hear it now, 'Why don't you just forget about that loser. He's not good enough for you. You have me anyway, don't you love me?'"
The traffic picked up again and Tara pulled her car up behind a large van, just going with the flow while she dabbed at her eyes with a napkin that had found its way into her pocket. Yes, she loved Bonnie Rockwaller. The two had been best friends forever and on and off lovers ever since high school. The relationship was strange, tangled in bonds of friendship, familiarity and pure physical attraction. Tara blamed her self for this actually – it was her curiosity that seemed to awaken the sexual relationship between the two girls. They were in eighth grade and Tara had not-so-innocently suggested that they practice kissing their "future boyfriends" – with each other.
Things had just sort of taken off from there. They told each other it wasn't real sex, mostly because there was no penis involved, but they both knew that it was a lie. Going to the bathroom to wash a fresh dose of your best friend off your face couldn't be described in any other way but sex. They were both strange girls and they knew it, but it didn't bother Tara too much at the time. At first they both still seemed to like boys; in fact Tara had been seriously crushing on Ron Stoppable once to the point of practically ignoring Bonnie for weeks. BonBon didn't like that – not one bit, and she was part of the reason why Tara had never pursued the tow headed boy's affections.
"What a mistake that was. I passed up a real sweet guy for my best 'girlfriend' and then that insensitive jerk Josh."
Tara was following the signs to the expressway and sped up her car as she merged into the multi-lane traffic. She slid her car carefully to the far lane and then opened it up, letting it flow along with the traffic and not really caring where she went. It was sort of a metaphor for her life.
Truthfully being with Bonnie was pretty good, but in some ways it was just as bad as when she was with Josh. For Tara her relationship with her brunette girlfriend was a special one, something that she only shared with BonBon. Sure Tara would be occasionally attracted to other women, but when it came to actually doing the physical acts… she had found herself only wanting to be with Bonnie.
"If only Bonnie felt the same way…"
It was a peculiar part of their relationship dynamic, and one that had been insisted upon by Bonnie. While Tara only seemed to be able to have lesbian sex with Bonnie, the other girl didn't seem to have the same compulsion. In fact, Bonnie would screw any pretty girl that came along and much to Tara's lament, sometimes in their apartment. She knew that she had agreed to this kind of living arraignment with Bonnie, but she hadn't really wanted to and it hurt her in so many ways. She had wished desperately on many occasions that she could overcome whatever it was that was stopping her from bringing her own 'dates' back to the condo they shared and then letting Bonnie know just how it felt to hear the moans and sounds coming from the next bedroom.
"We don't even sleep in the same bed… how can I get mad? I agreed to this didn't I?"
The worst part of the entire situation was their second job. The one that Bonnie had thrust them into in order to mostly support her extravagant life style. At first when it had only been the two of them, Tara had actually been kind of thrilled about it. It was an opportunity for the two of them to be closer together, going into business with each other and the business itself was… well kind of hot. Definitely not something that Tara would do on her own, but so long as it was Bonnie… she felt like she couldn't refuse.
Tara had to admit that the videos were pretty hot and she liked to look at her and Bonnie making love. It had actually become an obsession for her, almost as if by watching her and Bonnie be intimate on camera she could pretend that they were that intimate in real life. The low point of this obsession came not too long ago when Bonnie had brought over another one of her "friends" for some late night fun and Tara had been awoken by the sounds of her erstwhile lover screaming in the throws of an orgasm. Whoever Bonnie had brought over was ambitious and the two of them didn't stop at that, but instead kept going on. Tara sat there in her bed for a moment, then much to her embarrassment started to become a little turned on. She had left her computer booted up and all it took was a few clicks before she was watching herself and Bonnie having sex while Bonnie was in the next room screwing some other girl. The sick feeling that Tara had gotten when she had finally climaxed and removed her fingers from in between her legs made her feel like she wanted to vomit. She was so completely disgusted – not just with Bonnie, or the things that they had done together, but with her self as well.
Tara knew very intimately what kind of life she wanted. If it was with a girl or a boy, it didn't seem to matter that much to her, but the one thing that did matter was that she wanted the love and the commitment that came along with being devoted to one other person. She hated the fact that she had sacrificed this dream for the sake of not being alone. For the sake of letting Bonnie use her as a toy, both in their real lives and on the video screen.
"Queen Bonnie and Slave Tara… so damn fitting."
As depressing as this was, it wasn't the worst thing in Tara's life. That honor would go to the young man that she had slapped so violently in the coffee shop just a little while ago.
"Josh, you are such an ass!"
The words that came out of his mouth had incensed her beyond reason. She had loved Josh Mankey, loved him more completely than she had loved anyone in her life and he had the gall to blame her for the end of their relationship? It just wasn't fair… how had she managed to get herself involved with two people that seemed to treat her like she was nothing more than an object of convenient lust?
"That's not fair… there is some love there. In Bonnie's case it's just not the kind that I want, and in Josh's case it's just the fact that I come second. All I want is to come first, is that too much to ask for? To have someone make me their number one priority? I'm needy! I'm ok with that! Why can't someone need me?"
Bonnie and Josh were actually a lot alike in many ways that the two of them had probably never considered. Both of them were so involved with other people that they never realized what they were doing to Tara or how they had managed to undermine her self-esteem. It had hurt her, brutally hurt her, to realize that no matter how much she loved someone that it didn't mean that they would, or even could, love her back in the same way. Despite all the perverted sex she had done in front of the camera, or all the freaky things she had done for the edification of Bonnie, this realization was the one that had actually caused the end of her innocence. The world it seemed was a cold place for people who just wanted to be loved.
The thing that was so frustrating for Tara is that she couldn't even say that Josh wasn't capable of loving her in the way that she wanted. She knew that he was, she had seen him devote himself to another person. The thing that broke her heart was that the other person was the one person that she knew she could never beat.
Tara sighed. She didn't like to think about Kim. It wasn't that she didn't like Kim, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Tara had long admired and respected Kim Possible, not just as a friend, or a teammate, but as someone to look up to in general. She had good friends, did good works and occasionally saved the world. She was practically the living embodiment of whatever young girl, including Tara, aspired to be. Of course it was no surprise that Josh Mankey, after having set eyes on her once, was forever smitten.
When Tara and Josh were dating Josh had painted her portrait three times, once in the nude. Tara had been excited at that and when she finally saw the completed work she could almost feel the desire flowing from the canvas and it had made her feel both incredibly sexy and deeply in love with Josh. The idea that anyone could look at her that way and bring her to life with their own mind was just… too beautiful for words. That feeling lasted all of about a week before Tara had found Josh's dirty little secret.
She had been helping him move paintings around his studio, ostensibly to select ones for the opening of his gallery. Josh had wanted to put Tara's reclining nude up on the walls of his new business but she had blushed seriously hard at the concept and firmly told him no. This was of course before her and Bonnie had started their web enterprise and now that Tara looked back on it, she wondered why she was ok with showing people her and Bonnie having actual sex, but showing the world how Josh Mankey looked at her made her want to blush. It was probably the feelings behind the art work more than the subject that had caused Tara's embarrassment. It was hard to explain, but the Tara in the painting looked not only sexy, but also… vulnerable and in love. She didn't want to show that to anyone but Josh.
"Hey Josh, what are these in the closet?" she had called over her shoulder.
Inside the small walk in closet of the studio apartment were several paintings wrapped in brown packing paper, each one of them tied with string. Tara waited for Josh's reply but when it never came she decided to open one of the paintings and see what they were – she was feeling exceptionally close to Josh and it didn't even occur to her that maybe he had put them in the closet for a reason.
The string was loosely tied and when Tara had undone the knots, the paper came away from the first painting easily enough. She moved the folds to the side and then began to study the painting.
It was Kim.
Tara wondered what was up with that. She knew that Josh and Kim had dated in high school, so even though she was perhaps a little jealous, finding such a thing probably wasn't that big a deal. If she had been wiser at the time and a little more secure she probably would have stopped at that first painting, but she couldn't help herself as her fingers started to unwrap the next package.
There were more paintings of Kim. Kim at the beach, Kim as a greek goddess, Kim sitting under a tree and smiling. The last one that Tara opened was one that she instantly wished she hadn't saw. In it was Kim; reclining nude on a divan, in the exact same pose that Tara had been in.
Suddenly she felt incredibly stupid for believing that Josh Mankey had only envisioned her this way.
She managed to wrap all the paintings back up and store them away before Josh had returned. She debated it for a long time, but eventually she decided that nothing good would come from her telling Josh what she had found. In fact it would make her look like a snoop and insecure, two things that she knew that guys didn't like. Still the damage was done and from that moment on Tara had been knocked somewhat out of her "love haze" and began to actually see to the things that Josh Mankey said in a whole new light.
Josh's favorite subject, asides from himself, it seemed was Kim. It didn't matter if he was relating to Tara dates that he had gone on with Kim in high school, or what villain Kim had defeated this week – Josh skittered in between topics of conversation that were appropriate to have with your girlfriend and ones that would get you a punch in the mouth. Tara loved Josh, so she just tried to ignore him as much as she could when he started to go into Kim-mode. It wasn't like Josh ignored her, or didn't care for her, or even perhaps didn't love her… it was just that he loved another girl, if not more, than at least as much as he loved Tara. Sure he wasn't screwing around behind her back like Bonnie did, but still it hurt all the same.
What brought the whole problem to a head was an unforeseen conversation that had taken place between the two of them one night after an intense love making session. They were cuddling and talking about the things that they liked and didn't like. They were being extremely truthful and Tara had made the mistake of letting loose a piece of information that she had kept hidden from Josh, if not out of embarrassment, then because she didn't want to make him worry.
"I guess I could kind of go for… you know, a three way…" she had muttered shyly.
Josh seemed disinterested at first, probably because he was still exhausted from their love making, but he eventually began to speak as he turned over to Tara's side.
"Like how? Two guys? Or…" Josh knew he was on to something when Tara started to blush.
"Who?" he asked.
Tara just blushed harder and tried to hide her face in her hair and pillow.
"No seriously… Who?" Josh insisted while crawled up Tara's chest with his hand.
"Well… Ok, this is kind of embarrassing but… I've sort of messed around before with girls." Tara was still kind of avoiding the direct question.
Josh was a little perplexed. This wasn't something that anyone would probably expect from the sweet, innocent Tara.
"Are you gay?" Josh asked impulsively.
Tara just smacked him on the top of his head and pouted.
"How can you ask that after what we just did!" she complained.
Josh looked a little sheepish. "Yeah I guess so… Have you ever done that before?"
Tara nodded a little bit, "Not the three way… but I've been with a girl. Is that disgusting?"
She was looking for a little affirmation from Josh, nothing major just a tiny bit of acceptance of one of her kinks. This was every guys dream right, a girlfriend who'd participate in a three-way? He should be, if not happy, at least interested…
"Hmm. I don't think it's disgusting… just not what I would expect from you. I mean, I know I was wrong, especially after tonight… but I always kind of envisioned you as a bit more… restrained." Josh was stumbling for the right words.
"Restrained? Josh Mankey, are you saying you thought I was a prude?" Tara said with mock anger.
Josh laughed out loud at her and replied, "No, not that… you have to admit Tara, out of all the girls at school you'd be the one least pegged as being that… adventurous. I mean, maybe Bonnie…" Josh stopped talking as he saw the look on Tara's face. He knew instantly that he had stumbled over something accidentally.
"Tara? Was it BonBon?" he asked.
Tara just looked at him with a faint trace of a smirk and said, "I plead the fifth."
Truthfully she was glad to have it out in the open. She really loved Josh, a lot actually and while she had no intention of being unfaithful to him, she also wanted to not have to hide anything about herself either. She wanted Josh to accept her for who she was and the idea of hiding things from him didn't sit well with her. She felt relieved at how well he seemed to be taking everything.
"Wow, you know what… I bet you're the only person in high school to ever get in between the Ice Queen's legs. At least if what Brick Flagg was saying is true…" Josh smirked at Tara who giggled at him in return.
"Why do you think Brick broke up with her at the prom? I'm sure it was more than that actually. Brick wasn't as stupid as a lot of people thought he was – I'm sure he figured out that his girlfriend was a raging lezzie by then."
"Wait, she's a full out lesbian? I thought maybe you two just messed around a little bit…" Josh seemed to be a little confused.
"We did, but I think Bonnie decided that was the life for her and as far as I know she's never been with a guy and… Wait Josh, why are you looking at me like that?" Tara asked.
"Huh? Oh well… I just remembered the two of you are roommates and um… well, you don't… you know?" Josh stumbled over his words, for some reason he was extremely bothered right now about Tara's living arraignments.
"Josh Mankey! What kind of person do you think I am? Are you screwing around with someone behind my back?" Tara asked with a hint of real anger in her voice.
Josh instantly got defensive and regretted his ill thought out words.
"No! Its just… well look at it this way, I don't live with an ex-girlfriend. I'm just a little jealous. Sorry," Josh apologized.
Tara pulled the covers up to her breasts and crossed her arms. She was still a little hurt that Josh would think that about her, but she had to admit she hadn't really thought about the situation in quite that way. Bonnie and her were friends, well… friends with benefits, but Tara wasn't about to be a cheater and it didn't matter to her what type of relationship she was in.
"And… Bonnie is kind of hot," winked Josh at Tara with a playful tone of voice.
"Oh really Josh? I never knew you liked BonBon that way…" said Tara as she poked Josh in the nose with her finger.
"Oh sure, every boy in school did. You too actually and you'd probably realize that it if you stopped to think for a moment. I think everyone considered you two girls to be the prettiest in the school. I know I always thought you were beautiful…" Josh leaned in and gave Tara a kiss on her pouting lips. He had learned early on that when it came to Tara that the blonde girl couldn't resist a good compliment.
"Flattery will get you everywhere Josh Mankey…" said Tara as she relaxed her grip on the covers and leaned closer to Josh.
"So anyway…" Josh said with a languid drawl, "getting back to the original topic of conversation…"
Tara just raised her eyes at him.
"Oh c'mon T – let me know, who is it in your fantasy? I hope I'm one of the people… oh God, don't tell me if I'm not!" Josh said this with half feigned depression in his voice.
Tara tickled Josh in the side. "Of course you are."
"And the other person?" Josh asked.
"I don't want to tell you," Tara pouted.
"Why not?" asked Josh.
"You'll get the wrong idea, that's why," said Tara.
"Its Bonnie, isn't it?" asked Josh.
Tara just remained quiet.
"It is Bonnie! Wow… I think all the guys at school would murder me," exclaimed Josh.
"Don't worry about it tiger, it'll never happen," said Tara with a hint of annoyance in her voice.
"Oh really? You don't want to share me, that's it, isn't it?" grinned Josh.
Tara giggled and then turned over completely on her side to face Josh.
"Maybe that's part of it, but also… like I said, Bonnie isn't interested in boys," stated Tara.
"Oh yeah, that's right… well anyone else? Wow, I should stop while I'm ahead… Argh, I can't – tell me T!" said Josh as he leaned forward to plant his head in between Tara and a pillow.
"Hmm… no one I guess. I've only ever done that with Bonnie and… I guess it'd have to be someone really special," she said.
"You're really confusing, you know that?" asked Josh.
"Trust me, I don't need you to tell me that. I spent four and a half years wondering if I was gay or not." Tara rolled over on her back and let her arms go out when she said this, almost as if she was physically demonstrating the frustration she had experienced.
"So like… someone special? Like what makes someone special?" Josh was curious, not necessarily because he wanted to actually participate in Tara's fantasy, but because he was actually keenly interested in what seemed to be an alien thought process to him.
"I don't know… just special. Someone exceptional. It's hard to explain and I don't think I can really do it anyway," replied Tara.
Tara was a little apprehensive now by the way that Josh seemed to be driving the conversation. At first she was glad that he had seemed to take her confessions in stride, but now it was almost as if he was more interested in the thought of a threesome than she had been. "I hope I didn't make a mistake here someplace…"
Unfortunately for Tara, the next words out of Josh's mouth confirmed her fears.
"Hey T… What about Kim?" he finally asked.
Tara tried not to cry when she remembered the argument that had ensued after the comment from Josh. It was so warped and wrong, somehow he had managed to twist Tara's own fantasy around to the point where it was his fantasy and the fact that Tara was outright refusing to engage in sex with him and Kim Possible made her a selfish bitch. Why did it matter to Tara if it was Bonnie and Josh or Kim and Josh, it was just a hypothetical situation anyway, right? Well, it mattered to Tara, it mattered a lot. Part of the reason why was because she knew that in some small way Josh was actually right. Tara was fine being with two people she loved, Bonnie and Josh, but she was upset at being part of the same experience for Josh. She was angry that Josh loved Kim Possible enough to want her to take the place of Bonnie in his own personal version of the fantasy.
She remembered screaming at him, "I'm not a toy for you Josh!" and she remembered the way that he had thrown those same words back in her face. She also remembered the final words he spoke to her as she stormed out of his apartment.
"So that's it huh? Sorry I couldn't be part of your twisted sex life! Have fun with Bonnie!" he had screamed at her while he slammed the door behind her.
Tara's hands were gripping the steering wheel of her car tightly now and she was crying hard. She saw a rest stop up ahead and she flowed off the freeway and into the parking lot, bringing her car to a halt but hesitating for a minute before turning off the engine.
Now that the engine was silent and the radio was off, Tara was finally able to hear the tones of her cell phone ringing from her purse. She didn't have to look to see who was calling, the ring tone told her who it was. She reached into her purse and held the phone in her hand for a moment.
"What do you want now, you jerk?"
Josh sat on the floor of his studio looking at the silent cell phone just inches away from him. Tara hadn't rung him since she had stormed out of the coffee shop and he was debating on if he should break form and be the one to call her. It would probably be the first time he had done that since Tara had dumped him.
"Did she dump me? Tara didn't seem to think so… What the hell is that all about?"
Josh was confused and he wracked his brain trying to come up with the right answer. It was hard for him to see through the colors of his own perception enough to try and come up with the stark truth. In stead he settled for replaying the events of that night over and over again in his mind. Why were they fighting? Why did he have to bring up his ex-girlfriend Kim that way? Why did he refuse to just let the damn thing go?"Why the hell am I so hung up on that girl? Christ I am such an idiot. I actually let her use me while I just kept wagging my tail like a puppy dog. I mean how stupid can I be – Kim never called me once between then and high school and one night she rings me up and I'm all over her."
Josh knew he had a problem, he just didn't know exactly what it was.
"And Tara… I practically throw her out of the apartment, I never call her, I never go visit her… but she calls me. She checks up on me, she stops by the gallery to see how we're doing. Why? Is she like me?"
Josh dismissed this idea immediately. Even after Josh had found out he had been played, Kim had literally needed to push him away to get him to desist in his affections. Tara on the other hand… was good to Josh, but didn't let him get away with the same sort of crap he would have put up from Kim. No, Tara was different… but Josh couldn't figure out how.
"Well, I hurt her feelings… that's for sure. I don't think I've ever hurt Kim's feelings, not even when I broke up with her in high school – the first time. It was just like, she didn't care, or she had other things on her mind."
This realization bothered Josh a lot more than he was willing to admit at first. The idea that Kim Possible didn't have any sort of emotional investment in him that would cause her to be even mildly upset when he had broken up with her in high school was a possibility that Josh Mankey just hadn't been willing to accept. Girls cried when he dumped them, it was true. They bawled to him on the phone, begged him to get back together with them and showed up at his doorstep at 2:00AM in the morning holding angst riddled love poems.
It had kind of pissed him off that Kim hadn't done any of these things.
"Is that it? Is that the entire reason why I am so hung up on Kim? Just because… she got over me? And her getting over me… meant that I never got over her? God that's just sick."
Surprisingly enough, Josh's own admittance of patheticness actually made him feel quite a bit better about the situation between him and Kim. Sure, he was still pissed that he had willingly let himself be played out like he had, but at least now he had started to know why he had done that. The knowledge that he had just discovered about himself had brought on a tiny flush of excitement and the first thing that Josh had wanted to do was to scoop up his cell phone off the floor and dial Tara so that he could tell her about it, but then of course he remembered –
"Oh, that's right… we're fighting."
Tara was another mystery that Josh had wanted to solve, but she was turning out to be trickier by far. First of all, Josh was pretty sure that she had dumped him, despite her protests to the negative. Josh Mankey didn't get dumped very often, actually Tara and Kim were the only ones to date to perform such a feat and it had taken Kim at least two tries to get it right. That alone would make the event stick out in his mind, right?
He thought back to the actual night for about the seventh time since he had left the coffee house and thoughtfully stroked his small goatee. What was it he had said to Tara when he had slammed the door on her? Something rude obviously… but he had been mad at her. Why had he been so mad at her?
"What was her problem anyway? It was just a hypothetical situation and she got all mad about it. I mean, hell… I took the news about her and BonBon in stride. Did she think I was happy about that? I was jealous knowing that she wanted to bang Bonnie and that they lived in the same apartment – the downside to having a bi-sexual girlfriend, you're always wondering just how closer her and her 'girlfriends' really are."
Josh wondered what had set Tara off. The entire thing had started off as a joke… mostly. Sure Josh had a thing for Kim, but he also had a thing for Tara and well… if Tara could fantasize about having Josh and Bonnie together with her, then it seemed fair to Josh that he could fantasize about having Kim and Tara together with him. However when he had brought the idea up Tara had instantly hardened and gotten defensive. She wouldn't hear any sort of reason or argument from Josh and instead just insisted that there was no way in hell she would ever do that with Kim Possible.
Intellectually Josh knew that such decisions were well within Tara's rights – after all, Tara couldn't make him join in with her and say… DNAmy, no matter how much he loved her. So if Tara had such a big aversion to Kim then hey, who was he to get upset about it? After all, the entire thing was hypothetical right? It's not like Kim had ever expressed any sort of desires for that kind of relationship with a girl – at least not that Josh had known about. Still there was a small part of his mind had maybe suspected a little something like that… it would explain a lot about Kim's behavior and how she could have a best male friend for going on 13 years and never even once get curious enough to fool around with him.
"Naw, Kim's definitely not gay. I should know, I finally got to have her after all that lusting. It sure was worth it, wasn't it? Oh yeah… who am I kidding?"
Josh tried to shake the image of him and Kim out of his mind. He'd already dissected the scene dozens of times and probably would a few more before he finally filed it away in his brain, but now he had bigger fish to fry. Like how he had seemingly really hurt the person that, much to Josh's astonishment, was probably his best friend – if not totally, then at least here in Upperton. He picked up his cell phone for a moment and then pondered his next move.
"Ok, so I don't know who dumped who. I wont be able to figure it out… So what can I do?"
There were a few options available to Josh Mankey that he hadn't really considered too often. They sounded good in theory, but when it came time to actually practice them he had always found something better to do. Namely, he could attempt to apologize, he could beg for forgiveness, or he could…
"I could ask for her opinion on what happened."
It pretty much went against everything Josh had ever stood for, and it was definitely a little out of character for him, but these were desperate times and desperate times called for desperate actions. Desperate actions like calling up your ex-girlfriend that dumped you (at least, that's what you thought) and begging her to talk to you.
"Oh, how the shoe is on the other foot now."
Josh flipped open his cell phone and began to look for Tara's number in his address book. It wasn't even at the top of his most frequently dialed numbers, although his own call log was filled with dozens of messages, mostly missed, from her. Tara had actually entered her own number into his phone and when she had done so she had put little ASCII hearts before and after her name so it looked like, " 3 Tara 3". Josh had a rare moment of self-awareness as he started to feel guilty about the fact that he had been dating Tara and hadn't even bothered to get her number on his own. He sighed a little bit and then pressed the button and let it ring. After about a minute it went to voice mail, but he didn't leave a message. Instead he hung up and tried again. The same scenario repeated itself over a dozen times before finally he heard the click of the phone line being established.
"Tara?" he asked softly into the phone.
There was no response.
"Tara, are you there?" he asked again.
After a pregnant pause came the reply, "What do you want?"
"I want to say I'm sorry about earlier," said Josh.
"Do you even know why or what you're sorry about you ass?" replied Tara in a bitter, broken voice. Josh could guess that she had been crying.
Tara waited for a moment for Josh to say something, but was instead greeted with silence. She almost hung up on him right then and there but then she heard his voice come in clear over the cell line, and saying words she thought she'd never hear from him.
"I'm sorry for taking you for granted T, you've been a good friend," stated Josh.
"What's wrong?" asked Tara. It was an automatic reaction and had come out of her mouth before she had even realized what she was about to say.
"I think… a lot of stuff. Is it ok to talk now?" replied Josh.
Tara looked around at the interstate rest stop and decided that if she was going to get hysterical on the phone, this was just as good a place as any. Even at home Bonnie would probably be around to hear her… and she didn't want to suffer through another one of the brunettes lectures on how Tara was "too nice to loser jerks".
"I guess so," said Tara noncommittally.
"Ok… this may sound kind of weird, or messed up T, but… can you tell me what happened um… from your perspective?" asked Josh.
"Huh?" said Tara. Josh had just surprised her for the second time in about 15 seconds.
"Yeah ok, maybe that was too much… I just really want to know what you think about it all…" Josh let his voice trail off. He was highly inexperienced and unsure at these types of actions and he was grasping around trying to find the right words to communicate to Tara what he was trying to do.
Tara scrunched up her face and then looked at the phone like some sort of strange language was coming out of it. Never, even in her wildest dreams, had she thought that Josh Mankey would act so… well, un-Josh-like. It was as if someone had managed to screw off the top of his head and replace his previously defective brain with one that actually somewhat worked – or at least could comprehend of a universe where people other than himself actually had feelings.
Ok, maybe that last part hadn't been fair to Josh. He did care about people, in his own dysfunctional way, but Tara had long ago learned that so long as your name wasn't 'Kim Possible', there was a finite limit to how much of Josh Mankey you could ever get.
"Josh… are you talking about the coffee house or…" Tara fished around.
"The breakup," Josh replied.
"Why do you want to know after all this time?" Tara asked, slightly apprehensive. She wasn't about to allow Josh Mankey an easy way back into her good graces.
Josh cleared his throat on the other side of the line. Then he began to speak.
"I wonder… well I think actually… I might have been wrong, or maybe I just saw things in a way that I wanted to see them… oh hell Tara, I don't know really what happened, but even I'm not totally hopeless enough to not notice that you and me seem to have two different versions of reality about this… and…." Josh paused for a moment.
"And what Josh?" asked Tara.
"And… and I think that I've been… ugh, this is so hard to explain. Ok here I go – take two. Tara, I think that maybe I have been seeing things the way I want to see them and not exactly how things really are. I just came up with this today after I was thinking about something else that had happened to me and now I want to hear what you think happened when we broke up so I can test if I am right or not." Josh practically sputtered out those last few words as he was quickly running out of steam. This was a lot harder to do in practice than it was to imagine it.
Tara couldn't decide if she wants to swear at Josh or congratulate him for finally joining the rest of the human race. She tried to calm her self down, but it was hard for her. This was the kind of conversation that she had wanted to have with Josh since the moment that they had separated on that night so many months ago. She had wanted to vent at him a bit, but she had also wanted to apologize for a couple of things as well and try as she might she could never gather the courage to bring up the subject during any of the times they had talked "just as friends" in the months since the original break up. Tara regretted this a lot, but part of her felt that if she pushed the issue at the time then there was a good chance that they wouldn't even be able to remain friends any more and as much as she hated to admit it, it was a hard thought for her to deal with because she still loved…
"No. I am so not going there. I'm not letting him back in after what he did. What he continues to do. Get a grip Tara; he just made you bawl like a baby for an hour over two sentences in a coffee shop. Get a damn grip!"
With this Tara had resolved not to let Josh Mankey get another foothold in her heart, at least not anything greater than he already had. Still, she had things that she wanted to talk about that would make her feel better. So she relented and began to speak to Josh, to tell him her side of the story.
And for once in his life, Josh Mankey actually listened.
Josh wasn't a genius, but he wasn't a complete idiot either. He was a little self-absorbed, occasionally vain and often times a self interested jerk, but also he had at least one real good trait…
You can't really be an artist, especially one that paints people, without having empathy. It was the tool that allowed Josh to step into the minds of his subjects and then portray what he saw on the canvas. Not just the lines and curves of a person, but the essence and spirit of them as well.
After the fact, this was probably the thing that Josh had felt had helped him the most in trying to understand where Tara was coming from and how she had reacted to their argument as well as why she had seemed to go out on a limb, but never so far she'd tumble, for the sake of keeping their erstwhile friendship alive.
"She never chased me… but she never abandoned me either. She was there for me when I needed a friend, even though it probably hurt her… even though I hurt her. Why?"
He knew the answer even before he asked himself the question. Hell, he had painted the answer to the question, hadn't he? Josh mused on this for a moment and then went to his closet and swung open the door. He winced a little bit when he realized that he had subconsciously filed away Tara's painting amongst the debris of his obsession for Kim Possible and then he began to open the various paintings, wondering where he had placed the nude he had done of Tara. Eventually he found it, but he also found another surprise – a similar painting that he had done of Kim and he took both of the pieces of art and stood them side-by-side to compare.
Despite what many people might have thought about him, he wasn't comparing the subjects of the two portraits, but instead the work done by the artist – the work done by him. After all, he was the one that brought what he saw to life on the canvas and in doing so he captured not just the form, but the emotions of the subject and he did it all with brushes and oils. If there were some sort of secret clue here it would be on that his own mind had picked up on and placed before him. To Josh Mankey the simple act of studying his own artwork was the ultimate act of introspection; it was as if he was observing his own feelings from some bizarre external viewpoint.
He didn't like what he saw.
Josh quickly scooped up the portrait of Kim and then stacked it with the other ones. Once they were all together he found some extra twine and tied the entire pile up into one big bundle that he carried down to his buildings incinerator and there he disposed of them like he would with any other sort of trash. That's all they were anyway – trash. Josh had studied the look on Kim's face, poured over it for any trace of emotion, and then shockingly had realized something that had previously escaped him – Kim Possible had never looked at Josh Mankey the way that he had portrayed her in those paintings.
His critical eye had studied each and every pose and he knew without a doubt that they were false. Despite the flawless technique and natural ability, all the pieces felt completely wrong. They were like the attempts of a third rate artist at trying to capture something that he had never experienced before and hence he was forced to make a guess, to make an assumption, of what the subjects mood or emotions would be. It was just like that – except worse. If Josh had only made a guess, then that would have perhaps been excusable considering he hadn't actually had Kim sit for any of the works, but the truth of the matter was that Josh had done the unacceptable and simply painted Kim as how he had wanted her to be. It was as if he had created his own twisted form of pornography featuring the redheaded girl, and not just one of flesh, but a sickening fetish based on the fantasy of a devoted and loving Kim. A Kim that didn't exist – at least not for him.
Josh didn't even wait to watch the flames claim the paintings before he closed the incinerator door. He was so disgusted with himself that and his own pathetic attempts at self-gratification through his art, that he just merely wanted to be rid of the things. He climbed up the stairs to his apartment and then plopped himself down on the couch. Across the floor from him was the portrait that Tara had posed for and he stared at it in remorse for long minutes, until the last rays of the setting sun had dripped past it and the floor and dusk had settled across the outside world.
"I think I really screwed up," Josh said out loud to Tara's painting.
There was no response of course, but Josh continued to speak anyway.
"I know you loved me, but I was so hung up on Kim… and jealous too, jealous of Bonnie," he continued.
Josh hung his head in his hands and went silent.
"What should I do? How do I feel about Tara? I loved her once, even if it was in a half-assed way. Could I do better now… or more importantly, would she let me do better? What if she's happy with Bonnie?"
That was a sobering thought to Josh. He felt pretty confident that he could compete with most normal guys for Tara's affections, even if it took him a while to do it, but competing with her best friend Bonnie? And then there was the whole issue of what if his messing with Tara's feelings had caused the petite blonde to completely start playing for the other team? Was Tara really straight and just had a thing for Bonnie? Or was Tara really gay and just had a thing for Josh?
And most importantly – Did it all really matter?
Josh got up from his couch and walked over to Tara's painting. He lifted it from the ground and then stalked around his studio, turning on lights as he went. Eventually he found the spot he was looking for and removed the work of art that was on the wall and replaced it with Tara's portrait. He stepped back for a minute to both admire his work and to make sure that he was going to be able to go through with what he was planning.
"I could have lost before I've even begun here. I could just be setting myself up for a bit emotional ass kicking. I'm going to have to… let go."
Josh knew this was true, even if he didn't like to admit it. He had just let go of one of his loves, Kim, finally after so much yearning and obsession. Now he had Tara in his sights and he knew that a sick part of him wanted to use Tara to replace the spot that Kim had vacated. He also knew that he could never let something like that happen again. He'd have to let go all right, not just Kim… but Tara too. He'd have to do the unthinkable.
He'd have to be her friend.
Tara Strong sipped her wine and looked around the art gallery with a curious eye. This wasn't the first showing that she had attended at Josh's place, but it was definitely one of the more interesting ones and Tara had found herself actually enjoying it for a change. Josh was across the room talking animatedly to an older couple that was probably interested in purchasing one of his larger pieces. It was good news – Josh made a fairly decent living off his art but Tara knew from first hand experience how he could go from flush to broke in the blink of an eye.
Josh was smiling now and it made Tara involuntarily smile herself. She really just couldn't help it, she was happy that somehow Josh had seemed to come out of his funk and she was surprised to notice that not only had he not done any lasting harm to himself, but he had seemed to actually come out of it stronger for some reason. In fact over the last two months Josh Mankey had been acting decidedly non-Josh Mankey. Tara wasn't sure to make of it, at least not yet, but she was starting to wonder if he had a new woman in his life.
"Wow… why does that piss me off so much?"
Tara sighed as she turned around and pretended to become very interested in a piece of artwork in order to hide her discomfort. Her feelings for Josh, both her affections and her ambivalence, hadn't changed too much over the last two months, but still she would have been blind not to notice that his attitude towards her had changed a lot. It made her both happy and sad at the same time.
Josh called her now instead of always waiting for her to take the initiative. He even invited her out sometimes for coffee or a drink. They'd even been to a couple of "just a friend" dates at places like the theatre or the Upperton Promenade. All of these things actually made Tara feel pretty good about her friendship with Josh and had started to make he believe that for once, she had done the right thing by sticking by him for so long. She had always hoped that if she had continued to be supportive of Josh that eventually he would come around and start acting like the person that Tara knew he could be and it looked like that time had finally arrived for the young artist.
As Tara watched an obviously single, flirty and good looking woman in a business suit come up and address Josh she felt another twinge of jealousy and was immediately reminded of the other and less expected change in Josh that she hadn't been prepared for.
He treated her like a friend.
It had taken Tara quite a bit of getting used to, but she felt that finally she was getting the hang of it. Being close to Josh was easy. Admitting to herself that he had been in love with Kim and not her was hard, but do-able. Having him go out of his way to tell her how much he appreciated her friendship? It was driving her insane.
"Why does this drive me bonkers? Isn't this what I wanted, to be friends with him? Why does it tweak me so much when he wants to be friends with me too?"
Tara wondered if it wasn't because somewhere in her mind she thought that on the Josh Mankey scale of relationships "friend" probably ranked lower than "ex-girlfriend" and that was why she was annoyed. She mused to herself that maybe the truth of the matter was that she had grown comfortable with the way things had been. The two of them had slipped into a certain pattern, that while not optimal, allowed them to exist within a strange status of "unresolved business" and now it seemed that Josh at least had come to some sort of resolution while she herself had not yet reached that point.
Tara hovered around the gallery for another couple of hours, sometimes standing close to Josh and chatting with him a little bit, other times making herself scarce as Josh was trying to close a sale, but mostly just sort of watching him and wonder why he was acting so… bubbly, almost like he was in high school again. Eventually the last few customers exited the now closed gallery leaving just the two of them to look over the debris of the nights festivities. Tara handed Josh a broom and then sat down on top of a low table that had been set up to hold brochures and sipped her final glass of wine for the night.
"Hey, what's up with this? I thought you were going to help me close down tonight?" asked Josh playfully as he started to sweep the floor.
"I will, just after I finish my drink. Great show by the way, it looked like you were really busy," said Tara.
"Thanks T – and yeah I was. I think I made enough tonight to keep running for a few months. I can even pay Emma on time! She'll probably be ecstatic to hear that," Josh chuckled as he continued to sweep.
"Where is Emma anyways? I thought she'd be here tonight…" Tara's voice held a hint of suspicion that she didn't like.
"Oh, her sisters wedding is this weekend. She actually invited me to go as her date, but I had this planned already for tonight and I didn't feel like waking up at 4:30 in the morning tomorrow just to attend," replied Josh.
This was news to Tara. Had Emma asked Josh to go to the wedding as a… date? Where they in that sort of relationship? She had never really considered the dark haired girl with her Goth looks as someone who would fit Josh's tastes, but then again maybe Josh wasn't so hung up on that… Emma was a really nice girl after all.
"So…" Tara began helplessly.
"So?" asked Josh, momentarily stopping his sweeping.
"You and Emma?" she finally asked.
"Me and Emma what?" Josh began. Then he stopped to think about it for a moment and continued, "Oh! No, not like that. She just wanted to bring a date to the reception so her parents would stop trying to set her up with second and third cousins."
"Really? Well who is it then?" asked Tara, her curiosity now peaked.
"Who is what? You're really confusing me T," said Josh.
Tara laughed at the look at Josh's face and then downed the rest of her drink.
"Well, something is obviously up – you've been downright chipper for almost two months now. I figured it was a new girlfriend," she stated.
"Oh…" Josh said while he returned to his sweeping.
"Tara?" he asked.
"Yeah Josh?" Tara replied.
"Ah… it's nothing. Anyway, No I don't have a girlfriend. I am just… happy. I have a good life you know? I own my own gallery, I make money doing what I love and I have a completely awesome friend. What more could I want?" Josh grinned at Tara with such an earnest expression that she was momentarily taken back.
"Wow… he really means that, all of it."
"So how about you? You know when I sent that invitation to you I made it RSVP 2 guests so you could bring Bonnie. How are things going between you two?" Josh asked with a hint of real concern in his voice.
Tara was floored. Never before had Josh asked her about any of Tara's relationships, and most certainly not the one she had with Bonnie. It was a part of Tara's life that either Josh didn't feel comfortable knowing about, or didn't care to know about. Tara didn't know which.
"Well… supposedly Bonnie told me that she has no interest being in the same room as you after what you 'did to me' – her words not mine by the way. But I happen to know for a fact that she met some floozy through a campus chat room and they're probably off right now getting freaky." Tara said this so matter-of-factly that Josh was downright confused.
"Huh? Wait I thought you two were…" Josh didn't know the right words. Girlfriends? Lovers?
"It's a little more complicated than that Josh. BonBon has interesting ideas about things such as love and monogamy," said Tara as she reached for a trash bag that was stashed behind a desk.
"You know what T, I am probably the absolute last person that has a right to say this to you – but you could do better than that," Josh was looking down at the floor so that Tara couldn't see his face, but he was grimacing a little bit as he forced those words out.
"You're right Josh, you have absolutely no right to say that," said Tara with a laugh as she started tossing plastic wine glasses into her trash bag.
Josh kept pushing his broom around on the ground, creating a small pile of dirt and debris. Slowly he started to move it over towards Tara
"Hold that bag open for me ok?" he asked. Tara nodded at him.
Together they finished cleaning the rest of the gallery and it was an hour past midnight by the time they finally closed up the front door and dropped the secure metal gate over the plate glass windows.
"Need a walk back to your car Tara?" asked Josh as he stretched his arms up over his head to work out some of the exhaustion from the night.
"Hmm… might as well. Come on, I'm this way," she replied.
The two of them walked down the lonely street to Tara's car, not saying a word. It wasn't that they didn't have things to say to each other, or that they didn't want to say those same things, it was just that neither one of them new how to start the conversation that they both wanted to begin. When they finally reached Tara's vehicle, the small blonde woman turned around and did something unexpected. She reached out and wrapped her arms around Josh and gave him a nice, warm, friendly hug.
"Thanks Josh. See you later, ok?" she asked, still hugged up against him.
"Sure thing T, stay safe," replied Josh as he moved his own arms around the petite woman.
Tara went to turn away to open her car door but found that she couldn't get more than an inch or two away from Josh.
"Um… Josh? I sort of need to go…" she said.
"Yeah I know," he replied, his grip not releasing her quite yet.
"Josh, what's up?" asked Tara a little bit mystified.
"I guess nothing T, I… wanted to hug you a little longer. Sorry about that. I just never got enough chances to do this when we were dating and I suppose I never realized how completely huggable you were until I blew it," Josh said as earnestly as he could.
Against her better judgment and against several vows she had made to herself, Tara Strong melted a little bit inside at that statement from Josh. Still, her natural instinct for protection was very strong and it wasn't about to go down without a fight.
"You're such an ass Josh," she whispered to him.
"What'd I do now?" he whispered back.
"Your timing is absolutely terrible," she replied.
Josh squeezed her tighter to his chest exhaled. His breath was warm and tingly on Tara's neck.
"Sorry T, I actually promised myself that I wouldn't do this. I feel ashamed. I'll stop now," Josh said with real sincerity in his voice. His arms then slowly pulled away from Tara and he placed his hands in his jacket.
Tara leaned back against the side of her car and then studied Josh's face in the pale yellow light of the electric street lamps that hovered above them in the darkness. He looked thoughtful and wistful, and Tara decided, very much like the sensitive boy she had fallen for in high school.
"What do you mean by that Josh?" asked Tara timidly.
Josh looked sheepish for a second and then summoned up his courage to come clean to Tara.
"It's just that… I have feelings for you T, I wont try to hide them, but at the same time I really just want to be a friend to you. You've done a lot for me and I want to be able to return it right back at you. I'm really very sorry, I wont do anything like that again…" Josh was contrite. He felt as if he had not only betrayed his own resolution to turn over a new leaf, but Tara's friendship as well.
"Josh…" Tara began as she placed out one hand on his arm to pull him a little closer, "Thanks… but no thanks."
Josh raised his eyebrow at Tara in a questioning look.
"Dammit, I guess I really screwed up this time huh? Its ok T… don't feel bad. I swear I'll learn one of these days…" Josh began to turn around to leave, but a tiny hand held on to the hem of his coat.
"That's not what I meant Josh," whispered Tara to Josh's back. Slowly the young man began to turn around to come face to face with Tara again.
He wanted to respond, to say something insightful, or at least useful, but he had found himself enchanted by the petite blonde beauty in front of him. The way she pulled him closer to her by his coat, the way she leaned into his chest, the way she stood up slightly on her tip-toes, and then the very soft, sweet and gentle kiss he let barely pass over his lips… all of these things added up to a moment in time where Josh Mankey had felt for sure that he had entered the Twilight Zone.
"Uh… T?" Josh asked, more than a little confused.
Tara just laid her head down on Josh's shoulders and savored the moment. It felt so right that she didn't want it to be wrong, even if her brain was trying to give her a million reasons why she should run away in terror from Josh Mankey this instant. Of course there was one over riding reason for her to say and for the first time in a very, very long time, Tara Strong listened to that voice.
"Josh, don't hide your feelings from me ok. I meant what I said all those months ago, I want us to be honest with each other… even if it means we talk about things that we don't want to," Tara said.
Josh put one of his hands up behind her head and rubbed his fingers through her hair.
"You mean like why your boyfriend is obsessed with a woman that doesn't even exist?" he asked.
Tara raised her eyes at this, "Josh? What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's simple. I was hung up on Kim. Not even the real Kim, but a fake one. I burned all the paintings I did of her, they were all trash anyway. I painted her the way that I wanted her to be, not how she really was, and the way I wanted her to be didn't even exist. You know what clinched it for me?" Josh said.
Tara shook her head no.
"I looked at a picture I painted of you and I realized one thing – when I looked into your eyes I could tell that you love me… I guess I should say 'loved', but anyway… I could feel it. I may not be a great artist, but I can tell when my canvas is telling me the truth or not," said Josh.
Tara looked up at Josh, her eyes a little wet with small tears.
"You had it right the first time Josh," she said.
"Hmm?" he replied, not quite following her.
Tara leaned into Josh and planted her lips on his again, this time the kiss was not quite so brief.
"Love. I love you… you jerk. God I've tried to not feel this way for you and here you are being just how I want you to be. You really suck Josh, how come you couldn't have been this way years ago?" Tara's lips were quivering a little bit now as the long bottled up emotions started to rise to the surface.
"Sorry… T," he said with a faint whisper.
"Sorry doesn't cut it anymore buster, you're in big trouble!" Tara exclaimed with playful exuberance.
"Um… how about, 'I love you'" he finally asked.
"Well, it may not be perfect… but I have the feeling you're getting there," responded Tara with a glint in her eye.
Josh smiled at Tara and then cupped her head and gave her one of his own return kisses.
"So… where do we go from her Josh?" asked Tara as she let herself be cradled in his arms.
Josh thought for a moment and then slowly began to speak.
"Honestly Tara, I don't really know. I didn't plan or even expect this to happen so I am totally not prepared. The one thing I do know is that I think we need to take small steps with this. It's not because I am unsure of my feelings for you, it's just… I don't want to screw up again. You're worth way too much for me to take that kind of risk," replied Josh.
"Josh Mankey, that has got to be the sweetest thing you've ever said to me," said Tara with a slight smirk on her face.
"I know and I think that's pretty sad. You deserve better Tara," he finally said.
Tara just smiled and turned her head flat against Josh's chest, taking in the warmth and emotions of the man while he held her close. It wasn't perfect. In fact it was probably a hell of a long way from perfect.
But it felt right, and that was enough for the both of them.
A/N: Well if people are curious this is where the 30 pages of written text went to this week that was supposed to be chapter 19 of my Ron story. I'm sorry I just couldn't help myself so I figured I might as well write this down so it's out of my system. Anyway, after this I am going back to Ron Stoppable, Ultimate Monkey Master so that I can finish off that story as well.
The thing that sparked this one shot was a review comment I got about how Josh is always the bad guy, which I found kind of funny for two reasons. 1) Its true and 2) I didn't actually intend for him to be the bad guy. I guess things just happen that way? In any case I tried to write this story as penance to show you guys a different side of Monkey Boy.
Also if you've read this one shot without reading my other story, then you should go check that one out at as well. I'm exceptionally proud of it.
I guess that's all for this installment, just make sure you please read and review – I really appreciate it.