Disclaimer: The FG trilogy and all recognizable characters belong to L.J. Smith.
Jenny Thornton had been many things in her life: daughter, friend, student, co-worker, object of an obsession… but it didn't appear that Mrs. Tom Locke was going to be among that list. And at the age of twenty-four, at a point where most high school (and in their case, childhood) sweethearts had settled down, had children, taken out their first co-loan, and bought a minivan, she and Tom couldn't even manage to make it down the aisle. Couldn't or wouldn't. But the difference was hardly negligible.
Jenny was sitting in front of her television set, watching a rerun of Friends, eating a bowl of fruit salad, when her roommate and best friend, Deirdre Eliade—known to all simply as Dee—came through the front door of the house they'd bought together. Two years ago, when the real estate market was at all all-time low, they had decided to go in on the venture together, since owning was better sense than renting and neither had any pressing commitments elsewhere. Jenny vaguely remembered wondering if she shouldn't first take the offer to Tom, but dismissing the idea before it had time to take root and develop. And in hindsight, it was a good thing too.
Dee dropped her keys on the coffee table and her backpack containing her workout clothes on the floor next to it. Then she casually draped herself on the nearby armchair, long legs dangling elegantly over the side, lounging with all the grace and comfort of a large jungle cat.
"Sorry I'm so late, Sunshine," she said, emitting a large yawn. "I just got caught up in practicing this new set of moves and kind of lost track of time." Dee taught several self-defense classes downtown when she wasn't choreographing action sequences for the various movies and television shows comprising part of their local film industry. She had made it through college, to prove to both herself and probably the rest of the world, her intellectual capability. But after college there was nothing that appealed to her more than returning to the physical world of athletics, and she had quickly become immersed in her new career.
"Yeah?" Jenny replied, turning down the volume and sending her friend a sly grin. "And you wouldn't happen to have been practicing these new 'moves' with a certain somebody by the name of Devon Saunders, would you?"
With an upturn of her nose, Dee replied, "Do you really think that I would use the ancient and honorable practice of martial arts to serve as a flimsy excuse to indulge in a passing fancy for some man?"
Dee's face broke feral grin. "Well, he is one fine specimen of a man."
"And that justifies your abuse of the 'ancient and honorable practice of martial arts'?" Jenny asked with a smirk.
"Hell yeah." There was a momentary pause during which Dee was undoubtedly making a mental checklist of all those finer points of Mr. Devon Saunders that made the transgression justifiable. Undoubtedly, because of the half-hooded gaze and sly grin that marked her features, reminiscent of a cat that had just indulged in a particularly satisfying bowl of cream. After a while she finally cleared the expression from her face and turned back to her friend, asking, "So how was your day?"
And here it was, the moment of truth. Jenny braced herself mentally for the impending reaction, before replying, "Tom and I called off the wedding."
There was a break that followed during which the only sounds that could be heard throughout the room were those of faint laughter coming from the television. Then Dee pulled herself into an upright position, her legs coming down before her, the soles of her shoes resting on the carpet. "What do you mean you called it off? As in 'We're not ready now, but we will be eventually...?'" Dee asked, obviously unsure of the severity of the circumstances.
"No, more like called it off as in 'We will never be ready, and it's time to face the truth and move on,'" Jenny answered.
Dee's dark brows came together as she assessed her roommate's appearance. "This isn't right. You and Tom have been together for seventeen years, and now you tell me it's suddenly over… What's up with the fruit salad? You should be shoveling your way through a pint of Haagen Daaz, or Tom and Jerry's, or whatever it is that's the comfort brand of the month. And where are the puffy red eyes, the mascara-stained cheeks? Why don't you look upset?"
Jenny sighed as she stared at her increasingly irate friend before her. She knew this wasn't going to be easy; in fact, the most difficult about the whole breakup had been the prospect of telling their friends. Their friends, who had become so dependent on seeing them together, that neither she nor Tom relished the idea of breaking their illusion of the "perfect couple." But of all people, she had figured that Dee would be most likely to take it all in stride.
"Dee, first of all, this isn't really all that sudden—"
"Not sudden?" Dee interrupted. "You were supposed to be getting married in two months. Two months! You had the church booked, the wedding invitations printed up, the dress all picked out, even those hideous bridesmaid dresses that you were going to make us wear…"
"You thought my bridesmaid dresses were hideous?"
Dee sent her roommate a glare. "Jenny, really, that's beside the point."
She was right. The topic of the bridesmaid dresses was one that could be returned to at a later time. "Okay, we had all of it taken care of for show, but we never really planned our future together. We never even talked about living arrangements, how we would handle our jobs, when we wanted to have kids… whether we even planned to have kids. We may have been together for seventeen years, but for the last few, we were just barely hanging on."
Dee was silent a moment as she stared down at the floor thoughtfully. "I didn't know. I guess I didn't realize how bad it'd gotten. I mean, we could all see that things weren't as "picture perfect" as you liked to pretend they were. We weren't completely oblivious, you know. But it's just that you seemed like one of those few things in life that were a given. Death, taxes, Tom-and-Jenny, and everything else are variables."
There was a pause as both women stared unseeing at the television screen. Sometime during the conversation the show had ended, and a different one begun, but the images passed unheeded, less a distraction than a backdrop to their thoughts.
"It was the Game, wasn't it?"
The question caught Jenny so off-guard she could only stare blankly ahead, breath caught in her throat, too afraid to face Dee and reveal the truth she had spent so long keeping to herself. 'How did she know, there was no way she could know…'
"It was during the Game that we all changed," Dee elaborated.
She almost let out a sigh of relief and her heart rate returned to normal as she realized that Dee wasn't actually talking about what she'd feared. There was no way in the worlds—all nine of them—that she could have known about that.
"But I thought it was all for the better."
"It was," Jenny replied earnestly. "Tom changed for the better. I changed for the better. But it was just that the new Tom and the new Jenny were… incompatible." She finished with a shrug, "We just weren't right for each other anymore."
It might have been the tone of her voice, something in the way she'd said it, or maybe it was just a matter of making the connections, because suddenly Dee's head snapped up and she looked at her through narrowed dark eyes. "This isn't about Tom. It's about him." There was no question actually there, and she gave no time for a response. "Sunshine, I know you thought you cared for him, maybe that you even loved him, but whatever hold he had over you was part of the Game. You have to realize that."
Jenny said nothing, only stared at her friend mutely, while inside her mind cried, 'It wasn't like that, you don't know!' How could she understand that Jenny's feelings for him had only developed after he had lost his hold over her? When she had finally been able to look past the cold and arrogant exterior and finally see the creature beneath: the one who hungered for love and affection, feelings that he had never known.
How could she tell any of them—all her friends who had been through the ordeal with her—about the kisses she had shared with him? And not just the ones he had extracted as payment or by trickery, but the ones she had given to him willingly, when she had known just who and what he was, and still managed to see him as someone worth caring for. Dee couldn't know that, and Jenny couldn't tell her, because to admit that would be to admit that she had betrayed Tom long before their current problems had begun.
"God, Jenny, he's been dead eight years—"
"He's not dead. Something that isn't born can't die," Jenny interjected almost without thought. Then she cringed. By saying that, she had all but admitted to Dee's accusation, admitted at least that her thoughts had been projected in that direction. And she wasn't supposed to let Dee know that; she was supposed to deny it all and turn her attention away from the subject so that her friend wouldn't get any ideas. Or realize that Jenny was having one of her own.
In the eight years since the Game, she'd come to many realizations. She'd wanted him, even back then, by the end she had, but then she had believed the price of having him too high. But as time went by and life carried on, the world—Tom included—had only succeeded in disappointing her and she began to question her judgment.
What had she once told herself, so long ago… that the universe would be a far poorer place without him, but safer. It had been a lie. Or maybe not a lie at all, but certainly not the whole truth. What the universe may or may not have been, it was she, Jenny Thornton, who was much safer without him… and poorer.
No, she could never have lived within the world he had offered her, but he could have lived in hers. Or tried, certainly tried. When she closed her eyes and concentrated really hard, she could almost see him with his frost-blond hair and electric blue eyes, moving about this world, trying to blend in, like he really belonged. Going to the movies, buying groceries in the supermarket, standing in the lineup at the bank. Could she really imagine him doing all those things? No, not really. But she could imagine waking up next to him every morning, watching the expression on his face when she told him she loved him.
She was abruptly brought out of her thoughts and back to the present by the sound of Dee's voice continuing their conversation. "He might as well be," she retorted. "They carved his name out of the runestave."
"It's like Michael said," Jenny said softly, studying her hands. "What if somebody carved his name back onto the runestave?"
"Carve our names on the stave—and we come into existence… Cut them out—and we disappear."
"Jenny, no," Dee exclaimed, her back going stiff as she absorbed the meaning of her friend's words. And the look on her face—well, that was the closest Deirdre Eliade ever came to looking horrified. "You can't even think about that. Whatever else, no matter how much he loved you, he was still dangerous. And maybe not evil, but certainly cruel." Then she relaxed slightly, leaning back into the armchair as another thought came to her. "Besides, in order for you to get your hands on the runestave, you would have to go back into the Shadow World. And in case you don't remember our last visit, the Shadow Men weren't too happy with us at the end."
Jenny remained quiet, her head bowed slightly forward so her amber-colored hair cascaded around her face. She kept her face hidden from Dee, who had known her so long she could practically read her expressions like a book. Because the truth was, despite all Dee's warning, there was an idea brewing in her head, an idea that had been planted there a long time ago, but only recently allowed to take root, and even more recently allowed to flourish.
Yes, the Shadow Men weren't too happy with her, but she had something they wanted, something they had wanted since she was five years old and she had opened the door in her grandfather's basement, setting them free. And they had something that she wanted, something she'd dreamed about almost every night for years now, even while she was still pretending that her heart belonged to Tom.
The Shadow Men liked games, didn't they? Well, Jenny Thornton was ready to play. And not even Dee, with all her practical protests and heartfelt concern, was going to stand in her way.
Okay, tell me what you think so I know whether or not to continue with the story. I realize there isn't really any action in that part, but it's just an introduction and I'm trying to create a backdrop that explains why, after all this time, Jenny decides to leave Tom and go back for Julian.