Summary: There's only so much one human being can take, and heaven knows she's had more than her fair share. - - Jade/Beck, oneshot

Note: Wi-Fi in the Sky and any episodes after that are disregarded.

The views expressed by the characters here (Jade in particular) are certainly not my own and are pure fiction. This is written in third person, but it's really more of a dark narrative from Jade's perspective.

This probably could have been split up into multiple chapters, but for some reason, I felt the need to publish it as a lengthy oneshot. My apologies in advance if this or the topics written about in this story offend you. I come in (relative) peace.

Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.

From Her Eyes Fell Black Satin Tears

Her mom used to take her along on, what she called "shopping" trips, mostly to distract the staff by throwing a tantrum while her mother grabbed whatever she could fit in her old, torn-up purse. She remembers how its tan fabric was stretched to its limits because of the pounds of stolen goods the bag had been forced to hold, but that is just about all she can recollect because most other memories from those times are foggy for her, watered down by faked fits and the belief that, in helping her mother evade the justice system, she could make her love her, make her want her, and acknowledge her existence as a living and breathing human being - rather than a heavy burden to be neglected whenever possible. Nowadays, the only time she even gets a 'thank you' out of the woman is when she goes to the store and gets food or something because her mother's either too busy with her 'job' or too messed up to move. She can't recall ever hearing an 'I love you' from her. Never. She gets those from Beck.

But, these instances of petty crime were not entirely lost on her. You name it; she's stolen it: canned goods, jewelry, candy, clothing, shoes…She can take just about anything without being caught. She's simply become a natural thief. Stealth and caution thrive in her blood, and create within her a guiltless dishonesty that she thinks all thieves must possess in order to keep up their life of crime. If the item's small and you're wearing a skirt, she's learned, you can sneak it out between your legs if you walk slowly and carefully. If it's too big to fit be hidden beneath a skirt, bring a bag and then buy something to cover up it up. And if it's far too large to be taken discreetly, don't attempt to steal it, because bail can be pretty damn expensive.

She just never thought stealing a pregnancy test would be so goddamn difficult. Technically speaking, it's quite an easy object to steal. It fits into her the pocket in her hoodie quite nicely, fully swallowed by the jet-black cloth, but it almost causes her physical pain to remove it from the store. It's as if she can feel the sharp cardboard corners singeing her fingers every time she accidentally brushes against the damn thing. In all honesty, she knows she doesn't really need it. She doesn't have to take it. She already knows. She can feel that parasite growing inside her already, leeching off her blood, sharing her heartbeat, taking its share of everything she eats. But she's doing it anyway - something deep inside her really wants to tell her that she's just had food poisoning for the last few days because of the crud the school passes off as lunch - and she struts out onto the street moments after committing the minor theft without even a hint of remorseful twinge inside her, for she stopped feeling guilty long ago.

She hates the streets of the bad side of town, the streets the classy people on the good side of town frown and shake their well-groomed heads upon, the streets that her boots take steps on now, plodding along as if they are resigned to their future on these dirty and despicable places. She supposes she and her mother could live somewhere else, but the woman insists on staying to be closer to her 'job'. It is these revolting streets that she herself has narrowly escaped rape and mugging on, but when she looks back on it, she shrugs it off, instead of letting it scar her and make her cowardly and afraid and weak, because a weak person simply can't survive in this place. The fear, the impulse to look over her shoulder whenever she's walking alone…it never goes away, but it's what she gets for living on the bad side of town, she figures. Nice girls, like Tori and Cat, who live on the good side of town and have responsible, non-prostitute mothers, don't have to worry about the things she has to worry about. They've always been good side of town girls, and she's always been a bad side of town girl. That's likely all they'll ever be. Hate it as she might – which is every time she hears Tori whine over something trivial and insignificant that has a simple remedy she just doesn't bother to find – she knows that changing it is beyond her abilities. They've never known anything different, and neither has she, so how can they be expected to change?

Yet, after years of repeating the mantra that she's a bad side of town girl, she's become reconciled to it by now. Before she even knew what Hollywood Arts was, she hadn't known that there was a life beyond the bad side of town. That was her world; her past, present, and likely her future, because, if one is born into the bad side of town, one stays in the bad side of town. Now she just despises her life more, when she sees all the perfect and happy-go-lucky people at her school and compares their lives to her own.

Well, she thinks, good always looks like perfect when compared to something completely awful, so maybe they're not all that happy either. Maybe they hide their pain, too. Maybe, inside, their have secrets and hurt and anguish just like she does. But she doesn't think it's likely. Why would good side of town people ever have the need for pain?

Oh, and the small miracle that is her attendance at Hollywood Arts? It is thanks to a scholarship, because, apparently, some people don't think a bad side of town girl is a totally ill-fated cause.

While out on the bad side of town, she walks into a McDonalds with a neon sign missing two of its letters and the rest flickering wildly, like yellow strobe lights that illuminate the road and form dancing and swirling patterns on it. Scowling at several greasy, leering old men who sit at a table littered with crumbs, she walks into the bathroom, nearly unaware of the terrible smell of street scum and homeless people that permeates the air and forces it's way up into her nostrils.

She takes the test with her eyes nearly closed the entire time, only peeking out between her dark eyelashes when completely essential. She feels comforted in the familiar blackness, blackness that blocks out the world's cruel and intruding light. It's why she wears black nearly all the time: because other people tend to avoid someone they perceive as creepy and goth, just as light shuns darkness. Truthfully, she's completely content when people just leave her alone.

She's failed so many tests before in her life, and there's nothing stopping her from failing this one. There is no impediment to the test coming up with a negative reading. She's a failure – her mother's told her that many times before, so many times she's started to believe that the label is engraved into her soul – and this is the only time that may ever come in handy. But, as Lady Luck would have it, the test comes up positive. Though she knows it's illogical, she can almost feel the inanimate object smirking at her, grinning just to tell her that she's got what's been coming all along.

She cracks it just seconds after the test dares to come up affirmative, snapping the cheap thing in half and destroying the plus sign along with it. The positive reading flickers and vanishes before her eyes. The eerie breaking sound echoes throughout the empty bathroom, and, in a fury, she throws it down on the floor, and smashes it with her boot even further, grinding the defenseless piece of plastic into the bug-ridden floor. She doesn't stop until she's convinced herself that it's wrong, wrong, wrong.

At that moment, she figures most girls would be sad, or scared, but all she is, is angry. Angry that she was born into these cold, lonely, and unforgiving streets, and angry that she's probably has had this coming her entire life because it happens to all bad side of town girls sooner or later. Before, though, she was just naïve enough to believe that she was going to be different: different than the homeless people with jaded eyes and lines on their faces who beg for change outside the launder mat every day because the grimy pocket money people drop in their cans is the only thing sustaining them, different than the desperate people who eat out of the trash because society has forsaken them, different than the harlots who dance and spin and twist seductively in crowded clubs because they know no other way of earning their keep. She was going to be free; she had told herself that when she'd gotten the scholarship to Hollywood Arts, because she was going to break out of the rut that her family seems to be stuck in and be different, and maybe, just maybe, cross that border into the good side of town.

But those were the fantasies of a stupid, foolish girl. Who was she to think she could be different? Free? What is freedom? She'll never know the definition. Not now, and maybe never.

Smothered with sudden and great abhorrence, she presses herself onto the sticky, tiled wall of the bathroom stall, and - with her fist clenched so tightly that she can feel her fingernails cutting into her flesh, drawing blood, and maiming her the tough skin of her palm - she pounds her flat stomach with such detestation that it causes her entire body to shake. She doesn't have the money for an abortion, and her mother will be suspicious if she abruptly asks her for hundreds of dollars for an unspecified reason. So maybe, just maybe, her hate is enough to kill it.

Still clouded by dark rage, she cries out in unexpected pain as her fist connects to her body, her clothing doing little to soften the ill-intended blow. The long-held-back tears escape out of the corners of her closed eyes and dye her cheeks an inky, black color. As the black contrasts with her wraithlike skin, it makes her look like an angel that accidentally tripped and fell from heaven and was broken by this cold, cold world.

It's not working. There's no blood, no cramps, nothing to indicate the end of this ghastly nightmare.

Were we all angels, at one point, before life was given to us? It makes her wonder. And when we're dropped down into this world, is that when the pure saintliness goes away, and we become dreadfully and utterly human, prone to human mistakes and human pain? It makes her want laugh, to think that people like her mother and herself were ever just sheer innocence. When she looks at what humanity has done to them, heaven and angels and innocence all seem like a distant fairytale: wonderful, but never within reach.

She slides down onto the floor, her body a quivering and half-hysterical mess, and even though she's trembling and crying, all she can feel is anger. It seethes out of her in every place, every corner, setting her senses ablaze with utter loathing. She's never been more furious.

"Get out of me…get out. I don't want you…I don't," her voice is strangled as she cries to the…the thing that uses her as it's home. She can't bring herself to feel connected to it, when, if she had a choice, she'd choose to make it go away.

What is she supposed to want? If she were a good mother (how can someone be a good mother when they lead the life she does? when they're so, so young?), she'd want the kid, but she's not a good mother, and neither is her mother, or her grandmother. It runs in her blood, the neglect, the hatred, the not wanting. Her mother doesn't want her – she never has - and her grandmother didn't want her mother. Who is she to even begin fathoming wanting this atrocious, dead-end fate? She's never been strong enough to change anything, to break away from these horrid streets she calls home, to halt the perpetual cycle she fears she's fallen into. Her mother wasn't strong enough. Never went to school, never got a decent job, never left the frayed fishnets behind or got off of the sullied curbs. Her grandmother wasn't strong enough. If she is to follow in their footsteps, then she can see her bleak future creeping up to her as clearly as one can see rain clouds slithering in on a sunny day.

She's a bitch (oh, that runs in her blood as well) she knows it, the school knows it, Beck knows it. And not even a strong bitch. She's a weak bitch. What good is that? If she can't be strong for herself, for anyone, than what good is she, really? She realizes, then, that she hardly survives life as she knows it on the bad side of town. If a weak person can't survive in this place, then she's hanging on by her thread of pretend confidence. With a dreary future ahead of her and a kid she doesn't want festering under her shirt, she wonders how she could have ever been wholesome or chaste.

Her knees are drawn up to her chest, and her eyelids are pressed against each other. Moving feels nearly impossible, her body numb and shivering although it's rather warm outside. But she's stopped thinking by now. She feels like she does when she's about to give herself over to sleep, when she's not really thinking, but she's still conscious. The tranquil space between light and dark; the serene penumbra… It's fantastically quiet – it's the most sheer peace she's felt in a while – but when the light intrudes and spoils the darkness, her stomach starts to feel like a lead weight, as she's reminded that there's something inside her that she can't get out, that she can't end, that she can't destroy. The lack of power, the thought that something has control over her and will not bend to her will, makes her unimaginably irate.

Hide it, a small, yet authoritative voice whispers into her ear, the disembodied suggestion hardly more audible to her than the twitch of a moth's wing. As she storms out of the filthy place and back to the house she hates to call home, she wonders if that's her conscience speaking. Funny, because, last time she checked, her conscience had given up and abandoned her sorry soul, deeming her inner-good hopelessly lost.

She figures it can't be hard. She's seen stories on TV where girls just hid it for nine months and then had the kid and left it at some nice couple's doorstep and then everything was usually fine and dandy for everyone, save for the occasional feeling of regret. What's stopping her from doing that? She'll never have to tell anyone, and her mother won't throw her out onto the street like the worthless burden she's always thought of her daughter as, and everything can go on as usual…It'll be fine, if she can conceal that thing, until it's born. She's already sure that she won't come to forge a connection to it…No, she won't. Not to something she so passionately doesn't want.

Yes, that's what she'll do. She hasn't a doubt in her mind that it'll work. By the time she's halfway home, as she strolls down the cracked - almost unrecognizable - sidewalk in the cooling nighttime air, she's calmed herself down. Her breathing has returned to normal, her lungs expanding slowly and evenly with the street-polluted oxygen instead of taking it in with panicked gasps. And the shadowy streaks that once painted her cheeks have now been removed, without a mere smudge left.

She gets home – her mom's still out doing her 'job,' so she doesn't have to deal with any of her crap – and she stalks into her room almost immediately, because, even though the sun's just barely been swallowed by the horizon, she's bushed. She flicks off the lights, closes the blinds, stops any other illumination from trickling into her cramped room, and - after eliminating all of the brilliance that once marked the dark - she throws herself into the bed. There she lies, where she's at least relatively contented: alone in the blackness, wrapped in obscurity. But even then, she's still not very happy. At her happiest, she's with Beck in the dark, but he's not with her, and she's not with him, and now, she's not sure that they can ever enjoy the same degree of closeness they knew before, with her desperately trying to conceal the secret lurking under her clothing.

However hard she battles for it, sleep strays from her that night.

The first thing she does the next day is go to the coffee shop and order a strong, black coffee with nothing in it other than the powerful caffeine that keeps her functioning, instead of crashing and smoldering like the burnout she often thinks she's become. No cream or sugar; just pure, unadulterated darkness. Though she knows she's not supposed to (but maybe that's why she does it), she downs it in a mere five gulps without really tasting the bitter beverage. The steaming liquid scorches her throat as it trickles down, and it hurts - but in a good way; the good kind of pain. However, when she shifts in the sticky, blue seat after the first few sips, she winces softly when a dull, bad kind of pain erupts from her stomach. Dark, purple bruises have emerged from around the surface she had unfeelingly attacked with her fist the previous day, and they are now a constant reminder of how much she detests all the things this world has done to her. She doesn't like to look at them, invading her fair skin as they are, so she just doesn't. She just avoids them, like she does everything else. Why do people need to bother dealing with their problems? Avoiding them, ignoring them, hiding them…It's the easiest way to go, and for some – like her – it's the only way to go.

The bruises sting every time she moves, really, but it's tolerable and she's felt much worse before. It's relatively scary just how used to pain she really is, but, then again, she's not felt afraid in a long time either, so her passive ideas of suffering don't begin to frighten her.

She thinks of Beck. She wonders why he wastes his time with her, him being a good side of town guy, and her being a bad side of town girl, when he could be with a nice girl like Tori or Cat who isn't half as screwed up as she is and probably much less emotional work. Yet, he's never left her; she's always been the one doing the leaving, the one doing the impulsively unwise thinking, and the one who never seems to run out of words to insult him or Cat or Tori or Robbie or anyone who dares cross her. She's horrible to most everyone she meets, and still, he remains by her side.

He's the only one who's ever seen her as she really is – a weak, damaged pretender - and now, she can't have that intimacy any more. There had been no secrets before. Before, it had been different. How easy it had been…how open…Now all of that must no longer be. She must try to forget, for anything else won't keep it a secret.

That makes her sad. Really sad. Sad enough to crush her Styrofoam coffee cup, because she reminds herself that Jade West doesn't get sad; she gets mad. Sadness just can't be her style. Since being too open with her emotions in front of Tori when she'd went to her, crying weakly like a child without their teddy bear, she's kept them carefully in check: grief is anger, anger is anger, happiness is indifference, and indifference is normal.

Her indifference, her normal…She can't even remember a time when happiness was normal. It's been apathy - simple, sweet apathy - for so long…she just can't recall, but… perhaps indifference in place of happiness is better for the soul.


Her first encounter with him is more trying than she had expected, but she shields her feelings and masquerades the agonizingly fake smile she allows onto her features as a genuine happy face. It's a wonder she hasn't gotten more lead roles in school plays, because she is a pretty good actress… Though, the stage isn't where she's most adept at utilizing her acting. All that up on the stage? It isn't necessary. Her acting, her pretending, is necessary. It's needed for her to keep going around her peers. She wouldn't be feared if she didn't act. It's as simple as that.

"You didn't come over last night," Beck observes, leaning onto the locker next to hers with that stupid look on his face that probably made her fall for him in the first place…(and look how far she's fallen.)

"So?" She thinks about ditching school. She can't take much more of him, of this, of walking around here knowing what she knows now and knowing she has to hide it at all costs. She knows she doesn't belong here, with all these good side of town people who feel emotions normally and leave school each day with the promise of a secure place to call home – or, everything she doesn't do and doesn't have.

"You come over every night. You know, to make sure-" When she enters her combination erroneously – dammit, can't he just shut up? - she punches the locker, and the resulting deep, metallic bang makes him jump. She turns to him with a look in her eyes as sweltering as the run and her nails digging into her palms crossly within her clenched fists. He's mildly afraid for his life, but the look leaves her face as soon as she realizes that it'll raise unneeded suspicion.

Even so, she can't forgive him, for doing this to her, for messing up her already pretty messed up life. She hates him, hates his very existence and his eyes and his hair and his smile and the fact that, no matter how horrible she is to him, he just won't leave.

"- You're not cheating on me. Yes, boyfriend, I know why I come over every night," oh, there have been plenty of other reasons she'd come over every night, too, "Fine then. How was your night?"

The sheer formality and coldness of her inquiry unsettle him. Instead of asking why – 'why' never really gets too far with Jade – he replies coolly and in that Beck-like way that grates on her nerves until she wants to pull her hair out, because it's his calmness she's always loved best about him, and loving him has only gotten her to where she is now - which is nowhere good:

"All right. How was yours?"

It's not himself he wants to talk about. The air about her seems different… She's not being nice to him and she's not being mean, and this unnerves him further, because, for Jade, there's never been a middle ground. She either likes someone or dislikes someone, and which applies to that individual in particular is, generally, made abundantly clear from the first time their paths ever intersect.

"It was fine."

She won't look at him. God knows what his eyes will do to her if she does. So, she holds back the infuriated tears and cries of 'I fucking hate you!' that bubble up in the back of her throat, begging to be released with the rage that pounds heatedly in her veins. As she clenches her fists, her sharp nails dig further into her palm and break open the wounds that yesterday's resentment had covered the underside of her hands with. Jade hisses under her breath when she realizes what she's done, and he notices, but doesn't ask her about it.

Lord, if only she'd never let herself care, none of this would have ever happened…

(See what happens when you let people in, Jade?)

"Why didn't you come over last night?" He holds back a grin, as he marvels just how much like her he can sound when impelled to concern himself what whatever's wrong with her - which is fairly often.

"I was busy."

He wishes she wouldn't wear so much makeup. She's so beautiful without it. He wonders why she always feels the need to cover up everything she does, cover up her melodious laughter with pretend ennui, cover up her emotions when around anyone but him, cover up her eyes with the makeup she cakes on heavily each morning. And, though surrounded by the deep, concealing shadows, he can see it in her eyes that he's pushing her too far.

He used to have to really piss her off to get this look, because she was always easy on him and she let him go farther than she'd let anyone else. Things were always different between the two of them, than Jade and everyone else. He liked to think he could get her to open up like no one else could. Painfully, though, he realizes how he's thinking in past tense, and he knows that he doesn't want that familiarity to become a thing of the past.

The bell chimes, and, looking almost thankful (thankful? she's never been thankful) for this opportunity to make her escape, she hardly gives him another glance before stalking off, her exit punctuated by the violent slam of her locker. She leaves Beck there, one hand in the pocket of his faded jeans, the other on the strap of his backpack, pondering how she's never before been too busy to make sure he was being faithful to her.

They sleep together after a few stiff days of mistrust and anxiety and avoidance crawl by.

The way she kisses him, the way she holds onto him, the way she pulls him closer to her…it all seems icier, but if she doesn't want to talk about it, then she's not going to talk about it, no matter how often he asks her. When she pulls off her shirt, as she's on top of him and he's below her and their breathing is bated and their judgment is cloudy, she notices that the bruise still hasn't faded. It's lighter, yes, but it's still perfectly evident how it once appeared. Upon noticing this, Jade curses softly and her hands fly to her stomach to cover the marks, but her hasty motions are in vain, because he's seen it already. He's seen it.

"Jade…" Alarm drips from every inch of his voice. She looks away, "They're not hitting you again…are they?"

Them…the endless plethora of men her mom parades in and out of the house, some her 'customers,' some violent abusers, some perverted creeps. She hates them. Some men, who her mom fucked more than once, got the mistaken idea that this meant they were her boyfriend and the man of the house and, therefore, allowed to push the young girl around. It had never ended pleasantly, but it's gotten better then it was before, after her mother received a harsh word from the child protection services three years before. She's been colored black-and-blue from those experiences before – she still has a scar on her arm from the one time she was accidentally burnt with the end of a lit cigarette - but the origins of this one must remain clandestine.

Jade shakes her head, loose and tousled hair flying about her face, but she gulps, and he sees, and she knows he hasn't even started to believe her.

"Then, wha-" He traces the bruise gently, his touch light with nauseatingly sweet distress. But all she does is whimper quietly in reply and slap his hand away, because he's touching where it is, and she can't have that.

"Shut up." She hurriedly and forcibly covers his mouth with hers, tetchily silencing the boy as she arches her back on top of him. He overcomplicates things far too often, by wasting words on things that things that are better off without them. The bruises that cover her abdomen need no words; they should be ignored, because it's easier that way. But, right now, she needs to feel him again, needs to feel the familiar pleasure coursing through her, to feel that heavenly ecstasy once more before it becomes impossible. He gives in then (her touch is really making him crazy), but, lying awake after finished, he feels no better.

Because the way they'd made love was different, too. It had all been so uncongenial, and all he had been able to feel in her was anger, anger the entire time. It had been anger sex – the kind he's not sure he really enjoys because fury and love mix like sodium and water: too volatile to be satisfying. He's not sure he can even calling it 'making love,' for there was hardly any of the said emotion involved. It was if their limbs had entwined, and sweat had dripped from their bodies, and they had become one, during an act that felt nearly loveless to both of them. Although she's gnashing her teeth very frequently, this time… it's not the same. It's not just plain anger now. It's fury.

They had touched like strangers, unfamiliar strangers. Her touch had been cold, his had been warm, and the contradicting elements had fizzled each other out and had left nothing other than a ghost of pretend passion, as they mashed their lips together, trying urgently to come upon some small morsel of that precious, precious satisfaction.

He hasn't felt anything other than fury radiating from her for days, really, and even people like Jade can't be angry every waking moment. She hasn't really talked to him in a while, either. He's always been one who really enjoys talking to people, looking in their eyes and being up close, and personal, instead of just shooting the breeze without sense or meaning. He's always liked everything to be personal; cold and distant and angry have never been favored emotions of his.

But he doesn't mention anything to the person next to him in bed, because he likes his head attached to his body.

She can feel it when he drifts off to sleep beside her, and when she chances a look over at him, she can see his lips tugged down into a worried frown. Jade knows he notices that she's been colder to him lately. She knows he can see when she slinks away from his touch and when she directs her gaze at everything except him when they sit together at lunch. It hurts to do that, to talk to him less and to hurl her inconsiderate insults at him far more frequently than she used to because she wants him to keep his distance, but hasn't she known from the start that anything else isn't a viable option? Hadn't she braced herself for this… this misery that she had known was an inevitability?

At some time around the desolate hour of midnight, as she struggles for rest and he's in the midst of an undisturbed slumber, she feels him unconsciously move his hand down to her stomach and pull her closer to him, holding her with an affectionate ease that almost makes her eyes well up with that well-known liquid sorrow. She wants to lay there with him like that - believe her, she really does - but, moments later, she takes his hand, her touch light enough so as to not awake him, and she moves it off of her body… and drops it onto the cold sheets between them.

Every day, it's the same. She'll avoid him, he'll ask why, but he'll never get an answer. It's not like he really expects one, anyway.

She can't take it. It's ripping her apart, even though her mask is becoming more and more permanent with every hour that crawls by. It would be so much easier if he just didn't care, like the rest of the world, but… he's not like the rest of the world. He's Beck; he's exempt from the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it's hard to hide it, far harder than she had thought it would be, but her resolve is of unyielding steel… and not a thing can make it crumble.

Tori, Cat, Robbie, Andre, Trina…None of them expect anything. They don't care enough to bother, and she's no less nasty to any of them than she was before. The snide comments and harsh glares remain as they were prior to it. There have been times, though, that she's had to lie, to erase suspicion from the air because suspicion is the parent of truth... and the dawn of truth will end everything she's worked so wildly to uphold.

The first such time when a cover-up is necessary is when she's talking to Tori at her locker about an upcoming project due in two weeks. It's some weird, out-there shit about reenacting a historically significant scene, and she's been paired with none other than the irritating brunette and a few other good side of town people.

"I was thinking that… we should reenact when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person," Tori pitches. Her eyes are filled with hope that Jade really doesn't mind killing as she shoots down the idea frostily:

"I'm not painting myself black," the other girl throws back at her. The singer frowns, but soldiers on, her long list of ideas clutched tightly between her hands. She glances down to the wrinkled piece of loose-leaf, and then opens her mouth once more.

"Okay. Um, all right. What about the Kennedy assassination?"

"Ooh, do I get to be the assassin?" Jade asks. Sarcasm oozes from her response, as she clearly likes this idea no more than the last. As a matter of fact, the generic plans are giving her a headache…or maybe that's just from the two cups of strong coffee she drank this morning... Whichever it is, her head feels like it's going to explode within the next few minutes, what with it's constant throbbing, and Tori's making it none the better.

"This is never gonna work if we don't agree on something!" she exclaims, exasperated, because, although she had expected Jade to be difficult, she had expected at least some level of cooperation from the girl. Now, it seems that she'll be lucky if she even gets the time of day from her.

"Then maybe your ideas should be a little less retarded," she really could care less about her classmate's frustration and need to obtain a sense of teamwork and happiness and lollipops and sunshine and shit like that, so her face remains a faultless mask of insouciance. She folds her arms over her black shirt and fixes the girl with a provoking stare that indicates the beginning of an argument.

"That was not necessary-"

"Oh no, it was necessary." She smirks scornfully, cocking her head to the side saucily to further incur the feeble wrath of Tori Vega.

"I am trying to go about doing this in a cooperative way that is clearly not working with you-"

"What are you saying, Vega?"

As soon as the words roll off her rather blasé tongue, she can feel hot bile rise up in her throat without warning and choke off the mildly offensive words she had been planning to follow up her question with. Fuck, she needs to leave right now, but she can't walk away from one of Tori's rants without being followed. So she stands there, struggling to control herself, while Tori rambles on about how teamwork and successful collaboration are integral to a good project - or at least that what Jade thinks she's saying, because she's not listening.

"Jade, this isn't going to work if we don't find some way to…" All of a sudden, she sees her go scarily pale, really quickly, and it looks as if she's going to keel over right there from fear, "Are…are you all right?"

Seconds after the words leave her mouth, Jade finds her legs carrying her to the nearest waste bin as fast as they can, her long hair billowing out behind her in the blind rush. She walks quickly, but doesn't run, in an attempt to be less conspicuous. On her way, she shoves Sinjin out of the way and pushes past Robbie, causing a cry of surprise from the boy and his puppet to break into the air, but she doesn't turn to acknowledge it. Once she arrives at her destination, she leans over the disgustingly smelly trash and, without choice, releases her breakfast into the black trash bag. The chipped, dark polish she had painted on her fingernails flakes off further, as she claws the damned bag with the remaining strength in her hands. The only things that run through her head are thoughts of hate and detestation.

She knows she's being insensitive, thinking about it (she won't call it a baby. never) with such a frozen heart. To hell with sensitivity, she thinks, when the thing's tearing her apart inside, ripping her away from Beck and all that is comforting and familiar to her. Life had been okay-maybe-not-really fine before it had to go and fuck everything up.

Her mouth tastes bitter (doesn't it always taste bitter? hasn't it always been bitter?), but she stalks back over to Tori with her urge for a quarrel considerably mellowed.

"Throwing up is gross," she runs a hand through the faded blue streaks in her hair, the colors diluted after lengthy weeks of disregard. The bags under her eyes, the discolored hair, the dead, gloomy eyes…She's noticeably different to anyone who really looks at her - long and hard and with true concern - but since no one really does look at her…it all slips under the radar, as most people at Hollywood Arts have better things to do then care about her, the social terrorist; her, the crazily possessive mean girl. That's what she's counting on, however, by concealing this whole ordeal. She's counting on the fact that no one other than Beck cares enough to notice a difference. She's counting on the fact that she's just plain unwanted.

"Even grosser than sweating?" the other girl asks, with one of her immaculately plucked eyebrows elevated upward and smile playing at her the corners of her lips. Her ill-timed question earns a startling growl from Jade.

"Nothing is grosser than sweating." She swears to herself that the next person who mentions that terrifying incident will wake up with a snake in a very undesirable place.

"Jade… you don't look so good. You should go to the nurse." Is that actual concern she catches in Tori's eyes? Or is she just imagining it because she wants it to be true, because she knows that almost no one else does?

No, it can't be, she finally concludes. Good side of town girls don't care about bad side of town girls. It's just the way it is, and no one's ever given her a reason for it. Tori is no exception. No one is an exception.

And she's not going to the goddamn nurse.

So, at a loss for something better to counter with, she settles on a lame retort and spits it at Tori:

"You should go to acting lessons."

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"I'm not stupid."

"Well, have you taken an IQ test recently?"

"Funny. Now, what's up?"

"The sky."

"Stop avoiding my questions."

"Make me."

"Jade, something's wrong."

"Why do you care?"

"Because I love you."

"That's more than I can say for… most people."

"Is this about your mom?"


"Then, what?"

"Leave me alone."

"Make me."

"Fuck off, Beck."

They don't break up.

Jade doesn't have the heart to go that far, however many times she screeches at him and tells him to 'go fuck himself.' Without him, she'd probably be contemplating ending her life right about now, and God, she hates him, but she needs him, too.

One day, while in the middle of a rather intense make out session on the bed in his RV, with his lips attached to hers with more passion than normal and the location of their clothing in a few moments fully clear to the pair, she suddenly realizes that she doesn't want to do it. Not any more, with him or anyone. She's sick of sex, especially because of where it's gotten her. Even though she can tell he's fully willing, all the desire has flowed out of her, leaving her body a hollow shell devoid of any yearning to feel pleasure at all. Why bother with pleasure, when the pain just eats it up all too swiftly before it can be enjoyed? For the two years they've been together, all their fights and make-ups have always seemed to lead to tangled sheets and remorseful kisses and saccharine, repentant nothings whispered into each other's ears. She's weary of it, all of it. Lord, she doesn't even know why. She hasn't known 'why' about anything in quite a while.

"Can we not…today?" she asks him - rather timorously, he notes, for being Jade.

Seeing as she's usually the one to initiate any sexual contact between them, he nods wordlessly, and she rolls off top of him, landing on the uncomfortable mattress and causing a futile squeak of protest to resound from the rickety springs. Fatigue quickly conquers her body, eating away at her slowly, and all she wants to do is sleep beside him, with his arms circled around her - an impenetrable citadel of warmth and support. Oh, how she longs for how it used to be, when there were no secrets hanging between them... He knows she's keeping something from him, and this further shatters any shared trust they used to have. He is not ignorant of the fact that this secret exists, and she knows it. But, want it back as she might, how it used to be has all faded away as promptly as a minuscule drop of water evaporates on a bright, sunny day.

Whatever, she thinks. All she wants to do is sleep. Subconsciously, yet tenderly – almost, not quite, okay, maybe, somewhat protectively - she can feel herself wrap her both arms around her stomach and roll onto her side… But since she's too somnolent to bother to move them once she realizes what she's done, they lay there, as they indolently succumb to slumber with the rest of her body.

"You all right?" If she were fully awake, she'd probably give him some cynical retort and storm off because he asks her that every fucking day. Since she really can't see herself doing either right now, though, she only mumbles unfocusedly in reply:

"Define…all right." She's facing the other direction, avoiding look into his eyes at all costs, but his arms are around her and he's resting his head on her shoulder, watching her like a phantom watches the one they adore: from afar, even if only separated by inches.

"As in…eating everyday…staying away from knives…stuff like that." Jade grins a bit, because, if that's all he defines 'all right' as, then he's got a lot to learn about how fucked up and horrific this world really is. He knows of her past, but he knows little of her present, and she intends to keep it that way. Jade doesn't bother to think on this any further, and, before she glides away to dreamland - with her eyes shut and her tense muscles almost totally relaxed - she replies wryly:

"If that's what you mean by all right…then I'm just fine."

When her stomach starts to develop what she believes to be a noticeable difference, she sneaks into her mother's closet and steals one of the corsets the woman wears while at her 'job.' It's golden and itchy and really, really tight, but it'll serve its purpose well enough, for even the slightest sign of it could ruin everything she's striven for, and more.

Or, at least, that's what she thinks until after she's put it on - with some help from her hungover and gullible mother. She can't breath correctly; as the rigid material refuses to let her lungs take in sufficient air, pushing on her chest to bury the curve of her abdomen under its constrictive clasp as it is. It nigh on erases the telltale bump from under her shirt, though, so she can't find fault.

Jade goes through the motions of the day on autopilot, not bothering to put forth any heart into Sikowitz's improv exercises. The room spins for most of that period, the board and students and posters blurring together into unrecognizable colored blobs that loop around like a highlighted twister. She stumbles a few times as she makes her way up to the puny stage to act, but she survives - if only just barely.

It isn't until the end of class that the lack of air becomes unendurable. The students file out the door with the chime of the bell, and Sikowitz exits through the window as he prepares to stun the next class with his entrance, but she herself struggles to remove her body from the chair. Her knees are quaking and her are legs unstable, and they defiantly refuse to allow her to stand. Beck waits for her while she gets up tentatively, unsure if her feet will fail her. He takes her hand to steady her when he sees that she is struggling, and although she's grateful for his intentions, she pushes his hand away and declines his offer of help wordlessly, fiercely independent as always.

"Jade, are you all right?"

If she had a dollar for every person she's heard those five words from recently…It makes her sad to think she'd only have enough for a tiny coffee - hardly even that. Am I really that unwanted? she asks herself. And those dollars…they wouldn't even be coming from family. They'd be from Tori and Beck, her boyfriend and her sort-of-but-not-really friend.

"Jade?" No…no…she's losing her grip on consciousness. The daylight is falling through her hands like tiny grains of sand on a beach when picked up by a child. She holds onto the world tooth and nail, though, entirely disinclined to faint in front of him. Even when her knees buckle from under her, she refuses to let go, and even when she falls toward the ground, hardly caught by his arms, she will not give in, "Oh God, Jade."

Why does he care? Why does he bother? Can't he just leave her alone to wallow in her misery like the rest of the world does? God knows it'd be easier, for both of them, if they weren't so damn emotionally attached.

"Scissors…" she manages to release on a whispery breath.

She needs to cut the corset. It's too tight. She's sure she'll die if she doesn't get her hands on a pair of scissors soon…Her senses are fast abandoning her, heartlessly deserting her when she needs them the most. All she can see is Beck's face staring back down at her, his eyes full of panic and confusion at her peculiar request, and all she can hear is the sound of her own gasping breaths, as her body fights madly for the oxygen it so urgently craves. She thinks she might be in the aisle between the sections of chairs in the classroom, with her body partially resting on Beck's and her head on his chest and her nails digging into his hand…but she really isn't sure because she feels like she's floating…floating away… She almost lets the drifting sensation take her to the still, green pastures of nothingness, but Beck's grip on her hand – his rock-solid, unmoving grip – keeps her grounded.

"Hey Beck, have you seen…" Though she can barely hear anything else, Jade hears a familiar, high-pitched voice cut through the air all of a sudden. She can't see Cat, but she can feel the girl's eccentric presence drifting into the atmosphere around them, virtually choking her with exuberance. Once she takes notice of the situation, Cat's eyes widen and she throws a hand over her mouth in surprise, "Oh my gosh! Jade! What happened?"

"She fell over, and then said something about…scissors," Beck tells the velvet-headed girl hurriedly. Strangely, Cat's face lights up once the words are spoken.

"Oh! I have scissors!" She reaches into her jean capris and pulls out a pair of red scissors as she drops to her knees beside Beck and Jade. When she finally realizes that this is bad, very bad, her face loses its ever-excited smile. Silently, Jade watches while still struggling to resist those persuasive arms of oblivion.

And, though he knows that Cat's possession of the sharp object is not the essential matter at hand, Beck can't help but be curious:

"Why do you have scissors with you?"

"You never know when you'll need a haircut!" she answers as if he's just asked her why humans need food to live, causing him to raise an eyebrow at her seriousness. Then, turning to face Jade, she speaks again, "Jade, here are the scissors. Don't hurt yourself, though. They're really sharp!"

"Maybe that's not-" He almost stops Cat from giving a not-so-safe object to someone one the verge of passing out, but thinks better of it, because he's only seen Jade look this scared a handful of times before and he knows she hates being powerless. She's always been so forcefully self-sufficient, and it'll help no one if he tries to change that now. Thankfully, he shuts himself up before either girl pays him any attention.

As the world blindingly flickers from white to black, black to white, Jade's fingers quiver as she struggles to grasp the offered scissors. She eventually takes hold of them frantically, because the spots and colors are fast taking over her world and fainting is really not something she wants to do right now. Jade slips her hand under her baggy, black shirt and blindly slices through the golden material that roughly imposes on her breathing. As the threads pop and break when the scissors sever them in half, she can feel her senses gradually returning to her, her knees ceasing their brutal instability and her sight returning without colors and spots to obstruct it. Beck and Cat watch in astonished silence, crouched around her as they are, for they both notice how she seems to know exactly what's wrong with her but refuses to explain.

"Can you stand?" he asks, once she's set down the scissors and appears to be breathing normally once more, though she's still partly resting on him like a little child. She nods fervently, though she doesn't open her mouth because she can't quite trust her voice, "Do you wanna go to the nurse?"

At that, however, Jade also shakes her head and lets a breathy 'no' escape from between her lips. She hates being spoken to like a child, but even more so, being helpless like a child. Remembering how awful defenselessness is - being unable to fight back, taking slaps and punches and kicks with what little pathetic dignity she could scrounge up, closing her eyes when her mom's boyfriends would come in and hoping he'd ignore her because she could not fend for herself - she looks him in the eyes with a stare that precludes any additional discussion about the matter.

With Beck on her left and Cat on her right as two human crutches, they help her stand on shaky legs. To her, accepting help has always been a sign of weakness, but what choice has she now?

After regaining her stability, though, she leaves them behind, disregarding their protests and ending their help, and walking into the restroom. At the sink, she splashes handful after handful of water onto her ghostly pale face, savoring each chill as they hit her quick in succession. The cold locks out the rest of the world, and, strangely, it offers her comfort. Her makeup runs once more, like black satin tears that drip off her snowy face. She's shivering, but she doesn't stop. The cold is familiar. The cold is good. She is the cold, she realizes. She's become cold. The realization doesn't hurt her as much as she would have expected. So, at one with the merciless ice, she shuts her eyes.

Jade only switches off the water when she realizes that Cat's followed her into the bathroom. The girl's attempts to be sneaky have failed miserably, for her so-called 'tiptoeing' is just about the equivalent of stomping. It makes Jade want to laugh, but she doesn't, because she's in no mood for laughter… and hasn't been for quite a while.

"A-are you okay, Jade?"

Three dollars. She'd have three dollars now. From Cat, Tori, and Beck. It's still not much more, but it's better than nothing. It's enough for coffee...God, does she want coffee. Badly. She'd compare her coffee addiction with a junkie's need to jam a needle into their arm: she needs it to function and, without its caffeinated rush, she'll go through a sort of withdrawal. She doesn't care if she's not supposed to. She's not going to let her condition inhibit her, in any way, starting with what she chooses to swallow.

"Fine," she answers stiffly, as she faces the mirror, her tone holding a prominent note of finality that Cat fails to pick up on. The scratchy paper towel she presses against her cheek conceals half her face, and she thinks that, maybe, life is better that way: half out in the open, while the other half hidden. She's never been like Beck; she's never been transparently honest.

She can feel the cheap paper irritating her skin, as she rubs it all over her face, harder and harder, in some attempt to remove all the invisible - yet permanent - dirt from the bad side of town that seems to have plastered itself onto her face, like a hidden concrete. It burns a bit, as she attempts to rid herself of the bad side of town, and she throws the offending towel away soon after realizing that the bad side of town has imprinted on her, and any efforts to change this will be futile.

"I just...I-I remember sometimes when I would forget to eat, I'd faint-"

"God, why does everyone assume I'm anorexic? I don't weigh ninety pounds like you, Cat."

Secretly, Jade wishes she does, because then, maybe, hiding this thing would be a little easier…or maybe not, but she doesn't care to be logical at the moment. However, she's struck a discordant note somewhere within Cat, and the small girl's features crumple up as if she's just been slapped. The unharmonious melody rings throughout the tiled room. Jade thinks it might have been the worst string she's ever snapped, when she sees her innocent and naïve hurt.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she cries. Her hands grab at her rainbow-colored sweatshirt as she comprehends what Jade's just said, her slender, shaking fingers frantically searching for something to hold on to. No, no, no…someone's noticed how she's not been eating like she should. No one was supposed to find out...

"It means you're a stick. Christ. Now leave me the hell alone." Cat's always been nice to her, but Jade can't find it in herself to be kind to anyone any more. It takes too much energy to be kind, energy that the parasite inside her is fast draining away, taking the life force for its own and leaving her body to run on emptiness. It seems like any consideration inside her is almost completely dried up by now. It and her other emotions have been stolen away by the indifference that she wears on her face all day, every day. At this point, she's not sure if she wants them to return. Life is so much simpler without emotion, anyway.

Jade tries to pretend she doesn't hear Cat crying when she walks away. However, her attempt at a lack of emotion fails her, and the urge to sob with the small girl is overwhelming.

But she doesn't, because all it would do is ruin her makeup.

As soon as the end of the day rolls around, Beck takes her hand and leads her to his car and announces that she's coming home with him, like it or not. This is news to her, but she doesn't struggle, instead just simply meekly submitting and allowing him to guide her to his car. She doesn't know why she feels guilty whenever he looks at her. Hadn't she stopped feeling guilt long ago? To think of the emotion resurfacing after what seems to be an eternity of nothing…It makes her cringe. She'll just bury it under her skin again, if it dares to rear its ugly head once more. Bury, bury, bury it, down so deep that no one will ever find it. Or maybe, it won't matter, because no one will ever look.

And they drive. He has the top of his convertible open, and her hair is blowing in her face and she's getting the wind in her eyes. It stings a little, but she feels free, as if the wind is liberating her from those chains that shackle her to her despair. The hot California sun beats down on them while it sinks behind the mountains, pouring its endless light onto them and shading Jade's sensitively pale skin a light cherry.

She stretches her arms out, and suddenly thinks of the times when her mother would go on a drunken rampage in their house and she'd leave and walk to the rusty old playground a few blocks away to free herself from the misery of her home. The benches were falling apart, some of the monkey bars were broken, the teeter-totter no longer worked properly, but the swings were relatively intact, and she'd swing on them. She'd never touch the other equipment, partly because she was afraid of bodily harm if she attempted to, but partly because the rest was just obsolete to her. She remembers that she would just pump her legs in and out, back and forth, and she'd let the wind take her away.

Fuck…how simple life had been. Her mom's drunken fits wouldn't seem so bad whenever she'd escape to her rusted and vandalized and graffiti-laden haven. Jade used to close her eyes and stretch her arms out, and then, she'd feel like she was flying on those swings, like a bird with an air stream caught under it's wings. Those memories - even if they aren't memories of an exceptionally happy time - are still memories of a time better than the present. Hell, any time other than now is probably a better time, she concludes glumly. Because, now, that old playground is nothing more than a few pieces of worthless scarp metal and a new pawnshop.

She finds it strange that she enjoys feeling like a kid again, for she hated her childhood years. Yet, without really realizing it, a smile plants itself upon her lips. It makes Beck glad to see that this expression of glee isn't fleeting like usual; it stays on her face for at least a minute and a half – almost a new record, he realizes. But it's not like he's keeping track…

"I love you," he yells over the sound of the rushing wind The buzz of rushing air heavily muffles his words and sadly, he sees the smile plummet from her lips, only to be replaced by a look of confusion.

"What?" she shouts back. She pushes her messy hair out of her eyes to see him. He grins and, with the hand not occupied with steering the car, he takes her hand in his gingerly while he repeats the words he's all so certain of:

"I love you."

And when she smiles at him again, her eyes bright and her pink lips curved upward and her skin shining underneath the sun, he justhas to smile back. It's almost compulsory. They stay like that only for a few, relaxed seconds before he tears his eyes from hers and looks back at the road, reluctance dragging on every action of their separation. Their gaze has been prematurely disengaged, yes, but their hands stay linked in between the seats, fitting together like two jagged pieces of a puzzle.

She's happy. Happy has become such a foreign word to her, and, though she knows it will flicker and die within a few minutes and will be replaced with sinking dread in the pit of her stomach, she's hell-bent on enjoying every little moment of it, however alien the feeling may be.

"I love you too."

The declaration of love isn't the most empathetic he's heard from her before, but it harbors a note of sweetness that is new to him, a mellow, tender touch to her words she's never really employed prior to this day. There are times like this - when she says she loves him, when she kisses him, when she rests her head on his shoulder and lets herself be held with all the gentleness that is Beck - that he's more than sure he's in love with her. There are others - when she tells him to fuck off, when she throws things at him when he angers her, when she forgets his birthday and the anniversaries he insists on celebrating at six-month intervals – that he doubts it, but he's never totally gotten up after falling for her.

They go to his RV, and for a little while, in the dark, under the barrier of bedclothes, everything's all right… Or, at least, close to whatever constitutes 'all right.'

The first time it kicks, she's talking with Beck at lunch, demanding that he give her the answers to some questions about Shakespeare she didn't bother to look up, because they're due next period and she can't afford another zero at this point if she wants to make it into a good college, idiot!

"Just give me the answers," she tells him, her voice utterly imperative. They take their seats at a table separate from their friends, as Jade's made it quite clear she's done sitting and listening to their mind-numbing conversations because her brain cell count is low enough already and she'd appreciate keeping whatever remains of them.

She'd given up asking for the answers a while ago. She's resorted to telling him to give them to her. When has asking people nicely ever gotten her? Please stop drinking and prostituting yourself around like a whore, mommy? Or, please stop hitting me, mommy's boyfriend?

Did that ever work? No, never, and she hates the word 'please.' It humbles oneself and gets one nowhere, so it's no good.

"No. I refuse to partake in cheating."

"You're such a goody-two-shoes," she stabs a few strands of undercooked spaghetti and tosses them into her mouth, her unpredictable appetite a bottomless pit as of late, "Doing good is gonna get you nowhere in life."

"Neither is doing evil," he points out. She silently admits to herself that this is true, but she doesn't tell him, because he's looking her in the eyes in a way that makes chills run up her spine and makes her struggle for words. She's always been wary of his true, honest concern, as she's grown up in a world of ulterior motives and lies and deceit, and always finds it hard to believe that someone cares about her without a hidden agenda.

"But if good and evil get you nowhere, then what does? Neutral?" she wonders aloud absentmindedly, before biting into an apple and watching a flock of birds sail in the sky above (she wants to join them, oh god, does she). Beck raises his eyebrows and shrugs, setting down his orange and scanning over a textbook.


"Now give me the answers."

"Ah…you ruined it."

"I don't care. Give me the answers. I can't fail too many classes if I want to get a good scholarship for college."

"I know. You told me that, like, five times."

"Then tell me the answers!"

"I will not stain my conscience with dishonesty."

"I couldn't care less if you stai-"

She's cut off when something…she doesn't know…thumps her? It's like some screwed up kind of fluttering, she thinks, and it makes her jump. Her throat gives a small wince of shock, and, seconds later, places a hand on her stomach because she realizes what's going on and she doesn't like it…It's the kid, hitting her insides like a punching bag, every little movement a treacherous reminder of it's unwelcome presence.

"What's wrong?" his heads snaps toward her as quickly a bolt of lightning striking the ground. Ever since that whole fainting incident, he's treated Jade like china. She despises being treated like she's breakable, even if she is. Hazardously breakable. She's about to shatter all over the floor the instant something really provokes her. She's at an emotional breaking point, really. She's just adept at hiding it, avoiding it, shutting her eyes and pretending her reality is all just a long series of a bad, bad dreams.

Damn…it's kicking like it's competing in some fucking contest, she notes, annoyance tinting her every thought toward it. She really wishes it would stop making it's presence known, for she's all too aware of it already, with every time she looks at her stomach, with every cold word she hurls at Beck, with every inch she tears the fabric that binds the two of them together.

"N-nothing. I just dropped some spaghetti on my shirt." One day, she knows he's going to stop swallowing her excuses and everything will all come back to haunt her, like malevolent ghosts resolved to make her life nightmarish. She can feel that day fast approaching, as the peaceful, deceitful moments pass by. But until then, she'll keep up her façade with all her guile.

"Your shirt's black. It's not gonna stain it."

"Yes, thank you. I'm aware of that," she shoot back, just seconds before she gnaws a chunk out of the poor, unsuspecting fruit she holds and chews it with her mouth open obnoxiously. She ignores it when Beck cringes, for he's always reminding her to chew with her mouth closed - because it's polite, he says. But since when has she ever been polite?

After lunch ends, it only takes a few minutes in the janitor's closet to get the answers out of him.

The second time it decides to beat her innards, the day he stops believing her lies arrives - and in full fury, too.

When it first happens, she's not even totally aware of it, because his lips are attached to her jaw line and she's not paying any mind to the cleverly concealed secret hiding under her clothing. She's pinned between Beck and the wall in his RV, having just stumbled into his small living area moments ago while caught in the passionate heat of the moment. Their dangerous closeness is risking everything she's worked for in recent months, putting her plan on the line like she's never dared to do before…Yet, she would only care if the circumstances were different (i.e. if his hands weren't in all the right places). His warm, dizzying breath against her skin is turning her legs into Jell-O and sprinkling goosebumps all over her sun burnt arms. She keeps telling herself that she's weak, weak, weak to show this imperfect vulnerability in front of anyone, but she figures it's okay to be weak, weak, weak around him, for he learned eons ago that her rough exterior is merely pretend.

But, then again, there's much he's still yet to learn.

At this one most inconvenient moment, the covert life decides it's the right time to start kicking up a storm, while she's in such close proximity to the very person she's trying so greatly to hide it from. She emits a tiny cry of surprise against his mouth, for she still hasn't gotten used to its rather irregular behavior. He pulls away upon hearing this, and suddenly, each breath she takes becomes frenetically ragged - not with desire, but panic.

"What was that?" He had been too close, she realizes. Far too close. He'd felt it, almost just as she had felt it, yet…there's no way he can make the connection.

"N-nothing. I just had a bad breakfast burrito," she walks away almost instantly, and throws herself onto the couch. Jade pulls her feet up onto the couch with her and slouches in that posture-destroying way she loves.

"Bad breakfast burritos don't kick," he says. Suspicion is heavily laced into every ounce of his voice. Her eyes madly dart around the room, searching for an escape she'll never find. Jade almost flinches at his use of the word 'kick' but stops herself. When he takes a seat next to her and places an arm around her shoulders protectively, instinctively, she shrugs him off and scoots away from him. He frowns, for she usually shows no such aversion to his protectiveness.

Then, a distant memory is called back from the dark recesses of his mind, and pulled back into the light. Though clouded by years of experiences and memories and laughs and tears piled on top of it, he can remember it clearly; clear enough to associate what he's just felt seconds ago and what he felt then. The flutter of life…the irrefutable sign of being… And the similarities…they're striking, but he's not ready to believe what he suspects, because it can't be true.

"It wasn't a kick, idiot. My stomach grumbled. The school lunch is terrible. You know that." Doubt is written into his face like an etching into concrete (how long as it been there? she can't remember, but it must be a long, long time). She makes her way over to the bed, away from him and away from the quizzical stares that are eating away at her slowly, torturously, like a sour acid. She adjusts her loose shirt, so as to further take her curved stomach out of sight. Of course, he seats himself right next to her once again, persistent as hell. But she only expected as much.

"Remember when my older sister was pregnant? Like, a year ago?" Her heart beats faster and her face flushes subtly with color, as he's getting closer and closer to ruining the secrecy she's so longed for. Her nails sink into her palms again. It's a painful habit, but she can't make herself stop.

"Yeah," she responds, her voice smaller and less confident than she wants it to be, "Y-yeah. Okay? Her husband was an ass and they got divorced and he was a stalker and she had to get a restraining order, and then she had the kid and moved. Yeah, I remember. You wouldn't shut up about it because you thought he was going to break into your RV. What does that have to do with anything?"

Her speech is rapid and lacks the trademark conviction it usually has, and if he listens carefully enough, he can hear fear. The obvious difference makes her shift uncomfortably, hugging herself and trembling faintly, for it's noticeable and shit, she's tried to hide it for so long. How can her façade fail her now, when she most needs it? But her lies are falling apart right before her very eyes, and not even the strongest reinforcements can keep them standing (but she'll try, oh lord, will she try).

"I don't know. Does it?"

"Of course not," she seethes at him. Denying it is astonishingly easy, for her mind's been doing it for many a day since she stole that damn test and took it in that McDonalds. She moves herself to the other side of the RV again, once more cunningly avoiding him like she does with all the other things that intrude into her meticulously iced over heart…for, avoidance is effortless; avoidance is bliss…But Beck Oliver seems determined to use every bone in his body to defy this philosophy.

"Are you sure?" He expects a sharp reply, conjured up hastily from Jade's quick wit, but all he sees is a passing look of hurt and desperation and despair in her eyes, a look that calls out for help…his help, any help. She wants him to help her - far inside, she does - but her mind won't let her heart consider letting him in. So, he approaches her like a youngster approaches a butterfly: cautiously, so it won't get frightened and fly off. Their tangled eyes never leave each other - hopelessly and irrevocably entwined as they are - even though every muscle in her body is screaming at her, Run, run, before it's too late. She tries to leave, but she can't move. Her legs are stiff, brittle. They feel like they'll betray her again and cause her to fall into his arms and rely on him to stand for her… However, by some small, heaven-sent miracle, she keeps on standing on her own.

"I…Yes. I'm sure," her words are whispered, for she need not speak any louder for him to hear her when they're just inches apart. Fright is plain to see on her face, and he can feel her heart thumping in her chest, pounding within her like this is the scariest thing she's ever been through. Once he hears that, though, the petrified Yes, I'm sure, he knows she's lying. It's as good as a spoken confirmation from her - this ill-fated lie, this dreadful charade - and his heart sinks, far, far away from his chest. Beck's blood runs cold; a glacial cold he swears he's never felt before. It spreads through his veins, freezing him in place, and he feels as if he's become a melting ice sculpture.

"When were you going to tell me?" he manages. He is not angry or sad or scared. He can't seem to make himself feel anything. Once he speaks, Jade can feel the disguise on her face peeling away. As she struggles to repair it, she flounders for words like a fish out of water, gasping in the dry air.

"I…I don't know what you're talking about." She backs away from him and makes her way toward the exit, but he catches her wrist, and she knows that avoiding this is not an option. But it's been an option for so long, almost her whole life…She can't fathom it, the hard fact that she can't dodge him now that she actually has to face the harm she's done. She's too much of a coward to do this face to face. Powerless, helpless, like she used to be as a child, she unwillingly turns to look at him. She jerks her arm out of his grip, though, unwilling to be tied down to him, to anyone, to anywhere.

"You know what I'm talking about." She starts to shudder slightly more violently, when she sees that he has not bothered to infuse any emotion into his words. Has she stolen his emotion, she and her ill-concocted lies? That wicked indifference has already stolen her own, and she does not want to take anyone else's, especially his. Beck, her Beck, who has such a bright future laid out before him, a yellow brick road of possibilities; Beck, the one she loves…and the one she's destroying inside.

But ever since she met him, hasn't she always sort of known that the only thing she could ever do is to drag him down?

"No," her voice begins to take on an edge of hysteria, "No. I-I don't know what you're talking about!"

She stalks away from him and to the other side of his RV once more, like they are engaging in a juvenile game of tag; a game in which neither of them will reign as victor. As if Beck is the chosen one who is 'it,' he follows her. The boy takes her hand lightly, and he manages to ensnare her in his gaze.

"When were you going to tell me?" he repeats coolly, totally unaffected by her frenzy of refutation. She's grateful that he's able to talk about it without specifically naming her condition, but this does not calm her down in the slightest. She runs a hand through her hair, combing the strands roughly and ripping at her scalp.

He knows. Everything's she's worked for has been in vain, like most of her efforts in this life: all for naught. But isn't such the fate of every bad side of town girl?

"I wasn't! There, okay! Are you happy? I wasn't going to tell you." This seems to take him aback, and inside, it crushes his already struggling heart: the thought that Jade, the girl he loves, didn't deem him significant enough to inform. He casts his sad and disappointed eyes on her, and fuck, she actually feels guilty. At least, she thinks, she can remember what it feels like to be guilty now, as she's long thought she has forgotten - but that's the only upside to this. All she does is swallow, and even that is a forceful struggle with her body, the rebellious mechanism that refuses to obey her in nearly everything she tells it to do. She wills herself not to break down, with all her remaining might - yet she can already feel that her body is going to deny her this as well.

"What were you gonna do?" Were. It's just a reminder of how she failed at concealing her secret, like she does for everything: fails. She's a failure. It's painful, yet true. Tragically, tragically true. Her mother was right. The woman may be a drunkard and a prostitute and only half-sane, but she's right. Failure, failure, failure…The dooming words churn within her mind like a raging whirlpool, and they make her lightheaded. That's what she is. If she's ever had a doubt about what she is in this life, she knows now: a failure.

"I-I don't know," her voice struggles not to warble, and even in the midst of all this, she's able to instill sarcasm into her reply, "I…I was just gonna p-put it in a basket and float it down a river and hope some nice Egyptian princess finds it or something."

"That's not funny."


"I'm not kidding, Jade." The lax grin disappears from her features, as he takes her shoulders and looks at her; really looks, in a way no one else ever bothers to. Coldheartedly, though, she looses herself from whatever affection and support he offers her and backs away. She wants not to be held, but to run, and she would - if only she could move without fear of her legs crumbling from under her, like two gravely damaged pillars.

"I'll just…hide it and then leave it on some couple's doorstop when it's born and go on with my life." Her insensate demeanor towards the child bewilders and disconcerts him. It doesn't make any sense. How can she claim to be capable of love towards him, but not towards their child? Or is what they have 'love' at all? Is it all an illusion? Is it all just lust? This moment makes him question everything he's ever believed in, and then some.

"That's not going to work. You can't hide them forever. And don't call them an 'it.'"

"Don't fucking tell me what to call it," she lashes out at him, her words a painful whip of thoughtlessness. She regrets her hasty words, though; when she sees his eyes get a little bit dimmer, his frown a bit deeper.

"A baby's a living thing. Not an 'it.'"

Her hands are balled into fists of rage, and she wants to slap him, a lot, but she can't bring herself to raise her hand against the boy who's both ruined and saved her life. After standing there for a few long, drawn-out seconds, with her legs quickly losing the will to stand as they shout at each other at the top of their lungs, she lets herself lets go and falls onto his bed; the pathetic, broken bad side of town girl finally acquiescing to defeat and ceasing to shell out her unsympathetic comebacks. Her body is wracked with dry sobs, her arms shaking, and all the while, she's marveling at how one can cry without any tears. She figures that those scorching rays of terror - of absolute fear - have dried up the sorrow that once plagued her. She's afraid, and nothing else. She wants to tell him that she's not crying because she's sad; she's crying because she's afraid, but speech seems to evade her. Because of this crippling terror that has absorbed her, she makes no move to break away from him when he seats himself beside her and pulls her close to him, resting her head on his shoulder and rubbing circles into her quivering arms. Inside her head, she's screaming like a madwoman, Don't call it a baby, don't call it a baby! but her mouth cannot seem to make words, so her jaw stays clamped shut.

"How can you be so calm about this?" she demands a good while later, when she's cuddled into a stronghold of his making, and when the waterless sobs have stopped their brutal siege on her body.

"I don't feel calm," he tells her. They aren't looking at each other as they speak. There's far too much anger and gloom and disappointment when they do. So maybe, she thinks, remaining withdrawn from eye contact at the moment is better for both of them.

"Stop being so perfect." Perhaps, maybe, she's perfect in a way too: perfectly shattered.

"I'm not perfect." Silence explodes into the air after that, and they lay there without a sound until he finds himself able to break it, "Have you even been to a doctor yet?"

"No," she turns away from him, "No, and I'm not going."

"Why not?"

"I don't want to…think about it or look at it or anything…It's…easier that way." He's always known Jade to close her eyes to her inner demons and troubles, but he'd thought that she might handle this differently. Yet when he thinks this over again, he scoffs at himself. To think he had assumed she'd act differently - even toward this, something of much greater magnitude - was foolish.

"You can't run away from your problems forever, Jade."

"Oh, you think I don't know that?" she snaps back. He presses his mouth into a thin, inexpressive line.

"So…Did you tell your mom?"


"Are you going to?"


"Do you want to tell my parents?"


"Do you want to tell anyone?"

"Fuck, Beck, I wasn't even gonna tell you." She sighs. He flinches at that, if only slightly, and she sighs, "I just…I need you. Don't…don't leave me."

She grabs his hand like a lifeline, her grip unexpectedly viselike, and even though her tone is entreating, she still doesn't dare say 'please.'

"You know I won't leave you." At this point in time, he can't even begin think of leaving her, and not just because of the child she carries…but because they've become far too attached to part without dire consequence.

"Promise?" she yawns.

"I promise."

"I love you."

"I love you too."

And even though clichés would tell you otherwise, she's not sure that makes everything perfectly all right any more.

The next day, she arrives at school with her coffee fix in hand, slack clothes concealing her body, and her hair newly streaked with a vivacious and active red, even though she is feeling neither vivacious nor active. Jade knows it might not be for the best that Beck is no longer in the dark, but she can't help but feel a little lighter, a tad happier than she did before. For the first time in months, she walks with a tiny spring in her step, instead of just letting her feet plod along flat on the ground, with no bounce or excitement or anything of the like.

But this brief contentment is thrown out, however, when she hears what vaguely sounds like a rebuking 'tsk, tsk, tsk,' seconds before a hand steals her coffee and swiftly proceeds to drop it in a nearby trashcan.

"What the hell was that for?" she demands, as she whirls around to come face to face with him. The offender – Beck - remains undaunted by her obvious fury, and is clearly unaware of her indissoluble reliance on the steaming drink. She's partially tempted to reach in and pull her coffee back out of the trash, but then decides that she won't humble herself by rummaging through garbage - although it's not like she hasn't done it before.

"You're not supposed to have coffee while…you know," he answers. She snarls, but her attempts to be menacing also do nothing to faze him.

"Not true. I can have some." Truthfully, Jade's had her fill of fighting with him, and all she really wants to do right now is sleep, so she counters with far less vigor than normal:

"How many have you had so far?" He speaks patiently, admonishingly, almost as if he's reprimanding a guilty child, and it makes her grimace.

"Only like…three," she exhales sharply before she starts to walk away, but, as always, he finds some way to halt her. He does not catch her by her wrist or tell her he loves her; this time instead choosing to speak the words she absolutely loathes hearing:

"You know that's not good for the ba-" She stalks up to him, fully aware of what he had been going to say, and pushes him up against his stupid, transparent locker (why can't he have secrets just like everyone else?). They're so close they can feel each other breath, in and out steadily, consistently. Jade narrows her eyes. The closeness brings forth memories of last night…the night everything she had scrupulously built up had been struck down by the ever-prevailing hand of truth. She sends those thoughts out of her mind.

"Don't say it," her voice is lowered so that none of the other Hollywood Arts students will even begin to have an inkling of what's going on with her. Her eyes shift about constantly, to ensure that no one is approaching them.

"You know it's not good for the baby, Jade." Their hushed confrontation begins to pique the interest of several students, but she speedily scares them away with an aggressive glare.

It takes all of her not to slap him, to hit the words 'baby' and 'child' and 'living thing' and 'love' right out of his mouth and watch them wither and die. All she bothers to do, however, is take steps backward, relenting with half a heart and throwing her arms up in the air in surrender.

"Fine. I'll stop drinking coffee." For some funny reason, he seems to believe her, and he kisses her cheek in thanks seconds before walking off when the bell's ring creates a virtual hurricane of rushing students. The swarm swallows him up, and soon, she loses sight of him altogether. So, with the hall devoid of her peers, the next thing she does is go and get another coffee. She tries not to regret it when she chugs down the hot drink and feels the child kick - almost in an irritated response to the unwelcome caffeine - and she tries not to regret it when she pictures Beck frowning at her, shaking his head and telling her not to do it because 'it's not good for the baby.'

She lied to his face – a fact she actually feels surprisingly bad about - but that's why she didn't promise. She's just not good at promises.

Oh, how quickly those days do flee. With each ephemeral moon and rising sun, the child becomes less and less easy to ignore, less and less easy to write off as just a little weight gain, less and less secreted by loose-fitting clothing. Jade hardly sees her mother (mommy's job is very busy, Jade), so there is hardly any room for suspicion there, and she makes Beck vow not to tell his parents or anyone else. She'd be less concerned if he had kept secrets before, but unfortunately, he hasn't, so the whole, dishonest process is strange to him. Whatever her fears of him ousting the truth and setting everything up in flames like a child playing with matches they don't know how to use, he seems to have locked his mouth shut and thrown away the key down into the depths of the sea of treachery that lurks just below truth and sincerity and the good side of town.

"Just don't tell anyone," she says one day, while they sit together in his RV, on his couch, with her head on his lap and her eyes shut. Their minds contentedly wander in other places around the world – the past, the present, the future. They visit higher places they only manage to go to together. Anywhere but here; anywhere but this moment.

Every time they're together now, they just sit and talk, and occasionally make out. So much of their time together is now just mere silence. It doesn't seem to bother him, the whole ' no sex' policy, but Jade hopes that's not because he's getting some elsewhere, from some desperate girl who's willing to drop to her knees the instant he smirks at her. Generally, this would bug her immensely, and she'd ask him about it nearly every day, but the green-eyed beast inside her has become less and less persistent, she notices, and she can't say she misses the constant urge to hound Beck until his vocal cords snap about what he was doing talking to Tori, or what he was doing looking at that blonde girl over there with those eyes of his.

"I told you I wouldn't tell anyone," he answers back.

"I know but…have you even kept a secret before?" Beck thinks for a short moment, before shaking his head.

"Not really."

"I thought so. God, why are you so honest?"

"Life's so much easier without secrets."

"No, it's not." He reaches over to try to touch her stomach for about the fourth time this month, but she smacks his hand away like she always does and she tries to make believe it doesn't hurt her inside.

"It'd be easier if my parents knew, Jade," he tells her.

"No it wouldn't. Because…" she swallows a sob, and it aches all the way down, "then they'd look at me as the bad side of town girl who fucked up their perfect son's life and dragged him down with her."

"They wouldn't d-"

"People at school already look at me like I'm some charity case, Beck," she springs up from the couch, away from his arms, and paces slowly. Her baffled emotions are unsure whether to be sad or livid, "I-I know you don't see it, but I do, okay? I don't want anyone else looking at me that way. I hate it. They're…they're scared of me, but… they pity me, too."

He moves to embrace her, to hug away her qualms, but she frees herself and hurries out of his RV, leaving a trail of words in her wake that plainly scream, Don't follow me.

He never listens, though, does he?

So immediate is his decision to follow that she's hardly even near the road when he runs up to her and catches her in his arms and stops her from fleeing out into the starry night's nippy grasp. She can't walk very quickly anymore, and running isn't a much faster alternative. So, sensing that any further escaping will do no good, she doesn't fight him. His touch has near paralyzed her, so she just falls into him, and she lets him stand for her, for she's tired of standing on these collapsing supports she calls legs.

"Don't," she undertones throatily, her voice mostly hushed by the red fabric of his shirt. She wraps her arms around his neck, clawing the skin with her prickly nails and leaving a faint, white trail behind.


"Don't…just don't. Please. Don't talk about it; don't touch it. Just don't," she implores him.

"I won't. But…come back inside. It's getting dark." Dark. She misses the dark. She misses that suffocating desire and those syrupy, nonsensical promises and the bliss they used to share deep in the blackness, but she feels no desire for it any more. Is it possible, she wonders, to miss something, yet to harbor no yearning for it to return? And she wonders, then, how much they've changed, over the course of these few turbulent months, but she can't bring her mind to comprehend it, when he brings her back to the RV that has nearly become her home. Home…perhaps it is her home, but she's never quite known what a 'home' is defined as, anyway.

A lot, Jade figures in the end, after adding and subtracting and calculating the shifting times. An awful lot.

"You know you really should go to the doctor."

"I don't do lots of things I should."

"This is different. Come on. Don't you wanna know if they're a boy or girl?"

"Hmm…let me think. No."

"Why don't you care, Jade?"

"…I-I don't not care. I just…I don't want to think about that, okay?"

"Why do you think running away is always the answer?"

"It's just...just easier than dealing with it."

"So what're you gonna do when they're born? Leave them on someone's doorstep?"


" can't be serious."

"Well I am."

"What do you think they're gonna do, huh? Take them in and raise them like their own?"

"It doesn't matter. As…as long as it's not my problem I don't care."

"We could just find some nice couple and do it the legal way. Why don't we just do that?"

"I-I don't want anyone to look at me like I'm a slut, alright? I… can't deal with it."

"But you can deal with abandoning our child on a doorstep?"

"Yes." Sort of.

"I don't belong at Hollywood Arts, do I?" she wonders aloud during an evening about a week later.

They're sitting on the back of his car, parked at the side of some far-flung, desert road-less-traveled. All they can see for miles is sand and cacti and more sand and more cacti, and if she weren't so completely beat, she'd likely make some derisive remark about how dull the entire horizon looks with just the glowing orange sun and pink and yellow clouds thrown in for decoration, speckled about as sporadically as feed for chickens. Something about the serenity of the moment, though, the wordless tranquility as the sun reflects off the boundless grains of sand, helps her hold her peace.

Jade can feel Beck idly playing with a strand on her hair in between his fingers while staring off into the distance, and, right then, she wonders if bad side of town girls are supposed to have boyfriends like Beck, especially if all they'll do is break their lives like worthless twigs and thrown them into the uncontrolled fire of misery they all share like mere kindle. She's the Eve to his Adam, she's long since decided that, because he's dooming himself with her by his own free will, remaining with her even though he'd be better off alone.

"'Course you do. You're a great singer."

"Not as good as Tori."

"Not true."

"Do…" she lets her sentence fall off, before placing her hand on his shoulder and dragging her fingers over the rough fabric of his shirt, "do I belong with you?"

"Yes, you do." His vehemence and lack of hesitation break the chains on her first full-fledged grin in days.

"You didn't hesitate," she looks up at him.

"Nope," he replies, unnecessarily popping the 'p' at the end. She sighs contentedly, and the sound is caught by a brief gust of wind and floated off across the desert, dust on the wind she'll never see again. Take me with you! she yells noiselessly, pointlessly, to the passing breeze. As always, though, her wish is denied and her soul stays bound to her body, but that doesn't seem to hurt anymore, does it?

"Tell me you love me," her words are breathy, and, refreshingly enough, without aggression or anxiety or fear.

"You know you don't always have to prompt me."

"Lotion," she singsongs the so-called magic word whilst looking off at the arid landscape, her eyes lingering off at the sunny mountains and the far away 'happily ever afters' scattered all over the parched terrain. She's okay with watching from afar now, watching those joyful entities dance around and shine like stars, succeeding in being all that she'll never be. She's reconciled herself to the idea that she'll probably never obtain a fairy tale ending, and if watching that perfection go on elsewhere in the world is the closest she'll get, then so be it.

"That's the magic word for coffee," he points out. God, the desert's beautiful at dusk. Even she has to admit that their whole world looks like a picture at the moment, a still and stunning picture. The only non-picturesque elements in the image are their eyes - dimmed far beyond their years - and the six months she hides under her shirt, as if ashamed of it's existence.

"Then what's the magic word for an 'I love you'? Please?"

The only answer she gets is a firm kiss, and she doesn't doubt that she'll never have to do more than lift a finger to get a profession of love from him, from here on in.

Those happy days are few and far between, though, even if they do seem to last forever when they decide to bless her with their sparse occurrences. At school – or, her own personal hell - she's pretty sure Tori's figured it out by now. The girl's head may be partially filled with typical, vapid teenage girl thoughts and air and bubblegum pop melodies, but there's enough space left for her brain to function well enough, and Jade knows her secret is not as easily dismissible as it once was.

To only add to the tense atmosphere, she can just feel some of the teachers whispering about her when they walk about the school, shaking their heads and talking in hushed tones about' that poor little girl. she's so young. she's oh so young.' And she'll scoff every time she hears that, because she's not been young for a long time, and even when she was, her childhood was never as it should have been. She's never been 'young' - not at heart - but she's learned to cope with looking back on a childhood that was never a true 'childhood.'

If Tori knows, or suspects, then she's almost certainly told Andre, and her doubts become reality when they corner her one day while she's shoving books into her locker and clawing at papers she's just dropped all over the floor. She bends to pick them up, which is a battle in itself, before two pairs of hands begin to retrieve them for her. The two sets of hands, belonging to none other than Tori and Andre, scoop them up effortlessly, and hand them back to her with a smile. When she looks at Tori's perfectly thin, agile body, she's forced to think of her own form, and she bites her lip. She almost wants to taste blood from the small wound - she thinks that the saline tang might bring her some peculiar type of comfort - but nothing comes up, like a volcano erupting without lava, like a pain with no gain.

"Thanks?" she eyes them with trepidation. Their voices blend as they chant the over-friendly, practiced, 'No problem' and 'Anytime.' "Now what do you want with me?" She rests her hand on her hip, trying to massage her aching lower back as inconspicuously as she can and knead out the dull throbbing that builds up near her spine.

"You know we're your friends, right?" Tori tells her. At this, Jade cocks an eyebrow.

"This is news to me," she scoffs, shoving the mess of papers back into her notebook.

Those smiles on their faces are faked, counterfeited as badly as a seven year old trying to forge their parent's signature. They don't really care. What reasons have they to give a damn? They're just doing this because it makes them feel like better people to look at someone's crappy life and compare it to theirs and feel more accomplished, or some bullshit like that. She doesn't particularly enjoy psychoanalyzing good side of town people, but she can read the both of them like as easily as an open book.

"You can tell us if something's wrong, Jade," Andre furthers Tori's point with little dedication. He looks like he's been dragged into this, reluctantly, and she can't say she blames him. If she were Andre, she'd want to stay out of it, too.

And, she thinks scathingly, it's a bit too late to ask if something's wrong, when something's been wrong for month upon month upon month, and no one's cared more than a tidbit, hardly enough to take notice.

"Well I'm just touched," she spits back, her words speckled with salt. Glancing down speedily, she can see that her clothing just isn't going to be enough to hide it now (it's a truth she's tried to disprove so many times), so she uses her binder as a sorry excuse for a cover up and presses it against her stomach.

"Is-is everything going all right with Beck?" Though the look is short-lived, she can see Tori's eyes drop to her stomach and then back up to her face with a lightning speed, trying to confirm the school-wide gossip and her own uncertainties. Upon noticing this, Jade's eyes ignite with a hot, blue fire of horror.

The singer apparently doesn't expect her to rush away like she's being chased by her ever-prying questions, but she does - if rather sluggishly. It doesn't take Tori long to catch up with her (Jade does not bother to wonder why Andre doesn't follow), though, and after calling out her name in a strident tone twice, she finally earns enough agitation from her to get Jade to turn around. Her brown hair whips around as if it is being blown in a blustery wind, like a milk chocolate whirlwind splashed with blue. She shakes it out of her face, and looks over the other girl with a clenched jaw.

"Are you… pregnant, Jade?" Tori speaks the condemning words softly, but it's the first time anyone's really mentioned the words 'pregnant' and 'you' in the same sentence to her face – even Beck had managed to phrase it lightly - and the indubitable terror she feels when it reaches her ears sends her spiraling into a panic. Thoughtlessly, in some attempt to quiet her or relieve the terror, she raises her hand to Tori's cheek and slaps it, as if trying to steal the girl's ability to speak. The attack is not exceptionally vicious, but that isn't saying a whole lot, as even a feeble attack from her is one the poor victim is not likely to forget. The eerie sound of a crack, as flesh roughly connects with flesh, echoes around the now-silenced hallway, turning heads and dropping jaws and widening eyes as Tori's hands fly to her cheek to nurse her sore face. Her mouth hangs agape. The stinging spreads on her cheek and Jade's hand as well, the assaulter and the assaulted both feeling soreness from the ill-planned strike. It causes both to cry out – Jade in anger, Tori in shock. She stares at her hand as if it has done this deed with a mind of it's own, even though she knows all too well that it is not the power behind the pitiless act.

"No," she tells her finally. Jade pushes her way out of the building, but not before taking one long last, agonizing look at Tori's betrayed and crumpled face that Andre is now examining with soothing hand, looking over the confused girl like Beck looks at her when she cries.

And later, when Beck asks her why she ditched school in the middle of the day, she doesn't give him an answer, for she still hears that slap ringing in her ears, the reverberation sounding oddly like a conscience returned from exile.

Her mom finds out.

It happens when Jade's changing in her room, just after rubbing herself red in the shower and trying once again in vain to scrub the bad side of town off her body. Half her clothing is on the floor as she stands in the middle of her bedroom, glancing around at all the black and death and gore that surrounds her and chokes out any delight, when her mother stumbles in, tequila bottle in hand and inquires in her mouth about what Jade did with that fifty dollars she gave her yesterday to buy food (because she needs it, honey, she needs it).

She knows she's too far gone to write it off as weight gain. She's just too thin to pretend. Her mother's bloodshot eyes get as wide as saucers when she takes in her daughter, and the glass bottle she holds falls from her trembling grip and shatters all over the wood floor. Jade almost doesn't hear the crash when it spills the intoxicating liquid everywhere, paralyzed with terror like a rabbit in headlights as she is.

"What is this?" her mother's voice rises to an unnaturally high octave, and if the bottle that she once held in her hand were not already broken, her daughter thinks that the high-pitch might have cracked it.

"M-mom, it's not what you think-" she tries, but her protests do no good, for a cat does not listen to a mouse's pleas when it has made up it's mind to pounce, does it?

For a moment, she thinks her mother's crying, until she hears what sounds like a deranged cackle come from the woman. Her knotted brown hair falls all over her face and obscures it from view. They look so alike that it makes Jade wonder if she's a mirror of her future, if this is what she'll become, despite whatever Beck does to save her. But, her mother doesn't have a Beck, she tells herself. She'll be different, because her mother never had true love and she does and it's going to save her.

"You know that's what I told my mother? You tried to hide it, didn't you?" Jade looks down, her face alight with shame even though this woman, who's never been a mother to her, is certainly no better a person than she is, "Ha! I tried to hide it too!"

Her mad laughing (oh, it's a good thing she didn't inherit her insanity) resonates throughout the house, and she thinks she can see tears on her mother's worn face, filling the gaps the premature wrinkles and lines on her face have impressed onto the pallid flesh. She wants to slap some sense into her, but all she does is scramble for a discarded towel to cover up her bare lower half, bizarrely modest for some reason…or maybe just all too mindful of her stomach.

"Mom!" she screams over her berserk hoots and hollers. She grabs her mother's shoulders and shakes her violently, after wrapping herself in the itchy towel, in hopes of shaking sense into her. When she doesn't stop, she yells louder, shakes harder, "Mom!"

The only thing she is answered with is a burning strike to her face - a taste of her own medicine, she thinks - and when she looks up at her mother from her crumpled spot on the floor, the troubling laughter has ceased and has been replaced with undeniable resentment. She's always been trash to her mother, no more, no less, and this is what she is looked upon now as: trash. When she was little, Jade used to think her mother would like to take her out with the weekly garbage, if only they'd take a child nobody wanted. Tears that seem to blister her cheeks pour down her face as a result of the unfeeling violence, and when the towel slips off her ghostly pale body and exposes her abdomen, she seriously feels nauseous. These times gives her cause to wonder why she even bothers to continue to breath, if every inhalation is just oxygen wasted on trash.

Her mother walks into the kitchen after that, on the beginning of what Jade knows is a horrid rampage brought on by her own missteps. Breaking glass, growls and screeches…she can hears the sounds drifting from the other room and to her ears, they are more piercing than the loudest howl of agony. She stumbles to her feet, knees weakened by her rapid fall, and shakily pulls on her clothing before rushing into the kitchen with all haste. What she sees does not surprise her, as it's been going on since she was too young to walk.

There, she's met with shards of broken glass at her toes, halting her in her tracks and preventing her from walking any further into the room. Her head whirls around, while her eyes are taking in the already trashed area with horror and repulsion as they frantically search for her mother. She finally finds her, when a plate is thrown at her head like a Frisbee from behind the chipped, green counters. Her reflexes are sharp enough for her to duck before it hits her, but it leaves her trembling, her body rocking violently with fear of the mother she's hated to love.

"I always knew, Jade, " her mother pauses, just before dropping a glass to the floor and smiling evilly when it is destroyed into a million, irreparable pieces. Her hysterical and uncalled for enjoyment is returning slowly; Jade can feel it in her veins; the veins that have pumped darkness through her body in place of blood for years, "that you'd end up just like me. I just knew it! Pregnant at sixteen, prostitute by eighteen, drugs by twenty-one, alcohol by twenty-three. See where you're headed? I knew Jade, I always knew."

The future of bad side of town girls hangs in her mind for a long time, and she's never felt such distaste at the thought of stumbling into an existence like that simply because there's no other place to go. There's no good reason why her mother is like this now - other than the fact that she had no other place to go.

'I did too, mom,' the young girl silently concurs in her tortured mind, no matter how many times she tells herself differently. She builds a dam to fight the hopeless flow of tears, placing blockages up and up and up until there's absolutely no way for melancholy to flow. Somewhere in her soul, she's always known as well, 'I always knew too.'

Another dish flies toward her, and she jerks to the side, avoiding stealthily as she did the last. It shatters onto the wall behind her. When will she stop? Jade wonders. Will she stop? Has she gone too far this time, and pushed the woman - who has been teetering on the edge of self-destruction for years - over the edge?

"So who's the boy?" Looking up from the wanton destruction of her own making, her mother grins, "Who's the boy?" She giggles like a schoolgirl playing a childish game she'll never finish, but had slim chances of winning anyway.

"His name's Beck, mom, and we've been dating for two years. Y-you met him once. He loves me; he really loves me!" she cries. He loves her. He loves her. He wouldn't be able to look at her the way he does now if he didn't love her; she's so sure of that. It's love and it's going to save her.

"Love! That's what your father told me, and then thirty minutes later he was on a private jet to Prague and I never saw him again. Love is an illusion, sweetheart. Don't let it get to your head! That boy doesn't love you. No one does. No one loves a girl like you, or a woman like me. No one can!" Her mother's sentence is punctuated with more disturbed hilarity escaping from between her dark red lips, lips that taste like the ashes flicked away from cigarettes: bitter, unnecessary ashes no one wants any more because they just don't serve a purpose.

"I know it's true! He loves me-" Her mother stalks up to her, seizing both her wrists in an iron grip and staring her in her daughter's tear-filled eyes, an evil, icy spark shining strong in her gaze. Rebelliously, though, Jade squeezes her eyes shut. She will not look at her.

"You stupid, stupid girl," is all she drawls out, before turning away, grabbing her purse and walking toward the door, her black high heels clicking and clacking on the floor, serving as a warning to keep away from the streets that have absorbed the jaded woman. Moments before she leaves, though, she turns with a lopsided smirk folded out onto her face. She finally speaks, and she talks quietly; so quietly that Jade has to lean forward to hear her. When she strains her ears to hear the words, she immediately wishes she hadn't bothered:

"I always knew you'd be like me. And that," she points a crooked, polished finger at her daughter's protruding stomach in disgust, almost as if speaking about an insect she wants dead and gone. Hate is astoundingly evident in all that she does, "is the first step."

One of Jade's hands flies to her stomach, and the child kicks – in response to its grandmother's hatred or its mother's fright, she will never know.

The girl wonders if her mother hit her stomach upon discovering she was pregnant with her. Was she left with bruises, too? Jade wonders if she hated it as well – but she stops wondering there, because her mind has already answered for her with an affirmative 'yes.'

Her mother wastes no time after that, commanding her to clean the place up and whipping the door shut with such force that it makes the walls rattle, leaving her daughter surround by an ocean of wrecked plates and wine and shot glasses. Little, jagged pieces lay on every surface in the kitchen. Counters, open cabinets, the tiny table and broken chairs…they're all covered in the dreadful glass.

She's been all but kicked out. She figures that's because her mother has no family reputation to uphold - that was tarnished years ago. She's no disgrace to her mother, for her mother cannot lose grace when she has none of it to begin with.

Jade pricks herself on one particularly sharp edge nearby – partially by accident, partially on purpose – and draws a familiar crimson from her milky white skin. After stemming the bleeding, she finds a broom and dustpan and tries to clean up the ruin, but every time she sweeps, she cuts herself somewhere or another on the shards – on her knees, her arms, her legs, her feet - and eventually she's just too scratched up to press on. She drops the dustpan and broom, and the forsaken objects fall down into the piles of glass, sending sparkling shards flying in all directions. Why bother cleaning up? Why bother? Why bother hoping she'll make it out of the bad side of town, when she sees what it has turned her mother into? Like mother, like daughter. And why bother wondering what life would be like on the good side of town, if that life is as distant to her as heaven, angels, and fairytales are?

She falls back to the floor, curling herself into a ball as far as her body will allow, and lets the endless rubble take her as its captive.

She calls Beck. She doesn't know what else to do. Sputtering for words that she cannot seem to come up with, the only thing she can do on the phone is cry like a baby, but he gets the message and tells her he'll be over as soon as he can. The dial tone that sounds when he hangs up hits her like a bullet in her chest, leaving her yearning for the sound of his voice once more as a deprived flower so longs for water. The minutes he takes to arrive seem like hours, and, in the meantime, she fetches a bottle of Elmer's glue from a little-used closet and takes to rebuilding the broken plates like a child rebuilds puzzles: never really intending to finish, but starting anyway. She doesn't bother to wonder why she's embarking on a hopeless mission, when her whole life's been just like a fruitless search for nothing, a lost cause. Once he does arrive, she doesn't open the door, for she's too captivated with mending a nice, flowery plate that must have been busted into fifty pieces when it was turned into useless debris on the floor.

"Jade?" she hears him call her name from behind her locked door, but she doesn't respond. Bit by bit, shard by shard, she restores the kitchenware with a rare diligence. She hears him bang on the door several times, and she really does want to answer it, but the glass has kidnapped her and try as she might, her legs cannot move even a little bit. It is as if every muscle has fallen asleep, as if fuzziness has overridden every other sensation in her legs. She only sits mutely, piecing back together the smithereens of brokenness, as he calls out for her from behind the door:

"Jade!" Beck! she tries to call back, but the cries soon perish in the back of her mouth. Beck, please! Come get me! Lost like a child, yet carrying a child herself, she notices how her life is like some messed up soap opera - except, there are no cameras (no one cares enough for those, do they, Jade?) and 'happy' isn't very likely to describe her end.

And it's getting dark, or at least she thinks it is. Her world has been shaded the color of glass – the reflective, gray-blue color of a mirror - and light looks no brighter than dark.

From the room beside the kitchen, she hears a sudden crash, and then realizes that he's kicked the weak old door in - like a hero, like a good guy. But aren't heroes supposed to save the perfect people, the people who have a chance at making it? Aren't they supposed to recognize lost causes and leave them be?

Still, Jade moves not an inch. He yells her name again, dread and panic perceptible in all he does even if she cannot see him. She's not sure she's ever heard him quite this frightened. She hears him dashing around her home for all of one minute until he comes upon her, sitting and fixing plates with white glue while sobbing like mad and trying to swallow her tears, all of one second from losing control. Her hands shake as she sticks the serrated remains together, and she cuts herself without even realizing the laceration has been made… Yet…she can't make herself halt the blood loss, when all she'll do is bleed another time and another time and another time after that when she's clumsy enough to get cut again. It does no good; not in the big picture. She just lets the red pour over her skin, running over the white and staining the snowy color. The cuts on her arms and legs do not cause her pain; they hardly even ache when she runs her hands over them. Her insipid skin has become hard, like stone, but her heart is still all-too-vulnerable (she'll have to work on that). Thank God that's on the inside, she thinks, or she'd be damned.

He makes a move to embrace her, but she shakes her head, instead choosing to continue crying all by her lonesome.

"H-help me fix the plate, Beck. Help me fix it…" He looks at her like she's crazy but, nonetheless, does not ask her why there is glass everywhere and why she's near hysterical and why there is a large red splotch forming on her cheek. He just squirts the glue onto the plate like she does, and places them together, following her example as if he's been doing it for hours. Every thought in his mind is about comforting her (Lord, how he does ache for her). However, he can't tear himself from the plate she's so tearfully told him to fix, the plate they're likely repairing in vain, the plate that represents everything they are: in ruins and only beginning to be fixed - and probably never to be fully whole again.

They complete it in minutes with combined effort; the broken Eve and puppy-dog eyed Adam coping with the hellish life after the delusions of paradise in Eden. He can hardly fight the urge to hold her whether she likes it or not and wipe away the inky, demon tears that still flow, defacing her features like dried up rivers.

"My…my mom found out." He doesn't flinch. He's always figured it would happen (at least she and her mom live in the same house; he hardly even sees his parents), but they'd never talked it over. She doesn't look at him, and before she can stop him, he runs his finger along all the scratches thrown carelessly over her arm.

"You're scratched up," he mentions, his voice akin to the quietest whisper.

"I-I tried to clean everything up, so she wouldn't be mad at me." She drops her head onto his shoulder. The cracked plate lays before them, forgotten within mere moments, "I tried to clean it all up. W-won't it make her love me?"

No, an unseen voice answers her. You've done far more than clean up for her and she's still never loved you. Her unwise hope, though, is never killed. Beck starts to speak, but she continues:

"What's it like… to have parents who love you, Beck? I-i-is it easier?" He finds her childlike need for her mother's love and approval outright heartbreaking, and it makes his chest hurt even more for her, for what seems to be a happiness she cannot take hold of. He can give her his heart and his food and his shelter, but he can't give her the love of her mother, and this drives him out of his mind, thinking of the one thing she desperately wants…the one thing that he cannot get her. She wants for something he'll never be able to get for her, and it makes him beyond crazy.

"Yeah. It's easier." He's unwilling to make it sound too good, for fear of pushing more sorrow onto a heart already struggling to beat.

"Run- run before I drag you down, Beck."

"I'm not going anywhere." He never has, she recalls with a watery grin. She'll have to leave him if they ever break apart; he'll never be the one to go first. Sitting in the soundless kitchen, with dangerous glass poking out from everywhere except their small, fortified circle in the center of the tile, Jade can't bring herself to feel annoyed at how adamant he is about staying. She tears her hand from his, and she sets it on her stomach, entirely conscious of its placement for the first time.

"I don't want it to…live like I have, Beck. F-find someone, someone nice, someone who'll love it…be-because I can't… I won't be like her, Beck, I won't. Sh-she told me I will, but I won't!" She springs up from the ground at a surprising speed. She'll fight this life, dammit, she'll fight hard and no matter how weary she becomes from the ongoing battle, she'll push through – even if it is only to be met with defeat and loneliness. She'll fight until that light at the end of the tunnel is cloaked by nighttime's shadow.

"I believe you," he tells her. She sighs, but at the same instant, murders more sniffles before they can force their way up through her throat. As always, he gets to his feet, and he follows, "Come live with me, in my RV, Jade. You…you can't stay here any more."

It's a truth she has to face; the fact that she can't stay here, in this place, in this life, in the clutches of this hateful woman. An obligation she's often felt, though, to her bad side of town, arises in her mind, and reminds her why she shouldn't dare leave her mother alone and defenseless here: a gullible, alcoholic, half-insane prostitute.

"I can't. I-I can't. No. Who'll…p-pull her out of her vomit and get her food and stuff? She'll be alone," she pleads with him like he's taking her favorite toy away from her. She grabs his shirt in between her hands, desperately, as if the harder she holds on, the better her point will be carried across. His heart breaks a little more for her, every time she opens her mouth to defend her mother. She loves her, he realizes. She still loves her, with the blind love that every neglected child always feels, no matter how many times you kick them out of the way.

This day feels like a nightmare to her, going in and out of focus and smudging together and fragmenting apart until she can't pick up the shreds any more. She can only barely catch those precious remains of his words, for they are floating out of her reach too rapidly and up into the air. She can only reach so far.

"…Can't let you stay here. Just for tonight…if not forever." The last three words he utters feel like smoldering embers on his tongue, but speak a veiled promise that, one day - if not in minutes or hours or days or months - he'll take her away, even if he drags her from this vile place kicking and screaming.

It takes ten minutes (I-I have to clean it up, Beck!) but she finally relents, and spends her forty winks that night with him, in his RV, in their home.

In between classes a week later, sitting on the steps near the second story of the school, she asks him if he was a virgin when she met him. She'd never bothered to care before, because she doesn't like talking during sex and the first time they'd slept together – almost a year and a half ago – she hadn't wanted to ask because she was convinced she wouldn't let him into her heart. Truthfully, Jade half wants him to shake his head and tell her that no, he wasn't. It would make her feel better. She doesn't want to have… deflowered him when they had first slept together. She doesn't want to have stolen his innocence.

This unexpected question boggles him – she's inquired about everything prior to their relationship except his sexual escapades – but, nevertheless, he shrugs and answers anyway:

"Yeah, I was. Why?" His 'no secrets' policy has been a mostly healthy thing for their relationship, only contradicted by her 'keeping secrets' policy, the policy that casts murkiness over her past and creates gaps that she won't dare to fill in for him.

"I was just wondering," she answers. They've been getting yelled at and tripped over by many passing students, but they've not moved a muscle since throwing themselves down on the steps five minutes ago. Jade's arm is linked with his, mutely telling each girl who passes that he's her man and no one else's and that's all he'll ever be.

"Were you?" At that, her eyes go foggy with godawful memories, and she is only able to shake her head.

"No," Girls like me are never virgins when they meet someone they really love…The unspoken words hang on her tongue and threaten to release themselves the next time she opens her mouth, so she keeps it closed. She smiles at him - a short-lived, hopeful upward perking of her lips - but it does not light up her eyes like it once used to.

He says nothing. He 's not sure he knows how to say anything in reply.

"Ugh," she chews on her lip and murmurs an obscenity under her breath when that frequent pounding in her stomach begins once more. It used to shock her, but now…she can't make herself care. She looks at that with apathy, too. Once in a while, it gives her consolation: the thought that, even when she's alone, she's never totally alone. Even so, she fears that the only thing she's become is a host for this parasite, dispossessed of a typical teenage life because of her own blunders.

"Baby again?"

"Yes." She's stopped correcting him about that. She's nothing but tired any more. These months have been torture, torture. She'd do anything to reverse them… If she could take back that dark night when she fucked up her life, she would, oh Lord, she would…If only she knew which night it was, for there were far too many risky encounters when they didn't give two shits about 'safe sex,' for predator thinks about nothing while chasing after it's prey, cares not a bit about the consequences.

Her train of jumbled thoughts derails, however, when a particularly insistent and commanding kick comes from within her, as if trying to send some kind of message. It disturbs her - she's never felt anything like it – but mostly just makes her sick to her stomach.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. That one just…kind of hurt." She gets up tentatively, and decides to ignore the subtle twinge, because she's good at that. It's nothing. It'll all go away, vanishing like a balloon flying up into the sky and being stolen away by the wind, as long as she doesn't try to see her toes or bend over or anything. This pain means nothing. She knows that some may find it laughable that she still tries to deny it's very existence, but does. On rare occasion, she can convince herself that this isn't really happening… but then she'll look down… and all the pretending will fade away, washed away as if it is a trail of footprints in the sand when the moon calls the tide upon the shore.

"I'll walk you to class."

"Actually," she gulps at the abrupt stinging, supporting herself against the railing whilst clutching her book bag, "I-I think I'll use the restroom first."

His eyes are filled with questions he doesn't dare voice, for fear of provoking her currently hibernating temper, but he pecks her on the lips moments before she hurries away. She doesn't turn around when he calls her name to alert her to the fact that she's left her literature book behind. She needs to get away from everyone, as quickly as her legs will allow her to. Something in her gut doesn't feel right…something inside her, residing with the child, tells her that this dull twinge will not be easily dismissible soon, and she flees with this foreboding feeling foremost in her mind.

She runs into the bathroom and slams the nearest stall door behind her. It's then that she crumples from the pain she'd held inside in front of Beck, doubling over and holding her cries back in her throat although she knows no one is there (no one ever is, Jade, haven't you learned by now? you just push them all away). The myriads of torment crash onto her, as prevailing and as unpreventable as tidal waves that suck her under without mercy, leaving her gasping for a proper lungful of air. Her hand flies back against the cool porcelain of the toilet behind her. Her fingers shakily grapple for something to clutch onto. She can't support herself, so she presses herself against the wall, and then, she tries not to laugh when she notices that she's in practically the same position she was months ago.

Jade ends up letting a perturbing chuckle out, giggling softly at all the madness her world has been shaded with. Her very existence is like a coloring book ruined because the she colored outside the lines way too many times and broke all her crayons, burned all her bridges.

Beck, please! Come get me!

When the stabbing commotion subsides, she composes herself and leaves, and tries to trust that she'll make it through this day, this one last day that she'll hang onto with newly sharpened claws of desperation because it's the last time she'll be able to dodge what she's long been hiding away.

She doesn't remember much after that.

She remembers struggling through the remainder of her classes, shifting in utter discomfort every other couple minutes when the pains would knife from her back and her stomach and to her head and to her toes and make her dizzy as fuck. She remembers finding Beck at the end of the day and dragging him out of the building and finally letting herself scream bloody murder when she's in his car and he's frantically asking her 'what's wrong? is something wrong with the baby?' She remembers telling him and watching him curse like mad, hitting the pedal to the metal like she'd never seen him do before.

She remembers begging him not to take her to hospital, because hospitals cost money they don't have and she can deal with the pain without medication – really, she can. She remembers the revulsion on his face when she said that – the piercing shock at the very thought of not going to the hospital - but she also remembers the moment his protests halted, when she trapped him with her distraught eyes and held him there in her gaze until he complied with her wishes.

She remembers going to his RV, and stumbling into the vehicle with him in tow and falling onto the bed like a lead weight and screaming and crying and knocking over a lamp with her feet while lost in her frenzy of anguish. She remembers the blades of glass that fell everywhere. In her delirium, she remembers thinking that they were pieces of herself. She remembers him soothing her, telling her that it would all be okay because his mom's an OB/GYN and he (sort of) knows what to do. She remembers all the, it'll be okay, babe; it'll be okay. And she remembers telling him to stop lying to her.

She remembers nothing but pain and blackness for most of those hours. Although the memories are punched out with intermittent patches of nothing so she can't recall them in their entirety, she remembers calling out for Beck, for her mother, for her grandmother – even for the father she never knew. She remembers having nothing to compare the pain to; it was the worst she'd ever felt. She remembers screaming so loudly that her lungs ached. She remembers crying so much that her runny makeup totally flowed off her cheeks and left naught other than a diluted gray stripe in its wake. She remembers the struggle it had become just to draw breath. She remembers entreating him to kill her – just to end her life right there, right then, because she'd rather die than live through this. She remembers peering into his eyes and seeing that he knew she wasn't kidding.

Oh, she remembers the blood too, a lot of blood, so much that she was sure she would die at any moment because the stained sheets under her were wholly saturated with the rusted color and shit, there was just so much of it. She remembers cussing him out and telling him she hated him about fifty times per hour, and she remembers not caring about the hurt in his eyes when she let her fury unreservedly seethe out of her like that. She remembers knowing how he wanted to do whatever he could to relieve her pain – call an ambulance, a midwife, anyone – and she remembers how she would never let him, how she couldn't have anyone else finding out what was going on with her because far too many people knew already. She remembers seeing him in panic-mode for the first time since they met, and she remembers how it scared her so. She remembers seeing that he thought she was going to die – it was all in those eyes of his – and that he was going to be the cause of it.

But the thing she most remembers was when another cry mingled with her own, the foreign sound slicing through the air as easily a knife through butter and changing everything within seconds like nothing else ever could. She remembers Beck scurrying about and doing a lot of things she couldn't see with the infant because she couldn't muster enough energy to lift her head. She remembers the only thing she could feel was her chest rising and falling. She remembers his hands shaking – with happiness or anxiety or a combination of the two; she wasn't sure. She remembers closing her eyes and trying not to see the child – her child – but she remembers opening them anyway (she couldn't stand the dark any more) and seeing the little one and commanding Beck not to tell her if it was a boy or girl because she couldn't handle knowing. She remembers him looking away with what looked like a faint mist in his eyes. She remembers finally falling into a fitful sleep and being unconvinced that she would ever find the will to wake up.

She remembers tossing and turning that night, fighting for some kind of comfort she could never find seem to come upon. She remembers that night more than any other, for it was the longest and coldest of her life, no matter how many blankets she piled on top of her shivering, yet feverish body.

And she remembers remembering a lot more than she had thought she would.

Sleep never lasts, and the oblivion seeps away once she opens her eyes to the sun's rays yet again. This particular waking is no different than the hundreds of others she's been put through, but today, she rises to a world she knows has shifted. No matter how many streams of brilliance the skies pour on her, they can't change the fact that she's in the dark, living as a stranger in this strange land. The lack of light she once loved so has now become her mortal enemy. But she knows that she's not become a light person. She's stuck in the middle - in a penumbra once more - because she can't decide whether she's dark or light or somewhere in the middle.

At first, she only notices that it's morning. She only bothers to see that the interminably black night is thankfully gone. And then, gradually taking back her senses, she notices that Beck's beside her – she thinks that he's been keeping vigil beside her all throughout the hardest night of her life because it seems just like something he'd do - and that their little baby is wrapped up between them, dozing peacefully and in seemingly perfect health, however difficult it was to bring them into the world. But, as he holds onto the tiny infant's hand and fiddles with the stubby digits on it, the last thing she notices is that he's already fallen in love with the newborn's pink face and tiny nose and ten fingers and ten toes.

She won't ask him about the gender, though, even if she does really, really want to. She won't get attached. She won't. She'll just fall in love with her, and love has led her nowhere in this life, has it? Nowhere good. This moment is nowhere good.

But…oh, she hates breaking his heart.

"Why is it still here?" she demands in a voice hoarsened from vocalizing those bloodcurdling screams in the hours before daybreak. She doesn't think about the damage that has been done to her body when she rises, though, and when she springs up off the bed as if nothing happened yesterday, she feels as if she'll split in half. Half will stay in the bad side of town, she decides, and half will descend to hell, where she's always known she's going, predestined for the everlasting flame since birth. The lasting pains tear through her like scissors through fabric, and they bring her to her knees like nothing she's ever felt before. He frowns and picks up the child, walking toward her and crouching down to where she is uselessly struggling to regain her balance and climb to her feet, all the while shushing the now-wailing baby.

And finally, she notices how she can't make sense of his immediate love for the child.

"Say hello to mommy," he speaks in a soft voice she's only ever heard him use on herself. To her horror, he takes the miniature, supple hand of the wide-eyed little one and waves it back and forth in mock greeting. And she swears the tiny thing stops crying once it takes sight of her.

Jade can feel something behind her, blocking her from scampering away like a panic-stricken youngster, but her feet keep crawling as they attempt to push her backward, away from Beck and the baby and everything else. She moves in vain, though, but continues on despite the unspeakable pain emanating from all over her ragged self.

"I love you, mommy." The baby voice he speaks in is killing her, unremittingly eating her hollow like termites to a piece of wood. Has she ever felt this empty? She isn't sure. All she knows is that she needs him to stop. He's unaware of how far he's pushing her. She'll go insane; she knows it. She'll lose her sense of reason, just like her poor mother did somewhere along the hard line of life. Did having her break her mother? It causes Jade to wonder. Is she the root of her mother's lunacy? She's never felt she's been able to understand her mother up until now, staring at the baby she never wanted and the boy she's always wanted. Did all these emotions at such a youthful age just make her mother's common sense slip away? She can only hope that she won't follow in her footsteps, footsteps pressed in dirty and cracked concrete that lead down to the scummy bars and stripper clubs and drug dealers in the bad side of town. She won't become insane. She won't fall into that insane life; not as long as she retains her good sense. But she can feel that quickly slipping away…

"Stop!" she cries, and he blinks a little at the passion in her exclamation. She tells herself that it doesn't hurt when the baby begins to cry once more, as if brought to tears by their mother's pitiable pleas, "S-stop! Please."

Her legs finally end their futile kicking motion, but the blazing soreness inside her is not lessened. It is a slow fire that will not be put out with ease, as it feeds on a trail of anger and sadness that runs on for miles and miles.

"I think she loves you," Beck singsongs, but he stops instantly, once he sees how close she really is to coming undone because of his words. Those knots she's tied so tight have unraveled considerably… and the strings are soon going to fall to the ground if all this keeps up…and she'll fall with them.

"S-s-she?" she mumbles. First comes misery (she, she, she, a daughter, a little girl) but rage follows shockingly soon (I told you not to tell me! I have to let her go, and soon), "W-why did you tell me that? Why? I told you not to!"

She feels pathetic, so feeble. She can hardly move her arms. All she wants to do is curl up into a ball and weep, but the enduring ache inside her incapacitates Jade and stops her from breaking the cement bonds that ground her limbs to the floor. She doesn't want to look at her daughter, knowing what she'd done upon discovering her existence, because, if she looks hard enough, she swears she can still see the outline of those dark bruises on her stomach, haunting her assiduously, like demons sent especially to drive her out of her mind…

Though she knows her child's eyes are loving and accepting and don't care about her mother's faults, Jade can't look into them, for fear she might ruin the innocence with the bad side of town that hangs on her face and runs in her family. She's taken Beck's innocence; she won't take anyone else's. Her daughter's just so unspoiled. All she'll do is ruin her, if she keeps her. She'd scar an angel, and she'd never do that, for, when she looks at the baby, she remembers when she used to doubt the existence of angels and heaven and all that jazz. She doesn't doubt that any more…not now that she's seen one in the flesh; one swaddled in a pink blanket and blinking the new earth in with the largest eyes she's ever seen.

Abruptly, Jade wonders how she managed to make something so perfect, when she herself is so fucked up. It's not how life is supposed to work. Flawed doesn't make flawless. Corrupt doesn't make incorrupt. Imperfect doesn't make perfect. Faulty doesn't make faultless. She doesn't understand how it can possibly be. Her mother is the product of her grandmother's hatred, and she is the product of her mother's hatred, but this baby, this child, cannot possibly be the product of any hatred.

"You found someone, to give her to?" she almost feels as if the child can understand what she's saying, so she speaks with less volume. The responding look on his face demolishes her agonized insides. Shit, she really does hate breaking his heart, even if she always pretends otherwise.

"…I did, Jade, but we could-"

"No, we couldn't." She's not sure if her words are true or not, but she speaks them regardless. She exhales and finally makes herself stand. She can't walk without a hand on her stomach, in an ineffective attempt to quell the stabbing pain, "Come…come on. We'll bring her there now."

They'll bring her to the place and leave her and never see her again, to the place where she'll grow up and never have an inkling of who she really is, of who's blood really runs in her veins. Will they lie to her and tell her that she's really their baby? Jade finds it comic that she doesn't even know the face of who'll be raising her child. She doesn't even know their name. She'd trusted Beck to get that for her. If he's sure, then she's sure as well. But she doesn't care. She swears she doesn't care any more than she did before. She swears she won't cry when they give her away. Her eyes have been dried of tears; anything else that trickles down her cheeks will have to be blood, as there's simply nothing remaining in her tear ducts. No, she won't care.

"Please, Jade. Please, just think about this-"


He drives them to a house only a few doors down from his own, because she can't walk more than three steps without collapsing under the pain. The home is near a thick wooded stretch of land, near the far edge of the neighborhood. Jade holds the baby throughout the brief car ride, and even though she begs and pleads him not to, he doesn't give in. In all her days, she's never felt so torn. She's never held something she had never wanted and wanted to keep it more than she does now. She'd vowed not to get attached to the child, but, then again, she's no goodat promises.

They speak no words. They only exchange transient glances, and if those feel worse than walking across a thousand fiery coals barefoot, then words would be like pouring gasoline onto a flame, like tossing salt on an open wound that still bleeds. She's only scarcely breathing when he stops and car and leads her to a nice house with large white pillars and two stories and a lovely garden filled with pink, white, red, orange, and purple blooms. The house itself intimidates her, but…somehow it feels like the right place to give her daughter over to. Oh, she knows she's being ridiculous, but it's so near to Beck, she thinks. Maybe, they'll see her…maybe, maybe, maybe…She hates how it's so uncertain. She hates the empty promises of the word. Maybe so, but maybe not. 'Maybe' has no guarantees. Life in general comes with no guarantees, though. It's a life lesson that did not come easy to her.

Her thoughts come in shreds, and she's broken into a cold sweat. God, she hates sweating.

"This is the place?" she says breathlessly, at a loss for air because of her pounding heart. She detests that apparent fear in her shaking voice. She clears her throat and tries not to look down at the bundle she cradles in her arms, even if she is overly aware of the light heaviness.

"This is the place," his voice and eyes are solemn, parallel to those of a mourner at a funeral. His tone is also darkened with silent, imploring prayers, almost as if, inside, he's still holding fast onto the hope that maybe she'll change her mind and tell him to take her home; her home, with him and their sorry excuse for a family. But, when nothing of the sort happens as they climb those heartrending three steps to the front door, he feels an emotion he can't describe; an emotion he's never felt before. He can only describe it as losing something he knows full well he's never going to get back. No, not just losing. Willingly giving up.

"You take her, Beck," Jade tells him. She shoves her into his arms without waiting for a response. She notices his face contort with a look analogous to betrayal, and for an instant she regrets doing it, but the expression is there and gone without forewarning and soon his back is turned to her, and his hands are setting the baby down, and tears that feel like daggers have sprung to both their eyes. She makes ready to dash off once the imminent chime of the doorbell sounds, but, as if determined to make this as painful as he can, Beck hesitates, looking back down at her with the face of a terrified child.

"Don't…" his suppliant voice is muffled – with what, she can't determine, "don't make me do it."

She's never seen him cry – he's the strong one, remember? - and this is perhaps the closest she'll ever get. Lord, the whole world has gone wrong, when the strong have become the weak, when the weak have become the broken, and when the broken have finally fallen.

But Jade says nothing. Her brow does not crease in doubt. Her lips do not part with second thoughts.

He takes this as a confirmation, a signal from her to keep going whatever the price they'll pay may be. Slothfully, his finger hits the doorbell. The chime sounds like a gunshot, like a symphony of blood-curdling screams, and she takes off on wobbly feet the second the horrid sound comes to her ears, tenaciously ignoring the searing pain slicing through her with every leap of her feet. She stops, though, when she realizes that there are no footsteps trailing behind her, that the grass is blowing in the wind without the imprints of his shoes on top of it. He's not following her. So, clutching her beleaguered body, she jogs back and finds him standing there, far away from the steps but within view of the homeowners – whoever they are. For a moment, she imagines them, the faceless couple slowly taking shape in her mind. They've got to wear nice clothes – the woman probably wears pretty dresses and shiny jewelry and the man wears sweater vests and ties. They must have a dog. Yes, a dog, but most definitely not a Rottweiler. And they're not alcoholics or abusers or prostitutes, she decides. They've got to be perfect. They have to be.

"Beck!" she hisses. He looks her way for a second, but then drags his eyes back to the child waiting uncomplainingly on the doorstep, waiting to be taken from their adolescent world and into a world far more prepared for her. He won't leave, she realizes, if she doesn't drag him away. He'll hang on to that last fucking second.

"Come on!" she beckons with her hand for him to follow, but to no avail. He stays frozen in place, apparently contented to stay and watch from afar for an eternity. Jade's feet lead her closer to him, and soon she's got him running with her – by force, of course. The heavy wood envelops them swiftly, just before the door is opened and the baby is taken out of view. The trees take the place of the sky. They run across piles upon piles of wet leaves that have been dampened from a recent rain. Sticks crunch under their feet as they dart like the wind, away from their baby and away from that damn doorstep they left her on, and further and further away from the light of day, into the tree's artificial night.

She runs for so long that her suffering body just can't run any more, and eventually, her feet simply stop working. She can feel blood seeping out of her from between her legs, but she only bites her lip, even if the pain is great and she'd rather be screaming. Of course, she tries to cry, but all her vocal cords can produce is a choked noise, a cry to the heavens for the child she so callously left behind, a plea for Beck to forgive her for this because she knows what she's done has no justification. Said boy catches her before she falls, and they topple together into a pile of the soaked foliage, both of their foreheads pressed against the other and their clammy hands clutching onto their bodies, as if they're both slipping away from each other at a startling pace and they can do nothing to stop gravity from pulling them apart.

There's something about the cold that always makes her feel so empty, even if it's only cold weather or a cold tray of food for lunch or this cold pile of leaves they cling to each other in now. It has a biting, chilly quality to it that she can't explain, and even having Beck next to her, holding her in his arms because he's her stronghold, does not make it better. His 'I love you' can no longer fix her world like it once could. His smile cannot brighten her gray skies any more. His touch can no longer bring her walls crashing down.

She decides, then, that heat is not the absence of cold; not when you're like she's become. Heat is only when the cold has become more tolerable. Warmth just a fucking illusion. No one is ever truly happy, truly warm. There simply is no such thing.

"They're n-nice, right? Nice people?"

"Yeah," he's so pale, paler than she ever thought possible because his skin has always been so much darker than hers. Is he going to cry? Through her fuzzy vision, she can't tell, "My dad works with the guy. Th-they wanted a baby, Jade. Really…really bad."

It suddenly occurs to her that he's never had anyone to cry to, like she's had him. He's never cried to her because he's always known she's broken enough and can hardly deal with her own pain – let alone anyone else's. She's been the one doing the crying; she's been the poison and he's only been the one who has withstood its effects. He's always been the rock, the strong one, the foundation on which she built her love and then crumbled onto.

Her grip onto him stiffens when she stumbles onto these thoughts, and silence abounds after that, more prevalent than the undying sounds of the nature surrounding them. She can hear a cricket chirp inches away from them, the minuscule noise sounding just like a baby's cry to her twisted ears. Then, an angry dog's bark in the distance, a wailing emergency siren somewhere across the town, a lost bird chirping to the flock that has abandoned it, the wind sweeping through the trees and rocking the branches as it pushes its way through. It all plays like background music in this hellish moment they must call reality, the perfect musical score to their utter despair. Above their shivering bodies, the sun battles with the trees, trying to shine on them but continually being blocked by the tall, skyward-reaching vegetation and only managing to shower them lackadaisically. It'll be a battle that will go on forever…and no one will win…Yet, no one will care.

"I did the right thing…I-I did the right thing, right? T-t-tell me I did the right thing. Tell me, Beck! Tell me I did the right thing…" she pounds on his chest with all her strength, repeating the words like a mantra while hitting the boy cold-bloodedly. She wants to knock some sense into him, but her frenzied hammering is fruitless, "Tell me I did the right thing!"

She wants him to nod his head, needs him to tell her that she's only done what had to be done and she doesn't need to feel bad about it, but he cannot make himself do it. He can't make himself think that they've done the right thing by abandoning the infant they love so on someone's porch, left there as if unwanted and reviled when nothing could be further from the truth.

Jade keeps on repeating those words until he thinks he'll go mad, until he's finally forced to speak in return:

"You…you did the right thing." His eyes are looking off in the distance and his face is as ashen as it can possibly be. His eyes are widened and his hands are trembling. The lie told only to plug up her tears does nothing, and though she only whispers one tragic word back at him, it finally makes him join her in the fit of sorrow:


Would he have lingered, had he known that it would be the last time he would see her for years on end? Would he have stayed longer – a few more minutes, a few more hours - if he had known that she'd be gone with the daylight, whisked away when the night fell? Would he have dropped her off wordlessly as he had, if only he had known how weak she felt and how running away from her problems and breathing were the only two things she could remember how to do? Wouldn't he have understood that being in the same town – the same state – as their daughter would have dissolved all her meager will to live away?

But he drops her off at her house just like that, and does not loiter. He doesn't kiss her goodbye or embrace her like he always has. Beck hardly summons up a smile to send her way, and even then, the reception is bad, like a phone call with little service. She shuts the door before she can watch him walk away, and, still wracked with pain and bleeding from within her torn core, she makes up her mind. Her mother is gone, off standing on back streets and in alleys and soliciting that dirty money they've lived off of for so long. But she won't carry on stomaching it any more. Beck was right. She can't stay here any more, and she can't stay with him any more either.

She steals a few hundred dollars from her mother's 'secret stash,' but that is all she takes with her. She takes no picture of Beck, or anything to remind her that they ever fell in love. She leaves with nothing except that ill-earned money and the clothes on her back. The fabric clings to her with desperation, as the only thing she will possess once this city is gone.

Jade buys the most expensive ticket she can find at the train station – the one that will take her farthest away. She doesn't look at where her train is going for quite some time. The city name doesn't matter, just as long as it's not Los Angeles: The City of the Angels…and Devils. She's too mesmerized by the rush of people around her to concentrate, bumping into her and slamming her into walls like a rag doll as they are. And, as the fool she is, she wishes Beck were one of those pushing by her, but all those faces – unremarkable faces who carry their own unique life stories and reasons for boarding a train – blend together. They mean nothing to her. They're someone else's mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin…not hers. She can't bring herself to give a damn, when they're not him. The only thing that could make her change her mind at this point is him, but he'd forgotten to tell her he loved her. He'd forgotten to hug her goodbye. He'd forgotten to kiss her. He won't care if she leaves.

After searching for the boy she can't find – the one she'll leave behind to be haunted by the spirit of their child alone, the boy whose soul she's let slip through her fingers – she gets on that train, and she rides it. Out her window, the city whirs out of view all so quickly. She leaves the city of the angels and the devils behind, though a piece of her is left there… in her child, in Beck… and that piece she misses more than anything else.

She wants to stay, but she goes anyway. She knows she has to.

Peering out the window and drinking in her last gaze at Hollywood's fading skyline for what she knows will be years, Jade remembers how he's always said that he'll never leave her.

Well, he just had to make this harder for her, didn't he?

She hangs onto a thread for those years. It twists and turns around every city she visits, every pair of eyes she sees, every rejection she receives, but it seems to be of endless length. It never pulls her back, although a small tug at her side is always present.

She tries to find herself, but instead, she just gets more lost.

Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix…she goes everywhere in the West where neon lights light up the night sky like pseudo-stars, everywhere the hum of a city resounds, everywhere her old life is not. Eventually, she runs out of cash, but she never looks back and tries to see that old, silver RV, or that road out in the desert they often parked on, or the school she once attended. She only looks ahead, for she's not daring enough to do otherwise. And she banishes thoughts of him from her mind, swatting them away like pesky gnats on a sticky summer day. She doesn't look back.

She can't look back, because she's too far away to see anything, anyway.

The string that trails behind her everywhere she goes binds Jade to Beck, though, to him and their child and to the years she's turned her back on. She's able to pass for eighteen long before she reaches the particular year of her life, and this does help in the long run, though she doesn't sell her body like her mother. She won't stoop that low. Even if she lives in poverty, even if she's hungry most of the time, she always reminds herself what her mother's become, and that's more than enough to make her shun that horrid life. She only wants to think of him possessing her body – she was his and only his - and no one else.

For the first time in her life, Jade buys waterproof makeup, so she can cry whenever she wants to – before auditions, while working her string of cruddy jobs, while singing in tiny, scummy lounges. She cries all the time, since it doesn't matter any more.

She's not really sure how she keeps going, without anyone to watch out for her or take care of her like she's always required. But she does. She learns to live without a crutch to stumble along with at her side. She leans on no one. She trusts no one, because a no one cannot break your heart like a someone can. Better alone and sad and in the company of a no one, than in love and heartbroken and side by side with a cruel, cruel someone.

And as the years stroll by, her mother turns out to be wrong. Jade does not become like the woman: an alcoholic, half-insane, drug-addicted prostitute. She keeps away from alcohol and drugs and prostitution as if they carry the plague, and she's still legally sane – at least as far as she knows. And the more and more she diverges away from her mother's young adulthood, the less like a failure she feels.

She learns to love the rain. It's like her: falling and given up for lost. Dismal drizzles offer her immense comfort, because misery loves company, and Jade is misery in its most tragic shape: the kind of misery that is lost and far away from home. While lost in that downpour, she auditions for countless theater productions and small movies in the hopes of attaining at least some minimal level of fame. But she's always rejected and written off as a failure, frowned at by well-dressed directors as a goth who'll never make it in Hollywood. After a year and a half of letdowns, she stops trying, because she can only take so many reminders that he's the only who ever totally wanted her.

Perchance others would be content to stay away forever, but she isn't. Throughout all her years of aimless wandering, she's always known that she'd return one day, but she'd just put it off for years, to see if the pull she felt to him weakened in any way. And once she realized it hadn't…she stopped trying to break it.

So after what feels like seven lifetimes after hightailing it out of the city with memories scampering after her, she returns to her hometown.

She decides to begin with the most difficult places to revisit, and the first memory she endeavors to return to is Beck's house. She expects to see his silver RV sitting, unmoving, static as ever, in the driveway. She'll knock on his door and he'll answer and he'll forgive her for everything. He has to, doesn't he? But when she gets there, the place where his home on wheels once stood steadily is nothing but dull pavement; the place where they shared some of the moments she remembers most is nothing. It's gone, just gone. She almost can't comprehend it, because it'd been there for so long, for years. She isn't even offered the false sight of it in a mirage. It's just gone.

He got tried of waiting for her, she realizes. He just gave up hope and left. Where? She has no clue. But he's not here, where he's always been: steadfast, as the only constant thing in her life. He'd always been so stationary, so unchanging. How has this happened? Surely, seven years cannot have morphed him into something completely different.

"Beck?" she calls out. He could be in the house…he could have sold the RV…but no one calls back. Is this all she's come back for? To be greeted with a town that he's forsaken? With confusion edging out the reason in all she does, she yells his name again, and again, and again. Her voice gradually escalates in pitch, until a man comes hurrying out from the house and to the driveway, clearly startled by the shrill cries.

"Hello there?" he asks. She recognizes him almost instantly as Beck's father, but she hopes the recognition is not mutual.

"M-Mr. Oliver. Uh…where's Beck?" The potbellied, world-weary man fixes her with a look she can't identify.

"And you are?"

"Oh, I-I'm Jade. I dated Beck-" Then, comprehension sweeps his features, before she can finish what she's saying.

"Ah, you're the one who let that vicious dog loose on me, aren't you?" Jade cringes. He can't still hate her for that, can he? She hopes not. It's been nearly eight years since that happened. Now, she's nothing more than a soul floating back from whence she came, free of malicious intent and anger.

"Yeah, that was me…" she bites her lip sheepishly and looks over at the Oliver's flawlessly trimmed bushes that line the perimeter of the property effortlessly, like algae lines a shore. She suddenly finds herself unable to meet his eyes, and it's not because she feels guilty in any way. She simply can't.

Mr. Oliver's mind seems to register her reason for coming here at that moment, and he folds his arms – though no long-lasting grudge is clear in his stare.

"Beck's not here. He went to work on my brother-in-law's farm in Oklahoma-"

"A-a farm?" her mouth drops open, "In Oklahoma? Why?" Where's the ambitious actor in Beck? He had always wanted to be in moves, at least when she had known him. She can only wonder what the fuck he was thinking by running off to work in Oklahoma. There's nothing out there. It's a dry country with no possibilities. Has he lost his mind? A lot must have changed during those seven empty years of wandering, for him to have thrown the towel in and called it quits and flee to Oklahoma, of all places.

Though she desires an explanation she fears only Beck can offer her from the man, his father only shrugs.

"He didn't say why. He left about a year ago. Said he wanted to get away from here. You know, he never really was the same after you broke up-"

"We-we never broke up," she cuts him off, because it's true. They never did – not officially. It was never really ended, for it would have broken her heart to do such a thing at a time when she was so exposed and so psychologically delicate. They just drifted away once she left, mostly because there were no phone calls or letters exchanged between the pair.

The man's mouth falls into a line, and deep lines of thought cut into his forehead.

"Can…can you tell me where he is, now?" Without wasting words – a trait father and son don't seem to share – he fishes around in his pocket and comes up with a crinkled piece of paper. There, he scrawls down the address in an utterly deplorable handwriting - but Jade can discern the messy scrawling if she looks hard enough. He hands it to her, and she holds it as if it is of the finest and purest of all gold. It is, to her, at least; it's her golden ticket back to Beck. It's her chance to repair the damage she's done, by leaving him alone when his soul was just as broken as hers. She's never treasured anything more, but that's not saying a lot since she's never had anything other than memories to treasure.

She grins at Beck's father.


"No problem." When he smiles back, all she can see is him.

She walks to the curb near the small, residential street, carefully planning her next move as she seats herself on the cement and exhales all the oxygen in her lungs with a sigh. She stares at the paper, as if half expecting the wind to blow it away from her grasp and kill her chances of finding him because Lady Luck just seems to enjoy screwing with her like that. Through some miracle of fate, though, it stays in between her hands. Maybe they are linked, she thinks, and maybe, throughout all those years of rootless wandering and biding time, they were never separated.

Oklahoma is a long ways away.

But she'd go to hell to find him, if she had to, just to look into his face again and hold his face within her hands. While pondering this, she wonders what has become of her sub-zero heart, the one that would let no one in, the one that was always partially wary of Beck and anyone who tried to become her friend. She doesn't think it has melted. She's still just as mean and as witty as she was in high school. She's simply seen more of the world. It hasn't melted; it's only thawed, and only then is a small section of it exposed. How had Beck worked his way into a frozen heart? she wonders. How had he managed to do it? Even years later, she still doesn't understand.

Just as Jade begins to stand up, an object hits her in the head and makes an irritating squeaking noise that really sets off her ferocity.

"What the fu-" she stops mid-curse when she spins around and sees who has thrown the offending toy and jostled a headache awake somewhere within the confines of her skull.

And her defrosting heart skips a beat, when she meets eyes the same color as Beck's, and takes in hair that is shaded just as his locks are. Jade's hands are unsteady as she lowers them to pick up the small purple ball, retrieving the origin of her headache from the ground slowly. She almost thinks the girl in front of her is just a daydream, a figment of her tormented imagination. She blinks and pinches herself about ten times, but the girl is still there, standing stock still only a few feet away from her.

She doesn't even need to think twice to know she's her daughter. She had thought that that motherly familiarity didn't exist, but now, she stands corrected.

She never thought she'd see her again, years after leaving her on a stranger's doorstep, but here her daughter stands, playing with some other child from the cul-de-sac and blissfully unaware that the person she's looking at was once the one she relied on for survival. After searching for a minute, the only thing Jade can find in her is Beck; she can find no trace of herself. It is Beck's hair and smile and eyes and tan skin that jump out at her. Yet…the lack of resemblance doesn't really bother Jade. The less like her she is; the better.

"Ma'am, may I please have my ball back?" Ma'am. She can't recall ever saying that to anyone. Her child just seems so uncomfortable around her, and it makes her frown. The young girl is too socially refined, too unaccustomed to talking to strangers. It makes Jade wants to smile for a moment, though, for even her behavior mirrors Beck's kind and courteous manner of speech. But she'll never make it if she doesn't loosen up her shoulders and stand without her knees pressed together as tight as she can make them.

She holds onto that ball for a fraction of a second too long, while she spins it inattentively between her fingers. Her ill-timed hesitation prompts the small girl to ask for it again:


"Y-yeah. Sorry," she mumbles. She tosses the ball back, and her daughter catches it with ease. Jade isn't prepared for when the petite girl begins to walk away, and she calls out after her before she's taken even five steps in the opposite direction, "Wait!"

Her flesh and blood turns to her, flesh and blood that doesn't appear to have been disfigured by those wicked bruises on her abdomen, or the amount of coffee she had ingested while carrying her, or the lack of doctor's visits to ensure her well being. Her daughter has somehow managed to come out perfect, no matter what she had done that might have messed her up.

Jade lets herself smile kindheartedly upon the girl's pretty, untarnished face, while the fingers the key back to the small child's father within the back pocket of her jeans. It will lead her back to love, back to all she's neglected, back to her life… except the daughter she's left behind. She could never enter her life, now that she's missed so much. It just wouldn't work. How would she ever explain why they left her on a stranger's doorstep and ran away?In the end, that paper's a master key – unlocking everything except the thing she wants the most.

Her body yearns to run to her baby and pick her up and spin her around and laugh, but she plants her feet on the ground firmly and instead only asks one question:

"What's your name?" That inquiry is only one of millions she wants to voice, but she bottles up the rest in her throat for fear of seeming overly interested and awaits an answer.

"M-my name is Grace, ma'am." Don't call me ma'am, she wants to call back. Call me mom. Call me mom. And didn't your parents ever tell you not to talk to strangers?

She must stop wishing for the impractical. She's not her 'mom'. They're not anything to each other but strangers. They never had a connection, and they never will – at least not a proper one.

"That's a…a pretty name, Grace." The name is immaculate. The name is flawless. But the name saddens Jade somewhat at first, as if she'd been hoping beyond reason that, by chance, her daughter would get a name that means something to her, like her own name or her own middle name or Beck's name or the name of one of her relatives or some sentimental crap, or anything that had some significance to her. Isn't fate supposed to mollify you after it fucks you up? Isn't it supposed to touch your heart and pacify you? In the end, though, she realizes just how much it matches the girl's demeanor: full of grace. Grace has always been something she's never had. She's always been clumsy and awkward and aggressive and just generally not graceful. But the young thing walks with grace, speaks with grace, carries her head high with incontestable grace. It is the very essence of what she is: grace.

Her daughter won't be like her; that fact is as plain as day to Jade. She smiles at that assuring thought, but the facial expression pains her to pull off and it falls soon after, when she sees that her daughter is again walking back toward the other child she had been playing with prior to her unsolicited interruption. She can't find the heart to stop her again, so she just stands there and watches her stroll away, back into a better life – a life she will never take part in.

Before Jade turns and leaves that sun-drenched afternoon in the dust, she whispers onto the mild current of air, perhaps in foolish hope that Grace will somehow hear the sound of her mother's words of parting to her:

"Bye bye, Grace."

But her daughter does not turn to acknowledge she's heard her.

Oklahoma is a long ways away.

But the miles are nothing to her. As long as she knows she'll see him, she keeps going, persevering no matter how far off he seems, because she already sees him everywhere – his face in the trees, his eyes in the sky, his touch on the breeze. She boards a train, she hitchhikes, but she gets there, all the while using that little paper as a guide, as a North Star on a clear night. Beck's father had given her a phone number, but she hasn't called as of yet, because she hasn't had a cell phone in her possession for quite some time. She doesn't need to call. She knows she'll find it. She has to. Fate will give her this – even if it denies her all else. Fate will help her find him; she just knows it.

She gets farther and farther away from any big town. The land quickly becomes flat, and civilization dwindles and then finally dies out. The houses become few and far between; livestock begin to fill up pastures. The land gets quieter and quieter, away from the urban buzz of a city. She'd borrowed (stolen) a bike from a house about two miles ago, and now she pedals with all the force she can find left in her body - right, left, right, left. She does not heed her body's demands for rest.

After asking for directions for about the thousandth time from the accented locals, she stumbles across a farm with what looks like acres stretching behind it, running on for miles and miles and miles and filling with an abundant harvest. The address on the chicken shaped mailbox matches the one on her weathered and torn piece of paper.

Hope springs up into her. Her breath becomes ragged with expectancy. She's going to find him. Her thoughts start to come in chipped pieces. She's going to find him.

She dismounts her bicycle and dashes up to the white house's front door and knocks on it hastily, the sound harboring an almost frantic resonance to it – if such a thing is even possible in a knock on a door. Jade pounds continuously, until an old man opens the door. His plaid shirt and torn jean clad body does not push open the storm door, though, and he takes her in with apprehension from behind the screen, for it's none too common to see a goth girl dressed in all black out in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma, madly hitting a cynical old farmer's door as if the sky is falling.

"What do you want?" She scowls when he doesn't bother to offer her a proper greeting. Since formalities are evidently not present, she gives him no answer:

"Where's Beck?"

"Beck? Boy's out in the back, fixin' a chicken coop. Why on earth would-"

That's the last he ever sees of Jade West, because, moments later, she's dashing away and kicking up dirt behind her, the sight of her speedily swallowed up by the sandy cloud.

The first thing she sees is his RV, waiting out behind the country home so goddamn patiently like it once used to in California. She feels sudden, overpowering glee upon seeing it; the place where she's spent some of the best (and worst) moments of her life, and then, she abruptly has an vast, raging desire to punch the metal as hard as she can.

And then, she sees him.

He's a good fifteen yards away from her, just beyond the storm cellar doors. He's shirtless, dripping with sweat in the high heat, and he's hammering what looks like a big wooden box or something of the sort. She quickens her pace. Her boots dig up infinitesimal particles of earth and send them spiraling through the air as she scurries toward him.

At first, he doesn't see her coming, but when he finally takes notice of her, he thinks that she's just a mirage brought on by his acute thirst and that undying love for her he carries with him; love that hasn't ever lessened or died. It's a flame that's been burning for almost a decade. And love isn't love if it doesn't stand the test of time, if it doesn't last seven years, seven decades, seven centuries. Real love stories don't have endings, and he's always known that theirs was never truly over. He was just waiting for it to get interesting again.

This vision of her could just be an optical illusion, he thinks, but it makes fire jump into his heart just at the sight of her face. Now, though, that flame is unfamiliar to him. He hasn't felt it in seven years, and that's a long, long time to be empty of love. Has he forgotten what it feels like? After all, he hasn't been able to lay eyes on any other girl in years, because, every time he would, he'd always see something that reminded him of her. In Tori, in Cat, in Trina; they all lead back to her. It was a one-way road back to Jade. It was as if she had never left, for her spirit was everywhere regardless of where her body resided.

Strange as it feels, he feels it now, even if she may very well be just an apparition sent here - in the middle of this deserted land - to torture him.

"Hey!" she calls out, almost enraged that he's not running toward her and scooping her up in his strong arms, as he should be.

Mirages don't talk, he asks himself, do they?

"Beck!" She finally comes close enough for him to know that she's far more than a dehydrated hallucination. Her face is flushed and perspiring – wearing all black in Oklahoma isn't all too wise – and puzzlement is fast playing out on her face. Doesn't he recognize her?

I haven't changed, Beck, be happy, be happy…

"Jade?" he squints against the blinding sunlight showering the pair of them, holding up a hand to shade his eyes, "What're you doing here?"

"I-I-I…" she can't find anything to say, even though she's been thinking for years about what she'd tell him when she came back. By just looking at him, though, she thinks of her daughter – his mirror image - and dampness comes into her eyes…and she finally finds something to talk about, "I-I saw her, Beck."

They stand apart for several awkward moments, but he remedies this by dropping his hammer and walking toward her, each step breaking the imaginary walls she had built between them with imaginary bricks. He takes her hand, as if they met only once and know each other's faces, but aren't familiar enough to engage in any more contact. It feels bizarre to both of them - this cold unfamiliarity - when they had once been so deeply in love.

"You mean-" At this, she lets herself sniffle.

"Th-they named her Grace. Grace." He looks away, as thoughts of the first and last time he saw his daughter circle in his head and drive him even closer to the edge of the cliff of sanity. Jade finally stops standing alone, and falls into his arms - her emotions sheer putty in his grasp; her broken heart his to mend - for there's only so much one human being can take, and heaven knows she's had more than her fair share.

"She looks like you. Not…not like me. But…she-she's better off that way," she laughs at her own wretched joke. Jade breaks away too soon, though, and, looking over his rugged appearance, she marvels at what this farm has done to him, how this lack of connection to civilization has made him a changed man. She can't say she likes the lack of ambition in his posture.

"What're you doing here?" she motions to the rural area around them.

"Oh, I'm fixing this chicken coop. See, the roof came off this morning and-"

"Not that. Jesus, Beck, you're out…in the middle of nowhere, fixing a goddamn chicken coop!" He smiles, even though her words were intended to have the opposite effect. He's missed her sharp tongue, missed her fanatical possessiveness. He's missed how she used to throw things at him and cuss him out and screech like there was no tomorrow. God, his life's been far too mundane without her.

"Yeah, so?"

"You…you were gonna make it in Hollywood. You're an actor, not a farmer. What the hell were you thinking, running off to Oklahoma?" She's getting angrier and angrier, and she's not fully sure why, but she can't seem to calm herself. It's hypocritical, admonishing him for running away when she'd done just the same thing herself, but she has no mind to stop at just these words. Because he's the strong one, the steadfast one, the one who never leaves. He wasn't supposed to leave. He isn't supposed to be here. He was supposed to stay. He was supposed to stay.

"We." He gestures between them with his calloused hand, and she wonders to herself why the fuck he can't speak like a normal person.


"We were gonna make it in Hollywood. We always said we'd make it together. I wasn't gonna go off and do it alone." Perhaps Jade should be touched, but she isn't. No, not at all. All his words succeed in doing is making her even more annoyed

"Why not?" she seethes, "Christ, you'd be better off without me."

Her harsh words do not destroy his dumb, cliché philosophy that they are two halves of a whole, and without the other, just one part is nothing. It wouldn't have been the same, had he gone out and chased their dreams without her by his side and her fingers sewed in with his. It wouldn't have been as fun without anyone to share it with; success would have only been half the fun. Without the other part, the triumph would have meant nothing to him.

"Nope," he shakes his head. Hammer and broken chicken coop forgotten, he takes his hand away and stuffs it into his pocket and looks her over just as she had done only minutes ago. Beck's not surprised to find that she's not a much different person - only a good seven years older and none the wiser. It's funny, he thinks, because he never really expected her to change in the first place.

"Well…" she unclenches her jaw, when an idea worms its way into her brain, "come on then."

"Come on?" It's his turn to be perplexed, and he furrows his brow.

"Come on, let's go make it in Hollywood and get the fuck out of this…this cow town." He raises his eyebrows in delighted shock at the crude wording, and he doesn't move - not at first, "Well? Are you coming or not?"

She extends her hand with expectant eyes, as if offering a business partnership to him and expecting nothing less than a keen acceptance. Beck takes it without hurry, their gazes never breaking as they linger on the contact far longer than needed. Their hands prickle at that long forsaken, thrilling touch, and then, they're smiling and moments after that, they're laughing… for no reason at all.

"Yeah. I'm coming."

And so he does.

"Do you ever wonder, about her?"

"About who?"

"You know…Grace-"


"No, you never wonder, or no, you don't want to talk about it?"

"The second one."

"You know I wonder. A lot. Every day."

"I know you do."

"But, do you?"

"…Y-yeah, all right? I wonder too."

"About what?"

"Well…I wonder if they lied to her and… t-told her she was really theirs…"

"What else?"

"…I wonder if…"


"I wonder if…somewhere, inside…she still loves me."

"I'm… I'm sure she does."

"I-I wonder if she'd ever…f-forgive me for leaving her."

"I bet she would."

"You're not thinking of finding her, are you?"

"Sort of."

"We'd ruin her. Or…at least I would."

"I don't think so."


"We can find her one day, Jade."

"I don't want to."


"It would be too hard."

"You've been running away for a long time."



"…I don't want to find her, Beck. Don't make me."

"I won't."

"But…I hope she's happy."

"I do, too."

"She wouldn't have been happy with us. You-you get that, right?"



"Go to sleep, babe."

At eleven, she's a heartbreaker.

She's had two boyfriends so far, even at her tender age, and she's broken both their hearts. She'd never let them do it to her first; she'd worn the pants in the brief relationships.

At eleven, she's never felt suitably connected to her mother, nor her father. They've never linked like they should have, and their relationship has always been frighteningly impersonal. They don't talk. It's not personal. Their discussions at the dinner table are like a dull questionnaire. They don't share their troubles like families do in movies, and they don't have long, drawn out, inspirational talks where they tell each other how 'they'll always be there for each other.'

At eleven, she's already going through the motions of life without any real gusto, even if she doesn't know it.

One sinister, stormy night, while she watches a news program ten minutes past her bedtime, an image of a man and a woman flashes onto the screen just after a report on a recent hurricane finishes up. Big red letters appear underneath, spelling out ' breaking news!' with a joyous, ringing sound accompanying it. The narrating voice explains that they'd just been married in a small ceremony, with all of their living family and friends gathered together as one to witness the unification of destinies. The man says their names, 'Beck and Jade,' as if the whole world should already know who they are, as if they have no need for a clarification of who they are or what they've done or where they hail from. It seems they surpassed explanation a long time ago.

"Grace, come to bed!"

She doesn't recognize the man's face, but the woman's features irk her and she can't seem to shake the anomalous sense of familiarity spreading throughout her when she takes a good, long look at the screen. A picture of her dressed in a tight, black wedding dress and carrying a bouquet of roses flashes across the television. She's smiling a grin so wide that it looks like the joy is going to break her face. And then, another picture in the slideshow jumps up, just as a roar of thunder erupts from outside her window and makes the young girl jump. The man in the picture – Beck, presumably - hadn't seemed to notice the photographer's presence, and his eyes are glued to the laughing woman holding a champagne glass – Jade. It's a strange look, the one he's giving her.

At eleven, she doesn't quite know what that expression means, but she knows somewhere inside that it's got to be something very, very special indeed.

"It's ten minutes past your bedtime!"

The young girl also doesn't know that, once upon a far off and forgotten moment in time, back in an old, silver RV, the couple on television wore the faces of two petrified teenagers, fearful of the prospect of a new life they didn't anticipate and weren't ready for. She doesn't know that it was she – the unforeseen child - that had terrified them so. She doesn't know how she captured her father's heart…and at the same time, how she broke her mother's.

Maybe she never will.

"Come to bed now, young lady!"

"One second, mom!" she yells back. Catching one last, memorable glimpse at the newlywed Jade Oliver's pastel face glowing in another world way beyond the television screen – beyond tinseltown and the Los Angeles horizon - she gets up off the couch and turns the device off with a speedy click. The picture shakes and then finally dies, and she wants it back the moment she cuts it off, even if the image is already burned into her memory like a deep scar she doesn't want to fade. Her feet robotically take the dismal, listless steps down the hall to her room, scraping along the carpet with an almost palpable lack of enthusiasm. And once she's there, Grace turns off the light, nestles under the covers, and enfolds herself in the shadows.