Her room is a hideous pink. It's utterly repulsive. It's not even vibrant neon sort of pink. It's more like some incompetent painter spilled some red in a huge bucket of white. She thinks she'd have more respect for it if it had been more decisive, rather than this bland rosy hue.

It's soft and weak and everything she doesn't want to be.

In fact, almost every room in this new house disgusts her. The kitchen's a sunshiny yellow, the hall is forest green of all things, and the living room has obscene wallpaper in a black and white mishmash. The only place that really fits is the study. It's dark, without any windows. It's unwelcoming and eerie.

She sets up most of her belongings in there.

xx

It's her first day at Hollywood Arts and she instantly dislikes it. There are too many colors – the teachers actually encourage graffiti here – and the halls are filled with posers. She doesn't feel like going to class, she just takes her schedule and stuffs it in her bag. Then she sits on the stairs, letting the kids pass her, chattering away in their desperation to please. Her phone keeps her interested for the next 45 minutes.

She's just searching for tattoo parlors in the area (who's gonna stop her) when someone speaks.

"Hey." She looks up. It's a boy, probably around her age, with ink black hair falling in his eyes and skin like hot mocha. He peers at the screen. "Whatcha doing?"

"Well, before you arrived, I was having a blissfully quiet morning alone." That makes him frown, and she idly notes that he has full lips ill-suited for it. He shakes it off and tries again.

"I like your hair." The weirdo actually reaches out to finger one of her blood red extensions, and she swats him away.

"Don't touch me."

"Sorry," He puts his hands up in surrender, a tiny smile flitting across his face. Her eyes narrow, hating that she's amused him. "I haven't seen you before, have I?" She doesn't answer, still fixing him with her icy glare. "My name's Beck." The idiot's not gonna leave until she responds, that much is clear.

"Jade." She goes back to her phone, now searching through body piercing shops. From the corner of her eye she sees the boy's eyes widen in recognition.

"You're the new girl from Jersey! You were supposed to be in my Improv class, but you never showed. Sure confused Sikowitz..." He sits on the steps next to her, staring intently. "Why didn't you show up?"

She grits her teeth. "'Cause I don't like dealing with people like you." That shuts him up. But he's a persistent little bastard so the silence doesn't last.

"Why'd you move?"

Jade stands, snatching her backpack and snarling, "What dya want, my friggin' life story?" She stomps off fuming.

She doesn't miss another class for a while; he'd just find her anyway.

xx

"Are you crazy?" Her mother wails, extending her arm as if to yank the stud out of her daughter's nose. Jade jerks away.

"Probably, it's in my genes if you're any indication!" She makes to strut past, but her mom grabs her by the arm.

"Take off your clothes; I wanna see everything you did to yourself."

"No way! Let go!" She breaks her mother's grip, running up the stairs to her sickening pink bedroom.

"Do you have any idea what your father would say about this!" Jade stops in her tracks, turning to face the irate woman.

"No. No I don't freakin' know! I don't know because he never freakin' calls!" Her mother must see the shine in her eyes because she loses some of her anger.

"Jade..." But her daughter's already fled to her room.

xx

She passes the bird scene on her first try.

She belts it out with so much feeling that half the class is moved to sniffles by a monologue they've heard innumerable times before. She plays it full of anguish, almost as if she truly gets what it's like to be abandoned by the only creature that understood.

When she's done her gaze shifts over the captivated faces of her classmates to rest on the downcast bald head of her teacher fiddling with a coconut. Jade rolls her eyes, and takes a seat before she can get any feedback, thinking she's safe from over-puffed compliments and criticism she won't listen to. She is wrong as Sikowitz instantly jumps to praise her confidence and self-assuredness. She sinks further into the chair. The entire room is applauding like mad.

As class ends, random people she knows only by sight approach to congratulate her. She wants to yell that the reason she did so well was because she doesn't give a damn what any of them think and their approval is pointless. But even she realizes that would cross a line. They mean well, and that's rare in the world.

There's finally an opening to leave, and Jade hoists her bag higher on her back, practically sprinting away from them and their false compliments. She stops at her locker, which is decorated with an array of scissors.

There's something she's always liked about scissors, and not for any emo reason like self-harm. It's that such a sharp instrument has so much more potential. What easily doubles as a powerful weapon can create such beauty.

She'd never admit it though. It's too cheesy and sentimental. Not like Jade West.

"Hey," Comes from behind her in that growingly familiar voice. She spins to face him with her arms crossed over her chest. Beck shifts his weight sheepishly. "You're getting tired of hearing that, aren't you?"

"Not the word so much as the boy it keeps coming from." He grins, and she thinks it's disgusting that he finds her insults hilarious.

"Anyway, I just wanted to say you did great with the bird scene. You're seriously a talented actress." She blows air out in an irritated huff. His honeyed words are no better than the rest.

"So?"

"So... I was impressed is all. I wondered if you wanted to eat lunch with me."

"Oh joy, because that is what I did it for! Your opinion means so very much to me after all." Jade pushes past him, making sure her faux leather boots tread on his sneakers.

"Look, I was just trying to be nice!" He must have a brain defect that prevents him from realizing when he's not wanted because he's following her, his long legs keeping up easily with her hurried stride.

"I'm sure you were. You strike me as that type of naive imbecile." By this point the people in the halls are staring at them, and she steps up her pace. Not that she cares what they say, she simply doesn't want to be linked with him in any way and that includes in the minds of her peers.

"I thought it'd be a nice change from sitting by yourself all the time!" She stops, and Beck runs into her. He jumps back in alarm. She doesn't look at him, stares straight ahead. The bystanders have gone quiet awaiting the outcome.

"There's a reason I don't associate with people." She uses her acting voice to make herself sound meek. He takes the bait, laying a gentle hand on her, the off the shoulder top allowing him the softness of her skin. It's way too warm against her chilled flesh. Unnatural. "It's safer that way."

"No one's gonna hurt you here." He coaxes. Jade shakes her head, a smirk forming.

"You don't understand," Here she even fakes a sob, "It's not me I'm worried about." She turns and slugs him right in the jaw. Beck falls to the floor clutching his face and the sound of 'ooohs' fills the hallway.

She bends over to look him straight in the eye. "Stay out of my life." It's a growl, and this time he seems to get it.

Jade stalks down the corridor, having successfully earned her position of resident school badass.

xx

"Where have you been?" Her mother asks desperately as soon as she opens the door.

"Out."

"Please Jade, you can't disappear like that, what if you'd been hurt? What if you had died?"

"Then I guess Dad wouldn't have to worry about child support, would he?"

xx

Jade is spearing her salad with her fork angrily. The guy is clearly trying to piss her off. And damn it all, it's working.

Beck Oliver (that is apparently his full name, and it sounds more dramatic using it) had taken her advice; he'd moved on from his odd little crush on her, that was for sure. He hadn't exactly given her a wide berth since the punching incident, but at least he wasn't asking her out. Now he was eating lunch with a blonde chick, feeding her bites of his burrito and wiping the drops off her chin. She would giggle in all the right places, her red nailed fingers (matching the stain of her lips) trailing up his arm. All this was perfectly fine of course. She didn't care what the hell the loser did.

Except they were at her table. She'd been forced to sit by some bipolar girl with red hair (seriously red, not the auburn of regular carrot-tops). The kid was okay, she didn't ask annoying questions or anything, but she did talk a lot.

"Oh, that's Sara, without an H," the girl, Cat, says as she finally notices her new table-mate isn't paying attention to her verbal diarrhea. Jade glances at her, accepting that she's going to be hearing all about Beck's girlfriend. "She's pretty, right?" In a plastic sort of way, yes. "Not a very good actress though..." She trails off looking guilty, not the type to talk badly of others. "But... I bet she's... nice?"

"The way she's hanging off that guy, don't be so sure."

"Yeah... Beck. He's probably the most desired guy in freshman year." Her full attention is on Cat now as she tries to puzzle through her confusing take on the boy.

"What makes you say that? He seems completely average to me."

"You must set the bar on average differently." If that was a dig on her goth style, she was a master of the innocent act. "He can dance, he plays electric guitar, he's a great actor, and he's extremely good looking. At this school, he would be considered a catch." She gasps and claps her hands. "Like a fish! My uncle and uncle took me fishing once, I caught a catfish! Ha ha! Get it?"

Jade tunes out again, and goes back to glaring at the table stealers. Then she blinks. Not to sound self-centered, but she's pretty sure he was just looking at her. But the next minute he's pushing back Sara-without-an-H's blonde hair and giving her peck on the lips. Jade shakes her head. She can only hope whatever extracurricular activities they do together, they don't break her table.

xx

When Jade was six she performed a story with her father every night before going to bed. It was the tale of a little girl with a scarf who tamed a giant terrifying dragon and stopped him from destroying her town. They would play it over and over again, at least once a week for a good 4 months. Her dad would always be the monstrous dragon, and she would be the brave and kind little girl everyone underestimated.

After they were done, her mom would clap enthusiastically, hailing them as phenomenal actors sure to win Oscar's and Tony's and Emmy's and all sorts of awards tiny Jadelyn didn't know. Her dad would then treat her to milkshakes, letting her pour her own chocolate syrup. They would sip and laugh and praise the young girl's work.

And when it was time to sleep, she'd leave them to their whispering.

xx

The cast listings are up for Romeo and Juliet but she hangs back from the horde of anxious teens. Apparently the school had a policy of including at least one Shakespearian piece a semester and there was always a big turnout. Yes, Jade had signed up for the lead. It's a play about forbidden love and suicide; definitely goth material.

At long last the cluster has cleared, each hopeful student running off in either shrieks of joy or tears. She steps forward, scanning the names. She doesn't have to look far; she's at the top of the list, right across from Juliet Capulet.

"Congratulations," It's been a while but she still recognizes his greeting coming from a safe distance behind her. Jade turns to him.

"Beck." His eyes alight at the thought she still remembers him (how pathetic, she thinks). "What do you want?" He shrugs cockily.

"Would it be cheesy to say I'm gonna be your Romeo?" Her eyebrows pinch together as she checks the bulletin again. There it is: Beck Oliver . . . Romeo Montague.

"Damn it!" She spins to face him. He appears hurt by her vehement displeasure, but that has never stopped her from speaking her mind before. "Of all the wannabes and boneheads in this school I get paired with the dolt who won't leave me alone!" She walks away and, as expected, he follows.

"Look," He's lost that easy going tone, and she takes pride in that, "We're gonna have to spend a lot of time together, we might as well get along." He takes her silence as permission to continue. "Why'd you audition for this? Romance doesn't seem like your style." She ignores the obvious jab.

"'For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.' That sound me enough for ya?"

"Ha, you're right, of course. What better outlet for your clear issues than the world's greatest tragedy?"

"Oh, and I suppose you picked it because you're so well adjusted?" The dark hues of his cheeks redden and he ducks his head.

"Definitely, I'm the picture of mental health." She shoots him a look at these mumbled words loaded with sarcasm, but decides not to pry. Everyone's entitled to their baggage.

xx

She buys her first six-pack the day before their first rehearsals, enjoying the symmetry of it. She pays a skeevy guy 20 bucks to get it for her, but it's worth it. She only downs one can, but it's enough to make her gratifyingly woozy and wonderfully buzzed. Stuffing the other five into her backpack, she walks (staggers) home through the dark streets of LA.

She'd stayed late after school practicing with her co-star. For all the problems she finds in him, Beck is a phenomenal actor. It grates on her nerves to watch him profess his undying love for her with that twinkle in his eye, daring her to go off the script and attack him for it. It's almost worse than having to deliver her accompanying lines to that awful grin of his.

The beer gave her a distance from the experience that she urgently desired. Now she could pretend that he could mean the words he said, and she was whole enough to accept them. It's one of the best nights of her new life, even if she throws up once on the side of the curb.

When she walks in the front door, her mother's head shoots up in hope. They lock eyes in a battle of wills. Jade wins. She strides to the kitchen, placing the rest of her beer in the door of the fridge. Her mom won't care; she's given up reprimanding her, now spending most of her nights flipping through old photo albums. She's trying to find where it all went wrong.

Jade's already exhausted that search.

xx

She's on a date with a guy who thinks that one tattoo on her arm and two facial piercing makes her a freak – the kinky kind. It's only about ten minutes into the movie but he's already made more moves on her than she can count on both hands. Honestly, she can't remember why she'd said yes. She only knew that the play was coming up soon and the thought of a stress reliever was appealing. Christ, she doesn't even remember his name! Only that he thinks it's cool to wear a hat everywhere. He's wearing one now and it's rubbing uncomfortably against her cheek as he tries to—

She stands, knocking his lips away from their greedy exploration of her neck. Mouthing 'bathroom' (he probably can't see that in the dark but it doesn't matter, she doesn't care), she side-steps her way out the row of seats and heads for the safety of the lobby.

Ugh, not that she's had extensive experience with boys, but that was the worst date of her life. He was like... like... those fish that hang off of sharks, sucking the muck off their skin. She shudders, wiping his spit off with the back of her hand. No, she's not going back in there. She's leaving. Courtesy be damned.

"Jade! Hey, Jade, wait up!" She tosses a look over her shoulder without breaking her gait. In fact, she walks faster, simply to spite him.

"Beck, seriously, I don't know what you've read in your vampire novels and whatnot but stalking is not a turn on for most girls." He huffs irritably at her (probably dead on) assumption.

"I'm not stalking you! And would you slow down?" Jade complies, stopping and turning with her arms folded. He takes a deep breath, not used to shouting and jogging apparently. "I just noticed you running out of there and I had a feeling it was more than the cheap special effects getting you down." His eyebrow quirks up. "Bad date?"

"No, actually, it's going extremely well, thanks for asking." She grits her teeth through the lie. Beck seems to deflate at her statement, letting his curtain of hair obscure most of his face.

"Oh." She blinks at the strangled emotion audible in his single syllable. Instead of regretting her childish reaction to his innocent inquiry, she has to restrain herself from criticizing his poor hold on his feelings. He shakes his head and regains his composure. "So, uh, why were you leaving?"

"Bathroom."

"You passed the ladies room back there."

"Well, I was trying to escape you, wasn't I?"

"I guess you were. My mistake. Go on, have a wazz and return to your lovely date!" He even makes a sweeping gesture with his arms as he takes a contemptuous bow. Rage begins to burn in her stomach and she only goes a few feet before rounding on him again.

"You know what you are? You're just a mutt chasing after a car! Even if you did manage to catch it, you wouldn't know the first thing to do with it!"

"Oh, thanks for that stirring analogy, Jade, it really made my night!" He taunts, walking backwards towards the exit of the theatre. Her mouth is already opening to ask why he isn't going back to the movie before she realizes that would be taking an interest in his life. Instead, she stomps defiantly into the ladies room. She heads immediately to the faucets, splashing cold water on her face. Looking up, she sees the red splotches from their shouting match have disappeared but her shadowy eye makeup is a mess. It's okay though. It's not like what's-his-name will notice; there are more appealing areas to her physique than her face.

xx

She comes home from school one day and walks into the living room to see a disturbing sight.

"Mom!" Jade's mom looks up to give her a blank stare. Jade rushes over, snatching the pack of cigarettes out of her hand. "What are you thinking? Are you trying to kill yourself?" Her mother doesn't reply, just watches her. Desperately Jade flings the box into the wall, the cigs bursting out like fireworks upon impact. Mom doesn't flinch, doesn't react, keeping her unfathomable gaze on her daughter. In her eyes there's this wonder, because she can't understand how Jade went from adamant indifference to this explosive caring. Jade can't handle the silence or the betrayal that her twisted mind has wrought of the smoking, and flees to the study.

There she puts on music as loud as she can, hoping the rhythm and the beat will somehow bring order to the chaos in her head.

xx

"If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine," Beck's voice projects to the audience, even though it feels like it's only meant for her. "The gentle sin is this: my lips. Two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss." His hand gathers hers, as the script dictated, and she lets him with metaphorical stars in her eyes.

"Good pilgrim," She recites to him, "You do wrong your hand too much, which mannerly devotion shows in this; for saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch," Her other fingers now take his free hand, making show to trace a delicate swirl along his skin. He shivers under her, but now is not the time to think on this. "And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss."

"Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?"

"Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer." It is odd playing Juliet as week and naive, letting Romeo guide her, and yet it's strangely empowering.

"O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; they pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair." His gaze bores into her and, not for the first time, she wishes their story could be more like the play. Even if they were bound to end in tragedy, to have this whole-hearted young love so full of trust and acceptance would surely be worth it.

"Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake." She braces herself for what is surely to come, like they have practiced before (though never truly touching as they are now bound to do).

"Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take." His head dips down, placing a gentle kiss upon her lips. The crowd gasps and 'aww's and whispers. It doesn't matter, because they're no longer Romeo and Juliet but Beck and Jade. She ignores her stage directions, tilting her head to deepen the kiss, for their own sakes. When he is finally forced to pull away, her eyelids flutter open. His eyes are wide, surprised yet clearly ecstatic, and she thinks she'll kiss him a thousand times if it will make him that happy.

"Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged." He certainly sounds awestruck enough and the sensible part of her is alert enough to worry if the audience can understand him through his breathiness. Her words are steadier, though she can't imagine how.

"Then have my lips the sin that they have took." Beck becomes Romeo again as he grins wryly at Juliet's newfound confidence.

"Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again." They kiss once more, her hands coming up to hold his head in place (this is as they'd agreed in rehearsal, to show off the moment Juliet takes charge). When they break apart this time, she doesn't relinquish her grasp.

She whispers to him, her mouth brushing against his with each movement, "I still don't like you."

"I know," He responds, sadness laced in the soft syllables.

xx

The girls' dressing room is empty since all the other possible inhabitants are out there mingling with the well-wishers. Jade sits in her chair at the vanity they'd designated for her. There are cards and gifts and flowers before her and she doesn't know what to do with them. It's as if she's in a daze from being another person for so long. The adrenaline and endorphins are making her silly.

She hesitantly picks up a piece of paper, unsure whether it's the right thing to do. Nothing really makes sense. Most of the cards are nice and normal, with things like "Congratulations" and "You were wonderful" on them. They're from people she thinks she knows: Cat, who she remembers might talk a lot and has very red hair; Robbie, whose puppet had called her a "gloomy emo chick" once; Andre, who might be Beck's friend and likes to play music in the halls.

There's also one printed on stationary with teeth along it's perimeter that reads "You're awesome. Please love me," from a guy named Sinjin. It goes in the bin.

There are chocolates from the director and producer: "For making our show a success!"

And there's a small bouquet of red roses lying forlornly on the desk. No card. They're wrapped in clear plastic. Entranced, she gingerly takes the head of a flower in her fingers, sliding it out from its brothers and sisters. It's the color her hair extensions were when she met him. She takes a deep breath in; enjoying the clean, moist scent it gives the air. Slowly, she places her thumb on one of the thorns littering the stem. It pricks a bit, and then her finger begins to bleed. It's also red.

"Jade, hey!" Beck sticks his head in the doorway. "What are you doing in here? Everyone's asking for you." His curious eyes dart to the roses and then to her hand, going wide. "Oh, Jade, you're hurt! Hold on!" He runs into the room, searching the other vanities. She thinks he's getting way more worried than the situation warrants, but doesn't mention it. She just goes back to inspecting her thumb.

He arrives at her side with a large wad of tissues. They land on the table with the quietest of 'plop's and he snatches up five or so to press into her bleeding finger.

"Here!" The pressure hurts a little at first, but then it fades and all she can feel is the warmth of his hands seeping through the thin Kleenex. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," He mumbles as he dabs at the tiny cut, "I never meant for this to happen. It just would've cost so much more to get them all dethorned, and I only had 24 dollars, so..." She realizes without much surprise that he is the one who sent the gorgeous roses. The corners of her lips twitch upwards, but he's too guilty to see it. He pulls the mess of bloody tissues away. "Has it stopped?"

"Why are you in here?" She asks. It's a much more important question anyway.

"Uh," He blinks, "To see if you wanted to come out and talk to people. The entire audience wants to meet you, you know." Jade shakes her head; standing but not letting his hand leave hers.

"Nah. Let's get outta here." He blinks again, looking entirely confused.

"'Let's?' Like... you and me? Together, when not previously mandated to be?"

"Exactly." She leads him towards the door, which he obediently walks to with her.

"B-but what about everyone else? Don't you want to see your parents at least?"

"No one's out there for me." She doesn't tell him that the only one who cares is already here.

The roses are left forgotten on the vanity, yet they no longer look alone.

xx

Over the next six months they'll go on several dates, which they'll never admit are actually that. They don't see other people, but each won't know that about the other. They'll read script pages and monologues to one another over greasy pizza and vanilla coke. They'll sing and laugh and kiss; things she hasn't enjoyed for a long time.

Jade will spend time with his friends, until she actually forms genuine connections with them. She will even try and repair her relationship with her mother.

They'll convince themselves they're just kids messing around, hanging out. They're too young to feel too strongly for someone. It'll work for a while.

Then Beck will tell her he really, really likes her and she'll read between the lines. She'll storm out of the cafeteria in a huff, unable to believe he could mean such a horrible thing. To her, love is merely a lie designed to string people along until you're done with them. She'll hate that she let herself get in so deep, and raid the old unopened beer in the fridge.

The next day he'll arrive on her doorstep in a frustrated tirade. He'll ask why she won't let him in (he's standing in her study, but she knows what he means). He'll demand to know if he even matters to her at all. She'll start to cry, but will try to hide it. Beck knows her so well that he'll notice it no matter what she does. He'll wipe them away with his thumbs as he rests his forehead against hers. He'll whisper that he's sorry, he overreacted. She'll interrupt, say yes, she does care, that he's the most important person in her life.

From that moment on, they'll date exclusively. They'll still shy away from the 'L word' but it's enough.

She'll divulge little details of her life in Jersey (he thinks she must've been an adorable kid). He'll dream about moving out and getting a dog (she could get used to that as long as she wouldn't have to clean up after it). She'll tell him about the remaining 3 cans of beer (he pours them down the drain). He'll give her a rose on Valentine's Day and another on her birthday (she never lets him see how big her smile gets). She'll hope her dad's 'fresh start' is going well (he won't agree). He'll introduce her to his parents (she'll be shaking in anxiety the entire time).

They'll have more fights than they can count; they'll still have those insecurities lurking beneath their usual happiness. They'll always make up in the end though, and they won't notice how each argument leaves them stronger than the last.

It's not a typical love story, but they take the fact neither of them have died as a success.

xx

Big thanks to hup123hup123slapslap who generously beta-d this. I really love this one, it makes me smile. Tell me what you think of it, or if anything didn't make sense or fit with continuity.