Disclaimer: I still own little to nothing of Step Up. It's a lot closer to nothing.
Note: Sometimes Even Jerks is a spin-off from Play It Your Way. You don't have to have read that piece to understand it but really, why haven't you read it? You break my heart…
Sometimes Even Jerks Get A Chance…
… at making amends
This was some kind of messed-up 28th birthday joke. Something his mother thought was hilarious but he would term terrible.
"You're old enough now dear, you need to look after yourself, it's for your own good."
His own good? Julian Walker was about ten seconds away from throwing a five-year-old's tantrum when his mother spoke again. "Your sister already had hers cancelled and now we're terminating yours. You don't need our allowances anymore dear, you can stand on your own two feet."
Julian frowned. It had been three years since Natalie packed up with that loser Luke Katcher and ran off to California. Sure they'd come back every holidays and still called New York home, but as far as he was concerned he didn't have a sister. Stupid backstabbing little c…
"Julian? Are you listening to me?"
Julian's mother Elizabeth had such a loud voice that she was virtually impossible to ignore but still he paused for a moment before he finally spoke, quashing that whiny tone threatening to make it's escape. "Sure mother, I understand, thanks for the world's worst birthday present."
Elizabeth chuckled. "You've always been the drama king Julian." Julian crossed his arms as he pressed the phone between his ear and shoulder. Stupid family.
"What now mother?" Julian groaned into the phone as he caught his mother's caller ID on the screen a week later. "Cutting off my inheritance?"
His mother didn't even laugh. "Have you heard from your sister Julian?"
The smile instantly fell from his face. "What's happened?" He failed to cover the worry in his voice. Was she hurt? Had Luke done something? If he'd done something Julian was going to kill him.
"If she contacts you, or her landlord does, hang up." His mother's tone was bitter and Julian remembered her face the day he told her Natalie had packed up and run off to California with Luke. It hadn't been a happy face. She seemed to think Natalie leaving had been about her. It was a paranoia Elizabeth had had since her husband left her and moved to England. This self-obsession was the reason Julian had been left the main carer for his little sister. "She made her bed, she can lay in it."
"She contacted you? About what?" Julian's worry didn't falter. He knew Natalie and despite what she told herself, she was just like her mother – proud and determined. She wouldn't call anyone unless it was vital.
"She lost her job and they can't keep up rent on the unit." His mother scoffed. "She was never much for sticking with things. Probably gave up halfway through."
Julian wanted to snap at his mother, tell her to stop being a bitter old cow for once, but he knew it wouldn't achieve anything. It was time to play a different approach. "Okay, look, tell me who this landlord is and what number he's calling from." She made a noise like she was about to ask why. "So I can block his number. I don't need to hear this."
His mother gave him a name and number then reminded him about a family gathering (what a joke – he, his mother and her awful sister, that wasn't a gathering!) before hanging up on him. Julian shook his head then flipped open his cell phone again. He frowned at the name and number his mother had given him then started to dial.
"Hank Norman?" The man muttered an affirmative. "I'm calling about the occupants of a San Diego apartment of yours. Luke Katcher and Natalie Walker."
"Julian Walker." Julian lifted his phone to his ear, a scowl etched to his face as he walked the short distance between the crew's studio and his home, the fresh air clearing his mind though his legs still ached a little. Was it too soon to start saying his age was showing?
He recognized the voice straightaway and therefore knew just what his sister was asking, but still he played it up, just to hear her squirm. "Why what?"
"Why the hell did you pay my rent?" Natalie's tone was a mix of confused and exasperated. "It's been three years and the last thing you said to me was the few minutes after we left the stage at World Jam. If I remember correctly your words were 'you still don't stand a chance'."
"Yeah, well, obviously the judges were in a sympathetic mood."
"Oh please Julian! You don't know what sympathetic means, which brings me back to 'why?'. What's in this for you?"
"You really think I'm that cold-hearted?" His hurt tone was feigned but the question, despite the tone, was real. Did his own little sister, whom he'd practically raised since she was seven, really think that of him?
"Julian, I don't think you're a heartless jerk, but I know you're opportunistic and self-obsessed. You didn't do this for nothing."
"And if I did?"
He could almost hear Natalie rolling her eyes. "I'm paying you back, as soon as I can, with whatever interest you're about to ask of me."
Julian frowned. He was tired, his crew were giving him the shits and now his own sister thought he'd done this for interest. No, he'd had enough for today. "I don't want your money sis. I did this to ensure you stayed in San Diego, far away from me, you got that?" And he hung up before Natalie had another thing to say. Then, switching his phone to silent, he shoved it deep in his rucksack and kept walking.
They started every practice with a summary of the events so far. It was something Julian had brought with him to the new crew when he left the Pirates. Back then it had been fickle things like 'my aunt's coming to visit and she smells like mothballs', something that brought the crew together, but in recent weeks it had turned a little sour. The crew was dwindling and every day they lost funds to continue. Two backers had stepped down the week before and Julian opened that morning with that news. The nine people left in the crew just frowned at the floor.
"It's not the end of the world. There's a competition coming up, $50,000 prize money and we're going to win it, right?" There was only a spattering of murmurs. His optimism failed. "Okay, fine, who has any other news?"
That was when he noticed the muttering between two of the crewmembers near the back. The private conversation drew all eyes to it and they stopped.
"What?" Julian asked, a frown crossing his face. "What's up?"
It was Dave, best known from the crew as the guy that never wore a shirt when he danced, that spoke up first. "A handful of us got an offer, from a new crew starting up in Brooklyn," only three faces didn't turn to him and Julian knew why. They were the 'handful'. "They're serious contenders for the World Jam this year."
"Unlike us you mean?" Esmeralda Lore, the pretty Middle Eastern lead female of the crew, glowered at him, her face contorting in a mix of anger and hurt. She and Dave had been considered an unofficial thing in the last two years but Esme had always come across as the kind of girl who lacked the 'take home to mother' appeal. Plus she told it like it was – she didn't do conventional. Nonetheless this news left her publicly and conventionally hurt.
Dave looked at her with a tired frown, as if he'd expected the attack, but she wasn't about to let him speak. "So who's this 'handful' then?"
Dave faltered and Julian spoke up. "Nico, Dodge and Carly, right?"
Esme's hands clenched at the mere mention of Carly Lang, the only other girl in the crew. Julian didn't need to even think the 'j' word before Dave spoke up and put his foot right in it. "We were hanging out in Brooklyn, that day you said you were busy with family," he was speaking straight at Esme this time and had begun to stand, putting himself on even ground with the short but fiery Iranian who spent every meeting leaning against a wall with her arms crossed while the others sat. "The crew just kinda approached us. Knew who we were and wanted us all. If you'd been there you…"
But she'd heard enough. "Oh rack off." The other three with him were moved to stand as Esme, now holding Dave's blue rucksack in one tightly clenched fist, advanced upon their unspoken leader. Kid Darkness, Tyrone and Julian stood too, just in case things got ugly. "And take your little posse of posers with you!" She swung the bag and threw it at him. "Hope the new crew make you wear a shirt!" The 24-year-old bent a little as the force of Esme's swing connected with his stomach, but it was her face that glowed red instead. He turned and walked away from her, the bag held to him, and she crossed her arms and sat down, her jaw clenched tight in resilience. Nico, Dodge and the now-smirking Carly followed.
"Let me go after them and punch them all." Tyrone crossed his arms and glared after them but Julian held a hand across his chest.
"They're free to leave. I can't say I blame them." He glanced down at his dwindling crew. There were five left: Julian, Kid Darkness, Esme, Tyrone and the ever-silent Firass who was watching his fuming cousin as she sat staring at the floor. For a few minutes none of them said anything but finally Julian spoke again. "Any other important news?" Everyone was quiet. "Okay, I've had enough for today. Practice is cancelled." Then, grabbing his own rucksack, he slumped out of the room.
His phone buzzed halfway out and he dragged it from his pocket, not even looking at the caller ID, his tone a tired one. "Yes?"
You didn't have to be overly observational to realise he was unhappy, but Natalie had always noticed things like that, able to read her brother like a sheet of glass. "What's wrong Julian?"
"Nothing." He got defensive, as usual when Natalie called him out on something, and verged on shutting the phone again, but the intrigue of what Natalie was calling about got the better of him. "What's wrong this time Natalie? Need more money?"
"I didn't ask you to help me Julian so don't act like I forced your hand!"
"I'm not in the mood Natalie. It's been a long day."
"What's happened?" He didn't say a thing. "Julian! Tell me!"
The whiny ten-year-old Natalie who often felt left out of things when her fifteen-year-old brother would have friends around suddenly popped back into his memory. He'd never denied her one single thing before. He wouldn't start now. "A new crew starting up in Brooklyn has poached a few of my members."
Natalie understood what 'a few' meant. "How many?"
"Eight." The rest of his crew had slipped back to the Pirates slowly but surely over the last three years and others, not previously Pirates had followed. "There's five of us left."
"Oh Julian, I'm sorry!"
He scowled. "Oh please." He stopped just outside the studio doors. "You really called to tell me you don't need or want my help with your rent and that I should go away and leave you alone, right?"
Natalie sighed. "Look, I just… I don't want to fight about it J." She paused and he heard a rustle through the phone. "You're going to need some new dancers for the Samurais now."
Julian frowned. "Since when do you care about the Samurais?"
"I care about you Julian, and you care about the Samurais, so let me help!" Natalie snapped and Julian frowned deeper. "I know a good place to find some dancers."
"If you say 'The Vault' I'm catching the next plane down to San Diego to strangle you."
Natalie actually chuckled. "Yes big brother, after you've just helped me I'm going to send you into the lion's den. Honestly, if you go anywhere near there, the only fighting is going to be whether Jason or the twins get to kill you first." Julian frowned. "Though," she started off-handedly. "I'm sure Anala could probably finish you off without too much trouble."
"I thought you were going to help!"
"Oh yeah." He could almost hear Natalie smile. "The club. Okay, take this address down, you'll thank me for it later!"
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