"And I know that I am, I am
I am the luckiest."
It's bliss, those few minutes he spends kissing Tori Vega. For that short space of time, there is no Rex in the backseat. There isn't a bad person trapped inside of him. Tori tastes like Tori, and his hands are on her waist, just like they were the first time, except Tori's not drunk and Robbie's not scared. She's here because she wants to be - because she chose to be. She chose him. She chose him, and that rattles his brain with the magnitude of earthquakes. He can feel tremors in his toes.
They pull back to breathe. Robbie's eyes flutter open to watch Tori's tongue resting on her lower lip, cheeks flushed. She's beautifully breathless, the hand that had been holding Robbie's cheek falling on the console between them. Her eyes open slowly, brown irises blown wide by her pupils. She smiles. She laughs. Robbie laughs, too, his hand crooking over his mouth to muffle the sound. Tori's eyes water, arms wrapping around her stomach as she falls against the passenger seat because it is funny, really. A boy like him with a girl like her. It's hysterical.
Several minutes pass before either of them can breathe normally. Robbie's hand falls atop hers, the warm, tan skin blazing under his pale palm. His thumb brushes against her, eyes resting nervously on the crooked lines of his knuckles. It's then he's made aware of Rex in the backseat, catching the doll's blue, painted eyes in his peripherals. His breath stills, turning away from Tori to stare at him, expecting some kind of remark, some whiplash for kissing Tori. Something like wow you're a horrible kisser or she looks completely disgusted or you're such a piece of shit for even touching her or -
But there's nothing. There's just a doll sitting there in silence, drooped against the backseat. Tori follows his gaze, twisting slightly to perch her elbow on the console. The two stare at the puppet for a few moments, the sun slipping slowly under the horizon in the back window of Robbie's car.
"I used to have this imaginary friend," Tori says, with the slightest squeeze on Robbie's hand. "Her name was Gabby. I remember I used to buckle her in the car, save a seat for her at dinner, make room on my bed for her at night - everything." Her head falls against the rest on the top of the seat. Robbie's eyes glue themselves to the frown ghosting over her lips. "If I ever did something I wasn't supposed to, like eat a cookie before dinner or spill paint on the table or something like that, I would blame her. I told my parents they couldn't get mad at me because it wasn't me who did it, it was Gabby. And it made me feel less guilty, you know?"
Robbie's eyes are on the doll again. He takes a deep breath through his nose and lets it out, slow and easy, before his eyes fall closed. Memories project themselves against the lids like an old movie, visions of him holding Rex while the puppet spewed venom at a smaller, younger kid in the lunch line in elementary school. He sees Rex convincing him to throw stones at one of his neighbor's cars, kicking down someone's Christmas decorations - it did make him feel better by being disconnected from the violence, from the wrong. When he told Tori he had never done anything illegal, it was true, at least to him. Rex did the illegal things. Robbie was just the puppet.
Robbie is Rex's puppet.
Robbie's free hand presses against his forehead. "Tori." Her name is crushed as it pushes out of his lips, like it hurts. "In the restaurant, you said ... you said you would tell me what you thought of yourself." Maybe he was just trying to get off of the subject - he didn't want Rex ruining his evening without him even saying anything. He lowers his hand to stare at her, but she's facing the window, eyes on the school. The silence stretches so long between them it's almost like an actual distance, the boy rubbing the back of his neck and blabbering on - "Because I don't see how you can think of yourself as anything but perfect because you're so kind and sweet and talented and beautiful and -"
"I feel like I cheated."
Robbie wasn't expecting that. Not that he really knew what he was expecting, exactly, but it certainly wasn't that. His dark brows knit over his nose as he looks at her again, the girl now facing the windshield. Her fingers twist in her lap.
"Yeah." She gives a slow nod. "I mean, my sister worked to get into Hollywood Arts. I know she's kind of stuck-up and pretty full of herself, but she's not in a prestigious art school for nothing." Tori sinks in the passenger seat, the hills of her knees denting. "And you guys - all of you, Andre, Cat, Beck - you all worked so hard to get where you are now and I just..." Her hand waves a little bit. "I just kind of fell into it and it doesn't seem fair. I feel like I cheated, like I took the easy way. It makes me want to quit sometimes because I don't feel like I've done anything to earn all of this."
"All of what?" Robbie studies her through the dark, trying to understand how she could have even the slightest negative thought about herself. To him, he was the luckiest guy just by being in the same car as her, the same school, the same state, and knowing that she gave him even a sliver of her time absolutely astounded him.
"Hollywood Arts. My new friends." She smiles. It's soft and delicate, like flower petals as she looks up at him again. "You."
The rush of blood to his cheeks is probably at an unhealthy level. Steaming, Robbie turns away, staring down into his lap. "Tori," he starts, only to falter, taking a deep breath to try again. "Tori, you're - perfect sounds ... cliche, I know, but ..." He waves his hands for emphasis, still blushing. "Just because we went to Hollywood Arts and Hollywood Arts came to you doesn't mean you're less talented than us."
"But I didn't even want this until it stumbled on me. I was going to be - jeez, I don't know, a nurse or a dentist or something. It never even occurred to me and I feel ..." She drifts, shaking her head. "Sorry, Robbie, I don't mean to throw this all on you like this -"
"No, it's fine." It is. Robbie can't remember the last time anyone trusted him like this, even dared to open up and share something so personal. The words sound raw and he just knows that Tori hasn't talked to anyone else like this before, hasn't told anyone the way she feels about Hollywood Arts. "Tori, you're really talented. You're a great singer and a great actress and Hollywood Arts is lucky to have you. Sometimes things just ... play out like this, you know? I don't think you should feel bad for how you got to Hollywood Arts. I think you should just be grateful that you did. Because otherwise we wouldn't've -" Robbie stops, his hand rubbing at his neck again, shifting his nervous gaze to the steering wheel. "We wouldn't've met."
Tori's hand finds his again. She holds it in silence, the sun descending behind them, Sherwood High in front. The quiet isn't awkward; it sits comfortably between them, a warm blanket on a cool evening. Rex is silent in the backseat, Robbie's eyes briefly meeting his in the mirror. For once in his life, Robbie challenges him. He dares Rex to say anything cruel about Tori, about himself. He doesn't want to be a bad person, he doesn't want to sincerely believe that someone like Rex is truly a part of him - a part he can't control.
She looks at him, a smile on her face, and she's so pretty in the waning sunlight that it's all Robbie can do to keep talking.
"What if I'm a bad person?"
Tori's face doesn't change. She keeps smiling at him, keeps holding his hand. She even leans closer, over the console of the car. Frozen, Robbie's eyes flutter closed as her lips meet his cheek, planting a ghost of a kiss just below his eye.
"Everyone can be a bad person, Robbie." She leans back, head back on the rest of the passenger seat. "Everyone has bad parts about them." The dark circles of her eyes turn toward the backseat, where the limp, lifeless Rex stares at them. With her eyes on him, she continues - "But they're not all of us, not if we don't let them. You have a choice, you know."
Slowly, he turns. He meets Rex's eyes. "Ventriloquism is supposed to be my talent. Making dolls talk without moving my lips was my ticket into Hollywood Arts. But I like singing and acting, too. I don't want to be tied to him for the rest of my life."
"You don't have to be."
He smiles, and it finally feels like he's genuinely smiling. There are no strings. No puppeteer. Just him. He looks at her again, her teeth buried in her lower lip, and he's so overwhelmed with the urge to kiss her, so he does, one hand cupping her cheek as he closes his mouth over hers. Her breath comes out of her nose in warm, choppy exhales, and under his mouth he can feel the muscles of her lips tensing in an attempt to both smile and kiss at the same time. And he feels it, under his skin, in his bones, setting the strings that have been controlling him his entire life starting to blacken and loosen. This isn't an overnight thing, going from a puppet to a real boy, but Tori's made of fireworks and Robbie has faith.
"As much as I'm enjoying myself, it's nine fifty and my dad is a cop and has a gun."
"Getting shot is not in my repertoire." But he kisses her for just a few minutes longer, tasting her for real this time.
They sing with the windows down on the way back to Tori's house, just barely over the speed limit, because really, Robbie has no plans to make his relationship with Tori's father a bad one, now that she's - he swallows thickly. Girlfriend sounds so strange when it's not a title in a script with some poor girl forced to play his significant other. It's actually, well, significant, because she's not acting here. She's just Tori, and he's Robbie, and finally, that feels like a good thing.
The car idles in her driveway as he insists she stay put, ducking out of the seat to run around to her side. She's laughing and blushing, which Robbie finds incredible, as he takes her hand and shuts the car door behind her. She stays close to him as they walk toward their door, Rex slumped in the backseat, out of sight, out of mind.
"My sister was right," Tori says, squeezing their entwined fingers as she leans close to him. "You are a good kisser."
Robbie grins, his cheeks pink. "Rex was wrong."
"Oh?" Her right brow perks.
"You do like me."
Tori's smile softens, giving him a slow but firm nod. "Yes, I do. You should listen to yourself more often and not him so much."
"I'll work on it."
He kisses her once more before she slips inside, waving slender fingers at him. He takes a deep breath when the door clicks closed, swinging his leg over the porch step and moving back to his car. The smile on his face feels strange and unfamiliar, but certainly not unwelcome. He traces it with his fingertip as he slides back into the drivers seat, eyes automatically drawn to the mirror.
This will not end well, the puppet says, motionless. It scares Robbie for a few seconds, his throat tight and his hands in fists on his knees. His eyes turn to Tori's house, the windows warm with yellow light, and he licks his lips and she's still there, a stamp.
"You're wrong," he says aloud, and the puppet doesn't reply as he drives home.
A/N: ...And scene!
I'm sorry this last installment took so long - I burned my hand and was unable to type/do much of anything for several days. I hope you enjoyed the story! There may be more Rori in the future.