Authors Note: Hey guys! Moments here, with my first ever fanfiction! This story was actually written a while ago, so it takes place between seasons 1 and 2. So when I wrote it, I didn't know anything about Jerome's dad being in jail. I hope you like it!
Disclaimer: I don't own house of anubis or the song Innocent by Taylor Swift. If I did, Jara would definitely be canon by now.
"And next up, performing an original song, we have Mara Jaffray!" The announcer speaks into the microphone, talking to a large crowd of students and parents. People I know, people I love, all waiting to hear me sing for the first time. The host walks off the stage to a few polite claps, muttering a quick "break a leg" to me as he passes. I take one last look at myself in the full length mirror propped against the wall. My dress is a swirl of purples and pinks and blues, a pretty floral pattern that is one of my favorites. It fits my body perfectly, with a flowing, swishing skirt that falls just above the knee. A cropped cardigan of white lace and simple ballet flats complete the look. My makeup is natural, my hair in loose curls. It's exactly what I'm going for: simple, pretty, innocent, and I take confidence from that.
Still, I can't believe I'm about to do this. I mean, what am I thinking? Singing at the school talent show, it's just not me. Performing is for people like Amber, pretty and popular and comfortable in the spotlight. I'm Mara, sensible and dependable and shy Mara. I don't belong center stage, and I feel like a fake. A poser for even thinking I could do this. When you do nothing but fade into the background for so long, the opportunity to stand under a spotlight is a lot scarier than it should be.
But there's something I have to do, something I have to say. And singing this song is the only way I know how to get my message across, to allow my words to be heard. So I take a deep breath, try to quiet the millions of butterflies fluttering around in my stomach, and then walk out onto the stage.
The stage is mostly dark, I didn't want anything crazy. There's just a single light, illuminating a wooden stool with an acoustic guitar propped next to it. The microphone they wired through the inside of my dress is cold against my chest. My heart pounds loudly in my ears, and the short walk from the wings to the stage seems to last a life time. I can feel the audience's surprise. "Mara? Mara is going to sing? I didn't even know Mara COULD sing!" Well, they wouldn't know that, would they? It's not exactly a fact I wear on my sleeve. But I do sing, I have since I was little. When you feel trapped inside your own home, you have to find some way to be heard, to let your emotions out. I pour my heart and soul into my music, its the only way I stay sane. Letting my feelings onto paper means that I don't have to let them out to someone else.
Which is why, more than anyone else in the audience, I am probably the most surprised that I am up here. But this message is too important. He has to hear it, he has to know.
Finally, I reach the stool. I sit down and sling the guitar strap over my shoulder, resting it on my lap. "Hi, everyone." My voice is magnified by the microphone; it echoes through the silent auditorium. "Um, I'm Mara, which I guess you already knew." A nervous chuckle, escaping my lips in a forbidden breath, is met with silence. "This is a song I wrote recently, for someone very important to me. He's done some bad things, but who hasn't? You know who you are...this one's for you."
One last deep breath, and then my fingers start to strum at the guitar, a melody so familiar I could play it in my sleep. Notes quiver off the strings and then float into the air, hovering there for a moment before the next chord is played. I don't think I've ever heard the student body this quiet.
"I guess you really did it this time
Left yourself in your war path.
Lost your balance on a tight rope
Lost your mind trying to get it back."
Words escape my lips, quiet at first, unsure. But with every breath they get louder, more confident. My eyes roam over the audience, searching for the familiar faces of my friends. And there they are, grouped together as usual, the residents of Anubis House. They are all staring at me, captivated.
My gaze lands on Patricia first. She's smirking at me, the only one who isn't surprised by my appearance on the stage. In fact, she's the one who pointed out the sign up sheet to me in the first place, the one who convinced me to audition. She is the only one that knew about my singing alter ego, and when she found out I made her swear not to tell anyone else. She caught me strumming at my guitar and scrawling lyrics in an old notebook one too many times, and finally discovered the truth. Still, though I was upset that singing wasn't my secret anymore, I was secretly glad when she found out. I mean, she is my roommate. It's easier now that I don't have to hide anything from her.
My gaze moves over to Mick. He's sitting at the fringes of the group, on one side of Patricia. I wonder if he wishes he were sitting next to Amber. He's hard to look at, but I make myself do it. Ever since we broke up a few weeks ago, we have pretty much avoided each other. Or rather, he's been avoiding me and I've been going along with it. He ended it with me, and I think he's afraid of what I'll do when I see him again. Maybe he thinks he broke my heart, that when I see him I'll be angry, or worse, start sobbing. Following the tough jock stereotype perfectly, Mick never was very brave when it came to feelings.
Truth is, though, that I'm not any of those things. I was hurt, at first, but now I'm just grateful. I'm grateful for the time we spent together. I'm grateful that he wanted me, I'm grateful that he chose me to be his girlfriend. I'm grateful because when we were together, I felt beautiful. I thought, here's Mick Campbell. He could have any girl in school, and he chose me. I'm grateful because he made me feel special, and that's something that isn't easy to do. I tried everything to make our relationship work, I really did. In the end, though, it wasn't enough. Because although Mick is sweet, and kind hearted, and wonderful, and he made me feel as if I was floating, something I can't deny is that I never felt good enough for him. I felt I could never compare with past girlfriends, like Amber. And I guess I couldn't.
But that doesn't mean I can't be grateful for him. I know a lot of people will think this song is for Mick, but it's not. So my gaze travels to the people sitting on the other side of Patricia.
Nina and Fabian are side by side, holding hands. It makes me want to smile, because if anyone deserves a happy ending, they do. They are both looking at me with surprised expressions, but there's a bit of pride in there, too. Mostly, though, they look happy. Drunk off eachother's presences. He leans over and whispers something into her ear, and she laughs. And cue the sappy love song.
Sitting next to them is Amber. She's looking at me with an unreadable expression; I can't tell if it's happy or sad or angry or indifferent. She never really forgave me for stealing Mick, and that is something I am truly sorry for. I lost a really great friend over him, and in the end he wasn't worth it.
This song isn't for Amber, either, but I hope she listens to the lyrics and realizes that alienating her is something I will never forgive myself for.
Finally, I've reached the last two members of the Anubis group. Alfie is next to Amber. I watch him yawn and stretch, snaking his arm around Amber's shoulders and resting it there. I almost laugh; such a classic Alfie move. She looks at him for a moment and flips her hair, but doesn't move his arm. Good. Amber deserves happiness after everything that happened with Mick, and Alfie is one of the sweetest, most good-hearted people I've ever met. Plus, I'd be lying if I said it didn't give me a sort of twisted, sweet vindiction that when all is said and done, Mick didn't get the girl anyway.
Yeah, yeah. It's petty, and I said I was over him and I'm a bigger person and all that. I'm also a teenage girl. Sue me.
My eyes reach the last person. He's sitting next to Alfie, on the fringes of the group, as always. My brown eyes find his icy blue ones and stay there. Finally, I've found the person who this song is for.
"Wasn't it easier in your lunchbox days
Always a bigger bed to crawl into
Wasn't it beautiful when you believed in everything,
And everybody believed in you."
Jerome Clarke. His eyes lock with mine, staring at me intently. It leaves me breathless and I almost forget what part of the song I'm at. He runs a finger through his shaggy dark blonde hair, and his expression is unreadable. I should've known it would be. Jerome builds walls to protect himself, I knew that. So its not like I expected him to start crying or anything. Truthfully, I'm not sure what I was expecting, only that it wasn't the cool indifference that I was receiving now. His gaze is electric, sending shocks down my spine. I want desperately to look away, but I can't. I have to stay strong. Because he has to know. He has to know that I mean every word I sing, he has to understand that this song was written for him and only him.
"It's alright, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Who you are is not what you did
You're still an innocent..."
My family isn't perfect, I'm the first to admit that. My parents live and breathe sports, and they wanted me to follow in their footsteps. And I tried to please them, I tried until my my arms were sore and my legs were bruised. But their idea of a perfect daughter just isn't who I am. I'm not athletic, and I never will be.
They still love me, though. I may never win an olympic medal, but my parents always told me there was a nobel prize out there with my name on it. And though I know in my heart that there will always be a part of them that wishes I will one day wake up and be a jock, I also know that they try their best to accept me for who I am. They try to be proud of my accomplishments, no matter what field they come from.
Jerome doesn't have that. When my parents said goodbye to me on my first day of boarding school, I knew that it was only temporary. There would be visits and phone calls and birthday cards, they weren't leaving me. Not for good. When Jerome's parents said goodbye to him, it was much more permanent. And I see that it kills him inside. I see it in his eyes, when the phone rings and it isn't for him, when the mail comes and he doesn't get any letters. He tries to pretend that it doesn't bother him, that he's stopped caring. But every time there's a little, tiny part of him that dares to hope. And every time he's dissappointed. And every time the light in his brilliant, icy blue eyes dims a little.
I wish he could see that he is so much more than what his parents make him out to be.
"Did some things you can't speak of,
But at night you live it all again.
You wouldn't be shattered on the floor now
If only you had seen what you know now then."
I remember when he first told me about his parents. How they left him at boarding school when he was 5 and he hasn't spoken to them since. How they left him here to rot, and how he thinks that that's exactly what he did.
I wish he could see that he isn't rotten. On the contrary, he's one of the freshest, funniest, brightest people I know.
He pushes people away to avoid getting hurt, to avoid the inevitable disappointment he knows all humans bring. He makes nasty comments and pulls cruel pranks all so people won't bother getting to know the real him. He blackmails and cheats and in the end all it does is tear him down and push people away. People who could know him and care about him and love him. People like me.
I know he doesn't like to live with all the bad things he does. All the lies he's told, all the people he has hurt, I can tell that it haunts him. But he doesn't know any other way to live. He said he wasn't a kind person, but that was the biggest lie I've ever heard him tell.
"Wasn't it beautiful in your fire fly catching days,
When everything out of reach someone bigger brought down to you.
Wasn't it wonderful runnin' wild 'till you fell asleep,
Before the monsters caught up to you."
You know, I'm supposed to be one of the smartest in Anubis House, maybe in the whole school. I'm not trying to sound full of myself or anything, but genius has always been part of my identity. Even before my parents sent me to boarding school, I was always known for my intelligence. When I came here, my smarts quickly became all I was known for. I'm not complaining, because there are worse reputations to have, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be seen as more than a brain.
Still, for someone who's supposed to be brilliant, how could I have been so stupid when it came to Jerome? How could it have taken me so long to realize that there was so much more to him than he let others see? How could I not have seen that beneath his tough exterior lay a vast ocean of hurt, past rejections building up inside him until he decided it was easier just to shut down completely?
He runs from the truth, from pain and hurt. He runs from his past, from the abandonment he feels every time he thinks of his parents. But he can't run forever, and his monsters are catching up to him. They claw and growl and sprint and won't stop until they've torn him down. His free, careless days were over before they ever really had a chance to begin, and now he needs someone to save him from himself.
If ever there was a person I wanted to save, it would be Jerome Clarke. So how could I not have realized he needed my help? They say people who are "academically gifted" lack common sense, but I never thought I would take that statement to such an extremity.
"It's alright, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Who you are is not where you've been
You're still an innocent.
It's ok, life is a tough crowd
16, that's still growin' up now
Who you are is not what you did
You're still an innocent..."
I'm a girl who likes routine. Normalcy, dependibility, its all a part of who I am. That's why, even after I realized something was wrong with Jerome, it took me so long to talk to someone about it. I knew that whatever I found out would change my life, and perspective, forever. And I wasn't sure if that was a change I wanted to make. Eventually, though, I managed to gather up enough courage to confront Alfie Lewis about Jerome's parents, about his past. I had decided to talk to Alfie because I knew Jerome wouldn't give me any answers, and Alfie was the next best thing. I'd rarely ever seen one without the other, and I knew that if Jerome were to confide in anyone, it would be his best friend and partner in crime.
Once I had made my decision to confront Alfie, actually finding the right moment to confront him was another obstacle entirely. The first step was finding him alone, something much more difficult than it sounds. Alfie was not one to sit in solitude, I had never met someone before who had such an attachment to other human beings. He was a people person, through and through. But this was not a conversation meant for public ears. Unfortunately, Alfie was always with Fabian, Nina, Patricia, and Amber. Or with Jerome. Or with both groups. Or sleeping, or pulling a prank, or doing something else to earn himself a few laughs from his classmates. Just as I was beginning to lose hope, though, the perfect opportunity arose.
It was a Tuesday afternoon right before a huge biology test. I knew Alfie needed to do well on it, I had heard him complain to Jerome about his grade in the class. So when he wasn't joking around in the common room like usual that night, I realized he must be studying. I was right. I found him, alone, in the room he shared with Jerome. He was sitting indian style on the floor, at least five different books open to different pages and spread out around him. An assortment of papers from the beat up notebook resting beside him were strewn haphazardly, filling up any empty spaces in his little "circle of knowledge". It was obvious he was cramming, and cramming hard. He hadn't noticed me enter the room, so I knocked a few times on the open door. He jumped a little at the sound, causing papers to fly across the room from the disruption.
His face broke into a relieved grin when he realized who his intruder was. "Mara!" He cried, a sigh in his voice. "Oh, I'm so glad you're here. You know I'm no good at this whole school thing, but we have that HUGE test tomorrow and I really need to ace it. Or at least pass it. Do you think you could help me study?"
I gingerly stepped into the room and walked over to him, careful not to disrupt any of his papers. "Actually, Alfie, I'm here with a purpose." I sat down across from him, folding my legs underneath me. An apologetic note colored my tone.
"Oh." He looked disappointed, but only for a moment. It takes a lot to get Alfie Lewis down. "Well, that's ok. Any excuse to stop studying. What do you need?"
I took a deep breath. This was it, there was no turning back now. And I wasn't sure I was ready. Ready to dive so completely into Jerome's world. Yet... at the same time I had never been more eager for anything in my entire life. I didn't need to take the plunge because I was already treading water. I was floating, and the shore was in sight. Jerome had done terrible things, yes, but those things didn't define him. He was more than what he'd done in the past. 16 is still small, still young. It was ok that he still had things to learn and discover, ok that he was still growing up. His life had been tough, and that made him tough, at least on the outside. That much I understood, but it still wasn't enough. I needed to find out more because the only way I could help would be to understand him. So I locked eyes with his best friend.
"Tell me everything you know about Jerome's parents."
"Time turns flame to embers
You'll have new Septembers
Every one of us has messed up too."
Alfie seemed taken aback by my question. I suppose this was to be expected, because it wasn't a question a person like me was supposed to ask. He looked back down at his papers, shuffling them around nervously.
"His parents? Why do you ask? I don't know, Mara, ask him. Actually, I've really got to get back to studying, so if you could...you know...leave..."
I sighed. "Alfie, that's a lie and we both know it. I'm asking you because I know Jerome would never tell me the truth. He's told you about them, I know he has."
Alfie stopped shuffling papers and looked up at me, a resigned look coming into his brown eyes. "He'd kill me if he found out I told you, Mara. He doesn't want anyone to know."
"So let's not let him find out." Alfie looked down, clearly uncomfortable with the idea of keeping anything from his best friend, of sharing a secret that wasn't his to tell. "Alfie," I made my voice gentle, persuasive. "This is something I need to know. I'm finding out for his own good."
"Look, I don't know that much, OK?" He sounded defeated. "He's secretive, even with me. He doesn't want anyone to know anything about his past. I just know that his parents left him at boarding school when he was five, and never returned. No phone calls, no birthday cards, no nothing. He could be dead and they wouldn't care." He paused. This much information I already knew, so I didn't say anything, only waited patiently for him to continue.
"I remember our first parent day together. It was a few months after I'd met him, so I really didn't know anything about his parents at that point. But I remember that all the parents showed up, gushing about their kids and acting excited about every little thing. Even mine came, and I don't exactly have the best parents in the world. Jerome's never showed up, though. He just tagged along with my family all day, sucking up to my parents. They absolutely adore Jerome, you know. Sometimes it bothers me that I think they wish he was their son instead of me, but I let him get away with it because his own parents wish they didn't have a son at all.
"I know everyone at this house, and probably the whole school, think he's this huge jerk. And yeah, maybe he can be sometimes. But he hasn't had the easiest life. And you've got to admit," A goofy smile spread over his face. "some of his pranks are bloody brilliant."
I laughed a little. "Yes, I suppose they are." My smile was forced, though. Because I could picture the scene Alfie described perfectly. A little Jerome, maybe 7 years old, watching in the backround as everyone else's parents hugged their children, his ice blue eyes weighted down with a sadness a 7 year old should never have to feel. It was heartbreaking.
I got up to leave. I had learned all that I could from Alfie.
"Hey, Mara? Whatever you're going to do with what I told you...you didn't hear it from me, alright?"
I smiled and turned back one last time, looking at the boy who was closer to Jerome than any other human being on Earth, who knew more about him than he had ever allowed anyone to know, and yet still was so far away and knew so little. "Good luck with your studying, Alfie."
And then I left.
"Lives change like the weather
I hope you remember
Today is never to late to
Be brand new."
These are maybe my favorite lyrics of the whole song. Jerome thinks he's stuck. He thinks he can't change. But I know he can. I believe in him. Today is never to late to be brand new. Please listen Jerome. Please.
After talking to Alfie, I didn't have a huge confrontation with Jerome. That wouldn't have helped, because he never would have listened. He would have changed the topic to something stupid as soon as anything remotely serious came up. Its just how he is.
So I wrote this song instead. I wrote it because right now, sitting on this stage and singing the lyrics that will, hopefully, break through his walls, he can't escape me. He can't change the subject or divert the attention away from himself. He can only sit there and listen to the truth.
"Its all right, just wait and see,
Your string of lights are still bright to me.
Oh, who you are is not where you've been,
You're still and innocent.
Its ok, life is a tough crowd,
16, that's still growing up now
Who you are is not what you did
You're still an innocent."
I enter the last chorus of the song. Its over, done, my last resort has played out.
Jerome, neither of us like confrontations. We're afraid of them, truthfully. Afraid of what might happen if either one of us says how we really feel. But this song is everything, laid out for everyone to see.
Maybe you won't listen. Maybe you won't care. For all I know, you could still hate me because of the whole Mick thing. But hear the song and know this:
Its never too late to change. Its never too late to be different. Your parents are stupid if they can't see the amazing person that's right in front of them, but don't close everyone else off because of their mistakes. Know that no matter what happens, I will always believe in you.
Know that I love you.
The song ends, and applause rings throughout the auditorium. Claps of thunder. The Anubis residents even give me a standing ovation.
My eyes leave Jerome's as I walk off the stage. Still I can feel them, burning into my back as they follow me into the wings.
He knows. He understands. I feel light and free as I set my guitar down, as if a giant weight has been lifted off my chest. He knows the song was for him. And maybe, just maybe, he'll take the words to heart.
I love you, Jerome Clarke. And no matter what anyone else says, that will never change. I see all the good qualities that others overlook. I see you smile and I hear your laugh and I feel like all my troubles have melted away. You said I brought out the best in you, but the truth is, you bring out the best in me. And I know that you will change for the better.
I know that you're still an innocent.
Authors Note: Well? What did you think? review please! My first fanfiction, so I know my writing could definitely use some improvement! Constructive criticism is always appreciated. If I get a positive response, I might post a follow up chapter, which would have Jerome's reaction to the song. Let me know if you want it!