Disclaimer: None of the characters are mine, although I have enjoyed taking them out of their boxes to play a bit.
Paper Planes & Fireflies
When she was seven, Tori Vega had a friend. She thought they would be friends forever. Almost sisters, really, since Tori couldn't stand the one she actually had, and Jade lived just next door. She often asked her parents if they could adopt Jade and send Trina off to live with the Wests. Proclamations like that were always answered by Trina huffing and stomping her foot and, more often than not, calling Tori a 'stupid little kid' and then whining incessantly throughout the rest of dinner. Trina hated it when Tori's best friend was over, which was often. Jade slept over every Saturday night, and sometimes on Fridays. They would take all of Tori's blankets and build a castle, even though Jade always insisted on calling it a fort. The window sill, Tori's dresser, Tori's desk, and the headboard of Tori's bed were designated corners. They would gather chairs from throughout the house and scatter them around her room, using them to keep the blankets lifted. Tori didn't have a large room, exactly, and the castle/fort ended up being more chairs than space to roam around. Tori and Jade would sit on the floor with flashlights and tell each other stories. Usually about a fiendish monster that shared some startling similarities to Trina. They would laugh, and joke, and sing, and sometimes Tori's mom would knock on the door to check up on them. The first time she opened Tori's bedroom door and knocked over a chair that caused the entire blanket structure to collapse was also the last. From then on she just talked to the girls through the door, seeing if they wanted snacks or to watch a movie that Tori's dad had rented on his way home from work. The answer was usually no, but she asked anyway.
It was her first day. Tori was excited, and nervous, and newly single, she told herself, remembering that she had broken up with her boyfriend Danny not too long ago. She was ready. Or, at least, ready to be frustrated all day. She had been there for, like, a minute and she was already lost. Trina had abandoned her, claiming that she couldn't risk her reputation by being seen with the 'geeky new kid'. Tori had never really experienced nerves like she had now. Not unless you counted the showcase, where she had to give an impromptu performance with a boy named Andre after Trina's tongue got all swollen and gross. But even then, Tori's nerves had faded and disappeared altogether once she started singing, only coming back once she was finished and had to deal with the raucous applause and congratulations. She couldn't really understand why people were telling her what a great job she had done. She had just gone out there and… sung. That was it, nothing special. As she wandered through the hallways, trying to find her first class, she still couldn't believe that they had asked her to attend. Some of the other kids in the showcase were amazing. Like, actually awesome, and she was just Tori. She'd never even really sang outside of the shower, and suddenly she was expected to do performing and acting and singing and dancing and all kinds of other things that made her insides twist and contort and flip around like there wasn't any other organs in her belly except for her acrobatic stomach. She saw a janitor and asked him for directions, thanking him like a hundred times as she sped off down the hall in the direction he pointed. She stopped outside the classroom, taking a deep breath as she steeled herself and walked inside. It wasn't so bad. Small, half the room taken up by a slightly raised stage. Plastic chairs that didn't really look terrifying or threatening at all. She spun around to sit down, feeling a body blocking her way. She gasped at the boy in front of her, a coffee cup held precariously in his hand, liquid still dripping from its edge. And as she was apologizing, trying to wipe some of the excess coffee from his shirt, a harsh voice cut through the room. "Dude! Why you rubbing my boyfriend?" Tori stuttered, still patting the stranger, and brought her eyes away from his chest. "I'm sorry, I spilled his coffee and-"
"Get away from him!" The girl was staring at Tori like she couldn't believe that some chick was still daring to touch his chest. Tori yanked her hands down to her side as the boy smiled at her. "It's no big, really," he said calmly. "Oh? So you think she's prettier than me?" The girl snapped, cocking a hip out to the side. The boy cringed like he knew he wouldn't be able to win the argument and settled instead on sitting on one of the plastic chairs set up in the classroom. He plucked at the wet fabric clinging to his chest as his girlfriend shot Tori a death glare and dropped into the chair next to him.
Tori groaned as she took a seat in the back, thinking that she couldn't have gotten off to a better start at this new school. She leaned forward, her elbows on her knees and her face buried in her hands, wanting nothing more than to leave and go back to a normal high school where she had friends and knew the teachers and wouldn't have daggers thrown at her first thing in the morning. She heard the teacher start talking at the front of the class and raised her head, her hands dropping between her knees. Her attention was stolen, though, when she caught that girl's eyes staring at her. Tori's eyebrows furrowed together as the girl's head whipped around to the front of the class. There was something about her, and Tori wasn't sure if it was just because she seemed like she might actually want to hurt Tori, but something was stirring in the back of Tori's mind. Their teacher chose that exact moment to notice Tori. "Ah! Who are you?" He asked quickly, obviously startled if the way he physically recoiled was anything to judge by.
Tori gave a small smile and wave. "Tori Vega. I just transferred from-"
"Fascinating!" He clapped his hands together. "Well I'm Mr. Sikowitz, but no one calls me that."
Tori narrowed her eyes. "What do they call you, then?"
"Sikowitz," he said with a grin that slowly fell. "They just, don't, usually use the Mister part, I suppose. Anyway! Tawny-"
"Whatever, why don't you come up here and we'll play a little Freeze Scene to warm up! Ha! Get it? Freeze? Warm up?" He grabbed the end of the scarf hanging around his neck and threw it over his shoulder as he jumped off the stage and headed toward the back of the classroom.
"I don't know what that is." Tori felt a blush of embarrassment warming her cheeks as several heads turned back to look at her.
"It doesn't matter, Corey, just get up there!" Sikowitz encouraged her by nudging her chair forward with his foot as he passed by.
"My name is Tori," she grumbled as she got up and walked up on the small stage.
"Andre! Stage!" Sikowitz gave an enthusiastic swing of his arm.
Andre smiled at Tori as he hopped up onto the stage and she returned it, although her smile was much tighter. Andre leaned in and nudged her arm with his elbow. "Relax, you'll be great. Just have fun with it." Tori was just grateful that she actually knew someone at this school besides her crazy sister.
Sikowitz leaned against the wall at the back of the class and folded his arms across his chest. "Now, since Tori has never played Freeze before, we'll start off with something easy." Tori loosened up and beamed at the simple fact that her teacher had gotten her name right. "Who has a suggestion?"
Several students started talking, throwing out ideas that sounded ridiculous and random and Tori felt the nerves and blush return in full force because of it. Mostly though it was because that girl was purposely not looking at her, deciding instead to stare at her own boots in an almost uninterested boredom.
"Alright, settle down!" Sikowitz called as he adjusted his legs, propping one of his feet up on an empty chair. "Okay, Andre, you're a mailman trying to deliver a special letter, but there's a wild animal attacking your leg." Andre nodded and Tori could see the wheels in his head turning. The butterflies in her stomach had turned into fully grown birds beating against her insides. "Toby, you are a disgruntled airport employee who believes that everyone is trying to smuggle a rare sub-species of raccoon onto a flight." Tori opened her mouth, to correct her name again or ask what was going on, she didn't know. But it didn't matter because Sikowitz plowed on. "So, we'll give these charming children a minute or two to entertain us, and then, once one or both of them is in an awkward or amusing position, someone from the audience will yell out 'Freeze!', at which point the players onstage must freeze exactly how they are. Whoever yelled freeze must jump up on stage, and tag one of the players." Tori's breathing had sped up. He was talking too quickly and it was too new and she was too lost and it was all too much way too fast. "Once a player has been 'tagged out'," Sikowitz said, air quotes and all, "they leave the stage and the oncoming player takes up their exact position. It is up to the oncoming player to start off a new scene based on their positions. Got that?" A round of yeahs sounded, drowning out Tori's desperately murmured 'no'. "Excellent. And… action!"
Tori struggled at first. It was like being thrown into the deep end with no idea how to swim, or even float. But Andre was encouraging, with little nods of his head telling her she could do it, and he took most of the burden of the scene on himself, so Tori was more or less just reacting to what he said. After a minute or two, she started to feel a rhythm and got a bit brave. It was ridiculous, the characters, what they were saying, how Andre kept half-falling over only to jerk himself upright and shake his leg, all of it. But she found herself grinning inside and before she knew it, she was bent over, holding onto his foot as someone shouted 'Freeze'. Tori waited, her face almost buried in Andre's bent knee, her hands wrapped around his shoe, trying to help him stay balanced when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She stood up and saw the boy whose coffee she had spilled smiling at her. He gave her a wink as she stepped out of the way and off the stage and heard them start up a new scene behind her, Andre taking on a strange English accent as the other boy offered to spit shine his shoes. The girl was still avoiding her gaze as Tori walked past her back to her seat.
When she was eight, Tori Vega had a best friend. During the summer, there was never a pattern to when Jade would sleep over. Sometimes on weekends, sometimes during the week. They didn't have school, so Mrs. Vega didn't mind if Jade spent the night. Tori went to camp during the day, more often than not coming home with bruises or dirt smeared on her face from a fight she had gotten into with Trina, but Jade was always waiting. Sitting on the front steps of her own house, her eyes lifting from the ground as Mrs. Vega's car pulled into the driveway. She never even had a chance to put it in park before Tori was unbuckled and clambering out of the car, Jade's enthusiasm matching as she jumped down her steps and jogged over. Sometimes they'd stay in Tori's house if it was raining, but if the sun was shining and the air was warm, they would go to the park down the street. Tori liked climbing on top of the monkey bars. Jade liked curling up in the tube at the top of the slide. Sometimes, if the weather was really warm and their parents let them, they would bring jars to the park at nightfall and try to catch fireflies. Trina was usually sent to bring the girls home if it got too late. Tori's jar would still be empty, while Jade would be bent over, staring intently at the group of tiny lights in her own jar. She would wave Trina away, Tori would laugh, and then, with a small smirk, Jade would unscrew the cap on her jar and watch, almost in awe, as the glowing bugs flew to freedom, spreading out into the dark air around her. One time, in the beginning of August, Jade let them all go, and then, quicker than Tori's eyes could actually follow, she brought the jar up and snapped the lid down, recapturing one of them. "Why are you keeping it?" Tori asked as they walked back home, Trina stomping her way down the sidewalk far ahead of them. "I like them," Jade shrugged, the jar clamped between her hands, pressed up against her stomach. "I do, too," Tori smiled. They walked in silence, Trina eventually disappearing from view, and the girls slowed to a stop at the bottom of Tori's driveway. Jade looked at her house, a couple of windows lit up from the inside, with a frown. Tori poked her elbow into the girl's side. Jade made a movement, almost like a squirm, and clutched the jar a little tighter. "They've been fighting. Every night this week," she said quietly. Tori looked from Jade, to the Wests' house, and back again. She grabbed Jade's elbow and pulled her up her driveway. "C'mon. I've got pajamas you can borrow."
The firefly was dead when they woke up in the morning.
Sikowitz's game continued for a while, and being in the audience was actually pretty fun. Tori was amazed at how quick some of her classmates were. Changing characters and scenes with literally one line of set-up. She didn't dare call 'Freeze', but she did watch carefully each time someone else did. She thought about what they might do with the positions, imagined what sort of scene they could possibly come up with. She was never right, but she was proud of herself for trying. It was a quieter sort of participation. Eventually Sikowitz called an end to the game once a girl with bright red hair had made a boy be a giant stick of cotton candy. She couldn't really do anything after that, and the scene had sort of stalled. It was still funny, but Tori leaned back in her chair as the people on stage took their seats and the teacher returned to the front of the class. "That. Was. Excellent!" A coconut had materialized in Sikowitz's hand, a crazy straw poking out from the top of it. He took a loud slurp as his eyes scanned the room. "It was also exhausting, so break into your groups and work on that assignment from last week while I enjoy a refreshing beverage. Tony!" Tori resisted the urge to roll her eyes and looked at her teacher as all the other students started moving chairs around and shifting seats. "Since you weren't here, just find a group to join and they can fill you in, hmm?"
Tori nervously glanced around the room and sighed with relief as she caught Andre's eye. He grinned and motioned for her to join him. She grabbed her bag and walked over to where his group was gathering. "Tori, this is Robbie and Cat. Guys, this is Tori."
Tori waved at the girl with the bright hair and a boy with a puppet on his hand. "Andre," Robbie whispered, "you didn't introduce Rex."
"Rex?" Tori asked, almost afraid of the answer.
The puppet's head turned in her direction. "At your service, pretty lady."
Tori caught Andre's eye and he shook his head, mumbling, "Don't ask."
"I think it's amazing how you have so many names," Cat chirped. "I tried to get my mom to call me Freddie once. She didn't do it, though."
Tori laughed nervously. "I only have the one name. Just Tori."
"Oh." Cat didn't seem phased in the slightest and turned her attention to Andre as he cleared his throat.
"Right, so about this scene we're doing."
Tori listened intently as Andre explained that they had been assigned to write and perform a dramatic scene based around someone dying. It had been decided that Robbie would be dying, Rex was his grieving brother, Cat his heartbroken girlfriend, and Andre was the doctor delivering the bad news. They decided that Tori could play Robbie's mother. "You can do an old lady voice, right, Tor?" Andre asked, glancing up from his notebook.
"I sure can, sonny boy," Tori attempted.
Cat leaned forward and patted Tori's knee sympathetically. "It's okay. There's still time to work on it."
"Maybe I should be the one who's dying," Tori chuckled.
"As long as I get to give you one last kiss before you go, I'm game," Rex said, his head bobbing as his mouth opened and closed.
"Robbie!" Cat cried, smacking him on the arm. "You're scaring Tori!"
"It wasn't me!"
Tori laughed along with Andre and settled a bit more comfortably in her seat. They all discussed ways to incorporate Tori into the script. They hadn't managed to write much yet, so Andre assured her it wouldn't be a problem at all. They all talked, making jokes and occasionally suggestions for the scene. Andre would jot down ideas. Tori tried to focus and keep her eyes from wandering across the room, where that girl and her boyfriend were sitting alone, both of their backs turned to her. The girl lifted her head and turned it slightly, as if she could feel Tori's eyes on her back, and Tori quickly looked back to Robbie, who was being verbally abused by his own puppet. The rest of class passed relatively quickly, and as soon as the bell rang, Tori was digging in her bag to find her schedule. "What you got next?" Andre asked, peering at the paper as Tori unfolded it.
"Ugh, math." Andre and Robbie groaned along with Tori, but Cat let out an excited 'yay!' "Anyone know where room L104 is?"
"That's my next class, too!" Cat announced with an enthusiastic clap of her hands. "It's by the library. C'mon, Tori, I'll show you." Tori waved bye to Andre and Robbie as Cat tugged on her elbow and led her from the classroom.
When she was nine, Tori Vega had a surrogate sister. Her actual sister hated it, simply because Jade would always take Tori's side in an argument. And it's not like Trina could argue with Tori when Jade wasn't there, because Jade was always there. It was like Trina had two annoying little sisters to deal with, and that was entirely too many as far as she was concerned. Tori didn't care though, because every day after dinner she would go to her room and open her window. Like clockwork, Jade's window would open right after and Tori would grin as a small paper plane flew across the small distance between their homes and right into her eagerly waiting hands. Tori would unfold it, read it, usually laugh but sometimes frown, write a response, refold the plane, and send it soaring back. They talked about how dumb Trina was and how Tori wished her sister had never been born, which Jade pointed out would mean that Tori would be Trina instead, and they both hated and laughed at the idea. Sometimes they would talk about homework. Jade couldn't understand the process of photosynthesis to save her life, and Tori always got a laugh out of her comments about how their science teacher, Mr. Caffrey, smelled like rotten fish and that's why Jade couldn't pay attention in class. On rare occasions, Jade's message would just say 'They're fighting again'. Tori's face always scrunched up when those notes came through her window. So she would smooth out the paper on her desk, grab some colored pencils and draw a picture. It was usually something silly, like Trina drawn as a fire-breathing dragon, or Mr. Caffrey's head on top of a fish's body, or Trina as a monster and Tori, sword in hand, fighting her off. She grinned every time she heard Jade's laughter echoing between their windows.
The rest of the morning passed by pretty quickly. She wasn't too far behind in math, having covered some precalc in her old school, and she was pleasantly surprised to find that she was actually ahead in her science class. After that she had a 'creative expression' dance class with Andre and the boy whose coffee she spilled, who she found out was called Beck. And he was actually really nice, brushing off Tori's apologies about his shirt and insisting that it was fine and just an accident. Tori still felt bad about the dark stain in the middle of his chest, though. Once the bell rang, Tori followed Andre to his locker and then to a table outside for lunch. Tori grinned when she saw that Cat and Robbie were already sitting there, talking. They asked Tori how the rest of her morning had gone, what other classes she had, if she was totally lost yet and if so, Rex offered (in a suggestive tone) to help her in any way he could. Tori turned down his awkward offer as politely as she could and then Robbie scolded his puppet for being inappropriate.
"I wonder where Beck and Jade are?" Cat asked absentmindedly, picking at the salad in front of her.
"Probably fighting again," Robbie said as he took a sip of his soda.
"Or making up from a fight," Rex said in a lewd drawl.
Andre said something, but Tori wasn't really listening. Jade. Beck's girlfriend, Jade. It struck something inside of her, at the back of her mind, and she felt it reverberate into her fingers. "Jade?"
The others all turned to her and Andre spoke first. "Yeah, Beck's girlfriend. That girl from Sikowitz's class?"
"Ganky and meaner than a Northridge chick who just got told she couldn't sing at karaoke," Rex piped up.
"What's her last name?" Tori asked.
"West." Cat and Andre answered at the same time. "Why?" Cat tilted her head to side, looking curiously at Tori.
"Hmm? Oh, nothing. Just wondering." Tori's mind was filled with blanket forts. Her fingers felt paper folding. Her skin hummed with the warmth of summer. She shook her head as the conversation changed and carried on around her. She continued to pick at her lunch, trying to pay attention. These kids were nice, and she didn't want to seem like a total spazoid on her first day. Although, if Cat and Andre still hung out with Robbie, puppet permanently attached to his hand and all, she didn't have to worry too much.
When she was ten, Tori Vega had a problem. She noticed Jade getting quieter. She didn't sleep over on weekends anymore. Sometimes her window wouldn't open, and no notes would fly through the night between them. On Halloween, Jade didn't want to go out trick or treating and Tori was stuck going with just Trina, who insisted on charging Tori a 'big sister tax' on her candy, so that by the time they got home Trina's bag was twice as heavy as her own. Tori went straight to her room and opened her window. She saw a light was on in Jade's room and grabbed her bag of candy. She started throwing pieces at Jade's closed window. She didn't mind wasting tootsie rolls and Snicker's, since she didn't really like them anyway. Eventually Jade came to the window and opened it. "What?" she hissed. Tori was surprised. It was the first time she'd ever heard Jade mad at her. "Are you okay?" she asked cautiously. Jade glared at her for a moment before disappearing from the window. Tori wilted, wondering if she had done something wrong. She dropped her bag down by her feet and was startled when, a moment later, a small paper plane flew into her room. It hit the side of her bed and fell to the floor. Tori ran over and picked it up, her fingers quickly working the folds and creases out of the paper. She gasped when she saw what it said. 'They're getting divorced'. Tori sat on the edge of her bed, having no idea how to respond to that. She couldn't just draw a picture, could she? Jade's parents were getting divorced, and that wasn't something that a silly picture of Trina with tentacles would fix or make better. It was a real thing, a grown-up thing. She was just about to stand up and go back to the window when another plane soared into her room. She lunged forward and caught it mid-air, almost ripping the paper in her eagerness to open it. 'After Christmas Mom is taking me to live with Grandma and I'm switching schools'. Tori ran to her window, two pieces of paper clutched in her left hand, and stuck her head out into the cool night air. Jade's window was shut, the curtains drawn, and the lights off. Tori's fist tightened around the notes and something inside of her crumpled along with the paper.
The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch, and Tori joined the throng of students as they made their way back inside. She stuck close to Robbie, although tried to keep distance between herself and the puppet, and followed him to their theater history class. The teacher was nice, offering Tori help if she needed it to catch up, and gave her a sheet of paper on what she'd need to study to catch up. Rex started to say something, only to be quickly silenced by a dangerous glare from Tori. "Oh look, it's Jade 2.0," Rex mumbled, Robbie nodding along in agreement. Tori sank into her desk and focused instead on the teacher until the bell rang.
Her next class was in screenwriting and analysis, and Tori was relieved when she walked into the room and found that she was early. The school was pretty big and she was glad that she was starting to get a feel for the building. She took an empty seat near the windows, dropping her bag on the floor next to her feet, and waited as other students started coming in. She sat up in her chair and looked out the window. This side of the school faced the street outside, and Tori saw a small coffee shop on the other side. It looked cool, with a small patio that jutted out onto the large sidewalk, glass doors open to let the warm air in, a man playing guitar with the case open in front of him. Maybe she'd stop in after school and check it out. If she could convince Trina to wait around, or go in with her, since her sister was her ride. Tori looked away from the window and saw Jade walking across the classroom, dropping into a desk a few rows over. Tori shifted in her seat, keeping her eyes on the girl. It couldn't be the same Jade. Her hair was much darker, for one. When they were kids, Jade's hair was a light brown, and if she spent too much time in the sun during the summer, it got even lighter. Plus there was the fact that this Jade seemed to be, well, kind of a bitch? Her mouth was pressed into a hard scowl that seemed to creep all the way up her face, into and up past her eyes.
Tori blinked and looked to the front of the class as the teacher closed the door and walked towards his desk. There was the brief introduction when he saw her, and Tori couldn't help but notice Jade had turned her head away, her hair falling like a curtain that completely blocked Tori off. The teacher gave Tori a sheet of terminology that she would need to memorize and understand for the class, and then carried on with the lesson. Tori tried to pay attention, she really did, but her gaze kept roaming across the classroom, always falling on Jade. She had tucked her hair back behind her ear, and Tori spent more time staring at Jade's profile than at the teacher or the words that had appeared like magic on the chalkboard behind him. She shook her head, trying to clear it, and focused on what the teacher was saying, feeling completely lost.
When she was eleven, Tori Vega had an acquaintance. She and Jade would hang out on weekends, usually having their parents drop them off somewhere with Trina, grudgingly, going along to watch out for them. Jade didn't want to go to Tori's, because she didn't want to see her old house or the new family that had moved in, and she didn't want Tori to see the apartment she and her mom lived in. Tori wasn't really surprised by that, because even when Jade had lived next door, they hardly spent any time in her house. It was always Jade going to Tori's, and never really the other way around. But Jade herself was different, and Tori didn't know how to fix it. Eventually Jade stopped hanging out, but they'd still talk on the phone sometimes. Tori's mom told her it was natural to make friends and lose friends, that it was all part of growing up. Sometimes growing up meant growing apart, and it was sad but you couldn't always help it. Tori had other friends at school, and Jade made new ones. Or, at least Tori assumed she did, because she didn't know because Jade didn't really answer her phone anymore and if Tori called, Jade's mom would sound sad and say that Jade couldn't come to the phone. So Tori stopped calling. She stopped trying, and soon she forgot about the girl who lived next door.
Tori picked up her bag and shoved her notebook inside as quickly as she could. As soon as the bell rang, Jade had practically jumped out of her seat and bolted for the door. So Tori ran out just after, trying to follow. She wasn't sure why. She didn't know if she was going to say something to Jade, ask her if she remembered her, ask her if Jade was even the same Jade, because Tori couldn't imagine that she was. And anyway, she couldn't decide if it even mattered. It had been years since they'd talked, and even longer since they were actually close, curled up while flashlights danced across the blankets above them and Jade made up stories and songs. But, Tori thought as she pushed through the hallway, trying and failing to avoid bumping into anyone, it would be nice to talk to her. Catch up, maybe. She wasn't sure, and once she lost sight of Jade in the main hallway, Tori sighed and trudged off to her next class.
Andre and Cat were already sitting together when Tori walked into the class. It was a large room with high ceilings, lit entirely by the windows that ran along the circular wall. Chairs were set up in arching rows around a grand piano. Tori smiled as Andre lifted his chin at her. "Hey, Tor," he greeted. "Hey, Tori," Cat said with a wave. "Hey." Tori sat down next to Cat and looked around as the other chairs were filled. "You'll love this class, Tori," Cat said with a huge smile. "The teacher is really nice and we get to sing the whole time!"
Andre chuckled and Tori smiled. "I'm pretty nervous," Tori admitted.
"What? Why?" Andre asked in disbelief. "You killed it at the showcase and this is way easier than that." Cat nodded in agreement and they fell silent as the teacher cleared her throat and got their attention. The class started with some vocal warm ups that Tori had to try really hard not to laugh at. The room was filled with noise and Tori felt silly, sitting there making strange sounds, even though everyone else was doing it. She loosened up, though, once Cat nudged her in the side, a huge grin across the girl's face as her mouth erupted in sound. The teacher passed out a song that they were going to work on, and Tori gulped. She didn't know how to read sheet music. Andre asked her what was wrong and she told him. "It's cool, a lot of people can't when they first start. You want me to teach you?" Tori nodded her head enthusiastically. "You would be a lifesaver, Andre. Seriously." He just laughed and waved off her remark with a "No worries, girl."
As the teacher split the class into small groups, wanting to work with each group individually, Tori looked over the paper in her hand. Cat and Andre were already singing quietly, figuring out harmonies. Tori tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, the lines and dots on the paper starting to swim in front of her. Literally the only thing she understood on the sheet was the lyrics. At least they were in English. Music was an entirely different language that she didn't even realize existed in its own form. There were notes (she knew what those were) and accents and little things that looked like sideways brackets, and some of the notes were dotted, and some had weird squiggly tails and her heart sped up at how foreign it all was. If someone struck a key on a piano, she could emulate the sound with her voice, but she had no idea where it would fall on the page in front of her. Speaking a language and being literate were two entirely different things. And Tori was musically illiterate.
"Hey," Cat nudged her again. "You didn't answer the question."
"What? Sorry," Tori closed her eyes and took a deep breath, "I was just thinking and didn't hear what you said."
"Oh, I hate when that happens!" Cat gasped. "Like your brain goes all fuzzy and things around you just turn into a background hum." She threw her hand over her shoulder to demonstrate 'background' and Tori smiled.
Andre sat up a little straighter as the teacher approached their group. "Alright, Andre why don't you go first."
Tori had heard Andre sing before, so it wasn't really a surprise at how smooth and soft his voice was. Tori still felt her eyebrows rise at how impressive it was. What was a surprise, and what made her eyebrows disappear into her hairline entirely, was how good Cat was. Tori couldn't imagine that sort of voice, that sort of power, coming out of the small and bubbly girl next to her. Tori almost missed it when the teacher asked her to sing next, because she was still in shock as Cat switched from powerhouse vocalist right back to innocent and silly girl. Tori shook her head and sang, her eyes following the words on the page and her voice mimicking the melody Andre and Cat had just sang. The teacher nodded in approval. "I heard you at the showcase, Tori, but impressive all the same. Just make sure you pay close attention to the rests and accents, okay?" Tori nodded, relief flooding through her veins as the teacher moved on to the next group. She looked up when she heard Andre and Cat laughing next to her.
"You should see your face," Cat said, poking Tori's cheek with her finger.
"Like a deer in headlights, man," Andre added. Tori laughed along with them and told Andre that he better have been serious about his offer.
When she was thirteen, Tori Vega had a boyfriend. Sort of. She thought he was her boyfriend, but they didn't really do anything. They took the same bus home from school, and sometimes they'd go to the movies, but it was usually with a group of people. There was one time, though, when they were at the park down the street from her house and he kissed her. It was her first kiss and nothing at all like she expected it. It was quick, he barely pressed his lips against hers, but she hardly even noticed when he did it. Because there was a swarm of fireflies at the edge of the trees and her fingers twitched and she wished she had a jar. That summer was horrible, because Trina had been accepted to a special high school and somehow that gave her the idea that she was, in fact, special. It was like living with a complete diva, and Trina kept striking poses and telling Tori that if she wanted to be something someday she had better start accentuating her assets. "It's all about the gams, Tor," Trina would say, shooting her foot out and gesturing to her leg like she was Vanna White.
"Trina!" Tori called out, running down the hallway. Trina spun around, eyes wide and excited. Her face fell, though, when she saw it was just her little sister. "Trina, hey," Tori huffed, slightly out of breath as she stopped running. "I was wondering if you could give some friends of mine a lift, too?"
Trina scoffed. "I am not your personal chauffeur, Tori. I have a life, too, ya know."
"No you don't," Tori said without thinking. She immediately bit her tongue and grabbed Trina's elbow as she turned to leave. "Sorry, Trina, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I was just wondering, because I need help with one of my classes, and my friend Andre offered after school, and then Cat said it sounded like fun and so she kind of invited herself along, too, but I don't mind because she's nice and-"
Trina shook her head and raised a hand, cutting off her sister's rant. "Whatever. As long as they understand that it's my car, so my rules, they can come."
"Right," Tori nodded vigorously. "Your rules. No singing louder or better than you-"
"Like they could," Trina interrupted, but Tori continued.
"No beverages that could stain the seats, and absolutely no mention of that one actress who cannot be mentioned," Tori said quickly. Trina's left eye twitched at just the mention of the actress who couldn't be mentioned, but she gave a curt nod and spun on her heel, heading off down the hallway. "Thanks, Trin!" Tori yelled after her.
With a happy sigh and a slight bounce in her step, Tori went to her last class of the day. Although she did get a bit turned around in one hallway and ended up on the opposite side of school than where she was supposed to be. The teacher didn't mind, saying it was fine, since it was her first day and all, but not to make a habit of it. Tori swore she wouldn't and took an empty seat right at the front of the class as her teacher started talking about the Latino influence in modern culture, music specifically. She even played a few songs as examples, and Tori found her foot tapping along to the rhythm. They moved on to the Spanish language being prevalent in so many songs, since many singers and rappers grew up speaking the language. It wasn't something that Tori had ever noticed, not really. Sure, she'd sing along if something came on the radio, but she never thought about why Spanish would randomly pop up in a song that was mostly being sung in English. The teacher said that their homework was to compile a list of popular songs where Spanish was the main language used, or at least frequent. One boy raised his hand and asked if he could just bring in a Pitbull cd and the teacher laughed along with the rest of the class. "Try and be diverse, okay?" She said with a smile. Tori grinned as everyone settled down. A class where her homework was to listen to music? It was awesome, way better than her assigned math problems, and the class was over much too quickly for Tori's liking.
She took her time sorting through her books at her locker. She felt relieved. She had made it through her first day, with little trouble. Of course she'd been late to a couple classes, and there was Beck's coffee, and of course the whole Jade thing, but overall she was pleased with how things had gone. Tori stuffed some books into her locker that she wouldn't need, shifted around some notebooks, almost dropped her bag entirely when some boy crept up behind her and sniffed her hair before quickly running off again. Tori shook her head and closed her locker, adjusting the strap over her shoulder. She turned and saw the crowded hallway thinning out as students left to catch the bus or their ride, and she saw Jade, carelessly throwing objects from her own bag into her locker. Tori looked at her for a moment, just watching, and somewhere, deep in the back of her mind, a decision was made. She walked over to where Jade was and cleared her throat. "Hey," she said with a small wave.
"What?" Jade snapped, not even turning away to look at her.
"Um, I just wanted to apologize about this morning. I wasn't, like, hitting on your boyfriend or anything."
Jade glanced at Tori and then rolled her eyes as she slammed her locker shut. She closed the flap on her messenger bag and turned away from Tori, heading for the doors. Tori followed after her. "I, um, I had a question, actually. See, I was wondering if you remembered me?"
Jade stopped abruptly and spun on her heel, leaving Tori reeling at the sudden action. "No, I don't remember you. Know why? Because I don't know you. And if you touch my boyfriend again, you won't want to know me. Understand?" Jade didn't wait for an answer. Instead she spun back around and marched out of the doors. But Tori stood still. She didn't know what she was expecting to happen, but it certainly wasn't that. Because being that close to Jade, and seeing the flash in her eyes as she spoke, Tori was certain. That was the same Jade. Well, maybe not the same, obviously, since she was so different from the kid that Tori had known. But that was Jade West, grown up and so not the girl who would run to Tori's house to sleepover and escape her parents' fighting.
"Hey, Tori, ready to go?"
Tori looked around and saw Andre and Cat standing behind her. "What, no, I mean. Yes, Trina's probably in the car waiting already, so."
"Your sister's weird," Cat commented out of the blue as they walked outside. Tori and Andre both looked at her as her brows furrowed together. "I saw a one of her shows, where she played a lady with a mustache." Cat giggled. "It was funny."
Tori nodded as they crossed the parking lot. "Yeah, she kept forgetting to take it off when she switched characters." She caught Andre's confused eyes. "My sister is weird."
"Sounds like it," Andre said with a chuckle as they reached the car. Sure enough, Trina was already inside, hand tapping impatiently against the steering wheel.
When she was fourteen, Tori Vega had a perpetual headache. Her parents made her go to every play or performance of Trina's, no matter how much Tori begged to stay home or faked illness. "You have to support your sister, she would do the same for you," they said. So Tori would roll her eyes and drag her feet and slouch in her seat through every one of Trina's one woman plays. Sometimes Trina was part of a showcase, and Tori actually enjoyed the other performances. But then Trina would take the stage and Tori just had to stare in wonder at her sister, wondering how she had ever been accepted to a school for people that were actually talented. Sure, Trina could act, sometimes, if the material was right, maybe, but more often than not, Trina just came off as looking insane. She could be funny though, even if it wasn't intentional. Tori remembered watching her one woman Scottish play and having tears in her eyes afterwards from laughing so hard. Trina didn't like that, but Tori asked if she could keep a copy for when she was feeling down and needed to be cheered up.
"How do you have such a nice piano and never learned to read music?" Andre asked in wonder, his fingers flying across the keys. He and Cat had been teaching Tori how to read music for almost an hour, and finally Tori's brain was so jammed full of new information she needed to take a break.
Tori shrugged and took a sip of her water. "I just… y'know, played and sang. Figured out what sounded cool. My parents never asked if I wanted lessons or anything."
Andre nodded his head and scooted over on the bench as Cat sat down. "I get that. I never write music out unless I have to. Like, for class or something." Cat started playing something on the lower register, smiling to herself at how deep the notes were. Andre, almost instinctively, started playing something higher up to accompany it. Cat grinned at him and added in another hand. Tori smiled as the two of them messed around, thinking that she hadn't done too shabby for a first day. She'd already made some new friends, which was something that Trina didn't seem able to accomplish after years at that school. As Andre and Cat's hands fell into a pattern, Tori started humming along absentmindedly. She ran her fingers over the top of the piano, leaning her forearm on it. Andre's head started bobbing and Cat's smile doubled in size. "Yay, we're writing a song!" She clapped and Andre immediately shifted his hands, moving one of them lower down the keys. Tori kept humming, and after a minute Cat started singing. No words, just ohs and ahs, and Tori joined in.
They all stopped when Trina stomped down the stairs and shushed them loudly, her phone still held to her ear. "Will you guys be quiet? I'm on a very important call here!" Tori held up her hands in surrender and suppressed a laugh at the look on Cat's face as Trina went back upstairs.
"Who's she talking to?" Cat asked in a loud whisper.
Tori took another sip of water. "Probably a psychic hotline. Trina calls all the time when she starts freaking out about stuff."
Andre let out a low whistle. "Don't they cost like three bucks a minute?"
"Yeah," Tori said with a grin. "She'll be on the line for hours sometimes. Mom and Dad get so mad and then Trina get stuck doing all the chores for, like, a month."
"Must be nice for you," Andre chuckled.
Tori shrugged in a nonchalant manner. "Can't complain."
"Alright," Andre said, shuffling through some of the papers propped up on the piano, "break time's over." Tori groaned, but moved closer so she could better see what he was pointing at. "Let's talk about repeat signs."
Cat and Andre ended up staying for a couple more hours. They worked some more on teaching Tori about reading music, and then they all worked on their assignment for Sikowitz, and then they agreed to help her with her list of songs with Spanish in them, and that just sort of devolved into sitting around listening to music and talking. Which, Tori thought with a smile, she didn't mind at all. They were stretched out on the sofas in her living room, her laptop on the small table in front of them, some song or another coming from its tiny, but powerful speakers. Somehow the topic of Jade had come up when Andre started asking how her first day was overall.
"Jade's just," Cat paused, her eyes on the ceiling as she thought of the perfect word.
"Mean?" Andre offered. "Rude? Twisted?"
"Peculiar," Cat said, shooting Andre a disapproving look.
"No," Andre countered, "Robbie is peculiar. Sinjin, now he is definitely peculiar. But Jade? Man, she's just evil."
"She's not that bad," Tori said. Cat and Andre both turned to look at her and she realized what she had said. "I mean, sure today may not have been the best example, but, y'know, she can't be that bad, right?" Tori wasn't sure if she was trying to convince them or herself. Probably herself, she figured, since she couldn't fully believe that Jade could have possibly changed so much. After all, she was pretty much the same as she was when she was a kid. Well, no, maybe she wasn't, but she certainly hadn't altered as much as Jade seemed to.
"Yeah, tell that to your face when she finally punches it," Andre scoffed. Cat hit him in the arm and shook her head, mouthing 'Bad!' Tori sighed and leaned back against the sofa. Maybe it was a lost cause. It had been years, and Tori certainly shouldn't expect that Jade would just fall into being her friend again. Although, Tori thought as she leaned forward to switch the song, maybe it was some sort of serendipity that she had run into Jade after so long. But, if that was true, then why did Jade say that she didn't know Tori? That she didn't remember her? Was that true? Or was Jade just saying that because she knew that Tori remembered her, and she had no interest in catching up or rekindling what had been a childhood friendship? Tori groaned, closed her eyes and rubbed at her temple. One of her eyes cracked open though when she felt a hand, a hand that definitely wasn't her own, rubbing at her other temple. Cat was staring at her with a sympathetic frown.
"Sometimes, when my brother gets a headache, he makes me hit him in the leg with a baseball bat to feel better. Want me to do that to you?"
Tori's eyes grew wide. "No, Cat, but thank you."
"Kay kay," Cat said quietly. She didn't stop rubbing Tori's temple, though.
When she was fifteen, Tori Vega had an actual boyfriend. They would go out, just the two of them, and they would kiss, and laugh, and generally had a fun time. They went out to a restaurant once, nothing fancy, and Tori absent mindedly played with her paper placemat as Danny talked about basketball or something, which Tori had no interest in. But she sort of listened and smiled and laughed at all the right times, unaware of what her hands were doing until Danny pointed it out. "You've got, like, a hundred things over there." Tori looked confused and then saw that he was pointing to where her placemat was. Or used to be, because she had torn off some little bits and some big bits, too and reduced them all to small paper planes. "Oh," she said, startled. "I-I didn't mean to." Danny grinned and picked one of them up. "Nice," he said with a laugh. "I used to make these things all the time as a kid." Tori's smile was strained, and she quickly crushed the planes into a wad of green paper. "Yeah. So did I."
A/N I'm an east coast kid all the way and have no idea if fireflies/lightning bugs are as common in Cali as they are over here during the summer, but we're going to pretend, k? Awesome.
So, I was thinking of going on with this, for at least one more long chapter, at least, since there was like, barely any Jori interaction. But I guess drop me a review and let me know if it's worth continuing? Or, y'know, if it's total crap. Tell me if it's crap and I shouldn't continue. Either way, the little button is right down there, so take a minute if you've got it and let me know.