When the show was over, people were moving around me unapologetically, bumping into me and talking loudly and excitedly to each other about the award ceremony that had just taken place. I, however, remained seated in my chair, detached, and staring blankly into the chaos around me. I laced my fingers together and let out an exaggerated puff of air, leaning back in my chair and allowing the events of the day to play through my head. Having the opportunity to sing on the very stage in front of me, dressing like an idiot, witnessing Tori reject my ex boyfriend, and then letting the girl take the spot on stage that was rightfully hers. She had performed brilliantly, and as I admired the utter joy in her eyes as she danced around the stage, I once again felt that goddamn heaviness in my chest. But this time, after I had run up to the stage and hugged Tori enthusiastically as she finished performing, I found myself lingering into our embrace. The feeling that had once been so indefinitely unwelcome was slowly encroaching upon me, puncturing my hard exterior and leaving me feeling as if there was a leak somewhere on my body. I felt as if this burden I'd been carrying for months was being let out in drops, and trying to stop it would only cause everything to slip through my own fingers.
Before I was even able to fully make sense of my silent confession, I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see Beck standing in the isle, his long hair hanging wildly as he looked down at me questioningly. I looked past him to see Cat-and her Bibble Guard-Andre, and Robbie circled around Tori, praising her once again for her incredible performance.
"Jade, are you coming?"
Beck's hand was held out, as if he expected me to grab it, and I quickly shook away the absurdity in my head. I looked around and realized the theater had mostly emptied, aside from a few lingering guests taking pictures and one or two members of the janitorial staff beginning to clean.
"Uh, yeah," I said, ignoring his hand and standing on my own. I brushed past him and walked towards the group; they were still talking and laughing, hugging Tori and each other, and I couldn't help of feel a pang of jealousy as they wrapped their arms around the tan girl's shoulders. When I finally approached, Tori grinned at me with a blindingly large smile, and I became so fixated on her entire essence that I didn't hear Andre ask me a question until the Platinum Music Award performer repeated it.
"Jade," she said, waving a hand cutely in front of my face, "did you want to come eat with us? We still have the limo for the night, so we may as well put it to good use."
I smiled back at her, but I was still so discombobulated that I couldn't even register was the Latina was saying. It struck me, only briefly, that this behavior was entirely uncharacteristic of me-I hadn't even behaved like this much of a love-sick puppy when Beck and I first got together-but my voice of reason was quickly dismissed as I rushed to bring Tori into another hug, pressing my body firmly against hers.
"You were so great," I repeated to her. It wasn't as if she hadn't already heard the same compliment a million other times that night, but I could tell she was surprised by my behavior, and she wrapped her arms tightly back around me. I hoped she didn't notice my racing heart.
"Thanks," she said with a laugh, but she didn't let go of me right away. "So are you going to come along?"
I nodded into the hug, not sure of exactly what I was agreeing too, but I was too overwhelmed by our current position to want anything but to continue to be in her presence. The six of us-myself, Tori, Beck, Andre, Robbie, and Cat (who had finally ditched the big, scary guy, lamenting that "they were celebrating)-headed towards the limo. We climbed in, and Cat and Robbie quickly went for the sunroof, sticking their heads out and "woohooing" into the night. Beck sat himself next to me, and Tori and Andre took the bench adjacent to us.
"What a show!" Andre exclaimed, "But man, I can't believe Bruno snubbed me again! That's some chiz."
"Bruno?" Tori laughed. "Like you're on a first-name basis now?" She punched his shoulder jokingly.
"Well we did share a moment in the bathroom, you know," he laughed, making fun of himself, and the rest of us giggled along with him.
"Where are we going to eat?" Beck asked, crossing a leg and putting an arm up on the seat and around my shoulder. I shifted uncomfortably, not wanting him so close, and I awkwardly reached down to pretend to check for something in my purse.
"I was thinking Nozu?" Tori said as I sat back up, casually scooting away from Beck and towards the girl I was going crazy over.
"As long as I don't have to listen to any talentless Northridge girls doing karaoke," I said, proud of myself for managing to contribute to the conversation with a somewhat Jade-West-like comment.
"Don't worry," Tori said laughing, and she reached forward to gently touch my knee. "They stop doing karaoke around nine. It's already 11:30." Once again, I couldn't concentrate on what she was saying. Her hand was leaving a trail of fire on my knee, and though I was staring intently at her lips as they formed each and every word, I was too enticed by the feeling of her skin against my bare leg to make any sort of intelligent reply.
"Cool," I said, nodding enthusiastically, then reached out to put my hand on top of hers. I had no idea what I was doing. There I was, shamelessly diving in to the deep, unforgiving quick-sand I'd been dancing around for months. I was unaware of why I had suddenly let my guard down; everything about the night was so overwhelming, so over stimulating, that each and every moment felt like the most significant of my life. Tori looked down at our hands then back up at me, smiling shyly. Cheeks flushing red, I quickly pulled my hand away, once again grabbing for my phone to seem non-chalant. It was impossible, however, to ignore the intense feeling of emptiness my hand felt without hers beneath.
Andre looked at me strangely, and I heard Beck huff a bit beside me, but I didn't care to see his expression. Luckily, Cat and Robbie took that moment to get fully inside the vehicle, allowing the group to easily fall back into casual conversation for the remainder of the car ride. I tried my best to keep quiet, in fear of one of the erroneous thoughts in my head slipping out, but continued to gaze at Tori as she laughed and interacted with our friends. She'd often glance back at me and offer me a smile, and when I realized she had to know I was staring I sunk back in my seat a bit, embarrassed, then continued to gaze away.
We arrived at Nozu just in time; everyone was getting a little too loud and rambunctious in the limo for my current state of mind, and I desperately needed some fresh air. I stepped out of the limo first and made my way to a bench near the front of the building. The others quickly piled out of the car, picking up their excited chatter when the driver came over to see when he should pick everyone up. Tori looked confused, her head whipping around until her eyes landed on me, and I quickly diverted my gaze. My fingers were gripping at the bottom of the bench when she sat down next to me, and I did my best to turn towards her with a neutral look on my face.
"Hey, is everything okay with you tonight?" She asked sincerely, her eyebrows furrowed in worry. Of course she recognized that I was acting strange, just as the boys had in the limo. I wanted so desperately to just snap out of it, to let my cynical nature take over and push the feelings down like I always had, but it was as if I was in a dream. It was as if I was being chased, but I couldn't run away. I couldn't scream for help, not matter how hopelessly I tried, and I knew I would eventually be caught. But this wasn't a dream. I couldn't wake from this in a cold sweat, only to have my cool sheets and pillows serve as proof that none of this was real. I was there, in the flesh, acting as if I was suddenly struck by the realization that Tori Vega made me feel...things. But this was untrue; I'd spent many nights laying awake in bed, wringing at my sheets as I imagined the way I got butterflies when she smiled at me, and what it'd be like to hold her hand whenever I wanted, or push her onto my bed and kiss her...
"Jade?" I guess I had been in my head too much again, but her voice snapped me out of it.
"What? Yeah, I'm fine," I said, bringing my knees up onto the bench and against my chest. I wrapped my arms around my shins and rested my chin on top of my left kneecap.
"Are you sure?" Her hand was on my shoulder now. Fire. "Everything at the PMAs happened so fast, and I'm sure you're upset about not getting to perform. I'd totally understand if you were, especially since you have hear everyone talking about it all-"
"Vega, stop," I interrupted, dropping a knee to the ground and turning towards her. "Look, it's fine, really. I'm not upset about it." She didn't believe me; her eyes dropped downward and I could tell she felt guilty. It was ridiculous that she even would feel bad-it was her performance in the first place-but my heart swelled at the other girl's genuine kindness. I hated how much I loved her good heart.
"Hey," I said, reaching for her hand. She looked up at me, and I offered a gentle smile. "I promise, it's okay. You were...amazing. Honestly." Her eyes lit up and she beamed back at me, clearly thrilled that she hadn't upset me. If only she'd known the pain she was really causing me, the turmoil I was going through just thinking about her. On the other hand, I was mesmerized by her smile and couldn't help but grin back, if only to heighten her happiness.
The moment, of course, was ruined when we heard lethargic footsteps nearing. I looked up to find Beck, hands in pockets, looking down at us with a confused look.
"Hey guys." We stared back. "Hey, Tori, um, do you mind if I talk to Jade for a minute?" Beck really was moving to the top of my shit list for the day; first he tried to kiss Tori, and now he was making her leave? I gave him a dirty look, probably inappropriately, considering he just asked to talk, but he was busy looking at the Latina.
"Oh." Tori shook her head, as if an obvious realization had just struck her. "Yeah, of course," she standing up, "I should probably round up those kiddos and get them inside anyway." I smiled at her, finding her everything adorable, and watched her bound off toward our friends.
"So...Jade," Beck's voice came from beside me, and as I turned from watching Cat, Andre, Tori, and Robbie enter Nozu, I realized the long-haired boy had sat down next to me. Right where Tori had be sitting just seconds before. My face went from an adoring gaze at Tori to unimpressed, and I waited for him to continue. "I think what you did for Tori tonight was really great."
"Thanks," I said simply, ready to go join the group.
"Really," he said, putting his hand on my arm. I had no way to casually shake him away this time, so I tried to ignore his sweaty palm again my skin. "It was really cool of you. I'm impressed." He continued, smirking at me in what I assumed he thought was a cute way, but I was itching to get away.
"Yeah, well," I shrugged. "It's whatever." I stood up to signal that I was done with conversation, but he rose alongside me, placing his hand on my shoulder once again.
"You're just..." He never finished the sentence, because the next thing I knew he was leaning in to kiss me-the same way he had a million times before-but now his close proximity made my skin crawl. I quickly stepped away and planted a firm slap across his face, leaving him dumfounded.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" I yelled angrily.
"Wha- I just... I thought this is what you wanted!" His voice was hushed, and I could tell he was trying to keep from drawing any attention towards us.
"I know you tried to kiss Tori today," I hissed loudly. "Did you really think I wouldn't find out?" I laughed bitterly, "And did you really think I've just been waiting around for you to come back to me?"
He stared at me for a moment, mouth agape.
"You know what?" I was tired of waiting for him to respond."Just stay the hell away from me. Seriously, Beck. What is wrong with you?" I shook my head. "Just...go home." And then I turned away, not glancing back to see if he was really going to leave, and headed inside the restaurant.
When I walked in, I found that the place was mostly empty. There was a couple cuddled in a booth, and two men dressed in suits at the bar. My friends were sitting at a circular table tucked away near the back, and Tori and Andre were laughing as Cat and Robbie seemed to be singing on of their impromptu duets. Nozu reminded me of my date with Tori, and the hurt that came after: that night, after I'd dropped Tori off at her house-that girl still can't drive-I'd gone home, then stood crying for an hour in a burning hot shower. I was trying so hard to escape her, to escape this, but I couldn't, and that night I broke down for the first time. I did my best to shake the memory, because the ache in my chest was already weighing me down enough.
"Jade!" Cat called, waving me over. I guessed she and Robbie were done singing about potatoes, or whatever random thing they decided to croon about.
I traipsed over to the group and stood at the foot of the table, briefly wondering where to sit. Tori was on one end and Robbie on the other; I definitely did not want to sit by the awkward boy, but I didn't want to seem too obvious.
"Come here," Tori said, patting the spot next to her. "Come sit by Tori," she said jokingly, and I couldn't help but smile a bit at her goofiness.
"Where's Beck?" Andre asked as I sat down next to Tori, shuddering inconspicuously when our thighs pressed together.
"Uh, he had to go." My voice was bold, letting the table know that I wasn't interested in talking about it. It's not that I was trying to protect him, I just didn't want want to create more drama. It wasn't going to benefit me in any way.
"Alright," he said casually, acknowledging my tone. "Well, we already ordered, but I can flag down that cute waitress for you if you want to add something." His tone was joking, but I could tell her wanted to talk to her.
"It's okay," I shrugged. "I'm not really hungry. But you should go talk to the cute waitress anyway," I said, wiggling my eyebrows.
"Yeah!" Cat agreed, clapping her hands.
"Okay, okay," the boy said, sliding around the booth as Robbie and Cat moved to let him out. "Wish me luck." He gave us a cheesy double-thumbs up, then headed over towards the waitress.
"Good luck!" Cat called after him, and I slapped my forehead, embarrassed for the poor kid. "So," Cat said, turning her attention back to the people at the table. "Tori, are you ready to be a big star?" She wiggled her fingers for emphasis.
"I don't know about that," Tori laughed. "Besides, it's not like I'm signed to a label or anything. People will probably forget about me in a couple weeks."
"No way!" Cat said seriously, "You were so, so, so amazing!"
"You really were great," Robbie chimed in, nodding enthusiastically.
"Well thanks," Tori said, smiling back at them. "But I really don't know. Besides, I think I'm better in a duet." She bumped my shoulder jokingly, unknowingly causing a riot inside of me. My heart fluttered and I began the blush, desperately thinking of something to say in response.
"Yeah, um, we really brought the house down last time." Brought the house down? Really? I couldn't believe how stupid I made myself sound, but Tori just smiled at me.
"We totally did," she said in a lower register, leaning in close to my face. A shiver went down my spine, and I could've swore for a second her eyes flickered down to my lips.
"I wish I could've been there!" Cat said, snapping us out of the moment. Tori sat back casually, nodding at the red-head.
"Yeah, Sinjin told me you really gave those boys the chiz and dip," Robbie said, drumming his hands on the table.
"Ugh," I groaned. "For the love of scissors, Robbie, don't say things like that." Tori and Jade giggled, and I offered Robbie a kind smile to let him know I was half joking.
We fell back into casual conversation, talking about the PMAs, school, Trina's lack of talent, and everything else under the sun. It took everything in me not to reach over and grab a hold of Tori's hand; she had it resting right in between us, as if she was just daring me to grab it. I kept trying to shake the feelings, but it just wasn't working. She was close enough that I could feel the heat radiating off her body, and I just wanted to wrap my arms around her an pull her into me.
Eventually the food arrived, which Tori insisted on not only sharing with me, but feeding to me. I obliged, simply because I enjoyed her attention. I'm sure Cat and Robbie would've been wondering what the hell was going on with me if they hadn't been absorbed in their own little world. Andre was nowhere to be found, so we assumed Cat's good luck had actually paid off, and that maybe he actually left with the waitress. It wasn't until my pear-phone vibrate, with an ignored "I'm sorry" text from Beck, that I realized how late it was.
"Woah, you guys." I said, looking up at them. "It's already 1:30." Cat gasped loudly, covering her mouth with her hands.
"I'm going to be in so much trouble! I was supposed to be home an hour ago," she pouted, leaning into Robbie.
"Yeah, I should probably be getting home, too," Tori agreed, and I internally berated myself a bit for being the one to cause the night to end. We all slid out of the both, Tori placing a hand on the small of my back as I did so, and headed towards to limo. Luckily the driver was still parked outside, sleeping in the front seat.
Cat insisted that we take her home first, even though everyone else's house was on the way, but the poor girl was almost in tears. She left by running out of the limo, yelling "bye bye!" back at us. Robbie was dropped off next, grumbling something about not even getting to say goodbye to the red-headed girl. Tori and I laughed at his lack of dating-game, but knew the two were obviously smitten with each other.
I turned to the lanky brunette and let out a breath of air. We were alone. Totally alone in the back of the limo, and Tori was next to me, smiling like I was the best thing she'd ever seen.
"So," I said, trying to seem calm. "Did you have a good night?"
"Are you kidding me?" She scooted closer. "Tonight was like, the best night of my life. Seriously." I smiled back. "Thank you, Jade."
"Don't thank me, Vega. It was always your spot." My heart was pounding and there was nothing I could do about it. I was sure if it weren't for the roar of the road underneath us, my heartbeat could've been heard easily be the girl next to me.
"I seriously have never felt so alive," Tori confessed, letting out a satisfied sigh, and I couldn't help but be that much more enamored with her. I'd never known anyone who was so content with everything life handed them, someone who was just genuinely appreciative of the things they were given. She was gorgeous, but she didn't seem to know it. She was beyond talented, but even more humble. I wished I could be more like her, but I was more than happy with settling on just knowing the other girl. And then I got an idea.
"Well in that case," I said grabbing her arm and pulling her up. "Let's not let it end here." I pulled her over to the sun roof, and pressed the button to open it.
"Is it safe?" Tori asked, her eyebrows furrowed with worried. I chuckled softly.
"It's fine, don't worry." I slipped my head through the hole and instantly felt the air rushing against my face, the coolness biting at my skin. Tori quickly stood up next to me, her hair blowing wildly behind her. She looked beautiful.
"This is crazy!" She exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air and closing her eyes.
"No, this is being alive."
We stood like that for what felt like hours, watching the lighted sky of LA rush past us. I had never experienced the city like this, even though I'd lived in there my entire life. I'd never experienced anything like it. I couldn't have imagined a more perfect moment; my night was filled with the inner turmoil I was battling, and there was nothing I needed more than to just let go. And with Tori by my side, it was utter;y perfect.
Suddenly the limo driver made a sharp right turn, causing Tori to fall into me with a grunt. I grabbed her hips to steady her and pulled her close to me-probably unnecessarily so-just to ensure that she wouldn't fall.
"Are you okay?" I asked worriedly, my hands still grasping at her hips. Her body was pressed entirely up against me, even though she was standing on her own now, and I was sure she could feel my heart pounding against her own chest.
"I'm great," she whispered, pulling back just enough to look at me. My eyes flickered down to her lips as hers did the same to mine, and I smiled softly at her as she looked back into my eyes. This probably would've been the appropriate time to let her go, but instead I squeezed her hips, pulling her even closer to me.
"Jade," she breathed out, placing a palm against my chest. My heart was racing and my head was spinning and I'd never felt so infatuated or horrified or alive.
It wasn't mean; there was no longer contempt dripping from my voice, or the annoyed tone I tended to harbor, or the utter disgust I'd disingenuously directed at her so many times before. My voice was simply calm and stern; as if to rid the lanky girl's mind of any doubts, and to keep her from exploring the potential repercussions of allowing me to swallow her up and hold her close-of allowing herself to be the one to attempt to stitch my frayed edges back together. I lifted my hands off her hips and dragged my fingertips up her body until they were gently cradling her face, lighting my entire body on fire, and as I stared intently into her eyes, I was sure for an instant she saw the fear hidden beneath my own. But soon all lids shut involuntarily as I leaned in and pressed my lips sweetly against hers, fueling the flames stinging my skin and shifting the patterns in the stars.