This one's for all the suckers who still believe in love, this one's for you~
Suckers—Reel Big Fish
It begins like this:
"He dies, she dies, they all die." A mournful nod up and down, hands clasped somberly to her chest, "I've read it about a hundred times, but somehow it always hits you as hard as the first. Thoughts?"
Beck frowns at his professor, leafing quietly through his copy of Hamlet. He doesn't care much for Shakespeare, doesn't care much for his endless quest to kill off any semi-likable characters he creates. Repentance, perhaps, a delivered punishment for being arrogant or quick to judge—
"Well, it can be argued that the majority of them deserved it."
A silken voice from the front of the class, a drawl slow and bored like thick maple syrup, like intelligence, like indolence; like pride:
"I mean who the hell asked Ophelia to drown herself?"
A ripple of laughter from the class and an entertained smirk from their lecturer,
"Things are often more complicated than that, Miss West, and who are we to dictate whether a person deserves to die?"
"Who's Shakespeare to?"
Another swell of laughter—Jade, her cynicism is usually enjoyable, but today Beck is bothered by it.
"There are worse things, obviously."
Twelve pairs of eyes snap towards him. Beck in the back of the class had the bad habit of listening rather than speaking, he doesn't delude himself into thinking his ideas are new or original; every thought he's ever thunk has been thought before by someone else.
"Worse things than death I mean," he continues now that he's begun, now that everyone—Jade—is looking over at him anyways, "I think Shakespeare sometimes uses death as a means to punish his characters, but wouldn't it be much worse if they lived rather than died? Everyone credits Romeo and Juliet as the most tragic love story ever written, but wouldn't it have been that much more tragic had Juliet gone on living without her Romeo, married some other man and lived a loveless marriage? Or worse, if she actually had fallen in love with her husband, proving to everyone that true love doesn't really last forever?"
A grumble from the class, perhaps in agreement, perhaps in difference, but Beck focuses on how Jade's icy eyes narrow at him, the way she fists her hand under her chin in maybe-interest.
"Very astute Mr. Oliver," Their professor comments eagerly, obviously enthused on having him finally join in on a discussion, "The fate-worse-than-death-ideology. Takes a very clever mind to acknowledge that." A glance at her wristwatch, "But it looks like we'll have to pick this up Thursday—"
There is the heavy scape of a dozen chairs being pushed back at once, the shuffle of papers and flurry of movement as students gather their things and rise.
"Don't forget the essay on Hawthorne is due, and I'll see you lot next week!"
Beck hefts his bag over his shoulder and stalks down the steps, out the door and into the courtyard.
He feels a calculating pair of eyes following him with every step.
The campus stretches out endlessly before him, and this is not the first time Beck is slightly at a loss. First year at university, and he feels sometimes like it's his first year at life. Everyone has advice for him, everyone has tips for him. If he doesn't listen he's arrogant, if he does he's a pushover.
People used to tell him college would be fun.
"So what," she bumps her shoulder with his and it hurts more than Beck feels is strictly appropriate for a casual nudge, "You're not afraid of dying or something?"
Beck shrugs, adjusts the strap of his laptop case and tilts his head slightly so he's not looking her exactly in the eye, "Everyone dies," he answers simply, squinting up at the slowly setting sun, "It's not something absurd or stoppable, it's not something we can control." He eyes her from his peripheral and fights the smirk that threatens to kick up the corners of his lips at her disgruntled expression, "And besides, I'm not scared of anything."
Jade snorts, undignified and derisive, he thinks she rolls her eyes too, maybe, but he can't know for sure because he makes a point not to look directly at them; "It doesn't make you cool, you know. Not being scared of dying."
Beck sighs, hushed and long-suffering. The strap of his laptop bag is making his shoulder ache, and the yellow-orange canvas of the gradually darkening sky is making Jade's entire countenance light up. He shifts uncomfortably.
"I didn't say it to be cool. I said it because you were being stupid. You can't blame Ophelia for her suicide. She went crazy."
Another snort, and this one accompanied for sure with an eye roll. She bumps her shoulder with his again and this time leaves it there, warm against his. Beck presses his lips together. "You never talk in class though," her expression is impish, suspicious, "Does this have to do with the new girl?"
She narrows her eyes and takes a few long strides until she stands in front of him. She fists her hands on her hips and he has no choice but to come to an abrupt halt.
"Don't pretend you didn't notice. Vega," she spits venomously, like the name had done her personal wrong, "With all that hair. She isn't even a lit major. She's taking the class 'cause she thought it sounded like fun."
Truthfully Beck hadn't noticed, but there wasn't much a point in explaining that to Jade. She was always incredibly stubborn in her ire.
"It is a fun class," he answers instead, talking circles around her question because he knows how she hates it, "You don't have to be a lit major to take it."
"But you should be," she seethes, folding her arms across her chest and Beck tries very hard to stop his eyes from flitting over the striking femininity of the raised swell of her breasts, "It costs about three hundred dollars extra if your major isn't literature or English. What kind of idiot thinks that's a good idea?"
Hidden behind all her bitterness and hostility, Beck sees a very minuscule layer of insecurity: thread-thin and nearly unknown, but it is there in the furrow of her eyebrow, in the downwards tilt of her pink lip, slightly more dejected than angry.
"Vega, obviously." He answers softly, knowing it would appease her. He steps to the left and walks calmly around her, towards his dorm.
"Love," Sikowitz begins, drumming the tips of his fingers together and scanning the room, "Four letters, many interpretations. Discuss."
"Oh," Cat squeals, soft and dreamy; her eyelids flutter and she clasps her hands together like a pining young lady in a summer romcom, maybe. "It's the best thing ever."
"A great subject for songs," adds Andre, and beside him Tori nods eagerly, "And movies," she pipes, "and plays, and books and just about everything else."
"And why do you think that is?" Sikowitz asks, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, either from excitement or a very full bladder, "Why does the whole world want to write about it, sing about it, talk about it and act it out?"
"Maybe…because it's something everyone is looking for?" Robbie asks uncertainly from the front of the class.
"Good, good! Identification! We watch it, we read it, we listen to it, because it's something we want!" Their professor crows, sweeping shifty eyes across each student and coming to a stop at Beck and Jade, he licks his lips and folds his arms across his chest.
"Ah, Beck, Jade, haven't you two anything to add?"
Beck shifts uncomfortably in his seat as the students turn to face them while Jade, beside him, rolls her eyes and glares at the class.
"Trust me," she deadpans, "You don't want my take on that word."
"We want to know everyone's take!" Sikowitz enthuses, stepping forward and sliding passionate eyes between the two of them, "This is a theory class, and you two need to discuss the theories I throw out!"
Jade tilts her head back and sighs loudly, sounding tortured. She focuses her eyes on the ceiling way above them and moves her lips silently, praying perhaps for patience, or the slow demise of every person on this class, maybe.
Beck clears his throat and Sikowitz focuses on him.
"It's a sham." Beck answers quietly, "Love it isn't real."
There is a dramatic gasp, and Beck can only assume it comes from Cat.
"Don't say that, Beck," Tori reprimands lightly, frowning up at him like she can't quite believe her ears, "Of course love is real!"
"Sikowitz asked for his opinion," Jade spits, and for the life of him Beck will never completely understand Jade's severe hatred for Tori, "And that's what Beck gave. If you wanted him to just agree with everything the rest of you idiots think you should have asked."
"But," Andre intervenes just as Tori opens her mouth angrily to retort, "How can you say it isn't real when so many people have felt it? When people experience it every day, the heart racing feeling like you can't spend a second without the other person?"
"Yeah!" Cat pipes, looking visibly upset, "And the fireworks when you kiss, that's a feeling how can you say that isn't real?"
Beck sighs loudly, regretting very much speaking his thoughts aloud. "A lot of us have been told what love is supposed to feel like," he comments tiredly, "No one really knows—"
"That's probably because you've never felt it," Tori interrupts patiently. She tilts her head slightly and smiles at him like he's a little kid who has no idea what he's talking about, "That nervous bubble that rises to your chest, the giddiness and sweaty palms, that can't really be defined—"
"Can it, Vega," Jade hisses, she looks even angrier than she had before, and Beck just doesn't get where it's coming from, "Like you have any idea at all what you're talking about—"
"Lit majors!" Sikowitz hoots excitedly, beady eyes flickering between Jade and Beck and back again, "The most cynical people in the world! You read too much, you know too much!" He grins at then, and leans forward, "Tell us what you think of love, Miss West."
Jade snorts, but she sits up straighter in her seat and glares at the class with blazing eyes,
"You morons are obsessed with the idea of love: the fluttery excitement, the throbbing hearts, the secret smiles, all that shit, it's infatuation, it's temporary and it goes away. Human beings weren't meant to mate for life, and those who somehow manage to grow old together, trust me, the love in that relationship has long-since gone away."
She leans back in her seat then, seemingly pleased with how many people she's upset and continues, slightly more relaxed.
"All of you remember for a second how many times you thought you'd been in love, how many marriages each of your parents has had, how many divorces you've seen or heard about it. If it's that common, if it's so easy to find, to fall into it and fall out of it again, then what's so special about it?"
She pulls a hand through her hair and quieter, "It isn't real and it won't change your life. You're all obsessed with a fantasy."
Beck looks over at Jade from the corner of his eye and tries to squash the bitterness rising up and scraping the back of his throat like bile. He bites the inside of his cheek, wishing Sikowitz had just left her alone, had not repeatedly asked for her opinion on this matter. He wishes she were a different girl—Beck, he knows how he feels about love, he knows how little he believes in it, how little he wants it—but Jade deserves to be loved he thinks, whether or not it really exists, whether or not it would last forever, Beck wants Jade to have the fluttery stomach and sweaty palms and secret smiles, he wants her to have faith in in something—
"Well obviously you've never felt it," Tori declares, more than a little snootily. She's frowning deeply and putting a comforting hand on Cat, who looks like her entire world has been shattered beneath her, "You've never been in love."
"And I never plan to be."
She stands then and shoulders her bag, bumps her chair away from her and stomps down the steps, across the front of the class, slips out the door and slams it shut behind her.
It bangs heavily, deafeningly, ringing with finality and the sound echoes cruelly through Beck's skull for the rest of the night.
He's been friends with her for years, before even their college days, and he thought they'd been close enough. He doesn't understand why he's so hurt when he finds out she'd moved to a different dorm without telling him.
"I was waiting outside your room for an hour," he accuses, arms folded across his chest, eyebrow furrowed, "I kept knocking, and then when I figured you weren't home, I just stood waiting outside it."
"Idiot," she comments breezily, lounging on a violently red couch he can't help but hate and underlining passages of Elliot's The Waste Land in highlighter,"Why didn't you just call me—"
"Why didn't you just tell me?" He fires back, knowing he might he reacting a tad more dramatically than necessary but not finding it in himself to care, "Andre had to tell me that you'd shifted over here, Jade. Andre, I mean why would you tell him and not me? What reason could you possibly have for just failing to mention—"
The door swings open and Tori and Andre enter laughingly. He's holding a large cardboard box labeled shoes in curled, girlish handwriting and Tori waves eagerly when she sees Beck. She asks Andre to please set the box down in her room.
"Isn't this great?" she says perkily, although Beck thinks there's a little weariness lacing her voice. She looks over at Jade whose expression has hardened considerably since the two of them entered and sighs, dropping the cheery tone, "Well, it'll be an experience in any case."
Beck looks from between them, wondering what idiot thought this would be a good idea.
"Don't blame me for not shouting about this from the rooftops," Jade deadpans, standing and circling her fingers around his wrist.
"Well are you guys staying for dinner?" Tori calls after them, "We're ordering Chinese!"
"Shut it," Jade advices, and she drags Beck into her new room, slamming the door violently behind them.
There are some things Beck doesn't get over, some things that just do not slide off him like water off a duck. Some things that stick, some things that stay.
The way Jade laughs, the way she really laughs—not to be mocking and not to be cruel, not to be mean or petty or sarcastic, but real and honest and genuine, the way she laughs without meaning to—sticks to Beck for three eternities.
Once Robbie spots them and comes running over on an afternoon three weeks before midterm. The five of them are seated outside in one of the gazebos, a couple of hefty textbooks opened between them and Beck can feel the heat of Jade's hip at the jut of his. Sometimes when Tori is being particularly cheerful, Jade's ankle locks angrily around his and he has to put a placating hand on her knee before she expels an annoyed breath and releases him. The whole thing does not last five seconds, but it makes Beck's heart do traitorous things in the hollows of his chest.
Robbie spots them from the garden and waves, comes running over. He cuts through the grass rather than using the sidewalk and because he is Robbie, because he is all gangly limbs and curved spines, he trips and falls forward comically, arms rotating wildly and mouth screeching, until he lands flat on his face, nose deep in kindly fertilized dirt.
Jade is the first to recover.
She tilts her head back and laughs, eyes closed, shoulders quaking. It is a perfect laugh, he thinks, loud and undisciplined in just the right way. She laughs like she means it, like she believes in it, like it is a diminishing commodity and deserves to be used properly while she has it. The chortles spill from her mouth like pulsating music, filling the air almost physically and making Beck blink very hard very fast.
Once Beck stops by Jade and Tori's dorm before his eight o'clock class.
"I need the notes from Sikowitz's lecture last week," he tells Tori when she opens the door, eyes red-rimmed and half-lidded, a fat mug of coffee steaming in her hand, "Do you have them?"
She nods sleepily, lets him in and waves vaguely over to the little kitchen table. "I'll be right back," she tells him, and then staggers like a zombie to her room.
Beck shrugs, pulls the dishwasher open and extracts a mug from its depths. He helps himself to some coffee and sits at the table he'd become quite friendly with over the course of the last few months. He stirs in two spoons of sugar.
"Here," Tori mumbles, walking into the kitchen and slapping the papers down before him. She walks towards the cupboards looking more awake now, and begins poking through them.
"Where's the cereal?" she asks whiny, staring at the mostly empty cabinets, "I just bought some last week."
"Beck ate it."
Beck's heart palpitates wildly as he turns to see Jade entering the room.
Her voice is spectacular in the morning after she'd just woken—raspy and gorgeous and full of such texture Beck has to remind himself to swallow. Her long hair is mussed and tangled in loose, riveting curls and he would be lying through his teeth if he said his eyes aren't at least a little bit focused on how well her tank top fits her, or the little sliver of lily-white skin that shows from between her top and boxer shorts, but it is her voice, uneven and tired and soft and hard in the best way that would stick to him. Beck figures—well he figures there are probably a million people in the world by now who had perhaps seen that little sliver of skin on her belly and lower back, and even more people still who had marveled at the mouth-watering fit of her tank top, but there were very few Beck imagined, perhaps less than a handful who would hear her voice like this, and he prided himself on being one of them.
"Are we out of orange juice?" she asks in that same wonderful voice, disgruntled, not even bothering to open up the fridge, just frowning down at him and Tori.
"Maybe check." Tori suggests, not paying her any mind. She turns then to glare at him, hands fisted on her hips. "You owe me a new box of Cheerios." She tells him and Beck shakes his head slightly, trying to come back down to earth.
"Yeah," he mutters, not looking over at Jade. He stands shakily and grabs Tori's notes, shoving them into his bag, "Sorry about that. I'll pick some up for you after class."
He lets himself out, feeling his bones trembling deep inside of him, and makes a very conscious decision to avoid Jade's place early in the mornings.
"Greeks loved tragedies," she tells him knowingly, leaning back against the hard frame of her bed, "They believed in this whole catharsis thing, you know? That emotional relief a after a good cry."
She tosses Julius Caesar into his lap and thrusts her hand under her bed again, pulling out more novels. "Pretty stupid I think," she continues, sorting through the worn paperbacks with the sort of careful delicacy a surgeon might put into a risky operation, "I mean people still do that though, so I guess the Greeks couldn't have been too far off."
"Do people still do that?" Beck asks, picking up her yellowing copy of Mootori's Mono no aware and flipping it open.
"Of course they do," she replies easily, blowing a soft layer of dust off Les Misérables and opening to the first page in a manner that could only be called loving, "What do you think Titanic is for? All those late night chick-flicks women reserve especially for a bad breakup, those movies that were filmed for the sole purpose of making millions of scattered-brained idiots weep." Her words are harsh, but her eyes are soft, quietly affectionate as she rubs her thumb over a small rip on page thirty-two, "Catharsis," she says, taking a deep breath in and blowing it out through her nose slowly—demonstratively, "People need that, I guess."
"Ah," he agrees watching her, still leafing through Mono no aware. There were many passages crossed-out out in red pen and even more scratching commentary scribbled in her cramped handwriting into the margins. Beck grins at this, traces a slim finger over her biting words and bitter interpretations and flicks the novel closed again.
"You think you can do better than Mootori," he acknowledges loftily, although he also notices none of her Plath has any markings at all, "But not better than Plath?"
"Mootori is a hack," Jade comments brusquely, leaning so close to him Beck can feel the heat of her knee seeping through his jeans, "But Plath, Plath is perfect. She knew what she was doing."
"She stuck her head in the oven."
"She was disturbed." She glares at him, the icy blue of her eyes glinting fiercely, "Are you really going to fault her for being depressed?"
"I'm not faulting her for being depressed," Beck rolls his eyes but scoots closer, pushes away the offending novel and reaches under her bed himself, "I'm just saying if she was messed up enough to stick her head in an oven, she must not have been in her best state of mind to write."
"You're an idiot." She decides, taking The Bell Jar from him and cradling it close to her chest not unlike a sane person would cradle a child, "You're an idiot and a moron and you have absolutely no taste. You probably think Bismark is a genius, you probably pray to Thoreau, you probably—the hell do you think you're doing? Put that down!"
In his incredulous hands Beck holds a tremendously timeworn copy of The Little Prince, faded and yellowed, and torn in several places.
"You're like twenty," he murmurs, barely believing the Jade West—the same Jade West who routinely bullied incoming freshmen into buying her lunch, who once made a janitor piss his own pants by simply staring him down—had a very old copy of a children's story tucked under her bed, one that she was attached to it, "Why do you still have this?"
"Give it." She demands, and pulls it easily enough out of his grasp. She glares at him, but Beck does not miss the flush of color rising to her cheeks. "My mother used to read it to me, okay. It was all packed up with my other books and I forgot to take it out. That's all."
He blinks at her, at her now disgruntled expression and pink-tinted cheeks. She tucks the book away again with so much tenderness Beck has no doubt in his mind that she purposely packed it to take with her.
He clears his throat.
"I've never read it," he tells her quietly, honestly, and watches as she stills beside him, "What's it about?"
He sees her swallow, watches as she raises her eyes to meet his. She works her lower lip between her teeth, and Beck stares transfixed as she chews on it.
"It's about…a lot of things," she begins quietly, taking the book in question out again and laying it softly on her lap, "Loneliness…love. I know it's supposed to be a kid's book or whatever, but you really…you really don't understand a lot of what it's supposed to mean until you're older." He sees her swallow, blinking down at the book. "You could…you could borrow it if you want." She offers quietly, and Beck feels something incredibly warm work up his chest as she holds it out to him.
"Or…you could read it to me?"
She blinks twice, looking surprised. Beck can hardly believe he said it himself.
Jade stares at him for a few very long moments, and Beck tries hard not to fidget under her solid gaze. Finally she breaks eye contact, her tongue darts out and she wets her lips, opens the story very carefully to the first page.
The pages crinkle musically, and Beck's eyes trace her figure as she settles back against her bedframe, curls her knees comfortably on the beige of her carpet. And if she notices the way she's linked their ankles together, she does not comment on it.
"Once when I was six years old I saw a beautiful picture in a book…"
Beck isn't afraid of anything; nothing in the world can shock him, frighten him or leave him quaking in his boots.
There is this one time though, this one time something comes close.
He's lounging back on his bed catching up on poetry. He's never been much a fan before, always preferred the length and stability of novels over the pompous incantation of poetry, but he's older now, and poems are starting to make sense.
He likes Yeats and he likes Neruda. He likes cummings a lot, but then again, everyone likes cummings a lot. He likes Bukowski and Sandburg and Williams—all lonely sons of bitches.
What he doesn't like is the iffy-ness of poetry, the perplexity of poetry. He thinks anyone in the world could write a jumble of words that don't make any type of sense, but only a handful of them could be called poets. Things like that he doesn't like.
But he's starting to at least understand poetry now, and that he counts for something.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
And somehow Beck thinks of Jade.
The next second he jumps out of bed, tossing the book away like it had burned him. Foolishly, he wipes his hands on his sweater, trying to rid himself of…of what exactly? He doesn't know but his fingers are shaking and his heart is thumping erratically in the cage of his ribs, like it knows his thoughts, like it is ashamed of him.
Beck swallows hard and tries to calm himself. He blinks at the offending book lying crumpled and pathetic in the corner of his room, innocent and idle like it hadn't just torn the floor out from under him.
Neruda, Beck thinks, frowning at the thing and walking slowly over to it, what a perfectly pitiful excuse for a man.
He picks it up slowly, holds it loosely between his thumb and forefinger and bites the insides of his cheeks, annoyed.
He doesn't want to throw it away, it's still a book, however stupid and he has a very solid moral code about these things. He walks over to his bed and crouches down, shoves the novel deep beneath its depths and sincerely hopes for it to gather dust there forever.
He shakes the experience off and walks calmly over to his bookshelf.
He pulls out Voltaire—bitter, angry, repressed Voltaire—and starts reading.
There are moments when Beck is sure she's isn't exactly human.
Her beauty is unearthly, the peach paleness of her skin and blazing blue of her eyes, a body so perfectly womanly he spends the majority of his time fighting to keep his eyes from lingering over the dangerously deep dips and curves, dark curled hair, pearly teeth, pink lips.
She's pretty in the soft way that makes you think of September—cool and unwavering, pretty like the only time of year that takes care of the seamless blending of one harsh season onto the next. Beck doesn't think there's a person on earth who could have a problem with September, as easy and calming as it is. She's like that he thinks, even the way she holds herself—not loose and carefree like summer or frigid and frosty like winter, but cool and brittle like a warm day late in September, the arch of her back a deeply aged tree trunk and the mocking vibrato of her laughter the slightly chilled wind.
It's dangerous how attracted he becomes to her, dangerous how badly he wants to wrap himself around her, pull fingers reverently through her hair, cup her chin, mark her neck. Beck is not afraid of these thoughts though—not too afraid anyway—she's attractive, that much cannot be denied, and he is male; there is nothing so insane about his appreciating her beauty.
The bad part—the dangerous part—comes when others notice her beauty as well. The bad part comes when sleazy assholes full up on beer and idiocy whistle at her retreating figure, grin and thump one another anytime she bends down. When they lean against a wall beside her and try to finger one of her graceful curls—what's your major anyway?—slow and smooth and cajoling, trying to talk her pants off.
Beck cannot stand these men, cannot breathe even breaths when they are anywhere near her. She flips them off or kicks them where the sun don't shine, but it isn't enough, they never learn and their friends still go chasing after.
Worse though—worse than the over-cocky frat boys who can't take a hint, are the subdued ones, the ones who want her more than just for one night. Those are the ones Beck tries never to let her get near. He can see it in their eyes, the way they trace the outline of her face rather than the curves of her body, when they try to make a witty comment in class, impress the professor and they look over at her right away—did she hear? did she think that was funny?—they are worse, much, much worse, a million times worse.
They are the ones, Beck is sure, who will whisk her away from him. They are the ones who will inevitably work their fingers into the spaces between hers, work a real smile to her normally downturned lips.
They may even make her believe in love.
These thoughts are the thoughts that propel Beck into what happens next:
She comes slinking towards him a short black dress, so tight and tapered around her waist Beck can barely convince his eyes to move anywhere else. Her legs are long and on full display, her hair is curled around her ears, a low neckline and a world of cleavage.
Beck is in a certain kind of hell.
She comes slinking over to him and he does not miss the eyes of the other men in the room, hungry and tracing, excited at the prospect of maybe getting to take a catch like this home tonight.
The bar is smoky and somehow that makes everything worse, distorts her figure and makes her look a million miles away.
"Hey," she says, seating herself on the stool beside his. He can see clearer now and her lips are deeply marooned and upturned, her lashes are impossibly long, her cheeks are dewy and pinker than usual. The whole thing makes his head spin.
"Where are the others?"
"They'll be here in a minute I expect," Beck answers, breaking himself out of it. He takes a sip of his drink and wills himself to revert back to the man he was years ago, the one who couldn't look her properly in the eye.
"It's already six," she says, frowning he is sure, although he doesn't look so he can't know for certain, "They should be here by—"
"Hey," he is dark-haired and dimple-cheeked, he has straight white teeth and his eyes are focused very clearly on Jade.
"Hey," he says, and it isn't confident or over-cocky, it isn't sleazy or drawn-out, it's nice, a greeting, an opening; the end of the world.
Jade's eyes flit over his face, and she shrugs, leans slightly away from Beck—and he notices—to raise an eyebrow at him.
"Hey," she answers.
The hell is this? Beck thinks viciously in his head, watching as they converse—oh, cool, I'm lit too! No I don't go to school here, just in town visiting friends. I graduated last fall actually. God, you've got a pair of beautiful eyes—and slowly feels the anger fill him up up up, until his hands clench hard enough to leave half-moon indentations deep into his palms, until he sees red, until it finally spills over.
"Get lost," Beck barks, and the guy looks momentarily startled, like he hadn't even known Beck was sitting there, "We were having a conversation before you interrupted, and we're waiting for friends."
The guy scratches sheepishly at the back of his neck, "Hey man, sorry about that, didn't know she was your girl." He looks properly ashamed, which makes Beck feel slightly better, and when he skulks off to prey on some other girl, Beck feels better all the way.
"What was that?" Jade asks, sounding unimpressed, and it's only then that Beck realizes all his anger has not dissipated, that half is somehow very focused on her and the way she looks in that tight silken number.
"What were you doing?" He fires back, his fingers are shaking and he fists them together so she doesn't notice, "Flirting like that? You're giving him the wrong impression."
She frowns deeply, her eyes narrow. "If I was flirting with him," she answers, all cool anger, "Then I was giving him the right impression. It's none of your business anyway."
Beck feels something ugly fill him up, brimming over the top and making him furious, "It is my business if you're going around acting like—"
He stops then. Beck, he may be pissed, but he doesn't have a death wish.
"Acting like what, exactly?"
"You know what." He taunts, leaning in closer. He should stop, he knows he should, but the anger is prevalent in his mind it is all he can see: anger and Jade and anger and Jade in heartbreaking repetition.
"How nice," she hisses, storming rage swirling in her blue-blue eyes, but behind the anger, a very deep layer of hurt, "That my closest friend thinks of me like that."
The word breaks him, shatters him, tears him to pieces. Jade, the way he thinks of her, the way he sees her, there is nothing friendly in that—nothing remotely close.
Something roars to life within him, something that tastes like resentment hurts like heartbreak. It rises up and crashes over as he growls deep in his throat, grips her by the back of her skull and pulls her to him, presses his lips harshly to hers.
It is not the way he imagined first kissing Jade, and he imagined it often—it is cruel and angry, his lips are chapped and hers are unresponsive. She is soft under his hands, warm as liquid fire beneath his lips, but their teeth clash together and it hurts in the bad way. It is rough, too rough for a first kiss and far too short for a last. When he nips hard on her lower lip, trying to get her to respond, she shoves him by the shoulders and pushes away from him.
"What are you doing?" she shrieks, and he must be imagining this whole ordeal because he swears he sees her eyes begin to water very slightly.
"Jade," he feels terrible, feels sick, there's a heavy churning in the pit of his belly and his head is throbbing, he felt much better when she was sitting close, "Jade," he reaches his hand out to her.
"Stay away from me!" She stumbles back, stands further away from him, chest heaving, "You…me, just no! You weren't supposed to…this isn't supposed to happen, Beck! God! Just stay the hell away from me."
She spins on her heel, makes to rush away.
"Jade," he calls a third time, feeling lost and feeling desperate, his lips tingle to make contact with hers again. "Happy birthday."
She stiffens; he sees the delicate line of her back freeze up like an angry cat. Still turned away, she raises a hand high in the air and flips him off.
She walks back out the way she came.
Things end the way they start, Beck figures.
She avoids him in in every class, and Beck doesn't make very much effort to seek her out either. He feels a clawing sort of loneliness swirling around his head, bristling his bones, and he thinks he understands now what the Little Prince was trying to say.
When he is feeling up to it he reads Chopin's The Awakening and thinks of women like Jade, women who no one could hold onto, women who drift away at sea.
He still can't define it, still can't believe in it all the way, but he wishes Jade were a different girl. He wishes she was not so afraid.
It breaks him.
Not that she refuses to believe in love.
Just that she refuses to believe in him.
They don't speak again until graduation.
It ends like this:
The great hall has almost completely emptied and Beck is still in his satin black gown. He looks over at the large archway he and his fellow university graduates had sauntered through not an hour ago. His parents would be waiting with flowers clutched in sweaty hands, proud and beaming on the other side.
Some things, Beck figures, lowering his head and thinking of Ophelia, thinking of how she loved so deeply she drowned herself in it—some things never change.
"Hey," Jade whispers, coming up behind him quiet as a ghost. His eyes flit hungrily over her— sunken blue eyes and parted lips, delicate collarbone and the severely angled physic of a woman who spends too much of her time pressed between pages—it had been months and months of looking without seeing, but now, now Beck is finally seeing, and somehow he thinks she may be too.
Her eyes are lowered and her feet are pointed, but there is a smile tucked into the corner of her cheek, soft and half-remembered like she's ready to make up for lost time.
There's some dusty poetry long-stowed away Beck thinks he'd like to show her.
He may be in love.
To even lovers drown, who reads Yeats and writes about love. To Suzy (imlaughingnow) and Bambi (startingtoforget), who help me believe in it.