We've Been Here Before
"And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep." — Kurt Vonnegut
She would reverse the flow of time if she could, imagines saying this to him, her disgraceful secret, "I want to go back."
"We can't go back. Can't we just move on?" imaginary Beck replies because Real Beck has already done so and won't tell her how.
Their relationship must have been a fault line in the earth's crust and they were the two plates moving in opposite directions under a growing strain. Then a slip later, a collapse of everything they've worked for later, here they are in the aftermath as the dust settles: stunned, slow, weary and rebuilding, waiting for the light to pass through again.
She's angry at herself for dwelling on this, but it's like trying to close a lid on a box that's too full—she can't not dwell. She's getting better at least, enjoying moments that had once been occupied with Full House marathons or scouring his Slap page for other girls who might have left traces of his infidelity.
In her spare time, she teaches Tori how to give up and stop smiling. Vega makes a pretty good stress ball or punching bag or whatever you want to call it. Beck tries his hardest to reverse all her work with spoon-fed compliments to keep her sheltered, but, look, the way Jade sees it, somebody's got to kick the bird out of the nest someday.
It's not going to be Sikowitz, obviously, since he casts Tori as the lead in the next production opposite Beck. Jade gets a role too, a nondescript townsperson in the background.
She also gets assigned to help out with props, but she spends most of play practice bugging the people who do lighting and sound. She likes distracting Sinjin so that he misses his cues and enjoys the panic in Robbie's face when she discreetly turns off Tori's microphone one day. They are good subjects to film with her Pearphone too, always doing embarrassing things. She uploads the best clips to TheSlap and they're pretty well-received, so she joins them in a few videos where they improvise short skits on their breaks.
Play practice starts running late as they get closer to opening night, so the tech crew orders pizza on those evenings and she joins them. Shapiro has to bring his own dinner because he can't handle the cheese or gluten or whatever. He brings this raw vegan burger made from dehydrated vegetables, seeds, sprouts and other healthy chiz. It makes her laugh because it looks like someone's put a chunk of their lawn in a plastic container and charged him ten bucks for it.
Their first performance is in three days and Jade wants to sleep. She'd stayed up until four in the morning perfecting an essay that will still manage not to please her Sociology teacher. Everyone's sprawled on the floor eating, and they all look kind of tired too. No one has the energy to talk; it's just the sound of Burf chewing on his celery that fills the room.
Robbie is sitting by himself over to the side, looking like a cow with a mouthful of grass and dirt. She brings her pizza slice over and sits with her back to his. He can be a little bit more than tolerable lately, like when he is not being an idiot around Cat, or like now when he makes a more comfortable back rest than a wall.
They rehearse and rehearse, but they're used to the routine after all these years. Friday night, Jade spies the Vega parents in the front row and overhears Beck giving Tori a pep talk that probably won't do her any good now. She considers ditching the play, but that wouldn't put her in Sikowitz's good books. At this point though, she doesn't think she's in his books at all.
She's just ready for it all to be over with, so she lets Robbie drag her where she's supposed to be. His voice gets as high as it always does when he's indignant, so she's stuck listening to him squawk about how everyone's worked so hard, not just Tori, and please think of them, please? Jade groans and shoves him away.
During the production, she messes up and misplaces the box with all the food props. God, she's getting sloppy. "It's a brown cardboard box about this size! Go find it!" she hisses to a stagehand about five minutes before it is needed. The stagehand returns empty handed. (Freshman, they can't do anything right.) It's ends up being okay, because Tori ad-libs a line to account for its absence and the audience laughs. The rest of the cast follows suit, working around Jade's mistake.
After the play is over, she has to wait for everyone to leave before she can start searching just because she can't get anything done in this crowd of people hugging and doling out congratulations. Cat bounds over to where Jade is sulking in a corner. "Jade, I didn't see you during curtain call! Robbie was trying to find you!"
Jade rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I didn't go out because it's not like anyone noticed me standing behind Tori's gaudy hair."
"I did!" Cat exclaims and hugs her. "You were so good! I liked the way you walked. What'cha still doing here?"
"I lost the prop food. I need to find it for tomorrow."
"I can stay to help you," Cat suggests brightly and rocks back and forth on her feet.
Jade glances over Cat's shoulder. "I think your family's waiting to leave though." Cat's brother is throwing a temper tantrum a few yards away and rips a poster advertising the play off the wall, yelling about wanting to buy doughnuts and how he's missing his favorite television program right now. The Valentines should just really get a PVR and about half of his outbursts could be avoided.
"But they can go without me."
"Why can't you go with them?"
"I want to look for the prop food!"
"To help you!"
"How would you get home?"
"I'll get a ride!"
"From whom?" Jade asks, playing dumb and hoping that Cat will say Robbie.
"You, silly!" Cat giggles as Jade sighs. In the past, she'd been able to make Cat lose her train of thought by asking too many questions and getting the girl too flustered to remember what the original inquiry had been.
Cat is still giggling. "Fine," Jade says even though she knows Cat will end up looking in the same three places over and over again anyway. Hollywood Arts can get sort of creepy after hours, but Jade's not in the mood to be creeped out and alone tonight.
Once most of the people are gone, Jade instruct Cat on the areas she needs to look. "'Kay 'kay!" she chirps as she skips off and starts sniffing at the air.
"Cat! It's fake food!" Jade reminds her irritably. Backstage is actually a mess; she doesn't know how these morons are supposed to figure out how to do things smoothly for the next performance too. She spends twenty minutes scouring auditorium while Cat checks behind the door, under the table and in the closet repeatedly and in that order.
On the top shelf of Tori's dressing room, she spies a box with a familiar dent and drags over a tall stool. One of the legs is uneven, but she'll be careful. She's in the middle of hefting the box into her arms when a voice calling out her name startles her, then her heel is slipping off the seat of the stool, and she gives a small shriek before she is falling backwards for an indeterminable amount of time, finally landing on something hard yet soft as they both hit the ground with a dull thud.
The prop food rains all around them.
"Oww," someone groans from under her hair.
"Shit. Beck!?" Jade rolls off of him and studies his face. He is conscious and breathing, good enough. "What the hell? You couldn't have waited five seconds?"
"I was going to tell you," he says, sitting up and rubbing the back of his head, "to watch out. Are you all right?"
"What are you even doing here?"
"I ran to catch you."
"I mean in Vega's dressing room."
"I forgot my phone in here earlier. Why were you - " he picks up a plastic apple. "What are these for?"
Christ, he doesn't even know? "The play! I couldn't find them. Why was my box even in here? She must have been trying to sabotage me, that conniving wench," Jade rants and begins crawling around to gather up the food. Beck is still sitting, looking dazed or dumbfounded. "Are you all right?" she asks, annoyed.
"Yeah." He rubs his arm, gives her a half grin. "You have sharp elbows, though."
"Well, you were pretty squishy. Lay off the fat cakes, Oliver." She finishes and gets to her feet.
"Wait, Jade," Beck calls from the floor as she heads out into the hallway.
He stares up at her briefly, draining the patience she never had. "Just—be more practical next time, okay?" He gestures at the stool and makes a disapproving face.
She's exasperated, and he must know this so she sighs loudly. "I would have been fine if you hadn't caught me off guard." Story of her life, isn't it?
Beck wants the clocks to speed up. Let's just skip to the part where he's older; this mess would look better behind him.
Living in an RV is nice when you want to be alone with your problems. Though sometimes when he's out of food or toilet paper, he'll have to pass through the house where he'll run into his dad who will, with good intentions, ask Beck about what is going on in his life. Beck, unable to come up with anything that'll interest his dad, says "nothing" and dad will make a remark about Beck's passivity as if all Beck does is sit on his bed and twiddle his thumbs.
It doesn't surprise him anymore, how he can avoid the house for any length of time and everything will be as he'd left it, including all the unsorted issues. His parents haven't been speaking to each other lately. The Olivers are not confrontational people. They collect their problems like loose change in a glass jar, the clash of metal from its last spill still ringing unpleasantly in his ears.
Right now it's kind of another stagnant phase of going through the motions. They subsist on mundane conversations spoken in hollow tones: dinner is ready, don't forget to do laundry, there's mail for you on the counter. Beck only sees that his mother had moved into the guest room a couple weeks after she'd decided to. Everything, though contained within the same walls, seems terribly detached.
He returns to the RV, wondering when the casting directors will call, when he'll start landing serious roles, when can he get out of high school, when will he make his mark? He appreciates Hollywood Arts, he does, he likes learning, but the weeks tumble after one another and he's feeling aimless.
He goes for an audition on the weekend and feels very expendable in a room of other pretty boys with even fluffier, shinier hair. No more old waitresses who fawn over him and ask for his hand in marriage, he's surrounded by other Hollywood dreamers giving him a two-second once overs before dismissing him mentally. A lot of them are wearing small pants to show off skinny ankles and weird socks. Is that the style now? He discretely looks down to evaluate himself. He tugs on the end of his shirt. Jade's probably right about the fat cakes.
His dad isn't much of a listener, but Sikowitz is sort of a mentor, or at least the kind who'll lead you through a maze and throw coconuts at you before you end up where you want to be. Beck's slept over at his house once and knows way too many things about the man's personal life, so somehow it isn't weird spilling his mess of thoughts in front of his Improv teacher as soon as the classroom clears out.
"Oh, Beck," bellows Sikowitz, always bellowing for no apparent reason, "Beck, Beck, Beck. Congratulations! You've finally realized that you're a dime a dozen."
Right, well, yeah. "So, um, I was just wondering if there were maybe something I should do, or?" he cringes inwardly asking this.
"You need to shave your head," Sikowitz instructs, very matter-of-fact. "That's what kick started my productivity."
"Beck!" Sikowitz bellows again, startling him. "I'm just pulling your peach, you poor boy, that's the most scared I've ever seen you." He claps Beck on the back. "You don't choose where you go from here. Let your path choose you! Be loose, be a scarf in the wind! Don't always choose the Shakespearean monologues, they make me snore. Be unpredictable, or surprise me and be predictable even though I've told you not too. Stop and sniff the petunias every once in a while!"
And Beck's pretty much heard this in some form or another already, but something, perhaps Sikowitz' random inflections in his spiel, brushes a bit of Beck's uneasiness away. He grins to himself. "Thanks, Sikowitz. That helped."
"No, really, come smell my petunias." His teacher whips out a pot of petunias from his closet. Most are dead, unsurprisingly. Sikowitz cuts off the one that looks the most alive and hands it to Beck. He's touched, really.
As soon as Beck steps out into the hallway, Trina Vega flutters around him like an annoying bee. The more he swats her away, the more persistent she gets. She gasps, finally zoning in on the flower. "For me?" She goes in for a hug, and last time she'd done this, he'd received a mouthful of hair.
"No, it's mine," he states firmly, dodging her arms. "Sikowitz gave it to me."
At lunch he finds himself with Andre in the empty theater room. Andre has his guitar, humming as he plays a few chords, and looks deep in thought.
"What are you thinking about?" Beck asks.
Andre stares out into the empty space in front of him. "Why did they choose a rabbit as a mascot for the cereal that looks like rabbit pellets?"
"I ... couldn't tell you?"
"Don't worry about it." Andre glances at Beck and chuckles. "Cheer up man, why you gotta look so glum?"
"I have to write a poem for English class. About love. It's due last period and I forgot about it last night." Not exactly true, Beck had attempted to write a few times, came up with too many weird metaphors for his liking. His thoughts lacked a courage and coherency needed to be transferred onto paper, and he'd just gone to sleep. And to be honest, it was a frustrating restriction for the teacher to assign that subject, anyway.
"Then what are you waiting for? Do it right now." Andre scrambles to find a pen and paper in his bag. He hands them to Beck, says, "I'm sure it'll come easy to you."
Beck thinks about his jigsaw puzzle piece of a family and how they couldn't find a way to fit back together again. And as for romantic love, well. He hadn't exactly been looking for it, at the young age of fourteen, fifteen or sixteen; he'd just had it, like it was placed in his hands. Like those children who've not once wished for a pet dog because they've grown up with one and didn't have to do any work for it, those lucky buggers. Eventually, though, Fido croaks or the girl leaves and your head is spinning because you hadn't imagined what an impossibly big hole they'd leave.
He exhales slowly and takes the pen and paper form Andre with a grimace. The mismatched words end up being about the ephemerality of love, how it wilts and how you have to abandon it before it inevitably abandons you. He writes about its callous side that turns people into fools and thieves, feels a thrill from being cynical.
Andre reads it over when Beck hands him back the pen.
"It's bad, right?" Beck asks, sounding defeated.
Andre hesitantly says, "Nah, it's good," but the words are dissonant notes. If Beck isn't a poet, then Andre isn't much of an actor either.
Tori walks into the theater then, saving Andre from Beck calling him out on his lie, and greets both boys excitedly, happy that she's stumbled upon them. Beck tries to match her excitement. He's glad things haven't been awkward between them after he'd tried to kiss her. He hadn't really thought about how she'd feel. He hadn't really thought much at all. He explains his current situation.
"Oh, yeah, the poetry assignment," Tori gushes. She's in his class, but he can't ask to see hers since his would look even worse in comparison. "Don't you think it's a good outlet for your emotions Beck?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I mean," Tori titters nervously. "Can I see what you have?"
He can't watch her face as she reads, so he focuses on Andre who's gone back to fiddling around with his guitar.
"Aw, Beck. Is it about Jade?" she teases immediately once she's finished, before she can look back up at him even, though she sounds a little sad, her question coming out half-heartedly.
Why are you so concerned about Jade, he'd asked her once during play rehearsal. I don't want the special treatment, she'd explained, I like her honesty. But Jade's downright biased, he'd countered, why her? Tori had shrugged and Beck, surprisingly, had understood because we all do things we can't understand every now and then. Beck had actually found it somewhat admirable that Tori chases critique in order to grow while all his life he'd been running into praise and admiration and never realized that it may have stunted him.
"No, it's not." he says defensively, taking his assignment from her hands.
In English class, he pulls his poem out of his binder to hand in. It looks too short, so in a panic he scribbles last minute thoughts about sniffing petunias and finishes it off with some quick imagery that sounds romantic. Sunrises and sunsets, beginner poetry staples. He erases a random line he can't remember writing about blue eyes, doesn't know why but regrets it after he tears a hole in his paper.
The next day, the teacher gives him a C and a note about how he didn't meet the requirements as well as a few other illegible scrawls that he doesn't want to decipher. There's probably a comment about presentation. Beck sinks in his seat and flips the paper over in case Tori, who is sitting beside him, decides to be nosy.
His weekend evenings haven't been very busy lately, so he writes statuses about his boredom and rewatches old movies.
He wonders what Jade's been up to. He's kind of jealous of the videos of her on TheSlap. She seems, well, happy to be happy when she's around Robbie and Sinjin. (It's not called stalking. He just gets the notifications. Everyone does!) He misses when she at least used to acknowledge him, but admits that it isn't really his right to have her attention anymore.
He's moved on already, there's even proof. He's gone on two dates with a girl named Maya. She's really cool, and calm. Beck likes her air of effortlessness. She doesn't talk much, he's not even sure if she's interested in him still, but it's a small price to pay for peaceful dinners and movies where they don't get kicked out. They can always hit their stride in making conversation later.
Did he mention she has a tattoo? "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat" scrawled between her shoulder blades in a loopy cursive. An inconvenient place for a supposedly inspirational reminder, he'd thought wryly, unless it wasn't meant for just her. "F. Scott Fitzgerald," she had intoned when she caught him looking, but that was all she'd shared.
He tells Cat about his dates on a Tuesday morning. He'd walked up to her at her locker after randomly selecting her out of all his friends. She just happens to talk a lot, happens to talk a lot to Jade. Cat probably wants to hear about the dog that Maya has. It'd been one of those fluffy breeds. A Labor Poodle?
"A Labradoodle!" Cat corrects him. Beck isn't convinced. "That's what they're called. Jade bought me a book about dog breeds if I promised not to tell you her secret." She pulls it out of her backpack and displays the dilapidated hardcover in all its water-stained and loose-paged glory. Cat explains that Jade had found it in a used bookstore, but Beck's thinking it came off the side of the road.
"Wait, what secret? Why doesn't she want me to know?"
"Beck!" Cat looks highly amused, eyes crinkling. "You don't know how a secret works?" And standing on her toes, she whispers in his ear, "You're not supposed to tell."
He'd never thought Cat to be so cruel as to dangle information like this in front of him.
She's playing with the ends of her hair as she cautiously slides a couple of questions in. "Do you like her? The Labradoodle girl?"
"I don't know," he says, trying to be honest. "I'd need to know her better." It's weird not having Cat be ostentatiously happy, so he inquires about her dog book. She is sunshine and rainbows again, chattering on about how the English Paw-Tails page must have fallen out.
Maya didn't have the baggage and he couldn't figure out if that were the reason for his interest or the reason why his interest was so mild. He'd taken for granted that he could rely on intuition for what to say or do before, when he was with Jade.
In the waiting room at the hospital the night of the dog incident—and the incident hadn't even been that bad; the ambulance was just precautionary—he'd been thinking about how his answer to her question had scared him. Who said I stopped? What if he couldn't stop? Now here they are, and she isn't his to love anymore.
He'd been reminded of this by the cold shock of being alone with her again on opening night where suddenly he was back to being a curious thirteen-year-old with his ear pressed against the school's music room door, straining to hear the muffled piano and wispy voice drifting from inside. He remembers how the song, hazy like a morning fog, had left him not knowing if he was rising out of a dream or easing into one.
It's just them together at Nozu on a Friday night, but it isn't what it looks like. It'd started out as a group outing except everyone else had bailed at the last minute, literally at the last minute, after Jade and Beck had arrived.
Andre is busy because his Grandmother got sick. Tori can't come because—Jade stops listening before Beck can finish his sentence.
Cat is in a car on its way to San Francisco. She's visiting her uncle and uncle because she'd thought the dinner was next week. Jade steps outside to call her because Cat needs to hear how annoyed she is and texting wouldn't suffice. She tells Cat that she's considering leaving. "Please just stay, Jade. Please, please, plea—" but Jade hangs up before Cat can go all squealing baby pig on her. She is never doing anything nice for Cat again ever. She goes back inside anyway because she's actually hungry.
God, she's even texting Robbie to beg him to come. He can't, he'd been grounded after he'd come home from school. Who still gets grounded!? That dork. So much for any buffers.
Jade joins Beck at the sushi bar. The last time she was with him, it had felt like they were on a fulcrum, not knowing which way they'd tip.
She rolls her eyes, unimpressed with the world. She supposes that she should really stop eating here and supporting a woman who once almost ruined her. "Guess it's just you and me, Pocahontas."
"Sorry, what?" Beck fights a smile. She does not get rewarded for comparing him to Disney characters. "I thought I was Aladdin."
"Your hair, Beck, it's almost as long as mine."
"You don't like it?" He's thinking, great, he's already losing his looks and he's not even past his twenties yet. His poor hair, probably the only reason why anyone used to care about him—
"Maybe it could work," Jade says while looking through the menu. Then turning to him and looking genuinely struck by an idea: "Hey, why don't you grow it even longer? And forget about the hair products. You can just, you know, let it grow wildly so it will cover your face."
He pouts. That wasn't even clever. She'd just wanted to hurt him. "You don't have to be mean to me, Jade."
She snorts and returns choosing her food. "I'm mean to everyone. Why should I be nice to you?"
"You've been nice, er, nicer to Robbie lately, when we were doing that play."
Jades blinks. She doesn't know when Shapiro had moved higher up than Beck on her list of people she wouldn't kill if they were stuck in a room together. "How'd you even manage to notice? You couldn't take your eyes off of Vega."
The waiter comes then, introduces himself and sets down two glasses of green tea. Beck says thank you. Jade asks for a soda and tells them they're ready to order.
"Wait, no I'm not," Beck yelps, shooting Jade a look.
"Not my fault you can't multitask." She throws him a menu. "You have two seconds, Oliver. I'm hungry."
Beck doesn't want to keep the waiter waiting, so he asks for the spicy tuna rolls. He can't tell if the waiter looks annoyed or amused, but Beck gives him an apologetic smile as he hands back the menus.
"So back to Tori," he starts.
Jade groans loudly as if she were in physical pain. Actually she would prefer physical pain over this, talking about Tori.
"She wants your approval, Jade. It's cute," Beck tells her. "She even asked me how."
"Oh right, because you know how." She wants to rip her hair out in aggravation. Or even better, his hair.
"Hey, I knew how for, like, three years."
Jade raises an eyebrow because he pretty much admitted the pointlessness of his argument himself.
He realizes this now and shrinks back a little, looking less confident. "Give her another chance?" he tries. "She looks up to you. She said she admires your drive."
"Well, I want her luck."
"It's not just luck, Jade. She's talented too." Jade scowls, so Beck says, "Uh, you can at least admit that she's improving. And, I know you guys want the same roles sometimes, but there are a lot more of them outside of Hollywood Arts."
"There are a lot more Tori Vegas outside of Hollywood Arts too."
"These things take time." He pats her on the shoulder awkwardly.
Jade bristles because it sounds like he's being patronizing again.
And the icing on the cake from Beck: "I think you both could learn from each other." Sometimes he pretends turns he's the wisest man in the world when he does this thing where he turns mountains into molehills, oceans into puddles. He probably believes that eating, praying and loving will get you through life. She knows he has the book.
"We'll see what happens," Jade says, which is enough for him to let the conversation go.
Jade gets a plate of something fancy placed in front of her. There's shredded cucumber sprouting out of the sushi and some kind of fish he hasn't tried yet. "Wait they had that?" Beck whines. He can't count the number of times he's had the spicy tuna roll.
She picks up her chopsticks. "You want one?"
He doesn't bother to answer.
"Then get it next time."
So much for intuition, he's a bit rusty, but maybe he doesn't actually want her to find out about Maya and he'll have to tell Cat this later.
"I was talking to Sikowitz after class the other day," he says.
"Yeah, I saw." Most likely buttering up the man to be second favorite, she thinks.
"He told me to be a scarf in the wind."
Jade voice takes on a disinterested tone. She sips her Ginger Ale. "He told me to be the worm on the sidewalk after a heavy rain once."
Beck laughs politely. "Oh yeah?"
"Something about being vulnerable on stage, but to hell with that." She rolls her eyes and then spears a piece of sushi with a chopstick. "I told him I'd be the boot that squishes it."
The sound of his real laugh is comforting, like finding a long-lost friend.
"He isn't that crazy though," Beck says consideringly.
"No, maybe not," Jade acquiesces, shrugging. He does't have to be nice to her either, she acknowledges, yet he's been trying.
The night isn't as bad as it could have been, though she'd attempted to keep him at arm's length so he wouldn't unravel everything she's worked for up until this point. She decides that she doesn't want him completely out of her life, but this isn't a good direction for them. They're probably even worse at staying apart than they are at staying together.
They get separate bills, and on their way out, Beck thinks back to the room full of guys with shiny hair. There had always been guys with shinier hair, but what surprises him now is that she picked him. He thinks about this while holding the door open for her as they leave the restaurant.
AN: This will be a twoshot. Thanks goes to Khay for helping me get this fic off the ground with that Beck part. And I'm on twitter now! /thegoldhat - I'm not sure what I'm doing there, so drop by to say hello if you have some free time.