Zander/Stevie, Beck/Jade, Sam/Freddie
"Zander, you're going to drive me insane," complained Zander's mother as she walked from the dining room to the mudroom, her dark hair piled into a bun at the top of her head.
"As if you're not already," Zander snorted, raising his head of messy curls to grin at her. "Come on, Mom; you know I've got to practice if I want to get anywhere with my music, and I think I've actually found something to write about… sort of…"
"And what would that be?" his mother asked, picking up the sheet of paper resting on his leg. Once she did, she raised an eyebrow. "You've got three words."
"I did say kinda," Zander admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Well, guess what," said his mother. "You're getting out. Take your music, your guitar, and go find some inspiration outside, okay? I've got an audition tomorrow, and I can't concentrate on anything with that constant noise from that darn ukulele."
Zander feigned offense. "It has a name, Mom."
"You're so weird," his mother groaned, rolling her eyes. "I swear, you're your father's child. He used to name his goldfish the weirdest names – Albert, honestly, Pigmalion, Cenwig, I think that one was the worst…."
"Yeah, you tell me that all the time," Zander said with a grin. "Y'know, he's coming back tomorrow. Then you can stop tormenting me with all the stories from back in the day."
"Watch that mouth, boy," his mom warned, blue-green eyes flashing. He knew that most people were terrified of his mother; she was practically the epitome of scary celebrities, Jade West, now Jade Oliver, the Wicked Witch of the West, but she had always liked it that way, always enjoyed being trademarked as the celebrity that bit back. He wasn't scared of her, though. Sixteen long years of putting up with her snarky speech and general unpleasant demeanor had taught him all of her tricks. Really, she was only terrifying when she was angry, and then his father was the only one who wasn't scared of her. She glanced up again. "I'm serious, Zander," she said, staring at him in that way she did only when she was threatening him to do something that she wanted. "Get out there; go find inspiration in the world. It's a tip I learned from… an old friend." The tips of her mouth curved up into a slight smile, one that even Zander seldom got to see.
In an attempt to improve her strangely bright mood, Zander nodded. "Fine, fine. I'll go out and write a song just for you, my lovely, beautiful Mother."
She chuckled. "Always so charming. Wonder where you get that from."
"If this is turning into another nostalgia session, then I'm definitely out," Zander called, kissing his mother lightly on the cheek before heading out the door. She wasn't the most typical mother, that much was true, but she was his mom anyway, and he loved her. Besides, he had learned early on that easy was boring, and his parents consistently encouraged him during every step of his budding music career. Music was what he loved, so of course he appreciated their support, and therefore he appreciated them as well.
Humming softly to himself, he walked down the street, walking to a beat that only he could hear. It was not long before he came to a park, and he seated himself on one of the benches, pulling out his ukulele and stroking it lightly before starting into one of his favorite songs.
People around him began to gather, forming a sea of diverse faces, an audience of sorts. He grinned, tipping his hat down – not to collect money, as many like him did, for he was not in need of that, but instead to thank the people for listening to him.
As the crowd dispersed, a single girl was left behind. She gave him a smile, and then sauntered up to him, all confidence and messy brown curls. "My name's Stevie," she said curtly, giving him a small smile. "And you're Zander Oliver, if I'm not mistaken."
"Robbins. I mean, my name's Zander Robbie Oliver, but I tend to go by Zander Robbins. Makes things easier," he explained quickly. "Tend not to get hounded by paparazzi if they think I'm just a normal guy. Hey, how'd you know that anyway?"
"My parents know yours," Stevie replied with a casual shrug. "Let's just leave it at that. Anyway, I'm not here to talk about quote on quote parental relations. I'm here because word's gotten around that you're a pretty accomplished musician and I could definitely use… well, someone to jam with."
"You're a musician?" Zander repeated, slightly dumbfounded. She hadn't really struck him as the musician type; she seemed more the cute sort of girl. But there was something carefree about the tilt of the beanie on her head, the makeup that seemed more natural than showy, the oversized hoodie she had paired with jeans. Maybe she was serious about her music as well.
"Well, obviously," Stevie retorted, shoving her hands into the pocket of her sweatshirt and reminding him more than a little of his mother. "I mean, I guess I'm not successful just yet, but I'd like to be. I play bass guitar – not so good at the ukulele, sorry."
"So let's jam together. Bring your bass guitar, I'll bring my ukulele, and we'll give these people a show. Tomorrow, all right? 10 AM."
"Deal." She smirked, holding out one hand. "It's a date then." With a matching smile, he shook it.
For some reason, after Stevie walked off, he felt himself getting a little bit flustered, which was unspeakably odd, considering the fact that Zander thought of himself as being fairly confident around girls. He watched her, then took his ukulele back out along with a sheet of paper.
That Girl, he scrawled across the top of the page, and then he began to write.
By the time he got home, his mother and sister were already seated at the table. His sister, who was, in all aspects aside from her eyes, basically a carbon copy of their mother, narrowed her eyes into slits. "You're late, Z."
"Oh," Zander replied, dropping down into his seat. "Mom kicked me out, M, so basically I have a perfectly good reason to be late. Anyway, Mom actually cooked today? What happened to the whole audition thing?"
"I got bored," his mom said, shoving the bowl of noodles toward him. "Anyway, eat up. This is the last time I'll be cooking for a while." Her mouth curved up slightly, and Zander knew why. Though it wasn't often evident to other people, Jade Oliver really did care for her husband of 18 years, and when he was off filming, she truly did miss him. Zander was certain his father felt the same way – at least, from the nightly phone calls, he could assume. It was somewhat reassuring, in a sense.
"Thank goodness for that," Zander's sister, the slightly adorable but incredibly evil Melody, muttered, bending over her soup.
"Rude," chided her mother before turning to Zander. "So Zander, did you find any inspiration out there in the big, scary world?"
"Well, I met a girl," Zander confessed sheepishly, avoiding his mom's perpetual intense gaze.
"A girl?" His mother's eyebrows were nearly brushing her forehead, while Melody grinned and hooted in an attempt to embarrass her brother. "Did she ask you to share a sodapop with her? Or flip her hair flirtatiously?"
"No…?" Zander asked curiously, raising an eyebrow. "She just… well, she's a musician, and something about her interested me. She just seemed, well, different, and so I wrote a song about her. No big deal."
"More than four words, I presume?" His mom smirked over at him.
"Yes, of course," he said, and then fell silent, digging into his bowl of noodles. There was something sparkling in his mother's eyes when he looked up, something that indicated she knew more than she was letting on. She was an intelligent woman, and she knew how to read people, which probably explained her hatred for 90% of the human race.
"You should play the song," Melody commanded. "We could be your test audience or whatever."
"You just want to use the song as blackmail material," Zander shot back.
Melody just shrugged. "Yeah, what's your point?"
He rolled his eyes. "Anyway," he continued, "I'm meeting up with her tomorrow, and we're going to like, play and stuff. Who knows – maybe, if she's as good as she claims to be, we could play together sometime or something. Just for fun."
"Zander," his mom said, a disapproving undertone in her voice. "It's great that you want to befriend this… this girl, but you know I can't be liable for her as well. We're going to put you on the road to a nice solo career as best we can." She sighed.
"But mom, I don't want to be famous just because of you and Dad," complained Zander, leaning back in his chair. "I want to pave my own way, climb the tower of fame myself – not have it handed to me."
"Well, we can't always get what we want," his mother retorted sharply. "If I was you, Zander Robbie Oliver, I would be grateful for what I had. Some people… some people weren't so lucky, you know. Some people didn't have parents that were as supportive of their artistic choices as… as Beck and I are of yours. So check yourself, Zander." There was something dark in her tone, and as she stood up, grabbing her bowl and stomping off, Zander found himself feeling more than a little scared, especially since his father wasn't there to calm her down. He glanced over at Melody, who was biting her lip.
"She's just sad 'cause Dad isn't here," Melody said self-importantly. "She'll… she'll come around."
"I know, M, I know," he replied, voice soft. "But think about it. We've met Dad's parents, of course, and they're great… the best grandparents a guy could ask for, actually. But we've never met Mom's parents."
"She doesn't really talk about them," Melody reminded him, her face scrunched up in concentration. "But I think Mom's mom is dead. Mom said something about it one time, and then she looked really sad and Dad hugged her and held her for a long time."
"Oh," Zander said simply. He and Melody sat in silence for a moment before he excused himself, picked up his plate, and walked off, his head swimming with thoughts. He'd never really pitied his mother; she rarely gave him reason to. She constantly gave off an air of self-sufficiency. But it was strange – in moments like these, real moments when she displayed her vulnerability, he'd never really felt more affectionate, more pity of a sort, for anyone else.
By the next day his mother was back to her normal self. She wasn't one to wallow around, and while Zander was somewhat grateful, he also felt sort of concerned that she could suppress her feelings so well. It was something typical of both his parents, though; likewise, his father wasn't the best at expressing his emotions, despite what people might have thought from his successful acting career. It was unhealthy, really, and Zander was glad that was one trait he hadn't inherited.
He left the house, but not before giving her a peck on the cheek and telling her that he loved her, to which she just raised an eyebrow. (He knew she loved him, though, honestly.)
By the time he got to the park, Stevie was already seated on the bench, guitar in hand. He walked up to her, greeting her with a grin. "You're early."
"You're late," she responded quickly.
"It's just now 10 AM," Zander responded, confused. Had he set his clock wrong or something?
"It's 10:01, actually," Stevie told him, a slight smile on her face at his confusion. "Anyway, let's get started, yeah? I'm assuming you know a few songs at least, probably some of the easier ones, so we've got to have at least one in common…"
It turned out they did, in fact, and the two of them stayed at the bench for hours, playing various different songs. People crowded around the bench at different intervals in time, requesting songs and even attempting to give money that curiously, both of them refused. They played well together, though; that much was obvious, and they received many compliments.
"Not bad, Robbins," Stevie remarked once they were done.
"Not bad… what's your last name?" Zander inquired with a slight frown.
"Baskara," Stevie said, so quickly it couldn't have been a legitimate answer, but Zander knew the feeling and didn't inquire any further. "Hey, you're hungry, right?" Before he could answer, she quickly followed it up with, "Well, my brothers are gone for the weekend, and if you'd like you could come over to my house for a bite. My parents wouldn't mind, I'm sure, and it's close enough to here that we could walk."
Inevitably, Zander agreed, and so the two of them set off. As a cold wind blew, Stevie tugged her beanie down further over her curls and shivered, prompting Zander to offer her his jacket. She raised an eyebrow, but declined. "Mom says I'm hot-blooded anyway; I'm sure I'll survive."
"If you're sure," Zander said slowly, noticing the goosebumps scattered all over her arm. "So, Stevie Baskara, where exactly do you live? In one of the upscale, hoity-toity neighborhoods?" His tone was teasing, but he was actually sort of wondering. She wasn't much like the rich girls he usually met, the type that paid for nearly every part of their body. She was cute and free and natural.
"Actually, yeah," Stevie said with an exaggerated sigh. "Honestly I wouldn't have chosen to live in the neighborhood that I do. I mean, our house is really nice and everything, don't get me wrong. But the people are all crappy. If I take out the trash in my pajamas, I can feel them silently judging me, I swear."
He nodded. "Yeah, I completely get it. My parents are great, but sometimes their fame can feel a bit overbearing. Which is why I go by Zander Robbins, not Zander Oliver. Besides, Robbins is a cooler last name. Only don't tell my dad or my mom."
"Yeah." Stevie paused at the street corner, and then glanced up at a neighborhood Zander knew all too well, since it wasn't far from his. "Look, don't tell anyone about any of this, okay? Like, don't mention to my parents that I was playing guitar on the street, and don't tell anyone who my parents are when you meet them. Kay?"
"What are your parents, FBI agents?" Zander inquired with a raised brow, feeling a little bit too much like his mother.
"No!" Stevie said with a chuckle. "But like you said, I don't want to be my parents. I just want to be me."
Stevie turned again, walking into the driveway of a rather large, breathtaking house. Growing up with two parents that were fairly famous, Zander was used to the life of the affluent, but there was something oddly unique about the structure of the house. He stared at it in awe for a moment before meeting Stevie's gaze.
"It's an original, if you couldn't tell," Stevie said with a laugh. "My parents' best friend growing up was a sculptor, so he designed the house for them. We live in constant fear that it will burn down, though."
"This looks expensive," Zander managed.
"It is," Stevie replied with a grimace. "Come on, though – I'm getting pretty ravenous."
As they walked through the doors, Zander felt oddly comforted by the odd interior of the house. The walls were painted odd colors; the sculptures against the wall looked more like junk than the expensive, famous sculptures most rich people were so fond of. He raised an eyebrow at Stevie, but Stevie just smiled and led him to the kitchen.
"Moooooom," she shouted, and immediately a blonde woman entered the kitchen.
"If you're lookin' for lunch, fix it yourself," she said, popping a pepperoni into her mouth. "I taught you how to fix your own lunch for a reason, Steves."
"No, Mom," Stevie said impatiently. "This is… this is my friend, Zander. You know, the musician guy that I told you about."
"Ohhh," her mom replied, recognition dawning on her face. "Well, good to meet ya – Zander Oliver, am I right? I know your parents, boy. Jade Oliver is one fine woman, I'm tellin' ya right now, and Beck's not too bad on the eyes either. Sam Puckett, by the way."
It hit him then suddenly why she seemed so familiar. She was one-third (fourth, really) of the old popular web show, iCarly. Personally he wasn't a huge fan, but his parents' friend Tori Vega seemed to be a huge fan of it and also rather close with its namesake, Carly Shay. He stared, openmouthed, for a moment, but then realized he should probably say something. "You know my parents?"
"Yes, of course," Sam replied brusquely. "That husband of mine has directed a few of your father's biggest movies, kiddo. Fredward! Get in here; the Oliver kid's here."
"Oliver?" a man asked, stepping into the kitchen. Immediately, he realized it was Freddie Benson, the technical producer of iCarly and, more recently, a very successful director. "Zander! I haven't seen you since you were what, five? It's been ages! You probably don't remember me, though. I'm Freddie Benson; your father and I have worked together a lot. He's an extremely talented actor. Stevie, you didn't mention your musical friend was an Oliver."
"Must have slipped my mind," muttered Stevie, her eyes on the ground.
Shooting a smile over at Stevie, Zander turned back to Stevie's father and mother. "Oh, well, it's nice to meet you guys again. You have a really cool house."
"Trust me, we know," Sam replied lazily. "I'd offer to fix you lunch, y'know, but I don't really do that, and anything Fredweirdo fixes tastes like cardboard, so…"
"Hey, offensive!" Freddie feigned offense, shooting his wife a lazy glare. Zander's heart suddenly ached for his parents, for their random fights. It had been too long since his father had been home.
"We can make sandwiches," Stevie offered, interrupting her parents' playful teasing, her former brightness back. "I don't think Zander will mind."
"Great," Freddie tossed in, looking at his daughter fondly. "Don't forget though, Stevie; you've got that filming seminar tomorrow." He grinned at Zander. "My daughter's a budding director like me. She's got the best of the Puckett-Benson genes." This confused him, but he tried not to show it.
"Offensive," Sam said with a scowl and just from her expression, Zander could see how she got on so well with his mom. It was obvious she took chiz from no one. He had to smile at that.
"Well, Mom, Dad, I know Zander's pleased to meet you and vice versa, but if you're not going to eat, could you please clear the room?" Stevie muttered, forcing a smile on her face.
"Sam, she wants to be alone," Freddie told his wife with a grin, to which she simply raised her eyebrows and gave her daughter a coy wink.
"We can take a hint," Sam called as she strutted out, Freddie in tow. Stevie groaned once they were gone, burying her head in her arms.
"I should've known they'd embarrass me," Stevie muttered into the sleeves of her sweatshirt. "After all, they do jump on every opportunity to. Sorry about all that, by the way. My parents have pretty much surpassed the point of delusional."
"I completely understand," Zander said, poking her arm. "Come on, Stevie. Sometime I'll have to take you to meet my parents, and they'll put your parents to shame with their weirdness. Honestly – haven't you heard all the stuff about Jade West, Wicked Witch of the West? And the way she and my father act sometimes, it's like they never really got out of high school."
"Parents," Stevie murmured, lifting her head up. "Can't live with 'em."
"Got that right." Zander chuckled. "What was that your dad said, though? About you being a budding director and a film seminar?"
"He's got it into his head that I'm going to be a director when I grow up, just like him," Stevie moaned, putting her head back into her arms again. "It's… I don't know; directing's great, filming's fun, and I do know how to film rather well. It's just that I don't enjoy it all that much."
"So why don't you just tell your dad that?" Zander pressed, feeling slightly intrusive.
"I don't want to disappoint him," Stevie said, chewing on her lower lip. "My mom's great and all, you know, but she's always been closer to my brothers and I've always been closer to my dad. Something about our logical minds brought us together. And he just kinda assumed I'd be into that stuff, and I let him. He seemed so proud of me, Zander. I didn't want to let him down."
"I know," Zander told her, and he thought of his mom, beaming at him as she spoke about his musical career, bright with unusual happiness. But did he really want to go solo? Could he handle the pressure, out there on his own? It was what his parents wanted; he knew that much. But was it what he wanted? "I know how it feels."
They sat in silence for a moment before Stevie got up and got to work, preparing sandwiches for both of them. Zander tried to help her out, but she silenced him with a glare and continued. After they'd both devoured their sandwiches and chatted about primarily irrelevant things, Zander's phone rang.
He groaned. "It's my mom. Hang on, I gotta take this." Stevie nodded, obviously understanding, and he pressed the answer call button. "Yes?"
"Did you forget we're going to pick your dad up at the airport?" his mom told him scathingly.
"Oh, of course not," Zander lied, shooting a worried glance at Stevie. "I was just about to leave, actually; be home in ten minutes or so. Bye, love you!" Quickly, before he could receive yet another scolding, he hung up. Stevie seemed to be repressing laughter.
"I guess you've got to go," she said reluctantly, gathering up his trash for disposal. "See you soon, right?"
"Hang on; give me your phone number. We can meet up sometime or something," he offered, holding out his phone to her. She quickly typed something in, and then handed it back to him.
"Have fun, Robbins," she said with a quick smile and a wink. "I'll have to take you up on that offer to meet your parents sometime. We can have an insane parents contest."
With a snort, he shook his head and exited the house, his head in a disarray of thoughts, most of them centering around a girl with bright eyes and an even more enigmatic personality. He shook his head to clear it before he set out walking again, smiling as he realized that there was only a short distance between his home and hers.
By the time he got home, though, his mom was in a state of panic. She practically grabbed him and Melody and shoved them in the car, speeding off and muttering about how they were going to be late to pick their father up. He exchanged a knowing glance with Melody. It was oddly funny, seeing how anxious his mother got when his dad was away, but it was nice to know they would be reunited soon enough. Jade Oliver was so much more tolerable with her husband around.
Surely enough, they were five minutes late by the time they got to the airport, and yet Beck Oliver's flight had not yet arrived. This sent Jade into a panic; she kept pacing around to the point where Zander make her take a nerve pill to calm her down. For some reason, she was paranoid about planes and was determined that one day when Beck got on a plane, he wouldn't be coming back. That day was not today, though; five minutes later, Beck Oliver entered the terminal, luggage thrown over his shoulder. He didn't look enthusiastic till he spotted his wife, then a huge smile made its way onto his face. Practically beaming, he walked over to Jade and threw his arms around her, muttering something into her hair that sounded like "I've missed you so much" to Zander's ears. People around them began to snap photographs, much to Zander's annoyance.
The two shared a quick kiss before Zander's father walked over to his two kids to embrace them both quickly before they gathered up his luggage and stalked out the door, sheltering their faces from the paparazzi. It was a short-lived reunion; one could only do so much in the face of the paparazzi. But it was meaningful nonetheless.
As they hopped in the car, Beck taking the driver's seat now (much to Zander's relief), Zander watched as his parents joined hands up in the front seat. It was true that his parents still acted like they were in high school whenever his father returned, all giddy on love, much to the fake disgust of both Melody and Zander. But truthfully, it was sort of sweet in an odd sort of way, how their relationship was somehow dysfunctional and completely functional at the same time.
"Mel," Zander said, poking his sister on the arm. "You do realize this means we've got to leave them alone tonight." He chuckled at his sister's disgusted expression.
"Ugh, Z," Melody complained, turning up the volume on her iPod. "It'll take me like, ten more years to get that image out of my head."
The next few days, his mom was a lot more lenient about when he was allowed to go out and what he was doing. His dad thought it was adorable that he was taking an interest in this girl, even though he refused to tell them her name (since, of course, they did know her at some point in time). He spent a lot of his free time with Stevie, working on songs like normal people, though of course his dad assumed there was something else going on.
"Come on, Z, it's winter holiday," his father said, sitting in front of him with a stoic look on his face. "I mean, you wouldn't be spending so much time working, and you've made it clear that this girl is pretty. So all I'm saying is that you shouldn't do anything you'll regret later."
"I've got this, Dad," he said, flashing his dad a smile. "Don't worry." But despite what he implied, they only sang together, then packed up their instruments and went home. They didn't even speak that much. Until one day, when Stevie showed up without her guitar.
"Um?" Zander asked, glancing from the girl to the empty bench. "Are we not going to practice?"
"I've decided I want to take you up on that offer to, um, meet your parents," Stevie told him, blushing slightly for reasons he didn't quite understand. "I mean, just so we can see if they're as weird as mine."
"Oh, um, sure. Just let me call my mom." And that he did. Of course, she agreed; turned out she had been eager (well, as eager as she ever got) to meet her for quite some time, and the same with his father. But once he closed his phone, he glanced up at Stevie. "So how should I introduce you?"
"Well, they already know my parents, so odds are they'll recognize me. Better just to tell the truth and go with Benson. Though personally, I do think Baskara is a much nicer last name. If only." She bit her lip. "Do you think your parents will like me?"
"I sure hope so," Zander replied, patting her on the arm. He wasn't going to promise anything; knowing his mom, she would make sure to defy his expectations, but Stevie was the type of strong, opinionated girl that his mother took well to.
By the time they got there, both of his parents were sitting at the table in true interrogation style. He groaned, although he hadn't expected any less; they were the most dramatic sort of people he'd ever known. With a smile, he greeted them and then said hastily, "Mom, Dad, this is my, um, my friend, Stevie Benson."
"Your girlfriend's a Benson?" his dad said, exchanging a glance with his mom. "And Stevie Benson at that? Why, we've known you since you were a child! You and Z used to play together all the time. What a coincidence. And your mother – she was roommates with one of our best friends for a while. Cat Valentine."
"Aunt Cat was Sam Puckett's roommate?" Zander's eyebrows nearly shot up to his forehead, and he exchanged a glance with Stevie. It was obvious that she had not known this either.
"Cat Valentine?" Stevie echoed. "Isn't she like a Broadway star or something? Mom never mentioned her." Her forehead creased.
"They're good friends even still, but they haven't seen each other in ages… since Cat moved to New York City, in fact," his mom explained. "Anyway, hello there, Stevie."
"You must be Mrs. Oliver," Stevie said, smiling at her. "And Mr. Oliver. Zander's said a lot about you, good things, mostly, though I'm sure you've got to be much cooler than him from what I've heard."
"Hey," Zander said, faking offense. "Maybe that's true, but I would still advise you to not eat the food, no matter who's cooking. If Mom cooked, she probably poisoned it, and if Dad cooked… well, let's just say the toilet will be your new best friend."
"I'll have you know we ordered take-out just for the two of you," his mom informed him with a scowl. "Such a disrespectful boy," she told Stevie, but there was just enough light in her eyes for Stevie to tell she was joking.
And so they sat around the table. Much to Zander's chagrin, his parents seemed overly fond of telling baby stories about him, and Melody was more than willing to contribute. Stevie seemed to find it amusing, but Zander just sighed and rolled his eyes.
During a point where talking was sparse, Stevie asked tentatively, "So, how did you guys meet?"
"Well, I've known Beck here for freaking ever," his mom said with a dramatic eye roll. "We've been dating since like, freshman year, save for a small break in which he dumped me because he's an idiot."
"Not true," his father jumped in. "She walked out on me."
"They have this argument about once every two months," Melody whispered to Stevie with a wink. "It's really nothing new. No one ever wins, but they always have innovative ways to make up."
Stevie grinned at her. "Don't worry; I'm used to it. My parents fight… well, all the time. But they always make up, so I really don't worry about it." She laughed. "I'm pretty sure my parents have been fighting since like, the beginning of time."
"You'd think they'd get better once they were older and famous and stuff," Zander grumbled, shooting his parents a glare. At last, they stopped shooting each other dirty looks and smiled. Well, his father did at least. His mother wasn't quite so pleasant.
"Zander says you're a musician," his mother said curtly. "You should play something for us, you know, like a demo. Just so we can see what you're capable of." It was a challenge, obviously, and Zander almost expected Stevie to back down. But the girl just grinned.
"I don't have my guitar," she told her apologetically. "But I can sing a little something if you give me a song to sing, maybe? It's not really my forte, but…"
"Do you know Okay by Backhouse Mike?" his mom interrupted, looking fairly placid.
"Yeah," Stevie told her brightly, and then she began to sing. It was the first time he'd heard her sing by herself, no music, no guitar, nothing but her, standing there in front of his intimidating parents. His eyes widened exponentially. She was beautiful in a daunting sort of way, and her voice was unlike anything he'd ever heard; it was soft, melodic, sweet, as was her face as she sang. He couldn't tear his eyes from her, despite his inhibitions about his parents finding out that he was slowly but surely developing a crush on this girl, this wonderful, extremely talented, unique girl that related to him like no one else.
Once she finished, she just smiled, looking slightly embarrassed. "Sorry if that wasn't great. I mean, I'm not really a singer. I'm more of a guitar person, Zander can tell you."
"I'm impressed," his mom told her at last, and his father nodded in agreement. They exchanged a quick smile, and Zander knew that was the end of their argument for now, at least. She cleared her throat, then continued. "So, you two should take a walk around the neighborhood. It's rather pretty out there." Her eyes were on his father's face, though, and when Zander looked as though he was going to object, she hissed, "Do it, Z." His father chuckled, and Zander relented.
"Your parents are hilarious," Stevie said brightly once they got outside. "But honestly, I'm still pretty much certain that I win the weird parents contest."
"Did you see my parents in there?" Zander argued back, grin on his face. "I was pretty much convinced you were going to run screaming from the house at any given second, what with those stories, their arguing, and Melody's random sardonic comments."
"Melody's a sweetheart," Stevie argued back. "She's so cute."
Zander shook his head and chuckled, then paused, bringing Stevie to a halt as well. "You go to my school, right?" he inquired slowly.
"Mmhmm," she hummed. "My parents are convinced that public schools are the way to go, since they were ever-so-popular at Ridgeway High or whatever. I don't even know the name of the school. But yeah. I'm not really a part of your crowd, though, and Brewster's a really big school, so that's probably why we've never met before."
"My crowd?" Zander inquired, glancing over at her. She didn't seem angry, really, just matter-of-fact, and that sort of concerned him.
"Yeah, you know. The big and great Kacey Simon and her little Perfettes, Molly Garfunkel and Grace King. They're not really my crowd." Stevie gave a small shrug. "I've got my best friends, Nelson and Kevin. That's all I need."
"Wait, Nelson Baxter? Grace talks about him a lot," Zander informed her with a grin. "They're really not like, opposed to you guys, you know. You should all come sit with us when school sits back. Kacey's actually a really good singer; maybe she could jam with us sometime."
"When pigs fly," Stevie snorted. When Zander looked at her weirdly, she just sighed. "I just don't really get along with Kacey Simon all that well, okay? She thinks I'm a total loser, and I think she's a total snob. End of story."
"It doesn't have to be."
"Yes, it does!" Stevie practically yelled. "Your famous parents might get you street cred around school, but my famous parents make me the school weirdo. You don't know how many times I've been asked if I hang out with Gibby and when I'm going to make a show called iStevie! And I don't want to be that girl, Zander. I don't want to be the director my dad wants me to be; I don't want to be a web star; I don't want to be my parents. I just want to be me." And she stood there for a moment, practically on the verge of tears.
Carefully, guardedly, Zander spoke. "How was the filming seminar?"
"Awful," Stevie mumbled, tears streaming down her cheeks now. There was nothing left for him to do but step forward and take her into his arms, bundling her warm face into his jacket. She cried for a moment there, let her head rest on his chest, and then stepped back quickly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to freak out on you like that."
"It's fine," Zander managed at last, and then gently, tentatively, as if he was taking a step into burning water, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her messy curls. Once he pulled back, he smiled at her, and she smiled back, her smile practically lighting up the empty street.
"You know," she said cheerfully, "Christmas is just a few days away, and I know for a fact that my parents have been too busy to go shopping. Maybe they can get me a new guitar – you know, the kind that actually works all of the time."
"You're going to tell them?" Zander inquired nervously.
"If you come with me," she promised, her eyes wide and face conveying her obvious worry. "I mean, it can't be too bad, can it?" She faked a smile, but still seemed incredibly worried.
"Stevie, your parents are great. I'm fairly sure they won't mind at all."
She smiled. "Let's hope. Maybe that will be my Christmas wish."
Looking at her, her hair blowing in the wind, a beautiful smile on her face, he knew exactly what his Christmas wish was this year.
"Going out to meet Stevie?" Zander's mom asked him when he came down for breakfast early the next morning. When he nodded, she simply raised an eyebrow. "Ah, well, I figured you liked her at least last night. She seems like a good girl, though, so I approve. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"And what exactly would you not do?" Zander wondered.
"Good point," she said simply, plopping down into her seat and smirking at her son. "Also, in an ironic turn of events, the Bensons have asked us over for dinner tonight, probably 'cause of your 'friendship' with Stevie or whatever."
"Oh, that sounds fun," Zander said nervously, but he had to admit that a dinner with his parents and Stevie's sounded incredibly daunting. His mom was bad enough on her own; combined with Sam Puckett, she would be a force to be reckoned with. And his father was fairly close to normal, but there were times when he was so incredibly weird that Zander wondered whose genes he really got.
"We'll see," his mom replied with a wicked smile, and Zander decided to escape before she could really go into detail. The wind was cold against his cheeks, but he pushed through anyway. It was better to get the whole telling the parents thing over with before his parents got there, but it was probably a good thing that they would be there after, since his parents were so into the music industry. His Aunt Tori, after all, was a famous pop singer, and her husband, Andre, was pretty big up in the industry as well, as a songwriter as well as a singer. They could explain about the benefits of the music industry; they had to.
He knocked twice on the door, waiting until a nervous-looking Stevie opened the door. She grinned at him. "Glad you showed up, Zander. My dad's been pushing all day for me to go to this film thing today, like a marathon or something, and you know I don't want to go."
"Your life must be so hard," Zander said, feigning a sigh. Walking in the door, he grabbed her arm lightly and linked her arm with his. "So I take it that I'm here so that I can be the sacrifice if your parents decide to murder someone?"
"Basically," Stevie replied, looking totally undaunted. "I figure that they'll be less likely to murder me with a witness there as well."
"They can't be that bad."
"Oh, I know they're not," Stevie said with a sigh. "And you know, they'll probably support me no matter what I choose to do. But it's the silent disappointment that kills sometimes, you know. Exploding, yelling, screaming, ending up in tears, all of that is easy. But the silence… it's killer."
"Yeah, Stevie." Zander had to agree. "But your parents… I don't think they're disappointed in you. I don't know how anyone could be disappointed in you, in the way you've turned out. Your musical tendencies can't change that."
"Thanks, Zander." She gave him a half smile before dragging him into the den where her parents were vegging out in front of the TV. With a grin, she said, "Mom, Dad, I, um, I need to talk to you."
"If you're pregnant, I'm gonna murder that boy," Sam said through her teeth, not removing her gaze from the screen. Stevie looked scandalized.
"No, no, nothing like that," Zander reassured them, smirking. Stevie's musical announcement would pale in comparison to the idea of her being pregnant. He could just imagine already, probably both of them would team up to kill him. They might even form an alliance with his parents, and then all of them would form some sort of coalition for his blood…
His pondering was interrupted by Stevie starting to talk again. "So, um, Dad, this is mainly for you. I know I said I wanted to be a director, and really, when I was a little girl and I found the idea of video to be the most brilliant concept in the world, I honestly did. But as I grew up, I realized that I couldn't keep up with all the technology and brainpower and innovative thinking required to be a director or anything like that. And so I got involved in music, and now…. I think that's what I wanna do."
"Cool," Sam said, tossing a grin at her youngest child. "But you gotta remember me when you get all famous, Steves. Remember your old mama and her old webshow, because I'll just be a distant memory at that point." The smile she directed Stevie's way showed Zander that she did actually care about her daughter, perhaps more than he could comprehend.
"Stevie," her father began slowly. "I'm disappointed – not because you want to start a career in music, but because you lied to me, or at least kept the truth from me. But baby girl, you shouldn't have to be afraid to follow your dreams. That's your talent, and personally, I've always thought you were a great musician. Go for it, Stevie."
She grinned, wrapping her father in a hug and then her mother before returning to stand beside Zander. "Well, let's go, Zander. We've got some music to make."
"Wait," interrupted her father, staring between the two of them and then nervously clearing his throat. "Um, well, you probably haven't got to go just yet. Why don't you play me and Mama here a song? Then we can judge for ourselves how good you two are."
"Zander and I don't usually play for the free," Stevie told them, and then she amended it with, "but I guess we can make an exception, just for you two." She winked at Zander, who winked back and went out to fetch his ukulele. When he returned, Stevie already had her guitar in hand and was strumming a few notes, much to her parents' enjoyment. He joined in, strumming his ukulele until they started to play in harmony. Once they finished, both parents clapped until their hands seemed like they would be hurting. Sam even hooted and hollered a little bit.
"Looks like you've got talent, baby girl," she said proudly. "Not that I'd expect any less from my own offspring."
Before Zander and Stevie went back over to the Bensons' for the big dinner, they went over to Starbucks for hot cocoa. It had always been a favorite of both of theirs', Stevie's because she loved the marshmallows that were perpetually floating at the top of the cups. She grinned into her hot chocolate. "You cannot imagine how happy I am right now. I mean, yeah, Dad was disappointed, I expected that, and I deserve it too. But they're not angry, and they think I've got talent!"
"Just watch," Zander told her. "You're going to be famous one day soon. Only question is, are you going to be Stevie Baskara or Stevie Benson?"
Stevie hesitated, her teeth digging into her bottom lip. "It's not that I don't love my parents," she explained slowly, sadly. "Because I do. You can probably tell. It's just that I want to gain fame the right way, like everyone else. I don't deserve fame because I'm a celeb kid or whatever. iCarly is an amazing web show; I've watched every episode. But that was my parents, not me."
"I know how you feel," Zander muttered into his hot cocoa. And then it all spilled out – the career his mom had so perfectly selected for him, how he hadn't objected, but thought that his celebrity background gave him an advantage over others, one that he did not want but his parents felt it was necessary for him to have. He admitted how his parents had coerced him into a solo career, when he felt he was more suited for the band type of lifestyle, having people by his side always, not having to take the fall for anything. Loyalty was admittedly his strongest quality, along with his charm (he added with a wink, making Stevie roll her eyes).
Once he finished, though, she just stared at him. "Zander, your parents shouldn't be able to choose your path. If you don't want to do a solo career, if you're not suited for that, if you don't want to use your parents' fame for your own good, you shouldn't have to. It's completely your decision."
He stared at her, eyes wide. "And should I just tell them that, Stevie? Tell them that I don't want their funding, that I just want to make it on my own?"
"Yes," Stevie told him, glaring at him stubbornly. "It's your decision, Z. It's your life."
It was the first time she'd called him Z, a nickname that was typical usually of his family and close friends, and it brought a tiny bit of red to his cheeks. He nodded nonetheless. "I guess I'll have to. They don't listen to me, to what I want, to what I need – and what I need is to be left alone in this. I need to make it on my own. I need to prove my own self-worth, that I can do it even without their help. I'm not a little kid anymore."
That much was true. He could make it on his own now. He didn't need the financial support; what they had given him already was more than substantial, and he didn't want them to put themselves into bankruptcy giving him something he did not even want.
She grinned at him, taking his hand in her own. "We can do it, Z. We can make it."
That much, he thought, was true.
By the time they got to dinner, the adults, Melody, and one of Stevie's older brothers that Zander did not know were all seated at the table already. Stevie turned red and slid into a seat, tapping the chair next to her as a signal for Zander to sit down beside her. He did so. "Sorry we're late. We were just having a nice chat at Starbucks."
"A nice chat," Jade hummed, her eyebrow raised. The other parents laughed, as if in agreement with her skepticism. Stevie and Zander glanced at each other, confused.
"Um, yeah," Stevie said, glancing around. "Anyway, it's really nice to have you guys here."
Zander glanced over at her. Despite their 'plan', she seemed totally chill, something he had noticed was characteristic of the girl and reminded him a bit of his dad. She smiled around the table, and Beck smiled back. "You guys have a fine house, really. I love all the movie posters."
"You've been in quite a few of them, haven't you?" Freddie asked with a nod. "I remember when Zander was just a baby, and you and Jade used to bring him along during filming. Everyone pretty much agreed that he was the cutest baby ever, at least until Sam and I brought little Stevie along, and then pretty much everyone was torn. It was funny, too, because they seemed to be as aware of the rivalry as we were; the two of them fought all the time."
"That's funny, considering they get along like two peas in a pod now," Beck said, giving them an affectionate smile.
"Who says that?" Jade snorted, whacking her husband on the shoulder. Sam laughed, but Beck just rolled his eyes and went on eating, mumbling something that sounded like 'me'.
"Probably because they're both musicians," Sam said. "The artsy type or whatever. I mean, I like singing, but my fingers are like sausages, so I'm pretty darn bad at playing the guitar or ukulele or whatever. But whatever, if that's what they like to do, then more power to them."
"Wouldn't it be funny if they formed a band?" Freddie asked, taking a bite of his roll.
"Yeah, except Zander's going solo first. We're going to sponsor him," Jade said, her voice practically dripping with pride. "You should hear some of the stuff he's written. Andre has helped to co-write some of their songs – you know Andre Harris, right – and they're absolutely brilliant. This kid's gonna go far."
"Mom," Zander interrupted, his eyes cutting nervously to Stevie. "About that. I… um…."
"You what?" his mother asked, successfully keeping her voice even, though her icy eyes were like daggers bearing into him.
He gulped, but continued anyway. "Well, you know I love singing and performing and all of that, but being on the road… isolated from everyone I know… it just doesn't sound like that much fun, especially since I'm only a teenager. And so I was thinking of forming a band. I don't want – don't need you to sponsor me; I don't need you to do anything more than you already have. Your support, not physical or monetary support, but like, support, would be nice, though."
He glanced back down at the table, expecting the worst. To his surprise, neither of his parents yelled – probably because Sam and Freddie were at the table, and they didn't want to leave a bad impression on them. Although they didn't show it, his mom and dad did actually care what others thought of them. They did look disappointed, though.
"Zander, we're only trying to help you," his dad said. The two Benson parents exchanged a look that said 'something is wrong with this child', while Stevie squeezed his hand under the table.
"I know, but you've helped me enough over the course of my life," Zander muttered, glancing down. "I think it's time I do something for myself, and this is something I can do. You might not believe me; heck, most of the world might not believe me, but I have talent, and Stevie has talent; together, I think, we can do great things."
"If that's how you feel, I suppose there's nothing we can do," his mom told him. And with that, the subject was laid to rest – no drama, no yelling, no crying fits. It was surprisingly easy, and Zander kept wondering if one of his parents was going to announce that they'd changed their mind, but neither did.
The rest of the night was oddly easy. The two families joked around together, played board games (though Melody dominated, much to Stevie, Zander, and Stevie's brother Jacob's chagrin), and ate a lot of food, so much that by the time the meal was over, Stevie was sure she must have gained ten pounds, at least. Her mom seemed to get along well with both Sam and Freddie, which was a good sign, since she hardly ever got along with anyone. She even let them hug her goodbye when they left.
As Zander hugged Stevie, he noticed Jacob glaring at him out of the corner of his eye. He chuckled. "Stevie," he whispered into her hair, "I think your brother's getting a little protective there."
"All of my brothers are like, uber-protective, regardless of whether they have reason or not," Stevie informed him with a sigh. "So if one of my brothers threatens your life, don't be alarmed. I warned you."
"Thanks for the warning," Zander said grimly. "I'll be sure to shut my window and lock all of my doors tonight."
"I'll be sure to unlock them," Melody whispered conspiratorially to Jacob, who nodded and smirked over at Zander, causing Zander to feel more than a little scared for his life. Jacob, after all, was older, taller, and stronger than he was. Stevie seemed to find the situation hilarious, though.
"You guys should come back soon," Stevie offered. "It's nice to see some parents that are almost as weird as mine, really, and for my parents to almost interact normally with someone other than their co-workers. Their people skills could use some work; I honestly have no idea how they got to be as famous as they did with such little people skill."
She laughed, and Zander watched as the curls that curved around her neck bounced, brushing the dark skin there. Upon noticing Jacob's glare, he shifted his eyes quickly back up to her face, trying to keep the blush off of his cheeks. Even now, in the soft glow of the fire, she was beautiful, the most beautiful girl he had ever met, in fact, and it was odd that he was just noticing this now.
"See you soon, Steve," he told her, and, avoiding Jacob's eyes, he pressed a gentle kiss to her cheek. Melody gasped and dashed off, probably to go tell her parents about this latest development, but Zander just chuckled and smiled at Stevie. "See you soon."
The general mood of their house after that was glum. After Christmas, Beck was taking off to do yet another movie, and though his mother refused to say, Zander knew that she was always more irritable and depressed when he was gone. She missed him an awful lot, and Zander hated it; he hated that it was necessary for his father to leave them for such long periods of time.
Sometimes he would hear them discussing it. It wasn't that he was eavesdropping; it was more of an accident – he would get up to go to the bathroom during the night and hear them speaking in low voices about how he had to go, he needed this job, and then his mom would say something like 'But I need you too' and literally shatter his heart in half.
Part of him resented his father, but most of him knew that he was just doing what he had to do. It was the price of being famous. However desirable fame might seem, it was definitely not without its negative externalities; that much Zander could vouch for. He loved his parents; he truly did, and he loved their professions; he loved how he got to know so many famous people, and how he had connections before even beginning his career. But at the same time, he hated it. He hated how he got things because he was famous (even though he wasn't really). He hated how he never had to work to get things. He hated how his mom would stay up for ages while Dad was gone, writing scripts and poems and songs, getting out her emotions in a 'healthy' way. Sometimes she would cry, and he would want to cry too.
This, he knew, was the price of fame, and he was starting to question if it was one he was even willing to pay.
Three days before Christmas, Zander scheduled an audition for him and Stevie. It was more of a test, he thought; they would play a few songs and the guy would tell them if they were needed to perform or not, but if he said yes, it would be a gig, a real gig, their first real gig, and they would get paid. It was better than Zander could have hoped for, honestly.
Stevie was ecstatic, and Zander could imagine why. They had spent the past few nights practicing, staying up until Stevie or Zander's parents came down to yell at them and tell the person who did not live there to go home already, making both of the teenagers laugh. They were working hard, though; that much was undeniable. They were both going to make it if it killed them.
On the day of the audition, both were bundles of nervous energy, and Zander's coffee that he bought (an inherited trait from his parents, he assumed) only amplified that. He was practically bouncing around the stage by the time the man arrived, annoying Stevie ("Stop doing that, you idiot!").
But the man introduced himself and told them a little about the revenue they would be playing – a popular coffee shop in downtown LA. Both of them were more than happy with this and thanked the man profusely for even considering them before beginning their song.
It was a duet, one they had been working on for ages, and Stevie grinned at him before they started the song. They sung in perfect harmony, sung perfectly on pitch, until –
Ring. Ring. The ring of Zander's phone broke their song. He held up his finger, indicating he'd just be a second, and glanced at the caller ID. Kacey Simon, it read.
Kacey Simon was like a ghost from his past, someone he had completely forgotten about. They hadn't spoken since the last day of school, nor had he had any desire to speak to her. But ignoring her – ignoring her calls, her texts, anything was social suicide, and he knew that all too well. This, though, was more important than Kacey Simon, infinitely more important than Kacey Simon, so he pressed the End Call button and returned to the stage.
After they finished the stage, the man announced that the two of them were hired. With a squeal, Stevie launched herself at Zander, burying her tiny body in Zander's arms. As he held her, his head atop hers, he decided it was worth it; it was all worth it. They were going to make it after all, and that was all that mattered.
After he returned home, he found his mom and his father in deep conversation on the couch. His mom shot him a smile. "Zander, go get Melody for me."
And so he did, returning downstairs with his sulky younger sister (she had been in the middle of a game and didn't want to be interrupted to go 'converse with her mother'). Her mother just smiled at the two of them, something that always served to make Zander very nervous. She glanced over at her husband. "So apparently your father has something to tell us, and he wants to tell us all together."
The possibilities pounded in Zander's head. He wouldn't leave, would he? Zander knew, or at least he thought he knew, that his father loved his mother more than most things in the world – but maybe he was wrong. Was he having an affair? Was he finally going to come clean? His throat was dry; his palms were sticky with sweat. This couldn't be happening –
"So I'm going to film my movie in Australia next month," his father said with a smile, "and I think that it would be in everyone's best interest if your mother went along with me."
His mom's face went white. Zander knew she'd always wanted to go to Australia; she was a sucker for warm weather and cute animals, though she might protest otherwise. Then all of a sudden she was in his lap, her face against his, much to the disgust of Zander and his sister.
"And what are we supposed to do while you're gone?" Melody inquired.
"I've discussed it with the Bensons, and they'd be more than happy to take in both of you while we're gone," said his father. "Next time, if it's a summer movie, you two will have to go along. It can be like a family vacation!"
Both Melody and Zander crept away before his father could go off on one of his family unity tangents, thought Zander made sure to hug both of them first and kiss his mom on the cheek. The idea of staying with Stevie and her family was terrifying yet appetizing; seeing more of Stevie was, in any sense, a good thing. And as he turned, pressing his ear against the door, he could hear his parents talking.
"You planned this all without me?" his mom asked, sounding more surprised than angry.
"Yep," his dad replied, popping the 'p'. "I figured you missed me, honey."
"You're an idiot," his mom answered, but she was laughing. "I love you – you know that, right?"
"Yes," he said, and then it was silent for a moment. He could imagine what was going on in there, much to his disgust. They did it enough in front of him. Then his father spoke again. "I love you too, Jade."
Zander smiled to himself. Yes, he thought, this was a good thing for his mother, the one who was always being left behind. How could he be upset if they were both this happy?
The next day, on Christmas Eve, it snowed. Zander decided to meet up with Stevie anyway, though, and so he tugged on his hat and boots and thick coat and ran out into the snow. Once he ran into her, he grinned, twirling her around in his arms. "It's snowing!"
"I noticed," Stevie answered with a laugh, brushing off her arms. "Someone's a little enthusiastic about the snow, though."
"It's not just that," Zander said, sticking his tongue out, and then in a rush he explained about the Australia trip and how he was to be staying with her.
Stevie just laughed. "I already knew all of that, you imbecile. I've known for a while now. You're awfully excited about this, though, aren't you?"
"Well, it's nice to see my family all happy for once, and even nicer because they won't be here to bug me about what I'm losing by not taking their support and going solo. Plus if I'm staying with you, we'll have even more time to practice and stuff." He smiled over at her. "But that's not the only reason."
"Oh yeah?" Stevie asked, raising an eyebrow in response. "So what's your ulterior motive, huh? I wanna hear this."
That was when he acted on his impulses and leaned over, pressing his lips to hers. At first, it was tentative, but then it was faster, sweeter, softer, and better than Zander could have imagined. It was, honestly, a Christmas wish come true.
Once he pulled away, he stayed there for a second, his forehead pressed against hers. With a smile, he whispered, "Merry Christmas, Stevie."
"Merry Christmas, Zander," she replied, leaning back in for another kiss.
Christmas, he thought – the start of something new.
A/N: Basically Zander is Bade's kid and Stevie is Seddie's kid and that is all. Merry Christmas. Please leave a review + don't fave without reviewing, thank you!