A/N: This is the longest one shot I have ever written. And holy hell, did this monster kick my butt. I couldn't concentrate on anything else for almost a whole week. My blood and life essence went into this (well, that might be a little dramatic but I hope you get what I'm saying), so please: Reward me with a review. That is, if you think this is worth of getting a reward.
Disclaimer: I don't own Victorious or the characters or Liz Gillies or Victoria Justice. I own nothing but my imagination.
I knew a girl once. She always wore a hat.
It was a simple one, the hat. A black fedora, really nothing special. But the girl… the girl was the most fascinating human being I've ever come across. She was beautiful, with soft tan skin, a smile that shone brighter than every light on earth and the sun combined, and eyes… eyes like coffee.
I love coffee.
I met her on the beach in the darkest hour of the night. I was walking around, mindlessly, aimlessly, stumbling over my own steps due to my incredibly blurred vision. I wouldn't have minded to go that day. I wouldn't have minded getting swept up in a huge wave, letting it carry me out into the world and let the salty water infiltrate into my lungs until my chest would prick painfully and a pitch-black darkness would envelope me forever. I would have embraced it with open arms. I wouldn't have minded. Until I saw her.
She was just standing there, looking out into the rushing ocean, her hands linked behind her back. I still remember wondering if she was cold, the white summer dress she was wearing looking way too thin to keep her warm enough in such an unusual cold and windy night. The only other piece of clothing (visible to me at least) was a black hat on top of her head, luscious, long hair flowing from underneath it way past her shoulders. She watched the ocean for a long time and I watched her for a long time and with each minute that passed I took a tentative step closer to her, without making her aware of my presence, up until to the point where I could see her bare feet, toes wiggling and sinking into the soft sand.
My mind was suddenly a blank canvas, everything that troubled me forgotten as if nothing had been bothering me in the first place. Instead, my head painted a mental picture of the girl in front of me, careful to capture the utterly serene look on her face and the single strand of brown hair that danced across her high cheekbone. The moon, which seemed to be extra close that night, highlighted her profile so perfectly and made sure that this image imprinted itself into my brain forever.
I wanted to say something, needed to say something but all I could think about was how pretty she looked. And then that calm look suddenly dropped from her face all at once, her eyes dropping to the floor for a moment before she slowly turned her head… and looked at me. Her mouth opened in a silent gasp when she saw me, eyes panicking for the shortest of moments. I suddenly felt scared too, scared that she would leave, scared that I wouldn't get to know her name, scared that I would never see her again. She must have seen it though, the fear I was feeling, because she stayed and her face smoothed out, corners of lips pulling up and eyes softening. I saw her mouth move but my ears were unable to hear as my eyes swept over her moonlit face, wondering if this girl was even real.
"Can I help you," she asked and this time I heard her, "Are you lost?"
I managed to shake my head slowly from side to side as I found myself drowning in those eyes of hers that seemed to glitter with tiny little stars. She must have stolen them from heaven. Her eyebrows softly knitted and lips rolled in in confusion or worry or maybe both, and she fully turned towards me, reaching out a hand to lay on my arm. I had been right earlier. Even through my black sweater could I feel the freezing coldness of her fingertips, of her palm and heel of her hand, but… it felt so good, her touching me. Again I wondered if she was real. "Is everything okay? What are you doing here all alone? It's the middle of the night."
The question seemed utterly odd in my mind, since she was here too, all alone in the middle of the night. Why did she find it so weird that I was? I swallowed and then shivered when a particular cold gust of wind blew against me. "I could ask you the same question," I shot back in a voice that definitely wasn't my own. Her eyebrows rose and a small smile began to tug at her lips. She looked amused.
"I'm just enjoying the night," she said. "So, what about you?"
"I am too."
The hand on my arm moved, her thumb beginning to stroke my sweater-clad skin. "Is that why you were crying?"
I jerked my arm out of her grasp so abruptly that it even surprised myself. But the girl seemed not affected at all by my abrasiveness, for her face grew even more sympathetic. I realized then the absolute absurdity of this entire situation. I was talking – well, more staring than talking – to a complete stranger whom I met on the beach in the middle of the night. For all I knew, she could have been a murderer. She could have skinned me alive right then and there and fed my remains to little squirrels. But I probably would have willingly offered myself, if only that sparkle wouldn't have left her eyes and that smile would have stayed on her lips.
"What's your name?"
My throat knotted together at her question, keeping me from blurting out my name and every other possible information about myself. I didn't know her, I reminded myself. I shouldn't trust a complete stranger. And yet I did. Why I did, and what exactly made me feel so safe and calm around her… I don't know even to this day. Still, I managed to keep my name to myself which didn't seem to bother her that much either. "Okay. You don't have to tell me." She reached up when another icy gust of wind blew around us to check that her hat still sat in place. It did, perfectly so. "Well," she sighed, looked at me and smiled, "I'm going to go home now. You should too." I wanted to stop her somehow. But I didn't. She made a move to go but paused and looked at me. "Do you need a ride?"
I shook my head. My car was standing just a couple of blocks away. "Okay. It was nice meeting you."
I watched her go, her hair swaying against her shoulder blades, tickling the underlying skin. Before she was out of earshot, I shouted after her. "Wait! What's your name?"
She turned and even though I couldn't see her face properly anymore, I just knew that there was a smile on her lips as she said, "I'll tell you some other time!"
Watching her go, I felt all the calmness she made me feel settling deep into my body, quenching the hot fire of desperation and hopelessness inside of me. Maybe the darkness could wait a little while longer. I would do everything to see her again. If only so I could learn her name.
Six days later I saw her again.
She was sitting in a café not that far away from the pier, black fedora on her head, purple shirt hanging off of one shoulder and revealing wonderful tan skin, and eyes cast downward at the menu in her hands. I couldn't move my feet and again, I stared at her like a complete moron. Every night since I had met her I came to the beach, to the exact same spot where I had seen her, but never was she there. I had walked along the shore for what felt like hours in search for her, but no sign offered itself of the mysterious girl wherever I looked. And now… now I saw her in a café? It was that easy?
Someone muttered something about moving away from the door behind me before I felt a push against my shoulder and saw a man appear in front of me. I only acknowledged him for a second before I resumed watching her. She looked even prettier in broad daylight. Her hair was a beautiful shade of brown, something I hadn't been able to notice when it was dark. Unblemished skin, perfectly shaped eyebrows… She was beautiful.
"Miss, are you alright?"
"Yes," I said, "Yes, I'm alright." I reluctantly tore my eyes away to take a look at the worried man standing in front of me. He relaxed slightly, nodded and walked away. And I began walking towards her booth. I wasn't nervous, surprisingly. Just excited. Curious. But when I was close enough for her to notice me and her eyes lifted from the menu I realized that my heart had begun pounding really hard and my lips had gone dry. A smile, so bright and happy, appeared on her face when she saw me.
"Hey stranger," she said in such a peppy tone that it was hard for me not to smile also. Her eyes twinkled as she motioned to the seat opposite from her. "Take a seat."
I did as she said, even though I never did what anyone told me. But she was different. She was the exception. When I was seated, still not having said a word, she folded her arms across the table top and leaned forward, grinning. "How did you find me here?"
"I didn't," I answered, frowning a little at the fact that she seemed to have expected that I would search for her. "I came here to get coffee. Nothing else."
"And yet you sit here with me." She grinned and winked at me before she looked around for a waiter. When she spotted one, she lifted her hand and politely called him over. "A coffee for the lovely lady here," she said, glancing at me. "Black?"
"With two sugars."
"Black with two sugars."
The waiter nodded, scribbling it down on his white notepad. I wondered why. It wasn't that hard to remember. "Anything else?"
"No, she just came here to get coffee. Nothing else," the girl said before I even had the chance to consider his question. I couldn't help but smirk at the cheeky smile she sent me and didn't even notice as the waiter left. "So, stranger," she began, pausing to lift her cup, which I hadn't noticed before, to her lips, "How's life?"
It was a question I didn't have an answer to at that time. Life hadn't exactly been my friend in the last couple of months and I didn't know how to answer her, nor did I even know if I really wanted to answer her. What was I supposed to say, what did she want to hear? She was still a stranger, I reminded myself again, so I shrugged and looked down. "It's life. I think that's enough answer."
"Hm…" Did I already mention that I loved her eyes? I could have stared into them forever and never gotten bored. It was the first thing that jumped into my brain when she looked at me, with a warm smile. The thought that I was being sappy and cliché and totally acting out of line with the influence of this girl shot through my head, but, really, why should I stop something that made me feel so good? I mean, even though I didn't know what it was, who she really was, she managed to make me feel good by simply being there, by being alive. I would have been stupid to let that go.
"So… have you been at the beach lately?" I felt incredibly proud of myself for coming off so nonchalant even though I was dying to know why she had been at the beach that first night and why she hadn't been back.
She smiled widely. "You mean any more late night trips?"
She sucked in air through her teeth and sat up straight just as the waiter came to bring me my coffee. I sent him a short nod in thanks and took a sip, focusing back on the brunette across from me. "No," she answered, truthfully so since I knew exactly that she hadn't been. I was such a stalker. "Have you?"
Of course I had. I had been looking for her every single night. I was pathetic. "No."
"Good. You shouldn't go to the beach at such a late hour alone. Who knows what kind of creeps lurk in the shadows."
I smirked. "Creeps like you?"
My smirk turned into a full smile when she laughed, her eyes crinkling so beautifully. It was a nice sound, her laugh. I still hear it sometimes, in the late hours of the night when I'm lying in bed and I'm thinking of her. Or when I'm at the beach and I'm imagining that she's there somewhere and I can hear her laugh floating through the wind. But I never see her. "Creeps like me," she confirmed with a nod, smile in place as she looked at me with her incredibly pretty eyes. "But don't worry. I'm not a dangerous one. I'm pretty friendly actually."
"Are you now," I said, smiling teasingly as I leaned forward, my arms folded on top of the table, "How do I know you're not a murderer? Or a rapist?"
She smiled, looked at her lap and shook her head before she mimicked my position and met my eyes with her own. "Do I look like a murderer or rapist to you?"
"No. But pandas don't look dangerous either and yet they can rip out your throat if they wanted to, all the while looking cute as hell. So…"
Her mouth stood slightly ajar but the corners were lifted into an amused and unbelieving smile. She chuckled a little before leaning forward a little bit more. "I guess you just have to take my word for it. I promise you I have never, nor will I ever kill or rape anyone." She propped up her elbow then, and motioned with her eyes to her outstretched pinkie finger. I looked at it and ran my tongue over the front of my teeth while I contemplated if I should do such a childish thing – well, childish to me. But this girl… this girl could tell me to jump off a cliff and I'd do it right after I took my shoes off. So I linked my finger with hers and looked back up at her, feeling my heartbeat quicken when I looked into the soft and deep brown of her eyes. "Pinky promise," she murmured and shook our hands a little. I think we sat like that for a while, our pinkie fingers intertwined and staring at each other like there was no one else in the café with us. But I couldn't look away and apparently, neither could she. I didn't know what it was about her or why exactly this moment made a kind of fire shoot through me I had never felt before. But all I wanted to do was reach over the table and kiss her. Just… kiss her. Not make out with her. I didn't want to do anything but feel her lips, no tongue, just lips. I wanted to feel if they felt as soft as they looked, I wanted to feel them move against my own in the gentlest way possible. I had never felt that way for anyone else, much less for another girl. But she was the exception to all my rules.
"You have gorgeous eyes," she said and I saw her own eyes widening a little at the words that poured out of her mouth seemingly unwillingly, and the skin of her face took on a light red color. Still she held my gaze, even through her embarrassment. The first thing that came to my mind was that I should return the compliment but I couldn't bring myself to. I enjoyed her blush way too much. I smiled instead, and I swear, if that dorky waiter hadn't dropped a tray and glasses loudly shattered, we would have sat in that booth forever staring at each other. But the loud clang brought us out of that little world we were in and she blinked, almost dazedly, before looking down at the table. Before she could retract her hand though, I wrapped my fingers around hers and held it in place. "What's your name?" I asked her when she looked up at me, surprised eyes glancing at my hand holding hers before flicking to my eyes. Her smile returned and her blush disappeared as I felt her thumb running over the knuckle of mine.
"Will you tell me yours?"
"I'm Jade," I said without hesitation because she was just so fascinating and wonderful that it didn't even matter if she would end up feeding me to squirrels.
"Jade," she repeated, seeming to let my name melt on her tongue. The thought alone made my heart flutter. She tilted her head, an almost dreamy look in her eyes as she looked at me. "That's such a nice name."
"Thanks." Her eyes sucked me in again, momentarily distracting me, but I managed to get a grip of myself. "What's yours?"
She began to grin, brown eyes twinkling at me so teasingly, and I knew something would happen now. Her hand entangled itself out of my grasp and I frowned as I watched her reach into her purse to pull out a couple of green bills and some coins. "Coffee is on me," she said, stood up and winked at me. She winked at me and then she just walked away, past me to where the exit was. I gaped at the money lying on the table before I quickly snapped my head around and really, there she stood by the door, hand on the handle. She turned around one more time, grinned and tipped her hat before she pulled the door open and walked out. I couldn't believe that she just stood up and left. It wasn't okay.
Jaw tightly locked I got to my feet, ignoring my still almost full cup of coffee, and walked out of the café. If you think she waited for me, then you're wrong. I looked to the left, then to the right, where I saw her strolling down the sidewalk without a care in the world. Even from behind she was the most attractive person on earth. I couldn't let her go. "Hey! What do you think you're doing?"
I received a couple of curious and confused looks from passerby's but the only person I cared for was the girl who turned around with her eyebrows slightly raised. "I'm walking. What are you doing?"
I wanted to kiss her sassy mouth. "You didn't tell me your name. I told you mine, I want to know yours too."
The next question that came, I didn't have an answer to. "Why?"
Why… Why? What did she mean, 'why'? Why do you ever want to know someone's name? Is it important? Does it add to your personality? Was it really so important if I knew her name, if she was a Hanna, or Jane or even Mable? The answer was… no. "I just want to know. Come on, it's only fair if you tell me."
She hummed in agreement and nodded her head, her eyes narrowed as she thought about what I had said. "I suppose you're right."
Instead of telling me her name however, she remained quiet and looked at me without giving anything away. "Well?"
"Well," she said with a shrug and locked her hands behind her back, her body gently swaying from side to side. "You'll just have to earn my name."
"I have to earn it?"
"Yep." It was ridiculous, the silliest thing I had ever experienced in my life. I should have just turned around and walked away and if it would have been anyone else that's what I would have done. But… I was just a lunatic for her.
"So what do I have to do to earn it?"
A soft smile spread across her lips. "Take a walk with me."
"So what's the catch?"
The brunette turned her head towards me as we continued our stroll down the shore. A confused smile was sent my way, her eyebrows creasing – even if I hate myself for using that word – adorably. "What? There is no catch."
"Oh, okay. How many miles do I have to walk then for you to tell me your name?"
She laughed. "We'll see. I just want to talk to you for a little bit."
"Aha! So there is a catch."
"No! That's not a catch! Did you think I just want to walk with you and stay quiet the entire time? Having a conversation is included."
I rolled my eyes but smiled nonetheless. "Okay. Well, what do you wanna talk about?"
"Hmmm…" We took five more slow steps until she answered. "I'm not sure… Are you from here? Like, where were you born?"
"I am. Born and raised in L.A.. What about you?"
"Me too," she said and glanced at me with a smile.
"I sometimes wish I lived somewhere else though."
"Oh, why's that?"
"It's sunny all year long. I miss snow. I miss the cold. My grandma used to live in Colorado and when I was really little we would visit her over Christmas and… it was great, everything being so white."
We stopped for a moment. I saw her looking at me out of the corner of my eye but I didn't meet her gaze and instead bent down to pick up a small stone. I turned it over and over in my hand, running my fingers over the smooth washed surface. "Don't you love the rain?" I looked up, just in time to see her move in front of me. "I love the sound of it. The pelting of the raindrops against the window and the rushing of really heavy rain. And the smell. I love the smell. And just… the feeling of warm rain on your skin. It's probably one of the best feelings in the world." She looked so passionate while talking about rain that I had no other choice but to smile and lower my chin in a half a nod. "True. I love it too."
With a nod and a smile she resumed her position next to me and we began walking again. "Do you go to college?"
I hesitated for a moment. "No. I'm, um… working here and there but mostly… I try to make it as a screenwriter."
I thought this was it. She would burst out laughing or look at me pityingly or click her tongue disapprovingly. It's what everyone did when they heard about my future plans. But she surprised me. She always surprised me. "Really? That's so cool!" My hand tightened around the rock I was holding as my head snapped up from the sand. I had to take a double take at her face to make sure I wasn't imagining things. Such a bright grin on her face, eyebrows slightly up and eyes twinkling and swirling with pure excitement. "What genre do you want to write in?"
"Um… preferably mystery, thriller stuff. Horror, but with a good plot."
My eyebrows knitted together when she didn't show one negative sign, her excitement only seeming to grow with every word I said. "Wow. So someday I might watch a really successful horror movie and I can say: Hey, I know the girl who wrote this. It's Jade!"
I chuckled at her blind optimism and wished I could see it the same way as she did. "Hopefully."
"And when you're really famous I'm gonna give an interview and tell them our story."
"Our story?" Up to that point I wasn't even aware that we had a story.
"Yeah. Meeting at the beach under a starry night sky. Meeting again in a cute little coffee shop where I treated you to a coffee. And walking with you along the shore talking about your bright future."
She winked at me and grinned cheekily, and maybe, just maybe, now looking back on it… this might have been the moment I completely fell in love with her. I just… I knew, deep down. Even though I would have never admitted that to myself so soon. "Huh. And where in the story does incredibly famous Jade get to know your name?"
"When I give the interview, of course."
She giggled and I laughed and shook my head and everything was perfect. I don't know for how long we walked but the sky was getting darker, grayer. We talked and talked and not once did she tell me her name. But she told me everything else about her. Her favorite color and favorite food: turquoise and chicken with rice and beans. She told me that she had no idea what she wanted to do someday but that she definitely wanted to attend college the following year. In turn I told her everything about me too: about my fucked up family. About my love for bunnies. About maybe wanting to act and maybe even sing too.
And she listened. She hung on every word I said and listened, letting me talk, giving me her opinion when she thought it was appropriate. And God, it felt so good to talk to her, to listen to her talk and laugh and breathe. She was incredible, surreal almost. "It's getting late," she observed as we came to a stop, my ankles aching slightly. I looked out over ocean, nodding before I turned back to her. I knew what was coming now, it was inevitable. But truth was, I didn't want to say goodbye yet, I never wanted to say goodbye to her ever again. She folded her arms, hands gently holding her upper arms, her lips forming a hesitant smile. I knew that she didn't want to go either. "I guess we… should go home."
"I guess we should," I said, wrapping my left hand around my right wrist. None of us moved though and I think we stood like that for good two minutes before she took a hesitant step forward, her hands dropping from her arms to link together in front of her body.
"I have a story that might interest you." I raised both eyebrows at her. "About Jade, the famous screenplay writer." I smiled as I realized where she was going with this and nodded at her to continue. "We met one night at the beach," she started softly, her eyes flicking between both of mine, "She looked sad. She didn't talk much and then I left. But six days later I met her again, in a cute little café. I bought her a coffee and we talked a little. Then we took a walk on the beach and talked some more and… I came to know that she's an amazing woman, even though she can be a little cynical at times." She smirked faintly as my eyes dropped to the floor. "I didn't want to go," she continued, her voice still so soft, so easily breakable. I looked up again. "But I knew we both had to go home sometime. So I asked her if I could see her again, the next day at the café at five. She said-"
"-that she'd be there for sure," I said, finishing for her.
She smiled and nodded. "Yes. That's what she said." The next thing that happened had me press my fingernails into my palms and my heart make a double flip in my chest. I felt the brim of her hat brush against my forehead as she gently pressed her lips to my cheek. It was nothing more than a short peck but it made me as happy as I probably never had been in my life. When she pulled away, I could still feel her breath hitting my skin as she quietly said, "I'm Tori. Tori Vega."
Then she pulled away completely, smiled and turned around. I watched her leave with my cheek still tingling and a kind of smile on my face that you would have never seen Jade West wear. Yet I did.
I came to the café way too early the next day, like, almost an hour too early. I couldn't wait to see her again. My night was filled with dreams of her, my waking hours spent with thinking of her. She was engraved in my mind and I didn't mind it one bit. I didn't want to go in yet in case that that would make me look even more pathetic, so I alternated between leaning on the wall outside of the door, fixing my skirt, and slowly pacing back and forth on the sidewalk. I didn't have to wait long for her though. Only fifteen minutes after I had arrived, she came walking down the sidewalk on my left. She had her lip between her teeth and eyes watching the cars passing by as she advanced towards the café, having not seen me yet. She looked the way I was feeling inside: gut-wrenchingly nervous. But when she tore her attention away from the street, her eyes immediately locked on mine and the tension just fell off her face all at once.
"Jade," she exclaimed as soon as she came to a halt in front of me, sounding awfully relieved to see me. Did she seriously think I wouldn't show up?
"Tori," I said back, a smile beginning to form on my lips. Her name felt so, so good, rolling off my tongue like a wonderful song. I wanted to vomit for thinking that.
She let her teeth gently scrape over her bottom lip. "I was scared you wouldn't show up," she confessed and I saw her hand tightening around the strap of her purse. She was adorable being nervous like that.
"Why did you think that?"
"I… don't know. But you're here so…" She inhaled and let out a long breath immediately after. "Everything is good."
"Yeah," I said, nodding my head. "It is."
After that, everything flowed between us so wonderfully. There was no awkwardness, no hesitation or tension. We laughed, we talked, we ordered random stuff from the menu. We teased each other, made each other blush and laugh. It was perfect. "So wait," she said, choking on a laugh, "She stores candy in her bra?"
"Yep. She does so for as long as I know her. It's pretty handy. You never get hypoglycemic with her."
Tori laughed. "Wow. I should start doing that too," she joked, her fingers brushing against the underside of her hat when she pushed a strand of hair out of her eye. I suddenly wondered if she wore that hat every day and if there was a reason for it. So I asked her. "Say, what's with the hat?" As I asked I reached over and gently flicked the black clothing piece with my finger. Tori's eyes looked up before back to me. "What?"
"Your hat. Do you wear it every day?"
She shrugged and leaned forward on the table. "Pretty much. You don't like it?"
"No no, I do. It suits you." A smile began to pull her lips upwards at my words and I mimicked her. Man, I had never smiled so much in my entire life until I met her. "It makes you… mysterious, kind of."
An eyebrow lifted while her mouth stretched into an amused smirk. "Mysterious. Is that a good thing to be?"
"I'm not sure," I murmured when her eyes once again cast a spell on me which made sure that I couldn't look away from them. "Are you mysterious? Is there something you're hiding, Tori Vega?"
I should have seen the signs. I should have noticed the way she hesitated, the way her eyes darkened and smile dampened before she tried to make it shine with its usual intensity. But I didn't. I was too wrapped up in her that I thought nothing of it. I just thought she was playing along. "No. But there is something I really wanna do."
"Oh, and what would that be?"
The answer that I got was a bright blush and a bashful smile. I silently wondered, in that very moment, how one person could enchant me like this. I asked myself why she seemed to be the only person in this world, my friends all included, who didn't annoy me one bit, who managed to make my face split into a damn grin instead. "You're not gonna tell me, are you?" I smirked as she bit her lip while her blush turned deeper and it got me wondering what exactly it was that she wanted to do.
A couple of hours later, I found out.
We stood outside under the dark blue sky, the warm wind gently blowing around our bodies and the constant bustling of L.A. only faintly filling our ears. Her face was highlighted by the artificial lights of the city and for a moment the yellow glow on her skin made her look like an angel. "So. Do you need a ride home or something?"
"No. No thank you, I'll be fine."
I nodded but that was the only real movement either one of us did. "I'll… I'll call you then? Or you call me?"
"Oh, yeah. I definitely will," she said with a smile and gently rocked forward on her heels. I wondered if this was some kind of signal, you know, the ones girls do at the end of a date when they wait for the guy to make a move. I wondered if I ever did something like that. But I couldn't remember, as much as I tried. So I trusted my instincts and simply did… what felt right.
Our lips molded together so perfectly, almost as if we were made for each other and were never meant to be apart. As amazing as I had imagined kissing Tori would be, the real experience was just completely out of this world. Her lips were so soft and warm against mine, the skin of her cheek so smooth under my fingertips. Fireworks blew up and quenched the little butterflies; stars brightly erupted behind my closed eyelids. My other hand on her hip tightened when I felt and heard her sigh and her body just fell into me as if she was trying to become one with me.
Maybe she was.
"This is… what I really wanted to do," she whispered when we pulled apart, her lips still brushing against mine as she spoke.
I let my thumb brush the corner of her mouth while I watched her lashes flutter with every blink of her eyes. We were so close to each other that I could see every freckle, every speck, every imperfection… that is, if there would have been any. "Tori." It was the only thing I managed to say since she was the only occupant of my mind and every thought I had revolved around her. Being at a loss of words I leaned in again and brushed my lips against her mouth, two times, three times, four times.
"I really need to get going now." The tone of her voice betrayed her words, telling me that she really rather wanted to stay. With me. Her hand came to rest on top of mine and slowly removed it from her cheek. I missed her warmth, her scent, as soon as she moved away from me. When she began to back away from me, my eyes fell to her teeth, biting down on her bottom lip that was captured between my lips only moments ago. "I can't wait to see you again," she said to me before a huge grin took over and she disappeared around a corner, leaving me alone with only the taste of her on my lips.
That same night, as I was lying in bed replaying my day over and over again, my phone rang. The caller I.D. read Tori Vega.
"I kinda miss you," is what she said as soon as I answered the phone.
I told her that I miss her too.
We started to spend so much time together after that night. Every day seemed to be brighter and happier with Tori in it and I really wished that I would have met her sooner. Maybe then I wouldn't have turned out so bitter. She was my sunshine, as hurl-worthy as that sounds. With every minute I fell even more in love with her and with every little thing I learned about her I adored her more and more. I found out that she could be a huge dork. Her hair was so soft and always smelled like fresh fruit. She was a fantastic singer. She was incredibly ticklish. There was a small freckle on her thigh that I loved to kiss when we made love.
My friends had noticed a change in me. I told them about Tori. They were so happy for me and wanted to meet her so badly. I didn't want that though. It was selfish and possessive and stupid but I didn't want to share her. I wanted to keep her to myself for as long as possible, even if that meant presenting my friends sketchy excuses for five whole months for as to why they couldn't meet Tori. And they understood. Because they could see that I was happy, for once in my life.
But as always, life had a way of ruining everything.
"Jade?" I ran my tongue over my lips and shifted under the thin covers thrown over our naked bodies, humming in acknowledgement. "Don't fall asleep yet."
I knew something was up just by the tone of her voice, and I found my suspicion confirmed when I opened my eyes and met the swirling brown ones of Tori. But instead of the usual sparkle, I found a splash of fear within the deep brown. "I wasn't going to go to sleep yet. What's wrong?"
"I- There's something I need to tell you." She began chewing on her lip, a clear sign that something was seriously wrong. I shifted up into a sitting position, a weird feeling in my gut, and pressed the sheets up to my breasts. Tori sat up too, arms wrapped around her knees which were pulled up to her chest. She didn't look at me as she shakily sighed. "I lied to you. That… that day at the café, when you asked me if I was hiding something. I lied about it."
"What… did you lie about?"
You probably think that millions of questions must have shot through my brain all at once, but… no. I just couldn't think of one thing she could have lied about or what in the world she could have been hiding. My mind was blank, worry settling deep into the center of my chest. It only intensified when Tori's troubled eyes met mine. "I'm sick, Jade."
I can't possibly describe the things I felt in that very moment. I knew what she meant, I knew that it was something serious, but a part of me – a really big one – hoped that maybe everything sounded worse than it actually was. "What… What are you talking about? Do you have… the flu or…" I trailed off as soon as I saw the look on her face. Remorse. Sadness. Pain. It was all there. "I don't… What's wrong with you?"
She told me everything then. That a couple of years ago she was feeling really weak for weeks, dizziness, fatigue and breathlessness determining her everyday life until it got to the point where her parents' worry reached its peak and they dragged her to a doctor. After having to endure dozens of tests the result was certain. "A heart deficiency. A bad one. That's what made me so weak."
"Well… but… it's curable, right? You're going to be okay."
She sighed. That wasn't a good sign. "They put me on medication and… I feel fine. I do. But… there's only one cure." She made a pause and bit her lip while she gauged my reaction. If I looked anything like I was feeling inside, I must have looked completely terrified. My voice was barely audible as I asked, "What is the cure?"
"A donor heart."
She could have simply kicked me in the stomach. That would have had the same effect. I felt my heart pounding in my throat, could almost hear my blood throbbing in my veins. I felt like I was dying. "And you'll get one," I croaked out, trying hard to keep my voice at a steady level. Looking back, I think I failed. "A donor heart? You'll get one?"
The way she shrugged her shoulders, as if I asked her what she wanted for breakfast in the morning, made me incredibly mad. I simply couldn't understand how she could be… almost nonchalant about this. "I'm on the waiting list. But… it doesn't really look that promising."
"And what… what does that mean exactly?"
The ground felt like it slipped from underneath me when the next words left her mouth. "It means… that I'm going to die. My heart… it's getting weaker. Steadily. And one day… one day my medication won't be able to support me anymore and… well… it'll be over."
The next thing I knew I was putting my clothes on as fast as I could, my breathing getting faster and faster and faster. I needed to get out, I needed air. The fact that Tori called for me to stop, pleaded with me not to go, only registered faintly in my brain as I scrambled off of Tori's bed and walked out into the living room. Of course I didn't leave. I wouldn't have been able to leave Tori all alone in her apartment. But I needed air. I almost ripped the window out of its hinges but I really didn't care. All I cared about was to get air into my lungs, to get my heart rate under control.
I choked on a sob when I felt Tori's hands on my back, gradually relaxing when I felt her warm touch through the thin fabric of my shirt. God, I needed her, I just… I needed her. The chilly night air hit my face and I shivered as I leaned further out of the window. Tori's arms immediately snaked around my waist, warming me, her cheek pressed against my back. "Tori?"
"H-how soon is 'one day'?"
The long pause that followed had me tightening my grip on the edge of the window. "Not that far away anymore."
"I don't know what my major is going to be, but I really wanna go to college next year."
"So someday I might watch a really successful horror movie and I can say: Hey, I know the girl who wrote this. It's Jade!"
"Someday… we should go somewhere together. Where's a lot of snow. That'd be great, wouldn't it?"
"I can't wait for you to be famous. I'm going to be so proud of you. Even more so than I am now."
I remembered everything she said to me about the future. I felt hurt, disappointed but mostly angry. How could she lie to me like that? I knew it. Of course there had to be a catch. Life didn't give me anything good. It had just been too good to be true. "So wait," I said with a bitter chuckle, turned around and made sure to put a distance between us. Tori couldn't touch me. She wasn't allowed to touch me when I was mad at her, mad at the entire fucking planet. "In the past six months you… you told me all this crap about- about wanting to go to college and about planning stuff with me and- and our future when you knew there was a high chance that you wouldn't even be alive then?!"
She sunk down on the sofa and shook her head. "Jade… what was I supposed to say?"
"That you have a fucking heart deficiency!"
"And what would that have changed? What?" I didn't have an answer. Nothing would have changed. I would have still fallen madly in love with her, heart condition or not. "Would you have stood up and gone home? Would you have done that? So that you wouldn't have to deal with me, with a sick person?"
"That's not the point, Tori. That you're sick, that's… it's- it's horrible. But that's not why I'm mad at you. You lied to me. You kept this huge thing from me and lied into my face without batting an eyelash! And you think that's okay?"
"No, of course not. I was… I was scared to tell you, I know I should have told you sooner. You deserve to know, I'm… I'm sorry."
The way she was looking at me, with her pleading brown eyes and corners of her mouth drawn down, I couldn't stay mad at her. And what purpose would that have served? If she wouldn't get a donor then I shouldn't waste my time being mad at her. My shoulders slumped as all the anger I had felt poured out of my body. I suddenly felt so weak, so helpless. "So… Why are you telling me now? Did you think it would be easier when I have no clothes on?"
She weakly smiled up at me from her place on the sofa and for the first time I saw her in a different light. She was such a… fragile person, such a skinny little thing. I suddenly understood why she didn't tell me sooner. "I wanted to tell you for a while now but… I always chickened out. I couldn't lie to you anymore, you're way too important to me. And… even if I risk scaring you away now, I think you also deserve to know… that… I love you."
It was the thing that pushed me over the edge. My body began to shake with sobs, tears ran down my cheeks and Tori was by me in an instant. I clung to her so tightly, crying into her olive button up shirt. And she was there, holding me, comforting me, whispering to me, even though it should have been the other way around.
After all, I was healthy. She was sick.
I noticed every little thing after that night and I couldn't believe that I hadn't noticed them before. She got tired so easily. And the pills. The pills in the little white container standing on her kitchen counter. I had never noticed them before. Why, why hadn't I? I was so mad at myself, I still am, even though it wouldn't have changed anything. I couldn't have done anything to help her. Even though my heart was hers, hers alone, it didn't help her weakening one. Of course it didn't. Love couldn't perform miracles.
My eyes were empty as I looked out of the window of the café, our café, and watched as the raindrops fell from the sky in steady streams. I didn't dare to look at the redhead sitting across from me. I couldn't. She stayed silent for such a long time. I wondered if Tori was sitting somewhere and listened to the rain, or maybe she was even outside and took a walk. I hoped she wasn't. She could get sick and everything would end so much faster.
"How… What do you mean?"
I hadn't told anyone about Tori's condition up until that moment. But four months after Tori revealed her illness to me she was getting worse. Slowly, but still way too fast. I told Cat everything. About Tori's heart, about the necessary donor heart and the waiting list, about Tori's detachment to the fact that she was dying and about how I felt about all of this. I didn't look at her once but I knew she was listening, for she stayed quiet the entire time. When I was done I had to fight hard to keep my tears at bay.
"And she's… getting worse?"
I nodded. The rain was getting heavier. I really hoped Tori wasn't outside. Again there was silence, aside from the mumbling of the other guests of the café and the clattering of dishes and cutlery, but Cat… bubbly and hyper Cat… stayed quiet. "It's your birthday next week," she said after a while, quietly and almost monotonous. I turned to her, for the first time since we sat down, and saw that her eyes were dull, sad, and a frown pulled at her face. "I think it's time we should meet her."
"Yeah," I said, "I think it is."
Everyone loved her. It was no surprise.
They tried really hard. But I could see the looks they sent us every so often as we all sat around the bonfire. I could see the sadness, the pity. But I didn't care. Because Tori was right beside me, holding my hand, smiling, letting me cuddle into her side. You wouldn't have noticed that she was sick. She laughed at Robbie's wacky jokes, excitedly watched as Beck and Andre played on their guitars and even joined in as Cat started to sing along. I watched her with a smile on my face and momentarily forgot all my worries. Because Tori was just so carefree, so happy and healthy. It felt like nothing was wrong in the world. Nothing mattered but these five people around me.
Tori kissed me, the other's laughs echoing around us and catchy guitar music filling the mild night air. When she pulled away she grinned and flicked her eyes all over my face before she reached up and removed her hat to place it on my head. "Suits you," she whispered and winked, flicking her fingers against the brim of the black hat.
I rolled my eyes, smiled and kissed her again.
"I have to confess something to you."
I felt her hand give mine a gentle squeeze, almost as a kind of reassurance that nothing bad was going to happen next. Relaxing, I kept my eyes on the dark night sky above us and ran my tongue over the front of my teeth. "And what would that be?"
"Remember when I told you that you had to earn my name? I was so scared that I went too far and ruined everything. I never thought you would go along with it."
I scoffed and raised my eyebrows. "Yeah. That makes two of us."
She shifted next to me, the blanket we were lying on crumpling in the sand, and propped herself up on her elbow so she could look at me. My eyes met hers and even in the darkness I could see the sparkle I loved so much. "I'm glad you did though."
"Me too." She leaned down and kissed me then, eagerly and stronger than ever before. I wasn't complaining, but again, this was a sign. A sign that I should have taken seriously. Her tongue slipped into my mouth and I moaned and tangled my hand in her hair to pull her even closer. We spent a long time on the beach that night, kissing each other, cuddling, talking and whispering to each other. For a while we were even completely silent with only the waves crashing and Tori's heartbeat steadily beating against my ear.
I loved listening to her heart.
When it got colder and I felt Tori shiver in my arms we made our way to her car. We drove in comfortable silence, with only the radio quietly playing and I closed my eyes for the time being, only opening them when the car came to a stop and the engine was off. I frowned when I saw my apartment building in front of us. "Oh. I thought we were staying at your place."
"Um… I'm just dropping you off, actually," Tori said before shooting me a smile. "I have to get up really early tomorrow because I'm meeting up with… with my parents and… I wouldn't want to wake you. That's alright, isn't it?"
"Yeah… Yeah, sure. That's alright." I should have said that it wasn't. I should have seen the freaking signs. She smiled again and nodded. Then, she took her hat off and placed it on her lap, unbuckled her seatbelt and mine too. I stayed quiet, even though I was so confused and just didn't understand what was going on. Her hands cupped my cheeks as she twisted her body towards me and her eyes ran all over my face; I know now that she was trying to memorize it.
"You're so beautiful, Jade." She pulled me forward and kissed me softly. "And you're so… so talented. I'm so proud of you." Another kiss, this time longer and briefer. "I love you. I love you so, so much." Her lips crashed against mine, kissing me so passionately that my nails dug into her arms. I probably hurt her but she only kissed me harder. I gasped when we broke apart, completely at a loss of words and only managing to watch those dark eyes flicker back and forth between mine. "I love you," she said again.
"You said so already."
"I know. I just want you to know. I want you to know that whatever might happens… you know, in the future… that I love you. I do. I love you."
"I know you do. I love you too."
It was all she wanted to hear. A smile, not nearly as bright as it usually was, appeared on her lips. "Goodnight, Jade."
"Goodnight…" I leaned over and placed one more peck on her lips before I opened the door and stepped a foot out. I turned back though, one more time. "Tori-" But I stopped myself. I didn't know what I was going to say. I knew something was wrong and if I had just said something… anything at all, maybe things would have gone differently. I should have trusted my instincts that night. I shouldn't have let her go.
But I did.
The next day, after countless tries to reach Tori on her phone, of waiting for her to call me back or send a simple text message, I had enough and shrugged my jacket on to drive to her apartment. But when I opened the door my heart nearly stopped. I snapped my head to the left and then to the right, but the hall was completely empty. Swallowing the lump that was already forming, I crouched down and picked up the black hat from the floor. Underneath it, there lay a note.
To my brilliant scenarist.
To make sure you'll never forget me.
I love you.
I didn't believe it at first. Or rather, I didn't want to believe it. It's a morbid joke, I told myself. So I drove to Tori's apartment. She'd probably sit on her sofa and laugh at me for believing this. That's what I told myself. But when I got there, I knew there was no way that this was a joke.
Her car was gone.
The nameplate next to the doorbell didn't carry her name anymore.
Her apartment was empty.
I tried looking for her. I got my friends to help me search the city for her, once, twice, three times. I tried contacting her parents, her sister, any other family she could have had. I found no one. It was as if she dropped off the face of the earth. Up to this day, two years later, I don't know where she went to, why she left me and… if she's still alive.
I lost her, just like that. Maybe for forever.
I knew a girl once. I always wear her hat.