Author's Note: Thank you again to Cassandra for inviting me to join Bade Prompts' final round! As is true of all good things, Bade Prompts too must come to an end and I'm glad to been a small part of it :] Prompt is (S)he didn't tell you, did (s)he? Individual prompt stated at the end of the story. Thanks to my sissy for last minute pre-reading!
Btw, this is frought with dialogue both frivolous and fancy. It goes on forever. No, seriously. They just talk a lot. I don't know how this ended up being so long. Also some cursing included. And! I am not from Avignon nor have I ever been there. I don't know why this story is set there, in fact, just that it felt like a good idea at the time. So some information regarding the city may be erroneous and I apologize for that.
Of all the the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.
- Mark Twain
Beck doesn't know what he's doing here. He should be on his way to Cannes for the festival as per his agent's orders, but he's in Avignon. That's what Ben gets for letting him get there on his own—of course Beck isn't going to end up where he's supposed to. He never does. But he prefers his life this way. He likes rounding corners not knowing what he'll find. He likes turning right when he has to go left, likes it when the unexpected comes his way. He jumps off bridges and airplanes. He ziplines through thick forests and dives from the highest cliffs and into the deepest of blue seas.
Now, however, he's sitting in a quaint little cafe along one of the quieter streets, sipping a cup of tea while contemplating a chocolate croissant. Hardly exciting, though his presence here will result in an explosive reaction when Ben finds out. He's actually looking forward to that phone call from his trusty yet easily ruffled manager. But Beck's still responsible and has his flight booked for Cannes first thing in the morning. Ben won't like that he's pushing it to the point that he's arriving an hour before his first interview, but beggars can't be choosers or something like that.
He's about to call the waitress when he spots her walking down the sidewalk. Her face is half covered by these ridiculously huge sunglasses but he knows it's her. It's not at all the way her jeans cling nicely to the legs that go on forever, the tank top that is draped almost artfully on her form or the beat up combat boots; not even the strawberry streaks hidden in the dark waves of her hair. He knows it's her despite the unfamiliar carefree way she moves and the easy smile on her pink lips.
His heart beats that millisecond faster. That's how he knows it's her. How he's always been able to tell when she's near.
He only notices that his hand is in the air when it's halfway up. He pauses, then second-guesses himself—things that he hasn't done in so long and it feels a little awkward. But mostly because it's like his arm has a mind of its own and he doesn't quite know how to communicate with it anymore. So it hangs in the air rather lamely and of course it catches her attention.
Somehow, he remembers how to breathe. He remembers, but it's still so very hard and his body stubbornly refuses to take in air. He counts each steps she takes toward him. Fifteen. And he's only managed to breathe in once.
"Beck," she greets him and the softness of her tone is worse than any punch in the gut. She slides the glasses off and slips them into her bag and yes, those are her gorgeous eyes. She is still so very lovely but now a stranger, someone he hasn't spoken to in years and has only seen sparingly and never in person. "Wow, how are you?"
Who is this Jade? His Jade would never say wow—not even the Jade in his head. But this is still Jade so he stands up and holds his hand out like a proper gentleman. Jade has other ideas, though, and wraps her arms tightly around him in a warm embrace.
"This is crazy," she mumbles, her warm breath ghosting over his neck and collarbone.
Trying his best not to shiver, he pulls away first and holds her at arms length. "You look terrific, Jade. How long has it been?"
"Ten years?" she says like she's almost not sure when they both know that she's absolutely correct.
Ten years since high school graduation. Enough time to turn two people who were once attached to the hip (and lips) into complete strangers. After their final breakup a couple of months before graduation, they'd been acquaintances at best. Two people forced to be in the same room together by shared friends and classes. Now, they knew next to nothing about each other beyond what those same friends choose to share or what they read in print or online or watch on television.
They regard each other for a moment, neither one willing to admit to themselves how right it still feels to be in each others arms after so long.
Jade clears her throat and steps back, making their arms fall to their sides. "So what are you doing all the way in fair Avignon?" Her eyes squint a little as they adjust to the mild glare of the afternoon sun. "Isn't famous Beck Oliver supposed to be in Cannes?"
There's no bite, nothing hurtful in the way she says it. It's just pure, genuine curiosity and... he has no idea how to deal with it. He always used to have his guard up around her, never wanting to be caught unprepared once she decided to unleash whatever pent up frustration she was feeling. And this... This is sort of a relief. Whatever defensive barrier he'd honed as a teenager has worn away from disuse as an adult.
He shrugs lightly. "Just a little detour. I have an early morning flight to Cannes tomorrow. You?"
"Oh, just taking in the sights," is her offhanded reply. She runs a hand through her hair. "Actually, I've been asked by a local art gallery to show my work during the Avignon Festival in a couple of months."
"Nice. Photography, right?"
She nods, a small smile playing along her lips. "Yeah... It's weird how life turns out, you know? This is probably the last thing I thought I'd be doing."
"I know what you mean."
"Please," she rolls her eyes and his heart stops because he's seeing a little bit of his Jade and it's still so... "You were always destined for greatness, Beck Oliver. Tall, dark and handsome. Brooding silently in the corner. This air of mystery around you..."
He makes a face, one that she laughs at. He doesn't particularly enjoy the whole fame and fortune that came with being an actor. Especially when he's tried so hard to stay true to his indie film roots. But after the last indie he did garnered so much attention at Sundance, he'd been casted in films with bigger budgets than he's used to. He makes it a point to choose only quality scripts and it's certainly nice to be able to pay the bills but the attention, the flashing lights is something he can do without.
"Do you have time? Wanna join me for tea?"
He can see the indecision in her eyes, how she weighs things out until finally one wins out and she nods slowly. "Sure. I've got time for a friend."
She's never actually liked tea, dislikes the pomp and circumstance that comes with drinking it, pinky finger sticking out and all. But Beck Oliver is sitting across from her in a tiny cafe along a street in Avignon and somehow that makes up for this exercise in ettiquette. Touching base with an old friend... She doesn't know why she used that word. Friend. That's hardly the word you can use to describe two people who haven't bothered to contact each other in the span of ten years. But whatever. Labels are stupid anyway.
"This is so weird," Beck says, swirling his teaspoon absentmindedly in his cup. "I'm not even supposed to be here right now."
"A rebel actor? You? No." She quips before declaring that her cup of tea can go eff itself because there's no way she's taking another sip. After ordering a cup of coffee (because that's what it should have been in the first place) and possibly scarring the waiter for life, she catches his amused smile. "Something funny?"
He shakes head and his forever shaggy hair falls over his eyes. "I was wondering where that Jade went."
"Uh, I wasn't aware that there was more than one of me."
"No no..." He trails off. Then he smiles a little and shakes his head again. "I don't know. I just... It's an odd thing, meeting someone again after so long. You start to wonder if you know them still."
She lets out a shaky laugh because, honestly, she's thought about this. About him. Going off to college in Providence, living a life so separate from the one she left behind in Hollywood, growing up... there were times when she thought about this, about bumping into him suddenly at a coffee shop or while walking down the street. Perhaps he'd be in the middle of thinking about her too and decide to give her a call. What would Beck Oliver think of Jade West now, she'd think sometimes when she had time to think of such fanciful things.
"When you leave someone or some place," she begins softly, "You allow him or her or it to change and move on without you. So it's silly to think you can go back to things hoping that they are still the same. It never is. And... I changed, too."
"Is that why you never came back?" He asks so quietly, like he's almost afraid of the answer. But, she rationalizes, Beck has never been afraid of anything.
"Let's face it. I never really fit in back then. I suppose it was cowardly or maybe it's the opposite and I thought too highly of myself. Either way... I just didn't want to see what life was like without me there. I'd like to think that maybe it was worse?" She laughs a little. Because she can laugh about these things now. "But inside, I knew that more than likely, it was better. And then it came to the point where it didn't matter where I was. Cat and Tori made trips northeast so I met up with them until Cat finally decided to move to New York with me after college. Then Andre moved to the city, too. Robbie, too, shortly after... yeah."
She realizes that, at some point during that verbal diarrhea, she should have stopped. Because now she's left the most important part of that equation out. She knows he wants to ask it, wants to ask her why she never came back to Los Angeles for him. Didn't she want to see him? And she can never tell him. She can't ever say the words out loud. How she thought about him endlessly during the majority of her college life. She knows that he wants to know all that about as much as she wants to know why he never came to see her. Perhaps they were both cowards, unwilling to take the first step. But it's too late to think of such things. Ten years have gone by and all the chances have been wasted. Now here they are, two virtual strangers sitting in a tiny cafe in Avignon.
Thankfully, her coffee comes and it's laid out before her with an accompanying tiny pitcher of milk and bowl of sugar. When she stirs in two spoonfuls of sugar, Beck chuckles. She looks up at him questioningly and he shakes his head, a smile on his lips.
"I'm glad to see some things haven't changed."
"Seriously. You know how weird it is to hear you say Tori instead of Vega?"
"Remember that time when we went to the beach?"
"You wanna be more specific? We lived in Los Angeles. Every day was a day by the beach."
"When we got stuck in my RV?"
"Oh. Oh. Fuck. That was like the worst and best day of my life."
"Seriously? What? Because of the sweating?"
"Um, because I thought I was going to die? I was going to die in an RV with Trina Vega, a dude with a puppet, and Catherine Obvious. I'm sorry, but that doesn't strike me as an honorable death."
"But then I was there and that's why it was also the best day, right? C'mon. We're grown ups. You can admit these things now."
"That was the opposite of a compelling argument. Seriously. Like, I don't even want to talk to you right now. And your face? Does it have to be so smug? Because that's not a good look on you."
"Everything's a good look on me."
"Yeah okay, Carter, ten-year-old identical twin brother of Tommy. You keep telling yourself that."
"Whoa, you still remember that? I pretty much forgot all about that. And wasn't I Tommy? Andre was Carter right?"
"Oh, no. I remember it well, young Carter Swain."
"Man... Trust Sikowitz to have come up with such an inspired manner of casting."
"Inspired? It was lazy! It was him trying to get out of me badgering him about not getting the lead."
"But you got to play Nancy Swain! The female lead! I mean, yeah, Tori was the male lead but she was also asleep for half of the play."
"I'm not saying it was wrong, though I could have done without having to date Tori."
"No. You said—"
"SHUT UP. Don't make me hurt your face in an irreparable way."
"I'm going to be smart and not take that threat lightly."
"Good call. So why are we talking about that day again?"
"I don't know... I guess I just liked that day."
"Where are we going?"
Beck laughs and pulls on her elbow as they go down one of the city's many side streets. "I have no idea. But that's the beauty of it. It's all about the adventure anyway." He can feel her relax and he loosens his grip just a tiny bit.
"You know, Tori told me about this."
He looks over his shoulder to see her grinning and her eyes light with amusement. Every second, every moment more that they spend together he gets another glimpse of the Jade he once knew and the Jade she is now, he is rapidly beginning to realize, is just as lovely to him. He swallows. "Told you about what?"
"Well, apparently you're all mister adventure now or something. An adrenaline junkie, I think she said." He still isn't used to hearing her speak without judgment or condescension dripping from each word. Instead he is faced with genuine curiosity and he's not entirely used to that coming from her just yet.
So he nods.
"I don't know... It began with the first film I did. It was a student short film and I was just helping out a friend, you know?" He waits for her to fall into step beside him before continuing. "So it was the first time I saw myself on screen in front of an audience of people who I wasn't related to in any way, I mean, with actual lines that actually mean something. And... it was pretty enlightening. I thought, okay, if things go well for me someday I'm going to see myself in films that are bigger, longer, more expensive than this. And it's going to change me."
"Everything changes anyway, Beck," she answers a matter-of-fact because, well, it is true. In fact, they just had this conversation. "Why should you be any different?"
"Because I'm Beck effin Oliver, that's why."
He doesn't expect the giggle and doesn't expect the sudden surge of feelings when he looks at her. "Aww," she cooes. "Look at you being a pompous ass. I'm so proud!"
"Don't tell anyone," he winks at her. "I have a reputation to uphold."
"Which is... lame grease monkey stuck in an eighties brat pack movie?"
"Okay, seriously? You used to love my plaid," he reminds her, his hand now on his chest and his fingers curling around the apparently offending garment pattern.
"Plaid is a classic piece of clothing."
She stops suddenly in her tracks, her fingers tightening around his and her face full of exasperation. "Plaid makes you a lumberjack. An unsexy lumberjack..."
"I am too a sexy lumberjack," and really he doesn't mean for this to go for forever (and those are definitely words that shouldn't be coming out of his mouth). But the familiarity is there, the banter, the connection they've always had.
She rolls her eyes and he tugs a little on her hand to get her to move. But she pushes his hand away and instead, digs her own into her large bag to pull out a leather jacket. He almost blushes when her tank top dips into her cleavage as she slips on her jacket and when in the world did he start feeling like this smitten teenager again? All of a sudden, he's thirteen years old and Jade West has him drowning in all these different emotions that he can't quite name. Yet again. Except now, he knows that what he's feeling is wrong. It's wrong because what they were back then was over ten years ago and there's nothing left for them now except this vague sort of friendship that they're still trying to construct.
"Oh, wait," she says once she's righted herself and Beck can look at her again without getting flustered. "What were we talking about again? About your moment of enlightenment and changing but not changing?"
"Right, right..." He runs his hands through his hair nervously then wipes them down the sides of his jeans. Then, when he's feeling bold enough, he runs the fingers of his left hand along her shoulder to her elbow which he tugs to encourage movement. Obediently, she starts walking with him and the turn into another empty side street that's still boasting cobblestone and their footsteps are the only thing they can hear as they walk side by side.
"So," she prompts.
"Yeah, so I thought to myself. Okay. Beck. Always stay grounded. Never forget your roots. And yeah, that makes no sense." He laughs and she laughs with him, nodding.
"I was about to say," she admits. "Wanna try again?"
He laughs again. "Yeah, yeah. Okay." He takes a deep breath and starts laughing when he catches her eye roll. "Don't do that! It's giving me performance anxiety, you and your judgmental eyes!"
She makes a big show of placing her hands over her eyes and it might have worked except the first step is uncertain the next is more so. "Wait, fuck. I can't walk like this."
He doesn't even have to think about it, doesn't have to weigh his actions or anything. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he feels her stiffen slightly but after a few moments her weight falls a little against him and there is some victory there that he knows he shouldn't feel. So he starts walking, taking her along with him. Walking, he knows. Walking, he's good at. And talking, yeah. He can talk pretty well.
"Anyway," and he hates how shaky his voice is and how he has to clear his throat before he continues, "So I do these things as a reminder of sorts. We're human and even though that's something glaringly obvious, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes we forget and we start thinking that we're larger than life. I do this to remind myself that I'm not. That I have an expiration date just like the next average dude. I don't know... Sometimes, the closer we are to death, the more we feel alive."
At some point, he gets lost in his little monologue and it doesn't quite register that her hands are at her sides. Also, she can walk unaided now and she has yet to push him away. But once he's done, she looks up at him, her eyes guarded as if she's not quite sure what to think of him. He stares straight ahead, unsure of what to do with himself, especially with his hand that's around her and unwilling to move.
"I thought you said you were Beck effin Oliver?" He relaxes a little when he hears the amusement in her voice. "You and your hippie philosophy. You're damn confusing is what you are."
That's not even the half of it.
"Oh c'mon, Jade. We're having a conversation! I'm not here to conduct an interview."
"Okay! Okay! What do you want to know?"
"Everything. But let's start with how you got into photography."
"Well... It's so many things, really. I tried the acting thing but it's like... Hollywood Arts was this tiny pond and then college is like this lake, right? And I'm there, thinking to myself, chiz, this isn't it. It can't be. Because after college is the real world, the rest of my life. And that's gonna be a whole goddamn ocean. I mean, yeah, I'm an okay actress—"
"You're more than okay."
"Yeah, shut up. I'm telling you something. Anyway. Yeah. I'm an okay actress, an okay singer and... Those things made me crazy, you know? I've always been my own worse critic, I tear myself to pieces. Why don't I get the part? Why don't I get the solo? Why? Why? Why? All these questions inside my head until I thought, all right then. Fuck that. I'm gonna do something else."
"No, not right away. At first, I thought that I'd try my hand at scriptwriting chiz, you know, since I dabbled in it somewhat during high school? I have a way with words—"
"A painful, cruel way with words."
"And I'm going to pretend you didn't say that. Anyway, so I figured I'd start writing. A short film—"
"Tell me the story."
"Oh, you want to the long version of my story, do you?"
"Always have. Always will."
"Fine. Just... stop grinning like an asshole."
"Whatever. So the story starts with this kid who's about six and his parents bring him to see the circus that's come to town. It's his first time ever and so everything he sees, feels, hears, smells, and tastes is all new. He's completely overwhelmed by the vibrancy of it all. Caramel apples so sweet and the lights are almost too bright. There's so much excitement in how people talk, so boiterous and loud. The most laughter he's heard in conversation ever. There's the aroma of buttery popcorn mingling in the air with the scent of grease and sweat and it's enough to make his stomach curl. But in a good way. He finds that he's never smelled anything quite so addicting. But his parents hold onto him so tightly, scared that he might get lost in the crowd when that's all he wants. To get lost in all this color and sound. He watches the show and it's everything he's never imagined. It's a surprise. The unexpected. It's exhilirating and terrifying at the same time and somewhere in the back of his six-year-old mind he realizes that this is happiness. He's happy sitting in his seat watching the trapeze artists flying through the air, the clowns all crammed into their little clown car, the ringmaster's booming voice... He's happy. That night he goes home and he feels..."
"Not right away. But yeah. He starts to feel empty and that's when he gets it in his head that he's going to join the circus. He's going to run away and join the circus. Anything to get that feeling back. So he waits day after day for the circus to come back. Every day just thinking about how that one night at the circus made him feel. Until one day, it does. Except now, he's a man. He's thirty. He's still living with his parents and has some dead end job and never had a girlfriend. So he goes to the circus, hoping to get it all back. But it's not the same. Nothing is."
"Well. We're talking about me here."
"Good point. What happens next?"
"I don't know!"
"You don't know?"
"No, I don't. Because at that point, I had the smart idea of starting a storyboard. But I can't draw to save my life, you know that."
"Yup. Shittiest stick individuals I'd ever seen."
"Thanks a lot, Van Gogh. Anyway, it drove me nuts. I had this idea in my head and I just wanted to see it, you know? You, of all people, know how I am when get something in my head."
"Insane. Dement—OW! Dude, why'd you hit me?"
"Because you're a douche. Anyway, a friend of mine tells me that there's a carnival at some podunk town a few miles out. So I borrow a camera from the photography department, borrow a friend's car, drive there and proceed to spend the entire day there just taking pictures. And... I kind of knew that that was what I was meant to do. It was weird. I was still insanely critical of my work but it also gave me this absurd sort of satisfaction that I'd never felt before. It was refreshing discovering this new perspective, that I could see the world differently. You saw yourself by literally seeing yourself in a film and I found myself through the lense of a camera."
"Wow... That's awesome. I'm happy for you."
"And your story is totally a metaphor for drugs."
"I hate you so hard right now."
They're standing in front of an art gallery along Rue de la Republique that's basically the reason why she's in Avignon. It's closed however, and the only lights that are on are the ones at the display window where a three foot statue of a ballerina stands prettily, copper wires twisting elegantly into lithe limbs. She's always liked art galleries, something that one probably wouldn't have been expected of her in her younger days. But she enjoys the wide open spaces, likes that everything is so transparent, empty yet waiting to be filled.
"I saw some of your pictures from a set you did recently." She can feel him beside her, turning to look at her. "A couple of weeks ago, I was at Heathrow on my way home and I saw a photography magazine at the newstand. It had your name on the cover and I bought it on impulse."
She looks up at him and grins cheekily. "Best impulse buy ever, right?"
"Well..." he drawls, turning his attention back to the metal ballerina. Jade rolls her eyes and playfully jabs her elbow against his side. He gives quite a satisfying yelp and she tosses her head back and allows the laughter to roll out of her in waves.
"Still as violent as ever, I see," he moans and she feels no remorse when he looks at her with those puppy dog eyes, hand rubbing the injured spot on his ribcage.
Instead, she moves to his other side and jabs another elbow at him. You know. To even things out.
"Was that necessary?" Beck asks, this time almost doubled over in pain that she's quite sure is mostly fake.
She shrugs and turns on her heel before walking down the street. "Your ego was begging for it," she infoms him. "I could hear it calling out for help from the depths of your large and cavernous mouth. Help, it told me. I need to be deflated!"
"Har har. Such a commedienne."
She does a little mock bow. "Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all night."
"And just when you thought the worst was over, she pulls out that little zinger."
"You want a fist to the gut to add to all the existing pain?"
She laughs when he whimpers and yeah, she'll always get that rush of pleasure from getting one up on someone. Honestly, it's something she's been trying to work on. Apparently, it's not healthy or something of the sort. Who knew?
It's growing dark and their stomachs growl, demanding to be fed. And she quickly steers them in the direction of this hole-in-the-wall that she knows he'll appreciate. He's always been so incredibly conscious of avoiding the mainstream, something that she'd found quite amusing. But he smiles when they're ushered into this tiny bistro with its dark wood paneling and rickety circular tables. There's this thin cloud of smoke that hangs low in the air, emanating from the two balding and greying old men sitting in the corner and caught up in heated debate. The romantic in her (and yes, it does exist) likes to imagine that they're in some foreign film and the odd couple are discussing Fellini, Voltaire or Matisse.
A table for two. It's only been a few hours since they were seated at another table, just the two of them but the novelty of it all doesn't escape her. They share a menu, which is basically just a thick, worn out sheet of paper that looks to have fallen victim to both fire and water. The waiter suggests a cassoulet but tells them it'll take some time to cook to which Beck merely shrugs.
"We're in no hurry," he tells the man, then orders a bottle of their best wine. "Unless you have somewhere to be?" His eyebrows quirk upwards as he asks her this.
She shakes her head, letting her hair fall over her eyes and tries to ignore the way his eyes shine brighter. There's a voice in her head that warns her, reminds her that she's gone down this road once before and she's smart enough to at least not go repeating such mistakes. Not that being with Beck was ever a mistake. But the circumstances are different now. She's different now.
"So..." she says and wonders if she sounds as awkward as she feels.
He runs his hand through his hair and she recognizes it immediately for what it's always been—a nervous habit. She gets that. To everyone (basically, the three other people in the tiny restaurant) they probably look like they're on a date or, worse, on their honeymoon. And that couldn't be farther from the truth.
"I know what you're thinking," he tells her. "You're thinking—"
"No, you're wrong."
He snorts. "Wow. Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"It's not..." She doesn't know how to say it. Doesn't know how to ask him to not say things about them, the two of them, the two of them together, and how things used to be between... them. She'd rather talk about Robbie's sad puppeteering stint in Central Park that still landed him a role on a kiddie television show or the supermodel that Andre started seeing recently that has them plastered on the front page of all those silly tabloids alongside mothers with aliens for sons-in-law. She's instantly thankful when a basket of bread is placed between them, giving her at least her fingers something to do and she reaches for one then proceeds to tear into it.
She sees the flash of realization, sees it settle in his eyes and appreciates it immensely when he nods and gives her a rueful smile. "So Andre and that supermodel, huh?" he says off-handedly, like it's not at all purposeful.
She smiles back. "Demetria something or other. She's from Slovakia?"
"Andre always did have a thing for those accents."
"I did not know that."
"Yeah, he totally did," he adds on a laugh, "Remember your old man from Jersey accent?"
"No. No way. There's just no way."
"Yes. There is."
"I am so disturbed right now."
He shrugs. "But Andre's always had this thing for you so..."
"What?" She can't help the tiny jerk of her hand and winces when her fork clinks against her water glass. "You knew about that?"
"Wait. You knew about that?"
She rolls her eyes. "Even Cat knew about that. He wasn't exactly subtle. Especially after the last breakup."
"Excuse me?" Beck sputters, clearly surprised. "I didn't know he actually made a move on you! That's totally against the bro code!"
She wrinkles her nose. "Bro code?"
"Only the most important document in the universal fraternity of bro-dom!" He exclaims rather piteously, which is why she decides to not question this sudden penchant for the histrionics. This is not the Beck that she remembers. The Beck that Jade remembers would keep everything bottled for a rainy day and then allow all hell to break loose.
So she closes her eyes and laughs, patting his hand. "That was ten years ago, Beck. Surely, it's all water under bridge now."
"Ten years ago we didn't require a bridge."
"—by the time we get there, we've run out of butter and gas. That's when we realize that the chickens aren't in the trunk anymore and there was a police car tailing us the entire time and the music in the car was just so loud that we completely missed the sirens and I can't even explain how we missed the warning lights. And that's when I decided to get this tattoo."
"Stories like that make me wish I'd gone to college."
"Why don't you? Several actors have managed to balance a career with college. And it's not like you're aching for cash, moneybags."
"I am nowhere near moneybags status, FYI. I don't know... It feels like it's too late for me. I mean, I'll always want to learn about things—that's not the problem. But I already know what it's like out here. I can't sit inside a classroom anymore. Not for an hour and definitely not long enough to take a test."
"I kind of went back and forth on the college thing, actually. I mean, I didn't really get into the college I wanted and all."
"Yeah. And I was all Jade-monster then—"
"How exactly is that different from normal Jade? And how come I didn't know about this?"
"No one knew, okay? And don't make me do unspeakable things to you, Beck Oliver, so shut up!"
"I—Okay, I think I actually want to know what these unspeakable thi—Jade! What the! In case you haven't noticed, your finger is in my nose."
"And it's staying there until you promise to stop thinking that snarky comments like that make you cute."
"You used to like my snark!"
"Well, I used to like your plaid too. So."
"Fine fine. Please do continue. Rejection. College. Monsters. Sounds like your kind of movie."
"Finger staying in the nostril!"
"Sorry! It's not something I can turn off! All right, all right. You were saying."
"So yeah, didn't end up at NYU but was surprised that I'd gotten into RISD when I'd completely written that off as a bust."
"It works out then."
"Well, yeah. But there was still that split second when I seriously considered forgoing the entire college experience and seeing what life had to offer me."
"Why didn't you? What made you want to go to college."
"You were always so confident, Beck. Always knew who and what you were before any of us ever had it figured out. You didn't apply to any colleges because you knew from the get-go that that was the path that you wanted to take and me... I was just an NYU reject who was taking it too hard."
"Look, Beck. We haven't seen each other in ten years. Suffice to say, in those ten years, I got over the entire thing pretty quickly. Basically everything that I've filed under 'high school' has been dealt with and shoved away. I'm mature and shit."
"You're really different now."
"And thank you for that near constant reminder."
"No, it's... It's a good different."
"Oh. Well. Thanks."
Jade lifts her hands up, stretching her arms out as wide as she can. She closes her eyes then inhales, taking in the sweet spring air. When she opens her eyes, they focus on the way the river's waters seems dotted with tiny diamonds winking at her as if to bid her a good evening. She's slowly falling in love with this walled city. She supposes that there are other quainter cities or towns in France but Avignon has its own charm. Wanting a closer look at the watery depths, she wonders how far she can get without falling in. Carefully, she steps on the metal guard rail that borders the bridge.
"Whoa, hang on," says the ever-gallant Beck as he tries to assist her. "No one's jumping off any bridges while I'm around."
"You hang on. No one here's suicidal. Except for maybe your fashion sense." She all but pushes him away because, sometimes, when he's standing beside her, her palms tingle with the urge to reach out and touch him. It happens, embarrassingly enough, quite often that she's taken to clasping her hands together and reminding herself that that is just so wrong. So she drops down, slipping her legs through the gap in the railing, feet swaying above the water.
"Pont D'Avignon," she hears him murmur from above her. He has chin lowered on top of his arms folded and resting on the top wrung on the guard rail. "This bridge used to be like five times longer. But time came and took most of it away. Seems sad. To be built as a bridge but not serve your purpose."
"Time is a dick."
"I don't know... It's just doing its job, I guess. Time is a fickle fickle friend."
She chuckles softly, shaking her head. "Are you seriously channeling Sikowitz right now? Because you're a coconut away from completely nuts, dude."
"Just waxing poetic is all, I guess. On a night like this, clear skies and all the stars are out... It kind of calls for it."
She scoffs at the idea, this notion of... romance?
"Are you fucking coming onto me, Oliver?" She means it as a joke and she expects him to laugh along with her but it's only her laughter that rings out. She looks up to glare at him only to find him staring out into the night sky. So she nudges his leg with her elbow to get his attention but his eyes remain trained on the far distance.
"Remember the last conversation we ever had?" he asks her quietly.
How can she forget? She's tried to forget. But it's one of those memories that just are. They're forever a part of you. Like your first kiss or your first date or your first time and your first love... and that's who Beck is. He is so many of Jade West's firsts. Someone who—no matter what she does, who she kisses, who she loves—will always be irreplaceable.
"It's silly," she answers, "The promises we make when we're young. We're not much older now. When you think about it, ten years is nothing."
"That's weird. Because when I think about it, ten years is... everything."
She doesn't know if she can do this now. She doesn't know if she can have this conversation with him and end it with her heart still intact. So to buy herself some time, she gets to her feet, wipes her palms down the sides of her jeans and starts walking over to the small chapel just some feet away. Behind her, she can hear and feel him following step for step. But his footsteps feel heavier quite like her heart. They stop at the entrance, both of them looking in but neither feeling brave enough to enter.
"Did you ever love me?" she whispers, half of her not wanting to him hear. The other half is adamant in receiving an answer. She catches his sharp intake of breath and wills her heart not to break. Really. It's too late for all of this. Too late for them.
But answers, she realizes, are the only things she can get now.
"You know I did. I told you I did. I promised I would forever."
She nods her head emphatically, so much so that her head almost hurts. "I know. But... Things look different from a distance. You know how people say that they thought they knew what love was but then they meet someone—"
"Did you love me?"
"I asked you first." It's childish and evasive and cowardly, she knows.
"And I already answered you," he points out.
"I know!" she exclaims then turns on her heel to move away from him but he anticipates this and catches her elbow before she can gain any distance. It's that one touch, through layers of clothing even, that sets the words tumbling out of her mouth. "I'm sorry I started this. It's never wise to dig up the past. I just... Sometimes, I do think about it. About us. About what happened. Sometimes, I think it was because I was young. I was so young and so angry. But... I don't think I ever stopped loving you."
And she's said too much. Too much of the wrong thing and when words leave your mouth, you can never take them back. She shakes her head and attempts to remove Beck's grip that has tightened, but he is stubborn. So much like herself. "I mean I did," she explains desperately. "I mean, I'm not talking about now. I'm talking about then because I was still in love with you long after we broke up. But you said—"
"I was going to ask you to stay," he cuts in. His grip loosens until he lets go of her completely. "The night of the graduation party. Tori told me that you were leaving the day after and I thought... I thought I had more time."
She laughs. Because time, you know? She's right. Time's a dick.
"But I decided that I couldn't be selfish. You were going places that were far away from me and I needed to let you leave. To let you grow. To live your life without me for you to know if you want a life with me."
"But how was I supposed to know?" She sounds broken when she really shouldn't. But she's waited for so long to hear this. It's somehow healing, albeit cruel. "I remember every single thing you said that night. I remember every single thing about you. You stood by the piano, looking down on everyone with drink in hand. You were wearing those boots that I always told you that you should get rid of because they were ten steps away from completely ruined and you had this smile, that sort of smile that was also kind of a smirk and that plaid shirt that I love, the yellow and black one?"
"And you were in this blood red dress that matched your lips," he tells her softly, his gaze locked on her. "You were seated on the couch, looking as intimidatingly perfect as usual, avoiding conversation with anyone who wasn't Cat or Tori. See, Jade." He sighs and runs his hand through his hair. "I remember, too."
"Then why are we here?"
"Is there ever a right answer to that question?"
She lets out a shaky laugh and shakes her head. "Maybe not—"
"But I'm going to try, anyway," he interrupts, placing his hands on her shoulders, "Remember what I promised you?"
"I said that even if we weren't meant to be together then, there would be another time and place where we would be. Do you remember? And maybe now is the time and place—"
His grip tightens. "I'll take whatever it is you can give me, Jade. Even if it's just friendship. Beck and Jade... Just as it should be."
"So I'm on my way home, right? I turn the corner and there's this crazy mess of people standing in front of what should be our building where there's smoke billowing out from what should be our floor and through the window of what should be our livingroom. There's a firetruck and firefighters, policemen, and the nosy morons who just want to know what's going on... And I think to myself, I must be on the wrong street. I have to be."
"So then what happens?"
"So then, I catch that unmistakeable flash of red velvet hair and I know. I know without a doubt—"
"Yes! So I do these breathing exercises that I learned from anger management—"
"You took anger management classes?"
"Yeah. But they were court-ordered so it wasn't like I was there because I wanted to be. And will you ever stop interrupting me? Thank you. So I take these breathing exercises and they're shit! Because I still feel like I want to strangle the crazy out of her. But she spots me before I can completely calm down and she's running to me all cheerful and insane-like and I'm just seething. And she's all 'Hi, Jade! You're home!' And I just stare at her because I seriously couldn't trust myself enough to speak."
"Wow. Someone has mastered their self-control."
"I'm going to ignore that blatantly patronizing tone and continue with my story. Anyway, it takes her all of two effing minutes to suddenly remember that whole situation of what was obviously a fire in our apartment. She claps a hand over her mouth and this horrified expression takes over her face. She yells out 'Robbie!' then makes a mad dash to the ambulance and I'm right on her tail."
"Robbie, who was lying on a gurney like some sick dog. It was a couple of weeks after they finally decided to come clean to each other. Come on. We all knew that Robbie and Cat finally fessing up and getting their shit together would only cause hellfire and damnation to the rest of us. Unfortunately, it had to happen on the new carpet I'd gotten from a trip to Morocco."
"I'm afraid to ask what happened..."
"Half of me doesn't even want to tell you. Recounting this sordid tale has brought back urges to send Shapiro to an early grave. But this is therapeutic. Disgusting you beyond all belief will make me feel better."
"Um, okay. Disgusting?"
"Suffice to say, Robbie wanted to be all romantic with Cat and broke into our apartment, set it up with rose petals and candles everywhere. Everywhere. Everywhere, Beck. You see where this story is going?"
"It's hard not to."
"Stop laughing. Anyway. So they don't even make it to the bedroom. No. Shapiro thinks he's good enough to expell his man juice all over my things. I'm sure the apartment felt so defiled that it decided to purge itself of the nastiness that is Robbie Shapiro."
"They knocked a candle over, didn't they?"
"They knocked a table over that held at least a dozen candles. I don't even want to know what will happen to the world now that they've started procreating. It's a terrifying thought."
"When is she due again? I promised Robbie I'd be in the city for the birth baby Shapiro."
"Will you... Are you going to be there?"
"What kind of question is that? Cat's giving birth! Of course I'm going to be there! Remember, hellfire and damnation. I must take pictures—I'm going to call it The Beginning of the End."
"You're just the supportive best friend, aren't you?"
"I hope the baby is actually twins because now that I think about it, Hellfire and Damnation would make nice names."
"Hellfire Shapiro. I think you're right."
Beck doesn't wear a watch. It's been a while since he's owned one, figuring that owning a mobile ties him well enough to reality. And really, when one is working with Ben who is constantly calling you anyway—
Actually, now that he thinks about it, it's bit odd that he has yet to hear from Ben. He takes the opportunity to fish his phone out of his pocket while Jade is busy searching through her bag.
Beck looks at her questioningly and she show him her mobile very much devoid of life. He looks down and sees his own lifeless device and grins. "Same here."
She chucks her phone into her bag and glances at her watch. "Holy... Did you know that it's already one in the morning?"
One in the morning. He needs to be back in his hotel soon to pack his stuff before heading to the hotel. But he can't think about it just yet. The idea of leaving this place, leaving Jade and knowing that it will be a long while before she can see her again is wholly unwelcome.
"You," she starts slowly, "Need to go, don't you?"
"Yeah." He doesn't know why but he feels the sudden urge to apologize. To say sorry that this time around, he's the who's leaving. Instead, he shoves his hands into his pockets. He's spent the entire evening with, more or less, his hands all over her and now that the end is near (and doesn't that just sound apocalyptic and thus, rather fitting?) he feels like a jerk. Despite both of them knowing that the evening would have to end eventually.
She nods in acceptance and they start walking to the apartment that she's been staying at also belonging to the art gallery owner that she knows. He watches as she wraps her arms around herself and he feels a twinge of pain at the obvious shut out. There will be no more casual touches tonight and he has to be okay with that. Except he really isn't, to be honest.
"Damian Marcus." Her voice slices through his dangerous thoughts. Thankfully.
She walking a few feet ahead of him now and he quickly makes up the difference. "Who's Damian Marcus?"
"The first guy I dated after you," she tells him.
Not knowing but still not liking where this is going, Beck decides it wise to remain mute. He can feel her glance over at him for a brief moment and there's some sort of victory in that which he doesn't really understand.
"He... looked like a serial killer," she confesses, followed by a short and hollow laugh, "That's why I went out with him. At least if he hurt me, I could say that I saw it coming. Three weeks later, though, I broke up with him."
He watches as she stretches her hands high above her, wiggling her fingers in the air. "Because it was easy. Damian would always bend over backwards to please me. It was ridiculous." Her sigh is tired. "We never fought, which is fine I guess. I'm not that much of a psycho. But then we stopped talking, too, because he was afraid of saying the wrong thing."
He takes a deep breath. A little courage to be able to get the words out. "Do you remember why we broke up?"
"Are you serious?" Jade sends him a little glare. "You were the one who broke up with me. Again. You stood up and walked out, Beck. And I never did understand that. Because I was always the one with her heart on her sleeve. You were the one who always difficult to read." Despite the glare, there is no venom in her tone. Just a resignation and acceptance of what had happened to them when they were still teenagers.
She stops. Her hand is on his arm and the words get stuck in his throat. "I don't want to know why, actually."
"No," she shakes her head, "We're better off. Or... I'm better off." But he can see the doubt clouding her usually bright eyes. It's probably not that she doesn't trust him. He knows that she can't trust herself. Just like he can't trust himself right now.
"C'mon. Let's get you home."
"Ten years ago, I thought things would be a lot different."
"Well, yeah. My life revolved around you, Jade. And I'd like to think yours revolved around me, too."
"Ten years ago, I think I might have imagined this. Except maybe Paris instead of Avignon. And that you were mine instead of belonging to someone else."
"I... Okay. Who told you?"
"Andre told me... And I kind of saw the engagement ring hanging from your necklace earlier. Still wearing rings as pendants, I see."
"I could say the same about you."
"No. You really can't. Because... See this? This is the one you gave me and that? That isn't the one I gave you."
"So. Marriage. Should I expect to receive an invitation in the mail?"
"Andre... He didn't tell you, did he? The marriage is... hypothetical."
"All right. Don't be offended but I'm not sure you know the definition of hypothetical. When you're engaged marriage is a little less possible and a little more eventual."
"Unless the engagement is also hypothetical."
"You... didn't say yes?"
"I didn't say anything. James and I have been together for a while and he's great and everything... Well, I said I'd think about it so... I'm thinking about it."
"To be honest?"
"Please be. Always."
"Yup. Still thinking."
"So, tell me. In that whole imagined future in Paris, what did you imagine us doing?"
They're standing in front of her apartment, both shifting from one foot to the other, both uncertain on the note that this night should end. Jade takes a deep breath and looks down at the tips of her boots, sort of in awe of how much they've walked in the last several hours. She's missed this, missed him and she wonders if that's okay.
She looks up to see him smiling down at her. "Yeah?"
"Do me a favor." She raises her eyebrows questioningly. "Just stand there for a moment."
"Uh, you haven't rigged a piano to fall on top of me, have you?"
He laughs, loud and free and it comes down on her in warm waves. "And that would be the perfect end to the perfect night for you?"
Her brow furrows and shakes her head. "You can't be serious," and she pushes on his shoulder for good measure. Getting a little physical always helped her think better. "This is hardly the perfect night."
"I beg to differ."
"I don't even have any makeup on!" she scoffs which only makes him laugh again.
"Okay, okay. Now about my favor?"
She rolls her eyes, drops her bag gently on the pavement beside her and waits for further instruction. But all she gets is him staring back at her. "What are you—"
"I just," he pauses for a moment, "I just want to remember you like this. The last memory I have of you... you refused to look me in the eyes. So this is what I want to remember. You, standing on a sidewalk in Avignon, looking at me, with the moon and stars in your eyes."
"Beck, please," she says, but she's not even sure what she's asking for. But it does include him stopping because her heart can't take much more.
He tears his eyes away from her and now it's his turn to look down at his feet. "You were wrong, you know. About you always wearing your heart on your sleeve." He looks at her again, but this time his smile is strained. "That was my heart you were wearing."
Before she can think to say anything, he takes the few steps toward her and engulfs her in a tight embrace. Still a perfect fit.
"So this is goodbye," he whispers gruffly into her ear.
She nods, not trusting herself to speak just yet. He presses his lips, warm and gentle, against her temple and finally releases her. The space between them suddenly feels vast and cavernous.
"I'll see you," he tells her and she nods in return. He reaches out and she thinks for a moment that something will happen. Something monumental and she watches as his hand falters before he draws it back to his side.
So she nods again and watches him walk away until he rounds the corner.
"Uh, Beck? How did you—"
"Got your number from Andre."
"Okay, but aren't you supposed to be on your flight?"
"Yes. Yes, I am."
"All right then. Happy trails or something."
"Wait! Don't hang up!"
"Wanna tell me what's up?"
"The french have a saying. Or an expression or whatever. L'amour fou."
"It means crazy love. Mad love. Obsessive, intensely passionate love... Almost a foolish kind of love."
"Um... Beck? You still there? I mean, I know you're still there because there's all that weird ass background noise—"
"Listen. And please really listen. As in don't say anything until I finish. Okay?"
"Jade... All those things I told you about why I jump off bridges and climb mountains and swim with sharks... That's because of you. And I don't mean that in some mentally unstable way. I mean that in a... Okay. It's like this. You know how people say that you should leave it all up to fate? Like... if you love someone you need to let them go? If they come back, it's meant to be?"
"Beck? You're kind of... freaking me out here."
"Wait. Listen, okay? I've always loved you. All right. And... I thought that I should just let nature run its course. If our paths cross then... Yeah. That'll be it. You'll be mine. I'll be yours. Happily ever after. And the first two years... I just kinda drifted through life, right? I was waiting around for you. As if you'd somehow, magically, end up on my lap. But you didn't. And I just..."
"I don't know why we're doing this now, Beck. We're... Whatever we were in the past has to stay in the past. We can't do this again. I can't do this again. Not now. Not ten years later. We're friends now and..."
"L'amour fou, Jade."
"I swear, Beck. Did you even hear what I just said?"
"I did, but are you hearing what I'm saying? L'amour fou. That's you and me. There is something frantic and furious about loving you. Like flying and drowning at the same time. I'm just trying to get it all back, you know? That feeling of constantly thinking I'm gonna die at any moment but never feeling more alive in my life. I do all these things, you know? Jumping out of airplanes. Diving off cliffs. But nothing compares to the high I feel when I'm with you."
"Okay. Are you even hearing what you're saying? We were never good for each other."
"Then. But how do you feel now? We just spent the last eight or ten hours together and I can't even tell because it felt like thirty minutes and I... It fucking hurts to think that the next time I'll see you, you might be married to some guy who doesn't get you. And I know you're scared. I know you're scared that we'll only hurt each other that this could be the worst decision we could ever make but I don't care. I get that now."
"I love you, Jade. And I know I shouldn't be saying any of this to you. You're... You're in a relationship and I'm not the kind of guy to do this. Or at least, I've never had to. Except for now. For you. I hope you understand that. I hope you understand that I'm done saying goodbye. I'm done with distance. I'm done with not being with you... All right?"
"Say something. Please."
"Yeah... All right."
"Okay. All right is good."
"So... what do we do now?"
"Now? Now, you open the door."
"So. I love you."
"I love you, too. And stop smiling like a smug asshole."
The prompt is cheating.