A/N: Sequel to The Black Hat, as mentioned in the summary. I received a lot of questions if I'd write a sequel, so here it is. I didn't add it as a second chapter since I personally think the first part can stand well on its own, but for everyone who didn't like the open ending and wanted to know what I imagined happened to Tori... this is for you.
Disclaimer: Besides the plot I own nothing, sadly. Not even a black hat. :(
It was raining the day I got back to L.A.. Just a light drizzle, but enough to make the asphalt look darker than it actually was and the air to take on the unmistakable moist smell of an early morning full of rain.
I loved mornings like that. It had something so… calm about it, so incredibly serene. The way the sun would hide behind a gray cloud, making the edges of it shine with a yellow glow. The way the air smelled and the sound of tiny little raindrops trickling down from the ledge of a house. And sometimes, there would even be a faint rainbow, stretching across the sky in wonderful greens and blues and reds. I just loved those mornings.
"Tori, close the window. I don't want bugs to take over my apartment."
I sighed into the mild morning air, let my eyes sweep over the busy street one last time and reluctantly stepped back to close the window. I heard Trina shuffle around behind me, probably taking care of my luggage, but I didn't turn around. A faint smudge appeared on the smooth glass where I gently touched my fingertips to it. I wiped it away with the sleeve of my white shirt. She was somewhere out there. Was she at work right now? If so, where did she work now? Or maybe she was still lying in bed, completely oblivious to the outside world, listening to the steady fall of the rain and gentle pitter-patter against her window. I wished I was there with her. Snuggled deep into the warm covers of her bed, black hair tickling my nose as I held her close, her back tightly pressed to my front. I'd listen to her breathe, stroke my fingers over the hand I'd be holding.
"What?" I sighed again and finally removed myself from the window, although very hesitantly. Looking out into the busy city made me feel closer to her somehow. When I turned around, my eyes fell on my sister's face. She frowned at me. I knew she knew what I was thinking about. "So, when are you going to go see her?"
I knew it. "I don't know. Soon."
Trina sighed. "Tori, seriously. That's what you came back for, you should-"
"Trina, I literally just got off the plane. Would you let me catch my breath?"
"I'm just saying," she defended herself and held her hands up. "You've been gone for over two years and she probably thinks you're dead or whatever. I think it's time for her to know that you're not. Who knows, maybe she's like, still super depressed and just desperately waits for a sign."
"Oh, great. Thanks. Way to make me feel good about myself." It had been no easy decision. Leaving Jade had been one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. I knew it would hurt her, I knew she wouldn't understand. But leaving seemed to be the only thing that would maybe help her, just in the slightest. I had felt that my time was running out. Everything had gotten so much harder to do, every step more difficult to take. I was so tired all the time. I could practically feel my heart beating slower. And after a visit to my doctor, I had found out that I was right. My heart had gotten weaker and really… it had just been a matter of time. But I wanted Jade to remember me the way I was. Happy, strong and still having plans and hope for the future. I didn't want her to see me die. I couldn't do that to her. I had really believed that it was the best thing I could have done in that situation. But now, as I took a seat on Trina's sofa, I realized that it really had been over two years. I left her alone for over two years without telling her that I was okay. That I got another chance to live my life. "It's just… I'm scared, Trina. What if… what if she doesn't want me anymore? What if she fell out of love with me? What if… she can't forgive me for what I did to her?"
I looked over at my sister, just as she was sitting down next to me. "First of all," she started, "those are all just what if's. And some of them are stupid what if's." I looked at my lap. They weren't stupid. They were possible, very much so. "You don't just fall out of love with someone that easily. Even if she wanted to, I don't think she just stopped loving you."
"Well… but what if she found someone else?"
"Then you're going to kick that bitch or dude or whatever she has drooling over her to the farthest place in the universe." I failed at hiding the huge smile my sister's words had managed to tickle out of me. Leave it to her to make everything in the world seem as easy as brushing your teeth. But what if there was someone else now? My smile faltered. I couldn't just expect her to leave her life behind so that she could be with me again. It didn't work that way. "Just… put some faith in her, okay? Put some faith in yourself. There's absolutely no need for you to be scared."
But still, one question stayed unanswered. And for a long time I stayed quiet, scared of the answer, and pretended to listen to whatever Trina was telling me about a dress she saw in a store. But my head was elsewhere, debating whether or not asking that question would be a good idea. The answer could either bring me new, fresh hope, the strength I needed for my upcoming encounter with Jade. Or it could crush my insides and cause me to be even more terrified of what might happen. But either way, I needed to know. So when Trina got up to get something to eat, I stopped her before she could disappear into the kitchen. I stared at her for a long while before I even had the courage to really think about what impact her answer would have on me. Just as her patience was slipping, words fell out of my mouth, way too quietly. "Do you really think she will forgive me?"
Trina's face grew sympathetic, her eyes delivering something I couldn't seem to decipher. I decided it wasn't a good thing. "She loves you. Love is forgiving."
But that wasn't the answer I was looking for.
Three days later, I stood in front of the big gray building in which Jade still lived. I knew she did. I had been here every single day since I got back, sitting in my car, trying to pluck up the courage to go and see her. One time I had managed to get as far as to the door, my eyes gluing themselves to the nameplate with 'West' written on it. I hadn't been able to ring the doorbell though. I ran back to my car when I heard a noise from inside and ducked behind the steering wheel. I waited and waited but no one came out. I had been too scared to go back then.
But this time, this time I wouldn't chicken out. I would step up to the door and ring the doorbell. Right now. The skin around my throat seemed to tighten, tighter and tighter. Images of how it could go flashed through my mind at such a fast pace, almost none of those scenarios benefiting me. What would I do if she really didn't want to see me anymore? If she was really so hurt and disappointed in me that she'd tell me that she hates me and never wanted to have anything to do with me again? I tried to squeeze a breath through my tightening throat, closing my eyes, pressing my hand flatly to the narrow wall next to the door. I could do this. If I wouldn't do this now, I'd regret it for the rest of my life.
I needed her.
I wanted her.
I loved her.
My finger briefly pressed the button next to Jade's last name, a shaky breath rushing out of my mouth as I imagined I could hear the doorbell up in Jade's apartment. This was it. I'd see her again. A smile began to stretch across my face. I'd see her again. Even if she hated me now… this would be worth it because I'd see her face again, hear her voice after such a long time again. It would be okay. It just had to be. A light buzz made it possible for me to push the door open, leading me into the still so familiar hallway. I took the stairs I knew would lead me up to Jade, my hand sliding over the banister as I took one slow step after another.
The door was standing open.
It was now or never, lose or gain.
My heart furiously pounded in my chest as I stepped up to the wide open door, my breath accelerating to the point where I thought I might faint or even die right on the spot. But everything was forgotten when I got a first glimpse of her. She flitted through her living room, wearing my hat, her back to me as she said, "I'm done in a second, Beck."
I opened my mouth to tell her I wasn't the person she was expecting but pressed my lips together instead. 'No Jade, it's Tori.' Were those really the words I'd say to her after two years? Wasn't it better to use… something meaningful, something that would tell her immediately who I was? What I said however, wasn't meaningful. It was probably the dumbest thing I could have thought of. But at least it worked.
"Hey stranger," I greeted softly. I saw her tense all over, freezing over her coffee table with her back curved and hand reaching for her keys. I heard as well as saw a rush of air pouring out of her and anxiously waited in silence.
Please turn around, Jade. Please.
After only a couple of seconds, she did. She stood up straight and turned around almost as if she heard me plead in my head, making my breath catch and nearly causing my heart to stop. Her hair was shorter. But that was the only change I could see. Her skin was still deliciously pale, uniquely for someone who lived in L.A. their entire life. Her eyes still lit up the room with their shining intensity and reminded me of all those times I wanted to drown in them, wanted to drown in her. She was still breathtakingly gorgeous. I breathed out a laugh as I felt my eyes burn with a thin layer of tears.
"You're still so gorgeous," I said and took a tentative step further into the room. The air all around us seemed to thicken, not necessarily in a bad way but far from good for sure. I swallowed and my smile slowly dropped. Of course I knew this would come as a shock to her. After all, she probably thought that I was dead already. But why didn't she say anything? I needed her to say something, even if she'd start to yell at me, even if she'd throw things at me. That would have been a million times better than having her shocked wide eyes fixed on me without a sound coming out of her open mouth. But then her breathing suddenly quickened, from one moment to the next, and her eyes widened even more. I knew I had to calm her down somehow but I was scared that if I got too close to her, it would only make everything worse. So I tried my best from where I was standing in front of the open door, resisting every fiber in my body to gather her into my arms. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have blindsided you like that. I- Please calm down? I don't- I don't know what to do. A-Are you having a panic attack?"
She shook her head vigorously but was it really normal for someone's breathing to be that fast? Screw staying away from her. I rushed over to her in quick strides until I could see the panic in her pretty blue eyes and quickly wrapped my hands around her forearms, immediately feeling how stiff she was. "Jade, please calm down. You're worrying me."
Her lips quivered up and down as she tried to say something but everything that came out was a broken whimper, mixed with a shaky breath. I felt so bad that I was the reason she was feeling like this and probably wouldn't even be able to calm her down. My hands moved up her arms, brushing over the soft black lace sleeves of her shirt, up her shoulders until they cupped her face. I pulled her a little closer and noticed her stumble over her feet in the process. "Shhh. Calm down, baby. It's fine. It's me, it's Tori. I'm not going to hurt you. Please-"
She moved closer, and closer still. My words got caught in my throat, my breath hitching when I realized what she was about to do. I felt her warm breath on my lips but the long-awaited brush of her mouth against mine didn't come. She stayed still and so did I, almost scared of moving, of even blinking in case it would set her off again. Even through my clothing Jade's touch managed to make goosebumps erupt all over my skin as her hands slowly – a little hesitantly – trailed up my arms, down, then up again so she could cup my elbows in her palms. It was then that she moved forward. Then that she kissed me.
Oh God, how much I had missed kissing her.
Almost as soon as our lips touched, every tense muscle in Jade's body relaxed and she all but melted into me. We fit together so perfectly, we always did. I was relieved that that hadn't changed. It began slow, the kiss. Jade's lips moved against mine so languidly, so freaking passionately and slow that it almost drove me completely nuts. My hands slid down to her neck where I felt her pulse wildly puckering against my fingertips. She pulled away for a short moment, only a tiny, tiny inch, her mouth standing open and quiet gasps entering my own, warming and simultaneously breaking all my insides. It lasted only a second or two though – thankfully – before Jade connected our lips again, but this time, in a much more frenzied fashion. I let out a low moan when she moved her hands from my elbows and wrapped them around my body to press me against herself. She was in my veins, the blood in my body fueled by only her as it pumped through my heart, through every artery and every capillary. Jade's breathing got heavier, the hat got knocked to the floor, my hair completely messed up and our hearts finally beat in harmony with each other again. Although, I didn't think they had ever stopped.
I thought everything was going to be okay.
I was stupid to be so naïve.
The silence had been going on for way too long now.
Jade's stare didn't waver once as she looked at me with a blank expression, only those two muscles on either side of her jaw telling me that she was trying hard to keep herself together. However I didn't know if she tried to stop herself from crying or wanting to punch me in the face. I bit my lip when I let my eyes drop to her crossed arms, her nails digging into them so tightly that I could almost feel the pain it must have caused her.
She hadn't talked since the doorbell had interrupted us. While I stood still after she had ripped herself away from me, the feeling of her lips against mine still so prominent, she mumbled out a quiet curse, then buzzed whoever was downstairs at the door in. Her breathing had filled out the silence that rested upon us so heavily and I had wondered if she heard my breaths too. With her hand gripping the edge of the still open door and hair falling around her face like a thick black curtain she had waited for her visitor to come up the stairs. I would never forget the look on Beck's face as he saw me standing in the middle of Jade's living room. But all he had been able to do was mutter out my name in that utterly confused tone before Jade shoved him back out into the hallway. I could faintly hear her telling him that it wasn't a good time now before she slammed the door in his face.
And here I was now, still standing in the same exact spot, while Jade had moved over to the window to lean against the sill of it. But it was enough now. I couldn't do this anymore. I needed to hear her talk to me, I needed to let her know what had happened and most importantly I needed her to know that I never wanted to hurt her.
I stopped when she shook her head. She inhaled deeply before letting the air pour out of her body as slowly as she could. I stayed quiet. I really was in no position to hurry her along. "You're alive." It wasn't what I had expected to come out of her mouth, but at least she spoke.
She shook her head again. "Well, how's that possible?"
I tried to smile in an attempt to ease the tense atmosphere but the way Jade was looking at me, so blankly, was not making anything any easier. "I… got a donor. It's over, Jade. I don't… I'm healthy again."
The various emotions that flickered over her face in just a span of seconds were piercing through me like a sharp dagger as they changed from one into another. There was surprise first, closely followed by happiness. The tip of the sharp blade barely brushed the center of my chest as confusion took a hold of her but pierced through my skin, through my bones as she realized, and confusion turned into anger, anger turned into disbelief and that… turned into deep and raw hurt. "You have," she paused and I dared to glance down at her arms again, where her nails were still digging into her flesh so deeply, "a new heart?"
I sent her a nod in response. Her nostrils lightly flared, the tense muscles around her mouth twitched occasionally and… Jesus, the way she looked at me. So angry. So unbelieving. So incredibly hurt. I heard her release a long breath. "When?" she pushed out through gritted teeth, causing my eyebrows to furrow.
"When did you get a new heart?"
"Oh. Um… About a year ago."
"A year ago," she repeated, nodding calmly, "So that means… that you knew, you know, a year ago that you would be able to live. That you won't die."
I knew where she was going with this. It was the exact reason I dreaded seeing her. "Well… no, not exactly. I mean, there could have gone so many things wrong, you know? It was a heart surgery after all and I… yeah."
"Huh. That's right."
She pushed herself off and began walking toward me and really, this was the first time since meeting her that I was seriously intimidated by Jade. There was just something… unpredictable about her in that moment that made me clench my hands together and take my bottom lip between my teeth. But when she came to a stop in front of me, her right foot standing between both of mine, eyes staring at me in a way that was so unfamiliar, she stayed quiet. Again. And I stared back, softly, pleadingly, my teeth increasing the pressure on my lip.
"Do you know how crazy I went after you left?" She dragged her gaze all over my face before she settled on my eyes again. I swallowed. "I turned this freaking city upside down, multiple times. I forced my friends to help me search every little nook of every stupid alley. No one knew anything. Your parents' house was empty. I didn't know where your sister lived. God!" She began laughing quietly, eyes closed, hands running through her hair. My lip slid out from between my teeth. "How many nights I spent walking along the stupid shore in case you were there somewhere! God, and now… now-" I let out a small gasp as she grabbed my arms and pulled me forward. "-you come prancing in here like no time has passed at all."
"That's not true," I said feebly, my eyes not knowing where to look as Jade yanked me even closer so that our noses were only inches apart. I knew she wouldn't hurt me but that didn't stop me from feeling afraid. "I know it's not that easy. Just… I needed to see you and I… Jade, I love you."
"Yeah, and that's why you left me," she snarled before she moved toward the window again. I could still feel the pressure of her fingertips throbbing through my upper arms. "Because you love me."
The way she spit the word so bitterly, as if this was just all a big joke to me, caused the anger to rise in me too. "I do! And yes, that's why I left you! Because I didn't want you to see me die!"
Her eyes flashed at me as she whirled around. "Then why didn't you at least call me when you got your new heart? It really would have been nice to know that you're still alive!"
"I told you! A lot of things could have gone wrong, Jade! Something could have gone wrong during surgery or, I could have gotten sick or- or my body could have rejected the organ! I wanted to be hundred percent sure that my heart was functioning properly and that I really could live my life before I'd come to see you."
While her eyes closed and her mouth released a loud breath, her hands took a hold of the windowsill behind her. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes again and tiredly asked, "And now, why are you here? What are you expecting, Tori?"
"I'm… I'm not expecting anything." I halted. That was a lie. I did expect something. "I just want you to listen to me. I'll tell you everything you want to know. I promise."
I didn't need words from her. I knew, just by the way her hold on the windowsill slacked, by the softening of her eyes, that she was ready. She would listen to me.
We sat across from each other, with only the little brown coffee table separating us, our eyes locked as I started.
"I didn't tell you the whole truth. You knew I wasn't feeling very well and I knew that you… were already bracing yourself. You thought I was dying and you were right about that. I had an appointment at the hospital I didn't tell you about. They told me it didn't look very good for me. And of course I knew that, I didn't need anyone telling me. I knew it was getting a lot worse. I… tried to hide it from you as best as I could but it was… getting harder."
"You should have never hid it from me, Tori. You-"
"I know. I know." I didn't think retelling the entire story to her would be so hard. I was wrong. Everything still felt so fresh, no matter how much time had passed. There was still a huge wound and Jade was the only one who was able to heal it. Only problem was: she had her own wound to take care of. I wondered how big hers was. "But I knew I was going to die, sooner than… than I…"
"Sooner than what?"
I let out a long sigh before I found the strength to continue. "I resigned to the fact that my life would end sooner than those of other people my age. I accepted it, Jade. It was the way it was. But then… then I met you and everything was so… wonderful and I just couldn't accept it anymore. I couldn't let go of you."
"Oh, you couldn't let go of me? Really?" She let out another one of her bitter laughs, one of those that would have never came in contact with me two years ago. I hated how things had changed. "You did though. You left. You did let go of me."
"But only because I saw how much you were hurting already! Do you think it was easy for me? It- it wasn't, okay! But I knew… I knew if I left and you wouldn't know what had happened to me… that it would be easier for you than if I stayed and you had to watch me die."
She rose from her seat and again, her hands were in her hair, tugging, scraping, running through it. For a short moment I imagined I could hear the whistle of a teakettle as I was sure the anger Jade felt toward me was boiling up inside of her, scalding all her insides. "It was my decision. My decision to be with you. My decision if I wanted to 'watch you die' or not! And you took that from me!" Her chest rose and sank with the intensity of her breaths as she let her hands fall to her side. She then rounded the table without ever taking her eyes off me. "Do you understand that, Tori? You took that decision from me. I want to hate you for that."
I found myself unable to respond to that and for the longest while we stared at each other as she sat down next to me. I wanted to tell her so many things. That I was sorry, that I loved her, that I couldn't bear the thought of her hating me, that hurting her was the farthest thing from my mind even if that was all my absence did to her. But everything I thought of sounded awfully pathetic. So I stayed quiet and tried to deliver everything I found myself unable to say through my eyes. I had no idea if it worked or not but after a couple of minutes – or maybe it were only seconds – Jade sighed briefly before she asked, "What happened then?"
"I told my parents that I wanted to move," I said softly, "I told them why. Because I knew you would search for me and… I… They hated the idea of me moving somewhere far away, where they couldn't be with me when… you know. My dad asked the station to relocate him. His boss didn't hesitate long. I guess he… took pity. So they relocated him. To Colorado." I smiled a little. "I thought it was fate. I remembered all the stories you told me about winter there and I wondered if someone up in heaven wanted me to have a part of you with me, even if you were so far away from me. You were right. It's so beautiful when everything's white."
Jade's eyes dropped to her lap where her fingers gently fiddled with each other. She looked almost like a little kid then, so sad and… small. It was weird seeing her like that. "It was a really cold night. There was a small blizzard when we got the call. They finally had a heart for me. We couldn't believe it, I mean, I was sure I was going to die. I had to spent the majority of my time in bed because I was feeling so miserable and… well, it was kinda rescue at the last second. Everything went so fast after that. We immediately rushed to the hospital and… I went into surgery."
"That fast?" I sent her a smile and a nod when she peered up at me.
"Once you're off the waiting list everything happens in a blur."
"And everything… went well? The surgery? No complications?"
"No. My new heart was beating, my body didn't reject it and… after about three weeks of staying in the hospital I was allowed to go home. I know it sounds stupid… but I felt… so new and alive. I could just feel the difference. It was like there was a whole set of drums in my chest after having only had a single bongo inside of me for so long."
The quiet chuckle that fell out of Jade's mouth caused the drums in my chest to play wildly, the drum sticks hitting them to a tune only Jade could manage to evoke inside of me. "A bongo," she mused, talking more to herself than to me, "So I always got a free concert, huh? What an honor."
A grin began to make its way onto my face because this was the first time since I was here that she was talking normally to me, even joking with me. There was no hard look in her eyes, neither was she blaming me for anything. Instead, she smiled and looked at me in the same way as she used to. But just as I was really beginning to hope, something changed. A frown took residence on her face as if she just realized something incredibly upsetting. Who knows, maybe she had. "So you're fine now."
"Of course I still need to take pills and go to checkups once in a while but… I'm healthy, Jade. I'm going to live." My words seemed to do nothing to ease the tense muscles of her face. It made me incredibly nervous. "I can grow old with you now… if you still want me, that is."
And that… had absolutely been the wrong thing to say.
"Well, isn't someone making it easy," she barked sourly, "You've done nothing but lie to me, Tori-"
"Let me speak…" I shut my mouth, more out of fear than anything else. "You kept your illness from me for six freaking months. Then you lied about that stupid doctor's appointment and how bad you actually felt. And the cherry on top… you leave me with nothing but a stupid hat! Oh, oh and then you get a donor and don't even find the decency in you to let me know that you're alive!"
"I was thinking about you every second, I couldn't think about anything else!"
She scoffed. "Oh great, another lie."
It was when she stood up and turned away that I felt warm tears sliding down my cheeks. When I really felt the extent of the impact me leaving had had on Jade. When I realized that Jade wouldn't turn around to dry my tears. "It's not a lie. Please…" It went back and forth for a while. She threw accusations at me while I begged for her forgiveness. Her voice got louder while mine grew quiet. My heart broke while hers… probably did too. It had taken a while until we both had calmed down but after everything seemed to have been said, the room was dipped into a hauntingly quiet air.
It was almost startling when Jade spoke up.
I hadn't looked at her since we both grew silent, too scared of the possible hatred I could have found in her eyes, but when I turned my gaze I was shocked to find a lone tear glistening against her pale skin. "What?"
"Go," she said without looking at me, "Leave me alone."
I desperately wanted to argue with her. This couldn't be over, I thought. It was unfair. She couldn't hate me for something I did to protect her. For something I did to spare her of something that could have possibly hurt her way more than me leaving would have ever had. I did it out of love for her, she had to see that. But none of that left my mouth. I saw no other choice. I stood up.
And then I left.
"You were wrong." The sound of the laughing track and the words spoken inside of the TV barely even registered in my head, the figures of Ross and Chandler only a mere blur in front of my eyes. "Love isn't forgiving."
Trina's knee bumped my leg as she shifted beside me. "You're just too impatient."
"What if she hates me though? If she's never going to be able to trust me again?"
The thought alone brought tears to my eyes.
There was a sigh next to me. I kept my blurred vision fixed on the screen, my eyes slowly starting to burn. "There you go again with your 'what if's'." She put her chin on my shoulder but stayed quiet. Minutes passed without her saying anything and I almost thought she got back to watching the show when she gently muttered, "Easy is for idiots, Tori. It's going to be hard. But no matter how much time she needs and how much it's going to hurt… it's going to be worth it."
She pulled me into a hug then and I let my tears fall into the crook of her neck while the laughing track kept playing. Trina was right.
She was worth it.
The next morning, the sky still dark, I went back to Jade's apartment.
I didn't ring the bell. Instead I slipped a note into her mailbox.
I love you.
Let me earn your love back.
Today, at the café at five.
I was a nervous wreck.
My feet were tapping along to the impossibly fast rhythm of my heart, my nails joining in every now and then. I pushed the button on my phone to light up the screen and felt my heart sink when I got a look at the time.
Was she really not coming? I thought I might die if that would really be the case. The waitress that tried to get me to order something when I came in a little less than half an hour ago was eyeing me again but I paid her no mind. Again I pushed the button on my phone.
Various of things could have had happened. Just because she wasn't here yet didn't mean that she wouldn't come. Or that she wouldn't want to see me. Maybe she got stuck in traffic. Maybe she was just as nervous as I was and she was standing around the corner, pacing up and down the sidewalk while she tried to calm down enough to come in. Or maybe something came up or she just didn't have time today. She didn't have my new phone number, neither did she know where I lived so she had no way of letting me know.
The little bell above the door rang at exactly 5.07 pm and every bit of anxiety in my body doubled when I saw Jade stroll in. Our eyes immediately met which caused my breath to hitch and Jade to stop for a short moment. My lips curved into a hopeful smile, one which Jade did not return. She walked over to the booth I was sitting in and slid into the seat across from me. "I'm here," she stated, slumping against the backrest.
"Yeah. I'm glad." I smiled and while I glanced down at the table, I quietly added, "I was scared you wouldn't show up." I remembered telling her these words in front of this very café. How scared I had been that this girl, this girl that captivated me so much, wouldn't show up, that the whole thing was way more important to me than it was to her. But when I had seen her eyes, glinting at me so invitingly, I had felt so incredibly relieved, so happy. It was the same now, only that I was ten times more nervous.
The waitress hindered her from responding. "What can I bring you two?"
"A hot chocolate and a black coffee with two sugars." As soon as the blonde left to get our drinks I turned back to Jade. "That… was right, wasn't it? You still drink your coffee like that."
She nodded. "I'm sorry that I yelled at you yesterday," she muttered with a frown on her face. "I was angry. I mean, I still don't like what you did but… I guess I went a little overboard."
"You didn't. I understand that it was a little too much."
"Good. Then you will understand that I don't want to talk about yesterday anymore. I don't want to hear about old hearts and new hearts; I don't want to hear of anything that happened with you in the last two years."
"That's-" I broke off when the waitress brought our orders and stayed quiet until she left again. "That's fine. We can… talk about you instead. What's happening in the life of Jade West? Has Hollywood already knocked on your door?"
"That's not a good topic, either."
"Oh." I didn't know what that meant. I looked at her sipping her coffee and wondered if there was anything I was allowed to talk about. The weather maybe. That was probably a safe enough thing. But even with that, I couldn't be sure. "Jade, I'm sorry," I blurted out and brought her attention to snap away from her coffee and focus on me. "I'm sorry for everything I ever did wrong. A-and I'm not talking about yesterday, I'm just talking… in general. But I just want you to know that I love you and… that that will never change."
If she was surprised by my sudden outburst she didn't show it. She calmly lowered her cup to the table, eyes unreadable as she looked at me. "Well, that's nice. But you know, there's still that one question in my mind that just won't leave. How the hell am I supposed to trust you now?" My brows furrowed as I let her continue. "For all I know, you will disappear again when the smallest bump arises. I mean, that's what you do, isn't it, Tori? Run away when it gets hard."
"No- Jade, I promise you I won't leave again."
"Right. You'll just keep secrets from me because you don't trust me either. So I guess we're the perfect match. You don't trust me, I don't trust you anymore."
"What are you talking about? I do trust you."
"If you really trusted me you wouldn't have felt the need to leave! You would have let me stay with you. You would have let me know that you were getting a new fucking heart!"
It wasn't me who started talking about it and she seemed to realize that too as she stopped with an exasperated breath, her index and middle finger massaging the center of her forehead. "You just broke your own rule," I shyly murmured and watched her hand fall to the table. She looked out into the café as she shook her head.
"I know." I carefully sipped my hot chocolate but kept my gaze on the woman sitting opposite from me. The turmoil that was going on inside of her was etched into the curve of her mouth and made faint lines appear on her forehead, shaping her face into a deep frown. "I'm so… mad at you, Tori. I don't even want to be but I am."
"I know. You can be."
"Really? Can I?" I stayed quiet as her eyes shot to me. Not because I wanted this to be dramatic. I just didn't know what she wanted me to say. "Doesn't that make me a horrible person, someone who's- who's ungrateful, and who's acting like a bitch even though her girlfriend only wanted to protect her? Who can't appreciate the second chance she gets because she's just too damn stubborn? Doesn't it, Tori? Because it sure as hell feels like it."
A wave of something that could almost resemble fear, maybe it was worry or desperation or maybe both, washed over her face before a huge breath left her mouth. Her head fell into her hands. "Jesus, I need some air."
"Then let's get some."
It was as if I was reliving the past, a flashback of some sorts, only that now everything was different. The woman walking next to me wasn't a stranger anymore and yet, in a weird way it seemed like she was. I hoped it wouldn't stay that way forever. The gentle breeze the ocean carried to the shore seemed to help Jade, as she took deep lungfuls of air while her feet softly padded across the sand. I gave her the time she so obviously needed and refrained from saying even one word. Eventually, my patience was rewarded.
"By the way," she said, turning to me. She looked better now, not nearly as upset as she did back in the café. "Do you want your hat back?"
I smiled and shrugged. "It's yours now. Besides, you look way better with it than I ever did."
"Don't be so sure about that," she muttered and shot me a short glance, the faintest hint of a smile on her lips.
"You know… I'll do anything to prove to you that I'm sorry. That I still want you."
"What do you want me to do? Hm? Want me to run into the ocean for you? I'll do it, right now." She stayed quiet. "Or… do you want me to dig a hole so you can bury me in it? Oh! Or I could strip naked and run up and down Hollywood Boulevard." Again there was only silence that answered me, her head only slightly shaking from side to side. "Okay then. The ocean it is."
I stopped, walked straight past her, determined eyes fixed ahead, but before I could step my sneaker clad feet into the wet sand, I was yanked back and collided into a soft body. My breathing slowed as I turned my head only the slightest bit to the right and found Jade's lips to be so unbelievingly close. Her hold on my wrist didn't loosen, her skin burning mine so pleasantly, just like it always had.
Nothing changed. Everything was still so thrillingly electrifying.
"Don't," she muttered into my ear, her voice so husky and low. I leaned back into her, feeling her breath on my cheek, her curves pressing just below my shoulder blades.
"I'd do it for you," I whispered and flicked my gaze up to her eyes. I turned my head a little more, causing the tips of our noses to almost brush. "I'd drown for you."
"Don't say that," she pleaded after leaning her head against my shoulder. Even through the fabric of my shirt could I feel the gentle warmth of her lips. "You're not allowed to talk about any form of death." Her eyes closed, her mouth blew out a shaky breath and I wondered if she fought the urge to cry. "You're not allowed to die, also."
I chuckled and brushed my nose against the top of her head. "That's a pretty hard task you expect me to accomplish."
But if that was what she wanted from me, if that was what would bring her to forgive me, then I'd try everything in my might to make that happen.
The impossible was just worthy enough of Jade.
Nothing went back to normal right away. We were still very far away from being the way we were, but that was actually okay with me. Jade defrosted, slowly, and got used to the fact that I wasn't going to leave again. Still, she refused to make it easy for me.
Not even hugs.
I restarted at zero. I started out as simply a friend.
The trust issues she had in me apparently went deeper than I had initially expected. But like Trina had said, easy was for idiots. I made it my goal to gain her trust back, to earn her love again.
"What are you doing for Christmas this year?"
She looked up at me with her glittering eyes, narrowing them a bit at my question. "Probably the same I do every year. Eat cookies Cat makes me and sit on my couch watching one lame Christmas movie after another."
My smile faltered a bit. I didn't quite understand how Jade's family worked, probably because my own was so different from hers. I felt a sting in my heart every time Jade mentioned her parents, her voice often lacking any emotion. That same sting went through my chest, only a lot worse, when I found out that Jade would be spending Christmas alone. That she had done so for who knows how long. But I vowed to myself that it would be different for her this time around. Because she had me now.
"Well… would you like to spend it with me?" She looked at me as if I had two heads. I didn't think my suggestion was so inconceivable, so completely impossible for Jade's mind to comprehend, but apparently that was exactly what it was to her.
"I'm sorry… what?"
"I don't think you should be alone on Christmas. It's a family holiday and… if your family is too stupid to appreciate you then… mine would welcome you with open arms." Her eyebrows tugged down in a ridiculously adorable fashion. I moved over to sit down next to her, shot her a hopeful smile and lifted my left shoulder in a shrug. "Trina and I are flying out to our parents. They'd love to meet you, Trina of course too. And… that way you'd have… a white Christmas again."
After months of holding back, of not doing or saying anything that might startle her, asking her to spend the holidays with me and my family was a risky move. I knew it could backfire. I knew she could get the wrong impression, think that I only invited her to mend things between us. And maybe I did, a little bit. But first and foremost, I wanted her to have the Christmas she probably always dreamed of.
"I'll consider it," she said crisply, momentarily finishing the topic. It was an answer I should have expected, yet, I couldn't help but be a little disappointed.
That same evening however, my phone buzzed with a new text message.
I'm not gonna sleep in the same bed as you, just to be clear.
Those few words were all that I needed. I dreamt of her that night, her hair such a stark contrast to the blinding white of the snow.
In only a few weeks, that would be reality.
I had never seen Jade's eyes sparkle the way they did when they took in the thick blanket of snow covering the streets and roofs of every house. Her lips formed the gentlest of smiles as she pressed her hand to the window of the taxi and I think mine did too while I watched the contentment, yes, the wonder you'd see on a little child's face, flash across hers as little snowflakes started falling from the sky.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Trina smirk at us from her place in the front seat.
My mom and dad loved her.
They were smothering her with the same love Trina and I always received, with the exception that my mother hugged her for a little bit longer, a little bit tighter. The warm smile she shot me over Jade's stiff shoulder was enough for my face to heat up.
Everything seemed to overwhelm Jade a little at first.
The way we acted around each other and even the way we simply talked to each other, just like a normal family normally did, was confusing her. Traditions we had like hanging up a mistletoe, – where she got caught under with my dad, who kissed her on the cheek – eating dinner together or simply decorating the house with colorful lights and a Christmas tree was something she only ever saw in movies.
On Christmas Eve, we were all seated around in the living room as Jade disappeared upstairs for a few moments. It was quiet when she came back, my mom reading a book in the recliner, Trina sitting next to me on the sofa doing a crossword puzzle and my dad and I only half-heartedly watching an old Christmas movie. All eyes flew to her when she cleared her throat but her own gaze was firmly locked on me.
"I, um… wanted to give you my Christmas present now if that's okay." She took a look around the room as if she really needed the permission. I saw my mom smile and nod at her, which made Jade turn back to me and reveal what she had hidden behind her back. My eyes dropped to the black hat in her hands. "I just, I want to get it over with because I'm really bad at this stuff. It's not new, I know, and technically it's already yours," she explained softly and handed the hat over to me. I smiled and let my fingers touch the soft but firm fabric. I really had missed it. "But… I don't know, I just think it's wrong if I keep it. And you were wrong. It looks way better when… you wear it."
The room was filled with incredibly quiet silence, save for the TV in the background and my heartbeat going crazy. "Thanks, Jade, I… it's great. I love it. I really, really do."
She looked so uncomfortable, so nervous, so out of place. I couldn't help but love her even more for it. "Yeah. Well, okay. I'm… I'm going to bed then."
Everyone's eyes were on me, I knew that, but only when I heard the door upstairs close did I acknowledge my family's teasing stares. "Shut up, will you?"
My dad held his hands up, smile in place. "No one said anything…"
"Your thoughts are loud enough," I mumbled and felt my face heat up. But one look at the hat in my lap made my lips stretch into a smile.
Maybe everything would be alright.
"My family adores you."
She glanced at me with a light smirk. "Do they?"
She turned back to look into the abandoned park, the tiny white snowflakes making sure to cover every inch of the playground across from us. I could see the hesitation in her frowning face before she quietly asked what had been on her mind.
"And do you?"
I didn't think she had to ask that. "You know the answer."
"'Adore' doesn't even come close to the way I feel about you."
I grinned. Never had I seen anyone blush so brightly in my life.
She had me pressed against the doorway of my room, her lips taking my breath away as she kissed me with an urgency that I gladly returned. I only wasted one second thinking about my family we ditched at the New Year's Eve party before I devoted all my attention to Jade and her incredibly talented mouth.
I couldn't quite remember how we ended up here. All I knew was that I dragged her away from the mass of people, who were mingling in the big house of some of my parents' friends, to be alone with her. We went outside, walked and talked with our hands intertwined until we stood in front of my parents' house with no idea how we got there.
And then, those little sparks of orange fire crackling between us were impossible to ignore anymore and everything… just happened. "I thought you didn't want to sleep in the same bed as me," I murmured breathlessly after we stumbled into my room, Jade kicking the door shut behind her. I released a shaky breath when my hat was knocked off and my sweater found a new home on the floor.
"I changed my mind," she said simply before we tumbled onto the bed, getting lost in each other.
It almost felt like the first time.
She lay on top of me, ear pressed to my chest while I lazily brushed my fingers up and down her naked back. The corners of my lips lifted when I turned to my window at the first bang that sounded and my eyes took in the bright colors exploding in the dark sky. One look at the clock told me that the New Year had officially begun.
I grinned and turned back to Jade when she lifted her upper body. "Happy New Year," she whispered and connected our lips in a soft kiss, hopefully the first of many. I wished her the same, mumbling against her mouth, giggling when I felt her move even closer. We parted, ridiculous smiles on both of our faces. What a cheesy moment that was. But I wouldn't trade it for the world.
"So what's your New Year's resolution?"
I thought about it for a moment, then I smirked. "Probably trying not to die."
Jade scoffed. "You'd better not."
Then she kissed me again, with the fireworks still exploding and people outside celebrating a fresh start.
At the time unbeknownst to me, two years later I would propose to her, late in the evening and in the middle of a snow-covered street. It would be unexpected, take her completely off guard. But her answer would be obvious.
I knew a girl once. She wears my last name now.