There was no one moment that stood out to Phillip Chbeeb as to when he got irreversibly attached to Jeanine Mason. There was a whole mess of them, looped together. The irony of that was kind of awesome.
He thinks he remembers her in Vegas, jumping up into a split and bending her leg back crazily, looking insanely hot. But there were a lot of girls like that during Vegas Week and he'd spent most of his time there making sure he didn't get pneumonia again and saying goodbye to Arielle.
He remembers being next to Jeanine after the Top 20 had been chosen and the group was all crammed together for the camera, jumping and shouting. Maybe that's the first moment, being pressed against her shoulder and feeling like he was gonna explode.
Later, he got her name and she recognised him from last season. They talked about college and dancing and he tried to teach her some popping as they were driven to Hollywood. She'd laughed a lot. It felt comfortable. Then there was finding out she was his partner and her shriek when she saw him, legs wrapped tight around his waist. More than hard to forget.
Hip-hop for their first dance brought them close together pretty quickly. Jeanine was nervous, not wanting to let him down or look stupid when she was so out of her element. Tabitha and Napoleon worked them both really hard and Jeanine had worried and talked and talked. Philip teased her and hugged her and danced with her. She was a lot better than she thought. She kicked ass.
They ended up next to each other most nights at dinner, knee to knee and elbow to elbow. She'd steal his hat and he'd snag her fries, and they'd both laugh when Caitlin made Jason jump with her sudden dinosaur screech around a corner. The houses had quickly become like families, people complaining about dirty dishes and use of the bathroom.
Philip got nervous before each live show and Jeanine was always right there, talking and talking and pulling crazy faces that laughed him out of his nerves, just for a moment. And he'd do the same for her, wrapping her in a hug whenever she got really quiet and jittery.
He had lots of memories like that – the amplified roar of the waiting crowd, Jeanine vibrating in his arms, and his own nerves jumping out of his chest. But standing there, holding her still, it made him feel solid. He wasn't alone.
There's that first results show, when Cat told them they were safe and he'd flipped the cards right out of her hand, tearing across the stage in an explosion of sheer disbelief and pent-up nervous energy. And Jeanine had jumped into his arms, shouting and laughing and half-crying. Some part of America liked them. They'd done it together.
They kept on doing it together. Through the tango that'd made him feel clumsy and slow and stupid, Jeanine got him through it. But even she couldn't keep them from drowning in the Russian folk dance. She told him he should keep the shirt.
When he'd been eliminated, she'd been the one to hold him the longest. She'd been crying and he hated that.
"I'm gonna cry my eyelashes off," she hiccuped through her tears, adjusting the false lashes in vain.
That look on her face, her anger for him with tears dripping down her chin. He was sure he'd remember that for a long time. He remembered thinking, wow. Someone cared that much about having him around. It was unreal.
Jeanine hadn't wanted to say goodbye. He'd be there for the finale, of course, and there'd be the tour. So they hugged and he kissed her forehead and told her she'd rock and win the whole fucking thing. And then he had to leave.
Arielle visited, telling him how proud she was. She tucked herself close to his body, like she'd always done since that mad drive to the hospital, and he felt something in him settle. She looked through the designs he'd been working on since his elimination.
"They're just like her," she told him, with a proud sweet smile. "They're beautiful."
One of her fingers traced a line, curved and flowing. Philip could see Jeanine turning in the movement. She'd danced her way right into his brain and poured out into his designs. She'd love that.
Arielle just smiled at him, like she knew everything, so he flicked her ear and ducked out of the way as she shot a splayed hand in his direction. She ended up just hugging him.
"It's all going to be so awesome," she told him with finality.
Phillip grinned crookedly, not really knowing what she was talking about, and clearly it showed because she laughed. Her mom told him almost exactly the same thing when he saw her.
After Jeanine and Jason's kiss, he left a laughing message on her cellphone. She called back, breathless and edgy. He could see her smile all fixed and static. His feet started tapping, something in his guts and fingertips telling him to get to her because he knew, just knew, he could melt it all away.
"Jason's talking to Caitlin."
Philip joked to distract her and talked about postponing university for the tour. By the time she had to hang up for interviews and photos, her smile sounded real and he breathed out, loud and rattling and smiling like he didn't want to explain. It took longer for his feet to stop tapping.
The Kodak Theatre was a lot to take in. Philip just stood on the stage and looked out at the empty seats. Woah. There was going to be a lot of people. Jason and Caitlin were wrapped up in bright fabric, gold jewellery, and each other, bouncing to 'Jai Ho' centre stage, and Kayla was practising with Kupono in a back corner with half of her opening costume on. Yeah, it was all very familiar, except for the huge auditorium of empty seats staring back at him.
It just happened that at the moment he turned his head, Jeanine appeared around the corner, heading for his side of the stage. She had her make-up done and her teddy bear under her arm and her iPod playing in one ear, the tinny sound of Jason Mraz heralding her arrival. His grin was huge.
Her shriek jarred through the music and her iPod dug into his side when she hugged him and he was probably squeezing her way too tight. But she felt too good to let go of right now. So he didn't and neither did she.
The night before the finale, everyone went out for dinner. It was like a release, a last chance for freedom before the madness reached epic proportions. Philip swaggered in baggy jeans, chains holding them up, and a threadbare shirt that his mom always told him to throw out. Jeanine was worried; she was laughing and smiling and having a good time. But she was worried too.
He could see that Jeanine was glowing. The dim light sort of shone on her skin. And sometimes, when she wasn't saying anything, it was like she was trying to break out of her body. It was weird that no one else saw it. But Philip did.
He found her outside, leaning against the door frame as though she was in work-out clothes instead of a ruffled skirt and a top that glittered. Most people would think she was relaxed.
He bumped shoulders with her, grinning from underneath his cap. Jeanine gave him one of her big smiles, but she still looked jittery. He extended an arm and she rested her head against his shoulder. He could feel her relaxing, the tension sloughing off her. He'd done that. His grin flickered again.
They're on first, after the maddest of changes following the 'Brand New Day' group routine. Brandon streaked past, manoeuvring like a fucking athlete in his lion collar. He didn't bump into anyone. That was grace. Philip had someone rubbing his make-up away as he shucked off Seventies fantasy land and pulled on hip-hop. He buttoned his shirt wrong and he was still trying to fix it as he waited in the wings. It was Jeanine who got it right.
"What could go wrong?" she laughed.
Her mouth twisted, just a little. Her fingers pinched his arms tight. This was it. They were going to dance on the finale and the judges had chosen one of their dances as one of the best of the season. Fucking insane.
Jeanine smelled really good. That was his final thought as they were ushered on stage while Cat talked to the judges. Jeanine squeezed his hand as they lay side by side and the music washed through them.
There were no words for when Jeanine won. And it wasn't their moment. It was hers.
Philip started at Melissa's voice, pulled out of his memory chain as she headed back towards her bunk. It was pretty late and the bus had a ways to go before it reached Memphis. Jeanine was asleep on his lap. She had his blue and black scarf scrunched up in her hand, her face pressed against his neck under his chin, her breath hot on his collarbone. There was no way he was moving right now.
Maybe it was this moment. No one else was around – just about everybody had snapped a photo after Jeanine had fallen so quickly asleep – and it was really quiet. If he'd been alone, Phillip would have gone online or listened to his iPod until he felt like he could sleep. But he wasn't so he struggled slowly backwards until he was half-lying on the couch, Jeanine still curled up on top of him. It wasn't comfortable at all, but he could deal.
Jeanine was smiling in her sleep.