Her mom doesn’t really like movies, so Cat didn’t see a lot when she was a kid. Old ones mostly, MGM musicals Nona recorded off TV onto cassettes, where all the girls wore big fancy dresses that swung out around them and spoke like southern belles but sang like songbirds. Nona always said Cat imprinted like a duckling the first time Judy Garland opened her pretty, painted mouth.
Still, besides the classics she never saw most things, and pop culture skims over her head whilst she clutches what she has. It feels like not missing out, because she knows Meet Me in St Louis like heartsong and friends reruns filled in a lot of blanks, but it still feels like missing something when even Robbie doubles over at a borrowed line from Jade that makes Cat’s belly feel hollow.
It means most when it’s quiet, though, no background noise to hide behind.
Jade calls her on the first day of summer to cancel all their daytime plans. “My father,” she sneers, “is making me earn minor ducats at a thankless job.”
Cat feels her brow furrow and wonders if Jade has some psychic connection to her - like those dreams Cat used to have in middle school when she could guess what colour nailpolish her teacher would have that day - because she says Cat’s name very slowly, lilting at the end like a cursive question point.
“Jade, I won't lie. I really have no idea what you just said to me.” She twists her hair around her fingers, the dark curls never pulling quite straight even when she tugs her hardest.
“ Clueless ?”
“Hey,” that dark feeling curls up in Cat’s belly. “You don't have to be mean about it.”
“No, not you, airhead. Clueless, the movie.” Cat knows this pause, where Jade rolls her eyes a teensy bit too fast and has to breathe on through the dizziness, where she used to squeeze Cat’s hand until her knuckles cracked to save face. “Watch it,” Jade says with something like fondness. “You’ll love it. And if you hug me afterwards I will cut the breaks on your bike.”
She watches it five times in a row on her laptop and by the last time all her guilt from the illegal download has melted away on the weird giddy feeling that blooms from her chest.
Cat wants to tear herself down and rebuild without really changing anything.
She wonders if maybe when she was born a stray bit of Brittany Murphy, maybe just the Tai parts, chipped off and slithered inside her because she keeps hearing things in a blend of their voices in her head and lines rehearsed for months on a film set still somehow belong in Cat’s mouth.
She tears through her wardrobe looking for something that fits her fit of change, but something’s still missing. She still feels like Cat B.C. - Before Clueless, Before Cat - something half-formed and not totally working. Her clothes are okay, she can rip things up or match a couple of different colors to feel bigger and brighter, but it’s not noticeable enough.
She wants to feel permanent.
She keeps fluffing up her hair in the mirror, curling it around her fingers and pulling it into tight little braids and she’s staring at herself like that, tongue poking out and makeup only on half of her face when she sees the New Cat.
It's not late - eight maybe, but it feels very dark and very quiet outside of Beck's van. (Cat feels young and tiny in the darkness and the way the wind whips her skirt against her thighs reminds her of the beach storm she and Nona got caught in when she was little and sure the sky was cracking all the way open, the memory sinking uncomfortably in her belly.) She can hear something inside, little movements, little words, and she knocks on the door loud enough to wash over them and the thrum of blood in her ears.
The door opens a sliver, and Jade growls “Scram,” through the gap.
“I can't .” Her voice is louder than she means it to be. She turns over the list of other places to go in her head - it’s a short list, with Nona in Acapulco and Robbie not allowed visitors after six - and this was the the only one she thought of that had her legs running before her brain made a decision.
Beck says something from inside, muffled but in that quiet, gruff voice he normally hides in Jade’s hair. Jade hushes him, opening the door slightly. She's wearing one of Beck's shirts and nothing else, pale skin poking out between missed buttons.
Jade quirks her lip and her brow. Something glints, and Cat can't be sure if it's her eyebrow ring or the purple glitter on the outer edge of her eye, looking like a bruise but more beautiful. “You have thirty seconds.”
Cat takes one quick breath and lets the world tumble out of her. “My Mom tried to lock my brother in his room after he found her gardening tools but he got out and now they're kinda… playfighting? Please don't make me go back.”
She doesn't notice that her eyes are squeezed shut until an unseen hand closes around her wrist and tugs her inside. Jade is not smiling when she opens them.
“What's happening here?” Beck is lounging on the bed, rolled half on his side, and mussed, looking sleepy.
“Cat's staying here tonight.” Jade is warm and closer than Cat realised, bare skin from her rolled up sleeve and her bare legs pressing all against Cat's side.
“Um, okay.” Beck rolls off the couch and comes to them, pressing his cheek into Jade's hair. “Do I wanna ask?”
Cat hadn't opened her mouth yet.
“Oh, hey, your hair.” Beck leans forward to run his fingers through the ends, tangling in the curls. It was almost camouflaged in the dark, and she still feels uneasy with it. The color isn’t right and it’s sticky in places, but there’s a dark red sheen to the curls that looks almost pink when the light hits right, and it’s so close to really feeling like her she has to lean into his touch.
“I watched Clueless.” She grins at Jade, pinching her waist and Jade growls in reply. “I didn’t hug you so you don’t get to be scary.”
Jade draws Beck’s hand out of the red curls. “Since I’m partially responsible for… this, I should probably help you fix up this dye job. And red’s always fun to watch run down someone’s neck.”
“Hm. Maybe later.” Cat leans into her, too, wants to burrow into all that Jade-warmth that’s so surprising but perfectly sensical.
“For the record,” Beck says, running a hand through his own hair and looking softer than she can remember seeing before, “I think it looks great.”
“Oh God.” Jade tangles her fingers with Cat’s, and when she looks down she sees Beck similarly entwined. “If you two are done being cutesy and gross can we close the door and go back to lying down because my legs are freaking freezing.” She pulls them forward, and Cat is floating along so very far away from her warzone of a house that it’s something like witchcraft.
“I hate to be the voice of reason but we’re not all gonna fit on my bed.”
Jade smiles and pushes Cat onto the bed. “Oh, won't we, really?”
Cat watches them, the way they fill each other’s space, Jade maneuvering Beck around her, him warping to fit, pulled like space junk into a black hole. Cat knows better than to want that - it’s why she drapes herself over everyone else, wants to spread out until she covers everything.
“Cat, move over. Now you,” Jade leans up, curls her long arms all the way around Beck and kisses him just soft enough that Cat wants to curl up and hide her eyes like a child.
Jade pushes Beck onto the bed before they pull completely apart. “This is not the first or the last time I’m going to use you as a pillow, and you’re going to lie back and hug me like you mean it, you got that?”
Cat watches the smile spread over his face, feeling like a ghost pressed up against a window.
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
She has to say something - to fill up some space of her own, so she’s real and everyone knows it. She takes Jade’s hand again, holds it over her stomach where the worst of the butterflies live. “Hey Jade. You make a terrible Cher.”
“Thanks Cat.” Jade lies very carefully over Beck, settling into him like she was supposed to fit there; puzzle pieces. And New Cat, because she wants, and wants to fit more than anything, curls herself too tightly into Beck’s side, so she’s touching both of them. The quiet makes her want to shiver.
“Can we watch something?” She asks the question into Beck’s throat, and if he’s surprised by her closeness he doesn’t show it, just turns his head slightly to look her in the eye.
“Since I’m on the bottom of this pyramid I’m not sure I get the most say-so. But I’m not watching Clueless. Just for the record.” Cat’s face draws up into a pout but he kisses her cheek before she can say anything and the warmth from that quick touch floats all through her body.
“Well,” Jade rolls over so she’s on the very edge of the bed, a fraction of her weight on Beck’s side, “unless you’re in the mood for The Scissoring, I’d learn to love Alicia Silverstone pretty quick.” She smiles, and Cat recognises it as the one she likes to save for the moments she can get someone to squirm for her.
But Beck laughs and pulls Jade back into him, holding her arms down. “If you put it on I’m going to pull a Heathers in this van.”
“Who’s Heather?” Cat says it quietly, waiting for the empty, creeping feeling to flood back into her, but it doesn’t. Not when she’s pressed in by them and the wall, held together.
“Oh babygirl,” Jade looks down on Cat smiling, all her teeth bared, leaning over Beck so that she can run her hands through Cat’s hair. “You’re not ready for that quite yet. But we got time.”
Time. Cat is all brand new and it’s the first night of her life and she really likes the idea of time all spread out for her. “‘Kay.”
She wakes up with a bad crick in her neck and her body smushed into wall, someone’s face hiding pressed up to her spine.
“I’d try to help you up but she might actually unlock her jaw and bite my head off.” Beck is sitting on the little counter with the microwave and electric kettle. He waves, looking ruffled in the good way she knows she doesn’t. “You want coffee?”
Words spring up on her tongue, like Dad says I’m not supposed to drink that after that time on the freeway, or okay, anything you want me to do I can do it. She shuts them all up. “Got any tea?”
Beck salutes at her and springs off the counter, rooting around in the cupboards. Jade is just shy of uncomfortable where she’s glued to Cat’s back, so Cat turns as slow as she can and Jade curls up further, her cheek warm on Cat’s collarbone and she can’t help the giggle that slips out because each breath Jade takes tickles her skin.
“Comfy?” Beck hands over a mug of black tea that’s too warm in her hands but she can’t help squeeze around it anyway.
“Really truly.” She peels a sweat-slick strand of hair off her face and suppresses a jolt of surprise. “My dad’s going to kill me when he sees my hair.”
She feels a pout break out, tears rushing up to her eyes so fast the world goes fuzzy and tries to push the feeling as far down inside her as she can reach.
“No way,” Beck says, smiling from the edge of the bed. “You can barely even notice it.”
“Yeah Cat?” He ruffles his hair again, and it’s not nervous, and she thinks it might be a Beck-substitute for rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
He winks at her. “Only when I wanna be.”
Jade groans in her sleep and Cat rests her cup in her lap so she can rub Jade’s arm softly until the hurt sound passes. “You know the song Rolling with the homies? ”
Beck takes a long swig of coffee. “Please don’t do this.”
Jade doesn’t wake up for a long time, but they fill up the quiet until she does. By then all the nervousness has drifted out of her body and going home feels okay, but Jade drags her to the chemist to find the right kind of dye anyway.
Afterwards she looks at herself in the mirror and looks sternly at her reflection. This is your new life. She tells herself. Don’t screw it up.