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(the world looks like) the opposite of a flood

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She doesn't leave the house for a week. The attention clings to her like a shadow, and every unearned moment of it curls up as a bad feeling in her stomach.

 

She does not answer any of their calls.

 

(All of them are well meaning assholes, not dissimilar to pieces of broken glass healed over inside her skin that would be dangerous to disturb now they've become lodged there.)

 

(The song gets stuck in her head a week long after the simile dissipates.)

 

The karaoke video gets her the lion’s share of the fifteen minutes, because Cat sang with Robbie on a track they improvised over an eighties number and giggled the whole way through and Tori has been swimming in the public consciousness for long enough that it couldn't quite bubble over with the same newness. She gets it shut down for copyright infringement but copies pop up each time and her name gets passed around influential mouths like a coldsore.

 

On the precipice of graduating, two suits show up at HA with a recording contract with Jade West printed in ink so fresh it still reflects the Los Angeles sun.

 

Jade smiles.

 

She says, “Come back in a year when whoring out my talent breaks one law, not two.”

 

She catalogues their responses, each flicker of disdain in their plastic eyes and cut-glass jaws dusted with stubble and she could write a play from the half-baked outrage and overplayed symbiosis.

 

And she would, except it's an arts school, and everyone has already read Godot twice.

 

Tori’s fingers grip her bicep and Andre flushes sickly and all of them look so starving, such dark shines in their eyes that she wants to tear the moment apart with her claws.

 

They are degrees of shocked and sore, but Cat laughs and dances in the the confetti, half of Jade’s name getting stuck in her hair to the quickening rhythm of Trina's breaths.

 

*

 

The dynamic is warped, and no one can stop the outpouring of vicarious want . Everybody tells her the mistake she's made.

 

Everyone - even Beck - touches some exposed part of her skin like they're tapping into the mainframe and asks her their own anguished why.

 

(- Beck, with his arm hooked across her stomach and one leg pushed between hers, half asleep to the almost-sounds of wind hitting against the van, asks, “It was right there, why didn't you take it?”

 

“Because I want my money's worth.”)

 

A different excuse trips off her tongue each time, and by the time Robbie asks she just stands up and leaves the room.

 

It is Cat and Tori who catch her, though - because that is the inevitable, two divas ready to unfurl the world and unfurl themselves with no mind to what it might do to them.

 

They're in the Vega living room and Cat is lying between Jade's legs, leaning on her chest whilst the watch Happy Days reruns.

 

“I think if I’d been offered a contract I’d have signed in a second.” Tori is so careful not to look at Jade when she says it, like she can feel the dark look cast across the room. “What about you Cat?”

 

“Huh?” Cat moves slightly, jostling the careful balancing act they have going on the couch. “Oh. Yeah. I would so be singing on a soup commercial right now. Did you know it's one of your five a day?” She laughs, or pretends to, anyway. “And croutons are like crunchy little friends.”

 

“Can we just drop it.” The raised voice is practised, maybe, learnt behaviour, but sometimes the harshness still shocks her as it falls out of her mouth.

 

She schools her face and stares at the TV, and it's so much like her that nobody says a thing.

 

Ugh ,” she hates that noise. She makes it all the time. “What is it you people want me to say? Did you want me to hump the guy’s leg like a dog? Or should I have passed your names on with a nudge and a wink? Huh?”

 

Cat curls up very small on her belly and makes a quiet, high sound in the back of her throat.

 

“No, Jade, I -” Tori still won't look her in the goddamn eye and she's so sick of this.

 

“It was my decision, okay? It's done. I didn't want it like that.”

 

Tori stands up and puts a tentative hand on Jade's shoulder. She knows Tori wants them to hug, and if she tries it Jade might cry or she might rip a clump of hair from Tori's head and neither of them will know until it happens.

 

The hand stays on her shoulder. “Okay,” Tori says. “We get it now. Consider it shut up-ified. Um. Who wants pizza?”

 

Jade rolls her eyes and sinks her fingers into Cat’s hair. “You know my order. Don't screw it up.”

 

The unease in her belly doesn't quite go away.

 

*

 

She hides the letter for the longest time. Half afraid of opening it and half afraid of her parents doing it instead, it doesn't leave her bag, doesn't leave her side.

 

She carries it with her like an omen, balancing the weight of her other what if? until it's almost too late.

 

“I need you to open this for me,” she says, pushing it into Beck's hands and she steps inside the van.

 

“How did I not know you applied for UCLA?” He turns it over in his fingers and she can see how his eyes drift from her carefully drawn face to the choppy swinging of her legs.

 

“Because I didn't even know until I was pushing it into the mailbox.”

 

He twirls the letter, looking at her through his eyelashes. “What if you get in?”

 

She blinks. “I never really thought about it.”

 

The corner of his mouth twitches, and he looks at her in a way she can't name, and has never received from anyone else. “Alright, what if you don't?”

 

She purses her lips, eyebrows narrowing over her eyes. “Then I don't.”

 

He smiles and runs his finger under the seal. She softens her gaze almost by accident. Anxiety has never sat well in her stomach and she's had enough experience that it makes her feel four years old, staring out of a window, watching her father leave for work.

 

Beck unfolds the letter, never looking at her. He blinks and his face is completely drawn.

 

“Okay,” he says, and puts the letter back in the envelope.

 

“Well?” She asks.

 

And he tells her.

 

*

 

She sits in the gloom of her bedroom, the radio playing some classic rock station as she writes.

 

It's not a song or a play, it's just words on a page and it pulls straight out of her blood.

 

Jade feels like a piece of imagery, a metaphor for bad girl, cool girl, smart girl, mean girl. She is every girl in the story but the good one. It should feel satisfying. Instead she feels hungry, or the abstract version of hungry, a veritable black hole consuming everything she can manage.

 

She likes that the lamp sits next to her so she's the only spot of light in the room, but she's also casting the biggest, most monstrous shadow.

 

She's writing all this down like a documentary transcript. It is not a diary, because that would be too intimate, and words can't be that for her.

 

This is concepts of herself, third person, mirror image, crown covered in mud and buried half in the ground. When she checks, her coffee has gone cold and the landing light is on, which means someone else is home.

 

She writes nothing comes from nothing.

 

She turns to the back of the book and scribbles and I am the shape you made me.

 

It's a blessing when the phone rings.

 

Andre says he wants to steal her beautiful voice for an hour. She can see his bright, cocky smile all the way through the phone and he is her favourite for a reason.

 

She barters for sushi in lieu of a yes.

 

*

 

She's on Beck’s lap because she's a liar, kissing his nose and telling him he is the most comfortable thing in the room.

 

The song she and Andre worked on is pouring out of the laptop speakers and she wants to ask him what he thinks of it, but she won't.

 

(It doesn't matter. )

 

His chin fits against her shoulder so comfortably it's disturbing, and their faces tip together like rebellious little magnets and she hates how predictable she's getting lately.

 

“What are you thinking about?” His breath is all warm and it makes her hair rustle against her throat.

 

“College,” she lies again.

 

“Yeah? Tell me about it.” He pulls her all the way back so she settles right into him, lined up like person and shadow, only she thinks their places should be reversed.

 

“I don't know if I wanna stay in California.”

 

She didn't know she would say that until it fell out of her mouth.

 

“Wow,” he says. “Fuck. Okay. Wow.”

 

She turns and presses her face into his neck and kisses his cheek and burrows as far as she can into his space and -

 

“Don't hate me, please? I just. I'm not sure if I fit here.” Her breath in is shallow but her lungs deflate very slowly.

 

“Listen,” he says, lifting her face up by the chin. “I am never going to hate you. I'm pretty sure you could run over my grandma and I wouldn't hate you. You burrowed in pretty deep.”

 

She grabs his chin, too, because the frame isn't worthwhile if there's no symmetry. “Even if I leave? Even if I choose New York over you?”

 

Because this is LA and because her face has been traipsed around at a couple of events thanks to whatever that magic Tori magnetism is, and if she were an inch taller and three slimmer, then she would be a model. If she were a model in LA, with her pale skin and harsh eyes and long, long legs she would be notorious and she would be on billboards and DJs who still think their screenplay is going to get sold would brag to TMZ about fucking her whether it was true or not. LA does not and never has entirely felt like home.

 

He looks her in the eye for far too long and draws his finger slowly from her forehead to the tip of her nose. He says, “You would be choosing you, not over me not under me not... whatever. I love you. I'm not saying I would like it, because I won't ever want your corsets being unlaced in a different state. But I also won't ever tell you not to go.”

 

“It's cold in New York,” she says, taking her hand off of his chin and burrowing her face into his neck. “You're warm.”

 

“I always thought hot was the better adjective.”

 

She pinches his bicep. “You're an ass.”

 

*

 

So the words become a play anyway. She can cover up the lack of plot by making it expressionist. She can cover up it's autobiographical nature by pretending she doesn't feel a thing.

 

Every motion she makes in the first three scenes, Tori must mirror, dressed all in white and with a crown and veil.

 

Jade is in black, because that's how these things go.

 

Beck is something of an inbetween, he mostly in shadow, directing them like storms towards and apart from one another. He looks into the eyes of the audience and he tells each one he knows they are there. He is so warm when he touches her shoulder, handles her across the stage, laying her on the floor spread out like the sleeping princess, halfway to dead.

 

(That’s always been her favourite part of the story. It’s not the witch’s victory that matters. It’s that the girl who’s been pulled apart by the world gets her moment of rest.)

 

She flinches when Andre kisses her awake, Tori’s body lying next to her and all of them overwarm and exposed for everyone to see. She doesn’t mean to, but she does. When he pulls her up he whispers something stupid into her ear to push the bitterness away. It doesn’t matter, even when this matters most.

 

She snarls out her hungry soliloquy as though naked and begging at the gates of heaven, refusing to search the crowd for scouts, or for her father, just blinking into the black mass of nameless bodies and blinded by the spotlights. She takes Tori’s hand, peels back the veil so gently, so much more gentle than they really know how to react to each other. Her fingers pass through Tori’s hair and she cups the back of her head so their foreheads tip together and it lasts far too long, because neither want to be the one to break eye contact.  

 

When the lights dim she takes the last bow, because this is the spark, really. Not some crappy cellphone video of her voice on someone else’s song. This is her, exposed and golden. When Sikowitz pulls her aside, after, when everyone else has melted away and whispers things about producers and directors in her ear, Jade doesn’t make a sound.

 

She nods once, and feels full of the whole world.

 

*

 

Beck clings to her in the RV, when they’re on the floor and just barely fit on the blanket he spread out for them. His hands are so warm on her skin. He passes them over her, maps her out like the world, pausing whenever he makes her shiver. He wants her to be still.

 

(She needs to be still.)

 

He goes slow, because being eighteen makes it feel like they are always running out of time. His mechanic hands are calloused in places that catch on her skin. The pulse in her throat jumps every time he finds one if those secret places that make her feel like a bundle of exposed nerves, every movement is so gentle she forgets herself and her body seems to sink into the floor. When his fingers flit across her breasts, along the swell, along the edges, she has to look at him. He is far more exposed than she is.

 

He catches her bellybutton and it makes her squirm all over. He touches lower and she can feel it in her spine. He wanders across her body with no intent, just tracing her skin, the lines of muscles in her thighs that tense when he catches them, the inside of her thighs, so softly that it tickles and she wants to laugh but a gasp falls out of her instead.

 

It’s almost awful to be this. Soft. Open. He parts her with his fingers but he’s watching her face, and she is watching right back. Everything is deep eyes and fingertips circling. She opens her mouth to say something but he inhales sharply and that seems to steal all the air in the room and she can’t help but quiver all over. His hands are so steady that she almost hates it. He lets the other hand touch her flushed cheek, disturbing the hair there and making it tickle against her throat, the twin movements so overwhelming even in their softness.

 

His eyes stray to her chest and she knows she’s breathing so quickly, can feel it struggling to come out like something heavy and dark is pressing there. He quickens just a touch, still light as air against her but that’s enough. He pulls away and watches her combust on the floor of his van, like he can’t believe that this is okay for him to be with, her body and his hands.

 

Jade breathes out very slowly and rolls into him, needing to pay back every touch and to do it with her fingernails tracing along like a knifepoint, but he kisses her too quick and turns her onto her side, curling up behind. She can feel him through his boxers, pressing into her back.

 

“If it were me,” Beck says, breath warm on her neck, fingers soft in her hair, “Would you have told me to take it?”

 

“In a second.” She takes his hand and puts it around her, because he's warm in a way she doesn't ever get, and because he really is the most comfortable thing she will ever be close to.

 

“So why do I feel like I'm giving you the wrong answer?”

 

She turns over, because she doesn't know how to speak honestly with the wall, and she only knows how to speak honestly when her ear presses against his chest. “Because you've already got two fingers on the ledge and no force of nature is going to make you let go. And I, on the other hand, have all these parts scattered around in the shape of a person but they don't all belong to one thing. If I'm doing anything it's on my own, and I’ll bleed the whole way through it.”

 

He kisses her crown very softly. “You have the prettiest metaphors.”

 

The way she kisses back is not soft at all.

 

*

 

She dreams she takes a chalice in her hand and drinks deep.