Bittersweet

I. All Falls Down

I don't know where to begin. I stand here flummoxed, stationary – unable to move or make a sound. I don't know what to do or how I would do it, at that. I feel strange; awkward, aroused. My head is reeling and I wish that I knew how to stop it before I let my insides loose all over the studio's floor. How could that have happened? How could I have let that happen? I swore to myself that I would never allow myself to hurt again—not due to him. But here I am, more bewildered than I've ever been, and more uncertain of how to deal with these emotions coursing through my veins, through my heart.

He stood before me; we were arguing, I can recall. It all seems to be a blur; a mixture of bodies and lights and sounds, so distant yet so near. He hissed words and I retorted vehemently, my blond locks falling in front of my face. The room felt hot and I could hardly breathe; my blood was boiling and my skin felt as though it were on fire. His face was contorted and rich with discontent, and raw, unadulterated passion; I had never before seen him so upset, so vigorous and zealous. I wanted him to stand still, but he paced back and forth before me; I felt dizzy and like I would faint.

"I can't keep doing this, Tommy!" I shouted, my chin trembling and eyes burning with tears yet to be spilt. "I can't keep coming back to you, letting myself fall for you, when all you're going to do in the end is pull yourself back and leave me to pick up the pieces. I promised myself that I'd never allow myself to fall so weak. You're not supposed to mean anything, but you mean everything! Why can't you just leave me alone, Tommy?" And the tears began to cascade down my cheeks then. I could barely see straight, as the tears tampered with my vision. But I could hear his distinct breathing turn rapid and I thought that he might spontaneously combust on the spot.

"I don't know, Jude!" he said, fisting his hands in his raven-colored hair. "I wish I did, okay? I wish I knew why it is you have this exasperating ability to constantly get inside my skin. I wish I knew why it was your voice on my mind whenever I've needed a voice of reason. I wish I knew why that no matter who I'm with, in the end, it all comes back to you. But I don't. I don't know anything, anymore, Jude. I'm ignorant to all of this. But when it comes to you, something inside of me just snaps, okay? Something inside of me screeches to a halt and I can't breathe when I see you with someone else, when I can't have you near me. I can't function. And I hate it, okay? I hate it."

My mouth opened but no words came out; I was at a loss for what to say, how to react to his truths, to his confession. I had wanted to run, but I didn't. I was frozen in place and my breaths came in slow, shaky inhalations. But soon confusion turned to resentment and anger; I could not fathom how he could think that I would forgive him for all he has done to me, and for all that he hadn't done and I wished he would have.

My mind soared. My cheeks were stained with tears darkened by a mixture of eyeliner and thickly-coated mascara. "I can't take this, anymore, Tommy! You think I don't hate it, either? I hated it when you kissed me – you kissed me – and then had me take it back, swear to pretend that it never happened. That was the best kiss of my life, Tommy, and it had meant so much before you ripped it from my grasp and buried it alive. I hated it when you chose my sister instead of me; how you wanted to kiss her, and hold her, and be with her, but not me. I hate that I'm so confused, when you've made it clear time and time again that I can't have you." My words were almost incoherent due to my incessant sobs. "So, tell me, Tommy, what do you want from me, huh? What do you want from me?"

His eyes widened and then darkened. He stepped toward me hastily and I had no time to react as his fingers latched on to both of my forearms, pinning me in place. "I just – want – you!" My breath was caught in my throat and I could not move or muster a sound. His hands moved down my arms, slowly, torturously, and I felt that I could melt in the heat. He stepped closer, suddenly, and I stepped backward, oddly frightened by his movements. But he stilled me once more, one hand placed against my hip, as his other arm moved around my back to place his hand at my shoulder blade.

He pushed backward until I hit something solid—a wall. His body crushed against mine and I could no longer think properly. It was all surreal; hazy, even. I could only stare at his lips, and bit down against my own subconsciously. He hovered over me and leaned forward and down, his face inching closer to mine. Had my heart stopped? Or had I heard the rhythmic and harmonic beating of two hearts as one? But at his fingers tightened their hold on my flesh, I eagerly awaited the kiss that I had longed for.

His eyes searched mine, desperate for permission to go on or a reason to stop this madness; but I could give him neither of the two. My mouth fell open and head tilted upward to match his as it neared mine, so slowly that a painful tingle crept up my spine. I became suddenly anxious, eagerly awaiting the feel of his course lips against mine. Though as soon as his mouth brushed across mine, lights streamed into the once darkened—and vacant—studio, and the loud voices of Liam and Darius brought us to a train wreck-like reality. Tommy pushed away from me in a hurry and looked at me as though I were an alien, pressing the back of his hand to his lips to wipe away any remnants that might have screamed Jude.

His countenance showed no emotion as he practically fled from the room and into the main lobby, greeting both Darius and Liam. There voices were muffled, but I could hear Tommy as he struggled for the right words to say. "We're recording," he said. I let my head fall back against the wall, my fists gripped the sides of my shirt and pulling the material down, stretching it across my slender frame. "She felt . . . inspired. You know how it is, D."

I wanted to laugh; and I still do. I had come to the studio late this night to seek refuge from a house I could no longer call home. My mother and father had gotten into a lengthy and bitter argument. I could hardly stomach it, and fled. But to them, I had merely interrupted a scene and asked if I could go to the studio, that a sudden burst of inspiration had hit me and it was eminent to my budding career that I not ignore it. They relented, half-heartedly and continued to throw accusations at one another.

I had walked the entire way to the studio. I'd never realized before how long of a walk that was, until I found myself tiring only halfway through. There were only a few people left inside when I had gotten there. And when I reached the familiar studio, expecting to be alone, I had discovered Tommy sitting in his chair, mixing a song that I'd recently recorded. He was shocked to see me standing there, but I had easily explained to him why I had come. He had me call my parents, right away, expecting them to worry; but they hadn't even recollected our earlier conversation.

We sat in silence, other than the mix sounding in the background. He told me how awesome it was, and fed me compliment after compliment. I asked him about Sadie, then, and his mouth had gone dry. He evaded the question, though I pressed on. He snapped. I apologized. "We're in two different places in our lives," he'd said. "It couldn't work out." Couldn't, or didn't? "Both. We're two different people with two different lives. It just didn't work out, okay? And enough about Sadie and me." Then what should we talk about, if not that? "Your love life, how about? Karma, and all," I don't have a love life, I don't think I've ever had one. "Shay? Jamie? All were your boyfriends, Jude; all of whom you had fallen for. So, in respect to the words, I daresay you've had a very active love life this past year."

I laughed it off and turned back to the mixing table. "Shay was a joke; even I can admit that now. It was fun while it lasted, but I was delusional into thinking that it could ever work out with him. We're too different, beyond opposites—it wasn't right. And Jamie . . . I don't even know where to start." I chuckle uncomfortably. "Jamie and I have that clichéd romance, don't we? Best friends turned lovers? We tried, and we crashed and burned, third-degree style. So, no, I don't consider either of the two a love life, Tommy. But you and my sister, come on, it offends me that it didn't work out with her."

Tommy seemed flummoxed, eying me inquisitively. "You hated that we were together, Jude. Especially in the beginning, you were so entirely against it. But now you're all for it?" He snickered and placed the back of his hand against my forehead. "You feeling okay, Jude?"

I smiled, pushing his hand away. My face fell serious for a moment as I organized my thoughts. "It's just . . . Do you want to know the truth?" He nodded, and I pushed forward with my inquiries. "You chose her over me, Tom. And as much as that hurt, I came to terms with it. You chose her, not me. But now that you don't want her anymore, it makes me wonder if I'd meant even less to you. I mean, you could throw her away so easily, and she was the girl you'd chosen. But me . . . Where do I stand? You threw me away just as easily, and in seeing how you did so with her . . . It makes me wonder, is all. It makes me think that I meant a lot less to you than I'd originally thought." And that is where our fervent clash was birthed.

Tommy steps back inside of the studio and avoids my gaze. Here we go again, I want to say aloud. He heaves a sigh and slouches down into his chair, swiveling lightly from side-to-side, massaging his temples with his fingertips. "We have the worst timing." His tone is hushed, yet focused. He raises his head slightly to meet my stare; I can feel his gaze bore into mine. "It's like we're cursed or something to that effect." I nod, approaching him silently. I climb into his lap and straddle him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders, leaving the other to rest across his chest. I nestle my head into the crook of his neck, rubbing my nose delicately against his skin.

He embraces me instantaneously and sighs, slouching in the chair. I shift so that I sit with my back to his chest, and his hands lock together around my midsection. I lean my head against his shoulder and exhale a breath I had not known I'd been holding. I can feel his lips press against the side of my head and my eyes fall shut at the feeling that engulfs me; pure bliss. These are the moments that I wish could last forever, but inevitably seem to fall short.

"I wouldn't doubt that for a second," I said, placing my hands over his. He sits up abruptly, but still holds me round the waist with one arm, as he frees his other to grip the edge of the mixing table to pull the chair nearer to it. I glance at the switches and realize how ignorant I am to this whole method. "You'd think I'd know a thing or two about how to mix a record, huh? But I'm so clueless. I'd muck it up on my first try."

Tommy chuckles, a deep, throaty laugh. "You probably would." My mouth falls open in mock hurt, and I make a motion to stand, but he quickly pulls me back against him, and suddenly, a friction that had not prior existed tackles us full-force. We remain stationary for a moment, before he clears his throat and continues on. "We're here, in any case, so we might as well try to get something done. I've been working on your new single. It's due next week, and there's still so much to be done. We haven't even finished the track layout for your new album, and you're short three songs."

"I came here all inspired from my frustration at home," I said, "but suddenly, I'm not all that frustrated, anymore, and inspired on a totally different level." We both fall momentarily silent, his fingers lightly grazing my jeans-clad thighs. But an unexpected jolt back to reality startles us and Tommy swings around the chair to face the intruder: Liam.

"Well, well, well," he said, rather smugly. "I daresay this isn't quite the picture I'd been expecting when I'd left Darius's office to come see how our Miss Jude Harrison is coming along with her recording sessions. But, most obviously, it seems that you, Mr. Quincy, have her . . . under wraps."

I roll my eyes and Tommy opens his mouth to retort, but I interject before he is able to say a word. "Actually, he was showing me how to work the table, Liam." He looked at us disbelievingly and motioned toward our current seated position. "I sat on him as a joke. I know it must look suspicious, but it's not. There's nothing going on between Tommy and me. You know that."

I eye Liam casually and Tommy gently pushes me off of his lap and I move to the empty chair beside him. Liam smirks and says, "Oh, but that, I do," sarcastically, exiting the studio without another utterance. Tommy and I remain seated and watch Liam as he disappears into his office, closing the door behind him.

"That was too close," I said, sighing and resting my elbows atop of the table. "I mean, too close."

Tommy nods and exhales sharply. "Tell me about it," he said. "What did I say, Jude? Cursed."

I chuckle lightly and then turn to face him. He is staring at me intently, and I feel a deep blush rise in my cheeks. "Tommy," I said, "I have to know—What happened before . . . that was really intense, you know? But in the last five minutes we've been more intimate than we've ever been in the two years we've known each other. Part of me thought you'd want to take it back after almost . . . after Liam and Darius walked into the main room; but then we . . . I don't know. This is all just really confusing for me."

"Hey," breathed Tommy, as he sunk on to his knees before me, grasping my hands atop of my lap. "Hurting you like I did two years ago—like I've been since I've known you—I won't let that happen again. I can't let that happen again, You're too important to me, Jude. I care too much. And even though it's taken me two years to admit it to you, it doesn't change the meaning. It's cliché and it's cheese; but I'm tired of tip-toeing around this, around you. I want it all with you, Jude. I want you."

I can feel the tears come to my eyes as he gently grips the sides of my face, pulling me down to meet his lips. They gently graze across mine until I add needed pressure. I sigh contently; this is exactly what I have been waiting for all of these years. His flesh is warm against mine, and as his tongue brushes across my bottom lip, I wonder if Heaven could compete with the pure bliss I am experiencing at this very moment. The kiss is soft, not wild; but full of passion and unleashed sexual tension.

It ends sweetly, with a few tender kisses before we pull away completely. His eyes remain closed and I stare at him with wonder. He has never appeared more handsome in all the time I've known him.

A sudden realization dawning on me, I cannot help but to let out a throaty laugh. He gazes at me, bewildered, and I shake my head, unable to halt the snickers that arise from within me.

"What is it?" he asks, eying me with uncertainty.

"My sister," I began, "is going to kill me."