Picking Up The Pieces

Chapter 40: Even Better Than The Real Thing, Part 2

Author=s Note: Yes, it really is me… What else can I say, other than that the past few months have been really, really hard for me. Having a virus wipe out my entire hard drive on top of that was no fun, either! But I promised I'd finish this, and finish I will! If anyone is still out there… Let me know, please!

Thanks to: Shadylady, Jewelstar, temporaryinsanity91, lovetoburn4tim, and saderia for their reviews! Special thanks to temporary insanity and squint4 for their messages… I think that's a big reason why I just wouldn't let this go…

Chapter 40: Even Better Than The Real Thing, Part 2

Tommy's story was interrupted by a high pitched, musical giggle from the hall. Of course, he recognized it instantly.

"Ruby Quincy!" he said, with mock sternness. "How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough!" she replied cheekily, sauntering into the room. Her brother followed, looking embarrassed.

"We just got home." Patrick told his parents.

"Just in time!" Ruby said, plopping down on the sofa next to her parents. "Go ahead!"

"Ruby!" Jude chastised her.

"Maybe Dad doesn't want us here?" Patrick said sensitively.

"Why not?" Ruby smiled impishly.

"Why not". Tommy agreed, unable to resist her. His daughter's enthusiasm was contagious, soothing- and exactly what he needed right now.

"Although I don't know why you're so interested. It's not like you haven't heard all this before."

"It's so great!" Ruby insisted. "Mom actually called you lame!"

"Well, he was!" Patrick teased, unable to resist.

"Not then". Jude smiled. "Not as a producer."

"You didn't think so that first day". Tom reminded her. "You remember what you said to me..."


Inside the studio with his new "Instant Star", Tommy grimaced. Jude had just finished singing her song for what felt like the hundredth time. In reality, it was only the third. She continued to resist all his directions. While he had to admit her voice was great, her song was weak, and would never work the way it was now. It didn't do much for his hangover either. Each chorus only made his headache worse.

Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.

"You want to stop!" he snapped. "Cause you're hurting my ears!"

She looked at him, puzzled and brushed her long red hair away from her face. He moved in closer.

"You're singing that song like it's a funeral dirge... he began. "We're on the road... We made it here..."

"Who's we?"

"It's about me and my best friend... she told him, beaming at the geeky guy who had accompanied her into the studio. Tommy still didn't know- or care- what the kid's name was.

"I know a pain in the ass when I see one!"

"We don't care about your friend Jude! he said bluntly.

"I like it the way it is!" she retorted, eyes blazing.

The two glared angrily at each other, poised for a fight. Georgia quickly intervened.

"That's enough for today."

Jude quickly left with Jamie. Tommy retreated to his studio, grateful for the quiet and the solitude.

"That girl..." he muttered, completely frustrated, as he swallowed two more aspirin, washing them down with a gulp of now-cold coffee.

"Drives me crazy..."

"Shes a kid." he reminded himself, as the pain in his head ebbed. "Youve got to make this work..."

Stubbornly, he plotted his next move...

He drove over to her school the next day, parking his bright blue, very conspicuous Viper off to the side. He instantly saw the celebration in progress, honoring Jude's victory.

She was clearly embarrassed by it all. Her expression then switched to one of total surprise when she saw him.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, walking towards him.

"Rescuing you". he said softly, adding sarcastically.

"That was great. Love the tubas!"

He led her over to his car. This time, she followed him with no resistance whatsoever.

"Where are we going?"

"Someplace where you won't walk out on me."

As planned, he took her to his favorite spot, down by the lake.

"Someplace I"ve never brought anyone before..." he thought fleetingly, as he parked the car.

It was a beautiful day. The sunlight sparkled brilliantly against the water and there was no one else in sight.

He focused immediately on her music. Away from the studio, away from everyone else, it was much easier to do. Away from her "friend", Jude was more open. She was thrilled to hear about her upcoming appearance at the Vinyl Palace and more receptive to the suggestions he made for her song. They re-worked the music together that afternoon, and she promised to modify the lyrics for him by the next day.

Satisfied, Tommy drove her home before returning to his own apartment. Inexplicably, he did not feel like going out that night and instead stayed home, watching movies. Well-rested for a change, he arrived at G-Major at 10:00 the following morning.

"Tom" the receptionist greeted him with a warm smile.

"Lisa, hey"

"Georgia wants to see you."

He strolled upstairs, where Georgia's private office was located at the end of the long hallway.

"Morning, G". he greeted her casually,

"Tom". she replied, getting right to the point. "What do you know about this?"

She handed him a copy of the new "Talk National". His eyes widened when he saw what was on the cover. There was a picture of him and Jude, clearly taken at the lake. His arm was around her and there were soft looks on both their faces, easily misconstrued.

"Georgia. It's not what it looks like... It's not anything at all."

"You're sure?" Georgia's voice was stern.

"We were working. That's it. She's just a kid... I wouldn't."

Georgia still eyed him skeptically. Tommy understood.

"I'm not that guy anymore."

"I haven't been anything but professional with anyone here." he reminded her. "Jude's no different."

"Good." Georgia said, now convinced. But she had one final warning.

"Keep it that way."

"Done". he promised.

"I wouldn't be interested in her any way... Not my type!"

"And vice-versa!" he realized. "I'm her worst nightmare!"

"Which is good... because otherwise things could get... awfully messy!"

Tommy didn't see Jude again until the next night at the Vinyl Palace. He still hadn't seen the revised lyrics and wanted to before she went on.

He approached her dressing room, only to see that her door was ajar. She sat on the couch, pulling some sort of pendant back and forth on its thin cord. Her face was pensive and her eyes troubled.

He had never seen her look vulnerable before. But when she saw him, she was all business, stating.

"I rewrote the lyrics. And there's a new hook."

Tommy scanned the paper and nodded.

"This is really good Jude. You should be happy."

His praise didn't relieve the sadness in her eyes.

"What's going on?" he asked gently.

"Jamie"

Tommy knew right away what she was talking about. His rise to fame destroyed his relationship with Katie. He wondered if Jude would have the same problem.

"I hope not..."

He knew how much she was hurting. He had been there, too.

"You know, back in the day, I went through the same thing with my best friend..." he began. "And it was brutal. If you ever need to talk about anything... It's part of the job."

Jude just looked at him and nodded gratefully.

"Before I met you... I thought you would suck huge..."

Suddenly, she jumped up and kissed him. Briefly, instinctively, he kissed her back.

Very briefly...

"What the fuck am I doing!" Tommy realized, stepping back immediately.

"Jude! You're 15!"

She moved away, horrified.

"She didn't mean to do that any more than I did..." Tommy realized. Her next words confirmed this.

"I'm such an idiot! I'm not even supposed to like you! You're everything I hate about music!"

"You made me change my song!" she accused him.

"That song is one thousand times better since we worked on it." he said calmly.

Before she could reply, Georgia's voice summoned her.

"Jude. We need you."

With one final, hostile glance she turned her back to him, grabbed her guitar and walked towards her stage.

Tommy headed out front, to watch her show. He wanted to watch her objectively, as the audience would. She was radiant and energetic, clearly lost in her music. It was as if she had no concerns at all. Her problems with Jamie... and even that "moment" with him might never have happened.

"It was just an impulse... It will never happen again." he promised himself.

His eyes fell on Jamie, who stood just a few feet away. Tommy found himself sliding over towards him.

"Couldn't stay away, could you?"

"Back when you were shaking your butt in your little boy band, Jude and I were in her bedroom, listening to Sonic Youth and writing songs that could change the world.

Tommy had had enough of Jamie's pretentiousness

"Does that look like her bedroom to you!" he snapped. "Look at her! She was born for this!"

Jamie didn't respond. Jude's music swelled out to Tommy, consuming him as it did everyone else.

"I can have anything I want!"

"They say I'm just too young..."

"But thats not my fault!"

"I'll find my own way home, if I gotta..."

"Make it all alone!"

"24 hours!"

Thunderous applause followed Jude offstage. Beaming proudly, Tommy chased after her.

"Jude!" he exploded. "You did it! You tore the roof off!"

"Thanks! I quit!"


Back in the present, Ruby giggled again.

"I'm sorry. she apologized. "But Mom sure liked walking out on you!"

"Way to go, Dad!" Patrick smirked.

"I always got her back, didn't I? Tommy said cockily

"You did." Jude smiled.

"Cause you're it, girl! The real thing." Tom repeated the very words he had said to Jude that night, outside her house, so many years ago, whispering.

"You're even better..."

"I think I'm gonna hurl!" Patrick said, good naturedly.

"Your father almost walked plenty of times, too!" Jude reminded them.

"Like when "I'm in love with my guitar tanked?" Ruby said. "Or when he wasn't sure about producing your sophomore album?"

"Exactly."

"Hey, you fired me several times too!" Tommy reminded her.

"Only when you were being a complete jerk"! Jude smiled. "And somehow... I always took you back too!"

Rachel smiled. She was in familiar territory now. Jude had told her the story of her and Tommy's tumultuous early relationship many times.

"Is there anything I don't know about you two?" she asked coyly.

"I don't think so". Jude agreed.

"It was crazy." she began. "We fought a lot. Because we cared so much. About the music... and then about each other."

"Just be careful... " Tommy said ominously. "Don't make me out to be some kind of pervert. Her father would kill me! Even now!"

"It was never like that then." Jude clarified. "Nothing happened".

"Except once..."


Her sixteenth birthday party had not gone the way either of them expected. Tommy had always known Shay was a jerk. He had expected him to break Judes heart. But the way things had gone down shocked even him. Dumping Jude publically, at her birthday party was a new low for the well-known player.

The only thing that had kept him from hitting the kid was Jude. His need to be with her now was far greater than his need to pound Shay senseless.

He found her standing in the alley, soaked by the pouring rain, and shivering. Silently, he draped his jacket over her trembling shoulders.

"For what its worth... Shay's a kid. And an idiot! And he made the wrong choice!"

"You want to help me, Tommy?" she pleaded. "Tell me why Im so easy to give up... And then maybe, I can fix it."

Everything snapped inside him.

"You are asking the wrong guy!"

His lips crashed onto hers. Time stood still. Both lost themselves in the kiss, releasing pent-up emotions they had not fully realized they had.

The door creaked behind them, warning them to part. They stood, staring into each others eyes as the older man walked out with a beautiful young girl. When the couple saw the "Instant Star" and her producer outside they quickly retreated.

Tommy was grateful for the interruption, which helped him regain his senses.

"Jude..." he whispered, horrified.

"Tommy... don't"

"I'll see you inside..."

Jude retreated to their studio. Much later, he followed her there, still confused.

"Jude... I dont know what to say."

"You dont feel what I do?" she challenged.

He did not deny her. He knew it was no use.

"Lie to me." she insisted.

He couldnt do that, either. There was only one possible reply.

"Either I have to quit working with you. Or I can stay... But we both have to agree that that kiss never happened."

"No..."

"Say it, Jude... Just say it."

"It never happened! Ok!"

Shrugging his jacket off her shoulders, she stormed out of the room.


"I'm so sorry." Tommy said to Jude. Even now, decades later, the memory was still painful.

"It's done." she assured him, as she always did. "Whatever it took to get us here was worth it."

Rachel grinned and put away her things.

"I think I've got everything." she announced.

"If you don't... you know where to find us." Jude teased.

"Exactly!" she smiled, and said goodbye.

A strange silence filled the room. Finally, Ruby spoke.

"Now what?"