Thanks for all of the absolutely wonderful reviews. They really mean a lot to me, and always manage to cheer me up at just the right time. Big thanks goes out to Six, as usual, for putting up with my insane-ness. I'm lousy with questions, aren't I? Lol, I so tweaked a sentence for you. You'll recognize it, I'm sure. ;)

Anyways, This chapter just kind of went by like a breeze for me. It's addictive, really, writing this story. Although it's kind of a bad thing, too, since it made me put off on Consequences. And there wound up being a whole lot less Shay and a lot more Tommy. Plus Tommy gets a little weird at the end, which I wasn't expecting... but it's late and I want to sleep, so I'm going to cut this short.

I do not own Instant Star, although I would love to because then I could get an advance peek at all of the wonderful songs they use. I also don't own any of the mentioned allusions.

I hope you enjoy the chapter. Remember, reviews are like diamonds to me. Shiny and pretty and I'd wear them if I could. Think 'bout it. ;)


You were sitting at the soundboard as you always did, editing tracks you'd put off for some of the other bands you were producing. It was amazing how quickly Jude had become your first priority, but she was. You didn't normally hate mixing, but you did today. It was a boring, mindnumbing task, but it kept your mind off Jude. And that was what you needed... to forget about Jude. But you couldn't quite do that, no matter how much you wanted to. That was the whole problem in the first place. So there you sat, hunched over the soundboard, mindlessly pressing buttons and flipping switches like a monkey. The horrible sounds resounded in your head, echoing again and again, cacophony mounting. It was slowly driving you insane. You grew sick of the music, tired of editing it to perfection.

Perfection was overrated anyways. Your whole life was a quest for perfection, and, really, what was the point of that? You could never achieve perfection, so why bother even attempting it? Everything you'd worked for all seemed so empty... so meaningless. Perfection wasn't always perfect. It wasn't worth all the effort. And, still, Jude wasn't leaving your mind. Not like you needed her to. Like the real woman, the images of her hung in your head, lingering long after you wished them gone. You thought them gone too, but every time you thought you were through with these flashes of Jude, they came back with a vengeance. You couldn't escape her. Like the real thing, the visions of her fought for their rightful place in your head. Somehow, she'd clawed her way into your heart and mind. You were constantly plagued by soft, tender, sickeningly adoring thoughts of her, and you were always wondering... wondering, wondering, wondering... It was driving you mad. You couldn't live like this! You couldn't do it anymore. So you slammed your fingers down on the soundboard, frustrated with yourself, and you stormed out into the hall.

Maybe what you needed was a break. A chance to breathe and get some air. You needed a chance to catch up with what had happened, to accept it, make your peace with it, and bury it alive so that you could forget.

You needed desperately to forget, but something or someone always seemed determined to prevent you from doing that very thing you so longed and so needed to do.

And there she was, standing in the lobby, looking like a vision. Your breath caught in your throat against your will. She was still so beautiful. She was most definitely not dressed like that when you'd left her. You frowned at the unhappy thought, hating that you'd been able to leave her. You had not wanted to do it, but, you steeled yourself, it was the right thing to do. It was. Even if it felt wrong.

Speaking of the way she was dressed... That reminded you of the peculiar circumstances in which she'd been redressed. And undressed, but those thoughts must be locked away. It was so much easier if you didn't remember, yet the brief flashes of memory tormented you. You remembered guiding her into every garment, pulling the fabric up slowly, fastening necklaces and her bra, slipping the dress and the shoes over her smooth, soft skin. You remembered the creamy, milky white, pure skin all too well. It was just as soft as it looked. Just thinking about the way she'd felt made your fingers itch to touch her again.

You were entirely sure you'd dressed her in that green silk dress. Yet there she stood, in a pastel ensemble. The color flattered her the same way it had last night. You remembered how flushed her cheeks were afterwards... They were nearly the same color as her outfit. Jude wasn't even looking at you, though. In fact, she happened to be talking to her ex-boyfriend, Shay. How hadn't you noticed that before?

Oh, yes... You'd been too wrapped up in her beauty to be aware of your surroundings. You grumbled at the thought of her conversing with Shay. He wasn't worth her breath. Why should something so precious as air, or even carbon dioxide, be wasted on one as undeserving as him? He didn't even deserve one minute of her time. But, you thought darkly, it sure seemed as if he was getting more than that. Why, you questioned yourself, anguished. What had he done to ingratiate himself to her now? Shay had done that once, but you wouldn't allow it again. He'd really done it this time. He'd broken her heart, left her for her rival, and devastated her on what should've been one of the happiest days of her life! He didn't deserve a second chance!

And, above all, he did not deserve Jude.

Your own feelings towards Jude notwithstanding, of course. It wasn't like you exactly deserved her affections either, but apparently Jude frequently rewarded undeserving people with her affections. This time you were going to step in and resume your natural, instinctive role as her protector. You were the one that cared. You were the one that loved her. Not that petty, foolish, ignorant boy who been idiotic enough to give Jude up for some third-rate wannabe pop princess. Not that you were much better.

In some respects, you were far worse... old man. Now Shay-Shay was mocking you in your head. You hated to say that you were jealous of him. Jude was an option for him. Never for you. But Shay could be contented to have her if he wished because his cheating ass was "age-appropriate". Never had you loathed the boy more than this very moment. You probably looked very childish, not unlike yourself at Jude's age, pouting and sneering for the cameras, hating the world. It wasn't fair, damn it! It wasn't... fair. Then again, when had life ever been just to you? But you were jealous of Shay, and you felt utterly ridiculous for it.

Jude had always brought out the teenager in you, though, hadn't she?

Like when you'd first met her, and she had insulted you, brought up your much-loathed past... Pushed that one button everyone else knew not to press. You had lashed out of her forcibly, criticized her harder than you would've had she not made such a comment. You were generally nicer to first-time artists, friendly, even downright congenial. You would've normally been gentle and soft with one as young as her. Not that you weren't a blunt, brutally honest man. It was your way of tricking the artist, of making them idolize you, admire you, think you nicer than you really were. You put them at ease and then brought on your wrath, lulling them into a false sense of confidence.

It was best not to overwhelm new artists at the beginning. Jude had shot all of this to hell with her off-hand, insulting comment. You didn't even know why it had bothered you so. You'd heard worse from people more intimidating and important than her before. Yet you'd hid behind that pillar like some sort of coward or stalker, listening to her and letting her call you lame and pop and overrated and not a professional. Why had you done that? It wasn't like you to allow such defamation of your character. Well, unwarranted defamation, anyways. You were always clear with your artists about that, even firm, and you set out quickly to prove that you were not who they thought you were. You'd spent your whole life trying to be considered as a serious artist, and now it was just a fight to be considered as anything more than the butt of a joke. You hated it when she used that hated moniker, the one you'd disdained from the beginning, when Darius had christened you that as a joke, considering how rail-thin you'd been. You were not little anymore; had you ever been? You were a fully grown adult, and even before that, you'd learned how to survive on the streets. You were not merely something cute to look at, but a real person with real feelings and a real life.

Contrary to popular belief, the Q in your nickname did not come from your last name. That was a convenient coincidence. It came from Little Tommy Cute. And you were certainly not cute now; you hadn't been then... a skinny street rat. But then Darius had cleaned you up and no one thought you were the one he'd picked up on one of the worst streets in Scarborough because you'd been so damn determined to survive that you risked your life robbing the man. You hadn't eaten anything for over a week; few people with money ever came to your neighborhood, so begging was out of the question.

The memories of that time for you were not pleasant ones, so you found it all too easy to banish them in favor of happy thoughts about Jude. Happier thoughts, anyways. You would've worked her to death that first day had not her friend intervened. You'd lost your typical professional courtesy, the code of coolness you lived by. Even then she'd made you feel things you did not wish to feel. Within mere moments, she had awakened the tiger lurking in your heart, the snappy, hungry savage. That ball of negative energy, rage, and hatred that you had worked so hard to suppress. Yet she'd brought it to the surface upon your first meeting.

In that respect, at least, she was a remarkable girl. Doubtless she was a remarkable girl in other ways, several of them very improper for you to know... But she could sing beautifully, and not just words. You remembered her cries last night, this morning... Oh, how the wretched, wonderful hours blurred! She had been so musical; so different from anyone else in that particular respect, and, of course, many others. Jude had sang for you whole operettas, arias, entire scales, climbing octave after octave, voice getting increasingly breathless as she continued, note after note coming faster and faster, finally crescendoing into an explosive climax. And you had loved every moment of it, even those when she had been completely silent, savoring the moment, holding on to you for all she was worth. Then you had been the loud one, the vocal one, utterly unashamed to show your pleasure.

You forced the dangerous thoughts from your mind, thoughts that insisted that you weren't quite so drunk- Thoughts that insinuated that you were well on your way to remembering everything, or perhaps that you'd never forgotten in the first place... Glancing at Jude and Shay (or rather, in Shay's case, glaring), you pondered grimly whether she was making the mistake of getting back with him. You had thought they were over for good. Besides, she certainly had acted like it last night. She couldn't be so stupid to enter into a relationship with the philandering loser again- could she? You hoped not; oh, God, you hoped it was not so!

However, then a thought briefly occurred to you... You had knowledge of Jude that you knew Shay did not possess, thus the reason for his wandering ways. From Jude's own lips she had affirmed that you, not Shay and not Jamie, were her first. She had been waiting for you, which came to you as no surprise, oddly enough, as she fit so perfectly... It was almost as if you were made for her or she for you. You had never believed in such peculiar creation; it seemed an odd craft, and you had lost your faith a long time ago. Jude only seemed to reinforce such foolish thoughts in you. Yes, you knew far more about Jude than Shay ever would. You had carnal knowledge of her. You had known her, in the strictly Biblical sense, repeatedly. You knew what sent her over the edge, and you knew how to make her stay. You knew how to have her whimpering your name, and you knew all too well how to make her love you. It came naturally, unfortunately enough. And somewhere, deep down inside where you secretly admitted that you truly remembered everything about how last night/this morning had unfolded, that you had memorized every detail, you had compiled all of this, committing it to memory in the fain hope that it would be useful in the future.

Maybe it would... If you made love to Jude in the future.

However, unfortunately for yourself, such an occurrence was impossible at best, doomed at worst. And you were to be stuck with those accursed memories of your sin until the end of your days! But they were brief visions, glimpses from within, not above, of your concealed wickedness. Your secret shame. Oh, how you wished to confess, to no longer keep all these buried feelings all pent up inside. You felt like a caged bird. Yet you couldn't say a word and risk jeopardizing yourself or Jude. You knew you words would be ill-received by anyone, priest, confidante, or God! No one could sanction or justify such an immoral, condemnable, degenerate action. Not even you.

Still, you hated how civilly she was speaking with the man that had so cruelly broken her heart. She was acting like last night hadn't happened, only it had. You hated knowing that you were responsible for that, that you were the one who had made her deny it, lie about it, keep it secret. You hated yourself for what you did to her, yet you knew you could do nothing else. There wasn't anything else you could do that would still be right, legal... Decent. Then again, if hurting her was decent, what was indecent? Was being with someone who loved you indecent, illegal? Yes, it was, in your case. She was so mature, much more mature than you had been. About last night, about Shay, about everything. There she was, talking to him, when all you wanted was to tear him apart.

And a small part of you thought that maybe she'd give Shay another chance. She'd given you another chance, and you'd still managed to muck it all up. Maybe she would sleep with him too, since you'd saved her from the foolish notion that sex meant anything. But it had to you. It had meant something, something you couldn't quite put into words. You weren't that eloquent, and maybe there weren't words for how you felt. All you knew was that you cared about her, far too much and far too strangely for you ever to explain. And seeing her with other men made you very angry. You weren't in love with her. But still, why did it bother you so? Your greatest fear was that she'd have sex with Shay now that you had loosened her up. And you didn't want her to do that.

She was wearing a dress that you could not get out of your head if you tried. It was as if it was painted on her skin, so well did it emphasis her slender figure and slight curves. You attempted to look away from the form-fitting fabric that clung to her skin, but it was as if your eyes were fixed, glued to the spectacle she made. Few redheads would've donned such vibrant, memorable clothing. But Jude wanted to be noticed, to be admired, to let the world know that she had changed in some small way. This change, whatever it was that had come over her (you liked to think you had something to do with it), was not small. She looked like a whole new woman, a whole different girl than the one you thought you knew so well.

The dress was short, but not indecently so, merely short enough that it showed off a tantalizing view of her long, long legs. It allowed you more than a glimpse at her creamy lower thighs. The straps were thick, creamy, and falling off of her shoulders, slowly inching down the middle of her arm. It revealed a wide expanse of soft skin. The neckline was low-cut but not overly revealing. However, the décolletage was tempting enough, providing an ample view of cleavage you would've never known she had. Only, of course, you would. It was, to say the least, a bold and cold choice for winter. Jude never showed this much skin, and you had never seen her in anything so tight, even when she'd been posing for the Solid cover. You almost groaned at the memory. The rock and roll schoolgirl look was just a bit too sexpot for Jude. Didn't schoolgirls always have that effect on men? She wasn't Britney Spears, though, and Jude surely hadn't needed that sort of exposure.

Nor had she needed the way you kept staring at her. It had been seven in the morning... a bit too early for you to be so excited. You had wanted to do such awful, naughty, wrong things to her. After all, you'd never had the pleasure of being enrolled in high school, and you had always wanted to take a girl under the bleachers, or in a bathroom stall... Or pressed up against the lockers. To take her in a deserted classroom right on top of the teacher's fine, hard wooden desk. Or in the steamy locker room, hotblooded and sweaty, preparing for a shower. Even dirty boys need to get clean. Or in the janitor's closet or... You had clearly fantasized about her far too much for your own sanity. But why not? Jude as the student, you playing the teacher. It would've been perfect. But such an affair was just as forbidden and just as illegal- for the same reasons- as the reality of your tangled, twisted relationship with Jude.

The dress was all wrong, of course. For the time of year and for Jude. It was a pastel, and Jude did not wear pale colors. She tended towards darks and vibrant colors that would complement her vivid hair and pale skin. You could almost her your ex-wife commenting snidely that no one wore that tint in winter and that the pastel pink dress clashed with her fiery red hair. It was a summer color, one that hinted at languid, balmy days of sunlight, humidity, and exotic, tropical flowers. It was a strange darkish pink color that you only remembered seeing on a crayon when you had been much younger. It had been called orchid, you recalled, and some girl had taken it right out of your hand and had used it to color the princess' dress. But it was also a light, pale pink, delicate like she was, but strong. As paradoxical as that makes it sound, the truth of the matter was that it was a sullied pink. So Jude became a sullied orchid, the shame of your deed tainting her petals, her skin, her hair.

It was an utterly virginal hue that Jude had absolutely no right to wear, and it made you enraged at her audacity. She was not a virgin anymore; you had seen to that. So she had no right to go around pretending she was still that innocent, untouched maiden that she most certainly wasn't. Again and again you had spilled your seed into her, entered her, touched her, kissed those lips, that skin... Insuring that she would be no virginal bride, that there would be no white wedding. You'd made her just as impure and unchaste as you, guilt by association. You had not done that for her to act as if it had never happened. To be all prim and proper as she seemed, completely put together in pastels while you were falling apart at the seams. You'd lost your way and found Jude, and you sometimes wondered if the trade-off had truly been worth it.

Her nails were painted, both fingers and toes, you noted idly, watching her animated hand gestures. She was making small-talk with the bastard like everything was just a-okay. You hated that you were so afraid of her that you refused to go over and end the madness, save her from a relapse of Shay. Her nails were painted a brilliant ruby red, a shade that was the opposite of her dress. You imagined those blood red scratching down your back, digging in and making you bleed, making you suffer for your sins. You wouldn't mind such a punishment, you reflected lasciviously. No, you wouldn't mind it one bit.

Like the nail polish, her heels contrasted with the dress' virginal insinuations. The dress itself contrasted with that image, as it was made of sinuous, skin-tight satin. The fabric was so thin that you were surprised you couldn't make out the lines of her undergarments from a distance. It surely hugged every curve and rode up slightly with each step. The sleeves kept falling down, over her arms, so that she was continually adjusting them, a slight flush on her cheeks. You wondered if the fabric was as impossibly soft, impossibly smooth, and impossibly flawless as her skin. You decided momentarily, staring at her with dark, hungry, obsessed eyes, drinking her in like the espresso you loved so well, that no, it wasn't. That would be impossible.

She wore tall, high-heeled matching pumps. Like the rest of her ensemble, they were impractical and utterly inappropriate. But the dress she'd worn last night had been equally inappropriate for the season, and at least this time it wasn't raining. The pumps were candy pink and open-toed, completely provocative. To be blunt, the shoes screamed "do me". And you really wouldn't mind, if there wasn't the annoying threat of jail time hovering over your head. You didn't know shoes, but you knew from a glance that the ones she was wearing were designer. The shoes made her several inches taller, and from a distance, you calculated that you wouldn't have to stoop to kiss her now.

Not that you would be kissing her any.

The bodice of the dress hugged the curves of her breasts beguilingly. Since the straps of her dress were continually tumbling down the smooth flesh of her shoulders, no matter how much she adjusted it, you could see her bra straps (and sometimes more, if the sleeves slipped a little too far) very clearly, even with the distance. Her bra was entirely red lace, and you would've bet money that it was part of a set. And, had you looked under her skirt, you would've expected to find a matching pair of lacy, skimpy panties. Ah, the joys of Victoria's Secret. It was always a secret you wanted to uncover, especially in this case. Even though you'd already seen all of what was beneath the clothes, you wanted to see more. You wanted to see everything all over again in broad daylight.

The other thing that showed that completely ruined the virginal image were the love bites down her neck, across her collarbone, just above her breasts. No matter how much she covered them with make-up to make them disappear, they were slightly pink and stood out against her flat skin painfully, like welts. It was like you were witnessing the effects of your kisses. You thought the bruises beautiful because they had been crafted by your lips and some emotion beyond care and lust that you couldn't quite place... something strange and wondrous and new to you. You had done that to her, and you were proud of your creation. Those would last for some time far longer than the night itself had. But the memories of that night would never go away, even if you married, had children, got old, and died. You knew that your dying breaths, that your last thoughts would be of that night and of Jude. No matter what the future brought. Last night was your biggest mistake and your biggest regret. Sometimes you thought you'd undo it if you could, but you know deep down that you wouldn't. You wouldn't take it back by any means. Because it was one of very few times in your life that you ever remembered being delirious with happiness. That made it worth it as wrong and illegal and dangerous as it was.

You had lied to Jude when you'd told her you wouldn't sleep with her again. You wanted to the very moment after you stopped, and you hadn't stopped wanting it. If you went to jail now for what you'd done, which you thought you deserved anyways, it would be worth it. You were a sick bastard, and she was a minor under your influence. She could never take back what she'd lost last night. She could wear the white dress at her wedding, but it would be a lie. You wondered if she regretted it; she had far better reasons than you. She'd lost her virginity and her innocence. You'd lost your respectability and the ability to hold your head up high, and consequently, you'd lost all the self-respect you had ever possessed.

You were rumpled, wrinkled, and flustered, dark circles under your eyes, and an unhealthy thinness to your cheeks. In short, you looked ill, absolutely dreadful. It was only fitting, for that was how you felt. The guilt did that to you; it wasted you like tuberculosis. Jude, on the contrary, looked perfect, absolutely unruffled. Unaffected. Affected, that was really all you were. Where she seemed strengthened, healthy, and emboldened... You seemed enervated, unwell, and made mute by the unspeakable sins you had committed. You seemed a coward compared to her because you could not face her, yet she had come here to see you, to speak with you.

She looked so different from last night, yet she looked so very similar. So similar, in fact, that it would've broken your heart... had you possessed one. Her face was the same, but the make-up was different. Her eyes were dark, smoky around the edges, as they usually were. Her mouth was round, full, and looking ever so kissable. Her lips were a shocking, glossy, almost tawdry smear of red. Her lips were pouty and swollen from your kisses last night, and you wanted nothing more than to take her in your arms and ruin that lipstick she'd carefully applied. Her cheeks weren't rosy now but pale instead, as marble, ivory, or alabaster. For the first time since you'd known her, her hair was curly. Her gleaming strawberry locks, which had always been flat-iron straight, were now wild, free, unrestrained... Her hair almost naturally formed beautiful, shiny ringlets.

Why had Jude come here? It wasn't to see Shay because she hadn't known he would be here. Even you hadn't known he would still be here, and considering your near showdown with the boy last night, it was a rather unpleasant surprise. In fact, when you first saw him there, lounging in the lobby, popping Ju-Jus, you had to resist the urge to show him what life was really like on the streets. You hated him that much now, because of the whole Jude thing. And Jude was the reason you were standing stock still behind a pillar, clenching your fists, eyes green with envy. You were jealous of the easy way she spoke with him, like she'd been utterly unaffected by his betrayal. Maybe it would be different when she saw you. Maybe that was why she was here.

You thought you'd said everything that needed to be said back at your suite earlier, but maybe you thought wrong. You went over it in your head, going over everything you had said. You'd given her no illusions. You'd told her that it could never happen again, that you didn't love her. You'd gotten her word that she would keep it a secret, but would she really keep it a secret... to her grave? Then again, you'd desperately checked your entire hotel room, and you hadn't found any open condom wrappers... so it was very possible that your dirty little secret wouldn't remain secret for long. That it could be the kind of secret that everyone would find out about in a few months, and how would that look? You were worried about this, but Jude had just dumped Shay, so you would be off the hook for that, and no one had any reason to suspect you. Except for the fact that it was you, and she'd never slept with Shay. Plus, if it happened, everyone would start asking questions when the baby came out, not looking a thing like Shay.

But that wouldn't happen, would it? You took a deep breath, pushing down the doubts, not allowing yourself to think of the possible consequences of your dirty deed beyond the obvious, breaking Jude's heart. You had said what she needed to hear, yes, what you had needed to say. But you hadn't said what you knew she wanted to hear. And the guilt of that was literally killing you, but you couldn't make yourself feel things you didn't. You knew then that you had to face her sometime, and what better time than now when you wouldn't have to be alone with her? So you found yourself slowly walking towards her, step by step, one at a time. Your feet, however, were unwilling, and your body tired and aching with each step.

When Jude turned and saw you coming towards her, she stopped talking to Shay in mid-sentence. She smiled at you welcomingly, and you started to wonder if maybe you'd just imagined all that had happened last night. Maybe it had all been one incredibly lucid, incredibly vivid dream. But the prospect that it had all only happened in your head was all too unrealistic. You couldn't believe that last night and this morning had been only in your imagination. It was too painful and too real for that. Then Jude did something else that surprised you. She met you halfway and threw her arms around you, pulling you into a close, warm embrace. Actually, she pulled you a little too close; she pressed herself against you, so that you could feel every bit of her against your skin. Only a few thin layers of fabric were separating you.

The feeling took you back to this morning, and the way it had felt when she was in your arms. That felt too good to be fake. So as much as you wished it hadn't happened, that you'd dreamed the whole wonderful night and morning... You knew you hadn't. It felt exactly the same, holding her, wrapping your arms low around her waist. She was so soft and so warm... and if you closed your eyes, you could let yourself get completely lost in her. She rested her head against your neck, burying her nose in the crook of your neck so that you could feel her breath on your bare skin. Your shirt was halfway unbuttoned and too thin for your own good. She sighed blissfully, as if she'd forgotten all you'd done to her, and lazily ran a hand over the fabric, feeling your taut muscles.

As she did this, you exhaled sharply, and you felt Jude smile against your skin. She was pleased at the effect she knew she had on you. You had clearly forgotten yourself, let down your guard just a little too much. You couldn't let her affect you like this. But as much as you wanted to pull away, you couldn't. You didn't want to do that either. Suddenly, her pressing against you like this became all too cruel, since you couldn't do a thing about it. You had to bite back on your bottom lip to stop yourself from doing anything, but damn it if she wasn't pressing against you wantonly, inappropriately... in public. Jude trailed her arms down, around your waist, clutching you closer, so that her nails dug into your skin. If it was possible, she was even closer than she was before. She lifted her head off your shoulder, pulling back slightly so that she could look you in the eyes. She smiled beatifically. "It's good to see you again, Tom," She replied softly, in a voice just a shade lower than it usually was.

You were a little worried about what Shay would think, and what exactly she had meant with that comment. You and Jude had been embracing for far too long. But her eyes were soft, a clear shade of blue, and they indicated that she had missed you very much. And as much as you wanted to, you still found it impossible to deny her of anything she wanted. She couldn't have you, so it would just be cruel to deny her of this small, relatively innocent pleasure. Eventually, though, you knew you would have to pull away. So you closed your eyes for a few moments, hugging her to you so hard that she had trouble breathing. You needed to feel her, to know that she was real. That somehow she didn't hate you like she should. You let yourself get lost in the intoxicating sensation of being close to her.

You buried your nose in her soft, fragrant hair, which smelled like the ocean and exactly like your own hair. You smelled her, and she smelled like she'd bathed in your cologne, the very same cologne which you forgot to put on this morning. You liked that she had your scent all over her, even if it wasn't a common smell, and it was obviously a male aroma that could very easily be linked back to you. She was flaunting it, the fact that she had been in your bed for the night, that you'd left her all alone to her own devices in your hotel room. Yet you wanted her to flaunt it, and a sick part of you wanted the whole world to know what you'd done. You did deserve it, after all, even if Jude didn't deserve the shame of being connected with you. You had missed Jude too, even if you'd only been away from her a few hours. You drew in a breath deeply, relaxing slightly, smiling to yourself for an all too brief moment. Then you loosened your hold on Jude, opening your eyes, sighing sadly, and releasing her.

Jude smiled understandingly and for a moment, you thought she was just going to go back over to Shay. Then she surprised you yet again by swooping down and suddenly planting a kiss on your cheek that you knew would leave lipstick on your face. Just as quickly, however, she tore her lips from your cheek, flashing a beguiling grin at you before sashaying over to Shay. You shook yourself out of the daze and followed Jude over to Shay, preparing to step in when necessary. The smile dropped right off of Shay's face when he saw you. You smiled back, faking cordiality as best you could, and only just attempted to wipe the lipstick off your face. You were a bit smug, but that was to be expected. Jude had clearly chosen you over Shay, and it was about damn time.

You looked expectantly at Jude, wanting to know just what she and Shay had been discussing. Jude smiled politely and turned to you to explain. "Shay and I were discussing his album. You did a great job with it, Tommy... There's some serious buzz that he could get a Grammy nod next year. You too, Tommy. Word is that you're going to be up for Producer of the Year next year, since Shay's album was released too late to qualify for this year. Isn't that great?" Jude said calmly, looking genuinely excited for you, the both of you. You nodded back, even though you didn't want to win a Grammy for Shay's lousy album. You wanted to win one with Jude. You wanted her to be up there on the stage with you by your side, and you wanted her to thank you first in her acceptance speech. But above all, you wanted the album to be good enough to win awards, and Jude definitely had the potential.

Then Jude's eyes narrowed, diverting their focus back to Shay. You could sense the anger in her, and it made you wary. Luckily for you, however, the brunt of her rage was directed towards Shay. She placed her hands on her hips firmly, glowering at him. "Then Shay started talking about the tour, which inevitably led to a discussion of Eden. I politely refrained from telling him that she was a trashy whore. Shay went on to say that he missed me... in the span of a day... That Eden was only a mistake and that he wanted to be with me again," She summarized disapprovingly. Jude turned around fully to face you, disapproval clearly written on her face. "Can you guess what my answer was, Tommy?" She asked coolly, crossing her arms over her chest. You shook your head because you didn't really know. You figured that she wouldn't jump back into his arms, but last night had changed your mind about her forever.

Jude looked somewhat disappointed with you for thinking there was a possibility that she would ever consider him again. You felt vaguely flattered that she wouldn't even consider him after one night with you. Then Jude turned to Shay and shot him a look that could've frozen Lake Ontario. "I said, Hell no. I don't do Eden's leftovers," Jude growled venomously. You smiled at that comment, amused at the humiliated look on Shay's face. You were enjoying his rejection just a bit too much. Shay was furious at the way Jude treated him, but he had deserved it. If you could face the full extent of Jude's wrath, which you admittedly deserved, then so could he. After all, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

However, something about the moment didn't sit well with Shay. His eyes immediately flicked to yours, and you met his glare head-on, completely unashamed. "How long have you been screwing your producer, Jude?" Shay questioned cruelly, knowing that would hurt her. He pointedly eyed the poorly-covered bruises on Jude's neck and collarbone. Bruises that you were proud to say you had caused. A cruel, vindictive grin appeared on his lips. Judgment was etched into his face as his eyes proclaimed Jude a slut. Something she was not. She'd only been with you, no one else, least of all him. Jude stiffened immediately, and her new attitude vanished before your eyes... leaving her that broken girl she'd been last night. Jude wasn't crying as she had last night, but the heartbreak was all too visible on her face. She merely trembled a little bit and shrank back, against you a little. Jude said nothing, but you weren't about to allow Shay to talk to her like that.

You stepped up in front of Jude, insuring that she was safely out of Shay's way. "Shut up, Shay! Just because she doesn't want to get back with you doesn't mean that she's with someone else. It means that she's finally wised up and seen that you're a snake in the grass. Face it, Shay-Shay. She doesn't think you're worth her time. You're a lying, cheating asshole who doesn't deserve her," You stated bluntly, hints of the rage you were so well-known for creeping into your voice. You straightened up a little, rising to your full height, leaning forward so you could properly intimidate the younger man. You remembered doing a similar thing the night before, but this time it was even more personal. "And if you talk to her like that again, I'll decide that you are worth the sweat and give you a beating you'll never forget," You threatened in a low hiss so that Jude couldn't hear you. Then you leaned back just as abruptly as you had leaned forward, invading Shay's space. You shot him a meaningful look and returned to Jude's side.

Shay actually had the nerve to roll his eyes at you. Like he didn't take you seriously. Ha! Maybe it was the rhyming threat... His eyes narrowed as he looked at you. "You know, it's funny. Aunt Portia said the exact same things about you," Shay retorted snarkily. You stiffened a little bit, but you weren't ashamed of it. Portia was right about you, and as your ex-wife, she was entitled to be bitter. You wouldn't ever concede that you had deserved Portia, but you weren't even worthy to breathe the same air as Jude. And you would be the first to admit that. But Shay deserved her even less because at least you cared about her. You didn't give Shay the satisfaction of a response. He felt the need to continue speaking nonetheless. "And, in your book... Who does deserve her, Saint Tommy? You?" Shay inquired maliciously, trying to provoke you.

You flinched at his personal nickname for you. After last night, you were even less of a saint than the one you usually weren't. In that sense, Shay's sarcastic insult was sharp, cutting straight to the heart. The guilt bubbled up again, so much more difficult to push down this time. But you showed none of this on the outside. You merely shrugged and said nothing. "Just not you, Shay," You replied icily, resisting the urge to push him away. That was truth enough. You turned to Jude as if to ask whether she wanted to leave. Jude said nothing, merely staring at Shay wordlessly. You wondered irrationally just what was so fascinating about him but wisely said nothing. He was her ex, and she wasn't entirely over him yet. That much was understandable. You told yourself you could accept that, but she never should've shed a tear over him in the first place.

Shay made a face at you, disbelieving. He snorted, gesturing at you and Jude casually. "And I'm supposed to believe that you're not doing my girlfriend? I saw the way you hugged her, Tommy. You were practically humping her. And the way you look at her. It's sick, man, 'cause you're old. Too old for Jude," Shay scoffed, giving you a dismissive once over. You didn't care; after all, you had sex with his girlfriend. He didn't, therefore you didn't give a damn what he thought about you. You were the real man here. He could think what he wanted; they all did. The point was that you had wanted Jude since before he'd even met her, and you had gotten what you wanted. But, of course, you wanted more. You wanted it all. You did, however, bristle when he brought up your age. Since when was twenty-two ancient? You hated the way that he'd brought up things you did feel, that he had a point. You did think you were sick for caring so much about Jude, for wanting her so badly you had to swallow it down and lock it up deep inside you.

Then Shay made the foolish mistake of turning to address Jude. He touched her arm, giving her a look. "And, Jude, I know what you're doing. You're trying to make me jealous by fooling around with one of the biggest players in all of Canada," He proclaimed pompously, shooting you a disapproving look. You rolled your eyes. Like he was one to talk. Yet you did not correct him as you should have because he immediately pushed onward. Shay did not look amused. His beady eyes once again focused on the marks on Jude's neck, burning into them resentfully. "Congratulations, it worked. I get the point. If I get mine, you're going to want your own affairs. I got it. It won't happen again, I swear," Shay promised shortly, insultingly. The color rose in Jude's pale cheeks, and she glowered at him hatefully, jerking her arm away from his hand. She covered a few of the marks on her chest embarrassedly, guiltily. You hated that Shay had made her ashamed of what you two, the both of you, had done last night, this morning. You weren't ashamed, and she shouldn't be either. There was nothing to be guilty about. You weren't seeing anyone, and Shay had dumped her. Once again, of course, Shay looked at you pointedly. You bore the brunt of his stare blithely, feeling every inch of your own superiority. "Now, just stop fooling around with this has-been so we just go back to the way it was," He entreated, not quite humble enough to beg. You almost winced for him; that had been a mistake. You could feel the searing rage radiating off of Jude behind you, and you knew he was in for it.

You were about to take care of it yourself when Jude stepped up proudly, in front of you. You tried to follow her, but she placed a hand on your chest, shot you a look that said she could deal with this herself, and pushed you back. This was clearly her battle to fight. She strode forward, unafraid and irritated beyond belief. She stopped right in front of Shay, who was grinning cockily like he'd just won a Grammy. You hated that victorious smirk of his, and you wanted nothing more than to wipe it right off his face. Jude, however, took care of that. Furious, she slapped him hard right across the face. "That was for cheating on me." Then she slapped him again. "That was for cheating on me with Eden." Her face was flushed, her skin turning red. She straightened up then, chest heaving from the effort of hurling her open palm at his cheek. Only moments later, when Shay was about to speak, she interrupted him with yet another slap. "And that was for calling me, of all people, the whore in this relationship!" She screamed before wailing on him.

You waited a few moments before pulling Jude off Shay, who was not fighting back. You waited because it was a truly priceless image that you knew you'd never forget. However, when you grabbed her, around the waist, still kicking and fighting... You'd forgotten how much she affected you. She froze immediately at your touch; her inner beast soothed. Shay noticed, his lip bloodied, his right eye slowly bruising, and he glowered at you accordingly. But you were holding Jude, so you didn't really care. Jude straightened, trying to regain her lost cool. "And, my sex life is none of your business anyways, Shay, because I'm not your girlfriend anymore. And I'm not using Tommy to make you jealous, okay? That would be an insult to both Tommy and me," Jude snapped scathingly, going for the jugular. Then she paused, straightening her dress and plastering on a fake smile, she continued primly, "If I wanted to make you jealous, this is how I'd act."

Swiftly, Jude turned to you and gave you a long, lingering once over that took your breath away. It made you remember last night, even though you didn't, and the way she'd stared at you when she tried to leave. That was the first opportunity she'd had to get a good look at you in the light, and you remembered how she'd stared. If you were a self-conscious man, you surely would've worried, but you weren't a self-conscious man. Then Jude smiled slowly, licking her lips, and grinning invitingly. You knew she was trying to seduce you, but that didn't matter. It didn't even matter that Shay was looking on. Jude leaned in towards you, slowly moving closer and closer, until she was only a few millimeters away from your lips. You caught yourself leaning in when she suddenly pulled away abruptly and turned to face Shay, smirking smugly. "Like that," Jude said plainly, not looking at you. You hated the way she made you feel. Used. She was right. It was insulting to you that she was just using you to make Shay jealous.

Shay laughed at you like you were the ridiculous one, and you fought down the urge to punch him so hard you'd break his cheekbone. Jude rolled her eyes at him. "Well, Shay, I wouldn't laugh at Tommy if I were you. I'd make a wager that he's better in bed than you are, but then I'd actually have to have sex with you, and that's just disgusting," Jude rejoined nastily. You almost winced because she said nothing about having sex with you, only about how the mere possibility of having sex with Shay was nauseating to her. Thus, it could be inferred that she'd had sex with you. Her words were ambiguous like that. You saw the look on Shay's face, though, and he looked absolutely scandalized. You wanted to smirk but refrained because then it might look like you had sex with Jude. And you didn't want anyone to think that, right? "Look, Shay, I'm over you and what you did. I assure you that your petty little betrayal is the least of my worries. But I'm never going to get back with you, Shay. Now can we just go our separate ways in peace?" Jude declared assertively, coolly, like the whole thing had been nothing to her, and she wasn't torn.

Jude didn't wait for an answer. She whirled around, grabbing you by the collar of your shirt and pulling you with her towards your studio briskly. She threw open the door, not sparing you a backwards glance, and you had no choice but to follow. She picked up a notebook she must've stashed there before she met up with Shay in the lobby. It was a notebook you recognized well since you'd been carrying it around almost nonstop for a week. It was your notebook; you'd written ten songs in it just yesterday. It was half-full last time you'd checked. How Jude had gotten her hands on it was a mystery to you, but you didn't want her to see it. It was, however, all too clear that she had by the look on her face. For a moment, you wondered if she was going to sing one of your songs, but then you remembered last night and presumed that she would sing that song she'd been working on.

Once Jude was in the studio, she became a whole new person. Jude was wholly focused on her work, not even acknowledging or looking at you. She was setting up the recording booth like a pro, since she'd seen you do it enough times to do the process in her sleep. She detailed what she wanted for the background music and, together, the two of you recorded the instrumental section. Jude was brief and to the point, however, like she was numbing herself to feeling anything because it would be too painful. Reflecting and remembering entirely too much, you recorded and played and edited on auto-pilot, plagued with thoughts of Jude. The woman herself (for she was one of those now, in every sense of the word, despite her age) didn't seem to notice your distraction. Eventually, however, when it was half past seven (you had encountered Jude around four-thirty), you were finished with the background and everything finally satisfied Jude.

Then, of course, it was time to record Jude's vocals. Neither of you had bothered to fetch Kwest for assistance, and Jude was being very insistent on how she wanted the song to sound. The general recording process was awkward and tense, to say the least. You felt the sexual tension in the air, even though you had already slept with her. It didn't help that you kept seeing her in that dress, creamy skin flashing every time one of her sleeves fell down. The tightness of the dress itself drove you halfway to insanity. You kept getting distracted looking at her, so you made her redo the song time after time until you were driving Jude crazy. It gave you a sick sort of satisfaction to make her feel just as bad as you did. It didn't help matters any that the song was clearly written about what transpired between the two of you. Finally, Jude blew up, screamed at you to stop, and barged into the studio.

"God, Tom! What the hell is your problem?!" Jude roared furiously, throwing her hands in the air in frustration. She didn't notice how that gesture pushed her chest out, nor did she notice how she was slightly hyperventilating and turning red in the face. Jude was pacing, but she stopped and focused her steely blue-eyed gaze on you. "I know you're sick of hearing how I feel, and you just can't hear this right now, but Tommy..." She began vehemently, anger dissipating as she trailed off, pointing an accusing finger at you. She sighed wearily, drooping a little, and collapsed in the chair next to you, the one that Kwest usually sat in. You happened to like its new occupant much more than its previous occupant. Jude looked down at the ground then gazed back at you, meeting your stare with sad, richly blue eyes. "I have to do this now, while it's still fresh. The sooner I finish this up, the less you have to see of me and be reminded of what you did," Jude murmured quietly. You winced at her last comment and felt ashamed for trying to peer up her skirt.

Not that Jude had noticed. Somehow how completely into her you were had managed to slip past her, and she hadn't noticed the way you'd been staring at her all night, breathless and wanting to drag her back to your hotel room, consequences be damned. You didn't mind looking at Jude. You hated looking at Jude and not being able to stop your lusty thoughts. You hated to think that you'd taken advantage of her when she was drunk, vulnerable, and heartbroken. You loved looking at her, especially now when she looked so beautiful and like sex incarnate. You hated the way you stared at her, wanted her, and couldn't do anything about it. The only reason she was still here right now was because you stared at her so much it was interfering with your work.

Jude rose wearily, looking parched. She gestured towards the door. "Now, I'm going to go for a water break, and when I come back, I will sing one final take... And I will be done for the night," Jude assured you bossily, giving you a look that told you to stop screwing around. She was halfway to the door when she suddenly turned around and pulled something out of her bra. It was a platinum credit card, yours, in fact. "Hope you don't mind that I used your credit card. Disposing of the evidence is expensive," Jude replied airily, tossing you the credit card. You caught it just as she turned on her heel and left. Gazing at your silver credit card, you couldn't help but think with a smirk that you would gladly pay for the charges that had made her look like that. No matter what the cost was, seeing Jude like that was... definitely worth it. She didn't look back at you. It was like she'd cryogenically frozen herself so that she barely alive, but dead inside... numb to all pain, impervious to illness. But just like cryogenics, it was a flawed idea. Bottling it up inside, burying it all, masking her feelings... It wouldn't work forever, and when it stopped, it would be worse than ever.

After you could no longer see her, you got up, went inside the booth, and peered at the notebook she'd adopted as her own. Sure enough, you were right. This was the very same notebook in which you'd written some of your finest songs, or, to be more precise, some of your finest love songs. They were all obviously about Jude, that much was ridiculously obvious. Even if you didn't already know that, you could tell by the color of the notebook. Red notebooks were for songs about Jude, while blue notebooks were for songs about yourself, your past, and from the Boyz Attack period. Green notebooks were for songs for other people and songs about other people. Black notebooks were from your solo period and for work specifically geared towards a solo career. Black notebooks were also songs about all of your deepest feelings, the depths of your rage, your fear, your self-loathing, your regret, and your sadness.

You looked at the last page, so you could finally understand what she'd been saying the whole time. The words on the page were faded and distorted by what were obviously teardrops. It hurt your eyes to look at each teardrop, every droplet that had been cried over you all over the page. It hurt you even more to know that you had caused every salty drop of her pain, and you wished more than anything that you hadn't hurt her in the first place. Except of course... You wanted to be with her more than that, and that would solve all your problems. But you could be nobody's boyfriend, least of all Jude's, and you were kidding yourself if you thought that would make it better. You didn't have a very good concept lately of how to make things better, considering you thought having sex with her would heal all of her emotional scars.

For a short time, it actually had, and you had been right. But that didn't erase them. It just covered up the scars, made it so they didn't matter, and deepened them, creating new wounds. Jude was worse off now that you'd made love to her... now that she knew what it was like to be with you like that. It made the pain all the more acute, all that much stronger. The hurt was more cutting; it reached deeper into her heart, devastating her further. So your tired, sad eyes skimmed over the lyrics, reading them, repeating them softly to yourself, slowly memorizing them. They were on your mind constantly in the days afterwards.

Then you set down the journal that had been so valuable to you, the one that had contained some of the best, most honest material you'd ever written, and you left it there on the stool as a symbol. A symbol of nonintervention, and a symbol of how much you cared about Jude. You cared enough to leave her with the journal that expressed the strongest feelings you'd ever had... because you thought she deserved to have some sense of reassurance that she mattered to you. That journal could be as deep a glimpse as she ever got into your feelings for her. It was your only way of possibly explaining and clarifying how you felt about her. And she deserved to know that at least. So you let her have it. Let her know as much of you as she can.

You walked out of the booth, back into the studio, and sat down in your chair silently, as if you hadn't done anything. Jude strutted in the room a few moments later, water bottle in hand, drinking from it greedily. Was it so terrible that you were actually jealous of the water bottle for touching her lips as you wanted to do, even now after you already had. You'd certainly done things with Jude that were more intimate than a kiss. As meaningless as sex often was to you, you knew enough about it to judge properly if it was good or bad... and you knew enough to know that it was different with Jude. That you actually had the feelings to back it up this time. You knew she thought you were nothing but a dirty, rotten liar, but like her lyrics had said... "You never lied to me not once." You meant everything you'd told her.

Unless you said you loved her somewhere in there. You were never quite sure what you said in that moment, the one moment where you lost control and ached, when you quit holding back and released your inhibitions. From that moment, the build-up to the climax, then the climax itself, and the high you felt coming down... the afterglow... You were only just barely in control of your bodily functions, and you couldn't be held responsible for your actions. Simply because you weren't thinking straight, and you wouldn't remember. And with Jude, you were even more inclined to say something stupid like that.

You did want all of those things for her. You wanted to give her all those things and so, so much more. But you shouldn't have made promises to her that you couldn't keep, no matter how much you wanted to keep them... No matter how much you wanted to make them come true. It wasn't right of you to do that. Jude sighed satisfactorily, thirst effectively quenched. Your thirst, on the contrary, was raging and ravaging, even worse than before. Every moment you looked at Jude, your desire grew. So you tried not to let it show, and you bit down on your bottom lip just a little bit harder.

And then you pressed the buttons, flipped the switches, and the music started to play. Jude began to sing, and you were immediately lost in her voice, lost in her song. She had been holding back before, staving off the emotion, but not now. Now she was expressing every painful bit of it in both her singing and her appearance... her gestures, her facial expressions, her body language. The hurt radiated off of her, seeping through the glass, and finally reaching you. You couldn't take your eyes off her for even a minute, and you found it hard to even blink... so strong was the urge to stare at her, to memorize every freckle, every fleck of color in those blue-gray eyes, to read her up and down like an old, broken book. You wanted to touch her desperately, but that wouldn't fix anything.

It wouldn't ameliorate her pain; it wouldn't wash away the traces of tears on her face. Silent tears were starting to roll gracefully down her cheeks, and you knew she'd hate that. She had made herself up so carefully, using make-up to camouflage her insecurities, to make her appear older than she really was. Her entire appearance was put together so as to attract a man by showing off her best assets. She'd thought it up to show you once again what you were missing... Like you hadn't already burned the graven images of her naked body into your mind. She wanted to set you afire with desire, to rekindle the flame, to make you burn with regret, to brand you as her devotee. You were burning hopelessly now, dying for your cause like a martyr at the stake. Only you weren't quite so innocent or so pious, and you weren't quite sure what the hell you were fighting for. But you were dying a slow, painful death nonetheless, burning for your heresy and hypocrisy. The flames licked at your body, hungrily devouring your sinful, delicious flesh... the same that had claimed her last night. You had liked her hunger much more than the fire's.

At the very least, you were suffering. Even if Jude didn't know it. And Jude mustn't know it because if she did... You couldn't finish that thought, but you knew you must keep it from her. You must guard your secret, lock it up inside of you like your mind was a safe. You stared at her with wide, awed eyes. Your gaze never wavered once. Jude wasn't looking down at the ground like a scolded, ashamed child. She was looking up, over your head, but her eyes were closed. Silvery tears trailed down her delicate cheeks proudly, but she was too devoted to the song to notice or care. You'd already seen her fall apart, come to pieces... You'd already seen her at her worst. It just didn't matter anymore. She merely clutched her headphones painfully, knuckles white with strain. She went after every note relentlessly, hurtling herself into the work. She leaned into the microphone, getting so close that her lips brushed against it sometimes when she sang.

The entire vision of her, so much like an avenging angel, would forever be etched in your memory. She was crying, and she looked so fragile, but there was something about her that insisted she was strong. She would bend but not break. She would sway; she would stagger, but she would not fall. She would change, adapt... to become stronger, fiercer. She would survive. And, for the first time, you did not worry about her. Her shoulders did not shake from the tears. Her cheeks were ghostly pale, an unearthly, ethereal color, not a flushed pink. Her eyes were not swollen; the tears brought her no pain. Each droplet streamed down over the contours of her face in a line, one after the other, reaching her chin and dropping off to softly splash unto the floor. She was altogether a perfect vision of tragedy, of the effects a broken heart could have on a person. She could've cried for an eternity, so great was her misery. But she did not let it control her; she didn't let it dominate her or dictate her life.

Her self-control amazed you. She was broken, yet holding herself together, teeth and nails. She could feel all those things but not fall over the edge and into oblivion... like you had always feared. She seemed determined to live whole. You were dazzled by her in those few moments when she'd been pouring her heart and soul out for you. She left you breathless. Then she stopped, letting the last note ring out, loud and clear, and the song was over... and she looked at you with those deep cerulean eyes of hers, wide and wet, and you saw the world through her eyes; you saw the sun set, and you saw the sun rise. You saw infinity in her gaze; forever and you did not flinch.

It was a strange, oddly sober moment in a life that seemed so surreal and out of control. A life that was like a dream and a nightmare all rolled together. Yet there was Jude, a shining beacon of hope, representing everything good and pure in the world. Jude was the light shining through the darkness. She looked like an angel to you. Somehow your mental facilities were still functioning despite all this, and you recognized when she stopped singing. You stopped the recording and the music accordingly, did some minor editing; you didn't need to do much. Jude was like a sibyl; she had predicted it would be this way, that her vocals would be absolutely flawless. Then again, everything about her was flawless. Your fault-finding eyes sought out none of the usual imperfections. Every little thing she did was magical to your eyes, and you were all too willing to be enchanted.

You did some final editing, glad for once that your ears had been carefully conditioned and trained to do this so that you could do this in your sleep. You almost did, for every movement seemed slow and sluggish, like a dream in molasses. Jude remained impatiently and petulantly in the recording booth, eagerly gulping down her water and occasionally shooting you a dark glare. You edited the music methodically and then finally laid down the vocals over the instrumental track, making a few adjustments so that it was finally completely, one-hundred percent, without a doubt perfect. There was something seductive about perfection, you reflected idly. Something about actually achieving exactly what you strove to do made you obsess about doing it again. Perfection was its own reward, knowing that those long, long hours of work had paid off.

There was something sacred about music to you, something holy about it. It was like your anchor to the world, your own personal way of dealing with going to Hell and back. At the ripe age of twenty-two, you'd been all around the world twice, seen all there was to see, and you'd tried almost everything once. Even played daddy once for a while to a kid that wasn't yours, but you thought the little girl was. And wasn't that just as bad, even if the paternity test got you off the hook? You'd been married, too, but you could never settle down and tame your wild ways. It hadn't lasted long. Hell, you'd gone from living on the streets, singing to make your dinner, to penthouse suites and platinum records... still singing for your dinner, but at least you were clean and had a roof over your head again. Music was a bitch, sometimes, like when your life had been so miserably pointless and miserably empty... So fake that you hated what you did naturally.

You sang. You wrote songs. You played the guitar. You'd even learned how to play exotic instruments like a sitar or a balalaika in your world travels. Music was ingrained into your being. It was a part of who you are, who you were, simple as that. And, if there was one thing you knew, you knew that it was a crime to deny your very nature. So you couldn't stop. You couldn't try and be someone else for long. You couldn't do the serious thing, and you couldn't give up music. You could change the music, go behind the soundboard instead of the mike, but that wouldn't change much. That just put the power, the authority, and the control... all of which were so very precious to you... in your hands. And if that was the price you had to pay to keep up your music, then that wasn't so bad. It didn't suit you to try and pass yourself off as someone you weren't. You weren't anything more than a washed-out wannabe rock musician turned producer.

You'd sold out so long ago that you didn't remember what the days were like before. You remembered misery and desperation. That was all. Music was your life, your passion! You were not one to deny yourself of a passion. Music was the only reason you were alive now, and some days it had been the only thing that kept you going. A song was still the fastest and most effective way to reach you. She knew you too well. Jude's song had affected you profoundly, but you didn't show the way it cut at your heart. You couldn't do that.

So you recorded the song unto a CD, labeled it, and stood. You intended to put it on Georgia's desk before leaving. Then Jude stepped out of the booth so quietly that you just looked up, and there she was, standing in front of you. She looked incredibly vulnerable there with her hand on the doorway, legs shaking slightly. Her eyes were still glossy with tears, and she suddenly remembered that her cheeks were still wet. She brushed away the tears from her cheeks, embarrassed. Then she blinked and straightened, walking towards you slowly, hesitantly.

You hated how she tried to act like it had never happened. It seemed so glaringly obvious to you that she'd been screwed. Even if you hadn't been there, if you hadn't done it... You knew all the signs. The way her skin glowed in a new, unreal way. How soft and smooth and delicate her translucent, creamy skin was, ensuring that you wanted to touch her forever. The way her hair seemed so shiny and vivid, how it looked perfect despite the messiness. The new way she carried herself, so upright. The new, sexy confidence and pride she possessed, the way she stood. How self-conscious and self-aware she suddenly was of her body and that new, sacred power she could wield over men. The way her hips swayed as she moved. Then there were the obvious signs... the mottled scarlet bruises that she hadn't quite covered up properly and the beestung, kiss-swollen lips... your cologne.

Her legs didn't buckle, though. She didn't wince or show any indication of pain. She didn't grimace. Most importantly, however, she didn't limp. You wanted her sore like you were, only worse since it had been her first time. You wanted it to feel like it had been her first time. You wanted her to ache because you had been in her once, and you weren't anymore. You wanted muscles she never knew she had to whine in protest whenever she moved, a constant reminder of what had made her feel that way. You wanted, no, needed her to remember. You needed her to remember because you couldn't. You couldn't allow yourself that luxury, that dangerous daydream. You couldn't allow yourself the possibility, but she could. She could live on such possibilities with the hope you never had.

You wanted her to feel like you'd torn her apart inside, even though you hadn't. You wanted her to feel the scratches on your back, the soul-piercing guilt, the overwhelming regret... and the relief. Relief that you had done the deed, gotten it over with... but not out of your system like you wanted. It was the exact opposite now. You were closer to her than you'd ever been. You'd breathed together; you'd felt her skin on yours, and you couldn't forget the feeling of that for the world. You had kept her up all night; she had to be sore. But maybe she wasn't. Maybe she wasn't as hurt as you had thought.

Jude stopped directly in front of you. You couldn't help but notice that she was standing just a little too close to you. The scent of your cologne kept wafting over to you. For once, she let down the mask and let you see how truly broken and fragile she really was. She wrapped her arms around her waist, glancing down at the ground like she couldn't say it to your face. She who was so strong couldn't face you. At first you'd thought she was the weak one, long ago, when you first met her and thought you'd had her pegged. But it had been you all along. You were the truly weak one, for not fighting this with everything in you. She fought fate with everything in her. Hell, she even fought you. You couldn't help but admire her for that. "Tommy...?" She asked timidly.

You snapped to attention, nodding slowly. You wanted so badly to touch her that you almost had to cut off both of your hands to stop yourself from doing that very thing. Jude exhaled a shaky breath, looking at you all too briefly for your taste. She quickly looked down, and you noticed that she was shivering just slightly. You stepped closer to her. Jude's lips shook, and she didn't look up until you gently placed your finger under her chin and made her look at you. You waited patiently for her to speak, sure that whatever she had to say would be worth it. "When does the pain go away?" She murmured in a thin, weak voice.

After that, you couldn't help yourself. You swept her into her arms, and she shuddered but did not cry. You wrapped you arms around her tightly, pressing her against you. You didn't know which kind of pain you were speaking of... and if it was the emotional kind, you had no answer for her. You buried your face in her hair, inhaling the smell of the ocean. "It hurts a little less each day... until you don't feel anything, and it's just a dull ache in your heart," You answered softly, as honestly as you could. You had no idea what you were saying, or if it was true. You only knew that you had to say something to make it better. You had to give her some answer. Everything gets better with time.

Except your inappropriate obsession with her. That only seemed to grow worse, stronger over time. Jude nodded slowly like she understood, pulling away from you. She finally knew that you were dangerous to touch. She didn't want to tempt you now, when you were weakened and wanting her the most, and damn her for that! She didn't want to play with you, to toy with you, to push you down that path. But you wanted to go down that path hand in hand with her in the dark. If she let you, you would take her there. But she didn't push you there this time. She pushed you away, only not literally. Metaphorically, but you could feel every bit of the pressure nonetheless. She looked up into your eyes for a brief moment, like she was afraid you might suck her into your stare and pull her down with you. "It hurts, Tommy," She admitted finally, sighing and glancing away.

You wanted her to admit it, to say those words or... Or something to show that it had all really happened. You wanted her to stop lying, even though you'd made her lie. Only now that she had said it, now that she'd given in and given up, you didn't feel better. You didn't feel like you'd gotten off the hook. You felt like you were still alone reeling from it. Her jaw trembled, and she looked back up at you, a bitter, accusing look in her eyes. You didn't look away from her, but merely stood there and waited. You deserved whatever was coming your way; you weren't afraid to face it. "You made me hurt, Tommy," Jude said in a monotone, staring at you with those hauntingly blue eyes. The words cut you like butcher knives and stinging bottles of liquor that had been thrown at your head. Her pitch rose and so did her anger.

Her eyes blazed nearly white with rage, crackling like lightning. "You like that, don't you?" She sneered caustically, throwing her pain in your face. Making you face what you'd done. She really knew you through and through, didn't she? You had liked that. You'd liked every second of that. Well, the physical part. You could do without this emotional business. "That you broke me... That you really tore me up inside," She mumbled brokenly, surrendering, tears coming to her eyes. She blinked the tears away fiercely, but you were left haunted by her words. You felt like you'd raped her. And a part of you had, because you'd stripped her of that innocence. You'd made her into some unattainable fantasy girl, and then you made her older so you could have her. You ripped her of her childhood, carelessly pushed it aside like her bra and her underwear, so you could take what you wanted. So that it wouldn't be wrong for you to have what you wanted.

God, you hated yourself. Jude clenched her fists at her sides, and you knew that she wanted to take a swing at you. You brought your chin up so she'd have a better shot. Why fight what you deserved? You were a sick son of a bitch, and you had no reason to mess around with a girl like her. You didn't have the right to suddenly change your mind, decide you wanted her, make her grow up, and take away her virginity. You were ruining her life, and maybe the both of you would be better off if you just left. Jude threw her hands in the air, furious, breaking. She was screaming at the top of her lungs now. "You affected me, okay?! There, I said it! I give, Tommy! I can't pretend it didn't happen! You win!" Jude shouted as loudly as she could, falling apart, knowing that no one else could hear her. There were benefits to a sound-proofed room, after all... She threw her hands in the air, flinging them around wildly, a dangerously unhinged look in her eyes. But it didn't feel like a victory. It was a cheap one anyways. You felt like you'd cheated your way into winning. You didn't feel like you'd won at all, and why had you wanted it anyways? Jude sighed, shooting you a look that saw right through you. You were as transparent as glass to her, and your edges were just as sharp. "Are you happy now?" She sniped viciously, glowering at you.

You backed away and couldn't even look at her. Shamefully, you kept your eyes on the ground, unable to speak. You could feel her impatience, and you knew you had to answer. But you didn't want to. Only sometimes... You can't always get what you want. You used to know that. But then you had sex with Jude, and that kind of shot everything you believed in to Hell, now didn't it? You didn't even know who the hell you were anymore, but you couldn't look at yourself in the mirror and like who you saw staring back at you. You couldn't respect yourself. You weren't yourself, just as this imposter standing before you wasn't Jude. She wasn't your Jude. She was a bitter, enraged, volatile Jude, and you'd pushed her off the edge.

But you didn't want to see the mess you'd created, so you merely backed away and looked down. And it was like you didn't see. Perfect. Jude was the same. Only she wasn't, and you weren't that same guy, but you could lie to yourself. For however long it took. You were good at lying; it came to you like a second nature. You were more accustomed to lies than the truth, and you had to be in this business. If you ever told anyone what you really thought about them, you wouldn't last a day. So you'd become an absolutely wonderful liar, and you'd learned how to talk yourself out of murder. But you were honest with Jude, and that was a curse. You found it so hard, trying to lie to her, and you couldn't do it, not like you should. It took too much effort out of you, aged you beyond your years. "No," You said honestly, wanting to lie.

It would've been a lie, though, to say you were happy before you'd had sex with Jude. You hadn't even been happy before you met her. In fact, she'd given you most of the few happy moments in your life. There were a few highlights, but other than that, your life was pretty damn bleak. Pretty predictable. Dull. And you tried to be none of those things. It was less pathetic that way. You could count every truly happy moment in your life... Not the momentary ones, but the ones that lingered... The ones that you could think of and still smile fondly in recollection. You remembered your sixth birthday, and how your mother had been nicer than, how she'd gone all out. And she and your father had been decent to each other. You remembered the bright balloons, all the friends, the euphoria, and each and every colorful present you'd received. You'd been so damn happy in the way that only a little kid can be. You'd been so eager to rip off the paper and so caught up in the wonder of it all. You missed being a kid. You'd forgotten what it felt like.

But you remembered the way the cake tasted, sweet like candy, melty and warm. And that was happiness to you. You remembered when you'd turned nine, and you'd gotten your first guitar. You'd been pushing lemonade on people for weeks and mowing lawns for as many summers as you could remember to do it, but it was worth it. The lawn mower was taller than you were, but it had taught you the meaning of hard work and had given you a killer tan and muscles most kids your age didn't have. You'd paid for all of it with your own money, and you felt the satisfaction of being able to put it all down at once. You'd picked out a guitar much too big for you, one all the better for you to grow into. A plain black Fender Telecaster, just like the one Joe Strummer sported. The whole rest of the day, you'd watched music videos on MTV and mimicked the musicians. You were teaching yourself, albeit slowly, how to play the guitar.

And you'd be lying if it came to you naturally at first, but you already played the piano by that point. With a little work, you could make the guitar do whatever you wanted. By the end of the day, your fingers were numb and bleeding, but you understood the basics of playing. You'd had a blast learning. So every day afterwards, no matter what, you'd resumed your place after school, guitar in hand, in front of the TV, and you practiced harder than you ever had on that dumb old piano. For that was the day that you knew that you wanted to be a musician. Hell, you wanted to be a rock star, as ridiculous as that was.

And you'd sort of gotten what you wanted. The fame, anyways. That you had, but you didn't want it. You wanted to be taken seriously as a musician. You were a bubblegum pop star, and that left a bad aftertaste in your mouth. Those songs were sickly sweet, just like the gum. And when the saccharine taste faded, all you were left with was the bitter aftertaste in your mouth. You wanted more.

A couple years later, of course, you learned that your hands had the same affect on women. Those were always happy moments for you. Not necessarily the kinds you would count off, but sometimes... depending on the girl... They came close enough.

And then there was the day you were picked off the streets. You were ravenously hungry, dirty, and cold. You were sick of facing every damn winter on the same street corner, freezing your ass off. You had nothing left but a backpack of clothes and mementos and the guitar case on your back. And a few lousy pennies. You were thin and frail but toughened up by the streets. Suddenly, Darius, this great, rich man, had walked up to you, thinking you were so much younger than you really were, and he'd taken pity on you. He slipped you some money, offered you a ride home. You'd given him a look that could've frozen a hot spring, and you said frostily, "If I had a home of any kind that was worth going back to, do you think I'd be living on the street? They don't want me, and I don't want them. I've made it this long, and I'd rather die than go back there." You meant it too, with every disdainful, hateful fiber of your being. At that point, you would've died just to spite them, shame them into remembering they had a son they'd kicked out and left for dead. Especially your dad, the big-shot ex-sheriff turned district attorney. Wouldn't that have just been peachy?

You didn't even have a home to go back to. They'd left for America. Not that you knew, but it didn't surprise you. Darius asked you to sing for him, and so you did. And he smiled so widely, and his teeth were so white. You remembered the way he grinned, clamping his hand down on your shoulder. He asked you for your name, and you told him. "I've never met a kid like you with a voice like yours. You remind me a little of myself at your age. You're stubborn and self-reliant. You understand what it takes to survive. I like that. Now, I'm starting up this band of guys in their teens. I want you to be the first one to join. All you have to do is come back with me to my mansion. You'll be taken care of. What do you say, Tommy?" Darius had offered, smiling like he was an old friend and complimenting you. You shrunk back, suspicious. This man who was offering you the world was a stranger. And he wanted you to go back to his place with him. If there was one thing life on the streets had taught you, it was that there were perverts looking everywhere, most of 'em in your direction.

It was a good thing then that you were scrappy. You knew how to fight. The bitterly cold winters you'd somehow survived, against the odds, made you strong and suspicious. You'd seen one too many Little Match Girl-like mirages to trust your eyes and your mind. If something looked too good to be true, it probably was. Simple as that. So you'd said no at first. Because you didn't want to wind up some old man's sex slave, thank you very much, and you weren't sure if it was even really happening to you... Rags to riches, the chance of a lifetime. Why waste something like that on you? You were completely unremarkable. Darius had chuckled and said it wasn't like that. He admired you, but he wasn't into that stuff. He capitalized on how hungry and tired and unwell you really were, and so you wound up going home with him. Because at least someone wanted you around. Darius was nice; he practically treated you like his own son. You recovered, adjusted to your new life. Turns out you had a nasty case of pneumonia.

And you were warm, full, clean, and had a roof over your head again. But you didn't have a home or a family. You were as good as an orphan now, only you were forever indebted to Darius, who practically owned you. And still, the chill of the Canadian winters you weathered in the lonely, snowy alleyways never quite went away. It had penetrated your bones and stayed there, a deep freeze that would never thaw.

And then there was Jude. There was always Jude.

You could still think back on the pier and smile, but that hadn't made you happy. Truly happy, anyways. It was a bittersweet thought. It was a nice memory, though, so you clung to it. That electric connection did it for you. You'd never felt like that with anyone else. Connecting, really connecting, with people didn't come so easily to you, unlike other things. It was rare, a connection like that for you. Here was this girl, this sweet, naïve, stubborn, amazingly real girl who challenged you... and she thought the absolute best of you. How could you not love that?

Last night was one of the happiest moments in your entire miserable life. There had been others, when you were on your own... That time your dad took you skipping rocks. The very first gig you'd ever had... Hamburgers had never tasted so good... Meeting the guys and making real friends for the first time ever... Friends that weren't really like friends, but more like brothers you weren't actually related to... a sort of surrogate family you could rely on. There was the feeling of writing your first song. The year after Boyz Attack you spent traveling the world, finding yourself again all on your own. You weren't tied down to anybody, and you weren't in Darius' debt. Moments you wouldn't ever forget.

But last night you wouldn't trade for anything. You were genuinely happy, and it had been so long since you could remember ever being that happy. You wondered if you ever had. You had certainly never been that... ecstatic with a girl- woman. You and Jude were so close, breathing the same air... It was like you were sharing the same skin, and this thought wasn't completely flawed. You were with someone who understood you completely, fully. Someone who saw you for more than you were. Jude had faith in you, and that good faith was worth everything to you. She loved you. Honestly loved you for who you were. So you had basked in that glow, and you'd found that you even liked being close to her.

You liked the scent of her, like roses, the way her skin glowed in the moonlight... You liked how smooth and creamy it was, how it was so soft that you could scarcely keep her hands off of her. You liked running your fingers through her messy red locks, soft as silk. You liked her full, pouty, achingly kissable lips. And kissing her was even better. You liked the way she tasted, forbidden, and deliciously like red wine. You loved the way she could turn you on without even knowing that she was doing it. You liked the way she was so passionate, so bold, so, fearless, and so vocal... Her moans were music to your ears. Then, later, you found that you liked being quiet and just holding her in your arms, whispering to her softly and slowly drifting off to sleep with her by your side. You had grown so tired of being alone all the time.

You glanced up at her, and she suddenly couldn't take it. She shook her head, disbelieving and unforgiving. Her eyes were wide and startlingly sky blue with panic. "Take me home, Tommy!" Jude exclaimed loudly, flustered. You shot her a puzzled look, and she immediately turned to you. She looked away only seconds later. "God! I can't even look at you anymore!" Jude hissed, disgusted with you. You looked down shamefully as she picked up her things in a flurry, clearly intending to leave. It was best not to argue with her when she was like this. You left her to her own devices, and you slipped in Georgia's office, placing the CD on her desk. Mission accomplished. When you stepped out of the office, Jude was there, waiting for you none too patiently, completely furious with you. "Take me home now!" Jude shouted desperately, not quite begging, but on the verge of hysteria nonetheless. You decided it was best to follow her orders, so you nodded solemnly and shut the door behind you.

An enraged, upset Jude clutched your journal to her chest like it was her anchor. You didn't take it away from her. You merely peered back at her and led the way to your car. You looked down at your watch on the way there. It wasn't even ten yet. She could still make her curfew. You opened the door for Jude, but she wasn't at all grateful. In fact, she glowered at you and slammed the door shut just because she knew how much it bothered you. You got in your car seconds later, shutting the door much more gently than she had. Jude rolled her eyes at this, but still you made sure that she fastened her seatbelt. You wouldn't have anyone dying on your watch. The blame was already on your bloody hands as it was.

Jude snapped at you to speed it up, unconcerned for her own safety. She just wanted to get home, damn it, and she wanted to get home fast. She was that sick of being in your presence. You could only comply with her wishes. She was just so frustrated. Besides, she hadn't been home in over twenty-four hours. It was time to face the music. She barely said anything to you in the car, and if she did, it was just an order. Being a musician, you hated silence, but Jude didn't let you turn on the radio. She merely looked out the window like you weren't even there and refused to speak a single word. Jude threw the door open three houses before you even saw her house then barked at you to slow down. You finally slowed down in front of Jamie's house (several houses later, to Jude's chagrin) and Jude flew out of the car, despite the heels, racing towards her house like it was a sanctuary. You stopped the car, closed your door, and leaned forward to insure that she got in safely. You'd hate to leave her alone out there in the frigid night.

You watched her for what seemed like forever as her keys materialized from somewhere, and she fiddled with the lock, managing after a few minutes to get the door open. You suspected that she wouldn't have struggled as much if you hadn't been there, watching her. Then she went inside, not quite closing the door all the way shut behind her. Everything looked fine, but you decided that you would wait until she was safely inside with the door securely locked behind her before leaving. There was something incredibly reassuring about knowing that the girl who meant so much to you was okay. For a minute or two, it seemed as if everything was all right. But that door was still open... and then something went horribly wrong.

Jude stepped out of the house, jerking her keys out of the lock as if she'd been burned. She barely shut the door behind her. Her thought processes seemed scattered, and she looked so lost. You realized that she was broken in a way that you could never break her. For once, you had done nothing to cause it. Panic was written all over Jude's face, dread etched into every feature. Her face had just dropped into this look of dismay. She was white as a sheet and a mass of trembling limbs. She raced to your car as if on fire. Her dead, unemotional eyes were focused only on the car. Given the way she hadn't even wanted to be around you two seconds ago, you guessed she'd walked in on something devastating. She'd picked you because you were the lesser of two evils, and you were the only one who could get her away from here.

That didn't flatter you any, but at least you didn't have to feel bad about leaving her all alone. You were almost happy that she'd seen whatever she had and chose you as an alternative. Almost... because you could never be truly happy if she was miserable. Jude's shaking fingers fumbled with your door, but she inhaled deeply and abruptly jerked your car door open, practically hurling herself inside. She didn't look at you, and she wasn't crying, but she wasn't all right either. She shut your door, looking eerily calm as she fastened her seatbelt in the moonlight. You knew she wanted you to floor it out of there, but you couldn't. You wanted to know what was wrong first. You needed her to tell you. Jude stiffened in her seat, clearly not wanting to be there. Instead of doing anything rash, however, she merely placed her hand against the window bracingly. For the longest time, you just sat there, staring at her, and neither of you said anything.

Then Jude sighed deeply and turned to face you. Her face was pleading and desperate. Her eyes were stormy and confused, the color of van Gogh's Irises. You couldn't say no to that look, not that you ever said no to Jude anyways. "Tommy, I need to get away from here now," Jude mumbled somewhat absently in a quiet, fragile voice. She clenched her hands tightly in her lap, a distraught look crossing her pretty face. Her knuckles were white. She looked at any moment like she was about to burst into tears. She glanced away, gun-shy and unable to look at you, so she missed your nod. But you did nod, and you floored it. You had a sixth sense about Jude, and it told you that she was going to break down and soon.

Jude smiled briefly at your enthusiasm for breaking the speed limit (you had gone 110 in a residential zone), but the smile was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Still, even if you got a speeding ticket as a result of it, it was worth it because it made her smile... Even if it was only for the briefest of moments. She stared blankly out into the space in front of you, never moving, never flinching. She was definitely trying to hold it together, but she was still obviously coming apart at the seams. But Jude, of course, didn't see this. She merely saw the charade she was trying to put up, and she expected you follow it with her. She was completely lost, adrift and drowning. She had the look of someone who'd been abandoned or deserted, someone whose entire belief system had been shattered. She'd lost her faith in all people, especially men.

And you couldn't blame her for that. You and Shay hadn't exactly reinforced positive images of men, and your actions had been deplorable at best. You weren't condoning what you did- because it wasn't right, and you still shouldn't have done it. And you would carry that guilt to your grave. It wasn't right, but sometimes the wrong thing was the right thing to do. Sometimes you needed to do something bad to do good. But the truth of it was that you had to do it, regardless of whether or not you wanted to. It just simply couldn't be any other way. What had happened between the two of you wasn't even supposed to have taken place at all. And, technically, in a way, it hadn't. You'd made her deny it, promise it never happened. Only you had the memories to prove it did, and sheer power of will alone couldn't force them away.

Seeing how lost she was, how she'd left home... How it looked like she had no place left to go... It reminded you of yourself, only she was older than you had been when you couldn't go back home again. Your parents hadn't loved you and wanted to protect you as hers did, painfully so. In fact, your own parents had cared so little that the first thing you did was ask Darius to legally change your last name so no one would ask questions about your parents. So you could put the past behind you and forget about it, forget that those awful people had ever existed outside of your nightmares. You shared DNA with them now and nothing more. They were like gene donors, robots who had raised you to be cold, selfish, and unfeeling like themselves. And you hated them because you were afraid that you'd turn out to be just like them, which was why you didn't want kids. You didn't want anyone else to suffer like you did at your own hands. You couldn't live with yourself if you became your father.

After the papers had come through, you regained your strength, filled out a little, worked out, and grew like you hadn't been able to on the streets. On the streets, all of your body fat and your energy went towards merely surviving. You felt good for the first time in years. You relaxed and pretended to be a kid, but it was too late for you. And after you underwent this metamorphosis, there was no way that your own mother could even recognize you. Not that you really wanted her to. Your parents never knew who you were, and you honestly didn't think they would've cared if they had, except for maybe the money. Your father would've insisted on a huge cut of the money or had it stashed away in some trust fund, anything to restrict you and any little bit of power you could get. He had never touched you once, no, he was too upstanding for that. But there were other, worse ways of torturing a kid than violence. At least you'd be getting attention if he hit you. At least they would have noticed you that way. At least they would've cared about what happened to you one way or the other instead of their apathy. Anything would've been better than being ignored every day of your childhood.

You didn't have much left from those days when you'd actually had a family. You have a box of recipes in French, written in your grandmother's careful cursive. You have an old picture from that last Christmas in Montreal of your whole extended family, taken before your grandmother had died and everything had fallen apart. Then you have another picture, one of just you and your parents taken when you were about four in front of your new house. You were really smiling in that picture because you were too dumb to know anything but happiness. You wished you were still that naïve. You have a worn yet elaborate gilded rosary that used to belong to your grandmother and an old medallion on a chain that your mother gave you at your first communion or confirmation, relics left from your formerly religious past.

You have all the notebooks you took, that you scribbled songs and the story of your life in rapaciously... and all of those pens you took with you: your cheap cornerstore ballpoints, your mother's angry red felt-tips, and your father's fancy, expensive fountain pens. You have as many cheap paperbacks as could fit in your backpack, the ones you bought at the used bookstore by your house because that was the only pursuit of yours your father had ever supported, the volumes of passionate poetry that sustained your mother, a few of the complex books on philosophy your father had absorbed like air. You have a half-empty bottle of your mother's priceless, exotic French perfume. You don't have any of the clothes anymore, except that damned white bandanna (yes, that bandanna) you'd used to play Cops and Robbers with your dad when you were little, and he was still a sheriff.

You have every one of your father's Beatles' albums, originals on vinyl, collector's items, all still in perfect condition. The ones that you had stolen just before you snuck out before they kicked you out, so you could at least have control over when and how you left. You took them spitefully simply because your father had loved them; they were the one remotely interesting facet of his whole boring life, his pride and joy. And you were in a way jealous because he loved them, no, worshipped them in a way you could never quite measure up to.

Because you were never good enough for Daddy, but those pretty Beatles' albums were, and that's why he never let you go near them as a child. That must've been the one thing you and your dad ever had in common, your love for the Beatles'. Hell, you both even seemed to be attracted to girls named after Beatles' songs. Your dad, unbelievably, was part of the reason why you loved The Beatles. Their music reminded you of some of the few happy moments of your childhood. It was a way for you to escape from the loneliness, the emptiness, and your father's way of controlling everything... Music was your refuge from an unkind and uncaring world.

Lennon-McCartney compositions were the first songs you'd learned to play all the way through on the guitar. You'd mastered each and every Beatles' song, including covers, before any other song... in some misguided attempt to win your father's admiration or respect... or love. It was a way of saying, "Here, Dad, I did this for you." It was a peace offering, your way of trying to get along with him, to have a common interest. And all he'd done was throw the gesture right back in your face, like it was nothing. You'd told him on Father's Day as one of your presents to him, told him to ask you to play any Beatles' song off the top of your head. You knew the songs almost as well as George or John, but your father didn't see it that way. He never requested a single song, even his favorite. "You're not a Beatle," he'd spat disdainfully with a sour expression on his face like you'd troubled him. And then he'd asked you to play a Bob Dylan song, knowing that you couldn't play it. That was the kind of man your father was.

Other than that one thing, you two were as different as night and day. He was law and order; you broke and flaunted the law. He liked soft, melodic music, mostly classical, and you liked loud, eclectic, rock music... music you could dance to. Bob Dylan was your father's favorite singer, while you hated the man more than anything in the world and thought your father used the term "singer" loosely. Your father was straight-edge, boring, faithful, plain, square, stiff, and quiet; there wasn't a passionate bone in his body. You experimented, did any drug imaginable, drank like a fish, had a good time whenever possible, slept around enough to put a prostitute to shame, and partied like there was no tomorrow. You were a chronic philanderer always looking for a good time. You were cool, hip, loose, loud, flirtatious, funny, charming, and living in the moment. You were nothing but a flame of passion, and eventually that fire would be extinguished before its time. Because passion, true passion like yours, is destructive, and it burns out eventually.

You were never meant for the nine-to-five job, suits, briefcases, college, and paperwork like him. You were meant for this life, the long hours, the junk food, recording, songwriting, the touring, the listening to the same tape over and over again, practicing dance moves, tuning your guitar, fame, tabloid appearances, awards, a new girl on your arm every night. Because your passion might've been self-destructive, but at least you knew how to live.

And now the only things left of them were your first and middle name. Thomas Julian. There would be no one to carry on your father's legacy or his family line. You got to start over and make up a whole new life for yourself. How many people got that chance?

Darius had taken you in, and he'd become your guardian after you stubbornly refused to name your parents in court and downtown, publicly disowning them. You emancipated yourself, proclaimed yourself an orphan. You as good as were. For once, you got the chance to say that they didn't matter, and you felt vindicated. You felt vindicated that they shared no part in your success. That you were literally a self-made man who didn't owe his parents anything, least of all respect. You had turned out just fine, or at least as good as you could be, given the circumstances. You still checked up on your parents and your family. In fact, you knew where all of them lived. And because your feelings had cooled over the years, you never forgot to send your mother something nice on her birthday, because she had loved you to some measure in her own frigid way. You sent things to some other family members you had liked occasionally, if they had ever been halfway decent to you. Most of them weren't such bad people.

And, since you'd been in Jude's place before... You wanted to take her in, help her out, and see her through it. You didn't want her to wind up on the streets like you. You didn't ever want her to be out there in the dark, in the cold winters, sleeping on asphalt with one eye open and a Bowie knife in hand. You'd been out there with a thin blanket, backpack, prized guitar, sharp knife, tiny flashlight, and no pillow for your head. You didn't want her to be afraid for her life, to make maybe a few pennies a day, to go without a single meal for three days only to eat a Twinkie that she would later vomit up. You didn't want her life to depend on the kindness of strangers. You didn't want her to be homeless, hopeless. It was no kind of life.

You wanted, no, needed her to know that she was always going to have a place to go, no matter how much you two hated each other. Or how awkward it was to ask you for help. That you would always be there, and that you would always be there for her. That you would come through for her when no one else would. That she could turn to you in a time of trouble. You wanted her to trust you to help her weather the storm. You needed her to know that you were always going to care about her. That no matter what you would always give a damn about her, first and foremost. It wasn't noble of you or anything. It was just you wanting to give back as good as you'd been lucky enough to receive... to a very deserving girl.

You didn't want her to be as desperate and hungry as you had been. You didn't want her to resort to some of the things you'd done. You had stayed in shelters until they'd kicked you out, eaten in soup kitchens until they refused to serve you, gotten job after job only to be fired or have all your meager minimum-wage assets swallowed up by the federal government. You'd applied for Welfare, government assistance of any sort, but they'd rejected you since you weren't a grown-up yet. You'd fallen through the cracks. You didn't even want her to know about some of the things you'd resorted to. Like how you had dug through the trash behind restaurants more than once for a decent meal because it was either someone else's half-eaten leftovers or nothing at all. Or how you'd flirted your way into the homes of many women far older than you with children your age or older, and you'd slept with the desperate housewives not for money, but just so you could shower and maybe steal some soap or a couple scraps of food.

In fact, prostitution was the only low you hadn't ever resorted to, but you'd come awfully close those last few days. The money was so good, tempting, and it was demeaning, but wasn't the option of food worth it? You'd almost forgotten what food tasted like that day you'd contemplated selling your body for a burger. And you were so damn sick of the hunger that you almost did it when the businessman walked past you. You'd made yourself all up, smeared the black dirt around your eyes like kohl, sucked on your lips to make them red and full, licking them periodically so they'd be glossy. You'd worn a thin button-up shirt and a pair of tight, tight jeans that unzipped in a flash. You didn't even bother with underwear. You even had some of the condoms in your pocket that you'd snatched from your mom's room before you left, half on a lark, but half thinking they might come in handy. You'd been all set, leaning against the wall, staring at the guy, ready to give it all up... When you saw your father's face on the man's face. You heard your father taunting you in your head, saying he'd always been right about you. That you were nothing more than some degenerate who started fights, didn't know the meaning of hard work, and would probably die from AIDS at a very young age, lying in the gutter. So you backed away, picked up your things and walked down the street so you could either get shot or mug somebody.

And then, like a miracle, you met Darius. And you played him "Hey Jude", which was always your favorite because it was like he was talking straight to you. See, Fate's a funny thing. Your rendition of "Hey Jude", jaded and weary yet breathlessly hopeful, giving it your all, dying to sing it... Moved a big, scary man who wasn't quite as heartless as he pretended. Maybe it was just pure dumb luck. Maybe it the twisted deity's form of a sign, that there was hope for you yet, some sort of cosmic joke or heads-up or warning (you couldn't decide which) for later on in life when you'd meet her.

Jude wasn't like you, but it was that same sort of single-minded desperation you saw reflected in her eyes. Since she had nowhere to go presently, you decided to make an offer. "We can go back to my place if you want," You offered generously, glancing over at her casually like it was no big deal. You shrugged a little, watching her carefully for a response. You hadn't even meant it like that. You weren't propositioning her now, when you were fully sober and knew better... Even though you wanted it badly enough and would have trouble turning it down. Jude wasn't thinking straight now; her head wasn't in the right place. She needed somewhere safe, somewhere neutral to talk, to sleep. You weren't going to try anything.

However, it came to you as absolutely no surprise that Jude didn't believe you. No one ever had any faith in you, and you'd done pretty much everything in your power to suggest the opposite. She had no reason to trust you except for the fact that you genuinely wanted the best for her. Not that she knew that. Jude's eyes widened, and she shot you a stunned glance as if she couldn't believe your nerve. You satisfied yourself with the fact that you had at least gotten some sort of reaction out of her. Something. Something was better than nothing. Jude laughed nervously, but you could tell she was faking it, even the discomfort. It was an emotion she didn't have in her. "Because that went so well the first time around, Tom," Jude retorted sarcastically, rolling her eyes and going right back to looking out the window. You tried to avoid wincing. Her comment had stung a bit more than you'd been prepared for.

You thought you'd covered up the grimace as best as you could. You were just trying to do something nice for her, not lure her back in bed. Again. She must've noticed your reaction, though, because you saw her reflection frown in the window and purse her lips pensively. Her hauntingly dark eyes, also reflected in the glass, seemed to be staring straight back at you. You remembered that her eyes had been that smoky blue last night and this morning at various moments when she'd been aroused. But she'd looked at you differently then than the way she was looking at you now, almost pityingly. A few moments afterwards, Jude turned around abruptly to face you. She sighed heavily, looking at you through tired, grayish eyes. "I'm sorry, Tommy. I just... don't think that would be a good idea. Neither of us wants me to wind up back in your bed, I'm sure," Jude remarked wearily, sounding wise beyond her years.

Her voice was hoarse from all that singing, and you could hear the strain. You hated the things that breathy, heavy tone did to you. The way it made you sit up a little straighter, drive a little faster, be just a little more reckless. You nodded distractedly, sort of agreeing with her and wishing you hadn't. You hated how she'd added that little "I'm sure" at the end, like a sort of question or a test. It sounded so dry, much more witty than it should've. You gripped the steering wheel just a bit harder and tried to really concentrate on your driving. Things were going by so fast. "Yeah," You remarked absently, gazing at the landmarks to ascertain your place. You weren't lost tonight, just distracted from the way there. You tried not to be too insulted by her rejection. "Feel up to writing a song?" You asked blithely, thinking of G. Major.

You peered over at Jude at a stoplight that seemed to last forever. She was thinking, biting her bottom lip mid-thought. There was something so unconsciously sexy about that action that it made you bite your own bottom lip in restraint. Jude exhaled heavily and leaned her head against the window, looking out it but not really seeing any of her surroundings. "I don't know if I can put this into words, Tommy. I'm exhausted," She whispered back softly, closing her eyes, leaning against the window harder. She traced the foggy glass, drawing shapes in the condensation with her fingers. You merely nodded and refrained from saying anything too forceful.

You sighed this time, pressing down on the gas as the light finally turned. You did not look at her, and she did not look at you. "Still, Jude, you need somewhere to go. Somewhere to get some rest. Talking about it helps, Jude, whether it's face-to-face or in song," You advised fretfully, trying not to push her too much. You too were exhausted. You wanted to stop driving around aimlessly. You shot a glance at Jude to catch her nodding and admitting you were right, a rare sight. She dragged her fingers down the windows, making long, slashing marks. The moonlight shone on her face, and she was like an angel. In that moment, you wanted nothing more than to kiss her, but it was neither the right time nor the right place for that.

She sighed, leaning back into her seat, shutting her eyes against the bright street lights. She threw both hands over her face, breathing out exhaustedly. "I know, Tommy. I really do," She conceded, pausing for a while before proceeding, as if it was hard to make the words form in her head. "It's just... hard. And I'm so sick of feeling, Tommy. I want to be numb," Jude confided in you unhappily, pulling her hands away from her face. Her cheeks were still white, but her eyes weren't even moist. She was still in shock. It was still too soon for that. But you knew all too well the slippery slope to numbness. Because one day you'd decided that you wouldn't be that hurt little boy anymore, so your father's comments ran off your back like water. And then you became like him and didn't care about much of anything anymore. And you would give the world to feel again, no matter how painful it was. Jude had made you feel again, and you were forever grateful for that, to know that you weren't dead inside. Jude let out a breath, looking to you with a trace of the old warmth in her eyes. "But I guess it's back to the studio anyways, Slavedriver," She finished somewhat brightly, resigned yet joking, giving you that look that said she accepted you and wouldn't have it any other way.

You kept driving until you found the familiar parking lot, not quite smiling but on the verge. The silence this time was not quite so awkward, but it was not as comfortable as what you were accustomed to. You pulled in the spot carefully, checking your mirrors even though you didn't need to do it. Driving was like second-nature to you now. You stopped the car artfully and put the car in park, making sure to put down the emergency break. Then you twisted the key from the lock and the lights turned off, leaving you and Jude alone in the dim moonlight. You felt a chill go up your spine, but you pointedly ignored it, gazing coolly up at the large, impossibly full moon. You sighed, knowing you shouldn't say what you were about to say, but you said it anyways. You had to. "You know, Jude," You muttered honestly, the sting of the old offense returning, "I'm not always trying to get you back in bed with me."

Jude spun to face you so fast you felt the air move. You peered over at her unashamedly, and Jude scoffed. You sounded like a liar. And it wasn't that you didn't remember your lovely little display last night, because you did, all too well, you're afraid... You remembered how you'd woken up from your light slumber, skin cool and clammy from sweat and rain. How you'd felt around sleepily for Jude, who had been sleeping right next to you, you were sure of it. But your hands came up empty because she wasn't there. There was no one there in that bed except you. There was nothing there but cold white sheets, still slightly damp with your sweat... and the lingering warmth that showed a body had once been resting next to yours. You thought you were losing your mind. That this was all just some strange dream, an elaborate, incredibly lucid hallucination. And just thinking that killed you. You didn't want it all to have been a dream.

You panicked, waking up alone, and suddenly you were no longer sleepy. You bolted up from bed, not even bothering to cover yourself. What did you have to hide anymore except how you felt? Then you heard a sound in the foyer and you knew she was still there, that she wasn't gone already. And you were so, so, so glad. Because you knew you could stop her from leaving you. At first you were angry with the way she was leaving, in the middle of the night, still smelling like you, having shared your bed... Like she was ashamed of what she'd done. You asked yourself how she dared to escape.

When you strode into the room, Jude was fully dressed and already at the door. In fact, the door was unlocked and half-open, but you didn't care. You would slam it shut and make her come back to you. Thinking that makes you sound like a savage, but you needed to have her back in that bed. You weren't through with her yet. You noticed the way Jude's eyes ran over you hungrily, taking the sight of you in, and you basked in her stare. Then Jude looked away, flushing at the way she'd stared. She had stared at you with virgin eyes, in awe of you, like she'd never seen a man naked before. She probably hadn't, but by the way she was gaping, it was like you were a masterpiece. She was looking at you an awful lot like you were God, and that was a lot of power to level on your chiseled soldiers.

You approached her in a flash, slamming the door shut behind her and locking it in a few seconds. Jude jumped, and she looked so frightened that for a minute you'd almost backed away. But you couldn't resist, so you pressed her against the door, so that your body was against hers. At that very moment, you had so much power over her that you just wanted to hold her arms above her head, tear off all her clothes, and take her right there. Jude was afraid, yes, but she wasn't any less affected by your presence. You stared at her hungrily, penetratingly, wanting her. You asked what she was doing, and she told you. But you didn't want her to go, and you always get what you want.

She looked down, not like she couldn't look at you, but... Like she knew that if she looked at you, that was her surrendering all of her power to you. It was like she knew she'd give in if she even looked at any part of you. This reinforced the idea that she wanted you, and you knew you'd make her come back. Funnily enough, though, as she spoke, your rage dissipated slowly. She tried to push you away, but you refused to budge or give her an out like a gentleman would've. After all, you were never a gentlemen, and you didn't pretend to be one. She looked so downtrodden, making you think she felt used. She wasn't used. You leaned in closer, wanting, needing to make her see the truth.

Your mood was softening more by the moment, and you were becoming increasingly less dark and stormy. You touched her, trailed your hands all over her, and you relished the feeling. You demanded insistently that she'd stay, expecting that she would. And then, when she didn't respond to that, you used logic on her. You saw Jude weakening, and so were you... so you found it easy to change, to slip into the role of the seducer. It was a role you wore almost as well as a second skin. It felt somehow more natural to you to give her the pleading eyes and pouty lips. To speak with your voice hoarse and heavy with sleep, an octave lower than it usually was. You licked your lips then, wanting to kiss hers, but somehow you managed to restrain yourself. You pulled back just before your lips touched hers, giving her an option and making her long for your lips. You knew full well what you were doing to her.

It wasn't a deliberate attempt to play with her emotions. It was your way of showing her that you really did want her there. You really did want her in your bed, and not just for sex. You wanted someone alive and warm and real in your bed, just that once. It got tiring, waking up alone every morning. Solitude was lonely. You waited for an answer, silently pleading as a man as proud as you never did. Jude cared for you, and was it really so wrong to be around someone who adored you? There was something comforting about that, something reassuring... Being around Jude like that was like wrapping yourself up a blanket still warm from the dryer.

But Jude refused you. That surprised you because no one ever refused you. No one ever told you no. It was a wholly new concept to you, and it was like you'd never known that people could do that. She trembled, though, and her voice wasn't right. You could tell that she was making herself do it, but you understood and said nothing about it. You didn't call her on that because you wanted her to be with you of her own free will. She opened the door, turning her back on you, and you resigned yourself to the fact that she was really leaving. After all, she had to leave sometime, and why not now, now that the deed was done? You tried to act like it meant nothing, but you really had wanted her to stay, and you didn't understand why she didn't want to come back. You were the one who could go to jail for it, but you didn't particularly care.

Yet you couldn't stop yourself from crying out at her in a voice that nearly shouted out how distraught you were. You felt pathetic for caring so much. That exclamation made her turn around. Jude took a good look at you then, not like before when her eyes had blazed with lust. Her eyes were admiring yet filled with tears. She looked at you sadly and then said those heartbreaking words, and it suddenly registered in your head that she thought the entire thing was meaningless to you. If you wanted a meaningless screw, you could've gone to a club and picked up some bimbo with a line, a drink, and a smile. If you wanted a meaningless screw, you definitely wouldn't risk jail time for it. It really was the real thing this time. If she thought that, then she really didn't get how you thought about her at all.

So you took Jude in your arms and you told her the truth. You reassured her as best as you could, hating that she thought so little of you. Not that you had given her reason to think more of you. You didn't know what you could say to correct her vision of you, or how on Earth you could possibly explain how you felt about her. How could you explain feelings that you didn't even understand yourself? But you had to. So when Jude pulled back, and you were terrified... of her, that she was going to leave you anyways... You started talking, holding her hand. You were hopeless, you really were.

You had absolutely no idea what to do with yourself when you were around her. You weren't even used to feeling. And you saw the look on her face and knew that she wasn't getting it. But you couldn't explain it any more or any better, so you got frustrated and walked away and paced. You had trouble being away from her, though, and that didn't strike you as something wholly normal. You couldn't make it better. Then something came to you, and you just told her the truth. What you felt for her. That revelation was startling enough. You saw the look on her face, understanding and stunned, and you knew you'd reached her. Finally. So you kept talking, even though you weren't happy, and you tried to explain in more detail. You still couldn't believe that you cared so much about this girl. She'd really gotten under your skin, made you start caring about things. And the thing was that you meant every word. Every last word.

Jude cared about you so much. You weren't used to people like that, who only cared about you and didn't have any ulterior motives. No one had ever cared about you, just you, as much as Jude. Most people didn't care about who you really were at all. There was always some reason, something that "love" was dependent on. This wasn't so for Jude. You could do anything to her, any terrible thing you could think of, and she wouldn't leave. She would come back and stay to listen to what you had to say. You couldn't get rid of her, and... you didn't really want to. You wondered then if your eyes accurately reflected your adoration and your gratefulness to her. You owed her so much more than you could ever give her, and you only wanted the best for her. You prayed that she got what she deserved.

It definitely wasn't you.

Jude looked surprised at what you'd said, but it was true. No one loved you for you. Sure, Darius had cared, but only to get you to sign a record deal. The guys had cared because it was a band, and they needed you. Your father had only cared about you enough so that he didn't look like a completely awful person, to save face. Your mother had cared a little, really, you guessed, but only as long as you didn't tell your father about her affairs. And the others weren't even worth mentioning. Jude could care about you because she was still a child, and she was still trusting and thought you deserving of love. How quickly she would change her mind afterwards, you thought. Yet still, here it was now, later... And she still loved you despite everything.

The concept was incomprehensible to you.

You were scared, too, scared you'd ruined everything. And you had, of course. Ruining nice things was what you were best at. But there was the gist of it. You didn't want to hurt her. You actually cared if you hurt her or not, something that had never before bothered you. Yet you couldn't stop yourself from hurting her with every breath. And you didn't know why. You could've sworn Jude smiled at you.

But either way, the door had shut behind her, and Jude wasn't making any move to leave. So you approached her slowly, giving the timid girl more than one chance to run. Jude didn't run, though; she merely let you approach her blithely, secretly nervous. You wanted to kiss her once you reached her, but you couldn't do that. So you picked up her hand, staring at it in wonder. You couldn't believe that someone like this, so innocent, so pure, was over the moon for you. Then you confessed to her further and her eyelids fluttered, dark with an emotion you couldn't identify. Yet moments later Jude drew back, eyes wide and startled at her own behavior.

So you pushed her a little, touched her a little more, seduced her properly. You lost track of what you were trying to do and were once again living in the moment, consumed by your desire for Jude. Every touch was intoxicating, and you tried to touch a little more. You lost control of yourself, couldn't keep yourself off of her if you tried. Then again, you didn't want to try. You wanted nothing more for her to stay so that you could finish this up properly in your bed, comfortable bed. This was why you wanted her so much. She was so achingly exquisite, and she didn't even know it. You were saying some words, but you were consumed by what you were doing, and they were only afterthoughts. It was a wonder you managed to avoid kissing those full, pink lips of hers.

She welcomed your advances then and didn't push you away. You knew she was affected by you when you heard her ragged breathing, and you had smiled, knowing you had control. You knew she was going to stay. You had won, and that victory felt like liquid gold. It felt good. Moments later, she gave in and walked back to your bedroom. You locked the door and then flew back in your bedroom, impatient to have her once again. She was still there, and you were going to make the most of it. And then she fell back on your bed and your lips covered hers and she felt so damn good that you just... can't take it!

Yes, you reflected, that was a lovely memory, wasn't it?

Jude rolled her eyes at you and got out of the car wordlessly, knowing she would snap at you if she spoke. You winced but followed her out of the car, making sure to lock up before you caught up to her. You politely opened the door for her, and Jude swept past you without a word of thanks. She didn't even spare you a dismissive glance. But you were already walking on eggshells with her, so you didn't press it. Immediately, Jude headed for your studio, and you followed her once again. She went behind the glass in the booth, notebook still in hand... But she merely stared at the blank pages, growing more frustrated by the moment at their emptiness.

Numerous times you attempted to give her a prompt to write a song about, but she shot each one down or failed miserably in her attempt. Finally, you came inside the booth, trying to counsel her. You were her co-writer for a reason, after all. Your mind could think up lyrics, but she just rejected them or didn't finish. You tried relentlessly to make this impromptu session bear fruit. Jude had written many other songs, but her notebook was at home... If she could even sing anything now, given her broken rendition of "Your Eyes", which had just been a practice. There was, of course, the option of her singing some of your songs. You were wholly uncomfortable with that idea but willing to try it. Jude, of course, wanting to have nothing to do with you, refused flat out. You didn't say it out loud, but her singing one of your songs would've embarrassed you.

So you were perversely glad that she didn't sing one of the songs you'd written about her yesterday. It would only be humiliating and painful for the both of you. Jude tried a bit longer, but her heart wasn't in it. She was too distracted, and you could tell that the hysteria was just beginning to set in. You tried to deal with her as gently as possible, but even this proved to be no match for Jude's temper. Jude stood up abruptly, leaping up from her stool and sending her guitar clattering to the ground irreverently. "I can't do this, Tommy! I can't sing about this. I can't verbalize this. I can't even think about this without losing it!" Jude shouted dramatically, making sweeping hand gestures at you. She refused to say what this was. And she bolted.

You wondered if you should let her alone, if that was the right thing to do. Maybe she needed time to deal with it, and you should just let her be. But then it occurred to you that you had no idea what Jude had seen, and thus, no idea how she would react to it. Jude was a bold, brash person who felt without ceasing and tended to jump into things. There was no telling what she would do. Maybe she would try and leave the safety of G. Major just to get away from you. You didn't want her doing anything rash. You didn't want to have to look at yourself in the mirror and know that it had been your fault she'd done whatever stupid thing she was up to. And you knew whatever she would do would be stupid and bad and not good for her. But you really had no idea, did you?

A few moments after pondering this, you walked out of the studio briskly, wondering where in G. Major Jude went. You still had your keys, so she probably wasn't going anywhere- yet. That meant that Jude was probably still at G. Major. She had nowhere else to go. You first checked the bathroom, refuge to crying girls, palace of privacy. You knocked on the doors but got no response. You even went inside both of them, but Jude wasn't there. You checked the lobby next, but Jude wasn't there either. After that you scanned the studios, even crappy Studio C, which was more broom closet than studio, but she was in none of them. This didn't surprise you too much since Jude didn't want to record anything. You checked the kitchen, thinking she might be trying to drown her sorrows in food or at least hungry, but the room was empty. You went through every office, searching for her in any possible hiding spot. You even peered out at the fire escape, but it too was deserted, looking as desolate and lonely as it had last night.

You'd searched the whole place, and you hadn't found her. She had to be gone by now, hitched a ride or a taxi or something... But wait, that wasn't true. You hadn't searched everywhere... There was one very notable exception. It was like you'd been avoiding it on purpose, and maybe you were. The practice room with the piano where no one would ever look. If she was anywhere, she had to be in there. You hated to go in, for you had broken Jude's heart and made her deny everything in here. You didn't want to face the reality of what you had done, how you'd cruelly kissed her and taken it back just because you were scared. Because you couldn't do this. And then, what? You'd followed her and suddenly changed your mind completely. And who was hurt for your indecision?

Jude. Always Jude.

Maybe you should just leave. You shouldn't be around Jude at all. All you ever seem to do is hurt her. She doesn't need to be around people like you. You should just go back to the way you used to live, not caring about anyone but yourself. It was so much easier, and so much less painful for you... It would be for Jude, too, wouldn't it? Even though absence supposedly made the heart grow fonder; if you remove the cancer, you remove the problem, right? She could easily thrive without you. And you... you would live without her as you had for the other 21 and 3/4 years of your life. You could go back, couldn't you?

You sighed and walked towards the door, feeling your trepidation rising. You told yourself that you had to do this for Jude, so you managed to suck it up and open the door. As you had predicted, there was Jude, sitting on the piano bench exactly as she had earlier. You forced down the incredible feeling of déjà vu that was threatening to overwhelm you. There was, of course, a twist. This time around, Jude was clutching a bottle of vodka like it was a life preserver. She must've had time to sneak into your office and steal the bottle you kept in your bottom drawer. But Jude had bypassed the glass and was tipping back the bottle. The bottle was about three-quarters full last you knew; now it was half-empty. Immediately, you sped over to Jude and jerked the bottle from her hands, finding the cap and quickly screwing it on. She was a minor. She was not supposed to drink... because of you... again. Or at all, period. At that moment, you lost all patience with her.

You set the bottle down as calmly as you could because you didn't want to leave a mess for the janitors to clean up. Somehow you managed to set it down without breaking it. Then you turned to Jude, eyes blazing with fury. Jude was stiff, leaning casually against the piano. You took a deep breath, trying not to look as murderous as you felt. You bent down to Jude's level, affecting an aura of calm. "Come on, girl, just tell me what's wrong. You'll feel better if you talk about it," You said softly, placing your hand on her thigh without realizing it. Jude's eyes shot up immediately to look into yours, shock written all across her face, but she didn't slap your hand away. She didn't speak either. You moved your head a little closer to hers, shooting her a pleading look. "Jude, it's not good to keep your feelings bottled up inside. You can tell me anything, I swear, and I won't say a word. I won't judge you," You swore, meaning every word. Then a brief, calculated pause on your point. "What's got you drinking at quarter 'til eleven?"

Jude violently pushed your hand off her thigh, glowering at you. She said nothing; she merely snorted. "Yeah, well, you're not one to judge. I got that liquor from your bottom drawer, Quincy, and everyone knows you hit the bottle just a little too much," Jude drawled scornfully, lips loosened by the liquor. She'd been less drunk last night. Apparently the vodka had hit her pretty hard, which was unsurprising considering it was 100 proof. You liked your liquor strong. You weren't going to waste your time downing watered-down drinks. Her words were sharp and icy, but she was right. She then made a big show of rolling her eyes at you, pouting petulantly. You sent her a look that showed that you weren't going to give the liquor back. At least not until she gave you a reason (or not at all, really, but you wanted to trick her into telling you what had made her so upset).

She exhaled deeply, her shoulders drooping as she leaned forward. "Fine," She conceded wearily, "I'll tell you." Her eyes were focused on the floor. You fought the urge to smile triumphantly and focused instead on listening to her. "My dad's cheating on my mom," She blurted in a rush, stumbling over her words. Suddenly, everything clicked in your head. Apparently Sadie had been right about the affair, but she was wrong about Jude. Sadie shouldn't have kept this from her. "That's what I walked in on... My dad was my hero. He's the person who cares about me most in the world and... he's cheating on my mom. How can he do something so awful, Tommy?" Jude managed to stammer out through a wave of tears. She started sobbing mournfully, burying her face in her hands. You placed a comforting hand on her back, trying to soothe her. You didn't speak.

Then Jude looked up at you, eyes full of tears, make-up slowly running down her cheeks. The force of her cries was so strong that Jude's thin frame shook with every sob. She hiccupped violently, trying to stop crying. "Why do men cheat, Tommy?" She asked dolefully. You had no answer for her. You had no idea why her dad would cheat. You knew only your own reasons, and you knew that they were far different from his. You had never loved another person or any children.,. You'd hadn't had a family since you were a kid, if you could even call what you had family. Not even with Portia. Men cheated for different reasons. You just hated that it had to be Jude's dad. You shook your head, wrapping an arm around her, about to say something. But then Jude looked up at you, stopping you dead in your tracks. "Why did you cheat, Tommy?" She questioned in a soft voice, tears falling down her cheeks.

She made no effort to stop the tears, so you wiped them away for her with the pads of your thumbs. This was not a question you wanted to answer. But Jude was looking up at you with those cornflower blue eyes, looking fragile, needing something to hold on to. She needed to know. You looked down, not wanting to face her when you said it because you knew you'd feel low once you did. "It's different for me, Jude," You began apprehensively, feeling the blistering burn of her stare and knowing that she did not believe you. You heard her scoff through the tears, forcing you to explain further. "I was eighteen when I got married, and I had no right to even get married. I wasn't ready for the commitment," You continued in a low, scratchy voice. That short, impromptu marriage of yours was one of your bigger regrets. It placed easily in the top five stupidest things you had ever done, above even your oh-so notorious public striptease.

You looked up at Jude, thinking you had finished, but the look in her eyes indicated otherwise. She wanted an answer as to why you cheated, and you hadn't given her one. Jude kept staring at you with dark, angry eyes, and the tears slowly stopped coming. Her eyes dried up, but the salty traces of tears remained on her cheeks. Neither of you moved to wipe them away. You sighed deeply, unable to look at her any longer, and you started to speak again. "I cheated because I was bored, Jude. Marriage... it got real old real fast for me. I wanted excitement," You said plainly, hating the words and how jaded you sounded. You knew the words weren't what Jude wanted to hear, and they hadn't come out quite right. You forced yourself to look up at her, wanting to give her some hope. "But the cheating's not the problem, Jude. Take it from a man who knows. The cheating can be fixed, forgiven, or ignored. All of that can still be overcome. The marriage can still be saved," You elucidated, trying to explain your point.

Jude rolled her eyes at you. It was, obviously, still too soon. Shay had just cheated on her, and she wasn't going to understand what you meant. You knew this territory better than most, though. You had been forgiven time and time again by women after cheating. You'd buy flowers and jewelry, and you would say all the right words to convince them that you wouldn't do it again... if you even cared enough to be with them. The impulse wasn't the problem; you would always have that impulse. You could quell it and suppress it, but it was still there. You could even deny it, but you never did that. That was too much effort and no girl had ever been worth that effort. That was the problem. That no one had been worth the effort.

Cheating for you honestly wasn't personal. You would cheat on virtually any girl, even if that girl was a supermodel (but only with other ridiculously pretty women, of course). Your philandering was indiscriminate and chronic because you had never cared about any of them. It was different with Jude's dad. He obviously loved Jude, her sister, and her mother very much. He could fix it. "I never loved Portia, Jude. I've cheated on every girlfriend I've ever had, and I never loved any of them. That's the thing, Jude. You can fix any relationship as long as the love's still there... and both parties are willing to try. I wasn't willing to try," You murmured softly, feeling like a weight had been taken off your shoulders. "But your father, girl... He's a good man. He loves you and your mother. He would do anything for you. And that's how I know that it's gonna be okay," You said reassuringly, rubbing her back and letting her head fall unto your shoulder.

Jude sighed dreamily, and you stiffened just a little because you could feel her warm breath on the side of your neck. Jude, however, didn't seem to notice. She merely let out a breathy little sigh, closing her eyes and wrapping her leaden arms around your neck. The tiny sigh did things to you that you didn't want to admit. Your legs were beginning to hurt from squatting so long, and you wished you could stand and set her down somewhere more comfortable. Like your bed, you thought devilishly, wishing you'd ignored her mandates and gone "home" anyways. Jude wasn't asleep yet, but you knew her to be weary physically and emotionally since you'd had a share in making her that way.

You could tell the sleep was coming on swift and heavy, and you made no move to stop it. Simply put, Jude was exhausted, and you refused to deny her the simple pleasure of a good night's rest. She was already inhaling slow, even breaths and exhaling them... slow and deeply, resigned and accepting, sounding almost wholly at peace in your arms. Her eyelids fluttered lightly, lashes tickling the crook of your neck and your taut, firm shoulders. You wrapped your arms around Jude's back gently, resting your head lightly on top of hers. She didn't deserve this much pain; she really didn't. So why did every guy in her life wind up hurting her? Was it because Jude trusted too easily? Because she cared too much? Because she actually believed in people?

You exhaled heavily, bringing a hand up to stoke Jude's hair softly. Jude's lips, resting against that sinuous area between neck and shoulder, smiled and brushed lightly against your skin. You felt pleased that she liked the gesture, so you sought to repeat it until she made you stop. Jude didn't make you stop, though. In fact, she dragged her lips lightly across your collarbone. You thought you were imagining things, that it had just been an accident... but it wasn't, and you knew it wasn't when she did it again. And then she kissed your neck softly, once, twice... the third time she nipped at your neck- too hard. You backed away, pulling away to stare at her. Jude turned her head up a little, still resting uncomfortably near you, still on your shoulder even, to get a good look at you. It was a lopsided view, but Jude had always seen you like that, hadn't she?

She'd always leaned on you and looked up to you, even though you deserved the exact opposite. And you didn't understand why. But her eyes were filled with love again, silent but there, deadly to you. Her eyes were misty, too, and pleading... a blue so light the sky was envious. You wanted to get lost in her, but she looked so lost that she couldn't find herself, let alone you. She breathed your name so softly you couldn't be sure if she'd really said anything at all. You drew back from her slightly, and you saw panic flash in Jude's eyes. You pulled back a little more, forcing Jude to jerk her head off of your shoulder to stare at you, confusion clouding her eyes.

You were tired of stooping and merely wanted to stand, so you started to rise, still keeping a hand on Jude's back. This, however, proved to be too much for Jude. She lunged at you, knocking you off balance, and sending the two of you tumbling to the floor. You landed painfully on your back, flat against the floor. She, of course, managed to land on top of you. And in a few moments, she'd shaken off her daze and managed to untangle your limbs so that she was now straddling you, legs on either side of your waist. She bent over you slightly, pressing your chest down with both hands so you couldn't get up. You were rather effectively pinned to the floor, and moving, if you could have even considered it at the moment (Jude's position was very distracting), was an impossibility. Then again, the idea of moving never even occurred to you. A hot girl was on top of you, and you were a red-blooded man. It wasn't exactly logic that was ruling your thoughts.

You swallowed hard, dying to do something about Jude's close proximity. She was right there in front of you, skin brushing against yours and driving you crazy, practically begging for something. But something inside of you told you that it was not the right time- that the thing with her father was affecting her and... It was becoming harder and harder to resist Jude. Especially when she leaned down further so that nearly all of her was now flush against you, every last luscious curve. Her flat stomach was soft against your chiseled abdomen; it was almost as if she'd been molded to fit you perfectly... or something. Her breasts were pressed up against your chest, and the push-up bra and the angle combined to give her an impossible amount of cleavage. She was right there in front of you, and all those memories you'd tried to suppress of the way she looked, which you'd memorized, came flooding back to you.

And you wanted nothing more than to get underneath those clothes and look on the familiar sight. You kept trying to talk yourself down, trying to tell yourself that you didn't want to do anything with her, no, not again. But that was a lousy lie because any man would've wanted to do something with her when she was in his face like this, regardless of age. This was the worst kind of temptation, only this time Jude knew all too well what she was doing... and how she was affecting you. You could tell by the seductive smirk playing on those red lips of hers. Her face was very near to hers, but she made no move to shorten the distance. She was waiting for you, but this time you were as still as a stone. You refused to start this up again, but only you... you would have no qualms with her initiating a liaison.

Then, when Jude noticed your failure to despond as she desired, she leaned forward still further, but she refused to touch your lips. She merely shifted against you so that her hips fit better against yours. You cursed the layers of fabric between your skin and hers, longing to sink into her again. Jude knew how much that slight adjustment would irritate you, bringing her so far against you that were the clothing not there... She was so close you could scarcely stop from thrusting against her... but you refrained, afraid you'd embarrass yourself. You were far too eager and far too turned on for your own good. It was a sheer miracle that you had managed to hold out that long. She trailed her small, delicate hands down the plane of your chest, then down your sensitive sides, stopping to trace the waistline of your jeans.

You groaned very loudly then, and Jude smiled wickedly, looping her fingers through your belt loop, her fingers accidentally flicking against the sensitive, covered area above your hipbone. The denim fabric of your jeans seemed all too thin. It seemed that your jeans were becoming tighter and more uncomfortable by the moment... with her so close the fabric chafed. Jude liked that power an awful lot. She liked having you hungry and desperate for her, craving her like air. She deliberately shifted her hips against yours yet again to better accommodate you, but this time the purpose of the action was to make you groan again. You were utterly at her mercy. She casually placed a hand on your upper thigh- that did it for you.

You leaned up a few inches and slammed your mouth against hers ferociously. Jude wasn't quite as taken by surprise as you thought, but she hadn't expected it then, in that moment. Her lips were partially open, allowing you to easily ravage her mouth. Her lips burned you like fire, and you could still taste the vodka on her tongue. You kissed her even more deeply. You wanted her bad. A few seconds later, your hand slid up her ass, pulling her still further against you. And then that hand slipped underneath the smooth satin dress, brushing against her thigh, fingertips latching on to the the waistband of the lacy red panties you'd predicted that she would be wearing. Jude pulled back for a moment at this, grinning lazily, dazed by your touch. She looked like she wanted to say something. For a moment you thought she'd tell you to stop and tear your hands off her.

But she didn't tell you to stop. You silenced her with passionate kiss after passionate kiss, not wanting to hear those words come from her mouth, but Jude eventually managed to speak her piece. "The piano," She gasped in between kisses, rolling over and dragging you with her so you were on top. She gestured with her head towards the object, and you suddenly understood. You smiled flirtatiously, and Jude kissed you even more thoroughly. You nodded just barely, since you'd just barely managed to grasp the meaning of what she was saying, and then you acted. You positioned your hands beneath her, wrapping your arms around her tightly, lifting her up, and then you pulled away from the kiss to collect what little wits you had left. Then you slowly started to rise, taking Jude with you.

Jude sighed breathlessly, pulling back a little and shooting you a coquettish look. Then, holding your hands, she walked backward until her back hit the piano. She let out a shrill laugh, before wrapping her arms around your neck, pulling you against her. You wrapped your hands around her waist, and Jude leaned back against the piano. She placed one of her hands on your hip, sliding it along your side, running her fingertips along your lower back. Her blood red nails lightly scratched your skin, and then her hand slipped beneath the fabric, fingertips trailing up to trace the curve of your spine. You shivered at her intimate touch, and fisting a hand in your hair, she tugged you closer. Then Jude smiled at you with dark, indigo eyes, glowing nearly violet in the light, and she bent her head to send a torrent of hot kisses down your neck.

Her lips came further and further down, tasting the saltiness of your skin. You threw back your neck so that she had better access to your throat. Suddenly, you felt the increasing pressure of Jude's lips on your collarbone, sucking hard at the flesh there like she couldn't get enough. And then she bit down and it stung, but just a little. What stung more was the realization of what exactly you were doing. You pulled away abruptly, taking a big step backwards to catch your breath. Jude fell back against the piano, breathing fast, ocean-colored eyes clouding over with confusion. "Why did you stop?" She gasped throatily, blinking, not comprehending. You shook your head and saw Jude's eyes darken in irritation.

You hated to see her look like that, but you had to be firm to make up for your spinelessness. You had to be constant to make up for how you'd screwed up. Doing... doing anything with Jude, anything beyond the simple boundaries of friendship, was wrong. If you did anything like that, you'd just be leading her on, and she didn't deserve that. It wasn't fair to string her along when you couldn't make it legitimate... when you couldn't acknowledge it in public or even give it a name. "I can't, Jude," You exhaled fiercely, fighting the overwhelming urge to give in with everything in you. "It's not right. I shouldn't have done anything the first time. And I'm not going to feel like I'm taking advantage of you again," You stated staunchly, refusing to back down. Jude's eyes narrowed, and she actually laughed, lounging against the piano.

Her eyes were a light, shining, frost-tinged blue. "You're always saying that, Tom... but you can, and you have," She said sharply, killing you with a look. She placed a hand on the piano's smooth ebony surface, tapping her fingernails against the black lacquer. The sound resounded in your head, making your heartbeat speed up in sympathetic stress. It was like a telltale heart hidden under your floorboards, always beating, never ceasing, the clicking rhythmic like a clock's ticking. "And you will again, Tommy," Jude predicted in a low, hoarse voice. Your eyes widened, hating that she knew you so well and hating that she was right. You were afraid that was going to happen, but a part of you knew it would, deep down inside... eventually... probably later on. You didn't like to think that, though, because it was incredibly fatalistic of you. You were not the kind of man to submit to a fate he didn't want. It was as if by merely thinking that it was inevitable, you were condemning yourself to do it again... and if you were going to do it anyways, what was the difference if you did it now or later? "Because we just can't stay away from each other," She finished matter-of-factly.

There was no denying that she was right about that. Jude crossed her arms over her chest, peering at you speculatively. "Is that what you really think, Tommy?" Jude asked with wide, innocent-looking eyes. You gave her a look. If it wasn't what you really thought, why would you even bother mentioning it? She wisely accepted your silence as the only answer she was going to get. "Well, Tom, you'd be wrong," She interjected harshly, raking her eyes over every inch of you and then smirking, "I know exactly what I'm getting into this time around." Her deep blue eyes flashed brilliantly, turning a dark, seductive azure. You swallowed hard as Jude threw back her neck, beckoning her over to you.

You wanted to go over to her badly, to take the easy way out... But something inside of you refused to let that happen. Your feet were unwilling to move even one step towards her. Your hands remained limp at your sides; they did not stretch towards her like you were aching to hold her in your arms. Your body did not flinch or budge even an inch. And, although you could not see yourself, you knew your face was stony and devoid of expression and emotion. You said nothing, but your cool silence said more than words ever could. It said all the things you couldn't say but left them open to her interpretation... so you didn't say anything wrong. Only you were always saying the wrong thing, regardless of whether words actually passed through your lips.

Jude stubbornly placed her hands firmly on her hips, thrusting forward from her lounging position so she could stand up properly. She cocked her head, staring straight through you, and tossing her vibrantly scarlet curls back. Her hair glowed like fire, red-hot and angry, against the white porcelain skin of her shoulders. "If anyone's being taken advantage of here, Tommy, it's you," Jude murmured bluntly, a slight grin playing at the corners of her lips. She sent you a come-hither stare, darkly and plainly exposing her want for you. That remark combined with that stare sent you reeling, and you were rarely ever shocked anymore. Your throat was incredibly dry, and you really wanted to go over, but you held fast to your principles. You'd lacked the sufficient self-control to prevent it from happening the first time around, but this time you were fully sober and had no excuse. So you remained rooted to the floor, stiff and stock still.

She sighed, clearly becoming increasingly frustrated with you. She never had liked to wait. Her eyes burned into you accusingly, resenting you for not melting. Suddenly, Jude seemed so much older. "Tommy, I want to forget," Jude snapped loudly, clenching her fists. She stalked towards you then, thinking that if you wouldn't move, then she would come to you. She stopped close in front of you, too close. Her eyes immediately came down, pointedly focused on your lips. Still staring at you unnervingly, Jude's pink tongue flicked over her own lips, which were still smeared with some vestiges of shocking red lipstick, moistening them. Jude moved still closer to you, leaning in to whisper into your ear. "And I'd rather be addicted to you than whiskey," She muttered sultrily, kissing that tender spot just below your ear, the one that she knew made you crazy. You moaned, and she pulled back at the sound, patting your cheek once. "You don't burn on the way down," She hissed flirtatiously, rolling her tongue on burn, pressing a chaste kiss to your cheek before pulling away even more abruptly. Jude sure knew how to leave you wanting more.

One of the loose straps on that sinfully virginal dress tumbled down her shoulder. She let it fall gracefully this time and made no hurried move to push it back up to rest on her thin, creamy shoulder. The strap slid further down her arm, pulling the bodice of the dress down with it, but only just enough to reveal a little more than a hint of her lacy red bra. She raised an eyebrow daringly as if challenging you to do something about it, proudly rising to her full height. Once again, she rested her soft hands on her hips, which jutted out all too visibly in the clingy dress. Naturally, your eyes were drawn to those hands with their perfectly glossy candy apple red nails, thin fingers, and the single adornment on her right middle finger- the silver star ring she always wore. You bit back on your lip, picturing those soft hands exploring the texture of your skin. It wouldn't do you well to picture that.

The other scrap of fabric drooped a little on her shoulder yet remained in place, keeping the dress from falling down completely. You stared fixedly at that determined strap, craving to see more... wishing that that damn strap would fall all the way down. Jude smirked at you as if she'd read your mind and seen those lecherous thoughts of yours. Well, she had no clue what the hell you were thinking because your mind was something so perverse and explicit that she could not navigate its treacherous rapids. She was still a novice to this seduction game you'd mastered before you were even a teenager. Still, you had never been known for your self-control... Hell, until you met this girl, you'd never even had self-control. Yet there you were, not having sex with her. Wonders never cease with this one, do they?

Your eyes scanned her chest, absolutely riveted, leaping from the flowing strap still on her shoulder down and across... eyes briefly burning into every scarlet love bite sweeping across her collarbone and up the side of her neck, remembering how she'd giggled and moaned when you found the most sensitive spot there. Your eyes continued on their luxurious path, lingering on the curves of her cleavage like the hands of a sculptor. Then your gaze followed the path of the fallen strap, following the way it dipped down over the supple flesh. Your eyes shot up to Jude's immediately after perusing what she had to offer. "Like what you see, Quince?" Jude retorted sarcastically, a coy grin on her full lips.

Yes, you did... too much. Jude certainly didn't look like a little girl anymore. After all, you'd taken away that innocence from her, stripped her of her remaining years of childhood. You wished you could say you'd made her a woman, and in a way you had... but you had just brought out the woman already in there, the same way a jeweler cut and polished a diamond in the rough to make it sparkle. You were nothing more than a catalyst. She was a full-blown woman in every sense except the most important one, those silly, worthless little numbers. Still, your eyes remained focused on her figure. You might have nodded in response to her question because you were that dazed, but you didn't notice. You could think of nothing but Jude, and she knew that. It was as if she could see in your eyes how you wanted to taste her again, to caress her skin, to be with her again.

Okay, so maybe your thoughts weren't that noble... But most of them were variations on a single fantasy: taking Jude right then and there.

And then, it was as if Jude sensed your steely resolve weakening, she flew at you, flinging her arms around your neck. She sighed, inhaling your scent, warm breath hitting your neck. She drew back a little, smiling at you with happiness radiating from her laughing sky blue eyes. Her eyes were bright and, for the first time in at least twenty-four hours, overflowing with life. Her eyes shone vivaciously like the deepest blue star sapphires. Her contentment was contagious, and so, surprising even yourself, you planted your lips on hers. Had her lips gotten softer? You felt Jude's lips curl into a grin against your lips and, together, attached by the lips, the two of you crashed into the piano.

At this blunder, Jude broke away from you for a moment to laugh loudly in amusement. You effectively silenced her with a swift kiss. In a moment, you pressed her flat against the piano, and Jude sighed blissfully. Her fingers were swift and eager in unbuttoning your thin black shirt; she'd unbuttoned half of the shirt before you had even noticed. You shrugged out of the shirt and merely let it fall to the ground. Then you got what you longed for; with a tiny push, the stubborn strap finally slid all the way down her arm. Your hand reached behind her back and found the zipper to the mockery of a dress. It was an unholy contraption designed to entice you even more, a virgin's trapping made of a whore's fabric. You unzipped the dress quickly, for you could not bear to wait any longer to see the lingerie and flesh beneath it.

Jude smiled coyly but refused to let you rip the dress off of her. She pressed her back hard against the ebony, so hard that it had to hurt her back. Then her fingers worked at unzipping your jeans with a surprising adeptness. She insisted that you finish undressing yourself, which you did hurriedly, before she would slip out of her dress. After you did so, Jude looked down, smiled, and let her dress fall to a pool at her feet. She kicked the dress aside, spreading her legs apart, standing tall in her pumps and lingerie. Your thirsty eyes took in the sight of her like water. A slow, sure smile spread widely across your face, and you approached her almost hesitantly, suddenly kissing her neck. You pressed wet, open-mouthed kisses down her throat until something shiny caught your eye.

The glimmering object in question happened to be around Jude's neck. It was, impressively enough, a fairly large (high quality) diamond on a thin silver chain. That was your Jude, ever the minimalist. You shot her a questioning glance, and Jude merely shrugged. You guessed immediately that it had been bought by Jude on your credit card, probably Tiffany's, you guessed. But it wasn't as if you didn't have the money. Plus the necklace was not overly showy, nor was the stone abnormally large. In fact, the diamond seemed to suit her. It sparkled just as she did in the light, effusive yet not leaking sunshine... and polished as opposed to dull or rough. "Okay, I splurged... so sue me," Jude confessed wryly. You didn't want to sue her, but you did want to make her pay... an expensive price for a forbidden object, but the forbidden fruit always tastes better, sweeter than the rest.

You smirked mischievously, coming at her. You pressed your skin against hers, removing the sexy, skimpy lingerie so that she was wearing nothing more than the pumps, your present, and a beatific smile. She threw her hands back against the piano, and your fingers somehow wound up overlapping, so you instinctively entwined her slender, calloused fingers with your own. Despite the gesture, there was little tenderness to this scene. You buried a hand in her hair, using it to pull her head up into a rough kiss. That was the only form of payment you needed. You pushed her further up, so that she was almost completely on top of the piano, quickly covering her body with your own. She writhed against you, moaning loudly as her eyelids fluttered. You waited cruelly, though, delaying until she was quivering for your touch. You had her exactly where you wanted her. So you seized the moment and thrust. She had been right... Your bodies fit so well together.

You'd never felt so at harmony with another person as you did when you were with Jude; you who prided yourself on achieving that very thing every day in music. Sex with Jude was like that elusive perfect duet. Your voices harmonized naturally, and your actions were perfectly choreographed- all without saying a word. It just came. The timing was impeccable. The chemistry... undeniable. You were drawn to her like water, never once taking your eyes off of her. And you genuinely liked your partner, which reflected on your perception of the performance as, well, superior to a solo or a quintet or with some other singer you disliked.

Her hands slithered up your arms then down your sides, finally stopping around your waist so that her nails could dig painfully into your lower back. She shuddered hard beneath you, as you had always wanted her to, sweat only just beginning to bead on her body. Then she screamed your name piercingly, voice so high and shrill that it could break glass. She cried out what you were doing her to the heavens, but not in a language human ears could understand. Her slurred words ran together, sounding like a foreign tongue, all except the one... your name. You, however, did not scream as she did. You merely moaned and drew in deep breaths, completely at peace. Your eyes closed for brief periods as you slowly let your guard down and stopped worrying. Yet her name never once passed from between your lips, no matter how pleased you were. You refused to allow that, and if it bothered Jude... You had stamina in spades, so you didn't let her off there but continued until, gasping for air, a fatigued Jude pushed you away... but not too far.

She kept you well within her reach. In case she needed you or something. She couldn't bare to keep you away, just like you couldn't make yourself stay. You were still so close, in fact, that you were brushing against her from time to time. You didn't mind this because you liked being close to her. It was all you could do to stand upright on sluggish legs, mind still clouded with passion. You leaned your forehead against hers gently, brushing your lips against her face. Though it had been a long day and you had just engaged in a very tiresome act, you smiled blissfully, forgetting everything, still high. Being this happy was a rarity for you, so you treasured it while you could. Your own skin shiny with sweat, you smiled lazily, reaching down to run your fingers along the soft skin just above her breasts and then trailed a fingertip down the damp hollow between them. Her breasts were still pressed slightly against your chest, even though you were no longer connected in that intimate way, but not flush against your chiseled muscles as they had been previously. There was a sort of distance, a strange kind of detachment, between the two of you now, despite your present closeness. Your tired, beauty-idolizing eyes flickered briefly over Jude, satisfied with what they saw.

You had achieved exactly what you wanted in her. Jude's face was illuminated by a becomingly rosy flush, her skin glistening with sweat in the moonlight. Her glowing, sticky skin was like ivory, contrasting greatly against the piano she had collapsed against exhaustedly, utterly spent and breathless. Her legs were still spread apart, and even though you were too close to examine the work of art before you properly, you silently commended the view. You had made her that way, you thought with satisfaction. Her hopelessly mussed, shiny hair was tangled up like strings of rubies. Her kiss-swollen, dark orchid-colored lips were glossy and slightly parted, pouting invitingly, lush, velvety, and full like rose blossoms. Some traces of the deep red lipstick remained on her lips but most of it was smeared. She panted heavily, still trying to catch her breath, chest still heaving against yours. It was not at all as it had been this morning, but it was different like it was every time with Jude. This time you didn't have hours to spare, time to consume, or a comfortable bed to test out. You had done your exploring last night, memorizing every part of her because you thought it would be the last time you ever gazed upon that silky lily-white skin.

So you had burned the images into your mind, never to forget them even if you tried. And for that, you were glad. There was an almost unnatural pallor to her skin, and you wondered what that meant. Her hot skin, still warm and moist from your touch, was quickly starting to cool. Your hand somehow found its way over to the area just above her heart, and you left it there, simply feeling. Her pulse raced, heart slamming against her ribcage, beating so fast beneath your fingers that it nearly skipped a beat more than once. She had to know you were there, touching her. She would not be so affected otherwise. Still, there was something almost magical about the moment. You felt like every shallow breath she took was devoted to you, that her heart was beating for you and only you. Her eyes were still closed, almost as if she was bracing herself for a coming blow. Or maybe, you thought, staring at her in fascination, as your breath slowed against her forehead... she was just resting. Maybe she wanted to have you close to her, if only for those few moments while she was still basking in the afterglow.

Something about Jude at that moment looked so... fragile, so innocent, and yet so primal, so sexual. This was your Jude, stripped to the bones, raw. Those jagged edges were what attracted you to Jude in the first place- your specialty was polishing up green, raw talent, making it shine. You liked that she was untamed and yet wild, untrained in some aspects, aspects such as this one. She looked so young then, reminding you once and again that she was a minor, and not the adult she seemed to be. Looks were deceiving, but hindsight was twenty-twenty. You'd rationalized it by saying that you'd been more than an adult at her age, and it had helped that Jude was so mature... in some respects. But even your circuitous ramblings had to end sometime, and there was ultimately no good justification for what you had done. You didn't even love her, so why risk it again? Why risk everything on this one girl? What was really so special about her?

Even your explanations for it failed here. You only knew that for some strange reason, you actually cared, and that unsettled you almost as much as the fact that you had just committed statutory rape for yet another countless time that very same day. But you were still awash on ecstasy and endorphins, so the guilt hadn't yet permeated your mind. For those few minutes, you breathed, hovering close enough to Jude to brush against her, but not indulging in the feeling. You merely rested as she did in blissful silence. For once, the voices that had been plaguing your mind for the past twenty-four hours finally shut up, and you allowed yourself to relax because of it. You tried not to slump against Jude's body, though, and in those last moments, the two of you barely touched at all.

Then Jude's eyes flew open just as yours were beginning to flutter closed. Her eyes widened immediately as she glanced around at her surroundings, horror written all over her face. Stark realization had illuminated her features. She gaped at you in mortification, abruptly jerking back against the piano, clearly frightened. Jude shoved you away with a force that sent you stumbling back, crossing her arms over her chest in an attempt to regain some of the modesty she'd thrown carelessly to the ground with her clothes. "Oh my God. I just had sex with you. Again!" Jude gasped, terrified, almost beginning to hyperventilate, covering her open mouth with her hand. You frowned at the way she'd said it; she had made it sound like it was the worst thing in the world. All you had done was give her what she asked for. You gave up your principles for her. You let her use you to forget her father's infidelities, and you'd done such a good job of that that she'd forgotten her name. You were not the kind of man who let himself be used, and yet... You had given her all you had, all you could offer, and then she spat on it.

Just like your father.

You broke the law of the land for her, and she had the right to be horrified? It wasn't fair. She'd lost her virginity to you last night, and while you hadn't planned on having sex with her again, especially so soon, you weren't on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of it. She almost started to wring her hands, but she noticed the way you were staring at her, so she sacrificed her modesty to hurriedly grab her clothes and start dressing. You hated that, the furtive, anxious glances she shot you, like she didn't know what to expect anymore. You wanted to say something cruel to her, to be vicious and mercenary back, but you couldn't bring yourself to do that. You couldn't bring yourself to insult her, to say even one negative word against her. The words were there inside you, bubbling on the tip of your tongue, but they were all lies. You were ready to denounce her, to call her a slut (after all, she'd had sex with you two nights in a row), to say anything to get the focus off you... to stop yourself from feeling like this again.

Feeling like you were discarded this time around. Feeling like you were the mistake here. You'd said sleeping with her was a mistake, and here you were objecting to her wanting to cut and run. You were always a hypocrite anyways. But you'd been pushed off to the side for the majority of your life, and you refused to stand for that once you grew up. The streets had taught you not to settle, to fight for your rights. But saying all that would show her how this unplanned... occurrence had affected you. And you weren't entirely willing to say that something that should be as meaningless as this, something that should've just been a one-night thing... had affected your heart of ice at all. You liked to pretend you didn't have one because then you didn't have to feel the unpleasantness of life... the guilt, the pangs of whatever-this-feeling-was.

She was a kid, first and foremost. And it would do you well to remember it. You knew that it mustn't happen again. But it would, and you knew that. It was truly a question of how long you'd hold out, and that answer had to be at least her eighteenth birthday and... Oh, God. There it was. You said it. You wanted to be with her, really be with her, like a g... You didn't dare say it. You were practically counting the days. You wanted to wake up next to her every morning. Clearly something was wrong with you. You wanted it to be the flu, but you knew it wasn't. You'd done exactly what you didn't want to do. You were thinking seriously about what you wanted, and what you wanted was Jude. You'd tried so long and so hard to fight it, to deny the irresistible desire... but all that effort was in vain, because you'd wound up falling in with her anyways, and now you were drowning like a lovesick fool. You could be a fool, but you absolutely refused to be lovesick, to have another human being to care about that much. You'd rather be numb, you thought, than stuck in this impossible, hated position.

Jude had been drunk, not thinking clearly. So what was your excuse? You'd been fully sober this time around, and maybe that was how Jude had planned it. Regardless of that, she was now sober as a heart attack. Her fingers, though, were shaking as she hurriedly pulled on her panties, stumbling and nearly falling in her attempt. Her skin was even more flushed now, and you noted idly that it was a full body blush, which allowed you to stare unabashedly under the guise of observation. Her trembling hands reached around and tangled with her bra, fastening it wrong, halfway inside-out and with only one hook. It was a haphazard attempt, only good enough to get her out of there. Nothing more. She groped around on the floor for her dress, putting her arms over the sleeves, pulling it over her head in a hurry. Her unsteady hands found the zipper after a long while, and she jerked it up as abruptly as it could.

The zipper got stuck in the middle of her back, but Jude made no attempt to pull it up the rest of the way. She pushed away from the piano as if on fire, tripping over her own feet. You made no attempt to get dressed yourself; you merely stood there like a statue, watching her scramble for her clothes like a chicken with her head cut off. It was a reversal from this morning, when you'd hastened to put on your own clothing, and she'd strewn her dress on the floor. You had taken so much care dressing her, and so little on yourself. You wished you had just left before she woke. She might never had known if you hadn't dawdled. But she would've figured it out somehow... the pictures on your desk, probably, or her memories. You wondered if that would've been worse. When you saw how truly desperate she was to leave, you walked over to her, startling her.

Your fingers found her zipper, and you tugged it up gently, methodically pulling it up all the way. You were careful to smooth the fabric, to ensure that her hair didn't get caught in the zipper. Jude drew in a sharp breath, but you pretended not to notice. She was going to leave, and this time you had to accept that. You understood now why she hadn't rushed to leave and dress earlier. It was a way of trying to keep things the same. If you didn't get dressed, then you weren't accepting it. Jude stiffened under your touch and turned around, an uncertain smile on her face. You knew that she was going to sound like a broken record, or worse, exactly like you... so you didn't give her the opportunity to make you feel foolish. The phony smile spread across your face so easily, like warm butter. "Get some rest, girl," You murmured gruffly, only intending to kiss her on the forehead. However, somehow your lips were drawn to hers as if they were magnets. The kiss that followed was not intense or wildly passionate. It was one last outpouring of feeling, and the force of your lips on hers knocked her back a step or two. You pulled back abruptly before you got too involved in the kiss, which was more of a chaste peck than anything else. You smiled softly and as real as you could, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, leaning in slightly. "Even the brightest of stars burn out," You whispered into her ear, touching her star ring lightly before turning completely around and beginning to dressed yourself.

It was a chilling warning, but it served to nullify the insinuation that your earlier comment had provoked. Telling her to get rest meant that she would need it, and that you would have more in store for her. But you didn't. She just looked exhausted, and she hadn't been home in a day. You'd already contributed to her exhaustion today, and you didn't need to be around to continue your not quite so generous contribution. You glanced up, pulling your pants up, to find Jude still there and staring at you. "This didn't happen. I am not stupid. I wouldn't..." Jude rasped disbelievingly, denying it with every breath. She hadn't quite recovered just yet. You had expected her to say something like that, so you just nodded and acted like it didn't bother you at all. Like you didn't feel exactly as stupid as she did. You acted like it was water and just let it roll right off your skin. Then you resumed buttoning your shirt like nothing had happened.

Jude made some incredulous sound, though it was impossible to tell whether her disapproval was directed at you or herself. Then she whirled around, straightening up a little, and briskly exited the room. "Be safe!" You shouted after her, hating the mockery your words became. You hadn't been very safe lately yourself. Someone who lived as fast and dangerous as you did had no right to tell her to play it safe... but this wasn't about you being a hypocrite. You wanted to keep Jude safe, that was all. You finished dressing and walked out in the hall just in time to see her exit. All you knew after that was that she got into a taxi and left. You didn't even know if she went home. After what she'd seen, you couldn't blame her for not wanting to go back. You watched her until she was gone and then stared into space for sometime, feeling somehow empty, like a part of you was gone.

Yet somehow you managed to snap out of that miserable, lonely stupor and drag your tired ass back to the practice room. You glanced around it, to see if it would look different afterwards, like Jude had... But it didn't it looked exactly the same. Like nothing had happened there, only something had, and you couldn't stand to deny it. Why deny it now when you were all alone with yourself? You weren't deluded. You knew the truth. You knew she'd been here with you, and the smell of your cologne in the air (and now, you reflected, on your skin too) proved it. The air was stifling and heavy, but not at all as it had been this morning in your hotel room. There was a certain emptiness this time, and not just in the room... but in you. You missed Jude, and she'd just left. It was utterly ridiculous, feeling that way, getting into a mess like the one you were already in. You thought you were done acting like a stupid teenager.

You couldn't take it, the unchanged appearance of the room. So you picked up the bottle of vodka, your own frustration mounting, and threw it against the wall violently, not even wincing as it smashed, sending drops of liquor and tiny, glittering pieces of glass soaring through the air. The bits of glass tinkled and shattered further as they tumbled to the ground, but you merely stared at the wet spot on the wall in fascination as the liquor trickled down the side, taking shining shards of glass with it. The sight, the brilliant explosion had been like a shooting star. Jude was just rising up in the sky, white-hot, and what were you? A long-fallen, slowly dying star... a dull, fading red color, like the fading, dying embers of a fire.

In a daze, the image of the vodka bottle crashing into the wall and exploding forever ingrained in your head, you walked back to your office to retrieve your cigarettes. You hadn't had a smoke in a while, but you'd indulged in worse vices today. You were about due. Hell, cigarettes were a healthier addiction than sleeping with minors. Still... having sex brought much greater satisfaction than a cigarette, even if it was morally wrong. God, what was your problem? You'd broken the law before, but even someone with your police record hadn't done anything this bad. You hadn't committed a felony just yet. Cigarette in hand, you whipped a lighter out like second nature, lighting the cigarette before you even looked down and realized that you were standing out on the fire escape. You had been operating on auto-pilot. Despite the fact that it was December, it was a warm, wet winter... for Toronto, anyways. And the clouds above you were still ominously dark, nearly a sickly green color that reminded you garishly of Jude's dress last night. Last night, you thought, remembering this very spot with a shiver.

The clouds bore neither rain nor snow, but something else entirely. It was too warm for snow, yet too cool for rain. Maybe they would produce sleet, but most probably they wouldn't produce anything at all. It was like the sky was making fun of you and your foolish human ways. You deserved it, though, because nothing you did made any sense. And you felt guilty for what you'd done, so guilty that it was eating you up inside, tearing you apart, even if you wouldn't take it back. Yet, like the haunting clouds above your head, you sensed that something had happened this night that you couldn't take back. It was a stupid feeling anyways, but you couldn't quite figure out what it was, and that bothered you. There was some far-reaching consequence that was going to sneak up on you, one you couldn't see, hanging yet in the stars.

You exhaled slowly, numb to the bones... and not just with the cold. Now that you'd had a little taste of what really feeling was like again, it made you all the more aware of your own emotional vacancy... of how shallow and colorless your reality really was. But you didn't like feeling either; it hurt after so long. You liked being safe in your little cozy frozen world with no one to disrupt your plans for building yourself a frosty fortress of solitude. Jude ruined each and every one of your best-laid plans effortlessly, without even trying.

Still, when you thought of your bleak, boring, wasteful existence without her... How it felt to be adrift and purposeless... If it wasn't for her age, she would probably be the girl for you. Thank heaven for little girls, you quipped bitterly, sarcastically. You found yourself wishing you hadn't smashed that bottle, but then again, that was what the single-malt whisky was for. Thank heaven for little girls, indeed... they grow up in the most delightful way.

- Loren ;