Hi all! First order of business is to thank you for waiting. I have yet to receive any death threats, so your patience is so very much appreciated :D
With that said, this concludes the HYAP7 universe. Which means there will be no sequel—this, in a sense, is the sequel. Who knows, I may toy with it here and there possibly reference it in future stories. But I had a lot of fun writing this, and I'm overall very happy with how it turned out. Thanks for all the support, and I hope to see you around for future projects.
Thanks a bunch, you all are beautiful and kick ass.
Ones and Zeros
Well, maybe I know somewhere
Deep in my soul
That love never lasts
And we've got to find other ways
To make it alone
Or keep a straight face
And I've always lived like this
Keeping a comfortable distance
And up until now, I had sworn to myself
That I'm content with loneliness
Because none of it was ever worth the risk
Well, you are the only exception
Well, you are the only exception
-Paramore: The Only Exception
It was no mere coincidence that Jude Nottinghem had accidentally knocked over his coffee mug at the precise moment that she signed on. Not that he would ever admit it, of course. There was a better chance of him summoning his oaf of a brother to help tidy up this mess for him.
And we all know how useful he is:
Not at all. That's how much.
In the 53 seconds it took him to mop up the brown sludge with the hem of his shirt, muttering a healthy string of curses all the while, she had sent him exactly 14 ims. All involved increasingly gruesome scenarios of his death.
At last, the last of the coffee was mopped up, the looming threat of her hellfire-fury helping to speed up the process. He removed the smile off his face before clicking the call button.
Her face popped up on screen, looking a bit like Christmas morning. Her voice, already loud to begin with (and now raucous with excitement), created a few unholy screeches on his speakers.
An unnecessary cough. "Hi."
He might as well have said 'I love you.'
She seemed unfazed by his lackluster reception. "Oh how I miss you!"
An unnecessary throat-clearing. "Yeah."
He might as well have been begging her to get her ass back home.
It was all the same, to him.
She smiled blindingly at him while tightening the folds of her ratty gray bathrobe--likely intended more for the overweight, balding bachelor type than an 18-year-old.
And she was beautiful.
"Sooooo...how was your day, my love?"
"You know, same old same old."
Hell without you.
She was either intuitive, or the more likely case of being delusional enough to unearth the hidden emotions beneath his words. With a smile that was neither happy nor sad, she sighed. "Well my day was no walk in the park either, Judey Jude. Today, I got another call from the residential adviser saying that it's not possible for me to get a change of roommate. Only, I'm not the one who put in the request..."
"Ah...so it's gotten that bad with her? So, uh, sorry to hear."
"Feh, don't be. She's a bitch anyway."
Behind her, a hand emerged from underneath the covers to flip her the bird. He didn't see the importance in telling her this.
"So. Is that delightful brother of your home yet?"
"Nope. Still stuck in traffic, thank God." Where he would stay for the next hour or so, if there was a Jesus. Last time, he had all but busted down the door after listening in on them, demanding that he be included in their video chat. Jude, of course, had refused. But Gracie had insisted that he be let in, just to tell him that he was a fool.
Aaron, however, had had something else on his mind. Without even a word of greeting, he had barreled through the door and proceeded to ogle her in her panties.
Or tried to, anyway. He had voiced his intense displeasure at her choice of attire, which had NOT met his lacy, x-rated fantasies.
"A part of me is glad that at least neither of us getting any..." he had said, "but a bigger part of me is sorely disappointed in your choice of apparel. If your idea of a hot date is an old shirt and XL hobo sweats, I am going to have to seriously reconsider our relationship."
Jude had muttered the standard "you were raised wrong" and "you disgust me" before quickly throwing him out.
And then she had yanked off her sweats, revealing a pair of lace-trimmed cheekies Aaron would definitely have approved of. Just to "spite the filthy bastard."
He had had no objections, whatsoever; would have possibly thanked the silly bastard, were he not such an asshole. Yeah, that was definitely the last time he'd ever be included.
Gracie gave a sigh of relief at the news. "Well good, now I don't have to worry about him walking in on this."
As she began to loosen the folds of her robe, he unknowingly held his breath. "What are you wearing under there? A pair of lacy, black sweatpants again?" It was too much to hope that she would be wearing—
Well. The collar of his shirt was getting unbearably tight. And because he was not the most experienced in this field, he had blurted the thing that went most against his deepest, darkest desires.
"Don't." She quirked an eyebrow at him, momentarily ceasing in her disrobing.
He had seen many sides of her. In a bathrobe, in a swimsuit. Even in a bra. Once. But naked, NEVER naked. How would he...what would he....dear god, what if he 'embarrassed' himself? Surely, she would notice that. And he would never hear the end of it.
"Your roommate. What if she sees." When circumstances called for it, he could be verrryy clever.
She only shrugged, hands moving once more over the accursed band that kept her robe intact. "Bah, who gives a flying shit about her. In any case, I have my sneaking suspicious about her sexuality."
Yet another birdie emerged from the sheets.
By this point in time, it was far too late to stop her. And dispote all of his previous objections, he suddenly found his eyes glued to the screen with a sort of laser beam magnetism. With a dramatic flourish, she tore off the offending garment--
Then scratched his head at the sight before him.
It was Gracie. Sans robe. That much made sense.
But the cocktail dress did not.
He blinked. "That's not naked."
She laughed at his confusion, whipping out a crudely fashioned corsage from god knows where. "Well yeah." And pausing for dramatic effect, she threw her arms out to the side and screamed, "I'm your homecoming date!"
Her voice seemed to echo in the silence. Slowly registering his lack of response, her arms slackened at her sides. Then came the anger. "Wait. Don't tell me you have a date already. I mean, that's totally fine, you know. Completely fine. It's cool. Soooo cool," she breathed, each word growing quieter until she was practically murmuring to herself. She gave him a practiced look of feigned indifference. "How, uh, how old?"
"..Gracie. The dance started an hour ago. If I had a date, I don't think I'd still be here, and in my boxers no less."
"Good," she blurted not a second after. "'Cause I'd kill the bitch."
He chuckled at her response, not at all disappointed by it. "How'd you know anyway?"
"From stalking you, my pretty" she blurted without batting an eye.
"Naw, I don't stalk you for that kind of easy stuff. That's what I have Larsie boy for."
He sighed. That bitch, always the sentimental one. "Well. I'm feeling a bit under-dressed."
"Just a tad bit?"
"Just a tad." He took a good look at her, noticing for the first time that she had actually taken the time to put make-up on, even though it was nearing midnight there. Her hair was also straightened, as opposed to her usual messy bun. It's not that he was an asshole, he just found her equally attractive in her normal state of being. Really.
He would have told her that she didn't even need to try.
But he was Jude...so he didn't.
Under his scrutiny, she suddenly looked sheepish in her formal attire, marked by the rosy haze that attacked her in full force. "Yeah, so this is incredibly lame. But point is, Jude, that I don't want you to feel like you're missing out on anything because of me. I want you to experience the highs and lows of high school without worrying about me. Well, it's mostly lows..yeah mostly lows. But you understand, right?"
She slapped the surface of her desk. "You're lucky I'm not there with you, or it'd be you instead of this desk feeling my wrath!"
Strange. He didn't feel lucky.
"Trust me, I'm not missing out on anything."
"You say that now, but soon you'll realize that you can only fall so much in love with your computer."
"What about you then?"
"Well, I'm different. I'm already in love with you."
He should have told her then. But he couldn't. Not until he knew for sure:
"You done yet, Gracie?"
"Uh, yeah. Just about."
"Okay." And in the same way that he'd comment on the weather, he told her, simply--
"Be my girlfriend."
You might have guessed that she had swallowed a frog from her expression. That instantly put him in one of those "slit your wrists" moods. Being his girlfriend surely didn't warrant such an ugly face.
"Jude...I want to be. You know that. But I'm telling you, you'll just be wasting your life. In a few weeks time, you may realize that you'd rather be spending time with the people around you. Always wondering where I am, what I'm doing, who I'm with."
"You're not that popular."
"I know that. Thanks, you fat jerk."
It was a lie if there ever was one. He knew, if her facebook was any indication, that she had more than a few prospects on her front. But he could pretend, and that's exactly what he chose to do to cope with his losses. She wasn't any more of a lonely maid than he was obese. And that he was not.
"Anyway, I'm sure spending all your free time video chatting with me isn't exactly doing wonders for your love life."
Just like that, he watched her go from 0-60 in a split second. The grin on her face morphed into something more befitting of Satan's mistress. "You little shit."
"..I'm bigger than you."
"As I was saying; you little shit. In case you haven't noticed, I have been on your ass for the past like, what, ten years? Really, if you're that dumb I can't date you anyway. What makes you think I want anything to do with some new college guys? All they want is to get in my pants anyway."
"How does that make me any different?"
The uncharacteristically bold remark had so been worth it. She always blushed furiously at even the smallest suggestion of sex that slipped from him. Something about the "destruction of all innocence," or some nonsense along those lines. "Jude Nottinghem! Just where exactly did you pick up that kind of dirty talk?"
He rolled his eyes, unamused with her histrionics. "Come on, now. Who do I live with?" Thanks to a darling brother of his, that hideously awkward sex talk with Father Nottinghem had been entirely unnecessary...and unwanted. Never mind the small fact that nothing he had said could qualify as "dirty talk." Even the Pope could have told her as much.
"Be my girlfriend."
She looked on the verge of tears.
Because even she, more than anything, was still just a woman. "Jude."
Quickly dabbing at her eyes with the closest thing on hand, an old sock from the looks of it, she took a deep breath and resumed her fierce expression. "You should know what a relationship with me entails."
"It's mostly simple--break my heart and I'll kill you." He opened his mouth to reply, but she quickly cut him off. "And then I'll stalk you forever."
"You do that anyway."
"You don't even know how serious I'm being."
"Oh, but I do. Sheesh woman, it's like you think I don't know you at all."
She stared at him, long and hard, to which he remained perfectly still. On the outside.
Then she clicked something on her screen, which admittedly struck him as more than a little rude. Really? In the midst of his heartfelt love confession (or, as close as anyone would ever get from him).
After typing a few things, she minimized her browser and turned to him. "Okay. Check your facebook."
"...Really? Are you serious right now?"
"Do it! I insist!!"
He sighed, opening the god-forsaken thing. In all truth, he had only made one under her fierce insistence, so she could monitor his activities and "keep them bitches in check." Though, ironically, he had ended up being the one to do most of the stalking. He, after all, barely used the thing, if the lack of default picture weren't enough of an indicator.
Upon logging in, he checked his newest notification and saw that he had been tagged in her status. It consisted of a mere 8 words that flipped him upside down:
"Yes, Jude Nottinghem, I will be your girlfriend."
It already had 13 comments.
Among them was one from Aaron's Blackberry: "Well let's just see what Mom has to say about you cradle-snatching her baby boy! Twenty minutes and counting, Little Brother."
Another from Tomi: "Why did I ever date you?"
And one in particular, made by Nathalie, that led to the entire post being deleted mere seconds after he had read it: "So, you guys like went to second base without even being official? And you call me a whore. Real classy there, G."
He minimized his browser. "Why did you delete it? You don't even know if I read it yet."
"Well, I don't know. It might have been the sudden grin that exploded on your face."
"I did no such thing."
"God, you're cute when you're embarrassed." She snapped out of it, sighing herself back to reality. "Well anyway, I thought I could be all balls-to-the-wall and go public with it, but I forgot about how dysfunctional my friends were. Last thing I need is a pretty little statutory rape case on my hands, yanno? Looks like you'll just have to content yourself with the knowledge that I am your girlfriend."
"Well, alright." It grew quiet, in which Jude knew the inevitable was approaching. He had delayed it all this time, with plans to do so forever, but the moment was simply begging for it. With a deep sigh, he inhaled to prepare himself for the moment--the moment of ultimate humiliation.
It was in this moment, he thought, that he had at last passed over onto the thresholds of manhood.
"I love you, alright."
He knew from the utterly demented grin on her face that she had heard. So when she had asked him to repeat himself, blaming the fact that she was 'hard of hearing,' he kindly told her to go to hell. And, jumping up from his computer, he calmly threw himself onto his bed and took hold of his pillow. Hugging it to himself, he lay there in a thoughtless, motionless state of pure bliss.
He, caught up in the glorious moment, had made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting to turn off his web cam.
And she had felt no immediate urgency in correcting his mistake, taking it all in with a grin.