Title: The world was all before them
Fandom: Ten Inch Hero
Disclaimer: not my characters; title from Milton.
Warnings: goes AU during movie
Point of view: third
Notes: from the first time I watched the movie, I wished Priestly had been Jen’s online buddy. *shrugs*
“Bo, man,” Jeff says. “This is unhealthy.”
Priestly shrugs on his shirt, responding, “So, you won’t do it anymore?”
Jeff sighs, sounding tinny over the phone. “Of course not, dude. I’m here for you. Just email me the script; I’ll do it while I’m studying.”
“Thanks, Jeff,” Priestly says, turning to hit send. “I gotta go to work. Talk to you later.”
At the shop, Piper and Jen giggle together while Tish hunts for a new man and Trucker moons over Zo. Priestly keeps to himself, thinking about Jeff’s comment—is what he’s doing unhealthy? Jeff told him, back when he first realized Jen’s ladybugger, that he should have mentioned it to her. Should have said, Wait, you’re ladybugger? No way—I’m fuzzy22.
But he didn’t do that. Months later, he still hasn’t. He doubts he ever will, because too much time has passed. Jen’s so insecure she’ll think he’s been mocking her, and he’s really really not.
The computer dings and Jen lights up, hurrying to respond. Priestly smiles, watching her.
Jeff goes off-script one day, suggesting to Jen that they meet. Priestly requests a break and calls Jeff to demand on explanation.
“You should tell her, Bo,” Jeff says. “All you ever do is talk about her.”
“That’s not up to you!” he hisses into the phone. “I can’t—she’ll never talk to me again.”
“Bo,” Jeff says. “Man up. You’re lying to one of your best friends.”
Priestly hits his forehead with the cell. “This is gonna go so bad,” he mutters. “I fuckin’ hate you.”
“She just responded with an affirmative,” Jeff tells him. “I’ll change fuzzy’s mind, if you want.”
“No.” Priestly stands up, looking back into the shop, where Tish and Piper crowd around Jen, all staring avidly at the screen. “You’ll go with me, right?”
Jeff sighs. “Bo, dude—”
“Jeffrey. Please.” Priestly closes his eyes.
“Of course I’ll go with you, pussy,” Jeff says.
Priestly doesn’t get the weekend off like the girls. He would if he told Trucker the truth, he knows. But after closing, he hurries to their meeting point, and gets there just in time to see Jen hurry out in tears, Piper and Tish following.
He walks in, glances around; Jeff is at the bar, a rose beside him. “Dude,” he asks, settling next to him. “What happened?”
Jeff shrugs. “I never saw her.”
Considering that, Priestly glances at the door. “I don’t—” He lets his head slam on the counter. “I hate you,” he mutters.
Jeff pats his back. “It’ll work out, kiddo. Now, get up here and tell me what’s been goin’ on in your life.”
On Monday, Priestly acts like he has no idea how the meeting went. When he finds out why Jen left, it’s like a punch in the gut. She didn’t speak to Jeff because he was handsome. She judged him like she hates to be judged.
He stares at her, mouth open. “You refused to even talk with him?” he finally asks. Priestly has spent the past ten years trying to forget Boaz and his supermodel looks. If he didn’t have crazy-ass hair, a dozen tattoos, and more piercings than natural holes, Jen wouldn’t even talk to him. “I thought better of you,” he says and stalks out.
fuzzy22 doesn’t contact ladybugger for a week. Jen mopes around the shop and Priestly is icily polite.
As expected, everyone takes her side. Priestly understands and doesn’t blame them. Not like they know the truth, after all.
Jeff apologizes to him, but Priestly just mutters that he should forget it.
“Did you at least tell her why you’re so pissed?” Jeff asks once.
“No.” Priestly stares out over the beach, lighting a cigarette. “What’s the point? Maybe it’s time I moved on, Jeff.”
“You told me you quit smoking,” Jeff says sharply. Priestly can imagine his look of disgust.
“I just started again.” Priestly looks at the small flame dancing in the salty breeze. “Do you think I should head farther south?”
“No, I don’t,” Jeff says. “You told me a month ago that Santa Cruz is the best out of anywhere you’ve stayed.”
Priestly sighs, dropping the cigarette onto his balcony. “That was true a month ago.” His voice is quiet. “Things change.”
“Don’t give up on this girl, Bo—Priestly,” Jeff tells him. It’s the first time he’s ever used the name. “You need to talk to her, let her know everything. Explain why. She’ll—if she’s the girl you’ve described to me, she’ll listen, give you a chance.”
“Jeff, she ran because of how you look.” Priestly laughs softly. “How do you think she’ll react to Boaz?”
“But you’re not Boaz anymore,” Jeff points out. “You’re Priestly, with tattoos and piercings and crazy-ass hair. She likes you. Just talk to her. Tell her the truth.”
Priestly stays quiet for a minute, thinking. “If she hates me, I can come stay with you, right?”
“Of course.” Jeff waits a moment, then says, “So, written anything good lately?”
Monday night, Priestly goes to Jen’s apartment. He sits downstairs for half an hour, gathering courage. Besides Jeff, she’s the one person he’s actually felt close to since he left his parent’s house. If she hates him now…
He’s lied to her. She’ll think he’s spent the last few months mocking her, which is so far from the truth—but why should she believe him? This last week, all he’s done is dig his grave deeper.
Time to man-up. At least he’s got a bolt-hole with Jeff.
Priestly knocks on the door and waits. A little old lady walks down the hall, glaring at him. “Leave that good girl alone,” she hisses. “Jen doesn’t need your kind sniffing around.”
He grins at her, turning so that she can see his shirt: Come take a ride on me it invites in bright green letters.
The lady blanches and hurries past. “I’m calling the landlord!” she says over her shoulder. “We don’t want people like you here!”
Chuckling, he faces the door again, freezing when he sees that Jen’s opened it and leaned against the doorway.
“Terrorizing grandmothers?” she asks.
He ducks his head. “I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you,” he admits softly. “We need—I need to tell you something.”
Jen gently lifts his chin with her fingers. Only after their gazes lock, does she say, “Come in.”
He paces around Jen’s kitchen while she sits at the counter, nursing a glass of sweet tea. She watches him silently as he gathers his words.
“Months ago,” he says, “I realized something. I should have told you then, but I didn’t. The more time passed, it just got harder.” He pauses, looking at her. “I like you a lot, Jen. Not just as a friend.”
Her mouth opens, but he barrels on, not giving her a chance to speak.
“My father died when I was twenty-two,” he says, turning his eyes away. “And the best friend of my childhood was my neighbor’s cat, Fuzzy.”
“Priestly,” Jen starts, after he’s stayed silent for over a minute. “What are you telling me? That you’re fuzzy22?”
He nods without glancing up from the floor
“But I saw fuzzy,” she says.
“No,” Priestly corrects. “You saw my friend Jeff. I got there late, just in time to watch you run out crying.”
She stares at him. “I don’t… I chatted with him while you worked half a dozen feet away.”
Keeping his gaze on the floor, he explains, “I’m a writer. I emailed him scripts. I just… I like it when you smile. I wanted to see your face when you read my words.”
“So… you’ve been playing me this whole time?” she demands, sounding somewhere between hurt and angry.
“No,” he answers, finally looking up at her. “You were happy, Jen. I didn’t want to ruin it for you. Jeff’s been tellin’ me for weeks that you deserved to know. He thought that—well, he suggested we meet, not me.”
“Why did you freak out?” She stares down at her glass. “When I saw fuz—Jeff and left. Why did that bother you so much, Priestly?”
He sighs. “My whole life, people judged me because of how I looked,” he says. “You too, right? You hated it. But then you—you left him sitting there, Jen. If you’d seen me, what would you have done?”
“I’d have gotten angry,” she replies. “I would have run away and yelled at you later.”
“No,” he murmurs. That isn’t what he’d meant. And now that he’s here, telling the truth, she should know who he was. Why he got so furious. “Jen,” he says. “Can I use the bathroom?”
She shrugs. “Sure.”
He takes out the piercings and wipes off the make-up. His hair is still in a colored mohawk, so he pulls off his shirt and ducks his head into the sink. The color washes out easily and he feels a moment of panic. What is he doing? He hasn’t looked like Boaz in almost ten years. Only Jeff even knows who Boaz used to be.
“Priestly,” Jen calls, tapping the door. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he calls back. “I’ll be right out.”
In the mirror, he looks so young. A kid playing dress-up, wearing press-on tattoos. He dries his face and hair, slips his shirt back on.
Hey,” he says, walking into the kitchen. Jen glances up from her book and her eyes widen, mouth dropping.
“Holy fuck,” she says. “Priestly.”
“Jen,” he begins, “I’m fuzzy22.” He glances at her, then back to the tops of his shoes. “I’d like to take you to dinner sometime.”
“Priestly, look at me.”
He slowly lifts his head. This was such a bad idea. He shouldn’t have come here. Should’ve just left town, gone to Jeff’s for awhile.
Jen steps up and gently touches his face. “You’re gorgeous,” she whispers. “Priestly, why do you hide this?”
He smiles sadly. “Because people judged me. Didn’t look any closer. I had no choice what they saw then, so I changed it. Gave them something else to see.” And stopped calling him pretty boy, thinking they could—
Her hand drops. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
Priestly shrugs. “I thought you’d be disappointed. And then I figured too much time had passed.”
Jen examines his face silently. He waits, measuring his breaths. “You still want to take me to dinner?” she asks. “Not Tish?” She avoids his gaze.
He steps in close, raising her chin with his fingers until she meets his eyes, this time. “Listen to me, Jen,” Priestly says quietly. “You are the most beautiful person I know. Please let me take you out and show you how gorgeous you are."
She blushes. “Oh, okay,” she stutters. “I guess.”
He moves in slowly, giving her time to realize and back away if she chooses. When she doesn’t, when she stays right there in front of him, staring up, he softly presses his lips to hers.
It’s not the best kiss of his life. But she gasps into his mouth, and her hand clenches around his arm, and Priestly wants to make her smile forever.