365 Days of Woe by green and yellow by The archive
FeatureSummary:

banner cred to johlee674 :) lyric cred to max bemis of say anything

I know my literature. Shakespeare once wrote, 'Love is blind, and lovers cannot see.'

Not to burst your bubble, Will, but what you wrote is crap. Love sure as hell isn't blind, because the moment I saw Mystery Girl, I was smitten. Now, she's all I see.

My only problem is that she already has a boyfriend. (Also, as a side-note, it's quite possible that she is a lesbian). But hey, that's okay. True love will find a way in the end, if our good friend Billy Shakes knows what he's talking about - and someone so glorified by the English-speaking world for hundreds of years can't be wrong. He just can't.

Don't let me down, Shakespeare. I'm counting on you


Categories: Jonas Brothers, Jonas Brothers > Friendship Characters: Joe Jonas, Kevin Jonas, Miley Cyrus, Nick Jonas, O/c Character
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 33 Completed: Yes Word count: 157123 Read: 182533 Published: 05/13/2020 Updated: 05/14/2020

1. Day 1: Mystery Girl by The archive

2. Day 4: Call Me Chaucer by The archive

3. Day 7: Princess Nick by The archive

4. Day 10: He Wanted To Touch It by The archive

5. Day 36: Good Little Proton by The archive

6. Day 59: General Asshattery by The archive

7. Day 68: Nearly Headless Nick by The archive

8. Day 85: Citrus Celebration by The archive

9. Day 95: Jolly Ol' Saint by The archive

10. Day 106: Reading Rainie by The archive

11. Day 111: Tackle and Be Tackled by The archive

12. Day 112: Breakfast Fiend by The archive

13. Day 116: Happy Dance by The archive

14. Interlude: (I Am Into) girls by The archive

15. Day 160: Leave It To Pep by The archive

16. Day 168: Soundtrack of My Life by The archive

17. Day 186: Tips from Yahoo! by The archive

18. Day 193: The Importance of Immunity by The archive

19. Day 201: Top Lip Trapper by The archive

20. Day 209: Nausea by The archive

21. Day 222: Grin and Bear It by The archive

22. Day 230: Jonaslut by The archive

23. Day 233: Small by The archive

24. Day 258: Hairless Calves by The archive

25. Day 273: Poned By God by The archive

26. Day 279: Fair Ultimatum by The archive

27. Day 292: The Stutter by The archive

28. Day 311: Broseph's Rules of Brohood by The archive

29. Interlude: The Bridge to Coupledom by The archive

30. Day 337: Worse Than Valentine's Day by The archive

31. Day 352: The Blame Triangle by The archive

32. Day 364: Unfair Ultimatum by The archive

33. Day 365: Day 1 by The archive

Day 1: Mystery Girl by The archive
Day One.

I call it ‘Day One' because it's the day my life began. Not in the typical sense - technically, my life had begun sixteen-point-five years prior - but this was the day I was born again. I ‘saw the light', if you will.
Really, though, there was no light. There was only her. And hot damn, was she ever sexy.

One look in her direction, and I belonged to her forever. It was love at first sight, I swear. I never believed in any of that bullshit until it happened to me.

I was thinking about it - the way we locked eyes, and how I might someday tell our grandchildren about it. "I was at a rehearsal with my brothers," I'd say. "We were one of the performers at an award show. There I was, strumming away on my guitar like it was nobody's business, ignoring all of the eyes watching me in the stadium - you get used to that after a while, everybody's eyes on you - and then my amp unplugged."


Not a big deal, but I saw crew members begin to scamper towards me to help, as if I was completely hopeless. I can plug in a fucking amp, thanks very much.


"I bent down to plug it in," I'd tell the little ones (they'd all be listening to me intently, hanging off my every word), "and on my way back up, I caught a glimpse of her."

And that did it. I never looked back.

"She was giggling with one of her friends, a photographer. They stood right in front of the stage. Then she looked at me, and her smile was bright and her cheeks were rosy..."

And I fell in love.

"And I knew that one day, I'd ask her to marry me."
Then my mesmerized grandchildren would ‘ooh' and ‘aw' and she - my wife - she'd sit on my lap and we'd smile at each other and continue to reminisce.

Needless to say, nobody was too impressed with me when we finished the song. It's hard to pay attention to anything when you realize you're staring into the eyes of the rest of your life, so naturally, I messed up a few times.

"You botched the whole thing, idiot," my brother, Joe, mumbled to me afterwards.

"You'd think it was our first time playing the song," grumbled brother #2, Kevin.

"It was only a rehearsal," I told them patiently. Christ. A guy who's just fallen in love should be given a break.

"Try not to stare off into space during the actual performance, then," Kevin instructed.

I wanted to tell him that I wasn't staring into space, I was staring at this beautiful girl - this girl with honey-coloured hair and brown eyes that had a little sparkle in them, eyes that told me we were destined to be together forever - but I kept my mouth shut. That was between me and Mystery Girl, anyway. We had secrets, even though I didn't know her name.

The thing about Kevin is that he never shuts up. He'll talk and talk, even if no one is listening. You can give him a blank sheet of paper and he'll make a whole speech out of it. My dad says when Kevin was four or five, he'd talk himself to sleep. He wouldn't cry himself to sleep or rock himself to sleep or sing himself to sleep - no, he'd talk himself to sleep.

By consequence, this makes him the worst listener in the entire world. I'm convinced of it. I don't even bother talking to him anymore because everything I say goes unheard. The funny thing is, he doesn't even notice. If the world dissolved in fire and ice and molten lava and left everyone dead but him, he would go on with life as if nothing had happened, talking up a storm the whole time.

That's the reason I didn't tell him about the love of my life. I'm the kind of guy who says only what is necessary; a guy who makes every word count. In this respect, Kevin and I are complete opposites, and since every word I say to Kevin doesn't count in the long run, I don't waste my time.

(Don't get me wrong - he's a good guy, and I don't mind him. You get used to a person after you've lived with them for sixteen-point-five years. We get along because we've learned to work around each other. I've learned that not even stapling his lips together can shut him up, and he's learned that his pointless drabble means nothing to me - not that it stops him from talking my ear off on a daily basis).

So, on the ride home, as Kevin rambled on about my poor performance, I thought of Mystery Girl and our future together. It was then that I realized I hadn't even bothered to talk to her. I didn't know anything about her other than the fact that we were getting married; I didn't even know if I'd ever see her again. I was pretty sure that she'd read in my eyes that I loved her, and she felt the same way - still, if we never met again, a load of good that knowledge would do.

The problem with my inability to ramble incessantly means that often, a lot is left unsaid. I expect people to read between the lines, but sometimes, people just aren't that smart. Still, I should have at least introduced myself to Mystery Girl. I should have said something witty or thought-provoking to make her want more. I should have done some sleuthing to find out her name and address.

Instead, I stared at her like an idiot for two out of the four minutes of our performance, playing the wrong notes and letting my jaw drop like a fool as I envisioned the faces of our nine grandchildren. So much for a good first impression.

"I gotta hand it to you, Nick," Kevin was saying from the backseat, "After the worst musicianship in the history of music, you managed to walk out of there with a stupid smile on your face, like it didn't even matter that you looked like a total joke. Good for you, buddy. Stay proud."

Shit.
End Notes:

Le premier chapitre. Always so exciting. I said mid-January, but apparently I lied :) I'm doing a few things differently with this story, and one of them is shorter chapters. Some chapters will be really short, but it's quite possible that some of them will reach their usual length.

By now, I'm sure you've figured out who is narrating the story. I'm not sure how everyone will feel about Nick - like a lot of my characters, he's one of those "you hate him or you love him" kind of guys. So far, he tends to have a few nasty opinions.

Since chapters are shorter, not all the characters have been properly introduced, and the whole plot hasn't been set up or anything. Nonetheless, it'll happen sooner than you think - I already have a few chapters written that I have to go over, and I hope to post them quickly (a perk of having shorter chapters!)

As always, thanks for giving this a read, and I hope you'll stick around for more.

Day 4: Call Me Chaucer by The archive

Being paired with ridiculously awkward girls has to be the worst thing about being a celebrity.

I can't explain how much I hate it. I can't explain how much I want to punch the fucking artistic director in the fucking face every single time this happens - and trust me, it's happened more times than I care to mention. Doesn't anyone know that Kevin is the social one out of the three of us? The one who's never experienced an awkward moment in his life? For Christ's sake, you can tell just by putting all three of us in a room together for five seconds.

Joe's the second best option next to Kevin. He'll make a stupid joke and get on with it. Girls warm up to him because he's friendly and funny. It doesn't matter who the girl is or her preconceived notions about him - Joe will have her swooning in the end. Always happens. But no - time and time again, the shy, stiff, socially inept female always gets paired with me.

And every time, I complain to my dad, who says "Grin and bear it, Nick", and then I pretend to have heard,

"Grit and bear it," so I clench my teeth and subject myself to this torture. Mark my words: by the time I'm twenty, I'll be wearing dentures.

Nina is nineteen (Joe's age), idolizes Fergie (Kevin's secret obsession), and spends the majority of her life lazing around her beachside condo waiting for someone to call her for a job (which I do not respect). That's all I'd gotten out of her in the past twenty minutes, and I was out of questions. I don't like talking; and she wasn't even trying. Fuck that. And yes, we were doing a photo shoot together. Just the two of us. Swell.

Some schmuck wearing the most obnoxious red beret I've ever seen decided it would be a good feature in a magazine: "Jonas Brothers out on a date". We each get our separate shots with our faux-date, and then they ask us about our own dating experience and what our ‘perfect date' would be. Gag me.

Let me tell you a secret: when you read celebrity babble in magazines, it's made up. If one of my guy friends - or one of my brothers, for that matter - told me they had this set notion in their minds of a perfect date, I would never talk to that person again. That is strange and not in the least bit manly. Furthermore, if they included the words "beach", "sunset", "roses" or "candlelight", they would get a complimentary tweak on the nose from yours truly.

Guys don't think about that kind of stuff. For that reason, when my brothers and I are given a question of that sort, we barf inwardly and then start rambling on about ice cream and puppy dogs and footing the bill. It doesn't mean anything. Half the time, we're not even thinking about what we're saying. To be honest, I don't even use the term ‘date' when I'm not in front of a camera.

"Hey mom, I'll be back later, I got a date." No. That has never happened. Movies and sitcoms lie to you, kids. It's all wrong.

If I like a girl, we hang out in a comfortable setting. This means my house or her house or somewhere in between. If I don't like a girl but I think she's pretty, we go to the movies. That way we don't have to talk and there's plenty of darkness for groping and making out.

I'm not a knight in shining armour. I'm a kid who wears converse shoes and plaid shirts, and all I want is some ass once in a while. I don't do chivalry. It's lame and outdated, and guys who try to be gentlemanly make the rest of us look bad and deserve to be incarcerated for their flamboyance.

"Nick! Time to change! You're up next!" my dad yelled from his position behind the photographer. He likes to scrutinize everything that everyone does. He rarely says anything to their faces, but the rest of us Jonas' get an earful later. From what I've gathered, apparently no one in show business has half the skills he does.

"Nick!" hissed the makeup artist. "You better get going!" And she shoved me out of the chair.

There's a reason I was sticking to the chair, bossy bitch.

I'll tell you why I hadn't changed yet: because out of the three of us brothers, I had the worst scene and the worst costume. Joe got to be all casual with his girl, they did some sort of outdoorsy scene in a park where they both got to laugh and look like they were having a jolly old time. Kevin donned fancier attire and emulated a dinner scene with his prop. And me? I got the swimsuit picture at the beach.

Yeah.

The white, pasty brother with no chest hair gets the beach scene. Also, I'm underage, so if some girl gets off on my half-naked body, she's committing some sort of sin. If not, she's at least violating a law of some kind.

Psh.

Hollywood. Always fucking with people. And making me look like a twat.

At least the water was warm. I waded in as I waited for the ever-so-awkward Nina to ever-so-kindly join me in order to ever-so-swiftly get this over with.

"Might as well dunk your head under, Nick," shouted Axel, the photographer. I don't think his name is really Axel. I saw his office once - decked out from baseboard to ceiling with posters of Guns ‘N Roses. Axl Rose, anyone?

The water was warm, so I dove in and immediately felt a sting in my eyes. Waterproof makeup sucks. I'm the only one out of the three of us who had to wear it, because I'm the only one with a water scene. Not only does it take forever to wash off, but I practically have to peel off a layer of skin to do so. Nonetheless, I guess it keeps my face looking fresh and desirable even after I've soaked my hair in saltwater.

While I rubbed the salt out of my eyes and got yelled at for messing with my makeup, Nina joined me in the sea. She squealed when I shook out my hair. Most girls would proceed to laugh, but not Nina. She was just... scared. How did I even respond to that? Axel came closer, heavy-duty camera in hand. He waded into the water despite the ten-thousand-dollar equipment around his neck. "Okay... uh... okay... like this..." he muttered while rearranging our bodies and hands.

The thing about photography is that pre-planned poses never seem to look as good as spontaneous ones.

After twenty minutes of minimal communication between Nina and I plus my hands being forced to explore almost every inch of her exposed skin, Axel decided to take a different route to success.

"Why don't you splash her, Nick?" he suggested. "Look like you're having fun."

Even though it's part of her job to do what they say without complaint, I had a distinct feeling that Nina might hit me if I splashed her. She waited expectantly, giving me a dirty look - it was subtle, but it was definitely there.

Oh. That made it easier to splash her.

I could tell as I heard the cameras click-clicking that this was not going to be a successful photo shoot overall. We were pretending to have fun, but to be honest, my resentment for Nina grew by the second. Some people can fake ‘having fun' - not me. And when I'm forced to act all cutesy with someone I detest, I am not having fun.

Then, without warning, she jumped into my arms to hug me. It was unexpected, so naturally, I fell backwards into knee-deep water with a 110-pound weight wrapping her legs around my waist.

"Brilliant!" cried Axel as Nina dissolved into giggles. I, on the other hand, was coughing up saltwater and wondering if my tailbone was permanently bruised. "Do that again, Nina! Up you get, Nick!"

You've gotta be joking, I wanted to say. But like I said, I make words count, and those four words were useless. Axel knew what he wanted.

I don't know how many more times Nina hurled herself at me. After a few tries, I was able to lock my knees and bury my toes in the sand to prevent myself from painfully toppling over. "

Just... just stay like that... yes, perfect," Axel muttered. I drummed my fingers impatiently on Nina's back as I held her; even the lightest girl on the planet gets heavy after a while. I analyzed my skin next to hers - a dramatic difference, she was tanned. Unless they photoshopped my skin orange, I'd look transparent next to her. Perfect.

Nina rearranged herself in my arms to get more comfortable. Her hair fell on my shoulder and she pressed her bikini bottom against my pelvis.

Oh, dear God.

I tried to ignore it. I tried to think of Will Ferrell naked. I imagined myself taking a cold shower. I tried to readjust her, but all that did was grind us together. Repeatedly. Shit.

I can't help that I'm a sixteen-year-old male with a limited amount of sexual encounters. And by ‘limited', let's be honest, I mean none whatsoever. So when a hot girl in a bikini, despite how much I dislike her, rubs herself against me - especially in that particular area - I really think it's unfair of anyone to expect me to be able to control myself.

"Oh-kay," Axel said slowly, lowering the camera from his face. He arched an eyebrow sceptically. "Nina, get down. Give the boy a minute."

Someone else mumbled, "Pitching a tent," before the entire audience burst into laughter.

Fantastic. Thanks, Nina. I let go of her lightly to see that she, too, was smiling in condescension.

Wonderful.

I turned my back to the crowd as I rubbed my eyes and felt my cheeks heating up. Curse Joe and Kevin. I hated them. If only I could have done the dinner scene, all of this unnecessary embarrassment could have been avoided.

I changed my mind. The worst thing about being a celebrity is that your hard-ons suddenly become everyone's business.

________________________________________

Even after we'd changed, done the interview, eaten dinner, drove home, showered, and plopped ourselves in front of the television... Joe was still laughing hysterically.

People think Joe's great at keeping a straight face because he does it so easily on-camera. I know better. The truth is, Joe is constantly laughing at everyone but himself. Me especially. For some reason, he tends to find my misfortunes particularly hilarious. He says it's because I always act like I'm so smart, so whenever something funny happens to me, it's just that much more satisfying to him.

But I am so smart. And I'm sick of hearing about my boner.

"Man, you shoulda seen it, Pip," Joe was saying. "I mean, wow. Way to be unprofessional, Nick. I just..." He couldn't finish. He burst into laughter again.

From my spot on the edge of the couch, I rested my head on my propped-up arm and sighed, rolling my eyes. My best friend sat next to Joe, laughing along with him and occasionally giving me a look of pity. Rotten traitor.

And her name is Pep, not Pip. Joe's just an idiot. In reality, her name is Sarah or something, but about ten minutes after we met her, my dad started calling her Pep because of her extreme energy. The name stuck.

The kid never stops moving, and that's not an exaggeration. She barely even sleeps.

Between gasps of air, Joe chirped, "I just... can't... believe... you actually..."

I threw a pillow at his head. He caught it, smirking in my direction. "You weren't even there," I pointed out.

"Did the photographer snap a picture?" Pep asked brightly. With that question, Joe doubled over with laughter once again.

"No," I replied with a sneer. I wanted nothing more than to body-slam Joe into the floor, but I have mastered the art of self-restraint. In the end, it pays to be a calculated individual.

Pep only giggled as she somersaulted across the floor to sit in front of me. Her auburn-coloured hair was, on that day, fashioned into a loose, knotty bun at the nape of her neck. "Oh, Nick," she said quietly, "That's just embarrassing."

I pursed my lips in disapproval. "Ya think?"

"Nick's had a bad week," Kevin remarked as he strolled into the room with a soda in hand. "Remember what happened a few days ago, Nicholas?"

Instead of wasting energy with a reply, I glared at him in boredom.

"What happened a few days ago?" Pep inquired, stretching her legs underneath the coffee table. Naturally, Kevin told her. I didn't try to stop him. By then, Pep was too much a part of the family to try to keep secrets from her. She'd eventually find out and then make fun of me just as much as the rest of them. It was better to get it all over with at once.

As soon as Kevin recounted the events of the award show rehearsal, Joe's loud laughter resonated throughout the room once more, joined shortly afterwards by Pep's shrill giggles.

"He just stood there, staring in wonder at nothing at all," Kevin said.

"It wasn't nothing at all, dickwad," I muttered, clamping my mouth shut immediately afterwards. I didn't want to go into details about my future wife - it was too soon.

Mystery Girl. I hadn't forgotten her. Her perfect face often popped up in my mind. And the way she stopped laughing when our eyes connected, and the intense moment we shared in our own private world. It was beautiful. I couldn't regret ruining our performance for her. It was worth it.

"Remember how his mouth was hanging open?" Joe continued with a snort. "I'm pretty sure I caught a little bit of drool falling to the floor. Classy, Nick. Real classy."

I whipped another pillow at him. This time, he failed to catch it, and I heard the satisfying smack as it clocked him in the face.

Yes. Mystery Girl was totally worth it.

________________________________________

Pep and I played air hockey in the basement a lot. It was one of the only activities we could agree on properly because it was beneficial to both of us. She appreciated the energy it required while I found that it was a good way to relieve my frustration. And let's face it: a kid who's just displayed his uncontrollable sexual urges in front of a crowd of professional and important people has a lot of pent-up frustration.

She didn't initiate conversation. She was waiting for me to do it. She knows I don't talk much; it's one of the reasons we get along so well. She's a social butterfly - though not quite at Kevin's unattainable level - and I'm a social recluse. We compliment each other nicely.

It's hard to have a relationship with someone who's not in the entertainment industry. It's difficult for them to understand how busy I am; how I hardly ever have time to myself. I still have friends from when I used to live in New Jersey, but it's extremely hard to keep in regular contact with them. The majority of people I spend time with are in the industry, and it can get a bit boring after a while. It's impossible to expand your horizons.

That's why I like Pep so much. She's not in the industry (point 1), and she lives just a few blocks away from my home in LA (point 2). She understands that I have to travel and that I'm not necessarily home a lot (point 3), and she's okay with that because she knows when I come back, we can pick up where we left off (point 4). Also, despite her big mouth and her inability to sit still, I trust her, for a grand total of 5 points. There are some things I just can't tell my brothers, and for those things, there's good ol' Pep.

"I always get the worst girl to work with," I complained to her to start things off. Forcefully, I swatted the puck to her end of the plastic rink.

Pep smiled sympathetically, hitting the puck towards the slot on my end. Instead, it ricocheted off the back and slid towards her again. She tapped it effortlessly and it slipped right past my defence and into the slot.

Goal 1: Pep.

"How do you know? Did you talk to the others?"

Admittedly, no. "I could tell that mine was the worst," I muttered, grabbing the puck and placing it in the centre of the rink.

"You always say that. I'm beginning to doubt your powers," she chuckled.

Y'know Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer's masterpiece? Y'know how the narrator can talk to a person for five minutes and virtually know everything about them - their secrets, their mannerisms, everything? I don't mean to brag, but that's me. I'm convinced. People just aren't that hard to figure out.

Aha! While the puck slid out of her reach and she extended her arm to nudge it in my direction, I got to it first and swivelled around her outstretched arm.

Goal 2: Me.

"I don't understand why I always get the worst scene," I continued.

I could tell that this tie in the game was causing her competitiveness to shine through. She shifted in her spot like a bull ready to charge and bit her lip in anticipation.

"Because you're a pussy, Nick!" she exclaimed excitedly.

"Excuse me!" I cried, withholding the puck from her with my spare hand.

She eyed me sheepishly, her gingery hair falling into her face. She mumbled an apology. "I was trying to trash-talk you and console you at the same time."

With an exasperated roll of my eyes signalling forgiveness, I put the puck back down and smacked it towards her. Almost immediately, she scored another goal.

Dancing triumphantly in the spot, she sighed, "God, I'm gonna miss this table when you and the boys go on tour this summer."

"You'll miss the table?!" I demanded.

"And you," she laughed. Her face turned deadly serious as she added, "But I'll only miss you if you promise to hook me up with Jesse McCartney."

Fuck that. Ever since I told her we were touring with Jesse McCartney, she had been chattering on about jumping his bones. It drove me insane.

"No," I answered immediately. "Jesse's my friend. I would never do that to him."

Her jaw dropped in amusement as she grabbed the puck and threw it at me. I ducked instinctively. She must have whipped it hard - which scared me a little bit - because it hit the wall behind me hard enough to crack the paint.

Pep gasped as I straightened to inspect the wall.

Yep. The light yellow paint had been replaced by a black gash from the puck. I clicked my tongue disapprovingly, wagging a finger at her.

"You'll pay for that, Pepper," I said in good humour.

She tugged at the collar of her shirt. "All right. I'll let you win."

"Not good enough."

She grinned, flashing me her teeth. "You don't have to hook me up with Jesse."

"Better," I agreed.

"I'll snag him without your help," she uttered, just loud enough for me to catch every word.

Swiftly, I lunged in her direction, attempting to squeeze her so tightly that she cried out for mercy. My plan was foiled as she wriggled her way out of my arms and jumped on my back. I nearly fell over, but I managed to grab a hold of her thighs and intended to send her flying onto the floor. I was just about to do so when she giggled, "I hope I'm not turning you on. Don't bone me, Nick."

Without another word, I dropped her onto the ground and glared at her resentfully. Heartless little witch.

I had a feeling this was going to hang over my head for a long time to come.

Great. Something to look forward to.

________________________________________

End Notes:

I was totally going to post this up tomorrow after I revised it a couple more times, but I got way more reviews than I expected for my measly little chapter one, so I decided that I owed it to all of you stellar people to provide you with a few more thousand words for your amazingness. So I hope you enjoy :)

And oh man, I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that there are so many people interested in this story, because I am so pumped. I don't think I've ever been so stoked to write before, and it's the greatest feeling ever, especially with my craptastic schedule this semester (P.S. I missed my Stats class today because my schedule told me to go to the wrong building... ugh. So frustrating). Anyways, I know that Nick is kind of a hit-or-miss because some of the younger kids may not like his personality and some of the older kids feel weird reading about him... but I don't care. He's amazing and my new best friend. (The fictional version of him. In this story. Not the real one, I don't care about him. Just kidding).

Anyway, that's all I have to say. I'm happy that most of you liked him - I use the term ‘like' in the past tense because after reading this chapter, you may have changed your mind.

Goodnight, shiny, happy people, and thank you to infinity and beyond for bringing many smiles to my face on this gloomiest of winter days.

Day 7: Princess Nick by The archive
Contrary to popular opinion, I actually hate dressing up. Ties are constricting, dress pants are not flexible, and the necessity of tucking in a dress shirt drives me crazy. Joe and Kevin, on the other hand, love to look good. Since we're a trio, we're supposed to be uniform in our sense of style. I can't really walk down the red carpet next to those two girly fashionistas clad in old jeans and a hoodie.

Also, while I'm discussing stuffiness, I might as well mention that award shows are boring. If there weren't after-parties, I don't know if anyone would ever bother showing up. I'd rather just get my trophy mailed to me and spend my Sunday night doing something productive, like reinventing the wheel.

But none of that matters, because on Day Seven, all of it was worth it. I had no idea who she was and why she was given such prime seating, but Mystery Girl was literally an arm's length from me. Only an aisle separated us. We were practically sitting side-by-side.
If that isn't fate... well, fuck me sideways.

Once I realized this and pondered God's mysterious ways, I completely lost track of what was going on around me. Joe told me later that apparently Miley Cyrus accepted an award and claimed to the thousands of people in the audience that she'd like to the thank "the arrogant ex-boyfriend who inspired her song". She said this, according to Joe, while looking right at me.

The kicker is that Joe also mentioned I was staring straight back at her. Honestly, extract my memories with a wand and put it into a Harry Potter-esque pensieve. I have no recollection of this whatsoever.
I was too busy panicking internally. With all my ponderings of God and his workings came a shocking revelation: God had done a lot of exceptional work that night. It was unlikely that he would be able to conjure up any more favours for me. In that case, I was going to have to take it from here, lest my lady-in-waiting escape from my fingertips. This caused the panic to set in - you have to admit, it's a hard burden to bear.

What are the first words that you say to the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with? Most people don't know who they're talking to when they come across this person, but I knew. I knew without a doubt, and there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders.

We won an award at some point for some reason. At that moment in time, if you had asked me to name one of our songs, I probably would have drawn a blank. Joe kicked my foot to nudge me into a standing position and poked my back roughly in the direction of the stage. Thank God for Kevin, who did all of the thanking. I tried to shake myself back to life while I stood on stage looking like a featherbrain, but all I could focus on was locating Mystery Girl in the audience. Wondering if she had clapped for us. For me.

The award made me feel confident in myself. Surely I was desirable. Any girl would be crazy to reject my advances. Mystery Girl didn't stand a chance.

I caught a glimpse of Mystery Girl as we took our seats again. Her friend - the photographer from the other day - was leaning over and whispering in her ear. Both girls giggled quietly, and I fell even more in love with her smile. As soon as I sat down, I anxiously shook my knee for a minute or two before screwing up the courage to peek to my right. And there she was, in all her alluring glory, her honey-coloured hair weaving soft curls around her angelic face. God, I wanted her.

One second, and I was back to staring straight ahead.
My peripherals, however, were focused entirely on Mystery Girl. Instinctively, I leaned over the armrest of my chair, pretending to be interested in the recipient of the Soul Train Award - or whatever it was they were giving out.

That's it! On the periphery, I saw her head turn my way and then turn back. That'd do it. It took a hell of a lot of tooth-gritting in order to restrain myself from looking straight at her and mouthing, "I love you", but somehow I kept myself under control. I had never felt so drawn to someone.

Five minutes passed, and I was getting antsy again. I needed more interaction. As casually as possible, I licked my lips and looked at her. Well, not at her. I pretended to be interested in the people in front of and behind her. It was the only possible solution. It was the closest I could get to meeting her face.

It had been only seven days, but she was more beautiful than I remembered. Her legs were long and lean and smooth - they were effortlessly crossed at the ankle.
She wore an emerald green dress that extended to mid-thigh and probably hugged her curves in all the right places. Her hands were focused on lightly twisting the tiny metallic purse she'd brought with her. That was all I was able to notice without directly looking at her, but by Jove, everything about her was magnificent.
And to top it all off, I was pretty sure that she was older than me. Sixteen-year-old girls are not so shapely and mature - at least not from my experience. I was bored with sixteen-year-olds anyway. The idea of being with an older woman sounded refreshing, and... well, hot.

Oh, God. My throat constricted in a most uncomfortable fashion when I caught her stealing another glance in my direction. At least, I think she looked at me. Not allowing myself to look directly at her face, I couldn't be certain.

Quickly, I whipped my head towards the stage and bounced my knee up and down nervously. Smooth, Nick.
Real smooth.

Oh, what the hell - if she had half a brain, she already knew I was interested in her. What was the point in trying to hide it? Joe leaned over to tell me something, but I held up my hand to silence him and gradually turned my head once more towards Mystery Girl. To my surprise, she had the same idea. She was looking straight at me.

Holy shit. If it were anyone else, I would have looked away and pretended to not have noticed. But it was Her, the Girl of My Dreams, and there was no way that I would be the one to end our staring contest. There were the brown eyes that I remembered. Her cheeks were all shimmery - they sparkled a little. And her pink lips gave me the slightest hint of a smirk
.
If I wasn't in love with her before, I was head over heels by now. She was magical. How were we still staring at each other? I could stare at her forever, but the fact that it hadn't been broken yet was puzzling to me. I don't think I'd even blinked. We weren't even smiling. What was going on? I hadn't spoken a word to her, but somehow, what we were exchanging was just... wow.

This was most mind-boggling to me of all. I can easily read people. Most times, they are rather predictable. Having never experienced a nonverbal exchange like this one before, however, made me question her and want to know more. What kind of person besides myself would stare at a complete stranger for - I'm just guessing here - over a minute? She was an enigma to me. An entrancing, drop-dead-gorgeous enigma.

All too soon, our wonderful moment was broken by my idiot brother, who would definitely be receiving the silent treatment from me for the next week.

"Get... up!" Joe hissed into my ear as his foot stomped mercilessly on mine.

"Ah!" I exclaimed, biting my lip in pain and glaring at him. "What!" I whispered angrily.

"It's time, fucknut!" he retorted, clearly just as pissed off with me as I was with him.

It took a second or two to figure out that what he meant was, ‘it's time for us to go backstage and prepare for our performance'. (That's all he had to say, really). Anyway - shit. I'd totally forgotten about that. With another persistent shove from Joe, I hopped to a standing position and took one last glance in Mystery Girl's direction - she was no longer staring at me, goddammit - and followed my brothers up the aisle.

"What's wrong with you? You're out of it again, aren't you?" Joe demanded once we'd changed into stage clothes.

"I'm fine," I replied calmly, rolling up the sleeves of my shirt.

"Don't stare off into space again, okay, Nick? Remember, there are thousands of people out there this time who will not let us forget it," Kevin muttered.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah. Thanks."

"Jonas! Two minutes!"

I picked up my guitar and slung the strap over my shoulder.

"Yeah. Especially after Miley's little speech tonight.
Everyone'll say you got all flustered because you're still not over her," Joe added. "So try not to let yourself pine for Miley too much, and stay focused."
Joe is seriously lucky that I didn't crack him over the head with my guitar.

________________________________________

Thankfully, our performance was flawless. And by ‘flawless' I mean that I didn't get all googly-eyed again, mainly because the bright lights were blazing and I realized that there was no way I would be able to find Mystery Girl in the audience, so instead I concentrated on impressing her with a variety of my musical talents. (I think it worked. Everyone cheered.
I had to assume that she was cheering, too).

Afterwards, Joe had a near-death experience as he tried to take over my aisle seat. "My legs need to stretch out," he whined.

"Move the fuck over," I told him under my breath, careful to keep a neutral expression so as not to attract attention.

"Come on, you got it for the first half," he begged.

I sighed in exasperation and hissed frantically, "Can't you suck it up for twenty more minutes!?"

Joe shook his head adamantly, moving his legs aside so that I could slide past him and into Seat #2. Not good enough.

Since I was still standing in the aisle, my back turned to Mystery Girl, I leaned down so that I was eye-level with Joe and mouthed, "I will kill you." I meant it, too.

"Come on-" he tried again, but was silenced by my eyes piercing his skull. Groaning, he overdramatically lifted himself from the chair and plopped down into Seat #2. "Fine," he grumbled, adding under his breath, "No problem, Princess Nick."

Frankly, this did not concern me for the time being. Joe could call me whatever he wanted as long as I got to stare at Mystery Girl. But now I had bigger problems. We'd already had that really intense staring contest - was it okay to look her way again, asking for another one? I wasn't sure. I had no knowledge of staring etiquette.

I spent the remainder of the show trying to decide. It was a fantastic waste of time, especially when Mystery Girl was within my reach and I was slowly letting her slip out of my grasp. And then, before I knew it, everyone was standing and applauding and whistling, and the show was over.

Never had I been more depressed to see the end of an award show in my life. It was possible that she would stick around for a few minutes after the show; that was my silver lining. My saving grace. I had to make those few minutes - and those few words that I planned for us to exchange - count.

"I'm hungry!" Joe announced loudly as everyone began to vacate their seats. People turned to stare and laugh. I groaned and turned my back to him, keeping my eye on Mystery Girl.

When you're in the spotlight, people like to label you. I suppose that's fine because anyone can ignore a label, but it gets annoying when that label is perpetuated by morons. Joe is labelled ‘The Funny One'. For that reason, according to the labellers, everything he says must be funny. Even if it's not. Especially if it's not, I've found. I don't think I've ever heard anything less funny than "I'm hungry".

"You know what I feel like?" Kevin began to ramble as we made our way out of the theatre. "Like a... a baked potato. Or fries. Or a... like, a soft ice cream... in a cup... or... hey, we should go to Wendy's!" Then he spotted someone else to converse with as we exited.

Mystery Girl was exactly five people away from me. I continuously craned my neck to see over the crowd in front of me in order to keep track of her position.

"We should go to Wendy's," Joe agreed, talking to me as if I cared. "When was the last time we went to Wendy's? You wanna go?"

"No," I told him in irritation.

"How about Mickey D's? I think I want McNuggets."

"Shut up for a second," I instructed. I needed to concentrate. I heard Joe pout and I could almost see his dejected expression flash before my eyes, but I had bigger and better things to worry about. He'd get over it.

When we finally burst through the confines of the auditorium, I broke away from my brothers without even knowing it. I couldn't lose her, and all the paparazzi and security guards and blinding flashes and vehicles weren't making it easy for me. All I really wanted was her name and some reassurance that I'd see her again. That's all I needed.

I heard a couple of people call my name. They probably wanted to congratulate me on my award which, at the time, I had completely forgotten about. I ignored everyone and kept my quick pace, ducking under and around those in my way. The stupid curls on my head were bouncing around - I took a moment to imagine Pep's face as she laughed with glee at their springiness.

My eyes were constantly on the emerald green of her dress. I was following her outright now, and if anyone was watching, I'd look like the biggest stalker in the whole world. Never did I make any moves to approach her, though I easily could have. She was with that girl still, and they were holding hands. (Side-note: Were they holding hands to avoid getting separated, or was there something more serious going on that I needed to know about before I proclaimed my love to her?) Now that I was within poking distance, I couldn't figure out what to say.

"Nick," a familiar voice sliced into my thoughts as a warm hand clasped my wrist. I tore my eyes from Mystery Girl only for a moment to confirm my suspicions: Miley.
Good God. Fuck my life.

"I just want to apologize for what I said up there," she said, and I had to take an extra second to look at her because her hair was brilliantly long and wavy, and I liked it. Yeah, we broke up. But I'd still tap that. (Not that I did any sort of tapping while we dated). "I know you like to keep things private, and... well, I'm sorry if I hurt you. I didn't know you were still upset about us."

It was hard to distinguish exactly how far-removed my ex-girlfriend was from reality, but I didn't have time. I did not have time. This was so unimportant.

"Heartbroken," I replied in a rush. "No hard feelings though, kay? Alright."

I tried to make a run for it, but her fucking hand had my wrist in a stranglehold. "Please don't be mad," she continued. "We can talk about it, if you want."
Gritting my teeth, I pried her fingers from my wrist one-by-one for dramatic effect. Christ. I should have known that an ex would become an obstacle to my relationship with my potential wife.

"Fine," I agreed, if only to humour her. "Call me."

As I bolted in the direction of Mystery Girl, I heard her call, "But you changed your number!"

Hell yes I did, crazy bitch.

Mystery Girl had finally come to a halt with her friend only forty yards away. At this point, I was speed-walking towards them to find a better position, where I would mull over my proceeding course of action. I was also starting to feel a bit queasy, but it was hard to say why. On one hand, I had been dodging paparazzi and ex-girlfriends for the past couple of minutes. On the other hand, I was beginning to wonder if Mystery Girl's friend was actually more than a friend, in which case I was totally fucked. I couldn't compete if the love of my life was a lesbian.

"There you are!" Kevin stuck his arm straight out in front of his body, and I was walking by, I crashed right into it.

Wait. How did he get there? As I brushed myself off and examined my surroundings, I realized that Mystery Girl and her lesbian friend had taken a meaningless detour, ending all of us up exactly where we started.
All of that for nothing.

"Where've you been?" he asked. "P.S. I might go to an after-party with Jesse, and Joe wants you to go with him to McDonald's."

It was then that I realized that Jesse McCartney, our future tour-buddy, was standing next to Kevin with a grin on his face.

"Nick," he said with a nod, holding out his hand to shake.

I couldn't be rude, so I returned the gesture. Besides, I like Jesse (in a very platonic and manly way). I understand that guy. Plus, he's great to have around if people poke fun at my band's Disney-esque-ness. Two words: Dream Street. Look ‘em up, listen to their songs, and forever worship the Jonas Brothers as grade-A badasses in comparison.

I can't explain how much I didn't care about Joe's cravings for a Happy Meal. So while he prattled on about drive thru vs. in-restaurant service, I took the opportunity to glimpse my beloved future wife once more. She was thirty feet away. I could so easily stroll towards her and strike up an intellectual conversation. God, she was beautiful. Her perfect teeth shone when she laughed. Her eyes were aglow with excitement. And - not that I've ever noticed this before on anyone - her posture was pretty impressive.
Her shoulders were all... in line. I tried to stand like that. It took effort.

I was so close to putting one foot in front of the other. I was going to make my move. Joe's stupid voice was pushing me towards her.

"So what do you think? ... Nick?" Joe punched me in the arm.

Generally I get along with my brothers. Occasionally we have our small and trivial spats. On that night, however, Joe was seriously one wrong move away from getting chainsawed to death while he slept.

"What?" I asked, fighting to keep my composure.

"Should I get a Happy Meal, or just plain old McNuggets? Jeez!" Joe exclaimed in annoyance. "Weren't you listening?"

"No," I told him plainly. "I wasn't. But I swear to God, if you don't shut up-"

I paused mid-sentence. Where was Jesse? Wasn't he standing with us just a moment before? I don't know how I knew, but somehow I was able to sense that something was wrong. I turned my attention to Mystery Girl.

And there was Jesse, chatting her up. Apparently he had just told a hilarious story - which I highly doubt (as much as I like Jesse, his jokes fall flat) - because Mystery Girl burst into laughter. It was the first time I heard her make a sound. The first time I heard her voice over the crowd, and it was because some other piece of crap celebrity had gotten there before me.

I rubbed the back of my neck in defeat as I turned towards my brothers.

"I think Princess Nick needs a nap," Joe teased.

Kevin laughed. "Princess Nick!" he repeated in delight.
Ugh. Someone kill me. I would not be referred to as Princess Nick. There is nothing less manly.

"Kev!" Jesse cried, rushing towards us with a sly grin. "Let's roll, buddy. I got us dates. See you kids later."

Well, fuck everyone born in 1987 or beforehand. If I was twenty-one, I could go. If I had a fake ID, I could go. But when everyone knows who you are, you can't fake your identity or your age. My status in society was finally screwing me over.

I watched as Kevin and Jesse climbed into a limo with Mystery Girl and Lesbian Friend. The best I could hope for was that she would be repulsed by Kevin's inability to shut up, and someone would present to her Jesse's Dream Street songs. Then I still had a chance.

At the very least, Kevin would eventually find out her name. My only shred of hope to cling on to.

Joe wanted to stay and socialize. I followed him around with a sulky expression, and when he patted me on the shoulder and said he was ready to go to McDonald's, he used that godforsaken nickname again. It was then that I realized how much he enjoyed it, and for that reason, ‘Princess Nick' was not going anywhere any time soon
End Notes:
Because I have nothing to say for once except thank-you, I decided to mention that two songs inspired this story: ‘Woe' by Say Anything primarily, and as you can tell it partially inspired the title. I like this guy's voice, it's like... I can't explain it, and I just love Say Anything, it's not often you hear actual humour in a song. But! Don't look for this song on youtube, because I can't find the version that I have on my iTunes. I didn't realize that I don't have the album version, and in my opinion mine is so much better - so don't listen to it or it will be ruined! I'll keep searching for my own satisfaction.

The other influential song I can't give to you right now because it would give something away, but I'll tell you within the next couple chapters. Let me just say that there is a completely stupid reason why Jesse McCartney is in this story, but it amuses me so much that it will not change.

Oh, also, the ‘fuck me sideways' comment... Shoot ‘Em Up, anyone?
Day 10: He Wanted To Touch It by The archive
Day Ten.

It took all my fucking self-restraint not to bombard Kevin with questions after he returned from the after-party three days ago. I heard him come in at two or three in the morning. I was lying awake in bed, staring at the darkness that consumed me, hoping to God that my Mystery Girl was still up for grabs. I needed to know the exact details of everything that had surpassed that evening, straight from the horse's (Kevin's) mouth.

But then I'd sound like a petty teenaged girl, what with my incessant craving for gossip, and I have more pride than that. So I left him alone.

I didn't want to pry the next day, either. However, I did listen whenever he opened his mouth - which was approximately ninety percent of his time spent awake - and although he spoke in great detail of all the alcoholic beverages he had tried and the stupid chocolate fountain that absolutely blew his mind, there was no mention of Mystery Girl and her homosexual sidekick.

Naturally, on the second day, I stopped listening to him for fear my mind would explode with useless information.

Finally, on the third day, after planning my words for what seemed like years, I casually asked him over breakfast, "So whatever happened to those girls you and Jesse took to the after-party?"

(Like I said, it's a rare occurrence for me to speak to Kevin directly. This was a big deal).

"Huh?" It took a moment for him to remember as he poured Frosted Flakes into a bowl. "Oh, yeah. There were two of ‘em, right?"

"Uh... I guess," I replied. (Of course there were two of them, blockhead - but it was important not to sound desperate).

"Yeah. One of ‘em seemed really interested in me. We were talking, and she kept touching my arm, and-"

"The one in the green dress?" I interrupted. (Maybe that was a little too desperate-sounding. Shit).

Kevin shook his head, annoyed that I had cut him off. "I don't know, I don't remember. Anyway, I told her to wait while I said hi to someone, and then when I came back, I couldn't find her."

Probably because you met thirty other people along the way and couldn't shut your trap, dipshit. After three hours of waiting, she finally gave up and went home. I could see it now; it made perfect sense.

Whatever. Not important.

"Oh, really?" I asked politely. "Did you... what'd she look like?"

There. That was a reasonable question.

"She was hot."

Fuck you, Kevin. I needed details, you fucking schlep.

"Yeah, but... how?" I didn't know how much clearer I could make myself without outright asking him if she had long honey-coloured hair and sparkling eyes.

Kevin glanced at me suspiciously. "She... had a nice body," he said slowly and sceptically. "I... wanted to touch it. That's how she was hot."

Ugh. Perv. It was apparent that I wasn't going to get anything out of him.

"So you and Jesse just went solo for the night?" It was my last question. As long as Mystery Girl had given up on Kevin, I was safe.

"I did," he told me, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Jesse hung out with the other girl, though. The whole night. Bought her drinks... I think he even gave her a ride home. If he even took her home."

The wink that Kevin sent in my direction almost cost him his life. My hands were in position, ready to throttle him if he insinuated anything else. I'd avada kedavra him like no other if he told me what I feared he was going to say.

There was a fifty-percent chance that the girl Jesse was interested in wasn't my Mystery Girl.

Unfortunately, considering the other girl's obvious attraction to females, it was very unlikely that she was the object of Jesse's interest.

Good grief. Mystery Girl was trying to make me jealous, wasn't she? She wanted me to work for her affection. She wanted me to prove my love. She was doing it in the bitchiest way possible, too.

But oh God. Her bitchiness just made her even hotter. I was hopelessly in love with her, and it was way too late to push my feelings aside. I had to have her.

Damn. I was hoping Nazareth was lying when they said ‘love hurts'. I can't explain how much I hate when shitty, cracked-out 70's bands teach me life lessons.
End Notes:
You've all heard it before... Nazareth. (P.S. This isn't the second song that I was talking about).

I'm sorry for the short chapter, but to be fair, I did warn you that there would be short ones. Hopefully you understand why. The next one will definitely be longer and it will definitely be posted soon to make up for this one :) Thanks as always for the incredible feedback!
Day 36: Good Little Proton by The archive
Day Thirty-Six.

On this day, very unfortunate news was delivered to me.

Luckily, though we had been out of town for a couple of weeks, we had just returned to Los Angeles and I had good ol' Pep by my side with whom I could commiserate.
It seems unlikely that anyone would want to be around a proton when they're depressed. And by proton I mean - well, you know what I mean if you've passed the ninth grade.

Little positively-charged balls of energy.

That's what Pep is - a proton. It seems unlikely that anyone would want to be around her when they're upset. In my mind, anyways. Her happiness should just piss you off even more.

But somehow, that's not the way it works. When I'm distressed, Pep is the first little proton I call on. I think it's because she understands that sometimes I don't want to talk; I just want to think. She doesn't pressure me to tell her my problems because she knows I'll confide in her when I'm ready. And that's how a best friend should be. I get sick of people demanding that I tell them my problems on their own watch. I need time and space.

So, after I'd received a slap in the face, I meandered over to Pep's house with my dog, Elvis. Elvis is another good pal to have around when you're pissed. He never talks. He's very loyal. I appreciate it.

"What's up, Sulky McSulkerson?" Pep asked as we watched our dogs - she has a Collie named Shep - chase each other in her backyard.

Pep has a nice house. I mean, she's in a good neighbourhood and her parents do fairly well financially - though, ask me what they do for a living and I couldn't tell you - so her house is nice in the standard sense. But it's also nice in my sense because you can climb on the roof from her bedroom window and look out over her backyard. The roof is slanted, so you can lay back and just think.

In fact, I would go so far as to call it my favourite thinking spot. It's a little more peaceful when Pep isn't lying beside me squirming like an upturned dying beetle, but it's relaxing nonetheless.

Her feet bicycling in the air, she continued, "Hmm?"

I sighed. "There's this girl."

Immediately, her feet fell to the roof. She propped herself up on an elbow to loom over me. "A girl, huh?" she teased, a smile crossing her face as her auburn-coloured hair fell into her eyes.

I glanced at her, unimpressed.

She chuckled and resumed lying on her back. "Sorry. Go on."

"I met her - I don't know, a month ago or something. Well, I didn't actually meet her..." I trailed off. This was complicated to explain without having myself come off as the biggest creep on the planet. "I kind of saw her when we were playing one day..."

"Yeah?" Pep asked to encourage me.

"And I kind of... okay, this sounds stupid. But I swear, she is the one."

Pep appeared interested. "What's her name?"

"I don't know."

"Oh."

That's what I love about Pep. Most people would call me childish and crazy. Pep, on the other hand, just accepted my convictions. I don't know why, but I'm thankful for it.

"So... you gonna ask her out?" she inquired slowly. Carefully.

"I've seen her twice," I answered. "Never spoken to her. Never told anybody about her. And that was almost a month ago. But she's on my mind a lot. I tried to talk to her the second time, but guess who became an obstacle?"

"Kevin?" she suggested.

"Good try."

"Joe!" she exclaimed.

"Surprisingly, no."

"Who?" she asked in confusion.

"Your precious Jesse McCartney," I told her. I turned my head to face her on the roof. "Today, Kevin told me Jesse was dating ‘that girl from the award show'." I paused, waiting for her reaction. Her face remained blank. I blurted out frantically, "'That girl from the award show' is mine!"

I hadn't brought her up since my awkward conversation with Kevin a few days after the award show. But I was sure that when he said Jesse had been dating her for a month, it was my Mystery Girl he was talking about. I just knew it. Lesbian Friend wasn't interested in guys - obviously.

She smiled sympathetically. "Really, you have no hold on her."

"I do so!" I retorted. "We had this really intense stare. Have you ever had a staring contest with someone you've never met? Trust me, it was unbelievable. I basically asked her to marry me during that stare, and I know she was aware of it."

"Then maybe she's just an ice bitch," Pep laughed.
Pep listens well, but she's not very good when it comes to advice.

"No," I told her patiently. "I just... maybe she lost hope. Because we hadn't seen each other for so long, and Jesse was the only available-"

"I highly doubt that's the reason she's dating Jesse McCartney," Pep giggled. "I mean, have you seen him?"

I hate when she interrupts me. I hate it.

I shut my eyes and let out a groan. "Could you for one second pretend to be sympathetic to my condition?"

She sat up, shrugging helplessly. "That sucks, Nick. I'm sorry."

I opened my eyes to her faux sincerity. The sun had almost set. "Thank you."

She leaned back on her elbows, still assessing my reaction. "So how does it feel?"

"How does what feel?"

"Knowing there's the one out there for you."

You'd think that she would be subtly mocking me, but I know Pep. She was playing along like a good little proton.

I put my hands under my head before I responded. "At first it was really exciting. But now that I know that she belongs to someone else, it's really pissing me off and it's not quite as romantic as I expected."

I could almost see her rolling her eyes. "She doesn't belong to someone else, you womanizer."

"Don't Britney Spears me. The fact is, I can't have her."

"It doesn't mean you never will."

Hmm. Interesting. Pep's bad at advice and personally, I don't think she's all that smart, but every once in a while, she says something worth thinking about. (You really have to be listening carefully, though). "You think I could still make her mine?"

She laughed again. "I'm not saying you should try to break up her and Jesse."

I pushed myself up to a sitting position in excitement. "Why not? You could help me. Then you and Jesse could fall madly in love just like you've always wanted."

"I thought you didn't like the idea of me and Jesse."

I shrugged. "That guy's a douche."

"You said you liked him!"

"Fuck what I said. I hate him."

No. That's a lie. Really, he's not bad. His taste in women is impeccable.

Pep rolled her eyes. "To be fair, it's not like Jesse asked out Lover-Girl-"

"Mystery Girl," I corrected her.

"-Mystery Girl just to spite you. He doesn't even know about your secret obsession."

"Oh, yeah. P.S. you're the only one who does, so I'd appreciate if you'd keep your mouth shut," I told her, adding, "especially around my brothers."

Pep grinned maliciously.

I shook my head, not amused by her evil thoughts. "Don't think about holding this against me," I warned her. "I hold your future with Jesse in the palm of my hand."

"I don't like him that much," she played along.
As it grew darker, we watched our dogs play a game of tag in the yard before they grew tired and lay next to each other in the grass. From my position on the roof, I folded my arms across my bent knees and sighed hopelessly.

"You know what I think you should do?" Pep asked, interrupting my serenity.

"Shave Jesse's head while he sleeps?" I suggested sleepily. Personally, I was beginning to think it was a good idea.

She ignored my cleverness. "You should look for a new soul-mate. Or at least put off thinking about soul-mates for a while."

Like I said, Pep's not really helpful when it comes to advice.

"No can do," I replied matter-of-factly. "Mystery Girl will be mine."

The first time we spoke, I would look at her and say, "You will be mine," and she would reply, "Yes."

Pep shook her head in disgust. "You scare me a little bit with your obsession of owning women."

I shrugged casually, tilting my head in her direction. "Come on, Pepper. You can't honestly tell me you don't eat that shit right up. Girls are always waiting to hear guys announce their ownership."

"We're not slaves, Nick," she giggled.

"You're my love slaves," I replied with a straight face. I glanced at her. "Well, not you. You're off the hook."

She couldn't help from laughing. "I consider myself lucky."

I shrugged again. "I wouldn't. I'm a catch."

"Not to me!" she declared in a sing-song voice. "And not to Mystery Girl, either, apparently."

Midget bitch. Pep's like, four feet tall, (that's a lie, but she's really small), and I have trouble understanding how someone so little can be so verbally (and sometimes physically) aggressive. It just doesn't make sense.

Pep's dad called her down from the roof to empty the dishwasher. I could easily have accompanied her to the kitchen and offered my help, but I was glad to get a few minutes to myself up on the roof. Pep is one of the only people I can sit with in silence - the problem is, she fidgets too much and it distracts me sometimes. Nonetheless, I use her for her roof with its spectacular view. It's very thought-inspiring.

It was fully dark by the time Pep returned. She crawled onto the roof and lay beside me without a word. All I could hear was the sound of crickets chirping and Pep's noisy chewing. Whatever she was eating, it sounded tasty.

"What are you thinking?" she asked me, and I could feel her eyes on the side of my face.

I released the breath I had been holding. "I'm thinking about how I used to be able to see the stars at night when I lived in New Jersey. I haven't seen stars in a long time."

"Hmm," Pep murmured, gazing into the sky. "There's one right there." Using her index finger, she pointed upwards.

"That's a plane, smarty," I informed her. "There's one, though." I pointed. "You can see a few of ‘em, I guess. But I remember lying on a dock by the lake and seeing thousands of ‘em."

"I've never seen a sky like that," she said quietly. She's lived in LA, the big city, all her life.

I let my head roll on its side so I could look at her. "It's pretty cool."

"Huh," she grunted in reply. "But don't you feel so small and insignificant when you look at something like that? That's what they say."

"Why would you?" I asked.

"Because it's a reminder that there's so much out there. That the world is so much bigger than us."

"They're just stars, Pep."

"But doesn't it make you think about life on other planets?"

"I don't believe in extra terrestrials."

"Why not? We don't even know a lot about our own galaxy," she stated.

I shrugged. "I just find it hard to believe. There's no proof."

"Seeing isn't believing. Haven't you ever watched ‘The Santa Clause'?"

"Well, Santa turned out to be a big lie, didn't he?" I returned. Sarcasm oozing out of my every word, I gasped, "Oh, gee - Pep, I'm sorry. I thought you knew."

For that I received a swift elbow-nudge in the side. "Not the point," she giggled.

"Stars don't make me feel small or worthless," I told her. "They don't make me feel anything. They're just cool to look at."

"Y'know, Nick Jonas..." Pep trailed off. "Sometimes you're an arrogant little shit."

"Sometimes?" I joked.

"Most of the time," she conceded. She grinned at me. "But I'm glad you're home."

"You're just glad you have access to an air hockey table again," I muttered.

"True."

"Horrible friend."

"Cocky bastard."

"Touché."

And that's our relationship in a nutshell. What can I say? It's not rainbows and butterflies because we're not rainbows-and-butterflies kind of people. We're more... dogs-and-hockey. But not dinky little rat-dogs that yip and yap - big, manly dogs who keep their mouths shut unless they're eating the rat-dogs. That little detail is important.

I had almost fallen asleep on Pep's roof when Elvis woke up from his slumber and began to whine. I stretched with a groan, reluctant to leave.

"Shut it," I grumbled, just loud enough for Elvis to hear. "I should probably go," I said to Pep.

"Alright," she agreed. "Call me when you're not busy."

"I'm always busy."

"I'll just come over tomorrow, then."

I muttered a response before jumping through her window and heading down the stairs. Pep followed me to the back door and watched as I leashed up my canine.

"So do you know what you're going to do?" she questioned.

"About what?"

"Your mystery girl."

Of course. My Mystery Girl. "What can I do? I can't sabotage her relationship with Jesse McCrapney, because unfortunately, we're friends and we're spending the summer together," I explained. "I guess I just have to wait it out. In the meantime, I can get to know her."

It was lucky that Pep wanted me to talk this out, because as the words came out of my mouth, I realized that it was a pretty good idea. (I often have very good ideas).

"Try not to mention your obsession with her while you're at it," Pep joked.

"Hilarious," I said sarcastically. "Thanks for the advice, kumquat. When was the last time you were in a relationship?" Maybe it was a mean thing to say, but I accept that I am a heartless dick.

"I could be in a relationship right now and both our problems would be solved if someone set me up with Jesse when I asked," she retorted in amusement.

See? No hard feelings with this girl. I can never touch a nerve. It's great. It's like I'm on Survivor, and I always have immunity.

"Sorry I abide by the law," I said in jest, "I believe it's illegal for you, a minor, to be in a relationship with an older man."

"Your citizenry is honourable, but if said older man was in prison, your mystery girl would no longer be a mystery to you... don't you think?"

Ugh. I hated how this kept getting thrown in my face. Like the steak that Uncle Rico threw at Napoleon Dynamite.

"Alright, I get it. I screwed myself over."

"Now go home and think about what you've done," Pep finished with a grin. She ruffled my hair as I walked past her. I grunted a bitter goodbye and left with Elvis, my only friend who kept his two cents to himself.

As much as we joke, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe the proton spoke a little bit of truth. If I didn't waste so much time at the stupid award show, Mystery Girl could be mine. At the very least, I could have distracted her while Jesse McCartney found someone else to take to the after-party. So maybe, in the end, I was the product of my own misery.

And that, my friends, is a very annoying realization to make.
End Notes:
Now I can inform you that the reason I am using Jesse McCartney is for no other reason than to be able to use this song. Hahahahahaha. I'm sorry, I can't help it.

:)
Day 59: General Asshattery by The archive
Day Fifty-Nine.

I don't think I'd understand if a heterosexual female wasn't attracted to me.

Yeah, okay, that sounds a little arrogant. I'm just being honest. I can figure people out pretty easily, and I know what girls want. They go crazy over guys like me, guys who don't say much but who look like they've got something going on up there. Plus, I have diabetes. I'm not saying it's all fun and games, but come on. A quiet guy with an adorable crutch that doesn't really get in the way like a terminal illness or an amputated limb? I'm irresistible and I know it.

Which is why I found it very hard to comprehend why Mystery Girl had not made yet made any advances. (Side-note: Honestly, was it possible that she was only attracted to females? The hints were getting stronger and stronger). We were in the same room, and I was playing all the right cards, but she hadn't spoken more than a word to me.

The word that she spoke, however, was the most wonderful word I had ever heard.

"I'm sure you know these guys," Jesse told her as Joe and I stood in front of him. He pointed to each of us, saying, "Joe and Nick."

Joe shook her hand and said something mildly funny (it really wasn't funny, but he wasn't annoying me as much as usual, so I'd give it to him), and then she turned to me.

Finally, we had a perfect excuse to stare at each other. I was composed. I had had a lot of time to think about this moment. I held out my hand to shake.

"Nick," I repeated, just to make sure she heard it right.

She took my hand in hers. Her skin was soft and I swear there was a jolt of electricity that passed between us.
"Rainie," she introduced herself with an alluring smile.

Rainie. I don't mean to go all West Side Story on your ass, but God, it was the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard. Say it soft, and it's almost like praying...
Really, though. Even her name was tragically beautiful. I needed her.

Maybe I held her hand a second longer than I should have. Maybe I held her eyes way longer than I should have. I could've held her under my spell (or vice versa) all day if Jesse hadn't grabbed her free hand and tugged, saying, "C'mon, I'll introduce you to the others."

So I let go and watched her walk away. I gulped, fighting to keep emotion from visibly showing on my face, and Joe commented loudly, "Weird."

I broke my gaze on Mystery Girl - Rainie - to glance at him quizzically. I thought he was going to ask me what kind of strange connection I shared with Jesse McCartney's girlfriend. Instead, he crunched noisily, mouth open, holding a bowl out to me which he had found on the table behind him. "Popcorn?"

No. I did not feel like popcorn. I felt like grabbing onto Mystery Girl's - shit, Rainie's - hand and stuffing her into a car. I'd tell the driver to take us to Mexico. From there, we'd fly to Chile. And then we could live in happiness and peace.

Instead, I watched out of the corner of my eye as Jesse put his hand on the small of her back and introduced her to the general manager of Hollywood Records.

We were at a meeting. A casual meeting, but a meeting nonetheless. A tour rundown. It began in just over a month, and since we - and by ‘we' I mean my brothers and I - were so busy filming our show and promoting our album and being revered by millions of teenaged girls everywhere, we hadn't had time to really think about it. Well, I had a lot of time to think about it. Mainly because I knew we were touring with Jesse, and I was constantly wondering if he would still be dating Mystery - Rainie - and if she would visit me - I mean, him - every once in a while.

Come to think of it, it was kind of inappropriate for her to be here. If I wasn't so delighted, I might have grumbled about it to Joe.

Everyone was here, though, so Rainie was barely even noticeable. All our band-mates, some members of the crew, people I didn't recognize who I could only assume were affiliated with Jesse - and Her. With a capital H, because that pronoun has never been so important to me.

When Joe left me to generously offer his popcorn to everyone, I leaned against the table with my arms crossed, surveying the scene before me. Rainie. I didn't listen to any of the information I was supposed to be hearing because I was so busy repeating her name in my mind. Rainie. What could a girl like her possibly see in a guy like Jesse?

Maybe it was the age thing. Jesse is Kevin's age, I think - twenty-one - and Rainie looked closer to his age than to mine. Damn my parents for my late conception! (Side-note: I was probably an accident. After having a kid like Kevin, I think the rest of us were all accidents).

Really, I didn't think age had anything to do with it, because I knew she was interested in me. I kept tabs on her throughout the meeting - it seemed like she was trying a little too hard not to look my way. That meant something, didn't it? She knew I was pissed off because she deliberately agreed to date someone else even after our incredible staring contest. She had to have known.

As the voices droned on and on, I realized that perhaps this was pathetic. Well, it was either pathetic or the most amazing thing that had ever happened (there is a fine, fine line). This must be what it's like when two deaf people are in a relationship. Or two mutes. I'd repeated her name so many times in my head that I could barely remember what her voice sounded like. We didn't speak to one another, but I'll be damned if we weren't in a relationship.

Yes. We definitely were. She had my heart. And I had direct proof that she was cheating on me.

The meeting ended when one of our band-mates (surprisingly not Joe) threw a piece of popcorn in the air, caught it in his mouth, and choked on it. This caused a crowd to gather around him as his face turned red, and eventually he coughed it up. Once everyone had breathed a sigh of relief, Kevin launched into a longwinded story of how he had choked on a giant pill and almost died when he was a small child.

(The thing about Kevin is that you can never tell whether his stories are true or not, because no one has any recollection of these events aside from him. I had certainly never heard this story before, even after living with him for over sixteen-point-five years.
Also, when we had to take pills for one reason or another, I vividly remember Mom crushing them up into tiny little pieces of powder and hiding them in jam or orange juice, so I would say it's fair to assume on reasonable grounds that Kevin was making this shit up).

Everyone knew not to listen to Kevin. It's something you learn after you've been near him for more than a couple of hours. The only person who hadn't been around Kevin for more than a couple of hours was Rainie.

I stayed in my corner, arms still folded across my chest, analyzing the situation. To discuss matters further with his manager, Jesse left Rainie while she was stuck with Kevin. Poor girl. My plan was to be her escape.

"Nick!" Joe called. He gestured for me to follow the members of our band out the door. In his palm he held a hackey-sack. As usual, they were going to play in the parking lot.

I shook my head. How could I focus on hackey-sack at a time like this? Joe let his shoulders fall in disappointment, but he didn't pressure me.

"So I'm standing there with my hands on my neck like this, and my face is turning blue, and I'm crying hysterically because I think this'll be the end of my life - oh, I want to play guys, I'll be out in a sec! - and my mom is freaking out and my dad's calling 9-1-1, and Joe was just a baby but he started crying, too..."

Jesus, Kevin. He even interrupted his dramatic story to announce his inclusion in the game of hackey-sack. What a fuckwit - his asshattery effectively destroyed my plan of rescuing Rainie from his never-ending stories of deathly boredom and unbearable pointlessness. Now I had to think up something new to attract her to me, possibly something cleverer.

"Hackey-sack, Rainie?" Kevin offered on his way out the door. (Side-note: he didn't even try to invite me. Ignorant shit).

"Maybe in a little while," she told him, fiddling with her sweater. She buried her hands in the sleeves. The shirt was so big on her that one side hung off her tanned shoulder. Appetizing.

Kevin nodded and left in a hurry with only a small wave in her direction. It was then that I realized that I was alone with Mystery Girl. My Rainie. I kept my cool, although I was panicking internally. I expected her to leave the room in search of Jesse, but instead she swivelled on the balls of her feet, pointing her toes in my direction.

Really, if I could explain how my throat went dry and my brain closed up and my heart felt weak all of a sudden, you would probably agree that I had narrowly avoided going into cardiac arrest.

She smiled at me, and I swear it was a seductive smile. When she reached up to readjust her shirt by pulling it over her shoulder, I thought she was going to pull it off, and for a split second I was sure I was about to lose my virginity in the conference room of my record label. As much as I have this little band on my finger symbolizing my promise to God, He was the furthest thing from my mind, and I can't honestly say I would have stopped her.

"Nick... right?" Those were the words she said to me as she slowed to a halt a few feet away.

As if she didn't know. Playing hard to get. I couldn't form coherent thoughts, but I melted a little when she said my name.

"Nick," I repeated. Holy hell. I realized that the two words I had said to Mystery Girl were: 1) "Nick" and 2) "Nick". Dammit. That was so unfortunate.

"So..." she trailed off, using her hands to push herself onto the table beside me. "What's your deal?"

My deal? My deal was that I was basically having an orgasm, and as much as I wanted her to stay within my sight for the rest of my life, it was extremely uncomfortable to deal with fully-clothed and in a public setting.

Nonetheless, even while flustered, I know enough to plan out my words. Stuttering would not make a good impression.

"In the sense of..." I trailed off. There. That sounded smart. It sounded like I had many levels, many "deals".

She smiled again. Jesus Christ, she had to stop doing that. "Do you... like, do you always lurk in corners? You're like... that guy from Lord of the Rings, you know? Aragorn?"

I nodded, pushing myself away from the table. I needed to make my legs strong enough to function again, and the support from the table was not making it easy. "I definitely model myself after him," I told her. "He eventually became king, no?"

She nodded in agreement. "After a lot of hard work."

I was willing to put in the effort. I don't know if she could read what I was thinking in my eyes, but we were having another staring contest. This time, we were only feet away, and I was directly facing her. It was so much easier to get a good look. She had little freckles across her nose, just like Pep.

I didn't have anything else to say to her because I felt like the stare said it all, but I thought that I should open my mouth anyways, if only to let her know what she was getting herself into. She deserved to know, at the very least.

"I don't talk much," I informed her, analyzing her reaction. I liked being able to look at her without worry.

Was she sizing me up, too? Nobody had ever done that before. I had never been so sure that someone was trying to read me as hard I was trying to read him or her in return.

"That's okay," she replied softly.

I shoved my hands into the pockets of my dark jeans, because if I didn't, I would grab her and kiss her. "I like to watch everyone," I continued, a little unsure of why I was telling her this. And why, Nicholas Jonas, why did you phrase it like that, you dumbfuck? It wasn't possible to make myself sound like more of a creep. I had to fix it, even though she didn't look as surprised or horrified as I expected. "Not in a creepy way... I'm just an observer."

Rainie licked her lips. I wanted to lick her lips.
"And what did you observe today?" she asked.

I was a little confused. Did she want to have sex with me, or what? There she was, sitting on a table in front of me, her shirt falling off and her tongue grazing over her lips... am I wrong here? Do people who just want to be friends behave like this? If so, then sweet mother of God, I had to get more friends. Pep just wasn't doing it for me.

Still fighting that impending orgasm, I leaned my shoulder against the wall in attempt to appear casual. Coolly, I answered, "I saw the popcorn incident coming before it happened."

She chuckled. Her laugh was brilliant. "So do you observe people, or do you predict the future?"

"I observe," I told her naturally. I let my eyes slide down to her knees before I glanced back at her sparkling brown eyes. "People aren't too hard to figure out."

Rainie arched her eyebrows in interest. "No?"

I shook my head, smiling calmly. "No." Modern-day Chaucer. Modern-day Chaucer. Be Chaucer, Nick. Geoffrey Chaucer would not jizz his pants in front of the woman he loved.

She was sceptical; I could tell that much by the way she was looking at me. She was uncertain and possibly uncomfortable. "Have you figured me out?" she asked cynically.

I sighed, keeping my smile. Might as well be honest. "Trying to."

Placing her palms flat on the table behind her, she leaned back and crossed one leg over the other.
"Enlighten me," she said, swinging her long, honey-like hair over her shoulder. "What have you got so far?"

Christ Almighty, she was fucking sexy. I don't know how I managed to control myself.

"So far..." I thought about it. I shrugged lightly. "You're hard."

It was amazing to hear her laugh as she returned, "You're hard."

Oh, God. Please, no. Not again. Not here, not now. I looked down at my pants in horror - and as I did so, I realized that she meant I was hard to figure out. Not... well, you know.

I breathed a sigh of relief, silently thanking my hormones for behaving. "I just told you everything you need to know."

She smiled slyly. "Mm... but that's not really everything, is it?"

I knew that I should be focusing on the conversation so as not to appear as asshatted as Kevin, but I just have to set up the scene again for you: she was leaning backwards on the fucking table, legs stretched out, talking to me in that really smooth, sultry voice - am I wrong in thinking that she wanted me? Moreover, that she wanted me to take her right there, on the table? Because if she had said one word, I swear to God - no, not God, God had nothing to do with this - this was between me and Mystery Girl. Rainie. Mystery Rainie.

I had to know. I should have kept my mouth shut, but I had to know. I asked her slowly, contemplatively, "Are you... teasing me?"

She shrugged. "Do you like being teased?"

I paused, chewing on my lip in deliberation. Seriously, what the fuck? I'm an intellectual guy, but even I was having trouble following our conversation. I wasn't sure what she wanted me to answer, because there was no indication in her expression. She was just... different.

"No," I responded after a long period of silence.

She smiled again, her eyes leaving mine only for a second to glance behind me. When we reconnected, she murmured, "That's too bad."

Without another word, she hopped down from the table and brushed my arm as she passed. I turned to watch her go, and that was when I noticed that Jesse had rejoined us in the conference room. When she reached him, she pecked him on the lips and intertwined their fingers.

"Ready?" he asked her from the doorway.

She nodded eagerly.

Jesse gave me a small wave. "Later, Nick."

Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't have been able to lift up my arm to return the gesture. Before Rainie left with him, she turned and gave me a smirk. Then she was gone.

Ho-ly. I actually pinched myself to see if I was still asleep. I confirmed that I was, indeed, awake, and the past five minutes had been real. I inhaled until my cheeks were full of air, and then I exhaled as slowly as possible, blinking fiercely.

God, she was tough. Pep said something about an ice bitch. If it was true, then Rainie was by far the hottest ice bitch I'd ever met, and if it was possible, I only wanted her more. But did she want me? That was the true question. If my Chaucer-ness was reliable, she certainly didn't want Jesse. (She'd probably heard Dream Street's rousing rendition of ‘Sugar Rush'. I don't blame her).

Like I said, finding a heterosexual female who wasn't attracted to me would be difficult. So if she really wasn't turned on like she pretended, that left only one explanation for Rainie: she was both a cock-tease and a lesbian, just like her aptly named Lesbian Friend.

Mystery Bitch, I say.

________________________________________
End Notes:
So for some reason, the numbers five, six, and the little dash (-) no longer work on my keyboard. Which is fantastic. I already had laptop problems a couple weeks ago with my laptop breaking (and by breaking, I don't mean I got a virus or it shut down, I mean my laptop actually, physically snapped in half), and now all the keys are slowly dying. So if I never update again, you'll know it's not because I'm giving up on this story, but it's because my computer is giving up on me. Ugh piece of crap.

Anyways! Assuming my laptop survives the next few days, it shouldn't be a long wait for the next update because the majority of it is written, and it is both the longest chapter so far, and my favourite, so I hope you guys like it! But seriously, pray for the life of my laptop in the meantime hahaha.

Also, just because it was mentioned... you gotta give the guy credit for pursuing a career in music after THIS.
Day 68: Nearly Headless Nick by The archive
Day Sixty-Eight.

Joe is a piece of shit. Ever since he started going out with Camilla (who, for the record, was my celebrity crush first, not his), he's been ditching me to go out for lunch with her. I wouldn't mind so much - it's not like I need him to hold my hand to cross the street or anything - but shit, when we're trapped on-set and the only other companion I have is Kevin, it sucks.

Of course, there are other actors on-set, too. But they're girls. And I know that by this age, I should be able to befriend girls, but I just can't. No, sorry, not can't - won't. Girls are fuckin' annoying. If I'm not able to feel ‘em up, then listening to their whining and bitching gets me nowhere. I won't do it.

I could always hang around and let them swoon over me, but I wasn't looking for ass. I had Mystery Girl.

As it turned out on this particular Friday, Pep had a day off school. I missed that - getting days off. Sometimes I get days off as a celebrity, but it's lame when all of my normal friends are in school. And by ‘all of my normal friends', I mostly mean Pep. Anyway, I asked her to meet me somewhere for lunch. And by ‘asked', I mean instructed. She obliged, like she always does.

"This doesn't mean I didn't have better things to do, Princess," she made sure to tell me as we sat across from each other at a café. (By the way, that fucking nickname spread like wildfire. Thanks a billion, Joe).

I shrugged uncaringly. "Then why are you here?"

She grinned. "'Cuz I like you."

That's what I thought. See? Imagine girls as moths. I, of course, am the flame. You get the picture. I don't mean to sound conceited, but everyone fucking loves me. They just do.

We ate, and I kept track of time. Even when you're a Jonas Brother, nobody reacts too well when you show up late. In fact, it's even more catastrophic than you can imagine. Still, I didn't have to worry much. Every time I have a meal with Pep, I could swear she hasn't eaten for days. She inhales everything in sight. It's a little unnerving, and I wonder where she keeps it all.

I'm used to it, though. Everything she does is fast.

"Oh," she groaned, taking one last bite and leaning back in her chair, hands on her stomach, "I can't eat anymore. I'm so bloated; I'm on my period."

I'm not a guy to cry out very often, but at this, I exclaimed, "Eugh!" while dropping my fork and pushing my plate away. Suddenly, my hunger was replaced with the need to vomit. I glared at her menacingly and said sternly, "God, Pep! Didn't I tell you never to talk about that around me!"

Pep shrugged unsympathetically. She stretched out her legs very calmly. "Well, it's true."

It took a lot of effort to swallow the food in my mouth. Appetite quelled: forever. "It's disgusting," I returned, curling my upper lip in distaste.

Pep laughed, as if my queasiness was something to joke about. "What about the biological process is disgusting to you?"

I thought it was quite obvious, but when I realized she was serious, I replied, "You're bleeding out of your... ugh."

I must mention how unimpressed I was by her amusement. Patting her stomach, she chuckled, "You should be happy my egg wasn't fertilized."

My eyes widened in horror. The thing about Pep is that for someone so small, she has a very large voice. It carries. And we were in public, for crying out loud. And I'm Nick Jonas.

"Could you stop it?" I muttered, placing my elbow on the table and covering my face with my hand. "People are staring."

It didn't bother her at all. Nope, not one bit. "Why are you so embarrassed? Menstruation is a natural occurrence-"

Let me take this moment to say that I rarely show any signs of outward panic. I am a calculated individual who plans his actions strategically.

However, at this time, I hissed frantically, "Shut up! Shut... up!" She seemed surprised by my outburst, and I felt a little bad, so I leaned forward and explained as quietly as possible, "Besides the fact that I've lived with guys my whole life, I was home-schooled and missed Sex Ed, okay?"

I thought this would grant her an explanation as to why I was so uncomfortable with the conversation we were having, but it only served to confuse her more. (Did I not already mention that Pep isn't really all that smart?)

"You mean, you don't... know?" she asked, genuinely intrigued.

Oh, for the love of God. She's my best friend, but she can be as asshatted as Kevin sometimes. "Of course I know," I spat back.

She seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. She lowered her voice and said, "Oh. Okay. I thought so, because you and Miley..."

I stared at her sceptically. Where was she going with this? Still not amused, I picked up my fork. I was hungry again.

I waited for Pep to elaborate, but she had trailed off and had no intention of returning.

"Wha'?" I asked, my mouth full of food.

"You just... I thought that you guys had..."

Oh. Nope. Busying myself by stuffing my face, I waved my left hand around, drawing her attention to my purity ring.

"Well, I know that," Pep said uncomfortably. "But you said..."

I snapped to attention. I said what? Before you get the wrong idea, I never have and never will discuss the physical aspects of an intimate relationship with anyone. That's just... eugh. Who else needs to know? And if I were to discuss it with someone, it wouldn't be Pep. I can't think of who it would be - Joe, maybe - but not Pep. No, definitely not her.

My eyes locked on Pep's, I demanded rudely, "I said wha'?" (Side-note: Mouth still full of food).

"She... I don't know, you mentioned a few times about how whoreish she was," Pep blurted out quickly. "So I just assumed that you had at least-"

"Whoa," I interrupted her, using my hand to silence her. "No. Never assume, Pepper. Not... God, don't think about that."

How uncomfortable is it when your best friend admits she thinks about you and your ex-girlfriend? Awkward. Gross. Oh, Pep. I like her the way she is, but sometimes it would do me a favour if she exercised a little shame.

However, the proton had a point. I did mention that Miley was whoreish. I think that was the exact word I used, actually. She used to send half-naked pictures of herself to my phone, and whenever we were alone, she'd always - God, I feel bad for saying it.

I'm totally joking; I don't feel bad at all. She talked pretty dirty sometimes. And she was up for anything. I got a lot out of that girl. I could've milked her for all she was worth if I wanted to. Anyway, total slut if given the chance.

Pep shrugged innocently. "Why not? You asked me once if I slept with Jake Lancaster."

It took me a moment to register this name in my mind. I nodded in recognition, and pointed out matter-of-factly, "The evidence was overwhelming, and it was a need-to-know situation."

She grinned. "What about it was ‘need-to-know'?"

Taking another bite off my plate, I replied calmly, "I needed to know if I had to beat this guy up."

Jake Lancaster was some kid who went to school with Pep. They went out for like, a week. It was really lame. Anyway, I'd already met him by then, and he thought that Pep and I were in love or something - funnily enough, I was dating Miley at this time - and he told me to ‘back off, popstar'.

Obviously this guy was a complete fucktard, and naturally I decided I hated him - first, for being so blatantly ignorant about my relationship with Pep, and second, for calling me ‘popstar'. I went over to Pep's one morning and as soon as I knocked on the door, he opened it. He smirked at me like he had something I didn't - I assumed it was Pep's virginity - and then he walked away holding his shirt in his hand. I was confused, so I asked Pep if they slept together. It was important to know the answer, because this guy thought he had something on me, and if that proved to be true (i.e. if he had sex with Pep), then I had to beat the shit out of him to make up for it. However, Pep told me they didn't do it, and so Jake Lancaster was off the hook.

Pep laughed. "Nick, he's on the football team."

I rolled my eyes. Why do people always assume that football jocks are at the top of the human food chain?

"And I could kick his ass," I answered confidently.
Just because he's bigger than me, doesn't mean I don't know how to take him. It's against the guy code, but seriously, if your first move is to kick a guy in the groin, he's completely helpless and you can win the fight even if you're up against a fucking sumo wrestler. A swift kick in the nuts is absolutely paralyzing, and the key to success. Hey, I never claimed to be an honourable guy. I would do it if I had to.

For some reason, Pep found my statement charming.
"Y'know, I know you'd never say you care out loud, but sometimes you're really... I don't know, sweet."

Ugh. Fuck that. Guys with no balls are sweet. I was about to explain to her that I would not be smashing Jake Lancaster's head to a pulp for her benefit, but for mine, when I glanced out the window and saw a flash of honey-coloured hair strolling by. I had to do a double-take. There was only one person I could think of with hair like that, and... by God, it was Mystery Girl.

"Holy shit," I breathed, craning my neck to keep my eyes on her as long as possible as she walked away.

"What?" Pep asked in excitement. She tried to follow my eyes, but she had no idea.

Rainie had an oversized purse thrown over her shoulder as she meandered along the busy LA sidewalk. It was a warm, sunny day in May, but she wore a thin, long-sleeved t-shirt and tight-fitting jeans - which, by the way, her ass looked amazing in. Fucking right. What are the odds she would walk by on the one day I leave set for lunch? Fate, I tell you. This was absolute confirmation that we were meant to be.

"Nick, what are you staring at?"

I knew she was right in front of me, but Pep's voice sounded very far away all of a sudden.

I wondered where she was going. Maybe back to her apartment. Maybe she was on a lunch break, just like me. Maybe she was heading back to her office - but she was dressed pretty casually. Maybe she worked with Lesbian Friend as a photographer. Maybe she went to school and didn't work at all.

I kind of wanted to follow her.

"Nick J!" Pep snapped her fingers right in front of my face, and I jolted back to my seat in surprise. Man, I was out of it. While I blinked fiercely, she asked, "What did you see?"

I pointed out the window in the direction of my wife. "Rainie," was all I managed to say.

Pep's face lit up with enthusiasm as she, too, craned her neck to see out the window. "Where?"

"There," I said quietly. "You can't really see her... the one in the red shirt, see?"

"Obnoxiously large black purse?" Pep asked.

"It's not obnoxious," I told her in annoyance. I was offended that she'd even think that way about my Mystery Girl. Shitty-ass best friend. She was supposed to be supportive of my obsessions.

"Yeah, I see her," Pep murmured. "But she's not much from behind."

I beg to differ.

"I wish I could see her face... hey, we should follow her!" Pep cried, aglow with the thrill of her new idea.
It sounded like a better idea when I thought of it.
When I heard it out loud, the idea sounded a lot more stalker-ish. "No," I declined immediately.

"Come on," she urged. "We have to! You can't just let her get away!"

"I'm not... I can't," I shook my head.

But I didn't have a choice. Pep was already handing me my sunglasses and my wallet, taking my hand and pulling me up. I was still hungry, by the way, and there was plenty of lunch left to be eaten.

"I'll pay you back later," she promised quietly as she left me at the cash register. "I'll go outside and keep track of her!"

"No - hold on, we're not - goddammit, Pep!" I hissed, but she was already out the door.

Fuck.

While I waited for service, I pulled my black cuffed beanie out of my pocket and slid it over my curls. They'd be mad at me back on-set for ruining my hair, but it was fixable. If I was going to legitimately shadow someone, I couldn't be recognized. The paps would have a field day.

I was leaning over the counter, waiting for my credit card to be approved as Pep stuck her little red head through the door. "Nnnn... Norman!" she whispered.

She couldn't see the utterly incredulous look on my face as I glared at her because it was disguised by the sunglasses, but it probably wouldn't have bothered her anyways.

"Try to hurry up!"

Then she was gone.

As soon as I'd pocketed my wallet into my black skinny jeans, I rejoined Pep outside in the bright California sunshine. She grabbed my grey t-shirt and tugged, taking off at a half-jog.

"Will you stop!" I said under my breath, yanking her hand away from my shirt and issuing a groan of displeasure. "You're being severely creepy, and who the hell is Norman?"

"You are," she replied, the freckles on her nose crinkling when she smiled. "I couldn't think of another N-name."

"Why didn't you just use Nick? It's common enough, smart one," I said, following her at a quick pace. She dodged in and out and around the hoards of people flooding the sidewalks.

She turned her head to glance at me unapologetically. "You looked like you wanted to disguise yourself," she answered. "I didn't want to give anything away."

"You know what would be a better way not to give anything away? If we weren't following Rainie like spies!"

"I want to see her!" As if that made it all right. Pep ordered, "Walk faster, we're getting close."

Fuckity fuck fuck. My converse shoes were untied and there was a relatively high probability that I would trip and fall on my face (especially at the pace we were walking. I don't know how Pep walks so fast for someone with such little legs, but I was basically jogging behind her). Knowing Pep, she would say something loud and inappropriate when we were within hearing distance, like, "Look, Nick Jonas! There's the girl you are absolutely head-over-heels for, there she is, right there, see her?"

Last time I saw Mystery Girl, I had been prepared. I'd thought it over in my mind. I hadn't mulled over what would go down if we had any surprise visits. And this was a surprise visit. Needless to say, I was panicking a little bit.

Seriously, omg wtf. It was beyond my realm of understanding at that point in time why I had agreed to follow Pep when I could have just as easily turned around and gone back to the set. Jesus.

"She's stopping at the fruit market!" Pep exclaimed, as if this was the greatest news since the defeat of Voldemort.

"Fantastic," I muttered, sarcasm dripping from my lips. Aside from the well-timed display of my sexual urges a couple months ago in front of an entire crew of important people, this was possibly the second-most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me, and I couldn't really figure out why.

Before I could protest, Pep grabbed a hold of my wrist and dragged me behind her just as I remembered that I should check my blood sugar. It's beyond me how I managed to think of blood sugar at a time like this.
Thank God I did, though, because it gave me an excuse to stop for a minute or two. (Also, of course, it prevents my untimely death and all that jazz).

Pep waited patiently as we loitered in the doorway of a boutique, her eyes carefully trained to Rainie's location as she browsed through the fruit market. She peered around the corner, gazing intently. She turned to face me just as I was slipping my Omnipod into my pocket.

"She's pretty, Nick," she said with a relaxed smile.

I rolled my eyes, though she couldn't tell through my sunglasses. "Pretty? Are you fucking kidding me? You dragged me through hell just so you could stare at her for three seconds and tell me she's pretty?"

Rainie was buying grapefruit.

Pep shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, you obviously see something in her that I can't see... out of curiosity, what is it?"

I glanced at Rainie, digging in her purse for change.
"She's..." I trailed off. I changed my course of action. "I..."

"Love her?" Pep finished for me.

"Pft. No," I scoffed. (Yes. It was definitely love).

"Then what is it?" Pep folded her arms across her chest.

I didn't know. How was I supposed to describe the way I felt? I'd sound crazy if I told her that God shone a light to guide me to Mystery Girl, and that birds sang and squirrels danced and there were fucking angels playing ‘Ode to Joy' whenever she was in my presence. Even good ol' Pep might not believe me.

"I feel drawn to her," was the best I could do. "Like a gravitational - oh, shit." I grabbed Pep's shoulder and spun her around, forcing her to face the wall behind us. I readjusted my beanie and leaned against the wall next to Pep, pretending to be muttering something to her. Mystery Girl was so close. She'd purchased her grapefruits and she was going to pass us on the way back.

"What?" Pep cried as I was in the process of manoeuvring her around. "Nick, what are you - Nick!"

I swear to God, if she wasn't a girl and she wasn't my best friend, I could've crucio'd the hell out of her.

Mystery Girl peered at us through her sunglasses as she walked past. I stood closer to Pep, as if her tiny midget body could conceal me, and dug my heel into the back of her calf, hoping it would warn her to shut up. As soon as Mystery Girl had escaped my vision, I let out a breath. Pep was staring at me with wide eyes. Apparently I'd scared her.

But she had to understand. "You little shit," I told her, a hint of a smile playing on my face. "You almost blew-"

"Nick?" That beautiful voice stopped me mid-sentence. I froze. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rainie backtracking as she peeked her head around the corner. "I thought that looked like you."

I had never quite understood the term ‘dying inside' until this moment. I could literally feel my organs shrivelling up into jelly. My heart stopped beating. My lungs stopped pumping. Most of all, I just wanted to curl up and pretend I didn't exist.

I turned my head slowly towards her, managing a small wave. "Hi."

No ‘fancy meeting you here' or ‘nice to see you again' - I didn't have the brain capacity for such complex phrases.

Satisfied that it was indeed Nick Jonas she was talking to, she allowed herself to come into full sight as she asked, "What are you doing here?"

That was my problem. What was I doing there? I couldn't think of an excuse. I was crammed between two brick walls with a little red-headed dwarf, trying desperately hard not to be recognized. What excuse was there for that?

Pep was no help. I could feel her staring at me, eagerly awaiting my response just as much as Mystery Girl.

"Shopping," I replied, gesturing behind me to the boutique. It sounded plausible, no? When Mystery Girl's face displayed unreserved confusion, I turned my head and read the store's title: ‘Rhonda's Maternity'.
Son of a bitch.

Pep saw it as well, and I could tell she was suppressing the urge to howl with laughter.
Nonetheless, she gallantly swooped in to rescue me. "I made him," she added. "But he didn't knock me up. My mom's pregnant. Baby shower this weekend."

Gee thanks, Pep - though I could have done without the ‘knocked-up' comment.

Rainie seemed surprised to hear Pep talk, as if she hadn't noticed her until that moment. Probably my fault. It was most likely my job to introduce her.
"This is Pep," I said suddenly. "She's a friend of mine. Pep, this is Rainie. She's... a friend of Jesse's. Who is a friend of mine."

Excellent work, Nick. Way to not make things awkward. Rock on, you charming playboy, you.

They shook hands. Mystery Girl smiled brightly. "I didn't know Nick had a girlfriend."

"I don't," I answered quickly. Single. Completely unattached. Available 24/7. Give me a call. Please.
Pep frowned.

"Oh," Mystery Girl replied. "I just thought... because you introduced me as... never mind." Because I introduced Pep as my friend and went on to introduce Mystery Girl as Jesse's friend? Pft, well fuck me if I'd ever refer to her as Jesse's girlfriend.

"What brings you here?" I inquired, ignoring the awkwardness.

"Um... shopping as well," she answered with a grin. "Just have to get a few things done before my class this afternoon."

From the corner of my eye, I saw Pep open her big mouth to invite her to hang out with us, but before this could happen, I blurted out, "You go to school?"

"Mm hmm. UCLA."

UCLA. My future wife - gorgeous and well-educated.
"That's a nice disguise you got there, Jonas," she continued, tugging on the brim of my hat. "You're quite the skater-boy off-duty."

If she liked skater-boy, I could be skater-boy. I'd Avril Lavigne the shit out of sk8r boi. Hell, I'd dress up as Tinkerbell if she wanted me to.

"I like to keep a low profile," I told her.

She nodded. "Well... I know who you are."

"The curly hair and bitter expression gives it away!" Pep chirped, tugging on one of the curls that stuck out from under my hat.

Pep was ruining this for me. If only she could take a hint and scamper off, I could be alone with Mystery Girl. Then I could really get somewhere. I'd even turn off my phone and consider not returning to the set for the rest of the day.

Rainie smiled warmly. I melted. "Cute."

Cute?!
I glared at Pep like this was her fault
. She grinned at me and chuckled softly, making it seem like we were sharing some sort of intimate moment. Damn that girl.

"Anyway, I'd better get going," Mystery Girl said with a sigh. "It was nice to meet you."

Pep returned the polite comment.

Rainie locked eyes with me - at least, I was pretty sure she did, but we were both wearing sunglasses - and I could've sworn she winked. "And you. I'll see you soon, probably."

My stomach tightened in a knot as I gulped, "Yep."

She laughed quietly to herself, a light little, "Hmm, hmm," before prancing away.

I watched her for a few moments before taking a deep breath and turning to Pep. I had every right to strangle her, but it was hard to stay mad at someone so undoubtedly innocent. Instead, I smiled and shook my head, lightly tweaking her on the nose.

"You kill me," I muttered.

She snorted with laughter. "Nick, you had her eating out of the palm of your hand."

I frowned, offended. "Up yours, munchkin."

"Really, though," she commented as we began to leisurely walk back where we came from, "You're lucky you're a Jonas, or you'd be shit outta luck when it comes to girls."

I playfully nudged her with my elbow as we walked.
She giggled. "But who knows? You might just have a chance."

Oh, I had more than a chance. Mystery Girl thought I was cute, and she heavily implied that she wanted to see me again. All I had to work on was changing ‘cute' to ‘devilishly handsome', and ‘see me again' to ‘see me in bed', and I was good to go.
End Notes:
Oh, man. So I'm on campus right now and instead of doing work for my two and a half hour break like I planned, I've been doing nothing substantial with my time... so I decided that I would post this before I go to class in five minutes :)

Anyway, I've been getting a lot of questions that are similar in nature, so I thought that I might just answer some of them in an author's note so we're all on the same page, but now I don't have time hahah. So I'll do it in the next chapter! A real FAQ. Man, I've always wanted an FAQ. I'm so excited.

Hope you liked this chapter! The next one probably won't be up quite as quickly because I've almost caught up to myself in writing and I need to plan out some more, but I'll do my best! Thanks for all your comments, I really am blown away that so many people are enjoying this story.
Day 85: Citrus Celebration by The archive
Day Eighty-Five.

It happened again.

That is, for our latest video shoot, I got stuck with the worst girl. Her name was Kendall, and she was much, much worse than Nina. No, she wasn't awkward. She was the opposite of awkward and to the extreme. And okay, it wasn't like I was stuck with her - it was more like she was stuck to me. Like, attached to my arm by some sort of adhesive device. She was one of the extras, and for some reason she would not leave me alone when all I wanted to do was get this over with.

Fuckin' A. Somebody shoot me.

I must have been staring at her with an expression that read those exact words, because all that came out of her mouth was, "Ah ha, ha, ha!" as she laughed. Loudly. "Nick, you're so funny." She brushed my arm and let her hair swing into my face.

And I'm not going to lie: she wasn't as hot as Nina, so there was really no incentive to be friendly with her. This was probably a good thing, because I'd almost feel like I was cheating on Rainie if I pitched a tent because I was turned on by someone else. (Also, last time it happened, I was embarrassed and stripped of my dignity, etcetera, etcetera).

If I wasn't in public, I would have had no problems telling her to fuck off. But I was being watched, so I had to - in the words of my father - grin and bear it. Which, by the way, is really exhausting, and my cheeks got sore after a while. I couldn't complain about it, either, because then Joe and/or Kevin would undoubtedly call me ‘Princess Nick', and the last thing I needed was for that nickname to be unleashed to the general public.

"So is your dad really a pastor?" Kendall asked me. "I mean, if you guys are as religious as you say you are, how do your parents feel knowing that, if given the chance, millions of girls would sell their souls just to get your alone and rip off your clothes and-"

Honestly.

"Nope," I interrupted her. I didn't know how long I could last making ‘small talk' while Joe and Kevin shot their scenes.

"No as in your parents don't know, or no as in-"

"We're not religious. We're atheists, actually," I informed her. (Lies).

Kendall seemed genuinely confused. "But then your purity rings-"

"Are actually wedding rings," I finished. "Yeah. Arranged marriages. It's common in our culture." (Our culture of atheists? God, this was dumb).

She tilted her head to the side, unfazed. "I thought you were Italian..."

"No," I shook my head. "We're Indian. And Japanese. Joe's actually Ethiopian."

"But how can-"

"Mom slept with the milkman," I cut her off. I cleared my throat, standing up and coughing, "Excuse me."

Insane. That girl was insane. In the hour I'd spent with her, she'd rhymed off my favourite food, favourite sport, the colour of my bed sheets at home, and what she did to celebrate my birthday on September 16 - which, by the way, was almost eight months ago. She also asked me if I was single, why I broke up with Miley, and whether or not I would date a girl with an STD.

I especially had to tell Pep about that last part. She'd get a perverse kick out of it. As I walked away from the nutcase, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and found Pep's number. I had told her I would call today, anyway, because we really hadn't spoken since I'd left LA a week ago. Our tour hadn't started, but we had album promotions to take care of in New York City, plus our video to shoot, before we took off for the summer.

While I waited for Pep to answer her phone, I checked my watch. It was 2:30 in New York, which meant that in California, it was... shit, I've never been good at math. To be honest, I have no idea what time zone I'm in half the time. In fact, my watch might have still been set on California time, which meant that in New York, it was... I had no fucking clue. I just had to hope that Pep wasn't in school, that was all.

"Nick!" she exclaimed happily, her bubbly voice
surprisingly refreshing from Kendall's.

"Hey," I replied, feeling myself relax.

"Where are you?"

"I'm on set of our next video," I informed her. "In New York."

"Sweet. How's it going?"

As I walked further from the set, I told her all about Kendall and how relieved I was that Joe and I shared a hotel room - that way, she couldn't find me and kidnap me in the middle of the night - and I mentioned that I was extremely nervous to shoot with her. Pep, of course, found all of my stories side-splitting.

I found a tree to lean against as I listened to her laughter. When I grew bored, I groaned in discontent. "Just please tell me you've had an equally unfortunate day."

"Nah. I got an eighty-three on my English paper," she replied nonchalantly.

"Fuck you. What was it on?"

"Hamlet."

"Oh, yeah. I like that guy. He's tricky."

"He dies in the end." She said it simply, like it made my previous statement untrue.

I rolled my eyes. "Thanks. I can see you were deserving of that eighty-three percent."

"I know my shit, Nick J," she told me matter-of-factly. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

"I disagree whole-heartedly," I answered instantly. There are definitely bad things. Kendall is bad. On the flip side, Rainie is good. Very good. Heavenly, if you will.

"Maybe you should remind yourself that working with this lunatic isn't the end of the world," she suggested.

Trying to be sly, huh, Pep? I could tell when she tried to give me advice. I'm not an idiot. And like I said, Pep fails when it comes to advice.

"Shakespeare's got nothing on me," I stated. "I won't let him try to brighten my spirits. This girl is mental, Pep. Off her fuckin' rocker. You have to meet her."

"I can't," she sighed unhappily. "You're there, and I'm here."

"Yeah," I muttered, pausing for a moment to stare at my feet. It was then that I heard my name, and I knew I had to go. "Ugh. Duty calls," I said quickly.

"Alright. Tell Jesse I say hi the next time you see him!"

"I'd rather die. Wish me luck."

"Good luck!" she cried. "Miss you!"

"Miss you," I repeated. I cracked a smile at her resilience. There's something about Pep that's contagious. It might be her childishness, or it might be her overwhelming enthusiasm... she's like a frisky, miniature kitten you can hold in the palm of your hand that is unendingly amused by things like shadows and balls of yarn and pieces of fluff on a string. Even if she annoys the hell out of me, I have to smile sometimes. (No matter how much my cheeks hurt).

As the director gave us instructions once I'd rejoined the shoot, Kendall leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I'm wearing grapefruit body butter."

Two things about this comment:
1) Fucking psycho. Who says shit like that?
2) Instantly my mind drifted to a couple of weeks before, when Pep and I found Rainie buying grapefruits. Suddenly I had an overwhelming craving for citrus.

________________________________________

I was thoroughly enjoying sucking the juice out of triangular cuts of an orange when Joe was sent into the hotel room that we shared, head hung low in shame. Big Rob the bodyguard, who had been escorting him for some reason, gave me a wave and shut the door for the night.
Even though he's my brother, it was a little awkward to have him walk in on my fruit celebration. I was probably enjoying it way more than was healthy.

"What's up with you?" we asked simultaneously.

I feared that Joe's expression was far more creeped-out than mine, so I pointed to my plate of orange rinds and answered, "I was hungry."

Joe made a move to grab one of the nicely-sliced oranges, and with a frown, I slid the plate away from him. Mine.

"I was in the arcade room," he replied with a sigh. "These girls found me and started talking. They were talking so loud they drew a crowd, and... I accidentally ran away."

The thing about being famous is that people are so in love with you, they'll go to the extent of chasing you down with loaded machine guns just to say they touched you.

Shoving another orange in my mouth, I inquired, "Why woul' ‘ou wun?"

Running provokes them. People think we're outstanding gentlemen because we don't ignore our fans. The truth is, we're scared for our fucking lives.

"I don't know," he answered, apparently just as confused as I was. "I was really lost in this game, and then they screamed to jolt me back to reality, and I couldn't really process what was happening, so I ran. Man, I'm still seeing stars."

"Snap out of it. It's only me," I joked.

Joe didn't laugh (I don't think he understood. My sense of humour far surpasses his in wit and cleverness). He tried to reach for an orange again. I slid the plate further away. "Dude, what's with you and coveting oranges? If you eat too many of those it'll send your blood sugar out of whack."

"It's fine," I told him, putting the orange peel from my mouth back onto the plate.

Reaching across the bed, Joe struggled to say, "I just... want... one!"

Originally, I was sitting cross-legged on the bed wearing my pajamas pants and a t-shirt, the plate of oranges in front of me. I was still cross-legged, but leaning all the way back with the plate held over my head. Joe was stretched across my stomach, his fingers wiggling as he tried to reach.

"No!" I cried. "Get your own oranges!" I tried to kick him away and shimmy further up the bed at the same time.

Joe's lips formed an O-shape as he let himself go and sat up straight on his own bed. "Where the hell am I supposed to get oranges at this time of night?" he demanded. "I just want one! Just give me a little piece! What are you, five?"

With an offended scoff, I turned my back to him and set the plate on my lap, leaning over it to shield it from his greedy little hands. "I don't share fruit," I replied as Joe huffed. "I got it first. It's mine."
I don't share Rainie, either. I saw her first. Jesse can suck it.

Though I wasn't facing him anymore, I could easily picture Joe's pissed-off face in my mind. "You know, you really are a princess, Nick."

That nickname was brutally irritating, but I was so offended that my own brother would try to steal what was rightfully mine that I refused to speak to him in order to correct it.

He went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. He stuck his head out the door and called, "And by the way!" I turned my head to glance at him with his mouth and surrounding area covered in toothpaste. "One of those girls was looking for you! She was the girl from the video shoot today, and I told her you'd meet her for breakfast tomorrow morning! Bright and early, Princess!"

Liar. With a roll of my eyes, I returned to my plate.

"Kendall Haggarty," Joe shouted from the bathroom. "Six-thirty a.m. Continental breakfast, motherfucker."

I paused mid-orange.

Joe finished, "She told me she knows you like it, so she'll be wearing the same grapefruit body lotion!"
Well, I'll be damned.

________________________________________
End Notes:
FAQ's (Just so we're all on the same page) (After writing them out, I realized that very few of them are actually questions...):
Q: I don't understand this story. (?!?!?!)
A: It's very simple. There's nothing tricky about it, I assure you.
Q: But where is the usual green and yellow twisted web?
A: I decided to do something different. Twisted webs keep me interested in what I'm writing, but I'm trying something new and simple.
Q: But I still don't get it...
A: No really, it's easy. Everything is in chronological order and not a lot happens because all Nick ever does is think.
Q: But... but what about Joe and Kevin? Do they have girlfriends? What's their story?
A: The thing is that 364DOW is written in Nick's POV, and Nick just happens to be a very self-absorbed individual. We love him, but it's true. Unless he deems something worthy of thinking about, we're not going to hear about it. He finally mentioned that Joe is dating Camilla, and we can predict that Kevin's not dating anyone because he went solo with Jesse to the after-party in chapter three. Anyway... I don't know what else I can say on this issue.
Q: Nick is a jerk. (?)
A: Yes.
Q submitted by SocrBritney: Is it weird to just completely worship me?
A: No. You are a spectacular piece of work.
With that, I hope most of your queries have been satisfied... if not, drop me a review or a PM and I'll do my best to answer.
PS. Dewy... you know what you're looking for.
Day 95: Jolly Ol' Saint by The archive

Day Ninety-Five.


"What are you wearing?"


This was the phrase that greeted me every morning as I received a routine phone call from Kendall. My answer was always the same: "Clothes."


I didn't ignore her calls. I tried to at first, thinking she would get the hint and leave me alone. Instead, she called repeatedly. And by ‘repeatedly', I mean once every five minutes for the entire day. Then I tried to keep my phone turned off. My mom said she didn't like that idea because she couldn't reach me in times of emergency. In a five-hour time span, Kendall left me thirty-two text messages.


Naturally, by the third day, my hatred for Joe ran so deep in my veins that if he stepped within a three-foot radius of me, I pounced. Joe found this horribly amusing and urged me to ask Kendall out on a date.


"You're so mopey," he said, "You need a girl. C'mon, this girl's into you. Give her a chance."


To which I replied, "One more word." This was shortened from the original phrase, "One more word, and I will sharpen my drumsticks with a knife and poke tiny holes all over you, so that you ever-so-slowly bleed to death."


After a while, Joe learned to stay away, and I grew accustomed to Kendall. Though I was still very, very afraid.


"I'm wearing booty shorts and a bra," she whispered to me.


I sighed. After ten days of this shit, nothing she said could surprise me anymore.


"I saw you on Regis and Kelly yesterday," she continued. "You looked hot."


"Uh huh," I said distractedly. Shallow bitch. "Listen, today's not really a good day for me, Kendall. It's the first day of our tour, and we're really busy."


"Don't you want to see me before you go out of town?"


I could picture her face, complete with the puppy-dog eyes and the pouty lips.


"Wish I could," I lied through my teeth. "Can't, though. Really busy."


"Call me later, then," she breathed.


"Nope." Hey, it was unfair to lie to her. I'm a nice guy.


I knew we were going to battle back and forth for a few more moments until she finally agreed to let me go. Just as she was saying, "I'll call you, then," my phone buzzed. Call-waiting: a wonderful, beautiful thing.


"Oh. Someone's on the other line. Gotta go," I said quickly.


As I ended our call, I heard her yell, "Wait!"


Only a few more hours until Psycho Bitch was out of my life forever. (We were actually in New York for a couple more days for a few more shows, but she didn't have to know that).


Curiously, I picked up the incoming call from an unrecognized number. "Hello?"


"Hey Nick!"


At the sound of that bubbly country accent, my muscles tensed and my eyes widened. That could only mean one thing.


"It's Miley!"


Capital eff.


"How did you get this number?" I demanded. Maybe it was rude, but I'd like to argue that it was more impolite of her to call me when I hadn't invited her to.


"Oh, I was talking to Joe the other day - he said I should give you a call! I wasn't going to, but he said you'd been talking about me lately. 


As she spoke, I stared out the hotel window at the ground far below. How easy it would be to jump out and end my life, all in a matter of seconds, while giving all the nice passer-bys a site to remember. My brothers, devastated by my untimely death, would break up the band and binge-drink, spending all their money in Vegas in casinos and on cheap whores. Joe would get a few STDs and when his money was gone, he'd end up on the street. I'd be up above, laughing my ass off. Ha. The ultimate revenge.


Instead, I slowly, slowly turned around and glowered at the closed bathroom door, where Joe was inside straightening his hair.


"Did he?" I asked monotonously, not at all amused.


"Yeah. So what's up? Your tour starts today, huh? You guys'll do awesome, you always do. I heard some stuff from your new album and wow, it sounds great, Nick. Like, really great. It's funny, I can tell which songs you wrote. You just shine right through, like always. Hey, maybe when you stop off in LA we can go out for coffee or something."


Even if I wanted to, I couldn't have responded. Sometimes when people get nervous, they ramble on about shit nobody cares about, and they give you so much information in the span of five seconds that it takes another twenty seconds to process it all. I stared grimly at the hotel bedspread.


"Just as friends," Miley chirped after the long silence that followed. "I'm not ready for another relationship - I just got out of one, actually - and you and I have a lot of history, and I just don't think that would be... good. For now."


The thing with Miley is that she gets a bad rap for things like leaked, racy pictures and stupid, mean-spirited videos on youtube. Really, she's not all bad. My standards are pretty high, and I dated her for almost two years, so that's gotta mean something. She's beautiful, and I'm comfortable around her, and we lead the same sort of lifestyle so it's easy to understand each other.


On the other hand, those leaked pictures don't lie. She really is kind of slutty, and sometimes her mouth gets ahead of her brain, and she never could understand why I was so quiet all the time. She wanted me to open up more, and I wanted her to stop telling me what to do. She wanted me to take more initiative in our relationship, and I wanted her to back the fuck off. In the end, it just didn't work. She was furious with me for a while, which made the remainder of our 2007 tour together a little awkward, but then we went our separate ways and it's been fine. Life with Miley was frustrating and I was claustrophobic of her, and life without Miley is fine. Just... fine.


"Nick? Are you still there?"


I still hadn't replied to her rambling. "Yeah," I mumbled.


"Well, whaddya say?"


To be honest, I wasn't listening while she was droning on and on, and for that reason I had no idea what she was asking me, and no idea how to respond.


Cautiously, I said, "... yes?"


"Great! Well, I'm looking up your tour dates online, and it says you'll be in LA in mid-August. So I'll just call you beforehand and we'll set up a time and place! Shoot, I don't know my schedule... oh well, if I'm not here, I'm sure I'll run into you over the summer at one point or another! We'll figure something out."


I think I grunted a "hmn." If I had paid attention, I could have stealthily thought of some way to avoid seeing her. It's not like there's bad blood anymore - I don't think - she just bores me and I'm afraid she'll fall in love with me again.


"I can't wait to see you," she said softly. (Yep, I definitely had reason to fear her swooning). "Maybe we can go to that little diner, you remember? The one we went to when it was stormy out, and on the way home you kissed me in the rain..."


Fuck this. I can't handle sentimental garbage or trips down Memory Lane. I didn't kiss her in the rain to be romantic; I'm not Noah Fuckin' Calhoun. I kissed her because she was wearing a thin white t-shirt and it got drenched and clung to her body, okay?


I think she finally got the hint that I wasn't overexcited. "Okay," she heaved a sigh. "It was good to hear your voice, Nicky. Good luck tonight."


"Thanks," I muttered. When we ended the call, I clenched my teeth and gripped my phone as tightly as possible in my fist, wondering how much my mom would lecture me if I punched a hole through the wall and left my phone inside, never to be seen again. I bit the tip of my finger to keep myself from yelling.


Apparently Day One of Tour was appropriately subtitled ‘The World Hates Nick'.


I got great satisfaction out of kicking Joe's suitcase from the bed to the floor, all of its neatly-folded contents spilling onto the ground. Ha. I frowned as I found one of my ties in the mix of his clothes.


Just as I'd picked it up and wound it around my arm, Joe came out of the bathroom with neatly-straightened hair, smelling like aftershave. He froze when his eyes drifted to me, standing over his upturned luggage.


"What'd you do that for, dickhead?" he demanded, his eyebrows creasing in anger.


I nodded, assessing the situation. Carefully choosing my next words. I didn't want to sound too rash, but... "I could kill you. I could fucking kill you."


"What?" he repeated, his voice cracking.


I threw my phone at him. He was able to shield his face in time, unfortunately, and it deflected off his arm. His mouth opened to yell, but it was a while before the word "Ow!" came out.


As he recovered, I picked up one of his shoes. Perfect. It was chucked in his general direction as well.


"Hey!" he shouted. "Nick - what are you-" (Second shoe), "- hey - you asshole!"


I picked up a third shoe when he started running towards me. I had the distinct feeling that I was about to be tackled, so I jumped onto the bed. He tried to grab my legs, and I hit him over the head with his shoe. This resulted in another shout, and I took the free moment to unwrap the tie from around my wrist. I flung it over his head and tightened it, prepared to choke him if necessary.


When you're the third of four brothers, you get pretty good at fighting over the years. Things get violent, and it's important to be creative. Using the same old tricks will land you locked in the pantry for hours until your mother realizes you're missing and rescues you.


Joe dug his hands between his neck and the tie, trying to create distance between the two. As he struggled, I muttered, "Miley? Really? That's the best you can do?"


Finally, he managed to grab a hold of the tie and wrench it away from his neck. It was yanked from my left hand, but both of us failed to realize that it was still wound pretty tightly around my right wrist, and I was pitched forward, my chin banging into his shoulder blade.


"Ah!" I hissed, readjusting my jaw. Joe liked this idea, and jerked me forwards into his back again.


While we fought for control of the tie (and I said a silent prayer that my shoulder hadn't dislocated and my jaw wasn't unhinged), he replied through grunts, "I thought - you'd - appreciate it."


With one final yank in my direction, I freed the tie from his grasp. "Are you thick?!" I cried.


"Are you clinically insane!?" he retorted. Again, he made a grab for my legs. Fucker; he wasn't supposed to fight back. I tried to kick him, and he caught hold of my ankle which caused me to fall on my back onto the bed. I wiggled free and kicked him in the stomach. As he doubled over in pain, I stood up, took a breath, growled, and jumped on him.


I intended for him to crash to the ground, but it was almost like he was expecting this to happen. He grabbed a hold of my legs, making it impossible for me to slide off, and then he rammed me forcefully into the wall.


Christ, that hurt.


I jabbed him in the side with my heels and worked on unravelling the tie from my wrist as he catapulted me into the wall for the second time.


"Stay - out - of my - life," I said through gasps, using the tie to wrap around his eyes and blind him. He stumbled forward blindly before tripping over a chair, the idiot, resulting in me somersaulting over his head and onto the ground with a thud. Because I still had a hold of the tie wrapped around his face, he fell on top of me head-first, earning an, "Oomph!" from me.


With his regained vision, Joe quickly stood up and seized my legs while I thrashed around angrily. When you've lost control of your legs, there's not much hope left. Unless... I smirked as I grabbed the wooden chair from behind me and sent one of the legs shooting into his side. Joe crashed into the bathroom door, releasing my legs to clutch his waist in agony.


I hopped to a standing position, grabbing his collar and dragging him out of the bathroom and into the entrance, flinging him against the door and breathing right up in his face. "You fuckin' idiot," I said in a low voice. "Do you know what you're doing to me!?"


How sneaky of Joe to reach for the doorknob behind him, sending the both of us flying into the hallway and slamming into the opposite wall. I could swear the whole building shook with that collision.


"Yeah, I do!" Joe answered proudly, pushing me away with force. We took a moment to stop and glare at each other, breathing heavily. Joe's once-perfect hair was now dishevelled. "And to be honest," he continued, "I couldn't be happier with the results."


That did it. I took off towards him, head-butting him in the gut and causing both of us to tumble onto the ground, yelling the whole way. While he had me pinned to the ground and our arms wrestled for control, I took the tie from around my wrist and started to whip him with it. When I realized it was only causing him mild irritation, I threw it to the side and ground my teeth together, using my last ounce of strength to flip him over. I was in charge, and this was my fight to win. While I struggled to pin him down, a small voice rang out in the hallway.


"What're you guys doing?"


Now's a good enough time as any to introduce my youngest brother, Frankie. He's small, energetic, and smart for his age. That's what my mom says, anyway. But let me set up this scenario for you: he's half my age, but he's nowhere near half as smart as I am. I'm just saying.


My face red as I battled with Joe, I replied, "Kicking - some sense - into this piece of crap."


Joe scrunched his nose and made a face which, oddly enough, looked like he was smiling. (In reality, he was trying so hard to beat me that his face contorted into a smile-like shape).


"Me too!" Frankie cried.


Before I knew it, I felt all seventy-five pounds of his weight as he performed a Superman-dive onto my back. It hurt like hell, but I received the most satisfaction when Joe's eyes almost bulged out of his head from the shock. And then we all collapsed into a heap of limbs, lifeless.


"Frankie - no." I heard the stern voice of my father and, after what seemed like minutes later, I felt his body being removed from my back like the jaws of death. I couldn't see Dad, but I knew his demeanour was less than pleased. I could feel it.


"You two," he muttered in distaste, "Grow up."


When his footsteps and Frankie's faded, I took a moment or two to catch my breath before rolling off of Joe. Then we just lay there, on the carpeted floor in the hallway of the hotel, staring at the ceiling in silence. Our chests rose up and down and our arms sprawled across the ground.


"I just thought it would be amusing, that's all," Joe stated after a while.


I took a moment to contemplate this. I shrugged. "Yeah."


"Sorry for borrowing your tie and not giving it back," he added.


I nodded. "S'okay."


And that was that. A few minutes later, we stood up and I followed him back into our room to pack up. What had just taken place was never mentioned again.


 


The first day of our tour was coincidentally Pep's last day of school. So, while she went out to celebrate with dumb jocks like Jake Lancaster, I started my summer job on-stage. It's hard to say who had it better. Probably me, because I'm rich and talented and revered by millions, but at least Pep was stress-free for two months. (Not that she ever stresses about anything anyways). 


The way things were shaping up, the next two months were not going to be stress-free pour moi. Being around Jesse McCrapface was turning out to be very difficult. Whenever he was on the phone, I wondered if he was talking to Rainie. Whenever he talked to another girl, I wondered if he was thinking about her naked - and whether Rainie would approve. And I paid attention to him when he spoke - which wasn't as exhausting as listening to Kevin, but it was enough to drive me crazy. I kept hoping he'd say something about her. But he never did, not once.


"Nick? Honey, are you okay?"


My mom is sweet, but she cares a little too much sometimes.


"Yeah," I answered. We'd just finished our first performance - it went well, despite Kevin's 3.5 minute monologue before we played the last song. It was late, and everyone was hanging out in Kevin's room to discuss, like we always do after a show. For the first time, I was alone in the room I shared with Joe, sitting on the edge of the bed and twirling my drumsticks like it was nobody's business. (I don't play drums on-stage too often, but I should, because I'm extraordinarily good at it).


She came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. "Everyone's wondering where you are."


I hate when people say shit like this to me. How am I supposed to respond? It's not a question; it's not like there's some standard set of answers. Why even bother saying it? ‘Everyone's wondering where you are' - well, now you know, Ma, so you can go tell ‘em.


Obviously she was saying it to guilt me into joining the others. I'd pack my bags and tag along on the fucking guilt trip if she wanted me to, but I wouldn't give in, because I'm stubborn and antisocial.


"Oh." I figured I should answer her question, so that's what I was giving her.


"There's Chinese food. You should eat something, Nick." She sat beside me.


Not guilty. Not working, Mom. Not your best effort, either.


"I'm not hungry."


"Hmm," she said to herself, and I almost laughed. People think their disappointment will kill me. I don't even know if disappointment itself is real. People just use it to make others do what they want. Well, I don't buy it. Not even from my own mother. "Joe says you've been acting distant lately," she added.


"I'm always distant," I replied instantly, a frown forming on my face. Seriously, had these people lived with me for sixteen-point-seven-five years, or what?


"Is something bothering you?"


I wouldn't say it out loud, but she was bothering me a little.


I looked at her with a curious expression. "Do you want me to give you the complete list, or are you referring to things that bother me now that haven't bothered me before?"


If she wanted the list, we'd be here for a while.


She smiled. "The latter, of course."


That's another thing. I hate when people say ‘of course'. It's not ‘of course', thank you very much, because I asked for a reason. Would I honestly waste my breath asking something I already knew the answer to?


Nonetheless, I nodded in compliance. "Your son's a prick, for one."


She gasped. "Oh, Nick, honey, you're not a prick!"


Good lord. "Not me," I replied with a roll of my eyes. "Joe. He gave this psycho girl from the video shoot my number, and she keeps calling me. And she's weird, Mom."


"Kendall? Joe said you two were great friends!"


Apparently word had gotten around. Super-dee-duper. I regretted not pulling Joe's lips over his head earlier that day when I had the chance.


I glared at her. "No, this is Joe's idea of a practical joke. God, I wouldn't give the guy an orange a week ago, and this is his revenge. Tell him to stop!"


Okay, so I sounded like a whiny little bitch. I wouldn't have complained at this level to anyone but my mom. Moms have the absolute power if they've played their cards right from the beginning. Joe's legally an adult, but if Mom told him to leave me the fuck alone (in those exact words, preferably), he'd do it just because she said so. And I'd get extra pity, which is always nice.


"I think Joe's just a little upset that you haven't been yourself lately," she said gently. "He told me you've been extra quiet, even when it's just you and him alone."


There are pros and cons to having your parents come with you on tour. The pros are... well, I can't think of any off the top of my head, but the cons are that they're always nagging you about things that shouldn't matter when you're an international rockstar, and all the stuff you did while they weren't around seems to catch up with you because your twat of a brother decided to nark you out.


"Maybe he's just been extra talkative," I replied calmly.


"He said you've been very particular in the last few days over what's yours."


"Let me ask you this," I said diplomatically, my hands in front of me to set up the scene. "In his suitcase, Joe has over thirty ties. I know this for a fact because he counted them in front of me last week. Why does he need to borrow my tie, and why should I have to give it to him?"


Probably because my fashion sense is better than his, but I was trying to prove a point.


"I think this is about more than just ties, Nick," Mom pointed out patiently.


"You're right. This is about Joe and his incessant need to borrow my stuff," I muttered.


"It's never bothered you before."


I shrugged. "Ties were never important to me before. They are now. I've prioritized."


I had successfully puzzled my mother. I told you I can read people easily - and I can read my mom like a book. She was trying to ease me into a discussion; trying to get me to confess my innermost thoughts to her. She had a question she was dying to ask me, and she was getting frustrated that I kept dodging it by using analogies. Any minute now, she was bound to just spit it out.


"This is about Miley, isn't it? Joe told me about Miley," she said quickly.


Aha. Knew it.


"No," I responded calmly. "This is not about Miley. Nothing is about Miley because I haven't dated Miley in over a year."


With a small smile, she placed her hand over top of mine as a sign of affection. "It's okay to miss her sometimes, you know."


I swatted her hand away in disgust. "I don't miss her! Jeez."


Mom clearly didn't believe me. "Is it your friend Pep? Are you sad because-"


Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My own mother. "No!" I exclaimed, a little more frantically than usual. I stood up, ready to pace if necessary. "Look, I'm fine. I would appreciate it if you'd tell Joe to keep his nose out of my affairs, that's all."


Still, she wasn't convinced.


I sighed, staring at the white ceiling in irritation. "Okay, let's go to Kevin's room. I'm hungry now."


It was a lie, but I knew it had worked when my mom smiled in satisfaction, patting my head like a puppy and steering me out the door. She thought she had really done her job. Her magic had healed me.


The truth is, I get bored of people asking me what's wrong all the time. I'm not quiet because I'm sick or sad; I'm quiet because speaking often proves to be a waste of energy. And I had been extra quiet, as Mom put it, in the past couple of weeks because I was busy thinking about other things, like whether Rainie was a dog or a cat person, and if she'd let me put the kids into manly sports like hockey and football as opposed to things like synchronized swimming and ballet. These kinds of things required a lot of contemplation, that's all.


Still, I supposed I could subject myself to one night of Kevin's meaningless prattle and Jesse's constant presence. For my mom. By the expression on her face, you would've thought she'd just solved world hunger, when she really didn't even help me at all. I'd play along to keep her happy.


The things I do for people. I should be fucking canonized; I'm a saint.

End Notes:

Can I just take a moment to tell you all how wonderful you are? Because it's true. And aren't you glad that I never, ever do anything school-related and just write instead? Because that's true as well. I should probably become more involved in my own education, but that's not fun.  


Holy crumb. I just realized that I missed The Office last week - how did I miss it and not remember until just now?! This must be rectified immediately. 


Oh, but before I go - I'm glad I waited to post this chapter, because originally it was just the scene with Denise, and I thought it was kind of boring... and then one day in class I just envisioned this entire brawl in my head, and I wanted to add it somewhere, and I thought it would spice this chapter up :) I've never written anything like that before, it was fun. 


 Next chapter: should be up at some point this weekend. It may or may not be longer than this chapter. Mystery Girl will appear, and Nick will exchange words with her and MAYBE MORE. OooOOOooo - suspense. Really, this story has such a simple plot, the least I can do is add a little suspense in my author's notes. 


Off to watch the Office! 


EDIT: I learned the difference between a country accent and a Southern accent. It has been changed. Thanks beaky22 :)

Day 106: Reading Rainie by The archive

Day One Hundred and Six.


When I woke up, I found Jesse McCartney's pants on the floor of my hotel room. After I'd showered and dressed and Joe finally dragged himself out of bed, I picked up the pants and sighed. This was all Kevin's fault. The night before, we arrived in Pennsylvania and found ourselves with nothing to do. We wanted to go outside and play soccer or hackey-sack or something, but it was raining. We decided to play poker instead. We had no poker chips. Kevin, brilliant as he is, suggested that we play strip poker.


At this point, I feel it's necessary to reinforce the fact that I am heterosexual in every sense of the word, and I do not enjoy the sight of or being within five feet of half-naked male bodies. 


(I won, by the way, having only removed my socks. Geoffrey Chaucer, I tell you. I can read people like JK Rowling at a... a book reading).


Anyway, Joe ever-so-generously offered our room to the activity, and there were about twelve of us crammed in there. My brothers, Jesse, our band, Jesse's band, etcetera. All in all, a good time. Joe and I made sure Mom had retreated to her room before we drank beer with the others.


The thing about being a really cool rockstar is that you have to go to bed pretty early if you want to look alive the next day. By eleven, everyone was out of the room. By eleven-thirty, Joe and I were fast asleep in our separate beds. And by seven-thirty the next morning, I was on my way to Jesse's room to return to him his jeans. It was beyond me how he left without them.


On the journey down the hallway, I reached for my cell in my pocket to call Pep. It was June 29th; her birthday. I wanted to let her know what I got her, and remind her that even if she was three months older than me, she was in no way superior. Just as I was about to phone, I remembered the fucking time zone thing. If it was seven-thirty here, it was four-thirty in LA... or something along those lines. I'm a considerate guy, so I put my phone back in my pocket and made a mental note to call later.


The door to Jesse's room was ajar, and I heard the water running in the bathroom. Assuming he was taking a shower, I waltzed into the room, absently yelling, "Hey, Dream Street! I'm putting your pants on your- Jesus."


Apparently, Jesse hadn't spent the previous night alone. Sitting on his bed flipping through television channels, fully-clothed in some sort of grey cotton dress and boots, was Mystery Girl.


And I was holding her boyfriend's pants.


Sceptically, she turned her head in my direction and smiled. "Hey, Nick," she said, her wonderfulness casting a spell over me almost instantly, "Whatcha got there?"


When I say casting a spell over me, I mean it. She was my Romilda Vane. I hardly knew a thing about her, but I was desperately in love and I didn't even know why.


Immediately, I flung Jesse's life-ruining pants onto the desk chair. "I found them," was all I said. She didn't have to know where I found them, or why. She raised a curious eyebrow as I cleared my throat. I shrugged with a smile. "What are you doing here?"


Normally a rude question, but she knew what I meant.


Rainie smiled as she pressed the ‘Mute' button on the remote. "I got in last night. Didn't Jesse tell you?"


I shrugged again, shaking my head. He hadn't mentioned it, not even when we were strip-pokering.


"I'm shadowing you for a few days," she said with a smirk. I tilted my head to the side as I watched her - when she said the letter ‘F', she bit her lip. That letter has never been so fucking hot.


"Me?" I asked in confusion.


She snorted with laughter. "Yeah, you, Pretty Boy."


I'd prefer Pretty Man, but... honestly, it kills me to admit this, but at this point I wouldn't protest if she'd called me ‘Princess Nick'. She thought I was pretty, and that's all that mattered.


"I mean I'm shadowing the tour buses," she replied with a roll of her eyes. She set the remote on the bed and stood up, and I gulped when I realized that her dress didn't even extend to mid-thigh. Dear God, help me to control my manly urges. "I'm off school for a few months and I've got nothin' better to do."


I nodded in awe of her. I was barely listening, because I had just discovered the true meaning of the phrase, ‘Greek Goddess'.


She waited for my response. I couldn't give her anything. I was speechless. Over the edge, and just brea- oh, fuck me, I was quoting my own fucking bullshit!


Eventually, her shoulders relaxed and she smiled, folding her slender arms across her chest. "You won't tell, will you?" she asked. As she slowly walked past me, she whispered, "It's a secret."


The tiny hairs in my ear tingled, and if I wasn't so practiced in the art of self-restraint, I would have shivered right then and there. I could get drunk off this girl. She made me feel woozy and smiley and everything all at once.


"Why does it matter?" I asked, silently thanking my vocal chords for remaining low and not cracking. As I pivoted on my heel to face her again, I noticed that she was folding Jesse's pants for him.


She glanced at me before responding, "It's like, a rule or something, isn't it? You're not actually allowed to bring people on tour with you. There's just no space, and too many liabilities."


True. It took a lot of persuading with my father before he allowed Pep to join us on tour for only a couple of days - of course, Pep didn't know that yet.


"So you're cheating," I pointed out, eyeing her quizzically. "Breaking the rules."


She grinned at me, her eyes smouldering. "I like breaking the rules."


If the truth be told, I set that one up for her. I was sizing her up; figuring her out. Seeing if she would respond to my clever ploy. And she did, and I'm not going to lie, I was aroused. At that moment, I couldn't think of a single rule I wouldn't break just to be with her. Large-scale prison break? Sure. Mass murder? Why not. Unforgivable curses? Hell yes.


"What's life without risk, right?" she continued. "Live in the moment. Carpe diem. Break the rules. I make my own philosophies."


"Funny," I smirked, "I could swear I've heard those ones before."


She winked. "Nope, they're all me."


I watched her set Jesse's pants carefully on the desk and hang up his shirt on a hanger. I caught her eye again, and she sighed.


"Why are you always looking at me like that?"


I brought a hand to my mouth as inconspicuously as possible. When I had assured myself that I had not been drooling, I lowered my hand and shoved it into my pocket. "Like what?"


"Like..." she trailed off. She pursed her lips in contemplation. "I don't know, like... like you're looking for something."


I was caught off-guard for a moment. It's rare that someone calls me out on my intense lurking. Then again, it's rare that I intensely lurk people. Most people don't require intense lurking before I can predict their entire pathetic life story. Rainie was a special case.


Absently, I ran my tongue over my bottom lip as I thought about my answer. "Why do you respond?"


This piqued her curiosity. "What's that supposed to mean?"


I shrugged as coolly as possible. "If you ignored me, I'd be less inclined to look at you. Knowing you'll look back is intriguing."


"So you want me to train my eyes away from you?" she joked.


"No." That was the last thing I wanted.


It was Rainie's turn to be left speechless. She opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it. She turned her head to the side, analyzing me out of the corners of her eyes. I stared back as innocently as possible, though my thoughts were far from innocent.


All of a sudden, a breathtaking smile crossed her face. "You're funny," she said quietly, her mouth barely opening as she mumbled.


"You're interesting," I replied candidly.


We held each other's eyes for a moment or two longer before the bathroom door swung open and Jesse intruded our private conversation with only a towel wrapped around his waist, his wet hair dripping onto the carpet. He didn't seem surprised or ashamed at all, the schmoe.


"Oh, hey bud," he said nonchalantly, nodding in my direction. He nodded again as he took note of his pants, neatly folded on the desk. "Sweet!" he exclaimed, standing in between Rainie and I to grab the jeans with his free hand. "I've been looking for these!" Rainie and I remained silent as we watched him sift through his suitcase for a pair of boxers. Without another word, he was back in the bathroom.


I'm still not sure why she felt the need to tell me this, but as soon as he was gone, Rainie told me, "Um... we're going out for breakfast."


I took that as my cue to leave. I'd be back, though. That was for sure. "See you around, then," I finished, heading for the door. Before I left, I promised, "I won't tell anyone you're here."


It was like our little secret. Something that only Rainie and I shared. And Jesse, but he's got shit for brains and doesn't count.


The corners of her mouth lifted. "Okay. Thanks. You should come visit, though. I might get lonely."


I might get lonely.


Exclamation point. Somebody up there loves me.


 


We were busy for the better part of the day. Time flies when you're in high demand. Really, life just passes you by so much faster when you don't have time to stop and smell the roses. Which is a good thing, because more often than not, roses are covered in prickly, painful thorns. I like living in the fast lane, where roses are freshly pruned and like you to smell them. (In retrospect, I think I got a little carried away with that analogy. I take it back). 


Jesse was doing a sound-check when we arrived at the venue in the early evening. I watched him for a minute or two with my arms crossed, blowing bubbles with my gum. Blowing bubbles isn't just for girls. It takes a real man to blow perfect bubbles every time.


Joe busted out the hackey-sack and we kicked it around for a while. We don't really get nervous about shows anymore. Just excited. And when we get excited, our normal personalities are exaggerated. For example, Kevin talks a mile-a-minute to anyone - and I mean anyone - who looks his way. Lucifer himself could glance at Kevin in passing, and Kevin would be all over that shit. Joe, on the other hand, gets very fidgety and needs to release his energy with some sort of physical activity (hence the game of hackey-sack we had going on). I... well, I'm pretty normal. Maybe I get quieter. Maybe my mind races a little faster than usual.


One thing's for sure: when I saw Mystery Girl sitting alone at a wooden table backstage, bravely smiling at all the crew members who had no idea who she was, my mind was exploding. I hadn't noticed her before because my back was to the table, and when Joe and I first started kicking the hackey-sack, she hadn't been sitting there. It could only mean one thing: she chose that prime location in order to stare at my ass.


It was the only explanation.


As he passed, I whistled to Garbo, one of our band-mates, indicating that he should take over my position in playing with Joe. I had a girl to seduce.


While I rolled up my sleeves and walked as casually as possible towards her, she was staring in boredom at the screen of her phone. I knew what I was going to say; I'd been thinking of my next words to her all day. I was just excited, and my thoughts were dodging in and out of my head faster than the speed of light. It was exactly how I felt before a performance. You know what songs you're going to play and in what order, but you're never sure if everything will turn out right until you're up there, playing.


Rainie only lifted her head as I slid into the chair beside her. There were four chairs at the wooden table, and I specifically took the one closest to her to get a better look. I liked her face. And the rest of her.


She smiled curiously at me. God, she was radiant when she smiled.


Resting my forearms on the table in front of me, I said calmly, "So I figured we should get to know each other."


With her honey-coloured hair in waves around her shoulders, Rainie looked to me, to the surrounding area, and back to me again. She raised a sceptical eyebrow. "I thought you didn't talk much."


Clever lady. This phrase made my heart jump - she actually remembered one of our (few) previous conversations.


I allowed myself to smile. "I'm willing to make an exception."


In fact, I was willing to make several exceptions. Like, if she was feeling flirty, I was up for flirting. (And just for the record, I don't flirt. The only time it's acceptable for men to flirt is if they're trying to pick up other men, usually in same-sex bars or on office retreats in secluded sections of large forests). If she was touchy-feely, I could be touchy-feely, too. There were a lot of things about her I wanted to touchy-feely, anyway. If she told me she wanted my rock-hard bod, I was willing to violate the guy code and sleep with her while she was still dating Jesse. I'd risk getting caught. I'd risk a slap in the face from Jesse. I'd risk burning in hell for the rest of eternity if I could just be with her now.


Rainie appeared mildly impressed with my boldness. "Well, what do you want to know?"


Are you adventurous in the sack?


No, better ease her into it. "Lived in LA all your life?" I inquired.


She shook her head. "Nope. Born in Sacramento, raised in Bakersfield."


I should probably know the general location of those two places. They didn't sound like states; but you never know. I decided to withhold a comment. "Just for school, then?"


She shrugged. "Just for excitement." Her eyes twinkled.


Interesting. With a smirk, I asked, "What's exciting for you?"


She grinned. "The night life. How easy it is to meet people. How, one day, you can be this random, lonely girl from Bakersfield, and the next, your best friend takes you along as she photographs musicians on-stage."


Lesbian Friend! God, I'd forgotten all about her. I missed that flaming vagina-lover.


I nodded in contemplation. "Is that how you met Jesse?"


(I knew exactly how she met Jesse - that night at the award show - but I figured it would lead to an awkward silence if I mentioned how intensely I'd been stalking her that night).


She shook her head, shifting her ‘obnoxiously large purse', as Pep called it, from her lap to the surface of the table. "No, but it's how I met you."


If I wasn't such a composed young man, I could have easily choked on my own saliva. Instead, I took a moment to plan out my next words as I stared at my hands on the table.


Rainie nudged my arm with hers. "I know you see thousands of girls every night at one of these shows, but don't pretend like you didn't see me that day. You stared at me; I know it."


My throat felt dry all of a sudden. I can't explain how uncomfortable it is when the girl you're stalking points out your stalkerish-ness. Not only does it maker you feel like an incompetent stalker, but it's kind of embarrassing. It's like someone pointing out that they know you're a pedophile. There are just some things you like to keep to yourself, and you'd prefer if others didn't point them out. I know I'm a pedophile, moron, you don't have to tell me.


(Side-note: I am not a pedophile. I'm not even old enough to be a pedophile. That was an inappropriate example).


"I did," I affirmed.


She smiled in satisfaction, angling her head in a quizzical way. "Because...?"


Rainie was urging me to continue. She was comfortable continuing. She definitely had the hots for me. Suck it, Jesse.


I shrugged. "You're like my Matt Muer."


All it took was her confused frown to know that I should probably have used a different example, possibly one that didn't make me sound homosexual.


Sighing, I elaborated, "Ever seen Superbad?"


It took a moment or two for her to understand. All of a sudden, she was giggling. "Have you ever stared into his eyes? It was like the first time I heard The Beatles."


I pointed an index finger at her and chuckled softly. She got it. My Rainie. So perfect. I shifted in my seat, training my eyes to the table. It would only be another moment or two before she caught on.


I was right. Her laughter slowly faded along with her breathtaking smile. "The first time you heard The Beatles, eh?" she asked.


It baffled me how she wasn't awkward about it at all. And by ‘baffled' I mean ‘pleasantly, pleasantly surprised'. Nothing I said seemed to faze her. She was easy to talk to. I was falling more and more in love.


"Mm. It was more like The Flaming Lips. I don't remember exactly; maybe it was Queen. No, Marilyn Manson."


This earned another giggle from her. She leaned forward across the table to meet my eyes. "Do you still hear Marilyn Manson?"


"No," I replied in good humour. "I mean, it's different every time. You have a soundtrack."


For a second, I thought I'd stumped her, but she came back easily with, "Does everyone have a soundtrack?"


I raised my eyebrows as I shrugged again. "Some people."


"What's on mine?"


She dug through her purse for something as I pondered my answer. "I haven't fully decided yet," I told her. "So far you've got a little bit of everything. Beethoven, The Partridge Family, Pavarotti, Iron Maiden, Jonas Brothers... you know, the best of the best."


I analyzed her teeth when she smiled at me. I think she had braces when she was younger; there was no way anyone's teeth could be so straight otherwise.


"Partridge Family. Excellent," she said sarcastically.


"Top notch," I agreed.


From her purse, she finally pulled out a notepad and pen. She drew a large number sign on the pad and handed the pen to me. I took it, puzzled.


"Tic tac toe," she explained.


"Is this your way of getting me to shut up?" I asked, a crease in my brow.


"No, this is my way of assessing your competitiveness," she answered without missing a beat. "And of keeping you here." The addition to her reasoning did not go unnoticed.


I glanced at her hopefully.


With a small smile, she continued, "I'm tired of being bored, that's all."


Reading Rainie was harder than reading most people, but I had a distinct sensation that she was lying. With a subtle shake of my head, I drew an X in the middle and handed the pen back to her.


"Your turn," she said, brushing off the awkwardness.


"I just went," I informed her, pointing to the X.


"No, I mean it's your turn to tell me about yourself." She drew an O in the left-hand corner and passed the pen to me.


Let's see. I'm sixteen-point-seven-five years old, I spend the majority of my life in the spotlight, and I'm hopelessly in love with you and want you to be my wife.


I cleared my throat before asking, "Anything in particular?"


With a devilish glint in her eye, she returned, "Boxers or briefs?"


None of the above. Take me now, Mystery Girl.


I laughed a little, drawing an X beside her O. "That's an intrusive question, don't you think?"


She drew an O. "I'll answer if you will."


I seriously could not understand this girl. She was hot, and I was so turned-on that if she made any more mentions of underwear in the next few seconds I would probably have to take a cold shower before the show, but what kind of game was she trying to play?


While I drew a shaky X, Joe skimmed by us, singing softly to himself, "Slap you like a bitch, and you take it like a whore..."


Thanks, Joe.


Rainie drew an O as she waited for my response. I drew a final X and connected my straight line, winning the game.


"Hell yes," I muttered, scribbling ‘Nick owns' onto the paper alongside an arrow to my tic-tac-toe victory.


Rainie frowned. "That's not how I imagined your handwriting."


Taken-aback is the right phrase to describe how I felt once I received this comment. "You imagined my handwriting?" I repeated. She imagined me. At some point in time, my face - rather, my writing - had circulated her brain. Christ, this was a good day.


I must have appeared overenthusiastic, because she snorted, "Don't flatter yourself. I imagine everyone's handwriting."


Impressed, I nodded. "That's a cool thing to admit, Rainie."


I think that was the first time I said her name out loud. It sounded good coming from me. I wanted to say it again.


She giggled. "You said you wanted to get to know me."


"Correct," I confirmed. "So you imagine people's handwriting? Right when you meet them?"


"Mm hmm," she agreed. "Always have. Usually I'm pretty good at it."


"'Til now," I joked.


"Until now," she repeated slowly.


"Nick, do something productive, please," my father said in passing. I tore my eyes from Rainie's only for a moment to glare at his back. If only he knew how productive I was being, he'd leave me alone. I was laying the groundwork for the rest of my natural-born life.


I sighed, unwilling to tear myself away from my brown-eyed girl.


"Go on, popstar," she urged. "Put on a show or something."


I jerked my head back in horror. She called me ‘popstar'. It was like when Jake Whats-His-Name was going out with Pep. I hated that word with a passion.


I'd set her straight. It had to be done if we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. "You know what you should do if you get bored, Rainie?" (Side-note: Second time saying her name. It sounded even better than the first).


She raised her eyebrows in question.


"Google ‘Dream Street'. Let me know what you think."


Ha. I'll be damned if she ever called me ‘popstar' again.


At exactly 11:54 PM, I managed to hole myself up in my bunk on the tour bus for a few minutes of solitude. We'd played a show and Kevin and Joe were keen on discussing its events, as usual. It would only be a minute or two before they discovered I was missing, so I pulled the curtain around my bunk and dialled Pep's number in the dark. 


On the third ring, she picked up. "Hi, Nick," she greeted me amiably.


"How's it going?" I asked quietly. I didn't want my brothers to hear me.


"Uh... fine!" she answered. I frowned in confusion.


"What are you doing?" I inquired.


"Oh, Jilly and Lance and I are going Go-Karting!" she exclaimed. For some reason, she was trying oddly hard to sound upbeat. It wasn't normal; Pep is always upbeat.


I heard someone in the background shout, "Hey!"


"Oh, and Carter's here, too," Pep added. "Hold on a second, I can hardly hear you."


Carter is Pep's younger brother by four years. At the age of twelve (or is it thirteen?), he's already taller than her by a few inches. Jilly and Lance... I had a feeling I should be familiar with them, but I couldn't put faces to their names. They were probably just friends from school.


"There," Pep murmured. There was less background noise, and I knew she'd distanced herself from her friends and her brother.


"So you're Go-Karting?" I asked.


"Mm hmm," she replied. Before I could ask another question, she returned, "How was your day? Did the show go well tonight?"


"Yeah, pretty well. I'm tired, though," I admitted, scratching the back of my neck as I laid my head down on the pillow and stared at the ceiling, the phone held to my ear.


There was a long pause as I waited for her reply. I was about to wish her a happy birthday when she blurted out, "You know, you're the worst friend ever, Nick J."


"Hey now!" I exclaimed a little too loudly. I hoped no one heard me. Lowering my voice, I continued in offence, "That's not fair."


"What's not fair is that you forgot about my birthday, you dildo."


"I did not! It's today!" I cried. Shit. I had to keep my voice down.


"Yeah, it is, princess," Pep replied, sounding less than amused.


I was slightly confused. Pep rarely gets snippy with me. It's just not who she is.


"I knew that," I said in a small voice.


"Because I just told you."


"No, I really did," I insisted. "That's why I called. Happy birthday, Pepper. That's from me and my family."


"You can say thank-you to your family," she answered stiffly. "Especially your mom; she sent me a card. But you suck."


I chuckled. She had no idea. "Pep, I didn't forget."


"Whatever."


Clearly she was unconvinced. I wondered how I could make this better. "I got you a present," I announced, determined to remain chipper despite my drooping eyelids.


"Y'know, I've never forgotten your birthday," she rambled, completely ignoring my previous statement. "I never forget anything that's important to you, but you never even ask me-"


"I didn't forget, okay?" I interrupted. I was growing bored of these accusations. I chuckled again. "I've been planning this for a long time, you little oompa loompa. Trust me."


I could picture her contemplative frown, the freckles on her nose scrunching up as she pondered my words. "Planning what?" she asked carefully.


I grinned. I basically had her forgiveness. "Got any plans this weekend?"


There was no response.


"Because I was thinking you could fly out to North Carolina to chill with me," I finished.


I wished I had her on webcam or something, because I wanted to witness her jaw dropping in shock. "What?"


"Just for the day. We've got a show on Saturday; I figured you could come watch. It's the fourth of July."


She let out a loud, "Ha!" before saying, "Nick! You weren't supposed to... but I got you a t-shirt for your birthday!"


"And I like that shirt," I assured her. "It's red. It's manly. It's bitchin'. I'm wearing it now, actually." I hadn't even noticed before.


"A t-shirt doesn't compare to a plane ticket!" she whined.


"I'll allow you to get me two t-shirts this year. Just come," I urged.


"Hold on, now," she said sternly, "What's so special about North Carolina? Why can't I meet you somewhere exciting, like Florida or NYC?"


"Because," I returned simply. That's all she was getting from me. "This has a point, I promise. Okay, my mom's already faxed your mom with flight information and all that, so check it out when you get home."


Pep laughed. "You really did remember my birthday."


I scoffed. "Yeah, so hold your tongue, carrot-head."


She giggled. "Thank you. I'm so excited!"


In my few years of knowing Pep, I couldn't remember a time she hadn't been excited, so this wasn't news to me.


"Where's Nick?" I heard Kevin's loud voice from the front of the bus.


"Oh," I said into the phone, "Kevin found me. Gotta go."


"Okay. I'll see you on Saturday! Hey Nick, I'm seeing you on Saturday!" Pep squealed.


"Uh huh," I agreed as Kevin's footsteps approached.


"Nick? Where are you?" he called.


"Here," I replied. I put the phone to my ear one last time and said quickly, "Happy birthday. See you soon."


I didn't wait for a response because Kevin had already flung the curtains aside from my bunk. "Who were you talking to?" he demanded.


"Pep," I told him, hopping out of the bed and down to the ground, placing my phone inside my pocket where it belonged. As he followed me down the narrow hallway and into the common area, I added, "She says thanks, by the way. For the happy birthday."


"I don't remember saying happy birthday," Kevin commented.


Dolt. I reached into the small refrigerator and grabbed a can of Coke before sliding into a booth and cracking open the can, waiting for someone to initiate conversation. It's Kevin we're talking about, so conversation was initiated within three-point-two seconds. He blabbered on with occasional interruptions from Joe for half an hour, and I remained mostly silent, my thoughts drifting off. Wondering where Rainie was. Whether she'd managed to sneak onto Jesse's tour bus. I hoped the answer was no; because I was afraid of what they were doing if she was with him.


Oh, rats. It was then that I realized I'd forgotten to tell Pep about Mystery Girl's sudden appearance and our enlightening conversation. We were making progress, and somehow it had slipped my mind when I was on the phone with Pep. Ugh.


I would just have to call her again the next day. That was all there was to it.

End Notes:

Well, I've been writing up a storm this weekend. Silly me had to lose my ID, so all my friends ditched me last night and will ditch me again tonight to be cool and go out to bars. Ugh. Anyway, I've gotten lots of writing AND some schoolwork done! I'm so productive it's insane. I hardly even know myself anymore! 


 Anyway, this story is really rollin' now. Limp Bizkit style. Remember those guys? I should add them into this story as another pop culture reference, which you guys seem to get a kick out of. 


 Just a heads up: the next two chapters are probably going to be supersized. Like, possibly twice as long as normal. I'm excited. I think you already have a hint as to when the next chapter will take place, but just in case you missed it, I'll give you another. The title is "Tackle and Be Tackled". I think that's cryptic enough. 


 The song Joe was singing as he passed Nick and Rainie is ‘Shake tramp' by Marianas Trench. I'll leave you with that. Let me know what you think if you have time, and prepare your eyes for the extreme length of the next chapter!

Day 111: Tackle and Be Tackled by The archive

Day One Hundred and Eleven.


 


"Maaaaah."


I don't care that I sound like a sheep giving birth when I wake up. It's not like anyone hears me except for Joe, and Big Rob, and my mom and dad, and the hotel receptionist, and... well, whoever's on wake-up duty, really. On this particular morning, it was Big Rob, and if I sounded like a sheep giving birth, then I was having triplets. It's extraordinarily hard to pull yourself out of bed when you're the only one who has to get up. In the bed beside mine, Joe got to sleep soundly until nine.


It was five-thirty a.m., and we had gone to bed at two, goddammit. We had been discussing our show late into the night, and while I could have excused myself to get some sleep, I wanted to stay because Rainie was there. Actually, it was a great night. Joe's girlfriend, Camilla, flew out to see him, and we all chilled backstage after the show. Having Rainie and Camilla in the same room sent my hormones seriously out of whack. My favourite part was probably when they talked to each other, side-by-side. It was mesmerizing.


I brushed my teeth with my eyes half-closed, the light from the bathroom blinding me. It was way too early, and I had a long day ahead. As soon as I was dressed, Big Rob was taking me to the airport to meet Pep, who was flying in from Los Angeles. (Side-note: it wasn't until yesterday that my mother decided to tell me how early she'd booked the flight. Damn her). We'd go to breakfast or something (my stomach was already rumbling), and then we had some sort of radio interview. We had a few hours off afterwards, but Pep most likely wasn't going to allow me to sleep. She was only here for twenty-something hours, after all. We'd have a quick dinner and head to the venue to perform. It was the fourth of July, and we were expecting a big crowd. Afterwards, there would be fireworks, and I had to give Pep her birthday present... which wasn't really a present at all, but it had to be at night. Jesus Christ, it made me sleepy just to think of how many hours I would have to spend awake that day.


Once I'd thrown on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, Big Rob led me down the elevator and to the car. And when I say he led me, I mean he literally grabbed a hold of my arm and steered me in the right direction. I was flopping all over the place. Normally I need a glass of water and some sort of edible sustenance to wake myself up in the morning. It's also customary to be given more than five minutes to get ready.


Ugh. Damn that little proton.


I slept on the way to the airport. It was unfortunate that it was only a ten-minute drive. Instead of leaning my head against the window like a smart person, I let my head fall forward onto my chest, colliding awkwardly with the seatbelt. Big Rob told me to look at myself in the mirror before we got out of the car. I had a very visible red line across my cheek from where the seatbelt had cut into me. Perfect.


Pep's flight was delayed by twenty minutes. Twenty minutes that I could have spent in bed with my eyes closed and my dreams centered on Rainie. I fell asleep again on one of those uncomfortable airport chairs, my head resting painfully on the back of the seat as I slumped down. I folded my arms across my chest for warmth and let my mouth hang open. I would later come to regret this decision, as someone snapped a picture of me and it turned up on the internet three hours later.


Big Rob shook me back to the world of the living when Pep's plane landed. I dragged my feet behind him to baggage claim. We were standing near a giant marble pillar - I heavily considered falling asleep on it, too, when a flash of auburn hair came into view and Pep bounced along amidst a crowd of people with nothing but a backpack and a large smile. She looked like she was waltzing into her first day of kindergarten.


I took a few paces forward and grinned sleepily, hissing in shock as she threw her arms around my waist with force. Once I made sure my stomach was back in place, I put my arms around her neck to hug her back. It was good to see her. It had been a month or so since I'd set eyes on the munchkin.


She let go first with a huge grin, and I kept an arm around her as we walked towards the luggage dispenser. It was lucky that I did; I was so tired, I probably needed the support to stand.


Pep, on the other hand, was wide awake. Didn't surprise me. "Aw, it's good to see your bitter face again," she giggled. "You look older. No, you just look more bitter. Maybe you look a little tired. Hey, what's that line on your face?"


"Maaaah." I used my sheep-noise again to warn her to leave me alone.


"Oh, no," she said with faux-anxiety, "Did I catch Nick J on a bad day?"


I let my arm fall from her shoulders as I frowned and kicked her in the back of the knee.


"Too bad, Oscar the Grouch. You're going to smile, and you're going to like it."


While we waited for her bag to arrive, she stood in front of me and put her hands on my cheeks, stretching my less-than-amused face into a smile.


"There," she declared in satisfaction. Her eyes gleamed with excitement. "That's the way I like my Nick J."


 I livened up a little when we went out for breakfast. Big Rob dropped us off at this little diner that looked like it had good bacon and eggs. Pep sat Indian-style across from me in the booth, picking at her meal like she was five years old.


"Any calls from Kendall lately?" she asked, chewing on a piece of bacon.


I chomped into toast and replied, "Every day."


"Why don't you just change your number?"


I rolled my eyes. "I can't just change my number every time some psycho bitch harasses me."


Pep burst into laughter. "That's a perfectly good reason to change your number!"


I shook my head, unconvinced.


She eyed me sceptically. "Unless you actually like her..." she trailed off.


I continued to shake my head.


"Hmm," she said in a small voice. "I think you do. I think you're interested."


Scoffing, I retorted, "Does the name ‘Rainie' ring a bell?"


"Ah yes," she giggled. "God, Nick, your love life sure is exceptional."


"So is yours, chipmunk," I returned, sipping on a glass of water to wash down the toast.


"Actually," she said pointedly, a hint of a smile on her face, "I've been seeing someone."


"Seeing someone? Do people still say things like that?" It sounds like something said by squares in the forties.


"Seeing, dating, hooking up with-"


"Too much info," I interrupted with a scowl. Gross. "How did this happen?" I demanded.


She couldn't have been seeing this guy, whoever he was, for long. I talked to her on the phone regularly enough; surely she would have mentioned it if it was serious.


Pep shrugged. "I don't know. He's really funny, though, you'd like him. He got me a pizza for my birthday with my name written on it in Jelly Bellies."


Pft. Amateur. First, my present was going to be better. Second, that guy's a homo, and I'll tell you why: he got that idea from ‘The Princess Diaries'. Straight guys don't watch chick flicks. The only reason I know about ‘The Princess Diaries' is because I watched it with Miley, and afterwards, to make up for the disgustingness of it all, I made her watch ‘The Hills Have Eyes'. (By the way, I still have her nail imprints on my bicep. Jesus).


"What's his name?" I asked, stuffing a forkful of home fries into my mouth. If it was that douche Jake Lancaster again, I'd-


"Lance."


Oh. I smiled to myself. Yep, he was definitely gay.


"What?" Pep asked with a grin. She could tell I was thinking of something.


"Lance? You know who that reminds me of?"


"Lance Armstrong?" she suggested.


I scoffed again. "Pft. He wishes. No, that guy from N'Sync. The gay one."


Pep rolled her eyes, keeping her grin. "You met Lance Bass once. You said he was nice."


"Yeah, and he was totally into me." If straight guys are nice, you refer to them as ‘cool'. Pep had a lot to learn.


"He's gay, Nick - he's not a pedophile."


I shrugged carelessly. "Whatever. You better not introduce me to your Lance, though. I've proven to attract gay men in the past."


"He's not gay!" she insisted with a frown. She threw her balled-up napkin at my head. It hit my square in the nose. I blame it on my sleepiness.


"Alright, alright," I mumbled with a sneer, swatting away her napkin in annoyance.


(He was definitely gay). 


I hate coffee, but I drank an extra-large on the way to our interview at ten. It burned my tongue and tasted like crap, and I don't think it did anything at all to my drowsiness. If anything, the heat made me want to fall asleep again. Caffeine is a lie.


"Look alive, chump," Joe ordered, widening my eyes for me with his hands. Bastard. He got to sleep for three and a half hours longer than I did.


"This is a radio interview," I whined. "No one's going to see my face."


"Lucky thing, too. You have this giant red gash on your cheek, it looks like you slept on a seatbelt," Joe remarked casually.


I glowered.


"Seriously," Kevin agreed, laughing at me. "Did you paper-cut your face? Did you fall on the dull end of a knife? Did someone draw a line across your cheek with an invisible pen..."


And so on. In fact, this taunting continued for so long that that interviewer joined in on the teasing when we were on the air.


"Yeah," I said with a faux-chuckle. "It was tough getting up earlier than everyone else this morning. I accidentally fell asleep on a seatbelt."


I definitely wanted all the listeners in North Carolina to know that. Swell.


"That's a cover-up," Joe joked. "What Nick's trying to hide from you is that he fell into the thin edge of an open car door. Watch where you're going next time, buddy."


Kevin laughed giddily. Everyone joined in.


Thanks, Joe. At this point in time, I decided to start a tally in my head of the number of times he wronged me. This way, I'd have sufficient reasoning when I glued his eyelids shut in the near future


When we were finally done all our running around and my eyes were so heavy it felt like I was lifting weights every minute they were open, we went back to the hotel for a few hours of down-time before the show. I would have given a limb just to climb into bed and drift off, but Kevin came up with the brilliant idea of a giant game of touch football. 


Fuck me. I barely had the strength to walk, let alone tackle and be tackled.


And so the whole lot of us headed out to the large field behind the hotel to play. If it wasn't partly-cloudy, we could have gone to a beach. That would have been perfect. Pep would have been entertained by the sand and the water, and I could have gotten in a couple of hours of beauty sleep. Instead, she was dancing in the spot beside me, eager to throw around a pigskin with a bunch of males.


Camilla and Rainie ventured out as well, dressed very stylishly for a good old-fashioned game of football. I saw Joe give Camilla a kiss and instruct her to wish him good luck as he wrapped an obnoxious sweatband around his hair. I realized then that the girls had no intention of playing. It was probably for the best. If Rainie and I were on opposing teams, I knew I wouldn't be able to hold myself back from tackling her and smothering her with my love.


While the girls set up camp at the side of the playing field, the guys (and Pep) worked on setting boundaries. I stood in the middle of the green field with a pouty face. This was a difficult situation. On one hand, I was so bloody tired. On the other, I couldn't pussy out to take a nap - I had to impress Rainie with my vast range of athletic abilities. And to do that, I had to be on top of my game, which was a tough thing to do while sleep-deprived. It was just a circle of misery, and I couldn't find a way out.


As we gathered in a crowd to pick teams, I caught Pep staring dreamily at Jesse. Ugh, stupid midget whore. Didn't she say she was seeing someone?


I could tell she was overjoyed when Garbo selected both her and Jesse to be on his team. Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed that I wound up on Kevin's team. He was the sucker I was looking most forward to tackling, and now I wouldn't even get the chance.


I rubbed the excess sleep out of my eyes before the game began. I glanced at Rainie just as everyone was gearing up; I swear she winked at me. God, she was sexy.


Everything went smoothly for the first few minutes. Pep ran around like a little annoying insect, dodging in and out and around people because she was so small. She got a fucking touchdown, for Christ's sake. Jesse threw up his hands in victory and slapped his hands against hers. Pep glowed with pride and adoration.


Well, fuck ‘em all. Kevin was a pansy on the field, so I had to take charge. I took advantage of Joe tripping over his shoelaces to make a run for it. While the ball was firmly in my grasp, I crossed the end line and immediately glanced in Rainie's direction. She wasn't watching, goddammit. She and Camilla were concerned about Joe's well-being.


Ugh. That was strike two against Joe.


When Joe brushed himself off and the game resumed, I paused for a moment when things got slow to ever-so-slyly look at Rainie. She was chatting amicably with Camilla, and when she giggled, she brushed Camilla's arm and leaned towards her. Camilla threw her head back with laughter.


Fascinating. I once read in a yahoo! article that flirty girls always try to make physical contact with the object of their affection. It's a good way to keep the other interested. It was entirely possible that Rainie was flirting with Camilla. I wouldn't blame her; Camilla is drop dead gorgeous. It was hard to decide whether or not this was dampening my spirits. On one hand, Rainie and Camilla would basically be the hottest couple on the face of the earth, and I would devote the rest of my life to instigating a threesome between us. On the other hand, if Rainie was strictly a lesbian, my life was effectively over. I wondered if Lesbian Friend should be warned that her lesbian lover was interested in someone else.


While I was standing in the middle of the field, gazing at my dream couple and wandering away with my thoughts, I was brutally tackled to the ground. By Pep. My vertically-challenged friend who's no stronger than a common house fly.


That was embarrassing. I kind of resented her for it. Way to make me look like a schmuck, Pep.


The worst part was when she pushed herself off of me as I lay flat on my back in the grass, a worried expression etched on her features. "Oh, I'm sorry, pal," she apologized. "Did I hurt you?"


As if that wasn't demeaning enough, the humiliation continued. Using my elbows to prop myself up, I frowned and demanded, "What the hell was that for? I wasn't even doing anything!"


She shrugged, grinning radiantly. "You just looked really easy to tackle."


If Rainie had overheard what she'd said, I really would kill my best friend. When I looked at her, she was smirking. Damn that little munckin Pep.


I would be an epic failure if I wasn't on my A-game for the rest of the game. I stood up and brushed myself off, ready to kick some McCartney ass. No one was keeping score, but it was obvious that my team was losing. That idiot Kevin was ruining me.


With my full attention on the game, we slowly began to improve. One of Jesse's band-mates on my team scored a touchdown. Joe (also on my team), pounced on Garbo right before he hit the end line. Of course, Rainie was probably more impressed with Joe than she was with me, but I had a feeling it was all my doing, anyway.


It was as the skies were clearing up and the sun began to shine that my downfall came about. Literally. I had the ball. I was running. Okay, maybe I was being a bit of a show-off because I was so sure I had this one in the bag. There was no one in front of me; it was totally open.


When I least expected it, arms reached around my waist and I tumbled to the ground. My arms were occupied and couldn't break my fall, so my chin hit the cold, hard earth with a thud. Coughing up shitty-tasting grass, I turned to see who had destroyed my perfect play. It was none other than Sugar Rush boy. I was so infuriated that I flared my nostrils as the other team got the ball. While Pep grabbed it and took off, the others following her, I focused solely on Jesse. That dickbrain. He already had Rainie, what did he need to impress her for?!


I had nobody. And my chin hurt like a bitch. So I tackled him.


In retrospect, it probably wasn't one of my better ideas. After all, Jesse technically wasn't doing anything to warrant a tackle. He let out a cry that sounded like "Ogg" as he toppled over. At this point, I realized what I was doing. I was most likely coming off as an even bigger tool in front of my Mystery Girl. Shit.


So I pushed myself off of him and muttered, "Oh, sorry."


Jesse's incredulous glare wasn't lost on me, but the sight of his puzzled face made me so angry that I had to look away. He sucked. Why couldn't Rainie see that?


I spent a few seconds picking grass off of my shirt when Pep strolled over, looking cynical.


"What was that about?" she asked quietly.


"That guy's a fathead," I mumbled angrily.


She snorted with laughter. "What are you, in second grade? At least use an appropriate insult."


"Douchecock."


"Original. Better."


Pep's eyes shirked from mine for a moment before reconnecting. She took a step towards me and whispered secretively, "Rainie's looking at you."


With my back turned to Mystery Girl, I was completely reliant on Pep to deliver me information. My eyes widened. "Yeah? Does she look pissed off?" I asked, trying to move my lips as little as possible, like a ventriloquist.


Discretely, Pep glanced at her and back at me. "No. She looks confused and concerned."


"For Jesse, or for me?"


"No, she's not looking at Jesse," Pep replied. "She's looking at you."


Wait, what was I doing? Why was I using the proton as a mediator between Rainie and myself? I was bold. I was handsome. I could do it all on my own.


Before I could advance, Pep touched my lip softly with her finger. "You're bleeding, Nick," she pointed out.


"Huh?" I put my finger to my lower lip and pulled it away to analyze it. Yep, there was definitely blood. "Shit," I grumbled. "That Dream Street asswipe drew blood from me."


"It'll swell," Pep informed me, her voice returning to its usual loud level. "You should get some ice."


We were close enough for the girls to hear, because Camilla was immediately on her feet, announcing, "I'll go get some from the front desk."


"Oh, you should sit out, buddy," Garbo said, patting my shoulder sympathetically. "We don't want you to look like a train wreck for tonight's show."


On one hand, sitting out of the remainder of the game would prevent me from showing off. On the other hand, it was apparent that I was doing a terrible job of impressing Rainie, and sitting out while the others played would give me a chance to talk to her. It wasn't a bad trade-off, so I shrugged and plopped myself down in the grass next to her, folding my arms over my bent knees.


"Ouch," Rainie breathed, hissing in sympathy when she saw my lip. "Does it sting?"


"A little," I told her. "I'm fine."


"That was quite a hit you took from my pompous boyfriend," she remarked.


Pompous. That was a negative attribute, right? I could only hope.


"It wasn't too bad," I said honestly. "Jesse doesn't have two older brothers, does he?"


She shook her head. "He's the oldest. He's got a younger brother; I think he's around Frankie's age. Maybe a bit older."


"Oh. Pft. He has no idea, then. The stuff we used to do to each other..." I thought back to my overdramatic physical fight with Joe the week before. "The stuff we still do," I corrected myself.


"Like what?" she asked.


I wiped some blood away from my lips and onto the grass. "Joe and Kevin were into wrestling when they were younger. They used me as their opponent. I lost all but four of my baby teeth getting thrown into walls."


"Rough!" she exclaimed with a giggle.


I shrugged. "Do you have brothers?"


Rainie shook her head, her blonde waves shifting on her shoulders. "I have an older sister. She's five years older than me, though, so we were never really close. She's married with a kid on the way."


I nodded. "You'll be an aunt."


"Yeah," she breathed, her eyes widening. She shook herself out of a trance. "It's a weird thought. I always imagine aunts as old, you know?"


"Yeah. And they give you shitty presents like neon-coloured track suits," I grumbled bitterly.


She laughed. "I don't know what kind of aunts you have, but I'd really like to see you in one of these tracksuits one day."


It was weird how my relationship with Rainie had evolved in just a week. I was still madly in love with her and she still made my heart do this weird jump whenever she was near, but we were able to carry on conversation like old friends. Since I was usually showered and dressed before Joe even got out of bed, Rainie and I often went to breakfast together. Slowly, I found out the basic facts of her life. She was in a Communications program at UCLA. She lived in an apartment with Lesbian Friend, whose name was actually Callan (but she would always be Lesbian Friend to me). She liked toast and orange juice for breakfast with a cup of tea afterwards. She didn't drive. And she was twenty-one.


A whole five years separated us. It didn't bother me. After all, Hugh Hefner is practically prehistoric, and he has nineteen-year-old girlfriends. Besides, Rainie and I got along superbly. We could definitely function in a relationship. Or in a marriage. Age ain't nothin' but a numba. Thank you, Aaliyah, for your wise words.


"Here ya go, kid," Camilla said, handing me a Ziploc bag of ice and crossing her legs as she sat on Rainie's other side. I hated when she called me ‘kid'. It was like she was teasing me for being so young. Rainie never teased me. Rainie never even mentioned it.


While the guys rearranged teams, Pep marched over to socialize for a minute or two. She stood in front of us, smiling at me and my pathetic bag of ice, now held tightly to my bleeding lower lip.


"I'll avenge your fall, Nick," she generously offered.


"Jesse's on your team, Pep," I replied, mimicking her voice.


She shrugged. "Meh."


Rainie had apparently observed this interaction. Shielding her eyes from the sun as she looked up at Pep, she inquired, "Is your name really Pep?"


Pep shook her head. "No. That's just what Nick and his family call me. Joe calls me Pip. I don't know why."


"Because she's got lots of pep," I explained patiently to Rainie. I snorted with laughter. "See?" I pointed to Pep, who was making big circles with her arms for no reason at all. "She never stops moving."


"Cute," Rainie smiled. (I hated that damn word). She turned her attention again to Pep. "Has your mom had the baby yet?"


I don't think it was possible for Pep to appear more confused. She glanced at me for help, and I widened my eyes and nodded my head. Clearly she had forgotten that she had previously told Rainie that her mother was pregnant. Rhonda's Maternity, Pep. Come on!


"Nnnn....no," Pep said slowly. "She's due in... a week?"


"Really!" Rainie exclaimed. "You must be so excited!"


Pep nodded unconvincingly. "Yep...?" I can't explain the relief that washed over her face as Garbo called her name. With a grin, she stated, "Keep your eyes on me, Nick. I'll take him down."


I chuckled to myself as she ran away. It took a moment for me to recognize that Rainie was staring at me.


"You like her?" she asked.


My face fell. "What? No."


"Are you sure you two aren't dating?"


The fucked-up thing about having a girl for a best friend is that people always assume you're in a relationship, and if you're not in a relationship, then it's assumed that you secretly love each other. I can't explain how far from the truth this is.


"Yes! She's like, the size of my leg," I stammered in frustration.


Rainie giggled. "What does that have to do with anything?"


Bemused, I rolled my eyes as I applied pressure to the ice pack on my lip. "We're not dating," I confirmed. "She has a boyfriend, anyway."


She shrugged. "Does it bother you?"


"No."


I didn't like where this conversation was going. I wanted it to end.


Rainie stretched out her legs. "Well, if you ever decide to go for it... then just know that I approve."


I frowned. When would I ever decide to ‘go for it'? Pep had a boyfriend, so it's not like I even had a chance, if I wanted to. Then again, Rainie had a boyfriend, and I wanted her. Maybe she was insinuating that I should give her a shot. Fuck Jesse McCartney.


I heard Pep shout out my name as the players whizzed past, but I couldn't be bothered to look. Gradually, I turned my head towards Rainie and studied her side profile. She was so hot. And her shirt was so low-cut; I was surprised I wasn't foaming at the mouth. She caught my gaze after a moment or two and looked at me expectantly.


"I'm actually interested in someone else," I told her quietly.


For a few solemn moments, the world was just me and her. I caught her; she didn't know how to answer. I think she was smart enough to know what I was implying. Everything else faded away as I anticipated her response. I thought I had a chance. I really, really did.


Before I knew it, my head hit the ground with a ‘thump'. It felt like I'd just been hit with an anvil, and somewhere up above, Yosemite Sam was shooting his guns in the air in triumph having finally caught Bugs Bunny.


"Joe!" Camilla cried in shock.


"Nick!" Rainie exclaimed at the same time. She leaned over me. "Are you okay? Nick, are you awake?"


I think I felt her hand on my forehead, but the pain was so intense that I couldn't even relish the moment. Ow. I had a splitting headache. My eyes opened to the bright sunshine, blinding me.


"What was that?" I managed to ask.


Rainie looked apologetic. "Joe threw the football at your head."


Good God. If it was even possible for me to look like more of a pussy, then Joe pulled it off. I understood that a crowd was forming around me. Pep bent down to ask me if I was all right.


"What did you do that for?" Camilla demanded, and I heard a ‘smack' as she hit Joe on the arm.


"I ‘unno," Joe replied dumbly. "Pip kept calling his name. The jerk wasn't paying her any attention."


Well, I have news for you, Joe. Strike three, brother. Strike three.


I met Pep the first day we moved into our home in LA. It was a sad day, because we had to say goodbye to our lives in New Jersey and make a permanent home out of the entertainment capital of the world, but Pep made it a little better. And by ‘Pep', I mean her dog, Shep. 


It was funny. I've heard of cats who like to explore boxes, but I didn't know that certain dogs were also interested. Pep's dog, Shep, is one of them. He's a Collie and he probably weighs more than Pep. She was taking him for a walk in the neighbourhood as we were moving in; we had a ton of packed cardboard boxes on the driveway. He must have thought the boxes were empty, because he took off towards them, dragging Pep along behind him. There was a crash, and Pep yelled, and Shep barked. He destroyed a whole set of plates and a lamp.


Luckily I was inside the back of the moving truck at this point, watching the whole display from the perfect vantage point. It was great, especially because this tiny fire-head had no control over her beast of a dog.


Shep had tugged on the leash so hard that Pep's hand was bleeding, and naturally my mom made her sit in our new kitchen while she unpacked the box with the first aid kit. I was pretty impressed that she wasn't making a big deal out of being in our house; she was easily within our fan demographic. I realized later that at that point in time, she had no idea who we were (which was kind of insulting. Whatever, she listens to shit music).


Anyway, she hung around for a while with her bandaged hand and insisted on helping us unpack because she felt so bad about Shep's destruction. After a few minutes, my dad declared her ‘Pep', and the rest is history. She left that night, but she was back three days later with her paycheque, begging to pay us back for the dishes and the lamp. We cashed in the cheque and all was forgiven.


Kidding, we never took the cheque from her. But she was invited to stay for dinner. My dad said he liked her spunk. Joe said he liked the nickname we chose for her because it reminded him of his favourite moron from ‘Lord of the Rings', Pippin. Frankie said Joe was wrong; Pep was like Pippi Longstocking with her red hair. Kevin said he liked how Pep could keep up with him in conversation; they both talked at a mile-a-minute. And Mom said she liked her sense of obligation and responsibility. I don't know what I liked, but anyway, she and ol' Shep kept coming around after that, even when he slowed down because of his thyroid problems and stopped breaking so many of our expensive porcelain possessions.


And here we were, two and a half years later, sitting around a table for dinner just like Pep's first meal with us. Except this time it was her birthday meal, compliments of the Jonas family, and we were in North Carolina - which was apparently her first trip out-of-state. Her parents work too much; I guess they never made much time for family trips. I don't really blame them. It's understandable that they wouldn't want to travel anywhere with Pep. I can't imagine being stuck on a plane with her for a number of hours, or even worse, in a small car. She'd explode from lack of space to move.


We were still in the hotel, but we had some sort of private conference room to eat in. We had take-out food for dinner because we had to eat and run; we had a show to put on. I felt kind of bad for rushing Pep's birthday meal, but like I said earlier, she eats so fast it really wasn't an inconvenience to her at all.


While Mom and I were lighting the candles on the cake (that I picked out, by the way - who knew there were cake catalogues?! Fucking amazing), I heard Joe say to Pep at the table, "Nick is really proud of your cake for some reason, so you better pretend to like it no matter how bad it tastes."


I had lost count of Joe's strikes by this point, but he was well over ten.


"Ha!" Camilla laughed out loud. "Pep, save the top left-hand corner of the cake for Joe - he already took a noticeable chunk out of it this morning."


"Shh," Joe whispered shakily.


I knew my cake was delicious. (Side-note: Yet another strike for Joe). Once we were finished lighting the candles, I carried the cake to Pep's side and instigated a round of ‘Happy Birthday'. Kevin, whom I interrupted with my song while he was telling a story, felt the need to attempt to overpower our voices as he finished. This left him behind in the song, and as we finished, "Happy birthday to you," he added, "To you", very quietly.


Pep, eyes aglow, looked to me before blowing out the candles. "Wish," I encouraged her with a nod of my head. I don't know what she wished for, but she shut her eyes tightly and scrunched her nose for a moment before releasing a breath.


I'm sure the cake was delectable. I didn't get to enjoy it, because after I'd finished handing out slices to everyone, it was almost time to go. I meant to shovel down a slice on the road, but as soon as I held the paper plate in front of me and aimed to take a forkful, Frankie discharged a very messy sneeze all over it. My appetite declined immensely.


"How long has it been since I've gone to one of your shows?" Pep asked as we headed to the venue. She was twitching in the backseat beside me - well, maybe she wasn't twitching, but she was moving around a lot.


"I dunno," was my quick response as I stared out the window. I said it as fast as possible because I didn't want Kevin to hear from the front seat.


"You came to that one in April, didn't you? That show we had at the House of Blues?"


Kevin definitely heard. And now he was going to launch into some giant shitty-ass story that nobody wanted to hear.


"The one where we had Jordin Sparks, and we did a bunch of covers, and - oh, remember? Some girl threw her thong and it hit Nick in the face?"


Joe and Camilla burst out laughing. Thanks Kev. That's just great. Totally what I wanted to be reminded of before I went onstage again in an hour. (That thong was signed, too. Kind of gross. Kind of intriguing).


"Oh, I do remember that," Pep said thoughtfully. I could feel her glaring at me in disgust. "You didn't keep it, did you, Nick?"


"No," I mumbled. It's nice that my best friend thinks I'm some pervy underwear-hoard.


Although it had been confirmed that we were all there and we collectively recalled the events of that night, Kevin continued to prattle on anyway. Honestly, all I ask for is a ten-minute period of silence before a show. Ten fucking minutes!


Pep and Camilla grabbed their tickets as soon as we got there and went looking for Rainie, their companion. While Camilla and Joe had some couple-time for a minute or two, Pep gave me a wide grin and exclaimed, "Good luck!"


"Thanks. Have fun."


"Oh, I will," she winked at me. "I get to hang out with Mystery Girl."


I scowled. "Just keep your mouth shut. Don't say anything embarrassing about yourself, or, more importantly, about me."


"What?" She pretended to be offended. "I was going to talk you up!"


"Make it subtle," I instructed her.


"How about this: my friend Nick J is such a great guy, he invited me to North Carolina to watch his show, and he got me a delicious birthday cake. Man, I love that boy." She sighed dramatically before catching my eye. "That good?"


With a cynical raised eyebrow, I replied, "That should do."


"Got it, sergeant. Hey, don't play ‘A Little Bit Longer', okay? I don't want to cry in front of all my cool new friends."


I cracked a smile. "You've heard that one a million times."


"Don't do it, Nick, or I'll tell Rainie the thong story!" she threatened.


With a roll of my eyes and a shake of my head, I waved her off. I really hoped what she'd said was an empty threat, because that song was definitely on the play-list.


The show went well, and afterwards I grabbed Big Rob and tried to book it out of there as fast as humanly possible. I wanted to miss the after-performance discussion because I had to show Pep her birthday present, and I had to do it before I fell asleep. 


That's all I wanted, by the way. A little sleep. If someone had presented to me the option of Rainie, or a good night's sleep, there's no telling what I would have chosen. They were both equally tempting.


Unfortunately, Pep hit it off with Rainie and Camilla like childhood friends. They took their sweet time meandering backstage, giggling with one another and linking arms like schoolgirls. It was hot, and for a brief moment I let myself imagine some sort of orgy, but I had business to take care of.


I grabbed Pep's elbow and dragged her towards me. "Hey. You ready to go?" I asked quickly.


"Nick! You have no idea how many girls want to de-virginize you!" Pep yelled. She must have thought she was still in an audience of screaming girls, because the volume of her voice reached new heights. I felt my cheeks flushing a dark shade of red. Pep chuckled nervously, realizing that both my parents and Rainie were within hearing distance. Lowering her voice, she said, "Uh... I mean... do you?"


I groaned. "Can we go now?" I pleaded.


"Really, though, every time I see you guys perform I fall in love with you," Pep chattered away. "All of you. You're awesome. And Kevin did, like ten three-sixties in a row! And you sang that damn song, you idiot-" She punched me playfully in the arm. "-and I cried. Again. I'm such a fan-girl; it's embarrassing. I fit right in, though."


"Are you ready?" I repeated, interrupting whatever she was about to continue blabbering about.


"For what?" she asked innocently, snapping her gum in my face.


"I still haven't presented you with your birthday gift," I explained, far more patiently than she deserved. "And we have to drive to get it. So can you come with me?"


Pep looked torn. "But it's the fourth, Nick! They're having fireworks at the beach!"


Shit. Who the hell spilled the beans to the proton? That was exactly what I didn't want her to find out about; I knew she'd want to go.


"Fuck fireworks; you've seen ‘em before," I grumbled.


"But everyone's going!" she protested. She took a step towards me and mumbled into my ear, "Rainie's going."


"And Jesse's going," I mumbled back. "Do I really want to watch them act all cutesy?"


"Please?" Pep begged. "I love fireworks."


With a sigh, I gave in. After all, it was her birthday. At any other time, I would have flat-out refused. As I trailed behind her and the others, I checked my watch. 11:32. In the past forty-two hours, I had only had three-point-five hours of sleep. Jesus Christ. Really, it would be a miracle if I was able to stay awake through these bloody fireworks.


Well, fuck me silly. On a two-mile-long beach, Pep decided to set up camp for the fireworks directly behind Romeo and fuckin' Juliet (ie. Jesse and Rainie). There were bonfires and sparklers and American flags everywhere, but I didn't pay attention to any of that. I watched as Jesse stood behind Mystery Girl and threw his arms around her middle, hugging her close to him. I watched as she laughed and pecked him on the cheek. They shared a sickeningly sweet kiss. My stomach twisted. 


"Sparkler, Nick?" Pep's voice broke me out of my trance.


"Huh?" I asked. I rolled my eyes when I faced her. She would have found someone to give her a pile of sparklers. "Where did you get those?"


"That man was selling them for ten cents each," she replied nonchalantly, handing one to me. "Now, do you have a lighter?"


"Why yes, yes I do," I answered sarcastically. What the hell would I carry a lighter around for? My insatiable need for chain-smoking? All the bonfires I start up on a regular basis?


"No need to be saucy," she ‘tsked' with her tongue. "You had one earlier for lighting my cake."


"Why don't we channel some of the high-voltage electric currents from our high-tech stage effects?" I suggested dryly.


"Okay!" Pep exclaimed. She was about to take off at a run before I grabbed her wrist, pulling her back to me. I shook my head, not at all amused by her obliviousness. "Come on!" she urged. "I want to write my name in fire!"


"It's not fire, you little bumblebee," I teased. "You really think you'd have to pay money for fire on a stick? It's sparks."


"Get me some fire, Nick," she pouted.


I pointed her in the direction of one of the many bonfires on the beach, rolling my eyes. God, I need smarter friends. Pep didn't feel slighted in the least. With an excited, "Oh!" she took off.


I turned my attention back to Jesse and Rainie. They were millimetres apart, about to start a full-on make-out session when the fireworks started. I had never been so relieved, and I didn't even realize that I had been holding my breath. As long as I never had to witness them locking lips, Rainie was still pure to me.


Big bursts of light illuminated the sky, and even I had to admit that the fireworks were impressive. They were colourful and loud and big. I stuffed my sparkler-stick into my pocket before folding my arms across my chest and angling my head towards the sky. Pep snuck up on me so quietly I didn't even know she was there until minutes later, when she spoke.


"Sometimes it's like they're coming at you so fast, and they're so close. You have to shrink back even though you know they're not going to touch you," she remarked gently.


I was surprised by how calmly she made this observation, but she was right. I don't think she knew that I had acknowledged her statement.


"It's like..." she continued, as if she was having a conversation all to herself, "It's like, sometimes people come at you so fast and so suddenly you don't know how to take it, even though you know it'll never amount to anything."


I frowned as I stared at the sky. I didn't know what this was supposed to mean. Maybe she'd accidentally sparkled her brain while she was writing her name.


Everyone clapped when the show ended. Jesse and Rainie gave each other one glorious kiss. I scowled and yawned at the same time.


"Okay!" Pep exclaimed, back to her usual bubbly self. "Ready to go?"


"Maaah," I replied. I didn't mean to release my sheep-noise at her, I really didn't. I was just so damn tired. "Yeah. Let me get a hold of Big Rob."


I pulled my phone out of my pocket and got in contact with the big guy, asking him to meet Pep and I not too far from the beach.


"Let's go," I told her.


The sand made walking a chore for a while, but we finally reached grass and then the road, and walking became easier. I realized that I probably should have told my mom I was going to be back late, so I pulled out my phone to send her a dutiful text message (because I'm an excellent son). I lagged a little behind Pep as she bounced along until she drew her right leg up with a hiss, crying, "Ah!"


I looked up from the screen of my phone, my eyes taking a moment or two to adjust to the darkness before us. "What?"


She hopped around on one foot, bringing her other close to her face to analyze it. Her beachy dress was short - typical Pep. No shame as her dress hiked up around her waist. I rolled my eyes. She was like a six-year-old. It was a wonder she hung out with me more than she hung out with Frankie.


"I stepped on something!" she said, and all of a sudden, she sounded breathless, like the pain was too much to bear.


"What?" I repeated. I took a step forward. "Let me see."


I held her ankle for her as I attempted to examine her foot, but the darkness made it hard to see. I shone the light from the screen of my cell phone onto her skin, and it was then that I saw blood.


"Ss," she hissed alongside a sharp intake of breath. "It hurts."


"Yeah, you stepped on something. I hope it wasn't glass," I said casually. I didn't want her to freak out or anything. Girls have the tendency to panic at the faintest sign of any physical harm. "Well, I'm sure Big Rob will have a first aid kit in the car."


I turned back to my phone to continue typing my text message, when suddenly I was hit with a thought. "Wait a second, why the hell don't you have your shoes on?"


She held her flip-flops in her hand. She shrugged. "Nobody but Nick Jonas wears shoes on a beach."


"Are we on the beach anymore?" I demanded. I stomped my foot on the ground a few times, making sure she could hear the sound of the sole of my shoe colliding with the pavement.


"I like feeling the grass squish between my toes," was her lame excuse.


I sighed. "You're a strange little smurf. Okay, Big Rob is waiting just up the road."


I began to pick up the pace, making a mental note to try texting Mom again when I was inside the car. When I couldn't hear her short little breaths behind me, I turned around. Pep wasn't complaining, but she was hopping along on one leg, holding her extra flip-flop. What a trooper, my dad would say.


"Ugh," I groaned. I waited until she'd caught up to me and I leaned down. "Okay, spitfire. Hop on."


"It's okay," she assured me, jumping in place.


"Get the fuck on, Pepper," I ordered, my voice void of good-humour. We had places to go and I wanted to get to bed before sunrise, preferably.


"You know, you just ruined it," she grumbled.


"Ruined what?" I questioned as she attached her hands around my shoulders and wrapped her legs around my waist.


As I plodded along with Pep on my back, she responded, "You were almost a knight in shining armour there, Nick J. You were so close, and then you had to go and ruin it."


As if that was a bad thing.


"I like to stay true to my character," I answered offhandedly. "Wouldn't you prefer me to be myself, rather than someone I'm not?"


I was sure I felt her arms tighten around my neck. "Uh huh," she agreed, her breath tickling my ear. "For some reason, I like you just the way you are."

End Notes:

Mark Darcy, anyone? Bridget Jones? I like you just the way you are? Love that book/movie.


Anyway, yes you WILL get to find out shortly what Nick's "birthday present" to Pep is. The thing is, it was nearing Day 112 as they were watching the fireworks - so I had to break it into two chapters. Plus this one was super long anyway. Like double the usual size! Next one will probably be long too. But then there will be some short ones. Just a warning :) 


I was pretty sure that I had something else to say in my author's note, but now I can't remember what it is and it's bugging me. Maybe I wanted to credit something in this chapter? Maybe there was a song reference I wanted to give you a link to? I can't remember. Anyway, I'll give you a link to a beautiful song in the next chapter, and it will also be chalk-full of HP references. (As usual). 


I love you alllllll thank you for the wondrous reviews, they are certainly brightening my gloomy week! 

Day 112: Breakfast Fiend by The archive

Day One Hundred and Twelve.


The clock struck midnight as we climbed into the car. Big Rob began to drive - he knew where he was going - as Pep propped her injured foot on my lap and leaned her head against the window, watching me as I worked. It's a good thing she was with me when it happened, because I'm a real man and can handle the sight of blood. If she was with Joe, she'd be fucked. He'd faint.


I had the light on in the backseat as I cleaned the blood away and examined the sole with a frown. I lifted her leg towards the light to get a better look, careful not to look up her dress. If this was Rainie whose foot was on my lap, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have snuck a glance. When you have a friend of the opposite sex, however, you gotta set boundaries. You just have to.


"As far as I can tell, there's nothing stuck in there," was my diagnosis. "You just stepped on something sharp, and now it's bleeding profusely."


Pep dug through the first aid kit and handed me a large band-aid. I had the honour of placing it gently over her cleaned wound. Then I patted her calf, which was my way of telling her to get her damn leg off me.


"So where are we going?" she asked me.


I shrugged teasingly.


"Come on. We're already on the way! I'll already be surprised!"


"We're going to a beach," I answered.


"What? Nick, we were just at a beach!" Pep cried in confusion. "Why couldn't we stay there with all the people?"


"Because!" I replied, unwilling to give her more information. Her frown frustrated me, so I had to elaborate somehow. "Okay, you know how I have relatives from around here?"


She nodded.


"Well, I've been to this place before. And it has to be this beach. And there can't be people around - well, there can, but there can't be all the flashing lights and the city vibe. It just won't work."


"Are you going to propose to me?" she asked calmly.


From the driver's seat, Big Rob howled with laughter.


I sighed, a bemused expression on my face. "No, Pepper. I'm not proposing to you."


"Asking me to Prom?"


"Do I attend a regular high school?" I returned.


"Asking me to my Prom?"


I shook my head in irritation. "Can you just shut up and stop interrogating me? I'll let you know what it's all about when we get there."


Good lord. This was a lesson learned for me. Never do anything half-decent for a girl; she totally takes the kind gesture and runs with it. Even little tomboyish Pep has a wild romantic side. Gag me.


Pep got the hint that I wanted to be left to my thoughts, so she kept quiet for the remainder of the ride. I think that's the distinct difference between Pep and Kevin. They can both chatter away to anyone they meet off the street about anything on God's green earth for hours on end with no signs of stopping. However, if one were to tell Pep to shut up, she would. Kevin, on the other hand, would take that as a sign that you were listening to his ramblings, and it would only encourage him. I think it means that Pep is a better listener. She talks, but she listens, too. I appreciate it.


It took us approximately twenty more minutes to get there, and in those twenty minutes I took a cat-nap. The roads were a little bumpy and my neck was sore, but it was worth it for some well-deserved shut-eye.


"How long are you planning to take?" Big Rob asked through the open window of the driver's seat. Pep was already scrambling down the slope to the beach.


I scratched the back of my neck. I hadn't really planned this out. "Hmm. Fifteen minutes? No, maybe half an hour?" Hell, for all I knew, it could take thirty seconds and we'd be out of there. "... an hour?"


"Alright. I'm going to find a coffee joint. Ring me when you want me," he replied. I nodded. Before he drove away, he shouted out the window, "And don't get into mischief, kid. I told Denise I'd keep an eye on you."


"Do I get into mischief?" I asked him with a grin. Jeez, that's a line he should deliver to Joe or Frankie - not me.


Before joining Pep on the beach, I took a breath of fresh country air. I'd always liked it here. It was peaceful and you could hear crickets at night.


"I like it here," Pep said as soon as I joined her. My thoughts exactly.


"It's nice," I agreed shortly. I paused, thinking of a creative way to present this to her without being sappy or gay or cliché. "Okay, cover your eyes."


"What?"


"Just do it. Don't peek."


"No! You're gonna run away or-"


"Oh, don't even," I groaned. "This is important. Do it."


That seemed to be good enough rationale for her. She placed her palms flat over her eyes, and I waved a hand in front of her face to make sure she wasn't peeking. When I was satisfied, I instructed, "Now lie down."


"In the water?"


Ugh. Girls are so effing difficult and nitpicky. I placed my hands on her shoulders and guided her backwards a few steps. "Now," I ordered. As she began to take a seat, I added, "And keep your eyes covered!"


When she was flat on her back, I lay down beside her and settled my hands underneath the back of my head. "Okay, okay. You can look now."


She let her hands fall to her sides and immediately let out a breathy, "Ha!"


I smiled to myself. That's all I wanted to hear.


The night was black; just as black as it would be anywhere else in the world. But here, on this little secluded beach in rural North Carolina, you could see all the stars in the sky. And it was pretty damn cool.


"This is why I had to come to North Carolina?" Pep asked, her voice squeaking.


"Mm hmm," I replied.


She didn't respond, so I took a second to glance at her. She was flat on her back, staring at the illuminated blackness above, her expression a mixture of awe and confusion. I wondered if she was upset.


"You said you'd never seen a sky full of stars," I said in my own defence. I know I didn't spend thousands of dollars on her like celebrities are supposed to, but fuck. I thought she didn't care about shit like that.


She shook her head. "I haven't. Not like this. Not even close."


I rocked my head back and forth slowly, waiting for her to elaborate, but she remained silent. It kind of pissed me off; it was one of those rare moments that I actually wanted to talk. Still, I wouldn't make any further attempts to initiate conversation if she didn't want me to. I turned my head back to the sky and listened to the crickets. It was nice to hear them for a night; but I imagined living in this place. I would go fucking insane. I'd have cricket-traps set all over the damn place. Those things never shut up. They're worse than Kevin, and that's saying something.


"You think that's the Big Dipper?" Pep asked suddenly, pointing to a cluster of stars.


"I don't know," I answered, trying my best to seem contemplative, like I knew what I was looking for. Stars are cool, but I'm no astronomer. I probably couldn't identify a Big Dipper if there was one. It's like this album my mom has at home; it's a baby book of the four of us. She has pictures that were taken when she went for ultrasounds, and she shows them to us and points out our legs and arms and shit. I can't see anything.


"Remember in Lion King, when Mufasa says stars are great kings of the past?"


"Yep," I replied with a quizzical frown.


"What do you think?"


What did this have to do with anything? "That sucks if it's true."


"How come?"


"What constitutes a ‘great' king?" I questioned. "It's not fair that they're the only guys who get to be up there. I'd rather turn into a star when I die instead of letting fucking raccoons feast away at my corpse underground, but apparently I don't have the option."


Pep chuckled. "You're so deep sometimes. I don't think you'll have to worry about raccoons."


"Damn straight. If I die before I make a will, make sure everyone knows I want to be cremated."


"No, I mean... never mind," she giggled.


I sighed. "I think stars are just fire. That's all they are, and they burn out sometimes."


"And it really doesn't make you think of how small we are? Not even with a sky like this?" She was utterly perplexed.


Grinning, I turned my head in her direction. "Pep, when I'm within ten feet of you, I never feel small." In fact, sometimes I feel too giant. I'm not even a tall guy to begin with. But I have big hands, for the record. Just... yes. I do, I swear.


She locked eyes with me, and for a minute, I worried that she'd taken my last words in entirely the wrong way. There was no hidden meaning; I meant exactly what I said.


Eventually, she gave me a crooked smile. "You're sweaty."


There. That made things less uncomfortable. Thanks, pipsqueak.


"You try playing a show for two hours in 80-degree weather wearing jeans," I returned.


She sat up, leaning over me. "I think you should go for a swim."


I let my cheeks fill with air before exhaling, lightly breathing on her face. "I think you're nuts."


Pep laughed, hopping into a standing position. "Nuts? When was the last time you went swimming?" I didn't answer, and she continued, "Well, I'm going."


I groaned. Ugh, I should've known she wouldn't be able to sit still for more than two minutes. I sat up just as she was tearing off her dress, and I immediately covered my eyes with a cry of distress. "No!" I cried, my hand firmly clapped over my face, "It's too dark! What if there are angry fish in there?!"


"You said you've been here before," Pep replied nonchalantly. "Is it safe?"


Still covering my eyes, I stood up and pleaded, "Please don't go in."


"I'm hot," was her answer. "I won't go too far." I heard her wading into the water.


"I told Big Rob I'd be safe!" I exclaimed.


There was a large splash, and I was forced to remove my hand from my eyes to make sure she was still alive. It was dark; but I could see her head bobbing above the water. People never fucking listen to me. It pisses me off because almost always, the things I say are valid. I don't waste words on things that don't matter.


"You're a pussy, Nick," she called, treading water not too far out. "It's warm!"


I bit my lip and glanced behind me - for some reason, I was sure Big Rob was watching us with binoculars from far away, reporting every move to my mother. When I became conscious of my innermost fear, I realized that Pep had a point: I was being a pussy. God, this was pathetic. I couldn't let a girl upstage me.


With that mindset, I discarded my shoes, socks, pants and shirt beside Pep's clothing and ran into the water, diving into my own waves at the last minute. It was warm. And refreshing. When I emerged from underwater, shaking the drips out of my hair, Pep was cheering.


"There. Now don't you feel better?" she asked, somersaulting in the water before expecting my answer.


"If your leg gets bitten off by a shark, I'm not saving you," I warned her. She only laughed. I continued, "Seriously, you're on your own. This was your idea, and if anyone asks, you dragged me in despite my protests."


"Oh, they'll definitely believe that. I mean, I am so much bigger and stronger than you," she giggled.


I suppose I hadn't considered that. I'd be up to my knees in shit if my mother found out. To avoid replying, I dunked my head underwater again. When I re-emerged, Pep was floating on her back, staring at the sky.


"It really is amazing," she said softly.


I stared at her for a moment before swimming towards the beach, eager to feel the sand beneath my feet again. I waded to shore, contemplating using my shirt as a towel. It probably wouldn't help much. I just had to hope that no one noticed that I was sopping wet when we got back to the hotel.


Once I was dressed and Pep had climbed out of the water, I averted my eyes and busied myself by calling Big Rob for a pick-up.


"I like this place, Nick," Pep told me as soon as I'd shoved my phone into my (wet) pocket.


I nodded in agreement, taking one last look at the stars in the sky. Pep did the same.


"You think you'll retire in a place like this?" she asked innocently.


I snorted with laughter, shaking my head. "I don't really think about retiring."


"If you had to, would you consider this place?"


"I'd consider this place," I repeated. I was sure Rainie would appreciate living on a beach. Girls like beaches.


"You better invite me to visit," Pep said threateningly.


I chuckled again. "Well, where will you live?"


"Hmm. I don't know!" she replied, following me up the hill and towards the road. "Maybe I'll just follow you wherever you go."


"You can baby-sit my kids," I suggested. Pep likes kids; she'll always be one.


"I'm not baby-sitting your curly-haired loser kids," she retorted almost immediately. "I'll have my own kick-ass kids."


"I'll pay you," I offered.


"Forty bucks an hour."


"Fine, but no TV or video games."


"Fine."


We shook on it just as the car pulled up. Done and done.


It was one-thirty by the time we got back to the hotel. I sleepily walked Pep to her room down the hall, and I couldn't have been more excited to rest my eyes. It was disheartening that I had to be awake at eight to take Pep back to the airport before we departed for Georgia, but I could sleep on the bus if need be.


My nap in the car on the way back had left me groggy, and I barely recognized that Pep was hugging me until she squeezed.


"You're the greatest, Nick J," she said. As she pulled away, she smiled and admitted, "I think today was the best day of my life."


I returned the smile. "It better be. I've been awake for two fucking days and I embarrassed myself in front of Rainie and I risked getting eaten by a shark and/or getting bitched out by my mom if she found out."


Pep laughed. "Thank you."


"Only for you, twerp." With one hand in my pocket, I lightly tweaked her on the nose with my other. "I'll see you in the morning."


I'm lucky I was able to find my room. My vision was blurry and my eyes were fighting to roll back in my head. Christ. It took so much effort rip off my damp shirt and jeans that I considered falling asleep exactly as I was. It was only when I'd put on a fresh pair of boxers and stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, that I realized I was alone in the room. Joe hadn't come back yet from wherever he was. With Camilla, possibly? Fuck it; it took too much effort to care. I could only hope that he hadn't been kidnapped and murdered, and if he had... well, fuck him, I needed my rest before I dealt with shit like that.


On my way out of the bathroom, there was a knock on the door. I groaned inwardly before opening it. It was Kevin.


Fuck my life.


Without waiting for an introduction, he pranced into the room and took a seat in the desk chair, followed a few moments later by our band-mates. Lord have mercy. They launched into a discussion of the night's events. I wondered why they couldn't have done this without me or Joe, but apparently at least two out of three brothers were required for group discussions at all times. (Side-note: strike forty-something for Joe. I desperately hoped that wherever he was, he was having less fun than me. It hardly seemed possible, but I clung onto anything I could).


I think I was so preoccupied with the shock of their demanding presence that Kevin and the band were already well into discussion by the time I announced loudly, "I'm tired."


Everyone stared at me as if I'd broken the solitude of a sacred séance.


"Quit being such a princess, Nick," Kevin said, jumping right back into conversation.


Accio nunchucks. I had some big-brother ass to kick.


I would've just laid on my bed and gone to sleep anyway if it wasn't for that rude comment. If I wasn't so wary of the lot of them playing a variety of pranks on me while I slept. But I knew those guys, and I knew they would torment me in my sleep, so I forbade myself from sitting down. To keep myself awake (though just barely), I stood against the wall.


It was three in the morning by the time those shitheads left. Joe still hadn't returned. I still didn't care. I crawled into bed and turned out the light, groaning as I closed my eyes and sunk immediately into a deep slumber.


It felt like I'd been out for about three minutes when there was a series of loud knocks on the door. I was going to ignore it, but Joe mumbled, "Stop... stop it... make it stop..." from the bed beside mine, and I realized that he had, at some point, come home. I had probably been asleep for longer than I thought. The curtains on the window were closed, so there was no telling what time it was. I rolled out of bed and turned on the lamp, checking the time.


Five-oh-seven a.m.


... what the fuck.


I stumbled towards the door, thinking this must be some kind of emergency. It had better be, because I was in no mood to play games. Upon standing, I had come to the realization that my body was sore as hell from playing football the day before. And my head hurt; maybe I was getting a bruise from where Joe threw the football at me. And my lip felt too big for my face. And my eyes were probably bloodshot because it pained me to open them. Yeah, yeah, ‘Princess Nick' me all you want - I was in motherfucking agony and I'd bitch about it if I wanted to.


When I saw little Pep standing in front of me at the door in her pajamas, I opened it a little wider and sniffled, holding the doorknob with one hand and rubbing my eyes with the other.


"Hi," she said quietly. And brightly. Far too brightly for five in the morning. "I know you're really tired, and I'm sorry for bothering you, but would you mind if I slept in here?"


I continued rubbing my right eye with a frown. I was so confused. I meant to ask her why, but it came out as, "Hum-uh-na." Articulate, Nick. Remember to articulate.


She took a step towards me, whispering, "Jesse and Rainie have been fighting for over an hour in the room beside mine."


Even while half-dead, this piqued my curiosity. "Abow wha'?" (About what?)


She shrugged. "It's not important, but they're really loud, and I can't sleep."


I took a deep breath, making sure she knew how annoyed I was, and then I held open the door for her. She stepped inside, making a point to remain as quiet as possible. I really wanted her to tell me what Mystery Girl and Dream Street boy had been fighting about, but I was so tired I couldn't focus. Instead, I shut and locked the door and made my way back to my bed. I sat there for a minute, trying to mathematically figure out how long I had been asleep (it was a simple two hours, but my brain wasn't working properly), and Pep began to drag a chair across the room.


"What are you doing?" I demanded in a hushed voice.


"Putting two chairs together so I can sleep," she whispered back.


I rolled my eyes (which took a lot of effort. Hopefully she appreciated the added dramatic effect). "Stop. Just... get in. I don't care." I motioned to the other side of the bed.


She raised an inquisitive eyebrow as she paused, considering. I didn't see what there was to consider; I hadn't given her an option. I gave her a look that read, all at once, ‘Are you a fucking moron? Get in before I kick you out. You're irritating me, and I have not the mental strength at the moment to contain my anger.' That did it.


Pep tiptoed to the other side of the bed and climbed in, her back to me. I waited until she had put her head on the pillow before I turned my back to her as well and flicked off the lamp. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her to elaborate on Jesse and Rainie's argument, but I swear, before I could spit out the words, I was out like a light once more.


You know what blows? When you're so over-tired, you can't sleep. The next time I opened my eyes and checked the clock, it was a quarter to seven. I tried so hard to fall back to sleep, but for some reason, it wasn't written in the stars, dammit.


I rolled over, thinking that switching positions might help, and I realized that I was face-to-face with Pep. Until then, I had completely forgotten that she was there. I had to stop and watch her for a second. It was weird; I'd never seen her so still. It's a strange thing to notice about someone - how motionless they are - but Pep's not normal, and it's easy to notice things like that about her.


Eyes closed, she asked softly, "Are you awake?"


"Mm," I grunted in reply.


With a sleepy smile, she opened her eyes halfway. "Sorry I woke you up last night."


"S'fine."


"How come you're up so early?"


"I dunno." I blinked a few times to adjust to the light. While she snuggled further into the blankets, I inquired, "What were Rainie and Jesse fighting about?"


She yawned, answering, "Nothing."


I growled under my breath. "You can't just barge into my room at five a.m. and not give me details."


"Since when are you such a gossip girl?" she returned.


I did sound like that fucking gossip girl. "Ex oh ex oh," I told her while keeping a straight face. "What's the scoop?"


Pep sighed. "You'll hate me if I tell you."


"I'll hate you if you don't." What could be so bad about it? There was trouble in paradise, and I couldn't be happier. The sooner they broke up, the sooner I could advance. And trust me, I was ready to advance. I had only been planning it out in my mind for one hundred and twelve days, for crying out loud.


"Fine," she said, throwing her cautions to the wind. "They weren't fighting, dummy, they were having really loud sex."


Oh.


Pep must have noticed the way my face fell the instant she said it, because she added in a whisper, "I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you. You'd be happier not knowing."


That was for sure. Still, I couldn't lash out at Pep - I specifically asked her to tell me. God, this was heart-wrenching. How could someone who was in that disgustingly sweet boy band attract someone as beautiful and as clever and as wonderful as Rainie? It didn't make sense. Was he even that attractive? I couldn't say; I'm entirely heterosexual.


"Is Jesse really hot?" I asked with woe, my cheek smashed into my pillow.


Pep appeared torn. On one hand, she was in love with that douchecock, and on the other, she didn't want to send me into a spiral of depression.


"He's okay," she answered carefully. "Rainie probably gets along with him really well. Things are never boring with him because he's always travelling, and he's always working on different projects, and he's recognized everywhere he goes-"


"So am I!" I interrupted. Jeez, did she think she was talking to some Joe Schmoe?


"They're around the same age," she pointed out. "He can legally purchase alcohol, and cigarettes, and porn."


"Of course," I said sarcastically. "It's the porn that got her, isn't it?"


Pep rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean."


I pouted.


She took another breath before smiling sympathetically. "I know you like this girl, but... but maybe if you spent time apart from her and started dating other girls, this infatuation would fade. And maybe she's not the one for you, anyway. There are tons of girls who want to date you. There are girls who have dated you and who would date you again in a heartbeat."


"Can I have one conversation about my love life without someone bringing up Miley?" I demanded.


"I'm sorry," she giggled. "But it's true. You're a catch, Nick J, like you said. So... just let someone else catch you."


Fucking Pep and her stupid advice. This was just making me feel worse.


"What if you gave that Kendall girl a chance?" she suggested.


"What if I shot myself in the face?" I deadpanned.


"I'm serious."


"She lives in New York," I said sulkily. When I realized what I was saying, I added quickly, "And she's fucking insane."


"Well... I don't know. You can get anyone you want, Nick," Pep finished with a sigh. She held my gaze as she asked, "Why do you want Rainie?"


Pep's eyes are blue, and they scare me sometimes. In fact, all colourful eyes kind of give me the creeps. I like brown eyes because you can't see through them. Blue-eyed people look possessed, and when you find yourself in bed beside one, it's difficult to focus on the conversation at hand because you're afraid they might be trying to rip out your soul or something else demon-like.


"Nick?" Pep prodded gently.


Before I could respond, Joe mumbled in his sleep, "Quiet, Pip."


Thankfully, I didn't have to answer the question, because there was a knock on the door. Pep sprung out of bed to answer it, and it was like she'd never even slept at all. While she bounded towards the door, I rolled over to check the time - seven a.m. My wake-up call wasn't scheduled until eight, which meant that the only person who would knock on my door at seven a.m. would be -


"Hey, Rainie!" Pep exclaimed excitedly.


Joe groaned, shoving a pillow over his head to muffle the noise, and my eyes widened in panic. Shit. Usually I was up by this time and Rainie and I went for breakfast together. In my sleepy, brain-malfunctioning state, I had completely forgotten.


I don't know what I was thinking, but I felt that I should at least pretend that I had remembered, so I sprung out of bed and hopped in view of the door to give her a wave. I tried to seem as awake as possible as I greeted her with a, "Hey."


Rainie, breathtaking as always, looked utterly confused. It took a few moments before I figured out why. First of all, the last time I spoke to Rainie, I heavily implied that I was madly in love with her. Secondly, Pep answered the door in her pajamas, and I appeared behind her in nothing but my boxers. That was so, so unfortunate for me.


"Pep slept here last night," I said quickly. It was better to be honest. Or was it? Shit, probably not. "In the chair," I added. "She slept in the chair."


Pep raised a disapproving eyebrow, but she didn't correct me (thank God).


Rainie shrugged. "That's... cool. Sorry for bothering you."


"No!" I cried. I didn't want to let her get away; I didn't want her to retreat to her room and have loud sex with Jesse again. I had to keep her away from him. "If you give me - us - five minutes, we'll go for breakfast."


Damn that little proton, always an inconvenience.


"If you want to," Rainie shrugged again, like it didn't matter to her.


Well, it mattered to me. "Yep," I affirmed. "I'll - we'll - meet you at the elevator in five."


She was probably building a wall to protect herself because she thought I was a playboy. No, Rainie, no!


Before Pep left to go to her room to change, she eyed me and said dryly, "Gee, that was mighty nice of you to include me, Nick."


"Thank me later," I said hurriedly. I was about to close the door on her when I noticed just how unimpressed she was. "Oh, come on," I breathed. "You'd do the same to me if that was fuckin' Lance coming to call, wouldn't you?"


Then again, if Lance was gay like I suspected, Pep would again be a third wheel. Heh. Sucks to be her.


"You're an asshole," she replied. She turned on her heel and began to march towards her room.


I stuck my head out the door and called after her, "You're still invited! Okay - fine, walk away, but be ready in five minutes!"


It rightly pissed me off to see Joe snoozing in bed as I hurried around him, preparing myself. I snapped my fingers in his face, and when I was certain he was sound asleep, I opened his suitcase and searched through the pockets on the side for eye-drops. I was pretty sure he used them for when his eyes got dry or something from the contact lenses... alas, I couldn't find any. Dammit. I wanted my bloodshot eyes to go away. What kind of girl falls in love with a guy who looks perpetually stoned at seven in the morning?


Ugh. In any case, I ran a washcloth over my face and slipped on my favourite pair of jeans for good luck. God knows I needed it.


Jesus. Loud sex? Was that a good thing or a bad thing? As a virgin (fuck), I wouldn't know. On one hand, loud sex could mean they were enjoying themselves immensely. I mean, that's the kind of vibe they give off in pornos and stuff. Not that I watch porn; I don't have time. Also I wouldn't know where to find it. I would try Google; you can find anything there.


Besides the point. Maybe the sex was loud because they weren't enjoying it. That was possible, right? "Stop! Stop, you bastard! Take it out!"


... shit. Loud sex definitely means one thing only.


Maybe Pep was wrong and they weren't having loud sex at all. Maybe they were grunting and groaning and crying out in ecstasy because they were rearranging furniture or something. Cling, Nick, cling desperately to any shred of hope you can find.


When Pep answered her door, freshly dressed and ready to face the day as always, I immediately asked her in a low voice, "So what exactly were they saying?"


"Hmm? Who?" she inquired as she joined me in the hallway.


"You know... J-Mac and Mystery Girl," I replied, shielding my mouth so that even if Rainie were standing in front of me, she couldn't read my lips.


Pep threw up her hands in horror. "No! I'm not going to discuss that!"


"Please?" I requested in a small voice.


"No. Nick, that's disgusting. Get a life."


"I'll buy you breakfast," I offered.


She scoffed. "You were buying me breakfast anyways."


"I'll buy you one of those lame hairstyle magazines to read on the plane home," I tried again.


She rolled her eyes. "You know, Nick, not all girls are the same."


I shrugged. "Yeah, I know," I answered matter-of-factly. "If all girls were the same, I wouldn't have to ask you what went down last night, because I'd know the sounds she made due to my unintentional overhearing of Joe and Camilla dry-humping through the-"


"Sick!" Pep interrupted, sticking out her tongue in distance. Lowering her voice, she divulged, "Uh... I don't know. He said her name a lot. And then she said ‘yes'."


I scrunched up my nose in distaste. "Was that all?"


"Right there."


"Right there - that was all?"


"Right there - that's what she said."


"Huh?"


"Like... ‘oh, yes! Right there!'" Pep cried.


With the kind of shitty luck the world hands me daily on a silver platter, I hardly even feel it's necessary to mention that Rainie materialized out of nowhere at that moment in time.


This was the second time I had ever experienced what it was like to ‘die inside'. On the outside, however, I laughed nervously and pushed the button on the elevator.


"Right there!" I repeated frantically. "Right there... there's the button."


Rainie smiled cynically, like she knew there was something we were trying to hide. I didn't want her thinking that. I didn't want her thinking Pep and I shared any sort of bond at all. It would have been so much easier if my best friend was a guy. Then again, Rainie might start to assume I swung in that direction, and that would screw me over even more.


As soon as we walked into the elevator and I glimpsed myself in a mirror, I realized that I had forgotten to take care of one very crucial aspect of my appearance. I had been so focused on ridding my eyes of their redness that I had completely forgotten to tame my hair. Obviously the one morning I didn't have time to shower just happened to be the morning that I had massive bed-head.


Perfect. Thanks, world. You win this round.


Round two: breakfast.


It went surprisingly well at first. Apparently Pep and Rainie had bonded at the concert the previous night (and to be honest, I wasn't sure if I liked that idea), and they spoke comfortably with one another. They proceeded to laugh at me as I received my daily phone call from Kendall, who, as usual, asked me what I was wearing. The worst part was probably when she called me ‘baby doll' upon ending the conversation. Really, Kendall... if you had even a sliver of a chance before, you just destroyed it all.


Within ten minutes, however, I realized something. If Pep was mad at me for almost excluding her earlier, she was most certainly getting her revenge. While I spent the majority of my efforts containing my clown-hair and struggling to keep my tired head from crashing into my bowl of cereal, Pep carried on an amiable conversation with Rainie. Once I had propped my head on my hands and rubbed what had to have been the last bit of sleep out of my eyes, I observed the two of them as they interacted.


Pep made Rainie smile. Even if she wasn't saying anything funny, Rainie had this hint of a grin on her face, probably because Pep is just one huge, blinding ray of light (what's that called? A photon? Figures - the proton is a photon), and you can't help but love her. Ugh, I was jealous of my own best friend for her ability to woo the object of my affection better than I could.


Then again, maybe Rainie was more interested in Pep because Pep is a girl. Day by day, I worried more and more that Rainie wasn't into guys. We had eaten breakfast together every day for a week, and even though I was sure she was playing some sort of cruel, taunting game with me, I wasn't entirely convinced that she was interested. I still held firmly to the notion that just because she had loud sex with Jesse, it didn't mean she enjoyed it. I've read tons of yahoo! articles claiming that girls often fake it (which, by the way, is really insulting and adds to the already large amount of stress and fear that accompanies losing your virginity).


"So he told me to lay down on the beach and then he laid beside me and told me to uncover my eyes, and when I opened them all I could see was a sky full of stars. It was so cool." While she was speaking, Pep casually took a slice of toast and jam from my plate and started eating. I glared at her. Fuckin' breakfast fiend.


Rainie placed a hand over her heart and glanced at me. "That's the sweetest thing I've ever heard."


I blinked, forcing myself to join reality once more. Wait, what were we talking about?


"Then we went swimming in the ocean. Nick was scared, but I made him," Pep said proudly, sipping on her orange juice and licking her thumb clean of jam.


Oh, fuck. Here I was drifting off to dreamland like Dopey the dwarf while Pep told Rainie everything right under my nose. That conniving little elf!


"Nick," Rainie gushed, "I had no idea you were a romantic. You hide it well."


"Whoa," I said immediately, unable to let this go without an intervention. "Let's not jump to conclusions, here."


Though she smiled, Pep suddenly looked uncomfortable beside me. Bitch. How could she knowingly do this to me?


"I'm not! I think it's cute," Rainie announced.


I loathe that word with the fire of a thousand suns.


"No," I replied. I didn't really have any more to say than that, but I felt it was necessary to elaborate. "It was nothing. The concert was over, we had nothing better to do... I was hot, anyway. I wanted to go swimming."


Okay, so I had the beach thing planned out for a while. Okay, so I lied to Rainie. But come on - work with me here. Rainie thought this was romantic (barf), which couldn't be further from the truth. The last thing I wanted was for her to think I had a thing for Pep. That I was interested in anyone besides her. Was it possible to make it clearer?


"Hey Pep, tell us about your boyfriend," I added quickly (just to be safe).


I don't know why Pep looked so pissed off, but she purposely took a large bite of my toast and glowered at me while chewing. What? Girls love talking about their boyfriends. They're all over that shit. It's like a competition to see who can snag the best one. It's pathetic, but if Rainie and Pep were about to get into some sort of cat fight over their men... well, that would be totally hot, plus it would detract attention from me, which was perfect. In conclusion, I don't at all regret angering Pep.


All in all, it was a very strategic move on my part. I was disappointed that Pep only shrugged and told us the basic facts of Lance (leaving out his sexual orientation - hmm, interesting. Hiding something, Pep?) I certainly didn't understand why she glared at me again when she had finished, as if it was my fault that she was dating this flamboyant schlep.


Fuck that. If anything, I should be furious with her for giving Rainie the wrong idea about us. It may have been her birthday party, but it didn't mean she could cry if she wanted to. Lesley Gore is a whiny bitch, and I'm sorry Pep, her words are inapplicable to real-life circumstances. So cut the shit, kid, and make me look good in front of my crush like a best friend is supposed to.


(In retrospect, I probably should have said this out loud - maybe it was best to get these kinds of things out on the table right away to avoid future conflicts).


By the time we made our way back to the rooms, it was almost time to take Pep to the airport. Surprisingly (and by ‘surprisingly' I mean ‘unfortunately'), Jesse was awake. My stomach clenched as I witnessed a very lovey-dovey exchange between him and Rainie.


I felt a tug from Pep, who had forgiven me already for whatever I had done wrong (I love that. Not having to apologize, never having to feel guilty about anything because her anger dissolves like salt in water. It's fantastic). It was a good thing we were on decent terms again, because if she hadn't pulled me around the corner, I probably would have stood there staring at the wonder-couple until the end of time.


"What exactly are you trying to do, Nick?" Pep questioned, hands placed authoritatively on her hips.


"What do you mean?"


I hate when people aren't specific when asking questions. They just assume that I've been paying attention to them all along and that I can easily make grand, be-all and end-all connections at the drop of a hat. Some people think they're so great that everyone hangs off their every word; never missing a beat. It drives me crazy. A person should consider themselves lucky if I listen to a quarter of what they say.


"You know what I mean," she replied, evidently unimpressed.


Again with the conceit. How the hell was I supposed to know what she meant when I had been ogling Rainie's cleavage for the past hour at the breakfast table?


I shrugged. I really had no clue. "Right now, I'm trying to get to my room to pack before we-"


"I mean what are you trying to do with Rainie?" she stressed, enunciating as though I was incapable of understanding otherwise. "Are you trying to befriend her? Are you trying to break up her and Jesse? Are you... what, Nick?"


I paused for a moment to weigh-in my response. "I'm not trying to break up her and Jesse. She can do that on her own after she realizes how desirable I am."


Pep laughed dryly (so unlike her). "That's what you're trying to do? You're trying to make yourself seem like the perfect guy for her?"


"Ouch. You say it like it's a challenge," I pointed out with a frown.


Pep sighed. "Really? Like... you really like this girl that much?!"


I glared at her. Duh.


Taking another deep breath, she glanced around the corner before swinging back, presumably to check if Rainie and Jesse were still there.


Before I knew it, she pressed her back to the wall and began moaning, "Oh! Oh, yes... harder, Nick... harder!"


Jesus effing Christ.


My jaw dropped to the ground and my eyes practically bulged out of their sockets as I witnessed the display in front of me. Before I could put an end to it, she - out of nowhere - used her knee to nudge me sharply in the groin.


I doubled over with a low grunt, and she continued to moan, "You like that? Oh... Nick J!"


Though getting kicked in the nuts is excruciating, I was able to channel all my pain into slapping a hand over her mouth, ending it all. When I heard footsteps approaching, I shoved both Pep and myself into the small slot of space beside the vending machine to conceal us, my hand firmly covering her mouth.


Damn you, proton from hell.


I kept her silent for over thirty seconds, shielding my already-bruised private area in case she decided to go nuts (literally) again. When I was finally convinced that everyone in the hallway had retreated to their rooms, I released Pep from captivity. It's hard to describe my expression at that point in time, and not having been able to see it in a mirror, I can only guess that it was by far the most incredulous, horrified ice-glare I have ever dished out to anyone, my brothers included. And that's saying something.


Pep assessed my reaction for a few moments before bursting into laughter as I fell against the wall, finally able to nurse the pain in my groin.


Pep is like Dobby, I decided then. Small, over-energized, and a huge shit-disturber. I'll admit that the little guy grew on me eventually, but fuck, he caused a whole lot of problems for Harry in the beginning. At least Dobby beat himself with lamps and shit after he made a mistake.


"You said you wanted to appear desirable," was her excuse. "I was just trying to help."


She really couldn't see the harm in what she'd done. Was it even worth explaining it to her?


Probably not. As I straightened my back, I instructed, "Next time, I'd appreciate some communication of your ideas before their execution."


She rolled her gleaming eyes. "Oh, fine," she grumbled good-naturedly. "You're no fun, Nick."


"You're enough fun for the both of us," I returned gruffly.


She giggled, skipping alongside me as I took long strides to my room. (I was cautious of running into Rainie after that humiliating display).


"Hey, can I get a picture with you before you leave?" Pep asked.


I stopped at her door to drop her off. "Yes," I agreed. "Pack your stuff first. We're meeting Big Rob in the lobby at 8:15."


"Aye aye," Pep saluted me, and I watched her walk into her room while shaking my head. She was undeniably hopeless, that was for sure.


We were early to the lobby, so Pep put her bags down and we chilled on the couch to wait for Big Rob. She took a digital camera out of her backpack. While she turned it on and dusted off the lens, I rested my arm on the back of the sofa and waited. She snapped a few of pictures of us both - she didn't like the first couple because I wasn't "smiling".


What's the deal with everyone wanting me to smile, anyway? I smile when I'm happy; I don't much like to force it even though my dad always tells us to ‘grin and bear it'. In fact, now that I think about it, it's probably his fault that Kendall has fallen so deeply in love with me. If I hadn't taken his damn advice, she might have taken the hint from me right off the bat. Shit. Apparently Pep's not the only one who blows when it comes to advice. Thanks a bunch, Dad.


"Want to see the pictures I took last night?" she offered while we lazed on the couch.


"Yeah."


She held the camera in front of us and began to flip through the slides. There were pictures of her and Rainie and Camilla in the crowd, pictures of the enormous crowd itself, and pictures of my brothers and I onstage. There were good ones, actually. I hadn't realized the girls had such prime seating; Pep managed to get a couple of close-ups of me.


"That one's my favourite," she said quietly, pausing on a zoomed shot of me at the piano, smiling widely - I couldn't be sure why I appeared so entertained; it may have been because Kevin had just done so many twirls that his legs had gotten horribly tangled in the cord connected to the amp. Yes, that was probably it. It was odd that Pep chose to take a picture of me instead of Kevin and his immense stupidity.


The elevator bell rang, and I looked up, expecting to see Big Rob. Instead, it was Rainie carting her own luggage through the lobby. I gawked at her beautiful figure for a moment or two, and when she finally looked my way, I self-consciously pulled my arm from around Pep's shoulders and kept it to myself. Woops. Wouldn't want her getting the wrong idea.


Rainie, however, barely seemed to notice. She waved goodbye to us before exiting the hotel, car keys in hand. Before she left, she wished Pep and her family good luck on the new baby. (Ha. That was actually funny).


"All ready?" Big Rob asked as he met us at the doors.


"Yep!" Pep exclaimed brightly, swinging her small duffel bag back and forth as she followed him to the car.


I expected her to babble on and on in the car, but she remained mostly silent. It was only while we were lingering near security at the airport that I chose to bring this to her attention.


"Anything wrong?" I asked.


"Hmm? No," she answered stiffly.


"You're being too quiet," I remarked with a frown.


She sighed. "I just think you're a jerk sometimes."


Jeez. You fly a girl across the country to see you, give her a cake, take her to a concert and let her sleep in your bed, and she calls you a jerk. Someone tell me I'm not the only one who thinks this is fucked.


"You're so concerned with how Rainie perceives you. It's lame, Nick. Why can't you just forget about her? Maybe she's not worth it."


"Maybe she is," I responded defensively.


"Maybe she's not," Pep reiterated. "I just... I'd hate to see you waste your time on someone who will never love you back."


My jaw tensed at her words. I replied coldly, "I don't think it's a lost cause."


Pep shrugged helplessly. "Fine."


She was mad again. I read on yahoo! that girls get moody when they experience PMS. Damn hormones. (Side-note: Pep told me once that on the first day of class, her Biology teacher asked, "How do you make a hormone? Slap the bitch!") Pep's been so juvenile until now. Maybe she finally went through puberty or something. It would be a shame; I much preferred her childishness.


Big Rob nudged Pep on the shoulder. "You should get going, kid."


She nodded in agreement, clutching the straps of her backpack. "Sure. Thanks for the drive, Rob."


When Pep turned to face me, I could tell by the look on her face that her smile was semi-forced.


"See you in August, hopefully," she said with a sigh.


"Yeah. Definitely," I agreed. I hate having to be the chipper one. That's her job.


As if it were some sort of dreaded obligation, she wrapped me in a hug, which I returned with a confused frown.


"Thank you so much for everything." There. That, I could tell, was genuine.


"Call me when you land," I ordered.


She nodded. "I will. Have fun without me."


If only to cheer her up, I cracked a grin and promised, "I won't."


It earned a smile from her, and I was satisfied. She gave me a wave before plunking her backpack on the tray and heading through security.


"You know, kid," Big Rob said to me after she was out of sight, "The redhead had it right."


I scowled in his direction. Hired and paid to serve and protect me, yet obviously his allegiance was elsewhere. Fuckin' Severus.


(Snape. You got that, right?)

End Notes:

In case you were wondering... Lesley Gore . Ha, funny story, Mondays are the worst days of my life because I'm always on the run, so in passing I was complaining to my housemate about how depressing my life was this past Monday. Anyway, finally when I got home on Monday night, I was just chilling in my bedroom trying to finish this chapter, and my housemate knocks on my door and walks in and I'm listening to this song with a frown on my face. Alone. In my bedroom. She told me it was the most depressing thing she'd ever seen.


Anyways, I'm going home this weekend to try to get some work done, and I'm not bringing my laptop home because I know I'd just write. Next update in a few days (it shouldn't take THAT long to get it out because it'll be relatively short), and wish me luck on being productive! I'm crossing my fingers. It's now or never. And by now I mean succeed, and by never I mean fail.


I love you all. I can't believe how many of you like Nick in this story, and how many of you like this story in general... sometimes I just stare at my computer screen and wonder if I'm going crazy. True story. 

Day 116: Happy Dance by The archive

Day One Hundred and Sixteen. 


I am a genius. I came up with the most brilliant idea; JK Rowling would bow down to me.   


I knew that today was Rainie's last day shadowing us on the tour. I'm surprised she was able to sneak by everyone who mattered without getting caught; but then again, I wasn't all that surprised, because she was smart. And interesting. And beautiful. Who wouldn't want her around?


The thought of Rainie leaving made me panic a little bit on in the inside. It was uncertain when I would see her again, and I didn't want all that quality time we had spent together over breakfasts going to waste, cancelled out by the vast amounts of time between our visits. I knew I had to have some sort of assurance of our relationship so that it could continue to bloom.


That's where Kendall came in. Who knew the psycho bitch would be good for something?


She was still pestering me every day, and it was draining me of my natural cheery disposition. I could probably report her to someone for harassing me, but to be honest, I kind of enjoyed hearing what she had to say - she always used her ‘sexy' voice and tried to turn me on. Instead, I think she turned herself on, and while it was awkward, it was entertaining. I even had to laugh a few times.


Anyway, this day was no different. When she called, I was eating my last breakfast with Rainie. I sighed, glaring at my phone as it buzzed.


"Is it that girl again?" Rainie inquired.


I nodded grimly.


"You could always not answer your phone..." she suggested.


I shrugged. She didn't understand Kendall's craziness. She didn't understand that she would call back until I picked up, no matter how long it took. I was mad at Kendall for interrupting my meal with Rainie, but I planned on making it quick and getting it over with.


"Hello," I said monotonously.


"Hey cutie! What's up!"


Ugh. That bubbly voice gave me shivers. "Not much. Busy. Can't talk."


"Just for a minute, then!" she exclaimed.


I rolled my eyes in front of Rainie - she giggled. It was then that my brilliant plan was hatched. Rainie didn't know how insanely in love with me Kendall was, did she? And Kendall didn't know that I ate breakfast every morning with another female, did she? I bit my lip to hide my grin as a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.


"Hold on," I said distractedly to Kendall. I tore the phone away from my ear and put my hand over the mouthpiece, leaning towards Rainie across the table. "Can you do me a favour?" I asked.


She shrugged. "Depends what it is."


I paused, ogling her as she ate a strawberry. Holy shit, it was hot in here. "How do you feel about karma? What goes around comes around? Getting people back for all the pain and misery they've bestowed on you?"


Rainie chuckled, folding her arms across the table. "I don't think you can dish out karma, Nick... I think it's supposed to come around on its own."


I groaned. I didn't like that answer. "Will you please be my karma for one minute?"


She raised a curious eyebrow. "What did you have in mind?"


In a hushed voice, I briefly explained my idea. Rainie laughed out loud, but she agreed, her eyes gleaming with excitement. I liked that about her - she was feisty. And fiery. And really, really hot. In fact, if I had to categorize Rainie as a vegetable, she would definitely be a jalapeno pepper. Only the bold are willing to try it. (Jesse McCartney is not bold; he is an idiot. Idiots burn their tongues).


I handed her my phone.


She cleared her throat. "Hello?" she said in a very businesslike tone. She paused, and I could hear Kendall's voice, but couldn't make out what she was saying. It was unfortunate.


Rainie made a disgusted face at Kendall's words. "Oh! Excuse me? No! No, you will not be doing that to young Nicholas - no, this is not Nick! This is his girlfriend-"


Though she was mid-sentence, the world froze, and I closed my eyes for a second to savour her words. This is his girlfriend. Ahh. Beautiful.


The world resumed. "- and if I catch you calling my boyfriend again, your ass is mine! Got it, babe?"


You know what would be epic? If Kendall and Rainie fought over me. In their underwear. In the mud.


Rainie paused, listening to Kendall's response. To finish things off, she exclaimed with a laugh, "Oh, you better believe it, girl! Now don't you ever call him again, you little perv! You're sick." With a high-pitched, snooty, "Hmph!", Rainie handed the phone back to me. I turned it off and grinned triumphantly.


"Impressive," I praised her.


Secretly, though, I was praising myself. I just killed two birds with one stone. Not only was Kendall going to back off, but Rainie had direct proof of the intensity of one of my stalkers. It made me seem desirable, didn't it? Hopefully when she realized I was in such high demand, she'd cut the cord with Jessekins and beg to be mine.


I, (along with my tagalong brothers), have sold millions of albums. I've played the biggest venues in front of the biggest crowds. I've travelled the world, I've met and performed with my idols (except, y'know, the dead ones), and I've passed the eleventh grade. Still, I had never felt more accomplished than I did sitting in front of Rainie that day.


"That girl is crazy about you," Rainie commented. (Oh, God. I never thought I'd want to thank Kendall for anything). "I'd tell you what she said she wanted to do to you, but... I just can't bear for your innocent ears to hear it." She smirked.


I shrugged casually. "I've probably heard worse from that one."


"Wow," she breathed, picking at the remains of her meal with a fork. "She was nuts! Jesse never gets calls like that."


That's because nobody likes him, sweetheart.


"I get a few of ‘em," I said as nonchalantly as possible. (That was a lie. There was only Kendall).


"That's... well, that's really funny," Rainie chuckled.


Uh... I guess. Not exactly the response I wanted from her. Didn't it make me seem like some sort of unattainable sex god?


"Thank you," I said after a while. "That's one less thing to worry about."


Rainie nodded with a smile. "Glad to help."


I can't lie - my heart sank a tiny bit. After my scheming, she was supposed to love me. She was supposed to be fidgeting in her chair because it was driving her crazy not to touch me. Hmm. Mystery Girl was proving to be harder to crack than I thought. It was frustrating, but at the same time, it only made her more alluring. What was that thing that Shakespeare said?


"All things that are, are with better spirit chased than enjoyed."


Good try, Will, but you're only half right. The chase was nice, but I was certain it would only make the ‘enjoying' part more... well, enjoyable. Right?


I think Shakespeare was just bitter because he never had a Mystery Girl.


I was throwing my phone in the air and catching it as Rainie and I took the elevator back to our floor. (Probably not the smartest idea, but I had to keep my hands busy or they would be all over her). Rainie pulled her honey-coloured hair away from her face and watched me for a few moments. 


She smelled so damn good. It was intoxicating to be next to her. I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to women's scents (which is a good thing), but she smelled like... she smelled like the first day of spring, after it rains. Really fresh. Like a leaf. No, no, like a flower. A tulip. Or a rose. Or maybe a whole bouquet of flowers.


I kind of wanted a bouquet as a replacement for her when she was gone.


"So you're leaving today," I remarked to break the silence.


She nodded sadly. "Back to LA."


"Who will I go to breakfast with?" I asked with a gentle smile.


She shrugged. "Beats me. Maybe your mommy will accompany you."


"Ouch," I placed a hand over my heart, pretending to be wounded as the elevator began to move. I grinned at her. "I think you should consider rejoining us in a week."


She folded her arms across her chest, analyzing me. "You're an interesting guy, Nick Jonas," she commented.


You're sexy as hell, Rainie - shit, what was her last name?


I stopped throwing my phone around, holding it tightly in my hand. I stared at it for a moment, wondering if I should be so bold...


Yes. The answer was yes.


"I still haven't figured you out yet," I stated calmly. (This is it, Nick. This is your chance to get somewhere. Don't fuck up. Don't fuck up. Please, for the love of God, don't fuck up).


"No?" she asked.


"No," I repeated as I fiddled with the buttons on my phone. "But I want to."


I handed her my phone, where I had already typed her name in. I wanted her number.


Was it inappropriate to ask for her number when I knew she had a boyfriend? Maybe. Then again, I'm a sixteen (almost seventeen) year-old boy. I can't be held responsible for my actions.


All I know is, if it was wrong of me to ask, Rainie didn't seem to mind. She complied as we stepped off the elevator, typing her number into the phone.


I made sure to walk behind her so I could do a quick happy dance by shaking my fists in the air and wiggling my hips around. This was amazing. This was fantastic. Holy shit, this was the best day of my life.


She pivoted on her heel abruptly, and I swiftly stuffed my hands into my pockets, acting as natural as possible.


"There you go," she stated, handing me my phone. "I don't know how to save it."


I looked at the screen, preparing to save her number. I glanced at it briefly and froze. With a frown, I slowly raised my head to stare at her in confusion.


She laughed at my expression. "What's wrong?"


I checked her number again - yes, the characters weren't playing tricks on me. "Are you teasing me again?" I asked quietly, furrowing my brow. This couldn't be real.


"No..." she trailed off, perplexed.


It didn't make sense. "This is your real number?" I had to be sure.


Rainie laughed again. "Yes! What's wrong with it?"


I shook my head in amazement. "Nothing. No, nothing."


367-5304.


Jenny's number was 867-5309. Rainie's number was 367-5304.


Oh. My. God. This was a sign. This was a sign that we were meant to be. Tommy Tutone's voice rang in my head as my eyes widened in shock.


Rainie halted at the door of her hotel room. She gave me a radiant, toothy smile. "I'll see you later, Nick."


I couldn't feel my feet anymore, and I was pretty sure I was floating on a cloud - Cloud number Nine, to be specific - so I returned her smile dreamily and replied, "Have a good flight, Rainie."


Three six seven five three oh four. Rainie, I got yo numba. I need to make you mine.


Yeah, I was pretty sure that song was going to be on the play-list at our wedding.

End Notes:
So one day new gwenea mentioned this song in a review, and since I love this song so very much, I decided to include it in this story. Ha! I can't find a music video without the audio disabled on youtube, but you can hear it live here . Man, I'm really poppin' out the oldies in this fic. It's fun!
Anyways, hopefully the next chapter doesn't take too long to get up, but it's been driving me CRAZY because I'm at a little fork in the road and everything that I write just doesn't work out, so... hopefully I can figure that out soonish.
Love you all!
Interlude: (I Am Into) girls by The archive

Day One Hundred and Twenty.

To call... or not to call. To text... or not to text. Oh Shakespeare, you have presented me with a dilly of a pickle.

The problem was that I had put it off for so long (four days - ninety-six hours - five thousand, seven hundred and sixty minutes - etcetera), I was afraid she had forgotten. After all, Rainie didn't ask for my number, which left me completely in control.

But would she be mad that I waited so long to contact her? It wasn't like we went on a date and I said I'd call her the next day. It wasn't like I was being a jerk for waiting four days, right?

Or was it? My relationship with Rainie wasn't normal. In fact, it was so abnormal that I couldn't figure it out despite my Chaucer-ness. Were we acquaintances? Were we friends? Were we secret lovers? (Well, technically we weren't lovers yet... all in good time).

In the end, I decided to contact her. The reason is this: when Ron Weasley left Harry and Hermione in the woods, I cried. I would never tell anyone this, even though Joe saw me and still held it over my head, but yeah. Tears were most definitely shed. And Ron took fucking forever to come to his senses. In fact, he took so long that I was sure things wouldn't be the same between him and Harry. Or more importantly, between Ron and Hermione.

For argument's sake, I am Ron and Rainie is Hermione. Jesse is Harry Potter (except he's not a wonder child and this time, he dies in the end and everyone cheers). And that's why I had to contact Rainie.

Trust me, I spent a lot of time that day thinking of exactly what to say to her. I wrote up a couple of drafts on a piece of paper (which I ripped up into tiny pieces and flushed down the toilet afterwards, just in case Joe happened to come across it). Ultimately, I landed on a short, cheerful message that would make her smile, accompanied by a question at the end. Questions are key if you want a response, and I wanted a response.

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

4 days without kendall - wooo!
I feel like a free man. How's the
city of angels holding up?

As soon as I sent it, I stared wide-eyed at my phone, waiting for a reply. After thirty seconds, I let out an exasperated, "Gah!" and stuffed my phone into my pocket, unable to stand the suspense.

My life was honestly fulfilled exactly forty-three minutes later when I received a response. A text message has never been so anticipated. So full of hope. So... beautiful

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

dont abuse the freedom, slick.
its warm here and i miss you
guys. breakfast isnt the same.

Breakfast certainly wasn't the same. In fact, now that I'd met the girl I was going to marry, nothing was the same.

You know, I've never seen Casablanca and shouldn't be allowed to quote it, but I will anyway:

This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And by ‘friendship' I mean much, much more.

(Side-note: I may not have seen Casablanca, but my mom rented it for Joe and Kevin when we were younger. Joe was eleven, and after the movie, he asked Mom when the world acquired colour and stopped being black-and-white. I remember this very vividly. Even at the age of eight, I recognized that my older brother was a complete tool in every sense of the word).

Day One Hundred and Twenty-Six.

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

Day off. Wish you were here.
Just tackled your weak bf in
football.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

did he deserve it this time?

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

Not really.

Day One Hundred and Twenty-Eight.

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

Found a summer job yet?

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

handed out a few resumes.
callan said she might have
heard of something.

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

I think you should give up
and visit me. Ohio is fun.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

yeah, la is so boring, right?

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

:)

Day One Hundred and Thirty-Five.

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----
 

Back in LA in twenty four
days 

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message---- 

i know!!! so excited to see
ur curly head!! :D 

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----
 

Woops, meant to send
that to Rainie 

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----
 

Back in LA in 24 days!

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

good. i need an excuse to
take a day off. 

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

What is this, day 2 of
summer job? 

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message---- 

day 2 of hell. 

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----
 

Told ya you shoulda
joined us again. 

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message---- 

i will in 2 weeks. lets
go for breakfast. 

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----
 

Absolutely we will. 

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message---- 

ugh boss told me not to
text when there are no
customers.. txt me lates 

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message---- 

fuck u, asshole 

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----
 

Not my fault your name
is Pep - its right on top
of Rainie in my contacts 

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message---- 

my name ISNT pep. eat
shit, nick j. 

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----
 

Blow me.

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message---- 

u wish.

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----
 

Your loss. Ill get Lance to
blow me, then. Sure he'd
be up for it.

Day One Hundred and Forty-Two. 

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----
 

Didnt hear from you yesterday
-- you good? 

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message---- 

fuck this. i hate people. i
hate my job. i hate working
overtime. i hate selling
food. save me. 

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----
 

Would if I could.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message---- 

omg. 17 days. im going
crazy please get here faster. 

I shut my phone with a smile on my face, stuffing it into my back pocket. God, she was hot. Even when she was only a few characters on my phone, I was uncontrollably in love with her.

"What are you smiling about? I'm totally kicking your ass, Jonas," Jesse said with a smirk as he shuffled the cards.

I returned the smile calmly, suddenly feeling very superior to him despite the fact that I was losing the game. "Nothin'. Deal me something good."

I exhaled a bit of a laugh as I picked up my cards, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Joe raising a quizzical eyebrow in my direction.

Day One Hundred and Forty-Five.

It was time.

I had been thinking of this for a while, and on this day I finally mustered up the courage to do it. It was time to progress my relationship with Rainie to the next level: a phone conversation. Texting just wasn't enough anymore. If I couldn't see her face, I needed to hear her voice.

I was ready for this. We were ready for this. I had planned out what I was going to say days ago. This was going to run smoothly, and it was going to become a frequent event.

We were on the bus travelling from one state to another, and I left Joe and Kevin in the midst of writing a song in the kitchenette area. I was safely holed up in my bunk, and nothing could possibly go wrong.

"Hello?" her voice filtered into my ear after the third ring. Static played a role in drowning her out, but oh my God, it was so worth it.

"Hey," I replied in a low voice. (I was trying to sound cool and casual. I had recorded myself on my phone a few times to get it just right).

"Nick Jonas," Rainie said matter-of-factly.

I hoped she'd be a bit more enthusiastic when she was screaming my name during all the wild sex we were going to have. After all, I already knew she was loud.

"Funny," I remarked offhandedly, "Your voice sounds just as depressed as the texts you send me."

She sighed with a weary chuckle. "Sorry. At the end of every day, I'm beat."

"How come?" I inquired. (Side-note: I was so thankful that I sounded unrehearsed. I was also thankful that she didn't bring up that this was the first time I had ever called her. It made things less awkward). "Don't you stand at a cash register and ring people's groceries through?"

"Do you know how many people get mad at cashiers, Jonas? It's not exactly a respectable position to hold; I don't have rock-star status like you," she replied easily.

"Why do they get mad at you?" Because you're so fucking beautiful but you're taken? I know I'd be pretty pissed if - wait. Shit.

"Oh," she sighed. "You know. This is overpriced. This doesn't have a price tag. I wanted to use this coupon but it expired yesterday. No, the oranges can't be bagged with the lettuce. Why don't you sell Coke products?! Ugh, you're coughing - now my food's going to be all germed-up! If you're a cashier, you should be able to-"

"Ouch," I interrupted her. "Sounds rough."

She sighed again. "Customer service is a bitch."

"I know one place where customers only appreciate," I suggested.

"Give them my resume!" she exclaimed brightly. "Where?"

"It's called the Gentleman's Club. Of course, you'll have to be willing to dance topless..."

"Ha, ha," Rainie laughed dryly. (She didn't understand that I was completely serious. Oh, the lengths I would go to in order to sneak into a strip club to watch Rainie parade around in-) "Somehow, I don't think my boyfriend would approve."

I frowned at her interruption to my fantasy. "It's your summer job, not his." Yeah, so let's leave him out of it.

She paused before saying slyly, "I'll think about it. It's not like we don't have secrets."

Secrets? They had secrets?

"Like what?" I prodded.

"Mm..." she breathed. (Side-note: what a sexy thing to do. ‘Mm'... I liked it). "Well, for one, I don't think he has any idea how much time I spend talking to you. Unless you've told him, of course."

I gulped. My heart rate accelerated ever so slightly. "No. I wasn't sure."

"Sure of what?"

"I wasn't sure if you wanted him to know," I answered.

"Well..." she trailed off. She appeared to be contemplating this issue. "It's not like it would make a difference whether he knew or not. We're just friends."

That's fine, Rainie. Lie all you want.

The thing about withholding information from someone is that there's always an underlying reason. Personally, I couldn't be happier that Jesse was oblivious to my budding romance with Rainie. It meant that she felt it, too. It meant that she had a reason for hiding it from him, and the reason was that she was as enamoured with me as I was with her.

Thank God.

"Nick?" she asked.

"Yeah?"

"Oh. I thought I'd lost you or something."

I realized that I'd left a lingering silence in the place of my response to her ‘We're just friends' comment. It was unfortunate that I hadn't been able to think of a witty remark to enhance it, while at the same time making her fall so deeply in love with me that she took her words back, thus cancelling everything out completely.

"... seriously, are you still there?" she prodded.

Shit. I had to pay attention.

"Yeah. Sorry, just thinking," I apologized half-heartedly.

It's oddly exhausting - paying attention to people all the time. It requires a lot of patience. I don't think I'm built for it. Some people are just so fucking boring. Rainie's not one of those people, but it still killed me inside to have to stay entirely focused and not let my thoughts run away with me. It was strange to listen intently to every word spoken to me over the phone. I wasn't used to it. Normally, the only three people I speak with at length on the phone are my mother, Pep, and (insert girlfriend's name here). All three of these people understand my quiet nature.

"About what?"

If she hadn't recently thrown me the ‘just friends' card, I might have admitted that I was thinking about what she looked like naked... but apparently it wasn't the right time for that.

"About how you're hiding this from Jesse," I replied, my voice relaxed.

She let out a nervous chuckle. "I'm not hiding it from him. I'm just choosing not to tell him."

"Why? Is there something about us that you don't want him to know?"

I knew I was pushing her buttons, and it kind of thrilled me. This was like our first mini-argument as a couple. A mere stepping stone of one of the great romances of the twenty-first century.

Rainie laughed again. "Nick, there's no us. You're sixteen."

I fought the urge to sigh. Did she honestly think I was unaware of my own age? ‘Oh, really? Gosh, I totally forgot. Well, in that case, I'm totally not in love with you anymore, Rainie'.

I answered with a smile, "It's interesting that you had to defend yourself instead of just answering ‘no' to my previous question."

Rainie paused, and I could almost hear the rattling mechanics of her brain. "I can tell him we're friends if you really me to. It just wasn't significant enough for me to mention it."

Low blow. Clearly, she was in denial. Is there like a five-step system to falling in love? If so, I'd say denial is probably the first or second stage. She meant to hurt me, but instead, she gave me hope.

"No. Don't do anything you aren't comfortable with," I told her gently. I literally gave myself a pat on the back for that one.

"I'm perfectly comfortable with it."

"Well then, tell him," I replied nonchalantly. "I can do it, if you want."

"No," she spat out quickly. I grinned. "Just... ugh, why are we talking about this? Why are you calling me, anyway? You never call, you always text."

Fuck. I was hoping she wouldn't bring that up. Way to make things awkward, Mystery Bitch. It was time to think fast. (Luckily, thinking fast is one of my many, many strengths).

"I was calling to ask you what you were doing tomorrow morning."

"I'm working, so... I have to be up early and out of the apartment by 8:30. Why?" she asked suspiciously.

"Because I decided I missed having breakfast with you, and I don't think it's a tradition we should be giving up."

(God, I'm good).

She laughed. "So you're flying out here to eat breakfast with me?"

I wish. "No. But I could always call you over breakfast."

Seriously. I'm brilliant. This was a sure-fire way to ensure another phone call. And, if all went well, many more afterwards.

"You'll call me tomorrow morning, then?" she asked.

"If you insist," I joked.

You know, for being a sixteen (almost seventeen) year-old kid, I have to give myself a lot of credit. I'm so fucking smooth it's unbelievable. Girls are naturally attracted to me, so I guess I can't pin it all on my sharp brain... but really, I'm pretty confident that I could make anyone fall for me. Rainie was so on-the-edge it was hard not to take her hand and drag her down with me.

I should probably write a book. A romance novel. It's unfair to everyone to let my knowledge of the opposite sex go to waste. For hundreds of years, schmucks have been reading shit like Jane Austen and Shakespeare and totally buying it. Why? I don't know. Everyone knows that Austen died a virgin and Shakespeare was probably a closet homosexual.

At least I'll (eventually) have real-life experience to fall back on.

Day One Hundred and Forty-Nine.

Sometimes when I spoke to Rainie on the phone, I liked to dance.

Not in a girly way or anything. No fuckin' pirouettes or any of that shit. Just dance moves that proved my awesomeness. Like the moonwalk. Which I couldn't really do a few days ago, but since I had been practicing while on the phone with Rainie, I was getting better. In fact, I might have been willing to argue that I was up to Michael Jackson's level by that time.

Usually the only spare time I had to call her was while we were travelling from one state to another. This was problematic because I shared a bus with Joe and Kevin. Kevin, of course, was completely oblivious to me unless my ears were open (which they were not), but Joe watched me sometimes with a frown on his face, wondering who on earth I was talking to that spurned so much joy in me.

"Do you have a cold?" Rainie asked me in confusion as I spun around and began to moonwalk in the opposite direction.

"No. Why?"

"You're sniffling a lot," she pointed out.

I hadn't sniffled in at least three hours. I think she was delusional. I was about to protest when I heard a whimper behind me, and I rolled my eyes as the puzzle pieces connected.

"That's not me, it's Joe," I told her. "He's reading Harry Potter for the first time and it's having a great effect on him.

Joe glared at me.

"Harry loses everyone!" he exclaimed angrily, waving The Prisoner of Azkaban in the air. He sniffled. "And now they've gone and killed Buckbeak... he never hurt anyone... except for fuckin' Malfoy, but that kid's a douchebag and a half."

I shrugged, smiling into my phone. "We have to make sure he reads it at specific times. He gets so worked up that he needs fifteen minutes or so to calm down before he engages in another activity."

"That's hilarious," Rainie giggled. "How is this his first time reading the books? Everyone should have read the books at least twice by now."

"Agreed," I responded with a nod of my head.

"You should tell Joe to lend them to Jesse when he's done. I don't think he's read them, either."

"You're dating someone who hasn't read the books?!" I exclaimed. "That's ridiculous. You should re-evaluate."

Her continuous laughter indicated that she thought I was joking. It was probably a good thing, otherwise my suggestion would have spawned an awkward silence.

"Re-evaluate what?"

"Your decision to date him," I answered quietly, my smile fading.

Playfully, she returned, "Then who would I date instead?"

It was times like these when I had trouble figuring her out. This was the reason she was ‘Mystery Girl'; the reason she would always be Mystery Girl. Was she stringing me along and teasing me again, or was she genuinely joking around? And if she was leading me on, was it because she wanted me to advance? If she wanted me to advance, was it because she was interested or because she was a frigid bitch who wanted to watch me crash and burn?

Damn that Mystery Whore.

"I know of someone who might be interested," I replied as casually as possible. I held my hand in front of my face - weird, it was shaking ever so slightly, and not just from the movement of the bus.

"Mm... do you?" she asked. There it was, that sexy ‘Mm' again. I could swear that everything she said to me was meant to be said seductively. It didn't matter what the actual words were, because behind all the words, she was saying, ‘I want you. I need you. Oh Nick, be mine. Right there.'

(I don't know if the phrase ‘right there' was included in her every word, but I assumed it was something she liked saying when she was turned on - Pep had clued me in on that piece of information).

I was pretty sure that was what she meant, anyway.

"I'll keep that in mind," she continued with a giggle.

I'd always thought that flirting was for the weak, but somehow, it was proving to be the most arousing activity I'd ever taken part in. It was possible that I had heavily underestimated its power. Girls always flocked to me like fuckin' sea gulls to a dead fish (a better metaphor could have been used here), and I never had to worry about saying anything to impress them - merely my physical appearance and brooding nature was enough. But with Rainie, things were different. Flirting was the furthest I could get with her on the baseball analogy chart - flirting! What's that, a foul ball? A strike out? It's not even first base! Still, I would take it. I would take it with open arms for the time being.

And once the ‘time being' was up, we were going to have to have a serious discussion about her meaningless relationshit with Jesse.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-One.

When I heard my phone ringing on this fine Thursday afternoon, I had a small panic attack. After working up a sweat playing soccer outside with the guys, I took a shower. It was upon getting out of the shower, nothing but a towel wrapped around my waist, that the phone rang.

Normally I keep my cell in the pocket of my jeans, but I had changed into basketball shorts to play soccer - basketball shorts that didn't have pockets - and for the life of me, I couldn't remember where I'd put my phone.

Fuck me! What if it was Rainie? I couldn't not pick up my phone if Rainie was calling. That would be like forgetting to RSVP upon receiving a personal invitation to heaven from God.

Holy hell. Goddammit. Where the fuck was that piece of shit?

"Son of a bitch!" I exclaimed loudly, digging through my suitcase as fast as possible whilst holding up my towel with one hand.

Why the fuck was I looking through my suitcase? That was the last place it would be.

I could hear it. It was somewhere within a pile of clothes lying on the floor beside the bed. I spun around and bent down to sift through the heap of crap.

"Fuckin' bitch... fuck you... motherfucker..."

What stressed me out was that I could hear it clear as day. It was taunting me. I don't curse under my breath on standard occasions, but when I'm stressed, I've got the mouth of a fucking sailor.

And I mean that in a completely non-homosexual way. Sailors are often perceived as gay. Really, it's just an expression.

Finally. I found it in the pocket of my jeans which I had been wearing earlier that day and had carelessly discarded on the floor. I wouldn't be making that mistake again.

I immediately flipped open my phone and breathlessly spat out, "Hello?"

"Hi, is this Nick?"

My heart sank. It wasn't Rainie. All of that effort for some dumb nervous broad who needed clarification of my identity. She called my cell phone, for fuck's sake. Who else would it be?

I had half a mind to tell her it wasn't Nick, but, polite as I am, I responded, "Yeah."

"Oh. Hi! It's Selena."

Kill me.

My throat went dry and I'm surprised I didn't drop the phone out of my hand. Selena? This was Joe's doing, it had to be. (Side-note: kind of my fault. I could have avoided this if I'd only checked the caller ID before answering. Wouldn't be making that mistake again).

"Hi," I squeaked.

I met Selena a bit before Miley and I broke up. A few months later, we dated. A few months after that, we broke up. It was a friendly break-up (I guess), but that didn't mean we were friends. You don't just call your ex-boyfriend randomly. That's just... no. It's wrong. It's not allowed.

"Hi. You sound really scared," she giggled.

Yeah, well, I'm scared as fuck.

Instead, I cleared my throat and replied, "I'm not. How are you?"
The only reason that was a question was because I was questioning whether I should ask it in the first place. Did I want to make conversation? No, not really. I wanted to put on some pants and beat the living shit out of my brother, then shove it all back in and beat it out of him again.

"I'm good. Really busy, but you know what that's like. Still, I haven't talked to you in a while, so I thought I'd check in and see how your summer's going."

Selena was always nice. Probably the nicest person I'd ever met in the business or elsewhere. That was why we weren't together anymore. She was too fucking nice. How can you be nice all the time? I know I deserve to be complimented, but at the same time, I'm arrogant as hell and it irks me when people keep telling me how great I am. I can do that myself, thank you very much.

Also, she took her purity ring way too seriously. It goes hand-in-hand with her nice-ness. I wear one too, and I'm not saying I'd ditch my vow and go for a home run, but fuck. Third base me once in a while, square. At the very least let the wandering hands do their wandering. It's only fair.

"It's swell," I replied as cheerfully as possible.

Swell? I groaned inwardly.

She hesitated, obviously thinking that I was going to elaborate. Nope, wasn't going to happen. Sorry, babe. "That's great, Nick. Miley told me the tour is going well."

I rolled my eyes. Was this some sort of ex-girlfriend conspiracy? Every time I or my brothers ditch another girl, they band together and form this fuckin' Jonas hate-club. Miley was like the head recruiter because she got there first, but Taylor, who went out with Joe, was quick to follow. Their anthem is Miley's ‘7 Things', which they sing at every club meeting (Side-note: funny story. Miley and Pep originally got along, but when Miley released that song and whined for a while about how my friends were jerks, Pep had a conniption and I had to confiscate her cell phone for a full week in case she called Miley up to bitch her out). Anyway, these girls bond over the fact that they've all indirectly exchanged bodily fluids through us brothers. And then, as if to make us fear them and regret breaking their hearts, they call us to remind us that they're best friends and our separation has only made them stronger.

Yeah... I don't think I care.

I sighed wearily. "Sel, did Joe put you up to this?"

"Put me up to what?" she asked innocently.

The great thing about sweet, naive girls is that you can coax anything out of them with a little gentle crooning. (Well, anything except for a hand job... God knows I tried).

"He did, didn't he? Don't worry, I won't tell him. I'm just wondering," I assured her.

"No, he didn't say anything," she answered sweetly. I smiled, shaking my head at her innocence. I knew her well enough to decipher that very subtle quiver in her voice.

"But you did talk to him?" I urged. As an after-thought, I added, "It's okay. I'm glad. Just wondering."

"Mm... yeah," she answered carefully. (‘Mm' didn't sound half as good coming from Selena's mouth as it did from Rainie's). "I mean, he didn't say much. He said you were feeling kind of down lately and he wondered if maybe I'd know of a way to cheer you up."

Aha. That fuckface. I knew it.

"I see," I said slowly. I smacked my lips together before exclaiming cheerily, "Well, you know what? I feel a lot better. Thanks so much for calling, Sel, it was great to hear your voice."

She let out a breathy laugh, as if she couldn't believe her ears. "Wait, that's it? Don't you want to-"

"I actually have to go," I interrupted hastily. "I'll call you, though." (No I won't). Because I was feeling angry and betrayed, I spat out, "Hey, me and Miley are going for lunch when I'm back in town. You should come. It'll be fun."

I don't know why I thought I was getting revenge on anyone but myself, but as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted it. What the fuck was I thinking? Jesus Christ, I was going crazy. Lunch with Miley was bad enough, but lunch with Miley and Selena? Why not invite the whole goddamn hate-club while you're at it, Nick?

"Um... okay," Selena said, confusion dripping from every word. "That sounds nice."

"It should be peachy," I finished.

Knife... gun... poison... Kevin's voice... there were so many ways that I could end my life. Also, for the love of God, someone please tell me why I chose this moment to try out the word ‘peachy'.

When the call ended, I dropped my phone to the ground, never wanting to touch it again. How could one tiny piece of technology turn out to be such a life-ruiner? Shutting my eyes tightly, I pinched the bridge of my nose and exhaled. Why do bad things happen to good people?

It was then that I heard light chuckling from behind me. I didn't know how long he'd been listening to my enlightening conversation with Selena, but it was obvious that he'd heard enough. I took another breath and opened my eyes before slowly turning to face my treacherous brother.

In retrospect, I probably would have been much more intimidating if I wasn't holding a towel around my waist.

Since one of my hands was occupied, I couldn't exactly engage in a duel with him like I wanted. Instead, I glared at him as frostily as possible. "Hilarious," I muttered, nodding my head quickly.

"So you guys are meeting up?" Joe asked, casually tearing off his scarf and throwing it on top of his bag.

"No, we're not meeting up, you dumb fuck," I spat. I almost threw my arms up in the air. Luckily, I remembered the towel in the nick of time. I took a few steps towards him, hoping to seem menacing. "I hope you're really enjoying yourself, shithead, because the end is nigh for you."

Joe snorted with laughter. "The end is nigh?"

I tapped my fingers on the desk while he erupted in raucous giggles. I seriously don't understand how it's possible that I'm genetically related to someone who is so much less evolved than I. Maybe Mom really did sleep with the milkman. It would explain so much.

"It means you're fucked, dipshit," I retorted. "I will make you suffer."

Joe shook his head, still amused and clearly not comprehending the validity of my words. "I don't know why you have to be such a dick all the time. I was just trying to help you out. You're lonely, dude. You need a girl."

Moron.

"I'm working on it," I hissed. And I didn't need his ‘help'.

Sticking my hand into my suitcase, I grabbed a few items of clothing and stalked past him towards the bathroom.

"Fine," Joe replied carelessly. "I'll stop trying to be a nice guy. Just know that I was always looking out for you, bud - hey, wait. Nick?"

"What?"

"Why the hell do you always cart a bouquet of flowers with you wherever you go?" he demanded, pointing to the colourful display on the table in front of the window.

So what if I did? The flowers reminded me of Rainie and her perfume. I liked them. I read in a yahoo! article that a human's sense of smell has the most power out of all the senses to evoke memory.

I did nothing but glower at Joe.

He shrugged. "I mean, it's cool with me if you swing that way, but... bro, that's kinda gay. That's all I'm saying."

I scoffed. "Fuck you."

"No thanks," he chuckled. As I slammed the bathroom door as hard as possible, I heard him shout, "Unlike you, I'm into girls!"

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Three.

I hadn't talked to Rainie for three days. I think I was slowly going crazy. My mood deteriorated immensely. My mom sat with me while I checked my blood sugar because she thought I was lying about it. The last time I had acted so sour, I was diagnosed with this stupid inhibiting disease.

Also, I got a little sidetracked with thoughts of Rainie the night before during a show, and Kevin wasn't about to let me forget it.

Instead of ‘a little bit longer, and I'll be fine', I mistakenly sang, ‘a little bit longer, and you'll be mine'.

So what? It still rhymed. Give me a fucking break.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Four.

Why the hell wasn't Rainie picking up her phone? More importantly, why wasn't she answering my texts? I didn't want to seem too overbearing, but I sent her a couple asking if she was okay. Had I done something to make her hate me? No, that wasn't possible. I was nothing but delightful towards her.

I had my index finger extended, ready to tap Jesse on the shoulder and ask him if he'd spoken to her recently, but I noticed that Joe was watching me curiously. I stuck my hand back in my pocket and growled under my breath. He ruined everything, that bastard.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Five.

What the fuck.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Six.

Seriously.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Seven.

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message----

why havent i heard from u
in a week? i miss u, curls.

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----

Busy. Miss you.

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message----

can i come over when u
get home?

---Recipient---
Pep
413-6832
----Message----

Can I come to you instead?

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message----

u bet.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-Nine.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

hey! sorry, forgot my phone
in la and went home to BF
for a few days. don't have
your aim so couldn't tell
you. good luck on your last
show tonite. so f'in excited
to see you guys.

As I lazily pulled my phone out of my pocket, I wasn't expecting this. A wide smile crossed my face as I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God. (Side-note: what on earth was ‘BF'? Either it was short-form for Bakersfield, or she was cheating on Jesse with a new ‘bf'. I didn't approve of the latter - she was only allowed to cheat on Jesse if it was with me).

"Ha," I hissed triumphantly, immediately returning the text.

---Recipient---
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

Breakfast Monday morning?

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

if you insist.

As if she didn't want to.

"You feel it runnin' through your bones... and you jerk it out," Joe sang quietly to himself, jogging to catch up with us as we walked to the car.

I tore my eyes from my phone for a moment to shake my head at him.

"Joseph," my mother scolded with a frown. "Don't say things like that."

"It's a song, Ma," Joe replied breathlessly. He started to sing again, "Oh baby, don't you know you really gotta jerk it out!"

Idiot. I laughed when Kevin smacked him across the back of the head. Our mother looked positively horrified.

My laughter caught Joe's attention, and he glanced behind himself to scrutinize me. "Who you texting?" he asked, thoughts of his dirty song long forgotten.

"Someone," I replied coolly. It was pointless to say ‘no one' - not only is it a lie, but it's a sneaky way of letting someone know you're hiding something. Why not be honest about it?

"That narrows it down," Joe said dryly.

I shrugged.

Unsatisfied with my answer, he grabbed my hat and placed it on his own head, walking faster for a few paces to get ahead of me. "Miley? Selena? Kendall?" he threw out suggestions.

I followed him closely. Once I'd snatched my hat back, I replied irritably, "I do not text those people."

"Who, then? Pip?" Just as I'd placed my hat back on my head, he grabbed it again.

"No!" I growled, launching forward to retrieve my accessory. "Why do you assume she's the only person I text?" Joe's a few inches taller than me, so I put a hand on his shoulder and jumped in attempt to rescue my hat. He twisted his head to the side like the annoying little fuckwit he is.

Joe laughed happily. "Because she's your only friend."

He climbed into the car and I followed with a scowl, ignoring Kevin's chuckles. When we were side-by-side in the backseat, I again tried to reclaim my hat. From her spot in the middle, Mom turned her head to scold Joe once more.

"Joseph, leave him alone," she ordered. "Nick has lots of friends."

Christ. You know you've lost the battle when your mom has to come to your defence.

"How is Pep doing, anyway?" Mom asked, turning her attention to me.

"I don't... know..." I responded in exasperation, desperately reaching for my hat. Joe and I had engaged in some sort of arm-wrestling competition that was requiring a lot of effort. "I haven't... spoken... to her..."

"Oh," Mom said, frowning in confusion. "I thought you were on the phone with her every couple of days."

With a final spurt of energy, I let go of Joe's wrists and victoriously grabbed my hat from him. Placing it back on my head where it belonged, I stated, "Not that often." When I saw Joe raising his eyebrow at me, I added, "What? It's not that often! I talk to her a reasonable amount!" When he pissed me off by looking unconvinced, I spat out, "Reasonable!"

Mom had lost interest in me a long time ago, but because Joe was still unimpressed, I grumbled, "And she's not my only friend." Under my breath, I added, "You fugly cocksucker."

With an expression of faux-shock, Joe's jaw dropped and he exclaimed, "Nick! That's the second time in a week you've accused me of being gay!"

Mom shook her head in front of us, clearly choosing not to intervene anymore.

Joe placed a hand on my shoulder, which I shrugged off immediately. "I'm sensing that you may be suffering from homobrophobia."

When he tried to put another ‘reassuring' hand on my shoulder, I grabbed his wrist and threw it away, muttering, "If you touch me again, you'll have no balls to homobrophobia with."

With a scoff, Joe folded his arms across his chest and muttered, "That doesn't even make sense."

Oddly enough, my phone vibrated with a text message from Pep. I waved the phone around in Joe's face long enough for him to see her name, and then I closed my phone and stuffed it in my pocket, proving my point by refusing to reply

End Notes:
Joe's lovely song is ‘Jerk It Out' by the Caesars.
Anyway... I sincerely hope this chapter was okay, because I don't think I've ever worked so long on a chapter! Man, it took me forever, I was jumping back and forth and leaving things unfinished and deleting things and adding things in and just being overall frustrated because sometimes I forgot what the point was and none of it made sense anymore. I think it's because this chapter is different from all the others and it was just really overwhelming to deal with for some reason hahah.
Or it could be because I have a 15-page essay, the impossible stats assignment from hell, and three midterms within a span of two days... it's quite possible that this was the reason I was unable to function.
Whatever. This week's going to be fun. Usually I have the next chapter written
before I post, but I don't, so once I'm done being stressed on Wednesday I'll write the next one AND the one after that and then post, so... I have no idea when I'll update again. Soon though! I miss being scholastically unproductive.
PS. So sorry for the confusion about who ‘Jenny' was in the last chapter... there was/is a link to the song in my last AN, so if you're still confused, go check it out. It's an old song. Basically, no you did not miss anything, ‘Jenny' is just a girl from a song that Nick was referring to.
PPS. I've only replied to half of the reviews, I promise to do the rest later.
Day 160: Leave It To Pep by The archive

Day One Hundred and Sixty.

I had a dream about Rainie.

In my dream, she wore some kind of Pocahontas-like garb (I know, right? Pocahontas is basically the sexiest animated character ever, so...). We were in a Pocahontas-like field and there were Pocahontas-like birds (this may have to do with the fact that I had watched Pocahontas with Frankie and Joe the previous morning). The grass was long, and I had to race to catch her, all the while making sure she stayed within my sight. She kept running away from me, and I couldn't figure out why.

Eventually, we came to cornstalks that extended for miles upon miles. I remember being really pissed off in my dream. It was a maze, and I couldn't keep track of her. All I wanted to do was touch her, but she kept shirking out of my grasp like butter. After a while, I got so frustrated that I decided to just leave the maze and wait outside. The problem was, (duh, it was a fucking maze), I couldn't find my way out. Curse my parents and their terrible genes - if I was like a foot taller, I would have been able to see over the goddamn corn.

I gave up like a pussy (I remember thinking this in my dream - fuck you, Nick, find a way out, you idiot), and just stood there, waiting for something to happen to me. Finally, when I thought that all hope was lost, she found me. She came towards me, and I was just about to open my arms to receive her when -

"AAAAAAAHHHH!"

I fell out of my bunk - yes, fell out of my top bunk onto the cold, hard floor of the bus - panicked at the sound of the scream. Swiftly, I stood up and crashed into the opposing wall (woops, wasn't quite awake yet), only to hear Joe's rousing laughter.

I turned around, stumbled, blinked, rubbed my eyes, blinked again, made my sheep-noise, and squinted in his direction. (I was squinting because the light was on and my eyes weren't accustomed to it).

"That," Joe chuckled, doubling over in laughter, "that was the funniest thing I've ever seen."

"Wuzzwrong?" I demanded groggily, surrendering my body to the movements of the bus and leaning my shoulder against the wall. "What happened?"

Still laughing hysterically, Joe (who was fully dressed), replied, "Dad told me to wake you up."

"Maaah," was my response. I swallowed, trying to comprehend his words (my brain functions slower than usual in the morning), and once my eyes were adjusted to the light, I opened them and asked clearly, "So you screamed in my face?"

"Well, I whispered your name first. Didn't work. I was scared; usually you're up long before me. If I screamed and you didn't wake up, then I'd know you were dead." Joe tried his best to act completely serious, but I could tell he was dying to break into laughter once more.

I exhaled, re-rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. "Fuck you, dillhole."

I pushed past him in the narrow hallway and emerged in the kitchen, where Kevin was happily prattling away to our father.

"Good morning, Nick," Dad said. (He completely interrupted Kevin. I don't blame him).

I managed a meagre wave as I grabbed a bowl and spoon and motioned for Kevin to hand me the box of cereal. Kevin continued his rambling as I simultaneously yawned and poured Cheerios into the bowl. (Side-note: I'm neutral about Cheerios; I just want to make that clear. Have you ever thought about how they're called ‘Cheerios'? I think it's an exaggeration. They rarely provide me with cheer).

"So we start filming again in September... hmm, maybe I should hold off on getting my hair-cut until then... what do you think? My hair's too long and it's so hot; I don't know if I can last for the rest of the summer..." (and so on, and so forth. Pointless, all of it).

"Milk," I said monotonously, loudly enough to overpower Kevin for a moment. It didn't matter; it didn't faze him at all. He acted as though I didn't exist. That was fine. If he wasn't trying to wear down my eardrums sixteen hours a day, I'd be able to pretend he didn't exist, either.

Dad purposely withheld the carton from me, eyeing me in displeasure. "Manners."

Ugh. I hate when my parents tell me to use manners. The way I see it, Kevin and Joe are rude as shit, but they never get called out. What's worse: asking someone to pass you the milk, or screaming in someone's face to wake them up? Asking someone to pass you the milk, or chattering incessantly and never giving anyone a fucking break even though no one cares?

I'm the most polite kid this family has ever seen, and they all take me for granted.

"Please," I said in a whiny voice, wiggling my fingers in anticipation.

Dad relented and slid the milk in my direction. I unscrewed the lid and tipped it over - there was barely enough milk left to cover the bottom of the bowl.

"Maybe I could just go for a trim now, and then get a big cut before we start filming-"

"Is there any more?" I demanded, scratching my head.

Dad shook his head. "No. It's our last day on the bus; we're getting rid of everything."

Fuck my life.

"So I have to eat dry Cheerios?!" I exclaimed. Now that effing cereal was really pissing me off. How dare they call themselves Cheerios?

"We have fruit punch," Joe offered, and I heard him reaching into the mini-fridge behind me to grab a pitcher. He placed it in front of me, and I glared at him as he came into sight. In his hand was a tall glass of milk, which he stared at in appreciation for a moment or two before gulping down.

I hate everyone. Worst day ever. Who the hell is the president of General Mills? I want to kill that guy for his shit-tastic Cheerios. From now on, I'm calling them Shitty Moodios... or something equally clever that reflects their Costco-sized pain in my ass.

"Why did you sleep so late, Nick? Usually you're up early," Dad remarked. Kevin's eyes narrowed in annoyance; he'd been interrupted yet again.

I didn't even know what time it was. "I had a nice dream," I mumbled.

"Ooh," Joe taunted. "A dream about a girl? A wet dream?"

I sighed. "A dream about sweet revenge. It involved you hanging by your ankle from a tree while panthers scratched up your carcass."

Joe snorted. "It was about a girl, wasn't it?"

I stared at the box of Cheerios-sorry, Craptacularios-for a moment before I surrendered and muttered, "Yes."

Just as I expected, Joe made a few weak jokes at my expense, and I ate my Cheerios with fruit punch. In case you're wondering, I don't recommend it.

My day went downhill from there. Oh, just you wait.

First of all, I fucking hate abbreviations. So many words in the English language are useless, and they're overused on a daily basis by morons. Why do people insist on shortening words that actually mean something? A sentence is like a piece of meat: trim away the fucking fat before you spit it out (or in the meat's case, before you eat it). And keep the stuff that matters. That's my philosophy.

Lately, Kevin has developed an obsession with abbreviations. It's because his close friend/on-again-off-again girlfriend, Danielle, uses them. She and her stupid blonde Californian girlfriends say things like watbot, p-tics, and libs. (Translation: water bottle, politics, library). And they think it's hilarious. Kevin, like the spineless little jellyfish he is, caught onto the dumb trend, and now I'm convinced that when he isn't talking, he's trying to come up with new ridiculous abbreviations in his mind (or, in Kevin's language, ‘abbrevs').

So when he started talking about our song, "Will Might", I just had to intervene in the conversation (and by conversation I mean Kevin was mostly talking to himself, with other people conveniently stationed in the same room).

"We don't have a song called Will Might," I informed him, throwing a t-shirt over my head. "Those two words don't even make sense next to each other."

"No," he shook his head. "One word. Willmight."

I looked around quickly to see if Dad was near, and when I guessed that the coast was clear, I replied with a shake of my head, "What the fuck is Willmight?"

"Eyes."

Eyes. WYLMITE. When You Look Me In The FUCKING Eyes, Kevin! Dammit, get it right!

He frowned in confusion. "Why are you looking at me like that? You look... murderous."

My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I wrestled with my words for another few seconds before shoving my arms through my t-shirt and giving him one last backwards glance as I stalked away, muttering, "You're an idiot."

That comment would have to do for now.

"Hello?" I asked, pressing my phone to my ear. Hopefully I sounded just as unimpressed as I felt. Often, I find it difficult to portray my feelings over the phone. They just don't translate as well as they do in person; and people are frequently confused.

"Heeeeey," drawled a familiar voice, and the vibration hurt my ears so much I had to tear my phone away and shudder.

"Miley," I replied, my voice void of expression. "It's... you."

Super.

"Sel told me we're having a threesome," she announced, and if I wasn't so frustrated I definitely would have smiled. Now there's a nice thought.

"Yeah. I guess I suggested it," I admitted grimly. (Side-note: why did I suggest it again?)

"Cool," she replied. "Okay, well here's the dealio. I'm off to Nashville for a few days, so we were thinking maybe we could do it late August."

I spread the tip of my index finger and thumb on my forehead, raising my eyebrows in annoyance. "Fine."

Maybe we should push it to September, Miley - it's possible that Joe and Camilla will have split by then and we'll have another addition to the infamous Jonas hate-club.

"Okay. So like August thirtieth or thirty-first? That works for you?"

"How about August nineteenth?" I suggested dryly.

"Mm..." she trailed off, and I heard the rustling of papers. She was probably flipping through some sort of agenda. Good grief. (Side-note: since when have all girls started saying ‘Mm'? That was Rainie's thing! Everyone else was ruining it). "Oh," she said disappointedly when she'd finally figured it out. "Nick, August nineteenth was three days ago."

I sighed. "Yeah," I agreed. I knew exactly when August nineteenth was.

"So... shit, that won't work," she muttered under her breath. I stifled a laugh. Really, Miles? "We could always do it in September when we're all back on set..." she suggested.

"August is fine," I told her. She was too accommodating; it was frustrating me.

"What day works better for you?"

I hate when people assume I've either memorized my entire schedule, or that I carry around a pocket calendar like an overworked, stressed businesswoman.

"Why don't you tell me what day works for you, and I'll get back to you later if I can't make it?" I proposed. Ha! Perfect. The ball was in my court, and I had a feeling that whichever day she suggested was going to be unfortunately busy for me.

"Mm... okay," she agreed. (Stop saying ‘mm', dammit). "I'll call Selena and ask her what works best."

"You do that."

"Talk to you later Nick!"

"Talk to you later Nick!" I mimicked sarcastically.

Silence.

Woops. Didn't mean to say that out loud. To be fair, I was having a horrible day, and Miley was just making it worse.

Speaking of horribleness, Joe must have caught on that I was speaking to Miley, because he shouted loudly, "Hey Nick, have you told her how you feel yet?"

More silence on the line.

Giving Joe nothing more than a bored glance, I cleared my throat and said to Miley, "Call me in a few days to let me know."

"Uh..." she trailed off, and it was clear that she was weirded out. "Yeah... okay, Nick. Later."

I put my phone into my pocket with a sigh. It wasn't fair that she was creeped out by me; I was supposed to be creeped out by her. Could I have made it more obvious that I wasn't interested?

Joe was chuckling to himself as he sat on the bench at the table, pretending to be immersed in The Goblet of Fire. I watched him for a few moments, shaking my head in disbelief.

"Laugh all you want, assmunch," I told him with a nod of my head. "You'll get yours."

Joe scoffed, tearing his eyes from the page to lock eyes with me. "You're all talk, Princess. You've been saying that for weeks."

I shrugged, the hint of a smirk on my face. I knew something he didn't.

I was kind of excited when we drove into Los Angeles. It seemed like it had been forever since we'd been home, and even though we still had a few more California shows to do, I was happy to get off the road for a while. Living in a bus and/or sharing a hotel room with your idiot brother(s) gets tiring after a while. At least when we're at home, we have our own friends to hang out with and we don't have to spend every minute of the day together.

I was also excited because Joe was in the other room on the phone after receiving an unexpected call, and I had a feeling I was about to get my revenge.

I sat at the kitchen table with my dad and Kevin. Kevin was talking about... well, he was talking, and I had asked Dad what was in our plans for the next few days, but I wasn't really listening to his response. We were cleaning out the fridge, and even though I'd just eaten half of a leftover wrap that probably hadn't been mine in the first place. I was contemplating polishing off the pitcher of fruit punch that sat in front of me. We started the day together in a bowl of Cheerios... it was only right that we should finish it together. Just me and the fruit punch, the way it should be. Me and the FP. The fpunch. The frunch. The fruit p. How the hell does Kevin make abbreviations work?! They're so damn hard.

"Now when was the last time we were home? June?" Dad asked to no one in particular. "Your mother said Elvis is excited to see you, Nick."

I was about to comment on how sad I was that I had missed my dog's first birthday when Joe stepped into view, his phone in one hand and his other fist clenched tightly. The pigment appeared to have drained from his face - he was white as a ghost, like he'd just seen the grim reaper or something. He walked like he had nowhere to go, like he didn't know what he was doing - but as soon as his wandering eyes found mine, he stopped.

I grinned as pleasantly as possible. I also offered him a wave.

"What's wrong?" Dad asked. "What happened?"

Joe only shook his head, refusing to comment. Apparently he had just had a traumatic experience.

I can't say I felt sorry for him. No, not at all. What happened was this: my phone call with Selena a couple of weeks ago had reminded me of that notorious Jonas hate-club. Joe seemed to be in close contact with my ex-girlfriends for reasons beyond my realm of understanding. It was then that I realized that I wasn't the only contributor to the hate-club: Joe definitely pitched in. In fact, Joe got around more than Kevin and I, so he probably had the majority of the hate-club.

Naturally, I called the best bet and told her that Joe and I had had long talks about their short and sweet relationship. Though they broke things off quickly, he still thought about her often and wondered if he'd made the right choice. He wished things hadn't ended badly and he desperately wanted to make amends, he just didn't know how. As a favour to my brother that I loved so dearly, I asked her to give him a call and tell him how she felt. That way, it might make it easier for him to reciprocate.

I make it sound so easy, but really, it took a lot of convincing to get Taylor to call Joe. After all, she avoided his calls for so long after they broke up, and I didn't think they'd spoken since then. A nice little ‘hello' and a handshake at award shows and whatnot, but that was the extent of it. She was obviously bitter, and it took a long time to explain to her why I was calling. She kept asking why I was talking to her now when I had never bothered to speak to her when she and Joe were dating.

Her point was completely valid, by the way. I did ignore her when she was dating Joe. The funny thing is that Joe and Taylor were kind of a match made in heaven. And by ‘heaven' I mean my version of hell. They both think they're hilarious, but the catch is that neither of them are. They have different senses of humour, and I guess they never complimented each other, but both of their jokes are complete flops most of the time. The only real difference between them is that Joe knows he's a tool, whereas Taylor has not yet reached that level of self-awareness.

Anyway, that's why I ignored her. She annoyed me just as Joe annoys me.

And apparently, I had just annoyed Joe, because his expression changed from gaunt and lifeless to deadly and furious in a matter of seconds. I knew he was itching to cuss me out and I'd get an earful later, but for now, with Dad in the room, it was impossible for him to say too much.

"I hate you," he said quietly.

I smacked my lips together and propped my head on my hands at the table. "So how'd it go?"

I heard Kevin ask what was wrong, but both Joe and I kept him out of it.

"Well, let's see," Joe said, clearly in no mood to play games. "After she told me, in detail, about how much I hurt her and how much she still loved me despite the pain, she asked me if I felt the same way. I replied that I did not, and she proceeded to yell at me. For five minutes straight. Do you know how long five minutes is?!"

"That's terrible, Joe," I answered with a concerned frown. "You should have been more considerate."

"At least when I call your ex-girlfriends, I don't tell them you're still harbouring feelings for them!" he exclaimed.

"What is going on?!" Dad asked loudly.

"Are you kidding?" I cried. "You tell them I'm lonely and I need them to cheer me up! Which is worse?"

"Do they make you feel like shit for five minutes? No, they do make you feel better!" Joe retorted.

"I have a triple date next week with Miley and Selena. Did I ever ask for that? I broke up with them for a reason, you chamhat!"

Dad was clearly upset that we were name-calling, but unfortunately for him, it was tough to get a word in edgewise.

"I was trying to help you out, you prat! I didn't do this to hurt you!"

I scoffed. "Yeah, okay."

"I didn't! And now Taylor's all fired up again and she's gonna go rat me out to the media about what a jerk I am!" Joe threw his arms up in the air, yelling, "Dad! Do something!"

Dad still had no idea what was happening.

I blinked. "So who would you like to hear from next? AJ, or that girl you met at Demi's birthday and dated for a week? What was her name again - Paige?"

"You're a dick," Joe spat at me.

"Joe," Dad said warningly.

Pursing his lips together, Joe picked up the pitcher of fruit punch. Before I knew what was happening, the ice-cold liquid was dripping off my hair, down my face and into my lap. I closed my eyes as it hit me, keeping my mouth shut to avoid choking on it.

And then Dad stood up and grabbed the pitcher from Joe, and Kevin laughed jovially like it was Christmas day, and Joe got sent out of the room.

Fuck that guy. Now I had to change out of my red birthday shirt, which I was wearing specifically because I knew I was seeing Pep. And I really wanted to drink the rest of that fruit punch.

When Pep flung her door open that night, I almost got tackled to the ground as she hurled herself at me. Pep alone isn't that hard to handle, but Elvis got really excited (I think he remembered her), and decided to join in on the tango.

I frowned as I hugged her; she was obviously sniffing my hair. Awkward.

She pulled away, commenting, "You smell like fruit juice."

Fucking Joe.

"Long Story," I mumbled.

"I got time," she grinned. "In fact, I - oh, Elvis! I missed you!" With that, she bent down and let Elvis smother her with kisses. She raised her chin and shut her eyes tightly, and I laughed. My dog was such a sap. He was like my complete opposite. Opposites attract, and that's why Elvis and I were best friends. Still, I did not condone his behaviour.

When Pep stood up again and insisted on giving me another hug, I realized that she had a scent, too. And it was oddly familiar.

"You smell like flowers," I said with a frown, pulling away slowly. "Rainie smells like flowers."

Did all girls smell like flowers, and I just never noticed it before?

Pep couldn't fight back a smile. Apparently she couldn't fight back a jab at me, either. "Ooh, do I? Does that mean you're in love with me, too?"

Pocket-sized bitch. "Not anymore," I grumbled, purposely distancing myself from her.

Eventually, I released Elvis in the backyard to frolic with Shep, and I followed Pep upstairs to her bedroom, happy to be back. I missed sitting on her roof and contemplating life. I climbed through the window first, crawling along the roof until I found a nice slanted spot where I could lie down comfortably.

Pep was close behind, and once I'd settled, I noticed that she had magically acquired a lollipop. She pulled another out of her pocket and offered it to me. "Want one?"

I shook my head. It's okay for girls to chew on lollipops. It's kind of erotic, actually. But guys? No. It's not okay.

"I thought you'd say that," she giggled. From the other pocket of her shorts, she produced a purple package.

My mouth dropped in shock and delight as I snatched the Mini Eggs from her hands. "Where did you find these?!"

"Leftover from Easter," she answered.

Easter was several months ago, so it was possible that the Mini Eggs were stale, but still... Mini Eggs!

"Oh, man," I groaned, almost drooling as I struggled to open the package, "I missed you so much."

"I missed you too!" she exclaimed.

I scoffed. "I was talking to the Mini Eggs, but okay."

She nudged me with a chuckle as I threw an egg into my mouth and shut my eyes, in complete bliss. "Wow, Nick. That looks like your orgasm face."

I opened my eyes immediately. "Don't even pretend you know what my orgasm face looks like."

"It looks like that," she said, a little too sure of herself. It kind of made me uneasy that she was so certain.

"I can't help it. How long ago was Easter?"

"April."

Popping another egg into my mouth, I shut my eyes again and said softly, "This is like the resurrection of Jesus... in a small chocolate egg. In my mouth."

When I opened my eyes again, Pep's eyebrows were raised in surprise.

"What?"

She laughed. "That was sort of blasphemous, don't you think?"

"What's blasphemous is that they only sell these things for one or two months a year."

Pep found a stick and started tracing the shingles on her roof. I ate a few more eggs in silence. This was happiness.

"Can you stop orgasming, please? I want to talk," she said in a whiny voice.

"One more," I insisted. This time, I let out a groan of pleasure, and Pep actually pushed me away from her.

"You're gross," she giggled.

"Whatever," I chuckled. "I hope Lance just walked into your room right now and thinks we're doing it up here. That'd be sweet revenge for what you did to me in front of Rainie."

Pep counted off her fingers. "First of all, I was helping you out there, so suck it. Second, Lance and I broke up. Third, if we were doing it, you'd be screaming."

"Ha! I highly doubt - you broke up?" I asked, cutting myself off.

She nodded. "Uh huh."

"How come? Wait, why didn't you tell me?"

She shrugged, hugging her knees to her chest. "I don't know. It wasn't important."

I arched a sceptical eyebrow. "Did he break up with you?"

"No. Other way around."

"I thought you were in love," I stated in confusion.

"I definitely never said that," she replied with a soft smile.

"I thought you liked him," I corrected myself.

"I did. I do. We're still friends."

"Did he cheat on you?" I questioned. "... with another guy?"

Oh, Lance. You would.

She elbowed me. "No. I just... wasn't all that interested anymore."

I nodded thoughtfully.

Pep glanced at me. "What?"

"Nothing."

"No. What are you thinking?"

"Do you have the attention span of a goldfish?"

Her nose scrunched until I could no longer see the freckles. "What?"

"How can you become bored with someone so quickly?"

"I wasn't bored with him. I just wasn't interested."

"The opposite of interest is boredom," I pointed out.

"I wasn't romantically interested in him anymore," she corrected herself.

"And again I ask: the attention span of a goldfish?"

I already knew the answer. Pep told me her parents had taken her to get tested for ADHD three times. The first when she was five, and they were puzzled when the results were negative. They took her again when she was ten. When the results were yet again negative, her parents wanted a second opinion. She just likes to jump around a lot, and I guess her brain jumps around a lot, too.

She shook her head with a shrug. "I just changed my mind, that's all."

That's lame. If a girl started dating me and told me she changed her mind three weeks later, I'd tell her to change it back. Girls are so picky and indecisive, even Pep. It drives me insane.

"How is your love life?" she asked. "Spoken to Rainie lately?"

"We're going to breakfast tomorrow."

A popping sound was made as Pep took the lollipop out of her mouth. Her tongue was red. "Breakfast was fine on the tour and all, but I think it's time you move to the next level. Lunch, maybe dinner."

I frowned as a thought hit me. "Speaking of lunch, you still haven't paid me back for that time we went to lunch a few months ago. Remember, when you made me stalk Rainie?"

Pep threw back her head with laughter. "Oh, yeah."

"I still have the receipt for that somewhere. It's like, ten bucks."

She stuck her red tongue out at me. "You're a hypocrite. I read an interview you guys gave over the summer, and you all said you liked to pay for girls when you took them out on dates."

"I say lots of shit in front of people I don't trust. Pay up, mushroom."

"I bet you'll pay for Rainie tomorrow, won't you?"

I paused for a moment, contemplating my response.

"You will!" she exclaimed, stamping her feet on the roof.

"Because we're going on a date," I explained.

It made sense to me, but of course Pep found an objection. "It couldn't be further from a date! She's got a boyfriend! At least when you and I went to lunch, we were both single!"

"That was not a date," I said slowly, pointing at her warningly.

And all of a sudden, she dissolved in smiles. I couldn't help but smile along. Sometimes Pep does things unexpectedly, like smile when we're in the middle of a serious discussion. Little proton.

"Sometimes you remind me of Jim," she commented.

"Who's Jim?"

"From The Office, obviously."

One of the things I'll never understand about people is their unwillingness to think before they speak. The English language would be much less clustered if people would stop being so fucking redundant and using words that don't matter, like ‘obviously'. If it was obvious, would I have asked for clarification?

(The answer is no).

"I don't watch The Office."

"You're crazy. You'd like it. You'd like Jim."

"Because we look alike?"

"You act alike. Sometimes I try to assign all the characters to people I know in real life. You would be Jim, and Joe would be Dwight, and Kevin would be Kelly-"

"Then who are you?"

"Obviously I'm Pam."

Again with the ‘obviously'. Ugh.

"How come?"

"Because Jim and Pam are best friends, and Jim doesn't really like anyone else."

She said it so sincerely, like it was so simple and evident, that I had to snort with laughter.

Sliding down the shingles, she chirped, "I have the first two seasons on DVD! You have to watch it!"

Before I could protest, she hopped inside her bedroom. I heard her rifling around on her shelves for the DVD box set. With a shake of my head, I observed the dogs for a moment or two. Elvis was all gung-ho to play, chewing on some sort of rope-toy and wagging it around in front of Shep's face, like he wanted him to play along. Shep, as the older and wiser of the two, was lying on the ground, nothing but his eyes shifting as he watched Elvis being a fool. That dog was getting old. He never ran anymore.

"Hey Nick!" Pep cried as she clambered out the window once more.

"Hey Pep!" I mimicked, drawing my eyes away from poor ol' Shep.

As she handed me seasons one and two of The Office, she asked casually, "What if Rainie and Jesse broke up?"

"The world would rejoice?" I phrased it as a question because I didn't quite understand where she was going with this. I stared at the pictures on the box.

"No, seriously."

I gave her a confused glance. "I don't get the question."

There are a lot of things that bother me about people. So many, in fact, that I've probably already mentioned this one. I hate when people aren't specific when asking questions. There's so much unnecessary confusion in the world. Finding a cure for diabetes is important and all, but I swear, the next organization I involve myself with will be devoted to teaching kids how to communicate properly with others. It's a lost art.

"What if they broke up? What would you do? Would you ask her out?"

I wouldn't need to ask her out. I was pretty confident that she would just know, and we would be together.

"Yeah," I lied.

"She's five years older than you."

Fuck. Even my best friend was bringing that up? Come on.

"Yeah," I repeated. Did I have to bring out the Hugh Hefner example again? Five years was nothing. Nothing. It's like, when I was born, Rainie was five. That's hardly a difference at all. Newborns are basically the same as five-year-olds. The age gap was probably apparent for a while afterwards, but then it evened out again. I'm a smart kid; I can hold my own against a twenty-one year-old woman. And when I'm twenty-one, she'd be twenty-six. What could be more perfect? She'd be emotionally mature enough for children, and my sperm would be in its prime.

The more I thought about it, the more the age gap made sense to me.

"What if your family doesn't like it?"

"Why wouldn't they like it? They'll probably be so happy that I actually have a girlfriend that they won't even notice the age difference." I growled in the back of my throat at the thought of Joe, who was always on my back for being ‘lonely' and ‘mopey'.

"They already know Rainie is dating Jesse... I think they have an idea of how old she is," Pep giggled. She was in the process of throwing on a thin hoodie, but somehow she had gotten her head stuck inside and her arms were flailing about. Psh. Leave it to Pep to get stuck in her own clothing.

"So what?"

"I bet your mom and dad won't be happy."

"Why not?" I was betting they'd be joyous. Rainie is amazing.

"Because my dad would kill me if I dated a twenty-one year-old guy," Pep said, her head finally free from the confines of her sweater.

I shook my head. "It's different for girls. Fathers don't want their pure, innocent daughters dating experienced men. They'll be corrupted and deflowered."

Pep guffawed. "It's the same for you, Mr. Purity Ring!"

I continued to shake my head. "It's not."

Pep raised a curious eyebrow. "Really?"

"Really," I repeated matter-of-factly.

She frowned, her scary blue eyes in concentration mode. "Is there something I don't know about you?" she inquired suspiciously.

I have no idea how she misinterpreted my words, but again... leave it to Pep. When I didn't reply, she questioned further, "How innocent are you?"

I was puzzled. Still, to appear nonchalant, I responded, "Not innocent."

Pep leaned back against the roof, her hands behind her to support her weight. She crossed her ankles, saying, "Just how far have you gone, Nick J?"

Oh, for the love of God. "Okay," I murmured, losing eye contact and searching in the twilight for the dogs again.

"Seriously. What have you done with a girl? With some guys you can just tell when they walk into a room, but you're a little harder to-"

"Great. Let's talk about something else," I interrupted. This was gross.

Pep laughed with glee, delighting in how uncomfortable she was making this conversation. "Come on! I'll tell you how far I've gone."

"I'm throwing up in my mouth," I told her firmly.

Why do girls always use that as leverage? Come on, I'll tell you who I like. Come on, I'll tell you how far I've gone. Come on, I already went down on you twice this week - woops, that one just slipped out.

Seriously though. Girls are sneaky that way. Even Pep.

"Well, with Jake, I-"

"Do you want me to throw up?" I exclaimed, overpowering her voice. I frowned as there was a hesitation between us, and then I said quietly, "No, you didn't do anything with Jake. You told me."

Pep and Jake were a couple over a year ago. If I had to locate that kid now and kick his ass, it was almost not worth it.

"I said we didn't have sex," Pep smirked. "But we-"

"Stop." I held my hand up to her face. "Don't talk to me about this stuff. I don't want to know. You're Pep; you're my little asexual hobbit-friend. Don't ruin that for me."

She laughed, twisting an elastic hair band around her fingers and aiming at me. I flinched, awaiting the blow.

"If your best friend was a guy, you wouldn't require him to be asexual," Pep pointed out.

"Yes, I would."

Maybe that wasn't entirely true. Nonetheless, it's weird to talk to girls about this kind of stuff, even if the girl you're talking to isn't really a girl at all. And as I'm sure I've already mentioned, I don't like discussing this stuff in general. Relationships are like a safe where you store all that stuff inside and don't let it escape because nobody else needs to know.

After a few moments of silence, Pep asked cheerily, "Are you thinking about sex?"

Through gritted teeth, I responded, "Yes."

She giggled. "You're difficult."

"You talk too much."

"You smell like Kool Aid."

"It took you a full minute to figure out how to put on your sweater."

"Your hair is curly."

"Yours is red."

"You suck."

I was about to respond with a similar remark when my phone vibrated. Instantly, I whipped it out of my pocket. Lately, I had become very attached to my cell. It was a part of me, because it could lead me to Rainie.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

Still on for breakfast
tomorrow, right?

I smiled as I punched in a response.

"Do you always smile like that when she talks to you?" Pep asked, and I was suddenly aware of her eyes on me.

"Who?"

"You know who. Rainie."

"How do you know it's her?"

"Because it's not me. Who else would it be?"

Pep had definitely been talking to Joe. Why else would she assume I had no other friends? I'll kill that guy. All the shit he's done to me... it warrants a murder, I'm almost positive.

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah. She makes me smile."

Pep nodded broodingly, a hint of a frown on her face.

"What?"

"If you really like her, then you should go for it," she encouraged me.

Wasn't she just telling me Rainie was too old for me a few seconds ago?

"Why the change of heart?" I asked, putting my phone back into my pocket after pressing ‘Send'.

She shrugged, allowing herself to smile. This time when she pointed her hair band towards me like a sling, she actually took aim and fired. It hit me in the forehead. I winced.

"'Cuz you're excited about her. And you don't get excited enough."

Nick Junior would beg to differ, but...

"Thank you." I picked up the orange hair band and fired it back towards her. She caught it and slid it around her wrist. Not that I needed anyone's approval to pursue Rainie, but it's always nice to have someone on your side.

Pep clapped her hands together and stood straight up on the roof. "Well, I gotta get to bed. I have a dentist appointment early tomorrow."

I frowned. "It's like 8:00, kid."

She grinned toothily. "Well, I don't want you to have to walk home in the dark. You're very delicate; I couldn't bear if anything happened to you."

I scoffed, but nonetheless, I made a move to follow her inside. Instead of crawling and scooting across the roof as usual, Pep decided it would be a good idea to attempt to walk the entire way.

I can't stress how bad this idea was.

Obviously, as anyone could have predicted, she lost her balance and went sliding down the roof until I sprang into action, leaping forward and grabbing onto her wrist.

"Jesus!" I exclaimed as she giggled and climbed back up, using my hand as leverage. "Could you try not to give me a heart attack?"

Pep was all-smiles, seemingly unaffected by her near-death experience. "Aw, did I scare you? Ow, you're hurting me."

I had her wrist in the grip of death.

Once she was balanced again, I let go of her hand and glared at her incredulously. "What the hell!"

Laughing, Pep responded, "I thought I could make it."

"Since when has it been a good idea to walk across a perfectly slanted roof?!" I demanded, following her a little more cautiously and breathing a sigh of relief as I jumped through the window and into her bedroom.

Giving me a knowing look, she returned, "I had faith that it would work out." I was about to tell her that was the stupidest thing I've ever heard until she slyly added, "Just like you and your Rainie."

I could have pulled out my hair. No, I could have pulled out Pep's hair. I hate when people try to teach me lessons in creative ways. In fact, I hate when people try to teach me lessons, period. It never works, and it's not like I've never heard their wise words before. I know what I'm doing. I'm sure I've already mentioned that I'm a calculated individual.

"You're a bitch," I said with a nod, curling my upper lip in distaste as she twirled around. "Never do that to me again."

She tricked me. She made me think she was on my side when all this time, she was planning that stupid, life-threatening stunt.

I waved The Office in front of her to let her know that I had it before striding out of her bedroom. When I was in her backyard, crouching down to leash up my dog, she stuck her head out of her bedroom window.

"Don't be mad, Princess Nick!" she exclaimed.

Knotting Elvis' leash around my wrist, I stood up and squinted to see her in the fading sunlight. "I think I'm taller than you, even when I stand a storey below you."

She smiled brightly and told me not to forget to watch The Office. Then I made my exit using the gate at the side of the house. Elvis traipsed along ahead of me, minding his own business, but always waiting for me to catch up.

You know, I really appreciate that dog. He's way better than almost all the humans I know.

This thought made me sad, and it solidified the fact that today just hadn't been my day. The world was conspiring against me, and I would simply have to wait it out and hope that the next day would be better. My best bet would be to just go home and go to bed right away to avoid any more un-pleasantries.

Sometimes life gets you down. It's inevitable. When I'm depressed, when I feel like the world is against me, when I feel like I can't do anything right, I remember this: I was the fastest sperm. Think about it. Out of hundreds of millions of little guys, I won the race. I beat out all those other bastards and came in first. And for that, I deserve some sort of award.

No matter how down I am, thinking about my victory always makes me feel a little better about myself.

End Notes:
My apologies for the wait! Usually I don't update so slowly, but man, terrible week. In the end I just gave up on life and came home three days early. The bad news is that I deliberately skipped a midterm and will probably have to drop that course and I don't know what I want to do with my life or where I'm going or why I made the choices I did, but the GOOD news is that this whole mess has inspired me greatly, and I have had many thoughts, and I would like to combine them in a story of sorts that I have been thinking of since December. Also, on the train ride home I reread The Alchemist, which was one of my favourite books to begin with and is now definitely bumped up to favourite. When I got home I re-watched Into The Wild, the most inspiring movie of my life. And I listened to my favourite songs. And really, I think I'm good to go. So I'll be working on that.
Also, you guys know that this is chapter fifteen, right? And some of you know about me and my chapter seventeens, so... I guess that's coming up soon. I'm thrilled.
A couple of weeks ago in the drug store I was casually flipping through a teen magazine (because I'm nineteen and I still get to legitimately do that kind of stuff without looking lame.. well okay, I guess I looked sort of dumb), and I read that Nick hates when people shorten "WYLMITE" to "Eyes". I thought I'd add that in. It kind of sounds like something my Nick would be annoyed with, doesn't it?
Oh, also, I stole the ‘fastest sperm' comment from a facebook group. I noticed that a couple of my friends had joined it and I checked it out and laughed. It really DOES make you feel a little better about yourself, though.
Furthermore, I'm sorry if you don't watch The Office and didn't understand the comparisons... it's okay, it's not really that important, and everything you need to know will be explained in a few chapters. However, for those of you who DO watch The Office, I think Pep was wrong - in this story, Joe is definitely Jim, and Nick is definitely Ryan (or Dwight, because Joe plays pranks on him - but no, Nick is definitely Ryan). Kevin, however, is probably pretty accurate as Kelly.
New chapter up in four days max, I promise. I think it's time to torture Nick a little more with some ex-girlfriend lovin' :) I'm mean to him, and I enjoy it thoroughly.
PS. I love Mini Eggs, and I bought some yesterday to cheer myself up. They are wonderful. Even if you don't celebrate Easter, you have to admit that these eggs are pieces of heaven.
PPS. Wow, my sincere apologies for the ridiculously long AN. Just one more note, though. If any of you were friends with me during the ffnet days, you may remember how I mentioned how excited I was that my sister was pregnant... well, I'M home for reading week and SHE has one week to go! She better pop this baby out soontimes, because I'm ready.
Day 168: Soundtrack of My Life by The archive

Day One Hundred and Sixty Eight.

I wasn't lying to Rainie when I said that some people have soundtracks. I know I have one. When I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, Frankie Valli's 'You're Just Too Good to Be True' starts playing. When I walk into a room, I'm pretty sure everyone else is hearing Duran Duran's 'Notorious'. When I'm feeling badass (always): ACDC, 'Highway to Hell'. When I'm onstage: Van Halen - 'Jump'. When Kevin talks to me, 'My Brain is Hanging Upside Down', The Ramones, blasted as loud as possible to drown out his voice. And when I talk to Rainie? I don't know, some sappy romantic bullshit that fourteen year-old girls listen to. Beyoncé, 'Crazy In Love'. Yeah. Because she's like the Beyoncé to my Jay-Z. She's bootylicious, and I ain't no playa. Born a hustla, ya'll. H to the izz-O, V to the izz-A, dude, I gets bizzay. Cash money. Bling.

(Actually, I think I'll leave all that talk up to Jay-Z and stick to my own New Jersey dialect).

However, when I get suckered into meeting two of my ex-girlfriends for lunch at the same time because Miley called my house phone and my mom told her I wasn't busy (I'll never forgive Mom for that, by the way), there's only one song on the soundtrack of my life:

Spring Awakening. Brilliant musical, it speaks to me. The song? Totally Fucked.

I was on Broadway when I was younger. Les Mis, Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun... all the cool shows that everybody likes. Still, I should have been in this one. I'd be the guy who kills himself because he can't handle his sexual urges and someone (coughRainiecough) won't give into the sexual tension and surrender herself to me-I mean, the guy in the play.

To be honest, I don't really know the story, but I'm pretty sure that's what happens and that's who I'd be. Or I'd be the other main guy, only because he has a better haircut and let's face it; he's a lot cooler than the first one.

The day I accompanied Miley and Selena for lunch, 'Totally Fucked' was on repeat.

I was last to meet them at the diner. It was sunny, so I had a legitimate reason to wear sunglasses on the street, but I also took my black cuffed beanie with me and made sure to hide my diabetes tag inside my t-shirt. It's called throwing people off your scent, and apparently Miley had never heard of it.

Selena, the more sensible of the two, had her hair pinned back. Miley, on the other hand, was dressed exactly as she would on any other day, and the volume of her voice probably wasn't measurable on a decibel scale. Jesus.

Instead of requesting something more private at the back of the diner, they sat right next to the window at the front, "because they liked the flowers outside". Fuck off. It's fucking summer; you can see flowers whenever the hell you want! Why here? Why now?

Before even joining them, I knew this was going to be fun. And by 'fun', I mean torturous. And by 'torturous', I mean I'd rather be anywhere else. Except in Kendall's house.

"Nicholas! Finally!" Miley shrieked as soon as I sat down. I'm pretty sure everyone within a twelve-mile radius turned around to look at us; God she was loud.

I froze for a moment, tightening my jaw. This was not going to go well.

"Yeah. Sorry. Got a little held up," I apologized. Actually, the reason I was late was that two minutes before it was time to go, I decided I was ditching. I was about to march back into my house and lock myself in my bedroom for the next couple of hours until fucking Frankie had to draw attention to me. (Like I said, he's half my age, but he's a total moron. By the age of eight, kids are supposed to have common sense). Joe, like the annoying twit he is, deemed it unacceptable and, along with that traitor Kevin, wrestled me to the ground and carried me out to the car by my arms and legs despite my struggles.

If they weren't my brothers and our faces weren't on backpacks at Wal-Mart, I would kill them. At the very least, I would cut off their arms and legs and see how they liked being helpless. For good measure, I'd surgically remove Kevin's voice box, as well.

"We already ordered drinks. I got you a Diet Coke, 'cause I know you love 'em," Miley shouted. (I'm not lying. She was shouting. It's surprising how baffled she is that the paps always seem to find her).

"That's fine," I replied. I wondered why she had to make that statement known. Maybe this was some sort of jealous ex-girlfriend face-off between her and Selena. It didn't really make sense, since they were both part of the past, but girls are always competing with one another. Miley was probably upset that I had deliberately shifted my chair closer to Selena than to her.

"Take these off, we know who you are." Before I could react, Miley yanked my sunglasses off my face and set them down on the table. I stared at her for a moment, my eyes reading, 'Are you kidding me!?' Somehow, I don't think it bothered her in the slightest.

The waitress emerged with a tray, and as she handed us our drinks and Miley was momentarily silenced as she sucked on her straw (she would be silenced by sucking), I turned my attention to Selena and offered her a pleasant smile.

"How's it going, Sel?" I asked.

While she squeezed a slice of lemon into her glass of water, she replied, "Pretty good. Busy, but... solid. How have you been?"

I nodded slowly. "Can't complain."

(I could always complain, but she didn't need to know that. She was too nice. I always felt bad complaining in front of her because she seemed so uncomfortable about it).

"Hey, do you guys want an appetizer?" Miley asked, flipping through the menu. "We could get mozzarella sticks. Nick loves cheese. Sel, do you like cheese?"

Who doesn't like cheese? People are wrong when they say there's no such thing as a stupid question. I can think of a lot of stupid questions off the top of my head, and this is a prime example.

"Of course!" Selena exclaimed. "Obvs I like cheese."

Oh, good God. It was hard to say who was pissing me off more at this point. On one hand, Miley was obnoxiously noisy and oddly possessive of the relationship we had many moons ago. On the other, quiet little Sel had just killed it in six words. I hate when people say 'of course', I hate when people say 'obviously', and I hate fucking abbreviations. Ding, ding, ding. Three strikes.

"Natch," Miley giggled.

Ding for Miley. Abbreviation.

"How's Elvis?" Selena asked me while Miley went to flag down the waitress for cheese sticks.

"The best. As always."

"And Frankie?"

"The worst." She looked surprised and almost offended, so I smiled and added, "Joking. He's good."

He's a little rat, and if it wasn't for him and his big mouth, I could be hiding in my room and avoiding this awkwardness.

"And your mom?" I inquired, resting my elbows on the table.

Again I say: awkwardness.

"Good," she said with a nod. "We're thinking of moving."

"Yeah? Where to?"

"Probably somewhere in Beverly Hills, but-"

"Mozzarella sticks!" Miley exclaimed, setting a steaming breadbasket on the table.

I laughed. I shouldn't have, because Miley was far too pleased that she'd evoked emotion from me, but I couldn't help it.

"Are you our official waitress now?" I asked with a snort.

"I just know how to get what I want," she answered with a wink. "And fast." (Vomit). Suddenly, she threw her head back and laughed. "Hey Nick!" she cried, and I slouched in my chair, feeling my cheeks turning red. People definitely knew who we were, and they were definitely eavesdropping. "Remember the last time we were here?"

Oh, no...

I shook my head. This wasn't supposed to mean that I didn't remember, it was supposed to alert Miley not to go on. This wasn't the time or the place or the company in which to reminisce.

"Well," Miley began, gearing up for story-time, "it was raining, and Nick and I came for dinner."

I continued to shake my head. Miley, unfortunately, was more interested in telling Selena the story. How inappropriate.

"We were so wet, and the waitress stared at us like we were crazy. Remember, Nick?"

This had to stop. "Yeah. And then we ate dinner, and then we went home. It was fun," I finished. End of story.

"No, no," Miley silenced me, and I groaned aloud. Selena giggled quietly; I know she heard me and felt my pain. Well, she was about to feel it a lot more. "We split a plate of pasta. Selena, it was the funniest thing ever. We kept trying to grab forkfuls at the same time so the pasta would connect, like in Lady and the Tramp, you know?"

I was pretty sure my cheeks were on fire by now. I exhaled in resignation, propping my head in my hands and staring at the surface of the table.

"It was so funny. We must have looked like such idiots," Miley laughed. "Eventually we got one that connected, and we tried to lean across the table towards each other but Nick ended up spilling his drink everywhere."

Selena laughed. It was hard to tell when Selena was faking it, but I knew her well enough to assure myself that it was simply out of politeness. It was possible that she was just as uncomfortable as I was.

"We had this... like... orgasmic cake for dessert. Was it cheesecake, Nick?"

I hoped to God this was where she was going to end it. "Yes," I muttered. (Side-note: It wasn't cheesecake).

"Yeah," Miley agreed. "And then Nick's cell battery died and I had left mine at home because I'd slept over at his house-"

The muscles in my legs clenched at her words. I'm sorry, but was this part of the story necessary?

"-so we had to walk home because we couldn't get a hold of anyone."

"Why didn't you use a payphone?" Selena inquired.

Why don't you shut up and let Miley finish this stupid story so we can all get the hell out of here?

"Nick wanted to, but I like the rain. Don't you? We were already wet, and... I don't know, it was just kind of romantic."

Honestly, I was feeling more than a little nauseous. Spies were everywhere, and Miley wasn't even trying to keep her voice down. If I read about this the next week in In Touch or OK! or another one of those junk magazines, I would die. I would actually want to die.

"It was the cutest ever," Miley continued, pausing for a moment to sip her beverage. "He kissed me in the rain, just like in the movies, but it was better than that. And he gave me his jacket to wear home. So sweet, Nicky."

Again, I feel it's necessary to clarify that I kissed her because I was really aroused by that wet white shirt she was wearing. I lent her my jacket because I felt it wouldn't be good for my reputation if I was photographed walking home in the rain with a practically-topless girl. This had nothing to do with chivalry or romance. Nothing. Girls misinterpret everything.

A few moments of silence ensued, and I felt that it was safe to raise my head again and face the world. The story was officially over. Thank the lord.

"Aw, that's so cute, Nick," Selena gave me a close-lipped smile. I knew that smile. She wasn't too impressed. That makes two of us, baby. "That's like the time we were in NYC and we ordered room service, and you were too tired to move so I fed you your dinner."

Son of a bitch, I forgot about that. I wasn't too certain how the instances were similar, but I was pretty sure there was some sort of war going on between these two girls. And I was in the middle.

I'm all for Nick J sandwiches, really, I am. But only if they're happy sandwiches. These bitchy cat-fights weren't my thing. Now, if Miley and Selena wanted to take this outside and get a little physical for a while, that was fine with me. But sitting in public with the two of them while they exchanged awkward memories at my expense... it wasn't really doing it for me.

Selena giggled while Miley forced a smile. "Nick had been up since like, five a.m. and it was late at night. He'd barely stopped moving all day, so when he got back to the hotel he jumped in bed and refused to move, but he had to eat. It was so funny; he made me feed him like he was four."

In case you're wondering, I don't have an explanation for this one. I really was too lazy to feed myself.

"Thanks, Sel," I mumbled.

"Welcome, rockstar," she returned with a smirk, stuffing a cheese stick in her mouth.

"Oh God, you know what that reminds me of?" Miley said suddenly. And as she launched into another terrible, excruciatingly painful story of our embarrassing youth, I closed my eyes and prayed for the power of apparition. If only Harry Potter were real, and I could snap my fingers and appear somewhere else. I'd go to the Caymans. No, I'd go to the Rainforest; they'd never find me there. No, I'd probably just go to Pep's house to sit on her roof and tell her about my day. She would laugh at me, but it would be a real laugh, and I wouldn't have to waste energy analyzing it. My Chaucer-ness could use a break once in a while.

My excitement level rose exponentially as soon as our food was brought out. First, because I was starving, and second, because once we were finished eating, I could escape.

Miley and Selena had stopped recounting stories of our relationships a while ago, and I was thankful for that. For a while, everything was okay, and we chatted like friends. It was comfortable and I almost (I said almost) enjoyed myself.

Nonetheless, when we were halfway through our meals, the two girls must have exchanged some sort of nonverbal message that neither me nor my Chaucer-ness picked up on. They turned on me.

"So Nick," Miley said, casually throwing a raw carrot into her mouth, "You seeing anyone lately?"

I used my tongue to clean my mouth of food before I answered, "Nope."

"Really? No one?" She seemed surprised and... wait a second, was she talking to me as if I was inferior to her?

Fuck that. "No one," I replied confidently.

"Really?" she repeated, and as I glanced at Selena for support, I realized that she was interested, too. Dammit. "I thought-you went out with like, Dakota Fanning or something for a while, didn't you?"

I wanted to slap her across the face. How insulting. "Dakota Fanning is seven years old," was my snarky response. She's even too young for Frankie.

"She's not seven, she's fourteen!" Selena exclaimed with a giggle, holding a napkin to her mouth.

"She was seven in that movie she was in," I pointed out. I refused to believe this. "I Am Sam. She's young."

Miley snorted with laughter. "That movie's like ten years old, Nick."

I shrugged uncaringly. "How am I supposed to know? I never met her."

(That probably wasn't true. Sometimes I lose track of the people I've met).

"Was Selena the last person you dated?" Miley asked nonchalantly. Again, Selena offered no support. She was just as curious as Miley.

I shoved my mouth full of food and nodded slowly. Selena raised her eyebrows and stared at her plate, and Miley was eating this all up like candy.

"Really? Wow, that was like... how many months ago, Sel?"

"A long time."

"I rewwy buwy," I spat. (Translation: I'm really busy). "I doh ha tie." (I don't have time).

Miley shrugged. "Joe and Kevin have time."

"I doh." (I don't. So shut your fucking face).

"What about your friend? The crazy redheaded one? You still talk to her?" Miley asked.

"Duh." (Duh).

"Pep," Selena chimed in. "I remember her. Are you interested in her?"

I swallowed my food in time to blurt out, "No!"

"Why not?" Selena was perplexed.

"You should pursue it, Nick. She's cute," Miley informed me.

People are always telling me Pep is cute, like it's some sort of secret that everyone but me knows. Do they honestly think it's escaped my attention? She's like fuckin' Roo. You know, Kanga's son in Winnie the Pooh. Everyone likes Roo, and he bounces around without a care in the world and he's adorable. That's just the way it is. No one can deny it, not even bitter SOBs like me.

I shook my head vehemently. "No. That's overstepping the boundaries of a friendship. You can't go from being friends to more than friends."

Miley frowned. "We were friends first."

"So were we," Selena chirped.

Damn them.

"She's small," I tried again.

Both girls burst out laughing. I hated them.

"You're too picky, Nick," Miley chided me with a nudge in the arm.

"Yeah, and you fit my criteria perfectly," I muttered bitterly.

"Hmm?"

"I said I'm not picky."

"But you are lonely," Selena reminded me with a sad smile.

"No," I snapped with a frown. "Whatever Joe told you is wrong. I don't need a girlfriend. I've got something in the works."

Apparently my last comment flew over their heads, never to be heard of again, because Miley exclaimed with way too much enthusiasm, "We should set him up with someone, Sel!"

"Oh my God, a blind date!" she agreed excitedly.

"No blind dates," I said quickly, suddenly feeling more alert and defensive than before. When they glanced at me, I repeated, "No."

"It'll be so much fun," Miley insisted. "We can do like a blind double date, that way it's not awkward. Me, you, Justin, and another girl."

Wow. A double date with my ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend, and some girl I've never even met that's probably a complete psycho if chosen by Miley. No, not awkward at all. It's hard to say no, isn't it?

"I prefer to let things happen naturally," I commented. And by 'naturally', I mean I was eventually going to make a move on Rainie.

"Don't be a killjoy," Miley frowned in my direction.

"Yeah, we're setting you up," Selena added.

Thank God I found the woman I'm going to marry, because I refused to contribute any more to that life-ruining Jonas hate-club. This was such bad news. Why was I here again?

Miley took out her cell phone and started texting furiously. At least, I thought she was texting until she asked, "In the business or out of the business, Nick?"

My head shot up. "What?"

"Which do you prefer?"

"Preferably in, but-"

"Okay," she muttered to herself, typing it on her tiny keyboard. She looked at me again. "Sense of humour?"

"Stop that. No."

She shrugged. "Okay then. No sense of humour."

"No, that's not what I said!" I cried. I leaned across the table in attempt to grab the phone from her, but she shimmied away.

Selena giggled. "Blonde or brunette, Nick?"

"Why not red?" I demanded.

"You do like Pep-"

"Or black! I want black!" I added quickly.

"What if it's dyed black?" Selena asked with a smile.

"We're not doing this."

"Athletic or not?"

"I'm serious. There's no way in hell I'm going on a blind date," I said firmly.

"In terms of style, would you prefer casual, businesslike, or trendsetter?" Miley inquired, anxiously awaiting my response.

What the fuck was going on? I was so confused. At first, I was so sure that both of my ex-girlfriends were still in love with me and were secretly (or not-so-secretly) fighting over who had the best relationship, but now it was like they were teaming up to get their revenge on me for not being in their lives anymore.

That didn't even make sense, because Miley and I decided together that we should break up, and when I told Selena it was over, she was cool about it.

Why were they bitter about the separation now?!

I leaned towards Miley and said quietly but sternly, "I don't think you understand. I don't need you to set me up with anyone. Ever. For any reason. Ever."

My words were lost on her as she looked me up and down, assessing my attire. "We'll go with casual for the time being." She typed it into her phone.

This was really fucking frustrating. I should have been mad at these two terrible girls, but instead I felt a bubbling hatred in my veins for Joe. This was all his fault, as usual.

"Wouldn't it be great if they got married, and we were the matchmakers?" Selena asked.

"We'd be the maids of honour," Miley laughed. "We'd have to give a speech about how we set them up and how we just knew they'd be perfect together."

Excellent. My ex-girlfriends giving a speech at my wedding. Just what I've always wanted.

"Who's they?" I demanded. "There isn't even a girl yet. So far it's just me. Alone."

Selena burst into laughter. "That'll be one depressing wedding."

I gritted my teeth in annoyance.

Miley eyed me with a grin. "Now, this is kind of an awkward question, but do you want someone with experience? Because I know this great girl, but she's really innocent and I don't think she's ever been in a relationship, but-"

"Excuse me?" a voice interrupted.

All three of us glanced behind us to see a gaggle of teenaged girls (yes, a gaggle), stationed behind us. Many of them sported cameras.

"Can we get pictures?" one of them asked shyly.

I have never been so thankful for fans. It's funny, because Big Rob gets paid a shit ton to act as head of security. He makes sure people don't trample us to death or hound us like crazy or that psycho fans don't assassinate us or whatever. Nonetheless, on this day, I was pretty sure that fans saved my life.

As a reflex, I plastered a warm smile on my face and extended my arm, immediately answering, "Sure."

I stood up and motioned for Miley and Selena to do the same. There were only about seven girls, and I was almost hoping that a line-up would form to take up time. Unfortunately, none of the older couples in the diner seemed to want pictures with us Disney channel stars. Damn them.

Afterwards, the waitress brought us the bill and I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time, only to discover that I had received a message from Rainie while I was wasting my time with old flames.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

i took a cab to work &
the partridge family was
playing on the radio.
it reminded me of you
and me and my sound
track.

You know what was so great about that text? When she wrote 'you and me'. Me and Rainie. Rainie and me. I wondered if Rainie was her real name, or if people ever called her Ray for short. Like a ray of sunshine. Kind of ironic, since her name was Rainie.

"What are you smiling about?" Miley asked rather rudely.

"I got a text from..." I trailed off. Did I really want to explain the complexities of my life to these jerks? I was about to replace Rainie with Pep, but I knew that would set them off again. Instead, I finished, "... my mom."

Selena smiled warmly at me. "Nick, you're so sweet sometimes. You should let it show more often."

Barf.

Still, I could use my response to my advantage. "Yeah. She says dinner will be ready soon, so I should get home."

"You just ate a huge lunch," Miley noted, patting my stomach unexpectedly.

I shirked away from her touch and stood up to gather my things (and by 'my things' I mean my sunglasses). "Yeah. Teenaged boy. Growth spurt. Eating constantly."

"Isn't that bad for your diabetes?" Miley asked suspiciously.

I paused. I really wanted to get out of there. "I don't have diabetes anymore. They found a cure. So... yay." I did a rather unenthusiastic jig as I pulled my keys from my pocket.

Selena mimicked me in standing up, and Miley was quick to follow. "Are you serious?" she asked in awe.

Selena was laughing quietly to herself, but I knew she wouldn't ruin this for me. I nodded, trying my hardest to keep a straight face.

"Nick," Miley breathed softly, engulfing me in an embrace before I could protest. "That's amazing," she whispered into my ear. When she pulled away, I could swear there were tears in her eyes.

I kind of felt bad.

Except I didn't, not really. I held my arms out to hug Selena, not because I felt it was mandatory, but because I wanted to laugh gently in her ear.

"All right. Well, it was nice catching up," I said, jingling my keys in my hand. I was about to say 'We should do this again sometime', but thank God I caught myself.

"We should do this again sometime!" Selena cried, impressed with the novelty of her suggestion.

Motherfucker.

"Definitely," Miley agreed. "But next time, we'll bring a date for Nick. I'm gonna call you when I find someone." She pointed to me.

I laughed nervously. "You do that."

I wondered how pissed off my parents would be if I said I was changing my number again. Furthermore, I wondered if they'd be open to the concept of moving. Not too far, just a block or two. Or a state over or something. Arizona always seemed nice. Kind of dry, but doable.

When I walked out of the diner and slipped on my sunglasses, my first task was to text Rainie back. Next, I had to remember where I had parked the car, which wasn't as simple a task as it could have been. And then, on the drive home, I wondered just how hard Pep would be laughing when I explained to her what had gone down. I decided that I should wear earplugs during our next meeting, just in case.

One of the amazing things about my best friend is that she's so used to laughing constantly, it doesn't even affect her anymore. Sometimes when I laugh too hard, I feel weak and I'm unable to perform tasks. Not Pep. Her sides can be bursting from giggling hysterically, but she carries on with life as if all she's doing is breathing.

Nonetheless, I knew it was a bad idea to tell her the whole story during a run. All the talking made me gasp for air while she sped along ahead of me, throwing her head back in laughter but otherwise unaffected.

Do you know how embarrassing it is to be outrun by a girl?

Why were we going on a run? I was asking myself this question as Pep led us through a hilly biking trail and I had to duck to avoid getting my head snapped off by a tree branch. Well, it was the last day of Pep's summer, and she found it hard to sit still with me on her roof.

"I have to do this for the next ten months," she whined. "I don't want to sit still; we have to do something."

Sometimes she's like a five-year-old. When Frankie was younger, Mom used to take him to the park or make him go ice-skating to wear down his energy. That way she could plop him in bed or in front of the television and he'd be quiet for a few hours, completely spent.

That was my intention when I suggested that Pep and I go for a run. I wanted to wear her down so that we could sit in peace. What I didn't take into consideration was that it is impossible to wear down a proton, and instead, I felt like every breath I took was going to be my last.

But I couldn't tell her to slow down. That was just unthinkable. So I ignored the pain and followed her like a real man.

"You thought they were still in love with you, didn't you?" Pep asked, hopping over a log.

It took a lot more effort for me to hop over it than it did for her.

"No," I answered with a frown.

Pep looked over her shoulder at me with a wide grin. "You so did! And then they ended up setting you up with someone else!"

She burst into laughter again.

"It's not..." I gasped, "... funny!"

"You know what is funny? I'm beating a Jonas Brother!"

Fuck this. In my own defence, Pep had nothing to do all day but organize pens and pencils to go back to school. I had to hang out with two ridiculous girls, completely embarrass myself in public, come home and get in a wrestling match with Joe because I blamed it on him, and then go for a run. There was an unfair advantage right from the start.

"It's not me," (gasp), "It's Elvis. He can't," (gasp), "keep up." I jiggled the leash in my hand, motioning to Elvis jogging along beside me. His tongue was out as he panted for air.

Jesus Christ. Pep was wearing out my young, physically fit dog.

Pep giggled as she ran. "All right. Let's just get off this trail, then we'll stop."

I closed my eyes for a second to send my thanks to God, but I casually replied, "Whatever you want."

Way to keep it cool, Nick, I thought to myself as I wiped my forehead with the back of my free hand. My abdomen was actually splitting in half. I could feel it. My organs were disintegrating. My calves were on fire.

How the hell did someone so small have so much energy? 

Pep probably knew how tired I was, and that's why she didn't initiate conversation for the rest of the run. It was a little easier when we weren't talking. A lot easier.

When we were finally back on the road, Pep slowed to a walk. I swallowed, though my mouth was dry, and let out a huge release of air, taking deep breaths. It boggled my mind that I had once thought that going on a run with Pep would be a good idea. I couldn't help it; I had to stop and bend over, my hands on my knees as I regained my strength. Elvis licked my face for support.

"Thanks, pal," I said breathily while wiping some of the sticky curls out of my face.

Pep took Elvis' leash for me, as if it required too much effort to carry it. Once I was sure I wasn't going to throw up, I stood up straight and began to walk. Thank God we did this in the evening, when it was cooler out.

"I like running," Pep said to me. "Do you think I should try out for the cross-country team this year?"

"Definitely," I nodded.

Elvis strayed to the side of the road to sniff some grass, tugging Pep along with him. I waited with her, my hand on my left hip to apply pressure to the cramp that had formed.

"Sometimes I'm sad that you don't go to school with me. You'd be on, like, every sports team," Pep continued. She eyed me up and down. "Maybe not basketball. You're not tall enough."

"And you are?" I asked with a grin.

She smiled back, ignoring my question. "Do you ever wish you went to public school?"

"Do you ever wish you were a rockstar?"

Elvis finished his sniffing around and we resumed walking. Neither of our questions were answered out loud.

"Are you gonna do this for the rest of your life?" she asked suddenly.

"I dunno."

"What else would you do?"

"I dunno."

"What are you gonna do with all your money?"

"Buy a yacht."

"Seriously!"

I snorted with laughter. "I'm being dead serious! I want to be one of those cool old guys who sails around the Caribbean on his giant luxury yacht, and I make stops in places like St. Thomas to play golf."

"With your wife?"

"With my many wives."

Pep groaned, handing Elvis' leash back to me. "I hate when you're too embarrassed to answer my questions properly."

"I'm never embarrassed," I said with an offended frown, grabbing the leash from her and sliding it around my wrist.

She didn't even bother to dignify that with a response. "I just wonder sometimes... where you'll be ten years from now. Or five years from now. Like, maybe you've sucked everything you can get out of this place, and you want to move to Europe or something. Or Asia."

I gestured towards my black t-shirt, shorts, and running shoes. "Does it look like I belong in Europe or Asia?"

Pep shrugged. "You don't belong here, either."

With a laugh, I pushed her away playfully. "Thanks, Pepper."

"I mean here in LA. You're not really a Hollywood boy at heart, are you?"

"I'm more Hollywood than you'll ever be," I returned.

"I mean, you don't really care about all that stuff, do you?" she inquired, bypassing my jab at her.

"What stuff?"

"I don't know. Like... appearances. And partying. And reputations."

I cared a lot about reputations. Reputations went alongside appearances, so...

"I guess not," I lied. She was supposed to know I was lying. If I didn't care about reputations, why would I make shit up in interviews about how gentlemanly I was?

She nodded with a grin. "I didn't think so. That's why I like you. 'Cuz you don't belong here, and it doesn't change you."

I'm pretty sure if anything or anyone tried to change me, it or they would receive a foot up the ass and a slap in the face. Then I'd walk away.

Pep glanced at me, expecting a response. I blinked. What was I supposed to say? "Huh? I wasn't really listening."

She shrugged, picking up the pace of our walk and springing from foot to foot. "I think I want one of those stair-climbers when I'm older," she announced happily, memories of our previous conversation long forgotten. "You know, like one of those chairs you sit on when you go up the stairs. Like an elevator, but for old people. I'm gonna get one."

She sped ahead of me, and I lagged behind for a minute or two, confusion setting in. I might have been lying again when I said I wasn't listening to her, because I was. However, this was a perfect example of why I didn't listen to people on a regular basis - because the shit they say doesn't make sense. We went from talking about sports, to Hollywood, to stair-climbers in a matter of a few seconds, and though I tried my hardest to follow our conversation... it just didn't make sense.

That's why selective hearing is an art, in my opinion.

When I dropped Elvis' leash on the kitchen counter, Joe called out my name from the living room. I grabbed a water bottle from the kitchen and walked around the corner, where he was lounging on the couch with Camilla, laptop on his lap.

"Heard you've had a busy day," he remarked.

I shrugged, taking a swig.

"You're all over Oceanup."

"Oh. Yeah, there were these girls who found us at lunch," I remembered. They probably sent all their pictures into the gossip website right away.

"How's Elvis? He was lookin' pretty tired after that run you went on with Pip," Joe commented.

I raised a confused eyebrow. Camilla motioned for me to look at the screen. I grabbed the laptop from Joe's hands and set it down on the table, reading what was written on the screen.

"Looks like Nick Jonas has had a busy day. After grabbing lunch with former flames Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, the star went for a run in his neighbourhood with family friend Sarah Shanahan."

Above were about twenty ridiculous pictures of my lunch with Miley and Selena, taken either by observers or by those little teenaged girls, and then one picture of me trailing behind Pep, sweatband on my head and hand on my hip to quell the cramp, as she took over the duties of walking my dog. God, I'm such a pussy, and apparently the world was about to be exposed to my pussy-ness. Fuck. I made a mental note to never go on a run with Pep again.

I handed the laptop back to Joe with a shake of my head. "Why are you reading this crap, anyway? Half of it isn't true."

"There's photographic evidence," Joe said matter-of-factly.

"Obviously that's true, dipshit," I spat in return. "I mean in general. More than half the stuff on that site is made up."

Joe gave Camilla the laptop as she continued to browse with interest. He folded his arms across his chest. "I feel that you and I have become very distant lately. If this website is the only way I can learn what's going on with my little brother, then-"

"Oh, fuck yourself," I said with a sneer. "Just stop looking at it. It's weird, you cocky bastard."

I was about to turn on my heel and make my way to the shower when Joe chirped happily, "That's what she said."

I paused for a moment, shaking my head slowly. "I don't think you get the joke, Joe." I had watched a few episodes of 'The Office'. I knew all about 'that's what she said'.

Camilla burst out laughing. "That's definitely not when you're supposed to use it."

"No, but... he said cocky. I said that's what she said. You know, like cock... y? Full of-"

"That's not what she said," I interrupted firmly. "Not to you, anyway."

Camilla laughed again. Joe glared at her and sighed unhappily as I walked away as quickly as possible to avoid more of his lame jokes.

Before jumping in the shower, I checked my phone. I had two new text messages. Though Pep's was the most recent, I read Rainie's first. She rarely initiated conversation with me, so this was a big deal.

-----From-----
Rainie
367-5304
----Message----

you're so lucky you don't
have school, jonas. i have
to go back tomorrow. i
want to die.

From anyone else, I would have considered this text a waste of space. From Rainie, it was beautiful. I liked when she texted me about random things that had no purpose. It was almost like she was confiding in me.

I had to see her again soon. That much was necessary. In fact, her initiation of our conversation meant that she was ready to move to the next level. It meant that we were going to have to have a discussion about her relationshit with Jesse. I knew it was going to have to happen sometime, but... this was it. It was 'sometime'.

I got a little shaky just thinking about it.

-----From-----
Pep
413-6832
----Message----

i know its not the same
when ur not on my roof,
but look @ the stars nick
! brilliance!

I did as I was told and opened my window, sticking my head out and tilting my chin towards the sky. There really weren't that many stars at all. Perhaps more than usual because it had been a very clear day, but nothing extraordinary.

I think the reason Pep feels small when she looks at stars is because she is small.

End Notes:
Look how fast I wrote this! I'm proud. Rereading it, I can totally understand why you might think this chapter was full of nothing... but I promise, I almost never write scenes that don't have a purpose in the story. You might not be able to tell what the purpose is, but I promise there is one, even if it's only little (like Pep). Also, did you notice how I cleverly inserted Pep's name into this chapter? A lot of people were asking. Really, it's not that important and I'm not sure if it will ever come up again.. but yes, she has a real name. Rest in peace :)
Also! As an admin on this site, it is my duty (and pleasure) to inform you that, in celebration of this site's six month anniversary, we're holding a "JBFA Awards"! Look on the forums or on the homepage news to get the nomination form, fill it out with all your favourite stories, and send it in a private message to 'jbfaawards' by Feb 21st!
Hope you have all had an excellent day.
Day 186: Tips from Yahoo! by The archive

Day One Hundred and Eighty-Six.

I've always thought that birthdays are a pretty great cause for celebration. One day a year that belongs only to you. It's yours alone, and you don't have to share it with anyone else, like Christmas and Father's Day and Rib-fest and all that other crap that belongs to everyone.

My seventeenth birthday was pretty solid, if I do say so myself. I was kind of upset that my mom woke me up at five a.m. to make it to the set on time and refused to let me sleep in, but other than that, I had a good day. Everyone was nice to me, except for Joe, who gave me birthday beats.

(The great thing about birthday beats is that I always get to punch Joe more times than he gets to punch me because he's three years older. Three extra punches; and I always make them count).

I received many hugs and well-wishes. In fact, Selena and a couple of other cast members trekked over from the Wizards set with cupcakes. Seeing as I'd already stuffed my face with cake for breakfast (it's kind of a birthday tradition I set up), everyone said I'd better stay away from the cupcakes to keep my blood sugar even... but it was a nice gesture, anyways. Even if Joe made sure there were no leftovers for me by offering cupcakes to passer-bys none of us had ever met.

We went out for dinner, Pep accompanied us, I made Elvis wear a birthday hat, and Kevin started reading aloud comments from our Myspace, which were coming in faster than anyone could keep up - Kevin and his unstoppable mouth included. Mom and Dad reminisced on my childhood, and Joe and Kevin gave me a joint present of Hello Kitty seat covers for my car, which they heard that Miley Cyrus had always wanted and therefore thought we should match.

All in all, an exceptional day. I went to bed early that night (because of my mother and her torturous five a.m. wake-up calls), thinking of how I'd have to wait a whole year to feel this way again.

The worst day of the year is usually the day following my birthday, because I know I have another three hundred and sixty-four days before it comes around again. It's depressing. This is why I never considered the notion that the day after my birthday could be better than my birthday itself.

But it was. It so was. The seventeenth of September started out just like any other day, but by the time it was over, it was like my birthday, Christmas, losing my virginity and performing onstage in front of millions with Elvis Costello all rolled into a few hours of pure joy. It was that great.

It wasn't until after dinner that my day took a turn for the better. I was kind of bored - Kevin took Frankie and went with his 'on-again' girlfriend, Danielle, for ice cream, and Joe sat in the kitchen while he discovered the basic functions of his new laptop. (I was kind of bitter about the new laptop - I mean, my laptop works perfectly so I don't need a new one, but did he have to get it so close to my birthday? It took a little bit of the spotlight off me). I think he would have rather retreated to his own bedroom to set it up, but Mom never trusted Joe with electronics (with good reason), so he was confined to the kitchen until she and Dad decided he was capable of handling it alone. Mom was especially wary because I showed her a yahoo! article about laptops that overheated and blew up. (Heh. Definitely did that on purpose. Don't regret it).

Anyway, like I said, I was a little bored. So while I propped my feet up in front of the television watching mindless drivel, I took out my phone and sent Rainie a friendly text. Just a 'hey, how it's going' kind of thing. Nothing too special.

Less than a minute later, my phone rang. She called me. She called me! This meant she was actively seeking me out; wanting to hear my voice, wanting to have an actual conversation with me because she missed me. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my-

"Hello?" I asked as nonchalantly as possible, clearing my throat for good measure.

"Question," Rainie stated immediately, and my eyes widened at the unmistakeable anger in her voice.

Two things:

1) What did I do?!

2) Now that I was finished a quarter of The Office Season Two, Dwight's face flashed in my brain. This was mildly upsetting, because Dwight was the last person I wanted to picture while talking to the love of my life.

"... shoot," I urged her with cautious uncertainty. (Side-note: were 'hello's' out of style or something?)

"Are you or are you not seeing my boyfriend tonight?" she demanded.

Seeing her boyfriend? As in Jesse? As in seeing? As in dating? As in gay? As in-

"Yes or no, Jonas. Spit-spot." She clicked her tongue, clearly not in the mood for light, breezy conversation with yours truly.

"Seeing him?" I asked for clarification. Hey, I had to be sure.

"Yes!" she spat. "Seeing him! As in, is he making an appearance in your life? Will you use your eyes to see his face? Will you be close enough to physically touch him with your hand?"

I was still confused.

"I barely even talk to Jesse..." I trailed off. If she was insinuating that I was in love with him or something, then she had it wrong. All wrong. So wrong, it was dead wrong.

"Oh, really?" she cried, finding this very interesting. She seemed to be getting angrier despite how calm I remained. It was like every second I spent stalling was another second she was under severe torture. "Barely even talk to him, huh? So when he told me he couldn't hang out with me tonight because he was busy talking business with the Jonas Brothers, he was lying, was he?"

Wow. I'm going to paint you a picture of how I felt about receiving this information: imagine yourself on the hottest day of the year. You live in a desert. Arizona... no, no, the Sahara Desert. You're so thirsty, and you're so hot. All you can do is sit there because it takes too much effort to move, and your clothes are sticking to your back and you can feel your skin burning under the blazing sun. All of a sudden, someone throws enough water on you to fill an average-sized bucket. Normally, you wouldn't appreciate it, but it's so damn hot that you're eternally grateful, and it's so refreshing that you throw back your head and sigh and beg for more.

But there was only enough water to fill one bucket, and you need many, many more buckets of information - I mean, water, to quench your thirst.

"Was he lying or not, Jonas?" she repeated.

I shook my head quickly, my curls flying in my face. I pushed them off my forehead, realizing that I had momentarily spaced out. I was so conflicted. On one hand, Jesse was our tour-buddy and it was always nice to have friends in the business. Also, there was that unofficial 'guy code' - you know, guys having other guys' backs. Plus, when I ignored the fact that he had stolen my wife and her heart (for the time being), he was a genuinely good guy.

On the other hand, he stole Rainie from me thus making him a total jackass, and I'll be damned if I don't steal her right back. You're about to get poned, Jesse McCrapney. Suck it.

"He was definitely lying," I said with a smirk.

"Ugh! I knew it!" Rainie exclaimed, growling with rage.

You know, angry women are really kind of sexy. When they're mad at people other than me, that is.

I sank back onto the couch, phone held to my ear. "What happened?"

This was it. Our relationship had come down to this question. It could go one of two ways:

1) "Nothing," she would reply, emitting another growl before adding, "Ugh. I have to go. Talk to you later, Jonas."

2) "Well... it all started when..."

Thank God she chose option two. It meant that I was her confidante. I was someone she could talk to when she couldn't talk to her idiot boyfriend. If this confiding thing worked out, in time, I would be that idiot boyfriend. Minus the idiot, replaced with strikingly handsome, witty and trustworthy. Minus boyfriend, replaced with husband. At the very least, fiancé.

"He drives me insane sometimes," she began. "We get in fights all the time about our schedules - when he's free, I'm in class. When I'm not in school, he's halfway across the country. But then on rare nights like these when we have the chance to spend time together, he plans these stupid bar outings with his guy friends instead! He knows I hate them, so he lies to me and tells me he has to work."

"Why would he do that?" I asked, pretending to sound hurt. I read in a yahoo! article that it's important to always sound interested and empathetic when a girl is talking. It prompts her to talk more. Asking questions is even better. Two points for Nick.

(On the other hand, this is why I haven't asked Kevin a question since 1998. Everything I have to say to him is compiled in well-thought-out statements and instructions).

"So I won't nag him about it," she groaned. "But honestly, don't I deserve to nag him for that? I'm his girlfriend! I should have priority over his guy friends at least three-quarters of the time, right?"

"Absolutely." Another tip from yahoo!: saying 'absolutely' makes you seem like a firm supporter of her cause.

"That's what I think!" she exclaimed. Perfect. Yahoo! is so spot-on. They told me this would happen. She'd get all excited and feel like we were connecting. Then again, yahoo! never recommended making these moves on your friend's girlfriend... technically, she was my girlfriend first. I asked her to marry me with my eyes at the award show, and she said yes.

"He should be making plans with me. Also, why the hell can't he invite me out with his guy friends, hmm? I mean, why can't we all just go out on one big group date? I'm sure some of them have girlfriends."

I don't know, Rainie... Jesse was a huge loser before you graced his life with your astounding presence. All of his friends are probably giant tools.

Instead, I offered, "At least you're one hundred percent sure that he's with his guy-friends, instead of with lady-friends."

Ooh, twenty points for me. I am so sly. So slick. So suave. The epitome of all positive and complimentary S-words. I definitely implied that he was cheating on her, didn't I? Yahoo! states that relationships begin to deteriorate when partners lose trust in one another.

"Well, how am I supposed to know for sure?" she asked, and I knew I'd sparked a hint of concern in her head. "I mean, he's so secretive about it, and he goes to the extent of lying about it... who's to say he's not with some trashy whore?"

"This is true," I muttered thoughtfully. Inwardly, all of my brain cells were giving each other high-fives for creating doubt in her mind. I'm awesome.

"Now it's Thursday night, and I checked his schedule and knew he was going to be home tonight so I didn't plan anything," she grumbled. "Callan's already left to meet our friends across town, so I have to spend the night alone, all because that asshole cancelled our plans at the last-minute."

Whoa, whoa... back up a minute there, Starshine.

"You're alone," I repeated, more as a statement than as a question. "You have no plans."

"No." I could almost hear her pouting over the phone. "And I'm bored."

I was wearing my oldest pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt, sitting lazily on my couch flipping channels and waiting until nine-thirty to go to bed (God, I'm such a pussy), but those plans could be easily altered.

"Well," I announced, stretching my free arm happily, "since that business meeting with Jesse got cancelled, I'm free as a bird."

"Ha, ha," she said dryly. "What are you saying, Jonas?"

I noticed that when she was feeling bossy or angry, she referred to me by my surname. It was kind of hot.

I gulped, swallowing away any nerves I may have had. "We should hang out."

"Me hang out with you?" She made it sound like she was Jewish and I was Hitler.

"We hang out all the time over breakfast," I told her, making sure to hide how offended I was. My Rainie definitely could be an ice bitch when she wanted to be. Sexiest ice bitch ever, but still.

"Yeah." She actually let out a breathy laugh over this. "But it's Thursday night, and you're sixteen. You can't get into bars."

Le sigh.

"It's Thursday night, and the city is alive. I can get into places you've never even heard of."

In retrospect, I probably should have phrased it a little more clearly. She giggled. "Really? Do slutty little dirt bars let you in, young'un?"

"No," I frowned. "I'm talking live shows. The best of the best, and I don't even need tickets to be admitted. I'm talking VIP lounges and once-in-a-lifetime experiences - stuff that slutty little dirt bars can't quite provide."

"You know that my boyfriend's Jesse McCartney, right? He can get me in to those same places you're speaking of."

"Does he?" I inquired as innocently as possible. (Side-note: I'm good).

There was a pause, and I knew she was contemplating. Finally, she asked, "You got a car?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Let's go, then. Call when you're here."

And this was the beginning of the best day-after-my-birthday ever. By the time I hung up the phone, I was already racing up the stairs to change into something more presentable. Then I had to do some research and see what was going on in the City of Angels. Then I had to explain to my mother why I was going out on a "school night", as she called it... and then I would probably have to slap Joe silly for whatever stupid jokes he decided to make at my expense. Then it was just me, Rainie, my car, and this beautiful town... and the beginning of our epic romance.

I bit my knuckle as soon as I met Rainie at the door of her apartment. I tried to play it off casually, like I was just brushing my face or something, but she definitely knew I was struggling to repress a cat-call of some sort. She laughed at me. Again I say: sexiest ice bitch ever.

She wore a black dress. A painfully small, short black dress that made all of her curves look so... touchable. That night I prided myself on my ability to control my urges. There was no tent-pitching, not even once. (But I definitely thought about it. And worried about it. I also pictured her naked, which exponentially increased the chances of a boner, thus cancelling out or legitimating all the time I spent worrying).

Rainie locked her door and pinched my cheek like I was five, swinging her purse over her shoulder and leading the way to the elevator. I admired her from behind and let my tongue hang out of my mouth, practically drooling. (I was also worrying again about how I was going to think of interesting things to talk about when all I could focus on was her long legs).

"You smell like Hugo Boss," she commented thoughtfully as we drove.

I was thinking of parking the car in the middle of nowhere and inviting her into the backseat for some Nick J quality time, but she had interrupted my thoughts. I widened my eyes for a moment, trying to process what she'd just said. I cleared my throat. "The man or the cologne?"

Instead of answering my question, she stated, "I think Jesse has the same cologne."

I gritted my teeth. Of course Jesse had the same cologne. He also had the same taste in women. Was he so obsessed with me that he had to transform into my older duplicate?! What's next, wearing a brown curly wig?! I was going to have to have some words with that man. Some very stern, very clear words.

Well, she smelled like flowers, as usual. The smell was exciting to me; I attributed it to her and it made me want to dance. Or kiss someone. (Preferably Rainie). Sometimes when I laid with Pep on her roof, I shifted closer to her as inconspicuously as possible and closed my eyes and imagined she was Rainie (because they smelled very similar).

It was a test of willpower as we walked side-by-side down the Sunset Strip and I refrained from reaching out and grabbing a hold of her hand. It took a lot of strength and a lot of tooth-clenching, that's all I'm saying.

"The Roxy? Are you serious, Jonas?" she asked with a breathy laugh as she trailed behind me.

I nodded very seriously. "Betcha didn't think I could use my powers here."

Rainie clearly didn't believe me, but after I exchanged words with the bouncer and we ended up in a secluded VIP area, her jaw was practically touching the floor. I held out a chair for her like a gentleman, and as I pulled up my own and rolled up my sleeves, she remarked, "My apologies for doubting you. This doesn't look like a place a Jonas would hang out. There are stripper poles over there."

I leaned back nonchalantly in my chair, offering her a sly grin. "What can I say? I'm badass." I was about to add that my pussy brothers wouldn't be caught dead in a place like this, but I thought it was best to leave them out of this. Wouldn't want to dampen the mood with tales of their ridiculous antics.

She laughed again. "You certainly are. Now, who's playing?"

I glanced momentarily at the band, covered in a film of smoke and bright pink lights. Classy. I shrugged, leaning towards Rainie to inform her, "We might be watching the next Chili Peppers."

The band wasn't terrible, but the lead singer tried to hit a high note (the key word is 'tried'), and Rainie watched me as I cringed. Ouch.

"The next Chili Peppers? Doesn't sound like it," she giggled.

I shifted my chair closer to hers to make conversing easier. "You never know."

We wasted the majority of the night in that raunchy little place. I think she was impressed with me, and in turn, I was impressed with myself. I was seriously one badass motherfucker. I could kick Joe and Kevin's asses any day. The next time they forced me to schmooze with my ex-girlfriends, I'd clock them both at the same time with a stripper pole, and that'd be the end of it.

Rainie got herself some sort of girly alcoholic beverage, and I got a coke. She joked about this for a while, but I reasoned that one of us had to remain a designated driver. (I left my age out of it because I know how to protect my dignity). Rainie, however, felt it was a necessary point to mention.

"Aw, so cute," she cooed, "Baby gets a coke."

Again, I muttered something about the importance of designated drivers.

"Plus, you're sixteen," she added.

I frowned, thoroughly insulted. "Seventeen," I corrected her. Sixteen was foreign to me now; it was part of my juvenile past.

She raised an eyebrow. "You don't say! When was the big day?"

Well, I knew this was going to be sufficiently awkward, so I jammed the straw of my drink into my mouth and mumbled, "... yesterday."

With those words, I receive a swift smack in the arm. "Why didn't you tell me?! I spoke to you yesterday, you goof!"

I couldn't remember the last time anyone had referred to me as 'goof'. I also couldn't decide whether it was insulting or not.

After a while, it was getting too smoky in there for me, and because it was getting late (or early, depending on how you looked at the time), creepy old men were beginning to filter in. They gave Rainie many sideways glances that I did not appreciate whatsoever.

When I had to turn my head away from Rainie to release a yawn (give me a break, I'd been up since five a.m.), I knew that the club wasn't doing anything for me anymore. "You wanna get out of here?" I asked, my mouth a mere few inches from her ear.

She nodded and stood up, gathering her things. I reached into my pocket for my keys and glared at the pervy old men whose eyes were on Rainie. I put a hand on her back to guide her towards the door, and I made sure to give the stink-eye to anyone who looked her way. It was kind of weird that no one was interested in me in this place. Now I knew how Big Rob felt. Or Pep. Or anyone less famous than me that I've ever hung out with in public. I have to say, I prefer being me. It's less stressful.

"Where to, Nick J?" Rainie asked as she swung her purse around outside the venue. I wondered if she heard Pep call me Nick J and liked the sound of it. Pep was probably the only person close to me who referred to me as such, so unless Rainie lurked me on fan sites, it was really the only explanation.

Come to think of it... dude, I wondered if she lurked me on fan sites. If Rainie had a fan site, I would be all over that shit. In fact, I would probably be the webmaster of that fan site.

"Anywhere you want," I told her, shoving my hands into my pockets. I turned my head away from her again to hide my yawn. It was kind of embarrassing to appear tired in front of her. I took my phone out of my pocket and frowned at the missed calls and angry texts from my mother. I had already sent her one saying I was fine. (Side-note: she was probably going to kill me. I had to wake up for work in a few hours).

I also received a text from Miley informing me that she had found me the perfect girlfriend, and to text her back immediately so that we could plan a 'get-together'. I X'd out of that message and did not plan on responding.

"Hmm..." Rainie trailed off pensively, and we walked in silence for a while. She answered a text from Jesse and shook her head angrily, muttering that he was a drunken idiot.

I couldn't say I wasn't pleased.

"Anything wrong?" I asked, knowing full well that there was. Yahoo! says that women are attracted to compassionate men who appear to be in tune with their feelings and the feelings of others.

Shaking her head, evidently very unimpressed, Rainie growled, "He sent me a text that said 'I'm riding the bull'. This either means that he's mixing Red Bull with alcohol, or he's literally riding one of those mechanical bulls." Biting her lip in anger, she released a string of curse words that began with, "He's such a fucking..." and evolved into senseless mumbling.

Even if I had no feelings whatsoever for Rainie, I'm pretty sure I would agree that Jesse was being a dick. After all, he had originally told her he had a business meeting with the Jonas Brothers, and here he was a few hours later sending her drunken, cryptic text messages. It was obvious that yahoo! could do him some good when it came to relationships, but I wasn't going to be the one to suggest it to him. I was benefiting greatly from his assholeishness. He was Frodo Douchebaggins, and I was Aragorn, King of Women, Poner Extraordinaire.

"What do you see in him?" I asked her quietly. She was so taken-aback by my bluntness that she hung behind me for a moment or two before quickening her pace to catch up. Maybe it was inappropriate to ask, but I needed to know. Jesse McCartney's girlfriend was hanging out with me and only me in a little black dress. It was time to question our friendship, in my opinion.

Though I was mildly surprised that I had managed to catch her off-guard, she recovered quickly and returned, "What's it to you, Jonas?"

I shrugged as innocently as possible. Glancing to my left, I assured her, "It's just a question. You don't have to get defensive."

"I'm not," she replied with a frown.

"Then what's the answer?"

I've always been good at prying information from people. For me, it requires very little effort. They like to confide in me because I'm quiet so they think their secrets are safe. Most of the time, this is true - unless their secrets are too good to remain confidential, in which case I tell Joe and we laugh. It's rather evil, but I don't regret it. In recent years, Pep has also been privy to this information.

Rainie looked at me like I was crazy. "He's my boyfriend."

"Right," I agreed.

Her mouth opened as if she was preparing to say something else, but instead she thought better of it and broke into a guarded smile. "Why you askin', stranger? Jealous?"

I wasn't quite sure where that accusation came from, but I wouldn't be so quick to lay my heart on my sleeve. Wouldn't want to forfeit more dignity than necessary.

"Hold on," I chuckled softly, "You were just mad at the guy, and I asked you a simple question. You've switched from defence to offence."

"Maybe the question wasn't all that simple," she told me matter-of-factly.

"Maybe it was too simple and it scared you," I offered.

If I was interested in that sort of thing, I'm confident that I could give Dr. Phil a run for his money. I know psychology. I can read the shit out of people, too. Plus, I have a full head of hair and boyish good looks, so if I wanted to, I could drive that crazy doctor out of business with my own talk show.

But that would be lame, so obviously I'm sticking to superstardom.

Rainie made a move to turn off the Sunset Strip. Obligingly, I followed. Clearly she wasn't in control of the conversation, but her impulsive need for control made her want to dictate where we were going. She needed a semblance of power. (See how good I am at this? I don't even have a Ph.D. Hell, I don't even have a high school diploma).

She released an awed laugh. "You're pretty insightful for a kid who just turned seventeen."

"You're pretty evasive for a girl who acts like she's got nothing to hide," I retorted.

Another one of those awed laughs came from her round lips. "I'm not a girl."

"I'm not a kid, and I think you know that." We could bicker like this all night if she wanted to. I was game as long as it ended in a steamy make-out session, preferably with a side-order of second-base action.

Rainie slowed her pace, looking me up and down. I grinned in an irritating manner. "Why are you so interested in my relationship with Jesse?"

That was an easy question. "The same reason you're here with me tonight instead of with him."

"Which is?"

"We like each other."

I like to lay my cards flat on the table. I can read people easily, but often, people can't read me. It's important to make sure everyone knows what I mean; that way, they don't waste my time with things they know I don't care about.

Assessing Rainie's reaction, I could tell she was fighting to keep her composure. Her mouth opened again to respond, but she closed it almost immediately. Her eyes shifted away from mine, unable to maintain contact. She stared at her feet as she walked.

Suddenly, she sighed, and her voice hardened. "I'm here with you tonight because I had nothing else to do."

"You're here with me tonight because I gave you an opportunity and you took it. And you had fun."

"If Jesse didn't cancel on me, I wouldn't be here at all!" she exclaimed.

"Then it's a good thing he cancelled, don't you think?"

Was this supposed to be hard? Because she was making it way too easy. She definitely liked me; I was right about that.

She stared at me. "I don't understand you."

"Well, I'm beginning to understand you," I stated. "You're stuck in a relationship that causes you grief, but you're not getting out because leaving him would mean that you no longer have a legitimate excuse to deny that you're into me."

"Ha!" She laughed really loudly. "Jonas, you're way too confident."

"If you're trying to insult me, it won't work. My parents have been telling me this since I was four."

"They're right."

"You think you're really good at changing the subject, don't you?" I asked with a smirk. "I haven't forgotten the original question I asked you, and I haven't forgotten that we were just talking about your obvious attraction to me and your unwillingness to admit it."

She was at a loss for words again. It would be so much easier to grab her and kiss the hell out of her, but I figured it was best to do it in a less public setting.

Again, she tried to turn it around in her favour. "What about your obvious attraction to me?"

I shrugged. "What about it?"

It was time to be candid. If she asked me, I wouldn't hold back.

"We wouldn't be having this conversation if you weren't attracted to me."

I pointed to her with another smirk. "Correct." If she wanted to riddle this out on her own, I would let her. I've always been a believer in hands-on learning.

"Did you purposely wear that cologne because you knew that it was one of the things that drew me to Jesse?" she asked in confusion.

I scowled. "This was my cologne first. I've been using it forever." I fought the urge to spit out, 'That guy's a total douchebox'.

Out of the blue, Rainie seemed angry, as if she had read my thoughts and I'd angered her with my insult towards Jesse. "So what, Nick? This was, like, your clever way to take me out on a date without me even knowing it?"

"No," I answered calmly. "This was exactly what it was. We hung out. If it was a date, you wouldn't have a boyfriend. I'd take you to dinner first. I'd be angrier at those creepy old men who were checking you out in The Roxy. I'd hold your hand. I'd walk you up to your apartment afterwards, and I'd kiss you goodnight. I've done none of those things."

There was a lull in the conversation for a few moments as I let Rainie plan out her words. "There's still time for the last three," she muttered, so quietly that I almost couldn't hear.

At this point, I decided that she was probably bipolar. Wasn't she just mad at me for 'tricking' her into a date? Now she sounded like she wanted me to sweep her off her feet Prince Charming style. Girls are fucking nuts. They need to make up their nitpicky, shallow minds.

"I don't gamble on things I'm not sure of," I informed her.

She gave me a small smile. "Then it's not really fair to call it gambling, is it?"

I bit my lip to avoid scoffing. "What I mean is, I wouldn't do any of those things unless I knew you wanted me to."

"Wouldn't my consent be enough?"

"I require verbal confirmation." This had never been a rule before, but I'd never needed it to be a rule before. It was a rule now.

Rainie looked like she was going to say it. She looked like she was about to throw caution to the wind and declare her love for me... but then she pussied out. Fuck her. (I wish).

"You're sixteen," she told me.

I rolled my eyes, which was an impressive reaction, because what I really wanted to do was attach my hands on her pretty little neck and throttle her. "Seventeen," I reminded her, "and if my age is the only problematic factor, then we're good to go."

By now, it was pretty evident that we were walking towards my car. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my keys.

"I have a boyfriend."

Sometimes I can't believe how stupid people think I am.

"It's not like you're married." I was becoming annoyed with this conversation. She had too many dumb excuses that were too easy to refute.

"I wouldn't cheat on him."

"I never asked you to."

In fact, if she wanted, I was totally willing to drive her to whatever dirty bar Jesse was frequenting so that she could break up with him face-to-face.

"I love him."

"Hard to believe."

"That's rude," she said with attitude.

"Honesty is the best policy."

"Yeah, okay, kindergartener," she muttered.

I found it strange that in her moment of immaturity, she chose to insult me by once again jabbing at my age.

Though I unlocked my car from far away, by the time we reached our respective doors, neither of us were willing to make the first move to climb in.

"Look," I said, squinting my eyes for just a moment, "I'm seventeen, but I'm not an idiot. You're trying to confuse me because you can't answer any of my questions. I think you're making this a lot more complicated than it has to be. It's really very simple."

"What is 'it'?" she demanded, her hand on the flap of the door.

"Us."

"There is no us," she retorted. "You said yourself we were just hanging out."

"And then you wanted me to admit that I was attracted to you, so I did. We're still hanging out, but it's different now because it has the potential to be something more."

She was speechless again, so she planted a hand on her hip and said, "You're not playing very hard-to-get, Jonas."

"That's because there's nothing hard about it." (That's what she said. Oh, fuck. Damn that little fire-headed proton. The Office was infiltrating my mind at the most inappropriate moments). "Why should I play hard-to-get when you're playing enough for the both of us?"

"I am hard-to-get. Unattainable, actually. I have a boyfriend," she pointed out.

With a sigh of exasperation, I put my index fingers on my temples and shut my eyes. Stupid ice bitch. Arguing in circles was exhausting, and I had already been up for a full twenty hours. Instead of saying something to her that I might regret later, I opened my car door and slid in. Rainie followed suit.

The drive home was mostly silent. Not the kind of silence that consumes Pep and I when we sit on her roof. This silence was uncomfortable and tense. Sexually tense, and the other kind of tense, too. I was trying to devise a new way to explain to her that we were meant to be together and Jesse was a piece of shit. Clearly, speaking in plain English wasn't working too well, for reasons beyond my realm of understanding.

"Is that it, then?" Rainie eventually broke the silence. "You're giving up?"

Definitely not.

"Do you want me to?"

"I'm just asking."

I sighed. "If I answer the question, can you answer one of mine without changing the subject?"

She thought about it for a moment, and I was reminded of how beautiful she was as she twirled a strand of honey-coloured hair around her finger. "Mm... fine."

Mm. I forgot about that. 'Mm'. She was so mm. Not only that, but apparently she was easy to forgive, because I was already turned on again.

"No, I'm not giving up," I told her. A brief silence ensued before I said, "My turn. I want real answers. Promise?"

"Fine."

"Is Jesse 'the one'?"

If I had asked this at any other point during the night, she would have burst out laughing and called me a kid again. But because I had roped her into this honesty test, she remained serious as she developed her response.

"I don't know what that even means," she returned.

"If he was 'the one', you'd know."

"Maybe I don't believe in 'the one'."

"Maybe you don't believe in it because you haven't met him yet."

We were back to this petty little bickering again (and once more, I was clearly dominating).

Rainie scoffed, pulling her purse into her lap. "What makes you think you're 'the one'?"

"That's a complicated question," I replied with a frown.

"Enlighten me," she stated dryly.

"Well, the obvious response is that you won't know until you give us a try." I let my right hand fall from the steering wheel to rest on the barrier between us. "The other response is that I felt it the first day I saw you, and every time I look at you, I feel it again. How many people have you developed a connection with through staring into their eyes without any verbal exchange whatsoever?"

We were nearing her apartment building, and I was internally struggling with whether to park the car and walk her up, or whether to let her off at the front door to let her know it was not a date.

As I navigated the streets, I muttered under my breath, "I'm willing to bet it's not that common."

Rainie buried her head in her hands. "Okay... Nick. I know you don't want to hear this, but you're a kid. You just... you just are. And whatever you think is going on between us... isn't. I'm not interested in you, because I love my boyfriend and because I'm just not. You're a nice boy, and I'm sorry you misinterpreted our friendship... but that's all it is. A friendship."

I pulled into the small parking lot outside of her apartment building. There was no way in hell I was going down into the parking garage. No, she wasn't getting escorted to her apartment unless she asked politely. Once the car was in 'park', my hands fell from the steering wheel and I leaned back in my seat, waiting for her to leave.

Somehow, she didn't get the hint.

She turned towards me and asked in confusion, "Nick? Did you hear what I just said?"

I blinked, equally confused. "Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized as sincerely as possible. "You were being serious? You actually expect me to believe what you just said?"

It came to mind that I had thrown many of yahoo!'s tips out the window. My brain took over.

"Why wouldn't you?" she demanded.

I actually laughed. "Because it's bullshit, Rainie! We just had a twenty-minute discussion about us, and in three sentences you're trying to convince me there's nothing at all there?"

She looked like I'd just slapped her. Instead, she gathered her purse and opened the car door. "Maybe you shouldn't call me for a while."

"Maybe you should think about what you really want," I retorted.

"Maybe you should hold your tongue!"

"Maybe you should take my advice to heart!" I exclaimed.

This was really dumb. Maybe yahoo! lied to me and I took the wrong approach. If I set aside ten minutes and made her listen to a few Dream Street songs, she'd break up with Jesse in a heartbeat and we would never have had to have this conversation. I cursed myself - I should have thought this through!

She climbed out of the car and slammed the door. I watched her storm away while I rolled down my window.

"Hey, Rainie?" I asked, all the anger washed clean from my voice. She stopped abruptly, turning on her heel. I offered her a smile to ease the tension as I leaned my head out the window. "You look really beautiful tonight. I don't know if I told you that."

Maybe I lied when I said I didn't gamble unless it was a sure thing, because I definitely felt like a betting man in that moment. It would either soften her, or add fuel to her fire. Rainie's bipolarness confused the shit out of me, and sometimes it was tough to predict her reactions.

She didn't smile - she didn't anything, actually. She spun around and walked towards the front doors of her building - but I noticed that her strut was a little slower, a little less self-assured. She didn't know what to think.

That was fine. I didn't have her exactly where I wanted her, but at least she was thinking.

I waited until she was safely inside the building until I drove away. Despite the exasperating evening we'd had, I was pleased. She'd come around. I'd wait a few days, she'd forgive and forget, and then I'd text her again. She'd remember how much she loved me, and she'd break up with Jesse in a moment of clarity. I'd speed over to her home to console her, and we'd have makeup sex on the couch. Or in the bedroom. Or in the shower. Or all three. She'd make me dinner, we'd watch 'It's A Wonderful Life', and we'd snuggle. I'd go home and get bitched out by my mom, but I wouldn't care, because I'd be set for life. On my eighteenth birthday, I'd propose, and Rainie would accept. We'd wed in France, and Miley and Selena would not be present to make a speech. Pep would get wildly drunk at the wedding, catch the flying bouquet, and hook up with a hairy Frenchman. They'd get married on a whim, have a kid, and then divorce. She'd move back to LA and be our live-in maid. Her redheaded kid could stay too.

It's always safer to leave room for error. As long as yahoo! kept helping me out in the love department, I'd say I was about ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent positive that this was the way the future would pan out.

And I could be satisfied with that.

End Notes:
... hi.
Just so you know, I'm posting this near to 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. Because I leave early in the morning to go back to school and I'm sad :( Also because I want to hide from all of you (by posting this at an inane hour and then going to bed) in case it didn't live up to your chapter 17 expectations.
Personally, it surpassed mine, because I think Nick and Rainie are interesting and I really enjoy their conversations. But I understand that nothing jaw-dropping happened... however, there WERE a couple of breakthroughs, weren't there? It might not seem like it right now, but this is kind of the turning point of the story. This, and the next couple of chapters. By the way, I fully mapped out until chapter 22, and I promise lots is going to happen. I know that up until now, this is possibly the un-plottiest story you've ever read, because virtually nothing ever happens. Nick's made a few small breakthroughs that shy little twelve-year-olds can handle in their love lives (I shouldn't say that - have you heard about the 13 year old in England fathering his 15 year old girlfriend's baby? Insane).
Anyway... I know this story seems unplotty (I just coined a new term - use it, kids), but I can assure you that lots will be happening from now until chapter 22 at the bare minimum. Well, lots compared to what has happened up until this point. I'm excited. Nick probably isn't, but he can suck it cuz I get to make him do whatever I want (*sigh*... if only this were true).
Oh, and I've never been to LA which is depressing, but if anything is wrong, then I blame wikipedia and www.theroxyonsunset.com for misleading me.
Also, credit to FantasyParade for informing me that Nick says 'pone' all the time. It happened to fit quite well in a certain instance :)
Day 193: The Importance of Immunity by The archive

Day One Hundred and Ninety-Three.

I realized that Jesse McCartney really likes to spend Thursday nights with his boyfriends. 

"Where are you going?" Joe drearily asked Kevin as he hopped down the stairs, fumbling to tighten his belt.

We had to be on set the next morning for six a.m. At night, we usually lounged on the couch in front of the television, fooling around with guitars and brainstorming songs. We did all of this in jeans and t-shirts - Kevin, on the other hand, was oddly dressed up for a Thursday night in.

"I'm meeting Jesse and a few other people downtown," Kevin answered, rolling up his shirtsleeves.

This piqued my interest. I raised my head above the back of the couch to demand, "Why?"

Kevin shrugged, like it was the strangest question anyone could have ever asked him. "Because he invited me."

"Who's gonna be there? Are you bringing Danielle?"

I knew full well that Danielle was out of town, but I had to know if this was specifically a guy's night, or if girlfriends were invited.

Kevin was surprised that I was taking such interest in his life outside of the band. "No," he replied with a shake of his head. "It's just a guy thing. We're going out for drinks."

Ew. Rainie was right: Jesse did spend a lot of time with his guy friends. Maybe he was gay and just didn't know it yet. I almost wanted to warn Kevin what he was getting himself into, but instead, I lowered myself on the couch and let him be fed to the dogs. And by 'dogs', I mean Jesse and his gay friends.

Joe flipped through channels without his usual zest while Kevin explained to Mom his purpose in painting the town red that night with his lovers - actually, by the amount of time it took him to explain it to her, he might as well have explained his entire purpose in life. It seemed like an hour later when we finally heard the door click shut and Joe released a sad sigh, his body slouched uncomfortably on the sofa and a can of Coke resting on his sweatpants.

Yeah, Joe busted out the sweatpants. It was rare that he did; Kevin and I secretly referred to them as his Break-Up Pants. He seemed to wear them only in the days after he got out of a relationship, like Chandler on Friends. Except Joe has had many more girlfriends than Chandler, so he wears the sweatpants a lot more. Probably for a lesser period of time, so in the end, I'd say Joe and Chandler balance each other out in their sweatpants-wearing post-break-up.

I don't know if Joe is sad anymore when he breaks up with girls, or if he just wears those fugly pants for attention. To be fair, he did date Camilla for almost a year, which was his longest relationship ever... but he broke up with her. The reason was... well, I didn't actually know the reason.

That was odd. Usually I was consulted before he broke up with someone. I was like the love guru, and he was my naïve but eager pupil.

Well, what the hell? There was a new addition to the Jonas hate-club, and I wasn't even consulted?

"Why'd you break up with Camilla again?" I asked casually as he continued to channel-surf.

He glared at me as if I was being insensitive. What? Joe and I have immunity with each other. We can say anything without the other one being offended. For example, if I were to tell him that his eyebrows were wings and he should fly away to Garbageville, capital of Fuckland, where he came from, he wouldn't be allowed to be offended.

I didn't understand why, seventeen years later, he chose this moment to be offended with an offhanded, simple question. In fact, I was now offended that he was offended with me. That's why it's always easier to have immunity pacts with people. Like the one I have with Pep. It's just a simpler way to operate. I highly recommend it.

"What d'you mean, again?" he asked rudely. "I never told you in the first place."

I raised my eyebrows. "I find it hard to believe that you did this without my advice and guidance."

"Oh, please," Joe scoffed. "I got along fine for the first three years of my life, didn't I?"

Rolling my eyes, I replied dryly, "They say the first three years are the hardest."

Joe was not at all amused. In fact, he was pissed. What the shit was his problem?

"You know, you're a real vagina sometimes, Nick." He threw the remote at my chest and I crumpled as he stood up. "You know why I didn't tell you? Because you never tell me anything anymore. I always try to get you to open up, I'm always trying to help you, but you never accept it and it's pissing me off."

I laughed out loud. "When was the last time you helped me?" I demanded, my mouth in a wide grin.

"Are you kidding?" Joe threw his arms in the air, treating my response as if I was blind. "I've been helping you out all summer! When I thought there was a reason you couldn't confide in me, I tried to get to talk to other people. Why do you think I always got Mom to go and find you when you hung out alone after shows? Why do you think I asked Miley and Selena to give you a call? Do you honestly think that I spend my time chatting with your old flames instead of spending time with my girlfriend?"

I couldn't help it. I had to correct him. "Ex-girlfriend," I said quietly.

Joe no longer had the remote to throw in my direction, so he threw his empty can of Coke, which bounced off my head and onto the hardwood floor. A droplet of Coke dribbled down my forehead and I wiped it away with distaste.

Then it clicked. Wait. All this time, he was just trying to help? All the calls from the ex-girlfriends, all the awkward talks with Mom... that was Joe's way of helping?

While he stalked away, I called out, "You're fucked up!" What kind of loving, non-mentally-challenged brother would see that as a way of helping? "How was that supposed to help me? What were you thinking, fuckjob?"

"Stop getting mad at me!" Joe exclaimed. (He's one of those people who needs constant praise. He can't handle it when people don't like him. He must always be loved. It's childish, and sometimes, in a funny way, it makes me resent him). "I should be mad at you! And I am. You've been so fucking self-absorbed for months now; you won't even tell me what's going on. And you weren't there for me when I needed you, and because of that, I screwed everything up and now I'm depressed."

I shrugged. What did he expect? Eventually, he was going to have to let go. Cut the cord. Spread his giant eyebrows and fly.

"And it's your fault!" he added spastically, as if he hadn't made it clear enough. With another huff and puff, he turned on his heel and began to walk to the stairs. On his way, there was a knock on the door. Because he was angry, Joe shouted, "What!" while he changed directions to answer it.

I snorted as I turned my attention back to the television, remote in hand. I pressed the 'Mute' button to hear what Joe was saying - he was intentionally speaking loudly. At least I'd hear him out.

"Sorry, Pip, but Nick Jonas isn't here." He was practically shouting, the idiot. "In his body is a heartless, conceited assmunch who ruins everybody's lives by keeping his mouth shut."

Joe was barely making sense, so I turned up the volume and rolled my eyes. Sure enough, I heard Joe's feet pounding up the stairs a few moments later as Pep wandered into the room with two pairs of footsteps. I glanced to my right at Shep, who was accompanying Pep on a leash. He looked old and tired.

"Is Elvis out back?" Pep asked without issuing me a 'hello'. I nodded. She headed towards the backdoor, absently adding, "Be right back."

I turned off the television and leaned back on the couch, watching as she opened the backdoor and unclipped Shep's leash. She patted his head before sending him off to play with an overly-enthusiastic Elvis.

Pep was quick to sit beside me on the couch and offer me an award-winning smile, but as soon as her butt touched the cushion, she sprang back up and announced, "Let's play air hockey while you tell me why Joe's mad at you."

I was feeling agreeable, so I led the way to the basement without argument. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I noticed that Pep was still at the top, staring at the railing with interest.

"Are you coming?" I demanded.

"This staircase is spiral..." she trailed off. "Have you ever slid down the banister?"

"No, because I'm not five years old," I answered without skipping a beat.

She ignored me as usual. "I'm gonna do it."

Releasing a breath, I shut my eyes in resignation. "Please don't," I pleaded quietly.

As usual, my request was fruitless. Pep turned around and placed one leg over the banister. She slid down effortlessly, giggling the whole way. It was my turn to laugh when she got to the bottom. Her short little legs couldn't touch the ground, and she couldn't manoeuvre herself from the railing. After a few moments of her struggling legs flailing about, she groaned, "Help me!"

I pointed and laughed for a couple more seconds before locking my arms around her waist and dragging her away from the railing. I set her down on the ground, and she grinned brilliantly at me, entirely unfazed. I don't know why I expected anything less.

"That was fun," she said breathily. I stared at her, studying the scary blue colour of her eyes until she dropped to the floor, cartwheeling to the air hockey table. I followed on my feet with a smile.

Pep was way too eager to play. I had barely even picked up my circular puck-deflector when she shot a goal. I rolled my eyes. "That doesn't count."

Laughing, she replied, "Such a sore loser."

"What do you mean, sore lo - we haven't even started the game!" I exclaimed, interrupting myself mid-sentence. I picked up the puck and put it in the center of the board. "Now, play according to the rules, you little cheat," I instructed.

"Ooh, according to the rules," Pep mimicked. "Wouldn't want to break a rule. Your mom might come down and send us to our rooms. Or the world might end, right Nick?"

I hoped the glare I was giving her was exactly the way I pictured it in my mind: patiently unimpressed. "Fuck you."

She laughed again, and I tried to take advantage of this by aiming the puck towards the slot, but it missed. Dammit.

We didn't speak for a while afterwards. I gathered my thoughts, and Pep let me. I like sitting on her roof because I can think, but sometimes she just wants to talk because there's nothing else to do. At least air hockey is interactive enough for her; we can play in silence. Because I wasn't paying attention, I wasn't entirely certain how many goals were scored, but I was sure that Pep had the score recorded in her head.

"Joe's mad at me because I haven't been talking to him lately about stuff," I told her finally. I knew she was wondering about it, but she was waiting for me to tell her when I was ready.

"What stuff?"

I shrugged, pausing for a moment and scowling as she scored another goal. "I haven't told him about Rainie, and since I spend a lot of time talking to her and seeing her now, he feels like I'm hiding a part of my life from him."

Pep pushed her bangs out of her face. "I thought you weren't speaking to her or seeing her anymore after your 'date' last week."

"It wasn't a date-" I began, but I stopped myself again. Wait, Pep had bangs? "You got a haircut?"

Raising an eyebrow, she replied, "You say it like it's leprosy or something."

"No, it's just different." Her hair was remarkably shorter, now that I looked at it. It was perfectly in line with her shoulders.

She shrugged unapologetically. "That's what haircuts are for."

I shook my head quickly, annoyed that I'd let myself stray from the topic. "I haven't spoken to her, but it's only been a week. It's been... what, like half a year since I fff-met her?"

I tried to brush it off, but I think Pep knew what I had almost said. Half a year since I fell in love with her.

"Why don't you tell Joe?" she asked with a quizzical expression.

"Because I know him, and he wouldn't keep his mouth shut about this. He'd always be urging me to tell Jesse, or to back off, or to find someone else. In fact, he doesn't even know about Rainie and he's encouraging me to find someone else."

"Why don't you?" Pep repeated.

"What? Find someone else?"

She nodded.

I glared at her. "Have you been paying attention for the last six months? There is no one else."

She contemplated this for a moment or two as her cheeks inflated with air. She looked like an Irish chipmunk. "I'm sure there's someone else."

This was why I didn't tell Joe about Rainie. This was why I thought Pep was my only safe bet. Because she never said stupid shit like this that didn't make any sense. Why'd you have to go and ruin it, Pepper?

"Why would I want someone else?" I demanded.

"Because Rainie has someone else."

"Not for long," I answered.

"What's that supposed to mean?" It was as if I had somehow offended her. What could have possibly hit a nerve? Was this National Take-Offence-To-Nick's-Existence Day?

"It means," I said slowly, so her almond-sized brain could grasp every word, "that once she realizes we belong together, Jesse will be history."

Pep rolled her eyes. "You keep saying that. She's been dating him for just as long as you've been obsessed with her."

"I'm not obsessed," I spat. It was my turn to be offended. Oh yeah, Pepper. Two can play this game.

"Well, if you're not going to give up, then what's your next step?" she inquired, back to her bubbly, helpful self. I realized then that we'd stopped playing air hockey as we conversed.

Shooting the puck in her direction, I responded, "I'm gonna call her this weekend and see if she wants to grab breakfast next week." It hurt my pride to say it out loud. It was like Rainie and I were back to square one. Ice bitch.

"Aren't you going to NYC next week to promote... something?" Pep asked.

"Oh yeah!" I forgot about that. With the reminder, I cursed under my breath. "I guess I won't see her, then. She wouldn't go with Jesse."

"Why not? Camilla goes everywhere with Joe, and when Danielle and Kevin are together, she goes with him."

True. It was a good thing Pep was here to talk this through with me.

"Joe broke up with her, by the way," I mentioned, focusing on the game.

"What! Why?"

"I dunno."

"You don't know?" Pep demanded. "Well, obviously he's mad at you! You've been so closed-up because of Rainie, so he feels like he can't talk to you and now he's done something stupid like break up with Camilla because you weren't there to help him like you always do."

How did she put this together so quickly?

"He's twenty. He'll get over it."

"That's not the point," Pep said with a frown. "You need to talk to him. Tell him about Rainie; he needs to feel included."

"Why?" Did I want to make myself even more vulnerable to my merciless older brother? Did I want to undergo hours upon hours of taunting? Did I want his advice? (Joe's advice is comparable to Pep's: not helpful in the least).

Pep seemed slightly disgusted with me. It was weird; I couldn't remember if I'd ever seen her look at me like that before. "You know what I don't get?"

"How Rainie hasn't dumped that Dream Street loser and eloped with me?" I suggested.

She ignored me. "I don't get how you can write all these songs that make you seem like such a deep, emotional guy... when really, you can be a prick sometimes."

I grinned widely. It was one of those rare occasions when I showed my teeth. "Welcome to reality, Peanut. Guys are jerks."

She frowned, muttering, "You're not supposed to be like that."

What did she expect? If I wrote a song about how much I liked when girls showed their cleavage, I doubt it would be quite as well-received as the romantic shit me and my brothers come up with.

"Fine, I'll talk to Joe," I conceded. I was bored of semi-arguing with her. I wanted to move on to something else, and I wanted her to be happy and excited again, because it didn't feel right when she was irritated and unimpressed.

I regretted it almost instantly, but I suppose it would have to come out eventually. If Joe was going to be best man at my wedding, he would probably want to be informed of my wife prior to the date. It only made sense.

End Notes:
GUESS WHO'S AN AUNT?!?!?!?
I'm stoked. My seester had a little baby girl this morning :) I can't wait to see her! (The baby, not my sister. Hahah).
Anyway, because of this, I'm going home on Thursday night. I've finally gotten to be one chapter ahead of myself again, which is awesome (and I think you guys might enjoy the next chapter... or not, but it basically wrote itself, and chapters that write themselves always turn out nicely in my opinion). Anyway, I'm going to try my hardest to not do any work in the next couple days (that part won't be hard) and to write my heart out so I can post chapter 19 before I leave on Thursday!
Wooo! I'm sure I have more to say but I'm way too excited right now. OH! I got one of my midterms back today and got an eighty. Man, life is looking up. I can't remember the last time I saw that mark hahaha. It's great; I forgot it was attainable.
.... wooo!!
Day 201: Top Lip Trapper by The archive

"Hey, you know Jesse and Rainie are next door, right?" Joe asked distractedly as he rooted through his bag for something.

We were in New York City, and as it turned out, Pep was right: Rainie did accompany Jesse. This confused me because I thought she had classes to attend, but I hadn't had time to question her yet. Every time we were near each other, she was whisked away, or I was whisked away, or she literally turned away like an icicle-haired, frost-covered frigid bitch. The problem was that she looked so fucking hot that the icicles dripped away and steam radiated from her perfect body, causing my eyes to burn... but not in an unpleasant way, of course. 

I looked up quickly from my spot on the bed where I had been texting Pep about this predicament. Not being able to see my own expression, it's hard to say - but I'm pretty sure my eyebrows were nothing but a straight line as I demanded, "What."

Joe forgot about what he was looking for and bounded towards me, yelling, "Sike!"

I tried to kick him in the groin for playing such a terrible joke, but he grabbed my leg and I flew off of the bed onto the floor. He walked away laughing.

"Wow," I said after him as I rubbed my back in pain, "That joke would have been really funny in 1995." 

Ever since I told Joe about my relationship (or lack thereof) with Rainie, he had been making stupid jokes like this, exactly like I expected him to. It was all Pep's fault for making me talk to him. The only good thing was that he was slowly returning to his annoying self after breaking up with Camilla - in fact, he had been flirting all morning with some girl he met backstage at Regis and Kelly. And of course, as I lay on the carpeted floor of our hotel room while my tailbone began to bruise, it was obvious that our relationship was back to normal. Thank God. (Sarcasm).

"It's funny now," Joe informed me good-humouredly. 

I propped myself on my elbows. "Does it look like I'm laughing?"

Joe's raised his shoulders as he chuckled, taking a few moments to laugh before exclaiming, "That's 'cause the joke's on you, fuckjoy! They actually are next door!"

I took a moment to process this as Joe continued to root around his bag. "Wait. They are or they aren't?"

Joe found what he was looking for (a matching sock) and smirked again. "Wouldn't you like to know?" 

If he were smarter, he would answer my question directly. I had Camilla's number, and I wasn't afraid to use it.

I stood up and walked towards him. "Tell me." 

"Why don't you go see for yourself?"

I bit the inside of my lip and brought my phone to my face, X'ing out of my message to Pep and scrolling through my contacts. "Hmm... Camilla Belle. I was thinking of calling her up for a chat..." 

As expected, the smile on Joe's face vanished. "Come on, that's not funny."

I thoroughly enjoyed retorting, "That's 'cause the joke's on you, fuckjoy." 

"Okay, yes!" he cried, snatching my phone from my hands. "They're next door, okay?"

My face fell. "Are you serious? Why? Who arranged this!?"

Joe shook his head at me, as if I was an idiot. "Uh, you did," he said condescendingly. "Remember? Dad, we always stay in the Trump Hotel. Let's stay in Jesse's hotel. He said it's nice. Come on, Dad."

... heh. I might have arranged this. 

Again, I blame this on Pep. She spawned the notion that Rainie might be here, and for that reason, I needed to be in her hotel. Rainie would stay with Jesse, which meant I had to stay with Jesse.

But I never said I wanted to be next door!

It was too close for comfort, and I needed to rectify this immediately. Before Joe could continue mimicking me in a high-pitched, nasally voice, I stormed out of the room and turned left in search of my father's room. If worse came to worse, I would switch with him.

"Hey, Nick," someone called as I stalked past the door on the left. I backed up a few paces to see Jesse standing just inside the door, hanging up his coat. Rainie was sitting in the corner of the room at the table, purposely fixated on a textbook in front of her. "What's up, man?" Jesse asked me. 

I glared at him for a few seconds before grumbling, "This needs to be fixed."

"Huh?" I heard him ask as I continued on the search for my father. "What needs to be fixed?" 

What a wet blanket. Someone needed to expose this guy as the Dream Streeting pussy he is, or I was afraid I might do something drastic, like drive my car over his face.

That night, Joe brought his newfound lady friend back to our room to 'talk'. Her name was Sam, and she was pretty, but I really wanted to get to sleep. I'd had a long, hard day, and thoughts of Rainie and Jesse sharing a room wasn't making it better.

It astounds me that two years later, people are still asking me about my relationship with Miley. It's like every time I think everyone's finally moved on (because hell, I moved on a week later - a month, tops), Miley writes something in her blog or in her autobiography or she gives an interview or she makes a youtube video that turns heads. Then the issue resurfaces, and I get questioned about it in interviews until it has sucked all the life out of me. I am not amused by these questions. And my eyes do not glisten with the ghosts of my past - I feel your pain, Harry Potter. I do.

Anyway, I'd been asked on two different occasions that day of my relationship with Miley Cyrus, and I also had to parade around as the only known single brother out of us three, which made me look like a little bitch. We don't talk about our private lives, but it's not tough to figure out. Everyone knows that Kevin and Danielle are (sometimes) an item, and everyone knows that Camilla and Joe (used to) date. Everyone also knows that Selena and I broke up, and I haven't gone a-knockin' on any doors since then.

If only I could explain to them that I was in the process of securing myself the most beautiful girl in the whole world, I'm sure fans wouldn't say things like 'Aw, poor Nick. He looks so lonely.' 

I wasn't lonely. Did I look lonely? I purposely did not look lonely on-camera. I laughed at Joe's mindless jokes, I smiled until my cheeks were numb, and I smiled some more. Lonely people don't smile. I've never personally met a hermit, but what would he or she need to smile for?

The point is, when Joe brought this Sam girl to our room to talk, he was seconds away from losing his life as I suffocated him with pillows.

I could feel my cheeks heating up as Sam looked me up and down in my pajama pants. I avoided eye contact as I said through gritted teeth, "Joe, I need to talk to you."

He clicked his gum obnoxiously, replying, "Can it wait 'til tomorrow?" 

I twitched. I actually twitched, I was so annoyed. I was like Sideshow Bob, but instead of shuddering after stepping on rake after rake, I was twitching after speaking to my brother, the human mosquito. Annoying, itchy and an all-around pain-in-the-ass (if the mosquito were to bite you in the ass, that is).

"It'll just take a second," I muttered.

He followed me into the hallway and I shut the door behind him. "Can you do this somewhere else?" I asked, keeping my voice low.

Joe shrugged nonchalantly. "I kind of wanted to do it in a private place. I really like this girl."

"Do you really want to strike up a romance with her while I'm in the room?"

"That's right..." Joe agreed, the thought finally striking him. He smile with a new idea, suggesting, "Hey, maybe you can sleep in Dad's room. Or Kevin's." 

I smiled along as sarcastically as possible, returning, "Or maybe you can go fuck yourself."

His shoulders slouched. "Nick, this is the first girl who's made me forget about Camilla... please, do this for me." 

"It's been like ten days!" I exclaimed. "You're not supposed to forget about her yet!"

Joe clasped his hands together, holding them up as if in prayer. "Please?" he pleaded. 

Fuck. I really needed a girlfriend. Like, really badly. This was terrible.

"Ugh... fine," I consented, and he squealed like a girl and hugged me. I pushed away immediately, disgusted by his behaviour. "No kissing. No touching. Just talking." 

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," he said quickly, and I knew he had just dismissed my orders. Twat.

He made a move to open the door, and it was then that we realized that we had locked ourselves out of the room. "Woops," Joe said with a laugh, knocking on the door.

While we waited for Sam to open it for us, Rainie and Jesse turned the corner and wandered down the hallway, hand-in-hand. They waved when they saw us, and I felt my face flush a darker shade of red. Standing there in nothing but pajama pants, locked out of my own hotel room with the stupidest brother anyone could ever have, staring at the love of my life as she held hands and giggled with my mortal enemy.

Fuck my life.

Joe and his precious Sam didn't talk as long as I expected. Eventually, Mom knocked on our door and suggested that we get to bed (of course, at this time I was already in bed, glaring at the clock and feeling incredibly awkward. Seriously, could they not have found a different place to converse?). Sam left with Joe's promise of a call, and a few minutes later, Joe turned out the light. 

Little did I know, my night was just beginning.

Once the lights were out, it took me approximately three minutes to fall asleep. Usually I'm able to sleep through anything, but I think the awkwardness of overhearing Joe and Sam's conversation made me tense and alert, ultimately throwing off my regular sleeping pattern. I woke up a couple of times as Joe muttered things in his sleep. I didn't even know he did that.

(I'm not going to lie: I brushed it off, rolled over and fell right back to sleep, but when I woke up the next morning I was very frightened. I couldn't remember what he'd said, but I started to think about how many nights of our lives we had spent in the same room. How many times had I been unable to hear his thoughts when he slept? I hoped to God he hadn't had any inappropriate dreams around me).

It wasn't even midnight when I woke up to voices. It took a couple of minutes to process where the noise was coming from, but after a while, it was pretty clear that it was taking place in the neighbouring hotel room. And who was in that hotel room? Well, as Joe ever-so-kindly informed me earlier, it was Jesse and my girlfriend. 

As soon as I pieced this together and opened my eyes, I started to listen to what they were saying. The first thing I made out was Rainie as she shouted, "Right there!"

My eyes widened. They were having sex?! No! NO! No with a long string of o's at the end! 

Before I even knew what I was doing, I grabbed a pillow and shoved it over my ears, slamming my head into the mattress. I was not going to listen to this. Why did Rainie have to have a key phrase while doing it? Now all I could picture was her naked body with Jesse. Which was unpleasant, and kind of disturbed me. Really disturbed me. But I couldn't shake the mental image no matter how hard I tried.

I curled up into a ball as I held the pillow over my ears. While I shifted my body, I momentarily let the pillow slack and heard a cry of, "Oh yeah!"

This was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I watched as Joe's mouth moved; he was talking to himself again. Why were there so many noises when I was trying to sleep!?

After a while, I realized that all the lovemaking was waking Joe up, too. Rainie and Jesse deserved an award; waking up Joe was like waking up someone in a coma. (I don't know how my mom does it every day. I think she must know his ticklish spot or something). Joe's eyes fluttered, and he stretched in bed. He lifted his head to stare at the wall behind him, and his face broke into a smile.

It would have made me so happy to toothpick his face into that exact expression for all-time, and see how he liked it.

He glanced at me, doing a double-take when he realized my eyes were open. He turned on the light. I scowled, muttering, "Turn it off. And don't listen, you sick fuck."

I couldn't tell what he said in reply. The pillow covering my ears was doing a great job. Joe rolled his eyes, throwing the blankets off his body and swivelling on the bed. He stood up and attempted to rip the pillow away from my ears. We had a tug-o-war for a good ten seconds as I held onto the pillow for dear life and tried to kick him away. Eventually, he tugged so hard that the pillow flew out of my arms and I actually rolled off the bed. 

That was the second time that day I'd fallen from bed to floor. It fucking hurt.

"What are you trying to do?!" I cried, my voice going all high-pitched and girlish. (How embarrassing. But this was actually a crisis. Desperate times call for pre-pubescent, cracking voices). 

"Listen!" he whispered, pointing to the wall and throwing my pillow onto his bed.

"That's exactly what I'm trying not to do!" I retorted. Was he a complete fucktard? Could he not put two-and-two together? 

Joe frowned, shaking his head at me as I stood up slowly. "They're fighting, faggypants. Just listen."

It would have been a much more effective insult if we weren't wearing matching pajama pants, but still, his words intrigued me. Fighting? Interesting. All-too-enthusiastically, I hopped onto the bed on my knees and pressed my cheek to the wall, my palms flat on either side of my head. 

"Well what do you want me to do?" Jesse's voice. I'd never heard him sound angry before.

"I want you to grow up and start acting your age!" Rainie exclaimed. She was more upset with him than she had been with me a week ago. Much, much more upset. 

"I should grow up? Are you kidding me? You're the one who acts like a little kid in this relationship! You're so whiny, you're so needy!"

"Is it so much to ask for a boyfriend to call once in a while? To want to spend time with his girlfriend when he's in town, or when she accompanies him to New York?" 

"Nobody asked you to come!" Ouch. "I don't have time for this, okay? I go through this with every girl I date. I thought you were different."

"Maybe you should get the hint, then! Being a good boyfriend means communicating!" 

"I don't have time!" Jesse repeated. "Okay? Back the fuck off! This is my career. This is my life. This is what I love, and I'm sorry, but I'm not giving it up just so I can spend every waking moment with you. Jesus."

I stopped listening to glance at Joe, whose head was also pressed to the wall.

(Wow. It was a good thing Joe and I had a strong bond and would never release this information to anyone... because if this got out, we'd both look like idiots. And the last thing I wanted was to be grouped in the same intellectual category as my brother).

"But what about the moaning?" I asked quietly, utterly confused. 

"What moaning? There was only yelling," he replied.

I shook my head. "She said 'right there'." Her signature sex-word. I knew it. 

"She said 'Right there, that's why I have a problem with it.'"

Oh. "And 'oh yeah'?" I asked. 

Joe smiled at me like I was a naïve little child. "I don't know. They weren't having sex, I promise you."

It was odd that my brother was promising me something like that. I wasn't sure if I was comfortable with it.

"I never asked for you to do that! You're taking it to the extreme; all I want is for you to acknowledge me once in a while!" Rainie shouted. 

I sighed, leaning back on my knees and distancing myself from the wall. "Why doesn't she just dump him?" I questioned out loud.

"Why doesn't he just dump her? She's crazy."

I glowered. More yelling ensued, and I kept waiting for one of them to say the words: 'This is over'. It never came. What the fuck? Fights like this were supposed to terminate a relationship. Where was the termination?

"I can't listen to this," I mumbled, climbing off the bed and dragging my feet to the door.

"Where are you going?" Joe asked.

"Finding somewhere else to sleep." Neither Dad nor Kevin would be pleased if I woke them up at this hour and begged for a place to stay, but they could suck it - no disrespect whatsoever towards my father, but really, they could suck it. I could not handle this. 

I had literally just stepped into the hallway when the adjacent door was flung open, hitting the wall inside the room with a bang. I was so startled that I jumped backwards into the wall like a coward. Red-faced and livid, Jesse barely noticed me as he grabbed his coat and stormed off. The door remained open. I waited until I heard the elevator button 'ding' before I ventured further into the hallway. I only wanted to peek in and assess the damage; that was all. I tried to be sly about it, but there was really no way to do that if I wanted a good look.

Jesse had slammed the door so hard that it ricocheted off the wall and was half-closed. I couldn't see much of the inside of the room, but as I neared the door, I heard a sob. 

Oh. There was my cue.

Carefully, I placed my hand on the doorknob and the other flat on the surface of the door. I pushed it open just enough to snake my head around and peer inside. Rainie sat at the foot of the bed, her head buried in her hands. Her shoulders shook.

Call me insensitive, but crying girls are so my thing. Not if I make them cry, of course - but there's nothing like pouncing on an emotionally wounded girl. It was the perfect time to lay the groundwork. It was the opportune moment to show Rainie how reliable I was. However, I did wish that I was wearing a shirt, because I suddenly felt vulnerable in nothing but flannel pajama pants.

Too late now.

I didn't want to surprise her, but I was also afraid that if she looked up and saw me walking towards her, she'd tell me to go away. Choosing to remain silent, I made my way to her. It became awkward when I was literally standing two inches away and she still had no idea I was in the room, so I sat on the bed and leaned forward, my forearms resting on my thighs. 

Maybe intruding on her crying wasn't the best idea, because it was brutally uncomfortable waiting for her to stop. I felt like I was giving her privacy by not looking at her, but at the same time, I needed to see her.

She sniffled, and I felt her moving beside me. "You heard," she said quietly. 

I looked back at her. "Yeah." At least she didn't sound surprised. I hated the rare occasions when my mother and father fought loudly when we were younger. Joe and I would go down to the kitchen to see what was going on, and my parents would be absolutely astonished that we were awake. 'You heard?!' they'd say, like it was an inconceivable notion. Yes, I fucking heard. I have functioning ears, for Christ's sake.

For someone who had a few tears falling down her face, Rainie's cheeks weren't puffy and her eyes weren't blotchy. She was beautiful even when she cried. Go figure.

She wiped away stray tears before letting her hands drop to her lap. She bit her lip, suppressing the urge to say something, but then she went for it. "He's just so..." And then she couldn't finish.

"Douchebaggish?" I suggested, placing my hands on my knees and standing up. I wanted to face her. I always wanted to look at her. 

Rainie laughed weakly. I hadn't meant for it to be funny, but okay. "Yeah," she agreed. "Sometimes."

"Are you sad?"

She shook her head firmly, and almost all traces of tears were gone. I wasn't sure if I believed her. Personally, I wouldn't be sad if Jesse McCartney yelled at me. I might be scared, because when I had glanced at him in passing, his face was so red that it looked like it might explode... but I wouldn't be sad if it did, either. It would probably be for the best.

I rubbed sleep out of my eyes as I muttered, "You haven't answered my texts." 

"I know."

"Why?" 

She smiled apologetically. "I think you know why."

I stared at the ground while I planned my next words. I hadn't expected to have this conversation with her today, but apparently it was the opportune moment, so I had to roll with the punches. Grin and bear it. Go with the flow. Y'know, all those stupid cliché phrases that old people tell you, as if they're so much wiser than you and don't know that you're aware of how often they've been recycled. 

Meeting her eyes again, I let out a sigh before saying, "I wouldn't do this to you. I would call you every day. Twice a day. You know I would; I already do. I wouldn't put anybody before you; not my guy friends, not anyone. I would want to spend every moment with you, and I'd never take it for granted."

I hated myself a little bit for that romantic jargon, but at least I didn't spit out something lame, like 'you're the apple of my eye', or 'words cannot explain how much I love you'. 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' Pft, yeah. You do that, Shakespeare. While you're busy making those comparisons, I'm gonna go get the girl. Have fun, pal. 

Because I was expecting Rainie to snap at me, I was surprised when she continued to smile sadly. I was even more surprised when she grabbed a hold of my hand in both of hers and pulled me a step towards her.

"I don't really fall for guys," she said slowly. "But if I did, I know I would fall for you." 

Hell yes, you would. I'd catch you on the way down, Rainie. I'd dip you, and we'd tango across the floor and celebrate our love Latino style. (Or any style. It didn't matter much to me. I'm not much of a Latin dancer, anyway).

Okay. Well, then. That was taken care of. I felt like clapping my hands together and breathing a sigh of relief, because we could finally move on to the next step. The only two problems were that it would completely ruin the moment that was perfectly set up, and Rainie had a hold of my hand. But I'm a quick thinker, so I used that to my advantage. 

I pulled her up so that she was standing right in front of me. It was the closest we had ever been to one another, and I remembered that she had freckles on her nose. My heart was beating really fast, and if I didn't get this over with as soon as possible, I was definitely going to get a boner. That would be bad.

So I had to do it. I had to kiss her, and then get the hell out. The problem was that I wanted to attack her with kisses. I wanted to grab her, slam her against the wall and devour her.

I wasn't quite sure how she'd react to that, and I had once told her that I only bet on sure things. Plus, if I treated her the way I wanted, she'd be screaming my name and Joe would certainly hear through the walls. I had heard - and seen - him and Camilla making out more times than I could count, but this was different because it was Rainie, and she was mine. I was not sharing any part of her with anyone. (Except for Jesse McFuckface... but I was trying to push his face out of my mind as I contemplated my next move).

Before I could think of something smooth, she wrapped her arms around my waist and hugged me close to her. Well, that I wasn't expecting. Was this a friendly hug? If so, then I objected. Still... I returned the gesture and closed my eyes, because her hands on my bare back felt really nice. She propped her chin on my shoulder. You don't do that if you're just friends, right? Negative. This was a more-than-friends hug.

Oh, wow. Excitement. Boner. Bad. Focus, Nick! Get in, get out!

Instead of having my way with her right then and there, I nuzzled her cheek with my nose. It was a gesture that read, 'turn your head this way, please'. Rainie obliged; she knew what it meant. She lifted her chin from my shoulder and stared at me - I was getting better at reading her, but I couldn't decide what the stare meant - and that's when I decided to go for it. I leaned in and gently pressed my lips to hers. Nothing really happened. 

It was frustrating. Where the fuck were the fireworks? This was all Jesse's fault. He ruined her and made her sad, and even my luscious lips couldn't provide a quick fix. If she wasn't with him, I would have been allowed to display more passion.

Suddenly, her lips started to move against mine. I was so excited that I almost:

  1. a) jizzed in my pants
    b) broke the kiss to shout, "Yes!"
    c) moaned aloud and ruined the moment
    d) all of the above

The key word is 'almost'. I have remarkable self-control, but even as I felt her respond, I was wondering what I could possibly do to mess this up. She was so beautiful; it was almost inevitable that I would make a mistake. Joe would materialize in the room with a camera, and he would laugh at me and tell everyone what a horrible kisser I was, providing photographic proof.

I'm not horrible, by the way; I just have a certain methodical way of kissing girls. When I felt Rainie sucking on my lower lip, I knew that my method was working on her. See, first I trap her top lip between mine. I'm a top lip trapper because it makes me seem taller, you know? Like, my lips are so far above hers that the top lip is the only one I can get without bending down. It's an assertion of masculinity, and I'm positive that it works every time. Girls swoon with my top lip action.

Rainie wasn't pulling away, so... hey, I'm oh-for-three. Ladies and gentleman: Nick Jonas, Master of Kissing. Applause, please. I could hear them cheer.

But I wasn't done yet. The top lip trapping is only the first step. Next, I slid my hands to her slender neck, my thumbs grazing just to the side of her ears. This way I was in control. Guys can take control without violently slamming girls against walls, by the way. I learned that with Miley when she tried to dominate me in large open spaces.

Breaking our lip contact for a split second - maybe it was even less than a second; I didn't want to give her enough time to think this through - I tilted my head to the opposite side and reconnected our lips. I wanted to taste every part of her. Plus, it was the perfect transition to tongue.

Tongues are really disgusting when you think about them. You probably don't think about them too often, but I've spent time pondering it before, and really... they're not all that pretty. But for some reason, tangling tongues with someone else is the ultimate form of pleasure above the waist. (Actually, once I got a massage, and that was great too... but no, no, I'm sticking with the tongue thing).

I paused for a moment as I mulled over my decision to insert tongue... maybe it was too soon. Maybe it was too late. Maybe Jesse changed his mind and was going to reappear in mere seconds. Or maybe if you don't hurry the hell up, Nicholas, she's definitely going to feel your excitement pressed up against her!

Get in and get out before you get an erection. My new motto in life. 

With Rainie's hands travelling up my back and the stirring sensation in my loins, I wasted no time. I was a pro at this, anyway. You have to be gentle about it the first time, because girls might not be expecting it (I don't know why. Whenever a girl kisses me, I always expect tongue). I massaged her top lip with mine and prodded slightly with my tongue, (politely) asking for entrance. And... and...

We were in. Golden. 

Kissing Rainie was like standing on top of the world and looking down at all the people and feeling infinite. It was like getting revenge on all the people who had wronged me as a child. It was like freefalling.

Seeing as I've never done any of those things, I guess it wasn't fair to compare them to kissing Rainie. For all I knew, kissing Rainie could be better than those things. Maybe kissing Rainie wasn't like anything else in the world.

She was wearing a thin shirt, and I wasn't wearing a shirt at all. I could feel her chest against mine, and while it was adding to the wondrous kiss we were sharing, it was not helping me out down below. I wondered if she'd be up for second base... no. Not an option. My body couldn't take it. Sperm production was already in overdrive.

I was surprised that I hadn't screwed anything up yet. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless. At least, I didn't think I had screwed anything up. Had I? She wasn't pushing me away, but maybe it was out of politeness. I opened an eye, just to make sure.

(Side-note: have you ever opened only one eye while kissing? I don't recommend it. Winking and kissing are not compatible).

I closed my eye just as quickly. That was weird.

Her teeth were really straight. She tasted like gum. Minty fresh. Thank God I'd brushed and flossed my teeth that night before bed. Flossing is a rarity. It was like God knew I'd be kissing Rainie and wanted to make sure my hygiene was up to par.

It kind of bothered me that Jesse's tongue had probably explored all the places I was exploring now.

I wondered how long it had been since I had breathed. I was running out of oxygen, and as much as I was savouring these precious moments... well, dying would kind of cancel it all out. 

Rainie was probably having the same thought, because we disconnected in a sort of mutual agreement. Still, I kept my hands on her. I didn't want to let her go. This was just half-time, right?

Rainie gulped, licking her lips. I watched her with curiosity. And awe. And lust.

Our eyes locked. "This..." she trailed off.

I nodded, urging her to continue. "Was nice?" I suggested quietly. 

All of a sudden, her face crumpled. She looked like she was going to cry. My eyes widened in horror. No. No! For the love of God, don't let her ruin this for me. How could I possibly recount this story later with pride if I had to admit that she cried after I kissed her!? This was like déjà vu. Harry and Cho Chang (okay, so it technically wasn't déjà vu, but Rainie wasn't my Cho! They don't even end up together!) This was like a story that a fourteen-year-old girl would submit to a teen magazine under the category 'Worst kiss!'

I hoped to God that Rainie didn't subscribe to magazines. 

"I have a boyfriend," she told me.

I can't explain how much effort it took to control myself in that moment. Not that I read Twilight, but I totally know how Edward Cullen feels. It was like Rainie was my Bella, and suddenly, I wanted to kill her.

My hands fell and I took a step back. That was it. She ruined it. All this time, I was worried about screwing up, when I should have been worrying about her screwing up.

I shook my head vehemently. "No. Don't say that." She had ten seconds to take it back, and we could pretend like it was never said. 

"It's true."

Five... four... three... two... one and a half... one and a quarter... 

Dammit, Rainie!

I bit the inside of my cheek, forcing myself not to spew out everything I wanted to say. At first, she had appeared torn, but now she hardly even seemed apologetic. What a fucking bitch. Why the hell was she so hot? 

I don't really know what I did with my arms, but I think I half-shrugged and narrowed my eyes at her as I spun around and headed to the door. I needed to think about this. I needed to make sense of it. She didn't make sense. Why was she the only person who didn't make sense?!

"Where are you going?" she asked, her voice back to its usual tone and pitch. It was like nothing had happened at all. 

If it were anyone else, flipping her the bird as I slammed the door would have made for a great exit. But I figured that kind of behaviour wouldn't get me anywhere with her, so I chose not to respond.

"Nick!" she exclaimed in exasperation.

Oh, I'm sorry, Rainie. Am I annoying you? Shucks. Can't imagine what that would be like.

It took all of my internal strength to ignore her, and I released the biggest breath of life as I shut the door. I walked next door and turned the knob - of course I was locked out of the room. Again.

I knocked. And knocked. And knocked. So much for making a grand exit. If Rainie wanted to make me look like the biggest loser on the planet, all she had to do was open her door and laugh at me.

It took three minutes of consecutive knocking before I grabbed a chair from the hallway with the elevator and slammed it against the door repeatedly. Joe answered the door just as the chair came crashing towards it. A half-asleep Joe was thrown backwards as the door hit him, and the leg of the chair collided with the doorframe and snapped off. I was too angry to deal with it, so I left the broken chair sitting in the hallway and went to bed. 

Needless to say, neither my father nor the hotel staff was pleased in the morning.

Day 209: Nausea by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Nine.

The next time Rainie saw me after our intimate encounter, a beach ball was thrown at my head.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

It was a Saturday in October, and we had the day off. Joe was feeling better, Kevin and Danielle were still going strong, and our band suggested we spend the day lounging at the beach. I brought Pep along and the lot of us struck up an intense beach volleyball competition. (My team was winning).

After a while, Kevin and Danielle bailed on us because they wanted some lame couple time or something. What I didn’t know was that Kevin used this ‘couple time’ to call all of his friends and invite them to join us. I don’t mind Kevin’s friends - they’re an even mix of guys and girls and they’re all good people. What I didn’t understand was when Jesse switched from ‘tour buddy’ to ‘friend’, and why he was invited to spend the day with us. Furthermore, and more importantly, why on earth was Rainie accompanying him!?

They were seriously still together. Fuck me sideways, they were still together, and they were still parading around in front of me like the happiest couple in history. She obviously hadn’t told him that we kissed, and she obviously didn’t intend to. Apparently, it meant nothing to her.

… how could it have meant nothing to her!? Did I have to change my kissing method, or was she just the Snow Queen of all ice bitches?

When I saw them walking towards us holding hands, Rainie’s windswept hair and simple summer dress making her look like someone I’d only fantasized about in my wildest dreams, I had to pause for a moment just to stare in awe, confusion and anger all at once.

That was when someone (I’m guessing Joe, as usual), threw the beach ball at my head. I staggered on my feet and readjusted my sunglasses in annoyance, and even from far away, I heard Jesse’s loud laughter. I wondered what he would do if I spontaneously burst into a rousing rendition of ‘It Happens Every Time’ and insisted that he take over to give the people what they wanted.

He and Rainie joined our volleyball game. Because more of Kevin’s friends had joined us, we had to restructure the teams ever so slightly. Of course, Rainie and Jesse became my rivals, and I had to stand in my position on the opposite side of the net and watch them playfully flirt with one another. They tried to steal the ball from one another, they nudged each other flirtatiously, and they squealed (well, Rainie squealed. Jesse laughed). Not only was it painful to watch, but it was ruining the entire competitive dynamic we had had before they arrived.

How were they still together? How had they not broken up yet? You don’t just kiss Nick J and then pretend it never happened. I carefully plan out who I kiss specifically so this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It had been almost two weeks since the epic fight, and it was like their relationship had somehow been rejuvenated.

Fuck! That was never in my plans. I never saw it coming. And now they were flirting in front of me. Every so often, Rainie glanced at me, like she knew exactly what she was doing.

What was she doing?

I had never had so much difficulty with my Chaucer-ness before. That’s when I began to think that maybe my sixth sense wasn’t failing me. Maybe the key to figuring Rainie out was coming to terms with the fact that she was entirely, positively, irreversibly insane. How many girls would kill to be in her position? I mean, the Jesse McCartney thing is… whatever, but she had kissed me. Didn’t she realize what a rarity that was? I don’t kiss just anyone. I can count on one hand the number of girls I’ve kissed. I’m a hot commodity. I’m in high demand, but the supply is low. Sorry, girls, but you might just have to settle for a cheap look-alike.

Rainie got a piece of me, Britney Spears style. Didn’t she get what that meant? It meant that she was special. I only kiss special girls. Girls that are meant to be with me and only me (even if it’s only for a short period of time… see ex-girlfriends one and two).

She was trying to defy that unwritten law, and I was not pleased.

“Don’t be confrontational,” Pep instructed as she talked me off the ledge. We stood face-to-face in the sand, speaking in low tones just in case passer-bys were attempting to eavesdrop. There was no fear of my brothers or Rainie hearing us - everyone else was still in the water splashing around after the game. Well, everyone except for a few key people. Kevin and Danielle were walking her miniature dog up and down the beach, and Rainie was lying on Jesse - yes, on him - as they soaked up the sun. Ice bitch. Well, in this case, she was a bitch on fire. A burning bitch. In fact, I hoped she did burn.

I buried my face in my towel, shaking my head and groaning aloud as I wiped droplets of water off my face. “But I need to know what she’s doing.”

Pep half-laughed at that one. “I think it’s pretty clear that she’s back together with Jesse and that she doesn’t want to reminisce on what transpired between you two.”

Reminisce? Transpire?

“Where did you get those words?” I demanded, temporarily distracted.

“I wrote an essay last week,” she answered in a cavalier fashion. “Listen to me, Nick J. I like Rainie, but what she’s doing to you is mean. She’s not even offering you an explanation. Doesn’t that mean she’s not worth it?”

“It means she’s worth more than I thought because I have to fight for her,” I answered easily.

“No!” Pep exclaimed with voracity. Wow, she got pretty excited there for a moment. Too adamant for someone who was supposedly talking me off the ledge. Her scary soul-sucking blue eyes found mine. “Nick, please think clearly for a second. Don’t do anything stupid.”

I scowled. This shitty advice was pointless. “I never do anything stupid,” I retorted. I always think things through. It yields the best results.

“Please?” Pep pleaded. Her face broke into a grin. “Can’t we just have fun today? We were having so much fun until she put you in a bad mood. Go back to the way you were. Let’s just play.”

Let’s just play - I didn’t think anyone had said that to me since the third grade.

“What are we whispering about?” Joe hissed, poking his sopping wet head in between us. It was a tight squeeze, and I immediately stepped back in disgust.

“Nothing,” Pep giggled.

Joe straightened, demanding entrance to our huddle. “We should get the Frisbee out. How about a game of Ultimate Frisbee, huh, Pip?”

“Let’s do it!” she exclaimed enthusiastically.

Over Pep’s shoulder, I saw Jesse and Rainie. She jokingly put a glob of sunscreen on his nose. He tickled her sides; she squealed. They laughed, she removed the sunscreen, they kissed. That’s when my nausea set in.

“Nick? Hey, idiot!”

Joe cupped my cheeks with his hands and turned my head towards him.

“Wha’,” I demanded, my mouth in an O-shape as he squeezed.

“Frisbee?”

I placed my hands on his forearms and ripped his hands away from my face. “Yeah. Whatever.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Joe asked.

Pep waited for me to answer. When I showed no interest in responding and turned my head back towards Romeo and Juliet, Pep replied in my place, “He’s upset that Rainie’s here with Jesse.”

Joe slapped my back so suddenly that I jumped forward in shock. “Snap out of it, kid. Stop thinking about it. It’s a beautiful day, we’re with our friends, and we got a yellow Frisbee with a smiley face on it. Life is good.”

Noodlebrain. Here was the guy who had chastised me for three days straight after I kissed Rainie. He said I took advantage of her. She was sad, and I pounced. I was a jerk and I deserved to be rejected. He said that everything she’d told me was justified because it was my fault.

In my defence, I’m seventeen years old. I’m not even legal yet. Nothing is my fault. It’s like, if a four-year-old stole a teddy bear, would you try him in court? If a seven-year-old shot someone, would you send him to jail? Again, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. Rainie, on the other hand, is an adult. The blame rests on her.

I resumed partially ignoring my noodle-headed brother as I glanced at Jesse and Rainie. Joe and Pep continued to try to talk me out of it while I stared. Jesse had one arm wrapped around Rainie. She laid her head on his shoulder, melting into him and placing a hand on his chest. She shrugged her shoulders as she sighed contentedly. They looked at each other and kissed again. Were they in love or something? How could something go from being so bad to so good? Was this a charade? She went from hating the jerk to not being able to take her hands off him. It was an act. I knew it. I could see right through her. She was trying to make me jealous. I didn’t know why, but I attributed it to the ‘ice’ on top of her bitchiness.

You know, I think she really needed a man like me to calm her down. Jesse wasn’t good for her; he riled her up with his dickheadedness. I was smart and self-assured and collected. Only a real man (that is, me) could tame her inner bitch.

But I wasn’t just going to stand there while she tried her hardest to make me jealous (which was working, by the way). Two could play the game. I could make her jealous if I wanted to. All I had to do was wait until she looked my way, and then I had to do something that proved I was over her.

She glanced my way.

Fuck. I had to think fast. Um… okay. No time. Shit. Yes. Okay. Let’s go.

Grabbing Pep and crashing my lips against hers was probably one of the stupidest things I have ever done. No, it was the stupidest thing I have ever done. It was kind of ironic, because Pep had told me about three minutes prior not to do anything stupid, and I assured her that I never did. But I wasn’t thinking about that as I kissed her.

There was definitely a turning point. During the grabbing process, it seemed like a brilliant idea. A sure-fire way to show Rainie what she was missing. The moment my lips touched Pep’s, I realized how wrong I was. Joe actually gasped aloud, as if it were the sixteenth century and a nun exposed her ankles to him.

By this point, though, I had to carry through with my plan. I’d look like a moron if I didn’t. Pep was a lot more easy-going than I expected; I made a mental note to buy her a Coke later or something.

For the record, there was no insertion of tongue (gag me). But there was definitely top lip action. I needed to make it look convincing, after all. Rainie had to know that I wasn’t going to wait around for her. I would find other girls, because girls loved me.

Pep was seriously doing a good job.

I hated myself.

I broke apart from her and took a step back, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. Though I was pretending to look at Pep, I was really glancing behind her at Rainie. Oh, she was definitely looking. It was the stupidest thing I’d ever done, but at least it caught her attention.

I felt like throwing up.

Pep looked like she was going to say something, but I held up a hand to silence her. Joe’s jaw was practically touching the ground, so I didn’t have to worry about him saying anything intelligent in the near future.

I shook my head. It would take too long to explain and she’d never understand. All I could really say was, “Thank you.”

With that, I left Pep with Joe and went in search of my clothes. I needed my wallet. Where the fuck were my clothes!? I spun around in confusion, scanning the entire beach.

Oh. Of course my clothes were three feet away from the happy couple. I had to turn what would have been the ultimate walk of shame into the walk of pride, showing no signs of regret. I acted on-camera five days a week, but I was pretty sure this was the toughest acting I had ever done in my life.

“Nick, pass me my iPod, will you?” Jesse asked almost as soon as I had picked up my shorts and plunged my hand into a pocket. His iPod was about two and a half inches away from his fingers, but of course, with Rainie sitting in between his legs, he couldn’t reach it. How easy would it to pick up the iPod and throw it into the ocean? Or stomp on it? Or I could simply leave it where it was and make him get it himself, the lazy ass.

In the end, I caved. I passed him his iPod. I wondered if he had all of his songs - Dream Street included - on his iPod. He seemed like the kind of guy who would.

While I pulled out my wallet, Rainie snuck a peek at me as nonchalantly as possible and questioned, “So you and your friend Pep, huh?”

I’m not lying when I say I hated myself.

I shook my head to get rid of the excess water dripping from my hair to my chest, replying awkwardly, “Uh huh.”

Then I left as quickly as possible. I’m a firm believer in not saying more than is necessary. I could have easily made up a huge lie about how there had always been something between us that was worth pursuing, but it was easier to leave her wondering. It was better this way. She’d lay awake at night with questions, and I would sleep soundly knowing that she’d come crawling back.

Foolproof.

But I still felt sick.

It didn’t matter. I would make this up to Pep. I marched up to a vendor on the beach and pulled two one’s out of my pocket. “Coke, please,” I said politely.

When I searched for Pep’s easily-spottable red hair with all the others in the ocean, I instead found her sitting next to our clothes, hugging her knees to her chest. Thankfully, Jesse and Rainie finally decided to get up and join Kevin and Danielle on their walk. I would have to inform Pep that we were now officially dating in their eyes, so if they asked questions, she had to answer them properly. I felt kind of bad - poor Pep, I always seemed to include her in my lies. Rainie already assumed that her mother had a newborn baby, and now this. Oh well - that’s what Cokes are for.

I plopped down beside her in the sand, handing her the bottle of Coke.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Reciprocity,” I replied. “Are we even?”

She shrugged in confusion. “For what?”

I stared at her, unsure of how to answer the question. If she made me say it out loud, I would kill myself.

Ultimately choosing to brush off her inquiry, I chuckled as I instructed, “Just drink it, Pepper.”

--

Joe was mad at me again. I thought it was because I stole his glasses and tried to angle them over Jesse’s head according to the position of the sun so that his hair would catch fire, but apparently that didn’t bother him as much as what I’d done earlier.

“I’m actually ashamed that you’re my brother today,” he muttered venomously.

I shrugged innocently. “Are you ashamed that I was your brother yesterday, too? How’s tomorrow looking?”

“Why don’t you take your head out of your ass, shitbrain?”

This was dumb. I had previously confided in him to make him happy, but he could never understand. He wasn’t aware of how much I had been through in the past eight months. I had been on a no-girl diet, and I was slowly wasting away to nothing - something had to be done in my favour. Something drastic.

There was no use explaining it to him. I could only try to divert his thoughts, which was a piece of cake. I looked over his shoulder and smiled brightly, waving as I exclaimed, “Oh, hi Camilla!”

Joe’s head whipped around so quickly, I thought it would swivel off his neck. It was too easy. And he called me a shitbrain?

--

To take my mind off of things, I thought it would be a good idea to polish off the second season of The Office that night. I can’t stress how bad of an idea this was.

Not to ruin the ending or anything, but Jim kisses Pam and professes his love. Did not see this coming.

I felt sick again.

--

End Notes:
Please don’t hate me.

I’m interested to hear your theories on what you think will happen next. By that I mean what you think will happen directly after this, not what will happen when the story ends, because I’m pretty sure I’ve already got a firm grasp on who is Team Pep, who is Team Rainie, and who is Team Nick-Should-Be-Friendless-And-Alone. Anyway, I just want to know if I’ll be able to surprise you with what Nick decides to do next… so let me know what you’re thinking!

I’ll post ASAP. The next chapter is written but I’m trying to stay one chapter ahead of myself, so chapter 22 needs to be written. By the way, I’m stoked to write it because I have so many ideas. Usually I only plan out a chapter on Word in three to five lines, but I have so many ideas for chapter 22 that it’s like half a page. I’m psyched!

Hey, funny story, I’m done class in five weeks. Could not be more excited.

Anyway, for all who inquired - my weekend was awesome. I’m sad to be back at school because I won’t get to see my niece now until I’m done exams in late April. I hope she has some chub on her by then. Also, because many of you have asked (you’re so sweet), no, she does not have a name yet. Hahah my sister and her hubby just can’t decide. They don’t agree on anything, except that they want a really unique name. My sister is pushing for Charlize and he’s pushing for Carling (which by the way is a Canadian brand of beer. Go figure). Personally I like neither of these names, but others on the list were Jaelyn, Kameron and Charlie (there is already a boy in my family named Charlie; I think he’d be offended). Anyway, hopefully they name it within the next few days because I’m dying to put a name to the pretty face.

EDIT: So weird, I found out literally 2 minutes after I posted this that the baby has been named! Koltyn. WOW. Way to be original, sis. People will think she's a boy, and her name will be misspelled her entire life. Right on. At least she's still cute.
Day 222: Grin and Bear It by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-two.

“Nick, I’d like you to meet Avery.”

Now was one of those times when my father’s wise words would come in handy: Grin and bear it. I smiled as pleasantly as possible as I shook hands with the attractive female in front of me. I had nothing against attractive females, of course - but I didn’t want to be here. Why was I here? This was self-imposed torture.

It was Friday night in LA, and I was going on a blind date. A blind triple date, in fact, because Selena and Miley were accompanying me in order to make things extra awkward. Miley brought Justin, who looked even more like a prick up-close than in pictures, and Selena brought David, one of her cast-mates.

On the bright side, I liked David. I’d met him a few times before, and I was pretty sure that he was on my side. “Selena made me come,” he’d whispered to me a few moments earlier, “She wanted to bring Demi as her date, but Miley said it would be better if she brought a guy. I think they’re trying to… I don’t know, make you jealous? I don’t understand why I’m here, this whole thing is fucked up, why are your ex-girlfriends getting you a date?”

I patted his shoulder and assured him that the same questions were plaguing my mind.

Why did I agree to this? Simple. After much contemplation and six episodes of season three of The Office, I realized that lying to Rainie about dating Pep wasn’t going to work. I could never force myself to act lovey-dovey around her, and even if I could, I would have to buy Pep a fucking Coca Cola factory just to make up for it. Afterwards, everything would be so awkward that I would have to relocate to the Stamford Branch like Jim - in other words, I’d never be able to see Pep again. It wasn’t worth it, and I wouldn’t do it. It was like forcing myself to eat something I didn’t want to eat, and then getting sick afterwards because I couldn’t keep it down. It was like dating bulimia.

Nonetheless, I did like the idea of making Rainie jealous. It was a sick game that we were playing, but if this was the only way to get through to her, then I was sold. So, against my better judgment, I gave Miley a call and told her I was ready to go on a blind date. In all fairness, I told her that I would not go alone, so she would have to come with me. Miley said she wouldn’t be a third wheel, and I agreed that it would be somewhat uncomfortable, and that’s when she came up with the idea of inviting the entire world to come with us.

“Nice to meet you,” I spoke to the brunette as we shook hands. (Side-note: why was she a brunette? Did I not specifically ask for a girl with black hair?)

She smiled pleasantly, and I was pretty sure her life was complete upon having met me. I can make people’s days like that.

“Avery’s one of my backup dancers,” Miley announced, her head popping up between us. “We’re really close. She’s so sweet, Nick, ask her to tell you the story about the fire alarm.”

That’s just great, Miley. Way to make this blind date not awkward at all.

I blinked, unimpressed, shifting my gaze back to Avery to say monotonously, “Tell me the story about the fire alarm.”

She laughed. I supposed she had a sense of humour. My memory was blurry, but hadn’t I asked for a girl without one? Miley and Selena had failed me. What was that dumb list for if they didn’t even use it in selecting my match?

“It was really stupid-”

“It was not stupid,” Miley interrupted with a loud guffaw. “A few weeks ago, Avery was at home and the smoke alarms went off. She has three dogs and a cat, and her whole house filled with smoke, and she kept making trips back inside to rescue all her pets.”

“And then it turned out-”

“Someone had left the stove on, right? Ha!” Miley interrupted once more, resting her elbow on Avery’s shoulder. “Anyway, I was like, oh my God Ave, my ex-boyfriend Nick loves dogs, I’m sure he’d appreciate that story.”

Both girls nodded vigorously and stared eagerly into my eyes, waiting for my reaction. David, Selena and Justin trained their eyes to me as well. Crickets chirped in the background. Dead silence.

that was why Avery was my soulmate?

Fuck being polite. I wasn’t going to respond to that story at all. That was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. First of all, everyone loves dogs. If that was the only criteria we were basing this on, then Avery could be compatible with anyone. Secondly, why was it necessary for Miley to refer to me as her ex-boyfriend in front her current boyfriend and my potential new girlfriend? Third, was this girl insane!? If your house fills up with smoke, you get the hell out. Open a few windows and if your pets are smart, everything will work out. Second and third trips are what firefighters are for, babe.

Miley and Avery burst into laughter. Selena and David exchanged a worried glance; they were probably able to realize just how unimpressed I was. Justin stood around like he was waiting for something exciting to happen. Brainless schlep.

I had a feeling that tonight, we were going to separate into groups. Miley would spend the entire time talking up Avery and the two would giggle with their thousands of inside jokes. Justin would stand there; he’d always just be standing there. David and Selena would watch me and whisper about how horribly this was going. And I… well, maybe I could get in some sort of threesome with David and Selena. They were the best ones, anyway.

Eventually, Miley linked her arm with Justin’s and led us into the restaurant. Selena and David held the door open for Avery and I, making sure to follow at a safe distance behind. This was just great. A Nick J couple sandwich. Pep would die laughing when I told her.

Avery leaned towards me as we walked to the back of the restaurant, murmuring in my ear, “I actually have two dogs and a bird. No cats.”

I eyed her with interest. She winked at me. Huh. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe her brown hair wasn’t that terrible, either. I mean, the other two girls I dated had brown hair… it didn’t work out, but Avery wasn’t supposed to be a permanent thing, anyway.

We sat in a large circular booth. On my right was Avery, who was huddling close to Miley for comfort. On my left was Selena, whom I was favouring at the moment because I’d barely heard her say two words since we arrived. I’d always liked that about her. She could be vocal when circumstances called for it, but most of the time, she liked to keep her mouth shut. I understood her completely. It was probably one of the reasons we didn’t work out. Neither of us was very outgoing, and eventually we found ourselves trapped.

There was a prolonged silence in which we each scanned the menu. I hoped no one ordered something that would take forever to cook. I wanted to get in and get out. Didn’t I already mention that this was my new motto?

“Mm… I’ll have an iced tea. What do you want, Justy?” asked Miley, the self-proclaimed table-organizer.

“Coke,” he said, offering the waitress a smile.

Bitch stole my beverage preference. If I were him, I would’ve slapped Miley across the face for calling me Justy. When we dated, Miley used to break out the Nicky every once in a while, and it made me want to-

“Diet Coke, Nicky?” Miley asked.

Like I was saying, it made me want to legally change my name to Penis.

“Yes,” I grumbled. Just once, I needed to live a little when it came to drinks. Wouldn’t she be surprised when I ordered a Sprite?

Avery giggled quietly. As Miley took care of David and Selena, Avery cleared her throat and questioned loudly, “So do you prefer Nick or Nicholas?”

Ha. I actually kind of liked her.

“Mr. Jonas will be fine,” I joked. “’Sir’ for short.”

She smiled. She had a nice smile. And her eyes were brown, which was pleasant and not scary at all.

The rest of the meal passed as expected. Miley dominated the conversation, Justin sat there and let her baby him, and David and Selena sometimes had their own quiet discussions. Avery continued to pass me snide comments under her breath, and as time passed, she grew on me.

She wasn’t perfect, however. She had a salad for dinner. Girls who have salads for dinner are self-conscious. To her credit, from what I could tell, she had a great body - possibly from all the dancing, or possibly from all the salads. Neither one is really my thing, so I could only assume that we had very little in common.

I had to admit that Miley's behaviour wasn’t terrible, though. Every time I expected her to launch into an embarrassing and inappropriate story of our young relationship, she said something embarrassing and inappropriate about her relationship with Justin - sorry, Justy. That was fine. I could deal with that.

“Let’s do something after dinner,” Miley announced. “There aren’t any good movies out, and Justy and I got kicked out of laser tag last week for - remember that?” Justin nodded as Miley hunched over with giggles. She turned to the rest of us, explaining, “We were fooling around on this ramp thing for like, half an hour, and the manager came and said we had to get out because there were little children.”

Like I said: embarrassing and inappropriate. If Justin had showed any sign of humiliation, I would have felt sorry for him. But he just sat there, and my resentment grew.

“Bowling!” David exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to bowl with a Jonas.”

With my arms folded on the table in front of me, I snorted with laughter, giving him a sideways glance. “That’s an odd thing to say.”

“Can we do something that’s not competitive?” Selena asked. “I hate playing games with Nick.”

Huh. The quietest couple had suddenly become the loudest, and I wasn’t sure I approved.

“Thanks,” I muttered sarcastically.

“It’s just… you always win. And if you don’t, you’re whiny about it.”

That’s not true. In my defence, Selena is a petite, non-athletic girl. Anyone would be whiny if they lost a physical game against her.

Wait a second, weren’t these girls supposed to be talking me up in front of my blind date?

“I’m sure I’ll manage to suffer a loss,” I said dryly. Under my breath, I muttered, “But I won’t need to, ‘cause I’ll win.”

David heard. “Oh, it’s on.”

While the rest of the table discussed possible bowling locations, I looked at Avery. She seemed content enough, and that was a good sign. “Are you a bowler?” I asked her.

She pretended to tug on her nonexistent collar. “’Fraid not. I think I was about five the last time I went bowling. I used one of those children’s aids; you know, it’s like a giant slide that you position according to where you want the ball to go, and then you roll the ball down.”

I shook my head at her. “That’s unacceptable, Avery.”

She couldn’t hide her smile. Her cheeks glowed a little bit. I knew it. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if she knew how to bowl - I just wanted the opportunity to say her name out loud. The great thing about girls is that they’re totally predictable. If a guy uses their name upon meeting them, it shows that he’s genuinely interested in her. They’re completely taken by stuff like this. I was right, wasn’t I? Avery’s smiling face proved it. Thanks, yahoo!

Just to be a jerk and make her not completely fall in love with me, I added, “It’ll be that much easier to kick your ass, then.”

Apparently Selena had overheard the last few words, because she exclaimed for everyone to hear, “What did I tell you? He’s way too competitive! He’s already strategizing!”

Avery ignored Selena, granting me a sly grin. “I’d like to see you try. Bring it on, sucker.”

Now there was spirit. This girl had a Pep-like quality about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I knew it was there. She was lucky, because that quality enticed me to pay for her dinner. (It also reminded me that Pep still owed me ten bucks from that lunch we had several months ago. Then again, I kissed her without her consent to make Rainie jealous, so I supposed it was fair to call it even).

Either way, Avery got a free dinner, I looked like a gentleman, and in her LA apartment, Rainie was sitting at home alone while Jesse got tanked with the guys.

I felt good about that.



As it turned out, David Henrie was stiff competition. In fact, so was Avery. It made me nervous. If she was this competitive over a game of bowling, how competitive was she, for example, in an intellectual conversation? Could she rival me in a battle of wits? If so, how long would it take for her to realize that all I wanted was to parade around with her in front of Rainie? I was beginning to think that she was smart. Smart girls scare me; I like to stay away from them.

Case in point: Miley Cyrus, my girlfriend of over a year. Generally nice girl, very caring, cheery disposition, kind of (really) nosey, spontaneous. Not smart. She decided to help Avery win in any way she could. As she sat on Justy Wusty’s lap, she shouted loudly every time I was about to bowl, “DON’TMESSUP!”

The good thing is that I know Miley very well, and I expected this. It did not affect my game.

I was staring at Miley on Justy’s lap with distaste as I heard David laughing obnoxiously. Avery was up. With only two pins remaining just left of centre, aiming was important. She analyzed her next move before picking up a ball with both hands, spreading her legs, and throwing it granny-style down the lane.

“Oh, you cheat!” I exclaimed, forgetting all about Miley and Justy. M and J. MJ. Musty. (Again, I’ll leave the abbreviations to Kevin).

Her jaw dropped at my accusation. The ball hit one of two pins. “How was that cheating?” she demanded, hands on her hips.

I sauntered towards her to point out what she’d done wrong. “That’s not how you throw a bowling ball. If you’re going to bowl, you have to do it right. And if you want to brag about how you beat me, you better do it right.”

“That’s what she said.”

Oh, I knew all about ‘that’s what she said’. The Office had consumed my life, thanks to Pep.

I faked a laugh as I picked up a bowling ball. “Funny. Now, this is how you hold a ball.”

“That’s what she said,” Avery repeated.

“You put your fingers through the holes-”

“That’s what-”

“-and you curl them around to get a good grip.”

“-she said.”

On our next date, we were going to watch The Office together.

“You only need one hand,” I instructed her. “Two hands make things complicated.”

She snorted with laughter. “You’re killing me here, Nick.”

“Focus. If you’re not playing correctly, it means nothing to me when I win,” I said with a straight face. It was true. The greatest part of winning is knowing that everyone else tried their hardest.

I was in the process of teaching Avery to aim the ball by pointing her feet in the right direction when Miley shouted from Justy’s lap, “Hey, could you hurry it up down there? Some of us want to get home before sunrise!”

Avery chuckled quietly while I bit my lip and rolled my eyes in annoyance. I cocked my head towards her, using my teacher-voice to instruct her to, “Blow me.”

I admit that I regretted saying it right away. It’s inappropriate to say these kinds of things in front of your new potential girlfriend, and even more so in front of your ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend. It’s just not proper etiquette. My mother would not be pleased.

Still, I was pretty sure it was equally bad, if not worse for Miley to reply snarkily, “Been there, done that!”

Holy mother of God. Was that entirely necessary? Justin and Selena wore matching expressions of shock while David had to turn around to keep from laughing at whatever expression I wore on my face. Miley felt little or no shame, and I turned around without looking at Avery. Shoot me in the face.

I cleared my throat. “And then… you let go and hope for the best.” To be honest, I couldn’t remember where we’d left off in our lesson, and I felt uncomfortable being next to her all of a sudden. “Like this,” I added. It was my turn, anyway, so I gave her an example of the correct technique.

She smiled. “Alright. I think I got it.”

I’d only hit five pins on the left, so I picked up another ball and handed it to her. “Give it a try.”

“It’s your turn.”

Grinning, I answered, “I’ll sacrifice a turn for you.”

She shrugged and held the ball the way I’d taught her. She got in position and I thought it would be nice to give her a last-minute recap, so I began, “Now, remember to line up your feet and really think about-”

She sent the ball reaming down the lane without waiting for me to finish. I shook my head at her. “What a waste. Now I have to fix the damage myself.”

Just as the words came out of my mouth, the ball smacked into the pins and knocked all five down. Spare. Avery winked at me.

I had to admit, I was beginning to fear that wink.



When we all parted ways, Selena kissed me on the cheek like it was the natural thing to do. Miley hugged me and took the opportunity to whisper, “So what’d you think? Huh? Isn’t she cute? I knew you’d love her.” I shook hands with David and ignored Justy entirely. The group walked ahead while I hung back with Avery. With a smile, I held out my arms for a hug. Hey, I can be personable when I want to be.

“It was good to meet you,” I said with a smile.

“Yeah,” she agreed as we pulled away. I could tell that she was wrestling with her next words. Finally, she decided to blurt out, “I have to be honest - I really wasn’t looking forward to this.”

Huh. Interesting.

She glanced at her shoes before meeting my eyes. “I thought you’d just think I was like… another fame-hungry… wanna-be or something. Also, I’ve met my share of celebrities, and some of them are real jerks, so I just assumed… well, anyway. You surprised me.”

Funny. I wondered if she was referring to Miley.

I nodded, unsure of how to respond. “That’s a good thing.”

She imitated my nodding. Uncreative. I subtracted points from her. “It is.”

I’m not going to lie: it had been a while since I'd been on a date. When I dated, it was because I liked that girl and I planned on developing a relationship with her. When you’re not looking for a relationship but you want - no, need - to see that girl again, it’s difficult to think of a way to ask for her number.

“Do you mind if I ask for your number?” I inquired.

Oh hey, look at that. Wasn’t hard at all.

She looked like she just found out she was cured of cancer. “Sure!” she exclaimed.

I’m amazing. And dazzling.

I dug my phone out of my pocket and we exchanged numbers. It took me an extra long time to set hers up and I looked like a technologically-impaired moron, but it was because my contacts were full and I had to decide who to delete to fit Avery in. In the end, it was a no-brainer: Kevin, obviously. What did I need his number
for?

“I’ll call you,” I promised her, taking a step backwards. This was an awkward ending to the night, but it had to be done. Miley, Selena and the other two were waiting for Avery in a crowd, and it was sketching me out.

“Miley said you hated phones,” Avery pointed out.

You know, if there was one thing for which Miley deserved credit, it was that she remembered everything I had ever told her. She knew me almost as well as I knew her, and most of the time she used this to my disadvantage. Nonetheless, at times like these, it was for the best.

“That’s true,” I agreed. “Is it impersonal to text?”

“I’ll accept it,” Avery answered with a smile.

I let out a breath as I replied, “Perfect.” Avery glowed, and it wasn’t until I was half a block away that I figured out why - when I exhaled, it sounded like I was saying ‘ya’. More like ‘hh-ya’, but close enough. When you pieced it together with my last word to Avery, the phrase came out as, “Ya perfect”. Otherwise translated as you’re perfect.

It was nice that she thought I thought so highly of her, but I felt bad that I would eventually have to shred her hopes into millions of little pieces as Rainie declared herself as belonging to me and we skipped off into the sunset, leaving Avery behind.

Still, I did not feel as bad as I did when I kissed Pep. Because this was bearable, I would have to grin and bear it… and so would Avery, unbeknownst to her.

If I have it my way, my children will never be introduced to the ‘grin and bear it’ rule.

End Notes:
You know what’s awesome? A few days ago, I saw a picture on oceanup of Miley and Justin at the bowling alley, and she was sitting on his lap just how I pictured it when I wrote this scene beforehand. I love when that happens.

Also! Can I just take a moment to tell you about the most intense 24 hours of life. I need to share this with you because I have never been more proud, and in my mind, no one has ever accomplished more in a day… so don’t try to tell me otherwise.

Okay. Friday I wake up at 10:00. Do my readings for my tutorial. Go to my tutorial. Go back home (it’s 12:30). Clean the bathroom. Clean my bedroom. Work out. Shower. Do my laundry. Start my essay which I had been trying to do all week but of course procrastinated until this point. My housemate interrupts me for a chat, so I work extra hard to catch up on the time I missed. I eat dinner at 5:30, in two and a half hours I’ve written five pages which is like a huge deal. My housemates want me to come out for Tequila Night, I tell them no because I have to work on my essay. I confine myself to my room. I’m up to eight pages by 7:00. It’s my turn to clean the kitchen and common room, so I clean. My housemates invite our friends over to play drunk Cranium. Since I’ve been so productive, I decide to play for a while (by the way, my idiot housemate accidentally bought Cranium in FRENCH, so yeah, we played drunken FRENCH Cranium). At 11, I realize I’m a little more tipsy than I planned to be, but I still want to continue writing my essay because I’ve been so productive. My friends encourage me to go out with them. I say no. They tell me to get my coat cuz we’re going. I say okay. I go to the bar, dance and schmooze until 1:45. I still really want to finish my essay. I leave the bar alone and run home without a coat. It’s 2:00. I take another shower to wake myself up. I continue to write my essay and I’m up to 12 pages by 5 am. My essay is finished. I go to bed. I wake up at 9, clean up the mess we made the night before, and wake up my housemates because we’re having tons of people over for brunch. My friends laugh at me because I’m way too high-strung for someone who got 4 hours of sleep and is still partially drunk. They leave at 3 pm. I reread my essay and correct all of my drunken mistakes. It rains outside, I think it’s a good idea, so I go for a walk in the rain. I am soaked. I come back in, take my third shower because I’m dripping wet, watch three episodes of Arrested Development and go to bed.

Then I woke up today and felt the need to share this story with you. I wrote an entire essay in ONE day! AND I cleaned my entire house AND I had a decent night out with friends AND I attended my class AND I exercised. What college student does all of those things in ONE day?! Wow. Also, I’m stoked on life because that was my second last essay of the year. One due next Monday alongside a quiz, and then I’m DONE SCHOOL minus finals in April. WOooo!

In other much more important news, thank you all so much for all the reviews last chapter. My heart is bursting with love for all of you. Bursting! If I haven't replied to your review yet, have no fear! I plan to catch up on everything I missed for the past few days right after I edit my essay!
Day 230: Jonaslut by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Thirty.

I had Elvis’ leash attached to my wrist, five grapes in my mouth and my omnipod in front of me as Kevin materialized in the kitchen and said brightly, “Oh good, you’re ready to go.”

I looked up from my omnipod slowly, asking, “Go way?” (This could be interpreted two ways: ‘go away’ in its natural sense, or, because my mouth was full of food, ‘go where?’).

If I was going anywhere, it wasn’t going to be with Kevin. I spent far too much time with him as it was.

“Shopping for costs,” he replied nonchalantly, sliding out of the room in his socks to yell up the stairs, “Joe, are you ready?!”

When he reappeared to grab his keys, I demanded, “First, what are costs? Second, why was I only informed of this right now?”

“Costumes,” Kevin answered irritably, as if I was a major thorn in his side. (Pot calling kettle black. That’s all I’m saying). “And we planned this out last night. We need costumes for the party tonight.”

Fuckity split. I had totally forgotten about the party. One of our band-mates was hosting a Halloween shindig at his house. It sounded childish, but I was excited because my mother wasn’t going, which meant I could drink and be merry with my friends. Furthermore, I was bringing Avery as my date, and Kevin had already confirmed that Jesse would be there. I could only assume that Rainie would also be making an appearance. The perfect opportunity to make her jealous.

For some reason, I hadn’t realized that it was Halloween. Life had been busy, and the holiday seemed to have crept up very quickly on me. I wasn’t prepared. For one, I had no costume. More importantly, I’d totally forgotten to bond with Avery to make our romance seem more convincing. It meant we might have to do some pre-party prepping. Maybe dinner. I was stressing about this.

“Where was I when we supposedly ‘planned’ this last night?” I asked suspiciously as Elvis worked on twisting himself up in the leash.

“Dunno,” Kevin responded uncaringly.

Joe hopped into the kitchen on one foot, desperately trying to stuff his foot into his shoe as he hopped. “I want to be a random superhero,” he informed us. “Like Crazy Spanish Man or something.”

I was telling Joe that his suggestion was by far the worst superhero name I had ever heard when Kevin interrupted with, “I was thinking we could go as the Three Stooges. That’d be perfect, right? Larry, Curly, Moe?”

“Which one of you is Curly?” Joe asked.

“We’re not dressing up as the Three Stooges,” I said firmly. There was no way in hell.

“Can we dress up as Guns N’ Roses?” Joe suggested. “I call Slash!”

“Shotty Axl!” Kevin exclaimed immediately.

Whatever happened to the beauty of individual costumes? “Not doing that!” I told them.

“You can’t reject every idea, Princess,” Kevin warned me. “Let’s go as the Three Stooges.”

“I’m not… no. We each get a veto. Three Stooges has been veto’d by me.” Dressing up as Larry, Curly or Moe was not going to win me Rainie’s heart. Or Avery’s, for that matter.

Joe was putting on his other shoe when he said, “Let’s just decide when we get there.”

“Fine,” Kevin agreed, and he swiped his car keys from the counter and made his way out of the kitchen. “Let’s go. Nick!”

“What?” Elvis was getting anxious. He knew that leash equalled walk, and he was eager to get outside.

“Come on!”

Casually, I popped another grape into my mouth. “I’m not going. I’m going to Pep’s.”

While Joe seemed generally unperturbed, Kevin’s eyes bulged as he cried, “What about our costumes?”

I shrugged. What was the big deal? “Just get me something,” I told him calmly. As he rolled his eyes, I added, “Can we not go as a threesome? Get me something cool, something that says ‘I’m the man’.”

Kevin groaned. Apparently I was letting him down. “You’re such a ‘shbag, Nick.”

I paused for a moment to let that one sink in. When no explanation was offered, I chose to ask, “And a ‘shbag is…?”

“Douchebag,” Joe replied knowingly. Evidently, he’d already been name-called by Kevin.

Abbreviations could kiss my ass.



“Nick J, you are truly an idiot,” Pep told me.

While I sat on the roof with my knees hugging my chest, peering down at Elvis below in the backyard, Pep was perched on her windowsill so that she could pet poor ol’ Shep as we talked. He lounged just inside her bedroom while she lovingly stroked his head, taking big, labouring breaths even though he hadn’t moved in five minutes.

I frowned, insulted. “Excuse me.”

“Well, what were you thinking? You know Joe’s going to make sure Kevin gets you the worst possible costume. I think you just like complaining about things,” she reasoned.

“That’s not true,” I dismissed her argument. “I hate last-minute plans! Why should I have to drop everything I’m doing to do what Kevin wants?”

“It’s called being accommodating.”

“It’s called I’m not doing it.”

“It’s not like you had a lot planned today,” Pep pointed out.

“I was coming over here,” I huffed.

“Ooh, big plans.”

“Blow me.”

“Fuck you.”

“Well, someone should.”

Pep scrunched her nose in distaste. All the freckles combined. “Whatever, Nick. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about this - just make sure Kevin takes a picture of whatever ridiculous outfit you’re forced to wear tonight. I want to see it tomorrow.”

I frowned again. “Why won’t you see it tonight?”

“I’m going to my friend Lisa’s party,” she answered.

It took me a moment to process this. I glared at her. “No. No, no, no. Please don’t make me do this alone.”

She laughed. “No one’s making you do this. You’re making you do this.”

“I tailored my plans specifically to you coming with me!” I argued.

“You never told me about this!” she giggled, dangling her foot out of the window and swinging it back and forth. This was all very funny to her. She didn’t understand.

“That’s because I forgot until today,” I explained patiently. Pep didn’t look convinced, so I added, “Please, Pepper? I need you for moral support.”

“What does that even mean?” She held a hair elastic between her teeth as she began to gather her hair into a ponytail.

“It means that this is a two-man job,” I replied.

“I’m a girl.”

“Don’t nitpick; you know I hate that,” I snapped. “While I’m making it look natural and convincing with Avery, I need you to make sure that Rainie is never too far away. Make sure she’s watching, and most importantly, it’s your duty to make sure Rainie and Jesse don’t scamper off somewhere to get frisky.”

Pep doubled over laughing. Did she honestly think I was joking?

“Nick!” she exclaimed. “Get frisky?”

“You know what I mean!” I retorted.

With Shep’s paw on her lap, reminding her to pet him, she calmed down and snorted, “As much as I would love to spend my Halloween preventing two people I don’t even know from baby-making… I think I’ll go to my friend’s party instead.”

I groaned, tugging on one of my curls. “You’re the worst friend ever,” I muttered.

“Ha!” she laughed. “You didn’t tell me about this plan until right now! You are expecting me to drop my whole life just so you can make some girl jealous! I’m the worst friend ever? You’ve already included me in this way too much, Nick J.”

Ugh, she was referring to the kiss again, wasn’t she?

I scooted closer to her on the roof and clasped my hands together. “Please come with me tonight. I’ll hook you up with Jesse once they’re broken up, I promise.”

She shrugged uncaringly. “Meh. I’m over him.”

“Damn it!” I exclaimed. The one hook I had - gone! I gave her one last pleading glance. “Please?”

She laughed happily, scratching behind Shep’s ears. He was in heaven. “Nick, even if I didn’t have plans tonight, there’s no way I’d go. You’d have your girlfriend, and I’d be all alone. I hate being a third wheel.”

I rolled my eyes. “Stop calling her my girlfriend.”

“Isn’t that what you want her to be?”

We were getting sidetracked. This was frustrating. “What if I found someone to go with you? Joe’s planning on asking one of our cast-mates, but I’m sure I could make him go with you instead.”

It was Pep’s turn to roll her eyes. “While I’m flattered to be Joe’s forced-upon date, I’m gonna have to pass again. Besides, I already have a date to my party. I can’t let him down.”

Why does no one tell me these things?! “Who?” I demanded incredulously.

“Lance,” she replied simply.

I blinked. Why did that name sound familiar? Oh yeah. Lance.

“You’re going with fucking Lance!?” I cried, throwing my head back in anguish.

She laughed. “You don’t even know him and you’re acting like it’s the end of the world!”

“Well, what’s this all about? Did he get scared venturing out of the closet and decide to hop back in?”

“He’s not gay,” Pep groaned.

“He is,” I insisted, allowing no further argument. “Does this mean you’re back together?”

“I dunno. We’ll see how tonight goes.”

“Okay,” I said diplomatically, ready to make my last proposition. “How about this. You and Lance can both come to the party tonight. You keep an eye on Rainie and Jesse, I spend a few minutes with Avery and make it look convincing, then Rainie and I will hook up, you can go play flip-cup and maybe Avery and Lance will spark up a romance by the end of the night. A happy ending for everyone.”

“What about me?” Pep demanded.

I included her, didn’t I? In confusion, I asked, “What? I’ll drive you home.”

She scoffed. “I’m not going, Nick.”

I felt like repeatedly banging my head against the roof. “Then who’s going to be on Rainie-watch?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure something out, smarty. Besides, Rainie and Jesse are old enough to control themselves - it’s not a high school party; they’re not going to sneak off and have sex in the parents’ bedroom.” I was grumbling to myself when Pep added, “And if they did… you’d hear them.”

I flashed her a disapproving glance. “Thanks. Oh, by the way, you might want to consider giving up the v-card to Lance - who knows, it might turn him straight.”

Pep thought this was wildly funny. “I’m going to introduce you to him one of these days. You’ll see.”

“Don’t. It’ll only end in tears when he finds out he can’t have me.”

She sighed, picking up Shep’s favourite bone and throwing it across the room. He didn’t chase it. “You’re difficult.”

I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or Shep, so I said nothing.

“You’ll be fine, Nick,” she assured me. “There’ll be so many people there that Rainie and Jesse will barely be spending time together. Besides, as much as I think Rainie would approve of sex in a public place, I can’t see Jesse going for it when all his guy-friends are downstairs with beer.”

“Whoa,” I held up a hand to stop her. “Wait, what?”

She shrugged. “Judging from what I’ve heard and seen of Jesse, it doesn’t seem like his thing.”

What doesn’t seem like his thing?”

“Ignoring his guy friends and sneaking off to have sex.”

“How do you know that’s not his thing?”

“You can just tell. I don’t think Jesse’s very considerate, and I think these kinds of things carry over to the bedroom.”

I looked at her in disgust. “You’ve thought about this?”

“I’m pretty sure every girl thinks about it,” she told me. “It’s easy to tell what a guy’s like in bed just by the way he acts.”

My eyes widened. “Are you serious?” This was news to me. Horrifying news.

“Uh huh. Like, for example, I think Jesse likes to take control to get what he wants. He’s pretty inconsiderate of the girl’s needs.”

“What does that mean?”

“Do I have to spell it out for you?”

I paused for a moment, thinking it through. “Oh.” I felt a little sick talking about this. “Hold on,” I said firmly, “Do you do this with every guy you meet?”

“Uh… pretty much.”

As Chaucer-like as I am, I never knew this. It gave me a whole new reason to fear losing my virginity. I knew I wasn’t going to like the answer, but I couldn’t help myself from asking, “Every guy? Even me?” I had to know.

Pep wasn’t embarrassed at all as she answered, “Yep.”

Good God. The collar on my shirt felt really restricting all of a sudden. This was uncomfortable. Staring at the shingles on the roof, I repositioned myself.

“You wanna know what I think about you?” she offered.

I released a breath. “Pepper…” I trailed off. I was going to say no, but then I found myself curious. Would it be better to know what girls thought of me? That way, if it was bad, I could improve myself. Then again, if they really thought I was inconsiderate and terrible in bed, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. I would want to die. “… no,” I responded. I added snappily, “Don’t think about stuff like that.”

“I can’t help it!” she laughed. “Besides, I think I’m a pretty good judge. You have kissed me, you know.”

Jesus Christ! “That wasn’t a kiss!” I shrieked. If she was judging me based on that stupid spur-of-the-moment thing, then I was screwed.

“What was it, then?”

“A last resort,” I answered with resolution.

She pondered this for a moment, her eyes flicking to the roof and then back to me. She began to chuckle, her cheeks turning a light shade of pink. “Huh. Nick J’s last resort. I’m beyond flattered.”

Slowly, I turned my head towards her. “How many Cokes do I have to buy you before you promise never to mention this again?”

With this, she gave me a genuine smile. She giggled, swinging her dangling leg back and forth while answering, “A billion.”



“We like to call him Princess Nick because he whines constantly until he gets what he wants - isn’t that right, Princess?” Kevin asked me. He was walking a few steps ahead with Avery, and apparently he found it necessary to explain to Avery why I was the way I was. Thanks for taking the dark out of my ‘tall, dark and handsome’, Kevin.

“I hate you,” I told him seriously. I really did. This was by the far the most humiliating thing I had ever worn.

We had parked down the street and we were making our way towards our band-mates’ house, clad in our costumes. Pep was right: I didn’t like the costume choices Kevin and Joe had made. I should have known not to leave important decisions like this up to them.

We were dressed as the Three Musketeers. Feathered hats, red and gold tunics, and black buckled shoes. Joe stuck a moustache on himself for good measure. I was beginning to doubt that Rainie - or anybody - would ever fall in love with me in a costume like this.

Joe ended up bringing our friend Chelsea from on-set, Danielle was coming later after she finished her shift at work, and Avery, of course, was my date. That’s what made this costume so stupid. I wasn’t planning on trailing behind my brothers all night, nor were they planning on sticking with me. Who was going to know that we were the Three Musketeers if we weren’t all together? Without those two idiots, I was going to look like some guy straight out of the fourteenth century. That’s it. And that’s a lame costume.

Chelsea wore some sort of slutty nurse costume, Avery looked pretty good (and more importantly, pretty normal) in a typical cat costume, and somewhere in the city, Pep was running around dressed as a small, over-energized ladybug. With Lance, Queen of the Ladies. I was still kind of irritated that she wasn’t here with me.

When we were inside the house, I immediately scanned the area for Rainie. She was nowhere to be found. At first, I was disappointed, but then I realized how advantageous this was. By the time she arrived, I would be chatting up a group of people, casually nursing a beer, and projecting a relaxed, approachable, yet unattainable image. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

I got myself a beer and attempted to open it. It wasn’t a twist-off, so after a few moments of wasted effort, I found a bottle opener and struggled to work it. I sincerely hoped that no one had been watching me; that was the first time I ever used a bottle opener, and it did not go as smoothly as expected. Next time would be more successful.

Avery eyed me in disapproval as I rejoined the crowd. It took me a few moments to figure out why - I had forgotten to offer her a drink.

“Can I get you one?” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t drink beer.”

“… water?” I suggested. The look she gave me made me wince in anticipation of a slap in the face. Why was she so angry? I was trying here.

“Yeah, water would be great,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

I paused, choosing my next words carefully. “I have a distinct feeling you’re being sarcastic.”

Avery raised her hand to pat my shoulder, and I winced again, fearing the blow. I unclenched my muscles when all I felt was her gentle tapping. “Ya think?” she asked. She was clearly unimpressed. I wondered if this was influencing how she thought of me in bed. Oh, God. This was Pep’s fault. I had a whole new reason to analyze girls; I had a whole new reason to choose every one of my actions carefully. As if I needed another reason. Fuck my cautious little life.

“Let’s try this again,” I proposed as cheerfully as possible. “Why don’t you tell me what you’d like, and I’ll make it happen?”

“Rum and Coke.”

“Great. Be back in five.”

Simple. Now all I had to do was find rum and Coke. Or, even better, I could find a way to escape. Avery seemed more cynical than I remembered her. We’d only met twice: once on the blind date, and then we’d gone out for lunch a couple of days later. How was she comfortable speaking to me this way already? If I didn’t need her to seduce Rainie, then she definitely wouldn’t be getting a call-back.

I asked around, rooted through a few cupboards and the kitchen fridge, and eventually found a bottle of rum that was supposed to be hidden from the party guests. I’d pay my band-mate back later. When I was finished my creation, I took the tall glass out to Avery, nearly tripping over my stupid black shoes along the way. Curse my brothers and their awful ideas.

Just as I was handing Avery her drink, the doorbell rang and Jesse poked his head inside. All of a sudden, I felt an intense hatred bubbling in my veins. It was weird; because Jesse and I had never had any altercations. Ever. We’d always got along just fine. Yet I hated him with every ounce of my being. Well, a couple of ounces were slowly reserving themselves for Avery… but yes, I hated him.

Needless to say, the fact that his costume was worse than mine made my heart very happy. In fact, it was so awful that I couldn’t even tell what he was supposed to be as he threw the door open and entered the house to cheers from the guys. Dark, ratty pants… weird, creamy blouse… black boots… dangling earring… blackened eyes… what a failure. I was embarrassed for him.

Kevin’s voice overpowered all others as he demanded, “What are you supposed to be?”

Jesse, who was still standing in the door grinning widely at his brilliant reception, paused to ask, “Huh? Oh. Rainie, gimme my hair.”

A hand - Rainie’s hand - snuck around Jesse’s waist and handed him a black mop of some sort. He bent over to properly insert it on his head, and when he stood up, everyone murmured in unison, “Ohhhhh.”

Jack Sparrow. Why the hell couldn’t I have gone as Jack Sparrow? That would have been the sickest costume ever. Everyone loves Jack Sparrow; Jack Sparrow is amazing. He’s the perfect mixture of badass and charm. But no, no - instead I was dressed up as a fucking musketeer with an oversized feather poking out of my hat. Shoot me. Hate life. Hate Jesse more than life.

Jesse stood in the doorway for a few more seconds to allow everyone to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over his costume. I waited patiently for him to step aside. Rainie was behind him. While I waited, I tried to guess her costume. Something revealing and devilish, I’d bet. A witch. A devil. A naughty angel. She seemed like the type of person who would flaunt her inner skank on Halloween just because she knew I’d be ridiculously jealous and probably ejaculate in my pants. Sorry, my trousers. Fuck you, Kevin and Joe.

Dream Street left Rainie to fend for herself as he joined Kevin and the others for a beer. I took a moment to shoot him a disapproving glare, though he failed to notice, before examining Rainie.

By the way - oh. My. God. She was dressed as a mildly slutty Hermione Granger. I knew it the very second I laid eyes on her. The burgundy and golden-striped tie, the pleated grey mini-dress… holy shit. This was actually my greatest sexual fantasy coming to life. Slutty Hermione Granger in Rainie form. Except that we weren’t having sex, but that was a minor detail that would be dealt with later.

Eight months prior, I had defied what I believed about love when I fell in love with Rainie at first sight. Now, I had to defy it again as I mentally declared myself a firm believer of fate. This was truly a sign from God. Had I not already compared Rainie and I to Hermione and Ron? And if JK Rowling’s epilogue was correct, we would be getting hitched and popping out babies in the near future. And we would name one Fred; because dead brothers deserve to be honoured.

My cheeks were flushed with warmth when Avery put her index finger under my chin and forced my jaw back into place. Apparently it had been hanging wide open - I wasn’t surprised, yet I was still embarrassed.

“Okay there, tiger?” she asked me.

I really was starting to dislike her. I gulped. “Uh huh.” I realized that I was still staring at Rainie, awestruck, so I shook myself out of my trance and connected my eyes with Avery’s. “How’s that drink holding up?”

She chuckled. “Well, seeing as you got it for me about thirty seconds ago… it’s doing just fine.”

I nodded, dumbfounded. If she had asked me to repeat what she’d just said, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. If she had asked me to repeat what I had asked her, I couldn’t have done that, either. Nothing in the world mattered anymore besides Rainie and her costume and my destiny. She was slowly making her rounds in the room, and eventually, she’d have to say hello to me. I’d ask her if she wanted to go outside for some fresh air, and then I would hotwire Jesse’s car and we’d drive to San Francisco. From there, we’d fly to London, and from there, we’d hop on platform nine and three-quarters and spend the rest of our days at Hogwarts where we belonged.

But wait. That wasn’t going to work. I’d fantasized about running away with Rainie more times than I could count, but it had never actually happened, because she had never actually agreed to it. To be fair, I hadn’t outwardly suggested it - but if she couldn’t even kiss me without reminding me that she had a boyfriend, then there was little hope of her fleeing the country with me on a whim.

In that case, Operation Make-Rainie-Jealous was still on. I took a deep breath, turning my back to Rainie to face Avery. “Can I introduce you to everyone?” I asked. She nodded, so I gently guided her in the direction of one of my band-mates. He was a funny guy; he’d get her laughing, and I would laugh along, and we’d all look merry. We’d look like we were having a great time without Rainie, and she’d wish she was a part of it.

“Hey, Garbo,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder. He turned around with a drink in his hand, and instead of immediately introducing him to my date, I assessed his costume - if you could even call it that. He wore a white dress shirt with a tie, and he had cut out three black circles which were taped onto his shirt in a vertical line. I frowned. “What the hell is this, man? You stole that from Jim!”

Jim Halpert from The Office dressed as the three-hole punch version of himself for Halloween. It was a one-of-a-kind costume, and Garbo had just ruined it.

He shrugged. “It’s simple. It’s comical. It’s genius. What’re you supposed to be?” He looked me up and down in confusion. “Like… some tight-ass English dude? A squire? King Henry the Eighth? The guy who stands on podiums and reads scrolls? The-”

“I’m a musketeer,” I interrupted with a roll of my eyes. “Anyway, I want you to meet Avery. She’s one of Miley’s back-up dancers. Avery, this is Greg. He’s an idiot and probably not worth anyone’s time.”

Garbo chuckled as he shook Avery’s hand. “I’m offended, kid.”

“Good,” I muttered. “Now say something funny.” It was time to get this show on the road. Laughter was key to making Rainie jealous.

“What?” he asked, perplexed.

Ugh. Useless! Everyone here was useless to me. Why the hell was Pep with Lance when I so desperately needed her? She would understand.

“Hey, Garbo!” a familiar, melodic voice exclaimed from behind me. My muscles tensed as a wide smile crossed Garbo’s face. He released a string of ‘how’s it going’s’ and ‘good to see you’s’ as he gave Rainie a welcoming hug. This was so not making Rainie jealous at all. In fact, it was the opposite of making Rainie jealous. I planned to give Garbo the silent treatment until he apologized for this.

When Rainie pulled away from my traitorous band-mate, she trained her eyes to me with an unaffected, calm smile. “Nick Jonas,” she said, advancing towards me with her arms open. What could I do? If I acted uncivilly towards her, it would tell her that I wasn’t capable of handling this situation. I had to appear nonchalant and indifferent. That’d show her. I returned the hug with ease, holding my breath so as not to inhale her flowery perfume and melt into a puddle of goo.

God, she was so fucking hot. I was sizzling like bacon under her touch. My Hermione.

I cleared my throat as we separated, making a point to speak directly to Avery. “This is Rainie.” I read in a yahoo! article that it’s important to provide thoughtful details when introducing two people to each other. Well, fuck yahoo!. Rainie wasn’t getting a thoughtful detail, not until she broke up with Dream Street. Avery, on the other hand, would receive a thoughtful detail not because she deserved one, but because it would benefit me. “Rainie, this is Avery. My date. She dances.”

Was that impressive? I hoped it was. I hoped Rainie was envious of my dancing date.

“I love your costume,” Avery gushed. I was prepared to snicker at Rainie with smugness, but this comment made me pause. Wait, what?!

“Oh, thanks!” Rainie replied enthusiastically. “Yeah, Jesse wanted me to go as Elizabeth Swan so we’d match, but I was like, ugh, I don’t want to dress up all old-fashioned!”

I looked down at my own fourteenth-century costume. I hated Joe and Kevin more than I ever had before.

“Where did you find it?” Avery asked.

“Oh, I found this a long time ago at a costume shop,” Rainie answered. Jesse materialized to hand her a drink, and she thanked him before he left to join the guys. She took a sip before continuing, “Harry Potter’s pretty much amazing, so I knew I had to get it. I told Jesse to dress up as Ron, but he said it was lame.”

I would have dressed up as Ron for Rainie. In a heartbeat. Fate. Fate. Fate.

“What?” Avery cried. “Kick his ass! Ron’s the shit.”

Shut the fuck up, dancer girl. It was then that I understood what Pep meant when she said she hated being the third wheel. Still, I resented her for not coming with me. When had I ever treated her like a third wheel? While Rainie and Avery got along like childhood friends, Pep would brainstorm with me as I sulked. Avery could go fuck herself; Pep could be my first wheel in a situation like this. I needed that tiny redheaded proton.

“I know, right?” Rainie laughed. “You look adorable, by the way. Cat costumes are so cute.”

… was my future wife coming on to my current date? She really was a lesbian at heart, wasn’t she? Jesus Christ. And she was talking differently. She was using girl-speak or something. I didn’t even know she was capable of the dialect; she had always sounded intelligent to me in the past.

“Oh, this thing? I found it at the last minute and threw it on.” I could swear that I saw Avery blush. Was I surrounded by lesbians? Fuck my life. Just fuck it all.

“Aw, look at the tail!” Rainie cried, reaching around and tugging gently on the black tail attached to Avery’s backside.

This was torture. I was both furious and incredibly turned-on. Do you know how compatible those two feelings are? I was in one of those dominatrix moods. I wanted to take control of a situation that I could not control at all. Most of all, I wanted to take control of Rainie, because she was pissing the hell out of me and again, I feared pitching a tent in public.

I really needed to practice controlling my sexual urges. This was becoming ridiculous.

Rainie paused a moment to look at me, my mind up in the clouds. With a smirk, she asked, “What are you supposed to be?”

I had a feeling I was going to get sick of that question in the near future. “A musketeer.”

She nodded, eyebrows raised, clearly unimpressed. “You know there are three of them, right?”

What a bitch. I hated her so much. But not a genuine hatred. It was a hatred that developed from loving someone so much they made your heart hurt, and every insult just caused the heart to swell even more until you were sure it was going to burst out of your chest.

“Yeah,” I breathed. “My brothers are over…” I turned around, pointing in the general direction of where I’d left them, but they were nowhere to be found. In fact, there were very few males in the room, which was odd. “Where’d everyone go?” I asked.

Joe’s date, Chelsea, overheard my query. “They went downstairs to check out Ryan’s pool table.”

Why does no one tell me these things? This was why it was essential for Pep to be here with me. My life was honestly a two-man job. There were so many things to keep track of.

I turned to Avery, placing my hand on the small of her back and purposely ignoring Rainie. “You want to go down and see what everyone’s up to?”

Avery shrugged indifferently. “You go. I’ll stay here with Rainie. Maybe I’ll come down in a few.”

I stared at her for a few moments, assessing whether or not she was serious, and when I realized she was, I licked my lips and gradually turned around.

This was just great. The reason I had invited Avery to this stupid party was to make Rainie jealous. Rainie was supposed to wish that she was mine and ask me to leave Avery for her, and I would oblige. Instead, Rainie decided to flirt with my date and Avery was completely abandoning me for her. How did Rainie do it?! Apparently I had enough trouble wooing members of one sex, let alone two. Males and females alike loved her, goddammit.

I stalked towards the stairs with purpose, so focused on my anger that I stumbled going down. Though I regained my balance, I spilled my beer all over my costume. The good news was that Rainie and Avery were so preoccupied staring into each others’ eyes that I don’t think they noticed… but the bad news was that Rainie had beat me again, and I couldn’t think of a way to win her heart after something as devastating as this.



An hour later, I was teaching Avery to play pool as Rainie flirted shamelessly with Garbo by the bar in the basement. I could have killed that guy; he was seriously letting me down tonight. And where was Jesse? Why wasn’t he angered by this? Rainie was his girlfriend, for fuck’s sake, and it was killing me that she was coming onto someone else! Yet Jesse was nowhere to be found, the douche.

The only good thing that had happened so far was that Joe and Chelsea seemed to be hitting it off. As I hung around the pool table with Avery, they were playing what looked like an un-sober game of Charades with a few others, laughing hysterically. I was happy that she was taking his mind off of Camilla, because I was sick of hearing about how lost he was without her.

“Hold on,” I said as I re-focused my attention to Avery. “You’re holding it wrong.” She was bent over the table, one eye closed as she attempted to set up a shot.

She handed the cue to me and shifted to the left so that I could take her spot. “You’re putting too much pressure on it with your left hand. Your left hand is meant to be more of a guide than anything; it doesn’t necessarily have to touch the stick.”

When I glanced at her to make sure she understood, I was surprised to see that she was stifling a laugh. She’d had a bit to drink, but she wasn’t drunk by any means, and her inexplicable need to laugh confused me. “What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I just… that’s what she said, okay?” she chuckled.

It took me a moment to piece this together, but I forced a smile. “Side-splitting, Avery. Now you try.”

I handed her the cue and she bent over the table once more. Rainie glanced our way, and I purposely stood behind Avery to shield her ass. Rainie was not getting the opportunity to check out my date. If she was looking at anyone’s ass, it was going to be mine.

In fact, that was an excellent idea. Luckily, Avery was doing the exact thing I had told her not to do, so I seized the opportunity to bend over and reposition her hands for her. This gave Rainie an excellent view of my posterior and made Avery and I look smitten for one another, thus making Rainie jealous. I metaphorically patted myself on the back for being such a genius.

I guided her arm backwards and told her to shoot, my lips touching her ear as I did so. That was unintentional, but I wished Rainie had caught it. Before she took the shot, Avery looked at me questioningly. I didn’t quite know what to say because I was too busy contemplating whether or not I should kiss her. Was it the right time? Was Rainie viewing at the right angle? There were so many reasons to hesitate.

It was a good thing I did, too, because my phone vibrated to ruin the moment. I snapped to a standing position to answer it.

“Pepper,” I said as soon as I checked the caller ID and flipped open my phone.

“Hi!” she exclaimed. The volume of her voice was so high that my eardrums rattled, causing me to cringe. “How are you? How’s it going? Is she there yet?”

I assumed she was talking about Rainie, so I stepped away from Avery to reply, “Yep.”

“Is she jealous?”

Nonchalantly, I grazed my eyes over Rainie to check if she was looking at me. She wasn’t. She was laughing with Garbo. I cleared my throat. “It’s hard to say,” I replied.

“What?” Pep cried. I could hear all the voices in the background. Wherever she was, there were a lot of people surrounding her.

“Are you having fun?” I asked her, increasing my volume. A couple of people looked at me, surprised by my outburst.

“So much!” she exclaimed. “I sang Burnin’ Up karaoke style with Lance! I did all of Big Rob’s parts!”

What? I didn’t want Lance singing my song.

“Then he - ha, Lance, don’t! - then he found my antennae for me because I lost them! Ha! That tickles! Stop! I’m thinking of making an ice cream float but with beer! Do you think that would taste good?”

And then she dissolved in giggles. It was hard to piece together which parts of the conversation were directed towards me and which were directed to Lance, but I was pretty sure I had it figured out. I was also pretty sure that this was the first time I had ever spoken to Pep while she was drunk. If it was possible, she was even more excited than the normal version of Pep.

“I think it would taste disgusting,” I replied. “Don’t do it.”

“Okay, I think I’m going to do it!” she announced, and I knew that she hadn’t heard a word I’d said. “Gotta go! Bye Nick!”

“Wait!” I cried. “Was there a reason that you-” The line went dead. I paused before adding softly, “… called me?”

Weird. If I found out later that she and Lance were in the process of doing it while she called me (which it had sort of sounded like), then I would be pissed. It was both disturbing and distracting, when I really needed to be concentrating on how to make Rainie swoon.

“Who was that?” Avery asked curiously.

“Pep,” I responded, sliding my phone into my pocket and taking another step towards the pool table. “Where were we?” I glanced at Rainie to make sure she hadn’t changed position. If anything, she had shifted her stance so that she was now directly facing us. This was perfect.

“What’s Pep?” she inquired, and I flinched as if she’d just told me something crazy. Then I realized I’d never mentioned Pep around Avery, so it was a natural and completely normal question.

“My friend.” I didn’t want to get into it at that point in time. “So did you make the shot?”

She shrugged. “I was waiting for you to show me again.”

Ugh. Useless. Nonetheless, I complied, teaching her the step-by-step process for the second time in ten minutes. She did exactly as I told her, and the cue ball hit the striped ball on the nose, sending it gliding effortlessly into the corner pocket. Nick Jonas, ladies and gentleman, master of billiards.

“Ha!” Avery exclaimed, dropping the cue as she spun around. “I did it!”

Well, it was more like I did it, but I didn’t want to ruin her buzz because it was making me look good. Before I knew it, she was flinging herself into my arms with joy. I knew she was going to kiss me, and I cursed myself as I turned my head away from her and returned the hug instead. I could tell that Avery felt rejected, so I gave her the warmest smile I could muster to make her feel better. I needed her to stay on my side and not Rainie’s no matter what.

Why had I snubbed her advances? I couldn’t think of a reason, except that maybe kissing Pep had dissuaded me from ever kissing anyone again without heavily weighing the pros and cons. Or maybe the thought of Pep doing unspeakable things with Lance was causing my stomach to churn, rendering me unable to kiss anyone without throwing up.

Either way, I was mad at that little proton, because this was all her fault.



Another couple of hours passed, and it was evident that Avery was definitely feeling the effects of her multiple rum and Cokes. We had relocated to the bar stools with Joe and Chelsea, and Avery was feeding me corn nuts like it was the funniest thing in the world. It was more frustrating than anything, because when I say she was feeding me, what I really mean is that she was throwing them at my face and expecting me to catch them with my tongue. And she wasn’t very good at aiming.

Avery wasn’t the only one who was semi-drunk, however. Joe had had enough to drink that he was boisterous and rambunctious, kind of like Pep but angrier, more competitive and less enjoyable. Chelsea, however, was taking so much pleasure in their ridiculous conversation that she was laughing profusely, which I supposed was a good thing. Still, I had to keep tabs on how much he was drinking, because if he drank too much, he’d get all emotional and quiet down, whining about his broken relationship with Camilla. That wouldn’t make a good impression on Chelsea, and it was necessary to avoid this situation.

Rainie was also not entirely sober. Even when I watched her from across the room, I could tell. Her balance was off, her cheeks were pink, and she laughed much more enthusiastically than normal. About thirty minutes before, she had made a point of instigating conversation with Joe and Chelsea, and I was pretty sure that she had taken great pains not to include me even though I was standing less than ten inches away.

I was growing tired of this game.

It seemed both childish and unnecessary. The fact that she was playing at all meant that she was harbouring feelings for me, didn’t it? Why couldn’t she just admit it and be with me? It wasn’t like Jesse would kill himself if she broke up with him. In fact, he had gone upstairs to play poker with the guys a long time ago. He would hardly be affected by the break-up as long as I made sure to stuff another girl in his face to act as a band-aid for his wound (and that was what Pep was supposed to be for, but she had unfortunately declined my request).

With a sigh as another corn nut hit my cheek and fell to the floor, I pulled my stupid feathered hat off my head and set it down at the bar. I ran a hand through my hair to fix it, but I hardly cared anymore what I looked like. Tonight was just a write-off. Kevin ruined it from the beginning with these costumes from hell, and it had only gone downhill from there.

“Here, let me,” Avery offered, setting down the bowl of corn nuts and hopping off the tall stool. She took a couple of steps towards me until she was practically leaning against me, her hands reaching up to beautify my hat-headed hair. Her head tilted back as she worked, and once again I contemplated kissing her. Our lips were inches apart, her hands were already tangled in my hair, and her eyes were glazed over with either lust or alcohol (I’m thinking lust because I’m irresistible). Rainie had the perfect view from where she sat on the couch. It couldn’t be set up more perfectly; it was the opportune moment to kiss her.

But I didn’t.

Eventually, her hands fell from my hair, and I blinked lazily, kind of upset that it had ended. It felt good. Avery, however, didn’t attempt to shy away from me. A smile crossed her face and she giggled under her breath.

I raised an eyebrow. “I think you’re drunk,” I murmured softly to her.

“I’m not,” she insisted quietly, “You are.”

I laughed gently. “I don’t think that’s true.”

She let her hands fall to my shoulders and leaned more of her weight on me. (Side-note: I was starting to like her again. She was making me look really good in front of Rainie). With her face mere centimetres from mine, she asked, “Are you ever gonna kiss me?”

My God. It wasn’t like we’d been dating for a year. I’d met her three effing times! Needy bitch.

“I was planning on it,” I replied calmly, adding, “Eventually.”

Again, perfect opportunity to kiss her. She’d more or less already consented. What was wrong with me?! Maybe it was because Rainie had moved from the sofa and I no longer knew where she was. There was no point in kissing Avery if Rainie wasn’t going to see it.

“Well, I think you should,” she said, her eyes drifting to my lips as she laced her fingers around the back of my neck.

I thought about it. I was feeling really relaxed and kind of drowsy, and her lips looked pretty inviting. Who would turn down the opportunity to kiss a hot girl, anyway? The problem was that I suddenly realized that my plan was flawed. The whole point was to make Rainie jealous, but I couldn’t force myself to kiss someone I didn’t want to kiss. Even though she was deliberately ignoring me, I felt a loyalty to Rainie. I was hers.

So, I awkwardly cleared my throat. “I have to go to the bathroom,” I muttered, de-linking her hands from around my neck and stepping down from the stool.

Smooth, Nick. I cursed myself as I trudged up the stairs. That was pathetic.

Jesse and a bunch of guys were sitting around the kitchen table with cigars, playing round after round of poker. They would look like old men if there weren’t a few girls hanging off of them. One was sitting on Jesse’s lap as he played. That girl was not Rainie.

I growled in the back of my throat as I searched for the bathroom. It was occupied. I began the long march upstairs to look for another bathroom with one last dirty glare in Jesse’s direction. What a bona fide prick and a half.

The upstairs of the house consisted of an open, squared hallway that branched off into bedrooms and a bathroom. I was on my way to the bathroom when I noticed a fleck of gold in the room to my right - Rainie’s hair, of course. I changed my course of action and knocked lightly on the open door of the room she was in. She wasn’t doing anything in particular; simply staring at framed photographs on the wall. She jumped when I knocked.

“You okay?” I asked. It was odd that she was up here alone.

She tugged the gold and burgundy-striped tie she was wearing, flashing me a silly smile as she extended one of her lean, tanned legs in my direction. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she replied.

It took me a moment or two to process both her hotness and her words. I kept my jaw from dropping as I choked, “What?”

She strolled towards me, surprisingly keeping her balance. I felt my heart constrict in my chest. Before I could prompt her to answer my question, she grabbed my collar and tugged me towards her, pressing her lips to mine.

what?!

There wasn’t an excess of alcohol in my system, but there was enough to slow down my thought processes. Again, it took a moment or two for occurrences to register. Finally, I clung onto enough sense to break apart from her, still holding her close.

“What?” I repeated in confusion.

Rainie only laughed lightly, shutting the door behind me and reattaching her lips to mine.

This wasn’t exactly how I had imagined it.

In fact, this wasn’t at all how I had imagined it. For one, as soon she closed the door, she pinned me up against it and kissed me forcefully. Most guys wouldn’t complain, but because I was still incredibly confused, it only served to perplex me further. I had always imagined myself in control, and here I was, barely able to move against her. And wait… was she… was she top-lipping me!? Fuck! That was my job!

Luckily, I was able to slide my hands up her sides and take control of her head, breaking us apart once more. “What’s going on?” I asked breathlessly.

Eyes half-closed, she ordered, “Just kiss me.”

I did so for a moment before distancing us again. “Shouldn’t we discuss this?”

She let out an incredulous laugh as she smiled. “What’s to discuss? You want this to happen.”

She tried to kiss me again, but I turned my head away, exactly as I’d done to Avery. “Whoa. Where’d you get that from?” I demanded, taken aback.

She chuckled. “Could you be any more jealous? Your skin was practically turning green down there.”

Good God. Way to make it not obvious, Nick. “Jealous of who? I have a date,” I responded as calmly as possible. I’m pretty sure my voice cracked. I could feel every curve of her body through that thin Hermione-like dress.

“Yeah,” Rainie agreed, pressing a kiss to my lips. “And I think you like this, don’t you?” She moved her mouth to my jaw, kissing a line towards my ear. I couldn’t help it; I sighed in content. “You’re different from your brothers. You like playing the field. Testing all the flavours of ice cream. You’re kind of a man-whore, aren’t you?” she murmured, nibbling softly on my earlobe.

The pleasure was overwhelming, but so was her accusation. Man-whore? That was one of the last words I would use when describing myself, no matter how cool and macho it sounded. Where did she get that idea?

Then it clicked. I finally understood what was going through Rainie’s mind. I had kissed her one night in the hotel room. A week later, I kissed Pep in front of her and affirmed that we had a ‘thing’. Here I was a couple weeks after that with a new girl, still obviously lusting after Rainie. From her point of view, I was a player.

She turned my chin towards her, giving me a seductive glance as she breathed, “I’m just giving you what you want.”

One of the strangest things about Rainie was that sometimes she seemed very vulnerable and lost, and other times she built up a brick wall that was impossible to crack. It was hard as hell to predetermine her mood.

“What about you?” I questioned, choosing to ignore her accusation. I brushed the honey-coloured hair off her face, forcing her to keep eye contact with me. This was important.

She shook her head vigorously. “Jesse doesn’t have to know,” she assured me. “Just for tonight. Just kiss me.”

I contemplated this for a moment, shifting my gaze from her beautiful eyes to the freckles on her nose. They were faint tonight; she had tried to conceal them with make-up. I liked it better when I could see the freckles.

Then I wondered what I was doing thinking about freckles when I could easily be kissing the love of my life. So I did that instead. I kissed her. And I’m not going to lie: it was awesome. Nobody I’d ever kissed knew how to kiss like that. Maybe it came with the age, or maybe it came with the experience, or maybe it was a bit of both… but hot damn, that girl could kiss. I even forgot that she was totally dominating me against the door. The best part was that she was dressed as Hermione. I let my hands wander across her dress, and she didn’t seem to mind. I hoped she’d keep this costume, because when we were married, she was going to be wearing it often. (I, on the other hand, planned to burn my lame musketeer costume as soon as I got home).

It was when her hands started to trail down my chest that I began to wonder where this was going. I was totally willing to progress a lot further with Rainie, but it was nerve-wracking enough that both my date and hers were just a floor or two below us and could easily walk in at any second. In fact, the thought scared me so much that for the first time, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a boner. This realization should have comforted me, but instead, it made me even more nervous.

So I collected her hands in mine and kissed her firmly one last time, exhaling, “You have to break up with Jesse.”

She frowned. “Why?”

For the second time in five minutes, I struggled to keep my jaw from unhinging. “Because you’re making out with me!” I hissed.

She shrugged uncaringly.

Fucking ice witch with a capital B. Goddammit!

“And because you haven’t spoken to him all night!” I added frantically. “Because he’s downstairs with another girl on his lap right now! Because he could never care for you like I could - like I do!”

“That’s just what we do, Nick,” Rainie explained nonchalantly, her hands pressed to my chest. “Don’t pretend like you understand our relationship.”

“It’s not a relationship!” I whispered furiously. “You can’t pretend it is when you barely talk to him and you’ve cheated on him twice!”

Again, she shrugged. “Who says it’s been twice?”

Had I miscounted? That time in the hotel room… and then now. Two. Just what I thought. I was about to inform her of her miscalculation when I realized what she was really saying. It had been more than twice? With someone other than me!?

Through gritted teeth, I demanded in a whiny voice, “Why are you doing this? Why is it so important that you stay with him?”

She ran a hand down the side of my face, giggling under her breath. Her cheeks were a rosy shade of pink, her eyes glossed. Her breath smelled like wine. “Because,” she whispered in my ear, “it’s fun.”

It’s fun?! What the FUCK did that mean? This was by far the most exasperating conversation of my entire life, conversations with Kevin included.

I had no idea how to respond to that, so I repeated, “I think you should break up with him.”

She arched a sceptical eyebrow. “You just want it all, don’t you, Jonaslut?” She yanked one of her hands from my grip and drunkenly wagged a finger in my face. “You get to go out with whoever you want, but I can’t have one boyfriend?”

“No!” I exclaimed in frustration, grabbing onto her finger because it was bothering me. “I’m not going out with anyone. Not Avery, not Pep… I’m waiting for you. There’s nobody else.”

Flightily, she laughed under her breath. “Hmm, hmm,” it sounded like. She kissed me again, wriggling her hands out of my grip and tugging on my collar. I thought that was it. I thought I had her.

But when we broke apart, she patted my cheek affectionately and whispered, “Enjoy waiting, then.”

I took a step forward in shock to allow her to open the door and make her exit. When she was gone, I stood motionless, staring at nothing.

… what the hell just happened?

I worked it through in my mind in the simplest way possible. I joined her in the bedroom, she initiated the kiss, and then she told me I couldn’t have her. In short, my future wife was sort of slutty, and a real bitch. She was such a bitch that I wouldn’t hesitate to avada kedavra her if I only had the chance.

And even though I despised the smell of wine on her breath, she was wearing a different sort of perfume, some sort of bitch attractant. Because if she was a bitch, then I was a bitch too. I was her bitch. It was totally un-masculine and I was whipped, but it was true. All she had to do was give me a bitch call and I’d coming running, ready and willing to yet again get my heart bitch-slapped in the face. I’d become the bitch-got-served, and she’d bitch-prance away feeling not a bit sorry in the least by her bitch-moves. She was my bitch goddess. My bitch from hell.

I could see a pattern beginning to form, and I was pretty sure I didn’t like it.

Suddenly, I also became aware that if my mother knew even a half of the thoughts that ran through my mind on a regular basis, I’d never be allowed to leave the house again.

Sighing shakily, I mustered enough strength to turn on my heel and make my way to the bathroom. When I wandered down the stairs, I immediately noticed that Rainie was attempting to make amends with Jesse. His lap was vacant, but she was rubbing his shoulders as he played. I had spent so much time hating Jesse; it was then that I decided that Rainie deserved more of my hatred. Jesse was just a dickhead. He had no idea what was going on. He was a shitty boyfriend, yes, but he was just as uninvolved in my relationship with Rainie as was anyone.

Maybe it was time to attack this issue from a different angle. Huh. That wasn’t a bad idea. Maybe I just needed a new plan. I wondered if Pep was too drunk to hatch it out with me.

Whether or not she was available, I knew I wanted to get home right away. I had things to think about, and watching Rainie and Jesse acting like an actual couple for once was making me twitch again. My left eye blinked sporadically as I shrugged my left shoulder. It was weird, and it scared me.

“Hey, you guys know where Kevin is?” I asked, poking my head into the kitchen and taking pains not to look at Rainie.

“He left with Danielle,” Garbo answered distractedly.

“What? When?” I demanded. That dildo was my ride home.

“I dunno,” he replied as he dealt the cards. “While ago. He said he’d be back later, or you could call if you wanted a ride.”

I did want a ride. Badly. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and as I scrolled through my contacts. I remembered that I had deleted Kevin. Shit. I should have known that would come back and bite me in the ass.

I couldn’t very well ask anyone at the poker table if they knew my brother’s number; that was just embarrassing. Instead, I met Joe and Chelsea as they were coming up the stairs and asked to borrow Joe’s phone for a minute. I set my own phone down on the table, stepped outside, called Kevin and begged him to pick me up, gave the phone back to Joe, and waited on the stoop until I saw his car. He and Danielle drove me home, and it was only when I was de-musketeering myself that I realized I had left my phone on the table at my band-mate’s house in exchange for Joe’s phone. This was bad news because it meant I couldn’t contact Pep, nor could I phone Joe or Kevin to remind them to grab it for me, having neither of their numbers and not knowing where my mother kept the Rolodex.

As I brushed my teeth, I realized there was actually a much larger problem at hand. Not only had I forgotten my phone, but I had forgotten Avery. I had literally stranded her at my band-mate’s house with all of my friends.

I was officially the worst musketeer ever.

And without my phone to call her and apologize, I was pretty sure it was safe to say that our blooming relationship had effectively and abruptly come to an end.

End Notes:
Officially the longest chapter I have ever written. This story also contains the shortest chapter I’ve ever written (chapter 4). Weird. Anyway, I thought I had this one all planned out, but it ended up being so much harder to write than I expected because I changed a couple of plans and thought of new ideas halfway through and… it just got messy for a while. I hope it turned out alright and was easy enough to read and understand!

Anyway, it’s okay that this one was hard to write, because I easily wrote all of chapter 23 yesterday, and I think some of you might like it :) Some of you might hate it. All of you might hate it. I don’t know.

Love you all dearly!
Day 233: Small by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Thirty-Three.

“Hello?”

“Fucking finally!” I exclaimed immediately, glad to be in the privacy of my own room. “Where the hell did you scamper off to, freckles?”

“Uh… what?” Pep asked in confusion.

As if she didn’t know. I had been trying to get in touch with her for three days. Three days!

“You weren’t home all day Sunday because I walked over with Elvis three times a33;“ where were you, by the way?” Without giving her a chance to respond, I continued, “I didn’t have time to stop by yesterday, but I finally got my phone back and I called and texted all day long. I did the same today and only just got a hold of you now. What the hell, Pepper?”

Usually I wouldn’t be this upset, but it had been three long, lonely days. I still hadn’t met with Pep after Halloween, and I had stories to tell. It was killing me to keep it all inside.

Actually, I had already confided in Joe. He was very upset with me. He said that Rainie was obviously not in her right state of mind and I had taken advantage of her - again. I was a total jerk, and obviously she wasn’t going to break up with Jesse for someone who continued to take advantage of her when she was most vulnerable! How could I? What is wrong with me? I should never, never take advantage of a drunk girl! If Mom found out what I’d done, she would beat me with a stick!

(Side-note: These words are Joe’s and not mine, of course).

We hadn’t talked about it since then, but every so often I caught him glaring at me like I was some sick son of a bitch who deserved to be imprisoned. Once, he purposely came into the family room while I was watching television, singing at the top of his lungs Something Corporate’s ‘I Kissed a Drunk Girl’. He stood on the coffee table to obstruct my view as he belted out, “I know you are not the one! I know you are not! The one!”

Needless to say, I was done with confiding in Joe.

“Well, I had school…”

“Not on Sunday,” I pointed out. I sighed, deciding to forgive her. “There’s so much to tell you. What are you doing right now? You wanna take the dogs for a walk?”

“I can’t,” she replied.

“Oh.” If there was a reason why, I didn’t bother asking. “Can I come over, then? Or do you want to come here? I need to see your face as I tell you this. Your mind will be blown to smithereens.”

“Okay. I’ll come over,” she agreed.

“Good. See you soon.”

I hoped she would sprint over here, because I desperately needed her to help me. Usually Pep’s advice was pointless, but in this case, I was willing to take any assistance I could get. I especially needed her advice as to what to do about Avery. I didn’t get my phone back until thirty-six hours after I’d stranded Avery at the party, and by then, I wondered if it was too late to call and apologize. So I hadn’t. And with each minute that passed, I felt worse and worse. I needed someone to tell me what to do.

It took seven minutes to travel from my house to Pep’s on foot, but she took about fifteen from the time we hung up. Since I’d done nothing but pace every hour of the day that was spent unoccupied, waiting those eight extra minutes was torture. I could just imagine Avery sitting by her phone growing angrier and angrier each passing minute, condemning me to Miley and then to the press. And as they interviewed her on Barbara Walters and she told the world what a prick I was, she’d wink at me on-camera. The wink that I feared more than almost anything else. I’m a man of few fears, but that wink struck panic through my heart and chilled my bones like no other.

Pep entered my house clad in jean shorts, a large green hoodie (well, large for her), and Birkenstocks with white socks. It was a bit of an odd combination, but I didn’t have time to analyze her outfit.

“It feels like I haven’t seen you in twenty years,” was the first thing I said to her as she walked in. I shook my head. “No matter. You’ll never guess what happened to me on Saturday.”

She shrugged calmly, playing with her keychain. “Rainie broke up with Jesse and declared her love for you?”

“Way to ruin a story with a fairytale ending, Pep.” I rolled my eyes.

“Oh, this story is fairytale all right,” Joe remarked, making his way past us into the kitchen. “Nick, tell her what a Prince Charming you are. The Prince to Rainie’s Cinderella. The other Prince to Avery’s Snow White. Just an all-around noble, genuine, considerate Prince Cha33;””

“Wanna go outside?” I interrupted, speaking only to Pep. She nodded agreeably. Absently, I gave Joe the finger as we exited through the back door.

“Okay,” I continued, following her to the grass. “On Saturday night, I showed up with Avery. I told you the first part, right? You called me while I was there.”

“Mm hmm.”

I hardly noticed that Pep wasn’t quite as peppy as usual. It was much more important to get my story out so that we could make conclusions and figure out where to go from there.

“First of all, Rainie was dressed as Hermione Granger. This is, without a doubt, another sign that we’re meant to be. You know how much I love Hermione Granger.”

Pep chose a spot on the grass near a large tree in the backyard. Instantly, Elvis ran up to her to give her a few welcoming kisses. She accepted him with open arms and a sad smile.

I sat beside her, glaring at Elvis in disapproval because he was snubbing me, and continued, “Then she tried to flirt with Avery. That’s why I’m still convinced she’s into girls. She’s definitely bisexual, if not a total lesbian. After that, we… what’s wrong?” I changed directions mid-sentence because I noticed a couple of tears leaking from Pep’s eyes. Huh. That had never happened before.

She sniffled, allowing Elvis to continue to assault her with kisses. “Nothing,” she insisted, retaining her sad smile.

Bullshit. “No…” I trailed off in confusion. “You’re crying. My story is sad, but not until the very end.”

She shook her head vigorously, shutting her eyes tightly and taking a deep breath to rid herself of tears. When she opened her eyes, Elvis took a seat right up against her, eager to receive some attention. She draped an arm around him and said, “It’s just… it’s Shep. He’s so sick.”

I frowned. “How come?”

She shrugged sadly, leaning her head on Elvis for support. “Thyroid problems… hip problems… old age… everything, really. We took him to the vet on Sunday and stayed there all day. They operated, but it didn’t look like anything was improving like they’d hoped. Then yesterday he just kept getting worse.” Her eyes shifted to the ground as she muttered, “They’re putting him down today.”

I paused, letting this sink in. “Oh,” I said quietly, lowering my head. Now I felt like a real jerk for forcing her to come over to my house while I spit out all my girl problems. It was hard to see her so sad. I never imagined she was capable of this emotion, and it scared me. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to act.

And I was kind of upset that this was happening now, at such an inconvenient time for me.

“Do you want to stay for dinner?” I suggested after a few moments of silence. “I think my mom’s cooking ham. We have mint chocolate chip ice cream that’s reserved for Kevin’s birthday, but I’d be willing to dig it out early without his knowledge.”

Pep smiled again, that sad smile that I was sure I couldn’t get used to. “No, it’s okay. My parents will be home for dinner.”

“Where’s Carter?” I asked, referring to her younger brother.

“He went with them. I just… couldn’t.”

I nodded slowly. “Will you be okay?”

I was thankful that her tears were gone, at the very least. I didn’t like when girls cried, because I never knew how to comfort them. Growing up with two older brothers didn’t exactly provide me with an overly-sensitive side.

“Yeah,” she assured me, wiping her tears with the sleeve of her sweater. “Okay, go on. I want to hear what happened.”

Well, I couldn’t tell her about it now. That would simply be insensitive. My problems seemed small all of a sudden, even though they had consumed my mind and soul for the past seventy-two hours.

I licked my lips. “No, it’s not important.”

“Nick J,” she said firmly, “Tell me what happened.”

I didn’t want her to start crying again, so I continued to recount my evening. Pep chuckled every so often, very loyally scratching Elvis’ head the entire time. He appreciated it. In fact, he laid down beside her and rested his head on her knee, as if he knew there was something wrong. What a good dog, providing all the comfort I couldn’t. We made a great team.

I had just gotten to the point in the story where I found Rainie lurking in an upstairs bedroom when Pep’s phone vibrated. She pulled it out of the pocket on her green hoodie and set it next to her ear.

“Hello? ... hi… it’s, it’s over? … how was he?”

I wondered if it was wrong to study her expressions as she took this call, but I couldn’t help it. I was fascinated by the way her lip quivered as she held back her tears. Fascinated and terrified.

“… he was? … they did? … and did you give him cheese? … did you stay with him, mom? … did you hold his paw?”

It was then that another tear fell from her eye. Elvis raised his head to observe her; apparently we had the same idea. Me and Elvis, we’re just not into crying girls. It’s one thing when you’re trying to show a girl how awesome you are by being there for her when she’s devastated, like the time I found Rainie crying in her hotel room a33;“ but Pep was my best friend, and I wasn’t looking for anything from her. The crying just made my heart beat faster as I struggled to think of some way to react.

“… okay … I’m at Nick’s, mom… I’ll be home soon … I’ll be okay, I promise … I love you too.”

Pep closed her phone and sniffled as she slowly placed it back into her pocket. With a shaky breath, she leaned her head against the trunk of the tree, and Elvis sat up to lick her tear-stained cheek.

I didn’t know what to say, so I scooted towards the tree and leaned against it as well, our knees touching. I sat there with her for a while. I wasn’t sure how long. It was hard to say if Elvis was making her more or less upset. He was, after all, a dog a33;“ which was probably a touchy subject with her. At the same time, he was very loving and supportive, just like any good dog should be. He never left her side.

Stupid dog. Why was he so good at this?

I was afraid of moving or of making a sound while she shook, so I just sat there, immobile. When her sobs quieted down, however, I let my shoulders relax. She stopped shaking, and I felt more at ease. I knew she was still crying, but it was quiet. I took her hand in mine because it was the only kind gesture I could think of. I didn’t really know what else I could do. Hugging was awkward while sitting down, and I didn’t think a pat on the back would do. Hand-holding would have to suffice.

I would miss that dog, now that I thought of it. He was the reason Pep and I met in the first place. He was the reason I asked for a dog for my birthday. From day one, he had always been Elvis’ companion. He was like the wise sensei, while Elvis idiotically hopped around him, eager to please. Shep was always very patient with him.

It was sad that he was gone. I dragged Pep’s hand to my lap as I ran my thumb back and forth over her bony knuckles. Poor Pep. This was a huge downer on her usually bright and sunny life. I wondered if people like Pep could bounce back from something like this with a smile on their face, or if things like this hit them harder than it hit anybody else because they weren’t accustomed to getting smacked in the face by life. I hoped it wasn’t the latter; I liked sunshiney Pep better.

When I noticed the sun was beginning to set, I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” I leaned forward to look back at her, releasing her hand from mine.

She smiled bravely, wiping away what remained of her tears. “I should probably get home.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

Pep gave Elvis one last pat on the head as she heaved a sigh and stood up. I followed her inside the house, allowing Elvis entrance as well. It was his dinnertime, anyway.

“Oh, there you are!” Mom cried, her head peeking around the corner of the kitchen. “Pep, will you be staying for dinner?”

“No thanks, Mrs. J,” Pep answered, and I think I was the only one who was able to tell that she was forcing the spark back into her voice. “I’m gonna head home. Thanks for the offer!”

“Have you invited Pep for dinner on Thursday, Nick?” Mom asked me as she continued to busy herself over the stove.

“Oh yeah,” I muttered. “It’s Kevin’s birthday, so we’re having steak. A seat’s reserved for you, carrot-top.”

“Count me in,” she agreed with a nod. I followed her to the front door, where she filled up her cheeks with air and exhaled slowly. “I didn’t get to hear the end of your story,” she pointed out, her hand on the doorknob.

“Tell you later,” I promised.

“Nick, will you set the table?” Mom called from the kitchen. “Dinner will be ready in five!”

“Okay,” Pep said with a small smile, burying her hands in the sleeves of her shirt. “Call me tomorrow, Nick J.”

She opened the door and stepped out, and I paused. I still felt guilty for attempting to force all of my problems on her when she had more important things going on. Such a small person couldn’t handle all of my emotional burdens plus her own. The weight would break her tiny back.

“It’s Joe’s turn!” I yelled to my mother. “Start without me; I’ll be back soon!”

I grabbed Elvis’ leash and quickly hooked it onto his collar before jogging out of the house and down the driveway to meet up with Pep. She looked surprised to see me, and I felt proud of myself for doing a good thing and walking her home. Besides, if Pep was right and girls really did judge the way guys behaved in bed by their actions, then I just made myself seem like a star… right?



After I’d eaten dinner, I retreated to my room and stared at my phone for a while, wondering if there was any way I could possibly make this up to Avery. Before I made it up to her, I had to figure out if I really wanted to make it up to her. Did I need her anymore in my quest to make Rainie jealous? It obviously wasn’t working.

Still, I did a pretty shitty (albeit unintentional) thing to Avery, so I felt I should at least try to be friends with her… even if she did scare the hell out of me sometimes with that wink.

While I was contemplating my next course of action, I glanced absently out the window at the night sky. There were a few stars out. I did a double-take, simply because I liked looking at stars. It was nothing like a North Carolina sky, but it was something.

I wondered if Rainie was watching the same stars. I wondered if Pep was watching them, too. Stars were so effing far away, and all they ever did was shine and watch humans on Earth and laugh at us. Maybe they watched creatures on other planets; creatures that were more ignorant than us. Maybe creatures on other planets had more stars because they were more entertaining and stars liked to gather there. Or maybe they had less. Or maybe there were planets with no stars.

Or maybe stars didn’t watch us at all. They were just lights in the sky to make the moon look not so alone. Maybe stars were people, or ‘great kings of the past’, just like Pep said about the Lion King. Maybe Shep was a star now. Maybe he was watching Pep to make sure she was okay. Or maybe he was doing that from dog-heaven.

I arched an eyebrow with my realization. In the countless number of times in my life I had star-gazed, I had never once felt ‘small’. I did then.

Weird.

End Notes:
Something Corporate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtoIxASQfCI. I miss those guys.

Okay. I think I left off at a good point in this story, not too much suspense, I hope? I'm going to take a week or so to plan out where I want to go with this, and then I'll resume posting normally. So, at the very latest, I promise to update by Thursday, March 26.

I've had a story idea in my head since about the time I started writing this one, and I meant to wait until I was done with 364dow to start writing it. But the thing is, I REALLY want to get started because I feel like now is the perfect time.

So! I'll be working on two stories in my brief hiatus, and then I'll be back with lots of stuff to share. In the meantime, go check out all my favourites, because I promise you won't be disappointed. And have a happy early St. Patrick's Day!
Day 258: Hairless Calves by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Fifty-Eight.

As it turned out, I completely forgot about Avery until this Saturday morning, more than three weeks after I'd abandoned her at my band-mate's house.  

In my defence, the past few weeks had been ridiculously busy. We were in Europe for the most part, and we'd stopped off in New York on the way back. All in all, I'd barely been home, and when I was home, I had things to do. Like think about how much I missed talking to Rainie, and how I could get Jesse to break up with her. I thought that he could give me ideas on how to separate Jesse and Rainie, so I even spent the latter half of the flight from New York to LA listening to Kevin prattle on about why and how he had broken up with Danielle for the fiftieth time (that is, I didn't hear the story for the fiftieth time, but I was pretty sure he had broken up with or been dumped by Danielle at least fifty times). From what I gathered during his two-hour story, he broke up with Danielle face-to-face before we left for Europe... and he heard from a reliable source that she had been spotted having coffee with some other guy the other day. Now he wanted to get back together with her. (I missed the middle of this story, by the way. I got really bored and irritated, so I slipped on my headphones and dozed off, waking up only to catch the end).

There were two reasons that Avery's face popped into my mind on this day: 

The first was that I realized that the anonymous person who had been texting me for the past two weeks with threatening messages was Miley. I had re-stored her number in my phone over the summer, but when I realized that it was a better idea to keep Kevin's number on hand (just in case of emergencies, like last time), someone else had to go. That someone else was Miley.

I had been receiving angry texts and even a couple of phone calls (which went unanswered) from the anonymous person, saying things like ‘we need to talk', ‘have the decency to apologize!', ‘way to avoid me - real mature' and ‘fine. just know it's over, dickface'. I assumed that the person simply had the wrong number and these messages weren't directed at me, so I ignored them. What? Gladly, I would have kept Miley's number in my phone if I wasn't occasionally dependent on Kevin for transportation. 

Still, if she was going to bombard my inbox with messages, then I'd have to re-add her. Camilla Belle was deleted in her place. I was keeping her number in case I ever needed to get revenge on Joe, but because he was seriously depressed over their break-up, I assumed it would only be evil if I called her behind his back.

The second reason that I was reminded of Avery was because Pep brought her up. It was a good thing, too, because it gave me an excellent idea. 

Before I get into that, though, I just want to mention that I met Lance. And he was definitely gay.

I knocked on Pep's front door this fine Saturday morning, and for once, I was without Elvis. I felt that it was obnoxious to bring him over to her house now, especially since she'd just lost ol' Shep. It was possible that Elvis would only serve to make her sad, so instead, Elvis had to be sad as I left him at home. (I felt guilty for this as well, so I'd take him for an extra-long walk and let him sleep in my bed at night, which resulted in me smelling like dog in the morning). 

Pep's dad answered the door. "Sarah's up on the roof, Nick," he told me, standing aside to grant me entrance. I thought this was odd - I never knew that Pep went on her roof when I wasn't there. I thought it was just like... I don't know, some sort of special activity that we only did together.

"Thanks, Mr. S," I replied politely as I slipped off my shoes at the door. Usually I kept them on, but when Pep's dad was watching me, I always made the extra effort. Sometimes I got the distinct feeling that he didn't like me very much. Probably because I'm exceptionally attractive and I spend so much time on the roof with his one and only daughter. If I were Pep's dad, I wouldn't trust me. In my mind, I had reason to fear him. 

I took the stairs two at a time, waving to Carter in his bedroom as I passed. Carter is Pep's younger brother, and he's a funny kid. And by funny, I mean funny-looking. And by funny-looking, I mean that he bears striking resemblances to Ron Weasley. Pep and I spent many entertaining hours in front of her computer pasting his head on top of pictures of Ron, and uploading one of his pictures to websites that match him with celebrity look-alikes. It turns out that he and Ron don't look very similar at all when you take away the red hair... but I like to think of him as a Weasley anyway.

Since I had been informed that Pep was on her roof, I didn't bother knocking on the door as I entered her bedroom. I was surprised to see her room sparkling clean as I entered. I don't just mean tidy; I mean clean. With the morning sunlight streaming in, the tabletops actually glistened.  

Some people like to keep things tidy. Some people have disaster zones as bedrooms. The weird thing about Pep is that it's hard to place her on a neat/messy spectrum. She's not neat. She's not messy. She's not in the middle. She likes to switch things up every once in a while. Sometimes I can barely walk through her room, there's so much crap on the floor. Other times, she proudly covers my eyes and leads me towards her closet, where she reveals to me all of her clothes hung up, laundered and colour-coded. Then there are times where her room is borderline messy, but it's not quite there yet. There are also times when she's started cleaning but gotten bored, so one side of the room is clean and the other isn't. Do you understand what I mean when I say she can't be put on the neat/messy spectrum? It's impossible to predict what her bedroom will look like on any given day of the week.

Still, I'd never seen it so clean as I did on that Saturday. It even smelled clean. Like Lysol. (I knew what Lysol smelled like because I'd used it just a few minutes prior to take the dog-smell out of my bed). 

I walked across the room, kneeled on the windowsill and lifted up the window. I poked my head out to see not one, but two bodies on the roof. One of them was Pep. And the other one was someone I had never had the pleasure of meeting.

"Nick!" Pep exclaimed in surprise, leaning forward to get a good look at me. "When did you get here?" 

When did she think? "About three hours ago," I replied sarcastically. What a dumb question.

"I didn't know you were coming," she said with a smile. 

It was really pissing me off that there was some guy sitting on my part of the roof. This roof wasn't open to visitors. Who did he think he was, anyway?

... and was he the reason she cleaned her room?

"Yeah..." I trailed off, suddenly feeling lame for dropping by. "I wanted to ask you something, but it's fine."

I was in the midst of retreating through the window when Pep exclaimed, "Wait!"  

I paused.

"Stay!" she urged. "We can help you out. Right, Lance?" 

Oh, GOD. Of course this was Lance. I could tell he was queer by the way his eyebrows were raised. He was checking me out, that sick son of a bitch.

Lance nodded slowly, a smile creeping onto his face. Though he was staring at me, he was clearly talking to Pep. "I totally thought you were joking when you said you were friends with a Jonas brother." 

He was still staring at me, so I imitated his nod, giving him a small wave. What was his deal? Creeper.

"Mm... nope!" Pep replied in a bubbly voice, gesturing for me to join them on the roof. Wasn't Pep the one who had told me she hated being a third wheel? Hypocrite. I should have just left and came back later when Lame-o McShort-Shorts was gone. 

Once I'd climbed onto the roof and taken up a spot next to Pep - I'll be damned if I was going to sit beside Lance, he'd probably try to touch me - I asked him uncomfortably, "So, you go to school with Pep?"

"Pep?"  

What a fucking moron. Who did he think I was talking about?

"Sarah," I corrected myself. I didn't think I'd ever said that name out loud, not even when I called Pep's home phone and her parents answered and I requested to speak with her. Everyone always knew who I was talking about. 

Pep looked at me and smiled. Remember when I discussed yahoo! articles and how they informed me that girls like when you say their names aloud? It seriously works.

"Oh. Yeah, we have Chem together. And our best friends are dating," he responded. 

Heh. Nice try, buddy. I'm the best friend. (Unfortunately, this piece of knowledge did not make me feel better, because it only reminded me that I wasn't dating anyone. Damn it).

"How do... you two know each other?" he asked sceptically.  

I had a question. Why on earth was he raising his eyebrows up and down? This guy was sketching me out. I'd never met someone with such enthusiastic eyebrows.

"Nick doesn't live far away," Pep told him. 

"Awesome." Lance gave another contemplative nod. All this guy seemed capable of was nodding his head and raising his eyebrows. I wasn't a fan. Suddenly, an animated expression crossed his face as he turned to me and cried, "So how much money do you make in a year?"

I wondered if this guy knew how steep the roof was, and if he'd accept if I dared him to walk across it. He'd fall to his death, and Pep could thank me then. 

Pep gave me an apologetic look. At least she knew this guy was weird.

I shrugged. "I don't really have a predetermined salary." 

"Okay, how much did you make last year?"

I was about to snarkily tell him that I wasn't legally permitted to discuss my earnings, but it was probably more than he'd ever make, when Pep cut me off with, "Hold on. What did you need help with, Nick?" 

I exhaled pensively. I didn't want Lance to know all my problems. He was peculiar, and I definitely didn't trust that guy.

"Nothing big," I lied, thinking on my toes. "I had a question about the award show next week. I'll ask you later." 

For the record, that last part wasn't a lie. The truth was that we were attending the last award show of the season, I was absolutely positive that Beautiful Soul - sorry, Jesse - would be there, and I was having trouble finding a girl to throw at him and make him forget all about Rainie. It was uncertain whether or not Rainie would be accompanying him, but even if she did, it was no matter. Luckily for me (and unluckily for Kevin), he and Danielle were broken up, so I could easily point him in Rainie's direction and tell him to strike up a conversation that would last three hours in order to keep her busy.

And in case you're wondering, I eventually got around to telling Pep the full story of my Halloween. She didn't tell me I was a horrible person like Joe had, and she called Rainie a few unfriendly names to make me feel better. It worked. 

(She did, however, tell me that it probably would have been best if I hadn't stranded Avery and rushed home without her. That was fair).

Lance leaned forward so as not to be blocked by Pep. He had another question for me. "Do they tell you in advance if you win the award?" 

I had actually been speaking specifically to Pep, but she shrugged and let me handle the interruption. "Sometimes," I muttered, shifting my gaze to Pep. She was twirling a strand of red hair around her index finger.

"Do you have a time limit on your thank-you speech?"  

What a jerk-off.

"No."

"Do you write them beforehand, or do you make them up?" 

Who cares?! "It depends?" I replied, phrasing my response as a rude inquiry.

Okay, so maybe I was being a royal schlong to Lance. But from what I had gathered thus far, he was a total tool. His blondish hair was trimmed short (hmm, funny story... Lance Bass also has blondish hair. Coincidence? I think not), he was wearing the worst pair of skateboarding shoes I had ever seen, his sky blue t-shirt read ‘talk nerdy to me', and his leg hair was nonexistent.  

... I knew he was gay.

What kind of guy would walk around wearing shorts without leg hair? Whether he shaved it or whether it was too thin and blond to see, it didn't matter to me. Lance had no leg hair, and it was disgusting. 

"Do you actually get fan mail, or is it more like fan e-mail?" Lance asked, and I could tell by the way he was slowly leaning towards me that he was genuinely interested - or genuinely coming on to me. "I feel like snail mail went out of style in the nineties..."

I didn't have to answer to this guy. Talking to him was insulting to my intelligence. My eyes dragged themselves from his face, and back to Pep. "Where did you meet this guy again?" I uttered under my breath. 

Pep giggled, and Lance chose to take another one for the team. "Better question. Where did you two meet each other?"

Through clenched teeth, I replied, "At my house." 

"Where's your house?"

Psh. Yeah, okay. Like I'd tell him that.  

"In this general area," was my response.

Lance grinned, calmly leaning back against the slant of the roof. "Oh, okay. I get it. True. Protect yourself, man. Keep your home life private." 

I looked at Pep again. For all the Chaucer-ness in me, I couldn't possibly figure out how she had ended up with this guy. He was strange and I was positive his IQ was way below the mean, median and mode. So far, he'd proved himself to be off the charts in a bell-curved standard distribution of intelligence, and not the good kind of ‘off the charts', either. Pep probably had to spend a lot of time explaining things to him. I never knew she had so much patience.

"So did you guys ever hook up?" Lance chirped. When he saw the expression on my face, he backtracked. "Or... uh... are you like, only allowed to date famous people?" 

I locked eyes with him. I counted to five to give him a few seconds to think this through and correct himself. He did not.

So I agreed, "Yeah. It's in the contract. Famous people only." 

Pep nudged me in the side with her elbow, and I frowned, protectively rubbing the targeted spot on my waist. That hurt.

"No," she giggled. "That's not true. Nick, be nice. He's only curious." 

And I'm only giving him the answers he's looking for.

She linked arms with Lance. "Nick's my best friend!" she announced. "Just like I told you." 

I nodded in confirmation. "Pep and I don't ‘hook up'." I was about to add ‘she's all yours', but I thought better of it. It sounded proprietary, like she was mine to give away.

Oh, but Lance wasn't out of questions just yet. "What's Pep stand for? Pepsi?" 

I scoffed, insulted. "No. It stands for Pep." My right hand had found a pebble while roaming the shingles on the roof, so I threw it as far as I could, adding, "Occasionally, Pepper."

"Pepper," Lance repeated, gazing admirably at Pep. "It suits you." 

Barf.

Then he kissed her.

Barf again. I desperately needed a girlfriend. Pep was right. Being third wheel sucked major balls. 

I cleared my throat. How to make this less awkward? My first thought was to blurt out my problem as fast as possible, but I forced that idea out of my mind almost as soon as it popped in. I'm not one to blurt; it would be uncharacteristic of me and I'd most likely regret it later. I tried to think of something to say to break the silence. Usually this was Pep's job. Damn that little proton.

And then I remembered the inappropriate song that Joe had been singing that morning. Normally, I'm not one for inappropriate songs, but desperate times call for desperate measures (another one of my dad's stupid sayings, by the way). 

"I'm on a boat... I'm on a boat... take a good hard look at the motherfuckin' boat," I chanted.

Pep threw her head back and laughed, her hand intertwined with Lance's. Lance appeared surprised that I had so readily ditched my squeaky-clean Disney image. In fact, I thought I could see his naïve little mind shatter to pieces. I didn't regret it. 

I continued, "I'm on a boat, and... it's goin' fast, and..."

Pep chimed in with, "I got a nautical-themed pashmina afghan!"  

I cracked a smile because of the way she scrunched her nose when she laughed. "Joe whip that out for you recently?" she asked.

"He did," I agreed. 

"Whip out what?" Lance asked with interest. Too much interest.

I couldn't help it. I snorted, "Not what you're thinking, pal."

This earned me another nudge in the side from Pep. I was going to get a proton-sized bruise if she kept that up. 

"Oh," Lance said. Intentionally, he slid down the roof a few feet, still holding onto Pep's hand. "You wanna go get those tickets now, Sarah?" I realized that he was making his way towards the open window.

Pep scooted downwards because their hands were attached, but she hesitated, glancing at me for reassurance. I shrugged, rubbing the back of my neck uncomfortably. "It's fine," I assured her. 

"Um... well, you know what we're getting, right, Lance?" she asked. When he frowned, she added, "It's not like we need two of us to do it, right? It's just... Nick has a problem, so..."

"Oh," Lance repeated, the realization dawning on him. He released Pep's hand. "Yeah... uh, okay. I guess. Uh, I hope I can get the seats we wanted." 

He said this as though it was supposed to guilt her into coming. Like if they didn't get the seats they wanted, it would be Pep's fault for not accompanying him to wherever they were supposed to go. What a jackass.

"I'll walk you out," Pep offered, telling me she'd be right back. I gave Lance a small wave, feeling slightly victorious and taking one last glance at his remarkably hairless calves.  

I'd give that relationship five more weeks before he came clean (again) and hopped back out of the closet. Silly indecisive boy.

When Pep climbed out of the window backwards and nearly lost her balance on the roof ("just for fun", she said), I asked her what show she and Lance were planning on attending. 

"Please say it's N'Sync's reunion tour and he's forcing you to go," I joked.

She gave me a look. You know, ‘the look'. Self-explanatory. "Actually, we're buying tickets for our friend for her birthday. It's some stand-up comedian she likes who's coming to town-" 

"Dane Cook," I suggested.

"No."

"Chris Rock," I tried again.

"No." 

"Dave Chapelle."

"No!"  

"George-"

"No! I don't know his name; it's some unknown!" she exclaimed in exasperation. "Anyway, we're getting her four tickets for her birthday. For her and her boyfriend, and me and Lance."

"Adorable," I muttered.

She shot me the look again. "You asked."  

I was about to arch an eyebrow when I realized I'd look like Lance. So I didn't. "What's up with this stink-eye you're giving me?" I demanded. "That's twice now in thirty seconds."

"Well, I think you were kind of rude to Lance." 

My jaw dropped. "Did you see the way he was ogling me? I felt like a piece of meat."

Pep rolled her eyes. "He wasn't ogling you. And even if he was, don't pretend like you didn't enjoy it. I know you; you love being ogled."  

"Actually, it makes me uncomfortable." I folded my arms across my chest as if to say ‘So there'. Suck it, proton.

"And you're a world-famous teenage rock-star because...?" 

"My bad," I began to correct myself. "It makes me uncomfortable when men ogle me."

"Men don't ogle you!" Pep cried. "Firstly, because you're not God's gift to mankind as you seem to think, and second, because you're not a man. You're a kid. A boy. And if a man was ogling you, it would make everyone uncomfortable."  

It was weird. As Pep was ranting, I blinked - and when I opened my eyes, I could swear that Rainie was sitting in Pep's place, saying the exact words that were coming out of Pep's mouth. I blinked again, and Pep was back.

But really. A kid?! Come on. I'd expect that kind of gibberish from Rainie, but Pep was three months older than me, for crying out loud. 

"Why are you staring? Now you're ogling me," Pep said with a frown, folding her arms across her chest.

I shook myself out of my trance, searching for another pebble on the roof. I couldn't find one; but I found a tiny morsel of shingle that had detached from the roof. I threw that, instead.  

"I don't like that word. Ogle."

"It's weird," Pep agreed. 

"Like moist."

"Hate that word. And coconut." 

"What's wrong with coconut?"

"Well, besides the fact that a coconut contains neither cocoa nor nuts, it's just strange to say," Pep replied. 

I was relieved that she was going along with this. For a while, I thought sunshiney Pep was about to turn into angry Pep, which I was kind of curious to see but also wanted to stay away from in case ‘angry Pep' was synonymous to hell freezing over and the world coming to an abrupt and untimely end.

"So you're going to a stand-up comedy show?" I inquired, lying back on the roof with my hands under my head.  

"Yep. Well, it's not until the end of January, but it's supposed to be good. Sandra only watches The Office, so I'm sure the humour has to be something like that. You'd like it; you like The Office now."

To be honest, I was barely listening. I had attempted to formulate a clean transition into a discussion of Rainie, but I couldn't figure out where to go from here, so I gave up and said what I was thinking. 

"Here's my question: where can I find a girl who's hotter than Rainie to throw at Jesse?"

Pep looked mildly shocked with my so-called ‘response' to her ramblings. "I thought there was no girl who was hotter than Rainie?" 

"So you see my dilemma..." I trailed off pensively.

Focusing on pulling the string out of her hood, Pep took a moment or two to gather her thoughts. When the string was released, she busied her hands tying it into some sort of braid. "Maybe Rainie's not the hottest girl ever in Jesse's eyes," she offered. "Everyone has different tastes."

"Jesse has my tastes," I argued. "Clearly, this has already been proven." 

And that's when Pep suggested something brilliant.

"Then why don't you just shove one of your ex-girlfriends in his face? Selena, Miley... Avery?" She laughed at the mention of the last one. 

I laughed too, thinking of Jesse paired with Selena or Miley. Neither of those pairings would fly with Disney. Or with the state of California, for that matter. Besides, he'd already met both of them, and sparks had never flown.

But Avery... interesting. I raised my head from the roof to look at Pep. "You think he'd fall for Avery?" 

"No!" she cried. "First, she's five years younger and their relationship would be heavily frowned upon-"

"You're killing me," I interrupted tediously. Was she not making the connection that Rainie and I were exactly the same ages as Jesse and Avery?  

She smiled, leaning over me to continue, "Second, he knows she dated you and she knows he dated Rainie, and third, how are you planning on setting them up if you aren't even on speaking terms with Avery?"

I shut my eyes tightly, and when I opened them, Pep had stopped hovering over me. "Shit. You think I should call her?" 

"You haven't called her yet?" Pep demanded.

"When would I have done that?" I retorted. 

"Oh, I don't know," she said sarcastically, "Possibly at any time during the last three weeks! You really are the worst date ever."

"I'm the best date ever when I want to be," I corrected her. And she could ask Selena and Miley for proof, if she so desired. That'd show her. "Now how do I make this up to Avery and set her up with Jesse?" 

"You can't set her up with Jesse," Pep scolded me with a shake of her head. "But you have to apologize."

I bit my lip as I contemplated this. Apologize to Avery... or never go to one of Miley's shows again for fear of running into her backup dancers. Throw myself at the mercy of the winking beast, or strategically execute all further life plans around avoiding her? Hmm... which was easier?  

"Yeah... I don't think I'm gonna," I told Pep as frankly as I could.

"You have to," she insisted, swinging the string in my direction. It hit me in the face. 

"Why?" It was way past apology time by now. I am a rock-star, but I had a feeling Avery didn't take a lot of shit from people, no matter how inferior she was to them.

"Because," she said matter-of-factly, "It's altering the way I think you perform in bed." 

I sat up straight, pointing a finger at her smug face. "Never say that again." (And I meant it, even though a small part of me was very, very worried that this was true).

She smirked. "I'm on my period, Nick. I'm PMS-ing big time." 

I frowned in confusion. "What did I tell you about talking about these things around me?"

"Lance and I had sex." 

"What?"

"On this roof." 

"What?!"

"Right where you're sitting." 

"Oh, I see what you're doing!" I cried furiously, shimmying to the left even though I knew she was lying. Then I paused, still confused as hell. "Wait, what are you doing?" I asked quietly for clarification.

She shrugged. "Isn't it annoying when people are jerks?" She let this sink in before continuing, "Don't be a jerk, Nick. Be the upstanding moral gentleman your mother wants you to be, and call that poor girl and apologize. She's not going to forgive you, but at least I won't think you're entirely terrible in the sack, right?" 

This was not impressive. I can't explain how much I hate when people try to teach me lessons.

Still, I consented. "Fine. I'll call her." I was peeved with Pep's behaviour on this fine morning - peeved, there's another word I'm not too fond of - so I began to make my way towards her window. If anything was for sure, it was that I wasn't going to call Avery in front of Pep. I wouldn't be able to take anything seriously in that case.  

I stuck my head but the window just as Pep was crawling towards me. "And for the record, I don't care what you think I'm like in bed," I informed her. "I never want to know, and even if I did, your opinion wouldn't matter because it's biased."

"How is it biased?" she questioned innocently. 

"'Cause you're my friend."

"Which means I know you, making my opinion even more valid." 

"No, it makes it wrong," I insisted. "You don't see me in a romantic light."

I moved aside from the window ledge so that she could hop in. Pep landed on her feet, again whipping that stupid string at my face. "Maybe I do." 

I grabbed the string immediately after it came into contact with my face and snatched it away from her, thoroughly un-amused. "Stop trying to piss me off."

She maintained serious eye contact for a couple of seconds before shrugging complacently. "Fine. Go call Avery, then." 

"Fine," I repeated childishly. "And I'll ask her if she's interested in Jesse."

"In your own best interests, I recommend that you don't," Pep offered, her usual giggle filling the room once more and easing the tension. 

I groaned as I made my way to the door. "I need to find someone who's more intellectually and physically appealing to him than Rainie."

"Why don't you just wing it the next time you see him at the award show?" Pep suggested. I gave her a look, and she shrugged, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "Why don't you chase after a hot girl just like you chased after Rainie, and in the end, Jesse will end up taking her home... just like Rainie?" 

Hilarious.

"I grow tired of you mocking me," I replied monotonously. 

Teasingly, Pep gave me a light push out of her bedroom door. "Just wing it, Nick J. I believe in you."

And she had every right to. In general, I'm a remarkable winger. If there was an award for winging it, I'd have every annual trophy since 1992. Winger of the Year. Swinger of the Year. In short, I'm exceptionally above average when it comes to improvisation. 

Yes. Perhaps Avery was the wrong match for Jesse, but all I had to do was find a girl that I found attractive at the award show who was around Jesse's age, and the odds were that Jesse would find her appealing as well. I'd do a little match-making, Kevin would distract Rainie, and Jesse would ask said hot girl to an after-party (which, by the way, I was still too young to attend... damn it). Rainie would catch him cheating on her, and the relationship would end.

Problem solved. 

Plan in motion.

Foolproof.  

End Notes:
For you Becky!
So... I bet you're all surprised at how immature Nick was acting in this chapter. I mean, who knew he was so childish? (This is sarcasm). I think as he becomes more desperate and frustrated with his love life, his mood worsens and the age he chooses to act declines drastically.
I'm on a boat -- it's my house's official summer song. I got my flippy floppies! Check it out.
Also, just as a little side-note Nick-style: if you're interested, my hiatus was lovely except that I got really sick in the middle of it, but that's not what this is about. I worked a little on this story and planned it all out so we're good to go, and I also got to work on my new small project, Life Is Like, which I have posted and you can check out if you so desire by clicking on the link. I feel I should warn you, though, that it's not much of a romance story, so it's possible that it may not be your thing. But! Should you be at all interested, it'll just be sitting there waiting for you to read it :)
Day 273: Poned By God by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Seventy-Three.

F my L.

Déjà vu hit me hard enough to make my head spin at the award show from hell. I could have sworn that it was two hundred and seventy-three days prior, and Rainie and I were back to square one. Square one, dammit! Didn't anyone appreciate how far we'd come since then? Square one was like the sting of fingers on my cheek after getting personally bitch-slapped in the face by God.

("Ha! Not only will I give him diabetes and curly hair, but I'll make sure he never gets the girl, either, while constantly dangling her in front of his face like some sort of untouchable yet delicious candy!" - God).

This time around, she was sitting beside me. Well, not directly beside me. Two seats over, but it was still closer than last time, and it was ten times more painful not to look at her. Rainie had two dates to this event (which wasn't fair, because I had no dates - share the wealth, Mystery Girl), and for this reason, she sat herself in between in order to give both dates equal attention.

One date, of course, was Jesse. He was on Rainie's right side, and Rainie was on my right side, so I didn't see much of him. This was perfectly fine with me because my mission was to scout for hot girls comparable to Rainie in appearance, and only after I'd found one would I need Jesse.

The other date, who just so happened to situate herself next to me, was Lesbian Friend, whose name I had forgotten despite the number of times Rainie had mentioned her over the phone. She was still alive and kickin', and while I appreciated that she wasn't bothering me with petty, mindless questions like any other star-struck girl would be, I wouldn't mind a little attention. For fuck's sake, I'm Nick Jonas. So your secret lesbian lover dates Jesse McCartney - who cares? You're not cool; that guy's a schmuck. He sang a song about jizzing his pants when he was eleven years old. (Side-note: I know that's the hidden meaning behind ‘It Happens Every Time'. No one will ever convince me otherwise).

I spent many minutes drumming my fingers on the armrests of my seat until I gave into despair and propped my elbow on the armrest, supporting my head with my hand and pouting. You know when you can't get a song out of your head no matter how hard you try? 'Banana Phone' was on repeat, and it was making me want to die. From my left side, Joe nudged my elbow off the armrest and told me to look professional. For once, I obeyed. Because I was frustrated, I decided to take my mind off of my complicated and brutish life by paying attention to what was going on onstage.

"Thank you... wow! Thank you."

It was funny that I chose to pay attention at this exact point in time, because a certain Miley Cyrus was accepting an award for Hottest Psycho or Most Bitter Song or something along those lines.

"This award means so much to me because it's from you guys. You guys voted for my song, and I can't tell you how grateful I am for each and every one of you."

Lame.

"I want to thank my parents for always steering me in the right direction... my siblings and my band-mates..."

Here we go. This is specifically why I don't pay attention at these functions. If Kevin didn't devour our award speeches like a starved lion and a fresh zebra carcass, here's what I'd say: "This is great. Thanks." Then I'd walk away with my award, and I'd get a standing ovation for being clear, concise, and to-the-point.

"And I want to thank boys for being such inconsiderate jerks sometimes and making it so easy for me to write songs about them."

Then she held her mini trophy in the air, presented the crowd with a sparkling smile, and left. That was seriously how she ended it.

What was funny about this was that everyone in the crowd began to look around as casually as possible, and I knew they were all looking for me. Miley had made it pretty obvious that before Justy Wusty came along, I was her one and only. Interviews, songs, leaked pictures and a chapter out of her effing autobiography just about solidified it. Everyone wanted to witness my reaction to this moment. Even Joe and Kevin were blatantly staring at my expression, or lack thereof.

The great thing about me is that I don't cave under pressure. I knew people expected me to smile sheepishly, but am I a sheepish guy? Fuck that. I put my elbow back on the armrest and leaned my head against my fist, purposely looking bored in case one of the many cameras zooming in on my face was broadcasting live across the continent.

Miley's a bitch.

We'd gotten along great all summer long, we'd seen each other a few times since then, and here she was, drawing negative attention to me after I'd been nothing but pleasant to her. I answered her phone calls on occasion, I agreed to attend awkward lunches with her and other ex-girlfriends on occasion, and I - oh. The Avery thing. She was probably pissed off about the Avery thing.

To be fair, I followed Pep's instructions and called her. She didn't pick up. I didn't want to be impersonal, so I didn't leave a message. I called her several times over the next six hours, and she never answered her phone. Finally, I resorted to leaving a voicemail. I wouldn't call myself a gentleman, but even I have standards when it comes to communication and treating girls right, and voicemails aren't the way to go. They're not even considered satisfactory. They're disgustingly below par, especially for a Jonas. Better than an email or an IM, but just barely.

However, there was no choice. The voicemail, if I recall correctly, went as follows: "Hey Avery, it's Nick. I want to apologize for leaving you at the Halloween party a few weeks ago. Something came up and I had to leave right away, but there's no excuse for forgetting about you. I also forgot about my phone, if it makes you feel better, which is why I didn't call you right away. I hope things are good with you, and maybe I'll text you in a few days to see what's up. Bye."

Now, before opinions are formed, let me just reaffirm that I know I'm an asshole. I never cared about Avery, and when my plan involving her proved to be futile, I ditched her like a dirty sock. Then it took me approximately three weeks to apologize. Again, I know I'm an asshole. The thing is, the fact that I admit that I'm an asshole makes me less of an asshole. I can't explain it; it just does. It's like when alcoholics admit they have a drinking problem, and they become less of an alcoholic simply for saying it out loud. It's part of the twelve-step program.

Sure, I could have offered her a more heartfelt apology. But that would be extremely uncharacteristic of me, and it would involve saying things I wasn't entirely comfortable saying. All of my sentences are meticulously planned. Words are important, and I only say what's necessary.

(Side-note: When I said ‘maybe I'll text you in a few days', I was lying).

(Side-note #2: Pep was upset that I hadn't ‘tried harder', but you know what? That little proton could blow me if she wanted to. I was sick of her instructing me on how to deal with girls, and I decided that I definitely did not care how she thought I performed in bed. After meeting Lance, it was evident that Pep's mind was warped - either that or she didn't expect much from a man).

What it all boils down to is that I took care of Avery, and it was none of Miley's business. Still, she made sure everyone in the venue was aware of how much she still resented me almost two years after the break-up. And that's just not classy, especially with Rainie only two seats away from me.

Couldn't one of Jesse's ex-girlfriends accept an award and find some way to bash him?

Speaking of ex-girlfriends, Taylor Swift was taking the stage to perform. I glanced at Joe; he appeared to be largely unaffected. Without even trying. Piece of crap.

If only to be a bastard, I mumbled in his ear, "She looks good."

Joe growled at me, and I was satisfied with his reaction. Nonetheless, what I'd said was true - Taylor did look good. I'd always thought she had a mystic mermaid-quality to her. Her eyes were really cool, and her hair was long and always looked so soft. That was attractive, right? I was attracted to her. Was Jesse attracted to her...?

Slowly, I leaned forward in my seat in order to take a peek at Jesse three seats over. Fucking Lesbian Friend was leaning forward as well to whisper something in Rainie's ear, and then they both started giggling quietly. It bothered me that it was turning me on.

Unless I literally lifted my ass from the seat, I wasn't going to be able to see Jesse. I would simply have to assume that Taylor Swift was hot enough for him. The problem was match-making. Joe would be furious if I talked to her, and Taylor wasn't really a flirty sort of girl, anyway. There was no assurance that she would be able to capture Jesse's attention and make him fall in love within five minutes.

I needed the kind of girl who could bat her eyelashes, causing guys to fall at her feet to kiss the ground she walked on. The kind of girl who could give Jesse the attention he so selfishly desired in bed, but then give him enough space to frolic with his friends when he wanted to. An A-list celebrity was too risky and it was probable that their schedules would conflict. I needed a girl just like Rainie, whose schedule was flexible and who was always going to be available for him.

If I wasn't sitting in the third row, scouting for less-popular but amazingly hot girls would have been so much easier.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when the show ended. Thrilled. I think one of the greatest times of my life is when one award show ends, because it means I have the maximum amount of time possible before I have to attend the next one.

Then again, there's all the after-show mingling and schmoozing that I can't say I'm particularly fond of. Mingling and schmoozing isn't my scene, especially when I don't have a date to mingle and schmooze with. A date at an event such as this would hold me down. What I needed to do was to search for a date for Jesse. The large crowd that was filtering out of the venue and back onto the red carpet was overwhelming.

Rainie was ignoring me, and to be honest, I felt good about it. It meant she was still interested in me (obviously), but the best part was that I had no interest in her that night. For once, she wasn't the ultimate goal, because I had other plans in mind. She was doing me a favour by ignoring me, and Lesbian Friend was doing me an even bigger favour by holding her hand and captivating about ninety-five percent of her attention. Speaking of third wheels, Jesse had his hands in his pockets next to Rainie, greeting people as they passed and looking ultimately excluded from the love-fest that was Mystery Girl and Lesbian Friend.

Sucker.

I nudged Kevin, who was in the midst of talking to Ashley Tisdale about her latest projects, and said, "Hey. I overheard Rainie saying she wanted to talk to you about what happened between you and Danielle."

I doubted that Rainie gave a flying fuck what had transpired between Kevin and Danielle, but that was perfect. He'd prattle on long enough for me to exorcise my matchmaking abilities on Jesse and Mystery Girl #2.

Speaking of Mystery Girl #2... I found her. It was strange that she presented herself to me just as I was starting to worry I wouldn't find her. It was as if God was saying, "Alright, alright, I've teased him enough for tonight. Here you go, Nick Jonas. Use her wisely."

I wasn't about to let the Big Man down.

The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was Jesse's future girlfriend. It was inevitable. She had long, flowy blonde hair just like Rainie. Average height. Killer legs. Shy, flirtatious smile. I'd never seen her before, which meant she wasn't as well known in the industry.

Time to pounce.

I was feeling reasonably confident as I strolled casually towards Mystery Girl #2. I was calm, I was collected, and within minutes, she'd be wrapped around my finger.

"Big crowd, huh?" I asked, offering her a sly smirk while readjusting my tie.

Mystery Girl #2 paused, checked behind her to see if I was talking to someone else, and then raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Oh! Um... yeah. Pretty big."

"Do you come to these shows a lot?"

"Um... I've been to a few," she answered. She was nervous talking to me. She clutched her handbag in front of her with both hands, like a lost little girl.

She had sparkles on her eyelids. "Why?" she inquired.

I shrugged. "I feel like I would have noticed you before."

I probably would have, too. She was hot.

Her jaw dropped ever so slightly, like she was stunned that we were conversing, and then she chuckled softly, looking over her shoulder as if she was waiting for someone. "Yeah," she said brusquely.

Well, what did that mean? She really was Mystery Girl #2 - the Princess to Rainie's Queen Ice Bitch.

"I'm Nick, by the way," I said cheerfully, holding out my hand to shake.

"I know," she replied quietly, taking my hand in hers. "Lea."

"Lea," I repeated. (Side-note: She didn't glow like I expected her to upon my saying her name. No matter. Yahoo!'s tips can't apply to everyone). "I like that name."

"Thanks." She blushed shyly.

"So where are you from, Lea?"

She couldn't have had a more perfect answer: "New York."

Beautiful. "No way!" I exclaimed, as if it was the most unordinary occurrence in all the world. "One of my good friends is from New York. He talks about it all the time; he loves it there. I gotta introduce you. You probably know Jesse. Right? Jesse McCartney?"

Lea looked at me as if I was joking. She was probably too star-struck to function. "Yeah..." she trailed off, and I was pretty sure she was using a shield of cynicism to conceal the nerves in her voice. "I think I've heard of him."

I gestured for her to follow me, muttering to myself, "Lemme find him." And again, God was on my side, handing Jesse to me on a silver platter. This was surprisingly easier than I'd bargained for, and I almost felt bad. After all, Harry had to locate and destroy six horcruxes and then kill a Dark Lord before he could be with his Ginny, and all I had to do was hook Jesse up with another girl, which was proving to be easy as pie.

(Side-note: I never approved of the Harry/Ginny pairing. Harry and Cho were meant to be. It was love at first sight. The only problem was that Cho had a Jesse in the way, too, by the name of Cedric Diggory. Luckily, Voldemort proved to be good for something after all when he murdered Cedric. My fairy tale wouldn't end so fortunately).

"Hey, J-mac," I shouted over the noise, tapping his shoulder to get his attention. He turned and grinned upon seeing me. "I want you to meet someone," I said into his ear. I pointed to Mystery Girl #2. "This is Lea. She's a big fan."

I stood aside to let him get a good look. The smile remained on Jesse's face, though it was apparent that he thought it was odd that I was attempting to hook him up with someone.

I meant to leave the two future lovebirds alone, but I had to interject just one more time, in order to get a conversation going. "Lea's from New York, just like you," I informed him with a nod.

Jesse snorted, making no attempts to talk to Mystery Girl #2. How rude. He was a horrible boyfriend. And a horrible potential boyfriend. "Yeah... yeah I know, Jonas."

I frowned in confusion. "What, you've met before?"

Lea shook her head with a smile, and Jesse guffawed. "Once or twice," he replied, slapping a hand on my shoulder. He leaned towards me to say, "Bro, you know this is my sister, right?"

I froze. My eyes shifted from Jesse to Lea. They had the same eyes. The same coloured hair. The same effing DNA. Oh, fuck it all.

Lea smiled sarcastically at me and held out her hand again. "We met this summer on tour. A few times, actually."

Ha. I knew it was all too easy. It was apparent that I was going to have to start spending less time in my head and more time in reality, making a solid effort to copy, paste and save prototypes of people's faces in my brain.

Great. My brilliant plan was setting Jesse McCartney up with his sister. And so, God swooped in and cackled maniacally, "PONED, Nick Jonas!"

The best (and by best I mean worst) part was that Rainie looked over her shoulder from the small group with which she was conversing and raised her eyebrows up and down, as if to say to me, ‘Eat your heart out, ‘cause you'll never have me.' And then Lesbian Friend grabbed a hold of her hand again. And Jesse didn't make any sort of comment about it at all.

Pft. Mystery Slut.

End Notes:
Banana Phone -- Sometimes this song gets stuck in my head, too, Nick.
Thank you so much for all your reviews! I hope it's nice today wherever you are, because it's beautiful here and I'm going outside to enjoy :) But let me know what you think of this chapter first. Or after. You guys are the greatest.
Day 279: Fair Ultimatum by The archive

Day Two Hundred and Seventy-Nine.

"What's a good word that rhymes with mystery?" I asked, raising my head for a moment to look at Pep for the answer.

"History," she replied easily.

I frowned. "Cliché. Think of another one."

We were in my basement, but instead of playing air hockey, we were doing homework. Pep brought her books over to keep me company, which was good of her, because she had two weeks off for Christmas break and no real need to do homework. I didn't think it was fair that I had to do homework, either, but my mother was upset that I had been slacking lately in that department. What can I say? Homework is very un-rock-star-ish. I know that my family-friendly, clean image projects a ‘go to school and work hard' ethic, but that's bullshit. Unless you're good at it, school sucks.

And unfortunately, Algebra hates me.

"What does a rhyme for ‘mystery' have to do with solving for x?" Pep questioned slyly.

She was just being a little shit, because she knew the answer. See, I told my mother I would be doing homework to please her because I'm an excellent son, but what I was really doing was song-writing in my Algebra notebook. Sometimes inspiration hits at random times and you have to take advantage of it. (Ironically, inspiration hit me hardest whenever I was forced to do something I didn't want to do and needed a way out of it). I started off doing math problems, but I got stuck on the second one and my mind drifted to Rainie. Then I wrote a song about her (hence the need for a rhyme for ‘mystery').

Damn it. I couldn't think of a good way to finish the verse, and Pep erratically drumming two pencils on the coffee table wasn't making it easy to think. With a groan, I dragged my guitar towards me. I wasn't going to let writer's block entice me to continue my homework.

I began to play the tune of ‘Lovebug', and Pep tried to drum along. (She failed, by the way).

"Pepper... why are you drumming your pencils..." I sang along to the chorus. "You're driving me crazy, I hate you... stoooop it right now."

(Haven't I already mentioned that I excel when it comes to improvisation?)

Pep giggled, throwing one of her pencils at my head. Fabulous.

"I said stoooop it... will you quit moving for a miiiinute... if I don't finish my schoolwork, I'll tell my mooooom it's your fault."

"And then I'll never be allowed over again and you'll have no more excuses," Pep finished, failing to sing along.

I put the guitar down and smiled, realizing that she had a point. "Shit. Hey, you know anything about Algebra?"

"I know everything about Algebra."

"Get over here and help me, then."

Pep scooted over and examined my textbook, humming all the while. Suddenly, she looked at me with interest.

"Hey, you know how Joe holds your foot and you do those flips on stage?"

I didn't see what this had to do with Algebra, but I wasn't interested in mathematics anyways. "Yep."

"I want to try."

I scoffed. "I would never trust you to hold my foot. You couldn't support its immense weight, tiny."

"No, no," she laughed. "I want to do the flip."

"That trick requires a lot of skill."

"You told me you and Joe have been doing it since you were eight."

"Well, whatever," I mumbled. "I was an acrobatic eight-year-old."

Pep closed my textbook and I let out a strangled cry - I had no idea how I was going to find that page again - and she stood up, tugging on my wrist. "Come on. I'm good at this. I can do a flip with my hands."

And then, before I could protest, she threw her body upside down and supported herself with her hands, her feet up in the air and resting on the wall behind her.  

"Come on!"

"No," I whined. "What if you fall, crack your head open and die? Then my mom will know we weren't doing homework."

Pep let her feet fall to the ground. "I'm touched that that's your main concern. Don't be a pussy, Nick J."

I hated when she called me that. Being called a pussy by a guy is demeaning enough, but there's a sense of camaraderie that's implied with the word. Being called a pussy by a girl... well, that's when you know you suck.

"Fine," I consented, using the coffee table to push myself into a standing position. "You're lucky these are carpeted floors."

I led her to an open space near the air hockey table, and she bounced up and down in excitement, her scary blue eyes alight.

"You have to go really fast," I told her very seriously. "There's no fucking around when you're up in the air. You spin around so you don't fall on your back."

"Got it."

She held her foot up. I lightly grabbed a hold of her outstretched ankle.

"Now, the trick is-"

"Just count to three, Nick."

It was my turn to roll my eyes, silently praying that she knew what she was doing. I had to admit that the proton never runs out of positive energy, but sometimes she overestimates her abilities. Nonetheless, I counted to three, gave her a little kick-start, and she did it, just like she said she would - even if she did lose her balance near the end and fell onto hands and knees.

I shook my head at her, doing my best to appear thoroughly unimpressed even though inside, I was a little impressed. She grinned at me, and I remarked, "Sometimes I wonder what would happen if someone locked you in a small room, and you had no human contact, and couldn't jump around."

"That's a weird thing to wonder." She sprang up from the floor with zest.

I leaned against the wall and watched her. "Where does all this energy come from?" I asked. "How is it possible that you're always in a good mood?"

"Not always," she laughed.

"Name one time." (Side-note: I hoped she wouldn't mention the time that Shep died, because I immediately thought of it and realized that I was already mistaken).

She pondered it for a moment, and then responded, "Lance broke up with me the other day."

"What?" I demanded. Pausing, I contemplated which question I wanted to ask next. I decided on, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I'm telling you now."

"How come you didn't tell me earlier this week?"

She shrugged. "There were more important things to talk about."

I released a genuine laugh at this. "Like how much I hate Algebra? And how much you annoy me when you tap pencils in irregular patterns against the table?"

Pep laughed along. "Well, yeah!"

Following her back to the coffee table, I asked thoughtfully, "You didn't really like that guy, did you?" I knew I didn't like him, and I always assumed that Pep and I had similar tastes in people. She was simply less vocal about it and better at disguising her true feelings.

"Obviously I did. I dated him. Twice." Resuming her position at the coffee table, Pep reached for her pencil and sat cross-legged in front of her books.

I chose to stand, because I felt I was more intimidating that way and I'd get the answers I was looking for. "How come he broke up with you? Is he actually gay? I won't laugh, I promise." Pep glared at me. I cracked a smile and admitted, "I'll laugh a little bit."

"He just did."

"Without giving you a reason? What a tool. I knew that guy was a dick," I muttered. "You know, Carter is useless with this stuff. I think I need to take on the older brother position in your life. From now on, you need to get all your potential boyfriends pre-approved by me."

As I took my seat, Pep tugged on one of my curls and watched it spring back into position. "Aren't you sweet."

I scowled. "This isn't about being sweet. This is about you choosing a decent guy who doesn't piss me off when I have to be a third wheel."

"Why don't you just not be a third wheel?" Pep suggested.

"If you keep inviting guys up on the roof when I'm about to come over, it's bound to happen at least once or twice, Pepper," I told her good-naturedly.

"Well, thanks for the offer, knight in shining armour," she laughed, "but I can take care of myself."

"Obviously not. Lance sucked." (I fought so hard to resist the urge to add a phallic-like word onto the end of my sentence).

"You met him once."

"He broke up with you for no reason. That sucks."

Pep shook her head. "It wasn't for no reason. It's just not important. No big deal. I'm over it."

I arched a sceptical eyebrow. For someone who had been semi-involved with this guy on-and-off for six months, she was surprisingly nonchalant and indifferent. It was common of Pep to be bright and sunny no matter how the world attempted to bring her down, but she had feelings. I'd seen them.

"Tell me," I said quietly. She couldn't just build up a story and then leave me hanging in suspense. It was unfair. It was like a girl getting you really excited (in the pants) and then walking away without helping you deal with it. (Maybe it wasn't exactly like that, but it was still unfair).

Smiling in embarrassment, she relented. "He told me he didn't think I was into it, and he thought I was into someone else."

The weird thing was that I could count on one hand the number of times I'd seen Pep embarrassed, and this didn't seem like something worthy of her flushed cheeks. It irked me. The way she was looking at me made me think that maybe...

No. It was just a fleeting speculation. It was stupid.

"Or was he into someone else...?" I suggested to break the eerie silence, pointing to my chest. Lance struck me as a creepy guy, and he was a bit too interested in me when we met to be straight. Also, I'm sure I've already mentioned his hairless calves. Come on.

Pep's smile turned from embarrassed to annoyed, and she shoved me away from her with a chuckle. "You'll never let go of that, will you?"

"It's not like I'm holding a grudge," I argued. "Lance can be as gay as he wants. He can frolic around in meadows with bunnies and butterflies for all I care. In fact, I encourage it, as long as he's not coming onto me."

Pep tightened her grip on the pencil, attempting to focus on her work.

But I still didn't feel like working, and I was afraid of another silence, so I commented, "You cleaned your room for Lance."

She shrugged, eyes on the table. "So?"

"Did you always clean it when he came over?"

"I wanted it to look nice," she replied indifferently.

"And that's how I know that you and guys like Lance aren't compatible," I concluded smugly, proving that I was the perfect advisor for Pep's future relationships. I knew her.

Pep laughed. "What does cleaning for guests have anything to do with romantic compatibility?"

It made perfect sense to me, but it was obvious that Pep and I were not on the same wavelength. "I don't know. When I think of the guy you'll end up with, he's gonna have to deal with the sporadic states of your bedroom. Clean, messy, in-between, half and half... you won't clean it for him; you'll just clean it randomly like you always do. Because that's who you are."

Taking a moment to stare at her work, Pep eventually locked eyes with me and grinned.

"What?" I asked. She was looking at me strangely again. It made me uncomfortable.

Apparently I'd done a decent job explaining myself, because she said calmly, "You make me smile."

So it was settled. If I couldn't manage to get myself into a relationship, I could at least give Pep a hand in the future.

"If you really are into someone else like Lance said, then just know that I insist on pre-approving him before you move to the next level," I told her. When she didn't answer, I jokingly added, "If I can't meet him personally, you can give me his yearbook picture and a list of his basic likes and dislikes, as well as a confirmed and signed note of his sexual orientation."

"Oh, he's straight," Pep mumbled distractedly, concentrating on her schoolwork.

I grimaced at the verbal confirmation that Pep had a new crush. It only served to solidify and remind me that I was single and, judging by my recent humiliating attempt to play the matchmaker in Jesse's love life, my love life wasn't going anywhere soon.

Unless... unless I made one last plea. One final attempt to sway Rainie in my direction. One last chance to convince her that we were meant to be. I'd lay my heart on the line and sacrifice my dignity to do it because it was for the greater good.

Yes. That was what I'd do.

For once, I was putting all of yahoo!'s advice aside. It was a hard decision to make, especially since yahoo! had been my most loyal advisor since I discovered how to use the Internet in 2002. But I had tried everything else, and this was my last resort.

The plan was as follows: Call Rainie. Act humble and grievous. Tell her how much I adored her. Remind her of all the great times we'd had over the summer, particularly at breakfast time. If necessary, beg her to break up with Jesse.

"Hello?"

My heart skipped a beat upon hearing her voice. "Rainie," I said quietly. It had been a long time since we'd had a conversation. A real conversation that didn't end in a confusing kiss.

"Nick? ... oh boy," she breathed, sounding less than amused.

My pride was already lagging behind me in the mud, so it wasn't exactly the slap in the face it would have been otherwise.

"I need to talk to you," I told her evenly.

I cursed myself for not having written out some sort of script to follow. The sound of her voice was intoxicating, making it hard to remember what I'd planned to say.

"Uh..." she replied shakily, sounding torn. Finally, she sighed. "Can you make it quick? My mom's on the other line."

"Oh." I paused. Technically, shouting out ‘Break up with Jesse, dammit!' would only take a couple of seconds... but I wanted to delve into the issue a little further, which would require time and much contemplation on my part. "Can I call you back later?" I suggested.

"Gah," she said in annoyance, "I need to go. Just... just come over."

It was lucky I was standing in the middle of my bedroom, because if I was standing next to a wall, the force at which my head snapped back would have cracked open my skull; I'm positive.

"Come over?" I repeated, simply to make sure I was hearing things correctly.

"Yes!" she replied exasperatedly. "Okay, I have to go."

She didn't even bother saying goodbye. She just hung up.

Slowly, I dragged my phone from my ear and stared at it, utterly perplexed. Really? Was she being serious? Because I knew exactly where her apartment building was located, and I could easily follow up on her orders and pay her a visit...

Sweet.

I was racing down the stairs and throwing on my shoes at the speed of light as Kevin called from the living room, "Hey Nick! You wanna play those songs for us you've been writing?"

"Gotta go!" I told him impatiently, throwing open the closet doors and whipping jackets aside in search for mine. I couldn't find it. Fine, no jacket then.

"What? But we were in the middle of something!" Joe cried. After Pep had left in the early afternoon, I'd put aside my homework and sat down with my brothers to get some work done.

"Be back later! Important!"

"But you said you wanted us to check out your songs!"

I didn't have time for this ridiculousness. "They were shit, okay? They sucked. Write a good one while I'm gone."

Before I flew out the door, the last words I heard were Kevin's, exclaiming in confusion, "What is wrong with you?"

When I buzzed Rainie's condo from inside the glass doors of the building, I don't know what I was expecting - but it wasn't the response I'd received, that was for sure.

"Who is it?" droned the voice. I couldn't tell if it belonged to Rainie or Lesbian Friend.

"Nick. I know you said to-"

"Come up."

And then the electronic door was unlocked for me. I still didn't know who I had been speaking to, but I was becoming annoyed that everything I said was interrupted. Unless Rainie interrupted my ‘break up with Jesse' speech with an, ‘Okay! Sure thing!', then I couldn't foresee a successful visit.

As I strolled out of the elevator and down the hallway on Rainie's floor, my nerves started to get to me. I'd always thought of myself as a bold kind of guy (like, if I was a bag of chips, I would be ‘bold bbq'... or maybe ‘cool ranch', but no, in this situation, I was ‘bold bbq'), but this seemed a little too bold. Maybe I was crossing the line. But what line? What was the line between Rainie and I? We were friends once, but we never talked or texted anymore. We made out twice, but we weren't ‘more-than-friends' or a couple.

What also scared me was that I was about to have a conversation with Rainie in which her state of mind couldn't be manipulated in my favour. She was going to be sober, and she wasn't going to be in tears over an altercation with Jesse. She was simply going to be Rainie, and I was nervous about that.

Furthermore - should I have dressed up for this? I left in such a hurry that I was wearing dark jeans and a gray zip-up hoodie. I looked too ordinary and very un-Jonas. Plus, in six days it was Christmas, and I doubted I looked remotely joyous or festive. I didn't even get Rainie a gift, no matter how small. I should have brought her a poinsettia or some other giant, obnoxious seasonal decor.

Fuck.

There was always the option of turning around, driving home, changing, picking up a Christmas flower, and then coming back and trying again. The problem was that Joe and Kevin would laugh at me and it gave me too much time to back out and change the plan. And then when I told Pep about it later on, she'd have a real reason to call me a pussy. I simply couldn't allow it.

Instead, I took a deep breath, patted my hair to make sure the curls were in place, and knocked on the door I knew to be Rainie's.

Lesbian Friend answered, looking me up and down with a sceptical eye. I smiled collectedly and offered her a friendly ‘hello', which wasn't returned. Eventually, she stood aside and let me pass.

If I was a snotty, elitist teenaged girl, this would have been the moment I would have busted out the ‘bitch, PLEASE.' Lesbian Friend was probably the reason Rainie's initials were IB (for ice bitch, of course). Lesbian Friend was destroying her.

"Rainie," she called, leaving me standing in the entrance as she disappeared around the corner. "The kid's here."

Fuck these people. Since when is five years a large age gap? The world is five billion years old - five years is like half a millisecond in the big picture. It was possible that Lesbian Friend was simply jealous that Rainie was secretly in love with me, thus she was looking to demean me in any way she could. In general, I make very solid first impressions and it was probably hard for her to find a flaw in me - the only way she could put me down was to attack my age.

Whatever. Youth is enviable. She'd die first, and then who would be laughing? (Me. The answer is me).

Lesbian Friend poked her head around the corner to tell me indifferently, "She's in her room."

... and her room is where? This girl was by far the worst hostess I'd ever encountered. I had never met anyone more dry, more monotonous, and less enthused to be alive. I was not a fan.

I took off my shoes and ventured a few feet into the apartment. It wasn't very big, and it wasn't very new. It was student-like, I supposed. Lesbian Friend had her sleeves rolled up over the sink in the kitchen, and she looked ready to tackle the most enormous heap of dishes I'd ever seen piled on top of each other.

The kitchen and common room were connected, with three doors branching off. One led to the bathroom. I was about to peer into the second room in search of Rainie when the sound of a zipper coming from the third room prevented me from snooping. Quickly, I changed direction and stepped hesitantly into her bedroom.

"Hi, Rainie," I said quietly. She was standing over an unzipped suitcase on a large double bed, hands on her hips and the slightest hint of a frown on her face. She wore a simple white summer dress with a soft pink cardigan overtop, and her hair hung in delicate waves on her shoulders. It was hard not to fall to the ground and start my begging right away.

She glanced at me, her eyes trailing up and down (I regretted not changing my attire before leaving my house). Rather randomly, I realized that I didn't know what to do with my hands. Should I leave them hanging helplessly at my sides? Should I stuff them into my pockets? Fold my arms across my chest? Pull her towards me and kiss the hell out of her?

"Hey. What's up?" she replied coolly, as though we were simply passing each other by on the street.

Her bedroom was cramped and messy. There were clothes everywhere - the bed, the floor, the desk, the chair, overflowing from the closet. I have a lot of clothes, but normally I appreciate when they're all in the same place.

"What's going on? You're leaving?" I asked with a frown. I tried to keep my nerves out of my voice. She couldn't leave now, not when there was so much left unsaid!

"Going home for Christmas," she answered. "My mom's coming soon to pick me up."

Right. Christmas. I breathed a sigh of relief.

"You can sit down, if you want," she added, grabbing the giant pile of clothes from her desk chair and throwing them on the bed. Gingerly, I stepped in between the clothes strewn over the floor and took a seat, swinging around on the chair to face her.

"How long are you gone for?"

"A week or so. I'll be back just after Boxing Day, probably."

"Jesus," I breathed, "Even the Jonas Brothers don't require this many outfits for a week."

"Ha, ha," she smiled. "I just did my laundry, that's all. Plus, I'll only be back for half a day or something before I have to repack for New York. I'm going with Jesse for New Year's - are you going?"

I nodded mutely as I scanned her clothing once again. Dresses, skirts, fancy shoes, jeans... "Do you ever dress down?" I questioned.

She shrugged, balling up a pair of socks and stuffing them into the suitcase. "What for?"

"To relax. All of your clothes look uncomfortable."

"Don't you wear suits all the time?" she challenged.

What a dumb question. While she was looking at me, I purposely pointed to my attire - jeans and a hoodie.

She shrugged again. "Girls don't get laid in sweats, Jonas."

You know, when I asked her the question, I was simply trying to make conversation. I was not prepared for this response. It actually hurt to hear her say it.

I cleared my throat to choke back the tears. "Everyone should wear sweats once in a while."

"Not my thing. I like to look my best." She proceeded to sift through her clothing in search for something specific.

I rested my foot on the opposite knee and murmured, "I'm sure you'd look better than most no matter what you wore."

She paused for a moment to raise an eyebrow at me. "What brings you here again?"

Here it was. I knew this moment was coming. It was time for me to sacrifice my pride. With a heavy heart, I admitted, "I miss you."

She brushed a strand of hair out of her face. "It's not like I've been away."

I sighed, slumping my shoulders. Strike one. How the hell did Jesse manage to woo this girl? She was un-woo-able. I'd just used one of my best lines on her, and it fell completely flat. What the fuck?

"What?" she asked me sceptically.

"Why do you have to be so cold all the time?"

"Cold?"

The words ‘ice' and ‘bitch' were running over and over in my mind, but I figured I probably wouldn't earn any brownie points for saying them aloud.

"Yeah. You always go out of your way to act like you don't care."

"I do not," she countered, folding a shirt and placing it neatly into her suitcase.

"You do, and it's obvious. I told you I observed people. Did you honestly think I'd pass you by in those observations?"

"You said you couldn't figure me out," Rainie pointed out.

"But I'm trying," I corrected her. "Every time I get close, you do something totally random and confusing that brings me back to square one. I don't get it. Doesn't Jesse ever tell you how closed-up you are?"

Rainie laughed sarcastically. "Who says I'm closed-up around my boyfriend?"

I rolled my eyes. "Come on. If you're like this around me..."

"You're not my boyfriend," she told me matter-of-factly. (Thanks Rainie, I didn't know. Then again, if we were a couple, I'd be dancing in the street instead of struggling through a trying conversation). "I'm closer with him than I am with you."

"Physically," I agreed with a nod. "Do you talk to him about stuff?"

"What stuff?"

I shrugged because it was obvious. "Thoughts. Feelings. Interesting events of your day."

She laughed at me again. "Speaking of putting on fronts, you've never sounded so sentimental."

If she was going to pull out the P-word (pussy), I'd crawl into a hole and die. "Well, it's true. When you're with someone, that's the kind of stuff you talk about - and I doubt you and Jesse have those kinds of conversations."

"Since when are you a relationship pro? You've had two little Disney girlfriends and call that experience? Not everyone's relationships are your fifteen-year-old romances," she said.

Stupid beautiful bitch.

"Seventeen," I corrected her in exasperation. I tugged at my hair, so frustrated that I was contemplating pulling it out. "And I'm not just talking about my own personal experience. How many times do I have to tell you how observant I am? I watch my mom and dad, my brothers and their girlfriends-"

"Not everyone's as perfect as the Jonas family," Rainie interrupted, pausing from her packing to sit on top of her closed suitcase.

I groaned in irritation. "Can't you just admit that you and Jesse only have a physical relationship?"

She stared at me like I was crazy. "Will it honestly make you feel better?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because it means there's something missing; something he can't give you."

She shook her head slowly, a smile forming on her pink lips. "You know... I don't know what it is with you. You say you're observant, but there's something you just can't understand. Maybe you hunt for the best in people and you only see what you want to see, and everything else doesn't make sense."

Where was this going? "What?" I asked in confusion.

Rainie rolled her eyes. "I don't need anything else from Jesse. I have everything I want from him."

"Which is?"

(Side-note: Fuck me for asking a question so stupid. Obviously I knew what was coming as soon as the words escaped from my lips, but by then, I couldn't take back what I'd said).

I was preparing for her to reply with ‘sex' when she answered, "Every girl wants to be able to say she dated a celebrity. I get star treatment when I'm with him. I've got opportunities I never had before simply because of the connection, and so does my roommate - she wants to be a photographer, you know. I get to travel, I get to go to all these glamorous events, and I get to meet all these amazing people. It's worth it."

I don't know how long I waited before speaking again. My brain was whirling so quickly, I can't even remember what I was doing. Staring at her, probably. In disbelief.

"... really?" my voice croaked. I coughed to clear it. "That's why you're dating Jesse?"

I've grown up in this business, and I've met my share of fake people. But... really, Rainie?

She licked her lips indifferently. "I mean, he's a good guy. I like him."

"But you're dating him for the status?"

She could date me for an even higher status. Dammit! Why does Jesse McCartney always win? Is it the blond highlighted hair? The beautiful soul? The boy band experience?!

She sighed drearily. "It's not like I'm hurting him, Nick. If he didn't want to be with me, he could easily dump me and move on."

"I bet he would if he knew why you were with him."

Smiling deviously, Rainie remarked, "He gets what he wants from me."

I could have fallen apart at that, but my mind was still reeling from her previous confession. "Is this why you get so mad at him when he won't spend time with you?"

Rainie stood up, returning to her packing. "Why do you care so much?"

"Do you honestly not know the answer?"

She looked at me expectantly.

Fine. If she was going to make me say it, I wouldn't back down. I could tango with the ice bitch if that's what she wanted.

"By now, I think you're well aware of how I feel about you." I took a moment to assess her expression, and when I was sure it was safe, I continued. "I think you're wasting your time with Jesse. I don't care what you say; I don't think anyone could be happy in a relationship like that." Rainie continued to fold her laundry and stuff it into her suitcase, pretending that my words meant nothing to her.

I hate that. Why do people think it's such a great defence mechanism? Pretending you're deaf when someone's telling you something you don't want to hear is ridiculous. At least do something equally cowardly but more believable, like pretending you forgot you had to be somewhere and have to leave immediately.

"I know there's an age difference between us. But we were friends, weren't we? We were great friends. And we can be a great couple."

There. That was basically a trial proposal. Once we dated for a couple of years, I'd polish it up and present it to her again with a ring.

Rainie appeared conflicted. "It's... weird," she breathed.

"It's not weird!" I insisted. "What's weird is that you're fighting this. I don't believe you when you say you're only in it for the celebrity perks. Nobody's that heartless. And I know you have feelings for me, you're just too stubborn to let them show."

Sighing, Rainie muttered, "You know, you're a pretty confident ki.... guy."

Progress. She retracted the ‘kid' comment. My heart throbbed with hope, even if it was just for a second.

"There's no reason not to be," I replied smoothly.

"Fear of rejection, perhaps?" she suggested.

I smiled lazily. "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."

"Wise beyond your years, Jonas."

"It's not a matter of striking out for me," I commented, leaning back in the chair and crossing my arms. "It's a matter of patience. So far, you're doing a good job of testing it."

She chuckled with a shake of her head. "How long can you hold out?"

"How long can you resist me?"

Placing a pile of folded clothes into her suitcase, she stopped to stare at me. "I think we both know I've given in before."

"Twice," I chirped.

It was at this moment that Lesbian Friend poked her nosey little face through the door. "I gathered up some shit for you to take home with you," she said, waltzing into the room to hand Rainie an overflowing shopping bag. "It'll go bad if it stays here."

Rainie pouted. "But I already have so much stuff..."

"Take it, babe." Lesbian Friend thrust the bag into her hands with a giggle and left the room without offering me a single glance.

Two observations:

1) Babe? Definitely into Rainie.

2) Ignore me? Horrible hostess. Horrible.

I wondered if she and Rainie had naked slumber parties. Pillow fights. Games of Twister. Drunken confessions of hidden love. Normally, I would have admitted that this was my dream come true, but not with Rainie. She was mine, and I was tired of sharing her.

"What?" Rainie asked me, setting the bag by her door.

"Hmm?"

"You're thinking," she replied with a frown.

"I'm always thinking."

"Sometimes I can't read your face."

"Sometimes you can?"

"Sometimes," she confirmed with a nod of her head.

I watched her finish her packing. It only took a few minutes. When she was done, she put some of her clothes in drawers, and the rest went in a neat pile on the floor of her closet. She clapped her hands together as she scanned her room, satisfied with a job well done. As if she'd forgotten my presence, her eyes suddenly landed on me.

"Question for you."

I shrugged. "Anything."

"Why are you so interested in me? If it were anyone else, I would say it was creepy. You're always looking at me. Whenever our eyes meet, even if it's from across a room, you either look away really fast or you smile."

"Isn't that what it's supposed to be like?" I asked, furrowing my brow. I wasn't going to act ashamed. That would be gutless.

"What?"

I was about to say ‘falling in love', but I didn't want to freak her out. Instead, my sharp thinking led me to the nonchalant answer of, "That's what happens when you're interested in someone."

"But why me? I have a boyfriend-"

"I saw you first," I interrupted.

"-I'm so much older than you-"

"Not that much older."

"-and there are so many other girls who would be drawn to..." she paused, looking me up and down. "This."

I grinned, pointing to my chest. "This?"

"It's been like, two years, but apparently Miley still holds a grudge. You must be good for something," Rainie joked.

For once, it would be awesome to have a conversation about my love life without the mention of Miley. Just once.

I paused, choosing my words carefully. Finally, I sat up and held my hands in front of me, attempting to explain this as clearly as possible. I didn't want to say it more than once. I made sure Rainie was looking at me as I told her firmly, "I'm not interested in anybody but you."

"What about your Halloween date?"

I shook my head.

"What about your little friend? Pep?"

I suppose it took me longer to respond to this question because I was wondering what she meant by ‘little'. Quite literally, Pep was little - but I had a feeling that Rainie was trying to act superior and indifferent by referencing Pep as my ‘little friend'.

The point is that it took me more than a mere few seconds to respond, and Rainie jumped on my hesitation.

"I mean, I think she's good for you," she continued. "She's a ball of energy; the definition of optimist. She gets along with everyone, she makes you laugh, and you're always muttering things to her that you probably wouldn't mutter to anyone else. I observe too sometimes, Jonas. Plus, she's cute. You can't tell me the red hair and big blue eyes aren't adorable."

As Rainie was going on and on, my frown deepened. What was this? I hadn't even mentioned Pep, and yet somehow Rainie felt it necessary to bring her up. Why? Rainie always incorporated Pep, or maybe it just seemed that way because I was afraid of the way she looked at her. Rainie seemed to come on to everyone; male or female.

No. I would not have this.

"You stay away from Pep!" I blurted out. I hadn't realized how upset I was about this until I nearly shouted my thoughts. If Rainie was more interested in Pep than in me, I would die. Still, it was understandable that my outburst seemed out of place, and by the look on Rainie's face, I had shocked her. "What I mean is, I'm not dating her," I calmly added as an afterthought.

Rainie arched an eyebrow. "I'm just throwing out suggestions here," she said cynically. "No need to get so defensive."

"I'm not defensive," I argued, slouching back into my seat. "It's just annoying that people keep thinking there's something going on with us."

"There really isn't?"

"Why would I be here if there was?"

"Maybe she doesn't satisfy you."

"I don't cheat," I told her sincerely. "If Pep didn't satisfy me, I'd break up with her." I let my words sink in for a few seconds before I realized what I'd said, and then I was forced to quickly add, "But again, we're not dating."

Lesbian Friend poked her head through the door. "Your mom's here. She's coming up," she informed Rainie.

When she left, Rainie gave me an apologetic glance. "I have to go."

Fuck. I vaguely remembered that my plan involved her declaration of love for me.

I sat up in my seat, ready to make my last plea. "Fine. But promise me you'll think about it."

"Think about what?"

"About me," I replied. I slapped my hands to my knees as a sign of conclusion. "The ball's in your court now. If this is really what you want, I won't bother you anymore."

Rainie didn't reply. Instead, she lugged her suitcase from the bed to the ground.

"I'm sick of you stringing me along. You know exactly what you're doing, and it's mean." As soon as I said it, I wished I'd chosen a better word. Mean? Way to move past the second grade, Nick.

Still, she had to know. Now was the opportune moment, but for some reason, I felt like I was giving up. "If you want to be with Jesse, then be with him. But do it because you like him; don't be superficial about it. If Jesse's not enough, then leave him." It almost pained to me to say, "He's a good guy."

Rainie slipped on a pair of flats, looking at me expectantly. "Anything else?"

"Yeah." Standing was a better way to assert myself, I decided. So I did. "This is it, Rainie. I know we have something, but I'm sick of waiting for you to see it. You know how I feel. I'm not gonna let you screw with me anymore. It's all or nothing, none of this in-between shit."

To be honest, I impressed even myself with that speech. I didn't know if it was entirely true, but I sounded full of conviction, and that was good enough.

There was a loud knock on the front door. Rainie kept her gaze fixated on me for longer than expected before picking up her suitcase and heading out of her bedroom. I followed, carrying the bag of food that Lesbian Friend had gathered.

Rainie's mother was a short, round woman with triangular blonde hair and rosy cheeks. She was all-smiles as she waited in the foyer. "Callan, it's so good to see you!" she exclaimed, wrapping Lesbian Friend in a hug.

Ah-HA! Callan. I knew that.

"And you," Rainie's mother said with a smile, her eyes locking on her daughter. "I missed you!" Before Rainie could protest, her mother's arms were around her neck.

"And who is this?" she asked, pulling away and staring at me.

With a small, uncertain smile, I gently placed the bag of food on the kitchen counter and made my way to the door.

When I realized that no one was going to introduce me, I held out my hand to shake and said, "I'm Nick." I toiled with the idea of introducing myself as Rainie's friend, but I thought better of it. "It's nice to meet you," I added.

Rainie's mother glowed. I have that kind of effect on mothers. Selena's mom used to insist on giving me hugs whenever we met or parted ways. Pep's mom loved me, too - her love even extended to Elvis. Even though ol' Shep wasn't around anymore, she kept a box of dog treats in the cupboard specifically for my golden retriever.

Extracting my car keys from my pocket, I exhaled and glanced at Rainie, hoping that I'd said everything I needed to say to win her over once and for all. A last-minute, impulsive decision caused me to place a hand on her shoulder and kiss her on the cheek.

"Merry Christmas, Rainie," I told her. Then I gave her one last smile - a smile showing all my teeth, a rarity - and I left.

I wasn't sure how I felt about what had transpired. On one hand, giving Rainie an ultimatum might be exactly what she needed to figure out her feelings for me. On the other hand, it might push her further away from me - but I doubted it. It was a fair ultimatum, after all. It was about time I called her out on her unreasonableness.

Furthermore, I can't say that I wasn't slightly depressed. This marked the third time I had been alone in a bedroom with Rainie. We had made it to the bed zero out of three times.

But maybe our time wasn't up just yet. Like I told Rainie, the ball was in her court - all I had to do was play the waiting game. (And I'm extremely competitive, and I almost always win).

End Notes:
So, if I were to do another FAQ, the most frequently asked question would be "how long is this story going to be?" My answer:
1) At the very least, 364 days long.
2) I hope to have this story completed by the end of April.
3) In terms of chapters, I won't tell you how many - but there will be ten or less. Could be two, could be ten. I like surprises :)
This chapter was the bane of my existence for the period of time that I spent writing it. I think I referred to one of my other chapters in this story or in HINAF as the bane of my existence, but this is the new one. However, it led me to a newly-inspired summer project: once I'm finished writing this story and LIL, I'm going to edit all of my stories on here and fix up allll the chapters that ever bothered me.
I want to thank all of you so much for reading my stories, and special thanks to those who review as well. It means so much to me, and I really do appreciate every bit of feedback, good or bad. I'm so, so grateful because you've all made me interested in writing again, which has already helped me through some tough times and has inspired me to take chances I never would have taken otherwise.
Examples: After writing Sticks and Stones, I decided I was jealous of Evie for taking guitar lessons... so last September, I found a small music studio near my home and signed up. I've been playing for seven months now and I have a newfound love and appreciation for music. Also, I hate school so much (haha), and my major and minor appear to be taking me nowhere... so I decided, just for the hell of it, to apply for a creative writing class in the fall. I have to submit writing samples to the prof and it's a selective program, so I have no idea if I'll get in... but the fact that I'm even trying is kind of amazing to me.
I've never been a huge risk-taker, but lately I've been inspired, and I think it's because I have so much motivation to keep writing and doing what really makes me happy. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
I feel like I should have saved this speech for the grand end-note upon the completion of this story... because all I really meant to say was thank you kindly for all the nominations in the JBFA awards! I still can't get over the response to my stories and how many great people I've met because of it. I love you specials!
Day 292: The Stutter by The archive

Day 292: The Stutter by green and yellow

Day Two Hundred and Ninety-Two.

If there's one thing I never complain about, it's my work. Sometimes I don't like the people I have to deal with, and every so often I don't agree with what people want me to do, but I keep my mouth shut. I can't imagine living life any other way than this, and I don't think I'd be happy if I had to. I like performing. I like writing. I like traveling. I like music. School was never my cup of tea, and I don't have the training to be a professional baseball player, so I feel like this is it for me. This is what I know and love, so I'll take what I can get and, to make my father proud, I'll ‘grin and bear it'.

Like I said, I don't complain about this, not even when I have to wake up at four thirty in the morning or when interviewers consistently pester me about Miley and Selena.

The only thing is that sometimes, I get this déjà vu, and it brings me down. New York City on New Year's Eve is something that everyone should experience once. But in my opinion, once is enough. And we've been here three times in a row, and every time it's pretty much the same. I'm not complaining; that's just the way it is. For once, I'd like to spend New Year's at home. I'd like to be with people I know instead of a million screaming strangers. I want a date, and I want to kiss her exactly at midnight, just to see what all the fuss is about. I want to start off the year in my own bed with my dog sleeping loyally beside me on the floor.

These are just wishes, though. I'd never tell anybody.

2010 was rung in the same way as 2009 and 2008. I suppose I didn't mind so much as Kevin and Joe, because at least I wouldn't have had a date even if there was the opportunity to have one. I think I'm more comfortable in front of a camera than they are because I'm already a calculated person to begin with, and acting outlandishly isn't my style. Even on New Year's, I can express my joy with a fist-punch in the air and a simple smile, and I'd do it that way whether a camera was on me or not. Joe and Kevin are different. Joe was bursting to do something crazy and energetic, like jump off a two-storey building into a pile of snow. Like me, Kevin would prefer a quieter setting to spend New Year's - but that's only because he'd want to launch into a lengthy discussion about the best New Year's moments of all time, which would then morph into a discussion of the best years of all time, and by the end of the night, everyone would have heard his entire life story for the twentieth time, full of trivial details that no one on Earth could ever possibly care to know. (Why is it important to recount the story of the watch he received for his birthday in second grade and lost by Christmas? He told that one every time, and I didn't get it. It was a five-dollar Scooby Doo digital watch and had no sentimental value whatsoever. No one would ever care about that story. It was more pointless than a circle, and that's saying something).

Needless to say, it was evident that all three of us were happy to get away from Times Square between one and two in the morning. It briefly entered my mind to call Pep and wish her a Happy New Year - she was ringing in the party at her grandparents' house, and I figured she'd appreciate a pick-me-up. Other than that, I wanted to go to bed and get as far away from Kevin as possible. If he didn't shut up, he wouldn't live to see 2011.

"As great as it would be to have a cold one right now, I think I'd be even happier for some Starbs," he was saying to no one in particular. Even our parents were ignoring him. Joe was lucky he didn't have to tolerate this. He was meeting up with Sam, the girl he'd met the night I first kissed Rainie.

(Side-note: ‘Starbs' was the lazy way of saying ‘Starbucks'. It sounded much less intelligent and in my opinion, Kevin belonged right in the middle of a chick flick, or as he called them, ‘rom coms').

(Side-note #2: ‘Rom com' translates to ‘romantic comedy'. It's shameful that I know this).

"Caramel macchiato... that would make my life," he continued. "Hey, did you guys get to talk to Miley?"

This earned him a scowl from me. "Do I talk to Miley?" I asked in irritation.

"Not you," he replied condescendingly, "I was talking to Mom."

I shifted my glare from Kevin to Mom, expectantly awaiting her response.

"Oh, it was too busy," Mom answered. "Maybe we'll catch her tomorrow. If not, I'll call when we get home."

Kevin shrugged, his mind instantly drifting to a new topic. "I wonder where Jesse ended up. He told me he was going out after; I should've asked him where he was headed. You know who I could've sworn I saw? Nicole Richie. I don't know if she was really there, maybe it was just a figment of my imagination, but I swear I saw her - did you see the girl in the white coat? I was pretty sure it was her-"

"Wait, what is this?" I interrupted Kevin, staring furiously at my mother. "Why will you be calling Miley?"

"Not Miley, her parents," she responded, stopping in the hallway of our hotel to yawn. I waited with her, my eyes demanding answers. "For our barbecue in a couple of weeks, honey." She patted my head with tired eyes and continued on down the hall.

"The barb," Kevin echoed her obnoxiously. "The bee-bee-cue."

I followed, hot on her heels. "Barbecue...?"

"Mm hmm. Don't act so surprised! I've been wanting to do this for months!" she exclaimed with a laugh.

When I searched my brain (and I'm talking really searched), I could vaguely (vaguely) remember a few instances in the past few months when my mother had spoken words such as ‘barbecue' and ‘potluck'. Fuck me for not paying attention.

"So you invited the Cyrus family?!" I cried.

Outside of her hotel room door, my mother stopped and shook her head in slight annoyance, irritated that I was pestering her. "I'll invite all the families we're close to. We'll invite the Shanahans next week. Honey, don't worry about it. Just go to bed."

Translation: If you shut up and go away, I'll let you bring your ‘little friend' Pep. Please don't bother me about this again.

Why was I always the last to know about these things? And why did I suddenly feel like my mother was conspiring against me? We'd been neighbours with the Cyrus family once upon a fucking fairy tale, but it wasn't like we were best friends.

Ugh. I changed my mind. If there's one thing I can't stand about this business, it's that you can never get away from someone you'd rather avoid until one of your careers fades into oblivion. Miley's not that bad, really. But I was planning on waiting six months at the bare minimum for her to get over the Avery issue until I willingly spoke to her again.

Mom kissed me goodnight and handed me the key-card to my room from her purse. It was as I was fumbling with the stupid door (I hate key-cards, it takes at least three tries for the damn light to turn green), that my phone buzzed from inside the pocket of my coat. Eager for an excuse to give up, I dug my hand into my pocket and pulled it out. I can't say I wasn't surprised to see Rainie's name on the caller ID, because that would be a lie. In fact, I had to blink twice to make sure my eyes weren't fogged over with weariness, and only then I was certain that I was reading correctly.

"Hello?"

"Hey. I'm surprised I got you," she said casually.

I didn't have anything to say to that. ‘Oh' wouldn't do it justice, and ‘Why are you torturing me?' seemed too blunt.

"Any plans for the night?" she asked.

If I ever stuttered in my whole life, this would have been one of those instances. However, I think ahead, even if it means my responses appear delayed. "It's pretty much over. I'm trying to get into my room as we speak."

"Where are you staying? Are you at the Trump Hotel?" Rainie questioned.

"Sure am. I like it here. It's convenient."

All arrogance aside, I was doing an excellent job sounding nonchalant and indifferent. Even at times when I'm sure I've almost surrendered and laid my dignity to rest, I have the remarkable ability to surprise myself.

"Oh. Good." Rainie sounded deflated, as if my choice of hotel had greatly disappointed her. Then again, maybe it was the indifference with which I presented it to her that she didn't like. I hoped I was driving her crazy. She deserved to get a taste of her own medicine every once in a while.

The light on the door flashed green as I swished the card through the slot. "Sweet. I'm in," I told her, as if it would cheer her up. I pushed open the door to my room and took a few steps inside.

There was silence on the line for a few moments as I threw my coat onto the bed and rustled through the pockets for my wallet. If Rainie was waiting for me to make conversation, she could suck it and she could suck it hard. I told her the ball was in her court, and I had to make it appear like I meant what I said. I'll be damned if I was the one to initiate something.

"Hey Nick?" she asked quietly, her voice surprisingly innocent and timid.

"Yeah?"

"I'm staying in the same hotel."

I gulped, wanting so badly to ask her if I could pay her a visit. How had I not known that she was here? I should have put two and two together. Before Christmas, she'd told me in her apartment that she was accompanying Jesse to NYC.

"Oh yeah?" I asked, my throat running dry. "Were you at Times Square earlier tonight?"

"For some of it. I saw you perform."

I wasn't performing anywhere near Jesse. Ka-ching.

Pausing, I shut my eyes tightly and reopened, preparing myself to say, "Did you have fun?"

"Nick."

"Yeah?"

"I thought about what you said to me."

I didn't know exactly what she was referring to, because I'd said a lot of things to her. Loosely aware that she was referring to the last time we met in her apartment, I struggled to remember the things I'd said. All I could remember was, ‘The ball's in your court'.

When I didn't answer, she continued, "Can I meet you somewhere?"

My breath hitched, but I managed to croak out, "Why?"

She sighed - whether it was out of annoyance or reluctance, I couldn't be sure. After all, she was Mystery Girl. Nothing with her was certain. "Jesse and I are done, okay? We broke up. And right now, you're the only person I... trust in this city. I want to see you."

She had 

hesitated before saying trust. What the hell did that mean? Trust was supposed to be a good thing, but she'd spat it out like it was a dirty word, like ‘rape' or ‘pap smear' or ‘mushroom cut'.

Well, there was no choice now. It was obvious what I had to do. Fuck giving Rainie the silent treatment; I was back in the game. Full throttle. Fast and furious. Die hard. Mission NOT impossible.

"Okay," I agreed.

That's how I ended up standing in front of Rainie two floors below my hotel room five minutes after the call. I had experienced a mild panic attack in my room, and it was lucky that Joe wasn't there to make fun of me. After a minute or so, I realized that I was acting like a thirteen-year-old girl, so I got a glass of water from the bathroom, chugged it, checked my hair, and went on my merry way.

And by ‘merry', I mean tense and awkward. The bright side is that when Rainie opened the door and let me in, I channelled the tension and awkwardness into coolness and collectedness. I reminded myself who I was.

Shutting the door behind her, Rainie released another heaving sigh while offering me a sad smile. "You win, Nick Jonas."

I shrugged. "Win what?"

"Me."

Where was I supposed to stand? I was situated in the middle of the room with no real purpose - no chair to sit on, no desk to lean against. I felt oddly exposed and vulnerable.

Those weren't the words I wanted to begin our relationship.

"You're not a prize," I muttered with a frown.

"Aren't I?" she asked with a wry smile, just as a strand of hair fell from behind her ear.

For some reason, I wasn't in the mood for another puzzling conversation with Mystery Girl at two in the morning on New Year's. Possibly because my brain was functioning slower the more tired I became, or possibly because I was fed up with this shit. At first, the mystery intrigued me - now it just pissed me off. Who speaks in fucking puzzles all the time? Puzzles are a piece of crap. Unless you're under the age of seven or above the age of seventy, puzzles are totally useless.

"Hey Nick, want to come over tonight?"

"Nah, sorry, I think I'll just stay in a do a puzzle."

See what I mean? Puzzles are useless. At least on real puzzles, they give you the picture on the outside of the box so you know what the finished product will look like. Nobody gave me a finished picture of Rainie. Nobody told me what I was supposed to be aiming for, and the lack of guidance was aggravating beyond belief.

"No," I told her irritably, fighting hard to control the scowl that was itching to wash over my face. "Honestly, Rainie, I already told you everything I had to say. I'm tired of playing games. I'm not trying to win you. I want you to want to be with me."

But if there was a competition between Jesse and I, then I definitely emerged victorious. Just sayin'. Cedric Diggory was crushed after all. Harry Potter always wins. Never mess with the kid with the bolt-shaped scar. Lightning bolts are badass.

Rainie continued smiling, and I was confused again. Didn't my bubbling irritation irk her at all?

"Why would I ask you here if I didn't want to be with you?" she returned.

I thought about this for a moment. Then I took a step towards her, eyeing her suspiciously as I pointed a finger in accusation. "You better not be teasing me again."

To my surprise, she chuckled. "I'm not."

I knew that we definitely had more to talk about. There was more to discuss, more to work out - but in that moment, all I could think of was that Rainie was finally free, and I could kiss her if I wanted to without feeling guilty. So I did. And maybe it was the wrong choice, but I'm glad I did, because I could tell right away that this kiss was different than the others. I felt something. I didn't know what it was, but it was something good. That was why I kept kissing her. I was sure she didn't kiss Jesse like this. She liked me, and not just because I was Nick Jonas the celebrity. I was Nick Jonas, underaged sex on legs with a killer personality to boot. It was different with us.

Rainie placed her hands on my shoulders when our lips parted. "I'm not like one of your Disney princesses, Jonas. I'm not like Miley, or... or that other one." (Selena. She meant Selena). "And I'm not like Pep."

I shook my head quickly, breathing from my mouth. "I never asked you to be."

I kissed her again because I wanted to. Extra points were given to Rainie for allowing me to regain control of her upper lip. When I concentrated, I could kind of hear harps playing in the background. By angels with golden halos. There were trumpets, too. There was a fucking heavenly orchestral parade in my head. And Rainie's hair felt like a cloud. I'd waited so long to touch her hair.

But wait. ‘I'm not like Pep' - what the hell was that supposed to mean? Was that a sneaky attack on Pep, or was that a condescending way to remind me that my choice of friends was sub-par? Rainie was stressing all the wrong words tonight. Did she really think that after nine months, I hadn't yet realized that was she was unlike everyone else? Didn't she realize that that was why I was drawn to her? If she was anything like Pep and that was what I wanted, I would have said ‘fuck you' to Rainie a long time ago and gone for Pep instead.

Obviously.

This irked me. I pulled away. "Why would I want you to be?"

Confusion washed over her face. When she remembered what we'd been discussing before the (mind-blowing) kiss, she stammered, "It's just... you spend so much time with her, it's hard not to think..." She shook her head. "Never mind. It doesn't matter."

But it did. It mattered to me.

"Is this Nicholas Jerry Jonas?" Pep asked when she answered her phone.

I chuckled, leaning against the closed door in my own hotel room. "Yep."

"Still awake at this ungodly hour?"

"Mm hmm."

"Calling me?"

"I waited until it was January first in both our time zones," I said proudly. It was true. It was 3:04 a.m. in New York.

She giggled before saying, "Let me just switch rooms." I could almost picture her holding the phone away from her mouth as she yelled to her family, "Just a sec! It's Nick!" There was shuffling on the line, and I waited patiently. Finally she returned with a breathless, "Hi."

"Happy New Year, Pepper."

"Happy New Year," she repeated.

It's funny that sometimes, just from the sound of a person's voice, you can hear what they look like. It doesn't make sense when it's put into words, but it's true. I could hear Pep glowing.

With a smile, I inquired, "How are the grandparents?"

"Old. No fun. It's okay though, me and Carter are playing President with our cousins."

"Way to ring in the new year."

"Hey," she laughed. "Dick Clark called and asked me to perform on his show, but I'd already made these plans. I'm sorry you didn't get any other New Year's invitations, Nick."

I sucked in a breath. "Actually, I did."

"From who?"

Still smiling, I replied, "From Rainie."

"And you're calling me when you could be with her?" Pep demanded in disbelief.

"I had to check up on you," was my excuse. "Grandparents throw the wildest parties. Anything can happen. Had to make sure you were still breathing."

There was a pause. Eventually, Pep blurted out, "So what happened?"

"Well..." I trailed off, smirking at the suspense. "She broke up with Jesse."

Pep gasped. I always thought that the only purpose of a gasp was when the nerdy (but beautiful) girl finally got revenge on the bitchy cheerleader at the end of 90's movies. But I was wrong - this was a genuine gasp, and I can't say I didn't enjoy the dramatic effect it added to my miraculous tale.

"And..." I added before she could say anything, "... we're basically dating."

"What?!" Pep cried. "How did this happen?!"

"I don't know!" I exclaimed. I pushed myself away from the door and walked further into the room, realizing that I was still smiling as I looked into the mirror. "She called me and told me, so I went to see her."

"So she breaks up with one boyfriend, and then twenty minutes later she's got another one?"

It was my turn to gasp. (I liked the way it sounded). "Don't ruin this for me. This is good, Pep."

"I know," she agreed. "But I just..."

She didn't sound as excited for me as I'd expected.

"It seems really fast. Maybe you should give her time to get over Jesse," she suggested.

Pep and her shitty advice. Tsk, tsk.

"What's to get over? She's fine. She was happy tonight."

"But she just broke up with him. It's barely even sunk in. Have you guys even talked about this?"

All I wanted was to call Pep, wish her a Happy New Year, and tell her how great my New Year was starting off. I didn't need this aggravation, not from her.

"Sort of. There wasn't really time," I answered absently. "What's to discuss? I like her, she likes me, we can finally be together."

"What will your parents say?"

I scoffed. "I'll deal with it later."

"What about her sex life?"

"What about it?"

"Well... she has one. You don't."

I sighed in annoyance. "Yeah, we haven't really gone over that yet."

"What about when you guys are seen together in public? Everyone knows she dated Jesse. You'll get a bad rep!" Pep pointed out.

"We can be sneaky about it," I assured her.

"What about all the times she's snubbed you? She goes from hot to cold all the time, how can you be sure-"

"Who are you, Katy Perry?" I interrupted angrily. "Stop questioning me! I'll deal with it later, okay?"

Another silence. Pep asked in a small voice, "Is this why you called me?"

"I called to wish you a Happy New Year." I paused. "And to tell you about Rainie."

"So you're really together?"

I began to remove my shoes once I'd sat on the bed. "I think so."

The next silence lasted longer. The silences were starting to worry me. I'd never had uncomfortable silences with Pep before. It wasn't her style. Nothing was uncomfortable with her.

After what seemed like forever, she asked, "Are you happy, Nick?"

"Uh..." I trailed off as I thought about it. Rainie had confused me, and I still wasn't entirely sure where we stood, but I was better off than I had been three hours before - right? "Uh, yeah."

And then, even though Pep couldn't see me, I froze as I stared at the lamp on the nightstand, my mind reeling.

Did I just stutter?

I never stuttered. Stuttering was for the weak. For people who didn't think things through. For people who didn't have enough to say, so they filled up silences with words like ‘uh' and ‘um' and long pauses.

There was no way in hell I hadn't thought this through. Jesus, I'd been thinking this through for almost three hundred days!

"Okay," Pep said, sounding resigned. "Then I'm happy for you. I hope it works out."

As if I was getting revenge on myself for stuttering, I announced with conviction, "It will."

"I better get back to my card game."

"Okay."

My gaze remained fixated on the light bulb in the lamp.

Another silence. "... bye, Nick."

I suppose I should have instigated the goodbyes, but I was too lost in my thoughts. To make it up to her, I said quietly, "Happy New Year, munchkin."

And it would be happy. There wasn't a reason to question why it wouldn't be... right?

My high was gone as quick as it had arrived, and it was all because of the stutter.

End Notes:
I think this chapter and the next few will be kind of cool - maybe you'll see a bit of a change in Nick. I'm not promising anything of course, because come on, it's NICK. But maybe he'll come around :)
The next chapter is really entertaining me as I write it, so I hope you guys like it. I think it's in my top three favourite chapters for this story. It's called "Broseph's Rules of Brohood". I'll finish it this weekend and post it ASAP - I'm trying to get as much writing done as I can before I have to force myself to study for my finals. My plan is to get chapter 28 out as well as the third installment of LIL before I have to live in the library and spend all of my life savings on caffeinated beverages to keep myself awake. I believe in myself! I can do it.
Baha. Okay, thank you for reading :)
PS. Katy Perry, of course. I think that's one of the first times I've used an up-to-date song reference aside from I'm on a boat.
PPS. Wow, I almost didn't get to post this... I have to leave at 1, so the plan was to update before then, but I was accidentally sidetracked listening to ‘The Climb' over and over on iTunes. My goal is to become desensitized to that song so I don't have to cry when I hear it - according to my iTunes I've listened to it eight times today and it's not even one o'clock yet. And the second verse kills me every time. Oh Miley. You GET me.
Day 311: Broseph's Rules of Brohood by The archive

Day Three Hundred and Eleven.

What confused me was that three weeks later, I still didn't know where I stood with Rainie. The phone call I'd shared with Pep on New Year's had worried me. I wondered if maybe Rainie wasn't ready to hop back into another relationship so soon, or if she'd flake out on me within the first month. For this reason, I didn't put any pressure on our relationship in its beginning stages. I never questioned her on what we were.

But I really wanted to know.

It would have been especially helpful to put a label on our relationship the night of my mother's potluck. Why? Well, because Kevin decided to invite Jesse, who was his new wingman now that they were both single. The problem was that my mom had secretly given me permission to invite Rainie, and I couldn't have both of them in the same house. I'd told mom that Rainie was just a friend, and since I technically couldn't call her my girlfriend, I had no way to explain to Kevin why he couldn't invite Jesse. I couldn't ask Rainie for advice because I didn't want her to know that Jesse had been invited. I couldn't ask Joe for advice because it would require telling him that Rainie and I were sort of an item, and he would probably smack me upside the head. The only one left was Pep, and she told me if Rainie was really over Jesse and ready for a new relationship, it wouldn't matter.

This is the reason Pep's advice is complete shit. It's useless to me. What was I supposed to make of that?

Instead, I followed my gut and told Kevin that I had invited Rainie specifically for him. She was single and looking, and inviting Jesse to the same barbeque would only ruin what he could develop with Rainie.

When I told Pep, she rolled her eyes and laughed at me. Not only did I have to keep away from Miley the entire night, but I had created for myself a new task: to keep Rainie away from Kevin. I had dug myself a rather large hole. A trench, if you will.

To be honest, I was genuinely surprised (and genuinely relieved) when Selena and her family didn't show up at my doorstep carrying a bowl of potato salad. For a while, I had truly suspected that my mother was conspiring against me to ruin my life with ex-girlfriends.

"What's this for?" my mom asked with a laugh as I wrapped my arms around her and propped my chin on her shoulder. She returned the hug half-heartedly, her hands filled with plastic plates and cutlery.

I gave her a warm smile. "I just wanted to."

The real reason was that I was thankful, so thankful that Miley was the only ex in my life tonight when my mother could have bestowed on me even more misfortune.

The great thing about my mom is that I know exactly what to say to her in order to actually see her heart melt. It's strange that having four sons didn't toughen her up. Whenever I did something nice, yet simple, her eyes would well up with tears.

"Oh, Nick," she breathed, tilting her head to the side with affection. I was feeling good about myself until the tears vanished and she thrust the paper plates into my hand. "Go put these outside on the table."

Defeated, I did as I was told. I was heading to the backyard anyways; that's where the party was. There wasn't an enormous crowd, but there were enough people to cause me to retreat to a corner and observe everyone's interactions. The group wasn't small enough for me to participate actively. Miley's parents were present along with Miley and her sisters. Pep, Carter and their parents had arrived. And then there were a couple of families that I didn't know too well because they were friends with my parents - they had young children who were running around with Elvis.

There was a giant table set up near the back of the house where my mother was compiling all the food for a buffet-style of serving. While my dad worked the grill with a couple of his buddies and Kevin served drinks, the rest of the guests (including Joe, the lazy schmuck) sat around on the patio and talked. I had to laugh - already, Pep had a small baby in her arms. I didn't even know which family it belonged to, but she'd managed to locate and steal a baby in less than five minutes. Leave it to Pep.

I winked at her after setting up the plates and jogged back inside to get myself a Coke. Just as I pulled one out of the refrigerator, there was a knock on the door. My stomach knotted, fearing that my mother had invited Selena after all. Upon opening the door, I heaved a sigh and smiled broadly. It was only Rainie.

"It's you," I breathed.

She looked at me like I was acting weird before stepping inside. "It's me," she agreed.

My mother was in the kitchen, but otherwise, no one was in the house. Because the coast was clear, I shut the door and leaned forward to give Rainie a kiss. Which she returned. I still hadn't gotten used to that.

"So who's here? Anyone I know?" she asked as her purse fell from her shoulder to her forearm.

I shrugged. "You know Miley?"

She shook her head. "Not really."

"You know my brothers."

She nodded, looking deflated. "Camilla and Danielle aren't here, I guess."

I shook my head. "No, but Pep's here!" I gave her a smile, meaning to excite her. She wasn't excited.

"Of course she is," Rainie said dryly.

I shrugged helplessly, placing my hand on her lower back and guiding her towards the back door. "Don't worry, everyone's dece. I'll introduce you."

"Dece?"

I wanted to hit myself. Kevin and his damn abbreviations were consuming my speech. "Decent," I corrected myself.

I would not get sucked into this abbreviation trend. I'd take a permanent vow of silence before I let that happen.

As soon as we stepped onto the patio together, Joe materialized in front of us with a fake smile. "Hey, Rainie. Good to see you," he greeted her while giving her a hug. While they were in an embrace, he glared at me, informing me that he did not approve of my guest at all.

He was probably jealous that he didn't have a guest to bring. Or, from the way his eyes were shooting daggers at me, he was upset that I hadn't notified him earlier that Rainie was showing up. Joe had proved to be an unhelpful and unsupportive confidante in the past; it wasn't my fault I had to keep things from him.

"Rainie!" Kevin exclaimed, thrusting a bottle of beer into someone's hands and making his way to us. Oh snap. I hadn't expected him to pounce on her so soon. "I'm glad you're here!" he cried, throwing his arms around her while she laughed in surprise. "How have you been?"

Rainie had barely gotten the word ‘Fine' out of her mouth before Kevin interrupted with, "Great! I was just thinking about you a few minutes ago; my parents' friend asked for a Sex on the Beach, and I was like, hey! That's Rainie's favourite drink!"

Well, fuck me sideways. I never knew that. It was also mildly upsetting that Kevin was talking to my (sort of) girlfriend about sex (on the beach). I didn't care if it was a type of alcoholic beverage - if Rainie was going to have sex on a beach, it was gonna be with me.

"Do you want one, bee-tee-dub? I'm pro at bartending. I can mix a drink like nobody's biz."

(Side-note: Bee-tee-dub = BTW = by the way. Biz = business - you know what? Fuck it. I was sick of explaining Kevin. He had nothing to say worth explaining).

Rainie was obviously well aware of Kevin's inability to keep his trap zipped, so she simply nodded in response to his query, knowing that she'd be interrupted if she spoke.

"C'mere, I'll make one for you," he urged. "And I'll introduce you to everyone, too."

Fucking pieball. That was my job. I knew I shouldn't have told Kevin that I invited Rainie for him. Less than five minutes after she'd arrived, I already knew this was bad news. (Side-note: What an idiot. When was the last time I'd done something for Kevin's benefit? He should have known better than to believe me). Thankfully, as Rainie was dragged away, she gave me a pleading look that settled me. As long as she was just as unimpressed with Kevin as I was, we'd be okay.

Still, I was disheartened, so I went to sit with Pep, who was softly cooing to the baby.

"Isn't he the cutest, Nick?" she asked with a grin.

I eyed the baby cautiously. He was looking at me with interest. I shifted my gaze to Pep. "The very cutest," I agreed monotonously.

"His name is Braden. Isn't that right? Yes, yes it is!" She scrunched up her freckled nose and let the baby grab onto her index finger. I couldn't help but smile - Pep could get excited about anything. Like a baby. Sure, they're small and cute and all, but they don't really do anything exciting. Real people are ten times as exciting as babies.

(Except for Kevin. Kevin is not exciting. If I kept telling myself this, I had no reason to worry about Rainie falling for him while he showed her the ropes of the Jonas household).

"You wanna hold him?" she offered.

"Nah, I'm good-" I began, but before I could finish, Pep was transferring the bundle of chub into my arms. I sat stiffly for a moment or two, frozen in place.

"Cradle his head, like this," Pep instructed, readjusting my arm to support his neck. The baby stared at me with wide eyes. They were blue, and they looked like Pep's eyes. Jesus Christ. This baby was like three months old, and already he was trying to own my soul with his eyes. Terrifying. I hoped brown eyes were a dominant gene; otherwise my children were getting their eyes dyed. (Side-note: Was that possible? I made a mental note to check it out before having unprotected sex).

I glanced at Pep for reassurance. "What am I supposed to do with this?" I asked, utterly lost. I wasn't used to babies. I remembered when Frankie was born; I was never too interested in holding him. He looked miniature and fragile, and I didn't want to be the reason for breaking my brother.

"Just hold him, silly," she returned. Her head loomed over my shoulder so that we could both stare at the tiny human in my arms.

"I finally understand the meaning of ‘button-nose'," I murmured in awe.

"Look at his fingers," Pep pointed out. "They're so small and chubby!"

"I like how his wrist has rolls in it," I added.

We continued to stare in disbelief at the baby, pointing out all of his features to each other, until I finally had to admit that maybe babies weren't so boring after all. I could marvel over this kid for a long time, even if he had nothing at all to say.

"Nick, he's smiling at you!" Pep exclaimed with a giggle.

Instead of returning the smile to the baby, I tore my gaze from him for a moment to glance at Pep. She was so mesmerized, it was kind of funny. Not funny. Endearing. Just a little bit.

"So cute!" crooned a voice from behind me. I turned my head quickly to see Rainie standing with Kevin, observing Pep and I and the baby.

Pep leaned away from me and gave Rainie a smile. "Hi, Rainie."

"Hey, you," she replied pleasantly. "Whatcha got there, Nick?"

I raised my eyebrows and looked at the baby again. I hate when people waste their breath on dumb questions to make conversation. Had she honestly never seen one before? It was pretty obvious what I was holding.

"His name is Braden... right?" I asked, looking to Pep for confirmation. She nodded.

"Aw," Rainie cooed, placing an arm on the back of my chair to get a closer look. "Is this your brother, Pep?"

Pep couldn't help it. Her immediate reflexes told her to shrug and answer casually, "No, my brother's playing Frisbee with Joe."

Rainie glanced at Carter in confusion. It was then that I remembered that we had told Rainie so long ago that Pep's mother was expecting a child. It only made sense that this was the child in question. Pep caught my eye and I gave her an urging glare.

"But this is my new brother," she corrected herself awkwardly. "Yeah... I love him."

Good one, Pepper. Not unbelievable at all. That's just great.

The baby started to squirm in my arms, and I must have donned an expression of horror, because Pep laughed and said she'd take him back. I watched her roll up the long sleeves of her sweater as she prepared herself, and it was as I was handing the baby to her that I remarked, "Hey, is that my shirt?"

Pep looked down in surprise. "Yeah, I guess. You left it at my house a while ago. I'll give it to you when I leave tonight."

I shrugged uncaringly, and I opened my mouth to ask Rainie what she wanted to do when I realized that she was eyeing Pep and I curiously. If I wasn't such a moron, I would have refrained from pointing out that Pep was borrowing my clothes in front of her. It was lucky that Joe wasn't in the vicinity, or he would have obnoxiously shouted, "Awkward!"

I cleared my throat and suggested to her, "You wanna play Frisbee?"

"Yeah, let's go," Kevin answered for her. "People can get their own drinks from now on; I'm done." He set his beer on the table and walked with Rainie to the grass. From behind him, I gave him the dirtiest look I could muster. Jerk. He may not have been aware that he was doing it, but he was stealing my Rainie.

Just as I was standing to join them and ‘wow' them with my sharp Frisbee skills, a brown-haired, evil beauty approached.

"Hey, stranger," Miley said with a reluctant smile.

I sank back into the chair, my smile fake and weak. "Miley. What's up?"

Rather than answer my question, she gave Pep a genuine, bright Miley-smiley. (Side-note: That's what they're called. No one's got a bigger Miley-smiley than Miley). "Oh my God, I haven't seen you in forever!" she cried.

"Yeah!" Pep agreed, gently rocking the baby back and forth. "How are you? What's going on?"

And so, for the next minute and a half, Pep and Miley engaged in polite yet boring conversation while I tried to inch behind Miley to make my way to the Frisbee game. Unfortunately, she was standing almost directly in front of me, making it hard to escape from my position on the chair without her noticing. So annoying.

Was I listening to their conversation? I would say that on a scale from yes to no, I was barely. Certain words caught my attention, like when Pep said ‘Nick'. One word of Miley's caused my stomach to knot, and that word was ‘Avery'.

With that, I snapped to attention and stood up to include myself in the conversation.

"I apologized!" I insisted out of the blue.

Both Pep and Miley glanced at me like what I'd just said was incredibly unrelated to the discussion.

"To Avery," I added, head hung low. "I said I was sorry."

"Three weeks later," Miley continued with a frown. "Do you know how long it took me to find a girl who was perfect for you?"

She waited for me to answer. I shrugged. "Probably thirty seconds as you scanned through your cell phone contacts - Avery was your backup dancer."

Miley rolled her eyes. "You know, you're such a jerk sometimes. Would it have killed you to think about someone besides yourself for once?"

"Ouch!" I exclaimed, furrowing my brow. "That's not fair. You weren't even there."

"She told me what happened."

"You don't know my side of the story."

"Nothing you have to say could justify leaving your date stranded at a party with no one she knows!" Miley argued.

"Why are you sticking your nose into this? This doesn't concern you."

"Because she was devastated, Nick!"

"She was not," I scoffed. "We'd been on two dates!"

"And that's the stupidest thing you've ever done!"

Wrong. The stupidest thing I had ever done was kissing Pep to make Rainie jealous. Good try, Miley.

"Don't leave," I instructed to Pep, who had been slowly backing away as our argument grew heated. I locked eyes again with Miley. "What do you want me to do? She doesn't want to talk to me."

"Can you blame her?"

Exasperated, I threw my arms up in the air. "Why are you so mad about something that can't be fixed?"

"Because you didn't even try to fix it! It's so typical of you to avoid the problem until it goes away. Pretend like it didn't happen. This is exactly why we broke up, because you refused to confront any of our issues-"

"Hey," I interrupted her firmly. I grabbed a hold of Pep's shirt (or should I say my shirt) as she again tried to back away. If she left, I'd be all alone, and Miley would be even worse. She was holding herself back around Pep; I could tell. The proton had to stay with me.

I didn't have a follow-up to what I'd just said, but I didn't watch to re-hatch what I had thought was laid to rest two years prior. I sighed as Miley folded her arms threateningly across her chest. "Miles, let it go. I made a mistake, that's all."

"And you hurt one of my friends, Nick," she said, toning down the volume and anger in her voice. "I tried to do something nice for you, and you didn't take it seriously, so you hurt me as well. I wanna be friends with you again, but not if you won't even try." She shrugged sadly, letting her eyes fall to my chin. "Maybe we're just better off apart."

I paused to let her words sink in. She looked me in the eyes fleetingly before rejoining the crowd on the patio. My shoulders sank as I looked at Pep. She was pretending to be completely immersed in the baby, but I knew that nothing had escaped her attention.

Heaving another sigh, I asked, "You wanna tell me I'm a jerk?"

She raised her eyes from Braden, her face sincere. She eyed me cautiously before replying, "I don't think I need to tell you what you already know."

Once I got half a can of Coke and some appetizers into my system, I wasn't feeling so bad anymore. I joined the Ultimate Frisbee game and carried my team to victory. To make myself feel better by convincing myself that it made up for me acting like a jerk before, I told Carter he won the MVP award.

However, Miley still wouldn't look at me, so I figured it wasn't enough. There weren't enough chairs as we all gathered for dinner, so I leaned against the back of the house and observed from afar as I ate. Rainie and Kevin were getting along far too swimmingly. I didn't approve, but she seemed to be having a good time, and I couldn't take that away from her. She was prettier when she smiled.

Halfway through my meal, I was struck with a brilliant idea, and I needed to tell someone about it. I scanned the area for Pep and found her on the buffet table against the wall. She, too, had been too late to claim a chair, and had cleared an area on the table to sit on. I made my way towards her with a smile on my face, which she returned all too willingly.

"What are you thinking?" she asked, her smile growing.

"What makes you say that?"

She chuckled. "You look so pleased with yourself."

Pep always knew.

"Here's my plan," I told her, leaning in close so that no one would overhear. "I can maybe make things up to Avery with your help."

"Why should I help you?"

"Because you're a good person," I replied without a second thought.

Pep took a bite of her hamburger, her pupils shifting back and forth in contemplation as she chewed. "Okay. What's your plan?"

I nodded in delight. "You know that show you and Lance bought tickets for?"

"The comedy show? Yeah."

"You said the humour was Office-like, remember?"

"I said I assumed it was Office-like-"

"Whatever," I interrupted her impatiently. Keeping my voice low, I murmured, "You're not dating Lance anymore, so your ticket is up for grabs. I'll give it to Avery."

Pep frowned, perplexed.

"Think about it. Avery loves The Office; she's always pulling out ‘that's what she said' jokes. She'd have a great time. Plus, she's single. Lance is single. Lance is way too interested in celebrities - case in point: me - and Avery has connections. They're perfect for each other."

Pep mulled this over. I gave her time, nodding my head in encouragement. It was a good idea.

"My ex and your ex..." she trailed off thoughtfully.

"It's good, right?" I urged. "Avery won't have to be lonely and resentful, Lance's insatiable need for celebrity gossip will be satisfied, and the world will go on."

A smile crossed her face, slowly but surely. "Nick J, are you doing something for someone else that won't benefit you at all?"

I laughed, pushing her shoulder playfully. "Hey. I'm not that bad."

Pep laughed along with me, teasing me for a while before consenting, "Okay. Let's do it, then. It might just work."

We were secretly working out the details of transferring the ticket to Avery when Rainie's voice interjected, "Am I interrupting something?"

I looked at her in confusion, shaking my head. She pointedly glared at me, and that was when I realized what it must look like. Pep was sitting on the table, and I was standing between her spread legs as we laughed and murmured things to one another. Yeah. It looked bad.

Immediately, I stepped away, clearing my throat in the process. "We were just talking about Pep's boyfriend."

"Ex-boyfriend," Pep corrected me.

"Same deal," I brushed it off. I swallowed, turning my attention to Rainie. "Have a good supper?"

She nodded brusquely. "Do you wanna show me where the bathroom is?"

"Yep. Sure," I agreed awkwardly.

Just before I opened the door, I glanced at Pep one last time. She pushed her plate away even though it was half-full of food. Her legs dangled lifelessly off the table, and I saw her shoulders raise and lower as she sighed.

I wondered briefly if, within a thirty-second exchange, I'd made the happy proton turn sad.

The month of January meant that the night sky popped up early. By the time everyone was finishing up their meals, the sun had already set. Mom put Joe and me on cleaning duty while everyone else retreated indoors.

"What the hell is this, Nick?" Joe demanded as soon as we were alone. He was stuffing paper plates into a garbage bag while I wiped down the surfaces of the tables with a damp cloth.

"What?"

"You know what. What are you doing with Rainie?"

I shrugged. "I invited her for supper, that's all."

"Why? Have you pounced on her already? I mean, Kevin told me she broke up with Jesse a while ago, but... you have, haven't you?" He was trying to analyze my facial expression. The problem was that it was dark out, and my face was void of expression, anyway.

"We're not officially dating," I told him as casually as possible. "We're seeing each other."

"Oh, God," he groaned, far too dramatically for the situation at hand. If the earth was cracked down the middle and he was seconds away from falling into a pit of molten lava, then his ‘Oh, God' would be reasonable. Otherwise, no.

"What was that for?"

"Nick, you're such a fuckwit," he insulted me. "You never date another bro's ex-girlfriend."

"Jesse McCartney is not my bro," I replied with fervour.

"Well, he's mine, and so are you."

"Enlightening, Broseph," I mocked him. "These rules don't apply. They weren't in love or anything. I'm sure Jesse's fine without her."

"Doesn't matter. Rules are rules."

"I'm breaking them."

Joe threw a used, balled-up napkin at my head. It landed inside the collar of my shirt. With disgust, I pulled it out and threw it in the open garbage bag that he was holding.

"What would you say if I asked Miley out?" Joe asked. "It's direct violation of the rules of brohood."

"It's different. You're actually my bro through the unfortunately unbreakable bond of genetics."

"Fuck genetics. Bros are bros," Joe insisted.

I was starting to lose track of where this conversation was heading.

"No, brothers are bros," I corrected him.

"What about brothers from another mother, huh?"

Taking a break from wiping the table for a second, I straightened my back and stared at him. "I can't follow what's going on here, but I'm going to assure you that I don't see Jesse as a bro."

"It doesn't matter. He's your bro whether you like it or not. He's Kevin's bro, and he's my bro, and you're our bro, so he's your bro by association."

Good God. This was the most tangled web I'd ever experienced. I'd heard the word ‘bro' so many times in the last two minutes that it had lost all meaning whatsoever. It had become a meaningless one-syllable animal noise, like ‘quack'.

"I never chose to associate with you cretins," I mumbled in my defence.

Joe sighed, using his forearm to drag all of the garbage from one side of the table to the end, where it tumbled into the garbage bag. "You wanna know what happens when you go against the Bro Code, Nick?"

Rolling my eyes, I suggested sarcastically, "The chair? Guillotine? Chinese water torture?"

"I'm serious."

"I'm gonna go with nothing, because the Bro Code isn't real."

"Oh, it's real," he assured me gravely. "The bro you've wronged gets a free for all, and none of your other bros can save you. A punch to the face, a stab in the back-"

"And then the real law will step in and all of you will rot in prison for aiding the bastard." I mulled over my words for a moment before adding matter-of-factly, "You're more my bro than his, anyway. We've been bros for seventeen years. It doesn't matter what I do; you should be on my side over anyone else's."

Joe shook his head sadly. "I can't, bro. Rules of brohood. I have to abide by the law."

None of it made sense. I would never break up with Rainie simply because it was against the rules outlined in the imaginary and illegitimate ‘Bro Code'. When had Jesse and I had any one-on-one bro-bonding? He was better friends with Kevin than he was with me, and I was better friends (and lovers) with Rainie than with Jesse.

Hey, that reminded me. "What about Kevin? He's been flirting with Rainie all night."

"Don't put the blame on someone else," Joe snapped. "You broke the code. And what do you think Mom and Dad are gonna say, huh? She's like two times your age."

"Five years!" I exclaimed in exasperation. "If anyone mentions the age gap again, I'll flip my lid."

Joe snorted. "Flip your lid? Oh, good God, help us all - Nick might flip his lid!"

I rolled my eyes as I continued to wipe down the tables.

"Dude, it's true. Where do you see this going?"

"The same place I see all my other relationships going," I answered calmly.

"... in the garbage?" Joe questioned innocently, pointing to the garbage bag he was holding.

"Fuck off. No, I mean I see it going far."

Joe sighed. "But what about..."

I gave him a few seconds to finish. When he didn't, I urged, "What about what?"

He hesitated before concluding, "I just don't think Rainie's right for you. That's all."

I shook my head. "You don't know her like I do."

He wasn't done yet. "You've been obsessed with this broad for so long. What if you've missed out on someone else?"

"What if she's the one I've been waiting for?" I returned.

"You're just a kid. You're not supposed to have ‘the one' yet."

I was seriously sick of the word ‘kid' being thrown in my face like it was the worst thing I could possibly be. Sorry for being born after you, Joe. It was, after all, my decision to make mom and dad wait three years before conceiving again. I didn't blame them, by the way. With a mindless chatterbox like Kevin and a moron like Joe, it's a wonder they tried again. Third time's the charm, they say.

"Just because you let ‘the one' out of your grasp, doesn't mean I can't have ‘the one', either," I retorted.

Joe was upset that I'd indirectly referenced Camilla, so I received a plastic cup to the face. (Side-note: What was it about my face that made people want to throw things at it? I'd noticed that it was a recent trend, and I couldn't say I approved).

I scowled, muttering, "Stop it." I picked up the cup from where it had landed on the table and whipped it at him. If I had a wand, I'd anti-alohomora his mouth and petrificus totalus him until the next morning.

Joe took a menacing step towards me, and for a second I was afraid he was going to pound in my skull with the flimsy, plastic cup. At the last minute, he stopped himself and retreated. From the look on his face, it had taken a lot of effort to restrain himself. "I really think this is a bad idea, Nick."

I gave him an indifferent glance, up and down. "I think those shoes are a bad idea, but I keep my mouth shut."

"You're a dick," he muttered, gathering the last of the garbage and heading inside.

But really, who wears shiny silver converse shoes and expects people to take them seriously? Christianity wouldn't even exist if Jesus paraded around the Middle East in silver converse shoes. Suck on that, Broseph.

After Joe and I got Mom to approve our cleaning job, we were allowed to join the younger crowd in the basement while the older crowd socialized upstairs. While skipping the last step with an upbeat hop, I noted that everyone was sitting around the coffee table as Kevin poured drinks into shot glasses.

"Grab a piece of floor, guys," he told us, "We're playing ‘I Never'." Kevin proceeded to fill up shot glasses - one for each of us.

Motherfucker.

Joe's eyes lit up enthusiastically as he exclaimed, "Shotty going first!" He leapt to the table, taking a seat in between Miley and Carter.

Wait a minute. Carter was here? This wasn't legal. Now, I know I'm not of legal drinking age, but this kid was fourteen, and Kevin was filling up his shot glass just as substantially as everyone else's. How early do kids start these days?! Thank God Frankie was upstairs with Miley's younger sister playing some sort of game that involved ‘training' Elvis to jump over a basketball.

"Take a seat, Nick," Rainie said with a sly smirk.

I shook my head slowly and suspiciously. "I don't play ‘I Never'. That's a girls' game."

Kevin chuckled. "You're just afraid that you'll never get to drink."

While everyone proceeded to laugh at me, I cut them off with, "I don't play drinking games in general, okay? They're stupid. And there are adults upstairs."

"Can't hold your liquor, Nicky?" Miley taunted me.

Can't hold your tongue, Miley?

Ignoring her, I whined, "What if they come down here?"

"Then you kids hide the shot glasses under the table while Rainie and I take responsibility for the vodka," Kevin answered matter-of-factly.

Why did this seem so staged? It was as if it had been planned long before I got here. Why does no one tell me these things?!

"Vodka is by far the worst substance in the entire world," I shot back. "There's no way I'm drinking it."

"Then you better hope no one calls you out during ‘I Never'," Joe replied. "Sit down, you pussy."

If Joe didn't watch out, I'd pull his lips up over his head and kick him into a wall.

Joe patted my back as I took a seat next to him and happily chirped, "Don't pout, Princess. It's more fun with more people."

I shook my head at him and turned to Carter. "Do you agree with this?" I asked him quietly. He only smiled at me. What a little bitch. If he was a Weasley like I thought, there was no doubt in my mind that he was Percy the traitor.

"Does everyone know how to play?" Rainie asked. "Someone begins a sentence with ‘I never' and they say something they've never done. Everyone at the table who's done it before has to drink. For example, I could say... hmm." She was cute when she was in deep thought, but I was too busy to care. I was busy realizing that Rainie was the one who had suggested this game, and Kevin was playing along merrily because he was trying so hard to be with her.

Man, it was such a bad idea to tell him that I'd invited Rainie for his enjoyment. I can't even explain how badly it failed. Next time, more thought was required.

Rainie finally thought of something and continued, "I could say, ‘I never got a record deal', and you three and Miley would have to drink."

Joe had his mouth wide open and the shot glass three inches from his lips as Rainie grabbed a hold of his forearm and forced him to lower it. "That was an example," she told him. "You shottied first, remember?"

Joe seemed almost disappointed, but he obeyed. "Okay, me first. Let me think. Uh... I never... oh wait, I did that."

I exchanged a glance with Pep from across the table, shaking my head and rolling my eyes. She giggled quietly.

"I know!" Joe cried after much contemplation. He turned to me with an evil grin, and my heart sank. Already I could taste the vodka sliding painfully down my throat. I could feel the unsettling warmth in my stomach. The dizziness in my head. And he hadn't even spoken yet. With his lips curled as the ultimate sign of revenge, Joe announced, "I never disobeyed the Bro Code."

That was it. As soon as I acquired a chainsaw, Joe was going down in the worst way possible.

"Joe, you just eliminated half the people at this table," Kevin pointed out. "The Bro Code only applies to guys."

"Thank you!" I agreed, my fear washing away.

"I know what I said," Joe replied. Again, he looked at me. Everyone looked at me. The fear was back.

"Oh, come on," I pleaded in frustration. "It's hard to judge. The Bro Code doesn't have written rules."

"Every bro knows the Bro Code unless that bro is a girl," Joe told me seriously. Kevin nodded from the head of the table.

"Knowing and abiding by the rules of the Bro Code is your entrance to manhood," Carter added. Little bastard. Percy Weasley indeed. Fucker.

"Fine. I'll drink," I snapped. "But that's it. I'm not getting drunk with my parents upstairs."

"One shot might do the trick," Joe snickered. "Drink up, bro."

I sighed, staring helplessly at the full shot glass in front of me. With a frown, I visually measured it with Joe's.

"Wait a second. Mine is bigger than Joe's!"

"That's what he said!" Carter chirped. Miley burst into laughter, followed by Pep, followed by even Joe.

"I'm serious," I said, failing to see the humour in this situation. "I want a smaller shot glass."

"That's all we have; I checked. Deal with it," Kevin said mercilessly. "Quit being a princess and drink up."

Hesitantly, I placed my thumb and index finger on the glass, bracing myself for the worst experience of my life. I picked it up and dragged it slowly to my mouth, holding my breath so I wouldn't have to smell it. Then, as quickly as possible, I tilted my head back and downed it.

Slamming the empty shot glass on the table, I shut my eyes tightly and stuck out my tongue in disgust. I couldn't imagine a worst after-taste. I would rather eat wood.

"Suck it up," Joe told me. "That'll teach you to go against the Bro Code."

Pep was smiling at me, clearly enjoying herself very much. At least that made one of us.

"Alright, my turn," Miley said. "I already got one. I never took a girl on a date and didn't call her the next day."

I was in the midst of swallowing away the disgustingness as she spoke, so I choked on my own spit before croaking, "Hey! You're singling out the guys again!"

She flashed me a dirty look. "Be thankful I didn't mention stranding the girl on the actual date, Nicky."

Ugh.

"I'm not doing this again," I said firmly.

"Dude, I've done it too," Joe told me. "We'll drink together."

Joe wanted to link arms with me to take the shot, but that was a ritual in which I refused to partake. Kevin refilled my shot glass and I drank it swiftly, forcing it down my throat with (a lot) of effort.

"For a second there, I thought it was coming back up," Pep remarked.

"Fucking nasty shit." I wrinkled my nose and made a face. Crazy Russians. Why the hell did they invent this poison?

"I hope it killed you inside," Miley said sweetly, batting her eyelashes. She leaned back in her chair, declaring, "Rainie's turn."

Rainie propped her forearms on the table and smiled sympathetically at me. "Should I help you out, Nick?"

"Please," I muttered bitterly.

"Mm... but this is so fun," she stated. That was when I knew I'd lost. "I never... had to ask another girl (or guy) to pretend to be my girlfriend (or boyfriend) to get rid of a stalker for me." Rainie shrugged, and all eyes were on me again.

"What?" I asked in confusion. That one actually didn't apply to me.

And then it hit me. Kendall. I'd completely forgotten about her.

This is why I don't play drinking games. It's because they're poorly designed. All other competitive games I can win with ease. Drinking games are just fucking impossible, especially when everyone around the table is out to get you. Even your own almost-girlfriend. Fuck my luck.

With my eyes only on Rainie, I uttered breathily, "I hate you."

She tilted her head seductively to the side. "Drink up, cutie."

I shut my eyes to mentally prepare myself as Kevin poured me another shot with pleasure. "Can I have a chaser?" I inquired.

"No," Kevin answered easily.

"Come on," I begged.

"Take it raw, Nick."

"That's what she said!" Joe piped in with a clap. He said it with such passion that everyone paused to glare at him. He shrunk back in his seat, adding, "It was funny in my head."

Joe's hilarity wasn't making the liquor go down any easier.

As I sat with my shot glass in my hand moments before I took the plunge, I glanced at all three of my enemies. "I just want you to know that when it's my turn, you're all going down." With all seriousness, I enunciated slowly, "I will fuck you up."

They began to argue that I had but one chance to make them take one shot, so it was highly unlikely. Instead of listening, I took the shot. I slammed the glass down again, shaking my head wildly and thinking of simpler times, like when chugging Kool Aid was badass.

"I love his face when he's swallowing," Miley commented.

"And when he shuts his eyes, like it will make it all go away?" Pep added, simpering.

"Yeah! And when he scrunches his nose up and sticks his tongue out," Miley laughed.

Did they not realize that I was in the room? They were speaking of me as if I wasn't there.

"Nick's a vodka virgin," Joe told them good-naturedly. "He's currently being raped."

"I'm not a vodka virgin," I retorted, lightly punching his shoulder.

"Oh yeah!" Joe exclaimed with a smile. "Your cherry was popped last year on Garbo's birthday, right?"

"Yes," I grumbled. Truth be told, I had one large sip of Camilla's vodka tonic, swallowed, wanted to throw up, and instead chugged an entire bottle of Coke to drown out the taste. Everyone watched and laughed, but unfortunately, it was less embarrassing than the time I took a swig of my mother's red wine because I thought it was grape juice and spit it out all over the floor.

What can I say? I'm a manly guy. Beer is my thing. All other drinks are for girls. Except for whiskey, but I haven't made my way there yet. I'm saving it for my wedding night.

"My turn. I got a good one," Kevin said. Even before making his statement out loud, he grabbed my shot glass and started pouring. Jesus Christ, I was going to die. With a goofy grin, he laughed his way through, "I never had a dream about being sold to a slave driver when I was ten!"

"Ha! Let the raping continue!" Joe guffawed.

"Not even fair!" I shouted, and Joe hissed at me to lower my voice. "You're all ganging up on me! There are rules against this, I'm sure!"

"I'm sure there's a rule or two in the Bro Code. But hey - those are just unwritten laws, right?" Joe replied with a smirk.

I can't explain how much I hate when people throw things back in my face. Joe was walking on a rope so thin, if he held so much as a feather between his teeth he'd fall to his death.

I groaned as Kevin slid the shot glass my way. My stomach was turning. Throwing up in front of Rainie was so unappealing to me.

"Guys," I whined, "This is the fourth shot in four minutes."

"I'm so excited to see how this turns out," Miley said quietly, squirming in her seat.

I stared the glass down, taking a deep breath. I could get through this. There wasn't much more they could hold against me, was there? There wasn't much else that I'd done and no one else had. Wasn't this game supposed to be about sexual stuff, anyway? I almost wish we'd approached it from that angle; I would have barely had a shot in my system by now.

The fourth shot was the hardest because I was well aware of what to expect. It sat in the back of my throat for a second or two before I was able to force it down, and then I had to work on forcing back a gag. I don't mean to be racist, but I hate Russia. I hate it. I made a decision to hand out free beer to fans if we ever toured there; just to show them what real alcoholic beverages were supposed to taste like.

Kevin looked next to him. "Your turn, Pep. Should I start refilling Nick's shot glass?"

Pep glanced at me, and I made a conscious effort to open my eyes and plead with her. I shook my head as pathetically as possible. It was my way of begging. Lord, have mercy. Pep, have mercy. Please let me survive the night.

She arched an eyebrow, unimpressed with my pleading. I thought I was done for. I'd have to accept that I acted like a jerk to her when we were in front of Rainie, and this was my punishment.

I couldn't feel the alcohol in my system, but I didn't want to verbalize my begging because I was afraid my words would slur or I'd say something stupid. I hoped Pep could read my eyes. They read desperation.

"I never..." she trailed off, still looking at me.

Please?' I mouthed.

Suddenly, her gaze transferred to Kevin. With a smile, she finished, "... interrupted the President in the middle of a story."

Kevin laughed out loud and obligingly downed the shot, admitting defeat. (Side-note: Obama is a pretty cool guy. The Jonas family wanted excommunicate Kevin when he made that huge mistake, but ol' Mr. Pres let it slide).

The game continued, and as everyone watched Carter and waited for his statement, Pep flashed me a grin. I gave her a sincere nod of thanks. I'd never been so grateful. I always knew she was good for something. When my family (Joe and Kevin), people I used to love (Miley), and people I currently loved (obvious), turned against me, she'd still be on my side. That trusty little proton. I owed her another Coke.

It was probably about an hour later when everyone began to leave. We had given up the drinking game long ago, but before we put down the shot glasses, I had been forced to take two more shots. That was six shots in a matter of fifteen minutes. Do you know what that can do to a guy like me? I was a rock-star and a role model; I didn't have time to drink on a regular basis. I couldn't build up a tolerance. I wouldn't admit it out loud for fear of appearing like an alcohol prude, but it was true.

What was really unfair was that everyone else had had at maximum three shots. Everyone was doing just fine except for me. I made the mistake of standing up to go to the bathroom - good lord, did I ever regret it. It was then that I understand just how much the vodka was affecting me.

For the remainder of the hour, I sat at the table with my head in my hands and tried to keep my mouth shut. When people started to move towards the air hockey station, I laid my cheek on the table and closed my eyes.

"You okay?" Pep asked before she joined the group.

"Bad news bears," I mumbled in reply.

With a giggle, she removed her top layer (my shirt). She balled it up and put it underneath my head as a pillow, patted my shoulder, and skipped off to join the others. I focused on channelling all my energy towards not seeming drunk while nearly passed out on the coffee table in my own basement. If my mother knew the shenanigans I'd gotten into, I'd be forced to do Algebra problems for the rest of my natural-born life.

I opened my eyes some time later to a pair of arms wrapped around my stomach and lips behind my ear.

I received a soft kiss and a gentle squeeze before someone whispered, "Poor Nicky." For a moment, I was confused. Miley called me ‘Nicky', (which I hated), and this was far too intimate a position for Miley and I to be with my almost-girlfriend in the same house. It was when a strand of honey-coloured hair fell in front of my eyes that I realized it was Rainie.

While my eyes fluttered open, she kissed my cheek and propped her chin on my shoulder. Because I was sitting on a stool, I could feel her chest pressed against my back. "Gonna stand up?" she asked softly.

"Why?"

"Everyone's leaving. I think your mom wants her sons upstairs to say goodbye."

Unable to move my head, I shifted my eyes upwards in attempt to see Rainie's beautiful face. "Can you stay?" I murmured.

With that, she snorted unattractively, ruining the sweet, private conversation we'd been having. "No way am I gonna be here when your parents discover how plastered you are."

My soon-to-be girlfriend. So kind. So caring. Not at all distressing.

It was time to force myself up. I sighed and raised my head slowly. As I did so, Rainie removed her arms from around me. When I stood up, I realized it was just the two of us in the basement. I took a moment to blink repeatedly and orient myself before staring at her.

"I'm glad you came," I told her with a smile. Whether it was for affection or for my own support, I can't remember, I put a hand on her shoulder.

She chuckled. "Y'know, I expected you to really come out of your shell when drunk. All you did was lie on the table and groan. I want you sober next time I see you."

"Which will be ta-morrow," I said pointedly.

"Ta-morrow?"

"Ta-morrow," I repeated. Grinning, I closed my eyes in anticipation of a kiss. My hand moved from her shoulder to her hair. Somewhere along the line between soft kisses and a bit of tongue action, I noticed that my fingers were tangled. I pulled away with a pout.

Rainie laughed as she untangled my hand from her hair. "Let's go upstairs. Take a deep breath and try to stand upright in front of your parents."

Halfway up the stairs, I asked her breathlessly, "Kevin didn't come on to you while I wasn't looking, right?"

I couldn't see her face, but I didn't like the way she said, "Don't worry about it."

As soon as we reached the landing, I brought a hand to my face. My cheeks were warm. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror in the hallway - yep, red rosy cheeks. I didn't bother to analyze myself further.

I said a few goodbyes near the front door, trying my hardest to keep my balance. I stumbled every so often, but I didn't think anyone noticed. However, what might have given me away was the insistence in my voice as I said my farewells to the Cyrus family. All was well with her parents and sisters, but when it came to Miley, she ignored me. She hugged Kevin, she hugged Joe, she hugged Frankie, and she hugged my parents, but she completely bypassed me even though I was certain I had my arms open.

"Bye Miley!" I exclaimed as she slipped on her shoes. No response.

"Really glad you came!" No response.

"You look FAB, by the way." No response. Kevin snickered and said abbreviations were something I couldn't pull off.

As a last resort while she was heading out the door, I cried shamelessly, "Say hi to Justy for me!"

(Side-note: The next morning, I can assure you I regretted this).

When I turned around and shook my head sadly, my father was staring at me in confusion. I offered him no explanation.

Pep said a quick goodbye to me and whispered good luck, but the way she leaned towards me was, in my mind, a social cue that she wanted a hug. My mood was improving, anyway, so I pulled her close to me with a smile. I had passed the ‘tired' phase of drinking, and I found myself in the ‘upbeat' phase.

"Thank you for helping me," I slurred in her ear.

I wasn't sure if she knew that I was referring to earlier on during the drinking game, but she giggled, "Shh." Our parents were nearby.

"Pepper..." I drawled lazily.

"Yeah?"

I hadn't really planned to go anywhere with my utterance of her nickname, but she was expecting something from me, so I put my hands on her shoulders, distanced us, and told her as seriously as I possibly could, "It's really important to me that Lance doesn't call you Pepsi. It's wrong."

With a half-smile, she nodded. "He doesn't call me Pepsi."

"I hate it."

The smile faded. "Hate... Pepsi?"

"You're Pepper," I answered her, shutting my eyes in frustration. Why wasn't she following me? In my mind, I was being very clear.

"Okay..." she trailed off, perplexed.

"No, but only I'm allowed to call you that."

She put a hand on my wrist and tore it away from her shoulder. "Lance calls me Sarah."

"I hate that too."

Rolling her eyes, Pep asked, "Well, what do you want him to call me?"

"I don't want him to call you."

She shrugged, averting her eyes. "He doesn't anymore."

I nodded slowly, refusing to shift my eyes from her face. I was thinking.

It took Pep a while to realize that I had no intention of moving my other hand from her other shoulder, so she finally looked at me again and asked, "What?"

"You wanna stay with me for a while?" I asked quietly. It was sincere, too. Sincerity is typically associated with drunkenness.

She opened her mouth to respond, but instead she turned her head to look for her parents. "Ready, Sarah?" asked her father.

"Um... Rainie's waiting for you," Pep muttered to me. Without another word, she backed away, and my hand fell from her shoulder. I watched her as she walked out the door and her mother put an arm around her. She really was a good little proton.

I turned around to see Joe watching me curiously, his expression pensive. Odd. Joe rarely thinks.

Rainie was watching me, too. Maybe it was my incoherent brain, but I could've sworn she wore an expression similar to Joe's.

With a forced smile, she announced, "Well, I better be off."

She thanked my parents. She hugged Kevin, she hugged Joe, she hugged me. I tried to kiss her cheek in the process, but she pulled away. I was about to tell her I'd call her when she interrupted me with, "Thanks again, guys. See you soon."

When she was gone, I avoided speaking to my parents and immediately headed to my bedroom to sleep off the vodka. Joe appeared in my doorway as I was struggling to find my toothbrush. (It was in the bathroom, where I always kept it. I had no idea why I was desperately searching through my sock drawer).

"What do you want?" I asked.

"You really think Rainie's ‘the one'?" he questioned.

Sighing, I pivoted on my heel to face him. I rubbed my eye sleepily. "I loved her before I even knew her name." That was solid proof.

He shook his head, seeming almost angry. "You're fucked if you think this is the way it's supposed to be."

"You'd be fucked if you had six shots in half an hour, too," I retorted. (Side-note: I wasn't quite sure I grasped what we were talking about, hence the unintentional change of subject).

"Just think about it," Joe said. Then he closed my door and I was alone.

Think about what?

All I could think about was brushing all the vodka off my teeth, changing into pajamas without falling over, and drilling a hole in my head because I was sure it was going to be less painful than the aftermath of this drunken mess.

It was as I was peeling off my shirt that my phone buzzed on my nightstand. I'm not entirely sure why it was absolutely necessary to lunge for it like it was an epic race (me vs. the voicemail), but I grabbed it in record time and fumbled to open the text message. The writing looked smaller than ever before, but I managed to make out that it was from Pep.

All of the letters blurred together on the screen, and I could only pick out a few words: promise, ever, pepper. Promise ever pepper. Why was everyone trying to confuse me? I frowned and shook my head, stuffing my phone into my drawer and allowing myself to fall on my pillow.

(Side-note: The next day, it would take me until three o'clock in the afternoon to find my phone).

(Side-note #2: Upon finding it, I would reread the text message. In its entirety, it read: i promise only you will ever call me pepper).

End Notes:
Second longest chapter. Party! Next chapter will be really choppy, just so you know. But important! I think. Have you noticed that I've started to tie up some loose ends? If not, then I think you'll know by the next chapter.
Housekeeping - no offense whatsoever to any of you who own silver converse shoes. I just thought it was Nick-thing to say. He likes to take little jabs at people sometimes, as you may have noticed. Also, the slave driver dream - I remember watching a clip on youtube of all three of them in a vehicle, and Kevin saying that Nick had a dream about a slave driver, and Nick was like "hey, you weren't supposed to mention that".
Enjoy your Monday! I know I will, cuz I'm done class. Suckers. :)
PS Don't forget to vote for your favourite stories in the JBFA Awards - a voting section is up in the forum!
Interlude: The Bridge to Coupledom by The archive

-

Day Three Hundred and Twelve.

The morning after the vodka, I woke up early with a splitting headache. I attempted to lie in bed and wait it out, but all of my thoughts were interrupted by the pain. My body was screaming for medication.

I wondered if Pep was awake - Advil.

I wondered why Rainie left in such a hurry - Tylenol.

I wondered if Rainie and Kevin - fuck, make it go away!

After I threw the covers off and jumped to a standing position, I had to sit down immediately and groan aloud. Spinning head. And this wasn't a good kind of spinning head, like when you ride a roller coaster. This was a ‘dear lord, I would rather die than suffer through this agony' kind of spinning head.

Slowly, I made my way to the kitchen, stopping every so often in the middle of the hallway. I put my hands on my knees and bent over, shutting my eyes tightly and fighting for survival. Once I was in the kitchen, I started to root through the cupboards for something to ease my pain. Eventually, I found a bottle of Advil. It was as I was searching for cups that I came across a small blue shot glass, sitting in plain view in front of the cups.

Huh. Weird. I thought we left all the shot glasses downstairs the night before. And then it hit me.

"Wait a second. Mine is bigger than Joe's!" I'd cried the night before as I compared my glass to Joe's. "I want a smaller shot glass."

"That's all we have; I checked," Kevin had answered.

... what a DICK.

Angrily, I filled a cup with water, swallowed a capsule of Advil, and practically threw the plastic cup into the sink to deal with it later.

I knocked on Kevin's door abruptly before letting myself in. He was fast asleep before I got there; now his eyes were fluttering as he groaned.

"What the hell?" I demanded, shutting the door behind me. "You deliberately gave me the biggest shot glass!"

"Wha..." he said groggily.

This was when I liked Kevin best: when he was just waking up. It was easiest to talk to him when he couldn't understand what I was saying and he wasn't conscious enough to reply. It's moments like this when I can understand how the Prince fell in love with Snow White and visited her every day when she was lying in that glass casket.

(Side-note: Terrible analogy. I'm not in love with Kevin. At all. Aside from the fact that he's my brother and it's both homosexual and incestuous, I barely even like him as a person. But really, have you heard Snow White speak? She had the most annoying voice. If I were the Prince, I would have moved on to Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella or some other Disney broad whose voice didn't make me want to drown myself).

"Last night. You said there were no other shot glasses, but there was one upstairs, you cheesedick. What's wrong with you? I have the worst hangover in history thanks to you!"

(Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Technically, it was my first hangover, and I'd only been awake for ten minutes).

Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Kevin sat up in confusion. "What? Oh... oh yeah." He chuckled.

"What's your problem? What have I ever done to you?" I demanded.

He continued to chuckle over the memory. "It was actually Rainie's idea. She thought it'd be funny."

I refused to let my jaw drop in front of Kevin, but my lips were definitely an inch or so apart as his words echoed in my mind. "Rainie?" I choked.

Kevin shrugged. "I didn't really care either way. But oh, man - are you starting to like her or something? Because she always tenses up when you're looking at her, and when you were passed out last night, she was so much more into me than before."

The problem with idiots is that they're like dogs or small children. Everyone cries harder in movies when dogs or kids die because they just don't understand as much as grown people. They're so innocent; they don't know what's happening to them. The same goes for idiots. For example, I could clobber Kevin with the guitar leaning against his desk and proceed to beat the living shit out of him, but it wasn't worth it. I'd feel sorry for him in the end, because he was just too idiotic to understand.

Starting to like Rainie? Yeah, Kev. If you call the better part of a year ‘starting', then YEAH. Holy hell.

My head was killing me. I needed to rest it on a pillow. And so, instead of killing my brother slowly and painfully which was the innermost desire of my heart, I fled his room with a slam of the door and dove back into my bed.

I was not pleased with Rainie. Our relationship required answers ay-sap. (As soon as possible. Dammit, Kevin!).

Day Three Hundred and Fifteen.

I figured the root of the problem with Rainie was that she was confused about our status, just like me. If she was secure in our relationship, neither would she try to play evil games (ie. ‘I Never'), nor would she attempt to flirt with my own brother while I was out cold from mass alcohol consumption. The best and most logical thing to do was to talk to her about it. We had some issues to work out.

"Be honest," I told her as we sat across from each other at a diner for lunch. "Are you or are you not over your last boyfriend?"

Her hair was pinned back today, but a few strands had fallen out and framed her face, making her look like some sort of angel. But I knew better. She was more like an angelic demon, taunting me with her gorgeousness.

"Who? Jesse?" she asked innocently.

How many ‘last' boyfriends are there?! I wanted to shout. For fuck's sake. I hadn't thought it was possible for me to be any more candid.

"Sure," she answered nonchalantly, the lines around her eyes crinkling as she smiled. "There was nothing between us, like you said. I'm having fun now."

I nodded, almost forking myself in the cheek. I shook myself out of my contemplative trance and pinned down a sliced cucumber from my salad, sticking it into my mouth.

I finished chewing before asking, "How about having fun with me?"

She gave me a look that read ‘you're weird' before sipping her drink. "That's what I said. I'm having fun."

I was fairly confident that ‘having fun' was indicative of sleeping around. If not quite so extreme, then at least fucking around with various people and their various brothers.

"But how about if it was just you and me?" I suggested.

"Like right now?"

"Yes. But exclusively like right now. Forever," I said, swiping my hand through the air to make a point.

Rainie frowned. "You want to only hang out with me over lunch... for the rest of time?"

I sighed. She didn't get it. Leaning towards her, I hissed, "No, I only want you to have fun with me forever. No one else." When her expression still displayed the utmost confusion, I added, "Having fun means dating, right?"

"You want to date me?" she asked, making very little effort to control the volume of her voice.

"Shh," I whispered. There were people here, and Rainie hadn't done anything to disguise her appearance. Nothing at all. "You know I do. I just want you to be ready."

She appeared almost miffed, which was strange. When I asked a girl out, I was prepared for her to blush and confirm my offer. I didn't expect her to be upset over my proposal. Who did that? Rude. I was laying my heart on the line again. I was sick of it. I was never a heart-on-the-line kind of guy, not even when the other person was reciprocating my heartiness. I always felt that it wasn't necessary. A girl should know if I liked her. If I kissed her, she should realize I either thought she was really pretty, or thoroughly enjoyed her company in a romantic way, or both. If I spent ten FUCKING months desperately trying to woo her, I would say that's enough laying of the heart on the line, wouldn't you?!

"I want you to be ready," she threw back in my face. "Nick, look at you. You're not ready for me in your life."

... someone kill me. Someone take a butter knife and repeatedly jab my chest until the skin breaks, layer by layer, and my heart eventually falls out.

"What?!" I cried. "I'm not ready?!"

I was ready in every way possible. Psychologically. Emotionally. Physically. My engines were going, all I needed was for Rainie to shift gears and step on the gas pedal. I'd been throwing unnecessary pack-ratted shit out of my heart for months in order to clear a nice, clean space reserved just for her.

"Look at you!" she repeated with a laugh. "Could you be more ashamed to be seen with me?"

Two things about my appearance:

1) If she was going for specifics, I was wearing checkered vans, black jeans, a simply faded blue shirt, my black cuffed beanie and dark sunglasses. What that has to do with my preparedness for a relationship, I couldn't have told you even if you held a gun to my head and threatened my very existence.

2) If she was going for body language, I was leaning over the table and whispering to her - but that's because it wasn't private enough in here.

"How am I ashamed?" I inquired, sitting back in my seat.

"First of all, look at the way you're dressed," Rainie began, counting off her fingers. Again, I looked at my attire. Nope, still couldn't have told you how it was indicative of my relationship status. Girls are fucking nuts. "The hat? The sunglasses? Clearly you don't want anyone to know you're with me."

"That's not fair," I argued. "I'd wear these anyways. It's a privacy thing."

She'd seen me out in public before, hadn't she? I was sure she had. In fact, I vividly remembered the day Pep and I had stalked her to the fruit market. Don't ask me how I remember, but I was pretty positive that I had been wearing almost the exact same thing.

"Well, what about the way you're leaning over the table?" she continued, ticking off another finger. "You keep whispering to me, like nobody's allowed to hear what you say."

"Do you want people to listen in on our conversation?" It all seemed absurd to me. Everything I was doing was perfectly logical. It was because I liked Rainie so much that I was trying to protect myself - not just me, but us. It was chivalrous, was it not?

"You didn't even walk in here with me. You dropped me off outside and told me to get us a table while you parked the car."

"I didn't want you to have to walk all the way from the parking garage!"

And this, my friends, is why I hate being a gentleman. At least when girls call me a jerk, I know it was well-deserved and there's nothing to be hurt about except the stone-cold truth. When I'm actually trying to be a good guy and I'm wrongfully accused of jerkiness - well, gentleman-like behaviour just isn't worth it.

"I guess I should be glad we're even here - you never want to go out in public with me."

I readjusted my hat in annoyance. "What does that have to do with our relationship? It has nothing to do with us; it has nothing to do with you. It's just that I get recognized, Rainie, and when I'm with you, I'd rather just be with you."

Pursing her lips together, she sat tensely for a moment or two before pointing out, "Five minutes ago you were telling me how you and Pep went out for ice cream last night."

You know, if I ever got anything right about Rainie, it was the nickname I gave her the first time I ever saw her. No one had ever been more deserving of the title ‘Mystery Girl'. Everything she said was enigmatic. Everything was suspenseful. I never had any idea how our conversations were going to turn out.

"So?" I asked, taking another bite of food. What did this have to do with anything?

"You'll go out with her."

Ah. I understood. "We didn't ‘go out'," I explained as patiently as possible. "It's a long story, but I had to drop off a ticket at this girl's house - you remember Avery, right? - and Pep had to come with me because the ticket was originally hers. On the way back, we were happy everything worked out the way we planned, so we celebrated with ice cream - what? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Rainie was tapping her nails on the table, clearly unimpressed. A sceptical eyebrow was raised as she looked me up and down.

"What?" I asked again.

"You'll go out with her, but not with me?"

"Ugh," I groaned, covering my hands with my face in frustration. "Can we leave Pep out of this? I think it looks bad that we're seen together so soon after you broke up with Jesse."

"Don't you think it would look worse if you were dating me but gossip sites only have pictures of you and Pep out together?" she countered.

"There are no pictures!" I argued.

"If you're my boyfriend, you have to take me out."

"It's hard!" I whined.

"Well," she replied, folding her arms across her chest to show me how unimpressed she was, "I don't want a relationship like this."

I bit my bottom lip to keep myself from arguing further. This was stupid. After being in love with her for so long, I didn't feel the need to justify or prove myself to Rainie. She should already have known.

And I was getting really frustrated with all the stalemates.

Day Three Hundred and Nineteen.

Joe was upbeat that night after we watched our friends' band perform in LA. Apparently, while lost in the crowd, he'd met a girl and she gave him her number. And he was feeling good about things for the first time since Camilla.

I'd invited Rainie to the show, but it was a good thing she declined my invitation, because sure enough, Jesse showed up to hang out with us afterwards. (Side-note: Pft. Not making enough of an effort to be seen with you in public, huh, Rainie? Kiss my ass, ice bitch).

"Why don't you talk to him?" Joe suggested to me as we crowded into a large booth at a pub.

"Talk to who?" I asked obliviously.

"Jesse."

"'Bout what?"

Rolling his eyes, Joe gave me a light shove. "About Rainie. If you really don't think you're disobeying the Bro Code-"

"Not the Bro Code again," I groaned in exasperation.

"You at least gotta let him know what's going on."

"He doesn't seem too concerned!" I hissed in reply, gesturing towards Jesse. He was chatting up a waitress already, grinning confidently.

Nonetheless, Joe wouldn't stop bothering me, so I intentionally slid out of the booth and wandered around to the other end just to get away from him. Annoying, self-righteous pest. As if he had never broken the rules before. I didn't think there was really any need to tell Jesse anything more than he cared to know. After all, sometimes the truth hurts.

"What's up, bro?" Jesse asked with a smile as soon as the attractive left.

Crap. He called me bro. I was afraid of that.

I chuckled nervously, answering, "Nothin'. What's up with you? Haven't seen you lately."

"Yeah. I've been around. You know, doing my thing."

These types of mindless conversations were ones that I tried my hardest to avoid. They're a waste of time, devoid of intellect and worth.

"True," I replied as casually as possible. I paused before mentioning, "Hey, I heard you and Rainie broke up."

Jesse nodded, appearing neutral. "Yeah, yeah. About a month ago. Who told you, Kevin?"

I dragged my tongue around my mouth as I mulled over my next words. Well, it was now or never. Might as well get on with it.

"Rainie, actually."

"Oh."

"Yeah," I added, tapping my fingers on the table in a pattern. Though the group discussion at our table was still very much alive, there was an awkward lull in the conversation between Jesse and myself. With a sharp intake of breath, I stated, "We became friends last summer on tour. That's all."

Jesse continued to nod. "Cool."

This was awkward and pointless. Luckily, I rarely crack under pressure. Normally I'm not one to initiate discussion, but there were things that needed to be said if I wanted Joe to leave me alone forever. "So are you seeing anyone else?"

He shrugged. "Here and there. Nothing serious."

"Have you talked to Rainie since then?"

Jesse let out a breath and smiled, giving me a strange look. "I thought you said you two were friends. Wouldn't you know?"

"Yeah. Right." I stared at the table unblinkingly. Jesse scanned the pub in search of his hot waitress. Now or never. "Listen, man, I gotta be straight with you. Rainie and I are sort of seeing each other."

There. I said it. Was it supposed to feel like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders? I didn't feel much different, but at least it was out in the open.

"Really? Sweet," Jesse answered easily. He looked surprised, but there were no signs of fury or jealousy. "Good luck."

I froze. That was it?! They dated for almost a year, and all I got from him was sweet?!

"I wanted to make sure you were okay with it," I pushed on. "Didn't want to make you uncomfortable or anything."

"Nah, it's cool," Jesse assured me.

"... are you sure?" I asked. I didn't go looking for trouble, but he had to give me something. How could he not be even mildly upset about this?

"Yeah! Dude, it's fine," he insisted. "I'm glad she's moving on. I was afraid she was gonna go downhill after I broke up with her, but the fact that she's-"

"What?" I demanded sharply. Who broke up with who?!

"She just took it kinda hard, that's all," Jesse responded. "She was really pissed off about it."

"You broke up with her?" I asked in disbelief. I hated myself for asking, but I needed to know. God, I sounded like effing Lance, with my curious craving for gossip.

He nodded.

It was killing me to keep myself from asking him why. Now that the story had been turned around, I needed to know why he did it. But I kept my trap shut.

Holy shit. All this time, I thought Rainie had broken up with Jesse on New Year's because she'd thought about the ultimatum I gave her and she truly wanted to be with me. But... wait a second, was I just a last resort?

A last RESORT?! FUCK that. I don't mean to sound conceited, but I'm Nick FUCKING Jonas. And yes, that is actually my middle name, capital letters and all. I could be anyone's first resort if I wanted, if there was such a thing. But Rainie's last?

There had to be another explanation. Maybe she had meant to break up with him, but he got to it first because he found out about her intentions and pre-emptively struck against her. That was plausible. It had to be.

Getting dumped by Dream Street. Jesus. Was it wrong to say that I lost a smidgen of respect for Rainie?

Day Three Hundred and Twenty-Seven.

Surprisingly, Miley gave me a ring while I was lounging around with a wiffel ball on set.

"Hello?" I answered hesitantly. I was afraid of being bitched-out, even if I had nothing better to do.

"Hey..." she trailed off, just as hesitant as me. "Thought I'd call to see what's up with you."

Was this a trick? I was pretty sure my Chaucer-ness was only accurate when I could see the person and judge their body language and facial expressions. It was hard to tell over the phone.

"Not much," I replied carefully. "Just hanging out on set."

I expected her to ask me a few more lame questions, but she jumped right into it. I liked that about Miley. She was straightforward; she almost always got to the point. There were no charades with her. You always knew what she was thinking because she told you.

"Can you drop by afterwards?" she inquired.

"As in, drop by your house?" I asked in fear.

"Yeah," she said quickly. "Just for a few minutes. I have something I need to give you."

A slap in the face? A one-way ticket to hell with front row seats? The last time I saw Miley, she basically told me she didn't want to see me again. In my mind, there was no way her invitation could mean good news.

"I guess, since it's on the way," I agreed with dread.

For the rest of the day, I tried to waste as much time as I could. I messed up my lines on purpose just to make time go slower and to keep us on set as long as possible. Unfortunately, we left around the same time as usual, except I received a few more dirty looks than was expected at the end of the day.

Luckily, Kevin, Joe and I had travelled together, so I was glad to have them stalling in Miley's driveway in case I needed to make a quick getaway.

I stood in the foyer of Miley's large house as her mother went to fetch her. It had been a long time since I'd ventured into this place. A long time. Miley leapt down the stairs after a minute or two, Justy following lazily behind her. Oh, God. He was here? If I was getting beaten up by a girl, the last person I wanted to witness the event was Justy.

"Hey," she said breathlessly, offering me a genuine Miley-smiley.

"Hi," I answered quickly, rocking back and forth on my heels.

She laughed. "Don't look so scared. I just have something to tell you, and I wanted it to be in person."

As she came closer to me and raised her arms, I flinched in anticipation of the blow. Fuck. Getting suckerpunched and/or cheapshotted by a girl - an ex-girlfriend, nonetheless - was not the ideal way to end one's day. And yet, I'd agreed to this. I'd willingly travelled to Miley's house in order to accept my punishment for being a jerk.

... what was wrong with me?

Before I could change my mind and bolt, I opened my eyes to arms flinging around my neck and locking there, hugging me tightly. I didn't know what to do. She was hugging me?

"What's this for?" I murmured, trying to ignore the fact that Justin was watching us from the stairs. Slowly, I returned the embrace by placing my hands tentatively on Miley's waist.

Eventually, she pulled away with another smile. "I'm just really proud of you, that's all. You do care."

I should have been more sensitive, but I thought by now we could all agree that sensitivity simply wasn't my thing. I demanded, "Care about what?"

Miley's eyes danced with humour. "Avery told me what you did."

"Oh. What I had to force her to do, you mean." Getting Avery to talk to me was only possible once I'd pulled up some records to find out where she lived and showed up at her house. Getting Avery to accept the ticket to the comedy show was even harder.

"Well, I think she's glad you did. She had a great time."

For lack of anything else to say, I asked, "The show was good?"

"She said it was awful," Miley laughed. "But... she gave the guy her number. I guess blind dates are her thing."

Who knew? Lance had another girlfriend when I still had zero official girlfriends. Fuck that guy. He wasn't even interested in girls; they were just handed to him on silver platters. Yeah, you're welcome, Lance.

"Good. Good to know," I said awkwardly with a curt nod of my head.

"Aren't you glad she's happy?" Miley asked in confusion. "That's what you wanted, wasn't it?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. Miles, I didn't really care too much for Avery. She scared me."

Honesty is the best policy, they say. Can I take my bitch-slap and leave now?

Furrowing her brow, Miley questioned, "Then why did you do it?"

I thought it was pretty obvious, but apparently I had to spell it out. "Well, for you."

"For me?"

I shrugged again. "I wanted you to know I still c-care about us. Our friendship." I stuttered on the word ‘care'. It almost hurt me to say it. I had to swallow down the pain afterwards. Mushiness was so not my cup of tea, and from the way Miley was staring at me, it probably wasn't my strongest suit. It was probably something similar to Voldemort declaring his love for muggles. There are just some things you don't expect from people.

In fact, until I said the words out loud, I didn't even know that that's what I had been trying to prove by setting up Lance with Avery. Weird; the things you can find buried in your subconscious.

"I don't want you to hate me," I continued, lowering my voice. Was it necessary for stupid Justy to eavesdrop? "Because I don't hate you." With a smile, I added, "I kind of like you."

Miley's shoulders shook with a silent laugh. "Kind of?"

What did she want from me? "You amuse me."

"I'm glad I amuse you," she said, the usual obnoxious volume of her voice returning.

"You know what I mean," I said while rolling my eyes. This was killing me. I might have even preferred the suckerpunch.

"I know, I know," she said, the country accent shining through. She turned her back to me to grab something from the bench. With a proud smile, she handed me a folded striped shirt. "This is yours. I've had it for like, two and a half years. I was really close to burning it once or twice, and then other times I just hoped you missed it and thought of me... but you can have it back now."

I'm not going to lie: I could barely even remember owning this shirt. Was she sure it wasn't Justy's?

"Gee, thanks Miley," I said jokingly.

"No matter why you did it... I'm glad you did this for Avery. It means a lot to me."

Nodding, I answered, "I know."

A smile played on her lips. "And I'm sorry for yelling at you."

This earned her a true laugh from me. "It was deserved."

"Can we be friends, then?"

I knew the answer was yes, but I said, "Only if you promise to stop calling me out at award shows."

"Done," she agreed. She held her arms out again for a hug, which I returned. With a giggle, she muttered, "That's who I remember."

"Huh?"

"I knew I fell in love with you for a reason. For a while, I forgot why."

I licked my lips, fingering the shirt I held in my hands. I locked eyes with Miley. "Hey. You don't by any chance want to keep this, do you?"

She shook her head.

I looked over her shoulder at Justy. "Hey man. You want this?"

Appearing ultimately confused, Justy replied, "No... no, I'm good."

"It's okay, dude. You can burn it. Or you can rip it up and use it as a head-scarf. Whatever." Without giving him time to reject me again, I threw the shirt at him. He was so surprised, he had no words. (What a shocker. He was such a chatterbox otherwise). I turned my attention back to Miley and offered her another smile. "My brothers are outside. I should get going."

"'Kay. You should call me sometime."

"Yeah," I agreed on my way out the door. "We should do another lunch soon. You, me, and Selena." I waved, and then I was on my way out.

Cheese and rice. Did I actually just suggest another lunch with my two ex-girlfriends? What was I thinking?

Still, I couldn't help my swagger as I made my way to the car. I felt like I had just shaken the Jonas Hate Club. I cracked the President - the rest of the minions wouldn't be far behind, I was sure of it.

Maybe not such a bad day after all.

Day Three Hundred and Twenty-Nine.

Elvis and I strolled over to Pep's house on a Sunday afternoon. At first, I had been reluctant to bring him around because of ol' Shep's passing, but when I found out that Pep's mom was storing dog treats just for Elvis, I couldn't deny him anymore. Besides, everybody in the family seemed glad when I brought him around.

Except for Pep's dad, but he never seemed to like me or anything to do with me anyway.

"Sarah's on the roof," he told me monotonously as I released Elvis into his backyard to play.

I took the stairs two at a time, waving to Carter in his bedroom as I passed. The moment I stepped across the threshold, Pep jumped through the window back into her room.

"Good timing," I noted with a grin.

Her eyes widened at my presence, and I wondered why she was so shocked. When Joe hopped through the window after her, it was possible that my eyes were more bugged-out than Pep's.

"Oh. Hey, Nick," he said, his tone chipper as he dusted off his pants.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I asked rudely, frozen in place. I was surprised he even knew where Pep lived. I supposed he'd dropped me off one or two times.

Joe shrugged, throwing an arm around the proton. "Can't I visit my good friend Pip?"

"My good friend Pep," I corrected him with a frown. "Seriously, what's going on?"

"We were just hanging out. Chatting," Joe answered casually.

"About what?"

He laughed. "Dude. Relax. No need to be jealous."

Jealous? "I just don't understand what's going on," was my weak response.

Joe patted my shoulder as he passed. "Don't worry about it." At the door, he turned and waved. "See ya, Pip. Have fun, kids."

As soon as I was sure he was gone, I glared at Pep. "What was that?" I demanded.

She shook her head, clearly looking to change the subject. "Nothing. Hey, I'm glad you're here. Carter just got a tuner for his guitar but he can't figure out how to work out; I told him you'd probably be able to figure it out."

And before I knew it, I was ushered into Carter's room. Between the two of them, Pep and Carter kept conversation going so wildly that I didn't have a chance to question Joe's mysterious presence earlier. By the time I'd fixed the tuner and Pep and I ended up together on her roof like always, I'd completely forgotten about it.

Day Three Hundred and Thirty Six.

Valentine's Day is supposed to be romantic.

Now, I'm aware that I'm not exactly your poster boy for romance, but civility in general with one's true love would have been nice on this Valentine's Day. Apparently, it was too much to ask.

Rainie and I were fighting again. This time, we hadn't even made it out of her apartment. From the moment I knocked on her door to pick her up, she had it in for me.

The plan was to pick Rainie up and take her out to a classy restaurant where I had made reservations for dinner. I hadn't made plans for afterwards, but I was thinking we could do something totally lame and barf-worthy, like walk along the beach holding hands.

Instead, we'd missed our reservation because she refused to leave the apartment with me.

"You said you were bringing Joe for Callan," Rainie said angrily.

"I suggested that a long time ago!" I cried. "And then I told you that Joe met this girl last week, so he's kind of tied up right now."

"Well, why didn't you bring Kevin instead?" she demanded.

Because Kevin would steal you from me, I wanted to reply. Instead, I opted for, "He has other plans." I wasn't exactly sure what those plans entailed, but he wasn't spending the evening at home - that much was certain.

"You should have told me!"

"I did. Obviously you didn't listen."

"Well, I can't leave Callan here alone on Valentine's Day," Rainie spat at me.

(She was breathtaking, by the way. She wore a typical red dress that hugged her curves in all the right places - all I wanted was to take her in my arms and kiss her).

Why was she so insistent on Lesbian Friend accompanying us, anyway? She was, after all, a lesbian. She'd totally ruin the mood, unless I thought of another girl for her to seduce.

I thought I was being helpful as I suggested, "Well, maybe Pep will be available at the last minute."

If looks could kill - and by looks I mean glares - I'd have twenty-nine bullet holes in my head after that suggestion. "Oh, of course you'd bring her up!" Rainie shot back. "If you want to be with her so bad, why did you even invite me out?"

I think it's rather understandable that my unhinged jaw wasn't out of line.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I was only trying to be nice. I was only trying to be considerate by thinking of Lesbian Friend's needs. What would she want a male date for, anyway?

"It's always Pep, isn't it? When things go wrong, Pep's the one you go to!" 

I almost laughed. "She's my friend."

"And what am I?"

"I don't know!" I cried in exasperation. "What are you? I want you to be my girlfriend, but you won't have that. Yet here we are, going out on Valentine's Day - and I'm not seeing anyone else, are you?"

Rainie folded her arms across her chest, unimpressed. "I can't leave Callan here on Valentine's Day. That's just not what friends do."

I ran a hand through my hair and sighed. Lesbian Friend was becoming a serious pain in my ass. Checking my watch, I murmured, "Good thing, then. We already missed our reservation."

"There's no way we would have made it anyway," Rainie snapped. "You wanted to drive all the way out to Monterey for dinner."

"It's nice up there. It's too crowded around here."

"So? I like it around here. There's always lots going on."

I paused. "Well, what's one night away?"

"Never know what you could miss."

Unsure of how to respond, I simply challenged her intense gaze.

"What was the deal with the reservation anyway, Nick? Was this another way for you to take me out in public without really taking me out?"

With a groan, I placed my thumb behind my ear and in my index finger on my temple. "No, this was my way of going out with you - like, on a real date. Just you and me. That was the idea, anyway."

"You really can't handle the idea of being seen with me, can you?"

"There's nothing further from reality!" I argued. "Why can't you let go of that? It has nothing to do with the public at all."

"Everything you do is carefully planned, Nick. Everything you do has a reason."

"The reason was to do something nice for you! Why are you so obsessed with the publicity thing?"

And then it hit me. Hadn't Rainie told me that she enjoyed taking advantage of Jesse's celebrity status?

Mother of God. But that couldn't be the reason. We had something real. We were friends long before we got together. She never tried to take advantage of me when we were friends. Not once. Now it seemed that every time I saw her, she expected us to go out. To flaunt the relationship that she wouldn't even commit to. Wasn't she the one who was worried about what it would look like to date a seventeen-year-old, anyway?

With a contemplative frown, I took a step away from her and paused at her bedroom door. Lowering my voice, I asked, "Do you even like me at all?"

Rainie's shoulders slumped. "I shouldn't have to answer that."

"Well, I'm asking."

She glared at me, muttering, "You know I do."

"No, I don't know," I snapped. "I never know anything with you. I think I'm doing something nice and then you tear it down like it's the most insensitive thing I could ever do. I think we're moving forward and then you say or do something to move us backwards again. I don't get it. I don't get you."

She shrugged. "What do you want, Nick? You knew that from the beginning, didn't you? From the first time we spoke, you told me you couldn't figure me out. That's just the way it is, okay?"

Tightening my jaw, I let myself out of her bedroom and made my way towards the front door, loosening my tie in the process.

"Where are you going?" she called after me.

Stupid question. "Where do you think? I'm not staying here and fighting with you."

She studied me as I slipped on my shoes. "It's Valentine's Day, Nick."

"And apparently I'm a shitty Valentine," I retorted, straightening my back and reaching into my pocket for my car keys. Before making my exit, I added haughtily, "Sorry for disappointing you."

Then I left. Rainie didn't follow.

All in all, I had a more successful Valentine's Day the year before, when Pep and I had the ultimate air hockey showdown and then watched Terminator (one and two). I was single then, and it may have been pathetic for Valentine's Day - but I was single now, and this was worse.

I couldn't sleep. Normally I didn't mind waiting for sleep to come, but not tonight. The longer I laid awake, the more my frustration festered. I needed to blank out my mind - a difficult task, given its extraordinary capacity for information and introspective thought that is almost always put to good use.

Flicking on the lamp, I threw the covers off my body after twenty minutes and searched for something mindless to watch on my laptop. I found the third season of The Office and put it on with a shrug. I hadn't watched it in months.

I started halfway into the season and watched five episodes in a row. I expected to laugh (if not out loud, then in my mind) and to forget about my problems. Though I hadn't watched the show for a while, I remembered the little thought that it required. It was simple; the plot barely moved. That was what I needed.

The problem was that nobody told me how upsetting it all was. By the time I gave up on it and turned out my lights again, I was shocked and appalled. Jim found another girlfriend. He paraded around with her in front of Pam. That was low. Bad call, Jim. What the fuck. Pam calls off her wedding and Jim finds someone else?!

I never got caught up in television shows. The drama was always too unreal for me. But the thing about The Office was that there wasn't supposed to be drama, and that was why I was so angry. Come on, Jim! Pam is waiting! Was it really so hard for him to see that she had feelings for him? And it's Pam, for crying out loud. The entire show had been building up to Jim and Pam; everyone knew that. Karen might have been hotter, but he'd never find anyone more perfect for him than Pam.

In the end, I went to sleep just as frustrated as I'd been before The Office, but for a different reason.

Ugh.

End Notes:
You know how I know it's finals season? Because I've written almost to the end of this story in approximately four days, and the amount of studying I have done is zero. Yep, must be finals!
Sorry about the Snow White thing. But I effing hate her voice. Always have.
Anyways... Nick is slowly starting to become aware of his subconscious. It's a step forward, right? Progress, maybe? Also, Nick's thoughts have become a little more frantic, a little more desperate. Have you noticed that he's started to emphasize words in capital letters? Usually when he's angriest.
I should study. But man, I'm like SO close to being done this story, and I just want to write all of it down. Ugh. I planned this out badly - I definitely should have either written this faster, or written it slower so that I wouldn't be caught in this moral dilemma.
We all know I'm going to write, anyway.
Day 337: Worse Than Valentine's Day by The archive

Day Three Hundred and Thirty-Seven.

I was never a huge fan of Valentine's Day. I suppose that's to be expected from a guy like me. The fifteenth of February was supposed to be a good day. It meant there were 364 full days until I had to survive another Valentine's, with or without a date. But this was the worst day-after-Valentine's I ever had.

It was funny, the way things had worked out in the past year. My birthday was supposed to be awesome, and I had prepared for a sub-par day-after-my-birthday which turned out to be even better than my birthday itself. Valentine's Day was supposed to be romantic and end with Rainie and me committing to our relationship for all time, but instead, I went home alone - and believe it or not, post-Valentine's sucked even more.

It was really terrible.

I invited Pep over when school was out and I was finished filming for the day. I had to tell her what had transpired between Rainie and I the night before, but more importantly, I was lonely. Kevin and Joe were out with friends, Mom and Dad went out for post-Valentine's dinner (they didn't get to go out on actual Valentine's Day because my brothers and I weren't available to baby-sit Frankie), and I was stuck looking after the little chump. Pep's company would have been appreciated on a day like this.

As usual, she entered the house with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. I was in the living room with my head tilted upwards against the back of the couch and an open bag of Doritos perched on my face as I desperately waited for the last few crumbs to fall into my mouth.

"Fatty," Pep laughed, taking a seat on the floor. Elvis rushed up to her in excitement, bombarding her with kisses.

I crumpled up the empty bag and set it on the table. "You're lucky you didn't have to witness me tearing the bag apart and licking the insides."

"Ha!" she giggled, nearly falling over as Elvis clobbered her.

I watched the two of them with a half-smile for a few seconds before I decided to be kind and give her a break. "Elvis. C'mere," I instructed sternly. He did as he was told and jumped onto the sofa beside me. Pep used the sleeve of her shirt to wipe the dog slobber off her cheek.

"What's up, Nick J? You sounded sad on the phone," she remarked with interest.

"Not sad," I said with a frown.

"Angry? Upset. Annoyed. Frustrated. Disgruntled?" Pep suggested innocently, curling her legs up against her chest and resting her head on her knees.

"Hmm. All of the above," I decided. "Valentine's sucked."

I waited for her to ask me why, but she simply stared at me and expected me to continue.

"You know how much I hate that holiday, right? Well, I actually tried this time. I made reservations at this nice restaurant I went to once with Selena and her parents. It was really quiet but really classy. That's Valentine's-ish, right?"

Pep shrugged indifferently.

"Rainie was furious about it the second I told her where we were going. It was too far away, I was trying too hard, it would have been better if we stayed in the city... I don't even know what I did wrong," I grumbled.

"Maybe it wasn't about where you went that mattered to her," Pep suggested naively.

"But it was," I argued, sitting up in my seat and leaning forward. (Better stories are told this way). "Location was everything, for some reason. She was on my case again about not wanting to be seen in public with her. Then she was mad at me because I was apparently supposed to bring Joe along for Lesbian Friend, but I know I told her a week ago that he made other plans."

Pep nodded, failing to make a comment. Instead, she stared at Elvis, who had plopped his head down on my lap.

"Then she said something like ‘you knew what you bargained for, Nick. You said right from the beginning you didn't understand me, and that's how I want it to be. So suck it.'"

I expected Pep to call me out on the ‘suck it' comment because it was clear that I had put words into Rainie's mouth, but she kept quiet. She was less excitable all of a sudden.

Collapsing against the back of the couch, I sighed. "I don't know what to do. It's like we're together, but we're not. I just want confirmation. Everything would be so much easier if I had confirmation."

"Would it?" Pep murmured.

"Yes. That way, I could tell Lesbian Friend to fuck off and find her own female date, and I wouldn't have to ‘try so hard' with Rainie."

Pep's eyes shifted to my face. "Why does everything have to be so hard? Why can't she just like you back?"

"'Cause she's an ice bitch," I replied matter-of-factly. Pep laughed weakly, and I cracked a smile along with her. "What's wrong with you?" I questioned. She wasn't as bubbly as usual.

She shook her head, the smile fading. "Nothing. Sometimes these stories bring me down."

I scoffed. "Tell me about it."

Pep sighed, releasing her legs from her chest. "No, I mean... there's always a problem with you and Rainie. For the past year, all it's been is problems with you and Rainie."

A frown began to form on my face.

"I can't figure out why you even like her. She's not nice to you. All she does is play games, and you're never allowed to win. She hardly ever makes you happy; and then I have to deal with you being sad."

There was a full-fledged frown on my face by the time she'd finished. I sat up so abruptly that Elvis lifted his head from my lap and leapt off the couch. "Sorry you have to deal with me," I replied haughtily. For a second there, she was acting like a protonic bitch.

For once, Pep didn't let it go. She exhaled, glaring at me. "It's just... what makes you think I care so much about every little detail of your life with Rainie? Do I ever make you listen to hours upon hours of my problems? Are you even aware that I have problems?"

I returned her glare for a moment or two before quietly inquiring, "Are you PMS-ing again? Is that what this is about?"

The glare she was giving me morphed into an even dirtier look. She pushed herself to a standing position as she muttered, "Forget it."

When I realized she was about to storm out of the room, I sprang to my feet, grabbed her wrist and announced, "Hold on. Don't leave. You have something to say? Say it."

When we locked eyes again, hers were sparkling. They were sparkling because they were welling up with tears.

Slightly fearful, I breathed, "Holy shit. You really got it bad this month, huh?"

With a groan of disgust, she pushed me away. She may be tiny, but the shove was forceful enough to knock me into the corner of the end table, sending a sharp pain up my side. As one hand moved to put pressure on the wound, my other hand was used to steady the shaking lamp on the table.

"Ow!" I exclaimed. "What was that for? Jesus, that stings!"

Though Pep's eyes were full of impending tears, she stayed strong and kept them all in. In a voice barely above a whisper, she confessed, "I'm so in love with you, Nick, don't you know that? You're supposed to know everything."

Maybe I admitted that stars sometimes made me feel small, and maybe my experience with Rainie was God's way of telling me I wasn't His gift to womankind - but I was still arrogant as fuck, and I was convinced that if time ever came to a standstill and the world stopped spinning around, even if it was just for a second, this was when it happened.

I didn't know how long it was that I stood face-to-face with Pep, my expression blank, clutching my side in pain. Usually revelations cause my mind to whirl - this time, my mind was doing nothing. Telling me nothing. There was nothing at all in there.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, it started to work again. I started to process what had been revealed to me, and my breath caught in my throat as I realized with horror that I should have seen this coming. I definitely, definitely should have seen this coming.

Pep's face never crumbled, but one solitary tear slipped down her cheek.

I had never been so afraid in my life.

I licked my lips and managed to croak out, "Since when?"

She huffed, willing herself not to cry. "Since my birthday. North Carolina."

I nodded slowly, desperately trying to remain calm. It was important to remain calm. This situation had to be handled with care.

"... why?" I asked. I didn't say it to be insensitive. In fact, I was trying my hardest to be very sensitive, which was why I spoke to her in a whisper.

She wiped at her eyes, which appeared to be a futile mission, and answered evenly, "You took me to see the stars, and I thought that... well, you'd never done anything like that before."

I let my hand fall from my wounded side, aware that we were distinctly keeping our distance from one another. I'm not going to lie: I wanted to run away. I wanted to go back in time thirty minutes and not invite Pep to hang out with me. I wanted to laugh this off and tell her it was a good joke.

Then I remembered how Miley told me it was so typical of me to run away from things because it was easier than confrontation. I tried to avoid drama to begin with, but when I was forced to deal with it, my strategy was to get out as quickly as possible.

The problem was that this was Pep. This was Pep.

I frowned, trying to make sense of it all. "But you went out with Lance..."

She sniffled, admitting, "I knew that it was weird, being in love with your best friend. I tried to get over you, but it never worked because you're always there." Pep paused, fiddling with the keychain in her hands. "And every so often, I'd think that maybe... I mean, you hated Lance so much, so I thought... and then you kissed me at the beach that day, and I didn't realize... and then when Shep died, and you..." Unable to finish any of her sentences, Pep took a shaky breath. Oh God. I prayed that she wouldn't break down.

Another tear. Poor little proton. She was trying so hard to keep it together.

I shook my head in disbelief. "I never knew."

I never knew until the moment she told me, and then I felt as if I'd known all along. Shit. How had I not seen the signs?

She couldn't look me in the eyes anymore. Instead, she stared at my chest, her shoulders rising up and down as she struggled to breathe steadily.

What was I supposed to say? It was like if someone told you that you were about to die in a minute. After you'd asked all the necessary questions, what else was there to do? You just had to wait for it to happen. I didn't know exactly what I was waiting for in this situation, but I was waiting nonetheless.

"Joe figured it out," she mumbled. "That's why he was over last week. He told me to tell you."

Joe knew. Joe knew?

I still had no idea how to respond. My mind had stopped working again. I knew that I should be angry with Joe for not giving me a warning, but I couldn't feel anger. I couldn't think about Joe when Pep was right in front of me.

All I could feel was guilt. And I'd never felt it like this before. It made me want to slam my head into a dresser repeatedly if that's what it took to make it go away. I'd do anything to make it go away.

"I'm sorry," I said quietly. Pep's eyes flashed to mine inquisitively, and I forced myself to add, even though it hurt, "I don't feel the same."

I don't know what I expected. Subconsciously, I think I expected her to crumple to a heap on the floor and burst into sobs. I had no after-plan, but that was what I expected.

Instead, she stood her ground. Another tear fell, and my guilt grew exponentially. I had been hurt physically before, and I'd been hurt by words - but it actually hurt to see her cry, even if she was barely crying at all. I had done this to her, even if it wasn't intentional. This was my fault.

Pep bit her bottom lip and nodded, training her eyes again to my chest. "Okay," she whispered.

That was it. She turned around and headed for the door.

I felt like I should call out her name or say something groundbreaking that would make all of her tears vanish. But I had nothing. My mind was failing me. It was feeding me nothing. Nothing. Nothing?! Really, brain? Fuck you. I fucking needed you at a time like this!

I heard the front door close, but I didn't move. I stood where I was, covering my face with my hands and remaining motionless.

It was the worst post-Valentine's ever.

I barely spoke to anyone for the rest of the night, and the only thing I can remember is that before I went to bed, I threw out my copy of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

It was obvious that I had highly overestimated my abilities. When it came to people-reading, Chaucer far surpassed me.

End Notes:
... I feel like no matter who you were rooting for this whole time, you will want to slap me in the face.
But before you do, here's a random fact to make you feel better, which my good friend Comeback Queen has brought to my attention: "I was reading seventeen yesterday, and Jesse was in it talking about how he gets advice from Google. And I laughed out loud. JMac and Nick -- enemies. Google and Yahoo -- competitors. I found it ironic and highly entertaining."
I also find it highly entertaining. Hahah Jesse WOULD get advice from Google.
Alright, now I give you permission to flood the review box with hate messages and death threats. I can take it, I promise.
Day 352: The Blame Triangle by The archive

Day Three Hundred and Fifty-Two.

It had been two full weeks since I'd seen Pep. Two weeks since I'd heard her voice or gotten a text message with her name written across the top. Two weeks since I'd had anything to do with her.

Don't get me wrong. With a profession like mine, I was able to go long periods of time without seeing my friends. There had definitely been two-week stalemates between Pep and I before, no question about it. The difference was that those stalemates were due to travelling; it's hard to keep in contact with people when you're halfway across the world with a non-flexible schedule. This time, we hardly travelled at all. Aside from filming, we weren't doing a whole lot within those two weeks. My phone was in perfect working condition and I was in the right area to use it without additional fees. Pep's house was just a few blocks away, accessible by car, bike, or foot. But those two weeks were very Pep-less, and it was weird. Home wasn't home without Pep.

What did I do in those two weeks? Well, I whipped Elvis into shape. We went for long runs in the neighbourhood, always avoiding Pep's street. (Side-note: I ran at my own pace, where cramps were harder to come by). I read up on Helen Keller. Now that I'd given up on Chaucer, I needed someone new but equally extraordinary to compare myself to. Helen Keller was perfect because nobody expected her to notice anything.

And I spent time with Rainie. I took her out a couple of times, just like she wanted. She was happy about that.

As Joe and I were lounging around in front of the television one night, he casually asked, "Hey, where's Pip lately?"

"I don't know," I answered lamely.

Though we were both lying on separate sofas, he dug his hand into the jar of peanuts he'd been munching on and threw them at me. "What do you mean? You haven't been talking to her?"

With a scowl, I brushed the peanuts off my face and chest. "No."

"How come?"

I glared at him. "As if you don't know."

Joe released a short laugh. "That's why I'm asking!"

We watched a commercial about Mr. Clean in silence. When it was over, I sighed. "She told me she was in love with me."

Joe didn't skip a beat. "And...?"

"And!" I called in annoyance, narrowing my eyes at him. "What do you mean, and? That's it!"

"Well, what did you say?"

It was my turn to laugh sarcastically. "Okay, Joe. Let me paint you a picture. This was two weeks ago, in this very room. We haven't spoken since then, not once. That must mean that my response was...?"

"What? You turned her down?" Joe grabbed the remote control and muted the TV.

"What was I supposed to do?"

At a loss for words, Joe sat up and scooted to the edge of the sofa, closer to me, as if he would be able to hear better.

Ignoring my rhetorical question, Joe asked, "And then she left?"

No, then we danced a merry jig around a roaring fire. Obviously.

I nodded as I sat up, reaching for a handful of peanuts. Just as my hand was reaching the jar, Joe swung it away from me and slapped his other hand to his forehead, shutting his eyes in what appeared to be great pain. "And you haven't talked to her since then?"

"No."

"Nick, you idiot!" he exclaimed. He removed his hand from his forehead and used it to slap me across the side of the head. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

In annoyance, I swatted his arm away as he moved to slap me a second time. "Me? What the hell is wrong with you? Pep said you knew about this, and you didn't even think to tell me?"

Joe rolled his eyes. "First of all, it wasn't my place to tell you. Second of all, you're a right tool and a half if you didn't have even the tiniest inkling of suspicion."

My eyes widened in horror as I stretched my arms for the peanuts. "Don't you think I would have brought it up if I ever suspected it?"

Joe shrugged, intentionally leaning back against the couch to hold the peanuts further away. "There are some things you keep to yourself."

I was frustrated for two reasons: firstly, because he had purposely withheld vital information from me that could have saved me an awkward conversation and more importantly, an entire friendship, if I'd had the appropriate amount of time to prepare myself. Secondly, I wanted a handful of fucking peanuts. Through clenched teeth, I cried, "No! You dickhead! You stupid fucknoodled candy-ass! Why the hell wouldn't you tell me?!"

I could feel my face reddening with fury. I'd kept it all inside for too long, but every day, my resentment grew for Joe. The blame had inevitably shifted, and this was, in essence, his fault.

"I told Pip to tell you; isn't that enough?"

"No!" I exclaimed. I didn't want the peanuts anymore. I lunged for his neck with both hands, prepared to strangle him. "You... ruined... everything!"

Joe dropped the jar of peanuts and they spilled all over the couch. He used his free hands to grasp my wrists while he kneed me in the gut to escape my wrath. I shirked backwards in pain as he shot up from the sofa, one of the cushions sliding to the floor in the process.

I hated that he fought back when it was my turn to hurt him. Grabbing another cushion from the couch, I stood up and made a move to crash it down on his head. Reflexively, Joe raised both his hands to protect himself, and that was when I cheated out and slammed the cushion into his gut instead. It felt good, even if it was only a soft cushion.

Joe grunted in pain before grabbing the cushion and throwing it away, pointing a finger at me. "I didn't ruin anything. This has nothing to do with me. But can I say that you are by far the biggest asshat I've ever known? And that's saying a lot, knowing Kevin!"

That much was true, though I'd never admit it. (Side-note: From the kitchen, Kevin overheard and cried, "Hey!").

He continued, "You're so ignorant, and you've treated that poor girl like shit more than once. She never asked for anything from you, you know that? All she wanted was to be your friend, and now you've gone and killed it."

"How have I done anything?" I demanded. Without another comment, I shrugged my shoulders and made a move for the jar of peanuts. Joe was swifter than I was, grabbing them and jumping away.

He must have seen the threatening look in my eyes. Just as I was about to lunge at him, he jerked the jar forward, sending hundreds of peanuts flying at my face. They hit me like tiny raindrops and then fell to the floor. Gone forever. Dammit.

I forgot about the peanuts and stepped over them. Lowering my voice, I said quietly, "If you would've told me, I could have figured out how to deal with it."

Joe's expression softened. "What are you gonna do now?"

I shrugged grimly. "I dunno. Wait it out."

I thought we had calmed down from the fighting and were about to engage in rational conversation when I received another smack to the head.

"Hey!"

"Wait it out?" Joe repeated incredulously. "Wait what out?"

Rubbing my curls with a pout, I responded, "She said the reason she never got over it was because I was around her all the time. If we spend time apart, she'll be okay. Things can go back to normal."

"Are you really that idiotic?" Joe hissed. "You're just gonna sit here and wait for the day she calls you to tell you she's over it?"

"Pep's resilient like that," was my excuse.

"Nobody's resilient like that! She already made her move, Nick. It's your turn. You have to call her."

I stood up, glowering. "I'm not calling her."

I was about to leave the room as Joe called after me, "Don't expect her to call you. She never will, not after this. It's up to you, bro."

Whipping around, I whined, "Why is it up to me? It's her fault."

The blame appeared to be shifting again. From me, to Joe, to Pep. It was definitely Pep's fault.

"What, you're mad at her now?"

I thought about it for a second, rationalized, came to a conclusion, and then I nodded. "Yeah. I am. It's not like I did anything wrong. I didn't make her fall in love with me. It's not like I was leading her on; I didn't even know! Do you know how long she felt this way, Joe? Since July. She felt this way since July, and she never told me!"

Joe let his shoulders slump. "Maybe she was scared."

"I don't care!" I retorted, throwing my arms in the air in exasperation. "She had seven months to tell me and she didn't! We're supposed to be friends. I don't keep shit from her; why is she keeping secrets from me?"

Shaking his head in disappointment, Joe rolled his eyes. "I think this is a special case where secrets are allowed."

All I wanted was for someone to sympathize with me, and Joe was doing a terrible job. I growled in frustration. "Fine. Whatever. Even so, I'm still mad at her. If she wanted it to be a secret, she should have kept it that way forever. Now she's complicated everything, and things will never be the same."

Joe paused. "You just said if you gave her time, she'd get over it."

Gritting my teeth, I huffed and fell backwards onto the couch. "That was my attempt to convince myself it'd be okay. Who am I kidding? We can't be friends like this. I can't look at her the same way."

After a few seconds of staring at my hands in my lap, I looked at Joe. He could have smacked me again if he wanted to. I wouldn't have appreciated it, but I wouldn't have retaliated. Instead, Joe picked up the remote again and turned off the television completely.

"You're blind if you can't see what everybody else sees," he said gently.

With a dreary expression, I stared at the blank screen. "Now it all makes sense. I just never thought there was a possibility she'd say she was into me."

It was true. It never seemed logical. I went out with Miley; she went out with Jake Lancaster, that dipshit quarterback big-shot. She went out with Lance; I pined after Rainie. We did our own thing.

"Not that," Joe corrected me with a frown. "I mean, yeah, she's into you, but what about the other way around?"

Carefully, I shook my head.

With a frustrated breath, Joe smiled mockingly, his expression incredulous. "Whatever, Nick," he said, taking a step backwards to exit the room. "But I want you to know I never would have set up Pip like that if I thought there was no chance in hell of you returning her feelings." He paused to let his words sink in. "Just think about that."

After he left, I sat there for a while mourning the loss of the peanuts. Joe was too nosey. I never butted my head into his business. I never asked him for advice or for help. I didn't want it. He didn't know anything about Pep and me.

Mom passed the living room on her way to the kitchen. She did a double-take, her expression morphing into a frown. With innocent eyes, I scanned the room. There were two cushions laying haphazardly on the ground. Peanuts on the couch. Peanuts on the floor. Peanuts everywhere.

"Clean this up, Nick," she ordered.

Fucking Joe.

I had my own personal mess to clean up, but I'd start with the living room. I'd always been a firm believer in procrastination, anyway.

End Notes:
Man, I was on a great every-other-day updating streak, but then finals had to come in and ruin everything. That's okay though. Only three more to go! (Three more finals, that is).
I love how many messages I got alerting me that Nick and Miley recently went on some sort of lunch date. If you haven't seen the pictures, I'm sure you can find them all over the net. I like how he "hit" a car on his way out. But even more, I love that Nick and Miley are going on lunch dates in real life. Lunch dates are awesome. The Nick and Miley in my story would do that sort of thing.
Happy Easter, if you celebrate it! This is the first major holiday I haven't spent at home in my whole life :( Enjoy your family and enjoy not having to study!
Day 364: Unfair Ultimatum by The archive

Day Three Hundred and Sixty-Four.

After an elapsed time of one month without a word from Pep, I started to think that maybe Joe was right. She was never going to call. It was up to me.

The problem was that I couldn't do it alone. How could I tackle a sensitive issue such as this? I needed help on what to say. Joe was of no assistance; we could never come to an agreement because all of his suggestions made me cringe and then retro-cringe. (According to urban dictionary .com, this is the art of cringing again at a later time from nothing but a mere memory). To sum up, Joe was useless as always.

Helen Keller was even worse when it came to words of wisdom. "I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do." Good lord, Helen. What was I supposed to make of that?

Once I got past the wordiness of it all, it could be summed up very simply: don't be lazy. Why do people waste words when they can just come out and say what they feel? Helen Keller was no Chaucer; that much was certain.

So I picked up Shakespeare because he seemed to have a lot to say, and he said it cleverly. He had to know what he was talking about - someone so glorified by the English-speaking world for hundreds of years can't be wrong. He just can't.

The only other person I normally sought out for advice was Pep. I could ask my father, but we didn't talk about that kind of stuff, and I had already predicted the outcome: ‘Grin and bear it, Nick'. I was pretty sure that fucking expression would be printed on my tombstone. Here lies Nicholas Jonas. Grinned and beared it. Then he died.  

My mother, though her intentions were golden, would butt her nose in and take control, and the last thing I wanted was my mother doing all the talking for me at the age of seventeen.

After one month, I was nothing but a ‘Send' button away from asking Miley for advice when I remembered Rainie's words: "It's always Pep, isn't it? When things go wrong, Pep's the one you go to!"

It made me feel a little better to remember it. It was jealousy talking, was it not? Well, if Rainie wanted to be my go-to girl, then her wish was my command.

Things had remained much the same with Rainie, by the way. We were unofficial but semi-exclusive. It wasn't like I was seeing anyone else. I spent a significant amount of time with her, so I assumed she wasn't, either. I came to realize that she was the kind of person I could take with me (almost) anywhere I wanted to go, and she'd go with a smile on her face. But she wasn't one to lounge around, and unfortunately, that was what I liked doing best. Still, I tried to make it work, because every so often she acted like the Rainie I knew in the summer. The one who would have long conversations with me on the phone; the one who excited me so much (in the pants) that I had to take breathers every five minutes to calm myself.

After a quick phone call to alert her I was coming, I was on my way. Rainie would be pleased that I was confiding in her and seeking her help. That was what she wanted, wasn't it? Maybe the ice caps would melt for today and she'd simply be a bitch, no ice included.

I gave her a kiss as she opened the door for me that night.

"How was filming today?" she asked me.

"It's Sunday," I pointed out. "We went to church."

Pretty sure I told her that the night before.

"Oh. Well, how's God doing today?" she corrected herself, snorting at what was supposed to be a joke.

"He's fine," I answered awkwardly. It was on the tip of my tongue to add ‘He told me to give you another kiss', but I kept quiet. For once, I wasn't really in a kissing mood. (Also, didn't need to give God another reason to spite me).

I followed her into the small kitchen, where she sat on a stool and crossed one leg over the other. "We never go to your house, you know that?"

I did know that. There was a very simple reason, and that reason was named Kevin. You could never be sure when he would decide to swoop in and talk your ear off, stealing your girl from right under your nose as your eardrums rang incessantly, somehow rendering you incapable of retaliating.

Nonetheless, I shrugged, pretending to be just as surprised as she was. "I guess it's easier for me to come to you."

"Don't you think it gets boring after a while?" While she waited for my response, she reached over and plugged in the electric kettle, searching through the cupboard for a mug.

I frowned. "It's not boring when I'm with you."

She released a dry laugh, pushing herself off the stool to dig through the large tea selection that was sitting on the corner of the counter. I leaned against the fridge, watching her as she worked.

Glancing at me out of the corner of her eye, Rainie commented, "You never dress up anymore."

I looked down at my jeans and a button-up collared shirt with rolled sleeves. I thought I looked presentable, and that was me being modest.

"I hate dressing up," I told her frankly. "I only do it when I'm working. You know that."

"You dress up when we go out," she commented.

"That's different. That's a date."

She shrugged, clearly unimpressed. "I always try to look nice for you."

Grinding my teeth together, I fought back a snarl. First of all, I knew I looked pretty decent. What kind of guy my age actually bothers to tuck his shirt into his pants? I go above and beyond, even when I'm dressing down. And secondly, I had to point out that...

"I've seen your wardrobe, remember? You barely own three items of casual clothing."

We were a little different in that respect.

She shrugged again. I couldn't suppress my snort this time. "What, you want me to wear a tie every time I come over to hang out?"

Rainie picked out her preferred choice of tea and placed the bag into the empty mug. "Do whatever you want."

She was intentionally not looking at me to be cold, and it was driving me crazy (not in the pants, just in general). With a sigh of surrender, I relaxed my shoulders and leaned against the fridge once more. Not even my mother told me what to wear. This argument was ludicrous. Speaking of ludacris, I could use one of my favourite rap songs on the soundtrack of my life to sum up this moment. It played in my head as I stared blankly ahead: Move, bitch, get out the way. Get out the way, bitch, get out the way.

Rainie was starting to get in the way with day-to-day life.

As she poured boiling water into the mug, the front door swung open and Lesbian Friend appeared next to me in the kitchen, bulky black bags thrown over either shoulder. It was presumable that she had recently done some sort of photo shoot.

As was custom, I received no more than a sideways glance as she brushed her hair out of her face and gave Rainie a smile. "Hey," she said breathlessly.

"Cal!" Rainie exclaimed with a grin. (Side-note: I rarely received that enthusiastic of a reception). "You want tea?"

Callan nodded, and Rainie got another mug out of the cupboard. Nobody asked me if I wanted tea. Fuck these people.

I stood there like a third wheel for a few minutes as the two of them went over their days. I played with my car keys and shuffled my feet around like a lost, lonely child. Finally, Lesbian Friend took her mug of tea and retreated to her bedroom, leaving Rainie and I alone at last.

"What's wrong, Jonas?" Rainie asked with a smirk. "You look like your dog just died."

I knew firsthand what people looked like when their dogs died. It wasn't funny.

However, I chose to ignore it, asking, "Think you can help me with something?" I pushed myself away from the fridge with the sole of my foot and stood in the centre of the kitchen, expectantly awaiting her response.

Rainie took a sip of tea, swallowing as she questioned, "What's the deal?"

I sighed, approaching this in the bluntest way possible. "Last month Pep told me she was in love with me."</