“What do you think of this one?”
Berry held up a peach colored suit.
“Absolutely gorgeous, but not what you should be looking for.”
“Being professional, sucks,” Berry whined. “Why can’t professional also be cute?”
“So that people can keep telling you the cake thing.”
“About eating your cake.”
I nodded as I swiped through the clothes racks trying to find some sort of medium.
“I’d still eat the cake,” she grumbled.
“I think that’s why we’re in this mess.”
“What about plaid?”
“It's kind of rad,” I smirked.
She looked up at me too frustrated to laugh. “Can I wear a lab coat and just say I’m dressing for the job I want?”
I shrugged, “I don’t think I’ve ever turned down service from a Doctor for not looking professional enough.”
“Right? Isn’t the lab coat the end all be all of authority? This is bullshit.”
“On the bright side, this could be the last time you buy a suit. From here on out it’ll be all about lab coats.”
“I’m getting one in every color. I’d like to see them try and stop me.”
I smiled at Berry’s stubbornness.
“Where did you go after Sandra’s party two weeks ago?”
“A drive,” I answered honestly.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “With those Jonas kids?”
I kept my focus on the clothing in front of me.”
“I stopped by your house this week. Eric said you were out with your boyfriend.”
I grabbed the closest item, “what about this one?”
“It’s cute, but you’re not changing the subject.”
I sighed, “he’s not my boyfriend, he’s a friend… I think.”
“How did that happen?”
“I have no idea.”
“I really don’t know. They keep inviting me to stuff and most of it sounds really cool.”
Berry watched me carefully, “you’re not dating any of them?”
“Not that I know of.”
Berry pulled a gorgeous cream satin top out from the rack to my line of sight.
“I think this could work.”
I sat outside the dressing room while Berry tried on her items.
“So what have they invited you to?”
“We played softball last weekend. Tuesday we went to a trampoline park. Thursday they had dinner at Kevin’s house.”
“Is Kevin also in the Jonas Brothers?”
I saw one of the employees head snap over in our direction.
“Yes, he’s the oldest.”
Berry walked out in her cute suit with the satin top underneath.
“I like it.”
“You think so?” She asked, not quite convinced.
“Yeah I think the satin underneath really softens the look. So you have a professional suit with an extra dose of feminine.”
“I think so, too.”
She walked back into the dressing room to change back into her clothes.
“So when’s the next Jonas soiree?”
I could see the employee eyeing us from a distance.
“You can’t keep saying that name.” I whispered.
“Because people can hear you.”
“Are you not supposed to be associated with them?”
“I don’t know, but this is not how I intend to find out.”
Berry and I shared some nachos in the food court.
“So when’s your next date?”
“It’s not a date. They’re doing a bunch of group events before going back on tour.”
“So now, after you spent how many thousands of dollars trying to make it up to Sandra, they decide to go on tour?”
“I don’t decide their schedule.”
Berry rolled her eyes, “you know what they should be inviting you everywhere, they kind of owe you for that one.”
“Pretty sure that’s not how a business transaction works.”
“Who cares! Take advantage of the opportunity. You’ve been losing your mind over this band for years and for whatever reason you’re finally on their radar. Make sure they know you. Make them love you.”
How would I even begin…
“You’re more loveable than you realize,” Berry promised me. “I love you.”
“I think that’s just ‘cause you’ve been stuck with me for so long.”
“Give yourself a little more credit, Vans. I promise, there is so much to love about you.”
I offered her a weak smile.
So what? I raised an eyebrow in confusion.
“Don’t make me ask again, Vans.”
“They’re having a pool party tomorrow.”
“That sounds like fun.”
“Come with me?” I begged.
“Hello, crazy, I have an interview that I am nowhere near ready for. I’m housebound.”
Berry layered a jalapeño on her chip, “what are you going to wear?” She shoved the chip in her mouth.
“I don’t even know,” I reached into the nacho plate to grab a chip when Berry pulled it out of my reach.
“Bitch, please, you have a pool party tomorrow, you cannot afford to load up on sodium right now.”
What? “Berry, you’re just saying that because you don’t want to share.” I tried reaching in again and she swatted my hand away.
“You’re gonna wear the bathing suit I got you for our trip to Cancun last summer that you conveniently ‘forgot.’” She beamed.
“It doesn’t fit me,” I lied.
“Girl that bikini was tailor made for you. Besides if it wasn’t a date before it will be now.”
“My ass is out, though.”
Berry squinted her eyes in incredulity. “You’re telling me you spent four years, climbing bleachers, jumping, running and doing god knows what else to not enjoy the fruits of your labors?”
“Berry, I don’t think-”
“Trust me, Vans, your ass will never again look as great as it does right this second. This is the time to enjoy that fruit.” She beamed, “it’s a peach.”
I stared at my reflection in the mirror for a while, wondering if this was really a good idea. I wore the cheeky olive bottoms with a thin black trim that swooped in a slight U shape from my hip bones down toward my pelvis and back up. I mean, I can’t see any cellulite. And it does make me look a little longer. I played with the black zipper on the matching Olive top, testing its resilience. It seemed just a tad loose for my liking and wondered if I should change it. My doorbell rang alerting me of Nick’s arrival. I slipped on my white Ralph Lauren cover up and buttoned up the three buttons near my abs. I grabbed my white sun hat and my go bag before rushing down the stairs.
“Where are you guys going?” My mom questioned Nick.
“My brother is hosting a pool party for some friends. We’ll have some karaoke going on.”
“I expect there won’t be any drinking.”
“No ma’am, none at all.”
I slipped past my mom out the door. “I’ll be home later, momma.”
“Be good. Take care of her.”
“I will,” Nick and I spoke in unison as we made the walk down the driveway.
“You look very fresh,” Nick commented on my long sleeve shirt.
“It's very breezy,” I promised, throwing my hair over to the left side to swing my bag over my right shoulder.
I felt Nick’s right hand reach around my back as he slipped the bag right off, “I’ll take it.”
He flung the bag over his shoulder before I could protest.
“Thank you,” I was a little louder this time, as I flashed him a quick smile.
“Not a problem,” he smirked. “None at all.”
He placed a hand on my upper back leading me over to his car.
“Have you ever sung before?” Nick asked as we got onto the freeway.
“Never,” I lied.
Nick looked over at me and I looked away. “I know you’re lying to me.”
I bit my lip. “I did one semester my junior year. My professor said I needed to project more.”
“What did you sing?”
“He was relatively opposed to anything that didn’t require a piano.”
“Sounds like an awful lot of Elton John.”
“A lot of Alicia Keys, too.”
“Are you ready to sing today?”
“Did you know that octopuses have 3 hearts?”
Nick shook his head with a chuckle, “that won’t work.”
“Works quite well apparently. So well in fact, that they also have 9 brains.”
“Be ready, cause you can’t avoid it.”
We pulled up to Kevin’s home seeing a driveway filled to the brim with cars. I guess everyone is here.
Nick opened my door and grabbed my bag out of the trunk before standing beside me again. “Ready?”
I shook my head nervously, “no.”
Nick gave me a soft smile and his hand, “promise I won’t let you drown.”
I took his hand while he led us through the maze of cars toward the front door.
Nick released my hand to open the door and find a completely empty home and a colorful display of bathing suits and swim trunks in the backyard. He placed a hand on my mid back before leading me into the home.
I walked ahead of him timidly as he turned to close the door behind him. Dani walked in from the backyard with an empty bottle of wine.
“Hi, Vanessa, so glad you could make it!”
I flashed a shy smile in her direction before I felt Nick’s hand on my back again.
“It’ll be fun, you just need to get out there,” he whispered behind me.
“Nick, glad I caught you,” Dani called out from inside the refrigerator. “Can you take this out to Joe?”
She flashed a chilled bottle of fireball as Nick went over to collect it from her. I inched closer to the back door with curiosity. I saw Rochelle in a bright coral colored two-piece that made her dark brown skin sparkle beautifully. She saw me and flashed me a huge smile before calling me over with a flick of her wrist.
I took a deep breath and stepped out into Kevin’s massive backyard cautiously.
“Hey girl, how are you?” She greeted me with a hug.
“You look so beautiful in this color.”
“Girl, don’t I know it!” She laughed.
“I’m about to hop back in the pool right now, care to join me?”
I didn’t expect to shed my coverup so soon. I looked around debating my options before I saw Jacob heading over with two red cups and a cocky strut.
Rochelle finished the last of her drink as I unbuttoned my shirt.
“Ladies, I’ve got-”
Rochelle handed him her empty red cup before he could finish, “Can you hold this for me, Jacob? We’re about to go for a dip.”
I slid off my coverup leaving it on one of the sun chairs before pulling my hair up into a ponytail. I could see Jacob’s dumb face as he stared at me with an open mouth.
“Ooh, Nessie, you are working wonders for that bathing suit!”
She turned me around and pushed me in the direction of the pool after smacking my bare ass again. I probably should have seen that one coming honestly.
We sat on the edge of the pool before sliding into the water below.
The water came up to around my ribs as Rochelle and I walked around on the shallow end.
“Where are you from originally?”
“I was born and raised in LA. What about you?”
“Maryland. I used to dream about coming out here, being in a band, living this life,” she laughed, scooping water in her hands to pour over her shoulders.
“Look at you now.”
“Shit, tell me about it. I can’t believe LA is selfish enough to keep this experience to itself,” she joked.
“Um, as someone from LA, I’ve also been excluded.”
She laughed. “So, how did you meet the guys.”
“They kidnapped me.”
“What?” Rochelle smacked her lips with a small smile clearly not believing me.
“They were performing at a private event and on the way out-”
“Oh, say no more. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been taken hostage after home shows because fans tried to follow us home.”
That’s insane! That should not be happening to people. Does the same thing happen to other celebrities?
Rochelle and I turned to see Joe holding up a frosty bottle of fireball with Nick beside him.
“Absolutely!” She confirmed as she waded toward them.
I followed loosely behind because I didn't really know where else to go.
“Not in the pool,” Joe informed her as he poured out a shot for her.
Rochelle let out an offended scoff.
“Not my rules,” Joe pointed at Kevin who sat under the shaded patio with Dani on his lap and a few band members around them.
“Nick, give me a hand will you?” Rochelle asked, reaching out to him.
Nick walked over, held her forearm and pulled her out in the blink of an eye. I stood against the edge of the pool looking up at Rochelle as she walked toward the shot that Joe held out for her.
Nick looked over at me through his dark shades again and I could have sworn I saw him visibly blush. “Need a hand?”
I looked around to make sure Jacob wasn’t nearby before nodding and reaching out to Nick. He pulled me out just as easily as he had with Rochelle.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“Can’t hear you,” Nick smirked.
I smiled up at him, “thank you.”
I said it louder this time, reminding myself that I was supposed to speak up.
“Nessa, would you care for a shot?”
I thought about it for a moment before shaking my head, “I don’t think I should.”
“Did you drive here?”
I looked over at Nick.
“He can take you home.”
I bit my lip, “not this time, thanks.”
“Non-alcoholic beverages are that way,” Joe ticked his head somewhere to the right of him but all I saw was another group gathered and socializing.
“I can show you,” Nick spoke up behind me.
He placed his hand on my back again as he led me to the promised ice chest. I lifted the lid to find an assortment of drinks.
“Did you want anything?”
Nick flashed me the Coke Zero in his hand, “I’m good.”
I reached in for bottled water when I heard a quiet “damn.”
I grabbed the bottle quickly and looked around to see a group of guys; all who happened to be looking away at the same time. That means it was one of them right? I saw Nick ball his hand up into a fist as I walked back over to him.
We began walking back toward Joe and Rochelle. “Are you going to get in the pool?”
I tugged on Nick’s grey Harley Davidson tank when he didn’t respond.
“Can’t swim.” He smirked.
“Don’t we have floaties for exactly this?” I asked, referring to the conversation we’d had a few days prior.
His smirk grew into a smile. “They’ve all been slashed… wonder what that’s about,” he said nonchalantly while taking another sip of his drink.
I turned toward him with crossed arms. “Failing all else, there’s always the shallow end.”
Nick’s glasses slid down the bridge of his nose ever so slightly and I saw his eyes on my breasts. I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine it that time.
“So there is,” he smiled as he fixed his shades and looked up again.
He looked over my head and placed his hand behind my back to usher me toward Joe and Rochelle.
“Yo, Nessa!” I heard Jacob call out.
I heard him but I really didn’t want to so I pretended not to. I sat in the nearest seat of our circle, where I’d sat before getting up to grab a water with Rochelle on my right and Joe on my left.
I turned to find Nick talking to Jacob and interlocking in one of those handshakes where you pull someone in for a hug… minus the hug. Jacob turned around and retreated in whatever direction he’d come from. Before Nick turned to walk toward us again.
Nick sat in the seat across from me and took a sip of his drink.
“Oh, Mr. Cool Guy over here has to wear his sunglasses in the shade,” Joe teased him.
Nick certainly did not look amused. I offered him a small smile uncertain as to whether or not he was even looking at me.
Joe nudged his arm, “come on, man, it’s a party, relax.”
Nick finally lifted his sunglasses from off his eyes before holding them in his hand that hung between his legs.
“How many shows are you guys doing this time?” I tried changing the subject hoping it would give Nick a chance to cool down.
“Forty-six, right?” Joe asked.
“Thirty two cities,” Nick responded.
“How many are you coming to?”
I blushed. “I only got two tickets to the one in LA. I had promised my niece I’d take her.”
“What? Why don’t you come on tour with us?” Rochelle asked.
I bit my lip and shrugged. “I don’t think you guys need extra luggage,” I joked.
“What we do need is a solid shortstop that can take Nick down a notch,” Joe teased as he knocked back a shot.
“Speaking of, how’s your leg?”
“Jazmin’s advice really helped,” I got up and turned to show Rochelle my leg. “It’s a little light where the new skin came in but I think it should be gone by the end of summer.”
I pointed out the white spots to Rochelle.
“Is that a lotus on your wrist?” She asked as she took hold of my hand.
“Oh, yeah, I just got it last month for my birthday.”
“That is so beautiful, what does it mean?”
“Nick, I think you'd be better off putting your sunglasses back on.”
I turned around and realized I had been waving my ass in front of Nick this whole time. For a minute I forgot that I had even been wearing such a small bikini. My face exploded in red as Nick put his sunglasses back on and bolted from his seat.
I sat in his old seat completely mortified.
“I’d think that’s a compliment,” Rochelle assured me.
“I agree, of all the asses on display, yours was the only one to make him turn his head.”
I covered my face in my hands, while the music stopped and a speaker whined.
“Ladies and gentlemen… slobs of all ages,” Jacob slurred over the microphone. I heard a few voices chuckle in the background while I practiced my deep breathing.
“I’d like to introduce you to our host, our boss… one of our bosses,” he laughed.
“One third of the reason we’re all here… Kevin.”
Kevin walked up to take the mic from Jacob as everyone, including Rochelle and Joe cheered. I mustered just enough courage to look up and see an enthused Kevin standing at the mic.
“Hello, everyone, I hope you’re all having a great time. Welcome back to another tour season. I know it’s been a while since the last one but we’re very grateful for all of you who stuck by us, waited patiently… very patiently,” he chuckled. “My brothers and I wanted to host these events not only to allow everyone to bond and get to know each other but also to thank all of you for everything you do for us. Without you guys, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Everyone cheered except for Joe who shouted, “take your top off!”
“I won’t do that,” Kevin shook his head. “Let’s not ruin a good thing. Without further ado, I’d like to let you know that the karaoke machine is set up and ready to go. Jazmin, I believe you agreed to go first. And I think we all remembered what happened the last time no one stepped up and I had to sing. I don’t think anyone wants to live through that again, so step, sing, let’s keep this party going shall we?”
Jazmin stepped to the mic, and cleared her throat, “I might be a little rusty, don’t tell the boss.” There was a scattered chuckle, “I’m kidding, Nick…” She giggled, “I hope.”
She sang the most beautiful rendition of Summertime Sadness that captivated just about everyone at the party. I took this as my cue to run over to the other side of the pool to grab my cover up.
I went the long way round to avoid running past the crowds and nearly slipped on a puddle. I caught myself before going down and proceeded to power walk over to my abandoned garment. I slipped it on and buttoned the middle button before rolling up the sleeves a little to walk back toward the area where Rochelle and Joe were sitting and listening to Jazmin finish up her song.
Rochelle went up next, “You know I’m a sucker for a good throwback so bear with me here.”
Jacob pressed play on the song and we saw a four-count go off before Rochelle sang the first line, “This is how we do it…”
Everyone started dancing around to Rochelle’s song.
Joe grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the mic where Rochelle was singing. I fought the urge to pull away from him as I unwillingly followed behind him into the crowd. Finally he released my hand and brought his hands up as he danced beside me. I stood there and watched Rochelle rap through the song until Joe started bumping me with his hip, reminding that I should be dancing. I copied Joe and stuck with a simple two step while swaying my hips from left to right.
When she finished, Rochelle came toward us and accepted my high five while the next person stepped up to the mic.
Rochelle stood behind me and held onto my waist while we danced to some of the other songs.
Jacob took the mic to introduce the next person, “Up next, give it up for Nessa!”
Joe and Rochelle lost their minds screaming as Rochelle rushed me up to the stage. I looked around totally freaked out to see Nick standing next to Jacob with a small smile on his lips. Did he sign me up for this?
The song began playing with a piano intro and I instantly knew what song it was. The lyrics started but I didn’t. I was frozen completely unable to make any sort of sound.
Rochelle ran up behind me and started singing over my shoulder.
“Some people live just for the fame,” she shook me by the waist to remind me that I should be singing.
“Some people live for the power,” I finally let out quietly to be met with cheers.
“A little louder, girl, you’ve got this.”
“Some people live just to play the game,” Rochelle rocked my hips from side to side.
“You’re doing great, just loosen up.”
I shut my eyes forcefully to try to ignore the fact that there were about 20-30 people out there who knew music so much better than I ever could who could and were somehow listening to me.
“Some people want it all,” I sang much louder this time.
“Yes, girl!” I heard Rochelle as she finally released me.
I giggled and missed a few notes but everyone’s cheers were so loud, I don’t even think they noticed.
“Want nothing at all, If it ain’t you, baby. If I ain’t got you, baby. Some people want diamond rings, some just want everything, but everything means nothing if I ain’t got you!”
I continued to sing with trembling hands and a body that had turned into absolute jello as I heard Rochelle cheer me on above the crowd.
I got off that stage with the brightest shade of red on my face. Rochelle engulfed me in the largest hug and I took full advantage of the opportunity to hide my face.
Joe gave me the tightest hug I’ve likely ever had and I did my best to fight off the panic setting in. He finally released me in time for a hand to pull me through the crowd of people patting my back.
I started hyperventilating in the midst of the crowd and started pulling back against the person dragging me along.
“Nessa, trust me,” I heard Nick call out as he continued to pull me along.
I kept my head down as Nick led me away from the crowd past the pool to the garden on the other end. We sat behind the patio away from everyone else while I tried to pull myself together.
“Are you okay?”
“The roses, the grass, the pool,” I looked around frantically, “the sky...” My eyes watered as I struggled to find another item, “the tree. The concrete, my shirt, my hair, the wind. Music… uh…” I tried to breathe again but I felt like oxygen simply wasn’t getting through.
“You can do this,”
“Nick… the leaves.” I took a deep breath finally feeling the air come back through my lungs, “cologne… flowers. Um,” I bit my lip before i found it, “my lip gloss.”
I took a deep breath and opened my eyes again as Nick sat beside me.
“I’m really sorry about that, Nessa, I guess I didn’t think it through.”
I shook my head, “it’s not your fault, this is on me.”
“I’ll grab the rest of your things so we can get you home,” Nick stood up to leave and I was reminded that I was ruining what should be a fun event.
“No, please don’t,” I begged.
Nick turned to look at me, “Are you sure? We don’t have to stay here.”
“I’m fine, I feel better now.”
Nick sat with me for a while longer in silence. I worked on taking deep breaths and every time I could smell his cologne. I think I need to tell him. I don’t want to tell him. Only my therapist knows and he asked too many questions. He deserves an explanation if he’s going to sit here and put up with it. Don’t do it. You should tell him. Don’t tell him.
The thoughts in my head argued back and forth growing louder and louder. I closed my eyes, “I don’t like being touched by men.”
I opened my eyes and kept my eyes fixed on the grass beneath my bare feet.
I could see Nick looking at me from the corner of my eye.
“I…” I swallowed the tension growing in my throat. “When I- I was nine when it happened.” Nick didn’t move beside me and it made me even more nervous.
“I had a relative staying the night… Um, he- he… you know… he touched me.” I felt tears in my eyes and I couldn’t understand why since they weren’t present in my therapist’s office. I bit my lip as I cleared my throat again. “I didn’t try to stop him… I thought that if I pretended to be asleep he’d go away, or it’d just stop,or-or if I pretended to be asleep I might actually fall asleep and not have to know what was happening.” My voice cracked at the end and my hand reached up to swat away the tears lingering on the edge.
“I don’t know, but for a few years I just pretended that I was asleep so it didn’t happen and it didn’t count,” I laughed miserably. “It didn’t really work out, though. My ex… he wasn’t a fan of... there’s just some things I haven’t learned to do, yet.” I shrugged.
‘I’m so sorry,’ my therapist sounded off in my head again. I hated hearing those words and I prayed that Nick wouldn’t say the same.
I felt Nick’s hand rest over my own reassuringly and my body finally relaxed and compressed under its own weight. I leaned onto Nick lightly trying not to think about the fact that I just shared my darkest secret with him. We sat in silence while my face pressed against his shoulder suddenly feeling starved of any affection. He’s warm and he smells good.
After a while of sitting in silence Nick finally broke the silence. “Dani is calling us over.”
I pulled away and looked over at a smiling Dani waving us over. Nick looked down at me to gauge my reaction. I offered him a weak smile before getting to my feet. Nick took his glasses from off his shirt and placed them over my eyes. “Ready?”
I nodded my head as Nick turned and began walking toward Dani. I reached out for his hand again. Nick looked back at me before giving my hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Hey Mr. Big Shot, signing your next talent,” Dani teased.
“Can you give me a hand turning on the pool heater? The sun should be setting soon and I don’t see this ending any time soon.”
Nick let go of my hand and followed Dani to help her figure out the pool heater.
I sat on the edge of the pool dipping my feet in while I waited for him. I watched Joe losing his mind in the crowd while Rochelle sang another throwback.
“How are you doing over here?” Nick asked, walking back to check on me.
“Still waiting to teach you how to swim.”
Nick chuckled and looked around before discarding his tank on the nearest sun chair. He sat beside me before sliding into the pool and wading out into the center.
I blushed when Nick turned around and ticked his head inviting me to join him. I unbuttoned my coverup and discarded it beside the pool before sliding in and wading toward him.
Nick dunked his perfect curls into the water before resurfacing a second later. He shook out the extra water in his curls, some of which I could feel on my skin.
“Stop you’re ruining my glasses,” I joked. Nick moved toward me before taking his glasses back and placing them back on his face. He reached for my hands before getting a little closer. There was about two feet of distance between us before my body tensed up and I squeezed his hands.
He offered me a soft smile before backing up again, “I can do that.”
Nick swam around me in circles for a minute before I spoke up, “What’s touring like?”
He stopped and crouched down slightly to remain eye level with me. “Its great, except for when it isn’t.”
What does that mean?
“There’s so much to see and explore and it's great. But sometimes, you start to miss sleeping in your own bed. You miss eating home cooked meals, you miss getting a full night’s sleep, you miss the privacy.”
After the party was over, Nick and I stayed behind and helped Kevin and Danielle tidy up before heading home. I picked up empty cups and bottles and tossed them into the bag that Nick held for me. We finally headed home some time around midnight. I fell asleep listening to Nick’s music in the car.