Joe couldn’t even look at the pool house. He couldn’t even look in the direction of the pool house without feeling the twisting in his stomach and the pain in his heart over Niko. Too much happened in that place for him to ever disassociate her with it. It was like a symbol of them just sitting there, taunting him with its existence and memories.
Joe’s brain never shut off. Every time he saw her, it replayed flashbacks of them together. But he knew it was his punishment, his repentance. It was what he deserved for everything he’d done. Like so many have said before – karma’s a bitch. But yet, there were very few things on the planet that could keep him from Niko if she were to change her mind about them.
By the time they were thrown together in the front seat of the SUV on the way to Disneyland, seven days had passed since she ended things between them. Seven days since she panicked about falling asleep with him in his bedroom. Seven agonizing, marathon days.
As they sat stuck in traffic on the way to the happiest place on earth, Joe tried his best to disengage himself from reality. He tried daydreaming. He tried thinking of songs to sing in his head. He even tried thinking about what life was like before Julia. But the second Niko moved the slightest bit in her seat next to him, he was pulled straight back to her wispy blonde hair, perfectly tanned skin and intoxicating scent. She made his blood itch, wanting and needing her so bad.
Joe’s eyes kept flicking back and forth from the road to her long, slender, bare legs as the sun shone perfectly down on them. He wanted to reach out to them, to place his hand affectionately on her knee. If it was a week prior and they were driving around L.A. on one of their many outings while Jackson was off at practice, Joe wouldn’t hesitate to touch her. When it was just the two of them there really was never a time they weren’t touching. He longed for those days, for that relief.
“Daddy, can we listen to the Jonas Brothers?” Avery’s tiny voice pulled him out of his head. Joe cringed immediately, knowing it was probably the last thing Niko wanted at the moment.
“Yeah! Can we? Please?” Jackson chimed in excitedly.
“Can we listen to something else?” Joe asked, looking at them through the lenses of his Ray-bans in the rear-view mirror.
“Nooo!” Both of them whined.
“Daddy! I want to listen to it,” Avery insisted.
It was a mistake to look back at her, because when he did, all he saw was her bottom lip puffed out with big sad eyes. He was a sucker for that face. And he was certain that, at age five, Avery knew it and used it to her advantage.
“Sorry,” Joe said quietly to Niko, hoping she wouldn’t be too entirely uncomfortable.
Joe swiped through his Spotify playlists on his phone that was mounted to the dashboard, finding the Jonas Brothers mix he previously put together with his kids and pressed play. Almost immediately Burnin’ Up started playing through the speakers, bringing him back to a time when he was on top of the world – a complete contrast to where he was today.
The beginning of the mix had a lot of their poppier hits off of the first couple records because that was what Jackson and Avery liked the best. When the song When You Look Me in the Eyes came on, Joe was brought back to a time when he dated a girl named Amelia. She was Australian and gorgeous and she was the first girl he ever really loved. Everything was so much simpler back then – back when he was a kid. Now he was stuck in wedded-hell with Julia.
Joe’s voice was incredible and it made Niko silently wonder why he ever left the business. She wondered if it was because of Julia… or the kids. She supposed Jackson’s birth came right around that time.
“When you look me in the eyes and tell me that you love me everything's alright…” Joe heard Niko quietly singing to herself.
He almost couldn’t believe his ears. He slowly turned his head toward her, trying to catch her singing again. He wanted to hear more from the girl who said she was never a fan of his band. Was she holding back on him all along? Her eyes caught his and they both smiled widely at each other.
“Are you sure you weren’t a fan?” He asked her with a sideways smirk.
“If Jacey ever wanted to listen to you guys, I would literally only let her play this song…” She said as her cheeks blushed with her words. Joe couldn’t get the smile off of his face, thinking about Niko as a young girl listening to the song.
“And besides, your kids have made me listen to Jonas Brothers for countless hours since I’ve been here,” she giggled lightly. Who was she kidding? The Jonas Brothers had been on repeat on her Spotify since day one.
“Oh, yeah? Countless torturous hours?” Joe said dramatically.
“Yes. Pure torture,” she said in the same dramatic tone.
“I’m sorry you had to be put through that,” he said, smiling blithely at her.
“Yeah, I deserve a raise,” she joked.
“I’ll get right on that,” he told her sarcastically.
The mood lightened considerably for the last part of the trip after their conversation. Joe felt better than he had in a week and the excitement of taking his kids to Disneyland really hit him by the time they arrived.
“Sunblock,” Mary said, pulling out a couple of tubes from a bag that was in the back of the SUV.
“Good call,” Joe told her, grabbing one of the tubes.
Mary began organizing some of the things they brought while Niko lotioned Avery with sunblock and Joe took care of Jackson. Once the kids were done, both Niko and Joe started lotioning themselves up, but of course couldn’t reach their own backs.
“I’ll get you, if you get me,” Joe told her.
“Alright,” she agreed, looking almost shell-shocked having to be so close to him, touching him. Joe tried hard to convince himself it was because she missed him, but he couldn’t be sure.
As his fingers glided across her skin, he couldn’t help but be brought back to the many times his fingers traveled across every inch of her naked body – every time his lips traveled those same routes. He had to close his eyes tightly and take a deep breath before he turned for her to lotion up his back.
Her hands on him was agonizing. He wanted her so bad, it hurt. Why couldn’t she see that?
“There you go, Mr. Jonas,” Niko said quietly once she was finished. He turned to her, sending her a sharp look.
“Don’t,” he said, shaking his head lightly.
“What?” She asked, looking up at him with her doe-eyes.
“Don’t call me Mr. Jonas, Niko. Just, please,” he told her in a low voice.
“Okay,” she said, nodding lightly as her vision met the ground.
“It’s hard enough as it is,” he told her quietly.
“Joe...” She breathed softly, looking back up at him.
“I think we’re ready, Mr. Jonas,” Joe heard Mary’s hurried voice.
He cringed, shutting his eyes tightly before he turned toward Mary and the kids. Niko was on the verge of saying something, but was cut off completely and his annoyance level shot up over that fact.
“Alright, sounds good,” Joe told Mary curtly and turned back to Niko, who just gave him a sad look before walking around him toward the other three.
“Fuck,” Joe cursed under his breath, turning toward the group, preparing himself for a fun-filled day with Mickey fucking Mouse.
Jackson and Avery were beside themselves once they got into the park. They wanted to do everything, see everything – which was almost impossible in just one day at Disneyland. But they did what they could. They met a handful of their favorite characters, getting their pictures taken with them. Mary insisted on not being in any of the pictures, so it was just Joe and Niko with the kids. And when Niko tried to back out of a picture, the kids did their very best puppy dog eyes and Niko melted like butter. Joe couldn’t say he blamed them for wanting Niko around. Their mother should have been there with them, but found just about everything else in her life to be more important than her family. When Avery pointed out that it was like Niko was their mommy, that fact was never more apparent – Julia was absent once again. Joe’s nerves over the situation were shot and he was on a short fuse by the time evening rolled around.
“You’re like mommy ’cause she’s not here,” Avery told Niko, being incredibly adorable, but making her incredibly uncomfortable. Especially when Niko looked over at Joe and he gave her an awkward she’s-kind-of-got-a-point look. Niko felt shanghaied to say the least.
Along with not being in any of the pictures, another thing Mary refused to do was to ride any of the rides, so again Niko was stuck playing ‘mommy’ to the Jonas kids while the four of them stood in the long lines together.
“You know, your wife really needs to come back and spend some time with your kids,” Niko told Joe as they were standing in line for the It’s a Small World ride.
Joe’s blood instantly began to boil. If she really thought he wasn’t aware of that fact, then he didn’t know where the fuck she’d been. It pissed him off completely that she would even say something like that to him. His already shot nerves reached their breaking point.
“Don’t you think I know that?” He snapped at her.
“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered, looking at him with wide, shocked eyes.
Joe scoffed and moved up to where his children were still bouncing around with what seemed like a never-ending supply of energy.
As the sun began setting, they took one last spin on the teacups ride before they went to go have a late dinner. Joe wasn’t looking at Niko or talking to her throughout dinner and she felt really bad for her insensitive comment about his wife. She knew things with Julia were a sore subject and because of her crankiness she just had to bring it up, as if he didn’t already know his wife should be more of a mother to his amazing kids.
Joe’s mood didn’t get any better by the time they were headed up to the hotel. So, he was grateful when Niko and Mary said they’d take the kids for a slumber party in their room. Joe felt like he needed to be alone anyway, so it was perfectly okay with him.
Once the kids were bathed and settled into their pajamas and blankets on the floor, Niko and Mary put on the Disney Channel and they passed out right away. Mary was also quick to fall asleep, whereas Niko was lying there in the darkened room, exhausted beyond belief, but unable to fall asleep. She felt horrible for making Joe feel bad about his wife.
Without another thought, Niko tip-toed out of the room and found herself standing in front of Joe’s door knocking for him to open up. It took a few moments, but he did – standing in front of her wearing only pajama pants, looking apathetic.
“Joe…” She breathed, looking down at the floor apprehensively.
Niko was only wearing shorts and a small t-shirt and Joe’s eyes immediately focused on her hardened nipples protruding against the fabric, sending sparks of desire throughout him.
“What do you want?” He asked, trying not to sound too entirely rude.
“I just wanted to… I wanted to apologize for what I said earlier,” she said as her eyes finally looked into his.
He nodded his head, stepping aside to invite her in, watching as she walked past him through the doorway. He shut the door behind her and she walked toward the middle of the room where she stopped herself, turning toward him. Joe grabbed the television remote from the bed, muting the volume before throwing it back onto the bed.
“I was out of line,” Niko continued with her apology.
“Please, just don’t…” He told her. She stopped herself, giving him a light nod.
“I know my wife isn’t around, okay. I’ve tried to make her see what she’s doing to those kids, but she doesn’t. She never wanted to have kids in the first place, so how can I make her want to be with them now?” Joe explained, causing Niko’s heart to sink.
“Joe… I’m sorry,” she breathed, giving him the tortured, sad eyes she seemed to have perfected in the last week.
“You don’t need to apologize, Niko. You’ve been so wonderful for them. And I can’t blame them for calling you… you know…” He said before stopping himself, not wanting to bring up the fact that Jackson and Avery began jokingly calling Niko ‘mommy’ by the end of the night. Niko nodded to tell him she knew exactly what he meant.
“I wish things could be different…” Joe whispered as he stepped toward her. She just stared up into his eyes, knowing his words held more than one meaning.
“It’s been really hard… not having you…” He told her honestly, feeling his entire being reacting to her.
“It’s not right…” Her voice cracked as her eyes fell to the floor again.
“The way I’m living isn’t right,” Joe said, grabbing her arms gently in his hands.
“Joe…” She breathed quietly, looking up into his eyes.
There were a few weighted moments where they stood staring at one another. Joe was waiting for her to protest or to push him away, to do something. But it never came. So he took his opening. He pulled her body flush against his and connected their lips, kissing her exactly the way he knew she needed to be kissed.