"Let's run through it once more. I don't like the way the guitar riff sounds during the bridge."
I groaned when I heard that sentence, walking into the room with my hands full of Starbuck's coffee for everyone. It was already past 6 at night, and I just wanted to go home, but I couldn't even do that.
"You guys aren't done with this song yet?" I said as I set the coffee down on the nearby table. "Come on, Nick! We've been here all day!" I pouted, taking a seat on the leather couch.
Nick showed me a big cheesy grin from his spot in front of all of the electronics. "Oh, come on, Pacey. You know you love spending the extra time with me."
I grumbled under my breath, and stuck out my tongue at him in response.
The couch moaned as he came to sit next to me, throwing an arm around my shoulders. "Pacey," he cooed, "you know you love me. We've been through so much."
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, Nick. We've conquered a few of Joe's tickle attacks together...oh wait. You helped him. Okay, we've survived Joe's first attempts at cooking together...oh wait. You left me to eat it by myself while you went out with your girlfriend! Shall I continue?"
He chuckled. "Alright, alright. So I may have thrown you to the sharks a few times, but you still love me!"
"Right. Whatever." I mumbled.
"You just love working for me. We both know it." He clarified with a wink.
I shook my head. "I tried to quit, remember?"
He smirked. "And how did that work out for you?"
I narrowed my eyes. "It's not my fault! Joe wouldn't let me go to any of my freaking interviews!"
"Don't bring me into this!"
I huffed, and turned my attention to Joe. "Joe, you're the reason I got this job, and you're also the reason I can't get a different one."
Joe smirked, walking closer to us. "I know, but look at this face," he grabbed my face with one of his hands, turning it to Nick to show him, "you're so happy working for Nicky. We all see it."
"You're all so annoying." I muttered as best as I could while he still held onto my face. He turned my face back to his to steal a quick kiss. I protested by growling deep in my throat. "Stop that."
By this time, all of the other musicians, and Nick's producer were laughing at our small banter. I sighed, getting my face free from Joe, then looking down into my lap. It wasn't that I was depressed or angered by our little scene, it was just Joe. He made everything so hard. I broke up with him, in turn he makes himself into the most wanted boyfriend any girl would want. I get my apartment key back from him, he learns how to pick my lock. I try to quit my job to put distance between us, he prevents all of the interviews from happening, and gets involved with the job I already had.
Well, there was nothing he could do about my next tactic.
I looked at my watch. 6:30 PM
"Nick, seriously, I have to be home by at least 7 tonight." I said with a pleading glance in Nick's direction.
"Okay, Pacey, don't worry." He smiled, getting up off of the couch and making his way back into the sound booth. "I just need to record this bridge once more, and then you can go."
I scrunched up my face. "Why do I even have to stay for this?"
Nick turned his gaze towards his fidgety friend, and widened his eyes, sending Joe a message through them. "Because, Pacey. I won't pay you for this hour if you leave before 7."
I scowled. "Screw you."
He huffed, aiming his own scowl towards Joe, but still speaking to me. "Yes, I'm the one you should be angry with, so just sit your ass down and stay."
I furrowed my eyes in disgust at Nick's sudden sour mood, but did as I was told. Flopping myself down onto the couch, watching as the men in the studio all made their way into their respective places. I narrowed my eyes, watching Joe making his way towards me. He simply shot me one of his famous, lopsided grins, then sat down next to me and reached for my hand.
I scoffed, pulling my hand away from his. I was pissed now, and I was going to blame Nick over there for it all. Joe raised his hands in defense, then placed something on my knee. I glanced down, seeing my cell phone sitting on my knee. I looked up to Joe's face, noticing his cautious expression.
"Why do you have my phone, Joe?" I spat. I hadn't intended for my voice to come out so hurtful, but - again - I was blaming Nick.
Joe now seemed unfazed by my sour attitude. "You left it on the table when you left to get the coffee."
My face softened, distinctly remembering placing it on the table earlier. "Oh..." I looked away from him, now ashamed for acting like such a bitch towards him when he didn't even deserve it. "Sorry." I barely whispered.
I felt him shrug beside me, as we both kept our eyes on the glass where we could see Nick strumming his guitar through it. Over the years with Joe's help, Nick had grown quite good at playing the guitar, and this was the first album he'd be playing it on.
"Who's Ben?" he mumbled, still keeping his eyes off of mine, even after I looked over at him.
"How do you know about Ben?" I asked, avoiding the question altogether.
Joe shrugged, finally chancing a look in my direction. "He keeps texting you." His eyes darted down to the floor quickly. I wasn't sure whether it was because he was afraid of being reprimanded, or because I was about to confirm the thought that was already embedded in his mind.
"He's a guy..." I trailed off, unable to say it out loud to Joe. I had already hurt him so much, and I knew this would be a stab in the back. I didn't like it, but it had to be done.
"A guy you're seeing." He finished for me with a sigh. He nodded slowly, letting his words sink into both of our minds.
"I guess." I said, hating to confirm his words, but not wanting to lie to him either.
Ben was someone that I had met through Merisa. Merisa and I didn't hang out as much as we used to, 4 years ago, back when I met Joe, but we still kept in touch through phone calls, emails, texts, and whatnot. At the moment she was residing back in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. She was moving to Los Angeles soon though. She already had a flat planned, and a roommate. Her furniture had arrived earlier than she did, so she had asked me to let the movers in to bring in her stuff.
Ben was the mover.
I didn't really know much about him, and he didn't know much about me either. After spending the afternoon with him and his coworkers, helping them put Merisa's stuff away, he asked for my number (which I knew he would), and I gave it to him. So, we weren't exactly ‘seeing each other', but we were about to.
"That's why you want to leave so badly," he whispered, "because you have a date with him."
I sucked in a staggered breath, almost tasting the pain that was emanating off of his body sitting beside me. His shoulders were now slumped, and the energy he had was gone. I bit my lip, and clenched my fists, reminding myself why this was happening in the first place.
"Yes, Joe. I have a date tonight, and I'd really appreciate it if you minded your own business." I flinched at my own words, not looking up from my phone. If the statement made me flinch, I really didn't want to see what reaction Joe had.
I scrunched up my face in confusion, and pulled my head up to look at him. "What?"
"I'm not going to leave this alone. This is my business, and I already told you, Pacey, I'm not giving up on us." He explained, getting up from his spot next to me on the couch. "I'm never falling out of love with you, no matter how hard you try to make me."
Instead of acting on the urge to yell, I simply sighed at his reaction. This was Joe. It wasn't quite possible for me to stay angry with him, even if he was foiling every single one of my plans. He just didn't understand. This needed to happen. I didn't want it to happen, but I knew that if I didn't stop it now, we were just looking at disaster occurring down the road.
I looked back down to the phone.
7 unread text messages.
I rolled my eyes at Ben. 7? Really? I guess that's just yet another reason to do this. If sending me 7 text messages was what his heart was telling him, who was I to say it wasn't just all part of this huge series of coincidences that I call ‘my life'? It was that stupid number playing tricks on me again. It confused me with these stupid mind games. How the hell was I supposed to know how this works? All I know is that the number 7 refuses to leave me alone, so why keep fighting? I've tried to for so long to no avail. It was time that I just gave in.
I listened to Nick as he sang the last few verses of the bridge that he had wanted to perfect, but just as he reached the last few words, there was a loud crackling noise that erupted through the speakers that emitted the sounds of Nick's voice. Nick cringed, hearing it in the earphones, and we all quickly turned our gazes over to the soundboard. I wasn't as surprised as the others to see Joe in front of it.
"What the hell, Joe? I was almost done! Now I have to record the whole thing over again!" Nick yelled as he opened the door and made his way over to his brother.
Joe shrugged, looking as nonchalant as he could. I rolled my eyes, knowing that his little stunt wasn't an accident at all. He had screwed with the controls on purpose. It was Nick's rules that I stay until the song was over. As far as Joe was concerned, as soon as I got out of this place, I was off on my date. He was stalling.
"Joe." I spoke softly from my spot on the couch. Everyone's attention turned on me, as did Nick's, even while the vein on his forehead continued to bulge. "You have to let me go."
Joe's demeanor fell even more, as he brought his eyes up to meet mine. He rushed back over to me, and wrapped his arms tightly around me, pulling me into his chest.
"I don't want to, Pacey. I can't...It's not even possible for me to let you go." He said, feathering small kisses across my forehead.
"Okay." I nodded. He tightened his hold on me, getting slightly excited by my response. "If you can't let go...then this is me letting you go, Joe."
I stood up, and unwrapped his arms from my body, looking into his now saddened eyes as I did. I turned slowly, picking my head up to look at Nick, whose features had also softened dramatically. I looked to my watch for a second, checking the time. 6:45 PM.
"You don't have to pay me for this hour, Nick, but I have to leave." I spoke barely above a whisper. He just nodded, knowing there wasn't anything else he could do at that point. He had tried to stop me for his friend, and now I wasn't going to ignore it anymore. Nick was on Joe's side, and he always would be, even at the time when he knew he couldn't do anything to help Joe.
"That was probably the best date I've ever been on, Joe." I said with a grin as we walked up the steps to my flat building.
"Oh yeah?" he cocked his head, reaching for my hand to intertwine our fingers. "How was watching me enter myself in a hamburger eating contest, the best date you've ever had?" he asked amused.
I shrugged. "It was fun. I haven't really ever been on a real date, so I guess there's nothing I could really compare this to."
He stopped walking up the steps with me, pulling my hand and also preventing me from climbing any further. I turned to look at him, confused as to why he had stopped walking.
He scrunched up his eyebrows, "What do you mean you've never been on a real date? You can't tell me you've never had a boyfriend before. I won't believe it."
I laughed. "I have had boyfriends before, they just never really took me out anywhere. When I dated in high school, my boyfriends didn't have their licenses, and when I got to have a boyfriend in college, we just liked lounging around at our places. It was no big deal, but I like this." I explained. "It's kind of similar to what we have, Joe. We've been together for about a year, but this is our first date."
"But that's because I'm always so busy with tour and stuff." He reasoned.
I nodded. "Yeah, and it was kind of the same. My exes and I were just too busy with school and work to ever really go out on a date."
"Oh." He said, looking down to his shoes quickly before shooting his gaze back up to my eyes. "Well then, I promise to give you the best dates ever. All of your friends will be jealous."
I rolled my eyes at him, tugging on his hand to get him to start walking again. "They already are, Joe. Don't you worry." I giggled, and he smiled in turn, bringing my hand up to his lips to place a kiss on my knuckles before pulling me closer to his body altogether. I grinned down at him, as he was on the step lower than me, as he gazed up at me. The look in his eyes had my knees going weak.
His smile hardly faltered as he spoke, "I'll make sure all of our dates are special, even when we're old and wrinkly."
I let out another involuntary giggle at his sweet words that poured softly from his mouth. I pushed lightly on his shoulder, putting some space between the two of us, before he pulled me back, and wrapped his arms around my waist. I laughed out loud when he found his face wasn't able to reach mine from his spot on the lower step, instead pressing a kiss against my sternum. He pulled back after a few moments of his lips resting on my skin, and peered up at me from under his eyelashes.
Simply his eyes being on me caused my face to warm up, and the skin on my neck to turn a light pink. He swiped his fingers softly across my collarbone, admiring the colour that he had caused with a simple kiss, and a simple glance.
"Even when we're wrinkly and old?" I asked, just wanting to hear him confirm the longevity of this relationship.
He finally took the last step so that he was now towering over me. "I told you a year ago that I was never letting you go, Pacey. You're my pacemaker, right?"
I didn't even try to hide the grin that encompassed my face at his words. I merely nodded, standing on my tip toes to press my lips firmly against his. Keeping our hands intertwined, he brought his other hand up to cup the back of my neck, pulling my face closer, pressing his lips against mine in a longing kiss.
"Thumper," I mumbled quietly against his lips, "don't make promises you can't keep."
"Fine." He whispered, kissing me once more chastely, "I promise to never let you go, even when you beg me to let you leave."
I giggled pulling his hand behind me, finally making our way through the front doors of my flat building. "I hope that doesn't come back to bite me in the ass."
He chuckled lowly from behind me, placing his free hand on my lower backside. "Oh, there'll be something that'll come bite - "
"Joe!" I scoffed.
"Ben!" I called, walking swiftly through the doors of the restaurant. "I'm so sorry that I'm late. I was kept at work, then I had to rush home, then my blow dryer tried eating my hair..." I sat down with a huff, watching my attractive date watch in amusement.
"Rough day?" he asked, shaking his beautiful head of thick sandy brown hair as he chuckled.
"You have no idea." I said in return. I smiled at him, watching his eyes light up. "So what's good to eat here?"
It took our waiter 10 minutes to finally make it back to our table to take our drink orders. I nearly choked as I sipped my wine when I saw who had just come in through the front doors. I swallowed loudly, and gritted my teeth, watching their every movement.
"Pacey? Are you okay?"
I trained my eyes back on Ben, and shot him a sweet smile. "Yeah, sorry, I got distracted. What were you saying?" I tried as hard as I could to keep my eyes fixed on Ben's face as he smiled and restarted his story that I wasn't even trying to listen to, but the distraction from earlier had moved closer and caught my eye once again.
"Oh my gosh! Pacey!"
I turned towards my name being called, and gasped. I had been so distracted by Joe walking into the restaurant I hadn't even paid any attention on who had followed him inside.
"Holy shit! Julie!" I said, standing up and running to my friend of 4 years. "Since when are you in town? Thought you were still in New York for a bit longer."
She shrugged still smiling, and I ignored the fact that Joe came to stand beside her with his own smile adorning his face. He didn't have a smile a few hours ago when I had left the studio. "I haven't visited my brother since last month, so I thought it'd be a good time."
I gave her a big hug. "That's great. Are you in town for awhile? We'll have to meet up."
Julie shrugged again, "I'm not sure, really, this wasn't totally planned out. Greg doesn't even know I'm here yet."
I raised my eyebrows, surprised at her statement. "Oh, okay. Wow."
"Pacey, why don't you have your friends join us?"
I was shaken out of excitement mode when I heard Ben from behind me. I had almost totally forgotten all about him. "Yeah! This is Ben. Ben, these are my friends Julie and Joe."
I still hadn't dared chance another look in Joe's direction, but I could feel his eyes on me. It burned my skin, and left it tingling, but I stayed strong, turning my attention between Ben and Julie instead. We all sat back down at our booth, and had the waiter take their drink orders as well.
This isn't exactly what I had planned for my first date after breaking up with, Joe. Julie seemed uneasy, as she sat across from me, next to Ben, and Joe sat next to me. The seating wasn't right, as I was now seated diagonally across from Ben. I laughed lowly, now seeing the real reason for that. No wonder Joe had dashed into the booth when he saw Ben get in first on the other side. Joe didn't want to give us any chance at all to be touching.
I rolled my eyes at Julie, and she smiled innocently at me. I knew she was in on Joe's plan, but I also knew not to blame her. Joe had told me constantly throughout our 3 year relationship that he would never let go. I guess I should have taken that statement seriously because he obviously was.
Julie was Greg's sister. Greg was the Jonas Brothers' bassist, and was actually at the baseball game with Joe the day we met. Julie lived in New York, and had been there working which was why I was so surprised to see her. She wasn't supposed to be in LA as far as I was concerned.
I had met Julie when she had visited her brother while we were on tour, and we kept in touch throughout the years. She had lived back at home in Jersey where Greg and her had grown up, but after getting a job she'd moved to New York so I'd see her more often.
The waiter came back for our food orders a few minutes later, but before I could tell him what I wanted, Joe ordered the plate of fettuccine alfredo for me. My favourite from this restaurant. Of course he had known that.
I nudged him with my elbow, showing him that I was unimpressed by his actions, but he just smirked over at me.
As the dinner progressed, I had grown more and more annoyed. I had had to stop Joe from reaching for my knee far too many times, and he wasn't even trying to be stealth about it. Ben was growing uncomfortable, and I knew by the time Joe had placed his arm behind my head, as we waited for the food, that there would be no second date between Ben and I.
"Joe!" I laughed, watching him steal a piece of my dinner for himself. "Eat your own!"
He ate the piece of pasta that he had gotten on the end of his fork with a smile. He hummed with pleasure, enjoying the taste, and Julie joined me in laughing at him. Ben, by this point, was just waiting for Julie to go to the bathroom so he wouldn't have to push her out of the booth to make his escape.
I had given up hope on this date far before Ben had. He had tried to deal with Joe's incessant flirting towards me, but now it was just downright awkward for him. I felt bad, but at least I was enjoying myself. I wasn't engaging, I was just hanging out with my friends.
Finally, once our plates were cleared, Ben looked down at his watch.
"Pacey, I actually have to go. It's getting kind of late, and I have to move someone into their house tomorrow morning." He explained. I smiled at his attempt to be sincere.
"Yeah, no problem. Thanks for taking me here, Ben." I shrugged, not knowing what else to say. He didn't know the backstory, and I don't think he particularly wanted to. We all waved as he made his way out of the restaurant.
"That prick didn't even pay for your dinner." Joe stated, causing the three of us to laugh.
I blew out a sigh, and turned my head over to shoot a pointed look at Joe and Julie. Julie shrugged, her innocent façade had broken a few minutes after dinner had been served. She knew as well as I did, that Joe had won once again. Joe just continued to smile.
"Greg would be very disappointed in you, Julie." I shook my head at her, then bit my lip attempting to hold in my laughter.
She scoffed playfully. "My brother doesn't own me."
I rolled my eyes. "So what do you get in return?" I asked, glancing at Joe, then back to Julie for her answer.
She smiled. "Nothing." I raised my eyebrow skeptically. "I'm serious. I just want my two good friends to be happy."
My face fell at the reminder of how what everyone at this table wanted couldn't happen. Joe noticed, and his smile fell a little too. Julie was oblivious to the silent fight I was having inside my head. I was trying to keep my emotions in check, not wanting to show anymore weakness to Joe, even though he already knew how broken up I was. He knew that I was heartbroken just as much as he was.
He still didn't understand why, though, and I was trying to keep it that way.