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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.

Chapter 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.
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