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Day One Hundred and Eighty-Six.

I've always thought that birthdays are a pretty great cause for celebration. One day a year that belongs only to you. It's yours alone, and you don't have to share it with anyone else, like Christmas and Father's Day and Rib-fest and all that other crap that belongs to everyone.

My seventeenth birthday was pretty solid, if I do say so myself. I was kind of upset that my mom woke me up at five a.m. to make it to the set on time and refused to let me sleep in, but other than that, I had a good day. Everyone was nice to me, except for Joe, who gave me birthday beats.

(The great thing about birthday beats is that I always get to punch Joe more times than he gets to punch me because he's three years older. Three extra punches; and I always make them count).

I received many hugs and well-wishes. In fact, Selena and a couple of other cast members trekked over from the Wizards set with cupcakes. Seeing as I'd already stuffed my face with cake for breakfast (it's kind of a birthday tradition I set up), everyone said I'd better stay away from the cupcakes to keep my blood sugar even... but it was a nice gesture, anyways. Even if Joe made sure there were no leftovers for me by offering cupcakes to passer-bys none of us had ever met.

We went out for dinner, Pep accompanied us, I made Elvis wear a birthday hat, and Kevin started reading aloud comments from our Myspace, which were coming in faster than anyone could keep up - Kevin and his unstoppable mouth included. Mom and Dad reminisced on my childhood, and Joe and Kevin gave me a joint present of Hello Kitty seat covers for my car, which they heard that Miley Cyrus had always wanted and therefore thought we should match.

All in all, an exceptional day. I went to bed early that night (because of my mother and her torturous five a.m. wake-up calls), thinking of how I'd have to wait a whole year to feel this way again.

The worst day of the year is usually the day following my birthday, because I know I have another three hundred and sixty-four days before it comes around again. It's depressing. This is why I never considered the notion that the day after my birthday could be better than my birthday itself.

But it was. It so was. The seventeenth of September started out just like any other day, but by the time it was over, it was like my birthday, Christmas, losing my virginity and performing onstage in front of millions with Elvis Costello all rolled into a few hours of pure joy. It was that great.

It wasn't until after dinner that my day took a turn for the better. I was kind of bored - Kevin took Frankie and went with his 'on-again' girlfriend, Danielle, for ice cream, and Joe sat in the kitchen while he discovered the basic functions of his new laptop. (I was kind of bitter about the new laptop - I mean, my laptop works perfectly so I don't need a new one, but did he have to get it so close to my birthday? It took a little bit of the spotlight off me). I think he would have rather retreated to his own bedroom to set it up, but Mom never trusted Joe with electronics (with good reason), so he was confined to the kitchen until she and Dad decided he was capable of handling it alone. Mom was especially wary because I showed her a yahoo! article about laptops that overheated and blew up. (Heh. Definitely did that on purpose. Don't regret it).

Anyway, like I said, I was a little bored. So while I propped my feet up in front of the television watching mindless drivel, I took out my phone and sent Rainie a friendly text. Just a 'hey, how it's going' kind of thing. Nothing too special.

Less than a minute later, my phone rang. She called me. She called me! This meant she was actively seeking me out; wanting to hear my voice, wanting to have an actual conversation with me because she missed me. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my-

"Hello?" I asked as nonchalantly as possible, clearing my throat for good measure.

"Question," Rainie stated immediately, and my eyes widened at the unmistakeable anger in her voice.

Two things:

1) What did I do?!

2) Now that I was finished a quarter of The Office Season Two, Dwight's face flashed in my brain. This was mildly upsetting, because Dwight was the last person I wanted to picture while talking to the love of my life.

"... shoot," I urged her with cautious uncertainty. (Side-note: were 'hello's' out of style or something?)

"Are you or are you not seeing my boyfriend tonight?" she demanded.

Seeing her boyfriend? As in Jesse? As in seeing? As in dating? As in gay? As in-

"Yes or no, Jonas. Spit-spot." She clicked her tongue, clearly not in the mood for light, breezy conversation with yours truly.

"Seeing him?" I asked for clarification. Hey, I had to be sure.

"Yes!" she spat. "Seeing him! As in, is he making an appearance in your life? Will you use your eyes to see his face? Will you be close enough to physically touch him with your hand?"

I was still confused.

"I barely even talk to Jesse..." I trailed off. If she was insinuating that I was in love with him or something, then she had it wrong. All wrong. So wrong, it was dead wrong.

"Oh, really?" she cried, finding this very interesting. She seemed to be getting angrier despite how calm I remained. It was like every second I spent stalling was another second she was under severe torture. "Barely even talk to him, huh? So when he told me he couldn't hang out with me tonight because he was busy talking business with the Jonas Brothers, he was lying, was he?"

Wow. I'm going to paint you a picture of how I felt about receiving this information: imagine yourself on the hottest day of the year. You live in a desert. Arizona... no, no, the Sahara Desert. You're so thirsty, and you're so hot. All you can do is sit there because it takes too much effort to move, and your clothes are sticking to your back and you can feel your skin burning under the blazing sun. All of a sudden, someone throws enough water on you to fill an average-sized bucket. Normally, you wouldn't appreciate it, but it's so damn hot that you're eternally grateful, and it's so refreshing that you throw back your head and sigh and beg for more.

But there was only enough water to fill one bucket, and you need many, many more buckets of information - I mean, water, to quench your thirst.

"Was he lying or not, Jonas?" she repeated.

I shook my head quickly, my curls flying in my face. I pushed them off my forehead, realizing that I had momentarily spaced out. I was so conflicted. On one hand, Jesse was our tour-buddy and it was always nice to have friends in the business. Also, there was that unofficial 'guy code' - you know, guys having other guys' backs. Plus, when I ignored the fact that he had stolen my wife and her heart (for the time being), he was a genuinely good guy.

On the other hand, he stole Rainie from me thus making him a total jackass, and I'll be damned if I don't steal her right back. You're about to get poned, Jesse McCrapney. Suck it.

"He was definitely lying," I said with a smirk.

"Ugh! I knew it!" Rainie exclaimed, growling with rage.

You know, angry women are really kind of sexy. When they're mad at people other than me, that is.

I sank back onto the couch, phone held to my ear. "What happened?"

This was it. Our relationship had come down to this question. It could go one of two ways:

1) "Nothing," she would reply, emitting another growl before adding, "Ugh. I have to go. Talk to you later, Jonas."

2) "Well... it all started when..."

Thank God she chose option two. It meant that I was her confidante. I was someone she could talk to when she couldn't talk to her idiot boyfriend. If this confiding thing worked out, in time, I would be that idiot boyfriend. Minus the idiot, replaced with strikingly handsome, witty and trustworthy. Minus boyfriend, replaced with husband. At the very least, fiancÚ.

"He drives me insane sometimes," she began. "We get in fights all the time about our schedules - when he's free, I'm in class. When I'm not in school, he's halfway across the country. But then on rare nights like these when we have the chance to spend time together, he plans these stupid bar outings with his guy friends instead! He knows I hate them, so he lies to me and tells me he has to work."

"Why would he do that?" I asked, pretending to sound hurt. I read in a yahoo! article that it's important to always sound interested and empathetic when a girl is talking. It prompts her to talk more. Asking questions is even better. Two points for Nick.

(On the other hand, this is why I haven't asked Kevin a question since 1998. Everything I have to say to him is compiled in well-thought-out statements and instructions).

"So I won't nag him about it," she groaned. "But honestly, don't I deserve to nag him for that? I'm his girlfriend! I should have priority over his guy friends at least three-quarters of the time, right?"

"Absolutely." Another tip from yahoo!: saying 'absolutely' makes you seem like a firm supporter of her cause.

"That's what I think!" she exclaimed. Perfect. Yahoo! is so spot-on. They told me this would happen. She'd get all excited and feel like we were connecting. Then again, yahoo! never recommended making these moves on your friend's girlfriend... technically, she was my girlfriend first. I asked her to marry me with my eyes at the award show, and she said yes.

"He should be making plans with me. Also, why the hell can't he invite me out with his guy friends, hmm? I mean, why can't we all just go out on one big group date? I'm sure some of them have girlfriends."

I don't know, Rainie... Jesse was a huge loser before you graced his life with your astounding presence. All of his friends are probably giant tools.

Instead, I offered, "At least you're one hundred percent sure that he's with his guy-friends, instead of with lady-friends."

Ooh, twenty points for me. I am so sly. So slick. So suave. The epitome of all positive and complimentary S-words. I definitely implied that he was cheating on her, didn't I? Yahoo! states that relationships begin to deteriorate when partners lose trust in one another.

"Well, how am I supposed to know for sure?" she asked, and I knew I'd sparked a hint of concern in her head. "I mean, he's so secretive about it, and he goes to the extent of lying about it... who's to say he's not with some trashy whore?"

"This is true," I muttered thoughtfully. Inwardly, all of my brain cells were giving each other high-fives for creating doubt in her mind. I'm awesome.

"Now it's Thursday night, and I checked his schedule and knew he was going to be home tonight so I didn't plan anything," she grumbled. "Callan's already left to meet our friends across town, so I have to spend the night alone, all because that asshole cancelled our plans at the last-minute."

Whoa, whoa... back up a minute there, Starshine.

"You're alone," I repeated, more as a statement than as a question. "You have no plans."

"No." I could almost hear her pouting over the phone. "And I'm bored."

I was wearing my oldest pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt, sitting lazily on my couch flipping channels and waiting until nine-thirty to go to bed (God, I'm such a pussy), but those plans could be easily altered.

"Well," I announced, stretching my free arm happily, "since that business meeting with Jesse got cancelled, I'm free as a bird."

"Ha, ha," she said dryly. "What are you saying, Jonas?"

I noticed that when she was feeling bossy or angry, she referred to me by my surname. It was kind of hot.

I gulped, swallowing away any nerves I may have had. "We should hang out."

"Me hang out with you?" She made it sound like she was Jewish and I was Hitler.

"We hang out all the time over breakfast," I told her, making sure to hide how offended I was. My Rainie definitely could be an ice bitch when she wanted to be. Sexiest ice bitch ever, but still.

"Yeah." She actually let out a breathy laugh over this. "But it's Thursday night, and you're sixteen. You can't get into bars."

Le sigh.

"It's Thursday night, and the city is alive. I can get into places you've never even heard of."

In retrospect, I probably should have phrased it a little more clearly. She giggled. "Really? Do slutty little dirt bars let you in, young'un?"

"No," I frowned. "I'm talking live shows. The best of the best, and I don't even need tickets to be admitted. I'm talking VIP lounges and once-in-a-lifetime experiences - stuff that slutty little dirt bars can't quite provide."

"You know that my boyfriend's Jesse McCartney, right? He can get me in to those same places you're speaking of."

"Does he?" I inquired as innocently as possible. (Side-note: I'm good).

There was a pause, and I knew she was contemplating. Finally, she asked, "You got a car?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Let's go, then. Call when you're here."

And this was the beginning of the best day-after-my-birthday ever. By the time I hung up the phone, I was already racing up the stairs to change into something more presentable. Then I had to do some research and see what was going on in the City of Angels. Then I had to explain to my mother why I was going out on a "school night", as she called it... and then I would probably have to slap Joe silly for whatever stupid jokes he decided to make at my expense. Then it was just me, Rainie, my car, and this beautiful town... and the beginning of our epic romance.

I bit my knuckle as soon as I met Rainie at the door of her apartment. I tried to play it off casually, like I was just brushing my face or something, but she definitely knew I was struggling to repress a cat-call of some sort. She laughed at me. Again I say: sexiest ice bitch ever.

She wore a black dress. A painfully small, short black dress that made all of her curves look so... touchable. That night I prided myself on my ability to control my urges. There was no tent-pitching, not even once. (But I definitely thought about it. And worried about it. I also pictured her naked, which exponentially increased the chances of a boner, thus cancelling out or legitimating all the time I spent worrying).

Rainie locked her door and pinched my cheek like I was five, swinging her purse over her shoulder and leading the way to the elevator. I admired her from behind and let my tongue hang out of my mouth, practically drooling. (I was also worrying again about how I was going to think of interesting things to talk about when all I could focus on was her long legs).

"You smell like Hugo Boss," she commented thoughtfully as we drove.

I was thinking of parking the car in the middle of nowhere and inviting her into the backseat for some Nick J quality time, but she had interrupted my thoughts. I widened my eyes for a moment, trying to process what she'd just said. I cleared my throat. "The man or the cologne?"

Instead of answering my question, she stated, "I think Jesse has the same cologne."

I gritted my teeth. Of course Jesse had the same cologne. He also had the same taste in women. Was he so obsessed with me that he had to transform into my older duplicate?! What's next, wearing a brown curly wig?! I was going to have to have some words with that man. Some very stern, very clear words.

Well, she smelled like flowers, as usual. The smell was exciting to me; I attributed it to her and it made me want to dance. Or kiss someone. (Preferably Rainie). Sometimes when I laid with Pep on her roof, I shifted closer to her as inconspicuously as possible and closed my eyes and imagined she was Rainie (because they smelled very similar).

It was a test of willpower as we walked side-by-side down the Sunset Strip and I refrained from reaching out and grabbing a hold of her hand. It took a lot of strength and a lot of tooth-clenching, that's all I'm saying.

"The Roxy? Are you serious, Jonas?" she asked with a breathy laugh as she trailed behind me.

I nodded very seriously. "Betcha didn't think I could use my powers here."

Rainie clearly didn't believe me, but after I exchanged words with the bouncer and we ended up in a secluded VIP area, her jaw was practically touching the floor. I held out a chair for her like a gentleman, and as I pulled up my own and rolled up my sleeves, she remarked, "My apologies for doubting you. This doesn't look like a place a Jonas would hang out. There are stripper poles over there."

I leaned back nonchalantly in my chair, offering her a sly grin. "What can I say? I'm badass." I was about to add that my pussy brothers wouldn't be caught dead in a place like this, but I thought it was best to leave them out of this. Wouldn't want to dampen the mood with tales of their ridiculous antics.

She laughed again. "You certainly are. Now, who's playing?"

I glanced momentarily at the band, covered in a film of smoke and bright pink lights. Classy. I shrugged, leaning towards Rainie to inform her, "We might be watching the next Chili Peppers."

The band wasn't terrible, but the lead singer tried to hit a high note (the key word is 'tried'), and Rainie watched me as I cringed. Ouch.

"The next Chili Peppers? Doesn't sound like it," she giggled.

I shifted my chair closer to hers to make conversing easier. "You never know."

We wasted the majority of the night in that raunchy little place. I think she was impressed with me, and in turn, I was impressed with myself. I was seriously one badass motherfucker. I could kick Joe and Kevin's asses any day. The next time they forced me to schmooze with my ex-girlfriends, I'd clock them both at the same time with a stripper pole, and that'd be the end of it.

Rainie got herself some sort of girly alcoholic beverage, and I got a coke. She joked about this for a while, but I reasoned that one of us had to remain a designated driver. (I left my age out of it because I know how to protect my dignity). Rainie, however, felt it was a necessary point to mention.

"Aw, so cute," she cooed, "Baby gets a coke."

Again, I muttered something about the importance of designated drivers.

"Plus, you're sixteen," she added.

I frowned, thoroughly insulted. "Seventeen," I corrected her. Sixteen was foreign to me now; it was part of my juvenile past.

She raised an eyebrow. "You don't say! When was the big day?"

Well, I knew this was going to be sufficiently awkward, so I jammed the straw of my drink into my mouth and mumbled, "... yesterday."

With those words, I receive a swift smack in the arm. "Why didn't you tell me?! I spoke to you yesterday, you goof!"

I couldn't remember the last time anyone had referred to me as 'goof'. I also couldn't decide whether it was insulting or not.

After a while, it was getting too smoky in there for me, and because it was getting late (or early, depending on how you looked at the time), creepy old men were beginning to filter in. They gave Rainie many sideways glances that I did not appreciate whatsoever.

When I had to turn my head away from Rainie to release a yawn (give me a break, I'd been up since five a.m.), I knew that the club wasn't doing anything for me anymore. "You wanna get out of here?" I asked, my mouth a mere few inches from her ear.

She nodded and stood up, gathering her things. I reached into my pocket for my keys and glared at the pervy old men whose eyes were on Rainie. I put a hand on her back to guide her towards the door, and I made sure to give the stink-eye to anyone who looked her way. It was kind of weird that no one was interested in me in this place. Now I knew how Big Rob felt. Or Pep. Or anyone less famous than me that I've ever hung out with in public. I have to say, I prefer being me. It's less stressful.

"Where to, Nick J?" Rainie asked as she swung her purse around outside the venue. I wondered if she heard Pep call me Nick J and liked the sound of it. Pep was probably the only person close to me who referred to me as such, so unless Rainie lurked me on fan sites, it was really the only explanation.

Come to think of it... dude, I wondered if she lurked me on fan sites. If Rainie had a fan site, I would be all over that shit. In fact, I would probably be the webmaster of that fan site.

"Anywhere you want," I told her, shoving my hands into my pockets. I turned my head away from her again to hide my yawn. It was kind of embarrassing to appear tired in front of her. I took my phone out of my pocket and frowned at the missed calls and angry texts from my mother. I had already sent her one saying I was fine. (Side-note: she was probably going to kill me. I had to wake up for work in a few hours).

I also received a text from Miley informing me that she had found me the perfect girlfriend, and to text her back immediately so that we could plan a 'get-together'. I X'd out of that message and did not plan on responding.

"Hmm..." Rainie trailed off pensively, and we walked in silence for a while. She answered a text from Jesse and shook her head angrily, muttering that he was a drunken idiot.

I couldn't say I wasn't pleased.

"Anything wrong?" I asked, knowing full well that there was. Yahoo! says that women are attracted to compassionate men who appear to be in tune with their feelings and the feelings of others.

Shaking her head, evidently very unimpressed, Rainie growled, "He sent me a text that said 'I'm riding the bull'. This either means that he's mixing Red Bull with alcohol, or he's literally riding one of those mechanical bulls." Biting her lip in anger, she released a string of curse words that began with, "He's such a fucking..." and evolved into senseless mumbling.

Even if I had no feelings whatsoever for Rainie, I'm pretty sure I would agree that Jesse was being a dick. After all, he had originally told her he had a business meeting with the Jonas Brothers, and here he was a few hours later sending her drunken, cryptic text messages. It was obvious that yahoo! could do him some good when it came to relationships, but I wasn't going to be the one to suggest it to him. I was benefiting greatly from his assholeishness. He was Frodo Douchebaggins, and I was Aragorn, King of Women, Poner Extraordinaire.

"What do you see in him?" I asked her quietly. She was so taken-aback by my bluntness that she hung behind me for a moment or two before quickening her pace to catch up. Maybe it was inappropriate to ask, but I needed to know. Jesse McCartney's girlfriend was hanging out with me and only me in a little black dress. It was time to question our friendship, in my opinion.

Though I was mildly surprised that I had managed to catch her off-guard, she recovered quickly and returned, "What's it to you, Jonas?"

I shrugged as innocently as possible. Glancing to my left, I assured her, "It's just a question. You don't have to get defensive."

"I'm not," she replied with a frown.

"Then what's the answer?"

I've always been good at prying information from people. For me, it requires very little effort. They like to confide in me because I'm quiet so they think their secrets are safe. Most of the time, this is true - unless their secrets are too good to remain confidential, in which case I tell Joe and we laugh. It's rather evil, but I don't regret it. In recent years, Pep has also been privy to this information.

Rainie looked at me like I was crazy. "He's my boyfriend."

"Right," I agreed.

Her mouth opened as if she was preparing to say something else, but instead she thought better of it and broke into a guarded smile. "Why you askin', stranger? Jealous?"

I wasn't quite sure where that accusation came from, but I wouldn't be so quick to lay my heart on my sleeve. Wouldn't want to forfeit more dignity than necessary.

"Hold on," I chuckled softly, "You were just mad at the guy, and I asked you a simple question. You've switched from defence to offence."

"Maybe the question wasn't all that simple," she told me matter-of-factly.

"Maybe it was too simple and it scared you," I offered.

If I was interested in that sort of thing, I'm confident that I could give Dr. Phil a run for his money. I know psychology. I can read the shit out of people, too. Plus, I have a full head of hair and boyish good looks, so if I wanted to, I could drive that crazy doctor out of business with my own talk show.

But that would be lame, so obviously I'm sticking to superstardom.

Rainie made a move to turn off the Sunset Strip. Obligingly, I followed. Clearly she wasn't in control of the conversation, but her impulsive need for control made her want to dictate where we were going. She needed a semblance of power. (See how good I am at this? I don't even have a Ph.D. Hell, I don't even have a high school diploma).

She released an awed laugh. "You're pretty insightful for a kid who just turned seventeen."

"You're pretty evasive for a girl who acts like she's got nothing to hide," I retorted.

Another one of those awed laughs came from her round lips. "I'm not a girl."

"I'm not a kid, and I think you know that." We could bicker like this all night if she wanted to. I was game as long as it ended in a steamy make-out session, preferably with a side-order of second-base action.

Rainie slowed her pace, looking me up and down. I grinned in an irritating manner. "Why are you so interested in my relationship with Jesse?"

That was an easy question. "The same reason you're here with me tonight instead of with him."

"Which is?"

"We like each other."

I like to lay my cards flat on the table. I can read people easily, but often, people can't read me. It's important to make sure everyone knows what I mean; that way, they don't waste my time with things they know I don't care about.

Assessing Rainie's reaction, I could tell she was fighting to keep her composure. Her mouth opened again to respond, but she closed it almost immediately. Her eyes shifted away from mine, unable to maintain contact. She stared at her feet as she walked.

Suddenly, she sighed, and her voice hardened. "I'm here with you tonight because I had nothing else to do."

"You're here with me tonight because I gave you an opportunity and you took it. And you had fun."

"If Jesse didn't cancel on me, I wouldn't be here at all!" she exclaimed.

"Then it's a good thing he cancelled, don't you think?"

Was this supposed to be hard? Because she was making it way too easy. She definitely liked me; I was right about that.

She stared at me. "I don't understand you."

"Well, I'm beginning to understand you," I stated. "You're stuck in a relationship that causes you grief, but you're not getting out because leaving him would mean that you no longer have a legitimate excuse to deny that you're into me."

"Ha!" She laughed really loudly. "Jonas, you're way too confident."

"If you're trying to insult me, it won't work. My parents have been telling me this since I was four."

"They're right."

"You think you're really good at changing the subject, don't you?" I asked with a smirk. "I haven't forgotten the original question I asked you, and I haven't forgotten that we were just talking about your obvious attraction to me and your unwillingness to admit it."

She was at a loss for words again. It would be so much easier to grab her and kiss the hell out of her, but I figured it was best to do it in a less public setting.

Again, she tried to turn it around in her favour. "What about your obvious attraction to me?"

I shrugged. "What about it?"

It was time to be candid. If she asked me, I wouldn't hold back.

"We wouldn't be having this conversation if you weren't attracted to me."

I pointed to her with another smirk. "Correct." If she wanted to riddle this out on her own, I would let her. I've always been a believer in hands-on learning.

"Did you purposely wear that cologne because you knew that it was one of the things that drew me to Jesse?" she asked in confusion.

I scowled. "This was my cologne first. I've been using it forever." I fought the urge to spit out, 'That guy's a total douchebox'.

Out of the blue, Rainie seemed angry, as if she had read my thoughts and I'd angered her with my insult towards Jesse. "So what, Nick? This was, like, your clever way to take me out on a date without me even knowing it?"

"No," I answered calmly. "This was exactly what it was. We hung out. If it was a date, you wouldn't have a boyfriend. I'd take you to dinner first. I'd be angrier at those creepy old men who were checking you out in The Roxy. I'd hold your hand. I'd walk you up to your apartment afterwards, and I'd kiss you goodnight. I've done none of those things."

There was a lull in the conversation for a few moments as I let Rainie plan out her words. "There's still time for the last three," she muttered, so quietly that I almost couldn't hear.

At this point, I decided that she was probably bipolar. Wasn't she just mad at me for 'tricking' her into a date? Now she sounded like she wanted me to sweep her off her feet Prince Charming style. Girls are fucking nuts. They need to make up their nitpicky, shallow minds.

"I don't gamble on things I'm not sure of," I informed her.

She gave me a small smile. "Then it's not really fair to call it gambling, is it?"

I bit my lip to avoid scoffing. "What I mean is, I wouldn't do any of those things unless I knew you wanted me to."

"Wouldn't my consent be enough?"

"I require verbal confirmation." This had never been a rule before, but I'd never needed it to be a rule before. It was a rule now.

Rainie looked like she was going to say it. She looked like she was about to throw caution to the wind and declare her love for me... but then she pussied out. Fuck her. (I wish).

"You're sixteen," she told me.

I rolled my eyes, which was an impressive reaction, because what I really wanted to do was attach my hands on her pretty little neck and throttle her. "Seventeen," I reminded her, "and if my age is the only problematic factor, then we're good to go."

By now, it was pretty evident that we were walking towards my car. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my keys.

"I have a boyfriend."

Sometimes I can't believe how stupid people think I am.

"It's not like you're married." I was becoming annoyed with this conversation. She had too many dumb excuses that were too easy to refute.

"I wouldn't cheat on him."

"I never asked you to."

In fact, if she wanted, I was totally willing to drive her to whatever dirty bar Jesse was frequenting so that she could break up with him face-to-face.

"I love him."

"Hard to believe."

"That's rude," she said with attitude.

"Honesty is the best policy."

"Yeah, okay, kindergartener," she muttered.

I found it strange that in her moment of immaturity, she chose to insult me by once again jabbing at my age.

Though I unlocked my car from far away, by the time we reached our respective doors, neither of us were willing to make the first move to climb in.

"Look," I said, squinting my eyes for just a moment, "I'm seventeen, but I'm not an idiot. You're trying to confuse me because you can't answer any of my questions. I think you're making this a lot more complicated than it has to be. It's really very simple."

"What is 'it'?" she demanded, her hand on the flap of the door.

"Us."

"There is no us," she retorted. "You said yourself we were just hanging out."

"And then you wanted me to admit that I was attracted to you, so I did. We're still hanging out, but it's different now because it has the potential to be something more."

She was speechless again, so she planted a hand on her hip and said, "You're not playing very hard-to-get, Jonas."

"That's because there's nothing hard about it." (That's what she said. Oh, fuck. Damn that little fire-headed proton. The Office was infiltrating my mind at the most inappropriate moments). "Why should I play hard-to-get when you're playing enough for the both of us?"

"I am hard-to-get. Unattainable, actually. I have a boyfriend," she pointed out.

With a sigh of exasperation, I put my index fingers on my temples and shut my eyes. Stupid ice bitch. Arguing in circles was exhausting, and I had already been up for a full twenty hours. Instead of saying something to her that I might regret later, I opened my car door and slid in. Rainie followed suit.

The drive home was mostly silent. Not the kind of silence that consumes Pep and I when we sit on her roof. This silence was uncomfortable and tense. Sexually tense, and the other kind of tense, too. I was trying to devise a new way to explain to her that we were meant to be together and Jesse was a piece of shit. Clearly, speaking in plain English wasn't working too well, for reasons beyond my realm of understanding.

"Is that it, then?" Rainie eventually broke the silence. "You're giving up?"

Definitely not.

"Do you want me to?"

"I'm just asking."

I sighed. "If I answer the question, can you answer one of mine without changing the subject?"

She thought about it for a moment, and I was reminded of how beautiful she was as she twirled a strand of honey-coloured hair around her finger. "Mm... fine."

Mm. I forgot about that. 'Mm'. She was so mm. Not only that, but apparently she was easy to forgive, because I was already turned on again.

"No, I'm not giving up," I told her. A brief silence ensued before I said, "My turn. I want real answers. Promise?"

"Fine."

"Is Jesse 'the one'?"

If I had asked this at any other point during the night, she would have burst out laughing and called me a kid again. But because I had roped her into this honesty test, she remained serious as she developed her response.

"I don't know what that even means," she returned.

"If he was 'the one', you'd know."

"Maybe I don't believe in 'the one'."

"Maybe you don't believe in it because you haven't met him yet."

We were back to this petty little bickering again (and once more, I was clearly dominating).

Rainie scoffed, pulling her purse into her lap. "What makes you think you're 'the one'?"

"That's a complicated question," I replied with a frown.

"Enlighten me," she stated dryly.

"Well, the obvious response is that you won't know until you give us a try." I let my right hand fall from the steering wheel to rest on the barrier between us. "The other response is that I felt it the first day I saw you, and every time I look at you, I feel it again. How many people have you developed a connection with through staring into their eyes without any verbal exchange whatsoever?"

We were nearing her apartment building, and I was internally struggling with whether to park the car and walk her up, or whether to let her off at the front door to let her know it was not a date.

As I navigated the streets, I muttered under my breath, "I'm willing to bet it's not that common."

Rainie buried her head in her hands. "Okay... Nick. I know you don't want to hear this, but you're a kid. You just... you just are. And whatever you think is going on between us... isn't. I'm not interested in you, because I love my boyfriend and because I'm just not. You're a nice boy, and I'm sorry you misinterpreted our friendship... but that's all it is. A friendship."

I pulled into the small parking lot outside of her apartment building. There was no way in hell I was going down into the parking garage. No, she wasn't getting escorted to her apartment unless she asked politely. Once the car was in 'park', my hands fell from the steering wheel and I leaned back in my seat, waiting for her to leave.

Somehow, she didn't get the hint.

She turned towards me and asked in confusion, "Nick? Did you hear what I just said?"

I blinked, equally confused. "Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized as sincerely as possible. "You were being serious? You actually expect me to believe what you just said?"

It came to mind that I had thrown many of yahoo!'s tips out the window. My brain took over.

"Why wouldn't you?" she demanded.

I actually laughed. "Because it's bullshit, Rainie! We just had a twenty-minute discussion about us, and in three sentences you're trying to convince me there's nothing at all there?"

She looked like I'd just slapped her. Instead, she gathered her purse and opened the car door. "Maybe you shouldn't call me for a while."

"Maybe you should think about what you really want," I retorted.

"Maybe you should hold your tongue!"

"Maybe you should take my advice to heart!" I exclaimed.

This was really dumb. Maybe yahoo! lied to me and I took the wrong approach. If I set aside ten minutes and made her listen to a few Dream Street songs, she'd break up with Jesse in a heartbeat and we would never have had to have this conversation. I cursed myself - I should have thought this through!

She climbed out of the car and slammed the door. I watched her storm away while I rolled down my window.

"Hey, Rainie?" I asked, all the anger washed clean from my voice. She stopped abruptly, turning on her heel. I offered her a smile to ease the tension as I leaned my head out the window. "You look really beautiful tonight. I don't know if I told you that."

Maybe I lied when I said I didn't gamble unless it was a sure thing, because I definitely felt like a betting man in that moment. It would either soften her, or add fuel to her fire. Rainie's bipolarness confused the shit out of me, and sometimes it was tough to predict her reactions.

She didn't smile - she didn't anything, actually. She spun around and walked towards the front doors of her building - but I noticed that her strut was a little slower, a little less self-assured. She didn't know what to think.

That was fine. I didn't have her exactly where I wanted her, but at least she was thinking.

I waited until she was safely inside the building until I drove away. Despite the exasperating evening we'd had, I was pleased. She'd come around. I'd wait a few days, she'd forgive and forget, and then I'd text her again. She'd remember how much she loved me, and she'd break up with Jesse in a moment of clarity. I'd speed over to her home to console her, and we'd have makeup sex on the couch. Or in the bedroom. Or in the shower. Or all three. She'd make me dinner, we'd watch 'It's A Wonderful Life', and we'd snuggle. I'd go home and get bitched out by my mom, but I wouldn't care, because I'd be set for life. On my eighteenth birthday, I'd propose, and Rainie would accept. We'd wed in France, and Miley and Selena would not be present to make a speech. Pep would get wildly drunk at the wedding, catch the flying bouquet, and hook up with a hairy Frenchman. They'd get married on a whim, have a kid, and then divorce. She'd move back to LA and be our live-in maid. Her redheaded kid could stay too.

It's always safer to leave room for error. As long as yahoo! kept helping me out in the love department, I'd say I was about ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent positive that this was the way the future would pan out.

And I could be satisfied with that.

Chapter End Notes:
... hi.
Just so you know, I'm posting this near to 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. Because I leave early in the morning to go back to school and I'm sad :( Also because I want to hide from all of you (by posting this at an inane hour and then going to bed) in case it didn't live up to your chapter 17 expectations.
Personally, it surpassed mine, because I think Nick and Rainie are interesting and I really enjoy their conversations. But I understand that nothing jaw-dropping happened... however, there WERE a couple of breakthroughs, weren't there? It might not seem like it right now, but this is kind of the turning point of the story. This, and the next couple of chapters. By the way, I fully mapped out until chapter 22, and I promise lots is going to happen. I know that up until now, this is possibly the un-plottiest story you've ever read, because virtually nothing ever happens. Nick's made a few small breakthroughs that shy little twelve-year-olds can handle in their love lives (I shouldn't say that - have you heard about the 13 year old in England fathering his 15 year old girlfriend's baby? Insane).
Anyway... I know this story seems unplotty (I just coined a new term - use it, kids), but I can assure you that lots will be happening from now until chapter 22 at the bare minimum. Well, lots compared to what has happened up until this point. I'm excited. Nick probably isn't, but he can suck it cuz I get to make him do whatever I want (*sigh*... if only this were true).
Oh, and I've never been to LA which is depressing, but if anything is wrong, then I blame wikipedia and www.theroxyonsunset.com for misleading me.
Also, credit to FantasyParade for informing me that Nick says 'pone' all the time. It happened to fit quite well in a certain instance :)
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