Day One Hundred and Ninety-Three.
I realized that Jesse McCartney really likes to spend Thursday nights with his boyfriends.
"Where are you going?" Joe drearily asked Kevin as he hopped down the stairs, fumbling to tighten his belt.
We had to be on set the next morning for six a.m. At night, we usually lounged on the couch in front of the television, fooling around with guitars and brainstorming songs. We did all of this in jeans and t-shirts - Kevin, on the other hand, was oddly dressed up for a Thursday night in.
"I'm meeting Jesse and a few other people downtown," Kevin answered, rolling up his shirtsleeves.
This piqued my interest. I raised my head above the back of the couch to demand, "Why?"
Kevin shrugged, like it was the strangest question anyone could have ever asked him. "Because he invited me."
"Who's gonna be there? Are you bringing Danielle?"
I knew full well that Danielle was out of town, but I had to know if this was specifically a guy's night, or if girlfriends were invited.
Kevin was surprised that I was taking such interest in his life outside of the band. "No," he replied with a shake of his head. "It's just a guy thing. We're going out for drinks."
Ew. Rainie was right: Jesse did spend a lot of time with his guy friends. Maybe he was gay and just didn't know it yet. I almost wanted to warn Kevin what he was getting himself into, but instead, I lowered myself on the couch and let him be fed to the dogs. And by 'dogs', I mean Jesse and his gay friends.
Joe flipped through channels without his usual zest while Kevin explained to Mom his purpose in painting the town red that night with his lovers - actually, by the amount of time it took him to explain it to her, he might as well have explained his entire purpose in life. It seemed like an hour later when we finally heard the door click shut and Joe released a sad sigh, his body slouched uncomfortably on the sofa and a can of Coke resting on his sweatpants.
Yeah, Joe busted out the sweatpants. It was rare that he did; Kevin and I secretly referred to them as his Break-Up Pants. He seemed to wear them only in the days after he got out of a relationship, like Chandler on Friends. Except Joe has had many more girlfriends than Chandler, so he wears the sweatpants a lot more. Probably for a lesser period of time, so in the end, I'd say Joe and Chandler balance each other out in their sweatpants-wearing post-break-up.
I don't know if Joe is sad anymore when he breaks up with girls, or if he just wears those fugly pants for attention. To be fair, he did date Camilla for almost a year, which was his longest relationship ever... but he broke up with her. The reason was... well, I didn't actually know the reason.
That was odd. Usually I was consulted before he broke up with someone. I was like the love guru, and he was my naïve but eager pupil.
Well, what the hell? There was a new addition to the Jonas hate-club, and I wasn't even consulted?
"Why'd you break up with Camilla again?" I asked casually as he continued to channel-surf.
He glared at me as if I was being insensitive. What? Joe and I have immunity with each other. We can say anything without the other one being offended. For example, if I were to tell him that his eyebrows were wings and he should fly away to Garbageville, capital of Fuckland, where he came from, he wouldn't be allowed to be offended.
I didn't understand why, seventeen years later, he chose this moment to be offended with an offhanded, simple question. In fact, I was now offended that he was offended with me. That's why it's always easier to have immunity pacts with people. Like the one I have with Pep. It's just a simpler way to operate. I highly recommend it.
"What d'you mean, again?" he asked rudely. "I never told you in the first place."
I raised my eyebrows. "I find it hard to believe that you did this without my advice and guidance."
"Oh, please," Joe scoffed. "I got along fine for the first three years of my life, didn't I?"
Rolling my eyes, I replied dryly, "They say the first three years are the hardest."
Joe was not at all amused. In fact, he was pissed. What the shit was his problem?
"You know, you're a real vagina sometimes, Nick." He threw the remote at my chest and I crumpled as he stood up. "You know why I didn't tell you? Because you never tell me anything anymore. I always try to get you to open up, I'm always trying to help you, but you never accept it and it's pissing me off."
I laughed out loud. "When was the last time you helped me?" I demanded, my mouth in a wide grin.
"Are you kidding?" Joe threw his arms in the air, treating my response as if I was blind. "I've been helping you out all summer! When I thought there was a reason you couldn't confide in me, I tried to get to talk to other people. Why do you think I always got Mom to go and find you when you hung out alone after shows? Why do you think I asked Miley and Selena to give you a call? Do you honestly think that I spend my time chatting with your old flames instead of spending time with my girlfriend?"
I couldn't help it. I had to correct him. "Ex-girlfriend," I said quietly.
Joe no longer had the remote to throw in my direction, so he threw his empty can of Coke, which bounced off my head and onto the hardwood floor. A droplet of Coke dribbled down my forehead and I wiped it away with distaste.
Then it clicked. Wait. All this time, he was just trying to help? All the calls from the ex-girlfriends, all the awkward talks with Mom... that was Joe's way of helping?
While he stalked away, I called out, "You're fucked up!" What kind of loving, non-mentally-challenged brother would see that as a way of helping? "How was that supposed to help me? What were you thinking, fuckjob?"
"Stop getting mad at me!" Joe exclaimed. (He's one of those people who needs constant praise. He can't handle it when people don't like him. He must always be loved. It's childish, and sometimes, in a funny way, it makes me resent him). "I should be mad at you! And I am. You've been so fucking self-absorbed for months now; you won't even tell me what's going on. And you weren't there for me when I needed you, and because of that, I screwed everything up and now I'm depressed."
I shrugged. What did he expect? Eventually, he was going to have to let go. Cut the cord. Spread his giant eyebrows and fly.
"And it's your fault!" he added spastically, as if he hadn't made it clear enough. With another huff and puff, he turned on his heel and began to walk to the stairs. On his way, there was a knock on the door. Because he was angry, Joe shouted, "What!" while he changed directions to answer it.
I snorted as I turned my attention back to the television, remote in hand. I pressed the 'Mute' button to hear what Joe was saying - he was intentionally speaking loudly. At least I'd hear him out.
"Sorry, Pip, but Nick Jonas isn't here." He was practically shouting, the idiot. "In his body is a heartless, conceited assmunch who ruins everybody's lives by keeping his mouth shut."
Joe was barely making sense, so I turned up the volume and rolled my eyes. Sure enough, I heard Joe's feet pounding up the stairs a few moments later as Pep wandered into the room with two pairs of footsteps. I glanced to my right at Shep, who was accompanying Pep on a leash. He looked old and tired.
"Is Elvis out back?" Pep asked without issuing me a 'hello'. I nodded. She headed towards the backdoor, absently adding, "Be right back."
I turned off the television and leaned back on the couch, watching as she opened the backdoor and unclipped Shep's leash. She patted his head before sending him off to play with an overly-enthusiastic Elvis.
Pep was quick to sit beside me on the couch and offer me an award-winning smile, but as soon as her butt touched the cushion, she sprang back up and announced, "Let's play air hockey while you tell me why Joe's mad at you."
I was feeling agreeable, so I led the way to the basement without argument. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I noticed that Pep was still at the top, staring at the railing with interest.
"Are you coming?" I demanded.
"This staircase is spiral..." she trailed off. "Have you ever slid down the banister?"
"No, because I'm not five years old," I answered without skipping a beat.
She ignored me as usual. "I'm gonna do it."
Releasing a breath, I shut my eyes in resignation. "Please don't," I pleaded quietly.
As usual, my request was fruitless. Pep turned around and placed one leg over the banister. She slid down effortlessly, giggling the whole way. It was my turn to laugh when she got to the bottom. Her short little legs couldn't touch the ground, and she couldn't manoeuvre herself from the railing. After a few moments of her struggling legs flailing about, she groaned, "Help me!"
I pointed and laughed for a couple more seconds before locking my arms around her waist and dragging her away from the railing. I set her down on the ground, and she grinned brilliantly at me, entirely unfazed. I don't know why I expected anything less.
"That was fun," she said breathily. I stared at her, studying the scary blue colour of her eyes until she dropped to the floor, cartwheeling to the air hockey table. I followed on my feet with a smile.
Pep was way too eager to play. I had barely even picked up my circular puck-deflector when she shot a goal. I rolled my eyes. "That doesn't count."
Laughing, she replied, "Such a sore loser."
"What do you mean, sore lo - we haven't even started the game!" I exclaimed, interrupting myself mid-sentence. I picked up the puck and put it in the center of the board. "Now, play according to the rules, you little cheat," I instructed.
"Ooh, according to the rules," Pep mimicked. "Wouldn't want to break a rule. Your mom might come down and send us to our rooms. Or the world might end, right Nick?"
I hoped the glare I was giving her was exactly the way I pictured it in my mind: patiently unimpressed. "Fuck you."
She laughed again, and I tried to take advantage of this by aiming the puck towards the slot, but it missed. Dammit.
We didn't speak for a while afterwards. I gathered my thoughts, and Pep let me. I like sitting on her roof because I can think, but sometimes she just wants to talk because there's nothing else to do. At least air hockey is interactive enough for her; we can play in silence. Because I wasn't paying attention, I wasn't entirely certain how many goals were scored, but I was sure that Pep had the score recorded in her head.
"Joe's mad at me because I haven't been talking to him lately about stuff," I told her finally. I knew she was wondering about it, but she was waiting for me to tell her when I was ready.
I shrugged, pausing for a moment and scowling as she scored another goal. "I haven't told him about Rainie, and since I spend a lot of time talking to her and seeing her now, he feels like I'm hiding a part of my life from him."
Pep pushed her bangs out of her face. "I thought you weren't speaking to her or seeing her anymore after your 'date' last week."
"It wasn't a date-" I began, but I stopped myself again. Wait, Pep had bangs? "You got a haircut?"
Raising an eyebrow, she replied, "You say it like it's leprosy or something."
"No, it's just different." Her hair was remarkably shorter, now that I looked at it. It was perfectly in line with her shoulders.
She shrugged unapologetically. "That's what haircuts are for."
I shook my head quickly, annoyed that I'd let myself stray from the topic. "I haven't spoken to her, but it's only been a week. It's been... what, like half a year since I fff-met her?"
I tried to brush it off, but I think Pep knew what I had almost said. Half a year since I fell in love with her.
"Why don't you tell Joe?" she asked with a quizzical expression.
"Because I know him, and he wouldn't keep his mouth shut about this. He'd always be urging me to tell Jesse, or to back off, or to find someone else. In fact, he doesn't even know about Rainie and he's encouraging me to find someone else."
"Why don't you?" Pep repeated.
"What? Find someone else?"
I glared at her. "Have you been paying attention for the last six months? There is no one else."
She contemplated this for a moment or two as her cheeks inflated with air. She looked like an Irish chipmunk. "I'm sure there's someone else."
This was why I didn't tell Joe about Rainie. This was why I thought Pep was my only safe bet. Because she never said stupid shit like this that didn't make any sense. Why'd you have to go and ruin it, Pepper?
"Why would I want someone else?" I demanded.
"Because Rainie has someone else."
"Not for long," I answered.
"What's that supposed to mean?" It was as if I had somehow offended her. What could have possibly hit a nerve? Was this National Take-Offence-To-Nick's-Existence Day?
"It means," I said slowly, so her almond-sized brain could grasp every word, "that once she realizes we belong together, Jesse will be history."
Pep rolled her eyes. "You keep saying that. She's been dating him for just as long as you've been obsessed with her."
"I'm not obsessed," I spat. It was my turn to be offended. Oh yeah, Pepper. Two can play this game.
"Well, if you're not going to give up, then what's your next step?" she inquired, back to her bubbly, helpful self. I realized then that we'd stopped playing air hockey as we conversed.
Shooting the puck in her direction, I responded, "I'm gonna call her this weekend and see if she wants to grab breakfast next week." It hurt my pride to say it out loud. It was like Rainie and I were back to square one. Ice bitch.
"Aren't you going to NYC next week to promote... something?" Pep asked.
"Oh yeah!" I forgot about that. With the reminder, I cursed under my breath. "I guess I won't see her, then. She wouldn't go with Jesse."
"Why not? Camilla goes everywhere with Joe, and when Danielle and Kevin are together, she goes with him."
True. It was a good thing Pep was here to talk this through with me.
"Joe broke up with her, by the way," I mentioned, focusing on the game.
"You don't know?" Pep demanded. "Well, obviously he's mad at you! You've been so closed-up because of Rainie, so he feels like he can't talk to you and now he's done something stupid like break up with Camilla because you weren't there to help him like you always do."
How did she put this together so quickly?
"He's twenty. He'll get over it."
"That's not the point," Pep said with a frown. "You need to talk to him. Tell him about Rainie; he needs to feel included."
"Why?" Did I want to make myself even more vulnerable to my merciless older brother? Did I want to undergo hours upon hours of taunting? Did I want his advice? (Joe's advice is comparable to Pep's: not helpful in the least).
Pep seemed slightly disgusted with me. It was weird; I couldn't remember if I'd ever seen her look at me like that before. "You know what I don't get?"
"How Rainie hasn't dumped that Dream Street loser and eloped with me?" I suggested.
She ignored me. "I don't get how you can write all these songs that make you seem like such a deep, emotional guy... when really, you can be a prick sometimes."
I grinned widely. It was one of those rare occasions when I showed my teeth. "Welcome to reality, Peanut. Guys are jerks."
She frowned, muttering, "You're not supposed to be like that."
What did she expect? If I wrote a song about how much I liked when girls showed their cleavage, I doubt it would be quite as well-received as the romantic shit me and my brothers come up with.
"Fine, I'll talk to Joe," I conceded. I was bored of semi-arguing with her. I wanted to move on to something else, and I wanted her to be happy and excited again, because it didn't feel right when she was irritated and unimpressed.
I regretted it almost instantly, but I suppose it would have to come out eventually. If Joe was going to be best man at my wedding, he would probably want to be informed of my wife prior to the date. It only made sense.