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Day Two Hundred and Thirty.

I had Elvis’ leash attached to my wrist, five grapes in my mouth and my omnipod in front of me as Kevin materialized in the kitchen and said brightly, “Oh good, you’re ready to go.”

I looked up from my omnipod slowly, asking, “Go way?” (This could be interpreted two ways: ‘go away’ in its natural sense, or, because my mouth was full of food, ‘go where?’).

If I was going anywhere, it wasn’t going to be with Kevin. I spent far too much time with him as it was.

“Shopping for costs,” he replied nonchalantly, sliding out of the room in his socks to yell up the stairs, “Joe, are you ready?!”

When he reappeared to grab his keys, I demanded, “First, what are costs? Second, why was I only informed of this right now?”

“Costumes,” Kevin answered irritably, as if I was a major thorn in his side. (Pot calling kettle black. That’s all I’m saying). “And we planned this out last night. We need costumes for the party tonight.”

Fuckity split. I had totally forgotten about the party. One of our band-mates was hosting a Halloween shindig at his house. It sounded childish, but I was excited because my mother wasn’t going, which meant I could drink and be merry with my friends. Furthermore, I was bringing Avery as my date, and Kevin had already confirmed that Jesse would be there. I could only assume that Rainie would also be making an appearance. The perfect opportunity to make her jealous.

For some reason, I hadn’t realized that it was Halloween. Life had been busy, and the holiday seemed to have crept up very quickly on me. I wasn’t prepared. For one, I had no costume. More importantly, I’d totally forgotten to bond with Avery to make our romance seem more convincing. It meant we might have to do some pre-party prepping. Maybe dinner. I was stressing about this.

“Where was I when we supposedly ‘planned’ this last night?” I asked suspiciously as Elvis worked on twisting himself up in the leash.

“Dunno,” Kevin responded uncaringly.

Joe hopped into the kitchen on one foot, desperately trying to stuff his foot into his shoe as he hopped. “I want to be a random superhero,” he informed us. “Like Crazy Spanish Man or something.”

I was telling Joe that his suggestion was by far the worst superhero name I had ever heard when Kevin interrupted with, “I was thinking we could go as the Three Stooges. That’d be perfect, right? Larry, Curly, Moe?”

“Which one of you is Curly?” Joe asked.

“We’re not dressing up as the Three Stooges,” I said firmly. There was no way in hell.

“Can we dress up as Guns N’ Roses?” Joe suggested. “I call Slash!”

“Shotty Axl!” Kevin exclaimed immediately.

Whatever happened to the beauty of individual costumes? “Not doing that!” I told them.

“You can’t reject every idea, Princess,” Kevin warned me. “Let’s go as the Three Stooges.”

“I’m not… no. We each get a veto. Three Stooges has been veto’d by me.” Dressing up as Larry, Curly or Moe was not going to win me Rainie’s heart. Or Avery’s, for that matter.

Joe was putting on his other shoe when he said, “Let’s just decide when we get there.”

“Fine,” Kevin agreed, and he swiped his car keys from the counter and made his way out of the kitchen. “Let’s go. Nick!”

“What?” Elvis was getting anxious. He knew that leash equalled walk, and he was eager to get outside.

“Come on!”

Casually, I popped another grape into my mouth. “I’m not going. I’m going to Pep’s.”

While Joe seemed generally unperturbed, Kevin’s eyes bulged as he cried, “What about our costumes?”

I shrugged. What was the big deal? “Just get me something,” I told him calmly. As he rolled his eyes, I added, “Can we not go as a threesome? Get me something cool, something that says ‘I’m the man’.”

Kevin groaned. Apparently I was letting him down. “You’re such a ‘shbag, Nick.”

I paused for a moment to let that one sink in. When no explanation was offered, I chose to ask, “And a ‘shbag is…?”

“Douchebag,” Joe replied knowingly. Evidently, he’d already been name-called by Kevin.

Abbreviations could kiss my ass.

“Nick J, you are truly an idiot,” Pep told me.

While I sat on the roof with my knees hugging my chest, peering down at Elvis below in the backyard, Pep was perched on her windowsill so that she could pet poor ol’ Shep as we talked. He lounged just inside her bedroom while she lovingly stroked his head, taking big, labouring breaths even though he hadn’t moved in five minutes.

I frowned, insulted. “Excuse me.”

“Well, what were you thinking? You know Joe’s going to make sure Kevin gets you the worst possible costume. I think you just like complaining about things,” she reasoned.

“That’s not true,” I dismissed her argument. “I hate last-minute plans! Why should I have to drop everything I’m doing to do what Kevin wants?”

“It’s called being accommodating.”

“It’s called I’m not doing it.”

“It’s not like you had a lot planned today,” Pep pointed out.

“I was coming over here,” I huffed.

“Ooh, big plans.”

“Blow me.”

“Fuck you.”

“Well, someone should.”

Pep scrunched her nose in distaste. All the freckles combined. “Whatever, Nick. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about this - just make sure Kevin takes a picture of whatever ridiculous outfit you’re forced to wear tonight. I want to see it tomorrow.”

I frowned again. “Why won’t you see it tonight?”

“I’m going to my friend Lisa’s party,” she answered.

It took me a moment to process this. I glared at her. “No. No, no, no. Please don’t make me do this alone.”

She laughed. “No one’s making you do this. You’re making you do this.”

“I tailored my plans specifically to you coming with me!” I argued.

“You never told me about this!” she giggled, dangling her foot out of the window and swinging it back and forth. This was all very funny to her. She didn’t understand.

“That’s because I forgot until today,” I explained patiently. Pep didn’t look convinced, so I added, “Please, Pepper? I need you for moral support.”

“What does that even mean?” She held a hair elastic between her teeth as she began to gather her hair into a ponytail.

“It means that this is a two-man job,” I replied.

“I’m a girl.”

“Don’t nitpick; you know I hate that,” I snapped. “While I’m making it look natural and convincing with Avery, I need you to make sure that Rainie is never too far away. Make sure she’s watching, and most importantly, it’s your duty to make sure Rainie and Jesse don’t scamper off somewhere to get frisky.”

Pep doubled over laughing. Did she honestly think I was joking?

“Nick!” she exclaimed. “Get frisky?”

“You know what I mean!” I retorted.

With Shep’s paw on her lap, reminding her to pet him, she calmed down and snorted, “As much as I would love to spend my Halloween preventing two people I don’t even know from baby-making… I think I’ll go to my friend’s party instead.”

I groaned, tugging on one of my curls. “You’re the worst friend ever,” I muttered.

“Ha!” she laughed. “You didn’t tell me about this plan until right now! You are expecting me to drop my whole life just so you can make some girl jealous! I’m the worst friend ever? You’ve already included me in this way too much, Nick J.”

Ugh, she was referring to the kiss again, wasn’t she?

I scooted closer to her on the roof and clasped my hands together. “Please come with me tonight. I’ll hook you up with Jesse once they’re broken up, I promise.”

She shrugged uncaringly. “Meh. I’m over him.”

“Damn it!” I exclaimed. The one hook I had - gone! I gave her one last pleading glance. “Please?”

She laughed happily, scratching behind Shep’s ears. He was in heaven. “Nick, even if I didn’t have plans tonight, there’s no way I’d go. You’d have your girlfriend, and I’d be all alone. I hate being a third wheel.”

I rolled my eyes. “Stop calling her my girlfriend.”

“Isn’t that what you want her to be?”

We were getting sidetracked. This was frustrating. “What if I found someone to go with you? Joe’s planning on asking one of our cast-mates, but I’m sure I could make him go with you instead.”

It was Pep’s turn to roll her eyes. “While I’m flattered to be Joe’s forced-upon date, I’m gonna have to pass again. Besides, I already have a date to my party. I can’t let him down.”

Why does no one tell me these things?! “Who?” I demanded incredulously.

“Lance,” she replied simply.

I blinked. Why did that name sound familiar? Oh yeah. Lance.

“You’re going with fucking Lance!?” I cried, throwing my head back in anguish.

She laughed. “You don’t even know him and you’re acting like it’s the end of the world!”

“Well, what’s this all about? Did he get scared venturing out of the closet and decide to hop back in?”

“He’s not gay,” Pep groaned.

“He is,” I insisted, allowing no further argument. “Does this mean you’re back together?”

“I dunno. We’ll see how tonight goes.”

“Okay,” I said diplomatically, ready to make my last proposition. “How about this. You and Lance can both come to the party tonight. You keep an eye on Rainie and Jesse, I spend a few minutes with Avery and make it look convincing, then Rainie and I will hook up, you can go play flip-cup and maybe Avery and Lance will spark up a romance by the end of the night. A happy ending for everyone.”

“What about me?” Pep demanded.

I included her, didn’t I? In confusion, I asked, “What? I’ll drive you home.”

She scoffed. “I’m not going, Nick.”

I felt like repeatedly banging my head against the roof. “Then who’s going to be on Rainie-watch?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure something out, smarty. Besides, Rainie and Jesse are old enough to control themselves - it’s not a high school party; they’re not going to sneak off and have sex in the parents’ bedroom.” I was grumbling to myself when Pep added, “And if they did… you’d hear them.”

I flashed her a disapproving glance. “Thanks. Oh, by the way, you might want to consider giving up the v-card to Lance - who knows, it might turn him straight.”

Pep thought this was wildly funny. “I’m going to introduce you to him one of these days. You’ll see.”

“Don’t. It’ll only end in tears when he finds out he can’t have me.”

She sighed, picking up Shep’s favourite bone and throwing it across the room. He didn’t chase it. “You’re difficult.”

I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or Shep, so I said nothing.

“You’ll be fine, Nick,” she assured me. “There’ll be so many people there that Rainie and Jesse will barely be spending time together. Besides, as much as I think Rainie would approve of sex in a public place, I can’t see Jesse going for it when all his guy-friends are downstairs with beer.”

“Whoa,” I held up a hand to stop her. “Wait, what?”

She shrugged. “Judging from what I’ve heard and seen of Jesse, it doesn’t seem like his thing.”

What doesn’t seem like his thing?”

“Ignoring his guy friends and sneaking off to have sex.”

“How do you know that’s not his thing?”

“You can just tell. I don’t think Jesse’s very considerate, and I think these kinds of things carry over to the bedroom.”

I looked at her in disgust. “You’ve thought about this?”

“I’m pretty sure every girl thinks about it,” she told me. “It’s easy to tell what a guy’s like in bed just by the way he acts.”

My eyes widened. “Are you serious?” This was news to me. Horrifying news.

“Uh huh. Like, for example, I think Jesse likes to take control to get what he wants. He’s pretty inconsiderate of the girl’s needs.”

“What does that mean?”

“Do I have to spell it out for you?”

I paused for a moment, thinking it through. “Oh.” I felt a little sick talking about this. “Hold on,” I said firmly, “Do you do this with every guy you meet?”

“Uh… pretty much.”

As Chaucer-like as I am, I never knew this. It gave me a whole new reason to fear losing my virginity. I knew I wasn’t going to like the answer, but I couldn’t help myself from asking, “Every guy? Even me?” I had to know.

Pep wasn’t embarrassed at all as she answered, “Yep.”

Good God. The collar on my shirt felt really restricting all of a sudden. This was uncomfortable. Staring at the shingles on the roof, I repositioned myself.

“You wanna know what I think about you?” she offered.

I released a breath. “Pepper…” I trailed off. I was going to say no, but then I found myself curious. Would it be better to know what girls thought of me? That way, if it was bad, I could improve myself. Then again, if they really thought I was inconsiderate and terrible in bed, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. I would want to die. “… no,” I responded. I added snappily, “Don’t think about stuff like that.”

“I can’t help it!” she laughed. “Besides, I think I’m a pretty good judge. You have kissed me, you know.”

Jesus Christ! “That wasn’t a kiss!” I shrieked. If she was judging me based on that stupid spur-of-the-moment thing, then I was screwed.

“What was it, then?”

“A last resort,” I answered with resolution.

She pondered this for a moment, her eyes flicking to the roof and then back to me. She began to chuckle, her cheeks turning a light shade of pink. “Huh. Nick J’s last resort. I’m beyond flattered.”

Slowly, I turned my head towards her. “How many Cokes do I have to buy you before you promise never to mention this again?”

With this, she gave me a genuine smile. She giggled, swinging her dangling leg back and forth while answering, “A billion.”

“We like to call him Princess Nick because he whines constantly until he gets what he wants - isn’t that right, Princess?” Kevin asked me. He was walking a few steps ahead with Avery, and apparently he found it necessary to explain to Avery why I was the way I was. Thanks for taking the dark out of my ‘tall, dark and handsome’, Kevin.

“I hate you,” I told him seriously. I really did. This was by the far the most humiliating thing I had ever worn.

We had parked down the street and we were making our way towards our band-mates’ house, clad in our costumes. Pep was right: I didn’t like the costume choices Kevin and Joe had made. I should have known not to leave important decisions like this up to them.

We were dressed as the Three Musketeers. Feathered hats, red and gold tunics, and black buckled shoes. Joe stuck a moustache on himself for good measure. I was beginning to doubt that Rainie - or anybody - would ever fall in love with me in a costume like this.

Joe ended up bringing our friend Chelsea from on-set, Danielle was coming later after she finished her shift at work, and Avery, of course, was my date. That’s what made this costume so stupid. I wasn’t planning on trailing behind my brothers all night, nor were they planning on sticking with me. Who was going to know that we were the Three Musketeers if we weren’t all together? Without those two idiots, I was going to look like some guy straight out of the fourteenth century. That’s it. And that’s a lame costume.

Chelsea wore some sort of slutty nurse costume, Avery looked pretty good (and more importantly, pretty normal) in a typical cat costume, and somewhere in the city, Pep was running around dressed as a small, over-energized ladybug. With Lance, Queen of the Ladies. I was still kind of irritated that she wasn’t here with me.

When we were inside the house, I immediately scanned the area for Rainie. She was nowhere to be found. At first, I was disappointed, but then I realized how advantageous this was. By the time she arrived, I would be chatting up a group of people, casually nursing a beer, and projecting a relaxed, approachable, yet unattainable image. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

I got myself a beer and attempted to open it. It wasn’t a twist-off, so after a few moments of wasted effort, I found a bottle opener and struggled to work it. I sincerely hoped that no one had been watching me; that was the first time I ever used a bottle opener, and it did not go as smoothly as expected. Next time would be more successful.

Avery eyed me in disapproval as I rejoined the crowd. It took me a few moments to figure out why - I had forgotten to offer her a drink.

“Can I get you one?” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t drink beer.”

“… water?” I suggested. The look she gave me made me wince in anticipation of a slap in the face. Why was she so angry? I was trying here.

“Yeah, water would be great,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

I paused, choosing my next words carefully. “I have a distinct feeling you’re being sarcastic.”

Avery raised her hand to pat my shoulder, and I winced again, fearing the blow. I unclenched my muscles when all I felt was her gentle tapping. “Ya think?” she asked. She was clearly unimpressed. I wondered if this was influencing how she thought of me in bed. Oh, God. This was Pep’s fault. I had a whole new reason to analyze girls; I had a whole new reason to choose every one of my actions carefully. As if I needed another reason. Fuck my cautious little life.

“Let’s try this again,” I proposed as cheerfully as possible. “Why don’t you tell me what you’d like, and I’ll make it happen?”

“Rum and Coke.”

“Great. Be back in five.”

Simple. Now all I had to do was find rum and Coke. Or, even better, I could find a way to escape. Avery seemed more cynical than I remembered her. We’d only met twice: once on the blind date, and then we’d gone out for lunch a couple of days later. How was she comfortable speaking to me this way already? If I didn’t need her to seduce Rainie, then she definitely wouldn’t be getting a call-back.

I asked around, rooted through a few cupboards and the kitchen fridge, and eventually found a bottle of rum that was supposed to be hidden from the party guests. I’d pay my band-mate back later. When I was finished my creation, I took the tall glass out to Avery, nearly tripping over my stupid black shoes along the way. Curse my brothers and their awful ideas.

Just as I was handing Avery her drink, the doorbell rang and Jesse poked his head inside. All of a sudden, I felt an intense hatred bubbling in my veins. It was weird; because Jesse and I had never had any altercations. Ever. We’d always got along just fine. Yet I hated him with every ounce of my being. Well, a couple of ounces were slowly reserving themselves for Avery… but yes, I hated him.

Needless to say, the fact that his costume was worse than mine made my heart very happy. In fact, it was so awful that I couldn’t even tell what he was supposed to be as he threw the door open and entered the house to cheers from the guys. Dark, ratty pants… weird, creamy blouse… black boots… dangling earring… blackened eyes… what a failure. I was embarrassed for him.

Kevin’s voice overpowered all others as he demanded, “What are you supposed to be?”

Jesse, who was still standing in the door grinning widely at his brilliant reception, paused to ask, “Huh? Oh. Rainie, gimme my hair.”

A hand - Rainie’s hand - snuck around Jesse’s waist and handed him a black mop of some sort. He bent over to properly insert it on his head, and when he stood up, everyone murmured in unison, “Ohhhhh.”

Jack Sparrow. Why the hell couldn’t I have gone as Jack Sparrow? That would have been the sickest costume ever. Everyone loves Jack Sparrow; Jack Sparrow is amazing. He’s the perfect mixture of badass and charm. But no, no - instead I was dressed up as a fucking musketeer with an oversized feather poking out of my hat. Shoot me. Hate life. Hate Jesse more than life.

Jesse stood in the doorway for a few more seconds to allow everyone to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over his costume. I waited patiently for him to step aside. Rainie was behind him. While I waited, I tried to guess her costume. Something revealing and devilish, I’d bet. A witch. A devil. A naughty angel. She seemed like the type of person who would flaunt her inner skank on Halloween just because she knew I’d be ridiculously jealous and probably ejaculate in my pants. Sorry, my trousers. Fuck you, Kevin and Joe.

Dream Street left Rainie to fend for herself as he joined Kevin and the others for a beer. I took a moment to shoot him a disapproving glare, though he failed to notice, before examining Rainie.

By the way - oh. My. God. She was dressed as a mildly slutty Hermione Granger. I knew it the very second I laid eyes on her. The burgundy and golden-striped tie, the pleated grey mini-dress… holy shit. This was actually my greatest sexual fantasy coming to life. Slutty Hermione Granger in Rainie form. Except that we weren’t having sex, but that was a minor detail that would be dealt with later.

Eight months prior, I had defied what I believed about love when I fell in love with Rainie at first sight. Now, I had to defy it again as I mentally declared myself a firm believer of fate. This was truly a sign from God. Had I not already compared Rainie and I to Hermione and Ron? And if JK Rowling’s epilogue was correct, we would be getting hitched and popping out babies in the near future. And we would name one Fred; because dead brothers deserve to be honoured.

My cheeks were flushed with warmth when Avery put her index finger under my chin and forced my jaw back into place. Apparently it had been hanging wide open - I wasn’t surprised, yet I was still embarrassed.

“Okay there, tiger?” she asked me.

I really was starting to dislike her. I gulped. “Uh huh.” I realized that I was still staring at Rainie, awestruck, so I shook myself out of my trance and connected my eyes with Avery’s. “How’s that drink holding up?”

She chuckled. “Well, seeing as you got it for me about thirty seconds ago… it’s doing just fine.”

I nodded, dumbfounded. If she had asked me to repeat what she’d just said, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. If she had asked me to repeat what I had asked her, I couldn’t have done that, either. Nothing in the world mattered anymore besides Rainie and her costume and my destiny. She was slowly making her rounds in the room, and eventually, she’d have to say hello to me. I’d ask her if she wanted to go outside for some fresh air, and then I would hotwire Jesse’s car and we’d drive to San Francisco. From there, we’d fly to London, and from there, we’d hop on platform nine and three-quarters and spend the rest of our days at Hogwarts where we belonged.

But wait. That wasn’t going to work. I’d fantasized about running away with Rainie more times than I could count, but it had never actually happened, because she had never actually agreed to it. To be fair, I hadn’t outwardly suggested it - but if she couldn’t even kiss me without reminding me that she had a boyfriend, then there was little hope of her fleeing the country with me on a whim.

In that case, Operation Make-Rainie-Jealous was still on. I took a deep breath, turning my back to Rainie to face Avery. “Can I introduce you to everyone?” I asked. She nodded, so I gently guided her in the direction of one of my band-mates. He was a funny guy; he’d get her laughing, and I would laugh along, and we’d all look merry. We’d look like we were having a great time without Rainie, and she’d wish she was a part of it.

“Hey, Garbo,” I said, tapping him on the shoulder. He turned around with a drink in his hand, and instead of immediately introducing him to my date, I assessed his costume - if you could even call it that. He wore a white dress shirt with a tie, and he had cut out three black circles which were taped onto his shirt in a vertical line. I frowned. “What the hell is this, man? You stole that from Jim!”

Jim Halpert from The Office dressed as the three-hole punch version of himself for Halloween. It was a one-of-a-kind costume, and Garbo had just ruined it.

He shrugged. “It’s simple. It’s comical. It’s genius. What’re you supposed to be?” He looked me up and down in confusion. “Like… some tight-ass English dude? A squire? King Henry the Eighth? The guy who stands on podiums and reads scrolls? The-”

“I’m a musketeer,” I interrupted with a roll of my eyes. “Anyway, I want you to meet Avery. She’s one of Miley’s back-up dancers. Avery, this is Greg. He’s an idiot and probably not worth anyone’s time.”

Garbo chuckled as he shook Avery’s hand. “I’m offended, kid.”

“Good,” I muttered. “Now say something funny.” It was time to get this show on the road. Laughter was key to making Rainie jealous.

“What?” he asked, perplexed.

Ugh. Useless! Everyone here was useless to me. Why the hell was Pep with Lance when I so desperately needed her? She would understand.

“Hey, Garbo!” a familiar, melodic voice exclaimed from behind me. My muscles tensed as a wide smile crossed Garbo’s face. He released a string of ‘how’s it going’s’ and ‘good to see you’s’ as he gave Rainie a welcoming hug. This was so not making Rainie jealous at all. In fact, it was the opposite of making Rainie jealous. I planned to give Garbo the silent treatment until he apologized for this.

When Rainie pulled away from my traitorous band-mate, she trained her eyes to me with an unaffected, calm smile. “Nick Jonas,” she said, advancing towards me with her arms open. What could I do? If I acted uncivilly towards her, it would tell her that I wasn’t capable of handling this situation. I had to appear nonchalant and indifferent. That’d show her. I returned the hug with ease, holding my breath so as not to inhale her flowery perfume and melt into a puddle of goo.

God, she was so fucking hot. I was sizzling like bacon under her touch. My Hermione.

I cleared my throat as we separated, making a point to speak directly to Avery. “This is Rainie.” I read in a yahoo! article that it’s important to provide thoughtful details when introducing two people to each other. Well, fuck yahoo!. Rainie wasn’t getting a thoughtful detail, not until she broke up with Dream Street. Avery, on the other hand, would receive a thoughtful detail not because she deserved one, but because it would benefit me. “Rainie, this is Avery. My date. She dances.”

Was that impressive? I hoped it was. I hoped Rainie was envious of my dancing date.

“I love your costume,” Avery gushed. I was prepared to snicker at Rainie with smugness, but this comment made me pause. Wait, what?!

“Oh, thanks!” Rainie replied enthusiastically. “Yeah, Jesse wanted me to go as Elizabeth Swan so we’d match, but I was like, ugh, I don’t want to dress up all old-fashioned!”

I looked down at my own fourteenth-century costume. I hated Joe and Kevin more than I ever had before.

“Where did you find it?” Avery asked.

“Oh, I found this a long time ago at a costume shop,” Rainie answered. Jesse materialized to hand her a drink, and she thanked him before he left to join the guys. She took a sip before continuing, “Harry Potter’s pretty much amazing, so I knew I had to get it. I told Jesse to dress up as Ron, but he said it was lame.”

I would have dressed up as Ron for Rainie. In a heartbeat. Fate. Fate. Fate.

“What?” Avery cried. “Kick his ass! Ron’s the shit.”

Shut the fuck up, dancer girl. It was then that I understood what Pep meant when she said she hated being the third wheel. Still, I resented her for not coming with me. When had I ever treated her like a third wheel? While Rainie and Avery got along like childhood friends, Pep would brainstorm with me as I sulked. Avery could go fuck herself; Pep could be my first wheel in a situation like this. I needed that tiny redheaded proton.

“I know, right?” Rainie laughed. “You look adorable, by the way. Cat costumes are so cute.”

… was my future wife coming on to my current date? She really was a lesbian at heart, wasn’t she? Jesus Christ. And she was talking differently. She was using girl-speak or something. I didn’t even know she was capable of the dialect; she had always sounded intelligent to me in the past.

“Oh, this thing? I found it at the last minute and threw it on.” I could swear that I saw Avery blush. Was I surrounded by lesbians? Fuck my life. Just fuck it all.

“Aw, look at the tail!” Rainie cried, reaching around and tugging gently on the black tail attached to Avery’s backside.

This was torture. I was both furious and incredibly turned-on. Do you know how compatible those two feelings are? I was in one of those dominatrix moods. I wanted to take control of a situation that I could not control at all. Most of all, I wanted to take control of Rainie, because she was pissing the hell out of me and again, I feared pitching a tent in public.

I really needed to practice controlling my sexual urges. This was becoming ridiculous.

Rainie paused a moment to look at me, my mind up in the clouds. With a smirk, she asked, “What are you supposed to be?”

I had a feeling I was going to get sick of that question in the near future. “A musketeer.”

She nodded, eyebrows raised, clearly unimpressed. “You know there are three of them, right?”

What a bitch. I hated her so much. But not a genuine hatred. It was a hatred that developed from loving someone so much they made your heart hurt, and every insult just caused the heart to swell even more until you were sure it was going to burst out of your chest.

“Yeah,” I breathed. “My brothers are over…” I turned around, pointing in the general direction of where I’d left them, but they were nowhere to be found. In fact, there were very few males in the room, which was odd. “Where’d everyone go?” I asked.

Joe’s date, Chelsea, overheard my query. “They went downstairs to check out Ryan’s pool table.”

Why does no one tell me these things? This was why it was essential for Pep to be here with me. My life was honestly a two-man job. There were so many things to keep track of.

I turned to Avery, placing my hand on the small of her back and purposely ignoring Rainie. “You want to go down and see what everyone’s up to?”

Avery shrugged indifferently. “You go. I’ll stay here with Rainie. Maybe I’ll come down in a few.”

I stared at her for a few moments, assessing whether or not she was serious, and when I realized she was, I licked my lips and gradually turned around.

This was just great. The reason I had invited Avery to this stupid party was to make Rainie jealous. Rainie was supposed to wish that she was mine and ask me to leave Avery for her, and I would oblige. Instead, Rainie decided to flirt with my date and Avery was completely abandoning me for her. How did Rainie do it?! Apparently I had enough trouble wooing members of one sex, let alone two. Males and females alike loved her, goddammit.

I stalked towards the stairs with purpose, so focused on my anger that I stumbled going down. Though I regained my balance, I spilled my beer all over my costume. The good news was that Rainie and Avery were so preoccupied staring into each others’ eyes that I don’t think they noticed… but the bad news was that Rainie had beat me again, and I couldn’t think of a way to win her heart after something as devastating as this.

An hour later, I was teaching Avery to play pool as Rainie flirted shamelessly with Garbo by the bar in the basement. I could have killed that guy; he was seriously letting me down tonight. And where was Jesse? Why wasn’t he angered by this? Rainie was his girlfriend, for fuck’s sake, and it was killing me that she was coming onto someone else! Yet Jesse was nowhere to be found, the douche.

The only good thing that had happened so far was that Joe and Chelsea seemed to be hitting it off. As I hung around the pool table with Avery, they were playing what looked like an un-sober game of Charades with a few others, laughing hysterically. I was happy that she was taking his mind off of Camilla, because I was sick of hearing about how lost he was without her.

“Hold on,” I said as I re-focused my attention to Avery. “You’re holding it wrong.” She was bent over the table, one eye closed as she attempted to set up a shot.

She handed the cue to me and shifted to the left so that I could take her spot. “You’re putting too much pressure on it with your left hand. Your left hand is meant to be more of a guide than anything; it doesn’t necessarily have to touch the stick.”

When I glanced at her to make sure she understood, I was surprised to see that she was stifling a laugh. She’d had a bit to drink, but she wasn’t drunk by any means, and her inexplicable need to laugh confused me. “What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I just… that’s what she said, okay?” she chuckled.

It took me a moment to piece this together, but I forced a smile. “Side-splitting, Avery. Now you try.”

I handed her the cue and she bent over the table once more. Rainie glanced our way, and I purposely stood behind Avery to shield her ass. Rainie was not getting the opportunity to check out my date. If she was looking at anyone’s ass, it was going to be mine.

In fact, that was an excellent idea. Luckily, Avery was doing the exact thing I had told her not to do, so I seized the opportunity to bend over and reposition her hands for her. This gave Rainie an excellent view of my posterior and made Avery and I look smitten for one another, thus making Rainie jealous. I metaphorically patted myself on the back for being such a genius.

I guided her arm backwards and told her to shoot, my lips touching her ear as I did so. That was unintentional, but I wished Rainie had caught it. Before she took the shot, Avery looked at me questioningly. I didn’t quite know what to say because I was too busy contemplating whether or not I should kiss her. Was it the right time? Was Rainie viewing at the right angle? There were so many reasons to hesitate.

It was a good thing I did, too, because my phone vibrated to ruin the moment. I snapped to a standing position to answer it.

“Pepper,” I said as soon as I checked the caller ID and flipped open my phone.

“Hi!” she exclaimed. The volume of her voice was so high that my eardrums rattled, causing me to cringe. “How are you? How’s it going? Is she there yet?”

I assumed she was talking about Rainie, so I stepped away from Avery to reply, “Yep.”

“Is she jealous?”

Nonchalantly, I grazed my eyes over Rainie to check if she was looking at me. She wasn’t. She was laughing with Garbo. I cleared my throat. “It’s hard to say,” I replied.

“What?” Pep cried. I could hear all the voices in the background. Wherever she was, there were a lot of people surrounding her.

“Are you having fun?” I asked her, increasing my volume. A couple of people looked at me, surprised by my outburst.

“So much!” she exclaimed. “I sang Burnin’ Up karaoke style with Lance! I did all of Big Rob’s parts!”

What? I didn’t want Lance singing my song.

“Then he - ha, Lance, don’t! - then he found my antennae for me because I lost them! Ha! That tickles! Stop! I’m thinking of making an ice cream float but with beer! Do you think that would taste good?”

And then she dissolved in giggles. It was hard to piece together which parts of the conversation were directed towards me and which were directed to Lance, but I was pretty sure I had it figured out. I was also pretty sure that this was the first time I had ever spoken to Pep while she was drunk. If it was possible, she was even more excited than the normal version of Pep.

“I think it would taste disgusting,” I replied. “Don’t do it.”

“Okay, I think I’m going to do it!” she announced, and I knew that she hadn’t heard a word I’d said. “Gotta go! Bye Nick!”

“Wait!” I cried. “Was there a reason that you-” The line went dead. I paused before adding softly, “… called me?”

Weird. If I found out later that she and Lance were in the process of doing it while she called me (which it had sort of sounded like), then I would be pissed. It was both disturbing and distracting, when I really needed to be concentrating on how to make Rainie swoon.

“Who was that?” Avery asked curiously.

“Pep,” I responded, sliding my phone into my pocket and taking another step towards the pool table. “Where were we?” I glanced at Rainie to make sure she hadn’t changed position. If anything, she had shifted her stance so that she was now directly facing us. This was perfect.

“What’s Pep?” she inquired, and I flinched as if she’d just told me something crazy. Then I realized I’d never mentioned Pep around Avery, so it was a natural and completely normal question.

“My friend.” I didn’t want to get into it at that point in time. “So did you make the shot?”

She shrugged. “I was waiting for you to show me again.”

Ugh. Useless. Nonetheless, I complied, teaching her the step-by-step process for the second time in ten minutes. She did exactly as I told her, and the cue ball hit the striped ball on the nose, sending it gliding effortlessly into the corner pocket. Nick Jonas, ladies and gentleman, master of billiards.

“Ha!” Avery exclaimed, dropping the cue as she spun around. “I did it!”

Well, it was more like I did it, but I didn’t want to ruin her buzz because it was making me look good. Before I knew it, she was flinging herself into my arms with joy. I knew she was going to kiss me, and I cursed myself as I turned my head away from her and returned the hug instead. I could tell that Avery felt rejected, so I gave her the warmest smile I could muster to make her feel better. I needed her to stay on my side and not Rainie’s no matter what.

Why had I snubbed her advances? I couldn’t think of a reason, except that maybe kissing Pep had dissuaded me from ever kissing anyone again without heavily weighing the pros and cons. Or maybe the thought of Pep doing unspeakable things with Lance was causing my stomach to churn, rendering me unable to kiss anyone without throwing up.

Either way, I was mad at that little proton, because this was all her fault.

Another couple of hours passed, and it was evident that Avery was definitely feeling the effects of her multiple rum and Cokes. We had relocated to the bar stools with Joe and Chelsea, and Avery was feeding me corn nuts like it was the funniest thing in the world. It was more frustrating than anything, because when I say she was feeding me, what I really mean is that she was throwing them at my face and expecting me to catch them with my tongue. And she wasn’t very good at aiming.

Avery wasn’t the only one who was semi-drunk, however. Joe had had enough to drink that he was boisterous and rambunctious, kind of like Pep but angrier, more competitive and less enjoyable. Chelsea, however, was taking so much pleasure in their ridiculous conversation that she was laughing profusely, which I supposed was a good thing. Still, I had to keep tabs on how much he was drinking, because if he drank too much, he’d get all emotional and quiet down, whining about his broken relationship with Camilla. That wouldn’t make a good impression on Chelsea, and it was necessary to avoid this situation.

Rainie was also not entirely sober. Even when I watched her from across the room, I could tell. Her balance was off, her cheeks were pink, and she laughed much more enthusiastically than normal. About thirty minutes before, she had made a point of instigating conversation with Joe and Chelsea, and I was pretty sure that she had taken great pains not to include me even though I was standing less than ten inches away.

I was growing tired of this game.

It seemed both childish and unnecessary. The fact that she was playing at all meant that she was harbouring feelings for me, didn’t it? Why couldn’t she just admit it and be with me? It wasn’t like Jesse would kill himself if she broke up with him. In fact, he had gone upstairs to play poker with the guys a long time ago. He would hardly be affected by the break-up as long as I made sure to stuff another girl in his face to act as a band-aid for his wound (and that was what Pep was supposed to be for, but she had unfortunately declined my request).

With a sigh as another corn nut hit my cheek and fell to the floor, I pulled my stupid feathered hat off my head and set it down at the bar. I ran a hand through my hair to fix it, but I hardly cared anymore what I looked like. Tonight was just a write-off. Kevin ruined it from the beginning with these costumes from hell, and it had only gone downhill from there.

“Here, let me,” Avery offered, setting down the bowl of corn nuts and hopping off the tall stool. She took a couple of steps towards me until she was practically leaning against me, her hands reaching up to beautify my hat-headed hair. Her head tilted back as she worked, and once again I contemplated kissing her. Our lips were inches apart, her hands were already tangled in my hair, and her eyes were glazed over with either lust or alcohol (I’m thinking lust because I’m irresistible). Rainie had the perfect view from where she sat on the couch. It couldn’t be set up more perfectly; it was the opportune moment to kiss her.

But I didn’t.

Eventually, her hands fell from my hair, and I blinked lazily, kind of upset that it had ended. It felt good. Avery, however, didn’t attempt to shy away from me. A smile crossed her face and she giggled under her breath.

I raised an eyebrow. “I think you’re drunk,” I murmured softly to her.

“I’m not,” she insisted quietly, “You are.”

I laughed gently. “I don’t think that’s true.”

She let her hands fall to my shoulders and leaned more of her weight on me. (Side-note: I was starting to like her again. She was making me look really good in front of Rainie). With her face mere centimetres from mine, she asked, “Are you ever gonna kiss me?”

My God. It wasn’t like we’d been dating for a year. I’d met her three effing times! Needy bitch.

“I was planning on it,” I replied calmly, adding, “Eventually.”

Again, perfect opportunity to kiss her. She’d more or less already consented. What was wrong with me?! Maybe it was because Rainie had moved from the sofa and I no longer knew where she was. There was no point in kissing Avery if Rainie wasn’t going to see it.

“Well, I think you should,” she said, her eyes drifting to my lips as she laced her fingers around the back of my neck.

I thought about it. I was feeling really relaxed and kind of drowsy, and her lips looked pretty inviting. Who would turn down the opportunity to kiss a hot girl, anyway? The problem was that I suddenly realized that my plan was flawed. The whole point was to make Rainie jealous, but I couldn’t force myself to kiss someone I didn’t want to kiss. Even though she was deliberately ignoring me, I felt a loyalty to Rainie. I was hers.

So, I awkwardly cleared my throat. “I have to go to the bathroom,” I muttered, de-linking her hands from around my neck and stepping down from the stool.

Smooth, Nick. I cursed myself as I trudged up the stairs. That was pathetic.

Jesse and a bunch of guys were sitting around the kitchen table with cigars, playing round after round of poker. They would look like old men if there weren’t a few girls hanging off of them. One was sitting on Jesse’s lap as he played. That girl was not Rainie.

I growled in the back of my throat as I searched for the bathroom. It was occupied. I began the long march upstairs to look for another bathroom with one last dirty glare in Jesse’s direction. What a bona fide prick and a half.

The upstairs of the house consisted of an open, squared hallway that branched off into bedrooms and a bathroom. I was on my way to the bathroom when I noticed a fleck of gold in the room to my right - Rainie’s hair, of course. I changed my course of action and knocked lightly on the open door of the room she was in. She wasn’t doing anything in particular; simply staring at framed photographs on the wall. She jumped when I knocked.

“You okay?” I asked. It was odd that she was up here alone.

She tugged the gold and burgundy-striped tie she was wearing, flashing me a silly smile as she extended one of her lean, tanned legs in my direction. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she replied.

It took me a moment or two to process both her hotness and her words. I kept my jaw from dropping as I choked, “What?”

She strolled towards me, surprisingly keeping her balance. I felt my heart constrict in my chest. Before I could prompt her to answer my question, she grabbed my collar and tugged me towards her, pressing her lips to mine.


There wasn’t an excess of alcohol in my system, but there was enough to slow down my thought processes. Again, it took a moment or two for occurrences to register. Finally, I clung onto enough sense to break apart from her, still holding her close.

“What?” I repeated in confusion.

Rainie only laughed lightly, shutting the door behind me and reattaching her lips to mine.

This wasn’t exactly how I had imagined it.

In fact, this wasn’t at all how I had imagined it. For one, as soon she closed the door, she pinned me up against it and kissed me forcefully. Most guys wouldn’t complain, but because I was still incredibly confused, it only served to perplex me further. I had always imagined myself in control, and here I was, barely able to move against her. And wait… was she… was she top-lipping me!? Fuck! That was my job!

Luckily, I was able to slide my hands up her sides and take control of her head, breaking us apart once more. “What’s going on?” I asked breathlessly.

Eyes half-closed, she ordered, “Just kiss me.”

I did so for a moment before distancing us again. “Shouldn’t we discuss this?”

She let out an incredulous laugh as she smiled. “What’s to discuss? You want this to happen.”

She tried to kiss me again, but I turned my head away, exactly as I’d done to Avery. “Whoa. Where’d you get that from?” I demanded, taken aback.

She chuckled. “Could you be any more jealous? Your skin was practically turning green down there.”

Good God. Way to make it not obvious, Nick. “Jealous of who? I have a date,” I responded as calmly as possible. I’m pretty sure my voice cracked. I could feel every curve of her body through that thin Hermione-like dress.

“Yeah,” Rainie agreed, pressing a kiss to my lips. “And I think you like this, don’t you?” She moved her mouth to my jaw, kissing a line towards my ear. I couldn’t help it; I sighed in content. “You’re different from your brothers. You like playing the field. Testing all the flavours of ice cream. You’re kind of a man-whore, aren’t you?” she murmured, nibbling softly on my earlobe.

The pleasure was overwhelming, but so was her accusation. Man-whore? That was one of the last words I would use when describing myself, no matter how cool and macho it sounded. Where did she get that idea?

Then it clicked. I finally understood what was going through Rainie’s mind. I had kissed her one night in the hotel room. A week later, I kissed Pep in front of her and affirmed that we had a ‘thing’. Here I was a couple weeks after that with a new girl, still obviously lusting after Rainie. From her point of view, I was a player.

She turned my chin towards her, giving me a seductive glance as she breathed, “I’m just giving you what you want.”

One of the strangest things about Rainie was that sometimes she seemed very vulnerable and lost, and other times she built up a brick wall that was impossible to crack. It was hard as hell to predetermine her mood.

“What about you?” I questioned, choosing to ignore her accusation. I brushed the honey-coloured hair off her face, forcing her to keep eye contact with me. This was important.

She shook her head vigorously. “Jesse doesn’t have to know,” she assured me. “Just for tonight. Just kiss me.”

I contemplated this for a moment, shifting my gaze from her beautiful eyes to the freckles on her nose. They were faint tonight; she had tried to conceal them with make-up. I liked it better when I could see the freckles.

Then I wondered what I was doing thinking about freckles when I could easily be kissing the love of my life. So I did that instead. I kissed her. And I’m not going to lie: it was awesome. Nobody I’d ever kissed knew how to kiss like that. Maybe it came with the age, or maybe it came with the experience, or maybe it was a bit of both… but hot damn, that girl could kiss. I even forgot that she was totally dominating me against the door. The best part was that she was dressed as Hermione. I let my hands wander across her dress, and she didn’t seem to mind. I hoped she’d keep this costume, because when we were married, she was going to be wearing it often. (I, on the other hand, planned to burn my lame musketeer costume as soon as I got home).

It was when her hands started to trail down my chest that I began to wonder where this was going. I was totally willing to progress a lot further with Rainie, but it was nerve-wracking enough that both my date and hers were just a floor or two below us and could easily walk in at any second. In fact, the thought scared me so much that for the first time, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get a boner. This realization should have comforted me, but instead, it made me even more nervous.

So I collected her hands in mine and kissed her firmly one last time, exhaling, “You have to break up with Jesse.”

She frowned. “Why?”

For the second time in five minutes, I struggled to keep my jaw from unhinging. “Because you’re making out with me!” I hissed.

She shrugged uncaringly.

Fucking ice witch with a capital B. Goddammit!

“And because you haven’t spoken to him all night!” I added frantically. “Because he’s downstairs with another girl on his lap right now! Because he could never care for you like I could - like I do!”

“That’s just what we do, Nick,” Rainie explained nonchalantly, her hands pressed to my chest. “Don’t pretend like you understand our relationship.”

“It’s not a relationship!” I whispered furiously. “You can’t pretend it is when you barely talk to him and you’ve cheated on him twice!”

Again, she shrugged. “Who says it’s been twice?”

Had I miscounted? That time in the hotel room… and then now. Two. Just what I thought. I was about to inform her of her miscalculation when I realized what she was really saying. It had been more than twice? With someone other than me!?

Through gritted teeth, I demanded in a whiny voice, “Why are you doing this? Why is it so important that you stay with him?”

She ran a hand down the side of my face, giggling under her breath. Her cheeks were a rosy shade of pink, her eyes glossed. Her breath smelled like wine. “Because,” she whispered in my ear, “it’s fun.”

It’s fun?! What the FUCK did that mean? This was by far the most exasperating conversation of my entire life, conversations with Kevin included.

I had no idea how to respond to that, so I repeated, “I think you should break up with him.”

She arched a sceptical eyebrow. “You just want it all, don’t you, Jonaslut?” She yanked one of her hands from my grip and drunkenly wagged a finger in my face. “You get to go out with whoever you want, but I can’t have one boyfriend?”

“No!” I exclaimed in frustration, grabbing onto her finger because it was bothering me. “I’m not going out with anyone. Not Avery, not Pep… I’m waiting for you. There’s nobody else.”

Flightily, she laughed under her breath. “Hmm, hmm,” it sounded like. She kissed me again, wriggling her hands out of my grip and tugging on my collar. I thought that was it. I thought I had her.

But when we broke apart, she patted my cheek affectionately and whispered, “Enjoy waiting, then.”

I took a step forward in shock to allow her to open the door and make her exit. When she was gone, I stood motionless, staring at nothing.

… what the hell just happened?

I worked it through in my mind in the simplest way possible. I joined her in the bedroom, she initiated the kiss, and then she told me I couldn’t have her. In short, my future wife was sort of slutty, and a real bitch. She was such a bitch that I wouldn’t hesitate to avada kedavra her if I only had the chance.

And even though I despised the smell of wine on her breath, she was wearing a different sort of perfume, some sort of bitch attractant. Because if she was a bitch, then I was a bitch too. I was her bitch. It was totally un-masculine and I was whipped, but it was true. All she had to do was give me a bitch call and I’d coming running, ready and willing to yet again get my heart bitch-slapped in the face. I’d become the bitch-got-served, and she’d bitch-prance away feeling not a bit sorry in the least by her bitch-moves. She was my bitch goddess. My bitch from hell.

I could see a pattern beginning to form, and I was pretty sure I didn’t like it.

Suddenly, I also became aware that if my mother knew even a half of the thoughts that ran through my mind on a regular basis, I’d never be allowed to leave the house again.

Sighing shakily, I mustered enough strength to turn on my heel and make my way to the bathroom. When I wandered down the stairs, I immediately noticed that Rainie was attempting to make amends with Jesse. His lap was vacant, but she was rubbing his shoulders as he played. I had spent so much time hating Jesse; it was then that I decided that Rainie deserved more of my hatred. Jesse was just a dickhead. He had no idea what was going on. He was a shitty boyfriend, yes, but he was just as uninvolved in my relationship with Rainie as was anyone.

Maybe it was time to attack this issue from a different angle. Huh. That wasn’t a bad idea. Maybe I just needed a new plan. I wondered if Pep was too drunk to hatch it out with me.

Whether or not she was available, I knew I wanted to get home right away. I had things to think about, and watching Rainie and Jesse acting like an actual couple for once was making me twitch again. My left eye blinked sporadically as I shrugged my left shoulder. It was weird, and it scared me.

“Hey, you guys know where Kevin is?” I asked, poking my head into the kitchen and taking pains not to look at Rainie.

“He left with Danielle,” Garbo answered distractedly.

“What? When?” I demanded. That dildo was my ride home.

“I dunno,” he replied as he dealt the cards. “While ago. He said he’d be back later, or you could call if you wanted a ride.”

I did want a ride. Badly. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and as I scrolled through my contacts. I remembered that I had deleted Kevin. Shit. I should have known that would come back and bite me in the ass.

I couldn’t very well ask anyone at the poker table if they knew my brother’s number; that was just embarrassing. Instead, I met Joe and Chelsea as they were coming up the stairs and asked to borrow Joe’s phone for a minute. I set my own phone down on the table, stepped outside, called Kevin and begged him to pick me up, gave the phone back to Joe, and waited on the stoop until I saw his car. He and Danielle drove me home, and it was only when I was de-musketeering myself that I realized I had left my phone on the table at my band-mate’s house in exchange for Joe’s phone. This was bad news because it meant I couldn’t contact Pep, nor could I phone Joe or Kevin to remind them to grab it for me, having neither of their numbers and not knowing where my mother kept the Rolodex.

As I brushed my teeth, I realized there was actually a much larger problem at hand. Not only had I forgotten my phone, but I had forgotten Avery. I had literally stranded her at my band-mate’s house with all of my friends.

I was officially the worst musketeer ever.

And without my phone to call her and apologize, I was pretty sure it was safe to say that our blooming relationship had effectively and abruptly come to an end.

Chapter End Notes:
Officially the longest chapter I have ever written. This story also contains the shortest chapter I’ve ever written (chapter 4). Weird. Anyway, I thought I had this one all planned out, but it ended up being so much harder to write than I expected because I changed a couple of plans and thought of new ideas halfway through and… it just got messy for a while. I hope it turned out alright and was easy enough to read and understand!

Anyway, it’s okay that this one was hard to write, because I easily wrote all of chapter 23 yesterday, and I think some of you might like it :) Some of you might hate it. All of you might hate it. I don’t know.

Love you all dearly!
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