Day Two Hundred and Fifty-Eight.
As it turned out, I completely forgot about Avery until this Saturday morning, more than three weeks after I'd abandoned her at my band-mate's house.
In my defence, the past few weeks had been ridiculously busy. We were in Europe for the most part, and we'd stopped off in New York on the way back. All in all, I'd barely been home, and when I was home, I had things to do. Like think about how much I missed talking to Rainie, and how I could get Jesse to break up with her. I thought that he could give me ideas on how to separate Jesse and Rainie, so I even spent the latter half of the flight from New York to LA listening to Kevin prattle on about why and how he had broken up with Danielle for the fiftieth time (that is, I didn't hear the story for the fiftieth time, but I was pretty sure he had broken up with or been dumped by Danielle at least fifty times). From what I gathered during his two-hour story, he broke up with Danielle face-to-face before we left for Europe... and he heard from a reliable source that she had been spotted having coffee with some other guy the other day. Now he wanted to get back together with her. (I missed the middle of this story, by the way. I got really bored and irritated, so I slipped on my headphones and dozed off, waking up only to catch the end).
There were two reasons that Avery's face popped into my mind on this day:
The first was that I realized that the anonymous person who had been texting me for the past two weeks with threatening messages was Miley. I had re-stored her number in my phone over the summer, but when I realized that it was a better idea to keep Kevin's number on hand (just in case of emergencies, like last time), someone else had to go. That someone else was Miley.
I had been receiving angry texts and even a couple of phone calls (which went unanswered) from the anonymous person, saying things like ‘we need to talk', ‘have the decency to apologize!', ‘way to avoid me - real mature' and ‘fine. just know it's over, dickface'. I assumed that the person simply had the wrong number and these messages weren't directed at me, so I ignored them. What? Gladly, I would have kept Miley's number in my phone if I wasn't occasionally dependent on Kevin for transportation.
Still, if she was going to bombard my inbox with messages, then I'd have to re-add her. Camilla Belle was deleted in her place. I was keeping her number in case I ever needed to get revenge on Joe, but because he was seriously depressed over their break-up, I assumed it would only be evil if I called her behind his back.
The second reason that I was reminded of Avery was because Pep brought her up. It was a good thing, too, because it gave me an excellent idea.
Before I get into that, though, I just want to mention that I met Lance. And he was definitely gay.
I knocked on Pep's front door this fine Saturday morning, and for once, I was without Elvis. I felt that it was obnoxious to bring him over to her house now, especially since she'd just lost ol' Shep. It was possible that Elvis would only serve to make her sad, so instead, Elvis had to be sad as I left him at home. (I felt guilty for this as well, so I'd take him for an extra-long walk and let him sleep in my bed at night, which resulted in me smelling like dog in the morning).
Pep's dad answered the door. "Sarah's up on the roof, Nick," he told me, standing aside to grant me entrance. I thought this was odd - I never knew that Pep went on her roof when I wasn't there. I thought it was just like... I don't know, some sort of special activity that we only did together.
"Thanks, Mr. S," I replied politely as I slipped off my shoes at the door. Usually I kept them on, but when Pep's dad was watching me, I always made the extra effort. Sometimes I got the distinct feeling that he didn't like me very much. Probably because I'm exceptionally attractive and I spend so much time on the roof with his one and only daughter. If I were Pep's dad, I wouldn't trust me. In my mind, I had reason to fear him.
I took the stairs two at a time, waving to Carter in his bedroom as I passed. Carter is Pep's younger brother, and he's a funny kid. And by funny, I mean funny-looking. And by funny-looking, I mean that he bears striking resemblances to Ron Weasley. Pep and I spent many entertaining hours in front of her computer pasting his head on top of pictures of Ron, and uploading one of his pictures to websites that match him with celebrity look-alikes. It turns out that he and Ron don't look very similar at all when you take away the red hair... but I like to think of him as a Weasley anyway.
Since I had been informed that Pep was on her roof, I didn't bother knocking on the door as I entered her bedroom. I was surprised to see her room sparkling clean as I entered. I don't just mean tidy; I mean clean. With the morning sunlight streaming in, the tabletops actually glistened.
Some people like to keep things tidy. Some people have disaster zones as bedrooms. The weird thing about Pep is that it's hard to place her on a neat/messy spectrum. She's not neat. She's not messy. She's not in the middle. She likes to switch things up every once in a while. Sometimes I can barely walk through her room, there's so much crap on the floor. Other times, she proudly covers my eyes and leads me towards her closet, where she reveals to me all of her clothes hung up, laundered and colour-coded. Then there are times where her room is borderline messy, but it's not quite there yet. There are also times when she's started cleaning but gotten bored, so one side of the room is clean and the other isn't. Do you understand what I mean when I say she can't be put on the neat/messy spectrum? It's impossible to predict what her bedroom will look like on any given day of the week.
Still, I'd never seen it so clean as I did on that Saturday. It even smelled clean. Like Lysol. (I knew what Lysol smelled like because I'd used it just a few minutes prior to take the dog-smell out of my bed).
I walked across the room, kneeled on the windowsill and lifted up the window. I poked my head out to see not one, but two bodies on the roof. One of them was Pep. And the other one was someone I had never had the pleasure of meeting.
"Nick!" Pep exclaimed in surprise, leaning forward to get a good look at me. "When did you get here?"
When did she think? "About three hours ago," I replied sarcastically. What a dumb question.
"I didn't know you were coming," she said with a smile.
It was really pissing me off that there was some guy sitting on my part of the roof. This roof wasn't open to visitors. Who did he think he was, anyway?
... and was he the reason she cleaned her room?
"Yeah..." I trailed off, suddenly feeling lame for dropping by. "I wanted to ask you something, but it's fine."
I was in the midst of retreating through the window when Pep exclaimed, "Wait!"
"Stay!" she urged. "We can help you out. Right, Lance?"
Oh, GOD. Of course this was Lance. I could tell he was queer by the way his eyebrows were raised. He was checking me out, that sick son of a bitch.
Lance nodded slowly, a smile creeping onto his face. Though he was staring at me, he was clearly talking to Pep. "I totally thought you were joking when you said you were friends with a Jonas brother."
He was still staring at me, so I imitated his nod, giving him a small wave. What was his deal? Creeper.
"Mm... nope!" Pep replied in a bubbly voice, gesturing for me to join them on the roof. Wasn't Pep the one who had told me she hated being a third wheel? Hypocrite. I should have just left and came back later when Lame-o McShort-Shorts was gone.
Once I'd climbed onto the roof and taken up a spot next to Pep - I'll be damned if I was going to sit beside Lance, he'd probably try to touch me - I asked him uncomfortably, "So, you go to school with Pep?"
What a fucking moron. Who did he think I was talking about?
"Sarah," I corrected myself. I didn't think I'd ever said that name out loud, not even when I called Pep's home phone and her parents answered and I requested to speak with her. Everyone always knew who I was talking about.
Pep looked at me and smiled. Remember when I discussed yahoo! articles and how they informed me that girls like when you say their names aloud? It seriously works.
"Oh. Yeah, we have Chem together. And our best friends are dating," he responded.
Heh. Nice try, buddy. I'm the best friend. (Unfortunately, this piece of knowledge did not make me feel better, because it only reminded me that I wasn't dating anyone. Damn it).
"How do... you two know each other?" he asked sceptically.
I had a question. Why on earth was he raising his eyebrows up and down? This guy was sketching me out. I'd never met someone with such enthusiastic eyebrows.
"Nick doesn't live far away," Pep told him.
"Awesome." Lance gave another contemplative nod. All this guy seemed capable of was nodding his head and raising his eyebrows. I wasn't a fan. Suddenly, an animated expression crossed his face as he turned to me and cried, "So how much money do you make in a year?"
I wondered if this guy knew how steep the roof was, and if he'd accept if I dared him to walk across it. He'd fall to his death, and Pep could thank me then.
Pep gave me an apologetic look. At least she knew this guy was weird.
I shrugged. "I don't really have a predetermined salary."
"Okay, how much did you make last year?"
I was about to snarkily tell him that I wasn't legally permitted to discuss my earnings, but it was probably more than he'd ever make, when Pep cut me off with, "Hold on. What did you need help with, Nick?"
I exhaled pensively. I didn't want Lance to know all my problems. He was peculiar, and I definitely didn't trust that guy.
"Nothing big," I lied, thinking on my toes. "I had a question about the award show next week. I'll ask you later."
For the record, that last part wasn't a lie. The truth was that we were attending the last award show of the season, I was absolutely positive that Beautiful Soul - sorry, Jesse - would be there, and I was having trouble finding a girl to throw at him and make him forget all about Rainie. It was uncertain whether or not Rainie would be accompanying him, but even if she did, it was no matter. Luckily for me (and unluckily for Kevin), he and Danielle were broken up, so I could easily point him in Rainie's direction and tell him to strike up a conversation that would last three hours in order to keep her busy.
And in case you're wondering, I eventually got around to telling Pep the full story of my Halloween. She didn't tell me I was a horrible person like Joe had, and she called Rainie a few unfriendly names to make me feel better. It worked.
(She did, however, tell me that it probably would have been best if I hadn't stranded Avery and rushed home without her. That was fair).
Lance leaned forward so as not to be blocked by Pep. He had another question for me. "Do they tell you in advance if you win the award?"
I had actually been speaking specifically to Pep, but she shrugged and let me handle the interruption. "Sometimes," I muttered, shifting my gaze to Pep. She was twirling a strand of red hair around her index finger.
"Do you have a time limit on your thank-you speech?"
What a jerk-off.
"Do you write them beforehand, or do you make them up?"
Who cares?! "It depends?" I replied, phrasing my response as a rude inquiry.
Okay, so maybe I was being a royal schlong to Lance. But from what I had gathered thus far, he was a total tool. His blondish hair was trimmed short (hmm, funny story... Lance Bass also has blondish hair. Coincidence? I think not), he was wearing the worst pair of skateboarding shoes I had ever seen, his sky blue t-shirt read ‘talk nerdy to me', and his leg hair was nonexistent.
... I knew he was gay.
What kind of guy would walk around wearing shorts without leg hair? Whether he shaved it or whether it was too thin and blond to see, it didn't matter to me. Lance had no leg hair, and it was disgusting.
"Do you actually get fan mail, or is it more like fan e-mail?" Lance asked, and I could tell by the way he was slowly leaning towards me that he was genuinely interested - or genuinely coming on to me. "I feel like snail mail went out of style in the nineties..."
I didn't have to answer to this guy. Talking to him was insulting to my intelligence. My eyes dragged themselves from his face, and back to Pep. "Where did you meet this guy again?" I uttered under my breath.
Pep giggled, and Lance chose to take another one for the team. "Better question. Where did you two meet each other?"
Through clenched teeth, I replied, "At my house."
"Where's your house?"
Psh. Yeah, okay. Like I'd tell him that.
"In this general area," was my response.
Lance grinned, calmly leaning back against the slant of the roof. "Oh, okay. I get it. True. Protect yourself, man. Keep your home life private."
I looked at Pep again. For all the Chaucer-ness in me, I couldn't possibly figure out how she had ended up with this guy. He was strange and I was positive his IQ was way below the mean, median and mode. So far, he'd proved himself to be off the charts in a bell-curved standard distribution of intelligence, and not the good kind of ‘off the charts', either. Pep probably had to spend a lot of time explaining things to him. I never knew she had so much patience.
"So did you guys ever hook up?" Lance chirped. When he saw the expression on my face, he backtracked. "Or... uh... are you like, only allowed to date famous people?"
I locked eyes with him. I counted to five to give him a few seconds to think this through and correct himself. He did not.
So I agreed, "Yeah. It's in the contract. Famous people only."
Pep nudged me in the side with her elbow, and I frowned, protectively rubbing the targeted spot on my waist. That hurt.
"No," she giggled. "That's not true. Nick, be nice. He's only curious."
And I'm only giving him the answers he's looking for.
She linked arms with Lance. "Nick's my best friend!" she announced. "Just like I told you."
I nodded in confirmation. "Pep and I don't ‘hook up'." I was about to add ‘she's all yours', but I thought better of it. It sounded proprietary, like she was mine to give away.
Oh, but Lance wasn't out of questions just yet. "What's Pep stand for? Pepsi?"
I scoffed, insulted. "No. It stands for Pep." My right hand had found a pebble while roaming the shingles on the roof, so I threw it as far as I could, adding, "Occasionally, Pepper."
"Pepper," Lance repeated, gazing admirably at Pep. "It suits you."
Then he kissed her.
Barf again. I desperately needed a girlfriend. Pep was right. Being third wheel sucked major balls.
I cleared my throat. How to make this less awkward? My first thought was to blurt out my problem as fast as possible, but I forced that idea out of my mind almost as soon as it popped in. I'm not one to blurt; it would be uncharacteristic of me and I'd most likely regret it later. I tried to think of something to say to break the silence. Usually this was Pep's job. Damn that little proton.
And then I remembered the inappropriate song that Joe had been singing that morning. Normally, I'm not one for inappropriate songs, but desperate times call for desperate measures (another one of my dad's stupid sayings, by the way).
"I'm on a boat... I'm on a boat... take a good hard look at the motherfuckin' boat," I chanted.
Pep threw her head back and laughed, her hand intertwined with Lance's. Lance appeared surprised that I had so readily ditched my squeaky-clean Disney image. In fact, I thought I could see his naïve little mind shatter to pieces. I didn't regret it.
I continued, "I'm on a boat, and... it's goin' fast, and..."
Pep chimed in with, "I got a nautical-themed pashmina afghan!"
I cracked a smile because of the way she scrunched her nose when she laughed. "Joe whip that out for you recently?" she asked.
"He did," I agreed.
"Whip out what?" Lance asked with interest. Too much interest.
I couldn't help it. I snorted, "Not what you're thinking, pal."
This earned me another nudge in the side from Pep. I was going to get a proton-sized bruise if she kept that up.
"Oh," Lance said. Intentionally, he slid down the roof a few feet, still holding onto Pep's hand. "You wanna go get those tickets now, Sarah?" I realized that he was making his way towards the open window.
Pep scooted downwards because their hands were attached, but she hesitated, glancing at me for reassurance. I shrugged, rubbing the back of my neck uncomfortably. "It's fine," I assured her.
"Um... well, you know what we're getting, right, Lance?" she asked. When he frowned, she added, "It's not like we need two of us to do it, right? It's just... Nick has a problem, so..."
"Oh," Lance repeated, the realization dawning on him. He released Pep's hand. "Yeah... uh, okay. I guess. Uh, I hope I can get the seats we wanted."
He said this as though it was supposed to guilt her into coming. Like if they didn't get the seats they wanted, it would be Pep's fault for not accompanying him to wherever they were supposed to go. What a jackass.
"I'll walk you out," Pep offered, telling me she'd be right back. I gave Lance a small wave, feeling slightly victorious and taking one last glance at his remarkably hairless calves.
I'd give that relationship five more weeks before he came clean (again) and hopped back out of the closet. Silly indecisive boy.
When Pep climbed out of the window backwards and nearly lost her balance on the roof ("just for fun", she said), I asked her what show she and Lance were planning on attending.
"Please say it's N'Sync's reunion tour and he's forcing you to go," I joked.
She gave me a look. You know, ‘the look'. Self-explanatory. "Actually, we're buying tickets for our friend for her birthday. It's some stand-up comedian she likes who's coming to town-"
"Dane Cook," I suggested.
"Chris Rock," I tried again.
"No! I don't know his name; it's some unknown!" she exclaimed in exasperation. "Anyway, we're getting her four tickets for her birthday. For her and her boyfriend, and me and Lance."
"Adorable," I muttered.
She shot me the look again. "You asked."
I was about to arch an eyebrow when I realized I'd look like Lance. So I didn't. "What's up with this stink-eye you're giving me?" I demanded. "That's twice now in thirty seconds."
"Well, I think you were kind of rude to Lance."
My jaw dropped. "Did you see the way he was ogling me? I felt like a piece of meat."
Pep rolled her eyes. "He wasn't ogling you. And even if he was, don't pretend like you didn't enjoy it. I know you; you love being ogled."
"Actually, it makes me uncomfortable." I folded my arms across my chest as if to say ‘So there'. Suck it, proton.
"And you're a world-famous teenage rock-star because...?"
"My bad," I began to correct myself. "It makes me uncomfortable when men ogle me."
"Men don't ogle you!" Pep cried. "Firstly, because you're not God's gift to mankind as you seem to think, and second, because you're not a man. You're a kid. A boy. And if a man was ogling you, it would make everyone uncomfortable."
It was weird. As Pep was ranting, I blinked - and when I opened my eyes, I could swear that Rainie was sitting in Pep's place, saying the exact words that were coming out of Pep's mouth. I blinked again, and Pep was back.
But really. A kid?! Come on. I'd expect that kind of gibberish from Rainie, but Pep was three months older than me, for crying out loud.
"Why are you staring? Now you're ogling me," Pep said with a frown, folding her arms across her chest.
I shook myself out of my trance, searching for another pebble on the roof. I couldn't find one; but I found a tiny morsel of shingle that had detached from the roof. I threw that, instead.
"I don't like that word. Ogle."
"It's weird," Pep agreed.
"Hate that word. And coconut."
"What's wrong with coconut?"
"Well, besides the fact that a coconut contains neither cocoa nor nuts, it's just strange to say," Pep replied.
I was relieved that she was going along with this. For a while, I thought sunshiney Pep was about to turn into angry Pep, which I was kind of curious to see but also wanted to stay away from in case ‘angry Pep' was synonymous to hell freezing over and the world coming to an abrupt and untimely end.
"So you're going to a stand-up comedy show?" I inquired, lying back on the roof with my hands under my head.
"Yep. Well, it's not until the end of January, but it's supposed to be good. Sandra only watches The Office, so I'm sure the humour has to be something like that. You'd like it; you like The Office now."
To be honest, I was barely listening. I had attempted to formulate a clean transition into a discussion of Rainie, but I couldn't figure out where to go from here, so I gave up and said what I was thinking.
"Here's my question: where can I find a girl who's hotter than Rainie to throw at Jesse?"
Pep looked mildly shocked with my so-called ‘response' to her ramblings. "I thought there was no girl who was hotter than Rainie?"
"So you see my dilemma..." I trailed off pensively.
Focusing on pulling the string out of her hood, Pep took a moment or two to gather her thoughts. When the string was released, she busied her hands tying it into some sort of braid. "Maybe Rainie's not the hottest girl ever in Jesse's eyes," she offered. "Everyone has different tastes."
"Jesse has my tastes," I argued. "Clearly, this has already been proven."
And that's when Pep suggested something brilliant.
"Then why don't you just shove one of your ex-girlfriends in his face? Selena, Miley... Avery?" She laughed at the mention of the last one.
I laughed too, thinking of Jesse paired with Selena or Miley. Neither of those pairings would fly with Disney. Or with the state of California, for that matter. Besides, he'd already met both of them, and sparks had never flown.
But Avery... interesting. I raised my head from the roof to look at Pep. "You think he'd fall for Avery?"
"No!" she cried. "First, she's five years younger and their relationship would be heavily frowned upon-"
"You're killing me," I interrupted tediously. Was she not making the connection that Rainie and I were exactly the same ages as Jesse and Avery?
She smiled, leaning over me to continue, "Second, he knows she dated you and she knows he dated Rainie, and third, how are you planning on setting them up if you aren't even on speaking terms with Avery?"
I shut my eyes tightly, and when I opened them, Pep had stopped hovering over me. "Shit. You think I should call her?"
"You haven't called her yet?" Pep demanded.
"When would I have done that?" I retorted.
"Oh, I don't know," she said sarcastically, "Possibly at any time during the last three weeks! You really are the worst date ever."
"I'm the best date ever when I want to be," I corrected her. And she could ask Selena and Miley for proof, if she so desired. That'd show her. "Now how do I make this up to Avery and set her up with Jesse?"
"You can't set her up with Jesse," Pep scolded me with a shake of her head. "But you have to apologize."
I bit my lip as I contemplated this. Apologize to Avery... or never go to one of Miley's shows again for fear of running into her backup dancers. Throw myself at the mercy of the winking beast, or strategically execute all further life plans around avoiding her? Hmm... which was easier?
"Yeah... I don't think I'm gonna," I told Pep as frankly as I could.
"You have to," she insisted, swinging the string in my direction. It hit me in the face.
"Why?" It was way past apology time by now. I am a rock-star, but I had a feeling Avery didn't take a lot of shit from people, no matter how inferior she was to them.
"Because," she said matter-of-factly, "It's altering the way I think you perform in bed."
I sat up straight, pointing a finger at her smug face. "Never say that again." (And I meant it, even though a small part of me was very, very worried that this was true).
She smirked. "I'm on my period, Nick. I'm PMS-ing big time."
I frowned in confusion. "What did I tell you about talking about these things around me?"
"Lance and I had sex."
"On this roof."
"Right where you're sitting."
"Oh, I see what you're doing!" I cried furiously, shimmying to the left even though I knew she was lying. Then I paused, still confused as hell. "Wait, what are you doing?" I asked quietly for clarification.
She shrugged. "Isn't it annoying when people are jerks?" She let this sink in before continuing, "Don't be a jerk, Nick. Be the upstanding moral gentleman your mother wants you to be, and call that poor girl and apologize. She's not going to forgive you, but at least I won't think you're entirely terrible in the sack, right?"
This was not impressive. I can't explain how much I hate when people try to teach me lessons.
Still, I consented. "Fine. I'll call her." I was peeved with Pep's behaviour on this fine morning - peeved, there's another word I'm not too fond of - so I began to make my way towards her window. If anything was for sure, it was that I wasn't going to call Avery in front of Pep. I wouldn't be able to take anything seriously in that case.
I stuck my head but the window just as Pep was crawling towards me. "And for the record, I don't care what you think I'm like in bed," I informed her. "I never want to know, and even if I did, your opinion wouldn't matter because it's biased."
"How is it biased?" she questioned innocently.
"'Cause you're my friend."
"Which means I know you, making my opinion even more valid."
"No, it makes it wrong," I insisted. "You don't see me in a romantic light."
I moved aside from the window ledge so that she could hop in. Pep landed on her feet, again whipping that stupid string at my face. "Maybe I do."
I grabbed the string immediately after it came into contact with my face and snatched it away from her, thoroughly un-amused. "Stop trying to piss me off."
She maintained serious eye contact for a couple of seconds before shrugging complacently. "Fine. Go call Avery, then."
"Fine," I repeated childishly. "And I'll ask her if she's interested in Jesse."
"In your own best interests, I recommend that you don't," Pep offered, her usual giggle filling the room once more and easing the tension.
I groaned as I made my way to the door. "I need to find someone who's more intellectually and physically appealing to him than Rainie."
"Why don't you just wing it the next time you see him at the award show?" Pep suggested. I gave her a look, and she shrugged, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "Why don't you chase after a hot girl just like you chased after Rainie, and in the end, Jesse will end up taking her home... just like Rainie?"
"I grow tired of you mocking me," I replied monotonously.
Teasingly, Pep gave me a light push out of her bedroom door. "Just wing it, Nick J. I believe in you."
And she had every right to. In general, I'm a remarkable winger. If there was an award for winging it, I'd have every annual trophy since 1992. Winger of the Year. Swinger of the Year. In short, I'm exceptionally above average when it comes to improvisation.
Yes. Perhaps Avery was the wrong match for Jesse, but all I had to do was find a girl that I found attractive at the award show who was around Jesse's age, and the odds were that Jesse would find her appealing as well. I'd do a little match-making, Kevin would distract Rainie, and Jesse would ask said hot girl to an after-party (which, by the way, I was still too young to attend... damn it). Rainie would catch him cheating on her, and the relationship would end.
Plan in motion.