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Day Thirty-Six.

On this day, very unfortunate news was delivered to me.

Luckily, though we had been out of town for a couple of weeks, we had just returned to Los Angeles and I had good ol' Pep by my side with whom I could commiserate.
It seems unlikely that anyone would want to be around a proton when they're depressed. And by proton I mean - well, you know what I mean if you've passed the ninth grade.

Little positively-charged balls of energy.

That's what Pep is - a proton. It seems unlikely that anyone would want to be around her when they're upset. In my mind, anyways. Her happiness should just piss you off even more.

But somehow, that's not the way it works. When I'm distressed, Pep is the first little proton I call on. I think it's because she understands that sometimes I don't want to talk; I just want to think. She doesn't pressure me to tell her my problems because she knows I'll confide in her when I'm ready. And that's how a best friend should be. I get sick of people demanding that I tell them my problems on their own watch. I need time and space.

So, after I'd received a slap in the face, I meandered over to Pep's house with my dog, Elvis. Elvis is another good pal to have around when you're pissed. He never talks. He's very loyal. I appreciate it.

"What's up, Sulky McSulkerson?" Pep asked as we watched our dogs - she has a Collie named Shep - chase each other in her backyard.

Pep has a nice house. I mean, she's in a good neighbourhood and her parents do fairly well financially - though, ask me what they do for a living and I couldn't tell you - so her house is nice in the standard sense. But it's also nice in my sense because you can climb on the roof from her bedroom window and look out over her backyard. The roof is slanted, so you can lay back and just think.

In fact, I would go so far as to call it my favourite thinking spot. It's a little more peaceful when Pep isn't lying beside me squirming like an upturned dying beetle, but it's relaxing nonetheless.

Her feet bicycling in the air, she continued, "Hmm?"

I sighed. "There's this girl."

Immediately, her feet fell to the roof. She propped herself up on an elbow to loom over me. "A girl, huh?" she teased, a smile crossing her face as her auburn-coloured hair fell into her eyes.

I glanced at her, unimpressed.

She chuckled and resumed lying on her back. "Sorry. Go on."

"I met her - I don't know, a month ago or something. Well, I didn't actually meet her..." I trailed off. This was complicated to explain without having myself come off as the biggest creep on the planet. "I kind of saw her when we were playing one day..."

"Yeah?" Pep asked to encourage me.

"And I kind of... okay, this sounds stupid. But I swear, she is the one."

Pep appeared interested. "What's her name?"

"I don't know."

"Oh."

That's what I love about Pep. Most people would call me childish and crazy. Pep, on the other hand, just accepted my convictions. I don't know why, but I'm thankful for it.

"So... you gonna ask her out?" she inquired slowly. Carefully.

"I've seen her twice," I answered. "Never spoken to her. Never told anybody about her. And that was almost a month ago. But she's on my mind a lot. I tried to talk to her the second time, but guess who became an obstacle?"

"Kevin?" she suggested.

"Good try."

"Joe!" she exclaimed.

"Surprisingly, no."

"Who?" she asked in confusion.

"Your precious Jesse McCartney," I told her. I turned my head to face her on the roof. "Today, Kevin told me Jesse was dating ‘that girl from the award show'." I paused, waiting for her reaction. Her face remained blank. I blurted out frantically, "'That girl from the award show' is mine!"

I hadn't brought her up since my awkward conversation with Kevin a few days after the award show. But I was sure that when he said Jesse had been dating her for a month, it was my Mystery Girl he was talking about. I just knew it. Lesbian Friend wasn't interested in guys - obviously.

She smiled sympathetically. "Really, you have no hold on her."

"I do so!" I retorted. "We had this really intense stare. Have you ever had a staring contest with someone you've never met? Trust me, it was unbelievable. I basically asked her to marry me during that stare, and I know she was aware of it."

"Then maybe she's just an ice bitch," Pep laughed.
Pep listens well, but she's not very good when it comes to advice.

"No," I told her patiently. "I just... maybe she lost hope. Because we hadn't seen each other for so long, and Jesse was the only available-"

"I highly doubt that's the reason she's dating Jesse McCartney," Pep giggled. "I mean, have you seen him?"

I hate when she interrupts me. I hate it.

I shut my eyes and let out a groan. "Could you for one second pretend to be sympathetic to my condition?"

She sat up, shrugging helplessly. "That sucks, Nick. I'm sorry."

I opened my eyes to her faux sincerity. The sun had almost set. "Thank you."

She leaned back on her elbows, still assessing my reaction. "So how does it feel?"

"How does what feel?"

"Knowing there's the one out there for you."

You'd think that she would be subtly mocking me, but I know Pep. She was playing along like a good little proton.

I put my hands under my head before I responded. "At first it was really exciting. But now that I know that she belongs to someone else, it's really pissing me off and it's not quite as romantic as I expected."

I could almost see her rolling her eyes. "She doesn't belong to someone else, you womanizer."

"Don't Britney Spears me. The fact is, I can't have her."

"It doesn't mean you never will."

Hmm. Interesting. Pep's bad at advice and personally, I don't think she's all that smart, but every once in a while, she says something worth thinking about. (You really have to be listening carefully, though). "You think I could still make her mine?"

She laughed again. "I'm not saying you should try to break up her and Jesse."

I pushed myself up to a sitting position in excitement. "Why not? You could help me. Then you and Jesse could fall madly in love just like you've always wanted."

"I thought you didn't like the idea of me and Jesse."

I shrugged. "That guy's a douche."

"You said you liked him!"

"Fuck what I said. I hate him."

No. That's a lie. Really, he's not bad. His taste in women is impeccable.

Pep rolled her eyes. "To be fair, it's not like Jesse asked out Lover-Girl-"

"Mystery Girl," I corrected her.

"-Mystery Girl just to spite you. He doesn't even know about your secret obsession."

"Oh, yeah. P.S. you're the only one who does, so I'd appreciate if you'd keep your mouth shut," I told her, adding, "especially around my brothers."

Pep grinned maliciously.

I shook my head, not amused by her evil thoughts. "Don't think about holding this against me," I warned her. "I hold your future with Jesse in the palm of my hand."

"I don't like him that much," she played along.
As it grew darker, we watched our dogs play a game of tag in the yard before they grew tired and lay next to each other in the grass. From my position on the roof, I folded my arms across my bent knees and sighed hopelessly.

"You know what I think you should do?" Pep asked, interrupting my serenity.

"Shave Jesse's head while he sleeps?" I suggested sleepily. Personally, I was beginning to think it was a good idea.

She ignored my cleverness. "You should look for a new soul-mate. Or at least put off thinking about soul-mates for a while."

Like I said, Pep's not really helpful when it comes to advice.

"No can do," I replied matter-of-factly. "Mystery Girl will be mine."

The first time we spoke, I would look at her and say, "You will be mine," and she would reply, "Yes."

Pep shook her head in disgust. "You scare me a little bit with your obsession of owning women."

I shrugged casually, tilting my head in her direction. "Come on, Pepper. You can't honestly tell me you don't eat that shit right up. Girls are always waiting to hear guys announce their ownership."

"We're not slaves, Nick," she giggled.

"You're my love slaves," I replied with a straight face. I glanced at her. "Well, not you. You're off the hook."

She couldn't help from laughing. "I consider myself lucky."

I shrugged again. "I wouldn't. I'm a catch."

"Not to me!" she declared in a sing-song voice. "And not to Mystery Girl, either, apparently."

Midget bitch. Pep's like, four feet tall, (that's a lie, but she's really small), and I have trouble understanding how someone so little can be so verbally (and sometimes physically) aggressive. It just doesn't make sense.

Pep's dad called her down from the roof to empty the dishwasher. I could easily have accompanied her to the kitchen and offered my help, but I was glad to get a few minutes to myself up on the roof. Pep is one of the only people I can sit with in silence - the problem is, she fidgets too much and it distracts me sometimes. Nonetheless, I use her for her roof with its spectacular view. It's very thought-inspiring.

It was fully dark by the time Pep returned. She crawled onto the roof and lay beside me without a word. All I could hear was the sound of crickets chirping and Pep's noisy chewing. Whatever she was eating, it sounded tasty.

"What are you thinking?" she asked me, and I could feel her eyes on the side of my face.

I released the breath I had been holding. "I'm thinking about how I used to be able to see the stars at night when I lived in New Jersey. I haven't seen stars in a long time."

"Hmm," Pep murmured, gazing into the sky. "There's one right there." Using her index finger, she pointed upwards.

"That's a plane, smarty," I informed her. "There's one, though." I pointed. "You can see a few of ‘em, I guess. But I remember lying on a dock by the lake and seeing thousands of ‘em."

"I've never seen a sky like that," she said quietly. She's lived in LA, the big city, all her life.

I let my head roll on its side so I could look at her. "It's pretty cool."

"Huh," she grunted in reply. "But don't you feel so small and insignificant when you look at something like that? That's what they say."

"Why would you?" I asked.

"Because it's a reminder that there's so much out there. That the world is so much bigger than us."

"They're just stars, Pep."

"But doesn't it make you think about life on other planets?"

"I don't believe in extra terrestrials."

"Why not? We don't even know a lot about our own galaxy," she stated.

I shrugged. "I just find it hard to believe. There's no proof."

"Seeing isn't believing. Haven't you ever watched ‘The Santa Clause'?"

"Well, Santa turned out to be a big lie, didn't he?" I returned. Sarcasm oozing out of my every word, I gasped, "Oh, gee - Pep, I'm sorry. I thought you knew."

For that I received a swift elbow-nudge in the side. "Not the point," she giggled.

"Stars don't make me feel small or worthless," I told her. "They don't make me feel anything. They're just cool to look at."

"Y'know, Nick Jonas..." Pep trailed off. "Sometimes you're an arrogant little shit."

"Sometimes?" I joked.

"Most of the time," she conceded. She grinned at me. "But I'm glad you're home."

"You're just glad you have access to an air hockey table again," I muttered.

"True."

"Horrible friend."

"Cocky bastard."

"Touché."

And that's our relationship in a nutshell. What can I say? It's not rainbows and butterflies because we're not rainbows-and-butterflies kind of people. We're more... dogs-and-hockey. But not dinky little rat-dogs that yip and yap - big, manly dogs who keep their mouths shut unless they're eating the rat-dogs. That little detail is important.

I had almost fallen asleep on Pep's roof when Elvis woke up from his slumber and began to whine. I stretched with a groan, reluctant to leave.

"Shut it," I grumbled, just loud enough for Elvis to hear. "I should probably go," I said to Pep.

"Alright," she agreed. "Call me when you're not busy."

"I'm always busy."

"I'll just come over tomorrow, then."

I muttered a response before jumping through her window and heading down the stairs. Pep followed me to the back door and watched as I leashed up my canine.

"So do you know what you're going to do?" she questioned.

"About what?"

"Your mystery girl."

Of course. My Mystery Girl. "What can I do? I can't sabotage her relationship with Jesse McCrapney, because unfortunately, we're friends and we're spending the summer together," I explained. "I guess I just have to wait it out. In the meantime, I can get to know her."

It was lucky that Pep wanted me to talk this out, because as the words came out of my mouth, I realized that it was a pretty good idea. (I often have very good ideas).

"Try not to mention your obsession with her while you're at it," Pep joked.

"Hilarious," I said sarcastically. "Thanks for the advice, kumquat. When was the last time you were in a relationship?" Maybe it was a mean thing to say, but I accept that I am a heartless dick.

"I could be in a relationship right now and both our problems would be solved if someone set me up with Jesse when I asked," she retorted in amusement.

See? No hard feelings with this girl. I can never touch a nerve. It's great. It's like I'm on Survivor, and I always have immunity.

"Sorry I abide by the law," I said in jest, "I believe it's illegal for you, a minor, to be in a relationship with an older man."

"Your citizenry is honourable, but if said older man was in prison, your mystery girl would no longer be a mystery to you... don't you think?"

Ugh. I hated how this kept getting thrown in my face. Like the steak that Uncle Rico threw at Napoleon Dynamite.

"Alright, I get it. I screwed myself over."

"Now go home and think about what you've done," Pep finished with a grin. She ruffled my hair as I walked past her. I grunted a bitter goodbye and left with Elvis, my only friend who kept his two cents to himself.

As much as we joke, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe the proton spoke a little bit of truth. If I didn't waste so much time at the stupid award show, Mystery Girl could be mine. At the very least, I could have distracted her while Jesse McCartney found someone else to take to the after-party. So maybe, in the end, I was the product of my own misery.

And that, my friends, is a very annoying realization to make.
Chapter End Notes:
Now I can inform you that the reason I am using Jesse McCartney is for no other reason than to be able to use this song. Hahahahahaha. I'm sorry, I can't help it.

:)
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