"What are you wearing?"
This was the phrase that greeted me every morning as I received a routine phone call from Kendall. My answer was always the same: "Clothes."
I didn't ignore her calls. I tried to at first, thinking she would get the hint and leave me alone. Instead, she called repeatedly. And by ‘repeatedly', I mean once every five minutes for the entire day. Then I tried to keep my phone turned off. My mom said she didn't like that idea because she couldn't reach me in times of emergency. In a five-hour time span, Kendall left me thirty-two text messages.
Naturally, by the third day, my hatred for Joe ran so deep in my veins that if he stepped within a three-foot radius of me, I pounced. Joe found this horribly amusing and urged me to ask Kendall out on a date.
"You're so mopey," he said, "You need a girl. C'mon, this girl's into you. Give her a chance."
To which I replied, "One more word." This was shortened from the original phrase, "One more word, and I will sharpen my drumsticks with a knife and poke tiny holes all over you, so that you ever-so-slowly bleed to death."
After a while, Joe learned to stay away, and I grew accustomed to Kendall. Though I was still very, very afraid.
"I'm wearing booty shorts and a bra," she whispered to me.
I sighed. After ten days of this shit, nothing she said could surprise me anymore.
"I saw you on Regis and Kelly yesterday," she continued. "You looked hot."
"Uh huh," I said distractedly. Shallow bitch. "Listen, today's not really a good day for me, Kendall. It's the first day of our tour, and we're really busy."
"Don't you want to see me before you go out of town?"
I could picture her face, complete with the puppy-dog eyes and the pouty lips.
"Wish I could," I lied through my teeth. "Can't, though. Really busy."
"Call me later, then," she breathed.
"Nope." Hey, it was unfair to lie to her. I'm a nice guy.
I knew we were going to battle back and forth for a few more moments until she finally agreed to let me go. Just as she was saying, "I'll call you, then," my phone buzzed. Call-waiting: a wonderful, beautiful thing.
"Oh. Someone's on the other line. Gotta go," I said quickly.
As I ended our call, I heard her yell, "Wait!"
Only a few more hours until Psycho Bitch was out of my life forever. (We were actually in New York for a couple more days for a few more shows, but she didn't have to know that).
Curiously, I picked up the incoming call from an unrecognized number. "Hello?"
At the sound of that bubbly country accent, my muscles tensed and my eyes widened. That could only mean one thing.
"How did you get this number?" I demanded. Maybe it was rude, but I'd like to argue that it was more impolite of her to call me when I hadn't invited her to.
"Oh, I was talking to Joe the other day - he said I should give you a call! I wasn't going to, but he said you'd been talking about me lately.
As she spoke, I stared out the hotel window at the ground far below. How easy it would be to jump out and end my life, all in a matter of seconds, while giving all the nice passer-bys a site to remember. My brothers, devastated by my untimely death, would break up the band and binge-drink, spending all their money in Vegas in casinos and on cheap whores. Joe would get a few STDs and when his money was gone, he'd end up on the street. I'd be up above, laughing my ass off. Ha. The ultimate revenge.
Instead, I slowly, slowly turned around and glowered at the closed bathroom door, where Joe was inside straightening his hair.
"Did he?" I asked monotonously, not at all amused.
"Yeah. So what's up? Your tour starts today, huh? You guys'll do awesome, you always do. I heard some stuff from your new album and wow, it sounds great, Nick. Like, really great. It's funny, I can tell which songs you wrote. You just shine right through, like always. Hey, maybe when you stop off in LA we can go out for coffee or something."
Even if I wanted to, I couldn't have responded. Sometimes when people get nervous, they ramble on about shit nobody cares about, and they give you so much information in the span of five seconds that it takes another twenty seconds to process it all. I stared grimly at the hotel bedspread.
"Just as friends," Miley chirped after the long silence that followed. "I'm not ready for another relationship - I just got out of one, actually - and you and I have a lot of history, and I just don't think that would be... good. For now."
The thing with Miley is that she gets a bad rap for things like leaked, racy pictures and stupid, mean-spirited videos on youtube. Really, she's not all bad. My standards are pretty high, and I dated her for almost two years, so that's gotta mean something. She's beautiful, and I'm comfortable around her, and we lead the same sort of lifestyle so it's easy to understand each other.
On the other hand, those leaked pictures don't lie. She really is kind of slutty, and sometimes her mouth gets ahead of her brain, and she never could understand why I was so quiet all the time. She wanted me to open up more, and I wanted her to stop telling me what to do. She wanted me to take more initiative in our relationship, and I wanted her to back the fuck off. In the end, it just didn't work. She was furious with me for a while, which made the remainder of our 2007 tour together a little awkward, but then we went our separate ways and it's been fine. Life with Miley was frustrating and I was claustrophobic of her, and life without Miley is fine. Just... fine.
"Nick? Are you still there?"
I still hadn't replied to her rambling. "Yeah," I mumbled.
"Well, whaddya say?"
To be honest, I wasn't listening while she was droning on and on, and for that reason I had no idea what she was asking me, and no idea how to respond.
Cautiously, I said, "... yes?"
"Great! Well, I'm looking up your tour dates online, and it says you'll be in LA in mid-August. So I'll just call you beforehand and we'll set up a time and place! Shoot, I don't know my schedule... oh well, if I'm not here, I'm sure I'll run into you over the summer at one point or another! We'll figure something out."
I think I grunted a "hmn." If I had paid attention, I could have stealthily thought of some way to avoid seeing her. It's not like there's bad blood anymore - I don't think - she just bores me and I'm afraid she'll fall in love with me again.
"I can't wait to see you," she said softly. (Yep, I definitely had reason to fear her swooning). "Maybe we can go to that little diner, you remember? The one we went to when it was stormy out, and on the way home you kissed me in the rain..."
Fuck this. I can't handle sentimental garbage or trips down Memory Lane. I didn't kiss her in the rain to be romantic; I'm not Noah Fuckin' Calhoun. I kissed her because she was wearing a thin white t-shirt and it got drenched and clung to her body, okay?
I think she finally got the hint that I wasn't overexcited. "Okay," she heaved a sigh. "It was good to hear your voice, Nicky. Good luck tonight."
"Thanks," I muttered. When we ended the call, I clenched my teeth and gripped my phone as tightly as possible in my fist, wondering how much my mom would lecture me if I punched a hole through the wall and left my phone inside, never to be seen again. I bit the tip of my finger to keep myself from yelling.
Apparently Day One of Tour was appropriately subtitled ‘The World Hates Nick'.
I got great satisfaction out of kicking Joe's suitcase from the bed to the floor, all of its neatly-folded contents spilling onto the ground. Ha. I frowned as I found one of my ties in the mix of his clothes.
Just as I'd picked it up and wound it around my arm, Joe came out of the bathroom with neatly-straightened hair, smelling like aftershave. He froze when his eyes drifted to me, standing over his upturned luggage.
"What'd you do that for, dickhead?" he demanded, his eyebrows creasing in anger.
I nodded, assessing the situation. Carefully choosing my next words. I didn't want to sound too rash, but... "I could kill you. I could fucking kill you."
"What?" he repeated, his voice cracking.
I threw my phone at him. He was able to shield his face in time, unfortunately, and it deflected off his arm. His mouth opened to yell, but it was a while before the word "Ow!" came out.
As he recovered, I picked up one of his shoes. Perfect. It was chucked in his general direction as well.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Nick - what are you-" (Second shoe), "- hey - you asshole!"
I picked up a third shoe when he started running towards me. I had the distinct feeling that I was about to be tackled, so I jumped onto the bed. He tried to grab my legs, and I hit him over the head with his shoe. This resulted in another shout, and I took the free moment to unwrap the tie from around my wrist. I flung it over his head and tightened it, prepared to choke him if necessary.
When you're the third of four brothers, you get pretty good at fighting over the years. Things get violent, and it's important to be creative. Using the same old tricks will land you locked in the pantry for hours until your mother realizes you're missing and rescues you.
Joe dug his hands between his neck and the tie, trying to create distance between the two. As he struggled, I muttered, "Miley? Really? That's the best you can do?"
Finally, he managed to grab a hold of the tie and wrench it away from his neck. It was yanked from my left hand, but both of us failed to realize that it was still wound pretty tightly around my right wrist, and I was pitched forward, my chin banging into his shoulder blade.
"Ah!" I hissed, readjusting my jaw. Joe liked this idea, and jerked me forwards into his back again.
While we fought for control of the tie (and I said a silent prayer that my shoulder hadn't dislocated and my jaw wasn't unhinged), he replied through grunts, "I thought - you'd - appreciate it."
With one final yank in my direction, I freed the tie from his grasp. "Are you thick?!" I cried.
"Are you clinically insane!?" he retorted. Again, he made a grab for my legs. Fucker; he wasn't supposed to fight back. I tried to kick him, and he caught hold of my ankle which caused me to fall on my back onto the bed. I wiggled free and kicked him in the stomach. As he doubled over in pain, I stood up, took a breath, growled, and jumped on him.
I intended for him to crash to the ground, but it was almost like he was expecting this to happen. He grabbed a hold of my legs, making it impossible for me to slide off, and then he rammed me forcefully into the wall.
Christ, that hurt.
I jabbed him in the side with my heels and worked on unravelling the tie from my wrist as he catapulted me into the wall for the second time.
"Stay - out - of my - life," I said through gasps, using the tie to wrap around his eyes and blind him. He stumbled forward blindly before tripping over a chair, the idiot, resulting in me somersaulting over his head and onto the ground with a thud. Because I still had a hold of the tie wrapped around his face, he fell on top of me head-first, earning an, "Oomph!" from me.
With his regained vision, Joe quickly stood up and seized my legs while I thrashed around angrily. When you've lost control of your legs, there's not much hope left. Unless... I smirked as I grabbed the wooden chair from behind me and sent one of the legs shooting into his side. Joe crashed into the bathroom door, releasing my legs to clutch his waist in agony.
I hopped to a standing position, grabbing his collar and dragging him out of the bathroom and into the entrance, flinging him against the door and breathing right up in his face. "You fuckin' idiot," I said in a low voice. "Do you know what you're doing to me!?"
How sneaky of Joe to reach for the doorknob behind him, sending the both of us flying into the hallway and slamming into the opposite wall. I could swear the whole building shook with that collision.
"Yeah, I do!" Joe answered proudly, pushing me away with force. We took a moment to stop and glare at each other, breathing heavily. Joe's once-perfect hair was now dishevelled. "And to be honest," he continued, "I couldn't be happier with the results."
That did it. I took off towards him, head-butting him in the gut and causing both of us to tumble onto the ground, yelling the whole way. While he had me pinned to the ground and our arms wrestled for control, I took the tie from around my wrist and started to whip him with it. When I realized it was only causing him mild irritation, I threw it to the side and ground my teeth together, using my last ounce of strength to flip him over. I was in charge, and this was my fight to win. While I struggled to pin him down, a small voice rang out in the hallway.
"What're you guys doing?"
Now's a good enough time as any to introduce my youngest brother, Frankie. He's small, energetic, and smart for his age. That's what my mom says, anyway. But let me set up this scenario for you: he's half my age, but he's nowhere near half as smart as I am. I'm just saying.
My face red as I battled with Joe, I replied, "Kicking - some sense - into this piece of crap."
Joe scrunched his nose and made a face which, oddly enough, looked like he was smiling. (In reality, he was trying so hard to beat me that his face contorted into a smile-like shape).
"Me too!" Frankie cried.
Before I knew it, I felt all seventy-five pounds of his weight as he performed a Superman-dive onto my back. It hurt like hell, but I received the most satisfaction when Joe's eyes almost bulged out of his head from the shock. And then we all collapsed into a heap of limbs, lifeless.
"Frankie - no." I heard the stern voice of my father and, after what seemed like minutes later, I felt his body being removed from my back like the jaws of death. I couldn't see Dad, but I knew his demeanour was less than pleased. I could feel it.
"You two," he muttered in distaste, "Grow up."
When his footsteps and Frankie's faded, I took a moment or two to catch my breath before rolling off of Joe. Then we just lay there, on the carpeted floor in the hallway of the hotel, staring at the ceiling in silence. Our chests rose up and down and our arms sprawled across the ground.
"I just thought it would be amusing, that's all," Joe stated after a while.
I took a moment to contemplate this. I shrugged. "Yeah."
"Sorry for borrowing your tie and not giving it back," he added.
I nodded. "S'okay."
And that was that. A few minutes later, we stood up and I followed him back into our room to pack up. What had just taken place was never mentioned again.
The first day of our tour was coincidentally Pep's last day of school. So, while she went out to celebrate with dumb jocks like Jake Lancaster, I started my summer job on-stage. It's hard to say who had it better. Probably me, because I'm rich and talented and revered by millions, but at least Pep was stress-free for two months. (Not that she ever stresses about anything anyways).
The way things were shaping up, the next two months were not going to be stress-free pour moi. Being around Jesse McCrapface was turning out to be very difficult. Whenever he was on the phone, I wondered if he was talking to Rainie. Whenever he talked to another girl, I wondered if he was thinking about her naked - and whether Rainie would approve. And I paid attention to him when he spoke - which wasn't as exhausting as listening to Kevin, but it was enough to drive me crazy. I kept hoping he'd say something about her. But he never did, not once.
"Nick? Honey, are you okay?"
My mom is sweet, but she cares a little too much sometimes.
"Yeah," I answered. We'd just finished our first performance - it went well, despite Kevin's 3.5 minute monologue before we played the last song. It was late, and everyone was hanging out in Kevin's room to discuss, like we always do after a show. For the first time, I was alone in the room I shared with Joe, sitting on the edge of the bed and twirling my drumsticks like it was nobody's business. (I don't play drums on-stage too often, but I should, because I'm extraordinarily good at it).
She came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. "Everyone's wondering where you are."
I hate when people say shit like this to me. How am I supposed to respond? It's not a question; it's not like there's some standard set of answers. Why even bother saying it? ‘Everyone's wondering where you are' - well, now you know, Ma, so you can go tell ‘em.
Obviously she was saying it to guilt me into joining the others. I'd pack my bags and tag along on the fucking guilt trip if she wanted me to, but I wouldn't give in, because I'm stubborn and antisocial.
"Oh." I figured I should answer her question, so that's what I was giving her.
"There's Chinese food. You should eat something, Nick." She sat beside me.
Not guilty. Not working, Mom. Not your best effort, either.
"I'm not hungry."
"Hmm," she said to herself, and I almost laughed. People think their disappointment will kill me. I don't even know if disappointment itself is real. People just use it to make others do what they want. Well, I don't buy it. Not even from my own mother. "Joe says you've been acting distant lately," she added.
"I'm always distant," I replied instantly, a frown forming on my face. Seriously, had these people lived with me for sixteen-point-seven-five years, or what?
"Is something bothering you?"
I wouldn't say it out loud, but she was bothering me a little.
I looked at her with a curious expression. "Do you want me to give you the complete list, or are you referring to things that bother me now that haven't bothered me before?"
If she wanted the list, we'd be here for a while.
She smiled. "The latter, of course."
That's another thing. I hate when people say ‘of course'. It's not ‘of course', thank you very much, because I asked for a reason. Would I honestly waste my breath asking something I already knew the answer to?
Nonetheless, I nodded in compliance. "Your son's a prick, for one."
She gasped. "Oh, Nick, honey, you're not a prick!"
Good lord. "Not me," I replied with a roll of my eyes. "Joe. He gave this psycho girl from the video shoot my number, and she keeps calling me. And she's weird, Mom."
"Kendall? Joe said you two were great friends!"
Apparently word had gotten around. Super-dee-duper. I regretted not pulling Joe's lips over his head earlier that day when I had the chance.
I glared at her. "No, this is Joe's idea of a practical joke. God, I wouldn't give the guy an orange a week ago, and this is his revenge. Tell him to stop!"
Okay, so I sounded like a whiny little bitch. I wouldn't have complained at this level to anyone but my mom. Moms have the absolute power if they've played their cards right from the beginning. Joe's legally an adult, but if Mom told him to leave me the fuck alone (in those exact words, preferably), he'd do it just because she said so. And I'd get extra pity, which is always nice.
"I think Joe's just a little upset that you haven't been yourself lately," she said gently. "He told me you've been extra quiet, even when it's just you and him alone."
There are pros and cons to having your parents come with you on tour. The pros are... well, I can't think of any off the top of my head, but the cons are that they're always nagging you about things that shouldn't matter when you're an international rockstar, and all the stuff you did while they weren't around seems to catch up with you because your twat of a brother decided to nark you out.
"Maybe he's just been extra talkative," I replied calmly.
"He said you've been very particular in the last few days over what's yours."
"Let me ask you this," I said diplomatically, my hands in front of me to set up the scene. "In his suitcase, Joe has over thirty ties. I know this for a fact because he counted them in front of me last week. Why does he need to borrow my tie, and why should I have to give it to him?"
Probably because my fashion sense is better than his, but I was trying to prove a point.
"I think this is about more than just ties, Nick," Mom pointed out patiently.
"You're right. This is about Joe and his incessant need to borrow my stuff," I muttered.
"It's never bothered you before."
I shrugged. "Ties were never important to me before. They are now. I've prioritized."
I had successfully puzzled my mother. I told you I can read people easily - and I can read my mom like a book. She was trying to ease me into a discussion; trying to get me to confess my innermost thoughts to her. She had a question she was dying to ask me, and she was getting frustrated that I kept dodging it by using analogies. Any minute now, she was bound to just spit it out.
"This is about Miley, isn't it? Joe told me about Miley," she said quickly.
Aha. Knew it.
"No," I responded calmly. "This is not about Miley. Nothing is about Miley because I haven't dated Miley in over a year."
With a small smile, she placed her hand over top of mine as a sign of affection. "It's okay to miss her sometimes, you know."
I swatted her hand away in disgust. "I don't miss her! Jeez."
Mom clearly didn't believe me. "Is it your friend Pep? Are you sad because-"
Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My own mother. "No!" I exclaimed, a little more frantically than usual. I stood up, ready to pace if necessary. "Look, I'm fine. I would appreciate it if you'd tell Joe to keep his nose out of my affairs, that's all."
Still, she wasn't convinced.
I sighed, staring at the white ceiling in irritation. "Okay, let's go to Kevin's room. I'm hungry now."
It was a lie, but I knew it had worked when my mom smiled in satisfaction, patting my head like a puppy and steering me out the door. She thought she had really done her job. Her magic had healed me.
The truth is, I get bored of people asking me what's wrong all the time. I'm not quiet because I'm sick or sad; I'm quiet because speaking often proves to be a waste of energy. And I had been extra quiet, as Mom put it, in the past couple of weeks because I was busy thinking about other things, like whether Rainie was a dog or a cat person, and if she'd let me put the kids into manly sports like hockey and football as opposed to things like synchronized swimming and ballet. These kinds of things required a lot of contemplation, that's all.
Still, I supposed I could subject myself to one night of Kevin's meaningless prattle and Jesse's constant presence. For my mom. By the expression on her face, you would've thought she'd just solved world hunger, when she really didn't even help me at all. I'd play along to keep her happy.
The things I do for people. I should be fucking canonized; I'm a saint.