When Joe and I headed back out of the store after I applied for the job which the store manager, Will, would call me back about in the coming days, we were immediately bombarded with questions by the paparazzi.
I wondered how they had found us since there had been no sign of them when we had our ice cream and headed over to the store afterwards. Then again, they seemed to have a habit of coming out of nowhere or being completely invisible and snapping pictures in secret.
While I looked up at Joe, I wondered how much he had actually had to deal with the paparazzi the past couple months. Had they been following him around like that before or was it just because of everything that was happening because of me?
Joe tightened his grip around my head and we pushed our way through the photographers, ignoring the questions they shot at us.
They all wanted to know about the sex tape, whether we had any comment or whether it was really us, what was gonna happen now and how we felt about it.
I tried to hide my face behind my hand as Joe brought us over to his car.
He unlocked it and, even though we were chased by about twenty photographers, he opened the door for me to get in before he got behind the wheel.
As soon as he was in the car with me, I let out a sigh of relief.
The paparazzi didn’t leave us alone though. They were snapping pictures from outside, but at least we didn’t have to listen to their questions anymore.
Joe looked at me apologetically and backed out of his parking spot, making sure there weren’t any photographers behind the car.
Once we were out of their sight, I pulled on my hair and groaned.
“Gah, how do you even deal with that?!” I said. Joe chuckled, but kept his eyes on the road.
“You never really get used to it. Most days it’s okay, but when there’s something bad about you going around, it gets worse,” he said.
“They’re not even supposed to follow you,” I said, crossing my arms in front of my chest as I sunk down deeper into the seat.
“I’m still Joe Jonas, you know. My career came to a halt about a year ago, but there’s still gonna be people wanting my picture.”
“Yeah, but not like that. This is all Trevor’s fault.” Joe laughed and then we went silent as he continued to drive us over to his house.
The closer we got, the more nervous I got.
We were going to talk to his parents today and I knew I wasn’t entirely ready to be face to face with them yet. When we drove through the gate and I saw another car on the driveway – besides Nick’s – I felt my heart beat pick up. What if I just stay in the car?
Joe parked the car and got out, heading over to my side to open the door. Always a gentleman. “Come on, Amber,” he chuckled when I struggled against him as he tried to get me out of the car.
“Joe, I’m not… I don’t wanna do this yet,” I sighed.
“Baby, come on. They wanna talk to us. It’s gonna be okay. They’ll like you.”
He held his hand out for me again and I simply just looked at it, staying put in the car.
“Amber.” He raised his eyebrows at me.
Groaning, I grabbed his hand and got out of the car. Joe slammed the door shut and locked his car before pulling me over to the front door.
As soon as he had opened the door, a Golden Retriever ran out of the living room to greet us.
“You never told me you really did have a dog,” I whispered hard when the dog jumped up against me.
“You never asked,” Joe replied with a chuckle when he pulled the dog away from me. “Elvis, come on buddy,” Joe laughed when the Retriever tried to jump at me again. “I think he likes you.”
I looked down at Elvis who was whisking his tail at me. Smiling, I bent down and started petting the dog. He leaned into my touch and got closer to me, pressing his body against me.
“Joseph!” I heard a woman’s voice and looked up from the dog.
When I stopped petting Elvis, he licked my hand, begging me to go on. Sighing, I placed my hand on his head again and continued petting him while I kept my eyes on the woman heading into the hall.
She had the same hair as Joe did. It fell down her shoulders in curls. Joe stood taller than her and you could tell right away they were related by blood.
“Hey mom,” Joe said when he hugged her. “Uh, mom this is, this is Amber,” Joe said, placing his hand on my shoulder.
I stood up straight and looked at the woman who had her arm still wrapped around Joe’s waist.
“Hi,” I said sheepishly, giving her a small wave. She looked me over and I knew she was judging me.
“Your father wants to speak with you,” she said, looking back up at her son.
Great, not even a simple ‘hello’ or a smile.
She let go of her son and headed back in the direction she came from. I lowered my head, taking a deep breath. I felt Joe grab my hand and he pressed his lips against the side of my head before pulling me into the living room.
Elvis walked in behind us, brushing his head against my free hand. Well, at least the dog liked me.
“Joseph, son,” the man sitting on the couch said. “Annabelle.” At least he acknowledged me.
“Um, my name is Amber, actually. Annabelle is, that’s my um… it’s my stage name. Was my stage name,” I said nervously, not daring to look at him.
“Right,” he said with a curt nod. “Joseph, can we talk to you in private?”
“Anything you have to say, dad, you can say in front of her. This concerns her, too.”
“Joseph, my office.” He stood up and headed into a different room, his wife following him.
“I’ll be right back,” Joe said, turning to face me. I nodded slowly and he kissed my forehead before walking into the room behind his dad.
When he had closed the door behind him, I fell down on the couch. Elvis pressed his head between my legs and I petted him while I heaved a deep sigh.
At least the dog really did seem to like me.
If only all of this turned out okay.
As I sat there on the couch, I wished I knew what was going on in that office, but I didn’t want to eavesdrop. I was too afraid that someone would head out and catch me.
“Hi,” I suddenly heard from behind me.
I jumped up from the couch, clutching my chest as I breathed heavily. “Jeez, you… you scared me,” I said when I looked down at the little boy standing behind the couch. His hair was wet and he had a towel wrapped around his waist.
“I’m Frankie.” He smiled widely at me. “Are you Joe’s stripper?”
“Um, I’m not… I’m not a stripper anymore but yeah I guess you could say that…” I trailed off. “I’m Amber.”
“You’re really pretty.” He kept staring at me and I felt a blush creep up my cheeks. “I’m Joe’s brother. I just got back from Dallas with mom and dad.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” I asked, but it was more a thought that I happened to say out loud. He must not have been older than ten or eleven.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “I guess I’m supposed to be, but I’m home-schooled.” He shrugged and bent down to Elvis when the dog went over to him.
“That’s cool.” Smiling, I looked down at him.
He looked almost exactly like his father.
It was crazy how much these kids looked alike if you really paid attention to it. And even if you didn’t specifically look for resemblance anyone could see they were are related to each other.
They all had the same beautiful dark hair and skin.
“Do you have a swimming suit here?” Frankie asked after a moment of silence.
“Uh, no, I don’t. Well I mean, my house it uh, it burned down so I pretty much lost everything… but your brother has helped me get new clothes, just not, a bikini.”
“Your house burned down?” The little boy stood up straight and looked at me with wide eyes and his jaw dropped.
Great, here I was, telling my story to an eight-year-old while Joe’s parents were probably killing him in that office.
“Uh, yeah… a couple nights ago, actually. So I’m staying here now.”
“That’s awesome! Do you wanna play a video game with me?” He started to walk out of the living room and into one of the other rooms. I followed him and ended up in what seemed to be the game room.
“I don’t really know how to play.” I laughed nervously when I watched him pull out the most recent Call of Duty game. “Are you even allowed to play that yet?”
“I’m not,” he said, grinning at me. “I’m only ten, but mom and dad don’t mind. I always used to play with my brothers when they went on tour.” He shrugged it off like it was nothing and started up the game, handing me a controller.
I stared down at it in my hands as I tried to figure out how this thing worked. I had never in my entire life played a video game.
Well, I mean, we had a Wii back in Chicago, but this was something completely different.
“Why are mom and dad mad at Joe?” he asked when he started the game, not even bothering to give me instructions.
“Um, there’s… I don’t think you’re old enough for that yet.”
“It’s that picture right? The one where you’re naked.”
“Oh my God,” I breathed. “You saw that?”
“Mom and dad were watching it on TV when I came into the living room.”
“Well, yeah, yeah it’s about that… picture.” I felt incredibly uncomfortable discussing this with a ten-year-old. He wasn’t even supposed to know this kind of stuff.
“I think it’s gonna be okay. You’re a really nice girl. But you suck at this game.” I laughed and put the controller down before taking a seat in the leather couch behind me.
“Yeah, I know I suck at this game.”
“Amber.” I whipped my head around and saw Joe standing in the doorway. He didn’t look that happy, his jaw clenched.
“Hey, um, why don’t you continue on your own. I need to go talk to your brother, alright?” Frankie just nodded at me before focusing back on the game.
I swallowed hard and stood up to go over to my boyfriend. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me out of the room.
“What did they say?” I asked when we went up the stairs. He waited until we were in his room to tell me everything.
“They’re not happy.” Yeah, I already knew that, Captain Obvious. “I tried to tell them that everything has changed, you know. That you're out of there and done with that place. Even when I told them about Trevor and the fire, it didn’t seem to convince them. They… they want us to break up, Amber.” Joe looked at me through sad eyes and I could tell he wasn’t too happy about this either
“B-break, break up?” I asked with wide eyes.
“Yeah but, only publicly. They just think that you attract too much attention. It’s not that they don’t want us to see each other anymore… they really do believe that I’m happy with you, even though they think you’re in it for the wrong reasons and want me to be careful. They just, they want me to be able to go after what I want, you know.”
“I don’t get it, Joe,” I said, shaking my head a little as I stared up at him with my eyebrows pushed together. “If they know you’re happy then why would they do this?”
“You have to understand, Amber, my parents are a part of the management team. In fact, my dad is my manager so right now, he means business. And from a business perspective, losing you is the best solution. It won’t make it all go away, but it will shift the focus to my career.”
“But when I told you to stay away because you were putting everything you’re working towards on the line, you got stubborn and just went along and got involved. And now, when your parents tell you to do it you just jump to it.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest and stared at him.
“Amber, I don’t want to do this, okay,” he replied. “God, I wish there was another way but–”
“You do know what this means, right?” Joe looked at me like he was completely lost. “This is exactly like it was with Nina… a public break-up and then just keeping her in the house so you could still be together.”
“She was pregnant, Amber,” Joe said.
“Yeah, I know. But what do you think people are gonna say when we’ve supposedly broken up but I still show up at your house or if we still hang out? We're class mates, yeah, but you know first-hand that the gossip sites are gonna draw their own conclusions and then what? We could really miss that, too, Joe. I don’t think breaking up is gonna do anything about it. You’ve been through this once and it didn’t end well. I don’t want you to end up in rehab again.”
“You’re not Nina!” he suddenly yelled, surprising me so much I took a small step back. “You’re not gonna do what she did!”
“I don’t know, Joe!” I yelled back. “I don’t fucking know what I would do if you keep me locked in this freaking house all day!”
“Let’s not fight about this, baby,” Joe said softly when he moved closer to me and placed his hands on my shoulders, rubbing them gently. “They just said this was the best solution but, they still wanna talk to you. And I told them we’re going over to talk to Trevor tonight. They’re gonna send Big Rob out with us just to be safe. But if it doesn't work, then you know what we have to do.”
I sighed and looked away from Joe.
Yeah, maybe breaking up was the best solution right now, but it just didn’t sit right with me. And it wasn't going to make the sex tape disappear.
His parents wanted me gone and they probably figured if we pretended to break up, it would lead to an actual break up – it would only be a matter of time.
“I just don’t have a good feeling about this, Joe. I don’t want to tear your family apart but, I don’t wanna lose you either.” I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tightly, my head pressed against his shoulder.
“You’re not losing me, Amber. I’ll always be right here for you,” he said softly, kissing the top of my head. “I love you. You know that.”
“I love you,” I repeated, closing my eyes when I sighed. Being in his arms was like therapy, he could make me feel better instantly.
“You should go talk to mom and dad now, probably.”
“I don’t wanna,” I whined, holding on tighter to Joe. He chuckled and I felt his chest vibrate as he did. “
“Baby, you’re gonna have to. They wanna see you.”
“Fine,” I groaned and let go of Joe. “Can you come with me?”
Joe laughed. “They’re my parents, Amber. They’re not gonna kill you.” I glared at him and he got serious in an instant.”Alright I’ll come with.”
I smiled and grabbed his hand as we left his room again, heading down the stairs.
Joe’s parents were sitting outside on the deck while Frankie was in the garden playing with Elvis. Nick had joined them, too, holding Penny in his arms.
When she noticed Joe and I heading their way, she squealed and called out for Joe. Immediately, everyone turned around to look at us.
“Amber,” Joe’s mom said when she walked inside the house again, meeting us as we were heading towards the sliding doors.
I couldn’t tell how she felt about me from the sound of her voice, but I knew that she wasn’t too happy with me.
“Let’s go into the office.” She smiled, but it felt like it was a forced one. Joe wanted to walk outside, but I pulled on his hand to keep him with me.
“Amber, it’s gonna be alright. I’ll be right outside.” He kissed my cheek and then let go of my hand to go get his daughter from Nick.
I looked back at his mom who was already walking back towards the office. Well, at least it would be just his mom. Maybe I could figure out her soft spot and just get her with that.
“I’m sure Joseph’s already told you everything we discussed,” she said when she took a seat in the leather chair.
“Uh yeah he, he did,” I said softly, sitting down in the chair next to the one she was sitting in.
“Honey,” wait, what? “we know you love our son. Joseph’s made that very clear, but right now we need to focus on his career and you’re a threat to it.”
“I know, Mrs. Jonas, I know I am. I tried to tell him, too, but he wouldn’t listen. I never asked for him to do all of these things. The only reason I did what I did was to make enough money to support myself and get myself through college. My parents never agreed with my decision to go into acting so I am entirely on my own. I spent all my savings on my trip here and my first month of rent that I was completely broke. So, I went into stripping. You have to know it was my absolute last resort. What Joe did for me… I never asked him to do any of that. I never asked him to take me in after my studio burned down, I never asked him to buy me all these new clothes. He just, he just did all of that for me no matter how much I tried to protest. I know how you think about me, Mrs. Jonas–”
“Please, call me Denise,” she said with a smile, interrupting me briefly.
“Denise. I- I know what you think but I don’t want your son’s money, I swear to God that is not what I'm after. I just want to be with him. I understand why you would want us to break up, if only publicly, but I think that something like that is only going to complicate things.”
“We know it’s not necessarily the easiest solution, but it’s the only one,” she said. “If Trevor doesn’t want to back off, it’s the only way I can see this dying down.”
“But that still doesn’t take away the… you know, the sex tape.”
I could see the expression on Denise’s face change and I knew I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.
“If the tape never ends up leaking, we have nothing to worry about. We can release a statement that it wasn’t Joseph, you on the other hand won’t make it out so easily. We don’t exactly agree with the fact such a tape exists, but we knew this was out of your control. Though we hope you’ll be more careful in the future.”
“I promise you Denise, that is never going to happen again. If I hadn’t missed that night of work and Joe hadn’t come to get me then none of this would've ever happened. This is all my fault.”
“No, Amber, I’m glad my son interfered. No one deserves what you had to go through that night.”
Well, at least I know they cared about me enough not to let me get raped.
“But all of this happened because of it.”
“He did it out of love, Amber,” she said when she placed her hand on my arm. “Joseph’s unstoppable when he’s in love. He falls fast and hard, and he falls with his entire being. We really don’t mean to hurt you with this, but I’m afraid we have no other choice. You do seem like a wonderful girl, and I’m sure that if the circumstances had been different, our first introduction would've gone much more differently.”
“I’m done with that club, Denise. And if you really wanna know, Joe was the only one I ever… you know, he had exclusivity, to protect me. I wasn’t allowed to… do anything with the other customers.”
Denise reached out and grabbed my hand, giving it a little squeeze. “We’re not doing this because we want you gone, honey. We can see that you make Joseph very happy. He hasn’t had this… glow about him for a long time. Until you came along. We’re just trying to protect him.”
“I understand, Denise. And I want him to focus more on his career, too. I just, I just hope that if we do have to… break up it doesn’t end like it did with Nina,” I said softly.
“You know all about her, don’t you?” she asked when we stood back up.
“Joe told me everything. I just don’t want him to end up in rehab again. Or worse...” Denise smiled at me and placed her hands on my shoulders. I stood only a little taller than her.
“We’ll make sure it doesn’t get that far, Amber,” she said. “Now, will you join us outside for a drink? I made iced-tea.”
“I would love to.” I smiled widely and when she turned around to head out of the office, I let out a sigh of relief.
Well, at least it went better than I expected.
Denise went into the kitchen and I went back outside. Joe stood up from his chair when he saw me and handed Penny over to his dad.
“How did it go?” he asked, placing his right hand on my cheek. I just smiled and nodded my head.
Joe wrapped his arms around me, pulling me against his chest.
“I told you it was gonna be fine.” He kissed the side of my head just as Denise returned, carrying a tray that held some empty glasses and a can of iced-tea.
She smiled at us and I knew in that moment, that everything would be fine.