Maggie grew up in Sacramento, where her parents still lived. She moved to Los Angeles for college when she was just eighteen. And for the past four years, she made LA her home in the very same condo she still lived in. She saw plenty of neighbors come and go – but she never got attached to them like she did with Joe and his adorable bulldog, Winston.
Her love for that dog was unconditional and her love for his human – well, she just called that pathetic. She probably would have done anything for either one of them at the drop of a dime. They had her heart. And one day, her love was tested.
She heard a frantic pounding on her front door that scared her half to death.
“Mags!” She heard Joe’s panicked voice.
She practically flung her Environmental Law book across the floor as she dashed for the door. She threw it open to find Joe standing in front of her, looking frightened.
“Joe, what’s the matter?” She asked, her brows furrowing together out of concern.
“It’s Winston,” he said quickly and her heart plummeted.
“Joe, what?” Maggie asked impatiently.
“Come on,” he said with a huff, waving her to come to his condo.
“Joe, seriously – tell me what is going on,” she insisted as she instinctively followed him toward his place – hopping straight over the flower bushes that divided his sidewalk from hers.
“He… I don’t know. I think he ate something and he just won’t stop throwing up,” Joe said with concern and panic laced in his voice.
They took his stairs two-by-two to get up to his kitchen and living room area. Winston was lying underneath the kitchen table looking absolutely miserable. The entire house reeked of puppy bile.
“I think you should take him to the vet,” Maggie told Joe as she got down to Winny’s level, petting his head.
“Will you come with me?” Joe asked immediately.
“Of course. Just uh, get him in the car. Maybe put a blanket under him. Oh, and bring his favorite toy! I’ll go grab my purse and lock up my house,” Maggie told him as she stood up in an instant.
“Okay, okay,” Joe said, looking like he might be panicking a little bit. Maggie grabbed Joe by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Joe, he’s going to be okay,” she assured him.
“But, he’s not even a year old. What if…” Joe started worrying.
“He’s going to be okay,” Maggie said again, squeezing his shoulders in her hands and Joe nodded, though he still didn’t look completely convinced.
“Thanks, Mags,” he said, taking a deep breath and letting it out hard as his hand ran through his hair, flipping it to the right.
“Anytime,” she told him and picked up the pace as she scooted around him to run out of his house.
She ran all the way back to her own house and grabbed her purse, keys and jacket – then she was out the door locking it behind her. Joe was walking out of his house with Winny wrapped up in his arms in a blanket.
“Can you grab my keys? They’re in the front pocket of my jeans,” Joe said, jutting out his right hip at her.
“Wha—” Maggie said, looking at him wide-eyed.
“My keys,” Joe said again, jutting out his hip even more.
Her heart raced. Oh, yeah. She wasn’t about to die or anything. She was just about to dig in the pocket of Joe’s incredibly tight, incredibly sexy jeans. They’d both see how long she lasted after that. She literally had to mentally scold herself as she looked down at the sick puppy in Joe’s arms.
Maggie swallowed hard as she tried to reach in his pocket and grab the keys, but her hand kept getting stuck and Joe kept falling backward. She ended up having to use her other hand to grasp his hip so she could steady him. Dear, Lord. She was touching skin – skin she should not be touching. Focus, focus, focus.
She looked at Winny again and her heart broke all over for the baby puppy. Her hand successfully retrieved the keys, but also successfully felt the amazingly hard sinew muscle of Joe’s upper thigh. Oh, good god. She pulled her hand out quickly, trying but failing to not look like an idiot.
“I-I got ‘em,” she said, fumbling with them in her hands, trying to find the key that looked similar to her own apartment key.
“It’s big and round…” Joe said. Holy Shit. What did he just say? Was he just talking about…?
“The key,” he elaborated. Maggie realized she stopped searching for the key and was just staring at him like an idiot.
“Oh, yeah!” She exclaimed, continuing to fumble through the keys, mentally scolding herself again. Jesus, Maggie. Get your mind out of the gutter.
She located the correct key and shoved it in the keyhole, locking the door. The pair of them walked quickly to Joe’s car and Maggie used his clicker to unlock the doors of his G-Wagon so he could get Winny inside.
“Can you drive?” He asked her quickly.
“Your… your G-Wagon?” She stammered, feeling uneasy about it. That car was worth about as much as she owed in student loans. It was a scary thought.
“Yeah. It’s just a car, Maggie,” he said evenly, realizing she was sort of freaking out.
“Um, if you’re sure,” she said, walking to the driver side.
“I’m sure,” she heard him say.
Joe gave her directions to the vet, but she already knew the area, so she knew where it was. On the way, he called Ashley to tell her about Winston’s situation. It was quite awkward when they got into a fight on the phone.
“She’s… she’s out to dinner with a friend and isn’t coming to the vet,” Joe said as he pet his sick dog’s head.
Maggie found his eyes in the rear view mirror and she could see all sorts of emotion in them – the leading one being disappointment. She felt bad for him.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, not knowing what else to say.
“At least I have you,” Joe said, giving her a small smile. Yeah, he had his cake and he was eating it too, she thought.
As they were getting out of the car at the vet a few paparazzi walked over from the nearby restaurant and Joe groaned inwardly.
“I don’t want to deal with this shit right now,” Joe grumbled as he pulled his sick dog out of the car.
Maggie felt out of place. She planned on studying all night, so she was in sweats with her hair pulled up in a messy bun. She looked like a scrub. The cameramen immediately started asking Joe who she was and why she was with him instead of Ashley. Joe just told them his dog was sick and to give them space. The paparazzi didn’t stop filming them, but they did back off a bit. Luckily, they got into the building without a scuffle.
Once the vet took Winny back, Joe asked Maggie to come with him. She stood awkwardly in the examination room with the vet, Joe and his sick dog feeling more than a little out of place. It really should have been Ashley there.
“We need to do some x-rays, just to see what exactly he ingested. And once the cause is conclusive, surgery might be our only option to retrieve whatever it is,” the vet explained to Joe.
“Surgery?” Joe choked out, sounding frightened.
Maggie reached over instinctively and grabbed his hand. Joe took it greedily, intertwining their fingers together tightly. Maggie couldn’t help but think of how right it felt.
“Will he… will he be okay?” Joe asked the vet.
“I don’t have a definite answer for you, unfortunately. There are always risks, but this thing happens quite often. Puppies are curious by nature and get into just about everything. In just about all the cases I’ve seen in similar situations, the dog recovered just fine and went on to live a long happy life,” the vet explained.
Both Joe and Maggie breathed a large sigh of relief and looked at each other for support as the vet tech took Winny back for x-rays. The vet went over all the details of the potential surgery and Joe held Maggie’s hand the entire time. She had to keep her brain from going to mush because of it. All she kept thinking was how perfectly dry their intertwined hands were. Usually when she held someone’s hand, it got sweaty or clammy and it usually got really uncomfortable and gross. But not with Joe. Their hands were dry and perfect and she could only take that as another sign – another thing she loved about him. Their perfect hands, perfectly intertwined.
Once the x-rays were done they were informed that Winny would in fact need surgery. There seemed to be a piece of cloth of some sort stuck in his intestine. The two of them sat in the waiting room of the vet’s office while Winny was in surgery. The vet offered to call when they were done in case they wanted to go home and rest, but Joe refused. He wanted to stay and be there for his dog right away after surgery. He offered to pay for an Uber to take Maggie home, but she told him she’d rather stay. She knew he needed someone there for him too.
“Will you talk to me? Like, about anything. My mind is sort of spiraling. I never thought I’d get so attached to a dog,” Joe said, looking like he was about to lose it.
“Yeah. Yeah, sure,” Maggie said, her brain completely fumbling about what she could say to take his mind off of it.
“Anything. It doesn’t matter,” Joe said as he paced the waiting room floor.
“Uh… how… how’s your music going?” Maggie asked quickly.
“Uh… it’s uh, it’s good,” Joe said with a nod of his head.
“It’s good? That’s all you’ve got for me?” Maggie asked, smirking at him.
“It’s going… good. I mean, I just heard today that the tour is a go,” Joe told her with a sideways smirk. It must have been hard for him to be excited for something like that when his dog was in the middle of surgery. But Maggie was going to do the best she could to keep his mind off of that.
“Tour? Joe, that’s awesome! With your band?” Maggie exclaimed with a wide smile.
“Yeah. The guys you met… uh, and JinJoo. You know what I meant,” Joe said, waving his hand through the air.
“Yeah, I know,” she snickered. Joe continued to pace.
“Is it your first tour with them?” Maggie asked, making sure to keep the conversation going.
“Yeah. I mean, we’ve done shows. Like, we’ve done some festival shows and stuff, but not like, a real tour,” Joe said, stopping in place to look at her.
“That’s amazing for you guys… and JinJoo,” Maggie said, smirking at him as she poked a bit of fun at him. He even cracked a tiny smile.
“How… how long will you be gone?” Maggie asked carefully. She didn’t want to sound too desperate, even though she knew she’d miss him terribly when he leaves. He’d become a really good friend, much to the dismay of his hell-beast of a girlfriend.
“Uh, we’re actually… we’re actually leaving in two weeks and we’ll be gone until almost Christmas,” Joe said, sounding a bit shocked that it was coming up so fast.
“Wow. So quickly…” Maggie said quietly and tried her best to wipe the disappointment off her face.
“Yeah. It is,” Joe said just as quietly. Damn it. Now she was just adding to his stress.
“So, you have music… uh, ready for tour?” Maggie asked, realizing that probably wasn’t going to help his stress level.
“Oh, yeah. The music is solid. This band… I don’t know…” Joe said, shaking his head.
“What?” Maggie said, feeling like she really stepped in the shit now. She was digging him deeper and deeper into a dark hole. She was going to make him spiral out.
“It’s been like… like a breath of fresh air, you know?” Joe said, looking up at her with a smile on his face. It was the first real smile she’d seen on his face all night.
“Really?” She asked, her mouth gaping open in shock. She was sure she was going to have to pick up all the little pieces of Joe off the floor and put him back together by the end of the night.
“Yes. I mean, I don’t know how much you really know about uh, the Jonas Brothers,” Joe started.
“Uh, not a lot, to be completely honest. I mean, I’ve listened to you guys. I’ve definitely listened to you,” Maggie told him.
It was shameful how much she’d listened to the Jonas Brothers since Joe came into her life. She’d spent a lot of time with earbuds in her ears jamming out as she did stuff around her house because she was too afraid of Joe hearing her listening to them through the walls to listen to them out loud.
“Well, it didn’t end… well,” Joe told her, looking more than a little uncomfortable talking about it.
“Oh?” Maggie questioned. She was intrigued. They were brothers after all. How could brothers… end?
“Uh, Nick. My brother Nick… he wanted it to end. He didn’t see a future with the band anymore and… and Kevin and I… well, I didn’t take it very well. I didn’t talk to Nick for almost a year afterward,” Joe told her honestly.
“Wow,” Maggie said, feeling sad for both of them, for their whole family really.
“And Nick, he’s my… he’s literally my best friend. My rock, honestly. So it was rough not… not having that, you know?” Joe said, completely spilling his guts out to her right in the middle of the animal hospital waiting room.
“I can imagine…” Maggie said quietly.
“So, I mean... we’re on good terms now. We’ve made up. But, I was just in a really dark place after Nick ended the Jonas Brothers. It was my whole life, you know? I thought we were going to be doing it for the rest of our lives… the three of us, you know? It was hard. So… so now, this band… it’s… it’s really good. It’s put me in a good place,” Joe explained and Maggie felt her heart flourish for him. She was so happy he found what he needed. She couldn’t even imagine the darkness he brought himself out of.
“I’m proud of you,” Maggie said honestly. Joe smiled and Maggie felt pride in herself for getting him to smile again.
“Thanks,” he said bashfully as he looked down at his feet and back up at her.
“Anytime,” she said, sending him a sideways smile.
“You’re a good friend,” Joe told her, staring straight in her eyes. It was intense, the way he was looking at her. It made her skin heat up.
“So are you,” Maggie retorted, smiling sweetly at him.
Joe finally got a call from Ashley around ten o’clock and then shortly after, she showed up at the vet – nearly three hours after Joe called her about Winston.
“Oh, Maggie’s here. Yay,” Ashley said with thick sarcasm in her tone the second she noticed her there.
“Maggie drove us here. She’s been awesome,” Joe snapped at her.
“Well, thank you. You can go home now, Maggie. I’ll make sure Joe gets home okay,” Ashley said in a sugary sweet voice that Maggie knew was fake.
“I-I don’t have my car,” Maggie stammered, looking over at Joe.
“If you want to go home, you can take mine,” Joe said, pulling his keys out of the same pocket she dug them out of earlier that evening. War flashback hit her - the solid, warm thigh muscle her hand grazed across. Holy shit. Stop, stop, stop.
“Uh, okay,” Maggie said uneasily, taking the keys from him. Was he really trusting his precious G-Wagon to her again?
Just then, the vet came out to inform them that the surgery went well and they’d be able to see Winston soon. He also told them what the foreign object was – a pair of female underwear. After seeing both Joe and Ashley’s reaction, they all knew the underwear was Ashley’s, which made Maggie feel uncomfortable even though she knew she shouldn’t. She knew they were adults... who were dating, but she also read the rumors about Joe staying a virgin until marriage and she kind of hoped it was true. But like, he was a twenty-seven-year-old sexy-as-hell man. There was no way he was going to 40-year-old Virgin it until he put a ring on it. Right?
The vet informed Joe that Winny would need to stay overnight for observations, but he could come back in the morning.
It got awkward between Joe, Ashley and Maggie when Ashley kept insisting to drive Joe back to his house and have Maggie drive his car back. Joe kept telling her it didn’t make sense – that he would just drive Maggie home. Ashley seemed a bit pissed at him when she left in a huff.
“Well, that was uncalled for,” Joe said after his dramatic girlfriend stormed out of the vet office.
The drive back to the condos was quiet. Maggie couldn’t stop thinking about how jealous Ashley got over her being there. Maggie was literally just being a friend. She didn’t mean to cause Joe any trouble.
“I’m sorry about Ashley,” Joe said just before they reached their complex. Maggie looked over at him questioningly. It was like he could read her mind or something.
“She’s not usually like that,” Joe continued, looking over at her through the cab of the vehicle.
“Yes, she is. You don’t have to apologize for her,” Maggie said, looking away from him.
“Yeah,” Joe said quietly and the car fell silent for the remainder of the ride.
Once they got home, they each walked up their respective sidewalks, but both stopped short of their doors.
“Thank you for coming with – you know, helping out,” Joe told her.
“Mm-hmm,” Maggie hummed, smiling sweetly at him.
It was nearly midnight and her eyes were so heavy and tired. Plus, she had her Environmental Law exam in the morning – an exam she was totally unprepared for now.
“It means a lot to me to have such a good friend living right next door,” Joe continued, smiling back at her.
“Mm-hmm,” she hummed again and nodded. Joe chuckled at her and she blinked her eyes at him, trying to fight the sleep in them.
“You should get to bed. You look like you’re about to pass out right here,” Joe laughed.
“I might,” she said and smirked at him.
“Goodnight, Maggie May,” Joe said and stepped over the landscaping to pull her into a hug. Oh! It woke her right up in an instant.
“’Night, Joey Jay,” she said quietly as he pulled away. He should smell like puppy bile, right? Why the fuck did he still smell so good? Ugh.
“Thanks again for all your help,” he said as he stepped back onto his sidewalk.
“You’re welcome,” Maggie said, moving toward her door to unlock it.
They waved to each other one last time before they disappeared into their houses. Maggie shut her door and stood with her back against it, repeating the same mantra in her head that she always did when Joe did something really sweet or flirty: He’s not worth it. He’s not worth it. He’s not worth it.
Ah, who was she kidding?