I smell toast. I open my eyes and stretch, my muscles stiff from sleeping in the recliner. I kick the footrest down and look around as I stand, noticing the floor is no longer hidden beneath the remnants of last night's party. There's a pile of garbage bags by the door, the pictures and other breakables are back in their normal positions, and the house looks as spotless as if Joe's mother had cleaned it herself. I follow my growling stomach towards the kitchen, where Lexi, makeupless and boxer-clad, is entertaining Nick, who's crosslegged on the kitchen island, and Patrick and Joe are listening to Tara babble, nodding as if she's revealing life's greatest secrets.
"Well hello, sleeping beauty."
I smile sheepishly at Lex, who's just spotted me over her shoulder. "Hey. Smells like food."
"How astute of you. Chocolate chip waffles, eggs, toast. I'd like to be able to add bacon to that list, but somebody had to go and be Jewish."
"Hey! Birthright, much?"
"Yeah, whatever Joseph. I still say you should have some sort of breakfasty meat here, in case of a morning such as this."
"Jews?" Tara asks, momentarily forgetting her quest to steal Patrick's hat.
"See, now you've got the baby on my case too."
"No, dummy. She wants her juice."
"Is a puppy, right?"
"Yes, sweetie. I already checked."
I look back and forth from Tara to Lexi, confused. "I thought you said she wanted juice."
"She does," Lexi replies, her head stuck in the refrigerator.
"Didn't she just ask for the dog? Where is Tiny, anyway?"
"Her name is Tatum, and Tyra took her shopping. And to answer your first question, Tara did not want the puppy, she wants her juice pulpy. She's smart like that: more nutrients."
"How you decipher this is beyond me. I can see how Maddie gets it, she's Tara's mom. How do you do it?"
"Maternal instinct, I suppose," she answers haughtily, breaking into a smile as Joe laughs out loud. "Okay, okay. I know, I'm nobody's mommy."
"Two more questions, then. Why did Tyra take your dog shopping, and where's Maddie?"
"Maddie is the only person who slept later than you, so you should congratulate her if she ever wakes up. And it's getting cold out, Tyra thought Tatum should have some sweaters or whatever." She flips open the iron and spears a waffle with her fork, slapping it onto a plate and cutting it into quarters. "Now, hand that to T, would you? Oh, and this." She slides me a glass of juice and I carry Tara's breakfast across the room. The second it hits her high chair, she got a fistful of waffle in her face. I laugh and grab a napkin, wiping her clean just to watch her cover herself in chocolate again.
"Good, me too please." Lucy walks in, running her fingers through her wet chair.
"Yeah, sopping wet in Joe's pajamas," she groans as I pull her into my arms.
Lexi slides some plates onto the counter and Lucy practically sprints to grab her breakfast. "Lexi, you're the best. Ever, ever, ever," she says, swallowing a mouthful of eggs as she sits down at the table.
"I agree," Nick chimes in, dumping his dirty plate into the sink. "I haven't eaten real food in months. I am so glad I came by."
"When did you get here, anyway?" Patrick pipes up, focused on trying to keep Tara clean.
"I don't know, late. Pete was still up, so before sunrise." Patrick laughs and he and Nick get to catching up, leaving me to watch Lexi dump some mysterious substance on her plate.
"What ar eyou doing?"
"Nothing," she dismisses me as she sneaks a yellow bottle back into the fridge. I creep up behind her and look over her shoulder just in time to watch her drop the last waffle onto huge blob of yellow mustard.
"Oh, please tell me you're kidding. That is rank."
"Shove it. It's good. Plus, Joe did it first, so you can blame him."
"Did what?" Joe has a knack for knowing when people are talking about him. Too bad he's not so good at noticing when people talk to him.
"Yellow mustard on my waffle. Remember, like, I dunno, ninth grade?"
"Oh, yeah. I remember, it was great. When I was high," he whispers the last part in my ear as he walks past and I grin.
She raises her eyebrows at me as she takes a bite, indicating for me to continue.
"Is this some sort of wake and bake side effect, or are you eating like you're pregnant for a reason?"
"I am not knocked up, Peter. Don't you dare even joke about that. Lord, no."
"You do really well with Tara," a sleepy Maddie interjects, wrapping her arms around Joe's waist.
"And you do take pretty good care of these filthy boys," adds Lucy. I would object to her use of the word 'filthy,' but... well, she's right.
"Oh, sure, yeah. Part time mommy, I'm the best. But dirty diapers and four am feedings are not on my list of things to do in the near future. Or, you know, ever. And Tom and I have only been together, well, really together for, I don't know, three months? Not exactly family-unit central."
"Well, you never know," I shrug, scraping the remainder of my eggs into my mouth.
"So how long are you gone this time?" Lucy drops down onto one of my beds as I stand over the other, surveying the clothes laid out befor eme.
"Six days. I'm debuting the 'Dance, Dance' video on TRL, doing some radio interviews, and I think that's about it. How about this?" I hold up and black and gold hoodie and a teal tshirt.
"I like the green one better."
"Green it is." I fold up the chosen shirt and pack it into my bag, double-checking that I have everything I need. "Why? Are you going to miss me?" I tease, batting my eyes at her.
"Psh, no. Please. My boyfriend of almost two years is going to New York City, without me, for a week. Hell, sounds like one big party."
"Hey, it's not that bad. We're home for a while. I just have to make some appearances, no big deal."
"Yeah..." She sighs and lays back, and I sit next to her, holding her hand.
"You could come with, you know."
"Oh definitely. Pete Wentz hits the Big Apple with mystery woman. That would go over so well with the fan base."
"Please, it's not as if no one knows about us. Really, I would love it if you came with me. We could wander around the city all week long, just like normal tourists."
She smiles at me and squeezes my hand. "You're sweet, but you know I'm not coming. You're right, it's only a week. I just miss you when you leave, that's all."
"I can't imagine why."
I can't begin to explain how it feels to be here, backstage at TRL, waiting to premiere this video. On the one hand, I'm beyond excited, I'm honored, I'm incredulous, I'm just amazed that anyone cares about this music we're making. But on the other hand, I'm bored. It's loud, there are a million strangers shoving me down various hallways, and I know for a fact that the majority of the audience will be screaming over my perfect teeth and newly colored hair, not the song.
I hear cheering and a girl in a headset points me through a doorway; I guess it's time to go on.
"Alright everone, here to premiere Fall Out Boy's latest, let's give it up for Pete Wentz!"
I walk out smiling, scanning the crowd and trying not to get freaked out by the panoramic view of exactly how far off the ground I am.
"Thanks, everyone. It means a lot for me to be here."
"How are you enjoying New York so far?"
"It's great. I've been here a few times before, and the noise and the lights always remind me of home, and everyone I meet is really friendly." I decide to leave out the horrendous taxi drivers and that waitress this morning who failed to apologize for dumping coffee on my favorite jeans.
"We're glad to hear it. Nice shirt, by the way."
I smile, looking down at myself. "Thanks, my girlfriend picked it out."
"She's got good taste. Obviously." I smile as he nudges me, hoping no one can tell how stupid I think that joke was. "She anyone we know?"
"Luckily, no," I chuckle. "She's just a girl I've known for a long time. She's the only girl who could stand all of my bull..." I stammer slightly, "uh, my crap, and best of all, she's completely out of the spotlight. We, uh," I trail off as I lock eyes with a blonde in the audience. It couldn't be. Is that...
"Oh, yeah, sorry."
"The video?" He eyeballs me strangely.
"Uh, the video. It's for, uhm, 'Dance, Dance' which I'm sure you all know, and we had a lot of fun making it, so I hope everyone enjoys."
The crowd cheers, the cameraman gives the 'all clear' signal, and I make a beeline for the stands, smiling and shaking hands and taking pictures as I try to make my way to the back row.
She smiles slightly and wiggles her fingers as I finally get up the steps, and my face breaks into a huge grin. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Well, Lexi and I were..." she starts.
"Mr. Wentz?" The headset girl waves me down. "You're back on in thirty."
I sigh and blow a kiss to Lucy, who's laughing at me being called 'Mr. Wentz.'
"See someone you know back there, Pete?" This guy is really annoying. When did they replace Carson? I should really watch more TV.
"Nope, just, uh, making friends. I like to get to know the fans." I sleepwalk through the next five minutes, making inane small talk and praying for the moment that annoying redhead shoos me offstage so I can kiss my girlfriend.
And then call Lexi and bitch her out for whatever she had to do with this.
2 days earlier
I open the door to see Lucy, bundled up against the chill, hand poised to knock. "Hello?"
"Hi!" She waves with her already raised hand. "What are you doing? I mean, are you busy?"
"I was about to take Tatum for a walk, since I don't think it's going to get any warmer today. You want to come with?"
She agrees and steps back so the dog and I can exit, and the three of us head down the stairs and toward the street.
We walk about three blocks in silence, except for the occassional bout of laughter when Tatum tangles her leash.
Lucy obviously has something on her mind, but I know better than to push her; she likes to sort things out in her head first. By the time we turn around at Lake Shore Drive, she's in a much more talkative mood, commenting on Tatum's pink and green sweater, counting various Starbucks, and arguing the difference between flicking cigarette butts versus littering.
"I miss Pete," she blurts out suddenly.
"Did he leave, like, yesterday?" Maybe being insensitive was the wrong route to take. Good job, self.
"Yeah," she sighs. "I know, I sound like some whiny girlfriend, which you know I never wanted to be. It's just hard. Even when he's home, he's gone half the time, writing with Patrick or recording or doing press. This whole 'dating a famous rockstar' thing kind of caught me off guard."
"They did blow up pretty quick."
"Mhmm," she hums her agreement. "I guess I just need more time to adjust. I got so used to him on those old tours, two months tops, and I was so busy as it was with school and the mag and the Metro. But then I graduated and dropped the venue stuff and we had so much more time together, and then poof! They're famous, he's gone, he's back, he's gone again. Blink of an eye, all that."
"Well, why don't you go visit him? Take a long weekend, surprise him in the city." We stop so I can unwrap Tatum from the bush she's caught in, and I can see the uncertainty on her face.
"I don't know, he's busy up there. I would hate to be a distraction."
"Come on, I'm sure he'd love a familiar face."
"Think of all the press though. I kind of like my privacy."
"It's November. Hoods and scarves are all over, no one would ever see you."
"Well, he did ask me to come with. I just..." she trails off, and the tone in her voice tells me she's wearing down. An idea has started forming in my head, and I decide to drop the subject, knowing she'll changer her mind if I push too hard.
We climb the steps to my apartment and begint eh process of de-layering, tossing our scarves, coats, and hoodies on the back of my couch.
"Help yourself to something to drink or whatever. I'll be back in a minute." I take the stairs two at a time, putting my plan into motion as I go. Once in my bedroom, I snap open my laptop and start typing away, getting more excited by the second.
"Lex, did you fall asleep or something?" Lucy calls up the stairs.
"Sorry, be down in a second." I push a few more buttons, then grab the computer and start heading down. "I was checking my email and I got this really strange message. You've got to see it." I grab the cup of coffee she's made me off the countertop and sit down next to her. "Check it out." I open the message and slide the laptop so she can see the screen. My smile grows as the confusion on her face turns to realization.
"You bitch!" She squeals.
"Yeah, that ticket confirmation just showed up out of nowhere. I guess the gods of aviation are smiling upon you tonight."
"I can't believe you! Oh my god, thank you so much, I owe you big time, I'm going to see my boyfriend tomorrow!" She jumps around gleefully, then stops, eyes wide. "I have to pack! I love you, I love you, I love you." She hugs me quickly and grabs her things, jerking her coat on as she runs out the door.
Chapter title actually means "Ugly Shoes" in Italian. It was all I could come up with, leave me alone.