A/N: Yes, I get the weirdest story ideas while babysitting. This is for the people who read the story before it was posted and were nice about it. R&R
As soon as Maggie's breathing became slow and even, I gently lifted her hand off of mine and got up. I tiptoed downstairs and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels until I settled on a rerun of House, and then I pulled out my bottle of nail polish and added an umpteenth coat of black to my thickly painted nails. I screwed the lid back on and blew on the nails as Dr. Cuddy argued with House.
In the bedroom off the dining room, I heard Maggie and Colin's grandmother, a ninety-year-old woman who was slightly senile and kept mostly to herself, talking on the phone. Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher had told me that she probably wouldn't come out of her room, and that I should just check on her every hour. I'd never babysat an old lady before, but I'd never babysat for the Gallaghers before either, so I didn't say anything in the hopes that I'd be invited back.
I settled back into the red leather couch, still absently blowing on my nails. I ignored Gama Gallagher as her voice got louder, instead turning the volume up two more notches.
An episode and a half later, the doorbell rang, jerking me out of my semi-consciousness. Gama Gallagher was snoring loudly in the other room, so when the asshole at the door rang again, this time knocking on it, too, I got up. God, he better not wake Maggie and Colin up. It took fifteen minutes just to get Colin under his covers. I fixed my bangs, which had split down the middle into an upside-down V, as I passed the mirror in the front hall, and I looked through the pane of glass in the top of the door.
A guy with blondish-brown hair around my age was pounding on the door. Now he was shouting, "Gama! Gama, are you there?" too.
I yanked the door open. "She's asleep," I snapped at him. "And so are the kids. Shut up." I looked him over, and I crossed my arms across my chest. He looked at me like he was waiting for me to scream. Then I realized who he was.
"You're Jake Gallagher," I said flatly.
"And you're not screaming." He scratched his forehead, then put his hands in the pockets of his jacket. "I'm pretty sure you don't live here, either."
"I'm Ray," I said, and then I shivered at the crisp air the open door was letting inside. "I'm babysitting Maggie and Colin." And your grandmother, I thought but didn't say.
"God. Why did Gama call me?" he mumbled, pushing his way inside. Rude little teen pop star, are we? I locked the door as he jiggled the doorknob on the door to Gama Gallagher's room. When it wouldn't budge, he pulled a pack of toothpicks out of his pocket and stuck one into the little hole in the knob. The door clicked and he went into her room.
He said something to her in a low voice. I peeked into the doorway. Gama Gallagher was awake now, grinning happily, and Jake looked peeved.
"Look! There she is now." Gama Gallagher pointed at me. "She's cute, isn't she?" she asked Jake. I blinked. She's way more senile than I thought if she called Jake Gallagher here because she wanted to set him up with me.
I moved onto the couch again, rewinding the TV until I was back to where I had left off when the doorbell rang. Five minutes later, Jake walked into the room.
"Um…" he said awkwardly. He played with the spiked up bit in the front of his hair and shifted nervously on his feet by the doorway. "This is going to sound incredibly weird, but my grandmother thinks we should be dating." I raised an eyebrow to say so what? and turned to him, pausing the TV. He rocked back and forth on his feet. "And my driver's not coming back until one, so…"
"So what?" I said out loud. "I'm not going to fall all over you screaming your name if that's what you're waiting for." I punched the play button and turned back to House.
I turned to him. He looked surprised. "No, I'm not. And any smidgen of respect I had for you as a teenage musician is going out the window if that's what you expected me to do."
"Respect," he repeated. "You respect me."
"I did until a minute ago." I rewinded the TV. "Now shut up. They're figuring it out."
Instead of detailing the end of the episode for you, I think I should explain a bit as to why I'm bitching off to a virtual stranger. See, Jake Gallagher is a Billboard-number-one-album-selling teen pop star who uses liberal amounts of gel to spike up the front of his hair, has the guy-and-his-guitar-facing-the-big-bad-world thing going on, and huge eyes that are a kaleidoscope of blues and greens. As a result, he has thousands of screaming fangirls—the kind who cause riots at his public appearances, send him way too much fan mail, and pin his picture wherever they're legally allowed. It's worse than Twilight and Justin Bieber combined and it sickens me just as much as the idea of screaming Justin Bieber and Twilight fangirls in the same room. Like I said though, yeah, I respect him. He's not a Jonas Brother or something, and he's this famous all without Disney or similar squeaky-clean idiots like that, so it's pretty cool how big he is all by himself. So that's where the respect used to come in, before I met him and saw what a big deal he thinks he is.
He sat down at the opposite end of the couch, still looking dumbfounded. As soon as the commercials started, I turned to him and said, "Get that look off your face. You're well aware there are just as many haters as there are fans."
"Yeah, but you're the first one I've actually met," he muttered. He shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over the back of the couch.
"I'm not a hater," I said. "But I'm so not a fangirl."
"Please, expand on that," Jake said with an undertone of sarcasm.
"I thought you seemed like a cool guy until you came and expected me to smother you with kisses and present you with a fruit basket," I said. "So now it's pretty obvious you don't deserve any respect."
"Look, Kay," he began.
"Not my name," I said, turning away and flipping through the channel guide again.
"May?" he tried.
"You're not very good at this. It's Ray. Short for Mirayna."
"I've never heard that name before. It's cool."
"No sucking up to try and get me to buy your album. I prefer Jimmy Eat World to Jake Gallagher." He crossed his arms. "Anyway, what were you saying before you forgot my name?"
"Okay, Ray, I'll admit I was expecting a reaction really different from the one I got."
"Finally, the truth," I muttered.
He glared at me. "But you were honest. That's so much more than so many people are." He laughed. "It's kind of refreshing, actually. Everybody lies—"
"That's from House," I interjected,
"Let me finish. Everybody lies to me in this business. They tell me how much they love me when they just want to see me fail. My 'best friends"—two guys named Dizzy and Lee, both the sons of A-list actors—"are just around me for the publicity, my real friends in Franklin think I'm a pretty boy sell out now, and I'd honestly rather be back in my room playing guitar or watching TV than faking it for the cameras."
I was speechless. He really wasn't an airheaded pretty boy like I thought. "What's 'it?'"
"Everything," he said plainly. "My social life, my friends…yeah, pretty much everything but the music. That's the only part they aren't allowed to mess with."
"Why'd you let them mess with everything else?"
"Because there's dozens of them—publicists, managers, reporters, paparazzi, producers—and one of me. I didn't really have a choice."
Wow. For the first time, I saw this guy as smart. Actually, he was also really cute now that I saw him when he wasn't surrounded by a thousand screaming preteens. I guess it goes to show that celebrities aren't who you think they are based on the interviews or the stories in Us Weekly.
We sat in silence for a minute. "Hungry?" he asked, breaking the silence. He got up and opened a cabinet, and took a bag of Tostitos. He brought them over to the couch and sat down a lot closer to me than he had been before, holding the bag out. "Ladies first," he said, shaking the bag and making the chips rattle. "Come on, they're not poisoned, and Aunt Lorraine won't mind. Chill out." I took a chip and gave him a half-smile, which he returned. "So you're a Jimmy Eat World fan?" he asked. He ate a chip.
"Yeah. Have you heard anything besides 'The Middle?'" I bet he'd say no.
I was right. "Not really. What are some good songs?"
"'Pain' is absolutely their best song, hands down. 'Blister' and 'Sweetness' are also amazing. And album-wise, I think Clarity is the best. Some people have even called it the best album of the nineties. I was so pissed I couldn't get tickets for the tenth year anniversary concert last year."
"So, Clarity?" he asked. He had his iPhone out and was on iTunes.
"Yeah. It's a freaking fantastic album." looked at his screen. "If you're buying albums, get Bleed American, too. It's incredible too, and I love it, but I just love Clarity more."
He downloaded both albums, then set his phone on the coffee table and hit play. "Bleed American" started playing, and soon Jim Adkins was belting out, "Salt, sweat, sugar on the asphalt, our hearts littering the topsoil."
"Wow," Jake said a few tracks into the album. "This is really good."
"I love Jimmy Eat World," I said, leaning back further into the buttery leather. "They were one of the first bands to be pegged as an emo group, you know."
"Cool. I didn't know, actually. When I hear 'emo,' I think Fall Out Boy."
"As do most people," I said. "But with reason. In my opinion, they totally redefined emo."
He didn't say anything, and I closed my eyes. "Sweetness" was playing, and I was falling into it. My dad thinks that's a problem, being able to tune everything else out and just listen. I thought it was my best and most developed skill. I wanted to do reviews someday, and as soon as I'm sixteen—ten more months—I'm applying for a job at the record store.
When the album finished and Jake moved to put Clarity on, I realized his fingers were locked in mine. Funny how I didn't notice it earlier, because now it felt like I had stuck my hand in a pot of boiling water.
While "Ten" was playing, I faintly heard a door open behind us and looked down at my watch. It was already past eleven. Time flies when the music's good.
"Ray, please tell me you didn't invite someone over," Mrs. Gallagher said, her voice dripping with how much she disapproved.
"Hey, Aunt Lorraine," Jake said, pausing the music. "Gama kind of tricked me over here." He looked at me sheepishly, untangling his fingers from mine. "She thought Ray, uh, seemed like my 'type.'"
"Apparently she is," Mr. Gallagher said, raising an eyebrow. I blushed, and Jake's ears went pink.
"Well, you're welcome to stay overnight, Jake," Mrs. Gallagher said. "You know we love having you here, and Maggie and Colin would love to see you, too."
"You know what?" he said. "That sounds good. I have to call Burt, though, to try and get him to let me stay—"
"If that asswipe gives you a hard time, I'll give him a piece of my mind," Mr. Gallagher growled. "I can't stand the bastard."
"Louie!" Mrs. Gallagher snapped.
"And I have to call Kenny and tell him not to pick me up," Jake finished. "Be right back." He disappeared into the front hall with his cell phone in hand. I gave Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher the report on Colin and Maggie—they were fine, they went to bed on time, no problems, blah blah blah—and Mrs. Gallagher handed me my salary.
A few minutes later, Jake was yelling into the phone. "It's my life, Burt! I can do whatever the hell I want!" and Mr. Gallagher hissed and went into the front hall with his teeth bared like a tiger.
"Jake's manager is the most god-awful person I've ever met," Mrs. Gallagher whispered to me. "Jake's only with him because he's the most successful in the business."
Now Mr. Gallagher was yelling into the phone with his neck veins throbbing. I looked out around the corner and Jake was leaning against the wall, frowning and scratching his neck as his uncle screamed at his manager.
"I don't care if he has rehearsal tomorrow! He's my goddamn nephew and he can choose what he wants to do. He's sixteen, for God's sake, and he has ever fucking right to stay in his hometown overnight with his family!" Mr. Gallagher paused. "No, he won't go outside into the daylight where there are people. We'll treat him like one of those sparkly vampires. Goodbye." I heard some tinny shouting coming from the phone, but Mr. Gallagher pressed a button and ended the call.
Mr. Gallagher came back in while Jake called his driver, looking pissed off. He muttered something obscene under his breath and his wife shot him a death glare.
Jake came back in a minute later. "Can I walk her back?" he asked. The Gallaghers looked at each other. "Come on; it's almost midnight, she probably lives right down the street, and no one will see me. Please?"
They agreed, and Jake put on his jacket, helped me into my jacket, and opened the door for me. Funny, a couple hours ago I was the one opening the door.
My house was six houses down and across the street, and Jake stood with me under the porch light for a minute. I bit my lip, wondering what he was going to do. "Give me your phone for a second," he said. He pulled open a new contact, wrote in his number, and handed it back to me. "Put my name in as Jay. If anyone asks, I'm your friend from camp."
"Why not Jake? I already know like six guys named Jake. Your first name's not that uncommon."
He rolled his eyes. "Do you have any idea what would happen if my number got out?"
"Mass hysteria among thirteen-year-olds?" I guessed.
"Try a clogged text inbox, hundreds of voicemails, the phone ringing off the hook, the ability to track me, and I'd have to change my number again." I must have looked confused, because he continued, "When I got signed, I had to get a new phone so none of my old contacts could spread my number if I made it big. I still mix both the numbers up."
He handed me his phone and I added myself to his contacts. "Come up to the house tomorrow," he told me. "It'd be cool to see you again before I have to go back into the city."
"I'll try," I said. He smiled, then hugged me. I hugged him back.
"Bye, Ray," he said, stepping off the porch and smiling over his shoulder.
"Bye," I said, smiling back and letting myself in. I locked the door behind me, called "hey" to my mom, and went upstairs to my room.
I swear to God, if twelve hours ago someone told me I would have a crush on Jake Gallagher, his cell phone number in my phone, and an invitation to see him again, I would have sent them to a psych ward. This is the weirdest, most unexpected, totally psychotic day of my life so far, and I had a feeling everything was just going to get weirder.