"I can't believe you guys convinced me to come here," I mutter, frustrated.
Like I want to be anywhere near in Dylan's presence. Despite it not being his fault, I still lost my cool when I saw him with Bex that night, two years ago, at Aqueela and Jay's house party. It's a sore spot.
"Oh, please!" Bell scoffs in ridicule. "AJ just had to bat her eyes at you – the girl has you wrapped around her finger."
I roll my eyes at her, annoyed about just how right she is.
My gaze soon lands on AJ again. She's happily chirping to Dylan and Simo while ordering another bubblegum ice cream for herself.
"You guys know that she's the exact replica of Aqueela, right?" I ask them, unable to break my stare. I'm transfixed by her presence and I hate it.
Max shakes his head, convinced otherwise. "Nah-uh. She's much more compliant than Aqueela. If Aqueels were here, she'd be arguing with Simo, no doubt, or causing some kind of scene."
Bell nods in agreement, backing Max up. "That's my best friend."
Max suddenly places his cone down. "Man, ice cream sucks without Aqueela around."
It didn't look that way a couple minutes ago...
"You were close, huh?" I ask, already aware of the answer. Aqueela doesn't have any friends who aren't close.
"She's still the best," Max admits, unashamed. "I gotta say, I start to miss her all over again when she's brought up into conversation...which is often by the way." He sends Bell a look.
Bell sends her boyfriend a sheepish look in response as if to convey that she's unable to help herself.
"And you're not upset that she left?" I question, confused. He and Bell knew her longer than I did. How can they be taking it better than me?
"Aqueela doesn't do anything without a reason," Max answers with a half shrug, understanding of the situation.
"That's exactly what she does!" I exclaim in exasperation. "She does everything without a reason."
"Let me rephrase," Max corrects himself, "she doesn't do anything without a reason that looks valid to her and invalid to everybody else around her."
Bell nods from deep thought. "Sounds about right."
Before I can say more, AJ takes her seat across from me, her brunette locks bouncing around her flawless face. "What I miss?"
"Nothing." I brush the matter off. I don't feel like anymore 'Aqueela' talk, least of all with AJ – her double.
AJ rolls her blue eyes at me. "It's always nothing with you."
"And it's always something with you," I retort stubbornly, refusing to let whatever-this-is go.
"I still think you guys should just over head to couple therapy or couple anger management classes or something like that," Max adds his useless input from another mouthful of bubblegum ice cream – so much for ice cream sucking without Aqueela being here.
AJ and I answer in unison:
"We're not a couple, doofus!"
"That's a great idea, Max!"
We both end up glaring at each other after registering the other's response.
"Well, fancy meeting you here. Must be fate."
I hit my forehead against the table several times. I'm aware of who the voice belongs to without having to look. He's the only moron I know that uses such cheap pickup lines – well, other than Blubber Wilson...but he's in a whole league of his own.
"Hey, Oliver." AJ greets politely, a smile on her face. She's incapable of being rude or unfriendly. It's just not in her nature...I guess Max is right about her and Aqueela not being one in the same after all.
"How about that number I asked for?" Oliver asks before noticing me. "Oh...hey, Ben. How do you know AJ?"
"She's my girlfriend." I lie on instinct.
Let's see him try ruin me twice.
AJ narrows her eyes at me in irritation. 'Unbelievable', she mouths to me.
Yeah...I can't even blame her this time. I literally denied any relationship between us just seconds ago.
"I don't believe you," Oliver taunts me, still covered in bruises. I have half the mind to pick up my phone and call Landon to finish the job.
"I don't care," I respond, going ridged in my seat. It's also then that I see AJ watching me carefully.
"So, how about that number?" Oliver asks AJ again, confident.
She refocuses her gaze on him instead of me, her attention having shifted back to him.
I sigh and turn to look at Bell and Max in defeat. Bell is glowering at Oliver, having picked up on my dislike for him. Unsurprisingly, Max is oblivious to all the tension and continues eating his 'sucky' ice cream without a worry in the world.
AJ takes us all by complete surprise when she slowly shakes her head at Oliver. "I'm with him," she says before jutting out a finger at me.
I cover my shock with a casual grin. I lean back in my seat and smirk up at Oliver. "Run along now. I'm sure the type you're looking for are waiting for you on street corners."
Furious, he makes a move to reach me.
I flinch back just as Bell stands up and shoves him away from us. "Get a move on before I make you." She threatens him, unafraid.
I need to start appreciating my hot-headed friends more...
Oliver glances from me to AJ before finally leaving out the door.
Dylan and Simo begin clapping for Bell.
"Good going. That guy is the worst," Dylan hollers over to us, sending Bell an appreciative thumbs-up.
"You got that right," I pipe up, actually agreeing with him.
"Let's hope he never comes back." Dylan snickers.
Max chokes on his ice cream, bewildered, as he slowly connects the dots. "What the hell just happened?! I thought we were all having a nice, peaceful conversation."
Bell shakes her head at him with a huff. "Keep up, Max."
"Meh," he shrugs again, having recovered from his choking fit, "I'd rather not."
I look up to find AJ analyzing me as if seeing right through me.
"Some guy you used to know?" She asks.
I shake my head. "No. Some guy I thought I knew."