Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 11: Disservice to Humanity

“Excuse me, kind sir, could I please have a warm pumpkin spice latte with extra whipped cream?” Troy signals to a nearby officer as if in the right to ask such a question. “Warden, my nerves are skyrocketing.” Troy adds in hopes of manipulating the cop. As if for emphasis, Troy purposely shakes and trembles as if genuinely in shock.

“What do you think this is?” The cop brushes Troy’s request aside before taking the liberty to remind him, “You’re in jail.” The officer then glances to the head officer, his superior, who happens to be standing beside Jay, Dean and some other guy I don’t recognize, “When is this one,” he points to Troy, “going?”

I don’t blame him. If I were him, I’d also be counting down the minutes until Troy is released. Troy, like expected, is a difficult prisoner to deal with. Lucky for the cop, he won’t ever have to see Troy again after this. The rest of us aren’t as fortunate.

“No to worry, soon.” The head officer replies back to his inferior. Jay happens to be waiting patiently next to him. “I understand, it makes you wish we could use the electrocution chair on him.” The cops are downright fed up with Troy and all his petty demands. Troy seems to think he’s on vacation.

“This is an outrage, preposterous!” Troy frowns at the officers as he begins to rant, “When I get out, I’m going to tell my fans, the press and media how derogatory cops are, and how prison feels like purgatory. It’s unacceptable. I’m going to sue all the prisons on the face of this earth for not treating their guests with the utmost respect.”

Just when I think Troy can’t possibly be more stupid…he’s not even in prison…

Benley shakes his head at Troy in disapproval, “Give it a rest man. You haven;t veen been to prison…yet. We’re in jail.”

“Oh shut it BoyBand! You’re not even going to be alive when we bust out. Bells is sacrificing you. Play your part!” Troy argues with him, unintentionally speaking of a breakout plan right in front of the police - only Troy.

“You’re all lucky Frank here isn’t pressing charges,” the superior police officer nods at the one we best know as Dave, putting an end to Troy’s debate with Benley. Frankenstein would match Dave perfectly, I’ll accept it. “You’re all free to go,” the officer tells us before motioning to Jay, standing beside him, as he goes onto to explain, “no thanks to your good friend over here. He managed to reason with Frank. He’s here to bail you all out, no charges.”

“JT to the rescue, why am I not surprised?” Emma asks with a peppy grin, excited to get out of here. Me, on the other hand, I still prefer being locked in a prison cell than being stuck in a hospital waiting room.

Jay shrugs carelessly in a laid-back manner, offering her a small smile, his hands deep inside his jean pockets. I can’t help but be overcome be jealousy at the smile Emma just received from him. It feels like it’s been ages since I got that smile from him. I’d kill to see it again, kill to see it aimed at me instead.

“BroJay!” Troy interrupts me from my pestering thoughts as he runs to the bars, reaching through it to touch Jay’s forehead as if he’s not worthy, “I knew you’d come for me!” He shouts out in desperation and glee as he places the palm of his hand flat against Jay’s forehead, “I knew you wouldn’t let me rot in this hell hole!”

If anything, Troy’s been treated like a damn King in here. It’s been luxurious for him. He’s so ungrateful. He got his own cell for goodness sake! What more does he want (other than a pumpkin spice latte)?!

Jay’s face falls in distaste as he steps back, just out of Troy’s reach, and swats Troy’s hand away, “I’m doing you all a solid.” He tells Troy kindly, hoping to not come across as rude. In the past, he couldn’t care less if he was rude. He’s changed for the best.

“Don’t touch his face!” The random guy, standing beside Jay, scolds Troy, “He doesn’t like that.” He informs Troy in a bossy tone.

“Don’t tell me what do you little dweeb!” Troy hisses back, jumping to his own defense, “BroJay loves me. I’m his favorite person alive and dead.”

“Yeah whatever. He’s only nice to you out of pity. I’m his real best friend.” This dude insists much to Troy’s growing jealousy and much to Grey’s impending doom. I’m certain that Jay’s true best friend can only be Grey. The two just get each other. It’s the bromance of the century, with Landon and Xavier taking a close second place.

Troy gasps dramatically, his mouth falling agape as he takes offence, “You hush your face! I’ll have you know that I’m his real best friend!” Troy crosses his arms over his chest in disgust at the new dude, truly repulsed by his presence.

“Unbelievable.” Benley sighs in despair, “It seems I’m really not getting out of here alive.”

I understand where Benley is coming from. Troy and this new guy are delaying our release. I’ll end them both if they don’t shut the hell up. Landon beats me to it, “Shut the hell up or I’ll end you both.” Genius minds think alike. You go Lan!

“Yes Landon, make threats on their lives while we’re being detained, and in front of cops too.” Sarah retorts sarcastically, unimpressed with her boyfriend’s untamed/out of control temper.

“Let’s speed this up and get you delinquents out of here.” The police officer persists, eager to get rid of us. However, he’s reluctant to let us free when we’re all arguing. He’s dealt with enough fights for today.

“Whoo!” Troy cheers in pure bliss, overjoyed to leave, as he starts doing the moon walk across his private cell, “Get me out of here! Get me out of here!” He chimes, humming to a tune as he belts out random lyrics of Esmee Denter’s song.

“You all owe Jay big time!” The new guy commands, taking charge on his own accord.

We all glance to Jay for an explanation, confused as to what the hell is happening. Jay offers a sheepish grin as a result as he finally introduces the guy, “Leban, met him in South Africa a year ago.” He briefly explains, “He decided to come back to America with me.”

Troy glares at Leban defiantly, jealous of his relationship with Jay, “Go back to Africa.” He mutters, annoyed. “This is our land. You’re not pioneering here you trespasser.”

Dean, now out of jail (I’m guessing Jay - with all his hard-earned, newfound racing cash - bailed him out earlier too), shakes his head at us in disapproval as if he hadn’t just been in jail moments ago. Hypocrite! He glances at the head cop and offers him an acknowledging nod, “Officer.” He grins, saluting him as if completely innocent in all things.

It’s all his fault we’re here to begin with!

“Wyatt.” The officer sighs at him as if relieved that Dean is finally going home. A week of Dean is powerful enough to kill anyone. Nonetheless, I think Troy will give Dean a run for his money in being the worst prisoner ever.

“Some people…no morals whatsoever…” Dean gestures to us with disgust before turning back to the officer, “am I right Sir?”

Biggest hypocrite ever!

“Son, you were literally released from jail a few minutes ago. You don’t have any place to speak. “Your father is very disappointed in you for getting arrested, again.” He tells Dean straightforwardly as if exhausted with dealing with him. “And stop calling me sir. We’re on a fist name basis now. You’ve been held here for a week already and this isn’t the first time Dean.”

So Dean’s a rebel then and Grey’s a nerd…I did not see any of this coming. Life never gets old.

As soon as the cell is unlocked, unsurprisingly Troy is the first to push past and shove us all out of his way, yelling ‘freedom’ atop his lungs as he does so. He’s acting as if we were stuck in there for years. Bells trips as a result of her brother’s clumsiness. She’s quick to get up and rip him back by the scruff of his hair. The both of them end up stumbling into Grey who almost collapses on moody Benley.

“Watch it!” Grey barks at them, quickly fixing up his spiky hair as if it’s the most important thing in the world.

The Bensten siblings are a dangerous duo…

“Don’t think you guys are off scot-free; you’ll all be doing community service for the elderly residing in town, starting bright and early tomorrow morning.” The chief officer bursts our bubbles.

We all groan in unison and apologize to Dave/Frank on our way out. Meanwhile, all the officers say goodbye to Dean. It seems everyone here knows Dean. It makes me wonder just how many times he’s been arrested. Some even have the audacity say ‘see you again soon’ to him as we depart from the police station. It’s like second nature to them. Dean is obviously quite the handful.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” Jay mutters in irritation as soon as we’re out of hearing shot, “Do you all realize how humiliating it is to get a phone call saying that just about everyone I know is in jail for starting a riot?” Jay queries, addressing the whole gang with anger. I feel like he’s the parent and we’re all the children being reprimanded by him.

“We’re sorry Jay.” We all mumble in unison, shamefully, like toddlers. Troy’s the only one who takes the liberty to say it was all Grey.

“I get that you’re mad Jay, but the important thing here, is did you bring any food?” Max asks, insensitive as always. When he’s hungry, food is all he cares about. That’s Max Mills for you.

Jay sighs reluctantly before handing Max a bag of chips as if predicting this beforehand. He’s always a step ahead of everyone. Glancing back at the rest of us, he chooses to forgive us and let it go, “It’s fine.” He says reluctantly. He then turns to face me, his expression unreadable, “Why did you start a riot?” He asks knowingly, “You never learn.” He concludes with a blazing glint of fire to his blue eyes, “If you try to torch a place, obviously there will be consequences.” He lectures me, just like old times - except, this time, he’s actually mad at me.

Feeling overwhelmed, I look elsewhere, anywhere but at Jay.

“Go easy on her man, we all played a part in it.” Landon, shockingly enough, is the first to jump to my defense.

“Be accountable for once, Aqueela. You’re not some indestructible overlord that can spit on all authority. Grow up.” Jay concludes, blaming me for it all. I suppose I am the one who started it. I deserve to take the fall, no matter how steep it might be.

“Wait, hold up!” Leban interjects, pointing at me accusingly, “She’s Aqueela?” He asks Jay as if having heard a lot about me. Jay gives him a look of warning in turn. Leban fails to fall silent, and instead continues on, “Woah!” He turns to take in my appearance, “The girl is on fire. Intoxicating.” He whistles suggestively before glancing back at Jay, “You never said she looked like that.” He glances back at me for a final time.

Jay sends Leban a flat glare in warning, “Leban.”

It’s as if Leban comes to his senses. “You can do better.” He says to Jay in front of me, rubbing salt in the deep wound. “You should have left her in jail.”

I’m not just going to stand here and take crap from some idiot I don’t even know. I glower at the one known as Leban, “Relax, I know I’m in a post-awesome phase right now. You don’t have to point it out. Now calm down and feel free to pack all those veins back into your gigantic forehead.” I insult him, severely irritated.

Leban recoils back as if offended by what I just said, “Jeez! No chill on you.”

“You just got Aqueela’d, punk!” Max throws it in his face, standing up for me. Gotta love him.

“You’re nasty.” Leban shoots me a venomous glare, “Jay’s right. You’re a-“

Jay slaps his hand over Leban’s mouth before Leban can finish his sentence, “Enough chit-chat.” Jay intervenes, not allowing me to hear what Leban was about to say. No doubt Jay’s been calling me names. I guess it’s within good reason. I deserve it. After what I did to him, I deserve so much worse. Then again, I can handle anything thrown at me. I’m made of steel.

Grey, the recluse, sizes Leban up with disinterest, “Insulting Lawson is more my thing.” Grey informs Leban threateningly. I’ve never realized, up until now, that he is super defensive over being the only one to badmouth me. So sweet!

“That’s right, you wild stallion you,” Troy pipes up as he turns his death stare onto the South African, “so why don’t you get back on your horse, or your pet lion or whatever, and trot back to your homeland.”

Benley slaps his forehead upon hearing Troy’s pointless remark, “You just called him a horse and then told him to get back on his horse.” He points out, bringing it to Troy’s attention.

“I don’t own a horse. We have cars in Africa as well, you stupid nutcase.” Leban corrects Troy’s illogical and very offensive theory.

“Yeah and next you’ll say you have roads and buildings in Africa too.” Troy laughs before turning to his sister, jutting out his thumb in Leban’s direction mockingly, “Get a load of this guy.” He laughs tauntingly at Leban as if Leban is the dumb one. Bells merely rolls her eyes at her brother, speechless at his stupidity.

“He prefers the term ‘awesome beyond comprehension’ to ‘stupid nutcase’.” Max backs his buddy up. Max is loyal until the grave. He’s the friend everyone wishes to have and he also happens to be on a roll today.

Leban attacks Max next as a result of him standing up for Troy, “You and her just don’t make sense to me.” He express his opinion as he motions from Bells to Max, obviously insulting Max. There’s no way he’s insulting Bells. She is the very indention of perfection. He’s saying that Bells is out of Max’s league. Newsflash to Leban, that’s old news.

“Maybe our kids will clear things up for you.” Max retorts with a comeback of his own, emphasizing the ‘kids’ part.

“Ooooh snap!” Troy shakes his hand loosely with enthusiasm as he watches the argument play out, “Where’s the buttered popcorn? BroGrey go and ask the cops for some popcorn.” He demands, always resorting to annoying Grey. Troy’s a guy after my own heart.

“No.” Grey refuses simply.

“Are they, your kids, in jail too?” Leban insults Max’s credibility as a parent.

Low blow!

Acting on impulse, I send my fist flying into Leban’s face. Max and Bells are both already so insecure about being parents, they don’t need the discouragement.

“What the hell Aqueela?!” Benley shouts out in terror and shock, his eyes wide in alarm, “Stop punching people in the face!” He scolds me, referring to the fact that I had already punched Grey too.

I send BoyBand a glare that instantly shuts him up, “You’re next.” I threaten him. Benley’s quick to move out of my reach as a result, making it apparent that he’s backing off. He knows I follow through on what I say. He has it coming.

“I can vouch, her punches are…unpleasant.” Grey admits in shame whilst Jay, Max and Xavier all nod in agreement - they’d know.

“You b*tch!” Leban scowls at me in distaste as he holds his nose, trying to stop the bleeding. Max and Troy both snicker at his expense - typical of them.

I shrug carelessly at Leban and purse my lips, unfazed, “Sounds about right.” I agree with him all too easily. It’s not like I haven’t heard worse before. Eventually, you become immune to it.

“How do you like them apples?” Max grins at Leban in victory as he casually swings an arm around my shoulders, proud to be my friend. He leans down and grins at me in gratitude, “You’re the bestest b*tch ever, you know that right?” He offers me a sincere smile filled with warmth to show that he means it.

It’s not like I was going to stand back and just let Leban insult Max and Bells on their parenting skills. It’s just not permitted, ever.

“I’m going to count to three and then I expect an apology from you.” Leban warns me as if I should care, as if I should be worried. “One,” he glowers at me as I try to stifle my laughter. Does he really think this will work? I’m not threatened by him at all. He’s an idiot. “Two.” He narrows his eyes at me, expecting me to cave and apologize. No can do! It’s not happening. He has a few things to learn about me. I’ll be sure to teach him quickly.

Jay, knowing that I won’t apologize on demand, tries to put a stop to it, “Leban maybe-“

“Three.” Leban concludes with a frown, his plan completely backfiring when I refuse to apologize for improving his face. If anything, he should be thanking me.

I pretend to shiver in fear, seemingly afraid, “What happens next?” I challenge Leban, blinking innocently up at him whilst thoroughly enjoying his expression of defeat, “Four?” I joke, tormenting him with my loud laughter.

“That’s if he can count.” Troy adds in hopes of getting a laugh out of someone. He wants his fair share of attention. He can’t go long without it. It’s the force that keeps him going. Troy turns to Grey, raising his hand for a high five, “Am I right, or am I right BroGrey?”

Grey just stares at Troy’s raised hand before turning away, making his rejection clear as day. He leaves Troy hanging. Ouch. It’s gotta sting.

Troy lifts his fist to Max instead, knowing he’ll get a reaction out of Max, “Who da man?”

“You da!” Max raises his tone in enthusiasm before fist bumping Troy’s outstretched fist.

Troy grins in delight before making an explosion with his hands through repetitive claps, “Boom!”

“Kaboom!” Max follows on from where Troy left off.

“Wiggle to the left!” Troy orders as he and Max both both move to the left through backstroke movements - Hawaiian style.

“Now wiggle to the right!” Max persists, the both of them using ‘ocean-wave-like-movements’ as they shuffle to the right.

“We set the whole damn place alight!” They chorus together in unison before breaking into hectic dance moves.

The inside jokes between these two losers…

Grey rolls his eyes at the two of them, unimpressed by their antics. Ryan, on the other hand, seems to have another approach altogether, “You gotta love hanging with you morons.” He smirks, briefly making eye contact with me as he does so. It seems he’s using his phone around us less and less. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. “The hatred among you all is amusing as hell.” He grins as if satisfied by the outcome.

“Dude, we’re all about free loving in this circle!” Troy corrects Ryan, still clueless as to what ‘free loving’ is. “No place for hatred - except if it’s for Lebham, then it’s acceptable.” Troy is so envious of Leban’s friendship with Jay, it’s not even funny. “LebHamtaro is a tyrant, a slave driver. No one likes him.” Troy remarks as if Leban himself can’t hear his insults. He’s saying it loud on purpose. There are many flies on this one.

“It’s Leban.” Leban corrects Troy as if that’s the only part he heard apart from the whole ‘free loving’ concept. “And I’m standing right here.”

Ryan’s mouth falls agape at Troy’s statement, “Wait, what?” He sputters out, perplexed. Baffled, he begins to ramble anxiously, “I had no idea you were all into that stuff. If I knew I wouldn’t have…look, it’s not really my thing and-“

Nancy makes an attempt to set Ryan straight, but I stop her. Instead, I confirm Troy’s words, “That’s right Ry, we’re all about the ‘free loving’ thing.” Maybe that will be enough to scare him away. I place my arm around Bells and draw her close as if to emphasize my point. Bells decides to go with it and nods. She’s not as wound up as she used to be. She can take a joke these days. The five years I’ve been away have been good for her. She’s learned to chill out every now and again.

Sarah - having already clicked that I’m just teasing - giggles behind her fist, much to the amusement of her boyfriend.

Despite Troy being wrong about the entire concept of ‘free loving’, I can’t help but admire him for what he really means. He’s saying that in this friendship, we all look out for each other. We have each other’s backs in spite of our differences. When it comes down to it, we can count on one another. Our friends will see us through. Our friends are our family.

Grey scoffs, “No we’re not.” He shakes his head at me before turning to Ryan, ruining the buzz entirely, “Rule number one, never listen to anything she says.” He gestures to me, “She’s a downright lunatic.” You’d think he’d let me have this one seeing as he hates Ryan, but no!

Ryan lets out a breath of relief upon hearing the truth. He got worried there for a second. I would’ve preferred it had he stayed in the dark. Ah well…

“Pishaw. Says you.” I wink at Grey playfully, “Hows that face of yours doing, ready to meet my fist for round two?” I tease in good nature, subtly threatening him.

“You’re such a firecracker! It’s endearing.” Dean chortles, captivated by my comments, before purposely blowing a flirtatious kiss my way.

“Knock it off man.” Landon reprimands his friend, setting Dean back in place.

I’m about to insult Dean, but fall quiet when I see the puzzled expression on Jay’s face as he glances from Dean back to me in curiosity. He scrunches up his face in turn, his eyebrows furrowed as if in deep thought, as if definitely not on board with whatever it is that is currently running through his mind. He lifts his face to meet my gaze. His expression falters at the sight of me. My pulse automatically quickens. When he catches me staring, he’s quick to recover and mask his expression to one of indifference again.

I sigh to myself. I wish he’d just let it go and forgive me - but if anything, I’ll have to work to get him back. It will be far from easy; we’re estranged to each other. Yet if he’s the end prize, it will be worth it.

I’m taken out of my thoughts by the sound of Troy and Max arguing. They always go from being best buds to the worst enemies in a second. It’s just how they roll:

“You’re stupid!” Troy shouts at Max, much to Bell’s rising irritation levels.

“No you!” Max retorts childishly.

“You more!” Troy insists stubbornly, baiting Max down to his level.

“You so much more!” Max argues back, unintentionally falling to Troy’s level of childishness.

“You so so so much much more!” Troy hisses back, now on the defense in spite of him no doubt starting it.

Bells huffs, placing her hands on her hips, as she shakes her head at the two of them, “Here we go again. I’m just along for the ride.” Bells deserves a medal of valor for putting up with those two everyday. I wouldn’t survive. I’m weak.

“Quit it!” Benley places his hands against his ears to block out the noise, directing his words to the two idiots of the group, “You guys sound like two velociraptors fighting over a bagpipe.” He’d better not intervene unless he wants their T-Rex side to come out. They have that side to them, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and it is scary to say the least.

“I hate you.” Troy glares darkly at Max. “You no longer have the potential to be my best friend.” Troy snarls before involving me, “Aqueela’s my new best friend.” Troy hauls me his way against my will. Why can’t Ramos be his new best friend?!

“She’s already mine!” Max pulls me back by my arm.

“Mine!” Troy insists as he yanks me his way, forgetting that I’m an actual person and not some rag doll.

I shove them both away, “Stop it.” I growl at them, “I dislike you both equally.”

They’re silent for a second or two before Troy blinks and starts the argument up again, “That’s code for she likes me better than you.”

I ignore them this time.

Benley turns his pleading gaze onto me, knowing beforehand that I’ll help someone in true desperation, “I got to get back. AJ’s called me at least twenty times already. She’s heading back to New York tomorrow, so I want to at least spend tonight with her. Alone. The sooner we head back, the more time I have with her before she flies back out tomorrow morning.” He explains himself, hoping I’d intervene on his behalf.

I nod in understanding before pulling him aside, “Listen Benley, I love you and everything, but don’t be an idiot with AJ. She’s special. Hold onto her tightly.” I advise, trying to lend him a hand and help him out as best I can, “As your friend, as your family, I’m telling you to man up and let her know how you feel. She confided in me and she’s insecure about your relationship with Bex.”

“What relationship?” Benley snorts in repulse at reference to Bex, “That woman is a monster, a blood sucking leech of pure evil.” He gets so defensive whenever someone brings Bex up. It’s not normal.

See. That’s your issue.” I bring it to his attention, “If you’re over Bex, then why are you still so hung up on her?” I question, making him think for himself, “Look, I’m not judging you - never will - but figure stuff out for yourself before you end up losing AJ. If you are truly done with Bex, you shouldn’t have such resentment stored up for her. You should simply be indifferent towards her.” I conclude, thinking of Jay whilst I say it. Jay’s indifferent when it comes to me. He’s surely over me. I have to face the facts, whether I want to or not.

Benley, as if reading my mind, places a comforting hand on my shoulder, “If he were indifferent, then why is he giving me his best yet most indiscreet death stare?” Benley asks me, motioning for me to glance backwards.

I look over my shoulder to see him staring intently at us. True to Benley’s words, Jay’s got the death glare down to the tee.

“Told ya.” Benley winks at me before removing his hand off of my shoulder. “If that’s not jealousy, then I don’t know what is.” He grins before adding, “Thanks for the suggestion, for the pep-talk. I’ll be sure to speak to AJ about it. Also, I’d like to leave before your boy gets the chance to kick my ass.”

I return the favor by rounding all up through the loud clapping of my hands, “We’ve got a busy day of community work tomorrow, so let’s all head home, tuck ourselves in bed and get a good night’s rest-” I pause in thought, “to hell with it it, party at Bell’s house!”

“And my house!” Troy and Max add simultaneously.

“Aww yeah buddy!” Leban pipes up even though I didn’t mean to extend the invite his way. He has no fans among us. We prefer Xavier to him. That’s really saying something - Xavier pisses everyone off, deliberately.

“Say what now?” Bells blinks, caught off guard. I didn’t discuss this with her as of yet. It’s the first she’s hearing about it.

“Lame!” Ryan chants aloud just to annoy me. He smirks when he sees me scowling at him for his comment. “It’s just my opinion,” he reassures me before deliberately pushing my buttons, “which always happens to be correct.”

“You’re so full of yourself.” Sarah retorts, choosing to speak on my behalf. There’s only so much she takes until she loses it. If you’ve managed to piss her off, then you know that you’ve seriously messed up. She only explodes on you when absolutely necessary.

“Rich coming from the girl who used to make out with me all the time.” Ryan winks at her before getting hit on his chest by his current girlfriend - Nancy Montry. I have no idea how Nancy puts up with him. Grey is clearly the better choice for her. Grey actually cares.

“You’re asking for it man.” Landon grits out, his hands already clenched into fists. He really does have a short temper. He can’t tolerate anyone messing with him, with his sister or with his girlfriend. Ryan just crossed a line and he’ll live to regret it. Landon’s vicious, pure evil.

“Cool it dude.” Xavier advises, nudging Landon away from Ryan before a physical fight breaks out. Ryan will surely die. If anything, Ryan should thank Xavier for saving his sorry ass.

“I’ll take you both down.” Landon glares at Xavier next, taking out his fury on anyone who dares get involved. He’s deranged, I’m sure of it. It would explain why I relate to him.

“Bring it mate!” Xavier challenges him like the moron he is. The two of them go head to head, Ryan laying low as he watches it play out. You’d think Xavier would have more common sense by now. He knows Landon operates on a short fuse. It’s obvious Ryan is playing the both of them against each other. Males and their damn egos. Ryan is a troublemaker, he likes to stir the pot.

Emma intervenes, stepping in between her husband and her brother, “I swear, start a fight right here, and I will tear you both apart right here.” She warns them with narrowed eyes.

“Sorry Em.” They both quickly chorus as a result, refocusing their energy and channeling their anger through an apology.

I would not like to get on her bad side; the way she controls those two…

“I see nothing much has changed around here.” Jay states, unmoved by it all. He doesn’t seem to have missed the chaos at all. If anything, he’s better off without us.

“Just have to love it.” Ryan grins, enjoying himself as he annoys everyone by being himself. He’s asking to be punched in the face. He will be my next victim, after BoyBand. I promised BoyBand he’d be next. It’s a pity Benley’s such a sweetheart. Nice guys finish last, everybody knows that.

“Shut up Ryan!” I glower at him, “No one cares what you have to say. In fact, we all want you gone.” I say, blatant in expressing my ruthless opinion.

“In that case,” Ryan feigns hurt and places a hand over his heart, “I’ll stay longer until you learn to hate me all the more.” This guy loves irritating me and watching my facial expressions. He enjoys getting reactions out of people.

“Shouldn’t be difficult.” I snap back spitefully, accompanied by a fake sugary-sweet smile. I want him gone. He doesn’t belong here, neither does Leban.

“Right, I’m leaving.” Benley announces as he heads for the car he came with - Troy’s. He has only so much patience before he takes the lead.

Bell, swept up in the excitement, grabs hold of Jay’s arm and tugs him after her, “Oh Jay, you must come visit us,” she gestures to her and then to Max, “you’re the only one who hasn’t seen our babies yet.” She insists, not allowing him the option to say ‘no’. Bells has always adored Jay, well ever since we first started dating. Before then, she wasn’t a fan. As of now, she loves him.

“Actually, I haven’t seen them either - been in jail and all.” Dean informs Bells coyly, wanting to be included. She’s not paying any attention to him at all. She’s focused on Jay. I almost feel sorry for Dean, almost. “But it’s fine. I see how it is.” Dean pouts in dismay. Before Dean can say anything more (or wallow in his pity party any longer), Troy deliberately shoves him out of the way.

“Oh you’ll just love Jelly Bean! He’s the cutest, practically mine.” Troy gushes as he chips in, making sure to place himself beside Jay in a such a way that Leban can’t join in on the conversation. Troy’s blocking Leban’s view. Leban is just out of hearing shot and Troy knows it. Troy can be sly like that.

“No he’s not.” Max intervenes, refusing to let Troy get any ideas. Troy and his ideas…it goes to his head… “We’ve had this talk already.” Max reminds Troy, worried that Troy might just try and take Rhys again.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Rhys is only mine when you’re not there.” Troy replies back absentmindedly, unaware of what he’s saying.

Max frowns, “That’s actually not what we discussed-“

Troy cuts him off as he turns back to Jay with much eagerness, “The other two chickpeas aren’t as awesome, it’s probably ’cause they’re female.” Troy says without thinking, yet again. He’s going to get a lot of hate for that one. Bells, as if on cue, swats him upside his head. “What?” Troy stares down at his sister, clueless, “It’s the truth. They’re always crying. It makes you wish they made muzzles for infants.”

This guy…no filter!

“Would it kill you to feel some shame every now and again?” Bells asks her brother, furious with his remark on her daughters.

“We’ll never know.” Troy cackles at her misfortune like the conceited jerk he is.

Jay, choosing to tune them out, is now apologizing to Emma and Xavier for missing their wedding. He’s fallen into conversation with them instead, making me question when it was that he became so close to the married couple, especially Emma.

Feeling down, I turn to Max with a pout, “Ice-cream please?”

“Isn’t that what got us into this entire mess to start with?” Bells asks, her uptight side back in play. She’s so incredibly bossy! She’ll put both Leban and Keagan to shame.

I tap my chin in mock thought, “Nope.” I deny, popping the’p’ in the process. I glance back at Max, “Please Maxipad, pleeeeeeease!” I resort to pitiful begging. If anyone will comfort me, it’s Max. He has a soft spot for me. He can’t say no to ‘the face’. I pull ‘the face’ off rather well, batting my eyelashes at him in innocence. I don’t want his money. I can pay for myself. I just want his company. “I have done nothing wrong in my life, ever.” I add in the hopes of convincing him. There’s no persuading Bells, so I don’t even bother to try her. She’s too set in her ways.

Max sighs, caving in, as he pats the top of my head with his hand, “This I know child, this I know.” He assures me, “I know this. This I know.” He humors me.

I grin and hold out my hands to him eagerly, “Ice-cream please!”

“I don’t have it on me, doofus.” He teases, not quite agreeing to my terms just yet. He’s still contemplating it and mulling it over in his head.

“What are you talking about?” Troy buts in rudely, “All she does is wrong. She started a riot just today.” Troy takes the gap to remind me of all my many faults and imperfections. Little brat face! As if he has any leg to stand on. I will break both his legs!

“You, Troy, are a disservice to all.” I mutter, peeved. It’s his fault I won’t be getting more ice-cream. He’s a bully.

“Let’s be serious,” Jay interrupts, much to everyone’s surprise, “we’re all a disservice to humanity.”

Can’t argue there…

“Except you Jay, you’re the best!” Leban chips in, having his own input. It’s like he’s obsessed with Jay, like he idolizes him and worships the very ground he walks on. It’s a weird relationship, one that resembles Boyle’s and Jake’s from ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’.

Troy’s face falls at this, “B-but but…” He stammers in despair and hopelessness, “I thought I was the best person alive.”

His life has been a lie.

Max,” I whine in impatience, “ice-cream. Now.”

If I don’t get bubblegum ice-cream soon, I’m going to explode and chuck rage.

Max is about to answer, but then Bells whispers something in his ear before he can say anything. She pulls back after exchanging a few words with her boyfriend. Max’s expression drops upon hearing her words. She must be threatening him again, it’s the only explanation I can come up with. The worst girlfriend award would undoubtedly go to her…after me that is.

“Sorry Aqueela,” Max winces upon seeing my disappointed face, “I can’t go.” He doesn’t bother to explain and searches Bell’s eyes instead, “You promised you wouldn’t do it to me again.” He complains, “I’ve already lost all sleeping privileges for losing to Troy in pool.” He takes the liberty to remind Bells, still embarrassed that Troy actually beat him.

“What did she promise she wouldn’t do again?” Nancy asks, now just as inquisitive as the rest of us.

Max ignores her and continues to try and reason with Bells, “Please, please don’t put me back on so soon. It feels like I just got off. Don’t put me through that again.” Max pleads.

“Back on what?” I quiz, just as curious as the others.

Max hesitates, but after much prodding, comes out with it, “Boyfriend probation.” He answers reluctantly, subjecting himself to humiliation.

Of course, all the guys break out laughing at his expense, whilst the girls all offer Max their pity for putting up with all Bell’s ridiculous terms and conditions.

Landon, grateful for his sweet girlfriend, wipes a tear due to his laughter, “Man, this is just too good for words!” He can’t relate to Max’s situation. He’s such a jerk, I love it.

“Guys, quit it.” Max exclaims in horror, humiliated, “I’m already on strike two. Strike three is a sit-down and strike four calls for a breakup.”

Landon, having just recovered, falls straight back into his laughter, “Bro, stop!” He chuckles, holding onto his stomach before laughing some more, “You’re killing me here.” I’ve never seen Landon so jovial; it’s terrifying.

Unlike the others, I’m not watching Max. Instead, my gaze is carefully fixated on the one person I can’t stop thinking about. Even him - of all people - withdraws his glare and cracks a small smile.

By all means, the sight is mesmerizing.

“I barely know you, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m going to miss you.” I hug AJ goodbye. She has to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. She’s always so oblivious, laid-back, easy-going, optimistic and upbeat. It’s rejuvenating. I pull back from her with pleading eyes, “Promise to visit again soon?”

A smiles finds its way onto her lips, “Of course Oddball, of course.” She then giggles and adds, “My boyfriend does live here after all.” She reminds me, sensing that I’d forgotten. “New York will have one less legend now that you’ve moved back here.” She winks at me, “I see the whack side to you now,” she adds, “Benley was right after all.” She reminds me of our conversation on the plane when I’d first met her.

Benley and her leave straight after, Dylan and Simo joining them and leaving too - they’re tired from babysitting all day. Apparently Bell’s little ones gave them grief. It seems they’re taking after their father. Dylan assigned himself to Blanche, AJ to Rhys and Simo to Melby. Blanche tends to cry the most, probably because Bell babies her the most.

“Aren’t they just adorable?” Bells asks Jay, seeking his approval as she fawns over her own children.

“Yeah,” Jay, holding Blanche, glances down at her little face with uncertainty swimming in his blue eyes. Blanche - who’d just been screaming moments before - is now completely calm and still in his arms as if relaxed, as if she trusts Jay wholeheartedly. A faint smile traces his lips before he nods at Bells, now in certainty, “Yeah, they’re pretty great.” He decides then and there as if pondering away on something intense.

“She seems fond of you.” Bells shares a smile with Jay. He seemed uncomfortable and unsure at first, but he’s settled now. Blanche gurgles something from within Jay’s gentle grasp. Jay chuckles as a result, a ghost of a smile remaining.

I’m reminded of a conversation we had several years ago:

“Why don’t you want to have kids?” I had asked him.

” ’Cause I don’t think I’d make a good father.” He’d answered me.

“You said the same about being my boyfriend and you’re doing fine.” I had reminded him in order to reassure him.

“Fine isn’t good enough.” Jay had sighed in defeat, “Let’s just drop it, okay?”

The idiot, he’s doing just fine now. I was right. He’ll make a great father.

Bells merely smiles at him in turn as she finally takes Blanche back from him, “Your day will come. It’s on the horizon.” She tells Jay, determined to make him see it.

A nervous chuckle of anxiety escapes him, “Nah, I think I’m going to stay a bachelor all my life. It’s just easier. The family thing is not for me.” He explains to her, disagreeing with her assumption. He’s a famous racer now, he can have anything he wants. I don’t blame him for choosing the bachelor lifestyle. He’s got like a bajillion females fans to choose from whenever he gets bored. He has money, a house, friends - what more does he need? He doesn’t have room in his life for anything more, nor is he willing to make room for anything more. There’s no place for me in his life, not anymore.

Bell’s meets my gaze for a split second before her eyes travel back to Jay, “It will come.” She assures him in conviction as if one hundred percent certain of it. I never told her why I returned. I didn’t have to. She’d already figured it out on her own.

“So long as JT keeps coming first in his races, he can have anything he desires. He can live out his dream. It’s all about winning.” Landon grins, fist bumping Jay in support of his decision to never settle down with someone.

I don’t know whether to be relieved or disheartened.

“Coming first doesn’t always mean that you’re winning, not in life in any case. Personally, I don’t want to lose sight of what’s important to me. I’d rather this life not pass me by.” Jay disagrees with Landon, clarifying his outlook and perspective on things. “Coming first, doesn’t mean I get to have everything. There are some things,” when his gaze trails to me, I avert my eyes on impulse, “that just seem so out of reach.” He concludes firmly.

“Yeesh! Deep. Killjoy.” Landon comments before straying off, the crowd slowly dispersing as people make their way back home.

I suck in a deep breath before courageously approaching him. I’m taking a chance on him and I’m hoping I won’t regret it. I didn’t the first time. “You alright there, Taylor?” I take the risk in making conversation with him. I might as well try. I currently have nothing to lose.

“Never been better,” he answers me, his tone filled with sarcasm. He doesn’t even bother to offer me a second glance. I can’t blame him. I can’t blame him for any of this. I did this. I messed ‘us’ up. He’s not the one who left, I am. However, I’m not the one who gave up. He did.

I decide to jump straight to the point, “So listen, I just wanted to clear the air and say-“

“Don’t care.” He answers icily before walking away from me, nonchalant and indifferent as ever.

My heart deflates at the sight of him leaving. I can literally feel my mood sink down into an empty pit of depression. Sighing, I watch as he says his goodbyes before he too heads home.

Lost in the moment, I find myself stuck staring at one of Bell’s many expensive, yet hideously atrocious paintings on the walls of her house. It’s a picture of nothing. It’s abstract. All I see are shapes. I stare at it intently, taking in the message behind all the shapes.

Rich people…I’ll never understand them…

“The painting can’t be that fascinating, Lawson.” Grey comes up to stand beside me, all on his own doing, subtly offering me his comfort. He can be nice when it’s on his own terms and if it’s done in secret. “If anything, the Bensten siblings should get refunded for this piece of crap.” He voices his opinion, choosing to actually converse with me.

He’s missing the big picture…literally.

“There is an emphasis on the shapes for a reason. The shapes make the picture. The shapes give the picture a sense of completion. I’ve fallen in love with this picture, with the shapes.” I inform him, being absolutely serious.

Grey glances my way as if reading me, “You have no idea what it is either, do you?”

He knows me so well.

“Not a clue.” I confess truthfully, “Nevertheless, I’ve formed an emotional attachment to this oil painting. The shapes are amazing. I want to meet the artist and demand him/her to make another painting filled with more extravagant shapes.” Saddened by the shapes, I pout, “Art is suppose to be happy and fun, everybody knows that. This painting is making me sad. It’s not the shapes though, the shapes are perfect. I think I might just tear up.”

Grey sighs, “Aqueela,” he refers to me by my first name in order to capture my full attention, “we both know that it’s not the painting, or the shapes, that has you down in the dumps.” He’s done beating around the bush. He’s dropping the formalities, “What did he say to you?” He asks me point blank, blunt as always.

“Nothing.” I answer him, “Nothing.” I repeat as it registers in my head. “He won’t even talk to me or give me his time of day. I just want to explain.” I glance up to meet his concerned gaze of gray. For someone who isn’t suppose to care about what happens to me, Grey seems to care way too much. He’s invested in both of our (Jay and me) lives. He truly wants the best for the both of us. He can deny it all he wants, but I mean something to him. I’m his friend too, whether he’s realized it or not and whether he’s acknowledged it or not.

Grey closes his eyes as if hesitant, but eventually he decides to just say it for my sake - to say whatever it is he wants me to know, “He’ll give you the chance someday, and when he does, be prepared to grasp the opportunity with both hands because it will be the only chance you get. He’s Jay after all. He’s difficult. You only get one shot with him. Fortunately, you knew that from the start. Still, you never chose otherwise.”

“Miss Lawson,” the doorman to the hotel greets me on my way inside. I send him a warm smile before making my way to the elevators. My money is running low. I need a job and I need one soon. I absentmindedly step into the elevator, my thoughts scattered. One can imagine my surprise when I come face to face with Leban himself. “What are you doing here?” I question, at a loss for words. I’d rather speak than spend the entire elevator ride in silence. I’d rather be upfront and exchange swear words with him than endure his glower all the way up.

“I could ask you the same question,” Leban scowls at me as he crosses his arms over his chest, “but I won’t.” He growls, infuriated with me for no reason in particular, “You destroyed Jay. Whatever your excuse is, it’s not worth hearing. You’re not worth hearing out.”

I see who Jay’s been talking to now…

“If Jay just heard me out, it could change everything. Do him a favor and stop influencing him. He’s against me as is. You’re only making it worse for him.” I try to elaborate in the nicest way possible, but his defiance is making it beyond difficult. Seeing as he’s from South Africa, he has no place to stay as of now. He must be temporarily staying in the hotel too. I can bet Jay’s paying for him. Jay’s loaded now. Jay’s made a name for himself in the world. He’s left his mark as a worldwide racer speeding through the phases of life.

Leban resorts to being childish and sticks his index fingers in his ears, “Blah blah blah, I’m not listening to you witch, troll, ogre thing!”

I roll my eyes at him, “For real?” I shake my head at his behavior as the elevator comes to a stop on my floor. I am more than shocked when he gets off on the fourth floor too. But what takes the cake, is when I come to learn that his hotel room is right beside mine.

Of all the people who could possibly live beside me…

We both stop at our respected doors.

Aqueela.” Leban glares at me, his key still in the door.

Leban.” I scowl right back before unlocking my own door. I waltz right in, so as to prevent myself from spending another second in his unpleasant presence.

I don’t even have a second to relax before my phone rings. I let out a groan before answering, “Yes Bella Bensten?”

Bells replies back in a courteous tone, “Sorry to bother, just thought I’d tell you that I checked the district in which we’ll all be doing the community service for the elderly.” Of course she did. She’s always prepared for anything. “Just thought I’d let you know that your grandparents fall under the district too.”

This won’t end well.

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