Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 12: Not a Laughing Matter

“You sure?” I ask Bells wearily. I want her permission first before I do it.

She grins and shrugs, “Go for it.” They should’ve been up ages ago. Someone’s got to get them up for our first day of community service.

I tiptoe to Max’s room before opening up all the curtains, allowing the sun’s ray to flood the room in brightness and heat, “Wakey wakey Maxy Dear, it’s time for school!” I chime, filled with energy to face the day.

Max - feeling the complete opposite - rolls over and covers himself with his blanket, burying his face deep into his pillow, “Not now Mom,” he grumbles out, still half asleep, “I’m sick. I don’t want to go to school today.” He lies. Is this how he always got out of school as a teen?

“That girl, Bell, you’ve told me so much will miss you if you don’t go.” I insist, pretending to be his mother.

“She’s doesn’t even know I exist. I don’t stand a chance Mom.” Max mumbles into his pillow, his eyes still closed. The chance I took was worth it, he thinks I’m his mother.

I glance Bell’s way to see her awing in delight upon hearing her boyfriend’s words.

“Besides,” Max adds, “the jocks pick on me all the time. I’m tired of being stuffed into lockers. Laiken and Mason piss me off.”

I never realized how hard Max had it in school up until now. He’s never revealed such information to any of us. I had no idea that Mason did not only bully me but Max too.

I change course, now pretending to be his father, “Well put on your big boy pants Max and just face it!” I yell at him, only for him to wake up in fright. He jolts up quickly and ends up whacking his head on the headboard of his bed as a result.

“Dammit, Aqueela!” He whines as he rubs his head he’d just thumped, “Should’ve known.” He exclaims in mild irritation. The boy loves his sleep.

“Don’t complain,” Benley speaks up, “at least you weren’t woken up to ‘you’re getting married Ben Ben, it’s your wedding day’.” Benley mimics my voice as he adds in his own complaints. “I just about had a heart attack. Marriage, right now, does not look so appealing. My worst nightmare.” Benley confesses, still ticked off with me.

I chuckle at the reminder. I made a stop at Benley’s place first. He dropped AJ off at the airport early this morning and then went back to sleep. I took the liberty to give him a rude awakening.

“I barely get any sleep with my kids as is, thanks a lot.” Max glowers at me, unimpressed.

“Stop whining Babe and put on a shirt.” Bells flings a v-neck his way before turning to me with excitement laced in her blue eyes, “Do my brother next!” She begs, jumping up off the tiled floor in glee, “Please!” She begs, eager to see Troy’s response.

Everyone has a different reaction, Max’s was sitting up quickly in fright and Benley’s was jumping straight up to his feet like some ninja, fists raised and all. I’m the one who almost had a heart attack. Benley was just about ready to knock me out cold. A fighting stance is something I expected from Grey or Lan, not innocent BoyBand. Gland would be so proud.

For all I know, Troy probably sleep walks. He might not even be in his bed. He always says he gets up early to train, but we all know that’s a lie. He probably sleep walks to the fridge and calls it meditation or something.

“This should be good.” Max rubs his hands together evilly as he follows me into Troy’s room. He has no problem pulling pranks when he’s not the victim.

The first thing we notice upon entering is the drool seeping out from Troy’s mouth. “Gross.” Max pulls a face, not at all glad to see such a disgusting sight. Can’t blame the guy. This has to be the first time I’ve seen Troy seemingly not looking like absolute perfection as he always claims. “Even has the eye mask on.” Max points out, “The guy goes all out, even when sleeping.”

I understand where Max is coming from. Troy resembles a princess, what with his silk pillowcase and bed sheets, purple eye-covers atop his eyes and his cleansing face mask. It’s a hideous sight that I’ll never be able to erase from my mind.

I shrug, “I was honestly expecting worse, levitation or something.” I admit through a joke. As if on cue, Troy begins sleep talking, saying something along the lines of how amazing he is. I sigh, “I spoke too soon. There it is. Even in his sleep, he’s obnoxious.”

“Get on with it.” Bells presses, a pro at making others succumb to peer pressure - typical of a past popular kid.

I don’t need to be told twice, “Troy!” I shout out in pure bliss, “It’s your birthday! You’re turning seventy today! Your grandchildren are coming over to visit. Make sure to put on your diaper and then I’ll strap you down into your wheelchair.”

Immediately, as expected, Troy responds.

“Where’s my cake?” is his initial response before he processes my words, “No, I don’t want to be old! I can’t be frail and ugly!” He shouts out in horror as he tries to scramble up to his feet in order to see himself in a mirror. He ends up losing his balance and rolls off his bed, as a result, his face meeting the floor in a loud thud. I wince for him. That can’t be a good feeling.

“Dog pile!” Max shouts, merciless, before jumping on Troy’s back. Bells and I follow, joining in on the fun. Benley stands aside and shakes his head at us as if too mature to partake in such trivial matters. Typical BoyBand. He thinks he’s too good for us. He thinks he’s above this. He most likely he is.

Troy, still out of it, feels his face with both his hands before glancing down at his hands themselves, “No wrinkles.” He breathes out in relief, now convinced that I was merely joking. “I still got it.” He grins to himself, unconcerned that he’s lying flat under all of our weight. He couldn’t care less that he’s being squashed, so long as he still has his youth.

“So all you youngsters were in jail?” An elderly man asks us, his wife standing beside him. We, all of us in matching orange uniform, nod. Troy’s insistent that he rocks the orange getup better than any of us, much to his sister’s dismay. “Such a disappointment. What is this world coming to?” The elderly man shakes his head at all of us in distaste. “I tell you,” he glances at his wife, “the youth of today…such a big disgrace.”

Dean smiles down at the elderly couple who both happen to be glaring at us, “I just want to inform you both that I’m merely volunteering today. I’m entirely innocent. I wasn’t arrested for starting a riot.” He tells them, “I’m just overseeing that these youngsters, these disgraces of human beings…” Dean points to us as if he’s not the same age as us and as if he’s never committed a crime in his life, “don’t cause any more trouble.”

Dean doesn’t have to be here today, yet here he is. He just wants to rub salt in the wound. He wants to throw his freedom around in our faces. He’s playing the ‘innocent card’. If he wants to play with fire, he can be sure that he’ll get burned. He’s messing with the wrong group of people. I didn’t think it was possible to find someone more annoying than Troy himself.

“I’m going to kill him.” Grey remarks quietly, ready to unleash his wrath on Landon’s friend. He takes a step forward, but Nancy is quick to stop him.

With her hand still firmly planted on his chest, Nancy blinks up at Grey in order to reason logically with him, “It’s not worth it. Don’t make matters worse.” She suggests, hoping he’d listen. She’s not oblivious to her effect on him, which makes what she’s doing to him all the worse.

Grey freezes beneath her touch. He glances down to see Nancy’s hand on his chest. He sighs, caving into her will, “Fine.”

Nancy smiles at him in gratitude before removing her hand off of him. Ryan, well he couldn’t care less. He’s preoccupied with his phone again. I’m beginning to think that if Grey were to kiss Nancy in front of him, he still wouldn’t react in any way. He wouldn’t flinch nor bat an eyelid. I’m starting to grow skeptical. What is he up to? Why is he even here? He clearly doesn’t care about Nancy.

“Oh, wonderful! Lovely.” The elderly woman responds to Dean, overjoyed to hear that he’s volunteering out of his own. He’s just doing it to make a show of the rest of us. “We need more young people like you.”

Sarah, choosing to not stand for this humiliation, speaks up on all of our behalfs, “Yes Ma’am, I agree. We need more young people who break into cars and get off scot-free and then lie to the elderly in order to shame their ‘innocent in comparison’ friends.” She says sarcastically, much to the horror of the elderly couple.

The old man gasps in astonishment. The old lady herself begins swatting Dean with her handbag when she clicks what Sarah means.

Dean tries to shield himself from the smacks, “Wait wait wait! You don’t understand, it was my own car!” He tries to defend himself. In reality, he is innocent…this time anyway. Apparently he’s been arrested a few times. Can’t be easy having a cop as a dad.

Landon grins at Sarah in pride before leaving a kiss on the side of her face, “This is why we’re together.”

The woman then turns and points her bag at Leban (he’d insisted on tagging along with Jay, Jay only coming to keep Grey company), “And you? Are you also claiming to be innocent or are you too a lawbreaker?”

This is why old people petrify me…

Leban holds his hands up in surrender, “Woah Ma’am. I’ve never been in jail. I’m not even from here. I’m from South Africa-“

“Illegal immigrant!” The woman turns her wrath onto Leban and I can’t help but snicker at his expense. He deserves it. I think I might just dislike him more than Ryan even.

Grey sighs miserably, “There are just too many people on this earth. We need a new plague…” he then turns to look at me, “especially to kill off all the freeloaders.”

I used to be a freeloader, but I’m not anymore. Nevertheless, I take the hit and shoot Grey a condescending smile, “Guilty is charged.”

Before we know it, the elderly couple, as well as the rest of the old people, disperse like a fleeting storm. My heart begins to pound faster as it slowly dawns on me. I thought I had more time.

“What’s going on?” Xavier asks, “I didn’t think old people could sprint. Now I’ve seen everything.”

“When sharks swim away, it’s usually because something bigger and scarier is on the way. It’s the same with old people.” I explain to Xavier, who seems to have no experience with the elderly. They’ll love him because he’s British. He has nothing to worry about.

“It is?” Landon scoffs, unbelieving.

“It is.” Max confirms, he too now realizing what’s happening. A look of dread crosses his features, “They’re getting closer. I can smell them. They smell like death itself.” He shudders in fear, shaking slightly.

“Why couldn’t it just have been an earthquake?” I frown, silently preparing myself for the worst.

Then, as if right on cue, they appear out from the shadows.

“Aqueela!” They shout in unison, with their groggy voices, upon spotting me.

Dammit! When will they go blind already?

“Don’t copy what I say, Howard!”

“Oh stick it, Lillian!”

“You know them?” Dean asks me, curious as to why all the old people ran away from the current elderly couple standing before us.

“We’re related.” I sigh. It’s difficult for me to admit it.

“It’s happening.” Troy hides behind me, using me as a shield to cover himself up from Gram’s wandering eyes. Grams has a tendency to make him feel violated. She can come across as perverted. “Aqueela, I’m scared.” I can feel his hands, gripping my shoulders, trembling in fear.

“We all are Troy, we all are.” I say as I slide away from him. I need more protection than him. I’m the one that takes the most hits in any case.

“Who are all your friends?” Gramps asks me, his eyes straying to all of us, “I can only hope this isn’t a free loving thing you all have going on here.” He states, assuming the worst of us. He’s dangerous when inquisitive.

Before any of u can say anything, Troy interjects:

“Oh it is! We love everyone.” Troy tells my gramps, ignorant as to what it is he is saying. I begin to shake my head in protest, “Don’t deny it Aqueela, you love us!” Troy then turns to my mortified gramps and shoots him a thumbs up, “Feel free to join. We’re changing the world, one person at a time.”

Oh, Troy! Shut up already.

Ryan chuckles, thriving on his revenge seeing as I tricked him into believing it the first time. He’s enjoying this.

Gram’s mouth falls agape and I can already tell that she’s horrified. Here comes the lecture about having morals etc. “How come Howard gets invited and not me?” Grams shocks me with her question.

Why can’t I have normal grandparents who would never stand for free loving?! Why can’t I ever get a lecture dammit?!

Gramps sends a wink to my grams, “It’s a youth thing, Lillian, of course, you won’t be invited.” He says in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t look the part like me.” He brags, in spite of looking just as old as her, if not older. Gramps then spots the blatantly disrespectful one, Grey, standing beside me, “So you with him now?” Gramps questions in distaste, “He’s your new lover now?” It would seem that Gramps prefers Jay by a landslide.

“Out of all people…” I mutter to myself.

Benley, being Benley, bursts out laughing at my expense. He’s unable to contain himself. Max, Troy, and Bells end up snickering too like the traitors they all are. I don’t even bother to see Jay’s reaction. I’m too afraid to.

“Here we go again.” Grey sighs as he takes a step away from me, “As if being your fake fiance wasn’t bad enough the first time.” He reminds me, irritated as if the existence of my grandparents is all my fault. It’s not like I can control them, no one can. They’re the real threat to Earth.

I play it cool and shake my head at Gramps, “Give me a little credit Gramps.” I joke, much to Grey’s rising temper. Any second now and he’ll lash out at me. The implication that I can do better than him has managed to rattle his self-control.

“Gonna have to take Aqueela’s side on this one.” Ryan grins, adding fuel to Grey’s raging fire. “Aqueela can do better, like way better, Jay Taylor better,” Ryan says unknowingly. He never pays attention to the conversations because he’s always on his stupid phone. He’s oblivious to the fact that I used to date Jay. Idiot! Way to make things awkward. Stupid Ryan. Bad Ryan. Drop dead Ryan!

When I glance back to see how Jay’s reacting to all of this heat we’re getting, it’s only then that I notice that he’s thankfully walked away to take a phone call. It’s a good thing too, this is heavy stuff we’re discussing. I’d rather he not be here for the most part.

“She’s walked down that road before. It was a looong winding road. She’s been there, tapped that, hit that and gone all the way with that.” Troy grins, winking at me in all seriousness, “Am I right, Squirt?” He offers out his fist for a fist bump. I push his fist away and shake my head at him, scowling at his ignorant words.

Between Ryan and Troy…I just don’t know!

Again, Ryan’s back on his phone. He’s still not paying attention and still blissfully unaware that Jay and I once had a thing. At this rate, if he keeps this up, he’ll probably never know.

Gramp’s face lights up upon hearing the news, “My boy Jay’s here?!”

That’s right. I almost forgot that Gramps has an obsession with impressing Jay. He took an immediate liking to Jay the day he met him. Jay must have made quite the impact on him, hence why he automatically dislikes Grey.

“He’s my boy.” Leban argues, annoyed when Troy buts in simultaneously to say the same thing.

“I’ve known him longer than either of you.” Grey interjects, not standing to hear them (Troy and Leban) argue about nonsense. Grey’s the one who’s walked the long road with Jay. They’ve always had each other’s backs. No one can get in the middle of that, not even Gramps.

“I see you brought Alvin and the two chipmunks along.” Grams remarks rudely as she gestures to Max, Benley, and Bells for no particular reason at all. She’s just looking for a fight. She loves conflict. She entertains herself through insulting others. She usually picks on the weakest links - hence Bells, Max and Benley being the collateral damage of hers today.

“Why?” Max asks bluntly, perplexed, as he blinks down at my grams, “Just why?” He has a point. It’s not like they were asking for it in any way. They weren’t even doing anything. They were actually behaving.

Bell’s mouth falls agape at the insult when she realizes that she’s Theodore because of her baby weight she has yet to lose, Benley being Alvin because of his apparent ‘street cred’ and Max being Simon because there’s no one else for him to be.

Gram’s and Troy cackle loudly at their expense. Grams tends to hate everyone - people in general. The only person Gram’s actually took a liking to was Jay, obviously.

“What the hell?” Benley scoffs as he turns to me for an explanation before whispering so that only I hear him, “None of us even said anything. Max, Bells and I were just standing here minding our own business when she decided to attack us for no apparent reason. I see what they,” he points to Max and Bells, “meant when they said that your grandparents are unreasonable and insane.”

“You’ve yet to see anything, my friend.” I wink at him, letting him know that he’s in for a disastrous day.

The only ones who have met my grandparents properly happen to be Bells, Mason, Max, Troy and Jay. The others have no idea what to expect from them - the worst, that’s the answer.

Grams sees Benley whispering to me and decides to shun him in front of everyone, “Complain anymore and you can take the role as Simon.”

Benley crosses his arms over his chest and frowns at her, refusing to retaliate. He’d rather glower at her beneath his dark lashes like some child holding a grudge. Bitter, that’s what he is.

“Hold up, I thought I was Alvin.” Max hisses in irritation, making it clear that he’s an Alvin fan. Can’t blame him. Alvin is the best. “Old people, good for nothing.” Max mutters childishly beneath his breath and by some miracle, Gram’s actually hears him (maybe she’s replaced those hearing aids of hers that I messed up years ago). He’s just signed his own death sentence.

“Listen here Son, shut your pie hole and show some respect to your elders, to authority!” Grams quickly puts Max back into his place, “Or I will beat your ass with a whip like we did back in my day. You’ll be in the hospital in agonizing pain when I’m done with you.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Max rambles out nervously, fear radiating through his veins as he subconsciously straightens up in form and salutes her as if in the army.

I place a fist in front of my mouth to prevent myself from laughing aloud. I don’t want to draw Gram’s attention to me. She’s ruthless. She’s the one person that even Bell’s fears. Grey will soon learn to fear her too. It’s just a matter of time. Grams victimizes everyone.

“Who is that tall glass of water?” Grams asks as she sends Troy a flirtatious wink, patting down what’s left of her hair. She doesn’t remember him; he definitely remembers her. She scarred him. Troy’s never been the same since…

“Squirt,” Troy nudges me in the side in order to capture my attention, “she’s undressing me with her eyes again.” He stutters out of anxiety. Last time, she felt him up. I don’t blame him for being absolutely terrified. Gram’s finds him attractive and that’s something no one deserves, not even Troy. I bet, for the first time in his life, Troy wishes he was ugly right now. Perhaps being seventy and in diapers isn’t looking all too awful to him right now. He turns back to throw Grey an envious glare as if it’s all his fault, “Thanks a lot, Grey.” He blames Grey once again, “I wish I looked like you right now. Curse my perfection. I’m irresistible to everyone. I can’t even blame the old witch for having the hots for me.”

Grey says nothing, but merely gives Troy the middle finger in turn.

“That’s Troy.” I tell Grams, “You’ve met him before.” I remind her, getting back to the subject at hand. Her memory is going, if only her mind did too…

Grams has a blank expression on her face as if she can’t recall him at all (a slap to Troy’s face, no doubt), “Troy the tantalizing fortune cookie, I like the sounds of that.” She concludes with a smirk before wiggling her eyebrows at Troy suggestively. She still doesn’t remember him. I won’t tell Troy that, it will break his tiny heart. He believes that meeting him is the greatest gift someone can receive.

“Like grandmother like granddaughter.” Troy shakes his head, still delusional about my apparent ‘crush’ on him. He throws his head back to stare at the sky, being over-dramatic as per usual when he stretches out his arms above him, “Why must all the Lawson woman have a thing for me?!” He shouts into the air and then takes it a step further when he gets down on both knees, his head still raised to the blues skies above, the sun’s rays temporarily blinding him, “Being perfect is just too hard! The weight is too heavy! No one understands my dilemma! I’m alone in my perfection!” He yells out as if it’s truly a burden. He’s so full of himself, sometimes I can’t even fathom it.

Emma shakes her head at seeing Troy going to the extreme, “All he needs now is the clouds to open up with rain and soak him wet.” She jokes, “Then we can turn this thing into a drama movie.” Xavier grins at his wife before high-fiving her for her excellent idea.

“I’m game if we get to play him off for cash,” Landon smirks in delight, on board.

“The demented ones are my favorite ones.” Grams insists, licking her lips as she continues to openly hit on Troy. “I’d like a teddy bear like you to sleep with at night.” She flirts whilst I duck my head in embarrassment. My grandparents should be locked in cages, for the sanity and safety of the entire world. They’re a threat to humanity itself. Why couldn’t we just be invaded by aliens instead? Luck is never on our side.

“Unfortunately, this teddy bear is taken.” Troy lies in an attempt to evade her daring advances. She has the audacity to flirt with him when her husband is right beside her. She’s a total cradle snatcher and has no shame whatsoever. If anything, she has the personality of Troy in that sense.

Troy then turns his attention to Gramps who happens to be giving Troy the stink eye, “You look like a giant bag of skittles.” Troy notes as he takes in Gramp’s colorful getup. Troy never knows when to shut the hell up. He’ll go on and on until someone explodes, and then he will continue to go on and on. He never stops.

Gramps loves his neon colored clothes. He thinks he’s some stylish fashionista crossed between a whack, out of place diva. He takes offense when people mock his outfits, it’s a sensitive topic for him. It doesn’t help in the fact that Troy had just been leading his wife on. He takes a bold step towards Troy in a threatening manner, “Watch your mouth Boy,” he warns Troy before leaning in close and whispering agonizingly slowly, “or you’ll taste the damn rainbow.”

Troy actually shuts up after that.

Dean then takes the liberty to introduce himself. He holds out his fist to my grandfather for a fist bump, “Sup old man, I’m Dean. I’m the only guy that wasn’t in jail for the riot. I’m innocent, unlike the rest of these filthy garbage children.” Of course, Dean would take the gap to make a good impression. He’s such a teacher’s pet.

Grey grits his teeth in frustration. He’s going to punch Dean in the face very soon, that’s if I don’t beat him to it.

Gramps glances down to see Dean’s fist raised to him. He lets out a startled yelp of fear before flinching away from Dean’s fist. He proceeds by glowering at Dean mercilessly as if Dean did something wrong. Gramps turns to my grams for help, “Lillian, this little b*tch is trying to attack me! Do something!”

Gramps has no idea what a fist bump is. Dean awkwardly lowers his fist, confused, before getting his second beating from an old lady in the span of ten minutes. “I wasn’t trying to attack him, I swear!” Dean yells out in terror before running away, my grams hot on his heels as she chases after him.

That’s what the little runt gets for outing me in front of my grandparents. Fortunately, my grandparents couldn’t care less to hear that I’ve been in jail a second time. They aren’t exactly the best role models.

“Howard!” Grams calls over her shoulder, still chasing poor Dean Wyatt (he had it coming), “Get my crossbow!”

Dean releases a shout of desperation upon hearing my gram’s words - she’s not playing around.

Gramps nods before running inside to fetch it.

“She has a crossbow?” Landon asks with a grin before turning his attention onto me, “Where have you been hiding these legends all this time, Lawson?” Only Landon will find them both insanely awesome. He’s crazy like that.

Sarah gives her boyfriend a look, narrowing her eyes at him in disbelief, “Really Babe, really?”

Landon smirks, “Really.” He clarifies, making his fondness for my grandparents apparent to us all.

“In my secret lair.” I retort to Landon sarcastically, bewildered that there’s actually someone who likes my grandparents.

It’s then that Jay returns back to us. He’s finally off that phone of his. Whoever he was talking to over the phone must be important. Jay usually never speaks for long when on his phone. He places his cellphone into his front pocket before glancing up, only to find my gramps standing directly right in front of him with a creepy grin on his face.

Gramps has eagerly been waiting for Jay’s return. As soon as he spotted Jay, he immediately changed his stature and form to a more laid-back style (leaning back with his arms crossed behind his head, in spite of him standing upright), seeking Jay’s full approval.

Jay, taken aback by Gramp’s overwhelming presence, takes a step back before feigning a smile and greeting my gramps politely, “Hey Sir, how are you doing?”

“Like I said before, call me Howie. You’re practically my son-in-law now.” Gramps informs him, completely forgetting that Jay and I are no longer dating, not to mention the fact that he’s not my father to begin with. He’s only my grandfather. Even if Jay and I did get married, he still wouldn’t be Jay’s father-in-law.

“And like I said,” Jay offers him an uncertain grin, “Howard is just fine.” Jay makes no further reference to the son-in-law remark.

Gramps looks up to Jay for some reason. He’s constantly seeking Jay’s approval on everything and anything. It’s like he idolizes Jay and places him on a pedestal or something. He just thinks Jay is so cool, when really, Jay’s a science dork at heart - a lovable science dork that is.

“Sure sure homie, whatever you want.” Gramps says before eagerly grabbing hold of Jay’s arm, forcefully dragging him away from the rest of us, “I have so much to show you. Let these losers do their community work whilst I show you all my new moves.”

“Yeah?” Jay asks before throwing a pleading look over his shoulder to us as if willing us to help him out of this. I think he’d rather be doing community work than entertain Gramps. It soon becomes apparent to Jay that he’s on his own, so like the optimist he’s become, he decides to make the best of it. “How’s the karate going for you?” I hear Jay ask my gramps as they walk away, the two obviously having conversed whilst I’ve been gone. How else would Jay know that my gramps is into karate? I didn’t even know that.

“Your old man looking to relive some ‘father-son’ days?” Xavier asks, a mischievous grin on his face. He knows fully well that Gramps is not my old man. Nonetheless, anyone would be better than my real dad, anyone.

“Yeah and it seems Jay’s being subjected to spending time with him.” I reply back, failing to stifle a laugh. I can’t help but find it funny. Poor Jay. It’s his fault for appealing to everyone. He’s irresistible, even to old people.

“You’re so mean.” Leban points out, his glare directed solely at me (never mind Xavier also finding Jay’s situation amusing), “How do you live with yourself?” He asks me bluntly. This guy really has it in for me.

A slow grin makes its way onto my lips as I send him a deliberate wink, “One day at a time Leban, one day at a time.” I purposely knock shoulders with him as I pass him by, ready to start this community work - serving my grandparents.

I get a bit much at times, but I handle myself well.

“Why must it be so blazing hot on the day we have to stand out in the sun and serve old people?” Bells asks aloud, using her hand to shield away the sun’s rays from her eyes. She has Dylan and Simo babysitting yet again, along with the help of Susie and Blubber seeing as AJ has returned back to New York. Max has been throwing it in Susie’s face that he went to jail. He’s proud of it, proud that he can finally be classified as a real danger. Susie merely laughed it off, still not taking him seriously.

I open my mouth to answer, but Gramps is quick to talk right over me, “Enough chit-chat!” He scolds us, reprimanding us as he sets us back to work - we’re planting all Gram’s new flower seeds and basically doing all their gardening work for them because they’re too lazy to do it themselves. Their garden is dry, pretty much dead. We’re doing all the work for them. Manual labor sucks.

“I’m jealous of him right now, not going to lie.” Max complains with a sigh as he watches my Gramps adjust his speedo before he continues to bathe in a plastic kiddie’s pool filled to the brim with bright red jello.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” Gramps hums a tune to himself as he lathers himself in more jello.

Gramps had his favorite person to ever exist - Jay - help him make all the packets of jello (what a waste). However, Jay drew the line and refused to get in when Gramps begged him to. Jay’s stupid. It looks so fun and refreshing, I can’t blame Max for being envious. I want a damn pool filled with fricken jello too! This is so unfair. I want a gelatin pool; it’s ridiculously hot out.

“He’s doing backstroke now. I can’t watch.” Max whines in high-pitched tone (jealous), closing his eyes to block out the awesome view ahead of us.

Gramps takes a handful of jello and throws it at Max’s face, as a result, “Sssshh!” He orders, keeping Max in line.

I burst out laughing at the sight: the jello sliding down Max’s forehead, only to reveal his current irritation hidden behind his grey-green eyes, “What the hell man?” Max voices yet another complaint, having not quite learned his lesson. Gramps throws another handful of jello his way, Max just dodging it in time. “Take it easy,” Max suggests rudely as he dodges more jello attacks. Even after he falls silent, Gramps refuses to stop his pointless attacks. Max frowns in seething anger, “Would you quit-” His words earn him a mouthful of jello. He just about chokes on it before quickly spitting it out in disgust, “Screw this! I’ve had it!” Max gets hit yet again for chirping my gramps. This time, Max drops everything and retaliates.

“Attitude!” Gramps shouts at Max, reprimanding him.

Eventually, Max gets the hint and uses Bells as a shield instead. That obviously doesn’t go down well in the end, and so the start of the jello war begins (Bells and Gramps against Max). I somehow always manage to get in the middle of things.

“I’ll destroy you!” Bells shouts in delight as she throws jello Max’s way like the world is about to end. By the time she’s finished, he’s practically slipping and sliding on all the sticky jello surrounding him.

“The girl is right!” Gramps backs Bells up.

“Oh, shut it Howard! You’re disturbing the neighborhood peace!” Grams shouts, disturbing the peace herself. She’s all war.

She walks up to Gramps and puts an end to it by dunking Gramps in the pool of jello, keeping him under for a second or so in order to teach him a lesson. He fights her and struggles, but she doesn’t seem to care. Eventually, he goes limp, the splashing having stopped. My heart just about stops too. Just when I think he’s going to drown in a pool of jello, Gram’s releases him and allows him to break the surface and breathe.

Gramps gasps for air, not as fazed as the rest of us. Grams will literally be the death of him one day. It’s no laughing matter.

Grams, nonchalant about her actions, returns to her lawn chair after that, choosing to get comfortable and lounge away beneath the hot sun. She has Troy working shirtless in front of her. She put him to work on chopping random chunks of wood for no particular reason whatsoever. She’s a pervert and Troy definitely seems to mind.

Grams has already managed to piss off so many people. First, she asked Benley to stop being metro-sexual - as if he can help it. Then she told Grey to lighten up and smile (big mistake, Grey smiling is not a sight anyone wants to see), followed by telling Jay to man the hell up and stop settling (direct insult to me). Xavier’s managed to fly under her radar for now. He’s lucky, so lucky. That British accent of his is his scapegoat.

“Yo, lady?” Ryan calls to my grandmother as he bravely approaches her. He has no idea what he’s in for. He’s been so preoccupied on his phone, that he’s failed to notice how whack my grandparents are. He’s also managed to escape doing any community work through texting. He hasn’t paid any attention to her demands because he’s been on his phone the entire time. He’s going to pay and I’m going to laugh. Ryan doesn’t even bother to meet my gram’s gaze (it’s considered extremely rude in her books), “Do you have Wi-Fi here?”

“Ask me nicely and maybe then I’ll whip you up some delicious Wi-Fi.” Grams retorts, unaware of what it is Ryan is asking. She’s under the impression that it’s food. She’s from the Dark Ages. She’s so old that you’ll find her picture in an encyclopedia.

“Internet?” Ryan frowns, puzzled by her lack of common sense.

“I said to ask nicely.” She scowls at him in turn, waiting for him to cooperate.

He rolls his eyes at her (something Grams can’t stand) before holding up his phone to her face, “I mean on my phone, lady.” He clarifies, rude as ever. Clearly he was never taught to respect elders. If I spoke like that to my grams, I’d never see the light of day again. I actually, genuinely, feel sorry for him. He has no idea what’s coming next.

“Get that out my face, Boy!” Grams shouts, having finally lost her temper. She takes his phone - the only thing he seems to be obsessed with - and hauls it into the pool of jello, managing to hit Gramps upside the head with it in the process. She grins in glee and fist-bumps the air, “Score! Two birds with one stone.”

To say Ryan was pissed would be the understatement of the century. However, he learned his lesson very quickly. Grams is not the old lady you want to mess with. Ryan storms past me, shooting me a look as if this is all my fault, “Your Grandma is the worst!”

Don’t I know it?

Grams quickly takes to her next victim, “You there,” she waves Landon over, “bring me some strong coffee.” She orders, using Landon - the one with temperamental issues - as her pack mule. She’s currently hounding away at him because he’s apparently not cooperating with her either. I watch in horror as she clouts Landon over the head, “Do what I say, Boy, now!” Grams hisses at him, and to everyone’s surprise, Landon actually complies. He drops everything he’s doing just to obey her request. I was expecting him to lash out and snap at her. I guess even he has restraint when it comes to old people.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Landon follows through with Gram’s bidding. He ends up passing me by with boxes in his hands, extremely busy yet still doing what Grams has asked of him. He sends me a genuine smile as if truly enjoying the slave work, “You have the best grandparents in the whole wide world. You’re so lucky. Mine are lame. I have so much respect for your grandparents. They’re the greatest!”

I glance Sarah’s way, confused by Lan’s reaction, “Your boyfriend is weird.” I state when he’s out of earshot. I’m assuming that Landon appreciates people who are tough on him.

She breaks out into a smile and shakes her head in agreement, “Tell me about it.”

My attention is captured when Troy motions Jay over, “Hey Dude, don’t you want to get shirtless, lend me a hand and join in?” Troy takes the chance in asking Jay for help so that he can get away with doing nothing. It seems as if Ryan’s the expert at doing nothing without anyone else noticing. He’s sly about it.

Meanwhile, Leban and Dean are driving the rest of us crazy with their upbeat, over-the-top happy-go-lucky attitudes. They’re both more than happy to do slavery work in the hot sun beating down on them. In fact, Leban keeps asking my grams what he should do next. He’s so positive, it’s frustrating and Dean’s just a kiss-ass. Grey merely scowls at them in distaste as a result. Grey can’t stand happy people - they piss him off, hence why he adores Jay.

Jay pretends to think over it as if considering Troy’s obnoxious request, “You know what,” he starts sarcastically, a fake smile on his face, “that does actually sound…” His face drops as he gives Troy an ‘are you for real’ look before walking away from him in style, not bothering to finish his sentence. Instead, he chooses to leave gullible Troy hanging.

“So is that a yes?!” Troy calls after him in hope, not catching the hint. “It’s gotta sound appealing. You get to strip for an old lady. C’mon bro! It doesn’t get any better than this.” Troy pleads in desperation.

“Classic ‘CoolGuyJay’ move.” Blubber, having arrived on the scene to make fun of us for getting community work as punishment, bursts out laughing in his admiration for Jay. He and Susie left the babysitting scene to the experts - Simo and Dyl. “Gotta love him.” Blubber wipes a tear away from his eyes, having finished cracking up. “It’s time to get this partaaay started! Now who is ready to be arrested?! Aww yeah buddy!” Blubber jokes on impulse, not thinking his words through.

We all turn to shoot Blubber flat looks, unimpressed. We’ve just been arrested and the pudgy brat knows it. Susie merely offers Blubber a shake of the head before reprimanding him, “Go stand in the corner and think about what you’ve done.” Susie commands, Blubber hesitating to obey. “Go!” Susie demands, Blubber pouting childishly as he stomps his way over to the nearest corner. He might be eighteen now, but to me, he’s still the same pork-chop kid I’ve always known.

Max and I stifle a laugh at the sight. Susie owns his ass. “Turn. Around.” Susie orders, “Around. We don’t want to see your face for five minutes.” Blubber reluctantly turns so that his back faces us. It’s so demeaning, but at least it will teach him a lesson on not being a complete jerk. “Five minutes of silence and then I’ll let you out of time-out. And no crying like last time!” Susie clicks her tongue in disappointment before turning to innocently greet the rest of us as if not a ruthless machine of some sort.

Blubber glances wistfully over his shoulder at us, wanting to be included. He’s even pouting, though unaware of it. I almost feel bad for him. Susie notices and calls after him, “The longer you look this way, the longer you stay in the corner!” Blubber frowns in despair but complies to her commands nonetheless. He crosses his arms over his pudgy tummy before reluctantly turning back around.

“Evil little pest.” Max says in between coughs, his gaze set on Susie — his one-sided arch-nemesis of all time.

“Can’t wait until your girls grow up. I’m so going to befriend them.” Susie smirks threateningly, purposely budging for a reaction from him. Max, clueless, gives it to her.

“Don’t you dare!” Max growls in warning, “Don’t you dare corrupt my sweet little angels! I won’t let you go near them.”

If I had a kid like Susie, I’d never complain.

I tune out of their argument and tune into Troy’s, Leban’s and Xavier’s instead, “He thinks South Africa is better than America!” Troy protests as he wipes a bead of sweat off of his forehead, “Do they have pet lions? Sure. But-“

“Actually, we don’t.” Leban interjects, correcting Troy, “I’ve told you this at least four times now.”

Troy ignores and continues on, “Do they maybe own dragons?” Troy shrugs at his own question, “I don’t know, probably. It’s likely-“

“No it’s not.” Benley chips in, deciding to have his own say too. Leban decides to stay quiet this time and merely stares at Troy as if he’s out of his mind. He can’t comprehend how stupid Troy is.

Troy scowls at Benley, “No one asked you ‘Mr. Dream Crusher’!” Distracted, Troy protests onward, “My point is, America sucks. I want a damn dragon and pet lion for flipsake!” Troy misses his entire plot, getting completely sidetracked by Africa’s lions. His point was meant to defend America, not turn entirely against it.

Benley is getting more and more nicknames by the second…

“Britain is the place to be.” Xavier argues, “I’m just saying…and what I’m just saying happens to be one hundred percent correct.”

Bored, I eavesdrop on another conversation, choosing to slack off for a second or two, “Make yourself useful and give me a hand with this, will ya?” Grey glances Jay’s way as he gestures over to the heavy lifting Grams is having him do.

“You got it.” Jay agrees easily, willing to help Grey when earlier he wasn’t willing to help Troy - to be fair, I wouldn’t want to strip down for an old pervert (Grams) either. I force myself to look elsewhere. Grey will indubitably catch me staring at his brother from another mother, one way or another.

Unfortunately, Grey does see me staring. As if in contemplation, he sighs and motions me over, willing to speak to Jay, or at least try to.

I take a courageous step toward them and that’s when Jay seems to notice my presence. Grey discreetly leaves Jay’s side in order to give us a little privacy. Jay crosses his arms over his chest and mumbles something inaudible beneath his breath, nevertheless he stays rooted in his spot to hear me out. He’s finally giving me the gap.

“Let’s hear it then.” He says, keeping his steady unyielding gaze on me. “I got time to kill. Your grandparents are driving me nuts.” He says as if to crack a joke and ease the tension floating in and around between us. He’s in an oddly nicer mood than yesterday. I just hope he keeps it throughout this conversation.

“I was going to come back you know, after a month like I originally promised.” I say, forgetting to implement an ice-breaker. I’d rather get straight to the point. Jay, surprisingly, stays silent and allows me to speak. He averts his eyes as if he’d rather not have this talk at all. He’d rather go about in his newfound hatred for me than talk it out. I ignore it and continue in spite of it killing me, “But then I met with my father and he said some things-“

A look of concern flickers across his blue eyes as his gaze darts back to me, “What things, Aqueela?” He asks. I was really hoping he wouldn’t. I hate talking about that man I used to call dad. I hesitate and Jay sees it immediately, “It’s fine.” He implements some understanding. He’s giving me leeway because he knows I’d rather not discuss it right now. He’s allowing me to opt out this time. He’s dropping the subject for my sake.

I take the liberty to explain as much as I can without having to delve into details and relive it, “I didn’t come back because I changed. He made me see things that I was blinded to before. He’s the reason I never came back. Only now am I able and capable of doing things properly. He was right about one thing, I had to change.” We both had to.

“That’s really not the explanation I was looking for,” Jay confesses bluntly. “I understand that you left for closure, but be fair and grant me it.” His eyes meet mine in desperation, “Please. I just need to know.”

Caught off guard, I pause. “I thought…” I trail off in a stammer as I rethink my answer. Changing what I was initially going to say, I continue, “I thought that in time he’d come to see and accept me as his daughter. I needed him at the time. I needed a father and I was willing to sacrifice for it.” I bend and twist the truth, too cowardly to tell him the real reason.

“I see.” Jay sighs, retracing his steps, “I became one of those sacrifices.” He comes to the conclusion all on his own.

I shake my head, “It wasn’t like that,” I try to explain it to him without hurting him all the more, “I didn’t grow up with a father figure. I didn’t have that.”

“Neither did I, Aqueela!” He raises his tone at me, successfully getting his point across this time. He changes to a lower tone, “But I didn’t leave you behind to trace my biological parents down. I chose you.” He admits, wanting me to see it from his perspective. I fall quiet at his words, the guilt inside consuming me. He glances downward and runs a frustrated hand through his brown hair, “You don’t get it, Aqueela. You just don’t get it.” He paces as if still in thought. It seems he has more to say, but instead of saying any of it, he merely turns to walk away.

He gives up.

On impulse, I reach out to stop him, my fingertips curling around his wrist in a single plea, “Then explain it to me.” I beg, trying to understand.

He thinks about it for a second before turning back to me, “I was ready to give up, I was ready to throw in the towel on life, on my future, on everything,” he gathers his thoughts, releasing a tense breath, “but then you came along and changed everything.”

“I did?” I question, taken aback by this new information.

He nods, taking it a step further by explaining himself, “The day you spilt your ice-cream on me, was the day I was thinking about relocating, leaving town. I couldn’t cope anymore. Seeing Mason live out my life was enough for me to call it quits. I hated that he had everything, that he had it all. I needed to get far away.” He glances up, his focus on me, “I didn’t think you’d ever remember me from when we were kids, so I never bothered with you. I had my stuff packed. I was set on leaving for good.”

All this is news to me. I didn’t know that he was about to jump countries that day.

“The last thing I was expecting was for you, of all people, to run into me that day at the ice-cream store. When I saw that it was you, I was stunned and said some stupid stuff on impulse because I was so out of it in the moment. I didn’t think I’d actually get the chance to talk to you again before I left. I thought I’d leave as nothing but a vague memory of yours. It never occurred to me that I’d actually get a shot at being something more to you other than just the kid you used to play with when we were younger.” He reveals, making me think back to when Mason said that Jay had always secretly been looking out for me - I just never knew it.

I still wonder, to this day, why Jay never spoke to me before the day I spilled ice-cream all over him. By the sounds of it, he thought it would be a lost cause. He didn’t think I’d take him for him, and so instead, he went out of his way to avoid me.

He looks elsewhere, “I slipped up that day. I wasn’t suppose to interact with you. I had it all planned out. I was going to leave everything behind. I had nothing keeping me…until you bumped into me. I had always been drawn to you, but it was more than that. You inspired me,” he then makes eye-contact for a split second, “you still do.” He admits, my pulse racing upon hearing all of this. “The day I technically met you, was the day my life changed.” He doesn’t stop there, “I went home that day and unpacked everything. I had found something, someone, to stay for.”

How can I inspire him? I’m nothing. He’s the worldwide known racer. He’s the one with all the achievements, but knowing Jay, I’m just scraping the surface with him. It goes deeper.

I’m about to speak, when the last half of what he said registers. I gulp, now feeling more guilty than ever before. There’s absolutely nothing I can say to fix this, and he knows it.

“I was just hoping, that when it came down to it, that you’d find someone to stay for too. I wanted to be that person, just as you were to me.” He brings his attention back to me, “You saved me from a lot of mistakes, but you were the cause of many of them too. I’m trying to learn from it all, and I don’t just blame you, I blame myself too. I’m not innocent.”

My expression breaks, my eyes softening under his piercing cold gaze, “Jay…” I breathe, at a loss for words.

“You left, life happens, end of story.” He concludes, making a futile attempt to play this off as a matter he’s no longer concerned with. It’s clear he’s still taken up about all of it.

Not end of story!

Angry that he’s brushing this off s if it’s nothing, I have my say, “I’m not going to hide from what I did. I made a mistake. I won’t try and justify it anymore. I’ll own up to it, but then you have to stop playing the victim all the time. I know you’ve been through hell, but so have I. Your life, their lives,” I motion to the others, not really taking note of Gram’s bed sheets on fire, “are not dependent on mine. None of your lives had to end when I left. It’s not fair to hold me responsible for any of that. I make my own choices. I’m not accountable to all of you.” I remind him, “Jay, you broke it off with me. I didn’t ever plan on not coming back, it’s just the way things happened. You’re the one who said that you wouldn’t wait for me.”

He nods, taking the fall for some of it, “We were moving at different speeds back then.” It’s my tun to nod, agreeing with him. “And now, we’re just moving in different directions.” He ends icily, clarifying it all from his point of view, before he eagerly gets back to helping Grey.

I feel the opposite. Our paths intersected for a reason. We gravitate back to each other for a reason. We may be going in circles, but we’re still moving in the same direction. We’re headed for the same destination.

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