Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 14: Last Say

“Don’t you think you’re being a little unreasonable here?” Max squawks on like the annoying parrot he is. Engaging with him is unbearable at times. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, like Ryan, but sometimes he makes me wish for an AK-47 to blow his brains out. I could even take it a step further and incorporate some missiles and a rocket launcher.

“It’s common freaken sense Max!” I hiss at him in pure determination, “I just need to get him alone for a second or two to explain properly this time.” I reason, trying to justify my means to talk to Jay. Maybe I just like talking to him…

“Look, I get that he’s a glamorous, irresistible studmuffin in your eyes, but don’t you think he deserves some space?” Max asks me, point blank. I’m reminded of the time when Jay told me that we’d never need space from each other, yet here we are…

“But he waved at me!” I protest, set in my ways as I stubbornly emphasize my point.

“That doesn’t mean anything!” Max snaps at me, slowly growing impatient with my lack of understanding. It almost feels like he’s tutoring me in mathematics again - the only time he ever really snapped at me.

“So what are you suggesting then?” I huff in defeat, quirking an eyebrow at Max as I wait to hear his golden advice. It better be golden, or else.

“He only recently got back home. I’m just suggesting you fly under the radar for now until he settles in, until he stops resenting your presence as much. One-on-one time with him is like asking for World War III. The sky might just fall. It’s bound to lead to an argument between you two, furthering in your unresolved conflict. Hold back a little longer. You’ll get your chance when he gives it to you himself.” Max says, telling me something similar to what Grey had told me.

I yawn, bored, as I wave the matter off, “Very well said Maxi-pad. Beautiful, bravo!” I clap my hands in fake enthusiasm before scowling at him, “Except for the entire part where you blubbered incoherently about irrelevant stuff.”

Max’s face falls, “You’re a really mean person, you know?”

I ignore his girly whining, “So this is what I’m going to do, I’m going to get him alone and allow him to confront me so that I can finally explain everything.” I let Max in on my plan. Benley said to tell Jay everything and so that’s what I’m going to do.

Max rolls his eyes at me, “Isn’t this how we started this entire conversation?” He queries, experiencing a moment of deja vu. He raises an eyebrow my way, “Did you not hear anything of what I just said?” He quizzes. “I said to stay low, not go all out with your pack of wolves.”

Stupid Max. He’s part of my pack of wolves. He’s my second in command. I’m his Alpha.

“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Anything worth doing is worth going all out, especially if it’s concerning Jay Taylor.” I say, insistent on doing things my way. I’ve never been the type to shy away from matters that need resolving.

“It’s like you just tune me out.” Max complains in vain, me still paying no heed to his nonsense.

I grin innocently up at him and nudge his shoulder teasingly with my own, “Self-preservation my friend, self-preservation.” I gracefully stride away from him after that, allowing it to sink into his puzzled head.

“Out of my way!” Troy shoves past me rudely, easily lifting me up and placing me aside, “I’ve got a date tonight. Have to look my absolute best, shouldn’t be difficult considering that I always look superb.” Troy then proceeds by taking out his phone and dialing a number, “Ramos, I need you!” He greets his only friend (besides Max) in sheer panic, “Get here now,” he demands rudely, “my hair needs to be perfect for tonight! Do you hear me right now Ramos? Perfect!”

Troy saw another hairdresser the other day because Ramos called in sick for the first time ever. Since then, Troy’s been going on about how awful and ‘out of place’ his hair has been looking. He even wore a hat to cover up his hair for three days straight, in spite of his hair still looking exactly the same as always - perfect. He’s delusional and seems to favor Ramos as if Ramos himself is a cut above the rest.

Just today, Troy has asked me about a billion times if I can see what the new hairdresser did wrong. I’ve said ‘no’ about a billion times back before he finally showed me the single strand of hair sticking up in the wrong direction. You’d need a microscope to see it - nevertheless, Troy wants to sue.

“How the hell…?” Max asks, just as lost as me.

How on earth did Troy score a date? How can any girl possibly want to put up with him? He’s just too much for the taking. I’ll pass. Poor girl - just wait until she sees that there’s nothing more to Troy than his dominant looks.

“Don’t ask me. I don’t always have all the answers.” I cringe at the thought of going out with Troy. He must be paying the girl so much cash. She must be bathing in money to agree to date with Troy. “I can’t wrap my mind around it either.” I admit.

“Do you think she’s real?” Max asks, sheepish but genuinely curious to know the answer. Knowing Troy, it’s actually a valid question.

I grab a cheese puff and stuff it into my mouth before glancing at Max, “You talking to meh?” I ask him in attitude before swallowing and quickly breaking out into a small smile, “Are you trying to imply that he’s going on a date with a doll, or an imaginary friend or something? Or are you saying that she doesn’t exist?” I stifle a laugh at hearing Max’s absurd, yet accurate theory.

“All of that would be more likely than a real female going anywhere with him, especially if it’s on a date.” Max defends himself and his accusations against Troy, “You think he’s blackmailing her?” His eyes widen as he ponders over all his assumptions, “You think he’s forcing her against her will?” He openly gasps in shock when another thought occurs to him, “Do you think he kidnapped her?”

He’s really just jumping the gun now…

Nancy, beyond annoyed, joins in on the conversation as well, “He’s been begging me to set him up with one of my friends for weeks. I was reluctant at first because I didn’t want any of my friends to have to go through the worst date in history - but damn, Troy sure knows how to wear a girl down. He just doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s exhausting. I just caved in this time and set him up with a model, Jezel, my friend I dislike the most.”

I don’t have any friends I dislike, well the exception being Blubber. No, but really, I love all my friends. I wouldn’t allow any of my friends to date Troy, it’s just cruel and merciless. Troy is a flesh devouring El Chupacabra. Once you have him, you can’t get rid of him. He sinks his teeth in. You got to stay vigilant when around him. He’s unpredictable and can pounce at any given second. It’s dangerous grounds to tread upon. Whoever she is, she’s one brave girl. Props to Jezel for taking Troy on. I wouldn’t manage the ‘Troy Sanctuary’ - too many wild animals running loose.

“One question Nancy, does she have the figure of a shell of a peanut?” Troy asks after finishing his pointless conversation, over the phone, with Ramos. “It’s a deal breaker if she doesn’t.” He has high, yet weird expectations.

Nancy rolls her eyes at him, failing to hide her immense irritation in the moment, “Just be grateful that someone is actually willing to go out with you.” She blatantly insults him.

“So cold Babe.” Ryan chuckles at Troy’s expense before he goes back to ‘watsapping’ his buddies that none of us ever get to see. He’s already bought a new phone. There’s no proof that he even has friends. They probably don’t even exist. It’s probably just an act.

It’s about five minutes later when the doorbell rings. I sigh and decide to open it, in spite of it not even being my house. I groan when I see his face. He does the exact same thing in response. “How did you get here so fast?” I question, “Troy literally just called you.” I point out.

“None of zie business of yours Split Ends.” He scoffs before pushing me aside and entering. He turns back and offers me a look of repulse, “I see that zie hair is still such a disaster after all zies time. Zit shows zat you’re zie hopeless case.”

No greeting or ‘welcome back’…that’s cool.

“You don’t have many fans, do you?” Ryan asks mockingly, a grin edging it’s way onto his face. He just loves pissing me off. At least he’s a quick learner.

Ignoring Ryan, I raise a brow at Ramos - unimpressed, yet at the same time, unfazed by his poor insults (he’ll have to do a lot better if he wants a reaction), “I swear you just talk like that for attention.” I point out, well aware of the fact. I’ve let it slide for this long, but today I’m feeling extra mean.

Ramos, taken aback and caught off guard by my skeptical side, merely sticks his tongue out at me like an immature brat before chasing after Troy for protection. It’s then that Troy informs me that Ramos lives just down the street, hence him getting here so quickly. Those two are literally inseparable.

“Now let’s style zie hair to perfection!” Ramos claps his hands giddily, ecstatic, before getting to work on Troy’s perfectly quaffed hair.

Max coughs in jealousy, glowering at the two of them, “Losers.”

I swat Max across the chest, “Why so jelly? I’m your best friend, you don’t need Troy. Troy has Ramos.”

Max grits his teeth in aggravation, “That damn Ramos. I’ll end him.” Max and Troy are close, but Troy and Ramos are even closer.

I grin at Max in glee, “Whatever then, I’m out.” I tell him before saluting Troy goodbye, “Try not to mess up on your date.”

“She better not mess up,” Troy replies back cockily, “I’m the world’s finest catch.”

“Zies is true.” Ramos pipes up, obviously siding with Troy.

“Yeah right.” Nancy scoffs at Troy’s audacity and arrogance.

“Don’t do this, Aqueela. I’m warning you. Your country needs you, Jay doesn’t - not yet.” Max tries to sway me out of it, but I’m not having it. I will speak to Jay and clear the air for good, no matter what. No one will stop me.

“My country can wait.” I murmur, unconcerned at Max’s dramatic antics. It’s all in a vain attempt to get me to stay. I grab my bag and head for the door, ignoring Max’s lively protests. Jay has waited long enough. Screw my country!

“Good riddance. I hope you get lost and can’t find zie way back here.” Ramos offers me a wave, a wave that means nothing because his insulting words take the cake.

“Don’t joke. That’s happened before.” Max tells Ramos off, “We spent hours looking for her. Aqueela’s so bad at directions, I wouldn’t be surprised if she got stranded on an island, or landed up in the bottom of the ocean, or deserted in a desert land.” He over-exaggerates.

“As long as she drowns down der in da ocean, den I’ll be zie perfectly fine.” Ramos sends me a look filled with seething hatred. Feeling is mutual buddy. I’m tempted to flip him off, but then I’d be stooping down to Grey’s level. That’s shameful.

I ignore all of them and step out the front door, shutting it after me after first hearing Ryan’s playful goodbye, “Later pipsqueak.”

“One water please.” I ask him ever so politely. Upon hearing my voice, he quickly lifts his head to scowl at me. I don’t even wince, already expecting him to give me the cold shoulder after slipping up the other day. I know him so well. He glares at me and continues to wipe down the bar counter and wine glasses ahead of him. He’s acting like I’m not here. He regrets the moment.

I bounced Jay’s whereabouts off Grey. He was reluctant to let me know where Jay would be, but after much persistence, he caved. He told me that Greg (Boss Man) needed spare hands at his bar as business has been tight. Seeing as Greg helped Jay in the past, Jay felt it was time to return the favor. Thus, Jay is working at the bar again - temporarily.

I tap the counter repetitively until I gain his attention. He glares at me a second time, “You came all this way just to order water?” He asks bitterly, still storing up resentment for me. I don’t flinch under his cold gaze, anticipating it. He lets out a sigh and shakes his head at me, “Go home, Aqueela. There’s nothing for you here.”

I nod, “Uh huh, I know, so listen…” I trail off when I see Greg. I tear my eyes away from Jay for a brief second, “Boss Man!” I cheer enthusiastically before taking a run up to hug him, Jay still glaring fiercely at me.

“Hey you, what’s up?” Greg grins, high-fiving me after first returning my hug. “Long time.” He smiles fondly and razzles my hair, still treating me like some four year old. I wouldn’t have it any other way. “Been busy I assume, ey Sweetheart?”

“Just ignore her Greg. She’ll leave eventually.” Jay speaks up, choosing to have his say - unintentionally giving insight to the way he feels about all of this. He’s still mad, Max was right.

“Knowing her, she won’t.” Greg chuckles before glancing between the two of us, “Is this really happening again? You two at odd ends and evens again?” Greg questions in disbelief, “Don’t resort to child’s play. Grow up, you two. You’re both rational adults now.” He lectures us both, giving us the scolding of a life time. He then tears his eyes off me to face Jay, “Just go speak to the girl already.” He commands, “Aqueela obviously has something to say.”

Jay takes a stand and crosses his arms over his chest in a defiant manner. He leans forward against the bar counter and pushes a tall glass of water my way. He then frowns at Greg at not getting his own way, “Who says I want to hear her out?” He dares to challenge Greg.

Taylor.” Greg warns as if expecting better from Jay. Greg is the closest thing Jay has ever had to a parent. He knows how Jay operates, he knows Jay best from every single one of us (that includes Grey and FeeBee). Jay has opened up to Greg about things I will never know. Greg is the person he trusts most in life. I’ve accepted it. Jay will never go against one of Greg’s commands. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Greg remotely angry.

Jay throws the cloth aside in his temper, “Fine.” He growls out in compliance. He reaches for a shot glass and downs the liquid before he stalks out the bar, expecting me to follow after him. Of course, I skip after him before he manages to escape - no doubt he’ll try get out of this. He finds a secluded spot and waits for me there. He stands against the wall with his hands in his pockets, an impatient expression on his face, “I don’t have all day - or should I say, five years.” He remarks rudely to spite me. He wants me to feel what I made him feel. He wants to get even.

I take in a deep breath, willing myself to find the courage to tell him everything I was about to tell him when I went with Grey and Dean to pick him up from the airport, to tell him about the accident. I haven’t told everyone the entire story about why I did what I did - but if I’m going to tell someone, it should be Jay.

His dark, demeaning glare sways me to say otherwise. I back down, rather settling with a lousy excuse, “I just want you to know that I didn’t leave because of you. I mean, it wasn’t just you. It was a lot of defining factors.” I say, choosing to be vague.

This is more difficult than I thought it would be. I can’t find it in me to tell him. Telling him won’t change anything. I still stayed back on my own accord. All I can do is reflect back to the conflicting meeting I had with my father. That meeting seemed to change my entire perspective on a lot of things, including Jay. I regret ever meeting with my father, however, he did manage to open my eyes to see the things that needed to be seen. If I wasn’t so angry with him, I wouldn’t have been in an accident in the first place.

There’s a moment of silence before Jay clears his throat, “I don’t think you get it. You don’t realize the extent of it. You don’t seem to get what you put me through. I waited, Aqueela.” He informs me, shocking me. He’s the one who said that he wouldn’t wait for me, I believed him. “I waited two years. For you.” He clarifies, “Why didn’t you come back? I deserve better than ‘a lot of defining factors’. I just need a reason, a real one.”

I nod and open my mouth to explain, but he talks over me, “Actually, maybe it’s better I don’t know.” He concludes as if not seeking closure on the ordeal. He’s afraid to know the real reason and I’m afraid to tell him. It will make no difference. He’ll continue to resent me. “I don’t want to know.” He finalizes, choosing not to confront me about it, or face it himself.

I purse my lips and angle my head to the side as I observe him. I stare at him, his blue eyes unyielding, his expression conveying his hurt, “Jay, I think you should know-“

“Let me ask you something, why did you change your number?” Jay questions me, point blank. It’s obviously been on his mind for a while now.

Feeling guilty about that, I shrug and turn the accusation back onto him, “The same reason why you didn’t go after me, uncertainty,” I confess. “I guess doubt is what makes us, us.” I admit it to myself this time, accepting the facts.

“I don’t like that part to us,” he says, almost as if there is still an us. He averts his gaze from me to the ground as if contemplating his next words, deep in thought, “I did go after you. When I got to the plane to stop you, I saw you and him. You made your decision, you chose Mason. What was the point in chasing after you?”

Caught off guard by the new information, I begin to ramble, “You don’t understand, it wasn’t like that. Mason said some things-“

“I bet he did.” Jay’s expression transforms to a severely pissed off one, “He the one that stopped you from coming back to me?”

If only he knew that Mason had his back on that one…

I quickly shake my head at him, “Not even close. If you should know anything, know that Mason and I…” I pull a face and shake my head again, signifying that nothing ever happened between us. The mere thought makes me shudder. “But Jay, from the heart, I want you to know that I’m sorry for all the wrong I’ve done against you. I’m just genuinely sorry.” I apologize, true in my attempt to make amends.

He can accept my apology or reject it. I’m not asking him to take me back. I’m not asking for a do over. I’m not even asking for friendship. I’m just asking that he forgive me.

Jay, processing it, blows out a frustrated breath before glancing up to meet my gaze once again, “I played my part. Don’t sell yourself short. I made my fair share of mistakes too.” He says, recognizing his own faults. We’re mature enough not to continue playing this blame game. “Wallowing in self-pity for two years was stupid. I was selfish at the time,” he pauses before the next five words slip out of his mouth on impulse, “I didn’t think of you.” He admits to me, “I just knew that I wanted you to stay.” He explains, his own way of apologizing, “I’m glad, sincerely, that you got the chance to see your father.”

I’m not.

“Thanks,” I grin at him and add, “I’m glad, sincerely,” I copy him, “that you got to travel the world and experience all that you’ve ever wanted, that you got to live out your dreams.”

I could have gone back to save the relationship. Jay could have come to New York to save the relationship. We’re both now realizing that we could have done more, but we chose not to. Whether we want to accept it or not, we just weren’t ready to get serious back then.

He shakes his head, “I didn’t get to experience all that I’ve wanted.” He confesses as if admitting it to himself for the first time, “There’s one particular dream I’m still hoping to live out.” There’s a hesitant smile drawn upon his features as he locks his eyes with mine, “You, Aqueela Lawson, have always been larger than life itself.” He then takes to a different direction after that, “But, I feel like what we both need right now, is space. We should see other people.” He suggests calmly. I raise a prodding brow at him for an explanation. He clears up my confusion, “I mean, we should continue to seeing other people. It’s what’s best for us, for me.” He tells me, being straight with me. I appreciate his honesty. “I need to be alone for a while.”

I nod in understanding, of course disappointed, but still understanding, “That’s fine,” I agree and say my parting words to him, “but if you ever change your mind and want to be alone together, you know where to find me.”

He cracks a smile at that, a soft chuckle resonating from him, “Got it.” He offers me a boyish smirk, “I’ll keep it in mind.” He makes a move to leave, but then quickly spins back around to face me as if having to ask me one last time, “And Mason…?” He queries yet again, desperation coursing through his eyes as he asks it.

I shake my head in answer, “Nothing there.” I answer him truthfully, “Nothing ever happened.” I reassure him yet again.

Relief floods his features as he nods, subconsciously tousling his hair about with a fleeting action of uncertainty. He spares me one last look before he says his goodbyes.

At least he was reasonable enough to hear me out. At least he was mature enough to take some of the blame too. At least he managed to stay calm and not raise his voice at me. Then again, he hasn’t raised his voice at me for a long time. He’s changed.

It went much better than I expected it to go. He doesn’t completely hate me. He’s working his way up to forgiving me. That’s all I’m asking for. I don’t need anything more from him. I would like something more, but I don’t need anything more.

“So?” Max queries as soon as I step in through the front door. I came back in order to fill him in and give him the latest update (Bells is busy with the little ones, hence Max being my second option as Benley’s working today), “How did it go?”

“Fine.” I answer truthfully, a small smile on my face, “Just fine.”

“You guys back together?” Max asks in a hype, already jumping to conclusions. I shake my head at him in answer. His face falls in disappointment, “Then why so relaxed?” He interrogates, skeptical.

I shrug, “I didn’t expect him to take me back, Max. His reasoning is justified. I’m just glad he got the closure he needed from me. If he’s happy, then so am I. My only wish is that he’s happy. If he is, then so be it. I’m made of steel, I’ll find a way to move on.”

Max eyes me weirdly before grinning, “That’s actually really cool of you, Aqueela. I’m impressed. I didn’t think it was possible for you to grow up-”

It’s then the facade comes crashing down and I end up slamming my fist into the nearest couch pillow.

Max sees right through my actions and chuckles, “Knew it was too good to be true.”

“I’m just aggravated Max, that’s all.” I confess, “I really messed up.”

“We all do Aqueels, we all do.” He assures me in an act to comfort me. “Hey, we can totally arrange an espionage - I mean, if you think he’s seeing someone, that is.” Max ponders it over, “You think he is…seeing someone?”

“It’s possible.” I reply casually. “It would explain a lot.” I state nonchalantly, not really keen to think about it too much. The thought doesn’t sit well with me. I’d rather think of anything else, anything else.

Max observes me carefully as if trying to get a read on me, “You okay with that?” He asks softly, trying to be as sensitive and considerate as possible. I’m pretty transparent when I find myself stuck in situations as such. I’m like an open book.

Max can easily put it down to Jay being with someone else. Jay can be with whoever he wants, what bothers me is that I used to be the one he wanted to be with.

“What other choice do I have other than to be okay with it?” I ask, making him think over it. “I don’t have a choice in this. If he’s with someone, it doesn’t involve me. I’m not part of it. I can only accept it.” I explain my side, willing him to see it my way. There’s really only one way to see it.

Before Max can say anything more, the front door slams open and in walks Troy, a stunning girl following in after him. She must be Jezel - his date. They’re both too busy arguing at the top of their voices to notice Max and me.

“It was a perfect dream date! I don’t get what your problem is!” Troy argues with her, clearly at a loss as to what he did wrong. I can only imagine…

The girl is flabbergasted, to say the least, “You don’t…” she pauses as if she just cannot fathom it, “you don’t… d-don’t get…” Fuming, she trails off before coming straight out with it, “How can you not get what you did wrong?!” She shouts at him as if it should be obvious. She’s definitely annoyed. “First, you made me walk several steps behind you because you didn’t want to be seen with me-“

“Granted, I am a little better looking than you. You have to understand that I can do better, hence why it was shameful for me to be seen with you. Surely you can understand that. I’m not as deceitful as your mirror at home.” Troy defends himself in spite of his date looking like some beautiful supermodel. I don’t get why he is complaining. She’s gorgeous. He is so rude, which I why I don’t blame her for taking her next actions…

Jezel slaps him directly through the face, taking Troy (Max and I saw it coming) by complete surprise. “It’s not your appearance, it’s your fricken personality. You’re an awful human being!” She hisses at him, even more aggravated than me. I’m definitely on her side. Troy tends to come across as obnoxious - I still ‘troydore’ the guy though. He’s Troy, there’s nothing more to it.

“Refrain from touching my face, you can’t afford it.” Troy growls starkly before rubbing his tainted cheek as if not fazed that he’d been such a jerk to the poor girl. He’s far from a gentleman. “Besides, it is looks that count in the end in any case. Everyone knows that.”

What he doesn’t know, is when to shut up…

“You ordered me meat when I told you, in confidence, that I’ve just recently turned vegan due to health issues!” She makes a futile attempt to get her point across to him. Little does she know that Troy will never see his flaws, because in his eyes, he is flawless.

“I don’t understand why your star sign concerns meat. I’m a Sagittarius and you don’t see me fussing about over meat.” Troy protests on like the idiot he is. I don’t know how he is not seeing this. He was obviously in the wrong…a lot of times.

She purses her lips and stares at Troy in response, absolutely silent, as if disbelieving that such a human really exists. Newsflash to her, he does exist and he’s standing before her very eyes. “You only talk about yourself and you tried to kiss me within five minutes into the date!” She screams at him, finally exploding - just about ready to destroy him entirely.

Troy takes a bow in pride, “You’re welcome.” He smirks condescendingly and sends her a flirtatious wink, “Any girl would be fortunate to get the opportunity to kiss me. I was doing you a favor.” He insists arrogantly, blind to the fact that he is the problem. He ruined the date, not her.

“You kept competing with me, in who, between us, is best dressed!” She growls angrily, “You’re the worst date I’ve ever been on and I’ve been on a lot of terrible dates! You top all of them!” She huffs, ready walk out the door.

“Why thank you,” Troy grins boastfully for a split second before faltering, “flattery will get you nowhere, Missy.” He insists with a laugh. It earns him a flat look in turn. He’s quick to arise to his own defense, “But then again, I can’t help that I have a better fashion sense than you!” Troy snaps back at her, having finally lost his own ‘cool’. “If anything, I should be the displeased one. You make me wish that fashion police actually existed.” He surveys her stylish outfit in a judging manner, “You don’t even have the figure of a peanut shell. Nancy promised a shell, not a pudgy peanut.” He blatantly insults her to her face as if his words are nothing but harmless.

The girl is not even remotely fat…

“Get wrecked, I’m a gem.” Jezel scowls at him, displeased as to how the evening turned out.

“You’re embarrassing my friends in front of me.” Troy motions to us as if suddenly remembering that we’re here too. Jezel, seeing only red, makes a move to hit him through the face yet again. Troy catches her hand in his. Jezel glowers up at him. Before Max and I know it, the two are sucking face right in front of us.

Max’s eyes widen and my mouth falls agape at the sight. They had literally just been hating on each other. That escalated way too quickly. They jumped from fighting to loving. I fake gag, disgusted, “Gross.”

Max, still speechless, tears his eyes off of the strange couple to face me, “What just happened?” He arches a brow, perplexed by the scene. He’s at a loss. “Weren’t they about to tear each other’s faces off a second ago?”

I nod in agreement, “I’ll be honest, they’re doing it an entirely different way than I expected.” I cringe at the two of them getting heated. “I’ll leave them to it then,” I tell Max, in search of his little soya bean - Rhys.

“Wait up!” Max quickly hurries after me, not wanting to be left alone with them. Turns out the couple hit it off after all. I have to hide a smile upon hearing Max’s desperation, “I don’t even care where you’re going, I’ll follow you to the grave. Anything is better than this.”

“I brought you into this world, I can easily take you out!” Troy shouts lies at Max, the both of them arguing about stupid stuff such as ‘bros before hoes’ etcetera.

“Please do,” Max retorts before hitting Troy tauntingly, “that would be sublime.”

“Stop smacking me in the face!” Troy howls in pain before retaliating. These two…

“No you stop!” Max whines in protest as he tries to dodge Troy’s brutal attacks.

I ignore the idiots and focus on what’s currently important, “Hi there, hey there little buddy. Aunty Aqueela, your favoritest person, is here.” I coo down at the baby in my arms, Rhys being my favorite. He never cries, unlike his sisters. I grin when he starts gurgling and babbling nonsense. I let him grab hold of my finger, him staring up at me with wide, innocent eyes. Just when I’m about to rock him to sleep, they interrupt me:

“Aqueela!” They shout simultaneously, involving me in the situation as always.

So damn childish…I have no idea where they get it from.

“What is it now?!” I snap at them in frustration. I can’t have a second of peace, ever. It’s like being in a war zone.

“He won’t stop hitting me!” They chorus together unintentionally. Unfortunately for humanity, they share the same mind. It scares me because I’m just like Max. The thought of ever being similar to Troy is a frightening one.

“I propose a dual.” I speak up, holding Rhys closer to me as if to protect him from the idiots. Even Rhys sees how stupid these morons are. He, for the first time, cracks a tiny smile. I aww at him, Max joining in with me in spite of still fighting with Troy (his soon-to-be brother-in-law, hopefully).

“No.” Bells shakes her head at me before smiling at her baby boy in delight, “Not another dual.” She scolds at me before taking Rhys away from me as punishment for the suggestion. “The last dual you held did not end well. Max broke his arm.” She reminds me. I pout in disdain, but she draws the line on this one, “Your duals are dangerous.” She concludes feverishly.

I shrug and glance to Max and Troy in defeat, “A fight to the death it is then. There can be no winners.”

That should solve my problem quickly - two birds with one fight to the death…

“Game on!” Troy cheers, not realizing the consequences of my terms and conditions.

Max shakes his head at me, “You’re a horrible person.” He says, processing my statement. If there can be no winners, it means they’d both die. It’s not much of a pity that Troy hasn’t clicked yet. In fact, Troy is more than ready to die. He keeps jumping around Max with raised fists. Max shoves Troy away with one hand, “Fight, off.” Max concludes as he reaches for a straw from the kitchen counter as if premeditating what he’s about to do next.

“You chicken?” Troy mocks Max before making clucking sounds, “Come at me bro!”

Max shoves a massive ball of paper down his straw before blowing it in Troy’s direction. He huffs and he puffs and he blows…the spitball onto Troy’s face. Troy falls silent when the gigantic spitball lands splat in the middle of his forehead.

I can’t help it, I burst into laughter upon seeing his befuddles expression as it slowly dawns on him.

Of course, a spitball fight breaks out after that. I glance around the filthy kitchen packed in spitballs before shaking my head at Bells, “I ain’t cleaning that up.” I quickly make my escape and head back to my hotel before I get dragged into tidying their mess (wouldn’t be the first time). It has to be one hell of a challenge to live with both Max and Troy. Bells deserves a medal or something. Then again, it goes both ways. Bells isn’t exactly the most pleasant person to be around when she’s in a mood, which happens to be often. I love the girl, but she’s the ultimate havoc package.

I get home in good time.

I don’t bother to take note of Leban entering his hotel room right beside me. It’s better I block out the jackass. I choose to tune him out. What actually catches my eye happens to be a familiar redhead. I lift an eyebrow upon seeing her waiting just outside my hotel room for me, “What’s up Emma?” I question, taken aback by her unexpected presence.

“We need to talk.” She replies back coldly, no trace of friendliness in her tone. It makes me wonder if her sweetness is all an act.

I think she might be breaking up with me…

Surprised, I nod and open my door, allowing her full entrance.

She helps herself to a seat before jumping right into it, “Forgive me if I come across as rude, but you need to hear this - if not from JT himself, then from me.”

That’s the problem with Jay, I always have to hear his thoughts from someone else. He doesn’t talk to me. Even when we were dating, he didn’t open up and share. It was just one of our many issues.

I sigh at hearing Emma’s words. This can’t be a good surprise visit - it’s one of the terrible ones you dread. I take a seat too, knowing that this conversation is going to take a while. I motion to her to proceed. She eagerly takes the gap and delves into the subject.

“You don’t seem to understand the damage you caused in JT’s life when you left.” Emma tells me bluntly, all the while using an accusing tone on me as if it’s all my fault. “You weren’t there in the two years he spent getting over you. He was a mess - he was broken - I can’t explain it any other way. He just wasn’t Jay Taylor anymore.”

It’s then things take a turn for the worst. “You really stuffed up Aqueela. Now look, I like you, but JT’s been around for a long time. I made a silent vow to always have his back. He’s one of my closest friends, and you really hurt him.” She informs me harshly, “Jay will never admit it, but you didn’t just leave him, you left him torn apart. You don’t just get to waltz back into his life after he’s made a full recovery. He’s finally happy again, don’t ruin that for him.”

Instead of taking it to heart or losing my temper, I listen. I nod in understanding, hearing what she’s saying through recognizing my own mistakes, “I won’t.” I breathe out shakily, “I won’t ruin anything for him ever again. I’ll leave him be, I promise.” I cooperate with her, but for Jay’s sake, not hers. When it comes down to it, Jay’s all that really matters to me. He’s my priority, but it seems (by his own words) that it’s time I let him go. I think, with some time, I can do that.

“That’s not good enough,” Emma shakes her head at me, “if you saw what it did, if you saw the hopelessness in his eyes when you didn’t come back, only then would you understand. He was beyond lost.” She takes the liberty to guilt trip me further, “I’m not asking you to just leave him be, I’m asking you to find someone else. You and Jay…it’s never going to work. Your shot is up.”

My expression falters for a second. Her last sentence crushes me, but I’m quick to recover.

Emma notices my fleck of misery, “I’m really sorry Aqueela, but it’s what you need to hear.”

“I know.” I reply back softly.

As if Jay didn’t make any of this clear earlier today already…

“You don’t though,” Emma argues, “you don’t know. You don’t know half of it. You don’t know what kind of agony you put him through.” She defends Jay, unaware of the fact that I had undergone the same kind of pain he went through. It’s not like I didn’t want to come back. I did. Emma, merciless in her pursuit, hits me with another one of her heavy blows, “Now from one friend to another, move on so that he can stay happy.”

Jay’s happiness is what matters most. I won’t ever interfere with his happiness. All I’ve ever wanted is for him to be happy. I was just hoping he’d find that happiness in being with me.

I shoot Emma a look, “Oh, so we’re friends now?” I ask point blank, a little offended that she refuses to see it from my perspective. It’s not like Jay couldn’t go after me. He chose to stay behind, just as I chose to never come back here. Now I’m back, and just look how that turned out…

“It’s nothing personal, Aqueela.” Emma assures me in confidence, “I’m just speaking out on a friend’s behalf. You needed to hear all of that. Your eyes had to be opened up to the truth. It took him a long time to find peace again.”

I stop her there. She’s had her say. I listened. It’s time she listens to me, “Now you hear me Emma, everything I’ve done - every decision I’ve made, every action I’ve taken, every breath I’ve breathed - has all been for Jay. In the five years I’ve been away, I never once forgot about him. He’s always been on my mind. I’ve only ever had his best interests at heart, so don’t sit here and judge me. You don’t know me. I have my flaws, but I still believe that what I did was for the best, for both of us. We’re better people now.” I pause, “I’ll never be perfect; he is. I don’t regret leaving, but I do regret leaving Jay.” I tell her hastily and sharply. “I’ll stay away from him, but not because you asked me to, but because he asked me to.” I stand up and reach for the door handle, gesturing for her to leave. I open the door wide so that she catches the hint.

Emma is stunned to the core. She never knew I had it in me. She soon catches the hint and stands up, passing me by as she exits my room, “Don’t pretend to know my story when you have yet to walk my path.” I whisper, annoyed.

I had to have the last say, or so I thought…

“He wants distance from you for a reason. Thought I’d just let you know that I’m not only looking out for him, I’m looking out for you too.” Emma spins back to face me before I get the chance to shut the door in her face, “Aqueela,” she starts softly, “he’s seeing someone else.”

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