Chapter 17: For the Best?
Jay grins down at me in a comical fashion. His smile has always been contagious, especially when it comes so naturally and genuinely. It’s from the heart, completely and entirely. It’s earnest. It’s sincere. He, unintentionally, has me smiling back up at him, my heart beating just that much faster. Warmth and joyfulness spread through my veins at the sight of his own happiness. It’s an Adrenalin rush. It’s moments like these that I wish to press pause on and live in daily. It’s the memories with him that I cherish the most. I miss him.
I shake myself out of the delusion as I grab hold of his hand and tug him after me, in search of Mia. She’s technically dating him, she should technically take care of him. I have no right anymore. My only right is friendship, and even that, I’m not sure I can manage.
I ignore Jay’s disgruntled mumbles as I force him to stumble after me. Mia and Sarah have wandered far. If they were close by, I would have spotted them by now. “I give up,” I tell Jay as I swing us back around in the direction we came from, “back to Grey and the others it is.” I debrief the drunkard as we slowly head back. I’ll leave him with Grey. I trust Grey.
Jay slips his hand out of mine and reaches for my arm, effectively stopping me from going any further. He chuckles softly to himself when he notices my perplexed expression. I’m weary of him when he’s drunk. I never know what to expect. As if to prove me right, he does just that (the unexpected), and reaches down to cup the side of my face.
I glance up at him calculatingly, ignoring the sparkle to his eyes as I try to diffuse the situation as fast as possible, “Jay, don’t-“
“It was a mistake.”
I fall silent, staring up at him in shock.
He holds my gaze in confidence, “Letting you go,” he clarifies, “was the biggest mistake I ever made.” He confesses, unashamed to admit it - the alcohol effect.
My heart flutters, skipping a beat, upon hearing his wholehearted words. He’s stepping onto dangerous territory. He can’t say things like this, not when he’s with Mia.
I decide to pin it all on the spiked drink, “That’s just the alcohol talking,” I retort bitterly, removing his hand from my cheek.
“No, you Looney Tune,” Jay insists from his drunken state, a subconscious smile finding it’s way to my lips upon hearing him say that, “I mean it. I haven’t even been drinking,” he mutters, unaware that his drink was spiked by none other than Troy (the guy has it out for Jay).
“You’re with Mia,” I remind him in the hopes of him backing off. The close proximity is intimidating. I need him to walk away, because I’m having a difficult time in doing so. He makes it difficult.
“Who’s Mia?” He laughs as he takes another step forward, toward me, purposely cornering me, “I only know you.” He smiles down at me in good stride as he makes another attempt to touch my face. I dodge his wandering hand in time, trying to anticipate (ahead of time) what he’ll do next.
My breathing hitches as I quickly take a step back from him, “We’re not together anymore.” I say bluntly, hoping he’d respond better to point blank truths.
He shrugs carelessly, a bold smirk playing on his lips, “Doesn’t matter to me, either way, we’re going to be. One day.” He utters the last two words in such conviction that even I’d be too afraid to argue against him. It’s as if he’s adamant and determined to make it happen. He sounds certain and way too confident. If only he was sober right now, then maybe I’d take his word for it. Right now, he’s innocent, pure Jay. It’s like talking to a kid. His statements don’t hold much weight right now.
I incline my head to the side as I take him in, sighing at his difficulty, “Jay-“
He interrupts me before I can even get mid-sentence, “Face the facts, Aqueels. You’re beautiful, I’m lovable-“
I scoff in amusement and shake my head at him.
“Adorable?” He tries a second word to use to describe himself, humoring me. When I refuse to answer, he grins in satisfaction and then goes on, “You’re beautiful, I’m adorable and sorta lovable, we’re going to have adorably lovable beautiful children together. It’s inevitable.”
I giggle, “You’re really drunk right now.” I state knowingly. He’s never ever called me beautiful before. He must be beyond wasted.
Sober Jay would never say such things…
“Nah,” he winks down at me suggestively in a boyish manner, “you’re just turning really blurry and I’m just feeling really dizzy,” he loses his footing due to his state of mind. I quickly wrap an arm around him, hoping to support him before he face-plants. He leans into me, accepting my help, staring down at me with a mischievous smirk, “We should do something crazy,” he insists before whining some more, “I’m so bored!”
The last time Jay was drunk, I jumped off a cliff for him. Who knows what I’ll do for him this time? It’s a road I fear going down.
I shake my head at him in concern, dismissing the thought, “We really need to get you back to Grey. He will know what to do with you,” I suggest, searching for a way out of this.
He shakes his head back at me, still as stubborn as ever, “But I like being with you,” he argues, putting up a protest, refusing to walk any further.
I hold his gaze for a second longer, contemplating the risks and consequences, before deciding to go with it in any case. I roll my eyes at him and motion for him to follow me, “Where’s your car parked?” I question him, “I’ll drive you home.”
His eyes widen in surprise, “I have a car?” He quizzes as if astounded in the fact itself.
I grin up at him and make a sarcastic remark, “No, you’re the first racer that doesn’t own a car.”
A lazy half-smile stretches across his lips, “Cool. I made history.”
I slap my forehead, failing to stifle a laugh. He’s something else.
I pull him along out the exit gates, “I am sure you parked somewhere close to the others,” I stop short when I spot his famous red Gallardo standing beside Grey’s car. I grin to myself, “Go figure.” I should have known he’d park right next to Grey. They aren’t just friends, they’re brothers. I glance back up at Jay expectantly, my hand outstretched toward him, “Keys please, Mr Taylor.”
He shakes his head, tapping his chin in mock thought, “Mmm…” he pretends to think about it for a second before shaking his head at my request, “nah-uh,” he concludes defiantly, deliberately making things more difficult than it has to be.
I sigh in warning and send him a flat look, “Jay,” I plead with him, hoping he’d listen to reason.
“Aqueela,” he blinks down at me innocently, unknowingly setting my tummy alight with butterflies upon just seeing that look of his.
“Give the keys,” I command.
“So bossy,” he reaches into his pocket and eagerly hands me his keys, now experiencing a change of heart on the keys situation. “The force is strong in you,” he quotes Star Wars, “way too much sass for such a little midget,” he teases flirtatiously.
Had he been sober, he’d have been way more reluctant and hardheaded about giving me his car keys, especially considering the fact that he has seen me drive before.
“Ssshh,” I put a finger to my lips. He immediately mimics my actions before falling quiet. I have to stifle a laugh. He’s still so cute. He’s like a mindless puppy when drunk.
I open the passenger door for him and allow him in first. I have to force him, against his wasted will, to comply put on his damn seatbelt. There’s no way I’m putting his life at risk, not on my watch.
“I don’t need a seatbelt, I’m indestructible,” he complains yet again, just as I take to the driver’s seat. He is so dead set in his ways, even when beyond wasted, that he can’t be persuaded to think otherwise. He’s uncontrollable. He can’t be tamed.
“Shut up you,” I joke in response. I’d rather he not die in a car crash. Mind you, if I crash his car, he’ll kill me first. His car is literally his life.
“You shut it first,” he frowns sulkily, taking offense. He’s really a handful when drunk, not that it isn’t amusing as hell.
I giggle at his childishness as I finally reverse out the parking space.
Upon concentrating on the streets to come, a subconscious frown of my own finds its way onto my lips.
Jay, even in his current condition, notices, “What’s the matter, Bubblegum Klutz?” He asks softly, taking on his gentler side - his genuine nature.
“This just feels weird,” I admit, keeping my eyes on the road ahead. “I didn’t think I’d be driving my drunk ex-boyfriend home tonight.” I spare him a quick glance to see that he’s watching me in interest as if captivated by me. It’s enough to get my blood pumping. “Granted, it’s not your fault.” I reassure him, knowing fully well that it’s all on Troy. I definitely don’t blame Jay for any of this.
When the roads become empty of traffic and clear of other cars, I press my heel down against the acceleration pedal. With some practice, I’ve become much better at driving in high speeds. I have become more experienced now. The faster I get him home, the faster I can get home. It’s been quite a day.
“Woah!” Jay comments in excitement upon feeling the car lurch forward at an extreme pace. “Ride any faster and you’ll put me to shame,” he winks suggestively, a broad grin etched onto his lips. He adores speed, anything that gets his heart racing.
He’s slowly but surely sobering up. He actually remembers that he races for a living now. By the time he is fully sober, things are bound to get awkward between us. I want to be long gone before then.
“What can I say? I’ve been practicing.” I reply, a mischievous grin on my face as if to hide a secret of my own.
“Good job, it’s attractive,” he says with ease, brutal in his honesty. “I deem it as smoking hot,” he reveals absentmindedly, unfazed by his raw truthfulness.
My smile plummets at his words, my heart pounding lightly within me. “Jay,” I warn him a second time, with narrowed eyes, “you’ve got to stop saying things like that.” I reprimand him, effectively putting him back in place. His tendency to cross my boundaries is enough to put me ill at ease. It’s not good for my heart.
I know he can’t help it, but I can’t take it.
Confused, he falls quiet once again, uncertain as to what he did wrong this time. We ride in a deafening silence after that. It’s an uncomfortable silence because I can feel his eyes on me all the while. I know he has more to say, yet he doesn’t make a sound. His presence is heavy and the tension between us is thick. I begin to feel guilty for snapping at him, especially considering the state he’s in. He knows no better.
It’s only when I park his car that he speaks up again, beating me to it, “I’ve really missed you,” he confesses, out of the blue. Always Mr Unpredictable, I never know what he’ll say or do next.
“I’ve missed you too,” I whisper, touched by how heartfelt and earnest he’s being. I make a move to open the door and get out of the car, but his next words stop me.
“I still do.” He sighs as if it is difficult for him to speak about, “I still miss you,” he clarifies, his eyes revealing his current emotions.
“You don’t have to miss me anymore, I’m back now,” I assure him, “I won’t leave again.”
“You’re back, but it doesn’t feel like it,” he argues. “I still think about you all the time.” He lets out a strained breath before elaborating, “You’re sitting right here, yet I can’t help but feel like I’m still across the world, still miles and miles and endless miles apart from you.”
I understand. I feel the same as him. He’s here, but he’s not. The deep connection we once had has dissipated with time. We’re not on the same level anymore.
“The distance didn’t help,” he reluctantly admits, “I’ve been restless without you, ever since you left.” He groans as if displeased with what he is saying, “I can’t sleep at night anymore. I stay awake, thinking about what I could have done differently. I’m at constant unrest.” He reveals, almost completely sober again, yet the small drunk part of him doing all the talking for him.
I shake my head at him, swallowing back a few glistening tears, as I stop him there, the guilt of leaving him, hitting home hard, “You didn’t do anything wrong, Jay. Our timing was never right. If anything, it’s my fault for leaving in the first place.” I reply back softly, my heart feeling agonizingly constricted by his sincerity, my lungs lacking air. His words are slowly encasing me and bringing me into a torturous suffocation. I cannot handle it. I can’t breathe. The turmoil I’m now going through is too much to bear.
“It’s because I never said it back, isn’t it?” He asks bluntly. “If I said it back and meant it, you would’ve stayed?” He states more than asks, as if already aware of the answer. He’s obviously given a lot of thought to this and that worries me.
“I don’t know, Jay,” I confess truthfully. “We had and still do have a lot of unresolved issues.” I try to soften the blow for him, for me.
Most of our issues have to do with opening up to each other. We lack proper communication skills - it’s the cause/the sole root of a lot of our problems.
He holds my gaze with honesty, “I never said it then, but I did. I know I did.”
My heart flutters, pain evident. It hurts to hear him say that only now. His confession makes me regret so much.
I let it go, in spite of the sudden urge to rewind time, “We can’t change what happened.”
Jay sighs wistfully before noticeably changing what he can - the subject at hand, “My head is pounding,” he remarks as he lifts a finger to his temple, now suffering the effects of too much alcohol.
“Mine too,” I whisper almost inaudibly, “just for different reasons.”
The silence between us continues to linger…
“Why didn’t you call earlier?” Grey asks, his eyes briefly straying to his best friend passed out on the couch.
Jay asked me to come in. I couldn’t refuse him, not when he was so out of it. I gave him Advil and it wasn’t long before he fell asleep on the couch - the couch Troy and I spray painted pink many years ago. I can’t believe, that after all this time, he kept the couch.
“I don’t know,” I shrug, “I was just looking around.” I gesture to the house, “Everything is still exactly the same.”
Grey stares at me calculatingly before a sudden smirks forms on his lips. I frown at him wearily, “What?” I question him innocently, wondering what he’s on about now.
He delights in my discomfort and motions to Jay’s sleeping figure, “You just can’t seem to stay away, can you?”
I sigh and fold my arms across my chest, “Guess not.” I admit, reluctantly. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going home.” I try to push past him, but he stops me…
Grey notices my ‘offness’ with him, “Wait a second,” he spins me back around to face him, “no snarky comment?” He asks, disbelief etched into his features. “Since when do you ever want to go home? If anything, you’d want to stay longer and irritate me until JT wakes up.”
“I’m tired,” I lie, still feeling some kind of resentment for him. There’s a first time for everything.
He sees right through me and calls me out on it, “Liar.”
He decides to take me head on and openly challenge me - always the courageous one he is.
I glower directly at him, “I don’t need this right now.” I give him the cold shoulder. He deserves it.
“Guys, keep it down, or just shut the hell up. My head is on fire.” Jay groggily mumbles into the couch, still half asleep, his eyes remaining shut. Even when he’s sleeping, he has a temper.
“Great Grey,” I clap to spite him, “now you woke Jay up,” I blame him, taking the easy route out.
“Me?” Grey complains as I nod, still managing to hold my glare. He stares at me for a second too long as if trying to figure me out, “Wait…” he pauses as if uncertain, seeing as it’s a very rare occurrence, “are you mad at me?”
“Took your time on that one, didn’t you? Slow on the uptake, huh Ferret?” I retort bitterly, insulting his intelligence. I’ve always appreciated Grey’s friendship, despite his intense hatred for me, but now I just feel really hurt by him.
Grey, now looking sullen with my words, frowns down at me in confusion as if I hold all the answers. “I don’t like this feeling that’s just overcome me,” he admits, puzzled, before understanding his own emotion, “I don’t like you being mad at me,” he confirms.
I’d laugh if I wasn’t so aggravated with him right now.
“It’s hard not to be mad at you.” I explain upon seeing his confusion, “You stabbed me in the back,” I state dully. “Why did you encourage me to get Jay back if you knew he was seeing Mia?” I ask him point blank.
I don’t have anything against Mia. She’s a nice girl. I saw her around in school, but we never really talked. She kept to herself. She was always quiet. In actual fact, she’s the perfect fit for Jay. If anything, she deserves him. I don’t.
“I didn’t know,” Grey defends himself. “He’s only been out with her a few times. He only told me about her recently.” He blows out a frustrated breath before running a hand through his spiky hair, “Look, I know I’m a jerk to you a lot of the time, but I…” he falters as if hesitant, but persists on in spite of the difficulty, “I wouldn’t do that to you,” he concludes softly.
“Yet you already did.” I cock my head to the side as I inspect him grudgingly, “Were you not the one who set him up with Mia in the first place?”
“That was three years ago,” Grey confesses sheepishly, choosing to be straight with me, “I didn’t think you’d ever come back. JT was a mess. I was only trying to help him move on.”
“Fair enough.” I purse my lips, weighing it out in my head, before nodding in understanding, “You’re lucky I’m the forgiving one in this friendship.” I tease him, instantly forgiving him. I don’t like holding grudges against people. It’s really not my thing. I’m terrible at it.
Grey makes an attempt to deny our friendship, “We’re not even fr…” Grey, on his own accord, stops talking mid-sentence as if recognizing and admitting defeat (on my turf) once and for all, “I’m not going to bother in correcting you anymore.” He gives up, subtly choosing to accept our one-sided friendship - that’s the only message I got from him.
I grin at him in amusement before my gaze strays back to Jay sleeping soundlessly. My smile slowly fades behind a concerned frown, “Take care of him, ’kay?” I tell Grey.
Grey notices my sadness and responds with unexpected sincerity, “Aqueela…” he falters as if unsure what to say. I know he’s being genuine when he refers to me by my first name. He’s offering his sympathy, but being careful not to get my hopes up.
“Don’t Grey,” I shake my head at him in warning, “I already know that this is the end.” He doesn’t say anything in turn, making it apparent that he agrees. “I’m done trying,” I say to him, being true to myself.
“If I’m being honest, I think it’s for the best.”
I send a smile to the doorman as I head to the elevator. My phone vibrates and take it out to answer the call, “Hello?” I answer just as the elevator doors close. I choose to ignore Leban’s presence all the while in doing so. He returns the silent treatment, refusing to acknowledge me. He hates me, nothing more to it.
“How soon can you start working?” I hear a vaguely familiar voice from the other side of the line. It’s then that I realize it’s Tim Gibbs, the guy who turned me down and rejected my natural gift in photography.
I fail to hold back a faint smile, “What?” I ask in confusion, at a loss.
I hear him sigh from his side before explaining himself, “You’re hired. Don’t make me say it again.” It’s as if he’s not happy about this, but has been left without any other options.
“Couldn’t find anyone else with my gift, talent and skill, could you?” I joke, pushing my luck with this one.
“Start bright and early Monday morning - seven a.m. sharp,” is what he says before he hangs up on me.
At least something good has come out of this day. Thank you Tim!
My phone beeps and vibrates once. I glance down and open the text message, it being from my official boss, reading as so: ‘You owe me a pen. Also, you have Keagan McCray to thank. He suggested you.’
I chuckle and step out of the elevator onto my floor. I guess I owe it to my good pal stuck all the way in New York. He’s a good friend. He landed me a job here in Minnesota.
The good mood is shot to hell…
I stop short and groan when I spot him leaning against my hotel room door with his arms crossed over his chest and a lazy grin on his face. He’s definitely been waiting for me.
“How’d you know that I’m currently staying here?” I question, not in the mood to put up with his presence yet again. I’ve seen enough of him for a day. The security at the entrance of the hotel shouldn’t have permitted him access.
“He told me,” Zac points to Leban.
I turn to scowl at Leban. He merely winks condescendingly at me before entering his own room. He’s such a jerk. I don’t know how someone as sweet as Jay can put up with someone as unpleasant and horrible a human being as Leban.
I place my hands on my hips and stare up expectantly at Zac, “What is it that you want? Why did you follow me here? I can bet it’s not to repent for all your sins.”
“As I’ve said before, that’s classified info, Darling.” He answers me easily before changing the subject, “So my guess is, you were just with Jay, weren’t you?” He tests me further, “Right or wrong?”
“That’s classified info, Darling,” I smirk in victory, choosing not to unravel where I was or what I was doing for the past two hours.
“Don’t try sweet talking me, Sunshine, it won’t work,” Zac cracks a joke, never ever taking anything seriously.
I roll my eyes at him and shove him off of my door before unlocking it, “Goodnight, Zac.” I say goodbye before entering, hoping to shut the door in his face. Unfortunately, Zac acts quickly and stops the door with his foot before following me into my hotel room. He shuts the door after him, quickly making himself at home.
“Zac,” I turn to face him, “you cannot stay here,” I inform him, already knowing where his mind is at. He has no place to stay whilst he’s here, hence why he’s assuming he can just crash here. To him, there’s no harm in it.
“Why not?” He frowns in dismay, not standing to hear it. What Zac wants, he has to get. There’s no in between for him, no grey areas. He’s all black or all white. What he decides, goes.
I begin pushing him back towards the exit, “Get out. Out, out, out.” I don’t owe him an explanation. He can’t stay here and that’s final.
“Woah,” he grins in amusement, refusing to budge against my weak in comparison shoves, “let’s not get handsy here.”
I give up and sigh, releasing a breath of frustration and anxiety, “I swear Zac, sometimes I just want to-“
“Take you against this wall,” he finishes for me, a devilish smirk evident on his face.
I cross my arms over my chest and glower up at him, “Kill you.” I conclude, “I want to kill you.” I emphasize it to get it through his thick skull. I can handle a lot of people, if not most, but there’s something about Zac that drives me up the wall. He gets under my skin and I can’t stand it. I’m supposed to be the one annoying others, not be the one being annoyed. Zac changes everything and forces me out of my comfort zone. I don’t like it. I don’t like him.
“I’m not buying it,” he grins as if elated to be here. He purposely knocks my shoulder with his own as he passes me by, only to get comfy on the lounge couch.
I release a string of curse words beneath my breath as I spin around to lecture him, “I’m dead serious, Zac. You can’t stay here.”
With his arms crossed behind his head and his legs outstretched before him on the couch, he merely glances up at me with a smug smile, “I’m dead serious, Aqueela. I’m crashing here tonight.”
I can never win with this guy.
My right eye twitches in fury, my hands curling into fists as I send him my best scowl. “I hate you,” I retort, holding my expression of seething hatred.
“Don’t hurt yourself,” he chuckles, unfazed by my threats and scoldings.
I release a tense breath and take a seat across from him, “One night, Zac.” I agree, though unwillingly, “One night only,” I specify.
“Baby, one night is all I need,” he winks suggestively, twisting my words around as he suddenly gets up again and walks toward the open kitchen.
What is he doing now?! I’m going to rip all my hair out if this continues…
I follow after him, worried that he does something stupid - like breaking something valuable. He tends to do that a lot, mostly to people. I’ll end up paying for any damage. This home is only temporary until I find a permanent place to stay.
“What are you doing?!” I gasp when he opens the fridge and starts drinking from the milk carton. “Leave my stuff alone!” I yell at him, temperamental. His presence just strikes a nerve within me. He’s so infuriating.
He shakes his head and grins before wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He aims and manages to throw the carton into the trash can with ease.
“Show off,” I mutter, unimpressed.
Zac laughs in response, “You’re lucky you’re you.”
“I don’t feel so lucky,” I mumble under my breath. If anything, I should just go back to New York. At least, I’ll have AJ, Keags, Lai and Mas to keep me company. However, Zac will probably follow me back there too - the only real con.
“So where am I sleeping?” He asks, already making his way in the direction of my bedroom.
I yank him back by the collar of his leather jacket before he can even take a step into my room, “Not so fast, Stokes.”
“Jeez,” he rubs the back of his neck where I had dragged him back. He recovers quickly before smirking down at me, “Someone’s feisty,” he beguiles, trying to charm me.
I pull him back, forcing myself to stand in the doorway as to prevent and block him from taking my bed. “You’re sleeping on the couch,” I command, refusing to budge on this matter. It’s bad enough he’s crashing here in the first place.
“Aww come on Lawson, live a little.” He tries to push past me to enter the room, but I’m not having it. “I promise I’m not as bad as you make me out to be,” he insists, but I will not be persuaded. Unfortunately, he prevails, overcoming me.
“You’re probably worse,” I glare daggers at him when he jumps backward onto my bed.
He sits up and smirks arrogantly, “Sometimes I get this nagging feeling that you don’t like me much.”
“Listen to your instincts,” I reply, hoping he’d catch on.
He grins, “Always with the quick wit.”
“Suave idiot,” I sigh in defeat. There’s just no winning with him.
“So tell me, how you know a racing celebrity - the very speed god himself?” Zac asks out of the blue, bringing the topic back to the last person I want to speak about.
“We go way back,” I answer in short. It’s none of his damn business.
Zac nods knowingly, “You guys have a past?” He states more than asks, having fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Zac may be a dipsh*t, but he’s also highly perceptive and actually quite smart when he wants to be. He figures things out quickly.
“Get out of my room, Zac,” I order, exhausted with the back and forth banter between us. I wish he’d just leave and never come back. I can’t handle him.
He raises a daring eyebrow as if to challenge me, “You’re going to make me?”
I’d call security, but I know Zac’s had enough run-ins with the law. Frankly, so have I.
I lean back against the bedroom wall and close my eyes for a brief second to clear my head. Zac will be the end of me. When I open my eyes, I’m shocked to find him standing directly in front of me. He’s glancing down at me with curiosity, his dark eyes shamelessly taking me in.
“Personal space, Zac,” I complain, snapping my fingers in front of his face to captivate his full attention again, “Ever heard of it?”
Zac ignores me and rather takes a step closer. He lifts his face, our eyes locking as he plants both his hands on either side of me on the wall so that I have no way of escape, “You know, Aqueela,” he deliberately stammers off to keep me in suspense, a conceited smirk slowly forming on his lips at the current thoughts running through his mind, “I can always help you forget him.”