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Rewind (Book 2)

By CJ Adler All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Romance

Chapter 19: Making a Splash!

I notice the unsuspecting victim, that being my mortal nemesis Grey, standing at the edge of the pool. He’s currently feeling the water with his foot. Being the greatest person to ever exist, I take the liberty to do a run up before violently pushing him in, clothes and all without any warning whatsoever.

Splash!

I burst out laughing when he resurfaces, an outraged expression on his face, “Dammit, Lawson!” He shouts at me as he gets out the pool and charges, full sprint, my way. “I’m going to get you back for that! It’s damn cold!” He warns me, trying to be intimidating and threatening. He’s succeeding at doing so - I’m literally running for my life. I have definitely have a death wish…so it seems. He’s just mad in the fact that I genuinely caught him completely off guard. Judging by his ruthless dark eyes, I honestly think I might actually die at his hand this time.

Run Aqueela, run!” Max pulls a typical ‘Forrest Gump’.

“I love you, Aqueela!” Sarah laughs in amusement from a distance, already in her pale green bikini, as she watches it all play out.

Unfortunately, Grey easily catches up and grabs a hold of me, swiftly wrapping his wet self around me as he easily lifts me up. I release a warrior shout, struggling against him as I try to escape his clutches, his talons, his claws of death. I don’t want to be shoved in the pool when I’m still in my normal clothes. Who does that?

I glance up at him innocently from his arms, feigning the ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’ card, “C’mon Grey, I thought we were best buds and all.” I try to persuade him out of this act of evilness, but he ain’t budging. I’m failing to convince him to leave me alone, to leave me be at peace. If anything, he wants to leave me in pieces.

“You thought wrong,” he breathes out in irritation as he carries me toward the icy pool. He makes an attempt to throw me in but fails. I’m holding onto his waist so tightly that I’m practically suffocating him under my iron clasp. I refuse to let go. If I’m going in, so is he…again. “Lawson!” He breathes out in exasperation as he tries to undo my hold on him, “Let. Go.” He orders through clenched teeth, his jaw tight in irritation. “Let go of me you psycho!” He growls, annoyed, before shouting out in aggravation and frustration, “How damn strong are you?!”

“It’s called desperation!” I shout back as I cling to him tighter, refusing to take the plunge.

“Yeah, you reek of it,” he cracks a joke, referring to me being so close to him. In our continuous and tedious turmoil and battle, I manage to briefly overpower him and hit him upside the head. “Owe!” He whines, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stand you!” He repeats as I keep hitting him on the chest.

I grin and stop fighting him for a second to terrorize him some more, “You love me!” I tease, batting my eyelashes up at him in innocence as if I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. “I light up your dark, bleak world!”

He reaches his breaking point and mercilessly tips me upside down. Without a second thought or a moment of hesitation, he rapidly throws me into the freezing cold pool as if I’m a bowling ball or something.

Fortunately for me, I manage to angle myself and fall into the icy water safely, stunned in the fact that Grey didn’t just want revenge, he wanted me dead.

I gracefully surface to Grey’s satisfied, victorious smirk, “Payback is a b*tch.”

Jay’s quick on the scene, as always, already reaching his hand out to me as if to help me climb out. He turns to Grey with a reprimanding scowl, “You could have hurt her man.” He actually scolds Grey, for me.

I stare at his hand in contemplation before taking it and yanking him into the water too.

Jay resurfaces with a playful frown, running a hand through his wet hair before shaking his head at me in amusement, “I trusted you,” he grins, flicking some water at me.

Troy, sitting beside Max on the pool chairs, tsks us from beneath his black sunglasses, “So childish,” he glances over at Max who also happens to be wearing sunglasses, “am I right bro?”

Max nods, lifting his cocktail glass to Troy’s in agreement, “Totally dude, you said it. I wish they’d be more mature. It’s like being surrounded by little kids all day. My kids look more mature in comparison to them.” Max agrees, directing his insult at Grey, Jay and me.

“Here’s to mature people,” Troy raises his glass in toast before he and Max drink from it.

That, my friends, is how the pool party originally started.

“This has got to be the most entertaining engagement party I’ve ever been to,” Susie grins in glee as we both continue to spin around in circles with our arms flaying about in the air to keep us balanced, choosing to live life to the fullest.

“What are you guys doing?” Benley asks us from his comfy position on the pool chair. He’s currently lounging back under the warm sun’s rays with his aviators atop his messy black hair. His street cred, as Jay said earlier on, is flying too close to the sun. He’s going to get burned, literally and figuratively, and I’m going to laugh.

“We’re purposely making ourselves dizzy so that when we jump into the Bensten’s pool for the first time since five minutes ago, we’ll be completely disorientated and experience a near-drowning threat,” Susie tells him excitedly, Benley rolling his eyes at us as if not understanding the fun in it. He places his sunglasses over his eyes before lying back down on the chair, way too ‘cool’ to partake in the fun.

“Watch out!” Troy grins as he spins past us, quickly stopping to throw Luce over his shoulder against her will.

“Put me down, Troy Story!” Susie yelps just as Troy jumps into the pool with her, both of them almost drowning as a result of all their spinning. Fortunately, Landon effortlessly tugs them both up to the surface before we end up with two bodies on our hands.

“Troy!” I shout after him, “You stole my only friend!” I hiss with a pout.

“Thanks for the insult, Aqueela,” Max sends me a glare as he backstrokes past me threateningly, pretending to be offended by my words when we all know he couldn’t care less.

He encouraged Bells to turn their engagement party into a pool party. Bells was reluctant at first but thereby loosened up afterwards. To be fair, she’s not really participating in the pool party thing. She’s sitting beside boring Benley with her own pair of sunglasses to shield her eyes from the sun. She’s currently flipping through a magazine whilst she gets her tan on. Knowing Troy and Max, Benley and Bells will definitely end up in the water one way or another.

“You’re next!” Troy winks at me from within the pool before he dives down dramatically, disappearing out of my sights, hoping to put me on edge.

He fails…

I glance around eagerly to see what everyone’s up to.

Ryan’s on his phone, no surprise there. Nancy is sitting beside him (they worked out ‘their problems’), chatting away, whilst he just nods along to everything she says, not bothering to lift his eyes from his phone. It’s obvious Ryan is not listening to a word she’s saying. Typical Ryan. I’m starting to grow used to his presence now, and the presence of his best friend, his cell phone.

Zac got a call and had to leave, merely saying he’d see me later. I have a nagging feeling that he’s up to no good. Plus, I really don’t want to see him later. He’d better not be under the impression that he’s staying the night by my place again. I won’t allow it. He causes too much grief.

Simo has a swimming cap on, along with goggles, water wings, earplugs and a nose plug. He’s paranoid. He can’t swim, hence why Dylan and Blubber are trying to teach him. Simo’s so afraid that he’s clinging onto Dylan for dear life, practically drowning Dylan in the process. They’re in the shallow side, Simo just needs to stand.

Landon, Dean and Xavier are versing Jay, Grey and Leban in a game of water volleyball. It’s hilarious to watch, especially when Landon and Xavier blame each other for either of them missing the ball or hitting it out.

“Why didn’t you take it man?!” Landon shouts at Xavier, blaming him yet again for the loss of another point.

“I thought you were going to!” Xavier shouts back, the two of them incapable of ever getting along.

“It was on your side!” Landon complains, scowling at Xavier in fury.

“Exactly why I didn’t take it! I’m so used to you always taking my side!” Xavier roars back but is then silenced by his wife. Emma is sitting with her legs in the water, watching them play as the ball is slammed back and forth over the miniature net. She’s keeping score whilst talking to Sarah who happens to be sun tanning beside her. She doesn’t take nonsense from her brother and husband, well from anyone actually.

I never realized, up until now, just how competitive Landon and Xavier are, especially Landon. I’d be afraid to be on his side. If you mess up, he’ll stuff you up.

“I wouldn’t have to take your side if you just hit the damn ball!” Landon remarks cockily, not letting it go. He’s beyond infuriated, and Troy deliberately dancing across the two sides (Jay’s side and Landon’s side) isn’t helping Landon console and control himself and his short temper. Troy’s annoyed that the guys didn’t ask him and Max to join in too. I, however, can see why they didn’t.

“Back it up b*tches!” Troy dances back and forth past Landon in an act of revenge, scooting and sliding to and fro whilst making his hands tumble about, resembling a tornado.

“Move!” Landon yells at Troy when Troy causes an obstruction in the game. Troy purposely ignores him in jealousy and anger, continuing to sway to the left and then to the right. Landon doesn’t last long and loses it. He suddenly grabs hold of the top of Troy’s hair before he dunks Troy under the water repetitively, keeping him under for a couple seconds or so and then releasing the idiot before he ends up drowning him.

“You could have killed me!” Troy sputters out water, coughing in an over exaggerated way as he finally steps out of Landon’s path, realizing his initial mistake: messing with Lan the man.

“Could have, would have, should have,” Landon narrows his eyes at Troy retreating stature in a threatening manner.

Who knew that a simple game of volleyball would spike Landon’s past temperamental, ruthless side?

“It sometimes feels like I’m not even a part of this team,” Dean comments from under his breath, both his teammates hearing it.

“Shut up, Dean!” Xavier and Landon retort simultaneously, both as aggravated as the other.

Remind me to never put those two on the same side again…

“Jeez, fine,” Dean huffs, sealing his lips, “I’m shutting up.” He then can’t resist and mutters out them, “You two have issues.” His words earn him death glares from his two counterparts.

Meanwhile, Jay and Grey are in sync, reading each other’s minds and playing well together. Those together on a team are undefeatable. It’s Leban that’s stuffing up their team. Leban is most definitely not in sync with them, at all. I have to stifle a laugh, serves him right. As far as I’m concerned, Leban’s a jerk.

Bells has joined Jezel, the both of them now floating on lilos on the far side of the pool where the chaos is limited. Bells is keen on getting to know the girl who has captured Troy’s nonexistent heart. Their privacy doesn’t last long before Max climbs onto Bell’s lilo and cuddles up against her, unintentionally interfering in ‘girl talk’ once again. He has a knack for ruining moments.

I sigh, now really missing AJ. If she were here, she’d be in the pool with me, stirring up chaos alongside me. I’ve never met someone like her, someone that instantly gets me like that. She’s just like me, only better.

I jump onto the nearby tube floating past and spin myself around in the water, trying to keep myself preoccupied seeing as everyone else is busy. I meet Jay’s gaze briefly. I know that he can tell that I’m beyond bored. He turns back to concentrate when Grey tells him to focus on the game and stop daydreaming.

I catch Blubber’s gaze and grin and wave at him. He sticks his tounge out at me before he goes back to discussing something with Susie.

It’s only a few minutes later when I’m pulled from my thoughts:

“Yo, Lawson?!” Grey, surprisingly, calls out to me upon noticing my initial boredom.

“Yo, Grey-Dawg?” I retort back just to annoy him. “What can I do for you?” I query, puzzled. It’s not often he talks to me by choice.

“Don’t call me that!” He snaps before clearing his throat sheepishly, “You game for a game?” He asks as he motions to the volleyball net. I shrug and swim my way over to him. “Get in here!” Grey encourages as he shoves Leban aside. “He’s useless. He’ll cost us the game. We’re kicking him off the A-team.”

Leban scowls at me as if it’s my fault he can’t play for sh*t. Jay spares me a glance and shrugs, meaning that I shouldn’t let Leban’s grumpiness get to me.

“And trust me, you do not want to lose to my brother - worst sore winner ever,” Emma informs Grey, Landon’s side now taking the lead, no thanks to Leban being born an absolute failure.

“Not true,” Landon denies it all too quickly, giving himself away.

“Totally true, Hon,” Sarah winks at her boyfriend playfully, agreeing with his sister. “You won Monopoly once, and only once, before rubbing it in everyone’s face for two hours straight.” She takes the liberty to remind him.

“I remember that,” Landon grins in delight at the memory.

“You would,” Sarah giggles mockingly.

Landon frowns and splashes her teasingly as a result before defending himself, “It’s only because one only wins Monopoly every decade or so. It was my time to shine, Baby!”

Sarah merely shakes her head in response, used to him being so…him-like.

“Lawson, you can’t possibly play any worse than Leban,” Grey tells me, snapping me back to reality. “Or so I hope.”

“She’s a klutz. She has no coordination,” Jay, shockingly enough, teases before sending me a playful wink. He knows I can take it.

Hey !” I grin at Jay before shooting some water his way. He sees it coming and acts on his quick reflexes, just dodging a mouthful of water in time.

He towers over me as if to threaten me, “Too slow,” he smirks down at me in jest, wagging his eyebrows tauntingly, planting an innocent expression on his face as he openly rags on me.

“Would you two stop flirting?” Grey glowers at Jay and I disapprovingly. I break eye contact with Jay before Grey decides to jump to any more assumptions of his. “We have to pull rank here and reinforce a strategy to send Landon’s team into a fiery demise. That would be ideal.”

I shake my head at Grey’s seriousness, holding back a grin, “You have such a way with words.”

“Apt analysis, Lawson,” he retorts in sarcasm, annoyed.

“I know, I’m unbelievable,” I wink at him as I take hold of the volleyball and carefully hand it to him, “now stop talking and unleash the power, oh astute one,” I mock scornfully.

Grey doesn’t hesitate to send his aggressive serve their way. The ball goes back and forth as we all fight for a point, Grey insulting me all the while in doing so. I now see Leban’s struggle. Grey’s impossible. There’s no pleasing him.

“Stop being such a jerk, I’m trying here!” I complain when we lose yet another point to Landon’s ruthless hits. I get scared every time Landon gets near the ball. He shows no mercy.

“Try harder!” Grey commands as he purposely hits up some water in my face. I narrow my eyes at him and blow the water out of my face, moving my hair aside over my shoulder. Grey continues to be an ass - himself in other words, “I asked you to play because you were our next best bet. You’re supposedly the only girl who is capable of not stuffing up,” Grey glances Jay’s way accusingly, making it apparent that Jay told Grey to replace Leban with me. It was all Jay’s idea. He worked the background scenes because he knew I was bored and lonely.

Hey !” Sarah and Emma scowl at sheepish Jay and uncaring Grey (who merely shrugs as if not concerned). Jay, on the other hand, raises his hands up in apology. Sarah and Emma are far from impressed. They’re insulted that he didn’t choose either of them.

“You’re stupid,” I glare at Grey, tired of all his whining, yet flattered that Jay went out of his way for me.

“Coming from the biggest idiot of all, you psycho,” Grey replies back moodily.

“Coming from the most stupid idiot of all, you horrible wizard!” I snap back at him, deliberately kicking up a storm and spraying some water in his face. I’ll admit, it’s not one of my bests.

“That doesn’t even make sense!” Grey growls, frustrated with my lack of common sense, as he wipes the water away from his eyes.

“Your face!” I hiss at him, making a move to hit him, but he’s quick to catch my hand in his before I even get the chance.

Annoyed, we both spin around to face him - the solution, “Jay !” We both complain in unison as if having planned it out to the last detail.

Jay, now on the spot and under pressure, glances from me to Grey wearily and then back to me as if deciding. He shrugs, “You guys are both my friends,” he concludes before hitting a killer serve, over the net, Xavier’s way.

Landon shoves Xavier out of his way and hits the ball back to us, Xavier tripping and falling face first into the water. Dean crosses his arms over his chest and observes the scene before leaving his useless team to go talk to Dylan, Xavier and Landon not noticing his absence because they’re too busy bickering with each other.

“He likes me way better than you!” I stick my tongue out at Grey in order to get under his skin as I dwell on our feud and little argument. I might as well drag this out. If I suck at volleyball, then Grey has to too. Thus, the distraction. Insulting him goes a long way. He makes it so easy. He can’t focus when I’m throwing insults his way. He has to jump the hurdles if he wants to come out of this alive.

“Only because he’s attracted to you. You’re that special friend that he can do things to, like making you a mother for example. Now how am I suppose to compete with that?” Grey senses my plan and one-ups me in it, deliberately humiliating me in front of Jay.

Trying to shake off the initial embarrassment, I find my feet again and feign disapproval and shake my head, trying to mask my blush behind my hair, “Where’s your mind at, Grey? You sick little pervert,” I merely insult him further.

“It’s definitely in a cleaner place than Jay’s, I can tell you that much,” Grey retorts, unintentionally throwing his best friend under the bus in the process. He’ll drop Jay if it means he can get back at me. What a lousy friend.

I glance Jay’s way shyly to see him glaring fiercely at Grey in warning for implying what he did. Grey shrugs carelessly and points to me as if that is an excuse in itself. If anything, he’s the unreasonable one here.

Grey ducks under water to cool himself off from the sun’s beating rays. I see my opportunity and take the gap, as well as my revenge. I climb onto his shoulders, forcing him further under as I use him as a platform (against his own will) to leap off into the air. I take my moment for what it is and jump sky-high upwards before coming down full force and slamming the ball over the net with a mighty whack.

Landon and Xavier both miss it - the final shot of the game - leading to our team’s victory.

“What just happened?” Jay asks, speechless. He saw it all, but he doesn’t quite believe it.

“Aqueela happened,” Grey mutters as he resurfaces, shooting me a dangerous look for standing on his shoulders without his permission. Like I care. He doesn’t faze me.

“Xavier sucks, that’s what happened!” Landon roars as he continues to terrorize and blame Xavier for their loss, not being accountable for himself. Typical. Funny, but typical.

“We won?” Jay asks, puzzled, before he starts cheering in excitement, impulsively tackling me into a hug in thanks for my last victory shot. I stagger back under his weight - it’s certainly unexpected and definitely comes as a surprise. “We won! We demolished them,” he says in conviction as he unintentionally presses himself closer to me, allowing me to feel his lean, defined torso resting against that of my own.

“Yeah we did!” I fist pump the air as he pulls me flush against him. I then realise the current predicament I’m in when I see Emma staring at me with a heeded message in her eyes: stay away. I awkwardly take a step back and untangle myself from him before things get any weirder between us. I rectify my actions. He asked me for space, but he’s not making it easy for me, that’s for sure.

Jay, realizing his slip-up, clears his throat as if truly uncomfortable. He looks anywhere but at me before getting out the pool to dry off. He knows he made a mistake. He puts his shirt back on over his chest and I force myself to forget him for the moment.

“Demolished is a strong word,” Landon argues, the penny only dropping now with that one. I’d smile if I felt up to it.

I distract myself from all my thoughts by watching Simo attempt to play Marco Polo with Susie and Blubber, Dylan hanging back on this one to chat with Dean (I can tell that they’re arguing about the girl that led them and Leban on at the carnival).

Landon has Sarah on his shoulders as he versus Xavier and Emma in a chicken fight. Lan isn’t wasting any more time. He wants to defeat Xavier in something and he won’t stop until he does. He’s a determined person and will force a way when there isn’t one.

Bored, I decide to go piss off Ryan for a bit. He’s alone seeing as Grey is talking to Nancy. I might as well use this time to find out more about who Ryan actually is. I don’t know anything about him, except that he’s mean and he loves his phone more than anything else on the face of this earth.

“Hey you,” I grin as I take a seat beside him, hearing him groan in distaste when he notices me. He lifts his face to hold my gaze for a split second before he resorts to ignoring my presence altogether. I continue to talk despite his unwillingness to converse, “So what is your deal, Ry Ry? Who is the mysterious Ryan Brewer?” I question lightly, feigning an interrogation to intimidate him. It’s failing. I’m failing.

“None of your business,” Ryan answers solemnly, refusing to budge on my friendliness. He thinks he’s better than everyone else here. He has the famous ‘I’m the supreme overlord’ complex.

“Are you ever nice?” I ask, genuinely curious. One thing I do know about him is that he’s no afraid to get in trouble or to have immense fun - take the riot as an example. He’ll push limits if it means he’ll get a thrill out of it - if he decides that the punishment is worth it in the end.

“Depends,” Ryan smirks as his blue eyes finally meet mine, “on if I like you or not,” he winks scornfully, “take a hint, Sunshine,” he finalizes dismissively. He explains himself further when he spots the confusion filling my hazel eyes, “You’re too precious, pure and innocent for me to accept you as a friend or a person in general.”

I raise a prodding eyebrow, “Is that suppose to be an insult?” If it is, he’s not very talented at this. I thought, of all people, Ryan would be a master at comebacks. He seems to be the type that insults others on a daily basis.

“You’re also too insane for me to accept you as a fellow human being,” he adds casually, undeterred in his wild opinion.

I cross my arms over my chest stubbornly, “I hate you,” I joke, glaring at him from beneath my eyelashes.

“I hate you too,” he replies back in ease before leaning in closer toward me, “now let’s get married. We’re well on our way,” he teases, making his opinion on marriage evidently crystal clear. He’s basically saying that he thinks marriage is based on hatred, hence why he hasn’t been favorable on this engagement party. He thinks Bells and Max are throwing their freedom away. He thinks marriage is a sham.

“You’re quite the pessimist,” I point out, perceptive, letting him know that I’ve picked up on it.

“Not much to be optimistic about, Lawson,” he answers bluntly, making me wonder if there’s more to Ryan than what meets the eye. I may have judged him too quickly.

Sensing that I’m taking to deep waters, I change the subject upon noticing his tight grip on his cell phone, “Why are you so obsessed with your phone?” I question softly, curious.

“None of your business,” he clutches the phone to his chest as if getting more protective and defensive over it. I make a move to grab it from, but he reacts faster than me as if having expected it. Apparently I’m transparent, he sees right through me. “Nice try,” he grins before telling me the real reason when I refuse to give up on pestering him, “I’m watching porn, a lot of it.”

I pull a face, repulsed by him, “You’re disgusting.” I then see the hint of an amused smile on his face when I instantly believe him, “You’re lying!” It clicks in my head. “What’s the real real reason?” I press for a legitimate answer. He has ulterior motives, I can feel it. This is all a conspiracy theory and Ryan’s the only one who knows the truth.

“I’m cheating on Nance,” he tells me in a dead-serious tone, unblinking. I stare at him in bewilderment before he cracks under the pressure and bursts out laughing, “You should have seen your face! You’re so gullible. You really have the lowest opinion of me.”

I don’t know why he finds this so funny.

“With good reason,” I ramble out quickly, taking advantage of his distraction as I grab hold of his phone and make an immediate run for it.

“Aqueela!” He roars after me as he begins chasing me down, “This is not funny! I’m not laughing!”

In all fairness, he’s never laughing.

I stop around the corner of the Bensten mansion and take a good look at his cell phone’s screen while I kill some time before being killed. My eyes widen and an unintentional gasp leaves my lips upon seeing his accomplishments. This is far from what I was expecting. It seems he actually has potential to be part of this group after all.

“Why would you keep this a secret?” I huff, out of breath, as he catches up to me, an infuriated expression daunting his strong features.

Ryan folds his arms across his chest as he scowls down at me, “Because it’s embarrassing. You can’t tell anyone about this.” He corners me, boxing me in as he tries to intimidate me through invading my personal space, only to intrude further.

“Does Nancy know about this?” I ask him, berating him for an answer, as he snatches his phone back from my hands. It doesn’t matter, I’ve seen all that I need to see.

“Unfortunately,” he sighs. “She says I need to get a real job. She thinks it’s lame. Most do. It’s why I don’t tell people about it.” He reveals the real reason, “Nancy made it evident that she doesn’t support me with this.”

“Ryan,” I say in shock, “you’re freaken amazing. You’re so talented. Look at your scores, just look at them! You’re one of the top, worldwide. It’s unbelievable. How can you not be proud of this?” I question in disbelief, a slow smile stretching his lips as he carefully listens to me, not missing a beat. “You’re a gamer, a really brilliant one. There’s no shame in it. What I’d give to be able to play all these games in the way you do.”

Ryan - upon seeing that I’m on his side, that I’m not the enemy he made me out to be - eagerly opens up and shares more, “I have some sponsors lining up. People are starting to invest in me. I’m building up a reputation in the gaming world. I’ve even been invited to competitions overseas. Things are finally starting to fall into place for me. It’s great. I’m only now getting somewhere.”

“You only play on your phone?” I ask him, proud to know him. Nancy is stupid for discouraging him and this dream he has obviously worked all his life for. Ryan’s going places, I see that now. Never would have pegged him for the gaming type though.

“Mostly on my PC, but when Nancy forces me outdoors, I take my phone with to keep gaming. I can’t afford not to. I’ve gamed all my life, since a kid. It’s my world, no matter how dorky and dull it might be. It’s who I am,” he elaborates, willing me to understand where he’s coming from.

I now get why he never pays attention to his surroundings. He’s always engrossed in beating high scores in just about every game there is. He’s a legend in the making.

“It’s not dorky, Ryan. It’s damn awesome. You’re not on a walk of shame, you’re on the road to success. You’re getting recognized for your abilities. I believe in you. You’ll be victorious,” I encourage, motivating him to keep pushing onward. “There will always be people who bring you down and people who don’t think you can’t achieve your goals, but you decide whether you can or cannot, not them.”

“I’m starting to see why you have so many friends now,” Ryan, for the first time, sends me a genuine heartfelt smile as if truly meaning it.

“Only now?” I tease, winking up at him playfully before using Jay as an example, “Jay came from a sketchy background. To this day, I still don’t know all the details. He hates talking about it because it means he has to relive it. He found an escape in street racing like you do in games. He never thought for a second that he’d make it big time in the racing industry, but he did. He did because he fought for what he believed in. You can too.”

Ryan, a grin on his face, shakes his head in disbelief before making his perspective apparent to me, “He’s a lucky guy to have a girl like you pining after him. He’s also an idiot for not doing anything about it.”

“And that’s how Ryan and Aqueela became friends,” I say my thoughts out aloud, an eager smile plastered on my lips in the fact that I finally won him over. I should have stolen his phone ages ago…

“Hold your horses, let’s not jump the gun there, Lawson. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You’re okay though, in my books anyway,” Ryan grins before ducking out the conversation so that he can get back to his gaming.

Progress made! A step forward!

“Nice bikini, Furby!” Dean wolf whistles as I lazily stroll past him.

I stop dead in my tracks and turn to him in confusion, “I’m not wearing one. Are you blind, Wyatt?”

His smile fades behind a frown and a flat stare as if truly disappointed, “My point exactly. Glad to hear you confess to your crimes.”

Coming from the guy who went to jail for breaking into his own car…

“Not my fault I wasn’t told there would be a pool party,” I rise to my own defense seeing as Max turned this into a pool party on the last minute (the others went back to get their costumes, but I didn’t have time to seeing as I now live the furthest away), “also not my fault that I got thrown in with my clothes on.” I remind him, completely lying because it’s totally my fault for getting thrown in. I shoved Grey in first. I was asking for it.

“Doesn’t really make a difference to me. I always picture you with nothing on in any case,” Dean flirts, once again hitting on me. He’ll take every opportunity he gets.

I cringe and roll my eyes at him before dipping my foot in the water and kicking up some water at him, spraying him wet after he just dried off. He takes no offense whatsoever, making it obvious why I prefer to annoy Grey - he always reacts.

“Come on, Bambi Eyes, it’s a compliment. Take it for what it is!” Dean complains, making it official: he’s the true pervert of the group.

“You’re a pervert,” I voice my thoughts to him.

He doesn’t even flinch and instead hollers in pride, “Yes! Score baby!” He fist pumps the air as if pleased with his new label.

I scoff and attempt to kick more water at him, but end up losing my balance. I falter backwards, trying to regain my footing but failing in doing so. Fortunately, Grey, who happens to be walking past in the moment, reacts on fast reflexes and reaches out to me, stretching out his hand and grabbing hold of my arm before I can fall in.

I glance up at him, grateful. Before I can even voice my appreciation, a menacing grin spreads across his lips, his dark eyes dancing in mischief as an idea springs to mind. I begin to shake my head in protest, sensing where he’s going with this. I’m currently at his mercy. “No no no Grey! Don’t even think about it! Be the better person, don’t-“

He grins condescendingly before pushing me in, “Whoops!”

He definitely isn’t the better person.

I break surface with a shocked expression on my face as I glower up at him in spite, “You’re evil.”

“First compliment I’ve ever received from you,” Grey retorts calmly, enjoying my reaction to his conniving actions and pure evil plots. “I’ll have to write it down in my diary,” he remarks in sarcasm, amused that he has the upper hand for once. “Besides,” he winks down at me in victory, satisfied with the outcome, “I owed you one.”

Dean cackles loudly at my misfortune but falls silent when I shoot my fierce glower upon him instead. He zips it after that, knowing better than to push me.

I brush the wet strands of hair out of my face as I narrow my eyes at Grey, hands on my hips in much attitude, “What have I ever done to you?” I ask sourly.

“For real?” Grey questions in disbelief. I nod. He doesn’t bother with an answer and instead sends me the middle finger before he walks away, too tired to go bantering with me.

“Not in this lifetime my dearest bestest friend!” I call after him and then laugh when he sends me another ferocious glare. I only laugh harder.

Dean motions with his eyes to someone behind me. Before I can react to his silent warning, I’m suddenly pulled underwater.

I open my eyes from beneath the surface to see Troy before me. He’s saying something, but his words are garbled seeing as he is under the water’s surface. We come up at the same time to breathe. He nods at me sneakily as if he just let me in on something secretive, “So you get the plan then?” He asks me in confidence.

Before I can answer, he’s already swimming-dancing away, not understanding that people can’t talk underwater. I’m not a damn mermaid!

Bells motions me over when she sees the boredom on my face. She’s still floating alongside Jezel on their lilos. I paddle over to them, trying to express to them how lazy I in fact am. Swimming takes effort and I don’t like the strain.

“Oh Aqueels, I don’t know how you’re resisting Jay right now,” Bells smiles as she welcomes me to sit beside her on the lilo, Max now having left. “Jezel and I were just talking, and damn, Jay is looking finer than usual these days. That boy is fit,” Bells includes me in on the girly gossip, Simo clearly eavesdropping. Simo loves being one of the girls. He loves all the girl talks, so do Troy and Ramos. Max hates it, but he’s usually always forced through it or unintentionally gets involved.

I glance Jay’s way to see him shirtless at the slip ’n slide that Max has just set up. He’s definitely more ripped and detailed than he used to be.

I shrug, “He might be working out more seeing as he has more free time now.” He was way more busy in the past. “It’s one of his many hobbies,” I inform them, remembering back to the days where he was constantly exercising.

“Girl, look at those back muscles. If I were you, I’d jump on that,” Jezel encourages, taking Bell’s side. No surprise there.

“He’s with Mia,” I remind them, “in case you both forgot.” I can see why these two get along so well. They’re the same people. They are ‘gal pals’.

I know what they’re doing. They’re saying all of this because they want me back with Jay, but know that will only happen if I make the first move. It’s not happening. I respect Mia and Jay way too much to ever go through with it - with what these two silly bubbleheads are suggesting.

“He said himself that she’s not his girlfriend,” Bells cleverly points out. She’s always approved of Jay for me, well since we first started going out. Nothing has changed or wavered her high opinion on him.

“Yeah but he’s still seeing her. Plus, he asked for space. I like long term things, whereas I will feel safe and secure in the relationship. Jay’s not there yet, and I’m not sure he ever will be.” I casually laugh the ideas off, “As for flings, they sting. Not for me. Not that type of girl.”

“You tell them, Sista!” Simo interrupts, backing me up. “Jay no good for you.”

“How about Zac then?” Jezel asks before elaborating her train of thought, “Bella says he’s a looker.”

“Also a smooth talker,” I roll my eyes at the thought of Zac Stokes - the last person I want to be thinking about right now.

“He follows her around like a lovesick puppy,” Bells giggles, updating Jezel on what’s what. “You should see it. It’s hilarious.”

“It’s not like that,” I defend Zac, “he just doesn’t have a place to stay. He doesn’t know anyone up here.” Despite my differences with him, I’ll always have a soft spot for him. Jay’s a black sheep, but Zac’s the underdog, always has been.

“Simo think Zac and Sprinkle good,” Simo adds thoughtfully, turning against Jay for once. It’s a first.

“You off of Jay?” I ask Simo in query, puzzled by his change of heart.

Simo nods, “Zac funny. Zac make Sprinkle happy. Jay break Sprinkle heart. Jay no good for you. Jay only hurt Aqueela.”

I freeze, Bells and I both sharing a look of disbelief, before I shout out in shock, “Simo did you just say my name? My actual name? As in Aqueela and not Sprinkle?” I ask in pure astoundment, still not quite believing it. “You’ve known my real name this entire time?!”

“He totally has,” Bells assures me.

“You mishear Simo, silly Sprinkle.” Simo is quick to shake his head, denying it, as his chubby cheeks flush pink.

Before I can reply, we’re suddenly interrupted by Troy’s high-pitched singing voice, “Duh dun…….duh dun……duh dun……duh dun…duh dun…duh dun…”

His eyes are visible, only the top part of his face is sticking out of the water, his spiky hair standing up, resembling a fin. He’s acting like a shark from ‘Jaws’.

“What’s he doing now?” Bells asks with a yawn and a roll of her eyes, used to her brother’s antics.

“Who ever knows?” Jezel replies back with a smile on her face as she watches Troy get closer. Troy winks at me as he nears us. “Why is he winking at you like that?” She asks as Troy starts singing the song faster and faster.

It dawns on me, “He thinks I’m in on this little elaborate plan of his.”

“What plan?” Bells ask frantically as she eyes her brother in warning, “Troy don’t-“

Troy swims underneath the lilos before effortlessly flipping Jezel, Bells and me over. I don’t mind seeing as I’m already soaked. As for Bells and Jezel, they were completely dry.

Troy!” They both hiss in anger before they gang up on him and start smacking him on the chest.

He reaches out a limp hand to me, willing me to save him, except I pretend not to see it and purposely turn a blind eye to him. I stifle a laugh when they dunk him under water and hold him there. He’s defenseless against them because he knows he can’t hurt a girl, or a sister. If he hurts Bells, she’ll hurt him back twice as hard.

“Leave me the hell alone!” I turn to see Benley being lifted up by Xavier, Landon and Max as they begin dragging him to the pool against his will. “I don’t look good with wet hair! You’ll ruin my rep of being the best looking!” Benley tries to hold onto the pool chair but is easily overpowered seeing as it’s three on one.

Landon,” Sarah scolds her boyfriend, “don’t be mean.”

If she doesn’t favour mean, she should have never got with Landon in the first place. Landon is one of the meanest people I know.

Splash!

In Ben-Ben goes!

“He wasn’t kidding. He does looks awful with wet hair,” Troy adds fuel to the fire. Benley couldn’t be unattractive even if he tried. Troy’s just jealous.

Benley joins the outraged girls, Bells and Jezel, and starts attacking anyone in sight, that person being Troy alone.

I laugh at his expense, “You’re such a jeramie, Troy.”

Troy hurriedly swims over to me and points an accusing finger in my face, “Don’t call me a giraffe, Aqueela. You’re better than that!”

I slap my forehead and shake my head at him in entertainment. I have the best friends, and the most stupid, in the whole wide world.

I make my way over to the slip ’n slide, Troy following me in order to escape the ruthlessness of his girls…and Benley. There’s bubbles, soap and foam everywhere and Blubber’s loving it, his wedgie on full display. It’s definitely not a sight anyone wants to see. I laugh when all the water spills out of the sides as soon as Bubber reaches the end with a massive splash.

When Leban gets stuck halfway down the middle of the slide, Troy Takes the liberty to do a run-up before jumping on the slip ’n slide as if on some rampage. He kicks Leban aside so that he falls off the side, never making the end. Troy cackles loudly at Leban’s expense when sliding down to the end Leban didn’t make.

Troy hates Leban. He so did that on purpose. He’s always landing himself up in trouble. It’s a wonder he’s still alive.

“You’re an asshole,” Leban glares at Troy, pushing me out of his way, as he makes his way back to the lineup for the slip ’n slide.

“Better luck next time, Leb,” I wink at him bitterly. I really despise him, almost more than I despise Zac.

“Shut the hell up!” He explodes on me, for no particular reason at all. I was only teasing. I didn’t mean anything by it.

I step back, at a loss for an explanation to him lashing out at me. This guy must really hate me.

“Dude, don’t talk to her like that,” Ryan, of all people, is the first to rise to my defense upon noticing my hidden anxiety on the situation.

I send Ryan a grateful smile, appreciative. He pretends to not see it, cold as always. It’s understandable. He has a reputation of ‘not caring the most’ to uphold.

“Rich coming from the guy that told his girlfriend off when she told him that she loves him,” Leban argues, creating a scene. “The only thing you care about is your phone. You’re a self-centered person.”

“Like you aren’t,” Ryan retorts arrogantly as he boldly approaches Leban, annoyed that Leban dare bring Nancy into it.

“You don’t even know Ryan. Keep your petty judgements to yourself,” I get in the middle, siding with Ryan because Leban’s a bigger jerk than Ry.

“I don’t need your help, Aqueela,” Ryan puts me back in place with his misdirected anger. He only holds contempt for Leban and is now taking it out on me. I can picture Ryan and Zac getting along well. They’re both self-assured in the fact that they only need themselves to rely upon. They’re against the foreign concept of friendship.

I elbow Ryan, nudging him in the side, before reprimanding him, “What is your problem? I’m being a friend.” He seems to think that friends aren’t necessary. For me, friends are family. Friends are everything.

“Since when do we defend Ryan?” Sarah asks me in confusion. She’s against Ryan seeing as he is her ex. They went through an ugly breakup, but not as terrible as Bex and Ben’s breakup.

“Since now,” I answer in ease, wondering if Sarah knows about Ryan’s gaming world. She probably does, they were very serious at one point.

“Ek gaan hom bliksem!” Leban loses his temper, none of us understanding him, and makes the first to punch Ryan.

Jay, understanding Leban seeing as he spent a few months in South Africa, is quick to intervene, managing to catch Leban’s fist in his hand just in time, “Stop man.” He pushes Leban’s fist away from his face, “That was unnecessary. Uncalled for. Let it go. Leave it be.”

Leban reluctantly drops it whilst Nancy drags Ryan away before things get any messier.

Jay focuses his gaze and energy on me as he apologizes on Leban’s behalf, “Sorry about that.”

“S’okay,” I reply back soundlessly.

Leban merely scowls down at me before walking off, making it apparent that he wants nothing to do with me. Jay shakes his head after Leban, clearly infuriated with his apparent friend.

“He shouldn’t have snapped at you like that,” Jay adds, hoping that I’ll be alright. When am I not? I giggle as I take him in. Jay raises an eyebrow in query, “Something funny?” He quizzes, a slow smile forming on his lips as he tries to figure me out and place my amusement.

I bite my bottom lip and nod. I step forward, standing on my tippy toes as I remove some bubbles from his wet hair. He tenses for a second, his muscles going rigid beneath me. I step back with a handful of foam, his muscles automatically unclenching when I leave his space. He releases a relieved breath when I step back from him entirely. “There’s plenty more where that came from,” I laugh, amused by his appearance, as I blow the bubbles his way.

A soft chuckle escapes him as he lowers his head slightly to dust all the bubbles out of his messy hair. He stands up straight again and flicks the water out of his hair as his electric blue eyes lock on me and keep me in place with his fixated gaze. A twinkle of mischief shines through as a boyish smirk floats across his lips, “I stepped in because I was sure you’d hand Leban’s ass to him if I didn’t do something,” he jokes. “And I would know that being on the other end of one of your punches is painful,” he teases, rubbing it in.

“So I have a violent streak in me, so what?” I string him along for the ride, having fun with it.

He shrugs cautiously, “I didn’t say anything, don’t punch me.” He treads carefully, fearful that I actually do.

I end up laughing as I shove him to the front of the slip ’n slide line, “Just go already.”

Things with Jay are getting vastly complicated way too quickly.

Jay takes a sprint before jumping on the slip ’n slide and skiing on his feet all the way to the bottom whilst using the muscles in his arms to maintain his balance. He effortlessly does a front flip into the water upon reaching the end.

Sarah, Emma and Landon cheer him on, Xavier (he still likes to compete with Jay in everything in spite of giving up his racing for Emma) scoffing in distaste.

I roll my eyes. Jay’s such a show-off, yet still, my smile lingers a little longer. He’s so full of life these days. It’s different. He’s different. I like it.

“I’ll give it a four out of ten,” Troy rates Jay, having always been jealous of Jay’s natural born talent to do all these kinds of things.

I watch Jay stand up and throw a fist to the air, willing for an applause. I chuckle and start clapping for him first. He turns his full attention to me, sending me an appreciative wink, but I’m too busy being captivated by the water running down his chiseled abs and down all the planes of his muscles to notice.

“Saw that!” Bells smirks as she motions to Jay with the classic wag of the eyebrows. “Can’t keep your eyes off him,” she teases playfully, still rooting for Jay and me.

“Bells c’mon, not now,” I say before gesturing to Leban deliberately bringing Mia in. He obviously invited her because he is still peeved with me. He knows how I feel about Jay and now wants to get even. Decoda is with them as well.

Jay immediately begins to freak out when he sees Decoda headed his way, “Dammit! Who invited her?!”

I immediately out Leban, pointing to him on instinct, “Leban did,” I tattletale on him. He deserves it.

He walks up to them, briefly hugging Mia and scolding Leban, before glaring down at Decoda accusingly, “Why are you here?”

“You know why,” she states calmly as if used to him treating her like this.

“I told you that I’m not doing it,” he says stubbornly.

“You need more racing sponsors. This is the only way,” Decoda tries to reason with him. It’s impossible to reason with Jay, I’d know. He’s usually very understanding, except if he’s hurt. It makes me wonder why he’s so frustrated with his manager. What did she do?

“I don’t care!” He snaps venomously, the old temperamental Jay resurfacing for a brief second. “My personal life is none of their business. I’m not tracking down people who abandoned me. I’ve closed that chapter in my life.”

His birth parents?

“I’m also not opening up to fans about my past. You can’t make me do any of it,” Jay continues to argue, putting up a protest. His past is something he hasn’t even told me about, not completely. I zone back in as Jay debates further, “Montry would never do it in any case. He hates me. I hate him. It would never work.”

“Well you’re losing sponsors and investors like the drop of a fly. You’re making a splash across media. If we don’t set a strategy in place, you can kiss your racing goodbye,” Decoda tells him firmly, only in it for the money by the sounds of things. She doesn’t seem to care what he’s been through. “If you don’t want to open up and express your past to the fans, or get in touch with your foster parents or birth parents on live television, then, at least, get in touch with your foster brother. Your friend, Nancy, is Mason’s cousin. She can get him to agree to this, I’m sure.”

“I bet you could get Mason to agree to it,” Max whispers to me as we watch the intense scene in front of us unfold. I haven’t seen this side to Jay for a long time. Clearly, he has yet to work through all his personal issues. As someone who has conquered my own demons, I’m filled with a sudden urge to help Jay conquer his.

“I swear Decoda, keep this up and I will fire you myself,” Jay mutters coldly before storming off, Leban following after him in the hopes of consoling him. It’s all his fault for inviting Decoda in the first place.

I glance Max’s way before nodding in agreement, “Jay has no idea how much Mason has changed in the last five years. He would gladly help Jay. They’re brothers after all.” I update Max and Bells with the new piece of information, “I think that it’s time he pays us a little visit.”

“It’s the end of the world as we know it,” Bells begins to sing, Max humming along as they voice their opinions on the matter.

Max makes fake explosions sounds before clapping his hands, “Boom!”

“Kaboom!” Bells adds, joining in on the craziness for once.

I roll my eyes, “You looney tunes are so dramatic.”

Troy overhears, “Mason coming back?” He gets the hype going, “Someone grab my lightsaber, my RPG and my bazookas!”

If only he had one of those things…

They all start chiming the familiar song together in crappy harmony as they sway from left to right in unison, adding a clap here and there for emphasis on their point they’re trying to get across, “It’s the end of the universe as we know it!”

I huff, “Pssh, drama queens.”

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19. Chapter 19: Making a Splash!
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