Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 20: Don't Sweat It

Leban manages to get through to Jay and ends up bringing him back to us. I underestimated their friendship. Mia is trying to comfort Jay whilst he talks to Grey and apologizes to Decoda for blowing up on her. His excuse is that he’s got a lot on his plate right now.

I yawn, tired, but still able to see right through him. He’s stressed, that much is obvious. I worry about him way too much. If Jay’s not okay, then neither am I. When he’s upset, everything feels out of place for me.

Without much thought, I take out my cell phone and dial Mason’s number. He answers almost immediately. It doesn’t come as a surprise seeing as most of his calls are business calls and he takes his business very seriously.

“Hey Leech, how can I help you?” He answers politely. Upon hearing his voice, I find some peace with in the moment. I miss his friendship. It’s not the same when he’s stuck all the way in New York and I’m back here. I don’t get around to talking to him as much anymore.

“Is that Law?” I hear Laiken ask loudly from the background. He knows that I’m the only one Mason refers to as ‘leech’. He’s my maggot and I’m his leech. It’s our thing. Twisted, but nevertheless, it’s our thing. “Ooooh, tell her the love of her life sends his formal greetings!”

I roll my eyes, failing to hold back a smile. Laiken sure is one of a kind. He’s still as obnoxious as he was in high school. Nothing’s changed in that area.

“Shut up Lai, I’m busy,” Mason reprimands him from a muffled voice. He’s obviously placed his hand against the phone so that I can’t hear their private discussion, unknowing that I can vaguely hear them in any case.

“Hello?” I query with a giggle, missing my two idiots. They sure did keep me entertained in New York. I can’t help but want to see them again. It’s been a few months.

When I think about it now, Mason is the one who journeyed with me through all my obstacles. He’s even been an obstacle himself. Nevertheless, he’s a big part of my life and plays an important role in it. He’s known me since I was a mere child and even in the five years I went ‘missing’, he’s been with me. He has always just been there, and lately, I’m starting to see that I’ve been taking his presence in my life for granted. He’s put me through torment and hell, but he’s also helped me in ways I can’t even express. He was there for me during my moments with Yolanda or when I stupidly got drunk at parties. He’s probably one of the few people in my life that know absolutely everything about me.

“Sorry,” Mason apologizes before clearing his throat, “I have to say, this call was unexpected. I was wondering when I’d hear from you again. I almost thought you’d forgotten me already.”

A ghost of a smile surfaces on my lips as I answer him in reassurance, “Never.”

I hear him chuckle from his end, “How are things on your side? You with that dreamboat yet?” He teases, referring to Jay. He knows that for me it’s always been Jay, hence why he envied Jay in the past.

“I wish.” I sigh before explaining, “Much like you, I’ve kind of given up in that area. I’m starting to accept that maybe it’s just not meant to be.”

“Aww Leech, I’m sorry to hear that. I can relate,” he whispers, reminding me that I put him through the same as what Jay is currently putting me through. If anyone understands, it’s Mason.

“Oh and Zac’s here,” I add reluctantly.

“Laiken told me,” he replies, his tone of voice changing entirely. “You let me know if that asshole gives you any more trouble than he already has. I swear I’ll come up there myself and…” I hear him take in a deep breath as if to calm himself down, “you don’t want to know the rest.”

I wince at just imagining Jay, Zac and Mason in the same room together. This is not going to be easy.

“Could you come up anytime soon?” I ask hesitantly, biting on my bottom lip in the hopes of him agreeing to what I’m about to ask.

“Why? Are you okay? Your head pains coming back?” He bombards me with questions, clearly concerned. “I thought you’d beaten the blood clots,” Mason states, worry evident in his tone.

“I feel fine, Mas,” I assure him before he goes straight into panic mode, “I just need a huge favor from you.”

“Anything,” he answers in ease.

“I need you to help Jay,” I breathe out quickly, aware of Jay and Mason’s mutual hatred for each other. They have an ugly history, but I think it’ time they restore the relationship.

“I take it back,” he answers in the way I expected him to - his reaction was always a given. “I’ll do anything for you so long as it doesn’t concern him. You know I can’t put up with his broodiness. Jay Taylor and I don’t mix, we clash. I’ll even take Stokes over him.”

“Mason, please,” I beg, trying to reason with him, “Jay’s different now, just like you. He’s more reasonable. He’s grown up. He doesn’t even do anything illegal anymore. He’s made peace with a lot of things in his life. He’s better now.”

“Fine,” Mason reluctantly agrees, “what do you need from me?”

“To come up and reconcile with your brother,” I stress the brother part, adding much emphasis to it in the chance of him finally seeing that something needs to be done between him and Jay. I know for a fact that Jay will not be swayed, moved, nor convinced. He’s too stubborn, hence why I’m going the other route - the Mason route. “Not just for the press, or for Jay, or me, but for yourself,” I say, knowing that it’s what the both of them need. Brothers are supposed to be close. They’re not supposed to hate each other and be at each others throats all the damn time.

“Press involved?” Mason huffs, “As if I don’t have enough media coverage on my company as is.”

“Jay’s racing is going downhill because his fans, sponsors and investors feel like they don’t know him enough to support him. There’s not enough attention to his personal life and it’s starting to upset the media. If he starts losing any more investors and sponsors, he won’t be able to race professionally anymore. You, of all people, know that it takes guts to chase down a dream. Please help him with this. He needs you. He needs his brother,” I tell him, explaining the entire situation at hand.

“He’s going to have to hang on for a bit. I have important meetings with my own investors in this upcoming month. I won’t be able to come up right now, but I promise that I will get there when I can and if I can,” he replies, agreeing in his own way and on his own terms. “Oh and good luck getting Jay to agree to this. We both know it’s going to take a lot to convince him to accept my help. He’s too proud,” he adds knowingly.

“I’ll persuade him somehow,” I tell him before expressing my gratitude, “thank you so much, Mason. I owe you so many as is. You’re truly a great friend. I can’t wait to see you.”

“I bet Bells and Max can,” Mason laughs nervously before clearing his throat, “oh and don’t sweat it, it’s the least I can do for being such a hopeless idiot in school,” he casually waves off the matter as if it isn’t incredibly difficult for him to do. I know better. This is going to take a lot out of him, yet he’s still willing to go through with it.

“If you’re getting a vacation, then so am I. I’ll be going up with you dipsh*t, I have a little sister to see,” Laiken, who’s obviously been eavesdropping on our conversation, comments to his best friend, unaware that I can hear him.

“Fair enough,” Mason reluctantly agrees to Laiken’s request.

“Oh and Zac’s there, sweet!” Laiken cheers, seemingly just as pumped up about all of this as me. I’m sure a part of him misses the time spent in Minnesota. After all, it’s still home.

“That’s the part I’m not looking forward to,” Mason grumbles. I know he’s also ashamed to face Bells (due to their breakup and the way he handled everything) and Troy (Troy wants him dead ever since he broke his little sister’s heart) and Max (he and Laiken bullied him relentlessly for years). Max, the odd one out in comparison to pastime superstar Mason, won the popular girl in the end. Life has a funny way of working itself out.

“And me!” I shout at Mason, hoping he’d send the message to Laiken. How dare Lai only want to come up for Zac? Lucy is understandable, but Zac? What about me?!

“Jeez, my ears, some warning next time would be nice,” Mason laughs, Laiken having obviously got the message loud and clear.

Laiken grabs the phone from Mason (so I assume), “And for you Law, duh. That much was obvious, it needn’t be said,” he charms, reminding me of Zac. The difference is, I actually like Laiken.

I smile to myself, “See you then you two, bye.”

I hang up after that, a warm fuzzy feeling spreading through my veins at the thought of seeing those two again. I adore them. I fricken troydore them! I’ve been missing all my New York family. It’s about time they visit me.

I glance around the bonfire (Max insisted) that we’re all sitting around to see what everyone’s talking about. It’s laid back, everyone’s continuously getting up and moving about to get a chance to talk to different people.

“I don’t understand why they need a personal attachment to me. It’s stupid. Not even my closest friends know about my past. My fans don’t need to know sh*t. Sponsors and investors just need to see me race. The evidence is there,” Jay, directly across from me, is still complaining to Decoda about the entire ordeal.

Decoda is keeping a level head and is trying to be more understanding this time. She’s being careful because he’s got an important race tomorrow. He can’t race if he’s dealing and struggling with personal crises. He won’t be able to focus or concentrate, thereby not winning the race and standing a chance to lose even more investors. Decoda knows that. She doesn’t care about Jay, she just cares about her career and money.

“Just bring your strong ‘Jay game’, that should do it,” Leban cracks a joke in hopes of cheering up his friend.

“It won’t be enough,” Decoda shoots Leban a look, obviously well acquainted with him. She doesn’t seem to be his biggest fan, not that I am either. Leban’s a goblin.

“We’ll figure it out, Jay. There’s always loopholes. Let’s just drop it for now,” Grey advises, sensing that it’s eating at his friend.

Jay sighs as if feeling defeated, “Alright, fine, you’re right man.”

Grey nods and pats Jay on the back in reassurance.

“Hey again.”

I glance up just as Zac takes a seat beside me.

“Hey,” I answer dryly, not exactly happy to see him. “Where did you go earlier?” I question, sensing that he’s been up to no good, as always.

“Why? Did you miss the Zac attack?” He asks with a grin. He subtly changes the subject, “To be honest, I didn’t think you’d even notice.”

“Of course I noticed,” I answer impulsively, his grin widening upon hearing me admit it. I walked right into that one. “So where were you?” I ask for the second time, a bad feeling sneaking up on me. Zac’s ignorant and will technically do just about anything. It scares me.

“Having true love’s first kiss with a blonde bombshell and Malibu Barbie,” he blatantly lies, cracking a joke during a serious time. “But really, I was just hooking up,” he lies a second time, trying to convince me to believe him. I know when he’s lying. He always looks to the right. “So what did I miss? You and Jay bow chicka wow wow yet?” He asks in mild interest, making another attempt to change the subject. I don’t answer him, which drives his curiosity all the more, “Seriously, what did I miss?” He repeats, wanting to know if I hit it off with Jay in his absence.

“Like you care,” I retort rudely, not forgetting the current topic at hand. I decide not to let up, “Seriously, where were you?” I interrogate, wanting a real answer.

“Are you okay?” He questions, feigning distress. I scowl at him in turn, adding to his amusement. “If you are, someone should let your face know.” I glare at him all the more. He laughs and taps my nose, “Radioactive Aqueela is back.”

He always resorts to calling me that when I’m infuriated with him.

I fold my arms across my chest and frown, unimpressed.

Zac ignores my fury and glances around at the others before his dark eyes locate me again, “I see Sesame Street has gathered, all your Elmo Muppets here in place,” he gestures to my friends mockingly, disrespecting all of them.

“Where. Did. You. Go?” I hiss angrily. He’s definitely hiding something. He’s trouble, that’s what it comes down to.

“Don’t start, Aqueela,” he answers bitterly in warning, making it evident that I’ve officially pissed him off. He gets up and walks away from me, instead taking a seat in between Mia and Ryan. I’m far from surprised when he and Ryan start talking. I guessed that they’d get along.

“Rough day?” I glance sideways to see Max grinning down at me in amusement. Luckily, I have him on my other side. I’m not alone.

“The roughest,” I humor him, “but luckily two of my cherubs got engaged, so that makes it all the better.”

Max chuckles and nods, “Yeah I’m angelic, aren’t I?”

“Very much so,” I patronize him.

Max’s face falls when he notices my discreet irritation. “Turn that frown upside down,” he commands, pushing my lips upwards into a smile. I have to intentionally smile after that as I slap his hand away. Max has a way of lifting the mood, especially when I’m upset or annoyed.

Max throws an arm around me and draws me to his side until his cheek is resting against mine. He nudges Bells and gestures to his smiling face and me frowning against him, “Aren’t we just the cutest friends ever, Babe?”

Bells giggles and nods persistently, “Oh definitely!”

“Can you let go of me now?” I ask sourly, trying to stay mad but failing. “You’ve had your fun,” I say to him in turn as I shove his face away from mine.

“Never,” Max leans in and hugs me tightly before releasing me. All of a sudden, just like that, he turns serious as he forces me to look at him, “I want you to know that in spite of me being busier these days, I’ll always be your best and number one friend.”

Bells coughs loudly in jealousy, “Um excuse me, but what the hell is going in?”

I laugh and smile at them, “You’re both my best friends.” I now realize how Jay felt when Grey and I put him on the spot earlier on.

“No, it’s just me,” Bells argues, sending her fiance a fiery glower.

“And me,” Max adds in spite of Bell’s death stare.

“I third that motion,” Troy, from Bell’s far side, chips in as well upon eavesdropping.

I have to give credit where credit is due. Bell puts up with Max, Troy and a triplet all under one roof. On top of it all, Troy has Ramos visiting every day. Bells is a solid ace for coping and still managing a smile very now and then. She’s got her own mix of drama…and here I thought I had it bad.

I glance Jezel’s way, wanting to involve her in on the conversation too, “So how are you and Troy doing?”

“I’m still not sure there’s a connection,” Jezel admits, in front of Troy, but it’s not as if Troy will take it to heart. He doesn’t have one, I’m convinced of it.

“No, she’s deluded,” Troy protests with a grin as he places a carefree arm over Jezel, “we had an instant connection the day we first met,” he says the exact opposite, the two of them confusing me. I’ll go on Jezel’s word for it. One can never trust Troy.

“Which was like a few weeks ago right?” I tease the couple, Max nudging me in the side to get me to shut up before Troy actually clicks that I’m mocking him.

Jezel goes on to complain and vent her issues further, “He keeps trying to finish all my-“

“Potatoes,” Troy cuts her off, finishing the sentence he was sure she’d been about to say.

“Sentences,” Jezel sends Troy a flat stare as she corrects him. “How did you not get that one?” She questions in disbelief and then turns her head back to me, “Everything just feels forced. I’m just not sure if there are sparks-“

“There’s definitely sparks, trust me!” Troy boasts, arguing with her on everything. He’s clearly in denial - always the deluded one. It seems he likes her a lot more than she likes him, although he’ll never admit it.

Jezel sighs and checks the time on her cell phone, “Woah, it’s late. I need to get kicking, I have a photo shoot tomorrow.” She stands up and smiles down at Bells and Max, “I’m really happy for you both. Thanks for extending the invite my way.”

“Loved having you,” Bells replies back sweetly.

Jezel nods and turns her attention to me. She offers her sympathy as if truly able to relate, “As for you, I hope everything works out,” she motions to Jay who is talking amicably away with Leban and Grey. I notice the silver cross hanging from his neck and am reminded that Jay’s got a forgiving side. Surely, after I tell him everything, he’ll eventually forgive me. I hope.

I send her a faint smile, appreciative that she cares, “Thanks.”

She’s so nice and fun and Nancy isn’t either of those things. How are they even friends? I like Nancy, but I much prefer to be in Jezel’s company instead.

Troy makes a move to kiss Jezel goodbye, but she ducks under his arm, just dodging him in time. He goes in again and she turns her head, which results in him kissing her cheek. He still doesn’t quite catch the hint and tries to plant another one on her lips, but she steps back.

Troy glares at his ‘girlfriend’ accusingly, “Fool me once, Jezel, shame on you. Fool me twice, still shame on you.” He holds up three fingers and I can’t help but bite back a smile at his antics, “But fool me three times…” he emphasizes, “Jezel,” he shakes his head in disappointment, “and shame…” he juts his finger bossily in her face, “on you.”

“Moral of the story, Troy is always fooled,” Benley grins tauntingly at Troy from the other side. He’s big on teasing when he’s in the mood for it.

“Get your finger out of my face,” Jezel rolls her eyes at Troy and swats his invading hand away before they share an awkward hug goodbye.

Troy, as if not having noticed how weird things are with his one-sided relationship, skips back to us all too happily.

“The romance between us is blossoming,” Troy smiles in awe with a giddy look to his eyes, “I think I’m in love. Let me ask my best friend Jay-“

I interrupt immediately, “Don’t ask-“

“Jay!” Troy hollers, ignoring me entirely and managing to gather just about everyone’s attention.

Jay lifts his face to Troy from across the bonfire when hearing his name being called, “What’s up my man?”

Troy jumps straight into it, not bothering to beat around the bush, “Seeing as you’re the only one that has experienced true love here…” he trails off when everyone begins arguing with him, all of them (except Ryan) offended - especially his sister and Max. Troy stares at all of them in repulse as if disgusted with their uproar, “You’re all damn rude and insensitive! Can you not see that I’m trying to have a conversation here?!” Troy lectures when he initiated everything to begin with. Of course, this leads to more uprisings from the others. Troy ignores them, shaking his head yet again as he goes back to address Jay solely, “BroJay, I think I might be in love with Jezel. I feel like I’d rather she be alone than be happy with someone else, you know? Is that true love?”

I glance away from Jay’s piercing gaze, Troy unintentionally putting me on the spot, as I now fidget uncomfortably in my position.

Jay stares blankly at Troy as if astounded that Troy can be so dumb, “Yeah…”Jay eventually answers with hesitancy, “that’s about all of it man,” Jay lies, obviously seeing no other option or way out of answering the question. If he says no, he knows that Troy will undoubtedly argue against him. Jay’s too intelligent to fall into that trap.

Troy nods with a wistful smile, “Thought so.” He then starts talking to his little sister instead, “I need to be more romantic with Jezel. Any ideas, Sis? I was thinking like a seesaw or something…?”

“A seesaw?” I query, confused. That’s the best he could come up with. Even swings are more romantic. One thing is for sure, Troy is no hopeless romantic at heart.

“You wouldn’t get it, Squirt. You’re too busy in your cookie cutter world to understand true romance. My goal is to sweep Jezel off her feet, and what better way to do that than to seesaw with her? Her feet will literally never touch the ground with me,” Troy explains and I can’t help but yawn in boredom and roll my eyes at his dumb explanation. He legit just called himself fat without even knowing it.

“Simo love seesaws! Simo practice with Troll,” Simo insists excitedly.

“What did you just call me you little brat?” Troy sends him daggers for his deliberate slip-up. Simo just laughs it off, not offended in the least. He’s smarter than he lets on. “Be serious, Simo,” Troy protests, “the moment you climb onto the seesaw, I’ll be launched into space.”

Bell’s mouth falls agape at her brother’s blunt rudeness.

“That why Simo want to practice with Troll,” Simo grins innocently, cleverly one-upping Troy on that comeback. I have to get up and go high-five him for it. He’s finally made me proud. I knew Simo had it in him.

I sit back down beside Xavier.

“So there I was,” I drop in on Dean’s conversation with Xavier and the rest of them, “back in jail,” Dean says dramatically. He could be a professional storyteller at the rate he’s going.

Dean’s always in jail. It seems it’s his second home.

Dean opens up further to Xavier and Emma, “I was never disciplined with hidings. Instead, I was detained whenever I misbehaved. It sucked really. That was my childhood.”

I actually feel for him. It sounds tough.

“That can’t be legal?” Emma questions with raised eyebrows, shocked.

“Yeah well,” Dean scratches the back of his head as if embarrassed now, “I did some bad stuff, so I deserved it - but still, arrested by my own father?”

“Makes sense now,” Xavier chuckles in amusement, “you were playing the innocent card for a second there. Nice try.”

Xavier has a bad habit of being mean. He’s spending way too much time in Landon’s company.

“Worth a shot,” Dean mumbles sheepishly.

Looking at him reminds me of a random thought, “Hey Dean, whatever happened to that girl from the carnival?” I ask in interest.

I should have never asked the question because Dylan and Leban immediately jump in and all three spring to arguing about whom she prefers and likes better etc.

“She wants to go out with all of them and then decide who she likes better,” Nancy informs me, much like Grey in the all knowing department. “If you ask me, she’s stringing all three along for her own amusement. She’s playing them.”

Dylan should, at least, be above this. I can’t say that Dean is above any of it, and quite frankly I don’t care much for Leban.

“Nice guys finish last,” Zac uses his famous catchphrase, “my bets are on Leban winning the girl.”

He barely knows Leban and he already knows that Leban is the jerk of the group.

“If nice guys don’t end up with lousy people, then I think I’d take my chances and just be the nice guy. I’d rather lose because in the end I’ll still be coming first. If a girl wants you to treat her badly because that does it for her, then I’d rather not end up with her and her significant lack of value and morals,” Jay shrugs, choosing to take Zac on.

Zac narrows his eyes at Jay, “Your opinion versus mine.”

Jay sighs, understanding that Zac’s not following, and states in a laid back manner, “It’s not a competition because you’ve already lost,” Jay concludes calmly, refusing to back down on his point.

Zac clenches his hands into fists, gritting his teeth in aggravation but saying nothing because he’s not quite sure what to say back. He’s annoyed, yet Jay is anything but. He hasn’t managed to rile Jay up at all. Jay still has that whole easy-going notion about him because he speaks with conviction as if truly confident, whereas, with Zac, I’m not entirely sure if it’s real or just a front.

I quietly back away from the feud to see Max intervening as he now boasts to Zac ever so proudly:

“Yeah…I’m probably considered to be the badass around here,” Max tells him smugly, popping the collar of his shirt in pride wit his chin held high.

“You are?” I raise my eyebrows in a taunting manner.

“I’m always running into trouble. The other guys are intimidated by me, hence why they don’t really talk to me much,” Max ignores me and continues to be the biggest liar on the face of the earth.

It seems Max is really desperate to impress Zac. He wants to befriend Zac for some other reason beyond me. I can’t understand why anyone would willingly go out of their way for Zac Stokes, especially after that person hit on your girlfriend. I guess it’s just Max Mills for you.

Zac, on the other hand, merely nods at him, “Uh huh,” he says smoothly, clearly uninterested in talking to Max. I can guarantee that his thoughts are still lingering on the murder of Jay. He’s not over it.

Jay and the rest of the guys let Max have this one, all of them stroking his ego, well everyone but Grey…

Grey scoffs at Max in disbelief upon hearing Max’s conversation with Zac, “In what world?” He interrogates Max, setting the poor boy right back in place.

Max glares at Grey as if a true badass, “Don’t deny it.” He turns back to Zac confidently, “Don’t mind him, Grey’s probably the softest from us all. He’s a real goody-two-shoes, whilst I’m the rule breaker. We bicker a lot because he’s jealous of me. He envies my badass streak.”

If anything, Max is right. I truly do believe that on the inside, Grey’s a total teddy bear. He’s definitely the softest from us all, but he’d rather die than admit it.

“Let’s get something straight, it’s because I hate you, that’s why,” Grey clarifies, narrowing his eyes at Max threateningly. He then acknowledges Zac for the first time, “Believe what you want to, the truth will come out. You’ll see for yourself.”

“Uh huh,” Zac nods again, still not caring, rudely brushing them both off. Jay had spiked his temperamental side.

Grey, unfazed by his rudeness, turns back to continue his conversation with Sarah and Nancy.

I get up and angrily pull Zac slightly aside, “Could you at least try and be nice to my friends?”

Zac shrugs and speaks loudly - carelessly, “I could, but I don’t want to. They’re all so damn annoying. I don’t know how you put up with these people. I can’t tolerate any of them. They’re so lame, no fun at all.”

He’s only saying it all out of bitterness. He’s pissed with Jay and is now taking it out on all the others. Zac is used to being at the top of the pyramid scheme, but he’s starting to see that he’s not the only guy around here that doesn’t take crap from anyone. Challenging Jay is a mistake, one he’ll come to regret. He’s putting his foot in the wrong place. Jay will not take his garbage and he’s only starting to see that now.

Jay, unfortunately for Zac, hears and sends Zac a sharp intimidating stare that has even me ill at ease, “Yeah,” Jay scowls at him venomously, “well right back at you.”

Jay’s usually one of the first to rise to defend his friends - the people who actually mean something to him.

“What’s your problem with me man?” Zac has the nerve to ask even after he made that despicable comment of his. Of course Jay and the rest of them are now going to have a problem with him. Zac asked for this. He’s hobby is making rivals.

“I don’t have a problem,” Jay responds fiercely, “you do,” he says bluntly.

It’s not the night to irritate Jay, he’s in a grumpy mood about all his racing stuff as is. If I was Zac, I’d back off.

I elbow Zac in the side and motion to Jay in warning. Zac catches my drift, groans, and sits back down beside Mia - his own way of dropping the matter. He’ll never take back his words and apologize - but, at least, he’ll make an effort this time ’round to get to know everyone first before judging them and being so hypocritical of them.

Everyone else returns back to their initial conversations, letting Zac’s words slide for the meantime. However, they all ignore his presence, offended. They’re now giving him the cold shoulder, and with good reason. I can’t even blame them for casting him out. Zac’s a jerk. He deserves it. He brought this on himself. He’ll never be accepted by them until he accepts them first.

Fortunately, Mia - being the nice person that she is - forgives Zac and strikes up a conversation with him, seeing as everyone else is refusing to talk to him. Much to my surprise, Zac actually cracks a smile at something she says as if warming up to her. She’s grabbed his attention and he’s now captivated.

I take a seat beside Landon, wanting to talk to him for a bit. No doubt, I could do with a laugh.

“He seems like a real prick,” Landon tells me, gesturing to Zac. Sarah shoots him a reprimanding look. Landon defends himself against Sarah’s accusing stare, “I’m just saying.”

Landon’s defense to anything and everything is always ‘I’m just saying’.

“He is,” I agree with Lan much to Sarah’s shock, “trust me, I would know.”

Landon grins down at Sarah in victory, “See, for once I was right.” He leans down and kisses her cheek boastfully before asking, “Sar, how can you even defend someone like him?” He questions in surprise seeing as Sarah is always so sweet to everybody.

“Same way as when I first defended you against Xavier three years ago. I’m in love with someone like him. I mean you literally used to beat people up for the fun of it,” Sarah reminds him of the old days where he earned his nickname as ‘Ruthless Racer’.

“Good times,” Landon smiles in reverie as if missing those days.

Sarah rolls her eyes at him, a small smile playing on her lips. She seems to see the good in everyone and I envy her for that. She has definitely softened Lan up. He used to be so much worse. She’s done a good job with him. I didn’t think it would ever be possible, especially with someone as temperamental as Landon. Despite his change, he still has his wild ferocious moments. He’s still the scariest person I’ve ever known, and that’s a privilege I’d say. I would hate to get in his bad books. Poor, poor Xavier.

Upon hearing the hype, we all tune into Dean’s conversation with Grey, Emma, Xavier and Jay. You can’t help it, Dean is obnoxiously loud at times.

“No, but seriously, Xav, you gotta see this guy race. It’s insane!” Dean goes on, obviously referring to illegal street racing - the stuff Jay used to do. “They call him ‘Ghost’ because you don’t see him coming until he’s in front of you. He’s that fast, practically unbeatable. He keeps his identity a secret though.”

“We’re good,” Emma speaks on her husband’s behalf. “Sure, we miss racing, but we gave it up for a reason. It’s just not for us anymore. We’re passed all that street drama.”

“Tell me about it,” Sarah sighs before glancing at her boyfriend in compassion, “I wish Landon would give it up already. It’s so dangerous.”

I realized just how dangerous it was when Xavier went on a killing spree and almost took Jay and Grey out of the equation for good. Who knows where I’d be if it weren’t for the two of them? Stupid, sensless and impulsive Xavier…

“And I wish you’d join me already,” Landon smirks down at his girlfriend, playfully winking at her. “It’s a hell of a lot of fun, just ask my sister.”

Sarah looks to Emma for an explanation as if hesitant to believe Lan without Emma’s confirmation on the subject first.

“Not when you lose,” Emma replies back cheekily to Sarah in turn, “just ask my brother.”

“Uncalled for!” Landon snaps at his sister playfully, the rest of us laughing at his expense. “I may not be ‘Ghost’, but at least, I can fix any damn car thrown my way.” He openly brags on his talents and skill, “I’m a pro with car mechanics. There’s that in my name.”

“You’re definitely the best with modifying race cars, but ‘Ghost’ is definitely one of the best racers I’ve ever seen,” Grey admits, giving away his opinion. It’s no surprise seeing as he is a very opinionated person. “In fact,” Grey goes further, “I haven’t seen someone as skilled as him on the ghost tracks since JT,” Grey smirks at Jay knowingly with a half-smile.

Jay grins, finally letting the cat out the bag, “Of course you’ve known all this time,” he states in indifference, “I’ve had my suspicions.”

‘Ghost’ races on the ghost tracks…should’ve known. Jay took me to the ghost tracks just before we started going out. It’s where he told me everything about Mason and where I almost killed us when he tried to teach me to race.

“Yeah man,” Grey laughs, “I’ve watched you race for half my life, I know your tactics better than anyone else, it wasn’t that hard to put together. Plus, I know you have other cars than just your Gallardo - it just happens to be your favorite.”

“Wait what?” Dean asks, clueless, still not catching on.

“Do you want us to spell it out for you?” Landon mocks his best friend in amusement. “No wait, that won’t help you much. It will just confuse you more,” he teases in good nature.

“I don’t know why it’s taking him this long,” Xavier joins and gets on Landon’s bandwagon, also antagonizing Dean as he is a little on the slow end of things. “It’s so obvious, has been for a while now - that’s if you know how JT operates when racing.”

Dean frowns, “Huh?”

Emma takes the liberty to clarify, “JT is ‘Ghost’, idiot.” She laughs at Dean, lending him a hand seeing as he isn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the coloring box.

Dean glances to Jay for an explanation, shellshocked by the update. He obviously didn’t have the faintest clue. He’d make a lousy detective, even if his father is a cop.

“I missed street racing,” Jay confesses upon seeing Dean’s confusion. Decoda sends a sharp glare his way him upon hearing this. She clearly doesn’t approve of his outside hobbies. “I don’t like being conformed to boundaries,” Jay admits, excusing himself from any more attacks on ‘Ghost’. “I like to race by my own rules and on my own home turf,” he reveals impassively, not fazed by Decoda’s daggered stare.

“So you’ve been blowing all our meetings off for street racing?!” Decoda raises her tone, peeved with him going behind her back. “You’re going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for if you keep this up! It’s like you want to throw away everything. Why do you keep trying to deliberately sabotage yourself?” She questions in distress. If Jay loses his job, she thereby loses her. She’s only got her best interests in mind. She’s looking out for herself. “Ever since you came back here,” she motions around, referring to Burnsville in itself, “it’s as if you’ve lost focus and just don’t care about anything anymore.”

Jay shrugs carelessly, not even looking remotely sorry about his recent behavior, “Maybe it’s because I’m starting to realize that there are more important things to me than my career, or money and fame.”

“Something is going on with you, Jay Taylor,” Decoda argues knowingly in warning, reprimanding him as his manager. “You need to get your head screwed on right. You have a serious race tomorrow and you’d better bring your A-game because your career is starting to depend on it,” Decoda starts bossing him about, when in actual fact she is right. Jay is currently out of control. If he doesn’t start getting his act together, he’s going to go under.

“I really don’t even care anymore,” is his nonchalant answer.

Decoda stares at him for a second longer than necessary as if imagining herself killing him. She drops it after that, realizing that once Jay makes up his mind on something, there’s just no changing it. He is and will always be the most stubborn and hard-headed person I know. On the other hand, he’s also the most selfless person I know. He gives to charity all the time and took me in when I had nowhere else to go. He even took in Oog, a person/creature neither of us really knew at the time. We’re no strangers to fights, but he’s always had an enormous heart. In the past years, he has built homes in third world countries and volunteered his time and effort in other areas too. He’s not self-absorbed or conceited, he just has a hot temper on him - Yolanda would know (he was there during all that drama too). I can easily overlook all his flaws because his genuine heart, the rare times that you do see it, is enough in itself.

By the time I break out of my reverie, I come to find that the topic is still on racing:

“But other racers like ‘The Loose Screw’ are also suddenly picking up in speed now,” Grey sighs in distaste. “Some street racers are now rising up from the dust. A lot of the new guys have potential and the competition is starting to get tight,” he frowns at the thought.

“Glad I’m out that gig,” Xavier chuckles humorously. “Way too much pressure to always try and beat everyone, especially JT.” He glances Jay’s way with envy, “To this day, I still can’t figure out how you always come out on top.”

Jay has racing strategies, techniques and secrets that he will never let anyone know, not even Grey or Greg. He merely laughs it off, always the humble one at heart, “Nah man, I’m not even that good,” he insists calmly.

Jay and Xavier have come a ridiculously long way. If you were to rewind to five years ago, they’d be at each other’s necks. They hated each other and could not even tolerate speaking civilly to one other unless it was pure trash-talk.

“You’re the best of the best so just shut the hell up bro and relish in it,” Landon grins in jealousy, shaking his head at Jay’s modesty.

I stifle a smile.

He most certainly is the best of the best, and not just in racing.

I get up to see Max, Blubber and Susie making s’mores. Bells has Melby in her arms as she watches them in longing. She’s been trying to cut out all junk food in order to lose the last bit of her baby fat from the pregnancy. Rhys and Blanche are still sleeping peacefully in their cribs. Meanwhile, Troy is poking a tree branch into the bonfire as if truly fascinated by it catching alight.

I take a seat back on the other side (across from the racers) and drift off into my own world, barely registering Zac sitting down beside me once again. He doesn’t quit, and that’s the entire problem.

“Take reassurance in the fact that this is now the cool side,” Zac breaks the deafening silence between us, “since I just legit swapped seats and came over here.” He grins in pride and pats my back, “Feel better.”

It’s obvious someone is feeling guilty for lashing out at me earlier.

“I don’t get what you see in him,” Zac interjects softly when I don’t respond. He notices me staring at Jay and follows my gaze, “Is it because he races, that do it for you?”

Mia, who’d also joined this side, shakes her head at Zac upon hearing our discussion, “It’s because Jay has an undoubtedly good heart. These days, that’s rare to find,” she clarifies to Zac on my behalf, making it that much awkwarder.

I tense, realizing that Mia heard everything.

Mia notices me stiffen and laughs lightly, “Relax Aqueela Lawson, Jay told me earlier today that he wants us to just stay as friends.”

I blow out a breath of relief and glance to her questioningly.

Unfortunately, Zac interrupts before Mia can digest further, “Good,” Zac grins in satisfaction and winks down at Mia like the flirt he is, causing her to blush. I barely notice because I’m still so astounded by her words, by the revelation.

“Huh?” I eventually quiz Mia, now officially lost and desperate for an elaboration. Zac can continue his flirt fest and Zac shenanigans later.

Mia offers me a smile and explains, “Jay’s probably mentioned that we were never actually dating. We both agreed, from the start, to just see if we had something and if there was something between us worth building on. We went out on a few dates, but he never took the initiative to go further and ask me out out,” Mia tells me. “His heart is in the right place and always has been. I like him and all, but no. I mean I have had a huge crush on him since high school, but I’ve only now realized that that’s all it was. It’s always just been a crush.”

“Yeah?” I press for more details, knowing that I won’t be getting them from Jay. Zac also listens attentively to her, taking a clear interest in her. It’s not the first time, let’s just hope he doesn’t try and use her.

Mia nods, “I think I liked the idea of a Jay Taylor more than Jay Taylor himself. He’s great, but so much more complex than I anticipated. He doesn’t talk about what’s on his mind and that frustrates me. I’ve told him so myself, but he always seems so indifferent. He’s too secretive and mysterious. I never know what to expect with him and I don’t like it. I don’t know how you dealt with his aloofness when you were dating him. He’s very unresponsive, reserved, withdrawn and stand-offish. He’s not who I imagined him out to be. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for him and everything, but he’s not the guy I pictured for myself. We don’t have chemistry, not like you and him,” she directs the last part to me with a small smile as if glad yet disappointed at the same time.

Like every person, I’m sure she was hoping it would work out and that things would just magically fall into place. Unfortunately, speaking from experience, a relationship with Jay is never automatic. It requires a great deal of work, but in the end, it is beyond worth it - beyond what you can even comprehend or fathom it to be.

Zac rolls his eyes as if unimpressed with her answer, “Aqueela literally has chemistry with everyone so she doesn’t count. I’ve legit seen it.”

Mia giggles, not taking any offense, before diverting her attention back to me, “We had a long talk, an honest one. It’s the first time he was forthcoming and communicative. He admitted that he can’t see himself with me in the long run and I accepted it because I feel the same about him. We’ve agreed to just stay friends. It’s alright because someday I’ll find my very own Jay Taylor.”

“Maybe you’ve just found him,” Zac smirks suggestively, enjoying Mia’s innocent reactions to his sweet talking. Mia is the type of girl he wouldn’t usually go for, but I think he’s starting to see that his real type is the good ones too.

I smile at Mia in all friendliness and roll my eyes at Zac’s charm, “Don’t mind him,” I point to Zac, “he’s a total flirt.”

“Guilty is charged,” Zac brags to Mia, pulling out all the stops with her as if really hoping to get on her good side and impress her.

Mia is uncertain how to react seeing as she’s out of her depth when it comes to guys like Zac. She smiles as if uncomfortable, unintentionally pushing Zac to continue hitting on her. He’ll carry on because he takes delight in her ignorance and obliviousness as to what to do in this kind of situation. She’ll soon learn fast enough. If she wants him to stop, she just has to put him in his place. He’s like a puppy, he needs to be reprimanded or he’ll never learn.

I click my fingers in front of Benley’s face when I see him staring into the fire with a hopeless expression, “You alright Boyband? You’ve been more quiet than usual,” I point out the facts, concerned.

He sends me a tired smile, pulling his eyes away from the lit fire, “Just missing my girlfriend is all. Bex is annoying the hell out of me and I just want AJ back. I need her back. I have to see her,” he opens up in ease, keeping nothing at bay. It’s what I like about him most.

“Bex trying to win you back?” I question, trying to understand why he’s so down.

“You have no idea,” Benley sighs in horror, “that blood sucking leech is enough to drive me demented.”

“You’re appreciating AJ more now?” I joke, trying to lighten his mood.

“I love that girl with everything I have. If anything, Bex has just made me realize that it’s time I man up and finally propose to AJ before she gives me an ultimatum and I lose her for good,” Benley opens up to me yet again, not one to keep others in the dark. Benley’s usually clear about himself and his intentions, unlike Jay. Jay’s the exact opposite - always closed off to everyone and everything, just like Mia said.

“AJ is a gem,” I agree easily. “That girl is a keeper. You gotta propose BoyBand. You have enough swagger to do it,” I wink playfully, managing to earn a smile from him.

I fall quiet and stare up at the starry sky. The night is almost perfect.

“Jeez, Mia is right. That racer really is devoted to you,” Zac whispers, referring to Jay.

I glance up to see Jay staring at me from across the bonfire. My pulse automatically quickens as I meet his gaze across the fire and fail to suppress a smile. He returns it with an earth shattering smile of his own, not even embarrassed in the slightest that I caught him staring again. If anything, he’s owning up to it, not even trying to hide it.

I’m surprised he’s even smiling after the night he’s had. Decoda has given him a lot of hell and bad news today, yet still, he manages to go on with a smile on his face. He displays an inner strength like no other. I admire him for it.

I tear my eyes away from Jay when Bells asks everyone to share what’s been going on with them in the past couple years. It eventually gets to me and Bells glances at me expectantly as if daring me to try and back out.

“The floor is all yours,” Benley says softly in encouragement, silently willing me to fess up.

“I’m curious too,” Max admits as he sends me a cheeky grin, “what have you been up to in the past five years? Zac perhaps?”

“She wishes, I’m a ten and she’s like a solid seven,” Zac smirks, sending me a wink. I roll my eyes at him, unfazed. He clears it up to the others, “I’m too good for her, way out of her league”

“Yeah that’s it,” Jay mutters in sarcasm, unimpressed.

The two of them really don’t get along. Judging by Zac’s scowl, they’ve reached an impasse.

“For reals though, why didn’t you come back sooner?” Troy, out of all people, directs us all back to the topic at hand as if sensing that a fight is about break out. He’s aware of more than he lets on. There’s untapped potential in him.

Troy’s question leads to more questions from the rest of them, except from Jay. He’s being shockingly quiet, dead set on not pressuring me to share anything I don’t want to share. He respects my privacy, but he’s also afraid to hear the reason. If it’s not a good enough reason in his books - a lousy excuse in his eyes - he will be hurt all over again. For him, it will mean that he wasn’t important enough to come back to. I understand that he doesn’t want to subject himself to any of that rejection and pain again, but he still deserves the entire truth.

It’s then I take the initiative and decide to courageously tell all of them about what happened in New York, to tell them the real reason why I never came back. I owe it to them. They’re my family now.

It’s difficult to say it aloud in front of so many people. Zac, already knowing about the situation, offers me a nod of encouragement. When he notices just how displaced I feel and how despondent I’m becoming under their intimidating gazes, he subtly grabs hold of my hand. He squeezes my hand softly, letting me know that he’s right here and that I can do this and finish my story.

I loosen up when I see that they’re all taking it well, to a certain extent, and are asking questions here and there as if to find out more. At first, Bells and Max seem to have horrified expressions on their faces, but relax when I tell them that I’m fine now. Even Grey raises his eyebrows in concern as if, for once, he didn’t see any of this coming. I’m just super glad at how understanding they’re all being, in spite of their valid initial reactions. Fortunately, they all seem to be handling it with ease by the end of it. They’re all just relieved that I’m still alive and kicking for the most part.

“Woah, everything makes sense now,” Max breaks the silence, blown away. “I’ve always wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to intrude,” he says to me quietly. “I figured you’d tell us when you were ready,” he concludes.

“Same,” Bells murmurs softly, agreeing with Max, as she wipes away a stray tear before sending me one of her warmest of warmest smiles, “I’m just so damn glad that you’re okay and pulled through it all.”

“My poor goddess,” Blubber pouts, unintentionally breaking the ice so that we all crack a smile (well everyone but one).

“Simo so sad,” Simo sniffs through his choked sobs. I have to reassure him that I’m fine like a kabajillion times before it eventually sinks in.

“The strongest always come out on top,” Landon winks my way, lifting everyone’s spirits with his weird and rare humor.

“I don’t even know what to say,” Luce says quietly, the atmosphere changing once again. “Does my brother know?” She asks. I nod in turn. She blows out a tense breath, “At least you had someone there for you.”

During that time, it was actually Mason that was there for me. Laiken had yet to relocate down to New York. However, when Laiken found out, he was an anchor too.

“Are you blind child or just stupid?” Zac coughs loudly at Luce and motions to himself, Luce deliberately ignoring his gesture as he tries to get the message across that he was there for me too (so he thinks). Susie’s never been a fan of her brother’s friends, Mason included - hence why she has yet to mention him.

“Finally! Someone sees it!” Max jumps on Zac’s side, still hoping to convince Zac that he’s a rebel. “Susie sucks.”

“Don’t you dare start Max Mills!” Susie hisses.

“He’ll do what he wants,” Zac backs Max up, managing to bring a massive grin to Max’s face.

I zone out when Zac and Lucy begin to bicker further, Max obviously teaming up with Zac and Troy with Luce, as my gaze sets on one person alone. He’s the only one not saying a word. He’s fallen dead silent. I watch him with a racing heart of anxiety as he stares blankly ahead of him as if in deep thought.

When I hear loud sniffling I glance Troy’s way to see him quickly wiping away at his red eyes, “You could have died, Squirt!”

With Troy’s words out in the open to linger, Jay suddenly gets up and walks away, without a single word. Sensing that he’s obviously upset, I follow after him determinedly and boldly stop him by pulling on the sleeve of his jacket, “Jay wait-“

He spins around to face me, a distraught and hopeless expression on his face as he narrows his piercing blue eyes at me accusingly, beyond hurt, “You told Benley before me,” he states quietly, trying to keep a level head. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this sooner? Why didn’t you damn well call me when the accident happened, or at least after you came out of the hospital for the first time? Why only tell me five years later? You could have just called and told me what happened then and there. I would have understood. I would have come down to New York for you in a heartbeat, in spite of everything that went down between us before you left. I still would have been there. I would have dropped everything for you. I would have stayed with you in New York until the doctors said you were fine to go. I would have been there for you during all your doctor’s appointments, during your examinations, your operation, and just everything. You didn’t have to go through any of it alone!” He raises his tone on the last part, showing me just how infuriated yet devastated he really is.

He’s passed the forgiving stage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this lost, mostly because his anger is justified with his own mix of sadness and grief.

I try to defend my actions, “They told me that I might not survive the operation. I didn’t want to see you or talk to you if it meant that it would be the last time. I didn’t want to burden you with all of that. I’d rather just have left without all the sadness. I couldn’t put you through another goodbye. You were already going through so much-“

“Stop Aqueela, just stop with all the excuses!” He finally snaps.

I wince and cower back, “I’m sorry.”

He shakes his head, “I was a phone call away. All you had to do was pick up the phone and call me. I would have done all the rest. I would have put you first and rushed down to see you. You clearly didn’t think of me when you made the decision to not let me know of the accident and of your condition. You did what was best for yourself. You didn’t want to face me because you were scared it would be the last time? Well, what about me?” He asks in aggravation and frustration. “You would just be gone and I wouldn’t have even gotten the chance to say goodbye or make amends. You would just be gone and I would have to hear all about it from some stranger. I would wake up to get some random call from some random person telling me that the person I have cared for my entire life had passed away. How the hell is that fair on me?!”

I didn’t think to put myself in his shoes or look at any of it from his perspective. I always end up shattering his heart. He deserves so much better.

He says the last part in utter desperation as if coming from a truly dark place, “Please make me understand, Aqueela, because I’m having serious difficulty in accepting this. You didn’t give me the chance to be there. You blocked me out. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there like I should have been.”

I try to reason with him, “I never intended for any of this. I just didn’t want you to worry. I didn’t want to hold you back. Your racing was just taking off and your science-“

“I’m not doing this anymore, Aqueela,” he whispers in heartbreak, “I can’t go on in life when I keep…” he pauses for a second before tearing his eyes away from me in shame as if it is difficult to say, “when I keep feeling this way about you,” he confesses softly. “It has to stop. It has to…or I have to leave again and get as far away as possible.”

In true despair, I have no other choice but watch him walk away from yet again. I swallow anxiously and nervously at the thought of Jay leaving again, and this time, never coming back. It would all be because of me. It always is.

Mia sends me an apologetic glance as she follows after Jay.

I’ve done it this time. There’s no way Jay’s bouncing back from this one. This is something he won’t just get over.

I feel a sturdy hand on my shoulder and turn to see Grey staring down at me in empathy, “Don’t sweat it, psycho. I’ve got this. I’ll fix it. I’ll fix all of it. I promise.” He assures me as if trying to convince himself before heading in the direction Mia and Jay had just gone.

Decoda passes me by and sends me a dark glare before clapping in sarcasm, “Well done! You outdid yourself this time.” She’s obviously heard a lot about me. “You just had to rile him up before his race tomorrow?! Nice going. You’re jeopardizing his entire life and you can’t even see it.”

“Shut up for once in your life, Decoda. You’re stealing everyone’s oxygen,” Leban pulls the middle finger at Decoda before he too goes after Jay and the others. Fortunately, Decoda leaves as well.

Bells wraps her arms around me, pulling me into a comforting and supportive hug whilst Sarah ushers all the words I want to hear but know aren’t true.

I don’t think Jay will come around this time.

Xavier breaks the silence in the obvious need to do some damage control, “Woah…” he whistles slowly, “rough ride that was.”

Emma elbows her husband, failing to be discreet, and reprimands him, “Shut up.”

I know Xavier only means well. He’s just trying to ease everyone’s nerves by cracking a joke. He doesn’t really know what else to say. He and Landon aren’t exactly the comforting type. They’re clueless.

“On the upside to things, I’ve decided to ask AJ to marry me,” Benley says awkwardly, trying to make light of the gray moment.

“Always gotta steal our thunder,” Max teases as he refers to his and Bell’s current engagement party.

“Finally,” Nancy comments to Benley as if exasperated with him, “I don’t think that poor girl would have waited any longer.”

“Meh,” Ryan openly shows his disfavour with the idea of being engaged, Nancy shooting daggers with her eyes at him as a result. They seem to have a lot to discuss…

“You’re the one to talk,” Benley says to Nancy and gestures to Ryan who happens to be invested in his phone again.

I don’t mind Ryan, but I don’t understand why he’s with Nancy. It sometimes, if not most times, seems that he could care less about her. On the other hand, it’s obvious Grey has ‘thing’ for her. It’s just one big mess after the other.

“I wonder if she will say yes,” Blubber purposely instils doubt in Benley’s head like the little brat he is. Some things never change…

“You’re a jerk, you know that?” Boyband glowers at Blubber in distaste. He hasn’t ever done anything to Blubber yet Blubber is still a meanie to him.

“Simo love son,” Simo chips in thoughtfully, wrapping a pudgy arm around Blubber and drawing him close to his bloated belly.

“I’m not your son!” Blubber argues as he tries to escape Simo’s tight grasp. Susie packs out laughing at the sight, highly amused.

“Watch mouth boy, Simo will ground you,” Simo scolds Blubber like a father would do. “No lip for Simo from son. Blub behave or Sims smack and put Blubber to bed early.”

Susie laughs harder, wiping tears away from her eyes before calming down and catching her breath, “Classic.”

“I think now’s as good as any time to say that we’re expecting,” Emma informs us seeing as Benley got a chance to make his big announcement.

Troy stares blankly at the couple in anticipation, “What? What is it?” Troy glances around in glee, waiting for an answer, his eyes meeting Emma and Xavier’s again in suspense, “What are you expecting?”

Xavier rolls his eyes before clarifying for the likes of Dean and Troy and the other slower of our friends, “Our first child.”

Troy’s mouth falls agape, his eyes wide in excitement. He’s at a loss for words. You’d think he’s the one about to become a father. Before he can say anything, Dean leaps forward to hug them happily, overjoyed at the news. Dean did once say that he loves babies and kiddies. He’ll make a great dad one day.

Sarah and Landon are not fazed by the update. If anything, they were told long ago seeing as they are the closest to Emma and Xavier in some kind of twisted way.

My attention is caught when my phone vibrates. I take it out to see a message from an unknown number: ‘Don’t lose hope. You’re quite capable.’

My eyes automatically scan the area before my gaze strays to Ryan, but he’s not giving anything away. However, he is the only one here on his cell phone. It has to be him.

I take a chance as I type back and send, ‘Thanks, Brewer.’

He suddenly glances up and meets my gaze, sending me a soft smile as if to say ‘pleasure’. He has a much bigger heart than what people give him credit for. He just hides it behind layers of distrust. It’s a second later when he’s back on his phone, but I find myself not caring. Ryan’s special. Nancy got lucky after all.

“Hey hey, you okay?” Zac glances down at me in worry, tracing the single tear that had escaped down my cheek without me even realizing it. I shake my head, unable to find words in the moment. “C’mon,” he whispers as he wraps an arm around my waist, “let’s get you out of here.” I nod against his chest as he walks me out, “Everything will be okay, but you’re still probably stuffed,” he contradicts himself.

I laugh slightly, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”

He shakes his head, admitting it, “Comforting is not really my speed. I usually make the girl cry. This is an area for an experienced guy that’s ultimately good, a guy like Jay.” He winces when realizing his mistake in mentioning him, “Told you that I suck at this.”

At least he’s trying.

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