Chapter 22: You're Mistaken
“What’s going on Zac?” I ask as we arrive at our new destination - some dingy looking bar. It’s rusty, old and rundown - a typical ‘Zac hangout spot’. “Be straight with me for once,” I sigh as I try to process all that’s just happened.
“Nothing, everything’s fine,” Zac lies to my face in an act to reassure me as we enter the crowded, stuffy bar. We take seats right in front of the bartenders. Zac wastes no time in ordering himself a few drinks. He’s a heavyweight in that sense, unlike me.
I cock my head to the side as I give him a look of warning, “Zac.”
“Don’t use my name too much, ’kay?” He orders more than asks as he keeps glancing around the bar as if in search of someone.
I roll my eyes at him in frustration, “Whatever you want, Phoenix,” I emphasize his old name seeing as he’s up to his old tricks.
He places his hand over my mouth, his eyes going wide as if alert, “Sssh ssh sh,” he commands degradingly, “no names tonight at all, alright?”
I bite down on his hand. He lets out a yelp as he removes his hand from my mouth. I grin up at him innocently, “Serves you right, jerk.”
He narrows his eyes at me, finally directing his attention back to me, “What is your problem?”
“Tell me what yours is first,” I demand stubbornly. “You’re clearly on the run from someone again and I want to know why. For your sake, I hope this isn’t related to Lars.”
Zac immediately shakes his head, “No, never again. I promised you that I wouldn’t do that to you a second time and that’s one promise I actually intend to keep.”
I send him a flat stare, hesitant to believe him or trust him.
“I don’t even know where he is, Aqueela. I haven’t been in contact with him since I went to jail. You know that he’s in hiding. No one knows where he currently is. It’s why your uncle is trying to trace him down. If anyone can find him, it’s Jeff,” Zac explains truthfully, sensing my distrust.
“True,” I sigh as I think back to the day when I told my uncle everything. He then took it upon himself to go looking for Lars in order to arrest him. He’s still currently trying to locate my father. My final wish is to see my dad behind bars.
“I hate cops,” Zac scowls as if reminded of his history with them before a grin slowly finds its way onto his face, “but Jeffrey is the exception.”
Uncle Jeffrey is my hero, thus, I have to nod in agreement.
A thought occurs to me soon after, “Dean’s dad is a cop too,” I say and chuckle at Zac’s misfortune. He’s somehow always being linked to the law, even though he seems to think he’s above it.
“Just my luck,” Zac groans before lifting his brown eyes to meet my gaze, a sheepish expression on his face, “who is Dean again?” He queries.
I shake my head at him, a small smile on my face, “Forget it.”
Zac really doesn’t pay attention to my friends, that’s if Dean Wyatt even counts as a friend. I still only see him as Landon’s crazy racing buddy, but then again, I did try to bail him out of jail. However, that attempt later resulted in all of us landing up in jail. Thus, my conclusion, we’re close friends.
“Yo, Stokes? Could it really be you?!”
Zac turns in his seat upon hearing the voice, almost as if it’s familiar to him. I follow his movement and shift as well in order to get a better view.
The random guy before us laughs aloud to himself when seeing Zac’s face, “My gosh, it is you! I’ll be damned. The phoenix still flies in these parts, huh?”
Zac stares up at the ceiling in defeat before mumbling under his breath grumpily, “Ah sh*t.”
“Zac?” The guy asks in question, now uncertain, as if to make sure he’s seeing correctly. Zac’s reaction clearly took him by surprise. It’s only ’cause he caught Zac off guard first.
“You’re mistaken, my friend,” Zac retorts rudely, trying to take cover and duck out of sight.
I know Zac well enough to know that ‘you’re mistaken, my friend’ means he doesn’t want to be recognized. He’s avoiding everyone and I’m curious to know why. What pot has he stirred this time? Which bear has he poked? Did he add salt to someone’s wound?
“Definitely you, Zac Stokes,” the guy concludes with a laugh. He obviously picked up on Zac’s famous four words. He proceeds with an ice-breaker, “So where’ve you been man?” He helps himself to a seat beside Zac.
Zac uses his catchphrase on him, “That’s classified. You’re not on a need-to-know basis.”
“Last time I saw you, here down in Burnsville, was like a year ago,” the guy replies, unfazed by Zac’s garbage attitude.
I perk up upon hearing his words. I fold my arms over my chest and turn to Zac for an explanation. This is news to me. I wasn’t aware that Zac was in Minnesota last year. He never once mentioned it either. I was under the impression that this was his first time being here. He went with what I thought and never bothered to correct me. Why?
Zac purposely ignores my piercing stare and replies back to his old pal instead, “I’ve been ’round, Adam.”
He’s always so vague with his answers, it irks me.
Adam, still not noticing me, grins and flashes Zac a devilish smirk, “Been up to trouble again, ey? So I’m presuming - you’re always in trouble.”
“Again?” I make myself known as I repeat the important word, emphasizing it for Zac so that it gets across his thick skull. He can be a little slow at times when I’m subtle.
Zac says nothing further on the matter, sending his friend a dark glare as if to shut him up. Zac’s always gotta play the mysterious card, it reminds me of how Jay used to be. I don’t particularly like it.
Adam’s gaze meets mine for the first time. He swallows nervously as he puts the pieces together, “This your new girl, Zac?” He questions anxiously, sensing that he stuffed up. Zac is annoyed that his secret, whatever it may be, is slowly being divulged.
“More sidelines girl,” I answer for Zac. I stretch over Zac to shake Adam’s hand in order to introduce myself properly, “I’m Aqueela.”
“Adam,” he answers back politely in spite of his scruffiness. His mother raised him right. His only flaw is his poor choice in friends. I guess we’re in the same boat after all.
“She’s my stepsister,” Zac says upon seeing Adam’s expectant expression.
“Not actually,” I clarify to Adam. Zac rolls his eyes at me being so specific. He hates details. I explain, “Zac’s mom - not that I blame her - left my dad, so technically, we’re not anything to each other.”
“Not even friends?” Adam asks on behalf of Zac.
I glance sideways to see Zac waiting impatiently to hear my answer. I turn back to Adam and shrug, “My opinion on him changes on a daily basis.” I spare Zac another glance, “We’d be closer if he didn’t lie all the time,” I end accusingly.
Zac, catching on that I know he’s been up to no good, sighs in dejection, “Aqueela, hear me out-“
I cut off his pleading, not interested in hearing it, “I thought you said that you’re done getting yourself stuck in between a rock and a hard place.”
“I can’t help it, trouble follows me,” Zac tries to joke, making an attempt to make me laugh. He fails. He soon realizes this and goes on with his pathetic rant, “You don’t understand, when I lost Lars, I lost everything. I had nothing. I had to find a new way to bring in some cash flow, so I-“
“Got a job?” I ask sarcastically, already aware that the answer is a big fat, obese ‘no’. Zac can’t hold down a job to save his life. It’s because he’s not motivated, has no drive or incentive and finds illegal doings more thrilling. He’s unrealistic, a trait I used to admire before I grew up.
“Give me a chance here,” Zac tries to reason with me.
“You’re running short on chances, Stokes. It seems you never learn. People are going to start getting sick of hearing your sob story. Not everyone will take pity on you. Look, I’m not heartless, I know that you lost everything when Lars fled. You went to jail, did your time, and came back to nothing - so yes, I get that you lost all your wealth and material possessions, but when Lars left I lost something more valuable, I lost my father,” I remind him, tired of his scapegoat always being the same story.
Jay had nothing (financially) when I ‘first’ met him. However, he rose from the ashes and got two jobs (racer and bartender). He took the initiative to actually do something instead of taking the easy way out by feeling sorry for himself. He came up with a solution and planned ahead of time. He refused to fall, and just look where he is now. His achievements speak for him. He beat time. He’s always had ambition and passion, it’s what drove him to his own success. He created a life for himself out of nothing.
When there’s no way, you carve one out with your bare hands. There’s always a choice, something that no one can ever take from you. There’s never an excuse to be lazy and find loopholes in everything. Zac could achieve so much more if he just applied himself wholeheartedly. The problem is, he doesn’t believe in himself. He knows no other life other than participating in corrupt doings. He knows no better.
“C’mon Aqueela,” Zac frowns at me and my lack of sympathy, “you know I considered Lars to be a father too at one point. You’re not the only one who lost him.”
I reflect over his words before apologizing for being inconsiderate, “I’m sorry, I never thought about it like that. I didn’t consider your perspective,” I admit.
“It’s fine,” Zac plays it off even though I know it bothers him still. He’ll never open up about his family. He and Jay have more in common than they both realize. It’s no wonder they clash. They’re both stubborn, distant, temperamental and hardheaded. The difference is, Jay’s more open minded whilst Zac’s more optimistic.
“I think I should go,” Adam excuses himself whilst Zac and I continue to bicker and fall into more complex discussions.
“It’s actually not fine, Zac. Just tell me what kind of trouble you’re in this time. Maybe I can help you get out of it,” I persist, concerned.
“I don’t want you involved,” he answers solemnly, making it apparent that his mind is made up.
“Too late,” I tell him earnestly. “I’m in too deep as it is.”
“At this point, you’re not even remotely involved. The only thing you’re deep in, is lies.” Zac smirks at my over-the-top attitude and sends me a carefree grin, “I know you’re a total go-getter and all, but I don’t need you. I can handle stuff just fine on my own.”
“Then why even bring me here?” I ask, annoyed at his lone wolf attitude. Fact of the matter, people need other people.
“’Cause those guys at the frat social were following me. I took you here to stall. It was the best place I could think of at the time. For now, I’ve lost them. They’re off my tail,” Zac elaborates as if not bothered that people are following him in the first place.
“What did you do?” I interrogate. “Just tell me,” I insist.
“If I tell you, then you’ll be the one that ends up killing me,” Zac kids before adding, “and that’s just plain sad.”
“Really not helping your case,” I yawn as I begin to grow tired. It’s late. “Besides, you’d better tell me or I’ll make you sad,” I hold up my fist threateningly yet jokingly.
He merely grins in amusement before saying, “Alright, I’ve had my fun, let’s get you home sleepyhead.” Zac lifts me up off the bar stool before placing me back on the floor when seeing just how exhausted I am.
I nod in agreement before yawning again. “I gotta say Zac,” I clear my throat, “this night hasn’t been fun at all. I had high expectations for you that you failed to meet,” I joke in all seriousness. “It started off good, but then you blew all your efforts to hell.”
Sheepish, he averts his eyes off of me and rather onto what lies ahead of us instead, “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I got carried away with other things. Honestly, I just wanted you tagging along for your company. You’re funny. I like laughing at you.”
“You mean with me?” I quiz, daring him to argue.
“No,” he shakes his head and corrects me, “definitely at you.”
I sigh in defeat, slightly out of it, as I tiredly wobble after him, “How can I be mad when you go and say something like that? These are the moments when I don’t doubt your friendship,” I refer back to the fact that he wanted to be in my company and not to the fact that he enjoys mocking me.
Zac just smiles and says nothing more on the matter as he leads me back to the exit of the rusty bar. It’s a mission in itself ’cause the bar is packed with bikers along with the other bottom feeders of the town.
“Out of the way,” Zac ushers me to keep moving as he pushes past and in between the masses. “Like a damn sea of people.”
I nod, not really paying attention to him or my surroundings. I can’t function when I’m sleepy. I also tend to get crabby and more irritable. I need my sleep or I’ll transition into a monster.
It’s when we finally reach the exit that the bar’s guest band begins to play a song. It’s a sucky song, yet I still feel the urge to stay a little while longer.
“Aww, we’re going to miss the band perform,” I pout before glancing at Zac accusingly for the second time tonight, “you have terrible timing.”
“You’re the one that’s tired,” Zac chuckles in amusement as he continues, “which is why I won’t take anything you say personally. I know how you get when tired. You become the hulk. It’s not fun for anyone, trust me.”
I wish I could.
I immediately spin around and glance backward in search of someone, refusing to budge and take that last step out of the bar.
Zac notices my ‘offness’ and quirks an inquisitive eyebrow my way when I stop walking, “Who are you looking for?” He implores.
I scan every face in sight, but spot no one of importance. I take a few minutes searching the crowds until I finally give up, disappointed.
I shrug and finally answer Zac, “I don’t really know.”
“You’re so weird,” Zac shakes his head at me, still amused.
“I thought I heard my name being called,” I reveal before yawning yet again.
“I didn’t hear anything. I’m going to put it down to you being tired beyond belief. You’re losing it,” he informs me as he takes hold of my arm and begins to drag me out of the bar. He doesn’t stop until we reach his motorbike parked just outside.
Zac definitely hears a voice this time because he stops short with our backs to the person. Zac tenses and glances down, stiffening up from beside me as he tries to hide his face. He starts to move again once he relaxes and eases up ever so slightly, “You’re mistaken, my friend,” Zac says as he motions for me to keep on walking alongside him.
The person doesn’t seem to fall for it, “Turn around and face me, coward. I want my money,” he directs his words at Zac.
Zac sucks in a deep breath before he slowly turns around. I copy him until we’re both facing the dangerous looking guy who’d been calling after Zac from the frat club already. The guy tracked us down and followed us here.
“Take my bike and go. Get out of here,” Zac whispers and instantly hands me his keys.
I don’t even have to think about it. I instantly shake my head, refusing to leave a friend behind, “Not without you,” I protest.
“Now’s really not the time to play hero, go already!” Zac hisses at me, annoyed at my relentless stupidity and stubbornness.
Before Zac can argue any further with me, the guy harassing Zac whistles before an entire crew of other guys join him.
“Woah, this just got serious,” I comment casually, trying to think ahead as to how we’re going to get out of this one alive. Zac and his damn ‘Zacanigans’.
“I gotta say, I thought you were better than this, Zac,” one of them speaks up. Whoever it is, thought wrong.
Zac and I both turn our attention to the familiar voice.
“Raiden?” Zac questions in distrust before glancing back at the guy that had been following him since the frat social, “Brody,” he gives his name, “you never mentioned working with this guy,” Zac motions back to Raiden.
The one known as Brody merely shrugs, a smirk evident on his face, “Guess it just never came up.”
Raiden is a blast from the past. He used to ship car parts in illegally for Lars. He was in direct business with Zac, but I’d always assumed Zac was done with him. Apparently, Zac thought he was done with him too.
“Surprised?” Raiden asks Zac with a sneer.
“If I’m being honest, just a smidge,” Zac motions to the small gap made between his fingers, cocky as ever in spite of our current predicament. We definitely don’t have the upper hand here. If anything, Zac should be playing kiss-ass.
“I thought you’d be smarter after jail,” Raiden replies, unimpressed by Zac’s arrogance, “yet you’re still as reckless as ever. You never learn.”
Zac shrugs carelessly, “Guilty is charged. You know me so well. We’ve had some good times, you and I, huh?” He mocks.
I nudge Zac in the ribs to get him to shut the hell up. He’s in no position to be his obnoxious self right now. He’s in enough trouble as is.
I intervene, having had my own run-in with Raiden several years ago on account of Zac and Lars framing me, “Look, Rai - buddy, pal - long time no see, but-“
Raiden’s eyes flicker to me before lighting up in recognition. He glances back at Zac and cuts me off, “You’re still with Lar’s daughter after all this time? Didn’t peg you for a one-girl kind of guy.”
Zac grins wistfully as if amused, when really he is still as stiff as a plank, “Ah, I remember the times when you thought Aqueela was behind it all,” he concludes calmly when it’s obvious how anxious and nervous he really is.
Raiden’s eyes flare up in anger at the reminder, “You deceived me.”
Yes, Zac, why don’t you go on ahead and make him even angrier?
“He deceived me too,” I interrupt and pitch in, “let’s all just forgive and forget.”
“No,” Raiden retorts bitterly. “I got arrested shortly after he outed Lars. The detectives looked into the matter and found out I was shipping illegally. This isn’t even about revenge, I just want my end of the deal. I won’t be tricked again.”
“What are you on about?” I question with raised eyebrows. As far as I know, Zac owes him nothing.
“You don’t know?” Raiden quizzes in contempt before glancing at a distressed Zac in curiosity. He sees Zac’s unwillingness for me to find out the truth. Raiden gives a half smirk of satisfaction before turning back to me to elaborate, “In more recent years, your friend here has become a well-known conman.”
I close my eyes and sigh in disappointment before turning around to face Zac for affirmation, “Was this before or after jail?”
Zac winces and replies sheepishly as if ashamed, “After.”
“He’s right,” I point back to Raiden and then glance back up at him, “you don’t learn.”
“I lost everything when Lars abandoned me. I had to find a way to make a living,” Zac tries to defend himself and the actions he’s taken.
I don’t say anything, too furious to even care at this point in time. Zac’s well experienced in digging his own grave.
“I’m not being conned out of money by you again,” Raiden glares at Zac in disdain, “hence why I got Brody involved.”
It’s then I learn that Brody is part of some gang and that the rest of the guys here, except Raiden, are all part of his crew.
I frown up at Zac in a rage, “Thanks a lot for the predicament, Han Solo,” I say sarcastically, irritated and concerned at the same time. Turns out, Zac’s also experienced in digging the graves of others, including mine.
“Don’t be mad,” Zac pleads, trying to play this situation off as nothing serious. Judging by Raiden’s outraged expression, Zac should definitely be a little more concerned as to what’s about to happen to his face.
I scoff in disbelief at his audacity, “I’m not mad,” I clarify, “I simply want to see your head on a platter before me.”
“You and me both,” Brody nods at me in agreement before turning to glower at Zac with disregard for his existence.
“Now where’s my money?” Raiden asks Zac, getting straight down to business.
“I think I left it by your mother’s place after I stopped by at your sister’s,” Zac replies back rudely. I snatch his bike keys from him, ready to leave him to face the consequences alone - his punishment for being a condescending idiot.
“I tried the easy way,” Raiden sighs before motioning to Brody. Brody seems to catch the hint and gestures to his guys. It’s not a second later before three of his gang members have Zac in a tight hold, refusing to release him. Zac doesn’t even bother to struggle against them. It’s like he doesn’t care, that or he’s just used to this.
“Well, this is like an entire night of my life that I’ll never get back,” I say, annoyed (mostly at Zac), as I try to create a distraction so that Zac can think for himself and get free. However, he chooses to play it cool instead.
“Bullet to the heart,” Zac responds nonchalantly, not even bothering to fight off the guys holding him still in place, even when Raiden is slowly approaching him.
“I’ll ask you one final time, where is my money?” Raiden repeats as he towers over Zac in an intimidating stance and manner.
Zac, unfazed, shrugs carelessly, “What money? If you’re looking for money, I will help you look. I need some too.”
He’s lying. It’s written all over his face. I’m guessing that he’s spent all the money already and is now trying to get himself out of his own mess.
Before either of us can even react, Raiden sends his fist into Zac’s face. I flinch and feel Zac’s pain in the moment - his poor, beautiful face.
“Where’s the money?” Raiden asks again as Brody’s guys hold Zac back from striking Raiden in turn.
“Don’t have it. If I had it, I’d have used it by now,” Zac smirks ruefully, refusing to budge, intentionally letting Raiden know that he’s used all the money (just as I predicted). Zac’s pride means too much to him. There’s no way he’ll comply and work off his debt.
Raiden steps aside as Brody takes over and rams his fist into Zac’s stomach, hitting him right in the solar plexus. The wind is knocked right out from him, yet he isn’t even given a moment to catch his breath because Brody hits him straight away again.
Shocked, I choose to make my presence known and remind them that I’m still here, bearing witness to all of this, “Look if anyone knows what a dipstick Zac is, it’s me, but surely there’s another way to resolve this other than pummeling Zac to a pulp,” I suggest, hoping Raiden would take the bait and listen to my advice.
“I tried to be the nice guy, but Zac here,” he whacks Zac upside the head, “loves the hard way.” Raiden glances my way in warning as if trying to intimidate me too, “You just stay out of it or I’ll involve you too.”
“No, you won’t!” Zac snaps at him in anger, showing an emotion other than his happy-go-lucky side for the first time since Raiden arrived.
Zac refuses to relent when Brody punches Zac in the stomach repeatedly. I have to turn away, still hoping that Zac will be able to talk his way out of this one. Raiden holds his hand up and immediately Brody stops with the brutal blows.
“The money, Zac!” Raiden raises his tone, having now lost his patience, as he gives Zac one last chance to make a plan and find a way to repay him the money he invested with the fake company Zac made up.
“Shove it!” Zac spits antagonizingly, out of breath and somehow still refusing to just cooperate. His dignity is the only thing he has left and he’s not willing to part with it anytime soon.
Raiden grits his teeth together, infuriated, before punching Zac in the face yet again - this time, it’s out of pure rage and lack of self-control. Raiden’s lost it.
Zac spits out a mouthful of blood before grinning up at Raiden weakly and connivingly, “That the best you got?” He challenges like the moron he is. Zac shakes his head before laughing aloud in mockery, “Disappointing.”
Of course, Raiden - not to be outdone - continues punching Zac in the hopes of getting Zac to reveal to him as to what he did with the money.
Refusing to see them hurt Zac further, I hop onto the bike and quickly turn the key into ignition before starting it up. Brody’s head snaps to me and before he can even open his mouth to warn Raiden, I become reckless with power and head straight for Raiden.
Because Raiden is very close by, I don’t have time to build up speed, and end up merely nudging him with the front of Zac’s bike. Zac huffs in defeat and shakes his head in embarrassment. I’ve clearly humiliated him in front of his enemies.
Raiden stares at me blankly as I sit atop the motorbike seat with a sheepish expression on my face, “That was the most pathetic thing I’ve ever witnessed,” he says in a dull tone.
“Don’t you remember your own birth?” I question and then regret it when I see him flash me a dark scowl as if I’m his next target.
Zac presses his lips into a thin line and grimaces at Raiden, “I wouldn’t start something, she’s pretty good with comebacks. You won’t win, she’s a master.”
I nod, convinced, “Listen to the man, it’s true.”
“Shut up!” Raiden turns his vicious glare onto me in turn.
“Honestly, the goal was to ride you over,” I confess to Raiden awkwardly. “I think it’s safe to say that I missed the mark.”
I take the gap when I see Zac begin to struggle against the guys as if only now willing to escape their clutches. He’s getting antsy. Whilst Raiden and Brody are distracted, I start the engine again before I begin to drive literal circles around them as if to intimidate them. In actual fact, I’m just gaining some momentum so that I can murder them all.
I cackle loudly as I speed in Brody’s direction. He manages to just jump out of the way, completely dodging me. I head for Raiden next with evil intent, “I’m going to kill you all!” I laugh loudly like a deranged person, thoroughly enjoying myself as the adrenalin kicks in.
“She’s gone wild! Someone take her down! Take her down! She’s demented!” Raiden shouts out orders, brutally honest, as he tries to get me off his tail. However, I’m too persistent to stop going after him.
Now if only I had flamethrowers…
“C’mon Rai, just let me drive over you once!” I say at the top of my voice as the old Aqueela resurfaces for a split second. “I won’t do it a second time…” I reassure him before carefully adding in more quietly, “because you’ll be dead.”
“Damn girl, where’d you learn to drive like that?” Zac asks in shock as he manages to break free and start fighting back. He’s able to punch one of his captor’s on the nose before turning to strike another.
I meet Zac’s gaze and place a finger to my lips as if to say that it’s a secret. Unfortunately, with one hand off the steering bar, I lose focus and unintentionally slow down because of my lack of concentration. Raiden takes the opportunity to roughly take me by the arm and yank me right off the bike.
The moving bike crashes into a wall and Zac practically falls to his knees to weep and mourn his loss. It’s then that the other guys pounce on him and really begin beating him up.
They caught him off guard. He was distracted.
Panic sparks inside of me as I try to squirm out of Raiden’s strong grip in order to shove them off Zac. It’s not a fair fight. Three on one is not cool.
Raiden, frustrated with me and everything else going on, loses his sh*t and makes a move to hurt me. I close my eyes and flinch. When I feel nothing, I cautiously open my eyes to see Raiden staring at something. He lowers his hand and stops in his vindictive tracks upon hearing a different voice talk from the darkness:
“Just do it and see what happens, I dare you,” someone challenges fiercely and defiantly.
The person steps forth from the shadows and I blow out a breath of relief when I see that, as Troy would say, superman has finally arrived on the scene. I have way too much faith in him. I was stalling until he got here. I just knew he’d eventually come. My expectations for him are impossibly high, yet he still manages to outdo them and raise the bar even higher each time.
“Jay Taylor?” Brody, surprisingly, is the one who speaks next. He seems to be a guy of few words, but now it’s like he just can’t help himself. “I thought you were dead,” he remarks, seemingly stunned to the core, almost as if he’s seeing a ghost.
“I practically was,” Jay responds impassively.
He’s not alone. There’s a guy with him, one I don’t recognize, making me question if Grey’s finally been replaced. Ha! So long Grey, adios Leban! Suckers!
Brody swallows nervously as he gestures for his guys to leave Zac be for the moment, “I’m sorry about that.”
I glance at Zac to see him lying on the ground, unmoving, yet still breathing. He’s bleeding quite a bit, but nothing too serious. Jay got here just in time. I don’t even know what crazy thing I would have done next had he not come.
“I’m not,” Jay confesses nonchalantly. “The beating I took has shaped me.”
“How did you even survive?” Brody questions, truly confused yet partially remorseful and apologetic. The guilt is evident.
“Greg Warner,” Jay answers solemnly, “twice the guy you or your father will ever be.”
I’m only now starting to understand Jay’s close bond to BossMan. I was clueless before, but now the puzzle pieces are slowly starting to come together and take the form of a clear picture.
“The bar owner found you?” One of Brody’s guys asks knowingly, also apparently aware of who Jay is, vaguely in any case.
Whilst they all bicker and sort out their obvious history with each other, my gaze strays back to the dumbass passed out on the floor in pain. He’s unable to get up. He’s still trying to recover. It’s his own fault for refusing to stand down. His sarcasm and pride always get him into trouble. I sigh and make my way over to lend Zac a hand.
Unfortunately, Raiden steps in and pulls me back by my arm. Apparently, he’s decided he’ll take it out on me in order to get through to Zac. The guy is truly desperate for his money.
“Let go of me!” I hiss and try to rip my arm out of his grip for a second time. He’s seriously asking for it. I’ll rearrange his face.
Luckily, Jay’s new friend reacts first and sprints over to me upon spotting my frustration. I watch, flabbergasted, as he does a front flip followed by a side spin in the air before coming down to kick Raiden, just missing my head in the process.
Raiden stumbles back on impact and I have to stifle a smile. He deserves it, but then again, so does Zac.
“You’re lucky he stepped in Raiden,” I point to Jay’s friend before glancing back at Rai, “or I would have snapped your puny neck right in half,” I lie, acting tough.
There’s a gush of wind as the mysterious stranger turns and does a run up against the wall. He uses his feet and arches his back as he backflips off of the bricks and reroutes himself in Jay’s direction so that he’s out of Raiden’s path of fury. It all happens in the blink of an eye. He’s clearly a parkour pro. If he levels up again, his hair might just get spikier and start glowing blonde - Super Saiyan, the ultimate level up of all time.
What a showoff! A damn cool showoff, but a showoff nonetheless.
He wastes no time in signaling to Jay as if to get his friend’s attention off of Brody and onto the real threat at hand - Raiden.
My mouth falls agape as I stare in wonder after him, he’s incredibly fast. His nickname shall be Goku, it’s decided.
But for realz, who the hell is this guy?
Brody seems to snap out of it when he sees Raiden staggering back in agony. The idiot, Raiden, is just about on the floor from a single kick. Although - to be fair - there was a lot of speed, force and power behind that single kick.
Brody’s quick to cut ties with Jay once again as he gestures to his guys. His loyalty lies with Raiden, probably because Raiden is promising him a cut of the money. Soon, the third fight of the night breaks out (the first one being between the frat idiots and the second one being with Zac). It seems I’m not going to catch a break anytime soon. These people are refusing to ease up and just enjoy life.
“Take left, I’ll take right,” our new ally says to Jay before he heads back for Raiden.
Raiden throws a punch at Jay’s pal which only seems to piss off the friend all the more. Goku jumps into the air and does an inward side flip, among many other flips, in the air before coming down on Raiden once again and perfecting the landing. It’s apparent that he’s no amateur. He definitely knows what he’s doing. It’s obvious he’s having fun with this.
“It’s nothing personal, Jay,” Brody says as he throws the first punch in spite of his obvious repentance. Whatever he and the others did to Jay, it must have been horrific for him to feel this guilty.
Jay just dodges the punch, acting on quick reflexes. It’s as if he’s on high alert, as if he knows what’s coming because he’s been in this situation before. It occurs to me that he has experience. He ducks under Brody’s next fist coming his way, again missing it in ease. He’s just as quick as his friend, maybe even faster.
I watch him as he sends Brody a dark stare of warning. “I consider it personal when someone I trust leaves me for dead.”
“I was sixteen. I wasn’t thinking. I was just listening to my father. You know how it works in a gang. You wanted out and so you had to pay the price,” Brody reveals as I start to slowly unravel more of Jay’s past. I always knew he had a dark one, I just didn’t realize how dark it in actual fact was. Greg saved him, that’s all I really know.
“No, I didn’t. You made the choice,” Jay glares at Brody as if seeking vengeance, yet at the same time I can see that he’s conflicted.
Shivers run up my spine at the all too familiar dangerous glint flickering across Jay’s blue eyes, lit like a fire. His old self is resurfacing and I’m actually petrified to see that side of him again. He’s usually the forgiving type, not the vindictive guy. Whatever Brody did all those years ago, it’s clearly something Jay has still not moved on from. It’s affected him more than he realizes.
“I don’t want to fight you again,” Brody folds his arms across his chest as he confidently stands his ground. He’s changed his mind. It’s obvious he feels guilty about what he and the others did to Jay, especially after what Jay just said. “Don’t make me,” Brody tries to reason with Jay, still apologetic and regretful of his past actions.
“I didn’t have to make you a couple years back,” Jay scowls coldly as if incapable of forgiveness, “you did it willingly.”
Brody sighs in remorse, “JT, I’m -“
“Don’t call me that,”Jay raises his voice slightly, no longer calm and now rather infuriated as a different side to him comes alive. He’s a ticking time bomb ready to explode. If I were Brody, I’d tread cautiously.
“But that’s the name we always called you. It’s what you go by.” Brody replies back in confusion. “It’s JT-“
Brody’s cut off by the sound of Jay’s fist hammering into his face. I hear the loud thud as Brody tries to restore his balance to prevent himself from collapsing or stepping back.
“I swore that if I ever saw you,” Jay glances from Brody towards the rest of Brody’s gang, “or the others again, I’d get even.”
Brody gives in and decides to fight back seeing as Jay is way past the forgiving stage. It’s apparent that Jay will not let this go. It can only mean that it’s one of Jay’s most dreadful memories, one of those he never speaks of - the one he refuses to relive.
The other three guys soon join in on the fight as well, all of them wanting to tackle Jay to the ground like they’d done with Zac. If they can get Jay down, it’s most likely that he won’t be able to get back up. Take Zac for instance…
Shellshocked, my eyes follow Jay’s swift movements as he sends clean and precise blows to Brody and his guys despite getting a punch to the jaw himself. Fortunately, he can take a beating well.
If this wasn’t serious, I’d be laughing at how dramatic everyone is being.
I snap out of my stupor when Jay just keeps going at it, never once stopping to give them or himself a break. He’s not messing around. He truly wants to hurt Brody - that’s his main aim, his clear goal and evident mission for the time being. His main objective his to make Brody feel what he felt when left to die. His intentions are sinful.
I haven’t seen this side of Jay since the beginning years of high school. I was hoping this darker, more mysterious side to him would have died by now. Brody’s gang seems to have resurrected his violent streak - hence why, in the past, I steered clear of Jay for a long time…well until I accidentally ran into him in the ice cream store and clumsily spilled my ice cream all over him.
Zac manages to get himself up into a seated position and frowns when watching Jay and his friend soar and glide across the air, “When did the ninja turtles get here?”
The poor sap is so out of it. He’s missed half of it already.
Jay continues on fighting until I reach my peak:
“Jay, stop this!” I beg when it occurs to me that in this moment he’s not himself. Not only has this become redundant, but he’s become a different person. He’s currently not the Jay I know. I want the better side to him back in action. This Jay is out of control entirely. He’s fighting out of anger and everyone knows you can’t win that way. He needs to clear his head before he ends up breaking something…or someone.
Jay immediately drops back down to the floor and lowers his raised fists upon hearing me plead with him. He glances at me as if remembering that I’m still here. I find myself staring back into the eyes of a complete stranger.
It’s as if the real him comes back to me in that moment because he turns his back on Brody and heads for the streets. He’s quitting on the fight. However, an injured Brody - now enraged with Jay - goes after him in spite of Jay’s back being turned. He takes the coward way out in the hopes of winning.
Zac staggers up to his feet with widened eyes as if to warn Jay, but Jay somehow sees it coming as if he’d been expecting it once again. I watch in horror as Jay grabs hold of one of the street’s light poles with both hands, completely lifting himself off the floor so that he’s horizontal to it, before rapidly swinging himself around, doing a complete 360, and kicking Brody down along the way.
“Assassins in the night,” Zac says, dazed, as if out of it. His brain is a big mush of scrambled egg right now, a major improvement if I’m being honest. Zac really took a terrible beating, now he just needs to learn to give one. “Jay, you are shredded dude! Ripped! I respect that!” He calls lazily as he takes note of Jay’s strength in core. “You’re like some kind of Super Saiyan king. You’re the new Goku.”
There goes my nickname…. Stupid Zachary!
“That’s enough,” I glance sideways to see Grey step in between Jay and Brody, pushing them both apart from each other.
As always, Grey appears out of nowhere.
“People of Starling City and Mystic Falls, ease up already!” Zac hurls another random comment upon noticing the friction between Jay and Brody.
Jay keeps a steady gaze on Brody as if weary of him. He doesn’t trust Brody and it seems there’s a good reason for it. I watch as he breathes out in anger and curls his hands back up into fists. He’s not finished. This is far from over.
“What the hell is going on?” Raiden narrows his eyes at the three of them, just as lost as me.
“Beats me,” Zac laughs for no apparent reason as he lifts a finger to his temple. He might be concussed or suffering from a migraine….
“Oh the irony,” I say quietly, referring to his ‘beats me’ comment.
“What are you doing here?” Brody asks Grey as if not entirely minding Grey’s presence as much as he minds Jay’s.
“Our arrangement is that I get information from you guys for not blowing your cover and giving away your location to the police. You weren’t supposed to involve him,” Grey points back at a raging Jay.
Jay’s barely restraining himself from killing Brody.
“He involved himself,” Brody tries to justify the fight. “I didn’t know that you still keep in touch with him. Hell, I didn’t even know that he survived. All this time, years later, I’ve been waking up with the heavy burden of the thought of him being dead.”
That’s a lie. Jay seems to think so too…
In a flash, Jay’s on top of Brody, punching him in the face repetitively - one powerful blow after the other. It takes both Grey and my version of Goku to rip him off of Brody. Grey shoves Jay back and sends him a look as if to say ‘back down’. Jay frowns boyishly and crosses his arms over his chest, but complies nevertheless.
“Stay away from him,” Jay’s new friend approaches Brody threateningly. “In fact, stay away from all of them,” the friend gestures to Zac and me too.
Brody glares one last time at Jay before he chooses to back off. He turns away from us all and begins to walk away, even in spite of Raiden’s disapproving glare. “Deals off!” He shouts after Raiden in respect of Grey, apparently a friend to his/father’s gang.
“Send your father my greetings!” Jay calls after him in a malicious tone of voice, motioning to Brody’s blue eye - his way of sending the leader of the gang, presumably Brody’s dad, a message.
Jay, evidently, is still not quite in control of his temper. He’s getting there. He’s slowly coming back to me. The real Jay is bound to resurface again soon enough.
Brody says nothing in turn and merely whistles over his shoulder before his crew follow after him and disappear around the corner and into the shadows.
“Am I moving right now? ’Cause in my head, I’m skipping on clouds made of cotton candy,” I turn backward to see Raiden dragging a concussed Zac away.
“Scram lowlife!” Grey says in warning.
Raiden realizes he’s outmatched and releases Zac. He scatters off to who knows where. He seems to be all talk. His bark is bigger than his bite. Brody’s the real deal. However, I think Zac’s business with Raiden won’t be quite over until he pays the guy his money back. He’ll most likely be seeing Raiden again.
“I should thank you, but I really don’t want to ’cause I don’t like you,” I hear Zac speak up. It’s then that I see Jay on the scene, already helping Zac up to his feet. Finally, he’s back, the real Jay is back. Zac is so ungrateful.
“You alright?” Jay’s friend asks me with concern sketched across his face.
I nod at him with a smile before lifting my eyes to Grey. “Do you mind explaining to me what the hell is going on?”
Grey doesn’t bother to acknowledge me and turns to Jay’s friend instead. “Guys overdid it back there, huh?”
Goku shrugs with a laugh, “Parkour and free running are hella fun! You’d understand if you could do it,” he boasts jokingly.
I poke Grey on the arm to capture his attention, “Hey, I’m talking to you! Answer me before I make you disintegrate into dust!”
Grey shushes me before turning to Jay as if ready to bolt, “I assume you got things under control now?”
Jay nods, falling silent as he surrenders himself over to his own inner thoughts.
“I’ll just be going then. You can do damage control, I hope.” Grey says, referring to me as ‘damage control’, and he leaves just as quick as he came, all the while ignoring me entirely like the pest he is.
“Kyle, could you give me a hand?” Jay speaks for the first time in ages, making reference to his friend, not even bothering to acknowledge me either. Nevertheless, he’s oddly calm, back to his level-headed self again. Unfortunately, he’s refusing to pay me any attention. Either he’s still angry at me, or he’s even angrier at me. It’s got to be one of them, hopefully, the former.
“I got ya,” I say quickly as I jump to intervene for Zac’s sake. I have a feeling Jay is close to murdering someone and it might just end up being Zac should he say anything more stupid.
I wrap an arm around Zac’s waist as to support him. Jay and I help him limp back to Jay’s car, Kyle following after us in his own pace.
“I gotta say, you’ve got mad parkour skills,” I try to make conversation with Kyle seeing as things are kind of awkward between Jay and me. I haven’t seen or spoken to Jay in two weeks.
“Free running and parkour, actually,” Kyle answers in good nature. “Mostly free running we did back there. You can’t be hit if you’re in the air. It’s one of our endless strategies among many other tactics.”
“South African too?” I question when noticing that his accent matches that of Leban’s.
Kyle nods and grins, “From Cape Town.”
“Awesome. Anyway, in Zac’s words, you and Jay are like ninjas,” I joke, trying to lighten the mood. “Vegeta and Goku,” I tease with a sincere compliment.
“When Jay first showed me a parkour trick, I had to get in on that. Seeing as he was rusty, we went back to train and master it together,” Kyle explains the story as if laid back in comparison to Jay. “I taught him to surf, he taught me parkour and free running.” Kyle, sheepish, adds, “The racing part didn’t go down so well.”
I laugh softly as I think back to the ‘ghost tracks’. “Yeah, I can relate. It’s easier said than done. I almost killed us.”
Jay says nothing on the matter, yet Kyle joins in on the laughter, making it obvious that he’s a genuinely friendly person. I’m glad he’s nothing like Leban…or Grey for that matter. It seems Jay finally befriended a decent human being.
I’m more than relieved when we reach the red Gallardo. Zac is damn heavy. He’s like all muscle and no fat.
“Am I being abducted?” Zac asks as Jay carelessly shoves him into the backseat of the car.
“Bro,” Kyle glances at Jay, “I gotta go, I have that thing I have to do,” he excuses himself after first bidding us goodbye.
I wave after him enthusiastically. I love meeting new people, especially people who are not from here and people who are close to Jay. Kyle happens to fall under both categories.
Jay never ceases to amaze me, he opens the passenger door of his car for me and patiently waits for me to get in. Sensing that he’s in a mood, I get in quickly without any words and without making any eye contact with him. He shuts the door closed after me before going around to the driver’s side.
I wait for him to start the car, no questions asked, but he never does. I spare him a single glance and peek up at him through my lashes to find him already looking at me. I gulp and tear my eyes away from him, the anxiety kicking in.
“Get out with,” I break the deafening silence between us. “You might as well get it out in the open,” I advise. It’s evident, judging by his indifferent expression, that he’s still beyond mad at me. When he’s emotionless, he’s actually filled with emotion - one of those being anger.
“Not that,” he replies back softly as if carefully pondering over something, a calculative expression on his face. He’s making it crystal clear that this isn’t about what was said two weeks ago. I breathe at ease upon realizing that he’s not about to bring that up anytime soon. “I’m just trying to think of what to do with you two,” he answers as his gaze drifts to Zac’s unconscious form sprawled out on the backseat of his car.
I shrug and make a suggestion - a probable solution. “I can go back to the hotel.”
I’d rather not burden Jay anymore than I already have.
“And Zac?” Jay asks rationally. “Do you even know how to handle a concussed person?” He asks me in spite of already knowing the answer to his question.
I bite my bottom lip and shrug again, unsure as to what he’s implying. I have an idea where he’s taking this, but I also know that he won’t just take Zac in for the night without backup, hence where I fit into the picture.
“I’d take him to the hospital, but then questions will be asked,” he explains as he leers my way venomously a second time before coming to a solid conclusion, leaving absolutely no room for further argument, “you two are just going to have to come back with me.”
I raise an eyebrow at him, but say nothing.
“Your place it is.”