Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 24: Don't Touch Me!

“What are you gonna do with a baseball bat?” Zac asks cockily as he watches Jay enter the dark kitchen with his baseball bat in hand.

“More than you can do with a baseball bat,” Jay replies in a whisper as if not to be heard as he creeps inside to the kitchen, Zac and I refusing to follow after him into death itself. We’re smarter than that.

“Your boy’s gonna die, you know that right?” Zac smirks down at me in juvenility, back to his old frustrating self. He prefers not to play by the books. He prefers to be arrogant, obnoxious, juvenile and cocky beyond belief.

I don’t answer because it’s then Jay flips on the switch before the kitchen floods with light. I hear his sharp intake of breath, and in a second, I’m standing right beside him, my eyes too locating and landing on the short man stuffing his face with food.

“This can’t be happening,” I hear Jay mumble to himself in true despair.

A grin spreads across my face as I take the time to process it before questioning it, “Oog?”

The creature turns to me in an instant before his morbid expression lights up with excitement, “Eela!” I’m immediately tackled into a hug much to Slobber’s jealousy. Oog pulls away to glance up at me in delight, “Oog visit Eela room and find hideous monster and no Eela, so Oog bite him.”

“He goes by the name of Zac,” I correct Oog with a laugh, amused by the situation. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see him again. “And you’re right, he is hideous.”

I glance at Jay to see him staring up at the ceiling, his head slightly tilted, as he mumbles profanities beneath his breath. He notices me staring, and so flashes me a fake smile that’s meant to be reassuring. He’s definitely not on board with any of this.

“Am I still concussed?” Zac queries as he takes in the scene, thoroughly lost.

Oog growls at Zac upon acknowledging his presence.

“Why is always me?” I hear Jay question. “I have the worst luck,” he grumbles.

“No,” I disagree, “you’re just the biggest pessimist to have ever walked the earth,” I tease, yet mean it.

“Jaykie!” Oog exclaims in enthusiasm before rushing up to hug Jay as well.

Jay, caught off guard, glances down at Oog in bewilderment.

“Yup, I’m definitely still concussed. It’s the only explanation,” Zac mutters as he turns his back on us nonchalantly and heads back to the spare room that once was mine. He’s convinced that what he’s just seen isn’t real.

Before I can even see it coming, Oog jumps onto the kitchen counter and swats me on my shoulder - hard. “Hey!” I whine with a wince and rub my arm upon seeing his rebellious frown. “What was that for?” I arch a brow, puzzled.

“For leaving and lying to Oog!” Oog juts out in apparent irritation as he lifts his hand a second time as if to whack me again.

Jay tugs me back out of Oog’s reach, just in time, before I can be hit by another of Oog’s merciless attacks. Jay shakes his head at Oog in disapproval, “Ease up, buddy, Aqueela’s been through a lot.” Oog falls silent in respect of Jay as he listens further. “She didn’t have a choice, alright? She would’ve been back if she did. In any case, I should have just followed her. If you want someone to blame, blame me. It’s my fault.”

“Fine,” Oog frowns at Jay and folds his little arms across his chest, “Oog blame you,” he says before swatting at Jay instead.

Jay reacts quickly and dodges Oog. However, he’s not fast enough to dodge me. I spring forward on impulse and end up wrapping my arms around him. I grin to myself as I rest my head against his chest. He’s finally back.

Jay, stunned, glances down at me in surprise. I feel him stiffen as he lifts his hands up above me as if to refrain from touching me. I shift and glance up at him with a grateful smile. He meets my gaze and cocks his head to the side as he inspects me carefully. “You okay?” he asks in concern. “Did I do something?”

I shake my head in turn and merely hug him tighter.

His chest vibrates with a light chuckle as he awkwardly pats me on the back, slowly easing up. I release him in order to give him time to regain his breath.

“Blegh!” Oog gags in response upon seeing my affection for Jay. “You two still not married?”

Jay raises an eyebrow at Oog in disbelief, “You actually said a proper sentence…what is happening? The world must be close to ending.”

“Oog talk better ’cause Gland help me. As a rockstar, Oog must speak with fans,” Oog explains. There’s definitely an improvement within him and his speech. Hell, I bet he communicates better with his fans better than Jay does his. Props to Gland!

“I see a lot has changed,” I remark calculatingly as I take in his new appearance, “you even lost the beard? No wonder I didn’t recognize you before at Zac’s bar. I knew I heard someone call my name.”

“Leather can’t be comfy,” Jay states upon seeing Oog dressed from head to toe in tight, neon red leather. Not only that, his orange hair is styled in a mohawk and he’s wearing high platform shoes, his rockgod makeup thick and black around his beady little eyes. It’s no wonder Zac thought he was a vampire and was terrified for his life.

I laugh before motioning to Jay’s outfit. “You’re the one to talk.”

“That’s different,” Jay argues as he stares down at his black leather jacket, “I’ve always worn jackets…I love jackets.”

“Especially leather ones,” I wink jokingly, just messing with him.

“You love them just as much as me. It’s your thing too,” Jay replies back with a comeback of his own, returning the wink.

He’s got me there…

“I thought you, Gland and the guys were on a world tour?” Jay questions, changing the subject for my sake, as he addresses Oog solely. “Why back in town all of a sudden?”

“Oog could ask Jaykie same thing,” Oog retorts, evidently holding some resentment toward us for leaving him behind.

“You know my name is not Jake, right?” Jay asks in turn, keeping his cool.

“Like Oog care,” Oog responds in exasperation as if trying to convey his hurt to us.

“Well, we care, Oog,” I reply cunningly, “you may not care, but we definitely care.”

Jay scoffs in disagreement, “Speak for yourse-“

I nudge Jay in the side with my elbow to shush him. I know what I’m doing.

Oog places a hand to his supposed heart before sighing wistfully, “Oog touched.”

“Can’t believe that actually worked,” Jay mumbles to me so that only I hear him.

Of course it worked, I’m a genius!

“We never meant to leave you behind, but life goes on,” I try to explain it to Oog in simpler terms so that he can understand.

“Oog forgives you,” I smile at his words, but my smile is quickly evaded by a frown when he says his next words, “but Oog not forgive Jaykie, Jaykie must work way to Oog forgiveness and to be back in Oog’s good graces.”

“How about you work your way into my good graces for once? I let you live on my property for a year, rent-free, you little ungrateful-“

I yank Jay back before he can say anything more to upset Oog.

Jay glares at Oog, but stands down nevertheless. He crosses his arms over his chest defiantly, a boyish yet wild fleck of silver to his blue eyes, resembling a displeased kid.

“Oog hit single died. Tour canceled when fans throw garbage at us. Band, ‘Dung Beatles’, is dead. We had no choice but to return back here,” Oog elaborates, clearer this time.

“Sorry, bud,” Jay replies back in sincerity, extending true sympathy this time when hearing of Oog’s failure.

“Oog should go,” Oog insists randomly as he heads for the exit, sensing that he’s overstayed his welcome. He makes his way to the front door ever so slowly, stopping ever second or so to glance back over his shoulder at us before sighing aloud in pure despair, hinting at the obvious - he wants to stay longer.

“Taking your time there,” Jay remarks indifferently towards Oog’s circumstances, not willing to take him in. Inside, I know he cares. He just needs a push in the right direction.

I pout up at Jay in pleading but choosing not to force him into it this time ’round. It will be his choice, not mine.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Jay sighs and averts his eyes from mine as if not being able to bear it. “I’m not making the same mistake twice. Deja vu all over again,” he says quietly to himself more than to me.

“Oog about to leave and enter the cold, never to return, perhaps Oog find new bridge to live under….” Oog knowingly and intelligently manipulates Jay further as he opens the front door, an immediate gush of icy wind invading the house as a result. Oog bats his eyes at Jay as if expecting him to have a heart and go soft on him.

Turns out, Oog thought it to be right…

“Wait,” Jay closes his eyes as if against himself, as if fighting an internal conflict. He curses before opening his eyes again, only to see Oog’s giddy grin, “Fine, fine, fine, you can stay the night,” he concludes reluctantly.

Oog, pleased with the outcome, motions out to the darkness as if gesturing to someone, “Jaykie say it cool guys.”

Jay and I say nothing, used to his oddness - even when speaking to no one.

“I heard that brother!” a familiar voice says before Gland himself, Jam and FeeBee appear on Jay’s front doorstep.

Jay and I fall silent in shock as we soundlessly watch them push past each other and enter Jay’s house freely. They all get cozy on Jay’s furniture as if this is nothing out of the ordinary, talking amicably with each other, unfazed.

My mouth falls agape at the sight. Oog planned this down to the tee. When did he become smarter than us?

“The boys are back in town, the boys are back in tooowwwnn!” Jam chimes along with Gland in imperfect harmony, all the while FeeBee dancing to their voices.

“I’m regretting this already,” Jay grunts in frustration when realizing his slip-up, when realizing what he’s done. “I said you, not all of them,” he reminds Oog in irritation, now wanting them all out of his house.

“Are you really gonna let a poor old gangster spend a night out in the snow, Jaykie?” Gland asks Jay, breaking the tension floating in the air.

Apparently, Jay’s new name is ‘Jaykie’.

“It’s not snowing,” Jay corrects Gland in a calm manner, accepting his new name, aware that he won’t win this war. Oog and his pals are indestructible. They’re invincible.

“And how would you know?” Gland turns it back on him as if Jay is heartless to even consider kicking them out. “You’re here in this warm house with your girl to reside in, ain’t no way you gonna feel the cold. I tell you what, I’m feeling the cold radiating off of you, ‘ice boy’. You’re colder than the snow outside, Jack Frost.”

“Again, there’s no snow,” Jay sighs grumpily, aware that he’s going to lose this argument. “Besides, I don’t even have enough rooms,” Jay points out the obvious, hoping to rather sway them than himself.

“Share with your wife,” Gland gestures to me knowingly, sending me an acknowledging smile in the process as if glad for the potential reunion.

“We have nowhere else to go, Jaykie. Please don’t turn us away and send us back into the avalanche of snow outside. I won’t be siked about it, dude. It’s not gnarly,” Jam speaks up, resorting to lying about the apparent ‘snow’ issue.

Jay, now stressed and no longer carefree, runs a hand through his brown hair in pure frustration before he finally makes his decision, “Fine, you can all stay for the meantime. I’ll figure something out. I always do.”

Joy fills my veins upon hearing his words. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I give him a quick side hug in gratitude of his kindness.

Before he can return the gesture, I’m embraced by someone else, someone ridiculously powerful - that being Gland.

“Baby girl Eela!” Gland enthuses as he tugs me away from Jay to lift me off the ground and spin me around in circles, practically suffocating me with his strength. I’d like to see him and Landon brawl it out some day.

I laugh aloud. “What’s up, Gland?” I then turn to greet Jam when finally set back down to the ground, “How’s it hanging?”

“A ten as always, Flower,” Jam replies back in all sweetness, still the sugar-plum he’s always been since I first met him. He glances around with excitement, a bag of colorful sweets in his hands, “So where are all the little kiddies?”

Jay raises an eyebrow. “Little kiddies?”

“Yeah, your guys’ babies,” Jam gestures from Jay to me. “I brought delicious candy for them.”

“I really hope that’s actual candy, Jam,” Jay replies back cautiously as he eyes the packet in distrust, refusing to touch on the ‘children’ subject.

“Watch it, Jaykie, you’re talking to a rock star. You’re in the presence of a superstar,” Gland backs Jam up, overexaggerating their past fame.

“You come from Jamaica and everyone assumes you do drugs,” Jam shakes his head in disappointment before throwing the candy aside into the nearby kitchen trashcan, proving Jay’s point.

“Good to see you again,” I hear FeeBee say to Jay, a peppy smile on her face at seeing an old friend. Jay returns her smile. He’s always had a soft spot for her. They have a unique friendship and I admire it to some extent.

I greet Feebee next as Jay turns to speak to Jam and Gland.

“What’s with all the commotion?” Zac asks for a second time as he appears at the top of the staircase, dreary eyed. He rubs his eyes tiredly when he spots all the new faces, “Am I seeing right?” He does a double take and blinks in bewilderment, “Why is the house filled with an army of transvestites?”

“Go back to sleep, it’s all an illusion!” I shout at him from the bottom of the stairs before Gland decides to cut his existence short. Thankfully, Zac does as told and disappears yet again.

“I see you’ve all changed your appearances. Gone is the ‘next door’ look,” I grin, changing the subject, as I inspect each of them with wonder. Gland, Jam, and even FeeBee, all have cornrows as their new hairstyle and they’re all wearing skintight clothes too.

“Yeah, we wanted to try something new,” Gland explains as he gestures to his hair, “Rastafarian style. We actually changed our band name to Rastafarian Fever at one point-“

“We changed our name a lot,” Jam reveals and explains it further to me, “kind of bankrupted us when products with Dung Beatle’s slogan were released only for ‘Dung Beatle’ to no longer exist. Plus, the fans got mad and threw trash at us just because we missed a few of our gigs. We were tired, what did they expect? We couldn’t afford to refund them. They also all got confused because we may have changed the title of our band like thirty times or so, but that’s it. Now our band has dismantled, dudette, for stupid reasons that were beyond our control. It’s not fair dudes.”

I cock my head to the side, confused. If anything, it sounds like they were entirely to blame for the death of ‘Dung Beatles’ or whatever the name of their band was when they went out with a drastic bang.

“Our latest name was actually ‘Cornrows’,” Gland chuckles as he gestures to the top of his head again. “Oog, being the lead singer, refused the hairstyle ’cause he wanted to stand out and all that shiz - hence his mohawk.” Gland quickly explains before his eyes light up with an idea. He turns to stare at Jay’s chestnut brown hair, “We can turn your wild spikes into controlled cornrows too, Jaykie the man.”

I see Jay’s expression and stifle a laugh, curious to see how this will play out. It would be interesting to see his purposeful messy and wild hair be styled into cornrows.

“Yeah, Gland, buddy,” Jay coughs awkwardly as if not wanting to offend them, “I’m good.”

Gland shrugs carelessly as if Jay’s the peculiar one, “To each their own.”

Jay lets out a relieved breath before showing them to his second spare room, the one not occupied by Zac. He tells Oog, Gland and Jam to share it, the only problem being that there’s just one bed. Gland and Oog reassure Jay that they usually prefer to sleep on floors in any case, even when in a five-star hotel. I guess you can’t take the street out of them.

FeeBee, without our consent, finds a spot beside Zac on the double bed he’s currently blanked out on. She gets comfy as if what she’s doing isn’t crazy in the slightest. He’ll definitely get a surprise in the morning.

“You can take my room,” Jay insists as he walks me over to his bedroom. “I’ll take the couch downstairs. If you need anything, you know where to find me.”

Before I can protest, he’s already jogging downstairs as if aware that I’d argue. I sigh and stare down at my pup in thought. Slobber barks once and then jolts up to lick my hand before sprinting after his master, the two of them disappearing from my sight.

I hesitantly enter Jay’s room and close the door after me. I switch on the lights before taking in the state of his room. Like every other room in his home, it’s super clean.

I get into his bed and try to get comfy, doing my best to ignore his natural scent embedded into his pillow. I’m about to close my eyes when I suddenly spot something familiar strewn across his bedside table. I sit up and reach for the purple beret. I take it into my hands as the memory resurfaces. Max gave the beret to me on my birthday. I glance down at the words ‘You Looney Tune’ stitched into it. I must have forgotten the hat behind when I left Minnesota.

I place it back down and close my eyes, drifting off to sleep peacefully.

“Wake up,” someone nudges me gently.

“No,” I moan in defiance and turn over onto my side so that my back is facing the intruder. I bury my head in the pillow and breathe in the scent, refusing to move a muscle.

“C’mon,” I feel someone tap my shoulder softly, persistent as if on a mission.

I groan and rub my eyes as I force myself up into a sitting position. I glower up at Jay and cross my arms over my chest, “Why?” I question, referring to the fact that he never lets me sleep in. Damn early birds! Team night owls!

He grins daringly with lit blue eyes. “Trust me, knowing you, you’ll want to see this.”

A frown morphs over my features. “What time is it?”

“Afternoon, hence why you and Zac are still sleeping soundlessly,” Jay answers before urging me to hurry up.

When I don’t budge, he suddenly lifts me up into his arms, bridal style, as if impatient. He quickly sets me back down to my feet and pleads with me to go with him. I do, all the while complaining as I follow after him toward Zac’s room.

It’s then I see Zac in the process of waking up. FeeBee is laying closely beside him, staring at him with curiosity as if truly intrigued. I swallow a laugh when he finally opens his eyes, only to come face to face with a stranger in the same bed as him.

I watch as he blinks once before closing his eyes again, putting it down to part of his imagination or previous concussion.

“Hi there!” FeeBee chirps casually and loudly, finding nothing odd in her behavior. This kind of thing is the usual for her.

Zac’s eyes fling back open as it sinks in. He lets out a startled yelp and jumps up in terror, managing to hit his head against the headboard in the process.

Jay and I both double over in laughter, amused when he falls over the bed and the blanket rolls off of him.

Zac glances from us back to FeeBee as if a deer caught in headlights - his eyes wide and his hair a mess. Stunned, he falls speechless, his mouth slightly agape as he tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together. His face takes on an outraged expression when it registers that Jay and I have something to do with it.

“What the hell?!” Zac whines as his eyes flare up in anger.

I grin, “Aww come on, Zac, you must be used to finding strangers in your bed every morning,” I joke teasingly.

“Do you not own a shirt?” Jay glares at Zac. It’s true, Zac barely ever wears a shirt unless going out. He’ll walk around shirtless at a stranger’s house any day.

Zac stares at FeeBee blankly, “Did we…you know…?”

FeeBee nods absentmindedly, having no idea what Zac means. She’s just doing what she does best, going with the flow.

Zac’s jaw drops as he pales, “I wasn’t supposed to do anything physically demanding,” he panics. He inspects FeeBee from head to toe, “How did this even happen? You’re not my type.”

“I just got into the bed,” FeeBee, clueless as always, answers in ease. “How else would it happen?”

Zac’s face contorts into an expression of confusion, “You took advantage of me?”

FeeBee shrugs. “I guess.”

“You guess?!” Zac fidgets anxiously as if agitated by the thought.

Jay begins to explain the truth to Zac before the idiot has a heart attack.

“Nice work!” I high-five FeeBee with a goofy smile on my face.

She sticks her tongue out cluelessly as she ponders over my work. “Huh? Nice work for what?”

I shake my head, “Forget it, just know that I’m proud.”

“M’kay,” she says as she skips downstairs to meet her friends for breakfast. Apparently, she tagged along on their tour as the ‘Dung Beatles’ self-proclaimed biggest fan. She’s a total groupie.

“You feeling better?” I hear Jay ask Zac as I tune back into their conversation.

“I feel like myself again,” Zac answers back in ease, not even bothering to thank Jay for all that he did for him.

Before I can do anything, Jay’s fist goes flying into Zac’s face in a powerful uppercut. It seems Zac has a glass jaw ’cause he staggers back on impact before stumbling down to the floor.

“You had that one coming,” Jay raises his tone as he motions over to me in reference to what he said, making it evident that he’s still infuriated that Zac involved me in all his nonsense. He meant it when he said that Zac was going to pay.

Zac sighs as his eyes meet mine for a split second. He glances back at Jay and nods at him, “Yeah I did,” he admits, taking us all by surprise in the fact that he’s owning up to his mistakes.

Jay helps him up after that in respect that Zac is acknowledging his mistake.

“We good?” Jay asks Zac, now officially waving the white flag in order to make peace between them.

“Yeah I guess we are,” Zac says reluctantly before stretching out his hand to Jay.

Jay accepts the gesture and shakes his hand, prepared to put his differences with Zac aside for the time being.

“Look, man, other than involving Aqueela, the reason why I’m so angry is because I’ve been where you are. You’re making mistakes that can be avoided,” Jay speaks up.

“You’re a rich kid, I don’t believe you’ve had any hardships, not for a second,” Zac sputters, irritated by Jay’s judgment.

Jay swears beneath his breath before he dives in to explain it all to him, “I was given up by my biological parents, for one. Don’t tell me I haven’t endured hardships.”

“Whatever,” Zab brushes him off, unaware how privileged he is that Jay is opening up to him. “Go on.”

“I was supposed to be raised in an orphanage, but I practically raised myself. The things that went on in that orphanage…I don’t ever want to ever have to remember. It came down to abuse and neglect. FeeBee, the girl you just woke up to, was there with me through all of it. The place was always filthy. All I remember are kids crying. No one took care of us, whether we were five or fifteen. I have no good memories of the place, yet it was the only home I knew. Sometimes we weren’t even fed. If we stepped out of line, we’d be locked in a dark room for hours…” Jay trails off as if it is too difficult to relive.

I now get where the origin of his fear of abandonment started. I now get why he doesn’t want people to forget him and just leave him behind. He downplayed it before. Being left behind is not something he merely disfavors, it’s his fear - his genuine fear in life.

“I was adopted, but my foster parents gave me up soon after. I went back to that damn orphanage and was told that they’d be back. I broke out when it became evident that no one was coming back for me. I still feel guilty for leaving FeeBee behind because I was too much of a coward to risk breaking her out too. Later on, I landed up meeting Brody on the streets. I knew he was sketchy, but the thirteen-year-old inside of me needed to be dependent on someone to survive. He introduced me to his father and said that he could help me. Before I knew it, I joined a gang, earned my name as JT, and became involved in drugs,” Jay’s voice breaks into a whisper at the last part of his sentence.

I freeze upon hearing his words. Jay deliberately steers clear of my gaze as if ashamed. It makes me want to erase his past and write an entire different story for him.

“It wasn’t by choice. They had me packed all sorts of drugs. It was so that I’d be dependent on them, especially when they felt I was breaking away from the gang. They made it my weakness. I wanted to leave, but I believed that I wouldn’t make it on my own. A stranger named Greg soon found me and he took me in, supplied me with everything that I needed.”

I sneak a peek at Zac to see him listening to Jay attentively, his attention now fully captured, as is mine. It’s no wonder he was broken when I left him and didn’t come back. His fury and hurt are justified. Fear of abandonment is the beating heart of his anxiety.

If I only knew…

“I’ll admit, I gave Greg hell. To this day, I still don’t know how he put up with me. If it were me, I would have left me on the streets to fend for myself. But Greg never gave up on me. He was the first person I met, other than FeeBee, that actually gave a damn as to what happened me. He worked with me for a year. He got me off the drugs, got me back in school, and later went on to buy me this very house and then gave me a job as a bartender at his bar. I’ve since then paid him back. I don’t think I’d be here if it weren’t for him,” Jay confesses, revealing it all and leaving nothing in the dark. He’s putting everything out in the open and bringing it all to the table.

At this rate, Jay will be Zac’s Greg.

“When I was fourteen, Greg encouraged me to leave the gang. He said he’d come with me to resolve it, but one night I stupidly went alone to tell Brody’s father that I wanted out for good. He made me pay a price for it. He made Brody and a couple other members beat me until I couldn’t move. They left me for dead in an alleyway. It was about payback. Fortunately, Grey found me. He saw that Greg was the only contact on my phone and so called him. I was rushed to the hospital. If I’d suffered another blow to my head, I probably wouldn’t be standing here,” Jay tells Zac and I watch Zac’s face transform to one of fear and horror. He’s just realized he’s stuffed up. The predicament he’s in is not a good one.

I’ve watched the news. I’ve watched the crime channels. I’ve heard how gang members beat their own when one of them wants out or in. It’s either an initiation or a goodbye. Jay’s was a goodbye. Fortunately, they failed.

“What’s this got to do with me?” Zac frowns, impatient.

“I’m telling you this because I want you to understand where I’m coming from. You think it’s a game now, it’s not. It’s life or death. Movies portray and downplay it as something ‘cool’. It’s not. They’re merciless. I’ve seen things that I wish I could erase from my mind, things that still follow me around to this day, things that I’ll have to carry for the rest of my life. I’ve told this to Grey a billion times, but he’s adamant to stay in Brody’s good terms so long as he gets information out of them. One day, he’s going to slip-up. One day, Zac, you’re gonna slip-up and you might not be as lucky as I was. These people are real. It’s not some joke. They’re sick. You don’t want to be involved with guys like Brody and Raiden. You won’t win,” Jay warns Zac. “Get yourself out while you still can, ’cause the deeper you go, the less likely you’re ever to leave their world.”

“I’m already in too deep,” Zac sighs in true hopelessness and misery. “You don’t understand, I have no one to turn to. I have nothing. I don’t have a choice.”

I feel his anguish in the moment. He’s lost. But Jay knows as well as I do that coddling Zac ain’t gonna help him. He needs some tough love. Sometimes it’s cruel to be kind.

“I had nothing too, but no matter the cost, you always have a choice. If anyone understands, I do. I know how hard it is to change. I know what it takes to walk away from something that you rely on. But you don’t have to rely on the illegal route of making money through conning people or joining a gang. There are other options, you’re just not seeing it yet. You gotta stand up man and just take the initiative to believe that there’s gotta be something better out there for you,” Jay replies back earnestly as if wanting to support Zac in the way Greg supported him. He wants to walk the road with Zac.

I get his soft spot for both Zac and FeeBee now. He has a heart for the underdogs because he once was one. His complete story has left me numb with grief. He used to be an empty vessel, but now he’s killing at everything. It’s all because he made the decision to be the best version of himself he can possibly be. He transformed himself for the better by putting his past to bed, and now he wants to help Zac do the same.

“Thanks,” Zac says quietly before running a hand through his hair as if thinking of a way to climb out of the grave he’s dug for himself.

Jay nods once before leaving to give Zac some space.

I pat Zac on the arm in comfort before whispering, “It’s not too late.”

He needs creative impulse to push him in the right direction.

I head downstairs to go get some breakfast, but stop short upon seeing the devil in the flesh launched amicably into conversation with the one known best as Goku…in my books anyway. I sigh aloud in exasperation upon seeing his stupid face. “Well, there goes my appetite.”

Grey’s gaze meets mine when he realizes that I’m referring to the fact that his very presence nauseates me. He scowls at me and opens his mouth to say something in turn, but is interrupted by Goku, otherwise sometimes known as Kyle:

“Well done, brother!” Kyle slaps Jay on the back in congratulations upon seeing me in my PJ attire and upon seeing me come down from upstairs. It clicks that I spent the night. He jumps to his own conclusions as he grins at Jay and winks at me, “You finally closed with Aqueela?”

Grey smirks in delight upon seeing me squirm uncomfortably.

I take it all back. I don’t like Goku anymore.

“Nah, man,” Jay shoves Kyle playfully and sets him straight through clarifying on his own terms, “don’t even start, you know how it is. It’s not like that. You know that’s not what I do.”

“Bro language, always a mystery to females,” FeeBee comments as she shakes her head absentmindedly and bites down into an apple. It’s probably the most intelligent thing I’ve ever heard her say.

“Tell me about it, Feebs,” Jam agrees as he watches Jay, Kyle and Grey interact as if it’s all foreign to him.

Kyle gestures to me and speaks as if I’m not even in the room, “Is she or is she not the girl you went on about all the time?”

Jay scratches the back of his neck and looks elsewhere before I hear him mutter under his breath as if embarrassed, “It wasn’t all the time.”

Kyle catches my gaze and mouths ‘months’ to me.

Grey sees his friend’s humiliation and shakes his head at Kyle as if to reprimand him and his careless attitude, “Cut him some slack.”

“Not yet,” Kyle grins before taking the liberty to share something else with me. “Jay tried to date other girls in the last three years, but he was always spent on you. There was always something wrong with the girl. He’d compare every single one to you and single out the tiniest of flaws even when the girl was practically flawless. He was searching for faults as an excuse-“

Grey slaps a hand over Kyle’s mouth, “That’s enough. You’re going to make Lawson’s puny brain explode with questions.”

He has me pegged down for the fiery ball of curiosity that I am.

Still, jealousy bubbles up inside of me at the thought of Jay going on a dating spree with a ton of girls, whether he liked them or not.

“Shut your face, Ferrot!” I hiss back jokingly, now distracted (probs Grey’s plan in the first place - sly fox). “At least, I have a brain!”

“There’s no evidence of that whatsoever,” Grey glares at me, knowing that he currently has the upper hand here.

“Go back to the underworld,” I hold his glare confidently. I know our battle is perpetual, mostly because Grey’s a jerk.

“Only when you return back to the rats in the sewers,” Grey steps forward menacingly to shoot me a fierce look.

“Drop dead,” I frown unhappily and fold my arms over my chest.

“I’ll take it under careful consideration,” he remarks back coldly, the indignation clear in his voice.

“I don’t like you,” I mumble with a pout.

“I don’t care,” Grey states with nonchalance. “We’ve been over this before.”

I don’t enjoy losing!

I change strategy and leap forward with outstretched arms, “Let’s hug it out, Grey! Let’s hug out our differences!” I say, feigning glee as I do so.

Grey dodges me like he’s dodging a bullet, “I swear, Lawson…” he lowkey threatens me as his satisfied smirk falls off of his lips, “don’t touch me.”

I sprint forward and make an attempt to touch him, but he ducks under my arm as if genuinely afraid of me. I have to hide my conniving grin.

“Come here my little Ferrot, let’s make peace once and for all!” I nag, doing the ’rounds.

“Get away from me! You’re like an endless infestation that continually infects all of mankind!”

I giggle in entertainment at being victorious over him just like the old times, “I bathe in your hatred and I infect others with joy,” I joke as I begin to chase him around the kitchen table like some savage or power hungry tyrant.

“Go away!” Grey yells at me as I keep on chasing him in circles. “Leave me alone!” He calls over his shoulder in desperation for me to obey. Of course, I don’t. At one stage, he even jumps over the table as if to prevent me from coming near him and as if to avoid me by any means necessary. All the while, Jay and Kyle watch on in laughter.

Eventually, I end up backing him up into the kitchen counter.

“You’re so annoying,” Grey glowers down at me with bitterness as he tries to escape my clutches, pressing himself further into the counter’s edge.

“No,” I openly disagree and step forward menacingly, lifting my hand as if to touch him, “you’re just not annoying enough.”

I hold back a smile when he shields his face as if a hug from me would burn him.

“I hate you so much,” Grey groans in defeat and turns his face away from me. I poke him in the cheek just to annoy him further. He swats my hand away, aggravated and beyond frustrated with me. He thinks of me as a nuisance. He thinks correctly.

“We both know that’s most likely true, Ferrot,” I reply back as I pretend to inflict a hug on him. He’s the one squirming in place now and it’s hilarious.

“What?” Grey scoffs, puzzled.

Before I can actually hug him, I’m tugged back by Jay’s gentle grasp on my wrist. I sigh and pretend to frown at him, “C’mon, Taylor, why you gotta ruin my fun?”

“He’s been through enough torture,” Jay teases as he steps in to save his friend.

Grey lets out a relieved breath at having his space not be invaded again. He and Jay have each other’s backs.

“Drama,” Gland grins, “I thrive in it.”

You and me both my friend.

The front door slams open as Landon strolls in casually and ever so randomly. He makes himself at home before taking in our confused expressions. He glances at Gland’s crew in acknowledgment, “Didn’t realize the loons were back in town,” he states indifferently as if unfazed either way, “offense meant.”

“None taken,” Jam replies back, unaware that Landon meant offense.

“If there’s a party, I should be invited,” Landon adds, still not explaining as to why he’s here. He looks around, “Where’s the racing god? I got news for him.”

Jay grins and shrugs. “Look man, I didn’t invent the sport, I just perfected it,” he smirks cockily, ragging on Lan ’cause they’re pals and he knows he can.

“So conceited,” Landon chuckles but stops short when he takes in all of our perplexed expressions. “How come whack-job people,” Landon gestures to Oog’s crowd, “can make a grand entrance, but when I do, it’s just awkward and seen as plain weird?”

“Because you hate everyone,” I answer. It’s not often he pays anyone a visit, let alone pays a visit willingly. This is scary. “Did someone die?”

Upon seeing our straight faces, he scowls fiercely, “Yo, you people need to lighten up and smile or I swear I’ll throw a damn lamp at someone!”

Look who’s talking, he’s the very definition of hypocrite.

Typical Landon…

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