Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 25: The Real World

Landon proceeds by asking Jay to fetch Zac. Fortunately, Zac is in the house so it’s not a mission to track him down, whereas most days it would be. Usually, he’s untraceable.

Lan gets amped up to show Zac the repairs and upgrades he’d made on the motorbike. Turns out to be a complete recovery. Landon revives the dead. He’s gifted.

“This is so sweet!” Zac exclaims as he revs his bike, the red nitrous flowing out in small waves of energy and smoke behind him. “You installed NOS?!” Zac shouts in pure excitement as he begins to drive. His speed picks up until he’s going at a significantly fast pace.

“Lan the man,” I clap my hands in pride. “He’s earned his rep for sure.”

Jay was right. Landon can fix pretty much anything. He’s handy, definitely got that under his belt.

Landon winks at me, “You know it.”

“Nice one, man,” Jay grins and taps Landon on the back.

“What can I say? I didn’t invent the job, I just perfected it,” Landon uses Jay’s words back on him in a joking manner.

“Clever,” Jay chuckles in good nature. “Where’d you hear that one?” He asks rhetorically, aware of the answer.

“The real question here is, where’s the lovely Sarah at?” Kyle asks Landon, clearly having met her before. It makes sense. I’ve been out of the racers’ loop for some time now. I’ve been part of the crazies consisting of BoyBand, Maxi-pad, Troy Story and Bells instead.

Landon answers, “She’s spending the day shopping with Mia and Em. She wants to help Emma pick out stuff for the baby on the way. Nancy and Jezel asked to join too. Bells was asked, but she declined and said that she was too busy with Max and Troy to spend a girl’s morning out. She said that she’d be nursing Troy’s foot, as well as his stupidity.”

They’re all shopping while I’m stuck having a guy’s morning, racing bikes and talking about cars. Wow, I am lucky. I have it great!

Kyle throws an arm around me as if he’s known me for years - a natural friendly person - and yanks me toward him, “Why didn’t they invite Aqueela?” he asks Lan the question that had been taking off in my mind too.

“Because she’s immature,” Grey answers bluntly.

“Am not!” I argue and stick my tongue out at him before flicking him on the arm.

“Point taken,” Grey retorts sarcastically, pretending to not have noticed that I’m a walking contradiction.

“No,” Lan disagrees, “it’s ’cause everyone knows that Aqueela is more of a tomboy than them.”

“Yeah, that’s why she’s always in colorful sundresses, hey?” Grey remarks in sarcasm, choosing to argue with Landon, a bad move on his part.

Emma’s also a tomboy. Landon can try to make up excuses, but it’s obvious that Emma just didn’t want me tagging along.

My thoughts are interrupted by a black Gallardo sweeping to a rapid halt in front of Jay’s house.

Landon sighs as if irritated, “Who invited him?”

Out steps Xavier with sunglasses and his blonde hair gelled back in a sleek manner. He grins to himself as he locks his car and struts his way up to us as if envisioning himself as a model. He takes off his sunglasses and hangs it on the front of his V-Neck, as slick as ever, a smirk now imprinted onto his face upon seeing Landon’s disgruntled expression.

He’s literally walking in slow motion. The idiot loves himself too much. However, as luck would have it, he trips. I laugh, along with Lan and Jay. He gets back up and recovers quickly, making out as if it didn’t happen.

Jay shrugs at Lan, “I invited all the guys seeing as Mia and the rest of the ladies are out. We’ll see who of the guys can actually make it.”

It’s apparent that FeeBee, Jam and I are just considered as guys now.

“I hope Howie can,” Landon states to himself. “Gramps is the best. He promised he’d take me under his wing and teach me karate.”

I’ve seen Gramps perform karate and for one thing, it’s not karate...

Jay stares on at Lan in confusion, “I didn’t invite Aqueela’s grandfather.”

Landon shakes his head at Jay as if disgusted before winking at me, “It’s not a party without the Lawsons.”

True that!

“Thanks for the invite. I was going crazy with all the women at my house,” Xavier says to Jay before he turns to see me standing beside Oog and Gland. “If it isn’t Kitten with her little cats,” Xavier realizes that it makes no sense and so tries to redeem himself, “you cats will play when the mice are at bay.” He hesitates and attempts an insult again, “Cats and-”

“Have you not embarrassed yourself enough?” I ask with a laugh, exasperated at seeing him fail twice.

“Nope,” he argues before he and Landon fall into an argument of their own along the lines of Xavier knocking up Emma and how neither are ready to be a father or an uncle.

“If you weren’t ready then you shouldn’t have got her pregnant!” Landon roars in anger. “Now I have to be an uncle because of your mistake!”

“Like I planned it! These things just happen!” Xavier argues back, defending himself. “She’s the one who starts seducing-”

“Gross!” Landon covers his ears in panic, “I don’t want to hear of this!”

Xavier passes on the blame, “Well, just know that this is your sister’s fault-”

“I’m going to hurt right now!”

“Landon!” I shout just as he is about to tackle Xavier, but thankfully Jay sees it in time and yanks him back by the back of his shirt, saving Xavier’s life in the process. However, it’s not enough to stop the two from arguing.

I tune the two of them out as they continue on bickering as if it is the norm...which I suppose it is.

“Whoo!” Zac comes to an immediate stop in front of me, intentionally spraying up some dust in my face. I cough and glare at him through the sand cloud. He jumps off his bike and removes his helmet before smirking down at me boastfully, “Did you see that, stepsis? I’m amazing,” he brags, stroking his own ego.

“He’s your stepbrother?” Kyle asks, needing to be informed. Everyone else knows already. I explained it on the night Jay stormed off.

“He was,” I answer and then quickly shoot Zac a smile, “but I’ll always consider him as family, no matter what.”

Zac’s been taking the morning hard ever since he talked with Jay. He could do with some comfort and praise. He could do with a win.

“Dean!” Landon grins when Dean finally makes his appearance. “Took your time,” Landon states as he greets his best friend, his mood instantly lifted.

“Fashionably late to keep everyone on their toes in anticipation and suspense of my superior presence,” Dean replies back smoothly.

“Well, it failed. We didn’t even know you were coming,” Grey teases in good strife. He can be considerably nice to the people he gets along with.

“Funny,” Dean bravely replies with a comeback of his own, “I don’t remember you being invited.”

“He doesn’t need an invite to visit,” Jay defends Grey, merely messing with Dean in ‘guys’ banter’.

“Taylor and Ferrot, the tightest bromance of the century,” Dean mocks before his gaze drifts to me as if just noticing me now. He lets out a flirtatious whistle, “Did you fall from the heavens? Because you’re looking like a goddess today.”

“That’s my line!”

We all turn to see Blubber and Benley arriving on scene.

My mouth falls agape at the sight of Benley. He looks like a complete disaster. He always puts effort into his appearance, but today it looks as if he’s been dragged through a bush, attacked by bear, pummeled by a tsunami and taken up by a tornado. It’s then that I remember that he and Blubber were left for dead when they were taken by the frat guys last night. Plus, it’s most likely that Benley’s currently suffering from a massive hangover.

“Who wants to race me around the block? I dare someone to challenge me,” Dean grins, changing the subject, apparently game for some fun.

“You’re on, man,” Jay grabs his keys and follows Dean out to the cars.

“I didn’t mean you,” Dean whines whilst Jay merely chuckles at his misfortune.

Grey and Landon don’t waste a second to follow after the two. Xavier, seemingly hesitant at first, joins shortly after, ready to relive his famous pastime.

“Glad to see that you two are still alive,” I say to Chubby and Messy upon seeing the two of them for the first time today.

“No thanks to you,” Benley scowls at me, dark rings under his eyes to portray and signify his utter lack of sleep. His stubble is growing wildly as he has yet to shave, not to mention that his hair is a mess too. He and Blubber both stink - Benley’s stench being mostly alcohol and vomit, whilst I can’t even begin to put my finger on the origin of Blubber’s natural nauseating scent.

“We had to work together to relocate ourselves out of the dumpsite we were left to rot in, also known by Braiden as the dead zone. We fought off rats, zombies and Benley had to even occasionally fight me off with sticks and stones whenever I got hungry. It was like the apocalypse,” Blubber explains in a dead-serious tone, as he overexaggerates the story. “It was a matter of survival, but we prevailed and we’ve never been closer,” Blubber tells me as he swings an arm around Benley.

Benley shoves Blubber’s arm off and rolls his eyes, “I dislike you even more after last night. You tried to eat me.”

“I thought we weren’t going to make it. It was nothing personal,” Blubber tries to defend himself against the accusations of his cannibalistic ways.

“Blubber called me, and so I called Simo to tell him that his son was out late, partying. Between me and Simo, we found them in the middle of a trash heap,” Susie elaborates as her and Simo appear out of the blue. “That’s the dead zone they’re talking about,” she concludes before greeting me with a hug.

It explains the smell...

“Simo so worried. Simo spank Blubber bottom,” Simo adds his part to the story much to Blubber’s embarrassment.

“Shut up Simone!” Blubber hisses childishly.

“Simo name not Simone. Simo a boy,” Simo huffs in complaint as the insult resonates with him.

“Whatever you say, Simone,” Blubber teases like the little cheeky brat he is, still feeling humiliated.

Benley keeps his glower firmly set on me, still not over the ordeal, “You’re a terrible friend. You left me in a room filled with temptation and then left me again for dead.”

I ruffle his hair lovingly, “Aww Ben, you don’t mean that.” It’s not my fault that he’s on the verge of being an alcoholic.

He pushes me away, a frown on his face, “I do. Your charm won’t work on me this time, Aqueela.”

I pout in dismay. My charms always work.

He covers his ears when Jay zooms past, followed by the others in their cars, “Why is it so loud around this damn neighborhood? Stupid reckless hooligans!” He shouts the last part, too out of it to realize that it’s Jay and the guys creating all the noise. “Everything’s ringing and I have a pounding headache,” he says moodily before entering Jay’s house to rest and hopefully shower.

Gland calls after Benley in a blind rage, “Nice to see you too, asshole! I didn’t be missing on you, B-Dawg, not at all. You and Whiteboy are mankind’s greatest disappointments!”

Benley ignores him and sends him the finger over his shoulder.

Someone is feeling rather courageous today...

Gland’s eyes well up in fury, “Oh you did not just-”

Jam intervenes with a joke, “You’ve got enough blood on your hands, G.”

Gland settles down and I’m left wondering if he is as safe as he claims he is. After all, he’s a pro gangster. I forgot just how much he despises Benley and Laiken. I truly fear for their lives.

Blubber, Simo and Susie go ecstatic when noticing the presence of the ‘Dung Beatles’ in their midst. They all launch into conversation quickly, Slobber jumping up and down in between as if willing someone to give him their time of day too. Thankfully, Susie does. She gets on her haunches to pay him some attention.

Gland makes a comment about all the new faces. I have to agree with him, we’ve definitely grown as a clique. We’ve upped our game.

“Are you upset that you weren’t invited with Mia and the others on the baby excursion?” Kyle questions, wanting to make conversation and get to know me better.

“Not at all,” I answer him in ease. “I need to get back home soon in any case. I have to make arrangements with a few old friends of mine,” I explain, a little hurt. It doesn’t matter, I’ll get over it.

“What about Mia?” Zac jumps in upon hearing her name. He dotes on that girl.

I share a knowing look with Kyle before hiding my smile.

Zac realizes his slip-up and his cheeks quickly tinge to a light pink.

“This is ridiculously boring,” I hear a familiar voice say.

I turn around to see Ryan sitting on the street curb, playing games on his iPad, more specifically, ‘Clash of Clans’. He’s chilling in style.

“Ry Ry! When the hell did you get here?” I question in wonder.

“Since none of your business,” he answers moodily. When he sees my face, he gives me a proper answer, “About an hour ago. Nancy forced me into coming,” he says grumpily as if agitated that he has to be here and actually spend time with us. How bad can we really be?

He’s so quiet, I didn’t even notice him.

“I’m going to come and sit by you!” I exclaim in enthusiasm, curious to see his mad skills.

“Please don’t,” he replies in a monotonous tone as if he couldn’t care less either way. I love how happy he always is...

“I’m going to anyway,” I say as I take a seat beside him, allowing Zac and Kyle to bond and have some much-needed guy talk. I really don’t need to hear Zac’s fantasies about Mia. I glance down to see that Ryan’s now invested in some shooting game. I love blowing peoples’ heads of with a bazooka. “Ooh! Can I try?” I plead.

“No,” Ryan responds rudely, “you’ll mess up my score and reputation.”

“You’re not very nice,” I point out in a matter-of-fact way.

“Never claimed to be,” he states back, refusing to take his eyes off his iPad.

“You’ve got to loosen up someday, Ry,” I grin, not letting his aloofness get me down.

“No, I don’t,” he argues, “and since when did you start calling me ‘Ry’?”

“Since none of your business,” I joke before answering seriously, “since always,” I lie, wondering why Ryan is such a downer today.

“Where is everybody?” Boss Man asks upon arrival. By that, he means Jay. After all this time, he still looks out for Jay. It’s his first priority.

“Racing,” I answer as I get up to greet him, leaving Ryan in peace. Mr Brewer is a lone wolf. He prefers his solitude. He kills analogizing social butterflies like me. He cuts off our wings so that we can no longer fly, but merely die.

Greg shakes his head with a faint smile, “Those guys.”

I nod in agreement.

A hand touches my shoulder from behind and I glance up to the sky to see Dylan and Frankenstein both towering over me. I tilt my head back and grin up at them, “Welcome to the party,” I extend my greetings ever so politely.

“Don’t talk to me. I’m still mad at you,” Dave, a.k.a. Frankenstein, says angrily. He’s still upset that I started a riot in his food court. Nevertheless, he and Dylan have been talking business lately. Any day now and my old ice cream store will be back up and running. I have faith in Dylan’s influential and persuasive skills.

“You still on about that?” I question teasingly.

“Always,” Dave answers back icily.

Dylan brushes his friend off as he stares down at me, “Don’t mind him. Hey, have you seen Benley?”

I point to the house, the front door wide open as an invitation for anyone to partake in Jay’s generosity, “He should be passed out on the floor somewhere.”

“Thanks,” Dylan calls over his shoulder as he and Frankenstein head over there.

“Be careful you don’t step on him,” I call back jokingly. “Or do, whatever!”

My eyes widen when I see the next person to arrive. Unfortunately, it’s Leban. However, what makes his arrival even more horrific, is the presence of the girl on his arm. It takes a second for me to put a name to the face.

I slap my hand against my forehead and blow out a tense breath, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What’s got you down in the dumps all of a sudden?” Greg asks me as he notices me visibly stiffen in place.

I point to Leban and the girl, “That.”

A nasal voice chips in before Greg can reply, “The least you could do, Drowned Rat, is say hello,” Melinda, my high school tormentor alongside Mason, Laiken and few others, expresses her opinion condescendingly.

Her and Leban deserve each other.

“Hello Nemesis,” I wave, humoring her and throwing her a bone, “which towns have you destroyed lately?” I greet politely and warmly, welcoming her back.

“Aqueela’s an idiot,” Leban assures his girl.

“Oh, believe me Leb, I know,” Melinda says back in turn whilst Leban flaunts her around and parades her to the others like some first prize trophy.

As it turns out, Melinda was the girl at the carnival that had been leading Dylan, Dean and Leban on. It’s clear she finally made her decision, and it happens to be the male version of her - Leban himself.

“And that’s my cue to leave,” I say, but before I get the chance Jay (after he’s parked his car) jogs over to my side.

“Hey, where are you going?” he asks when seeing me begin the journey back home.

“I think I’ve overstayed my welcome,” I confess.

“No such thing,” he persists, his intentions clear.

I incline my head to the side as I stare up at him. ”Jay," I say flatly.

“Come on,” he insists stubbornly, “stay a while longer,” he adds adamantly, “life’s too short not to.”

Jay went on a three-year trip around the world in order to serve others and venture out to learn more about himself. He’s come back a different person. He sees life in a new perspective and lives it out to the fullest. He’s content and passionate about living. I want that for myself too.

“Fine,” I agree, “but only because you asked so nicely.”

He grins, satisfied by the outcome.

“I can’t believe I’m still burning like a baked pie even after I applied 100 SPF sunscreen,” Blubber’s loud, obnoxious voice pulls me away from Jay’s fervent smile.

“You have 100 SPF sunscreen?” Jay asks, having heard it too.

Blubber shakes his head, “No. I have 50 SPF sunscreen, but I applied it twice.”

Jay cracks a small grin. “I don’t think it works like that, buddy.”

Blubber pulls a face at Jay before falling into another conversation with Susie.

An uncomfortable silence lapses over between Jay and me.

I glance up at him to meet his gaze. “Are you okay? The stuff you told Zac was pretty heavy,” I force up the courage to bring the topic into discussion.

“It’s stuff I’ve left in the past,” Jay replies back softly. “I’ve been wanting to tell you everything for such a long time, but I didn’t know how.”

“I understand that,” I answer, able to relate.

He casts his gaze to me in sincerity, “I’m glad you finally know. The world isn’t a cruel place, Aqueela. I’m going to move forward because I know the life ahead of me has to be better than the one I left behind.”

“You always think differently,” I say, envying that specific trait in him.

“I’ve just changed my perspective on a lot of things. Seeing other people from around the world suffering got me thinking on a deeper level, and now I can’t afford to go back to the way I was,” he answers simply.

“What happened to you?” I ask, referring to the past three years that he spent traveling. It’s all a mystery to me.

“A lot,” he answers back in ease. “Someday, when you’re free, let me know and I’ll tell you all about it.”

“Inspirational people plant inspirational seeds in others,” I answer, having seen the seed that the people he’d met along the way managed to plant in Jay.

“Those people had joy in spite of their many problems. They taught me to be thankful. I want to end my life knowing that I walked with purpose in my steps and that I wasn’t just shadow boxing. I refuse to journey aimlessly.”

It’s time I go traveling...

The flicker of the silver cross hanging from his neck captures my attention. I reach forward and touch it as I take the pendant into my hand to analyze it carefully, “You never take this off. Who gave it to you?” I ask calculatingly.

He shrugs as if not willing to discuss that just yet. “Someone special.”

I release the chain and glance up at him, “For what it’s worth, I never thought there was anything wrong with you before. Still, I admire the new take you have on life. It inspires me to try and see the world through your eyes. You see the beauty in it, whereas I have a difficult time seeing past all the bad.”

“If there wasn’t any bad, you wouldn’t be able to see all the good,” he smiles slightly before Dean dives into talking with him.

I’m left for a second to think of all he said. As I dwell on it, I realize that I’m not quite fulfilled in the way he is. His words reside in me until I come to the conclusion that something is still missing.

“Stare at the sand any longer and grass may just sprout, Lawson,” Grey comments from beside me as he kicks a pebble across the street. I lift my face to his and meet his hard glare. He arches his eyebrow when seeing my expression, “What’s running through your narrow-minded, thick skull this time?”

I scowl at him, “Don’t call my skull fat.”

"Lawson...” he drawls, willing for me to just get out with it.

“Jay’s different,” I say with a force stronger than a thousand waves in the ocean.

“People change,” Grey remarks bitterly, “you’re just lucky he changed for the better.” Grey meets my questioning gaze, “In the end, he’s still Jay Taylor. He’s the same guy, just with new experiences and new memories under his wing.”

I shrug with a crestfallen expression, not a fan of what I’m hearing, “Yeah, I guess.”

I can tell that Grey has more to say, but for some reason, he holds himself back and says nothing more at all instead.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Benley states loudly to everyone as he walks out of the house (it’s evident Dylan found him), “but-”

“You love bringing bad news to people, don’t even lie,” I point out the facts, reminding him of the truth.

“Dude, you stink,” Xavier steps away from Benley in repulse.

Benley flashes me a knowing grin, responding to me first, “True. I do enjoy putting out the flare in people’s lives and replacing their laughter with weeping,” he says sarcastically, even though it’s in actual fact true. He turns to pass a glare at Xavier next, “At least I won’t have kids who will end up looking like they stepped out of ‘The Simpsons’.”

“Rude,” Xavier frowns and crosses his arms over his chest, pretending to be horrified by Benley’s insult. “My little girl will be beautiful like me.”

You’d think he’d say like Emma, but he’s much too vain for that.

“Hold up, it’s a girl?” I ask, excitement laced in my voice upon hearing the news.

“Yeah,” Xavier smiles at my interest, “she’s due in a couple months. I wanted a boy, but I guess a girl will have to do.”

Xavier should be an interesting father, especially with a little bundle of girl power.

“You’re up to being a daddy?” I converse with him further.

He nods, “I don’t really have a choice, now do I?” He chuckles to himself as if pondering on something, “I might just ask Max for some tips seeing as he had three in one go, two of them being female.”

I stare at him blankly before shaking my head at his dumb remark, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I joke in Max’s expense.

“I got newfound respect for you. Being a father has to be the most honorable job to embark upon,” Jay remarks in a carefree manner as he throws an arm over Xavier’s shoulders teasingly yet encouragingly, the two of them having become good friends over the past couple years.

“You’ll be there someday too,” Xavier smirks at Jay knowingly.

“Nah,” Jay shakes his head in disagreement, “the family lifestyle isn’t for me. Not on the agenda. I prefer doing my own thing.”

“Don’t we all know it?” Greg teases, knowing Jay best from us all.

“Would everyone just shut up?” Benley asks rhetorically. “I have an announcement to make and my head is going to explode.”

“So make your stupid announcement and get on with life,” Grey replies impatiently, now inquisitive on the matter.

“Max, Troy and Bells are on their way. Max just called to let me know,” Benley informs all of us as if mentally preparing us ahead of time.

“I could definitely see how that’s bad news,” Ryan sighs as if dreading it. “Troy’s something, for real, he’s something else. He’s not human. I’m still trying to figure out what he really is.”

“He’s a Troy,” Grey frowns to himself as he thinks it over, “that’s what he is. Thankfully, his rare species only consists of one.”

“Can we make the species extinct and consist of none?” Landon suggests in all seriousness.

“You guys are jerks,” Jay narrows his eyes at them in good humor. “Troy’s Troy. Let the guy be. Don’t rag on him.”

“JT, if it were Brody you’d understand how we feel,” Grey argues in relentlessness.

“If I see that guy right now, I might just kill him,” Jay admits, throwing his pride to the wind as he confesses it.

“Use your baseball bat,” I add with a peppy grin, eager to see Jay take Brody down. After hearing Jay’s past, I haven’t taken to Brody very well.

Zac shakes his head at me with disapproval as if innocent, “So violent.”

“Says you,” I pull a funny face at him just to unsettle him a little.

“How can you expect us not to rag on that mummy?” Blubber asks Jay as he motions to Troy, in a full body cast and all, being pushed up the pathway in a wheelchair by a seemingly annoyed Bells. Max walks up beside the two in a moon boot (Bells took away his their crutches when they started fighting each other with them), plenty gifts in his hands. All the while, Troy is complaining about Max being too slow, only his face visible for us to see.

“Who is that hooligan waving his arms all over the place?” Kyle asks, puzzled, as he looks over at Troy.

“The bane of humanity’s existence,” Grey states in despair.

I run up to them in concern and glance at Bells, the intelligent one, first, “I thought you said he just broke his foot.”

“He did,” Bells rolls her eyes with a scoff directed at her brother, “he just insisted on the body cast because he’s adamant that he needs it and that his injury is more serious than the doctor is letting on. He’s convinced that he’s going to die soon, hence why we’re here.”

Trust Troy to milk this.

I raise an eyebrow at Max and motion with my eyes to the presents, “Is it Christmas? What’s with all the gifts?”

“I’m giving each of you a gift because my time to leave this earth is soon,” Troy answers before Max can even get a word out.

Max points a finger up to the sky and stares up at the clouds dramatically, “Troy go home,” he concludes with a grin, referencing E.T. He’s saying that Troy isn’t dying, but merely returning back home to his extraterrestrial family living on another planet.

Troy, not catching onto the insult, gushes on in enthusiasm, “I had Max carry them as I am currently in too much pain to lift a finger. I’m literally on my deathbed. It’s just unfortunate that Max had to get his grubby, filthy peasant hands over all the gifts - the very same gifts that I shall, shortly, bestow upon those worthy enough.” Troy cups a hand to his mouth before whispering loudly, “Max ain’t getting anything. Son of a b*tch isn’t worthy.”

Bells hears and clouts her brother on his head as a result.Only she insults Max. It’s an unspoken rule.

“Nice, I do all his dirty work but get nothing in return,” Max huffs aloud, frustrated. I can only begin to imagine what he’s dealt with today...

“BroJay!” Troy calls him over as if it’s urgent, “you have the honor of receiving your gift first seeing as I’m your best friend and you will surely never be able to replace me.” He then patiently stares up at Jay from his wheelchair as if waiting for something. When Jay, among the rest of us, don’t click, Troy hands him his present with a grin, “Now bow down before me slave so that I may grant you my literal shoes to fill-”

Jay turns back to the others as if regretting his earlier words. “I take it back, rag on him all you like. Cut him no slack.”

I guess Troy’s gift to Jay of his very own sneakers was not appreciated. Jay isn’t keen on filling in Troy’s shoes, literally or figuratively speaking.

Troy proceeds by handing Landon a stack of signed photos of himself with his autograph on it, claiming that he knows Landon is his biggest fan. You’d think he’s famous. It doesn’t go down well with Lan because he glares at Troy before tearing all the pics in half. Troy turns a blind eye to it and gives Benley a pair of sweaty socks instead, telling him to cherish it because it’s all that he’s worth. He then hands me a canvas painting of himself because he’s still convinced I have thing for him. He passes Blubber a lock of his hair and Simo a vile of his blood, explaining to them that his DNA holds admirable qualities that could be mistaken for a miraculous masterpiece. He assures them that it will hold mystical powers during their troubled times.

Troy holds out a stone to Ryan and forces Ryan to take hold of it, “Treasure this gift. You’ll never find another one.”

“I will, in your head,” Ryan grumbles unhappily. He then gives Troy a cheeky smirk, “I’m tempted to throw this at you.”

And so he does. The stone hits Troy in the middle of his forehead.

“You are not worthy!” Troy shouts at Ryan before bending down to pick up the same stone that he claims to be rare. He ends up accidentally picking up a different stone and hands it to Max, thinking it to be the same one, “Be grateful, this is yours now.”

“Not the same rock, but okay,” Max shrugs and takes it for the sake of keeping Troy from blowing a fuse.

I turn to the others as something pops to mind, “Did you guys know that Troy’s married now?”

“Honestly, not surprised,” Benley shakes his head at Troy’s poor decisions in life.

“I am!” Susie chips in, “How the hell did that even happen?”

“Get this, the seesaw actually worked,” Bells confirms as if tired yet relieved that she has a mother who will willingly babysit at any time. It’s a pity she still has to babysit her older brother.

How did the seesaw work...?

Just how?

Troy’s either got more game than what I give him credit for or Jezel is just a sucker for conceited morons.

“Love always finds love, my dear,” Blubber winks at Susie, failing to be poetic seeing as what he’s saying makes no sense whatsoever.

Susie deliberately ignores him. Atta girl!

“But Jezel said he’s just a placeholder,” Landon says bluntly, in spite of Troy being in hearing shot. He has no sympathy inside of him. If anyone of us could be psychotic, it would be Lan hands down.

“Placeholder of passion,” Troy responds, not understanding what Landon really means by that. “I will be holding a fake funeral today in my honor. It will be practice for me when I do actually die, which will be soon. You are all expected to attend and give speeches...well except for those who didn’t get an invite to my funeral,” he concludes whilst not so subtly glancing at Max, Simo, Zac and a few others.

“It’s fine, I’d probably throw a party on your grave in any case,” Max smirks in victory at having the upper hand.

Troy brushes him off as if he is truly insignificant. He then turns back to us, “This is to prepare you all for my real funeral, which the doc reckons will be in a few days-”

“The doctor never said that once,” Max cuts him off. “He said you’d make a full recovery. He never once said that your injury is fatal or life threatening.”

Troy glares at Max darkly for interrupting him, “At least if I die, I will be rid of you.”

“Harsh,” Max laughs, not caring in the slightest. He’s used to verbal abuse.

Troy continues, “I’m doing this so you’ll all know how I want my real funeral to go down when I really pass away. My funeral will start shortly. Try to keep your tears to a minimal. You should know that there will be a fake burial and an open casket viewing of my body-”

“You need help,” Grey shakes his head as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing.

“Let me get this straight, you’re going to bury yourself?” Greg asks, seemingly unsurprised by Troy’s audacity. “You’re actually going to bury yourself?”

Bells takes the liberty to explain her brother’s dastardly ploy, “He picked out his own casket and he’s already got Ramos digging a hole out back with a bulldozer-”

“I’m sorry, what?” Jay sputters before it registers with him, ”What?!”

He wastes no time and sprints to the back of his house to check. When we hear him curse loudly, it’s then that we’re all fully aware that this funeral is indeed happening. O, happy days!!!

“Get out of there Ramos or I swear I’ll kill you! How did you even get in here with no one seeing?! How do you hide a bulldozer?!”

I swallow back a laugh upon hearing Jay’s aggravation. He’s agitated with the circumstances for sure. Can’t blame him. He has the right to lose his cool.

Meanwhile, Bells spots Gland, Oog and FeeBee. Another whole conversation is rocketed by all her questions. It’s one gigantic reunion. We’re just missing Laiken and Mason. I can tell that Susie is feeling it. The girl puts on a brave face, but she needs her big brother every once in a while.

It’s as if my thoughts are being read because my phone suddenly starts to ring. I don’t hesitate to answer his call, “Hey, Laiken, what’s up?”

“Unfortunately, I have to hang back to deal with Montry Enterprises, but I just wanted to let you know that Mason will be flying in soon to do that favor you asked for,” Laiken explains himself.

My heart deflates at his words, “That sucks,” I say, trying to block out the arguments I hear going on from behind me. There’s not a second of peace when we’re all together.

“I’ll let Mason know you feel that way,” Laiken jokes, trying to lift my spirits.

“You know very well that I meant it about you not being able to come. Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing Mason,” I clarify, “but I wanted to see you too.”

“I’m sorry, Law, but this is how things go in the real world, life must go on,” he ends the call with no valid reason as to why he’s not flying up too.

I put my phone back in my bag and finally turn to see what all the commotion is about. It’s then that I notice that Emma and the rest of the girls have arrived, their cars full of baby products. The buzz is because of their arrival, all fawning over Emma.

“What do you mean you and Xavier are moving?” Grey asks with a look of distraught as he folds his arms across his chest, evidently unpleased with whatever Emma had just said.

“Grey,” Emma sends him a pitiful stare, “you had to have seen this coming.” She gestures from her to Xavier, “We’re going to have a child soon and Minnesota is not where we want to raise our child. It’s not ideal.”

Grey falls silent, saying nothing more on the matter. It’s obvious he’s upset by their choice. He wasn’t ready.

“Lighten up, would ya, you still have me,” I say and wrap an arm around his waist as I tug him closer.

I’m taken aback when he doesn’t even bother to shove me away or insult me. He’s truly devastated.

“When is this going down?” Grey asks Emma, still not bothered that I’m touching him. I acknowledge the fact that Xavier is avoiding his gaze as if feeling guilty for not telling him sooner. They’re friends after all.

“Soon, Grey, soon,” Emma replies back sadly as if it’s a mission in itself to break the news to all her friends.

Yeah, I was hurt by Emma’s words, but that doesn’t mean I want to see her go. I don’t want to see any of my friends go. Laiken’s right. This is the real world and this is how it goes. I can’t try to keep everyone together because it will never happen. They all have their own individual lives to lead. I have to accept that. We weren’t meant to live our lives as one. Life must go on, separately.

On impulse, as always, I embrace Emma.

For the life of me, I get emotional.

It scares me to see them go because it makes me realize that anything can happen. People get jobs and move away. People get married and move away. People have kids and move away. People just move away, no matter how close you try to keep them.

Who will go next? It’s not like I can govern any of their actions...well except for the ones I can, like Grey’s. I can always expect a predictable reaction from him. If anything, it’s entertaining.

“What’s gotten into you?” Emma asks as she hugs me back. When I don’t answer, she pulls me aside before taking the initiative to surprise me further, “I owe you an apology. I was wrong about you. You make JT happy and maybe he can’t see it yet, but you belong with him. I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner myself. I was out of line to say all those things to you. I want to leave on a good note. I didn’t invite you out today because I was too ashamed to even look at you. I feel so guilty for being such a....”

I shake my head in dismissal, “Bygones be just that, bygones. It’s already forgotten,” I say and stretch my hand out to hers, “Friends?”

She hugs me instead, “Always.”

I release her and step back from her with a disheartened smile, a little on the turmoil side of things. It’s all spiraling out of my control. I don’t like change. I resist it and relent it.

“You always step up to the plate, Aqueela. You’re so special,” she whispers in genuine sincerity, “you are the beating heart of so many and you don’t even know it.”

“Troy, stop this madness!” I hear Bells shout from the back of the house before I can even reply to Emma. “Stop being stupid! Or at least try to!”

Emma grins at me knowingly, “Go. You know you want to.”

I send her a smile, “Thank you.”

She’s clearly choosing to stay out of trouble for today, otherwise, she’d be there in a heartbeat too. I guess as a soon-to-be mom, she’s got to keep herself in check. Goodluck to her in keeping Xavier under wraps too. It’s not happening.

I make my way there and stop short beside Jay having spotted him leaning against a tree some distance away. He shifts and crosses his arms over his chest whilst shaking his head to himself at Troy’s latest stunt to fame.

“I will be buried for a day before Ramos will unpack the sand and unbury me. I will rise forth from the underground after a day,” Troy declares to us as if we’re all his fellow subjects.

“You’re going to die, you idiot!” Bells tries to reason with him, but to no avail. “You’re going to suffocate and die you damn idiot!”

“Ramos,” Troy turns to the stuck up hairstylist, “you are not to unbury me until a day has passed. Under no circumstances do you unbury me.”

“So, so stupid,” Grey remarks as if pained at how pathetic Troy is.

Ramos salutes Troy, “Even if you beg to be let up out from zie dirt, I will not allow zit until zie single day has passed. Even if I hear your screams in zie night, I will not remove you from the earth until the time comes.”

“That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” Troy replies back, touched.

“Think with your head, Ramos!” Jezel glares at him, “Troy’s really going to kill himself this time. With you, he’ll manage it. He’ll actually pull it off this time.”

“Troy zie badass, he can do anything zie dezires,” Ramos argues, failing to see the bigger picture at hand. That being said, he’s going to unintentionally murder his best friend and favorite client.

“Even Oog not that crazy,” Oog insists with a shake of his head as he watches on Troy’s endless stupidity.

“It has to be done, precious sibling,” Troy utters to Bells before caressing her cheek dramatically. He then forcefully shoves Grey and Max away, ushering them to be gone, “You two were not to attend my funeral. You’re not that privileged.”

“And miss you finally kill yourself?” Grey states with an eager grin, “Fat chance. Means I don’t have to do it myself.”

Jay’s entire back yard is practically undug.

“Why does it have to be done? Why? Why? Why?” Bells questions, prying and spurring her brother on for a legitimate answer.

He lays back down in the casket, getting comfy, avoiding Bells’ question because he obviously doesn’t have a plausible answer. He’s just mad in the head. He waves at us all before taking the time to say his ‘final’ words, “I want you all to know-”

Max doesn’t hesitate to slam the casket shut once Troy’s in, just about taking Troy’s head off in the process. It’s almost as if relieved to finally be burying Troy. He cuts Troy’s speech short much to everyone’s gratitude.

“Are you crying?” Landon asks his girlfriend with widened eyes, uncertain as to what to do in this kind of situation.

“It feels real,” Sarah defends herself, trying to justify her own craziness.

“Aww Sar, come here,” Landon takes her up into his arms, “he’s not worth any tears.”

“You’re so mean!” Sarah shoves him away only for him to fall into a fit of laughter.

“Just a joke, Baby,” he assures her.

“Not funny!” she snaps at him, putting him in his place as Mia rises to her defense - that is before Zac begins taunting her with his relentless flirting.

“This actually happening?” I glance up at Jay in question.

He pushes himself off of the tree and straightens up when he realizes that I’m here beside him. He takes his eyes off of the unraveling scene to meet my gaze. “It would seem so.”

I wince as I glance around the yard stacked in sand piles. “I’m sorry,” I apologize to him seeing as people are already back to taking advantage of his home once again.

He places his hands into his jacket pockets, the cool wind rustling his hair about, as he shrugs carelessly. “If I’m being honest, I kind of like life better this way.”

“You do?” I ask, at a loss.

What happened to all the rules he lay before me just hours ago?

“I do because it means you’re in it,” he assures me in a softer tone as if part of him wants to be heard and the other part of him wants to remain silent.

He catches me speechless. In a way, he’s calling me the reason behind all the crazy. However, it’s evident that he meant it in a good way.

I am forced to stare upon the chaos unfolding before us. The casket is lifted up by a crane (one driven by Gland) before it’s slowly lowered into the ground, much to the horror of Bells and Jezel. Nobody else seems fazed in the slightest.

“This is exactly why I avoided these people in high school,” I hear Melinda say to Leban. This time, she has a point. Still, she’s been missing out on all the fun and adventures. Her loss. I wouldn’t trade a day of this life for the world.

“Is nobody going to put a stop to this madness?” Jezel gasps and places a hand over her chest, Troy refusing to cooperate with her and Bell.

“How long is this going to take?” Dylan asks as he checks his watch. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but this funeral is killing me, excuse the pun.”

“These people are insane,” Frankenstein watches in terror, stunned by the actions of Troy that we’ve all now grown accustomed to.

“We sure are!” Susie agrees with Frank, a proud smile on her face as she nods profusely.

Gland slips-up and ends up dropping the casket into the ground. In midair, just before hitting the ground, the casket flies open and Troy rolls out and hits the floor before the casket falls atop him.

Gland winces for Troy, ”Oooh, that’s my bad.”

“Ramos!” Bell screams at him, “You dare lower that sand on him and I will-”

It all happens in a blink of an eye. Before any of us can react, Ramos does just as Troy had told him to do and lowers the heap of sand over the grave, filling it up and successfully burying Troy. Landon and Benley break into laughter first before the ruthless others join.

“He’s going to suffocate!” Jezel stresses as she places both hands over her mouth in shock. “Someone get him out!”

“No! Zies is Troy’s wish. He stays down zer until the day is over,” Ramos argues, thinking himself to be on the side of justice when in reality he’s far from it.

“Get him out Ramos or I will strangle you with my bare hands you savage!” Bells begins to march in Ramos’ direction, ready to go on a killing spree.

“This is getting good,” Zac comments with a mouthful of popcorn, chewing loudly from beside Jay and me.

“Where did you get that?” I ask him, now hungry too as the buttery scent invades my senses.

“Dean and Ryan made,” Zac explains with an easygoing grin, “cool guys those.”

I roll my eyes, “Of course they did.”

“My kitchen, along with the rest of my house, is probably a mess,” Jay sighs in distress, “fantastic,” he concludes in sarcasm.

“Loosen up, loser,” Zac smirks as he throws a popcorn kernel at Jay’s face.

Jay closes his eyes and lets out a sigh of exhaustion, not even bothering to respond to Zac being the nuisance that he always is.

It’s a minute later when Troy’s casket is retrieved by Bells herself seeing as Ramos refused to do anything right up until the point where Bells pulled him right out of the bulldozer. He’ll literally obey Troy to Troy’s death. Idiot.

“He could be dead? Why is no one else worrying?” Jezel asks, adrenaline and alarm coursing through her body.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Landon questions back. “We don’t like him.”

“Plus, he’s indestructible. He doesn’t die. Believe me, we’ve tried,” Xavier kids as he joins the fun, no longer able to resist.

Bells retrieves Troy and lowers him down gently to the grass.

“He’s not breathing!” Jezel panics, teary-eyed, before turning to her good friend Nancy in pure desperation, “Nance, he’s not breathing!”

Nancy, being a nurse, rushes over to check for a pulse.

Troy suddenly sits up and pushes her aside before grinning from ear to ear as if he’d just pulled off the biggest prank of the century, “That will teach you all to take me for granted!” He clarifies, “I’m alive, you nerds!”

He probably has more broken bones now too...

Bell’s mouth falls agape before fury overcomes her, “Start running brother because this time you’re really going to die and there will be no mercy!”

Troy falls into panic upon seeing her outraged expression, “I can’t, my foot is broken,” he tries to remind her. It’s too late. She tackles him back down to the floor and hits him in the stomach, knocking the wind right out of him. She would’ve kept going had Grey not taken her away. Jay refused to get involved, especially considering the fact that Bells petrifies him when she’s like this. It reminds me that he’s still human and has irrational fears too.

Jezel wipes furiously at her tears before glaring down at Troy, “I can’t take your wild antics anymore. I’ve had enough. It’s over, Troy,” she says quietly, meaning every word before storming off in anger. He crossed the line this time. Jezel is now fed up.

Troy’s gloating face falls behind worry as he manages to get himself up into his wheelchair, “Jezel, my love, wait for me on the horizon’s rainbow!” He turns back to glare at Max as if this is all his fault, “Hurry up and push me!”

Max lets out a reluctant groan but obeys nonetheless. He’s doing it for Jezel, not for Troy.

“Faster idiot, faster!” Troy commands, ungrateful as ever, “I want you to push me faster than Zac’s bike. Go pack mule, go!”

“Yes, King Troy,” Max answers in sarcasm, purposely slowing down in his steps to drive Troy past the brink of insanity. To be fair, he’s been over it a few times now.

Greg grins as an idea comes to mind, “We could be a hit reality show. I could see it now...this week, Troy and his friends host a fake funeral. Join Troy as he buries himself with the help of his good friends.”

I laugh for a second before I’m struck by grief.

I sigh upon seeing all the sad faces. Most are upset because of Xavier and Emma moving. Xavier himself seems down about it too, but he knows it’s what’s best for his family. Gland and the others are still bummed about their band’s death. Now Jezel is upset too. Laiken can’t come and Susie will no doubt be upset as well.

Everything is changing and I don’t like it.

Jay has changed.

“You’re thinking hard there, buddy?” Kyle slaps Jay on the back upon noticing his friend’s deep concern. It’s only then that I see the expression on Jay’s face. I was too absorbed in everyone else’s sad faces to notice that his expression matches theirs.

“You also upset that Emma and Xavier are moving soon?” I ask him, both Kyle and I prodding for answers.

Jay shakes his head, vague as ever. “No, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

Greg sends Jay a flat stare. ”Taylor," he warns as if urging Jay to reveal something.

“Not now,” Jay replies back solemnly, going against Greg for the first time since...ever.

“Don’t get too comfy around here brother, you gotta head out again, for good, in a few months time in any case,” Kyle says, unintentionally giving Jay’s secret away.

“What?” I ask in a whisper as the fear begins to flow through my veins. I stare up at Jay with a doubtful heart, “I thought you were staying this time.”

“I hoped to.”

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