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Rewind (Book 2)

By CJ Adler All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Romance

Chapter 28: Too Soon

“What is it, Aqueela?” Susie asks in impatience, excitement laced behind her big blue eyes. “We’ve been walking for hours, just tell me already,” she urges, waiting in anticipation and suspense to find out why I dragged her out of her house so early in the morning.

We’ve only been walking for two minutes. This girl truly is after my own heart. She’s a keeper.

We eventually reach the food court. I move out of the way so that she can see who is waiting behind the transparent glass. He catches her eye and sends her a twirly wave from inside, a big grin on his face as he winks at her.

Susie pauses in her steps as if she cannot fathom it, her eyes widening as a soft gasp leaves her lips. I hold back a smile at the sight.

“No way,” she begins to shake her head as she places a hand over her heart, “Laiken?” she asks soundlessly in a breathy whisper of shock as her blue eyes brim over with tears. It’s been three years since she’s seen her brother.

He grins when he sees that it’s gonna take some time before we make it inside. Instead, he jogs out of the ice cream store to meet us halfway. He lets out a teasing warrior shout as he bounds toward us with arms wide open, almost as if about to tackle one of us. He doesn’t hesitate to lift Susie up into his arms for a giant bear hug.

“Luce, I’ve missed you, my favorite loser of all time!” Laiken teases whilst I ‘aww’ softly at the reconnection being made between brother and sister.

She laughs and wraps her arms around him as if never wanting to let go, “I can’t believe you’re really here,” she breathes out and blinks up at him, breaking forth from her stupor, as she processes it all.

“Only for you, Lucy,” he assures her truthfully and then places her back down to the floor to inspect her from head to toe. “You’ve grown up so much,” he points out with a smile that I’ve never seen, one that he obviously only keeps reserved for his little sister. “You’re no longer my little chubby cookie monster. You’re all beautiful and mature now, clearly following in your brother’s genes.”

“I try,” Susie jokes before rethinking it, “actually, I don’t.” She takes in his appearance before making another playful remark, “I see that you’re still as hideous as ever,” she concludes mischievously.

“You wound me,” Laiken chuckles, feigning hurt. “I take back the ‘mature part’.” He turns back to wink at me as if telling me to play along, “Besides, Aqueela doesn’t agree with you, right Law? You think I’m hella hot, tell her Law,” he deliberately puts me on ‘the spot’.

I shrug, taking Luce’s side, ”Well...” I drawl out slowly, pretending to be hesitant. It’s just to see him get worked up about it. It’s quite the sight to see, definitely worth it.

Laiken’s jaw drops as he playfully shoves me away, “Mean, Law, mean. We’ve talked about this. You’re supposed to be on my side. We pick on Mason together too, remember? Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how things work ’round here. We’re the force of nature working against him. Nothing has changed. You and me, we’re a team.”

“It’s just...Mason is so much nicer than you,” I wink back at him, pulling his leg because I know he handles jokes in ease.

“You would say that,” Laiken flashes me a knowing grin as he raises his eyebrows suggestively as if to imply something.

Before I can retaliate, Susie acts on my behalf, “That’s rich coming from the guy who only had eyes for Aqueela in senior year.”

“Oh?” I grin in amusement and turn back to see Laiken pulling a face at Lucy, swiping his hand across his neck as if telling her to quit it. He stops when he sees me watching and shoots me an innocent smile, not even bashful in the slightest. “This is news,” I milk it, interested to see how he’ll manage under pressure. I spin back to face Susie in encouragement, “Tell me more.”

“He grew to like you,” Susie answers casually. “He never said it, but I could tell. He couldn’t exactly say anything to you because Mason was and still is his best friend, and because you hated him at the time, and because...well...Jay.”

“I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Laiken lies, trying to cover it up even though it’s obvious, just judging by his reaction.

“Admit it already,” Susie smirks deviously at him.

He pretends to consider it before adamantly shaking his head, “Nope. Never. There’s nothing to admit to.” He adds as an afterthought, “But, hypothetically speaking, if it were true, it would only be because Mason was interested. I’m one of ‘those guys’ who has to have everything his friend wants. I am, after all, the worst perfect best friend. Nonetheless, Mason tolerates my ‘jerk ways’. Also, hypothetically speaking, if it were true, it wouldn’t have been for a long time.” He concludes, “Thankfully, it isn’t true.”

Susie rolls her eyes at him.

Laiken is smart enough to know that if he confesses, I’ll never let him live it down, hence why he won’t admit it aloud.

“Go get an ice cream and catch up you two crazy kids,” I suggest to the two of them, offering them my advice, as I motion with my head to the ice cream store waiting for them. “The ice cream is calling your names,” I change my tone to a high-pitched one as I take the liberty to annoy Lai, pretending to be the ice cream itself, “Laiken, I’m so cold. I need to be in your tum tum. Eat me. Eat me! Laiken, eat me. Eat me! Eat-”

Laiken pushes my face away with a groan, “You’re so irritating.”

Susie laughs and raises her hand for a high-five. I’m about to give her one, but Laiken yanks her back before I can.

“You’re better than that,” Laiken reprimands her.

I grin victoriously at him before saluting them both goodbye, “I’ll see you guys later. Got places to be,” I joke as I bid them my farewell, wanting them to have a day with each other, even if it means passing up on ice cream myself.

Laiken flips Susie over his shoulder, dangling her upside down as they head inside, all the while Susie protesting that she’s not seven years old anymore.

Blubber enters after the siblings. It should be fun to see how Laiken responds when he hears that his little sister may possibly have a crush on Blubs.

“I really don’t like her, Ben, and that’s saying a lot ’cause you know I’m all about that light and breezy. She’s T-Bex in my eyes,” AJ says as she and Benley walk inside Frank’s food court, failing to notice me. She’s too engrossed with the subject of Bex the ex. “I can’t believe she came back for you...” her voice trails off as soon as they fall out of earshot.

I feel my phone vibrate and take it out to see a text from Zac:

‘You never said Mason was coming back. Why’s he in my hotel room? I am going to kill him!’

I grit my teeth in frustration as I run a hand through my hair. I told him, at least, a billion times but he was too preoccupied with Mia to hear me. If he were there last night he would’ve seen that Mason was staying, but he was at Mia’s place.

I type back a message in turn and send it, asserting my territory:

’Cry me a river, princess.

P.S. it’s my hotel room.′

“Out of my way,” Leban shoves me aside roughly as he enters the ice cream store, Melinda nowhere in sight. Uncalled for!

I scoff at his attitude, used to it by now. I don’t understand how he and Jay are friends. When I asked Leban the other day, just as Jay advised, he said it was because Jay helped him. He didn’t go into details. He was vague about it. Jay won’t tell me either, so I guess I’ll never know. Somehow, I’m okay with that. I don’t need to know everything.

My phone vibrates a second time. I open the new message from Mason:

‘Zac’s annoying me, Leech. Get him out or there will be blood stains on your carpet.’

They are so childish - bunch of school girls! I can just imagine them standing on opposite ends of the room texting me furiously with scowls on their faces. I am going to kill them both before they can even think about killing each other. There will definitely be blood stains when I get home and it won’t be mine.

‘Sort it out, Mase. I’m busy right now.’

He replies back instantaneously:

’But Aqueeeellllaaa.... Fine. I’m buying a casket and digging a hole out back right now.′

I don’t bother with another reply, even though I could tell him to get Troy and Ramos to hook him up with all those things, but I’m afraid that the casket won’t have enough space for the both of them. I mean, I can practically hear the whine in his message.

“You ready?” Keagen asks as he meets me in front of the ice cream store just like we’d planned. He’s staying at Jay’s place for the time being, whilst Mason will be going to stay with his parents, leaving Zac (luckily he’s out most of the time) with me. AJ is obviously rooming with Ben and Laiken will be staying with his family.

I nod up at him, “Took you long enough,” I tease, amused in the fact that he hates jokes with a passion. He doesn’t find them funny. In fact, I have no idea how we even get along. He just has a soft spot for me, I guess.

“Blame your boyfriend,” Keagen scowls at the reminder, “he took a run this morning and then still went to train for an hour before taking his sweet time in the shower. I swear he was doing it on purpose.”

Jay is Keagen’s ride, so I understand Keagen’s frustration. If Jay’s running late, so is he. Then again, Keagen could also be a little more grateful. However, Jay did punch him in the face, hence why Jay offered up his place to him and why he’s acting as Keagen’s personal transport. He felt like he owed Keagen one after what he did. I suppose, in a twisted way, they’re square now.

“Sorry,” I apologize on Jay’s behalf, “he’s not usally like that.” If anything, Jay’s usually the punctual one. He’s always the guy that arrives early for everything. It’s as charming as it’s annoying.

“Well, obviously not with you he’s not,” Keagen says knowingly. “It’s only when I suggested that he just join us for the day that he got this giddy grin on his face and hurried up. He was ready in a matter of seconds, almost like he won something,” Keagen frowns at the thought. “He’s stubborn,” he accurately concludes.

Don’t I know it?

“Are you guys good now, though?” I query, inquisitive to know the answer. If anything, it sounds far from it.

Keagen shrugs in contemplation, “He’s alright for now. He keeps apologizing for the punch, so yeah, I guess he’s tolerable.”

“Awesome,” I hear Jay say from behind as he comes to stand beside me, obviously having heard parts of our conversation. “Glad I’m at least tolerable in your eyes,” he teases in good strife, amused by Keagen’s uptightness.

"Aaand...” Keagen drawls out lazily before speeding up his next words in a barely coherent mumble, “now I find him intolerable again.”

Jay shrugs and smirks as if finding the humor in it. “I guess there’s a first for everything.”

“Or a fist for everything,” I joke and motion to Keagen’s nose before cracking up at my own joke, “I’m so punny.”

Jay fist bumps me in pride, a silly, comedic grin on his face.

Keagen glares at the both of us flatly, making his disdain for us evident. “You guys are childish.”

Jay chuckles. “I will take it.”

Since when?

I nudge Keagen teasingly, “Loosen up, McCray.” I take it a step further, “You know that you don’t have to wear a suit all the time, right? Or a tie. Or carry a briefcase. I won’t complain about the hat. Be free. Fly like an ostrich and soar like a penguin.”

“I’m an actual adult,” he indirectly insults Jay and me, “deal with it.”

Jay, obviously feeling remorseful again, apologizes for the billionth time. “Look man, I’m really sorry that I punched you yesterday...in the face. I was having a rough day,” he tries to justify his actions.

Keagen rolls his eyes in irritation, “If I have to hear one more apology come from you, I’m gonna...” he trails off before restraining himself and carefully adding, “I’ll be waiting in the car for you two imbeciles,” he stalks off after that, muttering to himself about how annoying we are.

Lies! He loves us.

I turn to Jay for an explanation. “What did you do to him? He’s more uptight than usual. He’s putting Bells to shame here.”

“Beats me,” Jay answers. “Maybe I’ve apologized too many times,” he suggests thoughtfully.

“Why did you punch him in any case?” I ask with a shake of my head. I have the right to know why he punched my former boss in the face. There has to be a legitimate reason other than jealousy. He’s above that.

“Like I said, rough day,” he replies back in unease.

He sighs when he sees that his answer is not being accepted. It’s not good enough for me.

He elaborates further when he sees my pleading expression. “Gland and the guys kept me up the other night with their band practice. I couldn’t sleep. It was also because I felt guilty about how I reacted when you told me Mason was coming back. I woke up with a migraine and then immediately sought you out to apologize. Benley and the others just made me more frustrated, what with all their issues. I was just easily irritated because I was so tired. Then you told me that you had to fetch Mason and seeing him again was hard for me. But I guess what it all comes down to is the day before when you...” he falters before catching himself again, “when you said ‘no’.”

I understand now. This isn’t about him being tired or agitated. This isn’t even about Mason or Keagen. This is about me. I caught him off guard. He is still upset because he isn’t really over the fact that I’d said ‘no’ and passed up his offer.

“Jay,” I murmur in concern, “we talked about this. You said-”

“I know what I said and I still stand by that,” he tells me, earnest in his words. “It still doesn’t make it any easier, though, you know?”

I nod in understanding. It’s difficult for me too.

“So when Max said Keagen was your boyfriend, it was just kind of the last straw for me and I ended up cracking under all the pressure,” he confesses openly. “It was too much. That punch was suppose to be for Montry. I reacted stupidly and immaturely and I regret it. Though, Keagen still hates me for it. He has every reason to, but I’m trying to make it up to him now.”

“Like taking your time in getting him here?” I ask with a cunning smile.

He scratches the back of his neck as if uncomfortable. “Let’s not get into that right now.”

I drop it for his sake, choosing to spare him.

I change the subject. “How are things with Decoda?”

He groans aloud at me bringing it up before answering, “Never good. She’s a slave driver.”

“But she has a point,” I seek the courage to continue, “why are you giving up everything you’ve worked for? You seem to be waging a war against yourself. Why jeopardize your career? And why not care that you’re jeopardizing your own career?” I question, perplexed by the mystery in it. “I thought you loved racing. I thought it was your life.”

"Aqueela,” Jay clarifies, “I love what I do. Always have, always will. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But racing isn’t my life. Not even close.”

“So it’s replaceable?” I question, intrigued by his answer - I wasn’t expecting it.

He shrugs as if unfazed. “I’m open-minded. I’ll try anything. I like a challenge, you know that,” he winks at me playfully.

I narrow my eyes at him. “Why are you doing this, Jay? Why are you throwing it all away?” I quiz on, pressing for the real answer. “I don’t want you to be unhappy.”

“Listen,” he takes a step toward me, “you’re not getting it. I love racing, but it’s not where my happiness comes from. If it was, that would be borderline obsessive. I’m most happy when I’m with you...and Grey and Greg and the others too. My family. If sinking my career means blowing off the contract and getting to stay here with all you guys, then it’s worth it. I’ll give it all up if I have to. If it means I can stay, I’ll do it. I’ll drive my career into a fire just so that I don’t have to go.”

“I do not approve of this,” I state my opinion on the matter, placing my hands on my hips as I glower up at him in disappointment.

He grins down at me when I take my stand, almost as if he can’t take me seriously. He puts on a serious face and mimics my actions, crossing his arms over his chest as he takes a stand of his own, “I wasn’t asking for your approval.”

“I give up with you,” I huff in frustration at his set ways.

I deliberately turn a blind eye to his victorious smirk as I head for his car, deciding to join Keagen instead. Jay’s too much when he gets like this - boyish and immature. I’ll never win at this rate, and if anything, I hate losing.

*~*~*~**~*~*~*

“She has a lot of nerve trying to get her job back,” Tim says, his eyes on Keagen. They’re acquaintances as they’ve worked on several projects together in the past. “She didn’t even pitch for her first day. I regret giving her the job in the first place. I should have never let you convince me to hire her.”

Keagen nods in understanding, taking the fall for me. “Is Aqueela a mess, a complete train smash?” He asks and then answers before Tim can, “Yeah she is. But this girl,” he gestures to me, “has a talent that I’ve never quite seen before in our line of work. I see her heart in all her pictures. Her passion is visible,” Kegean reaches over the table to hand Tim a stack of my best photos, “here, take a look for yourself.”

I bite my lip in anxiety as I watch Tim’s gaze slowly skim over all my photographs. I feel a hand settle lightly on my knee. I turn slightly and offer Jay a thankful smile. I’m more appreciative that he’s here now. I’m grateful that he decided to tag along. His comfort is reassuring and his support is admirable.

Tim lifts his eyes to mine as he fishes out a specific photo. “I favor this one in particular,” he says, holding up the photo I took in senior year where Jay’s hair was sticking out just behind the ancient oak tree.

I nod in agreement, a ghost of a smile on my face at the reminder. “Yeah, me too.”

Tim glances forth from Keagen to me as if reconsidering it all. He eventually sighs. “I have to say, these photos are of professional quality.” He presses his lips together in contemplation before nodding at Keagen, “Alright, fine. I will give her a second shot.” His gaze meets mine next, “But if you mess this up, it’s over.”

I clap my hands joyfully, trying to think of something to say, but the excitement is too overwhelming. I fall speechless - fortunately, my grin speaks for me, loud and clear.

“She appreciates it,” Keagen tells Tim when seeing that I shot to the moon and somehow got lost in space, relentlessly orbiting around my own enthusiasm.

“You can start tomorrow, for real this time,” Tim replies as he shoots me a look of warning. “Your last chance.”

“But can I get tomorrow off?” I take my chances in asking him. “I need the day off because I have to arrange wedding stuff and-” I stop talking when Jay subtly nudges me in the side at the same time Keagen kicks me from underneath the table.

Tim stares at me flatly, his expression symbolizing his growing fury. He is not impressed by my audacity and risky nature.

I wince and hesitate before compromising. “Yeah, no, it’s okay. I didn’t think so,” I end dryly.

“She’ll try to skip days and fake being sick, but if you stay on top of her, she’ll surprise you,” Keagen assures Tim before he can change his mind again. “She’s like a kid that you have to constantly babysit in the beginning, but in the end, you won’t regret it.”

Tim scowls at me but nods nonetheless, “You’ll be working closely with Dedic. She’ll show you around,” Tim explains. He voice-pages his other employee over the intercom system, “Ms. Dedic, I need to see you in my office urgently.”

It’s not long before my new partner arrives. When my eyes land on her, I gape in shock. Out of all the people on the planet...

I groan and thump my head against the table repeatedly. “You’ve got to be kidding me...again!”

Jay winces for me and sends me an apologetic glance, not a fan either. “I feel you. It doesn’t get any worse than this.”

“Someone hold me back ’cause I’m gonna flip this table,” I threaten, seeking control.

It’s no wonder she wasn’t with Leban this morning...

*~*~*~**~*~*~*

I have the urge to phone Bells and tell her the terrible news - that being said, Melinda is my partner now - but stop short when remembering that she and Max are swamped with wedding plans. I don’t want to interfere.

Troy’s the best man and I’m the maid of honor. Somewhere along the line, I need to go see him in order to plan bachelor and bachelorette parties. Bells gave us permission to go all out with the parties so long as the wedding day goes perfectly. She wants us to exhaust our fuel before the big day. It’s very clever of her, but no promises.

Jay ends up taking us back to the food court to celebrate, on my own request. I rush into the store and head straight for Frankenstein, “I got the job!” I exclaim loudly in his face.

He flinches back, caught off guard, as he raises a puzzled brow, “And I care because...?”

Oh yeah, I forgot, we’re still not friends.... I’ll have to work on that when I get some free time.

I go to Leban next, but get a similar reaction.

It seems I’m picking out the wrong people here...

“Congratulations, little one,” Dylan, overhearing, pats the top of my head as he walks on by to serve a customer.

“Why him?” I hear Laiken, loud Laiken, complain. He’s pointing a finger to Blubber whilst staring at his little sister in mortification, “Just why, Luce? Why? I just...I don’t get it.”

Susie shrugs, “It’s destiny.”

Laiken is not impressed by her answer. He definitely does not accept their love. Fortunately enough, Blubber is too absorbed in ogling an older girl to notice or hear what they’re arguing about.

“I’ll pummel him to a pulp, I swear,” Laiken threatens, overly protective over little Luce.

Blubber will eat him before he gets the chance...

I stay rooted in my position when I see her - Bex - talking to AJ and Benley. Judging by AJ’s expression, she isn’t receiving Bex’s words well. I creep closer to eavesdrop.

“Benley and I have something twisted and beautiful. I still love him. I made a mistake, but I will get him back,” she tells the happy couple, who, in actual fact, don’t seem too happy anymore. “I won’t stop until I do.”

And that’s when you get a restraining order...

Benley openly stares at Bex in disbelief, “You can’t just say all that stuff to my current girlfriend.”

AJ corrects him with a sharp tone, ”Fiancée, babe.”

Benley nods, barely registering what AJ is saying because he’s just seeing red, “What she said!” he hisses bitterly at Bex. “Exes are exes for a reason,” he finalizes, making it crystal clear that he has no interest in Bex whatsoever.

“You got engaged?” Bex gasps, horrified by the news, making it evident that that’s all she heard and took from his words.

This girl used to be cool...once upon a time. Now she’s crazy.

Benley glares at her fiercely before offering her his best goodbye, “Thanks for the EXperience. Our time has EXpired. Now EXit my life!”

AJ nods profusely, backing Benley up as Ben swings an arm around her shoulder. He keeps his scowl focused on Bex with extreme measure as he carefully draws AJ near to him.

Bex eventually slinks away with a miserable look to her eyes, like a lost puppy, as she finally leaves them be when seeing how affectionate they are with each other. She’s lost this battle and she knows it.

I almost end up feeling sorry for her, but the thought is quickly erased when Benley spots me and quirks an eyebrow in my direction, “Guess who got a job!” I grin as I close the distance and reach their table.

"You?” Benley asks in question. I nod. “Didn’t we establish this already? Or am I having a déjà vu moment again?”

“I got fired,” I inform him, updating him to where I’m at now, “but Keagen helped me get the same job again.”

“It wasn’t easy,” Keagen adds as he makes his way over to me.

“Congratulations?” Benley questions more than states, still confused. AJ reacts the way I want and ends up clapping for me as if proud. She could teach her fiancé a thing or two about being more supportive.

“Why are we congratulating?”

I gasp when spotting Zac’s bruised jaw. “What happened to you?”

“Montry happened,” Zac frowns at the reminder as he rubs at his jaw, “but it’s fine, I got him back,” he assures me with a cocky smirk.

They were not kidding then....

I am genuinely worried. “Where is Mason?” I ask Zac, distrusting of him.

“Hopefully in a ditch somewhere,” he answers nonchalantly.

"Stokes,” I narrow my eyes at him threateningly. I have the power to easily kick him out of my hotel room and he knows it.

“He said he was going out,” Zac gives me a proper answer. “He didn’t say where,” he answers casually, uncaring.

Lucy rolls her eyes from the table beside Benley’s as she overhears us. “Your friends are idiots, Lai,” she deliberately states loudly as she turns back to her brother, not a fan of Mason or Zac.

Laiken, slow on the uptake, eagerly stands up when spotting Zac, “Dude!”

Zac spins around to face Laiken, recognizing his voice, “Edwards!”

“Stokes!”

“Dude!”

Susie shakes her head at seeing them swap over with the words. “Like I said, idiots,” she mumbles to herself as she watches the two friends catch up. It’s no wonder she’s always been so feisty, she’s related to Laiken after all.

“You never said you were coming,” Zac tells Laiken, a cool and collected grin on his face at the sight of seeing an old friend.

“Just like you never said that you were leaving,” Laiken reminds him, not bitter in the slightest, but actually amused. “Had to come back for Law, didn’t you?” Laiken prods, stepping on toes in the process.

Zac, uncomfortable with the subject, changes it. “Tell me something man, how are you friends with a guy like Mason? The guy’s a total tool.”

That’s rich coming from a criminal...

“I’ve known him since high school,” Laiken retorts, not doing much to defend his friend - Mason. It’s his turn to change the subject, “We need to hit downtown again and pick up some chicks like the old days,” he reminisces back.

“That might not be easy,” I scoff, putting Zac under pressure, “considering Mia and all.”

Laiken catches on and raises his eyebrows at Zac in question, “Mia? You got a girl on the arm now? I thought we’re bachelors - brothers for life.”

Zac, being the disgrace he is, throws Mia under the bus, “She’s just my latest conquest of the week. I still got your back,” he winks at Laiken. “It’s not serious. Never is. You know I don’t swing serious, ever,” he lies to Laiken, humiliating Mia behind her back.

If only she were here to hear this...

Laiken chuckles in good strife. “You had me worried there for a second.”

Jay shakes his head and leans down to high-five Susie. “You’re right,” he agrees with her, “they are idiots.”

Susie grins in agreement and nods, pleased with the outcome in the fact that someone sees it the way she does. They share the same perspective. They surprise me by commencing in some secret handshake before breaking out into laughter, almost as if it is their own personal greeting for each other.

Jay shakes his head at Zac in a reprimanding way. “Hey man, Mia’s my friend.”

He’s never been one for jerks. He despises them.

Zac shrugs at him as if he couldn’t be bothered, “Does it look like I care?” He asks Jay before he fist bumps Laiken. They both fall into fits of mocking laughter when Jay glares at them in disapproval.

Laiken ruins Zac, and Zac ruins Laiken. It’s the opposite effect of mutualism. It’s the opposite of a mutualistic relationship. It’s not healthy. They’re both parasites, draining out the good qualities of the other.

“Don’t say I never warned you,” Jay says quietly and shrugs to himself, indifferent, as he takes out his phone to dial a number.

Zac and Laiken are too busy laughing obnoxiously to notice.

Jay waits a second or two before he hears her answer. He purposely greets her loudly. “Yeah, hey, Mia,” he pauses when seeing Zac’s attention instantly snap to the phone call. He grins when Zac (on edge) tenses and then continues on with the call, “Yeah, it’s me. Yeah, I’m good, thanks. Listen, I hate to do this over the phone, but I just wanted to let you know that Zac-”

Zac, in his desperation, unexpectedly springs forward and swiftly snatches the cell phone right out from Jay’s hands before carelessly speaking into the phone, “Loves you.” He hangs up on her rather quickly after that.

We all fall silent and stare at Zac for an explanation. He just made it fairly obvious that he cares for Mia more than he’d like to let on.

“I panicked,” he answers absentmindedly, unaware of what he just said to Mia.

The silence continues.

Jay, in his easy-going manner, is the first to speak as he turns to Laiken with an emotionless expression. “Well, I guess I don’t have to say much more about this situation,” he finalizes in nonchalance and takes a seat beside Susie.

Laiken groans in disappointment as he shakes his head at Zac. “You’re supposed to be better than this.”

“I am so ashamed of you right now,” Susie ducks her head, clearly annoyed by her brother’s lack of decency in being human.

“I am so ashamed of him,” Laiken points to Zac, unfazed by his sister’s humiliation in being related to him. He’s too concerned in the fact that Zac might settle.

“I feel like we’re all missing the big picture here,” Jay lazily leans back in his seat next to Lucy and crosses his arms behind his head as he gets comfy as if in order to observe the scene from the sidelines and enjoy the show as it plays out, “Zac just told Mia that he loves her.”

Zac frowns in bewilderment, “No, I didn’t...” he pauses as it clicks, “oh no, I did! I did, didn’t I?” He sends Jay a dangerous and accusing scowl as he pins the blame, “This is all your fault.”

Jay shrugs in a carefree manner as he defends his actions. “Don’t mess with my friends.”

“Hell is filled with people like you,” Zac shakes his head at Jay, infuriated.

Jay breaks out into a lopsided grin as he stares up at Zac in amusement, “Then I must already be there,” he says, referring to the fact that Zac is someone he’d see in hell.

“When did you get so slick, Taylor?” I nudge him as I take a seat beside him.

He turns to me and smirks, “On my good days, when I feel like it.”

“Ah,” I tease, “so you rarely have good days?”

“There aren’t many good days in hell,” he winks at me, letting me know that he’s just messing with Zac again.

Zac runs a free hand through his short black hair as he stares blankly at the guy beside me, “I hate you,” he concludes firmly.

Jay, in response, straightens up in his seat and grins deviously at Zac as if challenging him, ”Again, there’s a first for everything.”

“I’m shunning you,” Zac protests adamantly as if not to be swayed, “you’ve been shunned. I’ve shunned you. We’ve all shunned you.”

An infectious laugh resonates from Jay as he, amused, places a hand over his heart, “I’m feeling it right here.”

I elbow Jay. “Give him a break,” I scold, sympathizing with Zac and his own stupidity. He doesn’t stand a chance.

Jay seems to have loosened up since yesterday. He enjoys teasing Zac and Keagen, so it seems. I guess they’re easy targets.

Zac ushers the others to stand up too, “Everybody shun him. Snub him! Snub him in the back! Shun him to his face!”

He’s having a ‘Troy’ moment.

“Shut up, Zac!” we all retort in unison.

Jay chuckles at having the upper hand, everyone siding with him over Zac. He glances at Zac in fake empathy and shrugs yet again as he gestures around with one hand to all of us, “My people have spoken.”

*~*~*~**~*~*~*

“Brownies for my brownie,” Bell offers Gland a homemade brownie from the tray of brownies she’d baked. In spite of wedding arrangements, she invited some of us (selected few...and Mason because I forced him) over for brownies and juice. She enjoys being the host. I prefer being the guest - I can do whatever I want.

I feel sorry for Bell’s parents seeing as they’ll be paying for all of this. Troy’s even abandoned his quest to stay for the wedding. It’s going to be huge.

Gland cocks his head to the side and blinks at her, a blank expression on his face as he tries to figure her out, “What are you trying to say?”

Bells zips her lips closed as if realizing that she’s crossing some kind of invisible line, “Nothing.”

Gland is the not the easiest person to befriend.

“You calling me black?” Gland arches a daring brow.

“I wasn’t...I-I d-didn’t mean...” Bells stammers in anxiousness as she feels the pressure and weight of his heavy glare. She falters off completely, unable to speak.

"Gland,” Jay pats him on the back, “stop, man.” Jay grins and motions to Bell’s shaky hands, “You’re going to give her a heart attack.”

I never thought he’d defend Bells. I guess there really is a first for everything. We’ve reached the brink of no return.

Gland drops the act and grins at a seemingly nervous Bells, “Relax little chicka, I’m just messing with you,” he ruffles her brown curls playfully. She immediately lets out a relieved breath as if she’d been scared for her life just a second ago.

“Where’s the little ones?” Jam asks Bells. “I brought candy,” he offers. He just needs a white van now.

I shove Jam away and shake my head at Bells, pulling a face at her to let her know that Jam cannot be trusted around the kiddies.

“Little ones?” Mason asks, confused, as he glances around. He too has a bruise under his eyes from his squabble with Zac.

When he disappeared, I sought him out and found him back at my hotel room. After he fought with Zac, he’d gone to visit his parents before returning.

I wince for Mason. I forgot that he didn’t know about the triplet yet. One is bad enough, two is harder to tackle, but three? Three?! Good luck, Mason.

“My kids,” Bells answers absentmindedly. I cough loudly and that’s when Bells freezes up and turns to face Mason, only to see his stunned expression. “I mean, my...uh...um...children, babies, I have...” she babbles on in a little panicked ramble, failing to sugar-coat it.

Max, in his worst timing, enters with Blanche in his arms. He’s cooing something to her whilst she’s smiling up at him with adoration in her big blue eyes.

Mason sees and flinches slightly, but collects himself quickly. He clears his throat and forces a smile as he turns back to his past flame, “That’s uh...that’s great Bell.”

The poor guy was caught off guard by such a revelation. I guess a part of him wishes that he was in Max’s position while the other half of him feels lost by the decisions he’s made in life. He chose career over family, and now he’s doubting his choice.

Troy enters the room with Rhys, a.k.a jelly bean, upon hearing that there are visitors. The guy enjoys his unfair share of the limelight.

“My sweetheart! Come here you cutie!” I squeal in delight as I try to take Rhys from Troy, especially when Rhy’s face lights up in recognition. The baby sends me a gurgle as he eagerly reaches out to me with his little pudgy arms.

Troy steps back before I can take Rhys, an arrogant grin on his stupid face as he makes a pointless remark, “I’m flattered, Squirt, but we’ve spoken about this. I just don’t see you in that way.”

I roll my eyes and gently take Rhys from Troy, effectively shutting the uncle up for the meantime. “Aqueela the Great the Second’, you sure are getting more adorable by the day,” I say as I shower him with love and pepper him with kisses.

I don’t miss Jay and Oog watching me interact with the little one. Oog notices Jay staring and elbows him with a little scoff of disbelief added to his words, “You wish.”

Jay doesn’t bother in satisfying Oog with a response.

Rhys laughs out of his stomach as Troy watches on in jealousy. Rhys loves me more than him. I stick my tongue out at him in turn, that is until he frowns and marches off. He fetches Melby to keep him entertained whilst he preoccupies her with shadow puppets.

“Gee,” Mason speaks up as he stares at the room as if waiting for more kids to suddenly pop out from nowhere, “how many do you have?” he asks Bells and Max, perplexed. “Are there any more?” he asks wearily, shocked to the core by what he’s seeing. He can’t seem to comprehend it. He needs time to process it in order to function smoothly again.

Max chuckles and shakes his head, “Not currently. Hopefully, one day, we’ll have more.”

Bells folds her arms across her chest and shakes her head at her soon-to-be husband, making it apparent that they have yet to discuss such things. “You’re not the one that has to push the babies out. You just enjoy the fun part to it - being the chilled out dad and making them. I’ll most likely be the one that disciplines.”

“I can be strict when need it be,” Max tries to defend himself, the rest of us laughing aloud at him as if we cannot take him seriously. I, personally, can’t see Max being the strict parent. He’ll definitely be the cool, fun-loving dad and Bella will be the bossy mom.

“No more, Max,” Bells huffs in warning as she narrows her eyes at him. “If you get me pregnant again, I will end you,” she pins the blame on Max when she knows fully well that it takes two to tango.

Max shrugs his shoulders carelessly, “If it happens...it happens,” he concludes with a laid-back grin. “It can’t be helped.” Bell sends him a flat stare. He caves, “What?” he asks innocently. “I want more kids,” he confesses, surprising us all. “I want a football team,” he insists, Bell’s eyes widening at his words. I guess this is the first time they’re talking about this.

“Then get a mistress,” Bells jokes. “Three is quite enough for me.”

Max pouts in dismay as Bell pecks his lips apologetically. “We’ll see,” he adds with a cheeky grin.

It’s not exactly the ideal conversation an ex wants to be involved in. “Excuse me,” Mason says before leaving the room, obviously affected.

Max, not noticing Mason’s change of mood and his need to take it all in, continues on pestering Bells, “You know what they say, Bells, there’s a second time for everything.”

“Yup, just butchered the saying right there, got the delivery all wrong,” Jay speaks up, his complaint falling on deaf ears. Max is too busy invested in trying to convince Bell of his dream in having a massive family, borderline ‘Delivery Man’ the movie, to notice.

“The answer is still ‘no’,” Bells rolls her eyes at his feeble attempts.

“You’re making Blanche cry,” Max attempts to guilt trip her.

“Blanche always cries,” Bells retorts stubbornly, refusing to be persuaded by his apparent dream.

She didn’t cry when Jay held her.

“She just wants a sibling,” Max protests on stubbornly.

Bells rolls her eyes, “She has two, Max,” she reminds him.

I zone out of their discussion when I hear Melby whine.

“And that is why Aunty Aqueela is evil,” Troy concludes his story to Melby, using his puppet shadows to make me appear evil as he cackles like some deranged person, “Mu ha ha ha!”

Melby starts to cry in turn, having thoroughly hated Troy’s pathetic story.

Max sends Troy a death stare for upsetting one of his own as Bells removes Melby from her brother’s arms.

“Don’t you have any other babies to terrorize?” Bells questions, glowering at her brother in distaste.

“Sadly, no. I’m still waiting on Aqueela and Jay,” Troy teases in anything but reluctance.

Bored, I walk out the room in search of Mason, Rhys still in my arms. But as fate would have it, it seems Jay found him first.

I stand back, holding off, waiting for the arguments and fight to break out, but I’m astounded when none of that comes.

“Yeah, they’ve been looking for you for a while now,” Mason replies to Jay and it takes me a moment to realize that he’s telling Jay about his foster parents, everything that he told me on the plane. “If you thought I was the favorite, you were wrong.”

“I had no idea,” Jay reveals as they talk about their issues civilly for the first time ever.

“You should go and see them sometime,” Mason advises with a calculating look in his eyes as if trying to read his brother.

Jay nods after some careful contemplation, “Yeah. I might.”

Mason grins, “Great.”

“Listen,” Jay takes the initiative to start, “I’m sorry.”

“Dude,” Mason chuckles in ease and reaches forward to shake Jay’s hand, “we’re cool. I was over it a long time ago.”

“Doesn’t mean we’re friends now, Montry, try to keep that in mind,” Jay reminds him, a slight grin curving at his lips as he tries his utmost best to repress it, choosing to not open up as easily as his brother.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mason humors Jay, both of them relaxed and calm in spite of the fact that they’re supposed to hate each other.

“Thanks for coming up,” Jay finds it within himself to forgive, make peace and let the past die. “I appreciate it.”

“What are brothers for?” Mason jokes. He sees Jay’s apprehension and smirks in satisfaction of Jay’s predictable reaction, merely teasing, “Too soon?”

Jay nods profusely. “A little bit.”

I interrupt with an overly enthusiastic and awkward clap of my hands as I’m careful to not drop Rhys, “That was beautiful!” I have a spring to my step as I skip toward them, making my presence known, Rhys giggling all the while.

Mason turns to face me. He raises an eyebrow at me before folding his arms over his chest to shake his head at me, feigning irritation.

“So are you, Aqueela,” Jay winks, taking me by surprise as he playfully knocks shoulder with mine when passing me by, a boyish fleck of vexatiousness flittering through his eyes as he does so, “so are you.”

“Smooth,” Mason nods in awe and sends Jay a thumbs up for his work.

I have to yell after Jay before he gets away thinking that he won. “Now that was too soon!”

I’m met by the sound of his victorious laughter in turn, and for a split second, I stop dead in my tracks to smile at the sound.

Okay, so maybe, just this once, I’ll let him win.

*~**~*

Hey guys:)

Sorry that it’s late, was busy.

Gif is of Laiken Edwards :)

1. Who is your favorite pair of siblings? (Landon & Emma, Laiken & Lucy, Bells & Troy - or 1 of the twisted siblings - Zac & Aqueela or Jay &Mason)

2. Should Blubber watch out for Laiken, or is his bark worse than his bite?

3. Surprised that Tim rehired Aqueela or was it all Keagen’s doing? Excited that she’ll be working with Melinda?

4. Do Laiken and Zac make for good friends?

5. How do you think Mia will take to Zac’s impulsive confession?

6. Was Mason’s reaction to the triplet valid?

7. Who is your favorite from the triplet?

8. Should Bells and Max have more kids at a later stage?

9. Are Mason and Jay on track to being true brothers or do they still have a long way to go?

10. Has Bex lost her mind or does she stand a chance?

Thanks for everything! :D

~CJ

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