Chapter 29: On The Down Low
“I feel like this is punishment,” Grey sighs in reluctance.
“It’s a privilege,” I correct him.
Nope, it’s definitely punishment -- his fault for being low-key.
He meets my gaze with underlining fury/ “Why do you always have to drag me into all of your scheming ploys?”
It’s a good thing that I went to work today, means I have the rest of the day to enjoy a ‘play’ date with Grey and perhaps drive him up the wall in fury.
“Because you love it,” I insist, having missed his presence ever so slightly. Despite our constant bickering, Grey’s one loser that I’d prefer never to live without. He puts the ‘gray’ into all of life’s colors.
“For the billionth time,” he pauses angrily, “and I can’t express this enough,” he continues, “I despise and loathe my forced involvement in everything that you do. I hate your stupid, pointless plots that always lack substance and purpose...just like you,” he concludes fiercely as if I’m supposed to care.
I laugh lightly to myself and shake my head freely, embracing a cheerful grin. “Ah Grey, you’re too much sometimes. You make me want to spring up, clap my hands and sing in the rain,” I nudge his shoulder with my own teasingly.
“I am insulting you,” Grey narrows his dark eyes into deathly slits as he takes me in with confusion, “you’re supposed to feel offended.” He frowns as if having lost this one. “Why are you not offended?” he asks in exasperation. “You should feel offended. You should be insulted.”
“How can I be,” I pout at him innocently before saying words that I know will ultimately kill him, “when we’re besties for realzies for lifezies?”
He stares at me blankly for a second or two before heaving out a breath of frustration, thoroughly annoyed. I’m enjoying it thoroughly. “Sometimes,” he confesses, revealing his dark side to me, “you make me want to hurt you.”
Pft! He’s harmless.
“Oooh!” I mock whilst flaying my hands in fake fear, putting up a pretense of worry. “I’m so scared!” I even go as far as to add a shiver. “The dangerous ferret is on the move!” I shudder.
“I want to shoot you,” he sighs as if getting a burden off of his chest, “but that would land me up in prison.”
Been there, done that.
“Plus,” I hum happily, “I’m bulletproof.”
“Then I’ll resort to throwing ninja stars at you,” he adds in irritation, probably imagining it.
“Oh,” I raise my eyebrows at him in amusement, “so it’s going down, huh?”
“It will be down before you even realize it,” he insists in pure pride as if a true badass when in actual fact he’s just a ‘rough’ in a diamond.
“I’ll take you up on that challenge,” I flash him a taunting grin in turn. I’ve become an expert in getting reactions out of him.
He scoffs at my nerve. “You’re unbelievable as a human being.”
“Naaw,” I coo and reach out to pinch his cheeks, but he ducks before I can, “I think I’m pretty unbelievable too.”
He groans in defeat before glaring at me. “I hate you.”
“Yeah, ’cause that’s my biggest concern,” I mock playfully, “it’s my only legitimate fear -- not meeting Grey’s standards as a human being,” I end in sarcasm, fluent in the language.
“My biggest fear is that you make it past thirty,” he comes back with a harsh comeback of his own.
“Ouch,” I place a hand over my heart, feigning hurt. “Then again, I believe in facing one’s fear. If you’re scared of bees, steal their honey. If you’re scared of snakes, put yourself in a tank full of the venomous ones. If you fear water, jump into the deepest part of the ocean -- spice it up with the Bermuda Triangle -- with an anchor hanging around your neck. If you’re afraid of heights jump out of a plane without a parachute or climb the highest building and take a leap off of it,” I give him my perceptive on overcoming ‘fear’.
“So what you’re basically telling me is that my fear, as in you living forever and you in plain general, will end up killing me?” Grey questions, catching on in the way I expected him to. He’s not the least bit surprised by my assumption, almost as if he predicts that he will actually die because of something ‘Aqueela’ related.
I shrug. “Your words, not mine. You take the message you want out of it, interpret it how you wish, just don’t read too much into things.” I tap my chin in mock thought before adding, “And also, I’m immortal. Not to stress, I’ll be around to torment you for a long time coming. You will never escape me.”
“And this is when I’m thankful that I’m not immortal,” he replies back wittily. “At least, when I go, I’ll be rid of you.”
I laugh at his quick thinking and give in, allowing him the victory as I’m in a generous mood. “I admit defeat, but I refuse to accept it,” I say powerfully as I raise my fist to the air like some super cool war hero.
“Why are you here?” he asks flatly, ignoring the fact that I just handed him success on a golden platter as he gestures to his apartment. “Better yet,” he adds, “why are they here?” he points to Benley and Dylan standing beside AJ, all three engrossed in their own debate.
“Because they’re practically female,” I answer on Dyl and Ben’s behalf, having brought them all together for my top secret plan. These are the trusted few. “I need females to pull this off,” I explain myself, choosing to be immensely vague about it.
Grey crosses his arms across his chest and glowers down at me, his left eye twitching and his jaw clenched tightly. “You calling me female?”
As if I’d compliment him...
"Again,” I emphasize, “your words, not mine.”
If I say anything else, he might just pop a vein.
I distract myself and proceed by dropping in on the latest argument of epic ‘bromance century’:
“Why did she drop you for me?” Benley asks Dylan for the hundredth time just today.
“Are we really starting this again?” AJ rolls her eyes jokingly at the two.
“Bex is interested in you because you’re way better looking than me,” Dylan answers Benley, modest as ever, not bothering to give himself any credit.
“Aww, thanks man,” Benley grins as if flattered before returning the compliment, “but no, Dyl, you’re way hotter than me,” he persists stubbornly.
“No way,” Dylan argues, “you’re so much more attractive.”
“But you’re the elegant one between us, like a swan,” Benley insists. “Just ask AJ,” he says as he brings her into the sappy exchange.
Dylan glances at AJ expectantly, awaiting her answer.
She places her hands on her hips and stares up at Ben accusingly. “Seriously?”
This is by far the strangest argument I’ve ever heard between friends, or couples for that matter. Ben literally wants his ownfiancée to admit to finding someone else more attractive than him.
Benley shakes his head at AJ, reprimanding her as if she’s the one in the wrong, before motioning over to Dylan with his hand, “Just tell the man he’s attractive, will ya?” he orders, trying to convince her to comply.
“Don’t give me attitude, Mister,” AJ puts Benley back in place with her firm and solid scolding.
He drops his head apologetically, submitting to her. “Sorry.”
“Better be,” she nods approvingly.
It’s clear who wears the pants in their relationship.
“I’ve gathered you,” I point to Grey, ”especially you,” I point to BoyBand with a grin, “and even you,” I point to Dylan, “to act as spies. Team Elite has been resurrected. I need you three to get me intel on what Troy’s planning for Max’s bachelor party. I want to one-up him in it, but it’s gotta be on the down low. No one can know that you guys are infiltrating as rogues. However, knowing Troy, he’ll shout out ‘spy’ at Grey just because he doesn’t favor him.” Grey doesn’t seem fazed by the revelation. “I need crazy ideas for this party. We’re going big.” I carry on getting lost in thought, “I’m thinking ‘free falling, hot air balloon, Hawaii’ big.”
I asked Jay for the details, but he refused to give me inside info. Thus, I now have to strategize and attack the weak, that being Grey. I know that if I irritate him enough, he’ll give me anything my heart desires just to shut me up, including private intel.
“Yeah, ’cause we all know what that means,” Grey rolls his eyes, being his sarcastic, rude self.
I ignore him. “It’s gonna be the best bachelorette party ever. I’m pulling out all the stops. It’s gonna be a million times crazier than Troy’s will ever be. That’s saying a lot ’cause Troy is fierce competition in the ‘insanity’ factor. I’m gonna-”
“Now’s a good time as any to say that there will be no bachelor party,” Jay speaks up from his sprawled out position on Grey’s couch, deciding to burst the bubble and crush my happiness with his dumb, irrelevant, insignificant facts.
Grey was never going to cooperate. The only way to get him to join my force was to tell the selected few to meet up at his and Nancy’s small apartment. If I couldn’t bring him to me, I’d bring me to him. We all snuck in, only to find Jay visiting -- except he was passed out on the couch from exhaustion.
Grey was nowhere in sight when we broke in, but of course, when he did finally locate us, we all got a long, boring lecture about how picking the lock on his door is unacceptable and that he’ll have us arrested and blah blah blah.
As for Jay, he has a lot on his plate as of currently. The stress is taking a toll on him. Heck, he wasn’t even surprised when he woke up to all of our faces. He merely scoffed into the couch before rolling over, his back to us, as he went back to sleep. He didn’t even bother to question our presences, nor did he care. I can’t say the same for Grey.
“I thought you were sleeping,” Benley notes, perplexed.
“No one can sleep when Grey and Aqueela are in the same room together,” Jay comments nonchalantly in turn.
“Welcome back to the land of the living!” AJ choruses in excitement as she flashes Jay a friendly smile.
“Thanks,” Jay salutes her playfully as he slides over onto his side to see us without having to get up or move too much, “but at this rate, I think I’d prefer to be dead.” He gestures to Grey and me teasingly, “Their continuous arguing kills.”
AJ laughs in glee. “Oooh! I see what you did there.”
Jay sends her a wink.
“I blame Grey,” I defend myself.
“Leave,” Grey says as he places a hand on the side of my face before shoving me away with a single tap.
I shake my head and go in to hug him. He catches my outstretched arm in his hand before I can pull it off. I glare up at him before yanking myself away.
I turn back to Jay questioningly. “What do you mean there’s no bachelor party?”
Grey talks before Jay can, “Isn’t it because Troy’s supposed to be starring on ‘Animal Planet’ or something like that?”
Troy was supposed to be going on a journey to self-discovery, were his own words, but ‘Animal Planet’ sounds more appropriate.
“Hey!” I poke Grey’s shoulder. “That’s mean. Troy’s my friend. Stop insulting him and learn to love him!” I insist forcingly, in spite of the well-known fact that Troy isn’t exactly the most likable person on the face of the planet.
Only I insult Troy. Oh, and Bells. Oh yeah, and himself.
“The day I learn to love him will be the day I hang myself,” Grey says from within all his ‘doom and gloom’ persona.
“But you love me,” I remind him, “and Troy and I have similar personalities,” I bravely point out.
“It’s a wonder you have any friends,” Grey shakes his head, irritated.
“It’s her personality,” Dylan offers his opinion, “lures people in and before you realize it, you’re trapped with nowhere to go but down.”
“Accurate,” Grey nods, agreeing.
Jay exchanges a look with Grey and suddenly sits up. “Don’t say things like that to her or I’ll be the one taking the heat for it. It’s always me who catches all the flack from her.”
I turn to Jay accusingly. “Want to complain a little louder for the people in China and all the aliens in space to hear?”
“There’s no such thing as ali-” Jay stops himself when I narrow my eyes at him threateningly. His eyes widen as that boyish, immature side comes into play. He flops back down on the couch and closes his eyes as he lets out an indistinctive mutter, “Sleeping now.”
I grin, satisfied. “Good choice.”
“No bachelor party because Max doesn’t want anything wild,” Ryan steps in through the front door with Nancy trailing behind. He’s making his grand entrance and he’s loving it. “He called it off a while ago.”
I laugh lightly as it dawns on me, “Yeah Ry, and just how long were you standing outside the door eavesdropping on the entire conversation?” I quiz on chance, going out on a limb.
His expression drops into a frown as he stares at me flatly before caving, “Like only for two minutes,” he confesses much to all our mocking. “Hey, hey, hey,” he tries to justify it, “it’s only ’cause I was waiting for Nance to find her car keys.”
"Suuure,” Benley teases, joining my bandwagon.
Ryan slings off his jacket with much cockiness as he brushes off our insults with slight difficulty, a scowl on his face as if we just ruined his entire day. We killed his swag.
He falls down onto the single-seater couch indifferently and immediately takes out his phone to play games, almost as if to leave this world in order to be rid of us all. He’s not big on people. Zac is only big on bad people, Grey on ‘his own’ people and Troy on ‘himself’ people, but Ryan is different because it seems that he just cannot stand the entire human population in general. Hmm...guy’s got good taste. He’ll go far in life...
Ryan feels our stares and lifts his head as he explains further seeing as Jay isn’t doing so. “Mills didn’t tell your pretty little friend, Bell or whatever her name is, that the bachelor party is off because he doesn’t want her to feel obligated to do the same,” he informs us knowingly, obviously having spoken to Troy about it already.
I pout at the terrible news. “This sucks. I was so amped.”
“No one cares,” Grey has to add just to get under my skin.
“You do!” I hum ecstatically, playing fire with fire, as I stand on my tippy toes and reach forward to ruffle his hair.
He stiffens, caught off guard, and then recovers before swatting my hand away. “Would you just go already? You’re disturbing the neighborhood peace. Hell, you’re disturbing world peace. You deserve to be kicked off the planet.”
“Be honest guys,” Nancy intervenes as she motions to Jay, “is he dead?”
Valid question, Nance.
Jay, face in couch as he lays flat on his stomach, lazily lifts up a thumbs up as if to signify to Nancy that he’s still alive and kicking.
She shrugs when we all turn our puzzled stares onto her. “What?” she blinks innocently. “I will never put anything past you lot,” she finalizes in good reason. I see her point. She gestures to Jay again, “What’s up with him anyway? He’s usually always pumped with heart and passion. What did you guys do to him?”
“Not us,” I correct her, “‘The Dung Beatles’.”
She raises a prodding brow. “How?”
I elaborate the story further, breaking it down part by part. “So Jay’s sleeping when he hears this loud banging and drilling from outside. Naturally, Keagen wakes up too. Next thing Jay knows, a drill goes right through his bedroom wall, just missing his skull. After recovering from his initial shock, he questions it and finds the culprit. Naturally, it’s Oog. Oog explains to him that they’re giving his house a makeover by expansion, with or without his permission. So naturally, Jay goes out back to see. He fumbles through the dark and accidentally ends up falling into Troy’s grave, nat-”
“Stop saying ‘naturally’!” Grey snaps at me, losing his patience and self-control (not that he had much to begin with).
I mentally smirk in victory as I continue to explain to Nancy. “When he gets out, naturally,” I purposely emphasize the word for Grey’s sake, “he sees a new tree house in place, except this tree house is not like the old one at all, this tree house is bigger and better. They levelled up, even built in a water slide leading into Jay’s pond. This tree house has three stories and has more room than this entire apartment. It’s a fricken bachelor pad now.”
“Why drill in Jay’s house though?” Dylan asks, not at all moved by what Oog and his pals have accomplished this time ’round.
“They made a bridge leading up onto Jay’s roof and are apparently renovating Jay’s house, especially his compact room. They want to improve it all for him as a ‘thank you’ for allowing them to live on his property rent-free. They’re unyielding, but I find it sweet,” I conclude, much to Grey’s frown -- he clearly disagrees. “Oh, and Keagen thinks we’re all mentally disturbed,” I add casually.
“Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!” AJ squeals and claps yet again as Grey rolls his eyes at her as if annoyed by her happiness, whereas nice people find it endearing.
“Oog literally almost drilled a hole right through Jay’s head and you think it’s wonderful?” Grey asks AJ, pointing out the facts, arguing it out with the both of us.
“But he didn’t,” I debate weakly.
“But he could’ve,” he glares back at me.
I shrug. “Accidents happen.”
“Not at the expense of a life,” Grey mutters in irritation. “Besides, if Jay died, so would your life,” he concludes.
“And so would yours,” I grin, satisfied when a scowl crosses his face upon his obvious defeat. I change the subject back to the previous one as I glance to Nance, “But seriously, that tree house is like Dean getting all raspy when seeing an attractive girl -- it’s homina homina homina,” I splutter jokingly, mocking Dean in spite of him not even being here today. “The new and improved tree house, or as I like to call it, tree house 2.08 a.k.a. Super Saiyan tree house, is not crooked, distorted and grotesque like Grey’s face anymore,” I try my best to let them envision it for themselves.
Now the tree house just has to be fireproof and they’re set to go.
“Took Dean down,” Benley shakes his head at me disapprovingly before letting out a low click of the tongue, “and then had to take Grey down too.” He smirks, defending me as he sides with me, “Skill right there. Natural born talent.”
I take a bow before thoughtfully adding, “Oooh yeah, and they have a hot tub!” I end, “But other than that, the tree house is currently standing empty inside.”
Next thing I know, that tree house will suddenly transform into a car or something too.
Nancy sighs as if empathetic, “Poor Jay, guy just has to suck up all the chaos drawn to his life. It’s always at his place and at his objection. His life is like a wormhole. He’s always sucked into chaos.”
To think, Nancy used to hate Jay because she was all for her cousin, Mason. Things sure have changed for everybody.
Jay, upon hearing his name, nods into the couch in agreement before forcing himself to sit up in spite of being really tired.
He scratches his neck and yawns before he explains the full story from his perspective. “That’s not even the worst of it, Nancy. When I tried kicking them out for the hundredth time, they ended up living in my pit for the last four days without me knowing. They built a tipi and everything. I’m surprised there wasn’t an igloo down there too. Gland kept saying that they’re more courageous than a thousand lions. He said that they were hunting squirrels for food...and for sport. They made spears and fires, taking me back to the damn Stone Age - a bunch of wild cavemen. At least, if it were the Ice Age, they’d be frozen. Anyway, I felt guilty and told them to come back inside. That’s when they started the whole revamping thing. I’m cool with it so long as Troy and Ramos are banned, forbidden, from going anywhere near the tree house.”
Nancy shakes her head to herself as if feeling Jay’s pain. “I pity you, honestly, I do,” she says as she takes a seat on Ryan’s lap, not even taking the liberty to question why we’re all at her house. She doesn’t even realize that she’s growing accustomed to our ways.
“I don’t,” Jay sends her a lazy, carefree grin, “my life is unpredictable.”
“Nance,” Ryan complains, “move over,” he says frantically as he quickly shifts her off his lap. “I can’t see my phone screen,” he concludes in panic as if about to lose a game, not even noticing when he accidentally and unintentionally pushes Nancy, his own girlfriend, off onto the floor.
I once asked her why she doesn’t just date Grey instead and she answered with ‘Grey was the conflicted one who couldn’t make up his mind, not me’. Apparently, Grey was never really ready for Nancy. She had no choice but to move on.
Nancy huffs and shakes her head, forfeiting her seat on Ryan’s lap as she sits down beside Grey instead. Grey, himself, is giving Ryan the death stare, but Ryan isn’t paying any heed to it. Ryan doesn’t even bother to return it, barely even noticing or caring. He finds no threat in Grey and rather finds him amusing.
The door slams open a second time as Troy enters, immediately approaching me, a determined expression plastered on his face. “Bells said you’d be here today.” That girl knows me so well. “I’m here to tell you that she wants to call off the bachelorette party because I accidentally spilled to her that Max canceled his. They’re going to spend the night in together instead...and I don’t want to be there when that happens.”
I bang my fist on my knee in fury and disappointment. “Why?!” I then wince and rub my knee, “Ouch!” I fling out my sore hand. “Stupid move, Aqueela, stupid move,” I say to myself in a reprimanding nature.
“Look out, the idiot has reawakened from the depths of mind-numbing stupidity,” Grey comments as he shakes his head at my thoughtless actions.
Troy challenges Grey for no sheer reason. “Say that to my face.”
It’s funny because he’s still on crutches.
Grey scoffs in disbelief and stands up to face Troy. “I was talking to Aqueela, just shows that you know you’re an idiot.”
"Oooh, he got up,” AJ snaps her fingers and covers her eyes like a little child as if waiting for the blow.
Troy scowls at Grey before daring him to act rather than speak. “Fight me.”
“I’m not going to-”
“I said, fight me!”
Grey doesn’t hesitate to swing his fist back before powerfully punching Troy on the nose.
“Called it,” AJ speaks up with her impeccable timing as she winces for Troy.
“Owe!” Troy yelps and drops his clutches as he bounces around in pain, bobbing up and down on his heels, trying to stop the blood flow. He only ends up hurting his broken foot more. “I didn’t mean it, you idiot!” he complains from within his agony.
“Coming from the real idiot himself,” Grey shrugs like he doesn’t care. He points to his emotionless, indifferent expression, “This is my ‘I don’t care’ face.”
I take the initiative to mock Grey when noticing that his facial expression usually stays the same, “Oooh lookie, Grey, there’s your ‘I don’t care’ face again!” I tease. He still doesn’t change his morbid yet impassive expression despite my observation. “Oooh and again!” I wait to see that there’s still no change before continuing on with my pestering. “And again!” I slowly reach up to him and poke his cheek, “Ooh, there it is again.” I poke him a second time, as if in wonder of his mystical ‘I don’t care’ face, “And again! Again. Again! Ooh, and again. There it is. Again. Aga-”
Grey grabs my hand in his and pulls me forward. He stares down at me with his dark expression, “Would you kindly stop that?” he asks through his teeth, on the verge of killing me. I sure hope he doesn’t have ninja stars on him right now or I’ll be a goner. Then again, he’s still no match for me, weapons or not.
“Wow Grey,” I remark jokingly, “you don’t have many faces. Your expressions are limited.”
“Just like your brain power,” he says in turn, infuriated, as he carelessly shoves me away from him.
“Discipline!” Troy suddenly bounces back from his pain and whacks Grey over his head from behind as if to get even.
“He’s done it now,” AJ, our personal commentary person, shakes her head at Troy’s foolishness.
Grey spins around to face Troy, a fierce look of dauntlessness running through his gray eyes. He reacts swiftly and is just about to tackle Troy back in an act of revenge, but Jay acts on speedy reflexes and yanks him away by the back of his shirt before he can do any serious harm to Troy.
“Why can’t we ever have a normal day where no one gets punched in the face?” Benley asks aloud, voicing his thoughts, as his eyes stray to Jay and Grey -- the two most aggressive ones from us all who are more likely to be hotheaded when pushed.
Jay scratches the back of his neck sheepishly in reference to him punching Keagen in the face the other day.
Benley then whips his gaze onto me too. I open my mouth to protest but stop when it clicks that I have also punched quite a few people in my time too. He’s dead right, he better be careful or I will make him just dead. He’s next on my ‘to be punched’ list.
“What are you guys doing here?” Mason asks as he steps through the open door (no thanks to Troy) with Laiken following in behind him.
“Death of bachelorette party,” I pretend to wipe a tear away from the corner of my eye. “We’re hosting a funeral,” I purposely don’t give him a real explanation just to annoy him. I perk up excitedly, “Did you bring food?”
Mason rolls his eyes at me and grins, shaking his head in answer.
“Cousin!” Nancy flings herself into Mason as she embraces him tightly. “I thought you weren’t coming over anymore. You’ve been scarce, really made a stranger out of yourself,” she smiles in joy upon having him back for this short period of time.
“Yeah,” Mason grins apologetically, “sorry that I’m late. Laiken here,” he motions over to him, “takes forever to get ready. I would have been here sooner had someone not spent five hours in front of the mirror styling his hair.”
Laiken gestures down himself and then to Mason condescendingly, “Yeah and just look at the difference between us. Anyone who compares can see that I take more pride in my appearance than you...” he cheekily adds, ”if you get what I mean,” he concludes, unapologetic. He’s vain and self-absorbed. He really is the worst perfect friend.
Ryan replies back to Mason on his girlfriend’s behalf, “The later you are, Montry, the better for everyone.” He keeps his eyes cast down on his phone, “Why do you even bother? Next time, don’t.” Ryan smirks to himself as his blue eyes flare up in cockiness, “You’d be doing us all a favor.”
His mood of deviousness and cunningness is flattened when Nancy nudges him scoldingly. “Be nice, Ry,” she states pleadingly.
“I will try,” Ryan lies, “but fail,” he ends truthfully.
“Still as grumpy as ever,” Mason rolls his eyes at Ryan, clearly having met him before seeing as the guy is dating his cousin.
“Stole my line, Brewer,” Jay jokes, not at all meaning it before he sends Mason a friendly and welcoming grin.
Mason stares at Jay flatly and continues the playful banter. “Still a jerk I see.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me that Mason was coming back?” Grey asks sourly, evidently not a fan either. However, he’s not a fan of many people. He can’t love everyone the way he loves me. It requires too much heart and soul and he’s lacking in both areas.
“Get Satan out of my house!” Troy demands in spite of the fact that it’s not even his house to begin with. “Pour salt on him, maybe he will melt like the slug he is.”
“Wow, Mase,” Laiken chuckles tauntingly, “you left with a lot of fans behind your name.”
Mason throws his hands up into the air in exasperation, “I’m surrounded by downers who just can’t get over the past.”
“Nor the present or the future,” Ryan kids wittily as he glances around for approval, “am I right or am I right you guys?”
I salute him for his efforts when no one else does. He sends me a wink before Nancy tells me to stop encouraging his ‘bad behavior’.
“I thought you said that Zac was coming over too?” Nancy questions, inquisitive.
Jay chuckles as he thinks back to how he left things with Zac. “I’m predicting that the poor guy has his hands full right about now.”
Mason nods, his face saying it all - he hates Zac, “Mia and him are having ‘the talk’. I’m hoping she dumps him. He doesn’t treat her right.”
“I still don’t remember who Mia is,” Laiken interrupts, clueless. “Are you guys sure we were in the same high school with her?”
“For the hundredth time, yes,” Mason tells Laiken, tired of the ongoing debate. “She was the quiet girl who always kept to herself. She sat next to you in homeroom for the whole of senior year.”
Laiken taps his chin in thought, trying desperately to remember her. He gives up and shrugs, “Nope. Can’t place her.” He frowns, “I’m telling you, I would remember such an attractive face. Girls like that never got past me in high school.”
I roll my eyes at him. “It may be because you saw anyone who wasn’t a cheerleader or jock as someone beneath you. That might just be why you failed to notice pretty Mia.”
Laiken shrugs, “Maybe, doubt it though.” He grins to himself before sharing his thoughts, “High school sure has changed.”
Jay nods in agreement, “You know it has changed when you hear that Blubber is the new quarterback.”
Laiken’s eyes widen at the news.“How? Just how?” he queries. “He’s giving football a lousy name.”
“He’s actually pretty good,” Jay defends Blubber.
Laiken blocks his ears. “Don’t tell me these things. I cringe every time I just hear his name.”
Troy glares at Mason as he adds his own input, “I can relate.”
Mason sighs, “Get over it already dude, your sister and Max are.”
“They’re morons. I don’t expect you to understand,” Troy insults his family, not making any sense because he just contradicted his point.
"Anyway," Mason continues, brushing Troy aside, “Mia told Zac that she’s not looking for anything serious right now and that the ‘I love you’ speech scared her. She’s looking for a rebound, not for a commitment.”
Jay raises an eyebrow. “Woah. Doesn’t sound like the Mia I know.”
“She unintentionally used Zac’s tactic on him. Zac was in shock, his jaw almost unhinged. He’s never been rejected before. So now that she’s called things off, he’s never wanted her more. He wants what he can’t have,” Laiken elaborates, hitting the nail on the head -- definitely the Zac I know.
“I brought pizza!” Leban chirps happily as he walks in through the doors, obviously having been invited by Grey and Jay. Goku happens to be with him.
“Fantastic, I’m starving,” Grey says as he stands up to greet his other friends. “Lawson drains me of all my energy.”
Leban’s face falls when he spots me, his entire demeanor having changed.
“Oooh, I love pizza! Give me, give me, give me!” I go to help Leban with the boxes, only for him to slap my hand away and put the boxes out of my reach, as in placing them just above his head so that if I really want them I’d have to jump for them.
“No pizza for you,” Leban pushes me away so that I go stumbling into Grey.
“Watch it!” Grey snaps as if it is my fault as he steadies me and releases me.
“Don’t hate, learn to relate and appreciate,” Kyle sends Leban a chastising glare. “For shame!”
“Hey man,” Jay meets Leban’s gaze, “that’s enough.”
“Whatever,” Leban submits as he heads for the kitchen.
“Why does he love you so much?” I ask Jay a second time.
Thankfully Goku is here this time, and just as I had expected, answers for Jay, “Because Jay saved his life.”
“None of your business,” Leban returns, having overheard my question.
“Well, seeing as the true devil is here,” I gesture to Leban irritably, “I should get going.” I stand up and grab my bag, “I haven’t seen my grandparents in a while, I think I’m going to stop by and say hi before they forget I exist.”
“Good luck,” Benley offers me sympathy, aware of how my grandparents can be.
“People I actually dislike more than you,” Ryan says to me playfully and then flinches at the memory, “your grandmother smashed my car to pieces,” he reminds me with scorn.
Oh yeah...that did happen.
“Wait up, I’ll come with you,” Jay insists spontaneously, rubbing his tired eyes as he too stands and willingly volunteers in spite of his fatigue.
I protest, feeling guilty, “You don’t have to. I don’t expect anyone to be subjected to-”
“I said that I’m coming with.”
We stand just outside of my grandparent’s door.
I turn to stare up at Jay quizzingly before even considering knocking on their door, “Why are you doing this?” I ask, at a loss as to why anyone would willingly visit my grandparents if they don’t have to.
“Because they’re your family,” Jay answers casually. “And also, I wanted to thank you for getting Mason to come up.”
“I thought you were mad about that,” I remind him of his initial reaction.
“Yeah, I was,” he admits. “I needed time to process, but now I’m grateful that you did this for me. Look, I don’t know if Mason and I can ever fix our relationship and be brothers again, but I do know that I’m willing to try. If there’s a possibility that I can get my family back, then I don’t want to do it for my career or media. I want it to be real,” he confesses, his words warming my heart and bringing a smile to my face. “Anyway, I just thought I should go with you and see your family because you might have just given me back mine.”
He’s really making an effort and it’s awesome for me to see. It shows how much he’s grown as a person. I nod at him wordlessly before I suck in a deep breath and knock on the door, awaiting for death to suck me into its pools and swallow me whole.
“Bad timing, Kiddo,” Uncle Jeffrey opens the door to greet me as his eyes stray back inside wearily as if trying to warn me to leave whilst I still can. As a cop, you’d think he’d be less terrified of his parents, but I guess he doesn’t have ordinary parents. He’s the only reason why they haven’t been arrested yet.
Instead of questioning his odd behavior, I rather grin in excitement upon seeing him again. “I missed you!” I embrace him tightly. I take a step back and motion over to Jay as I do the introductions, “Jeffster, this is my friend, Jay. Jay, this is my uncle, the only reliable person in my entire family. He also happens to be my obvious favorite.”
This is the first time that Jay is meeting my uncle and vice verse.
Uncle Jeffrey grins at Jay and shakes his hand politely, “Nice to meet you son.”
Jay grins back, in unease, and nods, falling quiet.
Uncle Jeffrey opens the door wider to allow us in. As soon as he’s out of hearing shot, I turn to Jay for an explanation, “Why acting so strange?” I ask, having noticed that he’s a little bit on edge. It’s unlike him. He’s usually laid-back around new people.
“I don’t know,” he admits, “it almost feels like I’m meeting your father or something and the thought is kind of intimidating.”
I see his point. Uncle Jeffrey is the closest thing that I have to a father.
“Why would that bother you?” I question, mildly interested in hearing his answer.
Jay averts his eyes and shrugs, “I don’t know,” he repeats softly, “I just have the pressure of making a good first impression on him.”
I smile, “Jeffrey is cool. You don’t have to worry about him. He’s not like that. If you survived my grandparents, you’ll survive him easily. He’s a summer breeze. I promise,” I end with a laugh as I nudge him playfully - my intention behind it to comfort him so that he will relax.
Uncle Jeffrey motions me over, “I should warn you that-”
“What is happening?” I cut him off when I see Landon sitting between my both my grandparents, laughing in adoration at something my grandmother just said about murder.
“Oh Lan, you make me proud,” Gramps pats Lan on the back as if he’s his own son, ignoring Uncle Jeffrey flat.
“What is going on?” Jay asks, just as stumped as me as we take the scene in together.
I break out of my stupor when Uncle Jeffrey answers him, ”Yeah...they have a new favorite son now. He’s here just about every day to visit them. This is not the first time. He loves them and I can’t understand why.”
Oh Lan, you dimwit.
“I can see that,” I answer slowly, perplexed by the sight of Landon visiting my grandparents like they’re his best buds in the whole wide world. Their craziness must balance him out or something.
“More tea, Landon?” Grams asks him, failing to notice our presence as her back is turned to us.
“Thanks, Lil,” Landon says, sipping on the last of his tea, “that would be great.” He turns to Gramps in excitement and in hope as his green eyes light up, “You’re still going show me your karate moves later on, right?”
Landon and Emma’s father passed away a few years ago. Their mother abandoned them. I can’t help but think that Landon is looking for his parents in my grandparents - it’s why I can’t stay mad at him for this betrayal.
Jay and Uncle Jefferey sigh in unison, “That used to be me.”
“I don’t know if we’ll have time,” my gramps tells him, “Grams still has to show you how to use the forklift-”
Landon cuts my gramps off, “But you promised!” he whines like an immature child. At this rate, I’m beginning to think he is one.
Where is Sarah when you need her?
Gramps frowns reprimandingly, “Well if you and Sarah weren’t gallivanting around late at night, past your bedtime, with Kaleela-”
I zone out and raise an eyebrow at my uncle upon hearing the name, “Who is Kaleela?” I ask softly. When Uncle Jeffrey doesn’t answer, I repeat my question, “Seriously, who is she?”
“See, this is why I warned you to leave. You don’t want to know,” he replies back solemnly.
I send him a flat, challenging stare.
My uncle caves under the weight of my intense gaze, “She’s your replacement.”
“My what?!” I gasp, unbelieving of the news, as I seek out more information on the ridiculous subject.
“Their explanation is that they don’t see you often enough and that you don’t make an effort, thus, their solution was to find someone identical and replace you,” my uncle explains fully.
“You mean to tell me that Landon and Sarah have replaced me too? They’ve betrayed me to spend time with a wannabe me, a wannabe Aqueela, when they have the real one right here?” I pout in dismay and fold my arms across my chest as I take my stand, “Who would do that?”
“I don’t know, but I much prefer the original over some counterfeit,” Jay winks in reassurance. He adds, “Besides, you have nothing to worry about, you’re irreplaceable. They can try, but no one pulls off being you better than you and that’s a Jay guaranteed fact.”
“Naaw,” I smile, feeling flattered, as I pat his arm gratefully, “thanks, Taylor.”
Uncle Jeffrey glances from Jay to me before breaking out into a smile too.
“Kaleela Fawson, my dear granddaughter who treasures her grandparents so very much, would you like some tea too?” Grams asks her politely, clearly sending me a message.
“Of course I do, you looney tune!” Kaleela, the blonde haired girl whose resemblance to me is uncanny, squeals in deluxe. “I’m made of stone!”
I gasp in sheer shock when I hear her use my sacred catchphrases. It’s blasphemous. Angry, I turn back to Uncle Jeffrey with clutched fists, “How did they even get this chick over here?”
My uncle shrugs, “Either they kidnapped her out of a mental hospital and brainwashed her into living a new identity, or, they’re paying her.”
“Definitely the former,” Jay voices his thoughts on the matter.
Between Landon and Gramps arguing, I suddenly hear Gramps snap at him as if his father, “Go to your room young man! You are grounded!”
“Fine!” Landon hisses as he walks down the hallway and enters a random room before I hear the loud slamming of a door.
“Howard!” Grams screams in fury, siding with Landon - her absolute favorite. “You stupid old nutty bag! You worthless man, go and apologise to him right this instant! I was just going to talk to him about proposing to Kaleela. I want him as a son-in-law.”
I roll my eyes and mimic her words. If Kaleela weren’t here, she’d want me to end up with Landon. He’s surpassed Jay as the favorite in both my grandparent’s books. Jay no longer meets their incredibly low standards.
“I don’t know how to feel about this,” Jay confesses. “Never thought I’d miss it, but I kinda do. I never had to work for their approval.” He glances down at me teasingly, “If it helps at all, I’ve also been replaced,” he says, in reference to Landon taking on his previous role.
“You never know what you have until it’s gone,” I sigh melodramatically, just messing around.
Jay nods. “Yeah,” he says softly, “tell me about it.”
Kaleela takes a seat at the breakfast table where I always used to sit. I watch on in envy as she takes a bite out of my favorite breakfast - blueberry flapjacks. Grams rarely ever made that for me! I had to be and plead and basically sell my life away to get her to agree to it.
“Grams,” Kaleela calls in over excitement, “do you mind if Shay, my boyfriend, and I go and get some bubblegum ice cream later on? I think we might finally-”
“Just remember that you have your ballet rehearsal this afternoon,” Grams tells her, her nonexistent sweet side on for display. I’ve never seen her like this before. I know that she has always wanted me to be a performer like she thinks she was, but I always refused. She’s living out her dream through me, I mean, through Kaleela.
“Alrighty!” Kaleela chirps ecstatically.
I turn to Jay with a mopey frown, “Am I really this annoying?” I ask as I gesture to the second me.
A crooked grin floats over his lips as mischief flickers through his eyes. He cocks his head to the side and hesitates, ”Well...” he trails off deliberately as if to keep me in suspense. I swat him on his arm. He chuckles, “I’m just kidding, Aqueela,” he assures me, “I’ll never find you annoying despite the fact that you really are annoying in general.”
“What is the meaning of this?!” I finally flip out in jealousy when seeing Kaleela hug my grams like she’s known her for years. Grams has never hugged me like that before.
Gram’s head whips to me, finally acknowledging my presence. Gramps doesn’t hear and continues to stuff his face with a dried plum sandwich - gross! It amazes me that he hasn’t died of food poisoning yet, and I’m pretty sure that Grams does poison his food. He’s just resilient, like mutated bacteria.
Grams turns to Uncle Jeffrey accusingly, “What have I told you about letting strangers into the house?”
Jay places a supportive hand on the small of my back as if to remind me that he’s still here right beside me.
Uncle Jeffrey shakes his head at her when seeing the laced irritation bound within me, “Ma, don’t-”
Grams steps to us to introduce herself, holding out her hand for a handshake, “Hello there, I am Lillian and I can’t stand strangers, ” she rudely greets and then points to Gramps, “and that’s my...uh...Howard. Forget him, he’s not worth remembering.”
She raises an eyebrow in confusion when neither Jay or I make a move to shake her hand, “And who might you two be?” she queries as if genuine.
Three can play at this game...
“Just in the neighborhood visiting my grandparents,” I answer carefully. “I thought this was their house, but I’m mistaken. It’s the one across from here.”
My family has literally disowned me. It’s high time I do the same to them.
“Hi, looney tunes!” Kaleela claps her hands giddily, “I’m Kaleela and I just love meeting new people!”
My eyes light up in rage as I roll up my sleeves and step forth with clutched fists, “That’s it! I’m gonna-”
Jay wraps an arm around my waist and tugs me back to him before I get the chance to commit murder. He always spoils my fun.
Kaleela’s gaze flickers up and down Jay before she smirks suggestively and licks her lips, “You’re cute.”
Jay, horrified, steps away, dragging me with him as he subtly makes his way to the exit.
“Well look,” Grams continues, “I mean to be rude, but I don’t like strangers in my house. Can’t trust them, so get the hell out.”
Before we can do anything, we’re both kicked out the house and the door is shut in our faces, all the while Uncle Jeffrey is expressing apologetic eyes as if he no power to do anything. It’s true, he doesn’t. I don’t blame him.
I will not let her win!
When I see the drapes part and her beady eyes peering through the window, I take Jay by the hand and lead him to the house across from here.
“What are you doing?!” Jay whisper-shouts as he reads into my plans. “We don’t even know the people that live here,” he stresses out to make me understand it his way. “We can’t just enter, it’s classified as breaking and entering.”
“Nothing I can’t pull off. I broke in and entered Grey’s just house today,” I tell him and release his hand as I gesture to the front door. “Now open the door,” I command bossily.
“Firstly, I don’t take orders,” he jokes, “and secondly, Grey’s place is different. We actually know him.”
“It’s not breaking and entering if the door is open,” I insist and push him forward. “Open it. Check if it’s open. I doubt it’s locked. Just push the door open and go inside. Make it look natural. My grams is watching. Don’t make a fool out of us. Open it. Do it. Just do it. Just open it. Open it now. Open it. Open sesame!”
He puts his foot down, “No, Aqueela, going against the law doesn’t come as easy to me. I’m not going to just-”
“Open it!” I hiss at him.
He sighs and does as told, only for us to be greeted by an elderly couple on the other side.
“Go with the flow,” I tell Jay when I see that he has no plan of action here. “Follow my lead,” I suggest to him before going inside and hugging the shocked old lady. “It’s been so long! Jay and I thought we’d stop by to catch up seeing as it was on our way. Sorry that we just entered, we knocked first but we weren’t sure if you heard.”
I glance at the old couple in fake sincerity, “We’ve really missed the two of you.” I place my hand on Jay’s chest and glance up at him lovingly as I pull off the part like an expert, “The kids have been asking to come visit for some time now, haven’t they, honey?”
Jay nods wordlessly, caught off guard, as he tries to collect himself again. He manages to recover from his surprise quickly, “Yeah little...” he pauses in search of a name as he plays his part, “our son, um...” he glances to me for help. I shrug. He makes up a name on the spot as if it is the first one that comes to mind, “Little Ryland keeps asking for you guys.”
The old lady glances to her husband in bewilderment, obviously feeling overwhelmed by our unexpected presences. The husband shrugs at her, a blank expression on his face.
The old lady, obviously ashamed that she can’t remember us, plays along as if she does, “Oh cute! He’s getting so big now. They age so quickly. Before you know it, he’ll leave the nest,” she coos before ushering us in further, ”please, come in, come in.”
I wave my hand off as if wise beyond my years, “Oh, and France keeps telling us to tell you to stop by for some...” I purposely pause when I see her face, “you do remember France, right?”
She nods confidently and waves the matter off ever so quickly, “Of course! Oh yes, France. How could I forget him?” she lies, no recognition on her face at the name seeing as I made him up.
The old lady turns to her husband for backup as if willing us to believe her. He nods profusely along with his wife, “Ah yes, France, how is he keeping these days?”
“Wonderful. He and Sherry finally tied the knot,” I tell them, the lies coming naturally to me. I think I’m in too deep now to turn around. I’m in way over my head.
“Oh how delightful!” she genuinely seems excited for the nonexistent couple. “It’s about time if I do say so myself.”
“Yes,” I agree. Jay better just go with this. He once asked to be the fake fiance. This is an upgrade, fake husband.
The old lady sends me a relieved smile in the fact that she hasn’t been caught out yet, “Excuse the house, I forgot you two said that you were coming over today.”
This is too easy!
I loop my arm through Jay’s and brush it off, “Nonsense! You should see our house. The kids have been running rampage.”
I turn back to see the furious expression daunting across my grandmother’s face upon seeing that she too has been replaced. Gramps is now beside her as well, watching us in desperation from behind their window.
Jay shakes the old man’s hand as if he has known him for a very long time, “So how’s the wife keeping?”
“A pain in my backside as always,” the old man chuckles, trying to place Jay’s face in the process. He’s following his wife’s lead and also pretending to know us so that he doesn’t make a fool out of himself. If only he knew that he is making a fool out of himself....
“I can relate,” Jay gestures to me and tenderly draws me to his side, “same with mine,” he shares a laugh with the old man as if they’ve known each other for a lifetime.
It’s then that Gramps starts banging on the window from behind in anger, shouting at Jay to stop laughing with another elderly man.
Jay makes out as if he doesn’t hear and sends the old man, who is standing before us, a smile filled with fondness.
I turn back to see Gramps miserably mouthing ′Jay′ over and over again to himself with his hand dramatically pressed up against the glass of the window at having his idol, Jay himself, just out of his reach. It might just be one thing that I have in common with him.
Landon steps out of my grandparent’s house, only to spot us. He raises a questioning eyebrow my way. I raise one back, gesturing to the house that he just left.
He panics under my gaze and raises his hands up defensively, “I swear, it’s not what it looks like.”