Chapter 32: Kick Back
I grin in sarcasm, “Yeah, and have Bells kill me, I don’t think so,” I pass him up on the offer.
“Where’s your inner spirit? Where’s the person who threw a huge party, knowing that I’d lose it, at my house without my permission? Where’s the girl who took it upon herself, again without my permission, to redecorate my house? Where’d that girl go?” he challenges with a daring grin of his own.
I don’t know...
“Bells is scary, okay?” I defend myself in a girly whine.
He gestures around with his hand, “The wedding is practically over. A lot of people have left. Bella wouldn’t mind. You should kick back like you used to,” he suggests, persistent in convincing me to go with him.
“Jay, I can’t just-”
He scoffs and stares down at the floor with a smirk imprinted on his lips.
I place my hands on my hips and cock my head to the side as I inspect him in query, “What is it? Out with it.”
He grins to himself before looking up again to meet my gaze, a mischievous expression on his face, “I don’t know,” he gives an uncaring, one-shouldered shrug, “it’s just that maybe you’re not as tough as you think you are,” he deliberately pauses in order to build up suspense and anticipation, “maybe you’re not made of stone after all,” he finalizes with that cocky smirk of his.
I fall speechless at his conclusion. His lopsided, boyish grin evades his lips, giving away his obvious amusement at seeing me for a lack of words. It takes me all the way back to five years ago when he was still immature every so often.
I continue to stare up at him, questioning his nerve, and manage a silent word or two, “You’re very bold.”
A laugh resonates from within him as he carelessly nods, “Mhm,” he easily agrees and sends me a wink, “you should be too,” he tells me cheekily. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and arches an eyebrow at me, “Time to let your hair down, huh Lawson?” Before I can answer, he grabs my hand and yanks me after him, “Yeah, I think so,” he decides for me then and there.
I purposely dig my heels in so that he’d have to drag me after him - which, unfortunately, he is now evidently doing. I frown to myself, feigning irritancy, “Why bother asking when I apparently have no say in this at all?” I question, muttering obscenities under my breath.
“Because it’s polite,” he answers before teasing further, “and is that whining I hear from thee ‘Aqueela the Great the First’?”
I cover my mouth in astonishment as I slowly spin around in surprise, taking in the empty race tracks ahead of me, “I can’t believe this place still exists after all this time,” I state.
It’s a good thing we changed clothes after the wedding.
“Of course it does,” Jay grins slightly and hesitates, “in actual fact, I’ve been thinking of buying the land and starting up this place again. Say F1 racing?”
“F1?” I question, lost.
“Formula One racing,” he explains himself, “or maybe even hydro racing with the lake so close by and all.”
“Hydro racing is so dangerous. When the heck did you get into that?” I ask him, concerned.
“I do it all,” he smirks proudly, feigning arrogance.
“Of course you do,” I say mockingly. I glance around and smile to myself, “So this is where it all melts then?” I ask teasingly as I reminisce back to the day when he first brought me here - ‘The Ghost Tracks’, his tracks.
“When I’m behind the wheel, that’s when everything just melts away and I forget it all for that split moment in time. That’s how it is for me. It’s not just an adrenalin rush, time stops and it becomes addictive. It’s a feeling that I’d never give up for anything in the world,” he confesses, revealing just how far his passion for racing lies. I had no idea.
Racing isn’t just his escape, it’s who he is. It’s his spirit. When he races, he comes alive. I would never be able to take him away from that, no matter how badly I want him to stay here in Minnesota with me.
I change the subject, refusing to linger on what is still to come, “You came here to drive then?”
“That’s what I’m all about,” he nods and then takes out his cell phone and checks the time. “Grey will be here soon,” he announces.
“Grey?” I ask aloud, voicing my confusion.
Jay nods fervently, “He wanted to tag along, said it’s been years since he’s been here just to kick back and unwind behind the wheel.”
“Does he know I’m here?” I ask, still perplexed by the news.
Jay shakes his head.
“Ah,” I grin deviously, “that explains it,” I nod in understanding this time ’round.
Jay returns a knowing grin of his own, “Listen, I know you love tormenting the guy, but you gotta cut him some slack every once in a while. His hand looks pretty bad.”
I remember the burn and wince. “That wasn’t entirely my fault. He should have known better”.
"Aqueela,” Jay sends me a flat look.
“Okay, for the most part, it was my fault, but,” I begin to protest, “he should have-”
“Want to go for a spin?” he interrupts my ramble, growing impatient. “I just had work done on the Gallardo and I want to check her out,” he elaborates briefly as he heads back to his car as if uncaring whether I come or not.
I eagerly follow after him and hop into the passenger seat, ready to relive the past, even if it’s just for a moment.
Jay starts the car and takes us onto the tracks. He wastes no time and begins taking bends at a casual pace as if feeling the car out. I notice him grin to himself as if satisfied with the car’s condition. “I’m impressed,” he takes his eyes off the tracks to look at me as he admits it, “Landon did a good job. She’s riding smoothly, more so than ever before.”
“Yeah yeah, whatever,” I brush him off as the hype gets to me, now in dire need of some speed, “shut up and drive faster.”
“Faster?” he glances over at me in bewilderment. “You sure?” he asks, cautious and careful as not to upset me.
He’s still under the impression that speed petrifies me, considering that’s how I lost my mom. He’s well aware of the fact, and thus, he is thoughtfully holding back and purposely driving slower. Driving used to be enough to rattle me and make me incredibly nervous, but since then, things have changed in that area. I’m more than ready to live it up again!
“Show me how the pros do it,” I grin tauntingly, forcing him into cooperation. If he backs out, he’ll only be embarrassing himself. He’s definitely not doing himself any favors at this rate, and I’m certain that his goal here is speed.
“Are you one hundred percent certain?” he asks me again. He explains, “You’ve never driven at full speed with me. I don’t want to scare you. I drive much faster than what you’ve experienced with me. I’ve always held back when you’re in the car because I know.... Look, I’m not sure if this is your best idea. I don’t need to be speeding with you to have fun with you. I can just kick it down a notch and-”
“Faster! Faster! Faster!”
“Okay, Lawson,” he whistles lowly at hearing my challenge, keeping his gaze set on me whilst smirking at my ignorance. He catches me off guard and suddenly presses his foot all the way down on the accelerator, “If that’s what you want.”
I quickly strap in when the car instantly lurches forward at an unbelievable speed, the engine revving to life. My heart drops for a split second. The temporary fear is quickly replaced with that worthwhile feeling that he always goes on about. The speed awakens within me and I find myself longing to go even faster than this.
“What happened to ‘when in doubt, throttle it out’?” I use his famous racing motto against him, having remembered it from old times. “This the best you got? Go faster!” I command fiercely, my rare bossy side taking control as that favored rush kicks in.
I’m fired up and there’s no slowing down now. I can feel the blood rushing to my head and pouring through my veins. My heart just won’t quit on me either. I get why he lives for this feeling. It’s bliss. It’s perfect.
“You’ve seen nothing yet,” he assures me confidently, eyes set ahead on the tracks in sheer determination to impress me.
“I hope to see something soon because I’m starting to get bored,” I reply in turn, definitely lying. I’d just like to be alive to witness the outcome of my insults.
He chuckles knowingly and automatically shifts to a higher gear as it all comes so naturally to him. He takes turns effortlessly, making it look ridiculously easy. He can race circles around anyone. The thought has me eager to see what else he has up his sleeve. There must be more installed, especially considering that it’s him driving. He’s always had his quirks when it comes to racing, right from the start.
“You still want me to do this?” he asks me yet again as if hesitant. He knows just how frightened I used to be. He’s always held out for me. He’s gone fast when I’ve been in the car, but he’s never gone all out. Today, that changes!
“Uh-uh!” I chirp excitedly with my eyes closed, nodding my head profusely, as I hold onto my seat, clinging to it for dear life as we speed on by.
I can barely talk because everything is just a blur now. We’re going that fast. It’s exhilarating and liberating as it is terrifying.
“Okay,” he finally agrees to stop holding out on me, “but you just say the word and I’ll gladly slow down and brake for you if you can’t handle the heat,” he teases, intent on making me regret my decision.
I nod wordlessly, too afraid to amp him up anymore. I’ve done enough damage as is. This is becoming unbearable, in a good way.
“You asked for it,” he warns me as we head into the straight part of the track. I gulp, already knowing what’s coming. My objections die at the back of my throat when he goes just that much faster up until the point where he’s riding flat out.
He somehow manages to skillfully remain in full control, even when the nos is activated and we practically soar along the rundown tracks that mean so much to him.
At least I will go in style...
Jay, focused intently on the tracks, senses my apprehension as if it’s second nature to him, “You just have to say the word, Lawson,” he reminds me, a lopsided grin creeping onto his face as he flashes me a wink before his attention drifts back to the tracks. He can’t afford to play around when he’s driving professionally - like the way he would in a serious race.
I offer him a muffled reply, the speed slowly getting to me.
It soon sinks in that he isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. It’s a joyride and he’s loving it in spite of the fact that I’m absolutely certain we’re about to lift right off of the ground and take off into the atmosphere instead - this is no car, this is a rocket!
My heart plummets when I pluck up the courage to glance outside the window. Everything is hazy and nitrous is flowing out wildly behind us, leaving a stream of red smoke after the car. It would be pretty if it weren’t the same color of the liquid inside of me keeping me alive.
He really is going full throttle and it’s only now that I’m truly thankful that he’s kept this unattainable speed from me for so long. I owe him one for being so gracious and considerate.
I swallow dubiously, stiffening in my seat when I see us fast approaching the sharp corner up ahead. Every muscle in my body tenses because I know that there’s no way we can take it at this speed. I immediately turn to Jay in worry, only to see his concentration levels at a high, yet somehow he maintains a level head and keeps calm.
We reach the very peak of speed that this car can take. The brink is here, and knowing Jay, he will want to leap right off of the edge of no return. If we were, be it not impossible, to go any faster, I’m undoubtfully certain that this car will start to disintegrate on its own.
He fails to slow down. If anything, he’s attempting to gain in speed.
This is just about where I draw the line...
I finally cave, “Alright, alright, stop!” I shout, desperate for a breather before I end up having a heart attack from anxiety.
I watch his side profile to see the corners of his mouth tug him into a grin of victory at having won yet again. He’s undefeated and he knows it. He owns the roads.
Despite my persistent pleas, he takes on the last sharp corner anyway.
There’s a fire of gold burning behind his eyes and his determination to accomplish this is set in stone. He’s brewing up enough courage to make this one count...and I just know that there’s no stopping him now.
My heart jumps, missing a beat, when we reach the treacherous point on the track. I press myself further back into my seat and grab hold of anything to keep me from falling forward and flying through the windshield. Fortunately, the force of the safety belt is keeping me in place. I couldn’t go against the force even if I wanted to.
He smirks to himself and forcefully turns the wheel on the corner with astounding precision. I’m amazed at his on-point accuracy when he tactfully takes to the edge of the track before we, in the blink of an eye, spin right around the sharp corner and continue on to the next straight part of the track.
As much as I hate his guts right now, I don’t think I’ve ever been more attracted to him in my entire life.
I feel him apply brakes before slowing down significantly. My erratic heartbeat begins to slacken as I uncurl my fingers and relax slightly. Like he said, everything melts away until there’s nothing left. We eventually come to a complete halt, stopping just over the finish line - or where it once was.
A silence collapses over us until we’re entrapped in a dead stillness.
Jay leans back in his seat, a content smile on his face from the high he’d just undergone. It doesn’t last, but it’s worth it for that one second of greatness. This is why he does what he does. If I could drive like him, if I had his talent, I’d never give it up for anything either. This, racing, is his life now.
I release a breath of relief as I try to gather any comprehensible thoughts to express to him just how freaken awesome that was. The feeling of my very own soul leaving my body is enough to drive me demented, yet I want nothing but to feel it again.
“Up for round two?” I ask him, embarking bravery, once I’ve recovered and pulled myself back together.
His eyes snap open to me as he flashes me a breathtaking grin, “Really?” he asks in disbelief at my nerve.
I nod, “So long as you don’t hold out ever again.”
“My days of holding out on you, Aqueela Lawson, are long gone. I’m done holding out,” he confesses adamantly and truthfully, sincere in his words.
“Good,” I smile before adding, “because that was so cool.”
“I guess you do have what it takes then after all,” he compliments me, stunned that I’m game to do that again. “As for round two, maybe another time,” he averts his eyes from mine, “I don’t want to drive you away just yet.”
I nod, seeing a car parked outside from the corner of my eye. “Oh look, Grey’s here!” I clap my hands excitedly. I fling open my door before springing out and skipping my way over to him. Jay closes my door after me before following suit after me, minus the skipping.
Grey’s face falls when he sees me. He sighs, but that immediately changes upon seeing Jay. A grin forms on his lips as he gestures to the skid marks now imprinted on the tracks, “Man, you went up in smoke. I can smell your tires hot and burning all the way from here. I haven’t seen you race like that in a long time.”
Jay grins and flips open the hood of his Gallardo to show Grey the improvements made, “It’s ’cause Landon is a god when it comes to upgrading cars,” he says, keeping the hood up with one hand whilst leaning over the engine to inspect the major changes that have been made to his car.
“And it’s ’cause you’re a god when driving them,” Grey insists, giving his friend the credit he deserves. “You have the racing instinct inside of you.”
Jay merely grins at him before carefully closing the hood shut. “Thanks, buddy,” he, in his carefree mannerisms, casually hops up to sit atop the hood of his Gallardo as he sends Grey a laidback smile.
Their bromance is to die for...
“Did you see the nos, huh Grey? Did ya? Did ya? Did ya?” I ask repeatedly as I grab him by the shoulders and bounce up and down in pride and enthusiasm. I let go of him and turn to Jay as it occurs to me, “How does that work by the way?”
“Cars gotta be in WOT for it to work,” Jay explains briefly.
“Oh. Makes sense.”
He sees my blank expression and clarifies, “Wide open throttle.”
When he sees that I still have no idea what he’s talking about, he elaborates in detail, “With some cars, it’s an internal combustion of the engine’s maximum intake of air and fuel that happens when the throttle plates inside the carburetor are ‘wide open’, providing the least resistance to the incoming air. Once that happens a sensor receives a signal from the TPS sensor that signals for the fuel and nitrous solenoids to open up, allowing for flow. As the liquid nitrous is injected, it changes state to a gas due to the lack of pressure in the surrounding air. When it changes to a gas, it drops in temperature-”
“Yadah yadah yadah,” I cut in, now thoroughly bored. However, Jay’s zest for life is admirable. Whenever he talks about racing, his face lights up and there’s that sparkle to his eyes that signifies his happiness.
Jay turns to Grey and continues telling him as they share the same interest - that being in the science behind nos, “Landon says it helps increase horsepower.”
“Nice,” Grey nods, impressed. He glances out to the tracks and grins, “I’m eager to take a few laps myself, up for a friendly race?”
“You know I always am,” Jay agrees in ease as he slides off the hood of his car, the two of them setting out to their cars.
I hang back to watch at Jay’s request.
It’s not long before they’re zooming past me in a flash, the loud engines of their cars humming with power as the wind blows heavily by, managing to whip some stray strands of my hair into my face. I rake my fingers through my blonde locks and watch on as they compete for first place.
I cheer for Jay when he takes the last bend with one fluent motion. He then races over the finish line and spins around in doughnuts, all the while kicking up a dust storm and creating a thunderous racket. It’s all to show off and rub it in Grey’s face.
Grey crosses over a minute or so later and I can’t help but think that Jay took it easy on him, that’s just judging by his expression of disapproval in regards to his friend’s actions.
Grey proves his irritation by shaking his head at Jay as soon as he steps out of his car, “Held back on me, did you?” he calls it like it is. “You could’ve finished me long ago if you really wanted to,” he informs Jay knowingly.
It seems Jay can’t pull the wool over his eyes. Grey’s too perceptive for his own damn good.
I sprint over to them and turn to Jay with eagerness streaming through my veins, “Hey, think you can race me next?”
Jay and Grey burst into simultaneous laughter as if finding what I said to be hilarious.
I glare up at the two of them and cross my arms over my chest in outrage - a bit of an over exaggeration, but still, I’m mad!
Jay answers me when having caught his breath again, “I want to say ‘no’?” he tests me.
“I can hold my own, you know!” I hiss sourly.
“Would you look at that?” Grey points to me with a stupid grin on his face, “She is funny after all.”
Jay sees my anger and quickly places his fist in front of his mouth to keep himself from chuckling, “Look, sorry that we laughed-”
“I’m still laughing,” Grey adds, amused.
Jay nods at him in agreement with a grin, “You said it man.”
I cough loudly to recapture their attention.
Jay turns back and quickly sends me an apologetic grin before shrugging carelessly, “It’s nothing personal, Aqueela. We just can’t take you seriously when you ask things like that,” he explains, not bothering to soften the blow.
I scowl at him and grab his helmet from under his arm. He doesn’t even argue, aware that he’s done it now.
Grey starts, “Aww c’mon, Lawson, you’re a joke and-”
I spin back to the unsuspecting Ferrot and shut him up by snatching his beloved car keys from him. I angrily stalk over to his trash car. He makes an attempt to chase after me but takes Jay’s advice of ‘holding back’ under advisement, aware that I’m beyond furious with the both of them right now.
“Prepare yourself ’cause I’m going to kick your ass even in Grey’s lousy car!” I call over my shoulder to Jay, sure of myself and my abilities.
“Hey!” Grey yells after me in fury. “Don’t take your anger out on my car! My car is perfect! You’re the mess driving it, and I swear Lawson, wreck her in any way and I will really kill-”
“Yadah yadah yadah,” I glower at Grey, interrupting his pointless lecture that we both know I’d never care enough to listen to. I have half a mind to purposely destroy his stupid car in any case. I will not even salvage the parts.
“I’ll go easy on you,” Jay takes me up my request, rising to the challenge.
“That can be your excuse when I beat you,” I say bravely as I jump into the driver’s seat of Grey’s car before slamming the door shut after me.
I don’t miss Grey shooting daggers at me with his dark eyes for that last move of mine.
I brush it off and drive to the starting point. Jay meets me there in his own car. He rolls down his window to talk to me, “Try to not completely humiliate yourself.”
I gape at his teasing arrogance and narrow my eyes at him, my expression turning deadly, “I will destroy you. You will be annihilated.”
I furiously roll up my window after that before he can give out another witty comeback of his. Unfortunately - due to Grey’s dumb car - not only is it an effort, but it takes me an awkward five minutes just to get the window up. Jay stares on in amusement, saluting me as he reverses slightly as if offering me a head start - one that I refuse to accept.
Grey begins the countdown for us. It’s a good thing we don’t have a gun to start us off because I swear I’ll use it with sinful intention.
I glance over to Jay to see him grinning like some deranged maniac as if this is all too funny to him. I shake my head and rev the engine, hoping to at least intimidate him a little. Apparently all I am to him is laughable.
Jay throws his head back and laughs harder from within his car before revving his engine too, just for the sake of humoring me. I hate being patronized and he knows it. It’s degrading. I shake my head and adjust the straps of my helmet just as he places his own on - he has a collection of them.
I will show him!
When Grey gives the ‘go’ signal, I don’t hesitate to set my foot all the way down on the accelerator right from the beginning. I pass Grey in a startling flash, zooming up into the lead. I glance in the rearview mirror to see him standing back there with his jaw dropped in shock at the unexpectedness in me off to a brilliant start. Last he heard from Jay, five years ago, I couldn’t race to save my life. They’re both in for a little, humungous surprise.
Jay hangs back, waiting five seconds or so, before starting. I swear, I will kill him for that. If he’s going to beat me, he’d better do it right.
I shift my attention back to the tracks, changing to a higher gear just before the winding curves up ahead. I keep at a quick pace in spite of all the bends, afraid that Jay will catch me if I slow down even in the slightest. When I see him gaining, I step up my game and take to the inner lane. It’s risky, but I’ve always been a risky person - ‘safe’ is boring.
The tracks unwind into a straight line up ahead and I use it to my advantage, hoping that Jay will enjoy eating my dust for breakfast, lunch, supper and even tea time. I smile to myself in satisfaction when the nos is automatically activated, meaning that I’m currently in wide open throttle - whatever the hell that is...Jay sucks at explanations, or maybe I just suck at listening to them. I’m going with the former.
I zoom past the halfway mark, feeling pride and anxiousness mix together in the pits of my stomach - so close yet so far. Keeping a tight grip on the wheel with both hands, I glance in my side mirrors to see Jay right behind me.
Somehow I know that he’s still going easy on me. If he held back on Grey, just how much more is he holding out on me? I saw and experienced what he is capable of just a little while ago. I know that this isn’t his best. Damn him!
I grumble in distaste when he takes to driving beside me instead. He’s stupid if he thinks I will take a tie. I either win or win! Annoyed, I try to nudge him right off the tracks, but he expertly dodges me and swerves into the lead, leaving a trail of smoke behind him. Where’s Xavier when you need him? He’d know how to tumble Jay’s car over.
The lead is gone and the gap between us is growing larger by the second. I frown in irritation and lose focus for a split second. Next thing I know, I’m on the grass and no longer on the tracks. The resistance is worse and I immediately feel the difference. The car is struggling, poor piece of crap wasn’t made for grass.
I shrug it off and decide to take the easy route out anyway. I’ve always been one for loopholes. Whilst Jay’s taking the sharp corners - the ones just before the finish line - I drive straight across the grass to the last part of the tracks, the shorter route, and gracefully glide across the finish line in my own time.
Jay flies over the finish line a second later, drawing to a halt beside me.
I take up the initiative to start the car again and literally drive circles around his car.
I stop and then stifle a laugh when Jay gets out his car with a look of disbelief on his face. I hide my smile and wait a second or two, rejoicing in my silent victory. I’ll gloat loudly in his face in a minute or so.
I glance down at my knuckles to see them as white as snow. I’d been riding fast, and subconsciously I was scared, but my competitive streak took over in the moment. Also, I was clutching the steering wheel so tightly as if to keep myself in full control of the car. I was stopping all my blood flow - sorry precious hands, you did good today.
It’s when Grey taps on my window in fury that I decide it’s best I get out of his car before he has a stroke. Then again, I could stay a little while longer...
He taps repetitively - angrily. Heck, I’m pretty sure he’s cussing me out right now, judging by the way his mouth is moving so fast as he keeps gesturing back to the grass and then to his car. Yeah...I probably shouldn’t have done that.
I unlock the car doors and blow the horn loudly. He jumps to the left slightly, having not seen it coming. I giggle when he flips me the bird and curses my existence all the more. He eventually clicks and slams open the door before leaning over me to unbuckle the safety belt. As soon as it is undone, he yanks me out of his car and starts to lecture me.
What a boring earful...
I ignore him and turn to Jay with a mischievous smile, “How does it feel to be a giant loser?”
“Hey!” Grey complains, “I’m talking to you!”
He is so rude. Can’t he see that I’m busy not listening to him?
“I’m a woman, Grey,” I inform him, sure of the fact.
Wondering where I’m going with this, he nods dumbly, “Yeah, I noticed, and so?”
“I can multitask,” I lie to him (I can barely unitask) as I block him out to hear what Jay has to say for himself and his lousy defeat.
I watch as Jay unfastens his helmet before removing it entirely. He places it under his arm for the meantime, his hair an attractive mess, as he frowns down at me, sending me a flat stare, “You cheated. You’re a cheater.”
Show me the proof!
“How can I be a cheater if there were no rules to begin with? No specific rules were declared before the race. Thus, I am victorious and you are just a sore loser,” I tell him with a peppy grin and add, “just ask Grey.”
“You’re definitely a cheater, Lawson,” Grey confirms, taking Jay’s side as per usual. He catches me off guard as he continues on, “However, I am - and I hate myself for saying this - impressed.” He pauses as disgusted with himself for saying these things, “I was not expecting you to race like that. You gave a good show.”
“Yeah,” Jay nods in agreement, “what the hell was that?” he sputters in disbelief. “Last time I checked, you could barely drive, forget race.”
I shrug carelessly, “What can I say? I’ve been practicing. Also, I am a living legacy.”
It’s as if something registers in Grey’s head, the missing piece to a puzzle having been found, because his face suddenly lights up in recognition. His eyes visibly widen as he points a finger at me, stunned by the realization that has just dawned on him, “Hold up a second, I knew your racing seemed familiar for a reason. You’re the ‘The Loose Screw’!”
Of course Grey would figure it out. He always observes and studies everyone’s racing tactics.
Took him long. I’ve become one of them - a street racer.
Jay falls speechless at the truth being revealed, all his attention on me as Grey’s words slowly resonate with him. He’s digesting all of this before choosing to respond in any sort of way. Knowing him, he’ll say something unintelligent if speaking on impulse - no wait, that’s me.
I take it as my cue to take off my helmet, as if revealing my identity for the first time, and deliberately shake my hair loose boastfully, making it known that I owned this one. “I know, I know, I’m the best,” I brag jokingly as I lean back on the hood of Grey’s car.
I only learned to race for Jay. I figured since I’d left him for five years, I’d at least come back a decent racer.
Jay fails to break out of his stupor and continues to stare at me with a beat of interest, captivated. I squirm under his gaze, fidgeting in place. Knowing that he’s following my every move is enough to put me at unease.
“I knew I hated ‘The Loose Screw’ for a reason,” Grey glares down at me and scoffs, erasing the tension, “I should have known. It was instinct, which reminds me, you owe me for covering you the other day. Landon wanted you off the tracks and I, unintentionally and accidentally, had your back. I regret it now, but still.” He spins around to face a recovering Jay, “Can you believe this?”
His gaze is still fixated solely on me. There’s a dumbfounded expression on his face as if he is having a hard time wrapping his head around this one. He opens his mouth to say something but ends up closing it again, unable to come up with a solid reply.
He manages to recover ever so slightly as he stares down at me with a heated gaze, “W-when...how....” he stammers off after saying the only words that came to mind. “What?” he splutters, still baffled by the newfound fact.
“Psst,” I lean over to Grey and purposely whisper loudly as I watch Jay in curiosity, “what do you think is wrong with him this time?”
He answers me in sarcasm, “Gee, let me think,” he pauses dramatically and taps his chin in mock thought, “maybe he’s trying to come to terms with the fact that his all-time fantasy has just come true right before his very eyes. Once again, you’ve broken him.”
I glance over at Jay again with a raised brow as if waiting for him to admit it aloud. Nonetheless, he’s still at a loss for words. He merely manages a half-hearted scowl directed at Grey for deliberately revealing his secrets.
“Give him some time to process this,” Grey says to me, sending his friend a taunting grin as if having fun with this. “It’s a lot for him to take in. His world has just been flipped upside down. He’s gonna have an even harder time resisting now.”
Jay, breaking from his trance, turns his attention to his friend. A glare flickers across his face as his stare sharpens considerably, “Shut up man, you don’t know the half of it.”
“I know all the good parts though,” Grey mocks and then simply smirks at Jay, once again throwing the poor guy under a pickup truck in order to be driven over again and again and again.
I end up feeling sympathetic toward Jay, so I try to downplay it, “But I’m irresistible to everyone, Grey,” I correct him thoughtfully and stare up at the sky in wonder, “even to myself,” I glance at him and grin teasingly, “even to you.”
He rolls his eyes and pushes me off the hood of his car in response.
Jay shakes his head as if to pull himself from his thoughts. “Sorry,” he apologizes to me, “it’s just that you caught me off guard there,” he explains himself.
“So yeah...” I pause when silence cuts through the air, “I’m one of you guys now.”
“You’re making me feel nauseous,” Grey complains. “Don’t ever say that again.”
“Grey’s right though,” Jay starts with a slight waver to his voice, “the fact that you race now...” he scratches the back of his neck as if truly uncomfortable, “well uh,” he swallows and averts his eyes, “if I’m being honest here...” he pauses to think it through, now on the spot and under pressure, “might as well be blunt about it, it’s-”
“Nope, nope, no,” Grey shakes his head profusely in dismissal, “I tried, but I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t stay for this conversation. I’m out,” he says goodbye to Jay, sending me a final glare before leaving us be for the rest of the night.
Meh, it was fun well it lasted.
I shrug and refocus my attention back on Jay, ignoring the rumblings of Grey’s car as he vanishes out of sight, “You were saying?”
“Nothing,” he lies straight to my face, “forget it. It’s not important.”
“It is to me,” I insist stubbornly. I did not learn to race for him to not have him say anything about it, to not have him comment at all - no way!
He flips open the hood of his car again, checking his engine as if to keep himself busy so that we do not have to have this conversation, “Drop it, Aqueela,” he advises, keeping his steady gaze cast off of me.
“Please Jay, please,” I tug on his arm in a begging manner, “tell me, tell me, tell me!” I suck in a deep breath before continuing, “Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, I demand you tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, te-”
He slams the hood back down, having lost all his patience and self-control, and turns to face me directly, “It’s hot, okay. I find it attractive. I’m insanely attracted to you right now. There you go,” he ends bluntly, carelessly.
I move my head back in surprise at seeing the glimpse of past and gone Jay, “Way to make things ridiculously awkward, Taylor,” I joke in sarcasm.
Trust Grey to open a can of worms and then flee to safety! He threw a curveball at us and it hit me in the face.
Jay sends me a washed-up glare for making him say it. He crosses his arms across his chest as he defends himself, “You can’t race like a pro and then take your helmet off like that and expect me to stay sane. It’s you...racing. I can’t help it. You only have yourself to blame for this.”
I blink up at him in silence.
“This is exactly why I wasn’t going to say anything. I just made everything weird between us again,” he sighs in defeat.
“Oh good!” I huff teasingly. “I thought it was just me feeling the weirdness,” I kid with him, choosing not to spare his dignity.
He sends me a flat glare before turning around to walk away.
"Okay, fine fine, wait up,” I stop him, stepping in front of him to prevent him from leaving, “it’s not weird,” I disagree. “I find you, ‘attractive’ as you would say, all the time - especially when you’re racing and have that very sexy look of concentration on your face,” I confess in admission, revealing the truth to him. “You’re super hot 24/7, get over it.”
He groans in complaint and avoids my gaze, “See, now that really didn’t help me.” He hesitates and then shakes his head at me in disapproval, “Yeah no, you just made it that much weirder, Aqueela. I’m not going to stop thinking about that now,” he mutters to me.
A laugh trickles from my lips and my heart flutters at how serious he’s being. He’s making out as if this is a disaster - mind you, it probably is.
He clarifies his mindset further, “We’re finally in a good place now and I have no intention of stuffing that up. Friends are not supposed to be attracted to their friends.”
I suck up the courage to make my opinion known to him, “Then maybe we’re not meant to be friends.”
He nods solemnly, suppressing a grin, “I was thinking acquaintances too. We could even go for strangers.”
I glower up at him, well aware of his diverting tactics. He knows what I mean, he just doesn’t want to talk it out like a rational person. He is, hands down, the most stubborn person on the face of the entire universe.
“Don’t do that,” he says quietly when seeing that I’m not budging or warming up to his little joke, “don’t go there. I don’t want to get into all of that again.”
"Why? Why? Why, Jay? Why?” I emphasize, hoping to annoy him enough until he crumbles and breaks under my gaze.
“What it comes down to is the haunting fact that I should have gone after you. I shouldn’t have quit on you so easily. When you find something that good, you fight for it. We were great together. My mistake was ending ‘us’. I’ll always live to regret that.” He averts his eyes from mine and expresses his fear to me, “I’m sorry if I’m coming down hard on you, but I’m not completely sure I want to go down that road again.”
I nod in understanding, “That’s okay, I get-”
His fingers gently slide against mine as he brushes the edge of my cheek with his knuckles, “But then I look at you and I think...” he falters slightly, “if I could have all that again for just a day, then-”
I stand on my tippy toes and cut him off with an impulsive kiss.
His arm instantly materializes around my waist as he holds me closely to him and continues what I started. His lips brush lightly against mine for a third time before he tenses and takes a step back from me as if to distance himself entirely.
“This is exactly why I didn’t make a pass at you and do this sooner,” he shakes his head, his blue eyes boring into mine with regret. “I’m leaving in two months time, Aqueela,” he reminds me of the tragic fact, knowing that I’d forgotten for the last few seconds.
“I can’t bring myself to care right now,” I tell him earnestly, my heart pounding against my ribcage as if ready to fly away.
He grovels in remorse, “I’m sorry.” He takes another step back from me to stop himself, “I can’t...we can’t. I want this too, Aqueela. As much as I want all of this again, I can’t let it happen. Things are different now than they were back then. I don’t want things left messy between us before I go.”
I point out the facts, “We’ve always been messy.” I admit, “I like ‘messy’.”
“But I don’t,” he disagrees, “‘messy’ always makes me feel like I’m the one losing.” He sighs, his brown hair falling just above his eyes, “Look, I put myself out there, went out on a limb, and asked you to come with me to Tokyo. I realize how stupid that was. I just want to leave on a good note, you know? I can’t do that if I start things up with you again. It will be too hard to say goodbye and I don’t want that for you or for myself.”
“Alright,” I reluctantly agree, “we can just forget it.”
He picks up on my underlining tone of disappointment, “It’s not something I can just forget, Aqueela. I’m talking about putting it behind me for the meantime until I figure something out, ’cause right now,” he motions in between us, making me question the gap that is already separating us, “there’s no future here, and I’m genuinely sorry about that, but I can’t change what had been decided a couple years back already.”
“Jay, you don’t have to-”
“When you left, I couldn’t function properly. I lost my mind. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t focus, couldn’t eat. My every thought consisted of you - right down to the point where I got up thinking of you and went to bed thinking of you. My days started and ended with you. Food and everything else in between lost its taste. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t adapt to a life without you. I was empty inside and needed change. My solution was to get away from it all, that’s the reason why I signed that contract. I was doing what was best for me at the time,” he elaborates, clearing up any misconceptions. “You gotta understand.”
I nod in difficulty, “I know, I know.” I change topics for his sake, “Now leave it be and let’s go do something else.” I search his face with a piercing gaze, “You in or are you in?”
“So many options to choose from,” he replies with a faint smile tugging at his lips.
It easily becomes one of the most memorable nights of today. If he gave me a say, I would’ve skipped towns with him, just so that I could tell people that I skipped towns. However, he didn’t allow for it and I had to settle with exploring every nook and cranny of Burnsville instead. I opted for my camera and took a ton of photos, forcing him to be in most of them.
“I love watching the city wake up,” I say as we sit side by side atop his roof, the town slowly flickering up with light.
“The neighborhood,” he corrects as a chuckle resonates from his chest. “No one will be waking up anytime soon. It’s four a.m.”
“This might be the first time I will get the chance to see a sunrise,” I say, enthralled by the unfamiliar idea.
“Yeah? How come?” he asks. He catches on soon enough, a grin edging its way over his lips, “You’ve never got up early, have you?”
I scoff and take the liberty to correct him, “I used to get up really early when I was a baby.” I glance down to see all the renovations being done on Jay’s house by those ‘Dung Beetles’. “Oog’s really got his boys going to town on this revamping thing, huh?”
He nods, “They’ve even added secret tunnels and underground passageways that lead to all the different parts of the house. Apparently, they’re the only ones allowed to use the underground pathways. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found catacombs down there too.”
I laugh, highly amused by what Oog’s crew are always getting up to. Jay has a lot of patience in dealing with them.
“Here,” Jay randomly places something cold and smooth in my nearest hand. “I know your bills have got to be packing when staying at a hotel for so long. It’s just to help you out until I leave,” he explains, unfazed by the insinuation.
I look to him for a valid explanation.
He stares down at me in guilt, “I know what I said to you earlier about not starting things up again, but to hell with it, whatever happens, happens. I’m running empty on you, and I don’t want to see a repeat of this...” he gestures from himself to me, “fading out like the last time.”
I glance down to see the silver shining through the darkness. I quirk an eyebrow at him, perplexed by the intimate offer, “But this is a key to your house, Jay.”
“You should move back in.”