Chapter 35: The Flip Side
I stir when I feel slight movement beneath me. I lazily open my eyes to see him slowly getting up as if doing his best to not wake me. “Where are you going?” I ask him in a muffled voice, too tired to yank him back down to sleep some more.
He tenses at realizing that he’s woken me up. He runs his fingers through my hair in an act to comfort me as I nestle against his torso, “Sssh, sssh. Sorry for waking you. Go back to sleep,” he offers sweetly, staying with me a sec’ longer.
I close my eyes again but clasp tightly at the hem of his shirt when he tries to move away, “Nah-uh. I want to know why you’re leaving.”
He gently undoes my grip on him before sitting up and sliding out from under me, “Ssssh, doesn’t matter, you just focus on sleeping. That’s your priority right now.”
I stretch out and yawn before rolling over on my back to stare up at him, getting lost in the sea of blue before me, “What time is it?” I find myself asking as I beam up at him.
“About 4 a.m.” he answers as if it’s no big deal, as if it’s the norm.
My eyes visibly widen at hearing his answer, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you be a normal person and get up at one in the afternoon just like everybody else?”
“I’m going for an early morning run like I always do,” he tells me as he carefully stands up and reaches for a new shirt, not wanting to break the fort. “And no normal person wakes up at noon.”
Some people are just so strange...who would want to run and who would want to get up early to run? It’s just sick.
He glances back over at me after having put on the clean shirt, “I’d ask you to join, but I know for a fact that you hate breaking a sweat. I also know that if you don’t get at least ten hours of sleep a day, you’re practically a jerk to any living thing that you come across,” he says bluntly, calling it how it is, “so close those big hazel eyes of yours and go back to sleep.”
“You’re not supposed to let the girl wake up alone,” I scoff at him in protest, rubbing at my eyes tiredly, “it’s just not classy, you flippen idiot,” I say grumpily, barely aware of the conversation we’re currently having.
“That rule only applies if we actually did something,” he points out, “and you didn’t wake up alone,” he motions down himself, “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Yeah,” I mumble sleepily and incoherently with an unhappy pout, “but you’re still leaving me all alone, all by my lonely lonesome,” I hum in tune, creating a short song from the words.
He scratches the back of his neck sheepishly, “I’m sorry, won’t happen again.”
“Better not,” I mutter and cover myself with the countless blankets, blocking his presence out so that I can drift off back to sleep and dream of sleeping.
I shuffle awake when I feel a blanket drape over my face, tickling my cheek. Annoyed, I turn over and try to fall back asleep. However, soon after, a pillow falls from the fort ceiling before hitting me on my forehead.
“Why? But why? Just why?” I mumble my complaints as I pull myself to sit up. Just as I do, I notice that Jay’s missing. I sigh in remembrance, but my spirits are instantly lifted when Slobber runs into the fort and settles down beside me all too happily.
It’s only a second later when the entire fort caves in with me and Slobs in it.
“Best morning ever,” I say sarcastically as I gently grab hold of Slobber, fending for his little fluffy life as I try to locate the exit of the room through the weight of blankets and pillows atop of us. It’s a mission in itself.
When we finally make it out alive, I release a relieved breath and place Slobber back down to the floor. He’s not even shaken up by the trauma we’ve just undergone at all. We could have suffocated in there. They’d have to send in a search team just to find our bodies.
If ‘The Dung Beatles’ fort lasted only a day, then I’m scared about how much longer their tree house and Jay’s house will stand. They’re not exactly architects and their designs have proved, this morning, to be weak.
I grumble out grumpily to myself as I head down the passage. I slam open Zac’s door to wake him up too. If I’m moody, it’s only fair that he be too.
He awakes in a fright, having obviously been in a deep sleep.
“What the hell, Aqueela?!” he yells at me for waking him up, startled. “You’re the worst! You’re always the worst!”
He’s not exactly a morning person either.
I open the blinds, allowing the sun in. He hides his face under his pillow, casting off all rays of light. “I hate you,” I hear his muffled reply. When I don’t leave, he loses it. “Go away!” he roars angrily at me before throwing a pillow in my direction.
I close the door just in time to dodge the hit that could have been fatal.
I slam open Keagen’s door next, only to find him already up and dressed. My eyes widen in disbelief when I see him busy packing his clothes according to color, size, season - you name it. I love Max to bits, but this guy was meant for Bells. I may just believe in soulmates after all.
“Nice try,” Keagen shakes his head at me as if he’d been predicting this outcome. “I’m a morning guy,” he informs me with a victorious grin.
I gag at his peppy nature, “You make me sick!” I yell at him before banging his door closed, only to hear Zac shouting at me again from somewhere in his room to, and I quote, ‘stop the slamming of doors’.
“Oh sh*t,” Jay scratches the back of his neck as I bump into him on my way downstairs, a panicked expression on his face. He must have heard all the racket.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that he was just about to sneak back into the fort.
“Who woke you up early, again?” he asks wearily. “You’re petrifying when you haven’t slept for long enough.” He carefully places his hands on my shoulders and begins to push me back upstairs, “Go back to sleep. That’s what you need to do right now.”
I nod up at him mindlessly, my zombie side out on for display.
I stop walking when I spot a packed bag from the corner of my eye. I raise an eyebrow at Jay before folding my arms across my chest. “What is that?” I ask him glumly, expecting a legitimate answer. I begin to grow worried, and before he can answer, I chip in, “You better not be leaving early, Jay Taylor, or I’m gonna tear you a new one and you’ll never-”
“It’s a camping bag, Aqueela,” he clarifies before I get carried away any further. “Why do you think Keagen’s packing? We’re going camping.”
“Oh,” I say dubiously, absentmindedly taking in the black v-neck he’s wearing.
He just had to wear something tight that just so happens to display his lean muscles.
“Even if I were leaving early, it wouldn’t make much of a difference,” he states calmly, “either way, I’m still leaving.”
and I’m still staying...
“So I should pack?” I query, lost at this point. He could have told me sooner. I am nowhere near prepared.
“I already did for you,” he answers. “It was easy, you never unpacked any clothes out of your bag, so I just took the entire bag.”
“Should I get ready?” I follow my last question by that of another.
“Well...everyone is practically waiting just for you and Zac. They’re all outside. I hired three RVs. I’m driving one, Grey the other and Landon the third one. Pick your choice,” he tells me. “And well you’re at it, please tell Zac to get up and start packing. I’ve been in there a hundred times and each time he throws stuff at me. When he picked up the lamp, I was out of there for good.”
I roll my eyes at Zac’s childishness. The things he does for sleep.
I lazily glance up at Jay through my lashes, “But you said I should go back to sleep?”
“I’d make the others wait if you really need the sleep,” he explains himself. “I know how cranky you get when tired.”
I smile at him and his thoughtfulness before heading back up to Zac’s room. I open the door quietly, ignoring the creak as I march over to his bed. At seeing him back asleep, I flick his forehead to get him to wake the hell up. “Get up and start packing or I will suffocate you with your own pillow,” I threaten him, now keen on the camping trip.
“Don’t wanna,” he grumbles as he reaches out a limp arm to swat my hand away, but missing because he keeps his eyes closed.
“We’re going camping,” I say, hoping to persuade him into getting off his ass. “You have to pack,” I repeat, losing patience.
“I don’t need to pack, I will just go naked, just let me sleep,” he pleads, trying to convince me to leave him in peace.
He will be resting in peace if he doesn’t get up now!
“Desperate measures call for desperate actions,” I call loudly as I make a move to leave his room, knowing that he’d react.
He immediately jolts up, “Alright, alright, I’m coming!”
Yeah, he knows what I am capable of...
While waiting on Zac, I do my usual morning ritual. I take my sweet time in eating some cereal that Jay had already made for me. I retreat to Jay’s bathroom in order to brush my teeth. I quickly shower and wash my hair before getting out to change.
When I return back to Zac’s room, I’m not at all surprised to see that he’s fallen back asleep in the bed. He’s softly snoring to himself, breathing in and out deeply. He’s wrapped up in his blankets from head to toe, quite comfortable where he is. He clearly didn’t even bother to get up when I left the room. Sighing, I shake my head before grabbing a bucket of ice water as well as Oog’s blow horn...
Needless to say, it proves to be enough to finally get through to Zac.
I march back downstairs, ignoring his cursing, as I join all the others waiting out front.
“About damn time,” Grey scowls at me, tapping on his wristwatch as if to signify that I’m incredibly late.
“Hey Kitten,” Xavier greets me with a friendly smile.
“Hey loser,” I greet back.
He flinches at my hostile tone, “I’m changing your name from ‘Kitten’ to ‘Tigress’,” he informs me, “it’s more fitting these days.”
“Whatever, Kung Fu Panda,” I brush him off, uncaring.
“Do I look like Simo to you?” Xavier asks with a laugh, indirectly calling Simo fat. Emma forces him to apologize and I stifle a grin as a result.
“Right,” Jay says, catching everyone’s attention as he takes control with his leadership skills, “who wants to ride with who?”
“BroJay!” Troy shouts first, shoving everyone out of his way as he steps onto the RV before anyone else can choose Jay too.
Jay coughs awkwardly, “Yeah, Troy...” he grins, amused as he clears his throat, “wrong RV. That’s RV no.3 - the RV that Landon will be driving.”
Troy face falls as he wearily glances to Landon (who just so happens to be smirking) with much apprehension.
Landon breaks out into a cunning grin and raises an eyebrow at Troy, “You up for the challenge? Think you can handle me, buddy?” He intelligently, yet slyly, adds, “You should know, I tend to undergo road rage here and there.”
Troy cautiously steps off of Landon’s RV, knowing better than to annoy him. Landon’s condescending grin merely grows as a result. He’s most definitely satisfied that he won’t have to put up with Troy for hours on end in a small space that you cannot escape.
“I’ll be the navigator for you,” Sarah says to her boyfriend, breaking the uncomfortable silence, “that way I can be up front with you.”
“Sweet,” Landon agrees before glancing at the rest of us, “who else is down to go with us?” he motions from Sarah to himself.
“Oog down to rock and roll with ‘Ruthless’,” Oog says as he and his courageous squad consisting of FeeBee, Jam and Gland get onto RV no.3. They’re the only ones who are crazy enough to choose Landon of all people.
Sarah follows them inside just as Susie shrugs and does the same, having taken a liking to softhearted Sarah. Blubber glances longingly from ‘CoolGuyJay’ to Susie before shrugging and following after Susie.
“Simo go where son goes,” he insists before climbing onto RV 3 too.
“We got two spaces left,” Landon states, “going, going, going now at a free price of nothing.” When no one comes forward still, he randomly points to Benley and AJ. “You two,” he commands fiercely, “come,” he concludes in a way that clarifies that they don’t have a choice and that there will be nor arguing.
Benley gulps and nods profusely as he submits to Landon and quickly hops onto the RV, knowing that a refusal could cost him his worthless life. AJ, with a giddy grin at being chosen first, all too happily nods along to Lan’s orders before skipping her way onto the RV as well.
“That’s it, lock and loaded, catch the rest of you on the flip side!” Landon slams the RV door shut from inside before speeding off, not even caring enough to wait for the rest of us, not even stopping when Xavier calls after him. He leaves every man behind, only concerned for those who happen to be riding with him in his RV and his RV only.
Typical ‘Lan the Man’...
We all fall silent, watching the dust left behind from Landon’s RV.
“Well he’s definitely in no rush,” Keagen remarks in sarcasm.
“No kidding,” Dylan nods in agreement, probably wishing he could’ve at least had Benley on the road trip for company.
I giggle as a thought occurs to me, “Poor Benley, he’s stuck with all the crazy people, the exception being the absence of Troy.”
“Yeah, poor sap,” Troy laughs in agreement, nodding dumbly, unable to catch the insult aimed at him.
Grey turns to his racing buds, “You three with me?” he asks, his expectant gaze directed at Emma, Xavier and Dean. They nod in unison and join his forces, taking their first steps onto RV 2 - the RV of pure darkness.
I glance up at Jay, “Who’s going to take care of Slobber?”
“Decoda,” Jay answers. I frown. He smiles and taps my nose playfully, “Don’t worry, she may hate humans, but she actually loves animals. I would never leave Slobber with someone I didn’t trust. I don’t like her much, but I’d trust her with my life any day.”
Troy, at seeing the last RV available, sprints for it, well aware that it can only be the RV that Jay will be driving - RV no.1.
Jezel glares after Troy before spinning around to face Grey, “I’m going with you. I don’t want to be anywhere near Troy right now and I don’t care what you have to say about it.”
Grey rolls his eyes at the drama before opening the door of the RV for her to enter, “Wasn’t going to say anything,” he mutters with a shake of his head as he shuts the door after her.
“Yeah, sorry Taylor, I’m going with Grey on this one. That guy,” BossMan points after Troy, “just gets on my nerves. I’d rather not be in an enclosed space with him for a long period of time. As you know, I’ve been working on controlling my temper for several years and I just know he’ll undo all my hard work. He’s got the ability to get under peoples’ skins.”
“Understandable,” Jay nods, unoffended, “I hear you, man.”
Greg salutes him before getting comfortable in RV 2, “See you later.”
I grin at Jay knowingly, “So that’s where all your saluting came from?”
He shrugs, “I spent a lot of my days with him. I guess I picked up on some of his mannerisms.”
“Since all the sane people are in RV 2, so am I,” Keagen says, purposely avoiding me. He knows that chaos follows me.
“Same,” Dylan agrees as the two of them pass Grey by and get into the RV that Grey shall be driving.
I wouldn’t go with Grey. Should you piss him off, he’d deliberately drive the RV right off a cliff. He’d kill everyone just so spite the offender. It’s risky.
“See you in the RV, brother,” Mason winks at Jay teasingly, patting him on the back as he heads for RV 1, Laiken trailing after his best friend.
Jay scoffs and catches my gaze, “I hate it when he calls me that and he knows it.”
I smile, saying nothing because I can tell that Jay is suppressing a smile himself. His lips are tugging up at the corners, but he’s doing his best to resist the grin that wants to break across his features. He and Mason are starting to mend the drift between them and it’s cool to see it with my own eyes.
“You know we’re with you all the way, bud,” Kyle nods at Jay as he gestures to Leban and himself, making it obvious that they’ll be on RV 1 too.
“I’m not dying, Branson,” Jay chuckles, appreciative of his supportive South African friends.
“Ja, ons weet,” Leban grins jokingly, “ons stuff around net. Hierdie,” he motions to the RV, “gaan baie lekker wees. Ons gaan jol!”
“Something about stuffing around,” Jay says with a carefree grin, kidding with them, “my Afrikaans is improving by the day.”
“You’re hopeless,” Kyle shakes his head, teasing Jay.
Jay nods, “Yeah, I know. I’m hopeless in a lot of areas,” he admits aloud, unfazed by the fact.
Nancy contemplates her options. I notice her staring at me. She wants to spend some quality time with her cousin, but she’s deciding if dealing with me is worth it. She makes up her mind and turns to Grey, “How about I be your navigator?”
Placing his hands deep in his pockets, he hesitates before nodding, making a fast recovery from his initial shock, “Sure.”
“Let’s go Ryan,” Nancy calls to her boyfriend.
“Do we have to?” he whines like a three-year-old.
“Yes,” Nancy reprimands him, “now let’s go already,” she nags, close to scolding her toddler.
When he, still engrossed in his game, blatantly ignores her, she grabs him by the collar of his shirt before dragging him after her. She yanks him up onto the RV. Even still, he continues to play his game, paying no attention to her whatsoever.
“Want us to wait for the rest of you?” Grey asks Jay.
Jay shakes his head, “Nah, go ahead. We’ll catch up,” he assures Grey confidently before RV 2 leaves down the same road that Landon was last seen speeding down.
“Yesh!” Max fist pumps through the air repeatedly. He turns to Bells with an excited grin, “We’re riding with the cool kids!” he tells her, obviously referring to Jay and me.
“We were going to ride with Aqueela and Jay either way,” Bells insists, “they are, after all, our best friends.”
I wonder how Jay feels about being Bell’s best friend.
Jay, not bothered by Bell’s words, makes a show of swinging an arm around my shoulders instead before glancing down at me with a happy-go-lucky grin, “I’m assuming you’re gonna be my navigator.”
“You assume correct,” I nod with a peppy, upbeat smile, “but I will probably get us lost.”
“Luckily the thrill of getting lost is always exhilarating,” he says flippantly, messing with me.
“Oh my goodness, Zac! What the hell?!” I hear Bells shout and fling back around to see Zac wearing absolutely nothing just like he said he would. “Put on some clothes! You’re not even packed! Put on some clothes!”
“Don’t look!” Max shouts in panic before placing his hands over his wife’s eyes. It’s a good thing the triplets aren’t here right now. “That’s exactly what he wants!”
I cover my eyes just in time to hear Zac answer Bells with an invalid explanation, “I was rushed,” he says in an accusing tone and I just know that he’s looking at me, “I didn’t have time to pack, so I’m going like this,” he tells her, proving his point.
I never thought he’d actually do it, but he has no shame.
"Zac,” Mia warns, “you can’t go like that.”
“You wish I could though, right?” I hear him say back to her suggestively and can practically feel him smirking. “This is what happens when I am rushed. People, Aqueela and Jay, should know better than to rush me. As I said, this,” I know he’s pausing to motion down himself, “is what happens as a result of being rushed.”
“You lose all your clothes?” Max asks wittily.
“Cover up, no one wants to see your junk,” Laiken says as he hops off the RV to see what all the commotion is about.
“Mia does,” Zac argues, failing to see the flicker of irritation course through Laiken’s eyes.
“Yeah...” Mia nods then stops abruptly, “wait, what?!”
I turn around so that my back is facing Zac. I open my eyes to see Jay shaking his head, seemingly pissed off. He shrugs, “Can’t handle it, the madness is getting to me, someone sort it out!” he loses it before storming off, in need of some space to recover.
“Put on some clothes, Zac,” Mason protests in fury, “or we leave you.”
“Fine with me,” Zac answers, indifferent.
If Landon was here, all he’d have to do is crack his knuckles and we’d be off. Zac is petrified of him. If Grey was here, he’d be swearing a lot.
"Zac!” I shout, having lost all patience, “Go and get decent right this instant or I swear I’m going to rip off your limbs and feed them to Blubber and Simo! I’ll strangle you with your own tendons!” I huff with indignation, my fiery side awakening. “I want to go camping and I want to right now, so go and get changed right now!” I say through gritted teeth and clenched hands.
“Fine!” he yells back, complying, before I hear him trudging away to go and get changed. “But you should all know that this is a free country and I’m all for streaking and going around pantless when necessary!”
When is it ever necessary?
“Nice one,” Max fist bumps me, impressed, as he allows Bell’s her sight once again.
“Are people stripping now?!” Troy runs out of the RV, more than prepared to copy and do the same as Zac.
“No!” Bells and I scream at him simultaneously before he jumps to his own conclusions.
He pouts and snaps his fingers in dismay, “Aww man.”
If he stripped, Ryan would really think we’re a free loving group. He’d be horrified. Fortunately for him, he’s on RV 2.
“I’m going to go and make sure that he’s actually getting ready,” Mia informs up before disappearing inside the house just as Jay steps out and makes a reappearance.
“What’s up with the baseball bat?” Mason quirks an eyebrow at Jay in wonder.
“We’re going into the woods,” Jay shrugs as he swings the baseball bat around with one hand as if aiming for someone’s head, “it’s just in case we run into some trouble.”
“Oh good,” Mason jokes, “for a second, I thought you were going to use it on Zac.”
Jay grins mischievously as he flexes his arm, his muscles tightening, to repeatedly tap the tip of the baseball bat in his free hand, “You never know, it wouldn’t hurt to try.”
“It probably would hurt Zac though,” I argue, puffing out my cheeks unhappily. Zac’s annoying, but only I get to beat him to death with a baseball bat.
Jay angles his head to the side as he carefully inspects me, “Yeah probably, but he’s a pain. How do you tolerate him all the time?”
I could ask him the same in reference to him putting up with ‘The Dung Beatles’, which in my opinion are way worse than Zac...
“Because I love him like a brother, and when you love someone you take them as they are, not how you’d prefer them to be,” I answer him in ease.
Jay smiles and nods, actually agreeing with me, “Trust me, I know.”
“Zac was sleeping again,” Mia says with a roll of her eyes, a mopey frown imprinted on her features. “I had to bribe him with sweets, he should be down,” she explains, clearly aware of Zac’s obsessive need for sweets on a daily basis. He’d do anything for a packet of sweets. He says he has a sweet tooth, it’s just a pity his nature is so far from the word ‘sweet’.
“I’m ready, peeps!” Zac calls as he finally exits the house.
“Why do I always end up with the most chaotic group of people?” Jay questions aloud with a shake of his head. “No matter what I do, there’s always something crazy going on. It follows me around,” he complains, unimpressed.
I see what Jay is saying and raise an eyebrow at Zac when I see that he has no bag with him and that he’s only wearing sweats and nothing else, not even shoes. He’s barefoot. He’s going to be barefoot in the woods. Even Oog brought shoes with! Granted, he’s not wearing them, but he at least brought them with.
“How difficult is it to put on a shirt?” Bells queries, beyond ticked off with him.
“More difficult than putting on a bra, Bells,” Zac smirks tauntingly, choosing to rile her up further.
He would know...
“I am wearing a bra!” Bells raises her tone to her scary high-pitched tone as she makes a move to whack and attack, Max pulling her back before she can get the chance to commit a felony.
“That’s what they all say,” Zac retorts cheekily.
I open my mouth to make a comment too, but Jay nudges me - sensing that I was about to react - and shakes his head, waving the matter off with his hand, knowing that we’ll never get going otherwise, “Leave him. Leave her. Leave them. Leave it, just leave it.”
I nod submissively, obeying his advice as Zac passes me by with a cocky grin before hopping up into the RV. Bells glares after him, hands on her hips before she decides to flip him off, throwing away all ounces of her dignity left.
This is going to be a very, very long drive.
Max takes advantage of my tired mood as he continuously pokes me in my cheek whilst I try to catch up on some sleep.
“You can’t sleep. This our dream since high school, a road trip together!” Max exclaims as he takes delight in annoying me.
I open one eye to glare at him before legitimately threatening him, “I will kill you.”
“Yeah sure you will,” Max tests my patience, “you say that all the time, but never follow through on it.” He thinks about it, “How many times have you said that to me?” He taps his chin in mock thought, “Say an infinite amount of times?” He elbows me in the ribcage, “Huh, huh?” He grins in victory when I stay silent, “You can never go through with it because you love me. You love me like family.”
He asked for this...
I suck in a deep breath before rambling away, “When you and Bells were gone, I babysat the triplet with Zac and Grey. They got sick and Grey went crazy and barricaded all of us, including your precious babies, in a stuffy room with no fresh air. We all almost suffocated to death. Grey got hit with a shelf and there was a lot of blood that they had to endure through,” I purposely overexaggerate the story, remembering that Max specifically told me not to go anywhere near his kids whilst he and Bells were away.
I grin in satisfaction when Max’s grin slowly washes off of his face at hearing my words. He looks to Zac for confirmation. Zac shrugs in response, preoccupied with Mia.
“I will kill you!” Max suddenly snaps as he turns back to me.
I laugh in amusement at having the upper hand over him again, “And how many times have you said that one to me, huh?” I sit up straight and tap my chin in mock thought, “An infinite amount of times?” I grin deviously, “But you never go through with it because you love me!”
“Not anymore!” he hisses sulkily as he processes the information that was deliberately hidden from him.
“Nicely played,” Goku winks at me, “totally turned it on him.” He adds in a girly voice, “You got game, guurl.”
“And she’s pretty,” Leban remarks, catching me off guard by his apparent yet non-existent niceness.
“Thank you?” I arch an eyebrow in confusion, bewildered by his ‘out of the blue’ statement.
“And yet I still hate you with a passion,” he adds, immediately scowling down at me again, “just shows how much now.”
“That’s it! I’ve had it up to here!” I stand up and motion above my head to signify how angry I am. I make my way to the front where I know Jay is. I take a seat beside him in the passenger seat before closing off the dividing drapes, “Need a navigator yet?”
He nods, keeping his eyes and focus on the road, “Actually, yeah, I do. Perfect timing. I just passed the point where I knew where I was. From here on out, it’s unfamiliar, these roads are a mystery to me.”
“You sure you trust me with the map?” I ask, uncertain myself.
“More than I trust a GPS,” he answers, “those things drive me insane.” He grins wickedly, “I hate being told what to do.”
“Yeah, but a GPS is a lot more reliable, trustworthy and accurate than me,” I tell him knowingly. “I’m not smart enough for this kind of thing,” I insist, afraid that I’ll mess up - I can predict the future.
He takes his eyes off the road to spare me a single glance, “You’re smart just fine,” he says with a lopsided smile etched onto his lips. “Stop always doubting yourself.” He nods at me with sincerity in his eyes, “I trust you, and that’s good enough for me.”
If only he knew beforehand that trusting me would be his biggest mistake yet...
“Aqueela?” Jay asks me quietly as if restraining himself from lashing out at me.
“Yes, Jay?” I answer with a sheepish grin, having a clue of how the outcome is going to turn out.
“Are we lost?” he questions me in an interrogating tone of voice. I shake my head in response, adamant that we’re not. He arches an eyebrow my way, skeptical, “Really?” he asks flatly, seeing right through me, “Because I feel like we’re lost. I have no idea where we are and I’m pretty sure that you have no idea either.”
I shrug before confessing to my sins, “Yeah, fine, okay, we’re lost. Whoopie doo! Big deal.” I jump in to defend myself before he can accuse me of any more, “But I’ve been reading the map just like you said and all my instructions have been correct thus far.”
He pulls over and stops the RV on the side of a lonely looking road. He shifts in his seat to face me, staring at me with an indecipherable expression on his face, “I really hate fighting with you, but seriously Aqueela, why?”
I wince, “I’m sorry.”
“Why are we stopping?” Max asks from somewhere in the back. We both ignore him, unconcerned with him as of now. He’s the last thing we need right now. He has a tendency, a knack if you will, to create chaos when there needn’t be any.
Jay thins his lips in concentration as he analyzes the map I’m currently holding. He sighs and hits his fist against the steering wheel in frustration. He tips his head back against his seat before cursing beneath his breath.
“What is it?” I ask him. “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” I rattle on, perplexed.
He turns to look at me, finally giving me his time of day, “The map is upside down, Aqueela.”
I blink up at him as I register his words.
He clarifies for my sake, “You’ve been reading the map upside down the entire time.”
I cringe, rearing back away from him, “Oopsie?”
He stares at me for a second longer before a ghost of a smile traces his lips. He shakes his head just as a chuckle resonates from his chest, “I don’t even have it in me to stay mad at you.” He grins slightly, “We’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, alienated, and I still can’t even be mad at you.”
“That’s because your arc in this story is to be the peacemaker,” I wink at him playfully, relieved that he’s already forgiven me.
He returns my smile before explaining what we’re going to do about the situation, “So the plan is to just act normal. I’m gonna keep driving and get us back on track. Nobody else needs to know about this.”
The drapes part as Max steps into the front of the RV where Jay and I are, “Know about what?” He sees our expression and elaborates, “The partition isn’t soundproof, you know? We can hear everything you guys talk about. The drapes aren’t impenetrable walls.” He gives us a reason for his sudden appearance, “I needed to speak to you guys privately without starting a hype. I have to pee and I know that if everyone else needs to pee too, we’ll never get to the campsite on time.”
Jay ignores Max and cuts to the chase by starting up the RV again - except, it doesn’t start. He tries again, only to fail again.
“Jay, what’s happening? You have to tell me, the people are starting to grow nervous and antsy. Just see for yourself,” Max says, parting the drapes for us to see the rest of them doing their own thing, not bothered or fazed in the slightest.
Jay sends Max a flat stare, not convinced.
“Their fear prevents them from acting out and saying something,” Max lies, defending his theory that he keeps deterring from.
I shake my head at Max and close the drapes again, separating Max, Jay and me from the others.
Jay, determined, continues to keep turning the key in the ignition, but still, the RV refuses to start. He gives up and turns to me in defeat, “We’re out of gas.”
“How did this come to be?” I ask him dramatically.
“I planned to stop at a gas station ages ago, but you gave me wrong directions,” Jay reminds me in an accusing manner.
“Oh yeah...” I falter in thought, aware of my mistake yet not willing to acknowledge it.
“So now, we’re officially out of gas,” Jay sighs at the conclusion he’s drawn out for us.
“Out of what now?” Max asks, his voice taking on a squeakier tone, signifying his upcoming anxiety about to be unleashed on the rest of us.
“We’re out of gas,” Jay repeats calmly, “but don’t say anything,” he glances from Max to me hesitantly as if predicting what we might do, “the last thing we need is to create a panic.”
Max nods, “Agreed.”
“Great,” Jay replies in turn.
Max opens the drapes before turning to the others and shouting out loudly, “We’re out of gas! Everyone, we’re out of gas! I repeat, there’s no gas left in the tank!” He continues on ranting and raving immaturely, “Panic! Scream! Run for your lives! Save yourselves! Men first! Women and children last!”
“I really need to start expecting the unthinkable more often,” Jay mutters to himself as chaos begins to unravel before him.
Bells glances to Jay instead of Max, “What’s going on?”
Max buts in by getting all up in her face, shaking her back and forth by her shoulders as he breaks out into panic, “Are you deaf, woman?! We’re completely out of gas! We’re completely empty! There’s nothing left! Nothing!”
“We’ve talked about this over and over again, Honey,” Bells pushes him out of her space bubble, “please don’t yell directly into my face.”
Laiken shifts his attention to Jay, cool and collected as ever, “I just need to know beforehand, in case I need to cancel future plans, are we going to die?”
Jay begins to shake his head, but he’s overridden by Max’s urgent shouts of pure panic, “Yes, Laiken, yes! Yes, we’re all going to die! I’m telling you right now, we’re all going to die! By the time they come for us, we’ll all be dead already! We’re definitely all going to die, no doubt about it!”
When Jay remains silent, everyone’s heads snap to me for an explanation. I shrug, clueless as always, as I set the final spark to the fire, “Possibly.”
Max might definitely possibly die, that’s just judging by Jay’s facial expression...
“We’re going to all die in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere!” Max shouts again, just to make sure that the people will react in the way he wants them too. “Oh, what a way to go! Just kill me now instead!”
I might just yet...
Immediately, everyone falls into panic mode, fear surging through them as they all begin to shout as dramatically as Max had just been doing.
“Thanks a lot, Aqueela, thanks a lot,” Jay shakes his head at me as he rests his face against the steering wheel, feeling beyond hopeless at this point. They’re all helpless and there’s nothing he can do to stop the uncalled for panic.
I speak above the voices as I grab the walkie talkie, “Mayday! Mayday! RV 1 down! RV 1 to RV 2, come in. Mayday! RV 3 come in, come in RV 3!”
Just as I’m about to lose all hope, RV 2 comes through on the device.
“If it’s Aqueela, ignore her,” I hear Grey say to Nancy from the background.
“RV 2 is currently on standby and will only pull rank and deploy our troops if proven to be completely necessary. Until then, man your stations,” Nancy says before I lose connection with her.
RV 2 has the worst rap sheet of world history. Captain Grey is good for nothing, always so self-involved.
“RV 3 here,” I hear Sarah’s voice from the other side of the walkie talkie, “we’re getting some reports of misconduct, what seems to be the problem?” I hear her argue with Landon before she asks more questions, “What is the situation? What is your location? Have you been compromised? Is the mission breached? Over.”
“Too many questions, Sar,” I laugh amidst the panic going on around me. I go back into character and take on a serious tone of voice, “We may need some special force task teams to infiltrate and send us gas, stat. It’s code red. Over.”
“It’s a trick to get us to turn back,” Captain Landon says to Sarah, his voice coming through on my side. “We’re almost at the campsite, no stopping us now.”
I can hear everyone singing ’The wheels on the RV go ’round and ‘round’ on RV 3, the ‘Dung Beatles’ leading it, whereas Captain Grey’s RV background, was more quiet and peaceful with less chatter.
“We can’t help you,” Sarah says apologetically, on her boyfriend’s terms, before leaving us hanging like RV 2, “over and out.”
I lose connection with them too.
“Are they sending out help?” Max asks. “Are we going to be rescued?”
I shake my head.
“We’re being left for dead!” Max starts up the hysteria once again, just when I thought the panic was dying down.
“Look at the bright side, there’re no zombies,” I joke.
“This isn’t a game, Aqueela!” Max snaps at me, hyping everyone up.
“‘Left for Dead’ is actually a game, Max,” I point out in a matter-of-fact way.
He’s so rude. I wish a dementor would just come and suck away what’s left of his soul.
“You don’t understand, Aqueela. You just don’t know! You just don’t! You don’t know! You don’t know, Aqueela! You don’t know!” he barks at me like some violent and ruthless puppy.
I thought I was the over-dramatic one...
I start tapping away against the dashboard of the RV before humming a tune in the hopes of calming Max down with some classics, “Ee-e-e-oh-mum-oh-weh, ee-e-e-oh-mum-oh-weh-”
Jay catches on and reluctantly joins in, “Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh. Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh. Wimoweh, wimoweh-”
I take the lead, making my voice go high like a super-soprano, “In the RV, the mighty RV, the Maxi-pad sleeps tonight!”
“Not working!” Max cuts us off, interrupting our magnificent duet. He narrows his eyes at me accusingly and points to the closed off area of the RV, “Go to the back. Go to the back and sit by yourself.”
I gasp, “How dare you?!”
“Question!” Troy raises his hand and unintentionally adds to the chaos, “Who are we going to eat first?”
His questions merely amount to more panic and more arguments and ultimately more anxiety.
“I vote Aqueela,” Leban speaks up, “she got us into this mess, after all.”
“Let the records show that I am not to blame!” I protest in debate.
“We really are going to die, aren’t we?” Laiken voices his concern once again.
"Of course we are!” Max insists, instilling the thought into all of their heads as he slowly brainwashes them, each of them becoming indoctrinated by his captivating words of death.
“Then here goes nothing,” Laiken leans forward and kisses Mia.
Zac immediately yanks him off of her before tackling him to the floor.
Desperate, I glance over to the conflict resolver himself only to find him banging his hand against the steering wheel repeatedly whilst muttering obscenities under his breath.
Jay lifts his head when he feels my stare, ”This,” he gestures to everyone panicking and then to Laiken and Zac rolling around on the floor as they continue to fight, people minding their step because of them, “is exactly what I didn’t want to happen.”
“Blame Max,” I pause, “Urkel as I like to call him,” I shift responsibility, “he should solely be held accountable for this mess.”
Jay glares at Max as a result, “Why don’t you just tell them that we’re lost too?”
Max’s eyes bulge out of his skull upon hearing the new revelation of news, “We’re lost?!”
Jay slaps his forehead as everyone begins to shout louder, at the top of their very voices as they are swept further along the current of mass hysteria.
Troy creeps his way over to us, bidding us forth to engage in secret communication with him, “Pssst! It’s about Jezel. I have some sensitive information I need to disclose with you. It’s confidential. Call it a special assignment, if you will.”
“Yeah?” Jay decides to humor him seeing as he has nothing better to do.
“BroJay, if this is it, and if you’re the only survivor, then I need you to tell Jezel that I love her,” Troy whispers, keeping his voice on the down low as he pauses to build up suspense, “...she’ll know what that means.”
“You sure?” Jay asks sarcastically. “You sure she’ll know?”
“Absolutely,” Troy nods as if undercover as he surveys the area and keeps on glancing around as if cautious, as if a double agent of some kind. He vanishes into thin air after that...well actually, he falls flat on the floor - face first - and stomach-crawls away like an insect that I sincerely hope gets crushed under someone’s heel.
I set a pleading gaze onto Jay, “At least do something about the fight.”
He meets my gaze and stares at me for a second longer before getting up and stepping over Laiken and Zac. He crouches down before yanking Zac off of Laiken. Zac, enraged with everything and everyone upon seeing his best friend’s betrayal, makes a move and goes to punch Jay in the face.
“Alert, alert! Hostile forces attacking!” I warn Jay, “Incoming hazard!”
Jay sees it coming and easily side-steps him, dodging him by merely angling his head away ever so slightly. Zac, misinterpreting his aim and distance, runs passed Jay and slams his fist into the side of the RV instead.
Jay stays in place with eyebrows raised at seeing Zac go down so easily. He shrugs, tilting his head to the side before licking his lips and grinning pridefully. It’s all accompanied by a boastful smirk of victory too.
I watch Jay take out his phone and dial a number. It’s not long before I see him speaking to someone and I just know that that someone is Grey.
“Everyone, shut up and listen!” Jay commands gruffly and fiercely, having lost all his patience.
The panic begins to die as they sort of quieten down.
Jay turns to the last of them panicking before placing his phone on speaker, only for all of us to hear Grey’s voice coming through on Jay’s phone, “You idiots can stop panicking. I’m getting gas now and then I’m making a u-turn for you morons because Landon refuses to go back. Now stop giving JT such a hard time. You’re all pathetic. However, I don’t want any of you blaming yourselves for this, I want you all blaming Aqueela. I can bet that it’s all her-”
Jay presses a button and ends the call before Grey can insult me any further. He glances at all of us with irritation laced in his eyes, “Can you all calm the hell down now?” he asks with a sigh of despair. “I’ve had enough. My ears are ringing.”
Everyone instantly relaxes and quietens down again upon hearing that we’re going to be saved.
“Now I’m going to go outside for a breath of fresh air and when I come back, I expect peace and order in the land again,” Jay commands, squashing Max’s ‘Reign of Tyranny’ once and for all as he heads out into the darkness, night-time having now come.
I cross my arms over my chest, fervently nodding along to everything that he is saying, signifying my ‘second in command’ status in this RV.
“I’m sorry for getting us lost,” I apologize to everyone, regretful of not being more careful.
“No qualms, Leech,” Mason speaks up as he turns to Laiken, “I’m sorry for not having your back in that fight with Zac.”
“I’m sorry for kissing Mia,” Laiken apologizes to Zac, remorseful of his impulsive actions. He turns to Mia, “I’m sorry for kissing you.”
“I’m not sorry for kissing you back,” she reveals much to Laiken’s ever growing grin and Zac’s unstoppable frown.
“I’m sorry for stepping on your back,” Bells apologizes to her brother.
Troy nods thoughtfully as he stares at his sister with nothing but love. He places a hand on her arm, “And I’m sorry you exist,” he says it so genuinely that it seems it is coming from the heart.
“You should be sorry for that apology,” Bells swats his hand off of her arm, used to her brother’s tactics of meanness.
“I’m sorry for shouting a lot,” Leban apologizes to everyone in general.
“Same here,” Kyle agrees before adding, “and I’m also sorry for trying to smash the windows and bash open the door when I could’ve just thought rationally and logically about it. I could’ve asked Jay for the keys to unlock the door instead. I wasn’t thinking straight. I got caught up in the panic, as did everyone else.”
“I’m sorry for hating you both right now,” Zac scowls at Mia and Laiken, evidently hurt.
Once we’ve all apologized, we turn to Max expectantly, waiting on him for his apology. He blinks innocently at us before smiling at each of us, sighing in content. He clears his throat, “And I forgive,” he puts emphasis on his next four words, ”each and every one of you.”
He’s spineless and has no sense of accountability whatsoever.
“You realize that you created all the panic, right?” Goku asks him with a shake of his to convey his disapproval.
Max scratches his head, feigning ignorance, “Did I?”
"Yes,” we all answer in unison, exasperated with him and his nonsense.
“But did I really? It just doesn’t sound like me or something that I would do,” Max stupidly tries to defend himself against many witnesses.
“I’m out of here,” Leban comments as he steps off the RV, having lost his patience to put up with Max too. He can no longer tolerate his presence.
We all follow after him, joining Jay outside. I speak for everyone when I say that we’re all in dire need of some fresh air to breathe in.
Unsurprisingly, Troy is first to run back inside once everyone is out. “Screw you all!” He locks the RV from inside before we hear him cackle madly to himself. “It’s personal guys, I need to preserve my body heat! You’re all gonna freeze and die out there! Wild animals will feast on your flesh and you will not be able to fend for yoursleves! Every man for himself! I’ll be the only survivor courageous enough to tell the story to all the generations to come!”
Jay shakes his head, “The guy is a sociopath, I’m convinced of it.”
Max opens his mouth to start yet another panic, but I quickly slap a hand over his mouth before he can say or do anything.
Jay holds up his keys and dangles it for everyone to see, “Relax, I’m sure we’ll get back in just fine.”
Everyone blows out their individual breaths of relief, glad that we’re not locked outside to die.
I grin and climb up the ladder leading to the roof of the RV. I lie down on my back, arms folded behind my head, as I glance up at the stars twinkling overhead across the clear sky. Life may not always be perfect, but it sure is pretty close.
Hey all :)
1. Any of you act like Zac in the morning?
2. If you could choose which RV you’d go in, which would you pick and why?
3. Would you have trusted Aqueela with the job of being the navigator? Would you be mad at her if she got you lost?
4. Did Max react to the news appropriately or blow it way out of proportion? Would you have acted like him?
5. If you were Landon, would you turn back to help Jay’s RV?
6. Who would you eat first if on Jay’s RV?
7. Team Laiken or Team Zac?
8. Were you expecting Grey to go back for them?
9. If you had the opportunity, would you lock your friends out of a RV too?
10. Which character did you pity most in this chapter?
Thanks for everything! You guys are super awesome! :D