Chapter 40: Silver Lining
“Why are you being so weird, Goku?” I ask Kyle as he, Leban and Greg lead us all down to the lake, each with a skip to their step.
He merely grins, angling his head slightly as he juts out his thumb, pointing in the direction of the open water set before us.
I glance up and follow his pointed gaze. An excited gasp leaves my lips at the sight, “Is that Jay?” I question upon seeing him speed passed us on a jet ski.
“Obviously,” Leban rolls his eyes at me. “A blind person would have figured it out before you,” he insults, being a jerk as always. I’m not fazed by him anymore.
“He’s rented out those powerful jet skies for the day,” Kyle explains, filling the gap. “It cost him a fortune, but he wanted to surprise everyone. It was all his idea. He wanted a water day and he was adamant in making it happen.”
Emma and Xavier’s speedboat is broken.
I throw an accusing stare at him and Leban upon hearing the news. “You two knew about this all along?” I state more than ask, aware of the answer.
Kyle simply winks at me, unashamed and proud.
“Why do you think I suggested the lake?” BossMan asks, speaking up, making it apparent that he was in on it too.
“Because you wanted to feel what it’s like to be young again?” Landon jokes, nudging Greg in the side teasingly.
Fortunately, Greg is a sport and merely laughs Landon off.
“I’m relieved,” Benley whispers from beside me so that only I can hear him, “for a second there, I really thought he just upped and left without saying goodbye.”
“Me too,” I confess to him quietly, comfortable enough to convey how I feel.
“It’s totally his style,” Benley adds thoughtfully.
I smile to myself as I carefully ponder over it, watching Jay zoom passed us a second time as if thoroughly enjoying himself. “Maybe he’s changed his style.”
“Maybe,” Benley agrees, suppressing a smile of his own. “I’ll be glad if he finds a way around this.”
“He’d need a loophole,” I reply, having thought it out in my head a million times already.
“I know,” Benley nods confidently, “that’s where lawyers come in.”
It takes me a second to catch his gist. I arch an eyebrow his way. “Are you serious?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he responds softly, “but just keep this under wraps for now. I don’t need a scene. Just try and get your hands on that contract Jay signed. I want to check it out.”
Elated, I clap my hands in joy and squeeze Benley tightly, grateful for his efforts.
“Suffocating,” he breathes weakly, on the brink of passing out.
I send him a sheepish look when realizing. I release him and take a step back. “Sorry,” I apologize, “but I could really just kiss you right now.”
“You’re that desperate, huh?” Troy smirks down at me, having eavesdropped on the entire conversation. “That’s a new low, even for you, Squirt,” he says, insulting both Benley and me in the process.
I curse beneath my breath.
Of all the people here...
“Troy, you can’t say anything,” I reprimand, hoping to hell that he’d listen for once. “Not everyone knows yet.”
“BroJay is going to be crushed when he finds out that you’re cheating on him with BroBenBen,” Troy remarks, displeased with what he thinks he has heard. “I disapprove. If you don’t tell him, I will...” he pauses dramatically, “force Max to.”
Benley scoffs, “I don’t think we have anything to worry about. It went right over his puny head.”
“Clearly,” I say, agreeing with him.
Troy Story has no idea. If he did, he’d blurt it out to everyone. Jay would be infuriated with the lack of discretion on my part.
“Don’t mind me, lovebirds,” Troy waves us off as he not so subtly ventures off, “I’ll just be going now.”
He’s going to tell everyone that Benley and I are dating...
Screw it! I’ll deal with him later. He’s not a priority, never is.
“Let’s just be happy that Jay’s still here,” BoyBand reverts back to the previous topic as soon as Troy’s out of earshot. He’s gone to go and annoy Mason instead. He has it out for him ever since the breakup with Bells.
“I am,” I interject, “it’s just-”
“I saw your face, Aqueela,” Benley interrupts, understanding. “I know. You thought he’d left you. I know.”
I nod, saying nothing more.
This morning, when I saw that he was gone, hit me like a ton of bricks. I was legitimately scared out of my wits. I didn’t tell the others, in case I was wrong, but I was petrified that he just left, just like that.
“I don’t think I can stand idly by and watch him leave, Ben,” I openly express my fears to him, still hurting over the entire ordeal. “I need to do something, anything.”
“You got me,” he reassures, “and I’m gonna try and help.” He pauses thoughtfully, “In the meantime, I’d talk to Decoda if I were you. You might just get through to her.”
“Highly doubt it,” I shake my head, disagreeing, “that woman is just plain uptight and frightening.”
She’ll be too close-minded to relent. She doesn’t care about Jay, not truly. She’s just looking out for herself. Ultimately, it comes down to money. It always does.
“You gotta try,” he persists, managing to convince me.
“I know,” I nod, “and I will,” I conclude firmly.
“What’s all the chit-chat about?” Dean asks, throwing a careless arm around my shoulders. “Are we gossiping about Grey again?” he asks loudly, earning himself a glare from Mr. Grumpy himself.
“What do you want, Wyatt?” I ask him, straight-forward. It’s not often we talk unless he’s flirting with me or irritating me -- those being the two exceptions.
“Just saying hi,” he defends himself and flinches when seeing that Benley’s expression matches mine, “jeez, tough crowd.”
“Tell me about it,” Troy reappears, dropping in to have his worthless say.
I elbow him in the side, nudging him away from me. He and Dean will not make for a good combination -- terrible company.
Troy scowls down at me before he stomps off toward his sister and Max instead, pretending to be fed up with the world. I think the world is fed up with him.
“In a mood?” Dean raises an eyebrow at me, then at Troy’s back, not used to us acting out.
I cross my arms over my chest and huff at him in response.
“You...Grey...Landon permanently...even Troy...who’s next?” Dean questions aloud, disappointed that everyone around him seems to be having a horrible day. “Smile, Furby,” he encourages, flicking my forehead playfully.
I swat at his hand but end up grinning in the process much to his ever growing smirk.
“You guys just gonna stand and stare all day, or you gonna actually get in the water?” Jay asks, stopping the jet ski in front of us.
I watch as he jumps off and strides his way, in only his boardshorts, through the cool water up to the rest of us.
His wet hair is in a messy disarray of wild spikes, droplets running down the side of his face, his thick eyelashes framing his electric blue eyes.
“Looking good, huh Jay?” Jezel winks at him teasingly, a twinkle in her eyes as she takes in his shirtless form. “You ever get sick of racing, you join me, alright? You’ll have a bright future as a model,” she tells him confidently, meaning only well.
Now feeling uncomfortable, he raises a hand and carelessly runs it through his hair, offering her a half-smile as he dismisses her words. “Thanks,” he replies back meekly.
I fail at fighting back a grin. He doesn’t take compliments well, never has.
He recovers, placing a lifejacket on, before grinning at all of us expectantly, silently beckoning us all in.
“Whoo!” Kyle’s the first to make a run for the water, AJ taking second place.
BossMan follows with a grin, diving head first once he’s deep enough in. Grey sighs and lazily flings off his shirt before reluctantly wading through the water to join them.
“I’m always pregnant at the worse of times,” Emma complains, unable to participate in any of the water sports.
“This is the first time you’re pregnant, Emma,” Sarah laughs lightheartedly, her crystalline eyes lit with happiness as she glances down silently to admire her engagement ring for the billionth time since receiving it.
“And the last time you’re pregnant, Em,” Landon buts in, narrowing his eyes at his sister, as well as Xavier, in warning.
You’d think he’d be less protective now that she’s married...
“Is there a reason you’re looking so glum, Leech?” Mason asks me as he passes me by, gesturing me forward.
“It’s nothing,” I lean back and put on a smile, watching him as he takes off to the water with the others.
He sends me a thumbs up, wasting no more time as he sets his sights on the wakeboarding ahead of him where Jay happens to be.
“Yeah,” Keagen makes his way over to me when noticing that I’m not quite as eager as the others, “I also don’t want to get my hair wet.”
I shake my head, “Yeah, ’cause that’s the reason why I’m not participating,” I remark in sarcasm, sparing him from patronization.
“Someone who gets me,” Bells smiles and motions over to Jezel standing beside her, the two of them avoiding the water as well.
Keagen high fives the two of them, pleased that he’s not alone.
I look over to BoyBand, “What’s your excuse?”
He crosses his arms over his chest and quirks an eyebrow down at me, “You know I hate water anything.”
I nod, aware of the facts. “This is true.”
Last time, he was thrown into the water by Landon and his cronies. In fact, LeyLey always seems to be meeting with water against his will because of Lan.
“Exactly,” Ben nods profusely.
From the corner of my eye, I spot Jay setting up for the wakeboarding. He glances up and meets my gaze with a smile. I don’t return it.
As his smile fades, I come to see the question roaming behind his features, yet still, he says nothing. I avert my gaze until he gets the hint. He catches on quickly and looks elsewhere as he continues on with his preparations.
“Why the glare?” Bells asks when seeing the small exchange. “I thought you two were good now.”
That was before the writing was on the wall.
“We are,” I sigh, “I mean, we were...” I falter, staring at him from a distance as he hops onto the wakeboard. “Nevermind,” I trail off, unable to explain the situation to her, not yet, not until Jay tells them all himself.
Still, I have to look for the silver lining. There has to be a silver lining. I’d prefer gold lining, but silver lining will do.
Landon takes to the jet ski, ready to take Jay wakeboarding, ready to make Jay bail and somersault through the waves.
I hear the start of the engine, but ignore it, distracted by my own thoughts.
“Woah,” Benley whistles a minute or so later, “I gotta give credit where credit is due, your boy’s got talent. Wreckless yet skilled, impressive.”
I follow his gaze to see Jay twisting and rotating the wakeboard in every possible direction, adding a complete flip every now and then when lifting off the water. I can tell that he’s having a blast.
“Honestly not surprised anymore,” I say, used to Jay and his insane stunts of bravery.
These parkour people, what can’t they do? Jay has a taste for the adrenaline rush, he should just perform extreme stunts for a living.
“Still surprises me every time,” Bells confesses, astounded, biting at her nails as if worried of an imminent injury occurring.
Jezel continues to watch on in fascination.
As Landon picks up speed, Jay’s board lifts high off the water yet again before dropping back down swiftly at an angle. It seems it’s going to be a bumpy ride for Jay, but judging by his wide grin, he’s still going strong.
“This is why I hate water sports. I think I’m going to puke,” Benley grumbles, blocking his eyes when Jay does the unthinkable.
He dare upchuck on me!
When high enough, Jay maneuvers himself and the board in such a way that he backflips right off the water. For a split second in time, he’s completely upside down, his head tilted to the water. He somehow manages to get himself back upright before landing.
“I could do that in my sleep...blindfolded,” I mutter, annoyed by the praise he’s receiving when he doesn’t even deserve it.
“And break your neck, yeah?” Keagen winks at me, chuckling at the view I have on myself.
“She’s invincible, remember?” Benley teases, elbowing Keagen as he humors me.
I spin around to glare at BoyBand in warning as I dish out a threat his way, “Be careful or it will be your neck that breaks.”
“So you’re obviously pissed at me for something,” Jay states, clueless, following after me as I try to walk away from him.
I ignore him and keep on walking.
“Aqueela?” he calls from behind, concerned. “C’mon. Will you at least talk to me?”
One step in front of the other, Aqueela...
When I don’t stop, he goes after me again.
He catches up almost immediately and grabs hold of my arm to gently turn me around to face him. His gaze roams my face as he inspects me calculatingly.
I squirm under his intimidating gaze and avert my eyes from him a second time.
“You can’t even look me in the eye,” he points out perceptively. “What did I do to make you this mad at me?” He sighs when I don’t answer him, “Aqueela, c’mon,” he pleads as if desperate, “I’m trying my best here. You don’t get mad just because. I must have done something.”
I stare up at him blankly, folding my arms over my chest before I turn on my heel and walk away a third time.
I hear his persistent steps following in my wake.
He suddenly outdoes me and steps in front of me, effectively stopping me. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
“Why did you give me this?” I motion down to the chain hanging from my neck, the one with the cross pendant.
He falls silent, his eyes filled with an apology of a broken promise.
“Your bags were packed this morning,” I remind him of what he already knows. “You were going to leave,” I say quietly, now knowing the truth -- his face says it all. “You were going to leave without even saying goodbye,” I whisper, hurt.
“Aqueela, just hold up a sec-”
“It’s why you gave me the this,” I hold up the chain, “it’s because you knew, you knew that you were going to be gone by morning. You planned it. It was your way of saying goodbye without outright saying it.”
“Yeah,” he owns up to it, “maybe so, but c’mon, Aqueela, I thought better of it. I didn’t go through with it. Doesn’t that count for anything?” he reasons, making an attempt to sway me over to his side.
I consider it for a second before shaking my head. “No. It doesn’t.”
“I’ve never faired well with goodbyes,” he confesses, successfully justifying it in my eyes as he hesitantly reveals a weakness of his.
“Yeah,” I agree, sending him a faint smile, shedding some light on him, “you suck at them,” I clarify.
He nods, glancing down at the ground to smile, “Fair enough, I deserved that one.”
I beam up at him when he meets my gaze, having already forgiven him. “You’re lucky you’re so likable, Taylor.”
“I am?” he asks with a ghost of a smile tracing the edges of his lips.
“You are,” I confirm, adamant.
“Good,” he grins before pointing over to the jet ski, “now are you up for a ride?”
“I’m always up for anything.”
I laugh aloud as the wind blows my hair about, my heart racing. The water bubbles up and splashes at our ankles, making the experience all the more incredible.
Jay tosses me a grin over his shoulder. I return it with zealously.
“You’ll never win!” I call to Dean, hoping he’d be able to hear me over all the noise.
Wyatt demanded a jet ski race. He’s convinced that he stands a chance at beating Jay on water.
“Watch me pass you!” Dean calls back as he does, in fact, that and passes us by.
“He’s undefeated!” I protest, urging Jay to speed up before we lose to Wyatt.
That would be downright embarrassing.
Jay seems to think so too because he suddenly steps it up a notch, no longer holding back. He takes a sharp turn on the water, throwing Wyatt off his game. I grasp onto Jay’s waist tightly, in turn, fearful that we might flip over.
Instead, I end up slipping off the jet ski before sliding face-first into the water.
Apparently, I wasn’t holding onto him tight enough.
The first thing I hear upon resurfacing is the sound of Jay and Dean’s laughter.
I scowl up at them when neither make a move to help me out of the water. “I tell you what, chivalry is dead these days. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead!” I emphasize bitterly.
My words only end up making them laugh aloud all the more.
I take it back, Jay is far from likable.
“I never meant to do that,” Jay says, a sheepish grin digging at the corner of his lips. “Sorry,” he reels back, flinching slightly when seeing the fury spark behind my eyes.
“You’re,” I point from Dean to Jay, “both dead to me.”
Dean tethers back as well, weary of what I might do.
“You guys,” Ryan, having seen it all play out, swims up to us before gesturing out to Jay and then to Dean, “are both officially alive to me.”
He’s quite the athlete when he’s without tech.
“What were we to you before?” Dean asks, confused.
“Dead,” Ryan answers in ease.
“Nice,” Jay comments with a shake of his head, amused.
I roll my eyes at Ryan. “You’re a jerk.”
Ryan sighs as if it is a heavy burden for him to carry. “Tell me about it. It’s a gift I didn’t ask for. Sometimes, it feels like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
I open my mouth to say more but stop short when I see my girl friends getting into the massive, inflatable tube.
“Oooh!” I clap my hands in excitement as I drag myself back onto Jay’s jet ski. “Grey’s going to take them all for a ride out on the tube with the other jet ski!”
“Let’s go then,” Jay says as we head back to shore, none of us bothering to offer Ryan a lift back.
Jay slows down before coming to a stop. He gets off his jet ski and turns to help me. However, I hold up my hand to stop him. It’s too late for chivalry.
“What is up with Grey?” I ask, aware that he will know. The two of them tell each other everything.
“Aqueela,” Jay sends me a flat stare in response, “why must you always back me up into corners?”
I grin innocently in turn as if I’ve done nothing wrong.
He sighs apologetically, “It’s not my place to tell you.”
“But he’s okay?” I query, checking in.
“He should be,” Jay assures me, not entirely convinced himself.
“And you?” I question.
He furrows his eyebrows in confusion. “What about me?”
“Are you okay?” I clarify, knowing that he’s more used to asking others the question than being asked the question by others.
He hesitates before nodding swiftly. “Yeah, of course,” he assures me.
I see through him, and his lie.
It seems we have a good cop and a bad cop -- Jay and Grey respectively.
Grey rides the jet ski at a phenomenal speed, taking 90-degree angles, in the hopes of getting us off the tube, in the hopes of getting me off the tube. I betted that he wouldn’t be able to. He’s hellbent on proving me wrong, just a hunch of mine.
Jay, on the other hand, opts out for the more gentle approach. He rides more cautiously, going easy on the girls, holding off on sharp turns. He only speeds up when the guys filter on. It’s then that he changes to the ruthless one between the two.
Ryan and Mason are insistent on being the spotters in case someone falls in. Ryan’s growing accustomed to being without his phone whilst Mason only wishes to bond more with his brother.
“Jay’s sweet,” Jezel swoons as we get off the tube for a short interval. “He keeps asking if we’re alright. He’s afraid to go too fast with us.”
“Boring,” AJ scoffs playfully, “I prefer Grey’s merciless rides.”
I’d have to agree with the genius.
“No way, my hair is wet because of him,” Jezel argues, Bells backing her up due to her smudged mascara.
“Mine too,” Benley grumbles, his girlfriend rolling her eyes at his girly side that only comes alive when around water. He’s aquaphobic.
“For sure, my hair is frizzing now,” Troy whines in agreement, always available to add a complaint of his own. “Used the flat iron for six hours for nothing!”
His hair is frizzed because it’s charred. The idiot burnt his hair. Plus, most of the time his hair is rock hard from all the hairspray he uses anyway.
“You haven’t even been on the tube yet,” AJ points out, much to Troy’s dismay.
“Details,” Troy brushes her off, wanting to complain for the heck of it.
“At least you didn’t have to hold onto a hat,” Keagen sighs miserably. He wasn’t up for this either.
“Why did you bring a hat?” Ben asks him, unable to understand.
“So I don’t sunburn,” Keagen lies.
It comes down to the fact that hats are his trademark.
“Stop wearing hats,” Benley advises, cocky as ever.
I blame the newfound cockiness on his Aviators. He always turns cocky when wearing those classy things.
“Round two!” I clap my hands in excitement, giddy for another adrenalin rush.
Grey glowers down at me in irritation. “You haven’t had enough yet?”
“You mad ’cause you couldn’t get me in the water?” I wink at him in mockery, taking the runt of his scorn.
“You’re stronger than you look, Lawson,” Grey mutters in acknowledgment, still extremely grumpy.
Whatever upset him, it’s not going away anytime soon, especially if he just admitted defeat.
I spare him an uplifting smile. “So are you, Grey, so are you.”
He stares at me for a second longer, as if trying to work something out, before grumbling something under his breath, breaking eye contact entirely.
“You alright?” Jay, sensing Grey’s apprehension, lays a hand on his friend’s shoulder, aware of the issue at hand.
I’m glad that Grey can at least confide in someone.
“No,” Grey replies flatly before stalking off in Nancy’s direction.
Jay sees my face and offers me somewhat of an explanation. “Don’t worry. He’s working through some things, but he’ll be fine.”
I can’t help but worry. I hate seeing people I care about upset. Grey’s genuinely the pillar of strength in our group. If something is wrong, it’s serious.
“Don’t look so down,” Landon, with his blue eye, deliberately nudges me as heads for the jet ski that Grey had just been on. “Let me take you and some others on a real ride,” he suggests, actually caring for once, “that should cheer all you losers up.” He goes onto add, “Or kill all of you,” he shrugs uncaringly, “whatevs.”
Unfazed, I head back to the tube, along with Jay, Laiken, Zac, Troy, FeeBee, Jam, and Susie. Sarah, unsurprisingly, offers to be Landon’s spotter.
The high maintenance people of our group choose to sit this one out, with the exception of Troy. Bells, Benley, Jezel and Keagen have had enough. AJ shrugs and chooses to spend some time with her boyfriend. He’s more feminine than her and she has no choice but to accept it.
Dylan and Max are reminiscing on old times while Emma and Xavier are fawning over their little one on the way. Gland and Oog are who-knows-where, probably up to their usual mischief. I’m also pretty certain that Blubber followed after them. Now that Gland has him talking gangster and everything, Blubber idolizes him.
Mason and Mia are talking. They’re both avoiding Laiken. Mia doesn’t want to hurt Zac again and Mase doesn’t want to get dragged into the fight yet again.
Ryan and Dean are laughing about something once again, the two of them always feeling up for popcorn. Simo stands there awkwardly, trying to fit in with them, butting in every now and again. They blatantly and deliberately ignore his presence.
Kyle notices the loner and takes it upon himself to start a conversation with my lovable Simo. Kyle, as Jay has told me, has a giant heart. It’s evident in his actions.
Meanwhile, BossMan seems to be giving Leban a stern lecture. I don’t miss Leban’s momentary gaze before he shakes his head at Greg as if to get his point across. I can’t help but get the feeling that I’m the main subject of their conversation. I have no doubt that BossMan will have my back, no matter what.
“What’s the hold up?!” Landon hollers, slowly starting up the jet ski.
I turn back around to see that they’re all in the tube waiting on me.
Sarah, from the back of the jet ski, beckons me to the tube, hurrying me. “Knowing him, he’ll leave without you.”
Like predicted, Landon starts moving, the tube following him out to deeper waters. I begin sprinting after them, Jay stretching out his hand to me while Zac mocks me. I grab hold of Jay’s and he pulls me up onto the tube just in time, placing me down beside him.
“Hold on tight, you guys!” Sarah shouts to us, her voice barely audible over the sound of the waves splashing and the jet ski running. I don’t miss her grasping onto her seat tightly, aware of what her fiancé is capable of.
I gulp, knowing beforehand what could be coming. Landon is downright ruthless.
Zac, still only in his sweats, sees my apprehension and smirks tauntingly. Nonetheless, I remain unmoved. I’m alright so long as there aren’t any heights involved.
Susie snuggles up against her brother’s side, seeking comfort and protection, before voicing my thoughts aloud, “Be prepared to die. He’s probably worse than Grey, hence the warning.”
She’s brave, I’ll give her that. Girl is my hero!
“You zoned out there,” Laiken chuckles at me, tucking an arm around his little sister.
I shrug carelessly and nudge Zac when he sends a million glares Laiken’s way. I still have to talk him into forgiving Laiken.
Jay answers for me, “Aqueela enjoys reading people.”
What does this guy not know about me?
“She’s good at it too,” Jay tells Laiken, having observed me observing others.
I open my mouth to reply, but a gasp leaves me instead as we picks up in speed until we’re moving at a terrifying pace. I latch on tighter to the handles on the tube, much to Jay’s amusement, trying to keep myself from flying off the tube. I’d hate to go airborne right about now.
He’s run too many red lights to be afraid.
Troy lets out a shrill screech when Landon suddenly takes on a sharp turn, the tube spinning out of control as a result. The water sprays up at us, blinding us entirely. I can’t help but loosen my grip to laugh from my stomach. My giggles drown out FeeBee and Troy’s shouts of terror.
Landon won’t be slowing down anytime soon. We’re going so fast that I can’t open my eyes anymore. My arms are sore from holding on and my hands are going limb from tiredness. It doesn’t help that I’m the one sitting in front of the opening. I’m in the most vulnerable spot.
Determined not to go in first, I sit up straight and force myself to grip tighter. However, I’m caught off guard when Landon goes over a small ramp in the water. The tube soars through the air before cascading back down onto the water in a rocky landing. Somewhere along the line, my hand slips and I end up toppling over into the water.
I groan in disappointment when resurfacing to all their laughter as Landon continues to drive away.
Jay, probably feeling guilty for not helping me when I fell of the jet ski earlier, sacrifices his pride and dignity by ‘accidentally’ slipping off too, not far from me. This makes the others laugh at him instead.
At least, I don’t have to endure their teasing alone.
Sarah whistles to Landon to inform him that two of us went overtube. Landon slows down and makes a u-turn as Jay swims up to me.
I splash water at him when he reaches me. “Why’d you do that?”
He grabs me by the waist and yanks me forward, my heart skyrocketing at the action. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he insists with a playful grin, dropping his head so that our noses are touching.
“You’re an idiot,” I declare boldly yet quietly.
His grin widens as he moves in forward, but stops and backs away upon seeing Landon and the others returning to us.
Sarah raises a flag to let other jet skies and boats know that some of our own have fallen in, no thanks to our driver, who just so happens to be smirking broadly at his latest victory -- typical of him.
I turn over onto my back, staring up at the sky, as I float my way back to the tube, much to everyone’s growing impatience.
As soon as Jay and I are back on the tube, Zac and Laiken snort condescendingly before attacking us simultaneously:
Laiken and Zac’s heads whip in each other’s directions. They share a look with each other before the both of them break out into matching grins. Zac makes the first move, reaching a fist out to Laiken. Laiken fist bumps him back, all their beef already been forgotten.
It’s a good thing that Zac’s forgiving when you’re important to him.
Susie purposely gags, not a fan of Zac.
Landon, unconcerned whether we’re ready or not, starts riding the blue waters again.
“Um...” Feebee drawls, unintentionally turning all our attention onto her, “Jay, is that supposed to happen?” she asks, clueless, as she gestures down to the tube quickly filling with water by the second.
Landon must have punctured it when we went over that ramp.
“Totally,” Jam nods, speaking on Jay’s behalf, convinced that he’s right.
Jay shakes his head at his friend, “Nah, Feebs. Thing’s got a whole somewhere.”
“Someone should really stop Landon then,” Susie comments, trying to gain Sarah’s attention, but the girl is too busy staring at passing boats to notice us about to sink and drown.
“If he speeds up...” I trail off as Landon does the expected and speeds up. The water immediately filters into the tube at a quicker pace until we’re all sitting waist deep in the cool water. “Yeah,” I nod and point to the rising water as the tube begins to lower in the water, “and that will happen.”
Thankfully, Max isn’t here to freak everyone out.
“Oh my, oh my, oh my,” Troy suddenly panics, gasping, barely breathing, “we’re sinking! We’re sinking!” He tugs Jay by the shoulders, “We’re going to die, BroJay! We’re going to die! We’re going to drown! We’re going to sink and drown!”
Jay sighs and shoves Troy off of him. “Knock it off, man.”
“I can’t swim!” Troy completely freaks out, pulling on Jay’s bare arm yet again.
“You’re kidding me,” Jay mutters beneath his breath, shifting closer to me in order to get away from Troy Story.
“Yeah, you can,” Susie points out to Troy, politely reminding him of the facts, “you were pretending to be a shark at the pool party.”
“What if I forget?!” he asks, raising his voice.
“Forget what?” Jay asks him before clicking. “Forget to swim?” he asks in disbelief, once again stunned by Troy’s ongoing stupidity.
Troy nods, swallowing nervously.
“Then bye bye Troy,” Laiken teases, deliberately scaring him.
“Sarah!” Troy suddenly shouts out to her at the top of his voice, desperate. “Sarah!” he repeats, flaying his arms around like a crazy person in an effort to get her attention. “Saraaaaaah! Sarah! Saaaraaah!”
Thanks a lot, Laiken.
Sarah spots Troy and raises her brows when she sees him jumping up and down, waving his arms across the air frantically. She sends him one of her usual warm smiles before waving back at him, the rising water going unnoticed.
“Right, seeing as Troy oh so cleverly pointed out, we’re all going to die, thus, we need to find a solution to this problem we’ve found ourselves drowning in. Now we know that the heavier the tube is, the quicker we’re going to go down. I hate to say this,” sure he does, “but we need to someone to walk the plank,” Zac speaks up, cunning and transparent as always.
Laiken, catching onto his friend’s obvious plans, plays along. He gasps aloud dramatically. “Zac, you’re not suggesting...” he gasps again for the part, “that we....you couldn’t be...are you?” he concludes on a high note, managing to miraculously unnerve Troy more.
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting, Laiken,” Zac states casually, taking the lead.
“What?!” Troy asks frantically, glancing around. “What is being suggested?”
“One of us has to go overboard,” Zac answers cooly.
“Shotgun not me!” Troy yelps out in anxiety before subtly pointing to Jam.
“One of us has to be thrown overboard then,” Zac clarifies, making his plan apparent to everyone. Nonetheless, Troy’s still not catching on. “One of our own needs to be sacrificed.”
Susie rolls her eyes at the two. “You guys,” she warns, “don’t. He might actually forget how to swim.”
“We should take a vote,” Laiken suggests, backing Zac up all the way. “I vote we throw Troy overboard.”
“I vote that too!” Zac retorts, copying Laiken.
“Great, then everyone’s on the same page,” Laiken reaches out over Feebee and Susie to reach Troy. “The vote is clearly unanimous.”
Troy dodges Laiken’s hand and practically jumps onto Jay’s lap for safety. Jay loses his temper and throws Troy overboard, the act causing the entire tube to capsize, all of us falling in.
We resurface to Landon’s evil cackles. “Man, I’m good,” he exclaims in delight.
“There’s a puncture,” Laiken informs him coldly.
“That’s what they all say,” Landon chuckles, refusing to believe it. He wants to lather himself in his victory for a little longer first.
“Turns out,” Troy hugs me from behind, seeking warmth from the icy water, “I didn’t forget.”
“But it turns our that you have forgotten that you’re dating Jezel and not Aqueela,” Jay points out bluntly before shoving Troy off of me.
I stifle a laugh at seeing his rare, unprovoked jealous side surface.
“You betrayed me twice now!” Troy throws an accusing finger in Jay’s face, clearly displeased. “Traitor!”
“Had to be done,” Jay shrugs, unfazed.
“It’s okay, BroJay, I forgive you,” Troy replies. “I can see how sorry you are. It’s written all over your face. It’s alright. I still love you! I’ll always love you!”
Jay turns to face me, an annoyed expression coating his features. “What do I have to do to lose respect and trust around here?”
“I don’t think it’s possible,” I say, laughing lightly at his misfortune.
“Is that proof enough of a puncture?” Laiken asks Landon, pointing to the flat tube covered in water.
“You such a sore that you had to make a puncture when I wasn’t looking?” Landon asks him before shaking his head in disapproval. “Pathetic.”
Laiken bites the inside of his right cheek, a sign that he’s irritated.
That’s my boy, Lan. Gotta love him!
“Next time, open your eyes, woman! My blood is on your hands!” Troy complains to Sarah, going off on her, venting out his frustrations.
“You’re not dead, Troy,” Sarah reminds him, unapologetic, ”yet.”
“But you will be if you keep harassing my girl!” Landon steps in, defending what’s his. “Keep this up and your blood will not be on Sarah’s hands, but mine,” he threatens Troy, overprotective over the few who matter to him.
Troy wipes at his eyes, embarrassed. “Why are you always so mean to me?” he whimpers, purposely pulling a ‘sad’ face. It’s just a ‘put on’ to get attention.
Lan sighs in hopelessness. “Are you seriously crying again?” He turns to Sarah when Troy begins his over-the-top weeping noises. “He’s seriously playing this card again?”
“You got to stop making him cry, Babe,” Sarah reprimands before putting a comforting arm around Troy.
Third times the charm.
Landon scoffs, not buying into the act. Sarah jabs him in the side with her elbow as a result. He groans before meeting Troy’s teary gaze. “Look, idiot, I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry that I keep making you cry like a little baby.”
He’s terrible at apologies.
“The only way to be even is for me to make you cry,” Troy says, having immediately stopped with his ‘sad’ face and sad, inhumane noises. He’s currently in full control of emotions. He’s just ploying. “I have to hit you in the face now. It’s only fair.”
First, he challenges Grey, and now Landon. He doesn’t learn!
“How is it fair?” Susie asks, puzzled by ‘Troy’ logic.
Landon shrugs, not bothering to protest against the self-proclaimed King’s wishes. “Go ahead.”
Troy pulls his fist back before releasing it into Lan’s face.
Lan doesn’t even flinch, merely blinking at Troy as if waiting for another strike. He’s eager too, thinking that Troy has more installed for him. He’s used to punches, handing them out and sometimes, rarely, receiving them. It’s all fun and games for him.
Troy lets out a howl of pain, cradling his fist to his chest. “What the hell! Is your face is made of steel?!”
Landon chuckles as he swims past Troy. “Yeah, buddy, don’t worry, I’m crying on the inside.”
“Sounds like fun, Furbs,” Dean replies with a carefree smile after I’ve told him the entire story. “I think I’ll drive the tube around next seeing as Lan seems busy.”
We’re using the second tube because Landon is unable to repair the first. We all decided that we’ll blame PB for the loss of the tube. Nonetheless, Landon is adamant in fixing it. He’s Fix-It Felix and Wreck-It Ralph at the same time.
“Then we really will all die,” I tease before a thought occurs to me. “You should be nicer to Simo.”
If Simo was in the same tube with us earlier, we really would have sunk and drowned.
“He’s weird,” Dean defends himself, trying to justify his rudeness.
I scowl at him before dragging him to the jet ski where Ryan waits to be the spotter. I jump into the tube with the others.
I can’t help but want to go for round 2. It’s a ton of fun! Troy doesn’t seem to agree seeing as he’s opting this one out.
Jay, FeeBee, and Jam decide to go again too. Mason and Mia join when they see that Laiken isn’t going again. Leban, unfortunately, decides to join too. I’d prefer Grey’s presence to his, but as fate would have it, Grey and Nance have vanished from the eye of the public.
“You guys trust Dean not to accidentally kill us?” Ryan asks when Dean passes by.
We all shake our heads in unison.
His face lights up. “Me neither,” he grins excitedly. “Good luck to you guys,” he chuckles, hopping onto the back of the jet ski as Dean starts it up. “You’ll need it more.”
“Wait up!” AJ calls before jogging over to us, her long black hair blowing in the wind as she rushes to reach us before we leave. “I’m bored!”
“Whoo!” I cheer at having her join us.
She grins and winks at me, deliberately squeezing her way in between Jay and me. I frown at her just as Jay picks her up effortlessly, placing her across from us instead. He scooches closer to me until his arm is touching mine, not bothering to be subtle about it.
AJ giggles at our expense, amused. She predicted what his response would be and she predicted correctly.
Mason shakes his head, laughing at his brother’s mannerisms. “Way to be discreet. You’re practically breathing for her.”
Jay shrugs, placing his hands behind his head as he gets comfortable, stretching his legs out in front of him, on top of AJ.
“Nuh-uh, no, no way,” AJ scolds him, tossing his legs off of her small frame.
Jay chuckles, a fan of AJ. It might be my first friend that he actually, genuinely likes. The two of them get along very well.
“This should be knarly!” Jam pipes up, only speaking when necessary
Turns out, Dean’s focus is elsewhere. That, or he’s just a moron. We’re currently headed for the damn wall, and if I did know better, I’d say that Dean’s going to drive us off of it, to our very deaths.
Ryan’s the most useless spotter ever. He can’t even spot a giant wall!
“Wyatt!” Jay hollars, concerned.
Ryan relays Jay’s call to Dean who turns around to see what all the commotion is about, not paying attention to the tube nearing the damn wall.
“What?!” Dean calls back, thoroughly enjoying himself, oblivious to his surroundings and our imminent doom.
“Wall!” Jay yells at him, distressed. “Bring us in!”
Dean begins to panic, unable to think properly. Ryan takes charge with fumbling hands. He starts tugging frantically at the cord that connects us to jet ski. Somehow, the knot comes undone and we end up floating further toward the damn wall.
I miss Landon and the punctured tube. Our problems seemed so light back then...
“Look on the bright side, everyone,” I say, breaking the moment of tense silence, “at least we don’t have Max or Troy to make us panic.”
“Their panicking would be appropriate this time,” Mason replies, seemingly worried himself.
“If I had my rad surfboard with me, I’d could surf us over the wall to safety,” Jam sighs in sadness, his logic making no sense whatsoever.
“Did Dean seriously just leave us behind to die?” AJ asks aloud, bewildered.
I nod. “In his defense, I don’t think he’s realized that the cord came loose. I think he thinks that he’s saving us. Plus, he can’t hear Ryan yelling over all the noise. He’s driving too fast.”
The rushing of water becomes louder the closer we get.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not dying today,” Jay says as he gets up onto his haunches, gesturing for all of us to do the same.
“How are we possibly going to get out of this one alive, dude?” Jam questions, still managing to keep to his laid-back persona.
“Let’s just get out and swim away,” Jay answers, pointing out the obvious solution that none of us managed to think of. “If we jump now, we might be able to swim away before the current pulls us over the wall.”
“Good idea,” AJ agrees. “Can’t believe we didn’t think of that sooner. I suppose it’s because we feel bound to the tube.”
“Yeah,” Mia scoffs, correctly implying that we’re all stupid, including herself, “’cause that’s it.”
“Yeah, but if we don’t get far enough in time, we go over without the tube,” Leban argues with Jay for the first time since ever. “I like my chances with the tube.”
Jay doesn’t wait time debating it out. Instead, he dives head first into the water to show Leban that he can swim away from the pull. “I can feel it but it’s still possible to swim against the current. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be.”
“If Leban wants to become Humpty Dumpty, let him,” I tell the others in an effort to convince them to listen to Jay. “If you stay in this tube, your death is guaranteed because it’s going over that wall one way or another.”
I jump into the water, followed by all except FeeBee, Leban and Jam.
“We’ll blame PB again. He’ll think it’s hilarious!” Jam laughs, unaware that we could die and that PB will be anything but happy when he finds out that we blamed him for the loss of two of the camp’s expensive tubes.
Jam tends to overestimate his friendships, except his one with Oog, that one he can overestimate all he wants.
Jam jumps into the water, swimming out to the rest of us. Leban sighs before he takes the risk and does the same. FeeBee, on the other hand, stays put, waving goodbye to us.
“Get out the tube, Feebs!” Jay commands angrily.
She shakes her head, stubbornly staying put. “I can’t swim.”
Jay blinks unsurely. “You still can’t swim?” he asks, his eyes scanning her face as the tube edges nearer to the wall.
“Go without me,” she orders, “I’ll be fine,” she reassures Jay, convicted that she’ll somehow survive the steep drop and force of the water.
Jay doesn’t hesitate to swim back to the tube, risking his life once again.
I watch on in panic. I bite my nails, anxious, as Jay lifts her up into his arms before jumping back into the water, slowly but surely moving away from the tube and the wall. He steadily makes his way back to us, back to safety.
Mason lets out a loud breath of relief upon seeing his brother’s return.
“That’s the first time you didn’t cross the finish line,” FeeBee points out to Jay, staring up at him with a soft smile as she motions to the tube going over the wall.
“I wasn’t about to leave you behind again,” Jay replies quietly, still holding onto that guilt of the past.
“Guys, not to break the sweet moment, but uh...” AJ points to the speedboat headed our way at a tremendous speed.
We all flinch in fright just as it stops a few inches away from us, a large wave rolling over us a result.
“Ahoy there, mateys!” Oog calls out to us with Gland standing beside him, the both of them wearing captain sailor hats.
“Why am I not surprised that they have a boat?” Leban asks aloud with a scowl imprinting on his lips.
Could they have not showed up a few minutes earlier?!
“Oog and Gland!” Jam, FeeBee and AJ shout out in enthusiasm, all as relieved as the other.
Benley and Laiken can be glad they’re not here. Gland would have tossed them over the wall.
“How’d you get the boat?” Mia asks Gland as he helps her up.
“Don’t ask questions that have answers you won’t be able to handle,” Gland simply replies, casual as ever, much to Mia’s horror.
“If you ask, you walk plank,” Oog gestures to the random piece of wood lying on the floor of the speedboat. “Now sit,” Oog demands, directing his orders at all of us, “we go on bounty hunt now. We rob other boats and steal their bounty.”
Mason groans in misery. “Great, now we’re pirates and criminals. I miss the days where I didn’t question my life.”
“Me too, Mase,” Jay says, patting his bro on the back, shocking us all with the gesture.
Mason grins widely, in turn, his smile infectious.
I bite back a smile of my own, overjoyed to see Jay finally letting go.
He’s slowly but surely freeing himself from his caged past.
“That was fun, dawgs!” Blubber replies from behind me the second we step off ‘The Great Dung’, Oog’s apparent ship, and onto the shore.
He has to stop acting gangster!
“Have you been on the boat the entire time we’ve been...” Jay trails off in a sigh before reluctantly coming out with it, “‘bounty hunting’?”
“Been in the cockpit, Cool Guy Jay-Dawg,” Blubber answers him as if it should have occurred to us.
Jay scrunches up his face upon hearing his latest nickname while Gland nods at Blubs, his prodigy, in approval.
“Doing what exactly?” I ask Blubber with a raised brow. “Nevermind, I don’t want to know,” I say, deciding then and there when seeing him hesitate.
Jay shakes his head before getting himself a soda from Bell’s pink picnic basket.
I make my way over to the queen herself, eager to tell her of another one of my near-death experiences. AJ follows closely behind, going on and on about how fortunate she is to know the ‘Dung Beatles’. I end up tuning her out. Her love for them may be her only downfall.
“Mwa! Mommy loves you!” Bell says into the phone, video chatting with her giggling babies. “Be good for granny and grandpa.”
Max snatches the phone from her. “Daddy loves you more than Mommy! Always remember that! Melby, Baby, you’re in charge. Make sure Rhys doesn’t act out and smack or bite grandpa again.”
“Babababa oootah!” Melby gurgles in response while Rhys tries to blow a kiss to his dad. Meanwhile, Blanche is sleeping soundlessly against Melby.
Bell’s dad’s face comes into view next. “Max, Son, you need to teach your son some manners,” he reprimands my best friend on his parenting skills.
“He’s the one to talk!” I laugh aloud, amused. “Have you met his son?”
Mr. Bensten rolls his eyes upon hearing my comment. “Let me guess, Aqueela’s there?”
I snatch the phone from Max to wave eagerly at him. “Good guessing, Mr. Bensten! Long time no see!”
“Is that stupid son-in-law of ours gone yet?” I hear Bell’s mom ask from the background.
Max scoffs, having heard too. Bell winces and sends an apologetic glance his way while I try to stifle my giggles.
Mr. Bensten doesn’t waste another second to hang up on me.
“Tough break,” Sarah says to Max, sincere, before she continues to talk to AJ -- the two of them close now.
I spot Mason’s expression as he comes to terms with his own life choices. I skip over to him and offer him a side hug.
He chuckles as he glances down at me, taken aback by my gesture. “What’s up with you?”
I shrug. “You look down.”
He shakes his head. “I’m not,” he assures me, “I’m just feeling a little lost in life right ’bout now.”
“Tell me about it,” I reply, able to relate. “I miss the good days where we didn’t worry about the future.”
“I’ve always worried about the future, Aqueela,” he clarifies.
"Oh,” I respond, remembering that he’s always been lame. “Still, I miss the days in New York. Great adventures.”
“Annoying adventures,” he corrects with a nostalgic smile.
“Who’s running the business right now anyway?” I ask, distracted.
“Me,” he answers. “I can work from anywhere. However, my top employees do help. They look after the building and clients in New York, well, everyone but Laiken.”
“You’re so accomplished,” I say, still unable to fathom it all. “Who would have thought it would be you?” I tease.
He opens his mouth to say more when Greg interrupts us all:
“Everybody come here for a bit, Jay has something he’d like to tell all of you.”
As a result, we all end up staring at Jay expectantly.
Jay, on the other hand, has clearly just been caught off guard, judging by the coughing fit he’s now having on his soda. Once he’s recovered, he shoots a scowl at Greg. “Since when?” he asks before falling silent under all of our gazes, ready for the ground to open up and eat him.
Landon shields himself from the sun with his arm. “What’s going on, JT?” he asks aloud, sensing, for once, that something is off.
Nervous for Jay himself, I glance at the sunset instead. I internally smile at all the pinks and oranges painting the sky. The passing of the day represents the passing of Jay’s time in Minnesota.
When Jay fails to answer, Greg nudges him.
Jay sighs in complete misery before averting his gaze to the ground before him. “I’m leaving in a week or so...” he trails off in despair, unable to finish.
“For good,” Greg adds, placing a hand on Jay’s shoulder as if to support him.
My heart jolts at the two words. I frown and end up staring at the ground too.
“As if I haven’t had enough bad news as is. Thanks a lot for telling me only now. You probably wouldn’t have said a thing if Greg didn’t make you. Some friend you are,” Grey, surprisingly enough, is the first to pipe up from all of us.
“Grey, c’mon, it’s not like I meant...” Jay stops talking when Grey scoffs and walks away, shaking his head all the while.
I’m shocked that Grey didn’t know. Jay usually tells him everything. I’m also shocked that Grey, the reasonable one (at least when concering Jay), is refusing to hear his best friend out. It’s evident that Jay’s really hurt him.
“Woe is me! How must I go on in this sick world without a BroJay to have my back? It’s not possible. I can’t do it! I need you, dude!” Troy cries out loudly before falling on his knees in front of Jay, hugging Jay’s legs, begging him to stay.
Jay sighs again, aware that he’s in a hopeless situation.
The reactions of all our friends are not helping him feel any less better about the circumstances he’s found himself stuck in.
“The idiot is right though,” Landon agrees with Troy, stunning all of us in the process, “we do you need you.”
Emma nods in agreement.
Mason, more quiet than usual, stares at Jay as if waiting for him to vanish, not ready to lose his ‘brother’ a second time.
“No, man,” Jay shakes his head, disagreeing with Lan, “no, you don’t.” He turns in place to look at the rest of us and our disheartened stares. “None of you do,” he adds as if to assure us all of the fact. “Trust me, there are still better days to come.”
Tired with the ongoing debate, I finally give way and have my say:
“Not if you’re not in them.”
1. What is up with Grey?
2. Benley going to play hero?
3. Will Decoda relent?