Rewind (Book 2)

By CJ Adler All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Romance

Chapter 42: Mind Blown

It’s been an amazing camping trip. I, for one, feel refreshed. It’s nice to be back home, well, it’s nice to be back in Jay’s house, well, it’s nice for all of us to be back in Jay’s house.

“Guess what, BroJay,” Troy says, not allowing Jay any time to guess as he continues on, “we’re all moving with you to Tokyo!”

“We are?!” Blubber exclaims jovially from the love-seat, shocked out of his non-existent wits. “Cool! Simo and I should probably tell my mom that we’re leaving her for better people.”

Grey shakes his head from his position on Jay’s pink couch. “No, no we’re not.”

“Awesome,” Lan grins from beside Grey, unfazed by the news of him supposedly moving across the world with Jay, “when did we decide on this? I don’t think I was there. Was it like a vote thing? ’Cause I’m down with it.”

Grey, having forgiven Jay after our talk, discreetly nudges Lan, hoping that he’ll catch the hint.

Landon glances at Grey in confusion. “Why you nudging me, bro?”

“’Cause we’re not going,” Grey clarifies bluntly.

“I’ll follow BroJay until the very ends of the earth,” Troy insists, determined. “That’s how much I care!”

Jay stares blankly at Troy, at a loss for words.

“Look at him, Squirt, he’s so happy he can’t speak!” Troy laughs, bemused by Jay’s silence, taking it completely the wrong way.

Jay shakes his head and grabs my hand before pulling me around the corner, out of sight. “I’m legitimately afraid that I’ll never be rid of him.”

I swallow back my giggles, standing on my tippy-toes to run a hand through the soft strands of his hair. “Look at the bright side, at least my gramps is over you.”

“Yeah...” he nods, quickly pecking my lips, agreeing, “he’s been pretty ecstatic ever since he and your grams officially adopted Landon as their new, beloved son.”

On that note, we hear Landon shout it from the rooftops yet again:

“The Lawson’s have adopted me into their family! I’m officially their son! I’m a LawSON now! Landon Lawson!”

I shake my head in grave disappointment and pull back from Jay. “Landon’s lost all of my respect. He’s literally stolen my family from me.”

He not even a minor. He doesn’t even freaken need guardians!

“He’s more excited about this than his engagement to Sarah,” Jay points out, intertwining his fingers with mine as he absentmindedly draws me closer to him.

That’s true. I haven’t seen Lan this excited since...ever.

“I’m going to go visit them right now,” we hear Landon say before hearing Grey scoff straight after.

Jay and I let go of each other and walk back into the room, only to see Landon getting up, a wide grin on his face.

“Sis, you wanna come visit the folks with me?” Lan asks aloud.

“They’re not really your family, Landon,” Emma replies with a roll of her eyes.

“Honey,” Xavier addresses his wife, “let him have this, we don’t want him in our family anyway. Think of this as our way out.”

“Tell that to my lawyers,” Landon answers his sister, flashing a piece of paper in her face. “The proof is in this paper!”

“Stupid Benley,” Xavier comments under his breath.

“That’s Sarah’s grocery list, Landon,” Emma sighs. “I was there when she asked you to go and buy stuff. You’re just lucky she’s at work right now.”

Landon glances down at the paper to check, only to find that Emma is, in fact, right. “Whatever. I wasn’t even talking to you anyway, Em.”

“Then who?” Em asks, intrigued.

“My new sister, duh,” he answers, surprising Jay and me when he throws a carefree arm around my shoulders.

I slap my forehead. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Fine, my niece then,” Lan corrects, not reacting when I slap his arm off of me.

I shake my head in protest. “For the billionth time, Landon, you are not my uncle.”

Besides, I’ve been disowned. If anything, he’s Kaleela’s uncle.

“Don’t cheek me, Aqueela,” Lan replies, narrowing his eyes at me in warning as if he has the authority to do so.

I throw an accusing finger in his face. “You used to be my favorite!”

He’s a true disgrace now.

“I feel like I’m the only one fighting for this friendship,” Max chimes in, thinking it to be the appropriate time.

“Shut up, Max! Now is not the time!” I yell at him, trying to tune him out.

“This is exactly what I mean,” Max complains to Benley instead, feeling unloved. “Sometimes, I just feel under-appreciated, you know?”

Ben doesn’t answer.

Max elbows him. “You know?” he repeats.

Ben ignores him flat, pretending to be asleep in order to escape the situation.

“I know you’re not sleeping! Your eyes are wide open!” Max complains.

“Do you know that I’m not caring either?!” Benley retorts, annoyed.

“Suit your damn selves,” Landon, still focused on his issue, angrily crumples the piece of a paper into a ball before tossing it at Xavier’s head, “I’ll go alone,” he says as he makes his way to the exit.

“Dude,” Xavier calls out to him after having skimmed over Sarah’s list, “your girl needs tampons!”

Ryan gags, truly disgusted by the image. “Ugh! I did not need to hear that about my ex!”

“Bla, bla, bla! La, la, la! Not hearing you! Footballs, cars, mechanics, manly men, men things!” Landon shouts over Xavier and Ryan before slamming the door shut on his way out.

Jay winces, staring at his door before shaking it off, having given up on looking after his house.

We all look to Emma for an explanation.

“What was that?” Zac asks, still in nothing but his sweats seeing as he’s too lazy to shower.

Em shrugs at us. “Landon gets extremely uncomfortable when it comes to girls and their girl problems.”

Dean chuckles, nostalgic. “In high school, he’d block his ears during biology.”

“How mature,” Grey remarks in sarcasm, unimpressed.

Em shoots a reprimanding glare at her husband. “And you know all of that.”

Xavier nods, a full-blown grin on his face, “Hence why I said what I said.”

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

“I’m so tired,” Jay yawns, glancing at Decoda from the corner of his eye. “She won’t stop with all the race meetings.”

“Sorry,” I say in sympathy, placing my hand on his upper arm as I watch Decoda interact with Greg from outside – he’s too good for her.

“It could be worse,” he admits before smiling down at me warmly, “you could not be here in my arms right now,” he concludes, hugging me to his chest, just about pulling me onto his lap.

And it could be better...he could not be leaving forever in five days.

“What is the point of all of this?” I ask him, lovingly trailing patterns over his chest with my fingertips.

“Honestly,” he clears his throat uneasily before kissing the top of my head, “I don’t know, Aqueela. For once, I don’t have a plan here.”

I stare up at him in concern before leaning up to kiss him on the lips.

“This is so cute!” Bell gushes from before us, appearing out of nowhere. “I knew it! I just knew it! Max was right!”

We thought she was outside with everyone else.

“Bell,” I start, “you can’t tell-”

“Relax, my lips are sealed,” she reassures us before lifting her phone to our faces.

I shake my head. “No, Bell-”

A blinding flash cuts me off.

“Did you just take a photo of us?” Jay asks her, pulling away slightly.

She nods. “Just a reminder for me that there’s always hope in hopeless situations.”

Jay falls silent, thinking over her words, before his eyes flicker over to the chain and cross he gave me. “I like that.”

She grins knowingly. “I thought you might.”

“Listen, Bella...” he pauses to correct himself, “Bells, thanks for always being there for Aqueela and I, no matter what. Please don’t stop. I’ll feel better leaving knowing that you’ll be annoyed by Aqueela for the rest of your life, no questions asked.”

Bell blinks back tears, taken aback by his effort. “I’ll let Aqueela annoy me until the day I die from it. You know that. She knows that.”

I roll my eyes at the two of them. They say it like I’m not sitting right here.

“Thank you,” Jay replies softly. “I appreciate it.”

Bell places herself on Jay’s lap too, practically pushing me off so that she can embrace him tightly. “We’re going to miss you so much, you idiot.”

“Thanks?” he replies, confused by her complisult. “I’ll miss you too?” he says, uncomfortable with her sudden display of affection. This is the first time that he’s actually trying with her.

“I can’t believe I ever disproved of you,” Bell says, burying her head in his chest as she begins to cry, completely shoving me off onto the floor in the process. “I’ll never let Aqueela love again. I promise you.”

She’s so lucky I love her.

Jay immediately pulls back in order to see her tear-stained face. “No, Bell,” he shakes his head, making it clear as to where he stands, “that’s not what I want. I just want Aqueela to be happy. If she’s happy, I’m happy.”

My heart thumps that much quicker upon hearing the sincerity in his voice.

There will never be anyone else.

Bell stares up at him for a second or two before bursting into tears again – loud tears. “You’re too nice!” she wipes frantically at her eyes before sobbing helplessly into his shirt.

Jay, completely out of his depth, looks to me for help.

I bite back a smile and shake my head from my seat on the floor.

He frowns at me before awkwardly patting Bells on the back, hoping and praying that she will remove herself from him.

“Why can’t you stay? Why do you have to leave?” Bell asks him, hysterical, as she blows her nose into his shirt, leaving a glistening snail trail behind.

Jay glances down at his snotty shirt in true disgust before quickly recovering. “Because I’m an idiot who signed a stupid contract that I can’t get out of.”

“Can’t you rip it in half?” Bell asks him, more emotional than usual.

He shakes his head. “It’s not that simple.”

In other words, he’ll be sued for all he’s worth.

Bell merely cries louder, in turn, until something clicks in my head.

“Oh, my golly gosh!” I gasp loudly. “You be pregnant!”

Bell, on instinct, immediately jumps off Jay’s lap. “How the hell...Aqueela?!”

“You’re super emotional,” I answer, shocked. I know the signs.

Max got his will after all.

“I just found out yesterday. I haven’t told Max yet,” she replies, still teary-eyed. “I peed on the stupid stick and the stupid stick says positive. I don’t want to steal Emma and Xavier’s thunder but I haven’t got my period in a while. Max made me go off birth control. I think we slipped up again. I feel nauseous all the time. My feet are swelling up like Blubber’s stomach, my back is killing me and my boobs have gotten bigger-”

Jay makes a move to get up, completely out of his comfort zone. “This is clearly personal so I’m just gonna go-”

“Stay,” Bell insists, pulling him back down beside her.

Jay groans but complies nonetheless, staring up at the ceiling in despair.

“How am I going to tell Max?” Bell asks aloud. She stares at Jay expectantly but he’s still staring at the ceiling. “Jay!” she nudges him after first biting his head off. “I’m talking to you!”

“What?” Jay turns to look at her, puzzled. “Why are you asking me this?” he blinks, at a loss. “Ask Aqueela.”

“You’re a guy. Put yourself in the scenario,” Bell replies, dragging him into the mess. “If Aqueela were pregnant with your child, how would you like her to tell you?”

I feel my cheeks begin to warm as I mentally stab Bell to death in my head.

“What? I mean...” Jay falters, in turn, stumbling over his words, “I don’t know, I haven’t...” he trails off, looking everywhere but at me.

“You haven’t thought about it before?” Bell interrogates him, putting him on the spot. “You haven’t thought about being with Aqueela...?”

“Of course, I have,” he answers bluntly, surprising us all, “but-”

“Answer the question, Taylor,” she says through gritted teeth, experiencing her first mood-swing, changing from a weeping mess to a temperamental mad woman.

“If Aqueela was pregnant...” he breathes out anxiously, trying to keep his thoughts in mind and take Bell’s emotions into account, “it wouldn’t matter to me how she would tell me. I’d be happy either way. I’d just want her to tell me as soon as possible.”

As uncomfortable as this is, that’s sweet, considering that he never wants kids.

“Aqueela’s pregnant?!”

We all turn to see Max standing in the doorway – eyes wide with his hands over his mouth, clearly in pure shock.

I begin to shake my head but he merely speaks over me:

“I’m going to finally be an uncle?!” he asks loudly, his excitement getting the better of him.

I hop to my feet and quickly shut the door that he’s left open before the others hear him.

“Yes,” Bell lies under panic, “Aqueela’s pregnant with a Jaybie.”

I send her a flat stare, astounded by her audacity, as Max lifts me up into his arms to congratulate me.

“Your wife is pregnant again,” Jay comes out with the truth before Bell can build on the white lie like we all know that she will.

“You’re both pregnant at the same time?!” Max questions, dropping me back to the floor so that he can embrace Bell next. “Mind blown!”

“Aqueela’s not pregnant,” Jay clarifies before looking to me for confirmation.

“Seriously?” I ask him, throwing my hands to the air in exasperation. “No, I’m not pregnant!”

He holds his hands up apologetically. “Just checking. Need to get my facts straight.”

“With who?” I ask Jay, now annoyed. “I haven’t even...I haven’t ever...”

Jay, understanding me, nods as a small grin tugs at the corners of his lips.

“Baby, I’m so happy!” Max releases Bell from his death hug to kiss her entire face. “I can’t even explain it right now. I have no words!”

“You seem to have a lot,” Bell says, pretending to be irritated when in actual fact she’s holding back on that beautiful smile of hers.

“I’m going to ignore that jab because I know it’s not you speaking but the baby,” he replies, unmoved by her words. “Or babies,” he corrects himself, a hopeful look to his eyes.

“No,” she argues, “it’s me speaking.”

He runs outside to announce it to everyone, ignoring her calling after him in an effort to stop him. “My wife is pregnant! We’re having another babies!”

We hear clapping and cheering before Max runs back inside a second later to embrace Bell again.

“Baby not babies, singular not plural,” she corrects him and the mistake he keeps making on purpose.

“You’re right,” he agrees, “I don’t want to jinx it.” He grins mockingly. “Baby it is.”

“How do you have a kid after just having kids?” Jay asks, confused again. This stuff is not his strong suite.

“Women are more fertile after birth and seeing as Max secretly swapped out my birth control pills for mints, it was bound to happen,” Bell explains with a sigh before accidentally smiling. “You see, Jay, when a woman-”

Jay shakes his head and stands up as if he just cannot sit through the conversation. “No,” he mumbles to himself, “nope.” He passes us by as he heads upstairs, “I’m just going to go change my shirt...and maybe burn the one I have on.”

“You should, your snot is all over it!” Max calls after him. “But I think it’s sweet that you were crying in happiness for us!”

If only Max knew...

“I’m also going to shower a million times!” Jay calls back, leaving the three of us to be.

“Offense taken!” Bell calls after him, having an idea about how grossed out he is by his shirt.

“Oh, crap,” Max suddenly says as he looks over at his wife, something only occurring to him now, “your mother is going to kill me.”

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

“This is painful,” Keagen comments from beside me.

“It sure is,” I agree as we watch on as the two, Max and Troy, continue to perform for all of us against our will.

“Girls just want to have fun!” they sing at the top of their voices before whipping their heads back and forth, jumping around as if they’re girls themselves – I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. “They just wanna! They just wanna!”

“I don’t know whether to block my ears or cover my eyes,” Keagen states calmly.

Jam claps his hands from side-to-side with a grin on his face, entertained by the morons, as he hops along to the song.

“He’s actually enjoying this?” Keagen asks, pointing to Jam in bewilderment.

“It’s Jam’s favorite jam,” FeeBee tells Keags. “Mine too!”

“Well, Feebs,” I pause, “they’re butchering it so you two should probably end all of our misery and kill them both in a suitable and horrific manner.”

Ryan plugs in earphones before playing a game, at peace now that he has replaced his iPad – the guy is coining it.

“I’m hoping that I go deaf, then I’ll never have to hear anyone ever again,” Grey remarks from under his breath from my other side. “I hate people.”

“Aww,” I pout at him, moving closer to him, “why so grumpy, cat?” I ask, poking his cheek. “You’d totally miss my voice.”

“I’m not like the other guys in your life, I will hit you.”

I ignore him and poke him again, aware that he’d never truly hurt me.

He slaps my probing hands away in defeat. “You deserve the worst in life.”

It’s good to have him back.

I grin, amused. “As a feminist, I take offense to that.”

“As a maninist, I find you taking offense to me hitting you and insulting you incredibly offensive,” he replies curtly.

I laugh, not failing to miss the death glare he’s giving me.

“Come dance with us, Ferrot,” Troy beckons Grey forth, holding out his hands for Grey to take. “I’m going to be an uncle for the fourth time. Today is completely about me!”

“Touch me and I won’t hesitate to skin you alive and then break every single bone in your body in the most painful way that you can imagine and then some,” Grey replies coldly.

“Alrighty then,” Troy says before moving to Ben instead.

“What he said,” Ben replies, trying to sound as intimidating as Grey.

Troy laughs, not taking him seriously.

AJ pats her fiance on the back. “You’re up, Babe.”

“Those days are over,” he answers, not willing to have a repeat of the past.

“AJ,” I call to her, “do you know that your fiance once pretended to be gay in order to score more drinks?”

If Landon were here, he’d ask Ben if it was really just an act.

AJ laughs. “Honestly, not surprised.”

Ben shakes his head at me for ratting him out. Unfortunately for him, it only gets worse when Troy shows AJ a blast from the past, a video of Ben singing and dancing with Max and Troy.

AJ begins giggling uncontrollably, laughing from her stomach as tears run from her eyes. “This is too great! Please send it to me, Troy.”

Ben ducks his head in embarrassment before snatching the phone from Troy in an attempt to delete it.

“No!” I yell out in sadness as Ben deletes it.

“Don’t worry,” Jay says as he jogs down the stairs, catching up on the convo quickly, “I’ve got like a billion copies of that night.”

“Whoo!” AJ and I fist-bump the air.

I get up from my seat and run over to hug him, glad. Also, I just want to be close to him but the others don’t need to know that.

“We’re no longer friends,” Ben tells Jay straightforwardly.

Meanwhile, Troy helps himself to my seat beside Grumpy Cat while Jam happily texts away to PB, who is still confused as to how Jam got his number.

“Go to hell and stay there,” Grey immediately reacts to the invading presence at seeing Troy sit down next to him.

I throw my hands up in exasperation, swallowing my laughter.

For once, Troy didn’t ask for it.

“What the heck? He didn’t even say or do anything,” Keagen comments from Troy’s other side, standing up for Troy.

“He didn’t have to,” Grey replies knowingly. “Wait for it.”

“Men are dogs,” Troy suddenly speaks up, his mind elsewhere. “You’d know Grey...seeing as you are one. As a dog, do you think less of women? Do you think that you’re better-”

“See,” Grey cuts him off, willing for us to see his point.

“Point taken,” Keagen answers.

“The only words I want to hear come from Troy’s mouth are the words ‘I’m dying’,” Grey mutters, making it evident as to how much he hates Troy Bensten – the one and only.

“Dogs,” Troy comments with a shake of his head, Grey’s insults running right over his head, “exhibit A,” he points to Grey.

Grey responds by pointing back at Troy. “Exhibit asshole.”

“Please,” Troy argues, “I’m troydorable! Ask anyone here.”

We all shake our heads but Troy chooses to not see it.

“Now move over, BroFerrot,” Troy demands, “I don’t wanna catch your ugliness.” He doesn’t allow Grey to reply and glances over at Jay next. “Move closer, BroJay. Come and sit here,” he pats the tiny space between him and Grey.

Before any of us can respond, in the blink of an eye, Grey unexpectedly takes Troy’s head and slams it onto the wooden coffee table before letting Troy drop to the floor in pain.

“Got your seat back, Lawson,” Grey tells me casually, unfazed by his own violent acts, whereas I’m speechless.

Xavier takes one look at Troy on the floor before eagerly turning to Max, “Our babies can be great friends. They’ll be around the same age.”

“True!” Max exclaims in delight.

No one seems to care that Troy’s probably concussed, including me.

“They’ll be besties!” Bell squeals. “And then they’ll get married! And we can be neighbors and....”

Emma shakes her head at her husband. “Mhm uhm,” she says quietly as Bell and Max, the oblivious two, continue to gush on. “Babe,” she repeats, staring up at Xavier, “no,” she clarifies, shaking her head frantically the entire time.

Can’t really even blame her.

Jezel kneels down beside Troy in order to help him, now that she’s finished painting her nails...on another one of Jay’s precious couches.

“Jezel,” Nance shakes her head at her, “what do you see in him? I don’t get it.”

“You’re the one who introduced me to him,” Jezel replies, helping Troy up into a seated position. “And to be honest, I don’t freaken know!”

That finalizes it, Jezel is one special girl...just like Troy.

I tune back into Grey’s conversation at hand:

“He was annoying me.”

“I don’t care. You can’t slam his head on a table like that!” Greg reprimands him.

“Why not?” Grey argues. “He deserved it. I regret nothing.”

“You bashed his brains in,” Leban chuckles.

“He doesn’t have any,” Grey replies, more temperamental than usual due to Leila being back in town and requesting to see him when he’s not ready to face her as of yet.

“Go easy on Grey,” I find myself defending him.

Greg, Grey, Leban, Kyle and Jay all turn to look at me in disbelief.

“Did you just defend him?” Greg asks slowly.

Jay frowns and crosses his arms over his chest as he waits to hear my explanation for this one.

“I know, I can’t believe it either, true lapse of judgment on my part,” I reply, instantly regretting it.

“Dude!” Ben interrupts us and grabs Greg’s arm. “I need to speak to Decoda about something and she seems to hate everyone here but you. Turn up the charm and put on those seduction skills, I’m gonna need you for this,” he says before dragging Greg after him.

“Now this I gotta see,” Kyle says as he and Leban follow after them, leaving Grey, Jay and I behind.

“Why are you frowning like that?” I ask Jay as soon as the others are out of earshot. “I miss your smile already.”

“Yeah,” Grey backs me up, “you’ve been looking at me like that for days now. What the hell did I do? You’re the one who didn’t tell me that you’re leaving.”

When Jay doesn’t speak, I elbow him. “Seriously, Jay, what’s up?”

Grey reaches for his drink and sips on it, willing Jay to get over it – whatever it is.

Jay remains silent. “Nothing.”

“You really gonna stand there and lie to our faces just like that?” Grey questions him, taking another sip of his alcoholic drink. “We both know you better than you think and we know it’s not nothing. Clearly, it’s something. So out with it. What is your problem?”

“You’re right,” Jay reluctantly agrees, “there is something that’s bugging me, man, but I don’t think it’s a conversation that should be taking place in front of Aqueela.”

I furrow my eyebrows, confused.

“I have a feeling that I’m not nearly drunk enough to have this talk,” Grey grumbles, downing some more alcohol, sensing that things are about to get serious.

“I’m staying,” I say adamantly, refusing to move.

Jay, knowing better than to argue, sighs in reluctance. “I’m not accusing anyone of anything, I don’t even have the right, but, lately, there’s just some small things that I’ve been noticing. There’s been a shift since I’ve been gone.”

“Between?” I ask, scrunching up my nose in confusion.

“Between the two of you,” Jay answers quietly, watching our facial expressions carefully.

Grey immediately begins choking on his drink, coughing loudly as he tries to recover.

“What?!” I splutter, patting Grey on the back. “What are you implying?”

“Is there something going on?” Jay asks outright.

“Are you out of your mind, Jay?!” Grey retorts, having caught his breath again. “Are you out of your damn mind?! Because I would have to be if there was!”

“No,” I answer Jay truthfully. “Where is this even coming from? You and your insecurities.”

Jay ignores me and glances at Grey as if waiting for Grey to own up to it.

“Why are you staring at me?” Grey asks, on the defense.

“Why are you not answering the question?” Jay replies, in turn, on the offense.

“Look, JT,” Grey runs a hand down his face in frustration, “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation in the first place. I’m not interested in taking Aqueela away from you or ruining my life at a young age.”

I roll my eyes. “You’d be so lucky.”

“I would never do that to you. You’re my best friend,” Grey tells Jay, meaning it.

“I know,” Jay answers, still seemingly unconvinced, “but I also want you to know...” he pauses in thought, “both of you,” he adds for the sake of adding, keeping his gaze firmly set on Grey, “that if that were the case, I wouldn’t get in the way, especially if you were both happy.”

Grey opens his mouth to say something but Jay continues talking, this time, solely to him:

“You forget that you’re my best friend too. If there’s anyone I trust, it’s you.”

I keel over and burst out laughing before Grey can reply, finding Jay’s assumptions to be hilarious. “Just the thought of Grey and I...” I stop to laugh again, clutching onto my stomach, “we’d kill each other.”

“It’s really not that unlikely, Aqueela,” Jay tells me.

I frown and glance at Grey to get an idea of where he’s at and what he’s currently thinking but he gives nothing away, remaining indifferent.

“I’m way out of Grey’s league,” I joke in an attempt to persuade Jay into believing us.

“I can honestly do so much better,” Grey speaks up, scowling at me. “I have no doubt in my mind that I really would kill her. Just the thought of us makes me physically sick.”

“But seriously, Jay, I love Grey,” I don’t miss them both arch their brows in interest, “I love him so much. He’s someone who always points me in the right direction. He’s probably one of my closest friends,” I admit, hoping that he’d understand.

“Am I the only one that is incredibly uncomfortable right now?” Grey asks aloud, straight after me. “This is so awkward. I don’t like the whole laying it down on the table thing. Not my dirty laundry. Not into the whole sharing and caring thing. I’m not Barney the yellow dinosaur. I don’t get how you two just speak your mind no matter where you are or who you’re with.”

Jay presses his lips into a thin line as he contemplates my words.

"Jay...” I drawl out in impatience and exasperation, “Grey hates me. Stop worrying about nothing.”

Jay glances at Grey, seeking confirmation.

Grey groans aloud. “C’mon, JT, don’t make me admit it in front of her. I’d rather have rats slowly eat my eyes out.”

Jay stares at him blankly in response.

“You’re not going to budge on this, are you?” Grey sighs at him. “You know I don’t hate her,” he confesses, staring at the ground in shame. “Your girlfriend is a pest but I don’t hate her. I’m not pursuing her either. Insane is not my type. That’s more your speed.”

“Okay,” Jay breathes out calmly, apologetic, “I’ll drop it.”

"Finally!” I let out a breath of relief.

“I just wanted to be clear with you guys. I’d be a mess but I’d accept it. I want you both to know that I’d find a way to understand,” Jay repeats in an effort to get it through to us. “I’d survive...so don’t ever let me, whether I’m here or not, be the reason that either of you are not doing something.”

“That’s it,” I scoff in irritation, “I’m going back to full on hating Grey mode!” I narrow my eyes at him accusingly. “I know I’m irresistible but this is all your fault. I blame you. You can’t control yourself around me. You’re much too affectionate with me. You’re making it obvious that you’re in love with me.”

Grey remains silent and downs the last of his alcohol instead of stooping up to my level.

“Hey, Jay,” Mason yanks his brother on the arm, “just a warning, I saw Landon and the ‘Dung Beatles’ head out to the tree house a few minutes ago. They were armed with fireworks and crackers that Aqueela’s grandparents apparently bought as a gift.”

Jay’s eyes widen in realization as he begins to sprint for the back door.

Before anyone can respond, there’s an earsplitting, deafening ‘boom’ sound from outside.

“Uh-oh,” I gulp. “I don’t have a good feeling.”

“You think?” Grey remarks in sarcasm.

“It’s probably because you’re sitting too close to me,” I tease him.

Jay walks back in a second later, looking as dejected as ever. “Well, half the tree house just exploded. Literally. Half of it’s gone. Gland pulled a ‘Troy’ and lit the fireworks inside. Fortunately, Landon had the sense to get them all out before they could blow up with it.”

I walk over to him and pat the side of his cheek teasingly. “Sorry, Jaykie.”

He cracks a smile against his will. “It’s not funny, Aqueela.”

“That tree house was so freaken amazing!” Susie complains in distraught. “Why? It’s not fair! Life’s not fair!”

“That tree house meant everything to me,” Troy adds, having recovered as best as possible from his mild concussion.

“You weren’t even allowed in it,” Laiken reminds him with much attitude, overlooking the fact that he got kicked out of it for not following the rules. “Jay had you banned.”

“I should have banned Landon and those idiots too,” Jay sighs, running a hand through his dark hair.

“Am I the only one still stuck on the fact that half of the tree house just exploded?” Mason asks in bewilderment, still processing it all. “There was literally an explosion in the backyard five seconds ago? This is nuts.”

I grab Jay’s hand and pull him along outside to see that he is indeed right, half of the tree house is missing and debris is covering the lawn.

Deja vu...but worse.

“What the hell is going on this time?” an old, irate man approaches us from next door. “I’ve had it up to here,” he gestures past the top of his ugly head, “with this house and the animals who dwell in it! It was silent for years and now all of a sudden...not! I’ve had it with the continuous building noises, the late night music and partying, the car revving, the bulldozer being operated at the 3 a.m. in the morning, the shouting, the fires and the explosions! I’ve just had it!” he hisses, throwing an accusing finger in Jay’s face. “Mind explaining to me why there is debris covering my roof again and why there is always five million buffoons in your damn house?! I have nowhere to park my scooter and quite frankly, I’m ninety percent sure that we had this same conversation a while back.”

“I know, Mr. Gunther, I know we talked about this five years ago. I’m so-”

“Don’t you dare apologize, Taylor! Don’t you dare! I’ve tried to be understanding, but as of late, I’m sick of it. No peace and quiet in this damn neighborhood because of you! I don’t even want to know what goes down here and-”

“Who is the crazy, old man?” Zac asks aloud, rudely joining us outside after hearing the fuss. “And does he know that his hatred is like a lather for our flesh?”

The old man immediately stops talking and turns his deathly glare onto Zac instead who shrinks back in fear. “I’m not the crazy one, you’re all crazy! You’re all out of your minds! You’re all inmates that have escaped an asylum of some sort! You’re not even wearing a shirt! Half the time I’m convinced someone’s being murdered in this house!”

“How I wish it was Jay,” Zac replies casually, unfazed by his rant.

“You and me both!” the old man shouts back angrily. “He keeps allowing insanity to rule his home!”

“Don’t worry,” Jay reassures them, “feels like I’m being murdered on the inside.”

“Hey,” I pipe up, “it’s not Jay’s fault. You just need to sit back and chill, Grandpa. Live a little, Pops. Everything’s all good,” I try to speak in terms suitable to his age.

He narrows his eyes into slits before turning to me. “Who are you to talk to me like that? You’re Taylor’s little hussy, aren’t you? I remember you. You were here when Jay burned the very same tree house to the ground, five years ago. You’re the one who’s made him like this!”

"Whaaat?” I play innocent. “That wasn’t me!” I huff, indignant.

“I remember a hussy when I see one,” he replies, his glare unwavering.

Zac, say something stupid so he can go back to glaring at you! Read my mind! Do it! Do it! Do it now!

...

Ugh, you idiot! You’re telepathetic.

“Aqueela’s not some hussy,” Jay rises to my defense when I use him as my living shield against the crazy, old man.

“Yet look at her with her hands all over you!” the old man roars before turning his back on us, marching back to his home while going on about placing a lawsuit against us for being overbearing neighbors.

I smile lazily and release Jay from my grip. “That was fun.”

“You would say that,” he laughs.

“Was that Gunther?” Grey asks, coming outside to check the scene.

I nod.

“Love that guy,” Grey grins in fondness with a shake of his head.

Of course, he does!

“He pops all the balls that the kids from the other side kick over,” Jay comments. “You’d know that since you were here most of the time that I was away.”

Grey chuckles, genuine. “Guy’s a riot. I’m gonna go say ‘hi’ real quick.”

I shake my head at Grey before pulling Jay around the corner, wanting him all to myself for at least a minute or two.

“What’s up?” Jay asks, glancing down at me in affection.

I shrug. “I’ve missed having you by my side,” I confess, propping myself up against him to kiss his cheek.

He smiles wholeheartedly. “I’ve missed being by your side,” he tells me before leaning down to kiss me, aware that I’m dreading the upcoming day of his departure from Minnesota and, probably, my life.

“Although, you’re starting to smother me a bit,” I joke, wrapping my arms around his neck as I stare up at him teasingly.

“Cut me more, Aqueela, I don’t bleed.”

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