Chapter 43: When's the Wedding?
I watch Tim’s facial expression carefully, holding my breath as I await his answer.
“I like Aqueela’s,” he eventually says, looking up at me.
“Yes! Whoo!” I shout out in joy. “In your face!” I throw my finger in Melinda’s face before jumping to my feet, throwing my fist into the air.
Melinda rolls her eyes at me when I start bobbing up and down in excitement. “You’re so childish. The amount of guidance you need in life is unbelievable and just plain ridiculous.”
I place a hand over my heart at hearing the sincerity in her voice, touched. “Why thank you.”
In turn, she merely scoffs.
Tim shakes his head as if he’d been expecting what kind of response I’d give. “Aqueela, sit-”
I grab all Tim’s important documents and toss them into the air in delight as I celebrate my achievement. “I’m the greatest!” I moonwalk past Melinda.
“Down,” Tim finishes with a sigh.
“Can I go now?” Melinda asks Tim. “This was uneventful,” she says before standing up and pushing me out of her way. She grabs her purse, flips me off, and then leaves the office for the day without so much as a ‘goodbye’.
“Rude girl that,” I tell Tim with a shake of my head, dropping the rest of his documents onto the floor.
“You’re cleaning that up...again,” he tells me straight.
I nod, barely listening to him as I peer out the window, watching the witch embrace Satan before climbing onto his broom, the two of them flying off to ruin a sunset.
“I’m promoting you to chief photographer, that’s I why I wanted you to stay late,” Tim comes out with it, sensing that he won’t get my attention otherwise.
My face lights up in disbelief. “That’s awesome. Thank you, Tim, but why?”
He shrugs. “You’re very talented. Your heart comes through whenever you’re behind the lens. I see your heart in your photos.” He leans forward across his desk. “I’ll be honest with you, Aqueela, I don’t know anyone else that can do what you do. Your photos are incredible. You even inspire me. That’s why I’ve chosen your photos for the upcoming project.”
I smile wholeheartedly.
“But,” he pauses in thought, “you have to stop provoking Melinda. She’s always in my office, complaining about you. You have to stop throwing paper balls at her, especially when those paper balls are the photos she’s working on.”
“They’re not very good photos,” I defend myself. “She should be thanking me.”
“That’s beside the point. It’s not your call to make,” he reprimands me, unimpressed.
I nod, not really listening to a word that he’s saying. “So, how’s the wife and kids?”
“For the billionth time,” he sighs, running a hand through his neatly cut hair, “I’m not married.”
“Right, right,” I nod, now remembering, “how’s the daughter then?”
“The same as the last time you asked me, which was ten minutes ago,” he reminds me.
“Uh-huh, and what was the answer again?”
“Fine. She’s fine,” he answers, his patience wearing thin.
“How old again?” I ask, intrigued.
“Two,” he replies before gesturing to the door as if hinting for me to go.
“Cute.” I smile.
“You like kids?” he asks, his interest now piqued.
I nod. “I do. I love all people.”
He returns my smile, falling silent.
“You can be proud.” Being the single father of a two-year-old is an achievement in itself. Max and Bell, as parents, have opened my eyes to the difficulty of parenting. At the same time, I see how rewarding it is.
He shakes his head. “Not after I stuffed up things with her mother.”
I nod, not knowing what to say.
“I’m sorry,” he apologizes when seeing how uncomfortable I am, “that was unprofessional of me. Forget I said anything.”
“Tim, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, as young as I am, it’s never too late to fix things.”
“You’re a special person, Aqueela.”
“So are you. Everybody is,” I reply, truly believing it. Even Melinda and Leban mean something to me. “At the end of the day, we’re all just human.”
“You’re going to be a big success in life,” he assures me in confidence. “You’re youthful, talented, vibrant, beautiful and compassionate. It’s refreshing to be around.”
“Thanks, Boss.” I salute him as I stand up and reach for the door, grateful for his kindness.
“Weird question,” he quickly stops me, hesitant, “but are you currently seeing anyone?”
I freeze, taken aback by the question.
“As with every story,” I spin back around to face him, “it’s complicated.”
He nods in understanding. “Some advice then?”
“Yeah?” I nod, open-minded enough to hear him out.
As soon as I exit the building, a smile spreads across my lips. Jay, unexpectedly, is leaning against the front of his Gallardo with a dashing grin on his handsome face, his arms crossed over his chest and his aviators in place.
I sprint the last stretch and launch myself into his arms, excited to see him. “What are you doing here?” I ask, curious, as I pull back from him for a second before hugging him tightly again, unable to help myself.
He laughs that boyish, mischievous laugh of his as he squeezes me back. “Thought I’d surprise you.”
I pull back yet again and remove his sunglasses so that I can see his pretty eyes. “Consider me surprised, Blue Eyes.” I clip his glasses to the front of his v-neck. “I think my boss just made a move on me. He totally just hit on me,” I confess randomly, still confused by it.
“If that’s the case,” Jay clenches his hands into fists teasingly, unconcerned, “I’ll have to make a move of my own and show him what it really feels like to be hit on.”
I laugh and push his shoulder. “You’re such a dork.”
He grins. “I’m just protecting what’s mine. Aren’t you girls supposed to be into that kind of stuff?” he jokes, messing with me.
“He’s not going to be stealing me away from you anytime soon,” I reassure him, leaning up to place a kiss on his jaw.
“Good,” he smiles down at me, “’cause I’m never letting you go.”
“That’s exactly what you’re doing,” I remind him, swallowing back my laughter.
“But, I mean,” he falters, “not here,” he takes my hand and places it on his chest, above his racing heart, “I’m never letting you go from here.”
I laugh and swat his chest in amusement. “That was so cheesy, Jay.”
He chuckles, agreeing. “Yeah, it was. Let’s rewind. I’ll say something cool.”
“Let me start over,” he laughs. “I can redeem myself.”
I gesture for him to proceed. “Go right ahead.”
“You should expect to be hit on. You’re beautiful,” he tells me, genuine. “Grow accustomed to it.”
I smile. “That was a lot better,” I admit quietly.
He throws an arm around my shoulders before opening my door for me. “You wanna hang out?”
I shrug carelessly as I take my seat, strapping myself in – no way am I driving with him without a seat belt, I know better. “If my schedule is clear.”
“C’mon, ’Oueela,” he drawls as he takes his own seat behind the wheel, “why you gotta play me like that?”
I can’t help but giggle at his chipper mood. “Please tell me that Gland doesn’t have you talking like one of them too.”
He places a hand on the back of my seat, checking the back window, as he expertly steers us out of the parking lot. “If that ever happens,” he pauses, swinging the car the right way, placing one hand on the steering wheel, “then shoot me,” he concludes as he takes off to the streets in speed.
"So,” I wiggle my brows at him teasingly, “is this a date?”
“I’m not a date kind of a guy,” he jokes. “You know that.”
“Then where to?” I question, interested.
“Bell asked us to babysit the kids,” he finally explains himself.
“And you said ‘yes’?” I ask, bewildered by his words.
He shakes his head. “Who do you think I am? Of course, not.”
“Oh?” I raise both my brows, turning my face toward him.
“I told her we have plans,” he grins, not revealing much.
I glance out the window at the sun setting, my inner thoughts invading my mind again. “Jay?”
Sensing that something is bugging me, he takes on a gentle approach. “What’s up, Aqueela?” he asks as he puts foot down on the accelerator, speeding up.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what you said to Grey and me-”
He sighs, immediately shooting me an apologetic glance. “Listen, Aqueela, that was a stupid move on my part. I’m sorry for-”
“No,” I shake my head, clarifying, “not about that. Just like you don’t want me to not do anything because of you...well, it’s the same with you. I don’t want you to not do something because of me either. I know it’s hard but you gotta do this, Jaykie.”
Understanding, he begins to shake his head but I stop him:
“Hear me out, Jay. Hear me out first,” I tell him before he can interrupt. “You’ve worked your entire life for this and now it’s fallen into your lap. Your success is here. Look around you, you’re practically famous. People love you.”
He merely shakes his head again, saying nothing, as he keeps his gaze trained on the road ahead.
“You deserve a life that you can be proud of. You’ve been through so much. But you made things turn around. You gotta do this, Jay, no matter what. You gotta take this and make it. You earned this. Don’t let it go because of me or anyone else.”
He clenches the steering wheel tightly with both hands until his knuckles turn white.
“You’re a racer. It’s in your blood. It’s your spirit. It’s who you are. This, Tokyo, is an opportunity that you should never think of giving up and I’m sorry if I’ve made you rethink things. But now I’m uncomplicating things and I’m telling you to go for it. No holding back. Let go. Live out your dream. Be the person that you’ve always wanted to be. It’s not fair of me to hold you back. You’re a light. It’s time you share your heart with the world.”
Jay suddenly slams on brakes, shocking me. He hits the steering wheel with his fist in frustration before swerving us onto the embankment, off of the street and out of the way of oncoming cars. “Now hear me out, Aqueela, because I don’t know else how to get this through to you,” he turns in his seat to face me, his eyes reflecting his grief, “I don’t care about this, any of it. I don’t want it. The only thing I have in my life worth living for, and I mean, the only thing, is family. I can’t even say ‘friends’ anymore because it’s not true. Because that’s not what you guys are anymore. And it’s not just you, Aqueela,” he stops and averts his gaze from me, a ghost of a smile filtering across his lips, “although you probably are my favorite, it’s all of you. You’re all family to me and that’s something that I’ve never had. At the end of the day, I want a home, a people I can come back to you. I’m never gonna have that outside of you guys. And I’m not giving that up.”
“So, truly,” I hesitate, doubtful, but glad to finally hear his thoughts, “if you could, you would stay?”
“One hundred percent.” He nods in powerful conviction. “I’m nothing without you guys. I’ve told you that before and I meant it.”
“I wasn’t sure if you were just telling me what I wanted to hear,” I confess shyly, meeting his intense gaze.
“You guys keep telling me that you need me,” he replies, staring at me in all seriousness, “but I’m the one that needs you guys.”
“If that’s the case, then I should probably tell you something,” I say, fidgeting in my seat.
“What did you do?” He arches an eyebrow at me, knowing me well.
“I asked Benley to get his hands on your contract. He’s using Boss Man to get through to Decoda. He wants to see if there are any loopholes in the contract,” I hesitantly explain, revealing my plot to him. I twist in my seat to look at him. “Are you mad at me?”
He swallows back a smile, holding down a solemn expression. “Well, for one, you’re a lot cuter when you don’t talk.”
I hit his arm. “Don’t be a jerk, JJ.”
He breaks out into a beautiful smile. “No, I’m not mad.” He takes my hand into his before kissing the back of my hand. “Thank you. Thank you for doing this for me. You’re underappreciated. I’m sorry for being one of those who underappreciated you for so long.”
“Don’t go soft on me, Taylor.” I tease him in jest.
I love Jay too much for my own good, too much for his own good.
“Seventeen years too late, Lawson.”
“Good news,” Mr. Lagger Dragger says into the phone from his end, “Decoda seems to be relenting. Greg’s pulling his weight.”
I never thought, for a second, that BoyBand would be useful. I’ve never been so happy to have befriended him all those years ago.
“That’s great!” I exclaim in excitement. “I thought befriending you was a waste,” I blatantly insult him, not meaning it.
“I’d be offended if I didn’t know you.” I can practically see him rolling his eyes at me.
“Heads up, I told Jay everything,” I inform him. “He forced it out of me,” I lie.
Benley sighs in response. “I told you not to tell him.”
“Why not?” Jay snatches the phone from my grasp.
“Jay?” Ben questions, confused.
I grab the phone back from Jay. “I should’ve probably mentioned that you’re on speakerphone. Oh, and that Jay’s with me right now.”
“Don’t rejoice yet. Nothing is for certain. We still need Greg to convince Decoda to hand over the contract,” B-Dawg reminds me. “Hence why I didn’t want you to tell Jay. I didn’t want you to get his hopes-”
“Jay!” I shout into the phone, staring up into his blue eyes, forgetting that my friend is on the other side, probably wincing. “Benley’s so gonna come through for us! Decoda will never be able to resist a charmer like Boss Man! You’re going to be able to stay!”
"Aqueela,” I hear Benley complain, “that’s exactly what I didn’t want you-”
I hang up on him and turn back to Jay with a bright smile. “Imagine that, you staying.”
“I have been,” he answers, in turn, before picking me up and spinning me around. “I have been for so long.” He places me back down, leaning in to kiss me, his soft lips molding against mine as we share in each other’s happiness.
A laugh spills from my lips as I pull back from him to breathe. “So have I.” I glance around, not recognizing the area. “By the way, where are we?”
He reaches for my hand, threading our fingers together. “You’re about to find out.” He leads me to the corner house before approaching the front door, gently tugging me along after him.
Before Jay even gets the chance to knock, the door opens, revealing a familiar face.
“Mason?” I question as my mind slowly works through the puzzle.
Mase grins at Jay, pulling him in for a hug. “Heard you pull up.”
It suddenly all registers in my head. Before Mase can hug me, I spin around and begin walking back to the car. “Nope. No. No. No. Not happening. Bye Felicia.”
Worst date ever.
"Okay then,” Mase drawls, his gaze settling back on Jay, “she always this rude?”
“You have to ask?” Jay jokes before he glances back over his shoulder at me. “You don’t have to be nervous, Aqueela. They’ll love you. Everybody seems to. Even if they don’t, so what? You’ll still be the only girl I’ve ever had eyes for.”
How does he always do that? How does he read my mind?
“Was it something I said?” Mase calls out to me, kidding around.
Jay shakes his head before walking over to me in order to fetch me. “Let’s go,” he insists as he reaches for my hand yet again.
I step back, dodging him. “You could have prepared me in advance.”
“What are you so scared of?” he asks, already knowing. “I don’t care what people say. It won’t matter to me what they think. I only want to be with you and that never seems to change.”
“Nice try,” I reply, shaking my head a second time. “Nothing is going to get me into that house, so you can-”
“Pick you up against your will and force you?” he finishes for me, a teasing smirk on his face as he watches my reaction.
“What?!” I splutter in shock as I take a wary step back from him, now capable of reading his mind. “No. Don’t you dare. I will never ever set foot in that-”
Sensing that I’m not about to budge, he does exactly as he said and picks me up against my will. He tosses me over his shoulder as if I’m a worthless bag of potatoes before carrying back to the front door. All the while, Mason is laughing.
“Put me down!” I fight him, punching him on his lower back. “Put me down before I end you!”
He merely chuckles, unfazed. “Ooh, ticklish.”
“So cute,” Mason gushes in an attempt to annoy me further.
Jay carries me into the house despite all my pleading. I catch the eyes of who I’m assuming to be Mase’s parents and immediately fall silent under their gazes of bewilderment. Mason follows in after us, shutting the door behind him.
The woman opens her mouth to speak but Jay beats her to it:
“Lisa, James,” he addresses them, “my girlfriend, Aqueela.” He drops me to the floor right in front of the couple, not even bothering to expound on the ‘girlfriend’ part.
I angrily straighten my shirt, shooting Jay a deadly scowl before fixating my gaze on the couple before me. I send them a sheepish wave. “Hi,” I greet in a small voice, uncomfortable.
The woman, Lisa, smiles at me in warmth, immediately accepting me. “I’ve heard a lot about you...from both my boys.” She beams at them as if proud, as she should be.
All good things, I assume. I can do no wrong.
“Does she know that she’s your girlfriend, Jay?” Mase’s father elbows him, patting him on the back in sport as he purposely embarrasses him in front of me.
Jay averts his gaze from mine. He shifts from one foot to the other before awkwardly reaching up to scratch the back of his neck, still avoiding me. “She does now.”
Jay...always the romantic.
James, his foster father, chuckles before embracing him tightly. I don’t miss the small smile flickering across Jay’s lips at the realization that he has his parents, his family, back again. I couldn’t be happier for him.
I meet Mase’s gaze and return his joyful grin. He has his father’s brown eyes and his mother’s killer smile. They’re a picture-perfect family.
Lisa places both her hands over her mouth, unable to hide her shock, unable to hide her smile. Tears fill her eyes at the sight. She never thought she’d get Jay back. I can’t even imagine what’s running through her head right now.
“I can’t believe I have to say goodbye to both my boys,” she says softly at seeing James release Jay.
"Both?” I raise an eyebrow at Mason, curious.
“Flying back to New York later this afternoon,” he confesses, sheepish.
“Jeez, way to pull a ‘Jay’. Thanks for telling me,” I joke, sending him a playful glare just as Jay sends me a real glare.
“It was a last minute decision,” Mase carefully explains, gauging my reaction as if predicting a verbal or physical attack from me.
“Just you?” I query.
He shakes his head. “Laiken too.”
“AJ?” I fire another question his way.
“No,” he shakes his head, “she quit her job. She’s moving here to Minnesota to be with Benley.”
“Sweet!” I coo. Benley’s been so preoccupied with the contract that he failed to mention any of this to me. “Where’s Laiken right now?”
“Saying goodbye to Zac, Lucy, and Mia,” he answers. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he gives you a call before we leave.”
I shake my head and huff. Typical Laiken, putting me last, putting everybody else before me. How revolting! Unacceptable!
“And Keagan left early this morning,” Mase adds. “In case you failed to realize that too.”
“What? When?” I ask, his words going right over my head.
“This morning,” Mase repeats. “I just said that.”
“Keagan’s been living with us, ’Queela,” Jay reminds me. “How’d you miss that?”
I shrug. “I have a vague memory of him entering my room this morning. He was rambling on about New York. I kicked him out shortly after as his punishment for waking me up. I thought it was just a horrible nightmare.”
James laughs at me, finding my serious statement to be funny.
Puzzled, I glance to Lisa for an explanation only to see her studying me intently. She sees me watching her watch me. “Forgive me for staring, but you really are as beautiful as Jay said.”
“Oh, um...” I reply, ill at ease, “thank you?”
She laughs and winks at Jay. “She’s a keeper.”
“I know. It’s why I’m keeping her,” Jay replies, lightly wrapping an arm around my neck from behind as he draws me to his front and places a tender kiss on my head.
“You sure you don’t want to come back with us?” Mase asks me. “New York?”
Jay scoffs, grinning at Mason as he tightens his grip on me. “Tokyo’s better.”
“Minnesota’s my home,” I tell the both of them, my mind set.
“And you’re mine,” Jay whispers in my ear as Mase and his parents begin to talk to each other.
I tilt my head to stare up at him. “Don’t say things like that.”
He stares down at me for a second too long before placing a chaste kiss on my lips. “Sorry.”
“When’s the wedding?” James asks at seeing us together.
I laugh, Jay not finding it as funny.
The conversation continues on after that and I find myself enjoying the Montry’s company. They’re incredibly welcoming. My anxiety faded the second Jay wrapped an arm around me. When I’m with him, I can face the world.
What I love most about the Montry couple is that they love Jay and Mason so much. They take pride in both of them. There are no favorites.
I zone back in to see Jay hugging his ‘parents’ goodbye. Mase does the same before embracing Jay next, the two having formed a brotherly bond.
I internally smile at the restored relationships. Miracles do still happen.
“You boys better visit,” Lisa warns them.
“Will do, Mom,” Mason says, kissing her cheek. “I better get going.” He kisses my cheek next. “Don’t fall off the face of the earth again if you’re not taking me with you, Leech,” he jokes, hugging me.
“I don’t plan on going M.I.A. for a while,” I answer, stepping back to see his face.
“And you...don’t get into more explosions while in Tokyo,” he tells Jay before saluting him goodbye, showing the utmost respect. He grabs his bags, sending us, specifically Jay, a final glance before heading out the car waiting for him outside.
It’s then that I realize that he’s worried about Jay. Before I can think too much of it, my phone lights up with two messages:
Don’t miss me too much, Law.
~ Lover Boy
I roll my eyes. Definitely Laiken. He and Zac, the idiots, must have gotten a hold of my phone again.
I’m seeing Decoda’s softer side. Didn’t think she had one. Seems she actually somewhat cares about what happens to Jay. She’s given us the contract and seems to genuinely want to help. Greg and I are looking at the documents now but after just skimming through it, I can tell they’ve covered themselves well. Still, I’m determined to find something. Five days and counting...plenty of time. No giving up on my end.
I sigh. Reading his message puts things into perspective. I only have five days left with Jay. No giving up on my end either.
My eyes follow Jay as he leaves the house for a brief moment to answer a phone call.
Lisa, as if sensing where my thoughts are, pats my arm. “Aww, Sweetie,” she pauses, “I’m sorry.”
The sincerity in her voice catches me by surprise.
“Jay told us everything,” James clarifies. “He told us that he can’t get out of it. He doesn’t want you to ever have to compromise and follow him to Tokyo, or continue in a long distance relationship where he can’t see you as often. He wants you to stay in Minnesota, with or without him, because he knows that’s what you want.”
I nod. “That’s Jay Taylor for you.”
Lisa smiles in agreement. “Our pride and joy.”
“We can relate,” James pipes up. “We just got him back too and now we’re losing him again.”
Maybe the problem is our perspective. Maybe we should stop looking at it as ‘losing’ Jay.
It’s then that my best friend in life enters through the front door again. “We’ve got to go,” he says, his eyes on me.
“Who was it?” I ask, sensing his distress. He’s frantically twirling his car keys around his index fingers as his eyes dart from his parents to me.
“The Dung Beatles,” he answers abruptly.
I gulp. “Uh-oh.”
It’s never a good thing if they call.
“They’re completely broke, so says Gland. Apparently, they used all their money from the band on building the tree house. But when they banned people from renting out the tree house, the money pretty much went to waste, especially considering that there is no longer a tree house,” Jay elaborates.
“So what’s the problem?” I ask, the news not surprising me in the slightest.
“They’re asking for the password to my credit card.”