Chapter 44: Upside Down
“How are you broke?!” I explode in shock, unbelieving of them.
Gland stares at me blankly, at a loss. “We just told you.” He turns to face Jay before gesturing to me. “Is she stupid now or something?”
Jay crackles his knuckles, narrowing his eyes at Gland threateningly. “Watch what you say.”
Gland backs up, holding his hands apologetically. “It was a genuine question, fam.”
Jay sighs as he stares up at the ceiling in frustration. “Can you please stop referring to everyone as ‘fam’? It’s driving me insane.”
“Like when Eela drive Jaykie heart insane by just standing near him?” Oog mocks before Jay clouts him over the head. He frowns and stares up at Jay with a pout, rubbing his head with his midget hands as a result.
“I mean, you guys were crushing it,” I change the subject for Jay’s sake, “I’d just like to know what the heck happened. You used to be somewhat famous!”
“We spent all our money on building our on point tree house,” Jam repeats what I’ve already heard.
“Aww yeah, I remember that!” Gland pipes up as if it wasn’t recently. “That tree house was lit, fam!”
“But then Oog and Gland got possessive over our on fleek tree house and stopped renting it out. There went our income. Of course, Flower, bae, when the tree house blew up, we pretty much lost everything,” Jam continues to explain what I’ve heard a million times. “We need PB’s guidance on this one. I should send him a text.”
I’m pretty sure ‘PB’ filed a restraining order against Jam just yesterday.
“I’m having a difficult time processing your guys’ stupidity this time. I don’t think there’s a right answer to give me here.” I sigh, knowing that they’ll now be relying on Jay for survival – that’s my role in life! “Did you not think to invest some of it?”
I sound like Jay.
FeeBee shakes her head. “They made me in charge of the money.”
I slap my forehead and mentally groan. Is this how Jay deals?
Jay, siding with me, shakes his head at them. “Congratulations, idiots, you’re officially homeless.”
Jam smiles in warmth. “Thank you.”
“C’mon, J-Dawg, you really gonna go nah and ain’t gonna help out a couple of your own fellas. We’re fam, dawg!” Gland protests. “I can’t even right now! You really gonna take that dagger and pierce it through my soul like you did Eela?”
Jay visibly winces at the reference to me. He lifts up a hand to rub the side of his head, contemplating Gland’s words. “I don’t know if I want to go down this road again with you guys. It’s not very rewarding.”
“But Jaykie a very much loyal friend.” Oog argues, insisting that Jay help them out.
“True, I am a loyal friend.” Jay hesitates, falling into their trap. They’re masters at manipulation. I almost admire them for it.
I elbow Jay and cough, reminding him to not give in. It’s time they do some ‘adulting’ for themselves. I had to do it for five years. However, I’ve reverted back to being dependent on Jay since then and I’d hate to see ‘The Dung Beatles’ go the same way, mostly because I’m not keen on sharing Jay.
I manage to capture his attention. Jay immediately moves his hesitant gaze to me as he stares down at me with a half smile, my heart beating that much faster in my chest because of the simple action.
“Nah-uh.” Gland shakes his head fiercely at me, snapping his fingers in front of Jay’s face. “I ain’t like what’s happening here. What you thinking you doing to him, Eela? Don’t you go using those bedroom eyes on my boy, Jaykie. He’s stronger than that. Don’t hypnotize him with those doe eyes of yours. Stop that elbowing. Stop elbowing him.” He tugs Jay back from me. “Stop that mushy gushy and gooey. I ain’t enjoying it as much as Jaykie. It’s freaky. You got em big eyes, girl.”
I tune out his rambling and scoff, my patience wearing thin.
“Have heart, Jaykie,” Oog adds in an effort to persuade my apparent boyfriend – something we still haven’t had the chance to discuss.
“I always end up regretting having heart when it comes to you guys.” Jay fires back, adamant.
Jay can be so soft at times. You wouldn’t realize it upon just meeting him. It’s probably one of the things I love most about him. He doesn’t just care about me; he cares about everyone. He’d disagree but I don’t think he’s ever met a stranger in his life.
“C’mon, you flawless human being, do it for the kidz.” Gland continues on in his feeble attempts to convince Jay to help them in some way or another. “Put Eela out if you have to.”
My mouth falls agape at his suggestion. How dare he?! Someone better restrain me because I’m gonna literally put him out.
“Now that’s never gonna happen, my man,” Jay replies firmly, confident in his answer, placing his hand on my hip when I take a daring step toward Gland.
“But Keagan gone. His room is open. Also, FeeBee share with Ugly. He won’t mind,” Oog suggests, coming up with an actual solution.
Oh, Zac, a.k.a. Ugly, will most definitely mind. FeeBee creeps him out.
“Oog will even treat Jaykie better,” Oog lies.
“Say I’m better than Aqueela and I’ll accept,” Jay teases even though it’s obvious that his mind is already made up – he’s made of marshmallows.
I stand back and fold my arms over my chest in amusement. This should be good.
Oog relucantly nods in agreement. “Jaykie...uh...Jaykie’s...um...” He falters, stumbling over his words. His hits his fist on his knee in disappointment, his love for me overruling all. “It damn! Oog just can’t do it! Too hard!”
Jay laughs, the sound putting a smile on my face. “I’m just messing with you. I don’t expect you to lie.” He turns his head to look at me, sending me a playful wink.
I touch my fingers to my lips before blowing him a kiss.
He pretends to catch it before placing it to his chest over his heart. “I’ll be keeping this one.”
“You two make me sick,” Zac comments, leaning against the kitchen counter, watching us disgust while munching away on a sandwich – his breakfast for the evening. ”Also, I’m not sharing a room with that,” he motions to FeeBee who is chasing a fly with a happy-go-lucky smile on her pretty face.
Jay follows Zac’s gaze and smiles softly before gently tugging FeeBee back to us.
“Worried Mia will find out?” I taunt him.
"Ha ha,” he replies in sarcasm before pulling a face at me.
“No wonder Oog says you’re ugly,” I joke. “Why are you up in any case?” I ask, checking the time. “You said you were gonna catch up on sleep after spending the day looking for a job.”
“Laik wanted to say goodbye.” He yawns. “And let me tell you, Mia’s not happy. She’s been brooding ever since he left. I don’t know what to think anymore.”
“That girl is an uckers.” Gland shakes his head, fond of Zac and his badass attitude. “You deserve better, homeslice.”
I roll my eyes. Gland and his obsession with wanting to collab with Big Shaq is getting out of hand. He idolizes the guy and keeps using all his lyrics on Jay, his favorite being ‘man’s not hot, take off your jacket’. Of course, it riles Jay up until Jay deliberately tells him he’s hot (something I agree with) and shrugs off his leather jacket before tossing it at Gland’s head.
“Thanks, dude.” Zac fist bumps him, appreciating his friendship. Aside from Laiken, Gland is the only one Zac likes from my circle of friends.
I move over to him and place a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry.”
I feel him flex his arm from underneath my touch. “At least, I still have you.” He smirks.
I grin and remove my hand from him. “Did you just purposely flex?” I mock, placing my hand on my hip.
He deliberately mimics my actions and dramatically places a hand on his hip too. “I totally did,” he uses my ‘voice’ on me. “Got a problem with that?”
“I do,” Jay chimes in before I can answer.
“Seriously?” I arch an eyebrow at him. I thought he was past his issues with Zac.
“Nah,” Jay chuckles, a crack in serious demeanor, waving the matter off. “I only have a problem if I realize the person is a threat.”
“I am a threat,” Zac argues, offended. “Aqueela could fall for me.”
Jay and I, as well as ‘The Dung Beatles’, all burst into simultaneous laughter.
Oog pats his leg, still laughing, humoring him. “Sure, buddy.”
He’s taking after Jay lately.
Zac scowls at all of us and kicks Oog off of him. “You guys are jerks. Worse than Keagan.”
Keagan enjoys messing with Zac. It’s a pastime hobby of his. Zac should be elated that he’s gone.
I offer him some sympathy. “How did the work thing go?”
Zac shakes his head, looking away in shame. “No one wants to hire someone with a criminal record.”
We all lapse into a deafening silence, no one knowing what to say to that.
"So,” Gland eventually coughs, directing his gaze to Jay, “you gonna show us around our new crib or what?”
You’d think they’d know where everything is by now...
“Sure,” Jay agrees in ease as he casually leads them to the front door, “right this way is the exit.”
Jam grins and steps outside the front door, glancing around as if intrigued. “Nice. Lovely place you have.”
I giggle at seeing Jay’s comical side. Zac notices and huffs in irritation. “Is there anything you two find annoying about each other?”
Jay and I answer in unison:
“Everything. Absolutely everything.”
Jay narrows his eyes at me. “Nice.”
I merely send him a carefree grin. “What can I say? I’m an eternal pessimist and you’re the optimist.”
Jay frowns. “That doesn’t sound right. If I’m optimist it’s only because you’re around. Without you, there’s not much to look forward to.”
“Hurtful.” Gland feigns offense.
“I thought we were besties, Jay.” FeeBee’s expression drops to one of sadness.
“We are. Always.” Jay assures her. “Even if you have poor choice in friends.”
FeeBee’s lightens up like a Christmas tree.
I smile wholeheartedly at her.
“There’s too much sap in this room. I’m gonna go grab a beer, who’s with me?” Zac asks aloud as he lights up a cigarette in the house even though Jay has told him several times not to.
“Shotgun Zac’s bike!” Oog sprints out the door, waiting for no man while Jam continues to stroll around the front garden, admiring his ‘new’ home.
“Me too!” Gland runs out after his short, little friend.
Zac’s eyes widen in panic. “You can’t–” He stops talking, knowing better, and takes after them, FeeBee happily skipping out the door along with him.
Slobber barks at them before pawing at the front door until it shuts closed. Even he’s had enough.
"Jay...” I drawl, taking my opportunity now that we’re alone, “what happened with FeeBee?” It’s something I’ve always wanted an answer to but I’ve always avoided prying.
He remains quiet for a second or two before letting out a deep sigh. He drops his head in his hands as he breathes out heavily, the guilt weighing him down. “It’s my fault. I left her. It’s my fault. I left her to face them on her own.”
I feel his pain, a pain that he’s been hiding for a long time. I lean my head on his shoulder and pat his back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this distraught over something before.
He’s quiet again before he readjusts his position, sitting up and turning to face me. “When we stepped out of line at the orphanage, we’d get punished. We’d get locked alone in a dark room for hours. Then there were times when that wasn’t punishment enough and they’d resort to physical abuse. It didn’t happen often but it did happen.”
Saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t good enough in this situation.
“She wasn’t always like this. When I was there, I could protect her. I could take the fall. But when I left, they hurt her. She sustained a very serious head injury from the abuse and some other disorders from the effect of living with long term stress,” he explains, guilt evident in his eyes. “She’s one of the reasons why they were shut down.”
He and Grey carry too much weight, weight that isn’t theirs to carry.
I place my hand on his forearm, having no words in the moment. Nothing I say will fix this. Nothing I say will fix anything.
Jay catches on, as always, and places his other hand over mine before smiling gently. “I know things are tough, Aqueela, in both of our lives, but I’m still glad I met you. I’m glad you’re here with me, right now.” He averts his gaze to the floor, refusing to look at me. “I...I need you,” he confesses to something I thought I’d ever hear him say, not in this lifetime or any other.
Those three words leaving his mouth make me realize that he’s holding my heart in his hands. Jay’s not the type to say ‘I need you’ to anyone, simply because he doesn’t want to ever need anyone. In his eyes, needing someone makes him vulnerable to more pain. That’s how I know how difficult that was for him to say. It’s how I know that he means it with all his heart. It’s how I know that he’s not the only one holding a heart, according to him, I am too.
I angle my head to the side and stare at him, wanting to make the hurt go away but unsure how to solve any of it. I reach out and touch his cheek, bringing his focus back to me. His attention is immediately captured – he turns his head back to me and sees the look in my eyes.
“I’m sorry, Aqueela,” he murmurs softly, “I’m sorry for everything. Not for meeting you but for everything I’ve put you through since.”
I shake my head. He may come with a lot of baggage but so do I. I’m prepared to take him as he is, I always have been.
“I’m sorry for letting you down in life over and over again,” he tells me, earnest. “This time will be the last time. Maybe me walking away is really the only option left.”
I fall silent, disappointed.
There’s no use in telling him otherwise. It’s the same old story that he keeps on rewriting. I’ve since realized that I can’t be the one to set him free from everything that holds him back, everything that makes him feel undeserving of me.
His insecurities are his greatest enemy. He’s the only one who can overcome them. If he doesn’t, then there’s no point to this relationship, there’s no point in him staying.
Sometimes, I wish he’d see himself in the eyes of somebody else. It doesn’t even have to be me. It just shouldn’t be himself.
“I don’t know, Aqueela,” Ben replies from his side of the phone, “I’ll be honest with you, it’s not looking good.”
I sigh in dejection. “You woke me up from my sleep to tell me bad news?!” I yawn into the phone, emotionally exhausted. “I jolted up and grabbed the phone when I heard it ringing. So much for placing my trust in a boy band.” I tease, ignoring the sting of hopelessness floating through my veins.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” B-Dawg apologizes, feeling torn up about it. “I’m still hoping there will be a way to fix this, but the contract is solid. There don’t seem to be any loopholes.”
There are always loopholes.
“It’s okay, Ben.” I reassure him. “Thank you for trying. Maybe Jay’s supposed to leave. At least, he feels that way.”
“Decoda’s on board with everything,” he continues, trying to avoid talking about my latest issues with Jay – he’s done playing therapist. “In fact, she wants to speak to you.”
“Put her on.” I sigh inwardly.
“Aqueela?” I hear her questioning voice next.
“Hi,” I answer meekly.
“Don’t sound so scared.” She actually laughs. “I know you think I don’t give a damn about Jay, and I’ll admit, in the beginning, I didn’t, but now, now I do.” I stay quiet to hear what else she has to say. “In the beginning, it was about the money, but the kid grew on me.”
I smile sadly. “He tends to do that.”
“My point is, I knew the second that Jay got back here, Minnesota, that his heart wasn’t in racing anymore, at least, it wasn’t his priority as it once was...” she trails off into a pause, “and then I figured it out. You. It’s because of you. You’re his priority. He didn’t make much of an effort to be low-key about it either.”
I don’t have a response to that.
“He started missing races. Then he told me he wanted to stay, that he didn’t want to go to Tokyo anymore. He pleaded with me to get him out of the contract, but at that stage I was convinced that the kid was just getting cold feet. I never realized how important staying was to him, is to him...not until now, not until Greg explained it to me. I now see that he has to stay. We have to get him out of this contract.”
I close the door to Jay’s room upon hearing he and Grey talking downstairs. “That’s amazing news.”
“Your friend, Benley, can’t seem to find any loopholes. It’s almost as if they predicted Jay dropping out, so I called the people myself and explained the situation, hoping they’d listen to reason. They’re not loosening up. They want Jay,” she carefully explains, my heart sinking upon hearing her words.
“Of course, they do,” I groan, feeling defeated. “Jay’s one of the best.”
“I’m calling Jed Levi now. If they’re going to listen to anyone, it will be him,” she concludes on a tone of finality, getting ready to hang up.
“Who?” I ask, frowning.
“He’s an ex racer. He used to be one of the best. He now coaches. He was Jay’s coach for a while. Why do you think Jay came back untouchable in his racing? It was Jed’s influence. He’s taught Jay all his tricks. People in the racing world respect him. They might listen if I can get him on board,” she tells me, informing me on the latest.
“Thanks, Decoda,” I reply in sincerity. “You’re not as terrible as I thought.”
She hangs up after that.
Hope flutters within me as I quietly walk downstairs, not wanting to intrude on Jay and Grey’s hushed conversation. However, I do intend on telling him the news.
I stop short when I hear my name mentioned.
“Still, man, I’m sorry about the whole you and Aqueela thing. I never meant to sound accusing. I just wanted you to know that if you do, you know, have a thing for her, she’s gonna need someone when I’m gone. If there’s anyone I’d entrust her to, it would be you,” I hear Jay say and can’t help but be annoyed by it.
They are on this again?!
His insecurities are going to ruin his life. He’s the reason he can’t catch a break. No one else. He needs to claim what he wants and take back his life. He needs to take back his present and future and then let go of his damn past.
“Why are you speaking like this, JT?” Grey asks, unhappy. “I thought you said that MacAllister is going to find a way out for you.”
“I just...” he falters, “I just don’t have a good feeling, man.”
Grey rubs at his temples in frustration. “I hate it when you say that. You always end up being right.”
“I wish I wasn’t but,” Jay halts mid-sentence, “at the same time, I can’t help but think it’s for the best.”
“For who?” Grey argues fiercely. ”You or Aqueela?”
Jay remains quiet as he stares past Grey, his focus fixated on his own inner thoughts that keep plaguing his mind.
“That’s what I thought.” Grey shakes his head in anger. “When are you gonna stop taking the easy way out? You concentrate on all your weaknesses, that you forget about all your strengths.”
“I’m tired of letting her down,” Jay replies absentmindedly, out of it. He’s not here. His mind is elsewhere, elsewhere being a dark place. “I’m tired of not being good enough. You’re the better option. Anyone but me.”
“Don’t pawn off your girl on me just because you’re scared,” Grey protests, his patience wearing thin. “If Lawson thought the same, she wouldn’t have ever taken you back. Open your eyes, that idiot will do anything for you.”
“Except go to Tokyo,” Jay says quietly, unintentionally making me feel guilty.
“Her life is here, JT.” Grey crosses his arms over his chest, taking a stand in an attempt to get his best friend to understand.
“Exactly,” Jay agrees in ease, “it’s not with me. It never has been. And it shouldn’t be.”
Grey sighs loudly. “That’s not what I meant.” He shoves Jay backward, furious. “I don’t get you, man. I thought everything was good. Your moods flip like a switch. What happened? Why are you doubting yourself again?”
“I don’t know.” Jay paces up and down the kitchen, running a hand through his hair every now and again, anxious. “I keep thinking of FeeBee and how I messed up her life because I was a coward. I keep thinking of Trish and how I let her die. What if I’m doing the same to Aqueela but in a different sense? I keep thinking of all the times I’ve already let her down. I keep thinking of all the times I still might let her down. I can’t stop. I close my eyes and the thought is still there. I can’t escape it. I don’t think I can do this, man. I wasn’t made for relationships. I just screw them up. I’m a let-down to everyone I meet and I refuse to be a let-down to Aqueela. There’s a reason why these things happen to me. There was a reason why my parents gave me up. There was a reason why I was abused in that orphanage. There was a reason why Brody tried to--”
“Do you ever stop to think that there is a reason you survived it all? And did you ever look into the post traumatic stress thing I was telling you about the other day?” Grey interrupts his irrational rambling with a question that’s never occurred to me before.
Jay’s distressed, more so than ever before, and Grey has clearly noticed.
“Nah,” Jay shakes his head, adamant, “you know how I feel about those kinds of things.”
“Maybe FeeBee wasn’t the only one who winded up with issues after the orphanage,” Grey suggests calmly.“Your mood swings are out of control and you just said you can’t stop thinking about all the things that have happened to you. You’re still having the nightmares and flashbacks that refuse to go away. You have an extremely negative outlook on life, on yourself. You always blame yourself for everything. You never want to talk about anything. The signs are there. Greg’s right. As your friend, I’m saying this because I’m concerned, I really think it’s time you get help, before you stuff up with Lawson. The girl is clearly in love with you.”
I suck in a deep breath, too terrified to release it.
How did I not see it? Jay’s not coping. He hasn’t been for a long time. He never said anything. He never does.
“And you’re clearly in love with her,” Jay states bluntly, sure of himself. Grey begins to defend himself but Jay merely talks over him. “Don’t bother. I’m not blind, man. I know you. I know how you get when you’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t like a girl. You can’t fool me. You can deny it but you can’t fool me. I know it, man. I know it.”
I let out a shaky breath as my eyes brim with unshed tears. Why’s he doing this? Why’s he doing this to me, to us? Once again, Jay Taylor is flipping my world upside down.
Grey swallows, averting his gaze before clearing his throat. “It’s not like that.”
Jay nods, convinced. “Yeah, it is.”
“I never meant-”
“I know,” Jay cuts him off, keeping his eyes locked on him, gauging his reactions. “Do me a favor and take her already. You deserve her. I don’t. I don’t deserve any of it.”
With those parting words, Jay leaves the house, the door slamming shut behind him before I hear the rumbling of the Gallardo’s engine.
He’s going to the cliff.
I should have never asked about FeeBee. He’s walls are too high to climb. He suppresses everything he feels until the day he cracks...until today. But then I know it’s not just about FeeBee. It’s everything. Jay can’t seem to get past any of it and that, that’s where all our problems lie.
Before I can react and go after him, my phone lights up with a message. I glance down to see that it’s from Benley.
‘Jed called. They’re not swaying, Aqueela. I’m texting you because I don’t know how to speak to you right now. I’m sorry. I tried, I really did.’
Jay was right. He foresaw this happening.
I brush a tear way and look up, only to meet Grey’s gaze. I freeze under his piercing stare, not knowing what to say.
He draws in a quick, panicked breath. “Aqueela...”
I don’t let him finish. I awkwardly push past him in search of Jay.
I need Jay.