Rewind (Book 2)

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Chapter 45: Cold Panic

“You know where he’s going, right?” Grey’s voice, unfortunately, stops me before I’m able to make it out the front door.

I halt in my steps and awkwardly nod, refusing to turn around and face him. This is as uncomfortable as it is painful and completely unexpected.

I hear him sigh deeply from behind me before he’s speaking again. “What he just said, it doesn’t matter. Okay? I need you to get that. I need you to go after him, no matter what.”

I can’t help it. I slowly spin around to face him as I rack my brain for answers. “Why?” I whisper, confused. “Why would you say that?”

If Jay’s right, why would he say that?

His gray eyes keep me frozen in place as he continues to keep up his stoic front. The crack in his surface that was there a second ago has been buried under layers of a hardened heart. “Because....” he concludes on a note of finality.

“Grey,” I drawl in hesitance, afraid to look at him, ”please.”

“Because,” he falters, clearly feeling vulnerable at having to reveal his emotions, “I’m scared he’s finally reached his breaking point. Because I’ve never seen him lose his composure like that before. Because I’ve never seen his emotions tip. Because since meeting him, he’s always been there for me. Because, as unbelievable as it may seem to you and everyone else, friendship and loyalty are significant to me. Because the love I have for my friend, my brother, overpowers all other issues I’m facing in life.”

I frown, taken aback by his words. Where’s my robot gone and why does Jay top both our lists of priorities?

“He’s the only family I got left and I don’t say that lightly,” he adds upon seeing my widened eyes. “He’s being an idiot right now, but...just like you, I sorta love that idiot. That idiot is my brother and that idiot deserves everything good in life.” He pauses for a moment before meeting my gaze in earnest. “He deserves you.”

I swallow, trying to come up for air. “Grey...” My voice breaks.

He shakes his head defiantly. “Jay’s been blindsided by his past for a long time. You’ll be the one to make him see again.”

“I’ve tried,” I exclaim in exasperation, feeling helpless. “He hates himself.”

I don’t know what to do anymore.

“Then you’d better hurry, considering you know where he’s headed.”

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

A cold panic overtakes me, one that I can’t escape. My heart stops and all the air leaves my lungs as Grey’s parting words come to mind. I shout in fright when I see Jay standing on the edge of his cliff, staring down at the waters below him in contemplation. “Stop! Don’t do it! Don’t jump!”

Jay immediately spins around to face me, a ghost of a smile flickering over his lips. “I wasn’t planning on taking the jump without you,” he jokes, referring to our past adventures of five years ago, reminding me that the drop isn’t fatal. Still, there’s a sadness etched into him that won’t seem to fade, not even with time. It’s a sadness that not even I can heal. It’s a sadness that he can’t afford to hide anymore.

I shake my head, falling silent under his feigned smile. There are no words coming to mind. I have nothing left to say.

“So, that’s it then?” I, with much difficulty, eventually voice my thoughts after having first calmed down.

“You heard?” he states more than asks, already knowing the answer.

I nod. “You’re giving up on me for the second time?” I, too, already know the answer. “I’m not a freaken parcel to be passed around whenever you grow tired of me.”

“Please,” he begs quietly, turning his head away from me in guilt, his blue eyes reflecting nothing but pain and remorse – all that he has left, “don’t ever see it like that. That’s not what this is.”

“I know,” I reply fiercely. “I’m not the one you’re giving up on. This isn’t about me at all. It’s you. You’re giving up on yourself. You’re the problem.”

“You think I don’t know that, Aqueela?” He runs a frustrated hand through his dark hair. “I do. I know it’s me. It’s never been you. It’s always been me.”

I smile in pride at seeing his progress, at seeing how far he’s come since meeting him all those years ago. “Glad to finally hear you admit it. That took a lot of courage on your part. It’s a step forward in the right direction.”

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, his voice breaking as the sadness begins to consume him once again, “I’m sorry for everything. I know I’ve said it a million times but I don’t know how else to put it into words. I don’t know how else to make this right. I can fix everyone else’s problems but I can’t fix mine. I can’t fix this...” he gestures to himself, waving a hand over his heart, “I can’t fix me.”

His words are enough to make me cry. “Don’t say that. Stop. Stop it.” I command, as furious as I am hurt.

He takes a step forward before I feel his strong arms materialize around my form. He pulls me into a tight embrace at seeing me cry, really cry. He rests his chin atop my head and holds me against him in a comforting way, managing to keep the rest of my tears at bay.

For a moment, everything isn’t falling apart around us. For a moment, he’s not hurting. For a moment, he’s not leaving. For a moment, I’m eternally happy.

I recollect myself as I rest in his warm presence, this particular embrace feeling different from all the other ones we’ve shared. Silence engulfs us as I come to the realization that it’s because he’s saying goodbye. He’s not saying goodbye for the next decade; he’s saying goodbye forever.

As soon as we part from each other, that’s it. We’re done. Who knows where we’ll both end up? But it seems that, for once, we’re actually on the same page. Just like me, he’s not ready to let go. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.

Minutes slip by. The only sound to be heard between us is our anxious breathing and the rush of water below us. Under the moonlight, I hide my face in his chest and take all that is him in. I hear him exhale a shaky breath as if feeling every single emotion that I’m currently drowning in.

Time ticks away agonizingly slowly, but, at the same time, far too quickly.

Before I know it, he’s let go.

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

“You’re a real downer today, you know?” Zac complains as he playfully nudges me with his shoulder. “Why do you have to be like this on the day we’re visiting our grandparents?” He jokes, trying to lighten my mood.

"My grandparents, Zac,” I correct him, not bothering to return his smile or his gaze.

I’m tired. I’m so tired.

“How much longer?” He mumbles coyly, wanting to help in his own twisted ‘Zac’ way that only he understands.

“Two days,” I answer, aware of what he means. I’d rather not speak about it.

“Lawyer friend of yours still hard at work?” He asks, trying to find out what’s up with me.

I shake my head. “There’s no canceling that contract.” I reluctantly let him in on the loop.

“So, he’s definitely going?” Zac pries, failing to be subtle.

I nod, staring at the ground as we approach the front door of my grandparent’s house. “Even if there was a way to cancel the contract, Jay would still leave. There’s no stopping him. It’s not about the contract anymore.”

Zac furrows his eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Jay’s...broken,” I answer simply, not willing to expound on all the details of his life.

“Aren’t we all?” Zac adds quietly.

“I guess.” I shrug halfheartedly.

“But that’s why we have each other, right?” Zac elbows me in order to get me to look at him. “That’s why we have friends, right?”

I bite back a smile at hearing him quote the me of years ago. “Yeah,” I agree, “that’s what friends, family, are for.”

“Oh no.” Zac gulps before immediately doing a one-eighty, prepared to escape as quick as he possibly can.

Has he only come to his senses now? I mean, who willingly meets my grandparents?

I stop dead in my tracks when my uncle’s face comes into view, Zac’s sudden fear making sense. Usually, I’d sprint over to Jeffster and hug the life out of him, but the look on his face tells me that he’s not here to visit.

“Cut to the chase,” I tell him, not in the mood for more bombshells to be dropped on me. I don’t think I can handle it.

“I found your dad,” he replies calmly, waiting for me to break apart – he’s too late.

“Please don’t refer to him as my ‘dad’,” I reply back just as calmly.

“I tracked him down,” he informs me. I had no doubt that he eventually would. When my uncle sets his mind to something, he does it, even if it takes a lifetime. “I arrested him this morning.”

For some reason, my heart sinks, all life draining from me. “And?”

“I thought you should know that he’s paying for what he did to you. I came over to give you the option...if you have anything to say to him?” he hesitantly asks. “I know that things between you two were left...let’s just leave it as they were left.”

“I sacrificed everything for that man,” I say, indifferent. “I’m not doing it again.”

“Even if he’s asking to see you?” he prods, indirectly updating me on Lars’ current state of mind. If he wants to talk, he’s desperate.

“Even if he’s asking to see me,” I answer firmly, my resolve not dying. “He’s not using me again.” I brush away a tear before more appear.

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, patting me on the arm in sympathy. “At least, you have justice now.”

I nod, satisfied. “And Zac does too.”

Jeffster glances at Zac who is now some distance away. He’s refusing to look our way, failing to hide behind a trash can standing in the open. “Does he still think I’m going to arrest him?”

I nod. “Yup.”

“That kid.” He shakes his head. “I prefer the other one.”

So do I.

I don’t say anything, in turn. Instead, I walk up to Zac and grab him by the ear before dragging him back to the front door, ignoring his protests.

My uncle watches us in amusement before arching a brow at Zac. “Nice to see you on the straight and narrow, son.”

Zac sends him a sheepish grin. “You’re not going to arrest me, are you?”

“Why?” My uncle raises both brows this time, intimidating the poor loser. “You’re not doing something illegal again, are you?”

“No, Sir,” Zac tells him truthfully, proud of himself for getting out of that life. He hasn’t looked back since Jay’s talk with him.

My uncle laughs and slaps Zac hard on the back. “Good for you.” He holds up a pair of handcuffs. “I’m really glad that I don’t have to use these for the second time today.”

Zac takes a step back and cowers in fear. “No, Sir. No need for those.”

Despite my grumpy mood, I stifle a laugh before pulling Zac over the threshold of the door.

If he thinks my uncle is bad...he has no idea.

I glance over my shoulder at Jeffster. “You not coming inside?”

“Hell no!” he says quickly before chuckling. “I already paid my time with those goons and my apparent new brother. No more.”

“New brother?” I ask before it hits me. “Landon’s here?” I mentally slap my forehead. I completely forgot about all that.

He nods. “Landon Lawson.”

I shake my head. I still haven’t had time to process that. “Right.”

“How’d he even do that anyway?” Jeffster questions, looking for answers. “I mean, why’d he do that? Why would he do that to himself?”

“Ignorance,” I answer playfully. “Always comes down to ignorance. He’ll regret it soon enough. Actually,” I pause, “knowing Lan, probably not.”

I bid my uncle, my hero, goodbye before dragging Zac back into the house in order to introduce him to my grandparents.

“Honies, we’re home!” I shout into the house, no one in sight. “And I’ve brought a friend, an enemy, with...whatever you’d prefer!”

Zac angrily elbows me in the side. “I’d like to make a good first impression without you ruining it.”

“They’re in the dungeon,” Kaleela tells me as she passes us by, helping herself to some food in the kitchen. “By the way, where’s that hottie of yours?”

They’ve kept her?! Couldn’t they have got a puppy instead?

“Where’s Shay?” I retaliate.

“We broke up,” she says carelessly before leaving the house.

Seriously? Fate are you playing games with me?!

“Who was that?” Zac asks, at a loss. “And you have a dungeon?!”

Not willing to explain, I wave it off and drag Zac to the basement where Landon’s ‘man cave’ is being set up by my grandparents.

“This is sick!” Zac exclaims in excitement when he sees the massive TV screen, the Xbox console, the giant speakers, the fridge filled with junk food, the table tennis table, the pool table, the foosball table, among many other ‘manly’ things.

“Right.” Landon grins, satisfied. His eyes fall on me next. “Hey, my favorite niece,” he jokes, purposely riling me up. “Where ya been? You never visit anymore.”

Sarah better get her man in order or there will be no more order!

“Finally paying us a visit, huh? About time!” Grams sneers at me, only noticing me now, just as Gramps leaps forward and throws his arms around me. Grams shakes her head at him in disgust. “Weak,” she murmurs.

For once, I hug my Gramps back, feeling the need to be with family. These looney tunes are all I got.

“We’ve missed you,” Gramps tells me in earnest, making me realize that I do somewhat matter to them. Maybe Kaleela and Landon haven’t replaced me after all.

I never thought that I’d ever miss them, but I’ve probably missed them more than they’ve missed me.

Grams yanks Gramps off of me before embracing me tightly, almost as if sensing the hurt I’m feeling on the inside.

Grandmas and their intuition...

“I’m sorry about your dad,” Grams tells me, sincere, pulling back from me to see my face and read my expression.

“He was never my dad.” I shrug, brushing the matter off as if it’s nothing. However, I’m pretty sure my distress is obvious.

To my surprise, it’s Lan who draws me to his side in an attempt to comfort me. “Sorry, Lawson. Been there. Parents can either make or break their children. Mine broke me. But the good part is that you don’t have to stay that way.”

Although, teary-eyed, I smile brightly up at him, grateful to have someone who is able to relate. “Thank you,” I reply quietly, genuine. “Thank you for saying that, Lan. It means a lot coming from you.”

“C’mon,” he nudges me teasingly, “I have a heart.”

I wipe at my eyes and grin. “I was doubtful.”

“He takes after me,” Grams tells me in pride, placing a hand over her heart as she stares at her ‘son’ in admiration. “The other two take after your grandfather.”

Jeffster is incredible. They don’t appreciate him enough.

“Who is this piece of smoking salmon?” Grams asks me, sending Zac a flirtatious wink. “And is he looking to settle down?”

Zac cringes, his brown eyes meeting my hazel ones in bewilderment. “Is she for real?”

“Ask Troy,” I laugh through my tears, my spirits having been lifted. Nothing like family, I tell you.

“That’s Aqueela’s ex stepbrother,” Landon explains, actually concerned for others for once in his life. “He was Lars’ stepson for a while. He lost Lars too.”

So he does listen?!

I place a supportive hand on Zac’s arm.

Zac glances down at the floor. “Can’t believe he’s finally been arrested. I mean, I knew it was coming, but...I thought he’d...you know...speak to me or something. I guess what I’m trying to say is...did I ever mean anything to him?”

I’m asking myself the same thing.

“My biggest regret in life,” Grams breathes out shakily, “is not raising that boy right. Don’t ever base your importance on someone who is not important.” She rips my hand off of Zac and replaces my hold with her own. “You are important. You do matter.”

Zac nods, appreciative. “Thanks. I needed to hear that today. Lately, I’ve been feeling like a failure, like nothing I do matters and nothing I do is important enough. I’ve really been thinking that if I just applied myself I could turn things around, but people can’t see past your mistakes. All they see is-”

“Okay, jeez, boy,” Grams holds her hand up to his face, effectively shutting him up, “I didn’t ask for your sob story.”

I shake my head. Typical of my grandmonster.

Zac frowns, crossing his arms over his chest in a huff before falling silent.

A giggle trickles form my lips at the sight, and just like that, I know I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be just fine.

Upon leaving my grandparent’s house, I can’t help but feel refreshed and renewed...that is until the inevitable happens.

“Aqueela!” The old lady living across from my grandparents, the one Jay and I once fooled, beckons me over in enthusiasm. “So lovely to see you, dear.” She glances around as if in search of someone. “Where’s that wonderful husband of yours?”

Zac arches an eyebrow at me in question. “Since when-”

“We got divorced,” I speak over Zac before he can give me away.

The lady gasps and places a hand over her mouth in a futile effort to hide it. “Oh my! So sorry, my love. You have my deepest sympathies. What happened?”

“I-I,” I falter, “I don’t really know.”

“And sweet, little Ryland?” she asks, failing to recover from her shock.

“He died,” I lie in ease. “He passed on into the next life.”

“What?!” She splutters, just about fainting. Zac has to grab a hold of her arm in order to keep her steady. “But...but how?”

“He got hit by a...tsunami...on steroids. So...um yeah...you can stop sending him cards and toys now. Anyway, I should get going. Lovely seeing you! Until next time!” I waste no time and take off into a sprint, her calls for me to stop falling on deaf ears.

“What was that all ’bout?” Zac asks once we’re safely back on our way home. “Jay related?”

I nod wordlessly.

He skillfully changes the subject. “I hate to break this to you but-”

“You hate my grandparents?” I laugh.

“They’re the worst!” He complains. “And I don’t get why you find this funny. I’m being dead serious here. They’re awful.”

“Normal reaction,” I tell him, in turn. “I would have been worried if you said you loved them. Take Landon for instance.”

Zac grins in realization. “Point taken.”

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

I enter Jay’s room, somewhat my room, not expecting him to be home after everything that’s happened today. However, he is and he’s currently sleeping on his bed. On closer inspection, I notice he’s clutching my purple, ‘looney tune’ beret to his chest. On top of it all, Slobber is curled up against his side, fast asleep too.

The heavy weight comes crashing down once again at the sight of him. I sigh inwardly and watch him for a second or two, lingering in his presence, in the comfort and warmth I always feel when with him. Jay’s like nobody I’ve ever met before. I can’t decide if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

The weight only becomes heavier when I see all of his things packed up. It somehow finalizes everything. He’s really going and I really can’t breathe. There is no functioning normally without him. He is my normal.

As if having another one of his nightmares, he jolts awake, breathing fast.

“You okay?” I ask softly, only now realizing the powerful hold his nightmares have over him. It’s because those nightmares were once a reality for him. His coping mechanism is getting up early to run, something I’ve only figured out now.

He blinks, taking a moment, before he sits up and rubs at his eyes. “Yeah,” he nods, “my head is pounding but I’m good.” He lifts a hand to touch his temple. ”You okay?” he returns the question. “I mean...” he scratches the back of his neck, “your uncle called and told me about...” he trails off in uncertainty. “Are you okay?”

“Not really,” I confess, completely truthful. “To be honest, I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.”

“Forget how you’re supposed to feel. There are too many ‘supposed to-s’ in life. Feel what you want to feel,” he answers simply.

He always knows what to say.

“I’m upset, Jay,” I tell him, admitting it. “My dad, whether he lived up to the title or not, is going to jail. I hated what he did to me, but I didn’t hate him. I didn’t wish this for him.”

“You don’t deserve to go through this, not now.” He shakes his head as if it’s his fault. “I’m sorry.”

I look away from his blue eyes. It’s an abyss that I keep falling into...and I can’t stop, I can’t stop falling. And every time I do, it’s painful.

I take a seat beside him on the bed. “Yeah, well, such is life, right?”

“No,” he disagrees openly. “Don’t just go through the motions like that. There’s more to life than just breathing. That’s not what life is about. Live, Aqueela.”

I can’t. I can’t without you.

“So, you’re all packed? Ready to go?” I ask, unable to tell him what’s on my heart, not when he can’t see it, not when I know that he won’t accept it.

“You know the answer to that,” he replies quietly.

“What were you just dreaming about?” I prod, needing to know.

He hesitates and for a second I think he’s not going to tell me, but then he does. “Death.”

Chills run up my spine at hearing the raw bluntness in his words. “Death?”

“My subconscious is a dark place, Aqueela. Just a reoccurring dream. I don’t really like talking about it,” he answers abruptly.

I can’t do this anymore.

I nod in understanding. “Listen,” I breathe out wearily, unsure of what it is that I’m doing, “I borrowed some money from Bell and bought this a while ago.” I open his drawer, the one he never uses, and take out the plane ticket to Tokyo. I hand it over to him. “Maybe...”

Jay glances down at the ticket, registering what I mean. He immediately shakes his head, straightening up. “Aqueela, no,” he says, adamant.

“Why?” I ask in desperation, even though I know why. I’m resorting to my last hope. “Isn’t this what you asked for? Isn’t this what you wanted?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he argues fiercely. “It’s not what you want.”

“Maybe it is now,” I protest weakly.

“Don’t, Aqueela,” he pleads, anxious, “don’t make me do this to you. This isn’t what you want. I’m not going to be selfish and let you go through with this, not when I know how you feel. I won’t have you compromise for me. I won’t have you sacrifice your dreams for me. I won’t let you put your life on hold for me. There’s no way. Forget it.”

“It’s not up to you,” I tell him firmly.

Before I can say anything more, he tears the ticket up into pieces. “You have no idea how hard that was for me to do. I’ll re-embers Bells with the money she spent on that ticket, but as for you, you’re staying here. And trust me, Aqueela, you’re going to be okay without me. And not because of Grey, or Bells, or Max, or anyone else. That was my mistake. You’re going to be okay because of you and who you are.”

"Please, Jay, please let me go with you,” I beg, helpless and lost.

“Aqueela,” he drawls in exasperation, willing me to hear him, his eyes expressing his vulnerability, “it isn’t what you want.”

“Then why am I asking?” I challenge him, refusing to back down.

He sees right through me. “Because you’re scared. You’re scared of the unknown. Living without me is the unknown that’s scaring you. But you don’t need to be afraid, Aqueela. You’re just going through a patch of doubt. You don’t need me to breathe, to live. You’re the most capable person I’ve ever met. Even when you’re standing on the edge, you’re still smiling. And at the end of all of this, I know that you’re still gonna be smiling because that’s the kind of person you are, that’s the kind of strength that you have.”

I heave out a breath of defeat. “You’re right, Jay. You’re right. I don’t want to leave Minnesota,” I reluctantly confess.

He nods. “I know, and that’s okay.”

“Then why does it feel like it’s not?” I murmur, directionless.

He gets up and picks up his bags. “I don’t have all the answers, ’Queela.”

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

“Thanks for coming over, guys,” I tell my best friends as I grab another one of Bells’ delicious cupcakes while snuggling up to Rhys. “This icing is great!”

Max nods in agreement and stuffs another cupcake into his mouth, barely able to breathe, let alone speak. Melby seems to find it hilarious, judging by her gurgling giggles.

Bell smiles at the two of us and her children fondly. “It’s bubblegum flavored.”

“Oh,” I stop chewing momentarily, putting Rhys down to play with his toys, “I don’t really think I like bubblegum all that much anymore.”

Max chuckles, finding me comical, as he gets on his haunches to puts Melby down next to Rhys. “Yet you’re eating like a pig.”

I roll my eyes and hit him upside the head as soon as he stands up again. “I don’t like the idea of bubblegum anymore then!” How dare he start with me on today of all days!

“What does that even mean?” he asks in amusement, dense as a fricken doorknob.

“It means, it reminds her of her first meeting with Jay,” Bell answers for me, instantly getting it. She then places a tender kiss on Blanche’s forehead at seeing the baby girl stare up at her in wonder.

Max throws his hands up to the air in disbelief. “That was very technical! How was I supposed to jump to that one?” He looks around soon after. “Where is he anyway?”

I shrug. “He left about an hour ago. I have a feeling he went to settle some things with Grey, but he didn’t exactly say.”

“Is it true then? What Bells told me about him definitely leaving?” Max asks, cautious around the topic.

“Yeah, he’s packed his bags and everything,” I inform them sadly.

“And now?” Max presses, confused.

“I carry on,” I answer. ”Oh,” I stress, “and thank you guys so much for not bringing Troy. It means more than you know. Best gift ever.”

For one, he’d hog Rhys.

“I figured you wouldn’t be able to tolerate him, not when you’re at your lowest,” Bell tells me gently, worried about me. “Besides, he’s out filing divorce papers in any case. He and Jezel are fighting again and getting a divorce is always their solution to everything.”

I roll my eyes. “Unsurprising.”

“What are Grey and Jay settling anyway? Those two don’t usually fight,” Bell pries, curiosity getting the better of her.

I inhale sharply. “I don’t even know anymore.”

I really don’t.

“I thought it had to do with the whole Nancy and Ryan splitting thing,” Bell responds, her interest piqued.

“What?!” I all but raise my voice. “Since when?”

I really haven’t been paying attention lately...

Bell always stays on top of the gossip. She’s the one to go to when you need the latest news.

Max nods enthusiastically, much too invested in this for his own good. ”Apparently,” he gossips excitedly, “Nancy dumped him in order to pursue Grey.” He then chuckles, unsympathetic. “And considering Grey’s past flame, something like that, Lola or whatever, is back, it might be a little difficult for her.”

“Okay, gossip queens, how did you two find out about Leila being back?” I interrogate them, trying to come across as intimidating.

“Our ears hear everything,” Max answers dramatically, tapping at his ear as if a magician.

Bell scoffs loudly. “We,” she glances at Max mockingly, “with our ears that hear everything,” she looks back at me, “also overheard you speaking with Grey.”

Sick of hearing about Ferrot’s never-ending love issues, I change the subject swiftly. “How’s the pregnancy going?”

"Well, for starters, she’s not in denial this time,” Max teases before being swat over the head for the second time, this time the culprit being his wife.

“I’m actually really excited!” Bell gushes, truly happy, as she leans into Max for support. “My babies are going to have a baby brother or sister soon.”

Max merely smiles down at her and Blanche in pride.

Despite my struggles, I can’t stop the smile from tugging at the corner of my lifts.

These two...

“Speaking of pregnancies, I spoke to Yolanda earlier today...” I trail off wearily, waiting for their reactions.

“She normal yet?” Max jokes, sensing my hesitance on the topic. His wife has more class. She tiptoes around subjects that she knows makes me nervous.

I nod before elaborating. “She’s turned over a new leaf. She got remarried a year ago. She’s expecting a little boy. It almost feels like I’m going to have a baby brother.”

Then again, I know that’s not the case.

"Aqueela...” Bell falters, “but-”

I cut her off. “I know. It was just a nice thought.”

Yolanda, in worry, contacted me after hearing of my father’s arrest – something I don’t bother telling Max and Bell about. It’s too fresh to talk about right now, not with everything going on. It’s all too much.

“What did you say to her?” Max asks quietly, concerned.

“I sent her this,” I say before showing them both the message:

‘I’m happy for you...so long as you promise to treat that baby better than you ever did me.’

Bell’s face falls before she hugs me from the side as tight as she can with her free arm. “Sorry that you have to relive the pain, Aqueels.”

I brush her words off, ignoring the pain, and show her the message I received, in turn.

‘I promise, Aqueela. I promise you.’

“I just have one question, do people ever keep their promises anymore?” I whisper, my thoughts going straight back to the driving force behind my sadness, Jay. He promised he wouldn’t leave again.

And because of him, I fall apart in front of my friends, more importantly, in front of ‘Aqueela the Great the Second’.

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