Chapter 46: Void
I glance around the empty room, feeling vacant myself. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting on Jay’s bed, staring at his packed bags. It’s killing me.
One day left.
God, if you’re listening, please let him stay.
A knock on the door startles me, tearing me from my heavy thoughts. I pull myself up and force myself to open the door to Jay’s bedroom.
I don’t want to see him right now. I can’t. It’s too difficult. With us, it always is. Relationships aren’t supposed to be easy, I get that, but they shouldn’t be this hard either.
It’s not Jay at the door. I’m taken by surprise at seeing Grey instead.
Okay, so now I want Jay back.
“Hey,” I greet tiredly, taking in the dark rings under his eyes.
He sucks in a deep breath before shoving his hands into his pockets. “Hey,” he answers meekly, catching me off guard yet again. It’s not often that he’s unsure of himself.
“Jay’s not home,” I tell him bluntly. “Quite frankly, I have no idea where he is.”
“Me neither,” he answers in indifference. “But I actually came to see you.”
I shake my head firmly. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Grey.”
He notices my reaction and winces. “And that’s exactly why.” He collects himself before explaining. “JT was wrong. He never gave me a chance to speak.”
I fold my arms over my chest, striking a defensive stance, hesitant to hear him out. “Speak.”
“I’m not in love with you,” he tells me abruptly.
Before he can say anything more, I blow out a breath of relief. “Oh, thank goodness!” I embrace him tightly, no longer feeling awkward. “I was so worried.”
“Jeez,” he whistles lowly before hugging me back lightly, “and boy am I glad I’m not. You’d crush me. Have you ever heard of letting a guy down easy?”
I release him and analyze his expression before interrogating him. “So, then why’d Jay assume that you are?”
“Because you and I have grown closer? Because we understand each other? Because we’re able to relate? Because I don’t completely hate you? Because I said you’re attractive the first time he ever pointed you out to me? I don’t know, Aqueela. There’s a lot of reasons,” he answers, leaning back against the closed door as he watches me carefully. “It could be anything.”
“I always knew you thought I’m attractive,” I joke, touched by his moving words. I never thought I’d see his soft side, at least, not on me. Heck, I don’t completely hate him either.
He rolls his eyes. “Get over it. It wasn’t that big of a deal. It was when I first met you. It was a silly little attraction that JT quickly picked up on. It stopped the second I figured out JT’s feelings for you. It stopped the second I got to really know you and what a pain in the ass you actually are.”
“Thank you,” I reply in sincerity, playfully batting my eyes at him in jest.
“Don’t give me the eyes. I’m not JT,” he jokes, in turn. ”See. This for example,” he points at my devious grin, “this is exactly what I’m talking about. Pain. In. The. Ass.”
“What happened with you and Jay yesterday anyway?” I ask, grateful to have a meaningful friendship restored. “Did you guys argue?”
Grey shakes his head. “No. He helped me with something.”
“Did you explain all of this to him?” I question, hoping he cleared up the misunderstanding.
He nods. “I did. He accepted it but I’m not sure he fully believes me.”
“Give him time,” I reply knowingly. Jay’s cynical.
"So, what? One day?” Grey reminds me, unimpressed.
“Shut up,” I huff, not wanting to think about that anymore. I’ll deal with it when it comes...which is tomorrow. “What was Jay helping you with? Girl problems?” I tease, changing the subject. “Leila and Nancy hot on your tail?”
He scoffs at my audacity. ”No. He helped me get Brody, his father and the rest of the gang put behind bars. In fact, your uncle helped too. He’s great, by the way. How is he related to you?”
“What?” I splutter in shock. Jeffster sure has been busy. “Why would you do that?”
“They wanted me to do something for them,” he elaborates, leaving out the major details. “I said no, so they threatened Leila.” He pauses in thought. “JT was right about them. I should have listened to him a long time ago.”
“I’m happy you’re out of that, Grey,” I tell him, earnest. “I was worried that they might do to you what they did to Jay.”
“Me too,” he reluctantly confesses. “Anyway, I should get going.”
I send him a smile as I bid him goodbye.
He frowns in response before leaving the room, shutting the door after him.
“I was really worried, Aqueela,” Bell tells me, expressing her concern. “I’ve never seen you so upset before like you were yesterday. You’re feeling better today?”
I nod. “A little, yeah.”
Max smiles in relief. “Good.” He makes an attempt to get me to laugh. “I mean, I didn’t even know Aqueela bots could cry.”
I roll my eyes at him. “Shut it, Maxipad. It was a moment of weakness.”
He grins brightly. “I sure as hell didn’t miss that nickname.”
I laugh, feeling nostalgic as I think back on the past. “I sure as hell miss the old days.”
Bell shakes her head in disagreement. “I much prefer the present.” She glances at Max and her triplet as if to get her message across. “And I have a feeling that I’ll prefer the future too.” She places a hand against her growing stomach and smiles.
“Thanks for letting me visit,” I tell the both of them, appreciative. “I really needed to get out.”
“Slobber too?” Max arches an eyebrow at me as he watches Slobber cuddle up to Blanche – for once, she’s not crying.
“I think he likes babies,” Bell adds with a cunning smile. “Better hurry up, Aqueela.”
I shake my head, suppressing a smile. “No, thank you. I don’t need a child anytime soon. Slobber is my child.”
“And Oog.” Max chuckles.
“The only child I want is-”
“You can’t have, Rhys,” Bell cuts me off, reading my mind.
I shrug, uncaring. “Worth a shot.”
“Do you know that he’s calling me ‘mommy’ now?” Bell asks, delighted.
I send her a sheepish look. “He is?” I act clueless. “That’s amazing!”
Bell slaps me on the arm, seeing right through me. “Like you didn’t know. Grey told me!”
Damn it, Grey! If he were here, I’d snap him in half like a pencil. And to think I was just starting to appreciate his presence in my life.
“He called Grey ‘mommy’ too!” I complain, selling him out like he did me.
“You’re just lucky he’s calling everyone mommy, including Max and Troy, or I’d have killed you by now,” she replies fiercely, meaning it.
I can’t help but burst out laughing at hearing that. “That’s my Rhys.”
“He’s not yours,” Bell points out for the millionth time. It’s really unnecessary considering that I’ll never give up.
“Yet,” I say under my breath. She shoots me a look, in turn. “Kidding,” I lie. “Not,” I mumble soon after.
“We can still hear you, you dork.” Max laughs, finding me to be amusing.
Before I can insult him back, the doorbell rings loudly, echoing around the house for all to hear. In fact, it doesn’t stop ringing.
“I’m going to murder him!” Bell shouts at the top of her voice when Melby starts to cry. “She just fell asleep after a whole night of crying!”
Bell angrily stomps off to go open the door, aware that it can only be Troy seeing as he usually rings the doorbell repeatedly until the door is opened for him. Meanwhile, Max tends to Melby, cradling her to his chest as he tries to put her back to sleep.
“Sorry, Angel. Daddy is sorry,” Max whispers into her ear, coaxing her to go back to sleep. “Your uncle is going to pay, Melbs.”
Troy has keys for the house but he likes the door to be opened for him. In fact, he once asked Max to roll out a red carpet for him every time he gets back home from ‘work’.
“You’re an idiot! Forget the ringing of the bell and waking up Melby! This is worse! So much worse! You’re an idiot!” Bell screams furiously, not even startling Rhys and Blanche – I suppose they’re used to it by now. “I love you, Jezel, but you’re part of this too?! How is this a solution to all your problems?! How can you do this?! Troy, I’m so telling Dad!”
“Uh-oh,” I gulp, “this sounds bad.”
Max cringes. “Bell sounds furious. Of course, it’s bad. What the heck did they do? What the heck did Troy convince Jezel to do?”
We don’t get the chance to question it further because it’s then that Troy and Jezel enter the room.
My eyes widen at the sight. “What in the world...what is that?” I ask, pointing to the Indian baby in Troy’s arms. I gasp. “Did you steal someone’s baby?!” Finally, he’s going back to jail!
“As you know,” Troy replies calmly, “Jezel and I have been having some marriage issues due to Jezel sucking at marriage-”
“I do not suck at marriage!” Jezel protests in hysterics as if they’ve been over the same argument a million times. “You and your ego do!”
“We all know that you guys suck at marriage seeing as we hear you two fighting non-stop all the time,” Max reminds them with a look of irritation. “I’ve had enough sleepless nights-”
“Gross!” Troy covers his ears. “Why are you telling us this?! I don’t want to know!”
“Because of you and Jezel fighting,” Max clarifies, annoyed.
“Point being,” Troy continues on calmly yet again, “on our way to get the divorce papers, we decided that this little marriage might be worth saving and so-”
“You kidnapped someone’s child?!” I splutter in absolute shock.
“No,” Jezel shakes her head, “we decided to hell with divorce and adopted a baby instead,” she finishes for Troy with a carefree grin on her face.
Max and I exchange a look, the both of us silent. I just know that we’re currently thinking the same thing: what did this poor child do to deserve this?!
“And they allowed it?” I question, at a loss. “How?”
Jezel shrugs innocently. “They checked our funds, our living conditions and gave us the thumbs-up.”
“Was Troy in the bathroom or something?” I ask in disbelief. If they met Troy, there’s no way...
“This is ridiculous!” Bell huffs in fury. “I’m calling the relevant authorities.”
“No, no, no, wait!” Troy begs, holding his sister in desperation, not allowing her to move. “Don’t take our Indian prince away from us! Don’t take Riosh Dazzle Flare away from us!”
“Riosh who now?” Max asks, stifling a laugh.
I’m not finding this as funny. This poor child was damned the day he was born.
“Riosh Dazzle Flare,” Jezel repeats after Troy, narrowing her eyes at Max threateningly. “You got a problem with that, Mills?”
Now we know who picked the name...
“His name is now legally Riosh Dazzle whatever Bensten now?” Max asks in bewilderment, stunned.
Oh please, it’s not like his kids’ names are that much better...
Jezel nods. “Yes. We changed it from James. How boring. Riosh Dazzle Flare Bensten suites him more.”
"Totally,” Max agrees in sarcasm. “Way better than James Bensten.”
“I don’t see you two,” I point to Troy and Jezel, “for a few days and suddenly you’re both parents. I mean, Troy’s a father now. That’s freaken terrifying in itself.”
“Isn’t it?” Troy laughs, missing the point. “We’re a spontaneous couple. However, don’t think of us as above you...well that much above you...for you see, like any normal couple, we decided to end our feud by having a child. We just thought, ‘hey, let’s have a baby’, you know, normal couple-y thoughts like that.”
"Right,” I drawl in confusion.
“Give me one good reason as to why I shouldn’t tell Dad?” Bell asks her brother, placing her hands on her hips.
“Because I’m an adult,” Troy argues, causing all of us, including Jezel, to fall into a fit of laughter. ”Okay, fine,” he sighs, “because I already love this baby and if you take my Riosh away from me, I’ll never ever forgive you.”
Bell freezes at seeing him be serious for once. “But you don’t even know what being a parent all entails.”
“Does anyone know before they have a child?” Jezel challenges her. “Have some more faith in your brother.”
No, no, please don’t.
“You and Max can teach us,” Troy insists. “Don’t take your babies’ first cousin away from them,” he pleads, actually begging for once in his life.
“Three days,” Bell suddenly agrees as a plan comes to her mind. “Three days to see how you two deal. If you’re not looking after...” she sighs in reluctance, ”Riosh,” she emphasizes, ”properly, then I’m calling Dad.”
“Yes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” He and Jezel celebrate, hugging the life out of each other and Bells in pure joy.
“What are you doing, Bell?” Max mumbles quietly, not on board.
“Now let me see my nephew already!” Bell commands, failing to hide her excitement in getting to be an aunt.
Troy carefully hands Riosh over to her, surprising us all with his tender touch that none of us thought he had.
“How old is he?” Bell asks as she smiles down at the latest member of the Bensten family.
“Six months,” Jezel answers, unable to stop herself from smiling.
Bell nods and gently places Riosh down next to Blanche.
Curious, Blanche crawls up to Riosh in order to get a better look at the odd-looking creature before her. Riosh immediately reaches out and pulls her headband, causing the bow on the headband to fling back into her forehead. As a result, Blanche bursts out crying. Riosh follows and joins in, not even knowing why he’s crying.
“I can tell that this is the start of a beautiful cousinship,” Troy says in awe, his hands over his mouth at the ‘beauty’ of it all.
Their loud crying wakes up Melby and so she begins crying again too.
“Your son’s a bully, Troy.” I giggle, finding it comical.
“Yeah,” Bell backs me up, except, she’s serious.
“Oh, please,” Jezel argues, offended, “Blanche always cries. She cried at my poor Riosh Dazzle Flare.”
“Because he hurt her,” Bell protests in anger.
Meanwhile, Max and Troy stay silent, knowing better than to get involved. Unfortunately for them, their wives drag them into it and soon Max and Troy are arguing too.
I shake my head, my gaze falling on Rhys.
I can’t help but smile when I see that he’s the only one in the entire room that’s laughing, and to be honest, it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
After Troy phoned Ramos to tell him of the good news, it wasn’t even ten seconds later when Ramos arrived at the door. It was then that Bell discovered that Ramos has been homeless for a while (he was fired for insulting a customer) and he’s been living under their doorstep for a couple moths now. It was also then that I decided to leave.
I open the front door, taken aback at the fact that Jay’s still not home. His Gallardo is nowhere in sight and it’s starting to get late. I haven’t heard from him all day.
Deciding on calling him, I hastily slam the front door shut after me. Just as I do, there’s a tumultuous rumbling from beneath me, almost as if I’ve triggered something. The house suddenly begins to shake. I let out a scream just as Gland, FeeBee, Oog and Jam come charging past me.
Another scream leaves my lips when Gland unexpectedly picks me up along the way, effortlessly tossing me over his shoulder before running right out of the house at a speed that is unfathomable to me. Fortunately, Jam grabs Slobber before hurriedly following us out.
I’m only dropped back onto the ground once we’ve safely reached the other end of the street.
“What the heck is going?!” I all but shout, panicked.
"That.” Oog casually points to Jay’s house.
One second it’s there, and the next, it’s gone.
We all watch on in helpless despair as the ground, Jay’s entire piece of property, gives way before our very eyes. The entire house crumbles before collapsing completely, being sucked down into the earth, into the gigantic hole, completely disappearing out of sight, and with all our belongings too.
“What did you do?!” I lash out at the ‘Dung Beatles’ in rage, dust flying up around us, blinding me for a moment.
That house...Jay’s house...it meant everything to me.
“We started making another underground tunnel when the house started to move,” FeeBee answers, coughing on all the dust, not seeing how truly devastating and disastrous this is.
Jay’s gonna die. Yup, he’s gonna have a fit and die when he sees his house...or when he doesn’t see his house.
“Oh my gosh!” I gasp, swallowing nervously, as it slowly registers in my head. “It’s gone.” It takes me a second or two to process it. “It’s really gone. The entire freaken house is gone! It just vanished out of sight.”
“We can totally fix it. No biggie,” Jam reassures me in a futile act to comfort me.
I begin to pace, anxiously running a hand through my loose strands of hair. I bite my nails as I begin to think of how Jay is going to react. All I know is that I don’t want to be here when he gets home. I don’t want to be on this planet when he gets home.
“This is so bad,” I mutter to myself, my heart thumping loudly. “And a lot of bad things have happened to me. This literally tops everything.”
“Thank you.” Oog smiles in pride.
A stream of butterflies run through my veins. I throw my head into my hands and try to disappear. As expected, I fail.
“Do you have any idea what you looney tunes have done?” I ask quietly, trying to remain level-headed, something Jay does well.
FeeBee shakes her head. “Mm...no, not really.”
I stare up at the gray sky, praying for a miracle. “You guys and all your tunnels have disrupted the foundation and support structure of the house. This last tunnel was the cherry on top of the icing and all the disgusting sprinkles. This last tunnel destroyed the last of the house’s foundation structure,” I inform them, hoping they’ll see the extent of their actions. “You dismantled everything!”
“How were we supposed to know that the house would eventually collapse just because we were digging directly under it?” Gland asks cockily, refusing to take the blame. “If anything, this is J-Dawg’s fault for having a lousy house structure.”
More like lousy friends...
“You guys are literally the reason that we’re now all homeless like Ramos,” I sputter in frustration, wondering what we’ll ever do now.
As if anything more can go wrong...
Gunther opens the door to his house before looking to where Jay’s house used to be. He grins and throws a fist up into the air as if rejoicing. “Yes!” He then spots us and sends us a wave of mockery. “Love the new decorating!” He cackles before entering his house again, overjoyed that we’re now out of the picture.
“Oh my word!” It only occurs to me now. ”Zac!”
“Meh,” Oog waves his hand in nonchalance, “is it really a loss?”
“Zac!” I scream as I run up to the rubble and begin digging through it. “Zac! I’ll save you, Zac!”
It’s just as well Keagen left.
“Woah,” I hear a familiar chuckle from behind me, “there’s something different about the place.”
I spin around, only to come face-to-face with Zac and Mia. It seems as if they’ve yet again rekindled the flame, especially now that Laiken is gone.
“Could it be that the entire place is missing?!” I shout at him, taking my irritation out on the wrong person.
Zac isn’t even bothered. It seems he’s in high spirits after having spent time with Mia.
“Listen, you can stop fretting over me. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the house. Mia and I went on a date,” he explains, sensing my distress. He’s not even concerned that he could have died today. All he cares about is Mia. It’s as stupid as it is sweet.
“I don’t care!” I reply, infuriated and fearful. “Jay’s going to kill us all. For real, this time.”
“Oh, he’s seen it already,” Zac replies, indifferent. “He’s in the field nearby. Mia and I passed him on the way home. We literally heard the noise before seeing the entire house be engulfed by the ground. It was insane.”
“What did Jay say?” I ask, puzzled by his strange behavior. If he saw it happen, why isn’t he here?
Zac shrugs. “Nothing really...now that I think about it. In fact, he didn’t say much at all. He looked kind of...down, like more down than his house.”
“Not funny.” I glower at him. “You should be upset. All your belongings are gone. Your home is gone.” I try to get through to him.
"Actually, I moved in with Mia today...” Zac trails off when I give him a look for not telling me, “so yeah...it’s pretty much just your and Jay’s stuff gone seeing as these idiots,” he gestures to the famous four, “don’t own anything anymore.”
“Well, now neither do Jay and I,” I complain, my heart weighing me down.
How much more? What else? What next?
“We’re sorry, Eela,” Oog apologizes, knowing that I’m the type that just forgives, even when he’s not really all that sorry. But I’ve reached the point where I’ve had enough. Enough is enough. Today is enough.
I place my hand up, stopping him. ”Don’t, Oog. Just don’t.” I release a shaky breath, feeling sick to my stomach, before going after Jay yet again.
It only takes me a few minutes to walk to the field. By the time I get there, it’s dark. Still, I spot Jay easily. He’s sitting atop the hood of his car, staring up at the stars above, an emotionless expression on his face.
I hesitantly join him, aware that something’s happened. “You don’t have to talk about it,” I whisper softly, following his gaze to stare up at the twinkling stars as they appear a few at a time, the darker it gets.
For the longest time, he’s quiet, the silence suffocating. The stillness of the night isn’t even as still as Jay. He doesn’t move, doesn’t speak.
The atmosphere is tense.
I angle my head slightly and turn, taking in his side profile. He’s frozen in thought. It’s only when he blinks that I see the drop fall from his eye.
My heart beats in pain with his. I notice his rigid posture and his clenched jaw, signifying how deep this runs, how agonizing this is for him. His blank stare is unnerving. It’s as if he’s not even here right now. He’s never been further away.
I inch closer to him until I’m pressed up against his warm side. On impulse, I reach out and take his fist into my hands. I gently undo his tight grip and interlace our fingers together, letting him know that despite everything, I’m here.
He inhales sharply, showing actual sign of life, before I feel his stiff muscles begin to relax.
“The house falling in is just a symbol of my life falling apart.”
I shake my head. “That’s not true, Jay. That’s not true at all.” I refuse to let him believe that. I refuse to believe it. I won’t.
He’s so submerged in his problems that he doesn’t see all the opportunities around him. He’s immersed in darkness and he can’t seem pull himself out of it.
He slowly moves his gaze onto me, his blue eyes cold, empty and void of emotion – like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This isn’t my Jay. He’s looking at me but he’s not seeing me. He’s looking right through me, and it’s chilling.
“Today, I found out my parents are dead, Aqueela.” He averts his torn stare to the ground, broken. “I keep reaching my hands to the sky, but it feels like no one’s listening.”
"Jay...” I falter, having no words. I know how devastating this must be for him. He’s been wanting to meet his birth parents for years. He’s had so many questions. To find out that they’re dead, is literally heartbreaking. I can’t even begin to imagine how he feels. “I have no words. I don’t know what to say,” I confess, feeling beyond inadequate right now.
“Don’t say anything,” he says under his breath. “There isn’t anything left to say.”
But what if there is?
He stares up at the sky again, defeated. “There’s nothing left.”
No words have ever been more untrue.