Chapter 48: Slip Away
I rub my eyes tiredly and force myself to sit up, still half asleep, when I hear quiet shuffling across the floor. I internally scoff when I see the sight before me. Of course, Jay’s already awake. He never sleeps in with me. I despise him for it.
“When are you supposed to leave?” I ask softly, still in the process of waking up. Last night was a late nighter, no thanks to Jay himself.
“In three hours from now,” he answers carelessly, busy dragging our bags, Slobber atop one of them, downstairs.
“You couldn’t have stayed next to me a little longer?” I ask him in irritation, not a morning person.
“Is that hinting at something? Is that a cry for some loving, some romance, I hear?” he teases with a warm smile, covering up how he really feels.
I shake my head at his audacity. “I guess now you’ll never know.”
His grin falters before fading completely. “I didn’t want to wake you,” he answers in earnest. “I kept you up until late last night.” He tries to justify it.
“I’m going with you to the airport, you looney tune,” I reply in defiance, adamant about my decision. I will not be swayed.
“I don’t expect you to do that for me.” He lets me off the hook. “I’ll be fine.”
I roll out of the bed and spring to my feet. “I’m ready. Let’s go!”
He chuckles lightly. “You and Zac are more alike than you think.”
“Gross!” I splutter in disgust. “Don’t compare me to him.”
“You can pull the bedhead off though,” he jokes, gesturing to my untidy appearance. “A lot better to look at than Stokes. Much prettier.”
“Where are you taking my bags?” I ask in interest, paying no heed to his mindless flirting.
I have to smile when he gets down on his haunches to say goodbye to his ‘boy’, Slobber. He’s been insisting that Slobber stay with me, despite everything. It’s as if he knows how much I’m going to need Slobber after he’s gone. The love he has for Slobs, his dog, is enough to make my heart flutter.
“Xavier and Emma want to move you to a room closer to them. They’re worried about you being so far away from their room, especially with me gone and everything,” he explains briefly, still keeping up his pretense of being ‘okay’, patting Slobs behind the ears.
“Oh,” I reply, not sure what to make of it all, “where are they anyway?”
“Emma’s water broke,” he answers, indifferent, letting Slobs go. “She was having contractions in the night, so Xavier rushed her off to the hospital.”
“First of all,” I pause in shock, “oh my gosh! That’s not how you break that kind of news to someone! And second, do you not want to be there with them right now?”
He falls silent in guilt. ”Of course, I do, Aqueela. I care as much as you do.” I know he does. “They’re both two of my closest friends, but I figured that I should get a head start on missing these kind of things. I’m not gonna be around for a while.”
I get what he’s trying to say. If he were to ever come back, Emma, Bell and Troy’s children will all be ten years old. He would have missed out on so much. Who knows? Zac and Mia might be married by then. Or Laiken and Mia. Grey might actually pick a girl. Ryan might be a world famous gamer. The Dung Beatles might make a comeback. And Landon...well Lan might actually get past his anger issues once and for all – ha, fat chance! Point being... Jay’s going to miss it all. Worst of all, he knows it.
I change topics. “Who were you planning on getting to take you to the airport then?”
He shrugs. “I was just going to ask Grey or Greg.”
“I’ll take you,” I answer confidently. “I can even-”
“Drive my Gallardo?” he asks knowingly, suppressing a grin.
I nod hesitantly. “Please?” I bat my eyelashes at him in innocence.
He tosses me the keys as he passes me by. “Sure. Why not?”
“Seriously?” I question in bewilderment, speechlessly following him downstairs and out the front door.
“Seriously,” he calls over his shoulder.
“Since when?” I ask aloud as I take my place in the driver’s seat, turning to glance at him as he takes the passenger seat.
“Since you learnt to drive.”
I smile in nostalgia. “The day I almost killed us.”
He leans his head back against the seat and closes his eyes, a smile resting on his lips as he gets comfortable. ”Ah...good times.” He opens one eye and peeks up at me with a boyish glint to his mischievous expression. ”Now, drive really slowly like I know you can.”
“I don’t know, Jay,” I say, doubtful.
“They’re pilots, Aqueela,” he reassures me, aware that I’m just arguing in order to get him to stay, “they know what they’re doing.”
I huff. “Well, that one looks drunk.” I point to a passing pilot.
He shakes his head at me, not bothering to look. “I know what you’re doing.”
“This is it, then?” I ask yet again, not prepared for it, despite how long I’ve known about it. There’s no preparing for something like this. Even if Jay told me about this years ago, I still wouldn’t be prepared. This must have been how he felt when I left. I put him through this horrible feeling eating away at me. I finally get why he was so angry and hurt.
Jay laughs, the sound, ever since I heard it for the first time, always enough to lift my spirits. “For the millionth time, yes, ’Queela, this is it.” He steps back from me swiftly when I go to hug him again.
He’s not quick enough to dodge my advances. I manage to tackle him into a hug anyway. “I never thought that I’d meet someone like you, Jay. I didn’t know that ‘Jays’ even exist. You’re my best friend in life. I think you always have been.”
“I gotta go,” he replies quietly, taking steps back with me still clinging to him, squeezing the life out of him. He swallows in unease, a low chuckle emitting from his chest. “My plane’s waiting.”
Hearing his words, I release him and glance out at his awaiting plane from the window, having the urge to just go with him and never look back. Still, I stay rooted to my spot, unable to make that move. The leap is too giant. I’m not freaken Neil Armstrong. My arms aren’t strong and neither is my heart.
Jay follows my gaze and shakes his head at me. “Don’t,” he adds quietly. “Don’t think about it. You deserve to be happy in life. You deserve to stay in Minnesota. Don’t make decisions based on me. You owe it to yourself to stay true to what you want.”
When you love someone, you tend to make decisions based on that person.
“One last hug?” I ask, having hugged him about a trillion times already – I’m desperate.
Before he can even answer, I throw my arms around his neck and embrace him as tight as I possibly can. I close my eyes and relish in my last moment with him, drinking up all that I can before he leaves my grasp forever...his scent, his warmth, his touch, his gaze, his heartbeat, his laugh, our memories...all of it.
This time, he doesn’t hug me back. He doesn’t even do that awkward pat on the back thing that he often resorts to when uncomfortable. He just stands there, motionless, lifeless.
I pull back to see him staring down at me as if he has to say something.
“Aqueela,” he inhales sharply, “I...” he falters in difficulty, trailing off mid-sentence, voiceless, the unsaid not needing to be said. I already know.
I hold out on my own emotions and gesture to the plane with a nod of encouragement. “Go. I know. Go.”
It’s only when he does exactly that, taking his bags and walking out through those doors with his back turned toward me, that it hits.
Pictures of him and I enter my head, one after the other, starting with the day I bumped into him in that stupid ice cream store and that priceless look he had on his face when he saw that it was me. Never did I think that a couple months later, he’d become the reason behind my smiles.
Let me have those days again. Let me relive those days. Nothing makes sense anymore, not without him. There’s a hole in my heart that only he can fill. It’s J-shaped.
My chest aching, I make the choice to leave when he suddenly glances back at me over his shoulder one last time.
With unshed tears, I arch a questioning brow at him.
He salutes me, his gaze lingering and his eyes glistening in sincerity. “Live the life you’ve always dreamed of, Klutz. Don’t get lost on the way. Don’t stop for anyone. Same time, same place tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay,” I hear myself automatically say before I even register his words and the hope they hold.
And then he grins that beautiful grin of his and all I can do is stare back as time freezes over. It’s just he and I in the airport, the bustling crowds going unnoticed. Everything else, white noise. All I see is Jay’s grin...until I don’t anymore, until time starts ticking again and he’s gone.
Man, I’m going to miss that smile.
I lean against the closest wall and slide down against it, burying my head in my hands.
It’s then, in my moment of complete ruin, that I realize I’m always going to be waiting for the day he comes back to me, the day he steps back into my life. Whether that day comes or not, I’ll always be waiting.
“Damn it! Again?!” Lan hits the back of his computer in pure rage, his green eyes ablaze in fire. “This idiot is cheating! He has auto aim on or something!”
“Auto aim?” Ryan asks with a taunting laugh, unfazed, his eyes glued to his computer as he shoots a bullet through Lan’s head yet again. “You just suck, buddy. You suck at lanning, Lan. You all do.”
For someone who’s just been dumped, he’s in good spirits. I guess that’s what gaming does for him. Me...all I feel is the missing presence in the room.
“Jerk,” Sarah mutters under her breath, also focused on the shooting game they’re all playing.
Ryan decided to host a lan night...at Emma and Xavier’s house while the couple spend the night at the hospital, bonding with their baby girl. I can’t help but feel that it’s Ryan’s lame attempt in forgetting Nancy, especially seeing as she wasn’t invited.
I glance over at Zac to see him lanning with the most serious of expressions on his face, giving it his best yet still getting killed by Ryan. He’s better at being bad in real life than in games, and Bell makes it her personal mission to remind him of that, despite her not even playing (she and Jezel prefer watching all of our reactions instead). However, Zac’s not even hearing her. All his concentration is in the game. He’s completely zoned out. Not even Mia would be able to break the trance he’s in. He’s taking this very seriously.
Jezel and Bell push it a step further and purposely wave their hands back and forth past Zac’s face, in front of his screen, willing him to give them his attention. I hold back a smile when he absentmindedly swats their hands away, barely noticing them.
My gaze drifts over to AJ and Ben next, only to see AJ getting riled up and passionate, as always, while my BoyBand stays oddly quiet, refusing to speak to anyone. He’s taking responsibility for something that’s not his fault. I’ll have to speak to him about it later.
I look back at Ryan’s screen, him being right next to me, and watch him stalk a character for a while. It’s then that I realize that the cowardly character crawling in the grass, seeking camouflage, is none other than Troy. How surprising.
Dean, sitting on my other side, leans across me to see what I’m looking at. He cracks up laughing when Ryan walks over Troy and literally stabs him in the back. It’s even funnier when Troy spawns right in front of Ryan and gets stabbed a second time. It’s comical when he spawns on one of Ryan’s claymores but, hell, it’s hilarious when he unknowingly spawns a couple feet away from Ryan before being blown up by one of Ryan’s rocket launchers.
Dean, Ryan and I watch in fascination as Troy is blown to bits. I gotta say, it feels good to see. He definitely deserves it. It almost makes up for all hell he’s put us through, almost.
“I’m not playing anymore if he’s playing!” Troy complains aloud, thinking that we all actually care. “It’s him or me!”
“Ooh, tough one,” Lan comments casually. “I hate you both equally, but I think I’m gonna go with Ryan staying.”
Troy gasps, offended.
“That’s what you get for camping. You weren’t even sniping,” Ryan tells Troy, brushing his complaints aside as he goes on to kill Zac again.
Zac slams his mouse down on the table in frustration, swearing underneath his breath, before zoning back into the game.
“You’re going to break that mouse,” Bell lectures him, unimpressed by his temper.
“Lan’s on his third and no one’s saying anything about that,” Zac mutters in disdain before shoving her away from him, seeing her as nothing but a distraction.
“That’s because it’s expected of him,” Bell answers confidently, ignoring the daggers Lan’s shooting her. “We literally got out the extra mouses for him.”
Lan grins at the last part, satisfied.
Ryan has accurate aim, impeccable speed and knows the controls and maps like the back of his hand, but the real secret to his winning streak is to keep moving. He never stands still. It’s something I’ve observed.
“You not playing?” Dean asks me softly, having noticed by silence. His gentle tone catches me off guard. He’s usually a loud mouth.
It’s because everyone in this room, shockingly enough, including Dean, are aware of the current headspace I’m in. They’re aware that our friend has left, yet everyone is refusing to touch on the subject. They’re acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
But it’s obvious that we all feel it, we all feel his absence. It’s impossible not to.
When I don’t answer, Dean sends me an affectionate smile. “You can be on my teeaam,” he playfully hums in an attempt to convince me.
The doofus is sweet. I have to admit that.
I take the bait. “Fine.”
He grins in satisfaction. “Where are you on the map?” he asks soon after. “I’m getting in a car now. I’ll find you.”
I get in a car too and begin driving in the general direction that I’m sure Dean is in. It’s not until we crash into each other at high speeds, our cars exploding and bursting into flames, along with our bodies, that we discover that we were close to each other the entire time.
Dean shakes his head at me as if it’s my fault. “Why didn’t you just stay put?” he asks teasingly before he laughs, finding the whole ordeal funny. “I was coming for you.”
I can’t help but share in his laugh. Dean’s always so friendly and upbeat with everyone, it’s difficult not to laugh and have fun with him. I still don’t understand how he and Lan are best friends. They’re total opposites.
“I call for a racing game!” Dean protests when Ryan enters another ‘kill streak’.
Lan immediately backs his friend up, agreeing.
Okay, now I get why they’re friends. They’re both sore losers.
My laughter dies when I notice Grey tapping away aimlessly on his mouse, blankly staring at the screen ahead of him. He has his cap on backwards with his headphones on, but it’s clear that he’s not even trying. His mind is far away from here, from the game, from us. Occasionally, he glances down at his phone. It’s then that I realize he’s tracking Jay’s flight.
Greg, Kyle and Leban went out drinking together. They decided to skip out on the lan night. I know it’s because they’re just as worried about Jay as much as I am. There’s even talk that Leban will go to Tokyo too. Kyle also mentioned returning back to South Africa. Without Jay, things fall apart.
“So, if you had to pick between Max and Troy, who’d you pick?” Dean asks randomly, trying to make conversation and evidently get my mind off of Jay.
“Hands down, Max,” I answer immediately, not giving it a second thought. There’s no need to. ”Definitely Max.”
Jezel is mental for taking up a nutbag like Troy Bensten.
“Blood wars!” Max shouts, just then, as he tries to team up with Ryan for the billionth time. His highly competitive side is out to play. He literally jumps up from his seat and shouts at the top of his voice whenever he kills someone. “Let’s spill blood and paint their faces with it, Ryan!”
In turn, Ryan shoots Max. He does it every time Max tries to team up with him...which is a lot of times. Ryan plays solo. He even turned friendly fire on just to kill Max for following him around.
“Not my blood!” Max shouts in anger before trying to team up with Ryan yet again, having learned nothing.
Dean arches a brow at me in interest as his gaze drifts to Max. “Really? That guy?”
“Better than that guy.” I defend myself, pointing to a sulking Troy who has just left the game after having a grenade thrown at him by Ryan. “He wears more make-up than me.”
Dean weighs it out in his head before nodding. “True. What about my boys, Landon and Zac? Which one then?”
“Why are you asking me this?” I question, not really all that bothered by it. Once you’ve found the one, no one else in the world can compete.
“Just curious, now that I know that you’re not lesbian,” he answers in nonchalance, finally having figured it out. “Now pick.”
“Landon,” I answer in ease. “He gets along with my family, too well actually, and Zac’s too high maintenance.”
“Heard that,” Zac comments, barely sparing me a glance before he directs his gaze back to his pc screen.
Dean nods, tapping his chin in mock thought. ”Interesting. Very interesting.”
I roll my eyes at him, hiding my smile.
“What about Grey and Xavier?” he asks next, turning this into a mini interrogation.
“Grey,” I answer without hesitation. “Xavier’s like a barbie doll with that perfect hair of his.”
I look up to see a smirk curve at Grey’s lips. He heard.
“Plus,” I joke, “it will be easier because Grey already adores me.”
Immediately, his smirk falters and disappears. He glances up from his screen to scowl at me. He sends me the middle finger and shakes his head when he sees me looking.
I laugh, amused by his reactions. ”See. He’s lovable.”
Dean chuckles, finding it comical. “For sure,” he humors me, playing along just so that he can annoy the hell out of Grey. “Now what about me and Ryan? Who’s your pick?”
“Ryan, obviously," Ryan pipes in immediately, having been listening to us the entire time yet still managing to kick ass.
Dean scoffs, feigning irritation. “What do you mean by that? What do you mean by ‘obviously’?”
“Aqueela wants a man with a brain,” Ryan jokes in jest, merely being his mean self. “Thus, me. Not you.”
Dean frowns, not attempting to deny it. “Whatever.” He makes a comeback. “Aqueela wants a man, full-stop, hence me and not you.”
Feeling bad for him, I pat his arm in fake sympathy. “I’d pick you.”
It’s then that Ryan declares knife wars before knifing me through the stomach and spilling my guts.
“Better catch a wake-up, Lawson,” Ryan warns. “You were standing out in the open for a while.”
Sheepish, I resort to blaming it on someone else. “Blubber’s head was in the way. I couldn’t see my screen.”
“Hey!” Blubber complains just as Susie falls into a fit of laughter. “I’m sitting behind you, you damn goddess you!”
“That’s how ginormous your head is,” I retort angrily, using him as my scapegoat.
“Alliances are being made!” Max declares in fury. “Dean and Aqueela keep running around together. No doubt, they’re working with each other! End them!”
He so dense. He’s paying so much attention to us that he hasn’t even figured out that Susie’s using cheat codes, hence why she’s always able to kill him.
“What’s going on with you, dude?” Dylan asks Benley at seeing Benley’s character run into a wall over and over again, his head disappearing into the wall.
I begin to laugh out of my stomach, aware of what’s happening. I explain it to the others once I catch my breath. “He’s lagging!” I snicker, wiping the tears from my eyes, turning a blind eye to his dark glare. “Nobody shoot him! Mr. Lagger Dragger is lagging!”
Everyone listens and leaves Ben to lag. It’s because of his stone age pc – Ryan was disgusted by it and almost didn’t allow Benley into the house with it
“I hate this game,” Benley mutters, annoyed with all of us.
Ryan, offended, kicks him out of the game, refusing to allow him back in.
I continue to laugh as the lan night continues on into the early hours of the morning. Being surrounded by your closest friends is enough to ease away your most painful sorrows, something I’ve learned over the years.
Also, I’m going to cherish these lan memories – starting with Simo’s character lying on the floor, begging for someone to pick him up, while we all run past and ignore him, to playing ‘The Forest’ and having Dean promise me that we’ll be safe from the cannibals just seconds before they tore through our log house and ate us, to Minecraft where I became the ultimate zombie slayer and accidentally led a creeper to Ben’s house where it blew up three hours of hard work on Ben’s part – needless to say, I was kicked out of the game. Fortunately, Dean built a statue of me in honor of my zombie slaying legacy...but then Benley blew that up with TNT.
Anyway, it’s been great.
It’s only when Grey, having been missing for twenty minutes, walks back into the room with a distraught look on his face, that I remember he’s gone.
“What’s the matter, bro?” Landon asks upon noticing his friend’s concerned expression.
Grey swallows, clearing his throat, before attempting to collect himself. “The plane went off course thirty minutes ago. I can’t track the flight anymore. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Silence floods the room. The games and yelling stop as we all turn our attention onto Grey.
Landon is first to break the deafening silence. “I wouldn’t stress it, bud. It’s probably just an error with the app. Things like this happen all the time.”
Grey nods, his face still etched with worry. “I’m gonna just check the news anyway. Maybe there’s something up.”
It’s when Grey drops his phone, his hands shaking, that I realize what has happened.
Landon picks up the phone when Grey doesn’t speak. His eyes widen and he too falls speechless. “This can’t be real.”
“What does it say?” Sarah asks, already having an idea, peering over his shoulder to see.
“The plane crashed,” he whispers, his eyes falling on me.
My heart plummets. It might as well stop.
In life, you only get one chance...and I just missed mine. I didn’t risk it all. And now here I am and will always be, stuck in the moment where I lose everything, where the one who matters most to me slips away.