Chapter 49: Hitting an End
The room starts to spin and I can’t help but feel disorientated in the earsplitting silence of it all. My head is pounding and my chest is aching.
A coldness, like pure ice, takes over from within. It spreads throughout my body until I’m left reeling in an empty yet agonizing numbness. It only takes three words for it to feel as if my soul, my entire being, has left me. The pull, the zest for life, dies like a burning flame put under cool water. I don’t see purpose anymore. That vision, the hope, for something more fades in a passing second.
Then, of course, the uncontrollable and inevitable shaking starts. Goosebumps prickle my skin as the color quickly drains from my face. Dismantled emotionally, my muscles give in. Feeling faint, I have to hold the wall just to keep from collapsing. And everything I’m hearing is going straight into my head and straight back out again. I cannot process any of it.
I blink back a waterfall of tears, my mind unable to register anything. I strain just to get my breath back, to breathe normally. It feels as if my lungs are slowly filling up with water and I’m losing air. Someone is holding me by the throat and I can’t breathe, and every time I try to, they tighten their grip. It’s suffocating, it’s terrifying. And everything is suddenly meaningless. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters.
When the heat floods over like a hot wave of anxiety, I realize that I’m in actual shock and not just going through the motions. My blood is boiling and I feel sick to my stomach. Darkness is entering my world, surrounding me. I feel completely hollow and directionless.
I snap out of it when I feel a hand placed on my shoulder. I glance up at Bells and then around the room and take in all the broken expressions.
How can one person impact so many lives? That is the question.
I think of all that he’s done for me, of all that he’s done for everybody else in this room. I think of the little he did for himself. I think of fate and his reoccurring dream of death. I think of the drunk pilot. I think of him leaving Slobber behind with me. I think of everything he said before he got on that plane.
‘Especially with me gone and everything.’
‘I’m not gonna be around for a while.’
’Yes, ‘Queela, this is it.’
‘I gotta go.’
‘Don’t make decisions based on me.’
‘Live the life you’ve always dreamed of.’
Did he know? Did he have an inkling?
When Landon continues to speak, I stop listening. His lips are moving but I can’t hear a single thing. Everything is a blur. The melancholy inside of me is sweeping my stability away. I can’t keep track. The Earth isn’t stable anymore. Nothing is.
“I’m sorry.” Bell hugs me for the millionth time since hearing it, not giving me the space that I desperately need.
I stare past her, unable to find words. I feel like I’ve been wrung and turned inside out.
“You can cry, Aqueela. It’s okay to cry,” Bell murmurs quietly, having noticed. “Think of it as just me and you, the way it all began,” she whispers in a futile attempt to comfort me.
It began with him. I was never whole until I met him.
“It’s not healthy to bottle up your emotions,” she adds, her own eyes filling up with tears, her anguished expression matching that of everyone else here.
I would cry if I could, but the buildup in my chest won’t let me, nor will it let me breathe. I’ve never felt a numbing pain like this before. I’ve never felt a knife this sharp before. And I can’t, I can’t afford to cry, because if I do, if I do choose to feel, I’m not going to stop feeling. I’m going to fall apart and there will be no one to put me back together again.
I don’t want to accept this. I don’t want to accept that he’s left me behind me like this, in this way. I won’t. It’s agony.
“There are beginnings and ends in life,” Bells tells me softly. “One story ends,” she says, the image of Emma, Xavier and their newborn baby flashing through my mind, “and another begins.”
I do not need to hear this. I will never be ready to hear this. It’s enough to kill me internally for eternity. Her words are paralyzing.
“You should know that when you hit an end in life, it’s only because there’s a new beginning around the corner.”
I’m not willing to find a new beginning without him, not if he’s not in the story. How can I? How can I when I’ve envisioned a future for us? A future where we’re together and happy?
There is no Aqueela without Jay. There is no story if he isn’t in it.
“Stop speaking as if he’s dead!” I snap at her in fury and hurt, my emotions going haywire as I lose all control. I’ve become inconsolable.
"But,” she hesitates before sobbing aloud, having lost her own composure, “they said on the news that they’re not expecting any survivors.”
"Bell!” Landon hisses in fury, barely holding it together himself – no one is. “We don’t know anything for sure yet. Shut the hell up!”
Unable to stand in their presences any longer, I hastily move to the door and leave. Bell, Landon and the others have no choice but to let me go.
I’m dying inside.
I didn’t ask for this, for any of this. I didn’t ask for this life. I didn’t plan on meeting Jay. I didn’t plan on loving Jay. I didn’t plan on him...I can’t.
I choke back a sob, refusing to believe it.
Why is this happening?
In the black of the night, I stare down at the rushing water below me, reminded of all the times I visited this cliff, Neptune, with him by my side. I remember us shouting our problems across the water like it was yesterday. In fact, I remember everything about him like it was yesterday.
My mind strays back to the past. Pictures of a child with floppy brown hair and big, blue eyes clouds my vision. And with that vision, comes back all the memories. And suddenly, I remember the blue-eyed boy who rebuilt my sand structures, the blue-eyed boy who saved me from Mason, the blue-eyed boy who became my best friend, the blue-eyed boy who gave me a new flower every morning, the blue-eyed boy who kissed me, my blue-eyed boy who had been there right from the very start.
The wind blows fiercely, my pulse refusing to slow. In pain, I inhale sharply, a stabbing sensation filling my lungs. The dim light from the moon shines down on me, reminding me that the world doesn’t stop turning for anyone.
I wanted the ring. I wanted the perfect marriage. I wanted the white house and picket fence. I wanted the children. I wanted it all. Eventually.
I’m only twenty-three, I shouldn’t have to endure this kind of suffering, this kind of loss at this stage in my life. It’s not fair. How is it fair?
“Jay,” a strangled cry leaves my lips as I begin to wonder what life will be like without him in it. There are a million negative thoughts plaguing my mind.
I can’t do this without him. It’s impossible.
He won’t be there for any of it. Emma’s child’s birthday is always going to be a stark reminder of the worst day of my life.
“Great,” I mumble into the stillness of the early morning, ready to give up, “now I’m going crazy.”
“What are you talking about?” I hear his voice again, his natural mint scent filling the air around me. “You’ve always been crazy, you looney tune.”
I turn around so quickly that I almost collapse and blind myself with my own hair when it whips me in my face. I stare up at him in awe, unable to fathom it.
His blue eyes twinkle in the night, catching mine, as he sends me a calm smile. His calmness washes over me as if we’re in sync, my anxiety instantly slipping from grasp.
“He brought you back to me,” I state in disbelief and pure joy upon seeing his stature whole and before me, not a scratch on him. “You’ve been brought back from the dead!” I rejoice, running to embrace him, to find peace in his heartbeat again.
His arms materialize around me – that’s when I know that he’s really here, that this isn’t wishful thinking on my part. Plus, he’s wearing his infamous leather jacket. It has to be him.
“I never got on the plane, Aqueela,” he clarifies. “I couldn’t,” he tells me, pulling back from me to look at me.
I just yank him back into another embrace, still in shock.
He drops his head on my shoulder, breathing deeply. “The plane was staring me in the face and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get on. I had to make a choice.”
I blink away my emotions, aware of what he means. “You chose me?”
He nods against my shoulder, confirming it. “I chose you.”
The smile that makes its way over my lips is going to be permanent, that much I know. I also know there will be a price to pay; he broke his contract.
“I’m always going to choose you,” he says softly, unregretful. “I’m never going to stop choosing you.”
And just like that, he awakens my heartbeat again...and I can finally breathe.
“Same time, same place tomorrow? Remember?” he asks me with that beautiful grin of his that I’m privileged enough to see again, the beautiful grin that I took for granted. “I don’t get why you’re so surprised to see me.”
“Have you seen the news lately?” I huff at his nerve. Still, I’m beyond relieved. There’s a new kind of appreciation for life filtering through my veins....and life still filtering through his.
He nods, explaining himself. “Greg had a feeling that I’d back down. He, Kyle and Leban fetched me at the airport, expecting to find me there, and took me back to Xavier’s house.” He falters, “You weren’t there.”
“I thought the possibility of you being dead was real. What took you so long to find me anyway?” I ask angrily. He let me think he was dead for a good hour or so. I have every right to be infuriated.
“Troy made a huge scene after you left,” he carefully explains. “The idiot climbed the roof and woke up all the neighbors. He threatened to jump unless I came back to him. There was a crowd and everything. He was convinced I was ghost. Jezel and I had to pull him down. And then he was convinced that he brought me back and wouldn’t let me go.” He shudders, repulsed, almost as if it haunts me. “Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
“Still took long,” I mumble, staring at the ground while kicking a pebble over the cliff in an attempt to ridden myself of my frustrations. The ‘splash’ is satisfying. Just a few minutes ago, I was the pebble being kicked off a cliff to drop and sink.
“You’re right. I should have let him jump,” he jokes, as carefree and alive as he was a few hours ago.
I hit his arm, still furious. “The love Troy has for you is unbelievable sometimes.”
“I didn’t come here to speak about Troy,” he reminds me in unease.
“Then tell my why you couldn’t step on the plane,” I ask directly.
“Because if I can’t be with you, I might as well not be breathing. I don’t want a life that doesn’t feature you. I need you more than anybody else does. I want you more than anybody else.” He pauses, searching my eyes. “I know I have problems, but I’m willing to work through them for you. I don’t want to hold back on life anymore. I don’t want to hold back on you anymore. I mean it this time. I’m ready to swim the oceans for you. I’m ready to follow you until the ends of the earth. I-”
I stop him and shake my head. This is the part that he hates. “You don’t have to.”
That same, beautiful smile reappears on his face, sending my heart into overdrive. “I’ve fallen in love with you.” He swallows and shakes his head as if he cannot believe what he just said. His grins stays put as he speaks in absolute certainty this time. “I’m in love with you, Aqueela. I always have been. From the very beginning. But you already knew that.”
I turn my back to him for a split second, the numb ache in my chest having been shattered with an irreplaceable joy that only he can give me. Hearing him say it, makes everything real to me. The J-shaped hole has been filled.
Some people would say third times the charm. They’d call it luck, but I’d call it grace. Our relationship is a sweet abyss that I never want to stop falling into.
Having so much to say but not knowing where to start, I spin back around to face him, but fall speechless at the sight of him down on one knee before me with a bubblegum ice cream in hand.
I furrow my eyebrows in confusion. “What are you—” I stop talking abruptly when I see the silver ring lying atop the blue. I almost don’t believe it.
Reeling back his emotions, he collects himself and takes my hand in his, his presence and warmth a comforting reminder of my future. “I’ve always loved you and I always will. I loved you from the start and I promise you, here, today, right now, Aqueela Lawson, that I will love you right up until the very end and even beyond that. No matter what.”
My heart might as well stop. This time, it’s a good thing.
He breathes out a breath of air before staring up at me in unease and doubt. “I bought this ring when we were eighteen. Our first and only date and I already knew that there’d never be anyone else for me. Let me do something I should have done a long time ago. Let me marry you?”
My hearts beats rapidly against my chest as a smile creeps over my lips. Still, I freeze for a second before acting on natural instinct.
Jay winces, turning his head back to me. “Seriously, Aqueela? I’m proposing to you here and you slap me through the face?”
“First of all,” I begin, backpedaling, “that was for letting me think you were dead! I couldn’t let you get away with that. Second, this is how our relationship has always been. You should’ve seen it coming by now. I tell you I like you, you drop me down a flight of stairs. You tell me you love me, I slap you though the face.”
He chuckles and it’s enough to bring me back to life. His blue eyes light up under the stars above and I can’t help but forgive him. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Klutz.”
Before he can say more, I fall to my knees and embrace him tightly, so tight that I feel like my arms are going to fall off. “My answer is yes, but you already knew that.”
He places the beautiful silver ring with a zircon stone (the color of bubblegum) on my finger and shrugs, barely holding back a grin. “It’s difficult to say ‘no’ to me,” he teases, truly happy.
“It’s difficult to say ‘no’ to bubblegum ice cream,” I correct as I grab the ice-cream from his hands in jest.
“Don’t know if you’re happier about the ring or the ice cream,” he jokes, playfully nudging me with that boyish look to his eyes. “Kind of stings.”
“I think the answer is obvious. Ice cream,” I respond teasingly. “Always ice cream.”
“I hate that I always have to compete.”
“Meh. You’re alright too.”
He laughs before tugging me forward and finally kissing me, the silver moonlight falling all around us as if to add to the genuine love bubbling between us. It doesn’t even matter that I’ve spilled the ice cream on his jacket, which says a lot more than ‘I love you’ ever could, at least, for Jay, anyway.
That’s when all the clapping and cheering start. I look up to see all of Lawson’s legends gathered and watching. I turn my questioning gaze back to Jay and arch a brow at him.
He sends me a sheepish grin, his face glowing as he helps me to my feet. “They, especially Bell, wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer...and I’m glad you didn’t either.”
In the next second, we’re surrounded by our friends...and Blubber.
“That slap though!” Landon whistles before laughing aloud, mocking Jay as he hits him on the back with all the guys following suit, despite being kicked in the face when he proposed. “I thought there was no coming back after that.”
But we did, we did come back.
As Bell said, out of context here, we hit an end and found a new beginning.
“Take it easy, man.” Jay glowers at them, turning around to face them. “I’ve just been hit through the face by my fiancée. I don’t need to be slapped anymore times. I’ve got a whole lifetime of that coming my way.”
“And now you’ve just been pushed by your fiancée,” I add gleefully. “And you’ve got a whole lifetime of that too!”
Jay’s head snaps to me in realization. “Wait, wha—”
I place my hand on his chest and shove him with all my might until he loses his footing and takes the plunge right off the very edge of the cliff.
As it turns out, the ‘splash’ proves to be more satisfying the second time ’round, just like our story.
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