Pause (Book 1)

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Chapter 13: Level the Playing Field

“So how did you two end up together?” the Junior valedictorian, head of the Journal and Media Department, asks us as the interview Max scheduled takes place.

I tap my chin in mock thought and then glance at Max with an apprehensive grin. “Um, I think Maxipad tells it best.”

Max turns to me with widened eyes. He doesn’t like being put on the spot unless he’s prepared for it. He’s a bad liar. It’s not like I’m much better. I mean a Teletubby outfit at Rowdy’s? Who am I kidding? Oh wait, that’s everyone.

Max squeezes my hand tightly to signify his anger. I smile sweetly at him and motion for him to come up with a story and fast.

He starts hesitantly, “Well, it all began a few months ago when I was rock climbing. Aqueels started talking me up like the flirt she is…” he trails off when I give him a subtle glare. He feigns laughter as if reminiscing back on a memory, “I remember that she couldn’t keep her eyes off my biceps, kept telling me that my calves were more intricately carved than the Egyptian pyramids and-“

“Oh, Max,” I swat him hard on his upper arm, cutting him off, refusing to go down like this. I don’t want this false information revealed to most of the student body.

“Oh, Aqueela,” he retorts back with a grin, aware that I’m about to kill him.

“Anyway, that story is really boring!” I practically shout in order to stop him from talking and hopefully change the subject. “How about we talk about something other than Max’s intricately structured Egyptian calves?” I suggest, giving him a death stare in the process.

The reporter shrugs and continues on with the interview. “Well, the Maxeela fans want to know what you two have installed for the MMAs. That seems to be a hot topic right now.”

I open my mouth to answer, but of course, as soon as Max hears the acronym ‘MMA’, his attention perks up as he leans in forward and begins to blabber on about all his plans that seem so far-fetched and unrealistic.

No wonder Bells and Mason think we’re both insane. I mean, how am I supposed to go about body slamming a grown man? Max gives me way too much credit.

I can’t believe it’s been only a week since Max and I have been fake dating. To say that it’s been torture is an understatement. He’s a pest.

On the brighter side of things, I have successfully got Jay to acknowledge me every now and then. We’re well on our way to being best friends.

I have also managed to avoid Mason, which, sadly, means avoiding Bells too.

“What’s your take on this, Aqueela?” the reporter asks. When I don’t answer, she repeats herself, “Aqueela?”

Max clicks his fingers in front of my face to get me back into the conversation. “Aqueela? Babe? Pay attention!”

I tune back into the boring conversation. “Sorry, what? I was distracted by Max’s hand on my leg,” I lie, tormenting him further. “He can be such a flirt sometimes.”

Max folds his arms over his chest, a frown etched onto his face, his anger clear as day.

“I am sorry, you are going to have to repeat the question, what was it?” I ask her.

The reporter, taken aback, blinks a few times at the revelation I just announced. She repeats her question, still stunned by what I had just said, “Is Max a respectful gentleman?”

Oops! This one is on me.

“Well, I think I just gave you the answer to that,” I mumble, the reporter nodding slowly. She’s still astonished, judging by the blank expression on her face. She writes all that I’ve said down, the cameras still filming.

I think I just ruined the little left of Max’s rep.

She shifts uncomfortably in her. “I think I have everything I need. As promised, your interview will feature in the school’s newspaper,” she says and stands up as she motions to her camera crew to stop filming.

I watch as they walk out the room, leaving me alone with a murderous Max. The door shuts closed after them. I take a peek up at Max to find him already looking down at me with a glint of death in his eyes.

He doesn’t move as if waiting for me to take the initiative to make the first move. I pause for a second and then take the gap when I see it. As quick as lightning, I bolt for the door to escape his evil clutches. However, he yanks me back faster than you can yell ‘help’. I slam into his chest just as my hand falls from the door handle.

“Not so fast,” he whispers, his voice threatening.

I close my eyes and turn around to face the broody, sulky monster. “Now, Max, I know that you’re a tad bit mad, but-“

“When she releases that film, the entire school will see me as a pervert’!” he yells, my ears ringing, as he shakes me back and forth by my shoulders as if I’m his personal rag doll.

I muster up a sheepish grin, “At least you have a clique to fall under now - the pervs of high school.” I take a bow, “You’re welcome.”

“Not funny,” he grumbles and finally releases his hold on me. “I can’t wait ’til we break up. You’re exhausting.”

“I knew you weren’t man enough to handle me,” I tease, but Max doesn’t crack a smile.

This may not be the right time to say what I am about to voice, but I go ahead and remind him anyway. “Oh, and by the way, when we do break up, I am the dumper and you are the ‘dumpee’.”

His attention snaps back to me, his brown eyes darkening in anger. “Oh, no! No! No! No! I will be the one dumping you and that’s final!”

I press my lips into a thin line and wince as I cock my head to the side. “Well...” I trail off in a high-pitched voice, implying that there’s more to come.

He rolls his eyes and mimics me in the same high-pitched voice, “Well…what?!” he snaps. “Well what, Aqueela?”

“You’re about to be known as the pervert of this school. When you give them your break-up story and people see that it differs from mine, who do you think they will believe? You - the pervert who cheated on the love of his life? Or me - the innocent girl who had her heart broken?” I ask, giving him real perspective into how this relationship is going down. It’s going down like the Titanic.

The reality of the situation dawns on Max. He sighs, knowing that he has lost the battle. “Aqueela Lawson, I hate you,” he grumbles under his breath as he runs a frustrated hand through his brown hair.

I take the opportunity to make my escape. However, the door is now open and Jay Taylor, of all people, is leaning against the door frame - his arms crossed over his chest and an amused smirk in place.

He’s been eavesdropping the entire time.

He glances over my shoulder to Max with a grin, agreeing with his earlier statement, “Join the club, man.”

He’s here to level the playing field.

I pull a face at Jay and shove him out of the doorway so that I can get passed before Max truly does kill me. I have no doubt that Jay will help him commit the crime and help get rid of my body in the process.

I’m quick to slip down the hallways of our school and blend in with the other students. However, I hear footsteps following after me. Thinking it to be Max and his sworn vengeance, I spin around with raised fists to see that it is in actual fact just JT.

I let out a sigh of relief and drop my weapons of steel. The irony - just a few weeks ago I was the one stalking him. The roles have been reversed.

Jay matches my steps as he casually strolls on beside me.

“So, friend…” I trail off, breaking the deafening silence as I try to engage in ‘small talk’ with him.

He hates me using the word ‘friend’ in public…and privately. Okay, so in general, he hates me using the term. He prefers to think of our new-found friendship as a ‘deal’ we’ve made and nothing else, hence why I use the term ‘friend’ all the time.

“What brings you here? Usually, it’s me that has to follow you around non-stop to get you to even look my way,” I say as I walk up to my locker begin unlocking it.

I notice Jay look away as if to allow me my privacy. I’m pretty sure he’d be able to guess ‘1234’ in any case. I’d change my combination if I was able to remember a new one. Been there, done that, couldn’t get into my locker for a month. Good times!

“Just wanted to know how the head is,” he answers me with a teasing yet attractive grin, watching me carefully as he casually leans against the locker beside mine.

Kid’s a looker, gotta give him that.

“So I ran into a pole, get over yourself,” I reply, unfazed, slamming my locker door shut.

He will never let me live that moment down.

“You should learn to watch where you go,” he mocks.

I scowl at him, attempting to summon a curse upon him with a glare. “And you should learn to watch what you say,” I warn.

He takes up to the challenge as he glances down at me with a smirk, “Is that a threat…” he purposely pauses, building up suspense, “Aqueela Lawson?”

My jaw hits the floor at hearing his last two words. “H-how did you-” I stutter, him cutting me off, saving me from further embarrassment.

He’s won this round.

“Max speaks too loud,” he answers in nonchalance before leisurely walking away, leaving me alone in the hallways, completely and utterly frozen in place.

I carelessly sprint across the busy cafeteria, bumping into a few people on the way, and plant myself down in the seat opposite Bells. Her cheerleader friends are there, as well as some other popular kids. It is the ‘popular table’ after all. But I sit where I sit. I do what I want. Nobody tells me what to do. Nobody puts Aqueela in a corner.

Out of breath yet uncaring, I begin to ramble. “Look, I’m sorry for avoiding you this past week, but Mason is so annoying, and he’s always around, except for now, hence my presence, and-“

Bells places her hand over my mouth. She smiles at me and shakes her head. “Ssh, Aqueela. I understand.”

She removes her hand off of my mouth, only for me to erupt like a volcano all over again. “What do you mean you understand!? You can’t possibly understand! You should be yelling at me -“

Her hand clamps over my mouth a second time, preventing me from talking any further. “Continue this and I will be,” she laughs.

I still go on mumbling beneath her hand, refusing to quit.

She gives me her famous ‘be quiet or else’ look in turn. She means business.

I fall silent and blow out a breath of relief when she removes her hand again.

I begin talking slowly this time, summarizing with two simple words, “I’m sorry.”

Bell gives me a once before giggling, noting my messy appearance.

“Looking good, Lawson,” Laiken insults from a few seats down the table, clearly being sarcastic.

I’m aware that it appears as if I just ran a marathon. I practically did just so that I could speak to Bells alone without the interference of her boyfriend.

“Wish I could say the same, Edwards,” I say to him, brushing him off, not giving him my time of day. I turn back to Bells with a cheeky grin intact, “So yeah…where were we? Oh, that’s right, you were about to forgive me.”

She smiles in turn and waves the matter off. “It’s chill. Now tell me, what happened to you?” she asks, fixing my beret in the process.

“Nothing,” I lie swiftly and change the subject. “So girl, what’s up with you these days?” I ask, trying to distract her.

She shrugs. “Same answer you just gave to my question, nothing.” She rethinks her answer, not a second later, before confiding in me, “Actually, now that you’re here, I might as well tell you. Mason is acting off lately.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Off? What do you mean by ’off ?”

If he so much as told Bells anything of what is happening with me at home, I will-

“He seems distant lately. I tried talking to him about it, but he said the same as you - nothing,” she tells me, the hurt in her voice evident.

“About around when did he start acting ‘off’, exactly?” I ask her, skeptical.

Bell furrows her eyebrows at my question but answers nonetheless. “A week ago, about the same time that you started ignoring me.”

It’s as if saying it aloud makes her realize something because her entire facial expression changes. I can just see that I am about to be put through an interrogation.

I stand up quickly, bidding her goodbye. “So yeah, that little ‘girl-to-girl’ chat was fun. You know I am your ‘go to’ girl for anything, but it’s time I leave -“

“Sit!” Bells snaps at me in command.

I instantly drop back down in my seat like a puppy taking orders from its master.

She eyes me out in suspicion. “Did you and Mason get into another fight? Is that why you’re both acting strange?”

I laugh aloud at this and place a hand over my chest in mock disbelief. I scoff, “Me? Acting strange? What in the world….” I laugh nervously. “I’m normal, just normal, in fact, you’re the one acting strange, so strange that-“

“Aqueela!” Bells narrows her eyes at me in deadpanned stare of warning.

I give in under the pressure of her unwavering gaze of finality. “Ugh, fine!” I break, “We got into a fight last week over something stupid. I just want to forget about it.”

I wait for Bell to unleash her wrath on me, except, she doesn’t. Instead, she smiles gently at me and takes hold of my hands into hers like any good friend would. “It’s okay. You should have just told me. You’re my best friend, sister even, you can come to me about anything, even if it is about my jerk of a boyfriend. I can’t force you two to ever get along, so from now on I will make plans that involve just the two of us. I promise that you won’t have to be around him, unless by choice.”

“Oh good, because he’s a horrendous human being, just a real awful person, really just…” I stop talking when I see her face. I change tactics, planting a big smile on my face instead, “How did I land such an amazing best friend?”

“Don’t we all wonder?” Laiken pipes up. “Mystery to everyone.”

Melinda snickers at my misfortune. She’ll laugh at anything he says or does even if it’s not remotely funny. She and all the others at the table would prefer it if Bell just ditched me. Fortunately, Bells is a sweet person who manages, with great difficulty, to see past my quirky habits.

I blatantly ignore both of them, blocking out their existence entirely.

“Lai,” Bells warns him in a reprimanding manner, “back off.”

“Alright, alright,” he surrenders, holding his hands up apologetically, knowing that her word is final. “I’m done,” he tells her, dismisses my presence altogether.

Bell turns her attention to me, ready to brighten the atmosphere, as per usual. “Tell me…” she says and glances down to my food tray packed with tons and tons of, you guessed it, food, “do you really plan on eating all that?”

My bubble is burst.

I begin to tell her the entire story of my new diet that practically consists of nothing. I haven’t eaten properly in the last couple days and I am pretty sure that I am close to Kwashiorkor.

“Max is killing me! He won’t let me eat anything. He’s starving me!” I sigh hopelessly and bang my head on the table repeatedly in exhaustion as the past events of non-stop training and non-stop starving catches up to me.

If I have to train non-stop, why can’t I eat non-stop?

“Well, eat up girly because Max ain’t here and I’m sure as hell not going to stop a starved child from eating her face off!” She grins reassuringly, giving me an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

I throw my fist in the air in victory, “Whoo!” I clap my hands in excitement at the sight of the mouth-watering goodness before me, ready to dig in.

I’m about to stuff my face when I notice Bell’s eyes move off of me and onto someone behind me, the smile slipping off of her lips instantly.

“What the hell is this?!” I hear him before seeing him.

I groan aloud as he makes his presence known. He sits down beside me, taking to the popular table without any worries, and removes my tray, stacked with unhealthy food, from me.

I snatch it back and hiss at him, overprotective, “My precious!”

Max always comes back to haunt me!

He begins picking at my food, lecturing me in the process. He takes the cookie off my plate and places it on his tray. “Carbs!” he yells and then takes my banana and begins eating it. “Carbs!” he yells again.

I roll my eyes. Here we go.

He proceeds in taking my chocolate bar too. He hangs it up in the air and dangles it before me. I reach for it, only for him to move out of my reach. “Tut, tut, tut,” he waves his finger in my face, opening it. “Carbs!” he shouts again before stuffing the bar into his mouth.

It doesn’t stop there.

Max picks at the rest of my food, from my lemon to my cheesecake slice, “Carbs! Carbs! Carbs! More carbs! Carbs! And more carbs!” he shouts in my ear, removing all my food and placing it onto his tray until mine is left completely empty and his left completely full.

I sigh and reach for my water, suddenly feeling very thirsty. Max tends to drain all life out of a person. He’s a leech.

Just as I am about to take a sip of my water, a hand smacks my hand away. I slowly retract my hand with a pout on my face. Max ‘tsks’ me before taking my glass of water away too. “This…” he trails off and holds the cup of water before me, being dramatic as ever, “is unhealthy! Carbs!” he shouts, again.

“It’s just water, Max. There are no carbs in water,” Bell speaks up, defending me as always.

He narrows his eyes at her. “And how would you know anything about dieting? As if you would know anything about carbs, just judging by your figure, that is.” He implies something that should never be hinted at to a girl - especially not Bells. He’s practically begging for death and this time Bells ain’t gonna show him any mercy.

“Ooh snap!” Laiken chuckles, unable to stop himself from eavesdropping. “He’s done for.”

Bell raises her eyebrows at Max for his implication, stunned that he would dare go there. She cocks her head to the side, a scrutinizing gaze set directly on him. “Excuse me. Are you calling me fat?”

“Does it really have to be said when the evidence is sitting on your hips?” he asks boldly.

No one speaks like that to Bells. No one. Max has no idea who he’s messing with. Bells is a sweetheart, right up until you rub her up the wrong way. She can turn turbo witch within seconds if you successfully manage to get at her.

She laughs humourlessly at his comeback as if not affected in the least, before leaning forward toward Max. “Listen here you low life MMA wannabe, I will not sit here and take your insults when you’re the ‘has been, never was’ who got Aqueela to sign up for the fight because you are too much of a wuss to do it yourself. You call yourself a manager when you can’t even manage a toddler - no offense, Aqueela.”


“You call yourself a trainer? You think water is unhealthy! And I’d bet a million dollars that you can barely make a single push-up. Sports clothes don’t make you fit and a whistle isn’t going to get you a million dollars. It would help if you actually summoned some brain power for once in your life!” Bell concludes, insulting his sports get-up in the process.

Max’s jaw dropping at her blatant insult and disregard for him.

I place my fist in front of my mouth to prevent myself from laughing aloud at his shocked expression. He just got served! Yeah, and people think Bells is some angel. I know from first-hand experience not to get on her bad side.

But her anger goes as quickly as it came. She is incapable of staying mad at someone for long. She cracks a smile at Max’s reaction before grinning. “Don’t be so thin-skinned,” she advises, “I was just teasing - well mostly, okay, partially.”

Max shakes his head in awe as a small smile glimmers over his lips. For the first time ever, it seems that he has been caught speechless.

I watch the exchange as Max keeps his eyes on Bells as if he physically can’t take his eyes off of her. Bells seems to have been caught in the same spell too, both of them completely forgetting about me.

Max is developing a little crush. Not such a great idea considering she’s in a relationship with an extremely over possessive quarterback. If Mason sees this, he’ll go ballistic.

Also, Max is supposed to be head over heels for me, at least pretend to be for the sake of our MMA supporters.

From the corner of my eye, I see Mason, himself, approaching with the rest of his football buddies in tow. He already seems annoyed, judging by that permanent frown etched into place on his lips. If he sees his girlfriend and Max making googly eyes at each other, all hell will break loose. He will serve Max’s head on a silver platter for breakfast, lunch, brunch, supper, snack time and maybe even teatime.

Now as much as I hate Max as of recently, I don’t want to see him die at Mason’s hand. Be it anyone else’s hand and I’d allow it.

I cough awkwardly, trying to remind the two love-struck fools that I am still here. When they pay no heed to me, I say the words that I know with absolute certainty that will get Max’s attention, “So what about cheese? Am I allowed to eat cheese? Or does it have carbs too?”

As predicted, Max’s head snaps to me as a dark glare crosses his features. “Of course cheese has carbs, you ignorant lesser!” he scolds me so that I almost end up choking on the piece of cheese stuck in my mouth. “Spit it out!” he commands, holding his hand out.

I shrug and spit it out onto his hand.

“Gross! I wasn’t serious!” he whines, flinging the cheese aside as he frantically rubs his hand against his shirt, disgusted.

Mason finally makes his arrival to his table after first having been stopped by a group of flirtatious girls. He hollers at Laiken loudly, unintentionally yet thankfully snapping Max and Bells out of it.

He reaches us in the nick of time. I wanted to leave before he got here, but I had to help out my friends first. If I had left, Mason would have caught them both red-handed. He then probably would’ve taken Max apart limb by limb with the help of his football team.

His gaze lands on me. People notice and the table grows quiet. It’s not often that I sit at his table. I switch tables daily according to my mood.

Bells glances from her boyfriend to me with a weary gaze, afraid of another argument breaking out between us.

“Hey, baby,” she speaks up, hoping to break the deafening silence.

“Hey,” Mason replies back stiffly, not even bothering in making the effort to look at her - not even a single glance. He keeps his attention focused on me, which results in the entire table keeping their attention on me too.

As if my surroundings aren’t tense enough as is, Jay Taylor - labeled as the temperamental loner of the school - appears out of nowhere. He, never to be seen in the cafeteria, takes to the last available seat beside me.

The entire table falls into hushed whispers at the sight of the Jay making an attempt in talking to actual living people. He’s usually not one for socializing. Also, he’s not permitted to sit at this table - he’s in the same boat as Max and me. However, no one dares to tell Jay otherwise, not even Melinda or Laiken.

I don’t miss Mason’s gaze flicker over to Jay. He always seems to lose his confidence when in the presence of Jay.

Mason says nothing and takes a seat next to his girlfriend.

“What’s going on?” Max whispers loudly to me, trying to remain secretive but failing. “Why’s he here?” he asks, referring to Jay.

When Jay and I made the pact, I laid down some ground rules, one of which included him sitting by me during lunch. He was reluctant to agree at first, mostly because he never sets foot in the cafeteria and prefers sitting outside, but eventually, he gave in to my constant nagging.

“Don’t know,” I lie, managing to catch Mason’s gaze a second time.

Everyone, feeling the tension, stays quiet, awkwardly eating their food in silence - well, except for Jay, that is. Either he doesn’t notice or he chooses not to notice because he’s gulping down his smoothie in ease, completely relaxed.

The drop of a pin can be heard. It’s that silent. The only noise to be heard is that of a slushy smoothie being slurped down fiercely. Immediately, everyone turns their attention off of Mason and onto an unsuspecting Jay.

“’Sup, everyone,” I say with a tiny wave of my hand, hoping that they’d get back to talking amongst themselves.

I get the opposite in response. All fixate their attention onto me, relieving Jay of the peer pressure, although I am certain he doesn’t even give a damn.

I use my index finger to point at Jay, who happens to be the only one eating his food comfortably. “So this is JT. We’re friends now.”

My words finally register in his head. He immediately turns to me, a frown in place. “Jay. It’s Jay,” he corrects me. “And I wouldn’t say we’re friends. I’d say we’re mutual acquaintances.”

Everyone continues to remain silent.

“So this is Jay and we’re mutual acquaintances,” I correct myself much to his satisfaction. I glance over at him to make sure, “Satisfied?”

I receive a relaxed nod and a lazy grin in turn, “Immensely.”

He is the only one unaffected by all of this drama and it’s all because he is so darn oblivious to his own surroundings. It’s kind of cute, dare I say it.

“Mason!” Bell calls his name loudly for the billionth time in an effort to gain his attention.

When Mason still doesn’t answer her, she huffs and gets up out of her seat. I watch in despair as she leaves the cafeteria. The rest of us are all met by silence - the only sound echoing throughout the cafeteria is Bell’s heels clicking against the floors as she moves further away from all the commotion, or should I say, further away from no commotion.

It’s in this awkward moment that Jay finally notices the tension building. He glances around, inquisitive, as he takes in all the eyes on us. He then leans toward me and whispers in my ear softly, “People are staring at you.”

He is so slow.

“Well, thank you, Captain Obvious and Shabalala Sherlock!” I snap sarcastically. “Oh, and they’re staring at you,” I clarify.

“No, they’re not!” he hisses back, irritation laced in his tone.

It’s then that someone else nudges me in the ribs. I turn to see Max. He too whispers in my ear from my other side. “Sorry to burst your guy’s little bubble over here, but we can all hear you two!” he whisper-shouts at me in warning.

When I glance up, I come to see that all eyes are still on us, including Maggot’s. I decide to stare back, annoyed with him. He’s not even fazed that his girlfriend just walked out on him in front of all his pals.

This continuous staring lasts for at least a minute before I finally decide that I’ve had just about enough. I stand up, preparing to flip Mason off, when suddenly a giant bagel is stuffed into my mouth.

“Eat up, my precious plumpkin!” I hear Max’s dreaded voice once again and turn to him in bewilderment, spluttering the bagel out of my mouth in confusion.

It’s then that I notice the skeptical camera crew watching us from afar. They are currently witnessing all this banter. Of course, Max would want to continue on with our façade despite the fact that nearly everyone is just about ready to kill one another.

Well, there goes my dramatic exit, no thanks to Max for his impeccable timing.

“You’re spoon feeding me now?” I huff in exasperation as I glare at him.

He leans toward me with a fake smile imprinted on his face. “We can still save this,” he insists.

I arch a brow in disbelief at his tenacity, “Are you serious?”

He nods, “Quick! Call me names of endearment. We have to seal this because they’re not buying into it anymore. This is the only way to increase our fan base. You can even milk it if you want.”

And this is why I hate high school - so much petty teen drama.

I sigh and back away from Max, tired of pretending for a day. My attention snaps to beside me, as does everyone else’s, when an ear-piercing, screeching noise is to be heard. Jay stands up, having purposely scraped his seat backward against the tiles.

He looks over at me in indifference. “I’m done. This is just too weird for me,” he speaks up before sauntering off.

I, of course, use him as a scapegoat and chase after him, needing to be free from this situation.

Max calls after me in desperation, “Okay then, Sweetie, I’ll just see pick you up at six for our date!” He chuckles nervously, fretful that we’ll be discovered as ‘fakers’, “Don’t go running out on me with another man, you hear?!”

He’s still trying to sell our relationship to the public. I am pretty certain everyone has just realized how fickle we are. There’s no point anymore.

I ignore him and keep walking.

Jay stops upon hearing a noise. He turns to see who it is that is following him out of the cafeteria. He grins slightly when he sees that it’s just me. He even goes as far as to wait for me to catch up.

Thankfully, the hallways are empty because most are in the cafeteria, having just witnessed that bizarre occurrence. I honestly believe that an extraterrestrial landing wouldn’t be as intense as what just happened in there.

“That was…” Jay, as if reading my mind, trails off in search of the right words, “intense.”

I nod, agreeing, “I think from now on, I’ll just join you at my tree for lunch.”

“You mean, my tree,” he corrects, sensing that I called it ‘my’ tree just to annoy him.

“I am pretty sure it classifies as my tree seeing as I have a picture of it,” I say, defending my point of view.

“Objection. I am in that picture too. Doesn’t mean to say that you own me,” he states in a matter-of-fact way. He changes the subject before I can object to his statement, “Wanna tell me why Montry, a.k.a. pretty boy, kept casting eyes at you?”

He noticed? I’m impressed.

“Pretty boy?” I question before realizing that it’s the nickname Mason has earned from some of his female fans. I lie to him, “Honestly, I have no idea.” I go on to add, “And he’s not pretty!”

This causes Jay to crack a sly grin. “Mhmm,” he mumbles in response and walks on ahead of me.

“Hey! Get back here!” I yell at him. “What does ’mhmm’ mean? What are you trying to imply?”

“Take what you want from my ‘mhmm’. I’m not implying anything,” he commits to his lie.

“Mhmm,” I answer with a cruel smile of my own, copying him.

He chuckles, his next sentence taking me by complete surprise, “You’re not half bad, Aqueela Lawson.”

He just uses my full name because he enjoys tormenting me.

“You say that like you previously presumed me to be a ‘bad’ person,” I point out.

He shrugs, a subtle smile playing at the corner of his lips.

I just know that we’ll be great friends someday, whether he realizes it or not and whether he accepts it or not.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” I mumble to myself.

“What was that?” he asks, having vaguely heard me with his incredible supersonic hearing.

“Nothing,” I grin up at him mischievously, “nothing at all.”

He nods and responds with another ’mhmm’.

“Stop ’mhmming’ me!” I shout just as a smirk takes form on his lips.

We soon fall into a peaceful silence as we walk alongside one another to my tree with my Jay, because, just like he pointed out oh so cleverly, both are in my photo.

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