Pause (Book 1)

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Chapter 16: Bounce Back

“Here’s another tip, young padawan, always borrow money from a pessimist because he will never expect it back,” Uncle Jeffrey jokes.

Hence me borrowing money from Jay Taylor, the biggest pessimist known to mankind.

I laugh as he hops onto the kitchen counter even though Grams made it explicitly clear to not get her counters filthy. She will literally find your fingerprint if you so much as dare mess in her house. She has a magnifying glass and everything, just ask Gramps. Once, she freaked out about a fingerprint, meanwhile, it was hers all along.

“A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man,” Jeffster tells another, teaching me in his ways.

Uncle Jeffrey is the brother of my father and the first child of my grandparents. Unlike his little brother, Lars, Jeffster is somewhat sensible. He is nothing like my father. I can actually relate to him. I’d live with him if he didn’t travel so much.

I turn to my gramps and send him a wink. “So that’s why Grams is not successful in life?” I tease, only for him to glare daggers at me.

When Jeffster chuckles, Gramps turns his wrath on to him next. He’s never been a fan of the bond between us as it’s virtually unbreakable. We get along so well and Gramps tends to get jealous when we don’t pay him enough attention. It gets to the point where he feels so left out that he tries to crack a joke in an attempt to fit in. It’s sad really, really sad.

Gramps does exactly as expected - he’s just that predictable. He sticks his hand up all too willingly and jumps up and down despite being old and frail. “Oooh! Oooh! I have one!” Gramps yells a little too enthusiastically. “My back!” he shouts soon after, holding his back as he crunches over in pain.

I motion for him to go on, expecting the worst. I’ve become a pro at feigning a laugh here and there.

“How do you get a sweet little eighty-year-old lady to say a bad word? Get another sweet little eighty-year-old lady to yell ‘bingo’!” Gramps throws a fist to the air. “Booyah! That’s the real reason why your Grams isn’t successful in life, you titfaces!”

I can’t help but burst out laughing. For once, it is exceptionally good. He pulled it off. Even Uncle Jeffrey, master of jokes and pranks, claps for Gramps. It is rather impressive, to say the least, and judging by the way Gramp’s eyes brighten, he too is impressed with himself.

My proud impression of Gramps doesn’t last long and burns out like a dying flame when I hear a shrill voice roar from behind:


You hear her before you see her. The trick is to show no fear. She can sense weakness. She is less afraid of us than we are of her.

Her wrinkly face appears before we are forced to watch her whack Gramps upside the head for his comment. “You vulgar old man! I am only unsuccessful in life because I married a ninny!”

Relationship goals. Old potato goals. True love at its finest.

“Oh shut up, you old batty hag! You would be nothing without me!” Gramps retorts, infuriated by her presence. It’s not often he stands up to her, so, of course, his bravery catches me by surprise.

Grams just got told.

“What?” she asks, cupping a hand to her ear, having genuinely not heard.

She’s a deaf old geezer. The problem with being deaf is that when one thinks they’re asking a question in a normal tone of voice, they are in actual fact screaming in a high-pitched voice, deafening everybody else in the process.

I place my hands over my ears just as Gramps yells back, “I said you’d be nothing without me, you old wench!”

Ooooh,” I wince, feeling the insult cut deep, “bingo.”

At my reference to the word ‘bingo’ and Gramps’ previous comment, it is quite ironic when Grams shouts out in anger, “Screw you, Howard! I swear on my granddaughter’s born life that you will pay for this.”


She continues to lecture him. “It’s because of you that I am nothing! I was once an aspiring actress. I’d be a Marilyn Monroe by now if it weren’t for you, or at least a Michael Jackson had you not interfered with my singing career.”

So, she sings like a man then?

Gramps takes in what she says before replying with a stern nod. “That’s all I needed to hear. You’re welcome.”

“For what, Howard!? For what!?” Grams retorts in her shrill voice yet again, causing my ears to thud in agony.

Life doesn’t get any finer than this. This is as good as it gets.

“Had I not interfered with your unrealistic dreams you’d be a laughingstock to all of humanity. If people heard you sing, they’d think you are an anomaly from outer space, and let’s face it, you were always garbage at acting. You tried to swing that one over me and I immediately knew that your ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with you’ act was all just for show. So you’re damn welcome, Lillian! I saved you years of embarrassment!” Gramps retaliates, not missing a beat.

“I was going to be a worldwide singing sensation!” Grams replies bitterly, still arguing.

I don’t ever see that happening.

Gramps laughs humorlessly at this. “If my memory serves me correct, you told me that you auditioned and got kicked out when you flirted with one of the judges to sabotage the comp-“

It’s on that note that I leave.

Uncle Jeffrey follows me out and hands me some cash. “Here we go, kiddo. Get out while you still can,” he advises.

I laugh and take the money out of his hand before hugging him. “Thanks, Jeffster! I really appreciate it.”

I can only imagine how it must have been like for Lars and Uncle Jeffrey to grow up with two insane parents. Tough life.

“Don’t thank me, kid. I don’t want my niece to suffer like I did with those two mad hatters. I hope you now understand why I don’t make frequent visits. I’m sorry, kid, but that would be torture,” Uncle Jeffrey laughs in good humor.

To be honest, I hate that I barely ever see him, but I’m grateful that when he is in town, he makes sure to spend most of his time with me.

“But I’ll see ya around, kiddo. I’m in Burnsville for the next couple days. You go hang with your friends for now and let me take care of those two maniacs before one of them ends up in prison for murder. My bets are on Lillian,” he jokes, thankful that his father didn’t hear him.

Oh yeah…

My friends, I left the two back there with Gramps and Grams, forgetting their presence altogether because they were eerily quiet - they have been scarred mentally, physically and emotionally.

I turn back in order to retrieve Bells and Maggot, but I turn to find the both of them already exiting the forsaken house hand-in-hand with a glint of instability and fear written in their eyes.

I feel a tad bit guilty…just a tad, though.

“Aqueela, you should really do something. Your gran just punched your grandad in the face…again,” Bells says slowly, her hand trembling.

Meanwhile, Mason stands to face me, speechless and afraid.

I glance up at Uncle Jeffrey pleadingly. He sees me and holds his hands up reassuringly. “On it,” he winks, closing his eyes for a brief moment to gather his thoughts.

The things he has to put up with…

He opens his eyes again a second later, having summoned up enough courage. I watch as he sucks in a deep breath before entering the house, only for the screams to echo around the neighborhood.

One time, their fights escalated to the point where the neighbor called the cops because she thought someone was dying. No joke. That’s when you know it’s bad.

I give a sheepish grin. “So…you’ve officially met my grandparents,” I shrug at Bells, unashamed.

I have no pity. They both asked for it despite my warnings. Bells insisted on meeting my beloved grandparents from hell when I told her that meeting Yolanda is off limits. Whatever traumatic mental setbacks they sustain is on them.

I had my say and they had theirs. Their say overpowered mine. They must now suffer the consequences of their choice.

“You left us to die in there,” Bells says, still shaken up.

The aftermath is always the worst.

“Every man for himself,” I answer in nonchalance, used to my grandparent’s behavior, and thus, unaffected by it. However, I understand how meeting them for the first time can be traumatic for just about anyone, even the mafia.

“Her food…your gran’s food…I’ll never forget the image or remember the taste,” Mason mutters beneath his breath in a trancelike state, one that he’s yet to come out of - poor guy is traumatized.

Toasted jelly on eggs…the image is revolting. It didn’t help that Gramps referred to the meal as the chicken who crossed the road and didn’t quite make it to the other side. I don’t blame Mason for being emotionally scarred by Grams’ cooking.

You got to be impervious to these kinds of things. You gotta bounce back.

Yeah…” I trail off, not having anything to add to that. It is physically impossible to comment on such a terrible meal. Can it even be called a meal? I don’t know, then again, I also didn’t know that it was possible to cook jelly.

“I will never be the same again,” Bell murmurs as she absentmindedly leans back into Mason for support.

He flinches slightly but recomposes himself quickly.

“Well, call us even. You did confess to me that you talked to Jay about how ridiculous my protesting at school got in order to get him to put an end to me and my followers, and an end he did put…to me and my followers,” I remind her, still annoyed with that latest revelation.

“You jumped from entering MMAs to starting a rebellious faction within the school, not to mention that this rebellion was already filled with rebels to begin with, giving new meaning to the word ‘rebellion’.” Bell points out in a matter-of-fact way, sending me a deadpanned stare, unimpressed.

Usually, a rebellion is tarred with innocent people who turn bad due to their strong belief in the cause. My rebellion started with rebels who turned more rebellious. That’s just how I roll.

“Well, I had some spare time on my hands when I quit MMAs, and so I thought, ‘hey, why not start a rebellion?’” I tell her, defending myself. “Rise of rebellions, cool right?” I ask with a grin.

Bell scoffs. “That’s not the word I’d use to describe it.”

“I can’t believe people actually have the same thoughts as you.” Mason mumbles, confused by the number of people who joined my rebellion.

I shrug. “It happens.”

“No,” he shakes his head, disagreeing, “no, it really doesn’t.”

“Whatever, Maggot. Let’s get out of here already.” I smirk and then glance Bell’s way, “Besides, I’m up for a bubblegum ice cream, and this time, it’s on me.”

Thank you, Uncle Jeffrey!

Bell’s eyes widen in disbelief. “I’m sorry, on who now?” she asks, as if me having money is so unrealistic - then again, I suppose it is. Heck, I have even earned the nickname ‘leech’ as a result.

“The leech has cash on her?” Mason questions aloud, just as skeptical as his girlfriend.

“You both heard me. I’m paying…” I falter, quickly changing tactics as a plot comes to mind, “for Bells only,” I correct myself, a smug smirk on my face as I take in his irritated expression.

In turn, Mason shoots me a narrowed glare to which I grin victoriously and stick my tongue out at him playfully.

I guess I still owe him a few for bailing me out of jail and for saving me from expulsion.

“You’re lucky that I’m a nice person,” I say to him, hoping that he wouldn’t catch on that I’m only doing this to match the scores.

He snorts before walking on ahead of me. “Yeah right.”

“This is heavenly,” I say placidly as I delve into my ice cream while sitting at the table nearest to the window.

Bells and Mason choose to ignore my comment, used to my random outbursts of joy when devouring bubblegum ice cream.

“So are you, babe.”

I hear an annoying voice, one that unfortunately proves to be impossible to forget, from beside me.

My eyes snap open at being torn away from fantasies. I glance down toward the chubby life form in anger. “What the hell do you want, Blubber?”

“Nothing, smexy thing. Just dropped by to sweet talk you into buying me ice cream,” he retorts confidently, Mason snickering in the background, adding to my infuriation.

Bell, on the other, blatantly bursts out laughing, not bothering to cover it up. “Woah. You weren’t kidding on that first time when we met this kid. He really was harassing you.”

She has no class.

“Told you so!” I reply, raising my voice as if to get it through to her.

My mood always dampens at the mere sight of Pork Chop.

Blubber glances around the table as if looking for someone before his eyes fall back up to mine. “Where’s Cool Guy Jay at?”

I raise a hesitant eyebrow. “Cool Guy Jay?” I repeat, bewildered.

What angle is he playing at?

“You know…tall, brown hair, same eye color as your ice cream, fit chap, the good-looking fellow that you are usually drooling over with your big, googly eyes,” he blurts out much to Bell’s growing amusement.

Mason falls silent at the mention of Jay.

“Since when do you know JT?” I ask, confused.

Last time I checked, Jay wasn’t friends with Simo or Blubber.

“Since like always, duh,” he replies in a matter-of-fact way as if he’s known Jay for years. “The dude is my idol. He helped me top you. He took you right off the winning customer list as revenge for all his jackets. It’s why your photo was removed and placed second, after mine,” he informs me with a smug smirk on his round face.

“Impressive,” Bells nods, pursing her lips in thought, also wondering how Jay managed to pull it off without me finding out.

Blubber, as if able to read our thoughts (or just read in general), answers the questions passing through our minds. “He uses brute yet strategic force. The guy is my hero. He befriended Dylan and went from there.”

“I knew Jay was behind it! I just knew it!” I grumble aloud, still frustrated that Blubber took my place as number one customer. I’m not over it yet. I deserve to be on top. I worked hard to be there. I ate hard to be there.

“Where is he?” Blubber repeats as if I should automatically know. “He is almost always where you are. Or you are where he is, whatever.”

“He’s angry at me because I took a slam on his job,” I confess, feeling guilty as I remember back to the way he reacted. I tried to apologize again after, but he refused to listen or be reasoned with.

“Oh great!” Blubber chortles in sarcasm, clapping his hands in irritation. “Thanks a lot! Whenever Jay is mad at you, he becomes distant and grumpy. You just love ruining peoples’ lives, don’t you, you psycho, twisted Shih Tzu!” he barks at me before waltzing off, genuinely furious.

That escalated quickly - went from 0-100 real fast. The heck with him, dishonor on his cow. He needs to reel that presumptuous attitude in.

“Okay, Jay. See you around, bud,” sexy hot manager dude says into his phone before hanging up.

I roll my eyes. It seems Jay is intentionally befriending all my enemies.

“Excuse me,” Bell suddenly says as she stands up.

I watch her walk over to manager dude for some small talk, the two of them being close. However, I know her well enough to know that she’s really there to talk me up in front of him. She has yet to let go of the fantasy of us dating despite my interests lying elsewhere.

I glance back to where Blubber had been standing to find that he’s now ordering another ice cream. I narrow my eyes when he laughs along with Simo. He seems to be in a more chipper mood already. He’s a total drama king.

Blubber eventually notices me staring and immediately stops laughing. When Simo continues to laugh, Blubber hastily explains something to him. Simo instantly stops, his laughter fading as a frown morphs onto his features, that frown being solely directed at me.

It is then that I realize I must have really offended Jay. If Simo is frowning at me, then it’s bad. I need to fix my mess before Simo does something horrendous, like deliberately putting sprinkles on my ice cream. The horror! I wouldn’t put it past Blubber to try something too. He is pure evil chubbiness.

Someone clears their throat before me. I’m reminded that I’m not sitting alone. I have been left with my arch-nemesis, Mason Montry, the only nemesis of mine that hasn’t paired up against me with Jay Taylor. That’s what you call a true arch nemesis. He is a worthy adversary.

My gaze snaps back to the quarterback before me. I break the tense air with a simple nod of the head. “’Sup, Mase.”

“Leech,” he retorts, unfazed.

“Maggot.” I glare at him in turn.

“Demon child,” he replies back in smoothness.

“Spawn of Satan.” I fixate my glower on him, finding his insults to be completely unnecessary.

“Satan in the flesh,” he grins wickedly as he leans forward across the table, closer to me.

“Hello, son,” I laugh sinisterly, winning this round.

Things are finally getting back to normal ever since he apologized last week. We are back to being frenemies, except I did notice that he held back with his insults this time ’round.

Mason smiles widely and averts his brown eyes to the table. “I’ve missed this, Aqueela,” he confesses softly, taking me by surprise…like always.

Despite being caught off guard, I can’t help but smile at the sincerity in his voice. “So have I,” I admit.

His eyes snap back to mine, unbelieving that I just said what I said. His eyes brighten as he opens his mouth to say something, but just as he does, Bells returns, taking her seat once again. She turns to face me. “What I miss?”

Mase falls silent yet again.

I take the liberty to answer Bell’s question myself because, clearly, her boyfriend has gone mute. “Well, your dream has just come true, Bells, because, for the first time, in all of history, your boyfriend, and your best friend are getting along.”

Bell glances from Mason to me, wide-eyed and smiling. “Really?”

I hesitantly nod, waiting for the eruption.

She breaks out into a squeal, gushing over the fact like a maniac, before forcing us all into a group hug, squashing all of our faces together. “I am so fricken happy right now! This is amazing!”

“Good,” I mumble against Mason’s shoulder and Bell’s cheek. “Consider it an early birthday present for next year ’cause I am all out of cash and creativity.”

Bell laughs at this and releases Mason and me so that we can breathe again and regain consciousness. Before I can say anything else on the topic, the subject has already been changed. “So I spoke to Dylan and-“

“Who’s Dylan?” I cut Bells off, puzzled.

She gives me an incredulous look as she points to sexy hot manager dude. “You’ve spoken to him so many times but you didn’t even know his name?”

I shrug carelessly. “Sue me.”

The loser gave my place to Blubber. He’s dead to me.

Anyway…” she gives me another look before proceeding, “I told Dylan to give you another shot. I said that you lost his number and so gave yours to him instead. He’s expecting a date from you. He’ll be calling late-“

I don’t let Bell finish as I begin banging my head on the table. “No. No. No. Why?” I grumble aloud as I hit my head each time.

I didn’t lose his number. I purposely tore it to pieces. Bella Bensten is next.

Mason pushes me back upright. “Stop it,” he reprimands, “you’ll hurt yourself.”

I ignore him and scowl at Bells instead.

She shrugs innocently. “I’m Cupid.”

“And I’m killing Cupid,” I reply back just as innocently, feigning a sweet smile.

Two can play at this game if one of them is dead.

“Why are you getting involved?” Mason asks, turning to his girl for an answer.

“Because she cannot go out with Jay Taylor, ever. He is an outlaw who we don’t even really know,” Bell persists, protective over me.

I don’t know what she has against Jay, but it bothers me when she speaks so lowly of him. I do know Jay. She’s the one who doesn’t know him. She only knows about him, but not him himself. Besides, she’s the one who told me to give him a chance in the first place.

“But I like Jay! Not Dylan!” I complain, whining like a five-year-old would at not getting the candy she wants.

“You like Jay?” Mason repeats after me, his tone abrasive.

I nod, not really thinking my response through, not that I ever do.

“Oh,” he says dryly before standing up and excusing himself from the table, exiting the ice cream store for some air.

I glance back at Bells, oblivious. “What bit his mother and gave him rabies?”

Bell tears her gaze from Mason’s retreating figure before her blue-green eyes land on me. She simply stares at me, dead silent, before sighing and looking away.

“I don’t know, Max. They’re all crazy in my opinion,” I say as I explain the entire story to him, the only seemingly normal one these days, well, now that he is no longer my trainer and back to his old laid-back self. I couldn’t deal with the bossy, uptight Max. He sucked bananas.

He laughs freely before patting my head as if I am some kind of child. “You’re such a dense girl, as slow as an infant.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask sourly.

“You,” he drawls out slowly, “are stupid.”

I frown up at him. “Your face.”

“Your existence,” he grins, waiting for my comeback.

“Your family’s existence,” I smirk, taking delight in his reaction.

“Ouch. Felt that one,” Max gives, placing a hand over his heart, “right here.”

“I never meant to upset Bells. That’s the last thing I’d ever do,” I say, opening up to the imbecile. I fear losing Bells. If I ever lost her, it would be the end of me. I love her like family, more than family.

“Bell knows that. She’d never leave. Keep that in mind and stop being so afraid of losing someone that doesn’t plan on leaving you anytime soon.” Max can actually give great advice when he’s not being a gigantic jerk. “Oh, and as for Mason, he either really hates Jay or he really has a thing for you.”

For all I know, Mason is in love with Jay.

I am taken aback by his words. “Huh?”

“Wake up, Aqueela! The guy likes you. He really likes you,” Max clarifies, and this time, the message is received, just not by me.

If that’s the case, Max better cash in on Bells.

“Oh, he does now, does he?” a venomous voice sneers from behind us, jumping the gun.

Evil, thy name is Melinda.

“Go back to the brothel, Melinda.” Max comes to my defense upon seeing Melinda eavesdropping on our private conversation. “I fear I have said too much,” he adds dramatically.


“I will as soon as you go back to the vet,” she replies, a devious gleam to her eyes, before doing as told for once and actually leaving.

The only reason she’d leave is if she has everything she needs. She more than likely does by now. So much for dodging a bullet….

“Mason is Bell’s boyfriend and he loves her. You are mistaken, my friend,” I tell Max, disagreeing with his bizarre theory.

“And you are blind, my friend,” Max retorts back in arrogance. “He may be dating your best friend but that hasn’t stopped him from falling for you. I mean, what guy cleans up the whole cafeteria for a girl? He must really have the hots for you.”

This is going to be an uphill battle.

I cross my arms over my chest, holding my ground as I weigh in on this theory. I throw it out the window and glare at Max instead, my heart pounding. If he is in any way right then that is the end of my friendship with Bells. She’ll never talk to me again.

“Think about it, Aqueela. Might make some sense to you,” Max adds after my doubtful pause.

I refuse to believe his assumptions. However, deep down, a knot is forming in my intestines, and let me tell you, those intestines are twisting around down there. I’m suddenly feeling sick to my stomach. There is substantial evidence in what Max is saying.

I do what I always do when I’m nervous - I divert the subject off of me and onto Max. “So Maxipad…” I trail off and wiggle my eyebrows suggestively, “any new spice this week?”

Might as well find out who his freak of the week is.

Max raises a cautious eyebrow, hiding his amusement behind a smile. “I am pretty sure the saying doesn’t go like that. It’s ‘any new flavors of the week’, but in any case, both answers are no. No spice, no flavors.”

If he noticed me changing the subject on purpose, he sure isn’t letting on.

I frown. “Why not? Still can’t get over the last one huh?” I tease and elbow him in the ribs playfully. “She must have been a real keeper.”

Max laughs but humors me nonetheless. “Oh, yes! She was a brilliant kisser even though her personality was on the dry side. Our lip locking took me to heaven. It was the only realistic reason to keep her around.”

The one common problem in all of Max’s relationships is him himself.

I slap him across the chest. “Oh shut up, Max. I still haven’t forgiven you for that.”

He shrugs, shooting me a teasing wink. “I’m just being honest. That kind of kiss filled with chemistry only comes around once in a lifetime.”

“Start running, Max. I’ll even give you a head start,” I say through gritted teeth as a result of his jokes.

“My time to shine! Watch me work it!” he grins tauntingly as he motions down to his legs. “These intricately structured Egyptian calves have never been beaten.” He flashes me a smile filled with mischief before he takes off sprinting.

I begin chasing after him, huffing and puffing while he’s suffering from full blown laughter. I forgot that he is one of our best runners in the school.

Game. Set. Match.

Turns out, his Egyptian calves really are too much for me to handle…

I don’t quite know how I got here - actually, I do, I walked here, imagine that.

I’m currently standing right outside the only place where I know Jay will be during late afternoons.

I need to fix what I royally screwed up. I mean, you know it’s bad when you have both Blubber and Simo mad at you. It’s a new low, even for me, in fact, I am certain I have hit rock bottom this time ’round.

I watch from just outside the window. I watch as he provides entertainment. I watch as he juggles shot glasses for the girls before him before pouring shots for each of them. I watch as they giggle and make flirtatious remarks. I watch Jay not care. He’s more focused on making their drinks than paying any attention to them.

His blue eyes glimmer underneath the lights and I find myself sinking deeper into the pit of guilt I created for myself.

A brunette approaches him. She smiles up at him, twirling a lock of her hair around her finger while batting her eyes at him. Either he doesn’t see it or he refuses to acknowledge it. I’m going with the latter.

I see more than bystanders see. I see Jay for who he really is. I see his heart. A misguided mystery - that is who Jay is.

I suck in a sharp breath before entering through the bar doors.

It is now or never.

I join the flock of girls surrounding him, taking a seat on an empty bar stool. He has yet to look my way, distracted, as he juggles five shots before landing them swiftly in front of the fawning girls.

He is good at what he does, even if he is just a bartender. I should have never insulted his job. I now see that it means a lot to him. I see how my insult could have hurt him. I really messed up, big time.

Great, now I am feeling that emotion called guilt…

I cough to capture Jay’s attention and it works successfully.

His blue eyes flicker over to me as he traces my features, easily recognizing me. His trademark emotionless expression morphs into a frown, his gaze set on me. I’m officially captured in his sights. “What do you want?”

In other words, he wants to know why I’m here.

“A tequila for the Aqueela, please.” I give him my order, having spent most of my money on all the ice creams earlier today.

Jay narrows his eyes at me. I can see that he’s contemplating something, probably wondering if he should confront me and get it over with or comply and ignore my existence, perhaps treating me like any other girl here.

Then again, I’m technically underage. That could also be running through his mind.

He shrugs and gets me a tequila before setting it in front of me, then turning to the other customers to get their countless orders too.

He quickly forgets my presence, fixating his gaze on the pretty girl flirting with him, paying her special attention.

That’s a first.

My heart tugs when he smiles at the girl, chuckling at something she said.

A frown finds its way onto my lips. I sigh, resting my head on the bar table, tired and suddenly despondent.

It was a mistake coming here.

I should have supplemented my sadness with ice cream. My visits to the ice cream store always cheer me up, and I don’t need anyone’s validation on that.

I twist my head so that I don’t have to watch him and her any longer. I glance at the shot glass before me, its contents swirling before my very eyes. I sit up, straightening, and reach for the glass without a second thought.

Hesitant, my gaze drifts back to Jay. However, when I see him leaning over the counter toward the girl with a boyish grin on his face, I don’t hesitate to down it.

This is his revenge - ignoring me. Props to him, it’s an original, a classic.

With all that in mind, I order a few more tequilas from the other bartender - the bigger, scarier looking one. Even he beats Jay in this moment.

I gulp down all the tequilas, growing tipsier by the second. I will probably throw up soon at the rate I’m going. Still, it doesn’t stop me.

Perhaps, if I wasn’t such a lightweight, I might have noticed the light streaking in through the windows, indicating that I’ve been here all night. I might have also noticed that the bar is now completely empty except for the workers and me.

Not all agree on my decisions in asking for yet another shot:

“I think that’s enough.”

I barely register the voice, resting my head on the bar counter in refusal. I close my eyes and make a noise at the back of my throat, pleading for another shot. I need to forget.

Forget what? Well, at least it’s working…

“She’s been drinking all night, Jay. She’s done for,” another voice says.

“She’s had enough,” the voice, that can only belong to Jay, insists, pulling rank.

“No, she hasn’t,” I whine, my eyes still closed, as I slam my glass down onto the table in protest.

I feel gross - dirty and disgusting. I have never felt so repulsed by myself…well ever. Usually, if I play my cards right, I just feel awesome. My goal is to one day extend my race. Although, I’m not feeling Aqueela cones right now.

“Shut up, Aqueela.”

Yip, that’s definitely Jay talking.

“She still has to pay for all the shots,” the other voice reminds Jay.

“Put it on my tab,” Jay replies quietly. “I’ll take care of it.”

“You sure, Jay? We both know that money is tight right now,” the voice reminds him.

“I said, put it on my tab. I’ll make a plan. I always do,” Jay tells him, adamant. “Take my next shift. I am getting this one home.”

I presume ‘this one’ is Smeagol?

Two arms slip around my waist. Before I know it, I am being lifted off of the barstool and into a strong torso. I subconsciously cradle myself further into his chest after first meeting him with much resistance.

We begin to move and I can tell that he is carrying me bridal style.

I hear him sigh to himself. “Aqueela, I know you are out of it, but please tell me where you live. I know it’s close by.”

I shake my head. “Nuh-uh,” I mumble against him.

“Please don’t be difficult. You seriously can’t go to school looking like this or feeling the way you’re feeling. You’ve already had so many close calls as is. You’ll be expelled on the spot. We can’t have that, now can we?” he asks gently, a side to him - one that I’ve never had the privilege of knowing - surfacing.

“Nope,” I hum, popping the ‘p’ in my drunkard state. “Take me to your place.”

There is some deep contemplation before Jay gives in, not up to argue.

“Fine,” he mutters in indignance, taking me to his car.

“Whoo!” I cheer, dragging myself into the passenger seat of his Gallardo.

“Just try not to wreck anything,” he adds, leaning over to strap me in.

A tired smile filters its way over my lips as I reach up to pat his cheek. “Look alive, kid,” I yawn, not thinking straight, “it’s me and you all the way.”

He shakes his head and averts his eyes, a slight grin on his face, saying nothing as he heads over to the driver’s side.

I rest my eyes for the drive despite the great speed - he’s not Brian O’Conner, dammit!

I shuffle once the car stops, hearing the driver’s door slam shut before I’m suddenly being lifted out of the passenger seat.

“Jay?” I mumble incoherently.

“Mhm,” is his response as he opens the front door to his house.

“I’m really sorry,” I murmur tiredly, stifling another yawn. “I’m sorry I took a slam on your job. I now see how important it is to you.”

I open my eyes to find him already staring down at me.

“No worries,” he says tenderly. “Forget it ever happened.”

“Why were you flirting with some of those girls earlier?” I ask, straight up.

“Because I can,” he answers in nonchalance, unfazed.

“Well, next time, do me a favor and don’t,” I mutter bitterly.

“It bothers you?” he asks bluntly, tearing his gaze from mine.

“It does,” I clarify, not bothering to beat around the bush.

“Why?” he questions as he begins to ascend the stairs with me, looking only ahead.

“Because I like you,” I blurt out aloud on impulse.

Next thing I know, I’m rolling down the stairs…quite literally. I wish it was figurative, but judging by the pain, it’s not.

My head thumps against each step as I come face-to-face with the bottom of the stairs, landing flat on my back and staring up at the ceiling, my head throbbing from the impact.

He had one job, one job!

My limbs feel like they’re on fire. I can’t move after that tumble.

Why’d he have to be close to the top of the staircase before choosing to drop me?

Smooth, Jay, real smooth.

“Aqueela!” He comes running hurriedly down the stairs and crouches down before me. “Aqueela? You okay?”

I don’t react, playing dead.

“If you’re dead then say ‘yes’,” he commands.

On instinct, I respond. “Yes.”

He chuckles.

Snap! He got me.

“Ouch,” I wince, trying to sit up but failing miserably. “Ouchy ouch,” I repeat as Jay carefully pushes me back down, gingerly touching my forehead with his thumb.

“I’m sorry,” he cringes, looking sheepish.

I glance up, blinking once, twice, several times before the blurriness fades and Jay’s face comes into view. His blue eyes are filled with worry and concern for my wellbeing. If I wasn’t in so much pain, I’d smile.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, panicking slightly when he notices the red on his thumb. “Just stay here and sit tight. I’ll be right back,” he rambles before he’s off again.

“Not like I have a choice!” I call back angrily.

There is no moving anytime soon.

It’s not long before he reappears with a first aid kit. It’s then that I realize there’s warm liquid dripping down my face.

“Am I bleeding?” I ask wearily.

“That depends, do aliens bleed?” he asks, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

I narrow my eyes at him, not finding him funny.

He scratches the back of his neck, uncomfortable. “Kind of. Nothing serious, though.”

“Cool,” I mutter, unable to focus.

Everything is getting all fuzzy again.

“Stay awake,” I vaguely hear Jay order.

“You dropped me,” I say weakly, still in shock, before adding, “down the stairs.”

“I know,” he admits, embarrassed.

“You dropped me down the stairs,” I repeat all together, unbelieving. “You dropped a drunk, fragile girl down the stairs. You dropped Aqueela filled with tequila down the stairs. You dropped me down the stairs!” I raise my tone toward the end, stunned, literally, to the bone.

“It was an accident. You just…” he trails off in thought, dabbing at my forehead, “you caught me off guard.”

“My bad,” I reply sarcastically, annoyed. “Next time, I will make sure you’re not carrying me upstairs before telling you that I like you!”

“Please stop saying that,” he mutters, on edge. “Here,” he offers, helping me sit up.

“Don’t touch me, Jay!” I yell, startled, falling into panic too. “I can’t move! I think I’m paralyzed!”

He’s literally a ladykiller.

“You can’t go to bed after a head injury,” he explains, recollecting his thoughts as he tunes my complaints out.

“I’m dying!” I whimper as he finishes up cleaning my forehead and bandaging it.

He’s awfully good at this. He could be a doctor. He’ll just have to work on his bedside manners.

“You’re not dying and you’re not paralyzed. Just in a lot of pain,” he clarifies as if it needs to be said.

“And you would know,” I mumble, shooting him a fierce glare. “Most people do suffer pain once they’ve been drop-kicked down the stairs!”

I just told my crush that I like him and he responds by throwing me down the stairs. Way to let me down easy. Jay is the master of rejecting girls.

And here I was, scared of telling him for nothing - not! I got thrown down the stairs as punishment for confessing!

“I am so furious, I could just huff and puff and blow this damn house down!” I rage.

“Could you try and act like an adult for just a second?” he asks with a sigh as if I’m in the wrong here.

“I don’t think being an adult is going to work for me, ever. No adulting today, especially not now!” I shout, fuming.

“What does that even mean?” he asks in frustration.

I shake my head at him, crossing my arms over my chest as I get to my feet. I stare at the dreaded stairs before my eyes land on the empty wall. No pictures, no nothing. Empty.

“Has potential for Aqueela’s wall of fame,” I say randomly as the thought occurs to me.

“Not in my house, it doesn’t,” Jay argues, unimpressed with the amazing idea.

“I have a pen, I have pineapple, uh, pineapple pen. I have a wall, I have Aqueela, uh,” I pretend to put the two together, “Aqueela’s wall of fame,” I hum to myself, finding it catchy.

“Don’t start that,” he groans, irritated, probably having heard the song way too many times.

“Shut up, insignificant other. I’m hung over and demand special treatment right this instant.” I glance around, deciding to explore the house. “Now, what is there to eat around here?”

“Are you sober yet?” he questions, impatient, brushing my own question off as irrelevant.

“You’re mean,” I state casually.

“Where’d you hear that one from?” he asks, clearly used to insults.

“The wind,” I whisper dramatically. “The wind told me.”

“The wind told you?” he arches a brow at me.

I flash him a grin in turn and nod, putting on my creepy voice, “The call came from inside the house.”

“Yeah, alright, your head seems fine - on the outside anyway. Time to sleep. Probably way past your bedtime,” he mocks, picking me up against my will as he begins climbing the damned flight of stairs once again. All the while, I’m fighting him, still arguing that I’m indeed paralyzed.

He sets me down on his bed and switches off the lights, turning to leave.

I interrupt in protest, “I sure hope that you don’t plan on leaving a delirious, paralyzed girl all alone!”

Jay sighs before turning around. “‘Sorry’ not gonna cut it?” he asks knowingly.

He’s never living this one down!

“Oh hell no!” I say, moving over to make space for him. “You can’t just drop a girl down the stairs and then leave. If I start bleeding out in my sleep, I need you here to keep me breathing and alive…alive and breathing - you get what I am saying?!”

Jay obeys without further debate. He knows that he is in no position to argue. As of now, he is officially the one in the dog house. I’m a free girl!

The bed dips as Jay sits beside me, refusing to lie down. I scoot further away from him, not wanting him to be too nearby. I close my eyes and roll over, feeling safe. Maybe I can catch a good night’s rest, or good day’s rest, for once.

“Goodnight, awful, terrible, deadbeat of a lowlife human being,” I mumble dreamily, talking into the pillow - my version of pillow talk.

“Goodnight, Klutz,” he replies in a low chuckle, keeping his distance, unoffended by my colorful words - he’s used to it.

If anything, he’s the real klutz here.

Just as I start to drift off, I hear him say, “And don’t try anything.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I reply back lazily, already regretting my confession.

Turns out, he isn’t the only one that has something he will never live down…

“I would,” he jokes.

“Go to sleep, Jay, before I make you sleep!” I threaten.

“What are you going to do? Drop kick me down the stairs?” he teases playfully.

That’s more his style, apparently.

“Don’t tempt me! I will K.O. you out!” I warn.

“The way I K.O.’d you a few minutes ago?” he laughs, amused.

Too soon.

“And ‘K.O. you out’,” he quotes me, “is knock out you out. Makes no sense.”

“It was the stairs that K.O.’d me out, not you!” I purposely don’t correct myself on the K.O. thing. “Well, it was you, but…” I falter before accusing him once again at the reminder, “you dropped me down the stairs!”

“Accidents happen,” he defends himself, shameless.

“I know, you were born on a highway.” I roll back over to glare up at him.

“Mhm,” he nods, barely moved by the direct insult aimed at him.

“Oh, don’t start that again! How many times have I told you not to ‘mhm’ me?!” I whine, taking his pillow and stuffing it in his face.

I’m winning at life. #Winner.

He merely grins, moving the pillow aside, satisfied by my reaction.

“Got to sleep, Aqueela,” he encourages.

I don’t need to be told twice.

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