Pause (Book 1)

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Chapter 17: Full Throtle

I shift position as a pounding migraine stirs me awake. I grumble to myself and lazily move my head to the right, seeking comfort. My neck clicks. I wince, slowly opening my eyes to take in my surroundings.

I feel disorientated, everything is spinning.

I force myself to sit up, only to see Jay sleeping in a sitting position himself, his head resting against the headboard.

I cringe as some of the memories come back to me. I’m never drinking again.

I stretch out my arms, accidentally whacking Jay in the face in the process, and let out a much-needed yawn. It’s enough to disturb him from his sleep. He groans in pain before his eyes flutter open.

“What the hell?” he asks, bringing up his hand to touch his nose.

He has no right to complain. I barely touched him. He’s the incarnation of pure evil who dropped me down a flight of stairs.

“You should be killed,” I state, still half-asleep.

“And you should seek professional help,” he states, moving his neck from side to side, clearly in pain from the odd position he fell asleep in. “You’re high maintenance.”

“I cost a little more, but damn, I’m worth it,” I gloat in pride. “You, on the other hand…” I purposely pause, building up suspense, “not so much.”

“Stop badgering me, Cruella,” he narrows his eyes at me. “Because of you, I have a sore neck,” he complains, pinning all the blame on me. “Don’t you have some puppies to go and kill?”

“I fold.” I sigh, still tired.

“And balance is restored,” he smirks in satisfaction, crossing his arms behind his head as he gets comfy.

Winning is my thing.

“Balance of the underworld, maybe.” I glower up at him, unimpressed.

“This back and forth is entertaining, Medusa, but I’m not really looking for friends,” he adds, patting the top of my head thoughtfully, deliberately teasing me.

“Too bad, Chewbacca, we’ve been over this, you’re getting one!” I chip in, annoyed. “And get your paws off of me!” I swat his hand away, irrational.

He chuckles. “Okay,” he murmurs under his breath, amused, “so we’re in that head space then.”

I roll my eyes at him, my head throbbing. This isn’t just from the hangover.

As if sensing my mood, he shuffles, sitting upright. “I should probably get you home.”

“If you just bought me my own car, you wouldn’t have to. It’s getting kind of annoying sharing the whole time,” I joke.

“Your audacity never seizes to astound me,” he shakes his head. “I’m not some trust fund baby like Montry. I actually work for what I have. Now move, it’s time to get you home.”

I stubbornly stay put, refusing to cooperate with him.

Next thing I know, I am flying through the air before landing ungracefully on the floor beside his bed.

I have a thing for falling for him, apparently.

“Ouch!” I yelp, flinching in pain as I meet the ground.

My headache has just intensified.

“She’s alive!” he grins connivingly, finding it comical.

I glare daggers at him when he packs out laughing, thinking it to be hilarious.

“This is nothing personal, but you’re just an awful human being and I hate you,” I mutter, sitting up on the floor, still scowling at him.

He shrugs, unfazed. “Misery loves company.”

“Misery needs comradery,” I argue, detesting his opinion. It ain’t on point. It ain’t lit and it ain’t on fleek. It’s garbage, that’s what it is.

The spirit of friendship is everything.

“Should have got up when I said so,” he tells me, carelessly brushing off my remark.

I rub the back of my head and wince. “What?” I glare at him when noticing him staring. “Was throwing me down the stairs not enough for you?”

“Damn,” he says sheepishly as he gets off the bed, scratching the back of his neck in discomfort, “I was really counting on the tequila to make you forget.”

“Well, get ready to bob and weave, the fight is on. I never forget,” I warn him, holding my fists up, ready to attack.

He chuckles again before offering me his hand. I take his hand in mine and he easily helps me up to my feet before insulting me. “You look like hell.”

“Drop the arrogance. You’re not better than me,” I say, folding my arms across my chest in stubborn defiance.

“Oh, but it’s a fact, I am,” he smirks in pride before adding, “street walker.” He scans my appearance before winking at me.

I suppose I look like a flesh-eating vulture right about now.

“Don’t call me that!” I snap at him. “I even prefer ‘Klutz’ to that.”

He smiles before changing the subject. “So you cuddled up to me, huh?”

“Huh?” I repeat dumbly.

“You asked me to stay,” he begins to explain. “I accidentally fell asleep. When I woke up earlier, you were asleep on me. Talk about boundaries and good conscious, I had to move you back to your side of the bed.”

“Shut up,” I mumble, pushing myself further away from him to create more distance between us, “I am a cuddler by heart, not by choice.”

I don’t recall any of that, but knowing me, it’s highly possible.

“Well, I prefer my space for future reference,” he replies back cockily.

How dare he imply that there will be a next time? I laugh in his face at that.

“Well, sorry for finding your chest comfy,” I improvise. “Take that as a sign, buddy. You might need to work out some more.”

Jay gives me a look before lifting up his shirt, motioning down to his defined eight pack. My eyes widen as he cocks his head to the side playfully. “You’re right, Aqueela,” he grins down at me tauntingly, “I am getting chubby,” he humors me. “I look like a Teletubby, definitely gotta hit the gym some more.”

I jump forward and move his shirt back down. “Enough of that.”

He stifles a chuckle, holding his hands up to me apologetically.

I move my hand up to my forehead in frustration, only to feel a soft cotton bandage. “What the hell is wrong with my face?” I ask incredulously, trying to remember everything that had happened.

He shrugs. “I don’t know, a lot of things apparently,” he jokes, in an especially good mood this evening.

“Not funny,” I slap his chest as the memory comes back to me.

“Okay, okay,” he gives in, blocking my hits, “you hit your head…a few times…on the way down the stairs.”

I stare up at him blankly, still enraged. He owes me.

“You were bleeding a little, so I bandaged you up,” he reminds me.

“How sweet?” I reply in sarcasm. “You bandaged me up after you threw me down the stairs.”

He opens his mouth to respond, but I just talk right over him.

“Then you throw me off the bed despite my head injury and despite my migraine so that I can suffer triple the pain. You’re just the greatest, Jay, a real pocket full of sunshine!” I huff, beyond annoyed.

All three injuries sustained to the head are his fault - the stairs, the hangover, and now, the floor.

Jay places a hand over his heart, feigning sincerity. “I try.”

I can’t help but smile, but I’m quick to hide it when I realize that I’m supposed to still be mad at him.

He nudges me teasingly. “Saw that.”

I’ve gone rogue on myself.

“Shut it,” I frown up at him.

He breaks out into a grin, pushing to embarrass me further. “So, you still haven’t answered my question, why were you on top of me?”

Trust him to not let it go.

I hold my ground, meeting his gaze of blue with unshakeable confidence. “Maybe I’ll answer that when you answer for tossing me down the stairs like a sack of-“

“You make it sound like I did it intentionally,” he sighs, rudely interrupting me. “How many times am I going to have to apologize for that?”

“Predict the future like my dreams and find out,” I boldly narrow my eyes at him. “And I can just as well ask why you were under me. For all I know, you started it,” I argue, confusing the both of us with my statement.

“Your dreams are saying many times, aren’t they?” he hesitantly asks, regretful.

I nod firmly.

He runs a hand through his hair, messing it up further. He doesn’t reply and simply chucks a towel at me and motions to the bathroom. “Take a shower or something, just freshen up. I think you need it.”

I catch the towel in one hand, a ferocious glare fixated on him all the while. “I am going, but only because I want to and not because you told me to.”

I hate being told what to do. I only like telling others what to do.

He shrugs carelessly, turning to leave. “Go with the flow, I see. Suit yourself then, ‘Street Walker’,” he winks at me over his shoulder, knowing exactly what he’s doing. “Daylight’s coming eventually.”

“Stop calling me that!” I shout at his retreating figure, his laughter echoing after him.

With that, I glance back to his bathroom to find that it’s sparkling with cleanliness.

Spic and span, just like my gran.

He’s clearly a clean freak.

Huh…who would have thought?


Feeling refreshed and reenergized, I happily skip down the cursed stairs, humming a random tune to myself.

I purposely slow down in my steps when I spot Jay leaning against the front door with his arms crossed over his white V-neck, an impatient look on his face.

Of course, his look wouldn’t be complete without his trademark black, leather jacket. After all, that’s how I first officially met him. My ice cream and his jacket brought us together. The simple thought brings a smile to my face.

Obviously, he’s been waiting for me. I quietly watch on as he fishes in his pocket for something. He takes out his phone and checks the time, muttering a complaint under his breath.

I stifle a laugh.

“About time, Street Walker,” he suddenly says without having to even look up from his phone’s screen, his frown slowly fading when he realizes that I’m all set to go.

I shoot him a scowl when he finally lifts his head to look at me.

A smirk curls at his lips as it dawns on him. He’s quick to correct himself. “About time, Klutz,” he emphasizes for my sake.

“Much better,” I reply, knowing that it’s one or the other. I much prefer the original ‘Klutz’ to the overrated ‘Street Walker’.

“So where to?” I ask joyfully, sauntering ahead of him as he opens the front door for me.

You, home. Me, work,” he answers in nonchalance, oblivious to my situation.

I stop walking, allowing him to pass me as he casually makes his way over to his red Gallardo.

“C’mon,” he motions me onward, “let’s go.”

I stomp my foot like a toddler would, shaking my head in defiance, refusing to obey. “I’m not going home, Jay.”

He gives me the ‘don’t argue’ glare, and so, of course, I take the bait and argue anyway. “No! No! No!” I raise my voice, jumping up and down in desperation, stubbornly crossing my arms over my chest.

“Are you seriously throwing a tantrum on my front doorstep?” he asks, now irritable.

I nod, owning up to it.

He scoffs in disbelief. “I think there’s still a remnant of tequila in thee Aqueela.”

Jay,” I sigh, staring him straight in the eye, wishing he’d magically understand, “please.”

“I am going to be late. Just get in the car,” he demands, not budging.

I continue to stand frozen in place, waiting for him to let up.

“Why do you insist on fighting me on everything?” he asks, taking a daring step toward me.

I flinch back, not wanting to return home to Yolanda just yet. I’ll deal with her tomorrow.

“Please, Jay. Please,” I beg, throwing my dignity into oblivion. “Why can’t I just come with you to work like last time? I promise I’ll behave.”

He stares at me for a second or two, reading me, before arching an eyebrow. “You’re lying, aren’t you?”

I jut my bottom lip out and give him my best puppy eyes.

He shakes his head, averting his eyes as he caves. “Alright, alright, ‘doe eyes’. Truth is, I’m not going to the bar,” he explains, choosing to be vague.

I wait for him to elaborate.

He gets the gist. “I have a second job, one that you can’t go with me to.”

I am going to that job with him one way or another!

I let out a long, tired sigh, followed by a groan, followed by an annoyed moan, followed by a whine, and finally, to an irritated frown - all done in the hopes to break him and persuade him over to my side.

He keeps his eyes on the ground, refusing to meet my gaze. We both know he’ll give in if our eyes meet, even if it is for a split second. He is too kind at heart to say ‘no’.

Eventually, I comply. “Fine.”

His head snaps up, his blue eyes lighting up with relief. “Fine?” he repeats, double-checking to see if he heard right.

I nod and walk up to him. “Fine,” I confirm, patting his chest before pushing him away so that I can get into the passenger seat.

His gaze follows me as he continues to stand there, completely bewildered. It takes him a second or so to break from his stupid stupor.

“Great,” he breathes out quietly, recomposing himself as he jumps into the driver’s seat, wasting no time in setting foot down on the gas pedal.

Immediately, I place my seatbelt on, almost forgetting that he thinks he’s ‘Brian O’Conner The Second’.

It’s as good as any time to put my plan into action.

Phase 1: Ignore him.

“So just give me directions. Where do you live?” he asks. “I know you want your own car, or my car, not sure entirely on that one,” he jokes, “but if you ever need a ride, just let me know.” He spares me a glance, “It’s not a problem.”

Why does he have to be sweet, now, when I’m ignoring him? He’s so selfish - making my task a gazillion times harder than it has to be. Now, of all times, he chooses to be nice. Inconsiderate jerk!

I force myself to turn my head away, ignoring him despite the difficulty in doing so.

Silent treatment is awful! He’ll probably last longer than me. Not talking is killing me.

I distract myself by glancing out of the window as night time slowly seeps in. I still can’t believe that I slept the entire afternoon and missed school. It’s all Jay’s fault really. I even have a tiny cut and some swelling on my forehead, thanks to him. I’m sure it will bruise over too. At least my beret covers it, making it barely visible to the human eye.

I take out my phone, trying to pass the time, only to find three messages from Bells and one call from Mase. I bite my bottom lip in realization. I completely forgot about them. They’re going to kill me. Nonetheless, I will deal with that later too. Procrastination is the best solution to everything.

With that, I switch off my phone.

Jay takes one hand off of the wheel and waves it in front of my face, his eyes still on the road. “Hey,” he coaxes gently, trying to snap me out of it. “Where do you live?” he asks again, his tone indicating true patience.

He isn’t bothered that I didn’t answer him earlier? He’s sure upbeat today. He’s going out of his way for me. That’s not the Jay Taylor I know. He’s acting as if I’m some fragile kitten ready to crack.

With that thought in mind, it hits me - and I’m not talking about the fact that my head hits the dashboard when Jay suddenly takes a sharp right, but sadly, yes, that hits me too. My head is prone to injury.

Jay’s only having compassion on me because I confessed. He doesn’t feel the same, and so now he’s trying to let me down easy. Dammit! Why can’t he just be a jerk like always and like me back?

“Aqueela?” he repeats, snapping his fingers in an effort to gain my attention. He takes his eyes off of the road to glance my way. “You listening to me?”

I quickly look away, but that action ends up being too obvious.

Jay is perceptive and catches on all too swiftly. “Silent treatment? You’re serious? You’re really falling that low?”

I don’t answer his petty questions even though I am being the petty one here.

He lets out a chuckle, finding it amusing - not exactly the reaction I wanted from him. “Fine, be childish just because I’m not giving you your own way. If that’s how you wanna play this…”

I continue to ignore him, leaning back in my seat instead, inhaling the smell of leather instead. I get cozy, placing my sneakers up on the dashboard. In a flash, Jay swats my feet off of the dashboard, making it evident that he has serious problems. I help him out by putting my feet straight back on the dashboard, ignoring his reprimanding glare.

Time to initiate the next step.

Phase 2: Poke, Poke, Pokémon.

I poke Jay on the side of his cheek - let’s see him be cool and survive through phase 2 without lashing out. No one withstands phase 2. It’s powerful, I’m talking ‘League of Legends’ powerful.

He turns to look at me, a frown on his face as he wonders what I’m on about now. “You bored of silent treatment already?”

I don’t reply and poke him again on the side of his face.

He doesn’t reply, keeping focused on the road ahead of him lit by streetlights. It’s his turn to ignore me, well attempt to anyway.

I continue on with my simpleton antics:

Poke.

No response.

Poke.

Still no response.

Poke.

He’s looking strong.

Poke.

Still going strong.

Poke.

Poke.

Poke.

His resolve is dying ever so slightly.

Double poke.

Booyah! It’s starting to work.

Triple poke!

Quadruple poke!

Tetra poke!

Penta poke!

Hexa poke!

His eye is twitching - it’s only a matter of time now.

Hepta poke!

Octa poke!

Nona poke!

Deca-

He suddenly slams on brakes, swerving over lanes without an indicator before pulling off the road. He grabs my hand in his before I can finish the ultimate, legendary ‘deca poke.’ There’s a murderous glint to his blue eyes. He’s frowning and his breathing seems a little too fast, almost as if he’s been worked up.

“Enough,” he says through gritted teeth and one hard look that shakes me to the bone. “I’m driving.”

He can be really intimidating at times. It reminds me of how he told me to go away that day in the hallway when I kept following him around.

“Okay,” I comply in ease for the second time.

He drops my hand, astounded. It takes him a minute. He blinks once, twice, several times before nodding. He starts the car up again, carefully moving back onto the road.

Phase 3: Please JT, with some cheese.

I give it a few seconds before putting the next step into action.

“Please, can I come with you, Jay?” I test the waters and ask nicely, hoping that he has cooled off in the couple seconds of peace given since the poking fest. “Please.”

“No!” he snaps in exasperation.

So he hasn’t exactly cooled off yet…

“Someone’s moody,” I mumble in a voice just loud enough for him to hear. He sends me a sharp glare to which I surrender, holding my hands up defensively. “Just saying.”

“Just don’t,” he replies back smoothly.

There’s brief moment of silence as he tries to tune me out.

Funny, it started with me ignoring him and ended up the other way ’round. We switched roles.

“Please. Pretty please. Please. Please,” I beg to which Jay shakes his head, adamant in his decision.

“Please!”

Pause.

“Please!”

Pause.

“Please!”

Pause.

“Please!”

Pause.

“Please JT with some cheese!”

Longer pause.

“Please, please, please!”

I go on and on until, like predicted, he finally explodes. “Fine, dammit! You can come!” he shouts, slamming his clenched fist against the wheel, swerving dangerously in and out past other cars, having lost his temper.

I cringe when they honk their horns at him for his reckless behavior. He, on the other hand, just ignores them flat.

A mischievous grin creeps onto my lips. “Thanks, pal.”

I wink teasingly when he spares me an infuriated glance. I smile and motion back to the road. “Keep your eyes on the streets, JT,” I advise and shake my head in disapproval. He’s so irresponsible.

He scowls at me, turning back to the road as he releases obscenities under his breath, truly aggravated with his circumstances.

What a child! How immature can he get? As mature as me?

I won’t judge. ‘Peopling’ is hard for introverts like him.

“Grow up, Jay,” I lecture him on his pig-headedness. He needs to be more mindful of all his faults or I will banish him from Minnesota, from the world.

He shakes his head. “Now that’s really the pot calling the kettle black.”

I stay quiet for the rest of the ride, deciding it’s best not to provoke him any further in case he changes his mind.

He finally stops the car across a dodgy looking building.

Okay, so maybe I do need to open my mouth again so that he will actually change his mind and get me out of here.

“Can we leave now?” I plead, out of the blue. “I’ve seen enough to know what you’re really are,” I narrow my eyes at him, having worked it out, throwing an accusing finger in his face, “gang leader!”

He scoffs and licks his lips in frustration before looking elsewhere. “I’m not a gang leader, Aqueela.”

“Tell that to that rundown, piece of crap staring me in the face!” I point back to the desolate building.

“You’re so annoying,” he grumbles out aloud, running a hand through his hair as if aggravated.

I shrug, not caring enough to be offended. “I’ve been told worse.”

“We’re not even going into the building, we’re going behind it,” he reassures me.

“Oh,” I part my lips in thought, “okay, I guess that’s fine then,” I say cheerfully, opening my door, now eager to see where it is that we are, other than in the middle of nowhere.

“You change your mind quickly,” he states calmly, leading the way.

I mindlessly follow after him as he crosses the street without first checking for oncoming cars.

“Hey!” I call after him. “Jay, you’re jaywalking!”

I snicker at my own joke, not earning a reply from him.

“Is everything in order?” Jay asks a shady looking guy who happens to be standing beside the building, smoking a cigarette.

“Yeah, you’re good to go,” he nods at Jay as if he knows him well, blowing out a puff of smoke, “you can bring the beauty in. Streets are clear.”

“Why thank you,” I bow in respect, ready to enter into the forbidden yet oddly noisy place, “don’t mind if I do.”

I start walking, only for Jay to catch my arm, effectively stopping me from entering through the rusty gate before us.

“He’s talking about the car,” Jay corrects, biting back a grin, his blue eyes twinkling in hidden amusement.

He doesn’t wait for my response. Grabbing me by my hand, he tugs me back to the car. This time, I don’t fight him.

“If at any time you want to go back home, just let me know,” Jay says, placing his arm at the back of my seat as he turns his head. He checks out the back window while reversing, turning the car around, before steering us right into the creepy building.

My eyes widen in shock as I turn to face him, accusation written all over my face. “You lied to me!”

He grins and nods, barely paying me any attention as he fixates his attention on the road in the building sloping downward, proving that the building has been built on a one-sided hill. “Yeah, yeah I did.”

The road exits the building into a large open area. I immediately feast my eyes on the sight before.

Cars. Everywhere.

I remember Jay once telling me that he raced for pink slips. I just never knew he did it for a living. He’s definitely got my approval on this one. Badass bartender by day (most of the time anyway), ruthless street racer by night.

He parks his car over to the side of the roads before getting out. I hop out too, walking quickly in order to try and catch up with his long strides. The whole time, I’m multitasking, scanning the entire area while walking.

“Wow,” I sputter in awe at the change of scenery.

“Yeah,” he stops to wait for me. “It’s something, isn’t it?”

I nod eagerly, agreeing with him for once.

“Welcome to the wrong side of the tracks,” he grins in pride as if the place is home to him.

“Racing?” I ask him in spite of it being fairly obvious.

He breaks out into a warm smile. “With me, it wouldn’t be anything else.”

“Street racing?” I ask again.

“Underground racing, street racing,” he shrugs, “call it whatever you want to call it.”

“So long as we all call you the king of the street champs, right?” a short, boyish girl interrupts us, sending Jay a wink, having obviously eavesdropped on our conversation.

She walks away before he can even reply.

I raise an eyebrow at him, curious as to what that was about. He brushes it off as if it’s no big deal. I shrug, deciding that I will take the easy route out - find her myself and ask.

However, instead of finding her among the crowds, I spot a tall guy instead. He has a fire in his green eyes as he argues with a guy bigger than him. Next thing I know, ‘green eyes’ tackles the big guy to the ground before mercilessly pounding his fist into his face.

Everyone walks on by, unfazed, as if used to ’green eyes” behavior.

“What the heck?” I quirk an eyebrow, elbowing Jay in an act to get his attention. “Why is no one doing anything?”

He lifts his head to follow my gaze. A grin finds its way onto his lips when he takes in the scene. “Don’t mind him.”

I’m the only one that finds it out of the norm.

“Shouldn’t we do something?” I ask, hesitant and confused.

“Trust me,” Jay smirks knowingly, “someone will in,” he checks his watch, “three, two-“

“Get off of him, Lan!” a pretty redhead girl tugs ‘green eyes’ up before going off on him.

He covers his ears, blocking her out before storming off with her hot on his heels.

Must be dating. Couples these days…

When I zone back into reality, I find that Jay’s gone to help the guy on the floor up. I sigh in impatience when they begin talking. He’s left me alone, and I don’t want to intrude on their private conversation…not yet anyway.

“I noticed you came with the speed demon, JT. A friend of Taylor’s then?” I turn to the voice addressing me, only to find a rugged older looking guy staring down at me with a grimace. He’s covered in tattoos and his breath reeks of alcohol.

I open my mouth to answer, but before I can even get a word out, a strong arm suddenly wraps around my waist, materializing out of nowhere.

“Back off, Geezer. She’s mine. Off limits,” Jay speaks for me in a low, threatening voice. As if to make his point, he pulls me toward him, warding off the other guy known as ‘Geezer’.

Jeez, what is with this town and names?

I turn in Jay’s arms to face him, puzzled by his sudden change of attitude. I didn’t realize by doing so that I’d find him so close. My heart quickens when I see just how near he really is.

I inch back on reflex and then mouth to him ‘why’, to which he leans in forward, his lips moving past me and to my ear. “Just go with it. You don’t know these guys like I do,” he coaxes, his warm breath hitting my neck.

I nod and then pull away from him slightly, needing to breathe a little before I suffocate.

Geezer holds his hands up apologetically, seeming anything but. “Relax, ‘full throttle’. I was just asking,” he tells Jay before walking off.

“JT, get over here! You’re racing in two,” a deep voice hollers from some distance away.

Jay releases me entirely, pulling me by the arm as he drags me to the guy calling for him. “Grey, I’m not letting her race with me. If something happens…” he trails off, leaving his sentence unfinished. “Just take real good care of her until I get back with the pink slip. You’re the only one I fully trust around here.”

The one known as ‘Grey’ nods. “Got it. Now get going. My bets are on you.”

“Thanks, my man,” Jay grins, the two clearly on good terms.

It’s the last thing he says before heading back to his ride.

I watch in anticipation as he and the other competitors drive their cars out to the front of the starting line, mentally preparing themselves as their individual fans begin to cheer them on.

I had no idea Jay was so well liked around here. He definitely isn’t at school.

People start booing when a black Gallardo pulls in last at the starting line, right beside Jay. The driver in the black Gallardo revs his engine tauntingly, but Jay is smart enough not to take the bait.

“Typical,” Grey mutters to himself, rolling his eyes at the black car as if he’d expected as much.

A woman in a short skirt and stilettos walks forward, holding a red and white checkered flag. She lifts the flag as all the cars begin to follow the black car, revving their engines violently as if to intimidate one another.

The sound is tumultuous - vibrating throughout the dodge suburbs, probably echoing for miles out.

I watch Jay, only to see that he’s keeping focus - his eyes on the prize. He couldn’t care less about what he’s up against. If anything, he looks too relaxed.

“Ready,” the girl shouts before waving the flag down, “go!”

There’s a large gust of wind and a whole lot of noise as they all set off to the streets, Jay taking the lead from the very start.

I smile proudly. He’s got this.

When they take a corner and disappear from view, I turn to find Grey glancing down at me with a frown.

Time to change that!

“Hi, Grey!” I chirp ecstatically, the hype of being here getting to me.

“Hey, whoever you are,” he greets under his breath, seemingly irritated.

“Charming,” I tease, wondering what his problem is. Maybe it’s because he’s been put on babysitting duty.

“Can’t believe JT actually brought someone here.” He glances over at me, taking in my appearance. “Just never expected you to be his type.”

What is that supposed to mean?

“Jay and I are just friends, but he thinks friends are overrated, so maybe it’s one-sided. I didn’t give him much of a choice. I forced him to bring me here,” I confess. “I noticed you call him JT; he hates it when I call him that. Are you two friends? I thought Jay doesn’t have any friends because he likes his solitude. I’m the complete opposite, a social butterfly in actual fact. I don’t even know how we get along - well, actually, come to think of it, we don’t get along at all. We constantly bicker and-“

“Woman, woman,” he stresses, interrupting me, “shush.”

“Rude,” I frown up at him, meeting his gaze head on.

“You talk too much,” he clarifies bluntly. “No wonder he doesn’t consider you to be his friend.”

Without thinking, I stomp down on his foot, hard.

He jumps up and cradles his foot as he hops around on his left foot, swearing his lungs out, dropping the ‘lone wolf’ act. I can’t help but laugh as he yells directly at me. “What the hell is the matter with you!?”

I shrug, mimicking Jay’s earlier words, “A lot of things, apparently.”

It’s in that deadly, terrifying moment when Grey looks down at me with murderous eyes that I finally take in his appearance.

Yeah, bad timing.

His cool voice matches his dark hair and gray eyes. In actual fact, he’s not bad looking at all. He’s built well and isn’t covered in tattoos or reeling in alcohol like Geezer. He’s civil. Jay trusts him and that makes me automatically trust him by default. Other than his entire personality, he seems decent enough.

“I’m stuck babysitting a child when I could be participating for the heck of it,” he complains, settling down after the whole ‘his foot being under my shoe’ incident.

I stare up at him and let him vent. It seems like he needs it.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” he eventually asks.

“Your eyes are really gray, you know that?” I state with a happy-go-lucky smile. “So is your demeanor. Is that why they call you ‘Grey’?”

“They call me ‘Grey’ because it’s my name,” he answers through clenched teeth, clearly still enraged with me.

“Well, that’s boring,” I offer my opinion on the matter.

I take the time to look around, only now noticing all the smashed and stoned people lurking around in the shadows. Some of their eyes wander to me in curiosity. It irks me. I stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t fit in here.

They too know that I am not one of them. I’m just glad Grey is here or else I’d be freaking out. It’s now clear why Jay never wanted to bring me here in the first place.

Chills run down my spine at the thought of them cooking me in a giant, iron pot. Subconsciously, I loop my arm through Grey’s, hoping for some form of protection from all these unsavory characters.

He stiffens, glancing down at me as if awaiting an explanation. He sees my face and quickly picks up on my anxiety. He rolls his eyes and detaches himself from me. “You’re one of those rich, prissy girls, aren’t you?”

I tap my chin in mock thought, not giving him an answer. I do not need to disclose my home situation to a stranger. “You have me pegged incorrectly.”

He notices my discomfort, quickly realizing his judgemental error. He reaches up and scratches the back of his neck waywardly. “I’m sorry…” he falters, feeling guilty.

I laugh, not taking him seriously. “Relax, Grey,” I grin, “I promise I don’t bite.”

“Probably only marauder on flesh, right?” he cracks a joke, yet keeps a serious face.

“Ooh,” I wince, “that insult was so good that I’ve lost the ability to see in 3D.”

He scoffs, a grin pulling at his lips as he turns his head to look away.

“So you and JT friends then?” I ask, changing the subject.

“We don’t use the term ‘friend’ lightly around here. In ancient history, a friend would be someone that you’d make a personal covenant with. You’d be prepared to lay down your life for that person. That’s what a friend was, and for us, still is,” he explains, and for once, I actually find myself listening.

This guy takes life way too seriously…

“So JT is your friend then?” I repeat, baffled by his first response.

“Acquaintance,” he corrects. “Friends are overrated.”

That’s Jay’s famous line. That confirms it. These two are friends.

We lapse into this weird, uncomfortable silence. Grey seems content in it as he waits for Jay’s return. I, however, hate silence. It makes me nervous.

I touch Grey’s arm and check the time on his watch. Ten minutes have passed since the race started. Who knows how long they will still be? All I know is that I have to end this tense silence. Now.

Grey’s a racer too. What do you talk to a racer about?

“So NOS then? Some fast ass shiznit,” I nod in certainty, sure of myself.

To my surprise, he actually laughs. He glances down at me with a half-smile. “You’re something else.”

Taking that one as a compliment.

“What?” I ask, trying to play it cool as if a racer too. “‘Need for Speed’ has NOS in it.”

“That’s a game,” Grey points out before actually smiling at me. “I didn’t catch your name,” he reminds me, his interest spiked.

“That’s because I never threw it to you,” I joke, earning myself another glare.

He doesn’t bother asking again. Instead, he checks his timer and hovers his thumb over the ‘stop’ button. “And in three, two-“

He’s cut off by the sound of a strong engine with a ton of horsepower roaring past us.

“One,” he ends with a boastful smirk, pressing down on the ‘stop’ button just as Jay’s red Gallardo flies across the finishing line in style.

I clap my hands in excitement at the sight of Jay rounding his car, doing donuts in the dust as if to show off.

I don’t even take much note of the black car appearing in second place. Instead, I’m sprinting my way over to Jay, eager to congratulate him on his win.

As soon as he removes his helmet and steps out of the car, I’m right there, embracing him on impulse. He chuckles, catching me off guard as he returns the hug with affection.

Surprisingly enough, he’s not shoving me away this time.

“You won!” I squeal, ecstatic for him. “You made it look too easy.”

“Well, obviously,” Grey snorts, interrupting our moment to yank me off of his ‘acquaintance’. “JT’s a champ. There’s none like him.”

“Thanks,” Jay grins at him with true modesty in his voice.

Grey returns his grin and pats him on the back, no words needed in order to express his pride in his friend.

The guy that had been competing specifically against Jay, walks over to us and wordlessly tosses keys at Jay before nodding at a GT not too far off from us.

“Thanks,” Jay grins at the guy before attempting to hand the keys to Grey.

Grey arches an eyebrow at Jay, puzzled.

“You got yourself a new set of wheels,” Jay explains, holding out the keys to his friend.

Grey’s eyes widen as he takes the keys, doubtful. “Are you being for real?”

Jay just nods. “All yours. You earned it.”

“Thanks, JT,” Grey grins, not wasting another second before he’s off to go and check out his new ride, forgetting to say goodbye.

Jay’s kindness astounds me. People misjudge him. He has an enormous heart, it’s just buried under many layers of coldness.

He throws an arm around my shoulder as he leads me back to his car.

“That was fun,” I chirp, making light conversation.

It was definitely worth coming here. This, racing, is his safe haven.

“Always,” he agrees in ease.

“Aren’t you ever afraid that you’ll crash and burn?” I ask, recalling the day my mother died. There are even greater risks of that happening when it’s illegal.

“That got dark real quick,” he chuckles before shaking his head. “I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s my lifeline.”

“You’re great and all, but you might slip up and lose control some day,” I express my concerns to him, hoping that he’d at least hear me out.

“Then pray that that never happens,” he answers in nonchalance, unaffected by my words. “I certainly do, every day.”

“You pray?” I find myself asking.

“When you’ve been through hell, you learn to,” he laughs humorlessly as he reminisces back on something, his gaze hardening at the memory. “Besides,” he shrugs, pulling himself together, “I got to thank someone for my gift,” he jokes.

“Street racing is legendary, but I’m still going to get you out of it,” I tease playfully.

“And I’ll be waiting,” he winks at me, not taking me seriously at all.

“Just watch,” I threaten him in the nicest way possible.

“I am,” he humors me, “front row seat and everything.”

“I’m serious, Jay,” I narrow my eyes at him before looking away, this all meaning a lot to me. “I’m going to save you from yourself - your stubborn, ignorant self.”

I glance up at him a second later when he falls silent, failing to respond.

“Jay?” I nudge him, cautious. “I didn’t-“

“You already have.”

I furrow my eyebrows in confusion, opening my mouth to say something, but rather, finding myself speechless too. I rack my brain for anything to say, carefully mulling over his words, but come up short-handed.

“Nonetheless, ‘my stubborn, ignorant self’ appreciates you looking out for me,” he adds, a smile flickering over his lips.

“Yeah, okay, whatever,” I brush it off in speed, changing the topic at hand, “just know that next time, I shotgun driving.”

“So long as it’s not my car that you’re driving.”


So, you wear hats all the time because…” Jay trails off, waiting for me to answer as we enter the bar side-by-side.

It’s his shift.

“And you wear leather jackets all the time because…” Boss Man asks Jay as he passes us by, shooting me a wink as he rises to my defense.

Jay rolls his eyes after him, a smile on his face. He turns back to me, still waiting for a legit answer.

“Because,” I simply answer, trying to find a way to divert his attention off of me. I don’t like being analyzed and questioned on my personal style.

“I’m not insulting you,” he assures me. “Personally, I think it suits you,” he compliments, walking off before I can react.

My phone starts to ring. I grab it out of my bag and answer it without first checking the caller ID. “Hello.”

“Hi, Aqueela,” a voice replies. “It’s Dylan. I’m calling because I want to ask-“

I cut him off as an unfocused frown takes over my features. “Dylan?”

Why does the name sound so familiar?

Dylan. Your friend Bella gave me your number because you lost mine. Dylan, from the ice cream store Dylan,” he reminds me, his tone indicating that he’s taken offense.

I snap my fingers at having a ‘lightbulb’ moment. “Hot, sexy manager dude?!” I raise my voice in recognition, rendering who he is.

“What?” is his reply from the other end of the line.

I try to explain. “Sorry, I-“

“You call me all those things?” he suddenly asks.

I don’t answer, well more like can’t answer. I have already given myself away.

He lets out a laugh from the other end of the line, obviously finding my names of endearment for him entertaining. “It’s okay. Really. I like it.”

Why can’t all males just evacuate and find their own damn planet?!

“Anyway, I wanted to finally take you out on that date you promised me. You free tomorrow?” he asks, confident of himself.

I have been dreading this very phone call. I don’t like him like that. He has no, as Blubber would put it, ‘Cool Guy Jay’ qualities in him. He will never live up to Jay and if I go on this date I’ll be comparing everything he does to Jay all night long.

I need an excuse.

“Well, actually, I’m busy tomorrow. Rain check?” I ask, feeling the immense guilt brought on by a lie.

“The day after tomorrow?” he asks, his confidence now wavering.

“Also busy,” I murmur into the phone, wincing on his behalf.

“Day after that then?” he asks hopefully.

Catch a hint buddy. Why must he be so persistent?

“Well, um, I have this, um, thing, so…” I falter nervously, losing my train of thought, now sprouting garbage, “I’m busy for the rest of the year and the year after. In fact, the next century really. So-“

Before I can finish my sentence, the phone is suddenly snatched out of my hands by none other than Jay himself. “Hey, man,” he greets into the phone.

I raise my eyebrow in query, momentarily forgetting that Jay has befriended Dylan too. It’s his life mission to befriend all my enemies, and Dylan made partial enemy the second he took down my photo down and replaced it with a visibly wider photo of Blubber.

“Of course. Nah, we didn’t have any serious plans. Aqueela just felt bad on canceling lunch tomorrow with me. I told her that it’s all good. So she will see you tomorrow then at seven?” Jay asks, holding a thumbs up to me.

I frown and shake my head, indicating to him to stop.

“Okay, great, I’ll let her know,” Jay grins, nodding at me.

I shake my head profusely, hoping that he’d get the message seeing as Dylan clearly didn’t.

“What’s that? Is she excited?” Jays repeats after Dylan before casting a glance my way.

I send him a bored glare, picking away at my nail polish.

Very,” he lies. “She’s practically jumping up and down as we speak.” He ends the call after that and tosses my phone back to me. “You’re welcome.”

I fumble, almost dropping my phone, but end up catching it just in time. I whip my head to scowl at him. “What the hell?”

Jay shrugs and stuffs his hands into his front pockets. “I got game. I scored you a date with ‘hot, sexy manager dude’ tomorrow at seven.”

“I didn’t ask you to do that,” I point out.

He shrugs before trying to get past me.

I cross my arms and block his only path in escaping. “I don’t like Dylan. I don’t want to go out with Dylan because I don’t like him. You hear me? I don’t like him,” I repeat, trying to get it through his thick skull.

“Aqueela, you should go out with him. He seems to really like you,” he replies, averting his gaze as if too ashamed to look me in the eye.

I know what he’s trying to get across to me, but ‘made of stone’ still stands, people…made of stone. Or vice verse, vice verse! Stone is made out of me.

“Fine,” I sigh, leaving the bar in need of some ‘me’ time.

“I knew I’d find you here,” I jump at the voice as I turn to find Maggot behind me. “Figured you’d be with him,” he motions with his eyes toward Jay who is now serving drinks to a pretty, petite blonde.

If anything, Jay seems out of it. He’s unfocused and keeps messing up the tricks he usually pulls off.

I turn back to face Mason, a frown set in place on my lips. “What do you want?”

Of all times, he has to grace me with his unwanted presence now.

“I need to talk to you,” he answers, glancing to behind me.

I follow his gaze to see Jay’s gaze trained solely on me.

Alone,” Mason emphasizes loudly as if to make sure Jay hears.

I open my mouth in protest, but he doesn’t give me the chance to argue. He grabs me by my hand, pulling me after him.

Once he’s taken me to the back of the bar, he starts, “I’ve just-” he stops himself when he sees my face. “Are you okay?” he asks, placing a hand on my shoulder.

“No,” I mutter truthfully, taking out my anger on the wrong person.

Mason’s brown eyes fill with worry as he brings me in for a warm embrace. He rubs my back gently. I smile against his shoulder, already feeling better. “Are you actually willingly hugging me?” I tease.

“Don’t start with me, Leech,” he cracks a smile, pulling away.

“What did you want to talk about?” I ask, now curious.

He pauses for a second before blurting out the unthinkable. “I’m breaking up with Bells.”

Slap!

It was on impulse.

Mason rubs at his cheek, having already predicted what I’d do.

I grab him by the shoulders and shake him violently, trying to drive some sense into him. “Listen here, Maggot, and listen well-“

“Aqueela-“

“You will, and I repeat, you will not break up with Bells. Do you understand? You will not crush her and break her heart! Not not not! Never ever! You’re marrying that girl and starting a family with her whether you like it or not!” I snap in a dark, threatening tone, a tone that I didn’t even know I was capable of using.

“Actually…” Mason scathes the back of his neck as he shifts position, “I already broke up with her.”

Slap! Slap! Slap!

“Are you out of your mind?!” I shout at him, blowing both our ear drums in the process.

I lift my hand to slap him through the face a fifth time, but he sees it coming and catches my hand in his. He uses this opportunity to yank me forward. I stumble into his chest. I immediately try to move away, but he won’t let me.

“Wha-what are you doing?” I stammer, confused, but beginning to understand - I’m right where he wants me to be.

He doesn’t answer and instead tips his face down, leaning in toward me.

“Stop, Mason,” I demand the second his lips brush against mine. I hastily push him back. “You love Bells, stop this and go back to her before you lose her for good. You need to figure out what it is that you want.”

Mason’s expression intensifies, his brown eyes visibly brightening as he takes a step forward. “But I know what I want now, and it’s you, Aqueela. It’s always been you.”

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