Pause (Book 1)

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Chapter 18: Catch-22

I push Mason back forcefully with every ounce of my strength. I would never hurt Bells like this. How he has the audacity to do this blows my mind.

“Stay away from me, Mason,” I say, angry and genuinely afraid of him in the moment - not in the sense that I don’t trust him, but in the sense that I shouldn’t be with him in the first place. This is wrong.

I don’t feel the same.

He reaches out to me. “Aqueela, come on, you had to have a clue-“

I flinch back and begin stepping further away from him, not wanting to think about. “Just leave me alone!” I shout before sprinting away from him.

I can’t lose Bell.

“Aqueela, wait!” he calls after me, but I keep running, not once looking back.

Jay steps out after hearing all the commotion. I try to run past him, but he catches me by my upper arm and roughly pulls me to a halt. “What’s going on?” he asks, his gentle tone contradicting his actions.

I make an attempt to pull away from him, but he only tugs me nearer in response.

“Nothing that concerns you!” I snap at him, shoving him away until he stumbles back and releases me.

This is most likely the first time that I have ever been rude to Jay. Ever.

“Aqueela, just tell me what happened. What did he do?” Jay calls after me, still following me.

I slow down in my steps, allowing him to catch up to me. “Nothing. Forget it.”

In my distraction, I bump into yet another obstacle. I mumble an apology, not bothering to look up before moving away.

It seems as if fate is against me today because I’m suddenly yanked back and pulled into a hug. “Aqueels, what’s up?”

Max.

I shake my head against his chest, wanting him to let it go. I don’t want to be interrogated anytime soon.

Why can’t I just have a dramatic exit in peace?

I wipe at my eyes, pulling away from him. I try to console myself, knowing that they’re both watching. It’s at times like these that I feel most vulnerable. I hide sadness behind fronts - feigned smiles, forced laughs and silly jokes.

“Aqueela,” Jay starts, not even trying to conceal his concern or mask his worry like he normally does, “let me help y-“

“Taylor!” one of his colleagues call out to him from the back door of the bar. “We got people waiting on you.”

Jay sighs, his blue eyes losing light as his lips contort into a frown. “I’ll be right there,” he answers smoothly, his back to his co-worker. His eyes wander to Max standing beside me. “See to it that she’s okay, alright?”

Max nods. “You got it, buddy.”

Jay’s gaze shifts to me a final time before he re-enters the bar, having no other choice but to get back to work before he’s told by Boss Man that he’s slacking.

“You want me to take you home?” Max asks softly, tearing me from my thoughts.

I immediately shake my head. “I’ll be fine.” I offer him a reassuring smile, but my smile falters and he sees it.

He changes topics. “I came by here, looking for you. Bells is a mess. She called me. She needs you,” he says, “said I could find you here.”

I nod at Max, allowing him to lead me to his car.

I’m not one for secrets, but I also don’t know how I’m going to face her.


“I’m sorry,” I repeat for what feels to be the hundredth time.

I just need her to hear me say it, even if she doesn’t know why I’m saying it. I need her to understand the underlying message behind it all. I’m apologizing for so much more than what she is aware of.

A tear runs down Bell’s cheek as I embrace her, rubbing her back comfortingly. “It was just out of nowhere. I knew he was drifting, but this was sudden. I just don’t understand. I thought he was the one for me.”

He was the one for her, at least for the moment.

This is my fault. I’m the one that encouraged the relationship because I knew how much she liked Mason. This all could have been avoided had I not interfered. It’s my fault Bells is hurting right now.

“Everything happens for a reason, Bells. I know it’s hard to accept, but there is someone better out there for you,” I reassure her as best as I can, not exactly the comforting type. I’m out of my depth here.

Bell wipes at her eyes and tries to put on a brave face. I see through it.

“I’m sorry that I’m crying so much,” she mumbles, a ghost of a smile on her face, any trace of happiness gone.

I shake my head at her, dismissing her words, letting her know that I don’t mind. She can cry all she likes. Although, call me insensitive, I really do hope that she stops soon. She’s making me just as heartbroken. I feel her pain. That’s what friendship is about.

“How are you coping? I haven’t even asked how you are,” she says through fresh tears, expressing concern. “I noticed you weren’t at school.”

I shrug and avert my eyes, wanting to shift the subject from me to something else, but she isn’t budging. I resist sighing aloud. “I’m fine,” I lie, hoping she’d buy it.

Now’s not the time to tell her about Mason.

I glance at Max, needing his assistance. He standing against the wall with his hands deep in his pockets, clearly not equipped for this kind of dilemma - but truthfully, neither am I. He can’t be as terrible as me. I could do with his help.

I motion with my eyes for him to say something - I, myself, am running out of things to say to comfort her, other than saying how much of an idiot Mason is.

“Guys, huh?” Max awkwardly clears his throat, his eyes trained on Bells.

She turns to face him, her lips tilting up ever so slightly.

I gesture to him, behind her back, to continue.

“We’re all idiots. Don’t know how you girls put up with us,” he adds as he makes his way over to her side.

Bell ends up smiling, unable to hold it in for any longer.

I shoot him a thumbs up.

“Aqueels, you should go home,” Bell suddenly says after observing my mood. “I’ll be okay. I’ll just talk to you tomorrow.”

“You sure?” I ask, hesitant.

Nonetheless, I’m confident that Max will be enough to cheer her up.

“Sweetie,” she takes my hand in hers, “I’ve never been less sure of anything in my life.”

I laugh, aware that she’s only joking.

Still, I open my mouth to protest, not wanting to leave her alone, but Max interrupts before I can get a word out:

“I’ll stay with her,” he volunteers.

I see you, Max.

“Thank you,” Bells replies, that same small smile gracing her lips.

I nod at Max, letting him know that I’m leaving her in his care. Bells has a terrible habit of acting irrationally when hurting. Someone has got to keep an eye on her.

It’s not that I want to leave, it’s that I have to.

Yolanda called.


I open the front door quietly, being extra cautious. If she’s sleeping, I’d prefer it stay that way.

“That you, Aqueela?” a voice slurs from inside.

A shiver runs down my spine when I realize that she’s drunk again.

“Sorry that I’m late,” I whisper, indicating to her that it’s just me.

She flips on the lights before stumbling her way toward me.

“You didn’t come home the previous night and if I didn’t call, you wouldn’t have come back tonight either. Are you trying to leave me?” she asks coldly, her face void of showing any emotion. Lately, I doubt if she’s even capable.

“Never,” I reply, too afraid to reply with any other response.

“You had me worried,” she admits.

“I’m sorry,” I say quietly.

I squeeze my eyes shut when she reaches for my arm.

The pain never comes.

I open my eyes just in time to see her legs giving out beneath her. I catch her before she can hit the floor, carefully leading her back to bed.

She needs rest, and quite frankly, so do I.


As if to match my mood, the next morning is a glum one. I step out of the house to find that it’s snowing more heavily than usual. I sigh, running back inside to retrieve a scarf and a beanie. I slip on my hoodie before beginning my walk to school.

Staring up at the white sky, I found myself entranced by the regal sight of a vivacious bird flying against the fierce winds. It’s a pivotal moment for me. I should never give up either, no matter how powerful the opposing force is.

It’s times like these, when I look at nature in itself, that I find myself completely captivated and spellbound by the beauty in it. It makes it difficult to deny the existence of a god. He must be. He must be here, right now.

Call me an opportunist, but I take the rare moments of life as they come. I’m inept in doing otherwise.

“Alright,” a voice clears from beside me before I feel a hand latch onto my wrist loosely, “sidebar.”

I’m pulled aside before I’m met by the warmth embedded in his brown eyes.

“Were you planning to drown in your thoughts for the entire day?” Max asks me teasingly, yet concern evident in his eyes, having noticed that something isn’t quite right. He doesn’t give me time to answer, instead, speaking over me. “Let’s shorthand this, are you okay?”

I nod weakly, keeping my poised stature.

In hindsight, I should have seen the question coming.

“Bells told me to tell you that she isn’t coming to school today,” he says, making casual conversation, failing to see through me.

He walks into the school building with me, but not before dusting the snowflakes off his jacket and hair.

“I figured,” I answer, barely paying him any attention. My focus is trained on the group, Burnsville Blazettes, dancing freely in the hallways, typically taking up more space than necessary. “How is she?” I ask, pulling my eyes away from the dancers dressed in black and gold - our school’s colors.

Max shakes his head as a frown appears on his face. “Not good. Mason is an idiot for breaking up with someone like her.”

“I know,” I agree, feeling guilty for the part I played in it - intentional or not.

At least, after today, I’ll be on spring break.

“I just wish I knew why he broke up with her. What made him do it? They were always such a close couple. Who changed that?” Max asks, deep in thought, his eyes flitting over to me as it clicks in his puny brain.

“Someone despicable,” I answer in a small voice with a resigned shrug of my shoulders.

Aqueela,” he drawls out in an act to comfort me, “c’mon, it’s not your fault.”

That’s not entirely true. Mason was right. I did have somewhat of a clue, but when the thought came to mind, I’d purposely force it away in an attempt to deliberately blind myself from the lecherous truth.

Catch-22.

I glance back up at my friend, the guilt sinking in, refusing to settle. I feel queasy at the idea of being partially responsible for this mess. “I better get to class,” I lie, there being nothing else I could care less about. “I’ll see you around, Max.”

“What? No ‘Maxipad’ today?” he asks, taken aback by my extreme lack of humor.

“Not today,” I admit flatly.

“No wonder it’s snowing,” he jokes in an effort to lift my spirits.

I feign a smile before leaving him, walking in the direction of my locker, uninterested in going to my first class today.

With an empty feeling tugging at my chest, I halfheartedly fumble at my locker before I finally manage to unlock it. I take out my camera, leaving behind my chemistry book - there’s no point in trying, I’m flunking anyway.

I loosen my backpack, shrugging it off before shoving it my locker for safe keeping.

“Lawson,” Laiken leers, my locker door suddenly slamming shut under his palm.

I tense, slowly turning to face him. “What do you want?” I scowl, fixating my gaze on anywhere but him.

I was just about to close my locker door anyway!

A frown slides onto his lips as he stares down at me for a second too long. “‘Happy-go-lucky’ actually in a bad mood this morning?” he asks, his wandering eyes flickering over my face as if trying to read me.

I fold my arms across my chest, hellbent on refusing to answer.

His face turns emotionless as he removes his palm off of my locker, surprising me when he takes a small step back from me. He opens his mouth to say something but stops himself as if thinking better of it. Instead of throwing an insult, he retreats.

I furrow my eyebrows as I watch him leave. I leave it be, my legs leading me without me even registering where I’m headed.

I glance up at the bare tree, Jay’s tree, with a smile stretching across my lips. Feeling slightly more at ease with the familiarity of it, I crouch under the tree, careful not to touch the snow.

I remove the cap from the lens of my camera as I begin taking rough shots, trying to erase all thoughts from my mind. I’m sick of pretending that everything is perfectly okay, when really, I’m drowning in a pool of acid and can’t break surface.

“Hey.”

His voice snaps me out of my trance. I glance through my camera’s lens, moving it up, only to see him standing before me in his infamous jacket.

“Think of the devil and he shall appear,” I mumble nonchalantly, unable to hold back my smile at seeing him here. He’s rocked up at just the right time. He’s got mad skills. “But you can leave now,” I say, wanting some solitude.

He simply shakes his head.

It’s then that I, through the lens, see him get down on his haunches, kneeling before me with a blank expression.

“What’s wrong?”

I focus the camera elsewhere in an attempt to distract myself. However, nothing in this garden is as distracting as Jay Taylor.

I hear him sigh in irritation when realizing that I’m not cooperating.

It’s a second later when he leans forward, removing the camera from my hands so that he can see me properly. “Let’s talk.”

I cross my arms and glower at him. “Why?”

The bluntness of my question seems to catch him off guard as something foreign flickers across his eyes. It’s gone in a flash.

He lifts one hand to scratch the back of his neck, averting his eyes as if uncomfortable. It’s only then that I see the jar in his hands. I stare at him pointedly, curious. “What’s that that you got there?” I eventually ask.

My attention has been perked by his increasing shyness.

“Take it,” he offers the jar out to me, meeting my gaze once more.

I snatch the glass jar from his hands all too eagerly. I turn the jar in my hand, taking in all the shapes, soon realizing that they’re cookies in the form of different types of hats.

“You made this for me?” I ask wearily, caught off guard by the gesture.

“Well, you looked down yesterday,” he shrugs before adding, “but don’t read too far into any of this because…” he falters when I shoot him a look, letting him know that he’s ruining the moment. He gives in, “Yeah. I made it for you.”

“I didn’t know you can cook,” I utter, my eyes moving from Jay to the jar again.

“You don’t cook cookies, Aqueela,” he corrects with a grin intact.

I roll my eyes. “Fine. I didn’t know you can bake,” I say, rephrasing for his sake.

He nods, satisfied.

“I can’t,” he admits, “but I’m a fast learner when I’m desperate.” He changes the subject when realizing his mistake. “What are you doing out here under my tree in any case?”

I glare at him. “Firstly, it’s my tree, and second, it’s none of your business, and thirdly, bye-bye.”

“Nice try, but I’m not going anywhere,” he tells me, adjusting his position so that he’s crouching beside me.

I laugh at his stubborn attitude and pop a beret shaped cookie into my mouth. Shockingly enough, it tastes real good. Seeing as it’s butterscotch, my all-time second favorite, it would.

I arch an eyebrow at him. “You remembered?”

A lazy smile crosses his features. “I said ‘dually noted’, didn’t I?” he jokes, reminding me of our time shared in jail together.

I hold out the jar to him, but he just shakes his head, declining the offer.

“Your loss.” I take out a second cookie and inspect it with a wide smile. “I can’t believe that you baked me cookies. I mean, you went out of your way learning to bake and you still found the time to shape them into little hats-“

“Cookie cutters, Aqueela,” he chuckles. “I’m good, but I’m not that good.”

“And you made it in my favorite flavor. You remembered.” I smirk at him. “You better be careful or someone might just mistake us for friends,” I tease, winking up at him playfully.

“They wouldn’t be mistaken.”

I whip my head around to face him, my hair slapping him in the face in the process. “What did you just say?”

“Give me a break,” he says before muttering incoherently under his breath. “If anything, you’re probably all I’ve got right now,” he confesses. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“I thought friends are overrated?” I say, waiting for him to admit to the fact that he’s changed his mind on that one.

“Don’t make me crush all the cookies,” he warns. “Don’t push me, I’ll do it,” he jokes in a threatening manner.

“No, anything but the cookies!” I shout overdramatically, placing a hand to my heart, feigning despair.

Jay laughs at this and ruffles my hair. “You’re so weird. Now shut up and eat your damn cookies.”

His words hang loosely in the air. When I fall silent, he seems to realize what’s currently running through my head.

Sure, you laugh every time someone calls you weird, but truth is, eventually that word starts to subconsciously get at you.

“Luckily, I like weird,” he adds in a barely audible whisper.

Nice save.

Before I can react, he’s already up on his feet again, brushing the matter aside.

Without a second thought, I jolt up and run after him. “Wait up, JT!”

He doesn’t, instead, yelling back to me, “Stop calling me that!”

I stop for a second, grinning to myself before going after him.

“JT! JT! JT!” I call as I sprint over to him, out of breath.

“You called this one, Street Walker.”


I skip into Bell’s house, Max and Jay tagging along - not by their choice but for my protection. I order them to wait in the lounge while I go see to my friend.

If I’m right, she’ll be up in her room crying, eating a bowl of ice cream while watching Batman. She always watches action movies when she’s really upset, and when she’s really angry she listens to romantic songs.

I pass her mother on the way upstairs. “Oh hey, Aqueela,” she smiles as if genuinely happy to see me. “It’s been a while.”

“Hey, Bell’s mom.” I return her tender smile.

Jennifer rolls her eyes at me. “Honey, how many times have I told you to just call me Jennie?” she asks with a soft look to her eyes.

She’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mom.

I shrug. “Infinite?”

“If only there was a number to surpass infinity, then you’d be right,” she teases, knowing me well enough to know that I’m only kidding around.

At the sound of wails coming from upstairs, her smile fades and is quickly replaced with a frown. “I’m glad you’re here, Dear. I can’t get through to that child of mine. I swear, I will ring Mason’s neck when I see him in person again.”

She’ll have to beat me to it. Perhaps she can stand in line. There’s a lot of us that want to kill Mason right now. He’s at fault.

“She’s not holding up well then?” I question nervously.

She shakes her head. “Been cooped up in there all day. Even went as far as throwing a book at me.”

Sounds like Bella Bensten alright.

“Don’t worry, Bell’s mom. I got this,” I wink teasingly, purposely, as I make my way up the last two stairs.

“At least Mrs. J then?!” Jennifer calls after me and I can’t help but laugh aloud.

I envy Bells. She has it good. Although, I’d like to think that Jennie is a mother to me too. It was Mrs. J who rushed me to the hospital when I needed stitches after attempting a backflip, and it was Mrs. J who stayed by me all night long. However, it was my step mother who paid the hospital fees.

I push these feelings of jealousy to the back of my mind as I knock on Bell’s door.

“What now, mom?!” Bell screams from the other side.

“Um…it’s not your mom,” I reply back cautiously, now twirling my thumbs as my anxiety levels rise. I need to be alert. My life is at stake here.

“Aqueela? Is that you? Oh, thank goodness! Come in before I hang Mr. Ted with my own underwear!”

I can’t understand why she is angry, especially at her teddy bear. She should still be in the crying phase. If she moves too fast through the grief stages, she’ll become dangerous to mankind.

As soon as I turn the doorknob, I’m met by a loud shriek erupting from my friend, followed by a sobbing outburst and some sniffling before more crying noises follow. Then there’s a loud bang, some crashing and lots of yelling.

I wince at all the noises. It’s the worst kind of state that she can possibly be in - she’s overly angry and overly sad at the same time.

I look over my shoulder. It’s not too late to turn back.

I think better of it and open the door, only for her to fling herself into me. “I’m so glad that you’re here, Aqueela!” She tightens her death grip on me, her arms around my neck. “My mom is driving me insane. She’s treating me like some fragile piece of glass ready to shatter! But do you want to know what I really want to break?!”

I can feel her claws, I mean, nails, digging into the base of my neck as her grip tightens to a suffocating one. “No,” I say in a whisper, unable to breathe properly. She’s cutting off all my air supply. “But I can guess.”

She’s borderline strangling me.

“Maggot Montry’s neck!” she yells, her tone shrill enough to scare an entire earthquake away.

“Rapidly…losing…oxygen…” I choke out, trying to get some air back into my lungs.

“Oh, flip! Sorry, Aqueela,” she replies and quickly loosens her grip, releasing me from her terrifying embrace.

I rub at my sore neck and wave off the matter as if it’s nothing. “That’s okay,” I whisper, still trying to regain my breathing.

All the while, she waits impatiently for me to regain composure.

I straighten my back as my eyes land on the plasma TV screen. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is playing…shocker. It’s also no surprise when I hear ‘Power of Love’ by Gabrielle Aplin playing in the background at the same time as the movie.

I glance between the radio and the television - radio implying that she’s overly angry and television implying that she’s overly sad.

I had a good run.

Beside her bed, on the bedside table, is a bowl of melted ice cream.

I’m going to die here.

“Bells, why don’t you come downstairs?” I suggest, hoping that she’d go with it.

I don’t want to be stuck in a dark, dingy and very untidy room alone with a maniac. I need her out and about in the open, socializing, where if she does decide to kill me, there will be other people in the room to use as a shield - take Jay, for instance.

“No!” she raises her voice, stomping her foot and jutting out her bottom lip in plain refusal.

“Max is downstairs,” I add knowingly.

In all but a split second, her features light up, her blue-green eyes ablaze and her pink lips curving into a smile. “Max is here?”

She grabs me by my arm before swiftly dragging me out the room and down the stairs after her.

“Cut it out!” I whine, trying to break free, but to no avail.

Bells is skipping along ahead of me while humming a giddy tune to herself as if yanking her friend down the stairs is completely normal to her.

Nope. Nothing out of the ordinary about that!

“What the heck is going on up there?” Max rounds the corner from downstairs to see what all the commotion is about.

As soon as Bell’s eyes meet his brown ones - well, let’s just say she gets carried away and releases her supportive grip on my arm, and let’s just say that I find myself tumbling down a flight of stairs for the second time…


“Oh, come on. Lighten up. She said sorry like a billion times,” Max defends Bell against my glares. “Besides, you’d need a wooden bullet and a silver stake to kill you in any case.”

I scowl at him, holding a pack of ice to my head.

“You have a serious heart condition, Aqueela,” Max says when noticing my glare shifting to him, “you don’t have one.” As if to make his case, he points to Bell. “Just look at that face!”

I roll my eyes when seeing her puppy-dog eyes.

“Just look at my face!” I roar back at Max, pointing at the fresh wound on my face.

“An upgrade,” Max teases, the both of us reaching a stalemate in this particular argument.

“Says the one who landed on Earth in a jam-packed pod.” I insult him before glancing to Jay sitting beside me, seeking his help, but he’s too invested in playing some racing game on his phone to take note of his surroundings.

I take one more look at Bell before sighing. “Fine!” I snap. “You’re forgiven.”

Jeez, does Bells find me this tiring on a daily basis when I’m acting way in-over-my-head, which, mind you, is most of the time. It sucks being put in her shoes. I much prefer my own shoes. They’re comfier. She better give dem shoes back to me!

“Yeah!” Bells claps her hands like a child, her eyes gleaming with joy - unusual for someone who’s just been dumped.

I can’t help but smile. If she’s happy, I’m happy, even if it means I have to trip down a few flights of stairs every now and then.

“Is it still painful?” Jay suddenly asks, piping up in order to join the conversation at hand.

He didn’t seem this concerned the last time I rolled down the stairs. At least, I don’t remember him being so concerned. I blacked out.

“Stupid question,” I tell him, lowering my voice slightly.

“Right,” he answers in a calm and collected voice. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault,” I reply, enjoying his company despite his silent nature. Him just being here is enough.

My hand holding the ice pack begins to get lazy. Jay, being his perceptive self, notices. He exits his game and places his phone down, turning to face me.

“Here,” he offers and takes the ice pack from my hand, his fingers brushing against mine, “I got it.”

I fall speechless as his hand takes my own hand’s place at my head, the ice numbing my injury. “Better?” he asks, his eyes flashing to mine in worry.

I don’t trust myself to speak in the moment, so instead, I nod, my breath hitching when he leans in forward to check the bruises.

A breathtaking smile graces his lips as he lets out a breath of relief, clearly still feeling guilty about my last head injury. “Good,” he replies in a smooth voice.

I return the smile, keeping my eyes trained on him.

Out of nowhere, an uncomfortable cough leaves a mouth, alerting me of the presences of Max, who, unfortunately, is still in the room.

“What?” I snap at Max, annoyed.

“If you’re going to be making eyes at him,” he motions to Jay, “at least have the audacity to do it away from me,” he retorts back rather cheekily, a deviant grin on his lips, his cute dimples showing.

Bells giggles, in turn, amused.

“Yap yap yap. That’s all I hear from you!” I shout at Max, infuriated with the barbaric animal.

“Yeah,” he smirks, “I’m sure that’s all you heard, considering that you were so absorbed in-“

I don’t allow him to finish his sentence. I take off my sandal and throw it at his face. It hits him square on the forehead.

I place a hand in front of my mouth when he falls off of his chair and onto the floor with a loud thud. I burst out laughing, temporarily forgetting what I’ve just done. Jay joins me, a chuckle resonating from deep within his chest.

Bells is quick to stop giggling, and instead, shoots me her famous death stare, but it isn’t enough to stop me. She shakes her head before dropping to her knees, helping Max up into a sitting position.

Max notices Bells beside him, helping him. His cocky façade dies, his cheeks turning pink in embarrassment.

Serves him right! He had it coming.

I turn to glance at Jay through my laughter, only to find him already looking at me. He realizes that he’s staring and is quick to break the stare as his eyes meet Bell’s instead. “Aren’t you supposed to be angry or something?”

I slap my forehead in aggravation.

Here it comes!

“Of course, I am angry!” Bell shouts, suddenly remembering the break-up, no thanks to Jay.

She begins to retell all the details to him, but I can tell that Jay has zoned out, just adding a nod here and there as if to make out as if he’s listening.

I nudge Jay, aware of the danger that he’s currently in. I’ve played this game before, and I’ve lost.

He takes it as his cue to speak. “That’s great, Bella. I’m glad you guys have worked things out. He’s a keeper. Don’t ever let him go.”

Bell’s eyes widen when she realizes that he hasn’t been listening at all.

“She and Mason are still broken up,” I awkwardly clear my throat, speaking in a voice just audible enough for someone in close proximity, that being Jay, to hear.

He’s quick to fix his mistake. “Well, you’re a lovely girl. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble in finding someone else,” he exhales, his gaze straying to Max knowingly.

Max twirls his thumbs, fidgeting about in discomfort.

“Are you flirting with me? Are you actually flirting with me right now?” Bells asks Jay fiercely, disbelief clouding her features. He begins to shake his head, but she ignores it. “I can’t believe it, you are, aren’t you? And after I’ve just told you everything. Men,” she rolls her eyes, “you’re all the same.”

“I definitely wasn’t flirting.” Jay pulls a face as if the very idea repulses him.

“Did you just pull a face?” she asks with a huff, placing her hands on her hips as she glowers accusingly at him. “What? You think I’m not good enough for you?”

“I didn’t say that,” he defends himself, unfazed by her temper. “I’m sure you’re great,” he adds sweetly.

Her mouth falls agape in disbelief. “There you go, flirting again!”

Jay sighs. “I didn’t-“

Bell places her hand up, shushing him. “I don’t want to hear it! Just stop!”

Yeah, Jay,” Max chips in, getting his revenge, “just stop, you big flirt! So typical of you! Can’t help yourself, can you?” He then looks to Bell, pointing at Jay, feigning disapproval. “Disgusting.”

He’s the one to talk.

Jay sends Max a deadpanned stare but says nothing, choosing to let his one go. He knows that there’s no winning this one.

Bells shakes her head, getting up from her seat to march over to my cookie jar. I groan in hopelessness when she begins to angry eat. This always happens when she hits rock bottom. She’s in transition into becoming a Blubber. It’s gruesome.

I narrow my eyes at Jay, pinning the blame on him. “Nice going. You have no idea what you’ve just unleashed on the world.”

“Mason did this! I’ll rip him to pieces. I’ll snap his neck. I’ll crush him!” Bells starts, as predicted, taking the cookie and crushing it with her fist.

It puts the real her into perceptive. She’s a force not to be reckoned with.

“Then I’ll eat him!” she yells, stuffing the crushed cookie crumbs into her mouth, chewing ferociously.

Max cringes and Jay raises both eyebrows at having to witness this violent delight turning into a violent end.

“Remind me to get on good terms with her again,” Jay whispers to me, obviously scarred by the sight.

I merely nod, unable to speak - it will only draw attention to me.

“Then I’ll spit him out like the scumbag he is!” Bells adds, spitting the crumbs out onto the floor into a mushy pile of goo.

How…attractive?

“How attractive,” Jay voices my exact thoughts, grossed out. His tone holds more certainty than mine. “And she thought I was flirting,” he adds quietly with a shake of his head.

Bell scrunches up her face in fury, before subconsciously taking a handful more. She stuffs them all into her mouth at once, her cheeks inflating to the size of that of a hamster. “And then I’ll eat him again!” she munches, her mouth full.

“What is happening right now?” Jay asks me, highly disturbed.

I say nothing, watching Bell swallow and grab another mouthwatering cookie, plunging it into her mouth with eagerness. “I’ll re-eat him yet again…” she trails off in thought, “oh gosh, this is delicious!” she states, getting side tracked.

“You’re eating all the cookies,” Max openly laughs, finding angry Bells to be very entertaining.

I grin, an idea forming in my head. “Jay baked them for me.”

Bells stops her rant as her and Max both snap their heads in Jay’s direction, unbelieving that he can bake, or that he baked willingly for me.

Jay shifts under their scrutinizing, judgy gazes. He shrinks into his seat in undying humiliation, shooting me a glare for outing his secret in front of them.

Bell is first to break the tense silence. “Ah, screw it! I’m not gonna even ask,” she says as she pops another cookie into her mouth. She’s still eating when she reaches for yet another. “Oooh, lookie! It’s even hat-shaped!” she squeals in delight before tossing it into her mouth too.

I roll my eyes. “You just noticed that now? Slow down, tiger, or you’ll land up looking like Simo,” I tease.

“Jay did this all for you? That’s so adorable.” Bells points out much to Jay’s irritation as he purposely avoids my gaze.

Max flinches when Bell suddenly slams her fist on the table. “So adorable,” she repeats in a low, eerie voice. “Why did Mason never make me hat cookies?!” she all but shouts, startling all of us.

Becuase hats are my thing. Try that excuse on for size.

I run a hand down my face, frustrated, in search of a way to change the topic.

I am so going to regret doing his.

“So, I’m going out with what’s-his-face tonight,” I declare, out of the blue.

“What’s-his-face?” Max questions, puzzled. “Never heard of him.”

“Dylan,” Jay clarifies on my behalf.

Bell immediately starts choking on her cookies. As a result, she ends up spitting them all out onto the table, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She coughs to clear her throat before screaming at the top of her voice. “What?! You should have told me sooner!”

You seemed preoccupied, my dear friend.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day! How did that even happen?” she asks. “I was sure you’d reject him.”

She called that one.

I cross my arms, fixing my eyes on Jay. “Ask him.”

Jay grins sheepishly. “I organized it.”

Bell’s smiles and gives Jay a fist bump, warming up to him as if his ‘flirting’ has already been forgotten - knowing her, it most likely has. “Way to go, buddy!” she chirps happily in his favor.

Their common ground is me and their common interest is ruining my life.

Jay furrows his eyebrows at the action, but goes with the flow nevertheless, not wanting to anger her a second time again.

He got what he wanted - he’s now in her good books.

“Don’t look so scared. She will exploit your fear,” I whisper to him. “Just smile.”

“You’re so dramatic,” he whispers back. “I’m not going to-“

“Are you two gossiping about me?” Bells asks, whipping her attention to Jay.

“No,” he lies, quickly doing what I said, feigning a smile and holding it.

She stares at him skeptically for a second before choosing to believe him. “Good. Now back to business,” she enthuses in excitement. “This is going to be so much fun! You want to know why?” she asks us, her eyes on me.

None of us bother answering, simply because we don’t want to know why.

She takes the liberty to answer when she realizes that none of us are going to. “Because we are going to help you get ready!” she informs me, her giddiness driving me dizzy with anxiety.

We?” Jay asks wearily, shooting her a poised stare.

“Me, you and Max,” she explains.

My jaw drops and my eyes widen in horror.

Oh hell naaww!

Max gets up to leave at hearing his name, but Bells, from the corner of her eye, is able to see him trying to sneak away. She simply reaches out and grabs him by the collar of his shirt before forcing him to sit back down as she continues on speaking.

“Why aren’t you cheering, Taylor?” she asks in a cold voice, noting his silence.

Jay stiffens and looks to me for help. I shrug, letting him know that he’s on his own - no way am I getting involved. I refuse to sign my own death warrant. He shakes his head at me and mouths ‘useless’.

“I’m waiting,” Bells reminds him, her hands on her hips and her foot tapping away at the tiles impatiently as she demands an answer from him.

Jay puts on an ill-at-ease grin and raises his fist limply. “Whoo,” he says in the most unenthusiastic voice ever.

Seriously, Jay should win the ‘least spirit’ award. It makes sense now, it makes sense why no one ever sees him at any school related event. It makes sense as to why I only bumped into him outside of school. In school, he prefers to fly under the radar, going undetected by so many. What a pity.

His lousy effort is at least enough to satisfy Bells. “Whoo!” she repeats after him, making it evident as to why she’s head cheerleader in our school. She puts Jay and everyone else to shame.

When Bells begins to near me with her crazy eyes, I jump out of my seat, and of course, make a run for it.

I was bound to lose my sanity sooner or later, sooner came quicker than expected.

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