Pause (Book 1)

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Chapter 5: Challenge Accepted

“Singing in the rain! I’m singing in the rain!” I hum at the top of my lungs and purposefully spin in circles in front of our school building as the heavens open up above us and the water pours down, soaking me from head to toe.

I glance at Bell who is ducking her face as if embarrassed by me. She hides behind her hair when some of my fellow students laugh and point at me as they walk passed. I don’t pay any heed to it.

I grab Bells by the hand and pull her into the rain with me as I encourage her to live in the moment and participate.

“Aqueela, people are staring,” she insists and ends up walking back to shelter, alongside her boyfriend, under the protection of the school’s roof.

“We are the people!” I call back and continue on living spontaneously. “Singing in the rain!” I chime again, unashamed. “Oh, I’m singing in the rain!”

“You’re going to be crying in the rain too if you don’t shut it,” Mason mutters from beside Bells. She rises to my defense and shoots him a dirty look. He catches it, “What?” he throws his hands up in the air, exasperated. “Just look at her,” he defends himself as he points at me with certainty, “she’s not normal. She’s…weird.”

“Aqueela isn’t weird, she’s just different. She loves life and appreciates the small things,” Bells retorts in an irritable manner.

Unfortunately, I don’t help justify her statement as something suddenly dawns on me. I run out of the rain and place a hand on Bell’s shoulder to support myself, “Oh no! Now I need to pee. Need to pee! Need to pee! Need to pee!” I say and jump up and down whilst doing so. “Come with me, Bells?” I pout in pleading.

Bells and I always go to the bathroom together and it infuriates Mason to no end because I have a weak bladder and always drag his precious girlfriend away from him.

Then again, he should know that he can’t spend every waking moment of the day with Bells. He’s a ‘Bell hog’. We’re in competition for her attention.

Mason gives Bell a deadpanned stare, referencing back to the fact that her defense for me isn’t holding up. “Yeah, and that’s not weird at all,” he says sarcastically as his eyes briefly stray from Bells to me. “You sing in the rain, why don’t you just pee in the rain too?” he asks rudely and scornfully.

I ignore his presence (having been doing so for a while now) and his incessant cursing as I grab hold of Bell’s hand and forcefully drag her down the school hallways with me.

All Mason’s football friends pitch up just in time to keep him company.

“You know, I was trying to set you up with one of my mates and when he asked where we got you from, I couldn’t answer because I forgot the planet’s name!” Mason calls after me as if desperate for a reaction, but I decide that he doesn’t deserve one for such a lousy insult - even he can do better.

I scoff aloud when we are out of the maggot’s hearing. “I know I’ve said it a million times before but I really hate your boyfriend,” I tell Bells, annoyed.

Bell throws her head back and laughs, “I think that’s the fourth time you’ve told me that, and that’s just today, but enough about Mason, what’s happening in your life? Why haven’t you called ‘sexy, hot manager dude’?”

I shrug and seek out an excuse, “Been too preoccupied.” I take the liberty to remind her, “And I don’t have his number,” I send her a sheepish grin, “remember? I ripped it.”

Bell rolls her eyes, “I forgot.” She changes the subject, “What have you been preoccupied with anyway? Stalking Taylor again?” she grins deviously, sending me a knowing wink.

“He played me twice and now I can’t shake him,” I admit my defeat. “Doesn’t matter, he’s been avoiding me for two weeks straight now,” I explain further.

“Yeah, and you’ve been ignoring Mason for two weeks straight too,” she points out the stupid facts that no one wants to hear.

I huff and fold my arms over my chest, “But that’s different,” I argue.

“How so?” she quizzes, an eyebrow raised.

“It’s Mason. He’s a demon,” I explain as I open the restroom stall’s door, hearing Bell sigh loudly from behind me as if the world is weighing heavily on her shoulders.

“You know what I think?” Bell surprises me with her voice as soon as I step out the stall to wash my hands. She doesn’t wait for me to answer as she babbles on, “I think that you’re too scared to face ‘sexy hot manager dude’ because you feel intimidated by him. He is older than you, after all.” She takes the opportunity to continue her rant, “Gosh, Aqueela, he’s hot and he’s into you, just call him, or ask him for his number again.”

“I doubt anyone will ever be into Aqueela Lawson,” I hear a high-pitched, nasal sound from directly behind me. I look up into the mirror to see ‘Demon 2.0’.

“Melinda,” Bell smiles warmly and hugs her fellow cheerleader, her second in charge of the cheer team to be exact.

“Hey, Bella,” she greets. “Party at my house. You’re so invited. Bring Mase too.” Her brown eyes flicker over me for a split second before she turns back to Bells and points to me, “Oh, and if you really have to, you can bring your…” she trails off in a dramatic pause as she takes me in, attempting to find a suitable word, “your…that…with too.”

“Party at my house,” I mimic her childishly despite her being right in front of me. It earns me a glower that I pay no heed to. “Like honestly, what is up with your voice?” I query mockingly. “Beside me always dreading it and besides it always being annoying, it’s also nasally sounding. In actual fact, it sounds like your nose has been blocked for a lifetime.” I give her solid advice, “Damn girl, blow your nose.”

Melinda rolls her eyes at me and turns to Bell in question, “I really don’t have a clue how you put up with her.”

Bell huffs in irritation and sides with me in spite of Melinda’s shock, “Quite easily actually.” She then adds, “I’ll be at the party and I will bring…” she places an arm around me as she pulls me to her side like the loyal friend she is, “Aqueela,” she emphasizes my name, “with.”

Melinda and Bell go way back - except, Melinda has always hated me. She adores Bell because let’s face it, Bells is just a likable person. Apparently, I’m not, at least, that’s what Mason always says. Then again, I’d rather be unlikable than be the spawn of Satan.

Melinda nods despite her discontent with the idea of me tagging along. Then again, she won’t dare cross Bells. “See you then, Bella,” she smiles sweetly at her and then glances to me with a pointed stare as she acknowledges me and bids me farewell ever so politely, “Drowned Rat,” she concludes, referring to the fact that I am soaked and most likely resemble someone that has just been pulled out from beneath a bridge.

“Malibu Barbie,” I retort back coolly. I’ve learned, from experience, that calling her ‘Barbie’ tends to get her worked up in an outrage. It’s really her own fault for acting like some prima donna.

Whenever she’s around, I feel like I’m on a witch-hunt.

She scoffs at me bitterly, “You are so immature.”

With that said, she walks off, satisfied with having the last say.

I wave off the matter and look to Bells who happens to be shaking her head at me, “Why do you hate all my friends?” she quips.

“Why do you always make friends with everyone that I hate?” I ask wryly, turning the question back on her.

She stops to think about it before nodding, “Touché.”

“I thought so,” I answer just as Bell grabs her bag to leave.

I, oblivious to my surroundings as always, bang open the bathroom door, just about knocking a random person off of his feet as he passes by, shooting me a scowl in the process.

I stop just outside and glance back at Bell to see if she’s coming, failing to watch where I step. I start at her, “I don’t get why you’re even friends with-“

“Aqueela, watch out!” Bell cuts me off.

It’s too late.

I walk back slam into a strong torso. Two hands move to my waist to steady me. I turn in the arms to face the person that I am now in debt of. My eyes widen in excitement when I see that it’s the one I always seem to be in debt of.

“Jay!” I greet in enthusiasm. “It’s been too long,” I decide then and there.

It must register in his head as to who I am because he quickly releases me to slap his forehead with his right hand, “No, it hasn’t,” he murmurs as he takes a step back. “Why do you always insist on bumping into me, Klutz?”

“It’s been two weeks since we last spoke. I feel like you’ve been avoiding me,” I state leisurely and bluntly, brushing his insult aside forever.

“Maybe that’s because I have,” he mutters quietly beneath his breath as if not to be heard.

“There you guys are. Jeez, you girls take long,” Mason exclaims as he walks over to us casually. Failing to notice Jay, he proudly places an arm around Bells. He then turns to me with a scowl, “I can’t wait for the day when Bell finally realizes what a screw-up you are and ditches you,” he tries to stir up more trouble.

He is just looking for a way to get me to talk to him. On any normal day, I’d have a comeback, but this is no ordinary day. I am ignoring him and it is pestering him. I love it!

Jay misreads my silence as fear. He takes a protective step in front of me as he shoots Mason a steely glare, his jaw clenched tightly, his piercing blue gaze flickering from me to Mason as if to send Mason a clear message.

Mason, only noticing Jay now, retracts a step as if threatened. I can almost feel the terror radiating off of him. They must have some kind of history with each other, that, or Jay’s just extremely intimidating - it almost seems laughable to me now.

I smirk in satisfaction when Mason backs down.

He turns to Bells, “I’ll catch up with you later, yeah?” he says in a low voice, and before she can even answer, he is already rounding the corner, leaving her behind.

I have to stifle my laughter at the sight of him fleeing.

I glance back at Jay to see that he is still focused intently on Mason’s retreating figure. I notice that his hands are curled up into fists and he looks anything but happy.

I wave my hand in front of his face to get his attention. When he still doesn’t come out of it, I snap my fingers repeatedly. He eventually breaks from his vindictive trance and shoves my hand out of his face. He takes one last look at me before waltzing off, having come back from his thoughts.

I tell Bells, yet again, to not wait up as I eagerly follow after him.

I rush his way, trying to match his long strides. I strike up a conversation whilst he merely quickens his pace, aware of me practically running beside him.

“So does this make us friends now?” I ask. “’Cause I don’t really have many friends to spare,” I admit, out of breath, a little defeated.

I really should have listened to my school coach when he told me to stop skipping out on the runs….

Jay doesn’t even bother looking at me as he answers pessimistically, “No. Friends are overrated.”

He rounds the next corner swiftly.

He’s trying to get away from me, but I continue to follow after him anyway.

“So now that I am friends with our high school’s notorious troublemaker, I am feeling kind of rebellious. I feel like an outlaw when I’m with you,” I joke with him, judging him based on all the fights he’s been in.

Aqueela OutLawson…I like it.

“You don’t even know me,” he points out, on edge with my assumptions.

“No,” I agree with him before protesting, “but I know enough about you to know you.”

“Your misconceptions of me are based on lies, gossip, and rumors. The fact of the matter is that you don’t know me, but keep this stalking up and you will,” he says in a threatening tone as he keeps his eyes trained ahead of him, not bothering to acknowledge me or meet my gaze.

I decide to take it a step further, “But we’re still friends, right?” I ask, even though he made it very clear on where we stand - a girl can still hope.

“We’re not friends nor will we ever be friends,” he says as he stops walking, turning around to face me. “I just wanted my jacket back, end of story.”

He begins walking again, clearly expecting me not to follow him again, but I do anyway, catching him off guard with my relentless pursuit. He should know that I don’t quit.

He notices, from the corner of his eye, that I’m still trailing after him even after a few minutes have passed. He caves, doing exactly what I expect of him, snapping at me whilst I take the backlash of his words, “What don’t you understand? I don’t want you here with me so leave me the hell alone,” he raises his voice slightly, his blue eyes having darkened with irritation fueled by rage.

I grin up at him boldly, “No offense, but I don’t care. I think you could do with a friend what with an attitude like yours. I gather you don’t have many.”

He maneuvers, cornering me so that my back is against a locker, “I only need me, myself, and I,” he says darkly through clenched teeth. “You got that?”

Alright, now I’m a little scared.

He leans forward menacingly, “Now, to clarify what you keep misinterpreting, you are loud, annoying, clumsy, and quite frankly, stupid.”

I’m too busy taking in his appearance to listen, “You’re a looker, did you know that?” I ask on impulse, aloud.

Heart, be still.

He flinches back upon hearing me. He recovers from his surprise quickly, masking his initial shock. He scoffs at my audacity and shakes his head as he turns to leave, “I’m not even going to bother.”

But he called me stupid…

“Your face is stupid!” I call over my shoulder to him without first thinking it through.

Just as expected, he stops walking yet again, his back still turned to me. I grin to myself when I see that he’s trying to keep his temper intact and maintain his so-called ‘cool’.

His fists loosen before he spins around to face me with a determined look to his seething eyes. “Look, whatever your name is, go away. Leave me the hell alone. Get away from me. Go away,” he says, his tone venomous - but still, it will take a lot more than that to get me hyped up and sprinting in the opposite direction.

“You said ‘go away’ twice,” I point out calmly and flutter my eyelashes at him innocently as if I did nothing wrong.

His electric blue eyes widen in disbelief as if what I just said was the last thing that he expected to hear come out of my mouth. He was expecting me to run for the hills.

“I said it twice to get it through your thick skull. Leave. Now,” he concludes, putting emphasis on the ‘leave’ part.

I am not fazed at all by his little charade, “If you want to see me cry, my meltdown or my hissy fit then you’re going to have to do a lot better than that,” I retort stubbornly. “That all you got?” I mock and then quickly add with an overdramatic huff, “And you call yourself a bad boy, JT.”

“Don’t call me that!” he snaps at me. Obviously, I’ve just stumbled onto a touchy subject - I’ve hit gold!

“But you are a rebel,” I argue in reference to his famous label as a ‘bad boy’. It’s so stupid. High school is dumb, but I’m gonna rock with the flow for now.

“Not that,” he clarifies angrily. “Don’t call me ‘JT’. You’re crossing my boundaries,” he states, trying to remain calm but I can tell that his blood is boiling in aggravation.

“Oh, so we have boundaries now?” I raise my eyebrows, finding this all very entertaining.

“We don’t have boundaries. I, on the other hand, I have boundaries,” he corrects me.

“Oh, really?” I take a step forward daringly, positioning myself in front of me. “So if I do this,” I say and poke his chest, “then I’d be crossing your boundaries?” I ask tauntingly, perfecting my talent in annoying people.

“What are you doing?” he stammers, at a loss, perplexed by my actions as he takes a step back from me.

“You’re not answering the question,” I remind him, smiling up at him teasingly as I take another bold step forward toward him. “Use your words.”

He suddenly gets a hold of himself and retreats backward. “Yes,” he finally answers, sounding almost unsure himself.

“Oh?” I raise my eyebrows and slide my fingers off his chest before poking him on his cheek, “And what about this?” I tease, testing his patience.

He slaps my hand away, “Yes.”

“And what if I do-“

He catches my raised hand in his own before I can do anything more, “Cut it out.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then you lose.”

“What do I lose?”

“We’ll see.”

I laugh, highly amused. If I knew irritating him was so much fun, I would’ve started years ago.

“Oh, so he is capable of smiling?” I ask when seeing him trying to swallow back a grin himself.

“So she is capable of laughing?” he asks, having never heard me laugh up until now.

“Touché,” I nod thoughtfully.

“I thought so,” he replies back cockily.

His words make my smile widen all the more because I’d said the exact same thing to Bells not too long ago.

This time, it is he who takes a step forward, his smile having vanished as quick as it had come, “Tell me something, what is your name? All I know you as is Klutz or Sprinkle.”

I send him a mischievous smile in turn, “And that’s all you’ll ever know me as.”

He raises one eyebrow and leans in dangerously close. “Is that so?” he retorts back defiantly, his warm breath caressing my face.

“It is so,” I confirm, feeling flustered as he invades my personal space.

Some people…just no respect whatsoever.

He must find my reply amusing because a low chuckle resonates from him, confidence flickering across his eyes as if he knows something I don’t.

“Challenge accepted.”

He gives a priceless smirk before knocking shoulders with me as he passes on by.

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