Being with everyone again had me feeling excited about life again. I woke up every day thinking about the next song. I wanted something happy – exciting – full of anticipation. I worked on it so much that week that I barely came out of my studio unless it was for class – I even took off a day from the library to focus more. It was the first time in a while I felt so alive and focused on my music. Min’s tentative knock on my door pulls me out of the haze I was in. Before I can invite her in, she waltzes through and sits on the edge of the chaise, not bothering to get comfortable. “How is it going?” she asks, looking at my wrist. Her question isn’t about my music.
“I’m going to go get a brace that will hopefully help. It only flares up when I’m working on the music or doing schoolwork.”
“Maybe it’s carpal tunnel?”
“I don’t know, but it's becoming a real pain in my ass.”
“Try to see a doctor soon. I don’t want this to be a continuing issue.”
“Thanks mom, I will.” She rolls her eyes.
“Since you’ve been holed up in here all week, I haven’t had a chance to ask you. This weekend, rock-climbing?”
“Well, I ask because it’s a group activity.”
“Has Jay agreed to go?” Her eyes flicker as she grins.
“Why are you asking about Jay?”
“You laid the trap, not me.”
“I don’t know Min. Things have been easier between us, but I want us to build up our friendship before I make it awkward.”
“I don’t think you’ll make it awkward. But I didn’t come back here to talk about that. You have a guest. Would you like me to send him back?”
“I do? Who?”
“Jay. He was in his car when I got here. Probably working up the nerve to come knock. How cute.”
“Shut up, yes, send him back my sweet assistant.”
“You better start paying me if I’m going to be your assistant.” She leaves the room and when the door opens again, Jay walks through. My heart beats faster, nervous to be in a room this small with him.
“Hey.” He says looking around the room. I have my record collection lining the walls along with other art. He sits down on the spot Min had previously occupied. “I wanted to stop by to see how the song was going. I texted you earlier but didn’t hear anything.”
“Oh! I’m so sorry. I silence my phone in here and I’ve been in here a good portion of the day….”
“That’s a relief. I was beginning to think you were ignoring me.”
“Why would I be ignoring you?” He shrugs his shoulders.
“Ever since Brian came, you don’t stick around as much. I can’t catch you after class and as soon as practice is over or we suggest grabbing something to eat, you bail.”
“Oh.” So he has noticed. It’s not something I’ve done intentionally, but I’m finding it harder to stay around him because the longer I’m around him, the more I want to tell him the truth. Not just my feelings for him, but everything I’ve endured up until now. “Sorry, I’ve just been busy with this song and then school and we have midterms soon. A lot of stuff going on at once.”
“How is the song coming by the way?”
“I’m actually glad you’re here so you can listen. I don’t have a complete version yet. But I have the first verse, the hook, and some of the chorus. Not where I want to go with the chorus, to be honest. But after the weekend, being with everyone again. I’ve woken up every day – excited and happy. So I wanted to turn that into a song.” I turn back to my computer and pull up my program and hit play. I sit back and watch Jay’s face as he listens to what I have. He has a smile on his face and when the hook ends with a cinematic boom, his smile widens. That was the reaction I was hoping for. It’s such a small part in the song, a simple kick drum with a snare layered over it, something Vance will have no problem reenacting. Although it’s small and simple, it gives this feeling of buildup and listeners will feel that excitement when the chorus comes in strong. I pause the music a few seconds into the chorus. “What do you think?”
“I love it. I never thought to start a song like that. But the buildup you have going, you’re really going to have to make the chorus worth it.”
“Oh I know.” I say with a smile. “I have some ideas.”
“You’re incredible, you know that?” My cheeks immediately turn red and I have to look away.
“Anyone can do this.”
“Plenty of people can create music, but you put your all into it. That’s what differentiates the truly talented from the mediocre. If you were paired with any other band, I would be terrified. I just hope we don’t fail you.”
“Jay, you’re amazing. The whole band is amazing – but we do need to work on Chance’s skills some.”
“Yeah – we’ve been telling him to practice more, but it's his first year of college. He has a lot of stuff he wants to do.”
“I get it. I don’t recall Min and I ever really being in our dorms.”
“Let me guess, you partied a lot.”
“I did.” I smile at him, but I’m not ashamed to admit how much we partied. We were young and having fun. “Are you going rock-climbing this weekend?”
“I hadn’t decided yet, are you?”
“Heck yeah. I’ve never been, and it’s the perfect time to embarrass myself in front of everyone.”
“I guess I just might have to come and see how bad of a climber you are.”
“I’ll out climb you any day.”
“I’m willing to test that theory.”
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Min and I drive over to the rock-climbing place together Saturday night, both feeling pretty excited. When we walk into the building, we see our entire group is already waiting and to my happy surprise, Jay is among them. “I guess you didn’t want to back down from my challenge.” I say to Jay as we approach our group.
“I’m not scared of a little challenge; we can go first if you want.” He replies, a smile on his face.
“How about we watch Min and Vance go first?”
Vance snaps his head towards me. “Don’t rope me into this!”
“I think you’re trying to chicken out.” Jay crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow. My heart quickens just by that look. I turn to Min, afraid to look at him for fear of blushing.
“She’s the rock-climber, let her show us how it's done.”
“Fine. Come on you wusses, let’s go get with our instructor.” Min finds the person in charge of our group then we sit down for all the dos and don’ts of rock-climbing. As we’re all getting put into harnesses, I feel myself become a little anxious. Heights rarely scare me, but relying on the strength in my hands and arms may prove to be a difficult task for me.
“Nervous?” Asks Micah.
“A bit.” I reply.
“I would say if you get scared just look down at us and we’ll cheer you on, but that might not be a good idea.” Says Emmett.
“Yeah, don’t listen to him. He’s still not the brightest one of the group.” Adds Vance.
“Uh, excuse me. He has a 4.0 GPA.” Defends Letty.
Jay tightens the last strap on his harness and straightens. “I still have not figured out how.”
“Sometimes I wonder why I’m your friends.” Emmett rolls his eyes, but Letty reaches for his hand, squeezing it in hers and giving him the biggest smile I’ve ever seen her give. My heart aches – realizing how much I’ve missed out over the years. How this is a three-year long relationship that has lasted through so much. “Your feelings are showing.” Whispers Micah. I look away, hoping no one else could tell.
“It’s getting harder.” I say. He kneels before me, helping me with the harness.
“I’m happy to see you two are talking more. Even joking around.”
“My heart isn’t happy about it.”
“I miss him… I miss us…”
“And you still don’t want to talk to him about it?”
“Do you know if he has any residual feelings for me?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
“I don’t want to take the chance of asking and making a fool out of myself.” Micah tightens the last strap, then stands up.
“It may be a sacrifice you’ll have to make in order to move on.” We all stand together and watch Min and Vance get connected to the ropes that hang from the wall. Min looks at Vance, a frightening competitive glint in her eyes. She is mild-mannered but when it comes to something she loves and she’s good at, there’s no holding back that competitive little monster that lives deep within her. The instructor counts them down and on three, they both make the climb of their lives. For someone who hasn’t done this before, Vance is agile, keeping close to Min. But as soon as the wall dips inwards, he struggles, and Min is able to secure her win.
“You ready?” Asks Jay, lightly bumping my shoulder with his elbow.
“Let’s watch Letty and Emmett go.”
“You’re not going to chicken out on me, are you?”
“Just one more group then we’ll go.”
“Okay…” Emmet and Letty trade places with Vance and Min. Neither has ever wall climbed and Emmett doesn’t seem to care about the height. “Just halfway.” He said before they began their ascent. He didn’t even make it that far before giving up. Letty, on the other hand, climbed all the way to the top – each moment a struggle that she wasn’t willing to give in to. By the time she reached the top, her arms were shaking and sweat glistened her forehead, but she had the biggest smile on her face. “Now?” Asks Jay.
“Yes, now you big baby.” We both get secured in, my heart racing as the wall looks more intimidating up close. “Looser has to buy lunch.” I say.
“Deal.” The instructor counts us down, and at three I take my first step towards the wall and climb. The first few steps were easy, but the further I got from the floor, the harder it became. I could feel my body tense as each foot got further from the ground. The weight I put on my wrist becomes a heavy burden as the pain creeps in. I ignore it, hoping that it will stave off until I can get to the top. Jay has almost passed me. I reach out for a peg that’s at an odd angle and once I have a firm grasp on it, I move my foot for another peg. I don’t check my footing before moving my other foot and I slip. Our group gasps from below with variations of “You got this, Alia!”. The pain in my wrist intensifies as I find my footing once again. I take a deep breath, counting to three, hoping the pain will dull once again. It doesn’t. I look up and see Jay has paused and is looking down at me. “You got it?” He asks.
“Yeah, just need a breather.” He doesn’t keep climbing. He waits. “You’re not going to beat me by waiting.”
“I’m taking a breather too.” I roll my eyes but smile. The Jay I knew three years ago finally feels like he’s in my grasps. I take one more deep breath then reach for another peg – I grab hold, shift my weight to it – and immediately let go as a sharp stabbing pain erupts in my wrist. “Alia!” Someone screams. I fall a few feet before the rope catches and I’m dangling in midair. I pull my body in as much as I can, cradling my wrist and letting my hair hide my face.
“Alia, are you okay?” Asks Jay. I keep my eyes closed, too afraid to open them. I’m too scared to move.
“I want down - now.” My voice is shaky, but I’m slowly let down. Relief washes over me as I feel the ground beneath my feet again. When I open my eyes, I see Jay came down too, worry all over his face.
“Are you okay?” Asks Emmett. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I had a good hold on it.” I lie. Jay’s eyes are on me and he gives me this look, like he knows I’m lying. I hate that he knows me so well. But he doesn’t call me out on it. Min looks down to the wrist I’m holding, questioning me, but doesn’t say a word. She’ll ask me about it later. Once I get out of the harness, I sit back and watch my friends continue to climb the walls. Trying new heights each time. But every now and then I’ll get this look from Jay, as if he knows something is wrong. I don’t join them, the pain a loud thrumming in my wrist.
After everyone has climbed to their heart's content, we drive over to a restaurant to eat. “So how did you like it?” Asks Min to Vance.
“You win. Not as lame as I thought.”
“Yes! I knew you would like it.” Min’s smile goes from ear to ear. “You’re my new rock-climbing buddy.”
“Maybe.” He says with a smile. I look from him to Min, then from Letty to Emmett. Wondering what mine and Jay’s hobby together would have been if we had lasted. If I had stayed.
“What are you thinking about?” Asks Micah in a low voice. There are several conversations going on, so no one is paying attention to us.
“Just thinking about how good Min and Vance are together. Letty and Emmett too.”
“Is it obvious?”
“A little.” I tear my gaze away from the couples, not wanting anyone else to notice. “Alia, are you sure your wrist is okay?” Micah asks, looking down. I realize that I’ve been rubbing my wrist a lot and the thought of even lifting it sounds unpleasant. I want nothing more than to wrap it in a bag of ice just for an ounce of the pain to go away.
“Yeah, it’s fine.” I say as I stop rubbing it and focus on dinner. We still have a movie we’re supposed to go to, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it. Once our food comes out everyone digs in, starving from the activity. I pick around my plate but can’t seem to focus on anything but the pain. “Not hungry?” Asks Micah.
“Not really, I had a big lunch.” He gives me his ‘I don’t believe you’ look but continues to focus on his own dinner. Everyone is cheery and talkative, so they don’t notice my silence. When dinner is over and our bills are paid I decide I can’t take it anymore. “Hey, I think I’m going to call a rideshare and go home.” I say as we exit the restaurant.
“What’s wrong?” Asks Letty.
“I’ve had some pretty late nights and my head is hurting. I don’t think I’ll make it through the movie.”
“Don’t lie.” Says Jay. “You’re leaving because of your wrist. You’ve barely moved it all night.”
“Not true, I’m fine.”
“Oh, really?” Jay reaches out and grabs hold of my wrist. I yank it out of his grip and double over in pain. A small whimper escapes my lips as I try to control this sudden explosion of pain. Micah and Emmett push Jay away from me, and someone calls him a jackass.
“Come on, I’ll take you to the ER.” Says Micah as he helps me stand upright.
“No, I will.” Says Jay as Vance tosses him the keys and pulls me away from Micah. I don’t care who takes me to the ER as long as I get there. To my surprise, Micah lets Jay guide me over to the car where he helps me inside. I lean my head against the headrest, wishing for some kind of relief. “You didn’t have to grab so hard.” I say as Jay gets onto the road.
“I didn’t think it was going to hurt you that bad. I’m sorry.” I look over at him, seeing how horrible he feels. I’m not mad at him, but I wish he didn’t feel the need to demonstrate that I was lying. “How long has your wrist been hurting you like this?”
“It always causes me pain. I attribute it to breaking it twice, barely a year apart.”
“How did you manage to do that?”
“The first time was when I was bike racing. There was a hole I didn’t see, and I went flying.”
“And the second time?” He asks when I don’t continue.
“The second time is a long story.”
“We have time.” I can hear it in his voice, how badly he wants me to open up. I don’t know if it's because he truly wants to know or if he hates not knowing my secrets anymore. Whatever the reason may be, I don’t mind telling him. I want him to know.
“It’s not for the faint of heart.”
“Now I have to know.” There’s a small smile, but I can see that he knows this story isn’t going to be pleasant.
“I had a really hard time when I left North Isles.” I let out a deep breath, remembering the night of my accident clearly. “My mom was as horrible as ever. I couldn’t come to terms with losing you all, and I was just so broken. When I came here and met Min, I felt better. I felt hopeful. I thought I could push myself through life. I became brave and told my mom I wanted to pursue music. But then I got a call. I was to be sent to England - indefinitely. It felt like the end of the world to me. My fate was sealed. I realized how useless my life was when every moment was always going to be controlled by her. I would never get to see you again. I wouldn’t get to see any of you again. And every piece I worked hard for a year to put back, came apart once again. She ripped you away from me once again and that pain… I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know how to make it stop. So when Min and I went to a party that night, I let myself drink as much as I could. I didn’t want to even remember my own name if I could manage it. But the more I drank, the angrier I became. I knew I could never live my life as long as she was alive. I knew I would never get to be happy. I was tired of fighting her. I was tired of fighting for a life I didn’t even love. I separated from Min and from the party and found a bridge.” I hear Jay’s breath catch. His grip on the steering wheel tightens. “It wasn’t a roadway bridge. Just a tiny pedestrian bridge about ten feet from the ground. There was a shallow pond beneath, but in my drunken state, I thought I was on a big bridge, over a lake. I thought if I just jumped, I could end it all. Her control over me. Her death grip on your future. The hollow pain in my chest. I could end it all. Without a second thought, I jumped. I broke my foot and my wrist and passed out from the pain. I woke up to Min screaming my name. She was sobbing and terrified. I knew then that I made a huge mistake. I regretted it in that second, and I’ve regretted it ever since. That’s why Min doesn’t like me drinking. She knew I was depressed at the time and she contributes that to the jump. But she didn’t know about North Isles or the blackmail or how truly evil my mother was. So… That’s my embarrassing and shameful story.”
“Alia, don’t be ashamed of it. You were broken. Your mom broke you. But you got up. You saw that you wanted to live. And you have been. When I think back to how I used pills to deal with my problems, I feel a little embarrassed. But we were young, and we didn’t know how to deal with the pain. The only thing that matters is that we learned our lessons. And we’re going to make our lives great despite our parents.” I close my eyes, not wanting Jay to know that I’m trying to hold back tears. For so long, I kept the truth from everyone. For so long I tried to tuck this embarrassing part of me away, but Jay has made me feel like it’s going to be okay. A small piece of my heart has been put back.
We get to the ER where the wait is excruciatingly long. But once we get in, I get an x-ray and some pain meds, then we sit down with a doctor. My second break didn’t heal properly and sometime in the last few months, a part of the bone fractured and has been pinching a nerve. He suggests for me to have surgery as soon as I can, but in the meantime has given me a month long prescription of pain meds. “Surgery doesn’t sound terrible.” Says Jay as he gets us back on the road.
“Yeah.” I say, already feeling the effects of the medicine, but I’m pain-free.
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I’m supposed to be keeping my head low. If I schedule a surgery like this, she’ll find out. Brian may be able to hide this ER visit, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
“Alia, it’s better than being in constant pain.”
“I can handle this kind of pain.” But losing them all again, I won’t survive.
“Please get the surgery done if it becomes too much. We’ll figure it out after.” I don’t say anything as my eyes droop further. Jay pulls into a pharmacy and parks.
“What are we doing here?”
“24-hour-pharmacy. I figured we could go ahead and get it filled since I have a feeling, you’ll ‘forget’.”
“Good idea.” I say, unbuckling my seatbelt.
“No, stay. You can barely keep your eyes opened.”
“Okay, I’m just going to lay my seat back then. Wake me up when we get home?”
“Sure thing.” He says then reaches into his backseat and pulls up a hoodie. “It’s mine, it might be a comfortable pillow.”
“Thank you.” I say with a smile as I take it from him. Jay’s deep blue eyes look over me one last time before getting out. I lean my seat back and bunch the hoodie under my head and close my eyes.
═════════════════ ∘◦ ❉ ◦∘ ══════════════════
When I wake up the next morning, I have little memory of how I got home last night or into my bed for that matter. I immediately grab my phone and read the various texts that I have.
Micah: Are you okay?
Letty: What happened?
Emmett: I hope you’re feeling better.
Min: Jay told us what the doctor said when he brought you home last night. If you need ANYTHING you let me, or Vance know. We’ll get it for you.
Jay: I don’t know if you’re still on the medicine you took in high school, but I asked the pharmacist if it would be okay to take with this new medicine. She said it was. I hope you start feeling better. Don’t overwork yourself. Think about getting the surgery.
I feel a pain in my chest at reading these messages. With my last accident, only Min was blowing up my phone – something I have always been thankful for. But seeing their names on my phone again. Reading their messages and knowing that they care for me again, it’s more than I could have ever hoped for. And now I know things aren’t going to get easier. My mom will come tearing down my door eventually, threatening them and demanding me to leave. I’m setting myself up for heartbreak all over again. I’m setting them up for it too. How blind and foolish I have been to think that I could have them back with no consequences.