I became very quiet over the next week, focusing on midterms, lyrics for the song, and how much pain my wrist had been causing me. Min could sense my withdrawal but from previous experience, knows not to bother me until I’m ready to talk about it. So, she has coffee made for me before I leave in the mornings, brings me dinner at night, and even bought me a wrist brace to help with the pain. Micah and Letty are a little more annoying about it. They accuse me of being short with them and that they know something is wrong. I continue to tell them that everything is fine, I’m just a little overworked. They don’t seem happy about it and continue to push me until I stop replying to their messages at all.
I send Jay what I have so far of the lyrics on Wednesday night and on Thursday he asks if I’ll come over to go over the song. We’ve given the band a break since it’s the last week in October and midterms had wiped us all out completely. Although I’m not feeling the best, I drive over to Jay’s house after seven p.m. It’s the first time I’ve seen it and it’s a cute little thing with a backyard. There are some pumpkins out front and I can easily tell Min made them carve pumpkins together. I knock on the door, my heart beating faster than I can handle. It’s the first I will have actually seen him since rock-climbing. I’ve been good at ignoring him in class and pretending I don’t see him on campus. It makes me feel shitty, but he’ll know something is up – if he doesn’t already. The door opens and Jay quickly steps aside to let me in. “I’m glad you stopped by.” He says. I look around the Livingroom – it’s a little bare but cozy at the same time.
“Yeah, I’m curious to know what you think about my lyrics.” My eyes find a record player in the corner of the room and my heart lurches. “When did you get that?” I point.
“It was your Christmas present.” He says, not looking at it but instead walking over to the kitchen counter where his phone sits. “How have you been feeling?”
“I’ve been managing.” I say as I sit down on his couch, not having the energy to do much else.
“Micah and Letty are worried about you.”
“I know… I’m just tired. We have so much left to do for the competition. And then we have the fall festival this weekend. Don’t you get tired? College, the band, and then nearly every weekend we spend with them?”
“I was, at first. But I’m thankful that we’re all still so close, despite our busy schedules. We always make time.”
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful… I’m just tired. Unbearably tired.”
“You’re also fighting through a lot of pain, Alia. It’s okay not to go this weekend if you’re not feeling up to it.”
“I don’t want to miss out…” I say honestly.
“I understand that too.” He sits down on a stool at the far wall and puts his guitar in his lap. “I looked over what you sent me and in all honestly, I think we could shape it up today.”
“Even my lyrics?”
“I made some adjustments, but Alia, you did amazing. I’m impressed.”
“Thank you.” I say with a genuine smile. He adjusts his guitar and sets his phone on the coffee table with the lyrics pulled up. He strikes the chords and sings in a soothing tone. It’s not his full voice, but it’s enough to hear the beauty in the song. I close my eyes, tired and wanting to focus on the song – not how much my heart misses Jay. When he ends the song, I keep my eyes closed.
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
“Yeah – I’m fine.” I open my eyes to see him studying me. Worry written all over his face. Without saying a word, he walks down his hallway and returns with a thermometer and slides it across my forehead. “101. Alia, you’re running a fever.”
“I’m fine. I’ll go home and rest.”
“I’m not letting you drive home like this. You can barely keep your eyes opened.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll take you home and have Vance drive your car back later.” I nod my head, not wanting to drive home. The longer I sit the more my body feels heavy and foreign. Jay helps me to my feet and takes me out to his car. I lean my head against the window and close my eyes as the pain in my wrist flares up.
“I’m sorry…” I say as he pulls out of his driveway.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“I must be a huge disappointment.”
“Why would you say that?”
“You have accomplished so much. You played baseball again. Got a scholarship. You’re dating girls. Flirting with girls. You sing in front of people now. You have a whole band. You and Vance have a house together. And I’m… I’m nothing. I failed a whole year of college while I was in England. I could have graduated last year, but I let myself fail. I broke my arm and leg because I’m stupid. I let myself get wasted because I couldn’t deal with seeing you again. I got roofied!” A painful laugh escaped me as I realize just how pitiful I really am. “I’m pathetic… I wasted three years of my life… And for what?”
“Alia, do you not remember the person you met three years ago? I was that same way, but I got lucky because you came around and helped me heal. You have been alone for three years. You needed help, and you had Min for a bit, but your mom ripped you away from her. Crawling out of depression like that is hard. But you’ve made it through the worst. You’re now surrounded by friends who can help you heal if you let us. You’re not pathetic, Alia. Never say that you’re nothing. You mean the world to us, and having you back in our lives is a blessing. Don’t let your mom fool you into believing that we would be better off without you because we’re not.” I wipe the tears from my cheeks, not sure why I’m so emotional. Hating that I was so brutally honest with Jay, but locking myself away from everyone has made me focus on how much I feel like a failure. “You’re not a disappointment, Alia. I am so proud of you and all the things you’ve had to overcome to get here. I wouldn’t have been able to do that, not by myself.”
“That’s not true…”
“Yes, it is. I was drowning, even with my friends around. But you went through hell and back all on your own. That’s the kind of strength I never had. You’re incredible.” He puts the car in park as we have reached my apartment. I go to unbuckle my seatbelt, but Jay stops me. “Alia.” He says. I can’t meet his eyes, not like this. “Look at me, please.” My heart melts on that last word and against better judgement I meet his dark blue eyes. “Stop letting people make you feel less. They do that because they know how incredible you are. They know that you’ll surpass them and they can’t stand it. You are strong because you have gone through such hell. I am not disappointed in who you have become. I am so fucking proud.” A smile escapes me as more tears fall. Jay’s words echo in my ears, words I never thought I would hear – from anyone. His hand reaches out for me, but he stops halfway and shakes his head as he redirections his hand to unbuckle my seatbelt. My heart sinks, wishing he would have reached for me. Showed me some kind of affection. Some kind of sign, but again, there’s nothing. I get out of the car slowly and Jay is soon at my side, helping me stand. It feels like all the energy has been zapped from my body and the thought of climbing the stairs feels impossible. Jay’s arm hovers behind my back as we walk to the apartment and up the stairs. He doesn’t leave and continues to walk me inside and down to my bedroom. When I sit down, I feel out of breath. “Get some rest, Alia. If you’re still feeling bad Saturday, don’t force yourself to come.”
“Okay…” He turns to walk away, but I let myself say, “Wait.” He looks over at me, a question in his eyes. “Could you stay? Just for a little bit? I don’t want to be alone… But if you have somewhere to be, that’s okay!”
“No, I can stay.” He walks over to the little lounge chair I have in the corner and sits down.
“Thank you… I’m going to change into something more comfortable real quick.” I take a pair of sweats and a t-shirt to the bathroom and change into them. When I’m back, Jay is sitting comfortably in the chair, looking at his phone. Maybe it was dumb to ask him to stay… If he asks about it tomorrow, I’ll blame it on the fever. I climb in under my covers, then turn the TV on and hand him the remote. “Feel free to watch anything. Help yourself to something to drink or eat. I don’t mind.”
“Thank you.” He says. I roll over, my back to him, wondering if I’ll be able to sleep at this rate.
“Do you have a job? You always seem free.”
“Does that bother you?” I hear the smile in his voice, wishing I could see it too.
“I help train the baseball team on occasion, and I’m a TA for a few teachers.”
“That pays well enough for the house? Isn’t Vance a TA too?”
“He is but no, even combined, it wouldn’t cover all the expenses.”
“Then how?... If you don’t mind telling me.”
“I don’t mind… When I turned eighteen, my parents signed over my trust fund. For whatever reason, they let me have it. I figured when I was emancipated, they would have used the money for something else. But I have used the money to help us get through college without working ourselves to death, but after I graduate, I’ll have to put more effort into finding a real job.”
“Do you think your parents gave you it to as an apology?”
“I don’t know Alia. Money isn’t an apology. Not for what they did.”
“I agree. I hate your parents. They’re vile.”
“You should meet them.” I cringe, remembering every detail of his father and mother. The awful things they said about Jay.
“I hope I never have to.” I say through a yawn.
“Get some rest, Alia. I’ll be here until you fall asleep.” I close my eyes and listen to the TV – hoping Jay stays long after I’ve fallen asleep. I woke up feeling the worst about myself, but spending some time with him has relieved me some. He gives me a comfort I never expected to happen again. Falling back in love with Jay may be the stupidest thing I have ever done.
═════════════════ ∘◦ ❉ ◦∘ ══════════════════
A chill seeps down my body and I try to pull my covers up, but something heavy is stopping them. I yank again, but to no avail. Turning over, I’m shocked to see the issue. Jay is laying down on top of the covers. He must have gotten uncomfortable in the chair. I don’t mind, but this is a surprise I wasn’t expecting. I look at my phone to see that it’s four in the morning. Knowing I won’t be able to fall back asleep with the knowledge of Jay laying next to me, I cover him up with part of the blanket he’s not laying on, then take my pillow and exit my room quietly. I go down to the living room, turn on the TV for some background noise, then curl up on the couch with one of the many throw blankets we have on the back of the couch. I want to think about why Jay had stayed through the night, but my exhaustion takes precedence as I quickly fall back asleep.
I dream of bacon, eggs, and biscuits so much that I wake up thinking I smell them. I sniff the air one more time – I do smell them. Sitting up quickly, I look to the kitchen and see Jay cooking. I squint my eyes at him, wondering if what I’m seeing is true. He looks up at me, a smile sweeping across his face. “Good morning. Your fever broke last night. And I have made a fresh pot of coffee; would you like some?”
“Y-yeah.” I say, my voice hoarse. I clear my throat a few times then say, “You stayed?”
“Min worked late, and Vance went out with a buddy. I kind of fell asleep in the chair. It was after one when I woke up and didn’t feel safe enough to drive home. I hope you don’t mind.” He takes a coffee cup out of one of the cabinets, then fills it with coffee.
“I don’t mind.” I say even though him sleeping in my bed wasn’t explained. He could have easily come to the couch to sleep, but he stayed with me. Jay opens the fridge and looks at the creamers we have.
“Which one do you like to use?”
“I like the coconut crème.” He pulls it out, mixes it into my cup and walks over, and sets it down on the coffee table. Meanwhile, I’m still sitting on the couch, my hair a mess, my eyes tired, and one confused expression on my face. He doesn’t say a word as he walks down the hall to my bedroom and returns with my medicine. “You looked like you were in a lot of pain last night, even in your sleep. If you’re hurting, please take one.” I nod my head and take the bottle from him. I take one of the pills, then pick up my phone. I have one text message.
Min: I thought that was Jay’s car in the parking lot. And when I went to check on you before I left this morning, you two were sleeping in the same bed. Have you forgotten to tell me something?
I rub my eyes and read the message again, not sure how to respond since I can barely process it myself.
Me: I went over to work on the song, but I had a fever. He brought me home. I felt vulnerable and sad and asked him to stay until I fell asleep. I didn’t think he’d get in bed with me.
Min: He didn’t try anything, did he?
Me: No. The whole lot of them are gentlemen’s even if they don’t look it.
Min: Kinda disappointed. What do you think this means?
Me: I don’t know. I’m confused. He’s cooking breakfast right now. He made me coffee. He’s being nice.
Min: Accept it. Enjoy it. Flirt with him. Kiss him. Have some fun.
I ignore that text and write back,
Me: Where are you anyway?
Min: There was an issue at work that I had to run in and fix this morning. But I’m with Vance now. We’re both pretty surprised at this new development.
Me: He better not be reading what I’m texting you.
Min: Don’t worry, I’m keeping my mouth sealed and my phone out of his eyesight.
I pull up my group message with Letty and Micah.
Me: Has Jay seemed different to you guys lately?
Micah: In what way?
Me: I don’t know… He feels like the same Jay that was falling in love with me in North Isles. Caring and stuff.
Letty: If that’s your only criteria for someone falling in love with you, then the world must be in love with you.
Micah: Letty’s right, we need more details.
Letty: Did Micah just say I was right?
Micah: Shut it.
Me: I wasn’t feeling well, and I asked him to stay. He did. The entire night. I woke up, and he was in bed with me (on top of the covers – but still). Now he’s making breakfast.
Micah: Double whoa.
Me: Saying Whoa doesn’t help me out any.
Letty: Well, Jay isn’t heartless. So this could be him being your friend. Or it could be him showing that he still cares about you on that level.
Me: What do I do?
Micah: Just flow with it. Be friendly. Talk. You got this.
I put my phone down and look up to see Jay staring at me. He looks away when I catch him. “Thank you for last night… I don’t remember everything I said, but from what I do remember, I’m a little embarrassed.”
“Don’t be. I’m glad you were honest with me.” He pulls out biscuits from the oven, then takes down two plates.
“You are?” I grab my coffee and walk over to the bar to watch him.
“Yeah. You’ve been closed off, and I started getting bothered that I knew nothing about you.”
“Oh, really?” He shrugs his shoulders and divides the scrambled eggs.
“I know I’m not entitled to know anything about your life. But when everyone started knowing more than I did, I felt left out. I wanted to be friends too.”
“You didn’t act like it.”
“I didn’t expect everyone to open back up to you so quickly.”
“Are you disappointed they were?”
“No. I’m happy they were. It pushed me to be too.” He places two biscuits on each plate along with several pieces of bacon, then takes them to the table. I follow and sit down across from him. “How is it you look perfectly well kept and I look like I crawled out of a crypt?”
“Because I took a shower this morning.”
“Is that why I smell my coconut body scrub?” He chuckles and nods his head.
“I had to wash my body with something.”
“There are regular body soaps in there!”
“I didn’t see it.” I roll my eyes, but a part of me is happy that we’re able to be this comfortable with each other. “How are you feeling?”
“A little cranky.”
“I meant your body, not your mood.”
“I know.” I laugh. “I feel better. The pain is dull, barely there. I admit I was letting myself suffer for a few days.”
“Because the prescription only lasts me a month. I need to make it last longer.”
“Alia, you’re going to have to get the surgery done. You can’t go on like this. The rock-climbing trip ruined any chance of you pushing through.”
“I can’t risk her finding out…”
“I’m firm in my belief that her threat won’t be valid if she knows that once she plays that card, she’ll lose all the control she has over you.”
“I’m too afraid to take that chance. I just need to make it to the competition.”
“Then you’ll let her make you move?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I haven’t figured out that part. But I won’t have time to if I get the surgery.”
“If the pain becomes unbearable more than two days straight, will you get this surgery?”
“Are you trying to make a deal with me?”
“I’m trying to help you.”
“What will you do for me if I get the surgery? IF I’m in unbearable pain for more than two days straight.”
“I’ll write your final paper in Communications.”
“How can I trust that you’ll write a good paper?”
“I have a 98 in the class.”
“What! I barely have a 90!”
“Because you don’t pay attention.” I shrug my shoulders, knowing he’s right.
“Fine. If I’m in unbearable pain for more than two days straight and I get the surgery before the competition – you’ll write my paper.”
“I’ll even buy you coffee the whole last week of classes.”
“I think you may just have a deal, Jay.”
“Good. But you have to be honest about your pain.”
“I will. It’ll be too hard to hide.” He finally picks up his fork and takes a bite of his food. I smile and do the same. I don’t know why I agreed to this. Maybe some part of me hopes I have to leave… Leave before I’m too in love with Jay to be able to go through the heartbreak of leaving again. “You know what I’ve been finding strange?” I ask after a moment.
“I don’t think my mother wants me and you to be around each other. And not because of the whole because of my ‘safety’ bullshit.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, let’s see. The whole point of me going to North Isles was because she didn’t want me to be near her. But then Brian was spying on us and he would have sent her tons of pictures, most of which would have contained you. And all of a sudden, she wants me back. She went through the trouble of creating blackmail to ensure that I leave and stay away. Then I’m shipped off to England the same year you and Vance come here. And now she knows that I’m back she wants me to leave because you’re a danger to my safety when all you’ve done is protect me and get me out of trouble. If she truly was behind my kidnapping, you thwarted any plans she had.”
“You never found out if she was behind it or not?”
“I can’t imagine why she would have done that…”
“I can’t either. I’ve long since given up trying to understand that woman. Either way, there’s a reason she doesn’t want us around each other. Surgery or not, I feel like this fight isn’t going to be easy.”
“We’ll figure out how to get you to stay. I promise. Vance has been looking into legal stuff.”
“When Brian came, he’s been searching everywhere for a solution. But we are talking about Diana Langston. You could renounce all your money and tell her you want nothing to do with her, but if she’s as controlling as she seems, I don’t think she’ll let you do that.”
“No… It’s not about the money. It’s about control. I think it’s a punishment.”
“For existing. She didn’t want me. She didn’t want kids, but my dad coerced her. Then even he didn’t want me. She’s punishing me because she had me against her will. She punishes me because my dad wouldn’t even take me.”
“It’s bad when my parents sound like they at least have souls.”
“It’s been my life… But I’m thankful that Vance is trying to figure something out.”
“Maybe he’ll crack down on something soon.” I take a sip of my coffee and set it down, nearly finished with my breakfast.
“I have something I’ve been curious about.”
“Shoot.” He says, not looking up from his plate.
“That night at the bar… When I was drunk and thought I was talking to a stranger. What did I say to you?” He lets out a deep laugh and I’m stunned at hearing such vibrance from him. “Was it that bad?”
“No. What you said wasn’t bad. It was funny that you didn’t know it was me.”
“So what did I say that you won’t tell anyone about?”
“You told me the truth. Why you left and didn’t return.” He looks up at me, his eyes meeting mine, making the butterflies in my stomach go crazy. I was falling back in love with Jay and he had no clue.
“You knew this entire time?” I say a bit angrily. “Why didn’t you say anything? You still acted like you didn’t like me.”
“I didn’t know what to say or how I should have acted. I had a million ideas on why you left, but that wasn’t one of them.”
“Why did you think I left?”
“We don’t have to talk about that.”
“Tell me. I honestly want to know.”
“I figured you had enough and went back to Westbrook. Brian was your out, and you took it.”
“Why would you think that? I was happy.”
“I always knew you were going to leave Alia. It was just a matter of when.”
“Because there were a million things I was looking forward to! I was excited to spend Christmas with you and Micah’s family. I was ready to see your face when you opened up my present. I was ready to bring in the new year with you. But I missed all of that. I spent a long and grueling month with my mother. I returned to Westbrook where I didn’t have a family. I had a friend who would stab me in the back at any weakness I showed. And another friend that was hoping I would be over you enough so he could make his move. Being in Westbrook until I went to college was the longest and worse seven months of my life.”
“Nothing ever happened between you and Darren…?”
“The trip you made before you left? Or when you went back for good?”
“No, Jay. Nothing ever happened between Darren and me. The moment I fell in love with you, I knew no one would be good enough. You’ve ruined everyone for me.”
“That’s not true.”
“You’ve dated over the years though, right?”
“Here and there, but I think I’m meant to be alone. I can’t break any hearts that way.”
“No one is meant to be alone.” I nod my head and look down at my plate, taking the last bite.
“But isn’t it exhausting? Dating and breaking up just to do it all over again?”
“I guess if I find the right person then all of that effort was worth it.” I look up at him, but he’s staring down at his plate. I wish he knew how much his words make my heartache.
“Some girl is going to be really lucky one day.” I say as I look back down, not wanting to meet Jay’s eyes.
“I hope so.” I never intended to be this honest with Jay, but the more things feel like old times, the more I want to pour my heart out to him. It’s only a matter of time before I tell him how truly awful my mother is. How small she made me feel. That she is the reason I feel so pathetic. And that I still love him.