I don’t tell anyone about Rustic’s Café. Not even Min. When Letty and Micah ask about it, I avoid the question. Which is easy to do when we’re not face to face. I spend the following week working on the song despite Min telling me to take it easy. But I need something to fill up my time. Something to keep the thoughts away. To keep away how foolish I feel for believing there was a chance with Jay again – even if I didn’t plan on taking it. My mother knew exactly what she was doing, and I played right into her hand. I want to leave more than anything, but I have to sit Min down and tell her how I’m such a horrible person for doing the one thing I told her I wouldn’t. It’s like my life has come full circle. Once breaking my promise to Jay. Now breaking that very same promise to Min.
The week before Thanksgiving, I have a vase of daffodils on the table along with Min’s favorite candy and drink, and a gift card to her favorite place. We haven’t presented bad news to each other like this in a while. The last time we did, it was because I was going to England. I hate doing it this way, but I know I won’t chicken out on telling her if she knows something is wrong. I hear the key in the lock and she turns it. The door opens, and Min comes to an immediate halt when she sees what’s on the table. “No. No – no- no!” She says angrily.
“Please come sit.”
“No. We’re not doing this. You’re not doing this to me again.”
“Just listen to me.”
“Why are you doing this?” Her voice breaks and I feel like an asshole. I’m toxic and I know now more than ever I have to get away from them so they won’t become tainted by me.
“Please.” She shuts the door behind her and reluctantly sits down at the end of the table, tears in her eyes.
“I made a deal with my mother. If we win, I stay. If we lose, I leave.”
“Why would you make a deal like that?”
“Because I didn’t know what else to do, and I’ve been considering leaving either way.” A look of betrayal flashes across her face.
“Why? I thought you have been happy these last few months. We have all been happy.”
“I love Jay too much to stay.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I can’t be around him and pretend that I’m okay with being friends.”
“Alia, he feels the same way about you. I know he does.”
“I thought so too but… He doesn’t.”
“How can you know that?”
“Because my mother had a stipulation for our deal. I had to meet someone at Rustic’s Café. It was Jay’s father. He’s been following Jay around for years and gave me some pictures.”
“So?” I pull out the photo that caused the most pain from my purse. The one that made my decision. I slide it over to her and she looks down at it, not seeing the issue. “Again I ask, so? You’ve both have had your fair share of dates.”
“That’s Emma. She was before me. Jay’s first love. I was just the rebound.”
“A, that’s not true-”
“But it is.” I say angrily, but my anger isn’t at her. It's at my own stupidity. “There’s so much you don’t know. In North Isles, Jay chose her over me one time.” I had forgiven Jay for this so long ago, but now, with this information, I can’t help but wonder if anything he told that night after my kidnapping was true. “Jay was wrecked for months after her. But me? He started playing baseball. He started his own band and began singing in front of people. He didn’t once break down over me like he did over Emma. I meant nothing to him, Min.” I can see it in her eyes, searching for some kind of rebuttal, but she can't grasp one. “Jay and I have been getting along because she came back into his life.”
“We would know if he’s dating someone.”
“No, you wouldn’t. Jay is good at keeping his secrets. His own friends didn’t know he could sing for years.”
“So you’re just going to leave? Am I not good enough for you to stay? Is Letty? Micah? Hell, Vance and Emmett? Are we not enough?”
“I’m suffocating here Min… I never got over Jay… Not properly and if I stay, it won’t get any better.”
“You’ll be leaving us again. Breaking all of our hearts. Again.”
“I’m not saying goodbye to you for good. I’ll go for a few years – I’ll fly all of you out. We’ll have fun in England. We’ll still be friends.” I don't know what's worse. Telling her that I'm leaving again or lying to her about how long I'll be away. She stands up from her seat, keeping her head down, trying to hide the tears falling down her face. My eyes water, wishing I could take this back. To turn back time. But I can’t deviate from the plan. “Min-” She holds up her hand.
“I need time to process.”
“Please don’t tell them.” She looks up at me, anger prevalent in those big brown eyes.
“You shouldn’t have told me if you wanted me to keep silent.”
“I had to. We barely have a month to get everything sorted. I don’t want to leave you without a plan.”
“I’ll figure out what I’m going to do on my own. I don’t need your help.” Her words are like venom and I remain silent. Nothing I say will mend this. Min goes to her room, slamming the door behind her. I barely make it to my own before I crumble to the ground in a sobbing mess.